Posted: 21 October 2005 at 5:27pm
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* * *
Certain that a letter from the Man in the Mask would be waiting for her, Kripa rose early the next morning despite the exhaustion she was feeling. The night before was full of disappointment and the morning was much the same. No letter was waiting for her and Kripa resolved that things were officially through between her and the Man in the Mask.
It was a one sided relationship, after all. Kripa never wrote to the stranger, although she wanted to. She figured her letter would be returned to her because if she put it in the mail the mailman would not know where to take it.
Although Kripa was certain that the stranger wanted nothing to do with her, something nagged at her inside. Somehow, something internal was willing her to write a letter, to take a chance, and see if it would reach him.
A few days later, she finally could not resist the urge and wrote the stranger a letter. It was a very simple letter. She asked why he had not shown up and inquired to his safety and well being. It was short and neutral, politely detached even. Satisfied with the letter, she put it in the mailbox praying it would reach the Man in the Mask.
It was five days later when, much to her surprise, Kripa received a letter from the Man in the Mask. When the mailman returned without a letter the same day in which she had sent hers, again, she was certain that the stranger was ignoring her.
Deeply absorbed in the news paper, Kripa did not hear the light tapping at her window at first. The mailman waiting outside her door grew impatient and rapped at the door loudly. Kripa eventually rose from the couch and opened the door to relieve the letter.
Noticing the familiar parchment and writing, Kripa ripped open the letter, eager to see what was written.
My greatest fear is that you will not forgive me for my absence last Friday evening. Something unavoidable detained me from the pleasure of your company and I cannot express in words the sorrow I feel, knowing that I let you down. Ordinarily, I would never abandon someone whom I have come to care for so deeply; I would do everything in my power to ensure their happiness. Regretfully, my position at work is such that my availability is required at all hours and the night I was to meet you was the same night I was called into work. Right now, all I can think of is the pain I have caused you and I wish for nothing more than your forgiveness.
Your penitent stranger,
The Man in the Mask
After reading the letter once more, Kripa folded it and placed it in her brief case. She was going to have to give this letter to Angad when he returned from a last minute business trip.
She had not been to visit Angad since before the night she was to meet the stranger. She was too upset to see him that Monday and he had been deployed on urgent business the following day and would not return until the following Tuesday.
She had to wait three more days before she could meet with Angad again. She thought about her last visit with Angad and the strange emotions that she felt when she was near him.
At school, she had always been confident around him. She was the smartest person in her year and knew Angad, although intelligent, could not top her in any class. This gave her a sense of security, knowing that in at least one aspect of her life she was equal to Angad Khanna.
He had teased her throughout all of their school years for being a lesser-human than he. It was only during their seventh year that Angad's attitude changed. He stopped teasing Kripa and everyone else for that matter. He had lost his trademark sneer and his jeering remarks were few and far between.
In essence, Angad Khanna was a changed man. Not many people knew or understood the transformation but it was publicly accepted as change for the better.
Kripa knew better than that. A transformation so drastic could not have been an accident. She remembered the day he changed; she was there, she saw it happen.
It was the end of the battle and Angad had just killed his father. He had fallen to his knees and blood and tears fell from his face. Kripa had just finished fighting off another enemy off of her and had hit him in the back of the head when he wasn't looking, when she turned around to see Dillip, Angad's father, fall.
Although there were corpses scattered throughout the grounds, Kripa could only focus on the disturbing scene before her. She had witnessed what no one else had – the moment Angad Khanna stopped being a spoiled child and became a man.
She could not take her eyes off of him. He was completely alone; there was no one there to hold him and take care of him. He was all alone, save Kripa.
She remembered when he looked up at her, his brown eyes stricken with grief and surrender. She saw his frailty in his eyes, the vulnerability he had never shown before.
Kripa remembered all of these things, though it had been five years since it happened. Now, when she looked into Angad's eyes, she saw the walls he had rebuilt to keep others at bay. His brown eyes were not cold and cruel but they were careful and distant.
She understood that Angad had a need to be in control. He needed to be confident in himself and in his work even though his life resembled all that is chaotic in the world. So, in order to maintain control, he distanced himself from everyone and everything. He built walls and barriers between him and the world; barriers that only he knew how to destroy.
Kripa did not realize that she possessed the ability to break down Angad's frail walls, one stone at a time.
* * *
Angad was extremely vexed to find out that he was going on assignment to Germany. He knew, despite his current involvement in Kripa's case, that he was always on call and the possibility of being deployed on an investigation was never ruled out. The timing of his plan was critical and his unwanted deployment threw a wrench in his plans.
He hoped that he would be able to smooth things over when he returned to London. He was very surprised to find a letter from Kripa waiting for him upon his return.
He read the letter carefully. He could tell Kripa was purposely trying to appear uninterested and formal. Kripa often acted uninterested and detached when she was searching for information, this he knew well. He remembered a time at school when she was nonchalantly lingering around his table, trying to appear inconspicuous as she eavesdropped on one of his conversations.
