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The Closest Thing We Have To Magic

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“So,” Dean announces, clapping his hands together, “let’s discuss chapters one and two on Monday, keepin’ a close eye on the list of possible disciplines on page twenty-five. And…?”

He pauses considerably, waiting to see which students have been most attentive, and the enchanted chalk behind him hovers in the air, waiting for his next instruction. His handwriting is atrocious, and he likes talking with his hands free, so the idea of spelling the chalk to do all the legwork seemed like an awesome idea. Unfortunately, it’s been distracting to his freshman students who are still new to magical instruction. The whole class period, about half of the class has been watching the details of their first week’s homework assignment be magically transcribed with a sense of awe, not comprehending a word he’s saying, and Dean has observed their faces with a sense of amusement.

“Anyone?” He slides his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, waiting. He could’ve dressed up for his first day teaching, but really, what would be the point? Slapping a fancy blazer on or carting ‘round a briefcase won’t make him look any older. He’s twenty-five and in his final year of grad school, so most days, he feels like he relates more to the professors than the undergrads. The only reason he can even get through a conversation with them is because his brother is just a junior himself.

“Make a list of the top three disciplines you’re considering specializing in, and why,” someone finally answers, a girl with tight blonde curls and a genuine smile.

“Exactly.” He looks at the holographic name floating above the surface of the student’s desk, charmed to reveal the preferred first and last name of whoever fills the seat, though only to the spellcaster. It’s a trick he learned from Pam, aka Dr. Barnes. Most new students assume she’s psychic because she learns their names so quickly, but she shared her secret with Dean last year after a departmental reading.

“Thanks for taking notes, Jess.” The freshman looks pleased with herself for answering correctly, and Dean smiles at her encouragingly. He puts just enough tension in his voice to imply to the rest of his students—especially a surly looking brunette named Ruby who’s rolling her eyes and sighing—that he doesn’t intend to put up with any shenanigans this semester. Which is ironic, considering he gives his professors nothing but pleas for paper extensions and lazy responses in class. He wonders if that’s why Missouri asked him to teach, despite the fact that his GPA is subpar. Is she giving him a taste of his own medicine?

He looks at the clock, wondering what to do next. It’s not quite noon and there’s still ten minutes remaining, but it’s the first class of the semester and they’ve finished up early. Only the strictest professors keep the students the full duration on syllabus day.

“Get outta here,” he finally says nonchalantly, holding his palm up as the chalk floats into his hand. “Have a good weekend, make good choices, blah blah…”

Some of his students chuckle good-naturedly, waving goodbye to him or saying “see ya Monday, Professor Winchester” as they shuffle out of the room. He wonders how many of these kids he’ll end up spotting when he stops by the dorms to visit Sam. Moving him into his new setup last weekend had been a breeze thanks to the hover charm Dean cast on the boxes, particularly the crates full of books that he’s pretty sure no human person could lift without magic. Sammy’s ridiculously smart, and even as an undergraduate, the professors are beyond impressed with him.

The only remaining stragglers in Dean’s classroom are three guys complaining about how their weekend is gonna be spent reading six chapters on the history of colonized magic in America for Dr. Novak. Dean wants to laugh and wince simultaneously—on one hand, freshmen complaining about their workload is nothing new, and pretty eye-roll inducing. But Castiel really is something else, and after their strained first meeting a few days ago, Dean knows it firsthand. Somehow the professor has agreed to take Dean on as a thesis candidate anyways, which he suspects has less to do with Castiel’s personal preference and more to do with Missouri’s direct orders. But whatever. As long as he can avoid being saddled with Dr. Adler, who gave him the evil eye this morning in the office when he stopped by to make copies of his syllabus, Dean can breathe easy.

Well, easier. But sure as hell not easy. ‘Cause his Hottie McHot thesis advisor has been present in his mind way more often than he should. And unless he has a good reason for skipping, Castiel will definitely be attending the faculty potluck Dr. MacLeod is hosting at her huge ass manison tonight. The welcome-back party is sorta legendary, considering the free-flowing booze and a dozen or so professors who like to let loose. Graduate student teachers usually fall into a weird social limbo, where they’re not totally beneath their professors but they’re not equals yet either. This is the first year Dean has been invited, along with his best friend Charlie and a few other student teachers. Dean’s been looking forward to it all summer, hoping to connect with his professors as people rather than just as his superiors, but now…

Now he has to somehow navigate the fickle waters of Castiel Novak. A guy who’s basically a Katy Perry song—hot and cold and annoyingly sexy and won’t get out of his freaking head.

