Author's Note: Here we go! I'm so sorry this took so long. It's been very busy lately plus I babied this chapter for a while because I wanted it to be really good. I really hope that you like it! Fair warning: there's a bit of language in this chapter. It was unavoidable to get what needed to be said across. Please review!

Chapter Forty-Three

Sometimes we have to create our own closure.

- Unknown

As the days went by, Pony continued to sleep restlessly which in turn meant that Soda got less sleep as well. Soda did his best to comfort his little brother, but some sense of security had been taken away from him and Soda felt more and more that was something he wasn't able to get back for him. While the three brothers were together Soda also noticed that Pony tended to cling more to Darry. He could understand why. Soda hadn't been able to protect him that day, as much as he had tried, and Darry had. But it still bothered Soda to see his little brother this way.

Soda was able to return to work that week and being at the DX became much easier for him. Little by little he was starting to work in the garage again, which he was grateful for. He was beyond tired of always working behind the counter. Of course with his immune system he still had to be really careful about working in the garage since it wasn't the cleanest place in the world. He would only work for brief periods of time in there and always made extra sure to scrub his hands when he left.

Even though things for him were getting back to normal he could still feel something bugging at the back of his mind. It bothered him more and more as he watched Pony struggling to come to terms with what had happened. Pony had been through enough; it wasn't fair that this was put on him too. It had really hit Soda hard though one night when he woke up to find that Pony wasn't beside him. He had felt panicked as he got up to look for him. What he found was Darry's bedroom door partially ajar. As he looked in he saw Pony sprawled out with their older brother, sleeping soundly. It had really hurt to think that Pony had gone somewhere other than to him seeking comfort. It was around that time that a plan had crystalized in his mind. He knew what he had to do and he hoped somehow it would bring him that last bit of peace that he needed.

It was Saturday morning, just five days since their house had been invaded. Soda walked into the kitchen dressed in his DX uniform to find that Darry and Pony were already started on breakfast.

Darry looked up at him and raised an eyebrow, looking a little surprised at Soda's appearance. "I didn't think you were workin' today."

"I decided to pick up another day shift," Soda said with a shrug as he sat down at the table. "We could use the money."

"You feelin' up to that?" Darry asked slowly.

"Yeah, I feel fine," Soda said truthfully. Then his gaze wandered over to Pony, suddenly feeling a little guilty. "You gonna be okay here, Pony?"

Pony shrugged, but it was clear he was uneasy. "Yeah, I'll be fine."

Darry eyed him. "You could call up Two-Bit, you know. I'm sure he's not doin' anythin' today."

"I don't need a babysitter," Pony mumbled, looking down at his plate.

"I know that," Darry said patiently. "Just thought you might like some company." They were quiet for a moment as they ate. Darry looked over at Soda. "Steve comin' to get you then?"

Soda shook his head. "No, I figured I'd just walk." Darry opened his mouth but Soda cut him off. "Don't you dare ask if I'm up to that either. I promise Darry, I'm fine."

Darry shook his head and sighed. "If you say so," he allowed, though clearly he wasn't terribly happy about it. Soda was grateful he wasn't going to make a big deal about it though. After they finished eating Soda helped Pony clean up real quick before he started heading for the door. Darry stopped him in the living room. "I'm only workin' this mornin', I've got the afternoon off," he told him. Soda was relieved that Darry was finally able to cut back a bit on his hours now that he was working again. He couldn't remember the last time Darry had an afternoon off. "How long are you workin' today?"

Soda hesitated for a split second. "Not a full shift. Just till two." He hoped he sounded convincing, like he wasn't making this up on the spot.

Darry nodded. "Don't push yourself too much, little buddy. You may be feelin' better but you still need to take it easy."

"Don't worry, Darry I'll go easy," Soda assured him as steadily as he could.

"See you this afternoon, then."

Soda turned and hurried out the door. "See you!" he called over his shoulder just before the screen door slammed behind him.

