Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 38

Dua clasped her hands and looked at the man across the table thoughtfully. She wasn’t expecting it to work out this quickly. But why won’t it? Who would be foolish enough to refuse so much power? No one.

Xian kept looking at Dua but she made no move or passed no orders. He knew she was still assessing the man. Aya entered after them a minute later and stood next to Xian, waiting for their boss to speak.

“Are we clear on certain aspects?” Xian nodded. Dua unclasped her hands and leaned back in her chair with a hum. Her eyes fixed on the man once again. He was looking at her head on, and with somewhat curiosity. “I’m sure you know everything by now.”

“Yes.” Her lips quirked up a little at the firmness of his voice. He knew what he was doing or was about to do.

“And you are ready, no matter what?” The young man didn’t blink away from Dua. “There will be consequences.” Dua reached for the crystal ball and began spinning it under her fingers. “Dire ones.” She looked at the man once before focusing her attention back on the spinning ball under her fingers. “One you cannot turn back-”

“I am ready for whatever.” A hand was ready to cut its own fingers. “But I want to be clear on few things Ms. Sahi. Don’t mistake me to be nice. I am nothing but a human.” Her brow shot up in amusement and she waited for him to finish whatever speech he conjured up in a minute. After all, he was a politician who was going to surpass his own mentor. “I will do everything you ask me but in return, I want you to promise me the power that man holds. All of it.”

“I wonder what you intend to do with it.” Dua leaned back in her chair and folded her hands in her lap. “I know politicians love to speak but I’m more inclined towards action. I always stand by what I say and I’m looking forward to the same from you Mr. Yawar Gill. As you said” she pressed the button on intercom and stood up, the man followed suit. “I’m just a human but I’m a human who is capable of annihilating what she has created with her own hands.”

Dua grabbed her shades with phone and walked around the table. Xian and Aya were instantly by her sides like shadows and Yawar felt intimidated in that moment by the power this woman held and that look in her cold eyes. She was so small yet he now knew what destruction she could cause.

“Dare to play me” Yawar gulped inaudibly, “and I assure you, you will even forget what the word power means. Iram will show you out.” Right on cue, Iram entered her office. “But I’m looking forward to the show you will put on for me.”

Yawar could only look at her walking out of the office with grace and elegance. Up until now, he only heard about her but now he saw. What D. Almas Sahi truly was. He was surprised when he learnt she was five years younger than him but what he saw in her eyes, the maturity that spoke of experience worth of years and something much more than what eyes could meet, he knew she was not someone to be underestimated.

And messed with.

***********

Noor Bi was just getting up after offering her Asar prayer when the phone started ringing. She folded the prayer mat calmly and after placing it on the cupboard, walked over to the table where the device was constantly buzzing. She didn’t hurry to it. She knew whom the call was from. It was bound to come but she didn’t expect him to take this long. Still, this granted period was still not enough for what she came here to do.

“Aslam-o-alaikum” Noor Bi greeted politely and sat on the bed. “I wasn’t expecting you to call in the middle of your reverence.”

“Walaikum Aslam” A deep voice greeted from the line. “You left without saying anything concrete. I had to know of your well-being.” Noor Bi smiled. She knew what he called for. The purpose inclined more towards his motives this time. “I heard of Ushna’s engagement.”

“We were fortunate enough that the boy was exposed before anything could happen.” Noor Bi grabbed the rosary from the table and started reciting on the beads.

“Everything was uncalled for but for what it’s worth. Allah is never unjust towards his believers.” She nodded slowly. “How is Ushna? I heard you are visiting Asfand.”

“Ushna is fine now. We were in Islamabad so I thought I will meet him and his bride. It was a good plan. Ushna is very happy here as well. The child is adorable and I am very happy to see Asfand finally settle down.” The man just hummed. “You won’t be disappointed. She-”

“Noor!” Her hand stopped midway when he interrupted her so deliberately and just like that, her heart sunk. “I want you to return to haveli with Ushna.”

