Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 29

“Shoot him.” Asfand looked towards his uncle and then at the man kneeling before him. He was hurt and crying. His clothes were torn and bloody. “He needs to be punished for betraying us.” Yet, Asfand neither blinked nor fixed his aim to the old man. He was innocent. Asfand knew it the moment he saw his eyes. He could always tell when he was dealing with an actual criminal and when an innocent.

And like always, his mind was conflicted between this and that. For being a ten years old, he was blessed with an insight that was going to become his greatest asset in coming times. He was not that grown up yet but he was old enough to understand certain things.

Like the intentions of his uncle.

He made Asfand kill people without giving any proper justification to these judgments he passed. He thought of him as a god of this place and people feared and worshiped him as one.

But for this kid, he will always remain a devil.

“What are you waiting for?”

“Why don’t you ask Anser-”

Slap

This was always what everything concluded to.

His father was dead and mother was not brave enough to stand up to him. He made sure to keep Asfand away from her and brewed a seed of poison in his heart that was going to benefit him greatly in near future.

Afroz was making Asfand a living weapon for himself. Not just any weapon, a lethal one that bore no human conscience or feelings. Afroz was successful in creating a fraction of it through these brutal beatings. His sense of pain died in past years and now only these ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ remained.

That too won’t take long and he will be the puppet of his hands.

“How many times have I told you to not talk back?” Afroz backhanded him again and pulled his head back by hair. “Don’t you know what your defiant attitude can cost you?” He knew it very well. “Kill him before I decide to pay your mother another visit.”

Every bullet was now embedded deep within that old man’s flesh. He fell to the ground and was looking at Asfand with wide questioning eyes. But Asfand didn’t blink away. Not when he felt no remorse or regret in doing what he did.

“Do you see it?” Afroz held his shoulders firmly and leaned to his ear with a sneer. “Look carefully in his eyes and see your reflection. Your true face.” Asfand saw it alright. “That’s what you are my dear nephew and that is what you will always remain.”

As long as it keeps that woman out of trouble.

The constantly ringing phone was giving Asfand a massive headache yet he made no attempt to silence it or answer the call. He had no sense of time these past days. He hasn’t even counted the days he has spent in his study, drinking nonstop. This nonsensical and irrational behavior was completely unexpected of Asfandyar Sherzai yet, he made no attempt to leave these four walls. In a way, Asfand was behaving like a child who was too stubborn to admit it.

And the dreams, they were back again. Asfand haven’t had them in years but these past days, he was having flashback of certain events, he never wanted to revisit.

His phone persisted on being answered. Asfand sat up on the couch with a groan and staggered to his table with an unrecognizable chain of curses. By the time he picked his phone, the call dropped once again.

“Fucking shitting with me” Asfand smashed it across the floor and leaned against the table. His head was pounding badly. He knew he needed to get out of this room. It started reeking of alcohol now and was only adding to his substantial headache. “I need a fucking coffee.” Asfand groaned while rubbing his temples and made his way out.

His steps were heavy and unsteady. His vision was proving itself to be a great challenge in the moment. Right now, Asfand was cussing himself more than anything. He had no idea why he did what he did but he only knew it was the worst decision of his life. To drink nonstop like that when there was no need to.

“Shafiq!” His throat hurt. “Fuck!” He leaned against the couch when everything around him spun. “Shafiq!” Asfand yelled angrily. “Where the fuck is everyone?” In his drunk stupor, Asfand failed to notice that it was ten in the night and all servants retired to their quarters. “Fuck!” Asfand pushed himself up to go to his room. He was having great difficulty to balance his senses with his steps. He was too drunk and the effect of over-consumption was kicking in hard.

He would have barely taken two steps when dizziness hit him hard. Before he could fall down, someone caught him. The person was having great difficulty to hold his heavy frame upright. Asfand was totally knocked out but he recognized the scent that flooded his senses like sweet poison. It was soothing his inner rage in a way that rendered him senseless in the moment.

“Can you at least try to stand straight?” Asfand pulled away from her shoulder and watched her through hazy mind and vision. A frown was visible between her delicate brows and her mouth was turned down in disapproval towards his condition.

