The weak and wilting Winchesters retired to their Ocean Halt motel room, under Doctors orders to take time out, rest and recover. They needed to recover, partly from their ordeal and partly from the rocket that Bobby had unleashed on them for their folly. The ride in Bobby's truck from the hospital back to their motel had been uncomfortably frigid considering Bobby was simmering like a fumarole ready to blow.
Furious that the brothers had endangered themselves so needlessly, he had decanted them back at the motel, stocked them up with aftersun lotion, bottled water, orange juice, chicken soup, and Tylenol and politely informed the squirming, shamefaced pair that if their brains were dynamite, they wouldn't have enough to blow a hat off.
He went on to explain that due to a long-standing commitment to help a hunter friend deal with a once-a-year haunting up in Rhode Island in two days, he would reluctantly have to leave soon. He followed that up with a non-negotiable invitation to his place the following week where he would see for himself that the brothers had been looking after themselves, and that if they ever pulled a stunt like that again he would, assuming he actually survived another spike in his blood pressure like that, kick their friggin' idjit asses so goddamn hard that he'd need to find a darn good proctologist to get his boots back.
And then he was gone.
The next three days were spent in a bickering, flu-addled haze of snot, coughing, puking and aching limbs. There was also the peeling sunburn - Dean was SO royally pissed that, by his own reckoning, he'd lost at least one hundred and thirteen layers of skin across his nose and cheeks and his friggin' stupid freckles were STILL there - and an oh-so itchy butt (really, if Sam heard another goddamn word about Dean's butt, he was gonna start swingin'). Despite it all, however, the winchesters rested uneasily in their cramped motel room, grouchily but tenderly caring for each other's ills and gradually began to put their ordeal behind them.
The one upside of the whole miserable situation was that the odour of flu-meds, aftersun lotion, sweat and chicken soup had finally neutralised the stink of fish.
On the fourth day they had decided to venture out of their room and fortify themselves with some fresh air and decent food ahead of a long drive as far away from this godforsaken place as they could go. After a short walk, looking for the same tavern where they had originally eaten the heavenly clam chowder all those days ago, they found themselves ambling along the same cobbled dockside where they had first discovered their ill-fated little boat.
An unspoken moment passed between the two men as they stopped, and stood gazing out across the harbour.
The sunlight sparkled across the gently lapping water as their eyes scanned the surroundings. They stood and stared at the banks of gently swaying masts and the drifting clouds overhead, their eyes eventually settling far away on the vacant berth where they had originally found poor, unlovely Florence. They gazed sadly at the small, empty patch of water.
"The sea, it looks so, so harmless when you look at it like this," observed Sam quietly, "surrounded by boats and people and … life," he tailed off.
Dean nodded silently.
It seemed like an age before Dean spoke.
"Sorry Sam," he stated simply.
Sam turned toward him; "what? What for?"
Dean shrugged, his eyes not leaving their little boat's unoccupied mooring. "It wasn't your fault Sam," he stated; "I know you were only trying to humour me and my mid-life crisis!"
Sam grinned, slapping Dean on the shoulder; "so you admit it then, you tragic old fossil."
"Although," Dean added; "I gotta say, you did try very hard."
They set off walking again until they found a remote, isolated corner of the harbour wall and then sat, their legs dangling over the quayside as they looked out over the open ocean in silence.
Further along the harbour wall a chestnut head broke the water and watched the two figures.
A relieved smile played across her delicate features.
"I can't believe we were out there, in all that water and we didn't even get to see the freakin' mermaid," moaned Dean; "I mean, almost dyin' and all that – at least when we've almost bought it before, we've usually got something to show for it;" he grunted; "y'know, like a dead fugly or some grateful chick tryin' to get my clothes off."
Sam shrugged, giving Dean a wry smile; "Bobby did say they were shy," he replied quietly.
"Bobby said a lot of things," replied Dean with a grimace.
"Yeah," Sam grinned; "my ears are still ringing."
They both flinched as a gull suddenly swooped out of nowhere above them, loosing an ear-splitting shriek.
"Freakin' noisy sono … what the hell?"
Dean stared as something dropped into his lap which, from it's timing and trajectory, could only have come from the gull. He was relieved to note it wasn't a large dollop of guano.
He picked it up and stared at the object in his hand.
Sam stared too; "is that what I think it is?"
