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On a Cold Unfeeling Sea

I'm not actually sure how I feel about this story, but I've been working on it on and off for months so it's definitely getting posted now that it's done.  This is probably the last Ghost Ship fic I'm writing for a while though.  If not for good.

Title: On a Cold Unfeeling Sea
Fandom: Ghost Ship
Pairings: Munder/Dodge
Ratings: R for homophobia, minor angst
Word Count: 4452
Disclaimer: What do you think?
Summary: It isn't easy being queer salvagers (Dodge and Munder through the eyes of their crew).


Murphy needs a miracle and he’s not likely to get one so his mood is foul as he shoves open the door of O'Malley's bar. At least it had been a good run before everything went to shit and the captain has money to drown his sorrows in alcohol.

The rest of the crew is still busy working, prepping the tug for the job that they're supposed to start this week, and Murphy isn't looking forward to explaining when the truth comes out. Because everyone is going to be pissed once they learn that the Arctic Warrior can't set sail and the captain will be lucky if Epps doesn't take her rage out of his hide.

She deserves better notice both as a friend and a one-third partner in his operation but Murphy is still kind of hoping that he can find that miracle after all. He’s due some good karma since it’s hardly his fault that Grimley suddenly decided to up and run off with his girl without warning, leaving his tug too shorthanded to ship out. Not his fault but as captain he'll still take responsibility and he walks toward the bar with a sigh.

A couple of his fellow captains are there already, obviously just come in from a wreck as well, and with a bit of luck one of them will have a line on some desperate salvager needing work. Though considering how dead this place is at the moment, the only other customers a table of college students down slumming it and a scruffy pair in the corner, Murphy's hopes are sinking fast.

“Crawford, Hendrick.” he says, nodding a greeting to the giant redhead and his friend as he settles on an empty stool. A flick of his fingers at O'Malley gets him a beer and he takes a long sip before speaking up again. “Finish your run up north already?”

“Yeah, just got back in this morning. A few days ahead of schedule but it was an easy haul. No surprises and no fuck-ups for once,” Hendrick replies with a shrug. “You?”

“Last week. We're supposed to head back out again on Friday but it doesn't look like that's going to happen after all. Not unless one of you knows a welder willing to work on a moment's notice with an unfamiliar crew.” While the other captains are technically his competition, there's an agreement of sorts among long-time salvagers and neither of them will steal his claim unless he offers it.

“What happened to the last guy you had?” Crawford asks, “Gridley, Grimey, whatever his name was. You seemed happy with his work.”

“Grimley,” Murphy corrects absently, taking another swig of his beer. “He was decent. Hardly the best I've ever had, but he got the job done. Unfortunately, the bastard ran off with that waitress he's been seeing on the side. Left a note on my door this morning and I was already running one man short after Juarez bailed.”

The other men fall silent for a while after this pronouncement, Hendrick reaching out to knock on the wood of the bar solemnly. Small-time salvagers like them are always a few bad jobs from bankruptcy and the only thing worse than having a crew that you can't trust is not having a crew at all.

But eventually Crawford breaks the silence to offer a solution, each word falling from his lips reluctantly. “If you're really desperate, there's always Munder. The man knows his way around a blow torch and I know no one's hired him since I gave him the boot. That was almost a month ago so I imagine he would probably work for free by now. Although I wouldn't actually recommend it if you have any other options since you don't want someone like him on your crew.”

“Someone like him?” Murphy asks curiously, not sure what could make Crawford frown like that. His fellow captain has a volatile temper, but the redhead isn't usually the type to gossip about anything other than the normal rumors and superstitions that all salvagers live on. “He a thief or something?”

“Worse. The man's a fucking queer and he doesn't even have the decency to hide it. Prancing around with that boy toy of his like they have some kind of right. It makes me sick.”

