YOOOOO LOOK GUYS
i actually havent finished chapter 4 quite yet but im still gonna post it bc i love to suffer apparently,,,,, maybe i can write more tonight and tomorrow
enjoy !

It was just past sunrise when Nina woke up to a sharp rapping on her door. At first, she thought she might have imagined it, but it sounded again, more insistently, and she managed to pull herself upright and stumble groggily through the hall, rubbing her eyes with a yawn. When she pulled the door open, Sonny de la Vega was standing on the sidewalk. He looked distinctly anxious, twisting the hem of his shirt in his fists, his shoulders tense, brows knitted together.

"Sonny? What is it?" Sonny usually slept late when he could- he'd only be out and about this early if it was something important. He looked up at her, expression strained.

"Can I come in?" Nina opened the door wider, frowning.

"Of course, honey, what's wrong?" He didn't answer as he ducked into the house, awkwardly shuffling through to the living room and sitting down on the sofa after a nod from her- anxious and stiff, his whole body taught. "Sonny, what is it?" she asked again. As she sat down next to him, putting a warm hand on his shoulder, he bit his lip and muttered "It's about Usnavi."

Oh.

She had been expecting this- well, perhaps not this exactly, but something like it- with Sonny's cousin, his only family, leaving for D.R. in a matter of days, she'd been surprised, in fact, that it had taken so long to get to him. Abuela's death, she had supposed, had cast it into ample shadow- but now, here he was, looking drained, exhausted, with his eyes deep and hollow and she couldn't think what she was supposed to do. He needed her, and she did the only thing that came to mind and held him tight and whispered "Oh, cariño- "

"He's not going."

The words were flat. It took a second for them to reach her brain.

"He's not going." Sonny repeated, and this time there was a crack in his voice and she pulled back to see tears gathering in his eyes, spilling over his cheeks. "Nina, he's staying." he whispered.

Starting to cry in earnest now, the boy slumped over onto her shoulder- Nina barely caught him in time- and sobbed against her shirt as she wrapped her arms around him tightly, managing through her shock to stroke his hair and say "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay" as he shuddered helplessly against her with every breath.

Usnavi was staying?

Why? He'd had his heart set on going back to his homeland since even before his parents had passed- now, with the tickets in his grasp and Abuela's memory to spur him on, she couldn't think why he'd have passed the opportunity up.

And why was Sonny reacting like this? She'd have thought he'd be overjoyed that his cousin was staying- yet he was crying into her shoulder, gripping her arms if she was the only thing keeping him grounded.

Once the boy had calmed down enough to talk again, she pulled away and looked at him carefully. His expression was oddly hollow- empty, she thought, as if he'd had the colour drained out of him. He went slack against the cushions with his arm over his face and drew a long, shaky breath.

"He's staying." he repeated- numb. Nina couldn't find words. After a few moments, Sonny continued. "He's gonna use the money to fix up the store, and give some to Vanessa to help her move downtown. He's not going." Hesitantly, Nina moved a little closer to him, putting a cautious hand on his arm. She couldn't begin to understand what he was feeling- the kid seemed almost shell-shocked.

"When did you find out?" she asked.

"Just now. H- He sent me an' Pete to tell the whole barrio- I just- I needed to... Pete's passing the message round."

Sonny was hunched over now, gripping his arms and looking tense again. Nina bit her lip. "Do you have any idea what changed his mind?" He shrugged one shoulder, still not looking at her.

"I think it was Pete, actually." Nina started, eyes widening.

"Really? What-"

"Well, us, I guess- me and him. We- uh..." He scratched the back of his neck. "I- I commissioned him, actually- got him to paint a mural on the grate. Of... of Abuela. It took him all night- and Navi came to open the store, and we showed him, and he just said 'There goes my flight.'' and told us to spread the news." He looked like he didn't quite believe the words coming out of his mouth. "Just like that..." he murmured. He was still for a few moments, swallowing thick in his throat, before shaking himself off and looking agitated. "I mean- I wasn't trying to change his mind, I swear." he said, half to himself, "I just thought it'd be a good way to remember her, see, or- I don't know- it was the only thing I could think to do and I had to do something and- and- " He broke off with a frustrated grimace and shook his head. His hands were shaking. There were tears brimming in his eyes, but they didn't fall. "I had to do something."

Once again, Nina found that words had escaped her. Sonny- brave, thoughtful, Sonny- had had to find a way to honour his Abuela, even if it was a spray-painted mural on a bust-up grate. Of course he had. That was Sonny. That had always been Sonny; he had always had to- to do something, to make a difference, to make sure he wasn't just a bystander- he'd been defending the store when no one else had thought to do it, and he had sought out Pete while the rest of the barrio mourned, immobile- he had to make a difference. This time, he really, really had.

"It was still his choice, chico." she managed, eventually. Sonny looked up at her, eyes red. She swallowed hard and fought to continue, but he was speaking first.

"But Nina, if I hadn't- then he would've- and I don't want- "

"Sonny, listen. You're not... you're not keeping him here against his will, or... or anything you might be thinking." When his expression remained anguished, she squeezed his hand and leaned closer to look him dead on. "I promise, cariño. You're not... dragging him down."

