“So, you said you had some questions about Liam?”
Castiel glanced down at the coffee he had been offered. He didn’t really have any desire to drink it, but he got the idea he was supposed to. Some sort of societal construct; an obligation all humans abided by. Castiel was pretending to be human, so drink their coffee he would.
“I need to know more about how Liam came to be… displaced.” Castiel sipped his drink—he suspected it was more appealing when one couldn’t taste each individual molecule—and set the cup back down. “What can you tell me, Mrs. Bailey?”
Lisa Bailey let out a sigh and sank into the chair across from him, staring down at her own coffee with tired, bloodshot eyes. “I have no idea what you’re looking for.” She ran a hand through her tangled, blonde hair, hot pink fingernails catching on the knots. “Don’t you have files for this kind of thing?”
“I’d like to hear it from the mouth of the horse.” Castiel was pretty sure humans said that. “How did Liam come to be… not here at home?”
“How is this going to help you find where he is now?” Lisa questioned, her face twisting up with confusion. “You one of those profilers, like they have on TV?”
Castiel nodded slowly. “Something like that, yes.” He had no idea what she was talking about. “Mrs. Bailey, your son exhibits… troubling behavior. I simply want to understand where it’s coming from.” He then remembered he was supposed to act like Liam was missing. "If we know why he does what he does, we might be able to figure out where he went when he ran off." There. That was a good lie.
Lisa let out a sigh and massaged her forehead. “Yeah, well… troubling is one word for his behavior. I could think of a few more." She rested her chin in her hand, dark circles painted under her eyes. “I don’t know why Liam was the way he was, alright? I don’t know where he came up with the stuff he said.” She shook her head and sipped her coffee. “I did the best I could, okay? Some kids are just difficult. Liam was one of them.”
She's referring to him in the past tense. Castiel tilted his head curiously, unsure what to make of the linguistic tell. “But you have no idea why Liam behaves the way he does?”
Lisa put her cup down hard. “Look. Mr. Novak, was it? I just got off work, and I’m exhausted. I have to work three jobs to make ends meet, so cut to the chase or get out of my house.” Lisa took another drink of coffee, hands trembling slightly.
Castiel gave her an even stare, setting his coffee on a stack of papers that probably meant something to humanity. “I came here to get answers, Mrs. Bailey. I am trying to figure out your son in the hopes I might be able to find him, and that requires your cooperation. That is my chase.”
Lisa dragged her hands through her hair again and let out a sigh. “Okay. Fine.” She held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “You want to know what happened? Liam had an over-active imagination, that’s what happened.” She spread her arms slightly, incredulous. “I never beat him, I never neglected him, and Brian definitely never raped him.”
Castiel’s brain stopped for a moment. Rape? Castiel hadn’t even considered that. Where did that come from? Surely, Liam would have mentioned something so significant.
But Lisa just kept going, apparently unaware of the weight behind her words. “So, now, Brian’s in jail, and I have to work three jobs, all because a jury decided a nine-year-old boy had enough maturity to understand the claims he was making.”
Castiel couldn’t have cared less about the jury, whatever that was. He was pretty sure it was a judge of some kind, but it was ultimately irrelevant. Humanity’s justice system meant nothing to him. What meant something to him was whether or not Liam had been telling the truth when he made his accusations.
She said he has an overactive imagination. “Mrs. Bailey, do you mean to tell me your husband is in jail for crimes he didn’t commit?” Castiel stared, unblinking. “Mr. Bailey never touched Liam sexually?”
Lisa scoffed, tossing her messy hair over her shoulder. “Well, he touched him, but that’s not rape. Brian was just screwing around. Sometimes it got a little rough, but it's not like he ever hurt Liam. Not really.” She spread her hands, volume and gestures escalating the longer she spoke. “I was just trying to be a good mom, okay? I was taking my son to the doctor, and all of a sudden they’re taking Liam away and locking Brian up because of some tiny little tears that would have healed all on their own, forcing me to work three jobs just to stay off the streets.”
So, Liam wasn’t raped. But it didn’t sit right with Castiel. Obviously, as far as the father went, being sexually attracted to a child was disgusting no matter how it manifested, but as far as Liam went… could he really have been so terribly affected by a few touches? Most likely, Liam hadn’t even realized the actions were inappropriate, too young to understand what was happening.
Castiel kept his expression and tone impassive, keeping his thoughts to himself as he continued to press Lisa for information. “So, your husband did, in fact, touch your son sexually. And there was physical damage observed by a physician.”
Lisa groaned in frustration, throwing her hands up. “I told you, Brian didn’t hurt Liam, okay? We were at the hospital for his broken arm.”
Castiel tilted his head, his movement imperceptibly slight. “And how did Liam come to have a broken arm, Mrs. Bailey?”
Lisa heaved a sigh and put her head in her hands, like she had answered that question a thousand times before. Which she very well may have, depending on the way humans conducted investigations.
Not that Castiel cared.
