Someone Lost, Something Gained

★venticinque★

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Niall stands by the window, staring down at the scattered glass with a deep frown on his face. There’s a tension in his body that Veda hasn’t seen before. A second later, she puts a name to it: Anger.

“It’s okay.”

His head snaps up, and his eyes gradually lose their ice as he registers her presence. “No. It isn’t.”

“It really, really is. This isn’t the worst thing any of ‘em have done. At least windows can be replaced.” Veda sighs. “Lemme go grab the broom.”

She turns toward the kitchen, but his voice stops her.

“How can you be so - so calm about this? Your family just tried stealing from you.”

“Because if I got mad every time the Mitchells tried to fuck me over, I’d have an ulcer the size of Antarctica, or I would be in an asylum. Look, Niall, I grew up with them. This isn’t unusual.”

“You -”

Veda snaps, “Fine. Really wanna go here? How about when Mom-Mom died? She stole all of Mom-Mom’s jewellery and pawned it. Just for the fun of it. I had to pay nearly a grand to get it back. I got into Olivia’s wallet, stole the debit card, and took almost a thousand dollars out of the savings that my grandparents set up. All to buy back what should never have been taken in the first place.

“When Olivia found out, I couldn’t sit for a week. And Phil! He didn’t even bother showing up to the funeral. Connor sent a generic ‘my condolences, sorry for your loss’ card as if it wasn’t his mother we just buried.

“So please, for-fucking-give me for not losing my temper over a damn broken window.”

“Ve-Veda… fuck, I’m sorry.”

Her voice wobbles as she pleads, “Don’t try to tell me how I react to things is wrong. This is my life. I’ve lived it for twenty-five years. If you can’t respect that, respect me, then leave. Take DB, go, and don’t come back.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, then he’s holding her tightly, as if he’s trying to fix the damage her family has caused over the years. “I’m - I’m still angry for you, but I’ll try to be more understanding.”

“That’s all I ask.”

“DB, no!”

Veda jerks back, rubbing a hand over her ear. Niall’s shout had been startling, unexpected, and loud. Her mouth opens to scold him - how could he actually yell at the adorable pup who stole her heart? - but then she follows his gaze.

David Barkie stands completely still; his front paw hovers over glittering shards of glass. Veda bites back her admonishment and moves carefully to scoop him up. He immediately burrows against her chest, seeking comfort after being scolded.

Veda understands that. It wasn’t that long ago that she sought out that same comfort from Granddad after Olivia pulled one of her stunts.

Setting him on the couch, she points at the cushion and tells him to stay as firmly as she can. Cold washes over her even as he whines and lies down. She hates not cuddling him like he so obviously wants - like she wants to do. Chest tight, she turns away, moving toward the kitchen instead of giving in.

When she comes back, broom in hand, she tells Niall that Antonio might have a tarp they can hang over the window for the night, please go ask. Niall doesn’t argue, just nods and does as she’s requested. Veda busies herself with sweeping up the mess left behind from Olivia and Phil’s selfish, stupid actions.

She doesn’t have to look through the house to know they were unsuccessful in their attempts at finding Granddad’s belongings. Veda has grown to know them too well to ever leave it to chance. She spent hours making sure nothing of value - sentimental or monetary - could be found without intense searching.

She dumps the glass into the bin in the kitchen then goes back to stand at the window. Antonio and Niall are across the street, talking amongst themselves as Antonio digs through his supplies for a spare tarp. Nonna Costa and Aida sit on their steps, Catalina by their side. Miss Sylvia makes another pass in front of the house, and Veda fights a smile.

They’re all looking out for her. She knows it. And she has never been more thankful for her neighbours, these colourful threads in the tapestry of her life.

“I have to go to the market,” she announces as soon as the tarp is pinned over the window, and Niall frowns.

“Why?”

Sighing, she explains what she wants to do. The confusion melts from his face, morphs into something pleased and speaking words she can’t quite understand. He nods succinctly when she finishes.

