Someone Lost, Something Gained



The teen behind the counter stares blankly for a moment. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you said you wanted four bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits; six sausage biscuits with cheese, four sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffins; ten hash-browns; and four egg McMuffins?”

“Yes. All of that.” Veda smiles in sympathy. “I promise that this isn’t a joke. I just have four friends who are incredibly hungover right now. Oh, can I add on a bottle of water and a large caramel frappe?”

Molly doesn’t look any less gobsmacked, but she adds the drinks to the order and recites the total. Her voice wavers as she does, as if she expects Veda to start screaming about the price. Veda doesn’t understand why anyone would do such a ridiculous thing - it isn’t like the staff sets the prices; that’s all on the owners - especially if it’s an adult throwing a tantrum like that. She hands over the cash with a smile, takes her change, and moves to the side to wait.

Thirty-five minutes later, Veda slides out of the backseat of the Uber, one less McMuffin and hash-brown in hand. The driver vows to give her five stars for the breakfast before he pulls away. She giggles and turns toward the house.

“Did you get forgotten out here?” she croons down at David Barkie, and he barks again, if possible, louder than before.

She somehow manages to get through the gate and up to the porch with the puggle bouncing around her feet. Thankfully, the ruckus seems to have roused one of the inhabitants, because the door swings open before she can even knock. Harry’s scowl disappears at the sight of yellow arches on brown paper bags.

“You look far too chipper this early in the morning, but fuck if I can be mad at you,” he grumbles before he leaves a smacking kiss to her cheek.

Veda rolls her eyes affectionately as he takes the food from her arms. “Brush your teeth before you kiss anyone else.”

He snorts and stumbles further into the house. She nudges DB through the door, pushes it shut behind her. Toeing off her shoes, she rounds the corner to see Louis curled up on one half of the couch, only his messy dark hair visible over the hoodie he has pulled up to hide his face. Liam grabs a hash-brown and wrapped sandwich from one of the bags, says a quick hello, then disappears down the darkened corridor.

Harry smacks at Louis’s leg. “Oi, Veda brought food.”

“Don’t talk about food,” Louis groans in response, but he does pull his sweater down.

Purple-black semicircles spread under his bloodshot eyes, face pale and drawn - and slightly green, if Veda looks closely enough. He forces a smile and gestures lazily toward the hallway Liam went down.

“Assuming you’re here for Nialler, yeah? First door on your left - Christ, Harry, I will vomit on you if you keep trying to shove food in my face!”

“Boys, let’s just get along,” she laughs, thanking Louis before following his directions.

At the end of the hall is a bathroom, and Veda makes a quick detour to search through the medicine cabinet. For some inexplicable reason, there is no bottle of ibuprofen or acetaminophen - only single-use packets of ibuprofen tossed carelessly into a basket hanging on the back of the door. She grabs three then steps back out into the hallway.

To her left is a staircase leading to darkness. She idly wonders what is up on the second floor then decides it doesn’t matter. Shaking her head, she hurries back to the door that Louis said was Niall’s. Veda knows it’s probably pointless, but she knocks anyway before carefully pushing the door open.

Her eyes slowly grow accustomed to the dim lighting provided by sunlight slipping through a crack in the curtains, falling across the end of the bed in a thin triangle; dust motes swirl in the air, and the blankets rustle slightly then go still once more. When she can see more clearly at the scene in front of her, she almost wishes she was the type of person who takes pictures of her friends in compromising positions.

Niall is practically invisible in his bed, sprawled under a thick, fluffy, black comforter. Over that are three fleece throw blankets - one blue, one green, and one a dizzying rainbow tie-dye. There is also a cheetah-print Snuggie, and Veda can’t help but giggle at the thought of it belonging to Liam, simply because he doesn’t look like the type to sport cheetah-print. It isn’t until she nears the bed that she realises there is one more strip of fabric.

A tablecloth. Inexplicably, Niall decided to use a tablecloth as a blanket.

She rolls her eyes and slowly lowers herself to sit on the bed. Her fingers fidget with the edge of the blue throw blanket, and she deliberates the best way to wake him up. He’s going to be hungover, and while he’s been an incredible sweetheart thus far, Veda doesn’t know what he is like after a night of drinking.

“Niall,” she singsongs, “time to wake up, babe. C’mon, I brought breakfast.”

His head lifts off the pillow, and Veda smiles as he peers blearily at her through one half-opened eye. Her smile vanishes when he frowns and drops back onto the bed.

“Not wakin’ up. You’re jus’ a dream, an’ dream’s not nice.”

Cocking her head, Veda can’t figure out what the Hell he means. She sighs, pushing away the confusion, and pokes his nose. “Nope. Can’t sleep all day.”

After ten minutes of prodding and bribing, Veda sits back as Niall pushes himself to sit upright. He stares at her with narrowed eyes, scrubs away the sleep, then does a double-take.

“You’re actually here.”

“Yes, sir. I actually am. Here’s some water and ibuprofen. I brought food, so hopefully, it’ll make you feel better.”

He swallows down the pills without hesitation, grimacing before taking a sip of water. Veda stares around the room while he finishes waking up the rest of the way - anything to not focus on his very-bare chest, begging for her fingers to bury into the hair there.

Posters cover the walls, all of musicians and football teams. Everything seems to have its place; cologne bottles line the top of the bureau, each one flush with the next, and a small wooden case sits prominently in the centre. Veda has seen Antonio and Tommy’s bedrooms, so she’s surprised at how neat Niall keeps his. She assumed every being of the male persuasion had little regard for tidiness.

“You ready to get out of bed yet?” she asks, turning back to Niall. It takes a concerted effort to maintain eye contact instead of letting her gaze drop to the broad expanse of skin below his neck.

