Return to Captain Red and the Denizens of Mars Chapter Sixteen

Captain Red and the Denizens of Mars

Author: Alcy
Rating: R for war-related violence, occasional bad language and naughty stuff.
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to BtVS... nuff said. No spoilers for any season.

Despite the biting cold that clung to the bleak rock that was Angel Island, Willow and Tara stood watching ground crew load trussed up Guardians onto the Odysseus' deck. The fact that the planes were being loaded onto the carrier was an all too obvious sign that they were moving out after some months spent training on and around the frigid little rock. The figures in the distance loading the planes were all rugged up like little polar bears, as were Willow and Tara. Life below ground was so cloyingly claustrophobic that the cold eventually had to be braved in order to ensure a small measure of sanity was retained. Tara also knew full well that Willow could not bear to be separated from the sky for too long, even as grey and bleak a one that hung over Angel Island.

Even now the redhead was staring wistfully skyward, her green eyes clearly somewhere else. She alternated her gaze with the cold metal aircraft sitting on the deck of the carrier. Clearly all three of them belonged together, the sky, the plane and the redhead. Tara smiled to herself and wrapped her arms around Willow from behind, although she barely felt her through the thick layer of clothing. She hugged her as hard as she possibly could, feeling a little more of the woman beneath the wool. Willow swivelled slightly and tilted her head backwards so her frozen nose was pressed up against Tara's equally cold face, careful not to linger too long in case their flesh froze together.

"What do you think is going to happen?" Willow asked quietly, breaking the silence between them even though she knew Tara had no more clue about the military's plans than she did, but it had to be asked.

She felt Tara shrug behind her, but her grip tightened once more, it was clear that whatever did happen would threaten not only to tear them apart...but to tear them off the face of the planet altogether. The wind bit at the exposed skin on Willow's face, she hunched over, tucking her chin close to her chest in order to make herself a less inviting target. Behind her, Tara grabbed the hood of Willow's jacket and tugged it up over her head, patting it down securely. Willow murmured appreciative thanks.

"How do you feel about the Guardian," Willow asked, looking at what she was sure was her machine being loaded aboard. She flinched involuntarily every time it swayed in the wind.

"I feel a little more evil," Tara said with slight grin, although deep down she knew it for what it was, simply a better killing machine.

"LGFs everywhere are trembling with that revelation!" Willow announced, proud of the way Tara handled a plane.

Willow sneezed suddenly, using her sleeve in lieu of a handkerchief and looking down in disgust at the grotty mess she made. A broken coughing fit followed closely and she drew away from Tara to double over, her hands on her knees. Tara rubbed her back firmly. The coughs finally subsided and Willow stood, sniffing very unglamorously.

"Damn this cold...I don't think it's ever going to go away."

"You're just upset that it's not bad enough for me give you unlimited sympathy and bring you hot soup all the time," Tara grinned, "It just makes you look terrible."

"Thanks!" Willow said sarcastically.

Tara laughed, pressing her own freezing cold cheek against Willow's for the sake of both warmth and affection, "I still love you though...but if I even look like catching a cold as well then I'm not coming near you without a mask over my face!"

Willow pouted, "Hey, it's bad enough you won't kiss me at the moment without making horrible threats like that!"

Tara kissed her on the cheek, her lips leaving the one warm spot on Willow's cheek, "You're incorrigible!"

Suddenly Willow's warm spot was no longer as she felt a spray of soft snow across her check. She yelped, wiping it from her eyes as she looked up to see Alex grinning broadly. Her squad mate having since recovered from the injuries which he had sustained in combat with the LGFs, although his limp would be permanent. He stood with Spike, Charlie and Barrell, each one with a ready made snowball in their mitted hands. Without further warning they unloaded their cargo, the snow all falling on target. Willow and Tara faced up to the barrage staunchly before scrambling to make their own missiles. In a matter of seconds, there was a full scale assault going on. The sides were no longer clearly delineated as each threw a snowball at whoever happened to be close by. Willow caught Alex with a thumping one on the back of his neck while he wasn't looking and it knocked him off balance into the snow at his feet. With primal cries and no respect for his injured leg, Charlie and Spike leapt on him like small boys...which they weren't. Alex yelped beneath the heavy bodies. Willow doubled over with laughter but even as she did, something wet and cold sprayed down her back as her hood slipped off. Even before she heard Tara's musical laughter she knew who the culprit was, she whirled around and leapt for the mischievous blonde. As the two of them wrestled in the snow they were almost able to forget how cold it was...and that there was a war going on which they were losing.

