The last rays of sunlight had retreated from the surface of the ocean many hours earlier. The cold had since crept in and taken over. As Willow stood out in the chilly air her breath misted white in front of her. For once, there was no wind. The ocean's surface was as calm as the mill ponds she remembered from family trips to the countryside as a child. So eerily calm. Willow looked absently at the pack of cigarettes she had filched from Spike. She tossed the packet in the air a few times, catching it deftly. A dull thump echoing in the otherwise silent air each time it hit her palm. Shaking one out she stuck it in her mouth before she realised that she had neglected to find a box of matches. She lent back against the gun emplacement behind her, feeling somewhat foolish with an unlit cigarette poking from between her lips.
No flame... story of my life.
Willow let out a small sigh that was lost in the darkness as she shoved her hands in her jacket pockets.
Footsteps sounding on the metal gangway to her right normally would have startled her. Tonight she couldn't even be bothered looking to see who was intruding on her solitude, she just hoped whoever it was would go away quietly. There was the sound of a match being struck followed by someone holding up the small flame for her to light her cigarette. Willow puffed a few times, wrinkling her nose as the acrid smoke wafted up and met her offended nostrils.
"Thanks," Willow mumbled, finding the way the cigarette paper burnt in the darkness fascinating for some strange reason.
"I didn't think you indulged in such a bad habit," Willow instantly recognised Tad's voice and she turned to see the XO lighting a cigarette of his own.
"Usually I don't... but I figured I'm doing just about everything else I can to put myself in an early grave, so why the hell not."
"Why indeed... bad day?" Tad guessed
Willow shrugged, not really wanting a conversation. Tad however wasn't to be deterred. He was going to start one anyway... even if it meant a nasty death.
He decided to try another tact and get something off his chest that had been causing him some loss of sleep, "Look, Captain Rosenberg. I'm sorry for the way I was acting before... when you first came aboard."
"Huh? Oh, you mean lusting after me? Don't worry, I get it all the time," Willow said in a matter-of-fact voice, she waved the smoke away from her face irritably, "Though usually once the guy finds out that I'm a lesbian he just redoubles his efforts, thinking his primal sexual energy can cure me... so thanks."
"No problem," Tad replied, he flashed a quick grin, "Although I have to admit... it was a little difficult. There has definitely been pining."
"Tell me about it," Willow replied throwing her spent cigarette overboard. She withdrew another from the packet and Tad chucked her the entire box of matches seeing as she obviously needed them more than he.
"Care to elaborate on that Captain?" Tad asked, his curiosity outweighing his desire not to be thrown overboard by the feisty red head.
"No," Willow replied, the flame of the match throwing a golden glow over her face for a few seconds.
God she's beautiful, Tad thought watching her, If only she was not so... sad all the time...
Willow sighed as she looked at Tad's earnest face. He was a nice enough young man... she almost trusted him enough to believe that he would not spread gossip about her. What have I got to lose besides my dignity? Not that I really have any of that left...
Tad watched her face closely and saw the slight flicker of a change in resolution. He dared to press one more time,
"I've been told I have a very sympathetic ear."
"Have you also been told you're very aggravating?" Willow replied, although there was no malice in her tone.
"Many times," Tad said promptly.
"It's just that... feelings have absolutely no sense of timing... we're in the middle of a war covering the entire world and I have the hots for a blonde," But what a blonde!
That was the thing wasn't it? The Air Command captain in Willow was worried that her infatuation with Tara would led to neglecting her duties to her squadron. The last thing she wanted to do was to get any of them killed. Yet people managed to carry on relationships during war time... they always had. Willow feared that she was searching for an excuse to cover up her fear. The fear that Tara simply didn't want her.
"Ah, so all this brooding, the smoking... it's about a girl. I should have seen the signs," Tad shook his head at his blindness, "You know what I kept telling myself as I was working up the courage to talk to this one girl I had the hots for? There's no time like the present Tad... war or no war... if you want the girl, go get her. How can it be more complicated than that?"
"Oh it's complicated... complicated in the fact that I think she hates me," Willow was confused and she hated it, "And as I recall... your advice didn't work out all that well for you. Didn't the girl brush you off very rudely?"
