Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 36

Dua threw the files across the room and slammed her palms on the table. She was trying to control her rage that was threatening to let loose. Aya and Xian stood silently and watch the tornado of her fury pass through. There was no point in talking it out. Not when her mind was haywire.

“So it was still not enough?” Her palms fisted and her nails dug deeper in her flesh, drawing out the blood in process. But she paid no attention to the pain she was inflicting on herself. “So, the charges were pressed but Wasiq still fled the country, just like that?” She knew getting to Azfar was not going to be that easy.

“Wang family.” Dua looked at Xian. Of course. How else that mutt would run away, if not for them. “Mikhailov did warned us about his connections. He is trapped without a doubt but the trap is still not strong enough. Not until Kuo Wang is removed out of the picture.” Xian was calm but Dua knew better.

Dua turned and leaned against her table while looking out. It was ominous today. The sky was drowned in dark clouds since last night. There was thunder and strong breeze but the outpour has yet to hit.

Her heart clenched the more she gazed at the weather and she turned abruptly.

“Kuo Wang.” She whispered to herself. “People like Azfar Baig don’t know what hopelessness and misery is.” Dua twisted the ring on her index finger. “Because he possess the power to portray what picture he wants to put forth to fool his audience. There are too many masks for him to use right now.” Dua chuckled darkly. “But what if those masks were stolen?” Aya looked at Xian.

Dua sat by the edge of her table and looked at the chessboard carefully. A sinister smile graced her lips as she moved various glass pieces.

“Have you ever seen something breaking from inside and annihilating itself by the end?” The queen of white was trapped. “Azfar takes pride in his power, no?” Dua grabbed the said piece and observed it keenly. “He is quite an impactful politician yet no one ever questioned what his son did to hundreds of poor souls. I wonder what made them blind against such heinous acts over years.”

“What do you intend to do?” She looked at Xian once and threw the queen across the floor. It shattered into many pieces and lay scattered on the floor.

“Something that people like Azfar Baig won’t ever forget.”

**********

“Schedule the meeting by Friday Xian.” Another rumble hit the sky and Dua looked towards her closed curtains. It has been raining nonstop for past five days. And she was hating every minute of it.

“Are you sure about this?” Dua closed the files and stood up. She took the day off. So did Asfand. But, they haven’t crossed paths even once. He was busy with his own things and have been cooped in the study since breakfast. Dua didn’t know about him but going out in this weather was too much for her. Not that her stay at estate was making any difference. She was only feeling worse by minute.

“Your activities are being monitored at the moment.” This got her undivided attention. “Army is trying to cover our tracks about their deaths. It’s like someone tipped them off and they are trying to connect the dots back to you. Not that they can ever find out but some of their men are being very diligent in getting the murders linked to your name.”

“Interesting.” Dua was not worried about what could occur if she was ever found out. She was only curious. “And do you have leads on their leads?”

“You won’t be surprised.” Dua smiled darkly. “Do you want to take action or you want to bid your time?”

“I want to see this chase for a little while.” Dua hummed thoughtfully while watching the rings on her fingers. “I have a feeling it will come handy in the end. We are going to pay our dear guest a very valuable visit soon. Make sure it counts.” With that she disconnected the call and threw her phone on the bed. “One step” Dua muttered under her breath spitefully.

“Bhabhi?” Ushna entered her room after a brief knock. “Am I disturbing you on your work?” She looked towards her files and opened laptop. Dua smiled a little and gathered her stuff to place them in their rightful place. She was in enemy’s territory and she couldn’t even risk a peek to her things.

“Not really. What brings you here?” Ushna smiled sheepishly when Dua stood before her. She was still not used to her strong personality and always shied away when she confronted her directly. But Ushna respected and admired Dua greatly. Especially after what she did for her that day.

“Noor Bi is calling you” Dua nodded and made a move to leave but Ushna caught her hand. “Sorry Bhabhi” Dua looked at her with raised brow when she withdrew in embarrassment. Her face was turning red and she just couldn’t look Dua in the eye.

After the time Ushna spent with Dua, she learnt one thing that Dua didn’t like closure. She was respectful and polite but cold and distant at the same time. It scared Ushna sometimes because she couldn’t really tell what feelings Dua bore towards them or anyone.

“I just want to confirm one thing” Dua nodded. “Can you cook?”

