*Trumpets blaring*


im so sorry for being totally useless and I know this is a really short chapter but I wanted to get something up okay I've been going through some shit and i needed to update. there'll probably be a second part to this chapter, therefore, before we get to benny (who was being Difficult and is now in time-out until I can figure out how to write him)

i hope you enjoy!

Usnavi's apartment was quickly becoming Vanessa's home away from home.

It wasn't like she'd never been round there before, but now, dating Usnavi, she seemed to be there almost more often than not. It was a welcome escape, she supposed, from both the stress of her mom's place and the chatter at the salon- and, of course, she got to spend time with Usnavi. She was getting to know him: really getting to know him, as he got to know her in turn and his nervousness faded- a little, if not entirely. She'd found the star-struck look he so often fixed her with didn't fade with it. With that and the increasing number of her belongings which were finding their way over, spending time there was just feeling more and more natural.

Sonny was probably helping, too. She'd always been friendly with him- it was hard not to be, if you spoke to the kid for all of ten seconds; he could have made friends with an iron bar. She became accustomed quite quickly to being round at the apartment even without Usnavi there, therefore, just sitting on the couch either with the younger boy next to her or with the sound of his shuffling around upstairs.

What also seemed to become frequent was her boyfriend's younger cousin spending more and more time at her place, too. He had helped her with settling in more than almost anyone else, originally to avoid Usnavi: pushing furniture across the floor and unpacking boxes- not that there were many of them. After that, he'd kept coming round, travelling back with her on the A-train some mornings after she'd spent the night in the Heights, since Usnavi would never have let him make the trip alone.

His visits were a welcome, easy distraction; listening to his anecdotes of the comings and goings back in her old home and his complaints about school starting back soon and the heat and his shifts was a taste of home that kept her grounded. It kept her stable in all the change that had been happening- Usnavi was there, but her changing relationship with him was hardly a help, as happy as she was with it, and the easy back-and-forth with the kid felt natural- comforted her.

Daniela and Carla chattered about the Bronx and the new frequent customers- gossiped about names she couldn't put faces to- and it just felt odd. Nina was far closer to normality, but she had thrown herself into studying again and didn't have much free time- at least, not that matched up with Vanessa's. She still saw her as much as she could, though; they had study sessions that ended up as sleepovers with the two girls side-by-side on Vanessa's singe bed with open textbooks and packets of candy, mostly just talking. She missed her more than she realised.

Sonny was a constant- especially after the ordeal with Usnavi had blown over. She'd been prodding Usnavi to make amends for a while but wasn't honestly surprised that it was Sonny who had the guts in the end.

The morning after that, it had felt like both those boys were glowing.

Now, Sonny was back to normal- ranting to her ceiling about the injustice and corruption in the government through a mouthful of popcorn while she shifted through paperwork, giving her plenty to laugh at in his impressions of Usnavi. Sometimes she heard the same story from both of them, and Usnavi would ask her why she was fighting down laughter when he glossed over some of the details that his cousin had had no qualms about keeping in.

This evening, blessedly, she had very little to do, and was slumped on the cousins' couch going punch-for-punch with Sonny on hate-crimes.

"This isn't about burning a cross on someone's lawn, kid-" she pointed out. "People are dying."

"And the murderers will be punished fairly for committing that crime." Sonny shot back. "You want to start punishing them for what's in their heads when they do it, too?" Vanessa leaned forward on her knees, fixed him with a hard look.

"And why not? I'll admit you can't police people's thoughts, it's when they start killing people because of them that you need to take action. Destroy the root of the desire to kill and you destroy the desire, it's simple; it's the most effective way to solve the problem." She folded her arms. Sonny frowned and tapped his knee too rapidly, never breaking eye contact.

"Telling people what they can and can't think is the beginning of the end." he declared. "You're addressing this clinically and it can't be- people have a right to their beliefs: when the government begins to try and get in people's heads there's no going back; it's an invasion of privacy at best-"

"And what is it at worst?"

