Six year old Timmy Johnstone (he preferred to remind people he was ALMOST seven) clutched his father's hand as they made their way carefully down the damp stone steps to the beach.
Armed with a brand new net and a red bucket, Timmy was a little boy on a very important mission; to collect lots of beach stuff for his school project.
Timmy's new teacher, Miss Harper, had set her class a task for show and tell; collect five things from the beach and then find out two facts about each of them to tell the rest of the class.
And Timmy had decided that as this was his first project for Miss Harper, he was going to make a really good impression. He was going to get an A, and he was going to get a gold star. Nothing else would do.
Because Timmy had a secret. A really big, important secret; he liked his new teacher, he liked her a lot. He felt his cheeks heat up as he thought of her. She had long, chocolate coloured hair, and she smelled of flowers, and best of all she wore long, pretty skirts with patterns on, the way a girl should.
When Timmy was old enough, say about eleven or so, he was going to ask Miss Harper to marry him.
But for now, he had more immediate concerns on his mind; rocks, shells, seaweed, maybe even a starfish. He might even find a real live crab with pincers and everything. That would be the coolest thing ever.
Dad had said the best time to come down to the beach was right after the tide had gone out while the rock pools were all still full of seawater, and Dad had to be right because he knew everything there was to know about the little Town of Ocean Halt, given that he was the Town's Deputy Sheriff.
That was another thing Timmy was going to do when he was old enough, right after he had married Miss Harper, he was going to become the Deputy-Deputy Sheriff of Ocean Halt, and then Ocean Halt would be the safest most law-abiding town in the whole wide world.
Timmy pulled his hand free of his father's firm grip and ran over to a large rock pool near the entrance of the cave. His father followed him, smiling broadly to watch his son suddenly and mysteriously so enthusiastic about schoolwork.
Dropping to his knees in the damp sand, Timmy expected to see a fascinating wealth of the ocean's discarded treasures.
What he didn't expect to see were the two figures that staggered slowly and stiffly out of the cave's dark maw. Their unfocussed eyes stared at him through gaunt, grime-stained faces which were bloodlessly haggard through discomfort and lack of sleep. Leaning heavily against each other, they shivered and slowly limped rubber-legged out onto the beach toward Timmy, blinking tearily into the hazy morning daylight.
Timmy knew it was rude to stare, his mama told him all the time; but sometimes, well, sometimes it just had to be done …
The apple green walls of the outpatients' room at Ocean Halt Health Centre, looked down upon the Winchesters who sat slumped in a silent daze on two matching gurneys, wrapped only in hospital gowns and heated blankets, shakily sipping hot drinks.
Sam cringed at the bitter tang of the vending machine issue coffee, and sighed as Dean squirmed miserably under his blanket.
"You should see the state of my friggin' back," he grumbled, voice still hoarse and raw from the cold and damp.
"I've seen it," Sam replied; "you must have grazed it when you fell down that shingle bank."
Dean huffed sourly; "still don' see why I had to have a tetanus shot; my freakin' arm's gone numb. What if it goes septic and falls off?"
Sam rolled his eyes; what kind of a man is more traumatised by a tetanus shot than by a night spent in freezing darkness, inches away from drowning?
"Didn't you listen to a word the Doctor said?"
Dean sighed; it came out as a harsh wheeze. "Well yeah I did, but he kind of faded out after a while."
Sam shook his head in exasperation; "how come it's your body, and I know more about what's happened to it than you do?" He knew he was being ignored, and so manfully continued regardless; "you had to have a tetanus because of the seawater contamination on the open wounds on your back."
Dean took a sip of the hospital issue coffee; "ugh, talk about contamination; the friggin' seawater tasted better than that!"
He stifled a hiccup as his stomach gurgled in protest at the silt-laden brine he'd somehow managed to imbibe during his tumble.
"Friggin' mermaids suck," he snorted, making a point of rubbing his arm again; "they can keep their stupid combs and their flutes and their goddamn sea, I've had it with the fishy-assed douchebags."
"C'mon," Sam replied; "this is us you're talking about. We don't give up just because of one setback."
