No one would ever call Dean Smith impulsive.
He had never done anything spontaneous or that he hadn't planned out precisely down to the last minute detail, analyzing all of the possible outcomes for things that could possibly go wrong causing whatever he was working on to backfire and blow up in his face. So that's probably why it had come as such a big surprise to everyone that knew him that he decided to go to college in Texas, instead of staying in South Dakota near his family and his friends and everything that he already knew was comfortable and safe and predictable.
Frankly, it surprised him too.
University of Texas was his back-up, back-up school; the one he had decided he would only go to if the world was ending or the stars aligned to force him in that direction. Neither one of those things happened, but it was the first acceptance letter that he got in the mail. And after getting 'FAG' carved into the side of his car for the millionth time by the asshole jocks at school who were too scared to give him wedgies or push him into lockers anymore now that puberty had helped him fill out with little to no effort on his part besides LARPing on the weekends with his friends, Ed and Harry who were heading off to opposite coats and Ivy League schools (accepted early admission, of freaking course), getting as far away from Sioux Falls just seemed overwhelmingly appealing.
Jo was the crazy one, the rebel, the one who was steadily giving his dad, Bob, grey hairs at every turn when she snuck out of the house just to get brought home by the sheriff every other weekend and made their mom, Ellen, rant about teen pregnancy to the both of them almost every night over dinner even though Dean had told them multiple times that it was a non-issue as far as he was concerned. She still bought him condoms and dragged Jo to get birth control and asked them both when they were going to cut her some damn slack and bring home a nice boy for once.
His first year in Austin, she asked after the status of his love life every time that she called; saying that it probably wouldn't be that hard for him to meet a real gentleman down there in the Lone Star State. She seemed to be under the impression that all the men in Texas were John Wayne and Clint Eastwood; not the uber-Republican, homophobic bros that he usually sat behind in class who had the dumbest answers to the simplest questions and made him want to die because the smartest conversations he had every week were with the old guys who worked at the comic book store.
So far all of the men he had met were just older versions of the boys he went to high school with, except now they had southern accents. Dean figured if he kept playing the odds though, eventually he would find a guy that would get his sense of humor and how intense he got about Star Wars and would really and truly appreciate his comic book and record collections.
But he didn't meet a guy like that until he had to take the computer course that the college required of everyone no matter what their major was and his name was Sam Wesson. Unfortunately, going on a date with the lanky, handsome, long-haired biochemistry major was weirdly like going on a date with his brother, if he had a brother and it didn't lead to anything more than a bromancy hug at the end and acquiring a roommate who picked up after himself once Dean decided that the dorms were unlivable as long as they didn't have central air conditioning.
They found a house in central Austin, situated up a really steep hill behind a record store called Cheapo's that if nothing else Dean could always find some serious eye candy in when he was killing time between classes or looking for imported singles for the bands that he liked. Ozma, Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate, Braid, The Promise Ring, mostly late-90s emo stuff when emo still meant cardigans and brown corduroys and glasses that really were prescription and not dark eyeliner, swoopy lazy-eye inducing hair styles, and cutting yourself.
Not that Dean could begrudge a guy for looking good in eyeliner; because since moving to one of the biggest music capitals in the country he saw his fair share of dudes in makeup and he could admit that it was hella attractive on boys with the right eyes. But something about appropriating the genre title for something that used to mean Weezer didn't exactly sit well with him. Sam said it was all relative and just listened to whatever happened to catch his ear, introducing Dean to older stuff like The Replacements and Husker Du that he could also get behind even if their louder, more rambunctious descendents could grate on his nerves just a little.
Sophomore year was the year that Dean got a job at Book People, right down the road from the house that he and Sam were sharing with a peppy redheaded girl named Charlie who really, pretty much only got Dean the job in the first place to shut him up, because she was tired of him always begging her to let him use her discount to buy Kurt Vonnegut books that he already had four copies of. It was also the year that he finally admitted that punk boys were becoming a thing that he thought about more than just in passing.
