It feels good to have a plan, he thinks as the knife slides from its hiding place in his sleeve to his steady palm. It feels good to have faith, however tenuous a grasp, not in God or the angels or even in himself, but in Sam, who trusted him to come, and who he hopes can find it within himself trust Dean again in return for what he's about to do.

Not a millisecond before the knife sinks into Zachariah's soft flesh he feels a dissonance under his skin, a sharp prickle at the base of his neck. Everything suddenly goes muted, overlaid, like swimming through a drunken haze or a particularly heavy dream. But the knife goes, and even the swooping triumph he feels in his gut seems distant somehow. This fucking place. The angel mojo. Maybe should'a had a few less swigs of whiskey. But the thoughts are almost gone before they come as Zachariah's grace explodes around them, and Dean doesn't think to close his eyes.

*

Without needing to discuss it, they take another few days at Bobby's to recuperate, mourning in their own ways for Adam, again. Where normal people are lucky enough to be able to grieve over the loss of someone once, it seems standard protocol at this point that he and Sam and Bobby will always have the scabs of grief torn open again and again.

Dean decides to kill half a day giving his baby a thorough wash down and wax – something he's definitely neglected doing for a while. When he found he couldn't even reach that mind-numbing comfort that he used to, it just became a chore. Now, for today, it almost breaks his heart to think about her that way.

He lets his mind wander as he picks out all the trash from the back seat, gets out the Shop-Vac for the floorboards, and fills a bucket full of soapy water. Just started getting warm in South Dakota, and an hour into his work his t-shirt is sticking to his back.

Which is why it's a little disconcerting when he suddenly finds himself sitting down in front of Bobby's well-worn table, both Sam and Bobby looking at him somewhat expectantly.

He blinks, shakes his head slightly.

"Dean?" Sam asks, brows drawing together.

Instead of answering, he stands up to the window and sees his car gleaming in the setting sun, no trace of bucket or hose or Shop-Vac.

"Dean?" Sam says again.

"Uhm," he clenches his fists to hide the shaking from the adrenaline rush. "Sorry. I think I really… zoned out for a second. What were we talking about?"

Sam starts to get that serious look of panic on his face, and Dean cannot handle that at this very second. "Dude, it's fine, I'm just tired. Where were we?"

Bobby frowns but answers anyway. "Since we've got no idea where that angel of yours is or how to find him, you were gonna say something that needed to be checked out in the mean time."

"Dammit, Cas." Not that Dean forgot about him, not with his face still tender and the searing brightness shining through the cracks of the warehouse still fresh on his mind. But after everything, Dean admits to himself that he'd really like to know where the guy is, and more importantly, if he's okay.

His mind swings back around to the fact that he's just lost six hours or so, but that he was apparently coherent enough to hold a conversation with Bobby and Sam. And whatever he was going to tell them… hell if he knows.

"Dean, are you sure you're okay?" Sam asks gently. No, he wasn't, but it was making him more and more agitated, Sam's tone and the way they both were staring at him.

"Yeah," Dean says instead. "I'm just, you know, like I said. Tired." He gets up, the chair scraping loudly in the small room. "See you in the morning." He tries to escape before hearing anything else from either of them.

In the room Sam and he shares, he lifts the half full bottle of whiskey to his mouth before thinking that maybe, just this once, he should just call it a night.

*

A week later they're somewhere in Oregon with two more prissy panted angels on their tail. Apparently some of them are a little upset about Dean ganking their Head Douchewad and won't settle for a not-so-heartfelt apology. So they run.

Sam takes off one direction and Dean ducks down another. Fortunately they follow Sam, which gives Dean the opportunity to find a flat surface and take out his knife. Christ, at the rate they're going, he and Sam might as well carry around another flask full of their own blood. Would save them a lot of bandages.

Not long after he finishes he hears Sam coming and the goons following him, so he runs his hand over the sluggishly bleeding cut, coating his palm. He hears Sam give a shout, "Dean, now!" and he slams his palm into the center of the bloody sigil.

A live wire. Couldn't be anything but that, how stupid was he to not check before he started drawing. It feels like his body is on fire and he's shouting, maybe, and then everything in his head goes jumbled.

He must've blacked out, if only for a second, because the next thing he sees is Sam crouching above him with no evidence the other angels were ever there.

"What the hell happened? You alright?" Sam's saying.

"Fuck," Dean slurs. "I dunno. I…." He wipes his blood from his palm, waiting to feel the burn from an electric shock but there's nothing. "Wire? Is 'ere?" But Sam either doesn't understand him or ignores him in favor of rolling up Dean's sleeve where he sliced his skin for the sigil. He feels disconnected, under water, and it's bugging the shit out of him.

"Maybe you used a little too much blood this time," Sam says. "Need to invest in pre-bottled angel repellent, I think."

At that, Dean can't help but laugh.

*

The middle of the night, his first good sleep in a while without fifteen shots of liquor putting him down, and his phone rings.

"Son of a bitch," Dean roughs out, smacking the surface of the nightstand in an effort to find and stop the shrill ringing. Finally he opens his phone. "This had better be good."

"Dean."

"Cas, shit! Are you okay? Where are you?"

"I don't know. A church. I think… a church."

"Okay, a church. Which one? Do you know where?" Sam's already up and throwing everything into their duffels.

He hears a shuffling and Castiel groans. "St. Matthew," he eventually says. "Bloomington, Indiana."