He packs up his messenger bag and flicks off the light switch, closing and locking the classroom door behind him. Looking up and down the corridor, he expects to see Sam waiting for him since they have lunch plans. He frowns in confusion, then walks down to the main lobby, adjusting the strap of his bag to sit more comfortably. Eventually he spots his brother by the water fountain—this one has become especially popular since someone spelled it last year to spout out a variety of sodas—and he’s about to wave Sam over when he spots a short brunette, grinning up at Sam with a wicked glint in her eye.

You’ve gotta be kidding me.

“Hey Ruby,” Dean says lightly, taking large steps and inserting himself into their conversation. “You showin’ my brother here how to use the water fountain without getting his hair wet? If it grows out any longer, he’ll have to pull it in a ponytail.”

Sam looks a mixture of irritated and mortified, but Ruby seems nonplussed by the development that she’s currently scamming on her professor’s brother. She reaches a hand up and boldly fluffs the ends of Sam’s too-long locks.

“I like it,” she declares playfully, and Sam seems to flush bright red under her gaze. She winks and whispers, “See you later, Sam,” before sauntering off and out of the lobby, not giving Dean a second glance. Sam is staring at the floor so intently, Dean sarcastically wonders if there are ancient hieroglyphics there he’s trying to decode.

“Seriously?” He crosses his arms, waiting to hear the full story. “My student?”

“I didn’t know she was your student,” Sam replies, finally glancing up. “And, I dunno…” He shrugs nonchalantly. “She’s cute.”

“She’s a troublemaker,” Dean corrects grumpily. “What’d she do? Trap you at the water fountain and bombard you with pick-up lines?”

“Uh…” Sam’s pause tells him everything he needs to know, and Dean narrows his eyes. “Hey, like you have any room to talk. You’re always dating a new girl like, every weekend.”

Dean rolls his eyes, not letting his brother’s aversion tactics rattle him.

Except…

Well, except he doesn’t have a date this weekend. There are tons of options, but he’s been too obsessed about this party tonight to really think of much else. “Your point is?”

Sam sighs, as if Dean is the one being unreasonable.

“Look,” Dean begins, “y’know I’m all for you dating around and gettin’ your jollies whenever you can get ‘em. I don’t even care that she’s my student as much as—” He stops, trying to word his caution carefully. “This chick just seems like bad news.”

“Yeah, well…” Sam starts walking towards the exit and Dean has no choice but to follow. “Thanks, but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll see where this leads.”

Dean scowls but says nothing else, and they naturally head in the direction of their favorite lunch spot. The Dionysus is also Dean’s preferred bar to get hammered, but he usually saves that for the twenty-one and up crowd. It’s a little bit of a walk, and the clouds are gray and threatening with rain, but the fresh air helps Dean reflect on how his first day teaching went. By the time they reach the divy spot and take their usual booth, ordering a club sandwich (Dean) and a cobb salad (Sam) he’s finally ready to swap first-week-back stories. His little brother has an ambitious schedule this semester, with over eighteen hours of coursework. In order to graduate on time with a double major in History of Magic and Magical Law, he’ll pretty much have to keep his nose in a book between now and Christmas.

“Happy first week back,” Jo chirps a few minutes later, sliding their respective entrées to either side of the table. Dean grins up at her, chomping on a french fry, but it burns the roof of his mouth and he ends up grimacing.

“Smooth,” Jo laughs, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. Eons ago, in the fall of his freshman year, Dean and Jo had nearly hooked up a time or two. But after so many years at Stanford, her and Ellen have become like family to him.

“Yeah, well, what’s it to you?” he grumbles, feigning annoyance as he wraps both hands around his sandwich.

“Nothing,” she says breezily, “just waiting for this weekend, to see which new girl you’ll be bringing ‘round for happy hour.”

Sam chuckles and Dean shoots them both an irritated glare. Usually his brother and his friends making jokes at his expense rolls right off his back, but today he’s feeling…aggravated. For instance, why the hell does everyone keep assuming he’s only interested in women? Him and Benny never made-out in front of them or anything, but they hadn’t been shy about their friends-with-benefits situation, either.

“Ash and I have a bet it’ll be a redhead,” Sam supplies, spearing lettuce onto his fork. “You didn’t hook-up with one at all this summer, so you’re clearly overdue.”

“Enough already,” Dean complains, no longer faking his irritation. “Why is everyone so obsessed with my freakin’ sex life? Obviously none of y’all got laid this summer.”

