Rating: PG - wee!&tee!chesters - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: John teaches his kids how to light a fire.
John could start a fire with just about anything at about any time.
It had all began with knowing what grade of chemical accelerant would soak into flesh and fabric and burn the hottest. Out here a guy couldn’t do as well as those crematory industrial furnaces that took a dozen torches a few hours to reduce a body to a fine white pile of almost nothing. The types of things he had to make sure were sent off rarely needed that level of annihilation. In fact, that clinical process was only so the people getting handed the bags of dust later wouldn’t be able to find anything recognizable later on.
It was an aesthetic of death. Like the chemicals that replaced the blood and the strange make up to mask the bruised gray of hollow skin. Everything the deceased left behind was for the living. Everyone had their own idea of how that chapter should be finished. But it was always done neatly.
Not all fires were the same of course.
Some didn’t tinge deep blue at the tips or make a carcass hiss and spit under the garbled white hot sputtering of its fuel. Some weren’t lit for anything but warmth alone. Clean with dry crackling pine, the sap popping and sparking down into the blackened ring of stones. The smoke heavy with wood and not singed meat. Embers radiating softly in waves undisturbed by the slowing thrash of limbs.
Tipping his head back, he looked up at the small circle of stars he could see through the brief break in the black jagged line of the tree tops. The camp grounds were a little out of their way and didn’t have some obligatory scenic lake to gaze at but you couldn’t do much better than free. They had a tent and they had water. They even had some dinner warming up on the small gas stove he set next to the picnic table that had collapsed in on itself with a damp thick coat of moss.
“Jesus Dean, sometime tonight already.”
The boy hated to be called late or incorrect even though he might have been both about half of the time. Aggravated as the kid got, John was never quite able to resist pushing him a little just to see that look on his face. It was a little too dark to get the entire show but John heard a small exhale of exasperation as his newly teened son tried once again to get the pile of soaked firewood to catch with of all things a Zippo lighter. John wondered how Dean was still holding onto the thing. If he kept going like that he’d get a nice brand burn of the manufacturer right into the palm of his hand. He watched the lighter sparkle and light, the stretched flame coming up a few centimeters from the poor attempt to roll up a nice dry wool sleeve that was a bit too long.
John rubbed at his eyes and sighed. Now that would be an exciting conflagration.
That pile of wet rot was never going to take a flame. He started to wonder when Dean was going to figure that out and just give up. Stretching back and crossing his arms, he settled back against the large solid stump someone had left here once upon a time for their axe. Readjusting his legs, he made more room for the nine year wedged between them. Sam didn’t often go seeking his very close proximity but with the sleeping bags still in the car and no flames the temperature had dropped a good deal ever since the sun had gone down. John didn’t mind. He was cold too and the zygote was almost better than a space heater.
Dean did finally make another sound that his father knew was usually accompanied by grim acceptance. Like when he couldn’t get his brother into a shower or an unreliable piece of the engine went mysteriously wrong. His son finally would stop to a baffled halt when he met one of those walls. John vaguely remembered the constant state of frustration and anger youth tended to be and felt a smile.
“Try it again.”
“It’s all wet.” Dean muttered in disgust for the collection he and his brother had gathered in the dark. “It won’t—“
“Say exuro.” John told him.
“What’s that mean?”
“Just go on and say it.”
Dean shifted his weight off his tired knees and fell back to take a seat in the rust colored scatter of dead pine needles. Willing, but always cautious was his boy. Cursing out loud, John’s attention was redirected by elbows and shoving as his spawn made itself more comfortable. Sammy pulled what he could of John’s jacket further over either side of him, pushing his arms awkwardly into the deep inside pockets like makeshift sleeves. His own sweat shirt was pulled up so nothing was exposed but his eyes. John could hear him just fine though.
“That’s cheating.” Sam mumbled.
He didn’t say it vehemently or even in some accusation concerning the state of fair. It came out of his mouth like a statement of the obvious. So far from right and wrong it was just another option alongside just about everything else. Even if he had been out in the thicket picking up branches when John had traced the small pattern in the old packed bed of ash, it figured Sam caught the notion of what might be going on.
Dean smiled a little after the exchange, making the connection that what his father asked him to do would somehow result in them not freezing their asses off through the night.
“Just say it?”
He was ready now. More than ready. Eager. John repeated the word knowing that it would be asked for a second time. He’d show them both how it was done. It was a new trick that didn’t work everywhere all the time, but it sure did do in a pinch. But he didn’t want to reveal it all right away. There was something gritty and cheerless about seeing the back side of a good magic trick. The mirrors and pulleys. Trap doors and double curtains. That stuff was no fun at all.
“Say it twice.” He reiterated for redundancy’s sake. “Nice and loud.”
He felt Sam jerk back against him in surprise when the bright orange flames leapt up so tall and so quickly that the night around them was suddenly chased back to the tree line. With a laugh he saw Dean had fallen backwards onto his elbows, his face a mixture of shock and pleased confusion. John felt some relief that it actually worked, the small doubt that was lurking there about following precise instructions always in the back of his mind.
His kid staggered up to his feet and brushed at the leaves and dirt clinging to the backs of his jeans.
“It’s just any old fire now.” John could smell food getting hot on the stove nearby. “Won’t last forever.”
Dean was already busy setting the least drenched hunks of wood up on the ring of stones to dry them out. They immediately started to steam, emitting a fresh sharp scent right through the hang of the evergreens and their curling red bark. Sam sat forward, edging away from his spot until he could rest his sneakers right up against the rocks. Holding up his hands, he spread his fingers to catch the heat that was rapidly pushing away the stark chill that had settled down right through as many layers as you could wear.
Looking back up at the sky he caught a brief ascent of bizarrely colored sparks trailed up through the smoke. The small easily missed sign that its origins weren’t from a well placed match. His personal heater gone, he zipped up his now freed coat and watched his breath fog gently into the air.
“Who wants to put the tent up and who wants to eat?”
John enjoyed setting forth agonizing questions like that. Part of the joy of children was their complete inability to see through veneers of sincerity. The responding silence was almost as good as the promise of burning his mouth on some canned stew. Without another word he got up and stretched.
Walking a small distance from the light brought back the cold ready enough. The metal surfaces of the car were practically ice like to the touch. The trunk groaned harshly as he hefted it up. The tent unfolded, the canvas rolling across the ground musty and with a little green mold darkening its corners. He listened to the sparse exchange that made up his sons typical conversations as they disassembled the metal mess kits to eat off of.
Sliding metal stakes down into the soft yield of the ground, he studied their outlines against the illumination as they settled back down into its immediacy. Their voices lowered to a hush he knew was meant to exclude him. Gestures suggested the fire. Bursts of stifled wonder came when the flames stuttered and stopped like they had almost been sucked right back into the ground.
It was strange just exactly what it took to mystify his boys.
Pulling the rope that drew their shelter for the night to a perfect stand, he shook his head to himself.
John guessed he should be glad that anything did at all.