Those Who are Left Behind

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Abhilasha Jain

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Those Who are Left Behind
« on: May 30, 2019, 04:56:05 PM »
(Set immediately after Zia's disappearance, before the disappearance of the twins)

Abhilasha rolled over in her empty bed, smoothing her hand along the cool, rumpled sheets next to her. It hadn’t been a dream. She hadn’t just imagined it. Zia was really gone. He’d really left her all alone. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she blinked them away, desperate not to cry for a man who’d never really been hers to begin with.

But she’d had so many good years with him, too. They might not have ever loved each other, and they might not have belonged to each other as warlord princes and queens could, but they’d been… happy. Hadn’t they? They’d sparred together, with him fussing about calling a healer when he so much as bumped her — and her retaliating by ‘accidentally’ nudging his weak spot and telling him he needed to see one instead.

He was ticklish, too.

She felt sick as she dragged herself from her empty bed, letting the sheets fall from her nude body as she went into the bathroom. For a moment, she thought she’d be ill, but she swallowed hard, taking deep breaths until she calmed down. She wasn’t going to lose herself like that. Zia was gone, but she’d never been a woman who’d relied on those around her to keep herself going.

If she had, she’d have died so long ago, just as her heart had.

She steadied herself then splashed her face with cool water, closing her eyes for a long moment as she regained her control. She didn’t have time for this. She didn’t have time for weakness or for thinking about Zia as ticklish when she wanted to hate him for abandoning her, when she did hate him at least a little for not being there. For leaving her alone, again.

Gathering herself, she took another deep breath then started to dress for the day. Cosmetics, hair, clothing — all of it coalesced into the perfect picture she always had to be. She had to stay put together, calm, controlled, just like always, if she was going to pretend everything was okay. She had to cover up the fact that he was gone, and that meant she couldn’t act like he really was gone.

She was just putting her second earring in when a knock sounded at the door. She glanced up, frowning, but she crossed over to unlock the door — both craft-locked and physically wrought. Her chin lifted slightly, calm expression unchanged as she gazed at Surinder. She’d managed to avoid him for a few days, but she should’ve known better than to think he’d allow her to avoid him for long. ”Surinder,” she greeted, though she didn’t move from the doorway. ”To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2019, 05:01:38 PM »
It had been too long and even his mother had had to admit that there was the possibility that his brother had just fucked off into the sunset. Again. It was awful, but not altogether surprising, not to Surinder anyway. Ziauddin was flakey on a good day and the deep rooted resentment he’d felt for his sibling for so long now reared it’s ugly head, amplifying the voice of suspicion. It was infuriating nonetheless, even if it was only temporary, and Kalyani -- he didn’t want to think about her. Nor about what this all meant and what he would have to do to make up for it.

There was way more to do in the wake of their disgraceful departure than to be hurt and offended, and he was starting with making sure that Abhilasha was okay. A tall order if ever there was one, and he wouldn’t blame her if she refused to face facts. If his brother’s vanishing infuriated him, he could only imagine what an angry Black Widow Queen who was being publicly embarrassed by him would feel.

He knocked on her suite door, leaning against the doorway, so as not to give her the chance to slam it in his face again. Surinder wouldn’t let her stew by herself, not if there was the slightest chance that he could help make this more bearable.

The door opened, and his gaze met hers, and he tried his best to convey his regret over his sibling’s actions in that one look without having to say anything. It faltered though, when she remained all business, composed as ever -- he hadn’t expected any less -- but the cool greeting was unexpected. She wasn’t naive enough to be in denial longer than his mother.
“Preparations for Divyesh.” He said blankly, as if she wasn’t perfectly aware why he was there.

Abhilasha Jain

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #2 on: May 30, 2019, 05:02:10 PM »
Abhi knew why he was there. Of course she knew why he was there. In the wake of Zia’s disappearance, why else should he have sought her out? They had an amicable enough relationship, but not the type that would bring him to her suite.

But hearing his dull response, as though they were truly going to talk about Divyesh like it was the most important thing, sent a pang through her. It was petty and a bit foolish to shut Surinder completely out, especially when she knew he’d be there to help her do damage control — and she’d need that help. This was going to be extensive, and she’d damn well accept any help he or Padma offered.

