Ponyboy and Johnny react with surprise to the fact that Cherry Valance has been acting as a spy for the Greasers. Dally explains that Cherry approached the Greasers in the vacant lot and said that she felt guilty for the whole mess, and that she "would testify that the Socs were drunk and looking for a fight and that you fought back in self-defense." He says that it's pretty apparent Cherry hates him, but Ponyboy knows it's because she's afraid of falling for him that she acts so cold.
After they chat a little bit about the church and the country, Johnny announces that they are turning themselves in. He explains that he has no record, so he has a good chance of "bein' let off easy," and that he won't say Dally helped them at all. He thinks it's unfair for Ponyboy to have to hide away with him. Then he asks Dally, "I don't guess my parents are worried about me or anything?" Dally replies that they haven't asked about him, and it is clear this news depresses Johnny, even though he doesn't say anything. As they drive back to the church, Ponyboy thinks about how even though the gang is very close, it can't take the place of parents or real family.
Dally seems angry as they drive back, and Johnny and Ponyboy think it's because he is annoyed they didn't turn themselves in earlier, if at all, to save him trouble. But he explains "in a pleading, high voice" that he just doesn't want Johnny to get hardened in jail. Ponyboy realizes how tenderly Dally feels for Johnny, and thinks about what Dally might have been like before he was toughened on the streets and in jail.
When the arrive at the church, they see it is on fire. Ponyboy hops out of the car right away, although Dally wants him to get back in so they can leave. They approach a man who turns out to be Jerry Wood, a teacher who was having a picnic with schoolchildren when the church caught on fire. Ponyboy and Johnny assume they started the fire with a cigarette accidentally. Then Mrs. O'Brient, another schoolteacher, runs up and says that some of the children are missing. They all hear yelling from inside the church, and realize that some of the children must be trapped.
Ponyboy runs toward the church, throws a rock through a window, and pulls himself inside. He realizes that Johnny has followed him, but that Jerry Wood was too fat to get through the window. They run to the back of the church, and find a group of children "about eight years old or younger, huddled in a corner." Johnny takes charge and starts tossing the kids out the nearest window. Ponyboy starts to help. As the roof starts to crumble, Johnny shoves Ponyboy out of the window ahead of himself. Ponyboy hears Johnny scream, and then Dally whacks him on the back and he "went down into a peaceful darkness."
Ponyboy wakes up in an ambulance, bewildered. Jerry Wood is with him, and explains that Dally hit him so hard because the back of his jacket was on fire. When Ponyboy asks him about Dally and Johnny, Jerry says that Dally has burned one of his arms badly, but that he will be all right, but he is unsure about Johnny, since he might have a broken back from the collapsing roof. He asks if they were "sent straight from Heaven," and Ponyboy explains that they are "Greasers. You know, like hoods, JD's." Jerry is shocked when Ponyboy tells him Johnny is wanted for murder, but says they are going to the hospital, not the police station.
In the waiting room, Ponyboy smokes a cigarette and Jerry reprimands him for being too young to smoke. Soda and Darry come to see him; Soda bemoans the loss of his "tuff, tuff hair," but Darry looks at him with "pleading" eyes. Ponyboy realizes he is crying, and that he hasn't seen him cry in years. Ponyboy understands how much Darry cares about him, and that maybe the reason he is so strict is because he wants to keep him safe.
Cherry Valance helps the Greasers, and thereby creates a bridge of non-violence between the two rival gangs. Ponyboy recognizes that "it wasn't Cherry the Soc who was helping us, it was Cherry the dreamer who watched sunsets and couldn't stand fights." Ponyboy begins to understand that Cherry and he have something in common outside their respective social statuses.
Our understanding of Johnny's character is deepened by his conversation with Dally, in which he asks, trying not to appear eager, "I don't guess my parents are worried about me or anything?" Dally has to answer that his parents haven't asked about him. That his parents don't care about him even when he is wanted for murder and has disappeared explains Johnny's outward meekness -- but it also hints at his inner strength and independence. He is cut off.
The relationship between Dally and Johnny grows stronger in this chapter, and it becomes clear that, while Johnny feels hero-worship toward Dally, Dally wants to protect Johnny and keep him from turning out the way he himself has. As they drive back to the church, he explains, "You get hardened in jail. I don't want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me..." His emotional outburst makes Ponyboy think of him before he was hardened and tough, and reflect on how he came to be that way.
As Ponyboy charges into the school, he "remembered wondering what it was like in a burning ember, and I thought: Now I know, it's a red hell." The burning of the church has of course been foreshadowed (when the boys lay in the vacant lot watching the stars and Ponyboy looked at Johnny's cigarette end, wondering what it was like inside a burning ember.)
Johnny's eyes, a running theme throughout the novel, change dramatically in this chapter as he acts heroically. Ponyboy notes that "that was the only time I can think of when I saw him without that defeated, suspicious look in his eyes." Even at the beginning of the chapter, "his big black eyes grew bigger than ever" at the thought of going to jail, since he was afraid of the police; now, he is confident and acting like a hero, and the change is reflected in his eyes. Once again, Hinton uses concrete physical details and splashes of corporeality to suggest the inner workings of her characters; it's a kind of skin-level expressionism at play, reflecting as it does an adolescent's dawning awareness of the world around him - a world in which eyes are windows to the soul, haircuts and dress styles determine a boy's place in society, and entire relationships are refracted through lingo.
At the end of the chapter, when Soda and Darry come to the hospital, Ponyboy has a revelation about his relationship with Darry. He sees his oldest brother cry for the first time in years. It occurs to him that "Darry did care about me, maybe as much as he cared about Soda, and because he cared he was trying too hard to make something of me." Darry is terrified of losing another person he loves, and Ponyboy wonders "how I could ever have thought him hard and unfeeling."