A/N: Written for spn_summergen 2009 for extraonions. Title taken from The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone." As always, feedback is love. ETA: Gah, I forgot how ff dot net is apparently opposed to email addresses and most generic formatting techniques, so I apologize for the rather crappy way the email exchanges are formatted here. I had to go through and manually rework it - I decided that I'd spell out the addresses the first time and then just use everybody's names to designate.

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It's been two months, eight days, four hours, and twenty five minutes since Sammy said to hell with this, shouldered his duffel, and slammed the door against Dad's, "You walk out that door, don't you ever come back!" and your silent, jaw-clenched disbelief.

Twenty five minutes. Four hours. Eight days. Two months.

You count it backwards and forwards in countless empty motel rooms, or during each lonely bloodbath you find yourself facing some unknowable evil with neither Dad's certain righteousness or Sammy's sharp attention to detail to back you up. The months, the days, the hours, the minutes – they bleed into one another, seep through your very being, virulent and turbulent and a million other vocabulary words you never memorized back in eleventh grade lit.

Sammy's gone, taken his floppy hair and smartass mouth and too-long legs with him. On long trips that Dad now plows silently through, stern gaze fixed on the road, white-knuckled grip on the wheel never relaxing for a moment, you close your eyes and pretend you can feel Sam's nobbly knees digging into the back of your seat.

Every once in awhile, it works, and you sleep, head lolling against the window, just like old times.


You've reached Sam Winchester at 572-431-9680. Leave a message.

Hi, Sammy.

I just wanted to…well. You know. Just—

Voicemail box full. Please hang up, and try again.

We're sorry. The number you have dialed is either temporarily out of service, or has been disconnected.


When Dad buys a truck and wordlessly gives you the Impala's keys, your heart bottoms out sickeningly. It can only mean one thing.

When he starts taking off alone, which is often, he doesn't really look at you when he leaves. He always pauses before he gets to the door, hesitates, hand hovering over the knob, back turned fully on you.

"Take care of the Impala," he'll grunt. The door will open, and two steps later, he's vanished, a disturbingly final slam the only sign he'd ever been there at all.

Every time Dad leaves, you think it's the last time you'll see him in one piece.

You're left sitting on thin, ratty mattresses clutching the keys to the family home, musing on how the only thing in your life that's never left you is pieced together out of sleek black metal and leather, and you don't cry.

Finding stuff that needs killing is so much easier.


November 8th, 2002

From: (Dean Winchester) metallicar67 at aol . com
To: (Sam Winchester) samuel . winchester at stanford . edu

Subject: (no subject)

You don't have to call.

Just let me know if you're alive.

November 14th, 2002

From: samuel . winchester at stanford . edu
To: metallicar67 at aol . com

Subject: (no subject)

Leave me alone, Dean.


You go to Bobby's when you can't bear it anymore—when Dad bangs through one last crappy motel door (doesn't even say goodbye), when one more email bounces back (message cannot be delivered; permanent error), when one more poltergeist throws you clean through a wall, leaves you crumbling against cold concrete and powdered green glass.

Driving is a stupid idea, and you know it, but it's all you can do. Bobby's house is close—half an hour, tops—and you can grit your teeth against the copper that fills your mouth and the pain that sears through every inch of you. You don't really know much of anything, just that you need someone who can stitch you up a bit, someone who won't ask questions, won't slam any fucking doors.

You don't expect to practically fall to your knees when Bobby opens the door, don't expect to have to hide a sob of relief behind a retching cough that actually feels pretty goddamn real when it leaves a crimson splatter against the whitewashed siding.

"Dean? Jesus Christ, boy, what have you done to yourself?" Bobby rasps, reaching out automatically to grip you underneath your good arm.

You open your mouth, ready to choke out something about the poltergeist, how you can't breathe too good when you're leaning over, how everything aches in ways you could never even have nightmares about (and you haven't slept in over forty-eight hours), but all that comes out is this strange, gasping, half-plea:

"Please don't leave."

"I'm not going anywhere," Bobby says firmly, grip never faltering. "You're coming inside, son, and I'm fixing you up."

He holds you steady as you hobble through the familiar doorway, and doesn't say a word about the smeared trail of blood you leave from the stoop to the old, faded couch.


You've reached Sam Winchester at 949-421-0730. Leave a message.

Sam. It's Bobby.

Just thought you'd like to know your brother's half-dead on my living room couch. Get your shit together, boy.

This is Bobby. Leave one at the beep.

Please don't let him die, okay? And…Bobby. Tell him I'm…

Don't tell him I called.


