Joined: 25 October 2011
Joined: 25 October 2011
I know I promised to dedicate a romantic chapter to all the readers of this FF ...but when I was typing up this chapter, I realised that these two have some more bridges to cross before they can actually be lovey-dovey. So, because I didn't want to break my promise, I typed another shorter chapter, which is, hopefully, more romantic :) I hope you guys like both of them, I dedicate it to all the wonderful people who've supported me this far :) Love you guys!
Chapter Thirty Six
Arnav's story wound to a stop.
For the past quarter of an hour, he had been narrating, as lucidly as he could, every step he had taken to forestall the threat of Shyam Manohar Jha. His recitation unfolded everything, from the security men guarding Bauji's wardroom incognito at all hours of the day, to the private investigators he had set on the snake's tail as soon as he had fled. He outlined to Khushi the present position- Shyam Jha had burrowed himself in Lucknow, at a friend's house. Obviously, the reason for his flight had been one monumental event- the recovery of Bauji. Whatever doubts he may have had about Shashi Gupta spilling the beans on him would most certainly have been consolidated to solid proof when he had paid a midnight visit to the hospital, only to be confronted and sent scarpering. He had even chucked his phone away so he could not be traced. That was why when Di actually did attempt to call him earlier, she couldn't reach him.
Throughout the narration Khushi remained silent, almost immobile as she hung avidly on every word. Arnav could feel her eyes on him, but the guilt that had set off his desperate plea for her trust was still loitering about, and he could not meet her gaze. Instead, he preferred to stare at the corner of the bedpost as he spoke.
Because he didn't know if he had the guts needed to withstand the questions, the inevitable questions that were bound to arise in Khushi's mind. Not sure if he could stomach the accusation in her eyes that could be justified only too well- What was the point of the private investigators? What were they meant to do? Keep watch? Make sure he didn't graph any more treachery? How did he expect to keep that menace at bay, prevent him from returning if he ever tried? And when he did...what would happen next? Would they simply stand by and endure his return, pretending that they didn't know an 'adder fanged' existed in their midst? Or would he be punished? Would vengeance be sworn for the damage he had caused to countless lives?
Because one fact would never change- that devil deserved to be shoved into the very pits of hell, deserved to die a slow, painful, long-drawn out death...he had caused his Khushi so much pain...he had made him hurt her...he had played with so many lives, prepared to gamble away their joy, prepared to kill for his selfish, demented ends...Arnav drew in a slow, shuddering breath, which failed to ease a dull pain as it became more and more prominent.
But there was another, equally undeniable fact...Di...She adored him, cherished him, practically worshipped him...inundated in tears at even the whisper of some harm to him...
And yet...there were discrepancies to that theory...all those things that Khushi had noted about Di's apathy...things which he had scrutinised for himself later...things which did not seem to tally, did not make sense...
Arnav fought with himself to keep from groaning out load, from dropping his head in defeat into his arms, in frustration. How was he going to get through this? The return of Shyam boded the return of septic bitterness, threatening to scare Khushi away from him once more. For all his promises never to hurt Khushi again, how could he expect her to trust him if he could not even mete out justice where it was indisputably due? Dithering on the verge of avenging her, but not knowing how...He was stuck in mid space, unable to move, limbs atrophied, not able to reach the heavens nor touch land...it was, he thought grimly, comparable to being in purgatory...and this state of suspension, with hollowed, lonely eternity yawning open before him, was the most frightening thing he had ever experienced.
At first he thought he had imagined it. His eyes shot up slightly from where they had been fixated on the bed post. But he had always been sensitive whenever it came to the nuances of change in Khushi, and it was not long before he could detect something that almost felt like...felt like...that vivacity, vitality had- shrunk? Curiosity got the better of him and he turned about.
Khushi was still sitting as she had been, knees bent and legs tucked in beneath her. But the way she held herself made Arnav question whether the words he had heard in her voice, echoing in his head in their incongruity, had actually been real. Her hands where both stretched out before her, balled into fists and jammed between her knees, her head bent. Her face was in shadow.
