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On a Cold Unfeeling Sea - Chapter 2: Epps

Title: On a Cold Unfeeling Sea
Fandom: Ghost Ship
Pairings: Munder/Dodge
Ratings: R for homophobia, minor angst
Word Count: 3913 (8365 so far)
Disclaimer: What do you think?
Summary: It isn't easy being queer salvagers (Dodge and Munder through the eyes of their crew).

Chapter 1: Murphy


She doesn't know what to think at first. Actually, that's a lie; Epps is fucking pissed when Murphy tells her the news.

The salvager is a minor partner in this operation; she's worked with Murph for years and she’s earned the right to be consulted before he does this kind of thing. Hiring new people deserves at least a fucking phone call even if Grimley did run off suddenly and who knows if they’re even qualified?

No one works that cheap without a good reason and while salvagers don’t usually make a fortune, the better ones can always find a berth. For these guys to be without a ship this late in the season is a major red flag in Epps’ mind, particularly if Crawford vouched for their skills but wouldn’t hire them.

So she asks Murph for an explanation and while she’s expecting something at least a little sordid, his answer still takes her by surprise. She didn't even know there were gay salvagers in Anchorage and if she'd ever thought about it, she would have assumed that they'd keep it under wraps. It's not like this job is known for being particularly progressive, something Epps knows firsthand considering how much shit she gets for being female even now. Well, to be fair, a lot of people don't actually care, it's only the macho sailor types who can't look past the tits.

But those guys run this business and Epps isn't all that shocked to hear that Crawford has been trying to chase this couple out of town. He was one of the captains who refused to hire her back when she first started, saying that women couldn’t handle being out on the sea. In all honesty, Epps has never quite forgiven him for being such a stupid bigot and she has nothing against pissing him off whenever possible.

Although, he does have some power around here so if these guys actually crossed him then they're either brave, foolhardy or just plain crazy. Which means that they might fit in just fine.

So she agrees to give the pair a trial run and by the time they arrive, she’s almost vibrating with curiosity. Epps has never met any queers before, or at least not any who’d admit it, so the salvager’s almost disappointed when they look quite normal, no different than any of the other scruffy unemployed sailors in this town. If anything they just look hungry and Crawford must be taking his embargo seriously.

That might be trouble later, Epps acknowledges, but she’s never been the type to let someone else push her around. If the other captain has an issue they can deal with it when it happens, assuming these guys are even worth the risk at all.

But the men pass her first test easily, accepting her as Murphy’s first mate without so much as a double-take over her gender and once she sees them work, Epps is pretty sure that Murph found a miracle. The taller one, Munder, is possibly the best welder that she’s ever seen and Epps had never realized that Grimley’s hands trembled until now. But while their old welds were always a little jagged, Munder’s lines look like he drew them with a ruler and this hardly changes at all when she throws him in the drink.

His blond friend is a bit harder to judge since she doesn’t exactly have a wreck for him to dive right now. However, Dodge obviously knows his way around a tugboat, giving the correct answers to all her questions with a breezy grin, and it would be nice to have another person who could take the watch at night.

So when Murphy shows up to find out how they did, Epps gives the pair her seal of approval and the captain hires them on the spot.

She can’t really blame him when the two men look so pathetically grateful for the opportunity and it seems a damn shame that their being gay has made the other captains refuse skills like that. But their bigotry is the Arctic Warrior’s gain and who knows; maybe Dodge and Munder did something else to earn Crawford’s hate. Just because they followed orders during their trial run doesn’t mean that they can cut it on the ocean so Epps plans to reserve final judgment until they prove themselves.

The job is the most important thing and although it sounds a bit heartless, this first trip will determine whether the pair is worth fighting for. After all, salvaging is dangerous work and neither Epps nor Murphy is in the business of charity, even if Murph forgets that fact sometimes.

Although Epps is actually the one who finds it difficult to remain objective once Munder and Dodge come aboard because the pair is so obviously wary of relaxing around her. Or anyone really and maybe if she hadn’t known the truth, the salvager wouldn’t have noticed all the silences.

But she does and she hears the pauses, the moments when their relationship is talked around. Epps can almost see the shape of it in the way that Dodge deflects personal questions and watches Munder protectively when anyone else comes near. That protective streak is the only thing that stops her from wondering if Murphy had been misinformed by Crawford since her new crewmembers keep their hands to themselves. Actually Dodge and Munder are almost too professional even when off duty because no one should look so serious when drinking beer.

