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A Better Make Than I

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There's gotta be a certain amount of adaptability to angels. Sam knows there has to be — angels couldn't pull some of the stunts that they do without being able to learn and adjust to the ever changing human world — but he wouldn't know it looking at Cas. When Sam comes back into the motel, still shaking with an angry sort of grief from the sight of the Impala's tail lights fishtailing out of the parking lot, Castiel is slumped right where Dean left him, half on the bed and propped up against the headboard. His eyes are closed, face is pinched tight with misery. Half of that's gotta be cause of what Leah did to him, but the other half is the human nature creeping around him, making him feel all the thousands of years of his existence.

"Is he gonna be okay?"

Sam looks up to Pastor Gideon, who continues to stare at Castiel's recumbent form with a mixture of disbelief and confusion. Sam gets it. Sometimes he can't help looking at Cas like that too, wondering what an angel is doing still standing beside him and Dean when there's every reason to let the Apocalypse happen as planned.

"Yeah," Sam tells Gideon. "He'll be fine. He just needs to rest." He doesn't tell Gideon that angels shouldn't need rest at all or that Castiel hasn't been all that angelic as of late — not since God had basically told them all to get lost.

Pastor Gideon turns away from Castiel with a stiff reluctance. Sam knows he has questions, but hopes that he won't ask. Just this once, he wants them not to ask. He doesn't have time to work through any life changing realization that Gideon's just had, so it's a relief when the pastor simply nods once and starts for the door.

Gideon stops halfway through the door and turns back, raising his bandaged wrist. "Thanks for the first aid." Briefly Gideon looks out to the empty parking lot where the Impala — and Dean — was minutes ago. When he looks back to Sam, his eyes are worried, wild, and sad. "Good luck," he says and is gone.

It takes a moment for Sam to move again after the pastor is gone. He looks at the door for a long time, thinking about how Dean slipped away too — as easily as if they were strangers.

*

Sam packs while he waits for Castiel to wake up and calls Bobby in the meantime to let him know what's up. Urgency is running hot through his veins. He knows what Dean plans on doing and he knows that it won't be immediate either. Dean'll have to make his rounds first — see the people he wants to say goodbye to and can afford to see without being stopped. Sam has a pretty good idea of who he'll see, and it's a short list of possibilities. Even so, he would really like it if Castiel were on his feet. Otherwise, it means taking the time to steal a car and catch up, and that's just not fast enough when Dean could go anywhere after seeing Lisa and Ben.

He manages to sit in a chair by the bed for a whole three seconds before he reaches out to clasp Castiel by the shoulder. The muscle feels thin and weak under his hand, barely there past the bulk of coat and blazer and shirt. It makes Sam nervous, but when he shakes him anyway, Castiel jerks awake, wincing and touching his sternum with a fist.

"Sam," he says, rolling into a sitting position with Sam's help. He blinks as he looks around the room, and his mouth thins out as he takes in the packed duffel bags and their distinct lack of company. "Where is Dean?"

"Gone. To find Michael. But I have some ideas of where he might be heading," Sam tells him. "If we move fast, we might be able to catch him before he does something stupid." At that, Castiel makes a huffing sound that might even be laughter. "How're you feeling?"

"Not well," Castiel tells him. He sways unsteadily for a moment, holding tight to Sam's sleeve and leaning into his grasp. Even his voice is not as gruff as Sam is used to. "The Whore has weakened me greatly. I need time to recover fully before I'll be able to transport anyone anywhere."

Sam tries not to be disappointed. "That's okay. We can manage. Pretty sure I don't care about maintaining law and order right now. Save your strength. We'll need it when we find Dean. I'm sure he's going to put up a fight. How long do you think you'll need?"

"A day," Castiel says, . "Maybe two, but no more than that."

"Two days," Sam echoes, nodding as he thinks about how far they'll have to drive to get to Lisa's. It's a ten hour drive — seven with Sam pushing it, no traffic, and no cops. Hopefully Cas won't need that second day to recuperate. "We can make it."

*

The truck Sam steals belongs to the Sacrament Lutheran Militia. It's big and bulky and old and gets shitty gas mileage, and with no secondary tank to hold fuel, they're gonna be making a stop or two just to fill up between towns. The only really good thing about it is that there's room to spread out in the cabin. On his half of the bench seat, Castiel slumps and lies so still that Sam is certain he's sleeping. He looks grumpy even at rest, though he's curled up and braced against the glove compartment for maximum comfort, and he has his coat pulled tight around his ribs like a cocoon.

Thrumming his fingers against the steering wheel, Sam wonders what it is that Leah did to him that it would take so long for Castiel to recover, but he has no way of knowing without prodding Cas awake to give answers. He taps out the beat to AC/DC without thinking about it — going pitta-pat-pat to the beat of Thunderstruck and then Highway to Hell and then skips right over to Johnny Cash's God's Gonna Cut You Down before Castiel huffs on the other side of the car and says, "Stop fidgeting. Your fingers are distracting."

