Sleigh Bells Ring

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. If their proper owners had the slightest concept of how valuable their characters really were... I wouldn't have to write this stuff.

Summary: Christmas time is never a time of rest in Xander's world, even when the demons are willing to cut him some slack can you imagine how many cards he has to send out? Play it again, Xan.

Warning : Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : PG-13. For mature themes and all the other fun stuff that rarely makes network TV.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

Chapter 1

"Where the hell is Xander anyway?" Faith griped, "He's been gone a week and it's only two days to Christmas."

Mikki shrugged, she didn't get the whole Christmas deal. "He said he'll be back. He'll be back."

Faith rolled her eyes, moving through the cavernous mansion. She was tired of this place, as nice as it was. She wanted something a little smaller maybe.

Smaller and... homeier. And... warmer... with the smell of a turkey cooking in the...

She slammed her eyes shut, holding back tears as a wave of emotion flooded her. It passed quickly as Faith forced Dana Tasker back to where she belonged. Deep and buried.

She couldn't visit her parent's, that was a given. Not with people watching them like hawks, apparently to get to her. So that was that.

It hurt more, though. This was the first time she'd spent Christmas away from them. The first time she did since she found out they were alive that is.

Strange that. It hurt more then it did when she thought they were dead.

"She's alive and well. We have to be thankful for that." Harry Tasker said as he and his wife, Helen, looked at the tree they had decorated mostly out of habit.

It didn't feel right, not at all. She should be there with them.

"Oh Harry," Helen shook her head, then leaned into her husbands powerful shoulders.

He wrapped an arm around her, holding in his own emotions for the sake of his wife. If he let his sadness out it would quickly turn to frustration and then to anger, and that wouldn't help her. Sometimes he was awed at how she could just be... sad.

"We'll find her." He promised. "We will find her."

They fell silent then, looking on the colorful lights that all seemed blue to them, for a long unending moment until the phone rang.

They both grabbed for it with an alacrity that revealed their inner thoughts.


"Dana??" Helen asked desperately, grabbing at the phone even before her husband's phenomenal reflexes could manage. "Dana, is that you?"

Harry watched his wife slump and his own heart fell. It wasn't her.

And then, Helen's eyes widened as she listened. Her body language changed dramatically as she nodded into the phone. "Ok... Ok... we'll be there. We'll be there. Thirty minutes. I promise."

Harry looked at her puzzled. "Helen?"

"It was that Xander person." Helen said, looking up and swallowing. "He said that if we wanted to see our daughter we could meet him at the docks in a half hour."

Harry moved and moved fast. He spun out of the chair and grabbed for the phone.

"Harry!" Helen screeched, "What are you doing?"

"I'm calling Spencer." Harry said, his face grim. "We need backup."

"Harry! No!" Helen slammed her hand down on his. "We're going alone."

"Helen... it could be a trap." Harry said patiently, trying to convince her. "They could be using Dana to get to us."

"I don't *care*!" She hissed angrily. "If it is a trap, then they could kill her if we don't do as they say. Besides..."

She hesitated, looking over at Dana's picture where it laid on the mantle. "Dana said that Xander was her friend. Remember? She called us. She told us he was a friend."

"She could have been under duress." Harry tried vainly, knowing that he was going to give in even as he spoke.

"We have to trust her, Harry. We have to."

Harry Tasker nodded reluctantly, his hand falling away from the phone. "Alright."

"We've got a hit sir!"


"Tasker residence! Subject Alpha made contact, intimated that contact with Subject Beta was going to be made."

Beta. Colonel Maybourne nodded, smiling slightly. That made sense. Beta was the code name for Dana Tasker, the daughter of the two he had under surveillance.

The Colonel smiled, "God I love the holidays. Where are they going to meet?"

"On the docks, Sir. Here's the address."

"Scrambled all available units. I want them covering the docks with a net so tight we could use it to catch butterflies."

"Yes Sir."

Harry and Helen Tasker rushed out of their home less then ten minutes after the mysterious phone call and rushed down the drive to their car, only to be stopped in surprise when a sleek black Trans Am slid to a stop, blocking the road.

Harry thundered toward's it, "Hey! Get out of the way, we have to..."

The door popped open and he found himself looking at a grim faced young man that he remembered from a year previously. It brought him up short,. "What...?"

"Get in. Hurry." The young man ordered, looking around. "Move!"

Harry blinked, hesitated just long enough for Helen to sprint past him, and then quickly made his way down to the car. Helen got into the back as the seat slumped forward of it's own volition, then Harry dropped into the front.

The car door slammed shut on it's own and they immediately accelerated out of the drive and into the streets.

"I thought we were meeting at the docks??"

"Change of plans."

"Move! Move! Move!" Maybourne yelled into the radio. He was only five minutes from the docks and he knew that the team was already setting up, but they only had another fifteen minutes at most to get together and out of sight.

Then the radio crackled.

"Colonel!" A panicked voice came over the radio. A voice that Maybourne recognized from the surveillance team at the Tasker home. "We've got a situation!"

"What?? What's going on?" Maybourne demanded angrily.

"The Taskers just left the house, but were intercepted by a black trans-am before they could get into their car!"

"What!? Follow them!"

"We are Sir, but they're pulling away... FAST! We don't have the muscle in the cars to keep up... Sir." The voice ended, rather belatedly.

Maybourne swore.

"Give me your position and direction. Now, Soldier." He said finally, having gotten his emotions in check.

Xander glanced in the rearview, noting the lights that were fading in the distance. "Watch them, KARR... but don't let anymore blindside us."

Harry looked over at him, unsure whether he really wanted to distract the young man as the black car wove it's way through traffic at over two hundred miles per. That was, until he saw the young man take his hands off the wheel and turn around.

"Are you insane!?" Harry grabbed for the wheel, only to find it locked in place.

He blanched white, watching the rear of a pickup come up on them blindingly fast, then the car swerved out and around the truck and kept accelerating. "What in the..."

Xander smiled at him slightly, "Say hello to the Tasker's, KARR."

The AI was silent for a long moment before it rumbled out a very literal, "Hello."

Helen and Harry exchanged a glance, then looked at the console that the voice had come from.

"H... hello?" Helen said tumultuously.

There was no response.

