November 11, 2006 (Sam is 23, Dean is 27, Alba is 5)
“I don’t know if I want to get mixed up in all this, Sammy,” Dean says later that night, after dinner.
“I don’t know if you have a choice, Dean,” Sam responds, and gestures behind Dean to where a small Alba is sitting on the bed, naked knees to chest, regarding them warily, like an injured animal. “Hey, Alba,” he says, using the calming voice he uses on the reticent survivors of the creatures they hunt. “When are you coming from?”
“January fifth. 2007.” Her lower lip trembles. Dean produces a t-shirt for her to wear. “Thanks, Dean.”
“Today’s the eleventh of November, 2006. We just met you for the first time, actually… Alba, what’s wrong?”
Tears have begun to stream down her face, silent but torrential. “I… I…” She inhales unsteadily. Her face contorts with uncertainty and overwhelming sadness. Sam’s heart breaks a little.
And then he understands. “Alba. It’s okay. Whatever it is… I know it hasn’t happened yet, for us, but you can tell us. We won’t tell you. The other you.” He sits next to her on the bed, gathers her in his arms. She begins to sob, and Sam feels her ribcage jerkily expand and contract as he rubs her back, back and forth, soothingly. Dean is a statue on the other bed.
When, several minutes later, Alba takes a deep breath and wails, “My—my daddy!” Dean gets up and walks out of the room.
Sam ignores the tear sliding down his own cheek. “Yeah… hey, hey, it’s okay. Do you want to go see him?” But Alba vehemently shakes her head no, burrowing further into Sam’s chest, if such a thing is even possible.
After a while, the sobs subside. “Sorry,” she says, but it’s barely a whisper.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” he murmurs into the top of her head. “So, hey—are you hungry? Want anything?”
“Will you tell me a story?”
Sam doesn’t know any stories with happy endings.
He makes one up.
- - -
December 10, 2006 (Sam is 23, Henry is 30)
Sam is at the Newberry Library, looking for some mythology book from approximately eight million years ago that Bobby told him about. The chupacabra’s been dealt with, and a ghost in New Mexico, but now there’s something else in Chicago, not too far from the current DeTamble residence. Dean thinks it has something to do with The Demon—and that’s how they refer to it, capitalized and fire in their eyes—but Sam’s not so sure about anything.
The books in the stacks, however, are not receiving his full attention. He can hear someone moving through the stacks, stealthily but loudly enough to catch the attention of someone with eighteen-plus years of John Winchester’s training under his belt.
“Hello?” Sam calls quietly, but then feels foolish. Nevertheless, when he bends over to look at the spine of a book, there are eyes staring back at him through the stacks. He is startled for a moment, but realizes he recognizes them. The hair at the temples is too black, and the eyes are missing some wrinkles, but they’re the same eyes.
The eyes narrow. “Do I know you?”
Fuck. “Um, yeah, you… helped me find a book once. Is there a reason you’re hiding?” Henry shouldn’t be here in 2006, and if he is, he should be in a wheelchair.
“Lost your clothes? Come on, dude. You’re not foolin’ anyone. I… know someone with your thing. The time-traveling thing. Today’s the tenth of December, 2006, by the way.”
Henry, thankfully, knows how to go with things. Must be a survival skill, Sam thinks off-handedly. Sam puts the pack with the change of clothes at the end of the row, then turns his back while Henry dons his favorite jeans.
They sit in a corner, a small alcove where no one ever goes, at least according to Henry.
“So I’m assuming that by ‘you helped me find a book once’ you mean ‘I know you in the present, which is actually your future.’”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Sam chuckles a little bit. “At least this explains the other night…”
“I don’t want to know.” Henry shakes his head, smiling ruefully.
“No, I guess you don’t… so you worked here?”
“Without arguing verb tenses, yes. I worked here.”
“Want to help me find a book? I need information about mythological stuff that’s related to Chicago or to the area in general.”
“Oh yeah, sure…”
Henry leads Sam cautiously through Special Collections, to several dusty and unwieldy tomes of thick calligraphy on thick parchment. Sam thanks Henry and dives into his research, and barely notices when Henry disappears, leaving Sam’s clothing behind.
- - -
December 11, 2006 (Sam is 23, Dean is 27, Alba is 5, and 16)
The next night, they go to the DeTamble residence for dinner. Sam’s been on the phone with Clare every few days or so, checking in. He gets the sense that Clare could use a friend, that Henry’s not doing so well. Clare tells him about her family, Meadowlark House and the Reading Room, her latest sculpture, Alba’s latest adventures. He tells her about his mother, and hunting, and ignores the disapproving looks Dean gives him.
Sometimes Clare puts Alba on, and she tells him about a book Daddy read her or her latest adventure, how she played a trick on Mama by going back an hour, two Albas wreaking havoc in the kitchen.
“So what brings you guys back to Chicago?” Clare asks over their pesto. It is delicious; Dean compliments her, but he isn’t trying to charm her. Sam isn’t sure whether to be relieved or even more anxious.
Sam’s eyes flash to Dean before he answers. “There’s a… thing… somewhere around here. One of those things we look for.” He keeps it vague, because Alba is young.
“We, uh… think it might be related to the thing we’re really looking for,” Dean says. Clare nods understandingly.
“What are you talking about?” Alba whines.
“Nothing, Alba. So, uh, Henry. I saw you yesterday. At the library?”
Henry furrows his brow, then remembers. “Oh, yeah! Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Yeah,” Sam says. “That book really helped.”
“So, you guys are at a motel again?”
“Yeah, it’s around here,” Dean answers.
“You should stay here! Like a sleepover!” Alba says, dark eyes sparkling.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Dean responds. Henry and Clare share a look of amusement. Sam scratches the back of his head.
