Title: The Sword That Defends

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Summary: Prince of Persia. In painting Nizam with the brush of treachery, it was inevitable that Dastan himself also be tainted with suspicion. 2000 words.

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is Disney's.

Spoilers: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Notes: Fluff, despite the summary: Dastan's father arrives in Alamut. 3rd in a tagfic sequence, following "Destiny By Any Other Name" and "What Every Man Could Dream Of".

It is after the celebratory banquet, the night before Dastan's marriage to Tamina, that the king his father finally finds a chance to draw him aside.

"Dastan," he says, pressing his palms against his son's face in the antechamber of the palatial suite the princess had ordered set aside for him. He searches Dastan's eyes intently with his own, his expression drawn with grief, and Dastan cannot help but avert his gaze at that mute appeal.

"Father," he replies, hardly knowing where to begin. Sharaman has heard the official story from Tus, he knows; but Tus has none of the details, only the accusations Dastan had made, Nizam's attempt to kill him in response, and the belated testimony interrogated out of the false spy.

"Why would my brother do such a thing?" The king drops his hands from Dastan's face and sinks into the nearest chair. "What could Nizam have possibly hoped to gain through such treachery?" His voice is heavy with defeat; in his tone, Dastan hears the same depth of horror and dismay that had shot through him like a bolt of lightning at the sight of Nizam's burnt hands.

Dastan swallows, then drops to one knee beside his father's chair, head bowed. He'd known these questions would come; they had been buried, before, beneath the bare facts of Nizam's actions, but ultimately the problem of motivation had to surface. "Power," he replies. "He wanted power; and there is that hidden within this city which he believed would enable him to reorder the world to his liking. Alamut is called a holy city for a reason; and its secret is what prompted the invasion."

Sharaman makes a frustrated noise and pounds a fist against one knee. "A secret that I had never heard of, nor your brothers, nor our spies. What power, Dastan? How did he learn of it- and how did you uncover this secret knowledge?"

Dastan detects a seed of doubt buried in those words and shudders, hearing the echo of betrayal from the time that never was: 'Why?' And well his father might ask, no matter how much that doubt may sting; while Dastan adored Sharaman, and alternately competed with and idolized his brothers, it had been Nizam that had taken charge of his education from the first moment he'd pulled an orphan boy onto his horse up until that last treacherous war meeting. Always, he had treated Dastan as the future advisor to the king: his own successor, as Tus would eventually be Sharaman's. In painting Nizam with the brush of treachery, it was inevitable that Dastan himself also be tainted with suspicion.

The irony, of course, was that all the time Nizam had been betraying the king his brother- he had also been concealing his disgust for his adopted nephew. All the concern he'd shown Dastan had been false; the patient support he'd given for fifteen years a hollow sham to cover the truth of his feelings.

'Enjoy the gutter, Dastan; it's where you'll stay under my reign.'

Dastan winces with the ache of that memory and glances up through the fringe of his hair. "Unfortunately, I cannot speak of it, Father," he says, choosing his words with care. "It is a matter of utmost secrecy and devotion, and it was only by combination of accident and extremity that I was made aware of it. I am perforce one of its guardians, and in this matter subject to the high priestess' commands."

He trusts his father- but Sharaman is not only his father, he is also King of all Persia, and what king would think it wise to leave such a dangerous weapon in the hands of guardians he does not control? Dastan understands; but he has just had a lengthy object lesson in the temptation such power can present, even with the best of intentions. If Sharaman were speak of the Dagger to even one other person... It is bad enough that the Hassansins still know of it; Dastan dreads the consequences of spreading the knowledge further. It is his responsibility now, by virtue of what came before as well as his future standing as Tamina's consort.

Sharaman's brow furrows ominously, and Dastan hurries to continue, hoping the rest of his answer will distract him from the offense of his youngest son claiming another loyalty above what he owes his king. "As to my uncle's knowledge- I regret I must inform you that he employed the Hassansins in this matter, and they have among them at least one suborned priest from Alamut's temple."

"What!" The king stands from his chair at that accusation, fists clenching at his side. "Hassansins! But they no longer exist! I ordered them disbanded before I even found you in that square!"

Dastan frowns. This is one of the weaker parts of his story, if he does not admit to the existence of the Sands of Time; how can he claim to have seen the cult of assassins with his own eyes when he does not even know the location of their lair? "I know, Father," he says. "I can offer you no proof; only my word that I speak the truth."

His father's breaths sound harshly in the silence above him; then Sharaman turns on his heel and paces between the chair and the outer wall in short, sharp strides. "You call my brother a traitor, and paint him in league with outlawed criminals; you refuse to tell me what reason he had for such treachery; and you have no proof of any of this other than the word of a spy who has already admitted to being paid to speak lies. A case could be made- has already been made- that Nizam acted purely in outrage against the slander of a common-born man, however raised, against one of royal blood."