Was she really here? Asfand wanted to touch her but he couldn’t. His limbs felt like lead and an invisible weight tied them down in their approach towards her.

“Hey!” Dua hugged him again unwillingly when he staggered back. She couldn’t believe his condition. She never knew a man like Asfand could let himself be found in such a vulnerable state. He could barely stand on his own. “What are you doing?” She looked around but there was no one. “Why would yo-” She looked at Asfand in surprise when he patted her cheek gently. Not once but multiple times. “What are you doing?”

“Making sure” Asfand rasped lowly and let his head slump on her shoulder. “That you are real.” Her neck tickled with his hot breath. He was almost crushing her with his heavy body. She tried to push him off but Asfand didn’t budge.

This has become such a nuisance. Dua wasn’t aiming to come back at all. But she left some important files here and she needed them. She made sure of his absence before coming but fate loved to play them a lot.

“Asfand?” Dua steadied him with great difficulty and looked at Safan who halted in his approach upon seeing her. “It’s you-”

“You need to take him to his room.” She tried to break free but Asfand held her without any reverence. “Now, if you may?”

“Don’t you dare come close” Asfand pointed towards Safan in clear warning. “I don’t want anyone near me but” Safan looked at Dua in question. “Her. Only her.” Dua looked at Asfand in surprise and steadied him when his feet staggered. “No one else. No one.” His head slumped on her shoulder again.

“Can you do me a favor?” Safan nodded in silence. “Bring Ida over. I will let Xian know.”

“You are staying?” Safan couldn’t digest this and Dua had no time to help him in doing so. She just looked at him calmly while holding Asfand in place. “Anything else.” She shook her head. “Very well. Let me know if-” Dua nodded when Safan looked towards Asfand meaningfully and he left them alone.

“My head is pounding like a fucking-” Asfand groaned and stood up straight to rub his temples. “I need coffee.”

“You need a shower first and food later.” He glared at Dua halfheartedly when she draped his one arm around her shoulders and hugged his torso with both arms to help him walk. “Make it easy for me, will you? You are reeking of alcohol and it’s disgusting.” Asfand snorted but let her lead nonetheless. He was sure this was a dream and he was willing to let her do as she pleases in this dream. He wanted to live it to end before it breaks.

“You know you have cute nose.” Dua scowled at him sideways. “It’s small and cute.” Asfand pinched it suddenly and chuckled when Dua groaned in annoyance. “I’m liking this dream a lot. I want it to continue forever.” Dua made no effort to correct him. It would have taken a step back from her side to let him fall down the stairs of death but she didn’t.

She wasn’t going to take advantage of his incapacitated state.

It was feat to get Asfand back in room and she was not going to let him sleep on the bed like this. Asfand muttered insensible profanities at her defiance towards his wish to sleep but let her take him to the bathroom.

“Just get done as quickly as you can.” Dua shifted her weight from one leg to other impatiently. Asfand chose to lean against the wall in shower cabin and watched her calmly. “What are you doing? Get on with it.”

“You want to watch me take a shower?” Her body twisted instantly and she cursed inaudibly when Asfand laughed behind her. “I don’t mind janaan. You can join me if you want.” She breathed in relief at the sound of water flowing and clothes rustling.

“I’ll get-” A gasp escaped her lips and her phone fell on the tiled floor when Asfand pulled her inside the glass cabin. “What are you doing? Leave me.” Dua closed her eyes and pushed at his bare chest to break free. “Asfand! What are you- You are naked. Leave me.” He just chuckled heartily and hugged her body close with a satisfactory hum. Her heart was beating crazy when he nuzzled her neck and breathed deeply. His arms just held her tight and he made no attempt to touch her inappropriately for a change. “I shouldn’t have helped you.”

“Yeah?” Her small hands fisted on his broad back when he chuckled in her neck. “I bet you on that.” Dua unconsciously leaned in his body. He is muscular through and through. Her heart picked a different beat when her fingers felt every dent, ridge and muscle under his skin. His body tensed and twitched and Asfand groaned at what she was doing. But, when her hands came in contact with certain marks, he froze.

“Scars?” She murmured in astonishment and continued her exploring when Asfand made no comment or move to stop or push her away. Why haven’t I noticed them before? She wanted to see to confirm they were what she was thinking. They felt like whiplashes and burn marks. “Why do you have them?”

