Hey! Long time no see. This is for the WSOTTA January '08 Rumble. The prompt was to have the boys make a fresh start at something. Let me know what you think!

Disclaimer: I don't own The Outsiders, blah, blah, blah...

"Damn it!" Darry whispered as he slammed his palm against the wall. His head was pounding, and he couldn't seem to get his teeth to unclench. Taking a deep breath, he walked to Ponyboy's room. He rapped on the door. "Pony! We're not anywhere near through with this. Open the door."

"Go away," came his brother's quiet voice.

Darry opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by the front door opening. There was the distinctive sound of shoes being carelessly tossed on the floor, and then Soda yelling, "Did the mail come?"

Darry sighed. He knew he had a few minutes before Soda would actually make his way back to his room, so he slowly opened the door. "Pony?"

Ponyboy was sitting on his bed with his knees drawn up protectively in front of him. "What?" he asked guardedly.

Darry leaned against the doorframe and looked at him. This wasn't the Pony he knew. Just a month ago, Ponyboy was his carefree, innocent little brother who had two parents and wanted to be just like his big brothers. And now…now there was a kid sitting in front of him, looking scared and worn out.

"What?" Ponyboy asked again.

Darry rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Don't walk out when I'm talking to you, Pony," he said tiredly.

"I don't when you're talking. I only do when you're yelling," Pony said.

"Don't get mouthy with me."

"And why the hell not?"

"Because…because I said so, damn it!" Darry said, inwardly cringing at having resorted to that line so quickly.

"That's not an answer," Ponyboy pointed out.

"Yeah, well, it's all you're going to get from me right now."

Ponyboy rolled his eyes. "Go away, Darry."

"Ponyboy, I swear…" Darry shook his head and ran a hand over his face. "Why can't you just listen to me?" he asked, exasperated.

Ponyboy glared at him. "You're not Dad, Darry," he said in a hard voice.

"You know what? You're right. I'm not," Darry said, and turned to leave, passing Soda on the way.

"Hey Dar—"

"Not now, Soda," Darry said bitterly. He knew Soda was probably giving his back a confused look, and could faintly hear him asking Pony, "What's up Darry's ass today?" Darry just kept walking until he got to the living room, planning on trying to remember which bills were due when, and how long he could go without paying them. His plan was interrupted, however, by Two-Bit's presence on his couch.

"Howdy, Darry," he said amiably, glancing up from the TV.

Darry let out an exasperated sigh at the lack of privacy and turned around to retreat to his room. Closing the door behind him, he leaned against it and let himself slide to the floor. Burying his face in his hands, he closed his eyes. He was tired of feeling like the bad guy all the time. He hadn't figured out how to get Ponyboy to do his homework or his chores without his brother thinking he was yelling at him. He didn't know how to get Ponyboy to respect him without being afraid of him, and wasn't even sure if he wanted Pony to respect him. Darry was still trying to figure out when and how he'd switched from big brother to legal guardian, and it scared him to think he could never switch back. Maybe when Ponyboy turned eighteen they could go back to that. But that was still four years away, he thought, letting his head drop against his chest. Could he do this for four more years? It had only been a month, and he wasn't even sure if he could do it another day.

Darry heard the phone ring, but didn't move. He wanted to forget about his responsibility, and just hide in his room for the rest of the night. He was startled when he felt, rather than heard, the knocking on the door he was leaning against. Scrambling up, he opened the door. Two-Bit was standing there, looking nervous. "There's someone on the phone for you, Dar. Some woman who says she's with the electric company…she says there was a problem or something…" Two-Bit swallowed before going on, "Uh, she says that she didn't get any payment. I dunno, I told her she was crazy, which she didn't seem to like too much, so I think maybe you should talk to her."

Darry felt a wave of embarrassment pass over him. So much for hiding. "Thanks, Two-Bit. I don't know why she didn't get it…"

"Yeah, I figured it was just a mistake," he said, both of them knowing there wasn't.

Darry followed him back to the living room, and picked up the phone.

"I got a girl waitin' on me, so I'd better be goin'. See ya later, Darry," Two-Bit said before walking out the door.

