What can I say? I hated the last few episodes of season 5, hated the finale too [if you want to know why, you can read my meta on the finale at my LiveJournal: there is a link on my profile page...]. So this takes up after Point of No Return [yup, I even borrowed the title] and is AU after that... it'll update weekly. ;-) You don't have to have read my other longfics to read this, but it does make some references to Never Come Back.

Thanks to NongPradu for the prompt [and for letting me shift her goalposts], hugs to SuzMC and Cerridwen7777 for all their encouragement and support, and to Amber1960 for your proofreading. I tweak like a mad thing right up to posting, so any typos are mine.

Warnings Foul language, blasphemy, the temerity to write an AU season 5 end arc because I don't think Sam needs demon blood to be a hero, and I wanted Dean to do more than sit and watch. My seat is reserved in Hell, so don't worry: I'll get my comeuppance.

Point Of No Return

Sam drifts as he drives, because he still can't believe it, and because he's scared and it takes him a while to put his finger firmly on what he's scared of, and then he realizes it's what he might lose. The feeling of loss, the feeling of staring at his brother for the last time, with the clock ticking, just like New Harmony before Lilith opened the door to her dogs, hits him with the sickly lurch of half-digested food bubbling up into his esophagus. He swallows it back down, wonders if he can pull off the road to throw up surreptitiously without disturbing Dean.

A car looms up out of the dusk, off to the side, the hood up, a couple of figures milling about aimlessly. Kid, one of them, small, preschooler maybe. Woman, her dress billowing in the breeze. It's getting dark, and the road stretches ahead, flat and deserted. Flat tire maybe, Sam thinks, and his gaze flicks right.

Dean dozes in the shotgun seat, slumped, startles occasionally, makes unintelligible, pained noises that sound uncomfortably like he's protesting in his sleep. He mutters Cas once or twice, squeaks out a muffled Sammy, scrabbles restlessly at his thigh with one hand, rouses blearily when Sam pulls off on the verge, and blinks at him for a minute, confused. And then he jolts upright, mouth pulled into a tight, grim line, face still mottled with bruises, eyes flaring with something that looks like panic.

"S'matter? Sammy? You bleeding again? Any pain?"

Sam shakes his head, holds up a hand. "I'm fine, Dean, no more blood…" He can still taste copper on his tongue and teeth, and he grimaces. He drifts a hand to rub at his belly, at the memory of gut-stabbing agony, the memory of his brother's anguish, regret, and soft-voiced acquiescence, the answer is yes, as Zachariah made him writhe, and choke, and spit his insides all over the floor. Adam too, an innocent in this fubar. He shivers.

"How long was I out?" His brother stretches, groans, winces as he rubs at his ribs.

"Not long," Sam replies. "Fifteen, tops. You didn't really sleep, you were… you know. The usual." He leaves the rest unspoken, but he thinks it. Bad dreams, his brother's anxiety and fright expressed in the dark, unconsciously, and sometimes full-blown night terrors. Like it has been on and off since Hell, and all denied and not spoken of the next day.

Dean makes a face, scrubs at his eyes with his knuckles. "We there yet?"

"Nope, Utah," Sam says, and he frowns. "I think… I'm staying off the highways, just in case. There hasn't been a road sign in a while."

"Let me guess. Entering Fudd county, population twelve, including the chickens." Testy now, the Dean Sam knows and loves. "What then? Piss stop?"

Sam shakes his head, motions back over his shoulder. "Breakdown. Looks like there's kids in the car."

Dean snorts. "That's what they have Triple A for, Sam."

"It's up the ass of nowhere, Dean, and getting dark," he says. "Remember that movie where the guy pulls over to help and he's really a—"

"Jesus," his brother cuts in waspishly. "Just bring the toolkit. And the Maglite. And if it's a tire, you're doing the heavy work."

Station wagon, doors slamming and engine cranking as he approaches, a dull grinding whine if he's ever heard one, and he turns, makes his way back to Sam, just now leaning into the trunk.

He reaches in past his brother, stifling a groan of discomfort because he's fuckin' worn out, worn down, and Cas really did a number on his ribs, and Christ, he doesn't want to think about Cas.

There's a dull beat of pressure across his brow that throbs as he bends forward, and his ears are buzzing, and Christ, he doesn't want to think about Cas, where he is, whether he's hurt, what might be happening to him. Much less think of his brother's insides hemorrhaging out of his mouth all over the floor while Zachariah worked the room. Make that brothers plural, and he suddenly realizes he can't picture Adam's face, can't really remember what the kid looked like, though he can damn well remember what he sounded like on the other side of the door, frantic, desperate. And he forces it out of his mind, because he got the brother of his heart out of that shitstorm, and he would have damn well trampled over Adam to get to Sam if he had to.

