Disclaimer: I do not own Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. This story is inspired by sindere's (on Tumblr) headcanon, that because of the curse on Sinbad's body he will lose all senses and emotions before dying. Thus I do not claim credit for this fic's idea either.
Warnings: Character death.
It could be that he has gotten out of his drinking habit. Ja'far will be happy to hear that, he thinks, as he sips a glass of red wine but tastes nothing. The tart sweetness does not dance on his tongue and the liquid slips down his throat like water. Only that water tastes sweet too, but this is like air.
He takes a bite of meat. Sharrkan laughs at some joke Pisti made and he looks up to smile. He chews and feels the grind of his teeth on the matter, but it all goes down his throat and leaves nothing on his tongue.
Pisti cackles, high and delighted, when Sharrkan takes a bite of grilled papagoras generously flavoured with spices and yelps from the sting. Spartos's attempt to pass Sharrkan a glass of water ends in spilled disaster when Sharrkan's arms flail. Sinbad joins in the laughter and places his fork and knife down, neatly, beside his plate.
Yamuraiha is often absorbed in her books and her magic, but sometimes she joins Pisti in the garden and they tend to the flowers. When Yamuraiha bumps into Ja'far she smiles and hands him a bunch of chrysanthemum flowers. The petals are sunset red and orange and yellow, and when he brings it up to his nose it smells sweetly and faintly of early summer.
"You can make tea with this," she says.
Ja'far nods in thanks and offers her a smile.
In the kitchen he takes the yellow chrysanthemums and steeps them in hot water. Carefully he adds some rock sugar to the pale yellow tea and takes a taste test. The maids hover, asking if he needs help, but he waves them away and arranges everything on a tray. The teapot and Sinbad's favourite cup, a chipped and unsymmetrical pottery Masrur had made for him many years ago as a present. Some cookies Hinahoho's daughter had made find their way onto a plate, and the brightly coloured flowers go into a vase and he places that on the tray as well.
The walk to Sinbad's office is short. He suspects he hastens through the corridor as well. His hand is lifted to knock on the door and he hesitates before knocking thrice.
"Come in," he hears Sinbad say, clear even through the door.
His king looks thinner than ever. Ja'far thinks of how Sinbad had pushed away his breakfast this morning after a few bites. There are only a few documents left to look through, and Ja'far wonders when the last time was that they had managed to finish work before the evening supper.
He wonders why Sinbad is working with such fervour and dares not entertain the answer.
"Have some tea, Sin," he says in a tone that brooks no argument. He places the tray on the table and unloads the plate of cookies first.
Sinbad grins. "A reward for me?"
Ja'far huffs. "It's not often you go through your work so fast."
Sinbad laughs and ignores the implied question. He picks up one heart-shaped cookie and nibbles on it while Ja'far pours some tea into the cup. Ja'far looks at him out of the corner of his eye.
"Is it good?" he asks.
Sinbad nods. "Sure is," he says, and he even picks up a second cookie.
"Not too sweet?" Ja'far presses.
Sinbad shrugs. "Not really?" he says, and he keeps his eyes on the cookie while Ja'far keeps his gaze on him.
Ja'far thinks of Hinahoho's sheepish laughter as he explains how his daughter had, in her excitement, knocked far too much sugar into the dough batch. He had laughed then with the man. Sinbad attempts to smile at him and Ja'far cannot smile back. He places the vase of flowers on Sinbad's table.
Sinbad's eyes light up. "The chrysanthemums are blooming."
"Aye," Ja'far softly says.
Sinbad ignores the tea Ja'far had placed in front of him. He reaches for a stalk of chrysanthemum and lifts it out of the vase. The vivid petals make Sinbad's skin seem pale as he brings it close to his nose and sniffs.
Ja'far watches, and a knot of dread and anxiety settles in his stomach when Sinbad takes a second too long to smile. Sinbad resolutely keeps his eyes away from Ja'far's.
In the courtyard, bathed in the bright sunlight, Sinbad watches the soldiers train under Drakon's careful eye.
"They're getting better everyday," Sinbad murmurs. Drakon nods, a pleased smile on his face.
"Aye. And well they should, if they have sworn to protect Sindria," Drakon says with a low rumble. He taps a clawed finger on his arm. "It is hard to imagine we were once like them."
Sinbad smiles. The clang of weapons meeting fills the air and the soldiers let out yells and cries, attempting to force their training partner into surrendering. He sighs and says, "Did we ever fall down on our butts like that?"
Drakon snorts. "Certainly that still happens, when Ja'far chases after you to do work. You have finished your work for today?" he asks with suspicion.
Sinbad pretends to be hurt. "I have! Don't look at me like that. You look like a second Ja'far."
Drakon chuckles, which sounds like small dragon roars.
Sinbad watches until Drakon gives them a break from practice. The sun is still high when he takes a walk in the palace grounds, greeting maids as they scurry to and fro, and having short conversations with his generals as and when he sees them.
