Someone Lost, Something Gained

★diciannove★

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Time disappears, hours lost with each tape watched and set aside. Niall laughs, such a sweet sound that fills the room and her heart, at various events in the videos. Veda shushes him each time, but she doesn’t mean it. She wants to keep hearing his laughter, wants to feel like everything is okay again. Wants to memorise the sound and file it away, pull it out on particularly dark days and use it as a beacon to bring her back to light.

“Okay, so put your foot down on the accelerator - gently!”

But the damage was done: The truck lurched forward, causing both Veda and the camera to jolt. She flashed Granddad a sheepish smile then tried again. This time, she managed to get an entire mile down the backroad before things went awry.

“Oh my god, Granddad, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see the mailbox until it was too late, oh god, are you okay, is the truck okay?”

He was laughing, the camera shaking as he struggled to speak through his chortles, and Veda’s face flushed red even while she pushed open the door and slid out of the cab. Granddad followed and made sure to get a wide-angle view of the dent in the bumper, the crooked post, and the old maple tree that was no missing some bark.

“Percy girl, it’s okay. This ol’ truck has seen worse. At least it was a tree, not a person. Now let’s go talk to Jenkins. Don’t worry, sweetheart, it’s an honest mistake. Nobody is gonna be mad at you. Just gotta apologise, that’s all.”

The screen goes black, grey-white static before nothing, and Veda swallows the tears. Granddad had loved teaching her to drive, and she’d loved learning from him. The thought of anyone else instructing her had never crossed her mind; he never made her feel insignificant or stupid, so why wouldn’t she trust him with something like that? She wipes at her cheeks, smiling tremulously, as Niall climbs to his feet to grab the next tape.

“Last one,” he announces, holding it up to read the date on the label. He frowns. “This was just a few weeks ago.”

Once the cassette is in the player, he moves across the dark room to sit next to her, pull her into his side where she’s been for the last few hours. Veda inhales as steadily as possible, lets David Barkie curl up on her lap again, then focuses on the television. Her breath catches as Granddad’s face comes on the screen.

He’s as thin as ever, faced lined as it was the day he died. Veda can’t breathe as he shifts against the pillows. Her head drops to rest on Niall’s shoulder, and she reaches for his hand. Granddad begins to speak.

“Veda... my beautiful Percy girl. I don’t have much time left. We both know that. And I know you’re trying so hard to stay strong through this, but sweetheart, you need to let yourself feel. You’ll be torn apart if you don’t.

“I don’t want that for you. I don’t want you to cut your heart from your chest and run from any emotions, no matter how overwhelming and dark they get. I don’t want you to be alone. You’ve been my sweet Percy girl for twenty-five years, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.

“I know I tell you all the time that you make me proud. Your wit, your loyalty to others and yourself, how kind and generous you are. You’re so incredibly brilliant. But Percy, ‘proud’ doesn’t even cover it.” Granddad’s eyes shimmer on the screen, his nose red, and he blinks rapidly. His voice is thick when he says, “You’re the daughter I wish I’d had.”

Niall’s arm tightens around Veda, but she’s frozen, mouth agape. She never knew…

“It may sound awful, but fuck it. Fuck all of them. Just like you say. They’re not here, so why should I care?”

“Oh, Granddad,” she whispers as he dissolves into a coughing fit on-screen, reaching for a handkerchief and dabbing at his nose.

“It’s a good question, Percy. Why should I care. I guess I care for the same reason you do: We hope. We had hopes for things changing, for every one of ‘em to have that sudden epiphany that would make them fix themselves. Guess it won’t happen in my lifetime, but that’s okay. I have you. I’ve had you through all of this.

“It wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have relied on you for so much. You’re so young, you have your entire life ahead of you. You had friends that you shoulda been out raising Hell with. Instead, you were easing the troubles of an old man. You did everything I asked of you, everything the doctors said, without even stopping to think of yourself.

