I almost wish Soulless Sam had stuck around a little longer. Not that I didn't miss the old tortured Sammy, but I found the idea of a man with no soul very intriguing. So suffering from SPN withdrawal (damn you CW and your last minute schedule changes!) I decided to play around inside SL Sam's head a little bit.

Sam knew things. He knew who he was, where he had come from, and everything that had happened to him during the twenty seven years of his life – give or take a few when he was too young to know much about anything. He knew Dean was his brother, and he knew Dean. When he found himself mysteriously plunked back down on Earth after taking a nose dive into Hell, he ultimately concluded it would probably be best to just leave Dean alone.

Looking back, he realized he should have known something was wrong immediately. His first thought upon his resurrection was of Dean. Seeking his brother out hadn't been instinctual, it had been logical. Dean might have answers to a lot of Sam's questions. So Sam had stolen a car and driven to Indiana where he believed Dean would have gone. He stood outside the house, saw Dean enjoying a family meal with Lisa and Ben, and realized the flaw in his logic. Obviously Dean had no idea Sam was back, nor how he got back, so pursuing the course of action Sam was following would be pointless. Not only that, but Dean looked happy. What purpose would it serve to take him away from his new life?


So Sam turned around and left, without remorse, without a shred of melancholy, but with the knowledge that what he had done was the right thing. In a moment of reflection sometime later, Sam realized there was something amiss about the situation. Once again employing logic, he realized he should have felt something when he turned his back on his brother. He also realized this revelation should have bothered him – but it didn't. He wrote it off, thinking perhaps he was simply suffering from post- traumatic stress syndrome. After that he didn't think much of it at all, because two days later he ran into Samuel. His grandfather provided him no answers, but did give him a job to do.

Hunting gave him something to focus on, so he threw himself into it whole-heartedly. It was work he knew, that he was good at doing, and that required more logic and skill than empathy and understanding. Something was bad, you killed it. When Samuel gave orders, Sam followed them, and thought nothing of the instructions he was given regarding "capture, not kill." Whatever Samuel's motives were, Sam simply did not care.

When he wasn't actively hunting, Sam worked on improving his body and mind. He didn't socialize much with the "cousins" aside from the occasional game of poker – which he usually won – and his conversation revolved almost entirely around hunting. Gwen joked, "Don't you ever sleep?" By this time Sam knew for sure something was wrong, because he didn't sleep any more than he felt emotion, but he understood the prudence of keeping these facts to himself, so he had learned to lie.

"Of course I do!"

He didn't sleep, but he could be rendered unconscious, and he could "shut down" into a meditative state to rest his mind and body. True sleep, and the dreams it brought with it, eluded him. It wasn't natural, he knew, and again, this didn't bother him. His ability to go without sleep was an asset on "the job," so he didn't bother researching as to why it was happening or how to correct it. He felt fine – physically fit and mentally sharp – so what if he didn't dream? His dreams, he reasoned, would probably be the stuff of nightmares anyway.

When Dean came back into his life, Sam started to change his opinion on – well - himself. If only because of their history, and his knowledge of that history, Sam decided he "liked" Dean. He had no desire to see his brother upset, although it stirred nothing within him. Whatever bond they had shared before was gone. Sam realized this intellectually. The relationship as it had once been could not exist in the absence of affection, which Sam did not feel. Interestingly Dean seemed to sense this from the very moment of their reunion, even without knowing the truth.

The two of them started Hunting together again. Sam continued behaving as he had for the past year, keeping what he perceived Dean would not like to himself, using knowledge to determine how he should be acting so he would not raise Dean's suspicions. The ruse worked. The team worked. They were effective and efficient. Dean's mistrust was focused on Samuel, not Sam, and Sam figured he would let this go eventually. Samuel knew how to handle people, make them trust him. Dean would be no different. Sam just had to keep doing his job and it would all work out just fine.

