He laid on his stomach, his mind trying to slowly process what had just happened. He wasn't sure why the only sound he could hear was a high pitched ring when he could see people walking around and things falling down to meet him on the ground through a black fog. The black fog was beautiful to him. It danced and swayed around him, until it made him feel nauseous. He blinked his eyes slowly, craning his neck to see his surroundings. They swam, just like the black fog, but he could see the outlines of a few people, some were laying on the ground like him, while others appeared to be walking around unsure of where they were going. He wanted to help them, get them to where they needed to be. He was vaguely aware of an idea in the back of his mind that he was supposed to be doing something of importance, instead of sleeping, or whatever he was doing on the ground. The fact he didn't really know what he was doing or how he got to this position confused him.
He pulled his arms next to his body, perplexed by the burning and stinging of his skin the movement caused. He flattened his hands against the ground and flinched when his palm met a rough surface. He pushed his body off the ground so that he was on his hands and knees. He let his head hang and he breathed slowly working through the dizziness, trying to muster more energy to get himself the rest of the way up. Slowly, and by some miracle if he was honest, he stood on his feet. His legs betrayed him, refused to support his weight properly and shook as if his small frame was to much to bear. He blinked, trying to get rid of the blurriness that distorted his surroundings, but to no avail. He rubbed at his eyes in a desperate attempt to clear his vision, then squinted. He saw the hazy form of an abandon warehouse that had been reduced to nothing but bits of warped steel and ashes. Noticing the black fog, that he had been mesmerized by only moments ago, roll off what was left of the building along with scattered, flickering flames, he came to the realization the destruction must have just happened.
His eyes widened in horror, a million thoughts slamming back into his memory: the case, the bomb and like a cruel joke, his mind displayed what was left of a charred plane. Even through his blurry vision, he could clearly see there was no such thing but his mind refused to stop playing the tragedy. He tried to take a deep breath, but the smoke, and what his mind told him was ash, stuck in his throat constricting his breathing and after a few seconds of desperate coughing, his breathing stopped all together.
The van was muggy. The summer heat beating down on the outside of the van made it impossible for the air condition to keep up. He pulled his shirt away from his chest and fanned himself. Diana and Jones did the same, until they heard crackle through their headphones and what could be mistaken for an uncharacteristic, nervous stammer. They stilled, sharing a look, and listened intently. Silence and quick breaths flowed through the headphones until a loud explosion could be heard both through the headphones and without them. The van shook, pens and small nicknacks rolled off the tabletops that held the monitors. All three agents grasped something firm nearby until the explosion calmed, then all at once ripped their headphones off and rushed out of the back door of the van.
The sight that greeted them was a normal one despite the black smoke floating through the air. Turning their heads in the direction it was coming from they noticed it was from the last place they wanted it to be and took off running, Diana and Jones calling for back up on their way.
Peter Burke ran as fast as he could. His feet pounded into debris covered pavement, unsure where his feet would land. Soot and smoke burned at his eyes. He blinked against it, but didn't falter in his running. It seemed to take hours to reach the explosion site, but when he made it a small part of him wish he hadn't. He knew lives were lost and silently prayed Neal wasn't one of them. He could see a few people walking around in a daze, while screams, muffled by the destroyed warehouse, could be heard in the distance. He thanked God that the warehouse was out away from the city, otherwise they would be dealing with a bigger mess and more lives at risk. He looked behind him to see the calvary arrive and start tending to the people. He looked around frantically calling for Neal. He was starting to panic when he didn't receive an answer, until an agent called his name.
"Agent Burke! Over here!"
Peter snapped his head around to see one of his agents standing next to someone hunched over. Praying it was Neal, Peter ran. He skidded to a stop next to them, his heart swelling when he noticed that it was Neal, but it quickly dropped into his stomach when he heard the younger man's gasps for air completely stop and only saw his mouth hang open unable to force air into his lungs. He placed an arm around his back and helped him sit back down on the pavement.
"Go get an EMT right now!" Peter yelled at the gawking agent, before forcing Neal's head between his legs.
"Come on, Neal. Breathe." Peter coaxed, his voice full of panic. He heard Neal cough and he patted his back with force in an attempt to assist him, but other than that Neal didn't comply. "Dammit Neal, Breathe!" He was much more forceful this time and received a couple of gasps of air from the younger man which threw him into another coughing fit.
