A/N: And that's a wrap! Hope you enjoyed.
A Colder Shade of Pale
"What year was it that I lost that chunk of my ear, thanks to their dad? Ninety-one?"
"No, that was the year one of my mini-fairies got trapped in a cage and had to be rescued by the others. You lost the chunk of your ear in Ninety-Three, then in Ninety-Four Sandy got hurt by that seal they had up."
Sandy nodded vigorously.
"Not once, not one Christmas was I ever able to get in. Lost boot thanks to a bear trap. Twice."
"Dean, we could have gotten presents from Santa. From Santa."
The Guardians were, fortunately, nothing more than annoyed about the past misfortunes they'd suffered at the hands of the Winchesters - and maybe even a little amused.
The group was now gathered in the dining room of Jamie's house. The Sandman had already dusted the neighbors, ensuring that they didn't call the cops over the racket and that they chalked the whole ruckus up to a bad dream. Already, North had used what appeared to be magic snowglobes to summon actual yetis to come in and start fixing up the house. They'd brought Jamie's sister Sophie with them from the North Pole and blast of dreamsand from the Sandman had conked her out. She was now sleeping in her room after having been tucked in by Jamie, with two yetis posted on watch (just in case Pitch planned on a surprise visit).
The Guardians had explained to Sam and Dean more of what they were, of who they'd once been, of what they did. They'd absorbed it all with a few questions and mostly awestruck silence, but now they were explaining what they'd been talking about when they'd recognized them.
The kitchen table had been converted into a makeshift first aid outpost. Jack sat with his back to the edge of the table while Tooth picked twigs, gravel, and other debris out of the scraped skin there with tweezers.
"Ow! That hurt," he groused.
"The sooner we get this cleared out, the faster it'll heal over," said the Tooth Fairy matter-of-factly. "You look like you got set on fire today -"
"- and you're complaining about me picking out some splinters?"
"The getting-set-on-fire thing is why the picking out splinters hurts so much," Jack said sulkily.
At that, Tooth's expression softened to one of great fondness and she rubbed the fuzzy, now-healed back of Jack's head gently.
"It won't be much longer. Your body's pushing most of it out on its own." And the rest had been washed out with the wound irrigation solution Jamie had so resourcefully provided from his first aid kit. "Now stop squirming."
"So, okay, back to the war stories," said Jack, wincing but not whining now as Tooth tended to him. "Did any of you guys manage to get through to deliver your presents and dreams and stuff?"
"I'm gonna say no, seeing as we never actually got any," said Sam sheepishly.
"Other than the dreams but unless Sandy here's responsible for the fun kind you get after reading the latest issue of Busty Asian -"
Sam clasped a hand over his brother's mouth.
"We had normal dreams, but we didn't get the sparkly magical dreams, either," Sam said, ignoring the awkward looks from the Guardians. "Probably because of the seals our dad put up to keep out nightmare demons like mara. Those had a wide enough spread to have hit friendly spirits, too."
"Then how did that David Bowie video reject get in? Do you think he was telling the truth about that?" Dean asked, after pulling Sam's hand away from his mouth.
"It's possible that despite all your defenses, Pitch did," said Tooth, looking up from Jack's back. "He travels through the shadows."
"Not many myths and creatures out there travel like he does," said Bunny, leaning against a buffet table, arms crossed. "He can get places even some demons can't."
"Okay, so, we managed to block out all the really great stuff from childhood, like getting Christmas presents, but not the Bogeyman," Sam said dryly, still deeply resentful of this fact.
"None of you, though?" repeated Jack, looking around at the others, in disbelief. They never missed a child. Never. "Not even once?"
"Is unfortunate, but between the traps - and sometimes their father - it just could not be done. And then they were grown," said North. "Ah, but past is past. All is forgiven and today we fought on same side. Despite misunderstanding, Jamie and Sophie are safe, fearling has gone kaput, and Jack will heal soon enough." North clapped both brothers on the back so hard they stumbled. "I am hoping you two will forgive us as well. We tried to bring our gifts and we have such regret we could not."
"Nothing you could do about it when we had every motel room we stayed at locked up like a supernatural fort Knox," said Dean, shrugging.
