Sam's the first one to see her the next time she shows up. They're having breakfast on their way out of
"Hi, Dean." She's wearing a purple nightgown, and he guesses she's about nine.
"Hey, Alba, long time no see.” It’s actually only been a matter of months, for him, but he’s guessing it’s been longer for her. “Wanna sit?" He slides over to let her climb up beside him on the seat.
"Um, Dean . . .?" Sam is looking back and forth between Dean and Alba uncertainly.
"Oh, sorry, Sam." Dean flashes a grin, enjoying his brother's bewilderment. "This is--"
"You're Sam? I'm Alba." She thrusts her hand out over the table at Sam, smiling.
"Uh, hi, Alba.” Sam’s face is a live broadcast of the questions he’d like to be asking right now, but he shakes Alba’s hand. “Nice to meet you."
She gives him a big smile, then turns to Dean. "Can I have some of your hash browns?"
"You can have your very own and leave mine alone, thank you very much." Dean waves their waiter over. "The lady would like an order of hash browns."
"And hot chocolate!" Alba chirps.
"And a hot chocolate," Dean confirms. "And a refill on the coffee would be great, when you have a minute." The waiter departs, and Dean turns back to find Sam in full-on puzzled frown mode. Dean just takes another bite of his breakfast, enjoying himself too much to offer an explanation just yet.
Sam, apparently seeing plainly in Dean's expression that he isn't going to be getting any answers from that quarter, turns to the small girl who is watching him with interest and says, "So, Alba, how did you meet Dean?"
"He helped me once, when I was little. I was six," she adds helpfully, to clarify what she means by “little.”
"Uh-huh. How did Dean help you when you were little?"
Dean tries to answer that one, but Alba beats him to it.
"My hand was hurt and he made sure it wasn’t broken and gave me aspirin. We stole clothes for me to wear and he got me dinner and ice for my hand and then he let me sleep in his bed."
"Really?" Sam gives her a bright smile, which he then turns on Dean, eyebrows raised as high as they will go, even though he can’t possibly think it was really anything like that. "Picking 'em up a little young there, Dean."
Dean does not even dignify this with a response, choosing instead to give Alba a dirty look. She returns it with a smile so guileless it could stand alone as proof of guilt, then laughs and turns back to Sam.
"I needed help because I'd just started time traveling, and I wasn’t very good at it yet."
Sam gives her a long minute to qualify the statement, and when she doesn't, he just says, "Okay," in the voice that means he doesn't know where this is going yet, but is prepared to go along for the ride.
Alba frowns at him, then turns to Dean, looking slightly indignant. “You didn’t tell him about me and how I time travel?”
“Um, no? It never really came up.”
She rolls her eyes, clearly wondering how he ties his own shoes every morning without help.
“Dean . . .?” Sam’s frown has gone from puzzled to seriously-in-need-of-an-explanation, with a side of starting-to-get-a-little-concerned.
Dean turns back to him and spreads his hands as if showing all his cards. “Alba’s a time traveler.” There.
“Uh . . .” Sam just blinks at him, not looking any less uneasy.
“I travel in time and space, actually," Alba adds. "I can't control when it happens, or where I end up, and I can't take anything with me, so sometimes I end up hurt or in trouble. Well, I did when I was little. I’m better at it now." She shrugs and gives Dean a quick smile. "Dean found me once, when I had just started time traveling, and sort of took care of me until I went back home, and I used to run into him sometimes for a while.”
Sam looks hard at Alba for a minute, then at Dean, who shrugs a confirmation. Sam shakes his head, and turns back to Alba. "Time travel."
"Yep, it’s genetic. My daddy does it, too." Alba replies. Her food arrives, and while the waiter is pouring fresh coffees, she busies herself pouring ketchup for her hash browns. Sam just keeps giving Dean the incredulous, seriously, what the hell? look, so when the waiter leaves again, Dean puts down his fork and folds his hands on the table, trying for serious.
"Look, man, I didn't know what to make of it at first, either, but she keeps showing up at random times and places, and she's always the same kid, but she's all over the map age-wise, and sometimes she’ll remember things before they happen. I saw her last year, and she remembered meeting you, now. So unless you've got some other explanation . . ."
Alba looks up from her hash browns with interest. "How old was I when you saw me last year?"
"Twelve. It was your birthday."
"In your time, or mine?"
Sam, observing this exchange, looks like he might be getting a headache. Dean decides that he likes watching someone else be baffled by this stuff for a change.