Peter was thankful when an EMT arrived. She immediately supplied Neal with oxygen through an oxygen mask and after several minutes Neal finally started to breathe somewhat normal again. Peter sat beside him with his hand still on the younger man's back as the EMT began to check him over, but when she grabbed his arm Neal jerked back away from her. Peter looked worriedly at Neal, who was looking at the ground, then gave a questioning look to the EMT. She tried to check him over again, but received the same reaction and a muffled protest of "No".
Peter watched Neal raise a trembling hand covered in scrapes, towards his face and pull the oxygen mask away from him.
"I-I'm fine. You need...to check on...the o-others."
"Sir, we have to check on you." She said flatly moving to check him over, but Neal once again resisted.
"No. No! I'm...fine. You have to get them. You have to get...her..." Neal's voice trailed off as his eyes took on a distant look which Peter noticed very well.
Peter turned to the EMT.
"I'll stay with him. Just give him a few minutes. Go check on the others."
She looked reluctant to leave, but Peter assured her he would make sure he was fine until she got back.
"Okay, fine. But make sure he keeps breathing through the oxygen mask." She ordered then left the two men alone.
The agent looked at his consultant, who sat with a blank stare, breathing in pure oxygen.
"Neal?" Peter waited for acknowledgement, but received none. "Neal, look at me."
He slowly maneuvered himself so that he was kneeling in front of his consultant. He put his hand on top of Neal's head and gently took a fist full of his matted hair and pulled back gently so that the man's eyes were level with his. He watched Neal's eyes waver from focused to unfocused and for a moment Peter was caught in the flashback with Neal where the world stripped the con of every ounce of his believed purpose. Blue eyes became even sharper as the lost look that haunted Peter every night after Kate's death swam in them.
"P-peter..." His voice was muffled and the agent could tell that bothered him. Neal pulled the oxygen mask away from his face. "Please...we have to s-save her..." As soon as the words left his mouth, he looked down at the ground. "Them. I..I mean them."
Peter looked at his friend worriedly. He knew that Neal's mind was going in and out of reality and retreating back to the explosion of Kate's plane. He had been in many undesirable places and petrifying circumstances, but that day at the airstrip made it to number one on the agent's list with the first harsh scream that left Neal's throat and he spurned the idea of reliving it and he refused to let Neal live through it again, too. However, he decided not to press the issue until the EMT came back, so instead he slowly placed the oxygen mask back on Neal's face.
"It's alright, Neal. There's agents and EMTs all over this place. They'll get them. I promise." Peter assured.
Neal waited a few moments, then nodded his head. Peter sighed.
"Are you hurt?" He asked. Neal looked at him confused.
"Why would I be hurt, Peter?" Neal's mouth moved but the tone of voice that came out of it wasn't his own. Neal Caffrey never showed uncertainty.
The agent swallowed thickly and turned to see if any EMTs were nearby. Seeing none, he turned back to Neal and forced a calm smile.
"You were just involved in an explosion, Neal."
Neal looked at him in horror and took off his oxygen mask, despite Peter's efforts to stop him.
"I didn't do this, Peter." His voice was rough, but hurt. He tried to stand, but Peter put his hands on the younger man's shoulders to stop him. "I would never..."
"I know, Neal. I know." Peter said, mentally cursing himself for his poor wording. "I know you didn't do this, but you were here when it happened. I'm asking you if you're hurt, Neal. Are you?"
"No, Peter. I'm fine." Neal swayed back slightly, trying to focus on Peter.
"Yeah... you're fine, Neal." Peter sighed while steadying the younger man. He was about to yell for an EMT when Diana called his name.
"Peter! We need you over here."
Peter sighed and glanced back at his consultant who had been reduced to the shell of Neal Caffrey, missing his devious, vibrant soul. He saw a young EMT and waved him over.
"Check him over. I'll be right back."
The EMT nodded and Peter took one last look at Neal who hadn't even noticed the EMT in front of him. He debated telling Neal he would be back, but decided against it and made his way over to Diana.
