Note: I do not own The Outsiders

Come Down From Your Fences

Chapter One

The colors were vivid and frightening, swirling and suffocating. Blacks, grays and blues merged and melted, bleeding into a deep, dark red. It was the red that was the worst. The red that pulsed and mocked. The red that was everywhere, spreading over everything. A plague that could not be stopped.

They were dead, nothing would change that. That word echoed and taunted, filling the silence.

Dead … Dead … Dead … Dead … Dead …Dead

The red flickered and snapped, transforming into flames. The heat was intense, like in the church, but not. He tried to pull away, to escape - but he couldn't. This heat was on the inside, hollowing him out until all that was left was ash.

A dark shadow passed by him. Terrified, he struck out, pushing and punching. It was coming for him. He was next.

"Ow!" Sodapop Curtis shouted as he tried to duck his younger brother's fists. This night was going from horrible to downright wretched, Soda thought. His little brother was burning up with fever, lying in an uncomfortable bed in the emergency room.

The doctor was kind, but it had been obviously a long night for him, too. They would get to Ponyboy when they could, he'd told them. Right now they had a much more serious case to deal with that required as many hands as possible - saving Dallas Winston.

Soda didn't understand how there could be anything left to save, he was certain Dally died long before that first shot had been fired. He wanted to die and Dallas Winston usually got what he wanted.

Pony quieted down, or passed out - Soda wasn't sure which. He sighed heavily and rested his head on the edge of the stiff mattress. He had his own aches and pains from the rumble, but they didn't matter.

Rumble, hell, Soda thought, that was a lifetime ago. None of that matters now.

Was it only two hours ago that they had been celebrating their victory? Only two hours ago that they had fought the socs and won, driving them from their turf? Now every minute feel like an hour and every hour felt like a day. Time had slowed to a stop the minute Pony stumbled into the house, bleeding and broken. How had everything gone to hell in such a short time?

Two-Bit Mathews was a bundle of nervous energy as he sat in the waiting room next to a nearly unconscious Steve Randle who was staring blankly at a poster on the wall. Any other time, Two-Bit would have made a wise-crack about how Steve had suddenly become so interested in breast feeding. Tonight, however, Two-Bit didn't feel too much like joking around. He didn't think he would ever feel like laughing again.

"Jeez, how can you be so calm, man?" Two-Bit jumped up and began pacing, chewing on his fingernails - a habit he seemed to have suddenly developed. A habit that reminded him of Johnny whose nails were always bitten to the quick. That thought made him stop in his tracks.

"Johnny," he whispered and Steve looked at him for the first time since they'd gotten there. Two-Bit was startled to see how red his eyes were, as though he had been crying. Greasers like him and Steve didn't cry. Greasers like him and Steve were tough, nothing ever touched them. Two-Bit looked away before Steve could see he had been close to tears, too.

Two-Bit looked at the doors leading into the emergency room. He could see Darry through the window, looking more worried than Two-Bit had ever seen anyone look. Guilt settled in Two-Bit's gut. He knew Pony was sick but he hadn't said anything. He'd kept his worries to himself and fought alongside Ponyboy in the rumble. Now Ponyboy was in the hospital and the gang was falling apart.

Jamming his fists into the pockets of his jacket, ignoring the pain in his stitched knuckles, Two-Bit hurried out of the waiting room. He had to get away from there, even if only for a moment.

Steve didn't react, simply returned his unfocused gaze to a spot on the wall.

Darry looked down at his little brother, flushed and still. The doctor had finally spared them a moment. Pony had a fever and a concussion. He wanted to keep him overnight for observation.

The doctor had blood splattered on his coat and Darry tried his damndest not to think about how it belonged to Dally. The doctor was rushed and all he would tell them was that they were prepping Dally for surgery but it didn't look good.

Ponyboy stirred in his sleep, clutching at the worn sheets. Darry reached out, smoothing back a lock of bleached hair that had fallen across his brother's forehead. "It's all my fault. I didn't think anything like this could happen." He didn't realize he had spoken out loud until he heard Sodapop give a weak laugh.

"And just what is so funny, little man?" Darry couldn't believe how exhausted his voice sounded.

Soda gave a half-hearted grin. "Oh, nothin', it's just that I could've sworn I'd heard something like that before, is all."