However, Murph seems perfectly happy to pretend there’s nothing wrong with the situation and as long as Munder and Dodge don’t mind the secrecy, it isn’t Epps’ place to say anything.

She’s a salvager not some kind of therapist and once they reach the wreck site, she has plenty of other things on her mind. Every job is different in this business, every site unique, and so the first step is always to discover just what they’re dealing with. Which has meant a lot of diving on her part in the past few months because both Murphy and Greer have old injuries to deal with and Epps has been the only one comfortable in a wetsuit for long periods of time.

But this is where Dodge proves himself a godsend since the blond is almost happier in the water than he is on land and Munder isn’t too bad himself. So with those two working shifts together, the wreck is mapped more than a day ahead of schedule and the crew can get down to the brass tacks planning stage.

This is probably Epps’ favorite part of the salvaging process since she’s always enjoyed puzzles and this is simply problem-solving on a much larger scale. She and Murphy take the lead here, their long experience together cutting straight to the heart of the matter, and the new guys seem content to watch them play ideas off each other until they find something that will work.

However, when the crew starts to discuss repairs, she can tell that Munder is dying to say something as he and Dodge have another one of their weird silent discussions behind Santos’ back. If Dodge’s frown is any indication, the pair seems to be arguing and Epps is pretty sure that Munder wins.

He must have won since he speaks up only seconds after the blond settles back in his chair with a huff, his face going blank when he sees Epps watching him.

“Excuse me,” Munder says somewhat tentatively, the welder leaning forward to catch Murphy’s eye. “Not to overstep my bounds or anything, but we can do things way easier. I mean, your plan would work, but if we bypass the bulkhead entirely and shoot through the galley instead, I can get to the first tear without all that extra cutting slowing us up. It’ll be a tight fit since that side of the ship is all crumpled in but Dodge thinks he found a passage that should work. And if we patch the second rip from…”

He seems to gain confidence when no one shoots him down immediately, every word flowing a bit smoother than the last. When Munder finishes, the rest of them spend a moment gaping as Epps’ mind works through the suggestions that he’s offered and then she grins eagerly.

“Okay, so that might work. But how do you plan to avoid the aft bottleneck over here?” the salvager asks, pointing down at their plans. Even if she’s pretty sure that Munder’s right, Epps is still going to make him defend his ideas to the death before trying anything because there’s nothing Epps hates more than overlooking something that comes back to bite her in the ass.

But at a nudge from the welder, Dodge finally joins in the discussion and before long the entire crew is involved in a spirited argument as they hash out the new plan. Greer is the most difficult to convince since he’s always been the one who reins in the crew’s more insane ideas and by the time he’s satisfied, the crew has come up with a Plan B for their Plan B. However, even if things go wrong this should still be faster than Murphy’s original plan of action and Epps has decided that she wants to keep these guys around.

While not all of Munder’s ideas were actually feasible, he has a better grasp of physics than Grimley ever did and at least he bothered to speak up. The salvager prefers a few bad suggestions over none at all, particularly when the rest of them are decent, and once the group breaks up, she walks over to the pair.

“Good work there,” Epps says, slapping the welder on the shoulder and the pleased grin that Munder gives her in response is kind of adorable.

Damn but these guys are making me go soft, she thinks, shaking her head in exasperation as she heads toward the deck to start her shift. The last thing Epps needs is to get all protective over anyone, no matter how much the welder reminds her of a puppy sometimes. Pat him on the head, give him a treat and watch his tail wag.

But Munder’s a grown man and even if he weren’t perfectly capable of looking out for himself, Dodge is suspicious enough to watch out for both of them. Case in point, the last thing Epps hears as she climbs through the hatch is:

“See Dodge, I told you it would be fine. They’re not like…”

It kind of makes her wonder how he was going to finish that sentence, but given Crawford’s bully side, she can probably guess.

Really that night is the first time Epps feels like she got a glimpse of the pair’s actual personalities and she’s pretty sure that they could be friends in time. Assuming Dodge ever stops being paranoid long enough to give this crew a chance.

Epps is actually thinking of talking to him as soon as their wreck is ready to tow home; she even has a whole speech planned out for telling Dodge and Munder that she knows and she doesn’t give a damn as long as they keep doing work like that. But before Epps gets the chance to make her feelings plain, Murphy takes the problem into his own hands.

