Buck looked across the floor at his partner, his friend. Ezra lay on his right side, arms bound behind him with what Buck could only assume was duct tape, like his own bonds. The side of Ezra's forehead touched the ground, his neck at an obvious uncomfortable angle. His face was covered in sweat. He almost looks glossy, Buck thought. Ezra's once immaculate shirt was ripped in several places, and bloody as hell. What did they do to you buddy? thought Buck. Oddly enough, Ezra's face wasn't as marred as his disheveled apparel let on. There was the obvious bruise to the right side of his cheek and eye, but he didn't look like he had been beaten too badly. His nose showed a dried trail of blood that tracked away towards the right side of his head which was leaning on the floor.

So why wouldn't he answer? They were a mere four feet away from each other, so it wasn't like the Southerner hadn't heard Buck's pleas for him to answer. The only reaction that came from the suave man was an occasional opening of his eyes half way, and repeated swallowing, like he was choking back bile.

Buck was in no better shape. Unlike Ezra, he did get a working-over to his face. His left eye was swollen, but not yet to the point of being shut. His lip was split and he knew he must be some magnificent shade of purple. He had also sustained a couple of well-placed kicks to the abdomen, all of which were tender. Someone had even stomped on his right thigh to deter any thoughts of trying to fight with their captors.

They had been separated several hours ago, after a phone call had obviously blown their cover. Ezra put on quite a show backpedaling, trying to feign disgust at being accused of pretending to be someone he wasn't. But they hadn't been outed as agents. Yet.

That's when Buck had first gotten hit. Whether it was a foot or a knee or something else, he didn't know, but it had knocked the wind out of him, well and truly. Ezra had been trying to save their lives when Buck went down with an oomph. He was immediately relieved of his weapons. Ezra had made to try to go to him, but was just as swiftly stopped by one of the goons in the room who laid a meaty paw on the Southerner's chest. The other meaty paw groped around and found Ezra's sidearm. He wasn't wearing a backup piece. The goon shoved Ezra backwards, and Ezra had to flail his arms a little to remain on his feet.

Buck and Ezra locked eyes briefly as Ezra was led off. Yup, they were fucked.


Chris looked up at the clock in his office. Ezra and Buck were supposed to be back an hour ago. Although not too worried, something was bothering him about the whole situation.

Charlie Mendez, a small time gun runner and all around thug, had been trying to move on up the ladder in the criminal world. Rumor had it that he was responsible for the deaths of several local drug dealers, in essence removing any competition from his territory. But he didn't want the drug business, he wanted the gun business. The dealers he had supposedly killed were also supplying guns to local gangs. By killing these dealers, he would corner the market on supplying guns.

It had taken a while for Mendez to land on ATF's radar. At first, it looked like a drug dealer working his was up. But one of Ezra's informants had brought to light Mendez's true goal. Almost immediately, one of Buck's snitches offered corroborating evidence about Mendez. Buck and Ezra were sent undercover shortly thereafter. It had taken a while for the two of them to set up a meet with Mendez, and Chris wasn't entirely sure how Ezra had pulled off getting a meeting with the elusive man, but the two were at that meeting right now posing as suppliers.

As a primary meeting, Ezra insisted that backup wouldn't be necessary, that the meeting as in a public place, and he would check in as soon as the meeting had concluded. It should have ended an hour ago, at the latest.

Chris understood that Ezra needed space to work his magic, after all he was the best, but at the same time Chris couldn't shake this feeling of wrongness.

He sauntered out of his office and took stock of the men in the bullpen. Josiah and Nathan were in court today, so it was just JD and Vin. JD looked engrossed in whatever it was he was doing on his computer, and Vin sat with his feet up on the corner of his desk, booted feet crossed at his ankles.

Vin looked at Chris and their eyes met. Unspoken conversation ensued.

No word yet?




Me too.

Vin kicked his feet off his desk and walked into Chris's office. JD didn't seem to notice anything.

"So what do you want to do?" asked Vin after he shut the door behind him.

Chris sat on the corner of his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand. "I don't know. I can't even explain it. I just have this feeling that something's wrong. I can't put my finger on it."

"I know what you mean." Vin's feelings were almost as good as word when he felt something was wrong. He had felt something today, but he, too, couldn't put his finger on it or put words to it.

"You too then?" Chris looked at the Texan who had closed the gap between them. Vin stood hipshot with his hands in his back pockets.

"Yeah, but it isn't like I normally get Chris. It's not like I feel something bad is happening, just something feels… I don't know, off?"

"Yeah, I know. If we don't hear anything in the next hour…" He let his statement hang, knowing that Vin understood.

Vin nodded solemnly and headed out of the office towards his desk.

Chris sat at his own desk and blew a breath out slowly. If they didn't hear anything in the next hour, he didn't know what he was going to do. Or to whom he was going to do it. Maybe they stopped off for a beer or something. If so, he was going to give them an earful. He smiled wryly to himself.


Ezra didn't understand what had happened. This was just a preliminary meeting between themselves and Charlie Mendez. It should have been pretty straightforward. Glad-handing, his mother would call it. A meet and greet.

Well, whatever you wanted to call it, it went to shit right quick, as Buck would say. One minute Ezra and Buck were chatting up this high-aspiring gun runner, and the next minute Buck was on the floor, arms wrapped around his midsection, gasping for air. When Ezra had tried to move towards his friend, he was stopped by some gorilla sized man. Where the hell do bad guys get these big goofs, he wondered. Do they scope them out at the gym or something? He smiled to himself, then realized he must be losing it. He lay on the floor of this warehouse, (Again, another cliché! Find another meeting place! If I were in charge, I would demolish all "abandoned" warehouses in Denver! A breeding ground for miscreants, I tell you… Lord, am I rambling?) arms bound tightly behind his back with duct tape, and every time he tried to pull his hands free, the tape seemed to get tighter. His shirt lay open in tatters, and the blood that smeared his chest had at least stopped flowing freely. He was unsure of the condition of his back, but he felt like it was on fire. He hoped Buck was faring better.

