"Have you seen Willow since you landed?"
Buffy looked up from the first meal she had eaten in the better part of twelve hours. Even as her gaze found Faith, her stomach rumbled in angry protest when she put down her fork. The brunette was still wearing her disgustingly dirty flight suit, coated in a mixture of oil and dried blood. She strode over and took a seat on the bench next to her, a groan of exhaustion escaping her lips as she did so. With a filthy hand she reached out and claimed Buffy's last piece of bread. In two quick bites, the bread was gone. Graciously, Buffy pushed the remnants of the rather awful stew that she had been devouring with relish in Faith's direction. With barely a murmured thanks, Faith descended on the meal with great gusto.
"What about Willow?" Buffy asked as she watched Faith eat, the mere sight of it quite enough to put her off food for the time being.
"Haf oo een er?" Faith repeated with her mouth crammed full.
"I'm not sure but I thought between all the masticating I heard, 'Have you seen her'," Buffy said as she wrinkled her nose in distaste, "I have, she was sleeping in the hospital when I landed...I suppose she's still there. I tried to wake her up but she was pretty much wiped out."
Faith looked at Buffy sceptically even as she continued to stuff food in her mouth with barely a pause to chew, "Ah ya sure she still ere?"
"Why wouldn't she be?" Buffy had no idea where this conversation was leading, if anything, it was serving to irritate her.
Faith had scooped up the last of the stew and with a hearty swallow she cleared her mouth, "Buffy, Willow's girlfriend is out there somewhere and there is the slimmest of possibilities that she could be found...do you really think Willow is just going to sit here and wait for someone else to rescue her?"
"This is Willow we're talking about here isn't it?" The lights of realisation flicked on in Buffy's mind and her face fell, "Then no...she'd take the first chance she got to go after Tara...and there is no way in hell her crate is going to be flying anywhere today, or this week!"
"She'd try though," Faith growled.
Both Buffy and Faith sprang to their feet and made their way to the hospital tent. As they were heading for the large tent with its distinctive red cross, they were forced to fight their way through a myriad of troops and vehicles heading towards the front lines. While the pilots and their aircraft could not hope to harass the enemy constantly, the ground assault could. The distant rumble of gunfire created morbid background music for the human camp. It did not cease and would not until all of one side, human or alien, were wiped out.
Willow was not to be found on the cot where Buffy had seen her last. There was a heavily wounded soldier, swathed in bandages lying there in her place. The little boy whom Buffy had seen in the bed next to Willow was nowhere to be seen either. She hoped fervently that he had found somewhere safe to wait out the fighting.
"Orderly! Have you seen Captain Rosenberg?" Buffy inquired of a flustered young man passing by with an armful of blankets.
"She asked the direction to the supply tent...that was about half an hour ago," he said briskly, without a further word he continued about his urgent business.
Buffy and Faith entered the aforementioned tent a few minutes later and discovered their quarry was indeed there. Willow gave them the briefest of glances when they entered and barely a hint of acknowledgement. Her face was grim and determined as only Willow's could be.
"We saw your crate sitting on the runway, I hope you're not planning to go back up in it...Willow...what are you doing?" Buffy asked suspiciously.
Willow was knelling on the ground, stuffing items into a standard army issue rucksack. A loaded Tommy gun sat at her side and a heavy pistol hung from a holster at her hip.
"More to the point," Faith butted in, eyes narrowed at the sight of the backpack, "Where the hell are you going?"
Willow mumbled something under her breath that both Slayers took as an indication she did not want to answer either of their questions. Faith was not one to stand a ceremony. She reached down and grabbed Willow by the scruff of her jacket. With one swift jerk she yanked the redhead to her feet.
"We're not leaving until you tell us what you're doing," Faith demanded, keeping Willow held secure at eye level.
"I'm going to find Tara," was Willow's unsurprising answer.
Faith grunted and let Willow go, "That was simple wasn't it? Now we're not leaving...we're coming with you."
"Speak for yourself!" Buffy looked slightly disgruntled but she agreed with a nod anyway.