"Manipulation. Hypocritical, isn't it? You condemn controlling governments but you'd be perfectly alright with it so long as they were enforcing your views- it's arrogant, it's support of dictatorship-"

"Alright, alright, pipe down, mister." Vanessa pushed at his shoulder, grinning, and he sat back with a self-satisfied look. "You're getting too good at this." Sonny grinned and stretched back, screwing his eyes shut."

"Mmm, tiring though." he mumbled. "Gets you an appetite."

"Say no more."

They trooped through to the kitchen and grabbed some cereal from the cupboard- too early yet for a proper meal and Usnavi would be back for that later. Sonny hoisted himself up to sit cross-legged on the kitchen table and started shovelling lucky charms into his mouth. Vanessa straightened his cap as she leaned next to him and he deftly moved it back. She grinned at the gesture.

"You still stressing about it?" she asked after a minute. Sonny half shrugged.

"Debate? Nah, I know I'll kick ass."

"That's the spirit."

"Thanks for helping me practice, though. Usnavi's useless. He just gives up and agrees after five minutes." Vanessa snorted into her bowl.

"Sounds like him. I don't think he'd even start arguing with me."


They lapsed into a comfortable silence, chewing their honestly-more-dinner-than-lunch and knocking their heels on the table legs.

Vanessa found her mind wandering back to the only recent piece of gossip she'd found interesting- Carla's enormous and hugely obvious crush on one of the new part-time girls at the salon. Obvious, apparently, to everyone except the girl in question, as Carla lamented to her at length: complaining that all her flirting had been dismissed as simple compliments. Daniela had told her flatly that she was wasting her time and that the woman was straight as a pole, which Carla had answered with a pout and a defiant declaration that Dani was just cynical, and had no faith in love. Dani had laughed in a way that made Vanessa think she wasn't telling them something, but she hadn't pushed the subject- except to tell Carla she would wing-woman for all she was worth if it was called for.

She opened her mouth to ask Sonny what he thought about it, before closing it again upon remembering that she wasn't sure Sonny actually knew that Carla was gay. As open as her friend was about her sexuality, outing her without permission still didn't sit right. Instead, therefore, she set down her now-empty bowl and switched the subject to something safer.

"Well, you're definitely going to kick ass." Sonny grinned at her through his last couple of spoonfuls.

"Thanks. It's hard arguing on the other team, though." he said. "You know, trying to beat down my own opinions."

"Maybe, but it'll get you in good practice. If you know the strongest arguments against yourself you'll find it a lot easier to fight them."

"S'pose." Sonny frowned for a second, apparently considering something. "Hey- d'you think- " he began, but he was cut off by his phone sounding loudly from his pocket, and pulled it out to check the message. As soon as he'd read it, a bright grin split across his face and he typed out a response at top speed. Vanessa raised an eyebrow.

"What's got you so happy?" she asked. Sonny didn't look up, his thumbs still tapping almost violently across the screen.

"Pete. He says he can make it down right after my shift tomorrow, we were gonna go down to the park. Haven't been able to hang much this week." Vanessa's eyebrow only rose higher.

"Does Usnavi know about this?" She couldn't believe her boyfriend would be over the moon about his little cousin dashing off the second his shift was over to spend time with a kid they both knew he regarded as little more than a layabout punk. Sonny looked a little sheepish.

"Not yet..." he admitted. He looked up at her anxiously. "You won't tell him?" Vanessa mimed pulling a zip across her mouth and watched the smile slip quickly back onto his face.

"My lips are sealed."

"He's been a lot better about Pete, though." Sonny insisted. "After... after everything. But he still doesn't... like him."

"Wonder why..." Sonny shot her a look.

"Hey! If either of you took the chance to actually get to know him, you'd see he's not just- "

"Alright, hold your horses." Vanessa put her hands up in mock-surrender. "You're not debating about Pete on Wednesday, are you? Come on, you've had a break, you still need to convince me on labour laws." Sonny groaned, but followed her through to the living room to start up on the new subject, and won without much of a fight.

