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Flammable

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It's strangely beautiful, he thinks, as he watches the spark turn into flames that lick across the floor, translucent in their lowest part, making the blue seem to hover even as it flows through the room like a liquid. Blinding brightness dances above, filling the air with a warm light that might have seemed comforting in any other situation.

Already he can feel the searing heat on his skin, the way the air grows hard to breathe with lack of oxygen as well as the temperature that rises exponentially the further the flames grow. The cold concrete pressing against his back still sends a shiver through him, though he doubts it really is the temperature carrying the blame. The air flimmers, his eyes burn and he wants to close them, but the rapid spread of fire is oddly mesmerising, in a terrifying way as it draws nearer and nearer.

With a start, almost as shocking as the cold against his back, he realises that he is going to die. The door is locked and bolted from the outside, there is no more room for hims to get away, only the unforgiving concrete. And he realises that out of all the things he regrets, this particular moment is surprisingly far down the list, and the thing that makes his heart clench painfully on what he knows are going to be some of the old muscles last beats isn't the fear of a death he knows is going to be excruciatingly painful.

He can't quite decide whether he is remorseful or relieved that his phone is broken. If the relief of knowing John won't have to listen to his last moments truly outweighs the regret of not being able to hear his voice for one last time. The tear running over his overheated skin feels almost cool.

What started out as a soft crackle has turned into a deafening roar now that the flames have almost reached him. Harold is holding his breath now, instinctively, protecting his lungs from the searing heat that would burn them from the inside and kill him almost instantly, keeps holding it even though he knows it won’t make much of a difference, might even be a more merciful end. The room is too bright and his eyes slip closed on their own volition, sending another cool tear out to chase gravity.

I’m sorry, John , he thinks, something bittersweet stuck in his throat along with the faint taste of soot. I am so sorry. A part of him isn’t even sure for what. Another is sure he doesn’t want to know the answer to that question, suspecting that it is for not having told John how he feels, not letting him know just how much he means to Harold. Yet another is glad not to have burdened him with this. He wonders which part is the most selfish, but it’s nothing more than a fleeting thought, it isn’t of any consequence now. Nothing is.

The heat is acutely painful on his skin now and he slips his hand into his pocket, wrapping it around the dead phone, tracing the cracks on the screen. He tightens his grip and presses himself even closer to the warming concrete, trying to focus on what little comfort it affords him.

Over the roar of the fire, he doesn’t hear the crash of the locks being forced, of the door being thrown open, doesn’t quite catch onto what is happening until an almost bruising grip clamps around his arm and he is roughly dragged to the side. Cold air hits him, his left leg almost gives out underneath him at the too sudden shift of his weight, but the grip on his arm is relentless, forcing him forward far too quickly for his damaged body and if it wasn’t for that grip, he would have fallen. His eyes flare open but his eyes are dry and his vision blurry from the heat, leaving the world around him composed of colourful shapes.

Agony races up his leg and spine when he is forced to a halt just as sudden and jarring as the pull had been a fraction of a second ago, and then the heat is back rolling out over him, filling his vision with pure, painful light as the flames flare up and fill the cold air. For a terrifying moment, he thinks this is it, that the next thing he will feel is the agony of the fire and then nothing at all.

But the grip is no longer on his arm, instead, another body wraps around his, blocking out the light and the flames, holding him close and tight and safe until the first darting flame resulting from the fire reacting to the fresh oxygen outside the now opened door has passed as sudden as it came. Holding him close for a few seconds longer than that, until the heat fades and over the smell of the soot, Harold catches something that has him aching to relax into the embrace, give himself over to the sense of safety.

He tears himself away instead, blinking rapidly until his vision clears and he can look into John’s wide, frightened eyes, and past them, to the flames that have laid claim to John’s coat, are now licking up towards his friend’s exposed skin. Harold has never moved faster and some distant part of his mind remarks drily that this is most certainly not the way he’d occasionally dreamed of getting to tear John’s clothes of. After a second, John finally catches on and helps shrug the burning garment off, leaving it to fall into a heap on the floor. It’s ruined anyway.

Harold’s hands find his back, wandering over the suit jacket underneath, finding it singed in one area over John’s scapula. But to his relief, most of the fabric is intact, meaning the skin underneath will be too. John’s neck looks distinctly reddened, his hairline singed as well, but there are no major injuries he can find.

Only now does Harold realise that John’s hands are running over his body as well, checking for injuries with the same frantic air Harold himself must have had a fraction of a moment before. It takes a considerable amount of will not to lean into the touch, and there is no resisting the temptation when John pulls him closer again - obviously having concluded that Harold is mostly unharmed as well - into a brief hug that has them resting their cheeks together, taking a shuddering breath. There is a hint of wetness where their skin touches, and Harold knows that the heat has long dried his own tear tracks.

After the heat before, the cold air is refreshing, even as he feels his extremities go numb with the slowly abating shock. The broken phone sits heavy in his pocket. When John breaks the embrace he doesn’t meet Harold’s eyes, but even so there is no hiding the lingering panic in his gaze, the tension in his frame, and just this once, Harold acts entirely on instinct. If he still were capable of coherent thought, he might have blamed it on the leftover adrenaline in his system, but John relents all too eagerly when Harold slides his fingers into his singed hair and pulls him closer, and then all there is left in his world is the sensation of John’s lips, blessedly cool against Harold’s.