“S-”

“Don’t Noor. I don’t want any argument over it again. My word is final. I will be cutting my trip short. There are certain matters that need my attention now. Once I have dealt them, I will leave again peacefully and this time, you will accompany me without looking back.”

“Jo hukam.” Noor Bi knew there was no point in saying anything anymore. Once he finalized his word, it would never change. Not even if hell broke loose over it. “Khuda Hafiz.” She disconnected the call and raised her hands for dua.

“Help me, my lord. I am leaving the matters in your hands now as only you can amend what has been broken through lies and deception.” A single tear rolled down her cheek and she closed her eyes to bury her sniffs. “Help those children through their darkness. Bring them closer and don’t let them go astray on a path that hold nothing but pain and blood.”

***********

“Send the reports to Sharlene and Haider. If Wasiq has really fled the country, there is only one place he could go to now.” Dua stepped out of the elevator and walked towards the exit swiftly with Xian and Aya on her tail. “Wang family.”

“I might have to go back to America.” Dua looked at Xian from periphery. “Kuo Wang is not easy to trap. Azfar might have already given him a heads up of everything and he was keeping tabs on us all this time. If you plan to do that, you need Wasiq here at every cost.”

“Are you sure about this?” She was not. Not when it comes to put Xian and Kuo Wang in the same line. Blood betrayed blood and blood was thirsting to shed the blood. “If he already knows, he might get the wind of things.”

“Our plan is already in action.” Dua was not surprised. “If the situation calls, I will leave but-”

“Aya will be here.” Xian gave a curt nod. “Leave Haider out of this. He will throw a fit for nothing and we have far more important matters to deal for now. Schedule another visit to Yu-”

Aya and Xian waited but all Dua did was fist her hands. Her expressions turned hostile and before anything could beseech, she turned and started walking again. This time faster than before. Like she was running away from something.

Or someone.

“Be extra watchful. We need to put eyes on our eyes. We can never know where the attack might come from, now that our enemy knows.” Dua got in the car but not before throwing acidic glance to the grand hotel she just left.

***********

Dua knocked at the door before entering. “You called for me?” Noor Bi beckoned her and she complied. She gave her hand to the old lady and sat next to her when she tugged on it. “Is everything alright?”

“That’s what I want to ask you. Is everything alright with you?” Dua just blinked in question. “You looked upset when you returned home. Even at dinner, you seemed lost in thought. Or if I have to correct it, you looked bothered.” But what Noor Bi truly wanted to say was how Dua was avoiding Asfand at every cost. Even looking at him.

“It’s work.” Dua patted on the back of her hand reluctantly that was holding hers. “Don’t bother your health over me. I am perfectly fine.” But Noor Bi was not buying the lies Dua was selling her. She kept looking at Dua in silence. “What are you looking at?”

“Nothing.” Noor Bi shook her head with a smile. “It’s just...” she looked in her eyes, failing to hide the mist that overtook her eyes. “I was just thinking how much I will miss you once I leave.” Dua didn’t answer. She would never admit it but the thought bothered her a little. She never thought of this. “I’m sorry. I’m talking gibberish and-”

“Are you leaving?” Noor Bi looked at Dua again. “You are.”

“I have to” Noor Bi smiled through the pain. “One day. We all have to go back to our original places sooner or later.”

“Is that place really your place?” Noor Bi just smiled. “What ar-”

“I want to tell you a tale. It’s a very interesting journey of a small child.” Noor Bi turned their hands and began stroking her knuckles affectionately. “Will you listen to this story? It’s a very interesting story that I have never told anyone. Not even to the kids but I feel like I can share it with you. You even kept from Asfand that I ate the sour tamarinds again. You are good secret keeper, aren’t you?”

Silence prolonged between them until Noor Bi broke it with a tale that Dua listened to the end without interrupting. Tears brimmed the old woman’s eyes but not a single line changed on Dua’s face. She was sitting in the same position, without moving and listening to Noor Bi pour her heart out. She could feel it, the pain her words carry but this pain was still not enough to make Dua react.

