"In a cup of Tea"

by Shelly Webster and Arsen Dalavaccio

Disclaimer: We do not own Escaflowne – we can't even draw all the characters we want to from it. But our lack of drawing skill is irrelevant today.

A/N: Slash, and I can almost taste it. I am very eager for when these chapters start having actual slash though. Deepest gratitude to the charming D and T, and to any readers we may have retained in the delay betwixt postings.

Shout-outs:

Lady Thompson: Yes, yes, I know you all want more. But I can't focus on my formatting lately. Which drives me up a wall.

Sakura Shinguji-Albatou: Oh, no. He's my Sei! Mine! Folken glares And you're not allowed to kidnap him. My head needs a doctor because we had a recent attempted suicide by a character.

Threshie: Only you would write a review so thought-out and lovely, dear. Umm…yeah. Posting now, thinking later.

Chapter 4

Rest in Death

Folken walked back to Sei's place. He had yet another sleepless night behind him. He was starting to look really unlike his stately self.

The medical practitioner already had the water on boil in anticipation of his associate's return.

The skin around the eyes of the dying man was getting darker, like black ash smudged across his fair, sallow skin.

"You are so troubled. Perhaps I should brew you my restfulness tea when you go to bed." Sei knew many teas, though he usually brewed one with no particular medicinal quality.

The younger man nodded. He took his usual place and set up the chess board almost mechanically, not fully functioning anymore.

Sei fetched their tea, deciding to let Folken speak first for once.

"Do you never go anywhere else, Sei? I am merely curious."

"There is nowhere else to go of value. I have enough books here if I choose to read. Where do you go?"

"I don't go anywhere either." The younger man continued setting up the pieces, occasionally hiding a slight fumble caused by his fatigue.

"Same reason?"

"Yes, except for the fact that I've read every book on this ship already." Several times, most of them.

"Even the medical texts?" Sei raised an eyebrow, partly in shock and partly in doubt.

"Yes. I studied those when I was a sorcerer."

"Ah. I am trying to determine if I might have anything you have not read."

"You might. If yours is a private collection that you didn't disclose the contents of." While the guidelines Zaibach enforced did not require disclosure of all reading materials, it was highly encouraged. Folken had encouraged this specific policy when he began tiring of the books available.

"I know of one, but it is not a book I share. There may be others."

"I would like to look through it, if you don't mind. Sometime."

"My collection?" Sei hoped this was the case. The book was a family heirloom, but a direct order from the Strategos would not be refused.

"Yes." He also wanted to see this secret book, but it didn't seem the time to ask.

"Certainly. What colour?"

"...color? Oh...you mean the chess game... White today." He had thought Sei meant the color of books. Folken was tired, after all.

Sei smiled at Folken's distraction. Until he gave it some thought. Then his amusement turned to concern. "Have you slept at all?"

"I think, perhaps. I'm certain I got a few last night." Folken referred to minutes, not hours.

"Much?" He knew it was not like the young man to be so confused; vague recollections were unheard of from the Strategos. He knew Folken was running close to trouble if he went much longer without getting a decent amount of sleep.

In the physician's opinion, sleep deprivation caused some irrational thought and action in most people. This was not something he mentioned in his reports, having learned quickly that if he tried to change the policies Zaibach held, he would be fired. After all, he was just a lowly doctor.

"What? Not much, no. I admit, I haven't been able to sleep."

"Why not?"

"I'm not entirely sure." He moved a pawn.

Sei moved a knight.

Folken shifted another pawn. He was having a bit of trouble focusing on the game, even without talking so much as usual.

"You need rest. If I gave you something for it other than the tea, would you take it?"

"What do you mean?" He narrowed his slightly burning eyes at Sei.

"You said you approve of sedatives. Would you take one?" Sei raised an eyebrow, ready to try almost anything for Folken at this point.

"Absolutely not. I approve of them for others. And I meant that as a joke."

"Ah." Sei was not amused. "Still, I think you should lie down."

"I don't want to lie down." Folken did not sound at all happy that the doctor suggested he rest there.

"It could be in the other room if you're concerned about Dilandau. I don't want you falling asleep mid-stride or running into anything in a daze."

"What are you talking about?" He gave Sei a funny look.

Sei put on a pot of his sleep-inducing tea, knowing that when this tired Folken wouldn't notice it was a different tea. "You can't focus on the chess game, that's all."

"Well then, we don't have to play."

"We still can if you wish to." He didn't want Folken to leave, but saying it would only make the other man suspicious.

"Not if it will risk me being accused of things..."

Sei refilled Folken's cup with the new tea, speaking calmly as he did so. "I was not accusing you of anything. I only suggested a lie down."

"I will not lie down." He was being quite obstinate about this, like any two-year-old might behave on this matter. "I refuse to lie down and take a nap. I know I'm dying, but I'm not ill!"

