DARRY POV

I sat beside my girlfriend of 6 months; she was tall, blonde hair, blue-eyed, average weight typical greaser girl. I had met her at work a few months after my parent's accident and we had gotten pretty close.

"Darrell, when will I get to meet your brothers?"

"Janet, I already told you that I don't think Ponyboy is ready to meet anyone yet, our parent's death was really hard on him, maybe more than Soda and I. I doubt that he can handle anymore changes on his life."
"Well I don't see why you have to take care of them. Why can't you send them away to a school or something?" Janet whined for the millionth time.
"I'm not going to have this discussion every time we see each other. I won't send Ponyboy or Sodapop away." God, her whiny voice was starting to grate on my last nerve.
"You should be in college having fun Darrell, not playing Daddy to your brothers."
"I chose to stay here and keep my family together. Janet, why can't you understand I need to do this? I need them," I barked at her not understanding how she could feel this way about someone she has never met.
"Fine, take me home."

I sighed and reached to start the truck when I saw two familiar teenagers walking along the side of the road. I looked at my watch, 11 PM. I got out tiredly.

"Sodapop, why aren't you at home with Ponyboy?"
"I wanted to walk Sandy home,"Sandy glanced up at me sheepishly, I felt kind of bad because I really did like Sandy but I told Soda to stay home with his brother and he's disobeyed me.
"You know I don't like leaving him alone at night."
"I know, Johnny stayed with him," he told me quietly looking upset that he had been caught.

Janet came over to us. "Darrell, is this one of your brothers?"

"Yes. This is Sodapop and this is Sandy, Soda's girlfriend whom he will not be going out with for two days." My brother started to object, but I silenced him with a glower.

Guys, this is Janet

"Nice to meet ya, Darry, come on two days?" I really didn't want to ground him, but he needs to listen to me when I tell him something.

"Yes, and you have thirty minutes to get home."
"It was nice to meet you both," Janet said as they walked off.

"You've got thirty minutes Soda," I called firmly after him.
"Okay," Soda's voice sounded odd and I knew that he was upset with me. I would deal with that later.

"Really Darrell, did you have to ground him?"

"I wish you would call me Darry. Janet, Pony is barely 12. Since Mom and Dad died he's had really bad nightmares and I don't want him home alone. Come on, let's go home." Pony's nightmares were starting to scare me, because I felt so helpless and unneeded since it was always Soda he wanted, never me.

I dropped her off and pulled into our driveway around midnight. The house was unusually quiet. Hopefully my brothers were both asleep. All the lights were off except the one in the boy's room. My footsteps echoed as I store though the living room and down the hall, stopping in their doorway; Pony was sitting up in the middle of the bed, shaking violently, tears were streaking his pale face while Johnny was trying to comfort him. I once again saw how close the two boys were despite the 3 year age difference. They were both quiet and didn't seem to need a lot of words to console one another. Johnny was like Soda, he seemed to know exactly how to soothe Pony after a nightmare, unlike me who has no clue what he needs. I sat on the edge of the bed and held him tenderly.

"It's okay Pony, it was just a dream." I told him over and over while he clung to me.

"Johnny, go lay down in the living room. I'll get Pony calmed down."

He nodded and left. Ponyboy had stopped crying, but was still trembling.

"Let's go in the living room for awhile."
"Want Soda," he mumbled.

"I know baby, I know."

When I sat down, Pony climbed on to my lap and buried his face in my shirt. I rubbed his back, hoping he would relax. Soda finally showed up about twenty minutes later.

"Darry, is Pony all right?"

"No, he had a nightmare and wanted you," I told him bitterly. I watched as Soda walked over to us.

"Come on Pony, let's go to bed," he said to our little brother.

"This isn't over Sodapop. We'll talk more tomorrow," I told him as they went to bed. I watched from the doorway as Soda covered Pony up then threw an arm across him.

"Soda, I was so scared," I heard Pony whisper.

"I know and I'm sorry I wasn't here Honey."

Before going to bed, I threw a blanket over Johnny, checked on Pony, and then stumbled to my room.

Sometime in the night, I got up to check on Pony and saw Dally come in and fall asleep in the chair after checking to make sure Johnny was covered up.

Janet was waiting for me when I got off work the next day. God, I didn't need this, I was so tired and I still needed to talk to Soda.

