Disclaimer: I do not own any of the original Aladdin characters, nor do I own the settings involved with them. They all belong to their rightful owners. I only own Alisha, Jerky, Zadesh, Sabin, Brone, and Daniel.


Author's Notes: Woo-hoo! Chapter 12! Woo-hoo! This chapter took me a little while, so I hope you guys really like it. You are all awesome!

Special Thanks: A big thank you to NightMareKittyKat for writing that cute and hilarious one-shot of Malcho, Alisha, and Zadesh. I loved it. If you guys want to check it out, you can find it on DeviantART-where you can also find yours truly ;)

R&R. Enjoy.


Chapter Twelve: Decisions

Zadesh and the other three were gone, leaving not a single trace behind. As if they had vanished into thin air.

"Bunch of spineless cowards," Aladdin grumbled in a cough. He waved away the blinding smoke from his face. "But, man, were they prepared."

It almost seemed, to Aladdin, that they knew what they were getting into right from the start. But how was the greater question. Could that Zadesh have possibly planned this whole thing out from the start...?

Far behind Aladdin, kneeling beside the serpent's head with a concerned mouse-beast next to her, Alisha was just as worried about Zadesh's escape. Even though he was gone, her dark fear of him still lingered, greatly. But Malcho was who she was far more concerned about.

"How badly does it hurt, Malcho?" she asked, inwardly cringing from seeing the pain on his face.

Wincing, he answered. "It looks worse than it feels, amiga. I assure you, it is nothing." And he struggled to smile.

But Alisha only stared at him, her brow rising in disbelief. Slowly, she shook her head. The harpy ran a wing through her hair in exasperation. She could hardly believe that even now, wounded and bleeding, he was still going to consider this as 'nothing'.

She had to suppress the urge to yell deep inside herself.

Nothing, nothing, nothing! Why must everything be nothing to him?

Malcho gazed at the expression on her face, which caused his smile to fall.

"Why?" Alisha asked, letting a tear fall, "why do you have to say things like that when I know you're lying?"

Malcho did not answer, unable to answer.

Aladdin watched the two creatures and he couldn't help but feel…perplexed by them. Malcho especially. He had witnessed the serpent's actions when Zadesh called out those three guys to attack, leaving the young boy dumb-struck. And now that Aladdin looked at him, he noticed that Malcho seemed…different somehow, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

Rubbing the back of his neck, he shrugged the thought off and started towards the two.

Malcho saw him straight away and glowered. Caramba, what did he want?

…Then a very unexpected feeling shot through the Quetzalcoatl as he watched Aladdin place a hand on Alisha's shoulder, successfully stealing her attention away from him. Anger boiled from his belly to his chest. With a growl rumbling deep within his chest, Malcho's glare intensified on the boy. As if he didn't despise him enough before, now it seemed to have sky-rocketed due to that single action - to a point where Malcho cared nothing for his wounds and wanted to snap Aladdin's arm like a twig and pull Alisha away.

And not only did the action send the serpent into a fiery anger, but it was the way Alisha so quickly looked at him as well. Her attention bounced off him to Aladdin in a heartbeat. Worst of all: Malcho had no idea why it made him so angry, it just did! And it made his very revulsion for Aladdin grow even more.

Aladdin, on the other hand, was too distracted by his concern for the harpy to notice the serpent's evil glare.

"Are you all right, Alisha?" he asked.

"Yes," she nodded, "I'm fine."

Then in a second, worry sweeping over her, she cupped her wings around his hand, looking at him with a frantic expression.

She paid no attention the shock that dumb-struck Malcho when she took Aladdin's hand so quickly. He stared at the two with rounded eyes, looking back and forth between the human and arpía with a mixture of confusion and, incredibly strangely, paranoia. (Caramba! Paranoia!?)

"Jasmine! Is she all right?" the harpy's fear piled when she asked. Her heart began to jump up and down, the panic beginning to drain into her stomach.

"Easy, Alisha," Aladdin assured, putting his other hand over her wings (Malcho's eye twitched) and holding them tightly to try and calm her down. "Jasmine's going to be fine. She's bruised, but fine. Genie made sure, and he carried her into the palace for safety along with Abu and Carpet."

His words lifted a great deal of weight off the harpy's shoulders. She relaxed, letting out the breath she'd been holding for those last few moments. "What a relief."

If she had gotten hurt…really gotten hurt….

Alisha stopped the thought right there. Jasmine was all right, that was the only thing that mattered.

Malcho started to relax when Alisha released his hand; his tense body slowly eased. But his suspicion - and his growing hatred towards Aladdin - didn't alleviate one bit.

The boy then turned his attention towards the snake. "Now, as for you, Malcho," Malcho's glare returned instantly. "Let's take a look at that shoulder."

He moved beside Alisha and reached a hand out to touch him.

Watching Aladdin's hand move near him triggered the Quetzalcoatl's dark and violent nature. As soon as his fingers were a second from his scales, Malcho shot over and snapped at him at an alarming speed with a dry yet deathly hiss shaking from between his jaws, ignoring the pain his wounds caused him. His jaws came down the moment Aladdin yanked his hand back in just the nick of time.

