There's no light – no sound, even – nothing but darkness surrounding him – and the uneasy feeling in the pit of Neal's stomach swells; his breath catches in his throat as he tries to keep it steady and calm, to control the physical markers of his stress. Wouldn't do to let them show. Wouldn't do if Peter noticed…

"You all right?"

Peter's voice is low and hushed in his ear, warm with concern – but Neal jumps slightly anyway, almost losing his balance, his bound wrists jerking down against the leather that holds them over his head. He swallows hard, wanting his voice steady.

"Just fine." It cracks anyway, and Neal is grateful for the cloth over his eyes, that blinds Peter almost as much as it blinds him. He draws in a slow breath before adding teasing words that sound false to his own ears, "Are you all right, Peter? You seem a little… new at this."

"And you're the voice of experience, here?" Peter retorts, but his voice is still soft, still innately soothing, enough to make Neal feel safe, protected, even in this moment when he should probably feel most vulnerable – and he does feel vulnerable. "Please." Neal can almost see Peter counting off on his fingers as he continues. "I don't see you engaging in this type of thing all that often, either; we're doing this because you wanted to…"

The sharp tug on Neal's hair abruptly draws his head back, baring his throat to Peter's whim, makes his breath quicken. When Peter's warm, strong hand touches the bare skin of his chest, Neal can feel his own heart racing, thudding against his ribcage like a tiny, panicked bird in a cage.

"… and I don't believe you have permission to run that smart mouth of yours at the moment… do you, boy?"

Neal swallows hard, his mouth suddenly dry again; he doesn't even bother to try to keep the tremor from his voice. "N-no, Peter…"

Peter's hand gentles – long, skilled fingers that Neal loves run soothingly through his hair and draw him in close, off balance with his hands useless to him, and a moment later Neal's mouth is captured in a kiss that steals his breath – possessive and powerful but slow, and so, so gentle. Peter's hand leaves Neal's hair, trailing slowly down his back to finally rest at his hip, his callused thumb rubbing slow, teasing circles by the time he finally draws back.

"If that was supposed to be punishment," Neal gasps out at last, a smirk on his lips, "then you really suck at this, Peter."

The sharp slap that comes down on his ass startles Neal, and he lets out a little yelp before he can stop it. Peter's hand is firm, unyielding, but not painful as it grasps Neal's jaw, refusing to allow him to retreat, even as he feels the heat of Peter's skin close to his, feels Peter's warm breath on his neck.

"If it's punishment you want, Neal…" Peter's voice is still soft, but warning now in a way that sends a delicious prickle of mingled fear and anticipation seeping down Neal's spine. "… that can always be arranged."

In that moment, Neal isn't sure which he wants more – to submit to the subtle, undeniable power Peter has always wielded over him, or to push the limits just to see how far they'll go, how much they both can take.

But then, that's nothing new; it's what he always does.

Neal draws in a shaky breath, jerks his face away in defiance, and opens his mouth to speak again.