Sometimes, some wounds never healed. They placed themselves within you like incense of an infuriated fire, burning you without an escape. For Ranveer, the wounds, the betrayals were not new. Nor was the blazing fire of agony which came every time his heart broke or the memories did their brutal round. As a child he was proud of his honesty, and while growing up he was happy about his loyalty. His Mota Babuji had trusted him the most. More than anyone in his own family. To carry out the tasks he could trust no one else, Ranveer was trusted with them. Blindly. Without entertaining any vanity in his favor, Ranveer knew that he loved the affection showered on him.

And then there was Ishani. Ishani, his mind tried to frame her beautiful face, her gleaming eyes, her smile, her cheeks that turned red every time she blushed. She had been his best friend, his only friend, standing by his side when everything fell apart. She didn't love him, but the tiniest hint of affection in her eyes was the reason he could spend his entire lifetime struggling the cruelest miseries, without uttering a word. His mind travelled back to the moment he'd first seen her, still bright and fresh in his memories, never getting old, and halting when he met her the last time.
One month had passed since he left home for an endless journey. After all that had happened before he left, Ranveer did not wish to go back again. There was nothing left anyway. She was married right after he left.
He himself was supposed to get married, the preparations were on full swing until he declared that he couldn't marry. He told Ritika that she deserved someone much better than him to spend her lifetime with. Someone who would look after her and her child. Even if he tried, he'd be able to give her fake assurances, blank promises only.

His parents had snubbed his decision, calling him a coward and a Romeo who still ran after someone who never valued him. They wanted him to get married and settle down in a life full of happiness.

Happiness?

Did he even remember the meaning of word ever since Ishani had left? She was synonymous to happiness for him, her sole presence being the reason he lived. Once she was gone, he had struggled to find meaning of his own existence.
"You want to know why I never said I love you? Because I really never loved you!"

Her words never stopped haunting him. Everything was perfect before he had left for the meeting before Sharman's Sangeet ceremony, both the families celebrating the day without much grudge. Apart from that, he and Ishani were going to announce to their families that they were together and sought no divorce no matter what their families suggested. Even if she never said it, Ranveer knew Ishani loved him. There was no doubt in that, and even today it didn't hurt to think about that particular day full of unanswered questions and pains. Why would Ishani say all that to him when she'd loved him all along as well?
But how could she cross her limits with the words she said to him again and again, insulting him at every occasion, thrashing his self respect all the time?

Was he never worth her love?
He had been mean to her after he was shot, unable to make out anything of her sudden care and affection, laced with a love he knew she never did. But she had won over his hatred and made him realize what he meant to her and vice-versa. He had confessed his feelings to her soon after, pouring every part of him in his words, to tell her that he was sorry, that he still loved her, and that nothing could ever change his feelings for her.

Not even she.

While confessing his love, he had literally handed her over a pistol, but with a firm hope that she would never hurt him again. But she did. She pulled the trigger and didn't care if he died that day. He had looked into her eyes and pleaded not to kill him, but she remained as careless as ever. Her words were like the bullets leaving a gun, annihilating him effortlessly and ruining every part of his soul causing irrecoverable damage. She confessed to have never loved him and then of killing Chirag. He had tried to find a simple hint that she may be doing all this under pressure of the things he was kept unaware of. But his misunderstanding came to an end when she signed the divorce papers. What compulsion could lead her to destroy their lives like that? Unless... she loved Chirag and wanted to spend the rest of her life in his memories.
Something he himself was doing right now.

Ranveer sighed, surprised, that he could still feel the tingle of tears in his eyes after his decisions of never shedding a single tear at her name. But when had he learned to keep his heart in control when it came to Ishani? She was like the light in vacuum, filling every part of him with her spirit and essence when his own went blank. Even if she was absent from his life, gone forever, never to come back, he knew he could never let go of her.

Not in this lifetime.

It was easier to make someone fall in love with you, take them on an adventure and show them your real self and explore them and let them do the same with you, falling more and more deeply in love. But how did you make someone fall in love with you all over again who was familiar with every breath you took? When you fall in love it may take time to realize that you are in love but when the person you loved started hating you, entire lifetime falls short, leaving you wondering where things went wrong. And if this was the ultimate fate you couldn't avoid. Ranveer was sure if Ishani came to him again with the change of a heart he wouldn't mind running towards her like a careless moth enticed by the flame.

And that would be his death.

The sky was dark, and with the night growing deeper the stars shone brilliantly above. Burning in strange ferocity. He sighed again and blinked away the tears that threatened to roll down his cheeks as the memories became more and more clear. This was how it had been since last one month...

He had left home the same day he apologized to Ishani, more hurt, more broken at his parents' reactions. Did they not understand him? Did they truly think he could move on? Hadn't he tried enough, kept himself in a fake relationship for their sakes? It never went well for anyone. It was never meant to go well. He tried his best to break Ishani's marriage and make her understand that he would die if she left him like that. But she was adamant, never melting or breaking, no matter what he said or did. He was just an invisible shadow for her, and she was the only reality he ever belonged to. His attempts had gone overboard, Ranveer admitted to himself only, but if she knew him the tiniest bit, she would know he never meant to hurt her. He had left home when the burden of the past, present and future became too much for his frail heart, and gone to Delhi in hope to avoid any news about Ishani or her marriage. The thing was impossible while in Mumbai. For the following one week he had been in constant touch with the things going on in their lives, for the impatient media never forgot to cover a single report on them and if he managed to avoid that, the gossip in the office and the hotel he stayed in made sure to tear him. And on the day of her and Shikhar's marriage Ranveer had left for the US. Each second of the night was harrowing, excruciating to live with, torturous to think about and impossible to go on anymore.
But life was more brutal which still did not grant him death.

Since then, he was running away from the memories, from her and from any link connecting them anymore. He confessed he was a coward, but a tired one. He was tired of waiting and pretending and would have no qualms in embracing death anymore. The thought of death once again brought Ishani's face in his mind, her hands swaying to and fro as though she waved him a goodbye. He wouldn't want anything more than that...

Trying not to weaken himself down all over again, Ranveer made one last effort to forget Ishani. He closed his eyes but the first thing which appeared in front of his closed eyelids was her image. She smiled at him, the same sweet smile which eased any pain of his heart. Needless to say, she did the magic again, and a smile involuntarily curved his lips. He didn't even know he could smile anymore, but if he did, the smile was of no use.

To break the string of his thoughts, his phone rang. Annoyed, Ranveer answered the call.

"Hello?" he spoke crossly. There were strict orders not to disturb him when he was back into the room from the work.

"Sir, there's someone who wants to meet you."

"Was there an appointment?"

"No prior appointments, sir. She has just landed in the city."

"Is she a client?"

"No professional, sir. She hasn't said anything about herself."

"Tell her I can't meet her today."

"No wait, sir!" the woman on the other side spoke urgently. "She says very important matter she wants to discuss with you and she hasn't budged since last an hour."

"Fine." He sighed, resigned. "Send her in here."

Before the woman could answer anything Ranveer had disconnected the call. He tried not to think who the newcomer was. Was she Ritika who had come to restore their friendship after all? Or was she...?

No! It was too pleasant of a thought to be real. Ishani perhaps would be with her family, her husband, and everyone whom she loved. Why would she come to meet someone she passionately hated? Few more seconds passed, the next moments getting painful as he waited with bated breath.

And then the knock at his door sounded.

Ranveer rushed towards it, unexpectedly quickly, for either curiosity or to face his worst fear as he stood in front of the closed door, his fingers hovering over the doorknob. Slowly, he turned it, clicking the door open.

His jaw dropped, eyes fixated, lips quivering, heart pulsating unusually rapidly at the sight in front of him.
It was her.

Indeed.

Either time froze into that moment, encapsulating their entire lives together or the moments had stretched beyond belief, traveling back to a million memories as he stared at her, agape, unsure if he was hallucinating or dreaming, though he didn't remember himself going to sleep.

