Burning

By Philote

Rating: PG (K+)

Summary: Sam knew that the fire wanted him. Maybe it was time he gave it something.

Category: gen, angst

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Supernatural do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.

Author's Notes: The only real spoilers here are for the Pilot. Feedback is welcome!

oOo

There was something mesmerizing about flame. It had life; it breathed and spoke in whispers. It teased and taunted and reached out for attention. But mostly, it danced. It had its own music and its own steps and it twirled, entrancing its audience.

Now, as he popped open his third can of beer and took a long swig, the flame had become particularly hypnotic.

Sam had never much cared for alcohol, because it didn't get him what drinkers were after. It didn't make him happy, or carefree. But enough of it could make him numb, and muddle his thought processes a bit. And tonight, when the drunken frat boy had thrust a beer in his direction, muddled thinking had seemed like a blissful reprieve.

Dean was circulating the lake party, trying to find out more about the mysterious 'creature' that rumor had it was making a smorgasbord of the town teenagers. Sam was supposed to be helping.

He preferred the company of the bonfire—and the beer.

He didn't know exactly where Dean was at the moment, but he could feel his eyes on him anyway. Dean had been watching him surreptitiously for the last few weeks.

The extra attention had bothered Sam, making him snap at his brother. Of course, Dean was not one to take it without snapping back. It was ironic, really. The more protective Dean got; the more blatant it was just how much he cared…the more they fought.

At the moment, however, the attention wasn't bothering him. It was a constant on the edge of his awareness, but he paid it little mind. He was much more interested in the fire.

He watched intently as the wind shifted slightly and the flames jumped, curling towards him like beckoning fingers.

The fire wanted him.

Once the thought occurred to him, he quickly became quite convinced of it. He'd seen flames reaching out to him in his dreams for as long as he could remember. They kept being deprived.

Maybe that was why they kept coming back.

He sometimes marveled at the irony that he, who had lost everything in flames, had never actually been burnt. He knew what burning flesh smelled and sounded like. But he didn't know what it felt like.

It wasn't a conscious decision. But somehow the beer can switched to his left hand, and the right crept towards the closest licking flame.

It wasn't near as hot as he'd expected. In fact, the initial sensation was ice cold. That seemed wrong, and he frowned as he shifted closer, pushing the fingers in a little bit further. The sensation changed the longer it lasted, so he left his hand there, fluttering his fingers slightly to see the way the flame danced around them.

"Sam, what the hell!"

The serenity of the moment was abruptly interrupted as strong fingers closed around his wrist in a painful grip. He was yanked backwards—not just his arm, but his entire body.

He said nothing, just tilted his head up to look at his brother. There was anger there, and a bit of disbelief…and fear. That entranced him as much as the dancing flames had, and he couldn't look away. Fear wasn't something he saw in Dean all that often.

Then Dean was forcing him to his feet, still holding his wrist with one hand and supporting him with the other. His balance was almost non-existent on his feet, and Dean nearly dropped him when abruptly saddled with all his weight. He recovered quickly enough and stabilized Sam, turning him towards the lake.

Sam slung his left arm around Dean, trying to help, and willingly stumbled towards the water. "The fire's dancing, Dean," he tried to explain.

Dean's expression was hard to make out in the dark shadows. "Sure it is."

Sam rolled his eyes at his brother's response. This turned out to be a bad idea, as it challenged his balance even further.

Somehow, they made it to the water's edge without serious incident. There Dean forced him unceremoniously to his knees and knelt beside him, submerging the hand in the cool water.

It was just another sensation, and it couldn't hold his attention like Dean was at the moment. There was enough light here for him to see the way his brother's jaw was set as he maintained his hold on the wrist and kept his eyes on the hand. Sober, his brain would have reminded him that provoking Dean in this sort of mood was a bad idea. But sober he was not.

"Dean?" he ventured.

He got a terse, "What?" in return.

Sam winced. "Nothing." After a moment of thought he added, "Did you find out anything?"

It was usually a good bet to get Dean talking about the job. Sure enough, though he was still quite tense, Dean started to recount what the partygoers had told him.

Sam's attention drifted. There was wetness trickling down his face, which told him that on some level less than consciousness he must be feeling pain. But he was still numb on the surface, and he was really quite content with that.

