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Unleashing what Remained Unsaid#2-END*NOTEpg42*

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spln

IF-Sizzlerz

spln

Joined: 06 December 2007

Posts: 11036

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 1:54am | IP Logged
hiya all!Hug

heres the second thread...i duno wat to say...for one this was meant to be a short fic, n it has been anything but that...for another it shud have ended months ago...n i have been un characteristically slow (all those who saw me from the first two fics with agree with that....even if the readers of unleashing alone will think um talking insane!)

but here i am...thread two...n that at the rear end oif the fic...its been awsome writing this one, it alwaz is to write anything for readers like you all...but this one is close to me personally...in many ways, some i keep repeating over n over...n others just in my head....

nonetheless...the second thread, can be blamed only on u guys!....n i cant love u enuf for that....u amke the whole writing fic idea rocking....n a complete delight....thnx for being there...hanging on thru my good n bad parts...more imporatntly, thru the length of them watever the story....much as i think il try to be brief sometime in life, i only lose it further into the world of verbosity Ouch

n il shut up for now....thnx again....ur lovely people....n the second thread is dedicated to everyone of u...those who comment n let me know their opinions, even in times i know i havent been good enuf u keep my spirit high to shoot the next part anywaz....Hug

n those who remain silent, but read it nonetheless....u latter lot, um alwaz trying to force into the limelight, sometimes i succeed n then i rejoice it Party...n other times i assume if u dont comment n tell me its horrible u have to like it LOL um over optimistically not modest!!!...so if u want me to change...u better come yell here on the thread n voice ur anguish at my sad efforts!!!

cheers fellas,

happy to write for u forever,

njEmbarrassed

Part20, 21, 22, 23(N), 23(J)... Page 1...scroll down...


just for records....heres link to thread one...

Unleashing What Remained Unsaid #1


Edited by spln - 15 May 2009 at 12:09am

The following 2 member(s) liked the above post:

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pickytg

Goldie

pickytg

Joined: 23 September 2007

Posts: 2280

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 2:00am | IP Logged
alright...wont leme type R.E.S.E.R.V.E.D.....so i spell it here for u jauz!

*edit* no kiddin..i already told u all those different things i typed in..but silly billy sum1 been hackin ma account..hence it won't lemme spam :D

Congratz for tis nutter...never gonna ever have too much of u..keep tis goin...no secrets to how much i luv yur work..ahaha even ma those bad comments hold a lot...keep up..head on..till life is no more :P

am gonna wooopppieeee for hinz and a big wide smile for kratz....luv u tons...!!

mmmuahh!!,
nijHug


Edited by missypatel - 21 February 2009 at 3:24am

Robin_M

IF-Rockerz

Robin_M

Joined: 23 August 2006

Posts: 5717

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 2:08am | IP Logged
aww congrats on thread 2 nj! its been such a sweet journey...and more to come :D

-SH-

IF-Rockerz

-SH-

Joined: 16 November 2007

Posts: 9331

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 2:08am | IP Logged
CONGRATULATIONS!!!
Clap
 
Originally posted by spln

hiya all!Hug

heres the second thread...i duno wat to say...for one this was meant to be a short fic, n it has been anything but that...for another it shud have ended months ago...n i have been un characteristically slow (all those who saw me from the first two fics with agree with that....well *ahem*ahem* I DO agree on thatLOL This retardation of speed started from the mid of Newton's...looks like THE man caught u by coming out from his grave thinking u've been pestering him a lot..WinkLOLLOLeven if the readers of unleashing alone will think um talking insane!)


nonetheless...the second thread, can be blamed only on u guys!....Aww...well I guess people out here won't mind taking the blame at allEmbarrassedn i cant love u enuf for that....u amke the whole writing fic idea rocking....n a complete delight....thnx for being there...hanging on thru my good n bad parts...more imporatntly, thru the length of them watever the story....much as i think il try to be brief sometime in life, i only lose it further into the world of verbosity Ouch
Luv ShivaniEmbarrassed

cheers fellas,

happy to write for u forever,

njEmbarrassed

spln

IF-Sizzlerz

spln

Joined: 06 December 2007

Posts: 11036

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 2:12am | IP Logged
~Part 20~

She paused, her anticipation taking over the exhilaration, holding back her hand in the second it reached for the bolt on the main door; her heart was way out of its regular beat and she could feel in that instant her hand shake from the throbbing pulse. Slithering down the stairs moments ago, she had allowed herself only scanty breathing as she rushed in a hushed way placing the lightest of steps to avoid the creaking of wood beneath the central carpeting- Gappu was home even if no one else was and it surprised her that she was still capable of caution when it seemed that thinking was lost upon her current state of mind . More than the caution however, it was just a series of flustered reactions- how could she be expected to take it all in an ordinary stride? Nothing about anything was ordinary in this day of her life.

Less than 24 hours ago she had been pinning to hear his voice. And now all of that and everything before it seemed a distant past. Even more than the moment in which her eyes had sought his in disbelief, more than the time he had spent in her house or that which she had at his family's place, more than ever before, from all the past weeks and days especialy the past few hours, she felt the conscious impact now; her heart had become a novice gymnast, twisting and turning, skipping and flipping, trying hard to get the moves right.

Cause here he was this moment, at her doorstep, them and a solitude, only a solid opaque thickness of wood in between which would be no more in a matter of seconds, and she wondered why she was delaying a moment long awaited...then swallowed down the multitude of sensations which fluttered at the thought of it. In the pit of silence, her own breath still unconsciously held onto, she heard the slightest of shuffling just beyond the barrier, and let out the breath in a gush, with an excited whimper almost escaping her before she checked it cupping her mouth.

RIDHIMA, she admonished herself mentally, her lips in defiance to her hesitance curled into an inevitable smile as she finaly touched the cold metal of the bolt and a slight shiver ran through her arm. She rolled her eyes at herself in a nervous lack of control, then in a final attempt reminding herself that she was a 26 year old woman, she opened the door in a quick swift moment, and continued holding onto the knob, her only support to steady the weakness in her limbs at the sight of him in the dim silvery blue-black of the night. The greeting she had been unknowingly rehearsing in her mind remained at the tip of her tongue.

His face looked like a shadow, nonetheless the features of it were a distinct outline only, perhaps, cause she knew each one of them precisely well. A smile played tentatively on his lips and she was certain she could see exactly where his characteristic dimples were; the brows
raised, almost in amusement, were a contrast to the solemn intensity in the eyes they anchored upon. She felt heat rise to her cheeks and an ironical chill ran over the rest of her exposed skin. From the cold outside since she had not bothered with grabbing her robe, her distant logic concluded, watching a whiff of warm breath escape his lips like an exhaled puff of smoke and she saw him rubbing his hands as he took a step forward. Reflexively she stepped back, giving him space to walk inside, which he did, and she turned to the door her back to him, fumbling to bolt it with extra intended concentration which continued evading her with a determination.

"Is it stuck?"

She didn't know what caused her to gasp, his whisper brushing past her hair, or his arm brushing against her own as he extended his hand to the bolt. It clicked with an ease and he turned his face to her with a questioning frown. And it was then, in the warmth of the house,
that he focused on her face up close and the look on it was all the explaination he needed. Consequently he broke into a smile lowering his head momentarily; he would never know which one and how many such moments made his heart soar to unscaled heights. Turning back to her sideways tilted face, he gently raised his hand and tucked the falling flick of hair behind her ear.

"Armaan," she withdrew slightly snapping out of her daze at his cold touch whispering his name inaudibly but could not take her eyes off him. And he smiled wider turning to face her completely; the glint in his eyes was a shine in the dark which puzzled her only for a second, before he cupped her lower jaw, his hands resting around the nape of her neck; and felt her shiver visibly which made him grin in mischief.

"Yes sweetheart, me, you believe it now?" he whispered in a cheeky tone and she took only seconds before chuckling herself inevitably, as she wriggled to get free of his frigid touch it remained steadfast, unmovable. She narowed her eyes at him and whispered complaining,

"You're freezing Armaan..."

"Cause you took ages to let me in,"

he retorted cutting her off, then with a swift jerk he pulled her closer and she looked up to him several inches taller as she stood bare feet, her eyes wide with raw emotions. Possessively he pressed his lips to her forehead for several seconds till she relaxed under his touch, which was starting to share the warmth of her skin. "There ain't no escaping honey," he mumbled into her hair, "Didn't they teach you not to let night prowlers into the house when the elders are not home?"

She pulled back slightly to look up again at his jesting, the tone was solemn but in the streaks of light from the creaks in the blinds covering the windows she saw his eyes alive in humor. Making a face she tried again to pull away, in vain, and as he shook his head in stubborn defiance clicking his tongue, she rolled her eyes grudgingly, but could not keep the smile away. Averting his gaze hence, to not let him see it, she felt his hold around her neck soften and he rubbed his thumb in a light massage. A rush of love swelled inside her and she circled his waist with her arms giving up the resistence in an impulse, resting her head against his chest and snuggling into an embrace; surprisingly, yet not quite, she observed now as she had not before that she fit into the spot like it was hers, had been always, and her smile widened as she burried her face into him not letting him see her blush and smile and be such a girl. In another time she would have to look back and wonder what had gotten into her, this was a transformation she could not believe herself capable of.

Armaan smiled holding her close and messing her hair as he caressed her back, and as she turned her face into his chest it was like she willed him to take control, of her, of them, of their life. He felt an affectionate protection towards her, adoring her display of submission and vulnerability, and sighed in content pressing a kiss on top of her head.

"I missed you Armaan," she whispered against his heart and his fingers dug deeper into her hair as he held her closer still, kissing them again.

"Me too..." he mumbled, then after a long pause whispered, "Ridhima..."

"Hmmm?"

"I'm hungry." She quickly pulled out of the hug to look at him her eyebrows cocked in surprise, then amusement.

"Hungry!"

It wasn't a question and she giggled as he shrugged sheepishly running a hand through his hair. She loved the way the unruly lock fell back over his eyes anyways. Impulsively she rose to her toes gave him a  quick peck on his cheek and turned around to walk towards the kitchen before she could see his reaction, or he could see hers. Mentally she smacked her head, debating whether she deserved it for her sudden gesture or for the giddy reaction to it. Whichever of the two, she could not wipe the smile off her face, for that she smacked her head mentally again. Falling in love was a serious business, she knew it more than any other truth, but being love struck was ethreal, she wondered if being flimsy in reaction was really her fault.

Armaan stared as she walked away for a moment, then smiled at himself in delight, pushing back the persistent flick to give himself something to do, feeling light headed. "Ridhima..." he exclaimed more to himself, then made a move to follow her towards the light that flickered on, flooding orange into the previous darkness.

"Alright tell me what?" she quipped hearing him enter without turning around.

"Something good," he replied happily. She turned to him now and mouthed an 'oh' in mock understanding. Then flashing a sugar smile she said,

"Thats...very explicit honey." He gave her a sunny grin back and she spoke on in a sweeter tone still, "Now do you have a name for this 'something good' ?"

"Yeh...Something Good!" He said pushing himself atop the counter looking around the kitchen exploring it to not meet her eye.

"Armaan?"

"That's very good sweetheart, unfortunately not edible." She glared at him, then gave up on trying to catch his eye. Instead she turned to the refrigerator. Seconds later he stared at the apple she thrust into his hand then back at her with a frown.

"Ridhima?"

"That is also unavailable on the menu." she declared folding her arms across her chest.

"But...this?" She raised an eye in question, and he jumped off the counter, placing the apple on it and held her shoulders rubbing them gently as he explained in an endearing tone, "Sweetheart I really am hungry."

"That's fine. We have a dozen more of them." she said with an unrelenting smile. His face dropped at her words, then he sighed looking back at the apple. Ridhima chuckled, and wiped off her smile as he tunred to look at her again, making a face.

"I went through all the trouble to see you at his hour, and you can't offer me a decent meal?"

"That's what you came here for?" She quipped in challenge, trying hard not to laugh. He threw his arms in the air in exasperration, looked at her for another moment as she stood unperturbed, then walked back to his apple. She gave his retreating back a cute smile, then said,

"Alright. Last time. Tell me what?" He turned back and she laughed at the instantaneous change of his expression to a cheerful smile.

"Something..." he started and she warned him with narrowed eyes, "Cooked?" he completed biting into the apple climbing back onto the counter. She stuck her tongue into her cheek, then shaking her head lightly at him she stated,

"Fish and chips?" He looked up at her, his mouth open for the next bite he was going to take and she smiled turning around to grab a fry pan.

"You remember..." he whispered in his typical deep solemn baritone which made her heart flutter like before. He knew it shouldn't surprise him that she did, but her spontaneity in remembering it at such a precise moment did catch him unaware, pleasantly so. She grabbed the bottle of oil neither answering, nor turning to look at him.

"Ridhima..." She wondered yet again how he made her name sound so different and special. Taking a sharp breath she turned around masking her smile with a straight look back at him and replied.

"Only today. Just for records I'm not going to spend my life cooking at such odd hours for you..."

She stopped midway breaking her gaze at the implication of her own words. It was the strangest thing when stating the obvious could bring about such sheer self consiousness. He raised an eye, then tried not to smile, his eyes not leaving the rapidly changing expressions and colors of her face, grinning only after she turned her back to him and walked to the refrigerator to take out the frozen fish. Watching her still, as she put it into the microwave for defrosting, then tugged onto the sack of potatoes and a peeler, he saw her push her hair off her face with the back of her hand. With a spontaneous thought he got off the counter once more, not jumping this time and placing the half eaten apple on it, walked up behind her.

He felt her shudder slightly as he combed his fingers through her hair unannounced, taking time in gathering them all, as silky-soft strands kept coming lose, until he held them all into the best of a pony he could manage, then extended his free hand to pull the ruffle off her wrist. She felt his fingers brush her neck as he tied them up high, but her nerves eased out as he placed his hands on her shoulders leaning forward to glance over them and she brought herself to turn her face partially to look at him.

"How about a lifetime of eating at odd hours? I'll volunteer to cook." She giggled at the thought, instantly at ease, the proximity becoming exceedingly comfortable so she leaned back into him; then looking into his eyes she shook her head. He frowned puzzled.

"I think its safer to take turns. That way we can get real food at least half the times?"

He broke out laughing at being reminded of his poor culinary skills. An omelette was pretty much all he had ever managed and mastered. Giving her a quick peck on her cheek as unexpectedly as she had he grinned in agreement.

"Done!"
He stated, then resting his chin on her shoulder he circled her waist from behind and added, "Starting with your turn tonight of course. How long before I get the real food?"

She smiled rolling her eyes, then turned around in his arms, barely managing in the process to hold back an unexpected silent gasp as her night wear tank top rose slightly baring her midriff which brushed against his arm. He moved back without resistance, seemingly a second before she actually pushed him away lightly, having sensed the touch and her subdued reaction himself, but before he could think of what to say she handed him the peeler, wearing, to his surprise, an indignant expression.

"As soon as you can get the potatoes sorted. Turns are not applicable yet, and until they are, you're my assitant. Peel these and tell me, I'm going to take care of the fish."

And she walked past him in an authority, he grinned at her then at the peeler and the potatoes, then frowned in understanding. Assistant...right...making a face he got to the assigned task. The turns will apply soon, he thought in determination, sooner than you think you know sweetheart.

*************************
Atul walked over to the couch in the doctor's lounge with two cups of coffee filled from the freshly brewed jar. As he sat down beside her, Anjali opened her eyes and smiled at him taking her cup.

"Tired?"

She nodded resting her head on his shoulder and he stroked her hair for several seconds before she looked up at finding him unusually silent in response. He was looking straight ahead, and from the years they had lived together she knew he was in the rarest of grave moods.  Lifting her head, she realized that also passed him unnoticed, and she frowned. As an after thought she blew over her steaming cup, then placing it aside for cooling down she linked her arm with his and gave him a light kiss on his cheek. It brought his attention back to her, from whatever his previous thoughts had been.

"What's up?" she asked in the earnest, and he gave a solemn smile. Shaking his head lightly he slumped his back into the couch, and disengaging his arm from hers he slid it over her shoulders pulling her back to rest her head as before. Fingering through her hair he took his time considering, and Anjali, looking at him intently from the side of her eye chose to remain silent.

"I was thinking," he started and she listened intently. The worries and issues were usually hers to spell and his to hear out, when the exceptions occurred she knew better than to interrupt. "About Armaan." She frowned at the most unexpected direction of his concern, to the extent that she blurted before she could stop herself.

"Armaan?" He looked at her and her confusion was evident.

"And Ridhima." He finished.

"AND RIDHIMA?" she repeated, in complete lack of understanding now. He nodded then pulling his arm back as he turned in his seat half way to face her completely and held her hands in his lowering his eyes to nothing in particular, toying with her fingers.

"Anj I think he's the guy Ridzi mentioned to you." She stared at him for several seconds before pulling her hands away and he looked up to see her wide eyed in shock. He looked back at her in intent not speaking himself. Finally she spoke up, in a whisper, almost to herself even as she was addressing it to him.

"You think so?"

"I am inclined to believe it more than I'm not."

"But..."

"You were too busy concentrating on your son Anj. If you had given the barest of thought to them you would not be in half as much disbelief."

"Atul he...Armaan...he is...he was married I mean." Atul sighed at the obvious he had expected from her, soon enough if not as soon.

"Yes he was. And Ridzi told you she has loved her guy for years now. And we know they went to grad school together. And..." he paused before making his final point, "There has been a change in her from somewhere around that time which you and me have overlooked since, as a part of her growing up." 

Anjali stared at him for range of new revelations he tossed at her to deal with while she was still working on the first one. Atul raised his hand to her cheek, caressing it with his thumb gently he said in a low voice not averting her gaze, "I know darling. It seems more complicated than it could at face value. But I barely slept, thinking about all of this, and I have found more reasons to believe my analysis than not to."

"Ridzi couldn't have been so thoughtless Atul." she stated, lacking conviction.

"But she could have fallen in love..." he offered.

"Why him?"

"Why NOT him Anj?" She frowned at him as if she expected him to uderstand the obvious without having her spell it. He did understand, she did not. "Tell me what about him would you not approve for her Anjali, if he had not been previously married?"

"That's a significant 'if' Atul," Anjali said, after a moment of surprise at being addressed by her full name, but it did not make her forget her argument.

"There is a strong possibility that the 'if' did not exist when she fell in love with him."

"Which means either he did not love her back, or he chose to not see her feelings at all, or the worst, he ditched her for another woman. And any of those situations are reason enough for me to disapprove of him."

Atul gave a grim smirk at her reasoning. Not like he should have expected any lesser defence from her, she held Ridhima much too dear to be convinced so easily. He had taken ample time to think out stuff himself before weighing it in favor at all, she would take her time too.

"They are all reasons enough for Ridzi to disapprove of him as much darling. But assuming that is not the case, since if she does disapprove of him then we have nothing to discuss but I doubt that is true, and if she doesn't disapprove of him, instead considers him enough to mention as much of him as she did to you, clearly the reason for his first marriage is none of those three you mentioned, at least not technically as you state them."

Anjali felt her shoulder slump at the latter of his reasoning, it made sense and she wanted to hate him for voicing a logic she didn't wan to see. But the point was, he wasn't exactly a man who talked without sense or concern, and he loved Ridhima like his own child, just like she did; he was bound to have given all of this enough thought. And most of all, how could she ignore the fact that he had been the one to make the whole observation when she had been, as he had pointed out, occupied with Gappu. She sighed, her eyes lowered and Atul moved closer to her pulling her in a half hug, his arm over her shoulders.

"Anj, Ridzi is a grown up mature. You have to treat her like one and respect her judgement. If she loves him, she must know best why." It was then that it struck Anjali.

"What if it isn't him that she loves at all? What if you're in error Atul?"

"That's not impossible," he replied giving her a faint smile, "Yet I doubt it sincerely. The thing is Anj, its not my analysis that had me thinking so much, I stumbled upon it before he left the house, its the  consideration of whether I would be happier to be proved right or wrong." He said in a quiet voice, Anjali looked at him incredulously.

"How can you say that Atul. He...Armaan...he is...not..."

"A bad guy at all. Admit it Anj, you liked him enough yourself. Forget this conversation, and skip the bias, is his past in all enough for you to pin against him when you think of the person he is?" He paused as Anjali frowned deeper at his words, "Gappu was staying with his family for the past three weeks and we know how happy he was. You could claim that was his way to make an impression if you had not met him in person tonight. You and I are not gullible kids Anj, did he appear a pretense to you in any remote way?" She did not look up into his eyes, instead Atul saw her bite her lower lip in deep thought. Considering no opposition as his cue to go on he said, "The wordless ease between Ridzi and him was unmistakable Anj, I can't remember the last time she was like tonight. I could conveniently credit Gappu alone, but for that I would have to be blind and..."

*Beep*

Atul was cut off by the pager going off. Reluctantly he let go of his hold around her and checked the text. He had been summoned for reference to one of his patients. Getting up from the couch, his coffee barely touched and cold now, he towered over her as she still seemed engrossed in her thoughts, he bent over and kissed her temple.

"Think about it honey, we'll talk it out after the shift."

And he walked away, giving her a last glance from the door, when she looked up to meet his eye and gave a faint smile in return for his reassuring one. Sighing heavily as he disappeared she slumped back into the couch her mind filled with clashing thoughts. Whatever Atul said, and whatever she thought, two facts were undisputed: Armaan Malik was a widower, and Armaan Malik had been a warm guy. Unfortunately, the two of those together complicated her thoughts more still.

***********************
"Sshhh"

She hushed turning around to him in warning, barely audible as the stair under his foot behind her creaked. He worded a soundless sorry through a mouthfull of fish he had not waited to bite into, then replaced the half remaining part of the piece on the plate in his hand sheepishly and concentrated on placing light steps without dropping anything out of the full plate. Over a minute later they stood on the floor above and she tip toed straight ahead before turning to the left of the two idetical facing doors, he followed suit and found himself adjusting his eyes to the bright light once more as she shut the door behind him.

He stood his spot, his eyes taking in every detail, major and trivial, of the room around him. Her room. She placed the jar of juice on the coffee table by the couch, then took the tray from him which he let go off absent mindedly, placing that beside the jar, she stood up straight by his side, observing him as he observed her room, in anticipation. She frowned as he narrowed his eyes and he spoke just as she opened her mouth to ask him why.

"You designed me a very similar room didn't you?"

He half questioned, half stated the fact. It was her turn to be caught unaware, as she realized seconds later, his reference to plan she had presented before them in her office.

"You noticed the design..." she whispered tentatively, uncertain of how she was meant to feel.

She realized that his indifferent reaction then had only been a pretense, he was bound to have been keenly observant of the plan details and her explaination of them to conclude upon the similarity now, more a year later. But it also brought back an image of his past, of Lovely, of his marriage. She avoided his eye yet another time in under an hour, only this time she wasn't conscious, but awkward. His past did not stand between them, she knew it never would, but it was a past nonetheless, a real one, and she didn't know how to break the silence into a comfortable conversation once more. She realized also, in that instant, how unconsciously perhaps, neither of them really brought up the topic in their talks. She had grown so accustomed to it that she was beginning to forget it like a past that had never existed, but could they lead a whole life evading that confrontration once, face to face?

"So the only huge difference is swaping black with blue, preserving the gray." he noted in a low voice, cutting through her thoughts after having caught her lost in reaction to his words, as he walked towards the wall of pictures. "I kept it with me, the chart of the master bedroom you designed," he admitted offhandly in response to her earlier statement, looking at the collage of memories. Her lips remained parted at the lack of words; she was indeed surprised even if his mention made it sound obvious.

There were too many things he observed almost at once. Her childhood was cheerful, as he had known it to be from her endless tales. Gappu and she had been pranksters from before they could have understood the word, Atul and Anjali completed their small, happy world; she attended an all girl's boarding upto high college, he recalled now, her having mentioned it sometime in Cambridge, as he saw pictures of her with groups of girls in the same consistent uniform varying through the years in faces alone; and it seemed that was where the frame ceased to depict her life. There was no sign of Cambridge, she had gone there for undergrad as well he knew, before continuing for grad school. A likely conclusion was her need to keep him selectively out of the collection, or anything that could remind her of him which would include pretty much anything implying Cambridge. But there was the shiny number 16 in the very centre of it which he did not miss, over it was a skillfully calligraphed 'Happy Birthday'.

"That was from Gappu on my 16th Birthday," she spoke wording the conclusion and he realized only then that she was standing by his side.

"I had wondered, everytime I looked at the chart thinking of you, what I could ever do with a whole wall you had assigned for pictures in my room. There wasn't much from my childhood, perhaps a handful with Muski and Daadu, and another handful from the annual events at Shantiniketan."