"Sorry," Sam says. "I'm just worried, and the quiet isn't helping." He glances over at Castiel, who is watching from against the door with barely concealed incomprehension, so he struggles to elaborate. "It's Dean. He's been with me practically my whole life, and you know how he is. He's... He's loud and everywhere, and when it's quiet, it's because he's not here. And since I know why he's not here..."

Castiel grunts but does not comment when his voice trails off.

Sam sighs, gripping the steering wheel more tightly. The grunt may have been a condemnation for all he can tell, and he wouldn't be surprised. Sam doesn't think Castiel's ever liked him all that much — that he puts up with Sam because he must by extension of dealing with Dean.

"You should try to sleep," Sam suggests. "It might do you some good."

"Angels don't need sleep." Castiel wipes a hand over his face. He looks tired — not in the baggy and bloodshot eyes sort of way, but in the other way. The one that means sagging shoulders, limp gesticulation, and frequent and deep sighs. If it were possible, Sam thinks, Castiel would sink more deeply into his seat. "I don't want to sleep."

Chewing his lip, Sam tries to feel bold. "There's nothing wrong with being human, you know."

"Humans are weak, fickle, and they make mistakes," Castiel points out. "I don't want to be human."

"Come on, humanity can't be all that bad," Sam pleads because God help him, he needs some reason to think humanity has enough potential for good to be worth saving. He'll take any reason at all, actually, so long as it was strong enough to hold onto so that he doesn't say yes to Lucifer. "We can be pretty strong, and we do good things, too. We don't always make mistakes. We can make the right decisions too."

"Not all of you can," Castiel says — too quickly to just be an idle thought.

It sounds like he's been sitting on this observation for weeks now, or perhaps months. Perhaps even before Lucifer was out of the cage. Realizing this, Sam starts to get uncomfortable again. He doesn't like the feeling of being judged — never has — because he'll invariably come up short. He was never obedient enough for either his dad or Dean, but Sam begrudgingly accepted his rebellious nature long ago.

At least Castiel has good reason — Sam was given a choice and made the wrong one; that much Castiel has made clear — but even so, knowing that's what Castiel thinks of him makes Sam want to shrink down and disappear and maybe take all his mistakes with him. If not all of them, then at least the one. The big one. The Lucifer one.

Castiel sniffs, exasperated. "I was speaking of Dean," he says, tugging his coat more tightly around him with a hiss and resting his head against the window. "At least you have the excuse of gullibility. Dean does not."

Sam wants to defend Dean automatically. He wants to say that Dean is sacrificing himself for the greater good. He wants to say that Dean just wants everyone to be at peace. Except that he's seen the look on Dean's face that tells him otherwise — that look that tells Sam that Dean's worn down and ready to give up, that he's justifying the decision he's made because he's just too tired to fight.

"Doesn't matter," he ends up settling on. "We'll get to him before he says yes."

His conviction falls on deaf ears, however. Castiel's already asleep.

*

They're on the bridge over Peoria Lake when Castiel wakes again, some six hours later, sniffing the air and looking past Sam into the early morning as it casts a dim, tangerine glow across the horizon. Sam watches Castiel's lip curl when he realizes what's happened and on instinct, gives him a reassuring shoulder squeeze.

"It's okay," he says. "It's normal to need rest."

"For you, yes," Castiel snarls.

Castiel doesn't sleep again; he broods in the passenger seat and continues to look very much as if he needs more sleep as he rubs his knuckles against his chest. Reminded of Castiel's injury, Sam tries not to let it worry him on top of everything else, but can't deny that it was disturbing to see Cas sleep so fitfully, hugging his arms around his chest and twitching and wheezing between short periods of utter stillness. That Cas is still hurting after a night's rest makes him wonder if another four hours will make any difference.

So he stops for food — goes through the drive-thru and then pulls to the back of the parking lot so that he can get out and check Castiel's condition for himself. He's incredibly conscious of how short on time they are, but he needs food and gas too and it's morning rush hour to boot. For the moment, Castiel can take priority because Sam knows that he can't pull Dean off course without his help. Showing up without Cas back on his feet would be as good as losing. It's just one other thing that Sam can't do on his own.

He pulls open the passenger door and kneels next to Cas, patting his cheek until he blinks bleary-eyed at Sam. "Hey, you're not looking so great, hot shot."

"I'm fine," Castiel insists. His voice sounds cracked and dry. Worse, Sam thinks, than he sounded before. "I just need time."

"You're sick. What you need is water," Sam says, twisting off the cap on a bottle of water and holding it up to him.

Castiel frowns tightly, but when Sam waves the bottle under his nose and splashes some of the water on his mouth, he reaches for it at once. Sam almost lets him have it completely, but then Cas tilts the whole thing into his mouth, drinking with greedy gulps without pause. Sam quickly pulls it back down.

"Slowly," he coaches. "Drink it in sips or you'll throw it all back up."

