His memory would later remodel itself to form a more sentimental picture, as things left to time will do, but when first faced with the prospect of meeting Veronique, Rupert was excited to study his first up close, flesh and blood Slayer. This was practically the field.
They had known, of course, that the girl would be coming. After the death of Thomas's Slayer, the Council had held a conclave, the end result of which was Alistair Giles would be Watcher to the new girl. When a field operative found the girl in Lille, it was decided that she would come to live in London, as Alistair still had Council business to attend to, and a Watcher couldn't be expected to uproot his life every time a new girl was Called.
She would arrive while Rupert was in classes. He'd wanted to stay home and be there for her arrival, but of course that wouldn't do. How would that look? So, after being released from his last class of the day, Rupert Giles, buoyed with excitement, all but ran the twelve blocks home, neglecting his umbrella despite the driving rain.
His shoes squeaked across the fine hardwood floors; this would have announced his presence even if the thunder of his school things being tossed to the foyer floor had not. Hanna, ubiquitous head of the servants, soon manifested to disparage him, grey face pinched in annoyance.
"You'll wake the house!" she said, though it was only five in the afternoon, like the house itself was some great slumbering beast that would devour them all should its sleep be disturbed. "And look at this mess! Your father will—"
Rupert brushed past her, briefly wiping his feet on the mat as a concession. He tore to his father's study, center of Watchery things and all scholarly pursuits. Entering could be tricky, so Rupert restrained himself and peeked through the cracked door. His father was in there, along with several other members of the Council. The girl was perched on his father's desk, her back to the door. Her figure was slender, but flared pleasingly at the hips, a compressed hour glass. Her hair was thick, fashionably straight, and a dark auburn; it hung halfway down her back. She was wearing pale washed jeans and a blouse in a dusky pink color that offset the caramel tone of her skin. Several thin silver bracelets encircled her wrists, ornate little manacles curling around the delicate bones. She sat facing the Watchers, but they talked around her, not to her.
Rupert gently pushed the door open. The Watchers turned briefly to the novel stimulus, then quickly returned to their conversation. The Slayer turned, too, but her gaze lingered. Rupert didn't realize that she might be sizing him up, didn't, in fact, consider what she might be thinking at all. He could see her face. She was lovely: large, sparkling eyes fringed with dark lashes; a small, rounded nose, the bridge of which was splotched with copper-colored freckles; full, sensuous mouth. She wore no makeup, but her face was animated internally. It was like that expression, that you could look at someone and see their gears turning. Rupert could see her inner mechanisms working away like pulling the back from a wristwatch. Tick tock.
Evers Bayliss, director of the Watcher's Council and his father's boss, favored the boy with a smile.
"Alistair, this is your son, Rupert, yes? I've been keeping an eye on him at the academy; I'm hearing promising things. Looks like we'll have a third generation of Giles looking after Slayers."
"We hope so," Alistair said. "Long as he can stay out of the record store long enough to keep his grades up."
"Well, this should give him a leg up, eh, boy?" Bayliss asked. "Not many of your classmates will have had a Slayer at home." He gestured to the girl on the desk. "This is your father's Slayer, Veronica DuBois."
The Slayer sneered.
"Veronique," she said. Her voice was a warm woodwind note, lilted by her accent. "I do not understand this English compulsion to Anglicize. Not everything requires translation."
"We've brought her over from France," Bayliss continued, as though he hadn't heard her.
"Yes," Veronique said. "I've been imported. Like a wine, or a cheese."
"Yes, well. We all must make sacrifices to fight the good fight," Bayliss checked his watch. "Oh, my, I have a tea. I trust I'll be following up with you shortly, Veronica, dear. Alistair, if you might walk me out; I'd like a word."
The covey of Watchers migrated out of the room as one tweed-clad, quietly chattering group. Rupert and Veronique were left alone in the study.
Rupert took a step toward her. "I, um, well, it's very nice to, um—"
Veronique narrowed her eyes at her distrustfully. "You're from their academy? Will you be studying me, too?"
Rupert motioned to the bookcases lining the near wall. "Mostly I just study history. And Greek. Latin."
The corner of Veronique's full lips quirked up. "And the record store?"
Rupert could feel himself coloring, and then wished for a hole to open beneath him and suck him down into the center of the earth. Despite being raised stiff and British, he had never mastered his blush reflex.
"Yes, well, the Rolling Stones, the Who. Pink Floyd. I figure they rate about as much attention as Cicero."
"No Donny Osmond?" Veronique asked innocently. "And what of Dawn and Tony Orlando? Do they not warrant your attention?"
