[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: To Be Free, Part Two: All You Hold is Dust
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Aladdin (film, series, & sequels)
Characters: Aladdin, Jasmine, Mozenrath, Jafar, Genie, Sultan, Carpet, Iago, Rajah, Destane, Abu, Xerxes, Rasoul, Farouk
Word Count: 14,177
Rating: Hard PG
Pairing(s): Attempted Aladdin/Jasmine and Jasmine/Mozenrath
Warnings: Age differences (Jasmine is days away from being sixteen; Aladdin is eighteen and Mozenrath is twenty; not as bad as it could be but still not legal in the state of California), violence and the aftermath of violence, mind control, implications of technical child abuse (totally abusive, but the 'child' is an adult), implication of consent issues, and where in the last part I warned for 'Jafar,' in this part, I am warning for Jafar and Destane.

Author's Notes: And now we move from the establishment of a bittersweet adolescent friendship into the meat of the story. Just because Jasmine and Mozenrath met almost three years before the events of the movie doesn't mean that Jafar's plans to get ahold of a certain lamp ever got put on hold. Also, quick headcanon note: I consider Genie's name to be Genie but his species to be djinni. Don't know why my brain insists on that, but there you go.

Summary: In the four days before Princess Jasmine's marriage deadline, Aladdin finds Genie's lamp, Mozenrath defies his master, Jasmine keeps trying to come up with different options, Genie gets a master who promises to set him free, Jafar goes through at least three fool-proof plans, and nobody really gets what they want.

Act two of a three-act canon divergence story where Mozenrath and Jasmine met three years before the events of "Aladdin." Contains selected scenes of unchanged movie dialogue only where plot-relevant before veering off into different territory. Covers four days.




Most of Agrabah had impressed Achmed as he rode through the city; the marketplace bustled and thrived, the shops and homes along the main thoroughfare were in good repair, and the surprising majority of the peasants looked plump and well-fed.

The less said about that pair of urchins who had startled his horse and the street rat who had defended them, the better.

But the palace’s gates had closed on that insolent boy, leaving Achmed with more pressing-- and pleasant-- things to think about.

The vizier Jafar was an imposing man, for all he also looked lean and brittle enough to break over one knee. He had that pinched scholar’s look to him, one who hefted scrolls instead of a sword, consumed words instead of bread. If Achmed’s courtship of the Princess were obstructed in any way, it would come from this man, and his calculating nature.

It certainly wouldn’t come from the Sultan Ahmed, a soft old man so kindly and welcoming that it was obvious why he needed such a prickly vizier.

He was treated to a feast at which the Princess did not appear, but her praises were sung. Her beauty, her singing voice, her intelligence, her way with wild animals. The vizier kept murmuring close to the Sultan’s ear, only to be shushed and brushed off-- which he took with a shrug every time, occasionally offering the brilliantly-colored parrot perched on his shoulder a slice of fruit.

How did the man keep his robes so clean if his pet even accompanied him to meals?

But there was more to wonder, of course-- why they seemed reluctant to introduce him to the Princess, for one thing. Rumor had it that Jasmine of Agrabah was beautiful but notoriously difficult to please, that scores of princess had tried to win her hand and failed, not because the Sultan had objected, but because the Princess had declined. Ridiculous rumors, certainly, but it was beyond odd how no one asked Achmed why he had arrived in Agrabah with no retinue, no retainers, no honor guard. Oh, certainly, Jafar asked him a few personal questions, almost more protective of the girl than her father was.

Achmed was beginning to suspect that Jasmine of Agrabah, whose marriage would net the lucky husband the throne of one plump peach of a kingdom, was not quite as beautiful as advertised-- a harelip, perhaps, or a girl who had been born beautiful but had become disfigured somehow.

It hardly mattered. In a year or three, when he had fulfilled his obligation to produce a male heir of Agrabah’s royal line with the girl, he could start looking for a second wife, and leave Jasmine to whatever harem amusements she liked best.

After the feast, he was ushered off to a richly-appointed guest room that he inspected and admired for some time before settling in to sleep. The upholstery was plush, the fabrics fine-- the sheer curtains silk, not linen. Agrabah was fat and prosperous, and the position of Crown Prince waited eagerly to be filled. He had been promised a private meeting with the Princess the next morning, after breakfast.

Achmed settled to sleep weighing questions in his mind. Why hadn’t Agrabah fallen into anyone else’s hands? What, exactly, was wrong with Princess Jasmine?

After breakfast-- dozens of options on offer, brought to his room for him to choose among them-- Achmed was escorted to one of the palace gardens and discovered that Jasmine certainly suffered from no lack of beauty. Her hair was black, lustrous, and thick, her skin smooth and unmarked (and a good deal of it exposed by the delicately-dyed silk she wore), her figure a sweet and feminine balance, neither fat nor too thin. She was adorned modestly, even though she wasn’t dressed modestly, ears and throat weighted with smooth gold, a jewel pinned to the band in her hair, and a gold signet ring on her index finger. Her face was exquisite, though there was a certain glitter in her eyes that was unladylike. Still, he could appreciate why she wasn’t draped in embroidery and glittering jewels; they would have distracted. Jasmine, like the sapphire above her brow, was a jewel that shone brightest in a simple setting. She moved with grace, more elegant than the sculpted lines of the fountain behind her, and her voice was as warm as honeyed wine when she greeted him.

A prize, a plum, a peach as ripe as the city, and Achmed was in the perfect position to reach out and pluck.

He didn’t even notice the tiger until Jasmine said, “And this is Rajah.”

The beast was enormous, but lounging like a housecat in the sun-- though he looked up at the sound of his name, watching Achmed with the suspicious nature of all felines. “Ah, an Indian prince,” he said, deciding to let the Princess know that her future husband was not un-worldly. “Namaste,” he told the tiger, with a little mock-bow.

It earned him a hopeful-looking smile from the Princess. “Tell me about your kingdom, Prince Achmed?” she asked, settling on the rim of the fountain.

And so they spoke, for a while, about kingdoms, about how Agrabah compared to his own country, about his brothers a little-- though he made sure to mention his own finest exploits most often-- and when Achmed grew thirsty, Jasmine signaled a servant girl to bring them water. The girl brought a tray bearing two full goblets and a pitcher, but as she bowed to them, one of the goblets wobbled and fell.

The girl stammered out, “A thousand apologies,” as though that were good enough, and Jasmine-- Jasmine, the princess!-- reached to relieve the girl of her tray, as she obviously couldn’t be counted on to carry anything whatsoever.

Well, he would just have to show Jasmine he knew how to deal with servants who failed to serve well enough. “Clumsy wretch,” and it really wasn’t much of a slap, but the brass tray clattered to the ground, water splashing to waste all over the polished paving stones.

“How dare you,” Jasmine spat, standing between him and the girl.

“She clearly has no idea how to balance even a simple load, and shouldn’t be permitted in the company of royalty, much less allowed to serve them.”

“She was doing her job, and had an accident-- how dare you touch her?”

“She is a servant,” Achmed said, as patiently as he could. Really, a soft heart was fine, in an appropriate context…

“She is not your servant,” Jasmine said, still standing between Achmed and the cowering water-girl, fire in her eyes that might have been enticing in the bedroom, but obviously she needed a strong husband to show her when it was and wasn’t appropriate to unleash that fire.

“She will be,” Achmed reminded.

“No,” the Princess said, as darkly as the vizier had muttered anything at last night’s feast, “she won’t,” and behind Jasmine, the water-girl’s eyes grew wide-- she snatched up the last goblet even if she had to reach awkwardly to get it, shoved everything onto the tray, and ran as though demons chased after her.

“Your father wants me for his heir,” Achmed was sure of that. “That will be enough to see us wed, and after that? I will see you gentled, Princess.”

Jasmine met his gaze, her eyes dark and hard as flint-- and then she smiled, almost lazily. She took a graceful step away from Achmed, and called out in a sing-song that had a certain… off-kilter edge to it. “Rajah?”

The tiger stopped sniffing at the spilled water, looking up expectantly at the sound of his name.

The Princess pointed to Achmed, silently.

Achmed’s world narrowed very quickly to the sound of a massive tiger’s growl.

~*~


When the sun rose in an hour or two, it would be two days until Jasmine’s sixteenth birthday, and Jasmine wasn’t going to wait any longer.

Her father wasn’t looking for a sultan, now-- he was looking for a security blanket, someone who could ‘take care’ of Jasmine-- provide for her, even though Jasmine knew full well there was enough gold in the treasury to provide for her for a hundred years without any of it being missed. He wouldn’t extend the deadline, he wouldn’t repeal the law-- Jasmine was trapped. Jasmine had accepted she’d never be allowed to rule Agrabah almost as soon as the thought crossed her mind, but she had to be able to rule herself.

She left no note, no hint of where she was going. She didn’t dare take much with her-- the long caftan and headscarf were brown and plain, and underneath she hid what jewelry she carried with her. Little earrings she hadn’t worn since she was a child and a few bangles seemed like the sort of thing that could easily be sold, but she also took the delicate little bangles Mozenrath had made for her fourteenth birthday-- those would remain hers-- and on a chain around her neck, hidden where no one could see, she kept the signet ring he’d given her last year.

He’d be able to find her no matter where she was on her birthday, Jasmine was sure. Three years ago, she hadn’t been ready to run away forever, but now? Now, she could accept that if she wanted any part of her life for herself, she’d have to fight for it, and leave the gilded cage behind.

