Summary:

Dean expected Sam to find a way to cope after he was dragged to Hell. He thought Sam would go back to Stanford, or maybe stick with Bobby and keep living up to the Winchester name. By no means did he, even for a moment, think Sam might look to parenting as a coping mechanism.

"You're a hunter, Sam, not a freaking foster dad."

Sam says he can be both. Besides, he isn't fostering anybody. He's not giving up Liam for anything or anyone. Not Ruby. Not demon blood or revenge. Not Heaven or Hell. Not even Dean.

"Liam stays, Dean. It's not up for debate."

Heaven and Hell weren't expecting this, either. They thought Sam would spiral into a self-destructive rage—and for a while, he did—but Sam tore the playbook apart when he decided he would rather be a family man than a blood junkie. Not that they're concerned; they know how to use children to get what they want.

"Do you really think they're going to stop gunning for you just because you've got baggage now?"

All Liam wants is to complete sixth grade without straight Ds or dying. It sounds like a relatively easy goal. It's not, and if one more angel or demon or monster tries to haul him off to who knows where, he is boycotting math. Period.


"So, what, you're saying Dad was abusive?"

Sam heaved a sigh and turned around, leaning back against the driver's side door of the Impala. "No, Dean. I'm saying you and Dad were gone a lot, and I was a lonely kid who had to learn to take care of myself. So, when I found out neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse, I thought maybe I could relate, and I joined a program." He snorted and shook his head, letting his gaze wander skyward as he struggled to balance logic and emotion. "Believe me, I learned enough during my training to know Dad did not qualify as abusive." Even if he had come close more than once. "But he wasn't Father of the Year—you know he wasn't, Dean—and you weren't always there for me. There are things about neglect I do understand."

Dean folded his arms over his chest and nodded, laughing the sarcastic laugh he often used when he was hurt or angry but couldn't make himself admit it. "Okay, well, that's great. You did some volunteer work, you learned some things." He shook his head, glancing to the side before meeting Sam's gaze evenly. "You're a hunter, Sam, not a freaking foster dad."

Sam barely resisted the urge to inform Dean that, actually, Sam and Jessica had talked at length about being foster parents once they tied the knot and settled down. He also resisted the urge to inform Dean that Dean didn't know anything about who or what Sam really was, only who and what he thought Sam should be, because it had always been that way, and apparently, four months in Hell hadn't changed that.

"Look, Dean…" Sam sighed. "Liam isn't going anywhere. Okay?" He shrugged and held up his hands. "Sorry, but that's how it's gonna be, whether you like it or approve or not."

"Sam, this is insane." Dean gestured toward the hotel. "He's gonna get dragged from school to school, just like we were—"

"I'm homeschooling him." Sam didn't miss a beat.

Dean threw his arms out to the side. "Oh, great, isolate him even more."

"You do know homeschoolers are more socialized than public schoolers, right?"

Dean went on as if Sam hadn't said anything at all. "You can't bring him along on hunts, you can't tell him the truth about what we do, you can't—"

"Why not?" Sam gave Dean an incredulous look and spread his hands to indicate the very vehicle he was leaning against; Baby was used to backseat passengers. "You and I always went on hunts with Dad."

Dean snorted. "Yeah, and apparently, he neglected us."

Sam somehow managed to not strangle his brother. Somehow.

"I just told you that isn't what I meant. Dad was great, okay? Dad did the best he could. His best might not have been good by a lot of standards, but it was still his best, and he did better than a lot of dads, even under the circumstances, so can you stop seeing my reasons for looking into child welfare as some sort of accusation?"

"Fine." Dean uncrossed his arms and gesticulated as he spoke, growing progressively more agitated. "Fine, forget about Dad. Do you really want to drag an innocent kid into our ridiculous life?"

"You don't know anything about him, Dean." Sam narrowed his eyes, silently daring his brother to argue with the statement. "You don't know what he's been through. I guarantee there isn't a monster we'll face that's scarier than the ones he's shared a roof with."

