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give you my lungs (so you could breathe)

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Johnny is sure surprised when he’s woken up by someone shaking him. He's sure he's only just closed his eyes. Instantly, he is aware that he's outside, the cold wind freezing his exposed skin. He peels his eyes open, and is instantly alert by Ponyboy kneeling above him. 

"Pony?" He asks, docile confusion clouding him. He sits up slowly and realises after a moment Ponyboy is already on his feet, his eyes large and wild. He looks ready to bolt. 

"Come on," he says. "Come on, Johnny. We're running away."

Johnny doesn't ask questions - there's nothing to ask. He climbs up, and he's barely standing before Pony is running across the lot. The youngest Curtis, despite being the smallest of them all in height and weight and age, is the fasted out of the Greaser gang. He can run circles around most of them easily when he really tries. Soda always goes on about how Pony should go for track in school, but the argument always ends with Pony saying how he doesn't want to. Johnny struggles to keep up. In his hysterics, Pony clearly isn't thinking about keeping a slow pace for Johnny, and is instead sprinting like he's got a pack of Socs after him - not that Johnny can ignore that possibility, as he has no idea what they're running away from. 

They ran for several blocks before they were too out of breath to go on any longer and both slowed to a heavy walk. The only sound that fills the silence around them in their shoe-covered feet pounding the road. 

Suddenly, Pony stops. Johnny turns around as the youngest greaser drops to the curb, his knees to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. 

Johnny sits down beside him, confused as to what is going on. He lays a hand on Pony's shoulder, trying his best to comfort him. 

"Easy, Ponyboy," he says softly, "We'll be okay."

It's a few more minutes until Pony calms down some, and when he raises his head he aggressively rubs his red eyes. Johnny knows he's been crying, and it's only then that he notices the split in Pony's lip and slight bruising on his cheek. 

"Gotta cigarette?" He asks, his voice badly shaking. 

Johnny pulls one out and hands it over, striking a match to light the end. Pony inhales it with no avail, like he's drinking down oxygen instead of smoke. 

"Johnny," he says, eyes on the tarmac road, "I'm scared."

"Well, don't be. You're scaring me now, Pony. What happened? I ain't ever seen you bawl like that."

Pony takes a prolonged drag of the cigarette. "It was Darry. He hit me."

Johnny feels his own eyes widen: the Curtis family never hit, and Darry sure as hell never hits Pony. Johnny thought they got along fine, but he recalls earlier in the night Pony going off on one to Cherry about Darry being hard as stone and wanting to ship him off to a boys home. 

"I don't know what happened, but I couldn't take him hollering at me and hitting me too," Pony whispers, his voice fragile but growing stronger. "I don't know. . . sometimes we can get along okay, but then all of a sudden he blows up on me or is nagging me about stuff all the time. He didn't use to be like that. We used to get along just fine. . . at least before mom and dad died. Now he can't stand me."

"I think I like it better when the old man's hittin' me," he sighs. Johnny only ever feels invisible when he's home and his father keeps his hands to himself. "At least then I know he knows who I am. I walk into the house, and nobody says anything. I walk out, and nobody still says anything. I can stay away all night and nobody notices. At least you got Soda. I ain't got nobody."

"Shoot, Johnny," Pony replies, sounding miserable. "You've got to the whole gang. Dally didn't slug you tonight 'cause you're the pet. I mean, golly, Johnny, you got the whole damn gang."

Johnny has to bite his lip. He gets that, he knows he has the gang and he has the gang more than Pony despite two of the members being his own blood. People seem to see Pony more as the Curtis' younger brother than one of them. Johnny hates how  Steve treats Pony like a burden carry-along, hates how Two-Bit and Dally will always take Johnnys side before Pony's. It must sting after a long time, Johnny knows. 

"It ain't the same as having your own folks care about you," Johnny replies, because while the greasers are family, they can never replace the weight of knowing your real family, your parents, don't give two shits about you. "It just ain't the same."

Johnny knows he's got through to Pony. After everything they've been through, Pony can't end things with Darry after one hit. He has every right to be scared, to be hurt and to be angry, and Johnny will support Pony if he really wanted to leave because the Curtis' have supported him like a brother too, but Johnny just wants Pony to know how lucky he is to have a family that's only ever hit him once. 

"Can we walk to the park and back?" Pony asks, tossing his dead cigarette on the floor. "Maybe by then I'll be cooled off enough to go home."

"Okay," Johnny says. "Sure, Pony. Let's go."

They got to the park in no time. Johnny is frozen stiff, so he can't imagine how Pony feels in that silly little chopped sweatshirt. He's not like Soda and Darry, he hasn't got beefed arms or muscle to keep him warm. He's scrawny and skinny - another thing that makes him stand out from the greasers. 

"Aren't got about to freeze to death, Pony?" He asks, because Pony is using the hand not holding his cigarettes to rub the bare, pale skin. 

"I ain't a'woofin'," he replies, and Johnny represses the urge to roll his eyes at the tough act. 

They walk into the park, where the grass is glistening with damp and the metal bars of the climbing frames are like holding onto poles of ice. 

"It's sure cold tonight," Pony says, nodding towards the water fountain. "You can see the ice around the edges of the water."

Johnny doesn't have a chance to reply before there's a loud blade of a car horn. Johnny jumps out of his skin, and he hears Pony's sharp intake of breath beside him. 

Johnny looks around, his heart pounding in his chest like an army is marching through it. 

Then he sees it: a blue mustang circling the park. 

No, he thinks. No, not now. Please, not now. 

Johnny loves Pony, but the kid is no match for a car of Socs. 

"Fuck," he whispers, unable to stop the curse from coming out. He can feel the panic bubbling inside of him, his stomach is knots so tight he feels like he could vomit. 

"What do they want?" Pony asks in a hushed tone, his eyes on the car. Johnny looks at him; he looks like he's ready for a fight, his bust from Darry making him angry now he's calmed down enough from his hysterics. The bruise on his cheek and split lip makes him look tough. "This is our territory. What are Socs doing this far East?"

Johnny shakes his head. He can feel his hands shaking and wills for them to stop. He's always been able to hide his panic, to look aggressive and hard like a greaser. He was hard before too. 

"I don't know. But I bet they're looking for us. We picked up their girls."

"Oh, Glory. This is just what I need to top tonight off," he sighs, taking one last long drag of his weed before he tosses it on the floor and stomps it out with the toe of his shoe. "Wanna make a run for it?"

Johnny shakes his head again. "It's too late now. Here they come."