Willow glared at the two women in turn. She was annoyed that they would attempt to intrude on her grief by making it their own as well. Although Willow was fully aware of the saying, 'there is strength in numbers,' she was determined to make this struggle her own. It had to be. They simply could not spare the manpower to go charging off searching for a single pilot who had probably been dead for days.
She studied Buffy and Faith's faces and found exactly what she had expected. Stubborn, pig-headed determination and a blatant disregard for any opinion save their own. Tara had been their friend for a long time, long before she had met Willow. If Willow denied them her approval they would simply follow her anyway. They were all probably going to die...and any squabbling along the way would get them all killed much, much sooner.
"Get yourselves kitted up,' Willow said gruffly, deep down she was grateful to have anyone coming along with her but she wasn't about to admit that.
The private manning the desk in the supply tent was quick to respond to their requests. He loaded them up with light packs the same as Willow's, as well as emergency gear and rations. Once their packs were sorted, he placed two Tommy guns down on the desk, along with extra ammunition. Buffy picked hers up and swiftly slammed a fresh magazine in whereas Faith just stared at it disappointedly. She looked up at the private.
"Have you got anything a little bigger?" she asked hopefully.
"Well, I can't assign you anything bigger than a Bren gun...but with all due respect sir, I think you'd be much better off with the Tommy. She packs a pretty good punch and the Bren...is a little hard to handle for a...um, for a..." He was about say to 'woman' but instead withered beneath Faith's resulting angry glare, "Um, I'll just go get you one.'
He returned with the much larger machine gun and handed it gingerly to Faith, who accepted it with a broad smile on her face, "Much better thank you private."
The flaps of the supply tent parted to reveal a rather disgruntled group of pilots. The three women found Alex, William, Charlie and Barrel standing with arms crossed and resolute expressions.
"Going somewhere without us Captain?" William asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Tommy guns all around!" Buffy signalled to the flustered private before turning to Willow who was tight-lipped with her appreciation, "The more help the better I figure."
The seven-strong squad moved out under the fast fading light that evening. Their weapons clinked softly as their boots padded out of the human encampment. They made their way out into the devastation that had once been a great city.
Willow stared up into the early winter sky to find that the stars still twinkled despite all that was going on beneath them. With each foot forward she took a step closer to finding out whether Tara was dead or alive...if she managed to find her at all. She was grateful to her friends around her for their support, even if she was leading them all to their deaths.
"Will!" Alex hissed in her ear, trying to keep as quiet as possible, "Have you got a plan?"
"No," Willow whispered in reply, "I haven't got a clue either...just a whole lot of hope."
"Well..." Alex replied grudgingly, "That's better than nothing...although a plan would be really good!"
Tara floated on the edges of consciousness. She was aware enough to know that she was sealed up in a bare metal cell and that she was freezing. They had left her lying in only her undergarments, just a thin layer of wool separating her skin from the ice cold metal.
As time passed in her delirious state, images and memories had begun to flash before Tara's eyes to the point where she could no longer separate hallucinations from reality. Each memory came unbidden, but in chronological order like a filmstrip of her life. It was as though someone or something was trawling through her memories at will.
Most of her life passed before her in the blink of an eye, something which Tara thought was appropriate as she was going to die. However certain memories were lingered over. Tara experienced each with all the richness of reality. She had no idea why they were chosen and she was powerless to do anything except relive each one.
"Two cups of flour and one cup of sugar."
As six-year-old Tara listened carefully to the instructions, she looked up to see her mother standing over her. Diana Maclay held no recipe book and she had never needed one. On short legs, Tara reached up and scooped the ceramic cup into the flour bin. She carefully brought out a heaped cup. Despite the care she took in pouring it into the mixing bowl it still managed to spray a fine layer of powder over the counter top and her face. Tara sneezed loudly, sending little puffs of powder into the air around her. Dianna laughed and patted Tara's cheek, leaving behind a small patch of skin.
