The hospital room was dimly lit and smelled of fish when Dean awoke; he wrinkled his nose in disgust. Jeez, was that unholy smell ever gonna go away?
Blinking wetly through the gloom, he lay and stared blankly at the shadowy ceiling as the haze of drug-induced sleep began to lift. Then he tried to move.
Every single part of him hurt, in fact there were probably parts of him that he didn't even know he had that hurt. His back ached, his lungs ached, his arms ached. His face was fried, his throat burned, his back was sore and his ass was sore. No check that – his ass just itched. Murderously.
He suddenly jackknifed forward as a massive sneeze escaped him.
With the blast still ringing in his ears, he lay back in the bed, and followed up with a deep, wet sniff.
A cold on top of everything else?
Just frickin' awesome.
He sighed when he realised his eruption had disturbed the lump in the bed across the room.
"Sammy?" he hissed, stifling another snuffle; "y'okay?"
There was a symphony of creaking bedsprings and rustling bedsheets as Sam laboriously shuffled onto his side.
"Define okay," he croaked miserably; "my aches ache. My head's throbbing, my face feels like it's been peeled, my throat's on fire and I am never gonna be able to wash off this stink of fish."
Dean nodded quietly; "welcome to my world," he whispered hoarsely.
The two men fell into a glumly companionable silence.
"What the hell happened out there?" Sam asked absently; "one minute we're stranded in the middle of the ocean waiting to become shark chow; the next thing we're in the middle of a full-on Hitchcock remake, and hitching a ride to safety on our friendly neighbourhood trawler.
Dean knuckled his chest and grunted; "beats me," he sighed; "gift horses, an' all that … let's just be thankful Captain Ahab and his crew found us." He fidgeted, grimacing as he clawed at his butt, sighing at the relief it brought; "I'll take stinkin' of fish over bein' a shark snack any day."
"Betcha won't be so keen to watch 'Shark Week' next year," Sam snorted. He paused, squinting through the darkness; "leave your ass alone Dean," he added sharply.
"Kiss my …" Dean rounded irritably, hesitating; "actually, no, don't."
Another silence fell between them as they both fell into a light doze.
"This wasn't exactly our finest hour, was it?" Sam eventually broke the silence.
"Finest hour? It's been a complete goddamn fiasco;" Dean replied wearily; "we didn't even find a freakin' mermaid," he mumbled into his pillow, flinching as the material grated against his raw face.
"I still reckon you should have let me rename the boat," he grumbled quietly.
"Dean, will you shut up about the freakin' boat's name," Sam sighed; "I told you, it's unlucky to rename a boat."
Dean glared darkly through the gloom; "you're jokin' right?"
Yawning, Sam flopped onto his belly, groaning as the motion hurt aching ribs.
"Get some sleep jerk," the words drifted as sleep began to settle over him despite the creaking and rustling of Dean rearranging himself in the bed across the room.
"An' I had to have another freakin' tetanus shot," Dean muttered sulkily into the pillow, unaware that his words were lost to his sleeping brother.
It was late morning and both Winchesters were sitting expectantly on their respective beds, resplendent in the same obscenely short bile yellow hospital gowns they had been issued with on their arrival, when a young nurse peered around the door.
"Hello guys, your uncle has arrived," she trilled sweetly.
The brothers smiled at her, "thank you," they echoed, their smiles dissolving into sighs of relief as Bobby's familiar and comforting face appeared around the door, his expression hovering somewhere between crushing concern, overwhelming relief and confusion.
"Say Bobby, are you a sight for sore eyes," Dean sighed; "tell me you managed to go to the motel and bring us some clothes?" He self-consciously rearranged his gown, trying to reassure himself that he wasn't going to be showing Bobby any more than a welcoming smile.
Bobby nodded, smiling warmly as he held out a bulging, hastily-packed duffel.
"All in here," he explained, handing the bag over to Dean's grabby hands; "c'mon, git yerselves decent, an' then I can take ya back to the motel."
He turned and idly scanned the fire evacuation procedure posted on the wall as the brothers clumsily dressed behind him.
