Death of a Ghost

Summary: Things have been set right. But Dastan and his brothers will soon learn that the dagger does not give without taking in return. Dastan's very soul may be at stake.

Disclaimer: I do not own the movie Prince of Persia. I do not own the characters of the movie Prince of Persia...But wouldn't it be wonderful if I did? Those student loans would be out the door and standing in line at the soup kitchen. ;)

AN: Well, hello! This is my first little dabble into Prince of Persia, which is currently my favorite movie. I've been reading plenty of the stories out there (are there really only 70 of them? that is immensely sad) and have decided to write one of my own. I especially like the fics that concentrate on the bond between the brothers. That was my favorite aspect of the movie, so that's what I will be concentrating on throughout this fic (though Tamina does make a few guest appearances). So, thank you for picking my fic to read! And I hope you enjoy. :)

Chapter One:

Once called the Lion of Persia, he is now simply known as The Ghost. He wanders the corridors like a spirit not yet ready to release its hold on the land of the living. His eyes, before so full of a lust for life, are now dulled by an indescribable and incomprehensible pain. Staring for miles and miles, he never sees what is truly in front of him.

"Has he said anything since his return?" Tus asks quietly, watching as his youngest brother trudges past without so much as an acknowledgment of his presence.

"Not a word," Garsiv replies, gaze following Dastan as well as lines crease the skin on his forehead and around his mouth. He has been frowning much as of late, the youngest of the Persian princes being the source of both aggravation and worry.

"He left Alamut quite suddenly," Tus explains, confusion apparent on his face. "The princess was less than pleased."

"Well, it is not everyday that a woman of her stature is proposed to and abandoned within the same hour." The middle brother shrugs as if Dastan's actions are to be expected. "Is it not reasonable to be anxious after one's first betrothal? I seem to remember a certain prince who hid in his bed chamber for several days after father's announcement of his eldest son's engagement to a very beautiful princess." Garsiv cannot help the smirk that follows his words, though the gesture does little to abate the concerned look in his glinting eyes.

"This . . . ." The older of the two shakes his head, sighing as Dastan disappears around a corner. "This is no anxiousness, brother. Something is plaguing him. It weighs him down as if his very soul has been ripped from his body. That—" He points in the direction that the young man has gone. "—is not Dastan."

Garsiv's gaze follows his brother's finger, and he grinds his teeth before asking, "What must be done?"

"Our answer," Tus says, determination coloring his words thickly, "lies in Alamut." The brothers exchange a look. "With Princess Tamina."

0 o 0 o 0

He can feel his insides burning, smothered by flame and smoke. The air around him is constantly being consumed; he can barely breathe. His mind screams Fire! Fire! but his body does nothing to comply, his mouth says nothing to those around him.

He felt it the moment he had returned from the time before this one, this feeling of hopelessness. He'd been sure it would pass once he righted things, once he saw the princess and explained to her what had happened. But as their conversation in the garden progressed, so did the endless pit growing in his chest; and when he'd determined that the heat radiating from within was not merely from the sun overhead, he had turned and run like a coward, afraid to subject this curse on anyone else.

Suffering in silence, his only ease is movement—aimless drifting to soothe the ache. Something is wrong; he his no longer the man he was before. The dagger, the Sands of Time, Tamina, his uncle, the death of his father and brothers. He understands why he must carry this burden, suffer the nightmares even during the day. It is his duty, his trial, to bear the weight of these unknown events.

Whispers swivel at the edge of his hearing.

"—since his return?"

"Not a word."

"—left Alamut—princess...less than pleased."

Tamina, his betrothed. How could he have left her? After everything they have been through? Everything she does not remember? Is that why he feels this way? Because only he remembers? Only he remembers failing to save his father? Holding his brothers' lifeless bodies? Watching Tamina fall to darkness? If this is his punishment, it is cruel and horrifying and . . . deserved.

"—plaguing him...weighs him down...soul has been ripped—"

The final words he hears before he deadens himself completely from the outside world cause him great distress and enough grief to allow a final unheard sob to escape his throat.

"That is not Dastan."

He cannot agree more and wishes with all his heart that someone would end his misery.