“Shots fired!” Ash shouts from behind the bar, and everyone laughs a little, even Dean. Jo leaves a moment later to go fetch the water pitcher, and Dean pointedly changes the subject, asking Sam how he likes his new roommate Brady. Sam rattles on about how he likes the guy but he seems a little smarmy, but Dean’s tuning his brother out a little. He keeps picturing him and Castiel grabbing drinks in this booth, having heated thesis meetings, one drink turning to five until their knees brush…

Keep it in your pants, Winchester. He can’t even let himself daydream about that happening, not even for a second. There are a million reasons why someone like Castiel would have zero interest in him, and he can name three right off the top of his head. One, he seems annoyed by Dean’s very presence, so uh, beyond hate sex, he can’t see them going down that road. Two, even though there aren’t any rules against it, he doubts someone like Dr. Novak would cross the student/teacher line, no matter how fucking gray they are with Dean being a professor, too. Three, dude’s got his PhD in Oxford and studies Dean’s specialization in his off-time for fun. No way somebody like that has any interest in a bonehead like him.

“There’s the look,” Sam says, interrupting Dean’s train of thought, and he blinks back into awareness.

“What look?” he asks, glancing away from the table and hoping to catch Jo’s eye. He needs a freaking beer.

“The, imagining-how-you’re-going-to-seal-the-deal-with-this-latest-conquest look.” Dean just squints his eyes—his brother had been talking too damn fast for any of that to make a shred of sense—and Sam rolls his eyes. “I’m saying you have a crush.”

“No I don’t,” Dean snaps, and Sam just points at him victoriously, grinning, and takes another bite of his salad.

Castiel walks across the lawn, careful to avoid the soggy puddles from the rain earlier in the day. The gothic hulk of the MacLeod residence looms ahead in the dim twilight, but the lights on the porch are so bright that he has trouble making out any of the details past gabled roofs.

He does notice the silhouettes of two security mages standing just in the shadows beside the porch, though. The third disappearance earlier in the week has rattled the college community again, after they’d let their guard down in the months since the others. Castiel isn’t sure how they’re going to get anyone to replace Professor Moore, if the wards aren’t enough to keep the faculty safe.

But he feels safe enough at the moment. This party has been weighing heavily on his mind, but he knows it’s his best chance to get to know some of the other teaching staff. He has already met Rowena MacLeod, the current president of the university, just last week before classes began. She'd seemed pleasant enough for a petite, Scottish dynamo—perhaps a little too interested in his life in Oxford—but she was happy enough to welcome him with a one-year adjuncting contract, and that suits his purposes for now. He only hopes he can live up to everyone's expectations of him now.

He goes to adjust his tie for perhaps the fifth time, only to remember again that Pamela had told him not to wear one, so he hadn't. Feeling dreadfully underdressed, he grips his plate of PB&J bars and steps up to the porch. He senses the spell on the door before he reaches it, and admires the simple detection component and the mechanical construct, designed to open the door at his approach.

Inside the entry the house appears empty, but he can hear voices from down the hallway. As he approaches what must be the kitchen doorway, he's nearly decapitated by a cork projectile, the loud pop giving him only a split second to duck.

“Whoopsie!” Rowena MacLeod stands in the middle of the room, dressed in a low-cut red dress and holding the offending bottle of champagne in one hand. She spies Castiel and her eyes light up. “Oh, goodness. Hello, Castiel.”

She adds what Castiel can only describe as an eyelash-flutter and a coy smirk, and he shuffles with discomfort, murmuring, “Hello.”

She looks away to pour a glass from the fizzing bottle, waving her spare hand around the kitchen as she speaks. “Help yourself to a drink, sweetie. Just leave your food there with the rest.”

He moves over to the table, nearly dropping his plate when Balthazar greets him with a heavy slap on the back. Castiel smiles weakly at the Magical History professor. They'd met a few years ago in Oxford, when Balthazar was visiting his alma mater. Castiel had found him intimidating then as a student, and as a colleague, his opinion hasn't changed much.

Balthazar picks up a bottle of wine and pours himself a generous glass, followed by a second without even asking Castiel. “What’ve you got here, Cassie?” he asks, eyeing off the plate Castiel has just placed on the table, next to a flat platter of butterfly cakes with fluttering wings, and a large tureen of soup that bubbles away, despite not being anywhere near a heat source. Castiel can sense the spell low inside the pot, though—he wonders if it's a new one of Ree Drummond’s. The Pioneer Woman is a genius, even if she must know someone on the inside at the Council to get her spells sanctioned so quickly.

