Did you think you'd ever see this again? Anyway, enjoy the last chapter.

Heaven Forbid

Darry wouldn't let any of them go to the trial. The state didn't approve of their close association with Dallas Winston to begin and to be seen at his trial was suspicious.

The oldest Curtis stayed up all that night waiting for the news in nervous expectation. Pony lay on the couch, eyes half open watching him pace and fidget with an energy that wore him out and made him anxious. Johnny had faded early on the other side, curled in a ball. It wasn't cold but he was wearing his old jean jacket anyway overtop of an old tee shirt too big for even Sodapop. Pony supposed it offered him a sense of security.

Soda was the only one sleeping soundly in bed, not seeming to grasp what this meant. How important this was for them. He knew Johnny was horrified by the idea of Dallas going away for good. After everything that had happened and all of the ways that Johnny had changed – grown brave and able to take responsibility for himself – and all the ways he had come to look at the world, Dallas would always be a hero to him; perhaps more now by his actions.

Dally was pleading guilty. Saying he got drunk and saw the soc had pulled out a knife and thought he was gone for. He'd only stabbed him because he thought he was gonna be stabbed himself. He was riding on the judge taking pity on him seeing it as overzealous self-defense. With his record and the fact that everyone in Tulsa knew who Dallas Winston was and how much he hated socs, it was a long shot.

They knew he wasn't going to break down and tell the truth, but Darry didn't have the strength to believe wholeheartedly in anything anymore. Just the idea of a single slip – a mention of their name or involvement – and someone would be knocking on their door first thing the next morning. That was what Darry was scared of the most. For everything Dally had done to save their family from being torn apart, nothing was over until the trial was. And even then, the possibilities were endless.

Pony was thankful he was able to shut off his brain to the risks that someone would find out and would take him away, but sometimes he wondered how Darry was able to sleep at night knowing every potential opportunity had and would cross his brother's mind unchecked. He saw how ragged Darry looked when he came in every day after work and wondered if he was working himself extra hard just so that he could take his mind off of them and be able to rest from exhaustion.

The three of them, all consumed by the helplessness of their situation, felt the heaviness of Dallas Winston's actions and consequences that arose from it. But somehow, no one considered it the wrong thing to have done. Dallas was an unsung hero if ever there was one.

He was finally unable to think about the possibilities any longer and fell asleep half on and half off the couch.

"Wake up Curtises!" Two-Bit called as he let the screen door shut behind him. "Johnny! Up and at 'em!"

Pony processed the words after a few moments and immediately lifted his head to look for a grin or something worthy of building hope over. Two-Bit didn't look happy though. He was loud as all get out but it didn't mean it was because he was in a good mood.

"Paper here?" Darry asked groggily but Pony wasn't immediately sure it was because he had just woken up. Darry looked like he hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. He didn't know how he was going to deal with work today. He really hoped he didn't have any trouble that got him hurt.

"Yeah..." Two-Bit said quieting slightly, handing Darry the paper he had kept in the back of the waistband of his jeans. "I haven't looked yet."

Darry unfolded the paper, flipping through it for the story. There was a tense silence in which a bedraggled Soda came out of his room in his underwear and Johnny awoke fully.

Darry looked up at them all when he was done. "He got 11 years. It's better than I might have expected."

Pony let out a breath, unsure of whether to be pleased or dissatisfied with the news. Sure, Dallas hadn't gotten life in prison, but 11 years was a long time to sit and rot in jail.

"Not terrible..." Two-Bit agreed.

'He'll be 29..." Johnny said quietly, sighing.

It was weeks later before Pony finally began to wonder if it was safe to wonder if things would stay peaceful. It didn't seem like there would ever be a moment when he'd be able to relax and not ear what was to come. Still, things had quieted down and he felt as though they might stay that way for a while. Still, something was gnawing at him.

"If you leave...." Pony said, finally voicing his fears. "Will you take me with you?" Pony and Johnny sat out on the porch finishing their cigarettes before they would head to bed.

