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The Gift of Sands

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Tonight is the night. I’m sure of it. I will find a way to have Jafar removed from Agrabah. Or so she believed. Princess Jasmine stalked through the darkness of the terrace, cloak pulled tight over her shoulders. She was determined, resourceful, and cunning. Her tutors had told her time and time again that she was better than any in her peer group. She had learned so many skills faster than any other…

It still infuriated her that it would never be enough for the throne. And why should it? She was nothing but a walking, talking womb. Perhaps she possessed more of a brain, maybe she could quote the greatest scholars of their time, and the philosophers who had shaped the very stone pillars of their Kingdom… It mattered little. Or better yet, not at all. With the heat of rage in her breast she continued on her trek through the garden.

She knew the palace well, almost every stone step and narrow corridor. So why didn’t she know where Jafar disappeared to on these evenings? The ones that came about twice, or on the rare occasion, thrice a month? Perhaps it was because her servants feared Jafar too much to follow him to the bitter end. She did not share their trepidation. Even now, there were other things she did not know, suspicions she had yet to allay, but… This, whatever it was, might be more than enough to win her the necessary sway to have him removed from power.

With that thought alone, she plunged into the darkness, narrowly missing his gaze as he paused beneath a particular overhang. Just as her handmaiden had said… On the farthest side of the garden, just a stone’s toss from the fountain. Jasmine slunk to the edge of said structure, pressing herself to the cool marble as she watched Jafar cast a weary eye. A cloud eclipsed the moon, assisting her just as his gaze seemed to linger close to her position. Jasmine pressed herself to the floor, peeking just enough around the bend to watch him smirk.

He turned, cape billowing behind him as he made his way deeper into the garden. Jasmine followed. Deeper and deeper, passing places even Jasmine herself had not explored. She had always been warned never to stray too far. No doubt these hidden places were the sites of many a secret liaison. The Princess kept low, crouching much like a hunchback beggar upon the street. The trees were her allies, as were the strange flowers that found time to bloom within the dark, narrow grotto that stretched into the infinite blackness.

Jasmine froze against the rough bark of a leaning palm, holding her breath when Jafar stopped not ten feet from her. He turned his head a little, away from her thankfully, but then –

There, a shade upon the stone, encroaching upon the grass.

A cry formed in her throat, welling forth on the tip of her tongue. Only to be strangled by her teeth and the sudden flurry of motion that erupted within the alcove. Jafar had whirled around in a burst of obsidian and ruby, a desert zephyr given physical presence. The golden crown of his staff made home against the assaulter’s throat. He was robbed of breath in that very instant, if the ‘oof’ he gave was any indication. The rest of the serpent’s long, gilded body pressed one of his wrists against the wall. Jafar grabbed the other, slamming it against the ivory granite with such force that Jasmine winced.

The dagger clattered to the steps, singing in beautiful chimes as its curved body slid across the marble. She gasped as the moonlight reflected off it, stinging her eyes. The blade was as silver as the great, pregnant goddess in the sky, folded elegantly into a guard of gold. It was dull in the shadows, but the ruby beholden in a circle of that same gold, watched her against the hilt’s worn, black leather. She shuddered under it’s gaze, pushing herself harder against the tree’s bark.

“You would think – “Jafar began, his glossy baritone accentuated by the way he tilted his head back. No doubt to stare down at the dark-dressed interloper from beneath his nose. As if he were an unsightly bit of dirt he had just side-stepped out on his moonlit walk. “That the King of Thieves, for all his wiles and the tales of his many adventures, would have acquired the knowledge that one does not try to sneak up on a cobra.” He snarled the last word, punctuating it by pressing the head of said animal against the throat of the man in his grasp.

To his credit, the intruder – the King – chuckled. A deep, throaty sound that reminded Jasmine of Rajah’s purr. She found a smile curving her lips as she watched the man, but Jafar was less than amused. His face twisted into a scowl, fingers tightening upon the other’s wrist in his grasp.