Ezra's heart had almost broken when he locked eyes with Buck as he was being led away from him. Ezra's eyes were apologetic, sorry for having gotten them into this mess, sorry for whatever was about to happen, and Buck's eyes were filled with concern. For him, a no good sleazy con man. When had he become so deserving of concern? If he had just flown solo, Buck would never have been pulled into this mess.

And there was no backup coming. Why hadn't he let them come? Why hadn't he let them insist on his wearing a wire? Because it was a preliminary meeting! He rationalized to himself. Nobody could have known that this guy was paranoid. Ezra groaned inwardly. Why had he jeopardized Buck this way?

Buck! He thought through a haze-filled mind. Where was Buck? What had they done to him? Hopefully not what they had done to him. What had they done to him?

Oh yes, I remember now…

The gorilla had pushed Ezra backwards through the room. Once at the far wall, Ezra was slammed into the brickwork. Hard. His head had connected solidly with the unmoving wall, and the wall won. Stars danced in front of his eyes, so he never saw when the gorilla swung and hit him in the side of the face. In his dazed state, he remembered thinking, Oh, a lefty. Well, that left hit him again more squarely in the face, this time connecting with his nose. Ezra was let go and he slumped down the wall and landed on the floor on his side. The blood ran down his throat from his nose, and the choking sensation made him come around somewhat, even if it was just to turn his face towards the floor. He coughed several times, blood coming out and making macabre little puddles in front of him. Hey, that one looks like a cat, he thought.

Yup. Fucked.

Charlie Mendez came walking over then, during the coughing fit. "Shit Emilio, don't kill him yet."

"Sorry Mr. Mendez."

So the gorilla's name is Emilio, Ezra thought. Good to know. Haha, Emilio, Good to Know… He couldn't help but smile at his brain's little joke. How could he be smiling at that? This was a serious situation!

Mendez saw the smile play on the man's face. He was immediately enraged. No one laughed at him!

"Wipe that smile off his face Emilio," he spat through clenched teeth.

Ezra's smile was immediately gone. However, a smile appeared on Emilio, Good to Know's face.

"With pleasure, Mr. Mendez." Two meaty paws came down and collected their bounty from the floor, none too gently. Ezra felt his shoulder strain, but it didn't pop. Thank god for that. Emilio, Good to Know dragged the southerner to the nearby office which had probable served as a supervisor's den when this place was up and running.

Again, I would rip these places down! If I get out of here, I intend to write a letter!

As he was dragged along towards the office, Ezra chanced a look where he had last seen Buck. He wasn't there. Ezra's head sunk, fearing his friend's fate. He looked up as Emilio opened the heavy door to the office, and thought it was odd that the whole room seemed to list to the right. Emilio flung him none-too-gently into the listing room, and Ezra hit the metal rusted desk with enough force that he succumbed to the darkness as he impacted the floor.

Buck was dragged in the opposite direction almost immediately after Ezra had been manhandled away. His midsection still ached from being hit before, and his fear for his friend governed his first stupid move: he tried to get away from his gorilla.

For the sheer size of the man, he moved like a cat. He was quick and lethal. Buck felt the wind knocked out of him again, and then felt a blinding pain in his thigh. It was like the worst Charlie horse ever gotten by anyone in the history of mankind, times a thousand. Buck lay on his side with his hands holding his abused appendage. He unconsciously rolled from side to side, trying to wait for the pain to subside. Once he managed to pry his eyes open, he looked at his offender. The son of a bitch wore hard-heeled cowboy boots. And that hard heel had just assaulted his thigh. Thinking about it, Buck figured it would have hurt less to just have been shot. His offender taunted him, but Buck couldn't concentrate on what the man was saying, he was too busy trying to regain his breath and work though the pain in his leg. He was pretty sure he heard the man say something about his mother. Very original, he thought.

He lay there for a minute or two, or hell, it could have been ten, before he was rolled unceremoniously onto his stomach. His arms were wrenched behind his back and his wrists were taped together. He received another good kick to the midsection. He lay there for a minute, getting his wind back, and was picked up by the bound wrists so he was almost to his knees, but then the gorilla let go and slammed him back into the concrete floor. His lip busted right open, and his eye started to swell.


Charlie Mendez didn't know what to do. He knew that these guys sounded too good to be true. Good thing he had them checked out. Rafael Galvez wasn't always the best of friends to Mendez, but he was very connected. So when he called and said that something wasn't right about these two guys, Mendez didn't need to know anything further. So it wasn't concrete, but he didn't get to where he was today by waiting for the 100% concrete truth proved three times over. Sometimes a hunch or feeling was all you needed.

He thought it genius in hindsight to have had these two "suppliers" meet him in one location, only to we whisked away to their current location. One always had to be careful, and now it had worked to his advantage and had saved him.

These two men, whoever they were, wouldn't have been able to update anyone as to the change in location because the relocation of the meeting had been so abrupt.

Now he wanted to find out who these guys were. And he had all the time in the world.

The mustached man was pleasant enough, but again Mendez thought he could feel something about that man. He seemed to be the muscle for the smaller, smooth talker. Mendez glanced over to where Sean Mullins had the mustached man subdued, seeming to have fun with tormenting him, so he figured he would let Sean just keep on playing with him. He winced when he saw Mullins pick the man up by the bound arms only to drop him on his face a second later. Mullins was vicious, but that made him worth every penny.