Dinner with Usnavi was nice, and normal, and she headed home with leftovers in her bag- at his insistence. Sonny's last words about Pete resurfaced, however, after the lights of the station had faded from view.

She didn't know Pete. That was starting to bug her more and more. She'd spoken to him, sure, knew who he was- but she didn't really know him, and, after what she'd seen pass between him and Sonny, that didn't sit right with her at all.

Clearly, Pete was important to Sonny. For better or worse, Sonny cared about him. Her own impressions of the guy were less than favourable- he'd shouted and catcalled at her before, though never anything that had bothered her particularly, he was a high-school dropout and he vandalised local properties for fun. She found she was having trouble wrapping her head around the fact that that kid was the same boy she'd seen clutching Sonny De la Vega against his chest and crying after Abuela had died. She didn't know him. And, that night, she decided that that had to change.

If he was such a big part of Sonny's life, it wasn't right that she barely knew a thing about him. And, if he ever laid a finger on that boy, the other part of her brain supplied, she needed to be in a good position to teach him a lesson.

How to go about it, though? Vanessa had never been the best at 'friends' in the first place- her and Nina had just sort of happened; they'd known each other since before they could walk. Daniela had decided that Vanessa was going to be her friend and given her no room to back out, and Carla had come with that package, and Sonny, again, could get a piece of brick to like him. She'd never exactly initiated it before. She found herself over-thinking it and worrying more than she could afford over the following days, and eventually forced the matter from her mind. Hey, she might not even see Pete for weeks- god knows where he went when he wasn't with Sonny- it had been known to happen before. There was no use in stressing herself out over nothing.

The next weekend, however, waiting to leave for a dinner date as soon as Sonny arrived to take over Usnavi's shift, she practically walked into the guy at the back of the bodega. Pete was standing by the rack of soft drinks, flicking a coin from finger to finger with a vacant look on his face, and didn't even look up when she all but mowed him down. He had a pack of tissues under his arm and a jacket slung over his shoulder, and his paint-stains up and down his arms. Should she talk to him? Unsure of how to approach a conversation and trying to buy herself some thinking time, she carried on around him and went to grab what she'd been after from the shelf- but then the sound of his voice from behind her made her look round.

"Red or blue?" he asked. She blinked at him.

"I'm sorry?"

"Gonna get a soda- red or blue?" Pete was still staring intently at the garishly coloured bottles, his eyes scanning the rows. After a second, he looked up and shrugged one shoulder. "They're both gross, so..." Vanessa stood frozen for a second, but then got over her surprise enough to answer him.

"Uh- blue?" Pete grabbed a blue bottle from the shelf and gave her a nod.

"Cheers." He made to walk back up to the counter, but then Vanessa was speaking before she'd really thought about it.

"Why're you getting it if you think it's gross?" she asked.

Something like a grin pulled on the corners of his mouth.

"Sonny's trying new slushie flavours." he said. "Need something to wash it down." Vanessa grimaced involuntarily; she'd made the mistake of trying one of Sonny's... creations once- and only once- before.

"Jeez, you actually drink those things?" This time, the sound that escaped him was almost a laugh.

"Hey, what are friends for?" he shrugged, and smiled. Vanessa felt herself grinning, too.

"Well, I admire your courage." she told him. "Or- your stomach, at least." Another not-quite-laugh.


A couple of seconds passed, and Pete had opened his mouth to say something else- when the unmistakable sound of Sonny entering the shop, and Usnavi shouting through to Vanessa that they could leave (among admonishments to his cousin about being so late) cut him off.

She smiled at him as they both headed towards the noise, though, and found herself thinking that this friendship was going to go more smoothly than she'd hoped. Pete shot a stiff smile back at her as he moved ahead to bump fists with Sonny and fiddle with his cap.

She noticed that he moved it off-centre, and he didn't move it back.


as usual i barely proofread this and also i am currently typing one-handed because i sprained my wrist,, so please comment and correct the mistakes that are definitely in there

idk i might take this down in the morning we'll see lmao

love you biscuits!*