For a long time, that was all he knew. It was incredibly warm, as if he were inside an oven. His face was slick with sweat and something else, but it didn’t make sense yet.
Peter was scared. At least, he thought he was scared. He wasn’t entirely sure. Thoughts were jumbled and turned around in his head as if he were thinking in fifty different directions at once. It took him what felt like years to recall what had happened.
And that was when he was sure he was scared.
Peter couldn’t see. That, or his eyes were closed. But he didn’t know. He was still very far beneath reality, just barely scraping the surface. As he realized it, he felt himself breaking through his daze.
The first thing he felt was the warmth. It wasn’t intense, and he settled himself with knowing that it must not be near him yet. He knew he was inside the bank, and he knew it was on fire. He just didn’t know if he was okay.
Slowly, Peter cracked open his eyes. His vision pieced together and he could see, but things were slightly blurred. Something heavy hung in the air, nearly constricting his throat. There was a dim orange glow to the broken room; that would be the fire.
Peter was lying on his back. Something was piercing him sharply near his shoulder, and Peter tried to sit up. He got a quarter of the way up when vertigo hit, and his head swam violently. He paused, nausea rising in his stomach. He took a breath.
Peter slowly turned his head. The entire bank had shattered. Debris lay broken in all directions, desks had fallen over and crumbled, walls and ceiling in near shambles around him, barely held up.
He looked down, realizing a desk was lying on his leg. That’s why my leg hurts, thought Peter needlessly. His own slowness made him nervous; how badly did he hit his head?
Peter tugged at his leg and regretted it immediately; pain soared up his body and he gritted his teeth.
Looking around again, Peter watched flames lick at the doorway of the lobby. They were getting closer. He didn’t have much time.
Peter shut his eyes. Immediately, he felt better. The nausea settled and his head wasn’t spinning as violently. He started to lie back to the ground, when he opened his eyes again. He couldn’t pass out, not now. He’d spent half the night telling Neal not to pass out.
Peter whipped his head around in search for his partner, immediately regretting such a violent movement. His stomach churned, but he fought to ignore it. His sight wavering, Peter scanned the room, slower.
Debris, desks, chairs, splintered marble and concrete. Dust hung in the air. The fire was crackling a few yards away.
But where was Neal? He’d been right next to him; Peter had been holding him for goodness sake!
Peter looked at the desk pinning him down. If he was going to get out of this, he needed to do it step by step. First step: getting himself free.
Then find Neal.
Peter pushed against the desk. It took an incredible amount of effort-and an agonizing amount of strain-to get it to move even a fraction of an inch. The moment the weight lifted, a sharp pain erupted in his leg and he cringed, biting his tongue. Peter tasted blood in his mouth. He pushed harder, his fingers slipping on the wood, his skin slick with sweat; the air was getting hotter.
Realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere, Peter let go of the desk and it fell back on his leg, making him cry out. He dropped back to the ground, and thinking of a better idea, used his free leg to push against the desk. It worked surprisingly quick. The desk lifted off his leg, and Peter couldn’t hold in an agonized yell. He heaved the broken pieces off of him and roughly pushed himself back up. His leg burned. Looking down at it, Peter saw the wide rips in his pants and blood spilling onto the floor.
Breathing heavily in the thin air, Peter looked around again. His head was throbbing dully. Where the hell was Neal?
He ran a hand through his hair, looking wildly around, angering his headache. When he pulled his hand back, his fingers were covered in fresh blood.
Peter slowly pulled himself up. It was a long process. He quickly discovered he’d broken his leg in at least two places, the blood still flowing freely. Luckily, his left leg was fine. His side and shoulder were bruised from his landing, and he knew he hit his head, he just didn’t know how badly. His delayed thinking and the surreality of the situation told him it definitely wasn’t good.
Using the desk he’d pushed off to the side, Peter pulled himself up, avoiding using his right leg. Now upright, it was as if the crackling flames were louder. He looked ahead of him, where the front doors were. Smoke circled over his head. Vertigo hit again, and Peter hung on to the desk in front of him. The room blurred together and for a terrifying second, he thought he was going to pass out.
Taking a shaking breath to steady himself, Peter slowly straightened up again. His vision still didn’t clear. He was losing it.
No, no, no, thought Peter desperately in his head. I have to find Neal.
But, already, he knew it wasn’t possible. He could barely see. The floor was sea of black.
“Neal!” yelled Peter, but his voice was hoarse and dust coated his throat. He coughed, nearly losing his balance again. He didn’t even know if he’d spoken or whispered his partner’s name. “Neal! Where are you?” he called again, louder.
Suddenly, something flashed in the corner of Peter’s vision. At first, he thought it was stars falling before his eyes to warn him he was going to lose consciousness. But it wasn’t. Blinking the blood from his eyes, Peter turned his head. The flashing he’d seen wasn’t in his imagination.
They were police cars.
The FBI was here. Mozzie must have come through for him and Neal after all.
With newfound hope, Peter shifted his grip on the desk and pulled himself a few feet closer to the front doors. Again, hating the idea of leaving his partner, Peter knew that there was no way he could find Neal in his state. And even if he did find Neal, there was no way Peter was going to be able to help him escape. He would get the team outside to find him. They had flashlights. They knew what they were doing.
They would save Neal.
He pulled himself another few feet closer to the main doors. Luckily, this wall and these doors stayed mostly intact, and hadn’t completely crumbled from the explosion. In the dim lighting, Peter could see just how low the ceiling was hanging; it was maybe mere feet above his head rather than the dozens of feet it normally would have. Claustrophobia suddenly pressed into him.
