"I don't think I'm ready for this," Willow announced, a note of barely repressed panic making itself heard.
Buffy's expression brooked no argument. "You have to be," she insisted. "You can't back out on me now Will, I'm counting on you."
"But Buffy, it's—"
"I know," the Slayer interrupted sharply, not wanting to hear Willow's fears given voice. She took a deep breath, calming herself. "I know."
The smile Xander flashed to the two women was shaky and possessed nowhere near the confidence he was trying too valiantly to exude. "We just have to be strong. And stick together." His nod indicated complete agreement with himself. "Sticking with strong togetherness."
"A-And we can do that," agreed Willow wholeheartedly. "The sticking thing. Just ... somewhere else."
Buffy's hand slicing through the air did its best to physically block anybody from running. "No. We've come this far. We can't turn back now."
"We defeated it once. Only barely, but ..." Xander swallowed his fear and tried again. "It can't be that bad. I'm sure it can't be that bad."
"Then why am I suddenly remembering a hundred ways to prove you wrong?" challenged Willow. "Oh no, wait – two hundred."
Folding her arms over her chest, the Slayer would have none of it. "Retreat is not an option."
"Two hundred and fifty ..." Willow continued to mentally tabulate.
"This is like a ... a test."
Xander peered at Buffy incredulously. "A test. Can I just point out what a horrible analogy that is right now?"
She ignored him. "If we can make it through this, then we prove it doesn't have any power over us any more."
"Three hundred and seventeen ..."
"Right." Xander bobbed his head emphatically. "No more power over us." His resolve faltered and he looked to have inherited Willow's earlier panic. "But what if it does?"
"Guys, guys," Buffy tried to reason. "This isn't helping."
"It's helping me," countered Willow. "Helping me remember what a horrible idea this was! Why are we doing this to ourselves?"
Xander's tone was matter-of-fact. "Because we're masochists. Just three, sick little people, hell bent on making their lives as painful and torturous as possible. Who needs bad guys any more? Stand aside, villains of the world!" he declared in a loud voice to the night sky. "The Scoobies are here to show you how it's really done!"
The constant stream of doubt was doing an effective job of wearing away the Slayer's thin veneer of assurance. "Maybe you guys are right. Discretion is the better part of valor, right? I- I don't really know what that means, but I'm pretty sure it involves us not being here and thus has my vote."
"Mine too," Willow rapidly agreed.
Only too willing to complete the trifecta, Xander enthusiastically concurred, "Same here."
"Great, it's unanimous, let's—"
The trio spun on their heels, flight clearly the only sane option. And they might have made it – had Tara not been blocking the way. The blonde witch was clearly dressed for an evening comprised mostly of best impressions. Her high-necked silk blouse of subtle periwinkle brought out the color of her eyes and matched well with her long navy skirt. She had drawn her hair back into a chic French twist and the twinkling of the tiny sapphire studs in her ears seemed only to echo her personal amusement.
The Scoobies didn't run Tara over. But it looked like a dicey possibility for a second.
Tara's half-grin spoke volumes to the depths of their silliness. "Guys, itís not that bad."
"Not that bad?" Willow echoed in disbelief. "Tara, trust me on this – it's exactly that bad."
"You were the one who wanted to come here," Tara pointed out.
Willow fidgeted uncomfortably as her fingers plucked at the sleeve of her olive green blouse. It was only a shade more muted than the matching skirt, and the hue lent a coppery sheen to her hair. A small rose quartz dolphin was suspended from a slim gold chain around her neck and reflected the heightened color in her cheeks. She looked nice, and it didn't seem she could possibly care less about that fact; defending her position on the fleeing issue was by far the most important detail at present.
"Well yeah, but ... but that was four days and three time zones ago when it was all like, 'Oh, this'll be fun!' and very little serious mental investment was made. This is a mistake." Willow was conclusive on this immutable fact. "A big, hairy mistake, a-and now I've had time to rationally think it over in these extremely crucial ninety seconds, it becomes crystal clear. Running is our only option. Or, if pressed, possibly suicide."
Tara could only shake her head and smile. Spreading her arms wide she began to step forward, herding the reluctant Scoobies before her. They complied – but not gracefully.
"C'mon Tara, don't make us!" pleaded Xander as he dragged his feet, heedless of the scuffmarks he was inflicting on his new black leather shoes.
There was no mercy in Tara's heart. "It's for your own good," she replied in a tone loathed by children everywhere.
"I'm the Slayer!" Buffy protested, sounding decidedly unSlayery. She was the very image of style in vogue – a blush-pink blouse was worn underneath a two-piece ivory jacquard, the jacket cropped to the waist. She pouted as she stomped along, and the overall impression was of a five-year old in trouble for dressing up in mommy's clothes. "I save the world! I shouldn't have to do stuff I don't wanna!"
"You'll thank me for this later," replied Tara, calm but unyielding. "Besides ..."
The witch and her flock passed beneath a large lighted sign, proclaiming the looming building before them to be the "Addison Convention Center, Los Angeles". It bore its message with pride: "Welcome Sunnydale High Class of '99".
"Reliving your old high school days?" Tara continued brightly. "That can only be fun, right?"
The whiny moans she received in response did not entirely convey a sense of impending fun.