“So, I still don’t know if you can hear me…”
Castiel recoiled under the force of his brothers, his essence flashing orange and screeching into the void. Had he still been in a vessel, his voice would have been long gone, and he would have been choking on his own tears. Instead, he was suspended in the very essence of pain, torn apart and burned on a molecular level.
“…but we’re looking for you. Pappy—uh, John tried to find you, but he couldn’t.”
Castiel writhed, tendrils of yellow snaking through his flaring shades of royal and navy blue. He screamed, his light flickering out like a dying fire before surging back, a mixture of yellow and bronze. It hurt. It hurt so much.
“Sam and Dean and Bobby are all looking.”
Castiel flashed a light blue for a fraction of a second, the whispered words from Earth bringing him the faintest strain of comfort. He didn’t know why Liam was talking to him, or why Liam would care where Castiel was. It was astonishing that Sam, Dean, and Bobby would look for Castiel, and Castiel was tempted to believe Liam was lying.
But Castiel needed that hope.
“Just hold on. Everything’s gonna be okay.”
Castiel twisted and tore, his light shredding into strips as he screeched, the high-pitched ring of agony resonating through the abyss.
Sam jolted awake with a gasp, scanning the room and quickly zeroing in on the small child standing by the bed. “What is it, buddy?”
Liam fidgeted in place. “Um…” He twisted his hands against each other, dropping his eyes to watch them. “If you… if you still think it’s a good idea to call a therapist… you can.” He glanced up briefly but couldn’t quite meet Sam’s eyes. “I’d be okay with that.”
Sam was still half-asleep, but he was awake enough to sit up and engage in soft-spoken conversation. “I’ll do it first thing in the morning.” He paused. “Did something happen to make you change your mind?”
Liam met Sam’s eyes for a fraction of a second, and then he was staring at his hands again. “Bad dreams… and stuff.” He sniffed, interlocking his fingers. “I just… I don’t want to be scared to sleep anymore.”
Sam pressed his lips together and nodded understandingly. “I’ll make some calls. We’ll get you taken care of, okay?” It took everything in Sam not to press Liam on the ‘and stuff,’ but he knew it would likely hurt more than help.
“Thanks…” Liam shuffled in place, moving his mouth in silent half-words that never made it off his tongue. He sighed, shoulders hunching slightly.
Sam rubbed his face briefly and pushed the blankets off his legs. “Do you want to go somewhere to distract yourself?”
Liam bit his lip and nodded twice, eyes glued to the movement of his hands.
“Do you have any idea where you want to go?” Sam ran a hand through his hair and stood up, quietly moving toward his duffle bag. “Are you hungry at all? Do you want to find a restaurant?”
Liam shook his head and folded both arms over his stomach, staring down at his feet.
“Okay, so no food.” Unfortunately, Sam didn’t remember seeing much of anything in the town, and what little he did see weren’t twenty-four-hour stores. “Maybe we can just drive around for a bit.”
“We could do school,” Liam suggested quietly. He shuffled in place a little. “Like… maybe you could read me a story?”
Sam smiled, one hand resting in the duffle bag but no longer searching for a jacket. “That sounds like a great idea. Go get your book.”
Liam scurried over to the table in the corner of the room, and Sam got to his feet and returned to bed. Liam ran back to the bed a second later with a brown book in his hands, which he handed to Sam.
“Alright, let’s see…”
Liam crawled into bed with Sam, curling up against Sam’s side and settling in for a long night.
Sam briefly considered putting on a pot of coffee, but he ultimately decided he would wait to see if Liam was going to fall asleep quickly.
“Alright, here we go. Chapter Nine: Moses. ‘It was early spring, 1851, when Harriet decided to go south again to guide her brother James to freedom. Snow still lay in pieces on the ground as she made her way through Delaware…”
“… in the crisp, winter air on the night of Harriet’s death, the North Star, which had guided her and those she conducted to freedom, shone brightly.”
Sam let out a contented sigh and closed the book, looking down at Liam with a sad smile. “Still can’t sleep?”
Liam shook his head, dark circles painted beneath his eyes. It had been far too long since he got a full night of rest. “Could we start another one?”
Sam, who was slowly losing his ability to keep his eyes open, let out another sigh and shook his head. “I think we should try to fall asleep first, okay? I’ll be right here with you.”