Castiel looks back to his sad little plate of slices. “Oh, I'm not much of a baker, but this is an old family recipe.” He can't recall ever sharing something he's cooked with anyone apart from Meg, and she hardly ever let him when they lived together. He knows these will never be as good as Gabriel used to make for him. Hopefully no one gets violently ill.

“I'll make sure to leave room to try them later,” Balthazar says with an exaggerated wink. He hands Castiel the full glass of wine and inclines his head towards the door. “Shall we?” he asks with a grin.

As Castiel leaves the house, he can't help but draw a breath at the scene in the garden. Neatly-trimmed hedges frame a large space, hung over with trees with candles twinkling in the branches. People mill around a large firepit in the center of the lawn, chatting and laughing, and over it all, pleasant classical music plays.

Castiel descends to the path running across the lawn, wondering if anyone from his department has arrived yet. He's about to head over to under one of the trees, when another English accent says nearby, “Lovely evening, isn't it?”

Castiel turns to see a short, bearded man wearing a sharp suit and a smirk. The man continues, “Doctor Novak, I presume? Pleased to make your acquaintance. Fergus Crowley—although most just call me ‘Crowley’.” He presents his hand and Castiel takes it, surprised to feel a complete lack of magical energy surrounding him.

Castiel nods and smiles politely, replying with, “Of course. Nice to meet you.”

Alarm bells ring somewhere in the back of his mind. The name has sparked his memory—this man is a well-known lawyer, dealing with cases relating to offenses by lay magicians. Castiel had always assumed he was a mage, but it seems that's not the case—especially surprising, since Castiel was sure Fergus Crowley was the son of their very own university president.

“I believe I've read some of your papers on lay magic and society,” Crowley says, then takes a sip from the wine glass in his hand.

Castiel is taken aback for a moment. The people who have ever said they read his work…well, he can count them on one hand. He gives what he hopes looks like a pleased smile to Crowley, and replies, “Thank you. I'll admit, I've also followed quite a few of your cases. I found the one—maybe your most recent one?—where the lay magician was fighting for her inheritance? It was fascinating.”

Crowley closes his eyes and inclines his head in a sort of half-bow. “I do what I can. The people I represent are just that—people who work hard for their living. Why should they have to be specially chosen to practice their art?” Crowley stops, giving an apologetic grin. “My apologies, I'm forgetting your credentials on the subject. Are you working with the lay community in this area now?”

“No, I only just moved here a few weeks ago, at the start of the academic year.”

“Oh yes, of course.” Crowley pauses, giving Castiel an assessing look. “I heard about your little…stunt, you know. At Oxford? Very clever.”

Castiel is momentarily unable to breathe. The Academy had told him that witnesses had had their memory altered—a difficult undertaking for so many students and faculty, but easily within the abilities of Babbage's ruling council.

No one was supposed to remember it. But Crowley does. How?

Crowley takes in Castiel's face for only a few seconds and then continues, “Oh don't worry, I'm not going to tell anyone about it. But I have a little side project running with some local magicians that might interest you, and we could certainly use someone with your…skill set.”

Castiel recovers his voice long enough to mutter, “I'm sorry, I'm really not sure what you're referring to. If you'll excuse me, I need to speak with my colleague over there. Have a good evening.”

“Very well, I'll play,” Crowley smirks as Castiel turns away. “But I'll be in touch. Just think about it.”

Castiel hurries away, taking a large gulp of his wine as he goes. Finally, he spies Hannah standing near the trunk of one of the great trees, and it's only as he's near her side that he sees many of the rest of the Mechanikos faculty standing there as well.

He greets everyone distractedly then turns to Hannah, drawing her aside. She gives him a concerned look. “Castiel, are you well? You look like you've seen a ghost!”

Castiel spies a tuxedo-clad waiter wandering nearby with a bottle of red wine, so he drains the last of his glass and lets the man refill it for him. He waits until the waiter is out of earshot before he says, “Hannah, how much do you know about Fergus Crowley?”

Hannah's eyebrows raise as she sips at her own drink, something involving mint and lime in a tall glass. “Not a lot. He's Rowena’s son, but he didn't come to Stanford.” When Castiel didn't say anything in reply, she continued, “You were just speaking with him, weren't you? Have you met before? He's a lawyer, isn't he?”

Castiel stared at the thin grass around the base of the tree, flickering lights from the candles giving the appearance of an unsteady surface. “Yes, he's a lawyer, mainly dealing in cases defending lay magicians. He's just asked me to help him with something, but…I'm not sure I trust him. I'm sorry, that sounds bad, but I—”

“No,” Hannah interrupts, a hand on his arm. “If it doesn't feel right to you, just refuse!” She frowns. “What does he want help with, anyway?”