Thirty minutes later, Peter found Neal sitting few feet away from where he had first found him. He was sitting up straight, without an oxygen mask or anyone around him, watching some of the workers clear the wreckage and search for their missing suspects.
Peter walked over to his consultant and stood in front of him, blocking his view of the wreckage.
"Did you get checked out?" Peter asked, skeptical of the answer. Neal's face was still covered in black soot, but the blood that ran from the cuts and scrapes on his skin was gone. He cocked his head to the side when Neal acted like he didn't hear him, let alone see him. He waved a hand in front of his face, startling the younger man. "Neal?"
"Oh, hey Peter." Neal looked up at him, but squinted as if the sun was in his eyes despite the fact it was cloudy and smoky.
"Did you get checked out?" Peter asked again.
"Yeah. I did." Neal answered looking around Peter to watch the men working again. This time Peter bent down in front of him to block his line of sight.
"Yeah? What'd they say?" He asked, watching his consultant closely.
"That I was lucky. A few scrapes and bruises and some smoke inhalation, but I'm fine." Neal answered matter of fact.
Peter looked at him suspiciously, but Neal was acting more like himself now than before so he figured Neal was telling the truth.
"Alright. Well we need to get your statement, but were going back to the office, so you can just write it down there."
"Did they find them?" Neal asked, still looking at the workers.
"Everyone except our two suspects." Peter answered, turning around to glance at the wreckage behind him and thanking God Neal wasn't underneath it.
"Do you think they are trapped? That they are still alive?" Neal asked, looking at Peter as he turned back around to face him, but only for a second.
"Not for sure. But we will find them either way. Come on, we need to get going." Peter replied, taking Neal by the arm and standing up. Neal swayed but steadied quickly.
"Is everyone else ok? Did anyone get hurt?" He asked, walking behind Peter. Peter stopped and looked at Neal who still had yet to take his eyes off the wreckage.
"Three of their men were killed and few more injured." Peter answered, and when Neal didn't turn around he regretted telling him. Neal definitely didn't need to hear that right now. "Come on." He said, once again leading the way to the car.
They finally made it back to the Bureau, after stopping at June's to let Neal quickly shower and change. Peter led Neal through the crowd of busy and nosey agents up to his office. He told Neal to sit in his chair, surprised when the younger man didn't say anything about the privilege, and handed him a pen and a piece of paper.
"Somebody would usually come and get your statement but I thought it might be...easier on you if you just wrote it out yourself. Just write what you told me in the car. Any important details you left out. I have to go talk to Hughes, but I'll be right back. Don't leave this room."
Neal nodded, but didn't say anything.
Neal heard Peter leave and let out a long breath, coughing a bit as his lungs protested. He stared at the pen for a long time before actually picking it up in his shaking hands. He tried to focus on the lines on the paper but his vision was still blurry so he did his best to write out his statement in perfect penmanship. He finished in about twenty minutes and leaned back in Peter's chair.
Peter finished meeting with Hughes and a dozen other higher-ups explaining to them what had happened. They were furious to learn that the suspects had blown up the building and were no where to found, but it made Peter even more furious when Hughes was the only one to ask about Caffrey's well-being. As soon as they found out Neal was the undercover agent in the operation, they dismissed almost all concern. Peter calmly stormed out of the office and ran into Jones.
"Peter, glad I found you."
"What is it, Jones?" Peter asked, a bit more harshly than intended, but Jones didn't seem to take it personally.
"Just got done talking with the EMTs at the scene. They said that Caffrey refused medical treatment." Jones said, but his voice was more questioning than anything.
"No, he said..." Peter started to say but rubbed a hand across his face, "I'm going to kill him."
Jones grimaced at the furious tone in his boss's voice and decided this was one Caffrey chew out he didn't want to witness.
Neal flinched when the door to Peter's office swung open revealing a furious looking Peter.
"So tell me, Neal. Are the EMTs going rogue now or did you lie to me?" Peter asked, walking over to his desk. He stood with his hands on his desk, looming over the younger man.
"What are you talking about Peter?" Neal asked, rolling back away from the desk slightly.
"The paramedics told Jones you refused medical treatment, but you told me that they checked you out."
Neal's mouth hung open slightly, before he tried to explain.