'Khushi?' his low voice was questioning, almost mystified. She did not move. A bubble of anxiety popped in his heart, and Arnav's hand reached out, his forefinger and thumb gently coaxing her chin, urging her to lift her head.
'I'm sorry, Arnavji,' she repeated, this time confirming Arnav's doubts. To say that he was flummoxed would be an understatement, and his inability to grasp what was going on was heightened as Khushi raised her eyes to him. They were moist with earnestness, glimmering with remorse. Confusion spiralled to new heights. Why on earth is SHE apologising?
Khushi shivered a little, her eyes shutting tightly. 'It's my fault,' she whispered, every limb locked, rigid. 'I should have told you, or Di, or anyone about him as soon as I found out- but I didn't' An almost eerie ring had crept into the hush of her voice, which began to gather a hectic pace, words tripping over one another as though hoping the trial would be easier if she could get over it quickly '-I didn't, and that's why things have gone this far, went this wrong...Di doesn't deserve to be married to a man like that...he doesn't deserve all the love she gives him...and she doesn't deserve to live a lie. I'm so, so sorry.'
Khushi remained silent for a long time, afraid almost to move. Finally, the guilt that had been nibbling away at her had found an escape valve and spilled, tumbling out. There had always been an undercurrent of contrition, always this need almost to atone, in whatever way. Perhaps that was one reason why she diverted all her energies in caring for Di, shield her from whatever deceit her husband might be devising against her, as a feeble form of repentance. But it never changed the fact that in the midst of the omens of apocalypse, despite being a victim herself...she had been, even if in a small way, a catalyst. She had made the crucial, the grave decision of keeping to herself one deadly secret, on which hung the futures and fortunes of the people she sought to protect.
'Khushi,' his firm, almost stern voice made the thrashing tendrils of penitence clench as though bracing for blows. The tips of his fingers were drawing lines of fire upon her skin, tremblingly slow, and Khushi had to harness every bit of self control not to give in to their enticing persuasion, not to be lured into his eyes once more. She knew she hadn't deserved being dragged through hell- but she had had a part to play, and her part had perhaps precipitated that avalanche that had engulfed everything else in its wintry, bleak coverlet. She knew that if he blamed her for it, he could well be justified.
But the idea was terrifying. If he accepted it...she would never be able to forgive herself.
She heard him exhale, his breath sounding as though it snagged as it escaped his mouth. But when he spoke, it was hardly what Khushi could have expected.
'Khushi,' the pain he was trying to curb was audible in his groan, 'when will you stop blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong?'
Surprised round eyes finally relented and flitted in astonishment towards him. He stared back at her, a severity etched into every line of his face. He looked almost exasperated.
'B-but,' Khushi stammered in confusion, failing to fathom why he looked- almost admonishingly- at her, 'but Arnavji, I gave him a second chance! If I hadn't, he never would have tried to do the things he did...' Bafflement magnified within her as she watched him close his eyes, every line on his face rigid, suddenly sharper, watched as he slowly shook his head. Still with his eyes shut, barring Khushi from scouring in their molten gold pools for answers, he spoke, in a controlled tenor.
'If that was a mistake, Khushi, that was your only mistake. And if you are apologising for that one mistake- what am I supposed to do for the hundreds of mistakes I have made?'
The blinds shielding his eyes finally lifted and Khushi felt a prickling sensation shoot up her spine at the ignited sparks that burst forth from his eyes the minute he fixed his stare on her. It cut straight through her, like cold blade slitting warm flesh. And once more, every throb of her heart was a new lesson in agony.
She hadn't intended to hurt him. She would never have wanted to hurt him.
The anguish in his eyes was unbearable.
'No...' it took every fibre of control she could command to regain control over her voice, 'No...' The tinier locomotives in her mind were scrambling in mass disarray, fighting to prove him wrong but not knowing how, fighting to retrieve something, anything from the crisscrossing tracks, to keep him from wounding himself. It hurt. It hurt so bad. 'If I hadn't let his lie go the first time...he wouldn't have-'
'If that makes you guilty Khushi,' Arnav interjected quietly, the liquid pools of his eyes now caramel-coloured marbles, 'Then... I'm guilty too. You let him have a second chance- and I let him have a third.'
