Based on the prompt: The boys, birds, wetlands, a hot summer day. Maybe mosquitoes.

Set mid-Season 3.

:::

It's been a while since Dean's packed lunch for Sam. Been a lifetime. But now, sandwich-making supplies spread out before him, it comes back with startling clarity, all those mornings he spent slicing apples and tucking juice boxes into brown bags, feet resting on some rickety chair so he could reach the counter of whatever apartment or trailer they were staying in for the month. He remembers how Sam begged for the Kool-aid in tall, plastic squeeze bottles, remembers how he worked to convince Dad to buy store-brand boxes of small, bagged fruit snacks in the shape of sharks and manta rays. How Sam swore up and down that the sharks tasted better.

Dean grins a little at the tiny, earnest Sammy in his head, then calls over his shoulder to where big, huge grown-up Sam is sprawled out on the motel bed, examining a map of Brewster, Cape Cod.

"Hey, Sam," he asks, brandishing the peanut-butter knife. "How many of these should I make, you think?"

"I dunno," Sam says, folding the map, squinting thoughtfully towards his brother. "The birdwatch is two hours long, and who knows how long we'll be out there afterwards… I guess I could probably eat, like… three?"

Dean nods skeptically, decides he's just going to sandwichify the whole damn loaf, because when Sam says three he really means five, and Dean's no slouch of an eater himself. He licks a dab of jelly off his thumb and turns back to the kitchenette counter where he's been spreading peanut-butter carefully over slices of white bread – crunchy peanut-butter, because Sam's old enough now to appreciate the finer things in life, and won't stamp his ginormous gorilla feet and demand the smooth, too-sweet Skippy that plagued Dean all through his crunchy-craving childhood.

"God, it's hot," Sam moans, rolls off the bed and pads towards the counter, pushing his t-shirt sleeves up over his shoulders in a grotesque parody of a tank-top. He's got a wicked farmer's tan going, the brown skin of his forearms turning pale and silly-looking halfway up his biceps, and Dean smirks, starts stacking sandwiches.

"Are you seriously gonna wear jeans?" Sam continues, looking down at his own stupid, surfer-style board shorts that make him look like a California boy through-and-through.

"Yep," Dean says, tries to sound happy about it, like it's his choice. Truth is, he doesn't own any shorts, besides his boxers, and while it's almost hot enough to traipse around the beach in his underwear, it's not quite there yet.

"What about your running shorts?" Sam asks, like he's reading Dean's mind, and Dean narrows a suspicious glare at him. He'd forgotten about his running shorts.

"C'mon," Sam cajoles, "It's too fucking hot to watch you clomp around the beach in your jeans and boots. It's like, ninety degrees outside, Dean. You're gonna torture everyone."

Dean frowns down at the sandwiches he's tied up in the bread-loaf bag, considers this.

"Is it 'cause you're bowlegged?" Sam asks, voice dripping with false sympathy. "'Cause, hate to break it to you, man, but you can tell even if you're wearing—OW!"

Dean puts his running shorts on.

:::

"Motherfucker."

The outburst is followed by a sharp slap, and Sam turns back to see his brother staring down at his palm, a triumphant expression on his face.

"What?" Sam asks impatiently.

Dean beams and holds up his hand, and Sam winces at the huge, bloody smear across it.

"Little asshole was trying to suck me dry," Dean says with grim satisfaction, lowers his eyes to address the squashed mosquito. "I showed you, you fucker. Not gonna be suckin' anym—"

"Shhh!" the woman next to them hisses, and their guide flaps a laconically aggrieved hand in their general direction.

"Nesting terns are very sensitive to unfamiliar noise," she drones, for the fourth time, and Dean resists the urge to roll his eyes, thinking that'd probably be a giveaway that he's not the ardent ornithology student he's pretending to be. Although, what the fuck ever, if they haven't figured that out yet, they deserve to have their terns scared off.

He catches Sam's eye, and has to stifle a snort, because Sam's grinning ruefully, his raised eyebrows encompassing the ridiculousness of the situation: the tiny binoculars clutched in the hands of the birdwatchers, the beige fanny packs riding proudly on almost every hip, the glares sent their way every five minutes. The horror in everyone's face when Dean tried to feed a piece of his sandwich to a curious seagull.

Okay, that's it. Sam is – Sam is laughing.

"You little bitch," he mutters in his brother's ear, grabbing his elbow painfully. "That tour guide last week died of natural causes, and you know it. You fuckin' set me up."

"I didn't set you up," Sam protests. "It was sketchy, you admitted it. His eyes were pecked out!"

"Yeah, after he keeled over with a heart attack." Dean shakes his head, can't believe they've gotten this far, can't believe he let Sam get him this far, when both of them knew, deep down, that this hunt would be a bust.

Sam looks like he's gonna keep up the protest front, but then he just grins and says, "Fine. You wanna ditch these birdheads?"

