Joined: 25 October 2011
OS: When With You
"I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you" - poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in a letter addressed to her husband and the love of her life, Robert Browning.
Khushi gazed on with something akin to awed fascination.
She hardly got to see Arnavji these days, what with all the new contracts his company had recently signed - he left early in the mornings, returning late at night, weary and often in a foul mood, sometimes speaking only a handful of syllables before collapsing into bed. Even tonight, when the last of the contracts had been successfully finalised, he had only spared her one affectionate peck on the cheek after dinner before traipsing back to their bedroom, muttering inaudible 'goodnights' to Nani and Di.
It had irked her at times and hurt her at others, the way he seemed to have no time to spare for her anymore, an unreasonable part of her indignant despite knowing how great the responsibility of shouldering the family business was, resigning herself to her circumstances until his workload lightened. Granted, he wasn't a very expressive person to begin with but still...she missed his presence around her, missed their harmless little fights, missed the silly little jokes that only the two of them understood. Missed the quirks of his eyebrows and his lips, the fiery show of amusement or irritation or mischief or cynicism in his deep caramel orbs directed at her.
She missed simply being with him.
Now, lying wide awake into the night, all that pent-up longing manifested itself, and Khushi found herself on her side, studying her sleeping husband intently.
Waiting for only a demi-second of uncertainty, she gave in to her meaningless whim, letting her eager fingers raise themselves to lightly graze back the stubborn cowlick hanging over his forehead.
A throaty little laugh almost bubbled out of her mouth when the strand of hair sprang back into place.
Just as stubborn as the Laad Governor.
Raising herself carefully into a half-recline, she propped herself up on one elbow while the other continued its exploration, gently, almost diffidently, tracing the sprig of dark, coffee-black hair, before tentatively letting her fingers sink into the unruly nest atop his head.
His hair was so soft. That little fact still surprised her, even though her fingers had carded through it many times before. She watched, enthralled, as the normally slick, disciplined strands twined through her digits, curling about her fingertips, their silk-like touch titillating the skin of her palm.
A startled, noiseless squeak of alarm frothed in her mouth when, without warning, Arnavji tossed his frame slightly to the left, the rustle of the bedclothes and his shuffling body drowned out by her resonating dhak dhak thumping against her eardrums. Her searching hand froze, apprehension, a strange cocktail of terror and thrill, chasing down her frame as she waited indeterminate seconds...but he did not awake. Instead, with a faint, indiscernible mumble, he languorously slung an arm over her, catching her about her hip, searching her presence even in his sleep before his head lolled back against his pillow.
It had been an unconscious, involuntary act on his part - and yet Khushi found a shaking hand press over her wildly cavorting heartbeat, half-afraid that its boisterous beat would rouse him. Guilty pleasure rinsed through her, sedating her scruples and fears of being caught in her unabashed, stealthy admiration of him, excitement and happiness crashing inside the well of her gut like peaking crests of surf cascading into the shoreline.
After all this time, she still found herself grappling with the knowledge that she was a part of his life now. That he needed her. Just as she needed him.
The poignancy of her sentiments undid what little remained of her reserve, and drunk on the false security the indigo-grey dimness of the night provided, coupled with the steady, luxurious draws of sleepy breaths by her reposing husband, Khushi's caresses grew bolder, more deliberate. She skimmed her fingertips tenderly over his scalp - the tips of the tendrils were still slightly damp from the shower he had taken before turning in, only roughly towel-drying it before he had flung himself into bed from exhaustion. He had commented offhandedly at one point that it was high-time he got a haircut - the past month had been gruelling at work for him and Jeeju, and he had had to forgo some of his finer grooming habits, affording enough time only to comb back every last wayward strand clear from his forehead and then to the side with copious amounts of hair-gel.
Knowing how finicky her husband was when it came to dressing and appearing immaculate, Khushi had made no comment.
