It was the same as every other morning. Willow was aware of her surroundings before she had even woke. She was warm, blissfully so. Gradually she shrugged off the last vestiges of sleep, prising open her eyelids. Her and Tara's cabin came into hazy view. Next she was aware of the blankets tucked fast around her naked skin, a rough and coarse feeling everywhere except her back where she felt a heavenly silky surface pressed against her. Everything was so very familiar, waking up warm, in someone's arms... too familiar. Willow's eyes shot wide open.
Willow rolled out of the arms that held her and fell with a painful thud on the ice cold floor. She scrambled the short distance to the corner of the room and curled into the tightest ball she possibly could. As she rocked backwards and forwards she kept repeating over and over,
"It's a dream..."
Tara was woken by the sound Willow made as she fell out of bed. The blonde prised her sleep encrusted eyes open and peered around in the darkness. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw a Willow-shaped outline huddled in the corner of their room. As she came to wakefulness, she felt the empty warm spot beside her and sat up. It was Willow. She rocked back and forth, her arms huddled around her naked body,
"It's a dream!" she kept saying in a small, insistent voice as though she were wishing desperately that she could wake.
Tara wasted no time, swinging her feet to the floor she grabbed one of their blankets and threw it over the pair of them as she knelt on the floor next to Willow. The red head refused to look up at her, she just squeezed her eyes shut even tighter.
"Willow!" Tara said insistently, grabbing her by the shoulders to stop her rocking.
Willow finally looked up at her, eyes wide with surprise. Then her expression changed, it became determined. Her jaw set stubbornly.
"You're not real, go away so I can wake up!" she said through gritted teeth.
Tara blinked, worried, "Uh, Willow... you are awake. Would we be freezing our arses off on the floor if this was a dream? Sweetie?"
Willow shook her head rapidly, not wanting to listen to any explanation Tara could offer, especially when she did not believe that this Tara was real, "Hot, cold... blood, it doesn't matter, I can feel it all... if it's a dream, then how can I feel it all?"
Tara knew each of those feelings all too well in her own dreams... but how could Willow? She was just an ordinary young woman with ordinary dreams, easily forgotten in the morning. Yet, as she reached out and tilted Willow's chin up so she could stare into her eyes, the frightened expression she found there told her otherwise.
It's not what you're thinking Maclay, that's impossible... then, why do I have this feeling that it is exactly what I am thinking?
Tara hoped fervently that she was wrong but even before the question had met Willow's ears she knew what the answer would be, "Willow, what happens in your dream... can you tell me?"
Willow looked sceptical, still refusing to face reality. However, something in Tara's eyes was slowly eating away at her fear and doubt, "At first... there is nothing except a feeling of warmth and I know I'm really happy. Then there are other sensations, I feel a woman lying behind me, holding me tightly, close... I smell her and the sex we had the night before... although I never remember it. When I first started having the dream I didn't know who she was but I know now and... it's you. I wake up and we're lying in bed just like we were just now... you're holding me and everything is absolutely perfect," Willow sighed before saying in a small, childlike voice, "I like that part."
"What happens next?" Tara asked in a blank voice, feeling a growing ache in her stomach.
"You die," Willow choked, "It's always different... but the same result every time."
"My god," Tara said softly, her fingers digging into Willow's skin as though someone were telling her to let go but she was refusing with all her might.
Willow finally believed that this wasn't her dream after all, "What?"
"That's not your dream... it's my dream..."
Willow frowned, "B-but... you mean to say I'm having your dreams?"
"Something like that," Tara replied quietly.
"How... Tara, I don't understand."
"I-I..." Maclay... don't you dare say a word to her, not a word! But it's Willow... oh god... Willow... it can't be happening to her as well... Tara swallowed the painful lump in her throat, "I don't understand either."
Tara wrapped her arms around Willow, folding her to her breast gently. As she closed her eyes and rested her chin atop Willow's head, she desperately hoped her lover could not tell she was lying.
After they had sat together in an awkward silence for far too long, Willow had finally managed to face the fact that she was not only freezing cold but absolutely starving. Tara had been reluctant to let her go for some reason until Willow commented that her arse was beginning to freeze to the floor for real. The two of them had dressed hastily before making their way to the mess hall when the smell of bacon wafted out to greet them before they even walked through the door.