"Sam—"

"Dean, just—" Sam rubbed his face and heaved a sigh, dropping his arms to his sides. "Look. I don't have it all figured out. I'm just now starting to piece together the long-term logistics." He shook his head. "But I won't send him back to his group home, and I won't send him back to his mom. His caseworker wasn't pushing for termination of parental rights even though it was more than founded, and if he goes back, he's going to get tossed around the system until he ages out." He held up his hands again, indicating a helplessness that was more dismissive than resigned. "I can help."

"Sam—"

"Liam stays, Dean." Sam wasn't angry, but he didn't budge. "It's not up for debate."

Dean stared for several moments and then let out a bitter laugh. "You know, this really isn't how I pictured our reunion going." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I just got out of Hell, Sam, I don't want to fight with you—"

"Then don't." Sam didn't give Dean the chance to add a 'but,' his gaze softening slightly. "I don't want to fight either, Dean. I really don't."

Dean opened his mouth as if to object but then stopped. He shook his head, put his hands on his hips, and refused to look Sam in the eye. "Okay."

Sam knew that tone. He knew that dismissive, hurt, angry, we're-done-here tone, and it killed him, because he really didn't want to fight. How could he? Dean was back. Dean was dead for four months, and then he was back, like something out of a dream. It had been less than twenty minutes since Sam stood with his arms wound around his brother, clinging to Dean like he was never going to let go, and he was itching to do it again and hold on even longer.

But Sam wasn't giving Liam up.

Dean didn't understand, and Sam didn't blame him for that. He knew Dean was hurt—probably felt replaced by Liam and definitely felt like Sam was attacking a father who couldn't defend himself—and he knew Dean responded poorly when presented with situations that made him feel things. He knew Dean was shocked, and he knew Dean wasn't good at thinking on his feet emotionally.

Sam knew Dean would calm down and start to understand.

But Sam also knew that even if Dean didn't, Sam wasn't giving Liam up.

"Okay." Sam blinked a few times and tapped the driver's side door. "You need Baby?"

Dean shook his head. "No, Bobby can—Baby?"

Sam shrugged and looked the other way. "I thought you would want me to treat her right—nickname and all." He laughed softly, bitterly, memories of the first weeks without Dean surging to the front of his mind. "I did my best."

Also, Liam had taken to calling her 'Baby' after hearing Sam use it all of two times, and it had become Liam's personal mission to defend Baby's honor. Nobody put Baby in a corner, and all that.

Dean didn't say anything at first, but then he cleared his throat and offered a soft, "She looks great. Thanks." He cleared his throat again. "But, uh, Bobby can drive me. I can't leave you without a ride. Especially since…" He refused to bring Liam up again.

Sam was fine with that, and he let the topic drop.

Not taking the Impala was a promise that Dean would be back, but it was also a way to lash out and let Sam know they wouldn't be doing anything as a team anytime soon. They were just as separate in that moment as they had been for the past four months.

But it was a promise that Dean would be back. Sam chose to focus on that.

"Okay." Sam blinked and pushed off the car, walking back toward the motel. "I'll send Bobby out, and… I'll be here if you need anything." He shoved his hands into his pockets and left both his brother and the tainted air behind.

Sorry, Dean. You're family, and I love you, but… this kid has been jerked around so much. I didn't know how long it would take to bring you back, and I promised, and he's had so many broken promises... I'm afraid he won't recover.

Sam grabbed the doorknob to his room and gave it a twist.

"Sorzie?" a little voice called, bearing equal amounts of hope and fear.

Sam smiled as he entered the room. "Hey, buddy."

Bobby looked up from where he sat on the bed, arching a brow. "Sorzie?"

"It's a long story." Sam waved it off and smiled again, directing his attention to the tiny redhead in the circle of colored pencils. "Right, Liam?"

Liam didn't say anything in reply. He simply stared from his spot on the floor and offered a slight nod, curling up slightly while still staying on his stomach. He remained tucked in his corner, where he was simultaneously coloring and—most likely, given his history—trying to stay away from Bobby.

Speaking of…

"Dean said he needs you to drive him somewhere." Sam cleared his throat and gestured over his shoulder, trying to appear less upset than he was. "He, uh, he doesn't want Baby back just yet."

Bobby nodded slightly and got to his feet, his eyes relaying an understanding of what that meant, and he started gravitating toward the door. "I guess I'll see you around, then." He gave Sam a scowl and a hard stare. "Maybe you can call more than once a month between now and then."

