When Dean was sixteen, he sent that kid who beat up Sam right to the hospital. Now Dean's in college and he's still picking up the pieces from that day — and that girl who landed right at his feet just complicated things.
Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine, and I probably wouldn't be putting them through so much hell if they were. Probably... ;-P
Rating: M (Language, angst and adult situations)
Warnings: I'm not even sure where to begin on this, except to say that a nineteen-year-old Dean Winchester that never was just waltzed into my brain and kick-started my muse. It is a companion piece to Strange Angels, and it does read better with that under your belt, but it's not absolutely necessary. Parts of this story are emotionally intense. And it's unabashedly AU.
Miscellaneous: There really aren't enough words in the world to express my thanks, but I'll give it a shot. Wenchpixie has supported everything I've ever written for this fandom with a devotion that always leaves me speechless and humbled. Embroiderama reassured me that it was, indeed, a solid story and that I sold her on my college Dean. Last though by no means least, Cariadean gave me perspective and came up with a much more kick-ass title than I ever could. Everything that rocks in this piece is because of them. The mistakes? Those are all me. I'd also like to thank FiremanPhil for giving me the idea to write this initially in one of our conversations, and also for convincing me to make some minor edits.
Maybe he should have paid more attention after that, should have continued marking things as the second time or the third, but there was something about college that made you feel like you lived in a little bubble — the real world didn't pass you by, exactly, but it didn't touch you, either. You were protected until it was time to do something else. To live your real life.
The moments that passed them by — the normal things they did before their real life was supposed to start — were the ones that Dean wished he could remember the most.
Like their second Christmas in Lawrence — when Sam had already started his essay for his application to Stanford, and Mom and Dad actually relented and let Dean stay in the guest room with Charlotte. Maybe they knew something that Dean didn't. Maybe they knew that life would start to speed up the closer they got to graduation, that finding jobs or getting an internship made it impossible to go to Georgia for a third summer.
Maybe his parents knew that life, as John Lennon would say, was what happened when you were busy making other plans — but Dean did remember to bring Charlotte back to the first place they ever went together, and ordered her the biggest version of the Casarita that was on the menu.
The mariachi band still sucked.
Like all the best ideas he ever had, Dean would later be forced to admit that it came from Sam.
Well, something Sam had said once — when he was younger and pissier than God, something about promises being important. Sammy had forgotten about that girl he'd been so hung up on in high school. Given that cute chick he brought with him to DC over the summer, Dean sure as hell didn't blame him. Jessica was so out of his little brother's league, but Geek Boy had done Dean proud.
Dean hadn't forgotten the conversation, though, or the fight that followed. He grinned. There were a lot of fights that followed — that damn girl got feistier the older she got. But she was still just as clumsy, stumbling against one of the boxes and tumbling backwards with a little 'oops' that would have brought Dean to her side if he hadn't already been standing right there. He had something to give her, after all.
The box rattled, something cracking into something else with the unmistakable sound of glass shattering.
"If you try real hard, I think you can attack every box marked 'Fragile' by lunchtime," he said. Somehow, Dean had even managed to catch her, and she stared up at him. He didn't think she'd ever look better than she did right then, even with her hair pulled back underneath a bandana and a smudge of dirt on her nose.
"And I still think you're the world's biggest prick," she answered, voice low and arms around his neck.
"I never hear you complaining about that when it really matters, sweetheart." Dean grinned. He had something else to add, but she hitched up in his arms and kissed him — the only response you could give when a Winchester turned on the smart-ass. Dean shoved the box into her front pocket while she was distracted.
At least he hadn't taken Geek Boy's advice and given her a fucking kitten with a ring tied around its neck on some lame-ass ribbon. The whole damn ritual was cheesy enough without bringing in fuzzy wuzzy animals, for Christ's sake. And Dean sure as hell wasn't dropping down to one freaking knee just to ask some chick a question he wasn't even sure he wanted her to answer.
Charlotte was standing on her own by that point, and she stretched her arms over her head. "I'm pretty lucky," she said softly, eyes full in a way that they rarely were; she was getting ready to get full-on fucking emo.
But she didn't. She just reached over and squeezed his hand before getting back to unpacking boxes.
Dean thought he was really the lucky one. Somehow he ended up with an entry-level job for a restoration firm — his boss, Dan, had gotten them an in with a rental company. It wasn't the best Victorian brownstone in the District, but it would be once Dean was done with all the projects he had in mind for the place. He even thought they might buy the place outright, take the rent-to-own option if it turned out as well as he wanted it to turn out when he was done.
"You're pretty clumsy," he commented, voice a little gruff.
