Summary: It had all started out with a fight. Nothing unusual, they fought all the time, like cats and dogs. It wasn't always as serious as it had been this time, but still. They had had worse fights before.
But Shawn has enough and decides to take a few days off to get his head clear again. After all, he's in between cases, he can take the time.
What he didn't consider, however, is that when he comes back to Santa Barbara a few days later, his life has changed drastically, and he wasn't even there when it happened.
Shawn flat out refuses to believe the official version of what has transpired, but nobody seems to share his doubts about what supposedly happened. Nevertheless, Shawn won't give up his attempts to get to the bottom of the matter, but could he be wrong this time?
Could it be that he's too involved emotionally to see that sometimes it doesn't take a complicated explanation to shed light on a simple matter?
Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.
Sometimes, an accident at sea doesn't leave a body behind.
And sometimes, even Shawn Spencer is wrong.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Prologue: There's no need to tell your mother about this
The Pacific Ocean, 1985
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining despite some clouds in the sky, it promised to become warm well before noon, the sea wasn't entirely quiet, yet not too rough, either, and Henry Spencer was out on his boat.
Now, Henry probably would have enjoyed being on his boat even if the weather had been worse, but that was another matter entirely. Fishing was about relaxation, not about fun, but it was a basic principle that relaxation simply was more fun if the weather was better.
Henry lodged his fishing rod underneath the small bench in his boat which he was sitting on so that he had both his hands free, then he reached for the thermos and poured himself a cup of strong coffee. A small smile started playing around the corners of his mouth as he watched his eight year old son sit opposite of him, his own fishing rod clutched tightly with both hands, so very obviously struggling to keep his eyes open.
Shawn had protested against being woken at five in the morning on a Saturday, but Henry hadn't relented this time. For a kid like Shawn, fishing was the perfect training. In all his seven years of life, Shawn had probably never sat still more than half an hour, and he hadn't remained silent for more than ten minutes. Not when he was awake, anyway. It was a good training for his later life, Shawn needed to learn how to keep quiet and still for longer periods of time. A cop on a stakeout couldn't bounce around and talk at great length and volume about the last episode of Bonanza, either.
"You want some hot chocolate?", Henry asked, his voice low, and reached for the second thermos flask in the bag beneath his seat.
Shawn's hazel eyes tiredly opened the fragment of an inch and Henry could have sworn Shawn glared at him.
"No. I wanna go home. I'm cold, I'm tired, and fishing is stupid."
Unlike his father, Shawn didn't bother with keeping his voice down, and while silence wasn't as important while fishing on the ocean as it was while fishing on a lake, Henry nevertheless levelled a stern gaze at his son.
"Shawn, keep your voice down. And right now, I don't care whether or not you think fishing is stupid, because it is what we're doing right now. And we won't take this boat home until both of us have caught something, so you might as well start taking it seriously. I for one don't mind staying out here on the ocean for the entire day."
Shawn's eyes widened. "You said we'd be back at noon. At noon at latest, you said. You know that I want to go to Gus' place after lunch!"
"Shawn, I won't tell you again to keep your voice down. Just use what I taught you about fishing and we won't have to be here for long. Just look at your fishing rod, kid. The line is entirely too slack, that way you won't even notice if a fish bites."
"I don't care about the stupid fish. You're mean!"
"No Shawn. If I was mean, I'd have forced you to wear the life-jacket, just like your mother insisted you do. All I want is for you to focus on what you're doing."
Shawn rolled his eyes. "But it's just fishing. You toss out a bait, you wait and wait and wait until a fish is stupid enough not to see the huge metal hook that goes through the worm, and then you haul them in. It's stupid and it's boring."
"Shawn…", Henry said in what he knew Shawn recognised as a warning tone. But Shawn was on a roll and wasn't ready to stop.
"It's the weekend. I wanna sleep. Everybody lets their kids sleep in on weekends, but you take me to a stupid fishing tour in the middle of the night! It's not fair!"
Shawn jumped off his seat, bringing the boat slightly off balance. It swayed from the left to the right for a moment, but not heavily enough to worry Henry. He pointed a finger at his son and drew breath to give Shawn a little lecture about what exactly wasn't fair, when suddenly a wave that was slightly larger than the previous ones hit the boat's starboard side.
The wave stopped the boat's initial movement towards starboard short and sent it swaying back to port, a subtle and yet heavy enough change to make Shawn loose his balance. His words about Shawn better being a bit more grateful that Henry took the time to teach him fishing died on Henry's tongue as he saw his son sway for a moment, then fall over the side of the boat and into the water.
It was a shock, but it wouldn't have been bad normally. Shawn was a good swimmer for his age, he'd have no problem surfacing and swimming back to the boat even without the lifejacket his mother deemed necessary for whenever he was out on the ocean. But before Shawn toppled overboard Henry heard the dull sound that told him Shawn had hit his head on the boat before he went over.
One moment Shawn was standing there, in his jeans and sweater, glaring at his father, the next he was in the water and Henry could no longer see him.
