Author's Notes: So basically, I don't care what the rest of the world thinks of this movie, because I thought it was awesome. How much of that can be attributed to Jake Gyllenhaal's rockin bod, I am not sure.

to see the world in a grain of sand

to see the world in a grain of sand

and heaven in a wildflower

hold infinity in the palm of your hand

and eternity in an hour.

-william blake, auguries of innocence

-x-

When they were young, maybe thirteen or so, Garsiv snuck into Dastan's room and shook him awake with a finger over his lips. He was grinning in the way that always meant they were going to get into trouble, which was all right with Dastan because it also meant they were going to do something that required breaking the rules. They had slipped into Nizam's wives' quarters, perched on the rafters, and watched the women bathe. They were noticed only when Garsiv reached out and shoved Dastan off balance and into the water. He had plenty of time to escape through the skylight in the following commotion, but he didn't; he sat on his beam and laughed until he cried, and when the guards were brought in to see what the problem was, he dropped down to Dastan's side and stood with him as their father yelled.

This moment is what Dastan thinks of when Garsiv leans in and murmurs, "Go, before I take your place." His men always assume that he is closer to Tus just because they don't fight as often. But in reality it was always Garsiv who stood by his side in his hair-brained adventures, Garsiv who taught him to fight (and to win), Garsiv who covered for him when he failed to show up at councils and meetings. Tus was a politician to his bones; Garsiv had battle in his blood. So while it was Garsiv who broke Dastan's nose and Garsiv who called his men street rats, it was also Garsiv who put snakes in the beds of foreign princes and dignitaries who looked down their nose at the king's adopted son.

Tus is the older brother that Dastan looks up to, the brother that he seeks advice from. Garsiv is the brother who will stand up beside him at his wedding ceremony and make faces behind the bride before going to bed with as many as the serving girls as he can find the time for.

Dastan clasps the hand that is on his shoulder and fights off the memory of that same hand, cold and dead. Time has erased the wrongs he allowed, however accidentally, to scar the course of history. He allows a small smile and approaches the beautiful woman glaring down at him. He recognizes the fury in her eyes, the same one she had carried with her throughout the journey that never happened, and it pleases him that she should be so angry. He likes her this way best of all.

-x-

Tamina regrets agreeing to marry Prince Dastan about ten seconds after she does it. She had found him breathtaking, at first, when he dipped his head to look at her with eyes filled twice with meaning, in which she could almost read a thousand impossible things. They are eyes of a man in love, the eyes of a man who finds her amusing and frustrating and fascinating and beautiful.

Then he kisses her hand and asks casually, "Are you sure? Don't rush, Princess. We have all the time in the world," in a way that seems meant to tease her, as if he knows secrets that he cannot possibly know.

He laughs at his own words and she feels that she is being challenged, tested. "Is there information that I do not already have at my disposal that would influence my decision?" she asks.

"Yes," he agrees instantly. "I am a terrific kisser."

She shakes loose his hand. "I've changed my mind," she tells him. "You're already unbearable."

He pushes off of the fountain to circle around her until he's blocked her back to the temple. "Yes, but," he argues, "consider this: if you marry me, I will never make you eat another pear again for as long as you live. I promise, not a single one."

She pauses, frozen in her step. "How did you know that I don't like pears?" she asks, folding her arms over her chest and glaring suspiciously.

She cannot read his smile as he rocks back on his heels and says, "I asked."

"Asked who?"

"Who what?"

"You're teasing me. You said it was too early for teasing."

He grins and steps close, reclaiming her hand. She would be annoyed that he is so presumptive with his touch, except that she likes the way his callused fingers feel on her own, and she can't help but think that he somehow wants to bicker, so she stays quiet to spite him. "I said it was too early for mocking," he corrects gently, and with his free hand tips his chin up so that she has to look at him. "Listen: no more jokes. I want to marry you because I find you enchanting and infuriating and perfect, and because if I don't then someone else will, and I cannot stand the thought of it."

And there it is again, that expression that knocks the wind out of her lungs, so she allows her lips to twitch up, if only slightly. "I will marry you," she promises, "but I cannot promise not to kill you in your sleep."

The smile that stretches across his face is so wide that it nearly hurts to look at. "That seems fair," he laughs, and sweeps her into an embrace that is entirely inappropriate, swinging her in the air as he spins. "So long as you regret it after."

