Dean honestly can't remember the last time he genuinely surprised himself. Sure, there was that time he finally managed to bed that redhead he'd been chasing for the better part of a month before suddenly deciding that actually, once he'd got her between the sheets, she wasn't all that, and he'd kicked her out before he'd even gotten off. That hadn't been his usual routine. He'd more than made up for that since, though.
No, this is in a different league. He feels a bit funny about himself, truth be told. That's probably why Jo is looking at him like he's just sprouted a second head or started raving about how much he loves Selena Gomez and Mini Coopers. Well, she'll have to look for a bit longer. Dean hasn't finished taking in the guy behind her yet, browsing the books in the Classic Literature section.
He definitely isn't Dean's type. The 'he' is a major factor in that. Dean doesn't go for guys. He doesn't have a problem with people who do, or anything like that. If some guys like the thought of doing that with other guys then, well, good luck to them. Dean can tip his metaphorical hat to them and move onto the leggy blonde nearby. No, he's not some sort of closet homophobe or anything like that. He just likes women. He likes their long legs and their soft hair and lips and their smooth skin and the way they like him. He just doesn't swing the other way.
Which doesn't really explain why he finds the guy behind Jo so fascinating.
He's not wearing anything particularly flamboyant or anything like that, and he doesn't have a tail or an extra leg. He just looks like an ordinary guy of about Dean's age – which explains why he's in the college library – if a little more intense than Dean's used to. He's wearing some weird kind of long, beige coat, which does strike Dean as slightly odd considering it's warm in here even with the air-con turned up full blast, and he looks like he hasn't even heard of a comb. Dean finds him to be entirely greater than the sum of his parts.
Jo waves her hand in front of Dean's face.
"Earth to Dean?" she says. "Is Kim Kardashian behind me or something?"
Too late, Dean realises she's going to turn around and see Messy Hair Guy, and he's going to be busted.
Jo does indeed turn around, and wolf-whistles.
"All right, Dean, I understand how you could be enjoying the view! I mean, he's wearing a different sort of undergarment to your usual type, but - "
"Shut up, Jo," Dean mutters, flushing a horrible shade of crimson. He picks up the Psychology textbook from the table and pretends to flick through it, but he can't stop his eye from wandering to behind Jo again. Of course Jo notices, the bitch, and she laughs again, grabbing his face in her hands.
"Dean, if you help me finish reading this chapter, I will personally go over there and ask him if he thinks you're fuckable," she says. Dean shoves her away from him and she lets out a piercing shriek of laughter. If Messy Hair Guy hadn't noticed them acting like morons before, he definitely has now.
"Shut up, Jo," Dean repeats, this time angrily, and to her credit, Jo does. She leans back in her chair, arms folded, and regards him carefully, one eyebrow raised. Dean hates it when she does that.
They sit in stalemate for a few seconds, eyes locked, unmoving. Unsurprisingly, Jo cracks first.
"OK, OK, fine. I'll stop pestering. But I'm also going to point out that I'm absolutely desperate to use the bathroom, and I'm probably going to take a very long time, time which you can either use to revise shit you already know or to go over there and get that guy's number."
Dean takes a couple of moments to process what she's suggesting between the things that make him want to throw up, and before he can protest or thank her she's already left him there like a blushing idiot and oh God, Messy Hair Guy is definitely looking now. He's got a really intense stare that makes Dean feel a bit like his soul is being examined thoroughly, and his eyes are stupidly blue. Seriously. Dean thinks they'd be classed as 'Heavenly Azure' on one of those DIY store colour charts. He immediately wants to wash his brain out with bleach for thinking something so girly. He feels like he'll start growing a womb any second, and resolves to fix up a car or three when he gets home to make up for it.
First, however, he's got a mission to complete. His track record with women isn't bad. It's not 100%, sure, but whose is? He reckons that even Johnny Depp's probably been turned down once or twice. He cautiously thinks about Johnny Depp naked, and shudders at the image. Right, that's sorted then. He hasn't suddenly become gay overnight. Which doesn't explain why his pulse starts quickening like he's the heroine with the heaving bosom in one of Sam's prissy French novels when he glances up and sees that Messy Hair Guy is still regarding him with a look of friendly curiosity.
