::/All That's Left/::
A/N: Before I start, I want to say sorry to all my readers who are Abhijeet fans. There are certain instances in this story where he might seem a little negative. But bear in mind that this is from Adi's point of view. Though he certainly does love his dad, the fact remains that he will never love anyone or anything as much as he loves his mom. And anything that hurts her is, in his eyes, just unacceptable. Even if it's his dad.
That being said and done, on with the story. Note: It becomes very depressing in between. You have been warned.
Even the most carefully structured facades can be seen through if one just looks closely enough.
And Adi's eyes never missed a thing. He noticed when his mother would glance in his father's direction with something very like longing. He saw her head bowed in defeat at the end of every argument as he watched from outside, half-hidden behind the door. He glimpsed the tears that poured silently down her face as she sat by the window chopping onions. That was the only time she would let them fall.
The sniffling sound grew louder and closer as he approached the room, his footsteps making barely any noise on the cold marble floor. The door was open a crack, and a tiny hand pushed it further open.
She sat at the window, her frame silhouetted against the sunset. There was a large plate in front of her, that had a steadily growing pile of chopped onions on one side and whole ones waiting to be chopped on the other. Her slender fingers were wrapped around the handle of a knife that was sinking into the crisp flesh of an onion that was held in place by he other hand. Adi's eyes, however, were on the tears that were sliding steadily down her face, falling thick and fast into her lap.
His two-year-old mind couldn't comprehend the situation, naturally, but he knew instinctively what to do. Going over, he reached out and wiped his mother's tears as they fell. "No cwying Mamma," he said, his voice soft. "Adi don't like Mamma cwying."
No sooner had these words left his mouth than his eyes screwed shut. The onions were stinging them. Tears of his own trickled down his round cheeks, and he let out a wail as he rubbed his eyes.
"Oh, sweetie." She pushed the plate of onions a safe distance away before lifting him onto her lap and cuddling him, smoothing his hair. "It's OK. It's all right." She kissed him on the forehead, hugging him tight. "It's just the onions."
It seemed as though she was trying to convince herself more than him, even though they both knew it wasn't just the onions.
Adi thought despondently of Dr. Salunkhe, who had been the only one, apart from himself, who had seen. Who had understood. And like Adi, he'd never let on that he knew anything about it. Except at the end... when it was time...
The words spoken by the closest thing Adi had had to a maternal grandfather rang in his head once again, as they had so many times before.
"I have only one last piece of advice to give you before I go, Adi." Dr. Salunkhe's face had been pale and worn, but a strange peace had shone through his still-clear eyes. "As you grow, everyone will expect you to be just like your father."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Adi had asked, in all the innocence of a thirteen-year-old, and Dr. Salunkhe had merely smiled sadly up at him from the hospital bed. "Certainly it is. But just remember one thing... as a CID officer, be everything that he is. But as a man..."
The sadness in the dying doctor's voice had made its presence felt in his face as he spoke the next words. "Don't be like him. You may take after him in looks, but your nature is much more like your mother's. Don't lose that." He had reached up and gently patted Adi on the head with what strength he could muster. "And keep Saara close. Don't ever let her go." A smile had briefly lit up his aged face. "You may not understand now, but there will be a day, sometime in the future, when you'll be very grateful for it."
He understood, now, what the wise old doctor had meant. He knew, without a doubt, that he would never, ever let this happen to Saara, not as long as he was alive. It was bad enough seeing one of the two women he loved most in such a situation. There wasn't much he could do about that, but in Saara's case... he didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if he ever saw tears in her eyes and knew he had caused them.
When he had been younger, it had been surprising to him that his father never seemed to notice what he himself did. Initially, when it had first started, he'd tried to bring it to Abhijeet's attention.
Little had he known then that there was a vast difference between something unnoticed and something avoided.
