Nothing being earned from this story

Can stand alone, but the nightmare is central to my other story 'There's something he should be saying'. If you've read that, you'll know what Dean was dreaming of, poor love. Not vitally important, though, just a way to link the two.

It was pointed out to me that I should mention when this story takes place. Thank's, Rinne, an oversight on my part. It's set in season one before John returns to the boys, is AU due to the fact he's part of this hunt, but hopefully in character.

It was the hands that plagued Dean's dreams.

His mind had somehow blotted out the face; cloaked it in shadows even though he knew exactly how Peterson's face had looked during those moments, even though it was his smile and the look in his eyes that had haunted his waking hours. Still, for now it was the hands that his nightmares centred on; touching, tracing, grasping and gripping. Bruising and imprinting him, the hands marking his skin for their own.

Dean had been so terrified he couldn't breathe; pinned by the weight of the man's knee on the sensitive area where his spine ran through the small of his back he hadn't thought he was going to get out of it. He had cried out for his father, lying still and silent only yards away; the memory of those tears still burned on his face as new grief ran in their wake.

He awoke with a strangled yelp, bitten back and locked into his throat in a subconscious effort not to wake and scare Sam. Despite his own fear, Dean's first priority was to ensure his brother got the much needed sleep he so often went without.

Dean glanced at the figure in the other bed. Sam's face was far from peaceful, twisted into a frown as if the younger man could sense the emotions in the room but couldn't identify them.

Dean fought the pain in his chest. He had caught a cough a day before, the only illness that had ever troubled him in childhood. His immune system seemed to be wired differently to his brother's and father's. While they succumbed to colds and sniffles, Dean's body ignored the virus until it travelled to his lungs. While Dean was rarely ill, when he was, it was usually in spectacular style.

He should have known he would return to a familiar nightmare.

Untangling himself from the sweat damp sheets, Dean rose and left the room he had shared on numerous occasions with Sam during their childhood. Coming to Pastor Jim's had always held a sense of coming home, of a time to relax, even if only marginally. However, the house was tainted by the school two miles away and Dean, his mind still trapped within the memory, shivered.

He moved through the dark house on silent feet, seeming to touch neither midnight nor moonlight. His father had always boasted to his friends Jim, Bobby and Caleb, that Dean must have stolen the winged sandals of Hermes himself, so soundlessly he moved. Dean had always thought it a flawed theory; sandals just weren't his style.

Besides, his overactive mind continued, flying sandals were the most impractical thing he'd ever heard of. If you were being hoisted into the air by your feet, there was no way you'd be able to retain your balance. When Dean was eleven he would have explained to Sammy, who'd loved the story and spent that year repeating it to anyone within the vicinity, that you'd go ass over tit, had he been allowed to use the words.

Dean knew the diversionary tactic his mind was using, he'd used it so often on others down the years; Sammy, worrying about their father away on another hunt without his sons; teachers noticing the bruises, the absences from school and the frequent relocating; strangers staring at the scars and Jim asking when it's Dean's turn to be looked after, demanding John be a father to his children. In recent years it's been more a case of separating his family before they say something they shouldn't, before they can ask him to choose which one he'll side with, before they can tare him apart and pick over his remains.

Without his knowledge, Dean's musings had led him into the kitchen. He paused in the doorway, unconsciously echoing his movements from that long ago day.

John Winchester sat at the scarred wooden table; the mug cradled between his hands forgotten and cold, his eyes gazing into the night through the window, the only source of light shining through the glass to cast him in shadows.

John felt the eyes upon him; looking up he sought to find a smile for his oldest son.

"Dean," he acknowledged. "How're you feeling?"

Dean gave him a lopsided grin, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. "Fine, good. Coffee?"

His father frowned slightly, but allowed himself to be distracted. If Dean didn't want to talk about any of the fights that had occurred tonight, John wouldn't push him. He knew from experience that when Dean was hurting, he went to great lengths not to let it show. He did it well.

Knocked down, always Dean rose from the dust. Before it's settled, there's has a smirk on his lips, an extra swagger in his walk and a challenge in his eyes, daring anyone to tell him he's beaten.