"Mullins," Mendez called. The man looked at his boss across the 15 foot space between them. "Don't kill him. I may need to have a chat with him, after I chat with the other one." Mendez's evil smile did not hide what he thought that chat would be like.


Chris was pissed. Pissed at Buck, pissed at Ezra, pissed in general. It had been another hour and a half since their expected return. Neither answered their cell phones, neither had called in.

But he wasn't just pissed. He was worried. Ezra, he could understand not checking in. The southerner made a habit of being a bit of a maverick and rebelling against the rules and regs. When working solo, he would miss a check in sometimes. But never when he was working with someone.

Buck on the other hand, would never leave anyone hanging, waiting on word. Even JD hadn't heard from him.

Chris, Vin and JD all started calling around, calling anyone they could think of, to try to locate their friends. Chris had just gotten off the phone with Travis, when JD announced that he had called the local PD to go and check the area where the meeting was supposed to have taken place. Ezra's car was there, but there was no trace of the two agents.

The three exhausted men were exhausting their leads. Nathan and Josiah had come back from court, and having been filled in on the situation, tried to locate the two men with about as much luck as the other three had been having.

This was not good.


Buck lay face down on the floor. He had heard what Mendez said. He hoped Ezra would be all right after wards. He hoped Chris and the others figured it out soon. If not, they were fucked.

Well and truly fucked, with no hope of getting out.


Ezra was only vaguely aware of what was going on. He cracked open one eye, and regretted it immediately. Who let the guy into his skull with a jackhammer? He groaned, trying to right himself. He panicked when his arms wouldn't work. Then it dawned on him—they were taped behind his back. His jacket lay discarded off to the side. Wonderful.

"Mr. Mendez, he's coming around." Emilio. Not-so-good-to-know.

"Mr. Richards," Mendez began, walking over to Ezra and nudging him onto his back using his foot.

Ezra grunted when his sore skull made contact with the hard ground. Other than that, he wasn't volunteering anything.

"Let's have a little chat, shall we?" asked Mendez.

Ezra just stared up at the man with contempt in his eyes. At least, he hoped it was contempt. The two Mendezes floating in his vision made it hard to glare effectively.

"Nothing to say? Shall I start then?"

Again, Ezra stared at the twin floating gunrunners.

Mendez wound up and kicked him in the side. Ezra oomphed and smothered a cry in his throat. That hurt. He rolled onto his side and pulled his legs as close to his chest as he could, reflexively.

"An interesting… gambit," Ezra choked out in between breaths, his accent thick in the pain.

"Just making sure I had your attention. We have much to discuss."

Ezra rolled his eyes. Or attempted to. That earned him another kick, to his stomach this time.

"Use your words…" Mendez taunted, like he was speaking to an insolent child.

"Go to hell."

"Soon enough my friend. Who are you working for?"

"What makes you think I'm working for someone?" Ezra tried to sound as put off as possible.

"Rafael called me. Says you don't check out. You're not who you say you are. Who are you?"

Who the hell was Rafael? "Sir, I do not know what you are talking about."

Mendez looked over at Emilio. Emilio stood and reached into his pocket, bringing something out with his hand. With a flick of the wrist, Emilio butterflied open the knife. It looked like it was a standard butterfly knife, only one side of the blade was serrated while the other was pristinely sharp.


Emilio came over where Ezra lay and grabbed a handful of his hair, moving him into a sitting position with his back against the rust laden metal desk.

"Would you like to try this again?" asked Mendez from behind Emilio.

The slight pause in conversation while Ezra tried to steady his nerves was taken by Emilio to be some sort of resolve to not speak. Emilio moved with the fluid grace of a master and sliced Ezra's chest from his collarbone to his sternum. The cold metal burned like fire and he couldn't help but yell. Widened green eyes stared up at Emilio and instinctively tried to get away from the man wielding the knife.

"You wanna dance, little man?" asked Emilio. Mendez just watched. Emilio was good at what he did. They would know what they wanted to know soon enough.

Emilio got a fresh handful of the Southerner's hair and dragged him up. Ezra's body protested, but there wasn't anything he could do. He was at their mercy.

Emilio sliced again. This time, the blade went horizontally across his abdomen. The shirt cut smoothly away while the blade sliced his flesh, attesting to the sharpness of the blade.

Again Ezra cried out and tried to get away. Hands bound and hair entwined in this ogre's grasp, his attempts yielded little results.

Emilio smiled a grin Ezra could only identify as evil. This man reeked of bloodlust. Mendez just leaned idly against the wall and watched his gorilla work. If Ezra didn't know better, he would say that Mendez was looking on with a sense of pride.

Without warning, Ezra was thrown up against the wall of the office face first, the battered right side of his face connecting with the sheet rocked wall. The next slice was quick and long and Ezra swore his back had been flayed open. The warmth of his own blood soaked his shirt. He was pulled away from the wall and thrown back onto the desk. He landed on his side, and again his shoulder complained but hung on. Emilio was on top of him in less than a heartbeat, straddling him on the top of the desk, the southerner flipped onto his back.

Ezra caught a glimpse of the wall he had just so recently departed company with, and on the old sheet rock, blood was smeared. His view was immediately filled with the visage of Emilio. Emilio seemed to be thinking about his next move, and the southerner reacted, pulling his leg up to assault Emilio's delicate area.

Emilio anticipated this and allowed Ezra to make contact with his ass only. Then the eyes flashed fury and the knife sliced again, connecting with his shoulder and dragging out towards the right arm. Ezra couldn't contain the scream. The other three slashes had been hard to take, but this one was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Emilio leaned forward and made as if to sniff Ezra's open wounds. Like he was smelling his blood…

"Emilio," Mendez said coolly, and Emilio stopped dead in his tracks and sat back up, still straddling the panting man beneath him.

