Hi everyone, here's a surprise short story for you all, titled "Storm Within".
Hi everyone, here's a surprise short story for you all, titled "Storm Within".
I usually update my FFs in parts (there's no other option) but I thought it would be nice to post a complete short story from beginning to end.
I wrote this a few weeks back and edited it late last night. It is much more angst than what I normally write, so I thought why not give you the entire story at once so you could see for yourself where I was going with this.
It's been one year since we last saw Arnav and Khushi,
but nothing has gone according to plan.
Their lives are falling apart. Their love has never been more tested.
Can they find some answers or is all lost?
Will love carry them through the pain or
will they not survive the storm within?
To find out, read on..
**NO COPYING, ALTERING, SHARING, OR DISTRIBUTING OF ANY PART OF THIS MATERIAL STRICTLY ALLOWED. COPYRIGHT 2013-2014 BY TINA!**
Storm Within By TINA!
It's been one year since we last saw Arnav and Khushi,
but nothing has gone according to plan.
Their lives are falling apart. Their love has never been more tested.
Can they find some answers or is all lost?
Will love carry them through the pain or
will they not survive the storm within?
Please Leave Comments on 'Comments' Page Only
SS: Storm Within by TINA!
Part 1-- Could you love someone enough to hate them?
The study was plunged in darkness, except for the glow of a single lamp. Its faint light cast shadows over the walls, spilled across the gleaming mahogany of the desk and on the man who sat behind it.
Arnav Singh Raizada was half in the shadows. His silhouette no longer looked as it once had. He was dangerously thin and bony, much beyond the lean, toned build he'd had just the year prior.
The angles and lines of his face were far more pronounced, almost haggard appearing. His eyes were bloodshot, the boyish twinkle in them glaringly absent. Even his lips--once given to smirks and laughter--were contorted, as if he was battling the most terrible of demons.
Which he was.
He'd locked himself in his study as he did most nights, the same torturous questions taunting him. Could you love someone enough to hate them? Could you crush your soul--and theirs--if it was the only way? The last resort?
The answers escaped him as they did most nights. As the wind picked up speed outside Shantivan's walls, sending tree branches rattling against the windowpanes, Arnav shuddered, running a shaky hand through his overgrown hair.
Unbidden, his gaze fell on the small picture frame across the room. It rested on a bookshelf, next to a glittery tiara and a sash that read:Mrs. India 2012.
A good layer of dust covered everything. He blew it aside, his heart constricting as he raised the photograph to eye-level.
It was from their marriage--the proper one. He was holding Khushi in his arms, their faces shining as they crossed the threshold as one. How happy they'd been that day.. How much in love.. Who could have imagined that within the year, they would not even be on speaking terms?
Arnav swallowed, setting the frame back in its spot, but made sure it no longer faced him. Everyone said pain lessened with time, that the blow of shattered dreams faded eventually, but he'd discovered otherwise.
The pain only intensified, ravaging his mind, his heart, his very soul till nothing worth saving remained. Destruction. Pain. Torment. That was all that life had ever given him.
He couldn't help but curse his fate. Why did love always lead him to nothing but grief and loss?
His mother had been snatched from him when he'd needed her most. And then years later, the most unlikely girl had managed to crack the walls he'd built so carefully around his heart, teaching him to love again.. to hope again..
To love meant to make yourself vulnerable. He should have known better, but Khushi had broken through his every defense. He'd fallen for her--madly and completely.
They'd built so many dreams together, but very few had come true. Sure they'd been happy for a while, but to see everything crashing around them in the end made him almost wish he'd never crossed paths with Khushi Kumari Gupta.
To love was to feel. And to feel was to willingly endure pain. To hurt. To break.
A soft, hesitant knock sounded just then. Familiar footsteps padded closer. "Arnavji?"
Her voice, her scent, her essence.. It all collided into him, sending him reeling. He turned around slowly, keeping his face expressionless as he spotted her.
His wife stood in the doorway, staring at him with that usual look of concern--the one that always threatened to splinter his control. Barefoot and dressed in a thin, white nightgown, she remained the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, her innocence and fire branding into him.
As lightning flashed, she drew the matching robe closer, shivering slightly. He found himself wondering what caused that shudder: was it the storm outside or the one that raged between them? And why, dammit, why did she not take better care of herself? The robe was hardly enough.
You're her husband, his mind reminded him in an almost taunting manner. It should be your duty.
But that too was a lie. Their marriage had all but fallen apart now.
The urge to crush her into his arms was powerful. He wanted to make sure she was okay.. to rub some warmth back into her toes.. to hold her close and never let go. Love her until she saw sense.
But Arnav did not move a muscle. He could not forget that it was her decision that separated them now. Her choice that had killed his soul, making him feel utterly lifeless when his pounding heartbeat insisted otherwise.
"You shouldn't be here," he barked, his tone deliberately harsh and cold. "How many times do I have to tell you to leave me the hell alone?"
Khushi's face wilted. Tears glistened in her caramel eyes, but she stepped closer still, uncaring how furious he appeared. Her hand rose between them as if to touch him. "Arnavji, please--"
"DON'T!" he shouted, flinging her arm aside. He didn't care if the rest of the family heard them arguing. It had become routine by now.