"Whoa!" He swung his hand away so fast he lost his footing and fell backwards, holding his arm in a tight grip to be certain it was still connected to his body as he scrambled away from the serpent. Aladdin knew Malcho carried a bitter grudge against him for tricking him in that volcano, but he wouldn't expect him to attack when he was obviously just trying to help him.

Alisha backed a foot away as well, so did Jerky, who ran behind her for protection. Her mind flashed back to the other Malcho, which sent chills to creep up her back. She could feel her legs begin to wobble. This was the first time since they met that he had made her terrified to be near him. He had successfully planted genuine fear within her heart, something Alisha never would have imagined she'd feel towards Malcho ever again.

Malcho's predatory nature brimming vehemently now. He shot another threatening hiss at Aladdin - unaware that he was not scaring just him, but Alisha and Jerky as well - with a violent gleam shining within his glare,. He recovered enough strength to lift his body a few inches off the ground, towering over both the boy and the arpía.

"Touch me and it's your arm, boy!" he warned, his voice a bellowing thunder of wrath.

He stared Aladdin down, feasting off the cold chill of fear he was scenting from him. Until Alisha quickly moved between them. Her wings were out, acting as a protective wall in front of Aladdin.

"Malcho, stop it! He's just trying to help you!"

"I do not need his help!" the serpent retorted in another hiss, aghast that she was defending him. Caramba, did she want to make his humiliation worse?

"Malcho!"

Her shout clamped Malcho's jaws shut, but his cold glare never faltered. They stared at each other, both unwilling to fold under the other's scowl. It was a stale mate. Malcho's glare at her was filled with anger; Alisha had to be out of her mind. How dare she take that wretch's side! After all he did for her, she -

Then, as he watched her closely, Malcho saw something that made his glower fall instantly...

With her wings now at her sides, they balled up into feathery fists. She tried to hold the glare at him, her legs were quaking, no matter how hard it seemed she was trying to fight back against it. And as if to pile to his regret, Malcho was able to see traces of fear behind that glare of hers, which seemed to be growing by the second.

He stared at Alisha, watching her tremble with a heavy heart. He was taken aback at himself.

"Listen Malcho," Alisha began, catching Malcho by surprise as she spoke, "those wounds might be nothing to you, but they're not to me. So please, just suck up your pride and let Aladdin help you!"

'Let Aladdin help you!' Those words burned a hole in his pride and Malcho cringed and flinched on the inside. He clenched his jaws tight together, sending a considering yet dark towards the boy over the arpia's shoulder.

The audacity...!

Suppressing as much venom that he'd been dying to spit at Aladdin, he inhaled and exhaled gruffly.

There truly was no end to his humiliation, was there?

In silence, Malcho let his body relax back on the ground, tenderly sprawling out so Aladdin could inspect the damage. He met neither his nor Alisha's eyes as he did.

The harpy relaxed as well. She was relieved that she was able to stop the worse from happening…and grateful that Malcho finally understood. Alisha even felt a little pride in herself. The fact she was able to stand her ground without wilting was definitely something she would pat herself on the back for later.

…If only I'd done that before.

"Umm…" From behind, Aladdin was clueless about what to do.

"Go on, Aladdin," Malcho said sharply, trying not to choke on his words.

Cautiously — and after receiving a nod from Alisha — Aladdin made his way around Malcho's long body, taking wary steps as he did, and never letting his eyes leave the serpent for a moment. He cringed when he saw the axe embedded in his shoulder. Aladdin couldn't begin to imagine the pain it was causing the giant snake.

I still can't believe he did this to save Alisha. He thought. I never would have imagined Malcho to be so…so selfless.

"How does it look, Aladdin?" Alisha called, pulling him from his thoughts.

"Not too bad," he answered, "but not too good, either."

Malcho held back the desire to snap at him again. "Which means…?" he asked as nicely as he possibly could.

"The wound looks treatable, but I don't know if it'll be easy."

After a moment of thought, Alisha suggested, "I think we'll need Genie's help."

Malcho's eyes rounded with a blink when he heard that. He gulped, the Genie? That clueless maniac? It was bad enough that Aladdin was aiding him, but the Genie?!

Never! That twit would do more bad than good!

"I think you're right, Alisha." Agreed Aladdin. "He'll be out as soon as he's done treating Jasmine."

"A-Are you positive you cannot treat it yourself, Aladdin?" Malcho was trying hard to hide his desperation.

"I'm afraid not, Malcho." Aladdin told him. "These things are more in Genie's field of expertise."

Malcho grieved, exhaling a deep grumble. Then he felt Alisha place a wing on his snout. She smiled at him.

"Don't worry, Malcho," she assured. "You'll be amazed at how well Genie is at treating wounds. Trust me. He'll have you fixed up in no time."

Looking at her for a moment, Malcho nodded. She would know better than him…

And, speak of the devil, who happened to appear not a minute later?

There was an unexpected poof, followed by Genie calling out: "Okay, Al! Jas is good to go. She's fast asleep in her room with an ice pack on her head — whoa!"

He came to an abrupt halt when he saw Malcho, astonished to see him injured (and, not to mention, still here.)

"Oh…you don't look so good, pal." He bluntly stated, staring at the wounded predator.