It's an impressive display and it should be; the devil-may-care attitude he revels in, the aura of indestructibility that impresses so many, but the rare few who truly know Dean Winchester see him retreat behind the mask, bandage himself as best he can behind his protective barriers and emerge shaken yet more determined.

It's Dean's coping strategy. Always has been and always served him well enough. Frightens the hell out of his family, watching him shut down, close himself off and distance himself from whatever, or whomever, has triggered the bleeding from the strong yet strangely fragile soul.

John's seen it many times over the hard years. When kids at school had taunted his broken family, when the girls he's dated have become impatient with his inability to fully interact with those around him due to his hyper-awareness, when John himself has snapped at a mistake, a move not perfected soon enough or a hard lesson to learn. John saw it when a much younger Sammy declared Dean was stifling, not needed anymore.

John can see it now; Dean will not allow pain, fear or illness to become apparent to others, where they can use it against him and cause more hurt. He will not allow weakness and that's mostly John's fault for being unable to teach a distraught little boy the unforgivable finality of death, for letting his sons learn life is hard and that when it pushes you, you have to push back.

It's not as bad as when Mary died, though, it never will be. Dean retreated behind walls built in haste and fortified in solitude so far the boy hadn't spoken for several months. Hadn't acknowledged the world around him, not the new people his father met with, not the miles they travelled. He only saw Sammy and it had been the baby who eventually brought him back.

He had raised a podgy hand to Dean standing forlornly by the door, watching as his father set the child onto the ground to play. He had uttered his brother's name perfectly, as if he had been practising secretly until the word was unmistakable. As if even then he was announcing his brother was his guiding light, not his father, his brother was his hero, his one constant.

Dean.

And just like that the four going on forty year old had ran to him, skidding on the carpet in his haste to kneel by the baby, whispering with a voice rusty from disuse, asking to be named again.

Dean.

John rose from the table, grimacing as his body reminded him that he had been sitting there for hours following his argument with Jim, who had stomped off to bed muttering under his breath and cursing all Winchesters and their damn stubbornness. Except possibly Sam, whose own stubborn tendencies led him in the direction of openly opposing the latest plan until his brother had told him to shut the hell up as he hadn't a say in it anyway.

There had been a silent storm called Sam sulking in clenched jawed anger inhabiting the kitchen for several hours until John sent his boys to bed like they were children. Dean, exhausted, had complied without much fuss, taking Sam with him only so the latter could berate the former in the privacy of the spare bedroom once more given over to the 'kids'.

John, emptying the mess that had once been his coffee into the sink, glanced over at Dean. While it was safe to say the boy was certainly ill, he wasn't ill enough yet. He sighed softly, wondering what had brought them to this, what sort of father would ask this of his child.

Sam Winchester paced the small motel room in short bursts. He periodically glanced at his older brother, sat against the headboard on his bed with a paper in his hands and studiously pretending to ignore him. Sam gauged the pallor of his skin, the flush beginning to show on his cheekbones and the tapping of his fingers as he mentally drummed out the beat to one of his favourite songs.

A couple more strides across the room and Dean was going to explode. Sam could almost predict the moment he was going to do it.

One more journey and –

"God damn it, Sam! Alright, give me the stuff. Just, quit it, would ya?"

Sam blinked at his brother in calm bewilderment, an expression he knew drove Dean to the edge.

"Quit what?"

Dean growled unintelligibly from deep within his chest, a warning he had one nerve left and Sam was getting on it. Unfortunately, it caused his congested lungs to emit another racking cough.

Sam was at his side immediately, all trace of amusement gone. He placed his hand comfortingly on the hard planes of Dean's back.

"Here," he handed Dean the anti-flu pills and a glass of water.

"Dude, I've not got the flu," Dean sighed, taking the water and shrugging the hand off. "Get off me."

"Some of the symptoms are the same," his brother answered, not in the least offended at the rude treatment his hand had received. Just getting that close to Dean was a milestone in itself. "Besides, I know how cough syrup makes you sick."

Dean glowered at him, but dutifully took the proffered pills. He had, after all, said he would.