“Why do I have them?” Dua pulled away to look at his dark expressions. “Why indeed?” Asfand murmured lowly. Dua could tell he was not present in the moment. He might be looking at her but he was living in a memory that she didn’t want to open. It was not her place to poke in the part of his life that was intimate. She didn’t plan on getting to that. “If only I knew.”

“I will-” Dua pushed free of his hold and Asfand let her. “Your clothes.” She walked out on him. Asfand stayed in the same place for a few minutes before letting a bit of reality kick in. Dua came back and left fresh towels and his sweats by the vanity before walking out again.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Asfand hissed with closed eyes and pushed his hair back with both hands before rubbing them down his face. His dizziness dropped a notch but he was still far from the reality. Asfand turned off the water and stepped out of shower cabin. It suddenly felt too big for one person. He wore his sweats after drying off his body and left their huge bathroom. He wanted to get back to his Dua.

To get back to his wife who might disappear any moment now.

“Any better?” Dua placed her phone on the dresser and stood up once she saw him in the closet area. Asfand neither answered nor blinked away from her which made her hot for no good reason. “Have you eaten anything?”

“Why are you here?” His question threw her off guard. “Why are you still here Dua?” Asfand covered the distance between them in three long strides and looked down at her small frame. His eyes roamed over her bare arms that bore fading marks of what he did weeks ago. It flared his anger towards unknown and he glared at her hard. “What are you doing?”

Dua had no answers for his questions. The questions she has been asking herself from last hour.

What was she doing? Why was she doing?

“Looking away is not what I asked janaan." Asfand pinched her chin gently and made her look at him. Their depth and intensity was unbearable for Dua in so many ways. His unaltered gaze always made her heart beat wild and her breathing shallow.

She pushed his hand away and turned. This is not what I had in mind. Dua looked at Asfand through their reflection. Get a grip of yourself. He was the perfect picture of living lie and deception. The more she looked at him, the stronger her hatred became. She knew she should have just left him to his suffering. He was undeserving of her empathy but she couldn’t bring herself to walk out on him like that. Even after the brutality he showed, she couldn’t return the favor.

Not now.

He was going to pay for every sin. Soon. Dua was going to collect each penny towards her pending debt on her husband herself.

By her own hands.

“What are you doing?” Asfand scowled when Dua grabbed his arm. “I can walk on my own woman. I don’t need your support.” She let go of his arm and motioned for him to go ahead. Her arrogance infuriated him but he chose to walk out on her instead of staying. He didn’t want a repeat of previous incident. Never again.

Dua walked closely behind Asfand. His steps were still staggering but his gigantic upright arrogance didn’t let him take help from her anymore. He was still not in his senses but he was aware enough to ridicule her female help. She stood before him with arms crossed when he slumped on the bed and looked at her darkly. His mouth turned down and expressions hardened further.

“Ida is here.” Asfand didn’t blink away from her. “I will ask her to bring something light for you. It’s not healthy to sleep on empty stomach. You have consumed too much alcohol as well. So-” his gaze was making her uncomfortable. “I will-” She turned but Asfand grabbed her wrist.

“Do I look like a rapist to you?” Dua was forced to turn. She didn’t look in his eyes when he pulled her between his legs. “Animal, barbarian, bastard and what not. But-” Asfand tipped her chin up so she was looking in his eyes instead of his chest. “Do I really look a rapist to you?” Dua was trapped again.

In his eyes.

The answer should have been shot like an arrow like last time but Dua stayed mum. She just looked in his eyes that were speaking a different story. She cupped his wrist and lowered it reluctantly before stepping out of his hold again.

There was no answer. There were going to be no answers.

Dua made another attempt to leave but Asfand held her back again. He got up this time and turned her in his arms. Her heart thudded in fear when Asfand pushed her hair back to expose her neck.

Is he going to assault me again like that night?

But her wild thoughts came to a surprised halt when his calloused fingers caressed her tender flesh carefully.