0 o 0 o 0

Tus and Garsiv ride to Alamut as if a demon is on their trail, which is not far from the truth. Dastan's life hangs in the balance, and time is not in their favor. When they stop, it is only for a moment so that the horses might get a cool drink from an oasis and so that the brothers might discuss their strategy.

"What do we tell the princess when we arrive?" Garsiv asks breathlessly, blinking sand out of his eyes. He pats his horse with appreciation, relieved that it is up to the task of riding for hours at their attempt to make the two-day journey as short as possible.

Tus splashes water on his face and sighs, shaking his head. "We tell her the truth—that something is wrong with our brother."

The younger man huffs his disapproval and crosses his arms. "She is already displeased. What makes you think she will help him? If she can help him?"

"She will."

Tus sounds so certain that Garsiv's eyes narrow and he strides to his brother with determination, asking, "What do you know that I do not?"

The future king chuckles and grabs his horse's reigns, pulling the reluctant animal from the water and mounting it. He looks down at Garsiv, who has to squint against the high sun to see the smirk gracing Tus's face. "I know a great many things that you do not, brother. A great many things."

Garsiv growls and pulls his own horse from the oasis, climbing into the saddle and starting after the older man's already disappearing figure.

0 o 0 o 0

Their arrival at Alamut is not met with celebration or warmth. In fact, many of the holy city's people are quiet and reserved, as if they are in mourning.

"You," Tus says firmly, dismounting his horse and pointing to a woman carrying a basket of linens into the palace, "what is going on here? Where is the princess?"

The woman frowns and shifts the basket that is balanced on her head. It is obviously very heavy, and she is obviously in no mood to talk to the princes who raided her home. But she speaks anyway out of respect for her lady. "The princess has shut herself away in the palace tower, your highness. She speaks to no one but her closest adviser."

"We need an audience with her immediately," Garsiv states, his words harsh and blunt.

The woman scowls. "I told you, she speaks to no one—"

"This concerns her husband-to-be, our younger brother," Tus explains quickly, holding up his hands as if to show he is no threat. "Please, his life is at stake."

The servant's scowl falters, and she glances between the two men warily. They seem sincere, and in the brief time that their city has known the princes of Persia, the brothers have seemed honest enough. And even if the lady is still angry at her husband-to-be, she would still want to know if his life were in danger.

Setting down her basket, she nods hesitantly, saying, "Come with me."

0 o 0 o 0

The king watches quietly as his youngest son enters the garden, his heart falling as he does not receive the warm greeting that he has become so accustomed to when interacting with Dastan. The boy has become lost, his body a hollow shell compared to the stories Sharaman has been hearing. The name the king's subjects called Dastan upon his arrival at Alamut, the Lion of Persia, had made the old man laugh with a great sense of pride. His adopted son, whom he has never loved any less than Tus and Garsiv, is fierce and brave and unafraid.

This . . . This husk that wallows in misery is nothing like his Dastan, nothing like the lion he has heard tales about from his soldiers. Even Garsiv has managed to tell a few stories about his brother, and Tus has not stopped raving about the young man's courage and valor.

The king is very happy to hear such things, gladdened that his sons' bond seems strong . . . as strong as he thought he and his own brother were. The thought of Nizam brings a great ache to his heart, and he is ashamed to think badly of his brother, even if the man was bent on betraying him and his sons.

After a moment, in which the old man sighs and collects his thoughts—he must concentrate on the now, where his beloved son needs him—he steps carefully into the garden, intent on finding the answers to Dastan's ailment.

"My son," Sharaman says softly, coming up beside the young man and taking his arm in a careful grasp. Before, Dastan would have been startled, to his great embarrassment and annoyance; the blood and instincts of an orphan on the streets still run through his veins, the paranoia of being stabbed in the back being the only thing that has kept him alive for so long. This time, Sharaman's youngest does not react at all except to stop when his father tugs insistently. The old man forces a smile and pats Dastan's shoulder. "Walk with me, please."

Dastan does not so much walk alongside him as allow himself to be pulled against his will. The king acts as if he does not notice. "Dastan, you are troubled." He waits for an affirmation to his words, sighing when silence lingers between them.

Lush ferns brush against their legs as they continue towards the center of the courtyard. Such plants are a luxury in a world vast with sand. When the two reach the fountain at the center of the garden, the king circles it halfway.

