A/N: Hi guys, I know I should probably be updating Unfinished Business right now (so close to the end!) but this one shot just popped into my head this morning and I felt that I had to get it down. Something that is a tad out of my comfort zone, so I hope you enjoy it. This is not intended to be Destiel, but if you squint really hard, fans of it may find it. All up to reader interpretation. Takes place in season 8 shortly before the boys reconcile, so SPOILERS for those who have not caught up. A tad AU, as I changed things around so that Cas is back earlier than he actually appeared in the show. Enjoy! DISCLAIMER: I do not own Supernatural or any of its characters. All rights reserved to Kripke and co.

Brother

Sam is on his knees, pulling his brother's unresponsive body to his chest, listening as Dean's weakened heartbeat flutters for a moment, and then ceases. Green eyes stare lifelessly at hazel, lips cracked and blue from cold. Around them, snowflakes gently fall from above, fluttering gracefully before landing gently to the ground below. It would have been a perfect postcard photograph, something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting: the stillness of the Maine woods, the powdered snow covering the treetops and branches. That was, if not for the lifeless body of the man lying in the snow, and the young man beside him, struggling to control the intense grief washing over him.

It was supposed to have been a simple case, the exorcism of a much lower pay grade demon. But one thing Sam should have realized by now was that nothing was ever easy for a Winchester. The demon had somehow escaped its devil's trap (to this day Sam will never understand how, but assumed that someone or something must have accidently broken it), wounding his brother. Lost and alone, Dean wandered the forest in search of his brother, only to be found too late, succumbing to his injury and the severe cold of a North Eastern January.

If Sam had not yelled at him, if he'd kept his goddamn mouth shut instead of running to Amelia. But now it's too late. Sam feels the tears freeze as they form and he holds his brother closer, sobbing in his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Dean," he murmurs, voice muffled from his sniffles and the insulated leather jacket that had done little to protect his brother from the bitter cold. He had come when he could, when he had heard from Garth that Dean had been overdue from his hunting trip. It was a wonder that he had survived this long, truthfully. Was it because he was holding on for him? That he figured that his Sammy would come to his senses and try to find him? Though unlikely, the thought still pierces through Sam's very soul. Imagining his brother, alone and dying in the slowest, most painful way imaginable, clinging to the hope that his brother would be there for him…

The snowflakes grow heavier, but Sam doesn't care. Still sobbing uncontrollably, he gently kisses his brother's forehead (freezing cold), oblivious as around him, the little squall envelops them in white. But who cares? What was life, a dog, evenings sitting around a cozy fire with Amelia, without his brother? Without Dean, the one who had always been his strength ever since they were kids? Dean, whom he had never had the chance to apologize to. Sure, it hurt like hell when he had found a new BFF in Benny, but had he not done the same thing with Amy only a year earlier? And now, he could never say he was sorry. Couldn't tell him how he had tried so fucking hard to save him from Purgatory, how even Amelia's warm touch could ease the pain of losing his brother.

He sobs, oblivious to the snapping of branches in the distance.

xxx

Benny watches the scene before him, leaning against a fir tree, hat pulled low over his eyes despite the lack of sunlight. Southern habits die hard, I guess. He stands in silence, watching as Sam holds his brother's limp body, letting out these heart wrenching, hideous moans and sobs, body shaking not from the bitter cold but from the intense grief. Benny feels a lump forming in his throat, and he gently wipes his eyes, mentally scolding himself for becoming so attached to a human.

He closes his eyes for a moment, reflecting on those moments in Purgatory. Dean had told him that his time there had been almost therapeutic, that he had never felt so alive as he had that year fighting for his very life. Truth be told, Benny had felt the same way. Initially skeptical of the strange human (a hunter, no less, as he would discover later on), Benny had quickly warmed to the young man, one who had become the brother he had never really had. The man had trusted him to the point of letting him tag along on the trip topside. Though Dean had initially agreed to do so as a means to leave, to somehow find a way back to his brother, it did not take long for the hunter and the vampire to develop a bond that almost rivaled that of Sam and the angel. They were brothers, not by blood for certain, but brothers nonetheless.

Benny sighs, voice shaking as he struggles to steady his breathing. For a moment, he considers revealing himself. Hell, he has every right to be there, does he not? Family don't end in blood. Benny isn't sure where he had heard this saying, vaguely remembering Dean's recounting of an older man. What was his name? Billy? Dave? Benny can't remember, but he does remember the fondness in Dean's voice, a voice which had at one point been bitter at the mention of the old man. But he does remember how that man, whatever connection to Dean, had meant a lot to both him and Sam, a man whose death had shattered his world.