“He was riding his bike, and he fell.” Lisa finished off her coffee, hands still shaking. “I was being a good mom, and this is what I got for it. But hey,” she laughed bitterly, “that’s the system for you.”
Castiel bristled, gaze narrowing ever-so-slightly. “Were you being a ‘good mom’ when you allowed your husband to use your son for sexual pleasure?”
Lisa drummed her fingernails on the table—pink with odd gems on the tips; some human decoration that was hopefully unimportant—and reached out to grab the coffee pot from the bar. “Why does it even matter? I mean, seriously, who came up with that rule? As long as nobody gets hurt—”
“And you truly believe Liam wasn’t hurt by what his father did to him?” Castiel wasn’t entirely sure he understood how Liam was hurt, either, but he sensed something wrong, and years on the battlefield had taught him to trust his instincts.
Lisa gripped her hair. “Liam was fine. He wasn’t screaming, he wasn’t crying—half the time, he went looking for it.” She scratched the back of her head, shifting in her chair. “Bouncing out from the bathroom in his underwear saying, ‘Come play with me, Daddy!’ That was all Liam. Okay? Not Brian.”
Castiel pulled back slightly, features slightly creased, torn between appalled and confused.
“And even if it had been Brian, that’s a part of life.” Lisa took a large swig of her second coffee and barely swallowed before she was speaking again. “My dad did the same thing to me, and I turned out just fine.”
Castiel almost asked her how long she had been taking the methamphetamines he could smell on her—almost pointed out that people who were 'fine' did not, in fact, let small children be used for any kind of sexual entertainment—but he didn't.
“Liam just made a big deal out of it. He made a big deal out of everything. He was just… difficult.” Lisa scoffed and downed another mouthful. “Everyone said having kids would be hard, and I expected the backtalk and the fighting and crap, but it’s just like this… constant weight. You always have to know where they are and what they’re doing. They’re always making messes, making noise, breaking things… they want help with homework, they want to go visit friends, they want you to drive them all over the freakin’ planet… ugh, and wetting the bed. Liam did that all the time.”
Castiel felt something inside him—something deep and hot and almost primal—flicker to life at those words. It started in his chest somewhere, but also in the core of his Grace, and then it started to spread through his vessel.
“And kids are never satisfied. I want this, and I want that, and no matter how much you give them, they always want more. More toys, more snacks, more you. Liam, he would follow me around, getting in the way, like he didn’t have anything better to do. Mommy, play with me. Mommy, let's watch a movie. Just on and on and on." Lisa took another swig of coffee and rolled her eyes. "Then there’s the nightmares. Like, do you really think I have time for that? I need sleep, too.”
Castiel swallowed, confused by the heat and pressure he felt building on the inside of his body. He didn’t understand why he was shaking or why his vessel’s vision was starting to blur. It was like one of those ‘out-of-body experiences’ humans talked about.
“Not that I get any sleep now. I have to work three jobs just to make ends meet.”
“I don’t particularly care how many jobs you work, Mrs. Bailey.” Castiel got to his feet and stepped away from the table, pausing long enough to give her a hard look. “I’ll be back with more questions.” He started for the door, still pretending to be human, but as soon as he was out of her sight, he disappeared.
Dean let the door swing shut behind him, immediately grabbing for it as he remembered he wasn’t supposed to make noise. He was too late, and it slammed, drawing a groan from the lump on the bed.
“Sorry,” Dean whispered, creeping toward the bed with a bag from the local supermarket. “I got some Excedrin and… I honestly don’t know, it’s some kind of gel? You put it on your temples, it’s supposed to help.”
Sam peered up from the blankets, eyes bleary and unfocused. He screwed them shut and let out a soft sigh. “I don’t know if I can keep the pills down.” He reached a hand out blindly. “I’ll try the other stuff…”
“Okay.” Dean pulled the… Mineral Ice out of the bag and twisted off the lid, holding the tub out for Sam. “Give it a shot. I also got an ice pack, so once they fix the ice machine, or once we move on to a motel with one that works, you’ll have that, too.”
Sam smeared the translucent, blue gel over his temples and then started to put it across his forehead, too. “Can I just put it all over my face like one of those cucumber masks?” he rasped, flashing a weak smile. “Thanks, Dean. It helps.”
Dean twisted the lid back on and set the container on the nightstand, tossing the shopping bag on the floor out of the way. “Yeah, sure.” He walked over to the second bed and sat down, watching Sam in silence for a few moments, just thinking.
He still wasn’t sure how he felt about Sam drinking demon blood, but he couldn’t deny the appeal of having an advantage in the fight that kept on beating them down and taking from them. Besides, Sam was a grown man who would do what he wanted, and if he was going to do it, at least compliance—or apparent compliance—would give Dean the control of knowing when and where and how.
It was also, apparently, very painful for Sam to work his way back up to where he had been before he stopped. Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be, but Sam was pushing himself so hard that it wound up being that way. Regardless, Dean was happy to be able to help Sam again; happy to embrace the nostalgic return to simpler times.