Darry sighed and began making up excuses to the woman on the phone as to why he hadn't paid his bill. Twenty minutes later, he was writing out a check to the local electric company, praying it wouldn't bounce. He took it out to the mailbox, and saw Steve walking up to their house. He nodded to him, and Steve nodded back and went into the house. Darry closed the mailbox and glanced at the sky. The sun was setting, which meant it was time to start dinner. It was Ponyboy's turn, but Darry didn't feel like reminding him. He would just do it himself. He walked back inside and headed to the kitchen where he realized he hadn't set anything out to thaw. He cursed softly and opened the freezer. He found hamburger meat that wouldn't take too long to unfreeze, and set it in the sink with warm water running over it. He set some water to boil and began peeling potatoes.

Footsteps and then, "oh." Darry turned and saw Ponyboy.

"Um…I thought it was my night to…uh…" Pony stammered.

"Oh," Darry said uncomfortably. "Yeah, I thought you'd forgotten…"

Ponyboy stared at him with a blank face. Deciding he was still mad, he turned and left, which caused Darry to curse again. Just then, the water boiled over, spitting and burning on the stove top. Before Darry could get it all cleaned up, Soda and Steve burst in.

"Hiya, Muscles," Soda said, which caused Steve to snicker. "Yeah, all brawn and no brain." he commented. This hit a nerve in Darry that had been hit too many times that day, and he spun around and punched Steve solidly in the jaw. Steve fell onto the floor, and Soda just stood there, staring down at him.

"Want to help me up there, buddy?" Steve asked coldly.

Soda glanced from Darry to Steve, and slowly shook his head. "I…can't. You crossed a line, Steve."

Steve glared, then got up and quickly left, leaving Soda and Darry alone in the kitchen.

"He didn't mean it, Dar," Soda offered.

"Hmm. Want to help me with dinner?" he asked calmly. Darry knew there was a good possibility Steve's jaw was broken because he'd put every frustration of the day into that punch. He felt like a small burden had been lifted, even if the comment had stung. Darry knew there was no way he'd get to college now, but he didn't like to dwell on it.

Soda gave him a funny look, but took a pan out of the cabinet to put the Shepard's pie in.

"Could you open a can of peas?" Darry asked as he put the potatoes in the boiling water.

"Sure," Soda said. "You know, I was talking to Pony."


"Yeah. He feels bad about earlier," he said.

Darry pursed his lips. "Didn't seem to a few minutes ago."

Soda took a bottle of food coloring out of the cabinet. "He doesn't want to fight with you, Darry."

Snatching the bottle out of Soda's hand, Darry said, "Well, neither do I, but he never listens to me."

"Do you listen to him?" Soda asked quietly.

"I don't mean listen like that, I mean…he doesn't do what I ask him to."

"Yeah, but do you listen to him?"

Darry glanced at Soda. He sighed. "No, I guess I don't."

Soda shrugged. "Well, maybe that's part of your problem," he said lightly. "Here, why don't you go make up while I finish this."

Darry bit his lip. "Okay. But keep everything its original color and flavor, please."

"No promises," Soda called as Darry walked down the hall to Ponyboy's room. He knocked softly on the door before walking in.

"Hey Pony," he said.

Ponyboy looked up from his book. "Hi."

"Can I sit?" Darry asked quietly, gesturing to the bed. Ponyboy nodded and scooted over so Darry could sit down. "What are you reading?"

"The Catcher in the Rye."

"Oh. Um…do you like it?" Darry asked awkwardly.

Ponyboy let a small grin spread over his face. "What are you doing, Dar?" he asked, amused.


Ponyboy raised an eyebrow, then let the grin fade. "I guess I should probably be the one who's apologizing."

Darry shrugged. "Want to call it even?"

Ponyboy smiled. "Okay."

"I don't really know what I'm doing here, Pony. With…everything. It's all messed up, and me and you are fighting, and the bills…"

Ponyboy hunched his shoulders. "I don't want to leave, Darry," he said, looking down.

Darry glanced at him. "Who said you were leaving?"

"Well, no one, but… The social worker, you know, she said that it would be easier if you let someone else take care of us."

"And I said she was crazy."

"Yeah, but we don't get along anymore."

Darry shook his head. "That doesn't matter. No matter what, you're staying. Got it?"

Ponyboy nodded. "Yeah."

"Good. Now, we can't keep this up. I know things are changing, and it's hard to adjust, but I'm your guardian now, Pony. If we're going to stick together, you've got to work with me. So what do you say? Want to start over?"

Ponyboy moved a little closer to Darry. "Okay."

Darry smiled for what felt like the first time in years, and ruffled Pony's hair. "Okay."