The first time that he saw him, he was running late to work. Speeding on Sam's bike down the hill past Cheapo's so that he could cut across Lamar and jet down to the book store as quickly as possible before he got stuck working on inventory or shut away in the back room to receive new books by himself with that weirdo Crowley who always always hit on him. It was spring break and for most of the students that didn't hail from Texas, that meant going home for the week or telling your parents you were studying and really going to Port Aransas or Galveston to party and drink and become the subject of incriminating and embarrassing Facebook photos.
But for Dean, it meant working since spring break in Austin usually happened to sync up with the week of South By Southwest that was dedicated to music. People from all over the world flooded into the Texas capital to listen to bands that only played in the United States once or twice a year, forced to sweat out all of the alcohol that they imbibed in the mid-March swelter that started early in the south. Sam was working too and Dean didn't even envy his friend for working at a bar like he had since the previous fall when his roommate first got the job because he got to hang out in an air-conditioned bookstore all day instead of dealing with sweaty, obnoxious drunks and their terrible taste in music.
Book People was a hub for festival goers looking to escape the oppressive Texas heat as well as kill time between sets going on around town and both Dean and Charlie were required to work. It wasn't a big deal for his roommate, since she worked in the cafe part of the store, whipping up lattes and smoothies with the complicated equipment that Dean was too scared to touch, but she had stayed the night at her girlfriend's apartment in South Austin the night before and it was just too much of a hassle to try to fight the traffic in the Impala if it was just him going to the store. And it would have just made him later than he already was anyway, so he stole Sam's bike, leaving his friend to catch up on sleep after the other man shut down the bar he worked at the night before which marked the big kickoff of the music festival on Sixth street where all the major music venues in Austin lived.
It was probably better anyway that he was on the bike, because when Dean did see the lanky dark-haired punk boy leaning against the wall of Cheapo's that faced his street (propped up underneath his favorite graffiti of Audrey Tatou's Amelie that graced the wall) Dean forgot to pedal and almost ran right into one of the cars that was waiting at the light to merge onto the busier cross street of Lamar Boulevard. The stranger was smoking a cigarette and surveying the early morning traffic with an air of disinterested amusement, his lip ring glinting in the sunlight that was struggling to make it through the cloudy mid-March sky.
Dean wanted to stop and gawk just a bit because there where hot guys and then there was this guy, who seemed aloof and dangerous and intriguing in a way that worked for him in all of the right ways, but his name tag was looped around his neck, reminding him of work. And the right leg of his brown pants was rolled up his calf so that it didn't get caught in the chain of Sam's bike and there was no way that someone that good-looking would want to talk to him with his nerdy glasses and his short sleeve plaid button down shirt that Charlie said made him look like an extra from Revenge of the Nerds. No way in hell.
The other guy was just so effortlessly handsome in his threadbare black cutoff shorts that had frayed edges and hugged him tightly enough to show off the muscles of his thighs. He had on dirty well-worn Converse that would make Dean's mom hyperventilate if she saw them laying around the house somewhere and his dingy white Ramones t-shirt faded seamlessly into the white-washed walls of Dean's favorite record store that the other man was leaning against. Dean especially appreciated the messy mop of dark hair that made the object of his appreciation look like he had just crawled out of bed or hadn't bothered sleeping at all if the dark circles under his eyes were anything to go by.
Sam would tell him to stop and talk to the guy and give him his number and be confident, but that wasn't Dean. He had never been the kind of person to approach another guy, mostly because if he misjudged and they were straight it could lead to something far worse than a wedgie or getting his car keyed. Luckily the last time his gaydar had completely and utterly failed him had been right after starting at the bookstore with his coworker Aaron who shrugged the whole thing off as a compliment, but it had been embarrassing enough that Dean had decided to let other men approach him if they were interested.