Five Socs are coming straight across the park towards them. Johnny knows instantly that by the way they're staggering and stumbling that they're very drunk, and it only fuels his fear even more. His hand shoots to his back pocket for his switchblade but he doesn't get it out, just the feeling of its outline through his jean pocket assures him enough to stop him from crumbling completely. He can feel the colour draining out of his face, can feel the panic rising like an overflowing sink. His knees are quaking so bad. Fear grips him with it's icy talons. 

Five to two, he thinks, there's no way they can do this. 

Whiskey fills his nose as they get closer. Johnny steps back just as Pony does, obviously feeling as equally as intimidated. He doesn't look it though, he has a stony look on his face, like he does when Steve bluntly tells him he's not allowed to hang out with them. Johnny forces himself to calm down, to make his face blank and hard. They can't know he's scared to death, despite him knowing Pony will be able to see the fear in his eyes the moment they meet. 

Johnny's eyes caught sight of the rings on Bob's hand, and the tough persona threatened to crumble once more. He wants to run so bad. He wants to turn and run and not look bad. They glisten in the glow of the pale moon, mocking and taunting. Johnny can feel the weight of them, the slice in his skin and the blow on his cheek. His scar twinges. He can't take his eyes off them, and he knows he's one step away from looking like a deer caught in headlights. 

"Hey, whadda ya know?" Bob slurs. He has a silver flask in his hand too. "Here’s the little greasers that picked up our girls." 

Johnny swallows thickly.

Bob has the most sadistic, sly grin on his face, lopsided with drink. "Hello, greasers."

"You’re outta your territory," Johnny braves, proud his voice doesn’t shake like his knees are. Instead it comes out low and warning. "You’d better watch it."

Randy swears, his voice so low Johnny can’t make out what he says over the roaring of blood rushing to his ears. He sees him step forward, but Johnny’s eyes are glued to Bob, who’s eyeing him like a meal, his lip rolled back in an animalistic snarl.

"Nope, pal, you’re the ones who’d better watch it. Next time you want a broad, pick up yer own dirty kind."

Johnny see’s, out of the corner of his eye, Pony’s hand curl into a fist. Johnny’s getting mad too, but his eyes are fighting to look down at the rings again. 

"You know what a greaser is?" Bob taunts, taking a gulp from his flask. His eyes look hazy, as if he’s just woken up from a long sleep. "White trash with long hair." 

Johnny couldn’t stop the gasp that escapes him. Anger burns deep within him, overpowering the fear.

"You know what a Soc is?" Pony replies, and Johnny feels his heart stop at the way his friends voice is shaking with rage. "White trash with Mustangs and madras."

Johnny feels his eyes widen, and then Pony is spitting a wad at them. Johnny is torn between with being impressed and proud or being terrified and annoyed Pony would do something so stupid. Johnny was planning on going for tough but not engaging, so at least the fight would be a little bit easier. Biting back like that is only adding fuel to their fire.

Bob shakes his head, his smile turning mischievous. "You could use a bath, greaser, and a good work over. And we’ve got all night to do it."

Johnny feels his heart sink.

"Give the kid a bath, David."

It was like a gun firing at the start of a race. Everyone moved at once. Pony split, ducking out of the way and attempting to run it, but he barely got two paces before David was grabbing him by the arm, twisting it behind his back tightly and shoving his face into the water of the fountain. Adrenaline flooded Johnny’s system and he wasn’t thinking as he grabbed David by the shoulders, yanking him back. David is lifting and plunging Pony in the fountain. Pony struggles enough that he seems to wiggle his arm out of David’s hold. 

A hand wraps around Johnny’s throat and suddenly, he’s is being thrown back. He lands hard on his back, the wind being knocked out from his lungs. He coughs but barely has time to open his eyes before a foot is kicking him in the ribs.

He gasps, crying out despite himself. His chest is burning as he snaps his eyes open. Hands yank him up by the armpits, holding his arms back as another Soc punches him twice in the stomach. They throw him back on the floor, and someone says above him, "Stay down, kid."

He rolls onto his side when the next kick doesn’t come. He looks up, not moving from the grass and see’s them all around the fountain. They have Pony on his back, two Soc’s holding his thrashing legs, Randy and Bob holding his head and arms as they lift him up and down. He hears Pony shouting, crying out his name between gasps and sputters. 

They’re gonna drown him, Johnny can’t stop himself from thinking. They’re gonna fucking kill him.

Johnny reaches into his back pocket. His hand closes around the switch knife and he pulls it out, flicking it open. He climbs to his feet, ignoring the fresh ache in his chest. None of the Soc’s are paying attention to him, their focus entirely on Pony.

"Give up, you filthy greaser," Randy shouts.

"Give me the blade, David," Bob says. He’s the one holding Pony’s head down below the water. "I’ll speed this up."

Johnny see’s David pull a blade out from his jacket pocket, handing it over Pony’s body into Bob’s hand.

It’s Pony’s legs falling limp that does it. The moment Johnny sees the thrashing stop, his limbs flopping as the fight disappears from him, Johnny sees red.

He’s running forward, blade out, vision and sense gone. He screams, driving the blade into Bob’s side. He feels him jerk, hears the screams and shouts of the other Soc’s. Bob stumbles back, his eyes wide, mouth open. He crumbles before his friends have even sprinted out of the lot, body folding like a deck chair. Johnny reaches into the fountain where Pony is floating, pulling the younger boy up by the fabric of his top. Pony’s body is heavy despite his skinniness - a dead weight, Johnny’s mind unhelpfully supplies - limp and flopping, neck snapped back his head rolls and sways with no control. Johnny drags him out of the water and he falls bonelessly onto the floor. He’s sopping wet, eyes closed and skin so white he’s glowing in the moonlight, the bruise on his cheek standing out like a black smear. 

Johnny is too shocked to shake Pony awake. As soon as he hears he’s breathing, he leaves his body curled on the floor and sits himself back against the fountain wall.

Bob is just across the slabs from them, still on the floor where he fell. There’s a growing pool of blood underneath him. His eyes are closed, his chest still. 

I killed him.

I killed a Soc.

I killed a person.

Johnny’s mind is going a mile a minute. The knife, covered in blood, is still in his hand. He can’t force himself to let it go. The voices are so loud he’s a minute away from ripping his hair from his scalp when Pony jerks beside him. It’s a long moment before he moves again, his chest spasming as he coughs weakly. Johnny hears the sound of water splashing against the concrete and his half-conscious mind knows Pony is coughing up the water he most likely swallowed. Johnny wants to help, wants to make sure he’s okay but he also can’t look away from Bob, from the body. 

It’s a few minutes before Pony moves, after laying on the concrete, his chest rising and falling the only thing separating him from a dead body. 

Johnny feels like his world has become narrower. He’s losing time, because when he remembers where he is what feels like a second later, Pony is sitting up, looking at him. 

