Guardian angels don't die, but they can Fall. Steve's first angel Fell in the arms of a mortal girl named after a song, leaving little Steve alone and unprotected for the most infinitesimal flash of time, detectable only to beings like demons or God Himself, before he was assigned a brand new angel.
And this angel was brand new, had just been hatched, but it had been urgent to give this vulnerable human child the protection of being an angel's charge, so they picked the first available angel.
An older angel, invisible to the humans around them, held Dustin out to look at Steve, who was sitting by the foot of the couch in his living room, hugging a teddy bear.
"This is Steve, little putto," the elder said with a fond smile, subtly eager to see their first meeting.
The littlest angel, not able to flap his downy little wings yet, but already able to smile, grinned at Steve with pure joy, and held out his arms, wanting to touch the friendly-looking human.
The elder smiled tranquilly and knelt beside Steve, holding Dustin closer to the little boy. Dustin put a small, gentle hand on Steve's cheek, and the young boy paused in petting the bear he was clutching. Steve looked happier now, reassured, not sensing a difference in this touch from the one he had sometimes received from Tommy when he was sad and alone.
Dustin wasn't forced to focus on Steve for the first few years of his life, as his mind hadn't even grown enough to be able to communicate verbally, let alone have the resources to protect Steve. Other angels in Steve's vicinity kept an extra eye on him while they waited for Dustin to grow. Steve wasn't their responsibility, but angels are helpful and good by nature of being angels.
Dustin mainly fluttered around the Heavenly Gardens, following butterflies and smelling flowers and taking naps on clouds, occasionally being brought down to see Steve again, to renew that connection with Steve; more for Steve's sake than Dustin's, because even baby angels have good memories for those they love (and angels are creatures of love).
When the down on Dustin's wings was replaced by rich brown feathers, and the little angel was given his first white robe, he was ready to go down to Earth and watch over Steve!
The older angels looked at this very young angel; bouncing a little on the white marble of the atrium, halo tilted, sleeves a little too long for him, flyaway curls falling into his determined eyes; and hesitated.
"...Steve could be his burden now," one tired angel suggested wryly.
The others thought about it.
"Remember what we have taught you," they said, and ushered Dustin down.
All Dustin had to do was keep Steve from dying, and help Steve feel encouraged when he was sad or scared. And it was mostly easy, the not dying part (a few heavy things nearly fell on Steve here and there and once he almost tripped over a large rock in the park chasing a ball, but for the most part Steve lived a peril-free life), but Steve wasn't... very happy.
Dustin watched Steve try and fail to get the attention of his parents, holding up drawings, asking them to watch him sing, to just hug him really quick; but they're on the phone, they're busy, they're talking to each other right now, why don't you go play in your room?
"That's nice, Steve," Mrs Harrington said, turning back to her magazine, and Steve wilted. He hadn't even finished the second sentence of his story yet.
He climbed back up the stairs and walked into his room, closing the door quietly behind him, and climbed onto his bed.
Dustin knelt in front of Steve on the bed, feeling for him. Steve's eyes were starting to water, and he wrapped his arms around himself.
"Oh, no, Steve," Dustin murmured sadly. This was really the first time he felt he should Intervene for a non-physical-danger reason. He was unsure what to do. He bowed his head, clasping his little hands together just below his chin, and closed his eyes solemnly.
And then he reached out with diminutive umber wings, spreading them over Steve, careful not to jostle him.
Steve, tears drying, surrounded by a sudden feeling of reassurance, got the urge to thank someone as he felt happiness grow swiftly in his chest. It was silly, but he didn't know what else to do with this foreign exhilaration. When he was sad, he cried; when he was tired, he went to sleep. What can you do with happiness?
"Thank you," he whispered, unable to stop the wide grin on his face, feeling a bit silly, but no one was really there to see, right?
"You are welcome," Dustin said, confused by this extreme reaction, but definitely pleased.
Whenever Steve felt sad, Dustin would wrap his wings around him again, projecting all of his love and pride for Steve in that little bubble, maybe spoiling Steve a little because it was really only for emergencies, but Steve was so sad all the time...
Steve went back to school and hid in the bathroom and the back of the library frequently, even though he had many friends, because he just had to catch his breath. Dustin followed him, of course, and wasn't sure what was wrong at first, but could see that Steve was obviously feeling dejected, so he stayed as close as possible to his soul without touching his body.
Steve fell in the park (non-fatal, so Dustin allowed it) and scraped his knee, and nearly threw up at the sight of his blood leaking out in scary-looking slits.
He didn't really need it, but Dustin couldn't bear to see him so distraught, hunched over on the ground covering his pained face. He touched Steve's knee, letting just a little bit of healing warmth radiate.
Steve uncovered his eyes when he felt a hand on his knee, but no one was there. And his knee didn't sting as much anymore, the blood already turned into scabs (he didn't yet appreciate how fast that had happened, though). He thought maybe an angel had been there.
