Timeframe: Written late January 2012, right after Payal and Akash’s sangeet – when there was still a scorpion on the prowl and everyone was expecting it to sting Khushi – oh the outrage that notion had caused…
I wanted to do something different and was playing around with this idea and woke up with the first few paragraphs stuck in my head – the image wouldn’t fade till I wrote it! Enjoy x
Arnav was slipping in and out of consciousness; not fully asleep and yet not awake enough to be fully aware of his surroundings. In the moments when he was half awake all he could feel was a deep sense of peace and contentment, something he hadn’t felt in a long time; if ever.
Every time he was close to waking, sleep pulled him back under but he didn’t fight it, he let it take him because the feeling of belonging was there each time he surfaced and somehow he knew it would still be there when he awoke, anchoring him. He held it close and let himself sleep, feeling it wash over him in waves and thud alongside his own heartbeat.
Khushi opened her eyes and smiled; caught in the blissful moment of peace that only comes when you first wake, before daily worries crowd your mind and it fades away. She sighed letting the moment flow through her, feeling utterly content till after a long moment she became aware of exactly where she was and froze when the previous day and night’s events came flooding back like a kaleidoscope of images.
What on Earth could have made her forget?! She felt the fear and crushing panic rise in her again and forced herself to breathe evenly.
‘Relax,’ something whispered inside her, ‘he’s ok, you know he’s ok, you can feel he’s ok…’ She swallowed, accepting it as the truth yet still feeling anxious. She tried to focus on her surroundings – she could see faint light streaming in through the white curtains of the room; even though it was still early she knew she needed to move before someone came but as she tried to move away, she felt the strong arms around her resist and hold her where she was.
Khushi suddenly knew with a certainty that scared her that these arms were the only reason she’d managed to forget everything and sleep so peacefully. She swallowed hard as she wondered how she was going to get out of this, biting her lip as she recalled how she’d ended up asleep in the arms of Arnav Singh Raizada.
The previous night:
‘Dhekiye ab yeh khatre se bahar hai lekin inhe aaram ki zaroorat hai, aap sab ghar jaa sakte hai.’ Khushi heard the doctor’s words but they did nothing to stem the panic that kept threatening to overwhelm her and she was barely keeping it at bay; what if they were wrong? The thought was unbearable and she clenched her hands, nails digging into her palms painfully as she tried not to think about it; she couldn’t lose him too…
Hospitals always reminded her of illness and death; even this one which was an expensive private clinic and was supposed to be more like recovering at home. It didn’t feel like home and Khushi knew she wouldn’t stop worrying till he was actually home and behaving like his usual angry self.
They’d moved Arnav here a few hours after he’d been treated. They kept saying he would be ok – the scorpion sting hadn’t been fatal and they’d got him to the hospital fast enough. Akash was still talking to the doctor about it but Khushi heard none of it as they sat in a private waiting area outside his room. She was still numb with fear and even with open eyes she could see him sliding to the floor in front of her, a look of surprise on his face as he spoke her name before he’d blacked out, leaving her shaking and screaming for help.
No-one had any idea how a scorpion had got into Anjali’s wardrobe but Khushi was painfully aware that it should have been her reaching in to get the Nataraj idol. Instead while she’d been arguing, Arnav had reached in and when he pulled his hand back sharply they both saw a bright red spot of blood on his wrist.
It was just a tiny sting, it didn’t even seem to swell up much but within minutes of him slamming the door to the wardrobe shut, he was staggering on his feet. He barely managed to say her name once and then he was gone, leaving Khushi with an arm around him trying to prop him up, feeling more scared and alone than she’d ever been before.
‘Khushiji?’ She looked up and realised Akash had been calling her for a while but she couldn’t reply. He told her he was taking Nani and the others home and for her to come but she shook her head instantly, not caring what anyone thought. ‘Hum yahi rahenge!’ Akash blinked at her tone and she forced herself to speak more softly.
‘Agar unko kissi ki zaroorat padi toh? Anjaliji bhi yahaan nahi hai…’ Shyam had had to take Anjali home once the doctors had said Arnav was out of immediate danger; she’d completely broken down at the thought of anything happening to him and everyone had thought it best.
Akash looked like he might argue but then Khushi heard NK come up behind him. ‘It’s ok Akash, main Khushiji ke saath ruk ja tha hoon, you guys go home ok?’ Khushi was relieved when Akash agreed because nothing he said would have made her leave and she didn’t want to have to cause a scene. She looked at NK who smiled back at her understandingly and then looked away.
