"Almost there," the charming street rat grunted as he hoisted me up. Once I was on his level, I couldn't help but smile at him; he had rescued me, after all. As I stood to follow him, I tripped, with a gasp, over the dragging hem of my shroud, and fell into his arms. Even with my face flush against his bare chest, I could hear him chuckle. My disguise must have been very convincing; princesses are supposed to elegant and graceful. With red roses blooming on my cheeks, I slowly straightened myself up and looked into his eyes. We stood there for a moment, my hands on his shoulders and his planted lightly on my hips. I wanted him to grip me harder and never let go. I wanted him to hold on to me tight, so I would never have to return to the palace. But my royal upbringing would not allow me to enjoy such indulgence; I pulled away from him and adjusted my hood, making sure to keep my jeweled headband concealed.
"I want to thank you, for stopping that man," I said. He shrugged it off as if it was no big deal; "Forget about it." Hs heroic modesty caused something to swell up inside me.
"So, uh, this is your first time in the marketplace, huh?" he asked before vaulting over the gap between two buildings. Was he trying to impress me? I couldn't be sure, but it didn't look that difficult.
"Is it that obvious?" I replied with my hands on my hips. I wouldn't be swooned so easily. I wouldn't.
"Well, you do kinda stand out," he complimented, looking at me with such honest eyes that I couldn't help but blush and clasp my hands together. My knees shook and I almost felt faint. He shook his head and quickly tried to regain his manly composure.
"I mean, uh, you don't seem to know how dangerous Agrabah can be." He laid out a plank for me to use as a bridge as he said this, and I couldn't distinguish whether his words and actions were chivalry or chauvinism. I rolled my eyes and grabbed a pole, and with a running start vaulted over the alley the way he had moments earlier. When he seemed surprised to see me, I hummed and threw the stick to him. He caught it and raised an eyebrow.
"I'm a fast learner," I informed him. He smiled and handed off the pole to Abu, his monkey sidekick, and took my hand. I nearly shivered at such an intimate touch. His hand was warm and calloused, and larger than mine, easily enveloping my tiny palm and delicate fingers.
"Come on, this way," he said excitedly, and began leading me up the stairs of what was once an upstairs room, now left in shambles. He warned me against low-laying rafters, and I ducked my head to avoid them. I was so focused on the way his shaggy hair tickled the back of his neck as we ascended, and how much I'd like to wrap my fingers there, I probably would've been injured without the young man's help.
"Is this where you live?" I asked in awe as we entered the main chamber. It was drastically different than what I was used to; every drape was shredded, and not a single rug or vase was in one piece. I couldn't imagine how anybody could live here and be comfortable, especially during the icy desert nights. And yet, it was the most beautiful dwelling I had ever seen.
He took my other hand, and gently pulled me into the room.
"Yup, just me and Abu. We come and go as we please."
"That sounds fabulous."
"Well, it's not much, but it's got a great view," he said, inspired, as he pulled back a curtain. My eyes were immediately flooded with the sight of Agrabah at sunset, drowned in hues of gold and crimson. Even the palace, that prison I had escaped, looked like Heaven from the outside.
"Wow," I heard him murmur next to me. "The palace looks pretty amazing, huh?" My face fell and I turned away from him. A part of me felt bad for deceiving him; here he was, spilling out his heart and soul to me, and I couldn't even bring myself to tell him my true identity. He didn't know that I truly was the princess in disguise, so how could he know that showing me the palace would open the fresh wounds that, just this morning, he had started to heal?
I turned away from him and sat down, putting my face in my hands.
"Oh, it's wonderful," I mumbled without enthusiasm. He didn't hear me. Either that, or he didn't hear the sarcasm dripping from my words.
"I wonder what it would be like to live there," he continued with ignorant optimism as Abu jumped up and down excitedly. "And have servants… and valets!"
I snorted and he looked at me.
"Sure," I snapped, "People to tell you where to go, and how to dress." I didn't face him. Behind me, I heard him laugh incredulously.
"It's better than here," he countered as he took an apple from Abu and walked over to stand beside me. "Always scraping for food, and ducking the guards."
"You're not free to make your own choices." I lamented.
"Sometimes you just feel so…"
"Trapped." We spoke simultaneously. My eyes widened in shock, and I turned to him. Our eyes met and locked, and my heart ballooned with the mutual understanding that passed between us. My face softened into a smile. My heart pounded in my chest but I felt calm, serene, with him grinning back at me. He ahemed to break the moment and rolled me an apple, tipping it off his shoulder and down his arm, popping it off his elbow and in my direction. I caught it, amused.
"So, where are you from?" he asked, biting into his own fruit.
"What does it matter?" I asked rhetorically, feeling the smooth, rounded skin of the apple with the pads of my fingers. "I ran away and I am not going back."
"Really? How come?" he questioned with genuine interest, handing off his apple to Abu. I could hear the concern in his voice; it was tangible, and hung about him as he came over and sat down next to me. I forced myself not to look at him, both out of a need to cry and the urge to wrap my arms around him and be comforted.
I sighed, and hesitated for a moment before speaking, before revealing the ugly truth of my situation.