"You might become ill if you do not sleep, but I will not force you." The older man sipped his tea, the first brew, not the sleep-inducing blend.

"No, you will not." Folken sipped his own tea, unconsciously echoing the doctor's action. He blinked, looking down at it. He thought it tasted a little bit different today, but assumed it was due to being tired. He continued sipping it.

"Did my words yesterday trouble you?" He wasn't sure, but Sei thought the tea might lower Folken's reluctance to speak openly.

"What words?" He stared at his reflection in the teacup.

"About the girls."

"My girls...What are you talking about?" He was too tired to remember. "They're not ill, are they?" He looked over at Sei, a bit worried.

"No."

Folken's relief showed.

"I just was asking if they know about you."

"...oh…" The conversation was slowly coming back to him. "No, they don't...Yes, you did ask that…"

"You should tell them."

"I can't. Not yet. They aren't here, and I'd rather not send some messenger to tell them." He drank more of the tea.

"I agree with that. It's reasonable to wait until you yourself can tell them." Sei hadn't at all meant for Folken to use intermediaries when informing them he was dying.

"I will tell them soon."

"I am pleased."

Folken's eyelids were beginning to droop.

"Why do you want to die?" Sei finally asked the question he had been pondering so deeply since he became so acquainted with the young man.

"I have no reason not to." Folken drank some more of the tea he loved so.

"But what reason do you have to die?"

"What reason do I have to live?" He bowed his head. "I'm not doing any good here, Sei." He shut his eyes, partly of his own volition. "You know it, don't you?"

"I see the good you could do. You can do none of it dead."

"No, of course not. Sei, you overestimate me. I can do nothing. And I'm tired." He sighed and takes another drink.

"Would you like to lie down now?" Sei could tell that the tea was working.

"I didn't mean that kind of tired." Though he was feeling quite heavy and lethargic, he would not admit this to the doctor.

"Ah. I still do see you have potential. I know I am not overestimating you, at least not by as much as you seem to think I am."

"Why can you not comprehend the fact that I am useless because I failed?" Folken was getting irritated by how stubborn the physician would be.

"Sometimes you are just like Dilandau." Sei was also growing exasperated.

"I am not!" He smacked his head down on the table. "If I were ever to be like him, I think I'd kill myself outright."

"No will to live because you are flawed? He has told me of that same feeling many times."

Folken's words abandoned him, unable to show that he was nothing like the commander of the Dragon Slayers. "...I am not like Dilandau." He grew ever more tired. "You just want to think I'm like him..."

"No."

"So that you'll have some way of dealing with me..."

"I appreciate how unlike him you can be." Sei's voice was gentle; honest.

Folken laughed. "Next thing I know, you'll be attempting to drug me to sleep."

"Would that be so terrible?"

He found himself unable to open his eyes again. "Hmm...?"

"Never mind."

"Mm-hmm."

Sei watched Folken fade into sleep. Once the younger man was sleeping deeply, the doctor maneuvered him onto a cot.

Folken, against his will, slowly faded back into consciousness after an all too brief nap. He opened his eyes ever so slightly and glanced at the room around him. "...what the hell...?"

Sei looked up.

He assumed he must be dreaming of when he first came to Zaibach. "DAMNIT!"

"You're awake."

He heard Sei's voice and was a little confused. "What?" He sat up, looking at himself. It appeared that Sei was right.

"You fell asleep at the table."

"What happened! ...I did?" Folken was thoroughly confused, though the fog of drowsiness not yet faded was in part to blame.

"Yes. You hadn't been sleeping much, and I guess it was enough to push you over the edge."

"Oh." Folken felt a bit nervous now. Did Sei think he was unstable? He knew what happened to unstable people in Zaibach. Hell, he'd been the cause of misery for one unstable young man already.

"Would you like some tea, maybe a crumpet?"

Folken raised an eyebrow at the offer. "...no..." Why the most negative thoughts have to enter one's mind when one is frightened is a mystery. Folken thought of Sei's words about uprisings. Sei knew he was suicidal, and a few other things as well. There had to be an ulterior motive somewhere.

"Do you feel at all better now?" Sei refrained from touching Folken, though it was not easy to curb is physician's instincts.

All he had to do was report something. "I feel much better," he lied, standing up and looking himself over.

"Much better? All I was hoping for was a little rested." The older man's tone showed disbelief.

"I'm perfectly fine." Folken walked towards the door.

"Leaving?"

"Of course."

"Why? Does it bother you that I saw you sleep?"

"...I don't sleep easily around certain people. I don't trust you." I can't trust you.

"Why not?" Sei felt an ache at hearing this, though perhaps, he thought, Folken was right. Perhaps it was best that Folken not trust him.

"Because you are untrustworthy. And because you don't believe in anything I do. There is such a thing as a usurper, you know."