"You were never exactly fond of the camera," she reminded him, "It took a great deal of pestering and pleading from Chirag and me to get you into a frame."

Armaan smirked at the way she stated another one of his bitter facts. He was camera shy. Pictures meant memories, and it was rare for him to find any he wanted to preserve, barring the years at Cambridge, which until his confession to her less than a month ago, would have haunted him to misery if he woke up to wall of them in his room every morning. There was nothing to happily preserve from his former matrimonial alliance, and the circumstances had ensured there was nothing from Muskaan's wedding either. Both had been quiet affairs, signing of documents in the court followed by the quietest solemn meal his home had seen in ages. He had not lead a life which offered enough chances to even scarcely fill a wall that size. Abruptly he turned away from it.

"AAHHH!"

He exclaimed in pain, silencing his volume as Ridhima clutched his arm, startled by his close yell subdued in time and in realization of him gripping his head which must have, she realized, collided with the corner of the mantle like protrusion next to the frame, much lower than the usual ceiling level position for her accessibility, and also much smaller. It was her tiny little temple shelf; she wasn't quite religious in terms of essential rituals but she believed in god, this was the corner she bowed down to quickly, each morning before leaving her room, a habit she had picked too early in her years for her to remember the source.

"Hell!...You alright?"

Without waiting for his answer she pushed him hastily onto the bed few feet away so he wasn't towering over her anymore; instead she bent over him, ruffling his hair at the spot he had held onto a second ago, rubbing it in gentle massage and examining the sore area with her fingers.

"Did you hit it bad?"

She asked frowning as she messed his hair still feeling for a likely bump. Armaan meanwhile closed his eyes as he inhaled a floral whisp of fresh laundary from her short sleeved tee brushing into his face
mixed with the fragerance of her skin as she leaned into him oblivious to the impact of the proximity on him. As her fingers worked through his hair, the pain was well forgotten and he opened his eyes lifting them to her face feeling the hair falling over them sway under her gentle warm breath and the rhythmic heaving of her chest close to his face. He stared unable to move away as she fussed with his head, engulfed in the essence of her so completely that he missed her spoken words.

Ridhima, after several seconds of getting no response to her repeated prompt looked at him with a concerned frown, which eased away almost right away at the look on his face. His eyes were unblinking and intense, and she had to make a sudden greater effort to continue breathing, realizing all at once, how close they were, and the effect of it might as well have been a reflection in each others face. She could have pulled back but it did not occur to her then, and a bang of hair losened from the hair he had knotted for her fell long down close to face. He lifted his hand to tuck it back and resting his hand in a gentle grip around her neck he felt her paced pulse.

"Armaan..." she spelled out the name but it was less than a whisper as she felt his fingers caress her neck and lower her face without breaking the look. She did not resist, at the feel of his hold, and at the passion in eyes she could sense a heat rising to her face, and she knew as she let him bring her closer that he would kiss her unless she objected. Her eyes did not blink but his face blurred as her mind came alive with the fantasies of this moment she had never ceased imagining- in Cambridge they had been wishful thoughts, after he left they were moments she yearned for him, and after he confessed they were dreamy speculations of the first kiss they would share. She did not pull back at all, cause deep inside she wanted to be kissed, and badly, by one man alone, the one who was before her eyes now, to remain forever.

When she was close enough he brushed his lips over hers in a soft kiss, then as she did not pull back he glanced at her face. Her eyes were closed and he sensed her expectance in the light tremble of her lips barely away from his own, and he stared at her for another second to never forget the sight of her in this moment. And then he kissed her soft lips firmly, pulling her face closer as her arms locked around his neck and his own free hand grabbed her by the waist gently lowering her to his lap without breaking the liplock, which became intense, then passionate, then heated, as both of let go of the pent up emotions they had held back over the years in obligations or hestations, it had been a long wait and the bliss of this moment unlocked the craving souls they had caged within for an eternity.

"Ridhima," he murmured over her lips breaking out of the kiss when he sensed her getting short of breath, but not pulling apart, "I love you..." She opened her eyes at his words, and he saw them brim with suspended tears she held onto.

"You won't ever leave me and walk away?"

She knew he wouldn't, ever again, but the overwhelming happiness in the pass twelve hours still somewhere felt like a dream she was living, and the thoughts of his past from minutes ago had been like a harsh piercing truth she couldn't just brush off even in these best moments of her life; she needed him hence, to tell her he loved her and was there forever, over and over, till nothing could unnerve her to give a thought to life otherwise. She shuddered at the idea and tightened her fingers in his hair. Armaan sensed her insecurity, raised his mouth to kiss her head.

"No honey I won't," he said simply.

"For nothing?"

"Not even if you threw me out of the house this instant," he grinned at her frown rubbing a thumb over its crease gave her a peck on her nose which surprised her into a faint smile, "I will sit at the doorstep, till no one other than you yourself decide to let me back in," she grinned now at his dramatized assurance, "Dead or alive," she frowned again at his last words but as she opened her lips to tell him off he kissed her full on the mouth quick and cheeky before she could react, then brushing a kiss just below he lower lip he whispered, "But 0 farhenheit is a freaking retard temperature, if you did throw me out I really will die, so let me stay."

She broke out laughing, throwing her head back and he thought of the perfect timing. At the start of a new phase in their bond, she was laughing again, just like the very first time. Smiling wide he stared at her in love till she stopped getting her breath back, then bent over to give him a quick peck on his cheek.

"I'll keep that in mind, but even if I think you deserve to be thrown out, I won't let you die on a hungry stomach after all that ill timed cooking I did for you. Or are you hungry no more?"

He raised his eyes at her bright with mischief and she blushed at the outrageous teen line she had tossed at him mindlessly. She really had to practice control on her words, and soon.

"Much as I'd want for you to be flattered my dearest, I'm afraid I still maintain the apetite of a starved monster. And like you said, I'd be damned if I let that wonderful cooking go waste."

She smiled at him and got off his lap walking towards the table. He got up a second later to follow her but his step froze in the air at the sight of what he was going to step on. Putting it back with the other he bent down to pick it up and the smile on his face touched the corners of his eyes at the picture held between his fingers. Besides the bed stool, a foot away, a whole album lay open carelessly on the ground. He walked to it and bent to pick it up, then walked towards the coffee table, falling on the couch flat on his back with a thud like a heavy grain sack, his legs dangling over one of its ends.

"Armaan!...Gosh! You scared the hell out of me." 

He smiled at her in a funny daze holding one hand over his shirt onto where the heart is meant to be. She cocked a brow at him her hands resting on her hips and he placed the album he was holding in the other hand lowered besides the couch out of sight onto the table still looking at her.

"That's...from Cambridge." she said looking away with a cute smile as she poured him a glass of juice.

"Yeh, I figured." Moving suddenly he sat up and patting the empty seat beside him he continued, "Come here Ridhima. Tell me about the photographs like you used to. I haven't seen them once in six years."

She looked at him for a long moment and he held her eyes with a warm smile willing her to agree, she did, walking around the table to come sit beside him. Without precision she opened the album to a random page in the middle. It was the way she always did look at old albums, especially in moments of nostalgia. She liked to just stumble across a forgotten old memory and think about it in leaisure, of the time it was clicked and the situation that had been. It was the same way she talked about photographs too, the way Armaan was referring to. Revisiting unexpected past moments made her smile more often than not. Like him however, she had not opened this particular album in 6 years...until tonight. As her eyes fell on the page she had opened, she looked up at him, and they both grinned.

"Chirag!" They exclaimed in unison and then broke out laughing. "Heavens...it was the maddest thing he did...coming to you...YOU...for advice to propose that girl." Ridhima managed in broken bits through her laughter. Armaan was having a hard time controlling his own at the memory of that evening.

"Yeh right honey...you were no better help...what was her name that blond chick?" Ridhima stopped laughing at his last words and narrowed her eyes at Armaan, he broke into fresh peels of laughter. "Alright!" he said at last as she waited for him to see the nasty look she wore for him, "Alright peace! I'm kidding. The blonde beauty...sounds fair now?" Ridhima rolled her eyes and Armaan pulled her into a half hug sliding his arm over her shoulders kissing her lightly. "I don't even remember her name, thats how much of a damn I ever gave to anyone except you sweetheart. Stop being jealous."

"Whitney Payne," Ridhima stated giving him a wry smile.

"Oh yeh...." he broke out laughing again at some thought and she waited for him to explain, "Rememeber Dan? This other guy on our floor?" she nodded, "He told Chirag to change his last name to 'Torture'...Payne and Torture he said would sound a novel couple!" Ridhima broke out laughing again, as did Armaan.

"Yeh well, not like he was going to get the girl with the hopeless advice you gave him. What was it that you said? 'You're asking me like I'm a veteran at this Chirag, what do you want me to tell you about proposals?', " she mimicked his solemn baritone and chuckled at his smug expression.

"I was being honest," he defended himself.

"Well it wasn't helping him at all."

"I didn't think very well of him dating a Brit blonde anyways."

"Oh hah now! There comes the real reason. Inferiority that he would fish a catch leaving you lonely with your books?"

"That's not true, I had you..." he protested. She raised an eye to his proclaimation, but in contrast to his light tone, they were sincerely solemn. She snuggled closer into his half hug looking back at the album and he smiled at her acceptance. Into her hair he spoke again glancing at the picture she was looking at, "By the way, Lady Matchmaker, forget the novice me. It wasn't like you did wonders with your propose on a bended knee with a rose and a ring plan."

He stated looking at the picture of Chirag as he had practiced her idea with her enacting Whitney. It had been a crazy evening, only one of many; the three of them were a riot, even though Armaan himself was a much lesser qualified devil, together the three of them had shared some of the best moments.

"Obviously I didn't, he followed only half my advice. Who told him to take a plastic promise ring for a proposal?"

"He wasn't Prince of Wales to buy every new girl every other month a solitaire."

"This wasn't any other girl. He was serious about Whitney for about a year."

"Thats longer than hes been with Ritu isn't it," Armaan quipped suddenly in thought. Ridhima glared at him as he grinned, then pursed his lips tight looking back at the album.

"So the solitaire it was then, the missing link in his proposal you say?"

"No. It was the whole idea which was crap." Armaan looked at her impressed, she was accepting her mistake as candidly as that? "I was a silly girl, with sillier ideas." She added, without looking at him, but Armaan sensed the edge of change in her tone. He looked at her for a long moment until she was forced to look up at him with a small smile.

"I got you something." He stated and her eyes widened as she turned in his arm to face him completely. He grinned, "We're both still agreeing as a solitaire not being the crux right?" Ridhima frowned at his question, he was confusing her now.

"Armaaaan..." she said impatiently and bent to give her a quick peck on her nose. Then digging into the pocket of his jeans he brought out a packet. She moved her hand to take it but he pulled her out of her reach shaking his head vigorously.

"Uh...no, not so quick." She made a face at him looking at the packet then back at him. "It really is no solitaire." He stated and she rolled her eyes in exasperration.

"I don't care." she said, "Give it now or I'm not going to take it I swear."

"Oh no honey, you have to. Only you can." he said in a solemn voice, lowering the packet he opened it to reveal a pair of red and white bangles she knew had something to do with the Indian weddings. She looked up at him and asked uncertainly, "Isn't this what the Indian brides wear?"

"Wow I'm impressed you know about that custom. But no, this isn't exactly that. Its a Bengali specific tradition. Its called the Shaka Pola."

"The tradition?"

"No, this family heirloom." Pulling her hand forward, he slid the first of the two bangles over her palm onto her wrist. "These bangles, they are called the Shaka Pola, and they can be different kinds I guess. I'm uncertain. Daadu gave me these to me when I got married, he said they were Thama's , then were passed onto Ma because she was the elder daughter-in-law, and the tradition had to be continued. He said his mother got them made specific to order with a family design carved on them and some auspicious stone studded. Its a family thing like I said, and he gave them to me for Lovely then!" He faced up towards Ridhima and she looked back expressionless. He lifted the second one of the pair to slide down her wrist and spoke on looking her in the eye, "I married her Ridhima, cause it was the demand of those circumstances. I gave her my name, and tried to do all I could to take care of her in all honesty." he lowered his head and whispered, "Which wasn't the best or enough I guess."

Ridhima held his hand in her own, the one with which he had made her wear the bangles, uncertain of what she was feeling herself, but she knew what he had just meant. He looked up at her and raising his other hand to her face caressed it lightly.

"I couldn't give her these." He stated simply, and despite all the humanity in her for Lovely and her genuine concern for the medical issues she had lived with, she felt a sudden weight life off her heart at his words. "I could act for her and for the world that she was my wife, but I could not live that act for myself. It was always you I saw in that spot, the one I wanted to spend my life with, share a home and a family with, the one I wanted to grow old with, And in my heart I couldn't give that spot to anyone else."

Ridhima was certain she would cry any moment now but she did not break her look with him.

"The Shaka Pola remained stacked away in London luggage with other things all these years, but now they have to go where they belong. Its a sign of a true wedlock, and its a family heirloom, and now its yours."
Because she knew she could take it no more she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. He hugged her back as she burried her head into his neck and he felt it moisten slightly from her tears. "Hush honey!"

He stroked her hair until moments later she pulled out of the embarce wiping her eyes and looked at him then at the bangles adorning her wrist. She ran the forefinger of he rother hand over the surface of them observing the pattern keenly, but her mind was coming to terms with what he had just told her. She had heard the hardest facts of his life from him a while ago, and had accepted him with all of them. But this one simple thing, about her being the only one in his life whom he gave the Shaka Pola, released her from the grip of his past for good. He had told her it was only her she loved, he had explained how his wedding in the real sense had never been one, but the fact that he had saved his family heirloom through all those years for her or no one else gave her the deepest sense of inner happiness. She felt special about herself, and proud of having him in her life. As she looked up, she saw the anticipation through her tearful eyes and didn't know how to tell him what she was feeling. She opened her mouth to speak then closed it and smiled simply. Sighing deeply she whispered with closed eyes,

"I don't know what to say." Then opened her eyes at the touch of his lips upon hers, soft and gentle, and as he pressed her forhead against hers his eyes lowered as he toyed with the bangles she whispered hoarsely, "I love you Armaan." and pressed her lips to his herself in quiet solemn kiss.

"So you don't need the solitaire then?" he teased her lightly.

"I do," she retorted though her voice was still constricted, but she smiled genuinely at him, "When you ask Di and Jeej for our wedding." And he felt like his heart might stop functioning from the sheer happiness of the moment.

****************************
"So how did you know Chachu was actually there in her room?" Minnie asked, then groaned as her words fell yet again on deaf ears. "GAURAV!" she almost yelled to get his attention as he sat glued unblinking to the 56" screen at Buffalo Wild Wings.

"Hang on sweetheart," he said in an urgency without actually looking at her as continued to frown at the ongoing match. One reason she hated to come to this particular joint, he always forgot she was actually there sitting with him, good as forgot that is. She glared at him, and he remained blissfully oblivious to her anger the wrath of which he would have to face soone enough. "God damn it!" he swore in an undertone and she stabbed her fork into a whole in frustration.

"I can't believe they drew this one too. What the hell?" he muttered agitated and frowning turning to face towards her at last as the screen zoned into a game over long commercial before the post match analysis would begin. And the expression on her face was a warning alarm. Mentally he swore again.

"Erm...Minz..."

"You still remember my name? That is very impressive honey!" she said sarcasm dripping from her voice. He gulped, then at a quick after thought raised his plastered arm high to the table and made a subtle expression of being in pain as he raised it precariously.

"Don't even try with me." He looked at her narrowed unrelenting eyes and knew she meant it.

"Minz you..."

"I could have kicked that arm of yours like a soccer ball at the nets session and it would have passed you unnoticed while the game was still on." She stated her anger rising with every dialogue. Gappu gave her a watery smile, when she remained blank in her expression he sighed lowering his head.

"I'm sorry Minz..." he said in a low voice and she kicked herself mentally for actually wanting to forgive him, YET AGAIN, and let it pass. "You know how it is...Arsenal games and me. I don't mean it this way. Besides they drew against Fulham now and that was the last straw cause they already..."

"I DONT CARE!" she exclaimed with finality. Then taking a deep breath she said in a lower voice, although no one except the one it was targetted at, had noticed her raised volume beyond the din of the crowd. "Gaur...Why the hell do we come out on game days when its the Gunners playing, you need no one except that god dam screen anyways." Gappu felt a genuine regret at this. She was right. He had no business bringing her along when he was going to ignore her like she was transparent while the game went on. And this wasn't the first time. He sighed.

"The game is the perfect pretext to get out of the house, Mum wasn't going to ask me what and why as long as Massi would drop and pick me up." Pausing he looked at her same look, "I really wanted to see you." She looked away at this. He wasn't lying and she knew it. But that did not change the fact that he ignored her during every game invariably. "I also wanted to tell you about Armaan and massi." He added, hopeful at the softening of her expression. If she forgave him now, he would make sure she had a wonderful evening ahead of this, making up for being his usual jerk self.

"Which you still haven't told me," she informed him in resignation, as usual her anger was losing its strength to his earnest apology.

"I'll tell you now, from the start, without interruption." He promised gaining hope. Damn him, she swore, then looked at his expectant expression and picked up her wallet, shades and keys from the table.

"If that is what you really intend we leave this place, NOW." she said with finality.

"But the bill..."

"I paid." Gappu looked at her, then at the screen, then back at her. He would have to watch the repeat of post game analysis later that night, he thought with a sigh. There was no way he could behave any worse with her than he already had. He got up from his own seat, lifting his plastered arm with caution and spoke up.

"Ice cream?"

"No. I want food first. REAL FOOD?" He grinned at her implication, despite her anger, she hated this place for every possible reason, mostly under her bias agaisnt the TV screens. Nodding at her he walked up by her side and offfered her his plastered arm, arched inevitably at a correct escorting angle. She looked at it, then his look of mischief, and couldn't help the smile breaking onto her lips as she held onto it lightly and carefully.

"You know you're a jerk right?"

"Yeh." he replied with a smile, then looking at her rest her shades upon her hair lose strands of which blew into her eyes as they walked out into the cold Chicago wind, he whispered, "Did I say you look pretty?"

"To the Gunner's coach maybe, definitely not to me Captain."

"Alright, better late than never. The prettiest girl among all others around us, and the Captain is madly in love with her!" She rolled her eyes giggling at his usual dramatic antics and he smiled at her.

"And where will the pretty girl get her lunch finally?"

"You can pick."

"Fabulous! Let's walk on for a bit I have an idea." Gappu looked at her for a moment before smiling to himself as he nodded his agreemnt.

"Now update me with the news."

"Oh yeh that. Gosh your uncle Minz...I still can't believe he came all the way at 4AM to see Massi, after the whole long tiring day and its incredible endless excitements."

"Correction honey, he came all across the continents to do just that, why should you be surprised by a few tens of miles he didn't bother about?"

"Because this is Armaan Malik we are talking about, the paradigm of sanity and logic."

"Well apparently then, you need new titles for him now. The sanity and logic have been replaced by love." Gappu grinned at her conclusion. "Anyways I already heard that part of the story with all your special effects added Gaur, tell me how you realized he was there. Gosh! I can't imagine the expression on his face, and her face when you walked in on them." and she chuckled in glee. Gappu gave her a cute smile at her excitement, he had to agree with her, it had been quite a scene.

"Yeh I did wish I had a chance to tape it on a web cam. Youtube would offer to pay me for the rights of a video like that! To answer your question I would have to lack all of my basic five senses and have absolutely no trace of the common sixth sense if I was to not figure out his presence. She opened the door when I knocked, all flustered, and when I asked why I thought I heard Armaan's voice, Missy 'too smart for her own shoes' tells me she was talking to him on the speaker mode." Minnie giggled at the excuse. "And then much to her chagrin I believe I heard a sneeze which she hoped I would believe was also from the cell, since there was no way she could have taken the blame of it on herself when I was staring at her in suspicion all that while."

"Then?"

"Then I decided the game was fun to play, and the further she took it, the more embarassed she would have to be at the end."

"Gaurav that is mean and sadistic." Minnie exclaimed unable to hide her own smile at the thought of the same.

"Why did that not sound like a disapproval from you Minz?" Gappu quipped teasing her and she rolled her eyes at him. "Anyways so I was like fine I am the most empty headed brainless fellow born on Pluto which isn't even a planet no more, but if he is sneezing on the cell, I'm sure he is still there, I want to talk to him."

"Ouch!" Minnie exclaimed.

"So Missy 'master fibber' says she ended the call by mistake. I grabbed her cell from her and out of her reach, its times like those when I love the many inches I am over her, no matter what she can't reach me."

"So you checked the call logs?" Minnie offered. Gappu shook his head.

"Nah that's too mundane an idea. I clicked the speed dial for Armaan's cell."

"Oh my gosh! Gaurav, that was the meanest of all ideas." Gappu gave her a slight bow of accepting the credit and she asked through her giggling, "Then?"

"Then...I love you..." he started to sing startling her this time as she looked around at the passers-by giving them strange looks and frowned at him but he remained unaffected, bending on his knees sang on further, "I love you...is all that you can't say...years gone by and still...words don't come easily..." She jerked him up with his normal arm visibly embarassed now and he pulled her into a half hug keeping his plastered arm outside completing his verse as he twirled her swiftly with his normal hand, "I love...I love you...I love youuuuu!"

"Gaurav have you lost it?" She muttered pulling herself straight giving him a positive glare but the grin on his face was infectitious. She looked away to not smile herself.

"Its the ringtone sweetheart, the ringtone on his cell phone...which was my cell phone before he stole it from me and dropped it during a practice into a puddle which gave it a cracked LCD and a damaged battery beyond repair."

"How the hell is still working?"

"That was what he told everyone as a pretext to my mysteriously missing cell phone."

"Good lord he didn't!"

"I swear on the next game Gunner's will play."

"Wow!...so the ringtone sounded inside Ridhima Di's room?"

"Her walk in closet to be precise. The one she did not let me enter and check out, on the pretext of her scattered 'girl stuff' as she informed me with an act perfect blushing look. Of course, Armaan had to be an exception to that no entry barrier put up for males." Minnie broke out laughing, less at the dry wit and more at an idea of what the scene must have been like.

"Gosh..." she managed breathlessly, "Damn! I wish I was there to see this..." and she hollered laughing again, passing it on to Gappu who laughed with her.

"What did you say then?"

"Nothing! I demanded Armaan would ask permission from Mum and Dad to marry her the next time he comes over to our place so I can get the whole floor to myself."

"YOU DID?"

"Yes...she threw cushions at me despite my injury and drove me out of the room. But I yelled from the corridor and warned Armaan to take me seriously or I'd have posters about his special late night visit all over the house. And she threw a last cushion at me before I shut the door of my room upon her." Minnie was in hysterics by the time he finished narrating and enacting in bits, the whole incident.

"I can't believe you behaved like that with Chachu," she declared at last. He gave a her mock sugar smile.

"Yeh right! It took the know-it-all Dr. Psychology some 6 years to come to terms with his feelings. If we went by his pace, the two of them may well need an elixir to live forever or the grant of a second life if they actually intend to tie the knot. Ever heard of a catalyst? That's what. They need an everlasting overdose of that substance."

"Oh well tomorrow then I guess."

"Oh yeh. It will be an interesting evening. Somehow I think Mum and Dad know more than they are showing. Mum has actually planned a whole dinner night to inviting all of you and Ritu and Chirag for tomorrow's meal, at a sudden impulse. And she is not the sudden impulse league. There has to be more to it. Besides, Dad's been asking me all kind of random questions about my stay in India, nothing about my camp, all about the Maliks!" He paused as Minnie tugged lightly on to his arm to pull him to a stop. He looked at her in question and she smiled looking around them. Following her gaze he realized they were at Navy Pier.

"How did I not see this coming?" he muttered with a smile at himself.

"Cause you were too busy narrating the tales of of your glory with complete enactments honey." Minnie replied grinning. He looked at her, radiating with happiness and something in his heart flipped. Moving towards her he pulled her into a half hug.

"Love you Minz!" she heard him say; beyond all the drama and grand acts he was capable of, the simple confession as every other time made her insides soar in happiness. Snuggling closer to him at the new gush of the freezing wind she said in a soft whisper, "Love you too," then added a moment later, "Now buy me some lunch before we go for the ride."

*******************************
"Which of the two solitaires did you finally decide upon then?"

"I demand to inspect it before her."

Armaan looked on his either side as first Chirag, then Gappu flanked him on his left and right with wide smiles, muttering imaptient comments in low voices for his convenience only, and tried to not react maintaining his own smile.

