Someone Lost, Something Gained

★ventisei★

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David Barkie behaves, obeys Niall’s command to sit, as the trio reaches the top of the Nadirs’ stoop. Niall knocks on the door, since Veda’s hands are full, and she says a quick thank you as the door opens. Mister Nadir’s gaze darts from her face to the basket she carries.

“Miss Mitchell?”

“Hi. This is for you two.”

“Oh, we couldn’t -” Mrs Nadir starts, but Veda shakes her head vehemently.

“Please. You watched over the only place I have ever considered home. If it weren’t for you calling the cops, my uncle coulda cleared out everything that meant anything to me. So please, accept these as a gesture of my gratitude. Not a repayment, not… anything like that. But my way of saying ‘thank you’.”

Mrs Nadir exchanges a look with her husband then gingerly peels back the dishtowel over the top of the basket. “Are these - did you make yazdi cakes?”

“Yes?” Veda shifts awkwardly. Niall smiles comfortingly, reassuringly, and she steals strength from that. “If they turn out awful, I’m really sorry. I never made them before. Oh! There’s also, uh, seviyan kheer, but I wasn’t sure if you had, like, dietary restrictions, so I made it with gluten-free vermicelli.”

Her neighbours stare, dumbfounded and silent, and Veda swallows thickly. This isn’t how she expected this to go. Before the quiet can drag on to uncomfortable lengths, she pushes on.

“I know it isn’t Eid al-Fir - did I pronounce that right? I hope so. Sorry if I completely butchered it, but anyway. I figured the situation called for something special, and…” Her voice trails off, wavers when she asks, “Did I do something wrong?”

Niall stifles a laugh next to her. Veda ignores him and chews on her lower lip. Mister Nadir recovers first; he shakes his head slightly then smiles.

“Of course not, Miss Mitchell. This was very kind of you. It’s just surprising. Not many people show such consideration to our faith.”

His wife nods slowly next to him. Her eyes gleam in the late afternoon sunlight, unshed tears catching the glow. To give her privacy, Veda turns to Niall and gestures for him to pass over the mesh bag.

“I read that yazdi cakes are best with hot tea or coffee. Since we didn’t know what you liked or could have, we went with a-an abnormally large variety of herbal teas. Everything said it was halal, so hopefully the packaging wasn’t lying. But, uh, we’ll leave you to your evening. Thank you again. It, it means a lot to me.”

She forces a quick smile, hands the basket over to Mrs Nadir, then turns on her heel. Niall and DB follow her back to her house. When she looks over, it’s to see her neighbours still stood in their doorway, watching her. Veda waves then goes inside.

A fierce warmth has bloomed beneath her ribs - pride that she brightened the Nadirs’ days just a bit. Pride that she’s following in Granddad’s footsteps. Pride that she hasn’t managed to run Niall off with everything that her life includes. Pride that she’s made him smile that soft, sweet smile at her.

He sits at the dining table while she slides a frozen pizza into the oven and cooks a half-pound of ground beef and scrambled eggs. She glances over her shoulder then plasters a fake frown onto her face, pointing the spatula at him.

“Hey, I’m feeding your dog. The least you can do is chop up some apples.”

“Can dogs have apples?”

She pauses. “You’re kidding me, right? You’ve had DB for how long, and you’ve never figured out what non-dog-food foods he can have?”

“I mean, I give him peanut butter every so often!” Niall protests as he grabs a knife. “I’ll do better research tomorrow, I promise.”

“You better. Can’t starve my favourite baby.”

“Trust me, Ve-Veda, he eats enough.”

She nudges him with her hip and laughs at the pout on his face. It’s pleasant, cooking with him. As if he has always been in her life, her home, making her laugh and smile and feel like nothing has ever gone wrong. That maybe, just maybe, her bloodline has no control over her destiny.

Without thinking, she reaches over to place her hand on his wrist. He tilts his head to the side, brows drawing together over his eyes. Veda can do nothing but shrug.

“Thanks. For everything.”

His expression softens, and he leans over to rest his head against hers. “Anytime.”

Dinner is a quiet affair. He seems a million miles away, frowning down at his meal, and Veda doesn’t interrupt his thinking. Whatever it is that changed earlier, she doesn’t know, but she isn’t going to try to find out. Not when it has the chance to ruin so much.

“I have to work tonight,” he says quietly, setting his plate in the sink. “I don’t wanna leave you by yourself, though. Mind if I leave DB here with you? I can pick him up in the morning after my shift.”

Veda inhales shakily against the twisting in her chest. It’s such a simple offer - but so thoughtful at the same time. Even if it turns out to be borne of a selfishness on his part, not wanting to go all the way home before he goes to work, the fact remains that he’s given Veda the chance to not be alone tonight. A dog is better than nothing. Warmth burns behind her eyes as she crouches down to scratch under David Barkie’s chin.

“Uh, sure. Yeah. That’s fine. I have to work at nine, though, so I could actually bring him to you around half-eight.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, Saint Francis isn’t too far from yours.” She swallows before meeting Niall’s eye. God, there’s a tenderness there that she wants to fall headfirst into. “Though don’t be surprised if he tries to sleep in your bed from now on.”

He laughs quietly, shaking his head. Veda watches him closely as he approaches, kneels down to run his hand over DB’s tan fur.

“Be good, okay, bud? See you tomorrow.”

The pup licks Niall’s hand then turns to Veda. She giggles at the incredulity on Niall’s face at being ignored by his own dog, skipped over for attention. He pouts and stands, carding his fingers through his hair.

“Remember, it takes confidence to take him on the subway. Confidence.”

“I think I can manage it,” she replies dryly as she pulls the puggle into her arms; once he’s situated against her chest, she follows Niall to the door. “Have a good night at work.”

“Thanks, Ve-Veda.”

Niall hesitates on the threshold, stares at her with an unreadable expression on his face. She adjusts her grip on David Barkie, frowning when Niall doesn’t say anything.

“Everything okay?”

He nods then shrugs. “Yeah. Just… call me if anything happens.”

The soft pleading in his voice sends an ache through her. He cares. And that is unfamiliar, even after years of living here with neighbours who seem to have forgotten the meaning of ‘private business’.

She wants to ask him why - why does he give a damn, why hasn’t he run away screaming from the toxicity in her life, why her. He’s beautiful and kind and purer than she deserves. She hasn’t earned the right to have someone like him.

The questions remain, but Veda doesn’t give voice to them. Instead, she promises to call if she needs to, just to see the relief that paints his face. Niall grins, nodding, and steps outside. She blows out a breath and holds DB tighter as Niall ambles down the block.

Once he has disappeared from view, Veda sighs, kisses DB’s head. “I shouldn’t miss him this much already, should I?”

David Barkie’s only response is to lick her chin and yip quietly. Veda giggles, touching her fingertip to his wet nose, then closes the door on the falling twilight.