Someone Lost, Something Gained



With another apology to her neighbours, Veda shuts the front door and sighs, rests her forehead against the frame. Olivia showing up was unexpected, but the attack... That was completely out of left field. Never in a million years would Veda have expected her mother to get violent. Olivia has always been all talk, no action. Until today, evidently.

Four sets of eyes rest heavily against her back, so Veda steels her spine and turns to face Niall and his friends. No one speaks as she forces a smile, slipping past them to reach the kitchen. Niall takes the first-aid kit from her after she pulls it out from under the sink. The hardness in his eyes warns her not to argue, so she doesn’t. She sits at the table while he busies himself with grabbing the items he will need.

“Here you go.”

Veda stares blankly at the ice pack in Harry’s hand then takes it from him. In all the excitement, she’d almost forgotten her head slamming into the wooden frame. She presses the ice pack to the back of her skull, hissing at the spike of pain, and closes her eyes for a moment. The silence is deafening, echoing in every corner of the room, and Veda barely resists the urge to squirm when she realises the others are staring, watching.

Niall is frowning as he wipes blood from her skin, and the antiseptic stings at her flesh with each swipe of the gauze. It isn’t hard to see how violently his hand trembles as he disinfects each claw-mark that mars her cheeks and neck and arms. She catches his eye; her heart breaks at the panic that resides there in the blue.

“Told you not every family was the Cleavers.”

The joke falls flat, not remotely humorous in the aftermath, but his lips twitch anyway. The smile falls away as quickly as it’s appeared, and Niall sighs, tossing bloody gauze into the bin. The latex gloves follow after. Veda watches him cross the room to the sink. The water hitting the basin is the only sound for a long minute, then he turns to face her.

He moves more swiftly than she expects, and suddenly, she finds himself held in his arms. She stiffens, momentarily taken aback at the display of affection - it isn’t the first time he’s hugged her, but she wasn’t prepared. Physical contact is unfamiliar, something she has only ever initiated with Granddad and Hattie, and she still isn’t accustomed to another person in her life who wants to show they care for her. Warmth blooms in her chest as she melts against him, breathing in deeply.

“I’m so fucking sorry you had to deal with that,” he murmurs.

Veda pats his chest while she pulls away. “I’m used to it. Really, I am. I’m only sorry you lot had to witness it. Hi, Harry,” she says, voice surprisingly bright considering the circumstances of the morning, and he waves back awkwardly.

“Oh! Ve-Veda, this is Liam and Louis.”

Liam waggles his fingers in the air; his lips are twisted into a sympathetic smile, but Louis stares at her, blue eyes wide. Of course he’s surprised. Veda would be shocked if he wasn’t. Only Ellie has known the depths of Olivia’s cruelty, her selfishness and inability to be an actual mother. The kind that Veda needed, that she deserved. Veda knows what is coming before Louis even opens his mouth.

“That’s your mother?” he manages to squeak out.

Veda nods and shrugs. “Only in blood. I stopped claiming her a long time ago. So, uh, not that I’m not glad to see you, Niall, but why are you lot here?”

Niall scrubs a hand over the back of his neck as he exchanges a look with his friends. “We just wanted to know if you’d wanna hang out, go for a walk or hike or something, since I know you said this was your day off. But I completely understand if you’d rather be alone to recover from this morning.”

“Oh, no. I am so coming. Better walking in public looking like this,” she gestures toward her face, “than force myself to finish going through Granddad’s things.”

“How is that going?” he asks with a grimace - he must understand that this isn’t something anyone would want to do.

Veda pauses, hunching slightly in on herself. With a self-deprecating smile, she shrugs and scratches at an itchy spot on her cheek; her finger comes away tinted red. Niall rolls his eyes, wets a sheet of paper towel, and wipes gently at the blood.

“It’s not,” she finally admits as he moves to toss the towel into the bin. “It’s hard, y’know, to see everything of his life and not have him here.”

It’s less awkward this time when Niall hugs her. As if she has known his comfort her entire life, as If there is nothing that could possibly make his arms any less of a security blanket. As if his touch can fix everything, no matter how surely she knows it won’t. Veda closes her eyes, struggles against the urge to cry, as she leans into him. His heart beats steadily against his ribs, the rhythm soothing under her palm.

“If you want any help, let me know, okay?”

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So are we goin’?”