He spent the rest of the night at Nina's place- and she eventually managed to persuade him to sleep, despite his protests that he'd pulled all-nighters and been fine before- and got several calls from various neighbours looking to confirm that- yes- Usnavi really was staying.

It wasn't until later that morning- when she had left Sonny snoring on her couch and headed down to the bodega, and found the man slumped on the front step, dazed and exhausted, and heard the words from his own mouth- that she really believed it herself.

Usnavi was staying.

A few days later, and the bodega was back in business- or, as much as it could be. Usnavi and Sonny took equal shifts at the counter while the other, along with much of the rest of the barrio, tried to patch the little shop back into shape. It was hardly a one-man job, and the money only took them so far- so almost everyone they knew lent a hand at some point. Benny did most of the heavy lifting, while Vanessa re-organised the setup of the entire store, and Carla- surprisingly good with numbers- worked through the costs of everything, handing Usnavi a neatly printed list at the end of the first week detailing the pros and cons in terms of almost every finance option they had.

When Sonny wasn't behind the counter, he was helping Benny in the store rooms or drawing spreadsheets up with Dani- he kept himself constantly busy, hardly a moment to spare for thought. At almost every opportunity, Usnavi would try to strike up a conversation with him- light and friendly and altogether far too normal for the circumstances. Sonny would brush him off more often than not, and come up with a new excuse or a job he was supposed to be doing, and dully avoid his eyes.

Nina had to give him at least a little credit- Usnavi was trying. He was doing his best to be as normal as he could around everyone- as if everything was fine- but it just wasn't. That was the crux of the matter, when you got down to it. It wasn't fine. They couldn't go back to living as they had done- they couldn't just go back to 'normal'- not when Vanessa's apartment was a maze of moving boxes, not when Sonny was odd and distant and hurt- and not when Abuela was gone.

Since his breakdown immediately after her death, Usnavi was almost unnervingly normal- he went about his business as usual, opening up the wreck of the bodega each morning and selling what he could- it was troubling, to say the least. And things between him and Sonny were still… tense. The boy was talking to him again, doing more than his fair share of the work and taking shifts without complaint, but it was all wrong. He didn't laugh and joke around with Usnavi any more- any interactions she witnessed seemed far more boss/employee than the close cousins they all knew. It worried her more than she liked to let on- and knew the others in the barrio felt much the same.

At the same time, Usnavi wasn't letting Sonny out on his own at all. Round-the-clock supervision from anyone and everyone, the kid had at least two sets of eyes on him at any given time- and she had almost wanted to scream when Usnavi told them all that's what he thought was necessary.

He was guilty, she knew, horribly guilty about what had happened, and felt like he needed to protect his little cousin, but he had gone about it just about the worst way possible. Rather than the comfort he seemed to expect it to give him, Sonny felt patronised and constricted, felt as if Usnavi was punishing him for staying out by himself in the blackout. And he felt guilty, too. He felt like he'd failed them.

All this Nina managed to figure out simply from watching the two De la Vegas- boys she'd grown up with and knew like the back of her hand, and they'd always been so close. But now it seemed like there was a gulf between them- and the worst part was that Usnavi just didn't seem to want to acknowledge it. While Sonny shrugged him off, locked himself in his room, spent hours re-organising the bodega's store-cupboards (he wrenched his back moving the boxes) Usnavi was as friendly as ever- admonishing him jokingly, laughing, making conversation as if nothing was wrong- and when his attempts to get the boy back to normal failed, he simply continued the same approach with more enthusiasm. It was almost painful to watch.

He wasn't leaving. That was how Usnavi saw it- he was staying here and that was that. But for Sonny, from the brief snatches and sobs and mutterings she'd been able to glimpse from him- for Sonny, what mattered was that he had been going to. He had been going to leave him. And if it wasn't for Abuela's death, he definitely would have done. And sure, perhaps he had been leaving him with $32K, but what was a sixteen-year-old going to do with that?

'Where exactly had he thought Sonny was going to go?' she found herself wondering. Perhaps her and her parents would have taken him in, or Daniela- she'd always had a soft spot for the kid- either that or he'd have ended up on the streets. No- no, they wouldn't have let that happen, she thought furiously, shoving the idea from her head- Sonny knew that, he had to. And still, he felt horribly like he had forced Usnavi to stay.

While he was still distant with his cousin, Sonny was nearly his old self around most of the others- Nina in particular- something that made his attitude to Usnavi even worse by comparison. With Benny, Dani, Carla, or herself, he would laugh and joke around, all of them trying to treat his constant supervision as 'hanging out with friends' rather than what it really was, but he just... closed off around his cousin. They needed to talk it out, that was clear, but neither seemed likely to initiate. If this went on much longer, she was going to take matters into her own hands. They were part of the barrio- the only part left, it seemed like- and having them stiff and uncomfortable around each other was just wrong. They needed the De la Vegas back- both of them.

She was on Sonny-duty tonight- not exactly a chore, since all it meant was sitting behind the counter with him and getting a lot of free slushies when they couldn't think of anything to do. He was experimenting with new flavour combinations- and miscellaneous ingredients from the bodega's shelves- most of which were nothing short of disgusting, but hey, it passed the time.