Her hand folded into a tight fist. She gazed at him with that same wounded look, a tear escaping the corner of her eye.
Arnav ached to cross the distance between them and brush that moistness away. Her each teardrop felt like a knife was being thrust inside him, jarring him with their sheen.
But he did not act on that instinct. He couldn't. Too much had happened and too much remained at stake.
"It's late," Khushi began, clearing her throat. She tried to smile at him, but it was dim, a pale reflection of her old smiles. The carefree, happy ones. "It's almost 4 AM. You haven't slept at all, have you? Please, Arnavji. Please, come to bed."
The restlessness in her voice was his undoing. He could not bear it. In a flash, he was at her side, grabbing her by the shoulders.
"Don't you dare pretend you care for me, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. Stop acting as if my pain matters to you. As if I matter to you!"
She shook in his tight grasp. "That's not true--"
"YES, IT IS!" he cut in, his lips twisting in a snarl. "Enough with the games! If you cared even a little about what I think, about what I feel, you wouldn't have taken the step you did. You've destroyed me, Khushi. You killed everything between us with your own hands."
Tears slipped from her eyes, streaking across her too pale face. "I never meant to hurt you. I love you. I always will. But sweetheart, there was no other choice!"
"The hell there's wasn't! You had two choices and you picked the one that you knew would devastate me." He swore, throwing himself off of her.
Khushi grimaced, but otherwise did not react. This was her husband. Her Arnavji. The man she loved with that same all-consuming intensity as she always had. Her heart beat for him.
She'd known that her decision would hurt him the most, but she'd had no choice. It was the only way.
Her hand trembled as she set it on his back. Beneath her palm, his muscles tensed immediately. As if she would attack him, as if her touch would destroy him more. It tore her apart.
Her voice was thick when she finally spoke: "Arnavji, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Tears shone in both their eyes as he spun to face her, but there was a hardness in his gaze that would not lessen. "Know this, Khushi: I will never forgive you. Do you hear me? I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!"
Her knees almost buckled under the weight of those words, flung in her face as the most callous, cruelest of torments.
"I know," she whispered. "I know.."
His hands shook with the need to touch her.. to comfort her.. but he could not.
"Get out," he whispered instead.
She did not move, staring at him with that same mix of bottomless love and overwhelming concern. Her teeth chewed on her bottom lip, as was her habit whenever she was worried, he knew.
He hardened his heart against her. He would not melt. He would not feel again. "Did you not hear me?" he asked, his voice cold and almost unrecognizable. His eyes flashed at her. "GET OUT! LEAVE ME!"
This time she did flee, sobs breaking out as she darted past him. Arnav fell on his knees to the floor, his shoulders heaving as the pain hit him with ten-fold the ferocity.
He cried bitterly. Cried for her. The woman he loved beyond everything. The woman he was on the verge of losing.
Could you love someone enough to hate them? The difficult answer was yes, but to hate them killed what was left of your soul as well.
SS: Storm Within by TINA!
Part 2--Could you hurt the one you love again and again?
The next morning, it was still raining heavily, thunder crackling every now and then. It seemed to mirror the storm embroiling Arnav and Khushi's hearts--the storm that had taken over their lives months ago and showed no sign of relenting.
Arnav slammed his fist into the wall, his eyes closing as he realized what was to come.
He had to hurt her. Just like every morning, he had to be cruel.
There was no other option; he'd tried everything else. The throbbing in his hand was nothing compared to what would follow. Every time he ignored her, taunted her, screamed at her, his heart revolted, his insides throbbed with biting agony.
But he had no choice. It was a vicious circle--and one that had no end in sight. Khushi would not concede, and he would not give up.
Arnav dressed mechanically in his business suit, heading out the door as if demons were chasing him. The entire family was seated around the breakfast table: Nani was discussing something with Mami and NK, Payal was serving Akash, and his Di was calling the servants for more tea.
His wife was not there and while he ached to see her, he knew it was best if they did not meet. Perhaps then he wouldn't have to hurt her today.
Anjali spotted him rushing past, and quickly grabbed a hold of his sleeve. "Chote, please, at least have breakfast before leaving."
"I have an important meeting at the office."
It was a rehearsed line, but likely no lie. His days were packed now with back-to-back conferences and work. It was far better to be consumed by contracts and figures than suffocating pain and darkness.
His sister pouted. "Please, Chote. Eat first. For me."
NK and Akash joined her, bodily taking him to the table. He sat reluctantly, one wish in his head: Please, love. Please stay the hell away from me. I don't want to hurt you, but I'll have no choice if you come before me.
His family did a fairly good job of overlooking his cold silence, the tension that clung to him. They'd grown used to it by now.
He ate quickly, barely knowing what he was chewing. And then, just when he was almost through, the unmistakable chime of anklets came from behind him.
"Khushiji! You look beautiful," NK exclaimed, snapping a picture with his ever-ready camera.
They were all smiling and laughing. As if nothing was wrong. As if everything was perfect.
It made Arnav yearn to scream, to break their foolish fantasy. How could they smile? How could they appear so bloody happy?
He could not do it. He couldn't even stomach the thought of it. Maybe once he'd been an expert at pretense, but Khushi had changed him. Her love had forever marked him. He could not conceal the storm brewing within his heart. And nor did he desire to.