She had hardly changed since he last saw her. On the name of the change, there were all the symbols a married woman was supposed to have. The Mangalsutra, the vermillion, the bangles on her wrist gave off the inkling that she was certainly married.

Something cracked within Ranveer and without another word, he traced his steps back, Ishani following him immediately, her eyes staring at him. She gently closed the door and turned back towards him again. There was a long, painful silence, glorified by the quietness of the night as they stared at each other. Her eyes were worn, red and grey circles hung about them, but she looked as graceful as ever, like an angel as he'd always thought of her. Ranveer reprimanded himself, surprised that his mind could still wander in that direction, and turned away, his back facing her. He closed his eyes, trying his best to remain calm but failing. The woman knew how to destroy him in a moment! Silence still hovered about them, neither of them making a move. They remained silent for long, making him wonder if he had seen Ishani at all. And when Ranveer felt there was no Ishani in the room, and opened his eyes, her voice cut through the night.

"Won't you say anything, Ranveer?"

He contemplated, trying to frame the proper words which his mind appallingly refused. Whatever came to his mind was either filled with his anger or self-pity, both the things having tired him to death. Eventually, he spoke. "Congrats for the marriage!" he whispered, his voice weaker than he intended to. "What about your husband? Where is he?" Ranveer failed miserably at adding sarcasm in his words.

"He's here, too," Ishani said and he was surprised to find her voice slightly quiver.

He closed his eyes, still not turning towards her.

"Why are you so quiet?" Ishani asked and the room again was silent for a while.

He turned towards her, putting on the bravest smile he could muster and looked at Ishani. "Does it even matter?"

"Loads."

He laughed but said nothing. His eyes bore into hers, secretly seeking the questions he would have no answers of. Never. Ishani remained quiet as well, watching him, and suddenly a drop of tear from her eyes broke his trance.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"For you."

He shuddered. "What part of your revenge was still incomplete?

"What?" Ishani asked, shocked.

"You wanted to destroy the life of the man who destroyed yours. You hated him so much that even his name wasn't suited for your mouth. You wanted to move on which you did. Why did you come back, Ishani? I was away from you. From your life as I'd promised that day."

Ishani heard in silence, wishing he stopped inflicting the wounds on her. The last time she saw him was the day he came to apologize to her for insulting her and trying to break her and Shikhar's marriage. She still wasn't sure how much of his apology did he really mean, except that he was sorry for not caring about her self-respect before he hurled the insulting words to her.

He wasn't sorry for trying to break her marriage. Unlike expected, after that day he had stopped visiting her marriage functions, much to her own comfort. His presence made it harder for her to move on, and begin the life she believed was without him. As soon as everyone realized that things were sorted out, the elders of the Mehta Family gladly accepted her, the past grudges and misunderstandings no more hurdles in the new beginning of their lives. Several times she caught Shikhar's aunts talking how Ranveer's absence had only made their family functions more happening. Ishani tried not to think about Ranveer, when all her mind went back to was him. She didn't want to betray Shikhar by any means, so one day she had taken an oath. Oath to never think of Ranveer again. She couldn't tell if it made the matters easier or worse for her, but there was no going back anymore. She and Ranveer weren't made for each other, and they had to accept it. He was supposed to be married one day before her but no news came and since he was hardly keen on getting married, Ishani assumed that perhaps the marriage had been a low-key affair with only close friends. No one from her family was invited and nobody showed any interest.

The next day was of her own marriage. The entire mansion was coloured in excitement of the second marriage of the house. She was in her room, getting ready, Shikhar's cousins and Krisha's friends teasing her, planning for a future they would soon be the part of. Ishani had smiled, wondering about her future, if there could be any.

And then Baa had suddenly barged into her room, asking the girls to leave immediately. Dejected at not being able to stay with the bride, reluctantly they left.

"Ishani..." Baa panted. "Stop this marriage! Right now! Don't get married!"

"Baa, we've already talked about this. There's nothing I can..."

"Ishani, you will have to do this! Just stop the marriage. Talk to Shikhar and tell him the truth!"

Ishani shivered at the desperation in Baa's voice. "Baa..."

"Ranveer..." she gulped.

"What happened to Ranveer?" Ishani asked, horrified. All of her abstinence of not thinking of him had come to an end as soon as his name was spoken.
Baa then narrated the entire tale to her, of the secrets kept hidden from her eyes until now. The lies, the betrayals. She informed her that Ranveer had left the home the same night they last met. He and Ritika didn't get married, for he believed she deserved someone better than him. The things didn't go well down with his family who for once took Ritika's side, surprised at his heartlessness.
But only if they knew for whom they had abandoned their own son. As soon as Ranveer had left, Ritika went berserk, muttering the words to herself, much to Mala's suspicions. She went into the matter, stating that she never liked the woman even though she had been a close friend to Ranveer, and finding the evidences against her. There were Chirag's photographs, her pregnancy reports and much more which led her to reveal the truths to the family. Ranveer's parents investigated further, informed the police, eventually finding out she was nowhere close to their predetermined perception.

She had killed Falguni Maa and Chirag.

Ishani clasped her hand to her mouth, now sweating and shaking uncontrollably.

Ritika was a murderer, a cold blooded woman who could take anyone's life for her own good!

Baa revealed further that the child was not Ranveer's but Chirag's who had abandoned them, Ritika and her child, for the money from Ishani and revenge from Ranveer. The plan did not work, for Ritika had murdered him the same day Ishani had found Chirag's dead body.

"Where is Ritika?" Ishani asked, her tone bitter, tears leaving her eyes.
"In the hospital," Baa answered. "She tried to kill herself but was saved. Her child, however, is no more."

Ishani sighed, trying to control her tears, torn between the duty and love; between favours of this selfless family and affection of the man who had loved her unconditionally all her life whether she deserved it or not. What Shikhar and his family had done for her, probably no one would do for a stranger, but she couldn't let it go like this. Not anymore. She needed to find Ranveer and tell him what had happened. She had kept him in darkness long enough.

Ishani talked to Shikhar, while his family requested her not to break the marriage. Shikhar, too, asked her if she was sure about her decision. She nodded a yes, and to answer all his questions, Ishani introduced him to the reality. The reality that she never hated Ranveer, but loved him, perhaps not the way he did. He would never, ever hurt her the way she had done. She informed him of the friendship they had had since childhood, the friendship which never broke despite their status and the friendship which remained firm and intact even though buried underneath the false facades of hatred from their sides. If anything, she was to be blamed for the mess they all were in, and no matter where they had been today, she needed to go back to Ranveer.

She didn't know where he would be at the moment but she had to find him and tell him the truth. Reluctantly, Shikhar agreed and let her go. Ishani met Ranveer's parents who couldn't stop apologizing to her for keeping her away from Ranveer. His mother informed that the pretentious marriage Ranveer was in all these months was because she had blackmailed him into it, hoping he would let go of Ishani because of the society and his responsibility towards Ritika and her child. But things only grew worse with time and they didn't realize the damage was being done to two lives, hers and Ranveer's. Amba informed her of the divorce papers submitted in the court and Ishani had immediately gone to meet the lawyer who said the papers were submitted but they were never acted upon. Ranveer had submitted them because of the pressure from the family but showed no interest in going further with any proceedings.

"When there was nothing like a marriage in our relationship, this divorce becomes meaningless," the lawyer quoted him. "People separate after divorce, but we were separated right after our marriage. There's nothing anymore this divorce could end. We had started from an end only."

Ishani shuddered. There was no time to lose, but no one knew where Ranveer was. No one from the house, among his employees or acquaintances or any other source. Then on the third day of the incident she was informed that he had come to Delhi two days ago, to finalize an overdue deal. Ishani flew to Delhi, only to find out he had left for the US a day before. Cursing her luck, she visited every place he was reported to be having but failed. Until now. She was on time and he was here, in front of her. Ishani wanted to make sure that when they met, she looked like a married woman. They were not divorced and she was still his wife. By the rituals and by the law.

