Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own the boys.
Author's Notes: This is for becc_j for spn_j2_xmas.
It kind-of-sort-of works in three of the prompts. I hope you like it. *g*
Side note… This is vaguely, very vaguely, a companion piece to The Teind on All Hallow's Eve. I wrote this first though – almost as soon as I got the prompts, in fact – and the stories aren't related at all so it needn't bother anyone.
Many thanks to Cheryl, who lets me send her things like this to beta on a regular basis without batting an eyelid.
Summary: Sam and Dean are hunting Jack Frost. There's one important piece of information they don't have.
Spirit of Winter's Chill
It was the fifteenth of December. The countryside was a Christmas card. The lakes were frozen over. The snow was a thick carpet broken only where the ploughs had cleared the roads. In every café and restaurant, mistletoe and holly festooned the walls and carols played on the speakers.
Sam and Dean Winchester, in an empty playground at the edge of a small town in the mountains, looked at each other over the rapidly-disintegrating body of Jack Frost.
"You know," said Sam, "I almost felt sorry for him. He was only trying to make beautiful things."
"Yeah, he was a regular Picasso," Dean grunted. "I'm sure the four people who've died of frostbite this week think so."
"I know he had to go," Sam muttered. "I just… I wish it didn't have to be that way."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Come on, princess. Let's get in the car and get someplace warm. I'll get you hot chocolate, maybe that'll make you feel better."
"Hot chocolate with vanilla and marshmallows?" Sam asked, eyes brightening.
"Turns out I'm a total pushover, so yeah. Whatever you want. Let's go."
Not so fast came a voice, that wasn't so much a voice as it was a presence that filled the air. I have unfinished business with you.
Dean stepped in front of Sam instinctively, raising his gun and looking around for something to aim at.
Foolish boy. Your brother is safe from me. My business is with you.
Out of nowhere came a blast of blue light. It struck Dean in the chest. He felt something freeze inside him, icy tendrils snaking into his veins from the spot where the light had hit him. He crumpled to his knees, gun falling to the ground.
"Dean!" Sam was kneeling next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Dean! Dean, talk to me."
"Sammy," Dean whispered. His breath chilled his lips.
"Dean." Dean felt Sam shift. "Who are you? What did you do to him?"
Dean looked up. He thought he could see a figure standing in the snow, a tall man with a white beard and pale skin, wearing a thick black coat. But maybe he was hallucinating.
Dean wrapped his arms around Sam's neck, trying to warm himself.
I am a force of nature, came the voice, and Dean knew without looking that it was coming from the strange man. When people believed in such things, they called me the Winter Lord. And I did nothing to your brother. It is an ancient spell. He who strikes down Jack Frost must replace him.
"No," Dean whispered.
"You mean Dean's turning into Jack Frost? He's going to go crazy and kill people?" Dean felt Sam's arms tighten protectively around him. "No. There has to be something I can do!"
Let me tell you a story. Many, many years ago, there lived in a faraway town a selfish young man. He had no love in his heart for any creature, and no creature had love for him. Over the years he had quarrelled so much with his parents that they turned him out of the house. He had no friends, and he had treated all his neighbours so poorly that none of them would offer him shelter. He went up into the mountains, where the snow was falling, and when he could walk no more he sat down.
I found him, and I would have claimed his life, as I claim all those who wander on cold and blustery nights. But his heart was already cold, full of bitterness and anger, and my power cannot freeze what is frozen already. He became Jack Frost, sometimes my ally and sometimes my enemy.
From that day to this, whoever strikes Jack Frost must take his place. So it has been, so it will be.
"There must be a way," Sam insisted. "I'll do anything, give you anything."
"Sammy," Dean protested weakly.
"Shut up, Dean. Please, just tell me what I can do."
There is a way. I am the Winter Lord, but I am not unfeeling. In minutes, your brother's mortal consciousness will fade, and he will reawaken as Jack Frost. He will not know you, or remember that he ever had a brother or a life other than that in the service of the Winter Lord. His heart will be frozen. In seven days' time, on the Longest Night, my magic will be strongest and will claim him utterly. Nothing you do will save him after that.
But, between now and the Longest Night, if you can teach his frozen heart to feel, you will have your brother again. At midnight on the twenty-second of December, he will be mine forever.
"Sammy," Dean whispered one last time, closing his eyes.
Jack Frost opened his eyes a moment later, wondering why he was lying on the ground in the arms of a strange mortal. He pushed himself up and scrambled away.
Jack Frost scowled, holding up a warning hand when the mortal tried to approach him.
"Stay away from me!" he spat. "You think I don't know who you are, hunter? Stay away or you'll find out why nobody has ever succeeded in killing Jack Frost."
The mortal took a couple of steps forward, ignoring his warning. Jack Frost let him get close enough and then grabbed him by the throat. Tendrils of power snaked from Jack's fingers into the mortal's skin. His lips went blue, eyes bulging as he clawed at Jack's hand.
"This is your last warning," Jack hissed. "Stay away from me."
It was the sixteenth of December.
Jack Frost was working on a parked car. One finger touched the windshield, magic swirling out of it and leaving an icy wake as it went.
