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De Profundis

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Chapter 1: Encounter

There was a giant SPLOOSH as Dean Winchester dove into the ocean. His small Zodiac rocked on the waves caused by his entry, casting a dark shadow over the depths below. Dean used the chain of the anchor to pull himself down into the cool water towards the sunken wreck. All he had to aid him in the inhospitable world below the surface was a pair of flippers and two lungs full of air.

As a treasure seeker, Dean preferred to do things the old-fashioned way. He had learned to deep-sea free-dive from his father, who had been a Marine. He had always loved and respected the ocean from a young age and knew that his destiny was intertwined with its murky depths. His brother, Sam, had grown up the same way, but chose to leave his family at age 17 to go to college. He was now a noted marine biologist on retainer at Sea World in Queensland, Australia and two years ago Dean had moved to the Gold Coast to be near his little brother. Family was important to the Winchesters, especially since their father had died in a fishing accident when Dean was 22.

Dean’s day-job was repairing boat engines and he did some custom painting for his Uncle Bobby’s business, but his real passion was scouring the ocean for sunken ships and treasure. He had found this particular site last weekend but waited until he had a full few days off work to explore it properly. It was a small merchant schooner circa 1890 and, as far as he knew, undiscovered until now. As he swan down, his body shivered in anticipation. Who knew what sort of winders awaited him this time?

As soon as he reached the wreck, Dean took stock of what was readily in view. The ship was lying on its side, moored haphazardly on a sandy hill. The mast was in two pieces, cracked at the base with the largest part flung out over most of the main deck. The mast had been lost, but there was a spaghetti-maze of rigging still attached and Dean made a note to be careful swimming among it. Luckily, it looked like the hatch the lead below deck was open or broken, so the diver decided to start in the belly of the ship to see if any cargo was salvageable.

He ended up first in the crew quarters, which was basically a narrow hall in the middle of the ship with thin bunks on either side. Sailors rarely carried much in the way of personal valuables, so Dean swan past and into the top hold where the every-day items were kept. The cargo would be further below and he’d look into that all in good time. Dean spent a few minutes mentally inventorying what he saw, from the crates marked with food barrels of water and gunpowder to a few mysterious boxes tucked into a far corner. Thinking those looked promising, Dean dove a bit deeper to take a look.

Suddenly, Dean saw a flash of bright blue out of the corner of his vision. Curious as to its source, the man reversed his trajectory. He swam towards the open galley doorway in the hopes of finding what had caught his eye. Inside, the floor was littered with glass and china and the sun shone in through a hole in the hull, igniting them in a riot of murky color. He assumed that had been the source of the blue light, so he shrugged and swam closer to examine the remains of the ship’s kitchen. There was not much of value, just a few unbroken plates and some silverware that might shine up nicely but weren’t exactly treasure material.

After the galley, Dean dove deeper into the belly of the ship, looking for the captain’s quarters near the back. Other than the hold, he knew that that room might have the most to offer in way of treasure. Eventually he located its location but met with a frustrating obstacle—it was completely blocked by a mass of wooden crates and deck rigging. Most of the crates were still full of whatever they had been made to carry and after a few half-hearted tries at moving them, Dean knew this wasn’t going to be a one-man job. If he was lucky, he might be able to shift them enough with the help of his boat, but it would be slow going.

Dean was so busy calculating how much rope he was going to need and if he had enough on the Zodiac to get started today, that he missed the flicker of grey that glinted off an unbroken window. A flurry of movement finally caught his attention and Dean turned just in time to see a huge grey shape swimming towards him at top speed. Dean let out a yell that translated into a stream of bubbles and thrust himself back amid the deck debris.

The shape slid past him and Dean got a good enough look to identify it as a bull shark. It was at least six-and-a-half to seven feet long and bulky, probably a male. And it looked hungry, judging by its gaping maw. Dean had to make a decision fast—did he attempt to hide deeper in the ship where the shark couldn’t get him and risk running out of air, or should be make a run for the Zodiac and hope he could out-swim a shark?

In the end, Dean decided to flee. His startled gasp a moment ago had robbed him of a lungful of air and he was already nearly at his limit.

As the shark made a wide U-turn in order to come back around to get the diver, Dean steeled himself and thrust away from his hiding spot behind a crate. He didn’t look behind him to see if the shark followed his movement but concentrated on putting all his strength into swimming for the surface and the dark shadow of the Zodiac’s bottom. The flippers on his feet turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help—they were made for diving, not speed—but he didn’t have the time to remove them. Every second counted as he sped towards the fresh air waiting above.

He was almost clear of the ship when suddenly something yanked his right foot, forcing him to stop and jerk backwards. For a horrible moment, he thought the bull had gotten a hold of his leg, but a quick glance revealed his flipper was caught in a length of rotted rope that had been floating above the ship. He shook his foot desperately, hoping the rope would give and break but it stubbornly held fast.

The shark sped past him once again and then turned around laboriously, confused by his prey’s sudden pause. Dean reached down to attempt to free himself from the rope or the flipper, but the shark was coming too fast, mere yards away. Dean winced, bracing himself for the bloody impact.

It never came. At the last moment, a streak of bright blue whizzed past him in the water and thudded into the shark’s side, throwing it off course. The two figures spun away from Dean, giving the man more time to wrestle with the rope. He tried to keep his eyes on working the fin off his foot, but he couldn’t help looking to see what had saved him.

At first he thought it was a dolphin. The playful, intelligent animals had been known to attack a shark if one of their pod was in danger, although Dean hadn’t seen any dolphins around and he couldn’t guess why one had randomly decided his ass needed saving. But, dolphins were generally grey and the thing that had swum past him was blue. A big fish perhaps? But, again, he’d seen nothing that big around the wreck and it would have no motivation to attack a bull shark on his behalf.

The shark pulled out of the spin first, swimming in a wide, stunned circle while trying to get its bearings. When Dean saw the other animal, he lost what little breath he’d had when he gasped in shock. What had saved him was not an animal at all. Or, at least, not 100%. Dean wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, but at the moment he was faced with undeniable proof that mermaids were real.

Well, to be more specific, merman. The creature that had saved him swirled around in the water, also a little dazed from hitting the shark head-on. When it straightened and began to swim in his direction, Dean could clearly see it had a man’s slim torso that blended seamlessly into a long blue fish tail. He would have liked more time to acclimate to this astounding discovery, but he was currently out of air and at this point struggling mightily to free himself.