Ishani looked at Ranveer as her vision restored back, the blurry images evaporating from her mind, leaving behind the large but suffocating room. His face was calm, but his gaze firm and eyes watery. Ishani noticed he had become very thin in last one month as though he was starving himself...

No! He couldn't be starving himself like that!

She opened her mouth to reprimand him but fell silent, and lowered her gaze, breathing deeply for several seconds. A drop of tear escaped her eye as she closed them, her mind casting the images of the past, burning furiously. Ishani realized she hadn't just killed Ranveer in all these months, but destroyed the memories which were the part of their living.

She had them, all whole and beautiful, but what did he have?

The taunts that he was nothing more than a servant.

Ishani heard him sigh, his gaze fixed on her face, his jaw slightly working while his fingers curled in the fists tightly.

"Tell me, Ishani," he spoke again. "What part of your revenge you still need to complete?"

Ishani wetted her lips with her tongue and turned her eyes away from him.
"Ranveer..." she dared to express, "I... I never married Shikhar."

His eyes failed to hide the agitation this time and he stopped where he was, observing her intently.

"Because I..."

"Because you loved me?" he asked airily, forcibly trying to add humour in his words and failing.

Ishani remained quiet. There was no way she could make him believe she'd loved him or tell him the truth. She didn't want to mention Ritika unless unavoidably necessary. The woman had destroyed them, their relationship, killed her mother and Ishani didn't want to use her name to prove she was innocent and in love with Ranveer.

Silence once again prevailed the quiet, unmoving room, and in a moment Ishani saw Ranveer walk towards the drawer and return in a few moments. He had a gun in his hand, his face completely blank.

"This." He placed the pistol in her palm. "Go ahead and kill me!"

"Stop it, Ranveer!" Ishani said, trying to retract her hand away from him, but he held it tightly.

"You loved me, you cared about me... Do you think I'm going to believe this nonsense anymore?"

"Listen to me, Ranveer. Please."

"Why? So that you can break me once again? You hated me, wished to see me suffer all your life because I separated you from Chirag, right? Then do one thing, shoot me. End this game and let it all be done. No Ranveer from now on."

"No, no..." Ishani shook her head as she moved back facing him.

"Why?" He followed, his voice low and ghostly, and it felt as though he was now talking to himself. "You hated me, right? You have had hundreds of servants since childhood. It shouldn't be a matter of trouble for you if one of them is no more. Go ahead, Ishani, and kill me. I'll be at peace. I'm tired of everything. If you didn't kill me today, I'll kill myself someday and you won't know."

It was now that she realized there was no escape anymore as her back hit the wall. Ishani gazed up at him, each word of his tearing her apart.

"Ishani, I'm already dead. There's nothing in me anymore. Just free me once and for all. It's good for us both. Do it, please!" he pleaded painfully.
"Just stop it!" Ishani shouted, taking her hand out of his grasp as the gun fell down on the floor. "Are you out of your mind! Do you even know what you're saying? You need some sense in your head!" Ishani halted at the look in his eyes. It was similar to the day he was shot in his chest, right next to his heart. She gasped as she saw a trickle of tears leaving his eyes.
"Why, what's wrong anyway? Your husband is one of the topmost lawyers. Do you think he'd let his dear wife suffer for her ex-servant?" Ranveer added, his voice more injured than before.

"JUST STOP IT!" Ishani screamed as loudly as she could, uncaring of the tears that left unchecked her eyes.
However, that hardly seemed to deter Ranveer and now when he spoke, his voice was hardly a low whisper. "Why? How does it matter anymore? What better satisfaction could one get except of seeing your worst enemy die in painful agony? That's what you are going to do anyway, right? First you'd tell me that you love me and probably didn't marry Shikhar and as soon as I come to trust you, you'd cast another blow. That's you plan, right? To kill me slowly and painfully?"

Ishani shook her head.

"Then what? You want me to trust you? You want me to die another time only to keep living without you? And the problem isn't even in you, Ishani. No. It's just me, the useless servant who never deserved someone like you. It hurt you to pretend loving me, right? Let's finish the game. Once and for all."

Before Ishani could understand what was going on, she saw Ranveer pick up the pistol from the floor, point it at the right side of his head and...

"Stop it, Ranveer!" She rushed towards him, swatting the gun away from his hand. Her hand found his cheek in a tight slap as he simply stared at her, slowly blinking. "What do you think of yourself!" She caught his collar, panting furiously. "What makes you behave like a coward, Mr. Ranveer Vaghela?"

"You don't care about-"

Before he could finish his words Ishani slammed her lips against his, her hands moving towards the small of his neck for the support. For several seconds there was no reciprocation from his side, but deep down Ishani was thankful that he didn't push her away. Ishani held on to him, pouring all the emotions she could in one single act, escape the painful encounter, paint the moment with the colours of the passions and love instead of the pain they were so used to feeling. As few seconds passed, Ishani felt Ranveer's lips move, in perfect rhythm with hers and she smiled through tears. His hand rested below her ear, caressing her cheek as he deepened the kiss, and her own hand ran down his spine, pulling him closer until all the space between them was lost. She felt his heart beat loudly against hers, surprised at the pace her own raced in his presence. For the next few moments all was forgotten, the past, the future and the fragile state of their relationship. Ishani reveled in moment, living her entire life in it before they eventually separated, still entangled with each other. She could feel Ranveer's body shaking but he made no attempt to part with her at the moment.

Ishani made a failed attempt to smile, caressing his cheek with her palm and realized how serene he truly looked. There ghostly look from his eyes was suddenly gone, replaced by a spark which now began to fade as well, but she did not fret over it anymore.
"Ranveer..."

His fingers moved to wipe her tears and Ishani nestled her face between his chest and his palm.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, but to her surprise his weight suddenly grew heavier than before. And when Ishani looked up, did she realize he had closed his eyes and was struggling to keep himself on his feet, the only support being Ishani.

"Ranveer?" She looked horrified as she helped him and lay down on the bed. He spoke nothing and soon he was fast asleep. But Ishani could not deny the feeling which now gripped her like cold metallic claws. As she watched him, still sweating, a knock at the door breached her attention.
One hour later Ishani sat beside Ranveer, his hand in hers as she pondered over the conversation with Mr. Kashyap. He had been her father's good friend as well as a psychiatrist, looking after his state whenever her father was too stressed to take decisions. He had been in good terms with Ranveer as well even though they hardly met. But his unexpected arrival was nothing but a shock to Ishani.

"What are you doing here?" she asked as Ishani opened the door to find the gentleman.

He was surprises as if not expecting her. "Well..." he paused, "I came to see RV. I've been keeping an eye on him since last three weeks."

Ishani let him in while Ranveer remained asleep, unaware of the new presence in the room.

"Keeping an eye on him, but why?"

Mr. Kashyap hesitated.

"You can tell me everything, Uncle," Ishani said, sighing. There was no judgment from his side and it didn't take Ishani to know that he was aware of the changed equation between them. Perhaps he knew many details of the matter she would never have liked anyone to know. However, his arrival was alarming.
The man seated on the sofa, in front of Ishani, and gave a long, scrutinizing look to Ranveer. "Ishani, I know you for a very, very long time. I've known your father as well. And Ranveer too since he joined Harshad Bhai in his work. So, you don't have to worry about myself being judgmental about you or anyone."

Ishani nodded.

"It's going to be hard but don't be so on yourself."

Ishani nodded again, keeping her tears at bay and gulping.

"Once the court gave off its verdict of your death sentence, things went nasty for everyone. Ranveer was diagnosed with severe depression for four months, his condition only worsening with time. His parents believed if he married to Ritika things would improve for him, but it was a wrong judgment from their part. I asked them to meet you and talk about the whole matter and see if anything could be done. But they refused. Their only solution was that Ranveer must marry Ritika. And then one day I came to know that he had married, much to my shock, of course, but it was within two weeks that I realized they weren't married. Ranveer revealed that his mother had requested him for the marriage, so to show the world and his family that he was alright, he and Ritika were pretending. However, Mrs. Vaghela was furious when she realized no marriage ever took place and it was all a pretense from Ranveer's side." He sighed, watching Ishani, and shook his head.