Dean rubs his forehead. "Indiana. That's… that's a seven hour drive from here, at least. We're leaving now. Can you hang on that long? We—"

"No. Just tell me where you are. I can… I'll manage."

"Cas, no, it's fine, we can come get you, just—"

"Dean." Whatever he's doing, Cas is out of breath and Dean doesn't like the sound of it. "Just tell me where you are."

A full minute later, fifty seconds too long, Castiel materializes on wobbly legs in front of the door.

"Whoa, hey." Sam rushes forward, guiding him to the bed. "Are you hurt? Bleeding?"

"Not anymore." The poor guy looks pale, like he could sleep for a week, which sets off an unnerving twist in Dean's stomach. "Were you able to retrieve Adam?"

Dean meets Sam's eyes for a brief moment. "No," he says. "We… no."

"We knew Zachariah would be waiting for us," Sam continues. "We tried to head him off from the start."

"And obviously you failed," Castiel says, voice tinged with anger.

"No." Castiel's hard gaze swings over to Dean. "He's gone. I got him with the knife." The pause that follows lies heavy in the air.

"You what?" Cas finally says.

"Um," Dean looks to Sam again. "I stabbed his pompous-ass face with the knife?"

"And?"

"And what? He exploded into nothingness. He's gone."

"Dean." Castiel sits up straighter, urgent. "Only an angel can kill another angel."

*

Eggs. Need a carton of eggs.

He checks the list again, matching it up to what's already in the cart. Oh. Deli meat, too. Since he's in the deli section he might as well get it now.

He pulls a number from the ticket dispenser and waits for his to be called. Ham, chicken, and salami on hoagies for the adults. Hot dogs for the kids. He looks over to the cheese display. Jalapeño jack cheese. That sounds awesome. Gonna have to get some of that, too.

He blinks and a man appears, leaning on the deli case.

"Hello, Dean," he says, a small, sad smile emerging on his face.

"Get the fuck out," Dean says, knowing who he was the instant he manifested, that sharp prickle searing down his spine. "You get the fuck out of my head."

"Even if I wanted to, I couldn't," Michael says. "Not now."

Dean is quickly reaching a blinding level of rage. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he says, low and venomous.

Michael is unperturbed. He straightens, eyes glancing around the grocery store. "This is not what I was expecting," he says, and then looks down into Dean's cart. "A picnic with your mother, your father, your wife and Sam's. And the children, of course. Tell me, Dean, is this a supposed to be a translation of a figment of hope? Or is it just a dream?" There's sadness and softness written all over his face and steeped into his voice, placating in the most infuriating way possible.

"No," Dean says. "I'll just cut right to the chase, okay? No. No. So help me, I will run you through with a goddamn pepperoni stick if I have to, but get the fuck out and no."

Michael nods, and in that moment Dean thinks of Pastor Jim, of how he'd never truly gotten angry with Dean when he was being a little shit, just… disappointed. He doesn't want those memories sullied. He wants to punch Michael's nose cavity in. But the guy keeps on talking. "What ultimately makes you so sure your choice is the right one?"

"Nothing. But that's the great thing about free will. I get to have the capacity to be wrong."

Michael tilts his head slightly as if studying him, suddenly so alien, reminding Dean of Castiel when he had first met him. "I admire you, Dean. Very much so."

"News to me," Dean mutters. "Now, if you wouldn't mind, leave me the fuck alone."

"I told you. I couldn't if I wanted to."

Dean goes stock-still, fear and anger coiling together in him, wringing him tight. "You know, I am so sick of this bullshit—"

"I think you remember saying 'yes,'" Michael says, stepping closer.

"Wow. Okay, wow," and yeah, fear is definitely gaining an upper hand, "you guys seriously have no idea what the words 'taken out of context' means—"

"You said 'yes' here," Michael points to Dean's forehead and then travels downward, "but not yet… here." He stops again at Dean's heart. "Protocol says you have to mean it - if you'll pardon the expression - down to your soul."

"So what do you call this then," Dean says, feeling more overwhelmed by the second. "Putting your foot in the door?"

"You could say."

"Well, let me tell you this right now. You aren't getting another inch inside. Not one. This is just another layer on the pile of crap I've had to deal with over the years, so don't feel too special. Sam and me will deal with this, just like we always have." His voice shakes and he feels like he has to puke up everything he's ever eaten. He was so close before, in the Green Room, so close. Still, even after what he's just said, the temptation to give in right here and now is consuming him, because he's tired, asleep and dreaming and he's so fucking tired. But he can't. Because now he has Sam's trust and he can't face that shocked look of betrayal, not again.

"Well." Michael studies him once more, way more intense than Dean finds comfortable. "The offer still stands. When you're ready, you know where I'll be."

Dean snaps awake, denial still falling from his lips.

*

He can't find his keys. And he needs to go, before Sam wakes up, because he also can't find the bottle that was at the bottom of his duffel bag, nor the one that he put in the drawer in the nightstand, nor even the half pint tucked away in his dress shoes. Michael ruined a perfectly good night's sleep and now Dean's liver is gonna pay for it.

He finds the keys behind the laptop, crushing them together so they don't jangle loudly. Leather jacket on, boots tied.

He looks back at Sam, hand on the doorknob. He thinks about waking up in the middle of the night to see an empty bed beside him. He thinks about what he told Michael, about how he wasn't saying it just to try to piss the guy off.

A long moment passes, and Dean knows he's not going anywhere.

He sighs, throws off his leather jacket.

He shakes his brother awake.

He tells him everything.