For even her playful and daredevil spirit squirmed with embarrassment at the idea of his finding out - finding out just how much she adored it when he looked anything but immaculate. She could not even bring herself to tease him about it - about the messy nest of errant whorls that his hair resembled in those short-lived moments between his showers and his morning rituals with comb and hair-gel. Couldn't tell him how that rakish, unkempt look of his, with the untended stubble, somehow took a few years off his countenance, making him appear somewhat charmingly boyish, just a glimpse of the carefree unconcerned child he had once been, the child which remained hidden now behind years of weighty, grave indifference.
Tell him how it often left her breathless, when he would fix those depthless eyes on her, a misbehaving curl of hair falling over his forehead and touching his brow. How it often made her forget herself. Her name.
How it thrummed forbidden rhythms in her heart, leaving her captivated by the sheer magnetism of attraction he exuded without effort.
How she still struggled to understand, to become accustomed to, this debilitating, self-destructive euphoria, that terrified and excited her in equal measure, frightening in its intensity, potent in its strength.
Instead, Khushi took it all in, storing it away in the vaults of her memory like love-letters hidden in a locked drawer, a wonderful secret that only she was privy to, only she privileged to know.
She never even mentioned how she would fondly watch him murmur unintelligible things as he shifted in his sleep.
Never spoke of how adorable she found it when his mouth would hang slightly open as he snoozed the night away.
Never commented on how he would throw an arm over his head at times, the blankets spangled about his torso, a leg or an arm securing her to his side.
She was happy simply to relish in this private, exclusive knowledge that only she possessed - all these little things, tiny, mundane details, which made Arnav Singh Raizada as human as she was. Things which made him - less untouchable, his perfection less intimidating, less icy and cool and detached. It made her feel special, honoured - that she knew, intimately, the Arnav existing behind the ASR.
That he had let her know him like this.
Reverent, worshipping fingers traced his sleeping, calm face, mesmerised by the restful calm relaxing the normally tense muscles of his jaw, small electric crackles tingling in her skin as it lingered over his rough stubble, over the lines of his aristocratic cheekbones, his aquiline nose. They trailed beneath his shuttered, soulful eyes, a small frown furrowing her brow as they dipped into the depressions left there by long-hours and arduous work. They traced the shape of his opened mouth, a private smile blossoming over her lips, and then feathered over his eye-brows, relaxed in slumber.
And just as she spied the hour-hand of the wall-clock, pointing peremptorily at the second hour of the morning, heaving a small resigned sigh as she made to withdraw her hand -
-an alarmed shriek disrupted the serene bliss of their bedroom as a bronzed, lithe arm shot out of nowhere, firm, fettering fingers cuffing her wrist.
And as an increasingly distraught Khushiji stared back in horror at the dimly-lit visage of her husband, an amused, mischievous smirk curved slowly up his mouth, while half-lidded eyes stared back at her knowingly.
'Tired of me already, Khushi?'
Khushi's throat seized up at once, and all that came out of her mouth was something resembling a strangled gurgle as she jerked backwards, panic draining her head of thought, leaving it cold and bitingly numb.
To her immense chagrin, Arnavji did not release his hold on her, one eyebrow quirking slightly as he tugged her captive hand back towards him.
Sheer mortification made her head spin, embarrassment coiling into a stranglehold about her windpipe as she ducked her head at once, focusing with all her might on his chin, hoping the still-darkness of the room would shield some of the raw, telling emotions scribbled across her face.
'A-aap...er...aap...ab-abhi bhi so-soye nahi?' she stuttered lamely, positive that her flaming face must by now appear glow-in-the-dark. She kept her eyes carefully trained on his collar now, holding her breath as though hoping to knock herself unconscious from oxygen-deprivation.
'Tum bhi toh abhi takh soyi nahi...' an involuntary shiver fingered up the back of her neck, tickling lightly over the skin left bare by the rather wide neckline of her simple, white kurta, as his huskier-than-usual baritone brushed over her like static.
For some absurd reason, Khushi found herself longing for her dupatta, discarded out of her reach on the too-far recliner.
'Um-' she stalled wildly, scavenging in the midst of the scandalised thoughts running berserk in her mind, 'I- uh- woh - I remembered that I haven't - I hadn't- brushed my teeth!'
