doo do do DOO welcome back!
it had been so long since updating that i went through and rewrote the whole damn thing- not much is changed though! just some stuff cut or added, im much happier with it now! its not actually finished yet (whoops) but i hope to do that soon. in the meantime i hope you enjoy this!
Usnavi's mind wasn't in the right place that morning. After the blackout, after the news from Abuela and the promise of a one-way ticket back home- after dinner with the Rosarios and Benny and- and Vanessa and everything, he hardly had the space to think about anything else. He talked with Claudia into the early hours of the morning, talked for hours until the fate of the bodega even entered his head. He was going to sell it, that was a given, but that thought was quickly brushed off in favour of the things that followed: visions of the shining sea around the island that had been the focus of his dreams for so, so long. He listened, enraptured, to the stories that Abuela had told him so many times before- the familiar words now lit anew with the prospect that he, Usnavi, would finally become a part of them.
Of course, he had heard the shouting. He had almost been caught up in the panic, but he had made sure that Abuela was safe and they'd been a distant rumble, not a threat to him. There'd been blackouts before, after all, but they hadn't lasted long, and looters had generally stuck to houses, jumping on the fact that most people had taken to the streets in the panic- that's why he'd gone to Abuela. But they'd been safe, and it was without any trepidation that he made his way to work.
As soon as he turned the corner next to the salon, his stomach dropped through the road.
The street was a wreck. Windows and door panes were smashed, the air hung with smoke- evidence of the fighting was everywhere. He gingerly made his way along the sidewalk, feeling his chest grow tight at the familiar shopfronts so utterly ruined, deserted, his mind racing to their owners, the livelihoods crumpled in the looters' wakes- and-
The grate was up, displaying the whole scene clearly. He found he could hardly look at it. Three windows cracked. One smashed open, littering the concrete outside with shattered glass. The door swung wide and almost off its hinges. Among the newspapers and plastic bags being nudged along the street, he could see a few bank notes- apparently dropped- and the ground was scorched in places and stained with something he didn't want to think about in others. Even from his distance, he could see that the inside was all but wiped clean- shelves torn down and bags ripped open; before anything, they'd taken food. That realisation made his stomach twist.
For a time, he simply stood there, mind grasping at straws of optimism and nails digging into his palms, just breathing. There was nothing that he could do now. That was the reality of it, he just had to face it. Nothing he could do. He closed his eyes for a second, steadied himself before he made his way in. Nothing he could do. Time to look forward.
Gritting his teeth, he made his way cautiously inside and glanced around, noting with another pang the bust-open cash register and the water leaking from the bottom of the fridge. It was jarring more than anything. Like seeing an old friend's face disfigured by bruises and scars. Standing in the entrance, he felt a thickness rising in his throat as a sickening realisation crept up on him.
He should have been here.
Perhaps it wouldn't have made a difference. Perhaps it didn't even matter now anyway, since he was leaving the country, leaving everything- but guilt settled horribly in the pit of his stomach as he looked around himself. This was his parents' store. It was all that they'd left him- all that he had and had he even thought to defend it in the flurry? He had done nothing.
But then, he thought, he could've been killed, he wasn't strong, he had no real weapons- it would have been hopeless. He frantically reassured himself as he haphazardly restacked a few tins that had been left behind. It would have been hopeless- too dangerous- oh, thank God no one had been here-
A noise from the back room made him look around sharply. Someone was still here? Who would be camping out in a ruined bodega in the middle of the day? It was still scorching- maybe someone seeking shelter from the heat, maybe one of the looters had stuck around. Gingerly, he made his way to the back of the shop, listening intently. Quiet shuffling could be heard from through the door- just the shift of clothes on clothes as someone moved around, and a scraping- a chair, shoved sideways. It didn't sound like a lot of people- one or two; maybe he could take them, or kick them out at least. He was almost at the door when he heard a voice.
"Lift your head a bit?"
Usnavi stopped short. Graffiti Pete? He felt anger flare up in him- Had he been one of the looters last night? He cursed himself- he'd known that kid couldn't be trusted- what on earth had he been thinking letting him hang around the store- look what it had gotten him! Had he lead the looters here? Had he-
Then another voice drifted through to him, and his mind went blank with shock.
"Ow! Man, that stings like a-"
"Do you want that to get infected or not?"
There was no answer. Usnavi stood frozen, his mind ticking over. Sonny? Sonny was here? He could feel himself slipping into a panic- Had he been here last night? Was he alright- god- infected- was he hurt? The conversation on the other side of the wall was continuing.
"Stop scratching it, man, you're gonna make it worse."
