What Came Before He Shot Her

"Maybe that's what hell is. You go mad, and all your demons and get you just as fast as you can think them up."
- Anne Rice

They don't expect the gun to go off, but when it does, the reaction is instantaneous. Sound and motion stop for an instant and all Peter can hear is that gun going off, that single crack. All of the pain of the past few days, and he'd thought that they'd come to its end. He'd thought that with this lead, they'd have her. He'd thought they'd found her. He thought he was an inch away from ending this.

But he's wrong, he's so wrong. He's deluded himself into falsities, because, no matter how many horrors they've faced with this man, they're staring another in the face right now. Maybe he's cracked; maybe he's been cracked from the moment that this started. He's always known this was the one thing that could break him.

"Don't shoot!" He's yelling it even though nobody is shooting.

"We need him, don't shoot him!" The yell is desperate, even though Jones isn't shooting. He's yelling it even though Neal doesn't have a gun and all he can hear from Diana is an anguished moan. Peter's vision is a tunnel, focused on the man, but with that sound he knows the bullet found its target in Diana.

There's an instant where the man stands there, frozen like a deer in headlights, and then he's moving, running, only he's got nowhere to go. Jones is after him in an instant, shouting for Peter to stay put. It's all he can do to not break that order, because it's the only reason he's allowed on this rooftop right now. Don't overstep, don't toe the line, you're too close.

But he wants this bastard. He wants to press his gun to his temple and see the fear in his eyes that Peter saw in hers. And he needs to see her, but he needs this, too. He knows how Neal felt, he's known it for awhile now but in that moment, it's overpowering. Nothing is important, until –

A sound. Diana, behind him. Peter turns, and he's almost sick. How long has he wasted standing there, thinking about revenge? Neal is there, too, standing in front of him and saying his name and something that sounds like "gun".

Neal wants his gun.

Peter swallows, hesitant now not because he doesn't trust Neal with a gun but because this is his doing, he should be the one to end this and –

"Peter, I'll catch him." A hand comes to close around the gun that's still in Peter's grasp, but the motion is enough to loosen his fingers and he lets go. He trusts Neal. But he hates that he's doing this. For him, for her, and for Diana now.

He's a broken man, and he might not be able to turn back the clock, but he can still fix what's wrong now. Peter nods, and in the next two seconds, Neal's gone after Jones. He's down the stairs leading into the building and all Peter can hope is that it's not too late.

He needs to fix this.

He'll start with Diana.

He turns. She's only slightly to his right and behind him, crumpled to the ground. Her breathing is ragged. He drops besides her, presses his hand down on her shoulder, apologizing in the same instant that Diana grits her teeth and turns her face away from him. Her breathing quickens. With the other hand, the one that's not pressed down to her shoulder, he's dialing the paramedics.

He focuses on her because she's the only thing important enough to keep the red-tinged rage from clouding his vision and his judgement once again.

She coughs once and winces before turning back to him, dark eyes hinting at vulnerability. He's never had the best bedside manner, and right now his mind is most definitely elsewhere. Diana grimaces, letting go of a breath.

"Luck of the draw." She says, and there's too much blood. It won't stop. He curses, presses down harder. Diana grimaces, letting go of a breath. "Christie's gonna kill me."

"Not if I kill you first." Peter says, because it sounds like the right thing to say. At the very least, he's rewarded with the smallest half smile. "Come on, talk to me." Rage, red and dark, dances in front of his eyes like lightning. It's not supposed to happen like this. None of this is supposed to happen like this! He's keeping the rage back because someone – Diana – needs him. If she didn't, if he hadn't practiced control for so long, it would tumble over and take over, wreck him, ruin him.

If he could be ruined any further.

"Peter." Diana is using that voice, the one that people use when they're really going to say something important, something she wanted him to listen to. He doesn't want her to use that voice; he doesn't want her to need a reason to use that voice. "You'll find her. She's a fighter." Her voice is weak, strained. "When you do, tell her-"

"You'll tell her yourself." His voice is definitive, because he doesn't want to hear this, doesn't want to see her slip away right beneath his fingers. Oh, God, he's failed them, each and every one – Diana, Jones, and Neal – Neal, whose hand is now clasped around a gun. Neal, who's doing this even though he hates guns.

And Elizabeth. Oh, El. He's failed her miserably. The one person he's tried the hardest not to fail, and Peter has failed her most of all.

Her breathing hitches, and Peter's throat aches. There's a scream rising in his stomach, one that is trying to claw its way out.

"Still. Tell her-" She says, and Peter tries not to scream, tries to let her speak though her eyes are growing dimmer. "… not her fault. I'm sorry. And Christie…"

Her eyelids slide closed, she's breathing but it's shallow, and Peter is yelling her name, desperately telling her to open her eyes, but she doesn't. Her eyelids don't even flutter.

Desperate, broken, and screaming. This is what he's been reduced to. A descent into madness.

He's always known this was the one thing that could break him.

Author's Note:

The name of the title comes from a book by Elizabeth George, of the same title. This story is what the title suggests – it is what happened before this moment, before the man they're now chasing shot Diana. This story will be about what happened before he shot Diana, but it will also be about what happens after.

This story is dedicated to Agni, because of that time we laughed so hard we cried. And to Temp, if she's reading this, because your distance from us is ridiculous and in reality, I don't mind you being my CI.

I'm pleased to bring you my first full length White Collar story. In reality, I don't need to be writing another story at all. But I make you a promise – while it might be awhile between updates, this story will be completed. I will not leave you hanging.

On that note, please review! Reviews make me that much more excited to update/write. And I know it sounds cheesy, but I read each review about five times and sometimes even dance.