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A Shadow of Doubt to Every Light of Faith by Sindie
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Author's Notes:
Aladdin is what started my writing of fanfiction in the first place. Twenty years ago, before I was even on the Internet, I wrote my first story from Aladdin. I haven't written anything in this fandom since 2003 (that's 12 years from the date I'm writing this, March 17, 2015). This is written now from the perspective of an older me than the one who wrote as a teenager and in her early twenties. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

A big thanks to Catherine for beta-reading this and for her support! We go way back to 2002, when we met through the Aladdin fandom. I'm proud to say we're still friends!

Oh, and if it wasn't obvious, I don't own Aladdin or any of its characters. That's Disney, folks! This is just an appreciative fan's work. Enjoy!

A Shadow of Doubt to Every Light of Faith

By Sindie

The arid wind whipped sand mercilessly in front of his face, the rough pinpoints prickling his eyes and throat. His hair danced around his head in the desert breeze, grey now the dominant color in its thick strands. His beard, likewise, had whitened through the years, and when he smiled, the lines around his eyes were deep and genuine, a testimony to many years of happiness, the smiles that had formed them. He remained a handsome man at the age of sixty-three, eyes dark and deep, penetrating. Despite his age, he was still a striking figure, his pose strong and his stance domineering as he stood next to his sturdy horse. He was all lean muscle and tanned skin, leathery after a lifetime in the sun.

On the man's shoulder perched a red parrot, his plumage still vibrant. The bird had not lived as many years as the man and was still in his prime, but wisdom had developed in the bird's yellow eyes
with time. Neither had lived easy lives, but all in all, their lives had been good and fulfilling.

Any onlooker would suppose, wrongly, that this pair was oddly placed. The man and the bird were the closest of friends, having been through numerous adventures together - some times of trial, some of triumph, but always exciting. They could never say that life was boring. They possessed an understanding of each other that transcended words, the kind only the deepest of bonds between friends could comprehend. They were two of a kind: good, but not too good, they liked to believe. In their chests beat hearts of gold, but they also had a mischievous streak and a lust for the gold one might spend on material luxury... even though it was often their hearts they spent, with each other and with those in their circles, and beyond. Imperfect kindness was the most real form of currency: freely given as a gift.

"There she is," the man croaked, his voice raspy.

He swallowed thick saliva and reached for the water skin around his waist. Dehydration was a common occurrence in the desert climate. He took a long drink from the opening and handed it off to his feathered friend.

The bird took the water skin greedily and drank. Finally withdrawing the skin, he heaved a contented sigh and smiled a toothy grin.

"Agrabah," he said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice, the awe of reference evident. "How long has it been, Cassim?"

"Too long," Cassim replied, a bit sadly, shaking his shaggy head. "Five years, give or take. My grandkids will have nearly grown up, Iago."

Iago gave his human friend a small poke in the cheek with his blue-tipped wing. "They can't be that old! How long have I known you? Al and the princess got married, oh..." He extended his wing like a hand and ticked off the years gone by on finger-like feathers, like sands through an hourglass, slipping away too quickly. "Jeez, seriously? Twenty years?"

"Yes, twenty years," Cassim agreed. "I'm an old man now."

"Yeah, you geezer!" Iago teased, laughing lightly. "Do we need to make a stop for a cane on the way to see your son?"

Cassim glared at Iago, but there was no malice in it.
"Joke all you want, but your time will come. I've noticed you don't fly as quickly as you used to... Is that age or the extra weight?"

Iago then did glare at his friend. He self-consciously sucked in his stomach.

"I'll have you know that my feathers are just... full. I'm healthy."

Cassim laughed heartily. "You can give it, but you can't take it, is that right?"

Iago harrumphed. He had known the benefit of many fine meals when travelling with Cassim, and he had always had a difficult time knowing when enough was enough. Not fat as such, but he was a little on the chubby side. Jasmine used to tell Iago that she thought his bit of extra cushioning made
him easier to cuddle.

"Well, enough of that," Iago groused. "So, there's Agrabah in the distance. Still standing. Aladdin hasn't managed to bring it to ruin yet."

"My son is a fine ruler," Cassim stated proudly. "As if there would ever be any doubt, considering who his father is."

"Not feeling self-righteous or anything, are you?"

