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“Passport.”

“Huh?” Ajay was preoccupied staring out the window, listening to music on his phone when he felt a nudge on his shoulder. He took one headphone out of his ear and turned to the older man.

“Passport,” the man said, pointing at the document in Ajay’s hands. Ajay thought he remembered that the old guy’s name was name was Darpan, or something like that.
“Oh.” Ajay handed Darpan his passport and then nudged his sleeping mother beside of him.

“Mom, passport.”

Ishwari squinted, “In my purse.”

Ajay never liked going through his mom’s purse; she kept anything and everything inside of it. Ajay sighed as Ishwari went back to sleep and he began to dig through her purse. He finally found her passport when the bus began to stop. As he handed the passport to Darpan, he noticed some soldier guys dressed in blue camouflage uniforms and they were holding some big ass guns. His mother assured him they would be safe—she said she knew someone who would take care of them when they got to Kyrat—but they hadn’t even been in the country for two minutes yet and Ajay was already terrified.

Darpan slipped some cash into each of their passports. Ishwari was still resting so Ajay held onto hers for the time being. He noticed the picture on the money: A rather strange looking man, not the typical look of a politician or monarch. Undercut, blonde hair, and it even looked like he was wearing eyeliner. His thoughts were interrupted as he heard muffled arguing outside. His heart began to race. The soldiers and bus driver were arguing in Hindi. He shook Ishwari awake and asked her what they were saying. Ishwari furrowed her brow, “Something about the…” She gulped. Her face grew grim as if she had seen a ghost. She knew Darpan's name sounded familiar. “The Golden Path," she said in a low, shaky whisper.

Suddenly, one of the passengers on the bus opened the emergency back door and tried to attack the soldiers but soldiers were too fast for her and shot her dead. As they began shooting her, the bus driver pulled out a pistol and tried to shoot them, only grazing one soldier. The others quickly retaliated and shot the bus driver. Ajay and Ishwari gasped, though neither had time for much reaction. The soldier turned and noticed them both through the window. Just as Ishwari ducked, a soldier began shooting at the bus. Ajay fell to the floor of the bus and pulled his mother down with them. Ishwari felt a stinging pain ripple through her leg. She’d cut herself rather deeply from a large piece of broken glass that fell from the window.

“Oh my God, Mom, are you okay?” Ajay panicked.

Ishwari nodded her head incessantly. She was okay.

“They almost shot you! They could’ve killed you! What the hell is going on, Darpan?!” Ajay continued.

Darpan took his handgun from his holster and shushed Ajay. Darpan had no time to shoot or defend them against the soldiers, the soldiers opened the emergency exit in the back, aiming their machine guns at the group, all the while yelling in Hindi. Darpan was smart enough not to try his luck against five soldiers with machine guns. As the soldiers continued yelling in Hindi, Ishwari and Darpan nodded and obeyed. “They’re saying to get out of the bus and get on the ground,” Ishwari told her son as she carefully moved to the end of the bus. Darpan’s handgun was kicked aside by one of the soldiers as he climbed out of the bus and kneeled on the ground. Ishwari’s cut had caused her to move slower than one soldier had liked. He dragged Ishwari by the arm and slammed her onto the cold, wet ground.

“Hey!” Ajay protested. He didn’t appreciate anyone laying a finger on his mother. As he tried to stand up, another soldier took the stock of his rifle and smashed it into Ajay’s face.
Ishwari shrieked, “No!” She tried to stand up and run over to her son to check on him when a soldier grabbed her and threw her back to the ground. He aimed his rifle at her head and put his finger on the trigger. Ishwari’s lip quivered and she closed her eyes, tears flowing freely. She had waited years to return, only to die like that. She knew she shouldn’t have come.

Just as the solder was about to shoot, another soldier tapped him on the arm as the sound of a helicopter approached. Suddenly, their focus which was once on Ajay, Ishwari, and Darpan, was then on the approaching black helicopter. Ishwari’s heart skipped a beat as she realized who it had to have been.