Both girls paused before they entered. Willow looked at Tara and Tara nodded with a small smile. Her hand reached out and folded itself into Willow's, their fingers entwined. Together they walked into the mess hall, completely unprepared for what was to happen next. The Slayers and the Devils had taken their traditional places on either side of the mess hall. Willow sighed, eating breakfast should not have been all that difficult.
After collecting their breakfasts Willow and Tara chose a table off to the side by themselves. They sat and ate in silence, not only their own but also that of every single person in the room. There was just the sound of tin forks scraping across tin plates.
Willow heard the sound of a chair scraping backwards, then with a thud it hit the floor. Someone was walking towards them, a shadow fell over their table. Willow looked up tentatively to see Buffy standing above her. The Slayer's hands were on her hips, feet planted apart as though she meant business. Willow tried to concentrate on her powdered eggs and yet all the while she was aware of Buffy's eyes boring into her.
Just don't say anything Will... stay in your seat, mmm, these powdered eggs are fantastic... what are you kidding Rosenberg, they taste like horse shit. What kind of pansy are you that you would sit here while Buffy stares you down? No! I bloody well will not... Yes I am a pansy, stay in your seat! Goddammit!
Finally, Willow threw down her knife and fork and stood, throwing her chair backwards with one hand. It landed with a loud clatter, smashing into several chairs behind her. She then planted herself in front of Buffy, standing so close their toes were almost touching. In the background she was dimly aware of Tara standing as well, her chair barely making a sound as she stood.
"Will," Tara's desperate sounding whisper barely registered in Willow's mind.
Instead she was focused on the smaller and yet just as strong blonde, Buffy seemed to be practically standing on her tip toes even when she wasn't. Just her presence made her seem a lot larger than she really was.
Every other pilot in the room had at some stage moved to surround them, the Devils on one side, Slayers on the other. Neither Willow nor Buffy were aware of the palpable tension in the room around them, they only had eyes for one another. Neither would back down from the stare first even though a ducking of someone's head would have been enough for the whole fuss to be over.
Tara was just on the other side of the table and yet she felt as though a gulf were separating her from Willow and Buffy. From her vantage point she could almost see the tension in the air, reach and slice it with a knife. She had to fight the urge to move around the table and pull Willow away from Buffy with a gentle hand on the shoulder. However, there was a tiny part of her that doubted the power of her hold over Willow. Ideally, she would restrain Willow with a gentle touch and the calamity would be averted before it had a chance to unfold. It unfolded perfectly in her mind. Yet she reluctantly had to face the fact that she still knew very little about Willow... besides the fact that she was a wonderful lover. How Willow would react to any given situation escaped her completely, despite Tara's desperate desire to know her.
Willow please... it's not worth it... Tara wished she had the courage to say it out loud but she could barely even say her name in a quiet whisper, "Will..." Come on baby, back down... this isn't you... Tara didn't even want to admit that, for all the closeness they had shared over the past day, their lovemaking, she didn't know if this were the real Willow or not. Perhaps it was that she refused to face the truth.
"What is your problem Summers?" Willow hissed angrily, Just step back... Tara wants you to... but I'm doing this for her!
"My problem?" Buffy asked angrily, she hit Willow in the chest with the palm of her hand with such force that Willow stumbled back into the table, her breakfast clattered to the ground, "My problem is with your inability to keep your hands to yourself!"
"What?" Willow had very quickly regained her poise, adopting an even more aggressive stance with her fists clenched at her side.
"You heard me clear enough Rosenberg!" Buffy spat, "You can't keep your cock in your pants... even when you are fully aware that you should! Do you have any real feelings for her... or is all of this just to get back at me?"
Willow blinked, a little shocked before she regained her composure, "That's none of your business!"
Why was Buffy even acting like this... she cared about her and Tara becoming lovers... why? Although they were valid questions begging to be answered, neither girl could think that rationally any more.
"You're a fucking whore Rosenberg!"
Willow gritted her teeth and launched herself at Buffy with both fists swinging. Her first blow slammed into Buffy's left jaw but the second glanced off her shoulder as the smaller woman twisted to avoid it.
In the heat of the moment Willow completely forgot Buffy had always been far better with her fists. She only managed to get in that first blow before Buffy fully laid into her. Willow barely had time to think about avoiding the blows before they hit. One blow landed squarely on her jaw, rendering her entire vision almost black. Willow found herself falling backwards over a table. It tipped and sent her crashing to the ground. She lay, seeing stars and feeling quite sore all over before Buffy grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, hauling her roughly to her feet.
