Home for the Holidays

Christmas fiction gift exchange.

For: Jesse

From: Maven Alysse

Crossover: 'The Losers', 'The Sentinel', and 'The Magnificent Seven'

Disclaimer: None of the characters used belong to me. 'The Losers' is the property of Andy Diggle and Vertigo comics as well as Warner Bros. 'The Sentinel' is the property of Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo as well as UPN. 'The Magnificent Seven' is the brain child of Akira Kurosawa, the creator of 'The Seven Samauri' as well as CBS.

Thanks to Keely and Courtney for beta/editing for me.

Home for the Holidays

# O'Hare International Airport – Chicago, Illinois – 9:42 pm December 23rd #

Sergeant Jake Jensen stepped off the airplane and into the terminal with a sigh, carrying his backpack and computer bag over one shoulder. He hated flying commercial; it was crowded and noisy, and he always felt nervous when having to rely on a pilot other than Pooch. Trying to cram his tall frame into the seats in coach just made things worse.

His team had finished a mission only yesterday in Jordan, and he was still in his fatigues which hadn't been washed in days. The entire team had rushed to have their paperwork finished, and Clay finally gave the boys the green light to head home. Even with his epic skills with a computer Jensen could only manage to get last minute flights for himself and his teammates – and they were lucky to get them. It seemed everyone and their brother were traveling for the holidays and space was at a premium. He had the middle seat between a gentleman who'd been miserably airsick for most of the flight and an eight year old who couldn't sit still in his excitement.

The kid wiggled like a puppy and had surprisingly sharp elbows. Before Jake could comment, the kid looked up at him, eyes shining. "It's my first time on a plane by myself. I'm going to visit my grandparents. Daddy says he'll meet me there on Christmas if his commanding officer approves his leave. I sure hope he'll make it."

Any irritation Jensen might have felt had instantly melted. He remembered that combination of excitement and anxiety when he'd been a kid waiting for his own father to come home for Christmas or a birthday. Smiling wryly in memory, he'd spent most of the trip keeping the boy occupied with some games he had on his laptop.

Standing off to one side, Jake watched as the young boy made a bee-line from the gate to an older couple who swept him into hugs. He grinned and gave a salute as the boy waved maniacally at him before leaving with the couple.

Checking the time, he sighed. His connecting flight wouldn't board for two hours. 'May as well get something to eat other than honey roasted peanuts.' He followed the signs for the airport Lounge and Restaurant.

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Detective Jim Ellison winced at the static-filled squeal that heralded another announcement. The hustle and bustle of an airport two days before Christmas could be nerve-wracking for anyone. For a person with enhanced senses, the situation was magnified and bordered on overwhelming. He paused, leaning his back against the wall for a moment out of the flow of traffic as he centered himself, dialing back his senses until things were more tolerable. 'Thank you, Sandburg.' Without all the coaching and training his partner had put him through over the past few years in order to reign in and focus his senses, he would have gone insane long ago.

The conference in New York had been alright. Jim felt he'd learned some valuable information that he could pass on to the rest of the precinct. The only down side had been that Sandburg had to stay behind in Cascade to testify in court. Three days with only periodic phone calls with his Guide made Jim a bit uneasy, but both men had been pleased with the Sentinel's progress; four years ago spending that long in a foreign city without his partner would have been impossible.

Pushing off the wall, he caught sight of a sign for the airport Lounge and Restaurant. His connecting flight wouldn't leave for two more hours. 'Looks like a decent enough place to wait.'

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Agent Vin Tanner stretched his lean frame, glad to be back on firm ground, even if it was only for a few hours before the last leg of his trip. Ezra had offered to find the sharpshooter a non-stop fight citing it would be a quicker journey but Vin knew that without a break mid-way his claustrophobia would send him into a panic attack; not a pleasant prospect at the best of times and something he really didn't want to happen on an airplane right before Christmas.

Buck found the whole situation confusing. "You can spend days in even tinier spaces waiting for the perfect shot, but you can't stand being on an airplane for more than a few hours without going squirrelly?"

