Title: Dreaming Through The Noise
Pairing/Rating: Gen, T
Word count: 2500
Content/Warnings: Sleep deprivation.
Summary: It took longer than it probably should have for Neal to realise he was seriously in trouble.
- o -
It took longer than it probably should have for Neal to realise he was seriously in trouble.
They took his watch with its hidden transmitter right before the car ride with the bag over his head, but that wasn't such a big deal. It was practically routine by now. And he hadn't actually been hurt; just pushed into a white-painted room devoid of any furniture. White tiled flooring, too, and harshly bright ceiling lights.
The door was a bust. No amount of picks in the world were any use against what he suspected was a deadbolt on the other side. He hadn't even been given a handle to work with and the frame was flush along every edge. He kicked it a couple of times — mostly for show, it wasn't worth scuffing his shoes over.
In fact, for a long while he was simply bored. The initial adrenaline from the kidnapping had worn off and he sat against the wall coming up with suitable nonchalant things to say to Peter when he eventually bothered to show up.
That got boring too. He admired the evenness of the white paint on the walls. The decorator had done a good job.
The lights were beginning to give him a headache.
He didn't recognise the man who eventually walked into the room and stood next to the door as if daring him to try and make a run for it. A big man in an off-the-rack black suit with a black shirt. Close-cut black hair. Polarised sunglasses. All in all, the very epitome of someone a sensible person would do well to avoid. He practically had hired muscle stamped on his forehead.
Neal ignored him. The guy had clearly been sent in to make him nervous; he wouldn't be someone who could be talked around. But he might be signalling that something more interesting was about to happen.
Having thought quickly through all the possible ramifications of that Neal changed his mind and decided that he liked boredom just fine, thank you very much.
Finally, the man who was presumably the boss of this little operation appeared. They had assumed he would reveal himself back at the building with the FBI van outside, but better late than never. "Mitchell," he said.
Neal breathed a microscopic sigh of relief, because the whole kidnapping thing had got him worried that his cover had been blown — but apparently this guy still knew him as some small time forger rather than Caffrey. "You've got me at a disadvantage," he said coolly.
"Call me John. Nice and friendly."
John was wearing a more expensive suit than his hired thug, although it was clearly still from a store and not tailored. He had blond hair worn just slightly longer than would have looked good on him and an incredibly ostentatious Rolex. He looked… just slightly familiar. Nothing that could be pinned down.
"Usually my friends don't put a bag over my head, move me to an unknown location and lock me in a room," Neal said. "I though we had our business arrangement all worked out."
"Oh, we do. I'm just on a rather tighter schedule than I'd anticipated." John's smile was all coldness and insincerity. He could at least have pretended. "I apologise for the way I've had to go about securing your cooperation."
"You could just have asked. You know, in person, like the plan was for." Neal could already tell that this was a man he wouldn't be able to talk around or derail. John had an agenda and was interested only in following it through.
He would just have to play along for now and rely on Peter to find him soon. He figured he was relatively safe as long as John was getting what he wanted — but if that changed things would likely get ugly for him, and fast. While he had to admit to a certain enjoyment in taking down bad guys his enthusiasm most definitely didn't extent to the prospect of risking life and limb unnecessarily. Peter wouldn't really expect that from him. Surely even Hughes wouldn't.
John raised his eyebrows slightly, as if he had been waiting for Neal's internal debate to be over. "I'm asking you now, Mitchell," he said, and put just enough emphasis on the name for Neal to have to suppress a shiver of unease. "Are you going to help me?"
Neal stood in one easy motion. "I'm going to," he said. "What do you want?"
John smiled. It didn't touch his eyes. "Good decision."
- o -
It turned out that what John wanted him to do was, quite simply, to produce copies of paintings. Neal almost laughed at his earlier reluctance — this was easy. And safe. He was given paints and an easel, and the guard sat on a chair just inside the door, watching him. The canvas he had to copy was a cityscape by an artist he didn't recognise, all firm lines and abstract colours.
