I hope you enjoy the third in the "It's Hard to Shake The Pain" trilogy. This one is set a month before Johnny gets out.

Thanks to Anna/RockerLane for helping me decide on a title! You rock!

Ponyboy pushed himself up on the handle bars. Though he had nearly full mobility and strength in his leg, he still couldn't walk without crutches. He'd have to be fitted in an artificial leg before he could do that. He wished it could just hurry up and happen, though he hated the extra money his brothers would have to pay to get it. He was thankful to be out of the wheelchair, though. But his underarms ached from the crutches. He still wasn't quite used to the crutches, having only gotten them a few weeks ago.

Pony wiped at the sweat that poured down his face. His shirt was wet and sticky from the sweat. Once again, he'd overdone it. He knew he shouldn't push himself so hard, but he reasoned that the harder he worked the faster his progress. He was glad he remembered to bring an extra outfit to change into for when his oldest brother Darry picked him up.

Pony took a long drink from his water bottle, thankful for the sensation the cold liquid brought to his dry mouth. Capping the bottle, Pony took out his change of clothes. He grabbed his crutches and pushed himself to a standing position, then went into the locker room to change.

Physical therapy was hard work. It didn't have to be, since now he basically set his own pace. The doctors just told him which places to work at. He was thankful for how he had muscled over the months of hard physical therapy. Though still no where near the bulk of Darry, he had definitely gained weight in muscle.

Once changed and showered, Pony went out to the lobby to wait on Darry. He sank into one of the chairs, feeling too exhausted to remain standing for too long.

Darry was right on time, as usual. He pulled up to the side of the center and waited in the truck. Seeing his brother, Pony got up and walked to the doors, only having slight difficulty with carrying his gym bag.

Darry got out and took his brother's bag from him.

"How was it today?" he asked Pony as he threw the bag in the back of the truck.

"Okay." Pony was grateful for the locker rooms. If Darry had seen the sweat he'd worked up, he would have questioned how hard he was pushing himself. Pony had already gotten one lecture over it before. Now, though, he was better at hiding it, until, of course, it came time for bed. Then he slept like the dead.

"Good. You didn't overdo it, did you?" Darry studied his youngest brother carefully as he held his hands out to take Pony's crutches to lay in the back.

"No. Stop worrying, Darry." Pony rolled his eyes. It was no use, though, telling Darry not to worry. Worrying came as easily to Darry as breathing.

"Fine, fine. I just don't want you making yourself sick."

Pony hadn't mentioned the times he had made himself sick by working himself so hard. It was as though Darry knew, but didn't want to come out and say it.

Pony jumped on his one leg as he pulled himself in by grabbing onto the door and the back of the seat. Once inside, he shut the door.

Darry walked around to his side and got in, starting up the car. The two made small talk, not really talking about anything of great importance.

Once they arrived at their house, Pony waited patiently for his brother to hand him his crutches. Darry carried Pony's bag inside while Pony checked the mailbox, eagerly awaiting a message from his best friend Johnny, who was still in juvenile detention.

He was rewarded with a letter, just as he had hoped. Once in the privacy of his room-though he shared it with his brother Soda, who was still at work-he opened the letter quickly, taking in his friend's words.

Dear Ponyboy,

I can't believe I get out of here in a month! I'm excited, but also nervous. The people here told me that I'd be placed in foster care, unless a guardian of some sort can be found. I don't know who my foster parents are yet, but I hope they're nice. I wouldn't be able to stand another abusive, neglectful family.

Did Darry get the letter I sent him? If so, did he tell you about it? Well, I wrote him and told him not to be a hero and become my legal guardian. I know you guys can't afford it and I'd hate to be a bother to you. I'll be okay with a foster family. I don't want Darry and Soda working even harder just on my account.

Dallas should be out soon, right? It'll be so good to see the gang again. I'm so relieved that Two-Bit and his mom are doing so well, considering how much trauma they've been through. They're lucky to have each other. Has Steve given his father an answer about moving back in with him yet? I hope they can work out their differences. At least his father seems to care.

Well, I hope to hear from you soon. Good luck with physical therapy! Stop pushing yourself so hard! You'll be back to your old self in no time.

Your friend,


"Back to my old self? What does that mean? My old self didn't have one leg and one artificial one." Pony though to himself.

Darry knocked on the door frame as he stood there, watching his youngest brother. Pony looked up and Darry smiled at him.

"A letter from Johnny? How's he doing?"

"Good, I guess. He's ready to be out."

"Yeah. I can imagine so."

