A/N: I'm extremely sorry that it's been years since this was updated- I would swear I updated last year, but... Evidently not. As a reward for everyone who has been patiently waiting, I've made this chapter super long, and angsty, and included... More people! I hope that this makes up for the ridiculous wait, slightly. Now, on to the story!
I poked my head inside the little tent, and saw an occupied bed at the far end. I'd have to check with him before bringing Soda in, but I was sure he'd have no objection- after all, he and Soda had been best friends for as long as I could remember.
"Just wait here," I told Soda, and took a step inside.
I walked slowly towards the end of the tent- it was only ten feet or so, but I felt like I was in a library, and that quiet was mandatory. Steve was the only one here- the tent only had four beds. It was the isolation tent- for people with special needs... I remembered what Barbra had said about Steve causing trouble, and couldn't help but think that a visit from his best friend might calm his nerves a bit.
"Steve?" I asked quietly, stepping beside his bed. He appeared to be sleeping on his side, facing away from me.
"Steve?" I asked a bit louder, and gently shook his arm.
I waited, not sure what to do. I doubted he'd been sleeping well- no one here did... And waking patients in need of sleep wasn't the best idea. Sleep aided healing just as well as any medication could. Still, Soda did want to see him, and he'd have to wake up soon for medication anyways- it was nearly three in the afternoon, and his nurse would be around soon.
"Steve?" I asked again.
"Get away from me," came a growled response. I froze- some of the guys here were a bit... Mad. Not sound in the head. From what Barbra had told me, I'd thought Steve had been having an anger problem, but...
"Get the fuck away from me!" He yelled, and before I could make a move he'd sat up and spun around, grabbed my wrist and pulled me close to his face. "Or, do you want to see the fuckin' freak show?"
I couldn't answer I was so terrified. He wasn't recognizable at all as the slick boy from Tulsa. The bandage that was supposed to be on his face had been torn off, and revealed the injury hidden beneath. It was as if someone had torn the skin off half his face, and replaced it with a red, raw, oozing material- from his hairline, right down his neck to where his skin disappeared beneath his shirt, he didn't even look human. It looked like something from some sort of a horror movie. The other half was uninjured, and the contrast added to my horror. That was what the other half should look like, but instead it looked like something from a butcher shop.
His grasp tightened on my wrist, and I saw him staring into my face, his one eye unfocused.
"I-" I tried to jerk my hand away, but he was too strong. I couldn't seem to form a sentence, or look away- it was just so grotesque... I'd seen peoples innards in surgery, but then the surgeon sewed them back up and you didn't have to look at it again... This- I'd never seen anything like this... "I- I- need..."
What did I need? To get away from him. I needed away- I needed to run out of there, and never look back. I needed to get so drunk that I'd never remember what I'd seen. I needed to go home, and cry in my mothers lap. How could people do this to each other? Maim, injure... Kill. Death had to be better than this- his injury looked so painful... I would never be able to live like that... Even when it healed, it wouldn't ever be the same. When the chart had said facial lacerations, I hadn't imagined this... I thought maybe a cut that would scar, or a shrapnel related injury.
I kept struggling to pull away from him, but before I could get away, he'd shoved me- hard. Even though he'd only grasped my one wrist with one of his hands, he had enough strength to send me sprawling onto the floor five feet from him.
"I know who you are, bitch."
I could feel myself shaking, and slowly pushed myself backwards, towards the door. I couldn't stand- I felt as if my legs might give out if I tried. I'd ran into some patients similar to this before- didn't want people around them- but they'd never effected me like this... Maybe it was because I knew who he used to be- I knew what he was like when he was just a boy stealing my best friends heart...
"I... no... I... just... I..." I stumbled across my words. I wanted to tell him Soda wanted to see him, but couldn't think. All I could see, or think about, was his mutilated face, and what he used to look like. He'd never been a Soda, but he'd always stood up well in comparison... Not anymore. Never again.
"I said," he said, no longer yelling. I'd have preferred he scream- his voice was deadly, and I could imagine him as someone who was capable of murder, "Get the fuck away from me!"
He was terrifying, and the thought that he could kill me spurred me on, and I climbed onto my feet, and ran from that tent as fast as I could, past Soda, and collapsed a few feet away, against a different tent. I could feel myself shaking, and the warmth of tears as they poured down my cheeks.
"Sandy?" Someone asked, and to my horror I looked up to see Doc Rossberg. I liked him- he was someone I could talk to, he was someone I felt was here to genuinely help these people, and not because he was forced to be… But I didn't want to see him. I didn't want him to help me! I was a nurse, I wasn't supposed to need help, I was supposed to be doing the helping.
"I'm fine," I said tearfully, and looked back down, hoping he'd take the hint and go away. He always caught me at the worse times and I just wanted him to go away.
I'd tried never to think about the people that came through here. They were patients, and I was their nurse, and it was as simple as that. We'd stitch them up, and they'd either go back to their units, or home. Those who went home would go back to their families, and it would be as if they'd never been here.
But that wasn't true. I'd always known it wasn't true, but I'd always been able to pretend it was. I didn't know the people passing through, so it was easy to treat them as faceless patients- because to me, they were… But now two of my former friends were thrust in front of me, and it erased the illusion.
I could see Soda coming through this ordeal fine. He had an injury that was severe enough, but he'd come through it as smiling, cheerful Soda- because Soda was the golden boy who could overcome everything.