Soda started walking down the street toward the DX station just like it was any old day. He kept glancing over his shoulder, wondering if Darry was watching him. It wasn't until the house was completely out of sight that he dared to change directions, heading toward his actual destination. He felt a bit bad for lying to Darry. He wasn't working today. And he knew that it was only a matter of time before everyone figured out that he wasn't either of the places that he was supposed to be. Darry, Pony and Two-Bit all thought he was at work while Steve would think he was at home. But he couldn't risk anyone trying to talk him out of this. This was something he had to do and he had to see out until the very end.

The bus stop wasn't far away and thankfully after only standing there a few minutes the bus rumbled up. As he dropped his change into the meter he saw that the bus was mostly empty. It was too early on a Saturday for the usual downtown crowds. Soda headed for the very back of the bus as the driver took off, causing him to stumble slightly as he fell into a seat in the far back corner. He propped up one foot on the seat in front of him as he leaned back and stared out the window. He had been so sure of his plan up to this point, but now that he was actually going through with it he had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

He was so distracted that he actually missed his stop. He came back to his senses quickly and got off at the next stop, backtracking a couple blocks to get back on track. He had been to the courthouse before, so it didn't take him long to find it. He stopped outside of it and stared up at it, finding it to be just as intimidating as ever. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket that he had swiped from Pony's pack that morning. He felt a little hypocritical as he lit up, remembering how he had lectured Pony, but he desperately needed to steady his nerves before he walked into that building.

He took his time as he stood outside, slowly smoking his cigarette. He watched all kinds of people walking in and out of the courthouse: men, women, old, young, rich, poor. Finally as he smoked the cancer stick down to the filter he had to admit that he couldn't put this off any longer. He tossed the butt to the ground and stepped on it. He looked up at the three story brick building and inhaled. Then he put one foot in front of the other as his feet carried his body up the stairs and in through the front doors.

Soda stopped at a reception desk in the lobby to find out where he was supposed to go. It was the first time he had used the name of the man who had shot him. James Ryan. He had learned the name when he had called the police station the other day to find out when the trial was.

The courtroom was small; it reminded him a little too much of the courtroom they had been in just a few months ago to decide if Darry would keep custody of him and Pony after Pony had run away. This room was a little bigger than that one was though. It seemed that there weren't actually trials going on in this room either. It was a series of people being charged and claiming their pleas. There was no jury, simply the judge and the defenders who accompanied the people being charged. Some of the charges were more series and the defendants appeared in front of the judge in handcuffs. Others were more minor with people who were clearly out on bail.

As Soda looked around he found that he wasn't the only one spectating in the few rows of seats that lined the back of the courtroom almost like pews in a church. Most of the people appeared to be family of the defendants. Soda suddenly wondered if James Ryan would have family here.

Soda sat there and watched defendant after defendant pass by. After a while he was hardly listening anymore. He knew he had been really early, but he had to leave that early to avoid suspicion over where he was going. As he checked his watched it seemed that the court was running late too. He was almost starting to wonder if he had the right day before the now familiar name was called. Soda sat up as his eyes shot to the door. James was led down the aisle between the seats, his hands cuffed behind his back. There was a police officer on one side and the man who assumedly had been appointed to defend him on the other. Soda's heart pounded in his chest at the sight of the man. All he wanted to do was rush at him and beat the tar out of him. He knew that was a bad idea though.

As Soda watched the proceedings he felt like he could hardly breathe. He felt like he was listening from some faraway place as the charges were being read. Armed robbery, assault, breaking and entering, attempted murder. That last one hit a nerve and he felt his stomach twist into a knot. Suddenly he felt very cold.

"How does the defendant plea?" the judge asked, looking up at him from the papers in front of him.

There was a short pause. "Guilty," the man's lawyer said firmly.

Soda suddenly realized that he had forgotten to breathe as he gasped air into his lungs. He looked down and realized that his hands had been clenched so tightly that his knuckled were stark while. He carefully unclenched them, flexing his fingers. He suddenly wished he hadn't come alone. He quickly pushed that feeling away though. He was here and he wasn't going to chicken out of what he had to do.

As James was sentenced – fifteen years in prison – Soda strained to see any kind of reaction from him. From his angle though he could only see the back of his head. James accepted his sentence is silence and then it was over and the police officer was leading him back out of the courtroom. Soda watched his face carefully as he walked back up the aisle between the seats. His features were carefully blanked of any emotion. All Soda could do was stare and then suddenly they had disappeared out the door.