Dean sniffed and scratched at his nose. “Yeah?”
“I, uh… I just want to apologize in advance. I… I get pretty hotheaded and mean when I’m on this stuff. That’s… why I stopped, I didn’t want to be snapping at Liam or losing my temper with him.” Sam inhaled and exhaled slowly, deeply, painfully. “I just… want you to be ready to not like who I am when I’m all juiced up.” He huffed out a weak laugh. “I know I don’t.”
For a moment, Dean thought about making a comment to the effect of, ‘yet another reason this is possibly the worst idea you’ve ever had,’ but he pressed his lips together instead. He mulled it over for a second and then cleared his throat. “Thanks for the heads up. But, uh, I’ve seen you at the height of puberty, so I’m not really concerned.”
Sam huffed out another laugh and then let out a sigh, falling silent.
Dean didn’t say anything, either, letting the quiet consume the room. He sat and stared at the floor, just trying to shut the real world out for a moment.
And for that moment, Sam only had a cold, and Dean was taking care of him, and when Sam was better, they would hop in the Impala and drive off to the next hunt, looking for their Dad or maybe some psychic kids. No Apocalypse. No seals. No angels. No nightmares, no trauma, no kidnapping, no backstabbing.
Just them and how they used to be.
Dean inhaled and slowly got to his feet, walking back toward the door with a sigh. “Rest up, Sammy. I’m gonna check out those magician deaths. Text me if you need anything.”
“Be careful…” Sam muttered the word incoherently, already falling back to sleep; or perhaps a more accurate term was ‘passing out.’
Dean almost replied, but there really wasn’t any point, given how out of it Sam was. Instead, he let out a sigh and left the room, shutting and locking the door behind him.
Just another day in paradise.
“Samandriel, I wanna go outside!” Liam bounced on his toes, looking up at the angel with wide, imploring eyes and a wobbly bottom lip that usually got him what he wanted. “Please? Please, please, please?”
Samandriel bit his lip and looked toward the far wall. Liam had noticed that, whenever angels responded to the topic of leaving by looking at a wall, it was always the same one. It was also the only wall that didn’t have any furniture against it except for a small bookshelf off to the side.
However they were hiding it, Liam was sure there was a door there.
“I don’t know, Liam… it’s not really safe out there.”
Liam pouted a little more. “Not safe? But it’s outside! We can go play in the grass somewhere, or maybe climb a tree, or maybe find a cave and explore!” He broke into a wide smile, bouncing again and grabbing the hem of Samandriel’s shirt. “You’ll be right there with me, right? I’ll be safe!”
Samandriel chewed his lip a little more, looking between Liam and the door-not-door some more.
“I got my coat in case it’s cold, and I got my shoes on. Please? We don’t have to go far. We can go somewhere really close by!”
“Well…” Samandriel looked at Liam with a small smile, his eyes telling Liam he had already surrendered. “There is a park nearby… I suppose we could—”
“A park?” Liam asked excitedly. “What kind of park? Is it big? Can we go?”
Samandriel laughed softly and picked Liam up, putting the boy on his hip. “Yes, we can go. But we might not be able to stay long. You won’t fuss when we have to leave, will you?”
Liam shook his head emphatically. “No way! I just wanna go outside a little. I miss it.” To ensure victory, Liam gave another look of sadness, his bottom lip sticking out slightly as his eyes dropped down to his stomach.
“I know, Liam. I’m sorry.” Samandriel scooted Liam a little higher on his hip, and then the world shifted around them.
Tan walls, marble floors, and golden trim faded away into blue skies and green trees.
Liam startled a little at the cold, but he wasn’t about to ask to go back. He wriggled around instead, extending his toes toward the ground. “Ooh, let me down! Let me down!”
Samandriel smiled and did as Liam requested, but then he took him by the shoulders and gave him a serious look. “Liam, you cannot run off. Do you understand? Stay where I can see you.”
Liam nodded seriously, pulling his flannel a little tighter around himself. “Okay.” He wanted Samandriel to trust him, and he wanted to stay out of the room as long as possible, so he sold it a little more. He reached out with cautious eyes and a quiet, “Hold my hand? So I don’t get lost?”
Samandriel complied with a smile. “Of course.”
Liam grinned and started down one of the available paths at random, pulling Samandiel along beside him. “It’s cold… but not as cold as I thought. What month is it?”
“It’s December. Does that mean something to you?”
Liam nodded. “Yeah. It’s normally colder by now.” Meaning they were either south or west or both; meaning Bobby’s house was a long way away. “I guess we’re gonna have an easy winter.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Samandriel smiled down at Liam, only occasionally glancing at the road ahead to make sure there was nothing in their way. “I don’t know much about weather. We don’t really have weather in Heaven. What’s it like, Liam?”