“I—” Castiel glances over at the rest of the circle, and his mouth goes dry as he sees a new arrival to the group—Dean Winchester. He's chatting to Missouri as though they're old friends—perhaps they are. But with the glass of something in his hand and a smile on his face, he looks so carefree and unfairly beautiful under the flicking candle light, and Castiel realizes he's been staring only after Hannah says his name for the second time. He drags his eyes away, knowing that this is Dean's chance to get to know the faculty better, to schmooze the professors if he wants to. It'll be better if Castiel stays out of his way tonight, as much as he might be drawn to his side.

“I heard you'd ended up with Dean this year,” Hannah murmurs, trying to surreptitiously look at Dean without actually looking at him.

“Yes, he's studying spell deconstruction.” He tries to keep his voice even, but he's not sure he's convincing Hannah.

She smiles at Castiel indulgently. “I didn't know you were into guys.”

Castiel blinks, then laughs awkwardly. “No, I’m not!”

“You sure? Because you kinda looked like you wanted to eat him.”

“Hannah! Come on, I’ve gotta get through a whole year of working with the guy!” Castiel says, mock serious but ending with a grin.

Hannah laughs, but mercifully asks, “So are your other students as distracting as Dean?”

As he tells Hannah about his workload for the year, he puts her comments out of his mind. He can’t be actually attracted to Dean, can he? Not like that. Not at all. The guy’s obviously a ladies’ man, a player.

He can’t get rid of a lingering spread of heat across his skin, though.

Earlier in the evening, Dean strolls down the cobblestone path on his way to the party, heading for the mansion's front steps. His fellow third year, Charlie Bradbury, hair long and bangs cut straight across, is wearing a graphic t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie. Dean’s opted for his best pair of jeans (otherwise known as, the pair with the least amount of holes) and a simple red flannel. It’s one of his casual date night outfits, which he doesn’t wanna read into, ‘cause he’s totally just here to schmooze his professors. All of them. Not singling any of them out.

“Dude,” Charlie grouses, elbowing him in the side, “you’ve barely let out a peep the whole walk over.”

“Uh, sorry.” He’s holding a home-baked apple pie in one hand, and with the other, he scratches absently at his face. “The dough didn’t set right.”

“Your crust is always ah-maz-ing,” Charlie says reassuringly. Dean just grumbles in reply, too nervous to take a compliment right now. Night is just on the horizon, and MacLeod Manor looks aggressively gaudy as always. Situated only a few hundred yards off-campus, it’s been a part of the university for centuries—the MacLeods being a foundational family in the creation of the school. Rowena has been the university president for longer than anyone can remember, and the rest of her family is full of provosts and beneficiaries and private business owners. They have deep ass pockets, to put it simply, and this level of wealth makes Dean uncomfortable. He’s lived paycheck to paycheck for his entire life, and is only affording school for him and Sammy thanks to scholarships and Bobby’s generosity.

He takes the steps to the front porch gingerly, not wanting to disrupt the solidity of his pie, and Charlie just holds her grocery sack of store-bought chips and dip with an amused expression. When he finally joins her, she goes to knock on the heavy oak door, but it flies open on its own. Dean can feel the gears of a spell in the air, and uses his free hand to grasp it lightly—it’s an open and close charm, though it’s arranged like an alarm system, only activated by the proximity of human footsteps. They stroll through the doorway together, Dean immediately struck by the shiny, gleaming hardwood, the grand marble staircase in the center. He’s never been inside the manor before and he’s trying really hard not to stare, but there are freaking pillars and fireplaces and trinkets that look more expensive than six months of his rent. He swallows, wondering how the hell he’s supposed to engage in banter and chitchat in a place like this…

But then Dr. Barnes rounds the corner, holding a large glass of red wine, and Dean sighs in relief. Oh yeah. Alcohol.

“This isn’t the famous pie?” Pamela gasps, draping a shawl casually over her shoulder.

Before Dean can answer, Charlie confirms, “Hell yeah it is.”

The both chuckle but Dean just squirms away uncomfortably. He doesn’t handle genuine praise all that well. “You sharin’ that wine?”