“Don’t-” Noor Bi breathed harshly while wiping the traitorous tears off her cheeks. They were not stopping and they were not going to stop now that she shared the only thing that she could never before. “I don’t want you to suffer anymore beta. Not something that could be avoided. I just want-I’m sorry Dua” she grabbed her hands and brought them to her mouth apologetically, “for everything that happened. I’m so sorry.” But Dua said nothing.

“I want this pain to end and this hatred to vanish. This venom eats everything from inside. It burns every positivity, no matter how small. Such a curse it is and I have seen it destroy so many lives. But I could only watch, I could do nothing. I could only pray.” She sniffed without looking up. “But it seems my prayers were not strong enough to be heard.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Noor Bi saw the coldness in her embers. But she also saw the flicker of pain buried in those vengeful pits. All was not lost yet. “What do you intend to gain from it?” Noor Bi let go of her hands and smiled through her tears.

“I just wanted you to know everything, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.” Dua watched her blankly. “You are becoming too lost in the darkness that you have completely negated what is still around you. I don’t want that. Not for you, not for my Asfand. It scares me. The path you two have chosen for yourself. It might not be same but it leads to same place. Destruction and it is nothing good.” Dua fisted her hands to keep her anger.

“You might think I’m being too nosy but I had to say this.” Noor Bi made Dua look back her. “If you have one chance to get out of this pain and be happy, I want you to take it Dua because later, nothing will remain but regrets.”

***********

Dua had just sat in front of the dressing when Asfand appeared at the entrance of closet area. Just like he expected, Dua looked away the next moment. He has been noticing her behavior since he returned home that night. She was oozing anger and was particularly hostile towards him. Not that she wasn’t before but today seemed different. Along with the anger, there was some unsaid accusation in her eyes whenever she looked at him.

Asfand wanted to confront Dua but she made sure she avoided him at every cost. And it was pissing him off now.

“Are you ready for bed?” Dua just hummed and got up after applying the moisturizer. She wanted to get away from Asfand but her wish was not going to be granted. When Dua tried to walk past Asfand, he grabbed her arm and pulled her back. “I’m talking Dua.”

“And I’m tired.” Dua pulled her arm free and stepped back. “Can we not do this right now?” She pushed past him to walk away but Asfand was in no mood to let her go. He grabbed her arm again and pulled her back to him. “Asfand-”

“I said I am talking.” Asfand tightened his hold and pulled her flush against him. This hide and seek was getting out of hands for him and the tension only worsened between them when Dua behaved like this. “What’s wrong with you?” As expected, Dua bore daggers in his eyes. “Why are you behaving like this?”

“What are you talking about? Leave me.” Dua pushed her fists on his chest when he bent down on her. Asfand was invading her personal space and Dua was not liking it. Not at all. “You are stepping out of the line.”

“Am I?” Dua held her breath when his hot breath whispered against her lips. “I don’t think so but if you kept this up, I might.”

“I would like to see you try.” Asfand smirked at her reddening cheeks. Whether she admits it or not, he knew how much he affected her but the stubborn woman would choose death over admitting it. Tease it is, then. “Leave me. I’m tired.”

“What are you tired from?” His one arm went around her waist in a gentle lock and other held her tiny fists over his beating heart. Dua fumed at his dare but nothing could make Asfand back out of this moment.

“Aren’t you being too daring? Have you forgotten what happened last time?” Asfand just mused at her expressions. “What?”

“If you are done threatening me, tell me what is wrong with you?” Dua groaned inwardly at his unwavering stubbornness. “I have ways to get the truth janaan and I don’t think you will like them.” His hand slipped down her waist. “What is bothering you?”