When the opportunity arose for them to get a lead on the vampire Alpha, Sam took it after only a moment's hesitation. Dean would penetrate the vampire nest, learn the location of the head vamp, and then Samuel would cure him. Sam's logic was sound. He knew Dean better than Dean knew himself. If anyone was stubborn enough to resist the Hunger, it was Dean.

Sure enough, it all went exactly according to plan, except for Samuel's reaction. Sam thought he would be pleased to have gotten inside information regarding the Alpha vampire, one of the most ancient of all monsters. Instead Samuel had focused his attention on the means in which that information had been obtained, not the final result. He'd turned on Sam.

"What is wrong with you?" the old man had demanded.

Sam's first thought had been, "Uh-oh." His second had been, "How do I get out of this?"

There was nothing at all wrong with his mind. He thought about it. Apparently throwing your brother to the wolves wasn't socially acceptable even if it were logical. He'd made an error that would alienate him from both Samuel and Dean. Once again, he resorted to a lie, meeting Samuel's veiled accusation with hurt outrage and an accusation of his own. Samuel backed off and left Sam alone, but Sam knew he'd seen right through to the truth. Samuel and Dean were very much alike. Their trust was difficult to earn. After the vampire incident it became obvious neither Samuel nor Dean trusted Sam anymore, watching him like a hawk whenever they worked together. Sam realized his carefully constructed veil of normalcy couldn't last much longer, and he was right.

Logic dictated his lies were going to come back eventually and bite him in the ass, so he wasn't surprised when they finally did. Karma was a vicious bitch, and so was Veritas. She pulled no punches, outing Sam to his brother. It was this that finally convinced him to come clean, to admit that there was something wrong with him, and that it needed to be addressed. Until then he persisted in believing it was simply some odd after-effect of being possessed by Lucifer, but when Veritas backed away from him with anger and confusion in her eyes, Sam realized there was more to it.

"You're not human."

If he wasn't human, what was he?

When he learned the answer to that question, Sam was more intrigued than alarmed. It did, however, put him in an awkward position. Dean's mistrust of him increased ten-fold – illustrated by his reaction to Sam's revelations. Dean didn't even fully believe Sam was Sam, and in his mind that gave him leave to let Sam know just how pissed he was at being used as a vampire double-agent. Dean's very first blow made Sam see double, the second broke his nose, and the third rendered him mercifully unaware of the ones that followed.

Sam knew who he was, because there was nothing wrong with his brain, and this brought to fore the age-old question of how mind, body and soul related to each other. If Sam had the ability to be disturbed, he certainly would have been, because without a soul he was nothing but a physical representation of a human. Veritas had been correct. He wasn't actually "human" anymore.

"Robo-Sam" was about as accurate a description as any.

He was fine with it, more or less, but knew it wasn't right. It had to be fixed. His question was, would he go off on his own to find the answers, stick with Samuel, or with his now more-than-ever estranged brother? He definitely needed someone to call the shots, so who would it be?

Dean was the more logical choice, and this became even clearer when they uncovered their grandfather's betrayal and the demon Crowley's role in Sam's resurrection.

For the first time in over a year, Sam felt something. It was probably just based on his general line of thinking on the matter and not any true emotional response, but it was something he decided he would make a priority. That was to stick Crowley's severed head on a pike – regardless of whether he got his soul back or not.

Death and resurrection, with or without a soul, didn't change the brothers' financial status. They were, as usual, living on virtually nothing and forced into sharing cheap accommodations. Dean's new knowledge made him uneasy about bunking with Sam. Sam knew better than to ask "why" because the question itself would only underscore that unease. He worked it out on his own. It made Dean nervous to sleep while Sam was awake.

"Look," Sam said. "I know you don't trust me, but think about it Dean. What would it get me to do anything to you in your sleep – or while you were awake for that matter?" He shrugged. "There's no point."

"I did beat the snot out of you."


"And…." Dean raised a brow at him. "You really don't care."

"Not really, no. I probably would have killed me."

"That doesn't make me feel better."

Sam shook his head. "I have no reason to kill you. You haven't been lying your ass off to me, you didn't let me get turned into a monster, and you aren't walking around without a soul. What's my motive?"

