Disclaimer: Not mine.

Author's Note: I'm collecting my first five fills for this year's hc-bingo here. The first five stories are part of a interconnected series, but later ones will be standalone and I'll post them independently.

This is for the prompt Fire.Many thanks to Cheryl for the beta and the posting suggestions. I was toying with the idea of posting the first bingo set all at once but I'd probably have caved and done them in bits if she hadn't backed me up on that.

Summary: Burning a witch's altar should be an easy job, but sometimes it doesn't go as expected.

Catching Fire

Every time Dean shuts his eyes, he can see the burning building. He can see the gouts of flame licking the roof, he can see the smoke pouring from the windows, and he can see Sam, Sam burning on the ceiling with blood pouring from his stomach and his face frozen in an endless scream.

Of course, that last part didn't happen, and rise and fall of Sam's chest under the blanket is proof of that.

Dean doesn't know the details. It was a straightforward plan. Dean would keep the Ada May distracted while Sam burnt the altar. It was Dean's kind of plan, because it meant the witch's focus would be on Dean, and Sam would have a relatively safe job he'd done a hundred times before.

But this witch was smart and prepared for hunters. Ada pulled her barstool right up next to Dean's, pressed herself against him so he could feel the hex bags in her pockets, and whispered the sequence of events into his ear.

If the altar went up in smoke, a spell would make the curtains catch fire as well. They were silk. They'd burn quickly. A couple of seconds later the floor would start to smoulder, and then the walls. There'd be no escape through the windows because of the burning curtains, no escape through the door because the room was big and the smoke would choke Sam before he got that far.

Dean pushed her away, dropped a fistful of bills on the bar counter and pushed every last bit of power out of his baby.

He was still too late.

But the fire brigade wasn't, and Dean can't be grateful enough to them.

He leans forward and looks at Sam anxiously. His brother was awake when Dean reached Ada's house. The paramedics had him on a stretcher with a mask strapped to his face, his eyes brimming with tears. They told Dean it was just smoke inhalation, and maybe pain and shock from a couple of minor burns.

They're in their motel room now. Sam fell asleep almost as soon as Dean lowered him to the bed. Poor kid was exhausted, and no wonder. He had a miserable day.

Dean lays a hand on Sam's chest. It takes a moment, but then he feels the steady thudding. He closes his eyes and leans forward, letting the familiar rhythm soothe him. It's been so long since Dean first heard it – he was a little boy, Mary was lying back on the couch, and the obstetrician was smiling at him as she held out the stethoscope and said, "Come listen to your little brother, Dean."

It's been twenty-three years, and the rhythm of Sam's heartbeat hasn't changed.

He reaches up to brush hair off Sam's face. It's black and heavy with soot. Dean should have washed it, but he didn't have the heart to make his brother get up and bend over the sink. They'll deal with it in the morning.

He needs to move now. He needs to go down to the pharmacy and get some burn cream and painkillers and restock the gauze bandages. But he can't bring himself to leave Sammy.

And he doesn't have to. Not right away. Their first aid kit has enough supplies to last another day or so. Dean can go restock in the morning, or better yet in the afternoon, when Sam's woken up and Dean's seen him eat and heard him laugh and had his heart twisted in knots by big soulful puppy-dog eyes.

When Dean knows Sam's OK, then he'll go. For now, he's content to sit and watch Sam sleep.


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