Ezra stared wide-eyed at the man on top of him. Like an attack dog awaiting his next command. Adrenaline pumping though his veins, Ezra shook. He could feel the blood pool at his bound hands from the slice in his back. His chest burned like fire with each breath he took. He knew this man on top of him knew exactly what he was doing. Each slice had not been intended to kill him in its brutality, nor had the slices been meant to cause him to bleed to death. Each one was made with the explicit intention of causing as much pain as possible.

"Emilio here is quite good at what he does Mr. Richards. I would suggest you start answering me, or I will let him have some fun."


Buck stirred on the floor, but couldn't move. A well placed cowboy boot held his abused body securely to the floor. The other times he tried to struggle earned him a swift kick to his sides and a trouncing to his abused thigh. He lay there unmoving, and his tormentor held his boot in place firmly in the center of his back, as though claiming a trophy.

He heard Ezra scream, and all he could do was close his eyes and pray.


"Guys," JD said.

Four weary and worried faces looked up at him. Buck and Ezra were now 4 hours overdue.

"What is it JD?" asked Vin.

"I just pulled a file on Charlie Mendez off of Ezra's computer." Ezra sometimes had some files that were from questionable contacts, but full of useful information. "His file isn't that interesting, but I was looking up listed associates, and he has this guy who… well…"

"Spit it out JD."

"He's bad. This one guy, Emilio Marquez is a bad dude. Says here he's wanted for murdering a fed." JD's eyes were wide and apologetic.

"Fuck," said Chris as he got up and started for his office. He had to let Travis know this new bit of info.

"That ain't all Chris," JD announced to the room. "He tortured the guy first. Uses a knife. It looks like he's killed others too. Always with the knife."

Chris's head dropped. His heart dropped with it.

"Why didn't we know this before?" asked Chris.

"He went under a different name then. Enrique Martinez. Some of the records are slower to update than others."

"Find him." Chris walked into his office to call Travis.

JD put out an APB on Marquez's car and sent PD to the guy's house. He also started running Martinez through the system, praying they got lucky. Please, he thought, let us find them.


Emilio sat like a gargoyle on Ezra. Mendez asked questions, but after the third repetition of one of them, Ezra couldn't focus anymore. His tired mind wanted him to rest. He closed his eyes in an attempt to regain focus.

Ezra felt something cold and hard resting next to his eye. His eyes sprang open, and Emilio's face was so close to Ezra's that he could smell his breath. Emilio moved the knife that was resting next to Ezra's eye. "If you can't keep your eyes open and answer Mr. Mendez's question, I will cut off your eyelid so you will keep it open."

The cool, disconnected was he said this made Ezra think that yes, he would do that.

"That's all right Emilio. If Mr. Smooth Talker is done talking, maybe we can have a chat with his friend out there. Mullins!!" Mendez yelled.

Ezra's eyes opened wide. "No!" Not Buck.

"So you're ready to talk?"

Ezra nodded. He would protect Buck. He got him into this mess.

"So who do you work for?"

Without missing a beat, Ezra replied "Carlyle."

Edward Carlyle was Mendez's competition in the gun trade. Ezra had read up on him for this assignment in order to know as much as he could about Mendez. Carlyle's operation was extensive enough that, Ezra hoped, his claim of being one of Carlyle's men would be believed. He hoped this worked… he and Buck were running out of options.

Mendez dropped his head to his chest, hiding his smile. "Do you think I am stupid?" he asked without looking up.

Ezra said nothing while Mendez brought his gaze back to the face of the Southerner.

"Rafael works for Carlyle." And there is was. He was a dead man. Bluff called.

"Maybe you're a fed…" Mendez wondered aloud. He glanced at Emilio, who smiled a half smile at his boss. "Emilio here doesn't like feds. I believe the last one he had the misfortune of running into ended up… flayed wide open." Mendez gestured with his hands while he spoke the last part, giving the idea that whoever the poor individual might have been, had been peeled open. Slowly.

Emilio's grin grew, either in remembrance or anticipation.

Ezra wanted to scream in frustration. His mind wasn't processing as sharply as normal, he had gotten Buck into this, and he was, for the first time in a long time, unable to come up with any words to help himself.

"How about I leave you two to talk some more. Fed or not, I don't think Emilio likes you much. Maybe your friend will feel compelled to enlighten us as to your identities. I am rather curious at this point." He smiled and started to back away towards the door to the office.

Ezra looked at the man, still seeing double, but the doubles were at least closer to each other. The adrenaline had sobered his eyesight, even if only slightly.

"Noo…" Ezra whispered. Buck, I'm sorry.

"Mr. Richards, hurting your friend would be counterproductive at this point in time. I'm just going to use you as leverage. Emilio, don't kill him. Yet." Mendez nodded at Emilio and walked out of the office, leaving the door open. Emilio's eyes filled again with bloodlust recharged.



Buck heard the approaching footsteps and felt the cowboy boot come off his back. The boot slipped under his left side and nudged him onto his back.

"Well Mr… Actually, we never did get around to being formally introduced did we? How about I just call you Smith. Cliché, I know, but I really don't care. Unless you wish to tell me your name."

Buck glared daggers and managed to spit out his response, laden with anger but seething quiet at the same time. "Get fucked."

"Colorful," replied Mendez. "Well Mr. Smith, it seems as though your smooth talking friend has clammed up. Apparently he wants me to believe you work for Mr. Carlyle, which I know to be false. Would you care to elaborate as to who you are?"

Buck silently stared back at the man.

"I figured as much." A scream erupted from the office and echoed off the walls of the warehouse.

Buck stared wide eyed and alarmed in the direction it came from.

Mendez didn't flinch. Neither did Mullins. Both smiled at the mustached man's reaction. They found his weak spot.