She didn’t know what he thought; or what any of them thought for that matter. The looks on their faces after Arnav had stepped up to dance with her were of stunned surprise and shock but then the results were announced and Arnav had got stung so soon after that no-one had time to think about the dance or what it meant.
Khushi closed her eyes and tried to push away the images and sensations, now wasn’t the time; she just wanted him to be ok and the thought of anything other than that made it hard for her to breathe. In her mind’s eye she again saw his much too still body on the hospital bed when they’d first rushed him there; his skin un-naturally pale and his chest barely rising and falling. She felt the tears come again at the image, silently and with no signs of stopping.
‘Khushi…’ Khushi bolted upright in the chair she’d been sitting in as Arnav murmured her name in his sleep. Her heart leapt even though this wasn’t the first time but each time she felt it pierce her and she’d jump up hoping he would gain consciousness but he never did. She stood up and looked around the darkened room, lit only by a small lamp. It was furnished like a normal room with furniture and a big bed but the softly beeping monitors and various equipment made it clear it wasn’t really a normal room.
She looked up at the clock and saw it was 2 in the morning; she’d sent NK home about half an hour ago and one of the nurses had offered Khushi a spare bed but she’d refused and stayed in the chair next to Arnav, only leaving once to go and pray for him at a small shrine they had.
‘Khushi…’ Arnav turned in his sleep and Khushi saw his eyelids moving and thought maybe he was dreaming. She went and sat down on the bed next to him, watching him sleep, wondering what he was dreaming about. She wanted him to wake up so she could ask him why he kept saying her name; was he dreaming about her..? A ghost of a smile touched her face when she imagined his outraged response.
He shifted restlessly and threw off the covers; he was wearing a grey short sleeved t-shirt, making it easy for Khushi to see the bandage on his wrist, the white standing out in stark contrast to his tanned skin. The bandage was small and innocuous looking and seeing it, no-one would know he’d come so close to death.
She felt another stab of fear and guilt; the thought of anything happening to him had scared her so badly she couldn’t pretend anymore. She didn’t know when he’d come to mean so much to her or even how but he had. This moody man who loved to challenge her and get under her skin at every opportunity had somehow gotten into her heart and it seemed he was there for good.
She reached out hesitantly and touched his face, feeling smooth skin and rough stubble under her fingers. His colour had come back slowly during the night and his temperature felt raised but not feverish and she remembered the doctor saying it’d take a few days for him to return to normal.
Normal, she thought a little sadly. Was normal him going back to telling her she meant nothing and that he’d danced with her out of pity? Or was normal what she’d felt and seen mirrored in his eyes while they danced on that stage together..?
He looked so peaceful while he slept that she felt something inside her twist longingly as she ran her fingers across his forehead. There were no traces of the usual furrowed brow or clenched jaw; his worries seemed erased as she touched his face. How different would he look when he was better and they had to face what had happened between them? She simply didn’t know. She understood now what she wanted after coming so close to losing him but she was well aware that it might not be possible with the way he felt about her.
Khushi didn’t know when she started crying again but she was reaching up to wipe her tears when she felt warm fingers encircle her wrist lightly and she gasped in surprise before turning to look at him with her heart racing. Arnav was blinking up at her slowly and even with the low lighting she could see his eyes were slightly unfocused.
‘Khushi..? Tum mere kamre mein… ro kyu rahi ho?!’ His voice was low and gravelly from sleep and medication and he blinked again a couple of times as if trying to clear his head. There was mild alarm in his voice and he looked worried as he struggled to sit up but Khushi pushed him back down gently, feeling tears of relief now pouring down her face. ‘Hum bilkul teek hai Arnavji lekin aap ko aaram ki zaroorat hai.’
‘Aaram? But you’re crying…’ he tried to get up again and Khushi pushed down on his chest with one hand, glad to feel his heart beating so strongly under it. She shook her head and tried to sound firm, ‘Dekhiye, hum keh rahe hai naa, aap ut nahi sakte? Bas!’
Even in his half delirious state he managed to give her a look that clearly said she was acting crazy and seeing it, Khushi couldn’t help the relieved laughter bubbling up inside. Arnav frowned to himself, looking like he was struggling to focus again before he muttered ‘OK’ and suddenly Khushi felt a sharp tug on the pallu of the green saree she was still wearing and she tumbled into him on the bed.