"You knew the job was dangerous when you took it."
"Yeah, I guess I did." And the job was about to get a lot more dangerous. Charlotte had twisted to open the box she'd fallen over and noticed something in her pocket.
"What the — " Her eyes widened when her fingers slid into her pocket, and suddenly she was pulling out a little velvet box in her shaking hand. Charlotte stared at it dumbly.
"Aren't you going to open it?" Dean asked softly.
She nodded, and both of her hands were trembling so hard she dropped the box. Fortunately, the box was still closed when it landed at her feet. He snorted, leaned down to pick it up and handed it back to her. Damn girl was actually going to make him work for it. His breath caught in his throat when she looked inside and her eyes were brighter than anything he ever remembered seeing. Sam would have been laughing his ass off at that point because Dean just stared at her like a speechless moron. The little fucker...
"Are you sure, Dean?"
Dean shook his head. "You know, of all the answers I expected, that one wasn't even on the list."
Charlotte was grinning at him. "I was going to go with 'Are you fucking nuts?' but that seemed a little melodramatic. Even for me."
He returned her grin. "But it sure as hell would have made you sound like a goddamn Winchester. We're all fucking nuts."
"Your mother's not nuts."
"She chose a Winchester. Makes her a little twisted in my book," he retorted. Dean jammed his hands in his jeans' pockets, cocking his head at her. "Do you want me or not?"
"Oh, I fucking want you," she replied, and she slipped the ring on her finger before knocking him backwards against the couch — hands already reaching down to pull his t-shirt over his head.
"What if the neighbors come over to say 'hello' or 'welcome to the neighborhood' or something?"
"They can wait."
"It ever occur to you that we don't have any curtains up yet?" He didn't even try to pull her shirt over her head. He just put his hands on the collar and started ripping the shirt open, buttons popping off all around them. "They're going to see every fucking thing we do on the way to the front door."
"They're going to be pretty jealous, aren't they?" Charlotte shot back, unbuttoning the fly on his jeans.
"Hell, yeah," Dean answered, right before her mouth came down hard on his.
He wondered later if she knew something was up, because that damn easy access underwear she had on underneath her grungy packing clothes was pretty freaking sexy — way too sexy just to wear while you unpacked boxes in a little brownstone. Fucking Sam probably told her. Or maybe Jess. That blonde girl was well on her way to becoming a Winchester herself.
It took them over a year to convince his mother that there'd be no tuxedos and no fancy clothes at their wedding — they were going to do it in the backyard, with a big old tent set up in the back where people had better damn well be getting drunk. Alma was going to supervise the caterers because she didn't trust any city folk to pull off a decent barbecue, and they were going to have a kick-ass band courtesy of Charlotte's dad.
After all, the man raised her. And he wasn't an idiot. It was a hell of a lot safer being onstage with your band than it was doing the traditional father/daughter dance; they had never done anything normally anyway — neither of them saw any reason to start. Besides, the way Charlotte danced most days, you needed to give her three-foot clearance just to keep your head on your shoulders.
And it was worse when she was drinking.
That Jess girl was brave as hell. Charlotte had actually managed to convince her to go dance out on the grass, and Charlotte was whirling around like a dervish on speed while Jess did some loose-limbed thing that made Sam get up and stand next to them. He was sipping a beer — doing the same head-bob thing that Dean always thought looked cool back when he and Charlotte would go dancing in college, and Dean guessed the sipping thing was something Sam had learned at good old Stanford. Sam looked like an emo poseur.
Dean waded in, wary of Charlotte's flailing arms, and came up from behind. "Why didn't you tell me that made me look like a freaking ass?" he whispered into her ear. She shivered when his breath touched her neck.
"What?" she asked, her voice a hell of a lot louder than his. Damn, but the band was good. Good and freaking loud. "Can't hear you over the music," Charlotte added, actually managing to shimmy against him without falling down.
Dean raised his voice. "Why didn't you tell me that I looked like a frigging idiot whenever I danced like that?"
"Danced like what?" Charlotte returned.
"Like Sam!" he bellowed, and she turned around in his arms to look at him.
Sam snorted. "Screw you, Dean!" But he didn't stop doing the head-bobbing thing, and he actually started swaying a little bit from side to side when Jess started doing something that should have made Sam weak in the knees right in front of him. Sam actually swallowed when he looked down at her, setting the beer on the nearest table.
"I thought the pointing and the laughing was a dead give-away," Charlotte yelled back over the band.