Liam squeezed Samandriel’s hand excitedly. “Weather is so cool! It’s different all over the world, all the time, always, and it’s the most powerful thing on the planet. Just a little bit of ice can send whole planes crashing out of the sky, and earthquakes make buildings wiggle like Jell-O. When you get close to the equator, it gets hotter, and then on the other side, the seasons flip.” Liam didn’t realize how much his hands were moving until he almost caused Samandriel to smack himself in the stomach. “Oops.”
Samandriel laughed and waved it off with his free hand. “You’re excited. Keep going.”
“Sorry.” Liam bit his lip for a second, but then the appeal of weather talk was too overpowering to ignore. “Well, um, on the top half of the world, we have winter in December, January, and February, but on the bottom half, they have summer during those months. Then, the farther away you get from the equator, the colder it gets, until you get to the north and south poles, where it’s freezing cold all the time, and the days and nights last for weeks!”
Samandriel smiled widely, giving Liam his genuine and complete attention in a way that made Liam’s heart soar. “So, it changes depending on where you are and what time of the year it is?”
“Uh-huh! But it’s not just north and south. Things like mountains, oceans, lakes, and valleys can change it, too. There’s a place called Tornado Alley out in the…” Liam stopped and looked around. “Well… it’s in the middle of the country… so…” He trailed off, waiting to see if Samandriel would offer anything helpful.
“That would be…” Samandriel pointed, “…to the east.”
So, they were definitely out west, far enough south for it to be warmer than a winter in Maryland. Granted, Liam didn’t know exactly what that meant, but if he could get in touch with Sam and Dean, he could tell them, and they would be able to use the information to find him.
“Got it! So, out east, there’s a place called Tornado Alley, and they have lots of tornadoes there, because it’s so flat, so there’s nothing to break up the wind except other wind, and the currents run into each other and start swirling and bam! Tornado.”
Samandriel’s eyes opened wide, his expression painted with shock. “Wow! That sounds exciting. I think I would like to see a tornado sometime.”
“Will you take me with if you do?” Liam asked, tugging on Samandriel’s arm.
Samandriel nodded. “I can do that.” He paused briefly, looked around them at the thinning foliage, and then he looked down at Liam again. “You seem really interested in the weather.”
“I love learning about the weather.” Liam idly kicked at a rock as he passed it. “Shows about weather are my favorite kind to watch.”
“I didn’t know that about you.” Samandriel spoke softly, and Liam got the idea he was digging for something.
Which, to be fair, Liam had been doing that to Samandriel all day, so…
“I haven’t told anyone about it in a long time, so…” Liam shrugged his shoulders. “That’s probably why.”
“Not even Dean and… Sam?”
Liam immediately grew suspicious at the mention of his caretakers, but he simply shook his head and answered. “No… I think if I told Sorzie, he would buy me books about weather and stuff, and… they don’t talk about it, but I know there’s not a lot of extra money to spend, and I know it’s a hassle to drive things around with us.” His face twisted up in confusion. “Did you forget Sam’s name?”
Samandriel laughed and rubbed the back of his neck, a bit embarrassed. “You’re really the only person I talk to about Sam, so I’ve started calling him Sorzie in my head, and… I just forgot for a second. But I remembered!”
Liam giggled, his earlier fear alleviated by Samandriel’s naturally friendly nature.
Samandriel smiled down at him. “You know… there’s plenty of space in your room. It’s not like Baby. You could get some books and keep them there.”
Liam wet his lips and considered the proposal for a moment. But I don’t want to stay in that room… and I won’t be able to take them with me when I go.
But Liam simply smiled and nodded. “I’d like that, Samandriel.”
Samandriel opened his mouth to speak, but Liam caught a glimpse of water and perked up.
“Is that a river?” Liam almost let go of Samandriel’s hand in his haste to rush forward, getting up on his tiptoes to peer over the bushes. “Is it?”
“Yes,” Samandriel laughed, jogging along until they came to a stop at the edge of the water. “This is the Los Angeles River.”
Inwardly, Liam’s heart jumped. Los Angeles. I know where that is. As long as Samandriel really had taken him somewhere close to the room they locked him in, then Liam had a bit of an idea where he was being kept.
Outwardly, Liam made a face at the water and tilted his head. “It looks kinda dirty. That’s probably because it’s in the city.” But then he smiled again. “I still like it, though.” He threw his arms around Samandriel’s waist and nuzzled his stomach. “Thanks, Samandriel! You’re the best.”
“Oh!” Samandriel returned the hug, surprised. “You’re, uh, you’re welcome, Liam. You’re pretty great yourself.”
Just a little longer. Just a little longer, and then I can go home.
“Are you busy?”
Sam almost jumped out of his skin, one hand flying to his heart while the other reached for his knife. He saw Castiel standing there, meaning the demon blade was useless, and the angel blade was too far away. And even if it wasn’t, the sudden movement had sent Sam’s still-throbbing brain into a spin.
“Uh, that depends.” Sam cleared his throat, the familiar claws of worry starting their way up from the pit of his stomach. “What do you need? Is it about Liam?”