"Different circumstances. Different mindset." He shrugged. "It's different when it's for a job. Can't explain it better than that."

Federal regulations meant that snipers had to re-qualify every two years to keep their certification. Normally he could have taken the qualification course in Denver, but the last few months had been hectic: four busts, two with him going undercover with Ezra, and testifying in three court cases had eaten away at all his time, and he'd missed his opportunity to take the test closer to home. So, he had to travel all the way to Maine, during the holiday rush, in order to insure he wouldn't be suspended until the next available testing in February.

'Over and done with now. Don't have to fret over it anymore.' Vin shook his head and adjusted his bag, glad he'd shipped his rifle home. He stomach let him know it had been hours since he'd last eaten. Glancing up, he spotted the airport Lounge and Restaurant and ambled on over.

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Jake Jensen leaned back in his chair, glad he'd managed to snag what appeared to be the last empty table in the Lounge. Tucked along the far wall, he had a wonderful view of the doorway and the rest of the restaurant. Hands wrapped around a cup of coffee, he took in the assortment of travelers with keen interest. Families. Couples. Individuals. Some happy. Some obviously cranky. Still others quietly passing time. He loved to people watch.

A figure in the doorway caught his attention. The man looked familiar, but it wasn't until he tilted his head when a laugh rang out that he connected the face to a name. "Captain Ellison?"

Ice blue eyes locked on his own. Recognition shone and the man strode across the room to his table, a smile upon his face. "Corporal Jensen." He extended his hand. "It's been, what, six years?"

Jake rose from his seat, shaking Ellison's hand. "It's been more like seven years. I'm a Sergeant now." Grinning, he motioned for Ellison to sit. "I sure am surprised to see you, Captain."

The older man settled into the seat with a bemused smile. "I'm not a Captain anymore. It's Detective. I'm in Washington with the Cascade Police Department. Major Crimes. You still under Clay?"

"Best Fortune-Be-Damned C.O. there is. He's kept us afloat through a lot of sh... uh, garbage." Jake changed his vocabulary as he noticed a young boy at a nearby table sitting backwards on his knees in the chair staring at them. "We're all stateside for a while on a well-deserved holiday." He stuck his tongue out at the kid. The boy's eyes widened, and he quickly turned back around in his seat.

Ellison chuckled, "I can see you haven't changed much."

Jensen went to reply, then blinked in disbelief as a yet another familiar figure caught his attention. "Speaking of people who haven't changed much; look who just walked in."

Sky blue eyes scanning the room came to a halt on the pair in the back. A wry crooked smile crossed the young man's face. Two fingers brushed his hat brim in silent salute. Jensen waved the man over, waiting until he was closer before speaking.

"Tanner! I can't believe it. Have a seat." Jake couldn't keep from beaming.

"Jensen. Captain." Tanner smiled, clapping Jake on the shoulder and shaking Ellison's hand before settling into a seat. "How have you been keeping yourselves lately?"

Jake snickered. Trust Tanner to treat a seven year absence as if only a few days had passed. "Good. I was just telling Ellison here that me and the boys are stateside for the holidays. Spending Christmas with my sister's family."

"How is Emily?"

The proud uncle grinned. "Terrific. She's eight now and on a soccer team; The Petunias. I get to coach one of their games on Boxing Day. I can't wait." The two men smiled as he practically bounced in his seat.

A waitress came by, and after some gentle flirting, the three decided on burgers and fries.

"What's the rest of your team up to?" Vin returned to their original conversation.

"Clay's got himself 'a volatile woman'." The smiles were more like smirks now. Clay's ability to find the wildest, most dangerous woman in any given area was near legendary. "He and Aisha weren't planning on leaving her apartment for anything short of an apocalypse." The unspoken 'lucky bastard' was shared by them all.

"Pooch and Jolene are pulling out all the stops for Christmas for their little ones. Visit with Santa, time with the grandparents, checking out a Bethlehem Town Living Nativity – the whole shebang."

Ellison sipped his coffee. "I vaguely remember him mentioning he was dating a girl back home. Same girl?"