He inched closer to her on the bed, looking imploringly into her eyes, begging her almost to listen, to believe, '...if you apologise, then I must too...if you were wrong, then so was I...you think you wronged Di, but you were trying to protect her, just as I was... and if you blame yourself for it, you should blame me ten times more.'
Khushi could not bring herself to respond- the frail connection that had existed between her mind and her tongue seemed to have shrivelled up, and she could but stare at him without remembering to blink.
'Besides,' he whispered, a rueful smile stretching his lips, his gentle fingers prying apart her fists, locked into each other, '...my mother used to say...'
Startled, Khushi barely noticed as he gently laced his fingers into hers, the warmth instantaneously shooting up her arms and quietening the distressed clamouring of the trains of her thought. He barely ever spoke about his mother...and this was the second time in as many days that he was bringing her up, so effortlessly it seemed only natural that he should.
'...she used to say that it's no big deal to make a mistake...because to err is human. What takes courage is to own up to it- because not everyone is brave enough to admit that they are wrong, and to accept the consequences...and even greater than the people who admit their mistakes are the people who try to right it...because it is always difficult to erase the memory of hurt you've given to others...'
Spellbound by his words, his voice lending breath to her body, Khushi did not realise when he had raised their entwined hands to his lips.
'...and she used to say that even greater than the people who learn to make up for their mistakes...are the ones who forgive...because it takes immense bravery to forget- forget and move on-that these are the people that will stand by us forever...'
This time when his eyes captured hers, the mournful desperation cleft straight through her heart.
'And I want- very badly- for her to be right.'
Vaguely, her father's advice whispered to her from the fringes of her mind...sounding oddly like wind-chimes tinkling in a breeze, singing to her...
Listen to your heart...
And Khushi surprised herself as she let her hand, without a hint of diffidence, cradle the side of his face. All she knew was, for some strange reason that her heart was convinced of and mind failed to comprehend, doing so would drain away some of the well of sorrow that threatened to overflow in him, grief that she could feel more acutely than she could see.
'She was right,' she heard herself whisper, once more surrendering her tongue to the jurisdiction of her commandeering heart.
Beautiful doe eyes agleam with sincerity, no longer hidden under alluringly fluttering lashes, but gazing straight into his with an earnestness that both cleaved his heart and healed it. The drum beats in chest, which had until seconds before abandoned all pretence at melody or rhythm, fell back into a healthy staccato, growing steadily louder.
The satin of her skin against the coarseness of his stubbled cheek, the tenderness her touch murmured, the breathtaking absence of hesitation...hope's wings, storm-drenched, feathers ruffled and bent, shook off a fine sprinkle of dew as it skyrocketed towards the heavens, slicing through the grey beclouding the sky. Into a sudden burst of sunshine.
And, with the world aglow in a watery light, sharpening the silhouettes of perspective previously blurred through the rainstorm that hope had scrambled for shelter from, Arnav made acquaintance with several vital facts, printed in no uncertain terms, as crisp and brisk as business cards filed in a wallet.
Do I deserve to be forgiven?
Could I ever forgive myself?
Am I worthy of her?
Perhaps not. But...
... I will make myself worthy. No matter what it takes...
Because losing this...Arnav's fingers raised gently to graze the back of the hand suffusing him with comfort he so desperately craved, submerging him with a tranquillity that might almost have been extinct...losing this would be imbecility of the greatest calibre.
'This time,' he growled, the sudden vehemence making Khushi start and snatch back her hand, before he caught hold of it securely once more, 'I'm not giving him any more chances. Enough is enough.'
Khushi's astonishment dissolved into comprehension, and her troubled glance darted towards the direction of her phone, lying, innocently enough, on the bedspread before them. Arnav did not miss the flicker of fear that sparked in her eyes, before she subdued it.
In the blink of an eye, all self-pity, all remorse was whisked away by a purposeful torrent and the slimy simpering voice that had defiled the wholesome air they shared echoed unpleasantly, gratingly, clattering about within his skull-
...I've been trying to call you for so long...I think about you all the time...please don't worry about me...I'm fine...and I promise I will be with you soon and free you from the clutches of that Arnav Singh Raizada...