Not for long however, there was a slight cough above them, Willow and Tara looked up to see Tad staring down at them. His normally comic expression replaced by one that was quite serious.

Willow regained her feet and reached down to help Tara up as well before she spoke to Tad, "It's time isn't it?"

Tad nodded once, "Tell your men to get their things together pronto, you all have half an hour to pack before a briefing at 1100 hours, see you in the briefing room Captain Rosenberg."

Captain Rosenberg, two familiar words brought both the war and her own responsibilities back to her all too quickly. With a last squeeze of Tara's hand she turned to regard the Devils to find that each was already starting back towards the underground barracks. Willow and Tara were the last to venture back inside behind Tad. Just as they were about to enter the hanger Tara grabbed Willow arm and drew her towards her to place a quick kiss on Willow's blue lips, neither needed to say was obvious. Their eyes said everything at that moment. Willow flashed a small, reassuring smile and together they went inside.

"New York," Boone said it matter-of-factly, as though it was obvious and he did not expect any reaction.

Every pilot in the room immediately began to murmur to their neighbour, speculating as to why that was their destination, wondering at the significance of the city. At the front of the room Boone coughed angrily and whacked his ruler against the blackboard behind him. Pilots snapped back to attention as though they were all back in school.

"We have received intelligence from units remaining in the area that for some reason they are massing in New York. Their point of convergence seems to be a huge ship...if you please private," the lights in the room were dimmed and a slide projector flickered into life, illuminating the screen at the front of the room.

The grainy black and white image was that of a massive craft, it seemed as though it were taking up the entire sky. It hovered just above the ground in Central Park, the trees around it were burnt and blackened, smoke rising around it. Some of the American pilots in the room expressed their anger verbally, others tightened white fist around the arms of their chairs.

"For some reason this seems to be a point of gathering for smaller craft, almost as if they are coming home to it," Boone continued.

"Like a mother ship!" Alex piped up.

"Thank you for that Harris, although as you can see, it is anything but motherly. It is heavily defended by smaller craft and no doubt a sizable ground force...however, if this war is to be one and this menace removed from our world then decisive steps must be taken. We cannot cower in the frozen corners of the earth while they reduce our great cities to rubble," there was much anger in Boone's voice, and a lot more emotion than the stoic and morose naval officer usually displayed, "Therefore we are going to direct a sizable portion of all remaining strength towards this 'mother ship' as Harris so nicely put it."

"Is that suicide sir?" a young Pilot Officer asked quietly from the front, his eyes glowing with the image of the alien ship, "What chance can we possibly stand against something like that?"

"I can assure you young man that it is anything but," Boone infused his voice with confidence, and even Willow had to admit that he could be inspiring when he chose, "The fleet will subject the ship and the surrounding area to a heavy bombardment."

"Sir! What if there are people still alive there?" someone from the back of the room called out concernedly.

"If there are...that cannot be helped, we are in a fight for the sake of the planet, not a few will also have support from army units which had gone to ground in Canada, even now they are moving into position."

"Grunts!" Spike whispered within Willow's earshot, and finished sarcastically, "I feel better already!"

Boone continued with the technical details of the mission, Willow was all officer as she diligently took notes with pencil and paper, although the whole time from the corner of her eye she watched the blonde sitting across the room. They were in a fight for the sake of the planet...and it was obvious that when placed in that context their individual lives mattered very little. For Willow however, it was a lot more personal than that...Tara was her entire world and in the scheme of things, she could do very little to keep her safe. Her gaze drifted back to the image on the flickering screen and her eyes narrowed, she faced it...resolute...but not without a very healthy dose of fear.