Darry had no idea what he was talking about, then it came to him - the words he had thrown at Pony only a week ago. Gosh, was that only one week ago?

Darry returned Sodapop's grin. "It's not my fault …" he started.

"… I didn't think," Soda finished for him.

Darry sank into a chair and hung his head, his shoulders shaking. Soda looked around, unsure of what to do. He had never seen his big brother cry, not even when they were kids. Not even when they'd gotten that horrible news eight months ago that their parents had been killed.

Soda was relieved, if not a bit alarmed, when Darry threw his head back and let out a strangled … laugh?

"Oh Soda, what am I doing? How could I have thought that I could raise you two? I'm not mom and dad, I never could be. All I've done is mess things up."

"Darry, don't talk like that. You held this family together. What do you think would've happened to me and Pony if we'd gone to a boys home?"

"I don't know, and you don't know either."

"Yeah, well I sure as hell know we would've had a good chance of ending up like Dallas Winston. Hard and mean."

Darry shook his head, looking his brother in the eye, "Sodapop Curtis, you could never have turned out mean."

Two-Bit stared at the closed door. He didn't know what had brought him here. One minute he was headed out of the waiting room for a smoke or something and the next thing he knew here he was. The room was empty, he knew that. Johnny was gone.

It was just that afternoon that he and Pony had come to this room to visit Johnny. When they had walked in, it had felt as though someone had knocked the wind out of him with a two-by-four. Johnny had looked terrible. Two-Bit would never forget the haunted fear in his dark eyes. Johnny was always scared and high strung, but this was different. He knew he was going to die and he wasn't ready. Hell, how could anybody be ready to die at 16?

When Ponyboy had stumbled into the house and made his terrible announcement, shock and disbelief had swept over him. But deep in his heart, Two-Bit knew it was going to happen. He knew the minute he had looked into Johnny's eyes.

"Can I help you?" A nurse put a hand on his shoulder, startling him so completely that he let out a yelp.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." She took a good look at him, taking in his disheveled appearance and bandaged hand and face. "Are you okay?"

"Huh?" Two-Bit asked in confusion, then he remembered the rumble and the soc's fist that had opened up his cheek. He touched the bandage. "Oh, I'm fine."

The nurse paused for a moment, obviously not believing him. It looked like she was about to say something, but she shook her head and turned to leave. Two-Bit drew in a steadying breath, reached out and touched her sleeve.

"Wait, uh, I was wondering if I could get something. A friend of mine was in this room and I was hoping I could get a book I had given him." Johnny had sure wanted to have a copy of Gone With the Wind. Two-Bit was hoping that maybe giving it to Ponyboy would help him feel better. Help him feel a connection to Johnny even though he was gone.

"Well, any personal possessions would have been moved to his new room."

"New room? No, you don't understand. Johnny died tonight." Two-Bit hated to say it out loud, the words catching in his throat.

"No," the nurse said slowly, as though she was speaking to a child. "Mr. Cade was moved to ICU."

This wasn't making any sense. "ICU?" Two-Bit repeated.

"Intensive care," she explained. "We had to move him there and put him on life support after he had a cardiac arrest a few hours ago."

"Johnny's alive?" Two-Bit asked quietly.

"Johnny's alive," the nurse answered.

"Johnny's alive!" Two-Bit repeated in a much stronger voice. He gave a loud whoop that surely woke a few patients. Before she knew what was happening, the nurse was enveloped in a big bear hug. Two-Bit lifted her off the ground and spun her around.

"Johnny's alive!" Two-Bit said one more time and then he planted a big kiss on her startled lips.

"Dally," Darry tried to speak, his voice heavy with emotion. Dallas looked dead. His face was pale, his skin looked dry and stiff, like parchment. The beeping from the machines tried to assure Darry that he was alive, but he had his doubts. "Dally," he said again with more force, hoping to rouse him, however briefly.

Dally's pale blue eyes opened slightly. Gone was the coldness that had been there since Darry had known him. All Darry could see now was resignation and defeat.

"Dally, it's about Johnny," Darry started. At the mention of Johnny's name, Dally closed his eyes and moaned. The machines started beeping. "No! Dally, hold on. Johnny's still alive, man. You've gotta fight. There's still hope."

A nurse came up behind Darry and pushed him out of the way. "We have to get him to surgery." Darry stumbled back, but not before he heard Dallas whisper a single word.

"Johnny …"