"Peter, I am fine. I-"
"Oh really? You're fine? Then that must mean you always write like a five year old and can't write within the lines of the paper, huh?" Peter asked sarcastically, holding up Neal's statement to show him the horribly scribbled words that weaved in and out of the spaces on the page.
Neal just stared at Peter, seeing no use in lying.
Peter stared back him and then picked up a random piece of paper from his desk and held it up in front of Neal.
"Read the first sentence." He ordered.
Neal squinted up at him before opening his eyes wide. "Peter-"
"Read. It." Peter demanded. Neal opened his mouth but quickly shut it. He looked away from Peter for a few seconds, then back at him.
"I can't." Neal's voice was barely above a whisper.
"What was that?" Peter asked, even though he heard what Neal said.
"I said, I can't." Neal's voice was forceful, but he repeated it in a whisper. "I can't."
Peter sighed and walked around the desk. He leaned against it and looked at Neal.
"My vision...it's been blurry ever since...since the ...explosion." His brow nodded in what looked like confusion and Peter noticed Neal squeeze his hands together repeatedly.
Neal looked up at Peter when the agent didn't say anything. He saw Peter looking in the direction of his hands and he shrugged his shoulders.
"I can't...they won't stop...I can't make them stop." Neal muttered squeezing his shaking hands in an attempt to make them still.
Peter sucked in a deep breath and slid off the desk. He knew he had to handle this situation carefully. He squatted down so he was eye level with Neal.
"It's ok, Neal. That isn't uncommon with shock. It'll stop." Peter said gently. He glanced at Neal's statement, reading the words in his head that appeared in wobbly handwriting on the statement form, "walking towards the plane when it exploded".
"Neal, you need to get checked out at the hospital, ok?"
"Why Peter? I wasn't even on...the plane." Neal said, looking at him with glassy eyes.
"I...I know, Neal. But, just as a precaution, okay? I'll take you to the hospital, you'll get checked out, won't take but fifteen minutes or so, and then I'll take you home."
Peter placed a careful hand on Neal's shoulder and felt the younger man flinch ever so slightly. Neal nodded his head in agreement and stood with some support from Peter.
Neal had a puzzling look on his face that the agent couldn't figure out.
"Something the matter?" Peter asked.
"Have they found them, yet?"
"Found who Neal?" Peter asked, although he already knew where this was going.
"The pilot and Ka- ... the suspects. I mean the suspects."
Peter swallowed thickly and readjusted his grip on his consultant's arm.
"Not yet, but we will. Come on." Peter replied, pulling Neal along gently.
Peter and Elizabeth sat in the cramped waiting room. Peter had called Elizabeth when Neal was taken back for examination and was beyond relieved when she showed up at the hospital ten minutes later. His wife locked arms with his and laid her head on his shoulder.
"It was so strange, El." Peter stated after moments of silence. "It was like one minute he was coherent then the next he was back at the airstrip when Kate's plane exploded."
Elizabeth lifted her head off his shoulder and sighed.
"Honey, Neal will be fine. You said yourself that stuff like that isn't uncommon with shock."
Peter sighed and rubbed a tired hand over his face.
"Agent Burke?" An older doctor, a friend of the Bureau's, called from the front desk.
Peter and Elizabeth stood quickly.
"Hey Peter. Elizabeth." The doctor greeted while shaking there hands. "It's been awhile."
"Hey Sam. How's Neal?" Peter asked immediately, skipping the small talk. Elizabeth and Sam exchanged a knowing look.
"He's fine, Peter. He had a few minor cuts and scrapes, which we cleaned and bandaged. He has a little bump on the head with a minor concussion. He is experiencing a little ringing in his ears from the blast, but that will go away with time. Lastly, he is experiencing signs of post traumatic stress. Now, I am aware of the plane incident, so it is understandable for him to be experiencing flashbacks and given his concussion, being confused with what is actually happening is normal."
The Burkes let out a relieved sigh. Sam gave a small smile.
"The confusion will wear off in a few hours and I'm sure that once the initial shock of what has happened wears off, the flashbacks will stop. However, if they don't make sure he talks to someone about them, professional or not."
Peter nodded his head in understanding and shook Sam's hand.
"Thanks, Sam. When will he be released?" He asked.