Willow's bootfall echoed on the chillingly cold metal beneath her feet. It was a familiar and yet alien sound, definitely not quite right. Each step was hesitant because she was not sure where she was. The corridor she walked was inky black, almost devoid of any light save for thin, translucent pipes embedded in the walls which gave off a pulsating green glow. Tentatively Willow reached out to touch one, feeling a steady thrum, much like pulsing blood through a vein. In fact, she did feel as though she were walking through a living entity. In which case, if it were indeed alive, it would almost certainly sense her presence.

Each step became even more hesitant, Willow trembled with the effort of walking as silently as possible. There were few other sounds to mask her passage, none save the steady thrum of the tubes and a very distant roar which reminded Willow of the sea. Willow froze when the silence was shattered by a single, heart-rending scream, it was someone who was in terrible pain but fighting it with all their strength. It was just one cry and yet that was enough to make Willow's heart skip several beats. She knew that voice all too well. The cry so similar to one of passion.

"Tara!" Willow no longer cared who or what heard her, her pace quickening until she had broken into a sprint.

Her heartbeat pounded in her head as she ran towards her worst nightmare. Tara in pain. There was light up ahead, the same sickening green glow that cast such an eerie light over everything. It was both dark and light at the same time.

What confronted Willow when she reached the end was enough to send her crashing to her knees with an expression of abject horror on her face.

"Tara!" Willow fought against nausea to regain her feet and rush to Tara's side. However a vice like grip ensnared her from behind.

Willow struggled in the revolting, smiley grip and yet she could not move an inch. Instead, she was forced to stare helpless at her lover who was trapped...bound to a colossal machine that appeared as though it were draining the very life out of her...

"Lemme go you ugly fuck!" Willow's struggles were rewarded with immediate release.

However, instead of finding Tara in front of her, she tumbled straight off her narrow bunk on the Odysseus to the ice cold floor below. The light almost immediately came on to reveal Tara frowning worriedly at her from where she nestled amongst the covers. Covers which until a few moments ago she had been sharing comfortably with Willow.

"The Dreamscape?" Tara asked quietly, fearing that Willow had been drawn into the plane of reality where humans were helpless and the LGFs walked in large, deadly numbers.

Willow shook her head, it had just been your average run of the mill dream...or rather not. She recalled the dreams she had of Tara before the two of them had even met. Dreams which began like honest to goodness dreams and yet ended in horrible, bloody death...Tara's death. They had been Tara's dreams...

"So...if it wasn't the dreamscape then is there something we need to talk about, because your were fine last night and now you're calling me an 'ugly fuck'?" Tara asked with the slightest hint of a grin, extending her arms to pull Willow back into bed.

Willow's expression was sombre, a sight furrow in her brow as she puzzled over what it might mean. Even so, she allowed her girlfriend to enfold her back within the warmth of their bed. Warm arms enveloped her, this time as unthreatening as could possibly be.

They lay in silence for a few moments before Willow cleared her throat gently, "Tara...have you ever had a dream..." she swallowed, not wanting to discuss what she had seen at all and yet it was important, "A dream where you're hooked up to some sort of of their machines? And you're in pain, terrible pain...and..."

Willow couldn't continue, she rubbed her cheek against Tara's hand and kissed it gently. She was too preoccupied trying not to think about what she had seen that she did not hear the ever so slight catch in Tara's breathing. She did however feel Tara's arms tighten their hold on her and she rolled over to face her, eyes searching out for any hint of something being wrong in Tara's expression. Tara smiled and reached up to turn the light off, shrouding them in darkness once more.

"No baby...I've never had that dream. I think you're just letting your imagination get the better of you...I'm fine, just fine," Tara whispered.

"Sure?" Willow asked, nuzzling Tara's cheek, "Cos my tummy is still all icky."

"I'm sure, no more icky tummies, promise?" Tara said in a determined voice before she searched out Willow's lips and planted a feather light kiss.

"Well...maybe, but I know a cure that will get rid of it altogether?" Willow traced Tara's jaw line with a delicate touch, moving down to tickle her throat.

"Baby, I'm a little you mind if we..." Tara began.