"I chose the first one Chirag, and you can come with me to the car outside Gaurav, to inspect if it is a real diamond. I also have the receipt incase you want to ascertain I didn't just lift it off a shelf at the mall." Armaan muttered back to them in the same hushed manner through his teeth.

"Hi Ritu!" He exclaimed before either of them could reply, moving forward towards her to pull her into a hug as she walked from the direction of what he knew well enough was the kitchen. Ritu hugged him back with a warm excited smile and they pulled out the hug he said in an earnest voice, "I need your help." She grinned at him like a gleefull bobcat and replied,

"I know you want to see Ridhima but she told me absolutely to not let you walk into the kitchen cause she is a mess right now." Armaan smiled half to himself at the thought of her in the kitchen, the way she had been a couple of nights ago, despite the well of nervousness inside him. "Actually that's not what I need help with." Ritu raised an eye at the unexpected from him. "I need tips on how to talk to Di and Jeej for Ridhima and me. Chirag is hopeless, and so is Gappu, its hard to decide who is worse...so much for friends." Ritu grinned at him again. Then linking her arm through his she steered him further into the living room of the house. Indicating for him to take a seat, she stood before him like a shy nervous fidgety person.

"Now I am Armaan, and you are Jeej and Di."

"Jeej or Di?"

"Both...it doesn't matter. They won't give you different answers." Armaan nodded in thought, then looked back at her as she cleared her throat.

******************************
"I heard Ritu is training Armaan to put forth his proposal?" Minnie grinned at Keerti's question.

"Yeh mum she is. Specially on how to win the favor from Anjali auntie. She suspects Uncle would not be too much trouble."

"Hmmm. That I can believe. Mothers have a possessive streak for their kids." Minnie looked up at her mum at this declaration. At an afterthought she asked, carefully framing her question.

"So did Dad have a hard time with Nani?"

"Not really. Mumma was a softie. And your Dad was a well prepared prospective groom."

"Well prepared how?"

"Like prepared to answer and reassure Mumma in every way about his intentions and love for me."

"What kind of questions Mum?"

"The usual..."

"No I mean...lets say it was you in Nani's place. What questions would you have asked Dad?" Keerti considered thoughtfully.

"I guess my main concern would be about the boy's character, and his parenting. If I felt assured about those two, then other stability factors somehow always fall in place. I wouldn't be finicky about them." Minnie nodded in response thinking about gappu and herself. Sometime in the years to come, he would be in the position her Dad had been years ago, and Chachu was today. And her Mom would be where Nani had been or Anjali auntie was. Still in thought Minnie's gaze fell on Ridhima as she walked out of the kitchen with Chirag, both of them laughing, but the shine on Ridhima's face was new. She looked happier than ever, and then Minnie observed, her eyes wander around in search for a few moments until they rested and she smiled. Even before following her gaze Minnie knew who she would see- it was Chachu. Sometime in the years to come, she mused, she too would be where Ridhima was today, and her Mom had been years ago. Turning around with a smile, she realized her Mom had been summoned by her Dad and they were both in conversation with Atul Uncle. Tonight she knew, they were all somewhere aware that the question was about Ridhima Di and Armaan Chachu; sometime in the years to come, her parents would be in a similar conversation in the same house with Atul Uncle himself; only the question would involve Gaurav and her. She smiled at the thought and stared for a long moment at nothing.

********************************
'I love you...is all that you can't say...'

"Hello?" Armaan grabbed the cell turning on the answer tab without looking at the caller ID, at the unexpected ringing of the cell.

"Dada!" Armaan beamed at the sound of her chirpy voice and getting up from the couch in the middle of a demo Ritu was giving him he walked off forgetting everything else.

"Muski!...Goodness! I can't tell you how happy I am to hear you this second."

"And the sky is green. If you were that eager to hear my voice how come you haven't found the time to talk to me in detail in the last couple of days?" she complained and Armaan smiled.

"Muski...I'm going to talk to Ridhima's family tonight." He told her in answer to her question.

"Great heavens! You are?...Like seriously? Does Ridzi know?"

"Yes, seriously indeed, and she knows. Gaurav threatened me into it." He said grinning.

"You don't sound intimidated at all Dada, spare me the excuse. You were hardly going to be patient about any of this, with or without his threat. That's a void excuse. But the point is...OH MY GOD!...tonight it will be! I'm so happy for you Dada. Kaali Maa be with you." Armaan smiled. That was Muskaan, a strange combination of contradictions. On one hand she was the born rebel to all traditions, on the other she was a firm believer of God. He shook his head in brotherly affection.

"I wish you were here Muski, I miss you." Muskaan felt a sudden urge to laugh and cry all at once. Instead she managed to speak.

"Me too Dada. I miss you tons. You better call me back later with the best news I'll hear in years."

*TRINGGG*

Armaan turned around startled at the sound of the sudden doorbell. Within seconds he saw Ridhima hurry towards the main door, and it was the first time he realized that he saw her that evening- Wearing a rust colored churidaar suit with brown-golden work on all borders she looked pretty as ever. He had seen her in Indian wear a few times years ago at Cambridge and had always marvelled the grace with which she carried the traditional clothes despite the rare number of times she wore them. Tonight was no exception, and to his greatest delight, he saw the Shakha Pola on her wrist, as she caught his eyes on her way she almost paused to smile at his happy smile then noticed he was on phone. He noticed her questioning look as well and blew her a kiss in a tease instead of telling her who it was before he turned his back to her at Muskaan's prompt upon not hearing him reply. Grinning he figured he could tease Ridhima a bit more through the evening before telling her it had been Muskaan's call.

"Muski, I need to go for now, but I'll call you later in the night."

"Tell Ridhima I want to talk to her as well."

"Yeh I'll do that and..."

"VIVEK!" Armaan froze at the sound of her voice, and the spell of that name.

"Dada? And what?"...Muskaan's words never registered in his mind as he turned around a half circle to face the door.

"Vivek..." He spoke in disbelief into his phone.

"Vi...Viv...Vivek?" The sound of Muskaan's stammer brought him out of his daze, and the sight before him raged a war of emotions inside him. There he stood at the doorstep. Vivek Grewal. And their eyes met.

*******************************


~Part 21~

"Ms.'fibb and crib forever' if you're done jading the poor guy to hell, toss over the phone over."

Rolling his sleeves higher to above his elbows, he teased her easily out of habit, even as he concentrated on getting the folds right, expecting a similarly habitual prompt retort;  it did not come. He looked up casually surprised, finishing on his sleeves to take the cordless from her, but his hand never made it. Even in that turned away side look he did not like the hint of what he saw on her face. She had not even heard him, in fact, she was oblivious to his presence in the room, or anything else.

"Da...?" Rahul, stepped forward towards her, the casual part of his surprise fast being replaced by an unknowing concern. "DADA!" The exclaimation was high pitched in anguish, startling him in his steps right behind her now, "DA!....Talk to me Dada...What happened?...Tell m..."

He spun her around, too fast, and snatched the phone out of her grip as she let him in her shock.

"Ammy?"

Her breath shallow with fear, she looked at him, forgetting to resist, her mouth parted for a whole second and then her eyes followed him lower the phone and click the cancel call tab, and raising them back to meet his face, she saw him staring at her queasy in questioning, and she stared back. Hoping he would explain things and put her at ease, she licked her lower lip, weakly, absent mindedly, then she saw it on his face. An expectation for the same from her. Letting out a shivering sigh of rapidly fading hope as she slumped onto the cold marble of the floor...almost. Rahul caught her firmly just in time before she fell, dropping the phone to do so as she shocked him with the sudden lapse. The phone crashed loudly instead. His frown was turning into a deeply etched worry, on account of the unknown and impending.

"Muskaan..." he spoke shaking her, his rising alarm not harming his gentle touch, but she remained lost her eyes distracted and blank. "MUSKAAN!" he spoke louder than he ever would have, but she was freaking him out, and releasing one hand from around her, he tipped her chin, not completely gentle this time to make her face him. "What happened?" He stated emphasizing his words in a held back calm. "Tell me."

"Ra...Rahul..." she started, and her eyes started to fill up as she swallowed nervously to not gasp from the choking she felt in her throat, and her eyes darted aimlessly like a rabbit frightened out of its hole. He tightened his arm around her waist and she slumped further into the grip as if on cue, her knees weak and unsuportive as the name echoed in her mind, loud and harsh. Rahul noticed the paling expressions of her face and patted her cheek, more for his own assurance.

"He..." she started again then turned suddenly in his arm and bent abruptly to pick up the phone which had scattered open. "Dada, " she said pointing to it with a hysteric urgency, as her eyes brimmed to a haziness now, "I was talking to him..." she paused to suck deep and Rahul sensed her trouble in breathing in the stiffening muscles of her back against his hold. Fighting to keep his calm he caressed her back in soothing strokes without a word,

"And then...he said...he..." She let the phone slip out of her hand, as suddenly as she had picked it up, and it crashed a second time, even louder. But it went unnoticed, cause she was now gasping visibly, to the extent of hyperventilating as tears flowed down her cheeks freely and she frantically tried to talk but couldn't.

"MUSKAAN..." Rahul held her together from her shoulders shaking her in his own desperation now and saw her raise a shaking hand to her temple in a feeble attempt to push her hair back when her eyes fluttered to shut and then did. In less then a second he felt her go limp in his grip and he had no account of what kept him strong enough to not drop her in the shock of the moment. Instead, he lifted her off her feet, swiftly yet with utmost caution and placed her on the bed, before picking up the detachable pieces of the cordless with shaky hands, commanding himself mentally to calm down, fixing the set to its working condition he clutched it with a hard hand to steady his hold, and his nerves as he dialed a number.

"Dr. Bannerjee?! Hello auntie! This is Rahul Grewal. Muski...she fainted... a minute ago...just like that in my...uh....you will? Alright...I'll be there in 15." Still speaking he rushed out of the room, with a last look of despair at her unconscious form from the door before he went to Daadu's room.

**************************
It was a second, a long one, of stillness, as the word he had spoken echoed into his mind which was suddenly devoid of everything else, hollow hence, and the sight of that face before him matched the conclusion, every piece fell into place. And then everything happened fast. Too fast in fact, in a close blur for her, as Ridhima struggled to keep her balance when Vivek with his unrealistically quick turn around knocked her half off her feet and before she knew that he had dashed out of the place; then she felt herself roughly shoved away from the door as Armaan moved past her.

"AAHHH!"

She yelled and he felt a tug pulling him back. Without an understanding of anything except what occupied his only and most immediate thoughts he turned to face her, and her face agonized as she pulled the long, lose strands of her hair stretched in pain. With an impatience that made him unsteady, in action and thought, he saw they were stuck to the hook of his kurta neck. There was understanding of facts, and yet far too distant for him to pay attention to it, in a hasty reflex as his blood raced his raging mind, and his head felt like a battlefield with the face he had just seen, of the man who was escaping him...once again...he tugged roughly at her hair.

"AAH! Armaaan," she whined in inevitable physical pain but no less from his insensitivity towards it, she didn't know how to believe the agitation on his face. "Armaan what..."

But he was out of the door before she could speak another word, she glanced at her released tousled strands, then just in time back up to watch his retreating back as he dashed out of sight. She stared. And stood just so for several seconds ticking away. Unable to believe what she had just seen, then believing it forcibly and unable to make sense of it. Any at all.

At an overwhelming sense of discomfort, physical, she realized she was holding onto her breath, and forced herself to resume with the routine body act as she lowered her eyes, swallowing hard to bring feeling to her momentarily parched throat, and she saw a bunch of roses, yellow and pink and one red, her mind registered the minute details while her eyes observed the obvious- they had been dropped, abandoned, run and trampled over, ruthlessly. Running her fingers through the messed part of her hair she winced silently at the tug on the tousled knot in them, then sort it out without concentrating on them really. Her eyes continued to stare at the flowers, in her mind the last image of his face, seconds ago was like an indelible stamp. Armaan had looked...the most she could think or maybe never could have thought, unlike himself.

Slowly, only to get out of the stillness which was starting to numb her, she lowered herself to lift the bunch of fresh flowers. They had been long dead before this moment, but she was almost certain she could feel the pain they were in, or maybe it was a stab of pain which was piercing her instead.

"Armaan..." she whispered inaudibly to no one and nothing around and her hands, unknown to her, shook as she collected the scattered stalks.

"Ridzi!" she did not hear her name being called, not even when it was repeated two more times, the last one of the calls was from right behind her. Not until Chirag stood there, before her, facing her, and she saw the vibrant smile on his face fading into a slowly forming frown.

***************************
Vivek ran like a pro, a track sprinter making the run of his life, only it was going to be way more than 100 metres here, or even 4 times that. Within seconds he had turned around the bend of the street which was a part of her address. He did not try to look back, but his instinct told him Armaan was not there yet. Faster than all the physical pace he was mustering up however, was the pace of his mind which ran wild at the speculation of what had just happened, and he dared not lax a moment in disbelief at what had resulted from all that he had intended to make a wonderful surprise for Ridhima.

For every bit of it had to be true, it was suddenly falling in place. Her nephew in Kolkota, the man she claimed to love, the phone call and the voice on it which had left him unsettled for its familiarity. It had been Armaan- his family that the boy had stayed with, him the man she loved, and his voice that he Vivek had heard on the phone. That husky unmistakable baritone, how had he missed it, he thought now, in a bitter tweak of venegence.
He increased his speed with a fresh bout of energy to make it to the next turn the approximate distance of a block away.

For that inkling of moment where the emotions within him wished to get the better of him he wanted to stop, turn around and meet the guy he had to settle scores with. But he knew the real issue was much bigger, and somewhere logic did not completely desert him, keeping him aware of what his position was like right now.

Officially an illegal immigrant, he was still a dubious identity and the last thing he needed to deal with was an investigation which would force him to either abandon the life he was currently leading and make another escape, or to be deported back to his native land, where the governtment was still, technically, completely capable of punishing him for more than one fradulent act. He could actually live under cover there, India was going to be an easy place in terms of living a free man's life even despite an obvious dark history. But he knew better than to assume that, with the Maliks there, and his own brother. Once more, he swallowed at the bitter pang of vengence.

No it was a risk he couldn't take. He had to leave Chicago, and get back to Mexico. Once he crossed the border he could manipulate things his way, and they wouldn't know where to look for him.

At the threshold of this next bend he turned over his shoulder for a quick look and rushed into the new street, before it struck him- Armaan had just turned into the street he had left. Yes it had been him. Did he see me, he thought, a inevitable fear gripping his mind as he willed his limbs to run faster pushing every other thought back for later consideration. One more block and he would be in a centrally located downtown area where he could mingle in the crowd easily, hail a cab to O'Hare and leave the country for good. He cursed the heavy winter clothing, forgetting to be thankful for the cover he was gaining with the onset of twilight's dusky darkness, as the downtown began to glimmer into another night of being Chicago.

**************************

"Ridhima..." he spoke tentatively, the look on her face was anything but happy, but what was it. Then he saw the flowers in her hands and her own eyes lowered to them as he looked at them in question.

"Armaan..." He started to ask if this had been a part of the proposal unknown to him but Ridhima shook her head before he could complete. "He just...ran away." She said, wihtout realizing how absurd her words sounded. Bizzare in fact, to him at least, as he repeated them with a height of uncertainity inside him and in his voice,

"Ran away?" She nodded her head lowered to the flowers she was still staring at in lack of belief. "Why...where?" he continued, baffled more than ever as she shook her head again, absent mindedly. In rising impatience he held her shoulders lightly and made her look up at him.

"I don't know, "she explained, but it made no greater sense than it could.

"What don't you know? Where did he 'run away' Ridzi? And these flowers?" He said in a barely maintained calm.

"I don't know where he ran away. And Vivek got the flowers." she answered mechnically while trying to sort out her own confusion, in which, she failed to notice the sudden change of his expression as his eyes widened. Then he spoke, after a pause of several seconds, startling Ridhima out of her unobserving daze,

"VIVEK?" She nodded to him, wondering if she was suddenly feeling intimidated by the whole crazy turnout of events in the past couple of minutes. "Vivek Khanna?" he asked again, lowering his voice to a sudden whisper, and she nodded again, frowning in complete attention to him now.

"Why?" she asked him, speaking her rare words.

"Oh my god!" Chirag muttered in a self audible tone but Ridhima caught his words and clutched his arm to catch his attention.

"What? Tell me Chirag."

"What was Vivek doing here? Tonight? No...What is Vivek doing in your life Ridhima?" He said, and his array of questions puzzled her more.

"I don't know. I mean, " she added at his sharp incredulous look, "I mean...I didn't invite him. We didn't invite him. I don't know why he was here. And...he is not in my life. What the hell do you mean Chirag?" she said suddenly angry about the confusion that was not being explained to her. Chirag let out a restless sigh running a hand through his hair.

"Vivek Khanna," Chirag started, "I forgot to tell Ammy about him."

"What about him Chirag." Ridhima asked agitated, "Are you going to explain anything to me? Or do you plan to run out on me like your best friend?" Chirag paid attention to her at her last words and nodded in aprtial guilt, for no reason.

"I don't think Armaan likes him much Ridhima. I mean...he told me once Muskaan loved him but she is married to...Rahul. Which is strange, its not like Armaan to have not let her marry the man she loved but..."

"Oh my god!" Ridhima interrupted him with a sudden frantic gasp. "Its him. Its him, the guy Muskaan loved. Oh god..."

Chirag stared at her trying to make more sense of her mumbling but he couldn't. She suddenly seemed like all her confusion was gone. It did nothing however, to cure her of the worry on her face, it grew much more grave in fact, if that had been possible to start with. And then she leaned back against the frame of the door seeking support and Chirag watched her aggressively push her hair back as she bit her lower lip.

************************
Rahul paced outside the door shut upon him, beyond which their family doctor was doing her job. Muskaan had not regained consciousness in the 20 minutes during which he had rushed to inform Daadu the broken details which linked in no way to make sense to either of them, before rushing back to carry her to the car and drive to the clinic which was a 15 minutes drive in reasonable traffic. It had been reasonable today, and for that rahul would have been thankful if he had thought about it in that way. Only, his mind to was preoccupied only with worry for her; so much that the whole issue which had lead to her sudden strange behavior was forgotten for the moment.

The moment he saw the gracefully greying lady step out of the room he realized how the fact that she was clad in her green scrubs offered him no more solace than her words had before she had entered that room where he was not allowed. He rushed to her clicking his knuckles relentlessly in his worry. Before he could ask her the obvious however, she spoke up.

"To my cabin Mr. Grewal. And don't worry, your wife is asleep, there is nothing to worry about. Now."

He had almost allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief, but it stuck half way up his throat at her last, quietly added word. Now? Then he realized she had not addressed him by his first name. It was, like everything else had been until then, no more solace than before.

Visibly fidgety he sat on the seat facing her across her grand display of desk, she was a senior doctor at the local hospital, and one of significant repute and stature, an apt family doctor for a name like the Maliks and Grewals hence.

"She is sleeping from the effect of the anaethesia currently, with a light fever, but thats normal. I expect her to wake up in a few hours time. Were you aware of her condition Mr. Grewal?" He narrowed his eyes rendered wordless for an instant at her question.

"Well she...she just got nervous and worked up...and..."

"Rahul, " she interrupted him with a sigh, looking into his eyes intentionally without blinking. "Muskaan just suffered an early miscarriage."
 
He was silent was several long moments,and then as the truth sunk in, so did he, deeper back into his seat, suddenly exhausted. "She was..." he left the whispered words in the air, clearing any doubt she had about his complete ignorance of the fact.

"Pregnant," she completed the sentence for him when it was obvious he would not. "Yes. Roughly three weeks." He ran a helpless hand through his hair trying to believe facts, and then shove away the bitter unfair part of them. The old lady watched his change of expressions with a kind sadness. She had been linked with the family long enough to have known the kids, they had grown up before her own eyes. And she had been there with them, when some years ago, Muskaan had suffered from severe depression. She had seen her suffer and then recover, but not the reasons behind either, for she believed what she knew was not all of the facts she had to know but she had let it be as the family wanted. She had seen however, with passing time, the wonderful warm relationship the two of them had shared as a couple; and now she wished things at the moment were not what they were.

"Are you sure?" She heard him word a coherent sentence at last, even though his voice was low and coarse.

"I am Rahul. She was in her early pregnancy and..."

"No. I mean...about her...about her losing...the...baby." He forced the words out loud at last. The baby. It twisted his heart, to want to call it his baby, their baby...but what was the point. "How?" he said looking up at her, physically and mentally distraught.

"The symptoms indicate a condition of maternal trauma," she said cautiously, trying to read his reaction, and he shut his eyes sinking back into the chair and running his hand through his hair, roughly. When he sat back up straight and looked at her in resignation she spoke again, "What happened Rahul?" He shook his lowered head, slowly, more to himself, then whispered, mostly to himself again,

"I don't know..." looking back up at her, "I don't know Auntie. She was talking to Ammy on the phone. He's in Chicago at the moment," he added to her questioning look, "And when I walked into the room...she was just...a wreck...yelling into the phone but the call was cut and..." Abruptly he rubbed his hands hard over his face, then looking at her he concluded, "I don't know. I forgot all about it and haven't called back Ammy...yet." Neither has he. He left the latter of the thought unworded. Why had Armaan not called back, he suddenly wondered, and a new worry started to shape in his mind, which was a burden his overwrought nerves threatened to not handle. He forced himself to stop thinking about it for then.

"Auntie," he addressed her instead, and she saw the first streak of control in his eyes, "Does she know?" The old lady took a moment to understand his question and shook her head.

"In my opinion she was completely unaware of it, and she still doesn't know she has undergone a surgery. Rahul gulped, to hold himself together at the thought again.

"Can you tell her something else, I mean, can you...not tell her about...the baby?" The pain he was trying to shove away hit with a double impact, at the words again. She considered him for a long moment then spoke,

"She needs to know it." he started to implore in protest but she raised her hand to stop him, "I won't tell her, if you will instead. But she has to know. Because this is likely to cause some complication in her future pregnancies." Rahul widened his eyes at this new information. "Oh..." was all he could say, then nodding his head slowly he said, "I will tell her. In time. Please don't let her know anything at the moment." She nodded in response and got up from her seat indicating the end of conversation, but Rahul remained oblivious and seated still. She sighed to herself, this was the harsh side of her profession, and even though they were trained to mask it all, it was just as disheartening every single time. Walking up to stand by his side she gently pat his shoulder giving it a light squeeze.

"It's going to be fine Rahul. She is a fighter, we have all long known it."

He smirked in gloom at her words and their dual meaning, fighting the welling in his throat, then looked up into her eyes which were not a doctor's but a mother's, impulsively he got up to give her a hug. She let him, patting his back, just like a mother. She was almost one to him, she had been an intern assisting the senior doctor who had delivered him less than two and half decades ago, the second person in the world to hold him after the main surgeon. It also happened to be the first case of gynae department she had been assigned and the first baby she had seen, covered in blood, and wailing loud, unimaginably tiny. And as she felt him break down silently on her shoulder now, she knew only before a mother perhaps, would his kind of a yound man, ever cry the way he did just then.

***************************
Ridhima paced the floor of the deserted living room slowing down to almost zero speed at moments and others it was a frantic pace. Intermittently, she had gotten dizzy from this only form of action she had indulged in for over a couple of hours. The worry was weighing upon her mind like a burden ever increasing with every second that ticked away, exhausting her unbearably in seconds during which she jabbed hastily, clumsily into her cell to dial his number for another 'nth' time to hear his voicemail without a single ring again; in other moments she felt an intolerable fear of where he was and all the ways in which things could go wrong.

She had always been a woman of will, even in the most depressing moments of her life, but tonight, she could not force herself to focus on why and how everything would be alright. He will be fine, she told herself every little while, nothing can happen to him, but if...and a chain of all the possibilities, not one of which was good, would follow thereon, the list growing longer with each time her mind meandered into that territory she was incapable of shutting herself out of.

Slumping onto the couch now, tired again, as her knees felt weak from the constant pacing, she sat biting onto the nails of her left, shaky hand, running the other just as unsteady hand through her hair which were a mess she had made unknowingly.

Vivek was that guy, she had ruminated over the thought more than she possibly could or should have. He was the guy who had, in most factors, runied everything for the Maliks, for Muskaan, for Armaan, and consequently, for her. She glanced at the grandfather clock on the wall facing her one more time trying to calm her nerves by concentrating on the second hand as it ticked away, but her mind could not not think of him.

