I walked outside to find Shepard leaning against his car.

"How's the kid?" Tim asked fury in his eyes.

"I'm not sure. Hopefully Pony will be fine," I told him. "He's worried that they will be taken away from me."

"Don't worry about that, she won't be talking to anyone. Here's some stuff Pony might need," he handed me a bag.

"What is it?" I wanted to know.

"Medicine, I got it from a doctor who owed me a favor. No questions will be asked," he opened the car door.

"Tim, what did you mean, she won't be talking?" I asked worried about what he had done.

"My girls convinced Janet to leave town," he admitted with a shoulder shrug.

"Thanks man," I sincerely told him.

"Don't mention it, now go take care of your family," he drove off.

God my head was spinning. How could anyone hurt a child that way? I was the one responsible for Pony's pain since I'd brought her into our home. I let Janet hurt him day after day and Pony felt that he couldn't tell me. I wanted to cry, but wouldn't let myself. I had a shattered little boy to put back together and no idea how to even start. Taking a deep breath I went back inside, after setting the bag down, I picked my baby brother up and took him to my room. A few minutes later Sodapop followed us. I was rocking Ponyboy on my lap so Soda started rubbing his back.

"He thinks that you hate him Dare," Soda told me softly.

"What?" I was stunned, looking down at Pony.

"Pony," I said in a gentle voice. "Do you really think that I could hate you?" There was no answer.

"Pony?" How could my baby brother think that I didn't love him? Had I really acted so cold and uncaring that I made him believe it?

"Ponyboy, I don't hate you. Baby, I gave up everything for you and Sodapop to keep our family together. There is no way I could never hate you," I felt tears fill my eyes and I blinked hard to keep them from falling while I hugged him close to me.

"I'm so sorry Little Colt," I told him again.

"I caused you to lose someone you love. I ruined your life," he cried while I held him even tighter and pulled Soda to us.

"Shh... you didn't do anything wrong. Pony, nothing is ruined. I made the choices in my life not you. I'm not sure that I ever loved Janet and the only thing I regret is bringing her here. I can live without her, but Pony neither Soda nor I could go on if something happened to you. Look at me," Pony shook his head against my shoulder. I simply held him in the shelter of one arm while the other lifted his gaze to mine. I want to know why you didn't tell me or Soda that Janet was hurting you?" I asked softly.

"You were happy with her, I was afraid you would send me away. After all if it wasn't for me, you would still be with Janet," he said.

I felt my heart break and I was trying to keep it together, but lost the battle and let the hot tears pour out of me. I couldn't help it. Pony had let Janet hurt him because he thought I was happy with her. I shook my head.

"I would rather have you and Sodapop with me than anyone else little man," I assured him and he snuggled back in my arms. When he was asleep, I laid him back down and motioned my other brother to follow me. The gang followed as we went to the porch.

"Why did she do it Darry?" Two-Bit asked.

"Janet was jealous of the time that I spent with Pony so she decided to make him suffer," I told them.

"But why did she choose Pony and not me or both of us?" Soda asked before his voice broke.

"Because Pony already thought that I didn't love or want him. He's a lot younger and I guess Janet picked up on it and used it against him," I explained since it had started to rain, we headed back inside.

Soda, Steve, and Two-Bit were playing cards. Johnny, Dally and I were watching TV when Pony came running in. He was pale, sweaty and looked scared to death. Soda stood up, but when Pony came and sat on my lap he shrugged and went back to his card game. I wrapped my arms around my little brother's shaking little body. He was quiet and soon lay still. We thought he'd went back to sleep. The guys were getting

"Darry, do you wish Soda and me were gone?" Pony whispered so softly that I wasn't sure I had heard him right. There was dead silence in the room as all eyes turned to us. I stared at Pony wondering why I couldn't get through to him.

"No! Pony why do you still think that? Why can't you believe me?" I asked.

"I know you don't want me; Soda is the only reason I'm still here," he jumped off my lap and ran to his room. The slamming door made me flinch.

"I'll go talk to him," Soda offered standing up.

"It's okay, I'll do it. Pony needs to understand that I love him and want him as much as I want you," I told him walking down the hall.

I knocked on the door.

"Go away," Pony yelled through the door. "Leave me alone."

I opened the door. "Not until we talk Pony," I told him.