"Setback?" Dean snorted; "damnit Sam, if that's just a setback I'd hate to hear your definition of disaster." He continued, warming to his theme; "we've just been stuck freezing our asses off in a black hole overnight, I've been almost drowned, my back's been skinned and then I've just had some freakin' lunatic harpoon me in the arm."
"Well," Sam began cautiously; "it could have been worse."
"Could have? … worse? … you should kiss my ass," Dean snapped; "if it wasn't for the gallons of freakin' ocean I swallowed in that goddamn cave, we'd have friggin' drowned," he scowled; "my fish-eaten remains would be washing up on a beach in Portugal this time next week."
Sam knew a 'give it up Sam, it's not worth the effort' moment when he saw one. This was such a moment.
A silence fell between the Winchesters as they sat, stewing moodily and sipped their foul coffee.
Eventually, it was Sam who broke the silence.
"We sure gave that poor little kid a shock huh?"
Dean shrugged, "at least it'll give him something interesting to write in his project; that poor freakin' teacher'll be a raving nutball after sitting and listening to a classfull of six year olds talking about seaweed."
Sam laughed silently, and reflected briefly he'd never been so glad he wasn't a teacher.
"It's just a good job his dad was there to drive us to the hospital," Dean continued; "although I'm not sure he bought your story about us being achaeologists."
Sam frowned; "he was buying it fine until you started blatherin' on about the lost city of Atlantis."
Dean shrugged listlessly.
"Don't matter 'cause as soon as they let us out of here, We're blowin' this dead-end joint, and getting back to some good old fashioned boring ghost hunts. In dry places!" Dean emphasised the last phrase as if it were non-negotiable.
Sam shot Dean a sideways glance; "ah well, it might be worth sticking around here for a while, dude."
If Dean picked up the persuasive note in Sam's voice, he didn't let on; "give me one freakin' reason why we need to stay in this creepy one-horse burg," Dean grimaced, rubbing his arm and his stomach in turn; "in fact, come to think of it, I haven't even seen a friggin horse, one or otherwise, here!"
Sam took a deep breath; "well, see, thing is Dean; while I was researching this hunt, I got us a boat."
Dean actually stopped rubbing his various body parts as he turned to stare at Sam.
"Well yeah," replied Sam; "how else did you think we were gonna catch a mermaid? The Impala doesn't float you know."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "Stow the smart comments, bitch, otherwise we're gonna be finding out whether you float."
His face registered confusion; "how the hell have you managed to get a boat?"
"Well, I started out by emailing a few charter companies and said we wanted to go deep sea fishing," Sam began; "but they all wanted to send a captain out on the boat with us; kind of insurance and health and safety rules and stuff like that I guess."
"How inconsiderate," Dean responded drily; "makes it kinda hard to explain that you're deep sea fishing for mermaids."
"Well yeah," Sam agreed.
"So in the end," Sam's eyes dropped to his lap as he hesitated briefly; "I, um, well, I bought us a boat."
"You bought a BOAT?" Dean's eyes almost dropped out of his face.
"Yeah ... it's not a BIG boat," Sam was quick to qualify his statement.
Dean's mouth moved silently in an appropriately fish-like manner, until the power of coherent speech returned to him; "h-how?"
Sam shrugged; "fake loan."
"Fake loan?" Sam noted that Dean looked moderately impressed; baby brother was learning at last!
"Where is it, what's it like?" Dean asked, enthusiasm gathering in his voice.
"It's a little motorboat, few years old, an' it's down at the harbour apparently."
Dean pulled the blanket tighter around him and stifled a burp; ugh, I think I swallowed a starfish or something - that definitely tasted of crustacean."
Sam's nose wrinkled in disgust; thanks Dean, that was Sam's love of seafood diminished for the foreseeable future. "So what you reckon dude, we rest up for today then go and check out the boat tomorrow?"
Shifting uncomfortably, Dean gripped his stomach; he'd just known all night that all that grubby seawater was going to make its presence felt sometime.
"Whatever dude," he grunted between clenched teeth, hopping down off the gurney; "but I don't think I'm gonna be doing much restin' today."
Sam watched sympathetically as his brother disappeared through the door at speed toward the mens' room.