"Armaan," she whispered his name in a half cry but swallowed hard. She was not going to cry, because NOTHING HAD HAPPENED TO HIM, she reminded herself again. And she got up abruptly, to pace the floor between the couches, around the low glass top, centre coffee table.

"DI!" she screamed startled out of several beats of her heart, and Anjali seemed just as flustered, not having intended to scare her at all.

"I'm sorry Ridzi," she said quickly, then pulling her down to sit on the couch she sat kneeling on her knees before her and spoke before Ridhima could, "Tell me Ridhima, please. What is wrong? Armaan just disappeared, and you've been freaked out ever since, you wont let us talk or explain anything yourself. Everyone has gone back home now as you wanted them to, and the rest of them are in bed." Anjali paused at the latter lie, almost relieved at not being brushed off by her sister as she had been in the past hours of her overwhelming stress. "Please tell me Ridhima, what is wrong?"

Her last words, insistent and louder than a mere whisper were all Ridhima heard, oblivious to whatever she had said before that, and she snapped shaking lightly all over her body, "Di please. There is nothing to talk about. I'm just waiting for Armaan. He is going to be back any second now. He has to come back...to me." Ridhima paused at the choking in her throat and shut her eyes tightly for a couple of seconds then opened them and said as calmly as she could manage, which was mostly a redundant effort, "Please Di. Go and sleep. I want to alone...till he returns."

And she got up to walk to the kitchen for a glass of cold water. Anjali watched her helplessly, and sighed in resignation. She was as clueless as everyone had been, no one except Ridhima seemed to know anything. Armaan could be the other one, but then he was the one who had suddenly gone missing, and then everything about the right evening had become wrong. She would worry for him, if she could stop the maternal instinct inside her from feeling inevitably and increasingly furious at him. Where the hell was he leaving everything so complicated and unexplained, most importantly, leaving Ridhima in the state she currently was.

Shubhankar and Keerti had been as troubled and unaware as she or Atul were, they knew nothing, Ritu had tried hard to talk to Ridhima but she had told both Chirag and her to leave right away and go back home. Ritu would have argued, and not agreed, but Chirag, who had been frowning in an unusual silence all that while had agreed with Ridhima, hugging her before taking Ritu away, and she, Anjali, was certain he had said something to her which she could not hear and Chirag did not elaborate upon. More words of comfort, she had assumed and let it go. But over two hours had passed now, and nothing was changing, Armaan had not come back, Ridhima was getting worse than ever, Atul was doing what Ridhima was, except on a floor higher, in their own bedroom, pacing the floor endlessly and wordlessly. Anjali looked upwards pushing her hair back and saw a dark shadow leaning against the railing of the stairs at the top of the flight.

Gappu. Ridhima had not even talked to him. Anjali looked towards the dark kitchen with a narrow stream on light slanting across the floor into the family room, from the refrigerator she guessed. Sighing she decided to go up and talk to Gappu instead because she could think of nothing else, any better. Gappu looked at her, as the first step at the bottom creaked under her feet and tried to turn away to walk to his room but she motioned for him to stay silently and he did. When she reached the top she tugged him into a half hold and together they walked to his room.

****************************


part 21 fellas....delayed and all, but i wont spend time telling you the why, its almost meaningless, i wonder if you actually have the energy to read my banter of excuses after the huge lengthy updates each time LOL this ones not a record in length, even then i think its packed enough, i barely am allowing you to rest and think of things in the part, its more paced than anything in this fic has been so far!!!...and well...a lot of lose ends i will gather in the next part...

which takes me to what i really have to say, if i get a majority of my readers to tell me before sunday that they have read the part and are done thinking it over, i will make the next update in a gap of 48 hours from now, since i actually, in the mad flow, wrote it out while doing this oen. Im not, as one time before, posting it right away, because it kills the fic and the way i want it to be....but yes like i said, if i think theres bee sufficient time given to you lot to rest in piece from this one, ill update TORTURE part next LOL by sunday evning EST.

and well...thats that....this part is dedicated to a happy weekend...so many people, dear and far ones, are seemingly having a hard, stressed time this month, march isnt the best time of the year i guess...so heres to all of you....for a happy, relaxed weekend...for even under a ton load of work which seems fatal and never ending, theres always a reason to smile, take you minutes in the day to find that reason, and smile....it brightens the worst times!!!

cheers all,

nj

ps: a quick thing i ahd to clarify, after the last part some people in their comments and PMs had mentioned chirag knowing about Vivek, i want to clarify, that Chirag has only, just once, heard a mention of the name Vivek khanna from armaan in the past as the name which was his sister's past love, but not husband. he does not know the details, of what why when, he does not even know vivek's real name is grewal not khanna, he just knows whatever things have to do between armaan and vivek are not pleasant and therefore, he was in no position to have explained, or understood things as completely as ridhima did...if there is any more doubt about the same, or anything else, feel free to ask!!


SCROLL DOWN FOR FURTHER PARTS....


Edited by spln - 01 May 2009 at 10:06am

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Posted: 21 February 2009 at 2:12am | IP Logged
~ Part 22 ~

"VIVEK..."

Even though the pitch was silenced before the word escaped her lips, the whisper, he knew, was like a ghost of what would have been a blood curdling scream, if her weak body could muster any more strength than it did. The emotion in it however, was not lost upon him, and his heart recoiled even at the faint sound of it.

Consequently interrupting his discussion with the doctor, his attention was taken by her, undivided. Her face was pale, sweaty, creased...like a sickly face which woke up to a nightmare, the worst of its kind, and her eyes probed her surroundings in scared, fretful glances, the disbelief in them was wishful and fading fast into a deep, settling trauma...in latter moments of understanding resignation and in partial lasting influence of the injected drugs, her eyes fluttered momentarily to fall shut again.

"Muskaan..."

Before Armaan had even extended his hand to the figure of the person he couldn't believe was his sister, the intensity in his voice stopped him. Quietly, in partial consciousness of doing so, he took a step back, letting his arm swing lose to his side as he stood, simply observing. The concern of his voice, intended solely for Muskaan, in an unexplainable way, had a soothing effect on his strained nerves; Armaan was certain he was suddenly breathing with greater ease.

Rahul lifted her limp hand gently to clasp it in his own, kneeling down to her height by the bedside, while his other, free hand sorted the curls scattered around her face over the pillow. And just before he lowered his lips to her hand, Armaan witnessed in his eyes, a solitude of that bared emotion, and it dawned upon him like a bolt of lightening. The guy was so obviously in love. He forgot that his vivacious kid sister was lying tormented in a helplessness she neither deserved nor was ever meant to be in. He forgot it, because the support which Rahul had offered her, may have been lost upon her unconscious senses in that moment, but he found in the gesture, that which he had lacked too long in this home- the assurance of an equal by his side, without a real reason he had conviction in the solidarity of this unexpectedly forming bond.

Then he felt a brush against his arm as Dr. Banerjee moved past him to check the vitals, and her solemn look annouced her unsaid words about Muskaan's condition. Involuntarily he gazed in Rahul's direction again, and as if by default, their eyes met. Held each other's look meaningfully, and sealed the understanding without a spoken word.

At a sound of a low groan he turned back to Muskaan moving closer in a height of concern. He saw her frowning as she started to come around again, and when she opened her eyes, Armaan, withdrew his extended hand towards her a second time, clenched his fists instead and hard, until they became painful and he let them remain so. The lifelessness in her eyes was haunting, he cringed inwardly at the thought of having been the by stander to everything she had undergone, while he had been too occupied with his own woes, doing nothing to change it. NOTHING!

A cold washed over his entire being, and his eyes jerked open. Armaan blinked instantly, once, then a couple more times and once more quickly to undo the dryness in his eyes to the vision and its understanding. And it was that one moment, which passed him and then he sat up straight in his seat making haste as the big black eyes stared at him, frowning in question.

"We're in the neighbourhood you mentioned sir, about two blocks from Lincoln street."

Armaan looked back at him, blank and unblinking for a whole second, still recovering from the time his thoughts had drifted back to, before the words sunk in. So did the hand which had shaken him to attention as the middle aged cab driver withdrew it now. He felt a shiver run through him and realized, roughly rubbing his shoulder covered with a meagre cotton of his kurta's sleeve, that his window was open. Lincoln street. Chicago. Not Calcutta he reminded himself mentally, while an intuition inside him was nagging him for something unknown. No, he forced himself to stop thinking further, that had been just a...a rusted, old memory.

He inhaled uneasily, running a hand through his hair, feeling the discomfort of the vision from the past, frowning as he turned to look out of the window, and figured the man had lowered it for him to lookout and guide through the remainder of the route. As had been decided when he had hailed the cab some...his eyes fell on the luminiscent blue digits of the stereo's clock...15 minutes ago...? He frowned deeper.

"Sir?" The man repeated, more persistently.

"Erm..." Armaan started looking glancing ahead from the windscreen to guide him out of the temporarily occupied parking spot. Her eyes flashed in his mind again and he felt restless. He had to call her...besides he had cut her call abruptly before. Why had she not called him back, he wondered further.

"Sir?..." the impatience in the driver's voice was unmistaken.

"Its straight from here until..." Armaan stopped in his sentence his eyes widening in realization, as his hand fished deeper into the pocket of the kurta and he couldn't find it. "My cell?" he spoke more to himself not inaudibly though and the cabbie moved his foot off the gas as Armaan twisted about in his seat looking for the set. He turned on the lights and there was instantaneous greater visibility. To no avail however, as a few minutes later Armaan sat back into his seat with a heavy frustrated sigh. Before the driver could say much more however, he spoke up himself.

"I
'm going to get off here." he announced, and the driver raised his brows at the impulsive declaration. Armaan ignored his reaction and mumbled in lame explaination, "I...just remembered something I have to look up at the...book store," he finished as his eyes fell on the corner Barnes and Nobles store. The driver looked fairly unconvinced, but Armaan chose to ignore again, unhooking the seat belt as he prepared to get out.

"How much is..." he stopped mid sentence a second time, this time swearing mentally at himself.

The wallet. The god damn wallet was in his car, which was at her house. Ridhima's house. He ran a wry slightly shaky hand through his hair again, ruffling them untidily. She must be worried at his unexplained exit. The whole lot of them must be, hell they might have tried to call him, Muski may have tried to call him...where the hell had he dropped his cell? Getting out of the car, he shut the door absent mindedly, it must have slipped out of his pocket in the chase. Not only had he lost that...Vivek...but now his cell was missing, no one knew where he was or why, and he didn't have his damn wallet to pay this guy. 

"Its going to be ten dollars." The driver informed him without him having completed his question and he licked his lower lip thinking of how to explain himself.

He could take the cab and go back and pay him there.
But he had to find the cell, he thought stubbornly, he could retrace his steps and it may just be lying around somewhere, still. It wasn't a long distance anyways, he had hailed a cab out of mere exhaustion and disheartening...and the much below freezing Chicago wind againts his Indian cotton. But first now, he had to pay this guy. Or not pay him and explain why not, he corrected himself.

"I...erm..." he started fidgeting with his fingers as he moved up to the front door and bent down to talk to the guy but not meeting his eye right away. Then he did, looked him straight in the eye and stated flatly, "I forgot to carry my wallet." The cab driver remained quiet looking back at him, waiting perhaps, for more details, but none came.

"You did...?" he half asked Armaan, half stated to himself. "So...how are you going to pay me?"

Armaan swallowed hard at the question. Wasn't it obvous that he could not pay? Or was it obvious that he had to pay, with or without the wallet and it was not the driver's concern how he did? He clicked his knuckles thinking, in resignation. Maybe he would have to go back home after all, everyone would be wondering anyways, more than just that perhaps, he had been missing for much over an hour now. But what about his cell? He couldn't lose that particular set...it was...special...? Because of Ridhima, his logical mind reminded him, and she must be half crazy by now to have no information of his disappearence.

"DOC?!"

He heard a half yell as he opened his mouth to tell the driver he had changed his mind again. A tone of disbelief, a hint of delight, and certain familiarity. Armaan looked up and narrowed his eyes to ascertain the recognition his eyes were confirming.

"Mrs..."

"Douglous...yes Doc, in flesh and blood, but the question is...OH MY GOOD LORD...are you as similarly real standing before me right now?"

She asked, the grin playing wide on her lips by now indicated she needed no confirmation of facts from him. Armaan sighed, shaking his head incredulously, wanting to almost grin himself. Had he actually encountered a stroke of 'good luck' for once in his life? This wretched evening in particular, when every single thing had gone out of hands, in every wrong way? He bit his tongue to hold back the sigh.

"Excuse me mister I don't have the whole night to witness your reunions waiting for my due," the driver told him in a blunt tone this time and his exasperration was intended. Armaan gave him a small look and replied, "Yeh...uh...just a second. I'm going to get you the ten dollars." And he turned to the old lady who was now standing by his side, as his unexpected angel.

"Mrs. Douglous, could I...borrow 10 bucks off you?"

She grinned like a child and Armaan would have been unexceptionally amused with the gleeful glint in her eyes in another time as she opened her wallet to get the bill he had requested. For now he wanted to thank her for getting him out of this fix, for not questioning him...for just having shown up, right here, right now. He extended his hand, but she crossed him to hand the cash to the cabbie.

"Keep the extra, for witnessing the reunion." The cab driver gave her grateful smile, and a nod to Armaan, and added in a happy voice. "You have a good night lady, sir!" and she turned back to Armaan as the cabbie pulled out of the spot at last.

"So Doc, where have you been? I thought you just disappeared..."

"I...did." Armaan replied truthfully, then looking back up at her he raised his hands to hold her fragile shoulders, "Mrs. Douglous, I..." he paused, managing a small, earnest smile, "Thank you." then added, "I will come along to your shop for some flowers soon. But I'm in a desperate hurry right now. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see you." And he pulled her into an impulsive hug. She patted his back, and it felt good...and warm, literally too.

"
I don't know if there's ever been a man I've wanted to help as much Doc." she replied as they broke apart, he nodded at her and with a last quick squeeze of her hand he turned back to go over the route he had chased Vivek. His expression turned hard at the thought when he heard her add, "I'll wait for you to come tell me the tale, there must be one."

"There is," he answered half turning to her, "I'll see you soon Mrs. Douglous," and with a last nod at her he walked away briskly. It was much below freezing and his teeth shivered as he ran his hands over his shoulders in long strokes crossing them across his chest, but his eyes remianed keen and observant to the ground he tread upon.

Ridhima...Muskaan...he inhaled sharply and the cold of the air hurt his throat producing a sting in his eyes. He kicked himself one more time mentally for having lost Vivek. For four whole blocks he had kept him in sight, even managed to close in upon the distance between them at a point, just before the creep turned into the busiest part of downtown. The crowd made it impossibly tedious to keep a track, and Armaan, brushing, pushing, rushing had earned himself plenty of glares, and more than just a few curses but kept him in sight even then, the gap however had increased considerably and without admitting to hmself in that crazy last bit of the run, Armaan had started losing hope again. And then, he saw Vivek jump into a cab, and before he could do anything, it was gone.

Armaan stood, frantically out of breath trying to hail a cab for himself but he knew then, with the reason he wished would lose to his vanishing hope, that the attempt was going to fail. And then at the snap of an idea he had tried to see the number of the cab which Vivek had taken, but it was a moment too late, the car drove away dimishing in the distance and he could see it no more, with the dark around becoming significant.

Unknowingly now, his pace was furious, as was his frown, and he swore in an undertone, his eyes watering slightly to the chill of the wind and his lack of protection. He stopped in his track abruptly, at a flash of Muskaan's eyes from that past again, and cupped his mouth with both hands to inhale some warmth in the air. He knew the defeat of the chase was weighing him down heavily, it was like having failed his sister all over again...but there was a sense of premonition inside which he could not explain. The worst had happened, he tried to comfort himself, and he would get back home and think of what there was to be done. Shutting his eyes tight as the cold wind caused them to tear more, he felt weak with the emotions swelling inside him which made him, inexplicably, want to cry out loud.

*************************
"Does she love him Gappu?"

Anjali asked him the moment she shut the door behind herself. He raised an eye despite himself, this was the first direct question he had been subjected to about Armaan and Ridhima, and now, when that part of things was crystal clear. He nodded anyways looking her in the eye.

"Why?" she demanded, unreasonably from the wrong person. But Gappu read the frustration in her voice. At the moment he was feeling something close to it himself, if not quite all of it, for the same reason.

"Because he loves her mum," he replied back simply, and somehow he surprised himself for defending Armaan, specifically now, when he felt more than just agitated by his disappearence tonight. He, Gappu, had been instrumental in getting the two of them together, perhaps in more ways than anyone else actually had been, not even those two themselves. But he had been overwhelmed by the course of events in the last few hours.

"Sure he does. And this is how he expresses it? Ridzi has been out of her wits and no one has a clue as to where the hell he is."

On another day of their lives, this would have been a discussion Gappu for one would have been kept out of by his mother, on the pretext of his adoloscence. Tonight and now, he was her equal in discussion, neither of them realized how out of the ordinary that was.

Gappu did not reply, instead he sat down on his bed, in thought. How had he never considered asking not one, but neither of them as to what exactly had hapened to separate them years ago. Why had Armaan left her estranged then, when the love was what it seemed? And why had Ridhima taken him back into her life so easily? For the first time, this evening was taking Gappu into several reasons for introspection for his own doing. The Armaan he knew was as ideal as a man could possibly have been born a mortal, and the Ridhma he knew was a paradigm of self respect to the limit where it closely clashed with an ego. But their first unjustified separation and latter smooth patch up after all these years, both stood up as bold contradictions. In his excitement and immaturity he had ovelooked so much there was to be seen. He inhaled deeply.

"Gappu?" he looked up at her voice again, "Will you explain anything to me?" He continued to look at her for another moment then spoke, thoughtfully.

"They are as much in love mum as two people ever can be, they have been for almost six years and everything else seems to fall inconsequentially before that one fact."

"Which would explain perhaps, in your sense of reasoning, how he decided to leave her and marry another?" Gappu shook his head, more to himself. Lovely. He had almost forgotten her through all this. "What if he leaves her again?" He crumpled the edge of his bed sheet in his fist.  "If he hasn't already that is..." she added slumping to the couch in resignation with a loud sigh and she held her head in her hands.

For him it triggered off another thought. Whatever he had left her for then was a question he needed an answer to, for the heck of facts alone. But where had he gone off tonight? And why...this was not an issue faced and past yet. As Anjali's words echoed in his ears he forced himself to consider the worst. Could he have left her again...like before?

"He got the solitaire to propose her for mariage," he said out loud, more to himself but it made Anjali jerk her head up.

"He did? Tonight? But...how do you know that?" she asked him finally, half knowing the answer.

"I knew it mum. I've always known it all." he said, speaking to her, then he resumed after a pause in thought again, "Going to India for the camp, staying with his family, everything was a part of getting them back together. And it worked, he called her, she called him, and then...then it was."

Gappu stopped talking as Anjali stared at his changing expressions. He thought about the last weeks after that night they had talked. Armaan had changed, and that had been great. But Ridhima had changed, and that had been like a fresh breath of life. And the moment they had met at the airport...Gappu could see those seconds before his eyes. And all of the evening that had followed. He thought of Ridhima's height of her happiness for tonight, it almost made him smile wistfully. And then he thought of Armaan taking lessons from Ritu...what had gone wrong and where?

Restlessly he ran a hand through his hair and tried to replay every second of after he had mysteriously gone missing. Chirag had just left, without a word, not even to Gappu. And that had shocked him so much that he had brushed off even Minnie trying to share his concern, and her own. He had just walked up to his room and locked himself in working furiously at the debate in his mind, whether if, he had been a consequential part of making this mess in Ridhima's life. But how had he readily jumped to conclusions and all the negative ones too. As Anjali raised the same questions now, which he had been trying to avoid and face at the same time for the past few hours, he realized he was fighting his heart. It believed in Armaan, and in Ridhima, in them. And Ridhima believed the same, he realized with a start now. Not once had she indicated a lack of belief despite the state of her mind.

And he had conveniently walked out on the situation, trying to work out his way through personal guilt, when he could have been with her, should have in fact, avoiding her, the family, Minnie, and the situation instead. Abruptly he got up.

"I don't know anything mum, except that you are getting all of this wrong. Massi and him are meant to be." With that he walked out of the room before another word from either of them.

******************************
Chirag paced the room and Ritu watched him go left to right and back and forth so on and hence.

"Chirag!" He turned to face her and she knew his mind was not attentive to her. "Stop this." she commanded anyways, and he sat down dutifully frowning to himself. She sighed."CHIRAG!" He looked up at her again and she got up from her seat on the bed to walk up to his couch. Standing over him withher hands on her hips she said, "Explain." He took several seconds to understand her because a major part of his mind was still busy unravelling details.

"Vivek Khanna." he stated in answer at last and Ritu frowned in an unexpected confusion. "Muskaan was in love with him..."

"Muskaan..."

"Muski...Ammy's sister."

"But she is married."

"Yes, to Rahul Grewal."

"Why?" Chirag remained silent. The rapid fire was helping him sort out the ideas.

"Because Ammy disliked him. I remember the very unlike him temper when he told me the picture was of the man his sister had been in love with..." Chirag stopped suddenly and Ritu glanced at him as he got up again and started pacing. "The pictures...oh god...how did I forget?"

"What?"

"Patron...they had been tagged as Patron: Viveek Khanna. He may have been a patient." Before Ritu could react she saw him run out of the room and got up herself without much delay to follow him, as she saw him enter the study. When she reached he already had the CPU running and he drummed his fingers on the desk restlessly.

"Chirag...what are you doing?"

"I'm trying to locate this guy."

"BUT WHY?" Chirag gave her an incredulous look and she looked back at him with equal indignation. Then he realized.

"Oh...I think I did not mention. Ammy ran out after him tonight."

"WHAT?!"

"Stop yelling Ritu," Chirag said in absent minded admonition as the screen beeped and the desltop became active.

"Well then you explain yourself Chirag, and I wont need to," she replied back, miffed at how utterly uninformed she was here, and how insensitive he was to the fact.

"I'm sorry sweetheart," he turned to give her a quick kiss in her hair in understanding, then continued seriously, "Vivek Khanna came there, Ridhima opened the door, I think, and she said she wasn't expecting him when I found her after Ammy left, after Vivek as she informed me. I was shocked at hearing the name as I recalled this reference of him in connection to Ammy's sister, and when I mentioned that to Ridhima she suddenly seemed like she knew something I did not."

"So why didn't you ask her?" Ritu quipped, as she let her mnd process the random and hard to link bits of information. Chirag gave her 'the look', and she added, "Oh..."

"She wasn't going to tell anyone anything then, and she needed time to herself. You may have been her best friend, but I've known her from much before you Ritu, persisting with her then for anything wold have been fruitless." Ritu nodded and he turned back to the screen, "But I need to check out on this guy. If he was a patient, at any clinic for any reason, I'm sure I can access the data base."

"Right...but wont Vivek Khanna be a common name to just search?"

"We have to start somewhere and every Vivek need not be a Khanna, every Vivek Khanna need not be a patient. And we know what he looks like."

Despite the reasons, it was easier said than done, Chirag knew, having to agree with Ritu, as the name brought up a long list of patrons. He frowned.

"Can you access by the year of admission of a patron?" Chirag turned to face her, then broke into a smile of admiration at the obvious point hse was making. "When was this that you learnt about him from Armaan?" she finished stating it in words. Chirag thought for a moment, considering and calculating, then said,

"Sometime in the first year he was here, which would be three years ago at max, more likely two years ago only." and he typed in the figures accordingly for the span of time he wished to search.

"Maybe you shoould also limit the search to the neuro department patrons alone?" Chirag laughed suddenly and Ritu shot him a quizzical look, she had been very serious.

"You think the guy is mentally challenged?" he quipped teasing her and Ritu rolled her eyes.

"No, but I think you are." He gave her a smug grin back, unaffected, and she said flatly, "I'm suggesting that since the patron information was with Armaan. If he's a psychologist, who are his most likely patients?" Chirag opened his mouth to speak then shut it. Then frowned at her, to which she frowned back. "What?" she said with a questioning shrug.

"You actually have a point." he said in surprise and she narrowed her eyes at him.

"Is that your new found innovative way to tell me you think I'm dumb?"

"No. Its my new found fact...I married a genius." She broke out laughing despite herself. He was such a lame jerk, and he could make her laugh at any point. Helplessly she smakced her head shaking it and he gave her a quick peck on her cheek, before turning back to the system as he altered the search parameters further. And then he yelled in delight. She looked at the screen and he told her what was showing.

"15 results found. That's damn neat Ritu, good job. 15 is...just one and five."