"Hi Darrell."
"Hey Janet."
"Want to get a drink or something?"
"I can't. I really need to make sure Pony has done his homework and make dinner."
"Can't he do it himself?" Janet asked annoyed that I didn't immediately agree with her plans.

"Yes, but I always check it and I told him that I would be home right after work tonight since I got home so late last night."

"Darrell," Janet started.
"I'll see you tomorrow; maybe we can grab lunch or something."
"Call me when you get a babysitter." I shook my head wondering why she would say that. I drove home enjoying the quiet, knowing it wouldn't last once I was there. Boy, was I right. The TV and radio were blasting and the gang was all there.

"Darry, can I go out with Sandy?" Soda asked despairingly, prolly already knowing the answer.
"What did I tell you last night?"
"Not for two days," he said glumly.

"There's your answer Little Buddy," I had already decided to let the 45 minute late thing go. "Pony, did you do your homework?"

He handed it to me as Soda went to check dinner.

"Dare?" he called from the kitchen.

"What?" I answered as I checked Pony's papers.

"Who's Janet?" he asked joining us in the living room.

"Janet is a special friend; we've been seeing each other for awhile." It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop as they digested the news that I had a girlfriend. The gang was listening to us, but trying to look uninterested in the discussion.

"How long have you been seeing her?" Soda asked.

"Why haven't we met her?" Pony wanted to know.

"About six months. Pony, after everything that's happened; I didn't want to throw anything else at you to deal with."
"Oh," Pony was silent for a minute then asked, "Do you love her?"

"I like her a lot, I'm not sure it's love though," I told them, not really sure where this relationship was going or if it would even last.

"So when are you bringing her to meet Pony?" Sodapop asked me.

"Mmmmm, I guess tomorrow for dinner."

Since dinner was done, we all set down to eat then Pony and I did the dishes while the gang watched TV. Pony and Johnny went to set on the porch. I thought both my brothers took the news better than I thought they would, especially Ponyboy. After a while, Johnny came in and whispered something to Soda. I got the feeling that something was wrong and wanted to know what it was, but decided to see if they would tell me.

SODA POV

I had noticed how quiet my little brother was so when Johnny came in and whispered to me, I went out to talk to Pony. I know that Pony is usually quiet anyway, but I know him and he was upset about something.

"Hey Pone, you okay?" I asked sitting beside him. When he looked at me I was shocked to see the shine of tears in his eyes.

"What's wrong honey?" I said pulling him close and hugging him.

"What if Darry married Janet and she doesn't want me? I mean he loves you, but not me," Ponyboy cried and I honestly didn't know how to answer him. I told him before that Darry did love him, but for some reason, he didn't believe it. They used to be close and get along, before Mom and Dad died, before Darry became our guardian.

DARRY POV

I noticed my brothers were gone and saw them on the porch as Soda tried to comfort Pony for some reason. Should I go out or leave them alone? I sighed and opened the door feeling resentful that they were close and I couldn't get through to my youngest brother that I did love him...

"What's up guys?" I asked not really expecting an answer.

"Nothing is wrong," Pony told me.

Soda pop's gaze met mine. 'Later' he mouthed to me behind Pony's back. I nodded and went back in. By 10:30 most of the gang had left.

"Hey Johnnycakes, why don't you sleep in the boys room with Pony tonight? I need to talk to Sodapop awhile," I told our sleepy looking friend. Johnny looked at Pony who smiled.

"Come on Johnny, I'm tired."
"Okay."
"Night Darry, Soda," Ponyboy told us.

Soda hugged him and then sat on the couch as Pony and Johnny left the room.

"Let's go talk outside Soda, so they can sleep."

"All right, prolly be better to," we sat on the steps.

"So what's wrong with Ponyboy?" I asked the question that had been bugging me all evening.
I listened as Soda quietly told me what was wrong with our brother. I was filled with guilt and shame that I had let our relationship get so messed up that he had to wonder if someone would take me away from him.

"Damn, that's why I didn't want you to meet Janet yet. I'll talk to him tomorrow. Let's go to bed, you can sleep in my room if you want to."
"Thanks, but I think I'll sleep with Pony and Johnny. I don't want him to wake up scared." Soda got up, brushed down his jeans and disappeared inside the house.

I closed the door, turned off the lights and we went to bed.