Leaving Rajah was the hardest part. She couldn’t take him with her-- she had no way to hide a tiger, or to feed one. Her heart broke for him as she made her way through the city, still dim in the pre-dawn light, but growing ever brighter, blue to gray to gold.

The sun was up and bright by the time Jasmine reached the marketplace-- and though she didn’t forget her troubles, they were easy to momentarily put aside in the face of a thousand new sights, sounds, and smells. Vendors called out to tempt her to buy pots, sweets, necklaces, whatever they had. The fish vendor startled her with enough force and volume to collide with a fire-eater, knocking her headscarf askew but luckily, not burning anyone, and a little child who couldn’t quite reach a display of apples caught her eye. “You must be hungry.” Jasmine could easily remember the frustration of being a little too little to reach what you wanted to have, and handed the boy an apple easily. “Here you go.”

Then she turned away, assuming the boy could manage to buy his own breakfast, even if he couldn’t reach it.

Apparently, she’d assumed wrong.

“You’d better be able to pay for that,” said a dark voice behind her.

“… Pay?” Jasmine turned to look at the apple-seller-- a mountain of a man, with a sword entirely too large to defend an apple cart tucked into his belt.

The boy was gone, vanished into thin air.

No one steals from my cart,” the man growled.

And Jasmine didn’t have any coin-- she’d never had money of her own, and seriously doubted she could offer to barter a gold earring for a single apple without question. “I’m sorry-- there’s been a misunderstanding--”

Thief!” He grabbed Jasmine’s arm with a hand the size of Rajah’s paws-- and drew his sword.

And the crowd’s attention.

“Please-- if you--” well, how much choice did she have-- “If you let me go to the palace, the Sultan can--”

But the man was having none of it, slamming her right arm down on his cart-- which was, Jasmine noted with unwanted clarity, much-scarred. “Do you know what the penalty is for stealing?” How did the sword make a sound like that without a scabbard?

“No! Please!” Two hours, two hours of freedom, and it was going to end with a lost hand, and all Jasmine could see was the sword--

“Thank you, kind sir!” someone interjected, too loudly, and Jasmine blinked. “I’m so glad you found her.” It was… a boy. A peasant boy, obviously, about Mozenrath’s age, between her and the merchant, carefully twisting the sword from his grasp (which he somehow managed to hand to Jasmine), shaking his hand-- and then whirling on Jasmine, sternly saying, “I’ve been looking all over for you.” He grabbed her upper arms, gently, and started steering her down the street.

The sword fell to the sand, forgotten, and Jasmine whispered, heart pounding, “What are you doing?” She’d never seen the boy before in her life. Not that she minded the rescue, but… as rescues went, it was a confusing one.

“Just play along,” the boy hissed back.

The apple seller’s massive hand set down heavily on the boy’s shoulder. “You know this girl?”

“Sadly, yes,” the boy said, swiftly, easily. “She is my sister.” His voice dropped to a not-quite whisper, conspiratorial-- but just loud enough for Jasmine to hear him. “She’s a little crazy.”

… Really, crazy was the best he could do?

“She said she knew the sultan.” He was too suspicious and had the boy by the vest, now, whirling him away from Jasmine. She could run, but then he’d just have a new victim to bully.

But the boy laughed it off and murmured, “She thinks the monkey is the Sultan.”

… And sure enough, there was of all things a monkey standing near the front of the crowd, inspecting someone’s loosely-hanging purse.

So Jasmine played along. “O, Wise Sultan!” she said, dropping to her knees, hands raised high before falling into the deepest, most supplicating salaam she could manage, ridiculously exaggerated, “How may I serve you?”

The monkey chattered, adorably imperious, and patted her on the head. Jasmine tried not to giggle hysterically into the sand. (Or inhale too deeply. The sand smelled fairly strongly of camel.)

“No harm done,” the boy told the seller-- had he given him a coin? Jasmine couldn’t see from where she was. Suddenly there was a hand at her shoulder, another at her waist, helping her up-- normal-sized hands, and the boy’s voice close to her ear. “Come along, sis, time to see the doctor.”

Keeping her face smiling and vacant, Jasmine greeted a camel, “Oh, hello, doctor, how are you?” as they passed. Play along.

“No, no, no, not that one. Come on, Sultan,” the boy called to his monkey.

The monkey chattered to the crowd, and bowed-- his laden little vest spilling out a necklace, a few coins, and what looked like five or six apples out onto the ground. His attention attracted by the jingling, the merchant turned in time to see the monkey snatch up what he could carry-- and the boy dragged Jasmine, who couldn’t help laughing, not now-- away from the marketplace at a run.

Freedom was terrifying, and unexpectedly dangerous.

But she wanted it.

~*~


Aladdin had met a lot of girls. Aladdin had flirted with a lot of girls. But Aladdin had never met anyone like her before.

She was beautiful-- more than beautiful. She was somehow some sort of extra-beautiful, her skin almost seeming to glow, and her hands were so soft. Her laugh was like water, her eyes warm and soft, her smile brilliant… and she kept up with him. Most of the day he’d been as easy on her as he could be-- he wasn’t stupid, she was no peasant girl, not even a rich merchant’s daughter, no matter how soft her hands were. Somebody had carefully kept this girl away from the world all her life, confusing ignorance and innocence, and apparently today had been the day she’d gotten sick of it and run off.

It was Aladdin’s lucky day.

So he went easy, as long as he could, showing her around Agrabah, listening to her explain that she honestly thought a little barefoot beggar boy could afford to buy apples from Farouk’s cart.

She asked him why people stole food. “I can understand why people would steal money,” she admitted. “Right now, I wish I had some of my own. But if the penalty for being caught stealing one apple is losing your hand, why not just…”

“Steal enough money to buy the apples?”

She nodded. “If you could lose a hand for it, why steal something so small?”

“It’s… well, it’s a little bit about who you’re willing to hurt,” Aladdin said. “Farouk and Omar, the fruit merchants? I know they can afford to lose a couple apples or melons. A loaf of bread from a prosperous baker isn’t going to make or break him. … And, honestly, neither will a couple of coins from a fat purse. But if you take the whole purse, that might not just spoil somebody’s morning or day, but their whole life. And honestly, it’s a lot safer to have the guards and the merchants mad at you-- who’ve got better things to do than worry about one little thief-- than the crowd.”

“And why is that?” She wasn’t objecting, or arguing morality-- she just wanted to know. It was flattering-- and fascinating.

“Rasoul and the other guards? They have to deal with every thief anyone spots, with every crime in the city. Once you lose them, you’re safe for the day.” Aladdin had plenty of experience with that. “Merchants? They can’t even go very far from where they’ve set up their carts chasing down a thief, or all the other thieves will rob them blind. But if you make the crowd laugh, if you make them root for the little guy--”

“Like you did today,” she concluded.

“Right. If you can do make them like you, they won’t chase after you, too. If you steal from somebody in the crowd, the whole crowd can get angry and start after you. And that… gets ugly fast.”

“I think I understand.”

She never complained about being hungry, and they still had a couple of Abu’s apples. When the sun started to set, Aladdin asked her if she had anywhere to stay tonight. When she said no, he offered his own home-- thinking she’d object, or say that it wasn’t proper. But his mystery girl-- he never asked for her name, she’d give it when she was ready-- was clearly up for another adventure. She smiled, and said she’d like that.

He was sure she could manage the route to his ruined tower, so he led her up to the nearest rooftop-- “Almost there.”

When she stumbled over the lip of the roof, cheek pressed against his chest, Aladdin couldn’t help inhaling-- her cheek was softer than her hands. She pulled away, blushing. “I want to thank you for stopping that man.”

Ah. A change of subject. “Forget it.” Farouk didn’t deserve to judge anybody, at the prices he charged. … But two could play at the subject-change game. “So, this was your first time in the marketplace, huh?” Vaulting from one roof to the next was as easy as grabbing a pole and getting a good running start-- and it might impress his mystery girl. For her, Aladdin found a heavy beam to settle between the buildings.

“… It’s really that obvious?

“You do kinda stand out,” he admitted-- and she blushed. “I mean, uh-- you don’t seem to know how dangerous Agrabah can be.” Although she’d found out, first-hand-- and she was willing to learn. He leaned down to steady the beam, to make sure it was safe enough for her to cross-- and something whooshed over his head.

The girl stood behind him, smiling and sly. “I’m a fast learner,” she assured Aladdin, and tossed him her pole.

He handed it off to Abu, and moved to take her hand. “Come on. This way.”

She was incredible.

He led her to the tower, showing her where to watch her step and when to duck in the gloom-- and she agreed that coming and going as they pleased sounded fabulous.

“It’s not much,” Aladdin admitted, gathering up the tattered curtain in one hand, “but it’s got a great view.”

The sunset lit the city in warm red, edging onto violet, the palace at the end of the main street gleaming like an oasis, the white stone glowing pink, the golden domes glistening. “The palace looks pretty amazing, huh?”

“Oh… it’s wonderful.” She sounded a little distant.

“I wonder what it would be like to live there-- to have servants, valets…”

“Sure, people who tell you where to go and how to dress,” his mystery girl concluded.

She was definitely a rich man’s daughter. “That’s better than here.” He grabbed an apple from Abu. “You’re always scraping for food and ducking the guards.”

“You’re not free to make your own choices,” his mystery girl countered.