Johnny turned to look at him slowly. It was odd. His eyes didn't hold that kicked look any longer. Yet they weren't hard and uncaring either. They held an understanding for all the world had to offer. And acceptance.

"I'm not going anywhere for a while, Pony," Johnny admit. "And if and when I do go... you can come with me."

"I'm scared..." Pony confessed candidly. "I'm afraid I'll wake up in the middle of the night and you'll be gone."

"I would never do that to you Pone." Johnny replied, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"But I'm also worried that you're not happy here. That you want to leave. That I'm holding you back." He turned away suddenly, feeling afraid to say what he had to say, and not wanting to be selfish. He took a last draw from his cigarette, mustering his courage. "You don't have to if you don't want to. Stay, I mean. You're just as much a brother to me as Darry and Soda but... you aren't really, and you don't have to feel obligated to stick around if you don't want to."

Johnny seemed surprised to hear him speaking so bluntly. He was a bit surprised himself. He felt his cheeks flush. He didn't know if what he was saying would be hurtful or not. He knew Darry had given up a lot to take care of them and didn't want that for his friend even if it meant losing someone important to him.

"I'd be giving up my family if I left." Pony scowled at the mention of Johnny's 'family' but Johnny's soft smile stopped him from remarking. "And families stick together, right?"

"Yeah. They do. Look... this is gonna sound weird, but," Pony looked at him with half a smirk as though he was laughing at himself and half a meaningful look. "I love ya, Johnny."

Johnny snorted but returned his smirk and looked pleased. "Yeah, I love you too Pony." He shook his head. "Glory, Dally would skin both of us if he were here to hear this."

Pony punched him in the shoulder playfully and Johnny punched him back and soon they had dissolved into an all out wrestling match. For once Pony didn't hold back knowing his friend was covered in bruises. For once, there were no bruises.

One day, though, Johnny was bruised. He came in, supported by Two-Bit with a black eye and fat lip. Two-Bit looked nearly unscathed with only a slight wince when he walked. The arm that wasn't across Johnny's back was wrapped around his own stomach.

Pony glanced at Soda who got up from the couch to get the first-aid kit without being told. "You guys okay?" he asked.

"Peachy..." Two-Bit responded nearly chucking Johnny on the couch next to Pony before collapsing in the armchair.

"What ha-" Two-Bit seemed to have suddenly regained his energy and interrupted him.

"Man oh man. You should have seen it Pony." He winced as he sat up but his face was suddenly split in a grin.

"Come on..." Johnny offered meekly.

"Say, you remember that time when we all went to the DX station for lunch? And Johnny yelled at Steve?"

Pony nodded, his eyes suddenly on his friend.

"I didn't think I'd ever see him so angry, but that wasn't nothing compared to how he was today, man." He turned towards Johnny. "I thought you were gonna kill each other."

"Johnny, what happened?" Pony asked, ignoring Two-Bit in favor of an unbiased account.

"It was... it was one of those guys that beat me up... you know. That night." Johnny's voice was almost a whisper and Pony's stomach dropped out at the mention. Things had nearly gone back to normal. It had been nearly a month since anyone had even brought that night up.

Two-Bit's grin promptly slid off his face. "Shoot, I didn't know it was him. I wouldn'ta pulled you off of him if I'd of known."

"Did... did he recognize you or you him?" Pony asked, hoping it was the latter.

"He recognized me. He saw me and said something about you, Pone. And how Dallas killed his friend. He- he said..."

Pony knew what he was going to say but he closed his eyes and prayed he was wrong.

"He said that his friend should have killed you." Pony let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. He was sure the soc was going to swear revenge or even repeat the actions of his friend.

"I don't know what happened. I just started wailing on him." Johnny admit, seeming somewhere between ashamed and scared. His voice dropped noticeably so Two-Bit wouldn't hear. "I told him if he ever came near you again I'd kill him."