Since it was Saturday, I let the boys sleep in when I went to work the next morning. The gang was going to come by after dinner to meet Janet. I told Soda to make sure Pony ate and that I'd be back around six-ish.

When I got home the boys were in the lot playing football. I walked over and asked Pony to help me with dinner. I wanted him to help me so that we could spend some time together. I really needed him to know I loved him and would never leave him. I also knew that he prolly wouldn't believe me. He kept sneaking glances at me as we sat at the table drinking chocolate milk.

"Want to tell me what's on your mind?" I asked him.

"Not really," was his reply.

"I can't help you if you won't talk to me."
"It won't matter anyway," he said. I felt pain run through me, I knew Ponyboy thought he was here only because Soda wouldn't let me send him away, but it wasn't true and his thoughts and feelings were important to me, even if I had trouble showing it.

"Yes it will, it will matter to me. Talk to me, please."

"I'm scared you will want Janet more than Soda and me," he finally whispered as a tear escaped his tightly closed eyes. I got up and knelt beside Pony's chair, pulling my little brother into a hug.

"That would never happen Little Colt. You and Sodapop are my brothers, nothing and no one will take me away from you."
He wrapped his arms around me and held tight for a minute. For now he seemed okay with me dating, but somehow I knew this wasn't over and that the worst was yet to come. "Now stop worrying and go tell Sodapop that it's time to come home, tell the guys to come by around 10:30," I reminded him. I watched from the porch as Pony ran up to the lot.

"Soda, Darry said time to come home."
"See ya later," he slung an arm across Pony's shoulders. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, it is," Pony told him.

Janet pulled in at seven and I went out to meet her. I noticed Ponyboy standing behind Soda looking scared when we walked in.

"Janet, you've met Sodapop; this is my youngest brother Ponyboy."

"It's nice to meet ya," Pony told her shyly.

"It's Nice to meet you to Pony. Soda, it's good to see you again. How are you?"

"Fine," he told her.

I could tell Pony was nervous, he bit his bottom lip; Soda could to and stayed close to him. I realized that he wouldn't want to spend the evening talking to us anyway and I should have invited Johnny to keep him company.

"Janet, would you like something to drink?"

"Sure, anything cold will be fine," I handed her a cold beer.

"Dinner will be ready in a little while," I listened as Janet asked Soda questions and made small talk while basically ignoring Pony. He looked miserable.

"Soda, can I talk to you in the kitchen?"

"Yeah, what's up?" he asked and I explained what I wanted. He nodded and ran out the door.

"Where'd Sodapop go?" Pony asked me.

"He had to go get something."

"Can I do to my room?" Pony wanted to know.

"Sure Buddy, go ahead."

Ten minutes later, Soda was back with Johnny in tow.

"Janet, this is Johnny. Johnny, Pony is in his room. Go on in, I'll call you for dinner." I stood by the door listening in for a few minutes.

"Johnny, what are you doing here?"

"Soda came to get me; he said you needed a friend."
Pony smiled and nodded, they talked quietly till they were called for dinner.

Pony pushed his food around. I knew he was upset and prolly hoped I wouldn't see it, but I did. I also noticed that Johnny wasn't eating much either.

"Pony, is something wrong?" I asked.

"No, I'm just not very hungry," he said.

"Are you all right? You are a little pale."
"I'm fine. Can Johnny and I be excused?"
Janet spoke before I could answer him.

"Your brother went to a lot of trouble to cook this dinner; I think you could show a little more appreciation by eating it."

Ponyboy looked like he was about to cry, and I was speechless. Soda's eyes narrowed and he turned to me.

"Hey Dare, can we go? We're supposed to meet the gang before they come over," he looked at Pony.

"That's fine, be back by 10:30," I told them.

"Thanks, we will," Soda took his, Johnny's and Pony's plates to the sink.

"Let's go buddy," he said to Pony. "Steve said they would all be at Two-Bit's."

"Keep an eye on Ponyboy," I reminded him. He turned to look at me.

"You know I always do."

After the boys left, Janet and I sat on the couch.

"Darrell, you should have made him eat before he left."
"Janet, Pony was nervous about meeting you and when he gets like that he can't eat. He would have gotten sick if I made him."
"I think you are being way too easy on him," she said before kissing me. I broke the kiss and we talked some more before she started to unbutton my shirt, I stopped her.