Henry didn't even think about it before he dove into the water after his son. The waves closed over his head as he dove down where he had seen Shawn hit the water, hoping to grab his son before an undercurrent tore him away.
Henry couldn't see much underwater, so he blindly grabbed with both hands until his fingers closed around the fabric of his son's sweater. Making sure he was holding onto Shawn and not merely the fabric, Henry kicked to the surface as fast as he could. As soon as their heads broke the water, Shawn started to wheeze and cough at the same time.
The boat was already drifting a few feet away, so with a tight grip around his son's chest Henry started swimming towards it. When he had reached it, he helped Shawn climb into it, then heaved himself onboard again.
He didn't even notice his spilled coffee soaking into his pants in addition to the sea water as he knelt in front of his son's seat and framed Shawn's head with his hands.
"Shawn, can you hear me?"
Shawn was still hacking and coughing, and Henry gently slapped his back until his son's breathing was back to normal. Then he took some more time to examine Shawn. Gently, he ran his fingers along Shawn's scalp, searching for the place where Shawn had hit the boat on his way down. The seven year old boy hissed loudly as Henry's gentle fingers encountered the sizeable lump on the right side of his head. But there was no blood, at least that was something.
Framing Shawn's face with his hands, Henry waited until the boy looked at him.
"Are you all right?"
Shawn shrugged and nodded at the same time, then he shook his head. All right, Henry knew he wouldn't get any farther this way.
"Does anything hurt besides your head?"
This time, Shawn gave a clear shake of his head as an answer and Henry sighed in relief.
Both were sopping wet, but Henry barely noticed his own state of discomfort as he took a closer look at his son. Shawn stood there, pale and shaking, dropping wet, his hair plastered to his head, and suddenly the reality of what could have happened caught up with Henry. Shawn had been too dazed by the blow to his head to kick back to the surface, if Henry hadn't caught him he could have lost Shawn…It was a thought Henry didn't even dare to think.
Shawn's chin started to wobble, and he was avoiding to look into his father's eyes, as if he was worried that another lecture was only moments away, but a lecture was the last thing Henry had on his mind right now. He sank back into his seat because his knees suddenly felt suspiciously wobbly.
"Sorry", Shawn mumbled.
Henry's head shot up, startled. Shawn was still studying the pattern of the boat's wooden planks, and that was when something inside of Henry snapped. He reached for his son's shoulders and pulled Shawn against himself in a bone-crashing bear hug.
Shawn was startled for a moment, but then a sob broke free and he melted into his father's arms. Henry pulled his crying son into his lap and held him tightly, as tightly as he wished he could have held him before he had fallen into the water in the first place.
"It's not your fault, kid. I should have paid better attention."
Shawn continued to cry into his father's shoulder for some minutes, and all Henry could do was hold his son and rub his back soothingly. When Shawn calmed down a little, Henry withdrew from the embrace just far enough so that he could look into his son's eyes.
"How's the head?"
Shawn shrugged and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Hurts. A little."
"Are you seeing double? Anything wrong with your vision?"
"Anything else that's hurting?"
Shawn shook his head. "No."
"Good. Then let's get you out of those sodden clothes."
Shawn reluctantly disentangled from his father just enough that Henry could turn and open the small compartment in the boat's stern. After a little rummaging around Henry found a towel he could use.
He helped Shawn shrug out of his wet jeans and sweater, then rubbed him dry as much as he could with the towel. Henry's own sweater had thankfully remained dry because he had taken it off earlier, and now he pulled it over Shawn's head. The large sweater reached Shawn's knees, but at least it was dry and relatively warm. Shawn sat back in his seat and pulled his knees up to his chest, getting as much of his legs underneath the sweater as possible.
Henry shrugged out of his own clothing, squeezed as much water out of it as he could, then spread it over the stern of the boat. He repeated the same with Shawn's clothes, then he reeled in their fishing lines and stowed the rods away.
"All right, I'd say we head home. Our clothes should be dry by the time we get back. Here…", he rummaged around in the cooler, took out some ice and wrapped it in the towel. "Put that against the lump on your head, and tell me immediately if the pain gets worse or you start seeing things blurry."
Shawn nodded, pulling his knees a little more closely against himself. "Okay." He thought for a moment. "Do we need to tell Mom about this? She's going to freak."
Henry chuckled. "Promise, and I mean promise, that you'll tell me if your headache gets worse?"
"Then we don't need to tell her, not if it doesn't."
Henry answered the smile with one of his own. "And at least we both learned something from this."
"Really? What's that?"
"Well, you learned one important lesson about going out on a boat. It's always one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself."
Shawn rolled his eyes. "And what did you learn?"
"My lesson was that sometimes your mother is right. Next time, you are going to wear that life-jacket."
Shawn's eyes widened. "There's going to be a next time?"
Henry chuckled as he started the boat's engine and turned them back towards the land. "You bet there will be a next time, Shawn. You still haven't caught a fish yet. Next Saturday we'll be out again if it doesn't rain, bright and early at half past five."
Shawn groaned and sank lower into his seat as Henry steered the boat back towards Santa Barbara.