The merman came nearer and Dean briefly panicked. Just because the thing had saved him, didn’t mean it was entirely friendly. He ignored Dean’s floundering and went straight for the rope, beginning to help untwist it with a determined expression on his face. Since the merman was in a better position and seemed to be in the mood to keep helping him, Dean let go and pulled his head up to look for the shark. It was coming out of its circle and looking around for its missing prey and new attacker. It spotted Dean and gnashed its teeth, gunning back in his direction. Dean was too stunned by the sight of the great fish coming at his that he stopped moving and floated helplessly.

Something smashed painfully into his side. Dean felt a flash of pain as his foot was yanked free of the rope, probably twisting his ankle in the process. His lungs burned for air, but he turned to see what had happened. The merman was swirling away from him into deeper water, the source of the impact. A trail of dark green and red fluid followed it and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the merman had pushed Dean out of the way and gotten bit by the shark instead. The bull clearly smelled the blood, as it stopped on its way to Dean and turned, swimming for the merman instead.

Dean swam in the opposite direction. He turned away from the shark and the merman and rocketed towards the surface as fast as his tired legs and arms could propel him. Along the line of the anchor he went, following the metal chain up to where he’d left the Zodiac. He broke the surface with a mighty splash and a desperate breath of fresh air. He gulped down as much oxygen as he could while he held onto the side of the Zodiac with one hand. The other fished for something he kept near the edge of the little boat. When he felt the cool metal touch his hand, he grabbed it and with one last lungful of air, he turned and dove back into the water.

It was easy to follow the string of bubbles created by the fight between the bull and the merman. Dean watched as he swam, mentally cheering the merman as he used his tail to hit the shark’s nose, drawing blood. The shark got a piece of his tail fin in its teeth though, ripping through it so it flapped uselessly as the merman tried to turn away. Dean gritted his teeth, coming back behind the shark. He had just one chance to make this work. Treading in the deep water as gently as possible, Dean took careful aim. Just at the shark turned towards his scent, Dean let loose the harpoon he’d brought, flinging it downward with all his might. It sailed true, embedding into the shark’s gills. A cloud of blood blossomed forth from the fatal wound and in the shark’s last thrash of anger, Dean briefly lost sight of his savior.

The man dove down, getting past the shark’s blood, looking for the merman. He had been hurt pretty badly as well and Dean needed to know it was ok. It took a long minute, and then Dean finally spotted him lying limply over the bow railing of the ship. His tail swayed lifelessly in the churning water and for a terrible second, Dean was afraid he was dead. He came upon the merman and at last saw the wound that it had sustained while saving him. There was a half-moon of the bull’s teeth marks along the merman’s side, covering half his human hip and upper fish tail. The punctures were still seeping blood—green from the fish side and red from the human.

Dean tried to feel for a pulse under his neck. His human skin was chilly, but Dean wasn’t sure if that was normal or not. However, his fingers slid across a pair of slits just behind the merman’s jawbone—gills, Dean realized—and he saw that they were still taking in water. That was enough for him. He grabbed the creature under one of its arms and hauled it up, adjusting his grip so he wouldn’t let go. He used the wooden ship rail as a springboard, launching them up towards the surface. They passed the falling shark on the way, but Dean didn’t spare it a glance. He was too busy thinking about how the hell he was going to save a freaking merman.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Panic
When he again breeched the surface, this time with a merman in tow, Dean grabbed onto the Zodiac and took a moment, trying to come up with a viable plan. Clearly it was his responsibility to help the merman in any way he could. The diver still had no clue why the previously-mythical creature had been down near the wreck, but he strongly suspected that had been the flash of blue that first caught his eye. From what he could tell, it looked like the merman was alone, as none other had shown himself during or after the fight. Dean and the fish-guy were on their own.

After a moment of indecision, Dean looped the merman’s arm through the rope that lined the side of the Zodiac, making sure he couldn’t slip through. Then he hauled himself aboard and searched around for his toolbox. Upon finding the large metal box, he promptly dumped its contents out into the ocean and dunked the box in after them. Working quickly, he pulled a couple dozen boxfuls of water into the Zodiac, flooding the bottom with about 2 inches of liquid. Then he went about dragging the unconscious merman up into the boat beside him. There was nothing he could do for the creature out in the middle of the ocean and the only other place he knew to bring him was home to the harbor.

With him, and the merman, and several gallons of water in the Zodiac, the boat dipped a little, but it floated bravely, bearing all the extra weight. Dean wasn’t sure at first if his new friend could survive above water, so he pushed the merman down into the bottom of the boat so at least one side of his gills could get to the ocean water. Its tail with the shredded fin hung over the side, too big to fit comfortably. Dean did his best wrapping his dry T-shirt around the merman’s side to help staunch the bleeding and he kept one hand protectively over the wound while he used the other to start the engine and steer them towards the shore.

It took half an hour to get back to Dean’s home with the added weight and it seemed excruciatingly slow as the merman’s life hung in the balance. When he finally pulled up beside the Impala, his black-painted houseboat, Dean breathed a sigh of relief. Luckily, he was at the end of the pier and could bring in the merman without fearing prying eyes. What passed for a home-owner’s association on the pier had frowned upon his old black boat, saying it was a blight on the otherwise lovely view of the harbor. Still, since the paintjob wasn’t technically against any rules, they simply shunned Dean to the far end of the dock with plenty of space between the Impala and any other houseboats. That was fine with the solitary diver—he didn’t care for company.

Once they reached the Impala, Dean had to figure out how best to get the merman onto his boat. He was afraid to leave him in the ocean (what if another hungry shark stopped by?) and he couldn’t leave him in the Zodiac in case someone got a wild hair to come down his side of the dock. The only alternative was inside the boat. Problem was, it was a two-person job. That, and Dean had no clue how to take care of a fish, let alone one attached to a human body.

That left one alternative and Dean was reluctant to go that route. Still, it looked like he had no other choice. Making sure the merman still had some water to breathe, Dean scurried up onto the desk and down into his cabin. He plucked his cell phone from the tiny dining table and thumbed in his brother’s number from memory. It took two rings for Sam to pick up.

“Hey Dean. Now’s not really a good time to talk. Can I call you back on my break?” Sam sounded distracted and Dean could hear the distinct sound of a dolphin call in the background. His brother must be out with the trainers at the water park. He hated to interrupt his brother at work, but this was urgent.

“I need you to take your break now. Sorry Sammy, but this in an emergency,” Dean told him. He didn’t want to give his little brother any details over the phone, for fear Sam might not take him seriously if he brought up mermaids.