-x-

At the banquet celebrating his engagement, Garsiv and Bis demand that he get drunk, and he does, drinking away everything that he can remember but they cannot. The joy he feels is impossible to describe every time he sees the men he watched die throw back a drink. The joy he feels when his father embraces him is so great he fears it might burst out of his chest in a beam of sand and yellow light.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs into his father's shoulder, sincerely. He hasn't seen Tus all evening; he thinks his brother may be avoiding the expression his father is wearing right now, torn apart and lost.

"Yes," King Sharaman agrees. There doesn't seem to be anything else to say.

Garsiv throws an apple at the back of his head. "Hey, ugly!" he cries. "I think our great father picked the wrong orphan all those years ago. Your man Bis is drinking you to shame. I'm frankly embarrassed about your girly constitution. Maybe we should get your betrothed in here and see who faints first?"

Dastan throws the fruit back, knocking Bis' goblet out of his hand and spilling the drink on the floor. "Hey, stupid," he calls back to Garsiv, "let's talk about who got the Persian army in through the East Gate. Was it the ugly guy in the funny hat? Because I think it was the Lion of Persia."

Garsiv roars and throws himself happily at Dastan, wrestling him to the floor. Garsiv has always been the better at hand-to-hand combat, and the fight ends with Dastan's hands pinned beneath him, Garsiv perched smugly on his stomach while Bis pours wine down his throat.

"I'm drowning," Dastan tries to say through liquid and laughter.

"Don't tease," Garsiv replies. "You'll get my hopes up."

After he has managed to free himself, he slips from the banquet hall and goes to the throne room terrace. He stands in the cool Alamut air and remembers the way the air here had tasted, before time changed. It is cleaner now, less dusty.

He feels rather than sees Tus come up behind him. "Father was looking for you," he says, not turning his head.

"Yes. He found me. It's all right."

The bond of brothers. Dastan glances at his brother from the corner of his eye. "Are you?"

Tus shrugs. "He'd have killed you, little brother."

It is answer enough. They stand and watch the stars.

-x-

She stalks him. A little bit.

It's just that he is absolutely the most bewildering man ever to walk the planet, and it irks her that he seems to know her so well and she has not even an inkling of understanding of him. He is by turn a prince and a street rat, noble and devious, arrogant and awkward. He chokes and stutters when he is embarrassed, and yet he makes a fool of himself for his men at every turn, unafraid of falling over and equally unafraid of standing right back up. He seems to have skipped the 'manners' portion of his education, because he treats everyone just the same, from the illiterate soldiers in his unit to the royals that pass through the city. He says "thank you" every time a servant does his bidding, and yet he refuses to shake the hands of men he disapproves of.

"A great man," he is fond of saying, "does what his heart tells him, no matter the cost."

He has a knack for infuriating her, knowing just what buttons to press, but she's getting better at learning how to press back. She's found that the easiest way to derail him is to smile, widely, uninhibitedly, because it absolutely stuns him to silence.

"You're doing that thing again," he says without looking up from his book.

She blinks, shaking her head. "What thing?"

They are supposed to be deciding on ceremonial details, but as it turns out, neither one of them cares what kind of bird is served at dinner. Tamina wants a big wedding; she just doesn't want to have to plan it.

"That thing where you look at me and think too hard. I love you. Let it go."

And there's that: he loves her, so freely and obviously that she cannot fully understand it. He says it every day, slipping the words into unrelated conversation. She suspects it is because he likes watching her expression when he does it.

She scowls at him. "You're trying to distract me," she realizes.

"Do you find me distracting?"

"Quite, so long as 'distracting' may be defined as 'producing great annoyance.'"

The barb makes him laugh, and he tosses his book aside. When he stands, she has to look away; he has this way of moving sometimes, when he isn't paying attention, that is as graceful as any cat. Usually he seems uncomfortable in his own skin, perhaps unsure of where that skin belongs, but when he forgets to worry about it, he is perfect.

She pushes the thought out of her head, grateful that he cannot hear it. He'd be far too pleased with himself.

"You know what we should do," he says abruptly, spinning on his heel. "We should go see some ostrich racing."

She raises her eyebrows. "Ostrich racing?" she repeats. "That exists?"

"Don't let Sheik Amar hear you say that, when you meet him," he laughs. "And it'll be best not to mention that you've got gold anywhere on or near your person. We may have to dirty you up a bit so he doesn't suspect. Of course, it'll be impossible to hide the fact that you're prettier than a thousand camels, but- "

She laughs, unable to help it. She likes this side of him, the scheming little boy who plans grand adventures in head and fully intends to drag her along with him.

"Who is this Sheik Amar person?" she asks, amused. "You have a bit of dirt on your cheek."