He felt a tug in the region of his navel. He stiffened, trying to find something to grab, but he knew it would be pointless. A summons was a summons. You couldn't do anything about it, except maybe terrorize the person who summoned you so completely that nobody would dare to do it again.
Jack let the magic pull him.
He found himself in a motel room. A hunter's motel room, clearly; the musty smell, decrepit carpet, and assorted guns and knives on the bed all pointed to that. So did the hunter standing outside the pentagram holding Jack prisoner.
"You again?" Jack said. "Pity. I thought you were smart."
"Look," the hunter said, holding up empty palms in the universal gesture of I'm-unarmed-let's-talk. "I think we got off on the wrong foot yesterday. I'm not trying to hunt you."
"You're not? Funny, it seems like I'm trapped in a pentagram."
"I just had to make sure you listened. Here, see, I have these for you." The hunter reached behind him and held up a bottle of Scotch and a large tub of ice cream. "I would've got pie, but I was afraid it would freeze if you touched it. Stupid, I know, but… Well, how about it?"
"How about what?" Jack asked, crossing his arms. "I still have no idea what you want."
"I want to be friends."
"Friends?" Jack scoffed. "Have you forgotten who I am? I'm Jack Frost. I was here before your grandfather's grandfather was born, and I'll be here after your grandchildren's grandchildren are dead. I don't make friends, especially not with mortals."
"I… I understand that. I just thought you might… I don't know… make an exception? Please?"
"Why would I make an exception for you?"
"Please. I know what most hunters are like, but I promise I don't mean any harm. Can we just try?"
"Try?" Jack considered the hunter. He was big – nearly as tall as the Winter Lord, and broad. But he had an odd vulnerability that seemed at odds with most hunters Jack had come across. "You think you can buy my friendship with whiskey and ice cream?"
"No, of course not. I wanted to do something nice for you. Please. Give me a chance."
"All right. Let me out."
"Yeah. Yeah, I can do that."
The grin that broke across the hunter's face was so blinding it almost – almost – made Jack feel a moment's guilt. But then he remembered that the hunter was a hunter and he was Jack Frost, which meant they were natural enemies. The lion didn't lie down with the lamb, not in real life.
And Jack Frost was no lamb.
The hunter scuffed the edge of the pentagram with the toe of his boot. As soon as the gap appeared, Jack stepped out, feeling power surge into his body.
The hunter was holding out the ice cream with a shy smile. Maybe some part of Jack's long-forgotten conscience smote him. Maybe it didn't. If it did, it didn't last long. Jack was moving with supernatural speed, and before the hunter could do more than widen his eyes Jack had him on his knees in a chokehold.
"Oops," he whispered in the hunter's ear. "I just remembered. I don't make friends with mortals."
The hunter opened his mouth, but with Jack's forearm pressing on his windpipe, no sound came out.
"Don't move," Jack hissed, sending a little wave of cold into the man's body. He gasped, eyelids drooping. "I don't want whiskey. I don't want your offerings. I don't want to be friends. Next time I see you, I will kill you on the spot. We clear?"
Jack released the man and strode away, pausing to grab the tub of ice cream before he went.
All said and done, there was no sense wasting perfectly good ice cream.
If he stopped in the doorway and turned for one last look, if the betrayal in the hunter's hazel eyes made him feel a pang of something he couldn't identify, nobody had to know.
It was the seventeenth of December.
Jack Frost was tripping through the town, send whorls of ferny patterns over windows, frosting the streets in a layer of ice, when he saw the hunter sitting on a bench under a lamppost.
His jaw clenched as he made his way over.
"I thought I told you to stay out of my way," he snapped.
"I'm sorry," said the hunter. "I shouldn't have summoned you or done the pentagram thing. I can see how that would give the wrong impression. I'm not trying to hurt you."
"Yeah, right," Jack sneered. "I know hunters."
"I don't have any weapons. I came to you, I'm on your turf. Please, can we just talk?"
"Talk?" It was a long time since Jack had talked to anyone. Most people weren't worth talking to, and those who were worth talking to weren't interested in a vagabond ice spirit. "I… Yeah, I guess we can talk." He sat on the bench. "But this doesn't mean we're friends."
The hunter looked a little hurt, but the expression was gone before Jack could begin to feel bad for snapping, and he said, "OK, I get that."
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Tell me about you."
Jack laughed. "Really? You want to hear about how I kill people when they're rude to me? About how I claim lives for the Winter Lord?"
"No. I want to hear about how you make snowflakes and frost patterns. That must be fun, or you wouldn't be doing it."
"I… Fun." Jack sighed. His breath formed a flurry of little snowflakes that whirled to the ground. "Yeah, it's fun. It makes the kids happy when they get a snow day. That's nice, you know, to feel like somebody likes me. Most people don't like Jack Frost anymore. They did, a long time ago, when people liked skiing and tobogganing and playing outdoors. Now I'm just a nuisance who keeps them from getting to the video arcade or the movies or whatever."
"I'm sorry. That must be hard."
"Well, what are you going to do?" Jack glanced at the hunter with a bitter smile. "So have I depressed you enough for one day, or are you hanging around for more?"
"I don't have anywhere to be."
