Sleepiness clouded Dan's mind, until all he could think of was how badly he needed to go to bed. He'd hardly gotten any rest last night - after hours of tossing and turning, he'd slipped into what he wished had been a peaceful slumber. Instead he'd fallen into a mess of nightmares, which kept waking him up at random times during the night, only to instantly pull him back to sleep. Finally he'd escaped the dreams, only to be trembling with fear the entire day.
To make things worse, he didn't remember anything of it. The one detail he remembered was a voice screaming in his head, warning him of something he couldn't recall.
Now it was nearing midnight. If it were any other day, Dan would be online, not even close to being ready for bed. But his exhaustion dragged at him, so he made his way to his bedroom, not even bothering with the darkness, and collapsed into bed. The softness of his bed was soothing, and he fell asleep just seconds later.
Pain. That's what woke up the YouTuber. Complete agony, worse than he had ever known, making his body burn. It was like he was drowning, but in a pit of adders that continuously snapped at his flesh. He tried to scream, tried to move. But he was frozen and without a voice, leaving him helpless to the agony.
Endure it, murmured a voice in his ear. Dan wasn't sure what the voice meant, but he didn't want to listen. Subconsciously, he tried to fight off the pain, shielding himself from it. The voice, firm this time, repeated itself. Endure it.
Dan let out his breath slowly, trying to relax despite the burning that clawed at every inch of him. That's it, the voice praised. Suddenly the burning reached its peak, and it took everything Dan had to keep from trying to fight it off again.
Just as Dan started to think he must fight the pain or die, it began to ebb. Slowly it faded into a dull ache, but Dan was still gritting his teeth. All at once, like a match losing its flame, the pain was gone. Dan was left a panting, sweating mess, lying on his bed with his duvet and pillows on the floor.
What was that? Even now, Dan was losing the memory of the pain. He closed his eyes, tipping his head back. What's happening?
"Dan, are you... okay?"
Phil's voice startled Dan, who'd been lost in his own thoughts. Since he'd woken up that morning for a reason he didn't remember, he'd felt weird. There was no other word for it. Everything in his body was... warmer than it should be.
"Y-yeah," he responded. "I'm fine."
His friend turned to face him, ignoring the TV. "You sure? You've been kinda zoned out all day."
"I said I'm fine," Dan spat, irritation bubbling up inside him. He wasn't sure why he was irritated - the two almost never argued - but he was definitely not in the mood to question it.
That is, until he saw the dejected look his snappishness caused Phil to give him. The older man turned away, mumbling "Alright." Guilt tugged at Dan's heart.
"Phil," he started. "Don't... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
As Dan had tried to apologize, he'd reached forward to touch Phil's arm. But Phil had pulled away with an exclamation of shock and pain.
"What?" Dan asked, worried.
"That... that burned!" Phil looked confused, and pulled his hand away from the spot where Dan had touched him. The skin there was red and singed.
The two looked up at each other, seeming to question what had just happened. Phil looked down at Dan's wrist, and reached forward to touch. Instantly, he drew back with a sharp intake of breath. He'd been burned again.
They had no words. This was utterly confusing - how could someone get burned by touching someone else?
Memories of last night suddenly flooded Dan's mind; the agony he'd experienced that had left him a breathless heap of worry and confusion.
What did that have to do with what was happening now? Dan looked up again, seeing his own fear and confusion reflected in Phil's ocean-colored eyes. Neither of them knew what to say.
Finally, Phil spoke. "H-how did you do that?"
"I don't know... I mean, I've been feeling weird all day, but..." His voice trailed away.
"So, do we just not say anything? Act like nothing happened?"
"That's gonna be a little hard, Phil," Dan argued, fear curdling into anger. "How am I supposed to just not let anyone touch me? We don't know how long this... this thing-" He gestured to himself. "-is gonna last. What if it lasts forever, how the heck do I deal with that?" Dan could feel the heat rising in his body, and corrected himself. He knew what would happen, to some effect, if he lost control. But he was still terrified.
It was hard for Dan to figure out what to do next. He now knew that if anybody touched him, they'd be burned. But he still wasn't sure why. The pain of last night must have something to do with this supernatural ability.
He was tempted to look it up online. But what exactly would he search? Spiritually exhausted, he flopped backwards onto his bed and closed his amber-brown eyes.
Please, he begged silently. Tell me what to do.
Dan was never sure who he had pretty much prayed to. At that moment, he felt his heart begin to beat faster. Opening his eyes, he looked around. His gaze settled on his bedside table, and he gasped - flames had appeared on one of the papers there, lapping at the air and releasing a thin tendril of white smoke that steadily turned black.
"No, no, no!" Unconsciously, Dan raised his voice. Panic stabbed through him - the fire mustn't spread!
And, as if it knew what he was thinking, the fire went out. The smoke vanished quickly, and then the only sign of a recent fire was a blackened paper and the stench of flames.
Slowly, reluctantly, Dan started to realize what was happening. He focused his attention on the paper again. Burn.
Perhaps it wasn't a word that caused the paper to ignite? But... what else could it be? Trying to focus, Dan imagined the paper going up in flames. He pictured the orange element completely erasing the paper, leaving nothing of the object except a black singe-mark on the tabletop.
Sure enough, the fire appeared again, first as a small spark, then back to its original form. This time, Dan looked over his shoulder to check that he was alone, then sat down on the edge of his bed and stared intently at the flames. He watched calmly and curiously as the paper blackened and shriveled, curling into itself. Part of him ached to put the fire out, but he pushed away the thought. He had control, didn't he? Soon the paper began to crumple into nothing but a tiny ball of blackness. Dan was fascinated by how the embers seemed to swim in the remains of the paper, like glowing orange tadpoles in a night-dark pond.
Dan knew exactly what had happened to him. He understood why Phil had been burned by his touch. There was a major element in his possession, maybe in his very blood.
He now had the power to control fire.