Even as she lay shivering violently, a small smile crossed Tara's face as she brought her hand up to touch her cheek. For a few blissful moments, she felt the heat of her mother's kitchen and smelled the aroma that wafted from the oven. She had forgotten that smell...
Another cup of flour, added with even more care this time so there was no accident. The cup of sugar flowed in easily, the little crystals standing out from the flour lying around them.
"Two eggs...watch me do the first one, you give it a good tap on the side of the bowl," Tara loved listening to her mother's voice, no matter what she was talking about.
Tara watched as her mother gave the egg a solid but controlled tap on the side of the ceramic mixing bowl. It cracked neatly and from then she deftly separated the two halves and let the contents fall into the bowl. It looked so simple. Diana handed Tara the next egg and she cradled it carefully in her hand just like her mother had done. She then whacked it against the side of the bowl, completely misjudging the amount of force that was necessary to crack the shell. Egg and shell went flying in all directions, several dollops of yolk landing on Tara's face but mostly it collapsed into a runny mess in her hand. Tara looked up at her mother with a pathetically apologetic look on her face, expecting a frown of disapproval. Instead, Diana chuckled and fetched a towel from nearby.
"That was...not bad for a first go," she said diplomatically as she cleaned the mess from Tara's hand.
However Tara was a precocious child and she wrinkled her small nose in disagreement, "I'm a bad cook, Mommy."
Diana chuckled, "You can say that when you're thirty years old, not six."
"I will then," Tara replied simply.
If she had been anywhere else, Tara would have laughed at the memory. In hindsight, her six-year-old self had been exactly right and she was still a terrible cook. No wonder she was in the military, she wasn't at all fussy about her food.
"It's s-so c-cold," Tara whispered to herself, mostly to discover whether she could still speak.
Her voice sounded oddly detached, as though she were not the one speaking the words. As she could not feel her lips, this seemed entirely possible.
"W-Willow...I need you," the words were meaningless, Tara knew she was never going to see Willow again.
Tara struggled to bring an image of Willow into her mind and retain it there despite the intrusions inside her mind. She mentally ran her thumb over Willow's ruby red lips before moving it to caress her silky smooth cheek. Tara grunted in frustration as something tried to rip that image from her mind. All she could do was scream out in protest as she was forced back into her memories.
The bare grey walls were not unlike the cell in which her real body was lying. However, they were terribly familiar rather than alien. The room was not empty but rather there was a simple cot against one wall and a plain chest of drawers with a precisely placed mirror hanging above it. There were no openings save for one heavy door which, as Tara already knew, was locked. It was a room that Tara knew all too well.
Tara Maclay was a prisoner, and she was just eleven years old.
The door clicked once and swung open with a creaking of its massive hinges. Tara half expected men with wicked looking guns but what she got was a tall, bespectacled man in a white coat. Despite her terror, he did not appear threatening in the least. Rather he smiled warmly.
"How are you Tara?" his accent was unmistakably British, his tone unmistakably sincere.
Tara looked at him as though he were joking, she frowned and replied as though she were stating the obvious, "I'm locked up...why am I locked up?"
"Tara, it's for you own protection at first, after a while the door will be unlocked and you will be free to walk around the school, and outside in the grounds with supervision," he could see that his words were having little compensatory effect, "I truly am sorry Tara, this room really is dreadful...I hope to be able to arrange something better for you soon. Just hang in there okay?"
"This doesn't look like a school," Tara replied quietly.
She sighed and sat heavily on the small bed behind her. The springs creaked in protest, hinting at just how uncomfortable the bed would be to sleep on. Everything was closing in on her at this point, her entire life had become a nightmare from which she desperately wanted to wake. Her beautiful mother had gone to Egypt and would never return, keeping part of Tara's heart with her. The rest of her heart had been ripped from her chest when her father and brother were murdered in their beds. It made Tara violently ill to think that she had been responsible for their deaths. Now, sitting in that awful room, she was sure that thing beating in her chest was no longer her heart. She might as well be dead.
"Tara, you are safe here. You must know that," the white-coated man tried to console her.