The noise on Sam’s end was cut immediately and Dean guessed he had ducked into a quieter building. “Dean! Are you ok?” Sam asked, panic clear in his voice.

Dean sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine. I was attacked by a shark but—“

“A shark?! Dean, what the hell is going on out there?” his brother insisted. Sam had always hated it that Dean went diving alone and now his worst fears had been realized.

“BUT—“ Dean cut back in, “I’m ok. I was saved by this…animal but it got hurt real bad. I need you to come out and take a look at it. We could really use your expertise.” There, that sounded urgent yet still vague enough.

Dean could practically hear the frown in his brother’s voice. “Are you sure this is something you need me for? Couldn’t you just take it to a vet or something?”

“No, Sammy, dammit, you need to come now. I’ve never asked you for anything and now I’m asking. It might not last much longer and I don’t know how to save it!”

He must have sounded as freaked out as he felt, for Sam finally agreed to come as soon as he could.

The park was about fifteen minutes away from the marina, so Dean kept himself busy in the meantime. First he checked on the merman, making sure he was still “breathing” in the Zodiac. He hadn’t yet regained consciousness but his wounds had stopped leaking as much blood. Dean tied a clean shirt around the merman’s middle then went about setting up his boat for Sam to work in. He hauled several bucketsful of seawater up to fill his large bathtub so they could put the merman in there and keep him out of sight. He then covered the bathroom floor in clean towels so Sammy could work on his patient. Dean still wasn’t sure the merman could survive out of water, but he wanted it to be ready just in case. He was just finished laying out everything from his first-aid kit on the table when he heard the unmistakable clomp of his brother’s huge feet stomping up the wood dock.

Dean rushed out to meet Sam, hugging his brother briefly before letting go.
“Thanks for coming Sammy. I wouldn’t a made you leave work unless it was important.”

Sam sighed but Dean could tell his brother was happy to see him despite the circumstances. He was still wearing his labcoat from work and carried a very large marine first air kit. “It had better be, Dean. I told the director it was a family emergency. So, you were vague on the phone. What exactly happened with the shark? You said an animal saved you?”

The older man bit his full bottom lip, still not sure how to tell his brother the truth. “Something like that. Look, the how and why aren’t important right now. The point is this thing got hurt coming to my rescue, so that’s on me. I need to do what I can to help it.”

“You always were so noble, Dean,” Sam said, shaking his head. His long brown hair fluttered in front of his face. “Well, let’s see what I can do. Where’s the patient?”

“Ok, here’s the thing,” Dean hedged, leading his brother around the front of the boat to the far side where the Zodiac still floated. “This…creature is pretty unique. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but you’re the only other person I trusted to call and keep his mouth shut about it. Just, don’t freak out when you see it, ok?”

Sam rolled his eyes at his brother’s speech as they rounded the corner of the Impala. “What did you catch, Dean? A giant squid? A kracken? A—is that a freaking MERMAID?!” Sam shouted the last bit as he got a look at what was in the inflatable boat.

Dean slapped his hand over his brother’s mouth, dragging him closer to the boat. “Jesus Sammy! Broadcast it to the whole marina why don’t you?” He felt Sam start to hyperventilate in his arms and whispered frantically into his ear. “Listen to me, Sammy. Calm your fucking tits, all right? Yes, he’s a merman. I don’t know where he came from or why he saved me, but he did and now it’s my turn to return the favor. Can you help him or not?”

His brother calmed somewhat as he was reminded that he was there to help a creature in need. When Dean felt him relax, he stepped back, giving Sam some room. “Dean, if that really is a mermaid—or, man—do you know what this means?” he said in awe. He was blinking quickly, as though afraid to close his eyes in case the mysterious creature disappeared.

The diver frowned. He didn’t care about things like that, not right now. “It means that little dude saved my life and we’re going to do the same for him. Time’s a-wasting. Are you in or are you out?”

Sam took a long deep breath through his nose, steadying himself. It wasn’t evey day a man saw something this amazing, but he had a job to do. “I’m in. You’re right. We’ll worry about the implications of a mythical sea creature saving you later. We should get him into the Impala so I can see what can be done. You got a place for him?” Dean nodded. The brothers then proceeded to carefully lift either end of the dozing merman and carry him as gently as possible up onto the deck then below to the bathroom. To Dean’s happiness, the creature seemed to wake a little, enough to fight them feebly when they tried to move him. They set him down quickly on the towel-laden floor and Dean knelt by his side, placing a comforting hand on his bare human hip.

“Hey, guy, it’s ok. It’s me—the idiot you saved from the shark. I don’t know if you can understand me, but my brother and I are trying to help. We won’t hurt you, ok?”

Miraculously, the merman calmed a little at his words. Dean wasn’t sure if he understood English or simply responded to the even tone of Dean’s deep voice, but he was glad either way. As Sam went about digging in his kit, Dean kept talking, reassuring the creature that they were here to help.

“Look, we need to know pretty fast—can you survive outside the water? Sammy needs to have a look at you and it would be easier to do it out here. Is that ok?”

To his mild surprise, the merman’s eyes fluttered open and focused on his face. They were a shocking shade of blue, like the pure edge of lightning over the ocean. After a moment, his body shuddered and his back bowed. Dean was afraid for a second that the creature was hurting, but then it opened its human mouth and drew in a long stuttering breath. It paused, adjusting to the different sensation of pulling in full oxygen rather than water, and then took a few more slow breaths.

Dean sighed in relief. “I guess that answers that question. Are you good to wait until we’re done before we put you back in the water?”

The merman squinted at him, frowning slightly as he tried to translate human speech into something he could understand. Then he bowed his head in a slow nod. Dean smiled down at him, glad they seemed to be able to communicate, as least rudimentally. When Sammy came to examine the merman’s injured side, Dean scooted around so he knelt with the creature’s head resting on a dry towel on his lap.

Sam hummed to himself as he peeled back the bloody T-shirt and took a long look at the underlying wounds. From where Dean sat he could see that most of the bleeding had stopped but the skin was pale around the wounds and slightly sunken. Sam prodded at one puncture with a gloved finger and Dean felt the merman tense, wincing at the ache in his side. Dean almost felt a physical pain too when he realized this was all his fault. The merman was in hurt because of him. No one had asked the merman to save him, but he had risked his life for Dean’s and the diver now had to carry that heavy guilt. He wasn’t a religious man, but he sent up a prayer to whoever had their ears on that Sam would be able to help his aquatic savior.