"Thank you," his wife whispered, blushing under everyone's praise.
Her soft gaze fell on him and as always, he found himself looking up, staring right into those inky depths.
NK had done her no justice. She was far beyond beautiful. In her yellow and gold embroidered saree, she looked ethereal. Radiant. A bewitching temptress who'd captured his heart long ago.
He forced himself to frown, glancing away. But as always, she would not leave him be. Everyone else may have given up on him, but she would not. Never.
"Arnavji.." Khushi smiled brightly as she came to his side, a brimming tray in her hands. "Would you like some more tea?"
He scowled up at her. He'd seen grown men back down when he'd done the same, but she did not even shrink away, holding the tray higher instead.
He swung his hand upwards, sending the tray flying with one snap of his wrist. His family members jumped up, their eyes widening as the porcelain shattered on the tiles, hot tea splattering across the fine marble.
"ENOUGH!" he shouted. "You all can choose to keep up this facade, but I will not. Never! There is no happiness left now--not in my life at least. There's nothing to smile about!"
They all exchanged glances, but Khushi did not. Her eyes were locked with his, her hands trembled but otherwise, she gave nothing away.
Before anyone could stop him, Arnav hurried out the door, his heart constricting with renewed pain. Would its sting ever go? He doubted it.
Khushi tried to smile reassuringly at the others as she sat down. What she really wanted to do was chase after her husband, to make him see reason. But she knew from months of experience it would do little good. He was adamant. Set on hating her.
If only he knew that she could see right through him. That she could read his heart.. his pain as well as her own. Try as he might to hide it, but she still could make out the love in his eyes when he thought she was not watching him, could recognize the distress in his gaze every time they fought.
But what scared her most was one emotion she saw flicker every now and then: fear.
Her husband was fearful, so anxious his taunts no longer carried the same bite. He could try to resent her, but just as in the past, he was failing--only much worse this time.
The sudden feel of Anjali's hand on her shoulder startled Khushi. Her sister-in-law smiled warmly.
"Let's go, Khushiji. We should get ready. The guests will start arriving soon."
That day, for the first time in months, Arnav came home around lunchtime. He'd had no choice. In all this tension, he'd forgotten a very important file. It was kept in the small safe in his bedroom.
His plan had been to move fast: grab the file and leave just as quickly. But what he saw as he walked inside Shantivan stunned him. He froze mid-step, his gaze widening with disbelief.
The house looked completely different. Banners, streamers, and colorful lights were everywhere. Music was playing and a rather large group of guests was laughing and chatting over bites of cake.
In the center of all the commotion sat Khushi, Nani and Anjali beside her. She was smiling and clapping as some children danced.
Did no one else see it? he wondered. Did no one care about what they were doing to her?
He felt a murderous rage descend over him. He could not help but stalk right up to his family. His wife gasped as she spotted him through the crowd.
"What the hell is going on here?" His tone was low, but charged with emotions.
No one answered, glancing out the corner of their eyes at one another.
"You have five seconds to explain," Arnav warned the trio. "Or so help me, I'll put a stop to this otherwise."
"No, Chote! You can't!"
His grandmother looked just as alarmed. "It's nothing, we're just celebrating--"
That word snapped what remained of his control. "Celebrating? There's no reason to celebrate!"
Khushi rose then, sensing that he was on the verge of breaking down completely. He was standing so close that her body accidentally brushed across his.
Arnav backed away, his lips thinning as he gazed at her. Unbidden, his eyes traced over her, lingering over the part he always strove to disregard.
There was no ignoring it now. Khushi's stomach was heavily swollen, protruding from her slender frame. She was nearly eight months pregnant.
And all he could think was: There it is. The reason all this pain has descended upon us.
"Congratulations, Arnav," one of his aunt's friends said, patting his back. "You should have come earlier. It was a wonderful baby shower."
He brushed her hand aside, his heart pounding with despair. "Leave."
The woman looked at him bewildered. "I'm sorry, but I think I heard you wrong."
This time Arnav shouted. "LEAVE! EVERYONE GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!"
Everyone seemed to freeze around him. He could see his sister shaking her head, could see his Mami's embarrassed expression, but he did not care.
His gaze was focused on his wife. She'd not spoken, but he could read well the emotions in her eyes.
"Don't," she mouthed.
His jaw clenched in answer. "Did you not hear me? GET OUT NOW!"
The guests left then, casting confused glances over their shoulders.
"I'm so ashamed of you, Chote," whispered Nani heatedly.
He paid her no attention, ripping down banners and ribbons from overhead and sending them flying. No one could control him. He was wild, a red haze of rage clouding over everything else.
"Party over," he said when he finally stopped, his body shaking violently. "Do you all understand? Your celebration is over now."
Without pause, he marched towards the stairs. Through the thick fog of anger, he could feel her eyes boring into him. He found himself turning back, unable to look away.
Khushi appeared lost, wounded..
Could you hurt the one you love again and again? Yes, you could, but the scars would mark you too, never fading.
SS: Storm Within by TINA!
Part 3--If you had to choose between two loved ones, could you?