"No, Janet, the guys will be here soon."
"Why can't we wait until they go to bed? I could spend the night."
"I've already told you that you can't stay all night. It wouldn't look good." She pulled away sulking.
Five minutes later Soda and the guys came in.

"Where's Pony?" I asked when I didn't see him.

"Him and Johnny are on the porch," Dally told me.

"Janet, theses are my friends. Two-Bit, Steve, Dally and you met Johnny earlier."
"Hey," Two-Bit said

"Hi," Steve spoke next.

Dally just stared at her. I could tell he was mad about something. Johnny had prolly told him about dinner. Dally had a soft spot for the two youngest members of our gang.

"Soda, Steve, and Dally played cards and Two-Bit watched Mickey while Janet and I talked. At one point Pony came and whispered something to Soda, who got up and followed him outside.

"Whispering is so rude, you should teach him better," Janet told me.

Dally's eyes flashed and he stared at her then me. He was really mad now.

"Tell your girlfriend to keep her mouth off the boys. I'll take Johnny to Buck's with me, so she won't be bothered by him," he got up as Soda, Johnny, and Pony came back in. I was angry at Janet for her thoughtless comments that seemed vicious.

"Johnny, come on we're going to Buck's," they left.

"Darry, we're going to bed. Steve, I'll see ya tomorrow," Soda told me, pulling Pony after him.

Before long everyone had left.

"Janet, I need to check on the boys," I could hear Soda and Pony talking so I got up.

"I won't let her treat you like that," Soda snapped heatedly.

"It's all right," I heard Ponyboy say.

Soda pulled Pony close as I pushed oven the door. "Shh."

"Is everything Okay?" I asked sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Yeah, Pony was really tired and he's already asleep. Did you have a good time?"
"I did. Sodapop, since when does Pony need you to come to bed with him?" I know they slept together, but Pony usually went to bed first then Soda followed later. I didn't have a clue what was wrong with Ponyboy, I was hoping the talk we had earlier would fix things, but I quickly surmised it hadn't.
"He just needed me tonight."

Knowing they wouldn't tell me anything else, I told hem goodnight and left trying not to feel hurt that they didn't want top talk to me and had pretended Pony was asleep even though I knew otherwise.

"Are they all right?" Janet wanted to know.

"Pony's already asleep and Soda will be soon."

"Good, come here," she reached for me kissing me passionately. I finally broke the kiss because we needed to breathe.

"Janet, you can't stay," I told her again.

"Just hold me awhile and I'll go home."

It was around 2 AM when we heard the scream.

"What the hell!" Janet exclaimed when I jumped up.

"Pony's having a nightmare. I think you should go home, it usually takes a while to get him calmed down."

"Bye," Janet left, but I could see that she wasn't too happy about it.

"Bye," I kissed her and headed to Pony's room.

"It's okay Little Colt, I've got you. You're safe," I heard Soda whisper over and over while rocking our baby brother, using our special name for him. Soda came up with it when Pony was a baby, saying that all brother's needed nicknames for each other. However, we are the only ones who call him that.

"Soda, don't leave me. I'll be good, I promise. Don't let Darry leave me, Please Soda," he pleaded.

"No one is going to leave you Little Colt, calm down," I told him as I sat on the bed and rubbed his back. He grew quiet and risked a look at me.

"Come here," I held my hand out to him. "I'm not going anywhere," I told Pony as I pulled him into my arms. "Sodapop and I are in this for the long haul. Now I want you to try and go back to sleep."
"Darry?"
"Mmmmm."
"Will you stay with us?" he asked quietly.

"Sure," I kicked off my shoes and lay down beside them as Soda pulled Pony to him and I stroked his hair until our youngest brother fell asleep.

"What's going on Soda? Why is Ponyboy so upset?" I whispered so we wouldn't disturb him.

"Did you even notice how Janet ignored Pony all evening except to jump all over him? He's worried and thinks she can't stand him. I have to agree with him."
"I just thought it was because she didn't know him. I knew that Pony wasn't ready to meet her. I told Janet that he couldn't handle anymore changes, I'll talk to her and see what the problem is."
"Is she coming over tomorrow?"

"Yes, for a little while."
"I'll keep Pony with me. Good night."
"Night," we fell asleep with Pony safe between us.

Things had been a lot better since I had gotten a better job. The pay was great and I was usually home by five, no more working weekends unless I wanted to.