"My father's forcing me to get married."
"That's… that's awful."
My eyes turned up to see his reaction; he was watching at me, boring into me with pained eyes and hurt plastered on his face. I averted my eyes down and away as tears threatened to spill.
"Abu!" he suddenly shouted, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the monkey scramble behind me, and up the man's shoulder, to perch on the stone ledge and throw a comic fit.
"What?" I inquired when he was finished. I could guess that Abu was angry with him about something, perhaps my presence or the apple he had given me.
"Uh… Abu says, uh…" he started, thinking of something. I knew then that whatever I heard from his mouth would be far from the truth.
"'That's not fair.'"
I swallowed back a giggle. Even Abu appeared confused.
"Oh did he?"
"Yeah, of course," he answered, confident in his answer. This was the truth; but not the kind of truth I was expecting. An emotion inside me was building in intensity, although I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
"And does Abu have anything else to say?" I questioned back, knowingly, flirtily, leaning in closer to him. This was a game and we both knew it. But it was turning into something… real.
"Well, uh," he looked down, still smiling, and I noticed the way his lashes brushed his cheekbone. For the briefest moment I imagined how they would feel brushing my cheekbone. "He wishes there was something he could do to help."
He moved closer to me, and as the sun slipped below the horizon and the night grew colder, I could feel the heat radiating from his body so near to mine. We locked eyes and grinned. My heart began beating rapidly, desperate to rip through my chest and become one with his. From his perch, Abu made a disgusted sound and leaped off into the night.
"Tell him that's very… sweet."
I moved in towards him and he leaned into me. My smile dissipated into shocked expectancy as I noticed the smolder in his eyes as he closed the gap between us. My eyelids drooped and closed in ecstasy, and his lips touched mine, tenderly. I felt my whole body go rigid. As he pressed them harder, I felt the pressure that had been building up in my stomach begin to pulsate and set my body on fire.
He pulled away and looked at me for some sort of confirmation. I'm sure my face was flushed as scarlet as pomegranates, but I was also sure he couldn't see it in the newly laid darkness. When I didn't move, he kissed me again, and a shockwave of pleasure ran through me, causing me to push up into the kiss.
It was a wonder to be the one person who mattered to someone, if only for a moment, more than anyone or anything else.
He cupped my face with his hand and deepened the kiss, his palm rough like fine sandpaper on my porcelain-smooth skin. I inhaled sharply as he began moving his lips with mine. My hands were flat on the stone surface before me to support myself; the fruit discarded somewhere that didn't quite matter right this moment. As something hot and wet brushed my lower lip, I gasped into the kiss and gripped my hands around the edges of the ledge we were sitting on to keep myself from floating away above the sleeping city. He placed his free hand atop mine and I felt him smile against my mouth. I immediately relaxed and entwined my fingers with his. When his tongue touched my lip again, I tentatively opened my mouth and let him in. I breathed deeply and focused on the curious new feeling.
At long last, we separated and looked at each other, catching our breath. His hand was still holding mine, but the hand that was stroking my cheek moved up to remove my hood. I immediately panicked and jumped up, suddenly granted mental clarity. If he saw my royal hairpiece, everything would be ruined. He looked at me, puzzled and apologetic, as if he had done something wrong. My heart twisted in a knot.
"I'm… shy," I half-lied, and he stood with me, cautiously taking either of my hands in his. I let him. He stroked the back of my palms with his thumbs, and my tense muscles loosened. I hadn't realized I was trembling from excitement. But now, standing in the open air, a chill ran down my body and I shook, realizing how low the temperature had dropped.
"You must be freezing," he said, almost in a sorry way. As if he thought that because he had no blankets or warmth to offer me, it was his fault that I was cold. I shook my head to negate him; another half-lie. He led me to his makeshift bed; a large bedroll mat with a worn pillow big enough for a person and a half to lay their head. I kneeled down, and although he had every intention to leave to fetch provisions for me, I held on fast to his hands and pulled him down with me and kissed him, hastily. Hesitantly, he sat with me, still holding my hands; and we sat, kneeling, facing each other, unsure of what to do next; I because of my hidden noble clothing, and he because of his fear of pushing me too far.
And idea brewed in my mind, and it coated and coaxed my electric nerves the way hot tea does to the throat.
"Turn around," I whispered, eyes narrowed in thought. He obliged, and once his back was to me, I carefully removed my golden slippers, earrings, necklace, hood, and headband, untying my hair and placing all the pieces inside of the cloth. I tied up the fabric to hide its contents, and tossed it aside. Feeling more confident, I slid my robe down my body and relished the feel of the evening air on my skin, raising gooseflesh as I slid the cloak off my lithe frame. With each article of clothing removed in the blackness of the room, I became braver, bolder.
I was a princess, after all.