Dean leaned back in his chair. "You don't have a soul. Do you need a motive?"

"You're mistaking me for someone who gets off on murder. I'm not some sicko serial killer, Dean. I don't enjoy killing for killing's sake. Without a soul, I can't. I kill for a living, I kill for survival. I need a motive."

"You just pointed out that I have a motive. If I have a motive for killing you, doesn't that give you a motive for killing me just to protect yourself?"

"If you could kill me, Dean, you would have done it already," Sam said bluntly. "You probably would have done it years ago. In fact, if you'd killed me when you should have, we wouldn't be in this fucked-up mess we're in now."

With a scowl, Dean got up and went to the room's mini fridge, looking for solace in alcohol no doubt. "Thanks, Sam."

Sam cocked his head. "Was I supposed to lie?"

"Yeah," Dean grunted, popping off the cap to his beer. "There you could have lied."


"Are you, really?"

"Am I what?"



Dean laughed bitterly. "My God, you are a robot."

If he could have felt sadness, or remorse, or pity, Sam would at this juncture. Without being burdened by normal human emotions he could see things a lot more clearly. When Dean told Veritas he thought Sam was acting more like him, he hadn't been lying. There was only one difference - Dean's soul was intact. I was intact, but damaged, and the damage had been done long before he ever set foot in Hell.

Dean ran on auto-pilot. He did his job, drank himself to sleep, got up and did it all again. That's how he worked, that's how he had always worked, with only a few side-bar activities – namely sex and gambling – to distract him. Only after Sam came back into the fold after living a life outside of Hunting, and after their father died, did Dean's lifestyle begin to chafe. As time passed the irritation became pain, constant, nagging pain. He wanted out, but he kept going because it was all he knew how to do – and because Sam needed him.

And it was Sam who freed him. The last act of a devoted brother had been to send Dean…


Soul-less Sam knew better. He understood the brutal truth his old self always wanted to sweep under the rug: Hunters didn't get out. There was always something waiting to drag them back in, always some danger lurking outside in the shadows. Hunting was ingrained in Dean Winchester, and nothing could change that, no matter what he tried to tell himself. He was what he was, what he would always be. It had been seared into his soul by the fires of Hell and Veritas had forced him to admit it.

"I'm not a father, I'm a killer."

Lately Dean had even given up sex. The reason was obvious, and to Sam, sadly pathetic. Dean truly loved Lisa. When – if – he ever went back to her, he wanted to do so with a clean conscience.

And that was what it was all about – conscience. Sam didn't have one. Apparently it came with a soul. Sam was churning through life like a machine, just doing the job day after day, never thinking about anything else. He was living Dean's life, only without the baggage, without the pain that dogged his brother's every step. He had no hopes to sacrifice, no dreams to be dashed. He didn't carry around with him the painful longing for a life he could never have – at least not anymore.

Sam began to take notice of Dean's suffering, and after a while, he began to wonder if having a soul was even worth it.

It was rare that Sam found himself alone with Castiel. Private encounters between the two of them usually ended up being very confrontational. On this occasion Dean had gone – somewhere, probably to brood over his phone and whether or not he should call Lisa. They were waiting for Meg and her minions to get their shit together before they all lit out after Crowley. Sam was doing a weapons check. Castiel sat staring into space. Dean had banned him from the television.

"You know, I get it now," Sam said.

Castiel didn't bother to look at him. "Get what?"


At this, the angel did turn, regarding Sam with a sour look. "You can't possibly get me."

"You in particular – maybe not – but I understand angels better now. You're not dicks."

Cas snorted. "Thanks for that," he said wryly.

"That's not what I mean." Sam put aside the gun he'd been loading and came over to sit down across from the angel. "You're not emotionless. You can feel, you're just not allowed to care because it gets in the way. Soldiers can't afford to be emotional. It's why you're having problems, Cas – and don't deny that you are. Raphael doesn't give a shit about what happens to us, but you do."

"And do you know why?" Castiel asked softly. "Why I care?"