At what seemed like forever, Sam sat back on his heels and looked at Dean. “I think I can fix this,” he said slowly. “Luckily, it’s just a clean chomp, not a full bite. I can stitch up the human side, but the best I can do for the tail is put anit-bac on it and keep it clean.” He screwed up his face in consternation and looked from Dean to the merman. “I’d numb the area, but I’m not sure it would be a good idea to give him human meds…” The unspoken alternative was doing the stitches without pain medication.

Dean looked down at the merman. “This is gonna hurt. But I’ll be right here with you. We’ll fix you up.” The merman blinked up at him and drew in another shaky breath. Dean saw him grab bunches of the towels in each hand. Then he nodded for Sam to start.

Sam was as gentle as he could be putting in the stitches, but it was still very painful for the merman. Dean felt his body tense and his jaw twitched as he ground his teeth together against the pain. When Sam hit a particularly sensitive place just above the place where flesh met scales, the merman made an abortive attempt to move his arm up to stop the man. Without thinking too hard about what he was doing, Dean grabbed the hand and brought it back down to the creature’s side. He kept a firm grip on it after that, lending as much comfort as he could under the circumstances. If Sam noticed that his brother was acting a bit chick-flicky, he didn’t comment on it.

After a little bit, Dean noticed that the merman’s skin had completely dried off. A glance at his full lips revealed them to be chapped and dry as well. Getting an idea, he grabbed the end of a towel and dunked it into the tub, getting it nice and wet. He then proceeded to drag the dripping cloth down the merman’s arm, wetting it. The creature shifted a little towards him, apparently liking the feeling, so Dean continued to wet him down, like he might have from a beached dolphin.

As his brother worked, Dean took the opportunity to fully appreciate the merman’s appearance. First he had been too busy fighting for his life to notice, then he’d panicked about his new friend’s injuries. Now, as the merman lay motionless in his lap, Dean looked him over. The human part of him was fairly ordinary from the neck down. He was well-built, a bit on the thin side but with enough muscle to hold his own even against a bull shark. Small pink nipples stood out against pale milky skin that remained cold to the touch. He had prominent hipbones that rose just above the place where his tail began. Dean’s eyes travelled further down, led by the “V” under his navel that pointed south.

The merman’s long tail was only a few shades lighter than his eyes, a rich cerulean that Dean decided right then and there was kind of his new favorite color. The scales glistened with droplets of water and though they looked sharp, when Dean ran his hand gently over them they felt soft like slick rubber or a dolphin’s hide. It took him a moment to realize that the merman may not appreciate his touch, so he drew his hand back and sat on it for good measure.

The two fins at the end of the creature’s tale were the palest blue color. They were translucent and slightly shimmery and when the overhead light shone through them they looked like delicate stained glass. Even ripped, the fins were still magical to look at. All-in-all, the merman’s appearance definitely lived up to that of a fantastic, mythological being.

Dean was distracted from his wandering eyes when he heard a faint “plink!” sound of something hitting an exposed part of the wood floor. When he looked down near his knee, he saw a small, pea-sized white ball. Curious, he picked it up and brought it closer to get a better view. He frowned when he did. The ball’s appearance was that of a pearl, white with the opalescent coating. It was slightly longer on one end, shaped more like an oval or a teardrop. Another fell onto the floor and Dean looked up, trying to find where they were coming from.

The merman was crying. His hand was tightly holding Dean’s and his shoulders were rigid but it was clear he was still in pain from the bite and Sam’s ministrations. His eyes were crinkled shut, but as Dean watched, a tear trickled out from the corner. As it passed over his cheek, it immediately began to harden and by the time it hit the floor a moment later, it was a solid white pearl.

Sam, too, had paused in his work to watch the phenomenon. “I’d read that myth somewhere,” he whispered to his brother. “That mermaids cry tears of pearls.” He reached over and plucked the first one out of Dean’s hand to examine it with a scientific eye.

The diver, the man who spent his life searching for shipwrecked treasure, was unimpressed. “That means he’s still in pain,” he reported. “Can’t you work any faster?”

Sam sighed, but did as his brother demanded, setting aside the pearl to think about later. Fifteen minutes after that, he was finally finished. The merman ended up with about 40 stitches in his human flesh and two rolls of bandage around his tail. Sam had done his best to tape together the ripped fin, which should heal on its own, just like any tank fish that had been in a fight.

“I recommend keeping him in crystal clear water and maintaining a higher salt concentration to help fight off infection,” Sam told Dean as he packed up his medical supplies. At this point the merman had fallen back into a painful doze, his chest rising and falling with the occasional stutter as he forgot to use his lungs instead of gills. “Unless he says otherwise, try not to use ocean water until he starts to heal.”

Dean carefully set the merman’s head down on the ground and got up to see his brother out. “And, uh, how long is that gonna take?” The man, of course, was willing to see it through without complaint, but he wasn’t sure how long the merman would appreciate having to live in a bathtub.

Sam followed his brother out onto the Impala’s deck. The sun was low in the sky by now, its position telling the men they had been below working on the merman at least two hours. Dean prayed that what his brother had done would be enough, but he trusted Sam’s judgment.

“I obviously don’t know anything about mermaid anatomy, but normally I’d say several days to a couple weeks. Dean, I know how much you want to help this guy, but have you really thought this through?”

The diver scoffed. “Of course I haven’t thought this through, Sammy. A man gets attacked by a shark and rescued by a merman, he stops questioning things for the day. But it doesn’t matter. He’s here and I’m gonna take care of him as long as it takes.”

Sam had figured as much. Sometimes he really hated Dean’s impulsive side, almost as much as his noble, savoir-complex side. Still, he wouldn’t be Dean without it. “Fine. Just let me know if you need more help. I’ll be back in a couple days to check on him if I don’t hear from you sooner.” Dean agreed and Sam headed home after that, leaving his brother to deal with his new houseguest.

Chapter Text

Dean returned to the bathroom to find the merman still out cold. He hated to wake him after all he’d been through, but the man figured his guest would probably be relatively more comfortable in the tub rather than on the dry floor. All he had in the bathtub at the moment was the ocean water he’d dragged in earlier but he made a mental note to replace it with fresh water and get some tank salt in the morning so his patient could have a clean, germ-free environment.

The man knelt down next to the sleeping creature and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Hey, we should probably move you before you get too comfortable.” The merman blinked his eyes open slowly, moving them to focus on Dean’s face above him. He scrunched his face up and opened his mouth, breathing in a deep lungful of air before he croaked out “Water?”