"Not six though," she retorted with an equally lame joke at him, then she got up and he watched fetch her own laptop from the other table across from his own. "Why don't you lo in from mine too and we can divide the search?"

"Wow. You're giving me a real complex now." Taking her system he did just as she had suggested and handed it back and they both worked laboriously on their screens until Ritu screamed.

"THAT'S HIM!...patron Vivek Khanna, September '05..." and she paused frowning at the paragraph of text which followed. Chirag hastily took the system out of her hands and read it with the eyes of an expert.

"He was a drug addict."

"What?"

"Yeh, prone to taking high doses of steroids and anti depressants...sleeping pills...wait...how the hell did he test positive for this medication, its only rarely prescribed to patients suffering from..." Chirag stopped again, his eyes widening.

"What?" Ritu asked impatiently.

"Its the disease Lovely was suffering from."

"And you think there is a link?"

"I don't know what to think. But its a strange coincidence."

"Do you suspect..."

*RINGGGG*

They were both startled as the ring buzzed through the otherwise silent house, except themselves. Hastily with a look at her in which their eyes met he ran to his adjoining room to get the cell. Reaching it he grabbed and turned it to answer the call without a look at the number.

"Hello?"

***************************
 She looked up into his eyes at the sight of the cup extended before her own, and he smiled at her, in his way, the way she could not ignore. She looked back at the cup to take it and then frowned.

"Tea?" he grinned at the memory of his very similar reaction to the cup of coffee he had offered Armaan that night weeks ago.

"Yup." he replied and thrust it into her hands.

"But..."

"I'm trying to fix your habits for future convenience. Armaan wont live with coffee, and he wont let go of tea." She couldn't stop herself from smiling tentatively. "And you wont live without him, so why don't you start adujusting with tea?"

She positively smiled at that, a sad smile, but took the cup.
Then remembered how Armaan had offered her a cup of coffee sometime a year ago, the night her car had broken down and she had been freaked out, a single cup, only for her not himself.

"Why didn't you get yourself a cup?" He shrugged sitting down on the rug beside her, their backs resting against the couch.

"I don't need pampering right now." he explained and she glanced at him sideways for his candid answer.

Only he could keep her calm in a situation like this, and Armaan could...when he wasn't the situation himself that is. If only he would come back, she just wanted to see him, before her eyes, feel him, and be assured of his well being. And Vivek, they could take care of him together. She would help him, be with him in every way. If only he was by her side right now, she would be beside him, forever, as the support he was going to need. Muskaan was his sister, and Rahul her husband, and they both meant as much to Ridhima as Gappu ever had.

"Hmmm" she replied taking a sip, then another. "Its good," she complimented him and he knew it was.

"You can tell him that when he decides to come back from his fun excursion," Gappu said with a side smile and Ridhima raised an eye, "Its the Armaan special strong doze recipie. He taught me how." Despite herself she grinned slightly at the thought.

"What?"

"No. I'm thinking of your future as a chef, if he is going to be your teacher."

"Whatever. Girls! Can't you simply appreciate male cooked stuff and rest the case?"

"Alright. Why don't you start telling me why you're here then?"

"How about a walk?"

"Its below 10 outside."

"We have coats in the house." Ridhima started to protest, but Gappu got up and tugged at her hand. She sighed taking a deep swig from her cup and placed it on he side stool. Getting up she followed him to the enterance closet as he tried to get the bulky jacket on, with one arm and groaned slightly at the plaster. She helped him with it glaring at him, and then he walked to the door as she picked a coat for herself.

"Goodness!" he heard her gasp, and turned around half way as he unbolted the door.

"What?"

"Armaan. He doesn't have anything warm and hes out there chasing...oh god...he must be...oh no..." she ran a hand through her hair in intense worry biting her lower lip. "He must be freezing cold."

"He is..." Gappu stated, and she looked up a moment later, puzzled by his words to see him looking out of the door. She stepped ahead towards him and her eyes widened at the sight.

"ARMAAN!" she screamed through the still house and jumped pulling him into a hug almost knocking him over.

"Armaan..." Gappu repeated voicelessly to himself, in partial belief only.

******************************
Rahul sat by her bedside holding her hand, wide awake but wishing he wasn't. Staring at her sleeping peacefully, under the influence of the injected chemicals, he continued to ask himself how he was ever going to inform her, how she was going to handle herself with it. And he shut his eyes to quieten the mount of thoughts in his mind.

"Why her..." he whispered to himself.

Daadu had called and he had told him he would come back and talk but all was fine. This wasn't what he could be informed about over a call, and...just for his own solace, Rahul wanted to break the news to him while being there in person to ensure he did not take it as hard as it was likely to be taken.

But Armaan had to be called, and Rahul was running out of reasons to delay making the call anymore. Except the obvious one, the question that was eating him up inside, nagging him to no end. Why had Armaan not called back himself, after a call which had cost them a...a life, Rahul thought, sucking hard at the emotion which threatened an outbrust in every little while.

Defeated, and tired, he dialled the number from the sim phone book. And frowned. He tried it once more, just to be certain, and heard the recorded voicemail again. He frowned deeper at the possibilities, then mechanically he searched his phone book and only when he saw her name he realized he was searching for it. And he dialled Ridhima's number. It went to the voicemail too, after a single ring, and he tld himself he dialled something incorrectly, and dialled a fourth time, second for her, as he had for Armaan. And it did go to the voicemail, right away this time, without a ring. He snapped shut his phone and sat thinking. A range of technical possibilities occurred to him and he weighed them all reasonably. He would have completely put it off at any one of them in fact, but it had been Armaan's call that triggered it all.

And that troubled him enough to not believe anything conveniently obvious. First his call, cut abruptly, then him not having called back, and now the voicemail. And Ridhima's cell as well. Why were they both suddenly so hard to reach? When he need them to answer some vital questions. When he needed them period.

With only half his concentration he browsed through his phone book again, aimlessly but stopped at point and scrolled back up at a name that had just passed his eyes. Chirag. Rahul inhaled deeply for a new chance and dialled the third number. Someone whould have to answer him or he was going to go crazy. He heard a tentative greeting from the other end and spoke with a deep breath.

"Chirag?...This is Rahul...Rahul Grewal. I'm..."

"Muskaan's husband..." Chirag completed for him, "I know. Hi. First time we talk and I haven't known anyone to time their call better."

*****************************
It was an embrace of frantic emotions running wild trying hard to come at bay, possessive, urgent, fighting to relax in a flodding relief. But for once Armaan noticed, if he did, only subtly the nuances of her gesture, it was the encompassing warmth and the promise of strength in that hold against which he let his body slump weak. He wished in a feeble desperation that the comfort of her presence would drive away his unresting gloom, dropping his head over her shoulder, he brought his arms to circle her only gradually, burrowing himself deep and then, after seconds passed, he pulled onto her himself, closer, tighter, in his need.

She didn't say a word, she couldn't, her rush of emotions rendered her speechless and she knew when he held her back that she just wanted to be there in his arms forever, she knew without thinking, she had never felt weaker in a moment before. She had fought to shun away her fear for him in the past hours, forcing herself to believe nothing could happen, but her despair had remained impossible to alleviate. And now, held in his arms she felt drained with relief to the extent that she did not trust herself to part from the hug and stand on her own two feet. Anything that would not make her let go of him and if she died in this moment she would hold no regrets.

But part they did, and it was Ridhima who pulled away, abruptly, in shock, as she felt a warm dampness in the curve of her neck and realized. She pulled away and stared at his casually slumped frame, his head lowered and she moved forward close to him again.

"Armaan..." she whispered cupping his face in both her hands, gently, protectively, and in fearful concern. He was crying, and she didn't know how to describe the feeling inside herself. Tentatively she licked her drying lower lip, then pressed her thumb to the edges of his eyes and wiped away the tears, with firm finality. She didn't know what it was doing to her, to see him, the man she knew was sturdy as mountain and relentlessly, look so vulnerable. She wished he would assure her he was fine, if not she wished she could assure him he was fine and would be because she would not let him be anything otherwise, but before he could look back into her eyes, before she could speak a real word of comfort, they heard a third voice.

"You're back Dr. Malik..." and she snapped around at the infuriated tone to see Anjali. Armaan raised his eyes for a bare second before lowering them again, swallowing hard.

"Mom..." Gappu whispered tentatively, and in slight discomfort moving towards her before she spoke another word.

"
Do you know what hour it is?" she added making no secret of her temper and Gappu clenched his teeth almost embarassed. What was she doing?

"I'm..." Armaan started but Ridhima cut him off.

"Di...?" she exclaimed, in an astonished tone of disapproval. Then she stood up straight turning around and blocking Armaan. "Why are you...Jeej!" she said instead, noticing Atul walk down from the stairs into the room towards them. And everyone turned to look at him momentarily. Everyone except Armaan, who stood his spot, his head lowered, shutting his eyes briefly to brace himself for an obvious confrontation.

"Step aside you guys, are you going to let him in at all?"

He commanded in a calm tone, the only one of its kind in the room, and everyone obliged. Armaan stepped inside uncertain but too spent to work out things.

"Atul we have to talk..."

"Gappu go and help your mum make some tea for Armaan." Atul spoke again, cutting off a much flustered Anjali. But his tone was a message and she cast a last look at Armaan, at Ridhima, at Atul and took a deep breath with a rigid nod.

"Get him some warm clothes..." she muttered before leaving for the kitchen, and Armaan, for the first time in minutes, jerked his head up at the passing comment, before lowering it back again almost as fast. He swallowed at choking in his throat. The late hour, less clothes...strangely he found himself wishing she had scolded him some more, it had been ages since someone had. Ridhima looked at him from the side of her eye in concern.

"I'll go pull out something warm for you," Gappu said tentatively, "Are you...going to come up?" he finished, looking at Armaan all the while. When he finally met his eye Gappu gave him a small smile in assurance. Armaan kept his solemn look not knowing what to dare and expect.

"Yes he will." Atul answered for him and Gappu left. Turning back to them Atul continued. "Call your family. They were extremely worried." His mind which had been silenced with anticipation went back to its previous concern at the mention of his home.

"Muskaan..." he whispered inaudibly looking no where and Ridhima looked at him strangely. He focused back at them when she touched his arm lightly, a contrasting touch of warmth over his freezing skin, and nodded at Atul.

"And then I want to see you in my study, in 20 minutes," Ridhima opened her mouth to speak but Atul finished, "Alone."

Armaan looked up, facing his eye consciously for the first time in the past several minutes, and nodded, after the barest delay.

"Yes sir."

"Atul." he corrected in the voice of an elder,
"Now get your tea, and some clothes Armaan. I'm surprised you're still alive and functioning."

Armaan looked up, not knowing how to respond. Atul gave him a smile, and a light pat on his shoulder before going up the stairs. Armaan watched him till he disappeared behind the door of his room, and then he felt a tug on his arm.

"Let's go," Ridhima said, taking a step ahead without looking at him.

"Ridhima...?" She closed her eyes lightly at hearing her name from him, it was a strange comfort, a unique evidence that he was here with her, back home now, and there was no more reason to worry. She turned tentatively to look at him.

"You're mad at me..." he asked her stating it like a fact. She shook her head starting slowly, then in two quick strokes.

"You're not?" She shook her head again. Armaan sighed restlessly. "Ridhima look at me." She started to shake her head again then stopped in understanding and looked up. Into his eyes, and they looked tired. "I'm sorry I didn't..."

"No. I said I'm not mad."

"You didn't say."

"I'm not mad Armaan." she stated, "I'm just..." and licked her lower lip looking away, then facing him again she raised her hand to his face caressing his cheek, in a fragile touch, "I'm just relieved," she said with a sigh. "I was so worried and I kept telling myself nothing would go happen to you but..." she paused closing her eyes lightly at the thought of her tormented revelations.

"Ridhima..." he said holding her hand in his own, "Vivek...hes the guy...he..."

"I know," she said quietly.

"Hes the one who..." he continued as if uninterrupted then stopped. "You know? How?"

"I figured when Chirag..."

"RIDHIMA!" they turned around startled at the loud interruption. "You still haven't got him warm clothes? Hes blue from the chill for heaven's sake do you see him?" Anjali ranted frowning hard at the two of them as Armaan took a conscious step away from Ridhima, still unknowingly holding her hand. Before any of them could say another word however, the shrill ringtone of her cell phone rang through the room. Hastily she grabbed it from the couch and looked at the screen.

"Its Chirag... she announced in a low voice clicking it to answer the call.

****************************


ps: happy birthday jia!..

oki...darned delayed...with my system crashing, and then the whole of me crashing on the barely recovered elbow..a fracture for real this time...but no, thats hardly the excuse for delay since the part was long done...

hope you all enjoy it, i'm having a complicated time trying to end the fic and still be fair to everything in it the details, the lose threads,and every character...so its taking more or the slower thinking action in the part much as id like to dance past it in a flurry....

not as much ARMIDZ either as you mayhave expected...but i barely just got there before i ended...

and thats enough from me...just enjoy the read, i wont talk of when next, cause i think my promises are well jinxed lolzz!...

oh and...a toast to the new family of stone age!..cheers fellas...
315 hinu!..finally got your fav couple some where :)
and stop freaking curvz...i got enough of JJJ in there!

cheers all,

nj



~ Part 23-N ~

"Chirag! Glad you called, Armaan just got back home..."

"He did? Ridhima pretend its Ritu you're on the call with not me, if he's there with you."

Chirag instructed her in a voice which appealed to her neither in its tone, nor in the message she was meant to read. What troubled her much more however, was his reaction to Armaan's return, a lack of reaction was more like it. He had definitely sidetracked the news which in her opinion could be second in priority to none other. Instead of asking her to pass on the cell he was asking her to make a secret of his call...it was very strange, in an unsettling way.

"Oh...Ritu..."

Ridhima spoke hastily, putting her confused ideas on a pause, as she noticed Armaan stepping towards her and extending his hand for the phone; at her words he cocked an eye, soundlessly his lips moved in question and somehow she managed a small smile in confirmation.

"I just saw the number and assumed it was Chirag. "

She lied into the phone, 
offering an indirect explaination to Armaan who withdrew his hand from midair, looking away thought ridden, with an absent minded nod of comprehension. She almost sighed in relief at not being caught, then jolted at the idea of a guilt, why as she having to put up this pretense?

"Ch..." she sputtered impulsively but cleared her throat to cover up as
Armaan stared right back into her eyes. "Chirag."

She completed the name as the fumble with the first syllable had not gone unnoticed. Armaan was visibly perplexed and a heavy sense of doubt reigned her own mind, but for a reason she could not explain she held his eye, bracing herself to not give way to suspicion...
instead she obliged playing her part in she knew not what act,

"Erm...tell him also...that Armaan is back. He was...worried." she finished, mentally kicking herself, then cursing Chirag inwardly.

Without much hope she looked at Armaan, and knew he wasn't satisfied from the frown creasing his forehead, instead of letting her incoherent talk pass unquestioned, his stare was now intent, and probing. Flashing him the best look alike of a smile, she continued,

"Yes, Ritu, he is fine," without prompting from the other side of the call, trying to avert Armaan's keen eye without appearing to do so. From either his lack of conviction, or her own obvious yet unexplainable guilt, she lowered her eyes away from his face.
Unintentionally they came to rest upon him anyways, and she saw his insufficient layer of clothing. "Just cold. Very...cold."

The last of her words were in a self addressed whisper, feigned for no one's advantage but at her own sudden realization as if all over again. The open neck kurta revealed his bare chest, which instead of boasting of its usual Asian tan seemed pale, lacking color at that moment, undoubtedly from the chill he had been subjected to. Instinctively, she raised her eyes to his face again and this time, they met his, which were insistently fixed upon her in what now looked like a concern in near replication of her own. Her lips parted slightly for words she wanted to say, but an unceremonious shiver escaped her instead, as if symbolic of his suffering.

"Ridhima..."

She was close to startled at the unanimous call of her name, from Chirag on the phone, and
Armaan in person before her. Without seeking her permission or even meeting her approval, a sharp, slightest of gasp betrayed her before she knew, then her free hand flew over her mouth in a corrective reflex the very next second, as she covered it with a light cough this time. Armaan frowned uncertainly, at a lack of his understanding of her unlinked chain of reactions, particularly the discomfort which was prevalent through it all.

"Are you...alright?" he said, not knowing what exactly it was that he had to ask her, or expect her to tell. Something was amiss, something he ought to know. And at the dawn of this understanding he felt the previous familiar sense of premonition haunt him again. Making up his mind abruptly he took a step towards her but felt a tug over his cotton clad wrist.

"You are the one who's not alright," Anjali spoke up firmly, at last, as if to remind them both of her presence in the room and Ridhima was suddenly grateful for the fact.
Chirag changed his mind about what he was going to say hearing her in the background. "You're going to get into some warm clothes first...before anything else."

Armaan heard the command with only a necessary attention and turned back to Ridhima, in expectence of a reaction. But as she nodded her head at him to second Anjali, he thought there was a persuasion in her gesture, almost unnaturally forceful. And to further his dilemma, she displayed no intention to make a move and join him. He opened his mouth to speak but she did, before him.

"Go up and get changed. I'll..." she indicated the call with a slant of her eyes, "Be with you in a bit."

Armaan was positively amazed. Baffled was closer still, as a description of his reaction. It wasn't just the fact that she had suddenly decided to not fuss over him as would have been normal, she was almost seeming indifferent to the whole issue at hand, he needed to talk to her...to Chirag...to Muskaan. And there was her jeej who had summoned him, it wasn't hard to guess where at least part of the conversation could go, did she not understand the gravity of the situation? At the moment, he felt like she was brushing him off handedly, just over a phone call from Ritu? For one the very idea seemed absurd, for another...he was inclined to believe it was him, missing out on an obvious.

Puzzled, he turned to Anjali, seeking some explanation, it didn't quite help as she remained oblivious, moving towards the steps and indicating him to follow suit. With the only exception remotely possible being that of him simply over stressing, he reasoned considering the improbable, it had to be Anjali's ignorance, pretended or real, for her to not see what he thought was definitely out of the ordinary. He turned for a last look at Ridhima and she gave a third of her 'unnatural' smiles', causing him to purse his lips tight and snap right back following Anjali out of the room, shaking his head to himself. There was nothing he was imagining here at all, which implied there was definitely something he didn't know, and he wondered why not. In absolute earnest, he hoped his brain was frozen from the temperature outside and malfunctioning and everything which was making him uneasy was just a figment of his over assuming imagination.

"Tell me now," her words came in an impatient urgency, but she managed to constrain her volume to a whisper.

"There is something I want to talk about...and then another something as well," Ridhima judged his voice, weary with caution, she bit her lower lip responding with silence. "No cheerful talks." The gravity of his tone in spelling the 'happiness' of the adjective did nothing to ease her anticipation.

"I guessed that much. Are you going to wait till I have an anxiety attack Chirag?" He inhaled sharply, and wished he could assure himself that it wasn't going to happen after he told her everything.

"Vivek Khanna," he stated the easier of topics. "His record is tainted as it can get. He's not even an American citizen..."

"I know that Chirag. He's an Indian. And his real name is Grewal. He also happens to be..."

"Rahul's brother. I'm talking about Vivek 'Khanna' here Ridzi. Hear me out." she opened her mouth, to question his knowledge, to correct his facts...but then she stopped. And he spoke on, half wishing he had not stopped her, but then, buying time wasn't going to change what she had to know.

"Grewal has been a 'Khanna' for a sufficient time to gain a Mexican citizenship in that name, with I would guess some unethical backup and bribed officials. He must have been in Chicago for one of his assignments, legal or illegal, he alone knows. Previously, he has records of having been admited to the drug addiction rehab which our hospital runs, his reports show he had been accustomed to heavy doses of steroids for several years. I also have information from the whole deal of routine check up he must have undergone while he was there; he had tested positive for some high potency anti depression drugs, the kind I administered to Lovely. While the steroids, Rahul is almost certain were a result of his college years when he played for his university, the depression meds...Lovely grew up in the same house as them. He may have taken to whatever she was taking sometime...? They can get fairly addictive with regular consumption of heavy dosage.
Without prescription however, I suspect strongly, they could only have been stolen, or smuggled."

"Then?" To not interrupt his flow, Ridhima bit back on the obvious question at the tip of her tongue- there was a significant part of what he was telling her that he couldn't know...and yet he obviously did?

"Apparently he had disappeared from the rehab. The last status on his reports indicates 'missing', the family contacts he had then registered are all fake, essentially he never left trace backs."

"So...how did you..."

"I know this guy from the state police. I was certain he would help, turns out his efficiency far over rode my expectations. The details about Vivek's Mexican cover and his illegitimate list of trades, he got them out in less than two hours." Chirag paused, and for a moment they were both silent. Ridhima spoke at last.

"So what's the plan?"

"If I was him..."

"You're not..." she cut him off with such an edge to her tone that he wondered whether to be offended by her blunt stand or warmed by her fierce defense. Momentarily to regain his focus he shut his eyes, then resumed, matter of factly again.

"He's now Mexican Ridhima. If he gets past the international border, there isn't much anyone of us on his trail can do, legally at least."

"So you think he might try to escape the country soon?"

"If he hasn't already, since its evident Ammy did not get hold of him, it does seem like his best bet."

"I'm guessing you've checked out the flight details?"

"I have. The last flight to Mexico left an hour ago. Its not utterly impossible for him to have escaped on that, but the chances are still fairly dim. I mean...its an international flight even if it happens to be intra continental. If he bothers with even half the procedures he couldn't have made it. But of course, legalities aren't a trifle of his concerns...so..."

"Can't we check with the airlines?"

"There are privacy laws for us Ridhima. Anyways, that guy I know is investigating things. He's also holding a tab for me on all other flights that leave for Mexico in the next 24 hours."

"What if Vivek drives out of the country?"

"From Chicago? I'm inclined to believe that's an unreasonable attempt, even for him."

"He could fly west or south and then drive?"

"That would risk too much time..."

"Not a high cost to gain the safety of longer anonymity." Ridhima pointed out interrupting him.

"He won't be suspecting us to have back traced so much about him already. If you were receiving him at your house, obviously Ammy, in his knowledge, is the only one who knew his past." Ridhima nodded in slow comprehension, then started again,

"
But he could..." Chirag clicked his tongue interrupting, less in denial to her, more however as his personal acceptance of obvious loopholes.

"Let's believe for the while that he didn't exactly have the planning time to consider the optimization of his chances. The options here are too many Ridhima. Unfortunately, not everything can be tabbed. I mean, he didn't allegedly conspire or commit a 9/11 repeat in Chicago. Can't have new check posts on international borders for an accused civilian, the case is not even officially filed. The cop is just doing me a favor."

"He must owe you bigtime." Ridhima replied in admittance. There was a limit to what they could will and warrant in this chase.

"Medics are still a noble lot." He joked, in vain, Ridhima did not respond. "He thinks I cured his 5 year old. I think the drugs worked well...but I guess that's something." Chirag claimed his credit in a grim tone. Ridhima pondered over the facts in her mind, silently.

"How did you get down to all this investigation?"

"Rahul called." Ridhima nodded in understanding, then jerked up in realization.

"He called you? Why?"

"Well for one because he couldn't reach Armaan...or you."

"I couldn't reach Armaan either...but me?"

"I got your voice mail twice myself before you finally answered the phone Ridz." She noticed the softening of his tone, and chose to ignore what the change could imply.

"Oh I was trying to call Armaan. But why didn't you call on the other numbers? Or why didn't you leave me a voicemail? Why didn't Rahul leave me a voicemail in the first place..."

"RIDHIMA!" he silenced her ranting, she was deviating unnecessarily from the topic he wished to get off his chest, he wished as much also he was not the one to have to tell about this. Somewhere in her gradually rising pitch against his own abruptly low voice he sensed she was intending to avoid the knowledge of another bad news, unknowingly. He sighed.

"Chirag...is everything...is something..." she paused. Had he said before that there were two things he wanted to discuss, neither cheerful? She ran a hand, clampy with sudden sweat, through her hair roughly.

"I don't know how to say this, but I'd rather be the one telling you, than be the one telling Ammy." He paused and she held onto her breath, "Its Muskaan. She had a miscarriage."

He heard a sharp gasp from her end and looked up into Ritu's eyes, who had been sitting across from him through the convrsation, unnaturally quiet, barely seated on the edge of her chair. He shook his head at her, unhappily, and waited for Ridhima to absorb the shock before she asked him to spell the details. They were going to be no pacifiers.

