AN: So...I really only can beg your forgiveness on the lateness of this chapter. It is extremely annoying when an author doesn't update for months, and I am ashamed to say that I happen to be one of those authors. I really need to get on the ball, people. Job-hunting is not going well, which is unfortunately reflecting in my work, as of late.
I do apologize, and I really hope that you like this final chapter. I really didn't want to rush it...but I really wanted to get it done.
The Death of a Ghost
The sensation is maddening. Something tugs on his insides, and suddenly he is floating above Garsiv and the princess . . . and, terrifyingly, himself. He watches the scene play out, familiar except for the fact that it is in reverse. There is no sound—or there might be sound, if not for the deafening roar pressing in on his ears. He feels as if he is on the brink of losing balance and hovers there in that moment.
Watching himself leave the room, he feels another tug and is forced out onto the balcony—tethered to his body. Garsiv follows shortly, and they both resume their place's at the balcony's edge.
He can now see over the side.
Far below, Dastan's body jerks violently, then begins to rise in an eerie reverse-fall. Up and up until finally he settles gently back against the stone wall beneath the balcony. There are no signs of distress on his face, no desperate scrabble for safety once his fingers detach from the wall.
Dastan had allowed himself to fall.
And Tus's heart aches at this revelation.
The reversal begins to slow, the future king lowers towards his body. For a moment, he is frightened that he will not go back far enough, but as he becomes closer and closer, his body sweeps over the ledge and lowers. Garsiv briefly clutches at his arm, then Tus descends with an awkward jerking motion, slowly reaching his destination step by agonizing step until finally . . . he is there.
The roar dies down. The world begins to sharpen. And he joins with his body.
0 o 0 o 0
Dastan remembers using the dagger with intense clarity. He recalls the sensation of floating, of his insides hanging in that moment that feels almost like he is on the verge of falling. He also remembers what it feels like to return to his body—that sense of confusion, of disorientation . . . of an encompassing coldness.
Dastan remembers all of this, and his heart gives a sharp, throbbing pang of sadness and guilt when he sees that look take his eldest brother's face, having to grab the older man's arm when his grip falters. Tus's gaze whirls on him, his eyes wild and shining with something unfamiliar. Before the young prince can determine what it is, the other man speaks, his words rapid and breathless.
"Dastan, you are not a coward."
0 o 0 o 0
Dastan looks startled by the words, and Tus realizes that, by the grace of the gods, he has returned to the point before those ugly words left his tongue. He cannot afford any mistakes this time. Second chances are rare. Second chances to right a terrible wrong are eve more rare. And second chances to save someone you love beyond words is almost unthinkable.
Tus will not waste this moment.
"You are not a coward," he repeats, venturing to release one hand from the wall and place it on his brother's shoulder. "You are the son of a king, the prince of a country, the Lion of Persia." He swallows and gives the other man an imploring look. "You are my brother."
Dastan studies him carefully for a moment, then nods as if making a decision. Gesturing upward, he says, "After you, brother."
Tus's shoulders sink slightly, and he sighs with disappointment and worry. "Perhaps you should go first," he suggests cautiously, but the young man is shaking his head before the full sentence has passed his lips.
"You are the future of Persia, Tus. It is my duty to see to your safety." He gives his brother a pointed look, as if realizing the irony of the statement.
"And it is my duty as a brother to see to the safety of my youngest sibling," Tus argues, though he can see in the other's eyes that he will not win this argument.
Dastan shakes his head again. "The duty to a king far outweighs the duty to a brother."
Tus frowns. "That is not what father taught us."
At this, the young prince looks away and concentrates on the stone wall in front of his face. "Father's teachings lost their meaning the day our uncle betrayed us."
Tus's arms begin to shake from the exertion of holding himself against the wall, but he is determined to continue the conversation. This is the most that Dastan has said for a long while. "Our uncle took advantage of what he had. His death reflects only his ill will." He waits until Dastan's gaze returns to his before saying, "And it certainly does not reflect on you."
Dastan sighs deeply, dust kicking up on the ledge and hovering around his face. It distorts his expression as he says softly but firmly, "I will not move from this spot unless you move ahead of me, Tus."
The older man hesitates, looking upward, then back at his brother. "But you will follow . . . won't you, Dastan?"
0 o 0 o 0
There is that look again—the one that Dastan had seen after he'd stabbed himself to prove his innocence. Tus has used the dagger, and he clearly does not like what he saw.
Dastan purses his lips and offers a thin smile. "Of course, Tus," he says easily. "I'll be right behind you."