And she made to bound out of the bed, head swinging round to fix on the promised sanctuary behind the bathroom door, her heart rabbiting ahead in acute, senseless panic.
Arnavji, however, had other plans.
In a flurry of bedclothes and a flash of movement, he had sat up, relinquished his grip on her wrist, and grasped hold of her upper arms in as unforgiving a restraint as a pair of strait-jackets.
And one distressed screech later, the back of Khushi's head had hit his plush pillow, the one he had been lounging back against just moments ago. And before her speed-blinded senses could even process what had happened, let alone collect her widely scattered wits, he was right there, looming over her, his face half in shadow, the heat radiating from his body falling on her like an airy blanket.
She had only enough time to discern a flash of white as he smirked down at her, before he dipped his head low over her own, educing a surprised gasp from her before he tilted his mouth to her ear, wayward strands of his hair teasing stinging lines over her burning cheek as he murmured suggestively, 'Oh? Let me check for you then...'
Khushi's brain short-circuited, her arms, which had gripped onto his shoulders, whether to shove him off or to keep herself afloat she didn't know, falling lifelessly by her sides, as she felt the tip of his nose nudge playfully at her lobe, puffing hot breath against the ticklish patch behind it before nimbly outlining her jawbone.
And then those warm gusts of air were falling on her parted, panting lips.
She could taste the shadow of mint and something a bit more...vague...something mysterious- but delectably sweet...her mouth grew dry even as her eyes rolled back into her head, lids falling shut, throat constricting from this enigmatic thirst...
And then the incongruous, out-of-place sound of someone inhaling with exaggerated heartiness crumpled her mindless trance like a wad of paper.
Mentally adding heartburn and asthma to the hyperacidity and blood-pressure issues already listed amongst her grievous afflictions, Khushi's eyes snapped open, glazed and unfocused, to rivet dilated pupils on Arnavji as he reared back, a grin that was the farthest possible thing from innocent budding on his face.
'Minty fresh,' came his guttural verdict. Even in the dark, Khushi did not miss the knowing twinkle in his glittering bronze eyes.
And that accursed lock of hair was still falling between them, her forefinger itching with the insane need to brush it aside.
Muggy heat swamped about her, rising and coalescing like steamy vapour about her head as her dismay twisted in her stomach. Fighting not to go cross-eyed, both from his proximity and the abysmal awkwardness of her predicament, Khushi bucked, aiming to take him by surprise and unbalance him.
What exactly she planned to do after that she was not sure. She would think about it when she got there.
But she never got there, as it happened, for in her thoroughly muddled frame of mind, Khushi had failed to take note of the restraining hands still pinning her down on to the bed.
Her light, innocent touches had been torture, dragging him to the cusp of insanity, cruelly letting him teeter on the brink of an endless ravine he almost willingly dove into. It had cost him near-inhuman degrees of self-control and willpower not to crack, not to betray his only-too-alert wakefulness as those delightfully tormenting caresses had whispered over his skin, teasing him, stoking the insatiable, reckless fire blazing eternally in his chest, where his heart was supposed to be.
Now, with his sumptuously blushing wife trapped under his hulking frame, her slightly wary, slightly shy eyes glimmering in the faint pearly shaft of moonlight encroaching upon their domain through the negligently parted curtains, Arnav had every intention of punishing Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada mercilessly for being such a -albeit unintentional - tease.
For the time being though, he was content to entertain himself with the rather adorable sight of Khushi squirming in discomfiture below him, contradicting emotions dancing across her exquisite china-doll features - the embarrassment in the rapidly fluttering eyelashes, the ripe cherry blush melting into those creamy-white cheeks, the dewy lower lip protruding in a show of consternation and annoyance, while her liquidy bright, iridescent eyes darted every which way to avoid catching his own.
But that did not stop him from reading them.
After all, even when Khushi remained silently, her eyes always gave her away to him.
And right now Arnav could sense the momentous tug of war between her vexation at being caught, and her indignation at him for toying with her.
