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Genie does a great Brando.

It's a wasted talent, because Al wouldn't know the difference between Vito Corleone and Stanley Kowalski if his life depended on it, and Genie's never gonna leave Al, not now, no way, not in a million years. (Well, okay, he'll leave him in fifty-two years, when Al's gonna die of a freak trampling accident in a ripe old age, but that's when Genie will start watching over Al's oldest, who wouldn't recognize a perfectly pitched "Stella!" either.)

He learned it -- the Brando impression, that is -- from an American soldier who was stationed in the country futurely known as Iraq in the 21st century (or the 14th century, or the 57th, depends on who's counting). Who will be stationed, technically. Cute kid named Corpor "Al" Peters, which is what drew Genie to him in the first place, his name, even though he keeps insisting to be called Ryan. He even looks like Al a little, although Al's saber's been replaced with a semiautomatic, and his curly black hair is cut down to regulation. "Get out of here!" Corpor Al will exclaim when he meets Genie for the first time, as Genie floats down the Euphrates on his yellow inflatable raft on a hot day (but when is it not?). Genie will say, ticking off his fingers: "Before you ask, handsome: yes, genie, not a ghost, blue skin's good for the ultra-violet rays, fulfilling wishes is just my day job but you look like I can do you a favor, and darling, you think you're the first to wish for that before? A sliver of originality, that's all I ask for, Harold."

And Corpor Al will say, "Holy fucking shit." He'll be different from Al, but he'll have the same sense of wonder, some of the shyness, and he'll believe he's there to set people free, just like Al, and he'll have an iPod with the entire Warner Brothers Classics collection between 1934 and 1952.

Genie always comes back to Al, but he likes to travel, sometimes. Likes to hit the road, see the world, pack all his possessions into a gym bag (if people are watching; it's just for show anyway) and shoot himself far, far away across the continent. He loves coming back with stories and souvenirs -- Swiss goat cheese for Jasmine, painted panda toys for the kids, baseball caps for Al and wind-up-cymbal-clashing chimps for the monkey. He got Carpet a portable vacuum once, but there was nowhere to plug it in. Time travel still has some kinks to work out.

Once, he brought back a Polaroid camera, and took a picture of the whole family, six grinning faces and a carpet and a monkey and even the little parrot, whose mouth Genie had to stuff with a cracker before he drove Genie insane. Genie's not in the frame because he's taking the picture, but you can see a blue fist making a thumbs up in the top right hand corner. He'd scrawled "Greetings From Agrabah!" on the bottom, duplicated the photo, and within a year the vendors had turned it into the most profitable postcard in the city.

He'll find the postcard thirteen hundred (or so) years later, a crumbling sheet of paper exposed by a strong gust of wind, on a sandy dune that no one but him knows marks the place where Agrabah once stood. That's when he'll see the boy for the first time -- dark-skinned, curly black hair, maybe ten, twelve. He'll be wearing a purple smock and brown sandals -- at least he'll have sandals, not like how Al used to walk on burning sand barefoot, the meshugina -- and riding a goat, carrying a wooden stick, rounding up a herd of sheep with a series of shrill shouts. And Genie won't be able to resist, because he'll look so much like Al that for a moment Genie'll swear that those are Jasmine's eyes looking back at him with awe, big and brown and rimmed with kohl, that he's one of those great-great-great-to-the-power-of-great-grandchildren they have scattered across the globe. So Genie will let mini-Al make a wish, and mini-Al will jump at the opportunity and ask for magic beans -- where do kids learn these things? -- and Genie will say, "Kid, magic beans'll get you nothing but a magic hole in your wallet, trust me on this. Now I'm," he'll lower his voice to a soft scratch and don the Brando belly, "I'm gonna make you an offer you can't refuse."

And so mini-Al's older brother will get accepted into a technological school in Dubai, full scholarship, and after a few years he'll earn enough money to buy his family a few camels which will, in turn, provide the means with which to pay for mini-Al's own future education, and to top it off mini-Al will find a golden lottery ticket in a Biscolata chocolate bar and win a tour of the great chocolate factory in Baghdad, and a lifetime's supply of sweets. And his life will be --

Well, anyway. Genie's like a tension spring; no matter how far you stretch him, he always bounces back to Al.

It had taken some time to figure out. When the baby was born, Genie left for the Bahamas, and didn't return for three years. The Bahamas were a blast, music and coconuts and gorgeous white beaches, and all the while, a little voice in Genie's head kept whispering to stay, stay here, they don't need you any more. That's not true, Genie would say, this is Al we're talking about. Al loves me. Al has a son now. That's human magic. He doesn't have any time for you. Do him a favor and stay away. Do yourself a favor and shut up. Don't be self-delusional. Nobody cares what happens to the Fairy Godmother after the story ends.

It was usually around that point that Genie and his inner voice would lapse into a swearing match that encompassed twelve to thirty different languages, and Genie would end it by giving himself a powerful slap in the face and going to sleep. (Talking to himself wasn't a new experience, of course; he'd already spent more than a few millennia in a small, cramped space chatting himself up, and after all, he was an excellent conversationalist. But this little voice reminded him of why he'd needed escape that cramped space to begin with.)

