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Spreading Wings

Chapter Text

You collapse onto your new bed, your feet exhausted from walking the quad. A day full of "welcome" festivities and you're spent. Meeting new people, learning about clubs, getting the lay of the land.

You grin across the room at your roommate. His name is Marty, or as he introduced himself, "Mah-tey," a Boston native.

You like him just fine. His hair might be a sight for sore eyes and he might say "man" too frequently, but he's genuinely a nice guy, and you knew that from the start.

Marty returns the smile. "We made it, man," he says.

"We still have so much unpacking to do," you say, looking around your new room, boxes littering the floor.

"That's the beauty of college, my friend," Marty says, standing up and puffing out his chest. "Nobody's nagging us to unpack. The world is at our command. We unpack when we please! This is anarchy!" He salutes you before slipping out the door for the john.

You chuckle after him, shaking your head. You couldn't stop smiling if you tried.

You did it. You made it to college. You're here, at the University of Tulsa, and there's a world full of opportunity greeting you with open arms.

You grab the picture frame sitting on your desk, one of the very few items you've unpacked. Then you settle back into your pillows, looking the picture over.

It's the last picture you took as a family: Christmas day, back in 1966. It had been a white Christmas that year - something rare for Tulsa - and you'd all built a snowman together. Dad stood on one side of the snowman, Mom on the other, kids up front, grinning from ear to ear.

You could stare at that picture for hours. Especially now, when you know it was them who got you here. You would still be back in that godforsaken town without them. You wouldn't have received an athletic scholarship to run track, you wouldn't have graduated valedictorian of your high school class… you wouldn't be here, plain and simple. It was them you had to thank.

Your mom and dad, who told you to always try your best and had believed in you from the start. Sodapop who had never-ending faith in you. And Darry, who gave up his college dreams after your parents passed so that you could have a college career of your own.

You think back to this morning, when Darry and Soda dropped you off. You think about how they said they were proud of you, how they would miss you, how they loved you so much. You remember how you hugged them goodbye, tears sliding down your cheeks. You were afraid of being away from your brothers after so many years of trying to stay together.

But at the same time, you're excited. You're anxious to see what the college experience will bring.

You set the picture frame back down on your desk, remembering something you were supposed to do. You reach into you jeans pocket for spare change, slip out your door, walk the stairs down to the lobby, and search for the pay phone.

No one is using it at this time of night. It's late, and you hope your brothers are still awake as you dial your home number.

It rings only once, and Soda is the one who picks up. "Pony?"

It's already so good to hear his voice. "Hey, Soda," you say, smiling.

"We were wondering when you'd call."

"Yeah, sorry," you apologize. "Busy day."

"Well, tell me about it," Soda says eagerly, and you can tell he's itching for details. "What all did you do?"

So you tell him everything, from the moment he and Darry drove away to now. You tell him about Marty, and your dorm, and your class schedule, and how you learned about clubs, and the pick-up football game you played with your floor… everything. You have to feed some more coins into the pay phone just to get the whole story out.

Soda stays on the line, just listening. And when you're finished, you can hear the smile in his voice. "Sounds like you're going to have a great year Ponyboy," he says. "I love you, kid."

Your cheeks burn, the way they always do when Soda tells you that. He's never been shy about letting you know how much you mean to him. After losing your parents, you all learned how important it is to tell one another that. As much as possible. "Love you too, Soda," you say softly. "I already miss you so much."

"We're only twenty minutes away, Ponyboy," he reminds you. "We'll see you all the time. Two-Bit says he can't wait to come visit you."

You laugh. "I can't wait either. Hey, put Darry on the phone for bit, will you?"

"Sure, Pone. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"Yeah," you say. "Bye Soda."

You hear rustling as your brothers exchange the phone, and then you hear Darry clear his throat. "Hey, Ponyboy," he says.

"Hi, Dar," you say.

"How's it going?" Darry asks. "You having fun?"

You swallow hard. "Yeah, a lot of fun," you tell him, your voice uneven. A lump has formed in your throat. Because as you stand here talking to Darry, you realize how much he's given up for you, how much you took him for granted. He had what you have. He was well on his way to college, determined and focused to make a life for himself.

"You sure?" Darry asks, his voice taking the familiar form of concern. "You sound upset."

"I'm okay," you assure him. "I just…"

"What, Pone?" he presses on.

You let out a deep breath, not knowing how to say what you need to say. There are no words that could live up to the immense gratitude you feel for your oldest brother. "I just want to thank you," you tell him.