Malcho's scowl was instant. "Thanks. I've been better, pal." He growled, flicking his tongue in the process.

"Be nice, Malcho." Alisha reminded. Then her attention went to Genie. "Can you help him, Genie? He's hurt really badly."

Awkwardly, he rubbed the back of his neck, completely unprepared for the situation, "Uh, yeah. No problem, Aly. I mean...I'll try."

He judged by the wound that that thing wasn't going to come out without a fight. He could tell by the way Malcho was laying and his evident expression of pain it was in deep, and pulling it out would cause the snake even more pain than he was already feeling. The thought of that made Genie gulp apprehensively.

"Just do your best, Genie." Alisha assured. Then she smiled.

How could he say no now? "You got it, Aly." And then he disappeared in another magical poof.

Malcho couldn't help but lift an eye crest. "'Aly'?"

"It's a nickname he gave me." Alisha clarified, giving a shrug. "He can give you one too, if you want."

Silently, he gave the harpy an "are you joking?" look.

"…Or not."

Poof! He had teleported behind Malcho, wearing a doctor's uniform with a large, black bag in his hand. Like Aladdin did, he cringed just by looking at the wound, feeling a slight tingle in his own shoulder. Out of his bag he pulled out a magnifying glass and began to examine the damage.

"What do you think, Genie?" asked Aladdin as he watched from the side. His arms were crossed somberly.

"Well, it will heal," he explained, putting the magnifying glass away and slipping on a pair of rubber gloves from his coat pocket. But when he spoke again, his voice was very quiet, so he took a step closer to Aladdin so only he could hear. "But it's gonna take a while. And the other problem is it's a shoulder wound. A really bad shoulder wound. So scaly here is gonna be grounded for a little while…" He stopped, trying to hint to Aladdin what he was getting at.

But Aladdin didn't need it. He knew exactly where that was leading to. He looked away, pushing his dark locks back with both hands in exhaustion. Never, not in a million years, did Aladdin ever believe he would be faced with something like this before….

"Unbelievable." He mumbled under his breath, rubbing a temple.

"Al?" Genie asked, waiting for a response.

Aladdin sighed and said, "Let's get him bandaged up first. Then we'll decide what to do."

Genie nodded, and then called to the serpent. "Malcho, we're going to pull the axe out, so you gotta bear with us for as long as it takes. Comprender?"

"Comprender," he responded, the dread of the pain he knew he was going to suffer through showed in his tone.

He could feel both Aladdin and Genie's hands grasp the weapon, sending a small jolt of pain through his shoulder. He tried not to flinch or cringe. Malcho imagined his agony. He could almost hear his own cries.

What I would not give to recover from another sprain rather than this.

"You ready, Malcho?" Aladdin called.

"Caramba, si, si! Just get it over with!"

All it took was a single tug to make Malcho's imagination a pain-filled reality. He realized how deep the axe was in his shoulder by the agony that went up and down his body simultaneously, shooting through every nerve and down muscle after muscle and to what felt like his bones. But Malcho choked it all back. Instead he let deep growls rumble out from his chest. He would not look weak in Aladdin and the Genie's presence.

His humiliation ended here and now.

They pulled again, harder this time. The serpent's chest began to heave up and down as the pain grew, doing everything in his power not to cry out. But a whimper escaped him. That little whimper was enough to penetrate into Alisha's heart, leaving a deep crack where it struck. She sat on her knees beside him, helplessly watching the serpent in his agony. She looked down at his good wing, still tightened into a fist. She reached out, hesitated for a moment, and then took it. Gently placing her wing on top of his and wrapping it in a tender grip.

Feeling a new touch, Malcho glanced at her, wincing.

Alisha sat there for a second, unsure what else to do...

So she smiled at him. And it was the smile the Quetzalcoatl adored: the warm and gentle smile that never failed to touch a place somewhere deep in his black heart. Overwhelmed by it, Malcho loosened his grip and held her wing back, silently telling himself not to accidentally crush it in case the pain overwhelmed him again.

After one last tug, the axe was out, releasing Malcho from its steel grip. Aladdin and Genie struggled to hold it, recognizing the thought that there was more to that Brone character than met the eye.

They groaned as they tossed it to the ground.

"All right, Malcho," Aladdin panted, "we got it."

How could he miss it? The second they pulled the blasted thing out his pain seemed to ease. Malcho lay there, grateful that the worse of it was finally over. He exhaled a breath of relief, giving Alisha's wing a small squeeze.

"Oh, gracias," he breathed, resting his head on the ground.

"Okay, now let's wrap that up." Out of his bag, Genie pulled out rolls of bandages and with Aladdin's help began to wrap Malcho's wound. He tried his best not to hurt the serpent in the process, knowing the last thing the poor guy needed was anymore pain.

But the wound was too tender, causing Malcho to cringe and flinch at the tiniest touch. The pain from the bloody fissure went deep again, burning through his scales like fire, adding to the pain from the knives still lodged in his side. Yet through that whole time, Alisha and Malcho never let go of each other's wings. Seeing the pain on his face, she covered his wing with her other one, holding it tightly and whispering assurance towards him. Even Jerky jumped on top of his snout and rubbed his tiny head against Malcho's with a purr.

