Rating: PG - wee!chesters - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: John takes his children to the ocean for the very first time.
“I-Is that it?”
John caught a glimpse of a long flat span of blue through the trees and wished it wasn’t. But to his relief, Sammy’s voice had held genuine wonder rather than utter and complete disappointment. After about six years of crisscrossing the states and running right along its coasts it was fairly amazing it hadn’t occurred to him to show the boys an ocean. Living landlocked can make a guy forget that most of the world was water anyway.
And what else was a rare free day for?
When they pulled into the deserted parking lot, he wished there had been a somewhat more spectacular vista to be found. It would have been nice to reveal an expanse of cliffs, crashing thundering waves and emerald hills that rolled out to meet the roiling briny mist. The gray stretch of beach wasn’t the magical panorama he’d wanted to deliver when it came to a first time.
But from the quiet wide eyed expressions on his children’s faces he thought it might have been enough despite the lack of a synchronized dolphin welcome party. Still, he thought he could have done better if the sun had been out and the gentle fall of drizzle wasn’t dotting the windshield. It wasn’t a tourist destination that was for sure. It was just some access road off the two lane State route that got you down through the low laying marsh and then finally to the sand. The locals used it often enough it seemed. The trash cans were topped to overflowing, and the all day fishers were sitting out on shanty lengths of pier with propped up unattended poles. More interested in the contents of their coolers, they barely took any notice of John and his kids as they passed them by.
Sammy took off as soon as they hit the bottom of the splintered steps that lead a steep path down between the dunes. The kid left a nice trail of clothing in a south by south east direction to follow if need be. John couldn’t see much beyond the nearest clump of swaying puffed reeds that grew gold and bright out of the sandbanks, but he could hear his kid’s shrill clear proclamation that he’d immediately discovered something amongst the abundant flotsam. In fact, Sam was loudly insisting that they should all come and look at how awesomely dead it was.
John watched the sluggish curl of waves that sizzled up on the sand. The sky above was dazzling and pure white, the muggy linger of a storm pressing down in the wind and obcuring anything past a mile. The ripe humidity made him leave his shirt in the car but he was still sweating in a T-shirt. Even with the edge of the heat making the thin cotton fabric cling to his back, he was about as interested in going into the cold water as the ten year old at his side seemed to be.
An adult could come up with plenty of good reasons.
There would be no getting sun dripped dry after dipping into frigid surf. The boiling dull sky would leave him clammy and sticky until they found a place to stop for the night. Just the thought of hot damp jeans and clumped sand gritting under his boots on the car floor made him frown. All of that loveliness was even if he did it right and stripped naked before he took the plunge. No thanks. He’d rather sweat it out and watch the sea birds farm the tide. But what kid didn’t want to get wet and stupid? He tried to help the process along by nudging Dean firmly in the shoulder. It didn’t do much good.
Dean’s sneakers stayed right where they were half buried in the moist sand, his body swaying forward with the push and settling right back. John felt his aggravation double when he realized that the excited exuberant tear into the surf wasn’t going to happen much like he pictured. As much as he didn’t want to go for a swim himself, it seemed imperative that his son should. After all, this was the first time the boy had ever seen the honest to God deep blue. This was no back country pond, a shallow ramble of river or a lake with another side. This was the real deal and almost completely all theirs. Besides the fishermen above, there was only one other soul on the long thin strip of shore. An elderly comber was wandering in their direction in some unfortunate neon trunks and a metal detector.
The old man with a belly and a decade old leather tan paused in front of them. Carefully waving the device over a packed area of beach, he quickly halted when its whirring alarm gave the alert of potential bounty.
“Ever find anything good?” John had to ask.
He was sure the man had found plenty considering how many miles it looked like he’d logged in those sun bleached tennis shoes and frayed visor. But John was hoping to hear the most unusual instead of the most valuable. Oddly enough, the man gave him both.
“Find musket balls now and then.” The old man said as he examined the unprofitable bottle cap he’d unearthed. “The grays and blues had a few skirmishes up down this way.”
Taking an ungraceful seat down into the soft ground, John shook his head to himself. He had never liked how everything man created could up and fade away but signs of war never really did. Yanking his boots off, he silently bet one thousand years from now human beings would still be finding landmines in the overgrown jungles, B-17 bombers silently suspended in coral reefs and bullets embedded in trees.
The stranger redirected the exchange to the child present.
“You gonna go swimmin’?”
There was an inspection of the scuffed denims and long plaid sleeves that weren’t what usually appeared on the shore on a sweltering day. When there was no answer forthcoming he gave a friendly nod before moving on.
“Mind the jellyfish. Sting like the dickens.”
John clenched his jaw in annoyance at the well meaning man’s departing back. Dean shifted in place again uncertainly. If his kid was on the fence about going into the water before, the announcement of perilous jellyfish of unknown dimensions wasn’t going to help this situation along.
“We came all this way.” John tried again as he leaned back and worked out the knots in his shoulders. “All you’re going to do is look at it?”
Dean’s answer was to slump down in a seat right next to his dad and settle his elbows on his knees. Sam suddenly reappeared breathlessly from behind the rise, shivering wet and stripped down to sandy underpants that doubled as shorts. The kid had apparently already made himself into floundering shark bait before John could even get himself properly seated with a convenient piece of drift wood for a back rest. Besides a rogue strip of seaweed clinging to his chest, Sam was also happily holding up something clasped in both hands.