"I believe in it; I just do not see success."

"Fine."

"And I have no wish to be more than a doctor. I'm not meant for government."

"I doubt you could take my job, Sei. That's not what I meant. Saboteur…that's what I meant." He was still a bit tired.

"Ah. And I could do what to sabotage you in your sleep?"

"I don't know. Tie me up and keep me prisoner? You certainly don't seem to appreciate the way I run things."

"It would do harm to have no one running things."

"They'd find someone else." The young Strategos believed he was ultimately replaceable.

"Perhaps no one so interesting to converse with."

Folken glared. "I doubt you really enjoy talking with me that much. You seem to hate everything I say."

"Would I serve you tea if I did not like you despite our disagreements?"

"I have no idea. I don't know you." His eyes were half-shut.

"Would it mean something if I let you read the book no one outside my family has ever read?" Sei didn't know what he was saying; all he knew was he needed Folken to trust him and know he didn't hate him.

"What?" Folken was leaning against the doorway.

"I mentioned it yesterday. In my books, I have one which I let no one read. It is the listing of the family healer's concoctions."

"Family healing...Herbal remedies?"

"Yes. My grandmother was a healer."

"I would appreciate being able to read it. But you know as well as I that herbal remedies are no longer accepted in Zaibach. It wouldn't do for me to be seen walking around with it."

"Read it here; read it in only your private chambers and carry it in one of those deep pockets. But that is not what I asked."

"What did you ask?" He thought back in their conversation before Sei could repeat his question. "Would it mean something..? I'm not sure...I never had any family secrets, and so I wouldn't know." Being royal, everyone knew the family business.

"Ah. Very well. If you find me so unpleasant, you can go then."

He didn't really wish to spend another sleepless night with nothing to think about but his conversations with Sei. "If you wouldn't mind, could I borrow the book? Or look at it here?"

"If you would admit that I like you, not hate you, I will let you read it. Otherwise, it would mean nothing to allow it."

"So, you don't hate me?" Even hearing it put so bluntly by Sei, Folken was unable to grasp the idea quickly. He stared at the physician for a moment. Why in the world didn't Sei hate him?

"Of course not."

"Well...I suppose you can't hate me too much if you don't want me to die. If you're so willing to annoy the hell out of me about it for five days..."

"You're the one that comes back knowing I'll bring it up."

Folken smiled. "I come back because at least you have something to say, even if half of it involves misguided attempts to make me a better person. That really is annoying, Sei."

"Ah. I find some of your habits annoying as well."

"Well, as long as we both find each other annoying, I suppose that means we get on fairly well." Folken was still too tired to be fully aware of what he was saying.

"That's one way to see it; especially as we are admitting to such annoyances." Folken had just admitted to getting along fairly well with him. This was something to be remembered.

"Could I see the book please?"

"Sure, book..." Sei dug it out of the cabinet, where it lay nestled on his box of the herbs many of the remedies needed.

Folken stepped back in the room. He decided to read it there, so that he could ask Sei questions about it when he had them.

"Here it is. Some of the ink is faded..."

The young scholar took it gently, as though it were sacred. He treated all written word in this manner. "That's fine." His reply was absentmindedly spoken as he sat down and began to read through the text, instantly becoming absorbed. Most amusing were the marginal notes from generation to generation, commenting on everything from the weather to the tonics themselves.

Sei brewed his morning pot of tea, expecting to share it with Folken. Once he realized that Folken wasn't even aware of his presence, he set to drinking the tea himself.

Folken didn't stop to take a break until he'd read it cover to cover. He set the newly read book down on the table. He looked...satiated... "Very interesting."

"I'm impressed. Few would read it in one sitting."

Folken smirked. "I'm not surprised at how many tea recipes there are in there. Oh, I usually read books that way. And I have always had an interest in plant life."

"This is true. But it's almost like reading a cookbook. Few people read every recipe unless they will use them."

"I doubt I'll have a chance to use them. I still enjoy reading." At this point, he'd enjoy reading anything, even the ever so dull inventory sheets for the mess hall or janitorial staff on the Vione.

"Any thoughts on it?"

"Your family must have a long tradition in medicine. It's no wonder you are such a good doctor, coming from a family like that." It didn't occur to Folken that he never complimented Sei before.

"Yes. It's something we pass down."

"Yes. I think it is, however, outdated."

"Oh?" Sei wasn't going to be offended. Yet. But he knew that these remedies were valid, and usually better than the chemical alternatives.

"At least, as far as a place like this is concerned." Folken thought for a moment.

"I am not encouraged to use them on my patients." Or permitted, for that matter.

"You know, that might be a good read for some of our soldiers."

"They are effective. And have fewer side effects than many 'proper' medications."

"The soldiers get lost in the field, wounded, and don't know what to do until they find some place friendly to Zaibach. But effective or not, we have trouble attaining the herbs needed for your medicines."

