I wrote this for a contest I entered earlier this month. The challenge was to write about the fire that started it all from three different perspectives. I chose to do Dean's perspective at three different points in his life.
I just got back from vacation, so I am way behind on reviews, review responses, and answers to PMs. I will get to all of them, it just might take me a little time. I also hope to get back on schedule with the stories I'm currently posting on. Hopefully new chapters will go up on all of them over the next week and a half. Thanks for your patience.
Touched by Fire
"In our youth our hearts were touched with fire." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
When Dean was only four, he first encountered Fire. This wasn't the friendly campfire you roasted marshmallows over or the comforting fire in the fireplace that warmed you when it was cold outside. No, this was hungry, evil, destroying-everything-in-its-path Fire. And its touch changed everything. Forever.
Sometimes Dean felt like he'd never left the spot where Fire had first touched him—standing barefoot in cool wet grass, Fire scalding his face, holding the weight of the world in his trembling arms, straining for a glimpse of his parents through the flames…watching as red and yellow tongues gobbled up his childhood. Sometimes he felt like he'd gotten stuck in that moment, while the rest of the world moved on around him.
In the days After The Fire, Dean thought about Fire a lot. About how it took things that didn't belong to it, like toys and houses and mommies. About how it could take your voice away, too, because it felt like Fire had burned his throat inside, leaving it scratchy like ashes and clumped with tears, and words didn't like to come out.
He remembered one of his mommy's favorite movies from when she was a little girl. It was called Sleeping Beauty and he and Mommy had watched it together sometimes. In the movie, there had been a big, evil dragon that had breathed fire. Dean was pretty sure that was what had happened That Night—a dragon had come and breathed fire on their house. Nothing but a dragon could make a fire that big.
He'd always thought Mommy looked like the princess in the movie, with her long, curly yellow hair. Dragons always went after princesses. He'd heard his daddy talking about something evil taking Mommy away. What could be more evil than a dragon? The one in the movie had been pretty scary. Sometimes, Dean had let Mommy hold his hand during that part...just so she wouldn't be afraid.
He used to think it would be cool to play with a dragon, to be a wild-animal tamer. Not anymore. Now Dean wanted to be a fireman. He wanted to save all the pretty princesses like his mommy from getting burned up in the evil dragons' flames. And to keep all the little boys like him and Sammy from having their mommies go to Heaven. What did Heaven need mommies for, anyway? They already had lots of angels.
Mommy had always told Dean angels were watching over him. He'd believed her, had felt safe thinking about them keeping watch, making sure nothing bad happened in the night. But something bad had happened and now Mommy was gone. Fire had come in the night and taken her away. Dean wasn't sure he believed in angels anymore. Everything was different now.
His daddy was different now, too, like Fire had burned him up inside and filled him with ashes, like it had done to Dean's throat. But he was still Daddy, and he was all Dean had now. The one safe place in a world suddenly full of real-life monsters, and Fire that took people you loved away, and a graveyard with Mommy's name in it. Dean didn't think he wanted to live in a world like that, but he didn't know how to get to Heaven where Mommy was. Besides, there was Daddy and Sammy—somebody had to take care of them. Sammy cried all the time now and Dean wished he could, too, but Fire had burned up all his tears.
Dean worried sometimes that Fire would come back for the rest of his family. Daddy could take care of himself, but Dean was afraid Fire would sneak in and try to take Sammy away, like it had done that night with his mommy. Dean couldn't let that happen. He wasn't big enough to be a real fireman yet, but he could keep watch over Sammy like the angels were supposed to, and make sure nothing bad happened in the night.
So every night after Daddy put him in bed, he got up and climbed into Sammy's crib. He wrapped his arms around his little brother and stayed awake as long as he could, watching. That way if Fire came, he'd be ready to grab his brother and run. He hadn't been able to save Mommy, but he'd held onto baby Sammy tight and run as fast as he could, just like Daddy had said to. He'd carried his little brother out of the fire, just like a real fireman would. Fire couldn't have any more of Dean's family. He'd make sure of it. Nothing bad was going to happen to them as long as he was around.