At some point, when Sinbad is at the highest point of the palace lost in thought, Ja'far appears silent as a shadow and stands by his side. Sinbad smiles. He looks out from the balcony to where the city of Sindria bustles with laughter and life.
"Will you take a walk with me, Ja'far?" he asks.
Ja'far bows. He keeps his eyes closed when he says, "As you wish, my King."
Sinbad thinks he can imprint the smile of every Sindrian citizen in his mind. He thinks if he starts now he might have enough time.
The palace is quiet. Far quieter than it usually is, and it has been so since Sinbad had collapsed on the way to lunch two days ago.
Ja'far slips into the room. The windows are open and the room is lit with natural light. Sinbad, sitting up in bed, turns to face where Ja'far is standing. He blinks but his gaze remains unfocused.
"Is that you, Ja'far?" he asks with a grin.
Ja'far steps closer to the bed and rests the tray of food on the bedside table. "Aye, Sin," he says.
"I knew it. Only you would be so quiet," Sinbad cheerfully says. He closes his eyes and leans back against the pillows. Ja'far watches as Sinbad reaches out a hand and waits, patient and calm, until Ja'far places his hand there. Sinbad curls his fingers and tugs Ja'far down to sit on the bed, feeling the bed dip slightly near his thighs.
"Have some lunch first, Sin," Ja'far urges.
Sinbad shakes his head. "Tell me things that happened today. Did Sharrkan and Yamuraiha get into a fight again?"
Nobody did anything. They are all frightened for you, is what Ja'far would have liked to say. He swallows and says, "Have some lunch. Then I will tell you, alright?"
Sinbad grumbles but finally nods his assent. Ja'far takes both of Sinbad's hands and curls them slightly. He places the bowl of soup in Sinbad's palms. "Be careful. It's still a little hot."
While Sinbad sips the soup Ja'far thinks of what to tell him. He wants to say that Yamuraiha and Sharrkan did fight, because Yamuraiha had insisted on making the soup, and Sharrkan had said she had absolutely no cooking skills and wouldn't be able to make anything worth eating for Sinbad, and Yamuraiha had burst into tears and Sharrkan had held her while they sobbed. He wants to say that Hinahoho had stepped in and Masrur had cut the vegetables. He wants to say that Spartos and Pisti and Drakon had sat together outside his room the whole night. He wants to say he was with them.
Instead, he takes a deep breath and says, "We miss you. Everyone's waiting for you to come back."
Sinbad lowers the bowl and blinks at the space in front of him. There is a very small smile on his face. Ja'far clenches his hands, waits a beat, then says, "Pisti brought in beautiful flowers to the palace. Irises, she said. Then she did her air patrol and said Drakon is giving the soldiers a tough practice."
Sinbad closes his eyes. "Did Masrur fall asleep in the woods again?"
"He always misses the morning meetings. You know that."
Sinbad chuckles. "He does, yeah. Spartos and Hinahoho, did they do their patrols? What did they see?"
Ja'far smiles. "You just want another Maharajan festival, don't you? It's blue skies and seas today. Everything is calm, they said."
"A festival would be nice," Sinbad says, sounding wistful. "Even you would drink with me then."
"Though I never get drunk, that's for you and Sharrkan. Sharrkan is saving the best wine for you. He promises to fight with Yamuraiha less too, once you're up and ready."
Sinbad sighs. Ja'far takes the empty bowl out of his hands and places it on the tray. Sinbad waits until Ja'far places his hands in Sinbad's again.
"You're such a liar, Ja'far," he whispers.
Ja'far squeezes Sinbad's fingers. He swallows and hopes his voice does not tremble when he says, "I've learnt from the best."
Two more days, and this time Sinbad only reacts when he feels somebody touch his hand. He uses his fingers and palms to trace the hand, feeling the calluses and the shape, before he smiles and says the name.
Whether he gets it correct he does not know, though he is pretty sure, by the way his hand is squeezed tight every time he guesses the person, that he gets it right all the time. He cannot forget the way his generals fight for him and the scars they bear.
When he feels Ja'far's hands in his, he tugs Ja'far forward until he can feel Ja'far's warm body against his. It is no longer the body of the small boy he had picked up years ago, but it is still smaller than his. Sinbad sighs and presses his face into Ja'far's shoulder. Ja'far's arms around him exert a good pressure. He is squeezed almost too tight, but Sinbad would rather feel like he is losing his breath than feel nothing at all.
He can feel Ja'far's breath against his ear, though he cannot know what Ja'far is saying. Soon he is surrounded by more warmth. The hand on his shoulder is Masrur's, the hand on his head is Hinahoho's, and Pisti is curled on his other side –
He laughs. He can feel the laughter vibrate in his chest, and he can only hope that he does not sound horrible. Ja'far squeezes tighter while he chuckles and says many things. He thinks he trips over his own words at times, but they are words that need to be said.
He wants them to do for Sindria what he no longer can.
He says thank you at the end, and he imagines their smiles as he closes his eyes and fades into a long, long dream.