Iago first sees him in a bazaar. Man stands out like a twisted oasis. A sprawling desert of laughing faces, tasteless crackers, greedy minds and shining coins, and he's this tall black tree sheltering a bloody pool of indifference and abnormality. The sight is bizarrely random, but not unwelcoming.
Not that Iago thinks he's welcoming. Oh no, the guy's got a face that could make kiddies cry and street rats run. But he's been out here in the sun for hours, unforgivably exposed while he's paraded around with the other Exotic Birds For Sale like he's actually one of them, so his mind's more than a little screwy. Anything is better than having these morons ask him, "Polly want a cracker?"
Polly wants to pluck your eyes out.
He's never been good at hiding his emotions, and being a human in parrot's feathers, this is exceptionally noticeable. Only two people notice his frustration and fury. His current master, who only laughs at his misfortune with an infuriatingly superior air, and the Oasis Man.
Iago soon find himself being appraised by this tall stranger in rich, strange robes. Like he can see through the spell. Like he can see through Iago himself.
He snaps at him after long minutes of this, breaking his master's express orders to act as a mindless bird if he wishes to be returned to normal. Iago speaks as a human, asking the stranger what the hell he thinks he's staring at. He immediately feels the shocked stares of the civilians, and the furious glare of his keeper. But more than that, he feels the man's wide, curling smile, like spiders on his plumage.
Iago hates it.
So he lashes out more, snaps and snarls, and the dark man deflects his anger with cool replies, his face forever collected and neutral.
Iago thinks that expressionless face is what he hates the most.
He feels his master's hand around his throat as he snarls in Iago's ear and sweetly apologizes to the man. The tight grip loosens considerably when the man says he wishes to buy Iago.
The parrot waits for his master to deny the request, knowing the sadistic pleasure the seedy little man takes in punishing him, but what he hears is weak protests and fear. Master wants to dismiss this man, but he cannot.
Oasis Man knows this, too, and with the quiet air of one with great power and the means to enforce it, offers his price; double what any of the other birds are worth.
That is how Iago finds himself squawking angrily as he's forced into a cage and taken away from the only home he has ever known, crummy as it is. He lapses into dumbfounded silence when he finds himself brought to the palace.
The sultan is an idiot, Iago decides. It doesn't help that the man produces a cracker out of nowhere and shoves it through the bars, nearly taking one of Iago's beady eyes out.
The young princess is a snot, Iago also decides. She glares at his new owner like he is a disease, and glares at him as if he's just as guilty by association. She has that air of haughty rebellion about her, and Iago's seen that, too.
At this point his grumbles have settled, and the deeper into the palace they go, the more Iago is enthralled by the wealth and decadence that he sees, so different from the squalor he's lived in his entire life. By the time they enter the man's chambers, Iago's asked him nearly a dozen questions.
The only answers that stick with him are: Jafar, the Grand Vizier, and shut up.
* * * *
Iago was a human. A mouthy boy with no family, and no patience for being treated as inferior. A horrible mindset for a slave. He was soon sold to a wannabe-sorcerer who masqueraded as a simple salesman. It was their mutual hatred and Iago's brutal tongue that got the boy turned into a bird. A parrot, which he guessed was supposed to be irony.
The humiliation of being paraded out there in the sun was supposed to be his punishment.
Funny, how life worked.
* * * *
The first thing he does when he finds out Jafar is a sorcerer, and a much better one at that, is ask if he can be changed back into a human.
Jafar says no.
Iago becomes so violent that it takes magic itself to force him into submission. Back in his cage, with his wings feeling like lead and his tongue useless in his mouth, Jafar tells him that the spell is one that can only be lifted by its original caster. A pity, Jafar murmurs, for Iago's master has recently died in the streets. He tried his unique punishments on the wrong people.
Iago should feel more anger, more despair. He's going to be stuck as a parrot forever. All he can muster, however, is vindictive pride as Jafar tells him this with three bleeding gashes on his cheek.
* * * *
It's the proudest moment in Iago's life when he finally pushes Jafar far enough to get that mask of icy calm and false politeness to snap. When Jafar screams at him to shut up and attacks him with his scepter, Iago can only laugh as the bars of the cage slam into his back.
A week later, he goes throughout his days sitting on Jafar's shoulder. He finds he likes the seat of power.
* * * *
A year later he decides it's not so bad having Jafar as a master. Iago's not quite the man's equal, and is only barely treated as such, but Jafar isn't like his former master. He does not starve him (Iago quite enjoys growing a round belly from food other than crackers), nor does he beat him (though he is not above wrapping those long fingers around Iago's neck and squeezing the breath out of him, but that's only when Jafar is very angry and nowadays that rage is rarely directed at Iago). Jafar listens to Iago, and even if he shoots down an idea at least he's let the bird say it fully. He lets Iago rant and scream while they are alone, and Iago can see that Jafar even enjoys hearing someone share his frustration over having to bow to such idiots. One thing they have in common is their desire to be seen as number one.
