The final chapter... -sniff- Can't say I'll miss this - the late posts, the lack of motivation, etc. - but I've always loved that peak of a story where you want to do nothing but plan it and you're so eager to get it on paper and show it to someone. :) Anyways, the sequel, Slow Motion, will be out soon, and will tie up some loose ends with characters featured throughout the story. (It'll also be angstier and shorter, thank God.)
Now, without further ado, I give you... HLWA's final chapter. :)
The sun seemed to rush as it set, eager to fall below the horizon as Dally waited, knee moving impatiently. He was sitting at the meeting point where Mrs. Cade had told him to wait, smoking as he flipped his lighter on and off.
It had been hours since he'd seen Johnny, and yet this guy he'd been sent to see still hadn't shown up - ignorant, slow-ass bastard.
Just as Dallas was contemplating setting the bench on fire (with lack of anything productive to do), a set of footsteps began to pound away on the concrete path, heading for the meeting place where Dally now came to his feet.
The young man squared his shoulders as the person came into view; the "stranger" had his thumbs in his pockets, familiar dark gold hair brushing his face as he went.
The man from the church parking lot smiled at Dally. "Hey, you."
The young man stared. "You the one Mrs. C asked me to meet up with?"
The man smiled. "Sheesh - you sure are nosy." But he avoided eye contact, glancing to the side as he haltingly asked, "Is... is Sandy really a 'misses' now?"
It took Dally a moment, but he figured "Sandy" must be Johnny's mother. "No - I was guessing from Johnny's existence she was once, but judging from that face you're making, I suppose not."
The man attempted to appear nonchalant, despite his visible discomfort. "Some things just don't turn out the way you always hoped they would; you just gotta' make the best of what you have." He smiled crookedly. "Speaking of my lack of health, mind sparing me another cigarette?"
Dally didn't mind, in fact, so he did.
After a few inhales and exhales of bitter smoke on both their parts, Dally asked, "Why didn't it work? She's a real sweet woman. Pretty, too."
His companion was quiet for a minute, and all Dally could hear for a while was the highway's roaring cars and the gentle swish of water off the dock nearby.
"We raised him together for a while... or not together, exactly, more like a divorced couple, carting him back and forth between us... But I don't have any legal hold over Johnny because neither Sandy nor are too sure that he's mine."
The man put his cigarette out on his shoe before he looked Dally right in the eye. The boy swallowed.
"But I still love him like he's mine; even though there's a wide chance he can't be. But I love him, and that's why I'm here."
Dally kept from making eye contact, pinning his gaze over the man's shoulder. He found himself asking, "You don't sound too sure that he isn't - have you considered a paternity test?"
"Be too painful," the man replied, wistfully. The expression on his face, the emptiness of his eyes, showed he wasn't lying when he said that.
Dally thought about it. "Still, I can tell you care about Mrs. Cay... Sandy, the way you asked about her. You could try."
When the man didn't respond, the younger man decided to change the subject. "Hey - I don't think I ever caught your name."
The man told him. Dally laughed.
"No wonder your kid gets Ponyboy," he said. Even as the man looked at him quizzically, he plowed on. "Your parents' total crack-heads or what?"
"Wouldn't know," the man pleasantly quipped. "I'm an orphan."
Dally took this as a queue.
"Hey," he said. "We should probably get going - Ms. Cade is waiting, you know?"
When they got back to the hospital Mrs. Cade stood up and started towards them, slowing her approach as she caught sight of Dally's companion.
"You came," she stated.
The man shrugged at her. "I guess I did."
Dally left the two love-birds to their wares, remembering what the nurse up front had said about the time, wanting to get in before visiting hours were over.
"Has he woken up yet?"
The nurse jolted in surprise at hearing Dally in the doorway, calming when she recognized him from regular visits.
"No," she answered sadly. "Most of his injuries have healed, but that blow to the head is proving more serious than we first thought."
As his heart sunk, Dally stared at the other boy's helpless-looking form as it lay surrounded by pillows. It seemed utterly impossible that a person who had had so much presence a small while ago was showing so few signs of life at all. As he looked at him, Dally wondered if Johnny's scar from the fire - a horrible, linear burn across his left arm - would ever go away, or if it would forever remain a reminder to Dally of what he had failed to do.
That was, if Johnny ever woke up.
Dally found himself too afraid to ask if he would and was grateful when the nurse turned away and left, giving them their privacy.
He sat down beside Johnny, took the boy's good hand in his, and began to do something he had very little experience with.
Dallas Winston began to pray.
It was so very dark.
A weight pressed down on him, a silence composed of the whispers of loved ones crushing his ears. He recognized all of the voices, but could define none individually; their presence, while comforting, tired him greatly.
And he was very tired.
He thought that, maybe, he needed to rest; yes, that should be alright. Just a little longer...
One whisper broke the barrier.
Something shifted, like a slab of rock moving from the entrance of a cave and allowing light to pool in its place.
God, God, I don't know if you can hear me... I don't even know if I believe in you. But he does, and I want him back...
I love you, he tried to cry out. I'm here, I promise!
The voice broke off its pleading suddenly as somewhere, someone began to hum "Across the Universe" at warp speed.
It seemed to take days to reach the surface (it was really only an hour or so), but when he did, he took in all the air he could muster and screamed out in agony.
"I love you!"
The scream woke Dallas out of his restless dreams with a start. Beside him, in the bed, Johnny thrashed.
Mouth gaping like an idiot, Dally shot to his feet, trying his best to calm the other boy.
"Johnny, Johnny, shh, shh, shh! It's okay! I'm right here..."
The brunette's eyes - which, up until now, had been stubbornly squeezed shut - opened wide. "Dally?! Dally, I-"
"It's okay!" the older boy gasped, to relieved to realize Johnny was trying to tell him something. "God, it is so okay now because God be damned you're awake..."
"Dally," Johnny tried again, voice muffled in the older boy's sleeve "Dally, I-"
"Jesus, you had us so fucking worried - you do that again and I'll make sure you don't wake up, God damn it!"
"What were you thinking?!" Dally interrupted, joyous surprise quickly turning to anger. "Next time, you save yourself first! You first, and the kids can just fend for themselves. That's what all those airline safety videos tell you to do, isn't it?"
He pulled back and looked at the other boy, expression painted with conflicting anger and worry. "Yeah?"
Johnny's eyes softened; he loved Dallas. Every silly, stupid, irresponsible thing about him.
Dally pulled Johnny to himself again, but easier this time, making sure to be ginger in handling the injuries that might still be sore.
"I love you," he whispered. Johnny could feel his heart pound and face flush as he reached up to return the embrace.
"I love you, too," he gasped around tears.
Through the blur and over Dally's shoulder, Johnny could see medical staff and his parents, rushing into the room. He guessed they had seen a change in his vitals, though he wondered what had taken them so long.
Then again, maybe he'd simply lost track of time, here, like this.
"How lucky I am," he whispered to Dally.
"How lucky we are," he corrected, kissing him with finality.
Reincarnation is a tricky business. But if you play your cards right, history doesn't always have to repeat itself. Or it will, anyway. Just that maybe, perhaps, you can have that happy ending instead. After all...
For those who deserve it, there's always room for a second chance.
It's CHEESY, I KNOW, and I'm sorry. Read and review, please! (God, I've been waiting for the day I could mark this fic as 'finished'!)