"I killed him," Johnny says, not looking away. "I killed that boy."

"Wha. . ." Pony starts, voice barely a rasp, but he trails off and Johnny knows he’s seen Bob. 

The silence stretches between them.

"Johnny," Pony says. He sounds weak. "I. . . I think I’m gonna be sick."

"Go ahead," Johnny replies. His voice is steady but resigned. The panic is starting to ease, numbness taking over. "I won’t look at you."

He doesn’t look, but he does hear Pony gag and gasp as he vomits quietly. 

"You really killed him, huh, Johnny?"

"Yeah," Johnny admits, the panic closing his throat. "I had to. They were drowning you, Pony. They were gonna kill you. Bob had a blade, he was. . . he was. . ."

Pony swears.

"They ran when I stabbed him. They all ran."

"Johnny!" Pony cries. "What. . . what are we gonna do? They put you in the electric chair for killing people!" Johnny can feel Pony shaking trembling so much he’s making the water drop out of his hair. "I’m scared, Johnny. What are we gonna do?"

Johnny snaps into his body again. He’s suddenly aware of his hands and feet. He jumps up, grabbing Pony by the front of his wet sweatshirt like he had when he’d pulled him from the fountain. "Calm down, Ponyboy. Get ahold of yourself."

Pony nods shakily. He shakes Johnny off a moment later. "Okay. I’m okay now."

Johnny knows he’s not: he’s pale, wet and shaking like a leaf, but at least he’s not in hysterics anymore.

Johnny looks around nervously. The nonchalant, tough act isn’t going to last long. He hates lying around Pony when all he wants to do is break down and disappear, but at least one of them needs to be calm. He tries to think: what do you do in situations like this? 

"We gotta get outta here," he says, bending down to wipe the blade on the grass. The blood comes off easy, the sight of it smeared on the grass making his stomach flip. He pockets it quickly. "We gotta get somewhere. Run away. The police will be here soon. We’ll need money, and maybe a gun, and a plan."

Pony is nodding, but his head is moving with such small movements it’s as if he’s not really registering what Johnny is saying. This is what Darry is on about, Johnny realises.

"Dally," Johnny thinks aloud. "Dally’ll get us out of here."

Pony sighs, nodding again. He blinks slowly. His skin is washed white, hair and clothes still cold. Johnny can see the fine tremors running through him. He’s still breathing funny, Johnny supposes he must have swallowed a lot of the fountain water.

"Are you alright, Pony?"

He nods. "Where can we find Dally then"?

"Try Buck Merril’s place," Johnny replies. "Dally said something about there being a party there this afternoon. He might be there."

"Worth a shot," Pony murmurs.

When they start walking, Pony is shaking so bad he almost face plants the park floor. Johnny asks if he’s alright again, but Pony just says he’s cold. They hurry across town and Buck answers the door when they knock. With a can of beer in his hand, he looks down at them with a heated glare. "What’d ya want?"

"Dally," Johnny answers. He looks over his shoulder at Pony, who’s hunched over and shoulders hiked up to his ears. "We gotta see Dally."

"He’s busy," Buck snaps.

"Tell him it’s Johnny and Pony," Pony says from behind. "He’ll come."

Buck glares at the younger boy for a second before stumbling back into the house.

Johnny let’s out a breath of relief he didn’t realise he was holding.

Dally appears a minute later, shirtless and his jeans hanging low on his hips. He doesn’t look completely wasted, if anything he looks more sober than not. Johnny supposes that’s a good thing. Pony has slumped behind him, leaning tiredly against the wall. He’s as stiff as a board from the cold.

"Okay, kids, whatta ya want me for?" Dally asks. 

Johnny tells him everything. He doesn’t even think twice that they’re standing in a doorway surrounded by people. Johnny is just too relieved to see Dally, to see someone. And Dally doesn’t bat an eyelash. 

"We figured you’d be the one who’d get us out of here if anyone could," Johnny finishes. "I’m sorry we got you away from the party."

"Ah, shoot, kid," Dally replies, looking over his shoulder. "I was only in the bedroom. Don’t look at me like that, Pony. It wasn’t anything like that, kid, I was just asleep - or I was tryin’ to be with all this racket. I had a run in with Hank Williams, cracked a few of my ribs," he rubs his side and sighs, "Wait a sec, then, and I’ll see what I can do about this damn mess." Then, when there’s a wet cough behind Johnny, he takes a closer look at Pony. "Ponyboy, are you wet?"

Pony’s teeth are chattering audibly. "Y-y-y-e-yes-s."

"Glory, kid! And look at ya face!" Dally shouts, opening the door further and dragging Pony in, motioning for Johnny to follow. "Pneumonia will get you before the cops do at this rate."

He practically drags Pony to an empty bedroom upstairs, swearing and cursing at him all the way. Johnny listens with a pit in his stomach. 

He pushes Pony to sit down on the bed and Johnny follows in suit.

"Get that sweatshirt off, kid," Dally says, throwing a towel at him. "Dry off and wait here. At least Johnny’s got his jean jacket. You shoulda know better than to be running away in just a top, and a wet one at that. Don’t you ever use your head?"

Johnny see’s Pony’s wide eyes follow Dally out of the room. He seems startled, but Johnny can’t figure out why. A moment later, Pony is pulling the sodden sweatshirt over his head and rubbing his chest and hair dry. 

Johnny falls back on the bed, the events of the night making his chest feel like it weighs a ton. "Wish I had a weed," he says.

He can feel the bed shaking and knows it Pony, but doesn’t want to say anything incase it’s not from the cold.

Dally comes back and closes the door gently but quickly. 

"Here—" he hands Johnny a black gun and roll of bills, "the gun’s loaded. For glory’s sake, don’t point it at me, Johnny. There’s fifty bucks there. It’s all I could get out of Merril tonight."

Johnny pockets the gun and bills while Pony sits there, still shaking. 

"Oi, Pony, do Darry and Sodapop know about this?"

Pony shakes his head, closing his eyes as he clears his throat.

Dally sighs, running a hand through his hair. "Damn. I ain’t itching to be the one to tell Darry about this and get my head knocked in."

"Then don’t tell him," Pony croaks, rubbing his arms.

"Here," Dally hands Pony a shirt about a million sizes too big. "It’s Bucks, ya ain’t exactly the same size, but it’s dry at least."

Pony mumbles a thanks and Dally hands him his brown leather jacket too.

"It’ll get cold where you’re going," he adds, "Take this as you can’t risk lugging blankets with you."

Pony shrugs on the shirt and jacket. They both swallow him whole.