************************
Armaan walked out of the room in a hoodie over tracks, with a boldly blazened 'Freshmen Soccer' in a fiery red on the front and a 'UIC' on the back, stark against an absorbing indigo base. With his physique he would have passed for a varsity player anytime, but the expression on his face seemed to have matured several years more. With a quick look over his shoulder he confirmed both mother and son deep in a discussion, and sneaked out of the door.

Carefully, he bent over the railing along the corridor between the rooms on the generously spaced floor, his eye keen on the level below. He was puzzled to find the place dark, reflexively his eyes turned to seek her room. The door was shut but he could see no peeking streams of light from the crevice at the base. It was just as dark. And then he heard her voice, making him reel back around to stare into the darkness below.

He heard unmistakable whispering, and it was followed by the shuffling of feet...as he strained to hear what visibility permitted him to observe not, he was almost certain Ridhima was pacing the floor. And he frowned.

Why was he not privy to whatever she was engaged with? It was a disconcerting thought, that she would keep anything from him, he was easily willing to believe she would not, and that was just as disturbing. If something could cause an exception to the transparency they shared, it sounded an alarm in his mind.

"Armaan!"

He turned around at Anjali's voice. Subsequently he also heard a still silence replace the hushed whispering on the floor below. In his mind, an agitation uncharacteristic of him arose, he knew not if it was from Ridhima's appearing secrecy, or Anjali's sudden giving away his presence...or both. But he was agitated, and restless, while there was no way to understand the happenings outside, the thoughts within him lacked as much of alacrity.

"Come downstairs. I'll lay dinner for all three of you."

It was the same tug at his heart as before, which replaced his inhibitions, temporarily. It had been another part of his being, which was as fresh a memory as it was forgotten, when there had been someone who as stubbornly exerted the right for this position in his life. No one questioned or commanded him anymore. How he took care of himself, or handled his affairs was in the end his business and everyone around him knew better than to distinguish the right against wrong for him. Basically, he had renounced without spelling so, the rights of anyone to care for him like it was his need. He hadn't planned it that way, it had just happened when he had taken control of things in his family. They had craved a wall of support after Baba so badly, that he was welcomed for the respite he offered as a savior, and saviors weren't meant to be seekers. She walked up ahead of him, walking past him with an air that would have reestablished that she wanted no arguments and Armaan almost took a step to follow her before stepping back with a thought.

"Di..." he said spontaneously, then realized it was the first time he had called her that. She turned around herself, and he brought himself to face her despite the apprehension, when she didn't look like she would ground him for anything yet, he continued, "I have to go to the study first...erm..."

"Before eating?"

He indulged into a second long debate with his brain. Had she sounded like she was asking him for his opinion, or was that sarcastic at him having conutered her word? When his silent musing extended into the next five seconds, she spoke up again.

"I thought you must be famished by now. If you prefer to go talk with Atul first..." she left it at that with a shrug to let him decide. And no, he told himself, she wasn't being sarcastic. At all. She was genuine about suggesting his hunger, as much as about letting him decide. So was he becoming the grown up in charge again?

"I think I'll go talk so he can get some sleep before his early morning shift." Armaan said finally.

"How do you know the time for his shift?"

Gappu coughed from behind, with a violence that startled them both and as Anjali turned to thump his back a couple of times he glared at Armaan who looked away kicking himself mentally for the unintentional slip.

"I should go," he mumbled making his escape before something else came up.

Standing outside the door he took a deep breath before raising his hand to knock; unexpectedly however the door opened before he could.

"I..."

"You..."

They spoke both at once. Atul smiled shaking his head slightly then moved aside making way for him to walk in. Armaan smiled back in hesitance himself, but his eyes, by default, scanned the room as one should at the first of a sight. It was a regular study, plenty of wood, plenty of books...the walls were splashed in a usual broken white, but there were three frames on three different walls, each distinct in the form of art, and each confirming good tatse, classic not grand. Against the fourth wall, which was part glass in a window, stood a huge multi shelved metal stand, adorned with potted plants, ferns and greens mostly, except one distinctly crimson-maroon rose bush.

His eyes wandered back to Atul, and he realized with a start his gaze observant, upon himself, waiting patiently.

"Nice...study..." he offered looking away partly awkward at being caught almost snooping.

"Thanks Doc!" Armaan looked up at that new address and Atul continued bearing the solemn expression back, "Are you nervous?" He considered the question before answering a second later.

"Ironically, I can't justify my reason for it."

"Good. Start talking then."

"About..." what...? He stopped himself in time before speaking the last word, it wasn't even a question. Atul looked back at him, without a word, meaningfully nonetheless.

"I love Ridhima." Armaan stated finally, without faltering, without looking away, and then he held onto his breath, unblinking, waiting for a response. Atul smiled with raised eyes.

"I think we both know that part well." he said and Armaan was surprised, at being surprised by the knowledge. Of course he knew. But it couldn't have gone without stating, could it have now? "I seem to have known it for a while long enough to confirm the signs." Atul continued and Armaan tried to not meet his eye as inconspicuously as he could manage, guilty of his 'late night slash early morning' sneaking two nights ago. He kept that particular detail to himself for now, giving his luck a chance, in case Atul was talking of other 'signs'.

"Perhaps still not for as long as you may have known it however." He went on, "When exactly Armaan, did Ridhima earn your affections?"

"Cambridge," Armaan replied quietly, "Her first year of grad school, final for me." Atul remained quiet, and this time Armaan was aware of his eyes upon himself. After a long moment, he had no option but to look up and face him.

"Tell me the part I don't know Armaan, and ought to. All of it."

Armaan lowered his eyes for a moment in thought. One last time, he told himself, because reason be honored, Atul deserved to know. And never again after this would he repeat the story of his life. To anyone. With that promise to self, he looked up and nodded.

***************************
Her eyes opened with a start. Wide, stark open, and her heart beat like a motor suddenly triggered to life; perhaps it was what woke her up. With the dark all around her, mostly, her eyes tried to adjust laboriously to the dim glow as that from a distant street light in a dark alley, the source wasn't within her direct vision. She lay in the same position, motionless, unconsciously holding onto her breath as her pulse thundered in her ears and her eyes roved around the room. After several seconds of inspection she was certain she didn't recognize it, and frowned. It was exacting on her tired brain, to remember when she had dozed off into a slumber. Her eyes still felt heavy, it was like she had been sleeping all her life...almost as if she had been drugged into it. Most of the moment felt like a hallucination anyways.

Frowning harder, she looked around the room again, first scanning the sections visible to her obviously, then, for the first time in over a minute she tried to move in her position so she could explore further. And an acute pain shot through her, it took her so completely, her face contorted into a silent cry and a hot tear rolled down her cheek from her eyes shut tight in effort. She clutched hard onto the sheets about her, as the pain went from being a piercing fang to a spreading effect, by the end of the next few seconds she couldn't be sure of where exactly from it had arisen, she only worked on her breathing. It was as if she had stretched a part she wasn't meant to, with an engulfing weakness, just as unexplained, she raised a shaky hand slowly to her face and wiped the back of it feebly over the beads of perspiration which she could feel starting to form there.

And then the hand fell limply by her side, the drowsiness was still dominating her activity and involuntarily she yawned.

"AAHH!"

Her reaction to a second pang of pain wasn't silent. It wasn't as bad as the last time, or perhaps it was a second, this time she was certain she had indeed stretched a muscle into pain. Trying to inhale deeply she swallowed instead a choking gasp and felt another tear trickle down in response to the pain. And then she felt a warm touch, a thumb which wiped it away, forcing her eyes to open.

********************************
He stood leaning against the frame of the window carved in the wall behind her bed in the private ward she had been shifted to for a few hours. Through the light cotton fabric of the otherwise drawn curtains, the bright sun from outside filtered as a dim orange glow into the room. He watched with passive attention, through the peaking gap at the very edge between the window and the curtain, the city abuzz in its routine, so to say, only a couple of storeys below the spot he stood. His mind remained however far distant, inaccessible to another normal Calcutta day.

The din of a weekday did not penetrate through to reach his ears from the crowded streets below, neither did he feel the hot and humid tropical coastal weather of his hometown. On another day respite from either, especially both, would have been a welcome condition. But today, in this moment when so much in the world and life he called his own had ceased to be normal, this lack of connectivity was like another loss. The nuisance of streets overflowing with bodies scurrying away to daily chores, noisy, a day unexceptionally torrid and Indian felt like a luxury against the darkened cool and conditioned calm of the nursing home, the air was an everlasting fresh smell of disinfectants, the pastels splashed over the interiors were soothing like a morbid lull.

He had ended his call with Chirag a while ago, which had gone on to reveal the reason for Muskaan's condition- Vivek...again. As the two of them exchanged the pieces of information each one knew, they had fit into what the situation had become, revealing also where it all started. Rahul had, by the time the call was past its analyzing exchange, almost been thankful it was Chirag he was talking to, not Ammy or Ridz. A third person, yet one with a concern as earnest as the other two, he had in an unspoken way partially shared Rahul's burden becoming his vent. He had listened for the most, spoken when appropriate and words which he did utter had been wisdom without preaching, assurance without sympathy. Most of all, he had volunteered to talk to Ammy and Ridz himself, and that Rahul knew was a big part of the task he was only to grateful to part with.

Currently, he awaited Muskaan's recovery to consciousness, and the consequent second part of confrontation which would inevitably follow and he alone would have to handle. The doctor would come for her next round in 2 hours. After giving a considerable amount of thought to the issue he had decided to go with the flow of as things would come his way, since there wasn't a particular plan of action his mind approved of without raising objections to. The turmoil remained however, undeterred, like a tenant who refused to vacate. Unwillingly, despite his efforts to occupy himself with other thoughts, his mind kept going back to how he would face her with facts, and handle her through it when his own emotional stability was crumbling before circumstances. He tried to forget the reason for the settling sense of melancholy within himself, and struggled to fight simultaneously his apprehension of how she would come to terms with the truth.

"AAHH!"

He snapped out of his musing at the sudden cry defying the silence that had defined the room until then. Muskaan. His head spoke her name, and his heart echoed it soundlessly, as the moment had finally come. With a last quickest deep breath he was by her bedside in two long strides, and the sound of her anguish crippled his already weak resolve to hold himself together. The dark his eyes had accustomed to in the hours worth of minutes slowly ticking away concealed from him, neither the pained expression on her face, not the lone tear that trailed down her cheek taking its own sweet time. Clenching his fist in the last of his grim efforts he forced himself to move, and be with her. And he wiped away her tear, his uncertain hand becoming steady against the touch of her skin.

"Rahul..." the name came from her lips as the first effortless reaction in the minutes she had been awake, the pain faded out of her thoughts into an unknown oblivion of relief. He lowered his head on the pretext of finding her hand and gripped it, in a possessive grip she thought, much more for his own courage he knew, before looking back into her eyes.

"How do you feel Muskaan?"

He asked, the simplest question ever, but it moved something inside her. It was like a timeless emotion unleashed by his voice, in words he had not spoken, she knew it was unlike ever before, the shadow of vulnerability she saw in his eyes beyond everything else about him which held both of them steady.

"What happened Rahul?"

She spoke quietly as if his question had never been spoken, or had gone unheard. It was ironical, she thought, that while he was the one offering physical comfort to her fragility, he also seemed to be the one in need. Her tensed nerves unexpectedly calmed at the thought; when a panic should have surfaced she felt a grim sense of control. Instinct told her something was terribly wrong, she felt the negativity of the vibe reverberating in the air she was breathing and in all unfamiliar signs about her, but for the first time in many years the weakness was limited to her limbs alone. Inside her mind she felt a strong forming resolve, as nameless as the problem itself.

"I...you...when did you wake up sweetheart?"

His grip on her hand was unrelenting, and hot. She noticed a battle reflect in his eyes, the only part of his face which shone in the dim haze of light around them. He lowered himself and touched his lips to her forehead, in a lingering, searing, kiss.

"Are you in pain?"

He whispered against her skin and she knew he was. She just knew it. The emotions which should have stirred into anxiety at his untold misery became decisively steady instead. His head lowered and his face fell to fit into the curve of her neck wordless and still except the heavy breathing which warmed her skin. She licked her lower dry lip, and raised her hand, weak still but determined, to run over his hair, and he burrowed deeper scrunching his eyes to hold back his tears, raising his hand to grip the other side of her neck, gently, still silent. She turned her head unnoticiably and kissed his hair. Her head felt heavy, and her thoughts seemed hard to trace, but behind her lightly closed eyes her mind inevitably put itself to work the puzzles.

"Where are we?"

She asked him at last, whispering such that she was audible only between the two of them. And she felt his hold around her neck tighten, before it eased the next second as he released his hold to move back up; she opened her eyes unwillingly.

"At the hospital." he informed her then raised his eyes to meet hers, questioning him to explain. "You fainted," he started again, and stopped at that for the moment. Muskaan frowned to herself looking away, the slow processing in her mind found some information to work upon.

"Vivek!"

She exclaimed suddenly, shocking herself as much as him at the conclusion of her revelations; and then the last minutes before she had fainted into a darkness came back to her.

"Dada...he said Vivek..."

She stopped as he cupped her mouth in a light but firm hold, and shook his head in two slow meaningful strokes. He wanted to scream out to the world and her with an authority which ought to not be refuted, that he didn't want so much as a hint of that mention in his life again...ever. Instead he swallowed hard as her eyes widened, staring at him, wishing to ask and tell. The seconds passed and he felt her slightly parted lips under his hand meet to a pursed closure, her eyes lowered, her body laxed into a sl*g and he felt the warmth of her breath as she exhaled conceeding to his unworded demand.

Just as her unquestioned acceptance started to bring about a guilt of having been unfair to her, she looked back at him and his eyes were misty. It should have alarmed her, but she smiled. Something was wrong indeed, and this something that had bared the raw side of the man she knew him to be, brought a change in her, the kind she had forgotten she was capable of. She felt a strong protection towards him, her own weakness seemed well forgotten as her mind willed her to be his shield. Somewhere an inner strength which he had been trying to revive within her over the years had suddenly matured in the call of this hour, unfathomable though the situation had remained for her till now. As the control rose within her, the impending increasingly cased to defeat her into a fear.

Rahul narrowed his eyes slowly registering her smile. She radiated a strange sense of comfort to him in that one gesture, the one which made him want to let go of his guard and seek the support her smile faintly promised. His bit his tongue to hold back on himself and set his face to straight. Lowering his eyes once more, he raised her hand held in his own in a caution almost gruff and pressed his lips against it, shutting his eyes tight. Unintentionally in this act of recovering his strength he was resorting to taking her help, and Muskaan felt a deep satisfaction in being the one for him.

"I love you Rahul..."

She said, and when he looked at her she continued to smile. For real. Not a cheerful smile, but it was intended to put him at ease. It was incredible, what years of her own need had not eventuated, a hint of his dire spot had. The emotional insecurity she had wanted to grow out of in all these years and had been unable to despite all the support, abandoned her finally. He stared at her unbelieving, then tentatively raised his hand to her face and brushed away the strands of hair which were coming lose from the braid they had been tied into for the OT earlier. His first caress was a mere flick but it softened the expression of the face into an emotion so deep, that he found himself caressing his thumb against her temples in a massage lovingly. In more ways however, it was undoing the stiffness of his own nerves. She looked like a little girl at peace with her life. Rahul cringed at the thought of little children and Muskaan felt his caress become absent minded as he looked away.

"You didn't say you love me back?" he heard her ask while his mind was preoccupied for obvious reasons.

"What are you happy about Muskaan?" he asked her instead, off handly.

"I'm happy to have you with me," she said simply.

It took him several seconds before he looked back at her straight into her eyes which were earnest unbearably. She was making it hard for him to retain any strength he still possessed, as each one of her gestures willed him to let her take control. How could he do that, he thought bitterly, she was calm because she was unaware. When she would learn of facts...a small voice inside him refuted her absolute unawareness. She did know something was wrong. And Vivek was not lost information for her. She had merely put it aside. Upon his silent plea. It was so unlike what she had been for years now, this patient side of her, emotionally guarded.

Rahul bent lower closer to her face and she held his eyes following them, unblinking.

"You won't change your mind about that no matter what?"

She saw his anxiety for her answer in his eyes as they stared back into her own. She smiled in understanding, then shook her head with deliberation. Rahul bent over completely and kissed her forehead, softly. Rubbing his knuckles lightly against her cheek, he took in a deep breath and held onto it,

"You had an operation." Muskaan's frowned for a second before a smirk escaped her.

"You didn't think I was going to die, did you?" Her tone was light. His touch against her flinched and he shot her a harsh look of warning. And she wondered then, grave about the remark she had passed in a jest, if that was the issue. She didn't dare spell her doubts. Instead she said,

"What operation?" Rahul stuck his tongue between his teeth to distract himself, and say nothing. Muskaan raised her eyes at him, then continued, in what unexpected for him, was a voice of great poise. "Am I alright now?" He nodded after what was a gap of several seconds which he seemed to have taken to make up his mind. Did that mean an absolute yes?; she debated.

"Alright," she said at last, "Can I sleep now?"

Rahul was definitely surprised by this particular response. In a way, she had let him of the hook, at least for now. He should have been relieved and he was, but with a nagging unease. He looked at her and she had already closed her eyes.

"Muski..." he whispered alomost inaudibly, but she must have pretended the sleep in those seconds for her eyes flew open instantly. "Don't you...want to know..." he thought furiously in his mind of the right words. Why had he reintroduced this now?

"I do." she replied, putting at least his quest for words partially at rest. "Tell me when you're ready to..." she continued when he finally looked at her, and at her words resulted in an unavoidable reality check.

She had been, as he had suspected at the back of his mind, offering him an equal support all along, as if she knew he could not handle this once all by himself. He had wished to be her strength, but she had already proved to be his, and she had said it now. It was him, taking time to prepare himself. She knew there was a problem, she must also know it was huge...she had dealt with her anxiety without letting him know, and was dealing with his as well. In that one moment, he knew, she would be able to face it...perhaps fair far braver than he actually had. He eyes shot back to her face and he sound her looking at himself, with the same look of peace. And that assuring smile. He could not put her to test any longer.

"You had a miscarriage." he told her, simply.

And he felt an instant tug of his hand holding hers, her nails digging in, her eyes indicated the slow dawn of comprehension as the words sunk in. In the later seconds of her silent absorption he felt her grip loosen upon his hand again, but he held it firm, his eyes did not leave her face. She made to relieve her hand from his hold, and he let go, reluctantly, then saw her move both her hands to where her lower abdomen was under the sheets that covered her, uncertainly, as if it was an alien part of her body and might not react well to her touch.

"I was pregnant..." she spoke at last, where a question had been intended it was a statement she made. She understood now where the pain had shot through her from. She had stretched the spot where they must have cut her open then stitched her later. She understood everything now, all of Rahul's reactions included. Vivek. She had now lost her baby because of him. Rahul sat looking at her one more second before retrieving her hands and holding them in his own. Their baby, it reminded her.

"Are you...ok?"

He asked her, as she continued to look into an empty space at nothing. At his words her eyes turned to him. She saw the concern in them, in its usual place, greater than ever even though. And she saw the underlying pain...a sense of loss. That which she could feel inside her, literally now, she saw in his eyes. He did not look away, even when, as she noticed, they seemed to be welling with tears. And that reminded her of her resolve.

She had experienced the power of being in control moments ago, long after she had resigned to have forgotten the feeling. Now, she knew she was capable of it again. Rigidly, at the thought of that, she nodded her head at him, and much to her relief, no tears came. Rahul got worried. Was that all of her reaction? Had she recoiled in withdrawl? It was true he couldn't bear to see her broken, but he would die to see her go back into her reclusive shell, away from him emotionally and mentally.

"Muskaan..." he said in an urgent anguish and she looked up at him.

"You still haven't said you love me Rahul..." He looked at her unblinking. Abruptly then lowered his head onto her hands, held them tight and kissed them. With an intensity.

"I love you," he whispered at last looking into her eyes and resting her hands by her sides gently. Then raising his own to her face he cupped it, lowering close to her, within inches of her face and all the love he held for her shone through the tears in his eyes. "I love you...more than anything...and anyone..."

He confessed in a candor that comes only in the rarest of moments in life. When words truly stand to fall very much short of what they are expected to fulfill. And he kissed her full on the mouth, her lips parted in an unknown expectation of the same perhaps, but for a part of her it was a surprise. Only for the good. She had pulled herself to be brave for him, but to have him express the depth of all that he felt for her in this moment alleviated something of the heaviness on her heart. The grief, kept going, and she kissed him back. He sensed her physical exhaustion and pulled back, gently, but with eyes shut, his forehead resting against hers, he kept the proximity.

"I want to grow old with you Muskaan...loving you the same always..."

"But I want to be loved more as I grow older," she whispered back, against his lips and he opened his eyes. She smiled at him, with eyes that glistened with the tears that had kept away long enough. He nodded slightly smiling back at her and she said in a lower whisper still, "And I want to have lots and lots of kids." He stared at her face, worried again, for any signs of a delayed breakdown but there were none. "Our kids..." she finished and tilted her head up at the slightest inclination, to touch his lips in a gentle kiss. After a long moment when neither pulled back or spoke, she felt his lips curve into a smile, and she felt his body against her own relax, at long last.

"Our kids," he repeated in confirmation, and they both felt intuitively, the start of something new in their relationship. Something beyond the long standing curse which they had faced and finally passed.

********************************"
"Can I safely assume you have forgiven Armaan?"

Anjali looked up at Gappu, from over her cup of tea. She smiled a small side smile, and he wondered what her private joke was.

"You argue and defend like your Dad." she answered him ambiguously.

"Is that a yes or no?"

"Its more like an 'I CARE', " Gappu did not reply, instead he frowned trying to analyze her answer. She decided to save him the trouble a few seonds down. "I care for her and I want only the best. Technically Armaan can never fit the definition of an ideal," Gappu looked like he would interrupt so she raised a hand to stop him, "Between the 'best' and the 'ideal', I think the 'best' wins." A slow smile crept on his face as the words stood for their complete meaning.

"So you think he's the best?" he said with what had now bloomed into a cheerful smile.

"No. She thinks he's the best."

"And?"

"And technically, that's all I really need to care about."

"So it is a yes."

"Its not a no."

"Mom!"

"Yes Gappu?"

"There you go!" he grinned victoriously and she shook her head with a smile of her own.

"You also gloat like your Dad."

"Technically, I'm his son..." he declared with a cheeky grin and took the first sip of his own tea.

"Gappu?" she spoke after several moments of silence.

"Hmmm?"

"I want you to tell me, when you fall in love." He almost choked over the sip, then gulped it down with effort.

"Erm...ahem..." he cleared his throat thinking furiously of how to respond. "Why...uh...did you say that?" he risked the act of casual curiosity while inside he had commanded his heart to halt its action till an answer came.

"Because..." Anjali sighed, again more to herself and Gappu wondered what to make of her reaction, anxiously, "I'm your mother Gappu. And I want to be a part of your life in everyway. I lost my parents too early to have realized what they could have been to me, or what I would have expected from them and when, if they had been there in my years of growing up. Somewhere I guess that gap has affected my parenting...or Ridhima would have told me about Armaan much earlier, herself."

Gappu stared at his mother as she spoke, her eyes distant. For the first time he thought, she was talking to him like an equal, by choice. For the first time also, he thought, he was getting to know his mother as just another imperfect human marked by the trivia of hopes and expectations.

"I'm glad she can share all her secrets with you, but I wish I had been the parent she could confide in as much.Technically," she said wearing an unhappy smile, "I'm her sibling not you..."

Anjali sighed and Gappu unknowingly moved ahead covering the steps between the two of them. Silently he sat down by her side and slid his arm over her shoulder, not knowing words which could express what he wanted her to know. He was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions too many; there was a significant part of guilt, which was balanced by an equally considerable rise in his affection...but more than anything else he felt a respect for his mother's love. In a way he had not acknowledged its presence before.

"The intention wasn't particularly to hide anything from you Mom." he told her, offering the best explanation he could justify.

"I guess not..." Anjali replied with partial attention.

"She was waiting for the best moment."

"We chose our best moments Gappu, they don't chose us."

Gappu looked at her as her words echoed in his mind. Perhaps he had not underestimated his mother ever, but he had also never given her credit enough. On an impulse he squeezed her hand in his own and when she turned towards him, he made a cute expression at the persisting frown on her face. He raised his hand and pulled her lips into a smile and she extended it to a grin pulling back.

"Can I call Minnie?" She looked right back at him, with raised eyes and he waited for her reply.

"Now? Why?"

He sighed. He made up his mind in that moment that she would learn about Minnie and him, very soon. Not tonight because another, much more vital at the moment issue lay unresolved, but at the very next moment he got. Mentally he shook his head at himself in correction, at the very next moment he would create.