The work absorbed him. He was almost having fun. Not that he would mention that to anyone on the team; Diana especially would probably accuse him of it anyway when they broke him out.
After some interval of time the door was unlocked from the outside and a different guard tossed a bottle of water and a plastic-wrapped sandwich onto the floor. With the two considerably-larger-than-him men to watch him he was allowed to use the bathroom which turned out to be opposite his cell. It didn't have a door. They were being very careful.
He tried to spot anything in these new surroundings which he could use to his advantage, but the corridor was white and sparse and the bathroom only had a toilet and a sink, and there were no windows anywhere at all. Then he was back in the first room and aware again of the unnecessary harshness of the lights.
"Any chance I can borrow your sunglasses?" he asked the second guard, who had replaced the first in the chair. From behind the door came the grinding sound of bolts being slid into place.
The guard didn't speak. The identical dark glasses and dark clothing made him look eerily similar to the first. Maybe they're all grown in a vat. Mozzie would love that theory.
Neal drank half the water, wishing for an aspirin to dispel his headache, and got back to his forging.
- o -
He worked until his eyes were stinging from tiredness. "Am I supposed to sleep on the floor?" he asked. "Can I get room service to bring me a pillow?"
"Keep working," the guard ordered.
"I have no idea how late it is, but I'm pretty sure it's past my bedtime. I need my beauty sleep, you know."
The guard didn't look amused. "Orders are, you keep going. You don't get to stop until the boss says you can."
"Your boss expects me not get a break? I thought he wanted good forgings. I need sleep for that."
"You don't get sleep. Now shut up."
That was when Neal started to seriously get concerned about how long it was taking Peter to show up.
- o -
He wished that he had some way of judging time. That was one of the things which was worrying him — not being able to know how worried he should be.
His head was killing him. While he was painting he zoned out from the world, but as soon he surfaced from that near-trance it hit him with full force. At least he'd been given more water, but he'd also been given a different canvas and a demand for six copies of that one, too. Another painting he didn't recognise — trees this time. He was suspecting that John was just screwing with him, forcing him to copy out worthless art in an overly bright room. And not letting him rest. Had he been a past mark? There was that familiarity still. It wasn't a good thought.
Neal's body was aching, and he felt vaguely sick. He leaned forwards against the easel, eyes falling shut. He felt so heavy…
He jerked upright with a yell as hot pain volted through him from his neck.
The guard — was it one he'd previously seen? he couldn't remember — brandished what looked like a small taser. Made to hurt, not to cause unconsciousness, and Neal felt briefly regretful of that. "You've already been told the rules."
"That hurt," he complained, rubbing the sore patch of skin.
That got him a shrug.
- o -
When he was next allowed a bathroom break he splashed cold water over his face and the back of his neck. There wasn't a mirror on the wall for him to see what he looked like, which was probably a small mercy. He was tempted to try asking for dark glasses again, and had got as far as opening his mouth before his neck twinged and he remembered why it might not be the cleverest of ideas.
Specks were dancing in the corners of his eyes. He tried, again, to estimate how long he had been missing for. Well over a day, at least. Days?
He obeyed, stumbling and nearly falling, finding himself breathing hard against dizziness.
This was bad.
- o -
"Peter!" Neal exclaimed. He straightened up, turning.
And there was no one there. Just white blank walls. But he had seen Peter, just for a second, moving in from his peripheral vision.
No one there.
- o -
He lost track of time completely around then. Some part of him grimly registered that he was actively hallucinating but he didn't have enough energy to be concerned about it. His vision greyed and blurred when he turned his head too fast.
Help me, he thought, and that was apparently the trigger for his subconscious to conjure up the people who should be rescuing him, people he trusted to come and get him. Moz, Diana, Jones, even June snapped into focus and were gone just as quickly.
He fumbled his paintbrush and it dropped, and when he bent to pick it up he lost his balance and dropped too. Can't get up.