Dally shakes his head. "You’re damn small, kid." He sits down on a chair in front of the bed. "Right. You two are gonna hop on the three-fifteen freight to Windrixville. There’s an old abandoned church on top of Jay Mountain. You won’t have to worry about water 'cause there’s a pump in the back. Use the money to buy a weeks supply of food as soon as you get there, before the story has a chance to make the papers. After that, don’t stick your ruddy noses out the door. I’ll get up there as soon as it’s clear." He runs a hand down his face, shaking his head. "Man, and I thought New York was the only place I would get mixed up in a murder rap."

Johnny shudders when Dally says 'murder'. It sounds so dark, so gruesome, so permanent. It hits Johnny like a freight train - he is a murderer. 

Before Johnny knows it, they’re being walked to the door with Dally turning off the porch light before they go out.

"Get going," he says, and a moment later, he messes up Johnny’s shaggy dark hair. Something warm glows in Johnny’s chest, just beneath the weight of worry thats still sitting like a stone on his ribs. "Take care, kid."

"Thanks, Dally."

 

"Now!" Johnny whispers, and they dash out of the weeds they were crouched in, and pull themselves into an open boxcar. They press themselves against the wall, holding their breath and hiding in the dark shadows as the railroad workers walk up and down the tracks. When one pokes their head inside, the pair freeze, hearts pounding their a herd of running horses in their chests. 

When the boxcar rattles as the train starts and begins to move along the tracks, the pair of them sink to the cold floor. 

The gun in the back of Johnny’s jeans is a heavy weight against his back. He takes it out, gingerly laying it on the floor. 

"The first stop will be Windrixville," he says. "I don’t see why he gave me this. I couldn’t shoot anybody."

Pony doesn’t reply. He lets out a cough, wrapping Dally’s jacket tighter around his body. 

"Come 'ere," Johnny says, and he wraps his arm around Pony’s narrow shoulders, pulling him into his side. Pony slides down immediately, using Johnny’s stretched out legs are a pillow, his body curled in a tight ball, folded legs to his chest and arms tucked in-between. His breathing evens out almost as soon as his eyes close. Johnny notices the rhythmic tremors shuddering through his younger friends body, shakes and shivers. He’s curled up small as if he’s cold, and even when Johnny’s eyes get tired and threaten to close, he doesn’t have the heart to wake up Ponyboy so he can sleep instead. He’ll be able to sleep at the church when they get there, and he’s convinced the never ending rampage of turmoil in his head won’t let him truly sleep.

Johnny had never imagined it would be him who’d be on the run for a murder, nor did he ever think Ponyboy of all people would be coming with him. They’re the small greasers, the soft ones who barely say a word and only throw a punch when the absolutely have to. They’re not murderers, they’re not runaways. Or at least, they weren’t.

Every time Johnny’s eyes slip closed, his mind flashes the memory of Pony’s thrashing body being held under the water, the look in Bob’s eyes when he stumbled back, hand on his bloody ribs. He see’s Bob’s crumpled form, still and cold and bleeding out. He clenched his fist and feels the switchblade between his fingers. He knows it’s in his back pocket, but he can’t force himself to reach back and touch it. 

Johnny doesn’t know how long it is until the train rolls and judders to a stop.

Windrixville.

Johnny rushes to shake Pony’s shoulder at the same time as he drags him to his feet by the armpits. Pony is barely coherent, eyes hazy and half-asleep.

"Come on, Ponyboy," Johnny whispers, holding his wrist. "We gotta jump now."

They leap from the cart, and Pony must really be out of it as as soon as his feet hit the pebbled ground, his knees buckle and he crashes.

It surprises Johnny so much he stumbles too, feeling his knees and palms scrap against the stones with sharp stings.

"Dammit, Pony," he curses, yanking the younger teen to his feet and running into the weeds, out of sight and away from the train. 

Pony is coughing like mad when they get far enough away, but Johnny is still paranoid the train workers will hear. He hisses for Pony to stop, to shut up, but Pony just wheezes and chokes on his own breath.

Johnny claps his back, his own breath rushed from the adrenaline and running.

"Glory, Ponyboy," he says after a minute. "What was all that about?"

Pony shakes his head, flopping back in the damp grass. His eyes are closed, breath coming out like he’s run a marathon in a heatwave. 

Johnny looks up. The clouds above them are pink and pastel, the sky in the east golden on the hills. Dawn is coming. Johnny can hear birds singing. 

So, this is what the country is like, he thinks, breathing calming downs some.

He rubs his knees. "Really skinned up my knees falling over then," he says. "You sure flopped down, Pony."

"'M sorry," Pony replies, opening his eyes and looking at him. "Legs weren’t working properly."

"No kidding," Johnny chuckles. "Surprised you didn’t put my legs to sleep sleeping on 'em like that."

"Why didn’t you wake me up?"

"Seemed like you needed it. I didn’t want to wake you up till I had to."

Pony nods. His breathing doesn’t seem to have calmed down as much as Johnny’s, but he supposes the younger greaser was less prepared for the jump and run.

"How's ya face?" Johnny asks - the bruise on his cheek has turned into a watercolour painting of blacks and purples. Darry knocked him real good to leave a bruise like that.

Pony shrugs. "It's fine. How do we find Jay Mountain?"

"Go ask someone, I suppose," Johnny says. "The story won’t be in the papers yet. You make like a farm boy taking a walk or somethin’."

Pony lifts his head and looks at him with a furrowed frown. "I don’t look like a farm boy."

"You look more than me," Johnny replies. "Just go down the road and ask the first person you see. Then when you come back run a comb through your hair and quit slouching like a thug."

It’s true, in the morning light Johnny can finally see the unkempt state of his companion. His hair, so normally perfectly greased back, is slanted and messy.

Pony sits up and pulls a comb from his back pocket and runs it through the strands. It helps some.

"Look okay now, Johnnycake?"

Johnny can’t help but think, in that moment, that Pony really does look like his older brother.

"You know, you look an awful lot like Sodapop," he says. "The way you have you hair and everything is the same. I mean, expect you’re eyes, 'cause they’re green."

Pony flushes red. "They ain’t green," he grumbles as he struggles to climb to his feet. "And I look as much like Soda as you so. He’s good-looking."

Johnny barks a laugh as Pony climbs over the fence, heading down the dirt road.

Johnny watches him go before he reclines back in the grass. He watches the sky change through half-focused eyes. 

Ponyboy comes back in no time. He’s shaking and shoulders hiked up to his ears, Dally’s jacket drowning him.

"D’you find someone?"

He coughs into his fist and nods.

"Yeah. Come on."

