Willow sat, her elbows resting on her knees in a casual pose as she watched the other squadron captains file into the small briefing room. It was six-thirty in the morning, a steaming cup of black coffee clutched in her blue hands. She yawned widely and took a gulp of the scalding liquid. Her stomach rumbled as she did so, impatient for breakfast. Willow shifted uncomfortably, she had never been good at mornings.
Buffy walked in and sat on the opposite side of the room, throwing a small, nondescript glance her way. Six other captains joined them. Captains Harrington and Rickman, the other two squadron captains from the Odysseus as well as the four captains from the Achilles. They all sat in bated silence as they waited for Boone to take his place at the front of the room. Dressed as impeccably as ever, even in the face of a crisis, Boone strolled in purposefully. He spun on his heels at the front of the room to face them all with a serious look on his face. There was determination on his face as well as anger, gone were all traces of sarcasm and cruel wit.
He was straight to the point, not wasting his words,
"Overnight... they attacked London, New York, Tokyo... all the world's major cities... They're in flames, ruins," he paused as though he were letting his words sick in, someone who didn't know him might think that he was struggling to get his words out.
"Our forces tried to mount a gallant defence but could do very little in the face of such an aerial onslaught... there was very little warning. What we do have left, has gone into hiding... has moved underground in an effort to avoid being wiped out altogether. Once we lose our capacity to defend ourselves, then they truly will have won."
Willow sat still as his words washed over her... London was in ruins... the coffee cup shook in her hand so violently that some of the hot liquid splashed over her hand. She took a long gulp, wishing it were something a little stronger.
"Civilians?" Willow asked Boone quietly.
"The casualty rate was... phenomenal, much of the population of those cities was... lost," as the words washed over her Willow saw something very much resembling sorrow on Boone's face but it was gone in a split second, causing her to think that she probably imagined it.
Mum... Dad Willow thought as her gut twisted painfully. So many people must have died and yet they felt none of it in their little bubble.
"What are we dealing with Commander?" Buffy asked in a small voice, one of the few in the room who was thinking clearly enough to ask a sensible question, "Co-ordinated attacks of this magnitude... no one on earth has the power to do that..."
"That's because no one on earth did," Boone replied.
All around the room, eyes widened and jaws dropped to the floor. Seasoned pilots, career military men... they all went white and some even looked as though they might faint. An invading force from outer space... space monsters like in comic books. They were imaginary... not real and yet tell that to the people who had died. Willow just raised her eyebrows.
Well that explains a lot, she thought matter-of-factly, "Where are they? Can we kill them?" Willow surprised herself with the calm fury in her voice, thoughts of her parents in her mind.
Just ordinary people... her Dad owned a small hardware store and her mother was a primary school teacher... the most loving parents a girl could ask for. They had never done anything to anyone... her Dad coached a boys football team... had coached...
"We don't know where they are Rosenberg, reports are that they come from the sky so we're thinking a mother ship somewhere in earth's atmosphere."
"Great, how are we supposed to get at them up there?" another captain asked throwing up his hands in exasperation.
"I'm not interested in what we can't do... frankly, none of us should be. I do know that these fuckers can be blown out of the sky. Reports are that several were shot down by anti-aircraft batteries... they crashed and burnt just like any other piece of machinery."
"What about air-to-air?" someone gave voice to the exact question Willow was thinking.
"As of yet... no squadron has engaged them..." Boone sounded a little hesitant, "Enough speculation, we make north under cover of the net..."
"What's north except lots of ice?" Willow asked, already shivering at the thought of being even colder than she was now.
"Salvation hopefully," Boone replied, "We have reports complied from communication with home, I want you all to read through them, study them... we don't know much about them but what we do I want you all to know it inside out... it could save your lives and those of your squadrons."
Willow took the stack of typed pages that Boone handed her and flicked through them to find verbal descriptions of what had happened.
"Everyone is on full stand-by, that means flight kit and tin hats carried with you at all times... no exceptions. That's all, dismissed."
Willow gathered her things and stood, overhearing another pilot ask why they needed to carry their helmets if no one could get through the net. Willow remembered Boone saying it had been tested with a full naval bombardment. She knew full well that they were worried it would stand up to whatever it was that these... space invaders were going to shoot at it. Willow sighed as she walked out into the corridor to make her way to the hanger and her adjoining office.
There really is life out there in the stars... how fascinating... all I want to do is kill it...
Willow entered her office which was really just a small cubby hole adjoining the hanger. However there was a chair and a desk, as well as a door to block out the usual bustle of the hanger. She left it open now, welcoming the sounds of mechanics working on the planes because it was familiar... comforting in a way. The smell of grease and aviation fuel filled her nostrils... the aroma of her life.