Dean flinched a little at the sound of the merman’s voice. It was low and gravelly with disuse but still oddly easy on the ears. He hadn’t expected the creature to be able to speak at all, much less use English, even if he seemed to understand it ok.

The diver smiled. “Yeah, man, got the tub all ready for you. I’ll get you some cleaner water tomorrow, but I wasn’t sure how long you could stay dry for.”

The merman nodded slowly and exhaled a tired “Yessss.”

“Ok,” Dean agreed, moving closer. He took the merman’s wrist gently and arranged it over his shoulder. He slipped both hands carefully under his friend’s body and braced his knees on the floor. “Hold on as best you can and try not to pull those stitches,” he advised. The merman obeyed, wrapping another arm gingerly around his human’s neck, holding on. Dean stood, picking up the merman. To his surprise, the creature was not as heavy as he had supposed and it wasn’t too difficult to carry him over to the bathtub and set him into the cool water.

The merman sighed as he was lowered in and immediately seemed to perk up a little once he was mostly submerged. The top half of his chest and the end of his tail didn’t quite fit into the bath, but he didn’t seem to mind as he sunk down as far as he could and let his gills take on some water. Dean found himself grinning as he watched, proud of his handiwork at saving the merman with his limited resources.

“Well,” he said after a couple minutes, “I guess I’ll leave you to it. I’ll come check on you in the morning.” He was just turning to leave when he heard a splash behind him. “Stay,” pleaded the raspy voice of the merman.

Dean turned back to see the creature sitting up straight in the water with a pained expression on his face. He clearly did not want to be left alone in this strange place. Dean understood—the poor guy had had a pretty rough day and even though they didn’t know each other that well, he could take comfort from the kindness of a stranger. To be honest, Dean didn’t really want to leave the merman just yet either. He told himself it was just because he wanted to keep an eye on his patient, but there was something deeper there that he couldn’t deny. Being saved by a guy then saving his life in return was heady stuff and seemed to forge a rather profound bond between them, even this early.

He scratched the back of his neck and shot the creature a soft smile. “Sure, I’ll stay. Just lemme go grab my pillow.” He hurried off to his cabin to change for bed—a pair of black boxer-briefs and a dark green T-shirt—and ripped the blanket and pillow from his mattress before going back to the bathroom. The merman relaxed back into the water when Dean came in and set himself up on the floor a couple feet away from the tub—just far enough so he wouldn’t get splashed but still close. The man turned off the overhead light, casting the bathroom into darkness. There was a little moonlight from the open porthole above the tub and it glinted off the water.

The room was quiet for a few minutes as they both settled into their new arrangements. Dean was just getting close to sleep when he remembered something. “Hey, um, thanks for saving me earlier. I didn’t get a chance to say it.” It was also easier to say the words in the darkness of the bathroom rather than face-to-face with his rescuer.

“We are even,” said the disembodied voice of the merman.

Dean rolled over on the towels to look up at the dark shadow of the tub. “I didn’t save you back to make us even. I did it because it was the right thing to do,” he said, just to be clear. He didn’t want the merman to think he was in his debt or anything. Dean hated to think that was all their strange new relationship was.

There was a pause of quiet, and then Dean heard a small splish of water as the merman shifted as well. He could barely make out his face in the dim moonlight, just a vague paleness with dark hair. “As did I.” Another pause, then the merman retreated fully back into the water. “Thank you for rescuing me, Dean,” he added in what was almost a whisper. Dean smiled to himself all the same. He knew there was more to it than mutual benefit. As he drifted off to sleep, it occurred to Dean to wonder how the merman knew his name and he determined to ask for the creature’s name in return once he woke.

The next morning, Dean woke early despite his exhausting adventure the previous day. It took him a moment remember where he was since it was obviously not his cabin. As soon as he spotted the bathtub, with the blue tail fin hanging over the side of it, everything came rushing back with vivid clarity. Seeing a flash of blue on the wreck, the encounter with the bull shark where he had been abruptly saved by a merman, him saving the merman in return after he had been bitten, then their return to Dean’s home and Sam’s quick work fixing the merman up.

A glance showed Dean’s houseguest was still sleeping peacefully, so the man quietly snuck out of the bathroom and into the kitchen to make a strong pot of coffee. While it brewed, he dragged out his laptop from beneath a stack of unread newspapers and started doing some research. First he located a nearby store that sold commercial marine salt in bulk and looked around on the Internet to find out how to properly add it to fresh water. The biggest problem was the size of his bathtub. The merman could barely move in it. Dean considered getting a stock tank for him to at least stretch out in, but he had nowhere on his boat to put it. Hopefully, once he started to heal, the merman could move back into the ocean.

After drinking his coffee and tagging a few “non-fiction” webpages on mermaids to read later, Dean went to check on his friend. This time the merman was awake and he turned eagerly towards the diver when he walked in.

“Morning,” Dean greeted him, striding over to sit on the toilet so they were at eye level. “How are you feeling?”

The merman reflected seriously on Dean’s question. “I am well, all things considered. The mast-sized man did good work.”

Dean smirked—even the merman thought Sam was abnormally tall. “Yeah, that’s my brother, Sam. He took a few vet classes for his Bio major. Plus, of the two of us, he was always better at Operation.” The man stopped talking once he realized that the merman probably understood only a quarter of what he was saying. “Anyways, I’m glad you’re feeling better. I’m going to get you some fresh water today, but is there anything else you need?”

The merman cocked his head at him, curiously listening to him talk. “Food?” he asked hopefully.

Dean hit his head with the heel of his hand. “Duh, of course. Er, what do you eat?” He prayed it was something he could pick up at the market, otherwise he was screwed.

“Fish.”

The man waited a moment to see if the creature would elaborate. He didn’t. “Uh, man, you’re gonna have to be more specific. What kind of fish? Raw? Cooked? Anything else?”

“I enjoy kelp,” the merman said helpfully. He didn’t seem to realize that Dean had no idea how to go about feeding him. And why would he? He might think humans ate the same kinds of things he did. Seeing Dean’s lost expression, the merman told him a few particular kinds of fish he liked, all of which Dean could get with little trouble.

“Ok, cool. If you don’t mind hanging out, I’ll go get that salt and some food.”

The merman looked hesitant, but he nodded, not having much choice in the matter. Dean gave him a sympathetic look. “Look, dude, I’m sorry about the crummy accommodations. I wish there was something more I could do—unless you think you would do better in the sea?”