Sam rubbed the back of his head, sheepish. "I will." He hoped Bobby's request was a subtle way of telling Sam he didn't completely disapprove of Liam's presence.

You know, things would be so much easier if we all used words.

But where was the fun in that? That just wasn't the Winchester Way. Or the Singer Way. Or the way of anyone they had ever had any kind of lasting relationship with.

"Thanks for the picture, kid." Bobby patted his breast pocket as he grabbed the doorknob.

Liam looked up from what he was doing and smiled, showing off the gap between his two front teeth. "You're welcome!"

Bobby offered a faint smile of his own, gave Sam a much more serious expression, and then left the room. Sam closed the door behind him and locked it, taking a moment to let the fatigue show on his face while he had his back to Liam.

"Sam?"

Oh, no. Liam only called Sam 'Sam' when he was scared or thought he was in trouble; which, sadly, made up roughly half of the time they spent together.

"What's up, Liam?" Sam asked, turning around with a smile in place. Not a big one, not a fake one, just a reassuring one that lacked a bit of energy.

"Um…" Liam bit his lip and sat up, scooting deeper into the corner.

It killed Sam how easily his twelve-year-old body fit into that tiny spot.

"It's okay, Liam. You can ask me." Sam smiled again, staying by the door for the time being. "I won't be mad. Promise."

Liam stared, blue eyes wide and cautious, fingers tugging on dark red locks. "Do I… Do I have to leave?" He shrank back as he finished the question, shoulders drawn up and tight.

Sam shook his head without hesitation. "No, Liam, you aren't leaving." He specifically said 'you aren't leaving' instead of 'you don't have to leave,' because the latter would imply Liam didn't have to leave but could, if he so chose.

That was not the case.

"You're staying here with me," Sam assured.

Liam sagged with relief, but he stayed pressed against the wall. "Are you in trouble?"

Sam smiled and calmly walked closer, sitting down about ten feet away. He had learned very quickly that Liam needed to be in control of his space in order to feel safe, and the last thing Sam wanted to do was take away Liam's sense of safety.

"I'm not in trouble, Liam. Trust me, I know Dean as well as I know myself, and when he's surprised or confused, he sometimes gets mad. He won't hurt me, and he won't hurt you, and he won't make you go away."

Liam worried his lip and looked down at his faded, black-and-white, beat-up Converse, squirming uncomfortably. He clearly didn't believe Sam, but it didn't look like he was going to say anything to that effect.

It's been two months, and he's still so afraid, even of me.

Sam wet his lips and tried to think of another approach he could take. "Liam, you know how… sometimes… things happen and you start to have feelings you don't understand? Like if I startle you or make a loud noise? You feel things that scare you, and sometimes you hit me or throw things." Sam kept his expression and tone equally soft. "Do you really mean to hit me or throw things, Liam?"

Liam shook his head rapidly, eyes wide. "No! It's on accident! I don't mean to!"

"Shh, shh, I know." Sam's lips twitched into a soft, reassuring smile. "I know, and it's okay, and I'm not mad." He paused, giving Liam time to process the lack of danger, and then he continued. "But you do it because it makes you feel unsafe, right?" He paused again, waiting for a nod. "You and I snuck up on Dean, and we startled him on accident." Maybe he shouldn't have encouraged the improper turn of phrase, but it was cute, so sue him. "We didn't mean to, but we made Dean feel unsafe. He lashed out, but he didn't mean any of what he said or did."

Namely the, "What do you mean he's yours?" and the, "Sam, are you crazy? You can't raise a kid!" that had been shouted before Sam grabbed Dean by the arm and forcibly dragged him from the room.

Liam seemed to relax a little, and he slipped into a laying position again. He hummed again and nodded to himself as he grabbed a green pencil. "I think I understand." He started to color, and just like that, the conversation was over.

Sam was slowly getting used to it—getting used to the way Liam stopped talking about serious things as soon as he realized he wasn't going to be punished—but it was frustrating. Sam didn't know how to get Liam to open up when every time a conversation about conflict turned positive, Liam shut him down.