"Leave the tools, it's a jammed starter," he says curtly, as he pats about the bottom of the trunk. "Baseball bat should do it. Just be a minute."

Sam nods, calls after him as he makes his way back. "Ask them if there's a motel in the next ten miles."

She doesn't see him approaching, or maybe she's trying to pretend it isn't happening because she saw the movie too. He taps on the window, sees her jump before she looks up, harassed looking soccer mom in her mid forties or so, shoulder length brown hair, and it catches in his throat suddenly, Ellen, sacrificed, wasted, because of his fuck-up, and he has to swallow it back as she winds down the window a few inches and stares up at him suspiciously.

"Lady, you can keep your doors locked, whatever, but your starter motor's jammed," he says tiredly. "I got a baseball bat, just pop the hood again. Good hard knock should loosen it up, get you home." He can see doubt in her eyes, and he smiles. "I'm harmless," he says, and he even forces a wink past the dull pain in his chest that he's full sure is his ribs and not his regrets, past the anxiety, and Christ he doesn't want to think about Cas, buzzing away at the back of his mind and whispering in his ears. "In fact, I'm a servant of Heaven." It's Utah, after all.

There's a toddler screaming in the back, and the teenage girl in the passenger seat is looking up from a pile of papers and a textbook, glowering at him, feeding candy into her mouth and scrunching up the wrapper before she drops it in the footwell on top of a rapidly growing pile of bright cellophane and silver foil. "How do we know you aren't going to do something to our car that makes it break down again so you can go totally Jason on us out in the sticks?" the girl challenges aggressively.

He raises an eyebrow, leans in closer to make himself heard through the gap. "Hate to break it to you, kid, but you've already broken down, and we are, in fact, already out in the sticks." He grins at the woman again, and now she's stretching down, fumbling for the lever under the dash.

"Fuck it, mom, get a grip," the girl barks out abruptly, and the woman almost jumps out of her seat, looks up and over at her and back at him, and just as suddenly as the girl exploded, the scrap in the back stops his hollering. And the abrupt silence is somehow weighty, like they're all poised for something, standing on the edge of the abyss, about to make some significant life-changing decision, and he has to shake himself out of the strangeness of it, the sudden tension, the charged atmosphere, like the air is crackling.

He shivers involuntarily, leans on the window frame, chooses his words carefully. "Ma'am, I hope I'm not speaking out of line here," he starts, and then he looks right at the kid. "But you shouldn't speak to your mom like that. She's – your mom. Okay? Show her some respect."

The woman freezes for a second longer, features locked rigid. "She's – she has a condition," she blurts out then, her voice strained and hoarse. "An emotional thing. She can't help it, she's – she's on medication. She's just tense. We stopped because I needed to change the baby, and I couldn't start the car again… we've been here for a while hoping someone would drive by."

He raises an eyebrow, looks back down the endless blacktop. "Quiet road," he says, and he can feel the girl's eyes boring into him, and somewhere in the back of his mind there's a familiarity, intuition. He knows this, somehow, recognizes it, but there's no sense to it, and he needs to break this spell, trance, whatever the fuck it is. "You wouldn't happen to know if there's a motel in these parts?" he asks at last, and his voice resounds weirdly loud in his own head.

"In the next town," the woman says, calmer now. "It's twenty miles or so."

He nods, tears his eyes away, makes his way around to the front of the car, heaves up the hood, wallops the offending part with the bat. "Turn it over," he calls out, and the engine roars to life. He clunks the hood down, walks back to the open window. "Easy peasy, lemon squeezey," he quips. "You got anything you can use to whack it if you have to stop again? Wrench or something?"

She nods, pulls something out from under her seat. "I have a claw hammer." She sees his look, smiles again, strangely mechanical now. "It's a quiet road."

He huffs out. "Well. Not to sound patronizing, ma'am, but do you know where the starter motor is?" Nod. "Well, if you need to stop, just clout it once or twice to loosen it up before you crank her again. Otherwise you'll just drain the battery."

The wrong vibe is gone, as swiftly as it blew in, and he wonders if he maybe imagined it, thinks he must have, stuck on the road with tired kids, getting dark, hungry, shitty diaper. Bound to make anyone lose it, he muses. He nods, and as he turns to walk back to the car, the kid snorts.

