Krishna and the Pandavas were perhaps the last persons he would have liked to run into right then. He had not seen Krishna since his mission to Hastinapura as the envoy of his cousins. And the last time he saw the five Pandavas together might have been on the day they left for exile. He noticed that the five were accompanied by their wife and their mother as well.
Seeing Kunti reminded him forcibly that these five were his brothers. Not that he ever forgot it. But he had managed to successfully push it to the back of his mind.
He nodded a bit curtly to Krishna and stepped aside so they could pass.
“You go ahead,” Krishna said to his cousins. “I will follow.”
“But-” The five brothers’ objection began almost simultaneously.
“You heard Krishna,” it was Kunti.
Her sons subsided and walked towards the river throwing fulminating glances at Vasusena. Kunti’s eyes held a plea, a yearning which he pretended not to see. Draupadi’s expression was unreadable as she followed her husbands without glancing at him.
“Aren’t you taking a risk?” He asked Krishna. “What if they ask you why you stayed behind to talk to me?”
“Didn’t Suyodhana ask you why I took you with me that day? What answer did you give him?”
Vasusena shrugged. “Suyodhana knows me. He did not ask. I hardly think your friends are going to be that forbearing.”
“When you say Suyodhana knows you-” began Krishna, but Vasusena lifted a hand to stop him.
“What is it that you wish to say to me, Krishna?”
“Do you remember the offer I made you to join our side?”
Vasusena nodded. “My answer is still the same.”
“And if I were to,” Krishna paused, and then continued, “tell you that the offer still stands?”
Vasusena shook his head with a smile. “There is nothing in all three worlds you can offer me that would make me change my mind.”
Krishna smiled softly. “You are just being stubborn.”
“I am being me.”
“That’s what I meant,” Krishna pursed his lips and looked into the distance. “When are you leaving in the morning?”
Vasusena was not surprised Krishna knew of his projected trip. “Early morning, before sunrise,”
“And when are you coming back?”
He shrugged. “Padmavathy wants to stay with her grandparents for a week. But I have to be back before that. I will be coming back after two days. Vrishasena will go and bring her back.”
Krishna nodded. “When is Suyodhana expecting you back?”
Vasusena looked at him in surprise. “After two days. I already told you.”
“You said you are coming back after two days. That is a different thing.”
“Word games.” Muttered Vasusena. “Shouldn’t you be going, Krishna?”
“You seem eager to get rid of me,”
“Aren’t we enemies?”
“I thought we were cousins,” Krishna’s smile was tinged with mischief.
“Suyodhana and Bheema are also cousins,” Vasusena reminded.
“Fair point.” Krishna agreed.
They looked into each other’s eyes. Vasusena felt a lump rise to his throat. There was no smile or mischief in Krishna’s eyes now, but something that was suspiciously like compassion. Vasusena swallowed.
“You should be going,” said Vasusena, his voice thick.
“Yes, I should.” Krishna’s voice too was husky.
They stood there for one more moment before Vasusena wrenched his eyes from the other man’s and walked away.