Nodding, Castiel drinks as instructed, licking his lips between sips like he doesn't want to miss a single drop, and Sam starts rummaging through the to-go bags for something for Cas to eat.

"What is that?" Castiel asks.

"Sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich," Sam says, holding one out to him. Castiel recoils, pushing it away. "Look, I know you're probably sick of meat after that thing with Cupid, but you're hungry, right? Even if you aren't now, you will be. You have to eat."

"I'm never touching meat ever again," Castiel insists with an adorably grossed out expression. He peeks past the sandwich into the bag. "What else do you have?"

Sam sifts through the wrapped sandwiches. "There's a bit of everything. Some with bacon, some with just egg. I wasn't sure what I could get you to eat. How about hash browns?"

Castiel squints at Sam distrustfully. "What is it?"

"Shredded and fried potato, basically."

Sam holds up the carton of hash browns hopefully. Castiel takes it and nibbles on one of the rounds with a doubtful sort of crease between his brows. Meanwhile, Sam opens up the rejected sausage sandwich and takes a bite. He tries to hide his amusement when he notices Castiel giving him a sidelong glance.

"How's the hash browns?" Sam asks, taking another bite and making satisfied noises.

"Greasy. Salty." Castiel maintains a focused look on the sandwich in Sam's hands and licks at his fingers as Sam searches for the second sausage sandwich.

"Trade you?" Sam holds it up to Cas. "Sandwich for the hash browns?"

They trade and Castiel's first bite into the sandwich is accompanied by a little growl of contentedness.

It's sort of like dealing with a wild animal, Sam thinks. Like a stray dog that has to be lured in with food before you can bring it in to be domesticated and treated for fleas or something. Speaking of, Cas is so pleased with the water and the sandwich that he's happy to give Sam room to unbutton his shirt to check on his injury. There's a spiderweb of black across his sternum, looking like a fat bruise that's taken it upon itself to spread in jagged lines.

Sam brushes his fingers along the edges. It feels cold as ice, not warm as he expected. "Jesus, Cas. You sure you're gonna be okay?"

Castiel covers his hand. "I'll be fine. It was much worse when we started out."

Shaking his head as he buttons Castiel's shirt back up, Sam says, "You have to start being more careful. Sure you still got the angel mojo working for you right now, but it can't last forever, right? I can't always be here to make sure you're okay, so you gotta remember for yourself to eat at least twice a day and to sleep." Glancing up at Castiel's softening expression, Sam ducks his head with embarrassment and hunts for a napkin before using it to wipe some of the melted cheese that's still on the corner of Castiel's mouth. "And to clean yourself up now and then so that you don't look like a street bum, alright?"

"But you will be here."

Sam crumples the napkin and dumps it in the to-go bag. "You know I won't."

"But you will," Castiel stresses. "Because you won't say yes to Lucifer. You're not going to let him use you as a vessel because every part of you rebels against the idea."

Sighing, Sam finds another sandwich for Castiel to eat. Maybe if he can find the other sausage one he got, Castiel will be so busy eating again that he'll shut up and stop reminding Sam of the very thing he's trying not to remember he's made for, but his stupid mouth keeps running — both of their mouths do.

"It's not that simple, Cas. I just know that Lucifer'll find a way to manipulate me or he'll offer a deal that I'd be willing to take. I'm gullible. You said it yourself. I'm only human. I'm weak and fickle, and so far, I haven't been all that great at making decisions that aren't mistakes."

Sam doesn't expect Castiel to touch him, let alone cup his cheek and tilt his face upward. "Yes, you are human, and compared to an angel, your physical strength is insubstantial. Many of your kind lack the conviction and faith necessary in a war like this. I have spent millennia watching as you fall prey to cowardice and lust and wrath without any concern for your souls.

"But you told me that humans can be strong and good, and you have something that angels don't. You have a choice — to let Lucifer have you or to not, to be strong or to not. To ask forgiveness or to not," Castiel says as he drops his hand from Sam's jaw to take the sandwich he found. "And soon — very soon, I think — I will be one of you."

Castiel pauses to unwrap his meal, and Sam can't help looking up at him with a bit of awe as the sunrise puts a glow to his skin, like the sunlight is calling to Castiel's remaining power. Oblivious, Cas folds the wrapper down and takes a second to sag back into his seat, touching his chest with a fist and looking every inch like a normal man suffering from normal heartburn. Sam sees only the angel that he still is and always will be as far as Sam's concerned.

"You really think I can do it?" Sam asks, squinting up at Castiel uncertainly. He tries to cast the question in a playful light by adding, "Resist temptation?" in a mocking sort of tone.

"I think you're human," Castiel tells him. "If anyone has a chance of doing it, it is you." He finishes off his sandwich in a few short bites and brushes the crumbs from his fingers. Then he grabs the bags of food and water and puts them on the seat next to him. "Now, get in the car, Sam. We need to catch up with Dean."

"Yes, sir," Sam says with a small smile.

Sam climbs to his feet with the first good feeling he's had in months. Maybe — just maybe — it's hope.