Business was slow and the nights were hot, and they were leaning on the counter with the latest concoctions in their hands and all the doors and windows thrown wide, though it did little to combat the closeness of the air.

Sonny had managed to pull his lengthening curls into a sort of topknot on top of his head- he looked like a strawberry, and she'd told him so, to his deep mock-offence. He hadn't taken it out, though, and she had to suppress a giggle every time she looked over at him.

"A'ight." he was saying, now. "On three, ok?" She nodded, readying herself for whatever assault her taste-buds were about to receive. "One-" Sonny muttered. "Two.. Three!" Together, they took a large gulp each from the paper cups in their hands, and Nina's face screwed up reflexively as the flavours burst in her mouth. It wasn't necessarily bad, there was just an awful lot going on, and she felt her forehead start to burn a second later- a brain-freeze, which, from Sonny's flapping hands and grimace, he was suffering from as well.

Once they'd managed to swallow their mouthfuls, both giggling a little and grimacing from the aftertaste, she shoved the cup as far away from herself as she could.

"Do me a favour and never make that again." Sonny continued to laugh, nodding, starting to cough halfway through.

"Y- Yeah, that was- that was fucking gross."

"Language!" she chided him, but she was still laughing herself.

"Fucking. Gross." Sonny repeated, annunciating each syllable clearly- half a smirk present on his face. Nina laughed and put her hands over her ears, at which Sonny raised an eyebrow, bemused.

"What're you doing that for?"

"One of us has got to be the pure one around here- if it's not you, I'm taking your place."

"Oh yeah, 'cause I'm sure everything you do with Benny is completely pure..." Sonny drawled the words and batted his eyelashes, and Nina let out a snort, shoving at him lightly.

"What's with you today?" she chuckled. "What happened to my little Son-shine?"

"All his friends started screwing each other and abandoned him." Sonny muttered. He grabbed their two cups from the counter and went to get rid of the contents, and Nina watched after him with a fond smile- it was nice: the easy back-and-forth between them- it was familiar.

When he got back and hoisted himself up onto the counter, she followed suit, knocking their shoulders together lightly.

"Cheer up, chico." she said. "Dani and Carla are both single." Sonny stared glumly at his feet, tapping his heels against the counter.

"Oh, whoopee." he muttered.

"Hey..." Frowning, Nina shifted to face him better. "Does that really bother you? I mean- I know I've been spending more time with Benny, and now that Usnavi and Vanessa are-" Sonny cut her off, waving a hand.

"Nah, it's cool- I'm fine." he said. He shrugged- "I'm alright, don't stress. It's... different, now- what with Navi and Van, and you and Benny too- but it's not really a bad different. You two were on a date today, right?"

She couldn't help the smile that spread across her face at that. She and Benny had spent the later part of the day at his apartment, cooked dinner together, and curled on the couch to watch one of the old black-and-white movies he loved- not a particularly fancy evening, by most people's standards, but it was more than enough for them. She nodded.

"Yeah, just a quiet one. Can't afford a big fancy restaurant every time, can we?" It was wonderful, really, that she didn't need anything like that to feel special with Benny. Just being with him was enough- even if it was eating his not-too-delicious cooking and trying not to laugh at the poor quality of the acting in a film that had him close to tears- just being with him made her feel safe, and valued. Sonny raised an eyebrow at the undoubtedly love-struck expression on her face, and she stuck her tongue out, turning away from him to hide her blush. With a laugh of his own, the boy slid off the counter so he was leaning against it, and sighed as he fiddled with the few curls that were escaping from his stupid top-knot.

"Y'know, it's funny," he managed eventually. "A year ago, I probably would've hated him. Still thought I was in love with you." Pressing a hand to her chest, Nina gasped.

" Thought'? You mean your feelings for me were a lie? You ass- you were leading me on, all those years?" Sonny chuckled and rolled his eyes at her.

"S'not a lie if I thought I was telling the truth." he pointed out. Then he frowned, biting his lip, as if trying to find words for something. "I just… I mean, I thought- I really, really liked you and you're so smart, and beautiful, and funny- so, like, why wouldn't I be in love with you- you know?" He faltered, scratching the back of his neck. "I guess I thought I was supposed to be, or… sorry- this isn't making sense."

"No, no, I get it." Nina assured him. "I understand." Sonny looked over at her and smiled gratefully, letting his hand drop to his side, and Nina was struck quite suddenly by how much older he looked.

She had noticed when she first got back, of course, that he'd grown much taller during her time away, that his jaw was sharpening and his puppy-fat receding, but it wasn't until now that it had really hit her- how much Sonny was growing up. Becoming surer of his feelings was one thing- there was such a stark difference between the little boy who'd brought her flowers with a blushing, gap-toothed grin and the young man standing beside her with fondness in his eyes- there was love there, certainly, but it was a simpler kind. It made his eyes warm.