"It's making you weak…"

"I care because God does."

"Really," Sam sat back in his chair, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "You think God cares? Seriously?"

"He brought me back."

"He condemned me to Hell."

"No," Castiel growled. "You did that yourself. You were given choices, Sam, and you made all the wrong ones."

"So you think I deserved what I got?"

"Redemption?" The angel asked. "Because that's what you received. You were offered the chance for redemption. You were allowed fix your own mistake. A God who didn't care wouldn't have given you that opportunity." His voice and his expression softened. "Sam, the best soldier is one who can balance duty with compassion." He paused and added, "You were a much better Hunter before, when you fought for what you believed in, when you could see the bigger picture. It's the difference between a calling and a job."

Sam tapped a finger idly on the table. "You believe Hunters have a calling?"

"Some. You, your family – generation after generation of Hunters, all of them fighting for humankind – I cannot deny it. Can you?"

"I can redefine it," Sam said, standing. "It's not a calling, Cas. It's a curse."

"It's a curse that has put you in God's favor."

"It's a curse that put us in God's radar. We're nothing but pawns."

Castiel stood up himself. "You are pawns with backstage passes to Heaven. Whether it is now, or many years in the future, when your end finally comes, Sam Winchester, you WILL go to Heaven. Right now I'm doing my best to make sure Heaven continues to exist so your soul will be able to find peace when you get there, so pardon me if I don't really give a damn about your opinions regarding either my faith or my ability to fight a war."

"Fine," Sam raised his hands and backed up. "I'll keep my mouth shut. You and God do whatever the hell you need to do."

The angel sighed. "Sam…"

"Hey, don't apologize. I have no feelings to hurt, remember?" Sam went back to what he had been doing, and watched Castiel slump back down into his chair. "I am curious about one thing though," he said. "You seem convinced my soul will be free eventually, but what happens if it stays locked up in Lucifer's cage?"

Castiel looked back over his shoulder. "Why would it?"

"Should it?"

They regarded each other solemnly.

"You overheard," Castiel said.

Over the past year Sam had become adept at what he called "conversational bingo." Intellectually he knew – for the most part – what he should and should not say to people. If he hadn't learned to curb his tongue he would simply say whatever he was thinking, and that would get him in trouble. So he had learned how to buy himself time to think carefully about what he was going to say before he said it. He employed a lot of little turns of phrase that weren't always in his vocabulary before: "Look…" and "I get it," and "So you're saying…." Or he'd answer a question with a question. Sometimes, if the situation allowed, he'd simply pause for a moment to mull over his responses. This was one such situation.

Pick an answer, any answer…

"There's never been anything like me before, has there?"

"Not to my knowledge," Castiel admitted. "It usually takes death, or near death, to force a soul from a body and it is the death of the body that frees a soul so it may go to - wherever. My best guess is that your soul was so wrapped up with Lucifer it was wrenched from your body when you entered the portal."

"Shouldn't that have killed me?"

"Yes, if you were a normal human, but you aren't, Sam. You were infected with demon blood as a child. You had consumed gallons of it prior to accepting Satan into your body. That, no doubt, is what kept you alive long enough for Crowley to pull you out. It protected your physical body, but could do nothing to save your soul."

Sam picked up a gun and began loading and unloading it. "So the memories I have are nothing more than what was stored in my brain?"

"Dean's robot analogy is appropriate."

"So putting my soul back would be like dropping a cell phone in the toilet. Physically I'd be okay, but my insides would be fried."

Castiel nodded. "More or less."

"Dean's not going to give me the choice to opt out of soul restoration is he?"

"Probably not, and Sam…." Castiel gave him a cool look. "I will kill you should you threaten Dean's life in any way."

Sam flipped the safety up on his gun and looked at the angel with a carefully arranged expression of surprise. "Do you honestly think I'd hurt my brother just to save my own skin?"

Castiel narrowed his eyes. "Yes."

Sam silently acquiesced by putting the gun down. So, thanks to his guardian angel, killing or maiming Dean was obviously not an option.