Baby steps, Winchester. Baby steps.

"Sorzie, do you wanna color with me?" Liam glanced up only briefly, most of his focus on the paper beneath him. "We can make pictures for Dean to say we're sorry for scaring him."

Sam smiled and crawled closer, settling down on the floor a few feet away. "I think that's a great idea."

Sam grabbed the coloring sheets—adult coloring sheets, because Liam had the skill and disliked the options for kids his age—and started to look through the pages. He let silence settle over the space between them, trying to think of a way to address the recent changes without telling Liam too much. If there was one thing Sam had learned working in the system, it was that children were excellent observers and terrible interpreters. They were quick to catastrophize, and the attempts of adults to preserve innocence often backfired.

Liam was no exception, and Sam wanted to do it right. But…

"Is Dean your big brother?" Liam asked suddenly, the question falling from his lips as if he had just asked whether Sam preferred chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

Sam grabbed a yellow pencil and started to color some kind of tropical flower. "Yes, he is. He's the one who went missing." Because Sam had refused to acknowledge that Dean was dead, and he had still been determined to resurrect Dean someday, so he had told Liam that Dean was missing and left it at that. "That's why I was so happy to see him."

Liam didn't say anything for a moment, his lips twisting up unhappily, and then he started to slowly speak. "Does… does my necklace… belong to Dean?"

Sam felt a stab of pain in his chest, but he hid it well. "Yes, it does." It was one of the many things Sam was internally stressing over. "I won't make you give it back, but… maybe you could talk to Dean about it?"

"What does Dean need it for?" Liam snapped but immediately shrank back when he realized what he'd done. "Sorry. Didn't mean to mouth off."

Sam only offered a smile. Ironically, Sam had smiled more in the four months since Dean's death than he had in his entire life, simply because two of those four months were spent trying to soothe Liam's constant fear.

"It's okay, Liam, you didn't do anything wrong." Sam gave him a light squeeze on the shoulder, keeping the physical contact to a minimum. "It's okay to be upset. It just shows how much you care."

Liam didn't say anything, but he didn't relax, either. He slid a little closer to the wall and took his paper with him, coloring in silence. "I'll give it back."

"You don't have to, Liam. I won't be mad."

"I'll give it back." Liam stopped coloring for a moment, hands shaking slightly.

Sam shrugged and continued to color his own sheet. "You can do that, too."

Liam didn't say anything, but he started to color again, and the silence slid from tense to easy. He shifted a few times, like he couldn't get comfortable, but he said nothing else.

Sam pursed his lips and held up two different shades of blue. "What do you think? Dark or light?"

Liam looked at the pencils for a few seconds. "Both. If you color just a bit with the dark one—kinda crisscrossy, like the checkies on your shirt—and then color like normal with the light one, it'll look really pretty."

"Huh…" Sam looked at his pencils. "That's a pretty good plan, Liam." It might be time to get him something a little more advanced than Crayola and free printouts.


Dean knocked on the door to Sam's room a bit more frantically than he intended, adrenaline still pumping through his veins, blood pounding against his eardrums. He wiped his hands on his jeans and knocked again, periodically checking over his shoulder.

"Who is it?" a small voice called from the other side.

Crap. Dean slowly rubbed his forehead. I forgot about the kid.

"Uh, hey, it's Dean." You know, the guy who freaked out as soon as he saw you? Yeah, that's me. "I need to talk to Sam."

There was some scuffling, a sliding lock, and then two sky blue eyes were staring up at him. "He's taking a shower. But I can let you in. You're not a stranger."

Dean offered a quick smile, unable to manage much more with Pamela's screams echoing in his ears, the sight of her burned-out eye sockets still flashing through his mind. "Uh, thanks." He put his hand on the door, intending to push it just enough to nudge the kid out of the way.

Liam jumped back like he'd been burned.

Dean froze for a moment, and then he slipped into the room, gently closing the door behind him. "My bad. Didn't mean to scare you, uh… Leeland?" Wait, there wasn't a D at the end. "Leon?"

"Liam," the boy said softly, sidestepping backwards as Dean moved toward the table. "But you can call me whatever you want."