Xander shrugged and smiled back at her, "He's the strong silent type. It's nice to see you again, Mrs Tasker."

"H-hello... Xander?"

He nodded, then extended a hand to Harry. "Good to have you aboard, Mr Tasker."

Harry pointedly ignored the hand and spoke coldly. "What have you done with our daughter?"

Xander sighed, sitting back in the seat and let out a long breath, "Fai... Dana is fine. She's doing well in school under an assumed name, and got slightly higher then a B+ average in classes this semester. She's got a lot of friends who watch her back and try to keep her clear of trouble, and lives in a nice home with people she likes and trusts."

A long silence fell on the car before Xander turned back to them and spoke, his voice deadly calm and serious.

"And she's very alone right now because, whether she'll admit it or not, she loves her parents and desperately needs to see them for the holidays."

Harry's expression softened only slightly, but the sob from the backseat really said all that needed to be said.

The black Trans-am sped silently through the night, as a myriad of forces began to array themselves in it's path. On board were two parents, and one young man who wasn't going to let anything stop him from his chosen task on this night.

Chapter 2

"I want all routes out of this city covered twenty minutes ago!"

If men foamed at the mouth, Colonel Maybourne would certainly be one of them at the moment, his anger at being deceived warring with his desire for the lead on potential alien technology that was currently speeding out of his grasp.

They'd been watching the Taskers since for months now, mostly on a forlorn hope that their daughter, Dana, would eventually make contact. An NID team had photographed a meeting of people just before the Goa'uld invasion attempt at a yacht club in LA. Dana Tasker had been among the very few of those people they'd managed to positively ID.

And now, because they'd taken the bait in a blasted diversion, that lead was fleeing his very grasp.

God DAMN it!

"Three more are approaching from the south west." KARR droned impassively, his voice not communicating the AI's distress at being pursued.

"Got them." Xander said, returning his hands to the wheel. "Damn they want Faith bad."

"Who are these people?? Why are they after us? And who is Faith!?" Harry Tasker demanded quickly.

"A military covert intel group going by the alphabet designation, NID." Xander smirked lightly as he took manual control from KARR and tapped the gas as he came out of a turn. "They aren't after us... well, they don't *think* that they're after us. And Faith is the name Dana is using now."

"Why are they after Dana??"

"That would take too long to explain just now." Xander said, checking his rearview as two hulking vans swerved around the corner behind them, barely keeping wheels on the road as they narrowly avoiding colliding with each other.

"KARR... time to test the new Micro-Lock system we stole... ahem, acquired from the Foundation." Xander grinned. "Hit em hard, hit low."

The AI didn't respond by voice, but the built in display system lit up and quickly read 'micro-lock engaged'.

Harry Tasker glanced over his shoulder in time to see smoke pour from the tires of the pursuing van's as they went out of control, bouncing off each other and then flipping end for end behind the. "What the hell was that!?"

"Our opening salvo, Mr Tasker." Xander grinned. "Our opening salvo."

"Units Baker twenty and Baker Twenty two are down! Repeat, down!"

"What happened?" Maybourne snarled into the radio, demanding an explanation.

"We don't know! They just went out of control and crashed!"

"Goddammit! We're proffesionals here! Act like it!" Maybourne snapped, then threw down the radio and turned to his driver. "Get me to the pad at twentieth and Lincoln. Now!"

"Yes Sir."

"Damn." Xander shook his head as two vans skidded out of the intersection ahead of them and formed a barricade. "I knew they wanted Faith, but this is nuts. I should have known better then to try to beard the lion in his own den."

"Who ARE these people!?" Helen asked, wide eyed as she saw men pour out of the vans ahead and aim machine guns in their direction.

"A military intelligence group attached to the Air Force." Xander said calmly as he reached forward and tapped a button.

Ahead of them the NID operatives opened fire on the speeding car, aiming for the engine block, only to waste their bullets in a spectacular shower of sparks as the Molecular Bonded Shell absorbed the attack without so much as scratching the paint.

"Hang on." Xander said, smiling grimly as he read the screen and saw that the AI had finished calculating the vectors, and then pressed a single red button.

"He's not slowing down, Sir!"

"Hold position and keep firing!"

The operatives filled the air with the rending sound of M16 fire, trying to stop the car before it rammed the barricade, only to see the black as night vehicle rear up like a living beaing and hurl itself through the air. It passed over the hoods of both vans, sailing through space like a raptor on a death dive, and crashed to the pavement on the other side, still accelerating.

One of the men broke from his shocked stupor and grabbed for his radio.

"That's enough of that." Xander growled, "Shut them up, KARR."

The AI would have grunted in satisfaction if it were human, but since it wasn't it merely obeyed the command.

"They broke through, Sir! The car fl----!"

The radio erupted in a burst of static that caused Maybourne and his driver to wince in pain. Maybourne growled, tossing down the mic after trying it several times in vain.

"Shit! What the hell is going on here!?"

Xander made several random turns, breaking the organized pursuit by forcing the units to work independently and without the use of their radios. In a few moments he had put the last of the visible black wagons behind them and well out of sight.

"Alright." He smiled finally, checking the rearview one more time. "We might have given them the slip. KARR, airport if you please."

Then he turned to the Taskers, "Sorry for the commotion, but trust me when I say that you don't want the NID to get their hands on Faith... ummm, sorry, Dana."

Harry glared at him, but really didn't know what more to say. That much was true, of course, he would kill anyone who hurt his daughter and the fact was there *were* no good reasons for a military intelligence unit to be after a fourteen year old girl.

That did not, however, mean that the young man he was currently looking at had any business whatsoever with Dana *either*. "Who are you, and what have you gotten my daughter involved in?"

The question was spoken calmly, but the tone brooked no evasion. Harry Tasker clearly intended to have the answer, even if it killed Xander.

"Those are loaded questions." Xander replied after a moment, "First off, I didn't get Fa... Dana, into anything. Something else did, and it was beyond anyone's power. Mine, yours, and even hers. I can't explain it here, you wouldn't believe me, and it doesn't matter anymore anyway. She is involved, and no one on earth can 'uninvolve' her at this point. As for who I am... Well, I volunteered for this shit, that's all you need to know right now."

Harry glared at the young man, then finally reached across with a lightning move and grabbed his shirt. "Listen to me, and listen carefully. You ARE going to answer my questions, and you ARE going to do it *now*. Or I *am* going to beat you into a pulp and..."

