[OOC: From here.]
Ryan's head snaps back to where the door had been. "No," he whispers, running his hand against the rough flat wall, like concrete, that was now there. He doesn't feel the door but he keeps looking for a few moments, hitting the wall with the palm of his hand - enough to hurt - when he realizes what this is.
The wall is warm when he leans his head against it. He doesn't look behind him but he can hear the screams and cries, he can feel the warmth of the fire and the smoke is thick enough to choke him. Tears stinging his eyes, he starts moving forward. Logically he knows he can't escape this fate, he can't outrun what's waiting for him but all Ryan can think of is the crackling fire and the sickly-sweet smell of burning flesh. Oblivion is better than an eternity of that oh God, please...
He doesn't get far. Hands outstretched in front of him, he runs into another wall. One to his right, one in front of him and one to the left. He hits the wall again, with the side of his fist when it hurts his palm too much. Ryan's coughing now too, the smoke filling the corridor and making it difficult to see the light from the fires. He had to move forward or stand there choking.
Instead, he sinks to his knees and lies prone on the ground, his arms on either side of his head just to give him a little breathing room, some respite from the smoke. He blinks back the tears and pulls his shirt up to cover his nose and mouth, taking shallow breaths.
...never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided...
Between the fragments of a prayer, was Ryan's indignant refusal to accept that this was a just punishment and mumbled apologies and promises to whoever would listen.
...before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions but in thy mercy hear and answer me...
No answer came. No sound but fire engulfing everything, everyone, the cries that only seemed to get louder and his own ragged breathing. Ryan wasn't surprised, he hadn't expected an answer. That sinking feeling in his stomach when the door shut had told him there wouldn't be one.
Ryan sat up, covering his mouth with his shirt and his hand, and looked forward. Either the corridor had gotten shorter or the fire was spreading. It didn't matter, he realized as he got to his feet, he couldn't hide here. His knees felt weak and he needed one hand on the wall to guide and support him as he walked forward. He felt his stomach lurch with each step and at some points he was almost gripping the wall.
He reached the end of the corridor and moved beyond the cloud of smoke, choking and coughing as he did. His lungs burning at this point and his face wet with tears.
The coffin was empty. Her remains hadn't been found, assuming there was anything left to find. After their throats had been slit, the bodies of the five soldiers had been dragged through the streets and burned while their captors watched and cheered. His last image of his daughter would be her tired, pale face as she read the statement prepared for her. For each day that went by and the troops remained, one of the hostages would die.
In front of him is water, a lake, with fire dancing on the top. It was hard to tell if something floating in the water that was burning or if it was the "water" itself. Frozen in horror, Ryan watched as, across the lake, one crying woman crawled on the ground. Her hair and back on fire she dragged herself towards the edge of the lake and pulled herself in. He waited, looking for her to reemerge. Amazingly enough she did, gasping and sobbing as she surfaced. She floated there for a few seconds, looking around the water and she seemed to spot him.
"They've acquired a Soviet nuclear warhead that went 'missing' and are threatening to launch it if...
If she did, he'll never know. Out of nowhere, she was engulfed in flames again and shrieked in pain and surprise before disappearing under the water. He watched, his nausea almost overwhelming him as she surfaced once more, coughing now. It was barely a blink of an eye before she was swallowed in fire and went under once more, not to resurface again.
"Conservative estimates have the civilian casualty list at being three to five million dead since the war started five years ago. But other projections have the numbers climbing to ten million or more."
Ryan stood still for a moment, his face flushed, then crumpled to his knees as his stomach lurched violently and he vomited. Fingers digging into the dirt, he looked up and around him. He was in an open area, it looked like a park or a field. It was hard to tell. There were ragged stumps and even holes in the ground from where the trees had been before being torn down or uprooted. He could see some of them lying on the ground, charred and burning.
"The streets of your cities will run red with the blood of your dead and their cries will echo in the ears of Americans' for years to come."
He got up quickly, feeling dizzy as he did and started walking. He didn't look back towards the lake and tried not to focus on the few people around him still moving, still crying out in pain. He didn't register anything around except the smell of melting asphalt that got stronger the further he walked. Ryan blinked in surprise as he reached the edge of the park. What he assumed was the street was littered with fallen trees and overturned cars. Beyond that were the fractured steel skeletons of the skyscrapers that had once made up the skyline.
With a dull sense of sadness, Ryan realized this was New York City.