She appeared to reach a compromise though, clearing her throat pertly as she half-glared up at him, her unhappy pout now mimicked by the frown crinkling her forehead. It was all Arnav could do to keep his amusement breaking out across his face - a muscle flexed helplessly at the corner of his mouth.
'Arnavji - it's two in the morning,' she informed him primly, inclining her head in the direction of the clock as though to prove her point, 'You should be asleep.'
'Hmm,' he gave himself over to mock contemplation, lowering himself slightly until his weight was more comfortably buttressed by his elbows. Khushi tried to seize immediate advantage of being freed from his grasp, wriggling to shift herself back to her side of the bed, but her efforts ended in a dulcet, breathy little gasp as her struggles only brought her into closer contact with his hard, unrelenting body, now much closer to her than before. He waited until Khushi's fruitless bids for freedom died down and she fixed him with yet another annoyed glare before remarking again, 'But you are awake too.'
Khushi's glare grew murderous, pelting daggers at him, the feisty glint he secretly thrived on alighting in her narrowed stare. 'You're the one that has to go to work in the morning you know. And-' she hurriedly added, with the slightly smug air of one about to deliver a touche repartee, '-you are also the one that gets cranky when they don't get enough sleep.'
If she had been aiming to irk him into abandoning the line this conversation was taking, all her hopes were dashed when Arnav grinned wolfishly back at her, relishing in the astonishment sweeping over her expression.
'As it happens, Mrs. Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada-' he informed her throatily, touching the tip of his nose with hers and inhaling the airy, floral fragrance that defined his wife, '-I plan on staying home for the day.'
Below him, Khushi perceptibly stilled.
'Mmm...' he gave in to temptation and sank lower, less than half an inch separating him from Khushi now as his breathed in deeply the sedating aroma of jasmine clinging to Khushi's unblemished nape.
'But- it's a Friday...'
'Yes...' it had almost come out as a groan; almost, for just then Khushi's chest had fleetingly hit his as it heaved in tandem with her audible breaths.
'So...you mean...you'll work from home?'
It was so obvious what she was trying to ask, what she wanted to hear, and it was this endearing, barely-masked hope that dissipated some of the bewitching fog clouding his presence of mind - just enough to let him draw back and peer into the carefully controlled inquisitiveness rounding his wife's eyes.
'No...' he answered slowly, blinking back the havoc that simply her scent could wreak on his senses, channelling all of his attention on to the divine little creature laying complacent in his arms now, looking up at him as though he was the only thing that mattered, memorising each glimmer of her eye or quiver of her lip as he spoke, offhandedly, languorously, '...you see, I've been missing my wife a lot lately. I haven't been able to spend much time with her because of work...so I decided to give myself an extended weekend. To devote entirely to her.'
And in one instant all that hesitant hopefulness strumming at his heartstrings evaporated - and Khushi smiled at him.
And even a being as cynical as himself, not given in the least to flights of fancy, would swear that the sight of it stole his breath. He gagged on air, not bothered in the least about the painful twangs snapping like stretched-out elastic bands against his ribs, or the spasms of his lungs as they bloated with the air he was supposed to exhale but had forgotten about. He was entirely, thoroughly, completely enslaved by the pure, compelling joy glittering up at him as the corners of her eyes crinkled with her smile, the edges of her lips lifted upwards in obvious pleasure as her face gained a golden sheen that reminded him of morning sunlight, making her already luminescent skin glow in surreal beauty.
She was exquisite.
'Really?' she trilled exuberantly, her delight lilting her tone, her previous wrath and dismay forgotten.
Just as he forgot himself in her dazzling smile, heady emotion clogging up his throat, his Adam's apple bobbing furiously as wracking spasms, suspiciously similar to a sob, clawed their way up until lodging at the bridge of his nose, causing his already prickling eyes to water. Arnav nodded quickly before tucking his face into the sway of her slender neck, gathering her closer to him as he fought to anchor himself in the unexpected aftershocks one simple smile of hers had sent juddering through him.