"Sit with me, Dastan," he insists, gently pulling the young man down beside him as he lowers himself onto the edge of the stone fountain. The king takes a moment to look up over his shoulder at the stone sculpture of a woman smiling down at a small girl who clutches at her dress.

"It was built by my father's father; a gift for the fifth and most-beloved wife taken by the king at the time," he says softly, a smile playing on his pale lips. "She died during the birth of their second child, a daughter who drowned in the fountain just before her third year. In a fit of rage and despair, the king ordered the fountain destroyed, unable to stand the sight of it." He glances at Dastan out of the corner of his eye, gauging the young man's reaction. Dastan merely stares ahead at nothing, blinking slowly and swaying slightly in the morning breeze. "He believed it cursed," Sharaman continues quietly. "When restless sleep claimed him, he dreamed of his wife and daughter, and they begged him not to destroy the beautiful structure, not to live in suffering until he festered into a bitter man. The king promised them, stopping the fountain's destruction just as the first strike was to be made. Instead, he made the fountain a tribute to his beautiful girls, replacing the centerpiece with a statue of them. To this day, the fountain stands strong and unweathered, as if only constructed the day before."

Sharaman has always loved stories, especially those with truth to them, and this is one of his favorites—one of Dastan's favorites, too. When he was a boy, he would ask to hear it every night before he fell asleep.

Frowning and turning back to his youngest son, the king sighs. He has not told his youngest son such stories at his bedside for a long time, and he doubts very much that he will ever again. He takes the young man's face in his weathered hands, forcing his son to look at him. "Dastan," he whispers desperately, tears welling in his eyes, "I am your father." Something flickers in the other's eyes, and he holds his breath, attempting to subdue the hope swelling in his heart. "Please, my son. Please speak to me."

0 o 0 o 0

"—speak to me."

Dastan cannot refuse his father, the man who saved him from a life of poverty and starvation. The muscles in his throat spasm as he tries to swallow. He is so parched. When was the last time he had something to drink? To eat? When was the last time he spoke to anyone?

Time has no meaning anymore.

The thought strikes something within him, and before he can stop himself, a sound bubbles up from his throat and spills past his lips.

0 o 0 o 0

Sharaman is startled at the noise that echoes around the courtyard walls. Laughter—hysterical and desperate and so close to a sob that the king is not quite certain for a moment if it really is laughter. His hands remain on Dastan's face, soaking in his son's tears as they breach his carefully-constructed barrier. And then Dastan really is sobbing, his face twisting painfully. Sharaman pulls the prince's head to his shoulder, one hand shifting to the back of the young man's head and fingers stringing through his long, thick hair.

"Father," Dastan cries, his voice muffled by the fabric of the king's shirt. "It hurts. Gods, it hurts!"

"What hurts?" the king soothes, becoming more and more alarmed as his son suddenly clutches his clothing like he used to when he was younger and afraid of the sounds made by the desert storms. "What pains you, Dastan?"

0 o 0 o 0

"What hurts?"

Everything. Everything hurts. Dastan cannot tell one moment from the next. It all blurs into agony. This is why he has trapped himself away, buried himself so fully—the pain is too much.

"What pains you, Dastan?"

Everything. Everything pains him. Memories that shouldn't exist but do, memories that should exist but don't. And Dastan does not know which is worse—the memory of his family's hatred toward him or of Tamina's love. Confronting her that first time since his return to the beginning of such heartache and seeing no recognition or trust in her eyes was enough to bring about the end of his world.

But apparently the gods have not punished him enough just yet.

0 o 0 o 0

"My lady," the Alamut servant says softly, kneeling before the princess and bowing her head.

"Sasha," Tamina responds with as warm a smile as she can muster, nodding her permission for the woman to rise. "What brings you?"

"Princes, your highness," Sasha says reluctantly, watching as the other woman's eyes darken. "From Persia."

Tamina turns her head away from the servant angrily. "I do not wish to see that traitorous bastard again. Send him away."

"Not Prince Dastan, my lady," Sasha explains, careful with her words. "The two eldest, Prince Tus and Prince Garsiv."

This peaks the princess's interest but also churns her anger further. So Dastan would send his brothers to clean up his mess? To temper his raging wife-to-be? Well, they will see how tempered she will be once she is through with them.

"Very well," Tamina says evenly, narrowing her eyes at the door. "Give them entrance."