They continued to comfort him until Genie finished with his shoulder, and then began to take the knives out.

It doubled Malcho's pain, but he was able to lean off his side long enough for both the djinn and Aladdin to quickly, but tenderly, remove each blade and bandage the deep cuts up. The serpent only winced. These were clearly nothing compared to the torture the axe had caused him.

Aladdin and Genie finished and Malcho was finally able to rest and relax.

At last, he thought in his exhaustion, it's over.

Alisha sighed, also thankful that his torment was finally over.

"Um, Alisha?"

She turned her head around to see Aladdin and Genie looking her way with strange expressions on their faces. As if they had something on their minds. But there wasn't a doubt in her mind they did. She could see it in there eyes; the suspicion and desire for an explanation. A desire, she knew, they had a right to have.

The harpy sighed again. She had been waiting for this…

"Coming," she called back, standing up.

Malcho looked up at her with question, "Amiga?"

Their wings were still entangled.

"I'll be right back, Malcho. Don't worry." She assured, kneeling back down to meet him at eye level. "I just…" she paused, glancing behind her, and then back at him. "I just have a few things to take care of."

"Whatever they have to say to you, amiga, they can say in front of me." The sudden desire to protect his arpía came over the serpent once again.

"I…I don't think it will be that simple, Malcho." Alisha said. "I'm the one who has a few things to explain right now. To them. I have to."

"…And then, so will we…yes?" Malcho almost seemed fearful to ask.

She paused for just a moment, and then nodded, unable to meet his eyes as she answered. "Yes."

Silence befell the harpy and Quetzalcoatl. Jerky looked back and forth between them on top of Malcho's head, sensing the heaviness growing around them.

"Alisha?" Aladdin called again.

"I have to go." She said to Malcho. "But I'll be back soon." She looked at the little mouse. "You'll keep Malcho company, won't you, Jerky?"

He responded with a sure nod and smile, as if to say: "You can count on me."

"Good boy,"

But she was silent again when her eyes fell back on Malcho. Then she stood back up and turned away from him. As she did, their wings, which once held each other with an iron grip, smoothly slipped out of the other. And Alisha walked away from him without looking back, her head low.

Malcho's gaze followed after her. The pain from his shoulder was finally subsiding, yet the ache in his chest was only beginning….

"Aly —" Genie began as she walked up to them. But she held up a wing to stop him.

"I know." She told them. "There's a lot we have to talk about…and a lot I have to explain. But I want to see Jasmine first. Please?"

Genie and Aladdin exchanged a look, and then nodded.


Aladdin slowly opened the door to Jasmine's room. He peeked in to check if she was awake. When he saw her eyes open and turn to him, he went in, along with Genie and Alisha following. She quickly moved behind him, suddenly fearful of how the Princess would react if she saw her. Guilt had jumped on to Alisha's shoulders the second she walked through the door, so she hid.

"Hey, Jas," Aladdin softly greeted, stopping and kneeling beside her bed. He took her hand and gave it a sweet and tender kiss. "How's your head? Does it still hurt?"

"No," she answered, exhausted. "I'm fine now. Thank you, Aladdin."

Abruptly, the Princess stopped and looked around, alarm coming over her. "Where's Alisha?"

Aladdin looked in Genie's direction. In turn, the blue djinn glanced over his shoulder towards Alisha. The harpy took in a breath for bravery. She stepped to Genie's side, letting herself be seen. As soon as she saw the bandages around Jasmine's head, her guilt struck her harder, knocking directly into her stomach. If the blow had been physical, the harpy might have fallen to her knees, coughing and cringing from the loss of breath knocked out of her lungs.

It only got worse when she smiled at her.

She slowly sat up. "Thank goodness you're all right, Alisha. I was afraid that that Zadesh might have hurt you. Or that Malcho —" When Jasmine said his name, her almond-shaped eyes rounded, her alarm returning. She looked back at Aladdin, "Malcho! Aladdin, what happened with Malcho?"

Aladdin bit his lip, unsure what to say to respond. "Uh, well…"

Genie motioned a thumb at the quiet harpy. "I think Aly here can explain that one, Jas."

"Alisha? But why?" she questioned, looking at her with utter confusion. Aladdin and Genie's eyes fell on her as well, patiently waiting for the explanation she'd promised them.

Their stares caused Alisha's stomach to cave in. But after taking in and letting out another breath for courage, she began her explanation with her gaze at the floor.

"Did Malcho tell you why he was coming here?" Aladdin asked, somberly.

"No," but then she paused, her head tilting a little in shame as she said, "w-well, not at first. He said that he had a 'problem' to fix here when I asked again. And he left it at that."

"A 'problem'?" he repeated angrily, but Jasmine shushed him.

"I — I'm so sorry!" her sudden apology caught everyone's attention. "I knew Malcho was being vague, but I had no idea that he-he…!"

Alisha couldn't bring herself to say his horrid intentions, and she shut her eyes, unable to meet both Aladdin and Jasmine's stares. Guilt began to crush her heart in an unrelenting grip.

How could I have been so blind? Even when I saw that something wasn't right, I still didn't do anything about it. I couldn't bring myself to be suspicious of him. And now look where it's brought us.