He carried himself differently, too- he was more confident, more mature- and he was doing everything he could to help patch up the bodega. She didn't want to think about how that might partly be out of guilt- that he felt bad for not being able to save the shop during the riots. He'd looked so old after that, too. It had only flitted through her mind at the time- she'd been far more preoccupied with his injuries- but she did remember thinking that, bruised and angry, glaring sourly at Usnavi- Sonny just hadn't looked like a kid any more. And he didn't look like one now.

Blinking back tears that suddenly threatened to build in her eyes, she smiled brightly at him and squeezed his shoulder. Sonny frowned, looking at her with concern.

"What's wrong?" he asked. "Are you alright?" Nina sniffed and nodded.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine. It's just…" She melted under his worried gaze. "It's just- you went and grew up while I was away, and I missed it." The words sounded clichéd as she spoke them, but Sonny's eyes widened at her tears and he pulled her quickly into a tight hug. He was almost as tall as her, now- tall enough to rest his chin on her shoulder as she laughed wetly into his.

"C'mon." he muttered. "I ain't as big as all that." Nina sighed and held him tighter.

"You are, though. Don't need a babysitter any more, do you?"

"Sure I do. Navi's got eyes on me 24/7." She caught the bitterness behind his words, and pulled back to look him in the eye.

"He's just worried about you." she told him, casting him a scolding look when he rolled his eyes. "You know how bad he feels for leaving you by yourself during the blackout, and… about everything after. This is his way of trying to make up for it." Sonny continued to frown, not saying a word. Sighing, Nina cuffed his chin lightly with her knuckles and felt her heart lift as the old gesture brought a smile to his face. "I know you don't need it." she told him. "He's just a great big mama bear when it comes to you, and he knows he can't make up for what he did. I know that too. But that doesn't mean you can't forgive him." At that, Sonny's frown returned in full force- it was clear that he didn't want to talk about this. He broke away from her and slumped into his chair, rubbing his eyes.

"I don't want to forgive him." he muttered. Nina sighed, looked across at him with a firm gaze.

"You do need to talk to him. You know that, right?" she said.

He didn't answer.

When she walked into the bodega a few days later and found the two cousins tangled together on the tiled floor, tear stained and drained-looking, what she felt more than anything was pride. Usnavi was holding Sonny close to him, the boy's head heavy against his sternum as he traced even circles into his back, and he looked shaken, exhausted, but somehow... relieved. When he spotted her, he looked up and smiled weakly, mouthing, "We're ok" when she gave him a questioning look. Sonny seemed to sense the movement, because he pulled away gently and turned to look behind him, and gave her a shaky thumbs-up once he recognised who it was. Nina approached them and knelt down, adding her own hand to Sonny's shoulder.

"You two talked?" They both nodded. Usnavi grunted and stretched.

"Yeah, since three this morning. This puffball came and woke me up." He rumpled Sonny's hair, and the kid groaned and rolled his eyes at him.

"Navi, you were sleeping at the counter, you were gonna hurt your back."

"Oh yeah, and you'd know all about that, Mister 'I'm sure I can lift three boxes of tinned fruit at once without-"

"Oh, shut up, I hardly even-"

"Son, you couldn't lift your arms for a-"

"Could too!" Sonny shoved lightly at Usnavi's chest, grunting in protest when his cousin trapped him in a hug again.

"Yes, we talked." Usnavi said after a few seconds, speaking over his shoulder. "We worked stuff out. We're... we're alright. Right, niño?" He pulled back to look Sonny in the eye as he said it- apparently seeking confirmation. He gave it, nodding.

"Yeah. Yeah, we're cool."

Nina felt a broad grin spread across her face as she looked at them- two weary, beaming faces, truly happy for what felt like the first time in an age. They were going to be alright.

Pulling Sonny up with him, Usnavi climbed to his feet and tweaked the kid's hat lightly, laughing when he frowned and swatted his hand away.

"Now, I- " he said, moving towards the door- presumably to change the sign, "- need to open up shop, and you, kiddo, need to go to bed."

"Navi, I'm fine, I'm not- I can- " Sonny protested weakly, but his words were cut off in a yawn. Before Usnavi could comment, however, Nina was holding up a hand and speaking herself.

"You both need to go to bed." she corrected him. "No buts, Navi- you look like death and, contrary to popular belief, it is not actually possible for to survive solely on espresso. I'll take care of the shop while you two get some rest, alright?" Usnavi, who had opened his mouth to argue, closed it again under her knowing stare- no one could hide anything from Nina.

"Thanks, Nina." he said, sounding resigned.

"It's no problem- I'm just glad you two worked things out. Head home, get some rest, alright? I'll tell people you're busy for the morning."

Usnavi smiled gratefully as he towed a still-protesting Sonny from the shop, promising to repay her when she got the chance, and she watched with a bright smile as the pair passed out of sight. For the first time, the bodega felt close to normal again.

It only grew more so as the days passed. Now that more than half of the repairs were done, and Sonny and Usnavi were talking again, the little shop was beginning to feel more and more like home. While she was no longer required to watch Sonny while he took his shifts, Nina often went down anyway to talk and hang out with him (though she threatened to leave quickly if he suggested more slushie experiments- her taste buds still hadn't quite recovered). This was the case one dull Saturday afternoon, and she got an intriguing surprise upon entering.