Crawford punctuates the statement with a curse, spitting a mouthful of scotch to the side. Murphy isn't exactly sure how to respond to this, not used to facing such blatant bigotry. Sure he's not exactly comfortable with the idea and salvagers can be an unforgiving bunch, but he generally prefers to judge people based on their capabilities. That's why he hired Epps when no one else would touch her and that was a gamble which has paid off in spades.

So maybe it's time to take a risk again because it's not like he has anything to lose right now. “Well, at this point all I really care about is whether or not the man can weld. I can always fire him later but I'm going to lose this job if I don't find a welder by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Fair enough,” his fellow captains agree reluctantly, knowing that they've both done things they weren't proud of when their funds were tight. “So if you really want to talk to him, Munder’s over there.”

Hendrick waves one hand toward the pair in the corner, the scruffy ones who've been nursing the same beers since he arrived. Their appearance is nothing like he would have expected – nothing to set them apart from other salvagers except how close they're sitting, and if not for Crawford's words, he wouldn't have thought anything of that. The two men look up warily when Murphy stops at their table and the captain has to wonder what kind of treatment has put that sort of mistrust in their eyes.

“One of you Munder?” he asks, dragging a chair over to sit down.

“That's me,” the brown-haired one replies, knocking his shoulder into the blond's when he starts to speak. “Why you want to know?”

“My fellow captains over there said you were a welder and if that's true I may have a place for you,” he tells the pair, watching the way their faces change. First hope, then a kind of quiet resignation and the captain's never seen potential hires so sure that he must be full of shit.

“Yeah, and what else did he say?” the blond snorts bitterly, taking a swig of his beer.

“Nothing that's relevant right now. I've got a job starting Friday and I need a welder to round out my crew, but if you're not interested, I can always walk away.” Murphy keeps his voice even, the first rule of negotiation never to let them see how desperate you really are. Besides, given the hungry cast to these men's faces, Crawford was serious about seeing that the two of them are never hired and he truly doubts they'll let him leave.

Indeed when he starts to stand up from the table, Munder stops him short. “Now don't be hasty,” the welder says, holding out a hand. “I never said I wasn't interested. Dodge here and Crawford aren't on such good terms is all.”

The blond certainly seems to be the more suspicious one of the pair, watching Murphy warily as he lays out the terms of the job. But he has the air of a seasoned sailor, actually more than his... partner does and so the captain finds himself asking, “And, Dodge is it? If he's the welder, what are you? What kind of skills do you have?”

“I do a bit of everything, really, but my specialty is diving and the underwater rig,” Dodge replies reluctantly when Munder nudges him in the side.

“You any good?” the captain asks, mind spinning at the other man's response. He hasn't been to church in a while but he may have to go again because someone is clearly looking out for him. That is exactly what Juarez used to cover and while the rest of his crew can do the job, it would be much easier with an expert on hand.

“Are you kidding?” the welder cuts in when Dodge makes no move to answer Murphy's question. “He's the best. I'd wager he could swim circles around any of their men.”

He gives a dismissive wave of his bottle toward the other captains still sitting at the bar, opening his mouth to keep on gushing before the blond elbows him. “Munder; shut it. I think he gets the idea.”

“In that case, I may have to revise my offer,” Murphy says as he comes to a quick decision. It's not as though he’s risking anything important with a trial run, even if Epps may actually kick his ass for this. “How would both of you like to work for once? I know the pay ain't great and the berths are nothing fancy, but it's a job and the best that you're likely to get right now.”

“Seriously? You want to hire both of us?” Munder asks, hope and surprise warring on his face. “Didn't Crawford tell you? I mean, if you're desperate for a welder that's one thing, but...”

He trails off awkwardly, obviously not wanting to come right out and say it if Murphy doesn't really know.

“If you're half as good as you claim, then you deserve a chance and my fellow captains had nothing bad to say about your skills. So as long as you can follow orders professionally and pull your own weight, you'll fit in with my crew just fine. Of course we'll have to run you through your paces first, but if you pass you're hired and we'll talk about the possibility of a longer berth after this job goes down.”