"Why no one ever told me this, the depression part?" Ishani asked, her voice choking. She knew Ranveer wasn't married, and somehow the revelation wasn't truly a shock for her.

"I don't know. I saw improvement in him for a while before things started to get worse once again, and to inform you I visited the Mehra Mansion, but as soon as I came I was told that you and Shikhar were about to get married. It wasn't good, I thought, but I didn't know how to break this news to you. And after all that had happened, I wasn't sure it would matter anyway."

Ishani swallowed down the pain, no more hiding her tears. "I know it was all my fault."

"The worse is yet to come," he said, his voice sharp. Ishani looked at him, unsure if she was prepared for anything anymore. But to know the truth, she had to go through this storm.

"What is it?"

"Ranveer tried to kill himself."

"What!" Ishani gasped.

"Twice."

He then stood up and walked towards Ranveer, revealing to her the fresh bandages on Ranveer's wrist, changed a day before she had come. Ishani felt her heart crack, the skin tearing, causing every part of her body to bleed. The revelations were ridiculously shocking from all ends, none of them comforting her in any way.

"H-h-how?" she stuttered, hiding her face in her hands. "But why would he do this?"

"I have being seeing patients for years and years and Ranveer's suicide attempts were perhaps the most shocking ones. He isn't the kind of fellow to go and kill himself. Probably tiff with the family fueled his desire to end his life. I was surprised but still I wasn't."

Ishani remained silent unsure to continue any further conversations, but she wondered why no one at home had told her before. But going by the fact how guilty Ranveer's parents had been, probably they believed her and Ranveer to solve the matter on their own?
_

Mr. Kashyap had left a while ago, leaving Ishani still in contemplation, guilt surging within her in agonizing exertion as she struggled to breathe. She'd destroyed their relationship brutally with one blow after another and now when she thought of it, there was no one to blame but her. How would she make him believe about her feelings? She had no evidence that she loved only Ranveer. Her words would never suffice tonight.

Did he believe in love anymore? Did he believe in her anymore? The moment they shared a while ago was a proof that he wasn't over her and there was a hope. A tiny but powerful spark for her to bring back the love that was lost in their relationship. She glanced at the clock which now showed 11.15. Ishani yawned and moved towards the bed, but stopped immediately, wondering how would Ranveer react if he found her sleeping next to him... No, it didn't matter. He was her husband and there was no rulebook saying she couldn't sleep next to her husband. Slowly, Ishani slipped next to Ranveer, covering herself in the blanket and moved closer to him, breathing in his scent. Her eyes fell upon his wrist, the bandage gleaming white and frightening. All her life she had wanted to give Ranveer the happiness he deserved but all her life she had failed. Miserably. She tried not to think of the past, of the insults and humiliations, and the heartbreaks, but as soon as she closed her eyes they took her back to the days she was guilty. She wished Ranveer woke up and just like all the times before took her in his embrace, wrapping his arms around her and whispering his love to her. But he was asleep peacefully and probably for the first time in months. Ishani's hand involuntarily travelled towards his heart and she let it rest there, feeling his chest rise and fall under her palm.
Probably it was the effect of the peace, Ishani found herself drifting into sleep immediately.

Ishani opened her eyes at a strange sound disturbing her sleep, but as the room came into focus did she realize where she was. The sun wasn't out and the darkness still overlay the glittering town. She nestled closer to the source of delicious comfort and warmth, keeping her away from the chill of January. Deep down in heart she felt a wholeness she had never felt before and the change was warmly welcome. When she dared to look up she gasped. Ranveer slept there by her side, still peacefully, and a smile warmed her features at his sight. Her fingers trailed across his cheek, tracing an invisible line and she let her hand be there, wondering how he would react when he woke up. She could imagine him panicking but hoped he atleast gave her one chance to explain herself. She didn't deserve the forgiveness perhaps, but one thing was for sure. That she loved him and no matter what decision he took, she could not live without him. Ever.
Slowly, in a moment Ranveer stirred as well, opening his eyes. She could see him almost panic as their eyes met. But Ishani placed her finger on his lips and slowly shook her head. He continued watching her as though making sure that she was real.

"You didn't leave?" he said, his voice low and quivering.

"What do you think?"

He watched her again, without uttering a word. His brow creased, eyes darkening. "I didn't think you'd stay... It was as if..."

"I don't blame you," Ishani said with a sigh, her voice as low as his.

"Why?" he asked and from his tone it was clear that his question was in something else's regard.

Ishani sighed. He wanted to know why their relationship had gone haywire from a perfect one. She leaned on her back, hoping to finish the narrative without breaking down before she finished what she had to say. Walking back to the memories of pain and darkness was something she wasn't yet prepared for, but she had already seen enough. This final blow was needed. She made best efforts to keep her voice steady, her tears in check and her words normal, and recounted the entire tale beginning from her first confession in police station of not loving him. Ranveer heard her in silence, never disturbing her and she was thankful that he did not look at her as she spoke, instead, he let her go in the flow, pour her heart out to him without a word. Whenever she felt weaker, unable to continue anymore, she would feel his hand squeeze hers, encouraging her to continue further but she dared not look at him. For all the incidents mentioned had been brutal, excruciating and somewhere in her heart it was his love which gave her strength to go on, but only if she realized the extent of the damage she was causing in their relationship. Her own words seemed to cut her deep, terribly, terribly deep with no solace whatsoever. And as she finished she looked at Ranveer. His face was stoic, expressions unfathomable. They looked into each other's eyes for a little too long before something snapped them out.

I've only loved you, Ranveer," Ishani whispered, holding his hand.
"Ishani... I..."

"I know it's hard for you to trust me but can't we give it a chance? Start our lives together and be all that we could and were meant to be?"

He remained silent, staring at her, his eyes ghostly.

"I promise I'll make everything alright, Ranveer..."

"Ishani..." Ranveer said slowly, "I'll die if anything went wrong and I mean it."

"It won't. Trust me please."

Ranveer sighed and turned his face to look at her and for the first time she let heart bleed in front of him, letting him know what he meant to her. However nasty things went between them, one thing never changed. Their love. Or his love which still gave her strength to hold on, fight, and go ahead.

"I was never sorry for trying to break your and Shikhar's marriage," Ranveer said after a while. "I can't see you with anyone else. It killed me every day to know that you never loved me no matter how much I loved you... it was as if my existence never mattered. My life, my death, my happiness, my sadness was never a matter to the person I loved the most. It hurt to know that you..." he gulped, "...hated me so much that you'd chosen death over a life with me." Ranveer looked at her, the fear, the pain, the bruises too evident on his face. Ishani cupped his cheeks and pressed a kiss on his forehead.

"I never meant a single word of it."

"You never thought of me as a servant either?" he asked and Ishani felt that her opinion meant everything to him.
"Never." She smiled, wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes. "Ranveer, you're the best thing life has given me. The hope when all felt lost. You were the only one who could read my silence as a friend and you were the only one who cared for me even when I didn't deserve it. I may seem selfish, Ranveer, but I can never live without you."

For the first time Ishani saw him smile, the same smile which warmed her heart, coloured the livid planes of the universe she dwelt in. But it still remained an ephermal affair, for it was gone as soon as it had come. She knew it would take time to go back and begin their new life but his gestures only spoke of a positive response she needed to take further steps and revive their frail relationship.

"I don't know what else to say," he whispered with a sigh. "This doesn't feel real."

Ishani turned his face towards her and their eyes met. "Give it some time and it will be real."

He moved closer, wrapping his arms around her and took her in his embrace. For a moment it felt like an unexpected dream to her where he had taken this initiative. But it was enough for the moment.

A moment of the second chance.