”Divyesh,” Abhi repeated, a brittle smile on her lips. Was that what they were calling it now? She supposed she should’ve been grateful to him for not being so crude about why he was there, but she likely shouldn’t have pushed him to do that in the first place. But she was flustered. ”Of course.”

Her eyes briefly met his, and she softened slightly toward him. He would have a great deal to do in Zia’s absence — again — and there was no point in being cruel to him along with everything else. ”Come in,” she said, her voice softer. She took his hand, unsure how else to convey her understanding and bitter misery without words.

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #3 on: May 30, 2019, 05:13:43 PM »
“Yes.” He answered. “Divyesh. Just 8 more months, can’t get a headstart on it soon enough.” He added stubbornly.

The smile looked terrifying on her, and he didn’t like it. Composed though she may seem, there were signs that she wasn’t as cool and unencumbered as she would like to pretend. Surinder didn’t want to push his help and concern on her, but he wasn’t about to let her wallow either, even if he wasn’t quite sure what difference it made.
It was just the done thing; men served and she was in need of … stuff. Whatever the mess Zia had left behind this time, someone would have to pick up the slack, and Surinder was going to be the person. For his mother, and for Abhilasha if she would let him.

The fact that she invited him in eased some of the bristlyness of his mood. It wasn’t like he got to spend a lot of time in her and Zia’s personal suite, but he didn’t hesitate, letting her take his hand and lead him in. He kept his attention on Abhilasha, resisting the urge to look around for any trace of his useless brother, anything that might indicate why he had left the way he had.

She wasn’t okay, that much was clear, and he gave her hand the barest of squeezes before letting it go. He wasn’t going to ask the common question, she would undoubtedly get enough of those, and he wanted to help
“What can I do?” He asked instead, because he might know what not to say, that didn’t mean he knew what he should say instead.

He hadn’t exactly prepared for his wayward brother to ditch them again. Perhaps he should’ve been. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Abhilasha Jain

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2019, 05:33:17 PM »
Abhi might’ve smiled at another time, might’ve been charmed by his words. She liked Surinder for the most part. She’d been prepared to marry him once, and she knew a bit about him and his personality — and they’d drawn them to her. But she’d chosen the path of ambition, the path that had launched her toward climbing power instead of passing fondness.

She led him to the sitting room, taking a seat and gesturing for Surinder to do the same. She hadn’t expected him to be quite so blunt, but then, it was a relief to have him simply go straight for the heart. She wasn’t sure she could really dissemble for long, not with him. With others… Certainly, and she would have to. But there was something about Surinder that made her want to talk to him in a way that few else coaxed from her.

Her shoulders slumped slightly, the only outward sign she was willing to give — the only one she had control over, at least, for she knew there would be others she couldn’t quite feign at first. ”Find him and drag him home,” she said, her voice a bit dry to attempt to cover the tremble she was afraid might show if she wasn’t terribly careful. She sighed, dismissing the words with a flick of her hand. Right to business. That would be better anyway.

She wasn’t going to admit that she was having a hard time thinking, though her words themselves might give that away in part. ”Why else would he have gone? He wouldn’t have simply abandoned his family, of course.” She drummed her fingers along the arm of her chair. At first, it might seem like she was in denial, but when she lifted her head and looked at Surinder, her eyes were bleak. She knew — but that didn’t mean others had to.

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2019, 05:46:00 PM »
Not quite the words he’d wanted her to say. Find him, yes, drag him home…
“You sure you don’t want me to gut him like a pig?” He asked, still dry, as if he was joking, but Surinder himself wasn’t altogether sure if he was. His mother was understandably pissed and distraught, wondering what had gone wrong, Abhi was suitably upset, he didn’t even want to think about breaking this to the twins! If anyone had ever deserved his wrath, it had to be Zia.

Of course, killing his older brother wouldn’t be without ramifications, but surely they couldn’t be worse than all the damage control they had to do now to make this seem like anything other than a disgraceful, humiliating scandal!
With Kalyani also gone, the Serpent Court was going to have plenty of ammunition to use against his family, and Abhi by extension. The entire Shirazi name--!