"Yeah?" Abhijeet didn't look up from his gun, which was being given its meticulous nightly polish. Adi wondered if it was a good idea to talk about what had happened in the first place... his father's temper was even more volatile than ACP Pradyuman's and only a fool, as Daya often liked to remark, would tickle a sleeping dragon.
But then his mother's face flashed in his mind again, and he knew what he had to do. Climbing up onto the sofa beside Abhijeet, Adi gently tugged on his father's coat sleeve. "Papa."
"What is it, Adi?" Abhijeet stopped polishing and turned questioning eyes on his son. The five-year-old looked seriously up at him. "Something's wrong with Mamma." He caught a flash of guilt in his father's eyes before Abhijeet averted his gaze, turning it back to the gun. "What?"
"She's sad all the time. She doesn't smile like she used to. And..." Adi's voice dropped. "I saw her crying today. In the kitchen."
Abhijeet stared down at his gun, though it seemed to Adi as though he wasn't really seeing it. Finally, he let out a breath and set it aside. Turning to face his son, he held out his arms. "Adi, come here."
Adi obliged, snuggling into his father's side as Abhijeet held him close, patting his head. "Beta, you have to understand, girls cry much more easily than we do. And the best thing to do is just let them be. Give them their space. They just need to let it out, and then they'll be OK. You get what I'm saying?" he asked, looking down into the child's face. Adi nodded, but he wasn't convinced. In his heart, he knew there was something more to this. There was something he didn't know about... something he wasn't being told.
But ultimately, he had found out what it was. Tarika had finally told him when they had been alone in the house one day, a little over a year after Dr. Salunkhe's passing. It was only then that he learned what- or rather, who- had been behind his mother's bout of depression all those years ago.
The small life that could never be lived. The little heart that had stopped even before it actually started. His baby sister, who had never gotten a chance at life.
Since then, since the day of her miscarriage, Tarika had begun to slowly break inside. Abhijeet seemed to grow more distant towards her with each passing day, and it was obvious that it was killing her, slowly and steadily. Adi, though he hadn't understood then, had tried, with increasing desperation, to make her better. She never showed anything around him, though- when he was with her, she would be strong for him. She would smile for him, just to give him hope. No matter how much deeper she sunk into her depression every day, she would sacrifice herself at every instance to make sure Adi was always at the height of his spirits.
It was only four months, four long and painful months after the miscarriage that Abhijeet, the Abhijeet everyone knew and loved, finally came back. It had taken a long and very tearful conversation that Adi had heard a few faint snatches of from his room, his parents' quiet voices indiscernible. In the morning, he saw them hugging as he came out for breakfast. Needless to say, it was like breathing fresh air after being stuck in a gas chamber for days on end.
That night, Tarika softly voiced her opinion that her lost child should have a name, and so they called her Trisha. It was the name ACP Pradyuman had suggested for a girl child, long ago when Tarika had been pregnant with Adi.
Thinking about it now, Adi felt a lump rise in his throat, and quickly blinked away the moisture pricking at his eyes. Even though Tarika had long since come out of her brief period of depression, he knew that even all these years later, deep down she still blamed herself for the loss of Trisha.
Adi felt a sudden pang in his heart. Looking back on it now, it appeared almost as though his father had, in some way or another, been blaming her as well. He shook his head, trying to get the thought out of his mind.
He wondered absently if things would be different if Trisha had lived. As much as he would like to think that they would, a small, truthful voice in the back of his head (that sounded a lot like Kenny's) told him they wouldn't. Though he had been too young to understand at the time, he had been watching his parents' rocky marriage crumbling, slowly but surely, long before Trisha. Her loss had merely been the final straw, the final breath of wind that snuffed out the penultimate candle.
The last candle, of course, was Adi. A sudden image entered his mind, of his parents on either side of him and he hanging between them as though lying on an invisible hammock. He was handcuffed to his mother by his wrist and his father by his ankle, and bore a highly discomfited expression.