Two weeks after Bobby sends you off with a clap on the shoulder and a worried set to his jaw, he calls you back. You'd met up with Dad for two days, and he'd actually had a beer with you before getting a frantic call from some chick—Ella, maybe? You can't remember—and evaporating again. Loneliness had set in almost immediately, so it's refreshing to show up at Bobby's door without needing him to pour half a bottle of hydrogen peroxide on your chest.

"Haunting," Bobby says, before you can so much as get inside. He hands you a beer, nods toward an open armchair. "Worst I've seen in years. We need to close in fast, though. Looks like it's going after little kids at this elementary school in Mississippi."

"You…need my help?"

"'Course I do," Bobby tells you gruffly, looking away. "I need another set of experienced hands for a sumbitch like this."

"But…" Swallow. Try not to look as pathetic as you feel. "Yeah, sure. We can take the Impala, if you want."

Together, you clean guns amongst the piles of dusty books that cover most of the flat surfaces in Bobby's ramshackle house, humming along to the Metallica in the background. Bobby sorts through cleansing herbs and charms, mutters strings of Latin you only understand half of, sternly appraises each weapon before declaring it battle-worthy.

You set off when the last bits of day melt from the sky, the heaviness of night almost overwhelming as warm, humid air pours in through the Impala's half-cracked windows.

Bobby rides shotgun, his ballcap pulled low over his eyes as the miles start to stretch long. He doesn't say much, and neither do you; for the first time in a long time, there's not much of a hitch to your breath.


January 5th, 2003


Sammy,


Hope this postcard gets there okay. I'm in New Orleans. Remember when we lived here for awhile in '96? Still humid as fuck, but these people sure can throw a party.
Bourbon Street is something else.

Hope you're not being a dumbass over there. Stay safe. Call if you need anything. Don't study all the time – you know it makes you bitchier than usual.

Dean

January 24th, 2003

From: ( Sam Winchester)
To: ( Dean Winchester)

Subject: Hope this email address still works.

Happy birthday.

Thanks for the postcard.


It becomes a ritual of sorts, something that, at long last, you can depend on.

Dad sends you on jobs by yourself more and more now instead of just leaving you, asks you to cover a haunting up in Vermont or maybe a kelpie a bit further west—but when the loneliness gets at you a little more than usual, you call Bobby.

It's never anything you couldn't handle yourself, and half the time you call from Bumfuck, Nowhere, but it never matters. Bobby shows up in less than 48 hours, cap and wrinkled flannel shirt and shotgun at the ready, no questions asked.

You parry insults, he does all the research, he calls you out sharply when you get a little too reckless, you roll your eyes and tell him he's a bookish old man who you could beat down in two seconds flat, he kicks your ass—rinse, lather, repeat. Life isn't quite so shitty sometimes.

During the long hours in the car when he lectures to you about this creature or that creature or buys you whiskey after a hunt, you glance at him sideways and are glad that there's someone in your life who will talk to you, drink with you, kill with you, and look at you, even when you're fucked-up and let your mouth run off and get so unbelievably angry you think whatever dark thing that simmers in the pit of your stomach might claw its way out of you and consume you whole.

Bobby doesn't turn and walk out the door. He blinks calmly at you, hands you a knife, and tells you to find something needs killing before you open your stupidass mouth again.



May 2nd, 2004

From: (Dean Winchester)
To: (Sam Winchester)

Subject: Put down the graphing calculator, loser.

If you're going to turn 21, Sammy, you should be out boozing it up and being cool, like me, not studying for finals, which I know you're doing, don't even try to tell me otherwise.

Get off your ass and get laid. Make me proud.

May 3rd, 2004

From: (Sam Winchester)
To: (Dean Winchester)

Subject: I hope you're happy.

This hangover kills. Plus, I think I sang karaoke and tried to hit on this girl who was way too hot for even you.

So yeah. Thanks a lot.

May 3rd, 2004

From: (Dean Winchester)
To: (Sam Winchester)

Subject: RE: I hope you're happy.

Nobody is too hot for me.

P.S. Did you get her number???

May 3rd, 2004

From: (Sam Winchester)
To: (Dean Winchester)

Subject: RE: RE: I hope you're happy

You're a terrible person.

P.S. Maybe. Somehow I doubt one Jessica Moore really wants to go out with the guy who screeched out "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and told her she was, I think, prettier than Shakespeare's Sonnet 73. The number is probably fake, anyway.

May 4th, 2004

From: (Dean Winchester)
To: (Sam Winchester)

Subject: You're really stupid for someone who's supposed to be smart.

Do I have to draw you a diagram, Sammy?