Dean nodded without taking his eyes off the object; "it's her comb."
He turned the exquisitely carved object over in his hand and squinted at it. There, scratched delicately across the back of it was a single word.
The brothers glanced at each other.
"Sorry?" Sam read over and over again; "what the hell … ?"
A brief silence fell between them as they pondered the small, pretty object in Dean's hand.
Suddenly Dean's eyes widened in enlightenment; "hey Sam, you don't suppose …"
Sam shrugged; "suppose what?"
"Well, when you think about it, all our bad luck kinda begun after we walked out of the cave with this and the other mermaid stuff."
Sam considered Dean's words; "well, there was the cave flood," he offered.
"Nah," Dean shook his head; "that was just you being a dork, and not researching the tides."
Huffing irritably, Sam still couldn't find it within himself to argue.
"You don't suppose all that crap that went on was down to the mermaid that owned this being pissed at us because we took her stuff?"
They continued to stare blankly at the little comb. "I mean," Dean continued; "I serviced that boat's engine man, it was in perfect working order; but when I fell in the sea and saw it, it was all wrapped up in seaweed, and I don't just mean a few little strands, it was damnwell tied up in knots with miles of the stuff, done up like a freakin' Christmas present," he frowned as he thought back; "nah, there's no way that would have happened randomly."
Sam's eyes widened as he warmed to the idea; "the heavy thing that hit the boat and tipped you in; we thought it was a shark," he reflected; "a mermaid might be about the same size as a shark." He thought for a moment; "I mean, think about it dude, if someone stole from us, we'd wanna make sure they got what was comin' to them," he hesitated; "and get our stuff back."
The brothers gradually crumpled into infectious and helpless laughter. "Dude," Dean snorted, handing Sam the comb as he wiped his eyes; "I can't believe we got our asses kicked by a freakin' mermaid."
Sam shook his head in amused resignation; "yeah, and the damn thing doesn't even have legs."
They both chuckled quietly between themselves, unable to take their eyes off the little treasure in Sam's hand.
"Wow, kicked by a mermaid and stung by a, um, thing; your ass has really suffered on this hunt," grinned Sam.
"Your ass is gonna suffer when I kick it all the way back to the impala," snorted Dean, punching his sniggering brother in the shoulder.
They settled back into a companionable silence, their eyes drifting out of focus as they watched the hypnotic ebb and flow of the ocean at their feet.
"I suppose we've gotta assume that she saved us too;" Dean murmured thoughtfully; "all those freakin' gulls didn't just decide to appear out of nowhere to come and alert Captain Fishface and his crew to where we were; there's no way that 'just' happened."
Sam was about to respond when his attention was stolen by a faint glimmer of silver beneath the surface of the water a little way ahead of them. They both froze, snapping into awareness as a long fishtail, shimmering like living mercury, arched elegantly out of the water.
His jaw dropped; "dude, was that … ?"
Dean blinked; "I du-dunno," he responded vacantly, as the same silver tail rose up out of the sunlit water. Coiling elegantly, it reflected the sunlight like a mirror.
The brothers watched, transfixed, as a head broke the water, and looked up at them from under a coppery veil of wet hair which curled softly around slender, sculpted cheekbones and bare shoulders.
Midnight blue eyes looked up, lingering upon the two bemused onlookers, out of a pretty, ivory-pale face, and soft rosebud lips delivered a shy smile before, with an effortless leap, she sliced the surface of the ocean like a blade, disappearing below the waves with barely a ripple.
"It is, it's a mermaid." Dean gasped, "we finally found our mermaid."
Sam nodded breathlessly; "we did it; a mermaid, dude, I don't believe it!"
Dean grinned as he slapped Sam on the back, "you found us a freakin' mermaid."
Turning the exquisite little comb over in his hand, Sam still couldn't quite rationalise what they had seen. "A mermaid," he muttered quietly to himself with an absent shake of the head.
"We've just got to see something that most people, even hunters, never get so see and we've even got a little gift from her," Dean beamed; "dude, this thing'll be worth a fortune to the right buyer, and Sammy, do you know what the best thing of all is?"
Sam turned to Dean with a shrug; "we're alive?"
"Well, yeah obviously," Dean rolled his eyes; "but APART from that, I mean."
Thinking for a moment, Sam shook his head in defeat; "no," he sighed.
Dean grinned broadly.
"She was SMOKIN' hot!"