"I'm sorry," Alisha said again, her regret showing itself in her voice. It was the only thing she could say to them; the guilt was too heavy.

Jasmine stared at the silent Alisha intently, watching as her head lowered in shame. She felt her heart begin to sink for the poor creature, deeper than it ever did before. Lifting the covers off, she stood up from her bed, walking in her direction.

Even when she was standing in front of her, Alisha never met her gaze. Mentally, she prepared herself for whatever the Princess was going to say, expecting to hear a "get out" somewhere in it.

"Alisha," Jasmine began, and the harpy tensed. "Don't blame yourself. You have nothing to be sorry for."

She blinked at Jasmine, surprised by her kind words. Then she put her hand on the harpy's shoulder. "I doubt Malcho would have told you the truth about why he was coming to Agrabah. If he chose not to be vague, then he would have hid it with a lie of some sort."

Hearing that made her eyes round. Every moment that she and Malcho shared while at that oasis flashed through her mind. Each memory pained her more and more. She'd tried so hard to earn Malcho's trust, hoping to gain a friend if she did. She confessed her past to him so willingly, shared with him things she never told a soul…

...And all for what…?

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!"

All eyes snapped to Iago, who stood in the doorway with Abu, Carpet, and (Alisha gulped) Razoul.

"You mean you came here with Malcho?!" the angry bird exclaimed with shock, "Even when you knew he was hiding something?!"

Sweat trickled down the back of Alisha's neck. She immediately started to panic. "Yes!" then she bit her tongue, realizing what she just said. "I-I mean no! No!" she corrected, desperately hoping to take back her last answer.

"Which is it?!" a bandaged and extremely livid Razoul boomed, shooting his glare in Alisha's direction.

Trying to stay calm, Alisha attempted to explain. "W-We were going to come here together. He promised he would fly me here as soon as his sprain healed b-because of all the dangerous creatures out in the desert. A-And I —"

"That thing is a dangerous creature!"

Alisha jumped, her voice sucked up into her throat. She quailed under Razoul's glare, shrinking away from Jasmine a little because of it. Her heart began pumping with a thick, cold fear.

"Razoul, you're scaring her." Jasmine defended, wrapping her hands around Alisha's shoulders and pulling her closer beside her, becoming protective of the trembling harpy.

"She should be afraid!" he growled. "It's because of her that the beast has returned. My guess is she was bait to lure us in and let our guards down so that we wouldn't be prepared when he attacked!"

Alisha shook her head at him. "N-No, you're wrong. Malcho was going to bring me here so I could find my mother. That's the only reason why, I promise!"

"A-HA!" Iago exclaimed again, pointing an accusing feathery finger at her, "so everything you told us was a lie!"

"No, not everything. Malcho and I were attacked by humans, but I was the only one injured. I don't remember anything after that. That was the truth. I promise it was. I knew absolutely nothing about the other things."

Genie asked, softly, "Why hide the other things, Aly?"

"B-Because…!" the harpy stopped, then let out a deep, grief-filled sigh. Holding her head low, she admitted, "because I was afraid if I told you all I was supposed to come here with Malcho, you would have sent me away. That's why."

Everyone became silent. They gazed at Alisha. Some eyes filled with sympathy for her, while others remained unfazed by her words. For a minute, no one was sure what to say. They could only stare.

"So Malcho told you about us, Alisha?" asked Aladdin.

Heavily, as if a mountain had just been placed on her shoulders, she nodded. "Vaguely,"

"Oh, and let me guess," Iago snapped, venomously, "he made himself look like the victim, like the overgrown, scaly baby he is!"

Alisha nodded again, helplessly.

"Iago, you're making it sound like Alisha was Malcho's accomplice in all this." Jasmine defended again.

Then Razoul spoke up, glaring that fiery glare at the harpy, ready to strike her down with all his might.

"No, but ever since she showed up, we've been getting nothing but trouble!"

He started stomping in the harpy's direction. She saw and quickly pulled herself out of Jasmine's arms, backing away apprehensively. The closer he came, the farther back she moved, cutting down Alisha with his hurtful, bitter words as he did.

"That man nearly kidnapped the Princess because of her, almost busted her head open because of her, and now half of my men are lying in the infirmary because of the beast! And it's all because of her!"

Alisha collided into a wall, trembling feebly as the furious guard closed in.

He was only a step away from her until Aladdin darted between the two. He stood in front of Alisha, throwing his arms out protectively, and holding his stance in a fighting position. He glared right back at Razoul.

"Knock it off, Razoul!" He shouted. "None of those things were Alisha's fault. She didn't mean for them to happen, so back off!"

Watching Aladdin so bravely defend her like this stunned Alisha. As she caught her breath, she silently gaped at the boy, shocked once again by his perplexing desire to help her. Why would he do such a thing? She had done nothing to earn his confidence in honesty, much less his trust.

So why?

Then she gasped as she saw Razoul grab Aladdin's vest and pull him close, lifting him to the end of his bare toes, and growled with a pure, cold hatred. "You back off, street rat! Let the creature fight her own battles."

"Razoul!"