P.S. You do realize this is the most you've said to me in two years, right?

May 6th, 2004

From: (Sam Winchester)

To: (Dean Winchester)

Subject: Mind your own business, Dean

And leave me alone!

P.S. The number was real.



Bobby's still mad at Dad from whatever it was Dad said last time they saw each other. He looks away at the mention of Dad's name, mutters under his breath a little. You can't really blame him. Everyone knows John Winchester is a bastard, a stubborn, impossible bastard, and it's a relief Bobby didn't shoot him when he had the chance. You probably wouldn't have blamed him.

One night, after you two have taken down a chupacabra, Bobby drains a shot of Jack and asks you why you're still hunting.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"Your family's gone," Bobby says, the alcohol loosening his tongue a bit more than usual. "I mean, they're here, but Sam's doin' his college thing and your daddy…well, he ain't exactly keepin' you in his sights, is he? You could settle down. Make something of yourself."

"Dad checks in all the time," you point out defensively. "He gives me assignments."

"You're not reading me, boy. You don't have to do what he says anymore!"

"I know that," you snap. "I'm twenty six."

"Most kids your age are outta college by now, thinking about getting married or seein' the world. And look at you, Dean. Look at you! You're sitting here with an old man on some backcountry road getting drunk after a week's worth of hunting things that go bump in the night. What the hell kind of life is that?" Bobby shakes his head slowly, sadly, in a way that douses any offense you might have taken. He just looks so tired.

"It's my life, Bobby," you say quietly. "Mine. It's all I know. I can't abandon Dad, too, even if I wanted to. It'd…it'd break him." Bobby closes his eyes at that.

"Maybe," he agrees levelly. "But what about you, Dean?"

You don't respond.

"Just think on it," Bobby says, patting your shoulder roughly. "For my sake if no one else's. I worry about you, boy."


You've reached Dean Winchester. I'm screening my calls—I mean, I'm extremely busy, so leave a message.

Dean—[garbled]—I may need to—[garbled]—
Be very careful, Dean. We're all in danger.

You've reached John Winchester. I'm currently unavailable. If this is an emergency, please get in touch with my son, Dean at 1-866-907-3235.

Dad, please pick up the phone. It's been almost a week.
…I don't know what to do, Dad.


You leave New Orleans, where you've been for the second time this year dealing with the same voodoo priestess, and tear like hell towards California. Dad's there.

So's Sammy.

It's all you can think of.

Somewhere between Utah and Palo Alto, you dial Bobby and give him the rundown, hoping for advice or his usual calm sense.

"You're getting your brother, huh?" Bobby's voice sounds different than usual. You don't know what it is.

"Dad's missing," you repeat. "Sam would want to help. I know him."

"There's a reason you've barely been able to get more than a couple of emails outta the boy for the past two years, Dean," Bobby points out.

"This is different. Dad could be deep in some serious shit. Sam'll…he'll have to get over himself."

"Okay, Dean," Bobby says quietly. "Just don't…never mind. Be careful. Let me know if you need anything."

"I just can't do this one alone," you say quietly. "And I can't ask you to give up everything else you've got going on to help me find him."

"You need your brother, Dean," Bobby says firmly. "You're doing the right thing."

It's not much, but it's enough. The miles between you and your family grow shorter, Bobby rambles about some demon he took down the other day, and the heavy ache in your chest is a little lighter.

California in October is beautiful.



November 9th, 2005

From: (Dean Winchester)
To: (Bobby Singer) b . singer at gmail dot com.

Subject: I didn't know you even had a computer!

Thanks for sending me your e-mail address. When did you even find out the Internet existed?

Anyway.

Whatever this is, it's bigger than even Dad thought. It killed Sammy's girlfriend—pinned her to the ceiling, the fire, the whole fucking shebang. Dad's still missing, but we left Palo Alto a couple days ago. He sent us to Colorado for something, so at least he's still alive.

I guess I just wanted to say thanks for everything. I don't know if I ever did before. It's been a shitty couple of years, but you helped me out, and…well. Yeah. Let me know if I can ever return the favor.

November 11th, 2005

From: (Bobby Singer)

To: (Dean Winchester)

Subject: RE: I didn't know you even had a computer!

Take care of yourself, Dean.

You and that gangly kid brother of yours are welcome anytime.

P.S. Boy, I've been hacking into the FBI's restricted sites since before you even knew what MySpace was, let alone e-mail.

November 13th, 2005

From: (Dean Winchester)
To: (Bobby Singer)

Subject: RE: RE: I didn't know you even had a computer!

What the hell is MySpace?