As Khushi made her way to the study, her hand settled on her burgeoning belly, caressing gently. As always, a swell of love squeezed her heart. How much she loved this child.. their child. If only Arnavji could accept that, if only he'd allow himself to love once more.
She found her husband sitting in the dark in his favorite armchair, his eyes closed, his face ashen. He must have heard her approach because at once he said:
She did not, coming closer instead. She knew he was falling apart within. How could she leave him to suffer these torments alone?
"Arnavji," she knelt before him on the carpet, grasping his too cold hand in hers. "It was just a small baby shower."
He stiffened, wrenching his hand free. He stared at her with something akin to the terrible rage he'd displayed downstairs. "How could you agree? Dammit, how could you?"
It felt painful to swallow, much less speak, but she did, trying to keep her voice from breaking. "Jiji and Di organized it. How could I say no? It made them so happy."
"And you?" Those eyes she loved so much focused on her, penetrating deep. "Were you happy?"
Khushi reached for his hand again and surprisingly, he let her. "I tried to be," she admitted. "But I needed you there. The baby needed you there."
"Don't you dare mention that thing in front of me."
"Thing?" Tears blinded her vision, but she blinked them away, glaring at her husband. The hurt and anger bloomed in waves. "How can you call your own child a thing? How can you not love our baby? He or she is a part of us already--the purest symbol of our love."
"You expect me to love the child?"
She nodded vehemently. "Of course I do. It's not the baby's fault."
"No," he agreed, his eyes hollow and dead-like. "It's mine. I should have never--"
Khushi covered his mouth with her hand, stopping him right there. "Please, don't. We've gone over this. It's no one's fault."
"Maybe you're right, but I still can't love it. Never."
Khushi brought his icy fingers to her lips, pressing a tender kiss. His jaw tightened at the brush of that softness. It had been so long.
"Arnavji, don't you see?" she whispered, placing his hand on her abdomen. "You already love the baby--very, very much. You're just not allowing yourself to show it."
"HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO?" he roared, shaking visibly as he stood. He drew her up against him, his eyes darkening. "How can I possibly love the reason I'm to lose you?"
"It's not like that."
"YES, IT IS!" Arnav bellowed, cupping her face in his palms and forcing her to meet his gaze. "You. Are. Going. To. Die, Khushi. This child will kill you."
His rage fell away then, replaced by the most horrific, stomach-churning pain. He couldn't speak, his mind unable to contemplate even the thought of it: her death.
She winced at those words, shaking her head. "Not our child. Never our child."
He looked furious at her all over again. "Have you really forgotten? The doctors told us clearly."
And despite everything in Khushi screaming not to remember, the memories of months ago came, fast and vivid:
She was sitting beside Arnav in an uncomfortable hospital chair. Her husband looked thoroughly stressed, though there was no reason for it. The morning sickness had finally stopped, she felt wonderful and healthy. Her first pregnancy was going quite well, all things considered.
"Arnavji," she murmured, squeezing his hand. "Everything will be fine."
He raised her hand, pressing a kiss over her knuckles. "I know, but I just hope--"
She never heard the end of that sentence. The doctor entered just then, a grim, tense look on his normally smiling face. Her husband noticed the difference as well.
"Is everything alright?"
The doctor stared at the pair, and then slowly shook his head. "Mrs. Raizada, I've just looked over your recent test results. Unfortunately, several complications were found."
"Complications?" Khushi's grip on Arnav's hand became vice-like. She couldn't breathe, could barely speak. "Is the baby okay?"
"Yes, your baby is just fine. But the results show that this pregnancy poses a significant risk to you, Khushi. I'm afraid that at the time of delivery, it would be close to impossible for both of you to safely make it."
The ground seemed to slip beneath Arnav's feet. His face whitened. "You mean.." He cleared his throat, tightening his hold on his wife's rigid hand. "You mean they both can't survive?"
"Yes, that's it exactly. Only one is likely to make it. As the baby grows bigger, she grows weaker. By nine months, the consequences can be terrible."
Khushi finally found the strength to speak. She shared a wordless, pain-filled glance with her husband before turning back to the doctor. "Can't something be done? There must be some hope."
"I wish there was, Mrs. Raizada, but there's not much. Studies have found that in cases like yours, less than 5% of expectant mothers survive. The remaining 95% do not. So you see, this pregnancy is a very significant risk to your life."
"What do you recommend?" Arnav asked.
"There's no easy choice here. The best option would be to put Mrs. Raizada's well being first. There's a good chance future pregnancies will not be this risky. Once you've regained your strength, you can try for another baby."
Khushi's free hand rose to her stomach as if to shield it. "And this baby?"
The doctor stared at her with silent sorrow. "I'm sorry, but like I said, only one of you is expected to live."
"And that has to be you, love," Arnav said, turning to face her. "I know this is hard and painful, but there's no other choice."
Tears streaked across her cheeks. She wiped them aside with quivering fingers, shaking her head. "No.. No, Arnav."
He pulled her into his arms, holding her tight. "We can have more children, Khushi, but there's only one you. I can't lose you. I won't allow it to happen."
She stiffened in his embrace. "I choose our child, Arnav."
He was sure he'd heard her wrong, but the determined glint in her eyes said otherwise. He knew her so well, he could tell she'd made up her mind. It felt as if he was losing her, a terrible agony biting into him, choking him..