"Where are my things?" Tara desperately needed something from her former life, if only to run her fingers over it and reassure herself that she had once lived that life and had once been an incredibly happy and blessed little girl.
The man's face fell as though it was a difficult question, "I'll see what I can do to get them to you. In the meantime, would you like some lunch?"
Tara shook her head deliberately, "I'm not hungry. I just want a photo of my family."
"I'll get it for you," he promised sincerely, "My name is Mr Giles, Tara. You can call me Giles."
Giles went to leave, it was not until the door was almost closed that Tara said anything,
"Bye Giles," she whispered in a small voice.
Tara knew that Giles had been the one person who had been truly good to her in that awful place. He was her only friend until she met Buffy and Faith many years later.
"Tara, for goddsake cut back on the throttle!"
Even though he was screaming into the com, Tara's instructor sounded as though he were miles away. She barely registered his terrified voice sounding over the crackly connection between the two cockpits. Tara couldn't care in the least, she threw the biplane around the sky as though it were one of the best planes money could by. The little craft flicked over into a roll and back up into a steep climb that made her whoop for sheer joy. All of this was done with the throttle slammed forward as far as it would go. The daring young pilot was squeezing every once of power out of the pathetic excuse for an engine. The machine coughed and spluttered violently in protest at the way it was being treated. Normally the biplane flew along at a steady, sedate pace under the shaky control of a trainee pilot. This routine only varied when the terrified pupil was instructed to bank into a turn.
Tara, however, was no terrified pupil. Despite having just five hours flying time to her name, she handled the plane as though she had been born in the cockpit. This flight had started like every other, Tara following the careful directions of the instructor sitting behind her as she guided the plane through its paces. Bored of the simple manoeuvres, Tara ignored all further instructions and flew on instinct. The result had the instructor in a blind panic and Tara having the time of her life.
As she was hanging upside down in a barrel roll Tara knew that this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. For those precious moments in the air she could forget about who she was and her traumatic past. In the air the only thing that mattered was the bond between herself and the aircraft she was flying.
As the plane levelled out, the stick was violently wrenched out of her hand.
"I'm taking over!" the instructor bleated over the com.
"Fucking pussy," Tara muttered just loud enough for him to hear, her foul language learned from her newfound friends at Air Academy.
Inside her frozen exterior Tara was oddly smug. She remembered that she had been taken off the rickety old biplanes the very next day, promoted to training on Air Commands newest monoplane fighter aircraft which had been even more fun.
Tara said the name again, this time however it felt as though it was for real. Willow was really standing in front of her in their cramped little cabin on the Odysseus. Every detail stood out on her face, right down to the adorable little cleft in her chin. Somewhere deep down inside of her Tara knew that she was still reliving past events...but she didn't care. Especially as moments later Willow began peeling both hers and Tara's layers of clothing off as fast as humanly possible.
"Oh god," Willow breathed between mouthfuls of Tara, "I need you so much...been in fucking training all day long..."
Tara arched one eyebrow naughtily as Willow crouched down to unbutton her pants, "Fucking training Will? Do you need some extra lessons?"
Willow glanced up at Tara in confusion partway through wrestling her pants to the ground, "No...no extra lessons, I've never needed extra lessons in my life...well, unless you count the tuition I had in eighth grade to catch up after being off school with pneumonia for a month but extra lessons implies that I find it difficult, which I don't..." Comprehension finally dawned, "Oh! I can be pretty stupid at times huh?"
"Not stupid, just overly literal...but I'm interrupting you, please continue," Tara was standing with her pants half way down around her legs growing colder by the second without the heat of Willow's body next to hers.
"Yes mam," Willow eagerly continued her duties.
The offending pants were stripped clear, leaving Tara completely naked. Willow admired her body as she finished her own disrobing. Tara ruined this by leaping into their narrow bunk and hiding beneath the covers, peering out from the warmth as Willow hopped about the small room trying to remove her socks. Finally naked, Willow padded the few steps across the floor and leapt into the bunk.