"Not at all!" Willow said a little too quickly, nuzzling back into Tara's side, fist curled up into tight little balls against Tara's chest, "I'm sleepy anyway."

"Night, night then," Tara kissed her on the top of her head, earning herself a Willow-purr in response.

However, as the blonde nestled her head into her feather pillow her gut was like a soup of something foul, it lay heavy and nauseous within her. She had just done something she never, ever would have wanted to do, for any reason at all. Tara was terrified by just how easily she had done simple it had been to pull the wool over her girlfriend's eyes...she had lied to Willow.

It had taken the convoy less than four days to steam within easy flying distance of New York and pre-battle reconnaissance meant taking photos of what the were up against. The task fell to Slayer and Devil squadrons as the most experienced fliers...and it was also the first opportunity to test the Guardians against the enemy. Although in theory they were just as fast and if not more agile, each pilot had very little experience flying their machine. At this point, it was all very much a game of chance as to who would come out on top.

"Don't forget to go easy on the stick Willow," Giles was cautioning her as she was standing next to her Guardian, about to climb into the cockpit but not before she gave one last kiss to Tara.

Willow gave Giles a look that said exactly how she felt about that warning and he quickly raised his hands in placation, "I meant...just be careful...both of you."

"And if we have any problems with the planes, we know exactly who to blame on our return," Willow smirked in the direction of the bespectacled scientist.

Giles quickly patted each of them on the shoulder as though he were eager to get away before he dug himself a large hole and made his exit. Willow was left alone with alone as you could get on a bustling carrier deck before an op. She encircled Tara's waist and drew her close. Tara smiled and planted a kiss on Willow's forehead.

"That's all you get," Tara watched the look of protest creep onto Willow's face, "We don't want to start a wolf-whistling frenzy now do we."

Willow shook her head, "No, I'm not feeling like an exhibitionist and besides, we'll be back in no time and I get kisses then don't I?"

"You most certainly do," Tara tucked Willow's silk scarf securely into her jacket, straightening it tenderly, "Go get 'em Captain."

Willow left Tara's side and clambered up the ladder standing beside her plane, before she swung herself into the cockpit she looked over her shoulder and whistled at Tara as she was walking away, "This is all terribly exciting isn't it?" Willow was all confidence.

"Shut up and get in your plane show off," Tara laughed before breaking into a jog towards the other side of the deck where the Slayer aircraft were parked, she gave Willow a last wave.

Willow grinned and with a hand on either side of the cockpit, leapt gracefully into her seat. She smacked into the leather with a delicious thud and a sigh of pleasure. However, even as she nestled into the now familiar cockpit, feeling the leather of the seat mould to her body, Willow felt a distinct urge to throw herself out again and run back to Tara's side. Before, going into combat had just been a pure thrill...but now everything had definitely changed. It was only as Willow sat with her hands gripping the straps of her harness that she realised she was afraid. Her breath caught in her throat and she felt the leather slip from her fingers as she leant forward to rest her head on the instrument panel and drew in a deep breath.

You're gonna be flying's what you do best... Willow found herself chuckling at what was a very odd moment, Tara would argue that you do something else better...

She lifted her head and squared her shoulders resolutely. A crew member lent into the cockpit to help with her harness and Willow waved him away, preferring to do it herself. The leather securely tightened around her, Willow shifted her weight slightly, knowing the straps would have to hold as she threw the Guardian over the sky. Satisfied she tugged her new fangled helmet over her head, it was moulded metal as opposed to her old leather one. In one small concession to her old Draken, the helmet was painted bright red. Upon seeing it, Tara had jokingly remarked that it made her look like she had a cherry on her head.

There were all too many minutes spent waiting on deck for the pilots to get settled in their aircraft and the deck crew to clear the deck. Willow sat fidgeting in her cockpit until she received an all clear flag. With the flick of a switch the mighty twin jet engines roared into life, the Guardian awoke. Swiftly she moved through the pre-flight checks, something she could do in her sleep. With green lights across the board, Willow taxied into take off position, applying maximum thrust while keeping the breaks on full. As the engines were redlining, Willow finally released them, almost whooping for joy as the aircraft screeched towards the end of the runway. There was a sickening drop as the Guardian careened off the end but Willow yanked back the stick and it shot up into the sky...a sky which was blue for a refreshing change. Once fully airborne she almost forgot everything except for the fact that she was airborne and everything else was flashing past her at an ungodly and yet very satisfying speed.

