Jasmine talks with Aladdin until dawn, which she only notices when she has to squint against the light rising over the palace spires. She gasps, thinking of the servants that will be heading to her bedchambers to help her get dressed, carrying a tray ladened with breakfast-
She looks over at Aladdin. Earlier he’d mentioned he’d stolen a loaf of bread today, but she doesn’t know if he’s eaten anything else. Is he hungry?
“I have to go,” Jasmine tells him.
He blinks. “Okay,” he says. “Uh. Will I see you again?”
“I’ll be around.” Jasmine pulls her hood tighter over her head. She’s still wearing her tiara- it’s so integral to her usual wear that she’d forgotten to take it off. Next time, she’ll remember to.
Aladdin says, “See you,” and then pauses, standing when she does. “Want me to walk you-?”
“No!” Jasmine hastens to smile when he raises his eyebrows. “No, it’s fine.”
Something like understanding flickers over his face. She wonders what he thinks he knows.
“Alright,” he says. “Until next time, Jasmine.”
Jasmine almost sinks into a curtsey, but stops just in time. Instead she aims another smile at him, this one more natural. “Goodbye, Aladdin,” she says, and then she steals away through the city, climbing over the palace wall at the spot hidden to anyone who doesn’t know where to look.
When she’s halfway down the wall on the palace side, Rajah snorts himself awake and looks up in interest. He pushes himself to his feet just as Jasmine jumps the last few inches to the ground, hands already outstretched towards Rajah.
“Aw, you stayed all night, huh,” she whispers. He butts his head into her hands and makes a pleased rumble low in his throat when she scratches under his chin.
“Good boy,” she tells him.
When she makes it back to her room, she only has seconds to pull off the hood, then the whole scruffy brown robe, and stuff it underneath her bed before the servants come in.
“I’ll be dressing myself today,” she announces, trying to hide how she’s out of breath from running from the wall to her room. “And you can leave my breakfast tray over there.”
She points to her dresser. The servants share a look, confused, but they do as she says without complaint and with a bow.
Jasmine doesn’t get dressed for a while. She sits on her bed and drags her breakfast tray over, feeling the fruit slices and picking through the grains. This is normal, this is mundane, and yet there are people no less than half an hour away who will never glimpse such luxury.
She picks up a slice of pale fruit and thinks of the marketplace, of the boy staring hungrily up at the stall. Of the seller grabbing her hand and getting out a knife as long as her forearm. People had looked her way, but they had all hurried past. No one had intervened apart from Aladdin, and even he seemed to take it as a given: yes, people get their hands cut off at the marketplace sometimes.
Jasmine frowns. Why had that not been covered in her education about Agrabah? She had been trained in many things and told about more, but now she found that barley any of it included the poor of this place.
She startles when Rajah brushes up against her elbow. She scratches his head absently and thinks about Abu, Aladdin’s monkey, and its obvious dislike of her. Around midnight it had started getting funny, but so had many other things, as happens with sleep deprivation.
Her mouth tilts up as she remembers Aladdin. She feels her smile grow into a grin: how amazing it was to talk with someone that passionately, how new and exciting to have them understand and respond in kind! Even when she had to coach her speech in white lies, he’d somehow understood. And when he didn’t, he sympathized, even if he made fun of her for a bit beforehand.
It was so good to have someone making fun of her in that good-natured way. Everyone in the palace- servants, visiting dignitaries- was always afraid to.
After she sleeps for a few hours and dresses herself, she finds her father.
It doesn’t take long. He’s in his room stacking cards. She watches for a while, and on the second time it falls apart and he curses quietly, she approaches him.
“Hm? Oh, Jasmine.” He turns back to his card game. “How are you today?”
“I’m fine.” She sits down next to him. “I heard that if you are caught stealing in the marketplace, you get your hand cut off.”
The card stack falls again as her father lapses into stuttering. “Where on earth did you hear that?”
“So it isn’t true?”
“I- didn’t say that.” He scratches at his beard. He’s looking older nowadays; even his eyebrows are white now. They’d held out longer than his hair and beard had. “I was just alarmed that you heard it. Were you listening at the servants quarters again?”
She snorts. “Father, I haven’t done that since I was but nine years old.”
He shrugs. When he doesn’t say anything more, she sidles closer. “So it does happen.”
“Yes,” he says after a moment. He reaches for the cards again and Jasmine swallows her disappointment.
“You don’t seem very concerned about the discipline dealt in our own city.”
He looks at her. He seems surprised and she guesses he should be- it’s not like she’s ever had much of an interest in these kind of things before.
“The people are criminals, Jasmine! Whatever they do, they bring it on themselves.”
Jasmine thinks back to the child, his big sad eyes which were full of knowing: he would never get that apple. The surprise on his face when Jasmine had handed it down to him, the way he’d immediately run off- did he expect her to get the blame instead? She hardly blames him. He looked like he needed a three-course meal along with the apple. She’d probably do the same if she was that starved.
“Have you ever been into that part of the city, father?”
He has to think about it. This is telling enough in itself.