Rupert cringed as an immediate response, before he could worry about her feelings. "God, no. Kill me first."
Veronique laughed. "Yes, good. I was only checking."
"You haven't packed much for leaving home forever."
Veronique looked surprised. "Forever? Non. They bring me here to train, and then . . ." She shrugged. "I don't know. Probably I will not live here forever."
"You don't like England?"
"Yes," she said. "I mean—the food. But . . . there is a lot to see beyond this place. I think I would like to travel."
"But your duty," Rupert said. "Won't that . . . impede things?"
Veronique shook her head. "I do not see why. They have vampires everywhere, I think, or else the vampire Slayers, they would all be English."
"So you'll go on tour," Rupert said.
Veronique smiled. "Yes. Yes, I think this is it."
As usual, the study was cemetery quiet. The great grandfather clock's pendulum clicked out a metronome rhythm, but that only accentuated the silence—like an animal in the room, material and heavy and watching.
Rupert's father sat in the oxblood leather chair behind the monolith of his ornate mahogany desk, peering at Veronique over his glasses, his hand poised over his diary.
Veronique was in the center of the room, the space free of bookcases and papers, the open space filled only with the sunlight filtering in through the windows, with a girl in a light summer dress that bared her arms and legs. Rupert saw she had freckles on her arms and shoulders as well as her face, but not upon her throat, her chest. Her bare feet were soundless upon the sheening teak floors. In her hand she held a sword, and Rupert watched her whole body move in response to the blade's position: her hips shifting, the muscles in her calves contracting, relaxing.
Rupert took a slender blade from the weapons cabinet and approached the Slayer.
"Shall we cross swords?"
Veronique hesitated, her forehead creasing. "I am not sure what you mean by this."
Rupert gestured with his sword. "The, uh, fencing. I thought you might like a partner."
She brightened. "Oh! Yes, sil vous plait. Please."
She did not move from the spot, but her posture relaxed in such a way that Rupert was struck with the impression she had taken a step back. Allowing him berth—an invitation.
Rupert approached, rolling his sword's hilt in his hand until he found perfect purchase. Perfection had always been the expectation of his life, and so Rupert had always been at the top of his class. Every class. But the rankings, the marks, had never given him any particular pride; it was just what had to be done. But his skill with the blade: this he was proud of.
"En garde," he said.
Veronique smiled, her dark eyes twinkling. "Allez."
Rupert was used to swordplay with other British boys. Things were regimented and straight-forward. There were rules, and the rules were followed. Fencing was more like arithmetic than sport.
Veronique began like a flamenco dancer, her body curving, drawing into the air, spinning away. Her bare feet were soundless on the teak floors, and the gauzy material of her dress blurred the silhouette of her body; it was like fighting a ghost. A dancing, laughing ghost. Soon Rupert found himself overwhelmed; the sound of his wildly beating heart, his ragged breaths, throbbed in his head, the pregnant odd sounds of hearing underwater. Occasionally Veronique's honey laugh, the piccolo tinkling of her bracelets, would break through to his consciousness, penetrating the water and arriving, crystallized, as the only real sounds of the world outside himself.
Rupert lost his sword to a clever flip of Veronique's blade, to gravity. It clattered heavily on the rich wood floor, and Rupert folded, his hands on his knees, perspiration dripping down his face, his lungs too greedy for oxygen to suffer temperance. In his shaking, flashbulb bright periphery, he could see Veronique's bare feet padding by him, the auburn cascade of her hair falling as she bent to pick up his sword. Her small hands encircling the hilt, the shining silver bracelets clinking quietly against the metal. Wheezing, Rupert brought his eyes up to the girl standing over him.
She was smiling. She extended his sword to him, hilt first.
"I don't think the Slayer's supposed to have friends," Rupert said. "I mean, the Slayer's duty must come first—"
Veronique hit him with a withering gaze. "Because I have a duty, I cannot have friends? This is not fair. You, all of you, you talk about me like I am not a person. Like I am some toy that can be turned on and off for whenever you find convenience."
This was true, Rupert supposed, though he'd never thought about it like that before. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried to wrestle down the idea that he'd thought about a girl, this girl who lived and breathed and slept in the room down the hall, as a tool. A weapon with no feelings, some convenience.
"Maybe I'm just hurt," he said, "that you don't consider me your friend."
Veronique stopped walking. She regarded Rupert with frank surprise—the same surprise that had stunned him when he realized that he hadn't thought of her as a person who might need friends.
"Yes," she said finally. "This is true. That was bad of me. We are friends, yes."