Tad smiled, "She was just honest... which is why I don't understand why she isn't being honest with herself. And it did work, my advice... I got my answer, I know where I stand with her now."
"Well, I can't fathom Maclay out for the life of me..." Willow stopped, realising she'd let the cat out of the bag and she scowled at Tad, jabbing her finger into his chest, "If you breath a word of this to anyone..."
Tad held up both hands to placate her and Willow withdrew her finger. She threw yet another cigarette butt overboard and realised as she reached for another that she was definitely getting the hang of it.
"Maclay... Flight Officer Tara Maclay, Slayer squadron?" Tad asked raising his eyebrows.
Willow nodded... just barely.
Tad let out a low whistle, Willow predictably sent him a glare that would melt butter.
"Well, I can see the difficulty there... Slayers don't hold well with Devils do they?"
"That's an understatement," Willow replied bitterly, she was beginning to think that her feud with Buffy was going to dog her for the rest of her life. I'd give an arm and a leg to know what Buffy has told her about me... except that whatever it is, it's probably true and I deserve everything I get.
"Do you know how she feels about you... I mean, is she even a lesbian? If she's not I might have more chance with her that you ever will... sorry, sorry, very tactless."
Willow raised her eyebrows before shaking her head slowly, "I don't know... I don't know the answer to either of those questions. I mean... we kissed earlier today... I mean I kissed... no, she kissed..." Willow sighed, "I don't know who kissed who..."
"But hoorah anyway!" Tad said excitedly, he pried for more details, "And?"
"And what? She ran away after we'd barely touched lips, I don't know why," Willow muttered dejectedly, "I mean... I'm not that bad at kissing."
"Well... we can establish that she's probably attracted to you... that's a start at least. Do you love her?"
"What?" Willow's eyes widened and she turned to face him, Tad was looking at her as though it were the most natural question he could ask in the situation. It had however caught Willow very much off guard, "No... it's got absolutely nothing to do with love..." I just need to get laid...
"Right," Tad said with a wink in his voice.
Willow ignored the sarcasm in his voice, "Damned bad timing... I should just forget about it."
"Horseshit!" Tad burst out, not wanting to see Willow run herself into the ground, "Stop holding all these flimsy excuses around you like a blanket... what have you got to lose?"
"Well..." Willow pursed her lips, dignity... already gone, respect... who the hell cares, my sanity... definitely long gone "Nothing I guess."
Tad nodded in a self-satisfied manner, folding his arms across his chest as though he would take full responsibility for how things turned out between the Captain and the lovely Officer Maclay. He had a good mind to give the redhead a few pointers as to how to win her over,
"Flowers... girls like flowers... and chocolate," he said as though he were revealing the world's best kept secrets and had completely forgotten that Willow was a girl herself.
"Where am I going to get flowers Dempster?" Willow asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Oh... v-very good point," Tad replied sheepishly, "There's always poetry and singing."
"I want to win her over, not send her overboard," Willow shuddered at the thought of her writing poetry, "Besides, I've courted girls before."
Willow looked at her pocket watch... it was getting late and yet the last thing she wanted to do was return to the cabin she shared with Tara. Tad started to open his mouth and Willow grimaced slightly. Not that she didn't appreciate the advice...
"Captain..." Tad began.
"Tad, if you call me Captain Rosenberg one more time I'm going to start a rumour that we slept together..." Willow waved her finger threateningly at the young man.
"Well... that wouldn't be so bad..." Tad started with a grin.
"And that you were the worst shag I've ever had," Willow finished, poking his chest with her finger.
Tad provided the desired reaction quite nicely, he immediately paled and nodded quickly at the red head who was staring him down with the most serious expression on her face. She meant every word. Tad didn't want to blow his chances with the rest of the Odysseus' complement of female crew.
"You guys are all alike... all you think about all day, everyday is sex."
"I do not!" Tad stated emphatically, "I'll have you know that I have been known to go without thinking about sex for up to half an hour."
"Would those half hour records be in the presence of everyone's favourite Commander?"