‘Arnavji, yeh aap kya…?!’ Khushi’s quiet gasp fell somewhere into his hair and she quickly pulled back, her heart beating a mile a minute. She tried to move away when he pulled her to him again but then stopped, feeling breathless when she realised how close their faces were on his pillow. She felt light fingers on her cheek, wiping her tears away before he put his arm around her again and pulled her against him, his eyes drifting shut as he muttered, ‘You said I couldn’t get up…’
Khushi blinked, coming back to the present; feeling Arnav breathing evenly behind her as she sent a silent prayer up to Devi Maiyya for keeping him safe and alive.
She looked around the room and noticed it was getting lighter really fast and she tried to think for a minute about how she could escape without waking him. She felt his warm breath stirring her hair and couldn’t help the shiver that ran through her, making him stir and murmur something as he moved. She held her breath wondering if she’d woken him but then sighed when he only shifted slightly, his arms around her tightening and pulling her closer to him before his breathing resumed its steady pace.
As she lay in his arms, Khushi tried to fight the feeling of utter belonging that was slowly creeping over her again. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling his heart thud against her back, its beat somehow managing to slow her own heartbeat down to match it. It was calming, the way his arms held her so securely and the way his warm, solid body was curled around hers protectively. She looked down and saw her own hand, wrapped around his long fingers where they rested on her stomach and was shaken by how right it felt.
Something inside her sighed and told her to just close her eyes and go back to sleep; to enjoy this moment, not question why and just feel… because she probably wouldn’t have it again. The thought made her sad as her eyes drifted closed and she might have fallen back asleep in the soothing comfort he brought but the buzzing sound of a phone jarred her fully awake and she felt like it was telling her she had no business staying in his arms.
She struggled to move his arm from around her, taking care not to touch the bandage but even hurt and asleep he was too stubborn so she gave up and decided there was nothing else for it but to wake him.
‘Arnavji..?’ Khushi wriggled against him, trying to ignore the way his fingers unconsciously tightened on her stomach when she moved. ‘Arnavji?!’ The phone buzzed again but it was too far for her to reach; she called his name again and was rewarded with a rumbling ‘Hmmm?’ that she felt right down to her core. ‘Woh… aap ka phone..’ She was losing her mind here but he was still unmoving.
‘Forget it…’ he muttered and Khushi was surprised for a split second before she felt a shudder run through her as Arnav buried his face in her hair and sighed against her neck, his lips burning the soft skin there. ‘Khushi…’ The feel of his lips and way he said her name with so much longing made Khushi feel like she was melting and she tried hard to tell herself that he was probably still asleep but then every thought was lost when she felt his fingers move on her stomach, stroking her skin lightly through the thin fabric of her saree…
As sleep left him slowly, Arnav didn’t really know how or why but he was having the best morning he could remember. The feeling of peace he’d had was still with him and now as he took in a deep breath and held Khushi close he knew exactly where it had come from.
Why was she here though..? His brain felt cloudy and he tried to remember but she was distracting him with her constant squirming and he couldn’t help himself from kissing her neck. ‘Khushi…’ he stroked her stomach, feeling disappointed that her clothes were in the way but liking the way her fingers tightened on his hand.
‘Stop moving…’ he whispered into her ear and she went still as he tried to think back to what had happened the night before. He blinked and saw a flash of green under his nose, Khushi’s saree… he remembered dancing with her, the feeling it gave him and his still sluggish brain got lost in the memory for a while before he tried to remember more. They were upstairs and she wasn’t happy; they were arguing… and something bit him? As soon as he thought it, the arm he had around Khushi began to throb and he clenched his fingers experimentally against her stomach, feeling the pain travel dully all the way up his arm.
He lifted his arm and saw the bandage and felt Khushi use that moment to sit up quickly and fix her saree and fuss with her hair nervously. He let her go but held onto her wrist in case she tried to run away and she stayed sitting where she was, not looking at him. For the first time Arnav looked around and realised they weren’t at home or anywhere he knew and when he sat up in surprise, he felt everything spin around him. ‘Arnavji! Hum ne kaha tha naa, aap ut nahi sakte!’
There was panic in her voice and he felt her hands on his arms and he blinked as the world stopped moving and his eyes rested on her worried face. Her eyes were red and suddenly he remembered seeing them wide with fear before he passed out and then again filled with tears sometime later.