“I don’t think we are on the terms to be sharing stuff.” Her answer made Asfand crack a small smile and this time, he hugged her completely. “Asfand-”

“Let’s forget everything.” Her body leaned into his when his arms held her protectively. “In this moment, let’s pretend that we are normal husband and wife.” Asfand palmed the back of her head gently and pushed it to his chest. “Let’s pretend that you are a wife that trusts her husband and can count on him for everything.” Dua listened the rising beat of his heart. She couldn’t put her finger on how but it seemed to calm her inner turmoils. “And I am a husband that will go to any lengths to keep you safe and happy.”

“Is that even possible for us?” Without her knowledge, Dua completely submitted herself in his captivity which didn’t scare her for a change. She was beginning to want more of it. So much more. “What a futile thought.”

A moment of peaceful silence stretched between them and in this moment, they forgot every bitterness and resentment that was plaguing their lives. In this moment, they were just them, nothing else.

Just Asfand and Dua.

“Will you tell me now?” Dua looked up from his chest and in his green eyes. Their intensity and depth made her insides hot and she found her breaths quickening when his head leaned down to meet her lips. Her eyes began drooping but her conscience was awake enough to make the venom thump back to life. Before Dua could have lost herself in this sin forever, she pulled away from Asfand.

“Don’t try to act too familiar, just because of this lie we are playing for Noor Bi” she didn’t look back at him and Asfand didn’t bother to reach out for her again. “You can never fool me Asfandyar Sherzai, no matter how deep and twisted deceptions you weave.” Dua went to bed and laid on her side.

Asfand was seething with anger while watching her act this defiant towards him. He wanted to teach her a lesson right now but he refrained. A lot was on the line and he could not afford to lose it. But that doesn’t mean he was going to compromise on everything. He warned Dua yet she continued disrespecting him and he was not tolerant enough to let this pass every time. He was not going to repeat that ugly event but he was not generous enough to let her dance on his head.

“You only make it difficult for yourself janaan." He whispered to himself bitterly and went back to the closet. Dua opened her eyes once he was gone and heaved a deep sigh.

“What is wrong with you?” She whispered to herself while watching the way Asfand left. She almost gave in to him just now and that little formidable part was yelling at her to go back to him. “Get a hold of yourself.”

Asfand was back in the main room after changing. Without looking her way again, he switched off the lights and laid on the bed, facing away from Dua. He wanted to pull her in his arms once again but his ego was not going to let his heart win. He was holding himself back from doing a lot of things he could do easily. He doesn’t even know why he was doing what he was and this nagging thought had begun to irk him a lot.

This little minx is messing with my head more than she should. He knew she was up to something but he didn’t had enough time to keep check. A lot was happening on his end and he didn’t have enough energy to look after his haughty wife for now. You will spill the beans yourself Mrs. Sherzai. Asfand thought to himself. Looks like I left my darling unattended for too long.

Dua turned once she sensed him asleep and stared at his broad back. A lot was going through her head right now. One thing kept poking the other and all this was jumbling up her sanity. She sat up against the headboard and focused her eyes back on her sleeping husband.

It was a rare occasion that they slept together. He was either away on business trips or busy with work in his study that she never saw Asfand return to the room while she was awake. She wanted him to stay away and he will grant her wish this diligently, she had no idea of. But that little part always disliked the thought.

Her eyes roamed down the length of his back and she remembered what Noor Bi told her that night.

The story of a small boy.

“That explains.” She whispered while remembering all those marks on his back that were now covered with his vest. Her hand reached out unconsciously for him but stopped before it could touch his shoulder. And the hatred returned again.

Upon remembering what she saw at the hotel.

He was with Saba and though it should not matter to her, she couldn’t help this burning sensation the mere thought of them getting in the elevator together brought.

“You can never betray your blood.” You took her to the hotel room. Dua glared at the back of his head balefully. “You will always remain a Sherzai. Brutal and deceptive.” You will always portray what your blood holds. Dua laid back facing away from Asfand once again.

But this time, unaware of the fact that her husband heard everything that came out of her mouth.

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