Dean is just pretending to read some boring Psychology paper, gathering together the last scraps of resolve he has left to go up to this guy and actually start a conversation, when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He looks up and almost shits himself when he sees that Messy Hair Guy is standing in front of him, so close that it's obvious he has some kind of weird reverse personal space issue, looking down at him like he's an exhibit in a museum.
Dean clears his throat.
"Can I help you?" he asks, and congratulates himself on managing to get actual words out, in English, which is a pleasant achievement.
"Yes," says Messy Hair Guy. "I would like to see what you are reading."
Dean thinks his life might be a deleted scene from a cable TV sit-com, but goes with the flow.
"Erm," he says eloquently. Messy Hair Guy does that thing with his eyebrow again and Dean's heart reacts in the same way as before. He gestures towards the chair in which Jo had been sitting. "Sit down, then. I don't think you'll be interested in this shit, though. Christ, I'm studying it and I don't find it interesting."
Messy Hair Guy takes the seat, and close up, from this angle, Dean can see that actually, in a really weird way, he's totally Dean's type. He's got cheekbones you could slice your hand on, for a start. He's just a bit shorter than Dean, which Dean's always found is the perfect height for coupley things like hugging; all the things he'd do if he were, you know, a girl. Then Dean realises that a short time has passed and neither of them has said anything, so he picks up the Psychology journal he was pretending to read and hands it to Messy Hair Guy.
"Here," he says, doing his best impression of Captain Obvious. "It's sort of interesting, I guess, if you're into that sort of thing, which I am, because I'm doing my Psychology Masters. It's all about the relationship between childhood and adulthood friendships and the different dynamics you have between kids who say they're best friends and adults who actually are, y'know? Like, kids have three best friends in a week, whereas Jo – she's the one you might have noticed with me a few minutes ago, the one with the really annoying laugh – has been my best friend for ages, and I'd probably do just about anything for her. But yeah, it's quite a good read, really, especially if - "
"I have a confession," says Messy Hair Guy. "I did not approach you with any intention of discussing your reading material."
"O-oh?" Dean chokes out, worried he sounds like an emphysema patient but lacking the brain power to do anything about it.
"No. As a matter of fact, I had noticed that you were not alone. You clearly have friends here. I am new to this area – I transferred to this college from another just last week – and have not yet had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of anyone I particularly care for. You seemed inherently approachable. I am sorry for the deception."
It takes Dean a good ten seconds to process everything that this guy is saying to him, but when he thinks he's got the gist, he manages to respond.
"Wow," he says. "Did your mother fuck a Dictionary or something?"
Messy Hair Guy does not respond; merely looks flatly at Dean. Dean swallows down the lump in his throat.
"Err, anyway, yeah. I guess I'm not unpopular," he continues. "I mean, I'm hardly Miss Congeniality, but I can introduce you to some cool people if you want."
"That would be amenable," agrees Messy Hair Guy. "My name is Castiel, by the way. I recognise that I could have made that apparent earlier in our acquaintance."
"It's fine," says Dean, feeling a bit dizzy. Talking to this guy is a bit like speaking to someone in a foreign language you studied at high school; he essentially knows what he's saying but doesn't get all the words. "I'm Dean."
"It is nice to meet you," says Castiel, and bless him, he holds out his hand for Dean to shake. He leans in conspiratorially. "If I am honest, you are the first person I have met so far whom I do not believe to be beyond help, psychologically speaking."
Dean splutters in a vain attempt to hold his laugh in. He's not sure whether Castiel intended for that to be hilarious, but he sees a faint smile quirk on his lips, so he thinks he's safe. He's suddenly hit by a flash of inspiration and grabs the Psychology journal, fishing around in his jacket pocket for a pen. Castiel narrows his eyes in confusion as Dean scribbles something down on the back of the journal, puts his pen back in his pocket and hands the journal to Castiel, who squints to read Dean's embarrassing scrawl.