Pony leads him along the road towards a hill. Johnny’s knees sting and ache from when they got off the train, and he can’t imagine how Pony’s must be feeling as he fell much harder. Pony keeps coughing, and he’s out of breath by the time they get to the bottom of the hill.

"You alright, Pony?"

He nods. He looks as tired as Johnny feels.

It takes them almost an hour to get up the hill. There, they find the church and climb in through the back window. Johnny feels a surge in his chest at the sight of the old, rickety building. This is it, he thinks. This is where they’ll be staying. For how long? It could be forever.

"Have we been here before?"

Pony nods. "Used to come here with my folks. I brought you here once too. Soda, Steve and Two-Bit ended up clowning around though. Remember?"

Johnny does. 

Inside is gloomy and old, creepy in it’s own abandoned, grey kind of way. The realisation that they are finally there makes the exhaustion that had been threatening to take Johnny under make itself known. He can barely keep his eyes open as he stumbles and lays down on the cold stone floor. He doesn’t know what happens to Pony, but the last thing he hears is his muffled coughing before sleep envelopes him.

 

Johnny wakes up disoriented. It takes him a few minutes to realise where he is, to remember what is going on. It hits him like a fist to the chest. He feels restless and scared, so he leaves Pony sleeping in the church to go, after laying his jacket over the younger’s shivering body, with writing in the dirt and goes to get supplies, like Dally instructed. He spends every moment in the store a breath away from a panic attack. He feels like everyone is watching him: maybe they are. He knows he looks a state, like the runaway teen that he is. He tried to brush off all the dirt and dust from the church floor, but he still reckons it’s obvious he spent the night sleeping on the ground. He’s on alert, paranoid and struggling to hide it. The time alone from the walk there and back gives Johnny time to think, to process all that has happened and all that is going to happen. 

He gets back to the church and finds Ponyboy drinking out of the pump.

When he see’s Johnny, he relaxes the shoulders that had tensed up at the sound of someone coming, and darts over to Johnny so fast he trips and sprawls out on the ground by Johnny’s feet.

He looks up with a grin, propping himself up on his elbows. "Hey, Johnnycake. Fancy seeing you here."

"I swear, Pony, you’re actin’ more like Two-Bit every day."

Pony climbs to his feet and follows Johnny inside.

"What’d you get, then?"

Johnny placed the bag down on a table and started pulling things out.

"A week’s supply of baloney, two loaves of bread, a box of matches," Johnny lists, but Pony seems to get bored and starts digging in the bag himself. Johnny isn’t surprised the first thing he pulls out is the book Johnny snatched for him.

"No way!" he says, sitting down on the end of a dusty pew. He coughs a few times into his hand. "Gone with the Wind. How’d you know I always wanted a copy of this?"

Johnny felt his ears burn and hide his face by digging more supplies out of the crate. "I remember you saying about it once then we went to see that movie. Remember? I figured you'd wanna read it out loud and help kill time or somethin'."

Johnny risks a glance at the younger boy and sees Pony smiling down at the wad of printed paper.

"Thanks, Johnny," he says, putting the book down and climbing to his feet again. He digs through the bag, murmuring as he goes.

Suddenly, he stops. Johnny looks up: Pony is holding a bottle of peroxide.

He looks up with eyes as wide as saucers. "Johnny. . . you ain't thinking 'bout. . ."

Johnny sighs through his nose. "You know we gotta do this, Pony. We gotta cut our hair, and you're gonna bleach yours," he reaches back and pulls out the knife from his back pocket. "The papers will have our descriptions. If we wanna keep going, we can't fit them."

Pony's face has lost more colour with shock. His hands fly to his hair. "No! No, Johnny, not my hair!"

"We'd have to cut it anyway if we got caught. You know the first thing they do is make you cut ye hair."

Pony's face is a painting of sour disappointment. 

"I don't see why, Dally could just as easily mug someone with short hair as he does long."

"I know. I don't know why either."

Pony looks defeated. 

"I'm gonna cut mine too, and wash the grease out. I can't bleach it though, I'm too dark skinned for blonde hair to look natural," when Pony doesn't say anything, but instead looks at the ground, Johnny begs, "Oh, come on, Ponyboy. It'll grow back."

Pony looks a state when it's done with. Bleached and cut, he could be a totally different person. He looks as sour as he did when he heard Johnny's idea. 

Johnny feels kind of bad when it's done with, because Pony does look lousy and Johnny knows he's not going to look as bad. 

Johnny was cold and miserable too after he cut and washed his hair. He was chilled from the water and the sun does nothing to warm him up. Pony sits next to him, folded to his chest, head on his knees and arms wrapped around them. He coughs every now and then, and Johnny hopes it's the different coloured hair thats making him look more pale than normal. 

"You okay, Ponyboy?" Johnny asks, forcing himself not to chatter his teeth. 

Pony nods, letting out a incoherent murmur in reply.

"Are you hungry?"

He shrugs one shoulder. Johnny figures, after a whole day of them not eating, that Pony should be hungry, so he jumps up and grabs two candy bars he got from the shop from inside the church.

He nudges Pony to get him to open his eyes and wordlessly hands him the bar.

"Thanks," Pony replies.

"You sure you’re good, Pony?"

Pony hums and opens the bar, taking a bit and chewing slowly.

"I’m just tired."

"I’m sorry I cut your hair. Y’know why we had to do it."

"I know. It’s not that," Pony replies. "I don’t know what’s the matter."

"Things have just been happening so fast."

"It’s only been a day," Pony says when they go inside. He coughs into his hand. "Just last night we were walking Cherry and Marcia home. Just last night we were laying in the lot, looking up at the stars and snoozin’. . ."

"Stop it!" Johnny snaps so suddenly Pony jumps. "Shut up about last night! I killed someone last night! He couldn’t have been any older than eighteen, and I killed him. He is dead. How’d you like to live with that, huh?"

Pony’s eyes are as wide as saucers. He steps forward and pulls Johnny into a hug, wrapping his arms around him.

"I didn’t mean to," Johnny murmurs. A moment later he pulls away. "But they were drowning you, and I was so scared."

Pony sits down on one of the pews. He coughs wetly into the crook of his elbow. "What’re we gonna do?"

"This is my fault," Johnny says, voice growing firmer, surer. "I shouldn’t have brought you. It was stupid bringin’ a little thirteen year old kid along with me. You should go home. You ain’t in any trouble 'cause you didn’t kill him." 

Pony’s eyes widen, suddenly filling with tears.

"No," he says, a few rolling down his cheeks. "No. I’m fourteen. I’ve been fourteen for a damn month! I ain’t no kid, and I’m in this just as much as you are. I’ll stop crying in a minute. . . I can’t help it and—"

He chokes off, coughing harshly.