The bed springs protested as the two bodies began writhing in their own version of keeping warm. Willow forced Tara's head deep into the pillow beneath the ferocity of her kiss. She devoured every bit of Tara's lips, exploring them over and over just in case there was a tiny spot she had missed. She jammed her thigh fiercely between Tara's and forced her legs apart. With forceful but careful strokes she ground herself against Tara's centre, feeling it throbbing against her skin.
In desperation, Tara wrapped both legs around Willow's back. She drew her lover as tightly to her as possible, needing to feel the reassurance that Willow needed her just as much. She tore her lips away from Willow's.
"Inside me...now!" Tara commanded breathlessly.
Willow buried her face in Tara's neck, one hand moving downwards over the curve of her shoulder and finding her full breast. She grabbed it in a savage handful, pinching the nipple between her thumb and forefinger. Tara yelped and bit down hard on Willow's shoulder.
"Tara..." Willow hesitated, speaking softly between trailing little kisses along Tara's jaw line, "You aren't ready..."
Tara growled in exasperation and dug her nails hard into Willow's back, "For fucks sake! I'll be the judge of when I'm ready!"
Willow moved her hand from Tara's breast, over her taut belly to the mound of curls at the apex of her thighs.
She kept her face buried in Tara's neck and whispered in her ear, "I love your fire...but you are a little demanding!"
Tara let out a laugh which quickly merged into a gasp as Willow parted her outer lips with skilled fingers and found her clit, "It's because I know I can get away with it...oh god, Will!"
Willow's fingers slid all too easily into Tara's moist folds and she giggled in delight at what she found, "You weren't exaggerating..."
"I'm always ready for you," Tara forced the words out between clenched teeth.
Willow stroked Tara's clit lovingly, lavishing all her careful attention on the hard little nub. She teased it with the tips of her fingers and rolled it gently between her thumb and forefinger. Alternatively, she stroked it repeatedly with the full length of her finger...moving faster until Tara was writhing beneath her. Her grip on Willow tightened until the redhead could barely breath. She didn't care, breathing was secondary compared to pleasuring the beautiful woman she held in her arms.
Willow settled into a brisk rhythm, grinding her tight against her hand which in turn stroked Tara's centre. She loved the feel of Tara's breath coming hot and fast in her ear. This close, it was deafening.
Tara's nails dug into Willow's back once more, "Inside...please!"
Willow didn't need to hear the command a third time. With a gentle movement, she quickly thrust two fingers up into Tara's passage until the palm of her hand ground against Tara's sex. She repeated the movement, straining to force her fingers even deeper with each thrust.
Tara cried out and arched her back, rising up to meet each thrust. Willow's thumb ground hard against her clit but she wanted more.
"Goddammit Will...harder, fuck me as hard as possible!" Tara wheezed in her lover's ear, biting down on the ear to make her point clear.
Willow growled and poured everything she had into her joining with Tara's body. Her spare hand roamed over her slick flesh before slipping beneath Tara's shoulders and around them. She used her hold to draw Tara as close as possible, holding them both firmly together. Willow's body was soaked with sweat due to her exertion, every muscle strained to the absolute limit. Her breath came in ragged gasps, each one a struggle.
Tara had her arms wrapped around Willow's back. She dug her nails in to retain her hold on the slick flesh. Even as her mind swarmed with sensations of pleasure she was aware of the body moving with her and in her. Through hazy eyes she saw flashes of red head and the creamy cheek of her lover.
This is the woman I love...
She sank back into the blissful oblivion of pleasure just as everything threatened to burst. Tara was whimpering against Willow's cheek...whimpers which gradually became louder until they were cries. Suddenly, her cries of pleasure became cries of pain as something sharp jabbed impatiently at her mind, it felt as though it were being torn apart. Memories were flying everywhere, a jumbled mix that she could not distinguish apart.
