Darry drove along the streets, looking around. There he was. Parking his car and running out, he grabbed Soda by his shirt and shoved him into the car.
"HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?" he howled.
"Darry," Soda started.
Darry went on yelling in hysterics, hitting Soda as hard as he could in the face. Soda felt his lip split, but he didn't complain. He was wrong this time. "THIS IS YOUR LITTLE BROTHER SODA! HOW COULD YOU DO IT TO HIM?"
"Darry…" Soda tried again.
"HOW COULD YOU? I'M SO DISGUSTED WITH YOU! YOU BROKE HIM, SODA. YOU BROKE HIM!"
"He's changed," tried Soda feebly.
"Soda," Darry said, lowering his voice to a normal volume. It was a voice of intensity, not in volume, and Soda flinched. "This is Ponyboy. This is the little brother who you've loved all your life. This is the baby brother who you swore you'd protect when Mom and Dad died. This is the little brother that worships you—loves you more than anything in this entire world. He hasn't changed. You have. Ponyboy loves you. Ponyboy loves you. Why would he lie to you? This is the little boy that has worshipped you your entire life and this is how you repay him?"
Steve wiped his eyes. It was no use in crying. It was over. He'd messed everything up. He'd hurt everybody. Oh God, I'm so sorry. How can I fix things?
He knew there would be no fixing. He'd gone too far this time. I've become Dallas, he thought. Taking out my revenge on everything in this world… those things that don't deserve it. The only question is… how far can I go?
"You're right," said Soda breathlessly. "I understood Darry. Bryon talked to me. Do you think he'll forgive me?"
Darry looked at him through hard eyes. "I hope he does Soda, I hope he does."
They drove home and Two-Bit came running out.
"What happened Two-Bit?" Soda asked.
"Ponyboy," he whispered. "Ponyboy's gone."
"WHAT?" yelped Darry. "How could you lose him?"
"I didn't know Darry," said Two-Bit, cowering under the gaze. "He said he was hungry, so I went to find something for him to eat, and when I came out, he was gone. His crutches are gone too."
"Find him," Darry snapped. "Where could he be?"
Soda thought long and hard. I'm Ponyboy. Where would I go?
"The park," he told Darry.
"What?" Darry asked.
"I just know, trust me on this."
Darry shrugged. "Sounds like Pony."
Darry drove Two-Bit and Soda wildly to the park.
"Where is he?" asked an anxious Two-Bit. "Oh my God how could I lose him?"
"There," whispered a pale-faced Soda, pointing to a lone figure near a tree.
"Go tell him," Darry said in a bitter voice, shoving Soda ahead.
Ponyboy looked up. He was pale and the expression on his face was one of haunted fear. Fear of what? Darry had to think for a second. Then he realized it. Pony was afraid of being hurt again.
Soda stepped up, and Pony stumbled back a step. "Get away from me," he said weakly. "Get away from me."
"Ponyboy," Soda started in a strained voice. "I don't want to hurt you. I just want to…"
Ponyboy exploded. "GET AWAY FROM ME! I'M SO TIRED OF PEOPLE HURTING ME, JUST GET AWAY!"
"Ponyboy," Darry said. "He's not going to hurt you. I would kill him before he did. He just wants to talk."
Pony looked warily at Darry with a look so familiar that Darry almost burst out crying. It was the look Johnny had always worn: the kicked puppy one.
"Ponyboy," Soda said, wiping his tears with his sleeve. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I'm so sorry Pony. God, how can I say this? I should have believed you. It was just so sudden and… Pony, I want my brother back again. I want you back. You didn't deserve this. I want you back Pony. I want you back."
"I love you Soda," Pony said, his hard outer shell melting away. "I love you so much. You mean everything to me. But you destroyed me today, Soda. You stabbed me. You hurt me even worse than Steve did. I want to come back. I will come back. But you have to tell me something."
"Anything," Soda promised.
"What happened to your lip," Pony said, reaching out and gently stroking Soda's busted lip.
Soda smiled wryly. "Darry introduced me to his fist."
He was shocked at the reaction.
"NO! NO!" Pony screamed and fell back, stumbling and lying on the ground.
"What is it Pony?" Soda asked.
"I thought you were telling the truth," Pony whispered. "I thought you were telling the truth. DARRY!" he looked accusingly at his oldest brother. "I thought you weren't lying. I thought you really wanted me back, Soda. But Darry put you up to this, right? Darry made you… I can't believe I always listen. WHY DO I ALWAYS LISTEN?"
He broke out sobbing. Soda leaned forward, "No Pony, it's not that."
Ponyboy cringed and whimpered like a hurt puppy.
"I really want you back, Ponyboy. I want you back. You're all I have and I love you, Pony. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. I don't know how to prove that. Please Ponyboy, I can't believe I did this to you. I need you back. Ponyboy, I can't live without you."
Pony's scared eyes looked up. "You promise?"
And Soda's heart broke once again. "I love you Pony. I love you. Darry loves you. We need you back, please. We need you back."
He leaned down next to his brother, and Pony buried his face in Soda's hair, sobbing out everything. The pain. The lies. The betrayal. The hurt. He let it all out, all the emotions that had been bottled up inside him.
Darry quietly reached over and picked up his little brother, his own tears mixing in with Pony's. He hugged him close to his body to warm his shivering brother.
Pony let out all the emptiness and broken thoughts, and his brothers shared his pain. And through the tears, Ponyboy smiled half-heartedly. It would be a long road to recovery, but he was where he wanted to be. He was where he wanted to be.