They tried once to fit all that heat and power into a vessel, something heavier and more tangible (and easier to talk to in public) than a zippo. The man called himself Jimmy and he could hear the words in the roaring of the fireplace - he thought, at first, that it meant he was damned, for who else would speak through flames but the devil? His body sagged with relief when Dean told him, no, those were hymns and salvation he heard. Jimmy shied away from the holy fire at first, but when he finally forced his eyes to open and realized that his entire forearm was thrust deep into the burning fireplace and he’d felt no pain, he smiled and sighed and “yes” echoed through the house like the striking of a match.
For a few moments, he was radiant.
Dean watched those already blue eyes spark and fill with a light almost violent in its beauty. Blue flames burn the hottest, hadn’t he heard that once? The lips moved to open, and Dean’s breath caught in his chest. But all that escaped were wisps of smoke, and the flames in those eyes seemed to expand - soon the body was engulfed. A human torch. A conflagration of skin and hair and tax accountant clothing and human flesh just not strong enough to contain the pure power that was Castiel.
The screaming of the flames continued long after the man’s pained shrieks and pleas had subsided. Dean stared down at the charred body on the floor of the living room. They had failed. It had cost a terrible price. He couldn’t look at the fire. He walked out of the house, waiting until he was blocks away before leaning over a trashcan and retching.
He didn’t even touch the lighter for a week afterwards. Finally, stretched along a lumpy motel bed (Sam had been sent on a supply run after crossing Dean’s tolerance threshold for questioning, furrowed brows) he drew the cool metal from his pocket and flicked it open. Licks of fire and whispers of sorrow reached out and encircled his wrist, and this time neither of them held back the pain - it was comforting. Dean let it burn, singeing their mistakes and sins onto his body, let it form a red, angry blister of bubbling flesh until he couldn’t anymore. The lighter closed, the burn eventually faded. Dean almost wishes that one hadn’t.
Years down the line, years he never imagined he would have, he looks up the Novaks. The man, Jimmy, had had a daughter, he’d said. He doesn’t ask Sam for help, but digs up the records himself. He leans on a tree across from the building, watching a shiny red engine make its way up the street and into the station. They aren’t wearing their helmets, just their bright bunker gear. He pushes off the tree trunk and crosses the road. They’re aren’t smiling, but there’s no traces of pain or grief in their faces, just lines of fatigue, so he guesses the call must not have been too bad. One notices him watching as they climb off the engine.
“Can I help you?” the solid mass asks as Dean approaches. He’s not intimidated. The guy is big, but Sammy’s still bigger.
“I’m looking for a Claire Novak?” The firefighter narrows his eyes, but apparently sees nothing in Dean’s face to warrant any real alarm (hah).
“Hey, Captain!” he calls. “Somebody here looking for you.”
From the other side of the apparatus, a smaller figure appears. She’s halfway out of her gear, blonde hair sticking up out of a ponytail haphazardly. Clear, bright blue eyes stare steadily and inquisitively at him.
There is a small smudge of ash on her cheek. He clenches his fist, resisting the urge to reach out and brush it off; he hasn’t been gentle enough for things like that for a long time now. He doesn’t know her well enough (or at all) to warrant the contact, he doesn’t deserve it, and the mountain of muscle staring them down right now would probably break his wrist. She smells like smoke and it makes his eyes sting.