The next time Jasmine sneaks out of the palace, she leaves her tiara. She leaves every bit of fancy clothing she has, and clads herself in rags that she took from the servants. This time, she drops jewellery into her pockets- she doesn’t know what they’re worth, but they’re definitely worth something.
When she gets to Aladdin’s- dwelling, she supposes, since it’s hardly a house, there’s not even a roof- she finds it empty apart from his usual belongings, so she heads down into the marketplace. She stays clear of the apple-seller but sees him anyway; he gives her a nod that isn’t entirely friendly but doesn’t try anything.
She swallows and heads up to him. “Hello,” she says, and wonders if she should try to seem wrong in the head. Maybe she should- slur her speech? Say strange, nonsense words?
He doesn’t look suspicious, but he does say, “Your brother let you wander off again, huh,” in a way that makes her think he doesn’t entirely believe yesterday’s events.
“I wanted to apologize,” she tells him, even as part of her screams feign stupidity, pretend to be unstable, run away!
The man says nothing. He crosses his arms and flexes them, and Jasmine’s gaze falls on the same knife that was nearly used on her yesterday: it’s an uncomfortably close distance from the man’s hand.
Jasmine reaches into her pocket and brings out an earring. “I didn’t know the- the rules of this place. Will this make up for the apple I took?”
The man reaches out and takes it between a thumb and forefinger. It looks very small in his hand and Jasmine waits as he turns it around in his fingers and holds it up to the light so it glints gold.
His eyes widen slowly. His throat clicks a few times. “I,” he says, and starts to blink fast. He looks up at her, gaze going up and down her like he expects her to vanish. “For that, my lady, you can have a lot more of my stock, if you wish. I have- I have more than just apples, I have- there’s bread, and dried meats-”
He starts bustling around and Jasmine thinks weakly that next time she’ll bring an even smaller earring, if she even has one.
Jasmine whirls around, tilting her head upwards. The shout had come from above, she’s sure-
She glimpses Aladdin sitting on the cloth roof of a stall before he’s leaping down in front of her. His hair is streaked with dirt and his clothes are as ragged as ever but somehow he still takes her breath away with that grin.
Said grin falters and then kicks up again when he registers her arms, or rather what she was carrying, which, if Jasmine counted correctly before, is five loaves of bread, several pounds worth of various dried meats, some dried fruits and a handful of fresh ones. The stall owner had to give her a cloth to carry everything in.
Aladdin’s eyes go huge when he reaches and slips some of the cloth away, revealing the true amount of the food. “Ohhhhh. What did you even do to get all this- you did pay for it, right?”
Jasmine sniffs and holds back a smile. “Of course. What do you think I am, some kind of thief?”
At first she thinks she’s gone over the line, but Aladdin just barks out a laugh that makes her stomach twist pleasurably.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s go somewhere and share my bounty.”
His smile twitches again. “You sure?”
“Why not?” She nudges him with her elbow, since both her hands are full. “Lead the way- you know this area better than I.”
“Okay,” Aladdin says, and he’s still grinning at her, but his gaze keeps going uncertainly from her face to the food.
He leads her to a rooftop that is surprisingly easy to climb onto, and they lie out the cloth and pick food from it.
Aladdin does it cautiously at first, like he’s afraid it’s going to disappear at his touch, but after a minute or two his shoulders start to relax and he starts eating in a way that would get him kicked out of the palace.
Jasmine watches him with her nose wrinkled. Somehow she can’t find it anything other than endearing.
“Where’s Abu,” she asks when she finally notices he’s missing.
Aladdin shrugs. “Probably out pilfering for his dinner. He’s gonna be so mad when he realizes he missed this!”
“We can save him some,” Jasmine offers.
“Some?” Aladdin makes a face. “This could feed us for a week.”
Jasmine looks down at the cloth, which is still covered in food. It’s enough for maybe three days, but a week? Just how small is his stomach?
“How have you been,” Jasmine tries, instead of thinking about that.
He eyes her, pausing in mid-bite into a fig. “I’m still alive.”
“Well, that’s a start.” She smiles and tries very hard not to watch the drop of fig juice that streaks down Aladdin’s thin wrist.
“What about you,” Aladdin says, and suddenly he’s very interested in the fig. “How’s, y’know, your day. Been.”
“It’s been fine,” Jasmine says. “Normal.”
Aladdin hums. Something about it suggests he’s trying to be casual, but Jasmine can’t think what he thinks isn’t casual about that statement.
He swallows his mouthful and his lips part like he’s going to say something. He even meets her eyes again, but then he’s dropping his gaze to the dusty surface of the roof below them and taking another bite of the fig.
“What,” Jasmine says.
“What what,” he replies, shoulders shifting like he’s guilty at getting caught out, but still feigning innocence. “Uh, how’s your father doing?”
Jasmine tries to remember what she had omitted from the conversation last night- or, well, this morning. She’d told a lot of not-lies. She thinks she’d told Aladdin her father does something vague that involved being in charge of a lot of people.
“He’s well,” she says, letting the fondness seep into her tone.