Xander glared right back as he cut him off, "And lose any chance of seeing Dana until she decides to come to you. And I should warn you, I *am* a friend of hers... Beating me to a pulp isn't likely to make her want to see you any faster... at least not in a friendly visit. So I highly suggest you Let. Me. GO!"

"Harry..." Helen said softly, her hand coming up to land softly on Harry's arm. "Harry... please."

Harry Tasker growled, but his arm dropped away and fell limply to his side.

Xander nodded once back at Helen, "Thanks."

"Don't thank me." She said coldly, "If you're lying, if you've hurt Dana... I'll take a knife to you're privates and make it *slow*."

Xander laughed cooly, "If I ever hurt Faith, she'd do the job long before you got a chance Mrs Tasker. Fa... Dana is one of the most dangerous people I've ever known..."

Xander glanced over his shoulder, back toward the NID agents lost in their wake, "And trust me when I say, that I know some VERY dangerous people."

Maybourne ran to the helicopter, bending down to get under the rotor wash, and quickly jumped aboard. "Take us up!!"

"Where too, Sir?"

Maybourne had been thinking about that, and still didn't have a solid answer. While the jamming had dropped off and he had communication with most of his units now, none of them had any idea where their quarry was.

Still, they had the main roads covered now, and birds were plying the skies over the city looking for the Trans-am in question. Trains were hardly a fast getaway, and the car had been heading away from the sea. So that really only left one destination in the area. "Take us to the airport!"

"You got it, Colonel."

As they came into range of the airport, KARR rumbled in annoyance. "There are units stationed at the airport."

Xander glanced down at the screen and cursed. "Shit. They've got the roads covered... We could boost over them... but it would attract too much attention... get flights grounded. Shit, shit, shit."

After a moment he shook his head and grinned fatalistically. "All this trouble just to deliver a Christmas present. I wonder if Santa has this much trouble?"

Harry and Helen exchanged glances over the seat, but didn't say anything.

"Alright KARR, get me Doug on the line."


Doug Masters came out of the cockpit of the big C-17 cargo jet. "Heat em up, Wheeler. We've got Xander coming in hot with some unfreindlies on his ass."

"Xander always has unfreindlies on his ass." Wheeler complained, but she slid past Doug and into the cockpit even as he headed for the back of the big plane.

Doug smiled, shaking his head as he went about his business. "When that girl is right, boy is she right."

Wheeler, of course, didn't hear him as she was warming up the four huge turbo-fans that hung on the wings of the big plane and, once again, Doug wondered how Xander had managed to lay his hands on a piece of, relatively, new military equipment like the Globemaster.

It was a huge plane, but built for speed as few transports are, and couldn't have come cheap.

The big space frame rumbled to life, cutting off his thoughts as he reached the cargo hold and slapped the master switch that controlled the huge rear hatch.

The rumbles of the engine were soon augmented by the grating shudder of the huge rear door opening.

"Hurry up, Xan..." Doug muttered, "Sooner or later, something this big is gonna get noticed by the wrong people."

Chapter 3

"What the hell are you doing!?" Harry Tasker growled as he held on to the dash while the black car spun through the soft dirt and grass, narrowly avoiding ramming a thick oak.

"Taking the back door." Xander muttered, one eye ahead of them, the other on KARR's sensor readouts. The dark night had turned misty, and he was dodging trees on instruments only while KARR put most of it's processing power into selective jamming of frequencies.

The AI didn't think much of this solution, it was far easier to simply wide band jam everything, but Xander had flat out ordered it to carefully restrict the powerful transmissions to frequencies that would not have a negative impact on the airport's operation. That required a massive amount of CPU time in order to properly manage, especially since Xander's orders required a zero point leak into neighboring frequencies.

The car scraped past another oak as it cleared the trees and burst out into the clear area that had been cut around the airport, and Xander tramped on the gas.

"This is Tango two three niner, requesting clearance for take off." Wheeler was saying as Doug stuck his head back in the cockpit.

"Hey, you got clearance yet?"

Wheeler mouthed an obscenity at him that doug took as a no before turning back to the radio and speaking calmly. "Please expedite, Control. I've been waiting for ten minutes now and I'm on a schedule."

Doug shook his head as the big plane rumbled. He moved back towards the cargo hold, <They are never going to let us go up this fast.>

He was, understandably, surprised when the plane rumbled into motion just as he completed that thought. Doug spun around and stuck his head back in the cockpit, smiling. "They finally give you clearance huh....?"

He was cut off as Wheeler spoke sweetly into the radio, "Why no, Control. We aren't moving. Are you sure your instruments are working?"

"Wheeler!" Doug yelped, "What are you doing!? This is an international airport!"

She flipped him the finger and turned back to the controls, guiding the huge plane even as she continued to lie through her teeth to the flight control.

"We're all dead." Doug muttered, ducking out of the cockpit and uttering a prayer under his breath.

"Oh stop your whining!" Wheeler yelled over the roar. Doug didn't know how she had heard him, but that didn't matter. "Merlin found us a clear runway and a good glide path!"

<God save me from Merlin and Wheeler.> Doug groaned, but turned back to handle his own part of the job. <And for Christ sakes, Xander! Where the fuck are you!?"

The tires bit into the asphalt of the tarmack, accelerating more readily as they left the soft dirt and grass.

"You do know what you're doing... right?" Helen ventured from behind her.

"Relax, Honey..." Harry said calmly, "There's nothing to worry about. We're just illegally violating the perimeter of an international airport... Don't worry about it."

Helen sat back, swallowing. "O-ok."

Harry leaned over and hissed under his breath, "You do realize that this is Washington DC and there's a national guard regiment less then five minutes from here. Right?"

"Right." Xander smirked, "but you forgot the Marine detachment assigned five minutes away, and the two interceptor squadrons waiting on full alert less then two minutes away."

Harry nodded, then sat back. "Just checking."

Xander grinned, then reached down and slammed the car into overdrive as he slammed the gas down to the floor once again.

"Relax." He said, "It's all under control."

"We're all going to die." Helen groaned in the back.

"Didn't you hear, honey?" Harry asked, half turning around. "He said it's all under control..."