Soda looked down at his hands as he took in a deep breath. Then in the next moment he was on his feet, hurrying after them out the door. It only took him a minute for him to catch up to them in the hallway outside the room.

"Hey!" Soda called. James and the police office both turned to look at him. Soda slowed to a walk as he approached them, meeting James' eyes for what he felt to be the first time. He could just detect the surprise in his features before he wiped them blank, staring at him with a harden look. Soda met that look with a hard look of his own. "You know who I am?"

There was a slight pause. "Yeah," he grunted.

Suddenly Soda's temper flared. He wasn't hurt or afraid. He was angry. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Soda demanded loudly, his eyes blazing, his hands balling into fists. "It ain't bad enough that you shot me while all I was tryin' to do was cooperate with you since you had a gun pointed at me, but then you have to come into my home and threaten me in front of my little brother? And threaten him too? He's just a kid! He's been through enough and all I've ever done was try and support him and you gotta come in and wreck all of that!" He paused, but the man in front of him was silent, simply watching. That only made Soda angrier. "Our parents are dead, all my little brother has left is me and my older brother and I work at that gas station to try and support him! And now you've changed my entire life! We can't just go back to the way we were before!"

His anger peaked and Soda suddenly lunged forward without even thinking, but the office quickly stepped between him and James, putting a hand on his chest to hold him back while still keeping his other hand on James. "Take it easy, son," the officer said evenly, but Soda could see sympathy in his eyes.

Soda glared at James hard, almost like if he could concentrate enough of his hate he could somehow cause the man in front of him to spontaneously implode. No such luck though. Finally he turned his back to him and began to storm away.

"I didn't mean for it to be like this." Soda stopped at the sound of James' voice. His voice was as emotionless as his features. Soda slowly turned to look at him. "I never meant for it to get this out of hand. I just… needed the money." He said it flatly as if reading facts from a textbook.

Soda narrowed his eyes. "Well, I hope it was fuckin' worth it," he said coldly in a low voice. "Burn in hell, you selfish bastard." And with that he spun on his heels and stalked away.

Soda was hardly aware of where he was going, but somehow he found himself back outside. It was a warm day with summer in Oklahoma right around the corner. Soda stood on the steps outside the courthouse and closed his eyes briefly against the angry tears that flooded his vision. He sat down on the step, feeling shaky. He wished he had grabbed another cigarette from Pony's pack that morning.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, his head in his hands as he breathed deeply, oblivious of the people moving past him going in and out of the courthouse. Finally he sat up, feeling steadier. He glanced down at his watch. It was now well into the afternoon. He wondered how long he could keep the charade up that he had gone to work today. He knew he had a good chance of beating Darry home if he left now. Maybe he could call over to the DX once he got home and convince Steve to cover for him and tell everyone he had been working all morning.

Slowly Soda pulled himself to his feet, knowing that he couldn't sit there any longer. He was starting to get some funny looks and he was a little concerned someone would call the cops on him, thinking he looked suspicious. It certainly wouldn't be the first time he had been arrested for doing something odd downtown.

The bus stop wasn't far away but once he got there the bus didn't actually come for another twenty minutes. After everything he had been through that day he felt drained and it was all he could do to not fall asleep on the bus and miss his stop again. He did feel lighter though. As he had looked into James' eyes, seeing no remorse, he was able to feel less guilty himself. None of this was his fault.

He got off at the bus stop closest to his house and started heading up the street. He was relieved when he saw their little house come into the view. As he approached, though, he saw that Darry's truck was already in the driveway. He tried not to think too much of it though.

He walked up the porch and pushed the front door open. He gazed around at his friends and family gathered in the living room, all looking worried. He wondered vaguely what else possibly could have happened before it slowly dawned on him that they might be worried about him. Not only were Pony and Darry in the living room but Two-Bit and Steve too. Clearly his cover story had deteriorated quickly.

As soon as he stepped in the door Darry was on him. "Glory, Soda, where the hell were you?"

Soda's eyes inadvertently wandered over to Steve, who answered his unasked question. "I wasn't workin' today. I came over to see you and Pony told me you were at work. But when I called over there they said you weren't there either."