"Besides, we were rough on our toys growing up, anyway" said Sam. "You should've seen what we did to the Impala. I got an army man stuck in the ashtray, Dean shoved Legos into the vents. They were probably better off going to someone else."
Hearing that - and the mention of staying in motels - made Jack perk up just slightly.
"The Impala...big ol' muscle car?" he asked slowly. "Chevy with a black exterior? I saw one down the road after the attack at Pippa's."
"Yeah, why?" asked Dean.
Jack looked as if he was digging back into his memory, and he looked at Dean and Sam's faces as if he was trying to mentally strip the years and troubles away
"Sunnyside Inn, Pawhuska, Oklahoma," Jack said, a smile lighting up his face. "Winter of '94. It was early December, I think.
Sam and Dean shared a bewildered look and then Dean's eyes went wide. "Dad was hunting those vamps, remember?"
Sam looked back at Jack, his expression guarded. How did he know that? How could he possibly know they'd been there?
"How do you -"
"Heck of a snowstorm, wasn't it?" Jack said, the corner of his lips twitching. The smile faded. "You were...you were alone. I just happened by. And I - I didn't know what to do about it. It didn't seem right. I saw your dad take you in and then leave and I saw you through the window. I didn't understand why he'd leave you alone."
Both brothers squirmed uncomfortably.
"Like I said, he had some bloodsuckers to take care of," Dean repeated.
"You looked like you could use a little fun. So I whipped up a little snowfall. And when you went out to the gas station to get something to eat - pow, snowball right in the back of your head," Jack looked like the only reason he wasn't bouncing on the table was because Tooth was still working on his back. Behind him, Sam could see a gentle smile on her face. "You thought your little brother had done it, so you retaliated and then it was pretty much all-out war. You made the best snow monster I've ever seen, by the way."
"How - how do you remember that? That was over a decade ago," asked Sam. "You didn't even know our names."
"I saw the Impala. The one with the little army man in the ashtray and the legos in the vents. I poked around, wanted to see what your dad was doing dragging you around and leaving you alone in motels."
"How come we didn't see you?" asked Dean suspiciously.
Jack's face fell a little. "I didn't have believers back then. No one could see me except for other myths."
"Still, that was a whole decade ago..." Sam went on.
"I never forget a kid. None of us do. They might grow up and their faces might change so we don't recognize them anymore, but we never forget one of them." Jack's smile was back. "We had fun that day, didn't we?"
The thing was, as unnerving as it was to know now that an invisible spirit had been there flinging snowballs at them that day...they had. It was one of the few times during Sam's life that stood out in his memories as a time he actually got to be a kid. For one glorious afternoon, he and Dean had been making snow monsters and snow angels and tackling each other to stuff snow down each other's jackets. It'd been a no-holds-barred brotherly snow-brawl and there were few other times during Sam's life that he ever remembered seeing Dean laugh like that.
Next to him, Dean had a strange expression Sam couldn't place, one that he imagined maybe matched his own.
"Ha!" Jack laughed, "Got you even when the other Guardians couldn't and I wasn't even a Guardian yet. Man, I'm good."
Before Sam could think of anything to say, Jamie stomped down from upstairs. A book he hadn't been carrying before was in his hands.
"North, the yetis are going a little overboard and trying to build me a balcony. Can you explain to them that my mom's going to kinda notice that when she gets home in the morning?"
"Of course. They are sometimes a little over-ambitious. I'll go set them straight."
North bustled up the stairs, which creaked under his massive booted feet.
"Sandy, come to think of it, we should head up, too, mate. Window needs to be re-glossed with dreamsand if they're finished putting a new one in, and I wanna check on Jamie and Sophie's doorframes, make sure the yan are still intact."
The Sandman nodded and he floated after Bunny as he hopped up the stairs. That left Jack, Jamie, Tooth, Sam, and Dean alone in the dining room.
Now that the room wasn't as crowded, Jamie worldlessly went over to Jack, leaning against his shoulder, unable to give him a full body hug because of his injuries. Tooth stopped her picking long enough for Jack to hug him back.