Liam shook his head, a quiet whine rising in his throat. “I don’t want to sleep. Please, Sorzie, please don’t make me.”
Sam tried not to let his frustration show, but he was exhausted, and as much as he sympathized with Liam’s fear—as much as it pained him to hear Liam plead—he also knew they both needed sleep.
“I’m not going to make you, but I want you to try. Okay?” Sam pushed Liam’s bangs away from his face. “Dean and I are going to meet Adam tomorrow, and you’re going to stay here. What if you get too tired and fall asleep and have a bad dream when you’re alone?”
Liam pondered that for a moment, and then he offered a tiny, defeated nod. “Yeah, okay… I guess I can try…”
Sam smiled and leaned over, planting a kiss on Liam’s forehead. “Thank you for trying, Liam. That’s very brave of you.”
Liam flashed a weak smile and crawled under the covers, settling down facing Sam.
Sam adjusted the blankets, tucking Liam in before laying down and situating the blankets over himself. He rolled onto his side so he was facing Liam. “Do you want me to play with your hair?”
Liam sniffed and nodded his head, moving in a little closer.
Sam reached out and started toying with the amber locks, combing his fingers through the strands and occasionally running his hand up and down Liam’s spine.
It was mere minutes before Liam was asleep, and Sam knew it had to be due to the severe exhaustion. Liam hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since they reunited two weeks earlier.
And Sam could only imagine how little sleep Liam was getting before they were reunited.
Not to mention, he’s worried about Castiel, and what the angels might be doing to him, and he’s worried about us, because he knows we’re up against something big, and…
And Sam was definitely calling a therapist in the morning.
“Hi, Bobby.” Liam fell back on the bed and idly swung his legs over the edge of the mattress. “I’m bored.”
“Bored, huh? Did you do all your schoolwork?”
Liam nodded, even if Bobby couldn’t see him. “Yup.”
“All of it?” Bobby had a playful suspicion in his tone. “Even the math?”
“Yup.” Liam drew the word out and made a popping noise at the end. “Even the math. I only have two problems left, and I need Sorzie to help me with them.” He sighed, kicking his legs again. “They went to meet with Adam and make sure he’s really who he says he is. They left me here in case it got dangerous.”
Bobby chuckled on the other end of the line. “Probably a good idea. You can never be sure what’s gonna happen when your pappy is involved, even if it is old news.”
Liam frowned slightly. “I… don’t really know a lot about him. I know Sorzie and Dean kinda act funny when I ask about him… and I know you and him didn’t get along too well.” His brow crinkled as he continued. “What, um… well, just why, I guess. I want to know why it’s a touchy subject.”
Bobby let out a sigh at that, but he didn’t seem annoyed. “Where do I even begin?” He sighed again. “John’s situation wasn’t an easy one. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and say what he could have or should have done differently, and it’s easy to point the finger when you’re standing on the outside, but… he really did do his best.”
“Okay…” Liam blinked slowly, pulling his legs up onto the bed. “What does that mean?”
“Well…” Bobby let out a sigh. “When Sam and Dean were little, their mom got killed by a yellow-eyed demon. After that, well, I always thought John wanted revenge. But come to find out, the reason he was so obsessed with finding that thing is because something was after the boys. Sam, specifically.”
“Sorzie?” Liam finished, a curious lilt to his voice.
“Yeah.” Bobby paused. “It’s… it’s a long story, and I don’t know if Sam wants me telling it.” He sighed. “Bottom line is John got so focused on keeping Sam and Dean safe that he forgot to see whether or not they were happy. It wasn’t so much that he did things he shouldn't have, it was that he didn’t do things he should have.”
“Like what kinda stuff?” Liam was almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Like… going to the park and playing ball. Remembering birthdays and Christmas and Easter.” Bobby cleared his throat. “It was always about training the boys. Taking them out to the firing range, teaching them how to fight, teaching them how to hunt monsters… but never taking the time to teach them how to be kids.”
Liam twisted his lips into a frown, swinging his legs and letting them bounce against the bed. “That’s sad.” He thought for a second. “And then he died, didn’t he? So they didn’t get to make up, and that’s why they act weird?”
“Yeah, that’s part of it. I think another part of it is that they miss him… but they don’t really know how to deal with it. John always acted weird when somebody mentioned Mary—”
It took Liam a second to realize Mary was Sam and Dean’s mother.