Munder and Dodge look at each other, a wealth of meaning in that glance and suddenly Murphy can see what Crawford was talking about. But while the thought still weirds him out rather fiercely, he's committed now and he doesn't go back on his word.

“Yes sir. Thank you,” the pair choruses, reaching across the table to shake his hand and for the first time since he found Grimley's message, Murphy thinks that things may turn out all right.

---

“You did what?!” Epps shouts when he meets her at the docks to fill her in the next morning. “How could you hire two new guys without even consulting me first? What about Grimley?”

“He ran off with his girl yesterday; left me a note and short one welder, so what else was I supposed to do?” Murphy growls back. “It's near impossible to find men on such short notice and these guys came cheap. Besides, Crawford vouched for the welder's skill.”

“Really? Then why didn't he hire them?” she questions flatly, never one to just take his word for things. “There must be some reason that they were on the market if they're so incredibly qualified.”

Murphy can tell by her tone that Epps won't accept anything but the truth and as much as he'd rather not mention the whole mess, she should probably know anyway. “Apparently they're queer. Or gay or whatever they call it now,” he explains awkwardly, complete with aborted hand waves and mumbling. “Crawford's been trying to run them out of town with an embargo but I don't see why the rest of the crew needs to know that part.”

“I'll give you that for now,” Epps concedes grudgingly, her anger finally dying down. “But we’ll have to tell Greer and Santos eventually if these two work out. They coming by today?”

“This afternoon. Run them through their paces for me, will you? See exactly what they can do,” Murphy says, much more comfortable now that they're back to discussing business instead of more personal things. He always sends new guys to Epps for the run through, as much to see if they can take orders from a woman as to see if they can handle the job.

But whatever his fellow captain thinks of Munder's life choices, it seems he was truthful about his skills because Epps comes back a few hours later with what for her is gushing: a short nod and a simple, “Damn good spot welder there.”

She's not quite as certain about Dodge since deep sea diving is harder to judge in these conditions, but Murphy's second declares him competent enough.

So for the first time in months, the Arctic Warrior chugs out of Anchorage with her berths full and it takes about a week for everyone to adapt to the new bodies in their midst. This is actually faster than most crews would manage the adjustment but his core salvagers have had a lot of practice at doing exactly that. They’ve outlasted quite a few welders in the years they've been together, Grimley only the latest in a long line to move on.

Of course, Murphy usually has at least a week on shore to ease his new crew members into the tug's routine but the short notice they’re under now makes that impossible. Which is a neat justification for keeping the truth about Dodge and Munder under wraps.

There's no need to throw that wrench into the works while everyone is still learning to work together and the pair must have a similar idea since they are every bit as discreet as the captain might have hoped. For while neither man lies outright, Dodge is quite practiced at deflecting personal questions and if Murphy didn't know any better, he'd assume they were no more than close friends. Which is good for him since all he cares about is whether or not they can be professional and he's more than happy to put all thoughts of their relationship out of his mind.

The captain honestly doesn't think about it again until their job is well on its way to being completed, the wreck rising from the ocean ahead of schedule for once in his career. Much of this is simply due to fair weather and a decent bit of luck but there is also something to be said for working with specialists.

Because while Grimley was a decent welder, Munder completes his work in half the time and Dodge has turned out to be every bit the diver that his lover promised, cutting through the water like some kind of fucking seal. A normal job might still take months but a few less days or weeks on this end of things will help his profit margin and Murphy is already planning to ask Epps what she thinks of the pair staying on. Although he seriously doubts that his second will have any objections so he's feeling rather cheerful as he makes his way below the decks.

I'm going to have to thank Crawford for his recommendation; he was an idiot to fire Munder just because the man's a little weird. Though I don't know how he even realized considering how discreet they've bee-

Murphy stops short at the sight of his new crew members curled together on one of the lower bunks, resting after another exhausting day. They're not doing anything particularly incriminating, Munder's just passed out with his head on Dodge's lap, but the captain can’t help but feel that he's intruding anyway. Because the blond has yet to notice his presence and Murphy had never realized just how much the diver hid behind a mask.