“I am not a nice man. I have hurt you and I will hurt you.” His fingers grazed the scar near her left temple. The scar he gave her. “But there are certain lines that even animals like me don’t cross.” He cupped her face and gently rubbed his thumb over her slightly parted lips. She is scared. “If I wanted” Dua was stoned when he kissed her scar before kissing her forehead. “I would have had you countless times by now Dua. I am a man. I’d rather women grovel at my feet themselves than forcing myself on them.”

“It doesn’t lessen your sins.” Asfand chuckled and pulled her along him to the bed. Dua was surprised when he made her fall against him and his mirthfulness only confused her more. “You find this funny?”

“Its irony, isn’t it? We came together again after all these years. By all evens and odds.” Dua steadied herself in his hold. “Only to-” Asfand let his sentence hang. There was no end to it. Nothing meaningful and fruitful.

Just like them.

“Were you really going to sell me?” Dua had no idea why she asked this question out of blue. But she suddenly felt the need to. “What do you intend to do with me Asfand?” Asfand was watching her silently and his silence was irking Dua. Any word is better than this. “What do you want?”

“Mein tumeh barbaad kar doon ga.” (I will destroy you.)

“Mein apki jaan ly lu gi.” (I will kill you.)

Asfand smirked at her quick response and Dua scowled at his statement.

This was their fate.

The fate they chose by choosing each other. There was no alternative to their future. There was no future at all. They were either going to finish each other or finish together while doing so.

“Pyaari lagti ho (I find you adorable)” Asfand tucked her hair back with a soft hum. “Pyaari lagi thi (I found you adorable). Even when I just heard your name an hour before marriage, I found you adorable.” Her breath hitched when he cupped her face. “Even when I just saw your eyes for the first time through that veil, I found you adorable.”

“Asfand!” Dua cupped his wrist to stop him. “Don’t-”

“Even after everything, I find you adorable.” Dua had nothing to say anymore. “This is adorable.” He kissed her knuckles one by one before kissing her palms and wrists. “Your eyes, your nose, your lips, your cheeks. Everything is adorable.” He kissed them as he praised them and Dua just watched him in wonderment.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I can’t stop thinking about you.” Dua didn’t push away or tried to when he hugged her tight. “Even after everything, I can’t stop feeling this-” Asfand pushed her further into him. “I’m not a man of regrets Dua. Don’t expect apologies from me. I take accountability for my actions to the end but that doesn’t mean I feel anything towards their outcome. Guilt and regrets were not taught to me and I don’t intend to feel them either. Not when I myself let certain things happen.” Now Dua knew what Haider meant. “It’s what I am and it’s how I am always going to be.” Dua knew it better than anything.

Asfand fell back on the bed with her and twisted their bodies so she was lying sideways in his arms. “What are you doing?” He chuckled at her bewildered expressions and closed his eyes.

“You can relax Dua.” Asfand murmured in her hair and held her close. “I just want to sleep for now. I want to live this dream a little longer. Like this.”

Her watch beeped furiously with her changing pulse-rate and breathing patterns. She just turned it off instead of answering. There were no orders that she needed fulfilled in the moment. Her heart was no worried as she looked at the sleeping man before her eyes.

Her husband.

Everything was forgotten in the moment. Every bitter memory and past that shadowed them.

For a change, he didn’t look like a monster. For a change, there was nothing negative about him. For a change, she wasn’t feeling scared by his closure.

For a change, he was not a Sherzai.

Dua was not going to deny it. Asfand was not like his uncle and cousin. He might be their blood but he was different. He was ruthless and dangerous but he was a man of principles and honor. Asfand always did what he said and upheld the consequences, no matter what. There were not many who stood by their deeds; good or bad.

And right now, he was a man she had never known.

There was something tender and safe about his presence in the moment. The way he was holding her, it made her heart beat a beat she never felt before.

She raised her hand and caressed his face slowly. She observed every curve, line and crease and memorized them without her consent. This man is mine. Her palm tickled when she grazed his stubble and his groan made an involuntary small smile grace her beautiful lips. She watched his full lips for a moment before letting her thumb caress them slowly and softly. In every way. Her eyes closed on their own when he pulled her further in his warmth.

It was going to disappear once the morning came. These thoughts were going to disappear. This feeling was going to disappear. This moment was going to disappear. All of this was going to disappear.

This night never existed.

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