“That same logic suggests that a Grand Vizier would know enough of such tales to be aware that said King has more than his fair share of tricks.” Deep and rich, a timber that made Jasmine bite her lip. It happened in a flash, a melding of shadow and body and rich blue and deep red. The staff clattered away, opposite the dagger on the other side of the men now on the floor. The intruder had Jaffar on his back, his legs on either side of the Vizier’s lean frame. One of his hands, the one previously held prisoner by the staff, now held Jafar’s against the ground.

“Enough that all the djinn in the world could not defeat him…” Jafar intoned. Jasmine wasn’t sure she had ever seen Jafar look or sound so disinterested.

He released the King’s wrist, which allowed his hand to… to hold the Vizier’s face. Jasmine blinked. She shook her head to dispel the visage, but no. He was still touching Jafar. As if he were some rare treasure, a jewel that put all others to shame, but must be handled as if it were more delicate than glass. The sheer intimacy caused her to flush. Especially when she saw the King’s lids lower. The way they became warm with a glossy shine. His thumb, no doubt roughened by the way it caught and pulled the skin along Jafar’s cheek, stroked just along the curve beneath his left eye. Jasmine swallowed, shifting slow and quiet to ease herself against the tree’s trunk.

Something bled from Jafar. A tension as stiff and immaculate as his headdress, as the mask he wore to council and before the public. His face remained impassive, but something flickered in his gaze. Jasmine cursed her own naivete, wondering what this… this thing was that she could see so clearly, but could not name. It seemed the King of Thieves was a snake charmer as well as a master of disguise and stealth… But then Jafar rolled his eyes, slapping the King’s hand away.

“What are you doing here, Cassim?” Jafar grumbled, raising a palm to push at the other’s chest. There was no force though, as far as Jasmine could see. Just a light shove, as if he were bored.

“I thought that was rather obvious, my lovely Cobra.” The King – Cassim – replied. His face mask shifted, hiding what was undoubtedly a smile. “I came to see you.”

Jasmine felt something swell within her at the words. They felt as if they had floated from some distant memory. She remembered them then, in a fleeting instant, as they came from her mother’s mouth. No doubt in the midst of some fairy tale or other. Soft and smooth and sweet, like the crisp, rising tide that eclipsed the shore. One of the rare times she had been so far from the palace, been allowed to wander from its safe shadow, and into the light of the burning sun.

But there was somewhere else too… A dream. She had heard such words in her dreams, and her blush returned as she recalled them. Faceless and nameless, a man so tender had whispered them in her ear, kissed her with such heat and passion that she thought she might have become the sun itself. Only the sea could quench her, roaring and eating the sand, rushing along her legs and between her knees.

“Really?” Jafar’s roughened, yet silken brogue tore her from her fantasy. He snorted, shoving once more at Cassim’s chest, though there was force enough to send the other man back this time. Cassim rolled to the side in a blur of deep azure and black. Jasmine nearly gave herself away, legs twisting as he came far too close. But then he stopped, standing with a flourish as he tossed his cape back. She watched, transfixed as he sheathed his recovered dagger. She bit into her lip till iron soured the tip of her tongue.

Do you honestly believe you could outrun the King of Thieves? If she gave herself away, she would never escape the both of them… She didn’t even want to think about what they might do to her if they found her. Jasmine held her breath for safe measure, imagining herself as one of the statues in the garden. Jafar rose, long and sleek, snatching his staff from the ground as he did so.

“One would think you too busy to bother, considering the scandal abounding the Kingdom of Nasirimer.” He gave an insouciant flick of his hand, his cape fluttering at his feet.

“Now, now, jealousy is unbecoming you know.” Jasmine couldn’t see his face anymore, for even though he was masked, there was something oddly expressive about it. Jafar’s brows shot up, his crimson eyes swirling as they widened.

“Jealous? Me? Of some half-wit Sultaness with a Sultan who possesses not even one? Ha!” Jafar sneered, waving his hand at Cassim. “Please, do not delude yourself.” He turned his body away, gazing out towards the fountain. His face resumed its usual air of tired indifference, one brow displacing it as he regarded the King out of the corner of his eye.

“Of course, I’m sure that’s why you chose her. Easy prey, and all that? King of Thieves indeed, stealing from a hapless woman with a useless husband who no doubt handicapped her. She would have been easy enough without him, I should think.” A lazy smirk grew upon Jafar’s face.

