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

Of course, it wasn't like she hadn't spent time there before, but now that she was dating Usnavi, she was finding herself there more and more as the weeks went by. It was a sort of escape, she had supposed at first- away from the stress of her mom's place, away from the chatter and teasing at the salon- but really, she realised, she simply wanted to be there. With Usnavi.

She was still getting used to it. It wasn't like she was new to a heart-eyed boy giving her attention- but this felt somehow different. Usnavi was different. He was sweet, and he kept on surprising her- catching her off-guard with things she'd never even thought about. The quiet, soft way he asked her how she was doing. The gentle movement of his hand to tuck her hair behind her ear as he went to kiss her- the silent question in his eyes as he asked permission for everything, making sure that she was comfortable. The nervousness that was gradually falling away. The warmth that she found underneath. Usnavi was gentle, and safe, and with every passing day he became more and more firmly a part of her life.

And she really liked him. He was sweet, and his hair was soft and she liked the way he laughed and the starry gaze he looked at her with- and his hands and how easily he blushed. She liked him a lot. Enough, in fact, not to be very annoyed or surprised at finding her belongings around his apartment- a book first, then a pair of shoes and a toothbrush; the familiarity was growing fast and spending time there began to feel more and more natural. Even now, after she'd officially moved to Lower Manhattan, almost all her time in the Heights was spent in Castillo De La Vega .

Along with time in the apartment came time with Sonny. That was probably helping, too- she'd always been friendly with him; it was hard not to be, if you spoke to the kid for more than ten seconds. His laughter, his teasing and his smiles were infectious, and she was fiercely glad that the time they'd all spent without them was now over. She became accustomed quite quickly to being at the apartment even without Usnavi there- just sitting on the couch with the younger boy or listening to his shuffling around upstairs.

What also seemed to become frequent was Sonny spending time around at her new place. He had helped her with settling in more than almost anybody 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 back, travelling back with her on the train sometimes 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 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- she did have Usnavi, of course, but her changing relationship with him was hardly a help, as happy as she was with it, and the easy conversations with Sonny were something of a comfort.

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 lined 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 women side by side on Vanessa's single bed with open textbooks and packets of candy, mostly just talking. She missed her more than she realised.

Nina's world was changing. Much like Vanessa herself, her life was resetting itself after the arrival of a new relationship, and her life had changed. With her new school, for a start, all those months she'd been sleeping on someone else's couch and Vanessa hadn't even known. They still found plenty to talk about, were as close as ever- but it was still different.

Sonny, though, was a constant. Especially now that the whole ordeal between him and Usnavi had mostly blown over, when she was talking to him she could almost imagine that the last year hadn't happened. Not that she'd disliked talking to him during the time his and Usnavi's relationship was less than cosy, but those weeks had been hard for them all. Usnavi had been closed off and gloomy, barely sleeping- and she'd been prodding him to make amends for while, but wasn't really surprised that it was Sonny who had the guts in the end.

Now, Sonny was back to normal- ranting to her ceiling about the injustice and corruption in the government through a mouthful of chips while she shifted through paperwork and 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 no qualms about keeping in.

This afternoon, 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 murders will be punished fairly for committing that crime." Sonny shot back. "A murder is a murder, simple as that; you want to start punishing people for what's in their head when they're doing 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 every thought- 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- you show people that what they're thinking is unacceptable- it's the only effective way to solve the problem and send a definitive message to the rest of the world." She folded her arms. Sonny frowned and bounced 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 when it can't be- people have a right to their beliefs and when the government begins to try and put laws on what's inside their heads there's no going back; it's an invasion of privacy at best-"

"And what is it at its worst?"

"Manipulation. Total control; the most extreme form of totalitarianism. Hypocritical, isn't it? You condemn controlling governments but you'd be perfectly happy with it so long as they were enforcing your views- it's arrogant and-"

"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 smirked 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 counter and started shovelling Lucky Charms into his mouth. Vanessa straightened his cap as she leaned next to him and he deftly moved it back to its jaunty position. She grinned at the gesture.

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

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

"Damn right you will."