You hear Darry breathe in deeply. "For what?" His voice is riddled with confusion.

"For everything," you answer quietly. For pushing me to do my best, for working so hard, for knowing what was right for me.

"Of course, Pony," he says, his voice slightly strangled, and you wonder if he's holding back tears too. He's quiet for a moment before he speaks again. "You should get some sleep after the day you've had. It's late."

"Yeah," you agree softly. "I'll talk to you real soon, Dar."

"Sure, Pone. Be safe, you hear me?" He clears his throat again, gruffly. "Study hard and have fun. We're proud of you, kiddo."

You can't help it. A tear slips down your cheek.

You say your goodbyes and then you hang up the phone.

When you return to your room after getting washed up for bed, the light is out. Marty is already fast asleep in his bed. You close the door behind you and slip into your own bed, being careful not to wake him.

You let out a quiet sigh as you let yourself sink into the mattress. You'll miss your brothers, no doubt about that, but you are confident that you'll find your place here at TU.

It's a bittersweet feeling, being away from home. But you know it's what is best for you, what your brothers want for you, what your parents dreamed for you.

And you're determined to do right by them. You're determined to keep making them proud.

You roll over, pulling the covers over your head as you do. You close your eyes, thinking about the day you had, what tomorrow will bring, and the experiences to come.

Sleep comes quickly, exhaustion settling in.

The first night, in your home away from home, you sleep soundly.

Chapter Text

You arrive early.

Class doesn't start until 10:00, but here you sit, at 9:37 am, doodling on the cover of your notebook. Darry had reminded you to be punctual, but maybe you've taken it a little too much to heart. You're the only one in the classroom so far.

Today is the first class of your college career, and you were nervous about finding the right classroom. You'd had nightmares of walking into the wrong lecture hall, all eyes on you – you with your greased back hair and jean jacket. Being a private, Presbyterian college, the typical attire at TU is a little more upscale than you're used to. You stick out like a sore thumb.

Among your peers, it's not so bad to stick out. People take notice of your tuff look, and you have no desire to change it. In college, it's okay to just be yourself. It's not like high school where being sophisticatedly dressed equals superiority. In fact, Soc vs. grease is a foreign concept here, and for that you're eternally thankful. That scene got old real quick the night Johnny and Dallas passed away.

You just hope your particular style is well-received by your professors, too.

You could've have gone to a different university, one that wasn't so conventional. But TU had a renowned English program, they offered you many, many scholarships, and it was the closest to home. After weighing pros and cons, it was a no-brainer.

You're relieved when another student walks into the classroom a few moments later. She's a short brunette, hair hanging down in braids to her bosom. She's wearing a high-waisted skirt and a modest blouse. She smiles brightly at you when she enters.

And gosh, is she pretty. You straighten up in your seat and run a quick hand through your hair before returning her smile.

"You're here early," she says kindly as she takes a seat in the desk catty-corner to you.

"Look who's talkin'," you return, and in a split second, you decide to wink at her. You're not usually the winking type, and you're not sure what possessed you to give it a go now. It probably had something to do with Two-Bit and the talk the two of you had before coming to school.

Confidence goes a long way kid. You act sure of yourself and girls will be flocking to you like bees to honey.

You hold your breath, anxious of how she'll react.

She blushes and giggles, and now you're feeling mighty smooth. "You're here for Creative Writing, right?" she asks.

"Sure am."

"Guess we're in the right place, then." She holds a hand out for you to shake. "Hi, I'm Annie."

You grasp her hand in yours. "Ponyboy Curtis," you introduce yourself.

She raises her eyebrows, but is hardly fazed. "With a name like that, I bet you'll turn some heads when Professor Cleary takes roll."

"I'm countin' on it," you say.

Your conversation tapers off as more students fill in around you. You go back to doodling on your notebook, self-conscious because you know she's watching. You're drawing an eagle. You've been working on drawing birds in flight, wings spread fully. Over the years, you'd branched out from drawing your specialty: horses. You still enjoy drawing them, but don't mind a little variety now and then. And birds, eagles especially, are so majestic that it's a thrill when the drawing turns out.

"That's really good," Annie leans forward to whisper in your ear, just as the professor walks into the classroom – at exactly 10:00.

You nod your thanks as a hush comes over the crowd.

Professor Cleary makes his way down the aisle to the front of the classroom. He's carrying himself in a way that demands respect: shoulders back, chin up. He writes his name on the chalkboard in one swift motion and then turns around to face the class. He's a middle-aged man, with full, but graying, hair. He's wearing round glasses that circle his dark brown orbs. He reminds you of an older version of Buddy Holly.