The creature shook his head mournfully. “I am greatly injured and my tail is ruined. I cannot swim or fend for myself at the moment.” He then looked up at Dean shyly, his blue eyes wide with uncertainty. “Unless you would rather I leave? I understand this is a big imposition for you.”

Dean shook his head firmly. “No. No way I’m letting you go out there by yourself until you’re better. I don’t mind you being here. It’s the least I could do after you saved me.”

“But,” the merman protested weakly, “My rescue was a quick, foolish decision. You saving me was a much bigger commitment.” He stopped and slunk back a little in the water when Dean leaned in close.

“What’s your name?” the demanded, getting up in the merman’s space.

“C-Castiel…” he replied, gruff voice a little worried.

“That’s pretty,” Dean huffed, before he got serious again. “Listen up, Cas. You’re not leaving here until you’re healed, and that’s final. You’re stuck with me for the time being, so get used to it.” His jaw was set stubbornly and his freckles stood out on white cheeks; his face so close to Castiel that the merman could have counted each one if he wished.

He understood Dean’s speech for what it was—made out of concern rather than anger—and he gave the man a tentative grin. “Thank you, Dean,” he said demurely, floating back a little closer to his new friend.

Dean dipped his head in recognition and got up. “Now that’s settled, I’m headed out. Anything else you need?” When the merman answered that there was not, Dean left with a wave, saying he’d be back in an hour.

The man was good as his word, returning to the Impala within 45 minutes of his leaving. He lugged two large buckets of salt up onto the deck before going back for his bags of groceries. He’d picked up a few extra things for Castiel, as well as restocked all his medical supplies should they need them. Carrying the bags for Cas, Dean went to check on his merman in the bathroom.

Castiel was dozing in the tub but woke when Dean entered. His nostrils flared when he smelled the food the man had brought for him and his eyes shone bright in anticipation. Dean set the sacks on the ground, and then reached into one of the larger bags. He pulled out a long slab of plastic with metal loops on each end, which he set up perched on either side of the tub.

“It’s a lap table,” he announced proudly. “People put them in the tub so they can read or whatever while they soak. I thought it would make things easier.”

The merman inspected it with a curious expression, prodding at it with a wet finger. “This looks very useful, Dean,” he replied happily. Dean grinned and dug again in the bags, this time pulling out several long thin packages wrapped in newspaper. He handed them to the merman who took them eagerly, already knowing what was inside. There were two large tuna fish and a couple pounds of fresh sardines. In the last, smallest, package was a large crab leg. “For dessert,” Dean told him with a wink. “Oh, and…” he added, delving into a plastic bag that sloshed a bit, “I got some of this from under the dock. I hope it’s ok…” In his large hand he produced a bunch of slippery kelp, which he passed to the merman when he held out his own hands for it.

“This is all so much, Dean!” he cried gladly, hugging the rare crab leg to his bare chest.

Dean shrugged. His expenses were low, living on his boat, and he could afford to treat his new guest. “It’s cool, Cas. We’ll just refrigerate what you don’t eat and you can have it for lunch.”

The merman looked like he wanted to protest Dean’s spending so much money on him, but Dean waved it away. He produced a knife for his friend and watched as Castiel prepared his breakfast. His hands were a bit awkward at first, used to doing things underwater, but he deftly scaled and gutted the fish, placing the good pieces aside to eat. When he had enough, he rolled the tuna slabs up in the kelp, making what Dean referred to as a “Tuna-rito”.

The man noticed as Castiel worked that the merman’s knuckles and arms had small scratches here and there, remnants of his tussle with the shark. His unbitten left side and part of his chest sported large black bruises from running into the bull head-on, but he didn’t seem to be in too much pain, Dean was thankful to note. He felt kind of bad, having made it through their ordeal relatively unscathed while the merman bore the brunt of the attack, but he declined to comment on it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Mermaid 101

Once Castiel was finished with his meal, Dean put the rest of the fish into the icebox and cleared away the lap tray. He sat back down on the toilet and stared at the merman, who was delicately licking the last of the crab off his long fingers. The man had the errant thought that watching him do that was a little bit hot, but then he cleared his throat and addressed the merman.


“So, Cas, mind if I ask you a few questions? I don’t want to pry or anything as it’s pretty obvious your kind want to stay a secret from humans, but there’re some things I got to know if you’re gonna be living here.”


The merman nodded sagely. “Yes, Dean. You may ask. I will answer what I can, although it is technically forbidden for me even to speak to you.”


“Yeah, I wondered about that. So, you’re not supposed to have any contact with humans, in case we spill the beans on your existence?” Dean had figured as much. It was the most logical explanation as to why mermaids were still creatures of myth even if they were obviously real.


Castiel looked down, his hands twining nervously under the surface of the water. “That is correct. My family would be most displeased to know I saved you and am talking to you now. We are to avoid humans at all costs. My people generally adhere to the mindset that you are barbarians and would more likely hurt a merperson than help one.” He blinked up at Dean with shy, hooded eyes. “I am glad to have proven that assumption wrong, in your case at least.”


Dean grinned. “I’m just awesome like that. But, you’re not all wrong. Unfortunately I could see some humans who might try to profit from the existence of mermaids and not for the mermaid’s benefit.” He shrugged. “I guess people are people no matter where they live—some are good and some are bad.”


The merman smiled back, showing off bright white teeth that were perhaps a bit sharper than a human’s. “That was always my hope,” he admitted. “I am glad to have met you, Dean, even if I would be punished for such a breech at home.”


That reminded the man of the most important question he’d been meaning to ask. “Ok, so if that’s true about you avoiding humans, then what were you doing at the wreck? I saw you swimming around—at least I think it was you—long before the shark attacked.”


“Ah, yes…” Castiel said slowly. He dipped his head, hiding his expression from Dean. He sounded rather embarrassed when he replied, “I was…watching you dive. Unlike my brethren, I have always been curious about the human world. My brother Gabriel says I was born with a few scales loose, to be so interested in humans, but I cannot always disguise my interest. I couldn’t resist getting closer to see you.”


Dean leaned in, trying to see Castiel’s eyes under his unruly black hair. “So, was yesterday the first time you’d been that close to a human?” he wondered.


Castiel still avoided his stare. “I prefer not to say,” he told Dean with as much dignity as he could muster. But, the man wasn’t fooled. Something about the merman’s presence had been nagging at the back of his mind since they met. The funny thing was, Dean could now remember distinctly the feeling of being watched on more than a couple of his most recent dives. He had passed it off as just the occasional heavy sensation of going too deep to explore the wreck and hadn’t thought much more about it. Now, it all made sense.