With wary fingers, I touched the hem of his vest and felt his lungs fill with the contact. I tugged the flimsy clothing off his body, down his toned arms, fully revealing his back. He sat very still, allowing me to explore the ridges and valleys of his muscles, running my fingers along the scars of his tanned skin. I scooted closer to him where he was still kneeling, placing my feet on either side of his waist, and pressed my stomach against his back, closing my eyes and controlling my breathing. He touched the fabric of my harem pants, and paused, and I knew he was contemplating the quality. I sagged against him as guilt overtook me. But, feeling my body language, he reached behind and took a hold of my hands, wrapping them around his lean stomach and holding them there. My heart began beating so fast I was sure he could feel it against his spine. Silence passed between us, and, curious, I slid one hand up his stomach to his chest to feel his heart. It was beating as furiously as mine.
With a renewed sense of direction, I placed a kiss at the base of his neck. He arched forward slightly in response, and I began trailing kisses down his neck, back, and up around his shoulders, feeling the way he moved each time with each new place. My mouth crisscrossed his upper body like a fiery caravan in the desert, stopping at valleys and oasises along the way, until he could take it no longer. He spun around to face me and passionately joined his lips with mine, causing me to cry out as he simultaneously pulled me into his lap. My legs snaked their way around his waist as he removed my top. I quivered in the openness, and he placed his hands on my hips the way he had earlier, and their touch calmed and stilled me. I could feel him waiting for that. When I relaxed, he began caressing the front of my body very lightly with just the tips of his fingers, which were hot despite the cold.
I wanted him to continue, but he returned his hands to my clothed waist and pushed the band down as he kissed me, causing me to moan into his mouth. I held on to his shoulders as he hoisted me further on top of him with a grunt, and I could feel his arousal through the thin fabrics of our pants. I began rocking against him with my arms around his neck, and he pulled away for a moment to gaze upon my topless body. He put his lips to my breast. I drew in my breath. I threw my head back. He began to move his hips to meet mine with each thrust.
I was so innocent, I didn't entirely know what to expect next. I had seen horses rutting in the stables, and I knew men and women did something similar. But when he laid me back, removed the last of our garments and cast them aside, I was suddenly afraid. I watched as he positioned himself between my bare legs and kissed my knee. His eyes, so dark and full of love and sincerity, met mine, and he held back.
"Do you trust me?" he whispered. He seemed afraid to hurt me. I nodded my approval for whatever he was about to do, which I knew was something I was supposed to save for marriage. A brief pulse of anger coursed through me. I thought of the law and arranged unions, but my reverie was broken when I felt the tip of his hardness against me and I bit my lip. He felt too big for me. But he eased into me, slowly, lovingly, and when his hips were finally joined to mine, tears sprang to my eyes and I held onto the bedroll to brace myself. I saw his eyes flutter like the wings of a butterfly and my stomach heaved to know that I was causing him such pleasure. The pain subsided, and he watched me, brushing away my tears with the pad of his thumb. He leaned down and kissed me, and I shifted to get comfortable with him inside of my body. I began breathing normally, and he took this as his cue to begin moving. But as he pulled back and thrust into me again, the pain returned full-force and I cried out. His pelvis moved away from me and he stopped, mouth open to speak, but he couldn't find the words. I closed my knees, sat up on my elbows, and crawled back and away from him on the mat.
I thought I heard him curse Allah's name as he apologized repeatedly for hurting me, and he quickly covered himself with a tattered quilt as I stilled myself. I opened my eyes to see him brush his hair back and cover his face with his hand. His shoulders lowered, like a man defeated, and when he looked up at me his eyes shone with guilt.
"I'm so sorry," he spoke, "I really am. I… I should have never…" I shushed him with a finger to his lips and shook my head.
"You did nothing wrong," I assured him, crawling over to sit next to him and giving his hand a squeeze. He sighed and rested his forehead against mine, and we were content.
I'm not sure how long we slept, tangled in an embrace, but when the first blood-red line highlighted the horizon, we awoke and shyly helped each other dress in the yellow-orange light of dawn. As we sat to watch the sun rise, and he held me, leaning in for a kiss, we were interrupted by an angry shout.
"Here you are!"
I leapt to my feet. He did the same.
"They're after me!" we yelled, and then turned to each other. "They're after you?"
They began crashing through the rafters, and I could hear the metallic sound of their swords slicing through the air. This was the end. There was only one way in or out of this place, and that was the staircase. I pressed my hands to my face in horror.
"Father must've sent them-"
"Do you trust me?"
I whipped around to see him standing on the stone ledge, ready to jump.
"What?" I asked, eyes wide. Were we just going to end it? Just like that? Leap to our deaths willingly, together, rather than be locked up and left to die?
He would be locked in a dungeon; I would be locked in marriage.
I would rather die than marry for any reason other than love.
I would rather die than be separated from him for a single moment.
The thought hit me hard and I sucked in a breath, struggling for oxygen. I felt dizzy.
"Do you trust me?" he repeated, determined, breaking through my thoughts, holding out his hand to me. Inside, I was warring with myself. The sound of the guards growing nearer caused adrenaline to pump through my veins like wildfire. I was afraid, but as I looked into his eyes I knew I had to go with him.
"Yes," I replied warily, taking his hand. He pulled me up to his level and shouted.
He went over the edge with Abu clutched to his shoulder and I clumsily followed suit, screaming all the way.