Neal woke slowly to darkness, a throbbing headache, and a searing pain in his chest. He tried to bring a hand up to his chest but was stopped by the tug of steel chains around his wrists, securing his arms painfully behind him. If there was any doubt that something wasn’t wrong, that doubt was now gone.
Turning his head, trying to get his bearings, Neal felt some kind of rough cloth covering, scratching his cheeks and leaving him in relative darkness.
Neal tried to piece together scattered fragments of his memory, but the last thing he could remember was leaving the bureau to get coffee for him and Peter this morning. Was it this morning? Yesterday? Days ago? The darkness and ringing in his ears made it hard to determine anything about his location or the time of day.
The clanging of a metal door closing brought him back to the present as someone entered the room and sat heavily somewhere to Neal’s right.
Neal mentally scanned his body, gathering any information he could use to orientate himself. He could feel cold, damp stone beneath his bare feet. He still had on the clothes he last remembered wearing; a button-down, slacks, and a brightly patterned tie he wore especially because Diana didn’t like it.
A grumble sounded from whoever was in the room with him, and footsteps echoed on the floor as they approached. “Boss I think he’s awake,” a rough voice spoke near his ear.
The clicking of expensive shoes echoed through the room, methodically approaching Neal. Had this other person been in the room with him this entire time? The covering was suddenly, forcefully pulled off his head, and Neal winced as his eyes painfully adjusted to the bright lights shining at him.
“Hello Neal, glad you finally decided to join us.” A tall, thin man stood above him, wearing an expensive suit, and smiling mockingly. Neal was pretty good at remembering faces, but he had never seen this man in his life, so he tried to keep it cool, carrying on the light energy of the conversation.
“I’m sorry, have we met? I can’t say I remember the joy of making your acquaintance.”
The man stepped closer to Neal, leaning in close the overwhelming stench of tobacco filling Neal’s nose.
“You don’t know me. But you will for as long as this takes. By the end, you won’t know anything else. And it doesn’t matter who I am, that doesn’t concern you, this is between me and Peter Burke.”
“Ahhh,” Neal smiled his classically charming smile, “so we have a mutual friend!”
“Your friend,” the man spat the word at Neal, “Agent Burke took away 20 years of my life! So I’m taking something away from him… his little pet.”
“First off, that’s your fault for getting caught, second, I’m not Peter’s pet, it’s a symbiotic relationship.” The man's patience evaporated as Neal replied. The power dynamic in this situation was not what it should be, considering one of them was chained to a chair.
“Are you not Peter’s pet? He does keep you on a leash after all. But now you’re off-leash, and he’ll simply think you’ve run away. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time. We cut your anklet and threw it into the river, so don’t expect your little friends at the bureau to find you that easily.”
“So if this isn’t about me, what is your end goal? Just keep me here till Peter notices?"
The man’s face split into a sneer-like smile, and he kneeled down to eye-level with Neal, grasping his face with two large, calloused hands. “Well since you asked... We’re gonna rough you up a bit, not too much at first, then we’re gonna send Agent Burke a few pictures.”
The man paused, releasing Neal’s face and grasping Neal’s tie, wrapping it around his hand as it cinched tighter around his neck. He continued to pull it as he spoke, “Once he’s on the case we’ll update him periodically with, how shall I put this… ‘progress pics,’" his hands continued to wind the necktie, abruptly cutting off Neal’s airway, “and last, but not least, when he’s closing in, I’m going to start a live stream to the bureau and I am going to kill you.” He whispered these last five words, staring into Neal’s watering eyes. Neal’s heart hammered as he tried to gasp in a breath. This man was going to kill him. As his vision began to swim the pressure loosened. Coughing, Neal tried desperately to fill his lungs. The man turned away, towards the man who Neal assumed was the henchman, the leader’s suit was way too nice to risk getting blood on. The henchman stood up and walked closer, standing menacingly above Neal’s restrained body. “Let’s start shall we.”
The henchman tore open Neal’s shirt, several buttons popping and rolling away, but Neal knew a ruined shirt wouldn’t be the biggest problem he was about to face. Within seconds blows began to rain down. A backhand to his temple threw his head to the side quickly, followed by a palm strike catching his nose, neck whipping back as he felt his nose crack and fill with blood. Pain flooded his face, eyes watering from the shock, but the man was only warming up.
He must have had some training, the hits were quick and to the point, hitting precisely to cause pain but not a severe amount of damage. At least not yet. After what felt like hours but was probably less than five minutes he stepped back, admiring his handiwork, grabbing a rag off the table near Neal, and wiping the blood off his hands.
The other man stepped towards Neal again, pulling out a phone. “Smile for the picture Neal.” Neal’s mind spun as he realized Peter probably didn’t even know he was gone yet, or if he had noticed he had no reason to think Neal was in danger. Trying to remain any sliver of his composure, Neal smiled, holding back a wince as his cut lip pulled, blood dripping down his chin.