Again that bestial fury was clawing at him, threatening to possess him entirely, driving out sense and sensibilities, leaving him with a burning need to get his hands around the throat of that filthy excuse of a human being and squeeze the life out of him. How dare he- how dare he even let the unholy notion that Khushi would think of him cross his mind? How dare he presume that Khushi, a pure untainted soul, would allow herself to be besmirched by his honeyed promises? How dare he even commit the atrocity of even thinking about her? Oh, the temptation of snapping his bones in two, one by one, seeing him writhing, bruised black and blue, on the floor at his feet, begging for mercy he could never hope to receive-
'But what are we going to do?' His murderous thoughts, blacker and more bloodthirsty than he could have imagined in their vindictiveness, disbanded for the moment and his attention reverted to Khushi, her brow furrowed as she looked askance at him, 'Di-'
'-doesn't deserve to live this lie,' Arnav finished grimly, 'You said so yourself. If we want what's best for her, we need to get rid of that bas***d once and for all.'
Khushi returned his gaze, his steely with fortitude, hers frowning ponderously. Finally, she broke the impasse, with a slight lilt of indecision, 'You know- I've never...I haven't really...until today, I've never really felt- afraid of him...'
She paused again, as though perusing her argument to gauge whether it would stand cross-examination. This time when she spoke, her speech took off with the speed of a bullet train.
'I mean to say, if a person knows the difference between good and bad-and they choose to be bad-at least they know. They know that what they are doing is wrong, people see it as wrong, that if they ever get caught, they'll be in trouble. Those kind of people still have a kind of conscience about them, because they still know the difference between right and wrong...when it comes to him though-'
She broke off, gazing up at him almost beseechingly, pleading him to understand.
And he understood. He understood exactly what she was trying to say.
If, even after fooling a young girl's family into a marriage alliance and then being discovered, even after attempting coldblooded murder, after doing everything in his power to woo Khushi without a moment's qualm about breaking Di's heart, her faith, her world...
If even after all this were discovered by the last people he could risk being exposed to, he had the guts to call Khushi...call her and assume, with no dearth of infamy, that he could still win her over, that she would still accept him in spite of his ignominious list of heinous sins...
'...it's like he doesn't see anything wrong with what he's done, what he's doing...' Khushi whispered softly, 'Like he thinks that whatever he has done is completely justified...and a man like that...'
Pure fear shone plaintively in the two tiny beacons staring up at him.
'...A man like that is capable of doing anything.'
*Three weeks ago*
The cellphone fell limply out of Anjali Jha's numb fingers, though she barely noticed. It landed with a soft thud onto the plush rug at her foot, screen downwards.
Her breathing was shallow- despite all the effort in dragging in air, the scanty oxygen she managed to soak in was not enough; the edges of an untimely dusk skulking into her unending day. Mind was frozen in place. Not moving forward, not moving back. Petrified. Blank.
And while she sat still, the room about her revolved, tilting about an axis, like a carousel spinning dizzyingly out of control.
'Arre Rani Sahiba!'
She felt something sink onto the bed beside her, felt the warmth, coupling with the sickly sweet scent of shampoo, washing over her. It was a familiar scent, one she had always found welcoming, balmy and pleasant.
Today, it felt sticky, it felt humid...Anjali gave up trying to breathe altogether, in an instinctive endeavour to keep from suffocating.
'What's wrong, Rani Sahiba? Are you not feeling well?'
Anjali turned unseeing eyes to the man peering anxiously at her. The smile that would automatically spread across her face, reassuringly gentle, cheerful, did not make its appearance with as much promptness as it was wont to. Instead, Anjali stared almost unseeingly into the face of her husband, as he frowned concernedly at her.
Captured on canvass.
Caught on tape.
It was as though the person she was sitting before was not really there.
It was as though she was sitting behind a screen, watching a drama unfold before her. A play. Of sentiment.