He couldn’t get caught up in the tangled mess of it all just yet. Not when he was still trying to be a rock for Abhilasha, and he went his lips, not sure how to diplomatically ask her ’wouldn’t he though?!’.

“My brother is… unpredictable.” He said, which was about as diplomaticsally nice as he could be. It would’ve been simpler if she had just asked him to kill Zia. So much easier.
“My mother even said this morning that she wasn’t sure if he would be back.” He admitted sourly, trying to keep his tone sympathetic, but bitterness laced the words despite his best efforts.

His mother admitting to something like this was the final nail in the coffin, really.

Abhilasha Jain

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2019, 05:55:46 PM »
Her eyes flashed with something cold, but she didn’t reply to his half-jest. Of course she wanted to see him gutted for this. He’d gutted her. She’d thought… She’d known he hadn’t been precisely thrilled with the way his life was going, but she’d thought he was responsible enough to stay. She’d have looked the other way if he’d have had another woman on the side, someone he could care about — she’d have been jealous, but only because he’d be with someone he truly cared for and she didn’t have the same.

She inhaled slowly, taking in his words. Another of those brittle smiles, but it didn’t linger long before it faded. Fury raged through her, something she was having a hard time holding back. “No one else needs to know that,” she said curtly, displeased that she was even having to say the words. Shouldn’t the way she’d phrased it made it clear she didn’t want to even discuss the fact that he’d simply up and gone.

Her lips pressed together into a thin line. If Padma wasn’t sure he was coming back, he likely wasn’t, which meant this was going to have to be even more dangerous to approach. They would have to come up with a plausible reason for him being gone long-term, and then, eventually… They’d have to come up with a plausible reason for him staying gone. This had the chance to destroy her politically, almost as much as if anyone found out about Zia’s broken Gray. ”I doubt he’d have left the way he had if he planned to return,” she said, similar bitterness in her own tone. ”Well.” A forced smile. ”It looks like we get to paint a pretty picture, doesn’t it?”

So… what? She didn’t even know where to start. She felt like she was breaking all over again, utterly betrayed and miserable and unsure of where to go.

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2019, 06:09:33 PM »
“Mother holds out some hope.” He said with half a shrug. It was meant to make her feel better, but they both knew the only reason Padma Shirazi held out hope was because it was less exhausting than dealing with the fall out of crushing disappointment. Again.

He smiled then, a small anemic thing at Abhilasha’s attempt at giving this a positive spin. As far as there was one. Surinder still maintained it would be easier if Zia would just have an unfortunate horse-riding accident, or got a cramp while swimming, or something mundane but boring enough that no one would want to talk about it.

“I’m sure we can retroactively plan something.” He assured her, because he would be happy to help her craft a cover story to feed to the Serpents. Perhaps they could fake his death. Hold a funeral, call him an imposter if he ever did dare show his face again.
“Maybe he took a diplomatic trip.” He suggested, more realistically and less morbid. "For some great cause that the courts can appreciate." He added, not quite pulling the details together, that wasn't really his thing, his mother and sister were better at that. Hells, even Kai was.

"I can take you to see the twins too," He said, letting the suggestion trail off a little, because it wouldn't exactly be a fun sort of trip to the estate. Fucking Zia.

Abhilasha Jain

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    32 Posts    98 marks
Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2019, 06:32:15 PM »
”Of course she does,” Abhi said. ”I’m sure he’ll return on the morrow, full of reasons as to why he’s been ignoring our attempts to reach him.” She shook her head, though she couldn’t help but hope that would be the case. She’d much rather be wrong, to have written him off too soon, than to truly believe that he’d gone and left her. But he’d done this before, and this time…

This time Aly had gone, too.

A small part of her acknowledged the fact that he could’ve been killed, too, but it wasn’t likely — not with the fact that he’d done this before, not with the fact that he hadn’t gone alone. No, he was alive. She knew that much. Though there was a part of her that almost wished that wasn’t the case. Death was a better excuse than abandoning his entire family, his duties, his life…!

”A diplomatic trip,” she agreed with a nod. ”I’m sure there’s some reason Nalyani would’ve gone with him.” She watched Surinder’s features, expecting a reaction to that — and maybe it was a little cruel of her. ”I am truly sorry, Surinder,” she said more softly. ”I know you have to be out of your mind with worry.”

