Author's Note: What can I say but 'wow'? I can't believe I haven't updated this baby since November! In my defense, a paltry one I admit, I was overseas for awhile and got inspired to work on my own stuff due to England's awesome history. So I guess the other thing I can say is 'sorry'. No! Turn that into a 'really, really sorry'.

Since this is the last chapter, I have a few words to say. Humor me on this.

Let me just give a sincere thank you for hanging in here with me and giving me encouragement, random thoughts, favorite parts, helpful critiques, and pitiful pleas. Without them I never would have made it this far. Because of you guys I really improved as a writer (not to mention my ego increased tenfold)! I'm sad to see it go, but I feel it ended in a good place. Outsiders reviewers are the best ones in all the fandoms because they usually take the time to type out more than just a few words. A fact I greatly appreciate.

This is by far my favorite story, and my favorite amazing group of people!!

Now that I'm done rambling, onto the final chapter. (Thanks if you bothered to actually read that wall of text.)


Ponyboy's point of view

I tensed my muscles up. Icy cold metal froze to my skin.

"Will you stop flinching every time the stethoscope touches you?!" My oldest brother does not have the patience for something he would do perfectly himself.

"Breathe deeply," the doctor instructed. I inhaled obediently. The head of the stethoscope lifted off my skin. I relaxed but then tensed up again almost immediately. He slid the perpetually frozen artifact down my back. I exhaled slowly as instructed.

My doctor lifted his instrument off of me again. I assumed for good; I assumed wrong. I flinched heavily away when it touched my skin again. My ears just picked up something muttered from Darry that had the word "baby" thrown somewhere in it.

"The anticipation is worse than the cold," I defended myself. "Besides, you could be in the waiting room." The only reason Darry was with me at all is because I still did not have a car. For the past month I had relied completely on my brothers and friends for rides.

Darry shrugged. "If I'm going to be here anyway, I might as well be here."

"That doesn't make any sense." I grumbled, but I knew what he meant.

Doctor Peters finally dropped his stethoscope and pulled out my file. "Let's have a look at your chart now, Mr. Curtis." He pushed his wire spectacles up and carefully jotted something down on my chart.

"'Mr. Curtis' is for old people like my brother here." I shot a sidelong glance at Darry. His pupils remained firmly fixed on Doctor Peters. For the past month I had made it a personal goal of mine to see how many times I could make Darry role his eyes. It was a hard task considering he was much too dignified for such actions. Plus, I think he caught on to my game. "Just call me Ponyboy."

Doctor Peters smiled. "Okay Ponyboy. All your test results look good and your lungs are back to functioning normally again. I think it's safe to say you're at 90 percent health.

"How do we make that 90 a 100?" I glared at Darry, but he ignored me. Had we not been over this already... all month?

"Keep up exercising regularly and follow the nutrition guidelines I gave you." The doctor closed my file. "Other than that, I'll see you in here for a check-up in six months."

I jumped off the table. "Great. See you then."

I headed to the door.

"You forgot your jacket Pone." I turned and saw Darry holding out my jacket. With my head turned I wasn't looking where I was going and ran into the doorjamb. I quickly checked Darry's expression. Dam, he simply shook his head at my unintentional antics. I knew what he was thinking, some things never change...

I would have taken an eye roll even if I hadn't caused it intentionally. Taking my jacket from Darry, I headed out the door with no incident this time.

"Now that I'm at 90 I can relax and go about my normal routine," I said. Darry shook his head. "Curtis men follow doctor's orders."

"Nah, it's good enough."

"No."

"You're not my father," I said, feeling impish.

Darry grinned at me. "I'm the closest thing you have." He walked to the driver's side of the truck and opened his door. I leaned against the passenger side until he leaned over to flip up my lock. Letting myself in I sighed, "Maybe now you and Soda will get off my case. You two have been kind of annoying for this past month. No, scratch that, Soda's been normal-ish, it's all you."

Darry rolled his eyes upward.

I pumped my fist up in victory. "Yes! "

"'yes' what?" Darry put the truck into drive.

"I think we both know."

"Maybe we do."

"Maybe."

Content, I put my arms behind my head and kicked my feet up onto the dash.

"Put on your seatbelt," Darry commanded.

"I don't think I feel like it," I sassed even as I reached for the buckle. It clicked soundly into place. I reached forward to flip on the radio. "Highway to Hell" covered the silence. Again I kicked back.

I was surprised when the soothing sounds of AC/DC cut off. "Hey, I like that song," I complained to Darry.

He just cleared his throat. I cracked an eye to take a closer look at him. His hands were gripping the steering wheel as if it was a lifeline, and he stared straight ahead. A few beads of sweat trickled along his crew cut hairline.

"Darry?" Is he nervous? This was a rare occurrence!

"I wanted to talk to you about something while we were alone."

"And?"

"As you know, Charlene and I are expecting a baby soon." Uh, duh Darry!

"I already know about the birds and the bees," I smirked.