Chapter Text

There he was, in all of his radiance; a tall, slender, Asian man with bleached blonde hair, wearing a pink suit and a black trench coat. Ishwari’s heart nearly stopped as she watched him step out of the helicopter, looking more than unhappy about what had just transpired. Ishwari couldn’t believe her eyes. He still looked great considering all he had been through. His hair was different (very different) from last she’d seen him, but she would know him from anywhere. He had the personality and a look about him that was so easily distinguishable, even before the blonde hair.

Ajay instantly recognized him as the man on the money Darpan had given him. He looked a bit different from the picture on the money but Ajay suspected it to had been an old photo. Ajay attempted to squint, as the sun shining in his eyes caused him difficulty in seeing the man very well, but his face hurt too badly. He was almost certain there was probably an imprint where the gun’s stock had been. He rubbed his jaw in agony.

The mysterious man walked over toward the soldier, who seemingly was the one in charge, and shook his head in disappointment as he held his folded hands to his face. “I distinctly remember saying stop the bus,” he said, now standing beside the soldier, who was holding his wounded shoulder which was grazed earlier by the bus driver. “Yes. Stop the bus. Not shoot the bus. I am very particular with my words.” The man sounded calm despite everything that was going on around him. “Stop. Shoot. Stop. Shoot. Do those words sound the same?”

The soldier cowered in front of the slightly taller man.  “But it got out of control…” the soldier said, staring at his feet. He was visibly frightened. The soldier breathed heavily, evident by the amount of fog created from as his breath met the cold air.

“I’m sorry, what did you say,” the man asked, still keeping a hushed tone. He leaned in closer to the soldier and put one arm around him as he reached into his coat pocket with the other. The men’s faces were then just inches apart.

The soldier, who continued to keep his eyes on his feet, spoke up slightly, “It got out of contro-”

“’It got out of control,’” the man repeated. Ajay noticed the man holding something sort of long and shiny in his hand. “I just hate when things get out of control.”

And it was then, with one swift motion, the man took the shiny object and stabbed the already-wounded soldier right in the neck. Ajay couldn’t allow himself to react because he was in so much shock. He simply laid on the ground, quiet as a mouse. He looked over to his mother who was sitting about ten feet behind him, leaning her back against the bus. Her eyes were widened in shock. She wasn’t expecting that, either. They both turned to look back at the man, who was kneeling over top of the soldier’s corpse, still continuing to stab him.

“You had one fucking job and you couldn’t fucking do it,” the man shouted, stabbing the man continuously. Stab, stab, stab, stab. Ajay couldn’t keep up with how many times he’d stabbed him, but he was pretty sure the poor guy was dead from the first one. Ajay grimaced at the sight, an extremely bloody mess. Ishwari had grown up around war and violence and became slightly desensitized to it, but being away for so long had its effects. She could feel the bile rising in her throat. She wasn’t shocked that this man she knew would do such a thing, really, but it still did not make it any less pleasant to look at.

The man appeared out of breath after stabbing the soldier as much as he did. When he was finally finished, he fell onto the ground, just a few feet from Ajay. Sitting in the cold mud, he began to speak once more as he looked down at his maroon leather crocodile shoes (or were they alligator? Ajay couldn’t tell). “And I got blood on my fucking shoes!” The man then met Ajay’s gaze. Ajay couldn’t look away—he froze. He could feel the pit in his stomach. He’s going to kill me, he thought. The man raised a hand, seeming relieved. “At least there’s a silver lining,” he said to the corpse. “You didn’t completely fuck it up.”

As he said those words, he began to stand up and talk over to Ajay. “Get up boy,” he said, offering Ajay his hand and pulling him up off the ground.