Cassim waved away Iago's comment. "Of course not. That's more your category. Didn't you tell me years ago that when Aladdin became Sultan, you were going to be his chief adviser, or whatever you call it?"

With what he thought an offhand remark, Cassim mounted and urged his horse forward again. They had stopped long enough, and he hoped to reach the city by nightfall. The sun was already lowering toward the western horizon, lengthening their shadows over the sand.

Iago made a sound of disgust. "Ha, the Royal Vizier? No, thank you. Sure, I might have labored under that delusion when I first switched sides, but that was before I knew better... or any different."

Under his feathers, Iago paled. Even though it had been a long time since his days on Jafar's haughty
shoulders, he would never forget. How could he, when he had spent several years of the beginning of his life assisting one of the most evil sorcerers who had ever lived? The more time passed, the less Iago gave the slightest bit of headway to such thoughts, but they would always be a part of him, hidden away in the darkest and farthest recesses of his mind.

Cassim kept silent for the next few minutes. He knew he had broached a sore subject with his friend. Iago seemed to have brushed the comment off like it didn't bother him, but knowing Iago like he did, Cassim strongly suspected that he might have said something he shouldn't, even if it had been meant in jest.

"Do you... want to talk about it?" he finally ventured, shifting his eyes from the palace in the distance to the small bird still sitting on his shoulder.

Iago locked gazes with Cassim for a moment, before turning away and sighing. Iago normally spoke without restraint and had no trouble making his opinion known, but when it came to speaking of matters of the heart, he often closed up. Cassim and Iago had been known to have whole conversations in sarcasm and in harmless taunts, and they understood each other that well to know that the words they uttered belied the deeper meaning. Iago eventually gave a fraction of a shake of the head.

Cassim stopped the horse again, a little annoyed to be pausing for the second time in less than an hour. Figuring this topic might turn into a lengthy conversation, if Iago agreed, Cassim jumped down from the horse with the finesse of a man much younger. Upon his sudden movement, Iago squawked indignantly, losing his balance on Cassim's shoulder for a second, but catching himself before he could fall. Cassim gave a sharp intake of breath when he felt Iago's claws digging into his skin through the fabric of his clothing.

"Do you mind not startling me half to death?" Iago blurted, agitated for reasons deeper than Cassim's dismounting of the horse.

"Do you mind not leaving a permanent scar from your claws?" Cassim retorted, locking eyes with his friend, both of them with eyebrows arched inward in momentary frustration at the other.

Cassim withdrew his gaze and spread a blanket on the sand, sitting with a huff. Moments like these, where the two good friends argued, were common, but they always resolved themselves within a day. Cassim thought Iago's temper would have lessened over the years, and while the frequency of his outbursts was lower, when the rages occurred, they remained just as volatile. Removing some fruit from his pack, Cassim laid some figs and apples on the blanket.

"Sit, eat," he ordered. "I suppose stopping for supper now is as good a time as any, and eating seems to help your mood," he couldn't help but tease, hoping to dispel Iago's sour mood.

Iago sat on the blanket, but didn't touch the food, nor would he look at Cassim.

"You think you can joke about it, that making light of something you don't understand is all right? You think I'm so see-through that I'll forget by eating?" Iago tossed accusation after accusation at Cassim.

Taken aback, Cassim blinked and shook his head. "It was a bad joke, okay? All of it... stupid nothingness. Not meant to harm."

Surprised to find Iago unconvinced, Cassim heaved a sigh. If he had known a silly remark about being the Royal Vizier would have caused his friend's mood to spiral down into a pit so easily, he wouldn't have said anything.

"Well, for your information, friend," Iago said the last word in heavy sarcasm, "words can do harm. I know that."

Iago thought of all the times his caustic remarks had been the reason for hurting others, and he wasn't proud, but he was sulking and was throwing daggers back.

"Do you really think I know you so little after all this time, that I think so little of you, that I would intentionally hurt you? If you think for a minute I'll pity you, you're wrong, and you're also wrong that I don't understand what it's like to have a past to be ashamed of," Cassim implored, gaining momentum.