"Bitch," Dean hissed, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her up to kiss her hard. She laughed, and he snorted. "You want to start the fight so we can go have hot make-up sex?" he said, louder than he wanted to say it but that damn band was loud. Of course, that was when the song stopped and everyone standing around them started busting a gut. Especially their dads. Fuck me...
"What," Dean demanded when Sam just stared at him. "I'm an old married man, Sammy. Got to spice up my sex life."
The band started up another song, something that rumbled through the backyard like it came from the belly of a beast, and just about everyone was out on the grass. Dean was glad that Charlotte's wedding plans included the bright idea of inviting all of their neighbors, because then no one could bitch about the band wailing in their backyard. Of course, the band was fucking famous. The neighbors were getting to go to a concert for free.
Charlotte dragged him off the grass, far enough away so that she could stand on her toes and kiss his cheek. "I've got a surprise for you," she said. "Close your eyes."
Dean felt like a freaking idiot, a grown man closing his eyes and following some chick. Especially when she chirped 'open your eyes' and he was standing in his garage, right in front of the car. There she was, still black with his box of cassette tapes underneath the front seat. Still his baby. Just the same Impala he'd known his entire life.
Except Charlotte was opening up the back door, and sliding inside. Crooking a finger at him with a shy smile that made her look eighteen all over again, and suddenly it dawned on him that she'd put her hair in two braids that morning.
"Didn't we already have this conversation," Dean said. "The one about not getting fucked in the back of my car?"
"You always get that part wrong, Dean Winchester."
Dean opened the door opposite her and slid inside. "It was about my car, Charlotte Winchester..." His voice trailed off and they both grinned at each other. So what if it was some antiquated ritual? She was his now and the whole world fucking knew it. Even had his name. Dean shook his head. "I remember every time you called it a crap car. I kept a list." He put his arms around her neck, kissed her hard again as she giggled.
"I believe the exact quote was 'you're going to have to do something pretty amazing to screw me in the back of your crap car,' actually." She reached down and pulled her shirt up over her head.
"Wait." Dean started sliding off her skirt, pooling it around her ankles and then removing it completely. She wasn't wearing any shoes, just like back on the farm. "You're telling me that all I had to do was have some dumb ceremony for a piece of paper, and you'd screw me in the back of my car."
She started tugging his shirt out of his jeans. "Pretty simple plan on my part, wasn't it?"
Dean snorted. His only answer was to begin unbuttoning his pants and sliding them off along with his boxers while Charlotte slowly pulled off her bra. Dean leaned forward and took a nipple into his mouth, feeling her sigh and start leaning back against the door behind her. She was pulling off her underwear as she went backwards, a self-satisfied little smile on her face.
"Look at you." He grinned at her, hips quivering as she held him. "Lying there all sure of yourself, thinking you got your way with me." He would have said more, but her hand was dangerous.
"I'm pushy," she moaned. She leaned back her head, arching her back. Her eyes were wide, and they got that damn little glint in them that meant something dorky was about to come out of her mouth. "You're pushy, too," she breathed.
Dean snorted. "You're pushy, too? That the best you can come up with?"
"I'm a little distracted."
"God, I hope so," he retorted, repositioning himself between her legs. He couldn't wait any longer, kissing her shoulder. "Because you talk too fucking much."
"You flirt with too many girls," Charlotte said, opening her legs wider as he leaned forward to suck on her breasts again, hips rising a little. "And I hate Metallica." Her fingers were in his hair, trembling.
"I hate most of that crap you call music." Dean whispered, feeling her swell around him, just as warm and wet inside as she'd been on the very first day. "And I'm just lucky you're not a freaking sex klutz." God, the way she rocked against him for hours — slow as molasses, fast as a raging river — proved that.
"You're just lucky you were so cute I forgave you for taking me to a place where the nachos sucked." And it almost came out like a sigh, her body moving against his in a rhythm no one had ever taken the time to learn before. Hands tracing the muscles on his back as he started moving faster, and he'd learned enough himself to keep her talking — just the whisper of his name as he moved.
"The nachos really did suck," Dean admitted, watching her bite her lip. She'd never felt this fucking good.
"But you were really cute," she answered finally, head going backwards as she arched into him. She brushed his cheek with her hand. "I love you," she said softly, moving faster against him, just enough to drive him crazy — she'd learned enough to pop him like a bottle rocket when she wanted to, but it was better when she made him beg for it.
"Lucky for me," he returned just as softly. "Because it'd fucking suck if you didn't love me back."
And that's when the world shrunk to fill the backseat of the car, when her eyes widened and she started bucking against him with a twist to her hips that made him slow down. She still made the same tiny little moans, whispering how much she loved him and how sexy older brothers were and that she was always his between breaths.
