Rating: PG thus far except possibly for language. >_o

Summary: A western that is not.

High Noon

By Lena ban Obsidian


He came riding in through the deserts and sands of the east, a cloak as red as blood flowing behind him in the air, ragged as his eyes and his body beneath the clothes he wore. Anyone in town would have known him a foreigner-- the eyes, the hair, and the beast he rode were none of them familiar-- and doors were shut as his figure drew nearer to their precious home, terror flashing in the dark eyes of mothers as they held their children close.

They said his beast was wild and shone in the sun like gold, and that it could fly as well as it ran. No horse, said the men, no, that was no horse at all...it was a great and terrible dragon that the man must have tamed himself. He had passed through many towns before theirs and each story that came to their ears was more terrifying and horrible than the last, as people tried to get close enough to see the face of the rider. None had dared speak to him, and he rode like a ghost, driven only by his unspoken desire to find...something. He never stopped to eat or rest and his beast never tired, it seemed. His eyes glowed, and one child had gone mad with fear when he looked upon her, or so it was said.

His hair was the color of sand, and so wild from the wind of his travels that it looked almost like the spikes on the back of a demon.

When he came to Agrabah, the people were terrified that here he would choose finally to stop, reaching his destination and their destruction in the sultan's glorious palace. It was whispered that he drew closer with every day, and the guards slept poorly for fear of being on duty when he finally came upon them. They knew not what he wanted or where he might go after they reached their precious town, but they knew this: he was bringing them great trouble.

Some brave-- or perhaps more accurately, foolish-- souls went forth days before he came into sight, riding their horses to meet him and challenge the rider in combat to protect their honor and Agrabah. They were bid farewell with flowers and tears, and none...not a one came back.

On the sixth day of the middle month of summer, a figure appeared on the horizon at dawn. The townspeople went into a panic, and frenzied mobs raided the market, terrified families bundling into their homes and everyone, after a few hours, locking themselves away into their homes. Locking up the goods was not as important as one's life, and the market stood empty and open when all the townsfolk had gone to hide.

A thief's heaven.

Aladdin took the opportunity to stock his small home with food as the sun neared its apex. He didn't believe in this ghost's power and he was hungry; and Abu felt the same. They carried armful after armful of food up to his house, coming down for a third sweep.

That was when he arrived, and the world went awry.

With a horrible screech, the dragon leapt over the closed, locked and barricaded town gates, landing with a squawk as its claws slipped over the hot sand.

It was high noon, the wind trailing faint dusty trails through the streets. Flapping its wings and ducking it's head as if to avoid peering at the brightness of its own plumage, the dragon began stepping forward, the sharp graveled sound of its claws in the sand marking its path.

Aladdin stood frozen in shock, in horror, and watched it all, unable to remember that he was supposed to be running. The dragon-- no dragon, but a great, golden bird-- had its head hung low, its large dark eyes sad with hunger and thirst. Its rider appeared to be, of all things, lightly sleeping, slumped heavily over the bird's back and bleeding into the folds of his cape. Standing free of the cape, however, was the thing that had made Aladdin freeze in place as the creature stepped closer, her legs wobbling with exhaustion.

Standing free of that cloak was a wing, demon black and shivering with each breath the rider took. It was bent in places that didn't look particularly natural, and if one listened closely, it sounded as though the rider whimpered softly at every motion the appendage made.

The bird finally came to a shivering stop and turned pleading eyes on the only other living thing in the marketplace, opening her beak to make a soft noise of desperation. "Waaarrk..."

Suddenly the paralysis faded in the face of an instinct to help.

"Don't worry," he answered the pitiful little croak, stepping foward with his hands out to try to show he meant the bird no harm. She lifted her head a little, almost recoiling at first, and then lowered it into his arms, allowing him to hug her and stroke her neck as he murmured soft reassurances and led her to the back alley where they would be safer. Abu watched all this from behind the watermelon he'd chosen as cover when the bird first arrived; and as Aladdin moved out of his immediate sight, he chittered angrily, racing to follow-- at a distance-- and keep his eye on things.