"I never-" Iago started to say, but Cassim cut him off.
"For once, Iago, hold your tongue. Do you know how hard it is, even now, to visit Aladdin, seeing him as a great father and a great man, better than I could ever be? Every time I see him with his family, it's a reminder of my failure toward my family. Sometimes, even now, with all our travels, I ask myself: am I still running away, too scared to settle? But I know better. No, for me, for you - I think - it's been the thrill of the adventure, one after another, of never settling for less, not after what we've been through. We have our lives; they have theirs. Different, yes, but one isn't better than the other. I'm happy for Aladdin. Seeing him happy makes me happy, and in that, I can't feel sorry for myself or regret the past. So, I face it for what it is, appreciate it to have formed me into the person I am today, and live my life."

Iago listened and processed every word. He knew Cassim was right, but knowing and actually putting that knowledge into practice were different things. He was, for once, speechless.

"The same is true for you," Cassim finished quietly, offering a small and sincere smile.

"It doesn't really bother me that much anymore, not usually," Iago finally admitted. "My past, that is. Sometimes I think... I think of how long it's been, all that's happened, believing I've come so far... but when I least expect it, something propels me back to my old way of thinking. It's stupid, really. When I was younger, it was easy to dismiss my behavior as immaturity. I thought, 'Sure, when I'm older, I'll be different. I'll be better than this.' And now I am older and supposed to be wiser from my experiences, but I don't feel like, right now, I've ever fully gotten past those awful days. It feels like a foreign life because it was so long ago, but also still very much with me. This is ridiculous and probably makes no sense to you. I'm not sure it even makes sense to me."

Cassim nodded knowingly. "Oh, I understand better than you think. You and I are a lot alike, my friend." He paused, then resumed, "But tell me: are you truly happy? You are happy, right?"

"I am happy, really! And it's your fault for making me sprout out nonsense like this!" Iago tried to joke. "It was a momentary lapse in my happiness. Nothing more."

"I'm sorry if anything I said upset you, my feathered friend," Cassim said, scooping him up and placing him back on his shoulders. "Like you said, these things come at us unexpectedly. I am sure that, as we're visiting this time, there will come a moment when I'm gazing at my grandchildren and feel a pang of sadness at my own failings as a father, but my joy at seeing my son and his family outdoes all that. There is a shadow of doubt to every light of faith we have."

"Listen to you, waxing poetic," Iago jested, then he sobered. "Cassim, you know I don't apologize much, but I'm, you know, well... I'm sorry for saying you wouldn't understand. Of anyone I've ever known," he hesitated, "I think you know better than anyone. Are you... you're sure you're okay?"

Knowing what he did about the complexity of overcoming the past, Iago wanted to be confident that Cassim was truly all right. His words earlier were filled with hope, but Iago also heard the regret in his friend's voice.

"Yes," Cassim replied with a smile. "Thank you for your concern."

Iago offered an uncharacteristically shy smile, the feel-good emotions becoming too much.

Iago was through talking in serious tones. He was on the shoulder of a giant he admired, whose footsteps he hoped to fill. Cassim was more than an object of admiration to Iago, and he knew that truth in his heart of gold, which he would never sell for something less than the value of true friendship.

Iago eyed the fruit and said, "An apple, if you please, Cassim. I am suddenly famished."

Cassim chuckled. He doubted Iago would ever be starving, but his dear friend's antics were telling of his brighter mood.

"Gladly," he said, passing the fruit to Iago.

Cassim cleaned the rest of the fruit up and replaced it in his sack, folded the blanket, and after securing everything, he mounted his faithful steed once again and set off into the setting sun for Agrabah.

"Hey," Iago said after they had been riding for a while, nudging Cassim.

"What?" Cassim asked, pulling to a stop to look at his best friend.

"Thanks, you know, for..." Iago blushed under his feathers, the emotion overtaking him.

Cassim smiled. "You're welcome."

"But you didn't hear what I was gonna say," Iago weakly protested.

"I already know, friend; I already know."

Iago smiled, one of many in his life.

The palace grew larger as they neared their destination, the orange glow off the city capturing a passing moment of beauty, inside and out. Overheard, the sky was vibrant with every hue of the rainbow, a promise of the gift of the day, another in a line of many where friendship between two such as these continued to thrive and overcome adversity.

For now, they had a destination, but tomorrow and the following days, where they were going would keep changing, and that was what mattered: the blessed journey on life's great adventuresome path taken with a friend by one's side. Twenty years and counting, let joy be the guide.