Sometimes, some wounds never healed. They placed themselves within you like incense of an infuriated fire, burning you without an escape. For Ranveer, the wounds, the betrayals were not new. Nor was the blazing fire of agony which came every time his heart broke or the memories did their brutal round. As a child he was proud of his honesty, and while growing up he was happy about his loyalty. His Mota Babuji had trusted him the most. More than anyone in his own family. To carry out the tasks he could trust no one else, Ranveer was trusted with them. Blindly. Without entertaining any vanity in his favor, Ranveer knew that he loved the affection showered on him.

And then there was Ishani. Ishani, his mind tried to frame her beautiful face, her gleaming eyes, her smile, her cheeks that turned red every time she blushed. She had been his best friend, his only friend, standing by his side when everything fell apart. She didn't love him, but the tiniest hint of affection in her eyes was the reason he could spend his entire lifetime struggling the cruelest miseries, without uttering a word. His mind travelled back to the moment he'd first seen her, still bright and fresh in his memories, never getting old, and halting when he met her the last time.
One month had passed since he left home for an endless journey. After all that had happened before he left, Ranveer did not wish to go back again. There was nothing left anyway. She was married right after he left.
He himself was supposed to get married, the preparations were on full swing until he declared that he couldn't marry. He told Ritika that she deserved someone much better than him to spend her lifetime with. Someone who would look after her and her child. Even if he tried, he'd be able to give her fake assurances, blank promises only.

His parents had snubbed his decision, calling him a coward and a Romeo who still ran after someone who never valued him. They wanted him to get married and settle down in a life full of happiness.

Happiness?

Did he even remember the meaning of word ever since Ishani had left? She was synonymous to happiness for him, her sole presence being the reason he lived. Once she was gone, he had struggled to find meaning of his own existence.
"You want to know why I never said I love you? Because I really never loved you!"

Her words never stopped haunting him. Everything was perfect before he had left for the meeting before Sharman's Sangeet ceremony, both the families celebrating the day without much grudge. Apart from that, he and Ishani were going to announce to their families that they were together and sought no divorce no matter what their families suggested. Even if she never said it, Ranveer knew Ishani loved him. There was no doubt in that, and even today it didn't hurt to think about that particular day full of unanswered questions and pains. Why would Ishani say all that to him when she'd loved him all along as well?
But how could she cross her limits with the words she said to him again and again, insulting him at every occasion, thrashing his self respect all the time?

Was he never worth her love?
He had been mean to her after he was shot, unable to make out anything of her sudden care and affection, laced with a love he knew she never did. But she had won over his hatred and made him realize what he meant to her and vice-versa. He had confessed his feelings to her soon after, pouring every part of him in his words, to tell her that he was sorry, that he still loved her, and that nothing could ever change his feelings for her.

Not even she.

While confessing his love, he had literally handed her over a pistol, but with a firm hope that she would never hurt him again. But she did. She pulled the trigger and didn't care if he died that day. He had looked into her eyes and pleaded not to kill him, but she remained as careless as ever. Her words were like the bullets leaving a gun, annihilating him effortlessly and ruining every part of his soul causing irrecoverable damage. She confessed to have never loved him and then of killing Chirag. He had tried to find a simple hint that she may be doing all this under pressure of the things he was kept unaware of. But his misunderstanding came to an end when she signed the divorce papers. What compulsion could lead her to destroy their lives like that? Unless... she loved Chirag and wanted to spend the rest of her life in his memories.
Something he himself was doing right now.

Ranveer sighed, surprised, that he could still feel the tingle of tears in his eyes after his decisions of never shedding a single tear at her name. But when had he learned to keep his heart in control when it came to Ishani? She was like the light in vacuum, filling every part of him with her spirit and essence when his own went blank. Even if she was absent from his life, gone forever, never to come back, he knew he could never let go of her.

Not in this lifetime.

It was easier to make someone fall in love with you, take them on an adventure and show them your real self and explore them and let them do the same with you, falling more and more deeply in love. But how did you make someone fall in love with you all over again who was familiar with every breath you took? When you fall in love it may take time to realize that you are in love but when the person you loved started hating you, entire lifetime falls short, leaving you wondering where things went wrong. And if this was the ultimate fate you couldn't avoid. Ranveer was sure if Ishani came to him again with the change of a heart he wouldn't mind running towards her like a careless moth enticed by the flame.

And that would be his death.

The sky was dark, and with the night growing deeper the stars shone brilliantly above. Burning in strange ferocity. He sighed again and blinked away the tears that threatened to roll down his cheeks as the memories became more and more clear. This was how it had been since last one month...

He had left home the same day he apologized to Ishani, more hurt, more broken at his parents' reactions. Did they not understand him? Did they truly think he could move on? Hadn't he tried enough, kept himself in a fake relationship for their sakes? It never went well for anyone. It was never meant to go well. He tried his best to break Ishani's marriage and make her understand that he would die if she left him like that. But she was adamant, never melting or breaking, no matter what he said or did. He was just an invisible shadow for her, and she was the only reality he ever belonged to. His attempts had gone overboard, Ranveer admitted to himself only, but if she knew him the tiniest bit, she would know he never meant to hurt her. He had left home when the burden of the past, present and future became too much for his frail heart, and gone to Delhi in hope to avoid any news about Ishani or her marriage. The thing was impossible while in Mumbai. For the following one week he had been in constant touch with the things going on in their lives, for the impatient media never forgot to cover a single report on them and if he managed to avoid that, the gossip in the office and the hotel he stayed in made sure to tear him. And on the day of her and Shikhar's marriage Ranveer had left for the US. Each second of the night was harrowing, excruciating to live with, torturous to think about and impossible to go on anymore.
But life was more brutal which still did not grant him death.

Since then, he was running away from the memories, from her and from any link connecting them anymore. He confessed he was a coward, but a tired one. He was tired of waiting and pretending and would have no qualms in embracing death anymore. The thought of death once again brought Ishani's face in his mind, her hands swaying to and fro as though she waved him a goodbye. He wouldn't want anything more than that...

Trying not to weaken himself down all over again, Ranveer made one last effort to forget Ishani. He closed his eyes but the first thing which appeared in front of his closed eyelids was her image. She smiled at him, the same sweet smile which eased any pain of his heart. Needless to say, she did the magic again, and a smile involuntarily curved his lips. He didn't even know he could smile anymore, but if he did, the smile was of no use.

To break the string of his thoughts, his phone rang. Annoyed, Ranveer answered the call.

"Hello?" he spoke crossly. There were strict orders not to disturb him when he was back into the room from the work.

"Sir, there's someone who wants to meet you."

"Was there an appointment?"

"No prior appointments, sir. She has just landed in the city."

"Is she a client?"

"No professional, sir. She hasn't said anything about herself."

"Tell her I can't meet her today."

"No wait, sir!" the woman on the other side spoke urgently. "She says very important matter she wants to discuss with you and she hasn't budged since last an hour."

"Fine." He sighed, resigned. "Send her in here."

Before the woman could answer anything Ranveer had disconnected the call. He tried not to think who the newcomer was. Was she Ritika who had come to restore their friendship after all? Or was she...?

No! It was too pleasant of a thought to be real. Ishani perhaps would be with her family, her husband, and everyone whom she loved. Why would she come to meet someone she passionately hated? Few more seconds passed, the next moments getting painful as he waited with bated breath.

And then the knock at his door sounded.

Ranveer rushed towards it, unexpectedly quickly, for either curiosity or to face his worst fear as he stood in front of the closed door, his fingers hovering over the doorknob. Slowly, he turned it, clicking the door open.

His jaw dropped, eyes fixated, lips quivering, heart pulsating unusually rapidly at the sight in front of him.
It was her.

Indeed.

Either time froze into that moment, encapsulating their entire lives together or the moments had stretched beyond belief, traveling back to a million memories as he stared at her, agape, unsure if he was hallucinating or dreaming, though he didn't remember himself going to sleep.