"You know what was always hardest?" Jack said wistfully. "When kids grew up. One year they'd be outdoors, having snowball fights and… they'd be happy. And then all of a sudden they'd be too old, and they'd just want to be inside with dry socks and… Well, Jack Frost was an annoyance to them."
"Wow." The hunter was smiling at him. "You're secretly a big softie, aren't you?"
Jack scowled. "No, I'm not. I hate kids."
"You don't want to, though. It can't be pleasant to hate everyone."
"It works for me." Jack shrugged. "Don't go feeling sorry for me. I don't need it. Tell me about you, hunter. Why are you alone? Don't you guys usually work in pairs?"
"Yeah, we do." The hunter ducked his head, but Jack could see enough of his expression to know that it would have wrung his heart if he'd still had a heart. "I… I used to hunt with my brother. He… He's gone now."
"Happens, though, right? One of the perils of being a hunter and tangling with things bigger and stronger than you."
"I guess so."
"What was your brother's name?"
"Dean." Jack shrugged. "Never heard of him. What's your name?"
"Sam." Jack tried out the name and shook his head. "Sam. Sam. Sammy?" To Jack's shock, tears spilled over in Sam's eyes. "Hey, if you don't like it, just say so."
"No, that's not… it's fine… it's just… My brother used to call me that."
"Oh. I'll just stick to Sam, then."
"No, that's… it's OK. I'd… like it. If you called me Sammy."
"Sammy." Jack started to smile, and then caught himself and turned it into a scowl. "This still doesn't mean we're friends, by the way. I don't do friendships. It's just… interesting to have someone to talk to."
"Then you want to talk to me again?"
"I wouldn't be completely opposed to the idea. Maybe. I don't usually have a lot of free time, you know. Jack Frost, middle of winter, things to do, lakes to freeze."
"I understand. But if… maybe… if you do want to talk tomorrow, I'll be here."
"Really? You want to waste your time sitting on a bench on the off-chance I might have time to come see you? Well, suit yourself, kid." Jack got to his feet. "I'm going."
He hurried away. When he chanced a backward glance over his shoulder, Sam was still sitting on the bench.
It was the eighteenth of December.
Jack Frost didn't give more than a passing thought to Sam. He didn't for a moment expect that Sam really would wait for him. Nobody did that. People might claim to be nice, or to want to be friends, but in the end all anybody wanted was to look out for themselves.
Jack went about his daily business, skipping over fields and skating over streams. Once he saw a small dog that seemed to have wandered away from its home. He reached out to claim it, but it looked at him with big damp eyes that reminded him oddly of Sam's, and he snatched back his hand. He cursed himself for an idiot, but he let the dog live.
It was nearly sunset when Jack found himself going back to the bench. He wasn't going to see Sam, of course. Sam would have left by now. That was why he was going, to remind himself that everybody was fickle, nobody hung around on a random bench all day, and it was stupid to expect people to care.
Even when he got close enough to see a figure on the bench, Jack just rolled his eyes. Some vagrant, probably.
But then he was there, and Sam's bright hazel eyes were looking up into his.
Too bright hazel eyes, Jack realized, and he scowled, not sitting down.
"Have you been here all day?" he demanded.
"I told you I'd wait," rasped Sam.
"You idiot. You've made yourself sick." Jack crouched in front of Sam, palming his cheek. Even to Jack's icy fingers, it felt cool. "That's… not possible."
"What?" asked Sam.
"You should feel hot. Humans always feel hot to me, even when they've been in the cold too long."
Then Jack remembered two days ago, and the day before that, remembered blasting Sam with his power, twice. Twice in two days.
Sam hadn't made himself sick.
Jack had made Sam sick.
Jack would normally never have felt guilty about that. Mortals got sick and died all the time. If he helped a couple of them along, well, that was just nature's way. Nature wasn't kind.
But Sam had waited here for him all day. Sam had offered him whiskey and ice cream.
Jack had standards. Killing people who were careless about the cold, or who threatened him, that was one thing. Jack Frost didn't kill people who tried to be nice to him, however silly they were.
Jack didn't know how to fix it, though. He didn't heal.
"Go back home," Jack said, getting up and hauling Sam to his feet. "Or to that motel you call your home."
"I'll come and find you there." Jack gave Sam a shove in the direction of the street. "Stop being an idiot. Get inside and get warm. You amuse me and I don't want you to die just yet. Go."
Without waiting to see if Sam obeyed, Jack whisked himself off to the Arctic palace of the Winter Lord.
What is it? the Winter Lord asked impatiently. I'm busy, I'm about to cause a snowstorm that'll shut down all of northern Europe.
"This won't take long. I have a question I need you to answer. Then I'll go and you can carry on with ruining people's holiday plans. Hypothetically, if I… touched someone with my power and they… started to succumb, and I wanted to reverse it… How could I do that?"
Hypothetically? asked the Winter Lord, raising one silver eyebrow. Do you want to tell me what this is about?
"It's…" Jack shrugged. "It's a mortal. I blasted him, but I don't think he deserves to die."
Really? Eight hundred years you've existed, Jack Frost. You've taken lives in every continent. You've killed adults, children, animals, plants, half of Napoleon's army… And this is the first time you've told me someone doesn't deserve to die.
Nice. The Winter Lord grimaced, as though the word personally offended him. What's this nice person's name?