"Know it all," she says clearly. "I bet you think you know everything. But maybe you don't know as much as you thought."

And there it is again, that weird crackle in the air, and he stops and turns back, frowns.

The girl is looking right at him. "Stagflation," she challenges suddenly, holding up her textbook, history. "Do you know what that is?"

And it turns out he does. "Yep," he says. "It's a term used to describe the economy during Nixon's presidency, because business wasn't growing and inflation was spiraling out of control."

The nap hasn't improved his brother's mood, and neither does a shower. Dean wears a hole in the cheap carpet, wrings his hands, curses the fact they're right under a flight path, curses the roly-polies infesting the bathroom, curses Utah, curses Brigham Young, curses the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Rocky Mountain elk, the rainbow trout, the Great Salt Lake, the fuckin' Osmonds. "Except for Crazy Horses," he rages. "Pretty cool synthesizer riff, I'll give them that. But only that." He rubs his brow, leans hard into his hand. "But you know what really fuckin' grates, Sammy?" he says at the end of his tirade, and his voice cracks. "Touched by a Fuckin' Angel was filmed here. Right here, in Utah."

He sits down heavily, touches his finger to his split lip, and Sam wonders if he even realizes he's doing it as he stares into space. "Where's he been hiding that right hook is what I'd like to know," he murmurs. "And he kicks like a fuckin' mule. Jesus." He transfers his hand to his ribs, presses gently, winces. "I feel weird," he gripes. "My head's all fuzzy. It's whooshing in there."

Sam frowns. "He was pretty pissed about you using the sigil on him," he observes after a minute. "Could you manage to land one on him at all? You looked pretty wrecked when he flew you back to Bobby's. And what do you mean, fuzzy? And whooshing?"

"No, I could not." Dean sighs, flicks his eyes up to Sam and away again. "Well… what I mean is – did not. And fuzzy like, I don't know… fuzz. Whooshing, like – white noise. Or like listening to a seashell."

Sam snaps his fingers and his brother looks up sharply. "Well, you're alert," he offers, and he squints, stares hard. "Your pupils look fine so you aren't concussed. Could not, did not?"

Dean throws up his hands. "S'right. Could not. He went totally section fuckin' eight on me, man. It was pretty unexpected. You don't expect that kind of beatdown from someone you…" He trails off then, doesn't look away though.

And Sam knows exactly what his brother means, what he's referring to, because Dean wasn't expecting it back then, and Sam overwhelmed him within ten seconds. And Dean knows he knows, his gaze is searching as he continues.

"He took me by surprise. But even after he threw the first couple of punches, I just – couldn't bring myself to hit back. Didn't want to. Couldn't – you know. Hurt him." He curls his lips up in a wry grin. "Not that I even could. Damn near broke my hand on him before. So. Did not." He looks down at his boots. "It's just, uh… he seemed to take it all really personally. And it's difficult to…" His voice trails off again, and now he teases his split lip with his tongue.

"He was in Hell with you," Sam ventures. "And you've been through a lot together." And he leaves it there, because he knows that's all he needs to say and because he doesn't ever want to have to think about how he put his hands around his brother's neck so soon after Alastair did, doesn't want to think about Dean maybe pulling his punches back then too, because he didn't want to hurt him.

Dean's voice goes soft. "Yeah. He was. And we have."

The silence is easy, easier than it's been in months, and after Sam rides along on the crest of it for a few minutes it occurs to him that there's something he has wanted to ask Dean for a long time and he never has, it never seems like the right moment even though it's been on the tip of his tongue. Or maybe he's been afraid his brother will shut down on him. But maybe now it is the right time, or a less wrong time, so he throws it out there.

"Do you remember? I mean… remember him being there with you? Saving you?"

Dean looks up, and for maybe a second there's doubt there, suspicion, a memory of words meant to mock and hurt. It's there and gone, but even though it's fleeting it's a surprise when his brother continues.

"He didn't just appear wearing the trenchcoat, Sam, if that's what you mean," he snorts. "It wasn't like the dreams I had when that nutjob Bender kid popped up in Duluth. It was more like – light. Spinning colors. Feeling like I was safe. Feeling comfort. Hope. Uh… and don't laugh, but…" His cheeks flush. "Cared for," he mutters self-consciously. "Feeling like I was cared for. Which wasn't exactly the norm down there."

Sam waits a beat. "I wouldn't laugh at that, Dean," he says quietly, regretfully too, because he knows the reason for his brother's uncertainty.