They continued walking, their footsteps fading into the constant noise of London.
"Still," Veronique said, "you are no good at all for talking about boys."
"Er—yes. Maybe I can work on that."
"I, um," Rupert said, filing away his books and the essay on the catacombs he was mostly failing to write. "Bad night?"
"You people," Veronique growled, "you take me from my home, bring me here, to this place where all you have for food is boiled sausages and puddings made of meat, where there is always raining—"
"Maybe we should get you a mac," Rupert said, buoying his voice with a false enthusiasm he hoped might calm her.
"—because I am chosen, and there are vampires to kill. But I have been here for weeks, and still I have not killed a vampire!"
"Well," Rupert said uncertainly. "You're new at this; I imagine you have to start slow."
She shook her head angrily, flinging little drops of water everywhere. "Non. No. Your father, he takes me to patrol so that I can see vampires. Like I am studying them in the zoo. And yet all the time he is telling me that I have powers, that I have been chosen by destiny to kill them. How can I be chosen by destiny to kill them, and still not be ready to kill them? There is no sense in this."
"I . . . I don't know," Rupert said finally. "I've never trained a Slayer before; I mean, I'm only just learning about it. So I don't know why—I'm sure he has your best interests . . ."
"You are sure of this," she said flatly. "Because everyone always has my best interests in mind."
Rupert felt himself puff up with righteous indignation. He stood up from his desk, approached her.
"Well, well I do," he said. "I'm your friend, and I do."
Veronique's face softened; that would have been enough for her. But it wasn't enough for him.
"We should go out," he said. "Right now. And—and we'll kill a vampire. Or you will. And I'll be there, next to you. During the killing. Or. You know."
Veronique studied him for a long moment.
"You could get in trouble," she said. "You do not seem to me like the type that gets in trouble."
This was true, but Rupert was once again flush with righteous indignation.
"It seems to me," he said. "That the best things in life, they're worth the risk of getting in trouble."
A slow smile crept, with catly stealth, over Veronique's face. "Yes, I agree. D'accord. Let's kill a vampire."
Now that the idea was action, no longer just brave words, Rupert was unsure of himself, and lagged behind. Veronique was practically skipping.
"The vampire tonight," she was saying, "I am inches from him, and your father says, no. Like we are catch and release. I could disobey him, but then I only have to hear him lecture me on and on."
"It is his singular talent," Rupert said.
"We will go back to this cemetery," Veronique continued. "And find this vampire still there. And then . . ."
Veronique shadowboxed the air before her. Rupert felt a bit queasy.
"What if he has friends?" he asked. One vampire was one thing, especially with a Slayer in tow; a group of vampires was a different matter entirely.
"I am chosen by destiny!" Veronique said. "The entire cemetery of vampires—no matter!"
She skipped several steps, literally buoyed by her excitement. Rupert was determined not to be comforted, but then Veronique landed and turned briefly to shine her radiant smile on him, and he felt his misgivings melt away. She looked like she could take on the world, one handed. And she was the Slayer after all; she was right. She was made for this.
"You are much better with a sword than a stake," Veronique said.
And then she was in the air, jetéing over him, and before Rupert could even clamber to his hands and knees, the cemetery still air was filled with the hard-packed, bass drum thrum of flesh hitting flesh, of a tiny French girl in a sundress driving a three-hundred pound, preternaturally strong creature of the night to the rain-slick graveyard ground.
A hard crack, wood piercing bone, and a gust of ashes exploding into the night. Rupert finally rose to his feet, just in time to be knocked off kilter again by Veronique. One moment she was laughing, practically vibrating with her giddiness, and then she was rocketing against him, and her mouth was pressed firmly to his, and Rupert forgot about his fear and his triumph and the entire realm of outside experiences, because suddenly all his senses could deal with was the raw sweet taste of her, the warmth of her body.
Rupert was surprised by his own speed, the cleverness of his own body. His body moved of its own accord, as if driven by some outside force, some higher power. His hands cradled her ribcage; his mouth found hers. Her incredible heat, the frenetic pulse of her heartbeat throbbing into his palms: it was like holding a little rabbit, a wild animal. He lifted Veronique into the air, into his arms. The sweet wild scent of her, her raw honey taste, hit him on a primal, purely biological level, making him heady, making him want.
For maybe the first time in his life, Rupert acted completely without thought. And it worked. It was working; it was magic. It was like he had an intrinsic, instinctual knowledge of how to do this, of how to treat her. By nature, they reacted together, like a chemistry problem. Sodium and chloride always come together to form a salt. Magnesium and oxygen always come together and ignite. Some things just happen.