"Armaan didn't call home yet to inform them." he replied instead, thinking fast on his feet.

"I'll call Keerti myself," Anjali offered, but she made no attempt to get up from her seat, noticing instead, Gappu's reaction.

"No mom," he said in a hurry and she narrowed her eyes, "They must have gone off to bed by now...I meant," he added hastily mentally occupied with telling himself off.

"And how do you know Minnie is still up?" She went on, missing none of his absorbed expressions.

"Cause I am," he said preoccupied, in an obvious tone, then clenched his fist in realization, "Teens..." he explained with a sheepish smile, "They stay up late...right?" She gave him 'the look' and he looked away ruffling his hair for something to do.

"Erm..." he started looking back up at her and she smiled at him sweetly, an edge more than he thought was natural, "I love you Mom!"

He stated and pulled her into a hug, instinctively out of convenience so he could stop her from looking at himself, but as she hugged him back, he relaxed in her arms, like a little boy again. Anjali smiled to herself. For the first time in many years, she thought she had come a step closer to becoming the mother she wanted to be.

"Your Dad can stay up as long as he wants talking to Armaan, and so can you...talking to whoever. I need my sleep. Can't risk napping in the OT."

Saying slow as she disengaged from the embrace, and labored through his hair fixing them neatly off his forehead. Then got up and walked away, tossing the cordless to him on her way out. Gappu looked thoughtfully at the door for a whole minute, then he picked up the phone and dialled her number.

************************************

Three weeks into the pregnancy. Very premature. Emotional trauma. The facts raced through Ridhima's mind. She had been on a call with Armaan last, before fainting, and she, Ridhima, knew that Armaan had been on some call, before he had rushed out after Vivek. Chirag and Rahul had come to the only obvious conclusion, in that sense.
A mention had obviously passed between the siblings...Had it really resulted in so much?

"Muskaan..." she spelled the name inaudibly, as if to test if it still felt the same way.

Abruptly she got up from the couch. If the time in which they had known each other, and the distance between that had been, were both to be ignored, Muskaan was as much like a sibling in her most earnest acceptance, as Gappu had ever been. And Rahul...Desperately she chewed onto her lower lip. Someone had to explain to her, why any of this had to happen, resulting from something as insignificant as having run into a stranger one day in her past, who had turned everything in the lives of those she loved upside down. Why had he ever resurfaced for any of them at all? And why did any of this have to happen when things were finally looking bright? Things happened for a reason, she had taken some 6 years to believe that concept, and yet, so soon already, she stood facing something she wanted justification for. Bigger than all her personal conflicts with fate however was that sole question. She half sighed in worry.

"How will I tell Armaan..." she whispered covering her face with her hands then rubbing them over backwards onto her head, pushing the stray strands back.

"Tell me what?"

She nearly jumped out of her own skin. With the beats of her heart skipped in the process, and the breath she held onto involuntarily, she thought she would faint. Reluctantly hence, she forced herself to exhale the air she held back, with a caution high, as is in the back of her mind she still wished he wasn't there behind her and she could go lock herself in her room unnoticed, pretend to have long gone to bed. Why had she not done it right after ending the call with Chirag. Whatever doubt her mind was trying to promote about the reality of his presence, while she had still been neck deep into battling with acceptance of facts herself, was dispelled as he held her shoulders from behind. Momentarily she wished to let herself fall back against the comfort of his rock hard chest, but before she had another second to entertain that possibility he turned her around to himself, face-to-face.

"What do you have to tell me Ridhima?"

"Armaan...its..." she averted his eye and placing her hands lightly over his arms she said, her fidgety fingers brushing over the sleeves of the hoodie, "You aren't cold now are you?"

Before she could look away or another word passed between them she felt herself jerked forward with a force, almost slamming against his chest, not the way she had wished to moments ago however. His grip on her shoulders was hard, weakening further her own hold upon his arms as she was forced to face his intense eyes.

"Ridhima..."

He was imploring to her with an authority, in a need so imperative, it tested all that was left of her will to stand upto him. How empowering and overwhelming his presence was capable of being became evident to her in its complete sense for the first time. Gone was the hour he had faltered onto her lady shoulder for support. And much as this side of him was making it impossible for her to hold her forte upfront to, she wished and prayed with all her might that it would remain so...forever.

"Armaan...you're..."

She shut her eyes lightly swallowing her pain from his grip so hard she was certain it would leave its mark for later. He tried to read her expressions, but she had shut him out by closing her eyes. She felt her shoulders released a second later and then found herself gazing into his eyes again as he cupped her face with a hold gentle and stark in contrast to the harsh preceeding one.

"
I need to know honey..." he said hoarsely, "Please..." she saw his lips draw into a helplessness in accordance with his eyes, "Its killing me...this feeling of something wrong...somewhere...more than I know..." he said unable to string his words into a single coherent sentence. Ridhima looked into his eyes as they searched her for an answer, at long last she lowered her head into a nod, of resignation. She faced back up to meet the expectance of his eyes and said, in the softest of solemn tones,

"I love you Armaan...and I want you to know...I'm always with you. In everything."

"Ahem..."

Their attention was diverted the presence of a third, at the sound of a throat being cleared. Presently, they turned around to find Gappu standing, not far away. Quickly, he turned about, his back to them.

"So is he beautiful, right Armaan?" he chirped in a cheeky tone.

"Gappu..." Ridhima said in a low note without much emotion. In a quick side look she checked on Armaan. He had been distracted for the moment, she swallowed in grim relief.

"My apologies...to be interrupting the sweet moment of love." he continued, ignoring whatever hint she had intended for him to receive.

"Why don't you turn around..."

"And tell us why you decided to spy on us?"

Ridhima completed not quite the way Armaan had intended to. With an unmistakable edge of impatience to her voice. Gappu turned around, and walking towards them, switched on the lights. They had been wide awake, even if surrounded by darkness, and adjusted to the bright yellow in seconds, to find Gappu flashing them a bright smile.

"Mr. Romeo," he said pointing a hand in feigned respect towards Armaan, "And his soon-to-be Mrs. Juliet Romeo...erm...whatever the hell his last name was..."

"Montague!" Ridhima and Armaan looked at each other after exclaiming the name in unison, then looked away, with a hint of smile on each face despite everything. Gappu cocked a brow in embarassing appreciation.

"Peace out...erm...Montagues...?" he proposed as if in innocence of no jesting. Ridhima finally looked up at him with a near scowl.

"Spill now. If you care to see another dawn."

"Scaring a braveheart? You wish beautiful! Anyways, Mom and Dad have sent a summon for the lovebirds, if they can spare some of their..."

"Why?" Ridhima asked, genuinely puzzled, interrupting his lengthy redundant banter. She could well do without it, at least for now. "I thought jeej called you...alone.." she finished looking at Armaan. Gappu raised an eye at her in inspection, and concluded she wasn't acting. So he turned his focus to Armaan. And smiled, folding his arms across his chest.

"You didn't tell her?"

"I was going to..."

"Tell me what?"

They spoke both at once again, then stopped, together as well. Gappu chuckled as Ridhima stuck her tongue in her cheek as if indifference to the light heat rising into her cheeks. Armaan ran a hand through his hair looking away.

"I see Miss Never-stop-talking and Mr. Never-really-talk despite the complementary nature of that contrast are not going to find a comon ground to make conversation."

Ridhima glared at him and he winked back at her. Armaan watched the exchange and rolled his eyes with a light smile. Nothing would change this between them, not that a change was needed, as long as he could stand a safe spot as a spectator alone.

"Are you guys planning to come upstairs anytime tonight...like within the next five minutes?"

All three heads turned to look up at Anjali's voice and she stood there, hands on her hips with not the most patient look on her face.

"Next 5 seconds if you want to retain the good boy impression Armaan," Gappu muttered in an undertone audible within 10 steps of him only, walking towards the stairs. Armaan stepped to follow, then realized Ridhima was standing, distant in thoughts.

"Ridhima..."

She looked up at the return of his husky deep set baritone. It must have been one of the things about him she fell in love with. One of the high on the list factors in fact, the way he said her name. It was always magical. She smiled, forgetting the rest in the trance of the moment. "Let's go..." he continued, and it was only when he held her hand in his own to urge her to move when she became conscious of the reality again. Hastily she glanced up, Anjali wasn't standing there anymore, but she knew, like Gappu, what 5 minutes really implied.

********************************
Chirag drove through the traffic on the multi laned highway. It was that wee hour of the night, technically early morning, when he should have expected a near empty road. In another world perhaps, where automobiles in every household didn't exceed the number of people living in there, he thought impatiently. That when the likes of GM had been on the verge of collapse and pack up not long ago. In frustration he drummed his fingers agaisnt the steering, wishing to forget his road ethics and honk till those ahead of him left him a vacated lane to himself.

It was a grave matter he was handling all alone. Rahul had seemed troubled enough, and Ammy was bound to be pretty much the same by the time Ridhima told him everything. He had decided hence, when he received a call from his friend, the cop, to reach the station all the way in downtown immediately, to go lok into matters himself, till the need to call upon them was inevitable. He knew the risk involved if he messed up anything here, but it seemed to be the thing to do. He was...almost family. Yes. They would understand why he had not made frantic calls to them at the first instance of results showing up. They would all understand he was playing his part in the big showdown, not every part of which was happy.

In the process of tracking information about Vivek, his friend had come across the car rental from which he had hired the car while in Chicago. Tracking the car had been easy from the rental company's sensor radars, and they had reached it in time to retrieve the contents of its temporary owner. Including the Mexican passport. The next task had been easy to implement, hard only in terms of keeping it low. They had wired the passport details to all airports countrywide, for, even if he could pass himself through the trouble of not producing it as documentation, he would need to lay down its particulars to fly, atleast internationally. And so they had managed to tail him, into this near flawless trap, catching hold of him at O'Hare itself.

Chirag allowed himself a grim smile of congratulations. Not only had he been rounded up by the cops in such a short time, his analysis that Vivek would not bother with making a foolprof escape in the urgency of the situation had been very accurate. Only if he could lay his hands on the guy now, and see him behind the bars with his own eyes, he would call up Ammy to lodge the formal list of charges against him so they couldfinally get rid of him for good. He sighed impatiently.

*RINGGGG*

Frowning at the ring of his cell to have interrupted his thoughts, he grabbed it from the dashboard across the empty passenger seat nonetheless. It wasn't an hour when he could be receiving social calls. It had to Ritu...or Ridhima...Ammy...or...he glanced at the LCD shinning blue and the ID it displayed.

"Stan I'm on my way. Another 15 minutes at max," he paused at being interrupted from the other end. "WHAT?!" His eyes widened in the most unexpected turn of events he was now being informed about...

***************************

here you go all...part 23-N....lolzzz yeh not a regular norm for ordering parts AT ALL....i was going to make that 23-A and 23-B....but the 23 tempted me to make it N and the next would be you can guess what LOL wouldn't take an intel genius inside processor to know that...erm...lame joke...ConfusedConfusedConfused

wont excuse myself for the insane amount of delay...but other than my usual list of excuses...a real issue came at hand...my housemate and a close friend lost his mother this weekend, who had been suffering from third stage cancer for a while now...it had been inevitable and known to be so, yet....we all have hence flown to LA to be with him...and his folks...wish you all include them in your prayers too, its rather...unfortunate....

other than that...not much to say....i completed the draft right upto the last scene, since i seem to lose motivation everytime i have to start doing a new part all over again...specially with coming to this end...so well, i guess i will be posting 23- (?) Wink soon....

hope you enjoy reading the part....it has to be my longest yet...or so i felt....think it wnet way past 20 word pages....whatever....i delay and you call for updates...the trouble isnt just a pain i inflict....you pretty much share the blame for upto 50% Big smile

the part goes to my 'avowed' wifey LOLLOLLOL whom i miss chatting with...and its not been a whole day yet....just been...not nice altogether....
and to shriya...for something she said, which meant a lot...thanks a bunch hun!!!

Aarti, congrats once again for the wedding, and lots of wishes for a great life ahead! Sam...welcome back...at long last Big smile

finally...hinu...i know you will and wont like his part...i thought of you plenty....it was like writing that one particular part of newtons again...i'll tell you later which one (not the epilogue)
 *hugs*

nj

ps: to all the fic writers who's fics i need to get back to and comment on, i wil asap...have watchlisted those particular fics, just need to get back home and then back to the grind and i'll be active again...
pps: zia...you should know which part was for you :)




SCROLL DOWN FOR PART 23(J) AND EPILOGUE....


Edited by spln - 01 May 2009 at 10:03am

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ttimpy

Senior Member

ttimpy

Joined: 03 April 2008

Posts: 934

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 2:54am | IP Logged
naseem..............naseem...............naseem..what do i say. i feel such an absolute fraud...i read all your updates but these last few  times i havent put in my EXPERT OPINION (ahem ahem)...........actually the only reason being that my comments about your updates are not lacking in brevity and i just cant write a short one asking u to keep up the gud work and update fast types.hence its been no comments these last few times......................congo on this thread.......and lemme assure u again that we have no problems in taking the blame for this 2nd thread. onto ourselves..............the last update was stupendous and i think that whenever i read the new update i feel as if the last one was the best but u always amnage to surprise me.........ur range is reaaaalllly admirable for sumone who's still a baby...........the emotions, thought process and the story.each one surpasses the one before...........so dearie i hope that im forgiven................i will definitely read.........in fact both the FF's.but maybe i wont be able to comment always.........just keep up the good work and spread joy and happiness as u do thru your writings.............God Bless

spln

IF-Sizzlerz

spln

Joined: 06 December 2007

Posts: 11036

Posted: 21 February 2009 at 3:18am | IP Logged
~Part 23-J ~

"This...is..." Armaan started, stumped at the sight of it, held in the hand Atul extended towards him, his smile indicative.  

"The ring..."

"Your ring..."

"Her ring..."

"WHAT?"

The exchange between Gappu and his mother over the rightful claim to the ring dominated the mainstream attention in the room, before being put to rest by Ridhima's incredulous exclamation.
Armaan forgot to react past a mere shock. Atul seemed amused by something about the all at once commotion before him, the smile on his lips came easily, willing to accept humor even in chaos. Anjali and Gappu distracted from their debate, turned to Ridhima unanimously, Gappu quickly recalling his smug look, Anjali wore a real smile, which deepened thoughtfully as she gazed at Ridhima, her mind as if reflecting over memories of a happy past or contemplation of a pleasant future...

Armaan looked from Atul to Anjali and Gappu...and finally to Ridhima who stood by his side. It must have been innate, her knack to hold the center stage while remaining absorbed within self, as naturally oblivious of that attention she had drawn, as a protagonist would be, in a role oft played, to be serving as focus for an entire audience. She remained, hence, even now and following her eyes he was reminded of the ring case again.


The same ring case, which had traveled with him all the way to her house earlier that evening, which held the solitaire he was to propose to her with, which had been, he almost sighed, forgotten in the events that had ensued, much out of the range of any sane expectations. If he wasn't so completely done with empathizing with his own feeling of being cornored by unexpected turn of events in life, he would have possibly indulged in self sympathizing. An evening one-of-its-kind-to-have-been had turned into... well, one of a kind still. The mystery of the ring having made reappearence now, and how, made him almost smirk at this latest 'unpredictable', favorable for once, if he dared to think so. Mentally, he found, despite being absolutely preoccupied, his mind toying with the idea of hunting out the local daily at the first chance he could, and reading what his horoscope for the day had been.

She found herself staring at the black case, her mind went to that which was beyond, undoubtedly, held within it, the precious metal band studded with a precious stone. Her ring- that's what they said? That which she had awaited a number of nights she had lost count of, that, meant to adorn her finger which had remained bare longer than it ought to rightfully have. That which was apparently before her now, when she could have only least expected. Wasn't that how proposal rings were meant to pop up; the idea was too wry to humor her wits. Ridhima found the flow of her thoughts rapidly wriggle beyond her coordination. Her eyes remained upon the case, unknowingly, but her mind had drifted.She felt an eternity fill the moments, as an awareness of her surroundings became a nothingness, inside her head there was a big bang.

Yes she had expected the ring tonight, many hours ago,
until so much else had happened and she had forgotten about it. Completely. She had forgotten how the impatient the seconds she had passed in the office had been, her concentration lost. She had forgotten how laborious the task of selecting the perfect outfit for her special evening had been, with every piece of accessory including the smile on her lips and the blush infusing her cheeks, befitting. She had forgotten the rush of adrenaline when at last the door bell had rung at its designated hour and she had forgotten the unbearable constrain in holding herself back when she had heard his baritone, distinct, among the simultaneous greetings of several familiar voices, without having to raise his volume any beyond its usual deep note.

Yes she had awaited the moment which was to be her cherished memory; and for it she had kept herself out of his sight, with a certain streak of intention to tease him. For her part, she had sneaked glances at him when he could not have noticed. The excitement had paralleled that of a girl trying to notice her first ever crush from a distance, observing him at the leisure this anonymity provided, as she searched him to show signs of anything that may indicate she was on his mind. And she had been rewarded accordingly as she saw him make polite conversations with all while his eyes betrayed, at least to her, the impatient misgivings of his heart, all on her expense. And she had glowed, priding herself for his love.

He noticed the play of expressions on her face now as they, after having undergone several changes, rested into a wistful look, the insinuation of a smile felt like a dream he suddenly wanted to realize. He could swear and he did in his head, at the unusual glow on her face. He wanted to believe it was at the sight of the ring. The ring to seal their bond with a name.
The feeling was like slow rapture of ecstacy. Clueless as to how he managed to, he tore his gaze from her face, forcing himself to look away, lest he gave into that irrepressible urge to pull her to himself forgetting the room and its other people.

And just to occupy the surge of restless energy rising within, he turned to Atul, who still held the ring out to him. In silent self admonition, Armaan wondered how many seconds, if not minutes had passed by. And drawing his guts over the awkwardness of his realization, he looked up to Atul's eyes, which offered assurance. In a strange way, as if his mind and its apprehensions had been revealed and read, in a way similar to the silent conversation which followed between them, words claiming no place in a communication of mutual understanding. And at a final insistence, just as silent, from Atul, Armaan took the case into his hands with gentle caution, looked at it, easing into a smile at last before he looked back at Ridhima.

It passed her unnoticed apparently, the ring case exchanging hands, her mind, he mused, in an evident state of intense activity, had crossed the boundries of this room. Her eyes were rivetted to a random spot midair, which she wasn't looking at, at all. He inhaled deeply as if to gather himself and his eyes fell on Gappu. Who winked at him without losing the second of eye contact, then stuck his tongue into his cheek, thoroughly entertained. Armaan bit back on his grin, although there was no way to fight the shade he was certain his face was fast becoming. Lowering his head for a second of recooping, he faced back up with intention this time.

"Ridhima..."

"Huh?..."

She snapped out of her trance at his voice and then her eyes fell on the ring case, open this time. And as she stared at the ring, she knew it would always remain the most beautiful, exquisite piece she had laid her eyes upon, one she would never tire of possesing. It wasn't anything she had not seen before, a diamond would remain a diamond wherever, whenever. For the innumerous unknown fingers she had known the stone from at the sight of it, she believed, yes, this particular solitaire would be special as only one of its kind. For it was from him... for her... And she looked back up to him.

Her lips parted slightly for the words she did not speak, and in her eyes he found an expression of her feelings. It was the look he had only dreamed to see there, and rightfully claim for himself. No tears occasioned the elation neither the love reflecting from her deep set beautiful eyes. Armaan smiled. It was all he could have hoped for, and so much more, and it warmed his heart like wax under a flame. Slowly then, seeking her, he raised an eye.

Yes, she answered instantaneously, without speaking a word. Yes, of course.

He lowered the brow and solemned his look, but she saw the twinkle in his eyes, willing her to break her poise, display her heart. She looked at him, a blank look, wasn't he going to say it... say something... say anything at all? Incredulously, she felt the seconds slip away in silence, but he remained unrelenting, and she finally admitted the obvious, he was enjoying playing the moment.

Very well then, she thought... her look beneath the straight face she pulled was a message only for him, and much against his will she broke the eye game with her next words.

"You bought that ring for him?" Atul was taken aback at the question she shot at him before he chuckled, his amusement finally finding a reason in her launched accusation, while Armaan narrowed his eyes at her, as she intentionally avoided him.

"For you...you mean? Its a very girl thing as you can see," Gappu corrected her and she turned to look at him. "And no, much as you'd love to nag him over the contrary for the rest of his life, Armaan did buy the ring 'for you' himself. Even got me to steal one of your regulars for the right fit."

That was unexpected. For all four, each having their own reason, as the words made sense, while Gappu himself leaned against the wall behind him to watch the fun he had instigated. Ridhima looked the right hand parallel of her ring finger and wondered how she had not missed her age old turquoise the whole day. Atul scratched his forehead trying to not break out laughing, and when Ridhima looked back up at Armaan, in at least partial disbelief, her doubts were confirmed with Armaan trying to avert all pairs of eyes upon himself.

How did Ridhima manage all the attention without a desperate need to find cover he thought furiously, so much for trusting the kids. Minnie had suggested the idea and Gappu had backed it up with absolute enthusiasm, it had seemed only right then. Not like he was going to steal her ring forever, although, a small voice inside him reminded him, he had considered just that, the night before, as he had dozed off staring at it with thoughts of her, and woken up to find it clutched in his hand. He had hoped she wouldn't miss it, and it could be his little personal secret. It was just a silly ring, he told to himself, trying to be indignant now as he looked up but Ridhima's raised eyes did him no good.

"You got Gappu to steal Ridzie's ring?"

Just when he had been thanking his last benefit in no cross questioning, Anjali decided the case had not been put to rest, yet.

"
I..." he started, wondering why the tables had turned upon him all at once. One more time, he cursed Gappu, "I didn't want to mess up the size."

He said in a little voice and was startled as the room resounded in a sudden laugh. And the shock only doubled itself twice over as he realized it was Anjali, giggling like a girl, within seconds she was holding her sides.

"Aaawww... That is so... cute!"

she managed to say, and Armaan wondered if it was a compliment, he looked at Gappu who signaled peace, laughing himself, making Armaan want to swear out loud. Then at Atul who shrugged at him grinning wider than ever. And when he turned to Ridhima she smiled with all her heart and raised her eyes demanding his defeat. He shook his head slightly at himself, unable to hide the smile and his eyes fell on the solitaire. He raised his eyes back to Ridhima who was still looking at him and they locked the look amidst the settling peals of laughter.

I love you, he worded inaudibly, and Ridhima forgot her tease at his declaration. With effort, she held his eye and there was a candid confirmation of the words. Yes, nothing about this moment was ever going to be lost from her.

"Ritu left the ring with me, " Atul spoke up at last, interrupting, and they both looked up at him, as did Anjali and Gappu.

"Ritu?" Ridhima would have expected Chirag to have the ring, if Armaan wasn't carrying it himself, but Ritu? And why had Ritu not given it to her if she had to, since Armaan had rushed out after Vivek... Something inside her twisted right then. At being jostled harshly back to face the facts. Vivek... Rahul... Muskaan... the miscarriage. Ridhima cringed.

"Yeh, she said Armaan left it with her," and Armaan remembered he had done that. The last he had held the ring was in doing the practice run with Ritu.

"And so Dr. Atul, you knew about the ring all these hours?" Anjali was back to her cynical 'mommy' tone, folding her arms across her chest, "Which leaves, lets see, just about me, who had no idea at all."

"No wonder he was playing Daddy 'cool' with Armaan," Gappu offered in an undertone, biting back his grin. God bless him, he had a hell of a family. While Atul cursed him mentally, Armaan decided he had definitely been spared the worst of Gappu's cheek so far. Ridhima had lost touch with the discussion a while back, but her fast change in reaction went unnoticed.

"Anj... sweetheart, " Atul moved towards her, and holding her from her shoulders made her sit down on the main study chair. She obeyed, but the demand of an answer was obvious from her expressions. Atul was serious all over again. "I was worried about Armaan. There was so much unexplained and... even though the ring assured me of his intentions..." Atul shrugged stuffing his hands into the evening denims he had still not changed out of. Anjali nodded, slowly, they had been together long enough, and she knew where he was coming from. Atul in his thinking spells was just with himself, till he reached conclusions, and he had not reached one before Armaan got back. Besides there was a cause big enough to not dampen moods over anything, she smiled in understanding and shook her head lightly.

"I don't care. Next time no one in my family, " she said looking up, "You included Dr. Malik," she added and he hastily stood up straighter than he had been at the unexpected singled out mention, "Hide nothing from me." she declared, finishing.

