Sam hasn't been Nugget for a good while when Zombie starts telling The Stories. He's simply outgrown it. Nugget was a five year old boy; a nugget of a human, even less of a soldier. Now Sam has grown – up and sideways, and in all the ways a human boy can grow. His shoulders are broad, his stomach flat, his hips trim, his legs strong.
So he shrugged Nugget off and became Sam.
At first, when Zombie and Ringer and Evan Walker came back, and Cassie didn't, when they came back and Ringer started calling him Sam, made everyone else do it because she'd promised Cassie, he'd raged against it. Refused to react to anything but his nom de guerre, unless Zombie was adressing him in his Sarge voice. Zombie hated doing it even then, and Sam was viciously pleased about making him do something he hated. Zombie was trying to do the same to him, after all.
But Megan had always called him Sam, and when Evan Walker tried to be gentle and call him “Nugget” as he'd asked for, it felt like a transgression. Ringer just didn't take anyone's shit and if Sam didn't react to the name she was calling him, it was his problem. Sam was fighting a losing battle. He knew it even then, but if there's one thing this whole shitshow had taught all of them it's that losing a battle is just not acceptable, so you keep fighting until the very bitter end.
The bitter end comes with screwed-shut eyes and the wispiest tuft of hair, a wrinkled face and clenched-tight fists.
“Would you like to hold her?” Zombie asks, and Nugget shakes his head, but Zombie puts her in his arms anyway; positions his hands so he cradles her tiny head correctly and the weight of it won't snap her own neck.
“Cassie, this is Sam,” Zombie says. Nugget flinches away from the name, but he can't flinch away from the tiny human in his arms. “He's going to take care of you as well.”
It must be a coincidence, but in that moment baby-Cassie opens her eyes and blinks at him. Her eyes are brown and bottomless, and when Nugget comes back up from their depths, he knows he's been baptised anew. He's Sam now. Doesn't mean it doesn't take a long time for him to feel truly at home in that name, but to baby-Cassie at least, he'll be Sam. Always.
It's also that day when Ringer becomes Marika.
Baby-Cassie cries, and Zombie takes her back and shushes her, pats her bottom, and then carries her into the bathroom without even making a face. Ringer watches them from where she's still lying in bed, exhausted even with the 12th system helping her, and Sam goes to stand by her side.
“Are you okay, Marika?” he asks, because looking at her now, knowing that baby-Cassie came from inside her, it seems like the only thing to call her. Ringer isn't baby-Cassie's mom, Marika is.
Marika smiles at him. It's barely there, but it seems to fill the room at the same time. Then she takes his hand.
“I'm good, Sam,” she says.
Now, he's been Sam for years – well, Sam to family. To Evan Walker even, when he comes to visit them sometimes. To everyone else he's Samuel.
Just Samuel at first and then, when people start picking last names, family names, right around the time Zombie starts telling The Stories, Samuel Jackson. Megan became Megan Parish, took Zombie's civilian name without asking. She'd been calling him 'daddy' for a lot longer than she's worn his name, so it only makes sense. Marika and baby Cassie became Parishes as well. They're the only family any of them can imagine.
They're Sam's family as well, but he remembers his name from before, Samuel Jackson Sullivan. Mom made him memorise it, before, along with their address and her and dad's phone numbers. In case anything happened.
When Zombie starts telling the story of Cassiopeia Marie Sullivan, the larger-than-life saviour who inspired one of Them to return to Us and then blew up the ship to return the sky to us, he can't be that. He can't be brother to Cassiopeia Marie, and she can't be his sister. Sullivan became the name of the town they've founded, once they settled down and enough people joined them to warrant their settlement being named, so that's not his name anymore, and it's not really his sister's either.
His sister is Cassie, just Cassie, and he remembers her. Not much from before, other than what he's sure is a fake memory of that time she told him about, chasing the rainbow, but he remembers her from after. From the war. He remembers how easy it was to hate her when he was sure she would always be there, even after Mom and Dad had died. She'd found him at Camp Haven, after all, hadn't she? If she could do that, there wasn't anything that could take her away, was there? He'd neglected, of course, to consider that she might give herself away.
But he remembers her. And as much as the stories about their saviour and stellar protector Cassiopeia delight the kids, that's not how Sam remembers his sister; not how he wants to remember his sister. The story of the queen upside down on her throne to watch over them may have been invented to comfort him originally, but it's not for him anymore. Cassie still is. So even though Zombie gently offers his name, Sam declines and becomes Samuel Jackson instead. Not a Sullivan, bot not quite not either.