"Shh, shh, it'll be okay, all right? I'll get you some water and some food and you'll feel as good as new." The bird made another weak little sound of concern, and motioned with her head to the injured rider on her back. Aladdin winced. "Er..uh. Well, I'll do what I can for him, okay? I don't know how much it'll take, but I'll do my best."

"Kweeehh..." the bird agreed softly, settling in the corner of the alley and tucking her head into her feathers as she sat down. The rider all but rolled off, narrowly missing the wall with his damaged wing, and groaned into the sand beneath his face softly, clearly unconscious.

Stepping forward carefully, Aladdin frowned, not sure how much of this he was really qualified to treat. Abu, seeing the coast was clear, clambered up the boy's legs to his shoulder and peered at their new seeming-friend. He chittered his disapproval, and Aladdin laughed. "...yeah, I know. He looks pretty bad, huh?"

Crossing his arms over his chest, the monkey chirruped, nodding his head firmly and dismissing their invalid as a hopeless cause.

Aladdin rolled his eyes. "I'm not gonna just leave him here, Abu. Now help me get him up to the house. I don't think birdie's gonna fit up there, but she should be all right on her own once we give her some food and water."

Reluctantly agreeing to Aladdin's reasoning, the monkey chittered his annoyance as he leapt down and started tugging on their patient's hair. This resulted in little as far as improving the situation-- the man groaned again, almost managing to sound more annoyed than pitiful, and his head didn't move.

Still, progress. Maybe they could at least get him consicous.

Kneeling down, Aladdin slipped his arms under the man's shoulders and stomach, hefting him up over one shoulder and stumbling under his weight, nearly falling. "Wh-whoa!" Abu raced around him in two circles, chittering angrily as his master tried to find his balance. "...jeez, what is this guy carrying?"

Abu chirped intelligently and pointed to the man's hip, where a sword that defied logic hung like a block of cement. Aladdin's eyes widened a moment, and he set about undoing the belt, letting the weapon clang to the ground. Suddenly, his load was a great deal lighter.

He sighed. "Keep an eye on that, would you?" He said over his shoulder to the bird. She looked up and 'waark'ed in acceptance.

They began the drag-slow walk towards the ladder up to Aladdin's home, Abu racing ahead and then back, angrily commenting on the slowness the entire time. Even without his sword, the man was still a decent weight and Aladdin wasn't exactly the strongest of men. They reached the ladder and he groaned at the thought of climbing even alone, let alone with his burden.

The man slung over his shoulder made a tiny noise of confusion and shifted.

"...please tell me you're awake," Aladdin murmured plaintively, setting the man down and helping him up, letting the majority of the guy's weight rest on him. Delirious blue eyes met his eyes, afraid and unsure, and flickering between awareness and sleep too much for comfort. "...mister? You all right?"

"...who're you?" the man asked in a voice as dry as sandpaper.

"I'm Aladdin. I found you and your bird after you came into town," he explained softly, watching those eyes, curious to see what kind of man this really was. Certainly not a demon...right? "...uh, how 'bout you?"

The body pressed against his own wavered dangerously, limp and slumping towards the ground until he caught hold. "...C..loud...Strife..." A hand that was sheathed in a clawed gauntlet groped for purchase in the stone wall, and Aladdin tried very hard not to wince at the thought of what would have happened if those very-sharp claws had landed in his chest instead of the wall. Winced, and then quickly discarded the thought, because it was entirely counterproductive and too unsettling in a situation that already had him worried enough as it was.

"All...right, Cloud, then uh, let's get you up into my house and I'll see what I can do for you. Okay?" Those eyes, piercing and kind of scary, really, hazily followed the suggestion, as Cloud turned his head the minimal distance necessary to see the ladder and he considered the distance. Instead of moaning in pitiful complaint (as Aladdin, personally, had he been in that condition, would have), he just nodded and reached for the ladder, though his legs gave out beneath him the instant he wasn't leaning against Aladdin for support. The damaged wing scraped the walls, twisting a hiss out of the blonde, and he gripped the ladder hard enough that his hands shook.