Tara's eyes flew open despite the chaos in her mind. She realised what they were doing...the Juthungi were trawling through her memories, probing what secrets she held, if any. Tara gritted her teeth. She had everything to hide. The most vital secret she possessed had nothing to do with what had happened during the past twenty-six years of her life but rather what had happened within the last day. If they found out...everything would be over. She'd be killed...and Willow would die along with everyone else on the planet. Tara forced herself to hold onto those last memories of Willow, the last moment she had spoken to her love before they had taken off that last time.
Think about Willow! Tara urged herself, holding onto the image of her lover like her life depended on it...which it did.
On the deck of the Odysseus, in the midst of all the chaos that was going on around them, Willow and Tara shared one last kiss before they took off. Neither woman knew it was their last and it was just a small kiss on the 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...a last wave...
Tara held onto the last look on Willow's face. The redhead's adorable grin and that flash of excitement she held in her eyes. Tara knew that look of pure excitement was reserved for just two things in Willow's life...flying and lovemaking.
Over and over that same look flashed across Tara's mind, she recalled every single time she had seen it. Tara held onto each memory like a hellion, refusing to let go of it. She needed to hold onto Willow...
"Willow!" the name erupted from her throat like a primal war cry.
The single scream sapped any remaining strength Tara had and she lay on the floor. As time went by she was able to feel less and less of her limbs as the succumbed to the cold. In time, she was just a disembodied consciousness, capable of just one coherent thought. Her lips moved of their own accord. They formed a soundless word, over and over...
Willow crouched low in the rubble surrounding the LGF ship. Carefully she peered over the rubble parapet and studied the massive vessel illuminated in the moonlight. Its menacing, squat presence dominated the devastated skyline. As far as she could see there was no obvious way in save trying to blow a hole through into the interior. Despite the fact that the situation seemed hopeless, she knew she had to get in some way or another. Over three days had passed since Tara had left for the ship according to the little boy, Cherry. Willow had no doubt that Tara had reached her destination but where to from there, she had no idea. One of the few things she was sure of...time was running out for all of them.
"Well?" Faith whispered from where she crouched next to Willow in the darkness, "I'd say we blow a hole in the side of it with explosives."
The brunette's face lit up at the prospect of fire and loud noise but Willow was shaking her head.
"You do that and we'll have every LGF inside that thing coming down on us with everything they have! We wouldn't last two seconds!" Willow hissed in reply, "No...there has to be another way!"
High above them sounded the shrill whistle of incoming projectiles. Every member of the group looked skyward to see streaks of fire heading towards the Martian ship. With deafening explosions they smashed against the side of the structure and Faith got her wish. Willow ducked just as a piece of debris flew directly at her, threatening to decapitate her.
"It's us!" Buffy yelled excitedly above the cacophony, "Yay for us!"
"Not yay!" Alex yelped, cowering behind a half-destroyed wall, "They're gonna kill us! Call them off!"
The fire created by the missiles lit up the night up, Willow bravely entered a crouch and watched exactly what was happening to the ship. She watched huge holes tear in its exterior structure with the impact of thousands of pounds of explosives. Huge clouds of smoke were being generated and they quickly obscured the ship, leaving no way to tell just what effect the bombardment was having.
Showers of dust and debris sprayed the companions. They were forced to cower behind any available shelter, powerless to take advantage of the havoc the assault was wrecking. Suddenly a wall behind them shattered with a direct hit, sending a cascade of flying masonry down on them. It was chaos in the darkness with no way to avoid the falling bricks except sit tight and pray. The moment the missile had hit, Faith had thrown herself over Willow. She slammed the redhead down just as the heatwave poured over them.
Jammed beneath Faith, Willow squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her hands tight against her ears. She heard someone cry out in the darkness, a shrill cry that was instantly cut off and her heart sank. The thought of any of her friends dying while following her was foremost in her mind.
Moments later, the debris was settling all around them. The weight pressing down on Willow was gone and she rolled over to find Faith shaking chunks of dirt from her hair.
"Thanks," Willow had never realised what a valuable friend the brunette was, she could see why Buffy kept her around.
"Don't mention it," Faith replied gruffly, "Besides, this whole thing will be in vain if you go getting yourself killed before we even find Tara."