"He's actually being discharged now, as long as he is under supervision for the next 24 hours but I didn't think that would be a problem." Sam informed.
"No, it isn't a problem." Elizabeth assured.
"I'll need one of you to go sign the release forms. The other can go see how he is coming along with his new attire. He's in room 233."
"Thanks, Sam. Good seeing you again but, I wish we could see you under different circumstances." Elizabeth replied. "You and Valerie should come over for dinner sometime."
"Yes, that would be great. I'll have her call you." Sam agreed. "Now, I've got to finish my rounds. Good seeing you two again and Neal, too."
The Burkes waved good-bye and Peter looked at Elizabeth.
"I'll go sign the papers." Peter offered but, Elizabeth could tell he didn't really want to be the one to sign them.
Elizabeth laughed. "Honey, go. I'll sign the papers. You go get Neal."
Peter sighed and gave an embarrassed smile.
Peter entered the small exam room to find Neal sitting on the side of the bed, his skinny legs dangling and swaying ever so slightly. Peter would have laughed when he noticed Neal's new attire which consisted of light blue hospital pants and a white t-shirt, except dark blue bruises swirled with shades of purple, along with long scrapes and white bandages that almost matched the tint of the younger man's skin, diminished his laugh.
He noticed Neal's black slacks and dress shirt were folded neatly beside him.
"What happened to your clothes? Are the nurses here not fond of Devore?" Peter asked, trying to make his presence known, since Neal had yet to look at him.
"They are but not with blood on them." Neal replied listlessly, staring at his dangling feet.
"Right." Peter said, flatly. He took a nervous breath, then moved stiffly to sit beside Neal on the bed.
"Can I leave, yet?" Neal's voice cut him off. He had yet to look at the agent, and Peter could tell it was on purpose.
"Yeah, El is signing you out. Are you ready?" Peter asked.
"Yeah." Neal slid off the bed with ease and shrugged off Peter's supporting hands.
The older man grabbed Neal's clothes and caught up with him in the hall. He was walking at a delicate pace, whether it was because he was trying to stall seeing Elizabeth in mother hen mode or he was sore from being thrown by the blast of the explosion, Peter wasn't sure but guessed it was a little of both.
They had made it to the end of the wing, the doors, that led out into the main lobby where Elizabeth was waiting for them, still closed, when Neal suddenly stopped.
"Neal?" Peter asked, afraid that there was something physically wrong with his friend or he was in another flashback, because the walk they had just taken felt just like the one after Kate died.
"Peter..." Neal's voice trailed off, his face showing the emotions of the battle going on in his head.
"What is it, Neal?" Peter's phrasing would have came off as annoyed if his voice hadn't been laced with concern.
"I knew..." Neal paused, as if the feeling of being honest was to much to bear.
"Knew what, Neal?" Peter asked, clearly clueless as to what Neal was going to say. Neal's face showed Peter every emotion that coursed through his body, and Peter felt as if he violating Neal's privacy even though the younger man put it on display.
"I knew that...I knew that they had ...a bomb. I knew as soon as I walked in." Neal confessed, as he leaned against the railing attached to the hospital walls and looked down at his feet.
"Why didn't you say anything? We could have sent S.W.A.T. in and we could've done it right and got the guys." Peter's voice wasn't accusing, just dumbfounded and irritated, the agent in him thriving.
"I know, but I just..." Seeing Neal Caffrey struggle for something to say, made Peter want to have him admitted to the hospital. Neal Caffrey without a silver tongue was a Neal Caffrey that didn't, shouldn't exist.
"Just what?" Peter questioned. He knew he sounded like he was interrogating a suspect, but he hoped that it came across as genuine.
"I knew you would come...and if ...or when the bomb went off...I didn't ...I couldn't go through that again..." Neal struggled through the sentence until Peter finally saved him.
"Neal, I get it." Peter leaned his back against the wall so his shoulder brushed against Neal's. He stared at his feet but used peripheral vision to glance at his consultant, who would have been standing statue-still if not for his trembling legs and shaking hands. "But that doesn't mean you get to put your life on the line for mine."
"I think every one would disagree with that statement." Neal replied flatly and with a misplaced grin.