The past few weeks had been nightmarish - endless meetings, interviews, appointments, mountains of paperwork that needed reviewing and approving, every last facet of three, prestigious new contracts AR had lobbied for requiring his special attention. Throughout it all, the whole blur of half-images and weary recollections of hours of painstaking labour, quick, perfunctory meals snatched in hurried interludes, the stream of statistics and graphs rushing past -
- throughout all that the only thing that had remained constant had been Khushi.
She had been up in the mornings before him, his breakfast ready and laid on the table by the time he had dressed and descended. She had braved his capricious, vacillating temper whenever he had hit a festering hindrance in the smooth running of his work, not flinching when he snapped at her for inane things like moving a file from where he'd tossed it on the bed to his cupboard, or replacing his habitual towel, sodden from a shower, with a dry one. Like an alarm-clock, she had rung him up without fail, spot on time every single day to remind him of his medication, checking and double-checking with the peons at work and with Akash that he had had his lunch. Whenever he had needed to vent his frustration, or speculate his success, she had always been there, listening with patient, rapt attention. Whenever he had felt himself falter she had been right there beside him, the belief shining doggedly in her eyes willing him to reinstate his faith in himself.
And not once, throughout the pandemonium he had wrought on his own life and hers, had she complained.
And now, just because he had said he was taking a day off to spend with her, she smiled at him as though he had just laid the entire world at her feet.
A smile just for him. For being with him.
'Khushi,' he slurred, delving his face deeper into her nape, that inherent fear of being too vulnerable, of being inadequate, inept, making the idea of her seeing him at this low repulsive, 'Khushi, I'm sorry for-'
'It's OK, Arnavji,' he felt more than heard her interrupt him, tenderly, her words vibrating down her throat and against his mouth. Her fingers smoothed into his hair once more, resuming their soothing strokes. Miraculously, this minimal dose of her touch helped some of his chagrin ebb away, as she added in a light murmur, 'I understand.'
And she meant it.
She understood, and while she had no clue how, it did not seem to matter.
Because though it was true that he would leave her in the early hours of the morning, spending the whole day away from her, it was also true that he never failed to wish her good-morning, with a soft kiss pressed to her forehead.
It was true that he seemed always to be in an unholy rush to leave home, practically guzzling down the breakfast she took particular care to make with her own hands, he never left without thanking her for it.
It was true that no matter how long or how onerous his workload became, he never failed to answer her phone-calls.
It was true that no matter how late it got by the time he got home, he would not rest until he had seen her, even though no words may be exchanged.
It was true that she had had to stand several bouts of his bad temper, had had several hurtful, undeserved rebukes levelled at her.
But it was also true that whenever his bottled, suppressed frustration fizzed out and spouted in her direction, he would not fall asleep until she had turned herself in for the night. No matter how long his day had been, no matter how fatiguing.
It was true that he would gently, almost timidly scoop her into his embrace, holding her close to his heart, his thumb pressed against the singing pulse of her wrist as he laid her hand over his chest, letting his heart speak what he found too difficult say.
It was true that he would press his lips to her temple or the thrumming pulse behind her ear, running his hands comfortingly through her hair, coaxing her deeper into a night of fitful slumber, each action apologetic, beseeching in a way that belied everything she had known about him before.
Everything that, in the eyes of the world, he was supposed to be.
Just for her.
He made her feel special. Unique.
And she loved him for it.
Words had always been difficult for him, always a bit too much like a piece of his soul given away irrevocably, freely, to be used and trampled and abused at will, to be tossed away as worthless trash. Long years of reclusion had bred in him almost a habit where, when it mattered the most, he often found his impressive vocabulary short-coming, too inept and insufficient a medium to project even a fraction of the sentiments that ran deeper than his skin, juggling with his heart, spearing through his spirit.
And perturbed by this flaw in a character he had tried to hone as flawless, he often wound up saying the last thing he wanted to say, the last thing he could possibly mean.
Perhaps it was the toll of the times when he had come so dangerously close to losing Khushi - losing her to another man, losing her to his own foolhardiness, losing her to the demon of his worst fears, death - but Arnav's previous self-assurance, his confidence in his ability to write his own fate had taken a battering. He carried with him now a perpetual fear - of saying too little, saying too much. Doing too little, doing too much.