Harry’s voice is unexpected, really, and Veda nearly jumps out of her skin. She smiles apologetically at his friends even as she steps back from Niall, out of the strength he provides. Exchanging a quick look with Niall, she clears her throat softly, gestures toward the door. The guys wait in the entryway while she runs upstairs to change. Again. She makes quick work of tugging off her T-shirt, grabbing a fresh one from the pile of laundry she’s yet to put away. Yet another task she’s neglected over the last few weeks.

“No offence,” Veda starts, and the guys pause in piling into the car, “but I’m smaller than all of you, even Louis, so it would stand to reason that I should sit in the back, right?”

Liam laughs and pats her shoulder. “No one is going to change our mind, so maybe you should just accept it?”

She considers arguing but doesn’t. It isn’t worth irritating them. So Veda pouts and does as directed. Harry promises that she can pick the station, but she keeps her hands in her lap. So the radio continues playing Never Going Back Again, and Veda continues staring straight ahead through the windscreen as Harry navigates through the streets. The others talk around her, and she listens to the chitchat with one ear.

Now that the adrenalin is gone, Veda registers the stinging in her skin from all the scratch marks, her head pounding with her pulse. The fact that Olivia could so willingly do what she did in front of everyone on the block… Veda knows that her neighbours will have questions, ones that she isn’t sure she can answer. Her family isn’t unknown to the neighbours; most of them have lived in their homes since before Veda was born, so they have spent at least five minutes with any of the Mitchells at any point. So they’re aware of how awful Veda’s relatives are.

But still, having to explain the debacle isn’t something she’s looking forward to.

“Where are we?”

She’d asked quietly, but her voice interrupts the conversations going on around her. Harry glances over his shoulder, biting down on his lower lip to hide the smile, and Niall pats her shoulder gently before pushing open his door. Veda watches through the window as he hurries to the front door of the house they’ve parked in front of.

He emerges not even two full minutes later. She squeaks at the sight of David Barkie trotting happily next to his human. A giddy laugh bubbles up when Niall pulls open her car door and plops the dog unceremoniously into her lap.

“Oh, my gosh, hi there!” Veda ducks down to kiss the pup on the top of his head. “Hello, cutie pie. You want scratches behind your ear? Okay, I can do that.”

“I get the feeling you’re only friends with me for the dog,” Niall laughs.

“I will never admit to such a thing. It’s true, but I won’t admit it.”

By the time Harry comes to a stop again, he has driven for over an hour, and David Barkie has settled down and fallen asleep curled up on Veda’s lap. She gazes around at the fields that surround the car, the tall grass that seats gently in the breeze, green everywhere she looks. Louis opens his door first, and Liam and Harry follow suit. She bites down on her lower lip and stares at the puggle snoozing happily on her thighs.

Niall opens her door and reaches for the end of the leash by her feet, giving the fabric rope a slight wiggle. David Barkie immediately wakes, stretching with a loud yawn before perking up. Veda swallows a laugh when the dog tries to leap out of the car, only to trip over his own paws and tumble to the ground. Niall rolls his eyes.

“You are the worst, DB,” he mutters, and Veda gasps dramatically.

“How dare you? He’s a darling and doesn’t deserve such slander!” She pulls the sleeves of her hoodie down over her hands, turning to step out of the vehicle. “So what is this place?”

Louis helps her out of the car, keeps her steady when she wobbles on a clump of dirt just outside. She thanks him quietly then steps out of the way so he can push the door shut behind her. After double-checking that her phone is in her pocket, Veda heads away from the car, trailing after Niall and the others. Louis sticks close to her side and explains that the group found the fields after Niall passed his exams with flying colours.

“We wanted a way to celebrate and say goodbye to our friend at the same time.”

“And the farmer doesn’t mind us just traipsing through his property?”

Harry shakes his head as Veda and Louis catch up to the rest of them. “Nah, ‘s’long as we don’t make a huge mess. And we have to bring him some whisky every so often as ‘payment’.”

Veda nods to herself and brushes a lock of hair from her face. The grass yields all around them, bends out of the way as their bodies push through. Thankfully, it only takes a couple of minutes to reach the trail that Louis promised is there. The path winds through the grass, a ribbon of matted-down grass and dirt, and Veda breathes in the scent of nature. This wasn’t what she expected for today, but she’s thankful for it anyway.

She had anticipated the smells that came from the city - cooking from homes along the street, car exhaust and secondhand smoke - and suffocated by so many other bodies. This is much better. The fresh air eases the tension in her body, and Veda closes her eyes and inhales deeply. The excitement of the morning seems so far away now. With the warmth and the sunshine, new friends and a sky just barely bluer than Niall’s eyes, Veda can’t understand why she’s never come this far from the city.