“What kind of question is this?” Ushna opened her mouth but then decided against it. She didn’t want her ears to bleed by Noor Bi’s scolding. “Ushna?” Dua shook her shoulder slightly.

“Huh? Uh!” Ushna shook her head. “Nothing, let’s go. By the way, it’s beautiful outside. Why have you drawn your curtains? Don’t you like rain? I love rain, especially playing in it. It is so much fun Bhabhi.”

“Oh come on Dua, it’s not like you will be washed away. It’s so much fun.”

“I’m not really a rain person” Ushna looked at Dua questioningly but didn’t get the chance to ask further. They reached the lounge by the back garden where Noor Bi was sitting near the window and enjoying the weather. The moment she saw girls, her face lit up further.

“Ah! Come here” Dua and Ushna sat by her either side. It was such a beautiful view around their estate. Everything became greener and the mountains painted a breathtaking picture with the dark clouds of rain. “I didn’t disturb you, did I?” Dua shook her head with a polite smile. “It’s such a nice day and I wanted to spend it with my children. Unfortunately, one is stubborn to the bones.” She grumbled cutely. “Do you like rainy season Dua?”

“I don’t have much preference of one weather over the other” Ida brought their tea. “You love rains as well?”

“Only for one reason more than others. Actually, I have a request to make.”

**********

Asfand looked up from his file in annoyance when the door to his study banged open without permission. But his anger morphed into confusion when Dua locked the door behind her stealthily and stormed towards him at rather impatient pace.

“Everything okay with you?” Asfand was yet again hit with another shock when she grabbed his arm and pulled at it to make him stand up. “What’s wrong?”

“Bhagoray”

“Excuse me?” Asfand pulled his arm free of her hold and fixed her a murderous glare. “What did you just called me?”

“Do you know how to make them?” Asfand was confused. “You don’t know?” The dent between his brows deepened. “Why did you flaunt your cooking skills? I came to you for no reason.” Asfand grabbed her arm and pulled her back before she could have walked out on him. “Leave me, I have a mess to sort out.”

“What kind of mess have you gotten yourself in that you had to come ask me?” Dua watched him with pursed lips. “Speak up janaan. I don’t have that much time to spare for nonsense and you are not stupid to barge on me for no reason.”

“Noor Bi asked me to make them.” His one brow shot up. “I just told you. Bh-bhagoray, she said to make them.” Asfand coughed to cover the laugh that was threatening to bubble out any moment. He just couldn’t believe his ears. And on top of everything, he just couldn’t believe his luck with this moment. “I don’t even know what this thing is and she has banned me from using internet or asking anyone.”

“And yet you are at my door.” He composed his expressions and looked at her solemnly. “It’s cheating and betrayal in a way Ms. Sahi.”

“She never mentioned you in her restraining rules.” Dua countered wittily. “Well, whatever. I will sort this on my own.” She made another attempt to leave. This time, Asfand pulled her in his arms and caged her against him. “What?”

“First of all, it’s pakoray. You got the name wrong.” Her lips formed an ‘o’ unconsciously and Asfand found the sight beyond the word adorable. “Secondly, I know how to make them.”

“You do?” Dua completely forgot her early discomfort in his hold. “Can you tell me the recipe?”

“I’m sure you will be in need of more than a recipe.” Dua looked at Asfand in confusion. “Want me to help you? But of course, it won’t come free.”

“Name your price.” Asfand smirked at her. “What?”

“Do you give me your word on it?” Dua nodded without a thought. “And can I count on Ms. Sahi to honor her word when the time comes?”

“Yes.” Asfand hummed thoughtfully and finally let her go. Dua didn’t pay attention to how much close he was holding her until she jerked back a step. Asfand didn’t give her much time to ponder. He grabbed her arm and took her to kitchen.

Without wasting any time, Asfand rolled his sleeves to elbows and got to work. Dua watched him amused and amazed as he moved around with grace and fluidity.

“Cut these onions, potatoes and chilies. Make sure they are not diced too small or big.” Dua nodded and got to work beside him.

“What are you doing?” Asfand glanced at her from his periphery and continued taking out a moderate quantity of chickpea flour in a bowl. He added salt, red chili powder and remaining spices as per needed and started dicing coriander. “Are all these things going inside that flour?”

