Neal fought the urge to shut his eyes. Fatigue was settling heavily on him.
He didn’t know how long Peter had been gone. It could have been minutes, could have been hours; his sense of time was completely off.
Neal had never felt this disconnected. He was always the smooth, savvy conman, thinking two, even three steps ahead of everyone else. He made it his goal to be the smartest guy in the room and he usually achieved that.
But he’d never felt this behind. His mind was slow and halting, his thought process nearly blank. This wasn’t him. He wasn’t used to struggling to string thoughts together.
Shifting slightly, Neal tried to move into a better position. The way he was sitting now made his side burn harshly, thanks to what must be broken ribs. If he could move to the corner of the wall, it would prop him up much better.
Neal shifted again, moving barely an inch across the wall, surprised that it didn’t cause him a terrible amount of pain. Encouraged, Neal continued moving across the wall, inch by inch.
His mind seemed to sharpen. The movement was making him more alert and his mind gained clarity. Not much, but things felt a great deal less surreal.
Neal slid himself across the wall again, trying to cover a few more inches this time, but he’d pushed himself too hard. His side burned sharply and Neal leaned his head back against the wall, waiting for the pain to subside.
Opening his eyes again, Neal realized he made it to the corner of the room. He let himself lean in the corner, giving his muscles a break. He just focused on his breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
It took Neal a moment to realize he was drifting off again. He lifted his head from the wall. He needed to stay awake.
Deciding it was a bad idea to make himself comfortable, Neal sat back against the wall, away from the corner, and kept his head from falling back to it. He needed to stay alert.
So, Neal tried to think. The first thing that came to his mind was what Peter told him what the drive was capable of.
Millions of untraceable dollars. It was the score of a lifetime.
Neal wondered if Peter would be ashamed that Neal’s first thought was of how incredible it would be to have that kind of money. A small—very small, almost inaudible—voice in the back of Neal’s mind reminded him that he was reformed. He shouldn’t have thoughts like this anymore.
But he did.
And that was what conflicted Neal the most. He liked working with the FBI, but he also liked working against them. He couldn’t have it both ways.
Neal opened his eyes. He wondered how long they’d been closed; he didn’t remember shutting them. The dazed feeling he had told him that he was drifting again.
Neal sighed. Staying awake was far more difficult than he thought it was going to be.
Suddenly, Neal heard something. It was faint, but it was coming from the door. Someone was unlocking it.
Relief washed over Neal like a tidal wave; Peter was back. He’d gotten out of the air duct and came back for him. He was going to get Neal out of here and Neal was going to the hospital.
All was well.
The door opened. Neal looked up, ready to chastise Peter for taking so long, but his words died in his throat. It wasn’t Peter at the door.
It was Maverick.
Maverick froze. He looked around the room, his anger rising. “Where’s Burke?”
“He’s not in there?” Allen appeared behind Maverick. They both surveyed the small room, then looked at Neal. “Well?” spat Allen. “Where’d he go?”
Neal didn’t say anything. Peter had been so close to saving them.
“Well?” demanded Allen, furious. He turned to Maverick. “What the hell do we do now? If Burke goes to the FBI—”
“He won’t,” said Maverick. “Phone lines and security systems are down. And he’s not leaving this bank without Caffrey.”
“Do you know that for sure?” asked Allen. “I mean, look at him, he’s already dead.”
“Go to hell,” hissed Neal, eyes shutting again. He could barely keep them open. The pull of unconsciousness was so appealing. He just wanted to fade into the nothingness. No more fear. No more pain.
“Get him up. We’ll go through with the plan. Forget Burke.”
Maverick grabbed Neal’s arm roughly, lifting him with ease. The movement exploded agony in his ribs. He cried out, his vision whiting out dangerously as the pain spread like a fire to every nerve. He blinked profusely, his eyes watering, his vision still flickering. Stay awake, stay awake, stay awake... he begged himself. Maverick started to half-walk, half-drag him out of the room, forcing Neal to press weight onto his leg. He groaned through his teeth and nearly fell. Maverick paid no notice. He dragged Neal down the hallway like the conman weighed nothing. Neal let him, lacking the strength to fight.
Maverick led him to a short staircase. Neal swallowed. Maverick didn’t slow enough to give Neal time to climb the stairs gingerly, and Neal grunted with each painful step. He felt dizzy and sick, the room spinning and darkening before him.
Neal shut his eyes, allowing Maverick to take more of his weight. At this point he didn’t care where they were taking him. He didn’t care if they killed him. Just make the pain stop.
After a few minutes, Neal was suddenly released, and he fell to the floor. His eyes shot open, pain erupting in his ribs as he hit the ground. His vision did black out that time, and for a terrifying second Neal couldn’t see. He blinked fast, his eyes burning as he clung to his consciousness. Stay awake. The darkness faded, leaving only blurry shapes to follow.
