Written for dramaturgy at livejournal for the spnsummergen's 2010 fic exchange. Prompt: What happened that day the Winchesters scratched their initials into the Impala?

Thanks as always to my betas and everyone who helped me get this story together, especially Faye Dartmouth, carocali, Tyranusfan and harrigan. Y'all rock!

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"What are all these names here for?"

Sammy's finally mastered the art of keeping his back turned but still hasn't caught onto the fact that the last thing Dean wants to be doing in this situation is talking.


Dean doesn't answer. He grits his teeth, trying to block out the sound of Sammy's voice while he finishes up.

He gets why Dad makes them use a stall instead of the urinals. The last thing you want is something sneaking up behind you, catching you with your pants down, Dean. He also gets that, in this case, when Dad says 'something,' he means someone just as much: there's definitely more than one kind of monster that preys on little boys at rest stops. And fine, he gets why he and Sammy always have to go together , because Sammy is such a baby he might get lost on the way to the bathroom and okay, Dean knows that's unfair but seriously, there are times when a guy just wants some privacy.

He shakes off and zips up—a little too fast, but he's lucky—and turns around just in time to see Sammy ghosting his fingers over one of the hundreds of names and dates and dirty words scarred into the warped plywood door.

"Don't touch that. It's filthy." He smacks Sam's hand down, ignoring the way he turns and scowls as Dean slides the bolt back. He shoves Sammy behind him without thinking about it, opening the door slowly with one hand hovering over the small-but-sharp pocketknife he carries with him everywhere.

The bathroom's still empty, but Dean keeps a wary eye on the main door and block glass windows as he leads them to the sink. He shoves a knee under Sammy's butt, arm around Sammy's chest and elbow braced against the porcelain so Sammy can reach the faucet. It takes some wriggling to get the little bottle of soap Dad always makes them bring out of his pocket, but he manages, squirting out a big dollop. 'Cause ghoul blood and ectoplasm are inconvenient but the surface microbes of a public bathroom are dangers to be avoided at all costs.

Sammy's hands are all foamy, which he generally loves. He's not looking down, though. He's staring at Dean in the mirror, narrow-eyed and intent, the way he always looks when he's about to start in with the why questions.

Dean sighs. "What?"

"Why would someone write their name there?"

Like Dean knows. But then, Sammy always thinks he does, and Dean's not about to tell him otherwise. "They want people to know they've been here."

Sammy's reflection scrunches in the mirror. "Gross!"

His hands are still full of foam and Dean's getting impatient. He pushes them under the stream of water and holds them there, washing his and Sam's at the same time. "Not like that, doofus."

The water's already turning cold, but they're finished. They dry off on the insides of their undershirts, like always, and Dean yanks open the heavy door with both hands.

"Then like what?" Sammy's just standing there, like he's not going to budge until Dean answers.

Dean leans back, hooks a bony little shoulder with his elbow and herds Sammy through the doorway. "It's a marker, okay? It says, 'I'm here. I exist. I'm part of this world,' even if nobody ever saw them."

Sammy's staring again, but it's different this time. Wide-eyed and kind of shocked but in a good way.

Dean can't blame him—he's kind of shocked, too. He's not really sure where his answer came from, but it feels right. Feels true. Which isn't necessarily always the case when he's telling Sammy stuff.

He doesn't dwell on it. "Come on, Dad's waiting for us."

Sammy leads the way back to the Impala, sneakers slapping against the uneven concrete of the parking lot. As he climbs into the back seat, Dean can see one of his shoelaces trailing. He shakes his head and follows his brother, preparing a detailed refresher course on rabbit ears and bow knots.

"Sam! Come here!"

Mid-Thundercats marathon, Sammy scrambles off the couch. Dean pops up after him. Dad doesn't use the Marine voice too often, but when he does, they both know better than to lollygag.

Dad's standing in the doorway to the bathroom, arms folded, glaring down at his youngest by the time Dean gets there. "You want to explain this to me?"

He jerks his chin, motioning Sammy into the room. Dean squeezes in behind him, trying to see what Dad wants Sammy to see. When he does, his stomach sinks to his shoes. Carved into peeling white paint is a fine little squiggle of lines that spell out, faintly but obviously enough, 'S.W.'

