Author's Note: I wrote this in one sitting on a whim. It is currently a one-shot, but if at some point I get some inspiration I may write another story based on this same idea. Hope you like it! Please review!
New Author's Note 10/11/12: Well after I posted this story I got a lot of inspiration for this plot. I've written a lot of bits and pieces this week and hope to start posting a full story this weekend or next week based on this same idea. So if you like this story, keep an eye out!
Disclaimer: I do not own the Outsiders.
Thirteen months. Two weeks. Four days. If he wanted he could probably figure out the hours, minutes and seconds too. Each second seems so distinctive, seemingly never ending. But another second always came. They added up. Time kept passing.
Ponyboy Curtis had just turned sixteen years old and was a junior in high school. He had his routine down for the past thirteen months. Five days a week he went to school. He studied and worked on homework. Then seven days a week he would write a letter to his older brother, Sodapop. He hardly ever heard back, but he needed to feel some kind of connection with him.
It seemed like the world had collapsed in on itself fourteen months ago, though only five people had noticed: Ponyboy, Sodapop, Darry, Steve Randle, and Two-Bit Matthews. Sodapop was just barely eighteen years old when he had gotten his notice. He had been drafted to fight on the front lines in the Vietnam War.
The devastation of this fact had run deep throughout what was left of their gang. They had all gathered to see Sodapop off at four in the morning so many months ago. The atmosphere hadn't been that grave and solemn since they had lost Johnny and Dallas not even two years before. Sodapop had put on a brave face, even attempted to smile, but there was something about his eyes... he was scared. Ponyboy had known this. And he knew there was nothing any of them could do about it. As he hugged Sodapop he never wanted to let go, and Sodapop made no effort to move away from him for several minutes. Darry had been strong and stoic for both of his brothers' sake. Two-Bit and Steve had been grim, looking at Sodapop with his buzz cut and frightened eyes, clearly wondering if they would be next.
Darry wasn't eligible to be drafted since he was Ponyboy's only caretaker, at least for two more years until Pony turned eighteen. Two-Bit had been eligible since the beginning of the war, but his luck was holding out. He had even applied for college purely in an attempt to avoid the draft, but hadn't gotten in. Steve had become eligible only a few months after Sodapop had shipped out, but so far he too had been lucky.
Pony had gotten into his first fight on school property three months, one week and three days after Sodapop had left. He was so sick of all the Socs boasting about how their brothers, cousins, fathers, uncles were able to avoid getting drafted by going to college and paying off doctors. He had snapped. Darry hadn't even scolded him after he found out the reason why Ponyboy had beaten up two older Socs. He had actually looked a little proud.
Ponyboy was not alone among the hoods at school. Tim Shepherd had also been drafted several months before Soda, and Pony and Tim's younger brother Curly shared a bond of worry for months, though Curly was better at hiding it than Ponyboy. Then one day Curly had not shown up for school. Pony had heard from one of the other hoods that Curly's family had received a letter from the army. Tim had been killed in action. When Ponyboy went home that day he had sobbed so hard, Darry had been afraid that he had been the one to get bad news.
It was a Saturday morning when there had been a knock on their own door. One month and three days ago. Darry was working and Ponyboy was home alone, working on homework. Pony had opened the door without even really thinking about how odd it was for someone to knock at the door. What he saw had caused his whole body to go cold. A man stood there in full military uniform. Ponyboy still remembered him as if he had just seen him yesterday. He had icy blue eyes and a grim face.
"Darrel Curtis," the man said stiffly.
"H-he's not here," Ponyboy said. He remembered how his voice had shaken though he had felt oddly numb. "I'm his brother."
The man had held out a very official looking envelope. "Please deliver this to him the moment he gets back."
"Okay," Pony said, mechanically reaching out a hand and carefully taking the envelope. He felt awkward and unsure standing in his beat up jeans and Soda's old t-shirt and looking at the pristine looking uniform the army official was wearing. "Yes, sir."
The man had turned and walked away without another word. Ponyboy just stood there and watched him go for several minutes. Finally he remembered himself and slowly closed the door. The house suddenly seemed to be pressing in on him. Every movement he made seemed to take an extraordinary amount of effort. He walked into the kitchen and carefully placed the letter on the table as if he were afraid of breaking it. Then he hurried back out of the room.
That day had been the longest one yet. He sat on the couch, his homework completely forgotten in his bedroom. He had stared at the TV for at least an hour before he realized that it wasn't on. Then he decided that he didn't want to get up to turn it on, chances are there would be something about the war on anyway, so he continued to stare at the blank screen.
He had thought about calling Two-Bit and Steve at work, they both worked at the DX station down the street. One of them probably could have come sit with him. But somehow he felt like calling them would be just like delivering the bad news himself, and he didn't want to do that.