She reached into the top drawer of her desk, feeling beneath the untidy stack of papers and the assorted chocolate bars she had stashed there to find what she was searching for. It was there at the bottom and she pulled it out. A small stack of pictures held together with a rubberband. She pulled the band off and went through them one by one. They were family photos... some old and tattered from when she was just a small child.
Small Willow, her hair done up in bows, parents arms encircling her, holding her close. Her father was wearing his army uniform... he had been a clerk at army headquarters during World War One. A heart condition preventing him from being sent to the trenches where so many had died in the mud.
One of six year old Willow sitting in the cockpit of a plane that had seen service in World War One, a much too large leather helmet on her head and a huge grin on her face. Her first plane flight, sitting on the lap of the pilot... he had even let her hold the stick in her small hands. The beginning of everything...
Hanukah when she had just turned thirteen, Willow smiled sadly when she saw the overly frilly dress she was wearing... her mother had made her that dress, as she had made most of her clothes when she was younger. All so lovingly made with careful stitching, her name tag sewn into every item because she was forever losing her clothes at school.
Graduation from Air Academy, her and Buffy both in their brand new Air Command uniforms smiling proudly. Surrounding them were her parents, Mrs Summers and Dawn standing between Buffy and Willow. Willow pressed a light finger to the face of the girl smiling brightly with her big sisters cap perched on her head. She felt an unwelcome stinging sensation in her eyes and quickly moved that photo to the back of the pile.
The Devils from two years ago, all the same faces of the current squadron members stared back at her except one. Instead of Dennis' young face there was another man, he seemed barely older than Dennis. His smooth, smiling face beneath a mop of tousled jet black hair, one arm thrown casually over Willow's shoulders. Captain Theodore Thompson...
Teddy, Willow sighed as she moved that photo to the back of the pile as well, if there ever was a guy... it would have been you without a doubt...
The last photo had been taken just last month, her twenty-third birthday. The black and white picture showed the grey at her father's temples but also the same dazzling white smile from when she was younger. Her mother held up the cake she had made in the shape of a red plane, twenty three candles making it look more like a hedgehog. She was standing behind her parents, an arm on each of their shoulders.
Willow quickly shoved the photos back in the drawer, slamming it shut before she turned in her seat. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw Tara peering at her from around the door frame.
"I'm not interrupting or anything am I?" she asked hesitantly.
"Ah no... just doing my homework," Willow held up the stack of papers Boone had given each of the squadron captains, "Can I help you with something?"
"N-no... I was just p-passing by your office and I saw... like I said, if I was interrupting I'll make myself scarce..."
"No, no, don't be silly. I'd offer you a chair but..." Willow glanced around at the tiny office.
"It's fine, I'm fine standing," Tara always found it far easier to make a quick exit when you were standing in the doorway rather than trapped in a chair.
"Has Buffy filled you in yet?" Willow pointed to the papers, really she just wanted to find a reason for Tara to stay an talk.
Tara shook her head, "I've heard rumours from the sailors, although most of them sound ridiculous. Something about little green men in spaceships... Martians. Although I'm almost tempted to believe them..."
"It's probably not too far from the truth," Willow replied, "Can you close the door, I don't know if this stuff is for general consumption yet...it might send the crew into a panic."
Tara closed the door behind her, all of a sudden it seemed as though she were practically sitting in Willow's lap they were so close. Her heart beat out of control.
Willow on the other hand was taking her mind off Tara's close proximity by imagining little green men plummeting to a fiery death after she had shot down their flying machine, "Little green fuckers..."
"Are you alright s-s..." Tara stopped herself just before she let the word 'sir' leave her lips, "Willow?"
Willow could at first only reply with a shake of her head as Tara's empathic blue gaze stared at her, almost as though she were looking into her mind, her soul. Rather than feeling invaded, Willow felt safe, reassured.
"Boone just told us that London was destroyed... my parents live... lived in London... god I hate this, not knowing whether they're dead or not and not knowing exactly what it was that killed them. I should've been there with them and instead I'm stuck floating somewhere in the Atlantic. Freezing cold while the world is being torn to pieces around me. Why aren't we doing something? I need to do something... anything to feel as though I'm at least trying..." Willow put her head on the desk, squeezing her eyes shut tightly.
Tara watched the wave of emotions play across Willow's features as she had spoken. To Tara, the red head was much like an open book, every feeling and reaction displayed on her features for her to see clearly. And yet she still couldn't fathom her out... She saw and heard the pain as she spoke in clipped tones about her parents and her frustration. Tara cleared her throat quietly.
"My mother died when I was nine," Tara didn't want to tell Willow, she didn't need or want sympathy from the captain and yet for some reason it was the right time, "She was an archaeologist and there was some kind of... accident... on a dig site in Egypt. She and I were... very close and it hurt so much after she died."