But he wasn’t quite listening. “Sometimes you feel so… trapped,” but the last word had been in chorus.

… She was trapped, too-- or had been. She was trying to change that. “So…” Conversation. It was hard to think with her smiling at him like that. He passed her an apple, rolling it down his arm, tossing it off his elbow “Where are you from?” She caught the apple, handily.

“What does it matter?” she said, lightly, shrugging. “I ran away, and I’m not going back.”

Aladdin passed his apple to Abu, willing to share (and unaware that Abu had other ideas about portion size). “Really? How come?”

“My father’s forcing me to get married,” she admitted.

“That’s…” Well, it was sad, but it wasn’t an unusual thing for a girl to be upset with her father about. On the other hand… this girl? His mystery girl, married to some… fat rich man? Untouchable? “That’s awful,” Aladdin concluded, sincerely.

And a furry monkey paw snuck around his mystery girl’s hip, reaching for her apple. “Abu!”

There were moments Aladdin could swear he understood Abu, and even if this wasn’t one of the moments when his chattering sounded almost like speech, his body language and bared teeth and the way he swarmed up Aladdin and around his shoulders like a sandstorm made of spiders made it pretty plain that… well, he wanted his own apple, and he was pretty frustrated at not getting one.

Aladdin’s mystery girl, on the other hand, clearly hadn’t learned to speak Monkey in the day she’d known them. “What’s wrong?”

“Uh--” He should probably tell her to hand over the apple before somebody got bitten. “Abu says, uh--” And then, like lightning, inspiration struck. “Abu says that’s not fair.”

From the indignant mutter, Abu understood that Aladdin was translating… liberally.

“Oh, really?” Apparently, so did the girl. “And does Abu have anything else to say?”

Aladdin shifted closer. “He wishes there were something he could do to help,” he offered.

“Mm.” She drew up next to him, meeting his eyes-- with something like hope deep in hers. It was beautiful on her. “Tell him that’s very… sweet.”

She was incredible. Smart, funny, kind. More beautiful than any girl he’d ever seen. And she was leaning up toward him, eyes closed, lips parted, and as Aladdin leaned down just close enough to feel her breath against his lips, the guard Fasal bellowed “Here you are!”

~*~


The guards, apparently, could have been after either of them-- but Jasmine was so sure her father had sent them--

“Do you trust me?” the boy asked her, perched on the edge of his ‘window’ onto the city and the palace.

“… What?” The guards were hacking their way through the obstacle course of his stairs, and he was asking about her trust?

“Do you trust me?” he repeated, stretching out his hand for hers.

“Ye-es,” she allowed, slipping her hand into his while Abu scrambled up to cling to his shoulder.

“Then jump!” and Jasmine had just enough time to shriek and wonder if she’d been insane to trust her thief, pulled out the window and falling through the air-- through the great hole in a broken dome, through an awning that slowed their fall, and onto a heap of loose sand. The boy pulled her to her feet immediately and towed her toward fading sunlight at the door-- and ran full-force into Rasoul’s not inconsiderable bulk.

The captain of the guard closed his hand around the boy’s throat. “We just keep running into each other, don’t we, street rat?”

Abu shoved Rasoul’s turban down over his eyes, shrieking as the boy elbowed Rasoul in the stomach.

While Rasoul scrambled to get Abu off of him, and shove his turban back into place, the boy grabbed her hand again-- “Run! Go! Get out of here!” but the doorway was blocked by four other guards-- Jasmine wasn’t sure of their names, and before they could find another way out, Rasoul had tossed Abu-- somewhere-- that poor monkey-- and snatched Aladdin’s vest as they passed.

“It’s the dungeons for you, boy,” he announced, tossing him to the rest of the guards.

Jasmine couldn’t let that happen, latching onto Rasoul’s arm and hitting him… entirely ineffectually. “Let him go,” she demanded, hoping her tone would at least buy them a moment or two. … It worked on Rajah.

Rasoul just laughed, called her a ‘street mouse,’ and tossed her aside like she didn’t weigh anything at all.

She didn’t know how to fight, but she knew how to fall, and how to get right back to her feet. “Unhand him,” she said, with all the weight and dignity she was capable of, “by order of the Princess.”

She’d remember how immediately Rasoul’s manner changed when she whipped off her headscarf for the rest of her life. “Princess Jasmine! What are you doing outside the palace? And with this street rat?” He sounded so worried, so confused, almost paternal-- but he was still talking down to her, as though he hadn’t just treated her like a street rat.

“Your only concern, Captain, is that I just gave you a command you are not following,” Jasmine said. “Release him.

“I would, Princess,” Rasoul said, and Jasmine wasn’t sure where ‘don’t upset the little girl’ stopped and ‘this woman could have me executed’ began, but there were traces of both in his voice. “Except my orders come from Jafar. You’ll have to take it up with him.”

And as the guards towed the boy away-- the petty thief, yes, but the petty thief who’d saved her hand-- Jasmine vowed that she’d do just that.

It took longer than she expected to get back to the palace-- she couldn’t just climb the wall again, and there were gatekeepers and sentries who had to be shown her face and her signet before they’d let her pass. She stopped long enough to strip her headscarf and caftan away before storming into the anteroom of Jafar’s apartments, calling his name.

He was, for some reason, standing against the far wall. “Princess. How may I be of service to you?”

And he bowed strangely, flaring out his cape. Well, who knew why Jafar did anything? “The guards just took a boy from the market-- on your orders.” It came out as an accusation.

“Your father has charged me with keeping peace in Agrabah,” Jafar said, mildly. … So, Jasmine had just effectively accused him of doing his job. “The boy was a criminal.”

She knew that, and Rasoul knew that, but why would Jafar have any interest at all in a petty thief? “What was his crime?” What had drawn the Royal Vizier’s interest?

“Why, kidnapping the princess, of course,” Jafar explained, as though he shouldn’t have to explain.

Distantly, Jasmine thought she heard Iago squawking, distressed, but the bird’s welfare was secondary right now. “No one kidnapped me,” she informed Jafar, “I ran away.” And it sounded childish when she put it like that, but it wasn’t nearly so important as freeing the boy.

Childish or not, it shocked Jafar. “Oh. Dear.” He stepped away from the wall, toward the sofa, a hand worrying at his jaw, Jasmine trailing behind him. “Oh, how… frightfully upsetting-- had I but known…”

… Upsetting. To Jafar. What had they done to the boy? “What do you mean?”

“Sadly, the boy’s sentence has already been carried out,” Jafar informed her, soberly.

Jasmine felt small, and cold. They thought he’d kidnapped her. And the sentence for stealing a single apple-- whether you realized you were helping to steal it or not-- was the loss of a hand-- which could, apparently, be done in the marketplace, by your accuser, without so much as a guard’s intervention. “What… was his sentence?”

“Death,” and Jafar’s voice was like an icy wind. “By beheading.”

For a moment, Jasmine couldn’t see anything but the boy. His kind eyes, his sly smile, the fall of his hair. The way she could tell he thought she was beautiful, but behaved respectfully anyway. The slip of his shoulder as he rolled that apple through the air toward her-- and the way he’d put himself between Jasmine and danger, every time it rose up in front of her.

She sat, and was grateful there was something behind her to sit on.

Jafar murmured something obviously meant to be soothing-- she only caught the particular way he pronounced “Princess,” the feel of his spidery fingers wrapping around her shoulders.

“How could you?” Tears she didn’t know had been threatening started to spill, so Jasmine did the only thing she could think to do-- she ran.

Ultimately, she found herself in the garden, weeping into the peacock fountain. Heavy footsteps padded up behind her, and Rajah nudged at her arm. “This is all my fault,” she told him, knowing all the tiger really understood was that his mistress was unhappy. “I didn’t even know his name.” She wrapped her arms around the tiger’s neck, burying her face in his fur, soaking up his warmth.

She didn’t hear the rustle of movement behind her until a hand-- smooth, not quite warm, and familiar-- settled on her shoulder. “Would you like me to try and find out?” Mozenrath asked, gently.

~*~


The first thing he did was not the first thing he’d planned to do. The first thing Mozenrath did was just hold Jasmine for a long few moments as she clung to him, as though her unhappiness could drown her and he could keep her afloat.

When she seemed a little steadier, he moved all four of them-- Jasmine, himself, Xerxes, and even the great bulk that was Rajah-- to Jasmine’s balcony. She let him lead her into her room, but the sight of the peasant clothes on her divan made her burst into fresh tears. “I saw you with him in his home,” Mozenrath told her, diplomatically avoiding calling it a hovel. “I watched everything from there, but I could only follow you. I’m so sorry.”

She’d liked the boy-- she’d damn near kissed him. Even if it would have driven him mad with jealousy, Mozenrath wouldn’t have abandoned the boy to a beheading he could’ve stopped, not if Jasmine wanted him.

“They thought he kidnapped me,” Jasmine managed. “He saved me. He saved me, Mozenrath, and that got him killed-- I wish that merchant had just taken my hand!”

He held her tight, not at all certain what else to do-- Jasmine’s heart had broken, and his felt torn apart. “Tell me,” he said, after a moment, settling next to her on the divan. “Tell me about him. Tell me about your day with him.” His arm around her back, Xerxes wrapped around her shoulders, Rajah’s head tucked against her hip-- Jasmine was surrounded by every living creature she might call a friend-- barring, perhaps, a monkey that Mozenrath had lost track of.