Buck's mind was racing. What was happening to Ezra? What was that animal doing to him?

"Mr. Smith, I would ask that you reconsider speaking with me. Emilio in there," he motioned to the office, "hates feds. Now, whether or not you're feds makes no difference to him or to me. But I think it makes a difference to Mr. Richards. See, Emilio is quite good with that knife of his. By the time he's done with your friend, Mr. Richards will be willing to admit to me that he is Adolf Hitler. Now, we can shorten Emilio's playtime," he smiled widely, "if you will tell me what I want to know."

Buck locked eyes with the man. He wanted to kill him. Rip him limb from limb. But how was he going to do that? Another scream, this one weaker than the last but no less heart wrenching, filled the empty walls of the warehouse. Not knowing what else to do, at the end of his rope, Buck closed his eyes and nodded so slightly that Mullins missed it, and he was standing directly over the tall man.


"Make him stop." There was no pleading in Buck's voice. No begging. Just the demand.

"Well, I will, just after you tell me who you're working for, and what you know about my operations." The wicked smile was unfaltering.


When Mendez left the office, Emilio hadn't moved. Ezra wasn't even sure if the man breathed. Then he leaned down towards Ezra's chest and shoulder and did what he was trying to do earlier. He started to smell the bleeding wounds as someone would smell a delicate flower. He filled his nostrils with the smell and held his breath, capturing the smell deep in his lungs with his head tipped back in full rapture.

When the man looked back down at Ezra, the look in his eyes was one of the scariest things Ezra had ever seen. He tried not to flinch at the look, and succeeded, but it took all the resolve he had.

The two men stared at each other for a full minute. Emilio took in the look on the gambler's face and his work done on the upper torso, and spoke so quietly that Ezra's breathing almost drowned out the man's voice.

"You scared?"

"Go to Hell."

"You smell scared."

Christ, who the fuck was this guy? "You sir, are twisted."

Emilio shifted and smiled down into the gambler's face. He leaned forward and rasped into Ezra's ear, "You have no idea."

"What did your mother do to you?" he drawled defiantly. He was not going to show fear. He was not going to show anything but defiance. He would not let this creature break him. God, when would he learn to shut his fucking mouth?

The look in Emilio's eyes never faltered, but rage was added to the bloodlust. Emilio flipped his knife in his hand so that the serrated part was now the star of the show. He moved the knife down to the pinned man's chest, and roughly cut open the buttons. Then he took the serrated blade and cut—harshly, slowly, hard—into Ezra's sternum.

Ezra sucked his breaths and blew them out in rapid succession, trying to keep himself in control. His legs came up instinctively trying to ward off the source of his pain. All to no avail.

The blade ripped open the flesh on the bone, but again didn't do enough damage to either cause him to bleed to death, or even, mercifully, to pass out. He was doing a good job of controlling his reaction until Emilio stopped the blade, and without repositioning it, started to drag it back up along the groove it already made. Ezra couldn't control that scream.

Emilio smiled at the reaction of his prey. He was like a cat toying with a mouse he never had any intention of eating. He pulled the blade away from Ezra and Ezra panted heavily, trying to appease his abused body. The blood pooled on his abdomen, just below the sternum. As he continued to pant, the blood breeched whatever held the pool and ran down his side to the desk top.

"See, now that wasn't a nice thing to say. Look what you made me do to you." The man never moved from hovering over Ezra's prone position.

Ezra felt himself getting weaker. He was exhausted. God, he hoped he passed out and just slipped away that way. He felt tears start in his eyes.

Emilio moved like lightening and was off of Ezra in a heartbeat. Ezra found himself flipped like a pancake onto the desk top, bent at the waist, his legs now on the floor. A big meaty paw held him down while the knife was dragged down his back in the same slow deliberate manner as was done on his chest. Each of the serrations of the blade bit with intense pain and burning, and Ezra felt each one as they cascaded down his back, crossing the slice from earlier. As he screamed, albeit weakly, the knife came to a rest at his bound hands now nestled in the small of his back.

Ezra cried.


"This guy can't be this stupid," Vin said.

"Maybe just cocky," replied Chris.

They all congregated near the warehouse district. One of Vin's snitches had pulled through for them after Vin had put the word out. The snitch had said that there had been some activity down in this area, but didn't really know what it was. The snitch openly admitted that it could be nothing, but he still wanted to let Vin know. There had been yelling he heard through a broken window, and there was a nice car parked nearby with no care to try and hide it.

"He parked the car in plain sight Chris. Now, I ain't complainin, but it don't seem right."

"I don't care what seems right. We're getting the boys back."

"That's Marquez's car Chris. Tags just came back," said JD.

"Let's go."


"No, you get him to stop now, or you can just go to hell," Buck seethed. He needed to see Ezra.

Mendez was tired of this little game. Fine.

"Emilio!" he yelled over his shoulder. "Bring Mr. Richards out here."


Emilio leaned over his prey, preparing his next move when he heard Mendez call for him. He sighed in disappointment. He leaned forward and whispered hoarsely in his prey's ear, "We're not done yet." The man was still struggling to get away from Emilio, his feet seeking purchase on the tile floor of the office.

Taking out a little of his frustration at being stopped before he could really have fun, Emilio threw the other man as hard as he could towards the door to the office. Ezra collided with the wall to the right of the open door and hit the floor in a heap, leaving another stain on the wall.

Emilio straightened his suit and smoothed out the wrinkles in his jacket as he strode over to the man on the floor. Ezra lay panting at Emilio's feet, trying to curl up into himself as much as possible. He never took his eyes off of Emilio as he approached. That sickening look that Emilio had in his eyes earlier was still there, but was kept in check. Now was business, and Emilio was a loyal employee.