She had hardly changed since he last saw her. On the name of the change, there were all the symbols a married woman was supposed to have. The Mangalsutra, the vermillion, the bangles on her wrist gave off the inkling that she was certainly married.

Something cracked within Ranveer and without another word, he traced his steps back, Ishani following him immediately, her eyes staring at him. She gently closed the door and turned back towards him again. There was a long, painful silence, glorified by the quietness of the night as they stared at each other. Her eyes were worn, red and grey circles hung about them, but she looked as graceful as ever, like an angel as he'd always thought of her. Ranveer reprimanded himself, surprised that his mind could still wander in that direction, and turned away, his back facing her. He closed his eyes, trying his best to remain calm but failing. The woman knew how to destroy him in a moment! Silence still hovered about them, neither of them making a move. They remained silent for long, making him wonder if he had seen Ishani at all. And when Ranveer felt there was no Ishani in the room, and opened his eyes, her voice cut through the night.

"Won't you say anything, Ranveer?"

He contemplated, trying to frame the proper words which his mind appallingly refused. Whatever came to his mind was either filled with his anger or self-pity, both the things having tired him to death. Eventually, he spoke. "Congrats for the marriage!" he whispered, his voice weaker than he intended to. "What about your husband? Where is he?" Ranveer failed miserably at adding sarcasm in his words.

"He's here, too," Ishani said and he was surprised to find her voice slightly quiver.

He closed his eyes, still not turning towards her.

"Why are you so quiet?" Ishani asked and the room again was silent for a while.

He turned towards her, putting on the bravest smile he could muster and looked at Ishani. "Does it even matter?"

"Loads."

He laughed but said nothing. His eyes bore into hers, secretly seeking the questions he would have no answers of. Never. Ishani remained quiet as well, watching him, and suddenly a drop of tear from her eyes broke his trance.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"For you."

He shuddered. "What part of your revenge was still incomplete?

"What?" Ishani asked, shocked.

"You wanted to destroy the life of the man who destroyed yours. You hated him so much that even his name wasn't suited for your mouth. You wanted to move on which you did. Why did you come back, Ishani? I was away from you. From your life as I'd promised that day."

Ishani heard in silence, wishing he stopped inflicting the wounds on her. The last time she saw him was the day he came to apologize to her for insulting her and trying to break her and Shikhar's marriage. She still wasn't sure how much of his apology did he really mean, except that he was sorry for not caring about her self-respect before he hurled the insulting words to her.

He wasn't sorry for trying to break her marriage. Unlike expected, after that day he had stopped visiting her marriage functions, much to her own comfort. His presence made it harder for her to move on, and begin the life she believed was without him. As soon as everyone realized that things were sorted out, the elders of the Mehta Family gladly accepted her, the past grudges and misunderstandings no more hurdles in the new beginning of their lives. Several times she caught Shikhar's aunts talking how Ranveer's absence had only made their family functions more happening. Ishani tried not to think about Ranveer, when all her mind went back to was him. She didn't want to betray Shikhar by any means, so one day she had taken an oath. Oath to never think of Ranveer again. She couldn't tell if it made the matters easier or worse for her, but there was no going back anymore. She and Ranveer weren't made for each other, and they had to accept it. He was supposed to be married one day before her but no news came and since he was hardly keen on getting married, Ishani assumed that perhaps the marriage had been a low-key affair with only close friends. No one from her family was invited and nobody showed any interest.

The next day was of her own marriage. The entire mansion was coloured in excitement of the second marriage of the house. She was in her room, getting ready, Shikhar's cousins and Krisha's friends teasing her, planning for a future they would soon be the part of. Ishani had smiled, wondering about her future, if there could be any.

And then Baa had suddenly barged into her room, asking the girls to leave immediately. Dejected at not being able to stay with the bride, reluctantly they left.

"Ishani..." Baa panted. "Stop this marriage! Right now! Don't get married!"

"Baa, we've already talked about this. There's nothing I can..."

"Ishani, you will have to do this! Just stop the marriage. Talk to Shikhar and tell him the truth!"

Ishani shivered at the desperation in Baa's voice. "Baa..."

"Ranveer..." she gulped.

"What happened to Ranveer?" Ishani asked, horrified. All of her abstinence of not thinking of him had come to an end as soon as his name was spoken.
Baa then narrated the entire tale to her, of the secrets kept hidden from her eyes until now. The lies, the betrayals. She informed her that Ranveer had left the home the same night they last met. He and Ritika didn't get married, for he believed she deserved someone better than him. The things didn't go well down with his family who for once took Ritika's side, surprised at his heartlessness.
But only if they knew for whom they had abandoned their own son. As soon as Ranveer had left, Ritika went berserk, muttering the words to herself, much to Mala's suspicions. She went into the matter, stating that she never liked the woman even though she had been a close friend to Ranveer, and finding the evidences against her. There were Chirag's photographs, her pregnancy reports and much more which led her to reveal the truths to the family. Ranveer's parents investigated further, informed the police, eventually finding out she was nowhere close to their predetermined perception.

She had killed Falguni Maa and Chirag.

Ishani clasped her hand to her mouth, now sweating and shaking uncontrollably.

Ritika was a murderer, a cold blooded woman who could take anyone's life for her own good!

Baa revealed further that the child was not Ranveer's but Chirag's who had abandoned them, Ritika and her child, for the money from Ishani and revenge from Ranveer. The plan did not work, for Ritika had murdered him the same day Ishani had found Chirag's dead body.

"Where is Ritika?" Ishani asked, her tone bitter, tears leaving her eyes.
"In the hospital," Baa answered. "She tried to kill herself but was saved. Her child, however, is no more."

Ishani sighed, trying to control her tears, torn between the duty and love; between favours of this selfless family and affection of the man who had loved her unconditionally all her life whether she deserved it or not. What Shikhar and his family had done for her, probably no one would do for a stranger, but she couldn't let it go like this. Not anymore. She needed to find Ranveer and tell him what had happened. She had kept him in darkness long enough.

Ishani talked to Shikhar, while his family requested her not to break the marriage. Shikhar, too, asked her if she was sure about her decision. She nodded a yes, and to answer all his questions, Ishani introduced him to the reality. The reality that she never hated Ranveer, but loved him, perhaps not the way he did. He would never, ever hurt her the way she had done. She informed him of the friendship they had had since childhood, the friendship which never broke despite their status and the friendship which remained firm and intact even though buried underneath the false facades of hatred from their sides. If anything, she was to be blamed for the mess they all were in, and no matter where they had been today, she needed to go back to Ranveer.

She didn't know where he would be at the moment but she had to find him and tell him the truth. Reluctantly, Shikhar agreed and let her go. Ishani met Ranveer's parents who couldn't stop apologizing to her for keeping her away from Ranveer. His mother informed that the pretentious marriage Ranveer was in all these months was because she had blackmailed him into it, hoping he would let go of Ishani because of the society and his responsibility towards Ritika and her child. But things only grew worse with time and they didn't realize the damage was being done to two lives, hers and Ranveer's. Amba informed her of the divorce papers submitted in the court and Ishani had immediately gone to meet the lawyer who said the papers were submitted but they were never acted upon. Ranveer had submitted them because of the pressure from the family but showed no interest in going further with any proceedings.

"When there was nothing like a marriage in our relationship, this divorce becomes meaningless," the lawyer quoted him. "People separate after divorce, but we were separated right after our marriage. There's nothing anymore this divorce could end. We had started from an end only."

Ishani shuddered. There was no time to lose, but no one knew where Ranveer was. No one from the house, among his employees or acquaintances or any other source. Then on the third day of the incident she was informed that he had come to Delhi two days ago, to finalize an overdue deal. Ishani flew to Delhi, only to find out he had left for the US a day before. Cursing her luck, she visited every place he was reported to be having but failed. Until now. She was on time and he was here, in front of her. Ishani wanted to make sure that when they met, she looked like a married woman. They were not divorced and she was still his wife. By the rituals and by the law.