He'd have to come up with something else.

Sam contemplated gnawing off his left hand.

He lay very still, watching the fan blades high above his head turn around, and around, and around while calculating just how long it would take him to chew through his wrist and how much blood he would lose in the process. Would it be enough to kill him? Maybe he wouldn't have to go to that extreme, just wound himself enough to generate a lot of blood – enough to scare Dean and Bobby into taking him to the hospital. He could easily escape from them there.

After five minutes of careful calculations he gave up the entire plan as ludicrous, realizing that bound as he was, he couldn't get his mouth close enough to his arm to do any damage anyway.

Hmm. I could bite through my tongue…

Sam jerked at the cuffs around his wrists and ankles, testing their strength against his own. The motion made his head spin and his stomach churn, forcing him to close his eyes again. Dean hadn't pulled his punch in the slightest. That wasn't a surprise at all given that a) his abrupt re-appearance meant he'd lost his bet with Death (therefore making him cranky) and b) he loved Bobby perhaps more than he had his own father. Given the choice between Sam and Bobby, Sam was pretty sure Dean would give up the old man, but at the moment he wasn't Sam.

He'd been thinking about that a lot lately. What defined a person as an individual? Was it the soul, or something else? He knew everything that Sam knew, had all his memories, so by definition he was still Sam Winchester.

Or was he?

Sam had all those memories, but he couldn't relate to them. It was as if he were flipping through someone else's picture album full of photographs of people and places. He could identify them but they garnered no response from him on any emotional level. Those memories didn't belong to him. The memories he retained since coming back from Hell – those were his own. They still did not spark any emotional reaction, stored more like data in his mind, but they belonged to him, not that other Sam.

The other Sam, that's how he thought about things now. He was his own person, a new person, a new individual based upon the original. Sure, he was a little – different – but that's what made him a separate entity. Dean wanted his brother back, his Sammy. Dean didn't even see Sam - post-Hell Sam - as a human being. Sam realized how lucky he was that Dean had punched him and not shot him. By attempting to murder Bobby he had crossed a line.

But hadn't Dean crossed one too, with his deal with Death? Sam had made it clear he didn't want his soul back, and Dean had gone off determined to put it back anyway. Whether or not Death's "memory dam" worked, it was still a death sentence for the man Sam was now.

A sound at the door interrupted his thoughts. Sam opened his eyes and turned his head to see Dean peering in at him. They regarded each other without saying a word. Sam studied his brother's eyes carefully, registering the pain, the hopelessness, the despair. A minute ticked by, and Dean's expression slowly grew colder, more remote. Sam frowned.

Shit. I have pushed him too far.

Dean slid the peephole shut with a sharp snap. Sam heard his footsteps on the stairs.

He's going to kill me.

Sam raised his head and gave his bonds another test. The metal cuffs bit into his wrists as the chains held firm. He kicked his feet but that got him nowhere. He'd been in this position before. He remembered quite clearly his demon blood detox sessions. They'd had to tie him down to keep the telekinetic convulsions from hurling him around the room like a ragdoll. Screaming in pain, all he'd wanted to do was curl up into a fetal ball and let oblivion take over. That was impossible lying spread-eagled on a metal cot.

The steel handcuffs had cut his wrists. Later, Dean had fussed over the wounds, apologizing over and over again as he bandaged Sam's bloody arms.

"I'm sorry, Sammy. If there was another way…."

Sam, once again clean and sober, but utterly exhausted from the ordeal, could only shake his head. "But there isn't, is there? It's okay Dean. I'm okay. Don't worry about it."

That was another thing about having a soul – souls led people to develop some seriously bad habits. If you couldn't feel pleasure or pain, lust or greed, what was the point of drugs, or alcohol, or in Sam's case, demon blood? Sam had not only his own past experiences to learn by, but he'd had plenty of other examples. Among Hunters in particular, addiction was part of the life.