"Yup. He chased her 'til she caught him. Took a few years – missions kept getting in the way. She's a smart woman, though. Knew he wasn't ever going to quit the Army, so she pinned him down a few years ago and said life was too short and uncertain. She knew what she wanted and he wised up. The boys are three and five now.

"Cougar headed home to celebrate the holidays with his family. I know he'll want to hook back up with the two of you. We need to make sure we exchange current information." Jake paused a moment, brow slightly furrowed. "I swear the man is psychic sometimes. He told me to pass along his greetings if I ran into anyone we knew."

Tanner just nodded, a grin on his face. Ellison's eyes widening a bit, but he recovered quickly. "I don't know why that surprises me. The man could be downright spooky at times." He glanced at Tanner, smirking. "Not unlike someone else I know."

Tanner spread his hands wide, an innocent look upon his face as he drawled, "Who me?" He focused on Jake. "Tell him, hi."

Their food arrived and the men were silent while they took the edge off their hunger.

Vin dipped a french fry into ketchup, one arm half curled around his plate. "What about you, Captain? What are your plans for the holidays?"

"I'm a detective now. Got an honorable discharge a little over four years ago. I work in Major Crimes in Cascade, Washington."

Tanner whistled, leaning back in his seat. "I've heard some pretty wild stories about Cascade. Seems like you've had a run with some crazies over the past few years."

Ellison nodded in agreement, several emotions flashing in blue eyes before he relaxed. "We've had our ups and downs. The whole gang is coming over tomorrow night for a get together. Poker. Music. Good food. Better company."

"Sounds like you have a tight group," Jensen commented. He remembered the older man being a bit of a loner in the past; friendly enough, but stiff. He was glad Ellison had a group he could finally relax with.

"We didn't used to be, but my partner, Sandburg, has a real gift when it comes to breaking down barriers between people." At their interested look, he elaborated. "Blair was an anthropologist before he became a cop. Well... he still is an anthropologist. He's studied people his whole life, now he uses what he's learned to catch criminals. Because of him, the whole department is more like a family.

"Some of the folks in our department don't have family, or none in town. One is in on an exchange program from Australia and couldn't get time to go home. So, we're hosting a Christmas Eve party, and everyone not on duty will show up at one point or another. I'm spending Christmas Day with my father and Stephen."

Tanner studied the older man for a moment before nodding to himself in satisfaction.

The three men startled as a crash sounded. One of the busboys knelt on the ground near the kitchen entrance picking up the pieces of a broken plate. "Sorry."

Jensen relaxed, noting that, like him, both Ellison and Tanner had automatically reached for weapons they weren't wearing.

"Still bounty hunting?" Jensen asked curiously while snitching a fry off Tanner's plate.

The Texan gave a slow shake of his head. "Gave that up a few years ago. Got a bit tired being a loner. It was takin' longer to get back on m'feet after an injury, and there were a few times I coulda used havin' someone watch m'back." Both men nodded at that. "Part of a team now. ATF outta Denver. I'm they're sharpshooter," the quiet pride was evident.

Ellison whistled, "I've heard stories about Denver."

"Major gun and drug runner central," Jensen added.

A quirk of his lips as Vin echoed Ellison's earlier statement. "We've had our ups and downs."

"Who's your C.O.?"

"Larabee."

Jensen barked in laughter. "Why aren't I surprised you're part of the 'Magnificent Seven'?" He slapped his thigh in amusement ignoring the looks he garnered at the noise. "Clay mentioned your group once. Figured Larabee would be the only ATF lead agent he'd be able to stand. Though, the moniker is a bit ostentatious," he teased.

"Well, 'Losers' was already taken," Tanner smirked. "We're all meeting up at Larabee's ranch fer Christmas. Watch some football. Barbeque. And if the weather holds, do some riding. Most of us own horses, and Larabee lets us put them up at his place. It lets him keep an eye on us during our down time."

Ellison's eyes caught Tanner's. "It's good that you found family."

A genuine smile blossomed across Tanner's face. "Yeah."