Vaguely, Neal surveyed his surroundings as his vision pieced partially back together. He was in the atrium of the bank, lying on cold marble. Next to him stood another hallway, lined with doors. The cold of the marble felt good. Felt so good.
Maverick walked away from him, and Neal was silently grateful Maverick didn’t make him sit up. He wasn’t sure he could. Neal was still, his breathing slow. He shut his eyes, allowing himself to rest for a moment, just trying to allow his ribs to stop burning and his head to stop pounding.
“Is it set?” asked Allen from far away.
“Yeah, he set them before he left.” replied Maverick. “Though he wants more money. He said he didn’t sign on to wire explosives.”
Neal’s eyes shot open. Explosives?
“We’ll both be long gone by the time he comes asking again,” laughed Allen. “He didn’t sign on for getting his bank burnt down either, so he’ll be in for a mighty surprise.”
Neal’s heart thudded. They were going to burn down the bank.
Neal shut his eyes as pain tore through his head.
Peter... where are you?
“How long until the drive is done?” asked Maverick.
“Any second now. I’ll go check again.” Neal heard Allen’s footsteps fade.
Neal looked around. He slowly shifted his weight, trying to push himself up, watching as Maverick turned his back. It took him a scary amount of time just to lift himself inches off the floor. He could hardly hold himself up. His arms were shaking and the room swam and tilted so much he thought he’d be sick. He lowered himself back to the ground, doing his best just to keep his head up.
He blinked, searching for a door. He didn’t see one, just desks in cubicles, and doorways leading off into hallways. Hallways that tilted and turned and spun.
Neal pressed one hand to the floor, taking a breath, and pushed himself up. A sharp pain erupted in his side, making him fall roughly back to the ground. He bit his tongue, resting his head against the cool marble, trying to settle the spinning.
He had to get up. Maverick’s back was turned; if Neal could just make it to the hallway...
Neal lifted his head, looking at the hallway. It was maybe ten feet to his left. He slowly inched himself backward, trying to avoid jostling his ribs as much as he could, but it was nearly impossible. He held his breath, moving another few inches backward. His shoulders grazed the wall behind him. Using it to support him, he slowly slid up the wall, his face white with pain.
Neal looked to his left, breathing hard. He was about to slide down the wall, toward the hallway, when he saw something light up in the corner of his eye. Unsure if he wanted to, Neal slowly turned his head, and froze.
C4. And a lot of it. Maverick had placed it carefully on an empty desk in the cubicle across from Neal. A red light was flashing on the side of it. No, not a light. Neal blinked, trying to clear his vision, and realized what he was looking at.
He stared at it for a long moment, blinking to clear away the blur from his vision. The clock was counting down from what looked like ten minutes. Neal paused, wondering what to do. Unfortunately, it was at that moment that Maverick turned around. His eyes found Neal two feet from where he’d left him, and Maverick’s eyes narrowed.
Bracing himself, Neal watched as Maverick crossed the room toward him. Without hesitation, Maverick grabbed Neal’s arm and yanked, hard. He pulled Neal to his right, away from the hallway, and a cry caught in Neal’s throat. Pain. Bright, blinding pain.
Maverick didn’t move Neal far, maybe a few feet. Neal’s ribs painfully protested at the movement, making him gasp. Maverick pulled a pair of handcuffs from his jacket.
“Borrowed these from your FBI friend,” said Maverick. He snapped one end around Neal’s left wrist, and secured Neal to grate to an air vent. “Don’t even think about picking them.”
“Or what?” asked Neal breathlessly. “You’ll kill me?”
“I am killing you,” said Maverick. “In less than ten minutes, you’ll be nothing but ash.”
"What the hell did you do?”
Neal and Maverick turned. Allen appeared in the doorway, fuming. He seemed to be trying and failing to calm himself down. His face was contorted in rage.
“What?” demanded Maverick. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the drive,” hissed Allen through his teeth. “What did you do with it?”
Maverick’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t do anything with-”
But Maverick didn’t get to finish. It took Neal far too long to realize what Allen was going to do and it took Maverick a fatal second longer than that. Allen raised and fired his gun, the bullet striking Maverick between his eyes. He crumpled instantly.
Neal watched in horror.
“What did he do with it?” demanded Allen, turning the gun to Neal. “What did he do?”
Neal stared at the man, words failing him for the first time in his life. Allen’s screamed in frustration, hitting Neal across the face with the gun. “What the hell did he do?!”
Neal coughed, his head throbbing. “I didn’t see him do any-”
But Allen struck him again, catching him in the chest, knocking Neal onto his side. Neal cried out in pain, curling in on himself. It didn’t help. More pain erupted. No position lessened it. Neal clenched his teeth, breathing hard, groaning in agony. His vision flickered.
“You are going to tell me where my drive is,” hissed Allen, putting the muzzle of the gun to Neal’s head. “Or I swear to god,” he hissed as he cocked the weapon, “I will kill you.”