It was an upturned Horseshoe crab.
John knew the things were about as treacherous as a misplaced banana peel but the animal did resemble something out of a well financed horror flick. Being a man that never experienced the aesthetic of something based solely on its science, John regarded the struggling prize doubtfully. Hideous was exactly what it was when you wanted to get right down to it. But his son didn’t seem to find its unappealing composition to be any cause for concern. Fascination had always disturbingly superseded all sense of self preservation in that one. Some of the audacity to disregard the grotesque in nature had to do with age, but John knew a lot of the unremitting curiosity had nothing to do with years at all.
Sam carefully turned it over in his hands, making the broad carapace a bowl of squirming legs futilely trying to right itself off its vulnerable underbelly. The spike of its tail whipped up wickedly like a weapon.
“Why’s it look like that?”
John briefly considered how to explain that this one distant relative to the common house spider managed to dodge the slow but persistent ease of evolution for almost 400 million years. Although this particular kid might enjoy the tedium of the minute details, this father didn’t have any of them immediately on hand to start reciting. However, it was comforting to see that some of the creatures that fit into Darwin’s scheme held onto some tried and true practical adages. John took the wriggling arthropod from Sam and examined its prehistoric design with a little bit more appreciation.
“It decided that what’s not broke, didn’t need any fixin’.”
“Can we eat it?” Sam asked skeptically.
He looked back down at the frantic writhe of insect anatomy and swallowed back a wave of nausea. Even the bottom feeders that were considered high class chow had always turned his stomach a little. Grabbing hold of something by the exoskeleton and cracking it open was a causal cruelty that he didn’t really think belonged at a dinner table. He reserved his brutality elsewhere when it was actually required.
“Put it back.” Dean abruptly said.
John sat back and eyed his other one. A fly caught in the car. A dog left tied out in the noon sun. The fuel gauge hovering right over the top of the E. His eldest child had always had an uneasy awareness of the possible distress of other living things. The nation’s never ending supply of road kill they passed every day didn’t make the boy bat an eye but anything teetering on the brink brought out an agitation that he couldn’t keep quiet. John put the horseshoe crab back into the six year olds eager hands.
“Why don’t you send it on home, Sammy.”
Sam looked hesitantly over his shoulder at the slow undulation of waves. He didn’t want to let go of what could possibly be the best find to be had so far.
“I’ll tell you what.” John made his intention clear by pulling out his wallet. “Every hermit crab you find, I’ll give you a dollar—“
“Dad—“ Dean groaned.
“What’s a kermit crab?” Sam was troubled not by any potential danger but possible misclassification. “Are they mean? Are they big? Are they mean and big?”
“No?” Dean was tugging off his sneakers and tossing them aside. “They’re these little stupid things. You can barely even see ‘em.”
In his peripheral vision, John observed his oldest boy slowly roll up his jeans to his knees. Sam waited impatiently for his brother to stand up and finally shed the shirt and t-shirt he’d been wearing.
“Do you hafta go under water?” Sam hoped anxiously. “Do you need a net and a spear and a—“
“All you gotta do is find some of them rocks with puddles in it.”
“Puddles?” Sam was momentarily distracted by a sandpiper’s ludicrous dashing back and forth to avoid wetting its wings. “How do you know?”
“Dunno.” Dean explained to the ground. “Saw it on TV.”
John watched for a moment as his kids debated which tidal pool would be the most likely to score them the most cash. The final winner was an outcrop of rock that was a good walk down the beach. It was far enough away that their voices would be lost on the steady warm breeze but close enough that John could watch without his presence disrupting their work. However, the alarming sight of their exposed lily white skin made him recall what he’d made sure to bring along just in case.
“Hold up a sec.”
Both boys looked suspiciously at the colorful tube he’d pulled out of a pocket. Once a marine always a marine. A solider never could quite avoid complying to the basics of preparedness. He demonstrated its contents by squirting some of the stuff out into his palm and wiping a stripe of it down his own nose. It was as white as the clouds, thick like paste and as super cool to be seen smeared on your face as clown makeup.
“Oh geeze.” Dean muttered. “The sun isn’t even out—“
“Trust me on this one.” John promised as he tossed the lotion up into a free fall so either one of them could make a grab for it. “You’ll thank me later.”
Dean made the last defiant gesture by turning his back instead of reaching up easily for it like he could have. Instead, Sam was the one that made the lurch in its direction, tapping it into the air twice before getting his grip around it. He knew just by watching the six year old spread on long uneven smears that the kid was going to be pinstriped when it came around bedtime. He made a mental note to stop for some of that green aloe gel that would soothe any fires later on.
John leaned back into the worn smooth groove of weathered wood that fit his back and neck perfectly. Pushing his bare feet down into the burning sand, the cool damp buried just underneath felt good between his toes. Opening one eye, he also took note that his oldest kid wasn’t bothering with the helpful advice on how to save your hide at all. That was just fine with John. Shutting his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest, he breathed a sigh and got ready to doze for a while.
There was nothing like the first lazy afternoon along side the surge and whisper of an ocean.
But there was also nothing quite as memorable as your very first full on righteous sun burn either.