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

"Sounds about right. I don't think he'd argue with me about anything."

"Are you kidding? He'd be saying the sky was green if you told him so."

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 with her luck, she was wasting her time and the woman was straight as a pole, which Carla had answered with a hand across her brow and a whined "I know! ". Vanessa had laughed and remarked that Dani was just a bitter old woman who had no faith in love, and promised Carla she would wing-woman for all she was worth if the need arose.

She recounted the story to Sonny, who grinned and said Nina had already mentioned it, and that he'd keep his eyes peeled the next time he visited the salon.

"What does she look like? She hot?"

"Classy, Mr Romance. But yes- tall, lots of curly hair, you know Carla likes a curvy one-" Sonny nodded sagely, "- and cute round glasses. Lots of red lipstick. Loud laugh. I mean, I know I'm with Usnavi, but if I wasn't…" She waggled her eyebrows and Sonny pretended to look scandalised, then laughed. The smile slid off his face after a second, though, and he frowned slightly, looking thoughtful. Vanessa narrowed her eyes.

"What?" Sonny licked his lips nervously, apparently considering something.

"I- Van, you're bisexual, right?"

"Well, yeah."

Vanessa had never so much 'come out' to anybody besides announcing that she was dating or hooking up with a woman and waiting for people to get used to it- the one exception had been Nina, who she'd told almost as soon as she was sure the label fitted her. She couldn't remember a time Sonny hadn't known, so this could hardly be a genuine question. There was something he wanted to say, and she didn't exactly have to rack her brains to guess at what it was. She put down her bowl and turned slightly to see him better.

"Why do you ask?" The kid took a steadying breath in, and then-

"I am too," Sonny said quickly, forced-casual, eyes on his knees. A nervous grin appeared on his face once he'd said it and a shaky laugh escaped his lips. Vanessa, reminded forcefully of herself 5 years past, smiled back at him and raised a hand.

"Up top," she grinned, "Join the club, kid." Sonny snorted as he high-fived her and she watched some of the tension drop out of his shoulders. It wasn't as if the confession was a total surprise to her, and with her being bi herself he surely couldn't have expected a negative reaction, but it was still clearly quite a big deal for him. What would've helped her most, she thought, was treating it like it wasn't a big deal. Shouldn't be too hard- because, to her at least, it was far from that.

"Who knows?" she asked, returning to her cereal.

"Just you and Nina." Sonny fiddled with his cap as he said it, still looking nervous- running off adrenaline, probably. His expression was suddenly panicked as he looked at her. "Could you- I mean, I don't-"

"I won't tell anyone," Vanessa assured him quickly. He breathed out in a whoosh.

"Thanks." A few seconds passed, then-

"So… Usnavi doesn't know?" she asked, cocking her head. Sonny bit his lip.

"No." he said. "I don't know, we've never talked about this type of stuff."

"I mean, if it helps, he knows about me, and he's cool." Sonny's eyebrows raised slightly.

"Yeah?"

"Totally. Well-" she considered for a second, "He's fine. He can be dumb about it sometimes- like, there's twice as many people for me to decide are better than him and leave him for, but you know Usnavi can get anxious about anything. He doesn't have a problem with it at all, though, I promise, and he's never been weird about it like a lot of guys are. Y'know, all that threesome bullshit." Sonny fell silent for a second, apparently thinking. Vanessa finished with her bowl and went to put it in the sink, and heard him speak again behind her.

"Do you know if anyone's not cool? Like, out of… everyone?" She didn't answer for a moment, turning and eyeing his nervous face. Then she shook her head.

"No, not really. I mean, you told Nina." Sonny nodded. "And Benny's given girls at bars my number, that ass. Carla's fine, Dani's fine- The only person I'd maybe watch is Mr Rosario?" Quickly, Sonny's posture grew a little taught; she knew that instinct too well, and hastily continued- "I don't think he'd say anything? Or do anything? But just because he's a different generation, he can be… uncomfortable, a bit. You know? Just don't go like, shooting rainbow confetti in his face or anything. Camilla's fine, though." He nodded again, looking a little more reassured, but still like there was something on his mind. He opened his mouth, twisting his hands together.

