A/N: This story is wholeheartedly dedicated to my wonderful beta/pen pal Cosette141. She's the one that dragged me into White Collar, and after I mentioned being dissatisfied with the lack of whump in "The Front Man" and how I was going to think up some scenario it could have gone waaaay "better" she was basically like OMGGGGGGG WRITE IT. About 150 emails later, here we are. Enjoy!

The only sensation Neal had left was that of his back, pinned against the wall. He couldn't even feel the sensation of his own skull, thumping against the cheap plaster, keeping time with each slam of the man's fist against his face. He wasn't sure when the punches had stopped being individual blows, and instead melded into a continuous stream of burning punishment, a ravenous painter sweeping the canvas, not bothering to lift his brush until the whole canvas was covered in dripping paint.

That's probably what his face—the one with the smile that could melt any young lady's heart—had been reduced to by now. A canvas covered in drops of red.

"You shouldn't have done that, Neal." Wilkes' vanilla-smooth voice cut through the haze of scarlet before the distraction was shattered by knuckles slamming against Neal's forehead. "That girl was my linchpin, after all. You've made me angry." Another crack in the plaster. "Though I must admit, watching you bleed is quite cathartic."

The iron band around Neal's right arm tightened, and someone let out a soft chuckle.

Then, from somewhere in the swirling mass of blows slipped a ray of silence. He grabbed onto that, opening his mouth to speak.

"What was—" Bruised vocal cords scraping against one another, barely recognizable, even to himself. A pause in the hurricane of beaten brushstrokes upon the canvas.

He took the opportunity to suck in a breath, eyelids cracking open. Reality swam like a watercolor left out in the rain, blurred colors bleeding into one another.

"What was I supposed to do..." A ragged intake of breath, just trying to keep his eyes from closing. He could feel the blood leaking out of his nose, tickling his lip. "Just leave... her there… forced to watch… that guy and his… awful table manners?"

The man with the red stained hands glanced at Wilkes. "Well," Wilkes said, gesturing to the painter to step back, for now, "you better thank that little girl for what she did." His hands reached out, closing around the lapels of Neal's suit. Then reality tilted, trying to twist itself inside out as his feet dangled.

"You see, thanks to her, I don't get all the time I want with you. She's going to go running to the FBI and tell them exactly where I kept you." Wilkes' face was close now, close enough for Neal to make out his unsmiling expression, close enough to make out the whispered words, "At least I still get to kill you."

His hands fell away and Neal felt his body crumple.

The painter tossing a match onto the dry canvas and watching the fire ripple over the ruined masterpiece.

Somewhere in the back of his throat, the taste of acid was rising, layering over the taste of coppery blood on his tongue. He lay still with his burning cheek against the cold floor, eyes still open, watching Wilkes rub his hands, one over another, twisting the fingers together, scraping his the palms together.

"Alright, boys, let's pack up. Our work's done for now." He stepped out of Neal's eyesight. "Let's not forget to take out the trash before we leave."

Neal felt his body begin to shake. He closed his eyes and thought of Kate.


Pain exploded in his ankle. A silent scream jerked through his body, but before he could even open his mouth—

The smash of a boot against his stomach and everything he'd eaten that day came forcing its way up his throat, blocking out the air.

It was almost enough to block out the fresh pain ripping through his abdomen.





help…The invisible hand fell away from his throat, and the air came rushing in. Neal curled into himself, but something latched onto his shoulder, beginning to drag his useless body where he didn't want to go. Arms, legs, trailing limply against the ground. Streaks of red following close behind.



The taste of acid and blood still burned in his mouth, but he opened it anyway, the words scraping in his throat. "You really think that—"

It was the beginning of some silver-tongued speech that had to convince Wilkes to let him continue drawing breath, but before he could say more, the cold concrete smacked into his face, sending shivers through his entire body.

Fingers wrapped themselves around Neal's hair and jerked his head up. Neal blinked, and once again saw Wilkes, crouching beside him.

His head ached.

Wilkes said, "No, Neal. You're not useful to me anymore. Without the girl, I doubt I could get you to do much. Few minutes from now, you're going to be dead." His blurry form rocked back and forth on his heels, tossing a cell phone from hand to hand. "Give or take half an hour from that, Elizabeth Burke's gonna find your body. Nice little demonstration of what I can get away with." He let go, and although Neal knew his body was still laying there on the concrete, he was falling, drowning in a vortex of swirling red. "I'd love to stick around, but like I said, busy schedule."

Another hand swooped down and grabbed a fistful of Neal's business shirt, the once cool, pleasant material sticky against his skin, and dragged. A door opened and shut, then he could head the sound of water splashing. His body over uneven ground.

And his breath was tearing in and out of his throat, the sound loud and thrashing in his ears, pounding against his head like a physical blow.

"N-no…" he said, but his voice came out weak and strangled. "No, don't—"

With what little strength he had left he began thrashing in the man's grip. "Pe… ter…" he gasped. "I… h-help…"

His fingers were clawing at the man's wrist, but the man simply grabbed Neal's wrist, shoving his fingers back until Neal let out a strangled cry of pain.

Sudden cold. It closed over his head, smothering him in a blanket of shivering frigidity. It wiped out the sound of his breath. He could feel his body twitching.

He had to wait. He had to wait until the men left. He had to wait until it looked like he was dead.


They never mentioned how lonely it was.


A faint trail of air slipped out, and Neal felt his heart slam against his ribcage. Out, every muscle and nerve of his body screamed in a perfect symphony of panic. Get out of here.


The canvas continued to burn.


Neal clawed at the water, but there was nothing to grab on to. Pain ripped, white-hot fire, through his broken ankle as he thrashed in the water, the liquid death that would slowly fill his body. Black and scarlet bled across his vision, interlacing like streaks of a Van Gogh.

Then faded gray and brown planks of the docks slipped into his vision. The rough wood scraped against his hands as he clung to the boards, trying to pull his broken body out of the water. It pressed into his stomach, making him open his mouth to cry out at the pain.


The fire licked up the last specks of canvas.



And darkness swallowed him.

To be continued...


A/N: (Rambling ahead) Hehe, okay, so this was probably the most fun part to write, though I'm having fun with all of them. (I love describing pain way too much OMG). I actually slowed down a ton while writing the first bit of it, starting sentences, then taking notes on how it could be better, like this:

***The burn of pain ripples across Neal's face. The punches bleed into one another like a painter attacking the canvas with one violent brushstroke after another until the canvas is covered in dripping paint. That's probably what his face—the one with the smile that could melt any young woman's heart—has been reduced to by now. A canvas covered in dripping red.***

Hm, good, but needs more clues to the setting, and a better first line.

Maybe **Throat. Nose. Cheekbone. I can hardly tell where each blow is landing*

Oh, I got a setting one.

**The only sensation Neal had left was that of his back, slumped against the wall. He couldn't even feel the sensation of his own skull, thumping against the cheap drywall, keeping time with each slam of the man's fist against his face.


It turned out to be a ton of fun, some of the most fun I've had while writing for a while. I wanted a more original voice to make things more unique and interesting, so I tried to really make it Neal's voice. As an art student myself, I decided to do a sort of "extended metaphor" of a painting, which was also semi-inspired by the game "Layers of Fear."

Anyway, if you liked it, please review~! Thanks :D