Ryan stalked over to his desk and threw down the files. "I want them wiped off the face of the earth. I don't care. Fuck the Hague. I want them all dead."
There was nowhere to go but he kept walking down the sidewalk. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see people, covered in blood and dirt, walking around in a daze. Most of them silent. The moribund. They were dying, he knew it and they did too. No one could help them, any hospital close enough had been destroyed and no sirens could be heard coming for them. Help wouldn't be here days and they only had hours if that. Their bodies were breaking down. Their skin would peel off, their organs would melt to a pulp, they'd bleed from every orifice assuming they survived long enough for that to happen.
Ryan smiled and shook President Prescott's hand. "Thank you, sir." It felt good to finally have his effort noticed, to get what was owed to him. Prescott respected him, trusted him. He had as much told Ryan that Federal Director was just a step before becoming Director of the CIA and Ryan was more than ready to have that job. It's what he'd been working for his whole life.
Ryan swallowed, his mouth dry, and rubbed his stomach. The nausea and heat had him sweating, it was hard to think or focus. He hadn't realized he stepped into the street till he found it hard to move. He stared at the ground, not understanding, till he realized his shoes were stuck the melting asphalt. With some effort he pulled himself free and stepped back onto the pavement. Ryan scraped as much of the asphalt off as he could and was surprised by how tiring this little amount of effort was. He sat down in the sidewalk and put his head in his hands.
"Antonio Almeida and Michelle Dessler were convicted of conspiracy, third-degree assault and treason. They'll each serve sentences of twenty-five years to life at federal penitentaries..."
Six, maybe several feet away from Ryan, was a body. The only thing he could tell about it was that it was male and apparently still alive. Barely alive. The man wasn't moving much, his decomposing body stuck to the asphalt that was burning him further. Ryan could barely make out a face, except for the lips that moved as he whimpered. The rest was just red muscle and blood and black asphalt that clung to the skin.
Chris sat beside him, wearing her dress blues. Her face was stony, eyes blank as she looked at the coffin. Ryan stood to accept the folded flag though he still didn't believe this was happening. "Mr. Chappelle, your son served his country with honor and courage."
He started walking again, scratching absently at his arm as he did. He felt a sting of pain and looked down, he was bleeding from the few light scratches. The rest of the skin flaking and falling off. Ryan regarded this with an odd sense of attachment, not knowing how he could die if he was already dead. Or am I? It didn't matter. Death seemed a welcome release from this. After losing everything and everyone he cared about, he didn't care what happened to him. Vicky dead. His children dead. Even Caiti. He had gone looking for her, hoping she had made it out but he knew she hadn't. She was dead or dying and he wouldn't find her in time.
"President Palmer was pronounced dead at 10:24am. His assassins are still loose and early intelligence reports suggest they were working with Syed Ali."
But Ryan kept moving, not knowing where he was going, not caring. He just wanted some peace from the noise and the cries. He didn't want to hear them anymore. His steps were slow and at times he seemed to drag his feet. He focused on the ground in front of him, trying to block out everything else around him and nearly succeeding. He reached the corner of the sidewalk and wondered for a moment how he'll cross the asphalt street without getting stuck.
After a moment of being unable to decide, unable to think of anything he just turned around and sat on the stoop of the storefront behind him. All that was left of the store was the brick front with a stoop and a door right behind him.
"What if it was forged and we're about to bomb three innocent countries?"
Ryan put his hands on his hips and looked at him. "Tony, let me first say that your office has done a remarkable job today. There is no way the people on the Hill are not going to reward every one of you for your role in averting disaster."
The sound of approaching footsteps caused Ryan to look up. He was surprised to see a man walking by him, steady pace and seemingly focused unlike the others had been. Although Ryan wasn't sure why the man was walking towards ground zero instead of away from it. He wasn't bleeding but dirt and particles had blackened his hair and skin. He paused for a moment to look ahead.
Tony shook his head. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Let me finish. The success of this office today is due in large part to the technical team. The same team that has concluded that the Cyprus audio is an untreated, unforged original. There comes a time when you have to let go. Not every hunch works out. Bauer's chasing a ghost. I can't put it any simpler than that."
"We create our own hells," he said, pausing long enough to look at Ryan as he did. Then he continued down the street.
Ryan stood and turned around, wondering if he understood what was being said. This is a choice. One shaking hand on the door he opened it, not acting on logic but instinct.
He steps forward into the darkness.
[Warning: Some graphic imagery and disturbing content. May be unsuitable for some readers.]