Someone Lost, Something Gained



A heavy weight presses down on her hip, moving slightly with each breath that David Barkie draws in. A solid line of warmth in front of her, Niall sleeps on. He has a tight hold of her wrist, keeping her arm draped over his side, and Veda doesn’t want to move.

She wants to stay right here, in this moment, forever. How could she not, when she slept so soundly for the first time in almost a year? Even before the diagnosis, before Granddad died, before she lost her whole world, she was constantly waking through the night to check on him. To make sure he was still breathing.

That he hadn’t passed, all alone.

After… She couldn’t sleep peacefully through the anguish. The heartbreak kept her awake. No matter how exhausted she was, Veda couldn’t get any relief. She was too haunted.

But with Niall by her side, she’d fallen asleep and - more importantly - stayed asleep.

Veda blinks in the hazy morning sunlight coming through the curtains and shifts just enough to disrupt the pup sleeping on her side. David Barkie grumbles, yawning and stretching, then hops off the couch. After scratching at his ear with a hind leg, he looks between Veda and the front door.

“What’s up, cutie? Oh, gotta take your morning piss, don’t’cha? Sh, no. No barking. We’re gonna let your daddy sleep in a little bit.”

Veda manages to slip out from between Niall and the back of the couch without waking Niall. Her fingers tingle as they drag along his chest, but then she’s on her feet. DB follows her to the front door where his harness and leash hang on the key-rack. Something flutters in her chest at the sight. It shouldn’t look so much like home, but it does.

She shakes off the thoughts and gets David Barkie secured - with a lot of struggle and copious amounts of swearing under her breath. He waits patiently, though, standing still while she fumbles with the buckles. Veda presses a kiss to the end of his nose then stands.

Nonna Costa is just coming outside herself when Veda steps out onto the stoop. Thankfully, the community grandmother doesn’t question why Veda is walking a dog that isn’t hers at seven in the morning - or why said dog is still there at this hour. Veda knows that Sofia Costa isn’t an idiot, which means she is well aware of the fact that Veda had a gentleman friend who stayed the night.

“Good morning, Miss Veda.”

Buongiorno, Nonna.” Veda pauses to let David Barkie pee on the side of a fire hydrant. “Aida stay home last night?”

Nonna Costa laughs, shaking her head. “Yes, she was a good girl.”

“I’m glad. Oh! Tell her I have some clothes that I’ll never wear, if she wants to come over later and look through them.”

“That is kind of you, darling. I’ll be sure to pass on the message.”

DB finishes doing his business and yips as if to alert Veda, like the proof isn’t in the grass six inches from her bare feet. Her face screws up in disgust, even as she pulls a baggie from the canister hanging on the leash, and she ducks down to scoop up the pile.

The pup immediately curls up by his human’s feet once the harness is unbuckled. Veda takes a moment to stare shamelessly at Niall, to take in the relaxed smoothness of his face as he sleeps on. The rise and fall of his chest is almost hypnotic, but she manages to drag her gaze away.

Once she’s washed her hands - twice - Veda starts the coffee machine and grabs two mugs from the cupboard. The floor creaks under her feet as she hurries up to the second-floor bathroom. Her purple toothbrush sits by itself in the cup, left alone by lack of regular visitors.

Maybe Niall will become one, a traitorous part of her brain hopes, but she swallows it down. He’s already done enough for her. He’s held her while she cried, comforted her through the never-ending darkness. He helped her sleep through the night for the first time in a long while. She can’t ask him to continue wasting away his precious free time on her.

But she can’t deny that the sunlight doesn’t seem so frightening, not even with the pain dredged up by the home videos yesterday. A light shines behind her eyes now. Something stirs to life beneath her ribs.




And it’s all because of him.

Promise me that you’ll finally be selfish and let yourself be treasured, that you’ll cherish yourself, the way that you deserve.

“I promise, Granddad,” she whispers to her reflection, closing her eyes at the ghost of his kiss on her hair.

Her phone screen is lit up with a new message by the time Veda reaches the living room. She scoops it up before the vibrating can wake Niall, unlocking it on her trek to the kitchen.

From: Clarissa
> Hey, hun, I know things are probably still really hard for you, but would you mind coming in at noon for a half-shift?

Veda chews on her lower lip, deliberating. Picking up a few extra hours, even if it’s only five, can’t do any harm to her financial situation. But does she really want to cut away from the time she has with Niall? Sighing, she realises she can’t let herself be selfish about this. His time isn’t hers to steal. So she sends back up a thumbs-up emoji and pulls the mugs closer to the machine.

From: Clarissa
> Gonna need actual words for confirmation. At least PRETEND to be professional.

To: Clarissa
< I’ll be there, Boss Lady.

Shuffling footsteps come from behind her, and Veda turns in time to see Niall stumbling into the room. His hair is sticking up on the left side of his head, and his cheek bears the imprint of the cushion fabric. He yawns widely then stares at her with bleary eyes.

“Time s’it?” he mumbles, ambling closer.

“Almost eight. I made coffee.”

“You’re an angel, I swear.”

Veda shakes her head, smiling as she passes one of the mugs to Niall. “I try.”

“Fuck,” he groans when David Barkie’s collar jingles from the other room. “I gotta -”

“Drink your coffee, that’s all you gotta do. You look like you’re about to fall down.”

“But DB -”

“Has already emptied his bladder and bowels, approximately half an hour ago. He was a very good boy.”

“I stand corrected. You’re a fuckin’ miracle.”

“Shut up and drink your damn coffee.”

Niall chuckles and reaches for the sugar. Veda steps to the side, leans against the counter out of the way and watches him fix his coffee the way he likes it. Without permission, her gaze skims over his body; the dimness of the room accentuates the planes of his face. His eyes seem to glow that much brighter in the small amount of sunlight that’s followed them from the living room.

When her attention drifts from the expanse of his shoulders, down his back, to land on his ass, Veda forces her gaze away and swallows a mouthful of coffee.

“So, uh, you work today?”

He wipes the sleep from his eyes and nods. “I have overnights for the next four shifts.”

“Ouch. That sucks.” Veda hesitates, shifting from one foot to the other and back again. Before she can lose her courage, she says, “You’re more than welcome to come over here to sleep if your friends are being too loud.”

Niall laughs softly. “Honestly, by the time I get home, I can sleep through a nuclear bomb.”

“Oh. Right.”

“But I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks, Ve-Veda.”

Is it her imagination running wild with newfound hope, or is his voice genuinely that much softer? The red tint to his cheeks must be her eyes playing tricks on her.

Veda turns away as her face grows hot; he isn’t even looking at her, hasn’t since she made the offer, but she is still so terrified. She can’t allow him to see how much he affects her.

She hurries through drinking her coffee and rinses her mug out, putting it upside-down in the bottom of the sink. Get a hold of yourself, you idiot. Right. Easier said than done, really.

Veda nearly shrieks when she turns around only to run face-first into Niall’s chest. He huffs out a laugh and leans around her to set his mug in the sink with hers. His body is still sleep-warm, yesterday’s cologne clinging to the fabric of his shirt.

Ignoring the voice in her head, she decides to take the risk - she snakes her arms around his waist, pulling him closer, and he hugs her back just as tightly. She could cry with how secure, how safe, he makes her feel with nothing more than an embrace.

“There’s an extra toothbrush in the cupboard upstairs if you wanna hang out ‘til I have to leave.”

Niall pulls away, smiles down at her. “I think I will.”