"Hey, kiddo, it's okay."
"My room's a mess."
"They'll clean it up."
"There's a place where the wall's caved in because the fearling smashed your head into it," Jamie said shakily.
Jack hugged him more tightly. "I'm fine. I promise I'm fine." There was silence for a second, until he finally said, "So I'm your brother now, huh? Officially adopted?"
"Duh. We didn't have to be born that way for it to happen," Jamie pointed out, leaning back to look Jack in the eye. "My uncle Lenny always says family doesn't end with blood."
That made Sam suck in a sudden, surprised breath and made him even more curious than he already was. The more he thought about it all, the more he couldn't wrap his head around all this. Spirits that protected children, that had even been threaded through his personal history - through the history of most children. A three hundred year old spirit that wasn't going around murdering people...
Dean got the question out before he did.
"How'd you do it?" he asked Jack. "That's the thing I don't get in all this."
"How'd I do what?" Jack asked.
"Your sister died, right? You died. You had every reason to be bitter and turn into the kind of spirit that kills, and here you are, sharing a Full House moment with the kid here. How'd you pull it off?"
The way he said it made it clear that he didn't think he could have managed the same himself. Sam knew his brother enough to know what he was thinking right then, and he was thinking about how it would've felt to die, and have his brother die, and be left behind, bitter that it had happened to the both of them.
"Most spirits get corrupted over time, even if they're coherent when they first appear. They usually get erratic - and violent," explained Sam. "Even if they're well-intentioned to start with or just trying to get justice, they usually wind up hurting people - sometimes people that don't deserve it. That's what we don't understand about you. The others here, I don't know if they died, too, but we know you did. And if people couldn't see you until you were believed in...how long was that?"
Jack licked his lips, as if he was hesitant to talk about the subject. "About three hundred years," he finally said. "I was alone for - for three hundred years. Didn't really get along with other myths and no one could see me..."
Tooth brushed a hand against his shoulder and he looked over at her, gratefully.
"The Guardians and other myths didn't know that I was doing that badly. I always had the whole rebel-without-a-cause chip on my shoulder thing going on so they thought I was okay."
He looked back to Sam and Dean. "And they didn't die. Belief changed them into what they are. I'm the only one of us that did. The Man in the Moon brought me back. Part of what saved me is that, I think - I'm not just a spirit."
He held up a pale hand.
"I mean, I am...but I'm not at the same time. Somehow. This is my body. I didn't remember who I was when I first came back, though. Maybe it was the trauma, I don't know."
"So...you didn't remember what happened to your sister?" asked Sam.
"Not for a long time - but you're wrong about her dying, anyway," explained Jack. "She didn't die. We were skating and the ice was thin. I managed to get her off of it, but I wound up sliding onto the thin ice myself doing it. And it broke. And I - I drowned. But she didn't die. I saved her."
He went on, "That's why the Man in the Moon brought me back, why he chose me to be a Guardian. Even though I didn't remember any of it, I think...somehow a part of me knew. Somehow, I knew that there had to be a reason for all of it - that maybe it was a good reason, even if it hurt not knowing what it was for such a long time."
"So wait, you saved your sister, died, lost your memory, were alone for three hundred years, and didn't do a vengeful Hulk-out, even after all that?" Dean asked.
Jack shrugged and then winced, looking like he immediately regretted it becauase of his injuries. "I wanted people to notice me, to believe in me. I wanted to not be alone," Jack admitted. "But I just...never wanted to hurt anyone. Why would I?"
Sam remembered what his grave had said. "Good son, loving brother, brave soul." It all made sense now. He knew what it felt like to stand there on the ice as it was cracking, hoping against hope he could do the right thing to make sure his sibling was okay. Though the ice was metaphorical, he and Dean had to do it for each other all the time. He understood the sacrifice. Like Dean, what he didn't understand was how he'd held it together afterward. Was it possible for someone to just be that good?
Apparently, Dean thought so. He looked actually impressed. "I only wish the gribblies we usually meet had your attitude, kid."
Tooth smiled at that and zipped back into the air. "Be right back. I need to wash these out again."
As she fluttered out, Dean angled his head just slightly to catch sight of her feathered behind.