When he doesn’t stop after a minute, Johnny rushes over to him, clapping his back until he’s drawing in raspy, full breaths.

"Damn, don’t cry, Ponyboy, y’know I didn’t mean it like that," Johnny says, sitting down beside him, wrapping an arm around him and pulling him against his side. "Don’t cry, Pony. We’ll be okay. We. . . we’ll be okay."

Ponyboy’s shoulders shake as he cries softly until, after a few minutes, he stops and slumps further into Johnny. He glances down, the closed eyes and slack expression on the younger boys face telling Johnny that Pony’s fallen asleep.

He dozes to the sound of his friends raspy breaths. 

 

Over the next few days, Pony’s cough gets worse. It’s gets more chesty, almost wet, and he eventually gives up on smoking cigarettes when the moment he puts it to his lips and breaths his face goes red and he chokes like a amateur. He sleeps more, almost constantly dozing with his head Johnny’s lap or curled up in the corner of the church under the layer of jackets. The bruise on his cheek darkens then begins to fade, becoming pink and yellow. He continuously splits the cut on his lip open again and again, everytime he runs his tongue over the slit it bleeds. But he doesn't seem bothered by it, so Johnny doesn't worry either. 

They kill time awake together by reading Gone with the Wind and playing poker games, but after Pony complains of having a banging headache after a few sessions of reading, Johnny learns to recognise the squinting of his eyes or the tight frown between his brows as to when they can or shouldn’t read. 

They stayed either inside the church or sitting on the back steps looking out across the valley. One morning Ponyboy appears to wake up before Johnny and the latter rouses to an empty space beside him. He soon finds his companion on the steps behind the church, wrapped in Buck’s oversized shirt and Dally’s worn leather jacket. As Johnny gets closer, he hears the muffled sounds of Pony’s coughing that he’s trying to hide and disguise. He’s got his face pressed into the fabric of Dally’s jacket, his body so hunched over his spine is almost a perfect semi-circle. Johnny supposes Pony is trying to quiet his coughing as to avoid waking him up, but he doesn’t have a chance to dwell on the thought as his eyes are drawn to something else: the entire of the lower valley is a sea of mist, the sky in the east light and golden. The clouds range from grey to pink, touched and tinged with yellow. Johnny has never seen a sunset before, and watches, mesmerised and frozen, as the sun fully rises and the dawn breaks into day. 

"Golly," he says, "that sure was pretty." He looks down at Pony, having noticed the flinch when he first spoke. "Sorry, Pony. Did I scare ya?"

"Nah," Pony replies as Johnny sits down beside him. 

"That mist was real pretty," Johnny daydreams. "All gold and silver."

Pony only hums. 

"Too bad it can't stay like that all the time."

"Nothing gold can stay."

Johnny frowns, and he looks across at Pony. "What?"

"Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold. Her early leafs a flower, but only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to lead, so Eden sank to grief. So dawn goes to day, nothing gold can stay."

Johnny blinks. 

"Where'd you learn that?"

Ponyboy looks almost shy. He meets Johnny's eyes for a nanosecond before he looks down at his hands.   "It's a poem by Robert Frost. He meant more to it than I'm getting. I always remembered it from school because I never quite got what he meant." 

Johnny looks at Pony, and is once again reminded of how different Pony is from everyone in the Greasers, from everyone in town. 

"You know. . ." Johnny starts, bumping the younger boys shoulder with his own lonely. "I never noticed colours and clouds and stuff until you start reminding me of them."

Pony looks at him funny, almost confused. 

"So?"

"So, you notice the little things, the simple things that no one cares about and everyone forgets but are still there, are still important and--" He points to the distant valley, "you remind us of the pretty things."

"You mean I'm not a proper Greaser," Pony replies, tone somewhat bitter but not biting. He sounds almost defeated. "Y'don't need to remind me. I know I don't fit it with everyone else. I'm not tough like Dally, I'm not strong like Darry, I'm not useful and smart like Steve and Soda, I'm not funny like Two-Bit. No one likes me but you and Soda but that's fine, I know."

Johnny is reminded of what Pony said to Cherry what felt like a lifetime ago: about Darry not giving a damn about Pony. Does Pony really feel this way? Does he really believe none of the Greasers want him around?

"You know that's not true," Johnny says. "You're just a kid, Pony, and I know you don't like it when we tell ya but you're only fourteen, you don't need to be going out and making money or beating up Socs. You're different than that, but it ain't a bad thing."

Pony just hums, coughing a few times. He already looks tired but Johnny can't imagine he was up for very long before Johnny. 

"You're family sure is funny?"

Pony looks at him sharply. "What's so funny about it?"

"Soda kinda looks like your mother did, but he acts just exactly like your father. And Darry is the spittin' image of your father, but he ain't wild and laughing all the time like he was. He acts like your mother. And you don't act like either one."

Pony huffs and looks down at his hands again. He's bitten his dirty nails to the quick, dots and smears of blood on his finger tips. 

"I know," he says lowly. "Y'know, you're different too. You're tuff, but to us you're a kid too. You see the pretty things to. I mean, I couldn't'a told Two-Bit or Steve or even Darry about the sunrise and the clouds and the poem. It's just you and Soda. And. . . And maybe Cherry Valance."

Johnny huffs a laugh at the last comment. He knew Pony had taken smitten to Cherry, but it appears he's more fascinated by her than in love. He seems more curious about her, like she's a gateway to finding out things about the Socs but not in a devious way. But that's Pony: he's curious and quiet and kind. He doesn't want to fight or argue, he wants to know stuff, which is probably why Darry's been keeping him in school. 

"I guess we're both different," Johnny muses. 

"I guess," Pony sighs, and it's not long before he's laying down and dozing with his head cushioned on Johnny's clad legs, coughing weakly ever few minutes. 

 

Pony gets cold at night. He's almost always wrapped in Dally's jacket now, day and night. Even when they're sitting outside on the back step, washed in the warm beating sun, he's got Dally's jacket wrapped around his small shoulders. Johnny grabs his hands one day and is surprised to find they do actually feel cold. 

One night, it must have been three or four days since they got there, Johnny is laying with Pony beside him, his hands cushioned under his head. His head is filled with the same thing he thinks about when Pony is quiet: the knife in his back pocket. 

