Someone Lost, Something Gained



Niall stays on one side, Louis on the other, as the trio follows the other two of the group. No one speaks, so Veda stays quiet, too. The only one she knows is Niall, and even then, she doesn’t know him very well. She doesn’t want to make a fool of herself around these people. Especially not after they witnessed what they did this morning.


Veda stares, gobsmacked, at the leash that Niall holds out. “You trust me with his safety?”

“Why not?” He shrugs and loops the leash around her wrist, folds her fingers over the rope. “You obviously can take care of yourself, so why shouldn’t I assume you can take care of a dog?”


“C’mon, Ve-Veda, it’s just DB, not an infant with colic.”

She accepts the newfound responsibility without another word, but not before her brain conjures up an image of Niall’s hands cradling a tiny baby to his chest. Her heart clenches at the mental picture, and her fingers instinctively tighten on the leash. We’re not going there, she scolds herself even as Niall moves ahead to chat with Liam about something.

Before the silence can grow awkward, she clears her throat. She wants to know more about these people, especially since Niall has chosen them to become friends with. He seems to be an amazing guy, so she can only hope they’re the same way.

“So obviously Niall is Irish, and the rest of you are clearly from different parts of the UK. How did you meet then?”

Harry glances back over his shoulder, bandana barely keeping his curls out of his face, and his brows furrow as he thinks. “I honestly don’t remember meeting these tossers, but I evidently did. And don’t tell anyone, but I’m kind of glad for it.”

“You were working in that bakery, so you were about sixteen,” Liam says, and Veda smiles at how obvious it is that he’s the one the others look to when it comes to guidance - and maybe even getting them in line. “You and I met through the football club, along with Lou back there.”

“Was it really through footie?”

“Yes. Remember? You’d bring pastries to every meeting. And you nearly broke your face that summer because you tripped over the ball.”

“I… do not remember,” Harry admits, scratching at his eyebrow.

Liam rolls his eyes and starts walking backwards so he can address Veda directly. He explains that he’d met their friend Zayn at a record shop when they were teenagers visiting London with their families. The following summer, Liam continues, he’d gone on a backpacking trip with his father through Ireland where he’d run into Niall - quite literally. The two kept in touch once Liam went back home.

“Then he came to visit before sixth form, and that was it. We rang Zayn, Lou, and Harry, told them to get their arses to mine. We all got on rather well, and now, well, you see how we are.”

“Liam and Zayn were the first to move over here,” Niall takes over, “because Zayn managed to get some of his art into a gallery in the city. I came next for my residency. Harry rang us up one day, said ‘Clear a room for me’, and that was that.”

Veda laughs aloud at Harry’s pleased smirk. The tightness in her chest, the ball of anxiety that’s repeatedly questioned if this was the right choice, has finally begun to loosen. Tension bleeds from her as she continues following her new friends. Her fingers brush along the tops of the long stems of grass, the scratching of the tips pleasant and grounding her here in this moment. Granddad’s voice murmurs quietly in the back of her mind, and she knows without a doubt that he’d approve of these young men.

Turning her head to the left, Veda nudges Louis with her elbow. “ What about you?”

“Hm? Oh, I was last to come over. I had things to take care of in Doncaster before I could think of leaving.” He shrugs awkwardly. “It wasn’t easy to make the decision. Imagine my relief that I got here and found this lot hadn’t changed their minds about me living with them.”

Veda lets his words register, sink into her mind. She understands well the trepidation that comes with large life changes - hell, she’s still dealing with the biggest change of her entire existence. She can’t imagine how difficult it was for him, though, to uproot and move sands of miles from his home, his family. The Mitchells aren’t close, not by a long shot, but even Veda can understand how it’s supposed to be, where relatives gave a damn and someone wasn’t ashamed of their bloodline.

She bites back the surge of jealousy - it’s not their faults that her life is the way it is. Instead, she asks where Zayn is, since they’re obviously close to him. It’s Harry who explains that Zayn is why Niall was even in Malibu in the first place, on that fateful flight when Veda met him - Niall was the only one with vacation saved up. Louis steadies her when she steps awkwardly, her foot nearly going out from underneath her.

“Careful, love. We may have a nurse in our presence, but his going rates are exorbitant.”

“Shut up, Tommo,” groans Niall, and Veda giggles, sticking her tongue out when he narrows his eyes at her.

“How hard was it, learning to live with each other?”

Liam snorts, shaking his head, and regales her with stories from their first few months living together. Evidently, Niall is a clean-freak and Louis is the complete opposite. She frowns as she listens to Liam basically admitting that they very nearly separated after ten weeks of being roommates; their personalities were too different - and so were their schedules. It didn’t help that Niall was always studying, which meant the others had to walk on eggshells around him.

“He’d doubled up on his course loads and had many a nervous breakdown from it. We all kind of expected him to just, not so much give up but step back for a bit. But he didn’t. He made it through.” Liam loops an arm around Niall’s shoulders, yanking Niall into his side. “And now he’s the one we go to for any medical questions.”