Sam… Sam? There was something in the Winter Lord's expression that Jack didn't like. That's… interesting. Very interesting. He might manage it after all.
Never mind. I think I want to give Sam a sporting chance. If you really want to help him, you need to go to the Summer Queen and beg a flower from her crown. Steep it in boiling water and give it to Sam to drink. That's the only way to save a mortal touched by the Frost.
"How do I find her?"
Go to where it's summer and call for her. She'll find you. But be warned, Jack. The Summer Queen has no love for the Winter Lord. She might not be willing to give you anything.
"Thanks," Jack said brusquely, turning to the door.
Take my horse, said the Winter Lord. There's no other way you'll get there and back in time.
It was the nineteenth of December.
Jack Frost found himself where the grass was green and the air heavy with the summer scents of blossoms and fruit.
He leapt off the Winter Lord's white horse. His feet froze the grass where they touched it. He stayed still, holding the horse's bridle with one hand. He need a favour; there was no sense antagonizing the Summer Queen by ruining her handiwork.
"Summer Queen!" he called, feeling a little silly. "Summer Queen, come to me!"
For a moment he thought it hadn't worked. Then the sun seemed to burn brighter, turning the sky gold.
There was a slender figure in front of him, haloed in a warm yellow glow.
The Summer Queen was young and beautiful, but there was something terrible in her beauty. Although she had none of the coldness of the Winter Lord, her eyes had a banked fire that unnerved Jack. She wasn't only the queen of fresh crops and young animals, Jack realized. She could also be the queen of droughts and summer tempests, and she might claim as many lives as ever the Winter Lord.
Jack Frost, she said. Why do you venture into my lands? This is not your time to be here.
"I come to ask a favour, Summer Queen."
A friend of the Winter Lord comes to ask a favour of the Summer Queen? What does he want this time?
"Nothing. I've not come for him. I've come for myself."
For yourself? And what do you want of me, Jack Frost?
"There's a mortal. I… I hurt him. He doesn't… He doesn't deserve to die. Please, if you will give me one of the flowers from your crown, I can save his life."
And why should I help you, Jack Frost? You, who kill all growing things with your touch? Why should I give you anything?
"Because I claimed his life for the Winter Lord. I didn't mean to, but I did. If you help me, you'll deprive the Winter Lord of one mortal life. Isn't that worth something to you?"
Even if I agree to give you a flower, how will you take it north? Your own hands will blast it through with ice in an instant. It will do your mortal no good.
"I have… this."Jack took the empty tub from the ice cream Sam had got him out of his coat. "If you put it in this and put it in the saddlebag, I'll never have to touch it. I'll just take it to Sam and tell him what to do."
So this mortal has a name.
All right. The Summer Queen took the tub from him. She pulled a single aster from the wreath of flowers on her yellow curls and dropped it into the tub. She closed it carefully and reached past Jack to tuck it into the saddlebag. Go, Jack Frost. And if your mortal is alive when you find him, give him the regards of the Summer Queen.
Jack leapt into the saddle and rode as he had never ridden before. When he was at Sam's motel, he got off, snatched the saddlebag, and hurried inside.
"Here," he said, thrusting it at Sam, who was sitting on the sofa staring at him in astonishment. "Open it."
Sam did it, hands trembling as they fumbled at the clasps. Tired? Frightened? Deathly ill? Jack couldn't tell. Sam was pale, though, and his eyes were fever-bright. Jack had seen eyes like that on creatures about to die.
At last Sam had the tub in his hands.
"Take out the flower," Jack ordered. "Steep it in water. Now."
Sam scowled at his tone, but he obeyed, dropping the aster into a mug of water and sticking it in the microwave the motel room offered.
"Drink it," said Jack when the microwave dinged.
"Seriously? It smells disgusting."
"Sammy, I went all the way to Peru to get you a flower from the crown of the Summer Queen, so either you drink that willingly or I'm going to force-feed you."
Sam rolled his eyes, but he downed the contents of the mug.
"How do you feel?"
"Warm." Sam put the mug down carefully. "Weird. Hot. It's… What's happening?"
If Jack could have flushed, he would have. He looked at the window, not wanting to meet Sam's eyes as he answered, "It was when I hit you with my power… That first day, and then the day after. That was what was making you sick. It would've killed you if… Well… The only way to help was… well, that." He waved at the empty mug. "So you'll be fine now."
"You did that for me?"
Maybe it was the shock of hearing something other than the cocked gun he'd been expecting in response to the admission that he'd very nearly been responsible for Sam's death, but Jack responded with an automatic, "Don't kid yourself. We're not friends. I just have standards, and you hadn't done anything annoying enough or stupid enough to deserve me killing you."
"Oh." Sam's voice sounded flat, toneless, and Jack felt an odd little twist in his gut. "Well… Thanks."
Jack nodded. "I'll get going now. Lots to do. Stay out of trouble, yeah?"
"Wait," Sam said. "Can I see you again tomorrow?"
"You want to see me again tomorrow?"
"All right. But don't sit outdoors like an idiot and wait to turn into an icicle. If the Winter Lord finds you, he won't be as nice as I am. Just stay here, and I'll come when I can."
"I promise," Jack said. "And I always keep my promises."