Jasmine began, haltingly at first, telling the story of why she’d run-- which Mozenrath had expected, because certainly Jasmine trying to escape should convince the Sultan to at least postpone the deadline-- of how marvelous she found the marketplace, of the apple that had nearly gotten her mutilated and the shirtless, handsome peasant boy who smelled like monkey and saved her hand. She told Mozenrath about seeing the city from ground level, about seeing it with her young thief, what he’d shown her about Agrabah’s people-- and Agrabah’s laws. About how he was quite possibly the lowest peasant in the city-- but had treated her with respect every single moment. The tears started again when she admitted, “There were moments when he reminded me of you, so much…”

It was like being stabbed. He’d watched, magically, as Jasmine had nearly kissed her monkey-scented street thief… who reminded her of Mozenrath. “Did he? How so?”

“His hands,” she told him, quietly. “How he was always gentle when he touched me. And his-- the way he teased. He had this… wryness.”

“A pity he wasn’t a prince in disguise,” and why had he said that?

“If any prince had treated me the way that boy did, the odds are good I might be married,” Jasmine agreed. “It wasn’t how he looked, or that he saved me-- it was how he treated me. Like a person, with respect and humor… the way you…”

“Jasmine…” He had to stop her. There were things they’d never discussed, and now, when she was so upset, when she was struggling to bear up under the loss of someone who might have been-- well, what could her father do if she ran off and married a peasant boy, besides have the peasant boy killed? But it wasn’t the time. Not now. She wasn’t in any condition to hear why he wasn’t in any position to play her Prince Charming-- not now.

But she was looking up at him, her eyes damp but knowing-- and infinitely sad. “I understand,” she assured him. “I’ve always understood. It’s only… now I know…”

“What?” Prompting, not astonished. It ached, to know he hadn’t been alone in those idle daydreams, the life he could plan and plan that would never truly exist.

But it wasn’t an ache he’d trade away.

“It’s something about the princes,” she concluded. “The suitors. It isn’t me. There’s nothing wrong with me-- there are men in the world who can…” Jasmine trailed off, tucking her head against his shoulder, cradled against the stiffened upward sweep.

“Who have enough sense to make sure of their welcome,” he concluded, quietly.

“Mm,” and it was a small, agreeable sound, and Mozenrath risked settling his cheek against Jasmine’s hair for just a moment.

Really, the only remotely fair thing to do would be to make sure Jasmine’s future husband knew about the humble peasant boy who had saved the Princess, who had made such an impression on her. As long as the husband had a ghost to be jealous of, Mozenrath might not lose his mind to being jealous of the husband. For so long, Jasmine had been his alone in so many ways, and today, taking her first steps into the world, Jasmine had managed to stumble into the arms of someone else who was…

… Well, who was at least as worthy of her as Mozenrath was. At least as a peasant, he wouldn’t have the princely assumption that everything he wanted would be handed to him on a silver platter.

No.

Wouldn’t have had.

“I’m sorry he’s lost,” Mozenrath said, softly. “I could have-- I would have given him enough to keep you. Enough to get the two of you started somewhere, at least.”

“Mozenrath…” It was barely a whisper.

But he would have. He had an allowance, after all (even if it wasn’t a regular allotment as much as mentioning he could use a bit of money and being told to help himself, but don’t buy another blasted griffin egg), and he could think of no better use for it. “I don‘t want to encourage you to run off and find another hero, but… all things considered, if you do find a husband you want to keep, I will support your choice.” The boy could have made her happy.

Jasmine wrapped her arms around him, holding tight for a long moment-- only to stiffen suddenly at the sound of a knock on the door, and her father calling, “Jasmine?”

They leapt into silent, terrified action, Mozenrath gesturing for Rajah to stay and Jasmine shifting Xerxes from her shoulders to Mozenrath’s, and Mozenrath tugging Jasmine to cover his body’s warm spot on the divan-- Jasmine pulled her feet up to cover her own and pulled Rajah’s head to rest on them as Mozenrath and Xerxes fled for a drapery-covered, deeply-shadowed corner of the room.

“Jasmine?” the Sultan called again-- this time opening the door. The sudden fear drained from Jasmine’s face as she turned to look at her father, and the tears started again. “… Oh, dearest. What’s wrong?”

“Father,” she managed. “Jafar has done… something terrible.”

“… There, there, my child,” he told her, gentle and encouraging, “we’ll set it right.” The old man-- obviously, obviously more familiar with how to comfort someone than Mozenrath was-- delicately chucked Jasmine’s chin, and settled on the edge of the divan next to her. “Now. Tell me everything.”

And having rehearsed it all with Mozenrath, she did.

~*~


“Jafar, this is an outrage,” the Sultan declared, and Jafar found himself loathing the man even more than he had the day before. “If not for all your years of faithful service-- from now on, you are to discuss the sentencing of prisoners with me-- before they are beheaded!”

“I assure you, Your Highness, it won’t happen again,” Jafar told the fat, blustering fool, bowing. If he’d had the blasted boy in front of him at that moment, he would have beaten him to a pulp with his staff, damn the legality and damn the Princess‘s delicate sensibilities, too.

But it seemed to satisfy the Sultan. “Jasmine,” he said, reaching out for her hand, then gathering up one of Jafar‘s hands, as well, “Jafar. Now, let’s put this whole messy business behind us. Please?”

“My most abject and humblest apologies to you as well, Princess,” Jafar offered, and moved to kiss the girl’s hand.

Jasmine snatched it away. “At least some good will come of my being forced to marry,” she spat. “When I am Queen, I will have the power to get rid of you.” She turned on her heel and flounced off.

The Sultan hadn’t watched that part-- looked as though he were trying to keep his temper, in fact. “That’s all settled, then. Now, Jasmine, getting back to this suitor business-- Jasmine? … Jasmine!”

As the useless old man dashed off after his impossible, intractable daughter, Jafar’s courteous smile melted into a snarl. “If only I’d gotten that lamp!

Iago’s imitation of Jasmine was nearly perfect, only slightly too dainty, too feminine. “‘I will have the power to get rid of you.’” Generally, the Princess didn’t punctuate her threats with inarticulate grumbles, either. “To think we gotta keep kissing up to that chump and his chump daughter for the rest of our lives!”

Jafar made his way onto the balcony, watching the Sultan plead with his recalcitrant offspring at the fountain. “No, Iago,” he countered, “only until she finds a chump husband. Then she’ll have us banished.” A week ago, he might have said ‘dismissed,’ but then a week ago, he hadn’t told the Princess he’d had her commoner sweetheart-- oh dear. “Or beheaded.”

Iago’s reaction to that was no more pleased than Jafar’s-- but while Jafar dwelled on the image of it, Iago began babbling. “Oh! Wait a minute, wait a minute! Jafar! What if you were the chump husband?”

“What?” Perhaps it came out excessively cross. Perhaps the spell that elevated Iago’s intelligence was unraveling, and he was starting to regurgitate phrases.

“Okay, you marry the Princess, all right? And then you become the Sultan,” or, the bird could just be thinking out loud, but there was a certain… elegance to the plan.

“Marry the shrew,” he mused, heading back into the throne room, “I become sultan.” He settled on the cushion of the great elephant throne, stroking a hand over the ball on one tusk. “The idea has… merit.” True, Jasmine would never make a bearable wife, but that was what harems-- and sturdy locks, and loyal, well-paid guards-- were for.

“Yes!” Iago agreed, “Merit, yes. And then? We drop Papa-in-Law and The Little Woman off a cliff.” To illustrate, he dove from the head of Jafar’s staff to crash-land on the runner-- a fitting red. “Kersplat!”

Jafar couldn’t help chuckling. It wasn’t the lamp-- it didn’t bring with it two more wishes, backed by the reality-altering power of a djinni-- but he didn’t have the lamp, and perhaps surprisingly for a plan cooked up on the spur of the moment by a parrot, Iago’s plan was workable. It could, if he were clever, net him the throne. And who better than the Sultan’s most loyal and trusted advisor to pore over the legal scrolls and find an obscure solution to the poor Princess’s looming deadline? All he had to do was convince the Sultan that it was perfectly legal and acceptable for the Royal Vizier, who already acted with all the untouchable authority of the Sultan himself, to step forward and accept the responsibility of marrying an otherwise unmarriageable sole female heir. And after that? Two little murders followed by absolute freedom. “I love the way your foul little mind works!”

~*~


Not that Aladdin knew anything about wishes, or the limits of a djinni’s power, or even a whole lot about royal spectacles, but he was pretty sure no one in the world had ever seen anything quite like ‘Prince Ali Ababwa’s’ grand parade along Agrabah’s high street. He’d never seen anything like it, and he was the one riding on an elephant, shaking hands, blowing kisses, and tossing gold coins to the crowd. (Coins Genie promised him wouldn’t disappear. The massive retinue would vanish when they weren’t needed, but part of being a prince, a spectacular wish-granted prince with a good shot of getting Princess Jasmine’s attention and winning her heart, was being fabulously wealthy-- and tossing coins to the crowd that disappeared later wasn’t the kind of prince Aladdin wanted to pretend to be.)

He smiled, he waved, he watched Genie flit through the crowd, taking on different shapes to sing Prince Ali’s praises and tell about his exploits-- a fat merchant, an old man, a little child-- easily convincing people that everyone had heard of Prince Ali, this just happened to be the first time anyone had mentioned him to them. Prince Ali Ababwa was world famous.