He turns on his heel and hurries back to her, kneeling urgently before her and taking her hand into his own. "Tamina," he says seriously, "have I ever told you about the Ngbaka?"

-x-

He makes her take sword fighting lessons. She complains bitterly until the first lesson, when she comes alive with the blade in her hand, devouring hungrily his advice and tutelage. He remembers the way she had looked their very first night together, lunging for the sword and whispering I can think of another solution.

"I win," she declares, panting, at the end of one of their meetings. She dips a hand into a nearby fountain and splashes her face with it. "Again."

"First of all, I let you win," he counters cheerfully, flinging himself fully into the water. When he emerges, he notes with pleasure that he's splashed her enough that her clothes are clinging. "And secondly, you are the world's worst cheater."

Tamina laughs gleefully, a laugh he is learning now for the first time. She hadn't laughed much, before time changed. He likes the way it looks on her: her entire face lifts, and her shoulders drop, and she tilts her face back as if expecting to take off from the floor. "It's not cheating," she argues. "It's strategy. To win at all costs requires a certain . . . deviousness."

He is learning this too: she hates to lose. Chess, sparring, arguments. She cheats blatantly, unashamedly, in every way you could imagine.

He flicks water at her and rolls his eyes. "Rationalize it how you want. Cheater."

"You should know that I have the keys to your sleeping chamber and that you are teaching me how to kill people," she reminds him dryly. "So watch who you're calling cheater."

She is softer, this Tamina, than the one he had known before. Outside of her compulsive need to sacrifice herself, outside of armageddon, she is not as high-strung. Oh, she still has her secrets, and her sarcasm is sharp as ever; but she laughs easily, smiles often, and is far more willing not to hate him.

He grins at her again and laughs as he climbs out of the fountain. "Double or nothing," he offers, and her smile is feral as she reaches for her sword.

-x-

Tamina wakes up in the middle of the night with her blood buzzing. This happens, sometimes: she falls asleep content and wakes with wanderlust, hungry for a horse and a stretch of land so vast it will swallow her up as she runs.

The Persian foot soldiers are napping outside her door, so she slips through one of the secret passages. She goes to the barn to saddle a horse, but when she mounts she feels suddenly alone, lonely, and the thought of riding companionless into the dark loses its appeal.

It kills her to admit that she knows who she wants to come with her. Still, she dismounts and sneaks into his stark bedroom, decorated only with a sleeping roll and a table with some food on it. He is asleep, one arm flung over his eyes.

Dastan speaks in his sleep, not coherently, but soft mumbles, curling up against whatever he is seeing. She drops to her knees and covers his mouth, one finger over her lips as he shakes awake, hand automatically falling to his weapon.

She raises an eyebrow at him and shakes her head, beckoning with her hand for him to follow.

He doesn't ask questions until they are both on their horses, and then he beams at her from atop his saddle, face as bright as any moon. "Where do you want to go?" he asks, and she understands in that instant in a way she hadn't before that he will follow her anywhere, no matter the cost.

She smiles at him. "You mentioned something about ostrich racing," she says, and he throws his head back as he laughs.

-x-

Sheik Amar and Seso are the same. In fact, the meeting is almost the same, except that now Dastan wears a ridiculous smile as Seso tosses his throwing knives back and forth. "You know what I absolutely hate?" he asks when Sheik Amar asks him if there are any reasons why he shouldn't ask Seso to aim higher. "Taxes."

Sheik Amar's face lights up, and Seso rolls his eyes as he tucks away his knives. Tamina raises her eyebrows at him but doesn't say anything. To her great credit, this Tamina, even without the threat of the ending world and the crumbling remnants of a war-torn city, had been brave when the slaves surrounded them with their spears.

"This is your idea of fun?" she had hissed at him, hand drifting toward her weapon. "I've changed my mind. We're calling off the wedding."

"Okay," he had agreed mildly, reaching out to take her hand. She had let him, though he got the sense that the contact gave him more comfort than it gave her.

Sheik Amar escorts them into them into the Valley of Slaves, explaining his incredible promoting skills, and they watch two races before Tamina starts wanting to bet. Dastan tries not to let her, but of course he doesn't really 'let' her do anything, so soon enough she is turning to Sheik Amar and saying, "I'd like to bet my companion that the bird closest to us will win." His jaw drops as she grins smugly at him, reaching over to pat his cheek. "If you had given me a coin, I'd not have had to do it, Dastan," she reminds him, and as the birds take off and hers falls far behind, she laughs delightedly.

Later, when he's dressed like a male prostitute serving drinks to uncomfortable touchy women, he thinks dryly that the universe has an odd sense of humor. He looks up at the spectator's box and catches her eye: she is laughing at him, leaning over the railing to look closer, and puts her fingers between her lips to whistle appreciatively.