"I'm not- Hey, ow!"
"Hold still." He heard an exaggerated groan from Sonny, followed by another reproachful yelp of pain.
"I am not!"
Usnavi moved closer, peering through the gap in the door to catch a glimpse of the scene inside. Sonny was sat in a chair facing the wall- arms folded, covered in bruises. He looked awful. As his eyes travelled down his arms, across his face, taking in the bloody marks that littered his cousin's skin, Usnavi felt both his guilt and anger multiply at top speed- whoever had hurt that boy, they were going to regret it.
Graffiti Pete was on one knee in front of him, soaking a torn strip of cloth in some sort of ointment. Usnavi looked him over as best he could from his position by the door. He looked even worse than Sonny did, exhausted and beat up and angry, but there appeared to have been no move to treat his own injuries. Sonny himself was almost mummy-wrapped in makeshift bandages, in a cloth that he quickly matched to Pete's baggy shirt, which was torn until it resembled a crop-top. He had his back to the door, so Usnavi couldn't see his face, but the care with which he was dabbing a particularly nasty cut on Sonny's shoulder surprised him. He'd always seen the kid as trouble- nothing more than a disrespectful, vandalising slacker who didn't care for much beside himself- but the current situation shone something of a new light on him. Mentally reassessing him, at least to a point, he watched as he deftly looped the fabric under Sonny's arm, earning a wince when he smoothed it over with his thumb.
"Sorry." Sonny just shrugged.
"S'okay," he muttered. There was a beat of silence before Pete replied.
"Someone's had a quick change of heart. Calling you a baby really got to you, huh?"
"Nah- I just- " More silence, as, through the door, Usnavi watched his cousin pick at the hem of his tank and stare down at his fingers- a tick he'd had for as long as he could remember. "Thanks." He said, finally. Pete stood watching him, evidently waiting for him to say more, but when he didn't, nodded shortly and muttered,
Sonny shifted in his chair, stopping his fiddling and sliding his hand back into his pocket.
"Look- I'm sorry for being an ass."
That seemed to catch Pete off-guard- he straightened and took a step towards him, frowning.
"What do you mean?"
"Just-" Sonny seemed to struggle for words for a second. "- complaining, and shit. You stayed, and you didn't have to, and-"
"Hey, don't say that, man." Pete interrupted him, ducking his head to make Sonny catch his eye. "Of course I stayed."
Sonny swallowed, and nodded, still looking down. A few moments passed again in silence, the two of them standing face to face without speaking. Pete broke it.
"And you don't gotta apologise for your whining, Son-shine, I know you're a big wuss." At that, Sonny grinned a little, looking up at last.
Unable to keep quiet any longer, Usnavi pushed open the door and took a step inside. The two boys looked up at the noise, surprised, and he noticed Pete move to stand in front of Sonny protectively- before recognising him and retreating again- and the expressions on their faces weren't friendly. Sonny looked reproachful. Pete looked angry. Usnavi glanced from one to the other, taking in their matching cuts and bruises and the rough-and-ready bandages striping Sonny's arms, and found himself lost for words. He was in the wrong here. He had screwed up, big time. All he could do was start from the beginning.
"What… What happened?" he asked. Sonny half-laughed, but there was no mirth in the noise, it was dark and hurt. He'd never heard Sonny laugh like that before.
"The hell you think, cuz?" He gestured to himself, to his bloody shirt and cut-up face. "Store got looted, we tried to protect it, got beat up, got the fuck out, came back this morning. Nothing to it." His cousin was looking at him dead on, a blooming bruise on his right cheekbone making the dead-eyed expression somehow lopsided. Usnavi felt almost sick looking at him- Sonny was just a kid. A goofy, cheeky, bright-eyed kid. He shouldn't be able to look like a veteran. He directed his gaze, instead, to Pete, who wasn't looking at either of them. He was leaning against the wall, ripped up tank showing a shallow gash and still more bruising across his stomach, staring blankly at the floor. Usnavi knew he had to say something. He had to make up for this- for what he hadn't done, and he opened his mouth to do it, but felt the words die on his lips. The air was tight.
"I'm gonna check out the grate." Sonny muttered, and shouldered past him through the door without acknowledging him further.
Usnavi stared after him, heard the uneven footsteps and the bell at the front chime harshly, and then nothing. There were a few seconds of silence.
"Broken. Couldn't get it down last night."
Another pause. Usnavi fought to find words.
This was his fault. That much was clear, at least- what he'd done, or rather- hadn't done, was one of the biggest mistakes he'd ever made; in the rush to get to Abuela, had the thought of the kid even crossed his mind? But, of course, Sonny- young, optimistic, idealistic Sonny- had rushed to protect his store- how could he not have known- how had he abandoned him like that?