Jo told him he was a cock tease and he didn't know when his sixteen year old sister had started talking to him like that, Charlie said that he was shy, and Dean, well he wasn't sure exactly what it was that made him so afraid to put himself out there, but he was late to work and he didn't have enough time to stop anyway so he swerved around the cars on North Larmar and made it to Book People in enough time to call dibs on working the downstairs reference desk instead of the one upstairs near the children and young adult sections. Becky could do it all day, but Dean could really only feign interest in angsty teen vampire books and Dr. Seuss for so long before he started getting cranky.
The second time he saw him he did talk to him. But not really talk, just like...provide customer service?
It was his job after all, well not his job, but Charlie's. And really Dean was lucky to have seen the guy at all again since he was stuck in the backroom on the last day of SXSW, fixing some inventory mess that Crowley just couldn't possibly handle all by himself. Not that he hadn't been looking for him; because he had, but not consciously. Finding little things in other people who asked for his help with finding a book or where the bathroom was because they couldn't understand why there wasn't one downstairs in the bookstore also, he was going to be happy when SXSW was over and he didn't have to deal with tourists anymore who thought he was just a hipster townie that they could treat like crap. It was even worse than working in retail on Christmas.
Charlie's girlfriend, Dorothy, had come in, surprising the redhead with backstage passes to see La Roux where the songstress was performing at Auditorium Shores Stage, opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes in the grand culmination of the weeklong festival. His roommate had ducked into the backroom, begging him to cover the cafe for the last hour of his shift so that she could leave early to go home and change out of her milk and syrup spattered t-shirt before the show. He had only agreed to get away from Crowley, telling Charlie that she owed him big time and earning a promise of free drinks the next time he went into Red 7 where the other girl's partner tended bar on the weekends.
He made her show him three times how to use the complicated milk frother that just fogged up his glasses more than anything else before he let her leave, but Dean still prayed that no one would order a latte because smoothies he could make, but espresso drinks were like a completely different language. Luckily almost everyone wanted cold drinks, iced coffee which was just pouring and adding syrup and so easy that anyone could do it or sodas that he just had to pull out of the cold case and ring up before handing them over.
Dean read a battered copy of Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, recommended to him by his coworker Lisa when she had heard him grousing about Charlie's red-hair fucking up pretty much every drain in their house to Aaron who had said he had a similar problem with his girlfriend that he lived with. She said the book pretty effectively solved the problem of redheads and was similar to Vonnegut which she knew he liked because practically every book that Dean wrote a recommendation for was by his favorite author and everyone had learned pretty quickly after he started to not touch the display that was dedicated to the man like a shrine at the end of the fiction section downstairs.
He was biting on his lip as he read, a habit that had earned him the derision of more than one boy who's attention he had caught, but hell it was better than biting his fingernails which he used to do when he was a kid until they were bloody and tender. When he was freaking out over the fact that the superheroes in his comic books always seemed to kiss the girls they rescued and never the sidekicks that were always there for them. In junior high he ate instead of biting his nails and that led to more beatings for being the fat, gay kid then he could ever possibly count on both hands, turning him into the introvert that he was today and making him sigh like a girl while he read the unlikely love-story that the author had written his book around.
'When two people meet and fall in love, there's a sudden rush of magic. Magic is just naturally present then.'
Dean understood, without understanding because he had never experienced anything like that before with another person. Sam didn't do the monogamous thing and it seemed to work for him, but it just left Dean with a bad taste in his mouth and a sour ball of guilt in his stomach when he would get home from another failed date, crawl into his lonely bed and try to block out the thought that he would die without ever having what his parents had together. Twenty-year olds shouldn't be so fatalistic and he knew that, but Dean had always been too cautious and careful for his own good.
"I think it looks good," A female voice said in front of him causing Dean to look up from his book to see if she was a customer that he needed to help. He prayed she just wanted black coffee. "You should tattoo your head or something. Once your hair grows back no one will see it, it'll be like your shameful little secret."
