A/N: I don't know if this has been done before. Part of me doubts it. Don't know what exactly brought this on. Just a spur-of-the-moment one-shot. Should it stay a one-shot? Or should I expand on it? You tell me, please. Reviews are always appreciated.

Disclaimer: Don't own. Drug use. Language. Pardon typos.

Black Pearl

by Begonias

"You don't get it," Ponyboy moans, pale face bright in stark contrast to the lingering darkness. "You don't understand." Oh, Pony's wrong about that one. He understands, alright.

Soda rubs his eyes, feeling the tension knot in his forehead. Jesus Christ. Not this, anything but this.

"What the hell?" Sodapop asks in raw incredulity, rubbing his face in disbelief. "How could you...? How did you...?" He's at a loss for words. This is a scenario Sodapop Curtis never imagined being in. It was one of the last things he'd ever suspect his little brotherhis smart, college-bound little brotherto do. It hurts so goddamn much.

"You were gone, Soda," he begs. His voice cracks. He's so fucking high on God-knows-what, and Soda isn't even sure he wants to know. "You were in 'Nam, and I had no idea whether you were dead or alive I didn't know what to do! And now that you're back...I just...wanted an escape."

"Oh, so drugs were the way out?" His voice is hard. "That's no excuse," Sodapop spits in a way that is so un-Soda-like. He wipes his face; he's so pissed off he can't see straight. "You know that. Ponyboy...come on..."

Ponyboy gives a sob and Soda feels himself tense, because, God help him, he feels some of the unhinging anger fade, replaced by an underlying sadness. Because Pony's had a rough time too, and Sodapop and Darry haven't even paid attention to him; haven't even acknowledged his struggleslike the fact that he hasn't eaten and he has barely slept at all since Soda's return a few weeks ago. "What was I supposed to do? I don't have any friends...they're all gettin' drafted, they're all dead. I can't do nothin' without killin' people." He swallows, and it seems like it takes every muscle in his body to do it. He lethargically moves his head up and says, "I didn't mean for it to go this far."

Part of Soda wants to laughthe extremely bitter part of him that wasn't there before he went to Vietnam.

Didn't mean for it to go far, he says. Huh. No one means for it to go far.

Soda realizes then how lucky Ponyboy is that it was Soda who found Ponyboy, drugged to the gills in a half-catatonic state. Pony was at Steve's house, exactly where he expected him to be. Steve hasn't been the same since he got back, has ridden the dragon too much, but Ponyboy just insists on helping everyone. Even the ones who can't be saved.

Pony looks like shit, Soda notices. Jesus, he feels bad for him. He wants to fucking kill Steve for giving this shit to Pony; for planting the absurd idea in his head that drugs will make him feel better. In the blackness surrounding Sodapop's room, Pony lies on the bed.

"Just...what the hell, Ponyboy?" Sodapop is struggling to grasp this situation. "How could you do this us? To Darry?"

"I don't care because I don't know what I'm supposed to do anymore," Ponyboy chokes, which causes Soda's head to shoot up. "Jesus, I just don't know anymore."

Though his little brother is high off his ass, he's being the most honest he's been since Soda got back. "What...what do you mean?"

"I don't know what to do," Ponyboy sobs. "I don't know what to do to make my life any better."

"You can start by knocking the drugs off." Soda switches his voice to parental mode, anger and desperation replacing the undeniable sadness. "Fuck! That's not gonna make things better for you. You're a smart kid; I thought you'd know that."

"I know!" Ponyboy half-whispers, half-shouts. "I know! This was one of the first times, I swear."

Soda knows Pony is telling the truth, but he keeps going with, "Oh, really?" He raises an eyebrow, showing his suspicion.

"Yes, and oh, God, I'm so sorry, Soda," he says. "I'm so sorry. Please, just...oh, God..."

And then, Ponyboy leans over and promptly throws up all over the tiled floor. He loses all the composure he managed to gain as he starts to cry again, even harder. It's then that Soda notices his shaking hands, like an old man's with Parkinson's. His eyes shine unnaturally green. He looks awful, probably feels awful, and Soda just wants to hug his idiot brother and smack him all at the same time.

"Okay," Soda whispers; he knows this is part of the withdrawal. After all, it's probably been a while since Ponyboy's taken anything. "Let's get you cleaned up."

"I'm so sorry," Pony keeps repeating to himself. "I'm so sorry."

Against his better judgement, Sodapop comforts him. "I know you are," he says sincerely, because he does. He knows the hard time Pony's gone through while he was in Vietnam and knows that his absence affected his kid brother as much as it did him. Sometimes he forgets that.

Because sometimes they forget that even at seventeen, Ponyboy's still a kid. A kid who's seen way too much, and Soda's so fucking sorry about that. He just wishes someone upstairs could cut them a break for once.

"Just know that I'm being way nicer than Darry's going to be when he finds about this."

"Thank you," he gasps. "Thank you. I don't deserve you, Sodapop."

"You're in trouble, Ponyboy. You're still in troublebig time. But you need to rest for now." Efficiently, he leads Ponyboy (whose legs are shaking so badly he can barely walk) into the bathroom. Once in there, he orders Ponyboy to sit on the toilet. Tilting his head back, he wipes a rag down his face to clean him up. "I still can't believe this," he mumbles to himself. Soda just wants to cry.

And then Pony's cleaned up, and Soda leads him into his own room.

"You need to promise me, Ponyboy," Sodapop starts. "Promise me that you'll never do this again."

"I promise," he whispers. "Oh, glory, I promise."

He takes his word for it. It's the only thing he can do.