Not until this very moment, watching Dodge stroke the welder's hair with a soft smile on his face. That is the smile of someone utterly besotted and it makes the captain feel guilty for trying so hard to block out any thoughts of their relationship.

Who is he to say whether one type of love is better than another, even if the idea of them together still makes him uncomfortable? Who is Murphy to judge anyone when his most successful relationship ended in a vicious divorce that still stings to this day? But just as he's preparing to back away and pretend he never saw anything, Dodge looks up and the panic on his face when he spies his captain chills Murphy to the bone.

The blond makes an abortive move to stand or at least shift the welder off him, but he can't seem to bear the thought of waking Munder up. So he just sits there awkwardly, watching the older man like he expects him to explode until the captain finally can't take it anymore.

“You can relax, I'm not going to attack you,” he bites out, feeling somewhat insulted by the other man's obvious mistrust. Uncomfortable he may be, but Murphy's not some kind of monster.

Except Dodge just shrugs and says, “It wouldn't be the first time,” before adding softly, “Though I agree you're not the type. Not like that bastard Crawford who couldn't simply fire Munder without roughing him up a bit.”

His voice is bitter, one hand curling around the welder's shoulder protectively and his dislike of the other captain suddenly makes a lot more sense.

However, that still doesn't explain why the blond is acting so odd now and Murphy has to ask, “Then what exactly are you worried about? I knew about your... interests when I hired you and while I appreciate your professionalism, I never said you had to hide.”

“No, you didn't. But while Munder is still stupidly optimistic about these kinds of things, I learned my lesson the hard way and we need this job. So I ain't gonna lie about it if someone asks me directly but I also don't see the need to draw attention with a bunch of guys I've never met before. Just because you needed a welder doesn't mean that you won't freak out if we shove the truth in your face. There's nowhere to hide on a boat like this and a lot of accidents can happen out at sea.”

Dodge's voice is steady, almost matter of fact, and somehow that is the most disturbing part of all. So Murphy just stares, struggling to come up with some kind of response that doesn't make him sound like either a bigot or a fool.

Because he knows his fellow captains and the other's words are far too easy to believe. Murphy doesn't think that any of them would actually stoop to murder but salvagers can be an unforgiving lot and he wouldn't be surprised if hazing had quickly turned to injury. Although, am I really that much better in the end? If I hadn't been desperate, I might have let Crawford sway my opinion and I was perfectly happy to pretend that there was nothing going on.

Murphy isn't used to feeling guilty – he came to terms with his regrets long ago – but he also never thought that he was the type to ignore an injustice when right in front of him.

And yet if I never stumbled on this scene tonight I wouldn't have realized how much they were still hiding and if they hadn't been skilled, I would have thrown them back to the wolves without a second thought. Damn it all. I didn't sign up for any of these messy complications, but I can hardly ignore the situation now.

Although, if the captain's going to make up for his ignorance, he has to do it fast because he can see Dodge shutting down again as he realizes how much he just revealed.

“Okay then. That settles it,” Murphy announces firmly. “I'm not going to lie and say I understand your relationship, because I don't, but I was planning on offering you more permanent work and I don't see any reason for this to change. So if I'm going to trust you at my back, I need you to stop lying about who you are.”

“I- What?!” the diver asks incredulously, gaping up at him. “You want us to act all lovey-dovey?”

“Of course not. I expect you to be professionals. But when you're off duty, I also expect you to act normal and if anyone has an issue with you, they can take it up with me. As far as I'm concerned, you're crew now and I look after my own.”

“I don't understand you at all,” Dodge says after a moment, shaking his head in disbelief. “And I think you might actually be crazy. But Munder would kill me if I didn't agree so I guess it's a deal.”