"Honestly, yes... I'm much too busy worrying whether or not he's going to rip my balls off and throw them overboard... there's a rumour that he did that you know... he caught a private taking a leak over the side of his ship..." Tad grimaced.
"Conjectured hyperbole I'm sure," Willow replied although even she wouldn't put it past Boone to do something that extreme.
"How long do you go without thinking about sex?" Tad threw her own question back at her.
"At the moment... oh about five minutes."
"Damn the blonde!" Tad said in a jovial voice, swinging his fist for added emphasis.
"I was actually thinking more along the lines of ‘screw the blonde'," Willow replied in a more sombre tone.
"In which sense?"
"Both," Willow let out a wide yawn straight after the word had left her mouth, which is the exact reason why she's driving me crazy and she doesn't even know it... I goddamn hope she doesn't know it because if she's doing this on purpose... there'll be hell to pay! Not to mention I'll feel like an even bigger idiot than I do now...
Tad watched as Willow kept on yawning, "Sooo... what shall I call you?"
Willow remembered the point of her conversation before they had become sidetracked, "Just Willow... or Will if you prefer, that's what my friends call me," Willow watched a smile creep onto the young man's features when she mentioned the word friend. Well, she was being nothing but honest... Tad was a good chap and she unashamedly liked him.
Tad looked at his pocket watch and saw it was going past midnight, he frowned at the young woman standing next to him who had just thrown the stub of her fourth cigarette over the side of the railing. The dark circles beneath her eyes were pronounced and her skin seemed a little translucent in the weak light on deck. They were all going to need as much solid rest as they could get and Willow looked as though she hadn't slept soundly for days.
"My shift doesn't finish until 0600... why don't you take some rest in my cabin seeing as how you are too much of a chicken to go and talk to your girl."
"Call her that again Tad and I'm taking back the whole bit about us being friends... but thank you, I really am beat..."
"And stop smoking would you! If you two ever do manage to sort your shit out... hopefully before the end of the world, do you really think that Tara will want to bury her tongue in an ashtray?"
"Oh..." Willow looked at the cigarette she had been about to light.
Tad took it from her hands and broke it in half. He then held out his hand, wriggling his fingers impatiently. Willow quickly deposited the packet of cigarettes and the box of matches in his palm.
The next morning, the hanger was a veritable hive of activity, welding sparks showered down as mechanics worked on planes. It was imperative that they were all in perfect condition... and everyone knew that even that might not be enough. Faith was lying on the wing of her plane, an open tool box beside her. Her hands were covered in grease.
"Coffee?" Faith looked up when she heard Tara's soft voice.
The blonde was standing on the floor, holding a steaming cup of black coffee out for the other pilot. Faith smiled, reaching out a greasy hand for the cup. She propped herself up on her elbows as she took a gulp of the burning liquid.
"Thanks T," Faith wiped one of her hands on her overalls.
"No problem... Faith, can I ask you something?" Tara ventured quietly.
"Sure, fire away."
"Faith, why is Buffy so antagonistic towards Captain Rosenberg? I mean, I get that they don't like each other... that's obvious. But the way Buffy talks about her you'd think she was the queen of hell or something. I-I heard they were friends once..."
"Red and B? Yeah, once upon a time they were inseparable! I mean you couldn't separate them... it was definitely a two for the price of one package," Faith took a sip of her coffee before setting it down on the wing and turning back to the cannon mechanism.
Tara propped up her elbows on the wing, leaning on it and pursing her lips thoughtfully, "They were l-lovers?" God please don't say yes...
Faith laughed, "Hell no! As far as I know Red's always been a ladies gal but B never swung that way... they were just really good friends, no, more than that... more like family."
Tara breathed a sigh of relief she hoped Faith couldn't hear. However, judging from the interested glance that Faith threw her way she thought she might have failed. She ducked her head, trying to work up the courage to ask the next question that was on her mind. It was stupid really, what did it matter...
"I don't know if you know or if Buffy ever told you... but was she ever seeing someone?" Tara asked in a small voice.
Faith shrugged nonchalantly, "How the hell should I know, you know as well as I do that we've never had much to do with the English branch of Air Command..."
