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The Cage was a trifling detour; insalubrious, certainly, but no great distance. I plucked the soul through the bars — the gap was more than sufficient; the angel Castiel must have been careless indeed to leave it behind — and brought it back.

Dean Winchester and Castiel were arguing. I would have preferred to miss this part. These petty interpersonal dramas are monotonous and nagging, like the whine of mosquitoes.

My tastes differ from God’s. He (Chuck; an appropriate name for a being essentially wasteful) is so enamored of dramatic lead-ups to endings that he’s devised a countless variety of them, for no amusement but his own. They are for him, perhaps, the equivalent of french fries.

In most of Chuck’s versions of this scene Castiel would be absent. In others his argument would not prevail. Only this weedy, neglected path leads to the end I am noting here.

“It’s the only reasonable solution,” Castiel said.

Dean looked at me. One must have a certain kind of hubris, to look to Death for reassurance.

“Can you do it?” he said. “Send the soul to Heaven, not put it back?”

“I can, yes. I even will, if you decide without tedious agonizing.”

I always have appointments. There are limits to how long I can stare through the lens at one particular microbe.

Dean continued to agonize tediously.

“Will Sammy … be OK, if he’s there? Will it fix him?”

Dean, always so reckless of his life, yet always so convinced that his feelings should matter.

“Possibly not. But he is not likely to be further damaged.”

No one consulted Sam. He’d stopped shouting and tugging at the restraints that held him. His eyes moved about among us, quick with calculation and fear. If Dean decided on returning the soul to his body I’d be presiding over his death. A path would end there.

Dean paced, ran a hand over his face, looked at his brother.

“OK,” he said. “OK. Do it.”

I released the soul. The Sam on the bed blinked in relief. I nodded to him, not without respect. He was, in a small way, my creation, now.

Then I put the matter from my mind. I was to meet a truck driver in Brazil. I had time to sample the restaurants espentinhos de queiho before his truck would plow into its wall.


OK, you see, this, this was a sweet set-up. Remember Daddy Winchester’s last commandment, the whole speech to Dean, save him or kill him? This was one of the things I tried with that thread. Sammy was safe in heaven. Dean had saved him.

But, uh-oh, here’s Sam on earth as well. Good old soulless Sam, lopping the heads off baby vamps, sleeping with nice married ladies, maybe killing a puppy. It would only be a matter of time before Dean realized that for everyone’s good he had to shoulder the burden and take his soulless sibling out. After a lot of suffering, of course. Sam gone wrong, wrong Sam, every day, in Sam’s seat, in Dean’s car. Ouch.

You could even argue that by not stuffing the soul back in Dean had caused any damage the robo version did. His mistake, his to fix. Guilt is a big part of what makes Dean tragic. Guilt and those rigid yet moveable principles.

Wait. Wait, though. Sam’s not stupid. He’d know. On some level Sam has always known. And this Sam might actually do something about it. Kill Dean first? No. No, too boring. Here’s the thing about the Winchesters, the thing that made them my favorites: with Winchesters, you can always do something WORSE.


The matter of the souls, of infinitely more weight than Chuck’s sloppy soap opera, and of more immediate import than my niggling interest in Sam, was almost forgotten. Dean, now that I’d done what he wanted, paid it little attention. Sam proved a somewhat better agent. After Castiel’s dealings with the demon Crowley were revealed Sam met with him.

“Listen, Cas. The Michael and Lucifer cage match sucked donkey’s balls the first time. I’m not going for round two. If you need help getting the souls, I’m in.”

“Dean will take it as a betrayal. He may be right. We may be doing the wrong thing.”

“Dean takes everything as a betrayal. Do something he doesn’t like, it’s a betrayal. Say something he doesn’t like, betrayal. Be something he doesn’t like, big betrayal. You know how fun that is. If I do this, if I help you, I may need some help of my own with Dean.”

“I won’t harm Dean. I won’t allow others to harm Dean.”

“We’re not harming Dean. We’re just making sure Dean doesn’t end up hunting me for my own good. But trust me, Cas, I’ve got a fix.”

And so Sam, to avert Chuck’s favored ending, turned towards mine.