Soda glanced at Darry, slowly putting the pieces together before he looked back at Steve. "So, what, you called Darry out of work?" There was a hint of his anger from earlier in his voice.

"Well what the hell was I supposed to do, no one knew where you were," Steve demanded.

"I'm not a child," Soda shot back indignantly.

"Yeah you are," Darry pointed out. "You're still underage and I'm still your guardian, so I need to know where you are." Soda made to walk by him but Darry grabbed his arm. "Soda -"

"I went downtown to the courthouse," Soda cut him off quickly. He was looking down, avoiding looking at anyone. "I went to the trial." There was silence. Darry grip loosened on him and Soda was able to pull away as he walked across the room before turning to look at everyone. They all had the same look of shock on their faces. Clearly they hadn't been expecting that. "I just… I had to go. For closure."

"Why didn't you say anythin'?" Darry asked gently.

"Yeah, one of us coulda gone with you," Two-Bit spoke up.

Soda shook his head firmly. "Tell me you wouldn't have tried to talk me outta it," he accused stubbornly.

There was quiet again as no one seemed to know what to say to that.

Surprisingly it was Pony who finally broke the silence. "Why?" he asked quietly. "Why did you want to go? Why would you want to see him again?"

Soda hesitated, wondering how he could explain without making himself sound crazy. "I wanted to see if he showed any kinda remorse or anythin' I guess. I wanted to see if he felt bad for what he did, how much he derailed our lives." He paused and looking around the room, meeting everyone's gaze in turn. "I wanted to make sure he knew how much damage he had caused."

"So… you talked to him?" Steve asked slowly, looking surprised. Soda only nodded.

"Soda…" Darry said in shock, letting the thought hang for a moment. "You shouldn't have done that."

"Why not?" Soda suddenly snapped. "Don't I have a right? Don't I have the right to look at the guy who caused all of this and tell him what I think? I'm the one affected by this. I'm the one who almost died. I'm the one who has to be careful about not gettin' sick anymore. I'm the one who brought all this home!"

"What do you mean, brought it home?" Two-Bit asked, looking confused.

Soda sighed. "That guy followed me home. He was after me. Darry and Pony… shouldn't have even been there."

Darry opened his mouth to response, but Pony beat him to it. "Soda, if we hadn't been there then that guy wouldn't have hesitated. You wouldn't be here right now."

Soda ran a hand over his face tiredly. Then he focused on Pony who had carefully approached him. "I've seen how this has affected you, Pony. I never wanted you to go through that."

"It didn't affect me half as much as it would have affected me if you had been killed," Pony said quietly.

Soda felt his heart twist. "I know but… you've been kinda avoiding me." Pony suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I've seen it Pone. I know how you go to Darry for comfort instead of me." Soda knew it was petty but he couldn't keep the pain out of his voice.

Pony bit his lip and looked down at the ground. "I'm sorry. It's just I feel bad putting more on you. I don't want you feeling guilty and I thought if you knew I was still feelin' shook up you'd feel more guilty."

Soda inhaled slowly. Then he met his younger brother's eyes. "I don't want you hidin' stuff from me, Pony. You don't need to protect me. I'm the one who's supposed to protect you."

"I'm not a little kid anymore, Soda," Pony said slowly. "And after what happened, I get to want to protect you too."

"I'm not fragile," Soda said.

"Neither am I," Pony pointed out defiantly.

Soda sighed but he couldn't help but crack a small smile. He knew it wasn't exactly true. Of course Pony was fragile, which was why what had happened was affecting him so much. But the fact that he was trying to protect Soda said something about how much he had grown up just over the past few months.

"So… you're okay?" Darry spoke up slowly.

Soda let out a loud, exasperated sound. He was getting really tired of that question. "Don't I look fine?"

Darry slowly shook his head. "No… not really."

Soda took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He did feel a little shaky all of a sudden. "It was just something I had to do." He paused. Suddenly all his emotions were exploding out of him. "You guys don't understand. I mean I know that you guys were freaked when I was in the hospital… but I was the one who felt like I was dying. I still remember how much it hurt, how the blood soaked through my clothes, how the world disappeared and I honestly thought that that was it. I thought I was gone. And even when I pulled through everything changed. I didn't want anything to change, I liked how things were before. And it wasn't enough for him to just get put away after what he did. I wanted to look him in the eye. I wanted him to know exactly what it is that he did."