"Do you know about… about Pete?" he asked "I mean, I know he's gay, but I've never heard him say anything much about bisexuality, I don't think? So-"

"Oh, Pete's totally chill." Vanessa interrupted, smiling. "I'd have thought you knew that- you two are tight, aren't you?" Sonny looked a little embarrassed.

"We've never really talked about it."

"Well, you're totally fine with him. He's an equal amount of a nuisance whether I'm with a guy or a girl- but a surprisingly good wingman, you should ask him for help sometime." Sonny's expression went from relieved to slightly nauseous at that, but before Vanessa could say anything about it, there was a knock at the door.

Sonny went to answer it, Vanessa following, frowning slightly to herself as her mind spun out the very few possible reasons for the kid's reaction- and, now she thought about it, the nervous way he'd asked about Pete's attitude. It wasn't like she was a total idiot- she'd seen them together and it wasn't the first time that the possibility of their connection growing into a romantic one had occurred to her- but with the confirmation that Sonny was into guys? Her mind flicked back to the image of the pair of them locked together on the day Sonny had gone missing- and Pete was Sonny's best friend. If there was any other reason for him to turn green at the prospect of the guy helping him get a date, she sure couldn't think of it.

Sonny pulled open the door, and Vanessa felt a smile creep onto her face when she saw who was standing behind it. Graffiti Pete himself, busted backpack slung over his shoulder and lopsided, loose grin on his face, smiled broader as his eyes found Sonny, and then flicked his gaze up to Vanessa and back again with a note of surprise.

"Hey, Sonny, Hey, Van."

"Hey."

"Hey!" Sonny greeted him, stepping aside to let him him. Vanessa gave him a more thorough once-over when he was through the door; he was still littered with bruises he'd gained in the blackout, though most of his cuts had nearly healed, and he had a dark smudge of paint across his jaw. Looking down to his right hand, she found the colours matched up like a puzzle. He was standing a little awkwardly in the hallway, looking anywhere but at Vanessa as if unsure how to act. Bringing up a hand to run over his scalp, he shifted his tattered rucksack off his shoulder and offered it to Sonny.

"You- uh- left your jacket at my place the other day. Thought I'd drop it round. And- uh- say hi? So, hi." Sonny chuckled a little, a huge smile on his face.

"Hi."

Vanessa felt smugness pulling at the corners of her mouth. If she hadn't suspected before, the look on Sonny's face was enough confirmation for anyone.

"So, uh-" Pete began, glancing at her for a moment again while Sonny pulled his own hoodie out of the backpack. "How's it going with you two?"

"Pretty good!" Sonny grinned. "Van's been helping me practise for debate on Thursday." Vanessa reached out and rumpled his hair.

"Yeah, this little firecracker needs all the help he can get from the professionals," she said in a confidential tone to Pete.

"Hey! You were the one who had to use flashcards!" Sonny pointed out indignantly.

"Whatever you say, kid." Vanessa laughed as he swatted at her hands and grumbled. Pete looked like he was starting to relax, grinning at Sonny's put-out expression.

"You got room for one more? I can be mediator. Also my AC's cut out and the weather still seems to think it's fucking July." Laughing, Sonny handed back his rucksack, heading in the direction of the kitchen.

"Sure! Imma just grab some coffee- meet me on the couch."

"Um- the fuck you're not." Pete stepped forward quickly with a stern finger pointed at him. "You aren't allowed coffee, you know all it does is make you anxious." Vanessa watched the fake-annoyance on Sonny's face with amusement.

"Aw, c'mon mom, just a-"

"Nope, nuh uh- I'm the one that's gonna be calming you down when you have a panic attack in five minutes." Sonny rolled his eyes.

"Fine, yeah, yeah, I was just testing you."

"Oh really?" Pete raised his eyebrows and Sonny wrinkled his nose at him. "Grab me some water?" he asked, as Sonny started down the hall again. "Sweated out about a liter on the way here."

"Ooh, sexy."