“I’d recognize those eyes anywhere.” The man looked at Ajay like he was meeting an old friend. And the man acted like he knew him. How does he know me? Why does he recognize my eyes?! Many thoughts were running through Ajay’s head. He didn’t have very much time to think before the man was pulling him in for a hug. “I’m so sorry about this,” the man said as he began to hug Ajay. “This was supposed to be… Well, not this.”

Ajay didn’t say a word. He really didn’t need to because the man continued to speak. “Could you hold this for me?” Pagan handed Ajay the bloodied object that was used to stab the soldier. Ajay took a good look at it. Damn, he thought, it’s a fucking pen! He stabbed a guy with a motherfucking pen! Ajay’s eyes widened with fear and he nearly jumped when the man wrapped his arm around him, raising his camera phone up to take a picture. “Right into the camera, there you go.” Ajay did as the man said and looked into the camera as he snapped the selfie. The man had blood splattered all over his face but he didn’t even seem to notice. He just acted like the incident never happened—like he didn’t just kill a man. Who is this guy, Ajay mused.

“I’m so glad you’re here!” the man said to Ajay, pulling him in again for another hug.

As he was hugging Ajay, the man happened to glance in front of him. His breath escaped him when he saw her. She was still as beautiful as the day he last saw her. He slowly let go of Ajay and walked over to Ishwari. He was already fighting back the tears before they even touched. As Ishwari and Pagan met eyes, she stood up, with a bit of a struggle, and limply ran towards him. He began to pick up pace, as well, and Ishwari leapt into his arms as they collided. Touching her skin made him break down and all the emotions he had been holding in sprang forth.

“Pagan,” Ishwari whispered as she cried uncontrollably.

“Ishwari,” Pagan whimpered. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too.”

“Your hair…” Pagan said in a hushed-tone, reaching out to brush a strand from her forehead. It was much shorter than he remembered, her jet black locks rested right at her shoulder.

My hair?” Ishwari snickered as she ran her fingers through Pagan’s undercut which was bleached blonde. “Look at your hair!”

Pagan chuckled, “You like it?”

No, but I suppose I can adjust.” Ishwari smiled sweetly.

Pagan grinned and then realized he was still holding Ishwari. He gently placed her back on her feet, staring into her eyes as he did so. In all of the excitement, they hadn’t even kissed. Pagan wondered if she even would kiss him after all that had happened. He didn’t have to wonder long because Ishwari soon after pulled him in for a kiss. Pagan kissed back and slid his hand from the small of her back, on down to her buttock.

Ajay scowled from a distance. He felt very confused and uncomfortable. What was his mom doing kissing this guy? For one, Ajay was 98.6% sure the guy was gay and secondly, the man just killed a dude! He still had the blood on his face and clothes (and don’t forget shoes) to prove it!

The pair broke away from their kiss and Ishwari reached into Pagan’s pocket where he always kept a handkerchief and wiped away the splattered blood from his face. Pagan smiled. “Thank you,” he said in a soft laugh, sounding almost embarrassed. As she was reaching for the handkerchief, a small photograph fell to the ground. The two both bent down to get it and Ishwari picked it up first. It was a photograph of a young Ishwari holding her and Pagan's newborn child, Lakshmana. Ishwari's face began to burn and she felt the tears form in her throat. Did he really keep that photo with him all these years? It hurt Ishwari to have such bittersweet memories be brought back in such a quick instant, but it also touched her that Pagan would keep the photo.

Ishwari wasn't sure how long she had been staring at the photograph. Pagan eventually spoke. "I love that picture of you two," he said softly.

Ishwari looked up at him. Her lip trembled as she blinked away tears that welled up in her eyes. "Me too." Her voice cracked. "You mean you've kept this picture after all these years?"

"I take it everywhere with me," he said proudly. "I think it's still in excellent condition considering the years. I keep it and the pen you got me in my coat pocket all the time. Close to my heart," he winked. 

"You mean the pen you just used to stab a man with?" Ishwari's voice sounded clearer and her tone more serious.