"Let me help you with that..." he said, following her into the kitchen.
Jack's face immediately fell and immediately became about 200% more sardonic than it had been moments ago.
"So, let me get this straight. You guys shot me full of rock salt, stabbed me in the hands, and doused me in gasoline so that I wound up getting set on fire..."
"Sorry," interjected Sam.
"...and now he's flirting with my girlfriend."
Sam cringed. "I am so, so sorry."
"No no, it's okay," Jack said lightly. "After a night like tonight, I could use a laugh."
"Times like these are why I wish I always carried around popcorn," Jamie added, as they looked into the kitchen. The quiet conversation there, replete with Dean leaning against the counter and saying something too low for all of them to hear got more and more quietly hostile, until Tooth was grabbing him by the ear.
"Ow ow ow! You're the Tooth Fairy! I thought you were supposed to be nice!"
"I'm nice to children," Tooth corrected him, finally letting go and tossing up her head at him as she fluttered back into the dining room. "Not to grown men who act like children."
Sam laughed. "I can see why you like her."
"Tooth: Kicking butt and taking names since oh-five." Jack added, "Like the year five, I mean. Not the year two-thousand and five."
Back at Jack's side, she pressed a kiss against his forehead.
"You could have drawn that out a little longer, you know," said Jack, nodding towards the kitchen. "You didn't give me any time to sell tickets."
She took a moment to look at his face and smile at him. Then, as she took in the hair still growing in and the burns still smoothing over, the smile faded slightly and she leaned against him, one hand moving up to hold his head gently against her neck and shoulder.
"One day at a time, Tooth. That's what we decided to worry about," he reminded her.
"I know. It just worries me how much harder it's getting to always make it to the next one."
Jamie answered Sam's questions before he could even ask them.
"It's been getting worse out there for them," he said. "Jack said something big is going on."
"Like what?" asked Sam.
"We don't know yet. But everything's getting more active," said Tooth. "That's why we tried to reinforce the houses in Burgess with the sak yant and the dreamsand on the windows. The yan symbols were ones in the Tooth Palace, but we never would have thought of putting them in the rooms of all the kids if Jamie hadn't suggested it."
"How did you know about that, anyway?" Dean asked. "You keep dodging the subject, kid. Pippa said it was some reason she wasn't willing to share because it was personal business of yours."
"I figured you were going to push it with that," said Jamie and he reluctantly held out the book he'd brought from downstairs and had been carrying in his hands. "That's why I went up and got this to show you. Kind of explains itself."
Dean took the leather-bound notebook from Jamie's hands and started thumbing through it. After a few pages, he nudged Sam.
"This is a hunter's journal." He looked back at Jamie. "Kid, where'd you get this?"
"It was my dad's. Apparently, he used to run around hunting monsters before my sister and I were born. He and my uncle Lenny did it together." Jamie's next words were reluctant. "When I started getting into all this stuff with the Guardians, and getting myself into trouble around town, my uncle Lenny found out. He told me the truth about what my dad used to do - and how he died. Not long after my sister was born, my dad freaked out about something local, some monster that had shown up, and he and my uncle went after it. My dad didn't - he didn't make it. My uncle made up some story about their car crashing and that's what me and my mom and sister believed for years until Uncle Lenny told me the truth and gave me my dad's journal. Last year, he told me to be extra careful to hold onto it and gave me the number of some guy named...Bobby, I think, that he told me to call if I ever got into trouble with this kinda stuff. Anyway, that's where I got the idea for the sak yant. And theeen he disappeared. We have no idea what happened to him. Prob'ly the same thing as my dad."
"Small world," said Dean, at the mention of Bobby. He kept looking over the pages of the book - at some of the graphic illustrations and gruesome pictures inside it. "Listen, kid, just because your dad was a hunter, it doesn't mean that's a road you have to go down."
"Who says I want to take up hunting?" Jamie said skeptically.
"...Because monsters killed your dad," Sam said slowly.
"Yeah, because he was so paranoid he went out looking for them since he felt like he had to take them all out first to protect his family. That monster was like towns over and other hunters knew about it. I love him and miss him and I'm proud of him for the good he did, but if he hadn't been so obsessed, we wouldn't have grown up without him."