"Yeah, I heard him!" Helen snapped, "And I remember what happens every time YOU say that! Somehow I don't think that Washington will survive a nuclear weapon going off!"

Xander and Harry exchanged glances and Harry tilted his head and smiled. "Women."

"Can't live with 'em..." Xander grinned, turning back to the road as an indistinct form began to emerge from the mists.

"Can't shoot em." Harry smirked, echoing his partners sentiment of two years past.

"Well..." Xander shrugged, "You *can*... But they're usually better shots then they look, and they tend to aim below the belt."

"Tell me about it."

"Colonel! We're encountering jamming across all our frequencies!"

Maybourne smiled almost gleefully, "Then they're here! Are any frequencies clear?"

"Yes Sir! The Commercial traffic is all in the clear!"

"Get on the emergency band and order all our men over to the commercial frequencies!" Maybourne ordered as the chopper flashed through the night sky.

"But Sir! That's disrupt..."

"I know what it'll do, goddamn it! Just carry out my order!"

"Y... yes Sir." The pilot swallowed as he relayed the order. Just as he finished, a new problem reared it's head. "Sir... Air Traffic Control is ordering us out of their sphere..."

"Ignore them."

"Sir. There could be commercial jetliners on approach vect...."

"Ignore them!"

"Yes Sir." The pilot shook his head as the chopper passed through the invisible barrier that marked the change over to Tower Controlled airspace. As he flew, he kept one eye out for any planes that might be on a collision course, and one on where he was going. <I can't fucking believe volunteered to work for this son of a bitch.>

"We're lined up and moving, Doug!" Wheeler screamed over the intercom of the big plane, "Where the fuck is Xander!?"

"I don't know! I don't know!"

"We can't hold much longer! There's a god damned 747 on a cross course! It'll close our window in less then three minutes!"

"He'll be here, Wheeler!"

"Don't fucking tell ME, Masters!" Wheeler cursed, "Tell HIM."

"What's that!?" Maybourne demanded, pointing down to the low hanging mists that lay below them.

"What!?" The pilot yelled back, eyes searching the mists. "I didn't see anything!"

"Take us down!"

"What!?" The pilot looked over at his superior like the man was an imbecile.

"You heard me! Take us down!"

The pilot muttered a quick prayer and pushed the stick forward. The chopper picked up speed as it dove into the mists, it's backwash sending the immaterial blanket whirling in all directions.

Xander and Harry both ducked involuntarily as the helicopter rushed down on them from above, just barely pulling up as it arced across the tarmac and twisted to pursue them.

Xander shook his head, "That son of a bitch is a grade A certified lunatic!"

He didn't wait for anyone to confirm his statement, instead he glanced down. "Give me Doug again, pal."


"Doug! Xander's on the line!" Wheeler yelled, slapping a bank of switches and taking the engines off standby in anticipation of the next order.

Behind her she heard Doug curse once, loudly, before being drowned out by the four huge turbofans as they began to whine. Following procedures, she preflighted the big plane one more time and slapped on the running lights as Doug came running up to the cockpit.

"Move! Go! Go! Go!" He yelled, "We've got a rogue chopper in our airspace! If he get's ahead of us he could block our lift off!"

"What about Xander!?"

"Xander's on his own! Move it!"

The black trans am screamed through the mist, pursued by the black helicopter as they both left the mists swirling in the wake. The digital readout on KARR's console read 234 and was still climbing as Xander wrenched the wheel to the left and hit the brakes, bleeding speed of fast as the chopper ripped past them.

The pilot was good, though, and he banked around quickly and came back around on them as Xander hit the breaks and watched it come in.

Trans-am and chopper confronted one another for along moment, each sizing up the other as pilot and driver stared at each other across the interminable distance that seemed to separate them. The chopper rocked gently in the backwash of it's rotors as the car actually rocked from the torque of it's engine, and a moment of communication passed between them.

"He's making a break for it." The pilot said softly but certainly.

"What? Where can he go!? We've got him!" Maybourne grinned.

The pilot just shook his head and shifted his grip on the control stick. It was like he could feel a mental countdown start.




Xander slammed his foot down on the gas, jamming his finger down on the Turbo Boost button and held on for dear life as he was slammed back into the seat by the sudden acceleration of the car.

Taken by surprise, by either the move or the sheer speed of the car, the chopper hesitated just a moment as they flashed past and then pivoted around and tipped it's nose down.

Xander ignored it. The chopper didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was his speed.

95mph and climbing so fast that the numbers just blurred past. 135. 190. 200 and still climbing. Behind them the chopper was a hound, baying on their heels with an insistent determination to drag them down.

Ahead of them a fuzzy shape began to firm up, and suddenly broke clear of the mist and was visible to the passengers of the car.

"Oh my God. Harry! He's chasing a PLANE!"

Harry Tasker didn't say anything, he just watched the huge craft with US Air Force markings loom ahead of them and focused on looking calm. "I hope you know what you're doing."

Xander nodded grimly. "That makes two of us."

The plane was accelerating, and as the Transam passed 230 miles per hour, the big plane started to pull away from them. Xander shook his head and pressed the Turbo Boost button one more time.

"Sir! Look!" The pilot said in shock as they spotted the plane that was running along ahead of them.

Maybourne looked up in surprise, then frowned and cursed. "Get ahead of it! That's their way out of here!"

The pilot looked over at him, "Sir! That's a C-17! Are you out of you're mind!?"

Maybourne glared at him, "That's an order, Mister! Do it!"

<I'm gonna die in a fucking glass bubble with an asshole by my side.> The pilot thought as he pushed the throttle forward as far as it would go and the small chopper leapt forward to the command.


The speedometer leveled out and wouldn't go any higher, but they were once again gaining on the big plane.

For just that instant, the small car managed to out accelerate the plane as it neared the end of it's take off run. In moments it would be airborne, and it would take Xander's escape with it.


"Shit." Xander muttered as the speed began to drop off and their rate of closing on the plane dropped with it.

"What!? What is going on!?" Helen demanded.

"Sit back, Helen." Harry ordered, then half turned. "Please."

Xander ignored them as he watched the gaping maw of the C-17's loading bay loom ahead of them. Just a little further.

The plane started to pull up, it's rear hatch throwing sparks in their faces as it came into contact with the tarmac. Xander watched as the plane came a little closer, even as it started to leave the ground in it's ponderous take off.