They started shuddering together, a loose-limbed jumble of urgency and desire, and his mouth came down hard on hers.
They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die.
Dean wanted to get his hands on the fucking bastards who sold that line, because they sure as hell weren't telling the truth. His life didn't flash before his eyes when she soared backwards, when she was gasping on the ground with a crimson chrysanthemum blooming across her belly. Hands touching herself and staring at the blood like she didn't even believe it was happening to her.
"Dean," she said softly. "I think I tripped."
It wasn't his life that flashed before his eyes. Not really. It was his life with her. And he didn't remember it all, had forgotten so many moments that should have been important. Sure, he remembered the big crap. The first time they did something. But never just the way she would watch him make breakfast in the morning, or what books she read in her spare time, or the way she played with Tippy in the backyard. Dean couldn't remember how she looked when they were in college, or what her favorite bands were. Or how she looked when she was getting ready for bed, or most of the times she said that she loved him.
"Charlotte," he whispered, kneeling in her blood and not giving a damn. "Just hang on." He covered her bloodstained hands with his own. "Please."
The only thing he remembered with any clarity at all was the sound of her body cracking into the marble floor of a library — because that's exactly what Charlotte sounded like when she fell again.
And the look on the face of the blonde asshole who shot her, point black range with the full round of a Glock, was a smirk Dean had seen before — on the face of the bastard who beat Sammy near to death when he was thirteen. The same exact face. Saying the exact same thing.
The price of betrayal.
That's when Dean knew he was going insane, and he wished the paramedics bundling him into the back of the ambulance as they rushed his wife to the hospital had something to give him so that he could fall right along with her, just like they started.
Just two bodies lost in amber.
"Someone get him out of here!"
The attending doctor's voice was a sibilant hiss throughout the room, and two nurses — each grabbing a shoulder — started walking him backwards.
There was so much blood. Too much blood. A salty smell that reminded Dean of a promise he'd made once. He closed his eyes as the doors to the room swung open behind him, and he heard the sounds of the hospital around him. Normal. How could everything be so normal when she was lying in so much blood?
It didn't make sense.
It wasn't fair.
And suddenly Sam's voice was in his ear, trying to get Dean to sit — but his little brother's consoling voice was cracking despite the sure words spoken. She's strong, Dean. Everything's going to be okay. Each syllable another crack in Sam's throat, a puncture in Dean's chest as he tried to breathe. All Dean could do was remember the smell of her blood, see it sticky on the sheets, and there was nothing Sam could say to make him forget that — the only thing Sam could do was touch his goddamn shoulder and murmur how everything was going to be okay.
How the fuck did Sam get there anyway? Sam was at Stanford. Had that interview with the law school and might even be up for a free ride if he did well enough. Sam was planning on asking Jess to marry him.
Sam was in fucking California.
Dean pushed Sam away, and his little brother just grinned at him — mouth going wide in a smile and his eyes flashing orange — and everything froze around him. Becoming as clear as glass, until it was just the two of them staring at each other. So many cracks in the façade, now, and it fucking hurt to know the truth.
Dean Winchester had been played by the freaking demon swirling around in Sam's belly.
Sam's head was shaking. "You've always had dreams, boy." And the voice was almost sad, until a laughed bubbled out of its throat — thick and solid. "Not just dreams, Dean Winchester. You have entire worlds in your soul."
Dean was already reaching for the crucifix in his pocket, ready to slam the sucker right in the cheek with it, but all it did was laugh again — and this time it might have sounded just like Sam, only it was so brittle it was close to breaking.
Just like him. So close to fucking breaking. He didn't know how much longer he was going to be able to hold on.
"Sam doesn't know what you've sacrificed to protect him." The thing nodded once, knowingly, as orange sigils broke out all over Sam's face. "How you've always wanted someone to love you. You're a hypocrite, really. You're the one who wants the wife and the children. You dream about it every night."
It helped a little that it wasn't really Sam's voice, that it was touched by something older than the stars, something that tempted stronger men and broke them long before Dean had even been born. But not much. It just looked at him, like a shot through Dean's chest so hard he almost doubled over. "If you can't save a girl in your dreams, Dean Winchester, how can you save your brother when you're awake?"
That's when he heard it, the slow creak of a rocking chair on a big old porch. "Sometimes the war chooses you," Dean said, voice steady — so much steadier than he'd ever thought it could be, laid bare within a shattered dream about a girl he'd never have the chance to forget. And when he heard her voice, she said the one thing he always knew she would. You were Called, Dean. And visions are warnings. You can stop this. Before Dean could ask her voice what dreams meant, he felt a rustle in his chest — a surge through his veins. Dean Winchester was staring that goddamn thing down. "And sometimes, you just get Chosen."