Johnny always thought his biggest problem was his family, his fathers beating fists and his mother cruel words of abuse. But now, Johnny has something else to run from, something else to occupy his dreams and keep him from sleeping soundlessly at night. Every crack outside, he stiffens and wonders, who is it? Is it Dally? Is it the fuzz? Is it his parents? Randy? The Socs? Could, by some paranormal chance, it be Bob? He's constantly on edge, hyper vigilant to every noise and movement in and out of the church. He's forcing himself to put on a brave face for Pony, because the kid is afraid enough as it is let alone to have Johnny reveal how haunted he is by what he's done, but truly, Johnny has never been so scared in his whole life. He wonders what's happened at home, what the Greasers are doing. He wonders, with a twisted stomach, if his parents have noticed he's gone. Would they have seen his face in the paper? Are they even more disappointed in him now? When this is all over, if Johnny gets off scot free, will he go home? Can he go home? Part of him wants to, just one more time, to feel some kind of normalcy. It's sick and twisted and he knows anyone of the guys would beat him themselves if he even voiced that he wanted to go for one more beating, but none of them would understand. 

He thinks about them: Two-Bit, Steve, Soda, Darry and Dally. He wonders what they've been doing. He bets Two-Bit has been cracking twice as many jokes to lighten the mood. He imagines Steve has batted an eyelash - especially not for Pony. It's no lie that Steve doesn't like Pony, and he's never tried to make it not clear about his obvious frustration when Pony is around. Johnny imagines Steve dragging Soda to work every morning since they've been gone, telling him he's sure we're fine and that it's Pony's fault for being careless. He can see Soda's eyes, sad and scared and tired with worry. Same with Darry, but Darry would hide it better, he'd hide it through anger and threats and fists. 

On the fourth night, Johnny jerks awake with Bob's lifeless face flashing in his vision. The remaining of his nightmare has him shaking, the weight of the switchblade in his back pocket so heavy it's like it's dragging him beneath a water surface. He can't breathe. All he can think about it how that was what killed Bob. 

He's up before he's thinking, kicking up the dirt and dust from the old church floor in his scrambling wake to get out. He practically falls out of the back door, stumbling down the steps until he's at the top of the dip to the valley. He yanks the blade out of his pocket, the feeling of it burning a brand into his skin. He swings his arm and throws it with all his strength, all his pent up pain and anxiety and fear and anger. One split mistake that night, and Johnny has landed himself and Pony in his mess over that knife. He tries to justify it, and he can justify it, but then he thinks about the fuzz, about Bob being barely eighteen and dead. 

He goes back inside. He feels both weightless and heavy. He flops back down on the floor and somehow manages to doze off again, but he is soon woken by the sound of someone gagging, and he sits up in confusion to see Pony coughing so hard he's almost making himself sick. 

"Glory!" Johnny curses, jumping up to his feet and crouching beside the quivering teen. "Breathe, Pony. Damn, you're gonna choke to death!" 

It reminds Johnny horribly of when Pony was in the fountain, sputtering for breath and falling limp with lifelessness. Johnny jumps up, grabbing the small bowl they found on the second day and runs to fill it up at the pump. He dashes back inside, encouraging Pony to drink some through his coughs. He calms down, the coughing seizes. 

"That wasn't fun," he rasps after a minute and damn, Johnny cringes at the painful rasp of his voice. 

"What was that about?"

"Dunno," Pony says weakly, eyes already dropping closed as he slumps against Johnny. The older boy runs a hand over Pony's bleached hair in comfort, and when he doesn't complain about Johnny touching his hair like he has done, Johnny knows something isn't quite right. 

 

Johnny is dozing the next day when he hears the rumble of a car engine. His tired mind is foolishly slow at registering the sound he is hearing and he doesn’t react until he hears footsteps approaching the church. Sitting up into an upright position, Johnny is halfway off the pew bench when the hole they made to break in is filled.

Johnny lets out a breath he had no idea he was holding in.

"Dally," he sighs under his breath, relief to himself. He jumps up to his feet, "Dally!"

Dally grins wolfishly, stepping inside. "Morning, Johnnycake."

Johnny had no idea he could feel the amount of relief he feels at the sight of Dally Winston standing in front of Jim, looking as ragged as if he’s been the one sleeping on a church floor for five days. It takes all of Johnny’s self-control not to sprint across the room and hug the older boy.

"Glory," Dally curses, stepping up to him and ruffling the younger boys hair affectionately. "Look at this. Not a tuff look on you, Johnnycake."

Johnny shrugs him off, cheeks burning. "Lay off, All. We had to do it. Besides, Pony’s looks worse."

"Smart boy," Dally replies. He looks around, "Where is he?"

"Over there," Johnny points to the corner of the church. "He’s sleeping."

Dally wanders across the floor over to the corner where Pony is wrapped in the older boys jacket and Johnny’s own denim.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," Dally cheers, nudging Pony with his booted foot. "Wakey, wakes."

Pony grumbles but doesn’t wake. He’s curled on his side, legs bent, and back to the room. 

"Dally, be gentle," Johnny says, anxiety twisting tightly in his stomach at the wheezing sounds of Pony’s strained breathing. He’d hope he would be getting better by now. "He’s not feeling too hot."

Dally looks over at him with an oddly blank expression. He looks back down at Pony and bends down to a crouch, shaking the youngest boys shoulder.

"Hey, Ponyboy," he says again. "Wake up, kid."

Pony groans, finally rolling onto his back. He’s pallor than the day before, his eyes hung and bruised with bags despite his almost constant sleeping and dozing. Going onto his back causes him to cough, which turns into a fit of hacking and choking. Johnny rushes to his side, heart racing.

"Sit him up," he demands, grabbing Pony by the shoulders and yanking him into a sitting position. Dally helps, and watches in shock and start as Johnny smacks Pony on the back. 

"Glory, kid," Dally says, "Calm down, will ya?"

When Pony stops coughing, he finally looks up at Dally with wide eyes and a tired smile. 

"Dally," he rasps. "It’s good to see you."

"I wish I could say the same thing about you, man, but you’re more of a sight for sore eyes than normal."

Pony attempts to shove Dally but it’s weak and only accomplishes almost knocking himself over.

"I see you’re still making use of my jacket. Suppose without all that hair you’re probably colder than normal, ay?"

"Shove off," Pony grumbles, self-consciously running a hand through his messy, blenched, and now oily with narwal greasy, hair. "I know it looks lousy, y’don’t need to tell me twice."

Dally laughs.

"Here, got a letter for ya—" Dally reaches into his denim jacket pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. 

Pony frowns. "Who’s it from?"

"The President of the United States," Dally deadpans, standing up and leaning against the cracked church wall with his hands in his jean pockets. "Who’d you think it’s from, ya bin? It’s from Sodapop."

Pony’s eyes widen. "Soda? But. . . how does he know you. . .?"

"He came over to Buck’s a couple of nights ago and found your sweatshirt. I told him I didn’t know where you are, but he didn’t believe me. He gave me this letter and half his pay check to give to you."