He reached out to put the tip of his index finger under Cas’ chin, gently lifting his head so their eyes met. “That was you out there, wasn’t it? You’ve been watching me for the past few weeks.”


The merman squinted at him, nervous now he had been found out. “I beg your forgiveness, Dean. I did not mean to intrude on your privacy. I was just so curious to see a human and I grew interested in your diving. You are not like the other men who swim below the surface. You swim like we do, without assistance.”


The awe and respect in the merman’s voice made it hard to Dean to be angry at him for the spying. It wasn’t like he had been doing anything worth watching, and it was kind of cool that a real merman thought he was a good swimmer. Dean gave the guy a smile to show he wasn’t upset.


“That’s a pretty big compliment, coming from you.” He sat back a little, turning to look out the porthole at the ocean. “My dad taught me to free dive. He said ‘as long as you’re strong and smart, the ocean will take care of ya’.” He looked back to Cas with a little laugh, just then realizing the weight of his dad’s words. “Guess he was right—you took care of me, didn’t you?”


Castiel’s gaze was solemn. “I couldn’t just let you die, Dean. You’re right—I had been watching you for a while. And I’ve seen all the good you do for my home. Two weeks ago you saved a sea turtle that had gotten caught in a human fishing net. You never disturb the natural order of things as other humans do—taking coral and animals for pets rather than food to survive. A good man like you didn’t deserve to die, no matter what my family says.” He splashed his tail for emphasis, sloshing water out of the tub and soaking the towels on the floor.


Dean was touched. “I do what I can, to make up for the humans that are jerks. Although, you said your family would be mad—I hope I’m not getting you in trouble.” It seemed that Castiel had risked more than his life when he saved Dean the other day. Dean was no stranger to a strict father and he remembered what the consequences were for displeasing him. Castiel’s family didn’t sound much different. From what the man could glean from the merman’s speech, his people lived in large family pods, much like dolphins, which explained why someone Castiel’s age was still worried about what his relatives might do if he disobeyed.


The merman bit his lip, thinking about his home far away from the place he now found himself in. “I cannot predict how they will act upon my return. I don’t know of anyone who has been in my situation. A year ago one of my brothers was caught near a fishing vessel. He was expelled from the wave for a month as punishment. I cannot imagine what punishment would fit my crime.”


The man frowned. “Ok, first of all, ‘wave’?” Castiel explained that it was the collective noun for a group of merfolk. “And second of all, what’s the big deal? Yeah you saved me, but I saved you right back—doesn’t that give me some credit? And I promise Sammy and I would never tell anyone merfolk are real. Can’t we just leave it at that?”


Cas sighed and picked at a few of his chipped scales. “I wish that were so, Dean. I suppose we shall just have to cross that shoal when we come to it.”


Dean agreed. There was so much more he wanted to ask about merfolk now his interest was piqued, but he noticed that Castiel was looking a little tired, so he decided to give it a rest for now. “You should probably take a nap, but before you do, you want me to change this water? I got the salt this morning.”

 

The merman nodded meekly. “If it is not too much trouble. Your brother was correct—the cleaner the water and the higher the salt content, the faster I shall heal.”


Dean assured him it was no big deal. He rearranged the towels on the floor, making a nice little nest for the merman to wait in while he filled the tub with fresh water. When Cas was ready, Dean carefully picked him up, making sure not to jostle his healing tail. He laid the merman on the floor and made sure he was comfortable before draining the tub and going out onto the deck for the salt. He brought one of the buckets up and dumped it in the tub before filling it with fresh cool water.


“You know, Cas,” he said as they waited for the water to reach the top, “I was thinking about a more permanent arrangement. I’m sure it sucks living in the tub and you need to be able to soak your whole tail.”


The merman looked away, embarrassed.  He yawned and mumbled, “I would appreciate that, but please don’t go out of your way…”


Dean reached out to gently pat his bare shoulder. His skin was still cool to the touch, so Dean figured that that was his normal temperature—which made sense for a creature that lived under the sea. “I told you it’s not a big deal; we’re over that. I want you to be comfortable so you can heal—and at some point we’re both gonna be happy that I can shower.”


“Then what would you suggest? Perhaps if you used a net to block off part of the dock?”


The man shook his head. “You might be seen, and the water’s too polluted from all the boats in the marina.” He sat up to see if the bath was full then sat back down when he saw it wasn’t there yet. “My idea was that if I move all the furniture in the kitchen and living room area, and put it into storage for a while, I might be able to fit a small above-ground pool. It wouldn’t be big enough to swim around in, but you could at least be fully submerged. Plus, there are windows out there so you could get some sun.”


Cas flopped his tail in what Dean took to be a sign of excitement. “It would be good to feel the sun,” he said wistfully. To hear that from the merman’s gravelly voice was enough to make up Dean’s mind on the subject.


“Then it’s a plan. It might take another day or so—I need Sammy to come back to help me move it all, but after that it shouldn’t be too hard to set up the pool. Plus, it’s filtered so we wouldn’t have to keep making more saltwater.” He noticed that the tap had filled the bathtub up almost to the top, so he got up to turn off the water. He reached in and swished his arm around, encouraging the salt to fully dissolve. The little crystals swirled around, looking like snow in the clear water. That reminded him.


“Hey, Cas,” the man said, sitting once more beside his guest. “I meant to give these back to you earlier but I just remembered.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a closed fist. There was a soft clinking sound when he open his hand to reveal a palmful of teardrop-shaped pearls. There were about a dozen, all perfect white and a little smaller than an average marble. “I, uh, didn’t know if you wanted these back or…” He wasn’t really sure what the protocol for something like that was. Would Cas want the precious stones back for whatever reason? Or would he rather Dean not bring up his nearly fatal day? Besides, they weren’t just any pearls—they were made from his tears. They must be special in some way.


The merman smiled lightly and stretched out a hand to close Dean’s fingers gently around the pearls. “I do not. You keep them. Use them to pay for expenses while I am here.” He yawned again and Dean slid the tears back into his pocket.

Chapter Text

While Castiel napped back in the tub, Dean set about cleaning up the living room and kitchen. His houseboat was a definite bachelor pad and he rarely had people over. In fact, no one but his brother had set foot in the Impala for at least a year or more. Dean wasn’t really one for company. His days were much the same: he went to work, repairing boat engines and mechanics for his uncle and in his off time he went diving. Socialization wasn’t really his thing. After his dad died years ago he’d gone through a string of women to console himself, but he got tired of them fast and rarely brought them back to the boat. He hadn’t been with someone like that for at over a year, not that he was counting. It had also been more than a while since he had deep-cleaned the place and he figured now was as good a time as any so he could make space for his merman roommate.