"I-I just thought..."
Faith grinned and leant a little closer to Tara, "Well, I'm not one to gossip but rumour has it that she and the previous Captain of the Devils were shagging..."
"Yeah, Theodore Thompson, met him a few times – very handsome fella... but he was killed a few months ago in a training accident. Don't ask me what happened exactly. Anyway, Rosenberg was promoted to replace him," Faith waved her hand dismissively, "I think the rumours that they were bumping pelvis' are a load of horse piss. Willow is a lesbian, always has been and always will be... the guys fall for her like flies though... damn her innocent sweetness and cute ass. I'm just guessing but that was probably what happened with her and Captain Thompson. From what I hear, he mooned after our little redhead like a love sick puppy."
He isn't going to be the last to moon over her... Tara thought miserably.
"Maclay... you aren't falling for Rosenberg are you?" a voice said from behind Tara.
Faith and Tara looked in surprise to see that Buffy had joined them. The blonde stood in front of the Gullstrike, her hands on her hips as she looked at Tara. One eyebrow was arched upwards as she waited for an answer.
"N-no... Tara stammered, trying to keep Buffy's gaze.
Faith's eyes lit up as she finally realised why Tara was so interested in finding out about Willow, "You are so T!" Faith sat back on her haunches and clapped her hands together delightedly like a child with a new toy, "You wanna fuck her! I don't really blame you though... that is a nice piece of ass!"
Tara felt her cheeks burn as Faith licked her lips, "I do not want to... sleep with her!" Do I?
"You wanna!" Faith said again, "You wanna feel that firm, lithe body naked beneath yours, her hips bucking and grinding against your fingers... the both of you all hot and sweaty as she moans your name..."
"I don't," Tara whispered, suddenly feeling hot all over, her cheeks flaming.
Faith saw Tara's reaction and she grinned, pulling her into a headlock and knuckling the top of her head. Their struggles knocked Faith's cup of coffee to the floor below. The tin mug clattered, spilling its hot contents all over Buffy's boots.
Incensed, Buffy reached up and grabbed Faith by the scruff of her neck to pull her away from Tara, "Faith, shut the hell up... Maclay, stay the hell away from Rosenberg if you know what's good for you. You'll can't handle her so don't even try."
And with that, Buffy stormed away. Her heavy footfalls echoed firmly on the floor as she did so. Faith and Tara watched her go until she disappeared down the stairs to the living area. Tara had never seen Buffy so angry over something so mundane, she looked inquiringly to Faith,
"What was that about?"
Faith sighed, "B thinks that Red was responsible for her sister's death."
"I heard rumours about that... but I'm not so sure I believed them," Tara searched her mind to remember the snatches of conversation she had overheard and very nearly dismissed altogether. She had never been one to gossip no matter how interested she was in the subject, "Let me see if I've got this straight... a few years ago Captain Rosenberg took Buffy's little sister for a joyride, the engine stalled and she was bringing the plane into land when the plane mysteriously flipped."
Faith nodded, "That's about all I know as well. And I wouldn't ask B if I were you... you do not even want to go there!"
"It doesn't sound as though it were her fault..." Tara frowned, poor Willow... what she must have felt... the baggage she has to carry with her... First Buffy's little sister, whom Tara had a feeling was like a sister to Willow as well... then Captain Thompson and now for all probability her parents. Tara felt sick with sorrow.
"Try telling that to B... lot of animosity between those two, you're probably best not to come between them T and besides, I quite like you, I don't want to see you get caught up in all of this. B's right... you'll just get hurt."
Tara nodded and Faith went back to work on her aircraft's cannons. She had taken in what Buffy and Faith had said and they both made sense. However, when it came to Captain Rosenberg, Tara found all her good sense flying right out of the porthole. The blonde sighed, it wasn't as though she hadn't been hurt in her life before... what was one more hurt to add to the notches on her belt already?
She thought back to earlier the previous day... just before they had kissed. Tara remembered how she had scorned at the thought of nominating herself to take care of Willow...
Now she did not think there was anything that would stop her from trying.