Author's Note: Well, this idea started off as one-shot, and just kinda morphed into this lengthy story that will have a lot of chapters and action. I've been working very hard on this, so I hope that you like it! Please review and I will be encouraged to update often! :)

Disclaimer: I do not own the Outsiders, nor do I own the quotes/song lyrics that will begin each chapter of this story.

Chapter One

"Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man."

- Shan Yu

Sodapop Curtis yawned loudly. It had been a very slow night. Weeknights at the DX station were always pretty slow, but it felt like they hadn't had a customer for hours. Soda leaned his elbows on the counter, his head bent over a car magazine that he was idly flipping through, scanning over the pictures rather than actually reading the articles. A few hours earlier him and his best friend, Steve Randle, had played a game of "rock, paper, scissor" to see who would be stuck in the store for the night since it was only the two of them working tonight. Soda had lost.

As he heard the bell above the door chirp he glanced up at the clock on the wall. There were only about six minutes left before they could close the gas station for the night and he hoped that whoever was coming in this late wasn't going to take long. He didn't want to stay at work any later than he had to, he was itching to get out and do something. He figured Steve would be in from the garage any minute to help him close up and clock out.

Soda looked over to see who had entered the store. It wasn't someone he recognized, but that wasn't terribly unusual or cause for alarm. The man was probably a few years older than his brother Darry. He had on beat up old blue jeans and a worn and baggy brown coat zipped up to just under his chin. He looked a little rough, but that was pretty normal for this side of town and Soda wasn't concerned.

The man wandered in but didn't immediately head for the counter. Soda sighed, seeing that the late hour wasn't going to make this guy hurry up. He watched as the man poked around the magazine rack for a few minutes.

"Is there somethin' I can help you with?" Soda finally spoke up. "We're about to close."

The man grunted but turned and headed for the counter without picking up a magazine. Soda recognized the signs of what was about to happen just before it did. He realized that he really should have seen it coming the moment the guy walked in the door and started wandering around the store, but he just hadn't been paying enough attention and at this point he had no time to react.

All of a sudden Soda was staring down the barrel of a handgun that was pointed directly at his face. He felt his stomach drop down to somewhere around his feet. He had been in a lot of rough situations before, but in his seventeen years of life he had never had a gun pointed at him like this. He realized that with one twitch of this guy's index finger he could be dead in an instant. The thought terrified him. He very slowly raised his hands up off the counter with his palms out defensively to show that he would cooperate as he kept his face as blank as possible in an attempt to hide his fear.

"Money," the man spat. "Empty the register. Now."

Soda just nodded, not trusting his own voice not to betray how afraid he really was. He would give this guy anything he wanted at this point just to have this over with and behind him. He turned very slowly and reached for the register, not wanting to make any sudden moves.

"Hurry!" the man hissed.

It was at that moment that Soda realized that the gun wasn't exactly steady as it pointed at him. The man looked anxious and twitchy. Armed robbery was clearly new for him. Soda inwardly groaned. As odd as he knew it sounded, he would have rather had someone more experienced robbing the gas station. If this man was nervous that meant that if he was at all spooked he could lose his head and start firing. As Soda quickly started pulling the money out of the register his mind suddenly flashed back to Dally. It had been about five months since they had watched him shot to death because of his unloaded heater. Soda felt himself hoping that maybe this guy was bluffing too and his gun was empty. Not that he wanted to test that theory.

"Hey, Soda, you almost…"

Soda felt himself go cold and his heart, which had been pounding out of control, practically stopped as Steve walked into the store and stopped short, taking in the scene in front of him. For a moment everything was frozen and time seemed to stand still as they all waited for what was going to happen next.

The gunman spun around as he moved toward the door and his gun went off, all Soda's hopes of a bluff vanishing in that instant. Steve dove out of the way as the glass in the door behind him shattered, but he was still between the gun and the door, unintentionally trapping the robber in the store. Soda's instincts and adrenaline kicked in as he went to vault himself over the counter in an attempt to tackle the guy, hoping to get him before he shot at his best friend again.

Just as he was yanking himself up onto the counter the man spun back around and Soda heard three distinctive shots ring out in his ears. He felt something hit him hard in the chest as he was suddenly falling backwards. He was only vaguely aware of stumbling backwards and until he hit the wall behind him. Everything was still for several seconds and Soda found it strange that he couldn't seem to focus on anything that was going on around him. Was Steve okay? Was the gunman still in the store? Slowly Soda felt himself sliding down the wall until suddenly he realized that he was sitting on the floor. His breath came in shallow gasps and he felt like he wasn't getting enough oxygen. He tried to take a deep breath but his chest cried out in agonizing protest.

"Soda!"

