This has nothing to do with 'Behind Closed Doors' or 'Kindred to the Devil'; merely a one shot story that insisted on being written last night. Phoenix

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has reviewed! I was a little nervous about this one :)

In the Company of Friends

-The Story-

Dean Winchester's eyes opened when he heard the sound of someone fumbling with the key outside his motel room door. He let out a relieved sigh, Sam was finally back. He'd never tell his brother of course, but he couldn't sleep right knowing the younger boy was still out.

It was kind of a role reversal for them – him home on a Friday night while Sam was out, but that was just the way things had worked out tonight.

They had gone to the bar together, originally; Dean with the intention of doing a bit of hustling, Sam to watch his back, but things hadn't played out that way after Sam ran into four guys he knew from college who were determined to do some catching up with the younger Winchester.

So Sam had ditched Dean for them… In his brother's defense, the younger boy – while being friendly enough with the others – hadn't necessarily wanted to go hang out with them, at first. But Dean, figuring he knew better, and not wanting to be considered a wet blanket by Sam's school friends, insisted he go. So in the end, Sam did, casting him an odd look as he was pulled away.

Dean had stuck around for about an hour, playing pool – winning a bit of cash – but mostly watching his brother and his friends. It was a side of Sam that was foreign to the older boy so he observed, and felt very much left out - excluded.

This was a part of his brother's life that he had no hold on, or frame or reference. Two years… for the sake of two years Sam was a stranger to him at times.

The longer he watched, the more melancholy he became until, finally, when he couldn't take the sound of the jubilant frat boys any longer, Dean drained his beer, paid his tab and returned to the motel, trusting that Sam could make his own way back. He was with his buddies after all.

With a soft click, the door finally unlocked and Dean knew he was right. Sam had made it home. He sighed and turned away, not wanting his brother to know he was awake, as he knew that would be an invitation for a play by play from Sam, one he particularly didn't want to hear about right now. Probably never.

Listening to his brother move into the room and close the door behind him, Dean frowned. Sam seemed a bit unsteady on his feet, and this served to heat his melancholy. The little brother he knew seldom drank. Yeah a beer, maybe two on occasion, but that was pretty much the extent of it. But this kid – this Sam – seemed to have no trouble getting wasted with his buddies.

Dean stewed.

A moment later he heard a soft gasp and rolled his eyes. 'I'm not listening' he told himself, 'whatever frat boy did with his friends, he did to himself so he can suffer through it himself.'

It was mean thinking but right now Dean was hurting; and a hurting Dean was a mean Dean.

"Dean," his softly whispered name almost broke his resolve to pretend he was asleep but he held strong, determined this once not to cave in to his brother.

Sam had gone with them. Again, he knew he wasn't being fair. The younger boy hadn't wanted to go but he'd made him. After all, he was the big brother and big brother always knows best…

His resolve crumbled when he heard a choked cry, "Help… me." He turned over ready to give Sam shit and then gasped when he got his first look at his brother, instantly tossing off blankets and flicking on the bedside lamp.

"What the hell – " he was out of bed and across to Sam in two steps, just in time to catch his brother before the younger boy collapsed.

Someone had beaten the crap out of his brother.

"Jesus kiddo," Dean muttered, helping maneuver his brother onto the bed. Sam hissed in pain and curled in on himself as the older boy hurried into the bathroom, returning with a warm wet rag and then with gentle quickness wiped the blood from the battered face so he could get an idea of what kind of damage he was dealing with.

He winced as he saw the split lip, swollen and bruised cheek, puffy eye – it'd be black by morning - and nasty gash across Sam's temple. It was going to require stitches.

He checked out the back and sides of his brother's head, relieved there was no tell tale lumps, bumps or abrasions that would spark his concern about a concussion.

Satisfied with that cursory examination, he gently tugged his brother's shirt up to see what it was hiding. Sam moaned and tried to stop him. "I'm… okay," he hissed and Dean scoffed:

"Sure you are, dumb ass. What the hell happened anyway? You guys get jumped by a gang or something?" He managed to get the shirt up and cursed when he saw the dark bruises mottling his brother's stomach and chest. He started to gently probe the ribs, his anger simmering hotly at whoever did this to Sam.

"No," Sam managed, sucking in sharply when Dean hit a particularly tender spot. "Doesn't… matter."

"Like hell it doesn't," Dean muttered. "What? Your prissy, fancy pants friends let you get jumped?"

Sam closed his eyes and didn't say anything. He just shivered slightly, making his brother frown.

Dean let his shirt drop; satisfied nothing was broken, just heavily bruised. His brother would be sore for a week or two but he'd be spared an ER visit this time. He grabbed the blanket from his own bed and draped it lightly over the younger Winchester. "You didn't answer me, Sam. You know that irritates the living crap out of me-" he moved towards the bathroom to grab his shaving kit. He kept the suture kit in with his razor. "So let's try this again, what happened?"

Sam still didn't answer.

"Okay maybe I should ask this question first, then. How much did you have to drink?" He needed to know anyway before he could give him anything for the pain, like an aspirin.