Aladdin nods. That knowing look comes back again, but this time it’s tinged with sadness that he hastily tries to cover when he sees her looking.
“What,” Jasmine asks again.
“What what,” Aladdin says into the fig.
“That look.” She points at him. “What’s that look about?”
“What look?” Aladdin finishes off his fig and reaches for another one. “There’s no look.”
“You looked… sad.”
His eyebrows pull in. “Uh. I am? I guess. I mean- I get it. I do. People do what they have to do, here. I just- I dunno, I couldn’t do it. Not that I’m suggesting you shouldn’t do it. I mean, I wish you didn’t have to, but it’s none of my business and obviously it’s making you enough money to live really well, like, enough that I’d actually reconsider going into that business-”
“Business? What?” Jasmine shakes her head. “Aladdin-”
“-and it’s just, it’s kind of sad? That your father, I mean, I assume he’s at least nice about it. From what you’ve said about him and how you- react, about him, he seems like the nice kind, which is great. For you. And the other girls.”
He shrugs and gives her a smile that is obviously meant to be supportive and non-judgemental, which is what finally makes it click.
“I’m not-” Jasmine stares at him. “I’m not a prostitute!”
Her voice goes loud and cracking at the end of it and she has to cough to reign it back in.
“Oh,” Aladdin says, and for a moment he looks relieved before the confusion sets in. “What are you, then? From all the things you said-”
“I’m- I’m nothing. My father directs a merchant’s guild,” Jasmine lies.
“Ohhh. Okay.” Aladdin leans back on his palms, looking comfortable for the first time since he started talking about what he thought she did for a living. “Sorry about that. I thought- well, you know how it is. If a woman is single and can’t make a living with a trade, then she usually turns to-”
“Yes,” Jasmine says, biting the word out, even though she had never truly thought of it. It seems obvious in retrospect. What else could women do?
There’s a silence during which Jasmine brings her knees up to her chest. It’s less to comfort herself and more so she has her knees to hold onto.
“Um,” Aladdin says. “I’m really sorry for assuming. You didn’t seem like the type, anyway-”
Aladdin’s mouth moves around nothing. Then he says, “You seem too- innocent,” in a way that sounds like he isn’t sure if she’ll yell at him for it. “Not in a bad way? Just- you don’t seem like you know much about the world. This world, the poor parts, anyway-”
“No, you have that right.” Jasmine sighs. “I know nothing of the world. None of it.”
Aladdin is quiet. He chews on his fig until it’s gone, then starts scraping bits off the core with his teeth.
“There are worse things to be,” he says eventually. “You could know too much. That makes things- worse.”
She looks over at him. His eyes would be dull if not for that ever-lasting spark that she’s never seen go out. It’s that spark, she thinks, that made her want to keep talking to him in the first place: that same spark that people have been trying to put out since she was very small. It must, she assumes, be the same for him.
She reaches out and puts a hand over his before she can stop herself, and he startles.
“You said your parents died when you were a child,” she says, and tries to make it clear in her tone that he doesn’t have to tell her if he doesn’t want to.
He averts his eyes, but only for a second. His hand is very warm under hers; baked in the sun like the rest of him. “Yeah. Illness. It took them both but left me behind for some reason.”
Sometimes I wish it didn’t is heavy under his words.
She wants to shake away every bit of sadness in his life. It’s all she can do to squeeze his hand.
“I’m glad it left you in the world,” she tells him.
His fingers twitch under hers. His smile, when it comes, is almost disbelieving, but not of her words. “Yeah,” he says. He looks like he’s going to continue, but instead he just swallows and repeats it again, softer this time.
Jasmine sneaks out of the palace every second day or so. Everyone in the palace is so used to her disappearing into the palace trees or hiding away in her room that no one gets suspicious. The only one who’s even noticed is Rajah, who tries to be grumpy with her on the days she does spend at the palace, but then ends up giving it in after a few hours.
It’s… slightly sad that no one notices. But Jasmine can’t bring herself to care when she finally has a friend, her very first friend, first human one, anyway.
Aladdin is the first person who cares what she thinks not because she’s royalty, but because she’s Jasmine. The first person who pays attention when she speaks because he’s interested in what she has to say instead of doing it out of duty. He takes her opinions into consideration and teases her in a way that makes her laugh, and when he does try to make her laugh she laughs until it hurts.
At first she’s nervous that he’s just keeping her around for the food, so after about a week she lies and says she can’t buy them anything for a while. Aladdin doesn’t stop spending time with her: instead, he immediately understands and even shares the little amount of food he does have, which makes Jasmine feel so guilty that she gives up the lie after a day or two.
As the weeks progress they begin to fall into a comfortable companionship, during which Jasmine is surprised to find that Aladdin is just as pleased as her to have someone who appreciates him fully as a person, someone who listens to him and takes him at face value and genuinely enjoys spending time with him.
Jasmine truly doesn’t understand why Aladdin doesn’t have more friends. She’s seen some of the other street rats talking and laughing together; some of them are even married. Surely someone should’ve noticed Aladdin before this and realized what a gift he was to have as a friend.