Sam knew Gwen had a coke habit, and a couple of the other cousins smoked pot. He'd met at least one Hunter who, when he wasn't hunting, spent most of his time watching porn and screwing hookers. Every last cent he earned that he did not spend on gas or ammo, was spent on sex.

Alcohol, however, was the drug of choice, and for a prime example of that addiction Sam had to look no further than the driver's seat of the Impala. Dean had been drinking since the age of thirteen, and as the years passed it escalated from a couple beers on the weekend, to a glass of whiskey at least twice a day. Over the past two years Dean had become a full-fledged alcoholic. He drank first thing upon waking, and the last thing he did before hitting the hay was to consume even more. He rarely appeared drunk, but on days wherein he didn't get his fix, he was a royal pain in the ass.

Soulless Sam only drank socially. Alcohol was a poor fuel source for the body. There were other, more beneficial beverages to consume. He had no reason to get drunk. He had no sorrows to drown and "fun" wasn't in his vocabulary. Sam ate and drank only to sustain his body.

"What about sex?" Dean had asked once, after Sam came in one night after abandoning his brother's company in favor of a short-skirted, long-legged bartender.

"What about it?"

"If you don't feel anything, why bother?"

Sam cocked his head, not fully understanding the question. "So you have sex for the sheer pleasure of it?"

"Or because you love someone," Dean replied. "Old Sam was practically a priest, so don't get me wrong, I'm kinda digging the fact you're getting some action, but like I said, why bother?"

"I dunno. It's instinctual, you know? A lot of religions don't believe animals have souls, because animals are governed by instinct. They don't do things emotionally, but because they're hardwired to behave in certain ways. Humans are only different from animals in the fact they can suppress their instincts." Sam had leaned over the table where they'd been sitting and jerked his head toward a pretty girl walking by. "A girl sets off a chemical reaction in your brain. Your brain sends the message to your dick. You can't stop that from happening, but you can choose whether or not to act on it."

Dean had snorted softly. "So you're just being lead around by your dick?"

"I'm just letting instinct call the shots." Sam leaned back in his chair and took a long pull from his beer. "If I've got nothing better to do, why not get some? For guys I think it's important. The more attractive you are to women, the more self-esteem you have. Sex gives you strength." He'd shrugged. "It's not emotional, Dean. It's chemical."

"Well something hasn't changed anyway," Dean had concluded. "Once a geek, always a geek."

"My sex drive hasn't changed," Sam had remarked, raising an eyebrow as the pretty girl came back past them in the other direction. "I always was a horny bastard – and extremely sexually frustrated. I didn't just hold back my instincts, I suppressed them."


He'd considered the question carefully. "Fear," he replied, and was relieved when Dean did not push for further explanation. Sam often found his old memories confusing. Without the feelings to go with those memories, there was no way he could possibly explain exactly why he had done certain things. He didn't understand it himself. Why had sexual relationships made him so uneasy? Was it really fear, and why? Fear of what exactly? Fear of loss? He'd certainly had his fair share of losses when it came to women. Sam had no real idea. He had no such inhibitions now.

Sam wondered, as he lay on his cot waiting for Dean's return, if that wasn't part of the problem here. Sam was still Sam, just the stripped-down, bare-bones version. At the most basic level, he was no different at all. His through processes were exactly the same, but maybe that's what Dean didn't like. He couldn't bear such a brutally honest look at the baby brother he adored. He couldn't stand the thought that deep down inside, his Sammy was fully capable of murdering a man they considered their surrogate father.

But any animal could commit fratricide. In the wild, animals sometimes cannibalize their own young.

The Alpha vampire had been frighteningly accurate when he marked Sam as the perfect animal. He was without everything that made a human a human, save the intellect. As a vampire, with his instincts boosted up to supernatural levels, Sam could be the most dangerous monster on the face of the planet. Of course the Alpha believed he could assert the same control over Sam as he did his other offspring. Sam held a different opinion. Logically his first order of business once he'd been turned would be to murder the Alpha. It was very possible that the Alpha's powers could be transferred via consumption of his blood. The Alpha's soul made him arrogant; arrogant enough to be blind to the danger he would put himself in if he were to succeed in turning Sam. It would be his downfall, and it would prove his own point – souls just got in the way.