"No.. Dammit, no.. Don't do this to me."
She tried to embrace him, but he was already backing away. "Arnavji.."
"Choose the child over yourself, and you'll lose me, Khushi.. I won't stand by and watch you die. I can't."
Her eyes were glazed with pain. "There's no other choice. I'm sorry, but I can't harm our child. I can't, Arnavji, please understand."
"Never," he whispered. "Never."
And just like that, in a handful of minutes, their world had toppled around them.
He'd taken her to the best doctors and specialists in the country, but all agreed: the baby's birth would likely mean her death.
Khushi, however, would not be swayed. As weeks passed, Arnav found himself gradually losing control. He spent weeks reasoning with her, days pleading and begging for her to change her decision.
"Do I have no say?" he'd yelled out of sheer frustration one dark afternoon. "Do you care about me at all? How do you expect me to watch you wither away?"
Khushi glanced at him with alarm. "Of course, I care about you. I love you, Arnavji. I always will. But, I love our child too. I cannot harm the baby. Not now--not ever."
"THIS PREGNANCY IS GOING TO KILL YOU!" he roared, shaking her bodily. "Why don't you understand that?"
"I know that," she whispered. "Do you think I ever forget? But my love for our child far outweighs all that."
"You won't listen to me?"
Khushi shook her head slowly, staring up at him with silent regret. "I'm sorry, but I can't. Not this time."
His gaze hardened, his lips twisted. "My love is not enough to change your mind, but maybe my hate will be. From now on, I will only hate you. Can you live with that again? That same pain? You want me to watch you die without complaint. Well, I won't. I'll fight you every step. I won't accept your choice. Never. Do you hear me? NEVER!"
The strength of that roar still echoed in her mind. Khushi swallowed as she stared across at her husband now. Months had passed from that moment, and they still remained at odds.
"Remember, now?" he ground out. "As much as you and the rest of the family want to delude yourselves, the fact remains: you will die in less than a month if we don't act now. All because of this pregnancy and your damned stubbornness. But of course, you ignore all that, throwing a party instead!"
He drew in a harsh breath, spinning away from her.
"Leave me alone, Khushi. You have no idea what I'm going through and nor do you care apparently." His chuckle was hollow, a harsh sound of pain.
Her heart broke all over again as she studied him. How much he'd aged in the past few months, how much he'd suffered..
If you had to choose between two loved ones, could you? Khushi had known from the start that she could not.
Her husband and child were two parts of her soul. One needed her in his life, while the other was fighting to survive.
She could not choose between them. And so they would live, while she.. she would die..
SS: Storm Within by TINA!
Part 4--How do you say goodbye to the one you love?
The following night, Khushi found herself standing once more before the oak door of the study, her hand hesitating to knock.
How would he react today? she wondered. He'd ignored her all day, his cold indifference cutting into her, scalding her with the knowledge that no matter what happened, she would end up hurting her husband. Perhaps even destroying him.
She couldn't bear the thought of it. She had to fix things between them. But how? Time was running out. Only a month remained now.
A meager thirty days or so to say goodbye.
A muffled sound pierced her ears. Khushi's face drained of all color as she realized it had come from within.
"Arnavji!" She pushed open the door, darting inside.
He could not react fast enough this time. Khushi saw it all: his face wet with tears, his shoulders heaving as he silently sobbed.
She couldn't bear it. In a heartbeat, she was next to him, drawing him into her arms.
Arnav tried to move away, to regain control, but he could not. He felt powerless. As she tugged him closer, his arms seemed to have a mind of their own, winding around her burgeoning waist as if he'd never let go. His tears marred the pale pink of her maternity dress, his face pressing against the place where their child grew.
"Shh, Arnavji.. Please, love.." She pressed kisses to his bent head, her hands massaging over him. "Just like you can't see me cry, I can't see you like this."
He gazed up at her, tears clinging to his eyelashes. "You chose this. This is nothing compared to what's to come. Right now you're with me: warm and alive. One month from now, you won't be.."
His voice broke over those last words; his shoulders sagged in her grasp.
"Leave me. Please.. If you ever loved me at all, leave me now."
Tears escaped her eyes as she stepped away, her breathing awry. She was about to reach for the doorknob, when a sharp pain shot through her, directly over her chest. She'd never felt anything like it, its intensity made her cry out.
Her husband was at her side at once, his eyes worry-filled and afraid. "Khushi! Khushi, what is it? What happened, love?"
She felt too weak to stand, leaning against him. As Arnav lifted her, laying her on the sofa, she flinched against the pain.
"I'm call the doctor," he said as he straightened. "I'll be right back."
She grabbed his wrist before he could step away. "No, I'm okay. The pain is fading."
Arnav looked uncertain still, his posture tense.
Khushi tried to smile at him. "Seriously, love. I'm okay. Don't leave me."
He couldn't. He kneeled beside her, his hand trembling as he brushed back some sweaty tendrils from her temple.
"Are you sure?" His voice was gruff, but his gaze was so tender, it warmed her heart.
"Yes. Just stay with me. And whatever you do, don't stop touching me."