Rupert lowered Veronique to the rain-slick grass. Her dark auburn hair and the gauzy material of her dress pooled around her, like she was melting, becoming liquid. Rupert's hands slid between the soft material of her dress and her warm, soft skin. His hands slid up her legs, getting a feel for her, her muscles and bones. The dimples of her knees, the dish of her pelvis. The strong muscles of her thighs; the firm, rounded muscles of her buttocks. His mouth on her mouth and his eyes on her eyes, Rupert found the lacy band of her panties by feel, stripped them off and let gravity have them.
Such incredible heat. Rupert had never felt such heat, and his mind flickered over thoughts of chemical reaction, chemical burns. Burning hotter, longer, brighter than fire.
They grabbed moments between Veronique's training and Rupert's studies, between patrol and homework. And always they had their nights: long hours in their world apart, together in Rupert's bed, sleeping and dreaming and loving beneath scotch-taped posters of the Who.
Several months had passed within their cocoon removed from the world, the second life they shared only with each other, when Veronique popped the question.
"We should get married," she said.
Rupert had been near sleep, pleasantly exhausted and still hung over with orgasm. He peeked open an eye.
Veronique was wide awake, her bright eyes laser-focused on him.
"Married," she said. "When a man and woman love each other, they are married. They do this also in England, no?"
"Well, no—I mean, yes, it's done in England," Rupert said, struggling to sit up to better regard her. "But, erm—aren't we a bit young? We have our whole lives—"
Veronique frowned. "You have your whole life. I have Slayer time. By Slayer time, I have perhaps thirty years. Already an old maid." She studied her manicure, the lack of a ring on her left hand. "I understand. You do not like older women . . ."
Rupert rolled his eyes. "Don't be ridiculous. You're seventeen, barely legal."
Veronique giggled. "Yes. Now you are the cradle robber. I like this better."
Rupert went to take her in his arms, but she stopped him. She met his eyes, regarded him seriously.
"If you do not want to marry me," she said, "that is fine. But if you do not want to marry me because you are worried of impermanence . . . well, that is a mistake."
And so they were married.
"This is a mistake. And I cannot even fathom the disrespect of not even discussing it with me before you—"
Rupert shrugged. "I imagined we'd have this talk either way. All I did was ensure it happened after the wedding, not before."
Alistair's jaw tightened. "This is not the time for jokes. You don't understand—these girls have an expiration date—"
"Like a wine," Rupert said. "Or a cheese."
"You're being insolent, but no," Alistair said. "Do not misunderstand. These girls have an expiration date like milk, like fruit. A brief, brilliant ripening, and then you'll be a widower before twenty, and this isn't me being pessimistic; this is you failing to be reasonable."
Rupert could feel the rage pumping through his veins, spreading through his body like disease. His hands shook.
"You could be supportive," he said. "As a change."
"I don't take to this new age, bohemian nonsense that my job as a parent is to support you on whatever ill-advised flight of fancy overtakes you. My job as your father is to protect you from harm, and that is what I'm trying to do."
Rupert clenched his hands into fists, relaxed them. It did not make his flesh more sound.
"You're too late," he said.
"Yes," Alistair said. "That is my fear, too."
"I think this does it," she said. "We have made a baby."
Rupert propped himself up on his elbow to better regard her. "I don't know why you're so excited about that. Don't you think we're perhaps a bit young for children?"
Veronique's mouth crimped into an indecisive bow, and for a long moment, she didn't look at him. Finally, she brought her eyes down from the ceiling, met his.
"I want to grow old with you," she said. "But . . . maybe this is not realistic. I just . . . I want to experience as much of life as I can while I am here to experience it. Yes?"
His expression must have betrayed him, because then Veronique was crawling over to him, was taking his hands in hers, was pressing kisses to his face.
"I want to leave you with something beautiful."
His endeavor was further complicated by Alistair, who was even less present than usual. Members of the Council were over more frequently, and the lights in Alistair's study burned day and night. What kind of project his father was working on, Rupert didn't know; they didn't talk about that, either.
"What's gotten into you?" he asked finally, after five minutes on the same paragraph.
Veronique stilled in front of the mirror. She made faces: scrunching her nose, pursing her mouth.
"I think I am pregnant," she said.
Rupert dropped his book.
Veronique shot a glare at him. "You need me to explain it to you?"
Rupert frowned. "No, that's not what I meant. Just—it seems . . . fast. . . . Are you sure? How do you know?"