“—and I guess it’s just another trait they picked up from him.” Bobby let out a sigh. “A’course, they could’a picked it up from me, too. I never talk about my wife.”
“You were married?” Liam blinked, surprised. He hadn’t seen a single picture or indication of a woman anywhere in Bobby’s house. “Wait. You mean Karen, the first girl you ever kissed? Tell me about her!”
Bobby stammered, caught off-guard, which wasn’t easy to do. “I—well, I…”
“Please?” Liam bit his lip, scooting toward the head of the bed. “I really want to hear about her, and maybe if you don’t act weird about Karen, Sorzie and Dean won’t act weird about Pappy.”
Bobby made a series of hesitating noises, and then he finally relented with a sigh. “Alright.” He took a breath. “Karen had blonde hair down to her shoulders, kinda curled under, and the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen.”
“Bluer than Castiel’s?” Liam asked, jaw dropping slightly.
Bobby chuckled. “To me, they were.”
Liam fell silent and settled in for what he hoped would be a long story.
“We met for the first time when she brought her car in to be fixed. She had sprung a leak, and her radiator kept overheating. She must’ve come in for ten more repairs before I finally got the nerve to ask her out on a date. I was over the moon when she said yes…”
Liam stared down at his hands, shaking, heart pounding in his chest. He watched the gun fall, heard it clatter on the floor. His eyes slowly moved from the weapon to Sam’s prone body.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Liam knew Sam was knocked out cold. Sam had been hit in the face with the butt of a shotgun, after all. Sam had been hit, and then Liam had killed Adam with the pistol Sam had been using to train Adam just an hour or so earlier.
It wasn’t hard to shoot Adam. They weren’t that far apart. Liam actually got sprayed with blood upon impact; that was how close they were. It was hard to miss at that distance, even if it was a headshot.
Once Adam hit the ground, his mother had rushed forward to attack. Liam shot her, too. He didn’t remember that shot as much, but he knew he heard the bang again.
Liam numbly dropped his bloody hands and crouched down beside Sam. He pushed the hair out of Sam’s face, surprised to find he was more upset about the gash on Sam’s head than he was about what had happened immediately after.
“Sorzie.” Liam took the hem of his shirt and pressed it down on the bleeding head wound, amazed by his own lack of tears. “Sorzie, you gotta get up.” Liam gave Sam a little shake. “Come on.” He gave him another shake. “Please…”
As if responding to the magic word, Sam started to stir, a quiet moan rising in his throat. His face twisted up in pain, and he turned his head to the side, probably trying to get away from the shirt touching his wound.
“Sorzie?” Liam prodded softly. “Are you okay?” He felt tears welling up in his eyes, and he tried to stop them, but he couldn’t help himself.
Why am I crying now? Why not before?
Sam let out a quiet moan, eyes fluttering a few times before opening. He blinked at the ceiling and then looked around, dazed. “Liam…?”
Liam sniffed and nodded, reaching up to wipe his eyes. He got blood on his face. His heart pounded harder and faster with every step Sam took toward consciousness. “I’m sorry, Sam,” he whispered.
“Sorry…?” Sam squinted, blinked, and then opened his eyes. “Liam, what…?” He stared for a moment more, confused, and then he shot up into a sitting position. He pressed a hand over his wound and looked around, immediately spying the bodies on the floor.
“Liam, close your eyes, okay?” Sam reached for the shotgun laying half under Adam’s body. “And cover your ears.”
Liam sat down with his back to the wall and did as he was told, a few tears escaping his eyes when they closed. He pressed his hands against his ears as tight as he could and drew his knees up to his chest, dropping his forehead onto them with a shaky sigh.
There was a pause, and then Liam heard one gunshot. Another pause, another gunshot, and then there was silence.
“Liam, are you okay?”
Liam dropped his hands from his ears and slowly looked up to see Sam kneeling in front of him. He gave a few, jerky nods and resisted the urge to throw himself into Sam’s arms. “I’m really sorry,” he whispered.
Sam shook his head, a sad smile pulling at his lips. “Don’t be sorry, Liam. You did what you had to do. You thought fast, and I’m proud of you. I just…” Sam sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I just… didn’t want this life for you.”
“I know. I know you didn’t.” Liam sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Sam sighed softly and reached out, grabbing Liam under the arms. he pulled Liam onto his lap and wrapped both arms around him, planting a kiss on Liam’s forehead. “You shouldn’t be sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong.” He kissed Liam’s forehead again. “You saved me. You got rid of two monsters who were hurting people, who were never gonna stop hurting people.”