“Eager beaver, huh?” Pam waves them through a long hallway, the grad students trailing after her. She leads them to a kitchen with the biggest island Dean has ever seen, and he drools a little, imagining all the kickass dishes he could make if he wasn’t confined to his small oven. Every available surface is covered in casserole dishes and party-sized bowls, and Pamela says, “Just put your stuff down anywhere, then join us on the patio for a drink.” She takes a long sip of her wine and saunters through the sliding glass door. Charlie drops off her meager offering, then excuses herself to the restroom. Dean waits for her in the kitchen, not big on the idea of walking outside alone. He busies himself by examining all the potluck offerings, his stomach rumbling, and he snacks offhandedly to push through the boredom. One platter is filled with peanut butter and jelly bars, and he bites into one with enthusiasm just to discover that the baker used too much baking powder and not enough salted peanuts. His hands are moving quickly before he even registers what he’s doing, but really, what’s a simple component realignment when it’s all in the name of dessert? He makes his left palm flat, his right hand drawing out each ingredient, and then, he makes a few heavy-handed tweaks. He fixes the baking powder and the peanuts, but then adds in an extra quarter-cup of jelly and a teaspoon of vanilla. Then he bundles up his fingers tightly, releasing it back into his open palm, and feels the spell cast like a waft of perfume in the air. He sighs contentedly, settling back into his heels, and takes a nibble of the new and improved dessert.

Delicious.

“Ready?” Charlie rounds the corner, still shaking water from her recently washed hands, and Dean nods. He’s forgotten how much magic soothes him, makes him feel in-control and grounded, and he feels better already. The backyard is massive, and they head to the bar situated on the left. There’s even a bartender taking drink orders, holy shit, and Dean orders a double whiskey without a second thought. There’s an ornate firepit in the middle of the space with decorative plants strategically placed, the soft glow of candles floating in the trees. There’s a shit ton of seating scattered everywhere, but most people seem to be milling around and standing, plates of potluck fare and cocktails in their hands. There must be sixty people in attendance, and Dean logically knows there are a ton of departments on-campus, but some of these people he’s never even seen. They sip their drinks and scan the crowd. Dean is thinking very deliberately about not seeking out Castiel, when the host herself sweeps right up to them.

“Oh, welcome, welcome,” the petite redhead greets, wearing a cascading red dress and fiercely dark makeup. “You both look much too young to be professors.”

“We’re graduate students who teach,” Charlie explains, taking a long sip of her rum and coke, and introduces herself. “Charlie Bradbury, third year. I’m specializing in Magical Mediation and Information Technology.”

“Ooh, a rapidly growing field, I hear,” Rowena says conversationally, her accent thick. Her eyes wander over to Dean, looking at him appraisingly. “How about you, dearie?”

“I’m Dean Winchester.” He outstretches his hand and they shake pleasantly, though he can feel a buzzing undercurrent of magic on her skin. Rowena is a legendary mage, perhaps one of the strongest in the world, and he can feel power radiating off of her like an electrical charge. “Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Spell Deconstruction.”

Her eyebrows raise and their handshake lingers. “Are ya now?” Dean doesn’t know if she’s responding to his name or his specialization, but he just smiles tightly and nods. “Well, Mister Winchester, I am most impressed. I’ll have to keep an eye on you.”

She bops him playfully on the nose and swings her glass of champagne around, and Dean can’t believe the host and owner of this mansion is already half-sloshed by eight o’clock. They all laugh together anyways, and Dean finds that he likes Rowena, though he gets the feeling she’s harboring a fair number of secrets. Before he has too long to ponder the possibilities, Pam and Dr. Moseley are calling them over. Their department has created a loose semi-circle in the grass, and with a drop in his stomach Dean spots Dr. Adler leaned against a tree, sneering at him as he approaches. He reciprocates the attitude with a false, over-zealous grin and the professor narrows his eyes and wanders away, mumbling to Missouri about fetching more food.

Dean also notices someone else’s presence, a blue-eyed professor he’s been desperate to see…and desperate to avoid. Dean flicks his gaze over to Castiel, admiring him for the shyest of seconds. His hair is less messy than before, and he’s thankfully ditched the trenchcoat and is now sporting a blue button-up and a tight pair of jeans. He’s having a whispered, private conversation with another professor, a soft-spoken brunette that Dean knows is Dr. Hannah Milton, though he’s never taken any of her classes. Castiel is so good-looking and they’re speaking so secretively that it makes Dean’s stomach hurt, not to mention the fact that he apparently hasn’t even noticed Dean’s arrival. Being ignored like this makes him feel…pouty.

Damn. I’m pathetic.