He drank the rest of his soda, set the glass off to the side, nodding to the waitress for a refill. "I really enjoyed working with the two of you. Watching you interact with your teams got me thinking. Had a few partners on and off for the next three years, but when Larabee offered me a place on his team something clicked. Haven't regretted a single moment."

"You know, I thought it strange at the time that the Army would have asked a civilian for help locating Garcia. Especially a bounty hunter." Jake let his own light blue eyes scrutinize Tanner.

Ellison shook his head. "Not really. He was asked for especially by my C.O. Major Evan O'Neil."

"Why?"

"I knew the area – especially the back woods. Knew the people who'd be of a help or a hindrance. That, and I'd hunted Garcia before – knew how he thought – probably predict what he'd do."

"I have to admit, though. I was taken aback by how young you were. Had it been up to me, I wouldn't have requested your assistance."

"Good thing it wasn't, ain't it?"

Jensen nodded in agreement. Without Tanner's assistance, things would have ended badly.

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# 7 years prior – 100 miles south of El Paso, TX / Ciudad Juarez, Mexico – December 23 #

Twenty-two year old Vin Tanner adjusted his pack as he strode through the wooded area toward the meeting point. Major O'Neil, a man he knew and respected, had called in a favor. "You're the best tracker I know. On top of that, you've chased after this man before so you're more familiar with his haunts and can run him to ground quicker than anyone else. The man has been amassing weapons and has plans to ship them over the border on Christmas; we just aren't sure where he's keeping them. You'll report to Captain James Ellison, he's the leading officer of the two squads we have searching for Garcia."

The man had approved his early admission into the Army, saving him from having to live on the streets two more years before he was officially eligible at eighteen. O'Neil had taken him under his wing; he knew he'd never be able to truly repay the man for all he'd done. Tracking down a criminal seemed like such a small price to pay.

Hearing voices, Tanner ghosted up to the make-shift camp. Pausing beside a tree just outside the perimeter, he gave a whistle. It wouldn't do to startle anyone and get his fool head shot off before they knew who he was. Given the all-clear, he continued into the camp, noting at least seven people in the camp – with the possibility of three or more men out on guard-duty. Half were in regulation BDUs – that would be Ellison's squad, the other half seemed to combine the military attire with civvies – Clay's men.

Vin spotted a familiar face. He brushed two fingers along the brim of his hat, a slight smile on his face. Cougar returned the gesture. A young Corporal stood near the sniper, a question in blue eyes, but otherwise welcoming. Perhaps doing this favor wouldn't be so bad after all. He noticed the two Captains standing to one side eying him with suspicion. He sighed to himself. Then again. He moved to address the two men.

"Major O'Neil asked for m' assistance trackin' down a fella. Name's Vin Tanner." He didn't salute, but his posture straightened automatically, and he looked them in the eye.

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Finished with his portion of setting up camp for the evening, Corporal Jake Jensen sat near Sergeant Carlos Alvarez watching as the sniper efficiently dismantled his rifle and began cleaning it.

Bored, the young man's fingers drummed against his knees as the two squads waited for someone Major O'Neil was sending. They'd spent the last week looking for a suspected terrorist, Miguel Angelo Garcia; but so far they'd had no luck locating the man or his cache of weapons. He'd only been part of Captain Clay's squad for eight months and had already had to deal with some odd orders, but this was the first time they'd been expected to work with a civilian.

"Alvarez. Why do you suppose they're pulling in a civvie? Don't we have someone in the Army who could do the job just as well?"

Alvarez shrugged, dark eyes focused on his rifle. "Maybe. If we do, it's possible they're not available. You have to learn to work with what you have access to, Jensen. That includes equipment and personnel." He finished reassembling his rifle and quickly put away the brushes and oil into his kit.

A peculiar four note whistle interrupted whatever Jensen planned to say. Two low. One high. One low. Alvarez's hands stilled and a strange look crossed his face before he responded: three high, one low. He rose to his feet, rifle clasped loosely in one hand, his other out in a signal to stand down. Jensen scrambled to his feet, blinking in surprise as one moment there was no one there and the next a slender figure in denim jeans, and a long sleeved button up shirt covered with a buckskin jacket soundlessly appeared. Bright blue eyes scanned the clearing beneath a battered Cavalry slouch hat. A faint smile crossed the young man's face as he locked gazes with Alvarez. He brushed two fingers along the brim of his hat. Jensen was surprised when Alvarez returned the gesture. The smile gone, the civilian headed over toward where Captain Clay and Ellison stood.