"You won't be getting any heat from him again, Johnny. He was nearly crying by the time you got through with him." Two-Bit snickered. Pony almost didn't notice Johnny was shaking his head. Soda came back with the first aid kit, but there wasn't much he could do but clean up the blood on Johnny's lip and give him a bit of ice for it.

"Anything else wrong with you? You sure got a lot of blood on you from a split lip." Johnny didn't have to say anything. The color leaked out of his face and it became clear that the blood wasn't his own.

Johnny shook his head to mollify Soda and Two-Bit eventually staggered out of the house mentioning something about Buck's.

"I meant what I said too. That's what scares me. If you'd have been with me and I'd thought he was going to do anything to you, I'm positive I would be sitting in a cell with Dally right now."

Neither of them said anything for a long while. "He won't bother us again," Pony finally said for both of their benefits. "And his friend probably won't either after he tells him."

"I don't like it, Pony. It's strange, but I don't. I felt like… I felt like I was turning into my old man. I hate fighting. I hate how I feel when I'm fighting with someone."

"This wasn't just some soc kid in a rumble, Johnny. You didn't just beat the tar out of him for the hell of it. Heck, he probably would have come at you if you hadn't done it yourself. You ain't gotta feel bad about it."

"It feels right to feel bad. I can't stand living like this. Either hurt or be hurt. Why can't people just leave other people alone? You think it'll be this way forever Pony?"

"It can't… Everything will change. Things are constantly changing all the time. Nothing stays the same way forever, right? Everything will turn around and then maybe there won't be no fighting at all. There will be so much quiet people won't know what to do with themselves. You'll even start to miss the fighting, I'm sure of it.

"I won't… I won't ever miss it."

"Toss me the corn, Johnny." Pony said through the canned good section. Bracing himself, he reached up and caught both cans one after another. He looked around, but none of the managers had seen him pull off that stunt. Sometimes he didn't mind acting as crazy as Two-Bit when he knew he couldn't get caught.

After not hearing anything for weeks, they had managed to get an afterschool job at the Thriftway. Months had passed since Johnny had beaten the snot out of that soc. It been months since anything happened, actually.

"You catch it?" Johnny asked from the next aisle over.

"You didn't hear it, didja?" Johnny chuckled.

"I was thinking of heading out to the pen to visit Dallas sometime. He wrote me saying he was low on cigarettes. Says a few cartons go a long way in the cooler." Johnny said while putting a few boxes of cereal away.

Dallas had been in prison for about six months so far. Half a year down, ten and a half to go until he was up for parole.

"I don't know, John, Darry was pretty mad when he found out we went to visit him last time." Leave it to Curly Shepard to see them there and go blabbing it around town. They were lucky their social worker didn't get wind of it; they had too many secrets they were keeping as it was.

"Yeah, I guess that's true. We could send him some in the mail just the same. You got any cereal?"

"Think quick!" Pony said, throwing a box of cornflakes over the aisle.

"Curtis, you better think twice before doing that again, you hear me?" Mr. Peterson shot him a cold look as he passed by. "Stop goofing off Cade." Pony moved aside a few cans of string beans to shoot Johnny an apologetic smirk.

"Yes sir." They said a moment later. Peterson walked off, muttering something about hoods which made Pony choke laughing. Between the six or seven guys the Safeway had employed that weren't over 25, he and Johnny were the only ones that weren't stealing from the register.

"So how do you think you did on your math test?" Pony asked. He'd helped his friend study for nearly two hours the previous night. Johnny was a smart kid; he just didn't like school all that much. He was doing much better now that he didn't have to worry about getting walloped by his dad or having two screaming parents disturbing him while he had to get his homework done. Still, he would never be in the same classes as Pony, and he wasn't likely to get into any colleges, let alone be able to pay for them. Pony could only be glad that his best friend wouldn't end up a high school dropout the same as Soda.

"I'm not real sure. I don't think I failed or anything, but I was the last person done. The teacher kept shooting me looks. Anyway, he oughta be grading on a curve since Two-Bit told me he sold a bunch of fake test answers beforehand.