Dean had spent a lot of years hating Fire and cursing it for all it had taken from his family. So it came as quite a shock when Fire saved all their lives.
They were up against a nasty poltergeist that had targeted a local family. Dean hadn't been hunting long, and Sammy had no experience whatsoever. He was supposed to be waiting in the car, but he'd gotten worried and come after them, just in time to get knocked out by the spirit they were trying to salt and burn.
Their dad had immediately tried to draw the spirit away from them. Dean heard his cry of pain as the spirit threw him into a headstone. A sharp dagger of fear twisted his gut. It was all on him now. He picked up the fallen container of lighter fluid and quickly doused the uncovered bones with it. Then he lunged for the dropped book of matches, struck them with trembling fingers, and threw them into the open grave just as the spirit launched itself at his father again. It blazed out of sight in a shower of sparks.
He dropped to his knees in the grass at his injured brother's side, pulling as much of the pre-teen as he could reach into his arms, careful to support his head as he waited for Sam to come around. As he cradled his brother, he stared at the roaring flames that seemed almost to dance on the unearthed grave. Dean thought of another fire that had burned just as hot, mesmerizing him with its flickering light. He'd held his brother in his arms that day, too, a weight he'd accepted and never let go. His eyes began to tear and he told himself it was just the close proximity to the flames. But he thought he could almost see her there, smiling at him through the veil of fire and water. Loving eyes seemed to tell him it was a job well done, a family saved…their family saved.
And he wondered that the same red and yellow heat that had burned his life to ashes and soot had just saved someone else's. The force that had once destroyed his family had just rescued what was left of it. It was strange how something could be at once destruction and salvation, blessing and curse. Fire had power that could be used for good, as easily as it had been for evil. It could be used to save people.
It was a lesson Dean never forgot. Fire had changed him once again.
Years later Dean encountered Fire once more, and once more, it changed everything. Fickle as ever, this time Fire set out to destroy his little brother's life, to take him from Dean forever. But Dean knew the ways of Fire now, had spent a lifetime in its company—studying it, using it, outrunning it. This time, he was ready.
He burst into Sam's apartment at Stanford, determined to get out what was his, to keep Fire from devouring any more of his small family. Heat immediately surrounded him, licking at Dean like a ravening beast hungry for his marrow. Orange-gold flames nearly blinded him and his throat ached from the smoke coating it. The acrid smell of burning stung his nostrils and shook his stomach with nausea. He was instantly back on That Night, as if he'd never left and the years between had been just a fantasy.
When Dean followed Sam's stricken eyes to the ceiling and saw Jessica pinned there, engulfed in flames, for one terrible moment another blond with long, curly hair was super-imposed over her, images blurring and running together as he stared through smoke and tears. It was every nightmare he'd ever had.
For a moment he stood flash-frozen as past unspooled and memory ensnared feet and captured breath. He absurdly thought of princesses and fire-breathing dragons, though he couldn't have said quite why.
Sam's cries snapped him back to the present as he struggled to pull out of Dean's hold and get to his dying girlfriend. Dean's heart ripped for the pain in his brother's voice. Sam didn't remember this side of Fire, had been too young to feel its touch before. Dean had hoped that wouldn't change, but it was too late for that now. Sam had been twice touched by Fire, and Dean knew this time he wouldn't escape unchanged.
He gave one last pained look at the ceiling—clearly Jessica now, all after-images of the past gone—and Dean knew he couldn't help her, just like he couldn't go back in time and rescue his mom. But he could save Sam. That was something he'd always been able to do, ever his most important job. He'd made the decision decades before, that even if the whole world burned, Fire wouldn't get his little brother. Dean would always be there to pull him from the flames.
So he wrapped his arms tighter around his little brother, just like he had on that long-ago day, holding on with every ounce of strength, defying evil's attempt to steal Sammy from his grasp.
And for the second time in their lives, Dean carried him out of the fire.