Aladdin had never been the center of so much positive attention before.

… Okay, some of it could’ve been the things Genie had come up with to include in the parade. It just kept going and going and Aladdin was half-convinced some of the scale of the ‘make me a prince’ wish was just Genie getting back into practice after so long-- seeing what he could do, or maybe showing off for the master who’d promised to set him free. There were stilt walkers and golden camel statues and men with bells and men with banners, dancing girls, a rolling platform covered in peacocks-- purple peacocks-- and women to sing about them, there were monkeys and sword jugglers and even Abu, who wasn’t all that thrilled with the whole ‘elephant’ thing, had gotten into the spirit, marching to the beat of the music.

Aladdin was feeling pretty good about himself-- himself as Prince Ali, anyway-- when they paraded into the throne room. Genie disappeared under his turban during a flourish in the music, and some man dressed in black shooed ‘Ali’s’ retainers back out the door, but Aladdin stood as boldly as he could on Carpet, who carried him swiftly down from Abu’s back right in front of the Sultan’s massive, golden, elephant-headed throne. (So, elephant: good call, Genie.) Aladdin bowed, deeply, and the Sultan?

The Sultan applauded, delighted. “Splendid!” he declared, “Absolutely marvelous!”

Aladdin had this one in the bag. He cleared his throat, dropping his register to sound… a little older, a little more heroic, and hopped down off of Carpet. “Your Majesty, I have journeyed from afar to seek your daughter’s hand.”

“Prince Ali Ababwa, of course,” the Sultan agreed, dashing forward, vigorously shaking Aladdin’s hand. “I’m delighted to meet you. This is my Royal Vizier, Jafar, he’s delighted, too,” and the Sultan stepped aside to introduce the darkly-dressed man, who was tall, thin, carried a cobra-headed staff that also looked to be made of gold (well, maybe gold-leafed wood, but still), and had a parrot on his shoulder.

Neither Jafar nor his parrot looked particularly delighted, and the vizier greeted ‘Ali’ with the single most unenthusiastic, “Ecstatic,” Aladdin had ever heard. “I’m afraid, Prince Abooboo--”

“Ababwa,” Aladdin corrected, graciously, bowing-- the plume on his turban catching Jafar right in the nose.

… Oops.

Jafar waved the feather-- and the correction-- off. “Whatever. You cannot just parade in here, uninvited, and expect to--”

“By Allah,” the Sultan piped up-- from the floor, where he knelt, prodding at Carpet, “this is quite a remarkable device.” In answer to being prodded, Carpet tweaked the Sultan’s mustache. (Aladdin hoped rugs couldn’t be tried for affronting the Sultan’s person.) Luckily, the Sultan didn’t seem to take offense. “I don’t suppose I might, ah…” He trailed off, then simply pointed.

Up. “Hm?” The Sultan looked up at Aladdin with a hopeful smile and childlike eyes.

And, honestly, Carpet was probably one of the more responsible, level-headed (metaphorically speaking) people Aladdin had ever met. If he were going to trust the health and safety of a head of state to any friend of his, Carpet would top the list. “Why, certainly, Your Majesty. Allow me?”

Not that it took much of a leg-up to get a rather short man onto a rather low-floating carpet.

And then Jafar-- whose staff was metal all the way through, the way it struck against the marble floor-- basically stabbed Carpet with the thing, pinning him down. “Sire, I must advise against this.”

Before Aladdin could assure Jafar that a Carpet ride was entirely safe, the Sultan defended himself. “Oh, button up, Jafar. Learn to have a little fun!” He kicked the staff away and he and Carpet were off.

Way off, hurtling around the room at ‘escape the Cave of Wonders’ speeds, the Sultan laughing all the while, even as they darted under Abu’s belly. Aladdin kept an eye on them-- until the vizier stepped up again. “Just… where did you say you were from?” he asked, as low and dangerous as any shopkeeper’s ‘You were planning to pay for the merchandise you slipped into your pants, weren’t you, young man?’

The trouble was, Genie hadn’t actually given ‘Prince Ali’ a country. The trappings of princedom were easy, but while Genie assured Aladdin that yes, he absolutely was a genuine prince of somewhere (or something), Genie had no idea where. For all Aladdin knew, he was Prince of the Tiny Oasis where he’d made his first wish.

So he faked it. “Oh, much farther than you’ve traveled, I’m sure.”

Jafar took it as a challenge. “Try me.

“Look out, Polly!” the Sultan cried from above-- and steered Carpet over their heads, clipping Jafar’s parrot, and starting a chase Aladdin couldn’t quite look away from. The bird managed to avoid being crashed into by Carpet and the Sultan, but rammed beak-first into a pillar.

“Should you… see to your bird?”

“He’s fine,” Jafar said, offhanded.

“Out of the way, I’m coming in to land!” the Sultan cried. “Jafar, watch this!” Carpet handily delivered the Sultan safely to the floor-- then Carpet staggered off, dizzy, while the Sultan chuckled happily, only a little out of breath.

“Spectacular, Your Highness,” Jafar said, as enthusiastically as he’d said ‘ecstatic.’

The Sultan declared the ride lovely, and proclaimed he had a knack for flight-- then reached up to pinch Aladdin’s cheek. “This is a very impressive youth! And a prince besides!” He stepped away to murmur a conversation with Jafar-- Aladdin couldn’t hear it, but he could guess. The Sultan was wowed and taken in, but Jafar was suspicious. The Sultan audibly declared himself an excellent judge of character. “Jasmine will like this one!”

Yes! Halfway there, the Sultan won over. “And I’m pretty sure I’ll like Princess Jasmine,” Aladdin agreed, leaning in close and conspiratorial. Winning over Jasmine would be the easy part-- he’d done it once before, with nothing but an apple and some bad translations of Monkey. With all of Prince Ali’s trappings (and amazing ability to smell like it wasn’t hot outside), how could he lose?

Jafar slipped between them-- skinny as a rake, but he made a heck of a barrier when he stood up at his full height and spread his arms. “Your Highness, no. I must intercede-- on Jasmine’s behalf. This boy is no different than the others.” He rounded on Aladdin, in his face-- but still speaking to the Sultan. “What makes him think he is worthy of the Princess?”

“Your Majesty,” Aladdin said-- and at least he knew the proper address for a Sultan, what was with the ‘highness’ stuff? “I am Prince Ali Ababwa,” he declared-- and tweaked Jafar’s twisted little beard, just to see if he could get away with it. Turned out, he could. “Just let her meet me. I will win your daughter.”

Aladdin was well aware that everyone had moments in their life when they managed to miraculously say exactly the right thing-- or precisely the wrong thing. He did want to hear Jasmine’s voice again, but to hear her voice pitched low and full of barely restrained fury echoing across the throne room?

… Not high on his list.

“How dare you?” Jasmine demanded. “All of you!” And… yes, the Sultan and Jafar did look about as awkward as Aladdin felt. “Standing around deciding my future? I am not a prize to be won!”

“Of course you’re not,” said a voice behind Aladdin-- deep, but not Jafar’s voice, and in the split second before he turned around he saw something swiftly change in Jasmine’s expression.

The newcomer was a man about Aladdin’s age, almost as lean as Jafar, who managed to be more richly dressed than Prince Ali Ababwa while nearly blending into the shadows of the room. He was also the single palest person Aladdin had ever seen-- and he seemed to have a short, fat gray snake twining around his padded shoulders.

“One of your retainers?” Jafar demanded of Aladdin. “Court sorcerer, perhaps?”

“I’ve never seen him before in my life,” and that was one of the first completely honest things Aladdin had said since marching through the city gates on the back of a monkey-turned-elephant.

“I should say not,” the stranger agreed, striding up to the three of them. “I am Mozenrath,” and his bow was only slight, “apprentice-- and heir-- to Destane, Lord of the Land of the Black Sand. I, too, am here to sue for Princess Jasmine’s hand--” though from the corner of his eye, Aladdin caught the Princess leaving the room when she heard that-- “but I do believe it was worth the journey just for that glimpse of her.”

“Well,” the Sultan said, decisively, taking Aladdin’s elbow, then reaching for Mozenrath’s (really, what was that thing on his shoulders? It had fins), “as it seems both of you gentlemen have done some traveling, and Jasmine… needs a bit of time to cool off… why don’t we find you a pair of guest rooms to settle into, hm? Freshen up a bit before dinner?”

~*~


Jafar was not, by any means, the most powerful sorcerer in the world (though it had been on the shortest edit of his very literal wish list, before losing the lamp). Generally, he needed specialized and specially prepared equipment to do more than the most minor of workings, and he rarely sought to contact other sorcerers via magic.

A mirror, a candle, and a touch of black sand (swept up from the floor of the throne room in young Mozenrath’s wake, the boy never noticing) was enough to interrupt Destane’s afternoon reading.

“… You had best have a very good reason for your intrusion, little hedge wizard,” Destane said, testily. “You do not find a patient man in a good mood.”

“And I do apologize for the intrusion, Lord Destane,” Jafar said, bowing just enough to be courteous without actually taking his eyes off of Destane. “I am Jafar, both a humble dabbler in the magical arts, and the Royal Vizier of Agrabah. I assure you, I seek you out only to ask a simple question, and one with a yes-or-no answer at that.” He was pressing his luck, but this was the sort of inquiry where one needed to make an impression, not simply convey the necessary information.