"Know him?" Jensen held back the other questions that wanted to bubble forth.

Alvarez nodded but made no further reply; instead, he also headed over toward the two Captains. Not wanting to be left out, Jensen followed.

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"I don't like the idea of relying on a civilian," Captain Clay groused.

"I'm not thrilled, either. But it's not like we have a choice. We need to find Garcia, and soon. Major O'Neil said this Tanner is our best shot of doing that." Captain Ellison replied almost absently. Something had changed in their surroundings. He cocked his head, listening intently. A four note whistle pierced the air, giving Ellison a direction, but he couldn't spot anyone at first.

A responding whistle from one of Clay's men surprised the two. But not as much as their first view of the civilian tracker/bounty hunter Major O'Neil saddled them with.

"Jesus. He's just a kid." Clay crossed his arms.

Ellison nodded, the man was young – late teens or early twenties – but the way he approached the camp and his movements showed a maturity not usually seen in someone so young. The silent greeting between the tracker and Clay's sniper didn't go unnoticed by either Captain, either. As the tracker approached them, Clay signaled for his sniper to join them.

The young man didn't salute, but his stance indicated prior military experience. "Major O'Neil asked fer m' assistance trackin' down a fella. Name's Vin Tanner."

"A bit young to be a bounty hunter, ain'tcha?" Clay's disapproval evident in his voice; though whether due to the age or career was unclear.

Before Tanner could reply, Alvarez slid up, hand extended. "Good to see you again, Hawk."

Tension disappearing, Tanner grasped the other's forearm in a warrior's clasp, warm smile upon his face. "Cougar."

"Wait." Ellison's brow creased, he'd heard that name before. "You're Hawk? O'Neil's sniper? I always thought you were older."

Tanner shrugged. "Major let me join up at sixteen. Did my four year stint under his command 'til I got a medical discharge two years ago."

"Why bounty hunting?" Alvarez asked. "Thought you were gonna go to college, get a degree in criminology?"

"There were … some problems during my last mission and I messed m' back up somethin' fierce. Took six months ta learn ta walk again. All the medical bills ate at my savings and there weren't enough to go ta college." He shrugged. "Once I earn enough, I'll consider it again. 'Til then, this lets me keep my skills sharp, ya know?"

Jim Ellison let any doubts he had over the civilian disappear. Though he'd been unaware of the man's age, he'd heard enough scuttlebutt about Hawk to realize they had nothing to worry about. Tanner was a professional and very good at what he did. Clay caught his eye and nodded his agreement – they could work with Tanner.

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Jake Jensen felt a bit nervous around Tanner. They were the same age, but Tanner seemed so much older. Jensen wasn't sure how to act. So he did what he always did when nervous and unsure – he babbled. He talked about his family; his sister and his one year old niece, Emily. He talked about how he joined the army and what he did before joining Clay's squad. He talked about the other members and how glad he was that he worked with these men.

"How did you meet Alvarez?"

"Cougar and I were in the same class for snipers. Got partnered up for six weeks before they sent us back to our squads."

"Why did they ask you for this job? I mean, you're retired. Doing a job of your own. Why'd they ask you?"

"I chased Garcia down a year and half ago. One of my first skips. Took him in and he went ta jail. He got out in ten months. 'Good behavior.'" The tracker scoffed. "Better lawyer. Anyway, I have a list of the different places he could have gone to ground back then. Captain wants you to enter the locations see if we can narrow down where he may be at this particular moment." He handed the list to the Corporal.

"What makes you think he'd go back to one of them? Wouldn't he find new places?" Jensen entered the coordinates into a special algorithm he'd designed.