“Tell me, what will the name of this new ballad be? The Sultaness’s Disgrace? The Ignoble Sultan’s Final Dance?” Jafar chuckled, a sound that had never ceased to raise the hair on Jasmine’s neck. It was as if the oldest, darkest stories her mother used to tell her had been given life, breathed and puffed from the pit of a snake’s throat. “He did dance, didn’t he? If the reports are to be believed, he all but pirouetted to his death. A balcony though…” Jafar tsked with a softness that bellied the caustic words that left his mouth “I daresay you could have done better.”

Jasmine bit back a gasp, nails digging into the tree bark. She could hear it in her ears, the quiet thunder of a thousand summer rains. Cassim was silent for many a long moment. Then, the sound again, the one that made Jasmine look up in surprise.

“I forgot how cruel your tongue was, my bitter Cobra.” Cassim’s tone had lowered with his voice, deep and thick from his chest. Jafar’s nose twitched, chin rising as he regarded the King from beneath his hooded eyes. “Or how vicious the sting of your bite could be.” He approached, neither slow nor cautious, but confident and graceful. Jasmine swore she could see Jafar faltering. As if he were hunkering between his shoulders instead of standing tall, but it must have been a trick of the eyes for he remained as still as she. “But ah, I’ve known your poison too long.”

Cassim’s hands rose, tugging away his hood, and Jasmine watched in muted excitement. She could not see his face still, but she could see the strength of his nape. Then up, into the thick darkness of his hair, and the silver that curled along his temples. It was short but well kept, and she could just see the beginnings of a beard…

“I’ll be the first to admit you’ve nearly killed me, once or twice. But every time I come crawling back, wanting just one more taste.” Another, shorter chuckle rose from his throat. “I suppose one could say I’ve built up an immunity to it.” Cassim pondered aloud, stopping only once he was before Jafar. Jasmine’s eyes widened.

She’d heard it. Nearly felt it in the still cooling blood on her own lips. Cassim had dragged the Grand Vizier down, hard enough that their teeth had clicked together. A deafening sound when all had been so still and quiet. A noise rose that she had never heard from Jafar, one that she attributed to the wind lashing against the palace walls in the height of winter. Hungry and raw, ready to consume with the ferocity of a thousand starving fires.

Cassim answered and met Jafar, his appetite for the Grand Vizier lost on the Princess. The man in question twisted the King of Thieves, one hand diving into the other’s locks as the other released his staff. She blinked in amazement. The golden cobra coiled in the grass, its ruby gaze staring straight into the diamonds that abounded the night sky. She had never seen Jafar so… enraptured. He never lost himself. He never allowed even the tiniest sliver of weakness. It was as if he were a true serpent hiding his belly. But this… this was new and strange and unsettling in its way.

Cassim grabbed at the front of his robes, while Jafar’s other arm twisted about his waist. He dragged him against him, clothes rustling in the undergrowth. Jasmine leaned forward, balancing precariously on the balls of her feet. Her lips parted to witness one of the handsomest men she had ever seen in the grasp of the most revolting one she had ever known.

He reminded her of Jafar in a way, a man who was the epitome of restraint and coifed to perfection before his peers. Now… Now his thick, onyx locks were tousled about his ears and curled to kiss the edges of his brows. The silver joined in as well, weaving with the dark waves to paint him as some night-born creature of old. His beard was thicker, cut keen and straight along the edge of his jaw and around his mouth. His black orbs reminded her of the diamonds of myth and lore, dark as an abyss and twice as deadly. They lured men with the wonders in their depths, harboring misery and madness for any who dared enter. The only exception was –

Jasmine could have rolled her eyes at the irony. She found herself nearly smiling instead. Snakes. Snakes were immune to the charms of the darkness. Well, at least for the most part…

Jafar huffed in what the Princess recognized was amusement. He reached up, lanky fingers tracing a path along Cassim’s brow. He pushed back the errant curls with idle flicks, drawing a sigh from the King of Thieves as his nails teased along his temple and down to his cheek. Cassim’s orbs slid closed, lips parting under the Grand Vizier’s ministrations. Jafar journeyed up, flitting with a butterfly’s delicacy between the bridge of his nose to the sweeping curves of his cheeks and jaw.