Veronique pulled up her shirt, studied the flat plane of her bare abdomen in the mirror.
"I think it's starting to puff already," she said.
Rupert rolled his eyes. "You're crazy. There's not an ounce of fat on you."
"No, this makes sense," she said. "Lately, I have been feeling strange."
"Tired, weak. Also . . . how would you say, when you drop things, and are not graceful?"
"Clumsy," Rupert said. "Clumsiness is a sign of pregnancy in France?"
"You are not funny," she said. "It is a sign that my body is changing. This is what happens when you become pregnant."
Rupert was going to continue arguing, but then he caught sight the reflection of Veronique's face in the mirror. The half smile curving her lips, the hope gleaming fervently in her eyes.
Rupert rose, came behind Veronique at the mirror. He curled his arms around her, placed his hands atop her hands atop her stomach.
"It feels like a girl, don't you think?" he said.
Veronique giggled. She squeezed his hand.
Rupert swept the dishes into the sink and went to get his mac from his bedroom. The sky was too black to see the clouds, but there were rumblings of thunder shaking the house, and he didn't want to get wet on patrol.
Rupert was surprised to find his father in his bedroom.
"I know you've been going with her, nights," Alistair said. "It isn't safe."
"Yes," Rupert said. "Well."
He couldn't think of anything else to say, so he passed by his father to his closet. He ruffled around a bit inside, even though his raincoat was in plain sight.
"You should stay home tonight, Rupert," Alistair said.
Rupert wheeled on him. "Because it isn't safe? It isn't safe for her, either."
"And that's her lot. Not yours." Alistair sighed. He looked very old. "I'll be taking the girl this evening. A Council exercise. You would be interfering."
"Right. Wouldn't want to interfere." That came out sharper than he'd intended, so he backtracked. "It's good, you looking after her."
"I shall do my best," Alistair said, "to perform the duty I've been charged with."
He started out, then lingered in the doorway. He turned for a moment, faced his only son.
"I am sorry, boy," he said.
And then he was gone. Rupert put away his mac, and returned to the kitchen; maybe he'd give that cake another go.
In the corner of the room near the bookcases, Alistair and a few other Watchers were talking in low tones, discussing the night's events, discussing which of the known potentials might be the next girl Called. Alistair was taking notes in his diary.
The world around him was removed, off track, miscued extras and an out of tune soundtrack. They faded into the background, faded so far that Rupert felt, as he walked through the room, like the only real thing, the only real person, in the room. I am legend.
Rupert walked to his father's desk. Veronique's eyes were fixed, glassy, discolored. They stared, unseeing, at the ceiling. Rupert closed them, and then he let his hand rest there for a moment. He touched the wedding ring on her left hand, and the red wine puncture marks marring her throat. The flat plane of her stomach she'd sworn was already puffing.
"—we'll handle the police, but we do need you to call in the morning saying you've found Veronica's body—"
Rupert let his hands fall to the rich wood of the desk, let all the weight of his body settle there.
"Veronique," he said, without looking up.
The Watchers looked over at him.
"I'm sorry?" Bayliss said.
"You should be," Rupert said. "You did this."
"Rupert," Alistair said. He closed the diary, but kept a finger marking his place.
"You—you have this whole society, all these books and ordinances and traditions, all to serve these girls—but it's all just posturing! You've—your books and traditions have killed her, you've—"
"Rupert," Alistair said. "You forget yourself."
Bayliss held up a hand. "No, Alistair, that's quite alright."
He turned his attention to Rupert.
"You misunderstand, boy," he said. "You are correct: we maintain a society, with books and ordinances and traditions, but we do not serve the Slayers. We serve a greater good; the Slayers are merely a weapon in this pursuit. It's unfortunate that the girl died, but you have to understand that now the fight for the greater good will gain a stronger, more able warrior." He smiled. "Do you understand, now, boy?"
Rupert considered for a moment. He stood, approached his elder.
"I believe so," he said, and he drove his fist into Bayliss' cheekbone. The old man dropped to the teak floor, shoes squeaking as they lost purchase, glasses tinkling as they clattered to the ground.
Rupert missed it. He walked past his enraged father and the tittering lower Watchers and out of the house, out into the dark, storming streets of London.
"Hello, Quentin," he says. "There will be no Cruciamentum for this Slayer."
Giles listens to Travers extol in exhaustive detail the oath that he has taken to the Council and their traditions, as he tells him exactly what will happen to him and to Buffy should he refuse to uphold these traditions.
Giles takes off his glasses, and lays them on the desk. He suddenly feels very old.