Sonny grinned as he disappeared into the kitchen and Pete turned and caught sight of Vanessa's face- which she knew must be curled in an amused, knowing smirk.

"Shut up." he muttered. She smiled wider as she saw that he was actually blushing slightly.

"I didn't say anything! It's cute, you're looking after him-"

"Shut up. " Pete grumbled, and turned and headed into the living room, Vanessa following with a laugh.

The rest of the evening passed lazily. Pete turned out to be pretty good both at mediating and at catching cheetos in his mouth when they were chucked across the room at him. Sonny won a couple more debates- and lost one, to Pete's relentless teasing. He grumbled about not having an impartial judge and swatted at his friend while he sniggered and Vanessa paraded around the living room with an empty bowl on her head as a crown.

Then, at about 7:30, the sound of the front door opening made them all look up. Usnavi's voice came through from the hall, over the sound of him hanging his bag in the hall and toeing off his shoes.

"Who'm I feeding tonight, then? How many still here?"

"Just nearest and dearest, primo!" Sonny shouted, "Benny never made it round!"

"Delayed at the Rosarios' again?"

"Yeah, Camilla made batatas!"

Vanessa swung her legs off the sofa and went out towards the hall, smiling as she met Usnavi halfway. He looked tired, as usual, but he was smiling, and he smiled more broadly as his eyes fell on her.

"How was the day?" He shrugged and kissed her cheek, then her lips.

"Same old, same old. Julio tried to haggle with me on soda prices again."

"Tell him he can speak directly to the manager!" Sonny called, grinning from the living room.

"Yeah, yeah- You two had fun today? How'd practice go-" Usnavi glanced through the door and his expression stiffened slightly as his eyes fell on Pete, still slouched on the sofa. He raised an eyebrow, picked up a cup from the coffee table.

"Nearest and dearest, huh?" he asked. Sonny looked slightly guilty. Walking a little towards the couch, Usnavi shook his head. "You stealing directly from the source now?"

"Just- Dropped by." Pete shifted uncomfortably. There was silence for a couple of seconds, Pete looking tense as he held Usnavi's gaze- before Sonny stepped in from his position on the other end of the couch.

"He's just hijacking our AC, man, relax, it's like 80 out there."

Usnavi looked like he was about to say something for a second, but then closed his mouth and dropped his gaze, sounding resigned.

"Well, dinner will be… half an hour." he muttered. "Sonny, come help?"

"Sure thing." Sonny got to his feet and, after a second, Pete followed.

"I'd better be heading off," he said in response to Vanessa's questioning look. "Got an… appointment. Commission. Won't make off with your food too, huh?" He attempted a grin in Usnavi's direction. Sonny snorted softly, and raised an arm as if to put a hand on Pete's elbow, but then changed his mind and dropped it awkwardly to his side.

"You could stay for dinner? I mean, it's not like you've ever been on time to a commission before." Pete grinned but shook his head.

"I- Nah, testy employer. And- " he inclined his head towards Usnavi- " I know when I've outstayed my welcome."

Vanessa watched Usnavi's mouth close tightly as guilt crept into his face, and smiled as Pete nodded to her as he headed out the door. He raised a hand in goodbye.

"See you tomorrow, Sonsh- Sonny- Have a good evening you guys," he called, and they heard the front door close just a few seconds later. While Sonny grabbed his hoodie and walked to the kitchen, evidently to start on dinner like Usnavi had asked, Usnavi stayed still, frowning at the door. Vanessa walked over and poked him lightly in the shoulder; he looked up abruptly, then deflated slightly and sighed.

"Was I…?" He made a vaguely distressed gesture. She patted his arm.

"You're kinda mean to that kid." she said evenly, watching him groan in frustration.

"I'm not trying to be!" he protested, "I just… I don't even know him- I know I should, but-" Dropping his hands, he shook his head. "He rubs me the wrong way."

"Maybe the fact that he's not very friendly with you is linked to the fact that you threaten to arrest him every time he steps in your store." Vanessa pointed out demurely, and Usnavi's face grew even more strained. He opened his mouth to reply to her, but before the words were out, he was cut off by a yell from the kitchen.