Castiel nodded once, his face more expressive than Sam had ever seen. Confusion mostly, eyes swimming with questions, brow creased, lips twitching and pursing in quick, scattered movements.
It all made Sam even more nervous, and he got up from the kitchen chair with a calculated hesitance. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Castiel tilted his head and let his gaze wander downward and to the right, focusing his stare as if he thought the answer to his yet-to-be-asked question might be hidden in the carpet stains. “I… spoke with Lisa Bailey.”
Sam blinked, his worry shifting into something near panic. “You—you went to see his mom? Why?”
Castiel looked at Sam and inhaled, but then he stopped. He considered his words a moment and then started again, eyes bewildered and almost… cautious.
“Castiel, what happened?” Sam spread his arms, frustration winding hot coils through his insides. “Why are you here? What did you do? What did—”
“I spoke with her, because I’m trying to understand. I don’t—” Castiel stopped, tilted his head again, and then heaved a sigh. Clearly, he wasn’t used to being without answers, and he didn’t like being in the vulnerable position.
Too bad. Sam couldn’t have cared less. In fact, it made him feel a little giddy to see the angel in such a predicament.
“I don’t understand Liam.” Castiel looked up at Sam then, meeting his eyes with sincerity. “But I would like to. I am… trying to.”
Sam massaged his temple, trying to ignore the steady throb of the migraine struggling to come back. “You…” He sighed and gestured to the chair across from his. “I guess it’s good that you’re trying.”
Castiel didn’t say anything, but he did sit in the offered chair, even if it took a few moments.
Sam closed his laptop and pushed it aside, leaning on the table. “What, uh… what don’t you understand about him?”
“He…” Castiel struggled with his words for a moment, and if it weren’t for the circumstances, Sam would have found it funny. “I don’t understand why he fights with me every chance he gets but doesn’t want to make me angry. I don’t understand why he’s unapologetically rebellious yet apologizes for things no child should think to apologize for.” He opened his mouth to continued speaking, but then he just shook his head and turned his eyes downward, shouldres still squared. He was lost in thought, trying to answer his own question again, his face wrinkled with the evidence of intense thought.
“Well, I obviously can’t give you a reason for every single incident, but… a lot of Liam’s behavior is shaped by the abuse he’s suffered.” Sam rubbed his forehead and opened his mouth to continue, but Castiel cut him off.
“Yes, you mentioned that before. I don’t understand. What is abuse of children?”
Sam wagged his finger a few times, flashing Castiel a bitter smile. “Right. You wouldn’t know that.” He drummed his fingers on the table twice and then leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “There are a lot of definitions of abuse, and it has grown exponentially in the last few decades. Uh, the first landmark case in child abuse was in the 1870s, but it was almost a hundred years before people really started taking an interest.” He let out another sigh and ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll try to stick to the stuff relating to Liam, to keep it simple.”
Castiel sat in silence and waited patiently for Sam to tell him more, seeming thoroughly enraptured.
“Uh, examples of abuse in Liam’s case… well, you’ve seen how small he is. He wasn’t getting nearly enough food, which is classified as neglect. He showed up at school with suspicious bruises, and he was actually at the hospital for a spiral fracture when they found evidence of sexual abuse.”
Castiel perked up at that. “Mrs. Bailey mentioned taking him to the hospital for his broken arm. She said he fell off his bike, I believe.”
Sam snorted. “Yeah, well… a spiral fracture is caused by immense force and a twisting motion. Like when you grab someone’s arm and twist it up behind their back. You don’t get it from falling off a bike.”
Castiel thought about that for a moment and then nodded his head. “I see. So, she was likely the inflictor of that injury? Or was it his father?”
“They believe it was her, and after reading the files, I agree with their assessment.”
Castiel nodded to indicate he understood, and then he tilted his head. “I…” His brow scrunched thoughtfully. “Mrs. Bailey said her husband… touched Liam sexually.” He wet his lips, squinting at the table top. “She said something, and… I find myself agreeing with it, yet…” His expression twisting in something like disgust, and he shifted in his seat. “It wasn’t right. I could feel that it wasn’t.”
That’s encouraging, I guess. Sam leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. “What did she say?”
Castiel wet his lips. “She said Liam frequently instigated the… activity… and that he wasn’t hurt by it.”
Sam clenched his jaw for all of two seconds before regaining his composure. It won’t help. He cleared his throat. “What do you think of that?”
“I think… physically, she may be right, but… there is something in humans, something…” Castiel stuttered to a stop, buffering like an internet video for three seconds before picking up where he left off. “I don’t know. Humans have something in them—maybe it’s your souls, I don’t know—and it seems to me that damage can be done to that… something.”
Sam pursed his lips slightly. There are worse answers. Still, he had to take a moment to fend off the helpless frustration of explaining his own child to someone else so they could try and do a good job caring for him. Sam wanted to grab Castiel by the jacket and scream in his face. Just give him back to me!