"My number," Dean explains apologetically. "You know, my friends and I usually hang out at the café on campus at lunch, around one-ish. You're welcome to come with, if you want."
"Would your friends mind?" asks Castiel, and Dean feels a pang of sympathy for this guy who, despite looking a bit like a male model, is clearly the most socially awkward person on the planet.
"Nah, they'll be cool with it," says Dean. "Fresh meat and all."
It's obvious that Castiel has no idea what Dean's on about, but it's all right because he's studying Dean's number carefully, and Dean's pretty sure that he's going to see him tomorrow and make even more references that confuse the heck out of him.
By the time Jo comes back, Castiel's left to find some book on Medieval German architecture and Dean's grinning like a special, so much so that when Jo sees him she rolls her eyes and proclaims that he's a lost cause. Dean kind of agrees.
The café on campus isn't anything fancy, just overpriced coffee in flimsy polystyrene cups, but it pretends to be. Dean consequently always feels like a bit of a douche whenever he's in here, sitting on one of the faux-leather sofas and drinking a muddy black coffee that could be tar or next month's rent money. If it weren't for his friends, there's no way he'd come in here. Ever.
Today, the troops have rallied – well, of course they bloody have, Jo's told them all about Dean's new friend, although thankfully she's left out the part where he was practically drooling over the guy – and Dean is joined not only by Jo, but by Dean's brother, Sam, and Sam's girlfriend of the month, this time a rather scantily clad girl called Meg, who looks a little like she could eat all of their souls for breakfast and still be hungry. Dean loves her immediately. It's a shame she's Sam's age and therefore barely out of diapers (well, nineteen) or Dean would probably have already made a move by now. He's not proud of it.
Castiel is late. At least, Dean thinks he's late. He never gave him an exact time to be here, did he? He just said they'd all be here at about one. It's half one now, and Dean is starting to get that familiar itching feeling of being stood up. It's not a feeling he particularly relishes.
"So, where is this guy, Dean?" Sam asks, right on cue. Dean shrugs.
"How should I know?" he replies. "I'm not his babysitter."
"Stop being a jerk," says Sam, looking disgusted.
"Stop being a little bitch, then," retorts Dean.
"Children, children. Play nicely," interrupts Jo.
"Hello," says Castiel, and Dean curses God that he has to make a complete dick of himself every time this guy is within a fifty foot radius.
"Cas!" he exclaims, almost falling off the sofa in his attempt to make room for his new friend. Castiel looks perplexed as he sits down.
"No-one has ever called me that," he muses.
"Sorry," Dean says, blushing.
"I quite like it," says Cas, smiling at Dean and making Dean want to simultaneously jump on top of a mountain and sing songs from High School Musical and crawl into a hole and die.
Meg clears her throat. Cas starts.
"Guys, this is Cas," Dean says, putting his hand on Cas' shoulder and trying to look ironically sincere. Cas just looks worried. "He's new here."
"Hi, Cas," his friends chorus. Dean realises they've planned this and he wants to kill them all.
"You're all comedians, really," he says, and Sam flicks a marshmallow at him.
"I do not understand the joke," Cas states. Dean wants to slam his own head on the table but realises that this would be socially inappropriate, so he settles for looking at Jo, his eyes clearly stating 'if you remark on that, I will tell everyone that you once fucked a Mormon'. She doesn't say anything.
Sadly, Meg does.
"So, Cas. What are your intentions with our Dean?" she asks, smugly. Sam prods her in the elbow. Cas looks confused.
"I do not believe I have any," he replies. "Although if he were to intend to buy me a coffee, this would be amenable."
Meg bursts into laughter, and Cas looks incredibly pleased with himself, offering his already trademark half-smile to Dean. Dean can't believe how this is panning out. If he's honest with himself, he'd half expected Cas to immediately hate his friends and leave. Instead of trying to actually rationalise events, he nods dumbly and gets up to buy Cas a coffee. He has to sort of awkwardly walk over Cas, which makes Jo almost keel over trying to hold back her laughter.