But the weeks pass into months and whenever people talk to Aladdin it’s either to throw something at him, yell at him or make some weird sexual pass at him, all of which Aladdin navigates with weary expertise. It’s thrilling and sad to watch him.
At some point Aladdin admits that he’s surprised Jasmine doesn’t have more friends.
“I mean,” Aladdin says, pausing to give Abu a grape. “You’re pretty great.”
Then he looks away with an expression like he’s just confessed his undying love to her. It’s enough to make her laugh, but the look on his face when he hears it makes her smother the laugh with a hand.
“Thank you, Al,” she says, because Aladdin is sometimes a mouthful. “I think you’re pretty great, too.”
Again, his reaction is unexpected: he breaks into a grin which blazes across his face so brightly that she feels she should shield her eyes or lose them.
Her stomach twists with nervous pleasure, not for the first time in Aladdin’s company, and a glimmering of understanding comes to her at his reactions.
Ah, Jasmine thinks. It’s quickly followed by a plethora of thoughts like what would father say and can’t marry a commoner and would he want me once he knew I was lying, but the wind is cool on their skin and they’re sitting on the cloth roof of a market stall and it’s very hard to care on a day this lovely, so Jasmine sits back against the wall of a house and changes the subject.
Two months in, Aladdin finds her sitting in his dwelling reading a book.
“You bother with those,” Aladdin says, and dodges a half-hearted swipe she aims at him with her leg. He settles next to her where she’s leaning against a column.
“I bother, yes. They can be very illuminating and- entertaining.”
“Yeah?” Aladdin shifts up so he’s leaning against the other side of the column. It means they’re not looking at each other, but their arms are pressed together. “What’s that one about?”
Jasmine clears her throat. “It’s, um. A romance. But it’s not just a romance,” she says quickly when he laughs. “No, stop it- it says many beautiful things about human worth.”
She imagines him nodding.
“Here, look,” she tries, and reads out a passage. It takes longer than she expects and by the end of it she expects him to talk of something else, but instead he says, “You can keep going if you want.”
She does. Aladdin lets her talk for hours, until the sun starts going down, and when she stops her throat feels cracked.
Aladdin passes her his waterskin.
“Thank you,” she says, taking a large gulp. When she turns to Aladdin, his gaze is alert and faraway.
“You don’t have to say yes,” he starts, “but- would I be able to borrow-”
He motions to the book and she says yes just as he’s continuing, “Just so I know what happens- oh. Thank you.”
He takes it like it’s precious. He runs his fingers over its embossed cover. “Wow. Looks expensive.”
Jasmine is careful not to nod. “It’s one of my favourites.”
He nods, then looks up at her. “You never said you read books.”
“There’s a lot about me that you don’t know,” Jasmine says, and then her throat feels as if it’s swollen shut in a way that has nothing to do with dehydration.
He doesn’t look suspicious, however. He just looks… eager. It’s a kind of hunger that she has to look away from, and when she looks back the expression is covered up and he’s flipping through the pages carefully.
“I’ll be finished by tomorrow,” he tells her. “Uh, are you coming by tomo-?”
“Oh, good.” He grins down at the book and she can’t help but mirror it.
When Jasmine corners her father in the hall, he makes like he wants to run but he says, “Oh, hello, dearest.”
She sighs. He’s been running from her ever since she’s started confronting him with troubles in the intricacies of Agrabaian laws.
“You’re looking more brown than usual,” he tries. “Have you been getting more sun?”
“Just let me talk with the advisors,” Jasmine says. “Just- please, things are so corrupt in the city! The rich, they- we don’t have to notice or care, it doesn’t affect us, but most of the population is very poor and we should do something about it.”
Her father’s sigh is harried. “I do wish we could help them more-”
“Then let’s!” Jasmine has to lower her voice; she’d nearly gotten it to a yell. “Please, father. If you’d just listen to me and hear some of the things I’ve been told that has been happening in the city-”
“You haven’t even been into the city!” Her father, too, has to lower his voice. “Dearest- Jasmine. I- I would actually like to talk to you about one of those… laws.”
It halts Jasmine in her speech. She steps back. “What one?”
He worries his hands. “Um.”
“Father,” she says, her excitement fading. “Which one?”
“The- one where you have to be married by your eighteenth birthday,” he mumbles, words blurring into each other by the end of the sentence.
Jasmine closes her eyes. Yes. Of course. Even she isn’t free from some of these laws, though she is exempt from so many just by being the princess. This one, she can’t evade.
“You could change the law,” she says, opening her eyes.
He balks. “What?”
“You could change it,” she repeats.
“Because I don’t want to marry yet!” She grabs his hands. They’re small and wrinkled. God, her father is getting old. “You’re the sultan, you have the power to-”
“Jasmine!” It’s the crack in his voice that makes her stop. “My dear. I’m- I won’t be around forever. And I want for you to be… taken care of.”
Why can’t I take care of myself? She swallows the words back.
“I suppose it’ll have to be a prince, then.”
