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The Teahouse

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Tea.

Cardamom tea - four fat, black cardamom pods, their scent bursting out as he squeezes them. Four peppercorns (or five, if he believes the customer could do with the added kick). Four cloves, for warmth and sweetness. A stick of cinnamon and a few pebbles of crystallised ginger. And after he has heated it slowly in the tall brass tea kettle, a dash of sweet, warm milk.

His customers know that his tea is worth the wait. Some days, he slips between chairs and tables, passing a word here, leaving a cup there, and he feels like a young man again, living the path his life never took.

---

Nightfall. The trail is clear, bloody, stinking. He follows, words ready on his tongue. The hissing is strong, all about him, whispers in another, guttural, unknown tongue... Another dream of ghul hunting.

He prefers the nights he dreams of Miri.

He prefers the nights he does not dream at all.

When he finally reaches sleep again, men shudder into skin ghuls and he is thrust back into the fight. Will it ever be over?

---

The Dervish visits the tea house now and then, drinking his brew too quickly to savour it, still all energy and duty and no time for living. Or for the living. Ghul hunting drives him away too soon, and for too long. Adoulla fears the day when he does not return.

'I save lives, Doctor.' Raseed's pearly smile is not the same as it was when he was seven and ten, though his words are.

But what of your own? Adoulla thinks, and sometimes says aloud, as the boy (the man) disappears into the Dhamsawaati crowds. Or sometimes, when he has seen him safe more often, and is in an indulgent mood: 'Sword-for-brains!'

He knows, though. Knows that Raseed is changed by his experiences (as they all are) and thinks far more now than anyone gives him credit for.

---

Nightfall. The soft touch of her skin against his, her curled hairs against his thigh, her warm wetness. The sigh of her breath brushing his cheek. The curve of her breast beneath his fingers.

In the early mornings the scent of rosewater reminds him that she is truly there, beside him, her chest swelling into him as she breathes. He gave up that which kept him from her his whole life, and yet still she and the ghuls haunt him in equal measure, invading his dreams.

He still does not know why he should dream of that which he has.

He still does not know why he should dream of that which he was finally glad to leave behind.

---

Zamia, the last and first of her band, Protector, sometimes slips in. Into his thoughts, into his field of vision, in the corners and edges, catlike as always. He thinks he sees her more when the dervish has been there... but he is never certain. She is as hard to hold on to as a handful of sand.

---

Before, his days were all made up of books, ghuls, long journeys through dusty streets and driving wind, brief respites with close friends. Now, it surprises him, the varied nature of the people of Dhamsawaat, their troubles and concerns, all of which walk into his teahouse and ask for his tea. He spent so much time saving them that he did not really think about what it meant, how much one person can be different from another when they are not dead or dealing with the worst day of their lives.

He wonders far more, now, about those who have crossed his path over the decades, than he ever did before. He has always thought of himself as a thinking man. Now it seems to him as if he never thought enough - or asked enough.

---

They are all lost children, really. All parentless and scarred, inside and out. All bereft of family. And yet... He, and the dervish, and the lion-girl... His lost (grown too soon) children. Somehow, they feel like blood.

Ghul blood, maybe, his inner cynic snorts.

But his heart hopes to see them, sword and silver claws, drinking tea together one day soon. His own bloodline might end with him, but in them, it seems to him, his spirit would continue.

These thoughts come to him more, these days, than he ever imagined they would.

---

Sometimes he sees his wife, and cannot believe she is now his.

Too many decades of longing, and too few years of having, he thinks, and somehow feels foolish.

The city is unchanged under the Falcon Prince - out with the old, in with the new - but, because of him and not because of him at all, Adoulla has lived a different life since the line of the Khalif was snuffed out. Miri's breath on his shoulder, as they lie together at night, is only one reminder of the new world he lives in.

---

He feels the lack of friends gone (Dawoud, Litaz - he pictures them, and hopes they are happy) and of friends gone too soon.

Sometimes, he forgets that this is now his teahouse, and not that of his cross-eyed friend. Then, he is called upon to bring tea: 'Uncle! You make it better than anyone I know!' and he remembers.

Yehyeh's words whisper in his ears at those moments. May All-Merciful God put old men like us quietly in our graves. Adoulla feels old, too, when, now and then, he stops to sit down and share a water pipe. The calming scent of the apple tobacco clouds his senses, and that quiet calls to him, more than he would like to admit.

The best thing (the worst thing) is that he can be too old now. They are no longer children.

The scent of the tea assuages the city's tension, the old Doctor's lingering worries, and the occasional hunger in his bones for the thrill of the hunt.

He turns back to his tea kettle, smoothes his bright white kaftan, and feels the soft hand of the woman he loves slip into his own.