Soda felt his head fall to one side and saw Steve rushing toward him, falling to his knees and sliding the last couple feet across the tile floor to come to rest beside his fallen friend. Soda tried to take in his surroundings but suddenly the world was spinning around him and everything seemed to be slipping in and out of focus. Even when Steve spoke to him, he sounded like he was speaking through a bubble of some sort, his voice strangely muted.

"Soda, can you hear me?" Even through the haze, Soda could tell that Steve's voice sounded panicked. Soda couldn't remember a time where Steve had actually sounded like that. He looked up at Steve who was now crouching next to him and let out a low groan, unable to string any words together. "Hang on."

Soda felt panic start to rise in him as Steve suddenly disappeared from his side. He tried to reach for him, but every little movement sent pain flying through his chest. He moaned loudly and settled for trying to stay as still as possible, hoping that Steve would be right back. Soda was starting to comprehend that he had been shot. His thoughts flew to Ponyboy and Darry. They had all been through so much in the past year. Only a month ago they had observed the one year anniversary of their parents' death. It was an easy date to remember since ironically enough it was the same day that their wedding anniversary had been. He couldn't leave his brothers now, this couldn't be happening right now. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain and prayed to see his brothers again. This just couldn't be the end.

"C'mon, Soda, stay with me."

Soda felt a tapping on his cheek and he pried his eyes open again, looking around frantically, gasping for breath once more as his consciousness became more aware of the physical world once again. No matter how much air he sucked in it never seemed to be enough. Steve was back, crouching next to him. Doing his best to ignore the pain Soda reached up a hand and grasped at Steve, desperate for something solid to hold on to, as if he could cling to life even as he sat in a pool of his own blood. Steve grabbed Soda's hand and squeezed almost painfully tight, but Soda was grateful for the anchor. Anyway, it was nothing compared to the pain that was beginning to radiate throughout his chest with every breath he took. Soda found it a little strange that the pain was getting so much worse as the minutes dragged on.

"Hey, it's gonna be okay, alright?" Steve said, sounding desperate. Soda vaguely wondered if his friend really believed that. "Just keep your eyes open, the ambulance is on the way."

Soda finally realized that Steve had left him in order to call for help. He knew that made sense but his mind felt clouded and he was finding it hard to think clearly.

"D-Darry," Soda moaned. "P-Pony…" He wanted his brothers here with him too. He wanted to tell them how much he cared and loved both of them. He wanted to tell Pony to be strong and to tell Darry to enjoy life more.

"I tried calling your house, but no one answered," Steve said worriedly. He cursed loudly. "Those two never go out and they pick tonight of all nights to be unreachable!"

Soda sputtered a laugh, not quite sure why he found that funny. The noise only seemed to worry Steve more. He kept glancing over his shoulder anxiously and cursing under his breath. Soda felt his head heavily pulling to one side and everything started to fade away. He felt a hand on his chin moving it so he was looking back at Steve.

"Look at me," Steve said firmly. "Keep your eyes open, okay? Please Soda, just stay with me." There was a hint of pleading in his voice.

Soda did his best to do as his friend wanted but he was starting to feel tired and large black spots were clouding the edges of his vision. Finally he registered the sound of sirens approaching the gas station. He didn't know how much time had passed, but it had seemed like it had taken an awfully long time for them to get there. Steve went to stand up but Soda used all his remaining energy to clutch tighter to his friend. Steve looked down at him questioningly.

"Don't… go," Soda managed in barely a whisper. He was afraid and desperately didn't want to be alone right now. Somehow he thought that if Steve walked away right now he might never see him again.

"I ain't gonna leave you," Steve assured him. "But I gotta flag down the paramedics. We're kinda hidden back here behind the counter." Soda wasn't comforted and refused to release his grip. "Here, grab on to my jeans." He moved Soda's hand so that he could grab the bottom of Steve's pant leg. "You can hang on to me while I stand up. That way I can't go nowhere."

Soda hung on for dear life as Steve stood up and called to the paramedics. The next few minutes were a complete blur. Suddenly he was surrounded by strange people all talking loudly and poking and prodding at him. He was aware of Steve's hand back in his and he desperately hung to it. He felt himself being lifted up into the air and he cried out as his chest felt like it was being ripped apart at the movement. He was aware of Steve talking somewhere near his head but he couldn't comprehend anything that was being said. Soda was laying flat on his back, someone was cutting off his shirt and putting a painful amount of pressure on his chest. He was aware of tears leaking down his cheeks, but he couldn't bring himself to care about crying in front of strangers.

Suddenly he felt a cool breeze and water falling down on top of him. They were outside. It had started to rain. These were his last thoughts before darkness finally took over and he knew no more.