Sonny was sitting behind the counter and staring dreamily out of the window, making circles with his fingers on the countertop with a small, fond smile on his face. Grinning to herself, she made her way over and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Thinking about someone?" She smirked, and the boy started and looked around at her, wide eyed, blushing furiously.

"No!" he said- squeaked, almost. "No one, why'd you think that?" His burning cheeks made the smirk on her face broaden- that wasn't at all the response she'd been expecting.

"Sonny De la Vega, you have a crush!" she exclaimed, beaming, and the boy's flush deepened.

"N- No!" he stuttered. "I don't!"

"You do, don't even try to deny it, I know you too well- c'mon, you had a crush on me for a good 8 years, I know the signs. Spill." Sonny glared at her for a few more seconds, face still bright red, before slumping down with his head in his arms.

"Okay. Sure, I have a crush." he conceded. Then he turned to frown at her again. "But that's all you're getting out of me."

"Not true, kiddo. You must know by now that you can keep nothing from me." She bent over to be level with him, giving him an exaggerated evil glare that made him snort. It was true, though, no-one could ever keep a secret from Nina- especially not Sonny.

"How long?" she asked. Sonny frowned, clamping his mouth shut, but rolled his eyes and mumbled. "Since… Christmas before last?" after she pouted at him. Nina was surprised- that was a while longer than she'd expected.

"Wow, so this is like a long-term thing, huh?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Not just a little 'think they're cute' kind of deal?"

Sonny picked at his fingernails, not looking at her.

"I mean- yeah…" he muttered. "It was probably what helped me realize I didn't like you like that. Y'know- 'okay so this is definitely... you know, romantic- and what I have with Nina is totally different'. They're just…" He groaned, putting his head in his hands. "I don't know what to do. How'd you get Benny to fall in love with you?" Nina laughed at that.

"I didn't 'do' anything- or, I wasn't trying to, at least. It just sort of… happened."

"Lucky." Sonny muttered.

"Yeah, we were, I guess. But you're changing the subject, niño."

"And you're changing it back." he countered. "You're not getting this out of me, Nina, not this time." He shot her a look of finality, pushing himself off his chair and marching off to the store cupboard to pretend to stack something. When he came back in a few minutes later, she'd positioned herself in front of the counter and folded her arms, putting on her sternest expression- a pretty good impersonation of Camilla Rosario herself, whose looks were infamous throughout the barrio. As soon as he caught sight of her, Sonny stopped dead and put his hands firmly over his eyes.

"Nu-uh. You're doin' the face, Nina, that ain't fair."

"All's fair in love and war, chico."

"This is definitely war- hey!" Sonny yelped as she leaned forward, pinching his sides and rushed around her, swatting at her hands, to throw himself back down into his chair. Pulling his knees up to his chest, he hid his face and put his arms over his head, yelling "This is assault!" while she tickled his neck and arms, fighting back laughter.

"Nina- I- no, I- Nina- stop- I'll- !" He kicked out at her, shoving with his feet and spluttering, until she broke away with her arms up.

"Okay, okay, I'm stopping." Sonny pouted at her.

"I hate you."

"No you don't." Nina said idly, leaning on the counter and popping a skittle from the pile he'd been eating from into her mouth. He scowled.

"Do too." There were a few seconds of silence. Then-

"So?"

"So what?"

"So, who is it?" Sonny glared at her, exasperated.

"I told you- I'm not telling."

"Oh, come on." Nina groaned, looking imploringly at him. "I won't tell, I promise!" It was true- she wouldn't have blurted the information to anyone- but Sonny didn't seem to trust her.

"You expect me to believe you'll keep this from Dani? C'mon, Nina- she knows, and the barrio knows- I don't wanna be the talk on the street for this." Nina was about to roll her eyes and point out that whoever was the subject of the younger De la Vega's affections, while definitely interesting, wasn't about to become the hottest news in the neighbourhood- but then she registered the anxious, almost frightened look on Sonny's face. No- not ''almost''- he was terrified.

Why?

"Alright, alright, you don't have to tell me who it is," she said quickly, watching the panic leave his eyes after she'd got the words out, "- but you do have to tell me all about them. Is it someone from school? Just a neighbour? Have you actually spoken, or are you just, you know, dying from afar?"

"Nina- "

"Nope, as your ex-babysitter and ex-crush, you are obligated to spill." She hoisted herself up onto the counter so that she was facing him, their heights almost equal. Sonny groaned, cheeks darkening further still.

"Only you would use the word 'obligated'." he muttered. Nina stuck her tongue out at him, and he scowled harder. Under her pleading gaze, however, he cracked. "Oh, fine. We… we're good friends." he began. "I've known them for a while, and we've always been pretty close, but recently stuff's just… different. I get so nervous when I'm around them, 'cause I'm worried I'll slip up and accidentally confess, or something, and it's really hard 'cause they come in here all the time- was it like that with you and Benny?" Nina shook her head.

"Not really. Well, sort of- but it was him that was nervous all the time." She smiled at the memories- Benny, rambling nervously when he talked to her, going far too far with his compliments and blushing hard as he hurried to correct himself, painfully obvious about his feelings. "He was always stumbling over his words when he talked to me." she said. "It was really cute."