At some point Dean apparently noted that he'd lost his audience. He got a grip on Sam's chin, and was now studying his eyes. A thumb swept briefly over his cheek. "How many have you had?" he demanded.

"Four?" Sam guessed, testing, knowing that it wasn't right.

Dean didn't disappoint. "You're on your third," he corrected, releasing his grip. "And if you've lost count, it's too many."

Sam ignored the admonishment, a slight smile touching his lips. "Big brother is watching me," he commented prosaically.

And yet Dean, the king of inappropriate humor, couldn't seem to find the funny. His glare would have made Dad proud. "You're absolutely useless to me right now. What if this creature happened along, huh?"

Sam frowned at that. "I'm fine," he protested stubbornly.

"Oh, yeah, you're terrific. What would you do? Throw up on it; hope bile works as a combustible agent for whatever kind of flesh it has?"

Sam grimaced at the image that provided, near-nauseating in his current state. He looked away from Dean to the water, concentrating on the coolness.

There were a few moments of taut silence before Dean sighed. "I'm going to run to the car. If you aren't here when I get back, right here, with that hand still in the water, I will hunt you down and kick your ass. Got it?"

Sam's brain managed to beat his mouth this time, and he simply nodded.

He waited until Dean's footsteps had faded into the crowd behind him before pulling his hand from the water. He squinted at it, then shifted off of his knees and sat back hard, bringing the other hand up to help examine it. It had taken on a definite reddish hue, and was blistering in a couple of places. He poked at it, then winced.

Now that he thought about it, he could feel it stinging a bit. He lowered it back to the water and submerged it once more, relieving the pain. Maybe dying worked like that. Maybe there was an instant where the unbearable pain went away, and relief could be felt.

Did fear go away then, too?

Because the look on Jessica's face, the one that was permanently engraved in his thoughts, was a mix of pain and pure fear. He'd like to think that as Dean was dragging him from the building and his world was falling apart, Jess's consumption in the fire had brought her some sort of peace.

He shut his eyes against an unwelcome pressure, thinking that he may as well have skipped the beer if he was just going to sit at the side of the lake entertaining the very thoughts he sought to suppress.

A few minutes later, he gave a violent start when a hand was placed on his back, and spun around. He hadn't noticed Dean's approach. Normally, that would have earned him some reproachful needling about his lack of awareness. Now, Dean just seemed exasperated.

He said nothing as he came around to Sam's side. He was holding a small flashlight and a bandage undoubtedly scrounged from their first aid kit. With the light clamped firmly between his teeth, he grabbed Sam's wrist once more and pulled it from the water. He was silent and efficient, giving the fingers a cursory examination before wrapping them gently with the clean cloth. Sam found his attention once again rapt with his brother.

As Dean finished their eyes met for a fraction of a second, the silence painful in that instant.

Then Dean looked away, and was all business once more. "Let's get out of here. Come on." He didn't wait for Sam to respond, or attempt to get up on his own. He simply grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet, steering him in the direction of the car.

Sam kept the silence, expecting that was safest. He followed along as obediently as possible. But it was a wooded path, and tripping was a natural hazard for the less-than-sober. By the time they'd reached the gravel parking area, Dean had such a tight grip on his bicep that Sam was certain he was cutting off circulation.

Dean opened the passenger door, and kept his grip with one hand as he nudged him in, the other going to his head to make sure he didn't bang it. Then he reached in and buckled Sam's seatbelt for him, like he was three years old again. Sam couldn't help smiling slightly. But that seemed to irritate Dean further, so he bit his lip and was staring blankly out the window by the time his brother had gotten around the car and climbed in behind the wheel.

Dean started the car, and floored the accelerator. The resulting lurch made Sam's head spin and his stomach drop uncomfortably. When he recovered enough to figure out where they were, he realized they were heading back towards the hotel.

He swiveled his head towards the driver's side. "Aren't we going hunting this thing?"

Dean shot him the look of frustrated disbelief that he reserved for 'my brother is an idiot' moments, then fixed his gaze on the road. "Sure, Sammy. I'll just give you a pistol and set you loose in the woods. You'd probably shoot me." After a pause he added darkly, "Or yourself." A muscle in his jaw ticked.

