Dean rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands and stretched, arching his back like a toddler waking up. "Feels like I've been sleeping for months."
Sam had hung up the phone, but his face still bore a rapt expression from the epiphany set off by Bobby's comment. Since there's no such thing as a scholar of demonic language.
"Sam?"Dean ran his hands through his hair, but it did nothing to tame the disheveled locks, jutting up from the athletic sex they'd just had, and long nap afterward. "What'd Bobby say?"
Sam shook his head to clear his thoughts. "It's complicated. I should tell everyone at the same time."
Dean scrutinized Sam's face to read his mood. Tightness around the mouth meant some bad news about Bobby and Katherine's progress on the notebook, but the expression in his eyes was hopeful, even excited. Nothing that Dean couldn't wait a few minutes to hear. "Ok. I'll call a meeting."
While Sam brushed his teeth, Dean called Juliane and Reggie. They finished dressing, and 15 minutes later, everyone was assembled in the common room.
Juliane brought over a tray bearing a mismatched set of mugs steaming with hot tea, peppermint for her, plain black tea for everyone else. Danny followed with a wooden bowl of shelled mixed nuts, and took a seat, brushing his salt-and-pepper hair off his forehead and popping a peanut in his mouth.
"How's Marcus?" Juliane blew on the hot tea, and took a sip.
Reggie accepted some tea, wrapping his large hands around the mug and holding it, as though all he wanted from the tea was its soothing warmth. "He's better." He didn't elaborate, but the lack of tension around his eyes that had been there ever since he'd carried Marcus into the Sanctuary was a welcome relief to everyone. "Eating again."
Juliane stirred sugar into her tea. "That's good."
Never one to turn down food, Dean grabbed a handful of nuts.
The log in the fireplace popped, sending up a spout of sparks. Sam filled them in on Bobby's phone call, the bad news about the notebook being a dead end, at least for the foreseeable future, and the faint hope of the lead Katherine had found in one of her reference books about tablets hidden in various places around the world. Including one tablet on the languages of the damned.
A tablet Katherine had referred to as a type of Rosetta Stone, that could be key to translating the demonic language Azazel used, key to figuring out Azazel's trick of locking demons in their vessels, so Sam and Dean could save them like they did with Rosier.
A tablet Bobby said they'd need some kind of archaeologist slash Hunter to track down.
At those words, Juliane sat bolt upright.
Sam laughed and slapped the table lightly with the palm of his hand. "I knew that would get you. I knew it."
She turned her chair to face Danny, chair legs making a harsh scraping sound on the floor. "You have a passport, right?"
His dumbfounded expression answered the question.
"Don't worry. We'll get you one." She turned her attention back to Sam. "Did he say where the tablets might be located? Any clues"
Sam thought back. "Norway. And Western France. And somewhere in the Middle East. Anyway, he's on his way back here, so he can tell you all about it."
"But what about the Sanctuary expansion?" Danny was confused.
"That's still happening. That would still happen." Juliane and Danny talked animatedly about how to balance their plans to expand the Sanctuary system nationwide, with patronage from wealthy donors, with this new path that had just been unveiled of going relic hunting.
Dean could sense that Sam hadn't revealed the most important part yet. The most important part to Sam, anyway.
"What else?" He gently guided Sam away from Juliane's distracting enthusiasm.
Sam squeezed Dean's knee under the table, acknowledging Dean's attentiveness to the other thing bursting within Sam, the thing he was dying to say.
"He said something else. Something important."
All eyes turned to Sam.
"He said that these tablets were our only real lead right now, since there was no such thing as a demonic language scholar." Sam paused, waiting for everyone to have the same realization that had struck him immediately.
No one reacted.
Reggie frowned. "Where are you going with that, kid?"
Sam leaned forward, palms slapping the table. "There's no such thing as a demonic language scholar—yet."
Dean tipped his head back, a huge smile creasing his face. "That's my boy."
"What?" Reggie still didn't get it.
"That's what I'm going to be."
Danny pursed his lips, thinking about the ramifications of Sam's decision. The long-term strategy of it. Like he were playing chess and calculating out twenty moves ahead.