“If I have to,” he grumbles before throwing back the mass of blankets.

Veda will blame it on pure instinct - a nosiness ingrained in her from years of living around people who have no sense of boundaries. Or maybe she’s just selfish enough to want to look at him for as long as possible. No matter what the real reason is, she lets her gaze roam along his body, and heat floods her face. She immediately turns away and covers her eyes with one hand.

“Uh, I, um, I can - you’re naked,” she finally manages to stammer out, heart thundering in her chest.

“What? Oh, fuck. Veda, I’m-I’m so sorry.”

She hears a soft thump as Niall swiftly covers himself again, but she can’t meet his eye now. Pushing to her feet, she breathes out a quick promise that she will meet him in the living room. Her tongue feels heavy in her mouth, fumbling and awkward, as she rushes from the room and pulls the door shut behind her. She slumps against the wall and exhales unsteadily.

“Shit,” she whispers.

David Barkie sniffs at her ankles, whines when she doesn’t duck down instantly to pet him. Veda lowers herself to sit on the floor outside Niall’s room, letting the puggle crawl into her lap, and blows out a breath. The image of Niall is seared into her brain, printed on the back of her eyelids, and she fears this might make things awkward.

Granted, it isn’t a surprise that she has feelings for the man. He’s been here for her repeatedly over the last two months - and how the Hell has it only been two months since Granddad passed? It seems so much longer. But Niall has done so much to make the pain easier to manage. Veda really should have known that whatever she began feeling for him would spiral out of control, especially after The Dream (and in her mind, there’s an enormous trademark symbol to denote just how life-altering The Dream was).

It doesn’t mean she needed to know exactly what Niall looks like naked. Her imagination was bad enough, so to have actual knowledge of… everything, it’s a bit too much to handle.

“You okay?”

She gasps aloud at the sudden voice, blinking and looking up at Liam. “Uh, yeah. I’m, I’m fine.”

“Then why are you sat on the floor?”

“Cuddling David Barkie?” Please believe the lie, I can’t handle speaking the truth right now.

Thankfully, if Liam can tell that she’s fibbing, he doesn’t speak on it. He just reaches out a hand to help her to her feet. She runs a hand through her hair and follows him back to the living room. Louis looks less like death warmed over now; the shadows beneath his blue eyes are still there, but he’s smiling and laughing at whatever cartoon is playing. Harry is fiddling with his phone, occasionally looking away at the television.

Veda drops to sit on the couch. “What are we watching?”

Animaniacs. Please tell me you’ve seen this before.”

“Uh, should I have?”

Even Liam gapes at her in shock, and maybe some judgement, at her non-admission. Veda squirms awkwardly and bites back the urge to defend herself. If electricity and heating weren’t important priorities to Olivia, then cable wasn’t even an afterthought.

Cartoons were the last thing on Veda’s mind, even when she stayed with Granddad. She cared more about spending time with someone who loved her unconditionally, which meant gong around the block to visit neighbours and be a mini-handyman with him. Not wasting away the days in front of the television.

“Styles, where the fuck are my clothes?”

Harry freezes, head snapping up at Niall’s shout. “Wait, what am I being blamed for, and why?”

“My clothes - all of them - are gone,” Niall announces through gritted teeth, storming into the living room wearing the cheetah-print Snuggie. “Everything is missing, and I want to know what you’ve done with them.”

“Maybe it was Louis, ever think about that, you wanker?” Harry’s indignant expression melts away, replaced with a mixture of chagrin and childish glee. “Oh, yeah. It was me. I Joey’d you when you kept arguing with yourself about whether or not to -”

“I remember now,” Niall rushes to interrupt, and Harry cocks his head to the side as a sly smirk spreads across his face.

Niall scowls and disappears back down the hallway, but not before Veda gets a glimpse of his ass through the split in the back of the Snuggie. Her cheeks warm, and she ducks her head when her stomach lurches.

“Ooh, I think someone fancies our Nialler!”

Liam’s voice is drenched in disapproval as he orders Harry to leave her alone. Then he sighs, carding his fingers through his dark hair. “Sorry to leave you alone with these idiots, Veda, but I have to get to work.”

“I’ll be okay. Worse comes to worst, I’ll leave and take the food with me.”

His laughter follows him out of the door, and Veda smiles to herself even as Harry pouts next to her. Before he can say anything, Niall reappears again. Thankfully, he’s fully-dressed this time in a dark blue tee and black basketball shorts. Veda gets no warning - he just flops to lie on the couch beside her, rests his head on her thighs, and closes his eyes as he sighs deeply.

“Well, good morning to you, too.”

He grins and scrunches up his nose. “I’m tired, leave me alone.”

“I brought breakfast.”





“Oh, bloody Hell,” Louis groans, pushing to his feet. “You two are worse than a married couple. Annoying pricks. Here, Niall.”

The breakfast sandwich bounces off of Niall’s stomach, followed by a hash-brown, and Niall snorts in amusement. He does sit up to eat, though, so Veda counts it as a win. As soon as her lap is vacated, David Barkie yips and wiggles, hops up to curl up against her stomach. She smiles down at him and scratches behind his ear.

“I swear, he loves you more than me.”

Veda shrugs and sticks her tongue out at Niall. “It’s because I let him sleep with me.”

“And you haven’t let Niall sleep with you?” Harry gasps. “For shame, Veda. For utter shame.”

“Piss off, Harry,” Veda says breezily, as Niall echoes the sentiment.

Harry lets out a huff of annoyance and grumbles about people being rude, even as he stuffs half a hash-brown into his mouth. Veda rolls her eyes, but she can’t fight her smile.