The living area of the Impala wasn’t that cluttered—Dean didn’t believe in having stuff just to have it—but there was fishing and diving gear strew over the tiny sofa and plenty of dishes on the table and counter that could use a wash before being put away. Once he got into the flow of cleaning, he actually found himself enjoying the task. It wasn’t so much that he liked dusting and sweeping, but knowing that he was doing it for his friend gave the work a stronger meaning and he didn’t mind doing it if it meant that Cas could have some more room. It had only been less than two full days since he met the merman, but Dean was already stuck on the little guy. After being alone for a long while, he found it nice to know there was someone else on the boat, someone who depended on him and liked him enough to save him from hungry sharks. He wasn’t sure he would like to be responsible for another person for the long run, but his desire to do what he could for Castiel until he healed had not weakened.

After a good couple hours of washing and organizing, Dean took a break to call his brother around the time he knew Sam got off work. “Hey Sammy,” he said when his brother answered his cell.

“Dean, hey!” Sam sounded excited to hear from him. “How’s, uh, your friend?” The dork sounded like he was trying to speak in code, in case any passersby get suspicious about him seriously discussing the care and feeding of a merman. Dean smiled at the thought of Cas and plunked himself down on the sofa as he talked.

“Good, I think. I got him some fish from the market this morning and did the saltwater thing in the tub. He was up and talking, taking a nap now.” Sam hummed understanding.

“I’m glad he’s feeling ok. Did you look at the wound?” Dean heard a car door slam and assumed that his brother had reached his car in the Sea World employee lot.

“No, I was gonna wait on you to do it—maybe tomorrow? Also, I was thinking…” Briefly he outlined his plan to move his furniture and buy Castiel a pool for the living room. His brother seemed to think it was a sound idea.

“That would be good so he can soak his whole tail and you can have the filtered water. Also, I don’t know much about his anatomy, but it might be better for him to breathe with his gills rather than straight O2 for a long period of time.” Dean hadn’t thought of that and grabbed a piece of paper to make a note to ask Cas. Sam went on, speaking over the sound of his car engine starting. “I can come over tomorrow after work and help you set up. I can take a look at his stitches then, too. I’ll text you the address of the place we get our smaller pools for rehabilitation—mention me and they might give you a discount.” Dean gave a sigh of relief—he was happy that his brother was committed to helping him see Castiel’s recovery through. Of course, he was probably just excited about the prospect of grilling his merman with more questions about his species. Scientists…

“Sounds great, Sammy. I’ll have the stuff ready when you get here.” They spoke for another minute about more mundane things, then both brothers said good-bye.

By that time, Dean’s stomach was beginning to rumble and he figured that his roommate would probably be ready for dinner soon as well. He went about preparing a quick meal: mac and cheese with hot dog slices for himself and the rest of the tuna and sardines for Cas along with some fresh kelp. He brought both dishes on a tray into the bathroom.

Castiel was awake, and perked up as soon as he saw Dean stroll into the room carrying food.

“Have a good nap, Cas?” Dean asked as he made himself comfortable on the floor beside the tub.

The merman nodded, still a bit drowsy. “The water is helping. My wounds do not hurt as much but I must sleep a lot as I heal.” Dean bent over to fix Castiel’s tub tray in place.

“That’s good news. I’ve been meaning to ask—among about a dozen other things—if there was some kind of medicine you could take to help with that.”

“Not that humans would know,” he replied. “There are healing plants and fish in the deeper ocean far out to sea, but only my pod would have them. I do not know how human medicine would affect me.”

Dean nodded—he was afraid of that. “Well, we won’t experiment on you then,” he joked as he set out Cas’ dinner for him. “Hopefully this will make up for it.”

The merman nodded, a pleased smile on his face. “Thank you for the meal, Dean.” He dug in with surprising gusto, preparing his meal with the same grace he had earlier.

The man watched him eat another “tuna-rito” and wash it down with sardines. “Sure thing, man. Let me know if there are other fish you like. I’m making a list for tomorrow.” As he ate his mac & cheese, he explained his pool idea to Cas and that his brother was coming over tomorrow to check on him and help with the move.

Castiel swallowed a mouthful of fish and gently wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Your brother was very nice,” he commented.

“Yeah,” Dean replied, “Sammy’s the best. He’s a marine biologist so we’re lucky he was able to fix you up like he did. I bet he’s just falling all over himself trying to think of polite ways to ask all about your people. He’s such a nerd,” he added fondly.

There was a light splash of water as Castiel swished his tail in distracted thought. “My brother is not like yours,” he said gravely. “If Gabriel knew I was here, he would be furious with me. He sometimes comes between me and the other merfolk when they look down on me, but he would not defend me against this breach of conduct.”

Dean frowned, setting aside his empty bowl. “Why would they look down on you?” he demanded. He couldn’t imagine anyone not liking Cas. He was so sweet and innocent… Of course, Dean realized he might be biased, seeing as Castiel has saved his life, but he had nothing if not a nice companion since, taking his condition in stride.

His friend looked down at the remnants of food on his plate and reached out to poke at the head of a sardine. “They…tease me,” he admitted softly. “I am not as strong or as good a swimmer as the others. I prefer to explore and they prefer to practice fighting. I…” A faint flush rose to color his cheeks. “I am fascinated by the human world.” He whispered this last part, as though admitting to a great sin. He went on, still not looking at Dean. “The elders in my pod say you are all barbarians and we should avoid you in the sea, but I cannot help thinking the opposite. You are just as interesting a people as we are and I’ve always longed to know more.”

Dean hated seeing Cas so dejected and he was quick to defend him, even though it was just the two of them in the boat. “That’s a load of crap! You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met—and the bravest! No human I know would defend someone he never met against a freaking shark. That takes strength and guts.”

“You would,” the merman said evenly.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Well, yeah, probably, but that’s not the point. I’m just saying, you’re more than they give you credit for. And, as for liking humans…” he shrugged. “We are pretty cool.” He winked at Cas and got a look of frowny consternation in return.

“’Cool’?”

The man laughed at his friend’s confusion over the slang. “Since you’re here and you may as well do something, I’ll teach you Humans 101. You’ve got a lot to learn…”