Dean nods slowly, plays one boot over the top of the other and it's oddly childlike. He looks up again. "It's weird, but Adam? He's blood and all, but this… this is different. Adam might be my half-brother, our half-brother, but this, Cas, it's – more. Somehow. It just. Means more. To me."

It's awkward still, and Sam thinks that maybe his brother is waiting for him to shoot it down, maybe expecting a smartass comeback, thinks Dean is but damn well hopes he isn't. "We never really—" Sam starts, then stops and rephrases. "We don't really know Adam," he continues softly, and he knows he doesn't sound convincing.

His brother pinches the bridge of his nose. "Do you think he's even alive? Adam, I mean?"

Sam throws out his hands, shakes his head. "Honestly? I don't think so, Dean. I mean… Zachariah raised him for a reason, to bait a trap, and Adam said the deal was he'd get to see his mom again, and well. I doubt that meant bringing his mom back."

Dean sniffs. "Yeah, more like sending him back there," he murmurs. "I wonder if his Heaven is like the Prom this time round too." He sucks in his lower lip, winces. "I don't know what to do," he blurts out then. "I'm officially at a loss. This is all going south faster than a fuckin' snowbird in Winter. And Cas, he…" He scrubs a frustrated hand through his hair. "I don't know what to do," he says again. "I know what I said… about taking the fight to them. But I just don't know how we can fight them. Especially without Cas."

"Maybe we don't stand and fight, Dean," Sam offers. "Maybe we keep running. We have the sigils, they can't find us."

His brother parries, almost aggressive compared to his previous apathy. "Keep running? Hiding? While Lucifer wastes the planet and everyone on it?" His eyes flash. "I saw what he does, Sam, remember? There won't be anywhere to run… assuming we don't catch the Croatoan virus, or get picked off by fuglies somewhere along the way." He buries his head in one hand, works his scalp hard with the tips of his fingers. "We got Adam sucked into this mess," he mutters. "We need to get him out of it. And we really need to get Cas back. We can't fight this without his help, and we can't run from it without him either."

Sam wants to be positive, ends up hesitating, floundering in his head because he knows it'll be just so much lip service. "Dean. We'll get him back," he echoes his brother's words in the car instead, and unconvincingly too, as he boots up his laptop. "Adam too, if he's out there. I promise you. I'm on it right now, Bobby is too."

He pauses then, chews his thumbnail, ends up just firing it out point blank because there really isn't a diplomatic way of saying it.

"You killed Zachariah."

His brother's eyes flick up and away almost immediately. He doesn't reply, but he pouts, and his jaw twitches.

He tries again. "Dean. You killed Zachariah. After you said yes. And Cas said that only—"

"It was the plan wasn't it?" Dean cuts in harshly. "Stick one of those swords in him, distract him so we could get Adam out of there, us too."

Sam sighs out. "Distract him, yeah. We never expected to kill him."

"So it was a bonus," his brother deflects. "I don't see why it's even an issue. We needed him out of the picture, he's gone. That's good for us." He rubs his brow. "Anyway. You had an angel machete too. Could just as easily have been you taking him out. I just got there first."

"But I didn't take him out, did I?" Sam says pointedly. "So we'll never know."

They stare at each other for a minute.

"It's an issue because you shouldn't be able to gank an angel," Sam says then. "Cas said that, and I think Cas is the authority in this case."

"I was lucky."

"You shouldn't be able to gank an angel, Dean," Sam persists quietly. "Just like you shouldn't have been able to gank the Whore of Babylon. And you did it after you said yes."

Dean glances up at him again, and his eyes are guarded, and Sam can see the second when his brother closes it off, shuts it down. "I killed the Whore without saying yes," he says tightly. "And what I said back there, it was – conditional. Which means I got a do-over. And whatever you're implying, I'm not in the fuckin' mood for this." There's a barely concealed edge of menace to his voice now, and Sam can see his brother's right leg start its nervous shimmy. "I'm me," Dean snaps.

Sam doesn't press it any more than he has, doesn't pour out the horror of hearing that one word, of steeling himself to watch his brother consumed by the light, even though he wants to tell Dean, even though he wonders if he could use whatever it is that lurks in him, whatever it is that makes him able to twist and push and force, to make Dean do his bidding, like that one time in Duluth. Use it to make him promise. He swallows it down, his fear and dread that his brother might somehow not be himself, might have turned. And suddenly the revelation hits him: this is how Dean felt in Rochester when he juiced up and ripped Famine's black, smoky guts out while he tasted his own blood on his lips.