"Family don't end in blood…" The words sound foreign, yet soft and comforting from his Louisiana drawl. Benny starts to head towards the brothers, about to ignore any gut feelings of staying hidden and share a few moments with Dean. His brother, not by blood, but a brother regardless. And then, he hesitates as he hears another pitiful sob. And as much as he wants to, as much as it hurts to grieve from afar, Benny holds back. He is not Dean's brother, as much as he wishes he could admit it. He has not earned the right to be there, at least not now. He remembers the stories Dean had briefly shared (so few, and it had been no doubt difficult for him to tell the few he had), of how he had raised Sam on his own since his infancy, how he had sworn to protect the kid at all costs. How he had been so happy when he had reunited with Sam, because they were together, a family, or at least as close to a family as the Winchesters could muster. Benny had spent that year with him in Purgatory, but was it enough? Enough to earn the right to grieve beside his brother? Benny sighs, closes his eyes, and slowly walks away.

xxx

Castiel stands in the shadows, the wind playing with the tattered fabric of his trench coat. He does not feel the bitter cold, other than that which seems to pierce his very heart. Still new to the idea of human emotion, the angel is unsettled by this foreign concept. Should he ignore it? Allow himself to wallow in grief and self-pity? He stares at the scene before him, and feels another seemingly unnatural sensation overwhelming him: a lump forming from beneath his throat.

Is this what it feels like to be human? The thought only briefly crosses Castiel's mind, temporarily forgetting the scene before him. But at the sound of Sam's cries, echoing through the stillness of the forest, the angel suddenly snaps back from his reverie. He watches as Sam finally lays his brother, oh so gently, on the ground and lays his hand over Dean's face. Cas closes his eyes, looks back on that day, what seemed like an eternity ago, when he had saved Dean from Hell. He had looked angry, helpless, like a child. "Why would an angel rescue me from Hell?" Dean had asked. Cas closes his eyes for a moment, in remembrance. Dean had felt so little of himself, believed himself unworthy of salvation. That was not true, Castiel knows that. And it hurt to think that even after all these years, the man still though so little of himself. For Dean did not know that it was not only Castiel how had saved him, but that the man had actually saved the angel himself. It was Dean who had convinced him that blind obedience was not always the best way to go. It was he who had helped him to see that the love between brothers, faith in those who loved you, cared for you, would always be more powerful than allegiance to a non-existent father.

Dean, the man he had somehow grown to love, despite his attitude, vulgarities, incessant obsession with scantily clad women (why, Cas would never be able to fathom). The man whom he had struggled so hard to protect in Purgatory, to the point of abandoning him when he no doubt needed him most.

"Cas, buddy, I need you." The words had somehow been comforting to him, had brought a sense of calmness that the angel had never before felt in the millennia he had roamed the Earth. Was this what it was like to be needed, appreciated, loved? Castiel closes his eyes, and feels a strange moisture forming from beneath the lids. He longs to be there beside Sam, share in his grief. At one point, he almost zaps over, even if only to provide some sense of calmness to the broken man before him. But he can't. He was unable to save Dean, had tried before the man had succumbed. But somehow, since leaving Purgatory, he had lost his power, the ability to heal with just a touch.

Dean had been aware when Cas had found him earlier, a mere half hour or so before Sam had arrived on the scene. Dean was lying face down in the snow, his body no longer trembling from the cold. When Cas had gently lifted his head, he saw a look of what seemed almost like serenity on his ashen face, the hint of a smile. Had he recognized him? Was he somehow acknowledging his presence? And then a faint, grunted reply: "Sm'my?" and Castiel felt his heart sink. He had not recognized him, had believed him to be his brother. It should not have bothered him so, Castiel knew that. After all, a dying man calling to his brother was only natural. The angel considered telling him otherwise, thought better of it. Instead he smiled, murmured "I'm here Dean," and placed one hand on his forehead.

To no avail.

Cas opens his eyes, watches as Sam gently takes off his jacket, wraps his brother's body in it warmth, lifts him up. Slowly the man turns and carries his brother away. Castiel lets out a sob, leans against a nearby birch tree for support. Slowly, Sam Winchester carries away the man he cares for more than anyone in the world, the man he would die for, their forms disappearing in the white of the winter storm.