"Only 'cause you liked him back." Sonny mumbled gloomily. "You two are so lucky."

"Well, yeah… but that doesn't mean you can't get lucky too. Why don't you just be honest? Confess?" Sonny's eyes widened at that and he shook his head vigorously.

"Hooooo boy, no way in hell is that gonna happen." He looked mortified at the idea.

"Well, why not?"

"S'too risky." he muttered, dropping his gaze. Nina sighed. Teenagers always made such a big deal of these sorts of things.

"What's the worst that could happen?" she protested. "They like you or they don't, and you're both honest with each other about it- and you said you were friends, right?" He nodded. "So, if they're a good friend, they won't hold it against you, and you can keep being friends, even if they're not interested romantically." Sonny just groaned and pulled his knees up to his chest.

"S'not like that. They'd think… I've just got no way of knowing if they'd be cool with it, and I don't wanna risk it- they're, like, the closest friend I've got- besides you, obviously." he amended at her offended look. He sighed. "S'better just to carry on how I am."

Something was tugging at the back of Nina's mind- why on earth would he be so nervous about this? He'd always flirted pretty shamelessly with the girls that came into the bodega- and not too badly either, if she was honest- but he seemed oddly uneasy about this particular interest. She supposed it was different- an emotional connection with a friend rather than simple physical attraction, but- the horror in his face at the idea of anyone finding out- and the way he was talking about it-

Something clicked into place.

She couldn't be sure- and she couldn't exactly just ask- the kid was embarrassed enough already- but, well, what else could it be? Sexuality wasn't something they talked about often. Or at all. She and the other girls did, of course, she'd couldn't remember not knowing that Carla was gay, and she remembered Vanessa's forced-casual declaration that she was bi one night when they were both fourteen as clear as anything, but she and Sonny? Not really. What about Usnavi and Sonny? She knew he must have given the kid some kind of sex talk, but knowing Usnavi , she thought with some exasperation, it had probably been rushed and completely focused on the assumption that Sonny would only be wanting to sleep with girls. Or- it wasn't like Sonny needed to be told not to get a girl pregnant, and maybe Usnavi wouldn't have considered the other option, so had he talked to him about this at all?

Probably not. Thinking about it for the first time, it seemed more and more likely that Sonny had been left to his own devices, and wouldn't know where he stood with anyone. Jesus, no wonder he was so scared.

Trying to think of a way to broach the subject with him, she popped a few skittles into her mouth to give her thinking time. Sonny was looking at his feet, wriggling his toes inside his sneakers.

"You remind me of Carla," she started, picking something she'd been thinking about earlier in the day. "She's got a huge crush on this new worker at the salon- this lady called Ivy-Rose. She's convinced she's straight and married and all that and she's being hopeless ."

"Yeah?" he said, his voice almost completely steady. He must have picked up on the link. She could practically feel his shoulders tensing up.

"Yeah," she continued carefully. "She's been whining about it to us for weeks now; Dani's ready to lock them in the store cupboard." That earned a shaky laugh, and Sonny twisted the hem of his tank as he seemed to search for words. After a few moments, he opened his mouth again, still not looking at her.

"Hey, Nina-"

He was cut off as the door opened and Usnavi bustled in, smiling.

"Hey, you two? Get anything productive done while I was gone or are you just stealing more of my stock?" He eyed the pile of empty sweet papers next to the till. "That's going on your tab, young man- and don't tell me I have to make one for you too, Nina?" She held up her hands in mock-indignation.

"Hey! Don't look at me, future president doesn't steal, it's all this little rat."

Sonny elbowed her lightly, half-laughing.

"Hey! Quit ganging up on me!"

The conversation relaxed back into playful teasing, the tension dissipating, but she caught Sonny shoot a complicated look her way when Usnavi turned his back- clearly whatever he had been going to say was still on his mind. That in itself, and that he wasn't willing to bring it up in front of Usnavi, could have a number of implications, but she didn't press the subject even when he left. Sonny would talk about it in his own time, if he was comfortable discussing it at all. It wasn't her place to push him.

In fact, the topic wasn't brought up again until three days later. Nina was down at Daniela's new salon, taking a break from unpacking boxes and reading a magazine, half-listening to Daniela's recount of whatever she viewed to be the latest scandal, when the bell that rang out at the front of the shop made them and Carla look up. Sonny pushed through the door, looking anxious, almost as tense as he's been when he'd come to tell her about Usnavi's decision to stay in the barrio, but there was a grin plastered onto his face all the same.

"Sonny!" Carla beamed, and shuffled over on the couch to make room for him. "I thought you weren't coming till later!" Grinning a little oddly back at her, he sat down between her and Nina, shrugging off his bag.

"Usnavi let me off- Vanessa's coming over this evening and he's closed up early." he said quickly. Dani rolled her eyes.

"Going to take hours getting himself ready, is he?"

"I put an outfit out for him, but he'll be rearranging all the things in the apartment three times and convincing himself that she's coming over to dump him." Carla laughed.