He clears his throat from behind the lecture podium. "Good morning," he announces into the attached microphone.

"Good morning," your class returns, low and rumbling.

"My name is Professor Cleary, and this is Creative Writing." He stretches his arms out in front of him, relishing in the students before him. "This is my favorite class to teach. Which I suppose is ironic, because I hold the opinion that creative writing cannot be taught.

"Creative writing can only be encouraged and guided. It is a product of the writer's experiences and interactions. It is influenced by perspectives and views and morals and principles.

"That being said, I won't exactly be teaching you this semester. Instead, I will be your guide. I can point out spelling errors and grammar mistakes. I can give you feedback and I can make suggestions. But the content… that ultimately comes from within you – the author. There is no right or wrong about it. That's the beauty of it all."

Professor Cleary shuffles some paper on the lecture podium. "I am going to pass out a sheet of paper. Now on this sheet of paper, I want you to write down the best advice you were given before coming to college. Since you are all incoming freshmen, I figure this prompt is something you all can relate to."

There are some murmurs of confirmation throughout the crowd.

As Professor Cleary passes the papers out, he continues to talk. "We'll do exercises like this frequently," he says. "They will be a way for me to get to know you better, so I can understand where your writing is coming from. I am very excited to hear what you all have to say.

"Make sure you put your name on the top of your paper. This will also serve as my way of taking attendance. You may write as much or as little as you would like. When you are finished, turn your paper face-down and leave it on your desk. You are free to go once you've finished the assignment."

As you wait for the papers to be passed out, you reflect on all of the words of wisdom that had been dished out to you before arriving at TU.

Your teachers and track coaches didn't openly give you advice, but they prepared you well – teaching you study habits, time management, teamwork, and work ethic. You plan on carrying that with you – not just in college, but beyond as well.

As for the gang, they weren't shy about giving you their two-cents' worth.

Two-Bit, of course, only talked about girls. Confidence – he kept saying. Confidence is key. Carry rubbers with you at all times, kid. You just never know. You never know.

Steve prepared you for college in his own way – helping you brush up on your billiards skills and your poker game.

Darry had a long laundry list of advice: Be on time. Keep organized. Don't skip meals – especially during track season. Eat healthy. Don't miss your alarm. Make friends; look out for one another. Sit up near the front of the class. Keep a level head. Reach out to your professors. Remember to brush your teeth. Go to every class. Look people in the eye…

Soda's advice echoed Darry's, but had more emphasis on having fun. Study hard, run hard, but don't forget to enjoy the atmosphere, too. I hear there's nothing like it. I think you're really gonna find your wings in college, Pony. I just want you to enjoy the ride.

When the paper gets to you, you begin writing without missing a beat.

Thirty minutes and a stream-of-consciousness later, the first class of your college career is in the books.

You flip your paper over and stuff your dulled pencil in your pocket.

Annie is waiting for you outside.

Chapter Text

When it happens, you can't say you're surprised.

Embarrassed maybe, but not surprised.

You haven't been sleeping well.

It's most definitely, probably stress. Your classes are coming at you full force, with reading assignments and papers and quizzes. And just around the corner are midterms. The first grade of substance you'll receive in your classes.

You spend endless hours at the library, writing and studying until you've exhausted yourself to the point of calling it quits. Then you return to your dorm room, envious of the soft snores coming from Marty's bed.

He seems so much better adjusted than you. Hell, everybody does.

And even though you're tired - beyond tired– you can never seem to fall asleep.

You toss and turn, fretting over everything that still needs to be done. And then you start thinking about next semester when you'll be balancing class and track and your heart climbs into your throat. You think of Soda and Darry and Two-Bit, and gosh, it's been so long since you've seen them. Since you've had time to call them. You're homesick.

Maybe even for Steve.

Every night, when you do manage to fall asleep, you dream.

You never can remember what you dream about. But you wake up, shoot bolt upright in your bed, breathing heavily and chest vibrating with the rapid beating of your heart. Sweat trickles down your neck and spine, and you pull your legs up to your chest. That's when you feel like giving up.

And every night, Marty's soft snores taunt you from across the room.

Until tonight.

Because tonight is different.

Tonight, your dream is vivid. Scary.

You wake up to everything shaking. "Ponyboy!" Your eyes fly open and Marty is there, hands all over you. "Pony, calm down and breathe, dammit."

