"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." Anatole France (1921)

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Leesburg Executive Airport at Godfrey Field, Leesburg, Virginia, USA, December 2015, 19:00 Hours

"You sure about this, Mikey?" he whispered.

"Sam," came the low reply meant only for their ears.

It can be a little disconcerting when someone can communicate in monosyllables and be perfectly understood.

"Okay, brother, your call."

But since the taciturn spy and the gregarious SEAL had worked together for over twenty five years, those things can happen.

Former Commander Axe stood up from the small table in the cramped airport bar and turned back towards the two women waiting expectantly in the door way.

"Sorry, ladies," his grin was apologetic. "We actually don't have time before we have to get to our connecting flight. But, hey, it was great running into you guys! Certainly didn't expect to see you here."

"Yeah, we didn't either. Our flight got bumped from Dulles and re-routed here. Overload holiday traffic, you know?" the blonde explained. "And we didn't expect to get in this early either. The second half of the shoot was cancelled. Maybe next time you're in town-?"

"Absolutely! If I'd known you two were in town, I would have arranged for an earlier flight. But you know how it is in the NTSB, there's always an accident somewhere."

The brunette sighed. "Looks like it was bad. Steve looks really upset."

He looked back over his shoulder at his friend seated behind the tiny round table, appearing to stare intently at the condensation running down his untouched drink.

"Yeah, you know, Steve. He gets like that." He leaned in towards the pair and said in a quiet voice, "Mr. Remington takes his job very seriously."

The blonde leaned in herself and gave 'Mr. Finley' a peck on the cheek. "Okay, Chuck, next time. You promise?"

"Scouts honor!"

Both the ladies laughed and waved across the room. Sam smiled wider and waved back because he knew Mike wouldn't.

"Damn!" the blonde swore as they turned and walked towards baggage claim. "Here, I thought we'd hit the jackpot getting bumped. Man, the cab fare is going to suck!"

The dark haired woman shrugged. "Steve didn't look like he was really up for it. Whatever investigation they're going to must be-"

"Pfft!" her companion returned. "Is there any such thing as a good plane accident? Seriously! How do you put up with him, anyway? He's always so intense."

"I know," her friend sighed and smiled dreamily. "VERY intense."

"Chuck makes me laugh. Among other things."

They both giggled.

"To each her own!" they said together.

"There is one odd thing about Steve," the brunette confessed as she glanced back over her shoulder at the dark bar. The people within it were indistinguishable now.

"One?"

She smacked her roommate on the arm. "Seriously, he won't kiss me."

The platinum-tressed woman raised her eyebrows in response, hefting the enormous carry-on bag back up on her shoulder.

"On the mouth, I mean," she clarified. "I mean, he does EVERYTHING else, but he's never kissed me."

"Maybe I should let you trade with me the next time the boys are in town," the blonde offered. "Chuck is a lipless wonder!" She laughed at her own joke. "Did you ever ask him about it?"

"He said his mother told him never to kiss anyone he wasn't married to."

"Like I said, intense. Intensely weird."

"I think he's hurting," the brunette concluded quietly.

"You're such a sucker for those wounded warrior-types. No wonder Chuck picked him out for you."

"Be serious," she requested.

"Never!" her friend laughed.

They turned the corner and they were gone.

-0000-

"You owe me, Mikey," Sam mock-complained when the women were out of sight.

"On me."

"Never have to tell me twice, brother."

When Mr. Axe returned to the table with dos Dos Equis, Mike still hadn't touched his drink or moved a millimeter. He sat straight up in the chair with his back to the wall surreptitiously scanning the ill lit confines of the airport lounge.

"So, are you going to let me in on the mission parameters before we hit the ground?" he whispered.

"Cashier. Janitor."

Sam looked around the bar nonchalantly and realized his friend had expertly picked out the surveillance team that was watching them.

"In fifteen."

The older man settled back into his chair and did his own version of people-watching, which was to check out everyone while still keeping an eye on his partner.

It seemed like the older Mike got, the less he said. Not that his sense of humor had disappeared. It had just gotten noticeably darker, sort of going from gallows humor to electric chair- no, make that lethal injection- humor; they were still based out of South Florida after all. It didn't matter. He could always talk enough for the both of them.

Sam had been relieved that they were on the move again. This burn notice business was apparently finally wrapped up after seven long years, but it had been bloody and painful, exacting a high price.

At first, Sam had stayed in the military after the burn notice had been issued. He had pretended to distance himself from Mike, while secretly helping from the inside. Lucy Chen, former Westen trainee and now high dollar security consultant, had secretly helped him from the outside. It had worked for a while.

He'd always hoped that Mikey and Lucy would end up together, instead of his buddy pining for that Irish wild woman he'd left behind decades ago. While Lucy was more than willing and he was sure Mike had succumbed to the basic needs of being a man with her, Mr. Westen had never let a connection deeper than friendship happen. Sam swigged his beer. In the end, it was probably for the best they'd never really gotten close. Lucy had been killed and Sam had been dishonorably discharged. Round one to the organization.