Aladdin swallowed thickly. Now that was determination. Yeesh.

"Uh, do you want some help with...?"

"M'bird." A single look from that weary face, those eyes was enough to make Aladdin shut up and listen. "Sh' needs water...water n'food...help her. I'll..." Cloud's voice faded to nothing, his eyes sliding closed a moment; then with a little jerk and a shake of his head, he started climbing. "...I'll go," he muttered raspily, mind set.

While he didn't really like the idea of letting a guy who was that badly wounded climb up the ladder to his home unaided, Aladdin really didn't have any better ideas. Worse, eventually the townsfolk would come out of their homes, he assumed, and then there would be trouble if he pilfered further from the marketplace. Trotting off to the water-jug stall, he grimly filled up two or three waterskins and a jug, slinging the skins over his shoulder and wearing them like travel packs. Water first for the bird, and then he'd try to figure out what she liked to eat.

The sand skittered and sang in whisper soft rhythm as he padded back to the alleyway where he'd left her, sighing to himself as he did his best to sneak about, even though Agrabah was all but deserted. Once a thief, always a thief; and considering the state of his two...well, guests, it was important that he get this taken care of quickly, instead of possibly being caught and failing them. Maybe he'd regret it later, but Aladdin was a firm believer in the importance of helping people.

When he reached the place where the gold-feather bird had curled up, he groaned to himself. He'd have to find a place to hide her too, really, because there was no way she could remain hidden here in the alley. Even had her feathers not been gold-- gold! shining like a beacon for any greedy eye--she was an unusual enough creature that anyone who found her would have been curious to see what she could do, what price could be gotten for her, and failing that, how her meat would taste.

Aladdin personally didn't really approve of eating one's one mount, and wasn't so desperate for money that he'd have sold her, but he had to admit to himself a deep curiosity about her, and had she been alone, he'd have wanted to keep her.

The bird raised her head cautiously when he returned, but made a tired, non-threatening 'kweh' sound when she saw that it was him. Quick thinking allowed him to transform an empty pot, thrown out by someone on a higher level of the town, into a water dish for the bird. He poured out the jug into the makeshift dish, and stroked and cooed to the bird as she drank her fill, ignoring Abu's irate chirrups on the other side of the alleyway.

Somewhere close to halfway through the water supply, the great big bird's drinking slowed from 'desperate' to 'relieved', and she lifted her beak, intelligent dark eyes focusing on her rescuer. "Waaaaaark!" She crowed triumphantly, and proceeded to nuzzle Aladdin with her head to his chest so unexpectedly that he nearly lost his balance, stumbling back and laughing.

"Whoa, there!" Abu screeched, racing at the bird. Likely would have attacked, too, had she not swung her head around, curious at the other sound. Monkey and winged-one gazed deeply into each other's eyes until Aladdin laughed, reaching out a hand to let Abu climb to his shoulders. "Calm down, Abu. It's not like I'm keeping her. That guy will probably need her to get back out of town."

Abu chirped disapprovingly.

"Nah, I don't think he'll be able to stay here. Everyone thinks he's a demon. Knowing that sultan of ours, he might end up in jail just for frightening everybody." Abu interjected irritably, and Aladdin smirked, not quite wry. "Not his fault that the well-off are easy scares, Abu. Besides, he's in pretty bad shape. Looks like he's running."

The bird, who'd returned to quietly drinking up what she could of the rest of her water, warked at him sadly. Sounded like a definite yes to him.

Sighing, Aladdin reached out to ruffle her crest. "Guess the only question is who. Or what. Come on, nobody's out. You can eat in the marketplace and then we'll find a place to hide you."

end part one.

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