With a cursory glance, Dean practically ignored a stop sign and took a sharp turn at an entirely unhealthy speed. Sam fell against the door, dizziness flooding him.

Wisely, he forewent a comment on his brother's driving. "I think the beer may have been a bad idea," he announced instead.

He was graced with another patented Dean-look. "That's good, 'cause you're never drinking again. Ever."

Something immature was on the tip of his tongue, something along the lines of 'you are not the boss of me,' but he held back. By the way his head was spinning now, he expected he would share Dean's point of view come morning.

By some miracle, they made it to the hotel parking lot. When Sam set about trying to undo his seatbelt, he realized that he really should have been more grateful to Dean for buckling it for him.

He had to lean on his brother pretty heavily as they made their way to the room. Once there, he set his sights on his bed. It was the one furthest from the door, and it suddenly seemed awfully far away. Still, he convinced his uncooperative body to start moving towards it. His hand was starting to throb a bit now, and he really just wanted to collapse on the stained bedspread and sleep for a week.

But when he veered in the general direction of the bed, his support suddenly hampered the movement. He shot Dean an annoyed look that was promptly returned. "Bathroom first," he brother instructed. "Trust me."

He let Dean maneuver him to the doorway, but drew the line at letting him into the tiny room with him. "I can do it myself."

Dean seemed to doubt that, but he backed off. Apparently, even his over-protectiveness had its limits.

Pleased with this small victory for his independence, Sam shut the door and wandered towards the toilet. He considered changing his clothes, but after he lost his balance and barely caught himself on the counter with his right hand, he decided against it. Pain was still radiating up his arm when he stumbled back out of the bathroom a few minutes later.

Dean had made his bed down for him. He fell into it gratefully, holding his hand gingerly to the side as he tried to get comfortable.

Apparently, Dean had other ideas. He'd just gotten the room to stop spinning when his brother appeared at his side, pulling him upright and shoving a hand under his nose. "Come on, Sam. Take these."

Sam eyed the pills uneasily. But Dean's expression made it quite clear that he would not be taking no for an answer. Cautiously, he held out his own hand and accepted them. Dean handed him a glass of water, and he somehow managed to swallow them.

Then Dean took the glass back, and let him fall back into the pillows. A few moments later, Sam felt rather than saw his shoes being slipped off and his legs maneuvered under the sheet. It wasn't until Dean moved off that he reopened his eyes curiously.

His brother returned shortly, sitting beside him. Sam lay placidly as Dean unwrapped the bandage and gently pulled his hand under the light of the lamp, examining it more closely. Sam let his eyes drift shut before popping them open again, drifting in and out of awareness. Eventually he felt Dean rewrap his hand before he switched off the lamp, leaving only a bit of moonlight illuminating the room.

Sam wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. But Dean remained sitting on his bed, in the dark, watching him. He forced his eyes to half-mast, which was as wide as they seemed willing to go, and looked at his brother questioningly.

Dean locked gazes with him for a long moment. "You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking?"

Sam shrugged. "Wanted to feel the fire," he said simply.

The blatantly alarmed look on Dean's face made him add a bit defensively, "Mom and Jess knew what it felt like. Seemed like I should, too…I owed them that much."

There was a beat of charged silence. Then, "No, you didn't, Sam." The conviction in his brother's voice surprised him. Dean stood and paced away, rubbing a hand over his face. Then he returned and took the same seat, saying no less intensely, "None of this is your fault."

"Isn't it? The fire, Dean…it's me it wants. I just keep getting away."

Dean looked away from him then. In profile, Sam could see the way his eyes glistened in the moonlight. "Sammy…"

Somehow, he'd expected Dean to be pissed. He knew how to deal with that. Instead, Dean seemed almost broken.

"Dean?" he questioned, uncertain and soft.

After a bit Dean focused on him again, expression unreadable. "We'll talk in the morning. Get some sleep, all right?" And with that he was standing, pulling the covers up and tucking them around Sam's shoulders.

Before sleep claimed him, the last thing he remembered was seeing Dean move to the chair closest to the bed and prop his elbow on the little table, rubbing at his eyes.

oOo