Emilio nudged the southerner with his foot, then leaned down and grabbed one of Ezra's ankles and pulled him towards the door of the office. Small rivulets of blood smeared on the floor as Ezra was moved. Thankfully, he was on his side still and while uncomfortable, the open wounds were not abused any further by dragging across the concrete floor of the warehouse, even though his right arm would most likely suffer from road rash.


Like the obedient dog that he was, Emilio appeared several moments later dragging the Southerner on his side by one leg. Ezra put up no resistance. He looked dead. Buck couldn't take his eyes off of him.

Emilio brought his prey front and center, then unceremoniously dropped the leg and left Ezra lying there.

Buck looked across the floor at his partner, his friend. Ezra lay on his right side, arms bound behind him with what Buck could only assume was duct tape, like his own bonds. The side of Ezra's forehead touched the ground, his neck at an obvious uncomfortable angle. His face was covered in sweat. He almost looks glossy, Buck thought. Ezra's once immaculate shirt was ripped in several places, and bloody as hell. What did they do to you buddy? thought Buck. Oddly enough, Ezra's face wasn't as marred as his disheveled apparel let on. There was the obvious bruise to the right side of his cheek and eye, but he didn't look like he had been beaten too badly. His nose showed a dried trail of blood that tracked away towards the right side of his head which was leaning on the floor.

"Hoss?" Buck asked. "Hey slick, you all right?" There was no answer from Ezra.

Emilio moved to stand next to his boss and wiped the blood off his knife with a handkerchief. After the knife was clean, he folded it closed and replaced it in his pocket. Then he held the handkerchief to his own face and took a deep breath in. He smiled at Buck.


"Listen," said Vin.

"Sounded like someone screaming," Josiah said and closed his eyes.

"Nathan, go out to the car and call in backup and make sure paramedics are on their way to this location. There's no service in between these buildings," Chris ordered. Nathan had started moving away before Chris finished speaking.

"JD, Josiah, go that way. Vin with me. Count of thirty, then go in. Get them out of there." Guns drawn, the two pair made their way towards the two doors of the warehouse where the scream had come from.

On thirty, they entered.


"ATF! Don't move!" bellowed Josiah.

The three captors stole a glance at each other, then all three reached for their guns. Mullins was first down, taken out by a bullet from Chris's gun. Mendez's hand didn't even clear his jacket when Vin nailed him right in between the eyes. Emilio was shot by both JD and Josiah, but still stood and tried to advance on the two agents on the floor in front of him. Chris and Vin took shots at the same instant, sounding as one, and Emilio went down.

"Clear!" Josiah and JD said.

"Clear!" said Chris.

Vin was already on the ground next to Buck and Ezra. Buck was already trying to help Ezra even with his hands tied. Vin cut him free of his bonds, then did the same for Ezra. His own hand came back from freeing the Southerner covered in blood.

"Fuck me. Buck, what happened?" Vin asked wide eyed as he looked from his hand to the gashes on Ezra's back.

"That son of a bitch," he nodded towards Emilio, "worked him over something bad."

Ezra opened hooded eyes and looked from Buck's face to Chris's, then over to Josiah's. JD's face came into focus for a fleeting moment, and Vin's voice hovered from behind him. "Ezra, it's ok. We gotcha."

Ezra blew out his breath and sucked in a deep, long, cleansing one. He was safe. Buck was safe. "Nathan?" Ezra asked.

"On his way," Chris said from right next to him. Chris had come forward and squatted down when Ezra looked from each of their faces to the next. He laid a hand on Ezra's head as he spoke. Ezra tried to pull away, but couldn't get far.

As he relaxed more, he seemed to slip into a semi-conscious state.

"Buck, what happened?" asked JD as he came up next to his friend on the floor.

"I don't know… They separated us… he was screaming…" Buck broke off. He composed himself as much as possible, and relayed what he knew had happened, from the last minute switch in location to Emilio dragging Ezra out by his leg and dropping him where he now lay.

Nathan arrived, saying the paramedics were pulling up as well. PD was on scene. Nathan ran his hands along the opened parts of Ezra's shirt and Ezra hissed in pain. "I'm sorry Ezra, I know it hurts, but I gotta look."

He was met with no resistance when he opened Ezra's shirt. Ezra continued to lie on his side rather than roll to his back.

Nathan thought he had seen a lot in his time. He thought he could handle pretty much anything. He was wrong. He looked down at Ezra's bare chest and was amazed at what he saw. Even though the blood was clotting up and didn't really need to be immediately tended, he couldn't stop from touching the wounds.

Ezra protested weakly and tried to slide away, but he was so tired. When he had heard Josiah yell ATF, he almost wept with relief. As it was, his body decided that he could relax, his friends were here and were going to take care of him. He barely registered the sounds of the gunshots.

"What did that?" asked Buck. He hadn't seen the extent of the damage until now.

"Maybe this." Vin came forward holding a knife one of the Police Officers had removed from Emilio's body.

Chris took the knife and opened it, careful not to let the Southerner see it. The rage flared in his eyes when he saw the blade. It was a custom made butterfly and razor sharp. Only a sadist would have used this knife. Chris stood and walked towards the body of Emilio.

Chris stopped next to the dead man and kicked him as hard as he could. He then spat at the ground next to the body. Nobody stopped him, nobody commented to him or about his actions, even the DPD. They knew the leader of Team Seven was a formidable man, especially when it came to the safety of his own men.

Vin watched his leader open the knife and seethe. He had opened it himself when the officer gave it to him and had similar thoughts about the man who used such a knife. If he could have, Vin would have killed Emilio again.