I couldn't see the same happening for Steve. He'd never heal from this, and never be the same. All those people who passed through here didn't just go home and return to every day life.
This time I recognized the voice as Sodas, so I looked up again. He was standing in front of me, and the doctor was no where to be seen.
I quickly wiped my eyes: he didn't need to see me crying… But the thought that I couldn't let Soda see me cry made the tears come even faster. Back in Tulsa, I'd had no problem with crying in front of him, he'd been my rock, and I could tell him anything. Here though, it was supposed to be the other way around.
But it wasn't. He sat down beside me, and I went to move away, but before I could move an inch he had his arm around me and I was crying into his chest, clinging to him like a baby. I felt like a fool, but I couldn't stop, and I couldn't pull away.
"I hate this," I said quietly, grasping the front of his shirt with both fists. He rubbed my back, and it only made me sob harder. How could he be so kind to anyone, much less myself?
"I hate myself," I corrected, but I doubted he could understand me overtop of all my crying… But it was true: I hated myself right then, for all I'd done, and all I was doing. I hated myself for lying to him- at the time I'd thought it was a good idea to tell him that the baby wasn't his, but now I wasn't so sure. How would things be different if I'd just told him the truth? I hated myself for coming here, for trying to fix everything by fixing people. I hated myself for not being able to control my crying… And even more, I hated myself for accepting Sodas comfort. After all I'd done to him, I didn't deserve it.
I don't know how long I sat there and cried for, but the whole time he just rubbed my back and told me everything would be alright. I knew those were hollow words: things would never be alright, for either of us. I was sure we'd both seen things that we'd never thought we'd see, thought things we'd never thought we'd think, and done things we'd never thought we'd do.
After I could compose myself a little bit, I pulled myself up and looked into his face.
"There," he said calmly. "You alright?"
And that's when I knew I'd always loved him, and I always would. I'd always thought that I couldn't get over him because I'd left him with a lie; I'd thought that if I found him and told him the truth, I'd get the closure I needed to move on… But Sodapop Curtis wasn't someone you could move on from. He had my heart, and he always would.
I wanted nothing more than to tell him what was on my mind- I wanted it to be like a movie, where I told him I loved him, and he wrapped me in his arms, kissed me, and we never left each others side again.
"You shouldn't have gotten up," I told him instead. It was a far cry from what I wanted to say, but I'd broken his heart once, and couldn't give him the chance to do it to me. I wasn't strong like he was, I didn't think I could survive that kind of pain. He wasn't supposed to be straining himself, and I didn't see his wheelchair anywhere around- he didn't think he needed it, but rest was essential. It had only been a few days since he'd been wounded.
"I'm fine," he said, and I saw the look of worry in his eyes. "What happened?"
I couldn't tell him. I could barely wrap my own head around what had happened with Steve- it had happened so fast, and been so unexpected…
"He was sleeping," I told him. What was one more lie, on top of all the others I'd told him?
He glared at me. "Don't you lie to me," he told me, and it was if he could read my mind. "I was right there- I heard yelling."
Of course he'd hear yelling- that was a lie he'd see right through. These tents weren't exactly soundproof, and Steve had been pretty loud.
"He wasn't in a good mood," I told him, and shook my head. "That's the truth, Soda, he wasn't in a good mood, and he recognized me, and I didn't get the chance to tell him you wanted to see him." I didn't see any reason to add the detail of his mutilated face- that would only stress Soda out. There was no need to tell him that Steve pushed me, or that he was more than 'not in a good mood'.
Soda looked like he didn't believe me, but said nothing else on the matter. I was glad he dropped it- I didn't want to start crying like a fool again, and my emotions were right below the surface- it wouldn't take much for them to come back out.
I wiped my eyes, drying them. "Let me get your chair, and get you back to your room… Then I can write for you, if you'd like." I stood up.
He glared at me.
"I'm not a cripple."
I'd won this argument the last time we'd fought it, but I didn't want to risk him bringing the topic of Steve back up, so I let it go. A little exercise wouldn't hurt him anyways: he'd been cooped up in bed for a long, and as a fit, young man, that couldn't do him too much good.
"Let me help you, then," I told him. I reached a hand over to help him up, and he took it- with the use of only one arm, he needed a bit of help to get off the ground. As I helped him stand up, the cigarette case he'd had on his lap slid off and onto the ground, where it cracked open, face down.
"Let me get that," I told him at the same time he said, "Damnit."
We both reached for it, but being uninjured, smaller, and quicker, I grabbed it first, and picked it up. I went to snap it shut, but looked inside for a fraction of a second first. I paused.
There were three cigarettes inside, and behind them, a small brown piece of paper folded up in an envelope style.
"Oh," I said, and I felt my jaw dropping, and I nearly dropped the case back on the ground. I'd thought the case had been a gift, and that's why he kept it with him… Or maybe he just had a habit of carrying around, so he wouldn't lose it. The worst case scenario I had thought of was that maybe he kept it with him so that if he got the urge to smoke, he'd have it on hand. He hadn't been much of a smoker when I'd known him, but maybe he'd started smoking a lot more since then.
I didn't need to look any closer to know that all of my assumptions were horribly wrong. It wasn't cigarettes he was addicted to. I'd been around long enough to know that if I were to unfold that paper, inside would be a small amount of grey powder.
I felt my heart thumping so loudly I was surprised no one else could hear it. I had to be wrong- this had to be a mistake… Sodapop couldn't be addicted to heroin.