You gulp for air, pushing yourself up. Marty helps you into a seated position, eyes wide and searching your face. Your heart feels like it has electrical surges pulsing through it.

The images of their faces are still lingering in front of your eyes.

"W-what?" you choke out stupidly, because you know. You know you were screaming. Your raw throat is clue enough.

Marty takes a step back from you, let's you breathe. "You were dreaming, I think," he says as you pull your legs up to your chest. "Don't know what about, but you were screaming bloody murder, man."

You close your eyes and bury your face into the crevice of your knees. It's been a while since you've had a nightmare that's left you so spooked.

"Sorry for waking you up," you mumble.

"No trouble," Marty insists. "Man, I'm just glad you weren't being stabbed to death or something." He takes a seat on the foot of your bed, which makes you feel even more exposed. "Must've been one hell of a dream, huh? What was it about?"

You lift your head up to look at him.

Marty doesn't know much about your past. You figure he must know that your parents are out of the picture, since it was Darry and Soda who dropped you off at college, but the two of you have never discussed it. He's never asked, and you've never gone out of your way to tell him. It's not something you like talking about anyway.

So how are you supposed to tell him that you just dreamt about their fatal car accident? It's not something that simply rolls off the tongue. It's a painful discussion, and you can't do that now.

So you lie. "I don't remember." But your voice is strangled and Marty sees right through you.

"Pony…"

You shake your head. "I don't want to talk about it," you say to keep him from pressing further. You're horrified that tears have found their way to your cheeks. You need to get out. Go for a walk or something. You don't want Marty to see you like this.

You run your hands through your hair and stand up. You start putting on your shoes.

"Pony, what are you doing?" Marty asks gently. "Don't go anywhere, man."

"I-I need to get out," you tell him, voice cracking all over the place.

"Okay," Marty says. "You need some fresh air. I get that. Just let me go with you, okay?"

You freeze. You want to tell him no. You can't…

"Look, I won't make you talk or nothin'," he assures you, as if reading your mind. "I promise. I just don't think you should be alone right now, Ponyboy."

You know he'll simply follow you anyway, if you tell him no. It's easier for all involved if you just give him your consent. "Okay," you mumble. You finish lacing your shoes and then grab your keys off your desk. You wait anxiously by the door while Marty slips on his own shoes.

"Don't forget your jacket," he says, grabbing it from your desk chair and tossing it at you. He sounds so much like Darry that you stare at him.

"What?" he asks dumbly.

"Nothing," you mutter. "You ready?"

He nods and grabs his own jacket before following you out the door.

Marty holds true to his promise, and doesn't pressure you to talk. He lets you set the pace, actually falls in step a couple of paces behind you.

You walk briskly, hardly noticing the cold, crisp autumn air in the dead of the night. That dream has left you too numb to feel much of anything.

You head for the quad, tears slipping down your face and you wish you could stop them. But you can't. That dream was like the straw that broke the camel's back, and now that you've started…

You want Soda. You've never had a nightmare when he wasn't around. He's always been there, for you to cling on to, to rub soothing circles in your back… It makes the ache in your chest grow stronger, for everyone. For home.

It's not until Marty puts his hand on your shoulder that you realize you've stopped walking. You're in the center of the quad, next to the statue of William Caldwell, the university's first president.

Marty guides you over to a bench, pushes you gently down. He takes the seat next to you, puts a hand on your trembling knee. You wish you'd grabbed your pack of cigarettes.

The two of you sit in silence. You take deep breaths, trying to get a hold of yourself. Marty keeps his hand on your knee. Enough of a presence to be a comfort, but not so much that you feel smothered.

He senses when you've calmed down enough to return to the dorms. He pulls you up, and you walk back together, side-by-side this time.

He doesn't say anything. He doesn't have to.

When you step back into your dorm room, you feel the need to say something. Something of great multitude for what Marty did for you tonight. For being there. But you still have a lump in your throat the size of a golf ball, so all you manage is a quiet "thank you," as you settle back under your covers.

Marty turns out the light. "Don't mention it, man." There's a beat of silence. "Get some sleep."

And you do.

Chapter Text

You're sick.

You know it the moment you open your eyes.

Everything hurts. Your head, your bones, your teeth, your hair. You push yourself up with shaky arms and reach to turn off the blaring alarm clock.

You swing your legs over the edge of the bed and brace you hands on your knees.

Marty yawns loudly and stretches. He sits up too. "Morning," he greets.