The giant man's body froze in the spot when Jasmine yelled his name. Alisha glanced at her and found her standing with her head held high, her brow furrowed, and her hands rolled into fists at her sides. She no longer looked like the kind and caring human she'd met, but a strong-willed princess.

Alisha stared at her, unable to turn away.

"Enough." Jasmine ordered, her voice strong.

Razoul said absolutely nothing, and he let Aladdin go with a shove. "Forgive me, Your Highness." He tried to sound as apologetic as he possibly could.

"Now, before everything got out of hand," Aladdin said, "we have to figure out what to do with Malcho."

"Wait, you mean he's still here!?" Iago shrieked in shock (quickly regretting his "overgrown, scaly baby" comment).

"He was injured. We had no choice but to help him."

Then Genie explained. "The problem is: snaky out there took a really severe blow to the shoulder, so he won't be able to fly for a while. And, well, since he's here…"

"Oh no!" Iago shouted, flying high above everyone as he did. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no! NO! Malcho is notstaying here!"

"For once I agree with the bird." Razoul said. "It's bad enough we have to shelter this whiny little jinx," he spat, glancing in Alisha's direction for a second and then back to the group, "but to shelter the beast as well? Out of the question."

"Yeah, maybe Genie can strap him to a rocket and blast him off to the Atlantic Ocean or something. The Sultan would never know he was here." Iago suggested. Genie simply rolled his eyes, irritatedly.

But Alisha had frozen, Genie's explanation echoing in her mind. More guilt swept over her, hitting her like a blunt slap to the face. She knew Malcho's injury was bad, but she had no idea it wasthatbad. Her eyes became clouded with hot tears, but she held them back. Malcho…why didn't you move when you had the chance?

"You guys don't understand." Razoul and Iago look quizzically at Aladdin. As did Alisha from behind.

"Malcho got hurt because he protected Alisha." He told them. Everyone blinked, their brows lifting in surprise. "He made sure she didn't get hurt."

Then he looked back around to the harpy. "Didn't he, Alisha?"

Alisha hesitated for a heartbeat, nervous to be put out on the spot suddenly, but she still answered. "Y-Yes, it's true."

"See?" Aladdin faced the group again, meeting all their eyes as he went on, hoping to get them to understand. "I know it's hard to believe. Trust me, guys, I'm still having trouble believing it, but it's true. Malcho had the perfect opportunity to move, but he didn't. He moved Alisha out of the way so she wouldn't get hurt."

"P-Please," though afraid, Alisha spoke up. She moved beside Aladdin, her voice full of plea. "You all have to understand. Malcho…"

She paused for only a moment. She gathered all the right words she could find and began to put them together, like a puzzle. And Alisha prayed she wouldn't make an error, knowing if she did, then Malcho would never get the treatment he needed…and she would lose their trust.

"Malcho is-is kind and gentle. I know he doesn't seem like he can be, but…if you just took the time to get to know him, you all would see he's not really what you think he is."

"Are you out of your mind!?" Iago exclaimed. "I am not going to try and 'get to know' the deranged lunatic that tried to electrocute me into fried chicken!"

"But —!"

"And if the beast is so 'kind' and 'gentle'," spat Razoul again, "then why did he attack us? Why are half my men brutally injured with broken bones and concussions?"

Alisha quailed once again, taking a step back. She bit her lip and tried to think of something else to say, but alas, she drew a blank. Small tears welled in her eyes as she realized she was at a loss of what to do. What now? What could she say? Was there another way to get them to see?

Suddenly, her gaze flashed to Jasmine, and hope began to bubble up inside her.

"Jasmine, you believe me, don't you?"

She looked at the harpy with question, unsure how to respond.

"Jasmine, please," she crossed the Princess. Reaching out, she softly wrapped her wings around her slim arms, looking straight into her eyes, "I know it's hard for you to believe me when I tell you these things about Malcho, but they're true. If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be here right now. He's saved me and kept me safe. He didn't have to, but he did. I promise you, Jasmine, just give Malcho a chance and you'll see —"

"Your Majesty," Razoul said, stomping in their direction, his giant hands balled up into fists, "With your permission, may I lock this rambling creature in the dungeon? Then we can discuss about what to do with the beast without being bothered by her."

"Jasmine!" Alisha pleaded, now teetering on the very edge of desperation. She'd never known how difficult humans could be; one moment they agree and then the next they disagree. But Jasmine was different.

She was brilliant, understanding, and strong…her faith in humans. And everything Alisha was not.

So she said the only thing that came to mind:

"I need you to trust in me."

Jasmine's almond-shaped eyes widened at the harpy, almost astonished by her words.

"Your Highness?" Razoul questioned, waiting for a response.

"…Malcho will stay until he is healed."

"WHAT?!" Iago exclaimed again, while Alisha smiled. "C'mon Jas, you can't be serious."

"I am, Iago." She glanced at Alisha. "If Alisha trusts him, then we can give Malcho a chance."

"Helloo! Earth to Jas!" the bird squawked. At this point Iago was about to start ripping off the red feathers on his head. "Did you just forget that she covered up the truth from us to save Malcho's scaly hide? The same Malcho who nearly zapped Genie, Abu, Thundra, and I into oblivion! The same Malcho who wrecked your palace and almost crushed your fiancé! Did you forget all that, too?"