Pony walked over to his bed and sat down. Darry followed.

"Everything okay?" Darry asked, looking worriedly at Pony.

"Yeah. Everything is okay."

"Good." Darry smiled, wrapping an arm around Pony's shoulders.

"Soda should be home soon."


"You want anything in particular for supper?"

"No." Pony's appetite hadn't increased, even after such a strong workout. His brothers ate anything and everything. Pony still had trouble working up hunger, even though he was getting happier, now that he was up and walking.

"You want to go watch some tv? You don't have any homework do you?" Darry asked as he stood over his brother.

"No, I don't have any homework."

"Then come on."

Darry led the way into the living room, sitting down in his "personal" arm chair. It was unofficially his, since no one else sat there, except for when one of the gang liked to mess with him. Darry watched his youngest brother as he came in, smiling still at the sight of him walking again. The concentration on his brother's face made him proud. Pony was stronger than he'd given him credit for being. It pleased him to know that Pony would get through this. His determination demanded that he did.

The two brothers were barely through watching one tv show when their brother Soda walked in loudly, immediately kicking off his shoes. Soda despised shoes. They felt too confining on his feet. When he saw his brothers sitting in the living room, he grinned from ear to ear.

"Hey guys! What's up?" Soda asked as he plopped down hard on the couch, bouncing Pony a little.

"Not much. How was work?" Darry asked. He'd need to go to work later that night since he switched shifts with one of his fellow workers so he could take Pony to physical therapy and drive him home.

"Boring. Steve took up most of the work. It was a slow day, so we were fighting over customers."

"You should be happy you didn't have to work too hard."

"Eh, well, it's not that exciting then, is it?" Soda turned to his younger brother. "So how was physical therapy? They work you to the ground?"

Pony shook his head. "No, it wasn't that bad, surprisingly."

"Good. They have to save me some of you to beat up on." Soda playful punched Pony's shoulder. He grit his teeth to keep from crying out. His arms were already sore enough before he went to physical therapy. It only made it worse afterwards.

Pony forced a smile as he lightly hit Sodapop back.

"Steve say anything more about his dad?" Darry asked out of curiosity. Steve had told Soda that his father wanted Steve to move back in with him. Steve, who had been living with Buck or Two-Bit, was reluctant to move back in with his father. He didn't want to have to go through his father hitting him and yelling at him to get out. His father swore he had changed, but Steve had a hard time believing him.

"No. Every time he does mention him it's followed by a string of curses." Soda felt bad for his best friend. Soda had known a loving father. He'd give anything to have him back. Steve had had a good mother, but once she committed suicide, it was just him and his father and the two couldn't get along even when Steve's mother was alive.

"It's awful," Darry said as he shook his head.

Pony struggled to stand. His brothers watched, ready to help when necessary. For the first week, Pony had had a lot of trouble and had fallen several times. Darry and Soda got used to preparing to catch him.

"I think I'm going to take a nap before supper," Pony said as he started for his room.

"Are you all right?" Darry asked.

"I'm fine. I didn't sleep well last night," he lied.

"Oh. Okay. We'll wake you when supper's ready."

Pony was thankful to escape to his room. He laid down on his bed, reveling in its soft comfort. He didn't like hearing about Steve's troubles. He thought of them enough on his own. Pony hoped that by sleeping now he wouldn't sleep as heavily later. It always brought a few questions from his older brothers.

Meanwhile, Darry and Soda exchanged looks, worrying about Pony.

"Do you think he overdid it today?" Soda asked his older brother.

"I'm not sure. He looked fine when I picked him up."

"I hope he doesn't. But, I'm sure he's anxious getting back to the way he was before."

"Almost," Darry reminded softly.

"Yeah. I wish it wasn't that way. I wish he had both legs. When is his artificial leg supposed to come in at the hospital?"

"The doctor said up to two months, but hopefully sooner. He'll still have to walk with crutches for a while, but eventually he'll be able to walk without them."

"I can't wait for that day. I'm sure Pony can't either."

"Let's go check on him," Darry suggested, standing to go down the hall. Soda followed after.

Darry cracked open the door, peering in. He saw his youngest brother stretched out on the bed, already sound asleep. He moved aside so Soda could look. When he saw Pony, he turned to Darry and smiled at him.

"That didn't take long, did it?" he asked with a grin.

Darry smiled back. "Nope. Not long at all."

With an arm around Soda's shoulder, Darry walked with his brother to the living room. He let go then and walked into the kitchen, going inside to prepare supper for his younger brothers.