"A beer," came the reply. Dean's frown deepened:

"Don't lie to me Sammy."

"Don't call me Sammy," the younger boy's voice was weary.

"Sam?"

"Ah shit, Dean," Sam struggled to sit up, one hand going to his forehead while the other lay protectively across his ribs, "just leave it alone will you? I had one fucking beer. Now drop it. Please."

Dean was stunned silent for a moment and then snorted, "Ain't happening, Sam! You come back from a night out with your friends, beat to a snot and then won't tell me what happened-"

"They are NOT my friends," Sam ground out cutting his brother off. "They were never my friends, okay? Just some guys I knew from campus, that's all."

"But-" Dean was surprised. "I assumed-"

"You assumed wrong," the younger boy closed his eyes and leaned against the headboard on the bed.

"Why'd you go with them then?" the twenty-six year old asked; watching him carefully.

"Because you wanted to get rid of me… So I went," came the tired answer.

Dean felt like he'd been slapped. That wasn't how it was. He sank down on the bed next to his brother, "I wasn't trying to get rid of you."

Sam opened his good eye – the other one rapidly swelling shut – and fixed him with a look. "You could have fooled me."

"I gotta get ice," Dean said abruptly standing up. "Sit tight – I'll be right back." He was out of the room before Sam could say anything.

There was an ice machine outside the motel office and Dean quickly picked up a bag, needing it to try and keep the swelling to a minimum. He had just turned around to go back to the room when a soft voice called out to him:

"How is he?"

Dean whirled around, his hand moving towards his knife and then paused when he saw one of the waitresses from the bar walking towards him, smoking a cigarette.

"I thought I'd follow him and make sure he got back to wherever he came from," the woman said. She was an older woman with kind eyes and a wisdom about her that spoke of an honest but hard life.

"He walked?" Dean asked, shocked. The bar was only a couple of blocks away, but in Sam's present condition…

She nodded and puffed on her cigarette. "It took him a while."

"What about his friends?" the older hunter didn't understand what had happened.

"His friends," the woman scoffed, "my dear child. Those 'friends' are the animals that did that to him."

"What?" Dean felt all the blood drain from his face, as his jaw dropped open in disbelief.

"You heard me. Words were said and then they hauled his ass out back… By the time I could find anyone sober enough to help; they'd worked him over some… Sorry."

Realizing he was gaping, he shut his jaw with a click. His eyes turned cold, "You said 'they'?"

"I did," the woman admitted, "the four guys he was with. Two was holding him while the other two worked him over from what I saw." She paused and asked him again. "Is he okay?'

"He will be," Dean assured her and then pressed; knowing Sam would probably never tell him. "Do you know what started this? You said words were said…"

She smiled at him and he was struck by the pity on her face, "Yeah I did, didn't I?" She sighed and glanced back towards the bar.

"Please ma'am. He's my kid brother –" Dean didn't know what else to say.

"It started just after you left," the waitress told him, "one of the frat boys made a snide comment about you that your brother didn't really appreciate. One thing led to another and it went from there."

The muscle in his jaw twitched as what she said hit home. Sam had gotten beaten up defending Dean. He took a steadying breath to keep from hunting those boys down and pounding them into the pavement.

"He really thinks a lot of you, you know," the woman told him as she watched him struggle to keep his cool. "My brother is a hellavua lot smarter than all you put together, were his exact words… I'm not sure what else he said after that 'cause that's when they hauled him out."

"Fuck," Dean cursed, as he clenched his jaw so tight it hurt. "I should have been there."

The woman gave him a sympathetic look but didn't say anything.

Dean exhaled loudly and then nodded his appreciation to her, "Thank you. Thank you for making sure he got back and thank you for telling me what happened."

"I know it won't really help much but he didn't make it easy for them." She caught his gaze and nodded encouragingly.

The older boy shook his head and snorted softly, thinking fondly of his brother, "No, I bet he didn't."

"I gotta be getting back – take care," the waitress said and then hurried away from the motel. Dean looked at his watch; it was an hour 'til closing time. If he hurried, he'd just have just enough time…

He had to take care of Sam first, though.

The four frat boys were playing a game of pool when Dean Winchester stepped into the bar. One of them noticed him right away and they all turned to look at him.

Dean smirked, noticing the damage his brother had managed to inflict on the other boys although Sam had been badly outnumbered; black eye, busted lip, nasty bruise… 'That's my boy', he thought as he picked up a pool stick and took a couple of casual shots, pocketing the balls with an eerie calm. "Well howdy there boys-" he started pleasantly enough, "so I hear there was a bit of trouble this evening."

"Nothing we couldn't handle," one of the boys, burly and red haired, bragged. He gloated as he looked at Dean, "Mind you I don't think Sam's going to be ready for the scrimmage any time soon."

The other boys laughed nervously. Although they outnumbered Dean, he was sober and there was just something dangerous about him. Nothing the boys could place their finger on, but they instinctively knew they were out of their league. Sam had been one thing – and he'd been no pushover – but this one. This one was lethal. This one was a predator…

"Huh? Oh yeah," Dean said. He seemed to consider what the boy said for a moment and then without warning, jabbed the gloater in the stomach with the pool cue, doubling him over and following up with a knock out punch. The kid hit the floor and didn't move

"Next," the older Winchester said looking at the three remaining boys. Behind him the few people left in the bar had gone quiet but no one was stopping him. They all knew what had happened two hours ago.

