Inspiration slammed me in the head with one statement from T.L. Arens (Thanks, sweetie). I can't tell you what T said or it would give away the plot, but I'll put it at the end for anyone who's curious.

This takes place past 6.08 and beyond, though it's kind of AU since I have no delusions this is how Sam will get his soul back. Just a story that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go. Enjoy.

Usual D's: Not mine.

Keeper of Souls

"One Alpha Werewolf. Kibble's on the house." Dean toed the gigantic creature lying at his feet. The Big Bad was locked down with more than fifty chains with its veins pumping full of some kind of go-to-werewolf-dreamland concoction they'd had to go to Granpappy for. Not that Dean relished going to Samuel for anything, but getting his brother's soul back took priority over his distaste at working with the old man. Hell, he'd been timeclocking for a demon. Why quibble?

Looking down at the Alpha Were, Crowley snapped his fingers and several demons appeared, wrenched the werewolf up as Dean backed away, and in a flash were gone just as quickly.

The whole thing was unnerving, but Dean crossed his arms, hiding his anxiousness. The wooded area they were in was still as though the very air held its breath. This was it. It'd taken three months to track down the Alpha and another week of trailing it, trying to discover exactly how to take it down, without actually taking it out so the beast would be undead and healthy enough to trade for Sam's soul.

"Get to snapping those digits again, Fergus," Dean growled, keyed up in his worry that everything might go south now that they were so close. God, in mere moments he could have his brother back. It took everything he had to keep from bouncing on his feet. "Sam's soul for the Alpha. That was the deal."

Crowley's hands slipped into his coat pockets. His gaze swept over the leaf-litter where the werewolf had just been. "Well, the thing about that is . . . there's a bit of red tape I have to get through first."

"He's lying," Sam spoke up. He'd been silent during the entire exchange, long hand pressing a bandana to his side where the Alpha Were got a good swipe in. His eyes narrowed on the self-proclaimed King of Hell. "He never did have it."

Dean's heart rate ramped up in speed. He imagined if there were any lingering minor werewolves in the area, it would sound like the frightened pulse of a wounded animal. He stepped up to Sam's side. Robo Sam was a lot of things Dean hated, but his methodical brain read body language like mathematical equations. "How can you tell?"

"He looks down first, then stares you straight in the face when he hands you the lie."

Crowley's gaze flipped up. He stepped right up beneath Sam's face and poked a finger at the hunter's side. "Best take care of that. Wouldn't want any careless infections to drag you back before you get your soul free and clear."

Sam didn't even blink. "Now he's deflecting."

Which wasn't at all what Dean wanted to hear. He wanted Crowley to have Sam's soul. Crowley was a son of a bitch, but he was a son of a bitch he could deal with. Demon or no demon, Dean lunged forward and grabbed Crowley by his lapels. "You slimy piece of crap—" His hands were suddenly clutching air and he was stumbling forward.

Crowley stood several feet away, smoothing out his jacket, his face red. He lifted a hand toward Sam, though he looked at Dean, roaring, "I warned you once what would happen if you lost composure and acted like you!"

A jangling sound tinkled across the air.

Dean and Crowley both jerked their heads toward Sam. Sam held his key ring up, the keys he no longer needed to the crappy Charger that Castiel took a header onto.

Crowley huffed. "Going for a drive, are you?"

Sam's features stretched into his new bitchface. Not the old one that used to pack all his annoyance into one expression, but this new one that appeared more as a facial shrug as Pinocchio attempted to convey any type of emotion that he thought he was supposed to show. It gave Dean the chills.

"Not me." Sam wiggled the keys, catching glints on the metal in the moonlight. Looking closer, Dean saw a few other trinkets hanging from the ring. A small cross, a few other religious symbols, something that looked like a curved tooth?

"See." Sam stepped closer to Crowley, dangling the keys right up into the demons face. "I remember Hell. All of it. All the blood and gore and screams and bones and torture." Dean's hands clenched, going numb. His throat muscles swelled, choking. He never wanted to hear this, especially not the way his brother recited it as though it was inconsequential. So calmly. It ripped Dean to shreds. "I remember other things too. Hell's walls are paper thin. You can hear everything."

"By design, Moose." Though it was said with venom, even Crowley seemed uncertain listening to Sam. "Thin walls and you get to hear all the fun the couple in the next room are having. Did you enjoy the other screams? The bones snapping?"

"Once you learn to tune that out, you can hear things beyond. Voices. Whispers. Plans. Knowledge. There's knowledge in Hell."

Sam's gaze shifted to his key chain and Crowley visibly paled. One side of Sam's lip twitched up. "Should have taken better inventory of what's yours, laddie."

Crowley went to snatch the key chain, but Sam pulled it back high out of his reach. "Did you really think I would let you walk away from Scotland with all of your bones?"