“Ask it quickly, dabbler.”

“Did you give your apprentice-- Mozenrath, I believe-- permission to court the Princess Jasmine, of Agrabah?”

A very brief conversation later, Jafar was assured that one of his handsome young problems would be resolved by the end of the night. Ending the spell and removing Destane’s face from the mirror, Jafar looked to Iago-- who had stayed out of sight for the duration. Destane, after all, was not a force to be trifled with.

“And now, I think it’s time to arrange to say goodbye to Prince Abooboo.”

~*~


Jasmine had fled to her room the moment Mozenrath declared his intentions. It was that, or shriek in excitement and give the whole thing away.

He had declared his intentions! He had all but proposed, there in front of her father, Jafar, and that ridiculous popinjay Prince Ali!

If Father followed the usual patterns, first he’d give them rooms, then he’d feast them without Jasmine present, then he’d convince them the smart thing to do would be to rest, and meet with Jasmine in the morning, when everyone was fresh. With any luck, he’d let Mozenrath take his turn first, but Father had seemed to like Prince Ali, so Jasmine couldn’t count on that.

Ah well. Rajah would be helpful, if it came to that.

Jasmine hid in her rooms, buzzing with excitement, trying to look frustrated when a servant arrived with a dinner tray for her. The only tricky part would be Destane; he was a danger. The two of them might be able to run, to make it on their own, but then Agrabah would be without a future Sultan.

… Maybe if Father liked Prince Ali enough, he could just declare him his heir and be done with it.

Surely, surely they could work something out.

Before she could start working her way through possibilities to share with Mozenrath later, someone called her name.

Someone on her balcony called her name, and the voice sounded familiar.

“Who’s there?”

Rajah growled, but Rajah also lent her confidence. Maybe she couldn’t fight (and maybe she should learn), but she could certainly count on Rajah to listen to her (unless he was sleeping or eating, but that was to be expected. He was a cat).

“It’s me,” the voice called-- boyish, young-- “Prince Ali--” her visitor cleared his throat, and his voice dropped. “Prince Ali Ababwa.”

Oh. Him.

Jasmine parted the curtains enough to let Prince Ali get a good clear look at her telling him, “I do not want to see you.” And how had he gotten onto her balcony anyway? Did he have a grappling hook? Not that it was important-- she turned and headed back into her room.

“No-- no, please, Princess, just give me a chance,” and he’d forgotten to make his voice deep again. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous and utterly full of herself, and when Rajah growled at the prince, it felt like he was reading Jasmine’s mind.

“Just leave me alone,” she called from inside.

And then for a moment, she didn’t hear anything but snarling.

Guilt made her check-- just to see if Rajah had forced him off the balcony or actually started to eat him or… something.

Ali was perched on the balustrade, turban in hand, trying to shoo Rajah, soothingly murmuring things like ‘nice kitty’ and ‘good kitty’ and ‘down kitty’ and ‘look, a mouse!’ to absolutely no effect.

It was Jasmine’s first good look at Prince Ali’s face, and he looked… familiar, somehow. A little like Mozenrath’s inverse, but something about him with his hair exposed… “Wait,” Jasmine said, stepping out onto the balcony. “Do I know you?”

“Uh-- no,” he said, awkwardly shoving his turban back on as Rajah stalked back to Jasmine’s side. “No.”

Still, she decided to test it-- could it be? It was dark, and the light from her room didn’t exactly flood the balcony… “You remind me of someone I… met in the marketplace.”

“The marketplace?” he started, still awkward (well, it wasn’t every day a man tried to pretend he hadn’t been threatened by a tiger), but also amused and dismissive.

But before he could tell her that when he wanted something, it appeared in his hand, or some other garbage, Ali’s eyes grew wide and he pointed past her, into the room-- “Fire!”

She whirled around to see before she realized that would be a really easy way for Prince Ali to slither back down whatever he’d slithered up while her back was turned-- but there truly was a burst of fire in Jasmine’s room, the blue-black flames she knew very well indeed, that coalesced around-- “Mozenrath!” She dashed through the curtains, ignoring Prince Ali for what was probably the first time in his life.

Mozenrath looked pale, even for him, and Jasmine stopped short of throwing her arms around his shoulders. “Is everything all right?”

“No.” His eyes flicked past her for a moment-- so Ali was still there-- and he stayed sober and stone-faced as he said, “To my deepest regret, Princess, I fear I must withdraw my suit.”

“Mozenrath, what happened?” They hadn’t even begun.

“Please,” he said, then wavered, and Jasmine slipped her arm around his back-- he was so pale, so drawn, she was afraid he’d fall-- but he hissed at the touch, and Jasmine snatched her arm back, suddenly suspecting just why Mozenrath had to withdraw.

“Princess,” Ali said, a few steps inside the doorway-- his eyes wide as Jasmine turned to find out what in blazes he wanted. “Your arm.”

So Jasmine looked down at her arm.

There were streaks of blood stamped across it.

They were irregular, indistinct, having soaked through the fabric everywhere Jasmine’s arm had touched Mozenrath’s back.

Jasmine felt something harden inside her. Destane. “Sit,” she ordered Mozenrath.

“Jasmine--”

Sit,” she hissed, “before you fall. You!” she whirled on Prince Ali-- but pointed at Mozenrath. “Get him stripped to the waist. I’ll be right back. Rajah, do not let either of them leave.” Mozenrath knew Rajah couldn’t really understand an order that complicated, but Mozenrath wasn’t in any condition to go anywhere. Hopefully, Ali would be thick enough not to realize her tiger was just a tiger. Jasmine marched toward the door to her private bath-- then turned back to look at Mozenrath. “Is Xerxes…?”

“Fine,” Mozenrath promised her. “He’s fine. He’s safe, I swear it.”

“Praise Allah,” Jasmine exhaled, and left the two of them alone.

~*~


Aladdin had a lot of questions, but he was going to bite his tongue until he saw how badly this Mozenrath guy was hurt. Mozenrath tried to shove him off at first-- not that he was any good at shoving, as shaky as he was-- but Aladdin looked him in the eye. “Listen, I understand you’re a sorcerer, apprentice to a sorcerer-lord, I get it, you are very intimidating. But she’s terrifying right now, plus the tiger listens to her, so c’mon, work with me here.”

… He was starting to sound like Genie. Pretty soon, he’d start thinking of himself as Al.

It worked, though-- Mozenrath took a deep breath and started unlacing his collar. Aladdin pulled it off and set it aside, the cape attached, then pulled off Mozenrath’s turban-- the guy had a ton of hair, in messy curls. Extra-messy, from being trapped under a turban all day, but it was altogether too easy to imagine Jasmine’s fingers in that hair.

He forced himself to stop thinking about it, and helped Mozenrath get out of his shirt. Somehow, the dark blue hid the blood really well-- Aladdin could feel the wet, but only barely see the stains.

The gray pleated shirt he wore next to his skin didn’t fare so well, the back thickly streaked. “Yikes.” There were laces to undo, since that one went all the way up his neck, and by the time Aladdin had Mozenrath stripped to the waist, he’d gone from chalky to grayish, hands holding tight to the edge of the divan to keep him steady.

Someone had gone at Mozenrath with a whip.

Not a lot of lashes, but about half a dozen evenly-spaced ones-- too hard, since they all broke the skin, but at least they looked like they’d heal cleanly if they were decently tended. Mozenrath must’ve felt like his whole back was on fire. “Okay, wow, this-- this needs bandages. Hang on.” He pulled off his turban and slipped the lamp out of it-- Mozenrath was probably too out of it to think hiding an oil lamp under your hat was weird-- then pulled the brooch and the plume off his turban, setting them down on Jasmine’s vanity table, with the lamp.

And then, naturally, the stupid magically-made turban wouldn’t unravel no matter how he tugged or what he pulled at. “Hey. Mozenrath, hey?” When the sorcerer looked up at him, Aladdin held out the turban. “Help me figure out how to unwind this thing? I can’t get it started.”

Mozenrath nodded, and reached to accept the turban-- then spotted the lamp.

From the look on his face, not only was he not too out of it to realize it was out of place, he was knowledgeable enough to know it was no ordinary oil lamp. “Is that what I think it is?” he asked Aladdin.

Aladdin didn’t get the chance to answer, because Jasmine returned and, seeing him in good light with his turban off, cried out, “You are the boy from the marketplace! I knew it!”

Aladdin turned to lie, or apologize-- and ended up staring. Jasmine was carrying a tray loaded down with bandages, a bowl of something, a jar of something, and what looked like a pair of scissors from his angle. “You had all that just lying around?”

“I have a pet tiger,” she explained, reasonably enough.

“I think,” Mozenrath said, “that you have quite a story to tell, Ali.”

“I’m not the only one,” Aladdin countered. “How does the Princess know who Xerxes is? She skipped dinner.”

“No,” Jasmine decided. “I have work to do and Mozenrath… may not like that work. You’re going first. Grab that stool and move it next to the divan, I need somewhere to put all this.”

“Do you need me to do anything?” Aladdin asked her, moving the vanity stool where she directed.

“If I do, I’ll tell you.” She set down the tray and collected a clean cloth from the tray, soaking it and starting to wipe down Mozenrath’s back.

He winced just at those touches, no matter how gentle Jasmine tried to make them. “Ali?” she asked, rinsing the cloth. Her water would be pink before long.

“… Yes?”