The voice belonged to a short brunette woman who had her curly, brown hair swept up in a ponytail that complimented the straight bangs she had running across her forehead and revealed the intricate, thorn covered, dark blue rose she had tattooed on her neck. She was wearing grey and black leopard print shorts with a plain white tank top and a black leather vest. Her legs were pale, sporting bruises that ranged in color from dark purple to sickly green all along her shins right down to her little black flats that had ornamental silver skulls and crossbones on them.
She had more tattoos, ones that trailed down her arms of old movie monsters (Dean could pick out the bride of Frankenstein and Dracula and one that looked like that guy from Evil Dead with the chain saw hand) and more on her thigh of a really angry looking unicorn surrounded by rainbows and clouds with blood dripping from its horn. The girl also had a septum piercing, which Dean had always admired, but been too chicken to get even when he had gone with Charlie and her girlfriend to get a portrait tattoo of the other woman's little black terrier that had just passed away on her bicep next to the one she already had of her dad. Charlie had gotten her nose pierced then; just a little stud that she had only agreed to get if Dean got something too, needless to say his face still had the exact amount of holes it was supposed to have and no more.
"My head feels cold," the man she was with grumbled, tossing down a patch covered black backpack onto one of the little cafe tables that Dean was supposed to be babysitting for his roommate before spinning around to face the first-time barista. He ran a hand abortedly over the sides of his shorn head, where he was probably used to hair being before sighing and crossing his arms tightly over his chest instead. "Next time I make a bet with my brother about anything, remind of what a dick he is."
Dean choked for a second on nothing, probably his own stupid tongue or something because even though he had (but hadn't) been looking for the boy that he had spotted outside of Cheapo's earlier in the week, the last thing he had expected was to see him in his bookstore. In retrospect, the assumption was pretty ridiculous, Book People was practically the biggest bookstore in Austin and it was right across the street from the most well-known record store in the city, Waterloo's; people came into the store just to say that they had been there, regardless of whether or not there was an author doing a signing that day.
The other boy looked even better up close, standing in the brightly lit bookstore with the rows of magazines and people and musicians creating the perfect backdrop behind him that all just faded into an inane, fuzzy nothingness for Dean as he struggled to compose himself so that he wouldn't look like a spaz. He could see the color of his eyes now, blue that was still rimmed by dark circles that looked more like smudged, slept in eyeliner than the telltale signs of a night spent sleepless like he had originally thought. His hair had been massacred though, shaved down short on the sides until it was barely stubble and leaving the middle a hastily, styled drooping mohawk that still looked long enough for someone to get a pretty decent grip on if they were lucky enough to get to kiss the stranger's full chapped lips.
"I just live with him, Clarence. You're the one who had to grow up with the guy, here let me get you a drink or something to make it up to you," The girl said, rifling out an ornate looking cigarette case from her back pocket and extracting a folded twenty from behind the neat row of rolled tobacco tubes.
"You've been buying my drinks all week, Meg." The other man muttered, shoving his hands deeply into the pocket of his tight, dark washed denim shorts; once again cutoffs that were held up by a silver studded leather belt that hung low on his hips. He had on his Converse again, along with a faded black Alkaline Trio shirt that had a skeleton couple holding hands screen printed onto it in crackled white and red ink. "You've got to stop. I can't pay you back or anything."
It took everything Dean had not to groan at the abashed look that was on the other man's face as he scuffed the toes of his dirty sneakers together and toyed with his lip ring while the other girl waved off his statement and moved closer to the register so she could order. Clarence, what an old fashioned name for a guy like that; it was like Seymour or Oscar, something that grandfathers were named and it didn't fit the other man at all. Dean decided he was going to call him 'blue eyes', smirking at his own Rat Pack reference and ignoring the part of his mind that was screaming at him that he was a stalker and creepy and the guy was probably straight anyway so he should not be crushing on him.
