Author's Note: Well this is it! I'm always sad when one of my stories comes to an end, but they have to end somewhere unfortunately! I tried not to make the ending to cheesy, I have a bad habit of doing that. Endings are the most difficult for me. I want to thank you guys for all for your support through this story. I really, really appreciate it. You are all amazing and definitely great motivators. I will be posting a new Outsiders story soon, but it will be much different from this one. However I am also working on a prequel to one of my other war stories, Days Slide and the Years Go By. So if you do like my writing keep an eye out, because I will be posting some new stuff probably this weekend! Thanks again for all your wonderful reviews!
It was hard to believe a year had already gone by. Steve sat on the bus staring out the window at the Tulsa landscape rushing passed. He was surprised by how strange this all seemed. This was his home but he hadn't been here in a year. Everything was the same but it felt very different at the same time.
Steve had not been on the front lines in Vietnam, but he had seen countless men coming back from battle torn and bloody. It really brought home what Soda had been through for him. Soda had been one of those men being dragged back to base in a broken condition. Steve would watch and silently pay respect as coffins were loaded onto airplanes for their final trip. Seeing that up close made it suddenly so much more real how easily they could have lost Sodapop Curtis. Steve could more easily understand how Soda could have been shaken to his core by the things he had seen. Steve had sobered with just the glimpses he had gotten while working at the base.
Steve was encouraged by the letters he had received from home while he was gone. Soda still had rocky moments, but according to everyone he was getting better. Steve had been so afraid that him leaving would be the last straw to cause Soda to finally snap. He was relieved to hear that it seemed like the opposite had happened.
Despite his uneventful deployment, he felt so happy to finally be home as he spotted the bus station coming into view. It would be a huge relief to get out from under the army's strict rules and back to his family. As the bus finally came to a halt he gathered his bag and slung it over his shoulders as he stood and calmly waited his turn to disembark. He had still gone through basic military training even though he wasn't going to be on the front lines and if nothing else he took a sense of discipline away from that.
He steadily descended the stairs and his feet touched the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the first time in twelve long months. It felt so strange to be on this side of the welcoming party when he had been on the other side when they had awaited Soda's return.
Steve immediately spotted the familiar group gathered by the old truck. He couldn't help but smile. It certainly felt good to be home. He took in the rest of the Greasers as he approached. Pony looked a little taller, Darry had a worn look to him though was normal and Two-Bit had that same goofy grin. Soda stood next among them, leaning a bit on his cane as he smiled easily. He seemed relaxed which was not something Steve had seen from Soda before he left.
"Welcome back, buddy!" Two-Bit exclaimed as Steve approached. He moved forward and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Good to be back," Steve said.
Soda moved forward and Steve thought to himself that it looked like Soda was walking with less of a limp than he had when Steve had left a year ago. "'Bout time you came back," Soda said with a laugh as they embraced.
Steve laughed as well. "Yeah, well I thought about stayin' over there but then I figured you guys would just fall apart without me."
"You got that right," Soda said as he backed away.
"You hungry?" Darry asked.
"Man, I'm starved!" Steve said, thinking about the less than desirable food that was served over at the base in Vietnam.
"Darry made a huge meal back at home," Pony spoke up.
"Well then, what are we doin' here?" Steve said with a laugh.
"Let's go!" Soda announced happily.
Steve was a little confused by Soda's suddenly excitement. Then something he hadn't been expecting happened. Soda turned, picked up his cane and walked over to the truck. Steve could only stare after him in shock. He was still walking with a noticeable limp but he was walking without any aid from the cane that he had been practically attached to before Steve had left. Soda hadn't been able to cross his bedroom without that cane, let alone walk across a parking lot.
"You comin'?" Soda asked, turning to look at Steve with a grin.
Steve looked around at Darry, Pony and Two-Bit who were all smiling as well at his reaction before focusing back on Soda. "What the hell?" was all he could come up with.
"You shoulda seen his first steps," Two-Bit said with a laugh. "We were so proud!"
"Hey!" Soda said, faking offense. He moved closer to Two-Bit and swatting at his legs with his cane as Two-Bit dodged out of reach.
"You gotta be careful, that cane is now a weapon," Two-Bit told Steve with a laugh.
"This is new," Darry spoke up by way of explanation. "He's been startin' to walk more on his own just in the past couple months. He didn't want to tell you in any of the letters, figured it'd be more fun to surprise you."
Surprise was putting it lightly. Steve was floored by this new development. There had never been any guarantee that Soda would ever be able to walk without a cane again and each time Soda had a set back and had hurt it over again in some way it just seemed less and less likely his handicap would get any better. And yet somehow it had anyway.
"I told you I'd be runnin' marathons by the time you got back," Soda said, clearly in the best mood Steve had seen him in since returning home with his injury.
"Well you're not quite there yet," Darry pointed out, rolling his eyes slightly.
"So do you use the cane at all anymore?" Steve asked, shaking himself out of his shock.
"Yeah, I still keep it around," Soda said. "I can't go all day without it yet, my leg usually starts gettin' pretty sore partway through the afternoon. But it keeps gettin' better. About a month ago I could only walk around the house for a few minutes at a time before I needed the cane again."