“What?” He frowns. “Of course!”
“You can’t change that one, either.”
He blinks at her. “Why would I want to?”
She blinks back at him, but it’s less out of confusion and more to force back the tears. A commoner could be ten times the man a prince is, she thinks, but she dares not say it.
“Look,” he says when he notices the not-tears. “I’ve been thinking- you should make an appearance, before your- engagement. Whenever it is. And it’d mean you’d get to see the city! We could go through those very streets you’ve been complaining about-”
“I haven’t been complaining about the streets, father! I’ve been complaining about the laws which enable-”
She makes a noise through her teeth and whirls around. Everywhere around her is golden and gleaming and utterly normal. Jasmine has grown up in this, she has woken up every day to an intricately designed ceiling and servants and fresh meat and fruits with no blemishes.
She thinks of her father, high in this palace, never stepping foot out into the depths of the city that he rules and seeing the lives affected by the laws he passes. Once, she had been just like him and it had been comfortable and lonely and stable.
“I’ll think about it,” she tells him.
The last thing she sees is him frowning again: he’s confused she thinks she has a choice, she realizes. He’s sad she doesn’t, but he’s still confused by the fact that she considers herself a part of this decision.
Several more weeks pass, and then a month, and another, and Jasmine waits and feels as if she’s balancing on the tip of a sword, waiting to fall.
Aladdin comments a few times that she seems tense.
“Just a change my father has suggested,” Jasmine tells him, and refuses to elaborate. After a few prods, Aladdin doesn’t push.
The weather gets cold- or, colder. The days are still warm enough, but the nights are freezing. Jasmine buys Aladdin enough blankets to cover him and several more street rats a few times over.
“You don’t have to,” Aladdin says when she presses them into his arms.
“I want to,” she tells him, and can’t not notice it when Aladdin looks at her like she hung the moon in the sky.
She should tell him. She’s been thinking more and more about telling him, but it’s like another life that she gets to slip into, one where her life in the palace feels dreamlike and faraway. Her life in the city feels more and more real nowadays, like she really is the daughter of a merchant’s guild owner.
The day before her appearance in the city, it’s an evening cold enough that Jasmine borrows a blanket to huddle in.
As the sun sets, Aladdin gets up from his spot where he had been huddled in his own blanket, watching her read, and sits close enough that their blankets touch.
At first Jasmine thinks he’s going to ask what she’s reading, or tell her something about his day, like he’s done so many times before. But instead Aladdin says, “I want to ask you something.”
“Okay,” she says, still expecting some semblance of the things they usually ask each other.
That certainty starts to fade as she watches his throat click.
“Uh,” he says. “So, I don’t really know how to- okay. Okay. So.”
“So,” she prompts when he doesn’t continue.
“So,” he repeats. “I. You know I care about you.”
Cold and warmth bolt through Jasmine in equal measure. They knot together in her stomach and settle there for a long stay.
She puts her book down beside her. “I know,” she says, and is embarrassed to find her voice is weak.
Aladdin meets her eyes fleetingly before looking down. “I- you’re the best friend I’ve ever had. Human friend,” he clarifies when Abu makes a noise from where he’s nestled in a cocoon of blankets against the opposite wall.
“And I, I wanted to ask something. Because I’ve been- feeling. Things. And I think you might be feeling them too? I could be wrong- please tell me if I’m wrong, because if I’m wrong, I don’t want to lose you. This.”
His hands shuck out of his blanket and take hers. They’re as warm as summertime, like the rest of him, like his big brown eyes and that smile that is shaking nervously at his mouth-
Jasmine unsticks her tongue from the roof of her mouth. “You won’t lose me,” she tells him. “I won’t- I won’t ever turn you away, Al. But- there’s something I need to tell you first-”
Oh god, if she doesn’t do it now he’ll never forgive him-
“No, wait, let me do this first before I lose it.” He takes a deep, shaky breath. “Jasmine?”
His thumbs rub circles in her cold palms.
“Marry me? I mean, will you marry me? If you want? You don’t have to. We can still just be friends-”
She kisses him. She can’t not. His lips are hot against hers, soft and firm at the same time, and chapped. They part on a tiny gasp on the contact, and Jasmine’s chest roars at the tiny sound.
“Jasmine,” he mutters when she pulls back enough to rest their foreheads together.
She wonders if it’s his first kiss. He had never mentioned another.
His eyes are very wide. “So… is that…”
“I…” Jasmine swallows. “Al. I want to say yes. I really, truly- no, wait, don’t do that,” she begs as his face starts lapsing into incomprehensible disappointment and sadness that makes her throat want to cave in on itself.
She grabs his face in her hands. “Aladdin. Look at me. I want to marry you. Nothing would make me happier.”
Aladdin’s face wars between hope and confusion. “But?”
“But.” Jasmine finds she can’t continue.
Aladdin tries, “Is it your father? I can talk to him, I tried to get you to spill about where to find him so I could get his blessing, I did ask around but I could find anything-”
Jasmine squeezes his eyes shut. Of course he didn’t. Oh god.