Alba says, “Hm,” and then there’s a few moments of conversational lull while she takes huge slurps of her hot chocolate. She looks back up when she’s drained it halfway, and asks, “So where are we?”
“A while, I think.” She narrows her eyes at nothing, as if listening for something she can’t quite hear. “Most of a day, maybe.”
“So you’re stuck here until you go back to your own time and place?” asks Sam, evidently coming to terms with the whole time travel thing, at least enough to start asking questions.
“Mm-hm,” Alba replies, nodding.
“Where—and when—is your own time and place?”
Sam blinks. “So right now, you’re here, but you’re also four years younger in
“Yes. That’s Little Alba.”
Sam smiles a little at that. “Whereas you’re Big Alba?”
“Here, I am. Sometimes I’m the Little Alba, but not usually when I time travel. That mostly happens when an older Alba travels to my time.”
“So you run into . . .yourself? A lot?”
“Sometimes. It’s nice. Like having a sister. My daddy says he taught himself to pick pockets that way.”
Apparently that’s a little too much for Sam to absorb quickly, because instead of asking another question, he just keeps looking at Alba with a sort of half-baked smile on his face, brain working away at the concept of teaching one’s self something via time travel. The waiter arriving with the check and leaving with Dean’s credit card seems to remind him of his food for the first time since Alba’s arrival, and he starts finishing it off distractedly.
“So, Alba.” Dean swallows the last bite of his own breakfast. “What do you do when you’re stuck somewhere and don’t have me to mooch off of?”
She giggles and shrugs. “Whatever looks interesting. Once I have clothes, I don’t really have anything to do until I go home.” She takes a final gulp of her hot chocolate and pushes her empty mug and plate away.
“So you don’t go around righting wrongs and averting disaster with your crazy time traveling powers?”
Another eyeroll. “I’m nine. And anyway, my mama says it doesn’t work that way.”
That makes Sam laugh, for some reason. Dean’s credit card comes back, he signs the slip with a flourish, and turns to find Alba already sliding off the seat to let him get up.
“What are we going to do, now?” she asks. Dean shares a shrug with Sam and with that, we means all three of them for the day. They head for the door to the parking lot, Alba half jogging to keep up with them.
“How’s heading west until we hit the 81 sound?”
“Does the 81 go anywhere with ice cream?”
“You just had hot chocolate,” Dean points out.
“But later, we could get ice cream,” Alba insists, and Dean catches Sam giving him a truly annoying grin over her head. When they get to the edge of the asphalt, Alba puts her arms out in a silent, imperious demand to be carried, and Sam’s grin just gets bigger when Dean complies wordlessly, letting her clamber on piggy-back, fingers locking less than comfortably around his throat. When they’ve reached the car and stowed Alba in the back seat, Sam vents his amusement in a snort of laughter.
“You are totally the kid’s bitch.”
About twenty minutes after they hit the highway, Alba falls asleep keeled over on the back seat. Dean reaches back and throws one of Sam’s sweatshirts over her, tucking the edges underneath her between glances at the road, and just rolls his eyes resignedly when this makes Sam start chortling again.
She wakes up again a few hours later, demanding to know when it will be lunchtime.
“Do you do anything besides sleep and eat?” Dean asks.
“Yes.” She’s sulky, still waking up.
“Two more hours, then we’ll stop for lunch.”
“I’m hungry now.”
“Here you go, Alba,” Sam says, passing her a Snickers from their last convenience store stop.
“Thank you, Sam.” She gives his brother a huge smile, and Dean can’t decide if the bemused smile Sam gives her back is more funny or irritating.
By the time they do stop for lunch, she’s wheedled potato chips, Oreos, and a Slim Jim out of Sam, too, and when Dean reaches to scoop her out of the car, she says it’s Sam’s turn to carry her. He looks almost embarrassed when he picks her up, but then he breaks into an impulsive grin and spins her around twice, fast, before heading toward the diner. She gives a shriek of laughter into his shoulder, and Sam actually blushes a little.
“Now who’s the kid’s bitch?” Dean whispers, not really caring that Alba hears him and laughs harder.
After inhaling a cheeseburger the size of her own head and stealing half of Dean’s fries—despite the fact that Sam’s fries are closer, since she’s sitting next to him—Alba again demands ice cream.
“You’ve had hot chocolate, cookies, and a candy bar already,” Dean protests, wondering when he became the mom in this equation. By his smirk, Sam is having thoughts along the same lines.