Dean nodded slowly. "Uh, Liam works. Or Lee." Since that was apparently the only part he could remember. "That cool with you?"

Liam nodded, silent.

"Cool."

Liam looked past Dean to the door, bit his lip, and looked at Dean again. "Can you lock that?"

Dean looked over his shoulder and frowned, confused, but he moved to do what was asked. "Uh, sure." He gave the deadbolt a twist and returned to the table. "There."

Liam nodded solemnly, still keeping his distance.

Dean nodded back, unsure of what to say, and ran a hand through his hair, rubbing the back of his head. Castiel. It called itself Castiel… all she did was take a look at it, and it burned her eyes out. How am I supposed to kill that?

"This is yours."

Dean snapped himself from his thoughts and looked up in time to see Liam cautiously place a familiar amulet on the other end of the table.

Did I really scare him that bad? Dean felt a twinge of guilt, and he offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Yeah, Sam gave it to me when we were kids."

Liam averted his eyes when Dean reached out to take the necklace, but he didn't say anything. He just stood there, tugging on his sleeves, unhappy for no apparent reason.

Dean frowned and looked at the necklace again. "Uh…" He shook his head. "C'mon, kid, you gotta work with me. I don't read minds." He looked up at Liam and then back down at the necklace. How did he know it was mine? And how did he know where Sam was keeping it?

"Did you—Did Sam give this to you?"

Liam offered the faintest of nods, and Dean couldn't help but feel he had been slapped in the face. It was one of Dean's most prized possessions, and all it took was a couple months for Sam to give it away.

But none of that was the kid's fault, and he was already so scared…

"Uh, well, if he wanted you to have it—"

"He only gave it to me 'cause I needed it." Liam still wouldn't look at Dean, his lips twisted into a frustrated but fearful sort of pout. "But it's okay. You can have it."

Dean furrowed his brow. Needed? He reached out and picked up the amulet, holding it in front of his face and giving it a good, hard onceover. Sammy, what did you do? But nothing looked or felt different about it. It was just a necklace. His necklace.

"Okay… I'll bite." Dean looked up from the amulet with brows raised. "What did you need this for?"

Liam finally looked at him, and he seemed confused. "Protection." He pointed to the amulet. "It's magic. Sorzie said there's a soul in it."

Dean didn't know what disturbed him more, the odd nickname or the idea that Sam might have trapped someone in the necklace. "Somebody's soul is in here?"

"Mm-hmm. Sorzie says he's the best protector in the whole world—or he was. He had to go away, but he left his soul in there so Sorzie didn't have to be alone, and he can still protect people as long as they have the necklace." Liam pointed to the dangling charm. "Sorzie had it to keep him safe, but he's a lot bigger and stronger than me, and he said I needed the protector more. So, he gave it to me to keep me safe… and to help with the bad dreams."

Dean looked down at the amulet, jaw tightening slightly. Sammy…

"Sorry. I didn't mean to make you mad."

Dean's head snapped up in time for him to see Liam take a few steps back. Something in his gut twisted, and he shook his head, looking back down at the amulet. "You didn't make me mad, kid. It's just, uh… been a long day."

"Because you were missing?"

Dean frowned slightly, once again confused. Briefly, he regretted not having a longer, less heated conversation with Sam about the kid. "Uh, yeah… I was somewhere I didn't want to be, and I couldn't get back here."

"But then you did." Liam chewed on his lip for a moment, blue eyes wide and innocent and sparkling right beneath a cluster of faded cigarette burns on his left browbone. "Sorzie said you were gonna come back."

Dean gave a tight smile, and for the first time since he was topside, it occurred to him that he didn't know how Sam was doing. How Sam had dealt with Dean being gone. He didn't mean to forget, it just got swept up in the chaos. He was in Hell, and then he wasn't, and then something was ringing and blowing out windows, and then a kid was there, and then—

"Well, I'm back now, and that's all that matters. Right?"

Liam looked at him for a moment, and then he offered a little nod. He opened his mouth like he was going to ask a question, but then he clammed up and averted his eyes.

Geeze. He's gotta be, what, nine? Ten, maybe? I better get him into cars and wrestling before Sam lets him grow up without a spine.

