(noun) A visible trace, evidence, or sign of something that once existed but exists or appears no more.
Birthdays weren't celebrated with big parties and housefuls of screaming children. There were no clowns or pony rides or games of pin the tail on the donkey. Piñatas weren't strung from exposed rafters in drafty basements or old oak trees on the edge of an immaculately kept lawn.
There was cake, though, and candles of mismatched sizes plucked from a steady supply. Flames would burn at different sizes, some towering infernos, others raindrops of orange and white.
No singing, just a hearty clap on the back, some laughter, and a wish made over candlesticks usually used to ward off demons or empower a charm.
But recognition waned as the boys grew older, past the age when celebration was important, when a day for you became a selfish idea.
But practices are made to be broken, and three days after Dean's birthday -- a day spent searching for an unmarked grave to send it's occupant back to hell where they belonged -- Sam decides bringing a little bit of that normal life he encountered while off at school into their lives wouldn't be such a terrible idea.
That night, when they argue over what to watch on the thirteen inch TV with bad reception, Sam slips a small box across the faded bedspread and returns his eyes to whatever it is they've decided to watch.
He hears the wrapping paper -- picked up for a quarter at a dollar store three towns back -- crinkle then split as Dean unwraps the package. A sliding of cardboard against cardboard. Sam winces as he waits for a reaction.
"What's this?" Dean asks. Sam allows himself to look over to his brother. A loop of black thread dangles from an outstretched finger.
Sam runs a hand over the back of his neck. "I just figured yours was getting a little scarred."
Dean nods, but doesn't move to put the gold charm hanging around his neck on the new string. Instead, he looks down and runs his free hand over the thread he wears his protection charm on now, fingers rubbing against frayed split ends where the charm's swung back and forth during chases, hurried running, jumping into ditches.
He makes a move towards the back, and Sam's heart leaps in his throat for just a minute until he sees that Dean's just fingering the tight knot at the back where the string split -- ripping it from the neck of the shapeshifter snapped the string and made the clasp moot.
"Thanks," Dean says quietly. "But, uhh, I don't need a new one."
"Yours it getting to look a little...beat up there."
Dean smirks, head cocked to the side. "It has personality."
Sam rolls his eyes. That failed. His brother's laughter fills the room, and suddenly Sam feels five years old again, being mocked for a simple, naive mistake. He sets his lips into a hard line and crosses his arms. Whatever channel the TV stopped on has got to be better than that harsh sound of rejection.
So he doesn't notice Dean get up and start digging through his duffle bag, doesn't notice how his brother hunches over and stands quite still for a moment before threading something onto the necklace. He only notices when Dean sits next to him on the bed and makes the mattress shift with the addition of his weight.
"What?" Sam barks. But when he looks to see the thread dangling from his brother's hand once again, this time weighted down by something, he regrets his harsh tone. Dean just hands him the necklace and does his best impression of someone absorbed in a TV show.
The golden locket clashes with the black rawhide and silver clasp, but that's not important. What is lays inside -- two pictures. One is of whom he assumes is Dean holding a baby -- him. Both wear smiles and Sam can almost swear he's giggling in the picture.
The other is a haphazardly added image of a woman with long blond hair smiling in a candid photo. Sam's heart freezes in his chest -- his mother. He traces her face line by line with wet eyes, hoping he can drink every part of her into his memory. It's added to a folder full of pictures -- only pictures, never anything real -- and when he's sure he's got it down, he pokes his brother in the shoulder.
Dean smiles one of those deep smiles that assures there's something going on under the bravado and smart-assed remarks. "Hey, it was time you got yourself a charm, what with the Shining and all."
Sam plucks a pillow from behind his back and swats his brother with it.
"Hey!" Dean shouts. "It's true. Happy Birthday."
No candles, no cake. Just a gift shared between brothers in a hotel room. Sam slips the necklace on and cuffs the locket under his shirt. The metal's cool against his skin, a constant reminder of the good days even if he can't exactly remember them.