Armaan realized only a second later
how she had consented her acceptance of their relationship. He looked at Anjali who raised her eyes at him and he nodded back mechanically, she smiled. And it dawned upon him that he really did adore her, specifically the control she commanded, and its possessive edge. God knew how much he had missed it, Armaan half sighed.

"Can we finally see the ring make its claim now?" she added and he positively smiled at this.

Turning to Ridhima he pulled the ring out of its case and placing it on a side absent mindedly, his eyes went to her, to find her lost again. Frowning this time. Unexplicably. The sight of her creased brow didn't appeal him at all, he wanted to ease it away and almost moved his hand to do it too, before checking his impulse. Instead, he said,

"Ridhima...?"

This time it did not shake her musing away. Armaan moved covering a couple of steps between them, his eyes fixed on her face, and lifted her left hand, making her look at himself, at last.

"Armaan..." she whispered, then paused staring at the variations of hazel in his eyes, "I love you."

Her tone was earnest and his heart should have gone out to her at that, except it didn't. It had not sounded like her expression of love, it was her need to let him know. And he knew it from instinct, it didn't feel right. He pushed away the feeling before it took him all over again, not in this moment. He squeezed her hand lightly, held in his own and smiled at her. Ridhima unconsciosly tightened her grip in his hand at the gesture, her gaze faltered from his only when she felt the cool platinum slide onto her finger. Reflexively she stared at it, it was a perfect fit, a picture perfect fit. And she looked back up at him.

There was the expanse of love, but a trouble brewed over it which Armaan could not ignore. She had been worked up about something, and he still had to know what, but he wished she could and would forget all of everything else for this second.

*RINGGGG*

The attention was snapped at the sound of the doorbell, loud and shrill, but more importantly, ill timed. An unannounced guest at this time was more than plain unusual. Atul nodded at them and moved out of the study to get the door. Anjali stood a moment longer, before walking to them and giving them a joint hug.

"God bless you both," she whispered and she had to say nothing more to let them know how much she meant it. And she made to move out before they answered. Unconsciously Armaa was still holding onto Ridhima's hand, and she had let him, just as unknowingly.

"I wonder who..."

Ridhima and Gappu started together and stopped, Armaan frowned in thought himself, only a second longer.

"ARMAAN!"

Gappu looked at him, who looked at Ridhima. And then Armaan felt her dig her nails deep into his hand, as she whispered the name both Gappu and he had recognized from the voice which had called out loud from the hall below.

********************************
"I identify the body Stan, but I have only seen it in pictures."

Stan nodded at Chirag. They both stood not speaking for several seconds, grim and occupied in their own thoughts.

"Is this going to be trouble for you?"

Chirag broke the silence first. Again, Stan, shaking his head, chose to not speak up right away, and another quiet spell seconds long ensued. 

"I apologize," he said at last and Chirag frowned at the words. "He was in my custody, I should have assumed him to be greater trouble than I did with the case history you had defined. I just..."

He shook his head at himself, pulling a chair out for himself and flung himself upon it in more than disatisfaction. Carelessly he threw open a drawer and pulled himself a smoke. Chirag watched hi in silence, assumin he wasn't done talking yet, apart from the fact that he wanted to think some more instead of speaking himself.

"It should have been the first thing I did, search him for random pills. Its how the majority of them druggies end their miserable lives... overdose."

Chirag pulled himself a chair facing Stan. And nodded, partially in agreement, partially to himself. It was an intense overdose of pills. Apparently. And a random assortment of them too, which explained the rapid reaction leading to a collapse. And of course, the damage having gone too far out of control for the medics to be any good... how many of those had he seen? He sighed.

"Do you need me to file it as an official complaint?"

"Your friend maybe, since he would have the right premise to be doing that. It will be a closed case of course, unless anyone wishes to place an investigation on his death, I will account for it in a certain clause we cover under encounters." 

"I doubt that... interest in re opening investigation I mean." Chirag paused to think, everything had happened too fast, the escape, the capture and the whole overdose of pills leading to fata collapse. And although his was, as Stan had declared a closed chapter, in more than just the official sense, Chirag wondered what the narration of the whole deal would be like.

"Can I get some water?" he said, his throat was acting up. A minute later, he cracked the seal of the bottle placed before him, and drained the entire thing down. Then he got up abruptly and said, "I shold get back to my friend Stan, he needs to know about things so I can get him here and file the papers as you need them to be." Stan got up himself, thoughtlessly he stuffed the half smoked cigrette into the ashtray lying on the desk, and nodded. When they looked at each other, solemn, Chirag added, "You were more help than you're taking credit for. I assure you." And he extended his hand to be taken up into a firm shake from Stan who nodded again.

"Right... Give me a call when you're friend is ready for the statement Doc."

"I will... Take care!" and buttoning up his coat to the neck he moved out of the door in a a few swift strides. The cold air hit his face, and he grit his teeth. Running a hand through his hair, he inhaled deeply. Then making up his mind he speed dialled her number.

"Ritu..." he started, something in his tone stopped her from shooting a volley of her own questions at him.

"He'd dead... Vivek..." She clutched the arms of the chair for a moment, then said, a moment later,

"Good riddance..."

And Chirag breathed, almost in relief. He admitted he had needed this. A reaction which wasn't hyped... only receptive, and he was grateful she had understood that so well. Getting inot his car he turned on the ignition and went on to inform her of the details.

******************************
Armaan leaned forward in his seat on the couch. Resting his chin upon his crossed hands. Chirag rubbed a hand over his face and through his hair. He had narrated the whole thing all over again, it was a very late hour, and the three of them were in Ridhima's room. Almost like old times... except they had come a long way from grad school. And this was a bloody long night. Tired, he slumped onto the rug leaning against the bed. Ridhima looked at him, then at Armaan, who's expression was inpenetrable.

"Ahem..." she cleared her throat at last, the silence was getting to her, it had never been her forte to begin with.

"You did the right thing." Armaan said, without a change in his position, but all three of them knew it was for Chirag. "You handled it much better than I did in fact..." he added, then sighed, "As always." And he finally looked up to meet Chirag's eye.

"That's... good... I guess..." Chirag said folding his legs and pulling his feet closer to his own chin upon his knees.

Ridhima stood her spot, and said nothing. There was a always a part of what they shared, which she wasn't party to. It was what in the Cambridge days she would crib about when Chirag would call it the 'boys talk'. And everytime, she would look up to Armaan with an unhappy face hoping he would defend and include her. On occasions he did, when he didn't she knew it was only the best to let it go. Today, ironically, a big part of her did not wish to be included... She crossed the fingers of her hands in a tight clasp and was reminded of the ring. It would be a while before she grew accustomed to that finger being bare no more, and yes, she realized, most of her, except that big part, still wished to be included, this time most importantly, to be by his side in all of this, and all of everything else for a lifetime now. She sighed quietly, happy and sad all at once, her emotions in deep conflict.

"So when do you want me to come along for the paper work?"

"Whenever... " Chirag replied without thinking, then corrected hastily, "Whenever within tomorrow."

"Hmmm..." Armaan replied, "What about..." he shut his eyes and pursed his lips, then opened them again and spoke looking Chirag firmly in the eye, "His body?"

"You can claim it if you want..."

"We wont..." Ridhima declared, interfering at a point she was technically not meant to. Both of them looked to her and she spoke on, in a low voice, patient but insistent. "We don't need anything more with any of this...please Armaan," she added the last words softly, in a near appeal looking at Armaan only. "Let's just finish up what's absolutely necessary and bury this past...forever."

It amazed Armaan for a second how she had just taken that decision, and somehow, her words subdued all thoughts of any other way there was to things. Yes, he did want to end this... here... forever. His restlessness was complicated... it wasn't excatly revenge he cared about, and yet... there was a need to settle scores... or something else... He would have been unable to make up his mind, about this, and all that was there to be dealt with in this issue, he would have wanted to involve himself with every detail and wrapped it up, and yet he knew he would have done it with a half mind, and less than a half heart. But he would have, he was so habituated to finishing off what he started. He was grateful, she decided for him, it had to be buried and forgotten, forever... except...

"I have to tell Rahul." he said gravely.

"Not tonight Ammy. They were... brothers..." Armaan frowned at Chirag's statement.

"Yeh... precisely why he ought to know."

"I... He's dealt with enough for one day Ammy. I don't know how much he will care, but he doesn't need this right away." Armaan was puzzled now, doubtlessly.

"What do you mean?"

"What... I..." Chirag turned to Ridhima and realized in that second. Armaan still didn't know about Muskaan. His eyes widened before he looked away lowering them to his feet, then ran a hand through his hair.

"What?" Armaan repeated, following Chirag's gaze as it fell on Ridhima and then to his own feet. He inhaled in absolute agitation now. "Alright you both. What do I not know?"

"Armaan..." Ridhima started, when he looked at her the words stuck in her throat.

"Chirag!" Armaan said turning to him, "Tell me... Now..."

"Its Muskaan," Ridhima said in a rush, and Armaan turned back to her, only a second later.

"Muskaan...?"

"She... she had a miscarriage..."

For a whole long moment Armaan was stumped, something inside him tried to say one of the other two would tell him no, it wasn't what he had just heard. But they did not. And so he knew. It was true... to the T. Ridhima made herself walk upto the couch and kneeled down before him, her head lowered for a second before she raised it to face him.

"How..." his voice was more a rasping whisper. Chirag looked from Armaan to Ridhima and back to Armaan.

"Extreme trauma in early pregnancy," he started for her, and then she completed, "After your call with her in the evening."

Armaan continued to look at Ridhima, and she struggled to read through his flat expressions. Swallowing without trying to show her helplessness she took his hand in her own, gripped it firmly and said, "She's...she got through the operation fine Armaan. All her stats... they were normal. She's likely to be sleeping from the meds for a while but..." she paused looking up into his eyes as he said nothing, "Everything will be alright. She will be alright...say something Armaan...please..."

He saw it all now. Her need to have assured him that she was with him, that she loved him, and now... assuring that everything would be alright. Her dilema of trying to tell him and unable to say it all to him. Her inevitable short lived secret... Muskaan... his baby sister. Armaan pulled out of her grip unknowingly and held his head in his hands. And shut his eyes tight. The call. He had slipped the name. Vivek's name. He saw also, now, how Ridhima had impulsively declared they wanted to have nothing to do with the whole thing, anymore than what they couldn't help. Abruptly he got up, almost knocking Ridhima then catching hold of her shoulders in time before she fell on her back. Quickly, he looked away from her eyes.

"Excuse me," he mumbled and walked towards the washroom attached to her room. Ridhima stared behind his back till he shut the door after himself. Chirag looked away from the door to Ridhima. And walked towards her, sitting down by her side. After several seconds of her still staring at the door, he pulled her left hand towards himself.

"Did you like it?" She turned to him and followed his eyes to her ring. And nodded. Then she said,

"Was that even a question?" he smirked and looked up at her.

"Still talking back. Good. I'm happy." It made Ridhima smile, and she hit his shoulder lightly.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?" she asked him in a grim voice.

"I will, " he said, then looking her in the eye he said, carefully, "When you prove that you believe the ring is rightfully yours."

"What..." she started then stopped short. And nodded after a couple of seconds. On an impulse she threw her arms around him in a hug. Chirag smiled, then hugged her back.

"Let me go now... he's not in the best mood. I would hate to die because he thought I was hitting on his fiance." She pushed him away in mock indignation lifting herself off the ground. He got up himself and as she opened her mouth to retort they heard the door unlock.

Armaan walked out and saw the two pairs of eyes focused on him, intent and anxious. He almost rolled his eyes at them. Who the hell did they think he was? An unstable psycho who would cut his veins in the washroom? He sighed impatiently, but they were obviously waiting for him to say something in real words.

"What?" he snapped. There was enough to weigh him down without him having to handle them and assure them. Heck! What was wrong with them?

"Are you...alright?" Ridhima said, uncertainly.

"No. I'm a mad man right now so stay off...RIDHIMAAA!" he exclaimed exasperrated and she clenched her fists to not take steps backwards at his outburst. Chirag looked at Ridhima, then at Armaan, a frown deepening on his face. Armaan took in a deep breath running a hand through hair which were now damp and fell over his eyes.

"Ridhima," he started again, "You... There's been enough delay in me learning about this." He paused and she wondered whether or not she was fair to be hurt about him saying that. He had checked himself from accussing her but... "I should drive back home now...theres stuff I need to take care of. " Ridhima was completely taken aback by this intimidating, not intractive side of him. Chirag decided to offer him the ride back, a talk would do him good.

"Can I take your car for now?" Armaan spoke before either of them did. Ridhima nodded mindlessly, then shook her head, then spoke,

"I'll drive you back ho..."

"No." Armaan stated. "I'm going to go myself."

"Get him the keys Ridhima," Chirag said before Ridhima would protest further. She stood another second looking at Armaan, then walked out of the room.

"I know you're not mad at her Armaan. Don't make it look like that." Armaan opened his mouth, then shut it. And gave a single nod.

"I talked to Rahul... He called me when he couldn't reach either of you, and in our talks we both learned what each of us didn't know. The bits and pieces came and fell into place. And then the whole investigation thing." He paused, in case Armaan wanted to speak, but he didn't so he continued, "Don't act in haste Ammy. And maybe this once, you wont actually hurt any of those you shouldn't."

"I'm not hurting anyone Chirag. I'm worried about Muskaan." Chirag folded his arms across his chest and raised an eye at him. Armaan half sighed and added, "So is Ridhima..."

"Good. Now remember that."

"Chirag... I hate the idea of being dependent."

"Doesn't seem to be the case when you make Muskaan dependent. Don't talk like a hypocrite Ammy."

"I'm not. She needs me."

"She has Rahul."

"But..."

"But you're different? Better?"

"No..."

"Correct. And I agree. She still needs you."

"So..."

"And you need Ridhima." Armaan didn't answer. "Its not called 'dependence'. Its called a relationship. Any relationship."

"Armaan I..." She stopped mid sentence, walking back inside the room, at the look on his face, and Chirag's face. "Did you both... fight?"

She hadn't intended saying it, much less asking them for an answer. But it just came, it seemed like thhey had been talking, which seemed likely, but it also seemed like she had walked back in at a bad point.

"Boys talk Ridzie." She almost thought it would be alright to smack Chirag for giving her 'that' reason in response. Instead she turned to Armaan.

"I talked to Di. Take her car, jeej and she have same shift hours, they will drive together."

And she handed him the keys. Armaan looked at her as he took it, but she didn't look back. Chirag was right, Ridhima was right... but did that make him wrong? He knew he had to get out of here before he messed up anything with his messed up thoughts.

"Right... thanks." she looked up at the sound of his tone, it had more to it than his words had said. And when their eyes met, she brought herself to speak without thinking of what he could reply with this time.

"Take care Armaan... I'll call you...tomorrow..." she let the last part hang between them as if for his confirmation. He nodded and with a quick kiss on her forehead made to move out of the room. Chirag followed suit, walking past Ridhima giving her a half hug on the way out. She stared at the door they had walked out of. Anjali had started to ask her more, but Atul had interrupted and let her go. He must know things, Ridhima figured, of Armaan's past. And now, although it would have been usual for her to go down and see them off, her feet refused to move. And she stayed. As the moments passed away she felt an exhaustion take over, and slowly, she slid to the rug, resting against her bed.

And on an impulse she lifted her hand and looked at her ring. Curiously, she toyed with it, turning it in different angles under the glow of the orange room lights. It was a very pretty ring, she loved it. She lowered her hand. She loved HIM. It was a ring of his name, of their bond, of their relationship. She remembered what it was exactly that Chirag had said...

"
When you prove that you believe the ring is rightfuly yours..." she whispered his words... thinking...

********************************
"Come on in," he said without looking up from the screen, which was how she saw him, bent over it
, typing away furiously.

"Hi!"

"Ridhima...?" He looked right up at the sound of her voice, then looked at the wall clock past her. 6AM. And then back at her, raising an eye. "Did you sleep at all?" He asked her.


"Did you?"

She asked him, walking up to his desk and then stood by his side looking at the screen he had been working upon. Armaan looked at her uncertainly for her reaction. He would have rather taken his time to tell her and explain himself than have her catch him at it this way.

"You're flying back to India," she said, and it surprised him when it came as a statement, not a question.

"Ridhima I..."

"When?" He wondered if it was his wishful thinking or she was sounding only genuinely curious, neither accusing, nor offended, not even upset.

"I want to leave tonight, but tomorrow is the earliest direct flight to Calcutta. If I take connectors from tonight, they will total to more time in the aggregate." He gave her the information without thinking much. His mind was busy awaiting a reaction on her face. "I talked to Rahul and..."

"Did Muskaan wake up?" she turned to him and he saw only one emotion in her eyes. Concern. "I mean..." she said, "Did you manage to talk to her?" Was she even listening to him, he wondered. And if she was, could she be understanding what he was trying to make her? "Armaan...?" He shook his head reflexively.

"No, I mean, she did wake up, but she was sleeping again when I talked to Rahul," he paused but she didn't speak only looked at him waiting for him to complete, "He said she was fine."

"How is he taking it?" It was the exact question Armaan had asked Rahul, after he informed him about Muskaan's welfare. Hearing it from Ridhima now shifted something in his heart. Not that he had doubted her sincerity for a second, but he had not really gauged its extent.

"She braved better than him," Armaan replied, repeating Rahul's exact reply, "He said she had faced the news with incredible calm."

He noticed the wrinkle on her forehead ease and she momentarily shut her eyes, almost as if in relief, before turning around to the rest of the room. And when he saw her pull a chair for herself, he realized he hadn't asked her to sit. Not for the obligation of it, but he had been too busy to notice she was still standing. And he saw her draw the chair by his side and turn the laptop towards herself.

"What flights were you looking at?" she asked, then answered herself, "American Airlines... I know the Emirates started some new direct flights to Calcutta a couple of weeks ago, did you check that? I'm certain they were evening flights. Maybe there is one for today and...Armaan?"

She turned in question when he didn't say a word. He looked into her eyes, searching for some tell tale signs, but they were as absolutely placid and in control as her voice and the words she was speaking. Not even when she heard him say that Muskaan was doing fine, had she suggested that there may be no need for him to fly in such haste. No, on the contrary, she was helping him look up the flights. Obviously, it was her way to help him, but why was she not reacting at all, any way...

"How do you know about the Emirates?" He asked her buying himself more time to make sense of this.

"Cause of Gappu, " she replied with a casual shrug. "I was considering to fly down when he broke the wrist, remember?" She wasn't getting his point... and maybe he wasn't getting hers.

"Aren't you going to say anything about me suddenly flying back?" Ridhima considered him for a moment, then turned around in her seat to face him completely.

"You mean like react and get upset?"

"Yeh... I mean no... I mean... I don't know. But something...? You're talking like you already knew about this."

"No I didn't. But you should go. Muskaan needs you, and I guess it sounds like Rahul needs you even more this time."

"And you?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

"Don't you need me Ridhima? Aren't you going to try and stop me even once?" He spoke in exact words, expecting an exact answer.

"Why does it have to be optional? Should I not need you when Muskaan or Rahul do? Can it only be one of us at a time?" He flayed his hands in the air at her reply.

"Well I can be only one place at a time..." he started to explain his patience fast deserting him.

"And the place is Calcutta for now." she stated cutting him short.

"And so the point is?"

"You tell me the point Armaan. What do you want? I know you're going to go, I know you should go, its the only right thing, why do you expect me to sit and cry about it? And what does my needing you have anything to do with you being in Calcutta or Chicago?"

"Because if I'm in Calcutta, I'm not here. I'm not with you..."

"Are you going to leave me forever to not come back again?"

"Hell NO! I just mean... there's no plan here. I don't know what to expect when I reach and... I don't know what to commit and where and... Its just... complicated."

"Its not Armaan. Its not complicated at all." She pulled herself forward to the edge of her chair and pulled his hand towards herself. Then she placed her hand in it with the ring shining bright. "You already committed." she told him, by way of informing, "And so, this isn't like last time. I know things... I know everything. Its not about you and your family anymore. Its about us, our family. They are as much to me as they have always been to you. Is that so hard for you to believe?" Armaan shook his head in two thoughtful strokes and she felt him grip her hand tighter.

"Then we are in this together. I need you, and I know, you're with me, always. But its also the other way around."
Armaan saw her lower her head looking at nothing in particular and she talked like she was telling herself.

"I don't care how much and when you need me, but I want to be there for you. I need to know I'm important, and that I can be the support for you that you are for me. Its not about you being responsible for me, its about us being responsible for each other and... "

She was startled to be pulled into a kiss, would have most certainly fallen off her chair but Armaan grabbed her firmly and she fell against his chest instead; he deepened the kiss. For a couple of seconds she barely recovered from the unexpected, and then she sensed the urgency of his emotion. It was his vent, the frustration he had to get rid off, the tension he had to release, and also, Ridhima realized, wrapping her arms around his neck, the assurance he was desperate for even though he'd never ask. And she kissed him back, her fingers unknosing massaging through his hair down to his neck.

"Come with me to Calcutta," he breathed onto her lips after some long moments of intimate passion eventuated from the several pent up emotions. Resting half against the desk behind her but more upon his chest, she opened her eyes as his words sunk in.

"Huh...?" He had good as rendered her speechless.
She searched him for a meaning, if any, this had to be... just impulsive... right?

"You're right. This isn't about me and my life, or my family and my problems."

He paused, still looking into her eyes and pulled her gently to rest on his lap. Then he lifted her hand and kissed it over the ring. Ridhima chidded herself mentally to feel her heart move in its spot. This was serious talk, she forced herself to focus, despite how affected her sensibility suddenly was becoming, and she was almost thankful when he lowered his eyes away from her, until she felt him toy with her ring.

"Its about us, our family. And they need you now Ridhima," he said and looked back up into her eyes, "I need you..."

And her assumption that he would never ask her for it became a nothing. She stared at him and he kissed her lightly over her lips again, then whispered, in a declaration so solemn,

"I need the relationship we share sweetheart, I need you by my side... I can go on and handle all the affairs as I have been until now, but I need my fall back. I need to be told if I'm right or wrong, I'm tired of running everything in my life and having no one to share it with. I need you honey... come with me..." and he rest his forehead against hers, his hands gripping the nape of her neck on either side, pulling her to himself, "I need you..."

She believed she could live her entire life with this one time of confession, without having him repeat it ever again. He wasn't weak, he wasn't imploring... he was explaining to her, that she was the equal in his life as she wanted to be. And that only she could be it. And it felt like the best compliment she had ever received. She wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace, bending her head over his, and her lips kissed his hair. And she felt the warmth of his breath down her neck over her bosom, and she stopped breathing for several seconds herself. He let his hands slide down to her waist and circled it tight, pulling her closer still and the breath she held onto escaped her like a sharp gasp. He tilted his head back at her and she saw the questions in his eyes.

Slowly she raised her hand and fingered his ruffled lock of hair back off his eyes, and nodded.

"I'll come with you... to Calcutta..."

"To home..." he corrected her and in a strange way, she felt it fall into place- a land she had never seen, a family she had never met, a house she had never known... all of it seemed right, and in a true sense, she felt like she would be going home. 


*****************************

alright... part 23-J here... yeh yeh, no prizes for guessing it was J!!

anyways, for a part that was typed out lying ready to be posted i took mighty long,,, the week past took its toll and had me down with a horrible toady cough and high fever... and then... for every random reason no one ever thinks off, i kept dilly dallying... but the thing is here i am at last...

and yes, for all those who guessed, and all those who did not, this is the last part indeed... and the fic finally LIKE FINALLY genuinely ends :D

credits... what can i say.... betty to have waited forever for me to cement paras into a part and announcing to the world that i was a damn delayed lazy bum.... and pebbz... in some hope of fixing her TTT...

hinuuuuuuuuuu miss you  :(
and happy birthday aliya...erm belated... hope you still enjoy the part even though it didnt come in time...
JK... here it is, the part, before the 2nd as you hoped :)

lovya all, cheers!

nj Embarrassed

ps: fellas... it totally has taken me forever to get done with every part of unleashing, and though i have enjoyed doing every bit of it, for the heck of doing it alone as much... i love reading comments from everyone... EVERYONE... the old ones gone missing, and the new ones who showed up just once... as for the latest added to the list readers, i sympathize with the amount you must have had to read all at once.... if you're still awake after reading it al, do leave me a couple of words atleast... :D

pps: my comments are due on many fics... n so are my replies on unleashing... will do so sometime today... sorry for the delays... also, pm's later!!


Edited by spln - 05 May 2009 at 10:35pm

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