Willow tilted her head back and laughed up at Giles, spread out and bleeding above her.
“Why, Mr Giles...that’s not a very dignified posture, now is it? You should be setting a good example, you know ...”
A careless flick of her fingers brought him down, faster than gravity would have, and with an extra little shove of power just as his clutching fingers reached out reflexively, so that they were bent and crumpled against the indifferent floor. He might have screamed but that took breath and by the time it returned to his body the pain had become part of him, absorbed into the other agonies, great and small that she had visited upon him. He lay still after that first jerking recoil but not at rest. With an infinite effort he turned his head, blinking away the blood that trickled into his eye, and looked at her.
Ebony, hard and smooth, nothing to grasp at, nothing to hold on to so he could tug her back to him, to all of them. He heard his own voice rasp out a defiance that was as pointless as it was unwise. “Tara was all the example you needed, you arrogant child.”
The last word was infused with bitter anger, like strong, stewed tea laced with sour milk, undrinkable and foul. He spat it out at her and saw her eyes, night-dark and dangerous, empty as a patch of starless sky, widen in an awful anticipation.
“Children grow up, Giles.” The old name...never had she said it with that intonation of amused contempt, never. If she had, he would have – “They grow up and they surpass their teachers...and in return, they can teach them lessons...important lessons. Lessons about respect for power and those who hold it.” Her voice lightened, flirtatious and grotesque in its insincerity. “Does Giles want to learn? Or is he just too darn clever for his own good? Does he need to be taken down a peg or two? That’s what you told me, once, remember? When I tried a spell you didn’t think I could handle? Sneering at me, looking down at me, holding me back!”
Giles heard her voice keen higher as she let the rage spill out of every pore until, magic imbued as he was, he could see it wash her in a tide of filth.
Two strides and she was kneeling beside him, not touching him, her breath hot and sour in his face. “Spare the rod, Giles. There’s another saying for you. Is that how I can teach you? Will that make you see me as all growed up and big? Because it’s only grown ups who get to spank, isn’t it?” Her mouth pouted and he saw the sparkle of cruelty light her eyes until they glowed cold, black ice treacherous and invisible. Had it always been there? How had he missed –
Then he was shaking his head, words slipping from his mouth in a babble of pleading, because her magic was wrapping around him, tearing away his clothes with greedy speed, baring him to her in an obscene, unthinkable display, and she stood, moved back to get a good view, raised a hand that he knew would never need to touch his flesh and brought it slashing down to strike air.
And Giles screamed for her, just as she wanted him to, just as she’d known he would.
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