Reggie looked at Sam quizzically."A scholar of demonic languages."
"Yes!" Sam leaned back in his chair. "He can tell you how good I am with languages." He nudged Dean with his elbow.
"Picks them up like it was nothing. He speaks Latin backwards and forwards—literally." Dean's eyes gleamed with pride in Sam's abilities.
"Look, I'm not bad as a Hunter. But compared to you or Dean, or Bobby or Dad—"
At the mention of that word, everyone had a sudden, urgent need to look at the fine wood grain of the table, or the steam rising from their mugs, or the flames sinuously lapping at the fireplace log.
Dean took Sam's hand, saying nothing. Not having to.
Sam took a deep breath, then pretended he hadn't said that name. He resumed talking as though nothing had happened, but Dean felt the wave of sadness that welled out of him like blood from a wound that had barely scabbed over. Felt it as vividly as if they shared the same nervous system. The same heart, broken in the exact same shape of an absent father.
"I'm not as good as you all at a lot of things. Probably never will be. But what I'm really, really good at is studying. Finding new connections. Making sense of things. Particularly linguistics. I can't ever be as good a Hunter as you." He eyed Reggie with a look of respect bordering on reverence. "And yes, I still have these powers, whatever they are. Whatever they're for. And that makes me unique, I guess. But I don't know what to do with them now. Maybe I was just meant to help kill Azazel. Stop his whole plan. And now, maybe all the psychic stuff, that'll fade. Go away completely."
Somehow, no one at that table thought that was going to happen.
Sam continued. "I can't hunt like you." His eyes fixed on Reggie. "Or strategize like you." He turned his gaze to Danny. "Or take care of people like you, or get millionaires to write checks, or run around like Indiana Jones all over the world tracking down tablets." His hazel eyes lingered on Juliane for a moment, then shifted focus to Dean. For a long moment, he said nothing, his gaze lingering on Dean like it would rob him of air to have to look away. "And I can't lead people like you." His gaze softened, mouth parting, seeing all the strength and charisma and light that drew everyone to Dean, made it so easy for them to give over to him as the only choice as general. "But what I can do, maybe better than anyone, is this. Since there isn't a scholar of demonic languages anywhere in the world, I'll become one."
Dean leaned back in his chair and watched Sam lie, to himself most of all. With enough time in the saddle, Sam could be every bit the hunter Reggie was. His mind was capable of understanding strategy and tactics to rival Danny. Nobody could take care of others like Sam, with his oceanic depth of compassion. His puppy dog eyes could get the most tightfisted miser to write a check with many zeros, and if he wanted to go full Indy, no relic would have a chance of staying hidden. And even if Dean hadn't witnessed Sam in full Boy King mode (remembering Sam with the demons, with Azazel. The power crackling off him.) the way he was holding everyone's attention at that table just with his quiet, honest words proved that Sam Winchester was a born leader.
This line of thought evoked a memory in Dean. A flash from the night Bobby came back to the Sanctuary, and a demon deliberately drove nearly head-on into him. Sam stretching his hand out, pushing a demon back with an invisible force before he could throw his knife at Dean's throat. The demon blood was gone from Sam now, but he still had at least some of his powers. Dean wondered idly how much he could still do.
He hadn't realized that Sam was watching him intently, a trace of worry in his expression because Dean hadn't said anything yet about his epiphany.
"I always said you were the brains of this operation." The pride and love on Dean's face couldn't have been clearer if he tattooed, "I love Sam Winchester and am so proud of him" in calligraphy on his forehead.
Sam's shoulders relaxed, releasing the tension he hadn't realized he'd been holding until Dean gave his approval. He gently twisted his silver ring on right ring finger, an unconscious gesture.
Instinctively and without thinking, Dean did the same with his ring.
"If that's what you want to do, Sam, we'll help you do it." Juliane leaned across the table and lightly touched Sam's wrist.
"Thinking of the long game. Good plan." Danny added.
"Sure is," Reggie uttered in his deep voice with the inimitable Western drawl. "But before you become a demonic scholar, kid, you better finish high school."