"I should have been here." he said, quietly, almost to himself.
"Yeah. Yeah, you should have." Usnavi looked up. Pete was glaring coldly at him, bloody bruises patchworking his face horribly. The simple truth of the matter stared them both in the face. Pete had been here. Pete had been here, and Usnavi hadn't. Why?
"I know. I- " What could he say? He tried again. "You two shouldn't… you were so brave to-"
"We were fucking lucky is what we were." Pete cut him off harshly. His eyes were hard. Lucky? Usnavi could only stare back at him in shock. Roughly, the young man wiped a stream of blood from his re-opened bottom lip and shook his head. His next words were deadpan.
"We were lucky none of them had guns."
That made Usnavi's chest seize up.
Guns. Oh god. They could've died. They could've died, Sonny could've-
"I knew he'd come back here." Pete continued, cutting off his panic for a second. "Looking for you- or to try and save this place. I tried to talk him out of it, told him it was too dangerous, but he wouldn't leave- he was sure you were gonna come find him. You even think about that, man? He thought you were coming- and - and when you didn't, he still wouldn't go- he was out there, hanging off the grate with his hands all bust up and they were shooting down the block and you know what he said?" Pete had taken a few steps towards him now, voice rising to a shout. "He said 'It's all Usnavi's got left!' He stayed for you , man- and where were you? Still out with your girl, were you, taking advantage of the dark?"
"I- I was- "
"Cause we were so fucking lucky that only two of those guys had knives. You hear me? Think about that for just one damn second- we were lucky and it was still a close call- we almost- he could've- fuck ." Pete's voice cracked and he broke off, biting down hard onto his knuckle, redirecting his gaze to the ground.
Usnavi stared at him. His mind felt inside-out, trying to reconcile the furious, broken man in front of him with the layabout delinquent he'd thought that he knew- and he only seemed angry over Sonny. No mention at all of his own purpling eye or the messy red slash down the side of his chest- Sonny was what he was angry about, and that just didn't make sense. Sure, he knew they talked when Pete hung around the barrio- they were closer in age than any of the other neighbours- and sometimes Sonny would help him sort through his paint cans, despite Usnavi's protests, but this?
Why had he stayed- why had he come looking for Sonny in the first place? He'd always assumed that Pete saw Sonny as a bit of a nuisance, hanging around and getting in the way of his 'work', and yet here he was, almost hysterical over Usnavi's absence when Sonny had needed him. Perhaps their relationship went further than the misguided admiration and grudging tolerance he'd interpreted it as- but 'friends' didn't seem to work in conjunction with 'Graffiti Pete'. Blame that on too many years of chasing the guy away from the side of his store. He'd never once seen him with a friend.
"Pete, I- " he began, but the man held up a hand, and he snapped his mouth shut. He didn't deserve a say in this, the gesture said- he hadn't earned that right. He found himself reluctant to disagree.
Pete gritted his teeth, dug his nails into his palms, and took a deep, slow breath that made his whole body shake.
"He was so fuckin' scared, man." he whispered.
There were tears pricking his eyes.
"He was… he was terrified, and I couldn't- I couldn't do anything. I couldn't tell him it was all gonna be ok- cause we both knew for fucking sure that wasn't true- all we had was a goddamn baseball bat. We knew we had no chance. But he still had to try- that's Sonny, right? He had to do the right thing, for you, even when he was putting his life on the line, even when you didn't show up- when you don't fucking deserve his loyalty- you know how much he looks up to you? He's braver than you'll ever be- he stood out there, in the front of the store, with the door wide open and the grate up and I couldn't do anything and I-" -he choked down a sob- "- I thought- " -he laughed - "- I- I was so scared, man."
He spoke the words as if he was frightened of them.
"I thought he was gonna die."
The hollow note in his voice made something snap in Usnavi's chest. When he spoke, his voice felt foreign in his mouth.
"You… You really care about him." A watery, incredulous laugh slipped from Pete's mouth and he gripped the sides of his own temple, looking back up at Usnavi at last with wild eyes.
" Care about him? Man- you don't- God, I'm fuckin- " He cut himself off again, and cursed, before grabbing his bag and shoving his way out of the back door without a backward glance.
Usnavi watched him go, and didn't follow.
thank you for reading! next chapter will probably be up tomorrow- it's complete, i'm just not sure exactly how to space out updates. please please tell me what you thought of it- i love comments more than anything lmao
see you in the next one ! and a happy new year!