"He got out of jail. 'Paid his dues to society' is how it's usually put. 'Sides, more n' half of those places were ignored during the investigations either due to being in Mexico and outta U.S. jurisdiction, or there weren't enough evidence to prove Garcia had a connection to them."

"How'd you find out?"

Tanner smirked, "I know some good hackers."

Jake returned the smirk. "No one gives us the credit we're due."

"As to why I don't think he found a new place? I've found that people are inherently lazy. Garcia spent a lot of time, money, and effort in creating his businesses. If he didn't absolutely have to, he wasn't going to abandon them. Since he doesn't know we're on to him, there'd be no reason to run. Right?"

"Where did you catch him last time?"

"He'd gone home to celebrate his kid's birthday. I waited 'til he was down the road a bit before taking him into custody."

Jensen nodded, impressed. "Didn't think on that. A man would let his guard down at home." He glanced shrewdly at the other. "How come you didn't take him at his house?"

"A kid don't need to see something like that. 'Specially on his birthday."

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# December 24th #

Vin had narrowed down the possible places that Garcia could hole up with his 'merchandise' to six different places. On the negative side, it would take time checking out all six spots – time they weren't sure they had. On the positive side, traveling to each spot made almost a straight line from their current location toward Cuidad Juarez and the Mexico/Texas border.

The tracker took point, unsurprised when Captain Ellison accompanied him. The older man took his position of watching over his men very seriously – and for the time being, Vin counted as one of his men. In that regard, Ellison reminded him of Major O'Neil. Neither man willing to let one of his men do something he wasn't willing to do himself. It was a quality that made others follow them anywhere.

As they traveled, Vin noticed a few mannerisms the Captain exhibited: hearing things no one else noticed; seeing distant objects as if within reach; chaffing every now and then at the fabric of his uniform. He'd met others with similar gifts among the tribes he'd encountered. Even a few blessed with all five senses enhanced. Those worthy were held in high regard among the tribes; each knowing the extent of their gifts and partnered with another who could help them stay free of trance-like states. The quiet tracker realized the Captain had a while to go before he'd need a partner; the man didn't seem aware that he did anything out of the ordinary. He thought about talking to the man about it; but something within told him to hold his tongue. It wasn't time for Ellison to know more about his gift just yet. Vin nodded to himself and vowed to keep an eye on the Captain while he could.

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# 47 miles south of Cuidad, Juarez – 3:43 am December 25th #

Miguel Angelo Garcia made the final preparations for delivery of several thousand automatic weapons, four crates of high-grade explosives, and the makings of a 'dirty' bomb to a group that had plans for the U.S. Capital. Unbeknownst to him, eleven men quietly surrounded a warehouse situated in the middle of nowhere south of Cuidad Juarez.

Briefcase full of money in one hand, he watched as a dozen men loaded the crates of weapons into a truck. He tossed the keys to the leader of the mercenary band. "Thank you, sir. It's been a pleasure doing business with you."

Turning to leave, he caught a glimpse of a figure entering in through the side doors. "What?"

As if that were some type of signal, men in military gear swarmed into the building. "Drop your weapons! You are surrounded! Surrender, now!"

One of the mercenaries reached for his weapon, firing blindly at the speaker. Bullets flew through the air. Garcia dashed to one side, crouching behind a few barrels. Pulling his pistol, he eyed the doorway, calculating the best way to get out of this mess. He aimed at a soldier entering the building, squeezing the trigger. His target was yanked away at the last moment by a man in a buckskin jacket. Dark eyes narrowed in recognition. "TANNER!"

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Jake Jensen followed Cougar and Captain Ellison into the warehouse, dimly aware that Tanner was right behind him. A dozen men stood near several crates loading them into a large moving truck. He had to hand it to Tanner, he certainly was able to predict Garcia's movements with a certain degree of success. They only checked three places before hitting the jackpot – with enough information gathered at the other two spots to insure Garcia went away for a long, long time.

Concentrating on the obvious targets near the center of the room, Jensen failed to notice the danger along the side wall. He felt a hand on his shoulder and a violent tug that nearly sent him to the floor. A bullet whizzed by burying itself in the wall where his head had just been. Ducking, he scuttled behind a few crates, eyes wide, as he nodded in thanks to his rescuer.