Pony seems bewildered.

"Man, you ought to see Darry, kid," Dally goes on, looking at Pony with as much serious as the guy can muster. "He’s taking you’re disappearance mighty hard."

Pony doesn’t respond to that, but instead snatches the note out of Dally’s hand and unfolds it to begin reading the scrawly, hand-written message. 

"Hey, Johnnycake, you got a cancer stick?"

Johnny wordlessly nods and hands him one with a lit match. With Pony no longer smoking like a chimney as normal, they still have a decent amount of cigarettes and matches left.

Uncomfortable with the silence, Johnny can’t keep his burning questions contained any longer.

"Hey, Dally," he calls, and when the older boy looks at him, he asks, "Are the fuzz after us?"

"Of course they’re on you," Dally replies. "You and Pony are front page news, man. They got ya pictures and everything - not that they’ll help now with your new hair."

Pony is still looking down at the letter from Soda, but he raises his middle finger at Dally and the older boy smirks.

He looks back at Johnny. 

"They won’t be looking for you around here," he says. "They think you’ve set out for Texas. I’ve got Buck’s T-bird parked on a road a little way down to lead them astray."

Pony looks up from the letter, coughing weakly into his hand. "How come you got hauled in, Dally?"

"Shoot, kid, them bastards down the station know me by now. Anything that happens on our turf and they’re on my ass dragging me in. While I was in there I was able to let slip that you’re hearing for Texas."

Johnny feels his stomach swoop with admiration. He’s always looked up to Dally, more than any of the other Greasers. Dally has always been the most real to Johnny, the most street-smart. Dally knows the ropes, he’s knows the way and the shortcuts. He’s grown up as a criminal, as a street rat and he owns it like a proud title.

Johnny watches Dally take a drag of his cigarette and let the smoke escape his lack lips like a water fountain. 

"You can sure cuss good, Dally." Johnny says.

Dally winks at him. "Sure can, Johnnycake. But don’t you kids start picking up on my bad habits now. You two wanna go get something to eat? I skipped breakfast and I’m starved."

"You’re starved?" Johnny squeaks. His stomach rumbles at just the idea. 

"You wanna eat or not?"

Johnny stands up. "You’d better believe it."

"Pony?"

Pony has slumped back down against the wall. He blinks up at them tiredly.

"'M not that hungry," he murmurs, eyes drooping closed. He coughs again harshly for a few moments, hiding his face in the crook of his elbow.

"Are you sure?" Dally asks, frowning. "You guys look like you haven’t eaten a crumb in decades."

Dally’s right: Johnny realises that he hasn’t had a chance to notice because he’s been with Pony the whole time, but they’ve both lost weight. Johnny supposes that’s understandable, as it is also that Pony has lost a lot more than Johnny as he’s gone from having three full meals a day cooked by Darry to baloney sandwiches, most of which he’s been turning down.

"Yeah," Pony replies, hiking Dally’s jacket further up his shoulders. "You guys go, get Johnnycake som’in’ to eat."

Dally grins. "Will do, Ponyboy. You just stay here, yeah? No exploring with that empty head of yours."

Johnny frowns but Dally is already heading to the makeshift door. He hates it, always has and even more now knowing how Pony feels, when the gang joke about Pony being dumb and stupid. If anything, Pony has proven to be the smartest of them all. 

Johnny goes over to him, helping him lay back down and pulling the jacket to his shoulders. He coughs weakly, eyes fluttering open. He looks awful: pale and sweaty despite shivering. 

"We won’t be long," he says. "I’ll bring you back something."

Pony smiles. "Thanks, Johnny."

Johnny rubs his shoulder and watches his eyes close before Johnny reluctantly stands and follows Dally out.

In the car, Johnny braces himself against the door and the dash, trying to stop his body from being thrown from side to side as Dally skids around corners and mangles the suspension over potholes in the dirt track road. 

"Hey, Johnnycake," Dally starts. "What's up with Ponyboy? He sick or som'in'?"

"I think so," Johnny replies. 

"He been like that all week? All sleepy and coughing?"

Johnny nods. "Yeah."

"That's not right."

"I know. It should just go away, right? He's just feeling lousy 'cause of what happened." 

Dally hums but he sounds as convinced as Johnny feels. 

They eat at the Dairy Queen but Johnny feels like he’s only half conscious in his body. He can’t take his mind off Pony, alone at the church, curled up like a pathetic ball he has been doing for the past few days. 

Him and Dally don’t speak much, it’s mostly Dally mouthing off and Johnny barely has the mental energy to register what he’s saying and reply.

A hand nudges his shoulder on the brink of harshly. 

"What’s up with you, man?" Dally asks as he finishes off his third burger. He taps his head, "You’re actin’ like you’re not all in there."

"Sorry, Dall," Johnny sighs, shaking his head. "Just thinking."

"Well stop before you hurt yourself," Dally laughs, slurping some soda through his straw loudly. He looks around for a moment, seeming bored. "Want to head back? I don’t know how long we can stay out here before you start to look suspicious."

Johnny nods. "Sure. Probably should check on Pony."

The drive back is just as scary and dangerous as the way there, but Johnny’s mind is occupied with getting back to the church as soon as possible.

He’s running in as soon as Dally’s rolled the car to a stop. Pony is still in the corner, sleeping on his side. His breathing is shallow, the rasps and wheezes loud. Since being away from him for a short amount of time, Johnny recognises the way his cheeks are hollow and gaunt, the way his eyes seem sunken into his face. He looks awful.

Dally is beside him, and when Johnny looks up at him, the older is mirroring his face of worry - which is a worry in itself because Dallas Winston never worries. 

"I’m going to tell Darry and Soda where you are," he says.

Johnny turns to him in surprise. At the Dairy Queen, Dally had almost bitten his head off when he suggested he turn himself in, and now he’s talking about bringing them to him?

"They need to come and see him," Dally goes on, nodding towards the lump that is Ponyboy. "Just incase som’in’s wrong."

Johnny feels his heart race. "Do you think somethings wrong?"

"Well, he’s definitely not right, is he?" Dally deadpans. "He been smoking?"

"He’s stopped. Could barely take a drag without coughing himself sick," Johnny replies. 

They both look at Pony for a long moment, listening to his breathing.

"I’ll bring them as soon as I can. It could be a few days, though, so don’t panic if I don’t come back tomorrow," Dally says. He breaks out a grin, ruffling his hair. "Don’t worry your pretty little head."

Johnny ducks under his hand, but it’s futile and his hair is already a mess. 

Dally looks at him. "Take care of yourself, Johnnycake. And him."

"I will," Johnny nods. "I will."

 

— tbc.