Sam laughed hard, dimples popping in his cheeks in a way that made him look his real age. Seventeen in just a matter of weeks. "Yeah. But that won't take long."
Sam looked so blissfully happy at having a plan that was just his, not what his dad expected of him or fate had laid out, that Dean could barely hold it together. Sam had found a way to weld the life he'd been forced into with what he loved to do. It was so perfect, Dean could cry. Instead, he ate a Brazil nut and played it cool.
Sam brought the topic back to the recap of the conversation with Bobby. "Anyway, so Bobby's gonna head back. He let Katherine make a copy of the notebook, and she'll keep digging."
"Any idea when he'll be here?" Reggie pulled a flask out of his pocket, tipped some whiskey into his tea, and finally took a drink.
"Two, three days. Why?"
"Because Marcus wants to make us dinner."
"That's nice of him." Danny took another handful of nuts.
"You have no idea." Reggie gave Danny a knowing smile. "That man can cook his ass off. This is gonna be good."
Reggie pored over the shopping list Marcus had drawn up for him. "Fennel seed, pork shoulder, balsamic vinegar, Mozzarella di… di boofalla…" His eyebrows shot up. "I don't even know what half of this stuff is." He waved the paper in the air helplessly. "You have to come with me."
So Marcus took a Vicodin and got dressed in outside clothes, Reggie retrieved Sam and Dean, who were eager to get out of the Sanctuary for a while. And off they went, with Danny's hand-drawn map to the new upscale shopping center (complete with a specialty Italian market run by a local family), armed with Sam and Dean's new Centurion card. "Get whatever you want, guys." Dean grinned, fingering the jet-black titanium card.
And they did. Marcus walked slowly through the shopping center making his selections, Reggie hovering at his side, never more than a few inches away from him.
At the regular, but upscale, grocery store, Marcus had the butcher grind up pork shoulder, beef chuck roast, and boneless beef ribs. He ordered a pound each of pancetta and bacon.
The dairy section yielded regular mozzarella (since fresh buffalo milk mozzarella was near impossible to find in Amarillo), provolone, and a generous wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano. "If it weren't the dead of winter and I could get my hands on fresh basil," Marcus sighed.) Still, he found plenty to buy in the produce section, heaps of onions and mushrooms, fat, shiny eggplant, actual flat-leaf parsley ("Thank god, not the curly kind," Marcus muttered), leathery sage, and sprigs of rosemary.
But the real destination was the specialty Italian market, filled with all sorts of jars and tins, with cured meat hanging from the ceiling. Sam and Dean ran around the store like little kids on a sugar rush, loading up their own cart with things that looked good, or weird, or that they'd never heard of before. "Hey, Marcus, is this any good?" Dean held up a jar of Ventresca Di Tonno.
"Tuna belly. It's delicious."
"Sold!" Dean ran back to Sam and set it into the cart with the rest of their consumable loot.
Marcus was visibly surprised at the extensive wine selection in the specialty Italian market, and became almost giddy when the proprietor, an older man with dyed black hair and pure-white eyebrows, began speaking to him in Italian. After an animated conversation complete with gesticulations and hearty laughter, Marcus selected a mixed case of various red wines, Prosecco and a bottle of Campari.
He made his way through the store, examining every offering and picking what he needed. Two types of olive oil ("One for cooking, one for drizzling."). A big bag of specialty white flour. Two dozen eggs. Several boxes of penne pasta. Four huge cans of San Marzano tomatoes. A loaf of fresh Italian bread. Purple-black Kalamata olives and plump, marinated green olives. A whole salami, wrapped in white paper. Jars of roasted red pepper and pepperocini. Fennel seed and dried oregano. A bag of whole black pepper and a fancy pepper grinder. Dried cannellini beans.
Next, they went to the Macy's housewares section, where Marcus stocked up on kitchen implements. A sheet pan, a proper chef's knife. And a massive, round ceramic baking dish.
Dean stared at it, and back up at Marcus. "What the hell are you even making?"
Marcus winked. "Something special."
Back in the apartment in the Sanctuary, Marcus got to work immediately. "Bobby won't be here till Friday, you know." Reggie put away the ingredients Marcus hadn't shoved to the side for his immediate use.