Dastan swallows and bows his head even further. "Yes, Father," he says thickly, accepting. This is not the reception he had hoped for at their reunion- but at least his father is still alive to give it. And that is more than enough to stay the objections and justifications building up in his heart.

Sharaman sighs, his footsteps coming to a halt before Dastan again. "Oh, my son," he says, and a warm weight abruptly touches the top of Dastan's head; a hand, fingers threading through his hair.

"I was praying for you and your brothers before I came here," he continues in a more subdued tone. "The bond between brothers has always been the sword that defends our empire; and I prayed that that sword remained strong. To find that was true of you and your brothers, but not my own-"

Dastan dares to look up again at that. "I'm so sorry, Father," he says. "When I realized it myself, I could not believe it; I am ashamed to say that I doubted Tus before I doubted our uncle."

His father replies with a faint, drawn smile, shifting his hand from Dastan's head to his shoulder. "And yet when the moment came, you acted with bravery and conviction. I knew from the moment I first saw you all those years ago that you were capable of being not only good, but great; and it takes a great man to challenge what he knows to be wrong, no matter who is ordering it. I do not appreciate your secrecy, but I do believe you; and I am proud of your strength."

Warmth swells up in Dastan's breast at that admission, and he takes a deep breath before reaching up to clasp his father's hand with his own. "Thank you," he says. "I know Tus offered this marriage primarily as a means of political union; but it is my first, and I did not wish to begin it with a betrayal of my wife's trust. The secret Nizam was after is nothing that would benefit Persia, I swear it; had he found it, the outcome would have been only disaster for our people. I would keep nothing from you that was vital to the wellbeing of our empire, or the prosperity of my brothers."

He means every word, too. Over the past few weeks, Tamina's strength and beauty have wormed their way into the core of his being; but the new destiny they will forge together cannot be allowed to displace the bonds that came before. His brothers' last words remain with him from the other timeline: Garsiv's command to save the empire, and Tus' lament that they had allowed Nizam's machinations to turn them against one another. Whatever else his encounter with the Dagger of Time has made of him, Dastan is still- and intends to remain- a Prince of Persia.

His father nods in response. "I would expect no less," he says, then gestures Dastan back to his feet. "I have punished the one who spoke ill of you; and I expect that time- and a thorough search of Nizam's records and properties- will prove the truth of your loyalty to any others who harbor doubt."

"But-?" Dastan prompts him as he cautiously stands. He's heard that tone before.

"But," Sharaman continues, "perhaps this marriage is fortunate in more ways than merely the addition of Alamut to our empire; it may be best for you to remain here for at least a year, until the rumors have begun to die down. It will seem only natural for a new husband, enchanted with his bride, to wish to stay at her side for a time."

A smile spreads unbidden across Dastan's face, for this is a joy he had not expected: the opportunity to re-earn Tamina's love, and learn her responses anew, before his family begins pressuring him to return to the court. "Of course you are right, Father," he says.

Sharaman's mouth curves a little in reply. "I thought you might feel that way," he teases, gently. "Now, let us return to the celebration, and to your beautiful princess."

"Yes, Sire," Dastan agrees; and precedes him out of the chamber with a much lightened heart.

It is later- much later- that evening, after the festivities have died down and Alamutians and Persians alike have scattered to their sleeping chambers, that his encounter with his father bears unexpected additional fruit. A soft step awakes Dastan from his slumber, and he slits his eyes open to find the princess stooping over him, still clad in the ceremonial raiment of a high priestess at her prayers.

He wrinkles his brow. "Tamina?" he asks, sleepily. "What's wrong?"

She gives him a wry half-smile, then settles gingerly on the end of his pallet. "Did your father tell you he cornered me this evening to congratulate me on so earning your loyalty?" she whispers.

He swallows, suddenly nervous. "No...?" he says, trying to gauge her reaction. They still haven't spoken of how he obtained the dagger, though he's seen the glint of suspicion in her eyes several times.

"He did not say why," she continues, "but I have spent an enlightening hour at my prayers, and I believe I understand enough. So I have come to thank you- and to warn you."

"...Thank me?" he repeats, still blinking the crusts from the corners of his eyes.

She doesn't bother to reply; she leans forward instead, pressing her lips against his in a lingering caress. Then she sits back again, smiling at him with that smug curve of lips that suggests he's a bit dim but she appreciates him anyway. "Do not think it will always be so easy," she says, then disappears with a swish of fabric and the faint lingering hint of scented smoke.

Dastan gapes after her, then lays back again, dizzied with confusion and desire.

Easy? He knows that nothing about her- or her city- will ever be easy. But he is the man for whom the impossible is only difficult, after all.

He shakes his head, then drifts back to sleep with a satisfied sigh.