"I'm not implying anything," he manages finally, comforts himself with the thought that his brother's baleful stare and snarled out hissy fit are characteristically, uniquely, Dean.

He turns back to the laptop, taps at the keyboard, and up it flashes on the screen: the symbol they last saw the angel carving on his chest with the box cutter. And Sam remembers how rivulets of blood trickled down Castiel's skin, shivers at the memory, because the thought that the guy might be mortal, might be getting weaker, might be vulnerable, makes him feel sick, because even if he feels like he might finally be getting back on an even keel with his brother he still thinks the angel might be the only thing who can really protect Dean from Michael. And maybe from him too.

"Are you okay, anyway?" he says, into a silence that's suddenly, awkwardly, reminiscent of the last few weeks. "Not just the fuzzy head. Your ribs, I mean."

His brother sniffs, rolls his shoulders, and suddenly the atmosphere is looser again. "I'll live. Fact, they're feeling better already." He throws Sam a look, quizzical. "That car, the breakdown," he ventures. "Did you get a vibe from it?"

It's almost a relief, the change of topic safer territory. "A vibe?" Sam parrots. "Can you be more specific?"

Dean shrugs. "No, not really. Just got a funny feeling from the kid."

Sam picks through his recent memories, pulls out the image of a three-foot high shortass waving his arms as he drove by. "The toddler?" He grimaces at the prospect of this potential new low. "Possessed toddler?"

"Nah. Older kid, girl. Teen," his brother replies. "In the car, stuffing herself with candy and bitching at her mom." He air quotes. "Her mom said she had a condition…" He whistles, twirls his finger up at his temple. "Looney tunes, I'm guessin'." And then his stocky frame shakes suddenly, a tremor that comes from nowhere. "Man, what is it with teenage girls?" he murmurs. "Bride of Chucky, all of them." He huffs out, his voice sharper now. "I don't know… she was just – creepy. Gave off this… aura. Like Carrie at the Prom. Mouthy too, told me I was a know-all and then said maybe I didn't know as much as I thought." He laughs, but it's hollow. "Made me feel like the brains of the family there for a minute."

He twitches some more, scowls, taps his hands on his thighs, reaches into his jacket pocket for the car keys. "I need a drink," he declares, and he holds up a warning finger. "Don't say a fuckin' word. I need one. Heck, I need many." He pushes up, starts for the door, stops and peers over Sam's shoulder at the screen, squints. "What is that?"

Sam shrugs. "Enochian. Bobby's trying to translate some more of the symbols on your X-ray, he reckons it'll help him do some codebreaking, maybe work out what the sigil means, where Cas might have beamed to."

"If it's even in this dimension," Dean mutters. "We should have thought to ask him where the outfield is. He could be, I don't know – floating around the crab fuckin' nebula."

Sam glances up over his shoulder, sees a glazed, faraway expression in Dean's eyes again. "Well, wherever he is, you think those other angels blasted there with him?" he says uncertainly. "Only he didn't have his sword."

Dean doesn't react, just stares at the computer, and then he frowns. "That's wrong," he says, and he leans over and stabs at the screen with a finger. "It should be two syllables."

Sam glances at the symbols, the translation underneath, looks back up at his brother, feels his brow furrow in doubt. "Uh. Two syllables? I'm sure Bobby probably—"

"It's wrong. The base syllables in Enochian are C, V, CV, or VC. There aren't any CC syllables," his brother announces. "If a CC sequence occurs in a word without any vowels clearly attached to either, it should be two syllables. Same with VV sequences. Two syllables. Every time. Don't forget this is magic with a k at the end, Sammy, you need to think outside the box." He twists, throws up the car keys, snatches them out of the air as he strides to the door. "Beer run. Back in ten."

He's whistling as he leaves, jaunty even. And Sam stares at the closed door for about thirty seconds, then fumbles for his cell, drums his fingers impatiently on the tabletop as he waits. "Bobby? Yeah – uh, no. It's not, actually. Look, don't panic. But I think something's off with Dean."

He flinches at the tirade that batters his ear, waits for a break in the rant. "I know, I know I said… Look. I lied, okay? He did say yes."

Dead silence now at the other end, before he hears a choked-out gasp.

"No, Bobby, wait a minute, wait a minute," he dashes out. "Nothing happened. Well – not that I could see…" He stops again, tries to keep up with the babble. "No… look, stop for a second, will you?" he cuts in shrilly. "He seems himself. Sort of. No! He is himself, definitely. It's just that he can read Enochian."


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