"Everyone accounted for?" Willow asked five minutes later when the rest of the group were airborne.

The Devils were spread out in a line from her starboard side, while the Slayers were off to port, lined up behind Buffy. They made a stunning picture in the late afternoon light as it glinted off wings and fuselages.

"I'm here but my stomach is back on deck," Alex almost moaned over the com.

One by one each of the Devils checked in, Willow put on her best Captain voice "Right, we maintain radio silence from now on in, except for essential communication."

When the skyline of New York came into view half an hour later, Willow had returned to a state of calm. For some reason flying served to erase all the worries that had plagued her earlier, while her fears about Tara had not abated, they were under control. Tara was an expert pilot, if anyone could put the Guardian to its very best use then it would be her. Worrying would only get in the way of what they were capable of.

Jarring the layout of the familiar skyline was the colossal shape that they had all seen in the briefing a few days earlier. Alex's 'mother ship' was growing larger and larger in front of them, like a huge pimple on the face of the that definitely needed squeezing until it burst. Willow led the squadron in a wide fly past, wondering why they had not been met with thundering resistance. She wondered a little too early, moments later a swarm of Martian craft emerged from a door in the side of the ship. They converged on the two flights of Guardians, smashing them down the middle.

"Here we go!" Willow slammed down her visor and from then on, everything was madness, in the maze of sky-scrapers there was no hope of maintaining anything resembling a squadron formation. It was everyone for themselves even as they took careful note of their surroundings and enemy numbers, which was the purpose of the mission.

Over the past months spent training with her aircraft, Willow had learnt every its quirk and rivet and yet she felt as though nothing could properly prepare for combat. She thought it was the Guardian handling differently before she realised that it was the fact she was in combat. She had forgotten the heightening of senses that came with the fact that your life was on the line, such a tenuous thread between her and a fiery death. Even more so than the Draken, the Guardian was an extension of herself, complying to her every command the very split-second she ordered it.

Willow did a careful flypast of the mother ship, taking photos at regular intervals and inwardly smirking at the fact that someone who couldn't even take a decent hand-held snapshot had been given the task. Before she had taken half a dozen photos the first flashes of the blue lights fired by the LGFs went whizzing past her cockpit. She kicked her plane into a tight roll which levelled out barely metres above the structure surface. Willow found herself skimming over it with the satisfaction of forcing the LGF behind her to fire at its own ship as she weaved close to it. Sensing it was gaining on her and with manoeuvrability limited by her position, Willow rolled off the surface of the ship and went careening straight for the city streets beneath her, or rather what was left of them. She levelled the Guardian out only moments before she was about to end up as road kill, very grateful as it responded to the stresses on its airframe with little protest. There was an explosion behind her and she glanced in her rear view mirror to see the remains of the LGF being blown skywards as it tried to perform the same manoeuvre. Willow didn't dwell on her luck when as soon as she regained a little height another latched onto her tail. She was forced to play a dangerous game of cat and mouse between the buildings. The LGFs tracers smashing into buildings all around her and at one point the Guardian was hit by falling masonry. For a moment the controls were dangerously sluggish.

Dammit, something important has been hit! Willow half expected to look in her mirror and see half the tailplane gone, instead she was relieved to find controls return to normal...although it was a mere spilt second before she was about to find herself attending a board meeting in an office building in front of her. Having never cared much for meetings, Willow kicked the Guardian into a left sideslip to avoid the building. She came close enough to see her reflection in the windows, a pale white face racked with concentration.

Tara had lost track of Willow almost as soon as the air battle began, although she knew the Captain was the best pilot in the air without a doubt there was no telling who would come through the day in one piece. There was little time to dwell anyway as she was immediately in the thick of the action over Manhattan. However, even as she chucked the Guardian across the sky scape with all the cunning she could muster, and managed to shoot down two LGFs, she could not escape the presence of the colossal mother ship squatting over the city like a parasite. Something inside it was calling to her. It was reaching out and trying to draw her towards it.