"Now, what the hell trouble ya been getting into?" Bobby asked wearily, unquestionably relieved that four long, knobbly and extremely hairy bare legs had finally been packed away; "The doc called me last night said you'd named me as your next of kin. He said something about near drowning, sunstroke and hypothermia." He pulled a grubby handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead with it; "heck, you two jokers tryin' to give me a goddamned stroke?"
The brothers both looked sheepishly at the older man.
"Sorry Bobby, we didn't mean to worry you," mumbled Sam; "it's just that our, um, our last hunt didn't go so well …"
Bobby looked up at the two sun-baked faces staring at him
"What the hell were ya huntin? Ya look like you've been on a stakeout under the hole in the friggin' ozone layer."
"Oh nothin' much," replied Sam airily; "just got kinda in a spot of bother out on the ocean."
Bobby's eyes narrowed suspiciously; "Boy, you really think your ol' uncle Bobby's a low-watt bulb? What the hell were ya huntin'?"
Small and timid were words that could rarely, if ever, be applied to either of the Winchester brothers. However, here, under the weight of a worried Bobby's stern glare, they were words that perfectly described, in equal measure, the two squirming figures sitting meekly in the room.
Sam looked shiftily across at Dean, then at his feet.
"Uh, a mermaid," he muttered in the smallest voice he could manage.
Bobby's eyes widened as his head swivelled from one brother to the other; "what, had it gone rogue or something?"
Sam shrugged; "no," he whispered into his chest, unable to meet Bobby's eyes.
"So what the hell were ya huntin'a mermaid for? They're just about the most shy, harmless creatures you could ever find."
He folded his arms, looming over both Winchesters as they sat, their eyes fixed firmly on the floor.
"Well?" He prompted; "what was so bad about this freakin' mermaid that ya had to almost get yerself killed for?"
A heavy silence hung in the room.
Dean Winchester was a brave man. Courage and honour filled his heart to it's very brim. He had faced down the worst, most dangerous situations any man could have nightmares about and done it with his trademark smirk and barely a palpitation; but in the face of an angry Bobby, he was Jello.
He folded like a bad poker hand. "It was Sam's idea" he blurted.
"What?" Sam's head snapped up in wounded outrage; "I only suggested it to stop you whining about being bored and unfulfilled."
Bobby's brow furrowed in confusion; "what in God's name are you two idjits blatherin' about?"
He raised a hand for silence when both brothers spoke up to defend themselves at the same time.
"Sam?" Bobby growled; "I'm askin' you because I know I won't get a sensible answer out of smart mouth here. Now spill."
Sam sighed. He knew there was music to be faced; and this particular tune was called 'Bobby's seriously pissed and is gonna kick your stupid reckless asses into the middle of next week.'
"We were talkin' a few days ago, and Dean mentioned that he was bored with – um - stuff and life and things, and so we talked a bit more and we thought it might be fun …"
"… You," Dean corrected over a long sniff from behind Bobby's back; "you thought it might be fun."
"I didn't hear you arguing too hard," snapped Sam; "you were more concerned about whether she was hot or not."
"Yeah, well I didn't want to hurt your feeli…"
The raised voices withered; scorched into silence by Bobby's silent scowl.
"We thought it might be fun to hunt something we've never hunted before," sighed Sam; "like a mermaid," he added weakly.
Bobby folded his arms sternly. "I'm surprised at you boys; you know the rules, we don't hurt things that don't hurt us."
"Oh, we weren't going to hurt her, just catch her and then …" Sam wilted as he realised how ridiculous his words were about to sound; "… um , throw her back."
The brothers cowered as Bobby's face turned puce, spluttering in barely suppressed anger, his eyes bulged to the point that Sam was genuinely afraid he really might keel over with a heart attack.
"We just thought …" Dean began, snuffling deeply into his elbow.
"No you didn't; you didn't think," snapped Bobby; "you pair of freakin' asses almost get yourself damnwell killed huntin' something you had no business huntin'. He threw up his arms in exasperation; "I've been drivin' all night to get over here to the end of the friggin' earth to come an' get ya both, worried out of my tiny mind and my goddamned blood pressure's off the scale and …"
Bobby stood, hyperventilating for a moment.
"…and … why the hell can I smell FISH?"