Sasha nods and bows before scurrying to the doors, opening them to reveal two dusty, disheveled princes. Tamina's resolve wavers as they approach swiftly, and her eyebrows rise high on her forehead when they fall to their knees.

"Your highness," the eldest prince speaks first, his breaths spilling in stuttered gasps, "we beg your assistance."

Attempting to regain some composure, the princess tightens her grip on the throne's arms, her knuckles turning white with the action. "What has happened?"

"It is Dastan," Garsiv states gruffly, looking as though kneeling before her causes him physical pain. "He . . . Something is not right with him."

"How so?"

Tus and Garsiv share a worried look. "He wanders the palace in anguish. He will not eat or drink or sleep," Tus explains with some reluctance. "Our attempts to assuage him go unnoticed."

"And unappreciated," Garsiv mutters, wincing as his brother jabs him in the ribs with his elbow. "He acts . . . He acts as if his very soul has been broken."

The princess looks away in thought, her lips pursing pensively. "Tell me," she says softly, her eyes donning a far-away glaze. "Has Dastan spoken of the dagger he returned to me the day your army invaded my city?"

The middle brother grits his teeth in annoyance, ready to stand and storm from the palace in a rage. This woman knows nothing about what is happening to their brother. They are wasting their time when Dastan could be dying.

Before he can make such a rash decision, however, Tus places a soothing hand on his shoulder, asking, "What does this have to do with our brother, princess?"

Tamina's gaze falls on the men once more, and her eyes flash dangerously. "It may have everything to do with him." She stands and nods to them, acknowledging that they should do the same. "You must bring him here, to me."

"You know what is wrong with him?" Garsiv demands as he and his brother rise to their feet. "Why must he come here?"

"Garsiv," Tus admonishes, turning to the woman standing tall and proud at her throne. "What my brother means is . . . Dastan may not do well with such a journey."

"He must come here," Tamina insists boldly, allowing the men a glimpse of just how worrisome the situation is. "His life depends on it."

0 o 0 o 0

The prince's screams can be heard throughout the palace, now. And as Garsiv rides aggressively through his city's gate, his stomach churns at the thought that he may be too late.

"Father!" he shouts as he bursts through his younger brother's bedchamber door, finding the old king sitting dutifully at Dastan's bedside. He runs and collapses at Sharaman's side, his face and clothes caked with sand and desert dust as his chest heaves with exertion.

"Garsiv?" the older man asks with worry, reaching out and placing a hand on his middle son's shoulder. "What has put you in such a state? You have returned so soon from Alamut?"

"Father," Garsiv wheezes, taking a moment to catch his breath. When he is unsuccessful, he continues breathlessly. "I must take Dastan back with me to the holy city. The princess has a way to help him."

The king nods without hesitation. "I shall arrange for your departure." He signals to one of the servants, but Garsiv quickly grabs his father's arm in a trembling but firm grasp.

"No." He shakes his head, coughing against the burning in his lungs. "I must take him with me now, on horse."

Sharaman's eyes widen, and he looks to Dastan, who writhes under his bedding, crying out hoarsely. "But . . . He is in no state—"

"There is no time," Garsiv says with regret, eyeing his brother fleetingly. His lips draw into thin lines, and he looks back to his father desperately. "Please, I must take him. He has no hope unless he leaves with me now."

The king finds truth in his son's panic-laden eyes, and with a reluctant gesture to the servants, he says, "Dress him. He is leaving with Garsiv."

0 o 0 o 0

Sharaman sees his sons off with a sense of dread, only able to convince his son to take those army men who are ready to leave as soon as he is. Dastan sits languidly in front of Garsiv on the horse he has stolen from his brother countless times. It is the fastest, even with an extra man to carry, and no one in the palace would trust any other horse to carry their princes in such a time of crisis.

Garsiv grips the reigns with one hand, holding his brother against him with his other arm. Strange how Dastan's back molds so perfectly to his chest, as if they are cast from the same stone despite their different birthings.

As soon as the younger man is settled, Garsiv offers his father one last look before digging his heels into the horse's flanks and starting off at full gallop toward their only hope.

AN: I'm thinking four or five chapters...though it could very well be only two or three, depending on how much I get written tonight and where I decide to leave you next time. ;) Next chapter up soon! More Dastan angst to come.