A/N: Still need to check a few things before I post the whole of this on AO3. But here’s a bit more.
Koumei was still staring at him, one eye hidden behind his bangs. A sleepy, deceptive stare, like a sand-ermine blinking from a rolled-up rug.
Oh, how cute and cuddly I am, before I rip your face off.
“Think about it,” Alibaba said quietly. “Like you said. I’m one guy. There’s no way I can take on your armies, your Household Members, your Djinns. Everything you think is going to let you beat Al-Thamen, the moment they decide they can turn on you. That’s your problem. Al-Thamen can beat you without ever lifting a sword.”
Oh boy. He could feel the taut attention in the room, singing from a dozen trained wills. He’d bet Aladdin saw the rukh swirling like a hurricane.
And… he finally had Kouen’s attention. Eep.
“I’ve seen enough death,” Alibaba said, to that dangerous scarlet gaze. “I’ve seen too many people die for revenge. You think I want the Empire brought down because of what you did to Balbadd? You’re wrong. I am going to stop you, because if I don’t, Al-Thamen’s going to kill all of us.”
Keep it together. Breathe.
“I don’t want anyone else to die,” Alibaba said quietly. “If you figure it out – and I know you can figure it out, if you just think – you can stop Al-Thamen right in their tracks. You can save your people. But you’ve got to start soon, you’ve got to move fast, and you’re going to have one hell of a mess to fix. Because the Empire is fragile, Kouen Ren. It looks strong and hard as a wall of ivory. But all it is, is an eggshell. One crack, and it’s done.” He raised one brow, cool and practiced as he’d learned under his old court tutors, years ago. “I learned a lot from how you took Balbadd. Did you?” He pulled together his nerves, and his best manners. “Gentlemen. Ladies. I won’t take up any more of your time.” He glanced at Aladdin. “Want to find Morg and get into some trouble?”
Aladdin smiled, and Alibaba knew everything was going to work out. Because that smile was relief, and trust, and all the hope in the world.
I believe in you.
He grabbed Aladdin’s hand, and they ran for it.
It was an interesting silence left in Alibaba’s wake, Ja’far reflected. Assembled kings and warriors were shifting and trying not to obviously glance at each other, as Kouen and Sinbad stared each other down.
“You can’t possibly take him seriously.”
“The last time I didn’t take Alibaba seriously, he managed to dethrone the royalty, back your sister down without even drawing a weapon, and rebuild half of Balbadd before you got there,” Sinbad reflected. “The timing on that fleet of yours – tch. You should have sent them at least a few weeks later. Then it might not have been glaringly obvious you never meant to give Balbadd a chance to pay back their debts.” He shifted in his chair, and glanced at Ja’far. Well?
The ex-assassin allowed himself a small, thin smile. Alibaba might not have realized it, but he’d come to exactly the right person to hear his plan. Both as a merchant… and as a former assassin.
The Fan is like arsenic, Ja’far thought. Small amounts make a horse fat and glossy. But raise the dose abruptly, or withdraw it completely – and the victim dies.
“I’d take him very seriously,” Ja’far stated. “You took a gift horse from Al-Thamen. You should have checked its teeth.”