"I'm sorry," Willow mumbled.
"No... you don't have to be... I was just telling you because, well... I don't know really... perhaps I might be able to help you with some of what you're feeling right now, it's not good to bottle it up because then it just comes out at the worst time..."
Willow sat back up straight, "Look Tara... I really appreciate you trying to help but I don't need it okay, I'm f-f..." Willow's voice broke and she pressed her fist to her mouth.
Willow felt like crying and yet she wouldn't, she hadn't cried since Dawn's death. After that she had refused to cry for herself again... she wasn't worth tears. She heard Tara's soft footsteps on the floor, moving towards her. She sat up to find Tara right by her side and she held her breath. She was so close she could smell the fragrant scent that was Tara... fresh, like an unnamed flower... soothing like a cool breeze on a stifling hot day. Willow felt her insides melt when Tara reached out both arms and placed them around her shoulders in a tight, warm hug.
Her cheek was pressed against Willow's, she felt the smooth skin that she had been longing to touch ever since the first day she had lain eyes on the beautiful, unknown blonde standing on the Odysseus' flight deck.
Tara's heart was beating all too rapidly in her chest... an insistent and steady thump... thump... thump... It's just comfort... that's all, she is so alone, she needs someone to be there for her... and you've nominated yourself Tara Maclay? Are you sure you're qualified... As Tara felt goose bumps rise over her skin and the shivers that ran through her body... she knew that she wasn't up to it at all. She couldn't trust herself with Willow because she knew what she wanted...
Suddenly, Tara found that Willow's head had moved so that the corners of their lips were touching lightly. She felt Willow's breath, it was so close. Then her lips moved a fraction... the tiniest of movements, just a light stroking of her lips and yet it was so very much more.
With one taste of Tara's lips Willow felt herself grow faint. They were moist, soft and tasted like nothing she ever had before. Hungrily, she searched and found the rest of those lips, claiming them with a sigh. She caressed Tara's full mouth with her own. She closed her eyes. Still the contact was soft... hesitant on both their parts.
Willow's hand snaked up around the back of Tara's neck, running up through her gloriously soft hair and drawing her down a little firmly. For a few seconds their kiss became insistent, bruising and passionate. In those seconds their hot breaths mingled to become one and Willow's tongue flicked softly against Tara's lips...
In a flash, the wonderful haven that was Tara's lips and the weight of her warm body were both gone. Willow's eyes opened in surprise to find Tara looking at her with a wide-eyed, frightened look on her face. She reached up with both shaking hands to smooth her hair back from her brow. She took a few furtive steps backwards towards the door and away from Willow. As Tara walked backwards Willow started to get up from her chair, a questioning look on her face. Tara held out a placating hand to keep Willow seated.
Don't get up please Willow...just don't come any closer...
"W-what... what are we d-doing?" Tara asked, her back was now pressed up against the door, her hand on the door handle.
Willow stood slowly, not wanting to alarm the blonde further and yet wondering what on earth had just happened between them, "What's wrong?"
"I-I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong idea... sir," Tara said with emphasis on the last word.
"Gave me the wrong idea... Tara... what..."
"I don't want... I mean, I can't... look, I'm just sorry okay?"
Tara flung open the door and ran out the door without a glance back at a now very distraught Willow. Willow slumped back into the chair behind her, shoulders sagging. She hit her forehead with the palm of her hand.
"Stupid... stupid... stupid!" she spat angrily, god Rosenberg, she was just trying to help you and you turn on her like some horny... guy!
Willow rocked back on the hind legs of her chair as she debated whether or not to run after Tara. Suddenly someone came running and slid to a halt in her doorway. Willow gasped and fell backwards in her chair. She looked up to see Tad peering down at her, an amused look on his face. Willow just stared at him blankly, making no move to get up. He very quickly wiped the grin from his face,
"Willow... um, Captain Rosenberg sir, Boone needs a squadron for recon... the Devils up for it?"
Recon while there are bad guys out there that want to wipe everyone off the face of the planet?
"Sure," Willow replied in a hollow voice.
The net parted just wide enough for each of the Devils to filter out. Willow watched as she passed through the layer of pink cotton candy-like light that kept them safe and wondered what would happen if she flew right into it. Silly thought really...
Once outside, the Devils formed up in a tight, combat formation, all eyes scanning the sky warily, watching for any sign of black shapes hurtling towards them. They broke through the thin cloud cover, emerging into bright sunlight.
Willow squinted and lowered her goggles. As she scanned the sky from the head of the formation she felt far freer than she had at any time during the past few days. Almost as though the net had created a stifling atmosphere within its confines... ridiculous of course, it did no such thing and yet Willow felt it for some reason.