"Hey, kid—"

"Liam, did you get every—Dean?" Sam stopped halfway out of the bathroom, holding a towel around his waist.

"Sam." Dean jumped to his feet, stopping only for a second when Liam flinched, and then he walked over to Sam. "Bobby is at the hospital with a friend. There have been, uh, developments."

"Develop—?" Sam's eyes widened. "Oh, uh—yeah, okay. I'll finish getting dressed." His gaze shifted over Dean's shoulder. "Liam, get your stuff together and get ready to go, okay?"

Making sure Liam knew what to do seemed like second nature to Sam, and Dean wondered how long the little guy had been around.

Liam nodded and rushed to do what Sam asked. Sam smiled approvingly, but there was a sadness to it, a pain.

Dean cleared his throat and rubbed his forehead. "So, whatever this thing is, it calls itself Castiel. Bobby and I went to see a psychic friend of his…" He lowered his voice and leaned forward slightly. "It burned her eyes out."

Sam's face contorted in a mixture of shock, horror, and confusion. "What? Why? Was she close to locating it?"

Dean shook his head. "She said he—they, it, whatever—told her to turn back. She said no, kept going, and the next thing we knew…" He paused, swallowed, and shook his head. "Bobby headed right over to the hospital after he dropped me off. I have a lead on some D-E-M-O-N-S, and I'm not going in without backup."

Sam arched a brow, and Dean was struck by how much he missed that irritated sass. "Dude, he's not three. He can spell 'demons.'"

Dean lifted his hands slightly in a gesture of surrender. "Hey, I have no idea what the vocabulary of a nine year old is."

"He's twelve," Sam deadpanned.

Dean did a doubletake and mouthed, "He's so small."

Sam lowered his voice and replied, "Neglect will do that."

Dean looked back at Liam—seriously, the kid couldn't have weighed more than seventy-five pounds—and then back at Sam. "But he's so freaking small."

Sam pressed his lips into a tight line and nodded. "Neglect will do that."

Dean opened his mouth but stopped himself. Focus. He gestured to the rest of the room. "I'll help Liam pack. You do what you gotta do. I wanna get a move on."

Sam gave a thumbs up and turned to leave.

"Wait," Dean reached out and grabbed his arm. "Before anything else, I have to know… Sorzie?"

Sam hung his head with a defeated sigh. "I knew that was coming." He smiled then, fond and amused and all-over happy, which wasn't a face Sam often wore. "You'll appreciate this. Liam says I remind him of the Green Giant because I'm 'crazy tall' and I eat too many salads."

Dean threw his head back laughing, feeling light for the first time since he got out of Hell.

Sam gave him an irritated look but continued. "Liam was curious, so we looked up the Green Giant's name. As it turns out, he doesn't have one, but the Green Giant brand used to go by Le Sueur Z. So… Liam decided…" he looked progressively more embarrassed the closer he got to the end of the explanation, "…the Green Giant's name… and subsequently, my name… is Sam LeSueur the Zth."

"Zeeth?"

Sam couldn't hold back his smile or the little laugh that went with it. "Yeah, like Henry the Eighth. Sam LeSueur the Zeeth."

Dean laughed again—he couldn't help it; it was too cute and stupid and weird all at once—and gestured vaguely toward Liam. "I take it that got shortened to Sam LeSueur Z."

"Which then got shortened to Sorzie." Sam nodded as he spoke, embarrassment and amusement fighting for dominance over his features.

Dean folded his arms over his chest and hummed. "I dunno, Liam. I think I would have gone with… Samlesueurous Zex."

Sam rolled his eyes and grabbed his clothes from the nearby bed. "I'm leaving."

Liam giggled from where he knelt on the floor, gathering what looked like art supplies. That giggle soon turned into a laugh, and Dean realized it was one of the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard. It might even have been on par with Sammy's laugh. Nothing could top Sammy's laugh, of course, but it was close; closer than anything had ever been.

Dean turned to look at Sam, and he saw the fondness there. He saw the heartfelt desire—no, the ingrained need—to make that laugh continue as long as possible. He saw the slight gravitation, the leaning, the subconscious attempt to move closer to the tiny person who brought him so much joy.

