To be fair to Abhijeet, it was quite difficult to tire him out. He could run around all day fighting criminals, and still be in high spirits when it was over.
Taking care of one of the most boisterous four-year-olds on the planet, however, was a different story altogether.
Over the course of twelve hours, he'd crawled on his hands and knees all over the house hunting for Adi's favourite toy truck, climbed back and forth over the bed about twenty times trying to catch Adi, who had been rolling around gleefully on the floor, and finally run a full circle around the park chasing after Adi, who had been going way too fast on his tricycle.
It would have been much easier if Tarika were there. As fate would have it, she wasn't- Dr. Salunkhe had packed her off to a forensic science convention the previous night and she would be home only two days later.
Sighing wearily, Abhijeet leaned back in his chair, shutting his eyes as he raked a hand absently through his hair. He knew he should consider himself lucky that Adi was too sensible and mature to throw tantrums like most other children his age did, but there was no question that the child was missing his mother. He had been unusually quiet at several instances during the day, his little face pulled into a sad pout.
Of course, he'd be lying if he said he didn't miss Tarika himself. Things at home, as well as in the forensic lab, somehow seemed dull without her sweet smile and perky attitude. At least Adi was there to keep him occupied at home, however. Dr. Salunkhe just tended to become irritable when he had to do all the lab work by himself.
A faint noise broke through his thoughts, jerking him back to reality. He sat up and turned around, looking over the back of the chair.
The noise turned out to be Adi. The little boy came into view, his stuffed monkey dangling from one hand. The other hand was rubbing at his eyes, and he was sniffling.
"Adi?" Instinctively, Abhijeet reached for him, the familiar need to protect taking over at once. "What's the matter beta?"
Adi shook his head, his gaze dropping to the floor as his lower lip trembled like a leaf. He suddenly looked too small for the room, in his Looney Tunes pyjamas with one little hand still clutching the monkey doll by its arm. Looking at him, Abhijeet felt as though his heart had been split in half with an axe. The same feeling he'd had when he'd seen Adi lying unconscious in that hospital bed after accidentally breathing in some drug fumes.
This time, though, there was actually something he could do about the situation. So he tried again.
Reaching out, he took the child's free hand in both of his. "Adi. What's wrong?" When there was no response except for an intensified trembling of the lip, Abhijeet let a touch of firmness seep into his voice as he employed a tactic that he'd often seen Tarika using. "Aditya."
As expected, that worked. Adi raised his head, looking at Abhijeet with his wide dark eyes shimmering with tears. He muttered something, barely above a whisper, but Abhijeet heard. "I had a nightmare."
The word sent a tremor through Abhijeet. Nightmares were something he was well acquainted with, too well for his liking. In Adi's case, though, it was something completely different. The child was just four years old. He shouldn't have to experience any of the pain, the horrors that nightmares brought with them.
Letting go of Adi's hand, Abhijeet lifted him onto his lap. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
Adi lowered his eyes and bit his lip, a nervous habit he'd inherited from his mother. "It was scary."
"It's OK," Abhijeet said, gently patting Adi's head as the boy leaned against his chest, obviously trying hard not to cry. "You can tell me. What was it?"
"I saw..." Adi took a deep, shuddering breath. "I saw Mamma playing with me. Then some people came... scary people. They... they hurt Mamma. I tried to save her but then they came to hurt me too. Then you came..." Adi's voice quivered. "You came and tried to get Mamma and me out of there... but they dragged you away... I couldn't do anything..."
Adi's voice broke and he let out a sob, tears spilling over his cheeks as Abhijeet hugged him tightly, feeling tears pricking at his own eyes.
"I don't want them to hurt Mamma," Adi sobbed. "And I don't want them to take you away."
Abhijeet pulled himself together with a great effort, and wiped the child's tears, rocking him back and forth. When Adi was sufficiently calmed down, Abhijeet spoke. "Adi, look at me."
Adi raised his head, and Abhijeet looked into the glistening dark eyes that were so much like his own. "Beta, no one's going to take me away anywhere. And as for your Mamma, I'm not going to let anyone hurt her. Or you. It was just a nightmare, it's not real. You don't have to be scared of it."
The four-year-old didn't seem convinced. He stared into Abhijeet's face as though debating whether or not to believe him, and for a second the senior inspector was strongly reminded of ACP Pradyuman.
"Really?" Adi asked, the doubt clear in his voice.
It was Abhijeet's turn to look away. His own experience with nightmares flashed briefly in his mind, and he shut his eyes, trying to clear his head. The gentle touch of Adi's little hand against his face brought him back to the present, and he sighed as he held the child close to him. "Adi, I'm going to tell you something."
"A few years ago, I used to have nightmares, too."
He could see that whatever Adi had expected, it certainly wasn't this. The little one's eyes widened as he gaped in amazement. "Really?"
Abhijeet nodded. "Really."
"What kind of nightmares?"
Abhijeet sighed again as he tried to collect himself, keeping his voice as normal as possible. "About some... things... that happened to me a long time ago. Some really bad things."
Adi's lip was quivering again. "Were you scared?"
"Not really scared, no... but they made me sad, sadder than you can imagine. I felt like I'd never be happy again."
"Did you tell Daya uncle about it?"
That earned him a dry chuckle from Abhijeet. "I didn't need to. Your dear Daya uncle just knows everything without having to be told."
Adi's face brightened a little. "And what did he say?" he asked, eagerness creeping into his eyes.
"Being the smart man he is, he told me to stop thinking about it, because if you keep thinking about things that make you sad or scared, you forget the things which make you happy." Abhijeet ruffled Adi's soft, tousled hair. "Understand?"
"Yeah." Adi nodded, but another doubt entered his mind at once. "But what was the thing that made you happy?"
That made Abhijeet smile. It felt like ages since he had done so. "Something very sweet that you love very much."
Scrunching up his little face thoughtfully, Adi racked his brains. "Chocolate?"
"Think again." Abhijeet grinned. "OK, I'll give you a hint. That something loves you very much, too."
The single hint was all Adi needed, and his familiar beaming smile broke out on his face. "I know, I know! It's Mamma!"
"That's right, my little genius." Abhijeet tweaked Adi's tiny nose, and the child let out a peal of laughter. The sound filled the house and Abhijeet's heart, sending warmth flooding through it. "Do you feel better now?"
"All better," Adi proclaimed, then let out a huge yawn that made Abhijeet laugh. Getting up, he carried Adi into his room, putting him gently down onto the bed and sitting down beside him, patting his head. "Come on, lie down. Time to go back to sleep."
Adi closed his eyes, but quickly opened them a couple of seconds later. "My monkey..."
"Right here." Abhijeet handed him the doll, and Adi hugged it to his chest, snuggling against it. "What's his name?" Abhijeet asked.
"Fred," Adi mumbled sleepily. "Because his smile reminds me of Freddy uncle."
Glancing down at the monkey, Abhijeet noticed with amusement that this was indeed true. Pulling the blankets towards him, he covered Adi up first before getting under the blanket and turning off the nightlight.
"I love you."
Abhijeet half-opened his eyes to see the moonlight falling on his son's face, so much like his own, and smiled. "I love you too beta. More than anything."
~ THE END ~
A/N: I got the idea for this after reading similar stories about Draco Malfoy and his son Scorpius (yet another reason to love Harry Potter :D).