The rest of the Devils were uncharacteristically quiet as they flew. Usually the comm. was over loaded with excited and pointless chatter. The quiet was eerie, too eerie for Willow's liking and she found herself wishing that someone would break the tension.
"You guys still with me?" she asked just to check although she knew full well if she looked out to her left and right she would see their Drakens close by.
A chorus of 'yessirs' came back very promptly and Willow was really worried... the Devils never called her sir... except Dennis.
"What's up with you guys?" Willow asked.
"Well Will, these LGFs might pick up on out radio frequency and hone it on it," Alex replied, almost in a whisper. He had coined an abbreviation of Willow's term for the invaders, little green fuckers had become LGFs.
"If they wanted to find us they'd find us," Willow replied testily, she did want to find them!
"All the same Will..."
"Okay, a fifty mile radial circuit of the fleet and then back, those are our orders, radio silence unless you see something."
The flight settled into a peaceful joyride in the bright sunlight with occasional glimpses of the sea through the clouds beneath them. Willow almost forgot they had been invaded, it was so quiet and uneventful.
Where are you dammit?
Yet as their circuit was almost completed a few hours later, Willow knew they were not going to show up just because she wanted to have a go at trying to blow them out of the sky. Willow pulled off one of her gloves, wincing at the cold as she wiped her sweaty brow with her just as sweaty palm.
All the Drakens landed unscathed back on the Odysseus after their nerve racking, silent flight. Each one relieved not to have run into trouble... all save Willow who was majorly pissed off. Once landed, the other pilots started their joking amongst themselves. Willow almost yelled at them in exasperation as their blasť comments about what they would have done if they had run into any LGFs annoyed her. They would have been scared shitless, all of them.
Willow wasn't scared... she was disappointed and angry. She needed to go somewhere alone and hit something...
Willow practically ran down the stairs to the hanger, she pushed her way through the planes, the mechanics bustling around and to her office where she slammed the door. She fell to her knees and sat there staring into nothing. She clenched her fists to stop her hands shaking. The world was being invaded by a strange force that had succeeded in wiping out a large portion of the earth's defences in a matter of days and now they were being shy. Willow yanked off her flying gloves and threw them at the wall where they hit with a dull thud.
She knew she should be worried about the way she was feeling... her desire to meet the enemy in combat was frightening. Willow had listened eagerly to veterans of World War One as they regaled younger pilots with tales of their flying battles over Europe. They spoke of the adrenalin overcoming their fear, the intense excitement of aerial combat where it was kill or be killed. Flying with death at every turn.
Is that it... I want to die? Willow knew the thought should scare her and yet she really did not care any longer, Everyone else I love is dead... so why the hell not me?
An unbidden memory surfaced in Willow's mind as she knelt on the cold floor
...music filled her ears, a rousing chorus of a song she barely knew and yet she still sung along anyway. A large amount of alcohol always tended to fool her into thinking that her singing had somehow magically improved. Someone's arm lay across her shoulders, it belonged to a laughing and equally drunk blonde. The two of them started an awkward Irish jig much to the amusement of other pilots surrounding them. Predictably it ended when the pair of them got carried away and suddenly found themselves on their backs in a tangle of limbs, laughing until their guts ached. Impulsively Willow lent over and kissed her friend on the cheek,
"I love you Buff," though drunk her words were sincere.
"Will, you know I love you..."
Willow playfully batted her eyelashes and Buffy giggled, pushing her away with a gentle shove.
"...but if you ask me to have sex with you the answer is the same as its always been, no."
"I've never asked you!" Willow replied indignantly, "Though admit it, you find me undeniably attractive and sexy."
"I find you many things Will but foremost amongst them all is definitely sexy," Buffy grinned, "Come on, my glass is all the way empty... more liquid refreshment required."
"You think if I get you a little drunker I can have my wicked way with you?" Willow helped Buffy to her feet, the blonde stumbled forward into her arms.
"In your dreams Rosenberg... now which way is the bar? You'll have to help me there because I think my feet are broken."
Willow almost smiled at the memory. There had been many more like it involving way too much alcohol... or the ones where they had simply let the little devils within themselves run loose, festooning a visiting General's jeep with toilet paper and fake shit or trailing the laundry of one unfortunate fellow recruit from the tail of a plane as they flew over the base.
I love Buffy, I always will god help me...
Images of another blonde filled her mind, this time with haunting blue eyes, a pale face... The ability to turn her knees to jelly and send her hormones into overdrive...
Tara... I don't know whether to love her or hate her... Willow sighed, the only thing she did know was that everything had felt right when their lips had been pressed together. The thought of dying and never seeing Tara again was the worst one she could imagine.
I'll live for her... whether she wants me or not, I'll live for her...