“Sam wants ice cream, too,” Alba announces, and when Sam just keeps smirking at him, Dean throws up his hands in defeat and waves their waitress over. They split a sundae three ways, and Alba gets the cherry from the top.
Back on the road, Alba rummages through his tapes and tells him to put on the Ramones, and Dean has to bite down on the urge to tell her to say please, damnit. Alba sings along for five tracks before suddenly falling silent in the middle of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Sam turns around to stare at the back seat, where Dean knows a purple nightgown is lying next to his cassette tape collection. After a minute, Sam turns back around and huffs a small laugh.
“Dude. Time travel,” is all he says, his voice hushed and thoughtful.
“Yeah, I know,” replies Dean. “Not quite Delorean-style, though.”
Sam just stares out at the road, eyes far away.
“Don’t think about it too hard, Sammy,” Dean says. “Besides, you heard the kid, it doesn’t work that way.”
“Yeah,” Sam sighs.
After his dad dies, Dean gets moved out of ICU. He tries to convince the doctors to check him out completely, but apparently they are just freaked enough by his “miraculous” recovery that they want to keep him one more night “for observation.” He’s too exhausted to really fight them on the issue. Anyway, what’s another night in the hospital when getting out will just mean having to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of his life?
It’s the middle of the night when she walks into his room.
Both of her.
“Dean?” The six-year-old version pads up to his bed, eyes wide, rousing him out of the grim not-quite sleep he’d fallen into. He blinks at her, and at the tall, teenaged version behind her.
“Okay, that’s just weird,” he finally manages. The younger Alba—Little Alba—climbs up onto his bed and sits leaning against his hip.
“Did you hurt your head?” She stretches a small hand out toward the cut on his forehead, but her older self steps forward and takes her hand before she can reach far enough.
“Don’t touch, Alba, Dean’s hurt,” the teenager admonishes. She looks as old as he’s ever seen her, sixteen or maybe even older. She picks Little Alba up and perches on the edge of the bed, settling her younger self in her own lap. They’re wearing matching scrubs, both in more or less appropriate sizes. Dean just looks at them for a minute, both gazing seriously at him out of identical pairs of eyes, and he almost chuckles.
“So,” he wets his lips and tries for a smile. “Big Alba and Little Alba.” All he needs is the twelve-year-old with unraveling braids and he’d have a complete set.
“What happened to you, Dean?” asks the six-year-old, and he sees the teenager flinch minutely. It’s the flinch that makes him say what he does, instead of what he meant to, in reply.
“My dad’s dead.” He’s looking at the teenager, not the child, when he says it. She looks away, ducking her head in something that’s not quite a nod and not quite anything else.
“Oh.” Little Alba cranes to look behind her at her older self’s face, and then turns back to him, looking confused. Dean keeps staring at the older one, who is gazing at her feet.
“You knew.” He finally says, and he’s pretty sure he sounds calm and reasonable when he says it. “That day in
“Dean?” The six-year-old is getting distressed, fretting at her scrubs, and Dean thinks of her making the same worried motions with the skirt of a borrowed cotton dress. That night must be only months or weeks ago for her. For him, it’s been two years and several lifetimes. He fixes the teenager with his hardest stare.
She still won’t look at him, and her voice is muffled in the hair of her younger self. “I knew. I’m sorry.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It wouldn’t have done any good.” She doesn’t sound like she expects him to buy the answer, and he doesn’t.
“It wouldn’t,” she insists, turning to face him over the top of Little Alba’s head. Her eyes are sad, but set. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“You can’t possibly know that for sure.”
“I’m sorry, Dean.”
“You told me Sam would come back, why not tell me this?”
“Because you would have tried to stop it,” she sighs.
“Damnit, I would have . . .of course I would have . . .”
“And it wouldn’t have worked, and it would only make things worse. For you.”
“Do you even know what you’re talking about?” he asks, voice low but fierce. “Do you have any idea what happened?”
“No, and you’re not going to tell me,” she says, looking grave. “I just know that there’s nothing you could have done. That’s not the way it works.”
“Bull. Shit.” He bites the ends off the words with quiet fury.
“I’m sorry,” she says again, and there are tears in her voice but not in her eyes.
“I could have . . .I could have . . .” He chokes the word off, looks away, because he’s not even sure what he was going to say, and it’s suddenly impossible to say another word without shouting, and the last thing he needs is the night nurse in here.
In the silence that follows, the sound of a six-year-old trying to cry without making a sound is suddenly deafening. Dean squeezes his eyes shut for a long, long time, hoping that when he opens them, both versions of Alba will have disappeared back to a future where his dad has already been dead for years. When he finally does open his eyes, the child is sniffling into the teenager’s shoulder, and the teenager is watching him, eyes calm and face composed except for the tears shining on it.