Dean looked at Sam, and he saw himself; he saw the look he always wore when Sam was happy, when he had something to do with that happiness, when he could rest in the knowledge that everything was right in his little brother's world, and he immediately knew.

There weren't two Winchesters in the room.

Whether he liked it or not, there were three.


"Listen, this really isn't a good time."

"It's never a good time anymore."

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned against the balcony railing. "Look, Ruby, I told you. I'm done. Don't get me wrong, it makes me stronger, and I think we were on to something, but…" He shook his head with a sigh. "I don't like the way I act when I'm drinking it."

"Sam—"

"If it were just me, or even me and Dean, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. My personality isn't that stellar to begin with, and Dean can survive me biting his head off or disappearing with vague explanations. Liam can't." Sam sighed again, heavier, and glanced over his shoulder to make sure the room behind him was still silent and dark. "I'm sorry, Ruby. I really am. I want to get Lilith—you don't know how badly I want to get her—but I can't just do things anymore. Before—"

"Yeah, I've heard the speech," she snapped. "Before, if someone didn't like your choices, they could walk the other way, but Liam doesn't have a choice." Ruby heaved a sigh, a blend of anger and disappointment in her voice. "I hope you know what you're condemning him to."

Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"This war doesn't end because you've suddenly decided you're father material," was the half-angry, half-worried reply. "Lilith is still out there, and she isn't going to like that Dean is out of Hell. No one will. Do you really think they're going to stop gunning for you just because you've got baggage now?"

"He's not baggage." Sam snapped the words before he could stop himself.

"Sam—" Ruby's voice was dancing on the edge of desperate.

"I gotta go." Sam snapped his phone shut and slowly exhaled, staring over the railing at the sidewalk below. There has to be a way. There has to be a way to do both.

It was actually kind of funny, given Dean's accusations, but the more Sam tried to imagine life with Liam, the more respect he had for their father. There were a lot of things John did that Sam wouldn't dream of doing, but there were a lot more things he once believed he could never understand that he suddenly… sorta… did.

Sam hated the thought of leaving Liam in motel rooms for days on end, like John and even Dean had done to him, but when he thought about taking Liam along on hunts, his stomach dropped out. Earlier that same day, at the diner with Dean, it had taken every ounce of self-control Sam had not to constantly be looking out at the parking lot. Because doing so would have given Liam away to the demons. But Liam was right there, and there were monsters right there, and it made Sam feel like his heart was going to burst out of his chest.

Sam hated the thought of teaching Liam how to melt silver into bullets, of spending all their free time training, but the thought of holding Liam, lifeless and bloody and cold in his arms, knowing Liam would still be alive if Sam had just prepared him a little better…

Sam hated the thought of doing a lot of the things John had, but he had never realized how much he could hate the thought of the alternative until he was sitting on that very high, very unforgiving fence himself.

I can find a way. Dad was in a different situation. I have Dean—adult Dean—and Bobby, and we know more about hunting than we did back then, and… and I can make this work. I'll find a balance. I'll make this work. Sam ran a hand through his hair and turned to enter the motel room. I have to make this work.

"Sam!"

Sam looked up, shock contorting his features as Bobby and Dean came up the stairs, all but running toward him. They were both rattled, windswept in appearance, and Bobby seemed to have a bit of a sway in his step.

"Guys?" Sam took a few steps toward them, not wandering far from the door, and looked to them for answers. "What happened?"

Dean shook his head, out of breath with eyes blown wide. "Have we got a story for you."

Uh oh.


Author's Note: In this AU, Sam was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) when he was at Stanford. It's a volunteer position, and they have different factions for counties all over the United States. I am a CASA in my local county, and while the rules here are likely different from those in Santa Clara County (Stanford, CA), I am taking the liberty of pretending they are the same.

All information regarding trauma, child welfare, family court, advocacy, abuse, neglect, etc. either comes from my training, my experience, or independent research surrounding my job as a CASA.

Homeschooling will not be a huge topic, but I am a homeschool graduate, and I did both an argumentative research paper and a persuasive speech on the benefits of homeschooling over public schooling while in college. My information on this topic is well-researched, and I speak from personal experience as well.

TL;DR I know what I'm talking about.