Her appearance in the city is tomorrow. She’s going to get pulled around in a golden carriage pulled by trained horses and she’s going to be wearing her finest clothes, be adorned in jewellery- maybe he won’t see her. Maybe if he does see her, he won’t recognize her under all of it.
“I- I have to go,” Jasmine tells him. She ducks in to kiss his forehead, both his eyelids, and then his mouth again, which is half-open on a question. “I’ll see you tomorrow! Late tomorrow. I have- I have to talk to my father and then-”
The hope in Aladdin’s face rises and she can’t help the smile as she stands, picking up her book.
“There are things I haven’t told you,” she tries.
He shrugs. “Is there someone else?”
“What? Of course not!”
“Then I think I can handle it,” he says, and he’s starting to grin, damn him.
She stays there for a moment, memorizing his dear face, which is framed against the palace in the distance. The stars are starting to come out.
“I love you,” she tells him. “Whatever happens- please remember that.”
His eyes fill with light. “I love you too.”
She takes it and stores it close to her heart, then turns and heads down the narrow staircase that will lead to a street, which leads to a dirt road, which eventually leads to the palace wall that she will climb over and sneak back into her bedchambers.
When her father sees her the next day, looking every bit the princess she is, he beams.
“Look at you!” He bounces up to her in all his tiny glory and takes her hands, which are heavy with rings. A bracelet bumps his wrist as he shakes her hands up and down slightly.
His gaze goes soft as he takes her in. “You look beautiful. Your mother would’ve…”
He trails off, lost in the past, and Jasmine tries to imagine what her mother saw in this man. It had been an arranged marriage, but from the little pieces she remembers of her parents’ marriage, it had been a very happy one.
It’s this and the tender expression on her father’s face that makes Jasmine attempt a smile. “When are we due to head out?”
Her father shakes his head as if he’s clearing memory from it. “Oh, soon, soon,” he says, and squeezes her hands tight. “I know you’re a year away from eighteen now, but we’ve just had so many requests for your hand that I thought we’d better get this out of the way so you can focus on your suitors.”
His smile fades when he sees her own badly-concealed misery. “Oh, dearest. There are so many to choose from, I’m sure one will be to your liking!”
“And if I’ve already found a man I want to marry?”
It’s daring, but she can’t bring herself to regret it. She brings herself up to her full height to stare down at her father, who laughs.
“Well, obviously that would… be…” he pauses and takes in the determined clench of her chin. “Wh- you mean you’ve already found one? But you don’t- you’ve hardly met anyone! There’s never anyone around! You don’t go anywhere!”
“That you know of,” Jasmine says. She opens her mouth to continue: I’m in love, father, I’ve found someone who suits me in every way and I want to spend my life at his side, but an advisor calls him away.
Before Jasmine can follow a servant calls her away to get her hair curled into golden jewellery, topped off with a crown that has always felt too heavy.
She spends the whole ride around the city holding her breath and only letting it out when she has to. She doesn’t bother much with the upper parts of the city, but when they start getting into the poorer parts, the ones she has spent time with Aladdin in, the parts Aladdin is most likely to be stealing in, she has to fight the urge to hide her face.
She’s wearing a red, flimsy thing that covers her forehead and eyes. That will have to do. If she spots him, she’ll turn in the other direction until he passes.
Let him be asleep, she begs silently as she puts on a smile and waves to the adoring crowd. Let him not care about seeing the princess and not even try, let me tell him of my own violation-
She checks the crowds obsessively for the familiar purple vest Aladdin always wears, the dear familiarity of his face, but sees nothing of it. She sweats hard, despite the chill, through the whole poor part of the city, and only when leaving it does she let herself sag back into the chair she’s propped up in.
People continue to call her name around her. Jasmine! Princess Jasmine, like a chorus, and Jasmine makes herself smile again. Once, she wouldn’t have noticed the careful stitching on their clothing or the moth-eaten edges or the hard lines of their cheeks which cried of too many nights going to bed hungry.
Princess, they cry, like a holy prayer, and Jasmine promises herself that no matter what happens, she will make herself worthy of their worship.
The minute the servants finish taking off the final piece of jewellery from her hair, Jasmine tells them to leave her be.
“Thank you,” she calls after them as they leave.
They don’t react. After she had started doing this months ago, they’d stopped getting confused by it.
Jasmine doesn’t even wait before their footsteps fade on the hallway floor before falling to her hands and knees beside the bed and dragging out her cloak. It’s changed once or twice since Aladdin started asking whys he doesn’t buy new clothes; now it’s a faded grey.
She pulls it on, then pelts towards the window and climbs down, only sparing a second to give Rajah an apologetic stroke before heading into the garden and towards the wall that she has climbed so many times before.
She all but sprints to Aladdin’s dwelling, but finds it empty. This isn’t too much of a worry, but it does set her nerves up higher, and she can hear her heat in her throat as she makes her way down to the marketplace. People recognize her, but only as Jasmine, not as the princess: she’s been in this market so many times that they probably wouldn’t connect the dots unless she threw off her cloak and revealed herself in the tiara.