Crap. "Dad, I—"

Dad's glare switches to him. "Dean, did you do this?"

If it were possible, Dean's stomach would fall even further. "No, sir, but—"

"Then I want to hear from your brother."

"I…" Sammy swallows and looks at Dean, who just shrugs helplessly.

Dean knows exactly why Sammy put his name there. Knows that as soon as Sammy explains everything, he's going to be the one in trouble. It's only fair, even though he'd had no idea Sam was going to pull such a harebrained stunt. He's the big brother; the buck stops with him.

"I just wanted to show I was here."

Dad's face is a study in confusion. "Why?"

Sammy's staring up at Dad now, all big eyes and way too serious expression. "We move all the time and we can't use our real names and I wanted us to that I exist. That we're part of this world."

Leave it to a kid who can't remember to tie his shoes right to remember, word-for-word, exactly what Dean had told him.

"Aw, kiddo."

Dean's shocked when Dad wraps a hand around the back of Sammy's neck and hauls him into a one-armed hug. He's even more shocked when Dad does the same thing to him. The point of Dad's chin digs against the top of his head and Dean breathes in the smell of gun oil and Old Spice and tries not to cling.

Dad doesn't say anything, just breathes slow and deep like he's trying to control it, swallowing loud enough for Dean to hear.

When he finally lets them go, he doesn't look like a Marine anymore. He just looks tired.

"I'm going to go to get sandpaper and paint. You boys eat your lunch." Dad's gone without another word; no reprisals, no punishments. And if that's a little weird, well Dean's sure not going to be the one to question it.

Sammy's moved closer to the door, palm spread next to his initials. Dean flicks him behind the ear, not as hard as he could, but hard enough. "You heard the man. Let's go."

If Sammy looks reluctant to leave, disappointed even…he wisely says nothing.

Dad's already gone, early shift at the oil change place down the block that hired him as a fill in for a guy on National Guard duty. It's hot already, sticky: one of those days when the idea of doing anything more than lying on the couch watching game shows and cartoons feels like cruel and unusual punishment.

But Dean has a plan.

He waits until Sammy stands up to bring his dish to the sink to get him in a headlock, tugging him out the door. "Come on, Fart Breath. We've got work to do."

Sammy makes a show of dragging his feet, whining, "Dean, stoooop," but he doesn't pull away. And when Dean pops the trunk on the Impala, lifting up the false bottom to where the weapons stash normally is—thankfully, Dad emptied it when they set up house, planning on working instead of hunting for the rest of the summer—he's watching with rapt attention.

There's a fitted piece of particle board over the spare tire, a little scarred but in decent enough shape. Dean flips up the edge, braces it in place with the crowbar. "Stay put," he admonishes before heading back to the house, and it proves how seriously Sam's taking things when he doesn't move an inch while Dean is gone.

When Dean returns, he carefully hands over a knife—one of the good blades from Dad's tool chest, sharpened and glinting in the sun. Sam holds it like it's made of glass, silent and still like Sammy never is, waiting to see what Dean does next.

What Dean does is climb up on the bumper and lean in, hauling Sammy up so he can lean next to him. He balances the other knife in his hand, weighing it as he clears his throat. He doesn't want to make a speech but feels like he should. "This is our home. Wherever we move, however long we stay, she's always with us, right?"

Sammy nods.

"We're gonna put our marker here. So everywhere we go, no matter who knows our names, we'll always know. We're here. We exist. Got it?"

Sammy nods again, that same look of shock Dean remembers. Awe.

"You first."

There's the briefest hesitation as Sammy seems consider the exact right spot. Dean watches him start—straight lines for the 'S' with a double-fisted twist of his wrist for the periods—then digs his own knife in.

When it's all said and done, it's not much. Two sets of initials in the corner of the bottom of a hidden board, buried in the dark recesses of the trunk where no one, even Dad, will likely ever see them. But it's tangible. Permanent. Theirs.

Sammy grins, all dimples and gapped teeth, looking at Dean like he's the most awesome big brother ever. Which. You know. Dean is pretty okay with. "Cool."

And yeah, it really, really is.