“Start talking,” she said-- then mouthed, “distract him.”

… Genie had said to tell her the truth. Aladdin settled on the floor, where Mozenrath could see him, not so far away he couldn’t jump up to help if Jasmine needed it. “I guess I should start at the beginning. My name isn’t Ali Ababwa-- it’s Aladdin. I really am-- well, I really am a street rat, I guess. After the guards arrested me…”

He told them everything. The dungeon, the old man with his rubies, the Cave of Wonders, meeting Carpet, and why, if in a Cave of Wonders situation, you should probably leave your monkey at the door-- at least if you knew you could trust your ‘business’ partner. He told them about the old man’s betrayal, about Genie, about conning Genie into getting them out of the cave without using his first wish.

Mozenrath in particular had seemed to appreciate that part, and that was the point where Aladdin had noticed Carpet sidling in-- and beckoned him to come join them.

Then he told them about the oasis-- how Genie had explained the rules to him, but all Aladdin could think about was Jasmine. He told them about his first wish-- his only wish so far. “I knew I had to be a prince to even have half a chance. … But I… guess I was too late even before I met Jasmine.”

“… Yes and no,” Jasmine said. “You’re right that I didn’t meet Mozenrath this afternoon, but this is the first time he’s come as a suitor. One morning, when I was thirteen and being terribly lazy out in the garden, the air caught fire and a man fell out.”

Jasmine’s story had less adventure and more lonely rich people. She managed to describe a cage-- two cages, both shaped like palaces, Jasmine’s made out of expectations and laws, Mozenrath’s made out of an unbreakable apprenticeship and an inescapable master. Jasmine talked about making friends with the first person who’d treated her like a whole person, about stolen friendship and nights spent talking, about knowing that just marrying her best friend wasn’t the easy way out that it seemed.

She spent a long moment looking down at Mozenrath’s back, slathered in balm, at that.

Jasmine told them that she sometimes found herself comparing her suitors to Mozenrath, and that most of them had compared pretty poorly. “Not in appearances. In simple manners-- and respect. The first person I met who managed to be a match for Mozenrath in treating me like a human being?” She offered Aladdin a soft, sad smile. “Was a street rat.”

Aladdin couldn’t help smiling back. Really, there was no hope for him-- it was painfully obvious how much Jasmine and Mozenrath loved each other, and Aladdin wasn’t really a prince. He couldn’t stand in their way. It wouldn’t be right.

But it was still nice to know Jasmine liked him better than a whole roll call of princes.

“A street rat,” Mozenrath added, quietly, “that Jasmine was told had been beheaded.”

“Wait-- what?” Aladdin’s head was still firmly attached to his shoulders.

“… Jafar did tell me that your sentence had already been carried out,” Jasmine mused, tidily wrapping bandages around Mozenrath’s torso. “Almost as soon as I got back to the palace.”

“I just met Jafar today. I don’t know why he lied to you, Jasmine.”

“… I believe you,” Jasmine decided.

“You do?” Mozenrath asked, wry.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, there,” Aladdin told him.

“Jafar and I have never gotten along,” Jasmine explained, patiently. “He likes to upset me, when he can-- he might have told me you were dead just to stop me from asking about you, or interfering in his work.”

“… Maybe. It’s still weird.”

“Mm. Jasmine,” Mozenrath asked, “and… my apologies for not being able to keep to one subject, but. How would you feel about marrying a man who can’t tell the world his real name?”

“… Mozenrath…” But it was a protest.

“Ali Ababwa,” he corrected, gently-- tiredly.

“She loves you,” Aladdin told him. “It’s really pretty obvious.”

“I wish that were the point,” Mozenrath sighed. “Aladdin-- Ali. I want to marry Jasmine. You have no idea how much. But Destane has made it very clear to me that… marriage is… not allowed to me.”

“So fight for her,” Aladdin said. It was a few stripes on his back-- painful, sure, but Aladdin had seen worse.

“I’m protecting her. … I should never have stopped.”

“Destane threatened her?”

“I won’t repeat what Destane threatened. … I’m fairly certain that given he’s a head of state, some of the things he said might legally count as acts of war.” He shook his head, hair falling into his face. “I have no choice, and Jasmine’s father has refused all her hints, suggestions, and even outright demands to change the marriage law somehow. I concede, ‘Ali.’ She needs you.”

Jasmine slipped off the divan and knelt in front of Mozenrath, looking up at him. “I refuse to lose you.”

“You won’t. Give me a few months-- Destane will calm down, and I’ll be able to come and see you again.”

Aladdin stood, heading to the vanity to put his turban back together.

“I don’t know if I can go back to the way things were,” Jasmine told him, “not after-- Mozenrath, couldn’t we just run?

Plume, brooch, lamp.

“Not worried about your duty to your kingdom anymore, Princess?” Mozenrath asked, warm and wry and sad.

“You two have a lot to talk about,” Aladdin concluded. “I’ll just… give you some time? An hour?”

“This concerns you, too,” Mozenrath told him.

“Some of it does. You two working out what you want your relationship to be? That’s private. You guys work that part out, and when I get back, we’ll figure out where I fit in.” If he fit in. Mozenrath looked like he still wanted to object, but Jasmine looked up at him and nodded. “C’mon, Carpet. Let’s give them some privacy.”

Carpet floated over to wrap around Jasmine’s shoulders in a hug, reaching out a tassel to pat Mozenrath’s hand, as well, before heading over to where Aladdin could hop on.

They got as far as the balcony before something started buzzing in Aladdin’s ear.

“Bzz. Bzz. Pst. So, hey, Al,” oh-- Genie, tiny, and pretending to be some kind of… really weird bee. “Guess who was a fly on the wall for… all that?”

“I guess I kinda blew the prince wish, didn’t I?”

“Depends on what you wanna do with it,” Genie said, shrugging. “You okay?”

“Right now, I think I just want some quiet,” Aladdin admitted.

“Whenever you’re ready to talk? You know my number.” With that, Genie disappeared under Aladdin’s turban and into his lamp.

And that… was okay, really. Aladdin couldn’t think this mess through and try and figure out Genie’s sense of humor at the same time. “Let’s go check on Abu, huh, Carpet?” He flopped back on Carpet, looking up at the stars-- and as they drifted downward, up at Jasmine’s balcony. It wouldn’t do him any good to get jealous of whatever might be going on up there (not that it could be much, with Mozenrath’s back in shreds), because whatever it was, the two of them needed it-- deserved it.

… They deserved each other, not to have Aladdin or Destane or anyone getting in their way. But it if Aladdin was Jasmine’s only option, if she’d be in worse trouble if she didn’t get married tomorrow…

“We’re all still trapped,” he sighed.

Then the sky was blotted out with grasping hands and Aladdin was scrambling over the ground trying desperately to escape the guards-- only this time, he had no idea why.

He was gagged, quickly, and managed to spot Abu, dangling from a net, saw Rasoul tie Carpet around a tree just as someone clapped manacles on him from behind-- and then a ringing metal staff struck the pavement in front of him. Aladdin looked up-- way up-- at Jafar.

Had Jafar found him out? Had Rasoul recognized him the way Jasmine did?

“I’m afraid you’ve worn out your welcome, Prince Abooboo,” Jafar intoned

So no one knew anything-- what was going on? -- Jasmine and Mozenrath had no idea--

“Make sure he’s never found,” Jafar ordered, stalking away.

And then everything went black.

~*~


A rub at the lamp was a peculiarly insistent feeling, like an itch in the arch of your foot that you just couldn’t get because you were currently dressed as Paul Stanley but there was absolutely no way to deny it, and it was going to drive you crazy until you stripped off your six-inch silver platform knee-high boots and scratched that sucker with the base of the microphone stand.

Only there was no putting it off, especially from inside the lamp. You had to answer somehow.

And if there was one thing Genie knew, it was how to make an entrance. He squeezed his rubber ducky, scrubbed at his back, and groused, “It never fails, you get in the bath and there’s a rub at the lamp. Hello?”

… Hey, wait a second. Since when was Aladdin filmed on the set of The Little Mermaid? How long was an hour, that Al had taken a moonlight swim? … A moonlight swim in shackles, a gag, and a ball and chain, so… probably not by choice here.

“Al?” Check for responsiveness, that was proper medical procedure. “Al! Kid!”

Except all Genie could do was check for responsiveness. “Snap out of it! You can’t cheat on this one!” There were freebies you were tricked into and freebies that made sense at the time and freebies that were practically mandated by narrative causality or Network Standards and Practices, and then there was the stuff that just plain wasn’t allowed. “I can’t help you unless you make a wish!”

How long could humans manage underwater? How long had Aladdin been underwater? There weren’t any bubbles and he was unconscious, so that was probably a bad sign, but he was still Genie’s master, so that was a good sign. “You have to say, ‘Genie, I want you to save my life.’ Got it? Okay? Come on, Aladdin!

It was probably actually really bad to shake an unconscious human like that. Genie did it anyway.

… On the upside, Aladdin’s head bobbed up and then down, totally a textbook nod.

It was enough to satisfy the rules. “I’ll take that as a yes. AOOOOGAH!” And of course the proper shape for a good ‘aoooogah’ was a submarine, and all right, so most submarines didn’t have arms, or speak in a dialect of German only known to Danny Kaye, but the important part was grabbing Aladdin and his turban (because lamp) and getting out from Under The Sea and swapping the seawater in Al’s lungs for dry desert air.