'Nothing, nothing!' she quipped brightly, her foot nudging the phone surreptitiously, until it was under the edge of the bedframe, 'It's just that your phone rang, and I was about to pick it up, but it slipped out of my fingers...and fell-'
'Rani Sahiba,' a tone speaking of reprove. Anjali had a mad, overpowering urge to sob. Why did this tone, this tone that she was so used to, found so charming, sound so...coloured? Unreal? Oh, how her heart wanted to believe, how it craved to believe...Anjali would help it. Yes, she would help her heart believe, preserve its undying faith in the man she loved...It did not even occur to her that she was lying. It did not occur to her that a facade had descended upon her with ease, a smiling, slightly sheepish facade behind which blatant denial, outright shock, had scurried for cover.
It was simply a reflex action. An impulsive act to conserve the world she lived in, the world that existed in her mind, and that she liked to believe existed in reality. An act for survival.
Shyam was speaking. She jerked her floundering attention back to his stream of mild reproaches.
'I've told you a million times Rani Sahiba, you have to take care of yourself! So what if the phone was ringing? No business can be more important than your health to me...your health and our child's. And don't you dare try to bend over again! I'll pick it up...'
'I thought- I thought it was important,' Anjali breathed a little haltingly, watching with eyes that dared not blink as her husband knelt down beside the bed, extending his arm under the bed to retrieve his phone. 'A message came from an unknown number first...and then just afterwards that same number called, so I thought it must be urgent...'
'Who was it?' he inquired, straightening up as he checked the call history.
'I don't know,' Anjali lied through her teeth, lied helplessly. She could not control herself. It was as though the paralysis of her mind had simply been a front, a front to compose a story she could satisfy all her doubts with, to plaster all the cracks that the phone call and the video had afflicted upon her, and now that story was tipping glibly out of her mouth, 'It fell out of my hand before I could answer it...and I couldn't reach it afterwards.' She added, lamely, 'Sorry.'
'Uffo, Rani Sahiba,' he was back beside her, smiling comfortingly. He gently touched the side of her face. Even that touch, the feel of skin on skin, felt unreal. Anjali's eyes narrowed at him, as though trying to convince herself that he wasn't a figment of her imagination. 'It really doesn't matter. I don't want to catch you doing that again, do you understand? And whoever it was, I can always call them back.'
'Do you- do you know who it is?'
He frowned at the number on the screen. Anjali pleaded with him silently. Say no, please say no...
'I don't think so...let me check what this message is, and then I'll call him.'
'I have to...go give prasad to Mamiji.' Anjali shuffled to her feet, looking around blankly for her thaali.
Neither noticed that there was no prasad left over on it.
And Shyam did not notice as his wife hobbled out of the room, only to station herself outside their door, within earshot.
Chapter 37- BELOW :) Please hit like before you read on
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Joined: 25 October 2011
Chapter Thirty Seven
Sleepless eyes stared through the sliding double doors at the star-strewn sky outside.
Behind her, Arnav was pacing once more. She caught random snatches of what he was saying.
'Whatever happens, whatever you have to do, make sure he can't come back to Delhi- whatever the cost.' There was a pause. 'No yet. When it's time to take action against him, I'll let you know.'
It was one thirty in the morning. There seemed to be no hope of sleep for either of them.
Khushi noiselessly slid one of the double doors open and slipped out. There was a curious cool that bathed the poolside, paired with the soft glow of moonlight, shimmering off the bluish water in the pool. The hush of the leaves as they whispered against the breeze, lulled by the sound of rippling water, had a soothing, calming effect. Khushi let out a long, deep breath, feeling the racket in her mind quieten, feeling her trains of thought reorganise themselves upon more lucid routes to follow.
There was no denying the spasm of fear that had jolted through her the minute she had heard that dreaded, hellish voice speaking her name. No doubt that for one moment she had felt as though the paths she had treaded, the new journeys she had embarked upon, the new sensations she had unmasked, had all been a fanciful dream, and she would wake up to face her tossing, mutinous sea of disaster once more.
But the fear was gone now.
Only moments ago, Arnav had looked her square in the eye, and informed her point blank what he intended to do. Shyam Manohar Jha was not going to find his way back to Delhi anytime soon. His escape to Lucknow had now become his exile, and Arnav would wield whatever influence needed, pull whichever strings required, to make sure he could not leave it. That, he had said, would buy them some time.
'...to let Di know.'