Sam's head snapped back, body falling backwards like he'd been sucker punched, and Dean thought he heard Alma chuckle.
You're not lost at all, Dean Winchester.
"You okay, man?" Sam's voice, concerned and right next to his ear — but the important thing was that it was Sam's voice, and not that fucker roaming around inside his little brother.
Dean opened his eyes and sat up, getting his bearings. There was light coming in from underneath the edge of the curtains, and Sam was sitting up next to him — eyes blinking rapidly, like he'd been awakened from a dead sleep. Probably had been, Dean guessed. He looked at the clock; it was almost seven, about an hour or so since he and Charlie had gone to sleep.
About an hour, and a whole lifetime away.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Dean said. Sam was looking at him with a strange expression on his face. "Just had a bad dream."
"A vision kind of dream," his little brother asked. "Or a nightmare?"
Dean wasn't about to tell him that the demon inside Sam's stomach — or wherever the hell the thing spent most of its time — had decided to pay Dean a visit in his own brain. Hell, he wasn't planning on telling Charlie, either. Charlotte Webb had so much faith riding on the fact that he was a fucking Chosen Warrior of God that he couldn't tell her that Dean Winchester was just some idiot getting cock-teased in his own dreams by the thing that wanted to break the whole world. And he sure as hell wasn't going to tell her that a monster used her to twist him inside out just for kicks.
"It was a nightmare, Sam." Dean cocked an eyebrow, rose to his feet and tried to pull the grin he wore like a shield back up on his face. "I dreamt that I had to take this chick to Casa Bonita just to get her to fuck me."
"Casa Bonita?" Sam was suddenly grinning back. "That place in Denver where Dad took us for your sixteenth birthday? With the cliff divers and that stupid ape?"
"Except it wasn't in Denver. And Chiquita was a gorilla, Sam." Dean's grin was plastered on his face, and he went over to his duffel and pulled out a clean pair of boxers. "But that wasn't the worst part, man. I ended up marrying that chick. And I was in freaking college. I built houses after I graduated." And I fucking wanted it the whole time. But Dean would never tell Sam that.
Sam whistled softly, lowering his voice when Charlie stirred in her sleep — a little snore before her breathing settled. "Sounds like your worst nightmare." His little brother chuckled. "But I bet the chick was hot. I mean, she's your dream girl, right."
Dean just looked at Sam, tired as all hell; part of him wanted to lie down on the bed next to Charlie, where she was curled on her side with her hand flopped over her nose. Because it still seemed like the most fucking natural thing in the world to do, just enough of the real girl in the dream — down to the scars crisscrossing her belly and the little laugh that followed every dorky joke — that part of him wished he was still sleeping. And when he saw her cast, Dean got sick to his stomach. That's why the sound of her falling was so familiar, why he always remembered it. The girl was always falling, and it always sounded exactly like her leg breaking back in Wisconsin.
"I'm going to take a shower. I know you and Charlie have this practical joke thing going but..." His voice trailed off because she was snoring, and he found himself grinning just enough that it hurt. Dean shook his head sharply. If he let himself get caught up in that crap, he'd be playing right into Shem-fucking-hezai's hands. That girl in his dream might have died, but they were all still here. Him. Sammy. Charlie. And he knew one thing — if that monster wanted a piece of them all, it was going through Dean Winchester.
"She's the one who challenged me, Dean." Sam was smiling softly.
"I get that," Dean returned, "But the girl's only had an hour of sleep, and I'll kick your ass if you fuck that up." Sam shrugged, which was probably the best answer he was going to get. Dean closed the door behind him.
Sometimes the war chooses you.
This was a vignette based on Strange Angels — the first story in the Strange Angels 'verse, but it was meant as more of a character study than anything else. For those following the story proper, this occurs around the time Sam is getting another visit from Aaron and Charlotte is having nightmares in Chapter Eight – Lost Like This. Several folks told me the story stood on its own, and asked me to post it to a wider audience.
"You knew the job was dangerous when you took it" is a direct reference to Danger Mouse.
The title is adapted from a line in the song "Catch" by the Cure — "She used to fall down a lot, that girl was always falling again and again
But since these are my notes and I should get one chance to be self-indulgent, I'll simply say that the thing I loved the most about writing this was the voice of Dean in a world without demons — how he wasn't quite the broken boy we know, but he still had those elements that made him recognizably Dean Winchester. That voice was so compelling; I put everything else on hold to write this.
As always, criticism is welcome. And feedback just makes me dizzy.