Nothing he did ever seemed worthy of her, nothing seemed enough to chain her permanently to his side.
A sliver of panic shuttled through him, this deeply-rooted dread pinging in his chest. Swallowing hard, Arnav snaked a hand into the luxury of Khushi's unbound hair, fingering the fine, satiny tresses with a reverence that bordered on disbelief, incredulity that she hadn't left him already, even after he had let her acquaint herself with his innumerable flaws, his countless defects, every weakness he hid from the world. His gratitude flared inside his chest like miniature fireworks, sizzling and sparkling in boisterous bursts of colour and light and sound.
It's OK, Arnavji. I understand.
And he believed her, because Khushi would never lie to him. Not about something this important.
And even if she tried, he would catch the ruse in her eyes.
He had spent so long being depended upon, as the eldest son of the house, as the wage earner for his family, as the closest link his sister had to their parents, as an older brother, as the head of a huge company...that he had entirely forgotten what it was like to depend on someone else.
And though so many, many days had passed since he had made Khushi rightfully his, even though he had started to gradually open up to her in ways he did not even open up to his sister, to the point that it had started becoming second nature to him, something instinctive, reflexive, effortless, he still floundered under this compelling, explosive mix of ecstasy and serenity, exhilaration and bliss, that rocketed through his body and made his heart stammer as Khushi let him speak his innermost feelings in the only way he knew how.
Through his actions.
He knew he did not deserve her, knew he had caused her far too much pain and anguish in the past. But his remorse fell short of the selfish, greedy pleasure conquering his body like a vengeful warlord as he lifted his head up, ready to dive headlong into the fathomless pools of love and devotion glimmering candidly in her eyes, lifting her right hand in something of a ritual, his thumb finding her pulse frolicking as fast as the heart he now pressed her palm against.
And he could tell in her eyes that she understood.
Her loving hand flicked aside the cowlick dropping against her forehead as he bent over her, a small amused smile blooming when it fell obstinately back into place.
He wondered, for the umpteenth time, why he did not feel even an ounce of discomfort, a modicum of indignity, being before her like this - dishevelled, damaged, imperfect, a tangible projection of everything he had devoted his life not to be.
But somehow, it did not appal him as it was once wont to.
Because she loved him, just as he was.
She made him feel sheltered, treasured ... worthy.
She made him feel safe in himself, from himself.
And he loved her for it.
'You still haven't told me yet...'
'Told you what?'
'What you were doing up so late.'
'What are you ta- oh! OH! I mean- No! I wasn't doing anything!'
'No? It didn't seem that way to me...'
'You must have been dreaming.'
'I assure you, it felt very real to me...'
'Arnavji! What are you doing?'
'What? I'm just trying to refresh your memory...'
'Eek! Stop that! I never did that!'
'Oh? What did you do then?'
'Hmm...maybe you need a little more reminding...'
'Stop, stop! OK fine! I was looking at you. Happy now?'
'Looking at me? I didn't know you could use your hands to look at me- maybe I should try it for myself-'
'Don't you dare!'
'What? I was only looking.'
'What exactly were you looking at, Khushi?'
'I was looking at you - like this. You know - without your khadoos Laad Governor waala avatar.'
'You, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada, really know how to kill a person's mood.'
'But I mean it though! I - I kind of like it when you...when you look like yourself. And not like what you want everyone else to see.'
'-and I - Arnavji I - you...thank you. I mean - thank you, for being this way with me.'
'Thank you Khushi. For being with me.'
So...*back to freaking out* I'm supposed to be packing and I'm glued to my screen. There is no hope
Your comments/likes would make my day :)
Also, it'd be kinda fun if you guys dropped a prompt or something for future one-shots - my sister gave me one with Linkin Park's 'Castle of Glass'...if I survive the trauma of living alone, AND finish that pesky last chapter of Fortunate Events and the whole of Resolutions, I might pen it down some day.
I reserve all rights over this work of fiction and request readers do not reproduce/copy/modify it elsewhere and/or claim credit. Plagiarism is petty, it's illegal, and it's just not worth it. So don't do it please.
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