“Alba,” he croaks, suddenly exhausted. He rubs his face with his hands and then holds his arms out to her with a tired sigh. “Alba, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
Little Alba turns on him, face red, and spits, “Bullshit.”
He doesn’t know he’s laughing until the older Alba starts laughing with him, both of them chortling almost silently. Fresh tears run down the teenager’s cheeks, but she’s smiling as she swipes at them.
“Seriously, Alba, I’m really sorry.”
Little Alba leans uncertainly away from her older self, but doesn’t move beyond that, eyeing him mistrustfully and hiccupping.
He holds his arms out again, trying to smile and almost succeeding. “C’mere, barefoot girl.”
It takes a nudge from her older self, but the six-year-old crawls out of her own arms and nestles herself awkwardly on top of the sheets between his arm and his side, small head searching for a resting place on his shoulder. After another minute of hiccupping, she takes a deep breath and relaxes, reaching one hand to hold onto the collar of his shirt. He sighs and closes his eyes again.
“How’s Sam?” asks the girl still perched on the edge of his bed. When he opens his eyes, she’s back to not looking at him.
“Sam’s . . .Sam is Sam,” Dean replies wearily, not sure what else to say.
Alba nods, and for a long time they’re silent, all three of them. Little Alba’s breathing gets shallower and steadier, Alba the teenager considers her hands in her lap, and Dean looks at the ceiling. The warmth of the little girl falling asleep on his shoulder bleeds through the hospital sheets, and he moves his head so that his chin touches her forehead. He’s pretty sure she’s been asleep for at least ten minutes when older Alba speaks again.
“I didn’t say ‘hello’ to you, that day in the diner with the coffee.” At first he has no idea what she means, and it must show on his face, because she glances up at him, then away again, and adds, “That one time when you paid for my coffee. That was your dad there with you, wasn’t it?”
He remembers then, and says, “Yeah. Yeah, that was him.”
“I thought so.” She nods. “That’s why I didn’t try to talk to you even though I was there the whole time you were. I thought . . .You only had so much time with him, I didn’t want to make you waste any of it on me.”
He doesn’t reply, just shuts his eyes.
“Dean, I’m sorry.”
“I know.” He can’t quite work up anything more than that, so that will have to do.
“It’s better this way. You couldn’t have changed anything.”
“At least I would have known.” He speaks softly, eyes still closed.
“Knowing doesn’t make it any easier. That much I do know for sure. My mother knew . . .with my dad.”
He opens his eyes, but she’s still not looking at him, so he goes back to examining the ceiling. The warmth against his side is suddenly gone, and his chin is no longer resting against a little girl’s forehead. He sighs, and Alba makes a small noise as if in reply.
“I’ll only be here another minute myself.”
“Hey, Alba, I’m sorry.” He doesn’t know what prompts him to add another apology to the night’s tally, but he does.
“It’s okay,” she says, and though he’s still looking at the ceiling, he thinks maybe she’s smiling at him. A moment later the mattress shifts as Alba’s weight suddenly leaves it and the quiet room goes even quieter.
She’s already in the motel room with Sam when he gets back from the pool hall. She’s wearing one of Dean’s shirts and a pair of Sam’s boxers, and when Dean asks later, Sam says that she’s fifteen on this visit. She and Sam are sitting facing each other on the beds, looking serious.
“Dean!” Alba grins, jumps up from the bed, and bounds halfway across the room before faltering to a stop, looking suddenly uncertain. “How . . .how are you?”
“I told her about Dad,” Sam explains, and Dean realizes that he never told Sam about his last night in the hospital.
“I’m really sorry,” she says, her back to Sam and her eyes wide.
“Yeah, me, too,” he sighs. She keeps looking at him with those huge eyes, and he finds himself smiling ruefully, and shaking his head at the unspoken question in them. “It’s good to see you again, Alba.” He holds out an arm and she darts under it to hug him with a relieved laugh.
“I’m glad you got back when you did,” she says, pulling out of the hug and smiling up at him. “I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see you this time, I’m just about to—” And poof. Dean picks the shirt and boxers up off the floor and tosses the latter to Sam.
“So how long were you fraternizing with the time traveling jailbait while I was gone?”