"Cuz, am I your dependent or your scullery maid? If you don't want me to burn this shit, you better get in here and help!"

Laughing at her boyfriend's near-scandalised yelp of "Language!", Vanessa patted his ass lightly, snorting still harder when his cheeks turned red, and slipped past him to the hall.

Usnavi didn't raise the subject of Pete again that night, and neither did Sonny- though he did spend almost an hour after dinner grinning at his phone and shielding the screen from his cousin. Leaving later that night, Vanessa contemplated texting Pete and grilling him some more about his actions around Sonny- especially the nickname she'd heard almost slip out- but… Getting up in someone's business that much wasn't really her style. And the upcoming night spent completely alone was more than inviting, especially after a day of talking and confessions and generally being around people. And after all, bringing what she suspected up- possibly bringing it to light- maybe wasn't a good idea when Sonny wasn't fully out of the closet. Yeah. She'd keep her mouth shut- who knew, maybe they'd work it out on their own. Smiling wryly, not even convincing herself that this was going to end in anything other than a veritable lifetime of mutual pining, she shoved the thoughts aside. Whatever happened, it could wait.

That week she found herself at Nina's, sitting in her familiar position on the bed with Nina lying against her, having finally given up on any more study for that evening. She was toying with Nina's hair between her fingers, listening to her whine about her roommate back at Stanford.

"She would eat microwave noodles and just leave the pots places- like, a stack of them in the lounge on the coffee table- and after I complained I swear she started hiding them! I opened the bathroom cabinet and there were, like, ten of them in there, they smelled awful! " She threw her arms up in the air, making her head jolt in Vanessa's lap. "God, and she used to bring guys home all the time- like, every single time I was trying to study-"

"So, all the time?" Vanessa teased. Pouting, Nina wrinkled her nose at her.

"Very original." she scoffed. She sighed, letting her head flop back again. "Ugh, but you're so lucky to be living on your own now."

"Oh, am I?" Vanessa scoffed. "Tell you what, you can come stay the night, and when my asshole next door neighbour starts drilling at 4am again,you can go round and tell her to stop." Grumbling, Nina sat up, shifting so that she was sitting next to Vanessa, the latter's hand slipping out of her hair. She looked over at her, suddenly seeming concerned. Vanessa knew that look- she was overthinking something.

"You are happy, though? Out there by yourself?" she asked, a little anxiously. Vanessa shrugged.

"Yeah? I mean, it smells, and the heating doesn't always work, but it's what I wanted- my own place, my freedom and all that." She wasn't lying; the place might not be perfect, but it was her own, and the freedom of that, the freedom she'd longed for for so long, outweighed a lot of the difficulties that it had.

"Really, Van." Nina was looking at her pointedly, knowingly. "I know you. If you weren't happy, there's no way you'd say- not after you wanted it for so long. So I just- It's okay, alright? If it's not everything you hoped." Vanessa felt a smile pulling on her lips at her worry- it was just… so Nina. Reaching out, she set a hand on top of her friend's.

"Really. I promise." She couldn't deny that Nina was right to worry. That girl knew her too well. Vanessa tried to look as sincere as she could. "I like it. Shitty plumbing and all." Pursing her lips, but apparently prepared to drop the subject, Nina swung her legs off the bed and stood up to pull the curtains back. The evenings were finally starting to get darker- even if the heat seemed to be set on giving them a sunburned halloween, and the orange glare of the streetlights spilled through onto the carpet, illuminating Nina's side and hands, twisted together in front of her.

"I'm sorry for getting all worked up." she mumbled. Vanessa rolled her eyes affectionately.

"If you hadn't, I'd have been worried about you." she joked, and was pleased to see a smile work its way back onto her friend's face. "But that's probably enough emotions for me tonight- let's talk about something dumb." Nina grinned and hummed in agreement, stretched up and cracked her back.

"You got any gossip? From anywhere other than Dani- I was with her for hours yesterday so I know everything. " she rolled her eyes exaggeratedly- though Vanessa knew she secretly loved listening to Dani's stories.

