If he weren't so anxious to get to his science lab, Dean Venture would have given in to the panic attack threatening to choke off his airway.
He wasn't exactly afraid of leaving the Compound and attending MIT; it was the sheer size of the campus that was currently freaking him out.
Stay calm, Deano, he thought to himself as he hurried across the campus. If you keep power walking, you'll make it with minutes to spare! He kept up the pep talk as he entered the Science Lab and climbed the risers to the back of the class. He plunked down happily next to a guy with three rings in his ear and a 'USA out of Everywhere' sweatshirt.
"Hi!" he chirped.
The guy opened one blood-shot eye, grunted, and tilted his head back, resting it against the wall behind them. In two seconds, the guy was out like a light.
Dean shrugged cheerfully. He'd ask the guy if he wanted to borrow his notes later; his Pop had told him that that was the way to make a friend. He turned his attention to his professor, who began a very extensive discussion about paradox theories.
He absorbed every single offered word, scribbling the margins of his notepad full to the edges. When the bell rang he rushed up to the professor to offer his profound thanks for the experience.
Professor Thompson clearly thought Dean was crazy, but he was attentive, and so he already liked him.
Dean strode across the campus, whistling to himself, his stride firm and confident. Nothing was going to get him down today, by golly! Not if he had anything to say about it!
Two seconds after he formulated that thought a black-clad elbow checked him to the ground. Dean ate the pavement, his nose scraping against a broken Michelob bottle as his forehead collided with a metal trash can.
He rolled over in time to see a pink three-headed dragon looming over the campus, setting students aflame or turning them instantly into a pile of cinders.
Dean heard himself screaming but his voice simply didn't carry in the hysteria enveloping the quad. Under all of the noise Dean heard an eerie drone, a sort of chanting. He flung a panicked look to the right and his jaw dropped open.
It was her.
Triana Orpheus hadn't changed much in the ten years that had passed since he'd seen her; she'd filled out a bit, gained a bit of weight in the face – her dark hair was longer, but her gothic dress remained the same. He stared at her gigantic boots as a violet light enveloped her.
"ZATARA!" she bellowed, the light projecting from her body in a solid beam. The dragon, utterly confused, stood still, absorbed the blast and was sliced in half.
Dean stared, open-mouthed, at the pile of fricasseed dragon. He looked up at Triana as the light surrounding her receded, fading away.
She reached for him. "I hope this isn't gonna be too weird."
Dean sat on a purple milk crate at the foot of his bed, watching Triana stalk the length of the room.
Triana stopped, shrugged, and began, "in case you didn't know – that was a Guild shapeshifter."
"Oh," Dean frowned. "I kinda hoped it was a contact high from the dude sitting next to me."
Triana shook her head. "They're targeting you. Brock's taking care of Hank while he goes through basic training."
"The OSI sent you?" Dean asked.
"Sort of. I'm a low-level operative with them now." She self-consciously brushed her bangs out of her face. "But I'm full-fledged Triad now."
"You really CAN do magic." Dean sounded completely enchanted.
"Yeah," she sat down on the opposite side of the bed, putting distance between them. "Why is this so weird?" she mumbled to herself.
"My whole LIFE is weird," Dean complained.
Tri knew. They shared a quick, uncomfortable glance of understanding. "Uh, so…I'm going to have to stay here with you – I can sleep on the floor…"
"Are you crazy? I'd feel like a huge creep!" He jumped off of the bed and offered it to Triana. "Milady?"
She couldn't help but smile at him. "I'd feel bad," she said. "But…if you'd like to go out for some pizza…"
Dean picked up his coat and draped it over her shoulders – that she accepted willingly. "I'll teach you about quantum mechanics," he offered, wedging his foot into the doorstop. "It's not hard – we'll use donuts for infinity symbols."
Triana shook her head. "This is so weird," she repeated beneath her breath.
It wasn't supposed to feel this right.