He never tells her exactly what made him change his mind, just mentions one morning that he told the men to stop hiding their relationship, and he looks so guilty about the decision that she never asks. But this means she’s not surprised when the pair finally fills in some of those silent conversations and she finds the expression on Greer’s face hilarious.

Though maybe Epps and Santos shouldn’t have cackled quite so hard at his consternation since the other man is convinced that it’s a joke for ages and once he realizes that they’re serious, he quietly freaks out.

Quietly because Greer is strangely polite like that, but he obviously isn’t sure how he should treat them now. Not that she can judge him too harshly for it since the man seems more awkward than malicious, but his fumbling is making Dodge bristle and Murphy needs this crew to work together seamlessly.

So Epps solves the problem as she solves so many things: with lots and lots of alcohol. Since the Arctic Warrior is headed back to Anchorage, they can afford to get Greer hammered and if Munder and Dodge are going to be sticking around, she has to sort this out as soon as possible. Total acceptance is probably a bit much to ask for but drunken confessions are great for clearing the air, or at least for blackmail material, and Epps has never been above playing dirty on a job.

Greer can be uncomfortable as he wants in his own head as long as he manages to be civil while they’re working and after the sixth beer he finally starts to chill a bit. Though Epps knows that she’s won once Dodge and Munder join her drunken punning and her navigator can barely breathe between his howls.

Because it’s a lot harder to see people as freaks once you’ve drunk and laughed and told awful jokes together and the Raisin Incident is just icing on the cake. Greer’s sense of honor would have kept him from being too much of a dick after that even without the extra incentives that she gives him, although he still makes weird faces at Dodge’s back sometimes when Munder is finally tired enough to sprawl all over him.

But it’s not like they’re making out in the corridors or anything and there’s not exactly space enough for a private fuck unless the men are secretly contortionists as well. Honestly, Epps tried it once when the Arctic Warrior was docked for repairs and all she got out of it was bruises where bruises shouldn’t go.

So as far as she’s concerned this is the end of it because she doesn’t care what Dodge and Munder get up to when they’re back on land again.

---

Of course, once they reach the shore, Crawford is standing there like some kind of asshole welcoming party and Epps thought they’d have more time before having to deal with him. But apparently the other captain is serious about chasing the two men out of town, his smile vicious when Murphy asks him what he wants.

The man talks like the crew of the Arctic Warrior is just going to roll over for him and if she hadn’t already known that he was an idiot, this would have proved her case. Because you don’t mess with another man’s tug and Epps is pleased to see that even Greer looks seriously pissed off.

So she moves to back up Murphy while Crawford’s idiots throw insults like they’re candy, Greer and Santos flanking her on either side. None of them are very big but damned if they’re not scrappy and there’s no way they’re going down without doing some damage along the way. Assuming Dodge doesn’t screw up everything before the fight even starts.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Epps whispers, grabbing the blond’s arm before he can move. He looks ready to do something stupid and self-sacrificing while Munder just looks ill and she’s kind of insulted that they’re still expecting to be tossed aside. Even if Murphy didn’t plan on keeping the pair on board, she’d like to think that her captain would tell Crawford to fuck off just on principle and Epps is perfectly capable of keeping Dodge in line until her crew manages to overcome his past experience.

She holds the diver in place as Murphy tells the other captain exactly where he can stick his orders, only letting go once the tension seeps out of Dodge’s back. They may still have to fight but at least he finally seems to realize that he won’t be doing it alone.

Honestly Epps is almost disappointed when Crawford backs down from his position, calling out a few more uninventive slurs and curses to mask his retreat. Like she can’t tell that the other captain is a cowardly bastard and now everyone’s going to have to watch their backs when they’re on land since he’s totally the type to jump someone in an alleyway. But Dodge and Munder should have plenty of practice at protecting each other and that’s a problem for another day.

Though she does stay on deck until Crawford’s men have cleared out completely, no stragglers hanging around to interfere with their work. Then it’s on to the business of getting their wreck settled while Murphy deals with all the paper and there’s no time to discuss what just went down for a few hours yet.

Only once the Arctic Warrior and her prize are taken care of does her crew breathe a sigh of relief and start to think of other things.

Greer pulls her aside first, throwing his gear over his shoulder on his way toward the parking lot. “I still ain’t entirely sure about this,” he says, jerking his head toward Dodge and Munder on the deck. “But I’ll back Murphy’s play as long as those two keep things professional on the job. So there’s no need to mention anything about you-know-what to Delia when you see her next, yeah? She might come by the bar with me once I drop my stuff at home.”