0 o 0 o 0
Tus sees the lie in his brother's eyes, and his heart aches. If he must watch Dastan throw away his life again, he may just jump after him. At this point, the pain seems too much to handle.
"All right," he says huskily, his throat closing around a lump. "I will see you at the top, then."
Dastan nods. "At the top."
Tus can offer his brother nothing more. Words seem so insignificant in this moment. So he turns and he grabs the next hold, thinking that he has seen his youngest brother alive for the last time.
0 o 0 o 0
This time, Tus allows Garsiv to pull him up over the ledge. This time, he does not turn to look as Faran is ordered to help the youngest prince over the ledge. This time . . . Dastan is pulled to safety.
The future king watches with wide eyes as Garsiv surges forward and engulfs the younger man, whispering threats of bodily harm if he should ever attempt something so ridiculously fatal again.
Dastan's gaze finds Tus's, and they share a solemn look. Shadows darken their eyes, and for a moment the eldest prince is able to sense the awful feeling that Dastan has been living with this for so long.
"Here!" a voice calls behind them, and the princess emerges from the dark insides of the tower. "Bring him!" She spares Tus a brief look before frowning and nodding in his direction. "And you as well."
Concern laces Garsiv's face as Tus agrees without hesitation. Already his body feels tired, and a chill settles over him.
"Tus?" the middle prince asks quietly.
The future king gives him a withering look. "Bring Dastan," he says carefully before turning and entering the palace.
0 o 0 o 0
It is bright and hot and cold. Dastan's vision swims and his stomach twists painfully. The ritual is barbaric, teeming with words he doesn't understand, people he doesn't recognize. His head blazes, his thoughts blur. He feels like he is falling again, falling from the balcony—falling from the cliffs surrounding the sacred sands of time.
Is that what ails him? The sands? The dagger? Will Tamina help him? Where is she? Why isn't she here?
"Tamina? Where . . . ." His throat, too dry; his words, not enough.
Then, a cool hand on his face, fingers stroking his hair. "Dastan." The voice is quiet, caring. It is hers! Not the harsh princess from the time before the dagger, but Tamina—the strong, protective woman he fell in love with. She will understand! She will help him!
His fingers search, grasp soft silk and hold tightly. He swallows and smiles despite the pain, taking a labored breath. "Do you remember," he rasps, drawing her closer, "when we escaped the ostrich races?"
Quiet, hesitation. What is wrong? She cannot still be angry that he tried to sell her into slavery? He would not have left her there! Truly! He only wanted to teach her a lesson, make her show some humility.
"I think I fell in love with you at that moment," he continues. "Even though you were a coercing, scheming, sad excuse of a woman . . ." He chuckles, coughs and grimaces as his chest flames. "I . . . I still saw something . . . in you." More silence. Perhaps he is wrong. Maybe she is not his Tamina—maybe she is the coercing, scheming, sad excuse of a woman. And his Tamina, his princess, is locked away inside the sands of time, at the bottom of that horrible abyss he watched her fall into.
The tears come hot, burning his cheeks as they cascade down his face in endless rivers. "I let you fall," he whispers, grasping her even more tightly. "You slipped from my fingers . . . I could not save you."
He sputters and fights for breath.
0 o 0 o 0
"He is delusional," Garsiv mutters, attempting and failing to put on a show of anger to cover his worry. The priestess's chambers are not overly large, but wrapped in silk sheets in an over-sized bed, Dastan looks alarmingly . . . small.
The room is dim, lit only by a few candles, which cast an eerie, amber glow over the youngest prince's sweat-slicked skin. Several strange people draped in sheer, dark fabric hover around the bed, undulating and gyrating violently as indistinct words spill past their lips.
"This is madness, Tus!" The middle prince turns to the other man with barely-concealed incredulity. "Our healers—"
"Cannot help him," Tus interrupts solemnly, shaking his head as he looks on at the ritual. "You know that as well as I do."
"They did not know what is wrong with him," Garsiv hisses, stepping closer to his brother so that their shoulders are touching and his lips are beside the other man's ear. "This princess obviously does, and if she would only tell us—"
"Garsiv, for once," Tus says harshly, turning his head sharply to look the other man in the eye, "stop attempting to sabotage Dastan's well-being!"
0 o 0 o 0
Tus is unaware of the words until they have left his tongue. Immense guilt settles over him as Garsiv's concerned look morphs into hurt.
The future king shakes his head and blinks a couple of times before speaking. "Garsiv, I . . . I do not know why I—"
Suddenly, Dastan shouts in agony.
