"We should do something," he said, looking distantly at the palace through the cracked hole in the wall. Word on the street was the sultan had gone insane, where that insanity would carry the country, who could say?
"Yeah, but what can we do?" Cassim put an arm over his shoulder and Jafar's breath caught deep in his chest. Cassim smelled like spices today, spices from deep forbidden places, silk curtains, soft laughter. Jafar had always wanted to join him there but had never plucked up the courage. (and yet, who was it he wanted with him behind that gauzy silk?) "We're just a couple of street rats."
"Hmm, maybe," he smiled faintly, trying to ignore the pressure and the warmth of the arm on his shoulders (knowing he could trace the grooves of muscles with his fingertips) Instead he urged the scrawny birdling out of its spindly cage with a piece of stale bread. It crept forward, cautiously. "But I don't buy that. If only we just look for it, we could find a way in there."
"You're a dreamer, Jafar, always have been, always will be." Cassim moved then, taking his warmth with him as much as Jafar wanted to draw it back he patiently fed the birdling then held it cupped in his narrow hands, his fingers looking like brown skeletons. (Too thin. There was never enough for anyone)
"I'm going out, don't wait up."
"I will be," said Jafar, but too low for anyone to hear.
Later when he came back, it was late and he was drunk and there was the scent of whores on him. But he flopped onto that narrow rag and stared up at the roof as if it meant something. Jafar was watching him from where he lay, bundled in old rags like a moth eaten cocoon, shrouded in darkness. Cassim must have known he was still awake, because he sat up, all muscles and ease and stared at him, squinting.
"You're like a cat, you know that?" Cassim said, "Always staring. I'm surprised your eyes don't glow in the dark."
"You're like a mouse," Jafar said, imagining his voice curling from the black like a curl of exotic incense, capturing the mind, ensnaring the senses. "Always so interesting to watch." Though he was really more like a tiger, all vivid eyes and restless energy.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do," he said, as if Jafar hadn't even spoken. Instead he crossed to the window, his feet bare and dusky, ankles strong. He pushed aside the sad excuse of a curtain and let in the starlight. There was no moon and the air felt chilled for her absence. "Look at that. There's a celebration or something over there. I can see the torches from here. Living it up, the bastards." He said it casually as if he hadn't really meant it. "What I wouldn't give..."
"You give up to easily." Jafar saw his chance, opening, a gap in the door of the treasure vault. He had thought about it (but he was always thinking, that's what he was good at, that's what kept him fed and healthy on the sun baked streets) "There are positions open in the palace for people like us, you know. It's not always dependent on power or wealth. We can slip in, doing a service here, a task there."
He sat up growing excited with this idea, like a lit wick catching the oil from a lamp. "Why you could even become a guard," and seeing him with a bare chest, a curved sword at his lean hips. Jafar kept in the shadows and kept his secrets. "And we can whisper, whisper into the ears of the well placed, become indispensable and then, when the timing is right..."
"I'm not ass kissing my way into any palace. No sir, not me," Cassim cut him off, blunt and irritating. Jafar scowled at him and, in the darkness, Cassim couldn't see it either, though his back was to him so he couldn't see at all. "What kind of husband would I make if I did that?"
"What kind of husband do you make now?" Jafar asked, a whip in his voice (like he had felt cutting in his back when he was young and stupid and could only sit and cry for someone to save him.) Cassim did not bristle, he never bristled. Insults rolled off of him like water off a domed roof. He was a rock wall...but even as Jafar thought this, Cassim's shoulders slumped and he ran a hand through his tousled hair. (from sleep, from sex)
Jafar felt something cutting, as if the cusp of the moment was balanced on the edge of a scimitar. Right now, tonight, a change, too soon. He wasn't prepared. He wanted to take it back, to apologize, (though he wouldn't mean it) if only to keep it from happening, if only to keep what he had (as meager as it was he still clung to it, a dying hope in a deep night)
"Not any kind of husband. She's pregnant, you know. She told me. I knew it was coming. And I love her but I can't...I can't...I can't stay with her and bring her here to this...this hell hole." He smacked the stone with the heel of his hand and Jafar's eyes seemed to freeze with the sound. He bought the blanket close under his chin. He knew about her of course, had always known...and hated her.
"I need to get some money, Jafar..." he trailed off, his hand clenching into a fist. "And I know just how to do it."
He turned to look at him then, a half lazy smile lifting his face. For wont of breasts, Jafar was lost, and he couldn't bear the thought of showing Cassim his stringy, angled body (for stepping sharply sideways into the world) to tempt him. But even though he couldn't do that, then at least...at least he could follow.
"Then I will come with you," Jafar said rising, the floor cold and sapping the warmth from the soles of his feet.
Cassim came over to him, to close, to warm, to real. Lean forward and it would be gone, lean back and it would be gone, Jafar could only stand razor straight, staring at him in the dim light, a hand on his shoulder, a friendship, a farewell. Now it was Jafar's hands that curled into fists (not blocks of granite for men to fear but jagged nails that bit into his palms)
"You'd be blown away by the first big sandstorm. No, Jafar, we've had a good time, good years, you're strong now but not strong enough."
"Pretentious...twit," Jafar spat out, knew it wasn't his best. He may not have the strength but he had intelligence. He would follow Cassim anyway, show him how strong he was, show him that he meant... And then they were forehead to forehead, Cassim's breath on his face smelling like sweet dates. Lean forward, just a bit, just a touch (and let it all fall down)
"Go find your palace, Jafar. Go find where you belong... and I'll go where I belong and who knows, maybe one day I'll steal from you."
"I'd kill you where you stood," Jafar said, angry and frightened to find that he meant it. Cassim laughed.
"I don't doubt it." But he didn't believe it. "Keep safe." He left again, going toward the door, Jafar standing there in the dark. "It's a big bad world out there, even behind palace walls."
And he left and Jafar was alone and the birdling squawked piteously from the cage, a question, from behind, a musical swell that must have come from the palace. He turned toward it, the distant torchlight catching in his eyes and reflecting back. Where he belonged was silent and cold as a spider dusted tomb, where only the sand blows in.
Talking about the socio-political aspects of Aladdin with my friend yira_heerai and got this. Don't ask, I don't even know XD