It was the twentieth of December.
Jack had no idea what possessed him to pick up a cup of hot chocolate on his way to Sam's motel. It wasn't like he didn't know what would happen to it, and he wasn't remotely surprised when Sam pried the lid off the cup to find a large frozen lump.
"What was this when it was liquid?" Sam asked, turning the cup upside down and thumping the bottom.
Sam stopped thumping and stared at him. "Really? That's… awesome. Thank you."
Jack shrugged. "You want to go for a walk? I can… Show you things. In the forest outside town and… Things humans don't get to see. If you like."
"Yeah, I'd like that."
"Great." Jack took the cup away from Sam and thrust his jacket at him instead. "Put that on, I don't want you freezing to death."
The forest was white with an untouched layer of freshly-fallen snow. Normally it irritated Jack when human passage marred his work, but he only felt a vague, amused fondness when Sam struggled through the waist-deep drifts.
"Such a big, clumsy human," Jack teased, poking at Sam's bicep. "Do you trust me?"
"Yeah, of course."
"Take my hands."
"Take my hands," Jack repeated, reaching out and grabbing Sam's mittened hands when Sam just stared at him. "Hold tight, OK? Don't let go."
Then he let himself slide through space, dragging Sam with him. A few moments later, they were alone in an icy landscape. Or… almost alone.
"Are those… polar bears?" Sam whispered.
"In the wild," confirmed Jack.
"Aren't they dangerous?"
"Not if I'm with you. Come say hello."
Sam was a little hesitant at first, but when the polar bears only nosed at his hands, he dared to crouch and let them lick his face.
"They're beautiful," Sam said, laughing when a cub climbed into his lap and snuggled against his middle.
"I told you." Jack couldn't help his smug smile. "No human gets to do this."
"Oh, we're not done yet. Say goodbye to your new friends, Sam. We have things to do and places to be."
Jack whisked Sam around the northern hemisphere. He wasn't sure why he was doing it. It wasn't like him to try to gain people's approval. People were fickle, and the same people who played in the snow one day would be cursing at it the next.
But it was hard to remember how horrible people were when he saw how Sam's eyes lit up at the Aurora Borealis.
"Do you do this, too?" Sam whispered.
"No," Jack said regretfully. "The Aurora is pure science, just like modern humans believe. But it's still pretty cool, isn't it?"
"So where to now? We could hit Antarctica. Or one of those mountains that's always snowy."
"Where do you live?" Sam asked. "Can we go there?"
"I don't live anywhere, Sam. The Winter Lord has a palace, but I just sleep where I feel like it. No point having a home when I have to keep moving."
"Don't you want a home?"
"I had a home once." It was the one memory Jack had of his life as a mortal. He hated that it still made his voice grow rough. "I had parents, a sister, two brothers… But they hated me."
"Yeah, well, I stopped crying about it a long time ago. I had a family, and they turned me out into the cold, knowing I'd probably die from it. It was partly my fault, too, I'm sure. If I'd had a single friend in the village, I would've had somewhere to go for shelter. Everyone hated me."
Jack suddenly found himself wrapped in a hug. Sam's human warmth felt blazing, but it was nice, too. He wasn't quite sure what to do with his hands, so he patted Sam's back awkwardly.
"I would never do that to you," Sam said. "Nobody should do that to anyone."
"Yeah, well. It was a long time ago. I've done bad things too, you know. I've killed people. But not since I met you," Jack added hastily. He had no idea why he was justifying himself. He just knew he didn't want Sam to be disappointed in him. "And tonight I haven't even frozen any car doors shut."
Sam smiled at him. He was starting to look a little tired.
"I guess I should take you back," Jack said. "Humans do need sleep."
"Will you come back tomorrow?"
Jack felt an odd little tug where his heart had once been. He couldn't remember the last time someone had been so eager to see him.
"Sure I will."
It was the twenty-first of December.
Sam was out when Jack Frost made his way to the motel, but his black car was still in front of his cabin, so Jack figured he'd probably just gone to the diner down the street for breakfast.
He sat down to wait.
He didn't mean to snoop, he really didn't, but he'd never had the chance to examine a hunter's stash before, and Jack was curious. He knew the basics – silver bullets, consecrated iron, crucifixes. He didn't particularly want to touch the weapons, especially since he didn't know which ones would be harmful to him.
But Sam's journal was sitting on the table.
Jack opened it.
For a few minutes the descriptions of ghosts and monsters fascinated him, but then they brought a sick feeling to his gut. Sam had sounded sympathetic, and Jack had been telling the truth when he'd said his family had turned him out. But some of the vengeful spirits Sam had hunted had suffered worse fates than freezing to death – and had deserved their fates less, having been good people in their lives and not selfish, friendless wastrels.
But Sam had killed them all the same, to protect the innocent people they would otherwise have killed.
Then Jack turned a page and saw his own name, along with some news clippings.
A woman who'd slipped on an unexpected patch of ice one night, broken her ankle, and frozen to death before anyone could find her. A man who'd been impaled by a falling icicle. Deaths that weren't the tragic but inevitable result of too much drinking on a winter night or venturing outdoors without a coat.
Deaths that Jack had deliberately caused.