'But Arnavji...would that be safe? Especially now...when she's pregnan-'
'I know, Khushi, I know.' Even then, Khushi could glimpse the shadows of the epic forces locked in battle within him. 'But this man- you said so yourself- is capable of anything. And I'm not willing to risk anything. With Di...or with you.' The ring of finalty had made a response from her obsolete. 'He's going to stay in Lucknow until we manage to tell Di everything...and after that...'
He hadn't finished his sentence. But the implication in his silence was far more deadly than any amount of words could have been. Shyam Manohar Jha did not know it, but very soon he was going to face the worst hell he could have imagined.
Khushi believed her husband. Believed in him. Believed that while he was there, Shyam Jha could not lift a finger against her, or Di.
It could not be easy to make the decision he had made. To put on stake the one thing he had dedicated his life to protect. His Di's smile. Her happiness. Khushi's memory strayed back to a time that seemed to belong to another world, the film reel of her mind zooming backwards before stopping abruptly on a day at the steps of a mandir...on a woman sobbing softly as she sat on the steps...on the man kneeling before her, teary-eyed...reciting a nursery rhyme...
That was the day Khushi had seen the man, the person, the boy, that hid behind the rakshas. The day she had realised that he was human after all. That he could also love, could also fear losing love.
And today, Khushi had watched her husband take possibly one of the hardest decisions of his life. It had been Di's happiness that had been at the acme of his priorities. Di's happiness for which he had coerced Khushi into marriage.
And today, securing Di's happiness was the reason he was prepared to gamble away Di's present peace of mind...another rush of queasiness swept through her as she wondered whether Di's calm, composed demeanour would crack under the truth...puzzled over the cause of her sudden disconcerting lack of reaction regarding her husband...perhaps it was because of the baby...the doctor had told her not to stress to much...but even so...the way she had reacted in the hospital...she quickly suppressed the thought that, once Di found out everything, she might as well begin to hate her, blame her...she could not let her resolve weaken...
...uncertainty chewed away at Khushi, fearful of the consequences of what she knew had to be done...but at least Arnav would be by her side...
...if you apologise, then I must too...if you were wrong, then so was I...you think you wronged Di, but you were trying to protect her, just as I was... and if you blame yourself for it, you should blame me ten times more...
And somewhere, she knew, his decision had also been fuelled by her...by a need to preserve a marriage that had started as a safeguard...and now become a lifeline. He had remembered his Di...but he had not forgotten his wife...
Khushi closed her eyes, and drew in a long deep breath, luxuriating in the feel of cool air flooding into her lungs, relishing in the rejuvenating feel. Her limbs had manoeuvred her towards the deckchair, and she slowly lowered herself on it. So much had happened here...the poolside with its swaying waters, dancing plants, twinkling lights had borne witness to so many life changing events in the last few days...her memory reel replayed vividly what had transpired here only hours ago...when her ferris wheel, stuck precariously above ground since the night before her marriage, had finally wound its way back to the ground...when her incomplete tale left unfinished on that night had been granted a happily ever after, unasked questions finally answered...replayed for her the evening when Arnav had fallen on his knees at her feet, broken with sobs, pleading forgiveness as he cried helplessly into her lap...
Forgiveness...a lump crammed itself into her throat. A few fresh tears sprung into her eyes.
She had wanted forgiveness from him today. Forgiveness for keeping Shyam's secret hidden...
He had called it 'one mistake'...one mistake that he could not blame her for. And yet she had feared blame...had dreaded blame...and been torn apart by foreboding, the harrowing terror that he might hold her as responsible just as much as she herself did, whether he admitted it or not. She did not know, in that moment of blind panic, how she could have withstood his accusation- ten times worse because this time, accusation would not be far off the mark, accusation would not be unfounded and baseless, undeserved.
So if for 'one mistake' she had felt this tormented, how must he feel if...
...If that was a mistake, Khushi, that was your only mistake. And if you are apologising for that one mistake- what am I supposed to do for the hundreds of mistakes I have made?...
Breath snagged in her throat, and the poolside disappeared from before her eyes.
Listen to your heart...
