There was a phone call in the night. He's used to these kinds of things, the phone shattering the stillness of the flat, the artificial ringer sending the adrenaline in his blood shooting skyward. What he's not used to is the voice on the other line – hesitant, unsure, and Wesley.
Rupert's heart beats faster for another reason now – he urgently needs to get to Wesley. Foolish, well-intentioned Wesley, intent on handling everything himself. He shouldn't have expected a nest of Tanizaki to listen to his voice of reason, shouldn't have tried to bargain with them, shouldn't have gotten himself imprisoned with one call left on his cell. Rupert cursed as he drove. Damn Wesley for being an hour away and not calling first. Damn the Citroen for its plodding pace. Damn American drivers blocking his way when no one should be on the road at this hour. Damn the Tanizaki.
"It's not much of a rescue if you get locked up yourself." Wesley's smile of welcome is only half sardonic.
"Rescue wouldn't have been needed had you called me first." As soon as the frustrated words leave his mouth Rupert regrets them. But Wesley's lips twist in bitter agreement, gaze shifting to his feet.
"Not much of a rogue anything now, am I?" Wesley's self-mockery tears at Rupert. He sits on the dank prison bench next to Wesley and tries to backpedal. They've come such a long way from the library but sometimes…
"Sorry, that was the worry speaking. And the frustration of several hours' drive. And…" Rupert trailed off, not wanting to admit his own mistake.
Wesley's grin comes back, "And your inability to negotiate with the Tanizaki?"
"Well, it's not as if they let me get a word out." Rupert grumbles, and just like that Wesley smiles at him. Rupert tries to tell himself it's nothing more than a smile, but Wesley was wearing the same smile when he said his goodbyes in Sunnydale. All it takes is admitting a mistake and they're back to that place where Wesley grins and Giles wants to kiss him for it.
"You're going to have to do it." Wesley suggested, his mouth drooping. "I thought I remembered all of them, but … my imprisoned state indicates I didn't put them together correctly."
Rupert's head nodded in sympathy. "They're masters, you know that. One wrong stanza and … well… I needn't say more. They were so angry when I got here they wouldn't even listen to me."
"I suppose it's for the best now." said Wesley, "At least it's something of a plan. Otherwise I'm afraid it's gruel rations and a very cold summer for us."
"The horror." Rupert is buoyed by Wesley's attempt at good humor. "At least I start with a clean slate." He turned to the bars and began:
"And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through."
An astonished murmur went up at Rupert's initial sally. The bent and gray creatures shifted on the other side of the bars of their prison, their craggy eyes crinkling, hands twitching. He felt a small amount of satisfaction at their surprise – he and Wesley were watchers (or former watchers) and they knew the forms of the game and how to open a challenge. Now he had to wait for their response though… hopefully they would respond. Wesley shifted beside him, watching as the creatures huddled together and made furious noises. Rupert hoped he'd be patient – if the Tanizaki didn't answer they'd both be doomed.
One of their three jailors moved forward to the bars, cocked his head, and spoke,
"Oh, the foot-drawn trail
Of the mountain-pheasant's tail
Drooped like down-curved branch!"
Exaltation blasted through Rupert. They had them. Once the game was started the Tanizaki had to see it through. He thought frantically for a later poem with the correct note of pleading in it:
"When I hear the lonely cry,
Sad--how sad!--the autumn is."
There, that ought to raise their sympathies. They had to have a leader, these deadly gray demons. If he could just choose correctly and surprisingly enough, they would be taken to him and plead their case there. Adrenaline made his heart beat a little faster. This kind of battle, of wits and recall and possibly a little violence at the end, always made him more focused. He moved up to the edge of the bars, feeling Wesley move beside him, as the gray one unlocked their cage. They were going to win.
Rupert and Wesley were taken to a huge cavern, and left in a cleared space, watching the most grizzled Tanizaki he had ever seen sitting at a low table, swathed in rich robes. His court was spread around him and behind him at other tables, though they all watched the humans now.
"Let the winds of heaven
Blow through the paths among the clouds
And close their gates."
Oh ho! They thought it was going to be like that, did they? The leader had dispensed with any civility in his first aggressive sally, suggesting there was no escape. But Rupert had his reply:
"So they call this mountain wind
The wild one, the destroyer."
Wesley took a sharp breath as a murmur went through the other Tanizaki. Rupert could feel the other man's tension, but he had to respond with force to a threat like that. The leader's face didn't change. He started straight at Rupert, while Rupert stared back impassively. The leader's hand waved dismissively as he responded in a careless tone:
"Famous are the waves
That break on Takashi beach
In noisy arrogance."
Rupert was worried. That kind of dismissal called for a strong response, but he only had two lines in which to do it, and nothing fit. He cast about, and finally responded:
"Yet, in name it ever flows,
And in fame may yet be heard."
Again there was a murmur of shock from their audience. Rupert tamped down on the urge to grin as Wesley blew out a breath beside him. He could do this. They could do this. Besting the Tanizaki at their own game meant they'd not only get their release but they could ask a boon. That certainty that had come to Rupert in the cell returned. One more exchange, where he matched the leader's stanza with its final couplet. He would win, they would both be safe, and the Tanizaki would be sent back to their own shores.
The voice of the leader was grave, almost as if he realized his defeat:
"For some men I grieve;
Some men are hateful to me;
And this wretched world"
Rupert opened his mouth to complete the poem … and nothing. There were ninety nine other couplets running in his head, but this one slipped away. He was frozen. His certainty drained away in a wash of fear. They were going to be trapped here.