"So...you don't want to be a hunter?" Sam asked slowly.
"What am I supposed to do," Jamie said skeptically, "take up an obsessive vendetta to kill the thing that killed him?"
Sam and Dean both stood there, shifting in place awkwardly, opening and closing their mouths as they tried to figure out a response.
Jamie snorted. "I've made sure I know enough to protect my family and friends and take down anything in my hometown but I got stuff to do. My home movies aren't going to make themselves. I help out the Guardians sometimes, but that's it."
"Huh," was all Sam could manage to say.
"Besides, I can help fight against those things in other ways. I wanna make scary movies that follow the rules the real monsters do so people learn how to fight them through pop culture. There's other ways to make the world better, you know? Just because I know that stuff's out there doesn't mean I have to make it my life, if that's not the kind of life I want. That'd be pretty crazy, right?"
"...Yes," said Sam quickly. "Crazy. Totally crazy."
Dean opened his mouth to say something that Sam figured might be insulting and Sam jabbed him hard in the ribs to shut him up.
"You're happy, right?" Sam asked him.
Jamie shrugged. "Even though I run into scary stuff sometimes, yeah."
"That's what's important."
At that, Jamie took back his father's journal and smiled, going over to where Jack and Tooth were quietly talking and joining in.
Sam took the opportunity to have a quiet talk with Dean.
"Rose-colored glasses, man," said Dean. "The Guardians might not always be around to protect him. Pretending that stuff isn't out there won't make it go away. Not that it's bad he's turning his back on it, though. If he can, more power to him. He's too young for all this."
"I don't know," said Sam slowly. "That's just it, Dean, I think he's well aware of what's out there. I think maybe he's afraid of it, too. I just think maybe they've taught him to face it so he can live whatever life he wants."
"What good is that, though? The sunshine and daisies and magical fairies and all that? What good is that when all the rest of it is out there?"
"What if...what if what they do is make it so kids are brave enough to face that without forgetting how to be happy? What if they make it so they're protected, and brave enough to protect themselves, without - without giving up, I don't know, a sense of joy?"
Dean looked stymied by that, as if he was having trouble wrapping his head around the possibility.
"Maybe that's the difference," said Sam slowly. "Maybe that's the difference between being a hunter and - and being a guardian."
Silence reigned between the two of them and in that space, rising out of the mists of that emptiness was a truth both of them knew but always tried to ignore.
"Dad did the best he could, you know," said Dean, but the argument was weak, as if he was having more and more trouble believing that himself.
Sam had no answer for that.
All he knew was that one of his happiest childhood memories he had nothing to do with his father. That memory was one that involved his brother, a snowball fight, and a spirit that had apparently cared more about his and his brother's innocence in one moment than his father had in his whole life.
"Is time to say goodbye, Winchesters. We wish you many safe travels," said North.
Jamie's house had been fixed up, Jamie and Sophie had been tucked in for the night, and the Guardians had reassured Sam and Dean they'd keep an eye on things.
The funny thing was...Dean actually believed them. He trusted them. Apparently, the weather forecast was a bit nippy in hell right now.
They were outside the Bennett house in the empty street under a starry sky. It was weird, but somehow, to Dean, the stars seemed a little brighter and when he looked at the full moon above, he got the weirdest sense someone was watching over them.
"Listen, you gumbies," Bunny added gruffly. "You need to watch it when you're out there. There are other myths out there like us just minding their business, not meaning any harm - or even helping in the fight against the nastier things. Make sure you you tone down the friendly fire." He added reluctantly, "That said, anyone that goes after the things that go bump in the night is right with me. Good luck out there. And be careful - there's a storm brewing. Big things are happening. We're not sure what's behind it yet but keep your eyes open."
"Thanks for the warning," said Sam. "Good luck to you, too."
"Ah! I almost forgot. Before you go, there is one more thing," said North, pulling out a sack from the inside of his coat and reaching into it. "We were not able to give you our gifts when you were younger - maybe there is something we can be doing now."