"Hey man," a nervous looking jock with curly black hair tried to placate, "we don't want no trouble."

Dean glared at him, "And my kid brother did?" He grabbed the guy by the shirt and tossed him against the back wall, punching him twice in the stomach before turning around to catch the third guy with a bone cracking slam to the jaw as that guy tried to help his buddy.

"Pathetic assholes," the furious Winchester panted, as he looked at the last guy, daring him to make a move. The guy looked at his downed friends and then turned tail and ran.

"Some friends," Dean snorted and then saw the waitress he had been talking too earlier standing next to the bar, watching him. He passed her on his own way out. "Sorry," he said.

She smiled and gave him a conspiratorial wink. "For what? Taking out the trash?"

Dean stared at her for a moment and then chuckled and left the bar. People, he just didn't get…

It was morning when Sam slowly forced his eyes – make that one eye – open. He groaned involuntarily when he tried to shift on the bed and that slight movement sending a stabbing pain through his body.

"Damn" he hissed. He hurt.

"You okay?" the sound of his brother's voice startled him and Sam turned as quickly as he could to see Dean sitting up on his bed watching him. It looked like his brother had been up for a while. He was dressed and thumbing through their father's journal.

"I've been better," Sam admitted as he carefully eased his aching body into a sitting position and leaned against the head board. He reached up to touch the small row of stitches across his forehead and grimaced.

"Hey, paws off the handiwork," Dean reprimanded, moving from his bed towards his brother's. He sat down gingerly so he wouldn't jar the younger boy and sighed, "Sammy. Sammy. Sammy… what the hell am I going to do with you?"

"Well for starters," Sam offered, "You can stop calling me Sammy." Dean looked at him like he'd just proclaimed himself king of Norway or something and the younger hunter sighed. He had tried.

"I wasn't trying to get rid of you last night," Dean blurted out. "I just thought you'd rather hang out with your friends-"

"They are NOT my friends, you big jerk!" Sam cut in, heatedly, "How many times do I have to tell you that!" He winced as took a deep breath to try and calm down.

"I know! I know - " Dean admitted, "now. But at the time, I didn't. I just thought you were sticking with me because you thought you had to. And I didn't – don't want that… So I figured I'd let you off the hook for a bit." He cocked an eyebrow and snorted as he took in his brother's colorful face. "Big mistake that was..."

"Yeah well," Sam said, prodding at his swollen eye and wondering about just how bad he looked, "like I told you in Indiana, you're stuck with me Dean. If we're gonna see this through, we're gonna do it together. I'm here because I want to be okay? Not because I think I have to be. Not this time."

"Okay," the older Winchester accepted agreeably and then added. "I'm sorry Sam for pushing you on those guys. I just – well it's just that that part of your life is a mystery to me and I thought you'd rather hang out with them… They're more your speed and all."

"Hardly," Sam refuted eyeing his brother critically, "And what do you mean 'more my speed' and all?"

"Oh come off it," Dean protested, "Don't make me say it."

"Say what?" Sam was genuinely confused.

"You know, smart, swanky, connected-"

At this Sam actually laughed and then groaned as his aching chest and ribs protested movement. "You stupid ass!"

"What?" Dean feigned indignation, "I'm dumb now too?"

"Dean," Sam was frighteningly serious, "You are many things, dude, but stupid isn't one of them. Hell, you're the smartest person I know, and that includes Dad."

"Aw knock it off," Dean said, "you're going to make me blush."

"No, I'm being serious here, "the younger boy insisted, "You know you're always calling me 'College boy' and the smart one and stuff like that, but Dean what I have is a good memory – that's really not very impressive… Anyone can memorize. But what you do? And what Dad does? You guys take what you know and then use it… usually to kick the shit out of something nasty, but hey – whatever works."

Dean was quiet for a moment and then a pleased look filtered across his face. He hadn't realized how much it would mean to him, to hear that his younger brother thought he was smart, until he actually heard it. But then he grinned, "Wait a sec, did I just hear you say, I'm smarter than you?"

Sam's smile was as wide as a busted lip and bruised face would allow, "Write it down, dude, because it isn't getting said again." He added, "By the way thanks."

"Thanks?" Dean was confused, "For what?"

The younger boy fixed him with a knowing look and just said quietly, "I wasn't asleep when you left… I know what you did, Dean, and-"he paused and finished, "and I do appreciate it."

Dean nodded. He figured his brother would put it together, and then he thought about what Sam had done too; sticking up for him when his 'friends' were being cruel, and he smiled – not his usual cocky grin but something more sincere and rare. "And so do I…" He paused for a heartbeat and then continued, his cockiness meter shooting straight up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've taken about all this bonding crap that I stand. I gotta take a piss before I drown."

Sam leaned his head back and chuckled.

Who needed anyone else when they had a Dean?

-The End-

Phoenix