There was a sickening puncturing of metal and Tara looked across to see several holes in her wing. She cursed her lapse in attention and pulled upwards into a steep climb to get away from her pursuer. All the while she was praying that the wing would not be ripped right off with the strain of keeping her airborne. Another pilot may have decided to throw in the towel at that point and make for the carrier...Tara was not that pilot. There was work to be done, the photo reconnaissance planes, of which Willow's was one, would still be carrying out their work. Palms sweaty within her leather flying gloves, Tara maintained an otherwise cool exterior as she twisted and turned to evade the deadly blue fire that could tear her to pieces. Inwardly her mind was racing as she was looking for a way to get the upper hand and turn the tables so that she was the hunter...more than anything Tara hated being the prey...except of course when Willow was the hunter.

She gained altitude until she was well clear of the tallest buildings and gave the Guardian as much power as possible. Behind her the LGF was straining to keep up, no doubt also applying full power as it apparently closed in for the kill.

"Don't count your chickens too fast buddy," Tara suddenly throttled back on the power, the Guardian almost stalling in mid air.

The LGF went screaming above her, avoiding collision by a scant few feet. There was little time for it to ponder what had happened as Tara let loose her last two air-to-air rockets. Although one missed, the other slammed into its fuselage as it turned and the craft exploded in a satisfying fireball.

Tara turned back to the heat of the fray, scanning the skies for both potential threats and for any sign of Willow, hoping to see a Guardian with a red devil painted on the side with a cheery headed pilot flying it. With lightening reactions, she let loose a short burst from her cannons as an LGF streaked past and it began trailing smoke. Just as she was about to pursue, she felt a blinding pain in her temples. Momentarily her vision blacked out and she regain it seconds later to find herself in an incontrollable spin. As she wrestled with the controls the pain in her head continued, making it impossible for her to concentrate. It felt as though tentacles were reaching into her mind, trying to pry it open and at the same time compel her towards the alien ship. She fought with everything she had and the Guardian levelled out with the altimeter reading just 200 feet.

There were further bursts from behind and Tara felt the controls go sluggish, this was combined with a dangerous loss of thrust. She looked to her left to see a plume of black smoke leading away from the port engine.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Tara's normal flying composure was threatened as she now found herself fighting to keep the plane in the air, she switched on her com, "Mayday, Slayer five requesting immediate assistance! One engine hit, I'm somewhere on the east-side..."

The radio gave a last valiant crackle and died altogether.

Willow heard Tara's voice come over the com, which was strange in itself as she preferred not to talk while flying. When she heard it was a request for assistance, she furiously poured ammunition at the LGF that had been doing its utmost to avoid her attacks. Beneath such a barrage, bullets slammed into its wing and it went spinning into a building below.

She converged on Tara's location, frantically searching the sky for any sign of Tara's Guardian and she found it far below. The blonde was chased by no fewer than three LGFs. It appeared as though they were trying to force her down rather than destroy her outright. Willow latched onto the tail of the nearest and before it knew what hit it, she pumped it full of cannon fire. Raking it from nose to tail. It crumpled into pieces and she immediately went after the remaining two. No sooner had she done so, then a blaze of blue fire went flashing past her cockpit. Willow looked in her mirror to see two LGFs behind her and out to her right she saw more descending.

"What is their goddamn problem!" she roared angrily, forced to duck and weave rather than continue tailing Tara's pursuers otherwise she would have been shot down in seconds. She cast a desperate glance back over her shoulder in Tara's direction to and her heart wrenched to see the Guardian smashing into the earth below. Willow urgently rolled, trying to watch it to see if it remained intact or broke up on contact. It was a costly mistake, the LGFs punished her for her lack of attention and she was hit, her tail plane was a mess, the rudder barely functioning. Willow swore violently as she went into a spin, she levelled out quickly and dealt to an LGF which crossed her path. Although as it began trailing black smoke Willow realised that she was no longer firing, her thumb was jammed down on the button but she had run out of ammunition. With all her rockets gone and her cannons silent, she would be a sitting duck in no position to help Tara.