Sam inhaled softly and tucked his hair behind his ear. “If you have a six-month-old baby, a three-year-old child, and a six-year-old child in a house… and the dad beats the mom but never touches the children… who do you think would be most affected by the trauma?”
Castiel blinked in surprise and considered the question for a little while in silence. “My initial thought is that it would be the eldest, as they would be able to remember and understand more than the younger two. But the nature of your question tells me that’s not right.”
Sam’s lips pulled up into something resembling a smile and he nodded. “It would be the baby.” He paused, trying to think of a way to line up the information quickly and concisely without missing anything important. “Humans develop more in the first year of life and during adolescence than any other time. During that first year, what the brain is exposed to is hugely important. In an abusive environment, even without physical harm or even harsh words directed at the baby, there’s the stress and yelling and fear and confusion, and all of it keeps the baby’s brain from developing properly.”
Castiel leaned forward, listening intently, eyes wide and focused.
Sam started to gesture as he talked, and he was surprised by his own ability to be animated when he was so tired and in pain. “Being abused or being in an abusive environment at an early age causes the brain to get wired in a lot of bad ways, and it’s very hard to rewire those faulty connections later in life.”
Castiel stared at Sam like Sam was the knower of all things child-related
Sam cleared his throat. “What we’ve been finding out—we humans—is that the brain reacts to trauma in a lot of ways we never realized. For example, children who witness abuse are more likely to have mental health problems than children who are actually abused. We’ve learned that physical touch actually stimulates the brain and enables it to develop, so children who aren’t hugged and held a lot can suffer intellectually, emotionally, and even physically.”
Castiel seemed captivated by the information in a way that simultaneously encouraged Sam and made him want to choke the angel to death. It was great that Castiel was so invested in learning about the way a child’s brain worked, but why couldn’t he just give Liam back?
“So, uh, you asked about what happened to Liam.” Sam wet his lips and tried not to think about what Mrs. Bailey had said. “Physically, there wasn’t a lot of damage. But mentally, the damage is…” He blew his bangs out of his eyes. “Okay, have you learned that he wets the bed?”
Castiel nodded. “He’s done it a few times. It’s one of the things he apologizes for that I don’t understand.”
Well, at least Castiel’s not yelling at him for it. Sam tried to focus on those positive points. “That’s a symptom of sexual abuse. Uh, headaches and stomachaches that have no external cause; they’re called somatic symptoms. He probably refuses to eat or stops eating halfway through a meal for no reason. Right?”
Castiel nodded his head. “It’s happened a few times.”
Sam nodded and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Uh, let’s see… his nightmares, or the way he can’t sleep all the way through the night even without bad dreams, or the way he sometimes gets anxiety for no reason. Those are all symptoms of sexual abuse.” Sam paused. “Have you ever played a game with him?”
Castiel shook his head once.
“Well, if you do, and it looks like he’s going to lose, he’ll cheat, and you need to let him. He’s pushing back against the feeling of helplessness that comes with losing, that sensation of what happens to you being out of your hands…” Sam started to rail off when he saw Castiel grow progressively more confused. “What?”
“What you just said. That… is the part I don’t understand.” Castiel frowned, his head tilting one way and then the other. “He wasn’t helpless. He asked for it—demanded it, from what I heard.”
Sam shook his head, swallowing the surge of anger in his chest and focusing on helping Castiel reach the right understanding. “What if everything I just told you wasn’t true?”
Castiel blinked. “What?”
“You came to me for advice, because you know I’m knowledgeable on this topic. You're trusting me to steer you right. But I could tell you whatever I want, true or not, and you wouldn't know the difference.” Sam shrugged his shoulders. “I can indirectly control what you do, and I could trick you into doing something wrong, or humiliating, or dangerous.” He pointed to Castiel, very nearly poking him in the chest. “And you’re a celestial being, not a little boy. How much easier would it be to manipulate Liam if he came to me for help? Or you? Or his father, who he’s supposed to be able to trust above everyone else?”
Castiel leaned back and frowned, seeming uneasy. He clearly hadn’t thought of it that way, but he wasn’t fighting back against the way of thinking. He seemed to be absorbing and understanding it.
“I get why his behavior confuses you. But think of how confused he is.” Sam cleared his throat softly and gesticulated some more. “You know, we tell kids to respect authority and not talk bad about adults, but sometimes adults in positions of authority cause them unbelievable pain. We tell kids to trust family instead of strangers, and then strangers take kids away from their families to keep them safe. One adult tells a kid to be honest while another adult tells them if they’ll be punished for their honesty. They don’t know right from wrong or safe from unsafe, because the people who are supposed to teach them that are sending them a million mixed signals.” Sam slowly shook his head, chest aching at the thought of everything still going on in Liam’s brain outside of the supernatural circumstances. “They get confused, and they get scared, and they scream and break things and say they hate you, because they do hate you, because nothing you or anybody else says makes any sense. They’re expected to just… know… how to act and what to believe and think and feel, when their life has been one contradiction after another.”