When she doesn’t see hide or hair of him, she starts asking around. No one knows where he is, or they saw him yesterday but not today, or they don’t know who she’s talking about until she describes a street rat with the vest and the monkey.
Finally someone says, “Don’t know about the man, but I’ve seen the monkey. He’s screeching up a storm a few blocks down.”
Jasmine thanks her and runs in the direction she’s pointing.
It doesn’t take long to find Abu, who is indeed screeching and grabbing at the clothes of anyone who passes, only to be pushed or kicked away.
Jasmine runs to him and falls to her knees. “Abu! Where’s Aladdin?”
He stares at her, then starts screeching. He crawls into her lap and grabs at her cloak, tugging desperately.
“I don’t understand-” she gets up and lets him tug her along, but they don’t get far before some stall owner snorts at them both.
“You’re gonna look after the little shit now, then?”
The man nods at Abu. “Since his last owner’s gone.”
Ice floods Jasmine’s veins. “Gone?”
“Yeah.” The man turns back to skinning his fish, uninterested.
She marches up to him. Abu jumps onto her shoulder. “What do you mean gone,” she says, barely keeping a snarl out of her voice.
“I mean gone,” he replies. “Palace guards picked him up. They’ve been after him for a while. Glad to see we’re finally rid of him.”
Jasmine thinks about punishing him. She could do it. She wouldn’t need a reason. But it’s a thought she quickly shakes out of her mind- this is the exact thing she’s pushing against.
“Thank you for the information,” she says instead, and turns towards the palace. “Hold on,” she tells Abu, and then starts for it as fast as he legs will allow her.
She doesn’t bother climbing the palace walls. This time she throws her hood off and marches right up to the front gates.
“Let me in,” she says, and they gawk at her but obey.
It’s the same for the men guarding the cells. They try to argue- “There’s no one of interest down there, your majesty,” one of them tries, but Jasmine just pins her with a look and has him guide her down there anyway.
As it turns out, he’s right: there’s a man convicted of stealing, but it’s not Aladdin. She pauses long enough to ask, “What did you steal and why?”
The man wavers, but when she doesn’t continue, he says, “I- a thing of grapes, your majesty. To- to eat.”
She nods. “Have you other means of eating? A way of earning money?”
Again, he wavers. His eyes go to the guard, who looks just as lost but is hiding it better.
“I do,” says the man eventually. “But it’s- a tough business, and sometimes there isn’t enough to go around. I gave half the grapes to my sister’s boy,” he tries.
Jasmine nods again, then turns to the guard. “Let him go.”
The guard splutters. “Your majesty-”
“Let him go,” she repeats, and only waits long enough to see him get out the key and move towards the bars before asking, “Was there another man here? Purple vest, about my age, black hair- he would’ve had a monkey with him before he was-”
“Oh, yeah, they’re taking him to the chop now.”
Jasmine has to fight to keep her words stable. “The- chop? They’re going to kill him?”
“Where is it?”
The guard pauses in unlocking the cell. “Wha-”
“Where is he,” she snaps. When he doesn’t respond immediately, she steps up to him and demands, “Tell me.”
“Uh. The block’s just- where it always is,” mumbles the guard, and then when Jasmine doesn’t stop glaring at him, he continues, “Uh, up the stairs and then down a hallway and then-”
“Yup,” the guard says.
Jasmine starts towards the door, not pausing as she tells the other guard to escort the prisoner outside and give him freedom. She sees the two guards exchange a very confused look as she passes, but she doesn’t pay it mind. All she can think about is getting to Aladdin before the sword reaches his neck.
“Guide me,” she tell the first guard. “Run.”
He does. As Jasmine follows him, she wonders how she didn’t know where the execution block was in her own palace. Surely she should have known, but no- even after the transformative effect of the past few months, she didn’t think to find out.
“In here,” the guard tells her, and Jasmine rushes in just in time to see Aladdin kneeling down and placing his head on the wood.
“N-” the word freezes in her throat. Oh god, Aladdin-
She rushes in, pushing the executioner away just as he’s raising the sword. “STOP!”
The executioner is wearing a mask over his forehead and eyes, but the curl of his mouth lets her know all she needs as he raises a hand to push her bodily away.
“I said STOP,” Jasmine snarls, and she can hear people around her- some palace advisors, some witnesses, not many but enough that they could take her away without a problem.
Below her, Jasmine hears a quiet, disbelieving voice say her name.
I’m sorry, Jasmine thinks. Then she rips off the rest of her cloak, revealing herself in her plain clothing that she usually wears around the palace, and suddenly a hush falls over the room.
The executioner’s hands lower. He drops his sword and it clatters to the floor along with the rest of him as he falls into a bow, pressing his forehead and palms into the ground.
“Forgive me for laying my hands on you, Princess Jasmine.”
“It’s forgiven,” Jasmine says, even though every part of her wants to spit on him. “You were just- doing your job.”
She turns around to see the advisors and witnesses all staring, none of them moving. Slowly and then fast, all of them fall into a bow along with the executioner.