Sam sighed. He was growing bored with his own thoughts. If Dean was going to kill him, he needed to just get on with it.

It was the sudden temperature drop that got his attention. Sam had only just begun a mental game of Hangman when he felt the hair rise up on his arms. A cold chill ran throughout his body – sharp and quick and almost painful as if he'd been plunged into the middle of an Arctic sea. He opened his eyes and raised his head quickly. What he saw made him open his mouth to yell for Dean or Bobby, but his breath dried up in his throat, and his tongue remained still against his teeth.

For the first time since his return from Hell, Sam felt an intense emotional response. Adrenaline surged through him as instinct urged him to flee, and almost against his will he began frantically pulling at his bonds. This, he thought, was what fear felt like.



All animals, from the smallest to the largest, had an instinctual fear of Death.

"But…Dean failed," Sam whispered hoarsely. "He came back early. He blew the deal!"

Death didn't reply. Instead he came closer. Sam's eyes darted to the bag the man held in his hand. He knew what was inside. He could feel it, it burned like fire, and the closer Death came, the more it hurt. This was his soul, raped and tortured, flayed and bloody, damaged beyond repair, a bitter pill he would now be forced to swallow. It would poison his mind and body. It would destroy, but not kill, leaving him permanently maimed for the rest of a sad and sorry life.

"No." Sam began crawling backward toward the head of the cot, as far as the handcuffs would allow. "No, please…." Terrified, he didn't feel the sting of steel drawing blood at each wrist. That pain was a pittance compared to the agony burning in his chest. "Dean!"

Distantly he heard his brother's voice: "Bobby! Open the door! Open it NOW!"

There. Dean was coming. Dean would stop it. He would see how this hurt his little Sammy. He wouldn't go through with it. He couldn't go through with it.

Sam turned to face his brother. Dean didn't move, didn't speak.

He was not going to stop Death's advance.

"Get away from me! Don't touch me!" Sam's heart was pounding fast and hard in his chest. He barely heard Death explain to him what he was going to do. "No!" He turned to Dean once more, and found his brother standing there looking pained, but determined.

The case opened. The pain increased. Sam could feel little tendrils of memory reaching out toward him as if his soul were seeking to find its rightful place once again. Visions of Hell flickered before his eyes and with them the pain became almost unbearable.

Dean's four months were like forty years. That's ten years for every month. Oh, God! No!

Over one hundred and twenty years of never-ending torment at the hands of the Devil himself? Nothing could stem the tide of those memories, nothing at all. It wasn't going to work! No "wall" could save him from this! He could already feel his damaged soul clawing away at the edges of his sanity.

Sam desperately tried to shut his body down, to commit suicide through willpower alone in the seconds he had remaining. He just had to stop his heart from beating. It could be done, he knew it could because he'd read the theories behind it….he was certainly frightened enough to be scared to death. Without his physical body his soul would be free. It would go to Heaven. It would be healed there, and he would be at peace. Castiel had told him so. Castiel had pronounced it the will of God.

Cas. Please! Casiel, help me!

Death regarded him with an intense stare and Sam realized how futile his efforts would be. This was Death himself. Dying would not come to Sam's bidding, not in the presence of the master. Sam would live – and that's what frightened him more than anything else. His destruction would not be quick and painless, it would be slow and agonizing.

"Get away from me!"

"Don't scratch the wall," Death warned softly. "Because trust me, you won't like what will happen."

Sam's soul was close enough to him that he could feel it. In its proximity he found himself able feel, period, and he put every effort into getting his fear and desperation across to his brother in one last attempt to save himself from annihilation.

"Dean, please! You don't know…you don't know what this will do to me!"

The poison trapped within Death's closed fist hovered over Sam's chest. Sam's breath caught when he realized Dean would not intercede.

"No! Don't! Don't!"

Soul met flesh, and Sam's world imploded in a firestorm of agony.