Pagan laughed. "Yes. That one. I'll wash it off, I promise," he said softly. 

The two laughed and Pagan pulled Ishwari into his chest and hugged her.

Ajay cleared his throat, still observing from a distance.

“Oh!” Pagan chuckled. “Sorry, Ajay." Pagan spoke up. "Come along, you two,” he said as he grabbed Ishwari by the hand. “There’s a party waiting for you both! Don’t worry, I’ve cleared my schedule.” Pagan climbed into the helicopter and helped Ishwari up, then offering his hand to Ajay who reluctantly accepted. As Ajay climbed in, Pagan patted him on the back. “You and I are gonna tear shit up!”

Chapter Text

Pagan Min was slightly startled when his office phone rang. It had been a slow day for him and he dozed off whilst kicked back in his leather office chair. After he composed himself, he cleared his throat and picked up the phone.

“Pagan Min.”

“Hello, King Min, it’s Lieutenant Rajesh. We just got word of a bus in India, it’s coming towards us. Two people from America are on it: Ghales.”

Pagan’s heart sank and then sped up. He took a deep breath and tried to swallow. When he finally was able to speak, all he could muster was “Stop the bus.”

Rajesh said “Okay” and briskly hung up the phone.

Pagan knew that if he left soon he would be able to beat them at the border checkpoint, but he couldn’t leave looking the way that he did. It was likely that Ishwari was on that bus and he needed to look nice. He yelled for Gary to call Khamran, his helicopter pilot, and darted to his bedroom to frantically change clothes. He chose his famous pink outfit with the thin black trench coat. He then rushed to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, combed his bleached blonde hair, sprayed on some cologne, and touched up his mascara. By the time he finished, Khamran arrived with the helicopter.

The ride from his palace to the Kyrat/India border was about half an hour. Pagan worried that he wasted too much time fixing himself up and he wouldn’t make it in time; he wanted to be there to greet them when they arrived. Much to his dismay, he felt nervous the whole ride there. Ishwari seemed to be the only person that’s ever been able to do that to him. He probably should have done a line, but Ishwari would have been able to tell—she was always able to tell. He didn’t want to be high the first time seeing her in over two decades. Instead, he plugged in his Beats by Dre earphones into his iPhone and listened to Beyoncé to calm his nerves.

As the helicopter landed, he took a deep breath before Khamran opened the door. He did not see what he wanted to see, nor what he expected, when he exited the helicopter. There were bodies lying everywhere. He shook his head and put his palms in his face. His mind began to race. He noticed the colors of the Golden Path uniforms and briefly wondered if they were behind this. If the Golden Path found out about Ishwari Ghale, the dictator-loving-traitor that she was, had returned to her home country, they might go to great lengths to get revenge on her for what was done to Mohan. He shook the thoughts out of his head and tried to clear his mind and focus on what happened. He didn’t look around long enough to find Ishwari or Ajay, instead, he made a beeline for Rajesh.

He was so angry, he saw red. He reminded Rajesh that he said stop the bus, not shoot the bus. Rajesh didn’t appear to be a bit sorry, only terrified and in pain. Rajesh’s lack of sympathy pissed Pagan off even more and before he knew it, he had his pen in Rajesh’s neck, stabbing him repeatedly.

Gods, he hadn’t done that in a while and quite honestly, it felt great. It was his first time with a pen and he had to admit that it was a rather handy weapon. He made a mental note to thank Ishwari again for getting it for him for his birthday all those years ago. He felt a release of energy as he came off of his high and began to see clearly again. As he sat on the cold, dirty ground, gathering his breath after killing Rajesh, he noticed a young man just a few feet away staring at him with a frightened expression. He knew immediately it was Ajay—he had his mother’s eyes. Pagan helped Ajay up and hugged him. He hadn’t seen him since he was a toddler. They really do grow up fast, he thought. Pagan took a selfie with Ajay, which he’d post on his Instagram later that day, and pulled the young man in for another hug.