He tilts the remaining whiskey between his parted lips, emptying the lowball glass without blinking. Charlie shoots him a quizzical look but says nothing, gossiping with Pamela about who had the audacity to microwave fish in the faculty kitchen earlier. Dean sets off to the bar and drinks his second whiskey, coming back to Charlie’s side holding his third, and is finally feeling properly warmed up and buzzed. Screw Castiel for not even saying hi, or looking in his direction, or acknowledging him at all. Who the hell cares?

Dean sure doesn’t.

He turns on the charm to everyone around him, asking Missouri how her granddaughter is doing. He listens with rapt attention as she explains how eighteen-year-old Patience is having difficulty during her senior year of high school, thanks largely to her psychic abilities, and Dean can’t necessarily emphasize—his powers took a lot of coaxing to actively appear—but he offers a sympathetic ear all the same. They eventually transition into a group conversation with Pamela and Charlie, with Castiel and Hannah maintaining their seclusion outside the group…but whatever. Dean’s holding it down just fine on his own. An hour later and on his fourth drink, he starts wandering around, becoming easy acquaintances with a few professors he’s seen in Theoris Hall. He overhears them commenting on the perfection of the apple pie, and that pretty much seals the deal on their new friendship. After a long conversation he ends up doing shots with one of them, a slender and colorful man named Balthazar, and he’s almost forgotten all about snobby ol’ Castiel and his apparent lack of interest in Dean when he turns around and sees…

Castiel.

Staring at him.

Balthazar has a hand clapped on Dean’s shoulder, and from their vantage point on the patio Dean spots blue eyes practically burning a hole through him. He turns his back quickly, not sure what even possessed him to check in Castiel’s direction, but now his cheeks are blushing from more than just the whiskey. A waiter in a tux comes his way, and he drops the empty shot glass onto the man’s tray with a sigh.

This is gonna be a long night.

Dean’s time at the party continues in a similar haze of drinks and idle chit chat, and he has stubbornly decided that he’s going to charm the pants off of everyone at this party except Castiel. Why is someone this smart playing a game this stupid? Who doesn’t just come up and say hi?

His plan to make Castiel jealous of all the fun he’s having works a little too well with one of the potions professors, Amara, who eyes Dean like a snack she wants to tuck inside her grocery cart. It’s nearly eleven o’clock now and the party is starting to wind down, a wave of responsible party goers beginning to take their exit, and Dean thinks he should probably switch to water soon when he takes a hard turn from the firepit and collides with…

Dr. Adler. The balding man regards him with open disdain at being bumped into, but when he realizes it’s Dean, he plasters on a patronizing grin.

“Have one too many there, Mister Winchester?” His tone is icy and Dean takes a step back.

“Nope,” he answers flippantly, “just wasn’t watchin’ where I was going.”

Adler smiles without a trace of humor. “You have a tendency to leap before you look. I hope you don’t bring that attitude with you into the classroom…you know we have professor evaluations at midterms. I’d hate for you to lose funding because you couldn’t maintain a professional demeanor.”

Dean’s heart is thumping angrily in his chest. Did this big bag of dicks masquerading as a professor really just threaten his job? He takes a large step forward, emboldened by the alcohol and the injustice of it all. “You know what I think, Doctor Adler?”

He says the word sarcastically, as if he can’t quite believe someone this goddamn horrible actually went to college for ten years just to bully his students around.

“What’s that?” Adler is smirking now, and there’s some definite “cat who caught the canary” vibes going on. Maybe he thinks Dean will regret telling him off, maybe he’ll get to fire Dean or kick him out of the program, but right now both of those consequences seem worth it.

“I think you’re—”

He feels a tug on his shoulder, a strong hand pulling him backwards, and a flash of blue eyes.

“Excuse us,” Castiel mutters, looking at Adler with an expression that Dean can tell is feigned apology, “I need to speak with my thesis student for a moment.”

His hand is still on Dean’s shoulder, and Dean feels frozen, some of the outrage bubbling under the surface beginning to fade. Because Castiel…he’s here, talking to Dean, saving him from saying something that’s potentially idiotic, and his hand is still pressing into the thin material of Dean’s shirt.

“Of course,” Adler replies tightly, his glare sweeping over them both, and then he turns and stomps away, heading back inside the manor. Dean lets out a breath the moment he’s out of view, turning around to face Castiel properly. After deliberately avoiding him all night, hoping to hide just how much he was dying to talk to him, it feels surreal to finally be alone together. Standing close. Just…

Staring.

“Uh, thanks,” he mumbles, not sure how much information to divulge. “Interrupting when you did, you probably just saved my ass.”

“Yes, well…” Castiel looks at him, his expression self-deprecating and droll. “It seems I have a habit of doing that.”