Dean snorted. "I think we're a little old for toys -" Santa pulled something shiny out of the sack and Dean's eyes popped open wide. " - Is that a A.H. Fox HE Grade shotgun?"
Dean took it into his hands eagerly, and then gaped as Santa handed him several boxes of shotgun shells.
"Let's see what else magic sack has for you."
The second thing he pulled out was a pie. A crisp, absolutely beautiful apple pie. It was in a box emblazoned with the name "Bramby's."
"That was the best pie I ever had," Dean said eagerly, stuffing the ammo in his jacket pockets and eagerly taking the pie from North. "Little place in Alabama. Closed down in '98."
"And for you, Sam..." said North, reaching in. He pulled out a very fancy-looking laptop.
"This - this isn't even on the market yet," Sam said, eagerly taking the laptop in his hands.
"Ah ah ah! That's not the only thing."
Now he pulled out a musty leather-bound book.
"A copy of Grabon's Guide to Myths and Spirits! I've been looking for a copy for years!"
"Is just a little something, since we could not give you such gifts when you were young. Least that can be done is giving you something now."
They meant it. Dean could read the sincerity on their faces like it was scrawled all over them in permanent ink. They meant it, they meant good will, they felt compassion - and if they were as old as they said they were, that compassion had endured. They had endured. They might still endure, even if the world got dimmer and the nights got longer.
"Thanks," Dean said unsteadily. "Jack, uh, sorry about everything, kid. Keep fighting the good fight."
"You too," Jack said, all hard feelings seemingly having evaporated in the light of the moon.
"Be careful out there," Sam said to them, and when he and Dean walked way, Dean could see the smile on his brother's face.
As the Guardians took off in the sleigh, Jack looked down at the brothers, fading away to small figures on the street below.
"It kind of scares me, knowing they're out there. I almost bit it because of them." He drew in a deep breath. "And yet it's reassuring at the same time. It's weird."
"You did not die," North said. "Think of what such a thing means, Jack, that there are good men and women out there in the world fighting against the dark. Ones that take a moment to pause when they think they are doing wrong. They may be the ones we could not save, that have very little light left in their hearts, yet they still fight."
"If anything happens to us, mate, they'll still be out there," Bunny pointed out. "They'll still be fighting. Even if there aren't any Guardians, they'll still be trying to guard themselves."
"And just like there are things they don't stand a chance against that we handle, think about the things that could destroy us that only humans can fight," Tooth pointed out. "
Sandy tried to say something complicated with his sand symbols, but Jack couldn't quite understand it.
"Sorry, Sandy, not really understanding you, buddy."
North translated, "Sandy is saying the world needs Guardians, Jack, but it sometimes needs those who can walk in shadow without being corrupted by the dark."
Jack nodded slowly, taking all that into consideration. Then his eyes got a little glassy as he thought back.
"They were such sweet kids. I mean, you could tell they were siblings a mile off, with how much they loved each other. It stuck out in my head, made me - made me almost-remember things," Jack said, hands gripping his staff more firmly. "I knew something was wrong with their dad leaving them alone. I wish I could've done more back then than giving them a snowball fight."
"Jack, if there's one thing I've learned from protecting the memories of the children, it's that sometimes one good memory is all it takes to make someone's life better. Sometimes it's all it takes to save them. You did what even we couldn't," Tooth said gently. "And aside from that, maybe...maybe tonight you did more than you realize."
"So," Dean said slowly, as they made their way back to the Impala, arms full of back-due presents. "This is new. And weird as hell."
"Yeah," said Sam, and his smile wasn't going away. There was the sound of jingling bells and they both turned to see the silhouette of sleigh, drawn by reindeer, passing in front of the moon. "Sometimes new is a good thing, though."
Dean grinned as he opened the trunk and carefully placed the shotgun and rounds inside. He was still grinning as he hopped into the Impala, placing the pie in the backseat.
"Man, Santa had some bitchin' tats, didn't he?" said Dean as he started up the car.
The Impala revved to life like the beautiful beast it was, and like it always did, it roared off into the night.
Only day was breaking now, and to Dean and Sam Winchester, somehow the dawn seemed just a little bit brighter.