“Well, why not?”
“Well, for one thing, your Mama and Daddy haven’t said it’s okay.”
“It’s not like we don’t have the room,” Henry starts.
Clare finishes. “And Alba would love it.”
“Oh, no, ma’am. We’d hate to impose.”
“Please?” Alba draws out the ‘e,’ lower lip trembling, but Dean withstood years of Sam’s puppy-dog face, and his put Alba’s to shame.
“Maybe some other time,” Sam interjects quickly.
Alba shrugs and grins. “Worth a shot.”
After dessert, Alba tugs Sam and Henry away, and Dean offers to help Clare clean up.
“So, you think the Demon’s up to something around here?”
“We’re not really sure, honestly. We’ve been here before, a couple of times, due to supernatural beings… But as far as I know, we’ve never been anywhere else more than twice. And a big evil like the Demon would attract smaller things...”
“Like pilot fish,” Clare interjects.
It takes Dean off-guard. “Yeah,” he nods, smiles a little, holds his hand out to dry the plate she’s just finished washing. “But at the same time, we’ve run into this thing in Kansas, Indiana, California… hundreds of miles away. Nothing can be that far from its source. Sam’s thinking maybe it’s a trucker that it’s haunting, or an airline pilot… someone who travels.”
“That makes sense… what about a piece of machinery, too? A truck, or a plane?”
“Could be that, too. I know I’m damn attached to my car.”
Clare smiles. “But you think you might be based in Chicago for awhile?”
“Maybe.” Dean rubs his neck. “I mean, I think Sammy wants to stay, at least for a few more days, even after we get this thing. And God knows we could keep making day trips to hunt, at least for awhile. Anyway… you’re an artist, right?”
“Yeah. I’m a sculptor.”
“That’s where the money to buy this place came from? I mean, not to be rude, but this is a million-dollar house, easily.”
Clare’s lips quirk. “Actually, we won the lottery. We have about six-point-five million dollars.”
Dean’s eyebrows skyrocket.
“Let us buy you an apartment.” Dean opens his mouth to refuse, but Clare cuts him off. “No, seriously. Motel-hopping is a serious drain on the finances and I’m willing to bet that hunting evil is not the most lucrative business. Please, Dean.”
“I, uh. I gotta talk it over with Sammy,” Dean lies. “Can I use your restroom?”
“Yeah,” she gives him directions. They take him out past the living room, where Alba is ensconced on Sam’s lap as Henry reads them a story. Sam looks nearly as entranced by it as Alba. Dean ignores them, goes upstairs, wanders down a hallway. It’s all so freakin’ weird. He’s just trying to clear his head.
Instead he runs smack into a teenaged Alba, clad in what Dean assumes are her mother’s pajamas. Fuck.
“When am I?”
“December 11, 2006.”
“Fuck.” She slumps, closing her eyes.
“What?” He eyes her, vaguely concerned but also wary.
“This! You! I fucking hate coming back here, Dean. It wasn’t so bad when I was little, but now I understand. You don’t like me now, and I don’t know why.” She freezes momentarily, shushes him when he starts to speak, rolls her eyes when he has the nerve to look affronted. “Shhh, in here.” She pulls him into a guest room, plops down on one of two twin beds. He sits on the other, facing her.
“If you hate it so much, why do you keep coming back?”
“You and Sam changed my life. Meeting you guys… changed everything. I can only control where and when I go sometimes, especially when it takes me by surprise. Which it sometimes does. And then I end up here, with you looking at me like… like you don’t know me. Which you don’t, but you do. I just…” She blinks back tears. When he doesn’t respond, she curls up on her side, facing away from him, staring at the blank blue wall.
“Hey. Look, I’m sorry. I’m trying, here. It’s just… I meet you and suddenly I’m part of your family, and now your mom wants to buy us a friggin’ apartment.”
Alba sits up quickly, catlike. Mirroring his body language, she speaks. Her voice is low but vehement, and Dean gets that she’s trying to keep her downstairs self from hearing. Her dark eyes are fiery, but the rest of her demeanor is earnest. “Let her, Dean. What are you gonna do otherwise? Keep running credit card scams for the rest of your live, living motel to motel? Don’t give me that look. Don’t think I don’t know. Sammy and I talk. This is so much better, Dean. It’s mostly legit, as far as I understand—more legit than the shit you pull, anyway—and then you can spend less time making up fake names, filling out paperwork, and more time killing evil shit. We’re never gonna touch the bulk of that money, even if I decide I want twelve Ph.D.s, which I don’t. I think two will be good.” She cracks a smile. Dean doesn’t. “We might as well put it to some use.”
Dean looks away stonily, unseeing. Alba stiffens momentarily, then rises, closes the gap and stands between his legs, looking down at him. He doesn’t respond. “Oh, Dean. I feel like such an asshole. But I get it, now. This isn’t about the money, is it? I’m taking your brother.”
He closes his eyes but otherwise gives no indication he’s heard. Sixteen, blind and raw like a newborn kitten, knowing this isn’t her Dean and not caring, she palms his cheek, turns his face toward her. Unexpectedly, miraculously, he lets her. He doesn’t pull away while she speaks. “Dean, I’m not trying to take him. You have to believe me. And you’ll have me, you will, and Mama— Mama loves you, even already. And that little girl downstairs loves you. You are so badass, Dean, and you drive the coolest car she’s ever seen.”
He chuckles slightly at that. “Yeah.” His voice is gruff. He swallows hard. “Yeah.” He hangs his head, pulls it back up. “Hey. Alba. I’m… I mean…”
“I know. And we never need to talk about this again. Actually, it’s probably better if we don’t.”
She grins, and then she is gone.
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