You grunt in his general direction, not trusting yourself to open your eyes as you breathe deeply through your nose.

It's quiet for a moment, and then: "You alright, man?"

You're not.

Your stomach is rolling, and oh God, you just know you're going to throw up. "I'm not" —you swallow hard— "I'm not feeling…"

Bile rising in your throat causes you to trail off and you fight the urge to gag. This sudden onslaught of sickness his caught you completely off-guard. You open your eyes, desperately searching for something to vomit in, but there are black dots compromising your vision.

Thankfully, Marty comes to the rescue.

Like he always does.

"Pony?" he questions nervously, and suddenly he's there, crouching in front of you. His hand cups your knee. "What's the matter?"

You don't answer him, afraid to open your mouth. But he understands when you dip your head and a strangled sound escapes from your throat.

"Okay," he says quickly. Calmly.

He jumps up to grab the trashcan by the door, and then he's back, positioning the can in front of you, and helping you bend forward. He has one hand behind your back, the other supporting your chest.

"Geez, Ponyboy, your shirt is soaked through," he comments gently. "You're really sick, huh?"

You nod, breathing deeply, praying that the nausea will pass without having to revisit your dinner from last night.

It doesn't work.

Saliva pools in your mouth and the nausea wins out.

The upheaval is long and drawn out, as the contents of your stomach arrive in numerous retches. The exertion makes you dizzy and you have to fight to stay conscious as you continue to gag and choke up bile.

Marty's hold on you is unwavering. He doesn't speak during the time you're physically ill. He just tightens his grip on you, knowing that you aren't able to keep upright under your own steam.

When it stops, when it finally stops, and you're reduced to just spitting the remaining saliva into the bin, Marty pats you on the back. "Disturbing performance, man," he says. "You good?"

You spit one last time and nod. "I think so."

"Alright, let's lean you back, okay?"

You're too exhausted to help, so you let Marty do all the work. He lifts your legs back up on the bed and pulls you back to lean against your pillows. The room is spinning around you and there's a ringing in your ears.

Marty reaches an arm out to palm your forehead and curses under his breath. "You're running a fever, man."

You already knew that, based on the ache of your bones and the unrelenting shivers that are running through your body. You were hit hard, and fast, with whatever this is, and it's taking you down.

"Just relax for bit, man, I'll be right back." Marty straightens up and tucks the water bottle from your desk under his arm. Then he heads for the door, taking the soiled trashcan with him.

"Don't," you protest weakly. "I'll take care of that."

Marty snorts a laugh. "Good one, Pony. Don't move, okay?"

He taps the doorframe and gives you a reassuring smile before disappearing into the hallway.

You close your eyes, try to ignore the pounding in your head, and wonder what you did to deserve a roommate as remarkable and loyal as Marty.

xxx

You open your eyes to Marty lightly shaking your shoulder. You must have dozed off while he was gone.

"Hey, you okay?" he asks, when you focus your eyes on his face.

"Yeah," you rasp out. "Jus' tired."

"Yeah, man. I bet." Marty holds out your water bottle that he filled up. "Think you can handle some of this?"

You're not sure, but you're thirsty, so you take the bottle from him and manage a few tentative sips. "Don't you have to get to class?" you ask after you've swallowed. You set the bottle down on the table next to your bed.

"I've got some time," he assures you. "Want to make sure you're okay before I go."

"I'm okay," you say, even though you feel quite the opposite. "Just caught the flu or somethin'." It's been ages since you've had the flu, and you can't remember ever feeling this dreadful.

"Yeah, or somethin'," Marty agrees, looking at you critically. "Want to change your shirt?"

You nod, so he helps you pull the sweat-soaked garment over your head. You shiver violently as your skin is exposed to the air.

Marty throws the soiled shirt into your hamper and pulls a fresh one from the top drawer of your dresser. He tosses it to you.

It's one of Soda's old Beatles shirts. He handed it down to you when he grew out of it. You pull it on quickly, wishing Soda was here with you now. You've never been sick without him close by.

"I'm proud of you for not flipping out right now," Marty says, as he starts pulling on his own clothes to get ready for the day.

"What do you mean?"

"Two weeks ago you would have lost it at the just the thought of missing class."

"Yeah, well, live and learn," you say. After doing well on your midterms, classes don't stress you out so much. And now, missing class because you're sick doesn't seem like too big of a deal.

Marty grins. "Looks like we're gonna have to postpone celebrating surviving our midterms, huh?"