Nathan, for once, was speechless. There were no words for what he felt. He felt enraged. He felt vindictive. He was so angry with the dead man laying nearby that it seemed almost irrational to him. He continued to look at Ezra's chest wounds, and realized that most of them were not life threatening. They would have been intolerably painful, but wouldn't kill him. This made him even more angry at the dead man.

There was one wound though, on Ezra's sternum, that looked deep and more painful than the rest. There was also a matching one on his back that trailed down almost the entire length from the shoulder to the small of his back.

Nathan turned angry eyes back to the body that lay not ten feet away.

Vin rested a hand on Nathan's shoulder. "You cain't kill him again Nathan. He's already done."

Their eyes locked and Nathan nodded his head slightly. Vin was right, The guy was dead. Ezra was alive. They had to see that it could have ended a lot worse.

Nathan returned his gaze to Ezra, who was looking right at him. Almost through him. "Hang on Ezra, paramedics will be here soon."

"He was going to… continue… torturing me… with that… FUCKING knife!" Ezra spit out. He closed his eyes and opened them immediately. He looked over towards the body of Emilio. "Get me… away… from him…" He started to move away from the man, and six pairs of hands helped him in some way. Some touched to lend support, some helped him weakly stand, others steadied him.

Buck, now able to stand and walk looked at the warehouse. Where had it all gone so wrong?

The paramedics loaded Ezra up on the ambulance. They wanted Buck to go along as well, but he refused. Josiah and Nathan both rode with Ezra so he wouldn't be alone. Plus neither man could stand to be in that warehouse knowing what their friend had gone through while incarcerated there. Nathan still looked like he was going to blow.

Buck stood and watched the ambulance leave. Once it had left his sight, he turned and went back inside the warehouse. Knowing what had happened to himself, he walked towards where Ezra had been dragged from the office and dropped. He stood staring at the floor where the southerner had been when the rest of the boys found them. Buck's hands were on his hips and his head bowed. He looked defeated.

There were smeared blood trails from where that bastard had dragged Ezra along the floor, and Buck couldn't look away from them. He felt so guilty. He knew that there was nothing he could have done, but still he should have tried harder. Something.

Vin and Chris both watched Buck, and JD looked as though he would go over and walk the path of destruction with him, but Chris put his hand on JD's chest to stop him.

"Leave him JD. He's working it out in his own right. We'll be here when he needs us."

JD didn't say anything. He stood by Chris and Vin and watched as the mustached agent made his way across the warehouse to the wall where Emilio had first dragged Ezra. He stared at the blood on the floor for a solid minute when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Chris.

"He'll be ok Buck."

"It shouldn't have happened."

"No, but it did."

"Chris, when they separated us, Ezra had this look in his eyes, like he was sorry for screwing up. Like he thought the whole thing was his fault. It was heart breaking."

Chris just watched as Buck paced and relived what Ezra had gone through at the wall, while at that same time he was being dragged in the other direction.

Buck looked up and past Chris's shoulder towards the office. He started towards it.

"Buck, don't." Chris had been in there already, and Buck didn't need to see that. It was as if you could SEE the pain Ezra suffered in the blood smears around that office.

"I have to." He stood still for a minute. He looked at his friends. Vin turned and started towards the office with JD hanging back for a second. Chris turned and put his arm on Buck, and all of them walked towards the office.

Vin and JD stood inside the doorway off to the side, and Chris stayed next to Buck when he entered.

What Buck saw took his breath away. He had to look away from the desk initially, and his gaze settled on the bloody pattern on the sheet rock. Ezra had to have been slammed against the wall at some point after his initial knife wounds to the front of him. Buck walked over to the smear on the wall, then steadied himself to turn to the desk, now sitting askew in the middle of the room.

There were smears of blood all over it. It had to be from the slice wound on Ezra's back, but how? Had they held him there?

"I don't understand what happened to him?" he asked, more to Vin than to Chris. Vin had a way of reading things and figuring out what happened.

Chris looked at Vin, a small nod encouraging him to tell Buck what they had discussed earlier.

"Best I can figger Bucklin is this: they threw him into the desk, bound his arms. They got him to his feet and sliced his chest and belly. Then he went into the wall. I reckon that's when he got the big nasty one on his back. But they weren't done. I think they threw him on the desk onto his back…" He paused, looking at Chris, asking if he should tell him the rest.

"Don't look at him Vin, look at me." Buck said.

Chris nodded and Vin continued. "The blood on the top of the desk here," he pointed to what only looked like a smear, like any of the others, "pooled longer that some of the rest. You can see the outline of where the pool collected, even though it was disturbed after. I think they held him down. I actually think," he paused, trying to soften the blow, "that that big feller straddled him while he worked on him."

Buck's eyes were wide with anger and also brimming with sadness as to what his friend had gone through. "How do you know that?"

Vin pointed to another smear pattern equidistant from either side of the pool he pointed to earlier. "I reckon those are knee marks. That big feller had something dark on his knees after we shot him, I just didn't figger it out till I saw this." Vin's cool voice did not hide his anger.

"What else?" asked Buck. He knew there was more.

"Them nasty cuts on his front and back, I think he was worked on in the front first, then he got flipped over," he pointed to another smear and a gouge mark on the desk top, "before he worked that last one on his back. There's more blood here cuz the nasty one bled more."

At Buck's questioning look at the gouge mark, Vin elaborated sadly, "Belt buckle dug into the desk. He was fightin like hell." Buck looked upwards, fighting his emotions.

"Then he got knocked into this wall here," Vin turned and pointed at the wall he and JD had been standing in front of. The blood smears were larger in size on this wall. There was also more blood on the floor and trail marks where Ezra had been dragged out the door.

"How can there be so much blood?" Buck almost whispered.

"Buck, he's gonna be fine," Chris assured his friend.