Zombie takes the longest to turn into Ben. It's years before he does. Sam can't explain it, but there's a part of him that can't let go of his Sarge, can only seem to think of Zombie as that, even when Zombie so clearly wants to think of himself of anything but that.
It's an accident, when it happens. Sam doesn't even notice it right away. Zombie and he are arguing about Sam joining a recon mission; they've gotten wind of a new settlement starting up about sixty miles north, and they need to know if they're fifth wavers, reformed, survivors, or something new. The story of Cassiopeia Marie has spread, Evan Walker is seeing to that on his endless quest, and some fifth wavers come to their senses by themselves. Some need more convincing. They need to know who these people are, settling down so close to them. Sam wants to go, Zombie doesn't want to let him.
“I'm fifteen! I'm going!” Sam says.
“You're not going, and that's final,” Zombie says, pulling the Sarge voice out in his frustration. It's old, and dusty, but a part of Sam snaps to attention. The rest of him snaps at Zombie, because Sam hasn't been Nugget for a long time, and it's Nugget who followed Zombie around like a loyal dog.
“Fuck off, Ben, you're not my dad. You don't get to tell me what to do anymore,” Sam says.
Zombie flinches the tiniest bit, and Sam feels a little bad. Zombie isn't his dad, but he is something like an older brother. He took care of Sam at least. Raised him, basically.
Marika looks at him with curious eyes when he passes her on the way out, slinging his backpack onto his shoulder.
Will, two years older than him, and probably Sam's best friend, even if that title still sounds a bit strange, a bit too before to Sam, grins at him when he joins the group assembling by the town limits.
“Parish let you go?” he asks teasingly.
It's then that Sam suddenly realises that Zombie hadn't flinched because Sam had hurled that awful thing about not being his dad in his face. It's because he'd called him Ben.
“He's not the boss of me,” Sam mumbles.
It's like a weight lifts from Sam's mind at the sound of the name, and instantly his throat goes tight, and his eyes hot with stinging tears.
Will's about to say something, but stops when he sees how Sam scrunches up his face and stares resolutely at the sky.
“Hey, you okay?” he asks.
It's morning, no trace of stars, but Sam knows where Cassiopeia is. He always does. Cassiopeia is constant.
Zombie was constant.
Cassie, what do I do?
No, Zombie was a teenager fumbling through a war. Ben is constant.
Sam takes a deep breath and blinks away the wetness in his eyes, tilts his head down to look at Will.
“Yeah, fine,” he says.
Will claps him on the shoulder. Weird, emotional moments are par for the course. Better to get them out of the way before they get going.
It's a funny business, naming things. You give something a name and a story, and it becomes reality.
A week later they've told the story of Cassiopeia Marie to another bunch of new people, and Sam swears he can almost see the way their eyes open to the truth. Some of them come back to Sullivan with them, most of them stay, unconvinced, or not ready to be convinced.
Sam sees it again and again over the next few years; every time Evan Walker sends them a group of people enchanted by the story of Cassiopeia Marie; every time Ben tells it to a circle of spell-bound kids; every time Megan draws a new painting of their queen in the sky.
“Daddy says to come in; dinner's ready,” Megan says, dropping down onto the grass next to him.
“Yeah, okay,” Sam says.
“Are you looking for her?” Megan asks, following his eyes up to the darkening sky.
“No,” Sam says, and gets up, brushing off his pants.
“Won't see much today anyway, with the clouds,” Megan says, and takes his hand to let him pull her up. She's grown a lot stronger herself – working on what is essentially a farm will do that – but she likes having people do things for her sometimes, to remind her that they're there.
Sam slings an arm over her shoulders and steers them back towards the house.
“As long as it doesn't rain tomorrow,” he says. “We need to go on that hunt.”
Sullivan's meat supplies are running low, and it's been raining for weeks, flooding some of their fields, and taking up all their time and energy. It stopped today. Sam only hopes it holds.
“Hey, Cassie-b,” Sam grins once inside, ruffling her dark, unruffle-able hair, purely because it makes her huff and glare at him.
“I'm not a baby anymore, I'm thirteen,” she protests, setting the plates down at the dinner table.
“Definitely a grown-up,” he teases, remembering the weight of a gun in his five year old hands. He used to not understand why Ben and Marika didn't want to teach her how to fire one as soon as she could hold one, but now, with Victoria and Heiwa barreling down the stairs and into his arms, he gets it. They're four now, almost as old as he was when The Others arrived, and the thought of putting a gun in their hands is far heavier than the gun itself.
Dinner, when Ben walks in with the gigantic pot of stew, is rowdy as ever. It's a lot, but it's home.