"Well, don't think you're just here to gossip, young man-" Dani wagged a finger at him. "We're just taking a break- three more boxes to push upstairs and unpack." Sonny nodded, the strain coming more firmly into his smile. His mind didn't seem to be on the conversation- he'd be cracking jokes, joining in with the gossip. He seemed to have noticed the concern in her gaze, because he swallowed a second later and stood up sharply.

"Hey- uh- Nina, can I talk to you before we start?" he asked, his voice a half-octave higher than usual. She set down her magazine and got to her feet, nodding.

"Yeah, of course. Do you want...?" She trailed off, inclining her head to ask whether it was something he wanted private. Glancing quickly at Dani and Carla, he nodded and grimaced, shifting from foot to foot as if whatever it was he had to say was physically fighting to burst out of him. Without a second thought, Nina ushered him out through the little back door and into the room that the girls rented out. Even though she wasn't looking at them, she could feel two sets of curious eyes on the back of her neck as they walked. She shut the door firmly, shooting a 'Don't you dare listen'' sort of look to the pair of them, and then lead him through the fire door they'd propped open to the small patch of concrete outside, and it was only after closing that, too, that she turned back to Sonny.

"What is it?"

He looked like he might be sick. He was twisting his hands together furiously- something he only did when his anxiety got to him really bad, and refusing to meet her gaze as he struggled for words.

"I- Nina, I have to t- It's just... I'm... I don't know how to-" Nina cut him off gently, taking his shoulders lightly and turning him to face her.

"Sonny, you're alright, you're alright, whatever it is, you can tell me, ok?" He took a slow breath, and swallowed.

"Ok... I-" She watched him struggle for words for a few seconds more, dropping her hands to give him space, and it seemed for a second like he might change his mind and leave her without saying another word. His whole body was taught as a spring.

"Sonny?"

"I'm bisexual." The confession came in a rush, his voice shaky, his eyes fixed on the ground, but his whole body seemed to relax once he'd said it. His shoulders sagged as he ran a hand through his hair, letting out a slow, shuddering breath, and raising his eyes up to her anxiously- and she melted. He looked so small. For all the growing he'd done while she was away, this was still her best friend's baby cousin- big-eyed and nervous and waiting for her approval.

"Oh, baby." Nina held out her arms and he positively fell into them, letting slip a half-sob as she crushed him tightly to her chest, knuckles going white with her grip. She could feel his heart hammering- a hummingbird against his ribs.

They stood like that for longer than she could have counted, Sonny showing no signs of loosening his hold on her, and Nina having no wish for him to do so. Was she the first person he'd told? It certainly seemed like it, from his fear and hesitance, and the knowledge that he trusted her with this made her heart swell almost painfully- but why her? Sure, they had always been close, but she felt... off, knowing she was the first person he had trusted. It shouldn't have been her, should it? It should have been Usnavi.

When, eventually, he pulled away- not taking his hands from her shoulders, but enough for her to catch his eye- he looked shaken, but there was a dazzling smile building fast behind his eyes. He swallowed and spoke again, quietly.

"S- So... you're cool? I mean- I know you said- but- "

"Sonny." Nina cut him off firmly. "It's more than fine- and I'll fight anyone who says differently for your honour- there is nothing wrong with you, and there never will be. You're still my little Son-shine, right?" She mussed up his hair and he blushed and grumbled, but the grin broke out across his face and it really was like sunlight- bright and blinding and beautiful. He hugged her tightly again with a watery laugh and mumbled "Thank you, thank you Nina, te amo, te amo, I love you" with such relief in his voice that she wanted to cry.

When he let out a heavy breath and pulled back from her, wiping his eyes, she found she couldn't get the huge smile off her face.

"I know it must seem kinda stupid." he mumbled. "I mean, it's not like I expect people to react badly, I'm already not cis and there's Carla and Vanessa and- "

"Hey! Sonny, it's okay." Nina put a hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to apologise. It's a big deal. It's… a part of you- I- oh I don't know, you could say it better than me." Sonny laughed again, breathlessly, beamed at her.

"It's okay." he said. Nina squeezed his shoulder.

"That's right." Sonny took a couple of deep breaths, clenching and unclenching his fists.

"It's okay." he repeated.

After a couple of minutes, when he'd caught his breath and they were just standing side by side in the cooling afternoon, Nina elbowed him lightly in the ribs.

"So..." she said. "Does this mean we can talk about cute boys together?" He cracked, raising his hand to his mouth with a snort.

"Nina Rosario, you are taken!" He jabbed an accusatory finger at her, a goofy grin still plastered over his face. She shrugged.

"Doesn't mean I can't see, and you think someone who knows Daniela can escape gossip? In fact, I think I know a great place to start..." Raising one eyebrow, she grinned across at him, making her meaning clear. Sonny groaned.

"Nina, no."

"Come on- you've got no reason not to tell me any more..."

"Yeah right- no reason at all. I'd like to live my life without Dani telling the whole of the barrio who I've got a crush on-"

"Hey, I wouldn't tell her! Sonny, you know I wouldn't, not with something like this." She looked at him earnestly, trying to convince him she would be true to her word- knowing that telling Dani who he liked would mean outing him to her, she wouldn't have considered it for a heartbeat. At least some of her sincerity must have shown through, because Sonny sighed and leaned back against the wall and said "Fine... you can ask questions, but I don't have to answer them, alright?". Nina beamed.