Pulling himself along again, Peter reached the edge of the desk. He still needed something to lean on, something to keep him steady. Looking ahead of him, there was still a good ten feet to cover until he reached the door. But the next broken shard of the ceiling was lying right next to the front doors, ten feet away.
Preparing himself, Peter wavered on his good leg, one hand still steadying himself with the desk. Taking a shaking breath, he lunged forward, attempting to hop on his good leg. But he hadn’t been ready for the world to tilt sideways in his confused mind.
He hit the ground hard, landing on his bad leg, and he cried out, his voice barely rising above the crackling. Gasping, Peter pushed himself back up, crawling his way to the front doors.
Why haven’t I tried crawling the entire time? he wondered, hating how behind his mind was. He made it to the front door, and lifting himself on his good knee, Peter banged on the glass. It was warm. The heat in the room seemed to travel quickly. Too quickly.
And Neal was still somewhere inside.
Peter’s heart twisted and he banged harder, feeling the glass break beneath his fist. Cool air rushed into the building, and Peter shoved the door open, falling forward through the doorway.
No, he begged in his head as he hit the ground, barely even feeling it. Footsteps drummed on the ground, lights flashed in the distance and people were yelling, so close to him yet so, so far away. Peter shut his eyes and reality slowly, finally, slipped away.
Diana used to think she was responsible. She really did. She also used to think that her car could only hit 90 mph, but somehow it was pushing 100 mph.
Jones’ knuckles were white, grasping onto his seatbelt. She knew he was terrified by the speed, but she also knew he wasn’t going to make any effort to try and slow her down. They both knew why they were driving at a fatal speed.
Peter and Neal were in trouble.
Diana was past angry. Past outraged. Past furious. She was livid. Already, the FBI had taken way too long to respond to their orders. Maybe it was fifteen minutes to them, but fifteen minutes could mean the difference between life and death. Mere seconds could.
She’d tried to leave the minute she got out of the elevator but the teams had to be organized, orders had to be given, structure had to be maintained. She didn’t have time for structure, and that was something government agents didn’t like hearing.
But here they were, hurtling down Forest Avenue, and Diana and Jones both seemed to see it at the very same moment. They gasped. The building was destroyed. Thick smoke twisted into the sky.
Slamming on the brakes in the parking lot, Diana jumped out of the car, Jones right beside her, gaping. They sprinted to the front doors, where a group of agents were crowded. Diana shoved past them all and looked at the ground.
It was Peter.
“Oh, my god,” she breathed, dropping to her knees. A medic was right beside him. Diana turned to her and asked, “Is he..?”
“He’s alive,” she said, unzipping a bag beside her. “He’ll be okay, but we need to get him to a hospital. He just escaped the building a few seconds ago.”
“He did?” asked Diana. She felt Jones behind her. They both looked down at their boss, his right leg lying at an impossible angle, his clothes stained and torn, a deep gash in his head, bleeding down his face. The medic started to bandage it. “He was… he was inside?” asked Diana hollowly.
“Yes, looks like it.”
Suddenly, Peter’s eyes shot open. He coughed harshly, and Diana flinched, startled.
“Peter!” she exclaimed, relieved. “Peter, are you okay?” she asked. Peter’s eyes blinked slowly, and he weakly cleared his throat.
“…Di?” he asked. His breathing was stuttered.
“Peter, we’re going to get you to a hospital,” said Diana. Then she remembered something. “Where’s Neal?”
Peter’s eyes suddenly shot open, and he jerked upright, ignoring the wave of nausea from the rough movement. “Neal!” he gasped. “He’s… he’s still—” Peter coughed again, his face contorted in pain. “God, Diana, he’s still inside.” Peter tried to push himself up again, but the medic pushed him back down.
“Stay still!” she chastised. “I need an ambulance to pull up right now!” she yelled.
"No,” stressed Peter, again, trying to get up.
“He’s in the building?” asked Diana hollowly, looking up at the burning mess. “Right now?”
"Yes,” exclaimed Peter. “Please, someone needs to… to find him—”
Peter didn’t bother looking up; he knew Hughes’ voice anywhere. Hughes had rushed over. “Peter, are you alright?”
“Neal—Neal is inside the building, Reese,” panted Peter. Why wasn’t anyone listening to him? “You need to send a team in there, get him out—”
“Sir,” said an unfamiliar voice to Hughes. “I can’t send a team into that building, it’s too unstable.”
Peter jerked upright again. His vision swayed. “No! Neal is in there, someone has to—”
“Peter!” exclaimed Hughes, firmly putting a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “There’s only a small chance that Caffrey is still even—”
“He’s alive, Reese!”
“Did you see him?”
“We can’t risk the lives of these agents over the life a criminal, Peter!”
“Reese, please—” He was begging. He couldn’t help it. It was Neal for goodness sake, and they wanted to leave him inside to die.
“I’ll go in.” said Jones suddenly.
“So will I,” said Diana. They both stood.
“No.” said Hughes firmly. “No one is going in. I’m… I’m sorry, Peter, we can’t—”
“Reese, it’s Neal!” whispered Peter, his strength draining. “You can’t just sit here… sit here, and let him die!” His voice broke off, somewhere between a sob and a cry of pain. The medic was stabilizing his leg. The agony grew, consuming his every nerve. He gritted his teeth, feeling his strength dissipate. He was falling hard and fast, his senses quickly and quietly disappearing. His grasp on reality had let go, the grasp he’d been trying so hard to hang on to, and he was falling into the dark depths of his own mind, thinking only one last, defeated thought.
I’m sorry, Neal.