"I have them. We could have a greenhouse for growing more."

"We're very short on personnel. At least one person would have to tend that greenhouse. And you can't do it because you have so many patients." It was rare for Folken to see patients with them in the infirmary, but the fact was that the Vione remained too large a ship to have a doctor only part-time.

"You like plants."

"I do."

"And I might have fewer patients if we used this, so I could assist."

"It won't work."

"You could make it happen."

"No, I couldn't. E-" He tensed up, suddenly becoming just a tad bit angry. "It won't work." He spoke through grit teeth.

"Or you're afraid to try because you might be disappointed? You're already dying; how much worse could it get?"

"No. It has nothing to do with what I think." He sighed, shutting his eyes. "Emperor Dornkirk would never hear of such a thing."

"Have you asked before? Shown him the benefits, Strategos?"

He couldn't help but remember Sei talking about something very similar to this earlier. "I haven't. I already know he wouldn't permit it."

"What would he do if you ask?"

"Absolutely nothing."

"No harm then."

He looked at Sei, then rolled his eyes. "You're going to bother me about this until I do it, aren't you?"

Sei smiled. "What do you think?"

Folken stood up. "I'll tell you what happens." He picked up the book. "Mind if I borrow this?"

"You may."

"Thank you." He bowed and left to see Emperor Dornkirk. He returned half an hour later and handed the book back to Sei.

"Would you like some tea?" He set the book on the table.

Folken nodded. He sat down, saying nothing else.

Sei prepared the tea, bringing it to the table.

Folken stared at it, not drinking.

"Was it so terrible?"

Folken looked up at him, very annoyed. "Yes. He's now convinced once again that I've no vision for the future."

Sei sighed.

"I've worked hard to earn his respect, Sei. I really don't care to throw it away for things like this when I know that they won't do any good."

"We could do this anyhow. In our free-time."

"What? Grow herbs?"

"Yes. Ask around carefully for anyone wanting to learn how to use them; train them in their free-time."

"In case you didn't know, most everyone here hates me. If I go do something like that, word will spread around and I'll have to deal with more questioning of my loyalty to Zaibach."

"And everyone here doesn't trust me. But if I could recruit a messenger, it might work. You already have more than that to deal with. Or did you forget that you're dying?" Sei's reminder was not meant to be cruel, but to give the Strategos some perspective.

Folken leaned his forehead against his hand. His words emerged through grit teeth. "Why yes. Thanks for reminding me. Sei, do you have any idea how hard it has been for me to get along in this place? I do not want to start a new project like this."

"Why not, if it's doing something you actually enjoy?"

"Because I'll lose my place."

"Beg pardon?"

"Do you think it was easy to get where I am now? As I said, I'm hated. I'm a foreigner. I'm a traitor."

"And that means you can't have a hobby?"

"Not if I'm ordered not to do it. The Emperor told me not to do this."

"What if you just grew them for me, in your spare time, for me to use, no one else?" Sei didn't know why, but he wanted Folken to do this, to return to his former passion.

"I doubt someone wouldn't find out."

"And you don't want to risk it when you're so close to the end anyhow?"

"Right. Sei, listen to me. I don't have any motivation other than this job." He was just starting to repeat the same things...he was running thin on good arguments, or any argument at all.

"Open new doors then. I know you want to see plants again."

It had been hard to live inside barren walls all this time. Hard and cold.

"Grow them here, in quarantine. You come here already and no one ever goes in there."

He sat thoughtfully for a few minutes. He then looked Sei dead in the eyes. "I will not." Not he could not, but he would not.

"Why not?"

"Because loyalty comes at other times than when others can see."

Sei turned his back to Folken. "You have to be loyal to yourself too."

Folken rose from the chair. "I chose my loyalties long ago."

"And you died. Ghost-boy."

"Yes. You understand. Wonderful."

"That's all you are, a ghost...already gone." Sei couldn't look back at Folken. His emotions were running much too strong, despite the strong words.

"I don't have time for this."

"Oh?" The doctor kept his back to Folken, but looked over his shoulder.

"I don't have time for this." He shook his head.

"You know I'm not giving up."

"And you know I have no intention of giving in."

"You can't run away from yourself forever."

"Chase me down, then. Defeat me, if you will." He headed towards the door. "I don't care."

"That is your job. You do care."

"You're wrong."

"You wish you didn't."

Folken sighed and lowered his head.

"But that's why you come back." Sei doubted Folken could deny this anymore, at least to himself.

"Yes, I do. Sei, I've had quite enough of you for one day. I bid you good evening."

"Good evening. Sleep well, my friend."

"Sleep...If I sleep at all." The young man, exhausted to his very soul, held back a sigh.

"Yes."

Folken walked out the door, not sure if he would come back the next day.