Just a litte...

Above them the helicoptor roared past them, moving to cut the big plane off.

"Shit!" Xander muttered and slammed his finger down on the Turbo boost button one more time.

"Holy shit!!" The pilot of the chopper cursed as the black car he was flying over suddenly accelerated and hurled itself into the air, as if trying to reach them as they chased the big plane. He yanked on the stick instinctively as the blur flashed so close under them. As the chopper lurched away, his eyes followed the car and widened in disbelief as it vanished into the gaping hole of the cargo plane's hold even as the plane left the ground and took to it's element.

Chapter 4

The occupants of the Trans-am slammed forward against their restraints as the car crashed into the cargo hold of the big plane, slamming hard into a huge cargo net and stopping with an abruptness that would have destroyed a lesser vehicle.

Relatively unaffected by the impact, KARR himself calmly shifted into park and set his brakes against the tilt of the plane as the cargo jet continued to climb skyward.

In the car, Xander was the first to move as he'd been expecting the coming impact and had prepared himself for it.

"Oooohhhhhhhh." He groaned, holding his head. "Next year I'm just getting her a motorbike."

"Xander?" Doug Masters half walked, and half slid, toward the back of the plane. He slapped the hatch control as he noted the Trans-am in the hold and shook his head. <Crazy son of a bitch.>

"Xander!" He called out again, still hanging from the cargo nets as he made his way down to the car. "You ok, man!?"

The car door opened slowly and he sighed a breath of relief as Xander slowly climbed out of it.

"Yeah." Xander said slowly, "I'm good. Hang on a sec."

Xander leaned over and looked down into the car. "Are you two ok?"

He received a groaning affirmation, and shrugged. "Sorry about the rough ride. Hope you enjoyed the take off, our flight will be arriving whenever we get there... Thanks for flying Avalon Air."

Doug slapped him on the arm, "Leave the poor people alone Xander. After a smash like that, the last thing they need is your humor."

Xander flashed him a grin, "Hey, what can I say? I like cracking jokes at a time like this."

Doug looked in to the two groaning people and nodded, "I can understand why. At least this way you can pretend that they're groaning because of the pain, and not your joke."

Harry Tasker suddenly laughed, "Now *that's* funny."

Xander rolled his eyes, "I'll have you know that Dana like's my jokes."

Harry stared at him for a long moment until Xander finally shrugged.

"Ok, so maybe *like* is a strong word..." Xander quirked a smile at the two of them, then straightened up. "What's our status, Doug?"

"Lifting off without clearance, into controlled airspace over the capital of the most powerful country on the planet." Doug shrugged, "So... better then usual."

Harry Tasker climbed out the other side of the car and fixed Doug with a piercing stare. "Next time... Quit while you're ahead."

Xander chuckled, "Come on, let's get up front and see what's going on. Hey, KARR... lock down, k? No point in bouncing around if things get rough."

The KARR didn't bother to respond to that, but followed the direction anyway. The AI scanned it's surroundings with an obsessive competence, continually scanning and re-scanning even after it had already gathered all the data it's scanners would allow.

It didn't *like* air planes, KARR decided. The AI wanted his wheels on the ground, where he could control his fate. This was... unacceptable.

"Oh. You made it." Wheeler managed sound almost disappointed as Xander and Doug popped into the cockpit with two people she only knew from photos.

"Nice to see you too, Wheeler." Xander said, leaning on her seat as Doug dropped into the co-pilots seat. He turned back and waved Harry and Helen to the navigator's chair and the fold out that was locked open. "Take a seat... This could still get rough. NID is an *Air Force* unit, after all."

Then he turned back to the two pilots, "Is the target in sight?"

"Right here." Doug leaned forward, tapping the radar screen. "He's right on schedule. Out of New York, bound for New Mexico."

"Perfect. You know what to do." Xander said, slipping back as he pulled a small device from his pocket and fitted it to his ear. "Alright Merlin... Do that Magic Mojo that you do so well."

"Track them. Don't lose them or I'll have you're heads by god!" Maybourne roared into the radio before turning to his pilot with a glare. "Take us to Andrews."

"Yes Sir."

Half a world away, a Virtual Wizard eyed the blinding flashes of data that surrounded him and smiled. He was in his element, or as close to it as current human technology allowed. It was crude, it was purely technological, and it was slow... Three things that he was not, nor ever would be, but it was still the world in which he was a God.

Merlin reached out his fingers and sent them through the data streams, ten splitting into a hundred. A hundred into a thousand, then a hundred thousand and more. So many more.

As they reached their places he smiled, and waited.

"What's that!?" Helen asked in shock as he saw an enormous shadow appear just out the windows of the cockpit.

"Santa's Sleigh." Xander whispered softly, "and our ticket out of here."


Xander glanced back, "Every year the Air Force loans some of it's heavy lifters to transport toys to charities around the country and even the world. The military code name for the operation is, of course, Santa's Sleigh. That one out there is a C-17, same as this plane... and we've been counting on this."

"On what?" Harry Tasker asked, leaning forward so he could catch a better look at the huge bulk of the plane they were slowly gaining on.

"A little shell game." Xander smirked.


Merlin sent a command to all of his fingers, and all across the United States of America the Air Traffic Control system flickered.

It was just a blink, enough to cause heart rates rush as the screens went black, then a relieved rush of breath from thousands of traffic controllers as they came back online and fully operational.

So great was the relief, in fact, that no one noticed that two of the numbers had inexplicably changed places.

Xander sighed and smiled a moment later and nodded, "thanks Merlin. Good job."

He turned back, "That should buy us enough time to get well out of NID's gun sights... Congratulations, Doug... Wheeler... Beautiful job, without breaking a sweat."

Doug let out a slow breath as Xander turned and left the cockpit. "Beautiful job he says. Congratulations he says... That guy needs a vacation if thinks I didn't break a sweat."

Wheeler snorted beside him, but declined to comment. Instead she half turned and looked at the couple behind them. "So... You guys are Faith's folks, huh?"

The Tasker's blinked, then quickly remembered that Faith was Dana's alias.

"You know Dan..." Helen shook her head, "Faith?"