Wesley's voice broke the tense silence:
"To me, with all my sadness,
Is a place of misery."
The Tanizaki broke into cries of fury. The leader's face was a mask of anger now. Rupert's heart began hammering a thousand miles a minute. "What have you done?" he turned to look at Wesley.
"You froze. You froze just like I did when I attempted this at the beginning. It must be some sort of spell they use so they won't lose." Wesley was unrepentant, his certainty clearing some of the fog from Rupert's brain. The Tanizaki were scrambling behind them now.
"A spell. Of course." He wouldn't forget something like that. Now that Wesley said something he could feel the energies breaking around him. "I suppose we'd better find something to defend ourselves with." Rupert turned so he was back to back with Wesley, but before he could grab a weapon the Tanizaki were on them.
He could feel Wesley punch out behind him. "Isn't it better to believe it was a spell than think you're starting to get to a delicate age, old man? " Wesley teased. Rupert lashed out at the first Tanizaki, feinting so he could grab his wickedly sharp dagger. He cut the monster's feet out from under him, then stabbed down until he heard it shriek.
"Old? I'm not old! Besides, the spell caught you too… either that or you're the one who has a memory like a sieve." Rupert slashed at the two who had taken the place of their fallen comrade, wondering how they were going to make their way through an entire clan. One of them was going to get a lucky strike, even though the two in front of him were doing more dodging than cutting. He stabbed at the stomach of the one on the right, then caught the fist of the other one in his hand, chopping its arm off with his new weapon.
Wesley panted behind him, "And who was it that remembered the last stanza? I think my memory is just fine, thank you." Rupert could hear grunts and moans of the Tanizaki Wesley was fighting, and he took a risk and looked over his shoulder to see that Wesley had armed himself with an evil looking hooked long-blade. Just then something thumped the back of his head. Rupert got out "Not again" as unconsciousness claimed him.
Consciousness returned in a blurry stutter. Rupert was in a car. In the passenger seat. With his head propped against the window. He blinked as dark shapes passed outside.
And then sat up in a rush. "Wesley!" Oh, but that hurt. He put his hand to the lump in the back of his head as a chuckle came from the driver's seat.
"Yes, you'll probably want to ice that." Wesley was smiling at him again.
Rupert felt his own lips stretch in an answering smile, but then he frowned, "The Tanizaki? How on earth did you get us away?"
"It was easy, really. They let me tend to my fallen." Wesley's mouth quirked. "Leave it to you, Rupert, to get hit on the head in the middle of a melee."
"Of course, blame it on me." Rupert replied. "I try and check on you in the middle of a fight and get knocked on my head for it, and you're teasing me about it."
"Yes, well, thank you, I suppose. If you hadn't fallen I wouldn't have tried that stun spell I'd been working on this summer. It stopped them in their tracks long enough that I was able to negotiate again. Their leader didn't want to engage in another game with me, but I managed to persuade them and nullify their forgetful spell as I came to the end."
"Why on earth not use the stun spell in the beginning?" Rupert asked.
"One, because it stuns everyone but the caster in a 10-meter radius, and I didn't really think you'd thank me for another headache. And two, because I'd tried it when I first got there and it hadn't worked. But apparently abject fear and insurmountable odds sharpens my casting accuracy."
"Thank goodness it does." Rupert settled back, noting as he did that they were on their way back to Sunnydale. "And the Tanizaki nest?"
"Gone. I won the boon. They are headed back to their own dimension as we speak." Rupert couldn't miss Wesley's satisfaction. And really, the man deserved it.
"Well, I suppose I ought to thank you, Wesley, for saving my stubborn head. And for driving me home. I'll have to think of some appropriate favor I can do you for this lovely adventure."
Wesley's eyebrows went up at that, "Favor? I don't know if my dragging you into a concussion really requires a return, Rupert."
Of course there was tea. It wasn't proper to have company and not have tea. Besides, dead drunk or half dead, Rupert would automatically come home and make himself a cuppa, and Wesley had never turned it down. Nor did he now.
After that, though, was something far more welcome – a conversation. A discussion of poetry and the merits of the Kojiki versus the Hyakunin Isshu. An offer of the couch made and accepted. A couple of glasses of something that wasn't tea and a call to a take-away place with halfway decent curry. The musing on demons with strange habits when it wasn't a world ending situation. The knowledge that one's companion was just as curious as himself, and quite possibly better read.
Most welcome, though, were the glances. The smiles. The concern over ice packs and the hand that held them to Rupert's head when it slipped off mid-conversation. The offer to wake him up at intervals and make sure he hadn't slipped into a coma. The knowledge that on this night, with this particular head injury, he would not have to set his alarm, or have the children call him. The knowledge that he was not alone.
A hand at his shoulder and the sound of his name wake Rupert out of muddled dreams.
"What's your name?" Wesley asks.
Rupert snorts, half annoyed, "Rupert Everett Giles"
"Who is the American President?" says a smiling Wesley.
"Like I care about the bloody colonies." Rupert responds.
Wesley laughs, and it's a lovely sound. "Well, I suppose your priorities are in place and your wits aren't too scrambled. I'll let you get back to sleep."
Rupert finds himself not wanting the man to go, but not knowing how to ask him to stay. He watches Wesley walk down the stairs.
The sixth time Wesley wakes him, after questions are answered and another smile makes a reappearance, his hand shoots out. "Stay," he says in a voice made quiet by hope. That smile widens. "Shove over then, bed hog." It's the last thing he hears before Wesley settles next to him.
~ end ~