Her heart failed to register the half-hearted attempts of her mind to remind her of everything that she had gone through because of him. For some reason she could not hold it against him. For some reason she could not wish she could hate him anymore.
For some reason the last thing she wanted was to punish him.
It hurt. It hurt so bad.
'Khushi,' he whispered as he stepped onto the poolside, to find his wife gazing out at the cavorting waters, little flecks of sapphire frolicking across her flawless skin. He did not feel the need to elaborate. It took just her name upon his lips, and it would feel as though he had laid his heart and its contents bare to her.
She rose at his voice, turning about to face him. His breath caught painfully.
The tenderness in her demeanour was unmistakeable, even in the muted light by the pool.
He found himself approaching her, extending a hand towards her as he did, murmuring, 'It's going to be OK...I won't let him come back, I promise.'
His heart did a rather complicated somersault the minute her hand instinctively rose to meet his. He grasped it eagerly. Caught in the madness of events that had unfurled in rapid succession, leaving him giddy, the ground shifting beneath his feet, it was only now, with the shadows of impending doom fading, that his thoughts returned to what he had considered a very pressing concern.
Khushi was supposed to be leaving Shantivan for two days.
For the time being, there was nothing more he could do about Shyam. All his pre-emptive steps were in place. And if nothing else, the calamity of the name of Shyam had taught him one thing- and that was, time was priceless. Every second counted.
And his dark dreads had been proved unfounded...Khushi hadn't fled from him, had not distanced herself...she was still here, with him, supporting him...that had to count for something...
Unthinkingly he drew Khushi towards him. She complied, unresisting. His free hand lifted up, his fingers hooking onto the hairband holding her hair into a loose unruly ponytail that hung over her shoulder.
'I've told you before,' he heard his voice grow unintentionally husky, accounted for by the sudden malfunctioning of his respiratory mechanism, 'I like your hair down.' As he spoke, the luxurious locks of her hair came loose, and were caught by a playful breeze, fanning it across her face. Black velvet across white ivory.
He dropped the hairband unto the deckchair, his hand, as though under some sort of mystical charm, carefully brushing the errant strands off of her face, not prepared to stand their intrusion with his view. The tips of his fingers grazed the velvet of her cheek, marvelling at how heartbreaking pink bloomed into the cream of her skin wherever he touched her, marvelling at how soft she felt to his touch. He gulped. Once again, anything, everything, apart from the apparition before him, was ceasing its existence.
Her eyes felt heavy, begging her to drop shut, drunk with a half-crazy urge to relish in the fire that he was trailing across her with his teasing touch, a moth indolently swimming towards the flame, not caring that it may be singed. Her nerve ends were alive, blazing like live wires, and mind was plundered of thought. Through her half-veiled eyes, Khushi gazed into his face, without feeling timorous for once, gazed into the lanterns of gold burning for her, only for her...
She did not even notice as her hand obediently bowed before the enthusiastic eggings of her heart's thundering dhak dhak, and rose up to trace the dark shadows that clung below his eyes. Very, very carefully, her forefinger lingered over the slight depressions, her heartbeat waning somewhat, a little pocket of displeasure bursting open.
'You really need some sleep,' she whispered lightly, solemnly.
'So do you,' he whispered back, the fingers that had been playing with her hair shifting to trace the shape of her eyes. The touch was so feathery, so very light, Khushi had to battle with herself to keep her eyes open and not fall prey to their blissful temptation, slipping into dreamland. She shook her head stubbornly.
'You need to rest,' she insisted doggedly, peering up at his face, 'you'll need all your strength to...to...tell Di...stand by her...'
'I'll manage', he mumbled dismissively, without warning slipping both arms about her waist, and pulling her closer to him. For some reason, even though her dhak dhak rocketed to a more erratic frequency, she did not find this alarming. All her attention was riveted on the eyes that smiled into hers, 'as long as you're standing by me.'
And Khushi jumped up to assure him, without pausing to think.
'I'm with you, Arnavji...'