“Jasmine,” comes the voice again.
Jasmine looks down.
Aladdin is still kneeling, though he’s lifted his head off the block. His eyes are wet, but she thinks that was from before, when he thought he was going to die. He doesn’t look like he’s crying. Mostly, he looks confused.
He shakes his head slowly. “What,” he says, and she opens her mouth to apologize when the door opens again and another royal rushes in, accompanied by the second guard from the cells, who sinks into a bow on the floor.
“Someone said,” her father pants, and he doesn’t finish the sentence. His eyes land on Jasmine and widen. “What- Jasmine? Why are you-”
He looks down at Aladdin, who is now staring at the sultan with too much fear for Jasmine’s liking.
“What is the meaning of this,” her father asks, and for a moment he's almost kingly.
Jasmine bends down and unties Aladdin’s hands. She can’t quite figure out what to say, but she does know she doesn’t want Aladdin kneeling on the cold floor with his hands tied.
He stares at her as she helps him up. His expression is going from confused to realizing and back to confused again, but there’s a layer of relief in there, too.
“Jasmine,” her father barks.
Jasmine takes a breath. “I came here to right an injustice. Partly. I do want- I want to reform the laws of this city, father, because you have no idea how corrupt they truly are. But mostly, I came here to save my love.”
Her father squeaks, “Your-?”
“My love,” Jasmine nods, and tries not to focus too much on the intake of breath from beside her; how she can feel Aladdin’s breath on her face. “He is a commoner-”
“And a thief!”
“And a thief,” Jasmine agrees, voice rising. “Do you know why he’s a thief, father? Because we give him- everyone like him- no other choice! They either steal and become criminals or they obey the law and starve to death!”
Her words echo around the stone walls. Everyone except from her father, her and Aladdin are still on the ground in low bows. Aladdin makes a movement against her like he’s about to do the same, but Jasmine holds him up.
“We must give them other choices,” Jasmine pleads. “We must provide other choices for- for all of them.”
And me, she doesn’t say. And me, father.
He looks between the two of them, chest still heaving. He looks Aladdin up and down. “So this- is the man you want to marry, then?”
“It is.” Finally Jasmine looks at him, and it’s like a blow to the chest: he’s staring at her in equal parts adoration, confusion and fear. “If he will have me.”
Aladdin says nothing. He keeps saying nothing until Jasmine says, “Al?”
“You’re the princess,” Aladdin says, voice cracking on the last word.
She nods. “I am. I’m sorry for lying to you.”
“You- right.” His adam’s apple bobs. “I. Okay. Uh. It…”
His wet eyelashes are clumped together. “It wasn’t all a lie,” he says, sounding lost.
Jasmine takes his face in her hands and wipes away the salt. “It wasn’t, I swear- I just told white lies sometimes.”
“Like your dad’s a merchant,” Aladdin says weakly.
“Director of a merchant’s guild.”
“Oh, yeah, so much better.”
A laugh jolts from Jasmine’s throat before she can stop it. It dies quickly.
“I’m so sorry,” she tries again. “For months and months I lied to you-”
He shakes his head. “No. I mean, you did, and I’m… not not angry. But you did just save my life and accept my proposal, so. I think we’re even.”
He grins and she grins in response, and it’s only then that she remember right, father.
“He wishes to marry me for me,” she says.
Her father’s eyes are as wide as bowls. “You can’t marry a commoner.”
“Those are your laws, father!” She has to lower her voice again. “And you can change those laws.”
He rubs his tiny hands together, knotting his fingers and sighing down at them.
Aladdin looks towards Jasmine in question, who squeezes his hand and hopes.
“Well,” her father says finally. Then he looks up with a sparkle in his eyes that Jasmine rarely ever sees since her mother died. “Am I sultan or am I sultan?”
The hope rises in Jasmine’s throat like a soap bubble. “You mean…?”
He smiles. “As the sultan, I hereby decree that the princess may marry whoever she deems worthy.”
Jasmine turns fully to Aladdin, mouth hurting from her grin, and Aladdin’s own grin is dazed but happy as he picks her up and spins her. Jasmine hangs onto him, her arms around his neck and the side of her face pressed into his.
“Got your father’s blessing in the end, ha,” Aladdin says when her feet are back down on the ground and he’s still holding her tight to him. “Sort of, anyway.”
Jasmine kisses his cheek, then pulls back enough to kiss his mouth.
“Ahem,” her father says.
“Right, sorry. Sir. Your majesty,” Aladdin says as he pulls back, still looking more or less like he’s been hit over the head. “Oh god I have no idea how to run a kingdom.”
“Relax,” Jasmine tells him. “Father’s not going to give us the crown just yet. Both of us still have a lot of learning to do.”
“Yeah, more than I thought,” Aladdin says into her cheek, and then: “Man, I thought I’d just have to learn how to be a merchant.”
Jasmine laughs and hugs him tighter, knowing that there are countless conversations to be had about their future, about the future of Agrabah, and how they can make them both better than they once could’ve dreamed.