A rage filled voice echoed through the warehouse. "TANNER!"

The tracker gave a lopsided grin. "Aw. He remembers."

The two flinched as more bullets slammed into the crates that they sheltered behind. "Seems a mite pissed; dontcha think?"

Jensen laughed in disbelief. "Just a bit." The two returned fire. Jensen missed Garcia, but managed to take out one of the other men making a break for cover.

Tanner's shot struck one of the barrels Garcia hid behind. A sudden whoomp sounded as the barrel of oil ignited, sending metal shrapnel flying everywhere.

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The mercenaries had been taken by surprise with only half able to reach a weapon quickly when Captain Clay called for their surrender. A few ran out, to be gathered by the men left outside to secure the perimeter while the rest fired upon the two squads. Ellison and Cougar had moved to the right, focusing on their individual targets. They'd been unable to find a feasible way to get the two snipers into a higher position, so both men had entered with the rest of the squad, pistols in hand.

Concerned when Tanner yanked Jensen off to the side, Jim Ellison could only shake his head at the banter between the two younger men when Garcia recognized Tanner.

Ellison's eyes widened as he watched the bullet strike a barrel. As if in slow motion, the spark of metal upon metal ignited the oil within with an ominous whoomp sending flaming oil and shrapnel flying everywhere. Several mercenaries were caught in the blast and dropped to the floor, trying to smother their burning clothing.

Garcia screamed as the burning oil covered him from head to toe. In blind panic, he ran – a fiery scarecrow. In shock, everyone froze, eyes riveted on the doomed man and the spasmodic movement of his limbs from the pain.

A single shot sounded; silencing the hysterical screaming. Dead, Garcia dropped to the cement floor, a marionette with its strings cut.

Ellison traced the bullet's trajectory. Tanner's grim visage telling him all he needed to know. A mercy killing.

"Drop your weapons," he called. Unnerved, the remaining mercenaries did as commanded and were taken into custody. The weapons quickly removed from the building as the fire continued to blaze.

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No one got to go home for the holidays as the post mission reports and debriefings took two more days to complete. Still, Jake Jensen felt happy. He was pleased that he'd completed a dangerous mission without injury. He'd even managed a phone call to his sister to wish her a Merry Christmas and listen to Emily babble happily at her uncle.

He shook hands with Tanner. "Thanks for saving my life back there."

"Can't let Emily grow up not knowing her uncle," Tanner's voice was wistful. "Keep yourself out of trouble, Jensen. Hope to see you around someday." He touched the brim of his hat in a two fingered salute to the others.

"Need a ride anywhere, Tanner?" Ellison asked as the younger man headed for the door.

"Nah. Got one coming. But thanks. Keep yerself safe, Captain."

"You too, Tanner."

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# O'Hare International Airport – Chicago, Illinois – 12:42 am December 24th #

The three men were drawn from their memories as the faint squeal of static heralded a new set of announcements.

~ Now boarding United Airlines Flight 228 Seattle, Washington. Now boarding United Airlines Flight 228 Seattle, Washington. ~

~ Now boarding TWA Flight 19 to Rapid City, South Dakota. Now boarding TWA Flight 19 to Rapid City, South Dakota. ~

~Now boarding Southeast Flight 52 to Denver, Colorado. Now boarding Southeast Flight 52 to Denver, Colorado. ~

"Well, gentlemen. I guess this is it." Jim Ellison rose from his seat, dropping money on the table to pay his bill. He shook hands with the other two, eyes alight.

"At least for the time being." Jake Jensen grinned, shouldering his bags. "Don't be strangers. You've got my contact info, so make sure to use them, alright?"

"I'd like it if another seven years doesn't have to pass before we see each other again." Vin Tanner shrugged into his jacket, a smile on his face. "At least this time, we'll all be home for the holidays."

Another farewell, and the three men headed their separate ways.

Began December 9, 2011 Finished December 21, 2011 Beta/Edited December 23, 2011

Word count: 5577