In truth, Murphy has no idea what he’s thinking either, but the captain means every word. This is a dangerous business and he can't afford his crew to be divided; Munder and Dodge have to believe that the others will have their backs when shit goes down. They have to trust each other and that's never going to happen as long as they're waiting for the other shoe to drop. So while the captain's not sure how Greer or Santos will react, better to get that over with now than to spring it on them when lives are on the line.

Besides, he refuses to lose two of the best salvagers he's ever seen over his own prejudice and as long as they don't start making out in the corridors, Murphy's sure that he'll get used to it eventually.

---

Though, to be honest, things don't change much at first. The other men are obviously wary of actually doing as he says despite the captain's promises and every softer look is followed by a worried glance his way. But when he never goes ballistic, Dodge and Munder gradually relax and Greer's spit-take the first time the welder flops down on his partner's lap is worth whatever discomfort Murphy feels.

Indeed it's strangely humbling to see how much the pair cares about each other and how much they had been hiding for fear of reprisal by those whom they should trust. Because now that the masks are off, his new crew members turn out to be a pair of raunchy bastards, their filthy jokes fitting in just fine with Epps' drunken puns. Really the only one who still seems uncomfortable when they finally set course for home is Greer and he's a Navy man so that's understandable.

Of course there were awkward moments as his crew adjusted to this new information, and that night with the raisins is never being spoken of again, but by the time the Arctic warrior returns to Anchorage, Murphy's almost forgotten that he'd seriously considered secrecy. Even as the sight of Crawford standing on his dock reminds him why he did.

“Can I help you?” Murphy asks, striding down the gangway to meet the redhead and his bully boys stare for stare. He has an idea of the reason for their presence but he's damn well going to make them say it out loud.

“We ain't here for any trouble, Murph,” the other captain says with an oily smirk, his hands open at his sides. “I just thought I'd be nice enough to escort your welder out of town now that his work is through. You should have time enough to find another before your next job comes due and those two ain't welcome here.”

Crawford's men break into vicious laughs and jeers when he finishes and Murphy can see his own crew moving to stand behind him from the corner of his eye. From the expression on Dodge's face he obviously expects to be sacrificed without a fight but the captain is pleased to see Epps stop him from stepping forward with a firm hand on his arm.

Good girl, can't let that pessimistic bastard do anything foolish before we sort this out. Because no one threatens my crew. Not while I'm around.

“See, I think we're going to have a problem there. I don't feel like finding a new welder when this one is working out just fine and so I'm afraid you and your boys are going to have to leave empty-handed after all,” Murphy declares, crossing his arms over his chest.

For a moment he thinks that it may actually come to blows since several of Crawford's men look ready for a brawl. But for all his size, the redhead has never been much of a fighter, preferring to use brute force instead of skill and both captains know that Murphy can take him down. Can and will if it comes to that and so he’s not all that surprised when the other man backs down.

“Whatever, fags like them ain't worth arguing about. You're obviously going soft anyway, hiring a woman and a fucking Mexican.” With a few more vague threats Crawford slinks off like the coward he is as Santos calls “I'm from Australia, you fucktard” at his back.

“And my family's from El Salvador,” the mechanic continues hotly before mumbling something about the engines and wandering off. There's still plenty of work to be done before the day is over, not to mention getting paid, so Murphy is about to head down to the harbormaster's office when he feels a hand on his arm.

“Are you sure you wanted to do that? Crawford has some serious influence around here and he could make things hard for you,” Dodge asks when the captain turns to look at him, the blond ever the cautious one.

“Don't worry about me. If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't have done it and Crawford can go fuck himself. This is my crew and my boat and I'll hire anyone I damn well please. They got over Epps; they'll get over you eventually. So I expect the pair of you to meet me at the Sloshed Walrus once the Warrior is settled and our cargo berthed; it's time for all of us to celebrate a job well done.”

“Of course, sir. We'll be there,” Munder replies for them both and the surge of protectiveness that Murphy feels is worth the lie. People like Crawford never get over anything but these two deserve to have someone in their corner for once and he never liked the redhead all that much anyway.


Chapter 2: Epps