It is hard not to separate this Tamina from the other, because they are so different in so many ways, but in moments like this he can see them both so clearly that it aches. "I'm thirsty, Dastan!" she calls over the din, waving him over. Sheik Amar and Seso lean on one another as they laugh.

He drops his tray and climbs like a monkey up the walls, stopping only when their faces are so close that if he breathes out he would be able to kiss her. She inhales sharply and doesn't move. It pleases him to think that he's stunned her, for once, into silence. "You're a thoroughly wicked woman," he murmurs, "and if I didn't love you as I do, I would pull you right down here with me."

Her smile is somehow shy, and he can feel her eyelashes whisper against him as she blinks. "What a noble prince," she mumbles, and then pushes him back down to the track.

-x-

Dastan is loud and happy on the ride home, riding ahead and then doubling back, buzzing with energy. She'd had to buy him back from Sheik Amar and Seso, but it was worth the gold to have seen him.

Her lips haven't stop tingling from where he almost touched them, and sometimes when he looks at her now her heart starts beating so fast that she can hear it. Damn the man.

There will be much yelling when they get home, but for now it is just the two of them in the desert, trading barbs and watching the sun sink.

Dastan stops abruptly and dismounts. "A sandstorm is coming in," he tells her urgently, and reaches inside his saddlebag for a blanket.

Part of her wants to leap back on her horse and gallop as fast as she can in the other direction, but she trusts him, so she stays and crawls into the makeshift tent.

"It'll pass quickly enough," he says quietly as the blanket begins to rattle with wind and sand. "You just have to wait it out."

She is silent, partly because she believes him and partly because he is close, so close that she can feel the heat radiating off of him, and she can feel a blush creeping up her neck. "Thank you for today," she whispers at last. "I still think you are a crazy person, but I've decided to marry you anyway."

He laughs, then hesitates. "You know that I'm not of royal blood, right?" he asks, and in his voice she can read the insecurities that she sees sometimes in his walk. "I mean, you know that I'm . . . adopted?"

She had not. There were rumors, of course, but it is not the sort of thing you ask in polite society. But she smiles at him and lies, because she can see that he needs it. "Of course," she says. "Everyone knows that."

He looks down, smiling to himself, and grins a little as he says, "You used to be a better liar, Princess."

She leans against him, a little, and can feel the way his whole body leans back into her, hungry. The world outside is a whirl of sand and ash, but she is here, in this little pocket of warmth with a man who loves her beyond reason. "Perhaps I am out of practice," she murmurs, and then turns his head with her hand and kisses him.

-x-

He isn't expecting the kiss, but when it comes he leans into it with fervor that surprises even him. His hand floats up to cup her cheek and he can't help the sigh of relief that floods through him, that he has managed to make her want him.

He is cautious as he kisses her, wanting so much but taking only what she gives and not asking for more. It's an awkward angle, but he'll take the crimp in his neck without complaint.

He shifts just half an inch closer, angling their mouths just a little deeper, and suddenly Tamina is coming alive, crawling across his lap to straddle him, taking his head between both hands and kissing him so hard he has to let go of her to support himself so that they don't fall over.

She thumbs gently across the scar above his eye, and then presses a kiss to it, and then to the one on his jaw, and then the one that disappears into his hair. He wouldn't be surprised if her lips pulled away the scar and his skin was healed beneath them.

She giggles.

Dastan opens his eyes, surprised at the sound. Her hands fall away and she sits back, grinning at him. "You should see your face," she teases delightedly. "You look like a cat who just caught a mouse."

He raises an eyebrow, bringing a hand to her arm and brushing his fingertips along the skin there. "I hardly think you're the mouse in this relationship," he laughs. "Maybe another cat. A meaner, bully cat who sells other cats into slavery."

"And buys them right back afterwards," she defends cheerfully, waving a hand in dismissal.

He kisses her again. He is afraid that he won't ever stop, now that he's allowed to. "The storm has stopped," he tells her. "We should go."

-x-

Three days before the wedding, they are in the marketplace when Dastan is kicked in the head by a horse. It is the stupidest accident she can imagine. He has his back turned, focused on trying to juggle three apples, to the great amusement of his brothers Garsiv and Tus and the man Bis, whose relation is still unclear. It's a sunny day, the brightest Alamut has seen in some time. And then some beetle bites the hind quarters of Dastan's mount and it rears up, its hooves coming down on his head with vicious fury.

