At night, Darry dreams of emptiness. A vast blackness that always make him question, there really isn’t anything out there, is there? He wakes clammy and mad with despair each time, sheets damp with sweat. Swears because Ponyboy’s passed his nightmares along to him.
No matter how clean his hands look, no matter how many times he washes them - he’ll never be rid of the dirt, the blame.
The ground swallows him whole.
Darry watches, solitary, a lone figure above the crack in the earth and is still. The crumbling walls begin to cave.
Peace , he prays, knowing that peace is long gone.
He knows he has friends in the crowd behind him. Brothers like him. But Sodapop’s in Vietnam and so it’s Darry who stands over Ponyboy’s grave and weeps.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Darry tells the ground. “I thought we had time.”
Where did it go? He asks the stranger in the mirror that night. The face is gaunt and strangely unholy. He fingers the bags beneath each ice-chip eye and realizes it’s his own reflection.
The mirror can be replaced, as well as the blood lost; but nothing will ever bring his baby brother back.
It was an accident.
Late night, Ponyboy out for milk. He passes a group of teens drag racing, and thinks of Sodapop. He has little time to think after the impact.
He’d run a damn stop sign, hitting a patch of black ice. In the dark, it’d be him and the semi alone. They’d found the semi driver first, his cab busted up and crushing his legs. He lived. Pony didn't.
It takes them three days to find Ponyboy half in the river, the back tires slipping off the muddy bank, his head wrapped around the steering wheel. He was worried for Sodapop - was here for a moment - and then he was gone.
And then it was just Darry.
He makes dinner for three and snaps at Two-Bit and Steve for stealing his brothers’ plates. Pushes his face into his palms and sighs heavy, loud and long.
“I’m sorry,” he says, for all of it. “I just-”
"Don’t sweat it, Dar,” Two-Bit says, frowning with sympathy. Ponyboy’s been gone four months and he’s still afraid to laugh.
Darry doesn’t blame him like he blames himself.
“Okay,” he says, slowly. Steve eyes him with honey and sorrow, digs his fork into Sodapop’s plate lacking enthusiasm.
“Okay,” Darry repeats.
Sodapop, scared and alone, flips out on Darry for keeping radio silent for two months. After the accident, he’d barely left his bed. Clung on to PTO from work and paid bills when Steve’s checks started arriving every two weeks on the coffee table.
"Why haven’t you wrote me?” He scribbles. The pages are dirty and Darry doesn’t want to think about another kid brother gone, so he doesn’t. “I’ve been alone here. Why did you stop? What’s wrong? How’s Pony?”
And Darry debates whether or not to tell him. Sits with that letter and additional week and begs for mercy. Let Soda come home, he prays each morning. Spare me this.
Selfishly, Darry wishes he didn’t hurt anymore. He knows that by forgetting all of the pain, all of the loss, he’ll be letting go of all that he has left of Ponyboy.
In his absence, Darry grows dark.
"I don’t know how to thank you,” Darry tells Steve. Five months after the accident and he’s face to face with a truck Steve rebuilt for him.
Not his old truck, the one where Pony’s head smashed into the windshield and then the steering wheel when the glass shattered and he rebounded. Not the wreckage they sawed Pony free from.
A newer one. Not Dad’s 52, but a 59. Red, not pale blue-white. He stares at the color and tries not to think of the blood.
“Darrel,” Steve says, his face turned askance. “I never did right by him. Let me do this for you.”
Darry’s arm heavy on his shoulders. “Me either,” he says, and curses himself for knowing the truth.
Long ago, back when Ponyboy was 13 and trembling in the hospital lobby, Darry thought of the future. He kept seeing his parents in the morgue and thought about recognizing one of his brothers on a slab someday and prayed he’d never live to see it.
Prayed that if one of his brothers had to die, let them die instantly, painlessly. Peacefully. He hasn’t gotten his wish fulfilled yet.
He thought about what he was letting go of, of what he was sacrificing. He remembers the questions, Pony teary-eyed and Sodapop full on sobbing.
"What about college?” Pony had asked, lower lip trembling. Curled into Soda’s lap, tanned arms wrapped quiveringly tight around him, he’d pressed on. “What about your life?”
“It’s okay,” Darry told him, knowing that eventually it would be. “I can put these things on hold, okay? I can always go back.”
“Your scholarship,” Sodapop mumbled through salt water. “Your buddies.”
“I wasn’t gonna do too hot anyways,” Darry said, only for a second contemplating how he’d carry on. He braced his shoulders and put a palm over Pony’s left knee, thumb stroking the seam of his ripped jeans.
“We’re gonna be alright,” Darry promised his brothers quietly. “I’ll fix this. Everything will be okay.”
Pony, silent and quaking. Eventually, he’d looked up and Darry had stilled at the look in his eyes.
“One of these days you’re gonna wake up and resent us,” Pony said slowly. “Resent me.”
He hesitated because he’d never heard Ponyboy talk like that before, was confused because he’d been panicking all night about the situation, stuck alone in his head.
“I could never resent you guys,” Darry swore, drawing them both in for a hug. He’d squeezed Pony too tight, terrified of losing him or Sodapop. “Things will be tough, I won’t lie, but we’ll be alright.”
“One of these days,” Pony reminded him forlornly, muffled into his shoulder.
Darry tells himself now it was true in ways he didn’t expect. He’d never consciously been aware of how badly he and Pony went at it. They’d always squabbled - Sodapop was the middleman and he was good at it - and Darry was young enough that it didn’t change as he grew older.
He didn’t mature enough, and seventeen year old Ponyboy paid the price.
Three days missing. Darry had reported him the night of the accident, unknowing his brother had already died.
On the third and final day, it’s Steve who picks up the phone when the police ring. The house quiet - stuffy with loss - and he’d put the phone back on the receiver slowly, hardly a word spoken to the person on the other end.
Swallowed back the rest of his beer and turned to look at Darry with gloom and despair. He croaked, “Ponyboy,” mouthed, “car accident,” and Darry had known.
He thinks he’ll always know.
He knows that by the time Sodapop comes back - if he comes back, and Darry is allowed that much misery - that they will have much to talk about.
For now, Darry dreams that he is young again, young and reckless and happy. A nineteen year old kid with two parents and an outstanding football career ahead of him.
Ponyboy was here for a moment, and then he was gone.