You didn't need to ask, he almost told her. He couldn't stop. His hand stroked over her face: over her eyelids, cheeks, and lips with such gentleness it was as if he worried she might break if he pressed too hard.
"Arnavji, will you give me something?"
He paused mid-stroke, nodding. "Anything. You know you only have to say it."
"Kiss me.." she whispered, setting her hand atop his. "Kiss me goodbye."
He shook his head, tears in his eyes. "I can't. I can't ever say goodbye to you."
She was crying too. "Then just kiss me.. like you did last time.."
He knew at once what kiss she was talking about. Months ago, she'd come to his study just like tonight. He'd never forgotten that bittersweet night, his every memory still intact:
The signs of her pregnancy were quite visible, her abdomen jutting out slightly from her white robe. Her complexion was a bit sickly appearing, but she looked heart-stoppingly beautiful, nibbling on her bottom lip as she stared at him.
It had been two weeks since he'd changed, showing her his hatred, not his love.
"I know you love me," she said. "And I want you to know that I love you too."
"If you loved me, you wouldn't be leaving me."
Tears shone in her eyes. Without replying, she went to him, kneeling on the carpet beside his armchair.
"I hope and pray that I don't leave you. But even if I do, I'll always be watching over you and our child."
Arnav shivered, staring at her with that same crestfallen expression of agony and billowing anger. "That's not good enough for me. I want you with me. I need you."
She clasped his hand, bringing it to her lips. "And I need you. You are the other half of me. But sweetheart, the baby is too. I cannot harm our child."
His lips twisted. "Then I have nothing to say to you."
It was a dismissal, but Khushi did not step away. "I know how angry you are and you have reason to be. But I need you.."
Arnav glanced away, fighting not to embrace her. "Go away, Khushi.." Go away, before I break completely.
"Not this time," Khushi insisted, her eyes twinkling at him. "Tonight might well be the last time we can be together.. like that. I need you.. please.."
He swore. "What do you want me to do? Forget everything? Forget that I'm to lose you?"
She could only nod. "Yes.. For tonight, can't we just forget everything? Can't we just be as we were before?"
He looked away, but she grasped his hand in hers. "Make love to me, Arnavji.. It might be the last time.."
Arnav's eyes locked with hers. She smiled at him tenderly, her hands going to her robe. It slipped from shoulders. She was bare beneath.
Neither of them moved for a moment, breaths suspended. And then she spoke, her heart in her eyes. "I love you. I will always love you."
His cry was pain-filled as he gathered her in his arms, taking her down to the carpet. His lips met hers in a fierce kiss. "And I love you. How much I love you.."
It was the closest to happiness either one of them had felt since the test results had shattered their world. Neither could get close enough, mouths urgently meeting, hands slipping across warm skin.
Pressing a kiss to his wife's heartbeat, Arnav had lost himself in her embrace, joining them as one.
She'd cried out, her nails raking his back. It had been sheer bliss, the two of them moving in an age-old rhythm, their bodies slick with sweat.
"Arnav!" she'd yelled at the peak of passion, muffling the cry against his shoulder. And he'd answered, her name escaping his lips as he caught her mouth in a deep kiss.
That had been the last time they'd kissed. The distance had only grown since then. The storm had only intensified. He could not stand to watch her die before his very eyes, and she could not pass on that fate to their child.
"Kiss me again," his wife whispered. "It's been so long.. I want to feel it again. Just in case--"
His heart sunk as she broke off, tears rolling down her cheeks. He knew what she'd been about to say: "Just in case it's the last time. Just in case this is truly goodbye."
Swallowing, Arnav bent his head, slowly descending over her. His breath washed over her parted lips, warming her. His heartbeat pounded against her.
Khushi slipped her hands into his hair, arching upwards. The first touch of his mouth nearly undid her. It was what she'd been waiting for.
He was being so gentle.. so very careful.. She pressed her lips harder against his, needing to feel him.
And then as he finally surrendered, kissing her as if he'd never have enough.. as if this might be their last kiss.. the realization hit Khushi:
How do you say goodbye to the one you love? You don't--because no matter what you say, it's never really goodbye. The ones we love never leave our hearts.
SS: Storm Within by TINA!
Part 5--How far would you go for love?
The next morning..
"Khushiji, are you sure you'll be okay? Maybe I should stay back."
"No, Di," insisted Khushi, smiling. "I'll be just fine. Arnavji is here. And you all will be back from the wedding by tomorrow afternoon as it is. Don't worry."
N.K. pressed on the car's horn, motioning to them through the rain. "Time to go, Di!" he called.
Anjali nodded, hugging Khushi close. "Take care and call us if you need anything."
"I will," she promised, giving a quick hug to Payal. "And you all take care too, the storm seems to be worsening."
The sky was darkening overhead, clouds rolling in as an icy cold rain hurtled down. Anjali opened a striped umbrella, rushing with Payal to the car.
Khushi waved at them from the doorway, hurrying inside the minute the taillights disappeared in the fog. She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing in some warmth.
She sensed her husband before she saw him. He was coming down the stairs, pausing mid-step the second he spied her.
"You're here still? I thought you were all going to some wedding?
Khushi shrugged. "I couldn't go. Not after.."
The memory of those feverish kisses the night before flashed between them. A heat warmed her cheeks. Arnav was the first to look away.