"I'm so tired Darry," he said.

"I know you are baby, just listen to me please," I implored him.

"Fine, it's not like I have a choice anyway," he said giving in.

I sat at his desk wondering how much to tell him and where to start.

"Pony, I'll admit after Mom and Dad died I wondered if I could take care of you and Soda, and for about five minutes I thought about letting the state take custody of you both, but couldn't do it. I didn't keep you because Soda made me, I love you," I paused to let my words sink in. Ponyboy started to cry and I pulled him to me. Why couldn't he see how much I needed him?

"But Darry…" he said.

I held up my hand. "Let me finish. I know I'm hard on you, but I worry about you. Pony you can be somebody, get out of this town and make a good life. Neither Soda nor I could stand it if anything happened to you, if we lost you. You have to trust me little one, we will disagree; you'll mess up, I'll mess up; we'll argue and yell, but I will never send you away," Pony rubbed his bloodshot eyes glancing at me.

"I'm the reason you have to work so hard. Janet said I was too much trouble and she left because of me," he said. I wiped a tear from his face.

"Honey, I work hard so you won't have to. I want you to get a good education, a good job so you can have a better life. Janet and I were not going anywhere. Don't be in such a hurry to grow up and enjoy being a kid while you can. Let me worry about everything else and when the time is right, I will meet someone," I told him thinking about Bayleigh

"I' sorry," my little brother whimpered.

"So am I little man, so am I," I said hugging him again.

"Why don't you try to sleep? I'll send Soda in later," I told him tiredly.

"Okay," he lay down and I covered him up and then went to get a cup of coffee. Over the next few hours everyone left except for Steve, who was playing cards with Soda. I stood up and stretched.

"Steve, are you staying tonight?" I asked.

"If it's all right," he said knowing that it would be.

"That's fine; I'm going to turn in now. Soda, don't fall asleep in here," I warned him.

"I won't Darry," he promised because we both knew that Pony would need him tonight.

"Good night," I told them before checking on Pony and going to my room.


Twenty minutes later Soda stood up. "Steve I better get to bed. Pony's probably waiting on me."

"Why can't the kid sleep without you? He is 12 isn't he?" Steve asked snidely.

"Come on Stevie, don't be that way. You know that Pony has nightmares and needs me," Soda told his buddy.

"Yeah I know," Steve mumbled.

"I'll go in a minute," Soda sat on the floor intending to talk to Steve until he fell asleep and then go to Pony, but he fell asleep too.

It was dark when Pony jerked awake, moaning in terror. Soda hadn't come to bed and his heart was pounding as hot tears rained down his face. The young greaser stumbled into the hall where he could see Soda asleep by the couch. Ponyboy crept to his oldest brother's room.

"Darry," he tried to say, but it was almost a desperate whimper.


I heard Pony calling me, I stirred and sat up. "Hey little one, are you all right?" I asked.

He shook his head no. "I had a nightmare."

"Do you want to sleep with me?" I moved over so he could climb beside me when he nodded. He was trembling again so I held my distraught sibling, trying to absorb the tremors that shook him. I stroked his hair and whispered words that I hoped would comfort him.

"Shh…..I've got you Little Colt, you're safe with me. Everything is all right now," I told him.

"It…was…so…dark," he whimpered.

"Did Soda forget to leave a light on?" I asked.

"Soda's asleep with Steve," he told me.

"Damn," I swore. "Pony, don't cry. Go back to sleep now," I said rubbing his back.


When Pony cried out I woke up. Oh no I thought when I heard Darry's deep voice and stood up and quickly went to his bedroom door. I met my brother's angry gaze, yet his tone was gentle as he calmed our little brother. I went to the bed and lay down by them. I ran my fingers through his hair. Neither of us said a word as Pony drifted back to sleep, his head on Darry's shoulder; wrapped in the strong shelter of his arms instead of mine. I suddenly felt lost and cold without him cuddled close to me.


"Darry," Soda finally spoke.

"We'll talk tomorrow, go to sleep," the dark-haired man slept off and on as Ponyboy dreamed and cried.

"Want me to take him to our room?" Soda asked.

"No, he's fine right where he is," he snapped.

"You have to be up early in the morning, I can take him," Soda said.

"Sodapop, I said no. I took some time off to help him through this," Darry told him.

"What? Why did you do that?" Soda wanted to know.