Angrily, Willow yanked herself out of Buffy's grasp and raised her fists in a classic boxing pose. The heroic image ruined by the fact that she was staggering like a drunkard. Blood flowed freely from a cut that had opened above her eye but Willow was not about to throw in the towel. With an animalistic growl she dove at Buffy, wrapping both arms around her waist as she threw all her weight into a rugger tackle. Buffy went flying backwards, smashing the back of her head on a chair before she landed with Willow on top of her. Willow drew her fist back to finally get in her second blow only to have Buffy catch it, twisting her wrist painfully backwards. Deftly, the blonde shifted her weight and rolled Willow over to reverse their positions.
Blow after blow smashed into Willow's face and yet she would not utter a word of defeat. Nor would Buffy let up with her beating. It was as though she had been waiting for the last five years to let out all of this pent up rage towards Willow. However, once it was unleashed, she found she could not stop. The monster refused to be reined in.
Buffy did not realise just how angry she was until she felt a hand close over hers as she raised it for yet another blow. She hissed angrily and tried to shake it off so she could get back to pounding Willow's face in. The hand holding hers back just tightened and she angrily looked over her shoulder to see Tara standing there with the most resolute expression on her face that Buffy had ever seen.
"Get off her Buffy," Tara said in a low, steady voice.
Buffy was about to say, 'or else what?' when she realised who she was saying it to. Tara stepped back, giving her room as she climbed off Willow. She stood slowly and looked back down at the bloody read head lying on the floor, staring back up at her through very glazed eyes. Her gaze turned back to Tara,
"Don't even start Buffy!" she said in an angry tone, "This is what I want... can't you let me have it?"
"You want it yes," Buffy lowered her gaze, for the first time realising how incredibly childlike her anger had been, "But have you stopped to realise if you should have it?"
I need her! Tara bit her lip, knowing Buffy was right and yet still refusing to accept a truth, "I think you are wrong about Willow."
"I know her... you just think you do. To her, you're just another fuck along the way. Trust me when I say you're better off without her."
Tara's cheeks coloured but she kept her gaze level with Buffy's, "I love her."
Buffy finally realised that Tara was not about to be swayed by anything she could say. Annoyed by the throngs of people staring at her while she was at her worst, Buffy made to leave. She brushed past Tara. As she did so she paused only momentarily to whisper words only Tara could hear,
"If you do love her... you will break this off!"
Buffy moved quickly from the room, leaving Willow and Tara surrounded by a still silent throng of very puzzled pilots. Tara looked down at Willow for a brief moment, the red head was barely conscious. She knelt beside her and gently lifted her head. Willow just groaned, her eyelids fluttering but not opening. Tara thought she was out completely until she spoke,
"I was on the end of a rather comprehensive arse kicking wasn't I?" she asked in a mumble, her lips barely moving.
"Without doubt," Tara replied, putting an arm beneath Willow's back she pulled the injured girl up into a sitting position, "Come on, lets get you out of here."
"I haven't finished my breakfast," Willow protested lamely as Tara half-helped and half-dragged her back on to her unsteady feet.
The ships doctor had futilely attempted to clean Willow up himself but gave up when it was apparent that Tara would have none of it. He made a hasty exit from the room after finding the necessary medical supplies, saying something like he would be in his office if they needed him.
Willow let out a yelp as Tara pressed a cloth soaked in iodine onto the cut about her eye. Tara just gave her a steady look as though she were a small child, pressing the cloth down firmly.
"You don't even notice when you need stitches in your arm but you cry like a baby at a little scratch!" the blonde scolded.
"There was a naked woman in my arms at the time... do you really think I would care about a little pain?" Willow had a split lip which made every word she said quite difficult to understand.
"So you're saying I should take my clothes off and you'll stop your whining?"
"No... I'm saying that you can take your clothes off and we both work to make me forget my pain," Willow said it in such a serious voice Tara almost lost her straight face.
"You deserve to feel every moment of your pain, it was all self-inflicted," Tara refused to give into Willow's charm... just yet anyway. She drew the cloth away and examined the wound to find it didn't need any proper stitches. Tara was a little disappointed, she had been looking forward to sticking a needle in Willow.
Willow gaped as far as her split lip would allow her to, "You heard what Buffy said, was I just going to stand back and let her say I'm a whore?"