They plan to step out of the shadows of more powerful men when Jafar's plans finally succeed; Jafar out of the sultan's, and Iago out of Jafar's.
* * * *
It's not so bad being a bird, either. It's actually a pretty good deal, he thinks sometimes as he's flying. After four years as Jafar's pet/partner, he's quite forgotten what it was like to have a human body. But he hasn't forgotten how to be human, hasn't lost his mind to an avian's. Kind of difficult to when your 'master' treats you like a human, and demands human intelligence.
* * * *
Iago is terrified when Jafar becomes a genie, because now he's not human anymore. He's something else entirely. Iago feels the universe shake under the massive outpouring of Jafar's newfound power, and wastes no time taking flight as he sees that hellish djinn suddenly pulled back towards the ground.
He doesn't make it far. A spike of pain at his tail, the moment of suffocation as he's forced into the lamp, and then both master and bird know only one thing. The maddening silence and stillness of the lamp.
Iago learns more about Jafar in that tiny lamp than he ever has as his palace pet. He learns that Jafar fears the nothingness of the lamp, how they can't see anything, how they're so cramped. They spend the years squashed together, Iago's beak pressing against Jafar's skin as he tries not to crush his wings under his own tiny weight. They argue viciously, because there's nothing else to do.
On rare occasions, when the claustrophobic atmosphere of the lamp gets to Jafar and he can only think about the prospect of spending ten thousand years in this tiny cage, Iago talks just to break the quiet. He doesn't let Jafar think of anything but how annoying he is, and while it always escalates to shouting, swearing and insults, Iago knows Jafar appreciates it because he doesn't try to kill the parrot with his thumb.
Other times the silence gets to them both, and during long moments that could encompass hours or years, Iago lays spread-eagled on what he assumes is Jafar's chest (that is now ten times more muscular; Iago thinks it's just far too weird) and pretends he's not being comforted by the barely-there rise and fall of the crimson body. Pretends that the only reason he's not insane yet is not because he's trapped in here with someone, infuriating and unappreciative as that someone is.
He feels long claws through his feathers, and knows that Jafar is pretending the same.
* * * *
They only spend a miraculous three years inside the lamp, until they are found by a fat, incompetent little thief named Abis-Mal, who found the lamp half uncovered in the sands by the desert winds.
In the dramatic climax of Jafar's emancipation, Iago is forgotten, and he takes the opportunity to hide behind a dune. He's not getting dragged into this, not again.
He expects Jafar to demand to be taken to Agrabah for revenge, but his master is smart. To let this worthless little man know that he has leverage over Jafar is a foolish mistake, and so Jafar does what he does best. He acts sympathetic, respectful, and he appeals to Abis-Mal's greed. He weaves a web of lies around the ignorant thief, taking the original three limitations of a genie and exaggerating them. He grants Abis-Mal's first two wishes with a decided inhibition, and tells Abis-Mal that a genie's powers are amplified exponentially if they are set free, and that they are bound to give their savior whatever their heart desires as a reward. Anything conceivable, anything impossible, and all Abis-Mal has to do was say five words.
Iago has no idea what happens when a genie is freed, but this can't work. Maybe it's because he's been around Jafar for so long, but to Iago the lies are as transparent as a dancing girl's veil. There is no way---
"Jafar, I set you free!"
Iago's beak drops to the ground at Abis-Mal's cry, thin with the excitement of unlimited treasure. Jafar is equally stunned, but as his lamp glows and shakes, he starts to laugh. When his shackles fall from his suddenly large, scarlet wrists, his is an echoing cackle Iago knows all too well.
Hearing such a familiar laugh from an unfamiliar face does well to ease Iago's initial terror of Jafar's genie form. Being squashed against him for three years helps, too.
He squawks when Jafar scoops up the lamp and flies off in a cloud of red, leaving Abis-Mal jumping on the ground and screaming. Iago doesn't have time to snort at the man for falling for it in the first place; he's halfway after Jafar before he realizes it.
Jafar is fast, too fast, wanting to get away from the accursed sand that housed their tomb for so long, and Iago is sure Jafar won't hear him as he yells at him to slow down, you pompous jerk!
He knows he's in it for the long haul when he feels the familiar pain of his tail feathers being yanked, and he's pulled screeching at breakneck speeds through the air by an irritated, newly free genie.
* * * *
Years later, the pair will have traveled the world. They will be their own masters, causing and settling chaos at their whims. Jafar will have seen the darkness and flow of the world first-hand, and Iago will have flown over places completely devoid of sand. They will be spiting their enemies by simply living, and living well.
Without warning, Jafar will one day point his finger and Iago will suddenly be human again, not aged a day. He will discover that he can shift his form back and forth, from his old life to his new, and he will also discover that Jafar has stretched that lifetime to infinity.
He will discover all of this and think that maybe his crummy job as a genie's pet isn't so thankless after all.