She straightened a little at the idea of seeing the twins, though, and she nodded. ”Please. I would appreciate the company.” And she’d rather tell the twins in person…

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2019, 07:26:33 PM »
“And riding a unicorn.” Surinder added wryly, because it was as likely as the rest of it if they were being honest.

Up until that point it had been easy to pretend it was just Ziauddin who had up and left. He hadn’t had to think about Kalyani, or why she had gone, or that she had gone at all. As far as Surinder was concerned his sister would be at the estate, tending the twins, the rumours of her disappearances greatly exaggerated.

Which was a pipe dream of course. The whole reason they had all grown suspicious of yet another of Zia’s moments of absence without leave was that Aly was also gone.

“Yes. Priestess matters.” He said with a nod, pretending the mention of his sister didn’t hurt, and didn’t leave him wholly angry and concerned.
It was one thing to ditch, it was another to drag their sister into it!
Fucking Zia. Leaving all this mess and all these questions and--

“It’s fine.” He said shortly. “She can take care of herself.” he added. But he wasn’t sure he believed all of that himself. It wasn’t that his sister wasn’t capable, it was just that she was too nice, too forgiving, too sweet. Too easily hurt. And she was with Zia. All his brother did was hurt people.

“Any idea how you’re going to break the news to them?” Surinder asked cautiously, because he had been wracking his brain, thinking about how to explain to the twins that their father had up and left. Left them. It wasn’t like Ziauddin had been father of the year, but he had loved those kids and they had loved him, and he had still left them.

Honestly, if he could leave his children, what chance did the rest of them really stand?


Abhilasha Jain

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2019, 07:46:23 PM »
A faint, wry smile briefly tugged at Abhi’s lips. ”And a unicorn,” she agreed. While they were weaving a fairy tale, they might as well dream big, after all.

And that was what she got for extending something like sympathy. It was like a sharp rebuke, though she understood all too well what it was like to want to hide away from the harsh reality. She didn’t want to face the idea that Zia was gone, that Kalyani was gone, but she’d thought… She’d thought she’d do something for Surinder, who was so intent on helping her.

But then, that was what he was there for. And unlike his brother, Surinder did what was expected of him.

”I know,” she said, no more of that sympathy in her voice. She let the subject go, knowing he wanted to talk about it as much as she wanted to talk about Zia…

Abhi nodded. ”I’ll tell Kai first,” she said briskly, as though they weren’t talking about a situation as dire as their father leaving. ”I’ll let them know their father will be away for a time. They don’t need to know we suspect it isn’t temporary, but they do need to know he’s out of reach in case they try….” She trailed off. ”There’s no need to make them hate their father.” Even if she was wondering how long it would be before her numbness wore off and she started to.

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2019, 08:03:16 PM »
Surinder nodded slowly, it was smart to split the twins up to give them the news, they tended to escalate each other, amplify any issues, and this way they could deal with their individual outbursts separately--

His thoughts came to a screeching halt when Abhilasha insinuated that they ought to protect Zia. Again.
There was most certainly a reason to make them hate their father if their father abandoned them, without so much as a word or a note to let them know, selfishly taking their aunt and governess with him -- because there was just no way that Kalyani would have done this on her own accord. It had Ziauddin Shirazi written all over it!

“You don’t think they deserve the truth?” He asked, trying for neutral but ending up somewhere between mildly offended and disappointed. His fists clenched tightly, the way he was sitting not quite relaxed, and his eyes dark under a deep scowl.

“He doesn’t deserve your protection.” Surinder reminded her. The kids would be better off with someone else in the role of their father. Not that he was volunteering… but he was pretty certain he could do a better job than Zia!

Abhilasha Jain

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2019, 09:03:37 PM »
Abhilasha’s eyes narrowed at his response, and she scowled back at him. ”What do you expect me to do, Surinder?” she demanded. ”Say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but your father abandoned us, so sorry’?” She rose, starting to pace across the room. She cast another glance of annoyance at the man when he spoke again, her own eyes just as dark. ”You want me to burden them with that knowledge? Kal?”

Maybe it was selfish. Maybe she was just afraid the numbness would lift and she would truly care, that she would truly grieve for his loss.