He cleared his throat awkwardly. "I'm a little, uh, unsure, about how good of a dad I'll be. I know that I'm definitely not your dad, but after mom and dad died when you were a kid, did I… Would you change how… Did you… do you think that..."

A smile crept on my face and got bigger the more Darry rambled on uncomfortably. Finally, I pulled him out of his predicament.

"You were a great surrogate father to me and Soda. I can't think of anyone else who would have cared enough to do all that you did for us." I paused and looked at him appraisingly. "Anyone that could be that unselfish so young will be a natural later on in life."

"Thanks Pone," Darry said quietly. "That means a lot."

I swallowed. "In fact, I turned out how I did because of you. I always just wanted to make you proud." Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. The tips of my ears flamed to a handsome shade of maroon.

Darry reached over and ruffled my hair. "It wasn't always easy. We went through some hard times and a lot of misunderstandings." I laughed, remembering some of the awkward times me and Darry had to live through while I was in high school. My laughter died though as the harder times rushed to my memory as well. I pushed those thoughts aside and picked at a happier time. "Remember when we all made it April fool's month back when I was a senior?"

Darry laughed, "You have no idea how glad I was when May rolled around. You all know how to be creative when making my life miserable. I was vacuuming cat hair out of my room for months."

"Two-Bit had a stroke of genius," I agreed. "I never did find out where he got a hold of fifty six cats. Or where they all went afterwards. "

"And then we were always paranoid about whatever we ate all April," Darry reminisced.

"You think you were glad when May finally came. Steve and Soda put me in danger of not graduating!"

Darry clenched his teeth. "I'm still mad about that."

We coasted into my parking garage. Darry pulled into an empty space. He looked at my apartment with the accustomed appalled expression before double checking to make sure he locked the doors.

"Hey, Ponyboy and Darry are back."

"Pony!"

"Ponyboy!"

I turned and saw three familiar faces headed toward me, with Soda in the lead. He crashed into me on purpose and I stumbled back onto my butt. He pulled me to my feet in a swift motion. "You're too easy."

"What'cha all doing?"

I immediately grew suspicious when Steve, Two-Bit, and Soda exchanged glances.

"What?"

Steve shoved Soda. "He's your brother."

Soda threw an arm around my shoulder. "We all kind of like you kid."

"Okay."

"Heck, I even love ya."

I wondered where Soda was headed with this train of thought.

"It is kind of our fault that your junk bucket got totaled beyond repair." He indicated himself and Steve.

Darry put in at this moment. "And we're proud what all you've survived."

"Can't get rid of me that easy," I agreed good naturedly.

"So we wanted to give you a present." Two-Bit looked so excited he could hardly stand it.

Soda mock glared. "I thought I was telling him." He turned to me. "Anyway, here you go." He shoved something small and metal into my hand. It was a key.

I felt dazed. Soda grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around. "See parked between the white bug and the green Challenger. It's yours." My disbelieving gaze searched for the mentioned vehicles.

"I can't believe you guys," I stammered. My eyes landed on the white bug and looked next to it. "I really can't believe you guys," I said in a new disbelieving tone.

Sitting innocently between the Bug and the Challenger was an old blue bicycle. Guffaws could be heard next to me.

"It even has a bell," Steve drawled.

Two-Bit grinned crazily at me. "Plus we're tired of driving you around."

"Now you can get some real exercise," Darry said smugly.

I looked down at the key in my hand. "What's this for?"

"Why the lock of course," Soda replied indignantly. "Without one, that bike would get stolen in a heartbeat in this neighborhood."

I chuckled. "Good point." I looked around. "Thanks guys. This'll really come in handy until I can afford a car."

Soda threw back his head. "I love this kid," he exclaimed. Full of unused energy, he jumped up and down before hugging me again. "You're sooo easy to please!"

I cocked my head and looked at Darry. A smile completely covered his face. He said, "Two-Bit's old bike will do for exercise until you can use this." He handed me another key.

Like a dummy I asked, "What's this for?" More laughter followed question.

"It goes to the car me and Steve are fixing up for you." Soda supplied.

A slow beam inched its way across my face as understanding dawned. "Really?"

"Really," he affirmed. "It's quite nice if I say so myself. And I know cars."

"Anything's better than what you used to have," Steve quipped.

"Let's go chill out and drink some beer." Two-Bit obviously.

The five of us headed toward the building. I slipped the two new keys onto my switchblade keychain as we walked.

To my right briskly strode Darry. He gave me a half smile and rolled his eyes. "That makes thirteen," I told him.

To my left loped Sodapop. He caught my eye and winked at me. I couldn't help but smile. Soda can always make me smile.

I slipped the keys into my pocket and looked around at my brothers, and my friends who were family. I was right where I wanted to be; where I belonged.

THE END


Coming July 2008 to the Outsiders fandom:

Hot Tulsa Streets, by yours truly. Crime, drama, and more angst than should be legally allowed all are gyrating around our favorite golden greaser. Because the hardest part about getting older, is growing up.