“But you don’t want me to be a hunter,” Liam cried miserably, ducking his head and moving in close. He didn’t know why Sam wasn’t angry, but as long as things were peaceful, he wanted to be as close to Sam as possible. “You wanted me to stay away from hunting. You only brought me along to meet Adam. I wasn’t supposed to know how to hunt, but I did, 'cause I read Pappy's journal, and—”
“Liam. Shh.” Sam hushed Liam, gently carding his hands through auburn locks. “I don’t want you to be a hunter because I don’t want to you to be in danger. It’s not because being a hunter is bad, and it doesn’t mean I’m not proud of you for knowing what to do, it’s just… I just don’t want you to be hurt as much as Dean and I have been hurt. Does that make sense?”
Liam nodded slightly. It made sense, but he still felt he had disappointed Sam in some way. Sam was so determined to keep Liam safe, and if Liam got hurt, that would make Sam feel bad, and that would be Liam’s fault.
“How did you know what to do?” Sam asked softly, a curious tone in his voice.
Liam shrugged. “I just know lots of things get killed by having their heads taken off, including shapeshifters, and you kept saying that Adam’s mom wasn’t really his mom, so I thought…” He trailed off and shrugged his shoulders again. “I don’t know. I didn’t have much time to think. It just seemed like a good idea.”
Sam smiled softly, adjusting his arm a little and holding Liam close. “They’re ghouls, which are killed by decapitation or the destruction of the head, so you were right on.”
“Right on?” Liam’s lips twisted as he tried to keep himself from smiling. “So, I hit the nail on the… head?”
Sam tilted his head back and laughed. “Yes. Yes, you did.”
Liam giggled, snuggling in a little closer. “And… you’re really not mad?”
“No, Liam.” Sam shook his head and squeezed Liam tight. “I’m not mad at all. I’m not disappointed, I’m not upset, I’m not hurt. I just wish… I just wish there weren’t any monsters to kill in the first place. I wish you hadn’t been in a situation where you needed to kill monsters. But you being in that situation was my fault, not yours.”
Liam stretched out his legs a little, staring at the toes of his shoes as he pondered what Sam was saying. Beyond his feet lay the blurry, out-of-focus bodies he had shot. “I wish I hadn’t been in that situation, too.”
“I know, buddy, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Sam let out a soft sigh and ran his hand through Liam’s hair. “It’s not fair. And I’m sorry it’s not fair. This is all my fault.”
“No, it’s not. It’s not your fault.” Liam leaned into Sam a little more, sniffing quietly. “Besides, it does feel kinda good… if I think about them being monsters.” He smiled faintly and looked up at Sam for approval. “I was pretty brave, wasn’t I?”
“You were insanely brave.” Sam spoke in earnest, and there was a kind smile on his lips. “You did a good job, Liam. You did an amazing job.”
Liam smiled to himself, feeling an odd mix of guilt and pride. It made him feel warm inside to get praise from Sam, but his stomach still twisted at the source of the praise. He wasn’t quite sure what he felt or what to do about it.
“We should go find Dean.” Liam pushed off Sam’s lap and stopped just short of stepping in blood. “Just, um, just in case there are any more ghouls.”
Sam also got to his feet, immediately grabbing Liam under the arms and lifting him up. “You’re right.” He put Liam on his hip with a grunt. “Oof. You’re getting heavy. Pretty soon, I won’t be able to carry you.”
Liam flashed a faint smile, but it was hard to be cheerful with two bodies in the room. They’re just monsters. They’re just monsters. They’re bad guys. It’s okay. It’s okay.
“Do you want me to take you back to the motel? You can wait there while I…” Sam trailed off when Liam shook his head vigorously. “Okay. Okay, we’ll go find Dean together.”
Liam was just putting his head down on Sam’s shoulder when he had an epiphany and it popped right back up. “I saved you.” He leaned back so he could see Sam’s face, still holding on tight. “Didn’t I?”
Sam smiled widely and nodded his approval. “Yeah, buddy. You did. You saved me.”
Liam smiled to himself and leaned close, resting his head on Sam’s shoulder.
Sam rubbed Liam’s back a few times and then started carrying him out of the house. “You saved me in more ways than you will ever know."