"Ok... Boy or girl?"

"Boy- I thought you'd have figured that out."

"Hey- just checking! Are you out to him?"

"No. You're the only person I've told, and I... I don't know how I'd bring it up with him." He looked totally dejected, and she reached out to take his hand.

"Touchy subject, huh?"

"Yeah. Or- no. I- " He broke off, looking up at her properly with a frustrated expression. "We've been friends since we were kids, and he's gay, right? I've known that almost since he did- but, I can't tell him about me." Nina frowned.

"Why not? Tell me if I'm pushing, okay?" He nodded, and she continued. "I mean, if he's gay, why wouldn't he accept you?"

"I know it's- I know it's stupid, I-"

"Hey, it's not-" Nina started to interrupt him but Sonny kept on talking.

"- but some gay people don't accept bi people y'know? Like it's different, right, and I don't know, it's just it's hard, I think he's chill in theory but I just don't know exactly how he'd react and-" His voice was starting to speed up again, his fingers returning to their spot worrying the hem of his shirt, "- and sometimes people feel different if it's someone they know and he'd definitely think it was weird that I'm into him, he might not be comfortable being my friend, you know, and I can't tell him I think the only reason he hasn't figured it out is because he thinks I'm straight, otherwise it'd be obvious-" he broke of, breathing deeply through his nose, then after a few seconds, swallowed and opened his mouth again. "He's... he means a lot to me, Nina, not just romantically. I can't lose that 'cause of some silly crush."

"Doesn't sound like a silly crush." Sonny didn't seem to have an answer to that. He pulled his hands away from hers to shove them deep in his pockets. Nina leaned against the wall alongside him, trying to catch his gaze.

There weren't many options for who he could be talking about. Someone he'd known since he was a kid? A guy he was close to- and someone she knew too, or he wouldn't be so anxious about telling her? Thinking about it, it seemed pretty dense not to have noticed before- Pete was Sonny's closest friend. Considering her words, she spoke again.

"Niño, if you're that close, I can't imagine him feeling much different just because of your sexuality." Sonny tapped his feet and stared at them. Nina really didn't know Pete too well, but if he was gay himself, he didn't seem like the type of person who would judge anyone else for their own sexuality. But as Sonny said, it was impossible to know. Before she could say anything, however, Sonny was continuing again.

"And even without that, I don't have a clue about getting his attention- they don't teach you this kind of stuff. What do guys even like?" Nina felt herself chuckle, and noticed Sonny's expression easing slightly too.

"Just get him flowers or something, it's not that difficult."

"Can't," Sonny muttered. "He's allergic to everything ."

"So get him fake flowers." she protested, meeting his incredulous look with an innocent one of her own. "What? It's the thought that counts, right? And I'm sure he'll appreciate you remembering he's allergic."

"Nina-"

"Nina! Sonny!" It was Carla's voice, coming from inside. Nina rolled her eyes, bringing a grin to Sonny's lips, and turned to pull open the door.

"Yes, Carla? We're out here." Carla's head popped into view and she grinned in relief as she caught sight of them.

"Dani says that if you and Sonny don't come back and help her move the boxes then she'll tell Vanessa about your rendezvous with Benny in the park last Saturday- and she's not telling you how she knows so don't ask," she recounted blithely. Sonny sniggered and Nina slapped his arm lightly as they followed Carla back inside.

The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully, with only a couple of interruptions in the form of frantic texts from Usnavi asking whether the place he'd decided to take Vanessa was too fancy, or not fancy enough, or what to get her, and as the time neared six Sonny took his leave.

"I've got to meet Vanessa at the station," he told them, "Usnavi won't let me make the trip alone."

"Aww, you tell those love-birds to have a good time!" Carla grinned and waved him through the door. Nina raised her hand in farewell to him too, sending him as reassuring a smile as she could, which he returned.

Watching him go, she couldn't help running over their conversation in her mind. Had she handled it right? She was the first person he'd told, after all, so a lot was riding on her- and he'd been so nervous… He hadn't seemed unhappy, though. That was the thought she kept hold of as she deflected Dani's questions and went back to reading her magazine- he'd been positively glowing when she'd given him her support- and he'd laughed and joked with them through the afternoon. He knew she supported him; that was as much as she could do for the moment.

"You know José's going to propose to Julio?" Carla said after a minute as she positioned photos on a shelf. Dani latched onto the new topic quickly, and Nina felt relief wash over her at her restraint, having been braced for an interrogation now that Sonny was firmly out of earshot. While she didn't think Dani really would blab about his sexuality, if Sonny wasn't comfortable with anyone else knowing, she certainly wasn't going to bring it to light.

She smiled and turned the page of her magazine, debating whether to let them know about the precise arrangements of the marriage, which were apparently not cutting Yesenia out of the picture. In the end, she opted to keep her mouth shut. It was their news to tell.

thank you for reading! as always,, comments are what keep me going ily all