Knowing which buttons to push, Sam stood, pretending to be interested in the paper Dean had been reading.

"You should get to bed, you look like crap."

"When I start taking beauty advice from the guy who looks like his hair wants to add something to the conversation, that's when I'll know I'm sick."

Nevertheless, Dean pulled his over shirt and jeans off before sliding into his bed. He knew Sam had given him an out and despite his last comment, was grateful. His limbs felt like lead and it was getting harder and harder to keep his eyes open.

Turning into his preferred position on his stomach, Dean found peace almost instantly, one hand tucked beneath the pillow, gripped around his knife. Sam watched him fondly for several moments, the only opportunity he had to check on his older brother.

Despite Dean's insistence to the contrary, he wasn't getting better. His long lashes grazed his ashen cheeks, where the beginning of fever was making it's presence known. His lips were parted, his breath puffing out in wheezes, panting in a rhythm that wasn't his. Sam had been concerned at the heat that had emanated from Dean when he had placed his hand on his back, now he held both, palm down, over the sleeping form, confirming his concern was well placed when his skin tingled at the warmth.

When the congestion in his brother's lungs appeared to worsen, some hours later, Sam stood slowly from the table where he had placed his laptop. Not taking his eyes off Dean, Sam reached out to the bedside table, picked up his phone and speed dialled.

"Sam," the old pastor greeted warmly on the second ring of the phone. "It's good to hear from you."

"Jim, I'm sorry to call so late," Sam apologised, only to be cut off.

"Nonsense, it's always light somewhere on the world, my boy. What can I do for you?"

Sam hesitated. "It's Dean. He's sick. Not bad," he added quickly as he heard his father's friend gasp. "But it's a cough and you know how he gets. I can handle it, but …"

"Come on over," Jim offered, remembering the few times he had seen Dean Winchester unwell. Unlike his father and brother, who were prone to grumpiness and scowls, Dean pretended there was nothing wrong. "We'll work together to get him healthy again. Never did know when to get out of the rain, that brother of yours."

"Sam?" Dean's groggy voice rasped from his bed. "Who're you talking to?"

"Jim, I've got to go, we'll be there soon." Sam ended the call with a thanks, cursing Dean's ingrained habit as a light sleeper. "Put your boots on, big brother, we're going on a road trip."

Sam had ignored Dean's protests, once he had dressed, grumbling sleepily, into his jeans and old grey hooded top, wrapping the blankets stolen from the motel around him, effectively tucking him into the passenger seat of the Impala.

He knew from experience that the car wasn't designed for comfortable sleeping, but after giving his brother more pills and water, Sam had brought his brother to the one safe haven they had ever known.

Jim had contacted their father, his old friend, mentioning the illness. John had realised the opportunity his sons had unwittingly handed him, researching as he was an old enemy. Not the enemy, but one who had long since occupied the back of John's mind. He had driven down immediately, despite his own self imposed distance from his sons, to explain his plan.

Sam, naturally, had greeted him warily, while Dean had moved forward with a smile, relief shining in his gentle, grateful eyes. John had almost choked on the powerful effect his child's proximity had on him; while Sam could wound with his words, Dean innocently sucker punched with a simple expression. John had awkwardly cleared his throat, ashamed, knowing what he would soon be asking. Knowing, also, that Dean wouldn't refuse him.

Sam had instantly reverted back to his argumentative mode, declaring he knew John hadn't come back for Dean. It was as if the years between had never passed. Knowing Sam was right hadn't made it any easier, either.

But Dean had readily volunteered himself for the hunt, had agreed he was the best chance at saving the innocents being taken from the local hospital.

The family had met this particular evil once before, when Dean had been in hospital and an impending victim. John, by his bedside, had arrogantly believed he could destroy the creature. He had watched as Dean awoke screaming, begging his father to shoot the damn thing, but John hadn't seen anything. It emerged that only the truly suffering were permitted to glimpse it. Dean had managed to point to it and John had shot off several rounds. Dean reported he had clipped it and it was gone, but not finished. It had fled the area and until two days ago John hadn't heard a trace of it.