Willow sat up, explosions still lighting up the sky, and peered around her as the dust settled.
"Is everyone alright?" she called into the darkness.
"Bloody hell!" William muttered angrily upon finding his last packet of cigarettes completely mangled, he tossed the packet away with a loud growl.
One by one they sounded in until just Barrel and Charlie were left, Willow called out again, "Charlie, Barrel?"
Barrel finally replied in a gruff voice, "I'm here...but Charlie ain't...he got half a house in the chest."
"God..." Willow scrambled across the rubble to where Barrel was sitting next to his friend's body.
Willow glanced down at her fellow Devil, his body almost completely covered by bricks and mortar. There was no doubt that he was dead. She looked up to Barrel to see him sitting with a stony look on his face. Willow then saw the big pilots shoulder and gasped. Protruding from his flesh was a large stake of wood which had embedded itself there.
"Barrel, you're hurt...just sit there," Willow turned over her shoulder, "Who's got the first aid kit?"
"Here!" Buffy responded quickly.
Before Willow could turn back around, there was a muffled grunt from behind her. She spun around to find Barrel sitting with the bloody stake in his hand...he'd already ripped it out of his chest.
"That's a mighty impressive splinter," he muttered and tossed it aside, "Gonna patch me up or what Captain?"
Buffy moved quickly over with the first aid kit and set to work with William's help. Meanwhile, Willow could only stare at Charlie's blonde hair beneath the rubble, almost black from all the dust. The realisation that she was never going to fly with him again dawned on her. He'd followed her and he'd met his end in the dirt rather than the sky like it should have been. More than anything she regretted denying him that. She gazed skywards and hope fervently that the rest of her friends would live to feel the joy of soaring through the air once more.
"Captain..." Barrel interrupted her anguish, "He respected and admired you, Charlie did...don't insult his memory by turning turkey on us now, we need you to lead us."
He nodded towards the dead pilot and seconds later Willow replied with a firm nod of her own. She had led them all this far, it seemed pointless to back out now. Willow rolled over and crawled to get a better view of their destination. While the dust wasn't clearing, it did part long enough for Willow to spy a breach in the hull of the mighty ship...a breach large enough for a person to crawl through. She decided that they would make for it as soon as Buffy was done patching Barrel up.
However, adding to the sounds already filling the air came something which turned her blood to ice. She knew that sound all too well as it had been ever present in her life since she first engaged the LGFs in combat. It was the whine of their flying wing aircraft...although multiplied many thousands of times. High above the group saw black shadows passing overhead, each one an LGF aircraft. Wave after wave flew on until it seemed as though the swarm would be never ending. It seemed as if the cavalry had arrived...but not for mankind.
On the ground below the six pilots wished anything to be airborne in order to fight back. Even though such a wish would have been truly futile. Any attempt to stop them would have been overwhelmed in seconds.
"Oh my god," Buffy whispered, "How stupid we were to think we could win against them. They'll be on our front lines in a matter of minutes, pounding everything into dust."
Willow found herself nodding in agreement. The shadows obscuring her bright green eyes bore right into her soul. Everything had been going so well, they had been winning against all odds. The Guardians were turning the tide of the war in favour of the humans. Now there was no way they would be enough. The odds had just turned against them...and it didn't look as though they would be swinging back anytime soon.
Go get 'em Captain Tara's vibrant sounded in her mind, recalling the last moments they had spent together before the ill-fated flight.
Willow set her jaw firmly, she repeated Tara's words out loud, "Go get 'em."
Willow crawled further forward until she was poised on the brink of the last cover available before the open ground surrounding the ship. For the last fifty meters, there would be no cowering behind anything, just an all out sprint.
"What did you say?" Buffy had put the first aid kit back in her pack and Barrel was flexing his body beneath the bandages.
"We're moving out. There's still a chance and I'm going to take it. Are you with me?"
"What, the six of us?" Buffy inched up to lie beside Willow although she was looking behind her at their bedraggled little group.