Wheeler nodded, "Yeah. Met her a few months back. Bit of a pain in the ass by times, but she comes through in a pinch."

Doug rolled his eyes, "Sounds like someone else I know."

Wheeler tossed him the finger without looking in his direction, "Ignore him. He's just tense. Anything that doesn't do at least Mach One and barrel rolls puts him in a mood."

"I can make this thing do a barrel roll." Doug smirked.

"Don't." Xander ordered as he reappeared with two cups of coffee in his hand. He handed these to the Tasker's and he shot Doug a dirty look, "This thing isn't a Hammerhead... and we're just borrowing it."

"Some day you'll have to tell me how you borrowed a C-17 from the Air Force." Harry Tasker muttered, "They only entered service four years ago... And aren't exactly left out with the keys in the ignition as I recall."

Xander shrugged, half smiling. "Someday I might even consider it. But not today."

Chapter 5

Alex Houseman, Captain USAF did a fast double take as he spotted the F-16 roaring along beside his transport.

"What the hell...?" He said to no one, staring out the window. "Hey, Gus..."

Gustav 'Gus' Kreig glanced over, "What is it, Cap?"

"Look out your side and tell me if anything's out there..."

"Cap, we're at fifty thousand... Holy shit."

"A 16?" Alex asked.

"How'd you know?"

"One over here too..." Captain Houseman flipped through a couple frequencies. "Uh... This is Santa's Sleigh to the F-16 escorts... Not that I'm ungrateful guys... but I don't think we need an armed escort detail for a cargo load of toys."

There was no reply for a long moment, then someone came on to the channel. "Flight 216 Niner, you are directed to descend to twenty thousand feet in preparation for landing."

"216 Niner?" Houseman frowned, "Are you talking to us?? This is flight 213 Bravo."

Another long silence.

"216 Niner, descend to twenty thousand feet and prepare to land."

"Am I talking to the pilot of the Falcons currently pacing a C-17??" Houseman snapped, "Listen up pals. This is flight 213 Bravo, designated Santa's Sleigh Bravo."

There was another extended silence.

"Sir, please flash your running lights." The F-16 pilot ordered politely a moment later.

Houseman growled, but did so.

"Sir, according to our RADAR you *are* flight 216 Niner. Please descend to twenty thousand feet..."

Houseman glanced across at his co pilot who just shrugged.

"Must be a SNAFU."

Houseman rolled his eyes, "Great. I really need this on the holidays."

He sighed, then opened the channel again. "Confirmed. Am dropping to twenty thousand feet and awaiting further orders."

The sun was rising over the rocky's as Xander stepped forward in response to Doug's summons. "What's up?"

"We'll be in California Airspace soon enough," Doug said, looking over the controls. "Merlin called me while you were sleeping."

"Ah." Xander said, waiting for the second shoe to drop.

"Yeah." Doug half smirked through his worried look, "Apparently the guy in charge of that group chasing you is a Colonel named Maybourne. He forced the Sleigh down a couple hours after we did the switch... took him most of the night, but he was finally satisfied that we'd been suckered. Again."

Xander smiled slightly, then frowned. "Which means that he'll be waiting for us."

"Bingo." Doug nodded, "We switched numbers with that one, so that gives him a good idea on where we were."

Xander nodded, "I wish we could have just had Merlin take us completely off the grid."

"Never work, man." Doug shook his head, "We'd have been picked up by an indy before we made it a hundred miles. If a military aircraft reported a contact that didn't match their board, we'd have had a flight of F-16's on our ass before we got another fifty."

Xander nodded, "I know. Doesn't mean I'm happy about it."

Then he brightened up, "Still... It means we go to plan D."

Doug rolled his eyes but grinned, "Yeah. Wonderful. The plan were I play the bait. You are so gonna owe me for this, Xan."

"Hey, you took the job. I'm your commanding officer, remember?" Xander joked, "I don't owe you squat."

Doug snorted, "You keep on thinking that until I hit you up for a favor next time I'm in shit with Wheeler."

Xander shuddered, "Seriously man, I do owe you one... But like a friend of mine likes to say, when it comes to help with the ladies... That's above and beyond, so you're on yer own, Sucka."

Doug chuckled, shaking his head. "Sounds like a real good friend you got there, Xander."

"I don't know, I'm still trying to decide on that." Xander smirked, then he backed out. "I've got to go set up."

"Have fun." Doug grinned, shaking his head as he admired the sun rise over the mountains.

Harry Tasker opened his eyes as he swung slowly in the hastily strung up hammock, noting the movement of the young man through the cargo bay. His eyes widened a lot as he saw Xander start working on some equipment that he knew all too well.

"What are you doing?" He asked sharpy, startling Xander.

"Jesus! Don't DO that, man!" Xander snapped before turning back to his work. "Colonel Maybourne, the guy chasing us, has seen through our shell game. He'll have a team intercept us as soon as we slip into Edwards sphere. This is our bolt hole."

Harry just nodded, shooting a glance over to his wife, "This is insane. You realize that, right?"

"Welcome to my life." Xander shook his head, "Nothing's simple. You'd think I could give a friend a Christmas present without resorting to extremes... But noooo...."

Harry carefully kept a straight face as the young man worked while he bitched constantly about the state of the universe and the lack of Justice. The words were obviously meant in jest, but they sounded a lot like words that had gone through Harry's own mind for the past year and a half. Still, Xander was doing a professional job as he talked, and Harry's sharp eyes didn't spot any glaring omissions that might get them killed.

That was something, at least.

But Harry decided that telling Helen about this plan wasn't the best bet. She wasn't going to like it in the slightest.

Doug Masters leaned forward and checked his instruments before nodding and hitting the intercom switch, "Five minute warning! We just hit the Edwards RADAR envelope!"

"Get in." Xander motioned quickly as he opened the door to the drivers side of the sports car and got in himself. "Hurry up."

On the other side Harry helped Helen into the backseat and then climbed in himself.

Xander flipped a couple switches and the car came alive around them. "Buckle up, this is gonna get rough."

Harry obeyed without question, but Helen leaned forward. "We can't be landing that soon..."

Xander glanced back, looking more then a little insane as he smiled. "Who said anything about landing?"


"Just buckle up, honey." Harry ordered, looking back to make sure she knew how to fasten her restraints before he finished attaching his.