"Iago, maybe Alisha's right. Maybe if we took the time to get to know Malcho, we might have a better understanding of him. And who knows…maybe that's all he needs."

Alisha's smile only brightened more and more from her words. Her spirit was now afloat with hope. She knew she could count on Jasmine!

"Then I suggest we keep the beast in a cage." Razoul crossed his arms. The idea of letting the serpent stay had clearly raised a large amount of inner anger, but he knew better than to argue; the Princess's word was final. But nothing would stop him from throwing in a cold and unsympathetic suggestion. "Just to ensure the safety of Agrabah and the people."

Something triggered inside Alisha as soon as she heard that come out of his mouth, something strong and uncontrollable. It burned with a wicked blaze. That word was poison. Flowing through her body, its fiery venom filled and burned within her heart. She spun around quicker than a breath of air towards Razoul, her glare seething like a green wildfire.

"Malcho is not going in a cage!"

Her angry shout drew everyone aback. They stared incredulously at Alisha. They'd gotten to know such a sweet and kind harpy that seeing her like this all of a sudden caused their mouths to drop to the floor.

"I don't care how much you hate him," she now yelled her unexpected venom towards the group, "I won't let anyone put Malcho in a cage like a wild animal! So help me, I will —!"

Then Alisha stopped mid-threat, feeling something wrap around her body like a rope, pulling her away a little. She found it was Jasmine who wrapped her arms around the harpy, almost embracing her in hopes to relax her and her fury. Alisha froze and noticed she was catching her breath, her green eyes as wide as dish plates.

Where…where did that come from? W-What was that…?

"Aladdin," Jasmine said after a second, still holding Alisha, "I can handle this. I think you guys should…" she nodded her head towards the door.

Knowingly, he nodded. Along with the others (and grabbing Iago after he protested to leave) Aladdin walked out the door and closed it behind him.

Now Alisha and the Princess were all alone.

The silence droned on, and Jasmine let her go.

"R-Really, Jasmine," Alisha turned around to face her, starting another apology, until she raised a hand and stopped her.

"You're already forgiven, Alisha." She told her, gently. "Don't be sorry. You were only defending Malcho, there is nothing for you to regret."

Her green eyes fell to the side. "I just…I just don't understand why I got so angry like that. I've never…"

"You care about Malcho. That's why." Jasmine tenderly clarified. "That's what friends do for each other. They protect each other, no matter what."

"No matter what…" Alisha echoed those three words. They rolled off her tongue smoothly, probing at her mind, and, slowly, their meaning started to become clear.

That night, as she threw herself between Malcho and the arrow, Alisha recalled that she wasn't even thinking when she did it. It was as if her body had gained its own movement and tossed her out there without her subconscious consent. Despite her own fears, she had been afraid for Malcho's life as well. Seeing him chained against the tree with little to no defense, and that utterly hopeless look in his eyes, brought forth something she'd never felt before. All other things were irrelevant in her mind, and when she took that arrow, she felt only disbelieve at what she had done.

She had only known Malcho in a short time; of course she cared about him by then. But to be willing to possibly die for him? Absurd... She was kind, yes, and she had had enough moments in life to know she was a fool at times, but she wasn't that foolish. To lay her life aside for someone whom she hardly knew would make her a fool among fools, and she knew she wasn't that...or at least she thought she wasn't.

So…was that the reason, then? Did Alisha truly care for Malcho so deeply that…that she would lay her life down for his?

This sudden realization startled Alisha. She shook her head and drew herself away from her thoughts.

"And from what I can tell, Alisha," Jasmine put a hand on her shoulder, "you seem to care for Malcho a lot."

She nodded. "Yes…yes, I do."

Maybe more than I realized…

"Malcho was the only person who was truly kind to me after...after everything I went through." He had brought Alisha some kind of joy. In the eyes of someone else, they would have been considered as little things, but those "little things" Malcho had done for her were colossal in her eyes: He had rescued her, listened to her, comforted her, sympathized and, above all, empathized with her. How ironic that she would have to find someone not human to finally get what she'd once believed was scarce in this world.

But Zadesh's words suddenly haunted her for a moment. "It was out of pity."

She looked away again, trying not to let the hurt his words had inflicted show.

"But now…" Alisha shook her head, slowly. "After seeing Malcho act like that…I honestly don't know anymore."

"Alisha," Jasmine took her wing. "Come, sit."

Holding her wing, she led her to the side of the bed and they sat down together. The harpy watched her curiously. She found that her gaze had met hers and, tilting her head to the side a little, the Princess asked:

"Do you think Malcho is a monster?"

"Of course not!" answered Alisha right away. Then she paused, silently telling herself to think before she spoke. "I-I mean, I understand why everyone thinks he is, because —"

"Alisha," Jasmine stopped her again, and she repeated: "Do you think he is a monster."

"…No."

Jasmine gave a little smile. "No friendship is perfect, Alisha. Sometimes you have to accept someone for the way that they are, no matter how difficult it may be. You have to understand that."

"I do, Jasmine. I really do. Of course Malcho isn't perfect, and I don't want him to be. I like him just the way he is. But…"

"Now that you've seen him like that, like a monster, you're not sure." The Princess finished, softly and sympathetically.