"I'll be in my study if you need me."
Khushi sighed, sitting down on the sofa. So her husband was back to being grumpy, was he? Well, she'd draw him out of that suffocating study if it was the last thing she did.
"Mummy can do it, right, baby?" she asked aloud as she carefully stood. "We can get Daddy to come downstairs, can't we?"
The baby kicked against her palm as if in answer. Khushi smiled. "Agreed, baby. Mummy and Daddy love you very much."
She headed to the kitchen, whipping up something in no time.
"ARNAVJI! Lunch is ready!"
"I'm not hungry!" he called from the study.
"I made you Italian! Please, love!"
Arnav sighed, setting his laptop aside. He hadn't been able to concentrate on work anyway. His heart squeezed as he arrived downstairs.
His wife stood smiling beside the dining table. She'd set the table for two, complete with lit candles and roses. It reminded him of romantic dinners long ago.. when they'd been so happy.. when death and loss had not come between them.
He swallowed thickly as he sat. "You shouldn't have done all this. You need to rest."
"I wanted to," Khushi murmured. It hurt to imagine that soon she wouldn't be able to care for him, to see if he ate or avoided sweets, slept on time or not.
She'd be so far from him and the baby. How would they manage without her? Please, Devi Maiyya, she whispered. Please, let me be one of those 5%. Arnavji and the baby need me. And I need them. I love them so much..
"Aren't you going to eat?"
Khushi's eyes snapped open. She'd thought Arnav would be already eating, but he wasn't. His plate lay untouched. He was instead staring at her with a troubled expression. At her silence, he lifted a forkful of pasta to her lips.
Her heart threatened to burst as he fed her. She took the fork from him, making him eat too. "You've gotten so thin. It's unhealthy."
Arnav started to reply, but a loud rumble of thunder sounded just then. The lights blinked off around them.
"Well, it's a good thing I lit these candles," smiled Khushi.
Her husband stood, his brow furrowing. "I'll go check what's going on. You stay here."
She nodded, rising to the window. It was raining so heavily she could barely make out anything. The roads outside looked flooded.
And then everything changed. Her hands clamped on the countertop, a whimper escaping her lips.
He was running to her, cupping her colorless face in his hands. "What is it? Are you okay?"
She took a deep, shuddering breath. "My water just broke."
His eyes widened with horror. "No.. No, it's too early. The baby's not due till the end of next month."
Khushi sagged against him, gripping him tightly. "The baby's coming, love."
He lifted her in his arms, darting to the front door. Rain was pounding down now. As he opened the door, it hit them like shards of ice.
He hurried through the downpour, settling Khushi in the passenger seat. "Khushi, don't worry. We'll be in the hospital in no time."
She nodded, gripping his hand tightly. "I trust you, Arnavji."
But it was like everything was against them. The jeep would not turn on. "No, dammit! NO!" Arnav slammed his hand against the steering wheel. "Come on!" The engine sputtered weakly before turning off.
"The car's not starting. I'll call an ambulance." But there was no signal on his phone. The storm had knocked out everything. He was close to panicking, but he could not. His wife needed him.
The first contraction hit her just then, startling her with its strength. "ARNAV!" she yelled out, flinching against the car seat.
"I'm here," he said, kissing her forehead, gripping her hand. "I'm with you. Khushi. The jeep's not starting. There's no point of sitting out here. I'm taking you back inside."
She was shaking as he took her in his arms, her hands clenching around him. Arnav took her straight to their bedroom. She felt cold in his arms.. too cold. Her lips were tinged with blue. He changed her clothes quickly, wrapping her in blankets.
"I'm going to get help," he told her. "I'll be right back."
Panic bloomed in her eyes. She grabbed his hand in a death grip. "No, please don't leave me. Please, don't."
His heart pounded with pain. "I'll be back as soon as I can, love. The baby is coming. Just hold on for me. Hold on." His mouth pressed to hers.
It was the hardest thing he'd ever done to leave her there. He ran down the stairs, out of Shantivan and into the storm. It was nothing compared to the storm raging within him.
From what he knew, a doctor lived nearby. It was his only hope. He entered the house without knocking, startling the family inside.
They gazed at him with astonishment. "Mr. Raizada?"
"My wife.." he managed, out of breath. "She's in labor. We need help."
By the time they made it back to Shantivan, Arnav was close to losing complete control. Only his wife's thoughts got him through it.
He darted up the steps two at a time. Khushi was tossing and turning on the bed sheets, gripping the headboard tightly.
He rushed to her side, taking her hand in his. "The doctor's here. An ambulance should be coming too. You'll be okay now, Khushi. I'm with you."
"Don't leave me."
He kissed away her tears. "Never."
The next few hours were hell for both of them. Her each scream pierced his insides, her cries pulled at his heart.
"Where is the ambulance, dammit? It should be here by now." His patience had thinned out hours ago.
"I don't think they're coming," said the doctor, looking hassled. "The storm has knocked down power everywhere. The roads are clogged with traffic and accidents. The baby will have to be delivered here."
"Here?" Arnav froze with shock. "No, we need a hospital! This is a complicated pregnancy. Very complicated."
Khushi squeezed his hand. "Shh, love. Everything will be okay."