Kai could handle the knowledge, but Kal? He was too soft-hearted, too soft.

”No,” she said, her pacing slowing as she turned to face him. He doesn’t. But the twins?” She lifted both hands in the air in a helpless gesture. ”I’ve always tried to protect them, Surinder.” The calm, collected woman was faltering, breaking under the pressure. She closed her eyes, trying to gather herself again.

Surinder Shirazi

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2019, 03:42:12 AM »
Yes! He wanted to snap the word at her, wanted to remind her that she hadn’t been the one to abandon them, that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that she had nothing to be sorry for. That this was all on Zia, and it was time that everyone in the family stopped protecting him. Clearly he didn’t deserve it! It might not be fair, but the world wasn’t fair. The twins’ father wasn’t being fair. The egotistical asshat that he was -- taking their governess even! Inexcusable to uproot their lives like that!

He didn’t say that though, he knew better than to argue with an upset woman and he just ground his teeth, wringing his hands -- the only sure sign of his own emotional distress even as Abhi slowly began to lose her grip on herself.

“I know you have, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” He assuaged readily, the words coming quick as he drew in a breath.
“I just thought that it would be better if--” He shrugged, feeling a little out of his depth, because what the fuck did he know about raising children? Much less raising children with a deadbeat father? Surely Abhi knew better.
“If they didn’t have to find out later, and also find out that we lied to them.” he added, because that couldn’t be pretty either. “Kailash will be furious.” He added.

Then again…
“She’ll be furious either way though.” He mumbled dead pan, and he glanced up at Abhi again, seeing how this tore at her.

“But I’ll support you in whatever you want to do, okay?” He assured her. “I’m here for you.” And he tried his best not to put too much emphasis on those last words. He was there for her. Unlike someone else. He only marginally succeeded.

Abhilasha Jain

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Re: Those Who are Left Behind
« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2019, 11:02:35 AM »
For several moments, Abhi was silent. She worked to put up her walls, to guard her heart and mind all over again, to leave herself stronger instead of losing herself to weakness. She didn’t have time for that. She didn’t have time for anything but moving forward, which meant damage control. The first stage of damage control was going to be telling the twins that their father had…

Surinder was right. There was no sense in protecting him. The twins were old enough to deserve the truth, and Kailash… All of the progress she’d made with her daughter would be gone, simply because she’d tried to protect her. But no one had protected Abhilasha herself, and she’d grown because of it. She’d needed to be aware of the hardships and the pains, to learn how to get past them. Kai still didn’t know how poor her grasp of Queen craft was, didn’t know how hard she’d had to work to get where she was.

Didn’t know that she was the second child Abhi had had instead of the first. It was too much to burden the child with, and it was too much for her. She couldn’t think about Indra right now, or about the fact that Pallav never would’ve left her like this.

But he left you anyway.

She ignored the voice in her mind that cast doubts on him, because she knew better. Pallav hadn’t had a choice. She hadn’t had a choice. She’d have lost him either way, but this way… she’d been able to be there until the end, to ensure his sacrifice wasn’t a terrible end. Would Ziauddin have done the same? Or would he simply have relied upon a jewel — a broken jewel — to protect himself without caring what would happen to his wife and child?

”You have a point,” she conceded at long last. ”There’s no sense in lying.” There was no sense in risking the hatred being directed at herself as well. Let them hate their father, if they wished to, so long as they didn’t hate her — the terrible mother she’d been in her quest to make sure they’d had what they wanted… She’d come so far with them, had learned the sound of their laughter as well as their polite smiles. She couldn’t give that up for Zia.

Zia was gone, but they were here, and she was here.

She didn’t miss the emphasis on those words, the way he reminded her that he was there, that he’d always been there. She offered him a smile, far more collected now that she’d made her decisions. ”He doesn’t deserve protection,” she conceded, though her eyes settled on Surinder’s features, sharp and calm as ever. ”But we do. I won’t lie to them, but I will make it clear that the rest of the world doesn’t receive that courtesy. They…” And the bitterness returned to her voice. ”We need him, or the illusion of him.” The words tasted foul. ”Until we determine the best course of action should he… stay gone.”
 

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