"I've got your back Will," Willow heard Buffy's voice and looked up above to see two Guardians bearing down on her, both bearing the blue stripe of Slayer squadron, "Get the fuck out of here!"

"Tara's gone down Buffy, I have to stay!" there was no way in hell Willow was leaving Tara down there, she looked for a suitable place to land, a street which wasn't pitted by shell holes.

Willow glanced at her fuel gauge and realised with a heavy hear that she didn't have enough to land and take off, her fierce combat had almost drained the tanks dry.

Oh I land...what the hell could I do? The Odysseus was less than half an hour away, if she could return and refuel she could be back on the ground searching for Tara in a little over an hour. Although she realised full well that there was a slim chance. The blonde could have been killed on impact, or by LGFs on the ground. She couldn't even circle the crash site, her Guardian was about to drop like a stone. With a heavy heart, she turned for the carrier.

The Guardian's wheels screeched on the deck, coming down much too heavily as the engine completely cut out. Willow had been flying on fumes only. The tail hook catching on the very last row of arrestor wires on the deck before the heavy vehicle ground to an awkward and jolting halt. The plane had barely stopped moving before the cockpit hood was thrown back and a very agitated figure emerged. Willow leapt straight to the deck from the cockpit and grabbed the deckhand nearest her who had rushed to se if Willow needed assistance getting out of her damaged plane. The poor young man bore the full brunt of Willow's panic.

"Get me back in the air in five minutes or I'll personally see that you spend the rest of your service cleaning out bilge tanks!" Willow yelled in his face, propelling him towards the fuel pump.

"Yes sir!" he replied smartly, scrambling to comply with Willow's orders.

Even as Willow watched the frantic efforts of the mechanics to refuel and rearm the Guardian, a million and one thoughts were careening through her mind. She wanted to help them, she knew it would make the job go faster and yet at the same time she could do nothing except replay what had happened over and over in her mind. The image of seeing Tara's plane making a forced landing in the rubble strewn streets of New York...the feeling of being powerless to do anything about it. Her lover was out there, completely alone with the place swarming with those evil beings.

As Willow hovered by her plane, not really seeing anything that was going on in front of her, Buffy's aircraft touched down. The blonde Captain had seen everything and know full well how Willow felt at that moment. She herself was almost tempted to take the same course of action and yet she could still think clearly enough to know it was a suicide mission.

Willow was clambering back into the cockpit when Buffy grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back to the deck. Struggling furiously, Willow knocked her off balance and Buffy fell backwards, the air knocked out of her as Willow came crashing down atop her. She had to react quickly to wrap her arms around the struggling red head before she took off back towards the cockpit.

"Lemme go Buffy! Lemme go! Now goddammit...Tara's out there alone!"

"Willow! For god sake look at your plane, how on earth do you think that is going to get back into the air let alone deal with any LGFs you come across," Buffy tried to reason with her.

Willow glanced at the tail of her Guardian to see it riddled with holes and knew full well that Buffy was right. However, that didn't make her anymore capable of rational thought.

"It'll fly, goddammit it will fly, now me go before I make you!" Willow struggled back to her feet as Buffy slightly released her hold.

"Willow, you'll be killed before you get within a mile of where Tara went down," Buffy said plainly and calmly, she played the oldest card in the book, "If you love Tara you won't want to sacrifice yourself by being a fuckin' idiot, now back the fuck down!"

"Please Buffy..." Willow whispered in a weak voice, sagging against the other Captain, tears starting to fall uncontrollably, "She's my everything, I have to at least try."

"She'll be fine, Tara's good at hiding, holed up somewhere waiting for us, you'll see. We'll get her back to you Will," Buffy said fiercely in reply...although she could not bring herself to believe her own words.

The blonde clutched the sobbing redhead tightly to her, knowing that more words would be pointless.

Continue to Captain Red and the Denizens of Mars Chapter Eighteen

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