Sam gives him a token chuckle and replies, “She showed up almost as soon as you left. We ordered Chinese and she ate almost as much as that day in
A three-hour good chat between Sammy and the girl who insists that time travel ‘doesn’t work that way.’ Great. “What’d you kids talk about?”
“Just stuff,” Sam says easily, standing up. “I’m gonna shower before bed. If you want, there’s still a little food left over.”
Dean picks over the array of mostly-empty paper containers while Sam showers noisily, taking a bite here and there and nursing a sense of annoyance with Sam, Alba, time travel, and the way the world works. He throws away the fortune cookies on principle.
“Holy . . .” Dean is seeing the piece of scaffolding sticking out of the guy’s chest with his own eyes, and he’s still not sure he believes it. There’s just no way that just happened. One minute he’s chasing the creep from Sam’s crazy—and, it turns out, accurate—angel-spirit-sign thing, and the next minute, the guy is stabbed through the heart with a freaking pole that just fell off a truck . . .
He glances around for the truck and finds it still stopped in the middle of the intersection, perpendicular to the direction in which it had been traveling when statistics or karma or frigging divine will hit. He glances back at the car with the pole sticking out its windshield one more time, and then jogs to the truck. The driver is staring over his shoulder at the destruction, eyes wide with shock.
“What happened?” Dean asks.
The guys doesn’t look at him, even when he answers. “I . . .don’t know, I just . . .” He glances back behind him in the direction his truck had been traveling. “I was trying . . .There was a kid . . .I didn’t . . .Oh my God.” Dean frowns and looks over the guy’s shoulder at the empty road.
“You said you saw a kid? In the road?”
“I thought, for a minute . . .Should I call 911?” the driver queries weakly.
“I think it’s kinda late for that,” Dean replies absently, scowling at the stretch of road he can see through the truck’s windows.
“Oh my God,” the guys says again, and he sounds ready to faint. Dean leaves him still staring at the wreck and walks around the truck to pace along the line of trees bordering the road on the other side of the intersection. He tosses a look behind him, and then squints into the underbrush.
“Alba?” he calls softly, not sure if he wants an answer or not.
“What happened?” Her voice carries an edge of panic, and comes from somewhere to his right. He takes a few steps in that direction, pulling off his jacket. “Did I get someone hurt?”
“Uh . . .sort of, but . . .it’s okay.” He starts struggling out of his overshirt. “Where are you?”
“Right here,” she replies, and she still sounds panicked, but he can hear her moving in the shadows right in front of him. He takes a few steps under the trees, out of the light from the street lamp, and holds the shirt out, looking back over his shoulder at the road. She takes it, and after a moment, her hand slips into his, though she makes no move to come further into the light, and neither does he.
“You okay?” He can’t see her very well in the semi-darkness under the trees, but he can tell by height and voice that she’s the twelve-year-old, peanut butter and honey Alba, from that day on the side of the road.
“I guess so. Not really.” She takes a step toward the road, peering through the trees at the intersection. “Dean, what did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything, Alba, it’s . . .it’s really okay.” He’s already trying to think of a way to get her to his car without the guy in the truck seeing her. “How long are you here?”
“Hardly at all, just a few minutes, I think. Dean, I think the man in that car is hurt.”
“Alba, just come back here where no one can see you, okay?” He pulls her back by the hand still holding his. “It’s alright, I swear.”
“Are you sure? I think I caused an accident.”
“It . . .I don’t think it was an accident.”
He can feel her looking at him, even if it’s hard to see her face. She has his hand in both of hers, now, and he can feel her shaking a little, probably from the adrenaline run-off of nearly being hit by a truck.
“You okay?” he asks again.
“If you say so,” she replies, with a creditable attempt at a laugh, given the circumstances.
“Then yeah, you’re okay.”
“Okay.” She takes a long, steady breath and lets it out again, then stiffens slightly.
“Back to the future?” he asks.
“Yeah. Any second.”
“Well, take care of it for me, huh? I want it in good shape when I get there.”
She laughs, and this time it’s a little more real. “I wi—”
He catches his shirt before it hits the ground thinking it doesn’t work that way, and turns back toward the road.
Notes of possible interest:
A few people have asked about sequels and while I don't anticipate writing any more Dean-and-Alba fic of this size, I do have one or two smaller one-shots in the works. They'll be posted to all the same comms as this was if and when they actually happen. ETA: And Sings the Tune Without the Words is now available for those who thought Dean could use a little Alba after the events of "On the Head of a Pin."
If you're interested in seeing what a fussy tangle of timelines my brain was while I was writing this fic, I have photographic evidence of my insanity available.