After hugging him once more, he glanced over towards the bus and noticed Ishwari still lying on the ground. Pagan’s eyes went wide as he noticed the blood on her leg and the pain in her eyes. As he walked towards her, she stood up and limped towards him.

He chilled as the crisp Himalayan wind pierced through his coat. I knew I should’ve worn the extra layer, he thought. He didn’t want to look fat; it was the first time seeing her in 23 years and he wanted to make a good impression. The blood on his face from the man he’d just killed in front of her, however, might not have been the best start. He began to feel self-conscience, worried about how Ishwari was going to react to him. His worries soon escaped as Ishwari embraced him.

Everything else after that was a bit of a blur to Pagan. He couldn’t really remember what he said right after saying it and he thought his heart was going to beat out of his chest. His mind began to clear once they started kissing, but also began to cloud in all of the things he wanted to do to her right then and there. His thoughts and their kiss were interrupted after Ajay cleared his throat. He couldn’t wait to catch up with Ishwari and Ajay after many years apart.

He couldn’t wait for them to be a family again. He briefly mused whether he and Ishwari could still have a child, but after realizing they were both pushing 50, he let go of that fantasy. Ishwari made him feel 24 again and for a moment, he thought he was. His mind went back to those days of he and Ishwari playing with the children on the floor of the palace, the room full of giggles and toys strewn everywhere. He longed for those days but there was no going back. He reminded himself that he was fortunate enough to have Ishwari back, Ajay as well. As he escorted them to the helicopter, he couldn’t help but think of all the things he was going to do to Ishwari later.

Chapter Text

The helicopter ride to Pagan’s palace was long and awkward for just about everyone. Except for Pagan. He had no capability of ever feeling awkward. Some wondered if he had capabilities of feeling anything. Anyone that really knew him, though, such as Ishwari, knew that he had a softer side.

As the helicopter began to take off, Pagan turned to Ishwari.

“Twenty-three years,” Pagan shook his head, voice low.

Ishwari sat closely beside him, resting her hand on his knee.

“What took you so long, Ishwari? You said you’d be back but I thought it would’ve been… years ago.”

Ishwari sighed. “Ajay stayed in trouble a lot,” she grinned as she glared at her son. “The cops at the local sheriff’s office started calling me by my first name. I wanted to wait until he graduated school… But then I got sick. Bail and cancer treatments aren’t cheap-“

“You had cancer?” Pagan’s eyes widened in shock.

 Ishwari nodded. “Breast cancer. I’ve been in remission for a year and a half, now. I still have to take the chemo pills, though. They make me feel so sick some days.”

That explained her shorter hair. She always kept it long before. Pagan scratched his chin, trying to comprehend the thought of Ishwari raising a rebellious son all by herself while battling cancer—as an immigrant, at that. He placed his hand on top of Ishwari’s and leaned in to kiss her forehead.

Ishwari cut him off and lifted her chin to quickly meet his lips with her own.

Pagan grinned at Ishwari’s cheekiness, but his worry still showed.

She took note of the expression on his face and attempted to reassure her former lover. “Don’t worry, Pagan. I’m getting better. The worst part is over, at least.”

They gazed into one another’s eyes and Pagan smiled sadly. “Well, I’m glad you’re on the mend, now. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been.”

“It wasn’t easy but we made it through.” Ishwari looked back at her son and sighed. “I suppose I have a lot of explaining to do.”

Ajay shot Ishwari a look of displeasure and nodded his head. “Uh, yeah, ya do.”

Pagan looked back and forth at the pair, donning a confused expression. Ishwari noticed and looked down at her feet. Without looking up, she spoke. “I never told him about you.”

Pagan gulped. His heart felt as if it sank. That explains Ajay’s confused expressions, he thought to himself. He didn’t know what to say or think, but he understood. Gods, he really understood.