"Yes!" Tara jabbed at Willow's lip and the red head yelped again, Tara ignored her wordless protests as she continued her lecture, "Buffy knows you too well, the slightest provocation and you..." Tara jabbed the cloth again.
"Easy, easy!" tears were watering at the corner of Willow's eyes from the stinging of the iodine.
Tara drew in a breath and then suddenly burst out, "Willow, you're a hot-heated idiot!" Come one Maclay, tell her you don't want to be around her anymore... you have to!
"Excuse me?" Willow couldn't quite believe what she was hearing.
Tara drew in yet another breath, this time replying in her usual soft tone, "You heard me Will." I can't do it... I love her too much...
"Anyone would think you were on her side in all of this, she nearly killed me!"
"I suspect it would take a lot more than that to get rid of you Captain Rosenberg. Besides, you don't understand where she's coming from..." And you certainly don't understand what I am, what I might do to you...
Willow couldn't believe Tara was standing here scolding her as though she were a small child who had been in a fight at school. She had been expecting sympathy and kisses instead of anger. Her own blood was boiling,
"You're damn right I don't! Why on earth should she care who I'm fucking? So you're a Slayer and I'm a Devil, big fucking deal! She should get over herself!" Willow yanked the cloth from Tara's hand and jumped down from the bed, striding towards the door as though she were going to storm out. She only took two steps before turning around, "And who are you to call me hot-headed? You've known me a matter of weeks and you think you have some sort of degree in Rosenberg studies?"
"Willow," Tara said sadly but her word was almost drowned by Willow's angry shouts.
"I should have known that the Slayers would all stick together!"
"Buffy has her orders Willow," Tara said quietly.
Willow stopped, her next sentence left hanging as she tried to digest the meaning of Tara's words, "She has orders regarding your love life?" Willow was angry, she felt as though she were being made the target of a huge conspiracy. This was before she realised how ridiculous that notion was and forced her temper back under control
Tara sighed, "No... orders regarding... Will... I can't tell you... you just have to trust me. I'm really sorry that I got you mixed up in all of this and if it could be any other way..."
What does she mean by that? She doesn't want me? Don't be a moron Rosenberg... that's not what she said at all Willow dragged her temper under control, wrestling it down and clamping a tight lid on it.
"I love you," Willow said simply, as though that was more than enough for her to accept what Tara had just said, "And you have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. I should be the one who's sorry. You were right... I am a hot-headed idiot."
"Damn right I was right," Tara said with a nod, "Now scoot back up here so I can finish what I was doing."
A few moments later, just as Tara was placing the last of the neat butterfly stitches on Willow's cut, there was a quiet knock at the door. Both girls looked up to see Tad peering in anxiously, a look of relief evident on his face at his finding them both fully clothed and not locked in a passionate embrace.
"Hi," he said with a small smile, "You two might want to come up on deck."
Tara raised her eyebrows quizzically while Willow, who still had not managed to completely calm down, asked bluntly, "Why?"
"We've arrived," Tad said simply, wherever they had arrived he obviously was not going to let on just yet.
Willow jumped down from the bed, steadying herself with a hand on Tara's shoulder. She did not have any desire to parade around in front of the crew in her current condition but something told her this was a sight she did not want to miss.
Tad ushered both young women out of the door with a flourish of his hand, he winked at Willow as she passed him. He ignored the glare she gave him and said exactly what was on his mind,
"Looking good Captain Rosenberg," he could not help but chuckle as the three of them left the medical bay.
"You are treading on some very dangerous ground Tad," Tara spoke on behalf of Willow, she could feel the tension flowing from where Willow held onto her shoulder. The red head's fingernails started digging into her skin, even through her jumper.
"We're at war," Tad replied with a shrug, "We all live in dangerous times and I'd rather it was a cute little red head mad at me than an alien with a ray gun."
Tara felt Willow stiffen slightly and then the angry young woman made a sudden lunge back towards Tad. Ready for such a move, Tara wrapped both arms around Willow's waist and held her back but not without considerable effort.
Tad stepped back and raised both hands in front of him in a placating gesture, a grin still fixed on his face.
"She's even cuter when she's mad huh?" he asked Tara in a playful voice, Willow had to turn back around to concentrate as they went up a flight of stairs.
"You have no idea," Tara said over her shoulder.
They joined the steady flow of sailors heading aloft along the passage way. Tara finally let go of Willow, although watching her closely in case she tried to turn on Tad and strangle him.