Dean knows he means taking him on as an eleventh-hour thesis student, so really, it’s sorta an insult…but he’s a pervert, and he can’t help but think that Castiel is talking about his ass. It might be in a highly metaphoric sense, but fuck, he’ll take what he can get.

“Yeah,” Dean says, sounding nervous, and Jesus, he’s screwing this up all over again. How come he can wine and dine fifty strangers, but can’t string two coherent words together around this particular guy? “So…you havin’ a good time?”

Castiel eyes him carefully, as if deciding how truthfully he’ll answer. “I’ve been to worse,” he says noncommittally.

“Ouch,” Dean mumbles. “Those Oxford parties must’ve been good. I’m imagining a maghony fireplace, some centuries-old scotch, and a bunch of smart dudes getting totally wasted and debating philosophy.”

He worries for a split second that he might’ve offended Castiel, but he breaks into a grin, the action looking as though he fought tooth and nail to cover up.

“Don’t you mean, ‘sloshed.’ ‘Pissed.’ ‘Off your trolley?’” Dean squints at him in confusion, so Castiel clarifies, “That’s what Meg would call it, being drunk. She’s adapted very well to British slang.”

A few thoughts occur to Dean. One, who the fuck is Meg? Two, is Castiel a little “sloshed” himself? He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to offer up details about his personal life so readily. He wants to ask both of these questions, but he doesn’t wanna scare his advisor away or make things awkward, so he asks vaguely, “You, uh, left a lot of people behind when you moved?”

“No,” Castiel replies honestly, but doesn’t elaborate. Dean wants to ask who the hell this Meg lady is, then, but for some reason navigating a conversation with Castiel feels like a freaking war zone. “What about you?”

“What about me?” They’re standing closer to the fire now, and Dean rolls the sleeves of his flannel, feeling immensely warm.

“Are you having a good time?”

Having his question repeated back to him makes Dean feel weirdly…fluttery. “Not bad,” he says, shrugging. “Made a few friends.”

“I see that.” There’s a slight edge to Castiel’s voice that Dean doesn’t understand. “Balthazar is an interesting man, but even I know that he has a—reputation.”

“Reputation,” Dean repeats blankly.

“Yes.” Castiel’s eyes bore into his openly, without a trace of discomfort. It’s such an intense gaze that Dean forces himself to look away.

“What does that mean?” He rolls up his sleeves even higher, actually sweating now, and Castiel watches the fabric being rolled up, up, up…

“He sleeps with his students,” Castiel reveals, his voice faint now. Dean shuffles closer to him, under the guise of not hearing him fully, but when their boots brush against each other he’s overwhelmed by a rush of adrenaline.

“Oh,” Dean respons lamely, too distracted by the lure of Castiel to think of a better response. He wishes the professor would put his hand back on his shoulder, would brush his elbow with his fingertips, would whisper something mischievous into his ear. “And that’s…” He swallows, and can’t help himself. He glances down at Castiel’s lips, all pink and plump and shiny, and he aches to close the space between them. “Bad.”

“Exactly.” The word comes out as a huff, and he may be dreaming it, but Castiel seems just as bothered by this conversation as Dean is.

“Glad we agree.” Dean’s voice is a dry rumble, and he’s no doctor, but he’s pretty sure his heart is beating at eight thousand beats per second. There’s tension between them, that much is fucking clear, but Dean can’t decide is if it’s the flirty, sexual variety. Maybe he’s just projecting his own fascination with the irritatingly gorgeous professor onto their interaction? Maybe Castiel really just thinks he’s a two-bit charmer who’s gonna let Balthazar go to town on him?

“Us agreeing is a first,” Castiel quips, and Dean chuckles. He opens his mouth again, not quite sure what the hell he’s gonna say next, but then his phone is vibrating violently in his back pocket. He reaches for it and frowns.

“One sec,” he tells Castiel, though he half-expects the professor to float away and leave, he doesn’t. But Dean is focused on Sam now, who’s slurring his words. Apparently he met “that chick from the water fountain” at a party and they’re both super wasted. Dean curses into the receiver, gets their street address, tells his brother to stay put. He’s only twenty, and Dean isn’t gonna risk Sammy getting arrested for public intoxication.

“Gotta go,” he says briskly, and Castiel tilts his head, almost looking worried. It’s a freaking adorable look and Dean hates that it has an immediate effect on him. “See ya Monday.”

He walks away in search of Charlie, saying a quick round of goodbyes to the rest of the professors, and tries not to think about what a long ass weekend this will ultimately prove to be.