“Do not be so hasty, Thief King.” Jafar chastised, though his voice was soft and languid. “This serpent still has enough venom to fell you.” He tapped the bottom of his chin. Jasmine was struck once more with Cassim’s beauty, if it was right to think of such a roughened looking man as such. For when he opened his eyes, they glittered with the stars above, as if he had stolen them from the cradle of heaven. He smiled, crinkling the edges of his eyes and up his brow, telling of a life of mischief and adventure.

“I assure you,” Cassim murmured with the heat of the scorching sun, “I was felled long ago.” The kiss was gentler this time. It started as a rasping brush of lips, grasping at each other. Jafar’s wide mouth melded into the broader width of the King’s. They filled the other, a top lip to a bottom, trading and moving to a rhythm unique to long-time lovers.

Jasmine finally realized that none of their intimacy had been rushed. There was no clumsy fumbling as she had witnessed between servants. Even the few times she had been able to glimpse the courtesans of visitors, despite her father trying to keep her away, had suggested a certain swiftness. There was none of that here.

The familiarity they approached each other with, the ease with which they traded breath and space was… Well, it was not what she had expected. The ladies Jasmine had listened to in her youth had filled her with trepidation and nigh loathing for the man that would take her hand. For every single one of them had complained incessantly. Many of them were bored, or spoke in hushed whispers of their husband’s rudeness. Others were weighted down by darker secrets; pains Jasmine’s father had tried to shield her from.

Then, one day, at fourteen, she had met a woman who seemed to be born of miracle. She had not a bad word to say of her husband. She was the mother of five beautiful, healthy, well behaved children. The lady was welcome and complimented by the court. Jasmine had witnessed her and her husband strolling through the gardens, and despite their twenty years of marriage, there was a spark between them that the lady – when prompted by the Princess herself – had assured her had never gone out. Jasmine swore to herself that day that she would have such a marriage.

Then how queer, how odd and strange, and downright painful it was to see that Jafar of all people should have such luck. And with a man as handsome and dashing as the King of Thieves, this Cassim of all people…

They pulled away from one another, finally, Jafar’s brow resting against Cassim’s. The King’s gaze was lowered at first, mellowed by the Vizier’s affection. Then, they rose, slow and wondering, those deep onyx gems.

“What if I became a Sultan?” Jafar pulled back, shock written in his wide eyes and raised brows. He was quick to amend it with a devious smirk.

“Sultan? You?” Jafar waved his hand in dismissal. Cassim grabbed his wrist, his thumb notching into the hollow on the inside. The rest of his fingers splayed outwards, rubbing at the bones and risen, red veins along the back of the Vizier’s hand.

“I’m serious.” Jafar paused, his brow furrowing. As if Cassim’s seriousness were a weight, a challenge he had not foreseen. “What if I became a Sultan?”

“What if you became a Sultan?” Jafar repeated the words, a frown tugging the corners of his lips. “Are you hoping for an alliance with Agrabah?” Cassim chuckled, a throaty sound Jasmine was quickly learning to like.

“You think that would be possible if I took away her Grand Vizier?” Jafar’s face fell. He tore his hand away, drawing back to take Cassim in from head-to-toe.

“What are you asking me, Cassim?” The current Grand Vizier of Agrabah hissed, crimson irises flashing with a danger Jasmine had only seen a handful of times.

“If I became a Sultan, would you come away with me? Would you serve me and my Kingdom instead of Agrabah?” Cassim opened his arms, an invitation that would have left Jasmine speechless were she not already forced to be mute. Jafar? Leave Agrabah? It almost seemed too good to be true. But at what cost? Jafar seemed to be of the same mind.