Castiel looked down at his lap, intensely thoughtful, fingers fidgeting with each other. Sam briefly wondered if Castiel realized how much his emotions were seeping into his vessel’s behavior. He had never displayed much body language before, but the crease in his brow, the pucker of his lips, the shifting of his weight, the worry in his eyes—it was all so telling, so vulnerable, so human.
“Just… try to remember, when you don’t understand why Liam is doing something, it’s because Liam doesn’t understand why he’s doing something. He’s confused and scared, and he doesn’t know who to trust, and he’s just trying to survive. That’s all any kid in his situation does. They try to get from one day to the next without dying.” Sam wet his lips and let out a soft sigh. “Stop trying to make him obey, and start being the kind of person he wants to obey. Stop telling him what to do, and start telling him why you want him to do it. Nobody likes being told how to live their lives, but everybody likes being told they’re cared about.”
Castiel didn’t say anything for a long moment, and then he stood up rather abruptly. “Thank you for your help, Sam. This has been very informative.”
Sam was torn between kicking Castiel out and begging him to stay. “How is he?”
Castiel stopped. “He’s doing fine.” He looked down at the carpet with those searching eyes again. “When Liam has nightmares… he asks for me.” Castiel looked up at Sam suddenly, confusion blazing anew. “Why?”
Sam pressed his lips together with a helpless shrug. “You're familiar. If you've been treating him well, he probably thinks you’re safe.” Note my use of 'thinks' instead of 'knows.’ “Maybe you do something to calm him that he really likes.”
Castiel shook his head bewildered. “I only tell him stories and stay until he falls asleep.”
Sam smiled softly, happy to hear Castiel was taking such soft, careful measures. “That’ll do it.”
Castiel seemed almost pained. “But why?”
“He's a kid, Castiel. He's a human.” Sam spread his arms, fighting back his frustration. “He just wants to be loved and cared for and accepted. He just wants to know someone would miss him if he left. He just wants to be happy, and safe, and hugged, and kissed, and held, and…” Sam struggled with himself for a moment and then heaved a sigh, pushing a bitter laugh between his teeth. “Home. He just wants a home.”
Castiel looked at Sam for a long time, and then he was gone, leaving without a word or any indication of if and when he would be back.
Sam groaned and pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes.
I need more ibuprofen.
Like, a whole bottle. Maybe two.
“Do you think he’d like building things?”
Dean adjusted the phone against his ear and used his shoulder to hold it in place, turning over the box in his hands to read the contents. “Do you think Liam would like building things?”
Sam didn’t speak at first, and then his voice came through the speaker. “Um… I mean, most boys his age do. I’ve never asked him. I know he’s more of a… creative arts kid, but… you can be that and also like structured toys, so…?”
“Cool.” Dean tossed it into his cart and grabbed the phone from its smushed position against his face. “Thanks. See you soon.”
“Woah, hey, wait. Do I get to know what this is about?”
Dean shrugged his shoulders. “I just figured, you know… twenty days ‘til Christmas. Even if we don’t find him before then… that kid is gonna get Christmas presents. Either late, or from Cas, or… I don’t know. But he is.”
Sam was more than a little offended when he replied. “You’re Christmas shopping without me?”
Dean looked in his cart and smirked a little. “Yeah, well, Liam’s not the only one I’m buying for, Sammy.”
“Oh. Oh, I see.” Sam was moving around on the other end of the line. “Is this a challenge?”
“Why would it be a challenge, Sam?” Dean started pushing the cart, holding the phone with his shoulder again. “I mean, it’s not like I’m the uncle, yet I’m the only one buying Christmas presents so far. It’s not like you totally forgot Christmas was coming up.”
“My presents are gonna be better than yours,” Sam snapped. “Because now that you reminded me, my Christmas game is going to be so on point—”
“Yeah, but because I reminded you, I’m ultimately responsible for whatever presents you get, so…” Dean shrugged and slowed to a stop in front of the art supplies. “Ooh.”
“Nothing,” Dean sang, grabbing a pack of professional pencils and putting them in the cart with the rest of his spoils. “Just saw something interesting.”
“Oh, it’s on.” Sam must have left the motel room, because a door slammed in the background.
Dean laughed. “Wait, wait—”
“Oh, I’m not waiting for anything. You’re going down, Dean.”
“No, seriously!” Dean laughed again. “We need to make sure we don’t get the same things for him, doofus.”
Sam let out a heavy sigh. “Well, when you put it that way…”
Dean laughed some more and leaned against his cart. “I’m at the Walmart across the street from the motel. Meet me here. I’ll just hide the stuff I have for you.”
Sam huffed. “I guess that’ll work.”
Dean chuckled to himself and started flipping through a coloring book. “I’ll see you soon, Sammy.”
“Yeah, yeah… I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
Dean smiled softly. “It’s good to hear you laugh again, man.”
Sam didn’t say anything for a moment, the rush of air over the speaker telling Dean he was outside. “You, too.”