It was dark out when Darry finally trudged through the front door. Pony usually had dinner ready, but he had not moved from the couch since that morning. Darry had smiled briefly and opened his mouth in order to greet Ponyboy before he had fully taken in the look on Ponyboy's face. He snapped his mouth shut and his smile disappeared. He took several deep breaths before he finally spoke.
"What happened, Ponyboy?" he asked seriously.
"You… you got a letter." Ponyboy's voice sounded so small and young. His eyes wandered to the doorway to the kitchen and Darry took the hint.
Darry walked to the kitchen and came back holding the letter. Usually Darry would sit in his recliner, but that evening he sat down on the couch right next to Ponyboy. He placed a hand on Ponyboy's leg and gave him a reassuring squeeze.
"We don't have to do this right now," he said softly, looking at Ponyboy. "If you're not up for it…"
"No," Ponyboy said quickly. "I need to know. We need to know." He was wracking his brain, trying to remember the last time he had received a letter from Sodapop. It had been at least two months.
Darry nodded. He held the letter in both his hands for a moment, staring at it. Finally he ripped it open. The noise had sounded so painful, like a scream. Ponyboy had winced, and then looked away. He had no desire to read it over Darry's shoulder. He didn't want to see the words.
"Pony." He barely registered Darry's voice. "Pony, Soda's coming home."
Ponyboy turned and as he tried to focus on Darry's face he realized his vision was clouded with tears. "What?"
"It says that he was injured in action, but he will recover and they are going to send him home when he's healed," Darry told him.
"He… he's coming home?" Pony said, having a hard time comprehending. For the past eight hours and twelve minutes he had thought for sure that he would never see his brother again. He had been absolutely convinced.
Darry smiled. "He's coming home," he confirmed.
And today was the day.
One month and three days after Pony had spent an entire eight hours sure he had lost his brother forever he stood with Darry, Steve and Two-Bit on a corner in town with several other families, anxiously awaiting the long anticipated homecoming. Darry had lectured them all about how they had no idea what Sodapop had been through for over a year now and not to go too crazy when they finally saw him. They had seen many soldiers in their neighborhood come back scared of their own shadow.
Finally the bus came rumbling down the street. Ponyboy had strained, trying to see in the windows, but there was too much of a glare coming from the rising sun. They watched two other young men in military uniform descend from the bus and reunite with their families, but the Greasers hardly noticed. They were all staring intently at the door to the bus until they saw who they were looking for.
Sodapop gripped the handrail with one hand and a cane with his other as he limped down the three stairs to the street, staring straight down to watch his footing. He was wearing a brown, well pressed military uniform, at least the one that they would wear in public. His buzz cut was hidden under a military hat. He had a military pack slung over one shoulder. He paused at the bottom of the stairs, causing the person behind him to snort impatiently.
"Wait here," Darry said in a low voice as he walked forward.
As Darry approached Soda finally looked up. His face looked the same as when he had left… and yet so very different. Instead of scared, his eyes looked haunted. He looked older and weary. But when he saw Darry he finally smiled and some of his old light came back. Darry took the pack off his shoulder and slung it over his own shoulder before taking his younger brother's arm and helping him limp over to wear the rest of the gang stood, watching the two of them unsure on how to react.
"Soda," Steve said, grinning despite himself.
"Hey Steve," Soda said. "Still as ragged as ever, I see."
Everyone couldn't help but laugh. The world suddenly seemed whole again. Steve and Two-Bit each embraced Soda. Pony felt himself tearing up as he watched his brother, safe and mostly whole, back with them. Finally Soda turned to Ponyboy.
"Hey, little brother," Soda said, his eyes softening.
"Hey Soda," Pony said, grinning widely. Then he just couldn't help himself any longer. He threw his arms around his brother and squeezed as hard as he could. He felt Soda shift his weight to lean on him as he lifted his cane in order to embrace Pony with both arms and squeezed him back just as hard. Ponyboy stood tall, holding his brother up after all the years of it being the other way around.
Finally they pulled away from each other, both wiping away tears.
"Thank you, Ponyboy," Soda said, cupping the side of Pony's face, as if trying to make sure he was really there.
Ponyboy was surprised. "For what?" he asked.
Soda motioned for Darry to come over and as he did Pony saw that he was blinking away tears as well. Soda took his pack back and placed it on the ground and dug around for a moment. Then he came up with a very thick stack of enveloped held together by two rubber bands. Pony took the stack, his eyes wide as he saw his own handwriting on the front of the first envelope.
"These helped me to survive," Soda said seriously. Tears began streaking down his cheeks again. "I don't think I wouldn't have been able to get through without these letters, Ponyboy."
Pony stared for a moment. He hadn't even thought of how much his letter would help Sodapop while he was so far from home. He had only thought about how much he wanted to talk to his brother.
"Come on, little buddy," Darry said after a few moments of silence. He put an arm around Soda and squeezed him. "How about we go home?"
Soda wiped away his tears and smiled up at Darry. "Man, that sounds just fine to me."