You groan and run your hands through your hair. It was true. You'd both done extremely well on your midterms and you'd promised Marty you'd go out with him and some other guys from the track team tonight to celebrate. "Yeah, sorry man."

Marty shrugs. "Next weekend?" he says hopefully.

"Deal."

Marty grabs his jacket off the hook on the door and then bends down to pull on his backpack. "Get some rest while I'm gone, okay? I'll be back as soon as class lets out."

He rattles off some more instructions. Drink some more water if you can, don't get up unless you have to, trashcan is right here by your bed.

And then he's gone, leaving you to fall into a deep, fevered sleep.

xxx

When Marty returns from his classes, he finds you awake, groaning as clutch you head with your hands. You'd woken with the worst headache of your life – like someone had taken a hammer and slammed it between your eyebrows. You've thrown up again, all over your sheets, because you were too disoriented to find the trashcan.

"Oh my gosh, Pony!" Marty exclaims as he takes in the sight of you. He drops his backpack and comes to your aide. "What's the matter?" he asks, pulling the soiled sheets off of your body.

"Head," you manage to grit out.

Marty puts a tentative hand on your back and you whimper in pain, because the sensation of being touched causes the pain in your head to skyrocket.

"Shit, I'm sorry, Pone," Marty apologizes. "Listen, you're really sick. I'm going to get help, okay?"

You open your eyes, but can't answer him. It hurts too badly, and you're hot, and the room is caving in around you…

Marty's concerned face is the last thing you see before everything goes black.

xxx

When you wake up again, it doesn't take you long to figure out where you are. There is a faint beeping noise beside you, and every part of your body hurts. The bed you're laying in is small and doesn't feel like the one you're used to. You try to sit up, but your head feels like it weighs a thousand tons.

Your eyes come into focus, and as expected, you're in a hospital room. You've visited the hospital enough over the course of your lifetime to know when you're in one. You manage to turn your head to the side, and to your surprise, you find yourself looking at Soda. He's asleep in the armchair next to your bed.

"Soda," you say, but your voice comes out in a hoarse croak, and he doesn't stir. You try again. "Soda."

He opens his eyes sleepily, but springs into attention once he realizes you're awake. "Hey, Ponyboy!" he says happily, reaching forward to grab your hand. "You're awake!"

"Yeah…" you say softly. "What happened? What're you doing here?"

"You're really sick, kid." Soda runs his hand through your hair. "Your roommate called me an' Darry and we drove down here in a heartbeat."

You frown. "What's wrong with me?"

Soda sighs. "We're still trying to figure that out. The doctors have some theories, but haven't come up with a definite diagnosis yet." He squeezes your hand. "How're you feeling?"

Numb. Tired. Stiff. "Not too good." You struggle to sit up and can't do it under your own steam. Soda helps you. "My head doesn't hurt as bad, though."

Soda nods knowingly. "Yeah, they've got you on some pain meds," he says, and you're suddenly aware of the IV in your arm.

Thank God for that.

"Where's Darry?" you ask.

"He's with Marty. They're getting some dinner down in the cafeteria. That kid hasn't eaten all day." Soda is quiet for a moment. "I think you really scared him today, Pone. You scared all of us."

You swallow hard. "M'sorry," you whisper. "I-I'm glad you're here, Soda."

"Me too, kid."

xxx

Viral meningitis.

That's what the medical professionals deduce your condition to be. The giveaway is when they ask you to touch you chin to your chest, and you can't do it without screaming out in agony.

So much for the flu.

You stay overnight in the hospital, but they release you the next day. There isn't much they can do for you that you can't do at home. They prescribe pain medication and steroids and rest.

A whole week of rest.

Bed rest.

Which means you'll be missing an entire week of classes.

You might not have been worried about missing one day of classes, but an entire week? That's a different story.

Darry and Soda take you home. Home home, so that they can keep an eye on you. And that way Marty can get back to his classes without having to check up on you all the time.

It's a slow process, but you do recover. Gradually, the ache leaves your bones, your headache dulls, your appetite returns.

You're ready to return to school by the end of the week, with the promise to Darry that you'll still take it easy.

On your last night at home, Two-Bit pulls you aside.

"You know, Pony…" he says with a smirk on his face. "I know you missed us and everything, but the next time you want to see us, just phone us and we'll come visit you. You don't have to get deathly ill or nothin'."

He punches you lightly in the shoulder and you laugh. A big, hearty laugh that hasn't escaped your lips in ages.

After being so sick, it feels good to laugh like that again.

"I'll keep that in mind."