There is a scream, a terrible scream, the worst sound she has ever heard: agony, biting and clawing and ripping through the air, and she realizes that it is she who has screamed.

Garsiv and Tus and Bis fall to their knees, shouting, cradling him, and there is a faint buzzing in the back of her head as she turns her horse around and gallops up the streets to the temple. It is forbidden, a voice in the back of her head whispers. Guardians must not use the dagger selfishly.

It is the second thing they learn. The first is that they must be willing to die.

I don't care, she snarls back, dropping to the floor and ripping the dagger out of its cradle. She has lived her life openly before the gods, obeyed them and loved them and worshipped them, but now she lays her thumb against the ruby and presses.

She has never used the dagger before, so she is surprised by how it feels, filling her up as she is pulled from the temple back down to the marketplace, and the buzzing in her head grows stronger. Dastan stands as the horse reverses itself, and then it is the moment before and Tamina doesn't think, just hurls herself at her betrothed and tackles him.

He grunts as they hit the ground, but the horse is subdued by Garsiv and she leans her head against his chest and tries not to weep. He brings a hand up to cup the back of her head. "Hey, hey, hey," he says gently. "It's okay. What's wrong?"

She touches his face with her fingers, frantically memorizing it, and there, in front of everyone, kisses him. "A second ago I lost you," she breathes, knowing that he will not understand it. "The horse - I thought - Dastan."

He looks down then and notices the dagger that had fallen loose beside them as they fell. His eyes go wide and he takes her face between his hands, studying her intently. "Did you- Tamina, did you . . . is the dagger empty?"

And he knows, of course he knows, it doesn't matter how impossible it is. He specializes in the impossible. She nods. "Yes."

"But you're a Guardian. It's forbidden for you to - "

"I don't care," she interrupts in a snarl, kissing him again. "I don't care."

He leans his head back and gathers her up, and for a long time neither say anything. Then he whispers, "Come. Let's get you cleaned up," and he holds her hand all the way back to the castle.

-x-

He wakes for the second time to find her hand on his mouth and her finger over her lips. He nods, and she curls up on his sleeping mat beside him, resting a hand on his chest. The wedding is tomorrow, and Tamina has not lost a single opportunity to hunt him down, to look at him and touch him and be sure that he is real.

He knows the feeling, so he lets her.

"I've been having this dream," she whispers. "In the dream, no one discovers your uncle's treachery. Your father dies. And we . . . " she swallows. "There is a long journey. Your friend the promoter and his knife thrower are there, but your brothers . . . I don't know. It is jumbled. There is so much sand. And then I am falling, except that I think you were holding onto my arm. But in my head I know that I must fall, that I was born just to fall to my death at this very moment, and I am so afraid, but still I pull my arm free. And the last thing I see before I wake is your face looking down at me, bloody and dirty and tired, and I feel my whole heart full of you, and then . . . nothing."

He pulls her tighter to him, closing his eyes against the same memory.

"And there are other things," she continues, curling in closer. "Smaller. There are snakes, and- and once, with a sword, I am trying to kill you but you- I don't understand it. I don't understand it."

His mouth is dry. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't want to lie to her and tell her it was all a dream, and he isn't sure that he can. To not speak of those erased days is easy enough, but to deny them is impossible. "Perhaps it is because you used the dagger," he suggests, instead of answering her. "Perhaps there are consequences when a Guardian disobeys her orders."

Tamina shivers. "It happened, didn't it," she murmurs. "All of it. And then you - impossible man - you made it right."

He closes his eyes. "Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Dastan looks at her. In the light, with the candles casting shadows on her face, he thinks she looks brighter than the sands of time itself. "What should I have said? 'There is no way to prove this, but as it turns out I just saved the world. Let's get married'?"

She rolls her eyes. "Yes. Exactly that." Tamina pokes him hard in the ribs. "At least now I know why you loved me, when I thought we were meeting for the first time," she says at last. "I couldn't understand you then. Now I do, perhaps."

"I love you because I'm afraid you'll beat me up if I don't," he answers, grinning, and she rolls on top of him, brushing their noses.

"You'd better believe it," she whispers, and then kisses him.

-x-

After the wedding, it occurs to her that she has never said it. They are in the banquet (eating pheasant) when she realizes suddenly that she has never told him, not in this timeline or the vanished one, that she loves him.

Later, when he is looking at her with the same dark eyes that he did that first day, so full of love that she is afraid it may spill over, she touches her hand to his cheek and murmurs, "I love you. I never said it."

He laughs. "You didn't have to, stubborn Princess," he tells her fondly. "I saw through you all along."