"I just have to add that you two look great together," Tad said a little too loudly in the crowded passage.
Tara was sure she saw steam coming from Willow's ears.
The three of them finally made it above deck, Tara had both hands on Willow's shoulders while Tad followed at a safe distance. However, there was no need for further restraint when Willow saw what they were sailing into. She shrugged out of Tara's grip and rushed to the Odysseus' railing, staring with wide open eyes.
They had obviously just passed through a net, judging by the fact that she looked out behind the Odysseus to see the Ajax. The lack of pink surrounding its mast indicating the fleet's net had finally be put down.
She turned her gaze back to the scene in front of her to see a rather large island almost completely covered in snow and ice. Black rock showed through in several places. Several high peaks rose up from the sea, there was barely a flat piece of land anywhere. It was an ugly, rugged rock... hardly the ideal spot for a vacation. Willow doubted any sane person would have been living here before the military commandeered it, the only tenants to have been evicted would have been penguins and polar bears.
It was a port of sort, several other unfamiliar ships were docked at massive piers built out into the harbour. While there were a cluster of snow-covered buildings on the surface built onto the side of hills, Willow suspected that the vast majority of the secrets the island concealed were below ground. She saw several huge hanger-like doors protruding from the face of a hill which further added to her suspicions.
At the highest point of the island was mounted a massive mast, similar to that on the Ajax but at least twice the size. Pink lights swirled around it and up into air so high above them they were lost in the mist. The net was obviously sufficient to conceal the entire island.
Willow jumped up and down to stay warm, cupping her frozen fingers together and blowing warm air onto them.
"I guess this was where the convoy went," Tara replied as they passed several huge cranes unloading a merchant ship of its cargo. She drew a woollen cap from her jacket pocket and tugged it down over Willow's head, Willow smiled her thanks as she rediscovered her previously frozen ears.
"What is it with the military and secret bases?" Willow asked, still trying to take in everything that lay in front of her.
"You'd rather it wasn't secret so it could be blown up along with all our other bases?" Tad asked.
"Well... no... but I hate not knowing things," Willow pointedly didn't look at Tara as she said it, both girls knew exactly what Willow was leaving unsaid.
"You're not exactly very far up the chain of command Captain Rosenberg," Tad watched his misty breath waft in front of his eyes, "Need to know basis only."
"Well, I'm here... so that means I need to know, where the hell are we Tad?"
"Ladies, welcome to Angel Island," Tad said in a jaunty voice, "Island tours are conducted on request, recreational activities are available and please enjoy your stay."
The Odysseus continued to make it's way through the harbour, sending out barely a ripple along the mirror like surface of the harbour. Everything was on an impossible scale, the docks looked as though they could easily service three entire fleets at the same time.
I suppose this is the world's last big hope... whatever they cook up in here Willow mused as they inched towards a dock, the huge carrier completely dwarfed by a massive crane towering above them, I guess I should feel some hope after all...
"I wonder how many millions of dollars this place cost, probably why Air Command wouldn't give me a pay rise when I last asked," Willow looked at the enclosed gun emplacements set at various points around the harbour, menacing black barrels pointed to the sky.
"One billion dollars even," Tara said in awe.
"No one has that much money," Willow commented knowledgeably, "But I don't see why they couldn't have built this place in the Caribbean!"
"It's a secret military installation... not a tropical paradise," Tad pointed out helpfully.
"Do they at least have a heated swimming pool?" Willow asked plaintively, rubbing her freezing cold fingers together.
Before being taken on a tour of the island, Willow, Tara and the other pilots were shown their quarters for use while staying on Angel Island. Willow had indeed been correct when she had supposed that most of the island's facilities were underground. Once the ship had docked and their gear was stowed in duffle bags, the pilots were quickly ushered underground via a large elevator. They saw very little of the actual workings of the island and were instead lead straight to the barracks along a series of brightly lit corridors.
"These are your quarters, there is no room service on Angel Island so keep 'em clean," the young petty officer with the clipboard was saying as he walked out in front of the group.
Willow frowned at Tara upon hearing this, "Are we going to be staying here a while?"
"Not my place to know sir, just following orders," but he turned and said in a lower voice, "I heard something about reequipping the squadrons."
"Reequipping?" Willow asked with a sideways glance at Tara, "Reequipping!"