“It’s called besan in common language and yes. Are you done?” Dua passed him the vegetables. Asfand nodded in approval and started adding everything in the bowl. “Can you get me yogurt?” Dua got the ingredient without a question and stood next to him silently.

“Water?” Asfand smirked at her bewildered expressions. An idea popped in his mind and he turned to his wife who was watching everything in wonderment.

“Would you like to know what is going to become of this mixture?” Dua blinked at him in surprise when he pulled her close and caged her in his arms. “You are going to mix it slowly and nicely with your hand.” He grabbed hold of her hand and guided it around the task. “Don’t be too harsh with the mixing janaan." Her breath hitched when Asfand whispered in her ear seductively. “You need to be extremely gentle.”

“So much fuss over such little thing?” Their nose collided when Dua looked over her shoulder to look at him. Asfand smirked at her expressions and the blush that was coating her cheeks without her knowledge. “You can move back. I got this now.”

“Are you sure?” Dua nodded. “I’ll get the oil ready.” Dua released an inaudible breath when Asfand finally moved back. Once she was sure that everything was mixed properly, she took the bowl to Asfand.

“Why are you using so much oil?” A memory flashed before her eyes at the mere sight of the large round frying pan of boiling oil. She took an involuntary step back. Although it was not the same quantity but it was enough to trigger that suppressed memory to surface.

Of how they used to push their faces close to that burning pit of oil, just to torment their parents.

“It’s-”

“This much oil is necessary to fry them. We won’t be adding just a single spoon.” Asfand was oblivious to the distress she was entering. “Add small quantities of this mixture in this oil. You can either use spoon or your-” Asfand looked at Dua. Her eyes were too transfixed on the pan. Every time a bubble burst within the oil, she flinched. “Dua?”

“Yeah?” She looked at him startled and cursed herself. Asfand was watching her closely. “Can you show me how to do it properly?”

“Come close.” Dua was reluctant but she didn’t want him to know. She moved by his side, standing closer than she would have ever liked. “You can lower the heat a little if you are not comfortable with the quantity. But make sure, it has warmed up.” Just as Asfand was about to add the spoonful of mixture in the pan, she grabbed his arm and hid her face in his bicep.

“Be careful” Asfand was surprised at her gesture. Her grip on his arm tightened and she pushed herself further in his side. “It will burn.”

“It won’t” Asfand whispered in her hair. This woman never cease to amaze me. Every time Asfand thought he unraveled her, she put forth a new puzzle of her existence. “Dua!” he tipped her chin up slowly. “It won’t hurt if you will be careful. See.” Asfand wrapped one arm around her shoulder and guided her in front of him. “Just do as I say.” He guided her hand around the spoon and made her add the mixture in the oil.

Dua instantly turned in his arms and buried her face in his chest when the oil made a cackling noise. And just like that his protective instinct kicked in.

“It’s not going to hurt you janaan.” Asfand brushed her hair back and pressed his lips to her ear. He had no idea what made this vulnerable side of her come to surface. But whenever it happened, his primal instincts to protect her at any cost became stronger than ever. And this feeling was not in his control anymore. “Dua! Nothing will happen. Not as long as I am with you.”

Dua blinked in his chest at what he said. For a change, she didn’t know what to say or how to react. But something about what he said sounded promising. And it soothed the burning ache her memories brought.

She slowly detached her head from his chest and looked up. Looked in his green forests. They were speaking every word he spoke just now. There was so much to them that Dua couldn’t find it in herself to look away.

“You are afraid of oil?” Dua didn’t blink when Asfand tucked her hair back and caressed her cheek with his knuckles. “How are you able to cook? Did you never eat something like this.”

“I use olive oil and I don’t need this much to cook normal food.” His lips quirked up slightly. “Eastern food never fascinated me much and I never saw-I have never cooked or eaten this or other staple food of this country ever. So, I have no idea.” She was looking like a doll in this moment.

Eyes so big with crystal clarity and cheeks and lips so blushed and red. Her expressions only added to her beauty. It was not every day Asfand got to feast on them. He was only familiar with her coldness, neutrality and blankness.

“We should get done before anyone caught you on your cheating” Dua pulled away from him and turned. “Add them in the pot carefully.” And they got to the task once again.

Unaware of the eyes that were watching them all this time.