He smiled to himself, remembering Kripa when she was seventeen. She was still thin but had reached her final height, short but not too short. Her unruly curls had tamed into soft, natural ringlets that bounced as she walked. Her face had softened and she resembled a child less but was still shy from complete woman maturation. However, her most striking feature was her natural beauty. She had a natural blush that accented her cheek bones and her lips were full and were colored a soft shade of pink.
Five years later, she was still just as striking. She now possessed a womanly figure, with obvious curves that Angad could not help but notice. Her beauty was refined with her smooth, tan complexion and long lashes that darkened her chocolate colored eyes giving them a seductive appearance.
The smile faded from his lips. He did not want to have these thoughts about Kripa. Everything about her was innocent and he did not want to do anything to taint the image he had of her in his mind as if she were a work of art, to be admired from a distance and never touched.
But he had to touch her. He needed to feel her skin against his. He craved her smell, her taste.
He walked into his bedroom and opened the top left drawer of his dresser. He neatly placed the letter inside an old cigar box that contained his treasures. Angad Khanna was an incredibly wealthy man; he worked as a means of staying occupied rather than for necessity. When his father died, he inherited the Khanna estate and all that it entailed. One could imagine the treasures he had stored in his vault. However, his dearest treasures were stored in a simple cigar box in his dresser.
Inside the box was the same picture he had in his office – a picture of the grounds outside Hogwarts, the place where his father met his end and where Angad found his beginning. On top of the picture was a simple platinum band set with a small sapphire stone. It was his mother's engagement ring; she gave it to him when he turned twenty one in hopes that it would inspire him to seek the love she never had. There were a few letters from his mother, as well, that she had written to Angad while she was pregnant with him. She explained in detail why she could not give him the life he deserved but hopefully one day, when he was older, would understand why she made the sacrifice she did.
The last item in the box was another photo. Angad removed the picture from the box. He stared at the people in the photos for what seemed like ages. He was standing in the back of the picture, scowling because he had not wanted to take the picture and he had been tired of watching Zeb put his arm around Kripa's shoulders and rub her head with his knuckles. He still scowled, remembering Zeb act like an immature idiot. He never really liked him although he had long since rid himself of his foolish animosity towards him.
He remembered watching Kripa struggling to free herself from Zeb's childish assault. Her hair was a mess and she was red from embarrassment. It was not the most attractive photo of anyone but it was the only one he had of her.
He delicately placed the photo back in the box and closed the drawer. After a moment's pause, he moved to his desk to write to Kripa once more as the 'Man in the Mask.'
* * *
The weekend passed quickly for Kripa. Prithvi and Alliyah had returned from the states and Kripa was pleasantly surprised to find out that Prithvi and Alliyah had eloped. Prithvi made up the excuse that he was going on assignment so he could take Alliyah away for two weeks without anyone thinking something was amiss. He didn't want to lie to Kripa but he knew that in order for everything to work out everyone had to be deceived.
When Alliyah and Prithvi came into Kripa's apartment early on Sunday morning, Kripa did not think that anything out of the ordinary had happened. It was not until Alliyah flashed a gold wedding band in front of Kripa's face did she get the clue.
She was elated for her two best friends. She reprimanded them both for acting so foolhardy and for not inviting her to the ceremony but she could not hold any real hard feelings against them – she loved them. Alliyah spent the rest of the morning detailing all of the events that led up to the elopement and when Prithvi decided to leave she detailed everything that happened after the ceremony.
Kripa was truly happy for her friends; she wished them all the happiness in the world. She only wished that she could spare some of that happiness for herself. Along with great joy, the news of their elopement brought Kripa to a sudden consciousness that she was still single. She had not dated anyone seriously in so long and she knew that her prospects were few.
Her thoughts turned to the Man in the Mask. He obviously had feelings for her, although he had not made any attempt to act upon those feelings. She wondered if he was going to string her along like a puppet for the rest of her life. She frowned at the notion of being trapped in this horrible situation for the rest of her life. The idea that a secret admirer would be the greatest love affair of her life increased her depression. She needed a man, a real man that was tangible.
When Alliyah left later that evening, Kripa retreated to the bathroom for her much needed comfort bath. This time around, instead of chocolate and wine, she busted out the heavy stuff – chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and one very large spoon.
* * *
When Monday came, Kripa found it best to stay as distracted as possible. She had been doing research on the theoretical side of an experiment that cured male pattern baldness and was ready to move onto laboratory experimentation.
Before long, the darkness of night had appeared in her window and she was still laboring over her flask. She had stains all over her white lab coat and her hair was being held back in a bun with a pencil. She was busy brushing a strand of hair behind her ear while she stirred her potion when she heard footsteps on the tile floor of her laboratory.
It was Angad.
He was standing a few feet from where she was working, looking curiously at the flask that was boiling below her.
"Angad, what are you doing here?" she asked, realizing she was complete mess. She tried to tuck the stray strands of hair behind her ear even though the sudden movement caused more hair to fall out from the pencil's poor hold.