“What you speak of is treason. You have always been prone to fantasies, Cassim - “

“Its not a fantasy!” Cassim thundered, black eyes sparking. “I am this close to making it a reality!” Cassim held up a hand, motioning with his thumb and forefinger a sliver as thin as paper. He jerked it back to his side, shaking his head, staring Jafar straight in the eye. “I ask you – you, whose talents and expertise are wasted. You, whose power and wisdom I know could change this world forever! – to stand by my side. Be Grand Vizier in name and in true spirit. We can rule together.” Cassim took hold of him then, by his shoulders, drawing him down to stare deep into his ruby irises. Jafar opened his mouth. Jasmine believed this to be the first time she had seen him at a loss for words.

“I – How would you even... I couldn’t – “

“But you can.” Cassim insisted. “Think about it. The two of us raising the greatest Kingdom from the grasp of the sands. We could create a dynasty that would last over a thousand years – tens of thousands!” Jasmine could feel his excitement within herself. Change, a real difference that would impact the lives of everyone. But for who? The shadow of doubt eclipsed her as she watched. “Medicine, education, science, even sorcery!” Both hers and Jafar’s eyes widened. “That’s right. It wouldn’t be against the law. A whole Kingdom of spellcasters raised by the greatest sorcerer I know teaching them.”

Jafar sucked in a harsh breath, clasping the outsides of Cassim’s shoulders. His narrowed eyes took in the bright obsidian depths of the King of Thieves, the shining silver of his temples. Jasmine could see it all: the reverent way he traced his features without ever touching them, the whitening of his knuckles as he squeezed Cassim’s muscles, and the way his willowy body seemed to lean over the other. He rolled his jaw, tearing his gaze away.

“You make such an enticing proposal, King of Thieves. How could I possibly say no?” Cassim grinned. Jafar smirked. Jasmine felt as if she had just been given the greatest gift imaginable and been denied it all at once.

“So you’ll do it? When I become a Sultan… you’ll come with me?”

If you become a Sultan.” Jafar corrected, his lips still crooked into smug amusement. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, my charming Thief King.” He rolled his eyes when Cassim narrowed his own at him, still wearing that dashing smile. “But yes, on the off chance that you actually manage to succeed, I will join you.”

“That will be sooner than you think, my cruel Cobra.” Cassim’s hand darted up, snatching the headdress from Jafar’s brow. The night was full of surprises. Fine, thick hair cascaded down in jagged spikes from Jafar’s head. The Grand Vizier snarled, but it was marred by Cassim’s lips once more. The King of Thieves held the stolen article behind his back, his other hand snatching into the other’s locks to mesh their lips together in a harsh dance that had Jafar making that sound again. They tore away sooner this time, panting into each other’s mouths as they spoke.

“I hate it when you do that.” Jafar hissed, reaching behind the other to make a grab for his turban. Cassim held it just out of reach, pressing his lips to the Grand Vizier’s once more. Several, shorter kisses followed, and Jafar abandoned his quest for his missing headdress. Instead, he grabbed a handful of the King’s backside. Jasmine felt the heat rising to her cheeks once more, willing herself to remain silent. Worry gnawed within her that they might continue their liaison with greater passion than she could stomach. Luckily, Jafar’s patience had an end.

“You cannot linger any longer.” He drew away, panting, a visible flush to his dark cheeks. “The guard will be changing soon.”

“As if I have not slipped by them, unnoticed for the past seven years.” Cassim chuckled, returning Jafar’s turban all the same. The Grand Vizier snatched it from him, grasping it with both hands to fit it back over his head. He tucked in the loose strands of his hair, huffing in the cool darkness of the night. His breath fogged before his mouth, telling of the heat still curling on his tongue.

“You may not always be so lucky. Go, now, King of Thieves, lest my patience with your antics reach an end.” Jafar made a shooing motion, stooping once more to pick up his staff. Jasmine swore she blinked. That was all. Just in the time that the Grand Vizier was bending at his lean waist, when –

Cassim was gone. The King of Thieves had disappeared just as they always said he could – like smoke. Jafar noted the change without the least bit of surprise. Jasmine saw him roll his eyes, stepping out of the alcove to walk across the garden. His shadow trailed alongside his cape, ominous and long as the man himself.

“Sultan. Ha!” Jasmine heard the Grand Vizier chuckle as he made his way inside.