"Here, come sit down," Darry offered.

Darry took a step forward but Soda took a step away from him. "No, Darry, I'm not a child."

"Hell, we know that!" Steve suddenly spoke up, sounding annoyed. "That don't make us any less worried about you! Yeah, we get all that was scary for you, but it sure scared the hell outta us too. And when you just up and disappear without tellin' anyone where you're going, that's scary as hell too!"

Soda was quiet for a minute, feeling guilty. "I guess I shouldn't of gone without tellin' you guys," he admitted.

"Do you feel better?" Darry asked thoughtfully. "After seein' him?"

Soda looked up at him steadily. "Yeah, I do. I feel like somehow I got my control back. I was always so afraid that he was gonna come back and finish the job. Like he had that power over me, like he could just come back and take my life away for good this time. And even after watchin' him get arrested… it still didn't feel real. But seein' him in handcuffs, seein' bein' sentenced to prison, and bein' able to walk right up to him and tell him what I think… well, it's real. And it's over." He glanced over at Pony. "And now that it's really over maybe somehow I have the power to fix things and make them go back to the way they were."

Everyone was quiet. After a few minutes Soda just couldn't stay on his feet any longer as he walked over and sat down on the couch and rested his face in his hands. He felt drained. After another minute he was aware of someone else sitting down on the couch. He looked up to see Pony sitting next to him, though he wasn't looking at him but rather down at his hands. After a moment he leaned into Soda and automatically Soda wound his arm around him protectively. He looked up and watched Darry move over to the recliner, sitting down slowly and looking over at the two of them.

"I'm sorry, Soda," Darry said slowly. "I didn't know that was what you needed. I didn't know you felt that way. If I had, I woulda gone with you."

"I didn't really know how to put it into words," Soda said. "Not until now."

"It's not your fault that he followed you home," Pony spoke up very suddenly. "And I'm glad that I was there when he did. Because I'm glad you're still here with us. I couldn't live without you, Soda."

Soda gave Pony an appreciative squeeze as he smile down at him. "I'm glad I'm still here too."

There are few things more horrific than being forced to acknowledge your own mortality. At just barely seventeen years old Soda had been forced to look very seriously at his own mortality. He had been very aware of how fragile life was before this because of his parents as well as Johnny and Dally. But now he understood it on a whole new level. Three out of the four that he had lost died because of an act of violence by another person. That was what had almost taken Soda away as well. The selfishness of people was enough to destroy. Whether it was driving after a few too many beers or shooting down a teenager because he looked threatening, it all came down to doing what they wanted no matter the consequences. Soda had experienced that, but the difference was that he was still here.

Everything was going to be okay. Soda knew that. He knew that now more vividly than he ever had. Life was going to be different, but at least he still had his life and he still had his family. So many things had worked out in his favor. Steve being at the gas station to help save him, the bullet not hitting any vital organs, both Steve and Pony being matches for his blood type. It had happened again the second time his life had been threatened, with Pony being home from school on a Monday and Darry being sent home from work early because of the rain. Soda was supposed to be here. He truly believed that. He wasn't meant to die young. He was meant for something more than that. He had been given a second and then a third chance and that wasn't something that he would ever take for granted.

Now he had his life back and it was his to live. No one could take that away from him.

The End

Author's Note: Well, there it is. Almost ten months, 305 pages in my word document and 130,009 words later and this has finished. I was very sad to see it end, I have been so attached to this story but unfortunately it has to end somewhere and this felt right. It's actually a very different ending that I remember originally planning when I started this, but I am very happy with it. Thanks for the amazing amount of support that I have gotten for this story. You reviewers are my favorite! Please remember to leave one last review! What did you think of the ending? I hope that I did the whole story justice, because endings can be a hardest part in my opinion.

For those of you who follow my other stories, I do have a new story in the works. It is a sequel to one of my other stories Define Your Meaning of War and I should be posting it very soon. So there's that to look forward to! I am far from done with writing Outsiders fanfiction! :)

"It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does."
- William Faulkner