Would she ever cease to amaze him? He wondered. Here she was, comforting him when it was her who needed it the most. She was truly the most remarkable, most giving and kind woman he'd ever met.
It was the most hellish agony to sit beside her and watch her battle death itself. He'd never felt more useless. He could only murmur reassurances, wipe her sweaty forehead, and press kisses.
It seemed to help though. Through all the pain, Khushi would focus on him. He was her anchor.
"Tell me a story, Arnavji," she whispered as she felt consciousness slipping.
He only knew one. Their story.
Squeezing her hand, he told her about how they'd met, how she'd mesmerized him from that first, fiery glance, how they'd fallen in love, how'd they gone through so much, but always found their way to one another in the end.
"Don't give up now, Khushi. You can't leave me. I need you. Our child needs you."
Tears slipped out of her eyes, falling into her tangled hair. "Promise me.. Promise me, you'll let yourself love our child. I can't bear anything else. Promise me."
His tears mingled with hers as he pressed his cheek to hers. "I've always loved our baby. I always will. But we both need you, love. You need to fight. Do you hear me? You need to fight for our love."
She did fight--for a very long time. Around midnight, a baby's cry pierced the quiet. It hit Arnav hard; he couldn't quite believe it.
"It's a healthy baby boy," said the doctor. A thickly bundled, pink-faced baby was placed it in his arms.
Tears streaked his face as he held his child. "Look, Khushi, look at our son.."
His wife's eyes were closed. Her body was still.. too still..
"NO!" he screamed. "No!"
The doctor was rushing to check her.
"Is she--" He couldn't finish that gut-wrenching question.
"No, she's still alive, but just barely. She's sinking--and fast."
It felt as if everything was being snatched from him: love, hope, light, life itself. "No, Khushi. Open your eyes, love! Please, love. Open your eyes!"
Her face was blank, her chest unmoving.
"Breathe, Khushi. Breathe, dammit!"
She remained unresponsive, looking so small in the bed.. so young, so lifeless..
"You can't leave us! Khushi, love, wake up! Please, wake up!"
Nothing. Her hand slipped from his.
"No!" Arnav settled the baby beside his wife, cupping her too pale face in his palms. "Listen to me, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada, you need to live! You must. You need to fight. I can't imagine a world without you. I can't bear to live without you. Please.. Please, don't leave me. I love you so much. I've always loved you."
He broke down, falling against her. His sobs were muffled against her chest.
And then, through the darkest depths of despair, he noticed something. Something faint, but real..
Her heartbeat.. it was weak but it was there. His head snapped up, his gaze froze on her dear face.
But it was not a figment of his imagination. She was waking up, her eyelids blinking open. And then he heard the most beautiful sound.. her voice..
He was both smiling and crying as he kissed her hands. "I'm here, Khushi. I'm with you. And our son is too. We're together."
She managed a weak smile, tears in her eyes. "Together.." Could there be a more beautiful word? "I felt myself slipping, I could feel myself weakening. It would have been easy to succumb to it, but I couldn't. I have every reason to live. Your voice, Arnavji.. your love never left me. I've always loved you too."
Their lips met, and for the first time in months, Arnav could breathe again. Could live again.
His world had been returned to him. Both his wife and child were alive and unharmed. He wanted nothing more. His eyes closed in prayer as he hugged both of them.
How far would you go for love? The answer was indefinable.. Something that went past the limits of life and death.
Khushi was reclining on a soft blanket, a serene smile on her face as she watched her husband and son. Arnav was kneeling on the grass beside her, his arms extended toward Arhaan.
The baby was waddling toward him on wobbly legs, flashing them a toothy smile.
"Come to Daddy," Arnav bid, wiggling his hands closer. He'd really taken to fatherhood. Most days he spent with them, no longer the workaholic he'd once been.
Khushi marveled over him now. Who would have guessed that ASR would one day be cooing baby-talk? Changing diapers?
Their son teetered on his feet, looking ready to give up and focus on the bright red ball to his right. Khushi knew just what to do.
She waved a jalebi at him, smiling wide. "Come to Mummy and Daddy, Arhaan!" she cajoled.
Their son's eyes lit up as he spotted his favorite treat. He was laughing as he crossed the last few steps, directly into their arms.
Arnav and Khushi laughed, each pressing a kiss to the baby's soft cheeks.
Hours later, they were still outside, lazing around on the picnic blanket. Khushi was curled against Arnav's side, her arm wound around his waist. Arhaan was asleep on his father's chest, looking adorable and cherub-like, his wavy hair flowing in the breeze.
He looked more like her, but he had his father's hair--as well as his temperament. Khushi called it the typical Raizada stubbornness while Arnav insisted it was more a case of determination. Of never giving up..
It reminded her of the hellish storm that had descended upon them just a year ago. Khushi shivered, clutching her husband closer.
He hugged her back, pressing a kiss to her temple. "Are you okay?"
"Yes.. I'm wonderful, love. That dark storm is finally over. There's only sunshine now. We're together.. As we're meant to be."
Her mouth pressed to his, and he deepened the kiss, needing her with that same powerful intensity as always.
"I love you, Khushi."
"And I love you, Arnavji.. always.."
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