As those amber eyes gazed back at him, burning with a zealous, consuming flame, Khushi's own words sank through to her with the force of a cannonball. Whatever flush might have coloured her cheeks now burst into a deep, heartrending crimson as her eyelashes fluttered uncontrollably, as though the picture before her had become too overwhelming to take in all at once. Yet, even if her mind were issuing commands to retreat, Khushi, a slave of her heart, paid no attention. She did not even manage to grasp what was happening when he secured the hand that had been tracing the bags beneath his eyes, now resting lightly against his shoulder, in a tender hold. Was not fazed until she realised he had raised it to his lips.
Next thing she knew, they had pressed themselves ardently into the cup of her palm. The dream-like trance she was in was dispersed in a flash, a field of dandelions caught in a windstorm, as soon as she felt his firm, demanding mouth brand its mark onto her skin. Millions of volts of current blazed through her from head to toe, every fibre alight, ablaze. She trembled from head to toe, watching, hypnotised, as his fingers caressed hers to give him better access...and then his travelling lips, hot breath sending her skin tingling, reducing her to a puddle where she stood, found her fingers, kissing them reverently, one by one, inch by inch...
And they sunk lower, lower, his fingers wrapping about her wrist to hold it in place as he continued with his assault...his lips grazed the length of her palm, every tremor magnified in her body, shockwaves of sensation pulsating through her as they found the inside of her wrist...pausing over her pulse...her pulse that roared through in her veins, a fast-flowing brook, throbbing in time to her fervently dancing dhak dhak...giving away the typhoon of emotions she was being swept through...agony...wonderful, wondrous agony...
She was breathing hard, so hard she might have swum her way to shore through a cyclone...throat parched, conscious thought a distant memory, she watched in a daze as Arnav raised his eyes to her once more, and Khushi would not have been surprised if she had passed out just from looking into them...they looked ravenous, ravenous and awed, disbelieving and smitten, humbled and triumphant, all at once...
'Khushi,' he whispered in that low guttural growl, sending shivers flittering up and down her spine, goosebumps shooting up the back of her neck, 'I want to listen to your heart too. Will you let me?'
The thought of refusing never even crossed her mind, which seemed to have gone into standby, capitulating all control to her heart. She nodded.
And in a heartbeat, he had swung her up into his arms, and was carrying her back through the glass doors they had left open.
Arnav could not understand why it would hurt, when he held his life in his arms, carrying them into their niche in the world, his heart pulsing so hard it risked puncturing itself, or if not, rupturing his ribs. Could not understand why his windpipe seemed to have collapsed in upon itself, and it was all he could do to keep breath in his body. All that sustained him, despite the powerful clenching and unclenching possessing his entire body, were Khushi's eyes. Her arms had wound themselves about his neck as soon as he had cradled her up into his embrace, and now those two wondrous pools of coffee-black, swirling with awe and what (he prayed he was not mistaken) looked like...love...
Drinking in their depths, he did not even dare blink lest he be brought to reality, lest it appear that he had been dreaming, and that he was once more alone in his bedroom, waiting to thrash out another night without sleep. He lowered her carefully onto the bed, and felt a pang of tenderness render him almost incapable of standing as Khushi's awed eyes swept over the canopy of stars, the only light left in the room, and was grateful for his foresight in turning off the main lights before he had gone to Khushi. Because he could ask for no bigger reward for all his exertions over recreating the night sky for his wife, so she may feel closer to her parents, so she may find their light comforting...her face was aglow with an innate pleasure, little lights dancing with joy in her eyes, laughing in their happiness, a smile hovering over her lips, light as butterfly wings...as he leant over her, he could feel himself smile too, could feel something warm and sugary and thick drip in his heart and cocoon him in its cosy embrace.
She gasped as he swooped in suddenly, without warning, and Arnav, with the side of his head laid against her madly pounding heart, thudding against his ear, in tune with the drumbeats in his chest, was convinced that he had finally found heaven.
So, how was it? I would really appreciate it if you guys took out a minute of your time to leave a comment about what you thought of these chapters...I'm actually sitting up at 2 AM because I don't think I can sleep until I post these :P I'd love to hear feedback :)
And I've been replying to comments...will get through all of them as soon as I can :)
I reserve all rights over this work of fiction and request that readers do not reproduce/copy/modify it elsewhere and/or claim credit. Thank you :)
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