"And Tara," Willow replied, looking towards the gash torn in the side of the ship...their ticket in.
"You really think she's the key to all of this?" Faith asked, crawling up to rest on the other side of Buffy.
"I don't know how or why...but yes," Willow replied in a firm voice, checking she had a firm hold on her weapon, "Tara felt that there was something she had to do...and whatever it is, I don't want her to be alone."
"We'll get you to her Will," Alex joined the three of them, paused to make the dash across to the ship.
Barrel grunted and moved up next to Alex, "Let's go get some LGF! I owe them one for Charlie."
"And I'm just pissed off," William muttered, already feeling the burning desire for a cigarette.
Willow steeled herself before leaping swiftly to her feet. Her muscles gave a twinge of protest as she burst into full speed ahead but she kept her eyes firmly fixed on the opening some six feet above the ground. Beside her, the other five followed and fanned out around her. Each sprinting their heart out, even Barrel was keeping up despite his wound.
At every moment Willow expected to feel the sharp bite of something tearing into her flesh as they were spotted. However she made it safely to the side of the ship and slammed into the cold metal, hugging the side tightly as she waited for the others to join her. They worked swiftly helping each other up. Luckily the missile hit had left plenty of ruptures in the ships otherwise smooth hull to serve as handholds. One by one they climbed up into the ship, Faith led the way, followed quickly by Buffy. The two women turned to help Barrel up while Alex and Willow gave the big man a boost from below. William watched their backs.
"Ouch!" Alex protested beneath Barrel's weight, "You have got to lay off the cake mate!"
Barrel turned to help Alex up with a grin on his face, "Are you trying to tell me I'm fat?"
"No, just awfully heavy!" Alex replied as he scrambled up into the ship, once safely inside he gave an involuntary shiver, "This place gives me the heebie-jeebies and we're not even fully inside yet."
Willow propelled William up next, she would be the last to enter. As she was waiting for William she kept an eye on the surroundings, so far they had managed to slip in unnoticed. The size of their group was an advantage, she suspected the LGFs were concerned only about large numbers of troops.
"Up you come Will," Faith extended her hand down to help Willow up.
As Willow was halfway up, her hands gripping the bottom of the opening, there was a sudden burst of steam from her right. She glanced across to see a huge metal plate moving towards her and closing the gap at an alarming rate. In mere seconds she would be either shut outside the ship or squashed flat as the gap sealed. Even as her legs worked furiously to get herself up, she felt Faith's grip on both her forearms. With a mighty heave from the brunette she was propelled inside. There was barely anytime to spare, Willow's backpack and Tommy gun were ripped from her back as she squeezed through the rapidly dwindling opening. Willow fell forward just as the gap sealed itself completely and landed unceremoniously atop Faith.
"Will, you don't need to thank me like this," Faith found herself face to face with the redhead, closer than either of them had ever been to each other before.
"Thanks anyway," Willow scrambled backwards onto her haunches, allowing Faith room to stand up.
"Close shave?" Buffy patted her firmly on the back.
"Yeah, you don't really need to get any skinnier Will," Alex quipped before looking around, "Um, any ideas on where we're going?"
Willow stood up on shaky legs and scanned the space in which they now found themselves. It was all too eerily familiar because she had been here before. It was the same place which had haunted her dreams of late...however it was ten times as worse in real life. She saw the translucent green tubing pulsating along the walls. It cast a green glow over each of them and made them appear as though they were dead. The tubes disappeared into the darkness ahead, flowing on to their destination. Willow knew exactly where they were going.
"Just follow the green lights," Willow commanded, stepping out into the lead.
Willow withdrew her remaining weapon from its holster on her thigh. She glanced down at the little Webley pistol and felt that it would be little more than a popgun when fired against an LGF. Still a weapon was better than nothing. The others fell into file behind her, weapons at the ready and eyes scanning for any sign of their enemy.
"Just like the Yellow Brick Road," Alex said, training his Tommy gun on any shadow that looked remotely menacing.
"Only I don't think it leads to Oz," Faith added dryly as she brought up the rear.