Yes. Fuck yes, he does. Get out of this sun, away from the sand, back to the cool darkness of their motel, pack up and hit the road. But he finds himself saying, for some unfathomable reason, "We've still got a bunch of sandwiches."

"True," Sam agrees, mouth twitching. "Well, we're here. We could just walk around the boardwalks, go down to the beach."

"Just walk around?" Dean repeats, but Sam is already calling up to their bird guide, and the group hunches their shoulders in a collective wince at the volume of his voice as he jogs forward and starts making their excuses.

Dean hangs back, stares down at his sneakers planted on the blonde wood of the boardwalk, sand in his socks, hairy legs bare, one hand tight around the backpack strap on his shoulder. He feels like a dumbass. And he looks like a tourist.

A seagull screams from somewhere off in the shrubby trees lining the saltmarsh, and Dean tilts his face up to the achingly blue sky, can feel his nose burning under the hot sun. He knows. He knows he got conned by his smartass baby brother. He just wishes he were more pissed-off about it.

Sam comes back towards him, long hair damp with sweat, smile wide.

"We're free!" he says. "Free as a bird."

"What'd I tell you about shitty bird jokes," Dean snaps as Sam starts off down the boardwalk in the opposite direction. "Hey, where the fuck are you going?"

"Beach is this way," Sam says. "Dude, come on."

Dean adjusts his backpack, casts one last glance at the retreating figures of the birdwatchers, then trudges after Sam.

:::

Sam takes them back to the Museum of Natural History, where their tour started, because he read in the guidebooks that the John Wing Trail is a microcosm of the Cape Cod landscape, and it begins up by the museum, leads them through a swath of lean, red-barked pines that smell clean and ocean-grown, provide a brief, shady respite from the hot July sun.

Dean breaks his own rule and cracks a few jackass jokes about birds and "this John Wing asshole" bird scientist that the trail is named after, offers some snide remarks about retarded last names matching retarded professions until Sam brings up their own last name and their own retarded profession, at which point he falls silent, and there's no sound except the swish of their feet over pine needles, and the caws and twitters of the birds.

The pine trees give way to a different section of the salt marsh they've just come off of, a network of pale boardwalks and tall wooden posts – osprey perches, apparently – jutting out of the pungent, salty water.

The mosquitoes are thick here, rising in swarms from pools of still water and rotting seaweed, and Dean seems almost happy to have something solid to bitch about once again, cheerily resumes his slapping and cursing. Sam doesn't mind. The back of his brother's neck is burning red, but Dean doesn't seem to notice, and Sam thinks he can track the freckles' progress as they blossom across his nose, nearly as numerous as the mosquitoes.

The boardwalk comes out onto a stretch of flat peat, where scraggly, tough grass pushes its way through the sandy soil and thorn-crusted bushes filled with scrappy pink beach roses dot the path. In the distance, the ocean shimmers green and gold and endless.

"It's pretty," Dean says grudgingly as a tern wheels overhead, screeching its presence into the hot blue sky. He starts to say something, stops, then starts again. "It's just like the book."

Sam swallows, stuffs his hands in his pockets. "Yeah," he says finally. "It is."

The book. Cape Cod Through Photographs, the only picture book they'd had during a weeklong drive cross-country when Sam was six and Dean ten. They'd been going from California to Massachusetts, and they'd sat in the back together and stared at the photos while Dad had promised them sand dunes and beaches and fishing. But they'd ended up in a small town in the middle of the state, old and rundown and plagued by Revolutionary War spirits. Stayed two months and left without ever going to Cape Cod.

The book had been lost eventually, somewhere in transit, and Sam had used the broken promise as leverage in the series of endless arguments with his father that started when he was around sixteen. Cape Cod, just another scenic coastline in a world of scenic coastlines, but it had become a buzzword for Sam, and for Dean, though he'd never admit it. Had become a promise: the promised land.

Dean remembers. Sam figured he would.

He waits for his brother to say something, to call him out on the forged hunt, to cuff Sam on the head and call him a conniving asshole, but Dean is quiet.

They stop by unspoken agreement when they reach the point where tough grass becomes gritty white sand, and they both lean down and pull off their sneakers, dangle them from their fingers and weave down to the water's edge.

Dean is limping ever-so-slightly off his left knee, the one that's given him trouble since he was eighteen – Sam's noticed that it seems to be bugging him more lately, though Dean hasn't said anything. It's nothing major, just a little hitch in his step as the sand twists underneath his feet, and as Sam watches, it's not worry he feels, or exasperation, like he normally would – it's something deeper. Something that knifes at his heart at the same time it makes him quietly, strangely content. His brother's getting older, pushing thirty, new lines on his face, old injuries taking their toll. Sam doesn't know if he'll get the chance to watch his brother grow older than he is right now. But at least he can see this. It's not enough, god, it's really not enough, it's just – it's something. Anything.

They finish the last of the sandwiches as the sun starts to go down, brilliant and burning even as it disappears over the horizon.

- End -