She nodded, heavily.

"Sometimes, Malcho has such a cynical way of thinking." Alisha said. "I learned that not long after we met. It's like…like he believes he has no one in this world to trust, no one to call friend. Then there was one night where I saw Malcho afraid — petrified — of something that was attacking him in a dream. It took me a while, but I was finally able to wake him up. He was so cold, almost callous, towards me. It hurt to have my generosity thrown back at me, and it would be a lie if I say I wasn't offended. On the inside, I had every intention to leave early in the morning. I thought if he was going to have episodes like that every night, I'd rather be by myself. But then, when I looked into his eyes, all I saw was this…loneliness. Suddenly, all the anger I had felt for him in those few minutes was gone, and I was compelled by this strange desire to help him. And from there on that's all I wanted. To support Malcho in any way I could."

The harpy gave a quick snicker at herself, lifting her gaze to the ceiling. "And I still have no idea why I want to." She looked to the Princess. "Does that make sense?" she asked, profoundly confused.

Jasmine nodded. "Of course it makes sense, Alisha. And I think that's the best thing he needs. Someone who wants to help him out of the kindness of her heart." With a smile, she placed a hand on her shoulder. "And we will do just that as well. Aladdin and I will show Malcho as much hospitality as we can, and I'm sure the others will come around to it soon. We'll give him that chance."

Every word sunk deeper and deeper into Alisha's heart, and Jasmine's smile reflected on her lips, filled with both hope and rejoicement.

"However," Jasmine's smile fell, causing Alisha's to fall in turn. She watched her demeanor switch from her kind self to the honorable and responsible Princess she saw from before. "If Malcho does act in a way that could endanger not only us, but the people of Agrabah as well, then I will have no choice but to resort to drastic measures. Do you understand?"

Alisha was silent in apprehension. She didn't want to know what those "drastic measures" were, and she knew she would be able to live the rest of her life without knowing. Finally, Alisha nodded in confirmation.

"I promise I won't let that happen, Jasmine." She vowed with assurance. "And I —"

"It's not your promise to make, Alisha." Jasmine told the harpy. "It has to be Malcho's vow and his alone. If he wants to be treated as a recovering guest, then he will be treated as one. He also must act as such. But if he acts otherwise, then he will be treated otherwise."

"…I understand." Alisha said after a second. Then she stood up from the bed. "And I'll make sure he understands also."

Jasmine nodded, knowingly. "Tell him we will see him when he's ready."

She nodded back and then started for the door. But before she opened it, she heard Jasmine call her name, stopping her once more. Alisha looked back and saw her give an assuring smile.

"Don't worry. I'm sure it will be fine. You'll see."

With her gaze falling to the side, she said quietly. "I hope so." And with their words said, Alisha exited the room, shutting the door behind her.

The sun's blazing orange light shined through the rows of windows down the hall, and it didn't take Alisha long to spot Razoul standing at the very end of it. His back leaned against the wall, his arms were crossed, and he was wearing the same expression she always saw on his face:

Somberness.

He (thankfully) wasn't looking her way, giving her the idea that he was on duty.

Alisha walked down the hall with cautious steps, trying not to look in Razoul's direction. The thought to apologize for snapping at him crossed her mind…he was just thinking about the citizens and their safety…

She glanced to the ground, thinking of a way to start her apology. Her mouth opened, but then quickly shut when he spoke up as she neared.

"You do understand that attacking us the first time was of the beast's own free will, correct?" Razoul asked in a very gruff but even tone, "Unless that street rat, Aladdin, hasn't told you yet?"

Venom poured from his lips when he said Aladdin's name.

"No, he told me." Alisha responded, stopping in front of him and looking away.

This made the man snicker. "And yet you still believe that that thing is capable of kindness."

She gave his laugh a cold shoulder. "I don't expect you to understand."

Fed up with the conversation, Alisha started to walk away. But Razoul blocked her way with his arm, holding the harpy at bay. Fearfully, she looked up at him. His dark eyes had intensified on her, causing Alisha's knees to tremble. And when he spoke, his voice was almost a growl.

"I have no intention to understand that thing. As far as I am concerned, he's just another beast that attacked the palace. Just as you are another annoying pest the Princess and the street rat are helping with out of the goodness of their hearts. But you are by far the most annoying. You barely know anything about that creature out there and yet you still have the nerve to defend him, even when you are aware of the things he's done. If you ask me, you are the one who does not understand."

With her back against the wall, she heard his voice lower into a very deadly whisper, meeting her eyes while keeping his head high above hers, like an alpha in a pack of wild, carnivorous animals.

"I'm warning you, if that monster slips up once — and I mean only once — his punishment will be your punishment as well. So you'd better keep a tight leash on him, got it?"

With her heart pounding, Alisha nodded at a rapid speed, at a point where her head looked like her head would unscrew if she went too fast.

Then at last he pulled his thick arm away from her and walked away without giving her even a sideways glance.

Alisha could finally breathe. She put a wing on her chest, trying to calm her trembling heart.

"Don't worry. I'm sure it will be fine. You'll see."

Jasmine's words echoed in her mind, as if to keep her hope from draining.