You're being ridiculous, a voice scolded in his head. This time it was uncannily like Saara's. If you were the only thing saving their marriage, they wouldn't be talking to each other at all.
But they didn't talk like they used to any more, did they? Gone was the shine in Abhijeet's eyes when he looked in Tarika's direction. Even those looks were rare nowadays.
The worst part, though, was that there was nothing Adi could do about it without worsening the situation. And there was nothing that could take away the now permanent hollow look in her eyes. It was as though her very soul had been drained out of her.
And now... he didn't know what to do now. He was every bit as helpless as he had been sixteen years ago, when he was just a two-year-old child wiping his mother's tears without knowing what was behind them. All he had known then was that she needed to be comforted, and even today, that was all he knew. All he could see.
A soft voice floated into the room from the doorway, pulling Adi out of his reverie. He looked up to see Tarika walking in. As always, her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. Adi felt his heart wrench as he looked at his mother.
She picked up one of his shirts and began to fold it. "When will you learn to keep your room a little more organised, Adi?" she asked, her tone stern but with a hint of amusement. "No wonder you can't find your things half the time."
"I've just gotten used to you finding them, I guess," Adi replied with a shrug and a sheepish grin. "I seriously have no clue how I'm going to manage over there."
"You will." She reached over and ruffled his hair. "I have complete faith in you." She put the last of his clothes in his bag and zipped it up. "Is that it? Anything you've left out?"
"Nope." Adi cast a cursory glance around his room just to make sure, and Tarika laughed. "Even if you have left anything out, it'll be up to me to find it." She headed for the door, but was stopped halfway by Adi's quiet voice.
She turned a questioning gaze on him. "Yes, beta?"
Adi got to his feet, crossed the room in two strides and wrapped his mother up in the tightest hug he was capable of without the risk of suffocating her. It was something he would do whenever he sensed she needed it, and he knew that right then, she needed it more than ever.
He saw her eyes glisten unnaturally as they broke apart. "You'll be OK, won't you?" he asked her, a touch of worry seeping into his voice.
Tarika gave him a wan smile. "Shouldn't that be my line?"
"Mom, you know I'll be OK." Adi grinned at her. "I can take care of myself."
She smiled again, though this time it was a wistful one, as she looked at him. He was now a little taller than she was. "I tend to forget how much you've grown." Her voice was soft as she reached up and held his face in both hands. "Sometimes I still see my wide-eyed baby boy. And every time that happens I have to remind myself that you're a legal adult now."
Adi shook his head, smiling at her with a trace of sadness in his eyes. "That may be so, but I'll always be your little boy." He hugged her again. "Take care of yourself, all right?"
"For heaven's sake, Adi," Tarika laughed. "You're going for ten days, not ten years."
"Mom," Adi protested. "It's not ten days, it's ten days. Two hundred and forty hours. Fourteen thousand four hundred minutes."
"All right, all right, I get the picture." She tweaked his nose. "You be good, you hear?"
Before he could answer, the doorbell rang. "That'll be Kenny," Tarika said, glancing over her shoulder. "Hurry up and check if you've finished packing, I'll bring him in." With that, she was gone, and Adi, staring after her, let out a small sigh.
Normally it would be mothers who became emotional when their children were going to be away from them for ten days, but Adi knew that it would be he who would have to contain himself. He'd have to be strong for his mother.
Just as she had always been for him, with all that was left of her.
A/N: All right. So this didn't turn out as good as I wanted, and I know there'll be a crowd of die-hard Abhirika fans waiting to throw slippers at me, but I don't know why, I just felt like writing this. It's OK even if you guys don't review... just don't flame though. There's a little thing called realism which I often like to employ in my stories. Maybe I went a bit too far with the realism quotient in this one, but the fact remains that not all love marriages are going to end up happily ever after. At least Abhirika have their priorities sorted out enough to stay together for Adi. Who knows, maybe they'll even be able to save their marriage along the way. Think of it as you will.