Angad immediately noticed Kripa's disheveled state and found it to be quite endearing. Her total lack of regard for her appearance while she poured herself into her work only enforced the admiration he had for her.
He smiled and replied, "I was working late myself. . . Thought I'd stop by and see if anything had happened recently involving you and your biggest fan." He smirked, slightly.
Kripa scrunched her face at Angad's smirk. She wasn't sure she believed his reason for appearing in her laboratory but she could not come up with anything better herself.
"Right, we didn't get the chance to meet last week," Kripa answered, remembering that Angad still didn't know what happened at the theatre.
"Correct . . ." he said as he walked closer to Kripa. He was looking at all the interesting jars, bottles, and flasks that were scattered across the laboratory and at the interesting chemistry apparatuses that he didn't recognize.
"Well, he didn't show up," Kripa said, watching Angad as he held up a small flask that contained a lime green solution and swished it around. The potion turned a different color with every swish and Angad amused himself for a few seconds with the flask.
"Let's not talk about it here, not now . . . Come to dinner with me. It's late, I'm sure you're starving," he said, returning his attention to Kripa who stood but two feet from him.
Uncomfortable with his close proximity, Kripa took a step back but realized that she could not stop stirring her potion for another four minutes and resumed her position. Angad smiled at her, concealing the amusement he received from making her uncomfortable. He could smell her fresh scent of sun-ripened raspberries from where he stood and surmised that she could smell him in return.
Kripa wasn't sure how to respond. The heat rising from her flask intensified Angad's musky cologne and her senses were overwhelmed so that she could not focus on anything in particular. She was indeed very hungry but the thought of having dinner with Angad Khanna was bit unnerving.
"I uh . . . I . . . okay," she stuttered, watching a smile creep upon his face. She noticed a light spark in his eyes when she accepted his invitation and she grew suspicious of his motives. "Um, why are you asking me to dinner, Angad?" she asked.
"Because I'm starving and I don't feel like eating alone tonight."
Kripa sensed a small amount of bitterness in his words and a wave of pity crashed over her. She knew Angad had no siblings, his father was dead, and his mother now lived in the south of France. She also knew that he was not married and had severed all connections with his former friends from school. She realized that he must eat alone all the time. Kripa hated eating alone too, especially in restaurants. Although she was a confident and capable woman, she still felt insecure when alone in public and could never have the courage to eat alone except in the privacy of her own home.
Angad watched Kripa's face turn from a look of confusion to one of compassion. He chided himself for letting too much emotion slip in his words but then forgave himself for the mistake – that was, after all, the plan. He wanted to be honest with her. As much as he hated to appear weak, he knew he was going to have to show emotion for her sake as well as his.
"Okay, well, I need to finish this potion and I need to uh, ha, make myself look a little more presentable," she said, making light of her appearance in an attempt to ease the tension.
"All right, I'll wait over here," he said as he made to sit on a stool at the table across from her work station. "And you look great," he added as an afterthought.
Kripa blushed at his compliment and was happy that his back was turned to her, as he was flipping through one of her many scholarly journals that were dedicated to the art and science of potions and its recent developments.
Angad noticed that one of the journals sported a picture of Kripa on the cover and the article of interest was her research article on her cure for lycanthropy. He busied himself with the article while Kripa finished up with her potion. When he finished the article, he turned around and found that Kripa was not there.
While he was reading, Kripa slipped into her office to straighten her appearance. She removed her dirty lab coat and smoothed out her blouse. She turned her attention to her hair and grimaced as she looked in the mirror. She was reminded of her fifteen year old self and the unruly beast she called her hair. She pulled it back tight and fastened it into a pony tail. She took one last glance in the mirror and resolved that what she saw was as good as she was going to manage for the evening.
She took a deep breath and returned to her laboratory.
Angad was looking expectantly at her office door, waiting for her return. He noticed that she had changed and had done her hair. He laughed to himself at Kripa's appearance. She was wearing a black knee length skirt and an olive green blouse that was unbuttoned until just above her bosom. She gave every appearance of a professional from the neck down. From the neck up, she looked like she was fresh out of school and the mix of styles was more than endearing to Angad – he loved the sight of it. He wished he could have a picture of this moment; this was Kripa in essence. She was every bit a woman but will always have the heart of a child.
Kripa blushed as she noticed Angad sizing her up. She pretended not to see and gathered her things from her work bench.
"Well, um, shall we go then?" she said.
Angad simply nodded and held the door open for Kripa, closing his eyes as she walked past so he would not focus on her southern region.
He took a deep preparatory breath and closed the door behind him.
* * *
A note from the author:
I appreciate all of your comments! Thank you! I am having a wonderful time writing this story! I have no idea what I'm going to write until my fingers meet the keyboard and let the typing frenzy commence!
I am up for suggestions, so don't hesitate to let me know what you think. I'm writing this for you. I don't need to write it for myself - I can imagine it all and be satisfied. For the people by the people - so people, let me know what you think! Thanks :-)
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