Vin spoke solemnly, "It's really not a lot of blood Buck. I know that doesn't make you feel better, but it's true." Vin didn't want to detail it out for him, but basically the blood had been smeared around, and it just looked like a lot of blood.

Buck closed his eyes and tears slid down his cheek.


After everything was cleaned up at the warehouse, the team rallied around their seventh at the hospital.

Nathan was still seething anger at the dead Emilio, but he was calm enough to be able to tell everyone what was happening with Ezra. The doctors had decided to keep him overnight just to be sure that no infection set in, and to replace some fluids. They had called in a plastic surgeon to administer stitches to the two worst gashes, and even a couple of the not so bad ones were given tiny stitches by the plastic surgeon to minimize scarring. Because the knife had been so sharp and cut so cleanly, he anticipated minimal scarring. The two nasty ones would most likely end up as visible scars.

Ezra was resting, nursing the concussion he received when he was smacked against the wall.

"So he'll be all right?" Chris asked. The question was more so about his mental well being, rather than his physical. The doctors had told them that he would recuperate physically.

"We'll see Chris. That's a lot of shit for someone to take," Nathan replied.

"He'll be all right," said Vin. He's too stubborn not to be.


Ezra woke feeling well rested. His head still ached, but it was manageable. He looked next to the bed, and there sat a wiry Texan.

"Mornin'," said Vin, a smile in his voice to match the one on his face.

"Ugh. Where is everyone?" asked Ezra.

"Went to get some breakfast. How you feeling?"

"Tired. Sore. Ready for my own bed."

"I think Chris wants you to go out to the ranch with everyone…"

"I would rather not."

Vin nodded. "I understand." He paused for a moment, and looked drectly in Ezra's eyes when he net spoke. "Hey Ezra, you know I'm here if you ever do want to talk about it."

"I know that Vin. But I'm still sorting out what happened." He blew out a breath. Why not? "That man had a look in his eyes Vin, that I have never seen the likes of and I hope to never see again."

Vin nodded slightly, but didn't say anything.

Ezra continued after a minute. "I can deal with the pain, I can deal with the situation for the most part. I can't deal with the thought of that man. I may go to hell for this, but I am truly glad he is dead."

"Ezra, I got it pretty figured out what happened to ya. I've seen that office."

Ezra winced, thinking of that place.

"What aren't you saying Ezra. What did he do that has you so thrown?"

Ezra considered for a minute whether or not to tell Vin what was on his mind. He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. He barely whispered, "He… smelled me." A look of disgust flashed on his face.

"What do you mean?" Vin asked in an equally low whisper.

"After he cut me, and he was on top of me, and Mendez was watching with a sick type of pride in his eyes," he paused and looked up at Vin. There were unshed tears in his eyes as he stared at the sharpshooter. "He cut me and he leaned forward… he put his face near my chest, the blood," he motioned with his hands, "and he… smelled me. And the look he got in his eye then… Vin, I have never been so scared in all my life." He stared at Vin as the tears ran down his cheek.

Vin reached forward and put his hand on top of Ezra's. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. Ezra just needed the support. He just needed to say it and be heard. No advice. No suggestions.

The two sat there like that for what seemed like a long time. Soon they heard Buck and JD jibing each other as they came down the hall with donuts. Buck was arguing that Jelly was by far the superb donut. JD swore Boston Crème was king. Buck needed this distraction as much as any of them. It was good to hear them laugh.

Vin looked at Ezra. "You want to tell them?"

Ezra stiffened.

"It will be easier if you do. They'll be here for you."

Ezra looked directly at the tracker. He asked his seriously, "If it were you… would you?"

Vin thought about it. Yeah, it would be hard to talk about it for him, to admit to being more scared than ever in his life, but they were family. They were who he trusted with his life.

Vin's unwavering gaze confirmed his words. "Yeah I would Ezra."

Ezra nodded. "Okay then." The other five came through the doors with coffee and donuts.

Now was as good a time as ever. Ezra took a couple of settling breaths.

Chris caught Vin's gaze.

Everything alright?

Yeah, just listen to him.

All the men settled around the room. They waited for Ezra to begin, knowing that if they said anything, the man would clam up. He needed something off his chest.

"I, uhh, wanted to talk to y'all about what happened. I don't want to cause any unnecessary worry, so I wanted to just come out and say it." He paused, and seemed to start to lose his nerve. "I, uh, well…"

Vin leaned forward and put his hand on Ezra's again, lending him strength. "Ezra, start from the beginning."

Ezra nodded. And began at the beginning. How they got blown by a phone call. How he tried to talk their way out. How he felt he had screwed up by not allowing them to have backup on a preliminary meeting.

"When they separated us, I was scared for Buck. I was also scared for myself. Sadly, at that point, I didn't quite know what scared was."

The rest of the men shifted uncomfortably in their seats while Ezra continued with his story. About the sick pride in Mendez's eyes, about the threats to Buck if he wouldn't talk, how he felt they played him like a fiddle. How, when the first slice of the knife came, followed by being slammed into the wall and hurled back onto the desk and straddled by that, that, man, made him think he wouldn't get out of it. And how that… fucker… had smelled him…

"Ah have nevah been more scared in mah life," his accent thick with weariness and emotion.

"The handkerchief," Buck said, almost to himself.

"The what?" Chris asked.

"After Emilio dragged you out of the office and dropped you, he took out a handkerchief and… wiped the knife clean. He put the knife away, then held the handkerchief to his face. I think he was smelling it."

"What kind of man does that?" asked JD.

"A truly evil one, son," replied Josiah. "Truly evil."

Silence reigned around the room, all men lost in their own thoughts.

"You all right Ezra?" asked Nathan.

"I believe I will be. I just feel more rattled than I'm used to."

"We'll get through it Ezra. Together."

"Of that Chris, I have no doubt."