0 o 0 o 0
The pain is unbearable. It is as if the sacred sands themselves are burning him from the inside, out. Tamina's comforting, cool touch is gone, her voice so far away.
His vision darkens, his chest becomes heavy. The air itself seems to be sucked from his throat.
0 o 0 o 0
"What is happening to him?" Garsiv demands, taking a step forward. Tus grasps his arm, keeping him from advancing on the princess and their brother. "You said you would help him. Why are you hurting him?"
"We are not hurting him," Tamina explains sharply as she whips around to stare at them, her eyes dark in the low lighting of the room. With her long hair wild about her shoulders, she looks possessed. "We are driving the Sands of Time from his mind." She turns back to Dastan's writing form. "These memories are like demons. They burden his soul with knowledge that he should not have, and so they tear him apart from the inside." Frowning, the princess makes her way around the bed until she is at Dastan's side, the glint of something in her hand catching the princes' eyes. "They must be expelled."
Before either Tus or Garsiv can react, Tamina raises the glinting object high above her head—it is the dagger—and plunges it down into Dastan's chest where his heart lies. The older princes cry out, struggling against the many hands that now grip their arms, preventing them from reaching their youngest brother.
0 o 0 o 0
Dastan does not scream. His struggling ceases, his eyes open wide. He gasps, and the sound is filled with liquid—with blood. It bubbles up this throat and coats the roof of his mouth, his tongue, his lips. Looking up, he finds Tamina staring back at him. The brave, stoic princess is gone. Her resolve has wavered. Crimson stains her hands.
This is the Tamina he remembers—this is the woman he fell in love with.
"Forgive me, Dastan," she whispers, a stray tear finding its way down her face and nestling beneath her chin.
The young prince offers a weak smile. Strength drains from his limbs, and he closes his eyes. "Always, Tamina," he whispers.
The dark takes him.
0 o 0 o 0
All for nothing. Their fight for the youngest prince's life has been in vain. They dragged him through leagues of desert and a sand storm, pulled him to safety from the height of one of the tallest towers known to man. And this is how he will die? At the hands of the woman who promised to save him in the first place?
No. This will not be the end for Dastan.
Garsiv and Tus break free. Blind rage consumes them. They tear across the room, fighting back those who stand in their way. Sights set on the murderous princess, they scream their fury into the dark air.
They will not lose Dastan. They will not lose the beloved Lion of Persia.
They will not lose their brother.
0 o 0 o 0
Tamina almost doesn't have the strength to bring the dagger down, to force it to pierce the skin of the man she has come to love very much over the past few days. Yes, she has been angry beyond belief—even more angry than when the Persians invaded her city to begin with. But what is love without anger? Anger is passion and heat. Surely love cannot exist without that.
So she drives the dagger onward, she pains the man she loves—to save him.
And when his heart stops beating, when all that remains of the young prince is a shell, a husk . . .
. . . she presses the blood-red jewel.
0 o 0 o 0
The sensation is painful. His muscles throb and tremble, something tugs at his insides, his ribcage seems to shrink against his lungs and his heart. Light sears his eyes, and he blinks furiously, raising a hand as if to bat it away.
"Dastan?" The voice is soft, probing. Familiar.
The young man squints and searches his surroundings blindly, able to make out the bland image of . . . plants. And a fountain. And . . . .
"Tamina?" he asks uncertainly, rubbing at his eyes and blinking them into focus.
The princess stands in front of him, watching him carefully as he takes in everything around him. They are in the courtyard of Alamut's palace.
"You are safe, Dastan," Tamina says soothingly, placing a warm hand on his strangely chilled skin. "You are . . . alive."
The prince stares at her in confusion, his mind reeling. "What's happening? I thought . . . ." His bleary eyes scan the courtyard once more. "We were in your chambers. I was . . . and you were . . . ." Dastan swallows hard, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "My thoughts . . . My memories . . . They're lost."
"Here," Tamina says gently, leading the man to the fountain's edge and guiding him down to sit. "Take rest. Breathe. I will explain."
Dastan does as he is told, breathing in deeply and releasing the air from his lungs in stuttered gusts. When the shaking in his body subsides, he turns to the princess expectantly.
"The dagger has been used to bring us back to this point in time," Tamina says slowly. "To the point just after we met."
The young woman clenches her jaw. These are secrets that she and her people have kept for many years, and here they are being revealed to a man who could very well use the knowledge for his own personal gain. No matter how many times he has used the dagger, he still should not be privy to this information.