Did Sam know the reasons? Did he know that the woman had found a dog sheltering from a storm in her yard and had it removed, or that the man had spent the money meant for his daughter's winter clothes on a bracelet for his secret girlfriend?
Would Sam care?
Had Sam's friendship just been an excuse to get close to Jack so Sam could kill him?
He was staring at the next page, a list of potential weapons, when the door opened and Sam came in.
"You're here," he said happily. "I thought you might be. I brought you pancakes."
"What is this?" Jack demanded, holding up the journal.
Sam's smile disappeared so fast Jack almost laughed. "You found that. I can explain –"
"Explain? Explain what? Explain how you've been plotting to kill me all this time? How you were pretending to be my friend just so you could get close enough to do it?"
"That's not true. Please, I don't want to hurt you. I would never hurt you!"
"You have a list of ways to kill me," Jack said flatly. "Right here in your journal, a list of weapons that can kill Jack Frost. I'm not stupid, Sam."
"That's not what it looks like."
"Then what is it?"
"I heard about you and I did the research. I'm a hunter. It's what I do. But I don't think you deserve to die. I just want to help you."
"Help me?" Jack spat. "News flash, Sam. I'm Jack Frost. I've lived longer than your pathetic human mind could possibly imagine. I'll be living long after you're gone. I don't need your help. I'm leaving."
"Jack, please –"
"Sam Winchester." Jack let a note of power creep into his voice. "I am Jack Frost. I am the spirit of the winter chill, and, saving only the will of the Winter Lord, none may change what I have decreed. Pray that our paths never cross again, because the next time I see you, Sam Winchester, you will die."
Jack Frost left.
He should have felt vindicated that he'd been right all along. People were fickle, and treacherous, and they deserved everything he did to them. Sam had pretended to be his friend, and he'd been plotting against him all along.
But all Jack felt was empty.
It had been nice to have someone to talk to, someone who hadn't wanted anything from him, someone who hadn't hated him. Sam had listened to him.
Sam was a liar, he reminded himself. Sam was a liar and Jack was better off without friends. Friends were a weakness, just like feelings. Friends would betray you. You could only count on yourself, and that was the simple truth.
Another layer of ice settled over Jack Frost's frozen heart.
It was the twenty-second of December, the day the Winter Lord was strongest in the north. Jack Frost felt a prickling under his skin, as he always did.
He was particularly busy that day, and if he was using it as an excuse to push away other thoughts, well, nobody had to know that.
When he felt the tug in his gut, late at night when the stars were out, he scowled. He'd warned Sam to stay away from him. This time he would kill the hunter, and feel not a shadow of regret. Jack Frost didn't have room for regret, and humans weren't worth regretting.
But it wasn't Sam who confronted him outside the pentagram.
This man was a hunter too, but he didn't have Sam's gentleness or warmth. He was shorter than Sam, stockier, harder, and his black eyes glittered almost as coldly as Jack's ice-blue ones. He had a gun loaded and pointing at Jack.
"Here you are at last," the man snarled. "Sam must be getting soft if he couldn't take you out. Or maybe he's still mourning."
"Mourning?" Jack asked despite himself.
"Oh, please. Don't act innocent. Everyone's talking about how you killed Dean Winchester."
Dean? Sam's brother? Had Jack frozen him without realizing it? That would explain Sam's behaviour, and although Sam had lied to him, Jack felt a little better with the understanding that it had been to avenge Sam's brother. It meant Sam wasn't a bad person. Why that should matter to him, Jack didn't want to think about.
But if he'd killed Sam's brother, maybe he deserved to die.
Jack met the hunter's eyes squarely. If this was the end, he wasn't going to fight it. He'd dealt out enough death to have lost his fear of it.
"Jack Frost," the hunter said speculatively.
Jack wished he wouldn't draw it out. He was in the pentagram. He was helpless. The man should just shoot him and be done with it.
Then the door burst open.
"No!" Sam yelled as he barrelled into the room. "No, Mark, stop!"
"Sam? You still in town?" Mark asked in astonishment. "Well, good. You're just in time to help me get rid of Jack Frost once and for all."
"No, you don't understand." Sam grabbed Mark's gun, tugging it to the side. "He's not a bad person."
"He's not a person at all," snarled Mark. "Are you out of your mind? This is the thing that killed your brother, Sam. This thing killed Dean!"
Jack flinched. That was what he was to hunters, a thing, a monster.
But he'd thought he wasn't a thing to Sam.
"Mark, listen to me."
"Get out of my way!"
And then everything happened at once. Mark wrenched his gun free of Sam's grip and fired. Jack steeled himself for oblivion.
But oblivion never came.
A heavy weight fell against him, and Jack suddenly found himself with his arms full of Sam. Sam, who'd leapt in front of him, pushing him aside, and now had blood oozing from a bullet wound in his chest.
Sam, who'd sacrificed himself for Jack.
"No," gasped Jack, even as Sam slumped into his chest. Sam's movement had scuffed the pentagram, and Jack felt power surge into his body. "No." He supported Sam's weight easily with one hand, raising the other and pointing it at Mark. "You."
"Don't," Sam rasped weakly. "Don't… kill him."
"He hurt you."
"Please." Sam tugged pathetically at Jack's sleeve. "Please don't."
