Someone Lost, Something Gained



The doubts linger in Veda’s mind through her shower. She knows Ellie - probably - didn’t mean to make her question her new friendship, especially only a month and a half after it began. Veda also knows Ellie’s concerns are valid.

Veda has been spent her entire life shying away from connection. It took a year of Nonna Costa’s persistence before Veda accepted the woman’s affection. It’s difficult to open herself up to the risk of being let down by people she is meant to trust. A lifetime of instability has rendered Veda unable to fathom reliability from… anyone, really.

And now that she’s lost the one person who has been there since the day she was born, through all the horrible things she’s done?

She supposes it makes sense that a part of her subconscious would seek out that sort of familiarity, even in the form of a complete stranger. Doesn’t mean Veda has to like it being pointed out, though.

So over the next week, Veda does what she’s always done, what she does best: She avoids thinking, she compartmentalises, and she lets herself sink fully into working. She picks up shifts anytime Clarissa sends out an SOS, no hesitation at all. Veda even does back-to-backs, her least favourite part of the job, in order to not be left alone with just her thoughts. It’s tiring and effective.

By the time she gets home at the end of every shift, her pay-check has grown larger, and she is far too exhausted to dwell on Ellie’s warning.

The only downside to this plan is the lack of communication with Niall, which means a noticeable lack of new pictures of David Barkie. Sure, Niall has sent a couple of his own volition, unprompted by her request, but it isn’t nearly as often as before.

Veda wants to complain, but she can’t. This is a consequence of her own decisions, after all.

“Hey, Ve-Veda.”

She’s tired. Too tired. That has to be the reason she’s hearing Niall’s voice so clearly right now. Why else would she hear him saying her name at her stop? To be sure, she looks to her left and nearly trips over a step.

Stood at the top of the stairs is Niall, smiling as if it hasn’t been nearly two weeks since they last saw each other. Heart lodged in her throat, Veda ducks between the other pedestrians emerging from the platform.

How could she have forgotten how brightly Niall’s eyes shine in the afternoon sun? How brilliant his smile is as it spreads across his face? Photographs saved to her phone do no justice to his beauty.

“Hey. Uh, what - I’m not not happy to see you, but why are you here?”

He shrugs and falls into step beside her, clicking his tongue to get DB’s attention. “Someone woke me up, so we decided to come by yours to see if you wanted to go for a walk.”

“Just now?”

“A couple of hours ago. The woman across the street said you’d gone in around six-thirty, so I figured you’d be coming home by now. So… here we are.” He pauses, glancing at her quickly. “We can go home if you’d rather be alone. Guess I should’ve asked first.”

“It’s okay. Feel free to come by whenever. I don’t mind. Besides, how could I be upset when you brought along cute Davie boy?” She crouches down to greet the pup, laughing when he jumps up to lick her face. “Hey, claws to yourself and not on my mouth, you butthead.”

“Again with our friendship being about my dog,” Niall laughs; his words, light and playful though they are, bring a frown to Veda’s lips, and she wipes away the blood from where DB’s claw had cut her lip.

“Are we? Friends, I mean. It’s been a while since we actually talked, and I don’t even know your last name.”

“Fair enough. Niall James Horan, nice to meet ya, Veda Persephone Mitchell.” His quick smile sends her heart racing, and she ducks her head to hide her burning cheeks. “And we don’t have to talk every single day, Veda. We’re adults. We could send one text a week, and I’d still consider you a friend.”

“Well, that’s a dumb choice on your part. I’m a freakin’ mess.”

“Not as disastrous as you think,” he says softly, though it sounds more like a promise of - something.

She bites back a grin and nudges him with her shoulder. Ellie’s words ring through her mind, but Veda swiftly brushes them off. She’s tired of doubting her own judgement. Doing so only goes against her promise to Granddad.

A freezing chill, sharply contrasting to the sweltering humidity of the day, snakes down her spine. Veda shivers, adjusts her bag on her shoulder. Something isn’t right. Something has gone horribly wrong, something unrelated to the warmth that comes with being so close to Niall with his pup leading the way.

“What’s wrong?”

She shakes her head, frowning. “I-I don’t know. Something is, I just don’t know what.”

“What the fuck?”

Veda looks up from watching David Barkie bouncing around, and she gets the answer for the apprehension.

Five black-and-whites idle in the middle of the street, lights flashing - bright beacons warning of danger. Veda exchanges a puzzled look with Niall before rounding the corner fully. As one, Catalina and Miss Sylvia turn towards her; their faces are twisted up in sympathy, a pity that wasn’t there even after Granddad died. Veda looks toward the cop cars again.