Tara quickly shot out her hand and gripped Willow's shoulder yet again, "Easy there Will... they're not going to take your plane away from you."
"If they know what's best, they won't even try," Willow growled in a low voice.
The petty officer continued reading off names down his list, assigning each officer to a barrack room. Willow didn't even look up when Buffy's name was read, although she had to fight the urge to stick out her foot and trip up the blonde as she walked past.
"Flight Officer Maclay... Room 107."
Tara looked at Willow, hesitation spelt out clearly on her face. She drew in a breath and gently tapped the young man on the shoulder,
"You might as well assign that room to someone else, just tell me which one is Captain Rosenberg's," she looked up to see Willow flashing her a dazzling grin, made almost comical by her split lip and heavily bruised face.
"Um... well let me see... 210, just down the hall there."
Tara reached out and took Willow's hand as they left the rest of the group, their duffle bags slung over their shoulders. At 210, Willow pushed open the door to reveal a compact barrack room. It was by no means a five star hotel, yet there was far more space than the tiny cabin they shared on the Odysseus. Unlike the cold metal of the ship's cabin, the floor was covered with a large plain brown rug. A single bed was pushed up against one wall.
"There's a bed... not a bunk, an actual proper bed!" Willow entered the room and threw her bag on the floor, "Just think, if I had all this space to myself I'd feel lost."
"It's a good thing you don't..." Tara murmured saucily, dropping her own bag she came up behind Willow to wrap her arms tightly around her waist.
Willow purred and twisted her neck so she could stroke Tara's cheek with her nose.
"I think I owe you a huge apology, want me to make it up to you?"
Tara looked dubiously at Willow's face, her normally beautiful visage looked as though a very bad painter who favoured purples and blues had used it as his canvas.
"I am not kissing that," Tara replied with a perfectly straight face.
Willow giggled and crossed to the bed, after removing her boots she flopped onto it gratefully. She bounced up and down a couple of times and was rewarding with the satisfying sound of a spring mattress. Looking up at Tara with her most innocent expression, Willow patted the bed beside her.
"I know what you're thinking and the answer is no Captain Rosenberg!" Tara joined her, throwing an arm around Willow's back and drawing her close, "We have less than twenty minutes until we're required in the islands main hanger."
Willow pouted, "I can't help it, any time at all alone in a room with you has me thinking about sex... well, no... that is a lie... I think about sex with you all the time."
"Well, I am hot," Tara said with a modest shrug, crossing the room to sit beside Willow.
The red head lifted her hand to Tara's hair and ran her fingers through it lovingly. Tara smiled and turned her head, her lips were just there... Willow ached hungrily. She was more than a little disappointed when Tara went straight for her cheek, planting a small kiss among the bruises. Not to be dissuaded, Willow searched out Tara's lips. However, at the first brush of their skin together she yelped and pulled back suddenly,
"Damn!" Willow pressed her sleeve against her bleeding lip.
"I told you I wasn't kissing that," Tara said, a little sympathy in her voice.
"I guess that rules out plan A," Willow sighed.
"Yes, apology kisses... which means I have to move on to plan B... apology words, which I'm not so good at..."
"I think you would be great at anything you tried," Tara said quietly.
"I'm not... there's a lot you don't know about me," Willow said in a miserable voice.
"And you know everything about me?" Tara asked with a raised eyebrow.
"No... I know even less about you that you know about me."
"About that..." Tara began.
"No, it's alright," Willow burrowed into Tara's side, "If you could tell me you would have already... I understand, I may not like it very much, but I understand," Willow drew back and stared into Tara's eyes, "Even though I don't really know what I'm protecting you from... I promise to do everything I can to keep you safe."
"Thank you Willow."
"Now do I get another kiss?"
The interior of the island was a veritable hive of activity. It was a maze of corridors and gangways in which it was obvious the someone who did not know their way around could easily be lost forever. The clipboard officer lead them through with apparent ease, moving at such a pace that it was impossible to pause and study anything. For Willow, who liked to examine absolutely everything, this was frustrating to say the least.
"The upper levels are all living quarters, offices," the officer lead them into yet another huge elevator, he did not stop talking, "Moving down we arrive at what are the real guts of this place, service levels... generators and the like are all right down at the bottom, well below sea level but what you are here for is on level three..." the door opened and he marched out.
They had emerged in the biggest hanger Willow had ever seen. It was probably large enough to fit the entire Odysseus inside with a good deal of room on either side. While it was crowded with equipment and servicemen, everyone's gaze fell on what was sitting right in front of them.