Jack hesitated. He was furious as he'd never been furious before. He wanted nothing more than to blast the man who'd hurt Sam with all his strength until he froze to death where he stood.
Jack sighed, lowering his arm to wrap around Sam instead.
"Get out," he snarled at Mark.
He didn't watch to see if his order was obeyed before he scooped Sam up easily and stepped through space to Sam's motel room.
"I'll call you an ambulance," he began, but Sam shook his head. Jack laid him down on the bed. "Sam, you need help. You're going to die if I don't get you a doctor."
"Going…" Sam clutched at his hand. "Going… to die… anyway. Stay… please."
"I'm not going to let you die."
Sam shook his head again. "You… already… said it."
And Jack remembered his words from the previous day. The next time I see you, Sam Winchester, you will die. He was Jack Frost, the spirit of the winter chill. What he said would come to pass.
"I'm sorry," Jack whispered, though he knew that wasn't enough. He deserved to be hunted; he was a monster. "I'm so sorry."
Sam's grip on his fingers tightened. "Forgive… you."
"You shouldn't." Jack's vision was blurring and his eyes were burning. What was happening? "Please don't die. Please. Please, you have to live so you can kill me yourself. I'm a monster."
"You're the only person who's ever been nice to me." Jack squeezed Sam's hand so hard his own fingers hurt. "Please don't die."
There was no response. Sam was gone.
Jack dropped his head to Sam's chest and cried for his only friend.
Outside, the church bells chimed midnight.
It was the twenty-third of December.
Jack Frost's tears had frozen as they'd rolled down his cheeks, landing as little balls of ice on Sam's jacket. Sam's hand was still clutched in his.
Jack felt an odd burning heat in his chest, and wondered if that was his heart breaking. He'd never cared for anything enough to mourn it. Maybe his heart was so rusty from disuse that this had been too much.
If he was going to die of a broken heart, that would be poetic justice.
But he wouldn't see Sam again, and that hurt more than he'd imagined possible. Sam would go to Heaven, if there was one. And Jack was going to go to whatever hell was reserved for people so vengeful and pitiless that they cursed their friends to die.
Another tear trickled out of his eye and down his face, but this one didn't freeze. A droplet of water soaked into Sam's jacket.
Jack rubbed at the tiny wet spot, though he knew Sam wouldn't feel the damp.
Well, well, came a familiar voice. He did it after all.
Jack looked up into the merciless face of the Winter Lord. "What did he do?"
He taught your frozen heart to feel, Jack Frost. It took a tremendous sacrifice, but perhaps nothing else would have worked. Anyway, it's done.
"What? What's done?"
Look at yourself.
Unwillingly, Jack moved away from Sam to stand in front of the motel room's cracked mirror. He looked strange. His eyes were darkening to green. The whorls of ice were fading from his skin.
"What's happening to me?"
You're human again.
"I'm…" And Dean Winchester returned to awareness. "No. Sammy!" He turned and dived for the bed to shake his brother. "Sammy. Hey. Come on. Wake up. You did it. You saved me. Sammy!" He shook the limp form again. "Sammy, don't you dare! You saved me. You don't get to leave me! Come on. Come back."
Nobody's ever managed it, the Winter Lord went on. I suppose nobody ever really tried.
Dean didn't give a damn. "Talk to me," he begged Sam. "Please, kiddo. I can't live with myself if I've killed you. You have to come back, please." He turned to the Winter Lord. "Please, can't you bring him back?"
The Winter Lord shrugged. I do not have power over life and death once a soul has been taken, Dean Winchester.
"There has to be something."
Perhaps. But it is not my province to find it. Jack Frost is gone for good, which means I have a great deal to do tonight. Farewell.
The Winter Lord vanished, leaving Dean alone with his brother's body.
Dean smoothed down Sam's sleeves, brushing hair off his face. Jack Frost had cried, but Dean Winchester's grief ran too deep for that.
Then he glimpsed the little balls of ice that had been Jack Frost's tears. They melted as he watched, but they didn't sink into Sam's jacket. They stayed there, droplets of water quivering on the dark material, before they started to move. They trailed up Sam's chest to where the bullet wound was and melted into it.
With trembling fingers, Dean undid Sam's jacket and shirts.
The bullet wound was healing, broken skin knitting together until it looked like the blood on Sam's chest might have belonged to somebody else.
Dean fetched a wet washcloth and wiped the blood away carefully. He hardly dared to hope, but as he worked he felt the flutter of Sam's heart as it started pumping again, and the easy rise and fall of his chest as his lungs drew in air.
"Sammy?" Dean whispered.
Sam didn't stir. But he was alive, and something in Dean knew that it was only a matter of time. His body was still healing, and he must be exhausted.
Sam would wake up when he was ready.
Dean squeezed Sam's hand. "I'll be waiting, little brother."
It was the twenty-fourth of December.
Dean had kept vigil by the bedside of his unconscious brother for seventeen hours when, at last, Sam began to stir. Dean went on full alert at once.
"Hey," he said softly, knowing that, if Sam couldn't hear him yet, he would be able to soon. "Hey, kiddo, you coming back? You ready to wake up now?" He glanced at the window, through which he could see snow falling again, fat flakes piling up against the glass. "It's beautiful outside, Sammy. Just the kind of night you'd like. Remember that time we built a snowman when you were five?"