"Don't take any rides from him for a while; he's bound to be beat up pretty bad when everyone catches wind and wants to get him back."

They finished up stocking their respective aisles and were done for the day. "Payday," Johnny reminded him as they got their coats and books from the longue and headed to the register to pick them up. They both gave Darry half their checks and kept the other half for themselves.

Johnny didn't bother driving to school. He didn't take the mustang out much; it made him nervous to see other greasers giving it envious looks, not to mention that he had a perpetual fear of crashing it. Once Steve had complained at the breakfast table after spending the night on their couch that Johnny had woke him up in the middle of the night before by going out on the porch for a cigarette. Johnny had admitted later that he'd had a dream that someone had stolen his car and he had to check to make sure it was still there.

Usually after work they'd get one of the gang to pick them up or they'd hitch a ride back to the house in time for dinner. They'd worked it out so that they could have the same hours every week by claiming that they were foster brothers. It wasn't all that far from the truth. The store wasn't all the far away – six blocks or so from their school – but Darry still wasn't sure about them walking by themselves. Still, Darry, Soda, and Steve were all working today and Two-Bit's car was broken down again so they were stuck walking until someone they knew picked them up.

"You know what I was thinking about Pony?" Johnny asked, seeming a bit sheepish.

"What's that?" Pony asked looking up from the bottle he'd been kicking down the sidewalk.

"Well, don't laugh. It's sort of stupid. It was just something I was mulling over so-"

"Just tell me, Johnny. Don't you know me well enough to know I ain't gonna make fun?" Pony asked. He felt himself blush red thinking of all the stuff Johnny could have given him hell for but didn't.

"Yeah, I know. I was just thinking… maybe I could become a fireman or something." Johnny nudged the bottle with his toe awkwardly.

"You know," Pony cocked an eyebrow – or tried anyway, "I think that's a pretty great idea, Johnny. Once you graduate high school, you should do just that."

"I gotta get in better shape though. You think I might be able to start running with you when you're practicing for track?" Johnny asked with a hint of shyness in his voice.

"Shoot, I've been telling you that you oughta try out for track for ages. I don't know why you don't just listen to me."

"You know I ain't fast enough for that. I smoke too damn much." Pony would never understand how his friend could be so self-deprecating.

"Johnny, you're not going to make it anywhere with that kind of attitude. You stop telling yourself you can't do stuff and you just see what you might be able to do." Pony gave him half a grin of encouragement.

Johnny looked sheepish, but he nodded, giving him a smirk. "Maybe I will," he said quietly.

They walked in silence for a few blocks. In spite of its location in the middle class part of town, they weren't overly worried they'd run into anyone that wanted to beat on them just for the hell of it. There hadn't been much of that lately. Just like Pony had predicted, there hadn't been a whole lot of mindless fighting in a while. Even if they didn't get along and there was still a rivalry between them, the socs weren't going out of their way to beat anyone up out of boredom. Though no one was quite sure who it was, the word was the Dave Fickler had raped a kid – that was why Dallas Winston murdered him. The rumors had run their course for a while – Pony struggled for a long time to ignore them – but just as everything else did, it became old news fast.

Pony sometimes wondered if that was part of the reason for the sudden peace. Socs were bothered by how far Fickler had taken it. Honestly, he didn't really care much of the reason why, he was just glad it had.

"It's nice, ain't it? Johnny asked, seeming to read his mind. "Being able to walk around without a blade in your back pocket…"

"Yeah, it is nice."

A/N: Wow, I can't believe it's been 8 months. Jeez I write 24 chapters, I'm an inch away and writers block hits. Wow, that's just sad. Story of my life, though. I'm real sorry I never finished this. I figure you all just sort of forgot about this and I certainly wouldn't blame you. I really appreciate you hanging in there though. You've all been fantastic. To be honest, I'm not real sure I like the ending, but I think I need some closure to this story if I'm ever going to be able to write anything good again. I've got one thing in the works, but it's miles away from being finished. Thank you all for sticking with me.