Ishani looked at Ranveer as her vision restored back, the blurry images evaporating from her mind, leaving behind the large but suffocating room. His face was calm, but his gaze firm and eyes watery. Ishani noticed he had become very thin in last one month as though he was starving himself...

No! He couldn't be starving himself like that!

She opened her mouth to reprimand him but fell silent, and lowered her gaze, breathing deeply for several seconds. A drop of tear escaped her eye as she closed them, her mind casting the images of the past, burning furiously. Ishani realized she hadn't just killed Ranveer in all these months, but destroyed the memories which were the part of their living.

She had them, all whole and beautiful, but what did he have?

The taunts that he was nothing more than a servant.

Ishani heard him sigh, his gaze fixed on her face, his jaw slightly working while his fingers curled in the fists tightly.

"Tell me, Ishani," he spoke again. "What part of your revenge you still need to complete?"

Ishani wetted her lips with her tongue and turned her eyes away from him.
"Ranveer..." she dared to express, "I... I never married Shikhar."

His eyes failed to hide the agitation this time and he stopped where he was, observing her intently.

"Because I..."

"Because you loved me?" he asked airily, forcibly trying to add humour in his words and failing.

Ishani remained quiet. There was no way she could make him believe she'd loved him or tell him the truth. She didn't want to mention Ritika unless unavoidably necessary. The woman had destroyed them, their relationship, killed her mother and Ishani didn't want to use her name to prove she was innocent and in love with Ranveer.

Silence once again prevailed the quiet, unmoving room, and in a moment Ishani saw Ranveer walk towards the drawer and return in a few moments. He had a gun in his hand, his face completely blank.

"This." He placed the pistol in her palm. "Go ahead and kill me!"

"Stop it, Ranveer!" Ishani said, trying to retract her hand away from him, but he held it tightly.

"You loved me, you cared about me... Do you think I'm going to believe this nonsense anymore?"

"Listen to me, Ranveer. Please."

"Why? So that you can break me once again? You hated me, wished to see me suffer all your life because I separated you from Chirag, right? Then do one thing, shoot me. End this game and let it all be done. No Ranveer from now on."

"No, no..." Ishani shook her head as she moved back facing him.

"Why?" He followed, his voice low and ghostly, and it felt as though he was now talking to himself. "You hated me, right? You have had hundreds of servants since childhood. It shouldn't be a matter of trouble for you if one of them is no more. Go ahead, Ishani, and kill me. I'll be at peace. I'm tired of everything. If you didn't kill me today, I'll kill myself someday and you won't know."

It was now that she realized there was no escape anymore as her back hit the wall. Ishani gazed up at him, each word of his tearing her apart.

"Ishani, I'm already dead. There's nothing in me anymore. Just free me once and for all. It's good for us both. Do it, please!" he pleaded painfully.
"Just stop it!" Ishani shouted, taking her hand out of his grasp as the gun fell down on the floor. "Are you out of your mind! Do you even know what you're saying? You need some sense in your head!" Ishani halted at the look in his eyes. It was similar to the day he was shot in his chest, right next to his heart. She gasped as she saw a trickle of tears leaving his eyes.
"Why, what's wrong anyway? Your husband is one of the topmost lawyers. Do you think he'd let his dear wife suffer for her ex-servant?" Ranveer added, his voice more injured than before.

"JUST STOP IT!" Ishani screamed as loudly as she could, uncaring of the tears that left unchecked her eyes.
However, that hardly seemed to deter Ranveer and now when he spoke, his voice was hardly a low whisper. "Why? How does it matter anymore? What better satisfaction could one get except of seeing your worst enemy die in painful agony? That's what you are going to do anyway, right? First you'd tell me that you love me and probably didn't marry Shikhar and as soon as I come to trust you, you'd cast another blow. That's you plan, right? To kill me slowly and painfully?"

Ishani shook her head.

"Then what? You want me to trust you? You want me to die another time only to keep living without you? And the problem isn't even in you, Ishani. No. It's just me, the useless servant who never deserved someone like you. It hurt you to pretend loving me, right? Let's finish the game. Once and for all."

Before Ishani could understand what was going on, she saw Ranveer pick up the pistol from the floor, point it at the right side of his head and...

"Stop it, Ranveer!" She rushed towards him, swatting the gun away from his hand. Her hand found his cheek in a tight slap as he simply stared at her, slowly blinking. "What do you think of yourself!" She caught his collar, panting furiously. "What makes you behave like a coward, Mr. Ranveer Vaghela?"

"You don't care about-"

Before he could finish his words Ishani slammed her lips against his, her hands moving towards the small of his neck for the support. For several seconds there was no reciprocation from his side, but deep down Ishani was thankful that he didn't push her away. Ishani held on to him, pouring all the emotions she could in one single act, escape the painful encounter, paint the moment with the colours of the passions and love instead of the pain they were so used to feeling. As few seconds passed, Ishani felt Ranveer's lips move, in perfect rhythm with hers and she smiled through tears. His hand rested below her ear, caressing her cheek as he deepened the kiss, and her own hand ran down his spine, pulling him closer until all the space between them was lost. She felt his heart beat loudly against hers, surprised at the pace her own raced in his presence. For the next few moments all was forgotten, the past, the future and the fragile state of their relationship. Ishani reveled in moment, living her entire life in it before they eventually separated, still entangled with each other. She could feel Ranveer's body shaking but he made no attempt to part with her at the moment.

Ishani made a failed attempt to smile, caressing his cheek with her palm and realized how serene he truly looked. There ghostly look from his eyes was suddenly gone, replaced by a spark which now began to fade as well, but she did not fret over it anymore.
"Ranveer..."

His fingers moved to wipe her tears and Ishani nestled her face between his chest and his palm.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, but to her surprise his weight suddenly grew heavier than before. And when Ishani looked up, did she realize he had closed his eyes and was struggling to keep himself on his feet, the only support being Ishani.

"Ranveer?" She looked horrified as she helped him and lay down on the bed. He spoke nothing and soon he was fast asleep. But Ishani could not deny the feeling which now gripped her like cold metallic claws. As she watched him, still sweating, a knock at the door breached her attention.
One hour later Ishani sat beside Ranveer, his hand in hers as she pondered over the conversation with Mr. Kashyap. He had been her father's good friend as well as a psychiatrist, looking after his state whenever her father was too stressed to take decisions. He had been in good terms with Ranveer as well even though they hardly met. But his unexpected arrival was nothing but a shock to Ishani.

"What are you doing here?" she asked as Ishani opened the door to find the gentleman.

He was surprises as if not expecting her. "Well..." he paused, "I came to see RV. I've been keeping an eye on him since last three weeks."

Ishani let him in while Ranveer remained asleep, unaware of the new presence in the room.

"Keeping an eye on him, but why?"

Mr. Kashyap hesitated.

"You can tell me everything, Uncle," Ishani said, sighing. There was no judgment from his side and it didn't take Ishani to know that he was aware of the changed equation between them. Perhaps he knew many details of the matter she would never have liked anyone to know. However, his arrival was alarming.
The man seated on the sofa, in front of Ishani, and gave a long, scrutinizing look to Ranveer. "Ishani, I know you for a very, very long time. I've known your father as well. And Ranveer too since he joined Harshad Bhai in his work. So, you don't have to worry about myself being judgmental about you or anyone."

Ishani nodded.

"It's going to be hard but don't be so on yourself."

Ishani nodded again, keeping her tears at bay and gulping.

"Once the court gave off its verdict of your death sentence, things went nasty for everyone. Ranveer was diagnosed with severe depression for four months, his condition only worsening with time. His parents believed if he married to Ritika things would improve for him, but it was a wrong judgment from their part. I asked them to meet you and talk about the whole matter and see if anything could be done. But they refused. Their only solution was that Ranveer must marry Ritika. And then one day I came to know that he had married, much to my shock, of course, but it was within two weeks that I realized they weren't married. Ranveer revealed that his mother had requested him for the marriage, so to show the world and his family that he was alright, he and Ritika were pretending. However, Mrs. Vaghela was furious when she realized no marriage ever took place and it was all a pretense from Ranveer's side." He sighed, watching Ishani, and shook his head.