He stumbles over the coffee order; he has no idea what Cas likes, and what the hell is the difference between a caramelised mocha with extra shots of mint and chocolate and a grande soya latte with reduced cream anyway? Eventually, he opts to buy a regular filter coffee, figuring that Cas can gay it up with sugar and cream if he so chooses, and heads back to the table.
The confusion was totally worth it, he realises, when Cas sees that Dean has actually bought him a coffee. He beams like he's just been given the moon and immediately proclaims that he would like to meet Dean's friends here every day. Dean grins and tells him that there won't always be free coffee. Castiel just raises one eyebrow knowingly.
Jo doesn't take her eyes off them the entire time.
By the time Dean gets back to the flat, he's genuinely exhausted. His ribs ache from laughing so much. He thinks the cherry on the top of the cake was when Meg started talking about some shitty crime drama on NBC and Cas had stared at her blankly for at least fifteen minutes before asking her to repeat the entire story as he'd been contemplating the statistical probability of Sam's hand actually falling off from stroking her neck for so long. Dean would feel guilty about laughing but Cas seemed perfectly happy to be the centre of the jokes, leaning back in his seat and clasping his mug in between his hands like he was afraid to drop it.
Jo looks at him as he sits on his worn sofa, puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head to the side. Dean shrugs.
"What?" he asks. Jo looks at him pointedly.
"Dean," she says. "Are you planning on telling me what's going on with Cas, or are you going to keep treating me like an idiot?"
Dean finds the remote control under the sofa cushions and flicks the TV on.
"Nothing's going on," he replies, and it's completely true. The overly bronzed woman on the television starts going on about Lady Gaga's latest fashion faux-pas, and Dean tries very hard to find her attractive, but he can't help but notice that her eyes are brown, not X-ray blue, and her hair isn't the right shade of black.
"Dean," Jo says again. Dean makes a point of ignoring her. He doesn't have to talk about this right now.
Jo apparently has other ideas. Suddenly, she lunges at him, grabs the remote control from his hand and turns the TV off. Dean is too shocked to respond in time. She throws the remote onto the opposite chair, out of Dean's reach, and sits on the coffee table in front of him.
"We are talking about this," she continues. "Whether you like it or not."
Dean folds his arms and grumbles, sinking into the couch. He's well aware that he's acting like a child but is finding it hard to care.
"Fine," he mumbles. Jo sighs and leans forward, placing her hands on Dean's knees.
"Look," she says. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about."
"I'm not embarrassed," says Dean, defiantly. "Mainly because there's nothing to be embarrassed about."
"I'm not a moron, Dean. Unlike you, apparently."
Dean has had about enough of this already. He just wants to go into the kitchen and eat pie until Sammy comes home, have a tearful and unsatisfying wank with the image of Cas' eyes fresh in his mind and go to bed, and probably dream of trenchcoats and dry humour.
"Dean, if you looked at everyone you met the way you look at Cas, you'd be in debt from all the child support," she pushes.
"I probably already should be," Dean retorts. "Seeing as I've had sex with so many women due to my heterosexuality."
"Dean!" Jo exclaims, exasperatedly. "You don't have to play the hard man in front of me, you know. I've seen you drunkenly cry over the fact that Adam Lambert didn't win American Idol. I think I can cope with the admission that you might – just might – have a bit of a man crush."
Dean perks up at that. He can deal with a man crush. Every guy gets those from time to time. If anything, it's a sign of latent masculinity; the ability to appreciate the awesomeness of another man without wanting to bone them. It's totally normal. That's what this is. A man crush. That'll work for Dean.
"Or, of course, you might have, you know, an actual crush."
"Which is fine, by the way - "
"It is NOT fine, Jo," Dean snaps. "And it's not what this is either, so back off, please."
Jo raises her hands in a mock gesture of surrender.
"OK, fine. I don't have time for this, and y'know, refusing to talk about something and burying your fucking head in the sand always makes everything ten times better," she says, bitterly, and before Dean can apologise or ask her to stay a bit longer, she's grabbed her bag and swept out the door. That's what Dean gets for having such a tiny apartment.
That could have gone better, all things told.