Dustin asked an angel nearby, looming protectively over a young girl, to watch Steve too for a minute, and then he flew speedily across the street to Mrs Harrington.
It took quite a lot of Conscience, but she finally got the idea to check on her boy.
Steve's mom actually hugged her son, and Steve smiled, slow, but chuffed, and Dustin felt better.
Dustin watched over Steve at night as well, because he lived in a big, well-secured house, but anything could happen.
Steve slept so peacefully, Dustin didn't have to do anything, so he just curled up beside him and watched him be carefree.
When Steve got sick, Dustin would sometimes touch his forehead, when Steve was at his most deliriously feverish, and watch Steve's face relax.
Steve didn't know why he felt coolness on his face quite immediately, but he appreciated it a lot and felt very lucky.
Steve was popular at school, but he was still oddly sad all the time. Dustin saw him make and keep many friends, and Dustin was confused, but then he realised that Steve was pretending to be someone else. And he didn't know how to help Steve with that.
He noticed Steve's friends make fun of things that Dustin knew Steve loved, and Steve would laugh, too, after a split second of hesitation. And then Steve would look subdued for the next few hours, and Dustin wanted to tell Steve's friends how boring they were.
But he couldn't, and their angels couldn't, either, because Free Will, or whatever. And it was frustrating.
And then Steve started doing things that were bad for his body.
Dustin was losing his mind trying to apply all of the power of Influence to get the feeling of "NO" out when Steve was about to smoke for the first time. And then peer pressure won Steve over, and Steve put the cigarette to his lips, and Dustin's head was falling into the wall.
The same thing happened with beer, Dustin sitting next to Steve rubbing his palms into his eyes, thinking, "why me", while Steve took a long, resolute sip from the can.
Other angels; hardened by life, used to humans doing stupid things; just thought it was cute; in a sad way, of course, but still cute; to see this small angel looking like an exasperated adult, sitting next to a boy trying to be a man.
Then high school happened, and Steve started dating. And that was a whole new source of heartache.
He put his heart into every relationship, but when they ended, Steve would be all sad and moody, wondering what went wrong, and Dustin was glued to his side to keep him from crashing.
There was also the homework, harder than ever, and the letters swam in front of Steve's eyes when he tried his best to focus, and he cried a lot, frustrated with himself, and it was harder to get through to Steve when he was feeling angry, but Dustin did his best.
Steve started getting self-conscious about his body, and his face, and he obsessed over his hair a little bit, staring in front of the mirror at himself for dozens of minutes, frowning, and Dustin didn't understand the displeasure. He thought Steve was cute, ESPECIALLY his smile (why did Steve's eyes always flit away when he saw a picture of himself smiling?), and his nose, and his big, pretty eyes. He wished someone would tell him directly to his face how nice he was to look at.
Steve started learning how to drive, and this was normal, and healthy, and good, but Dustin was having angelic heart palpitations. Steve was good at driving, actually, but Dustin had his work cut out for him keeping other cars from crashing into Steve. Whenever Steve finally parked somewhere, Dustin would slump over in relief, but then remember that anything could happened to Steve at any time, anywhere, and Dustin would force himself back up, tiredly resolved.
And then Steve met Nancy.
And Nancy was AWFUL.
She was always subtly letting Steve know how stupid she thought he was, how clingy he was, how he would never be good enough for her or for anyone or anything else.
Dustin touched Steve's shoulder after one small but stabbing comment, trying to let him know his best was good enough, but Steve needed Nancy's validation.
Dustin had to close his eyes when Steve and Nancy did things angels aren't meant to think about, but it was hard, because what if Steve got stabbed, what if the ceiling fell on him and Nancy, what if a fire started - but Dustin was not meant to watch.
And then Dustin would open his eyes in the afterglow, and Steve would look unsatisfied, and try to reach out for a hug, and Nancy would say she was tired and wanted to sleep, and Steve would look sad, and Dustin wanted to cry.
Jonathan was beating Steve up, and Dustin kept it from going too far, but Steve's face was all bloody and bruised and Dustin wanted to scream.
And then Billy was beating Steve up, and he was determined to kill Steve, and that was very hard to fight against. Steve took a lot of damage from that, and he actually, nearly died.
When Billy finally got knocked out, the others left an also unconscious Steve there with him, too busy to tend to their protector.
Dustin watched Billy in his peripheral while he healed Steve as best he could, keeping a brightly glowing hand on his forehead for several minutes, bent over him protectively, stroking his hair and feeling his pulse with his other hands; it was a matter of life or death, it was okay if he was a little closer to Steve than usual.
Steve was so close to death that he saw Dustin for a second - a flash of unfamiliar blue eyes and a halo of short, dark hair.
And then Steve closed his eyes and he passed back out.