“I’ll go for you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. This way, DB won’t be left alone. Just make a list, and you can shower and relax while I’m gone.”

“You’re amazing. So amazing. Thanks. I’ll pay you back, don’t worry.”

She giggles at the flat look he shoots her, but he doesn’t argue as she grabs her phone. Once she’s spent five minutes using Google, she writes down the ingredients she needs and passes over the paper. Niall kisses David Barkie’s head and leaves, promising to be back as soon as possible.

“DB, c’mon, bud. Your daddy was right. I need a shower.”

The dog scrambles up the stairs ahead of her, nails skidding across the hardwood, and Veda can’t help but laugh. He has such a large personality - something she never expected to find in a dog. He stares up at her, head cocked, as she shuts the bathroom door so he can’t escape.

“Dude, you gotta stop watching me, it’s awkward.”

He doesn’t. Veda pointedly turns her back to him and resumes stripping down to her underwear. When she looks back at him, he’s curled up on the floor, eyes closed and seemingly asleep. He doesn’t even twitch when she turns the shower on.

She makes quick work of rinsing away the shampoo, singing under her breath as she pushes her wet hair from her face. The sharp needlepoint pressure of the water pushes into her muscles, stabbing out the tension she hadn’t realised she was carrying. She told Niall that she’s used to the behaviours of her relatives, but that doesn’t mean she blindly accepts them. That anger no longer boils in her blood when she’s affected by their actions.

Something swipes across the tops of her toes, warm and wet and decidedly not the water from the shower-head. Veda shrieks as her eyes fly open only to find David Barkie cowering in the far end of the tub. His tail thumps against the porcelain when he sees her looking at him, and if she didn’t know better, she would say the puggle is grinning up at her.

A breathy laugh escapes as it registers that she isn’t going to die at the hands of some weird, toe-licking burglar. Shaking her head, she crouches down and taps David Barkie on the nose.

“Fine. You can stay, you devious little shit. Just… don’t tell your daddy you saw me naked before he did.”

It doesn’t take long to get through the rest of her shower. With DB keeping watch, she doesn’t feel comfortable shaving; the last thing she wants is for shaving cream to fly off the end of her razor, hit him in the eye, and blind him. That would be devastatingly awkward to explain to Niall.

And it would probably be the end of their friendship.

David Barkie whimpers as she scoops him up into a towel, scrubs his fur as dry as possible. Once she releases him, he shakes his entire body then slumps in the corner of the room. Veda rolls her eyes.

“God, you’re such a dramatic one, aren’t ya? Stop pouting.”

Veda is in the kitchen, readying the cookware she is going to need, when Niall arrives. He sets the bags of groceries on the counter and starts unloading everything. She watches him for a minute, admires the way he moves, the almost fluid shifting of his body.

The way he looks like he belongs here in her kitchen.

In her life.

She pulls herself from her thoughts, adjusts the neckline of her top, and hopes he doesn’t notice the way her cheeks have begun to burn. It seems so ridiculous to be so flustered over him seeing her in a tank-top. Then again, she’s only ever worn scrubs or hoodies around him.

Even the dress she wore as Ellie’s maid-of-honour hadn’t shown this much cleavage.

“I’m impressed,” Niall announces as she places the serving bowl in the bottom of a towel-lined basket.

Veda glances up at him through her lashes and frowns. “I can follow a recipe. It really isn’t that hard.”

“I wasn’t talking about that,” he laughs, tying off the ribbon in his hands. “I meant I’m impressed that you even did this. Most people wouldn’t.”

“The Nadirs protected my home like a good neighbour does.” She shrugs. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Your granddad would be proud of how much you’re like him.”

Veda freezes when Niall presses a quick, gentle kiss to her temple. The words are exactly what she’s needed to hear; she’s feared for so long that she can’t be cured of the toxic blood passed to her through Olivia. But the warm touch of his lips to her skin…

It does more to her heart than she could ever explain.