But she can sense his link to the dagger, and it is strong. It is destiny.
"The sands do not exist solely in the dagger once it has been used." She speaks carefully, gauging the man's reactions to indicate his understanding. He nods, but his face remains tense, uncertain. "They imprint on the user of the dagger, surge into the living being so as to work the magic. And they leave traces, small amounts. If you had used the dagger only once or twice, you would not have been affected as severely. But . . . to my understanding, you have used the dagger much more than that."
Dastan nods, the gesture hesitant. "I . . . I think I have. But it's hard. To remember, I mean."
"The sands are what carry the memories of the previous time," Tamina continues. "By returning the sands to the dagger, the memories fade."
"You . . . ." The prince takes a deep breath. "You stabbed me."
"To take the sands back, yes," Tamina says, regret apparent in her words. "And to bring us back to this place, to where your soul began to break."
"My soul," Dastan repeats quietly. "The sands. My memories . . . My memories will be gone?"
At first, she is afraid to answer. Now she understands why Dastan had been so confident and relaxed when they had first met. He had known her before this time and had . . . loved her. How can she be expected to compete with his love—a love much older and deeper than her own? Without these memories, he will not be the same Dastan that she met after the raid of her city. He will not remember the bond he shared with his brothers or the trials it took to forge that bond.
He will not be her Dastan, just as she will not be his Tamina.
"Yes, your memories will be gone," she whispers solemnly, wishing she could say the same about her own.
"I don't want to forget," Dastan says desperately, standing and shaking his head. "I want to remember how I fell in love with you! Why my brothers and my father mean so much to me!"
"It was a different life, Dastan," Tamina attempts to comfort. She does not understand. She does not know how deeply they felt for each other before the end, before he had to watch her die.
"It was my life. Our life!" he argues, the memories growing even more distant. He tries to reach out in his mind, to pull them back. It is no use. They will be gone forever, and he will forget why he loves this woman, why their bond is so strong.
The princess purses her lips, her dark eyebrows drawing together. "Emotions," she starts carefully, "run deep. You will never truly forget, Dastan." She stands and takes his hand. "But you must willingly allow yourself to forget. You must start a new life." She senses his protest before he takes the breath to voice it, and she lays a finger across his lips. "We must move forward with what we are given. The past can do nothing for us. The future holds our destiny, Dastan."
The young prince tilts his head to the side, a thoughtful expression seamlessly coating his worry. "You know, princess," he says quietly, "I've never truly believed in destiny."
Tamina smiles and nods knowingly. "I believe you have made this point very clear."
The two of them turn to find Tus and Garsiv entering the courtyard, their strides determined and tense. The eldest prince speaks first.
"Our father has arrived."
Garsiv's fingers tighten around the hilt of his sword. "He will want answers about the day's events."
"Yes," Dastan says absently, his eyes still on the young woman. "If you will excuse me, Princess."
Tamina nods her consent, and Dastan steps back, offering a short bow before heading off with his brothers—a hand on each of their shoulders as he walks between them murmuring encouragements and brotherly advice.
The princess watches them disappear, knowing that she should be trailing behind them, ready to welcome the king into her city. But she cannot help wondering what life with Dastan will entail.
The sands will never truly leave him, not completely. They will course through his veins, proving, perhaps only to a place far in his mind, that he once lived a different life. In time, they may even diminish to such trace amounts that he allows himself to know happiness.
Tamina hopes that she can give this to him, that he finds what he is looking for in her and his family, and that he can release the ghost that held him captive for so long.
With a renewed sense of determination, the princess follows after the brothers, trailing behind slowly so as not to encroach on the familial matter and ready to start the journey that Dastan is sure to lead them on.
AN: Another project finished. *phew* How utterly and annoyingly depressing, huh? Sheesh. I had an ending in mind, and then I went back and re-read everything I'd already written (chapters 1 through 4 included) and I really didn't like it. The ending I had focused mainly on Tamina and Dastan, and as much as I like those two lovebirds, I started this story out as a bonding fic between the brothers. And that's how I wanted to finish it. I'm still not quite convinced that that is what I've done, seeing as the ending is mainly through Tamina's perspective...but I'll leave that up to you.
Seriously, if anyone is truly, truly, truly unsatisfied with this ending, I will attempt it again. I hate to leave a project like this so...unfinished, if that's how it feels to anyone else. But, really, if you enjoyed it and can at least live with the ending, thank you! I'm glad you've stuck with me long enough to actually finish something, for once.
Later, Gators! Catch you all on the flip side. :)