"Harry!" Helen complained, "What's going on!?"

"Just hang on." Xander said, looking through the windshield to where Wheeler was grinning at them. He glanced back, saw that Helen was strapped in, and then gave Wheeler her thumbs up.

The girl clipped herself in and then slapped the cargo hatch, depressurizing the hold.

Helen looked over her shoulder, saw the dark grey sky that was only just starting to lighten up behind them, and paled. "Oh no. No NO NO!"

"Here we go!" Xander grinned as he shifted the car into reverse and hit the gas.

KARR left the C-17 at fifty thousand feet and began it's long plummet earthward as the jet stream buffeted it around like a feather. The AI most certainly did NOT like this sensation anymore then it liked flying, but at least it wasn't restricted to the hold of a plane any longer.

As it flipped end for end the AI carefully monitored altitude and speed, noting with impassion that the sun had risen above the horizon now and was casting strands of red and orange as far as his sensors could see.

It filed the scene away, then again focused on the ground that was still so far below it.

Xander whooped as he hung on to the steering wheel and watched the world flip around him. It was the first time he'd experienced freefall without having anything to DO at the time, and it was exhilarating.

Behind him he could hear one long wail of terror from Helen Tasker, but from his side he didn't hear anything so he risked a glance over.

Harry Tasker was calmly laying back against his seat and looked about as bored as a man could get as the world spun and roared around him. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that his eyes were open, Xander would easily have thought the man was asleep.

He frowned, shaking his head. <That man is WAYYY too something. I don't know what it is, but he's way too much of it.>

On the screen in front of them a series of numbers was counting down with an accelerating flash of numbers.

Thirty thousand feet.

The world continued to spin and flip, and the light of the day grew until they could clearly see the desert terrain below them as it spun past.

Twenty five thousand feet.

Harry Tasker yawned, attracting Xander's attention. The big man slowly, almost languidly checked his watch and then glanced at the horizon as it swept past again.

Xander rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the rush.

Twenty thousand feet.

Helen's scream was really starting to get on Xander's nerves. The fun of the fall had worn itself out at around twenty three thousand feet and now he kept glancing over his shoulder and wondering, <Does she EVER need to breath?>

Fifteen thousand. Ten. Five.

"KARR... Do it."

Four loud pops echoed around them and the smooth, wild, ride suddenly turned into a wrenching, twisting, horror as the huge cargo chutes snapped open, first a small drag righting them, and then the trio of large chutes to slow their descent.

The snapping, wrenching, motion only lasted a few seconds before it smoothed out again and gravity returned to them.

"Oh God... I think I'm gonna be sick." Helen moaned in the back.

"Don't!" Harry and Xander both snapped, half turning.

She covered her mouth, sticking her head between her legs and breathed deep through her nose. "Oh God!"

Xander and Harry glanced at each other, then at the altitude readout.

Two thousand and falling.

Chapter 6

Xander and Harry cleared the chutes easily enough after the jarring landing, bundling the sheets of silk up and tossing them into the back of the Trans-am before getting back in and checking their bearings.

"Hmmm... Could be worse." Xander muttered as the schematic came up on KARR's newly refitted display panel. The old CRT had been replaced by a holographic display unit that Merlin had located in a R&D firm outside of Newark. The upgrades were far from complete, and in truth were mostly cosmetic at the moment, but Xander had needed them to bribe the AI into coming along on this trip. "I think we're less then thirty miles from the nearest road."

"Thirty miles across the desert in a Trans-am." Harry shook his head, "If I hadn't been aboard this thing when we chased that airplane I'd think you were nuts."

"It'll slow us down." Xander conceded, "I doubt we'll be able to make much better then sixty of seventy miles per, on average... and that might be optimistic. Still, we should reach the highway in less then an hour."

Harry shook his head and just waved a hand as Xander started the car and put the pedal down. Behind them, the vehicle kicked up a rooster tail of dirt and sand as they accelerated away.

The rumble died down as Doug flipped the last bank of switches to kill the engines. Outside he could see the procession of HMMV's with armed guards racing out to him and he glanced over at Wheeler and smiled. "Welcome to California... Time to audition for that role."

Wheeler grinned, adjusting her uniform one last time and motioned to the door. "Rank before Beauty."

Captain Douglas Masters, USAF smirked at her and ducked out of the cockpit and headed for the rear.

The guards burst on board just as he reached the rear compartment, M-16's raised as they swept the hold.

"What's the meaning of this, Soldier!" Doug snapped as he fitted his cap carefully to his head and glared at the man with his best impression of Chappy Sinclair.

The airman blinked and almost came to attention, but remembered his job just in time and brought his rifle back up. Still, when he spoke he was polite. "Sorry Sir, we have orders to detain you and your co-pilot and search the plane."

"Search the plane?" Doug looked perplexed, "For what?"


Doug let his eyes widen, and he looked behind him to the stacks of cargo that was stashed aboard. "In a load of toys, Soldier?"

"... Toys Sir?"

"Toys for Tots." Doug said slowly, as if the man was a simpleton. "You know, Santa's Sleigh? These are supposed to be delivered by tomorrow, Soldier."

The soldier swallowed, his eyes flickering around the hold. "We still have to search it, Sir."

Doug shrugged, "Be my guest, not my problem. But I want the Base Logistics officer up here first to sign off on the delivery. Until then you can just stand there cause you are NOT touching my cargo."

"Yes Sir." The Airman half turned to another MP, "Go find McKendric and tell him to get up here..."

"Yes Sir."

The sun had set on Christmas Eve and there was still no sign of Xander. Mikki had gone to sleep, shrugging it off with the faith of the very young. Giles had left, and also seemed very unconcerned about his whereabouts. Jack had crashed early, and didn't have any real investment beyond a newly formed friendship.

So that left Faith and Tara sitting up late into the night, well past midnight.

"Well..." Tara said hesitantly, staring at the clock. "M... Merry Christmas, Faith."

Faith nodded dully, staring at the table. "Yeah Tiger... Merry Christmas."

"Faith... I... I'm going to get some sleep. K?" Tara asked permission so earnestly that Faith had to laugh under her breath. There was no real amusement or humor in it, but she did smile as she spoke. "Go on, Blondie. I'll be crashing soon too."

Tara got up, nodding. "I... I'm sure that he'll be back by tomorrow."