Dean looked at the little tooth swaying from the ring. Not a tooth. A bone.

Crowley rolled his eyes. "So what, you have my big toe. Going to make me stub it? Oh. My. That's going to hurt."

Sam stared at him and began reciting Latin.

"What's that?" Crowley took a step back. "What are you doing?" He looked to Dean. "What is he doing?"

Dean shrugged, enjoying the demon's discomfort. "What are you doing, Sam?" he asked blandly.

"Burning the rest of Crowley's bones."

Crowley whirled back. "That's impossible."

"Is it?" Sam went back to his recitation. "All I need is one piece to set off the others."

"Why you sodding little prick!" Crowley stepped forward. "I'm going to send you back to Hell right now."

Dean shouldered between them. Shifting back, Sam lifted the keys. "Just one word left, Crowley."

The demon stopped.

"The incantation's in place. Just one word and your bones are toast. And I can still say it from Hell, so if you want to send me back, go ahead."

Crowley glared. Finally he rolled his head, cracking his neck before straightening his collar. "Fine. You win this round."

"Yep," Dean said. "Looks like you're our little bitch."

Crowley's lips pressed into a thin line. Dean smiled widely. He was loving this. He rubbed his hands together, getting some warmth with the friction. "Now you listen to me, you punk-ass demon. You're done playing us. No more lies. Where is Sam's soul?"

Crowley's eyes bulged even larger. "I don't know."

Sam lifted the keys, lowered his head, and said one syllable in Latin.

"All right! Just stop."

Sam stopped.

"I really don't know the whereabouts of said soul. Just wait." Crowley flung out a hand. "I can tell you where it's not. It's not in Hell. Not in any nook, labyrinth, fire pit, or Lucifer's cage. Never was. As it turns out, Hell wasn't equipped to contain a soul that didn't belong there. Got spit out almost immediately."

Dean looked to Sam for confirmation.

Sam shook his head, his forehead creasing. "He's not lying."

"So where'd it go?" Dean turned back to get more answers, but the demon was gone. Guess Crowley felt he fulfilled his bitch quota for the day.

"Dude!" Dean clapped Sam on the shoulder. "That was awesome! So now we have Crowley on the collar?"

"At least until he figures out that I was bluffing."

Dean stilled. "There is no bone burning spell?"

Sam shrugged.

"Is that even his bone?"

"Yeah. I thought it might come in handy for . . . " Sam grimaced, pressed the bandana more firmly to his side. It was saturated with blood.

Dean frowned. "Oh, here. You should sit down."

Sam put his hand out, stopping Dean from assisting him. "I got it," he said, lowering to the ground on his own steam.

"Yeah, okay," Dean said, hurt by the reminder that this was still not his brother and the best lead they had to getting his soul back had just gone bust. He still hovered though, still lowered to his knees beside Sam, because . . . well, dammit, because soul or no soul, this was still part of Sam and he was still hurt . . . besides, well, when he got his brother's soul back, he was going to need his body in one piece. So Cyborg Sam could just deal with Dean worrying.

He about jumped out of his skin when Sam's hand clamped over his forearm.

"Dean. I'm afraid."

The quiet admission made him flinch, made his heart collide powerfully against his ribcage. It sounded so much like his Sam, it felt like the world had come to a complete stop. Dean's gaze lifted to Sam's and his muscles turned to gelatin. Sam's brows were drawn down over troubled eyes.

"Sammy?" Dean heard himself whisper.

Sam's head tilted. "I wasn't lying to Crowley. I do remember Hell and . . ." His eyes darted. "I'm not afraid afraid. Yet I am." He lifted his bloody hand from his side. "This hurts and it doesn't bother me, not really, but I know that anytime I get hurt, I can die, and I will be ripped back to Hell. Hell hurts. That bothers me on some level." His brows squeezed harder in the way they did when Sam tried to verbalize what he couldn't feel. "That makes me afraid." He looked up at Dean as though Dean could make some sense out of it. "I think. At least I think what this is . . ." His hands swirled around in front of his chest. ". . . inside is fear."

"You think it's fear."

Sam gave him that new bitchfaceshrug. "Best I can do. It's in my head. And it's in my chest. But the two aren't quite connecting. I'm sorry."

Dean hated when Sam said he was sorry like that, because he wasn't sorry. He couldn't feel being sorry. But this other stuff, afraid of Hell's pain . . . well, Dean guessed that was large enough to put the scare in anyone's bones, even soulless Sammy bones.

He placed his hand on the younger hunter's shoulder whether Sam wanted him to or not. "Don't worry about this. You're not going back to Hell. And Cas . . . Cas can fix this up."

"I'm not worried."

"No. But you're afraid," Dean countered, and wasn't it a crazy screwed up thing that Dean felt even remotely happy about his little brother being afraid. "Cas!"