Michael had seduced his new handler, Carla, to gain the advantage. Mr. Axe shook his head remembering what a wild ride that had been. He never doubted that the burned spy would succeed in the endeavor. Mikey could be wickedly charming when he wanted to be.

Management had been pretty pissed when he found out she'd been compromised. Lucky for them, the old man had been jacked up enough to kill her himself instead of Mike. Her replacement had been even trickier to wrangle, but somehow his friend had managed it. He'd found out that he and Victor were actually on the same side. It had been no healthier for Mr. Stecker-Epps than it had been for Carla. Round two had been a draw.

The cashier came over and asked them if they wanted another drink. Michael waved her off without really looking at her.

Sam studied his long-time partner with renewed interest. He hadn't been this quiet and brooding since that business with Vaughn at the abandoned hotel. The ex-covert operative had planned a suicide mission to draw them out, feinting an all-out assault on Vaughn's position, so Jesse could escape with the NOC list.

But Mr. Porter had made a connection with Mike's mother that his buddy had never achieved himself. God knows, Maddy was the only one who could have kept the younger man from killing her son when Jesse found out it was her boy that had burned him, even if it was unintentional.

Jesse had decided to escape with the NOC list and Madeline.

Sam had shown up with the cavalry, but it had taken time to convince Congressman Cowley. If he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget the sight of Jesse being shot dead and Mike charging like an enraged bull, barreling towards a hail of automatic weapons fire like it was raining something other than lead.

It was like that scene in Tombstone. His friend had gotten shot a few more times than Kurt Russell had, though most of them had been superficial and he didn't even seem to feel it. Vaughn—well, he had ended up with many more holes in him than Powers Boothe had. The dark man had made one bullet-riddled corpse; so much for questioning him. Round three to them, though it didn't feel like much of a victory at Jesse's funeral.

The former SEAL ran his hand through his salt and pepper hair and wondered why it hadn't turned all completely white years ago.

As costly as it was, this and the NOC list had finally gotten Mike back in with the CIA. It had finally gotten him the answers he'd wanted. He'd finally found out who was behind it all and they had been closing in on Management, the elusive Anson Fullerton and the ragged remains of their organization.

But wounded animals always bite the hardest and his CIA handlers, first Max and then Danni, had gotten murdered in the process; more victims in their battle with the organization that had burned his friend.

It had looked like the battle was going to claim Nate Westen and his young family as well. Somehow they had been discovered, despite their new identities in protective custody.

That was the most worried Sam Axe had ever been since he had won the battle with Larry Sizemore for Michael's soul years ago. He looked at this dark haired friend stoically surveying the room and ended up finishing his beer in almost one gulp.

It had been a struggle before Larry had 'died' to keep Mike from going over to the dark side. Whenever the three of them had been together, in and out of the field, Commander Axe could almost visualize his white wings and halo and Larry's pointy horns and pitchfork as they bantered back and forth over Mr. Westen.

Sam couldn't have been happier when he found out Mr. Sizemore had gotten retired from CIA service with an old school burn notice. Better yet, no one else had gotten hurt in the explosion. Too bad the sonuvabitch couldn't have stayed dead.

And then came the Ireland assignment.

Fortunately for them both, Sam did have buddies everywhere. Rayna Kopec had once been a colleague and lover of his very early on in his Naval career as well as working with Agent Westen in the former Soviet Union. They were just plain lucky she had become well placed in the CIA. Well placed enough that she was able to get Michael assigned as a permanent CIA liaison to Sam's SEAL team instead of being forcibly retired under Section Eight.

Until he got burned, that is.

It had been one helluva fight to keep Mike from going off the reservation with Larry when the hunt for the bastards who'd burned him had gotten intense and excruciating. But, in the end, his former mentor had seriously misjudged his apprentice when Mr. Sizemore had thought he could just eliminate the competition.

Sam had smiled, really smiled, when Michael had turned the gun on Larry instead; though admittedly Mr. Axe's life had flashed before his eyes momentarily before his rival had collapsed with a bullet hole between his eyes and a very surprised look on his face.

"Wheels up," Mr. Westen said, effectively breaking his reverie.

"Whatever you say, partner."

-0000-

Once they were in the private jet that Director Raines had so thoughtfully provided, Michael answered the question before it could be asked.

"I called Sean Glenanne."

For one of the few times in his life, Sam Axe was speechless. He just whistled long and low. It echoed around the air tight cabin.

If he'd called Sean, then it really was over. He could see Mike struggling with the emotions churning just below the surface.

"He said that if it was finished now, then I needed to come and attend to some family business. Wouldn't say any more than that. Just gave me a place and time."

"Does it have to do with Fiona?"

Mike tried to glare at him but failed miserably.

"I can only assume," he said so softly Sam almost couldn't hear him.