‘Kya hua Khushi? Why were you crying? And where are we?!’ He waited, fighting the feeling of weariness that was creeping over him, making his eyes grow heavy again. He focused on her face and listened as she explained where he was and how he’d got here.
More than her words, he heard the way her voice shook and watched her blink back tears when she said that she couldn’t wake him so she’d called for help. He remembered how broken she was when her father was in hospital and he could see that same fear in her eyes when she spoke now. It was something he recognised and understood well because he’d felt it too; it was the fear of losing something you can’t live without, the fear of being left alone and seeing that in her eyes when she spoke about him left him stunned.
Khushi was stumbling over the explanation of how she’d ended up in his arms during the night but he covered her mouth with his fingers; he didn’t care how it had happened, it was just enough that it had. She stayed still and watched him quietly as he smoothed back her hair and then blinked in surprise when he spoke, his voice soft but still sounding rough even to his ears, ‘Ab tum teek ho?’ She seemed shaken by his question and paused for a minute before nodding nervously.
Maybe she hadn’t expected him to notice he thought, wanting to ask her why she’d been so worried about him but just as he opened his mouth a nurse walked in and Khushi slipped her hand out of his and stood up, saying something about calling home. He watched her talking on the phone as the nurse asked him some questions and did a few tests before telling him he needed to rest and the doctor would be up later.
Arnav continued to watch Khushi intently after the nurse left and from the way she was nervously twisting her saree between her fingers he knew she felt his eyes on her. He remembered the way they’d danced and felt himself getting even more light-headed than he already was.
He’d decided to help her in a split second; he’d kept insisting he wanted her to lose but when it came down to it, the look on her face was something he hadn’t been able to bear and so he’d gone up in flames for her. It was almost like they’d been in a dream except the fire raging between them was all too real. If he’d had a choice in the matter they would have been alone and he knew if they’d been alone things would have ended differently than they had.
She ended the call and he swung his feet to the ground, intending to ask her exactly why she had been so upset seeing him hurt and why she out of everyone had stayed behind but as he stood up he felt the room spin again and he thought he would fall till he felt her hands on his shoulders, propping him up against her small frame. He leaned into her and looked up to see her worried eyes were only millimetres away from his, ‘Aap kya kar rahe hai..?’
She pushed him but he resisted till he saw tears fill her eyes again, ‘Aap apna khayal kyu nahi rakte?!’ He watched with some amazement as she glared up at him through her tears and he let her push him back towards the bed as she continued angrily, ‘Kya zaroorat thi aap ko uss Nataraj ki murti ko nikal ne ki?! Hum kar rahe the naa? Humari waje se yeh sab…’
She stopped and looked drained as she ran out of steam and covered her eyes for a second. Arnav frowned as he tried to follow her reasoning but the nurse had given him something for the pain and his brain was starting to feel cloudy again.
‘Khushi tum..’ he shook his head, trying to clear it. He wanted to tell her it was nothing, that he’d go through worse but she shook her head and told him to sleep as she helped him onto the bed, saying his family would be here soon. ‘Khushi, mujhe tum se baat karni hai…’ His eyelids felt too heavy but he forced them open, fighting the tiredness creeping over him. This was important, he had to tell her now; he didn’t know why he felt this sudden urgency but he couldn’t ignore it. He grabbed her hand as she turned away.
‘You love me!’ Khushi gasped and tried to pull her hand back and Arnav frowned as he held on, forcing himself to concentrate… that wasn’t what he’d meant to say was it..?
She was staring at him in shock, her clear hazel eyes wide and he thought she looked scared. But as he spoke the words he hadn’t meant to say, they felt true and she wasn’t denying it either. A feeling of warmth washed over him and a slow smile crept onto his face; the knowledge was like a soothing balm, calming the urgency he’d felt moments ago and he sighed feeling some of the peace he’d been enveloped in earlier with her lying next to him.
He would tell her how he felt later he thought, when he could make sure she wasn’t going anywhere… But there was something else that was nagging away at him and he struggled for a second, fighting against weariness till he recalled her tear soaked face from the night before.
‘I’m sorry Khushi..’ his eyes drifted shut and he thought he heard her ask why as he turned onto his side, pulling her hand up to his cheek. ‘Phir se tumhe rula diya…’ he didn’t know if he’d murmured the words out loud or if he’d only thought them as he turned his face into her hand and finally gave in to sleep, somehow knowing she’d be there again when he awoke.