"What in the bloody hell is that piece of shit?" Willow burst out as they walked down a set of steps onto the hanger floor.
Willow kept walking until she was right next to the object of her fascination. It was a plane, no doubt about that... but quite unlike any flying vehicle Willow had ever seen. For one thing, there was no propeller to be seen although Willow guessed the propulsion system had something to do with the cylindrical shaped appendages, one beneath each wing. Overall, it was larger than a Draken but of a comparable size to a Gullstrike.
Willow ran her had along the leading edge of the swept back wing until she reached the strange under-wing cylinders. She peered in to see something like a huge fan and had absolutely no idea how it would keep a plane aloft.
Willow bent down and peered at its undercarriage with great interest. While planes usually had landing gear arranged two beneath each wing with a tiny tail wheel, she found herself staring at a plane which sat horizontal to the ground, instead of on a slope. It sat that way because of the third wheel located in its nose.
Without waiting for authorisation, she leapt onto the wing and peered into the open cockpit. It was much larger than her Draken's and equipped with an alarming number of extra controls. Willow lent her head in and was about to start pressing buttons when she heard a voice down below her.
"I would not go pressing any buttons if I were you Captain Rosenberg, you might set something on fire."
Willow jumped down, feeling suitably guilty, and came face to face with a tall, bespectacled man wearing a white coat over a tweed suit. She drew herself up to her full height and still found him looking down at her.
"That bloody 'piece of shit' as you so charmingly put it is what is going to stop you and your squadron from being turned into fish food," he said calmly, not worried by the fact that every pair of eyes in their group was trained on him.
"Mr Giles?" Tara exclaimed, joining Willow's side with a small smile on her face.
"How are you Tara?" he asked with a nod, Willow recognised a distinct fondness in his voice as though he were speaking to a favourite niece.
"Apart from the obvious... I'm fine," she replied, making a point of reaching out to take Willow by the hand.
Mr Giles raised his eyebrows before removing his glasses and cleaning them as though his life depended on it, "Well... you're looking very good I must say."
When he was finally satisfied that there couldn't possibly be any speck of anything left on his glasses, he put them back on and surveyed the group of pilots in front of him.
"First things first, I'm Doctor Rupert Giles... but, although they know I detest such lack of formality, everyone around here calls me Giles and I suppose you all may as well. I'm here to introduce you to your new vehicle... it's actual name is Supermarine Prototype G but informally it has become known as a Guardian. Capable of a max speed of close to six hundred miles an hour, armed with four 20mm cannons and with provisions for carrying six air to air rockets..."
"What the bloody hell is a rocket?" Willow snapped, angry that it had become apparent they were going to take her Draken from her and make her fly this thing she didn't begin to understand.
Giles sighed and rolled his eyes at the interruption, "You'll find out... there are a lot of things you will all need to find out... and in a very short time if we are to halt the unidentified hostile extra-terrestrial invasion..."
"LGFs," Faith spoke up from where she and Buffy stood, as far away from Willow as possible.
"I beg your pardon?" Giles asked with a frown.
"Little Green Fuckers... LGFs... it's much more simple than extra hostile... thingees or whatever it was that you called them."
"Oh, I see... okay, does anyone have any questions?" to which ever single hand shot up in the air.
Giles looked perplexed before he pointed to Willow, "Captain Rosenberg?"
"Why is it not red... can we make them red?"
"Uh... colour schemes are not my area of expertise... you there, at the back?"
Thus began the flood of questions, the answers to which none of them fully understood as Giles rattled away using complex terms so incomprehensible he might be making them up on the spot. Willow just stood with her arms folded over her chest, a small frown on her face as she tried to digest all the information that was flying around her. Eventually she gave up even trying and sighed, wondering how she was going to break the bad news to her beloved Draken.
"So... in the end... you're saying we now have a real chance against the LGFs?" Buffy asked as the questions finally subsided after everyone had figured out they were never going to get a simple answer from Giles. It was the only question that really mattered anyway.
"Err, yes," he replied, obviously fighting the urge to tack a technical explanation on where one was not needed.
"Does anyone else feel that an arse kicking is in order?" Faith grinned.
An excited cheer rose from the ranks, everyone joined in except the disgruntled red head standing at the front.
"But it's not red!" Willow protested... no one was really listening.