"Pony is going to need all of us to recover from this and I have some vacation time coming anyway," Darry said quietly.

"That's good you could use a break," The middle brother agreed.

"Go to sleep Soda," they closed their eyes.

When Darry was sure that both his brother's were asleep he silently slipped out of bed and crept through the living room where the guys were now sleeping. His heart broke with every step.

"Please God," Darry whispered as he reached the lot and sat down. He braced an elbow on his knee, he loved Ponyboy so much but didn't know if the boy would recover from this and he wanted to weep. He was alone, if he cried no one would know. The tears felt like acid as a sob rose in his chest until he couldn't breathe. The look in Pony's big, green eyes, he would never forget. An awful despair he hadn't been able to remove. His shoulders jerked and the next instant he was sobbing. There in the darkness Darry cried like a baby for the little brother he might very well lose.

Dally heard the front door click shut and quietly woke Steve up. They followed him to where they could hear the dry, rasping sobs of the greaser.

"Darry," Dally called quietly.

"What Dally," he was answered.

"We were worried about you," the blond boy admitted.

"Dal, how do I help Pony through this when I caused it?" he asked.

Steve spoke up. "You keep telling him that you love him, hug him and so whatever you need to do to make him feel it."

"I don't know if I can," Darry whispered.

"We'll all be there to help you, but we should probably get back in case they wake up," Dally said. So they walked back to the house and went back to bed.

It was 8AM when he woke up again. He gently eased Ponyboy away from him and laid him beside Soda, who curled his arm around him. Then went to make coffee and start breakfast. When his middle brother ambled in a few minutes later, he told him to sit down.

"I'm sorry," he told said.

"I know that and I'm not mad Pepsi-Cola, I know why you stayed in the living room," he did understand.

"I feel like I'm being ripped in half. Darry, I don't know what to do; I can't ignore one over the other," he choked out.

Neither saw the two in question as they listened.

"Soda, when I tell you to do something I expect you to do it. I don't think Pony should be alone at night right now. You are the one he cries for and you are the only one who can calm him down," Darry said.

"I know that Dare, but they get so jealous of each other. I was going to sleep with Pony but…." he stopped and stared at the floor.

"But Steve wanted you to stay with him and you were going to Pony after he fell asleep, but you crashed too. Right?" Darry said.

"Yeah, I don't know what to do about them," Soda replied sadly.

"Do you want me to talk to them?" Darry wanted to know.

"No, I'll do it," Soda sighed.

Steve followed Pony back to his room. "Hey kid, how are you?" he asked.

"I'm fine, what are we going to do about Soda?" Pony asked him.

"Call a truce, I don't want to hurt him," Steve told him.

"Me either," Pony said. So for Soda a cease fire was called. The former enemies shook on it.


I got up to finish cooking breakfast and for a minute it was quiet then Soda asked in a small voice. "Dare, Pony ain't right is he? I mean you do want him to don't you?"
I turned to yell at my brother, but a quick glance at his face stopped me, he was fighting tears.

"No he isn't right. I want Pony as much as I want you Pepsi-Cola," I assured him. He gave me a watery smile and went to talk to Steve. Breakfast was on the table when I went to get Ponyboy. He was still in my room, but now was reading a book.

"Are you hungry Pone?" I asked.

"No," he told me not looking up.

"I'll save you some," I said turning to go.

"Darry, stay with me," he spoke timidly and I knew he thought I was mad at him and that he had messed up. I wasn't and he didn't, but it would take time for him to believe it.

"All right," I sat on the bed and braced my back against the headboard. Pony scooted over until he was next to me, his head resting on my shoulder.

"Are you tired?" I questioned him.

"Not really," he admitted. I held him quietly; maybe he just needed to be close to someone.

Sodapop came bounding into the room. "You guys going to come and eat?" he asked.

"Not right now, we'll be along in a few," I told him. He shrugged and left.

"Pony, have you told me everything that happened?" I asked my little brother, he was silent a long time.

"Yes, why?" he finally answered me.

"I just get the feeling that there is something that you are not telling me," I told him seriously.

Pony shook his head and held my gaze before he stood up. "Come on, we should go eat," he said so we joined the gang listening to their endless chatter as we ate.

TBC in Johnny's New Home

Thanks to everyone who reviewed.