"Why no one ever told me this, the depression part?" Ishani asked, her voice choking. She knew Ranveer wasn't married, and somehow the revelation wasn't truly a shock for her.

"I don't know. I saw improvement in him for a while before things started to get worse once again, and to inform you I visited the Mehra Mansion, but as soon as I came I was told that you and Shikhar were about to get married. It wasn't good, I thought, but I didn't know how to break this news to you. And after all that had happened, I wasn't sure it would matter anyway."

Ishani swallowed down the pain, no more hiding her tears. "I know it was all my fault."

"The worse is yet to come," he said, his voice sharp. Ishani looked at him, unsure if she was prepared for anything anymore. But to know the truth, she had to go through this storm.

"What is it?"

"Ranveer tried to kill himself."

"What!" Ishani gasped.

"Twice."

He then stood up and walked towards Ranveer, revealing to her the fresh bandages on Ranveer's wrist, changed a day before she had come. Ishani felt her heart crack, the skin tearing, causing every part of her body to bleed. The revelations were ridiculously shocking from all ends, none of them comforting her in any way.

"H-h-how?" she stuttered, hiding her face in her hands. "But why would he do this?"

"I have being seeing patients for years and years and Ranveer's suicide attempts were perhaps the most shocking ones. He isn't the kind of fellow to go and kill himself. Probably tiff with the family fueled his desire to end his life. I was surprised but still I wasn't."

Ishani remained silent unsure to continue any further conversations, but she wondered why no one at home had told her before. But going by the fact how guilty Ranveer's parents had been, probably they believed her and Ranveer to solve the matter on their own?
_

Mr. Kashyap had left a while ago, leaving Ishani still in contemplation, guilt surging within her in agonizing exertion as she struggled to breathe. She'd destroyed their relationship brutally with one blow after another and now when she thought of it, there was no one to blame but her. How would she make him believe about her feelings? She had no evidence that she loved only Ranveer. Her words would never suffice tonight.

Did he believe in love anymore? Did he believe in her anymore? The moment they shared a while ago was a proof that he wasn't over her and there was a hope. A tiny but powerful spark for her to bring back the love that was lost in their relationship. She glanced at the clock which now showed 11.15. Ishani yawned and moved towards the bed, but stopped immediately, wondering how would Ranveer react if he found her sleeping next to him... No, it didn't matter. He was her husband and there was no rulebook saying she couldn't sleep next to her husband. Slowly, Ishani slipped next to Ranveer, covering herself in the blanket and moved closer to him, breathing in his scent. Her eyes fell upon his wrist, the bandage gleaming white and frightening. All her life she had wanted to give Ranveer the happiness he deserved but all her life she had failed. Miserably. She tried not to think of the past, of the insults and humiliations, and the heartbreaks, but as soon as she closed her eyes they took her back to the days she was guilty. She wished Ranveer woke up and just like all the times before took her in his embrace, wrapping his arms around her and whispering his love to her. But he was asleep peacefully and probably for the first time in months. Ishani's hand involuntarily travelled towards his heart and she let it rest there, feeling his chest rise and fall under her palm.
Probably it was the effect of the peace, Ishani found herself drifting into sleep immediately.

Ishani opened her eyes at a strange sound disturbing her sleep, but as the room came into focus did she realize where she was. The sun wasn't out and the darkness still overlay the glittering town. She nestled closer to the source of delicious comfort and warmth, keeping her away from the chill of January. Deep down in heart she felt a wholeness she had never felt before and the change was warmly welcome. When she dared to look up she gasped. Ranveer slept there by her side, still peacefully, and a smile warmed her features at his sight. Her fingers trailed across his cheek, tracing an invisible line and she let her hand be there, wondering how he would react when he woke up. She could imagine him panicking but hoped he atleast gave her one chance to explain herself. She didn't deserve the forgiveness perhaps, but one thing was for sure. That she loved him and no matter what decision he took, she could not live without him. Ever.
Slowly, in a moment Ranveer stirred as well, opening his eyes. She could see him almost panic as their eyes met. But Ishani placed her finger on his lips and slowly shook her head. He continued watching her as though making sure that she was real.

"You didn't leave?" he said, his voice low and quivering.

"What do you think?"

He watched her again, without uttering a word. His brow creased, eyes darkening. "I didn't think you'd stay... It was as if..."

"I don't blame you," Ishani said with a sigh, her voice as low as his.

"Why?" he asked and from his tone it was clear that his question was in something else's regard.

Ishani sighed. He wanted to know why their relationship had gone haywire from a perfect one. She leaned on her back, hoping to finish the narrative without breaking down before she finished what she had to say. Walking back to the memories of pain and darkness was something she wasn't yet prepared for, but she had already seen enough. This final blow was needed. She made best efforts to keep her voice steady, her tears in check and her words normal, and recounted the entire tale beginning from her first confession in police station of not loving him. Ranveer heard her in silence, never disturbing her and she was thankful that he did not look at her as she spoke, instead, he let her go in the flow, pour her heart out to him without a word. Whenever she felt weaker, unable to continue anymore, she would feel his hand squeeze hers, encouraging her to continue further but she dared not look at him. For all the incidents mentioned had been brutal, excruciating and somewhere in her heart it was his love which gave her strength to go on, but only if she realized the extent of the damage she was causing in their relationship. Her own words seemed to cut her deep, terribly, terribly deep with no solace whatsoever. And as she finished she looked at Ranveer. His face was stoic, expressions unfathomable. They looked into each other's eyes for a little too long before something snapped them out.

I've only loved you, Ranveer," Ishani whispered, holding his hand.
"Ishani... I..."

"I know it's hard for you to trust me but can't we give it a chance? Start our lives together and be all that we could and were meant to be?"

He remained silent, staring at her, his eyes ghostly.

"I promise I'll make everything alright, Ranveer..."

"Ishani..." Ranveer said slowly, "I'll die if anything went wrong and I mean it."

"It won't. Trust me please."

Ranveer sighed and turned his face to look at her and for the first time she let heart bleed in front of him, letting him know what he meant to her. However nasty things went between them, one thing never changed. Their love. Or his love which still gave her strength to hold on, fight, and go ahead.

"I was never sorry for trying to break your and Shikhar's marriage," Ranveer said after a while. "I can't see you with anyone else. It killed me every day to know that you never loved me no matter how much I loved you... it was as if my existence never mattered. My life, my death, my happiness, my sadness was never a matter to the person I loved the most. It hurt to know that you..." he gulped, "...hated me so much that you'd chosen death over a life with me." Ranveer looked at her, the fear, the pain, the bruises too evident on his face. Ishani cupped his cheeks and pressed a kiss on his forehead.

"I never meant a single word of it."

"You never thought of me as a servant either?" he asked and Ishani felt that her opinion meant everything to him.
"Never." She smiled, wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes. "Ranveer, you're the best thing life has given me. The hope when all felt lost. You were the only one who could read my silence as a friend and you were the only one who cared for me even when I didn't deserve it. I may seem selfish, Ranveer, but I can never live without you."

For the first time Ishani saw him smile, the same smile which warmed her heart, coloured the livid planes of the universe she dwelt in. But it still remained an ephermal affair, for it was gone as soon as it had come. She knew it would take time to go back and begin their new life but his gestures only spoke of a positive response she needed to take further steps and revive their frail relationship.

"I don't know what else to say," he whispered with a sigh. "This doesn't feel real."

Ishani turned his face towards her and their eyes met. "Give it some time and it will be real."

He moved closer, wrapping his arms around her and took her in his embrace. For a moment it felt like an unexpected dream to her where he had taken this initiative. But it was enough for the moment.

A moment of the second chance.