When Jim tells him everything is going to be okay he believes him, he believes him, even with the bright lights and the loud noises and the knowledge that he can't get out of this one now, that the planetarium is his last stand. He wants to go for the gun, his fingers itch for it, but he believes Jim, and this is the moment - this fleeting thought between words, this single breath - this is the moment that everything changes.
Twelve years on and John Crawford is twenty-seven, sprawled on the grass of Golden Gate Park and preaching pacifism and free love. He hasn't held a weapon in twelve years, two months and eight days, and there's nothing going to make him hold a weapon ever again, not juvie, not this war, not anything.
John hasn't held a weapon in twelve years and he hasn't seen Jim in ten. At least, not until today.
He thinks at first it might possibly be him, this man just at the corner of his vision, but it's a fleeting thought, a thought he's had so many times over the past decade that he never quite believes it anymore. Jim Stark has always been a frequent subject in John's fantasies, and a face he sees in nearly every crowd.
Someone with a bullhorn interrupts his thoughts and the man who might be Jim is gone, melting back into a sea of colors and shapes and faces. John leans back again with his fingers laced behind his head, his chest bare to the sky, and talks to anyone who comes close enough to listen.
But then he sees him again, near the guy with the guitar, and then again with a crown of yellow flowers on his head, and then suddenly right there in front of him, a striking woman on one arm and a pretty blond boy on the other, is a face he thinks he might know.
"Plato? Is that really you?"
John sits up, taking it all in, what his eyes and his ears and every other sense is telling him. The other two might as well not even be there, for all he notices.
"No one calls me Plato anymore."
He knows it's Jim then. Not by what he says, not by the sound of his voice or how he moves or how he smells, but because he'd know those dimples anywhere.
"You always did," says John, grinning up at him and leaning back on his hands. They're neither quite the boys they once were, and thank god for that.
"You sure grew up nice," says Jim, giving him an appreciative once over. Then he leans closer to the blond boy as he whispers something in Jim's ear and kisses the corner of Jim's mouth. "Gimme one second here."
He murmurs something too low for John to hear, something private, something secret, then the blond boy wanders off back the way they'd come, drifting in a weaving path until he disappears into fuzzy remembrance.
"Billy's gotta see some people about a thing," Jim says with an airy vagueness, reaching into one pants pocket then another, then one vest pocket, then the other. "Mary?" he says "You got my grass, baby?"
"You know I do," she says, pulling a joint out of her bra. "You got your matches?"
He's already got his matches out, lighting the joint and letting Mary take the first hit. Mary passes it back to him, then after Jim takes a hit of his own he passes it down to John. He doesn't ask if John smokes up. He doesn't have to.
John savors it for a moment before passing it back. "Where've you been?" he asks finally. It's the only thing he wants to know, or if not the only thing he wants to know then they only thing he wants to ask.
"Here, there, everywhere," says Jim. He's gotta be almost thirty now, but he's as beautiful as John remembers him. "You know how it is. You? Haven't seen you since--"
"I got out of juvie," John finishes for him. "It's okay, I don't mind talking about it these days. Even got up in front of a couple hundred people and told my story once."
"Haven't seen you since you turned eighteen," says Jim. It's the same thing but nicer, and no matter what else he's done, that's how Jim's always been, he's always been nice. Even when he's fighting, he's nice.
"I've been around," says John. It wouldn't be a lie to say he's been waiting, but he doesn't say he's been waiting. He doesn't even know he's been waiting, or he didn't until he finally saw Jim again. In that moment it all became clear what he's been waiting for. "They're doing good work here."
"Yeah," says Jim, taking another hit before it does the rounds again. "Billy's supposed to report next week. He might make a break for Canada."
"I know a guy who knows a guy," says John, squinting as the sun breaks out from behind a cloud. It makes a sort of a halo around Jim's head, or maybe that's been there all along. "I can help him out."
"Yeah?" says Jim. "We should all get together. We're crashing at this guy Harrison's place. He's cool, he's a friend of a friend of Mary's."
John doesn't know him, but that doesn't matter. A friend of a friend of a friend is a friend. "If you tell me where he lives, I can stop by, you know, whenever."
"Sure," says Jim, as the joint makes its way to John again. Everything's just feeling good, feeling all right, but that's probably not the grass. That's probably just Jim. "We're heading back there right away."
"Yeah, all right," says John, "all right."
But there's a part of him, a part that's been buried for a long time, that doesn't want to let Jim out of his sight. He didn't know that the last time was going to be the last time, and he doesn't want to make that mistake again.
"I got a free arm," says Jim, before John can put any words to what he wants. "You want to come with us?"
It's not a choice John has to think about. He lets Jim wrap that arm around his shoulders and follows him wherever he might go.