But he did, at the stinging jolt of another electric shock. "Get up, Caffrey," ordered Peter, and Neal did, because it was Peter asking.
"You're supposed to be getting me out of here," he said, having to use the easel for support until his leg muscles remembered how to hold him up properly.
"Can't rush these things," Peter said, regarding him with his hands on his hips.
"A little rushing might be nice," Neal protested, but Peter had gone.
- o -
He forgot what he was supposed to be painting and found that he had been filling in the skyline as viewed from his apartment. He slapped white paint over the canvas and it smudged grey. Stupid. But there was no reaction from the guard. Again he suspected that no one actually cared what he was doing, as long as it wasn't sleeping.
"Just hold on," Peter said.
Neal stopped trying to make the canvas look clean and new again, and doodled Satchmo in blue in one corner, to encourage Peter to hurry up.
- o -
"Are you really here?" Neal asked doubtfully.
"Of course not," said Mozzie, and turned into El smiling sadly at him to prove the point.
Neal ground his teeth and smacked his hand against his forehead. It helped him focus for a second, while the lights stabbed needles into his eyes.
He painted orange birds of prey, hovering.
"Are you really here?" he asked, a minute later.
"Trust me," Peter said, but then he vanished.
"I do," Neal said to the empty air.
- o -
"How're you holding up?"
"Stop turning up just to ask stupid questions, Peter."
"You just need to wait a bit longer."
"You're getting boring. Go away."
- o -
"Neal?" Peter said, "Are you okay?"
Neal rolled his eyes, and had to close them for a few seconds. "Shut up. I'm busy."
"Neal, you can stop doing that now. It's alright."
"Yeah, thanks for the advice."
Peter took a couple of steps closer. "Hey. Caffrey! Look at me."
Neal did, and shrugged. "You're not real enough to be interesting."
"What are you talking about?" There was a tightness in Peter's voice. "I am real. I'm right here."
"Sure." He turned back to the canvas.
Peter pulled the brush away and dropped it on the floor. It dragged a streak of green across Satchmo's picture as Neal fought to keep it in place. Peter took hold of Neal's shoulders and turned him. "God. What did they do to you?"
Cautiously, Neal reached up a hand and poked Peter's shoulder just above his vest. He was aware that he was shaking, but it was out of his control, like apparently everything else. He expected his hand to go straight through but it didn't. Peter was solid and, oh god, there.
"Satisfied?" Peter asked carefully.
There was a knot in his chest. "You're here."
"Everything's going to be okay."
"You said that before," Neal reminded him. "Then you disappeared and you kept doing that. You kept disappearing."
"That's okay," Neal said magnanimously, and then his knees gave out and it was only due to Peter lunging forward that he ended up sitting on the floor instead of splatted against it.
"Ambulance," Peter barked.
"Already on its way," Diana said. Had she been in the room all along? Neal squinted into the blurry distance. There was no guard anymore.
He was still being held by Peter. "You said you'd come and find me," he said.
"Well of course I would. Did."
"I believed you. Like you told me. Am I allowed to sleep yet?"
Diana leaned down to murmur in Peter's ear. They both looked tired, too, and Peter's forehead was creased with worry. Neal hoped that Diana was actually there. He didn't have any evidence himself but Peter seemed aware of her and that would have to do for now.
Peter studied him very carefully. "They haven't let you sleep at all? That's what this is?"
It was just too much. "I kept telling you!" Neal insisted, letting all his frustration pour into his voice. "Both of you, over and over!"
Diana suddenly snorted with tension-relieving laughter and Peter's weary face cracked into a grin. "You remember how we weren't really there, don't you?"
Neal was only really interested in one thing. "So I'm allowed to," he said, a little petulantly, and let himself slump forward. Peter was there to catch and hold him, firm and real and safe.
"Caffrey, don't do that," Peter said a little helplessly, as Diana laughed.
Too late, Neal thought contentedly, and slept.