In the end, he'd returned just to check up on his affairs in the city. Because, you know, he'd put an investment in one of the Agrabah banks, and it was important to stay on top of your portfolio -- or, wait, banks will only be invented in Italy six hundred years from now. Well, he'd needed to go back to check up on a sprout he'd planted, anyway. Cherry tomatoes, imported from France. Had to see if they'd become acclimatized to the desert.

Turned out they hadn't. But as long as he was in the area, he figured, it would only be polite to drop by the Palace. See how the Sultan was doing. And his wife. And... the boy.

It was one of those moments that Genie remembers forever, as crystal clear as the sky the night Al took Jasmine flying for the first time; like the time that Greek physicist streaked through Syracuse, yelling that he'd "found it!" as the whole street stared, or like seeing Corpor Al getting blown up on a land mine back in the future, or like attending the premiere of "Gone With the Wind" and meeting Leigh and Gable in the flesh.

Al's security precautions, he noted as he entered the Palace, were horrifyingly lacking if someone could so easily stroll up to the throne room (admittedly, "someone" was a genie who was shifting between various animal forms, but frankly, my dear, he don't give a damn; besides, he was still blue. Surely that ought to have looked suspicious to someone.) And when he arrived in front of the royal dining room, the armed guards just opened the doors before him -- "Knock knock knock, do you not get the definition of `guards'?" he wanted to ask, and possibly throw one or two of them in the cellar for exposing the royal family to danger so carelessly.

He ignored them, though, too occupied with thinking about what to say when he met Al again. "So, monarch-ing - how's that going for you?", or, "Well, I did a fine job designing that Prince Ababwa suit if I say so myself," or. "Did you miss me?"

In the end, he gathered his courage and marched into the room, saying, "So, how 'bout them Knicks?"

Or that's how it would have ended, that is, if he hadn't cut himself off mid-sentence upon seeing the boy. Big brown eyes, and -- small -- and not alone, because Jasmine was feeding another one who was sitting in her lap, with lighter hair. A baby girl-Al. And they were both beautiful, perfect. Genie froze in his place. The boy looked at him. And Al rose, his shoulders lined with sudden tension, and didn't say a word.

Jasmine broke the silence. "Children. This is your uncle Genie that we told you about. Do you remember?"

The boy's face lifted. "Genie come to sit in his chair?"

"I don't know," Jasmine said, not taking her eyes off Genie. "Genie, will you join us for breakfast? Your place is set."

"My... place?"

At the corner of the dining area, a small bowl was placed, and a goblet. Genie's jaw dropped (and hit the floor. It was a comic gesture, one he was aware of but couldn't quite control, just like he couldn't quite control the way his eyes were widening and possibly tearing up and possibly, possibly in danger of flooding that section of the floor.)

"You were waiting for me?" he managed, with effort.

And finally, Al spoke. "Of course," he said gently, and took a few steps forward, stopping before Genie. "Genie, you're always welcome here. You're... you're family."

Al had a way of stating things -- oh, he could be an idiot when it came to love, but he was a genius when it came to kindness, and he had a way of stating facts, believing them so wholeheartedly that they seemed obvious to all. What happened after that included a rather embarrassing display of hugs and weeping and a tearful reunion with one angry monkey and one touchingly ecstatic Carpet.

It's one of the stories Genie keeps for himself. Well, usually. One time, he'll tell it to Corpor Al, because Corpor Al will be having a hard night on guard duty, stuck with the late shift, alone in the pitch dark. He'll be worried about not making it home for the holidays this year, and that his folks won't like the fact that he's planning on getting a degree in English Lit, not Engineering. They might even toss him out of the house for considering to vote for a Democrat next time. And he'll start worrying that being in the Army might be turning him into a bad person, and he's going to wish Genie to make him know what's the right thing to do in a war zone, but Genie's free, and he doesn't think he could do that anyway. Instead, Genie will tell him stories, and Corpor Al will teach him songs (Christina Aguilera's first hit, awesome Corpor Al promises) and teach him the Brando impression, which won't a bad deal.

Genie will tell mini-Al stories too. Bedtime stories, for him; sometimes Genie will shrink himself down to the size of a finger and sit on the ledge of mini-Al's mattress, quietly so the family won't hear, and tell him about Al and his kids, about the real people behind the legends of Aladdin and the Lamp that mini-Al grew up knowing.

In the end, though, it'll be the Brando that'll come in more handy, because after mini-Al will win his lifetime's supply of sweets, he'll get shot by an American soldier and die on the spot. Genie has never and does not and will never want to know who it was who shot the boy, because it won't change anything, and because he's afraid of the answer. He skips over that scene, then, tries to move on, except that's when Cpl. Ryan Peters will be killed, and Genie doesn't have much practice in grieving, so he'll go deep into the desert where no one can hear him but the red rocks and the snakes and fall on his knees, raise his fists to the heavens and scream Stella's name for a few hours until he is empty, devoid of emotions, devoid of purpose now that he has no masters for wish-granting and no lamp to hide in.

So he'll return to Agrabah.

He wonders, sometimes, what freedom is worth, if he always returns to the same place; but Agrabah isn't just a place. For the brief and golden time that it exists (and relatively, for Genie, it is brief), it's home. It's always having a place at the table. It's taking the kids out flying on clear summer days, and explaining that Ohana means family and family means no one gets left behind, so hold your sister tight, Amir, because we're going for one heck of a ride. And it's Al.