"I don't." Peter shot back without missing a beat. Peter was mesmerized by Neal's brilliance day in and day out but was astounded of how little value he put on his own life.
"I'm the agent, you're the consultant. I'm the one responsible for you, not the other way around."
"How do you think Elizabeth would feel about that? She expects me to watch your back, you know." Neal asked, this time looking at the blurry form of Peter's face.
Peter curled his lips in, showing he was giving the question some thought.
"Elizabeth has always liked me having a partner. It makes her feel less worried, but you're not my partner."
Neal swallowed thickly, and felt his his chest cave with a new added weight as his stomach churned in protest. He felt he deserved it, for everything he had done.
Out of the corner of his eye, Peter saw Neal fidget uncomfortably. He watched the emotions play uncharacteristically across the con's face before elaborating.
"There's a fine line between being my partner and being family." Peter explained. He glanced at Neal who was now looking back down at the floor, his face back to a blank canvas. Peter shifted his weight, puffed his chest out and put his hands on his hips. Peter was disappearing and Agent Burke was resurfacing with each shield and wall Neal regained.
"We probably shouldn't keep Elizabeth waiting any longer." Neal said as if he hadn't even registered the family proclamation as he pushed himself away from the railing and headed towards the door.
Peter watched him go, not following right behind him. He watched the double doors swing back and forth until they stilled, before heading out into the lobby. He found Elizabeth examining the scrapes and bruises on Neal's arms and face beside the exit doors. He smiled slightly, when Neal took her gently by the wrists trying to assure he was fine.
Once he walked up to them he asked, "Ready to go?"
Elizabeth cast a curious glance between the two men as Neal just nodded and started to walk out. Peter just shrugged.
"I'll bring the car around." Peter said, putting his hand out for the keys.
"No, I'll go get it. You stay with Neal." Elizabeth said walking out the door as she said it so Peter couldn't argue. She knew her two men well enough to know there was something left unsaid, creating a tension and she wasn't riding in the car until it was solved.
Peter huffed as he watched Elizabeth walk across the parking lot, while he stood next to Neal.
"You're not taking me to June's are you?" Neal asked after a few seconds, even though he already knew the answer wasn't the one he wanted. He turned to look at Peter, one eye squeezed shut as if the sun was in his eyes although it was now dark out.
"Nope." Peter shook his head. Silence once again blanketed the two men. Neal stared off into space, in yet another painful flashback until he gave an involuntary flinch. Peter saw the younger man look at him out of the corner of his eye, then start picking at the bandages on his arm. Peter was about to tell him to stop, when the conman's voice beat him to it.
"Thank you, Peter...for everything." Neal said as he tried to smooth down the medical tape on his arm.
Elizabeth pulled the Taurus up to the curb at the perfect time for both agent and consultant. When they reached the side of the car, before they opened the door, Peter turned to Neal and patted him on the back. Neal took a moment to place a grin that he rarely displays on his face, a grin he had come to find reserved for the Burkes and turned to Peter. For a split second, his mind showed an array of scenes, some showing memories, while others played out his worst fears, but they all shared the same outcome of the death of someone he loved. However, his grin never faltered as he stared at his handler, his family, because even if one came true, the agent before him had made more of impact on his life than any explosion ever could.
Neal Caffrey ran as fast as he could. His feet pounded into debris covered pavement, unsure where his feet would land. Soot and smoke burned at his eyes. He blinked against it, but didn't falter in his running. It seemed to take hours to reach the explosion site, but when he made it a small part of him wish he hadn't. He knew lives were lost and silently prayed Peter wasn't one of them. He could see a few people walking around in a daze, while screams, muffled by the destroyed warehouse, could be heard in the distance. He thanked God that the warehouse was out away from the city, otherwise they would be dealing with a bigger mess and more lives at risk. He looked behind him to see the calvary arrive and start tending to the people. He looked around frantically calling for Peter. He was starting to panic when he didn't receive an answer, until an agent called his name.
He opened his eyes to find himself laying in bed in the guest bedroom of the Burkes home with Elizabeth and Peter standing over him, their familiar worried frowns perfectly in place, and what felt like for the first time, he realized he was in the perfect place as well.
AN: Feedback is appreciated! Thanks for reading!