"I would feel a lot better is Merlin would just tell me where the fuck he is." Faith muttered, finally getting up herself.

"Get some sleep." Tara said in her soft way, "Thing's will look better in the morning. They always do."

"Yeah." Faith said as she followed Tara up the stairs. "Yeah. Sure."

"Ohhh... Man, I'm beat." Xander said as he brought KARR to a stop in the huge garage built on the Estate property.

"Well if you hadn't stopped in San Francisco we'd have gotten here a lot sooner." Helen growled at him.

Xander smirked, shrugging. "Hey, I've got people to see and gifts to drop off myself. I'm a regular Kris Kringle this time of year."

"I didn't know Kris carried automatic weapons." Harry said dryly.

"Are you kidding?" Xander grinned, showing them to the door that would let them into the Mansion. "Have you seen the crime statistics this year? He probably has his own secret service detail."

Harry paused in mid step and gave Xander a long and very disgusted look. "That's perverse."

Xander shrugged, "Welcome to the twentieth century."

Xander led them through the house, stopping when the reached the main sitting room with the huge tree that they'd all picked out together just over a week earlier. Decorating it had been fun, even if Mikki thought the whole concept was insane.

Of course, Mikki thought pretty much anything to do with clothing was nuts, so dressing up a tree and a *dead* tree at that ranked right up there with dancing around naked under the stars.

Xander frowned, <Actually to Mikki, Dancing around naked under the stars is probably a fun way to pass an evening.>

He shrugged off the flight and motioned the Taskers to the large leather couch. "Have a seat. I'll see what's in the fridge. I hope that someone did some shopping..."

<Someone other then Jack.> Xander immediately amended as he made his way into the kitchen. <That guy has GOT to learn to cut back on the sweets.>

He paused in half step and groaned, <SHIT! Did *I* think that?? Shitfucksonofabitch...>

<Stop cursing, Alexander.> Elan muttered darkly, <It irritates me.>

<You shut up!> Xander snapped mentally as he checked the fridge, <This is all your fault anyway! I never had thoughts like that until you showed up.>

<And you were well on your way to death by malnutrition.> Elan said dryly.

<Hey, a lot of people eat like I do and live to ripe old ages.>

<Not by my standards.>

Xander gave up and started piling food from the fridge to a large tray.

Faith woke from a fitful sleep just as the sun was starting to lighten the sky outside her window. She yawned involuntarily and slowly wiped the sleep from her eyes as she kicked the blankets off and got out of bed.

<It's Christmas.> She thought without any real emotion as she looked out at the green grass and blue waters beyond her room. "Woo hoo."

She snorted and grabbed a pair of jeans from the floor and a light sweater from the dresser and walked around her room to look at something she'd been lugging around for a long time. In the previous timeline she'd lost it when Kakistos raided her home and grabbed her and her watcher.

This time it had ridden in her jacket pocket, through one fight after another, and somehow survived the months and months or poor treatment until it arrived here.

She rolled the snowglobe in her hand and watched the blizzard overtake the Eiffel tower inside it, then snorted lightly and made her way downstairs.

As she approached the sitting room she frowned as she heard muffled voices, like someone was whispering. She rounded the corner with a puzzled expression, "Hey, what are ya whisperin 'bout..."

Faith stopped in her tracks, her hands going limp and the globe fell from them for a long interminable moment. As it shattered on the hardwood floor, Faith managed to say two words.

"Mom? Daddy?"

"Mom? Daddy?"

The Tasker's whipped about, staring in shock for along moment, the sound of water and glass echoing through the room.

"Dana?" Helen spoke first, "baby?"

Faith stood there, stunned as her parents rushed her, her mother reaching her first and pulling her into a tight embrace and then her father's big arms engulfed the two of them.

Behind them, in the doorway that led to the kitchen, Xander smiled slightly, if a little sadly, as he caught sight of Faith's tear streaked face and he softly backed away. <They can eat later.>

<Indeed.> Elan said softly into his head. <You know, Alexander, you occasionally do things right.>

<Gee thanks.> Xander thought wryly to the ancient soul.

<For an uncultured barbarian, of course.>

<Of course.> Xander smiled as he heart the tinkling laughter shimmer and ripple through his psyche, making him forget for the moment the sharp longing he'd felt in the instant he saw Faith and her parents together. He remembered it a moment later, of course, but that's all it was. A memory.

<Thanks Elan.>

The ancient soul just shrugged.

"Toys!!??" Colonel Maybourne screamed into the phone, "What are you telling me!? There can't be just toys on that plane! No goddammit! Rip that thing apart if you have to!"

After a moment of listening he started to calm down, "Fine. Fine. Let it go."

He hung up the phone and looked around his empty office and growled. "Toys."

After a long moment he smiled wryly. "What a smart ass son of a bitch."

Captain Houseman glanced over at his copilot as they taxied the plane to a stop. They'd flown all night and had to arrange for a military delivery of their cargo, but they'd made it on time. Just, mind you, but they'd done it.

And they were both wiped out after almost twenty hours without sleep.

They made their way to the Base barracks where they were going to crash for a few hours before starting back to the east coast and let themselves into the large building.

"What a fucking night." Gus Kreig muttered, "Shit what an asshole."

Houseman shrugged, not bothering to go back over the events of the previous day again. Instead he just threw himself onto the nearest Cot, only to groan when an MP knocked and stuck his head. "Excuse me, Sirs... but you both have visitors."

They groaned and rolled out of bed, "Alright... we're coming."

They'd only made it halfway to the door when the door burst open and a familiar blur rushed Houseman. "Wha...??"


His five year old daughter wrapped her arms around his waist and he hugged her instinctively even as he stared at the door in surprise as his wife walked through with Gus' fiancé.

"Mary... what? How?"

Mary Houseman just smiled and hugged him before shaking her head as he pulled back. "The tickets just showed up at the door... with an envelop addressed to you."

Houseman frowned, taking the envelope as she offered it to him. He opened it quickly and rad it aloud. "Sorry for the troubles, Captain. Thanks for keeping Maybourne distracted though, hope this makes up for the pain and suffering... Sincerely, Merlin."

"Who's Merlin, Daddy?"

Houseman looked down and just shrugged, "I don't know, honey..."

The End


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