I hadn’t dropped the souls storyline. Not dropped dropped it. But no one pays attention to worldbuilding. Stories are about character. You’ve got to get to the big scenes and throw in whatever you need to make them work. So let’s say Cas gets the souls, kills Raphael, yadda yadda yadda, Sam does some metaphysical Heimlich maneuver on him or something, gets the souls back to Purgatory before the gates slam shut. No apocalypse. No Leviathans. Let’s make this season more human. We’ll have less mytharc, more focus on the brothers.

So, Dean’s hurt. Maybe Raphael threw him against a rebar before he got smoted by Cas to kingdom come. No, OK. We don’t need a rebar. Just Dean bleeding out a bit.

Even soulless, Sam doesn’t take it well when Dean’s in danger. He grabs Dean’s shoulder, all intense anxious snarl and floppy Sam hair, and yells for Cas.

Dean opens his eyes. He doesn’t see the Sam who’s been sneaking out of motel rooms at night the past couple months (actually, though he did work with Cas on the Purgatory thing, those late-night outings were mostly just Sam getting laid), or the Sam who told that kid he was going to help her dad so the kid would tell him where to find the poor sucker, or the Sam who used kittens as griffin bait four hunts back. He just sees Sam. And it’s OK, it’s really OK. He went down swinging. Sam’s face will be his last sight on earth and then Sammy’s soul will be his first sight in heaven.

Too sentimental? You haven’t seen where it’s going yet. There’s this little smile on Sam’s face.

“Now, Cas,” he says. “We’re not getting a better chance.”

Cas seems reluctant. Zoom in on his furrowed brow and intense brooding stare.

“This isn’t what Dean would want,” he says.

Sam looks at Cas and you can see the sincerity in Sam’s face. So much of Sam’s tragedy is in his sincerity. Maybe even more for the soulless one.

“It’s the right thing, Cas. Think about it. Everyone gets what they want. Dean gets the Sam he cares about, the real one. I get a brother who won’t kill me in my sleep. Dean and I hunt better together. People saved, things ganked. Everyone benefits.”

Cas nods slowly.

“Dean’s soul deserves peace,” he says.

He’s not sure exactly how Sam’s separation from his soul came about; it was an accident. But he thinks this can be done. He reaches into Dean’s chest (closeup of Dean’s face, screaming) and plucks the soul from its moorings. For a moment it’s in his hand, a small buzzing sun. Then he lets it go.

Somewhere in heaven, Dean wakes on a bridge. His car’s there. So is Sam.

On Earth Cas has healed Dean’s injuries. Dean wakes. Sam is there. So are knives and guns, guts and blood, the hunt, and a world of monsters.


For Chuck that was the essence, the drama of two brothers who made each other less human, who would sooner kill each other than let one another die. But my stories have the last word.

There is one salient fact in this storyline, one. Not Dean will save Sam, or kill him. Not Sam will kill Dean, or save him. Not that the two of them together, without the distraction of souls, will kill enough others to keep my reapers busy, though that is no doubt true. No, what makes this story is that without his soul, Sam will die. Without his soul, Dean will die. The parts that can go on have already gone on. The parts that are left will end, truly end.

When I released Sam’s soul to heaven I created my own novelty, my own favorite, if you will, a character who would end. When Sam in turn had Castiel strip the soul from Dean it was my script he served, not Chuck’s latest round of brotherly angst.

Naturally this wasn’t the storyline Chuck went with. Its universe remains a cul-de-sac. But the potential was there for the reaping. A mistake, not taking that road.


What a load of crap. It was a great storyline, I acknowledged that. But there was writer’s block, and then there was a lot of drinking, a guy I spent weekends with for a while named, I kid you not, Flaubert. So things piled up and this AU got dropped. I had plenty of others.

If I’d gone with this one it wouldn’t have gone down the deathly metaphysical treatise road, anyway. I’m thinking cyberpunk, baby. Soulless Sam and Dean become ghosts in a machine. Bring in Charlie. The audience loves Charlie. Charlie and some vintage Men of Letters magical computer. Upload the Winchesters! An AU with hunter AIs!

Code corrupts, the cold voice says. Hardware decays, current fails. Death has the last word.

But first, Sam saves data. Dean hunts viruses. And there’s a bug in Sam’s programming.