Marcus poured olive oil into a sauté pan. "Real Italian food takes days, babe." Other than a bit of stiffness in his movements, Marcus looked like nothing had happened to him, happy and comfortable in his skin. Reggie sat at the kitchen counter nursing some exquisite Bourbon, enjoying the show of Marcus cooking.
"See, a ragù needs to cook slowly, and sit overnight at least, to let the flavors marry. Same thing with meatballs." Marcus chopped onions with the rapid-fire knife skills of a chef, sautéed them until they popped and jumped in the pan and turned a gentle golden-brown, and added them to a saucepot where the San Marzano tomatoes were already simmering. He cut half the loaf of Italian bread into slices and put it on a plate with a shallow bowl of the more expensive of the olive oils, and set it on the kitchen counter. "This is for us. Eat. Oh, and wine." He gestured towards the cardboard box in the living room. "Get the one that says Chianti Riserva."
They drank wine and dipped the bread in the clear green oil, grassy and peppery and delicious, eating it and licking the drops of oil that ran down their fingers.
Marcus thrust his hand into what remained of the loaf, pulled out the soft white center and dropped it into a bowl with a generous pour of buttermilk. With Marcus's hands covered in wet bread, Reggie took the opportunity to slip behind him and nuzzle the back of his neck with his soft moustache. "What's that for?"
Marcus leaned into Reggie, and squished the bread into the buttermilk, rubbing the softening crumb with his fingertips to break it apart. "It's, um… it's called a panade."
"Yeah? What's it for?" Reggie asked softly, his mouth at the nape of Marcus's neck.
"Um, it's to, uh, keep the meatballs tender."
"Ah. I see." Reggie brushed his mouth over the outer edge of Marcus's ear. "Well, you just keep doing what you're doing. And I'll help."
Reggie tore off a chunk of bread and dipped it in the olive oil. "Since your hands are busy…" He brought the bread to Marcus's mouth.
Marcus opened his mouth and let Reggie feed him. He made a soft sound of pleasure that made Reggie shiver. He hadn't heard Marcus make that sound since before the night he went away and left Marcus unprotected.
"Yes, please," Marcus said, hands still working the bread and buttermilk into a smooth paste. Reggie, still standing behind Marcus, brought the wine glass to Marcus's lips, and he drank from it. Then he tipped his head back onto Reggie's shoulder, baring his throat.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" Reggie's voice resonated deep and low in his ear. He brought his hands up, the left lightly touching Marcus's stomach, the right pressed over his heart.
"Um…" Marcus swallowed hard.
"Maybe…" Reggie paused, a hint of shyness creeping into his voice. "Maybe what you did for me before."
Marcus's breath caught in his throat.
"Your choice." Reggie kissed the side of Marcus's neck. "I just want to make you feel good. Whatever that means for you right now."
"Yes." Marcus didn't have to think about it long. The demon could have killed Marcus, but he left him alive on purpose, returning Marcus to Reggie broken and brutalized, tormenting Reggie every time Marcus had to push him away or endure sex that either triggered vivid flashbacks to his rape or made him feel numb and dead inside. But Sam had saved him. Gone into his mind (soul) and washed away the darkness the demon forced into him. Because of Sam and Dean, Marcus had very little left of the deep psychological trauma from his assault. And the comforting scents he knew so well from childhood in his mother's kitchen hung thick in the air, the sweet, fruity scent of simmering tomatoes underpinned by the earthy, caramelized scent of garlic and onions, bypassed his conscious mind. Sang to him about being loved. Warm. Safe.
"Yes," he repeated. "I want you to."
Reggie gently turned Marcus around to face him. Marcus wiped his hands clean on a towel, and started to move toward the bedroom.
Reggie knelt in front of Marcus. "Here." Not in a bed, with Marcus on his back. Marcus standing tall, in control, with Reggie on his knees taking what Marcus chose to give him.
"Oh," Marcus whispered. And there in the warmth and light of the kitchen, filled with his favorite scents, Reggie took Marcus into his mouth, and showed him how well a man could love another man.