“Well?” Noor Bi turned to Ushna and Ida with a beaming smile. “That didn’t go that bad, did it?” Ushna returned her smile while Ida watched them and the young couple in amazement. She wasn’t expecting to welcome such a sight. She was not sure like Noor Bi, for how long these two could stay harmless to each other.

But she was going to pray on them to every god.

“What’s going on here?” Safan joined the picture with a questioning gaze. “Why are you gathered outside the kitchen like this?” Noor Bi motioned him to be quiet and pointed towards Asfand and Dua. “What the-” Safan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. They were actually together instead of against each other. No matter how small the reason. And it made him wonder.

How strong they could be if they actually stood up against their common enemies together?

“Let’s leave them to their task and wait on our snack. I am sure these pakoray are going to be the most delicious we have ever tasted.”

**********

Dua entered Asfand’s study again, this time she knocked and waited for his permission before doing so. “What brings you here again janaan?” Asfand didn’t look up from his laptop. He already knew it was her. He always knew. Dua placed the tray on his table silently. “What’s this about?” His brow shot up in question at the plate of steaming hot pakoras and a cup of tea.

“Not that I actually wanted to bring you this but you helped me” Dua looked around his place to avoid that intense look in his eyes. It was already uncomfortable to do this and he was only making it unbearable. “Your study look different than last time.”

“I got the place renovated a little” Dua nodded with a hum and sat on the couch leisurely. Asfand was amused when she palmed her head against the headrest and looked at him mirthfully. “Are you trying to seduce me right now?”

“What makes you think so?” Asfand entwined his fingers under his chin and watched her carefully.

She is up to something.

Dua never came to him, not until she bore an agenda. He knew her enough by now that her actions always bore consequences. Either towards her or the opposite party.

“You are being too cautious husband.” Dua knew the cogs turned in his head towards her intentions. She was going to pay heed to Haider’s advice. She was not going to underestimate Asfand anymore. “I made them new. Besides, you helped me overcome a fear.” She was uncomfortable but it was necessary. “It’s my gratitude” Asfand didn’t blink away from her, “for many things.”

“Many things?” His voice was hollow and cold. “As in?” Her lips quirked up slightly at the hidden meaning behind his razor sharp words. “I don’t believe we bear any good towards each other. The scale is more inclined towards hostility.”

“Are you going to try them or should I take it back?” Asfand pressed his mouth in a thin line when she didn’t blink away from him.

I’ll just have to see I guess. Asfand grabbed the tray and pulled it towards him. His hand stopped midway when a black file slipped out from under the tray. He looked at her in question. She was already smiling.

“It’s my gratitude Mr. Sherzai.” Asfand opened the file and read through it. “You are a man of greater vision and commitment, something small minded people will never be able to understand.” Asfand looked at Dua after closing the file. “And you need a certain amount of power to reach where you are heading.”

“I don’t like to talk in riddles janaan.” Dua smiled. “What do you want?”

“It always made me wonder how a man like Azfar Baig was able to be a great politician all this time.” Not a single line shifted on Asfand’s face. “His son openly misused his power yet he rose through years to the highest of ranks. And people” Dua chuckled humorlessly, “it seems like they trust and respect him greatly. I wonder why?” Dua stood up and stalked towards him. He didn’t react when she stopped behind him and palmed his shoulders as if she was going to massage them.

“How do you have these?” How can she even get their properties without being caught? “These documents are signed under your name Dua. Those fuckers would rather slit their own throats than hand over their every penny to your name. How do you have what was not supposed to exist? Even their families bore no knowledge of these assets and you own them.”

“You are a cruel man. Cruel enough to kill your conscience towards any profit of your objectives.” Asfand stayed unperturbed by her words. Why would he react? She was just stating the obvious. What remained a mystery was her motive. “You helped them create a kingdom of tyranny at your watch and support” Dua leaned over his shoulder to whisper in his ear. “As long as it served your purpose. Am I right?”

“What do you want Ms. Sahi?” Dua smiled at the file in his hands. A file that contained everything he wanted.

“These properties mean nothing to me Asfand.” He looked in her eyes over his shoulder. “I didn’t come here for all this but their blood. And I will have it. But they mean something to you. That’s why you have been putting up with a lot of unwanted bullshit so far.”

“What.Do.You.Want.Dua?” He gritted each word slowly and poisonously. They were glaring at each other in burning rage and hatred.

“I want you to destroy the kingdom you built with your own hands.”

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