"I've already told you how you can return the favor," The woman flirted, winking at the other man and causing him to blush a light pink that stood out against his stubbled, pale cheeks before she spun back around to face Dean; the smile that she had worn for the other man immediately dropping off of her face. "I need a double soy latte with hazelnut and whatever my friend wants."
Dean started cursing her in his head the minute she said 'double' because unless it was just espresso, which it never fucking was, that mean that he was going to have to steam milk for her stupid, uppity drink. Why couldn't people just order coffee anymore? He just drank black coffee because caffeine was caffeine was caffeine, it didn't have to be fancy.
"I'll just have a large iced coffee, black," The other man muttered, side-eyeing the woman who had moved back to wrap and arm around his waist, which just set Dean's teeth more on edge as he nodded and tossed his glasses agitatedly down next to the register before moving towards the milk frother that was possessed by satan and hated him. "And uh...I like your shirt by the way."
Dean squinted down at the worn, green Jets to Brazil shirt that he was wearing, mostly because he was excited that Blake Schwarzenbach's new band, Forgetters was wrapping up their weekend in town by playing at the bar that Sam worked at so he pretty much was guaranteed in the door even without having bought a ticket or wristband for the show, and shrugged. The shirt was older than Jo was probably and he had bought it on eBay back in high school after discovering the band through Pandora.
No one in his hometown listened to music like the band made, honest and raw and emotional in all the ways that Dean was scared of being around the hyper-masculine boys he went to school with. Through music he had learned that he wasn't the only boy with too many confusing feelings out walking around in the world and it had helped him make it through the slurs and the whispers that all of his classmates indulged in behind his back.
He wanted to speak, to thank the other man for the compliment and ask him about what kind of music he liked. Alkaline Trio were a little on the morbid side for his taste, but they weren't super loud and you could understand the lyrics which was an improvement on some of the other more main-stream punk bands floating around out there these days. But his tongue felt thick in his mouth and it was just a struggle to keep breathing when he saw the other man lean down and give the brunette girl a quick peck on the cheek.
"Thanks, dollface." He muttered to her before winking at Dean and going to sit down at the table they had commandeered with his coffee.
Dean must have been staring at the other man still, admiring the way that his shoulders moved as he walked and noticing the dark ink peeking out on the back of his neck and biceps from underneath his shirt. Clarence looked like the kind of boy who would have tattoos, lots of them and Dean thought it sucked that he was totally hopeless at flirting because even with him showing up here with a girl in tow, he still had the overwhelming urge to card his fingers through what was left of the other man's messy hair and kiss him hard enough that he could taste every cigarette he had smoked for the last week and an indention of the other man's hooped lip ring would be left pressed into his mouth for everyone to see.
He must have been staring because the brunette girl slapped her money down hard on the counter top separating them when Dean exchanged her latte back for his glasses that remained steam and milk free while also bringing the cafe into sharp, harsh focus. Specifically the knowing smirk that she was giving him that made him want to just curl up behind the counter and cry with his face pressed into his book so that no one would see it. Girls like her hand been giving him that smirk all his life so he knew what it meant without her saying it, but that didn't stop her from doing it anyway, spiteful fucking bitch that she was.
"Oh, yea," She said smugly, tilting her head toward where the other man was sitting reading one of the Austin Chronicles that had been left lying on the tables all week since they listed when and where the SXSW shows were happening around town. "I'm totally hitting that tonight."
Dean shrugged again, pushing his glasses up his nose and looking one last time at the punk boy who had caught his eye over a week ago. When Bela showed up to relieve him, reprimanding him for some part on the espresso machine that he had bent or not cleaned properly after using it he wasn't really sure, Dean just grabbed his cardigan and his messenger bag and resolutely told himself to not look back at the guy who was not only out of his league, but didn't even play the same sport that he did. He should've known, all of the boys he liked were always straight. And straight boys will break your heart every single fucking time.