And maybe Genie did that part a little bit abruptly, because the first thing Al did on hitting dry land was cough up a storm. “Don’t you scare me like that,” Genie admonished. Jinkies. He’d had how many masters, and finally found a good one, and someone has to go and try to drown the poor kid?

“Genie…” Genie waited. Al either needed to gather his thoughts or use his words or possibly yak up a sardine, who knew. “… Thanks, Genie.”

Or maybe he needed to wrap his arms around the Djinni of the Lamp in a big moist hug. “Aw, Al. I’m gettin’ kinda fond of you, kid.” He plopped Aladdin onto his shoulders, handing him the lamp-and-turban wrap. “Not that I want to pick out curtains or anything.”

With that, they were on their way back to Agrabah, faster than non-magically possible. Al had just enough time to explain that the game was afoot but he wasn’t sure what the game was-- only who was moving pieces around, and that their endgame had already started.

~*~


It had taken Jasmine far longer than she wanted to think about to get Mozenrath into a position where he could sleep a little. She’d finally convinced him that even if he did have to return to the Land of the Black Sand before dawn-- even if tomorrow would be the first birthday in three years where she couldn’t expect to see him after the feast-- he needed to rest at least briefly before he tried transporting himself across the desert. They’d gotten most of his clothes back on-- his shirt and undershirt mundanely washed and magically dried, the rest of it too fussy to nap in.

Jasmine sat beside him as he lay half-sprawled on her divan, on his chest, head propped up on his arms. She hummed an old song, now and then singing a few snatches, a poem by an Agrabahnian philosopher that had been set to music long after his death.

She hoped it soothed him. It soothed her, a little. “Freedom to stretch these golden wings…”

It certainly presented a prettily domestic picture for the chaperone, an apple-faced old woman who had patted Jasmine’s hand and told her, “Call me Euphegenia, dear, it‘s an allusion.”

‘Euphegenia’s’ hands only had four fingers each. It was hardly noticeable, until she noticed it-- and then it was all Jasmine could see.

“Jasmine?”

Her father’s voice sounded strange. “Father. I’m glad you’re here.” She stood up, crossing the room to meet him at the door. “Lord Mozenrath has fallen ill-- he’s resting now, but he needs to leave for home by morning…”

“Such a pity he will miss the wedding,” her father replied, still strange and flat, without emotion. Jasmine bit down on her fear.

“What wedding?”

“I have chosen a husband for you,” and it wasn’t speaking so much as intoning. “You will wed Jafar.”

Jafar pushed open the other half of the double door, leering at her.

Jasmine could only stare, for the moment-- so this was the game?

“You’re speechless, I see,” Jafar purred, taking Jasmine’s hand. “A fine quality in a wife.”

“I will never consent,” she said, snatching her hand away and resisting the urge to wipe it against her thigh. “Father,” maybe he could hear reason, “Prince Ali has proven himself-- I choose him.”

“Prince Ali left,” Jafar said lightly, “like all the others.”

And from near where he’d been hiding, tucked behind a curtain, Aladdin called out, “Better check your crystal ball again, Jafar.”

Mozenrath started to pull himself to stand, while Jafar’s attention was engaged. If ‘Euphegenia’ helped him with magic, it was very discreetly done.

“Why don’t you tell him the truth, Jafar?” Aladdin challenged, advancing on Jafar. “You tried to have me killed.”

“What ridiculous nonsense!” But Jafar still put her father between himself and Aladdin. “The boy is obviously lying.”

“Obviously… lying,” the Sultan echoed. As long as Jafar could make her father say anything he wanted, their plan-- giving Jafar enough metaphorical rope to possibly literally hang himself with-- wouldn’t work.

What had Jafar done? “Father, what’s wrong with you?” Jasmine begged, pulling her father out of Jafar’s reach.

“I know what’s wrong,” Aladdin declared, and snatched Jafar’s staff out of his hands, holding it high and out of Jafar’s reach.

The head of it exploded in a gout of blue flame.

Standing beside the divan, Mozenrath blew entirely illusory smoke from his fingertips, and he and Aladdin exchanged quick grins.

The Sultan shuddered, briefly-- “Ohh-- oh my!” And Jasmine sagged in relief-- he sounded like himself again.

“Your Majesty,” Aladdin said, brandishing the broken, smoking staff, “Jafar’s been controlling you with this.”

Mozenrath crouched on the floor, holding up a cracked ruby from the shattered mess. “All the power was in the stones. Cheap tricks, really.”

The Sultan looked from the staff to the mess to Jafar, spluttering-- finally clearly declaring, “You-- you traitor!”

The four of them advanced on Jafar, never mind whatever poison he was spewing about how everything could be explained.

“Guards! Guards!” the Sultan cried, and that was a little disappointing. Jasmine had been hoping Aladdin would teach her to throw a punch.

Against Jafar’s wretched face.

“Well, that’s it,” Iago announced, “we’re dead. Forget it. Just dig a grave for both of us, we’re dead.”

Uplifted. But a parrot-- so no true indication of how powerful Jafar might have been. A pair of the harem guards stormed the door, and her father wasted no time ordering them to arrest Jafar, who had stopped trying to justify himself and had started staring.

Or thinking-- his arms were still long enough to reach inside his robes, producing some sort of vial. “This is not done yet, boy!” he informed Aladdin, tossing the fragile thing to the ground even as Aladdin darted forward to stop him. A blinding flash and a cloud of smoke filled the air, choking all of them into a brief coughing fit-- and when the smoke cleared, Jafar, Iago, and the remains of the staff were gone, and the eunuchs were trying to keep each other in a headlock.

“Find him!” the Sultan bellowed. “Search everywhere!” The guards drew their swords and ran off to do just that.

Aladdin and Jasmine both helped Mozenrath get up-- the coughing had hurt his back enough to drop him to his knees, and the two of them at least knew not to touch his injuries. “Is everyone all right?” Aladdin asked.

“Jafar, my most trusted counselor!” the Sultan fumed. “Plotting against me all this time! This is horrible, just horrible! How will I ever…”

When he realized no one was listening, he looked around to see Aladdin and Jasmine helping Mozenrath back to the divan, to sit and steady himself. “Oh, my dear boy. You’re truly unwell? What happened?”

“An old complaint, nothing to worry about,” and if one could call Destane an ‘old complaint,’ it was true enough. And Jasmine would worry anyway. “I apologize for putting myself forward and removing myself so soon.”

“No, no, think nothing of it,” her father assured Mozenrath, patting his knee. “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything. You can be… properly treated, at home?”

“Of course,” Mozenrath lied. Destane was a necromancer to his core, which was completely incompatible with magical healing; Mozenrath dabbled in dozens of disciplines, but healing escaped him completely. He’d complained about it often enough. “I’ll return when I’m well-- with a wedding gift.”

And if there was pain in his eyes when he looked up at Jasmine, she was content to let her father believe it was due to the coughing fit.

“… Do my ears deceive me?” The Sultan looked up at Jasmine, smiling. “Has my daughter finally chosen a suitor?”

“It wasn’t an easy choice, Father,” but-- but even if it couldn’t be Mozenrath, at least it would be someone who saw her. Who didn’t just accept ‘no’ but waited for an invitation in the first place. It wouldn’t be perfect-- but it would be all right.

“Praise Allah!” her father declared, joyously-- and Jasmine flushed. He shook Aladdin’s hand and then pulled him into a desperate hug. “Oh, you brilliant boy, I could kiss you. … But I won’t, of course, I’ll leave that to my-- yes.”



“Sorry,” Jasmine murmured, both to Aladdin, who had at least been released and shoved toward Jasmine, and to Mozenrath and ‘Euphegenia,’ who were hiding their amusement only poorly.

“But you two will be married at once!” the Sultan decreed. “Yes! And you will be happy, and prosperous, and you-- you my boy, will become sultan!”

“… Sultan?” Aladdin echoed.

“Yes, a fine upstanding youth such as yourself, a person of your unimpeachable moral character, is exactly what this kingdom needs.”

Aladdin looked petrified.

Jasmine slipped into his arms, hugging him-- trying to reassure. Once her father finished bubbling at them and left them to their chaperone’s care, she and Mozenrath would have time to explain the long-term plan. It wouldn’t be a truly happy ending for any of them, but it would be all right.

~*~


Jafar’s transport spell had only taken them as far as the hidden steps to his tower-- he’d run the rest of the way up, and sagged against the door. Iago scrambled to pack, preparing to escape, babbling all the while…

But all Jafar could do was laugh.

He had as good as already won! His ultimate goal had been placed within his grasp!

“Jafar?” Iago called, tapping at his turban. “Jafar! Get a grip!”

He caught the parrot by the neck-- the plan was sudden and flawless. How long had the boy known the Princess? Certainly not long enough to distinguish her voice from a near-flawless imitation-- especially distorted over any little distance.

“… Good grip,” Iago gasped.

“Prince Ali is nothing more than that ragged urchin Aladdin,” Jafar spat-- but then, oh then, the best part-- “He has the lamp, Iago!”

“Why that miserable--”



“But you,” Jafar informed Iago, that faithful, useful minion, “are going to relieve him of it.”

“Me?” Faithful, useful, and cowardly, but this wasn’t a mission that called for valor-- only deceit, patience, a passable carrying capacity, and the slightest bit of stealth. For Iago, only the stealth would be remotely difficult.

Jafar explained his plan.
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