Epps just grins her agreement and offers to buy the first round – she never actually intended on spilling the beans to his long-term girlfriend but she knew the threat would come in handy and there’s nothing wrong with being generous now that things have gone her way.

So she locks up the boat and tucks the keys into her jacket, leaving her gear on board the tug for now. Epps usually heads directly to the bar on the first night back in port, sleeping her hangover off in the cabin instead of going home, and she doesn’t plan to change her pattern now. It’s not like anyone is waiting for her back in her apartment and it generally takes a day or two for her to get used to being back on land again.

Santos always walks over with her and tonight’s no different, but the salvager is surprised when Munder falls into step beside them, particularly since Dodge is headed off the other way.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Epps asks, not wanting all their defensive posturing to go to waste. “Some of Crawford’s goons could still be around.”

However, while he seems to appreciate her worry, Munder is quick to reassure her that it isn’t needed now. “He’ll be all right. We don’t live that far away and those guys weren’t the type to put any actual effort into their bigotry. Besides, Dodge can handle himself in a fight just fine when he doesn’t have to protect my useless ass as well.”

“Useless, really?” Santos chimes in, looking the welder over skeptically. “You’re like the tallest one here, man; you should at least be able to throw a punch or two.”

“Well, I broke a guy’s nose once but that was pretty much an accident,” Munder replies with a self-deprecating grin. “I’m all gangly knees and elbows and I tend to do more damage to the ground than I do to my opponent. I am, however, awesome at running the other way.”

“You would be with those ridiculous legs of yours. Slow down and give a guy a break, will you?” the mechanic asks before smacking the welder on the arm with a laugh. “But seriously, stick with us and we’ll show you how it’s done. The trick is to be such a vicious little bastard that no one wants to scrap with you anymore.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But Dodge has been trying to teach me for years without success so I ain’t gonna promise anything.”

“Years, really? How long have you known each other, then?”

He seems startled by the question and hell, he probably is, but Epps can’t deny being somewhat curious. She's never given much thought to their sort of relationship before now but she has a vague sense that gays are supposed to extremely promiscuous. Isn’t that one of the reasons people are always saying they’re bad for society?

Of course, queers probably aren’t supposed to be salvagers either and Munder seems determined to shoot down all of her assumptions because he just blushes and ducks his head bashfully.

“Going on six years now. First met Dodge working on a boat out of Massachusetts and we’ve been walking the same road ever since. Just friends at first, but it only took about five months to decide that this was it for both of us.”

That’s kind of ridiculously sweet and Epps has to wonder if she’ll ever find someone who looks so happy when considering forever at her side. Hell, she’s never had someone consider staying past tomorrow and although she prefers her relationships temporary at the moment, the salvager can’t help a twinge of jealousy at the thought of someone wanting to stand by her like that. Someone other than Murphy because while Epps knows her captain would always support her, that’s a different sort of love right there.

Which is all getting way too serious for a celebration but that’s what she has Santos for because the mechanic just grins wickedly and asks, “So love at first sight then? Or lust instead?”

“Not exactly,” Munder laughs sheepishly, his earlier blushing forgotten in the face of Santos’ friendly curiosity. “If I remember correctly I puked on his shoes and Dodge decided that I couldn’t be left alone after that. He’s always been the type to take care of people whether they ask for it or not.”

“Good to know because someone might have to carry me home tonight,” the other man says, throwing an arm across the welder’s shoulders cheerfully as the bar comes into view. “I don’t drink as often as I used to but this is a special occasion and we’re damn well going to enjoy it. We’ve got a new crew, Murphy promised me that he’d get the Arctic Warrior that new compressor I’ve been eyeing and my baby is one step closer to finally being mine. So the first round’s on me buddy and I think you’ll fit it just fine.”

“Works for me,” Munder says, stumbling a little beneath the mechanic’s weight. “That boat is a beauty and it’d be nice to stick around in the same place for more than a week or two.”

“Are you kidding? With skills like that you’ll be lucky if we ever let you go,” Epps cuts in, brushing past the guys to shove open the bar door. A wave of raucous noise washes over her as she heads toward Murphy, the captain having already claimed their usual table near the back, and the salvager feels the tension draining from her bones. Any concerns that she still has about Crawford and crew dynamics and all those damn bills she has to pay can wait until tomorrow because tonight is about celebrating another job well done.


Chapter 3: Greer