Niall shoves away from Liam, though he’s laughing. “And I’ve told you, I only work with children. You may act like children, but you aren’t actually children.”

“And now, he’s going back for his Master’s in nursing.” Harry grinned at Veda, winks. “We couldn’t be more proud of our ickle Nialler.”

Before she can say a word, Harry bolts down the path, and Niall follows, shouting at Harry without remorse - or any real anger. Liam slows until he’s side-by-side with Veda. She huffs out a laugh then stops when David Barkie does, waits for him to do his business in the grass. She stares after Niall and Harry, both of whom have become little more than silhouettes in the distance, black forms among the green sea of swaying grass.

Granddad would have loved you guys. Veda inhales unsteadily at the thought, and she can’t help but smile. She may not know these young men well, but they’ve yet to give off a discomforting vibe or to make her question her sanity for being around them. It’s hard, really, to doubt any of them considering how wonderful Niall has been since they met. He wouldn’t be friends with awful guys for so long… right?

Niall approaches again, apparently finished chasing after his friend; his cheeks are flushed, stained red from exertion and the slight chill in the air. His eyes sparkle in the sunshine, and as he meets Veda’s eye, there’s something in his face - a softness she can’t quite figure out. She wants to ask, the words are on the tip of her tongue, but she doesn’t.

Instead, she clears her throat quietly and asks about what they do for a career. It doesn’t surprise her a bit when Louis, pink-cheeked and scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck, tells her he’s a model for a clothing line. With his sharp jaw and cheekbones, bright blue eyes, and slender body, Veda honestly would have been shocked if he’d said something more mundane. Harry shrugs and says he’s a radio deejay, and she stares at him for a long minute, blinking slowly.

“Makes sense. You’ve certainly got the voice for it.”

“I... thanks?”

She giggles when his face flushes, and he ducks his head - not before she sees the tiny, pleased smile that plays on his lips. David Barkie tugs on the leash as a bird swoops down low, but Veda holds tightly to her end, keeping the puggle from running off. Once he’s under control again, she turns her attention to Liam. Scrutinising him closely, she guesses he has a physically-demanding job - construction, maybe?

Or -

“Firefighter” works just as well. She grimaces at the toll that job must have on him, both body and mind. She can’t imagine having that career or even being a full-fledged nurse. She tells them so, that she’s happy enough in her position as a registrar.

“It’s hard enough going in for insurance information. I don’t think I’d handle being the one in charge of their care.”

Liam and Niall both nod as if they understand, and Veda doesn’t doubt that they do. They probably understand better than anybody else in her life, except Patrice or Granddad. Soft fingers, warm and gentle, brush against hers as Niall takes the leash from her, and David Barkie seems to realise that control has been shifted. Instead of remaining trotting happily but obediently, he lunges forward, tugging at the end of the lead. Veda giggles at the abrupt change in his behaviour.

By the time Harry pulls up outside of her house two hours later, Veda doesn’t feel so alone. These men have accepted her into their group, they’ve granted her entry into their lives. They welcomed her with no hesitation, which is astounding. Unfamiliar. Veda certainly wouldn’t have done the same in their place.

She learnt a long time ago that people will only let you down, so she has kept herself guarded, closed off from others. The only reason she trusts her neighbours is because they’ve proved, time and time again, that they will take care of her. Niall, Liam, Louis, Harry... they have no obligation to do the same. They didn’t have to be as open with her as they have been.

Veda hugs Harry as much as she’s able to over the middle console, waves at the others, and steps out of the car. Niall follows suit, pup held securely in his arms. A shiver runs down her spine at a quiet, juddering squeaking noise. As they stand there, staring awkwardly at each other, Veda feels the heavy weight of someone’s attention on her shoulders. Looking around proves that they aren’t alone.

Nonna Costa sits on her stoop, embroidery hoop laid across her lap, but her attention is firmly on the pair. The Marion kids are hanging out of an upstairs window, watching Veda and Niall closely. Miss Sylvia and Catalina Riviera have come to a stop a couple houses down, and they speak quietly to each other though they don’t look at each other. The rest of the block is much more surreptitious in their eavesdropping, but Veda knows they’re there.

Niall fidgets, shifting his weight between his feet, and his hand comes up to rub against the back of his neck. “I don’t really feel comfortable with you being alone,” he finally blurts out, and Veda stifles a giggle.

“Well, in that case, I suppose you could stay for a cup of coffee or two.”

Niall turns toward the car, but Louis is shouting “Go, go!” and slapping at the back of the driver’s seat. Harry pulls away quickly before Niall can say a word. Veda stares after the car, stunned speechless, then breaks down into laughter. Niall gapes like a fish, turns to her. All she can do is shrug in response. They’re his friends, she has no answers for their behaviour. Without saying anything else, she leads him and David Barkie up the steps to the door.