"Well…" she said slowly, considering. She'd been meaning to bring up Sonny and Pete since her evening with them- Nina already knew about Sonny's sexuality, so she wouldn't be outing him- and, as much as she maintained that she would never become a stereotype who lived off gossip, she had been almost desperate to tell someone about it.

"Well-" she started, "Sonny came out to me. He said you already knew." Nina's eyebrows raised in surprise, then she smiled.

"Yeah, oh, great!" she said, "Good for him! When?"

"A few days ago, when I was round helping him with debate practise. Did you know a while ago or…?" Nina shook her head as she sat down next to her on the mattress.

"No, only a couple of weeks. And I was the first person he told, too." Her expression fell a little. "I mean, I'm glad that he did but I feel like he should've…" She trailed off.

"Usnavi?" Nina winced, nodded.

"Well, yeah. They're on good terms again, aren't they?" She looked anxious again, and Vanessa hurried to reassure her. From what she'd seen, there wasn't really any lingering tension or anger between the cousins. The reason he hadn't told Usnavi was far more likely to be… Usnavi related.

"I think so, I think he's just… It's Usnavi," she grimaced, shrugging. A small laugh escaped Nina's mouth.

"Yeah, I guess. I don't expect they've really talked about it."

"Can you imagine either of them bringing it up?" Vanessa looked at her, eyebrow raised. Nina shook her head again, and Vanessa sighed. "I'll talk to Usnavi about it. I won't tell him-" she clarified quickly, "But… he needs to talk to that kid about it sometime. Can't just assume everyone's straight until proven queer." Nina laughed shortly, little lines appearing at the corners of her eyes.

"Yeah. I love him, but sometimes…" she shrugged. A few moments passed, as Nina's hands found their way to the bottom of Vanessa's shirt, running almost unconsciously over the hem. She liked to have something to do with her hands. Vanessa rested her chin lightly on her shoulder, shifting on the bed.

"Now… in light of that- on the gossip front…" Vanessa began. She raised her eyebrows meaningfully. If Nina knew, perhaps she had noticed as well? She was proved right when a small smile curled Nina's lips.

"... Pete?" she ventured, and grinned more broadly at Vanessa's nod.

"You noticed too, huh?" Nina shrugged with a smug expression.

"Actually, Sonny told me." Vanessa's eyebrows shot up- that was news, definitely- she'd only been speculating. Seeing her expression, Nina rolled her eyes and went on.

"Well, he- I got it out of him that he likes someone. A guy. He said it's a close friend. Someone he's known since he was a kid… And he wouldn't tell me who it was, which means-"

"That you know him." Vanessa finished, and Nina grinned and nodded. Vanessa could feel herself almost laughing- reminded of so many other gossiping evenings with her friend- though the subject had rarely been someone so close to them both. She shook her head.

"God, Usnavi won't like it."

Nina snorted. Then she frowned slightly, looking up at Vanessa.

"Wait- if he didn't talk about it, then how did you know?"

"Oh, come on, chica. Have you seen them together? They're almost as bad as you and Benny were." Nina went slightly pink and pushed at her arm; she and Benny might be dating, but mention of her crush on him before they got together still made her blush and Vanessa knew it. She shoved at her arm lightly, turning her head away but smiling broadly despite herself.

"Shut up."

Vanessa had always been able to make Nina smile. No matter how stressed or miserable she was, sitting with Vanessa in her room, talking and smiling and just being with her, always felt like sitting inside a bubble. Nothing was as terrifying as it had seemed. With her, she could breathe.

Nina loved Benny, she really did, but Vanessa was different. She always had been. Ever since they were little kids, Vanessa's fierceness and her scowls and her quiet joy had made her pretty indisputably Nina's favourite person. Now, speculating some more-

"I doubt he'd ever really ask him out, though."

"Don't say that! I'd bet he's got some romance in him somewhere,"

"Oh, he has, he's just a wimp."

-even though they were talking about other people, there was the familiar feeling that this was about them.

Not for the first time, Nina wished she could fit Vanessa in her suitcase.