“I can see how tired you are, sweetie. I know you’ll deny it, you always did. You’ll tell me I’m being absurd. My body may be failing, but my mind’s still sharp as a spoon.”

Veda chokes on a watery laugh at the inside joke, the sound growing delirious when Granddad holds up a teaspoon on the screen. She wonders if he had Patrice bring it to him just for this. Niall stares at her, head cocked, so she promises to explain later as Granddad sighs heavily.

“I’m thankful for you, Perce. I’m so proud of how you’ve turned out to be. I’m sorry that this is how it’s gotta be, that this is the end, but don’t worry. I’ll always be there. Just like you’ve always been here for me. Promise me that you’ll stop fearing you’re gonna be Olivia or Debbie, okay? Promise me that when you find someone like I loved my Maudie, you’ll hold on tight and never let go.

“Promise me that you’ll finally be selfish and let yourself be treasured, that you’ll cherish yourself, the way you deserve. Now Hattie is gonna need you, Percy, with Deb the way she is and I can’t be there to steer that girl away from her mother’s influence. Help Hattie grow up to be as amazing as you are.

“I love you, Veda Persephone. You ever forget that, and I’ll come back from the grave to kick your ass into remembering. Stay sharp as a spoon, sweetheart.”

The video ends, stills with Granddad’s soft smile and kind eyes and everything he no longer is. Veda closes her eyes against the burning, but she can’t stop the tears. She can’t quiet the sobbing that rips from her. David Barkie whines as she loses her breath. Niall holds her tightly, his lips to her hair as he whispers nonsense. Soft nothings that amount to little more than promises that he is right here and isn’t going anywhere, but they mean the world.

They mean everything right now.

The planet could be imploding, everything could be going to Hell in a handbasket. Veda would never know. She’s too far wrapped up in the suffocating grief that has reared its ugly head. The only thing that keeps her from losing herself in that darkness is the warmth and strength in Niall’s arms, the way his heart beats steadily beneath her palm. The quiet support he offers with no demands in return.

How long she cries, she isn’t sure. But eventually, she calms down. The sobs taper off, and she is left sniffling and wiping tears and snot from her face. Niall pushes her hair from her cheeks, brushes a thumb under her eye to wipe away the dampness.

“I hate to do this, but I need to take David Barkie to do his business. I’ll be right back, okay?”

Veda nods shakily, pulling away from Niall, and watches as he readies the pup to go outside. The door closes quietly behind them, leaving the echoing silence and Granddad’s words replaying in her head. An aching has taken up residence in her chest, and though her heart still beats, she wants nothing more than for it to not. Anything to get rid of this pain.

She falls to the side, tucks a throw pillow under her head, and waits for Niall to come back. Voices come from out front, but she doesn’t pay attention to it. It’s probably just Mister Nadir questioning Niall’s presence this late at night. She’s just closed her eyes and let out a slow breath when the door creaks on its hinges.

Niall scratches at the back of his neck even as he approaches the sofa. “Sorry, that took longer than I expected.”

“It’s okay.”

“Do you want me to -”

“Stay.” Veda swallows thickly. “Please stay.”

That’s all it takes: Niall lies down beside her, though the couch isn’t quite big enough for the both of them, and she presses close to his side. David Barkie curls up on her ankles, licking gently at her skin, then his breath ghosts along her shins. She lays her palm flat on Niall’s chest and bites her lower lip.

“Thank you for not saying ‘it’s okay’,” she murmurs. “I really fucking hate that trite phrase.”

“You’re welcome. Will-will you tell me more about him?”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

Niall chuckles softly, and Veda settles into the cushions, the warmth against her. Him being here has been a wonderful counterpoint to the pain she’s hidden away since Granddad died. It’s given her something to anchor to, to cling to as the storm blew through her. Tension bleeds from her body the longer she lies there, listening to Niall’s even breathing, feeling his heartbeat beneath her hand.

She falls asleep to his fingers brushing gently along her arm, his unintelligible whispers a lullaby she didn’t know she needed.