Strong fingers pull the bag off her shoulder, and Niall murmurs in her ear, “Go.”

She does. DB yips and whines, but Veda ignores him, ignores the fatigue in her bones, just sprints down the block. Past Mister Thompson, the Marions on their steps. Past Tommy and Becky and the Porter kids. She stumbles to a stop at the bottom of the Nadir’s stoop, struggling to catch her breath as she stares at the scene in front of her.

“Go on, Miss Veda, they want to speak to you.”

Veda nods, leans into Mrs Nadir’s soft touch on her shoulder, then takes shaky steps toward her home. Scraps of paper flutter in the weak breeze, freed from the decoy safety box she purchased after Granddad’s death, and she blinks owlishly at one that comes to a rest on the toe of her shoulder.

Black ink forming letters, thick and blocky and teeming with vindictive rage: You have NOTHING here and you never will.

“Where’s my dad’s stuff, you bitch?”

Veda tears her gaze from the note, cold settling in her chest as she meets Phil’s eye. Her vision pulses with her heartbeat. Her anger. A wave crashes over her, and a voice screams for her to hurt him, to cause him as much pain physically as he inflicted on Granddad emotionally.

“Oh, honey.”

And leave it up to Olivia to turn on the waterworks on cue. The world has always been her best stage. So effortlessly pretending she’s nothing if not the best mother the universe has ever seen.

“Please, darling,” Olivia simpers, a plastic smile marring her face, “tell these lovely gentlemen that I’m allowed to be here and your neighbours are just being silly.”

Veda glances at the jagged edges of what used to be the living room window then turns toward the woman who birthed her. The woman who has made her life a living hell at every turn. The woman who’s counting on a loyalty to blood that Veda no longer ascribes to.

Cocking her head, Veda puts on the most innocently confused expression she can muster. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

The immense pleasure she derives from watching Olivia’s face turn a deep puce is strong enough to drown out the pain that blossoms in her cheek. One cop shouts while another drags Olivia away from her daughter. Veda touches the handprint on the side of her face even as her eyes start watering.

The taste of copper fills her mouth, and she swipes her hand across her lips. Olivia struggles against the officer’s grip, snarling something about teaching Veda a lesson on how to be a better daughter.

Vicious growling comes from behind Veda. She doesn’t need to turn to see that Niall has caught up or that he’s fighting to keep a hold of David Barkie. She spits bloody saliva into the grass at her feet and pointedly hands Niall the key from her pocket.

“Take him in. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“You sure?”


Thankfully, he doesn’t argue further. Veda waits until he’s closed the front door behind him before drawing in a steadying breath. Phil continues shouting from where he’s sat on the pavement, hands cuffed behind his back, but no one pays him any mind. Olivia has, wisely, shut up since Veda gave Niall the key.

Officer Tony Daniels sighs as he approaches her. “Sorry you had to come home to this, Veda.”

“’S’not your fault. So what happened?”

‘Got a call ‘round twenty minutes ago about two suspicious individuals trying to pry open the front door. Then the man - Phil, right?”

“Yep. Connor wouldn’t be dumb enough to pull this kind of stunt. He’d drag me through court if he actually gave a damn.”

“Well, anyway, Phil broke the window while Olivia kept lookout. Evidently, he decided to be greedy by himself before he unlocked the door for her.”

“Of course he did. He’s got dealers to pay.” Veda glances over at Olivia. For once, the coldness in her mother’s eyes has no effect. Veda is no longer afraid. “What do I need to do to press charges and file for restraining orders?”

Tony is far too gleeful, practically oozing ecstasy, as he gives Veda the information. He’s been around the Mitchells long enough to know each of them well. Veda is just thankful he seems to hate them as much as she does.

Once upon a time, she’d had a crush on the man. He’s only five years older than she is, and at sixteen, that age difference had seemed so sophisticated and worldly to her. But then she’d found out his father was Granddad’s friend on the force, and the attraction vanished in an instant.

Even at that age, she knew she was too wild for someone like Tony. If news of her behaviour got back to Granddad, it would have killed her. It’s bad enough that he had to bail her out for underage drinking and trespassing. He didn’t need to know everything else.

“Can I go inside now? I need to see the damage.”

“Absolutely. If you find anything missing, gimme a call so I can add it to the report.”

“Thanks, Tony.”

She keeps her head held high as she strides toward the steps, even as her uncle screams and Olivia shrieks. Veda gets one last look at the pair of them being escorted to a cruiser before she shuts the door. Two down, five to go.