They all just sat in silence for a few minutes before Ishwari spoke again. “Ajay, your father was Mohan Ghale. He was the leader of what is now known as the Golden Path. He sent me to spy on Pagan and we inevitably fell in love with one another.”

Pagan chuckled under his breath. “Talk about a damn good spy.”

Ishwari bit her lip and grinned. “You and I lived with Pagan for over two years in his palace. We were a family, Ajay. Pagan helped raise you. He loved you as if you were his own.”

Ajay’s eyes grew wide. His head felt like it was spinning. “Wh- why would you never tell me all of this? I mean, w-why wait until now?”

Ishwari wore a sad look. Pagan wrapped his arm around her and pulled her into him. He continued for her.

“We had a child. Lakshmana. When your fa-…” He caught himself and bit his lip. He hated referring to Mohan as Ajay’s father. It didn’t feel right. He was Ajay’s rightful father, blood or not. Mohan didn’t deserve Ajay. “When Mohan found out, he was furious. Sent a letter calling your mother all sorts of nasty names and said he would basically right her wrongs. He snuck into the palace one night and…” He swallowed. Closing his eyes, he tried his best to fight back the tears.

“Oh my God” was all Ajay could muster repeatedly. He rested his face into his palms. Ishwari began to quietly sob into Pagan’s chest. He rubbed her back as he tried to console her.

Pagan attempted to compose himself the best that he could as Ajay continued to panic. “It was not long after when your mother moved with you to the States. Mohan was persistent and wanted you back, but we weren’t going to allow that. All he wanted was to make you a child soldier, to raise you up to continue fighting for his ‘cause’. It hurt me to find that she’d left but I knew that she didn’t mean to hurt me. Well, years later I knew. For the first few years, I blamed myself. Side note: I don’t recommend ever doing that. It’ll make you quite miserable.”

Ajay stared at Pagan in disbelief, then his mom, then back to Pagan. He never knew anything about his father, certainly not anything about a step-father who was still alive and a fucking King. He tried asking his mom about his dad when he was young but she would never really talk about it. She’d always just say that his dad was dead and then change the topic. As he got older, he gave up asking. Now, he watched his mom cry into Pagan’s chest and it was obvious that the memories were too painful for her. He felt a tinge of guilt.

Pagan looked down at Ishwari whose sobs began to slow. He kissed the top of her head. Ishwari met his eyes and smiled softly.

“I did it for Ajay,” she said weakly, sniffling. “I didn’t want you to have to choose between me or your kingdom but I knew that I had to get Ajay out of here for us all.”

“Oh, Ishwari. You know that choice would have been obvious for me.”

“Yes, I know that. That’s why I couldn’t bear to make you do that. You’d worked so hard and accomplished so much at such a young age. I wasn’t going to make you give all of that up for me.”

There was a sudden shift in the mood. Pagan straightened, still holding onto Ishwari. “You wouldn’t have been making me.” His voice began to rise. “It would have been my choice, Ishwari. My own fucking choice!” Pagan shook his head, feeling the years of pent up resentment and bitterness well up inside him.

Ishwari blinked. She’d seen him that way many times before. The two always fought as hard as they loved. Although Ishwari, too, had the capability of having a temper at times, she normally controlled herself, especially when she knew Pagan was saying something that he needed to say.

Pagan looked away, biting his lip, feeling automatic regret. He squeezed Ishwari and rubbed her shoulder. Turning back to face her, he hung his head. “I- I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have raised my voice like that.”

“It’s okay, Pagan,” she sighed. “I completely understand. I was scared, confused. I still stand by my decision on leaving, but I should have told you. We could have worked something out. We weren’t just some… fling. We were a family.”

Pagan began to feel choked up. He often wondered about what could have been—what should have been. The would haves and should haves didn’t matter anymore, though, as for the first time in over 20 years, he was finally happy with the present.