Dean let out a relieved breath. "Hey, Sammy. About time you woke up. Do you have any idea how scared I've been?"
Sam still sounded too weak. It bothered Dean, but he forced himself to smile like nothing was wrong.
"Don't be. You saved me… did the impossible. I think even the Winter Lord was impressed." Dean patted Sam's cheek. "Do you want to try sitting up?"
It was slow going, because every movement made Sam dizzy. Eventually, with Dean's help, he managed to sit.
"Are you… you OK?" Sam mumbled through panted breaths.
"I'm fine." Dean laid his hand on Sam's arm. "See? Warm. Human. Not Jack Frost anymore. You did it, Sammy."
"You're OK." Sam's arms were tight around Dean's middle, his face smushed into Dean's shirt. "I was so… so… scared. I thought…"
"Shhh," Dean hushed, wrapping his own arms around Sam. He knew how scared Sam had been. He'd been that scared, too, waiting for his little brother to wake up. "It's over. We're both OK, we're both alive… You're clearly going to need some more rest, and I'll make sure you get it. That's what big brothers are for, right?"
"You want some soup? Hot chocolate?"
Sam shook his head, clutching Dean tighter, clearly wanting nothing other than to know that his brother was alive and safe and there.
Dean understood, and he usually indulged Sam's need to be clingy after one of them had been in mortal peril, or, as in this case, both of them. But his brother's weakness was at least partly due to the fact that he'd eaten nothing in nearly an entire day, and he'd probably been surviving on coffee and the occasional protein bar since Dean had been cursed.
So he gently nudged Sam away and settled him back down on his pillows.
"We'll start slow, I don't want you getting sick. Soup, and if that stays down we'll see about something solid. You going to be OK by yourself for a few minutes?"
"Yeah," Sam said reluctantly.
Dean laughed. "That's my boy." On his way out the door, he paused. "I'm sorry, Sammy, I don't have… We… I thought…" He sighed. "Before all this… crap, before we knew what killing Jack Frost would mean, I wanted us to have a nice Christmas this year. I didn't have time to do anything, though. I don't even have a present for you. I'm sorry."
"Dean," Sam said, conveying absolution and affection and big-brothers-worry-about-stupid-things with one single word.
Dean smiled a real smile for the first time in days.
It was the twenty-fifth of December.
Sam was still weak, but he'd gained enough strength to sit on the front steps of their motel room, wrapped in so many layers he looked like a walking marshmallow. He'd protested when Dean had thrust the second jacket at him, but no amount of puppy-dogging could get Sam his way when his health was on the line.
Dean was sitting next to him.
Together they watched the road, though there was nothing much to see. Everyone was at home on Christmas morning, probably just being woken up by children who positively couldn't wait another minute to open their presents. The streets were empty.
Snow fell in thick flakes that swirled and eddied. As Dean watched, he remembered, as though it had happened to someone else, what it had been like to control those flakes, to be the spirit of the winter chill.
Without thinking, he wrapped an arm around Sam.
"You think he ever found peace?" Dean asked.
"The first Jack Frost. I could… I could sort of feel him, like he still existed in some way. When I told you all that about my family abandoning me and stuff… it was like it had happened to me."
"Dean. You know I would never do that to you."
"I know, but… It was weird, Sammy. I can't imagine… Being alone like that, no friends, everyone hating you… No wonder it warped his mind."
"I don't know what happened to him," Sam said honestly. "But if you really did feel him, and a part of him stayed alive in every Jack Frost who came after, then I think he must have found peace eventually, when you taught him what it was to care about someone."
"I didn't teach him anything."
"Of course you did. I couldn't have saved you if you hadn't had it in you, Dean."
"You're the only one who could've saved me." It was comfortable sitting on the steps, Sam settled against his side, feeling like they were alone in the world. "Sammy –"
"Don't you dare thank me."
"OK," Dean said, smiling. "I won't." He tugged Sam in closer. "I wish I could've given you a better Christmas, though."
"There'll be other Christmases," Sam murmured.
They sat there another hour before Dean decided Sam had had enough exposure for one day and chivvied him back inside the motel room.
Both Sam and Dean stopped short as soon as they were inside.
The room, which had been bare of everything but some mildewed furniture and a couple of ugly pictures on the walls, had been transformed. Icicles glittered like diamonds as they hung from the mantelpiece. The walls were covered in intricate patterns, frosted swirls and whorls that didn't melt when Dean touched them. Even the lamp was covered in a rime of ice that turned the cheap shade into a sparkling prism.
On the coffee table was a covered tray from which wafted smells that made Dean's stomach grumble.
There was a folded piece of paper on Sam's pillow.
Sam picked it up and unfolded it.
It said simply For those who do the impossible – with my best wishes.
"I guess the Winter Lord's not all bad," Sam said, tucking the note into the pages of his journal.
"No," Dean agreed. "I guess he's not." A slow grin was spreading on his face. "Merry Christmas, little brother. I still don't have a present for you."
"We're both still here," said Sam. "I got you back. That's present enough. Merry Christmas, Dean."
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