"That's awesome, Soda," Steve said with a grin, so happy that things were finally getting better for his best friend.
"C'mon, there really is a lot of food back at the house," Two-Bit pointed out as he moved over to the truck. Darry pulled the tailgate down and Steve watched as Soda pulled himself up into the bed of the truck, still amazed by how much Soda had improved. Two-Bit climbed in after Soda and Steve followed suit. Darry and Pony climbed into the cab and they took off.
Back at the Curtis house Steve found that everything looked exactly the same as when he had left. The five of them sat around in the living room eating the large meal that Darry had made as they other caught Steve up with everything he had missed while he had been gone. It was very reminiscent of when Soda had returned.
After they ate to Steve's surprise Soda suggested that they go outside and toss the football around. All five of them headed out into the front yard and what started out as a friendly tossing game quickly dissolved into a tackling match. Soda would toss the football between the other four who would all fight for it. Then the remaining three would collectively try and tackle whoever ended up with the football. It felt good to be able to horse around again. They hadn't done much of that since Soda had come back since he couldn't participate. But even though he was still mostly on the sidelines he was still grinning along with the rest of them and urging them on.
"You gettin' tired of standin', Soda?" Darry asked after an hour of this. As Steve looked over at him it was clearer that he was shifting his weight away from his bad leg more than he had been at the beginning of the game.
"Yeah, a little," Soda admitted.
"It's gettin' late anyway," Two-Bit pointed out, looking up at the darkening sky. "I gotta get goin'. I'll see you guys tomorrow."
As Two-Bit headed out Darry walked over to Soda, taking his arm in order to support him as he began leading him back toward the house.
"You got homework tonight, Pony?" Darry asked.
Pony sighed heavily. "Yeah, I do," he admitted.
"Well, get goin'," Darry said simply.
Pony trudged up the front steps and into the house.
"I'm gonna sit outside for a while," Soda said as they approached the porch steps. "I need a smoke."
Darry lowered him down to sit on one of the middle porch steps before heading up the steps himself. Steve sat down beside him and bummed a cigarette from him as they both lit up. Before the war Soda only ever smoked when he had something was bothering him or when he wanted to look tough. It seemed though that since returning home Soda had become a more regular smoker. Steve knew most of the soldiers over there smoked regularly in an attempt to calm their nerves from constantly being in combat. Seems that was something that stuck with Soda.
They were quiet for several minutes as they sat there and smoked.
"You remember right before you left?" Soda spoke up suddenly. "We sat right here early in the mornin' and talked about you bein' drafted."
Steve nodded. "I remember," he said, still feeling a pang of guilt for avoiding Soda so much in the days right after he had received his draft notice.
Soda looked over at him seriously. "I remember wondering if we'd ever be able to just sit here and smoke again," he said. "I remember wondering if you'd make it back."
Steve cocked a half smile at him. "And here we are," he pointed out.
Soda smiled. "Yeah," he agreed.
Steve looked down at the ground for a moment, lost in thought. Then he looked back up at Soda. "I don't think I really understood what you had really gone through before," he said. "I mean, I tried to. I knew you had seen guys killed in action, I knew that you had to fight for your life over and over again. I thought I understood. But being over there and really seeing it up close…" He let his voice trail off for a moment as he took a drag. "I didn't see one battle. My life was never really in danger; although we did have a few bombs dropped by a little too close for comfort on more than one occasion. But every day I saw guys comin' back from combat in all kinds of conditions and I heard a lot of their stories… Jesus. It's hell over there."
Soda nodded vaguely. "Yes it is," he agreed quietly.
"I just want you to know that I think you're strong for comin' back from all that," Steve went on. "I know it hasn't been a smoothest road ever for you since you got back, but I think I'd be more worried about someone who could just shake all that off like it never happened."
Soda smiled lightly at Steve. "Thanks," he said simply. He took a long drag off his cigarette before he spoke again. "I still have nightmares from time to time. They still shake me up somethin' awful. But each time it's a little easier to put it out of my head the next day and go about my life. It's not fair… but it happened. And now after eveythin' I went through to get back to my family I don't want to be constantly livin' in the past, you know?"
"I'm real glad that you're dealin' with it so much better now," Steve said, smiling lightly.
"Yeah," he said, lookin' over at Steve. "You know if you ever want to talk about it…"
Steve snorted a laugh. "Well you know, this one time I dropped a wrench on my foot."
Soda grinned and gave him a good-natured shove. "Yeah, that's way worse than bein' shot at," he said sarcastically.
"Hey, it really hurt!" Steve laughed, pretending to be offended.
As the war raged on in Vietnam, two friends were able to sit together on a front porch smoking cigarettes and joking with each other. After all the bad luck that came upon the Greasers, the fact that there were still five of them left seemed like a near miracle. Neither Soda nor Steve would ever really forget what they had seen while they had been deployed. Soda especially. But the Greasers were closer than ever and even though he would continue to have occasional set backs they were always there for Soda. They were family, all five of them. They were forever tied together, the bonds of family stronger than ever. And together they could overcome anything.
The Ties that Bind.