Dean didn’t say anything for a moment, and then he realized there wasn’t really anything to say, so he hung up. He would have bet money Sam did the same thing in unison with him.
Okay, Liam… let’s see how much money I can spend on you before common sense it a credit limit makes me stop.
Liam didn’t even hesitate when he saw Castiel appear next to the bed, both hands shooting out to grab at the familiar trench coat. “Cast’el,” he sobbed, little fingers curling through the tan fabric as he pulled himself to his feet.
“I’m right here.” Castiel grabbed Liam by the waist—his hands fingers almost touched in the front as well as the back—and lifted Liam up. “It’s alright.”
Liam wound his legs around Castiel’s waist, arms shifting to grab Castiel around the neck. “M’sorry,” he sobbed, sucking broken gasps between the sobs. “Sorry, Cast’el.”
“You don’t need to apologize. Nightmares can’t be helped.”
Liam held on tight, barely registering the words as Castiel sat down at the head of the bed. He didn’t care about anything other than the steady thrum of a heartbeat underneath the frantic patter of his own; didn’t care about anything other than large hands holding him close and the sense of safety that came with the familiar scent of Castiel.
“Sorry.” Liam shifted his legs a little so he was straddling Castiel’s hips, feet pushing against the mattress so he could tuck himself up under Castiel’s chin. “M’sorry, just—just wan’ a hug.” He hiccupped again, wishing he knew why he was crying, wishing he could tell Castiel, wishing he wasn’t so difficult.
“It’s alright, Liam. This isn’t your fault.”
Liam rubbed the underside of Castiel’s chin with his head, fingers digging into the fabric of Castiel’s jacket and shirt collar. Somewhere, underneath the haze of panic and pain, Liam remembered being frightened and off-put by Castiel’s looming size, but in that moment, it only brought him a sense of safety. He wanted nothing more than to curl up on the lap of someone three times his size and let them protect him.
“Castiel, don’t you think this is a bit excessive?”
Liam froze. He knew that voice.
Not the accent or pitch—whoever it was, he had never met them before in his life—but the tone and the unspoken demands therein. He knew the threats and promises and hidden meanings.
“Oh, he tripped down the stairs this morning. Right, Liam?”
“And we’re not going to tell the caseworker about last night, are we?”
“Don’t you want Daddy to push it in deeper?”
Liam knew the sound of a question that wasn’t a question, no matter who it was coming from, and it made his blood run cold.
Because that voice wasn’t talking to him, it was talking to Castiel, and he could feel the way Castiel tensed up next to him. It made Castiel uncomfortable, and that, in turn, made Liam terrified.
“Come on, Castiel. You have duties to attend to.”
Liam panicked and did the only thing he could think of.
He screamed at the top of his lungs and held on tighter than ever, the painful, throbbing shriek slowly tapering off into shuddering sobs that racked his whole body. “Don’t—take Castle! Please, I wan’im!” He held on tighter, violent sobs rattling his frame. “I’ll do anythin’ you want, jus’ don’—” he gasped for air, “—don’ make’im leave me!”
Liam dissolved into cries after that, throat sore from the screaming, his brain refusing to find the words he needed to keep begging. He just held on for dear life and prayed they wouldn’t take Castiel away—that Castiel wouldn’t leave him.
“Hmm… maybe your approach is more effective than I thought…”
Liam choked out another sob, heart hammering against his ribcage, head throbbing and face hot. “Castle…” He let out another sob when two large arms wrapped around him, holding him close and tight. “Stay… stay, stay, stay, stay, stay—”
“Shh, Zachariah left. I’ll stay.”
“—stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, st—stay, stay, stay—”
“I am, Liam. I’m staying. I won’t leave.”
“—stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, stay—”
Liam dissolved into an open-mouthed cry then, the ‘ay’ of the word stretching and growing and shrinking, broken up by stuttered gasps for air. Something wrapped around him—a blanket, maybe?—and then the room was suddenly cold.
“Look up, Liam. Look at the sky.”
Liam did his best, but tears were still rolling down his cheeks, and the night sky was heavily obstructed by the tears. Still, he kept his head tilted back, trying to obey, trying to be good.
“Aren’t the stars beautiful? Well, actually, that one over there is a planet. Mars.”
Liam couldn’t see it, but he didn’t care. He didn’t even bother to keep looking, he just put his chin on Castiel’s shoulder and listened to the soothing monologue, soaking up the vibrations of a baritone voice rattling the chest pressed against his.
“It’s been a while, but I’ve been to Mars. It’s a very pleasant place, in my opinion.”
Liam wondered if his throat was bleeding; it was so raw. He didn’t try to stop the tears rolling down his cheeks, accepting that it was a bad night and there was nothing anybody could do. His stomach hurt. He was tired.
“I still prefer Earth, though. I like it here. Samandriel said you were talking to him about weather. I think weather is very fascinating. We should talk about it sometime.”
Stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, stay…
Somewhere between Liam’s internal monologue and Castiel’s external one, Liam drifted off to dream, one word etched into the front of his brain.