This is my entry in the 2012 Age of Edward Contest.
Pen name: Plummy
Title: The Shipyard
Type of Edward: Whaling Era (Mid-nineteenth century)
If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit The Age of Edward C2 Community. www . fanfiction . net/community/Age_Of_Edward_2011/95685/
It was easy enough
to bend them to my wish,
it was easy enough
to alter them with a touch,
adrift on the great sea,
how shall I call you back?
Circe, by H.D.
Corlear's Hook 1846
The boy is hardly a boy and, through experience, has long been a man. Growing up beyond the city proper, in the high, uncultivated hills just off the river, he has been an orphan for most of his eighteen years. By day he is a laborer on the docks, unloading cargoes of tea and coffee, spices and fruit, and other luxuries he has not the means to acquire. By nightfall he takes on darker jobs, those that require brute force and the suspension of what little conscience that an unschooled, unclaimed boy might lay claim to.
Sometimes he ventures north to the mansions that have lately begun to appear on the avenue, their white pillars hinting at unspeakable wealth, their back doors his only entrance. Occasionally, one of the cooks will take his delivery and offer the warmth of a home-cooked meal, then take her own comfort from his body, after which he heads back to the wharf – and the rats, and the ragtag companions that people his life.
At this time and in this place, everything leads to the sea. It is not yet a time of coal, and the oil that burns in the lamps is from a precious resource that none consider such, though it is dearly paid for and hard come by.
He finds a certain tranquility, among the lewd and abandoned men down by the taverns near the oyster beds, where, after a pauper's feast and bastard ale bought for a few pennies and an occasional dirty deed, the boy listens to stories of the city's greed, its blindness, and its filth. Then later, when it becomes necessary to clear his head, he walks out onto the cold wet flats and feels the suck of the air holes that bubble their salt-sticky breath against his feet.
The keeper of one such tavern, not an inn by any means – though the hard board tables provide many a man a bed after a hard night of drinking – has a kind eye for the boy and often gives him food and drink in exchange for work because he is good with his hands and can keep his mouth shut. He is also proud, so his carpentry, though rudimentary, stands for payment, and piece by piece, most of the broken chairs and tables have been put back together with painstaking care.
It is on one such night, when the yarns are long and the draughts deeply drunk, that a New England shipwright named Nahuel Benjamin finds himself in the smoky air of the lamplit bar bemoaning the fact – in his curiously singsong accent that yet has the choppy hesitation of his ancestors – that he is down a man, for the idiot he brought on the delivery of a new craft up the Hudson had gotten himself killed by a gang of ruffians over a pocket watch.
The barkeep, who is Black Dutch, and fiercely proud of the fact, jerks a thumb at the boy. The wright takes in his calluses, his broad shoulders, and the pink of his cheek, unmarred by pox, as signs of good health. And when they shake hands in agreement over the less than standard wages, the boy's wide smile contains a full set of teeth. Nahuel has made a very good deal, indeed.
And so with a finder's fee to the keep – and the incurrence of a small debt by the boy for clothing more suitable for the voyage, and a new pair of boots – though not new to the corpse that yielded them – it is agreed that they will set out at dawn on the four-day journey to Mystic.
x x x
Mystic Village 1846
They travel the post road. The boy offers his opinions rarely and, in response to subtle interrogation, is inclined to short answers and nods. The wright is more than happy to fill up the space of the carriage with his own words. Along the shore, the grasses and cat tails seem richer – more russet, abundant – unchallenged by man for precious space. The boy's green eyes are kept wide by the landscape and his mouth shut by long familiarity with an empty stomach. For all the water in his life, the dampness of his assorted lodgings, the sweat of his brow, as they gain distance from Manhattan and its dirty rivers and floating corpses, he longs not for drink but to strip and submerge himself in the sea.
He finally closes his eyes late into the night and sleeps like a child, remaining mostly unconscious through mid-morning on the day of their arrival – a time span of almost three days. When he finally opens them, it is against a sun so bright, so unfiltered by smoke and grime it practically crackles. And when he inhales, the air is so crisp, so clean, it wakes him up from more than slumber.
He sees familiar sights that are yet strange. There are houses, the white lines of their clapboards both purposeful and proud. The grandest of them are piddling compared to the palaces growing along Fifth Avenue, but the fluted columns on these porches speak of reason, not pretense. There are people everywhere, but underneath is quiet, the constant hubbub of the scheming masses in the Hook nowhere to assault his ears.
Deposited at the boatyard, they are met with the bonhomie of men occupied in honest and fruitful labor under a clear blue sky that could be mistaken for divine providence, had the boy any concept of what that might be.
x x x
Just after lunch, they are visited by the master shipwright himself, whose name is renowned for the hardiness of the vessels he builds. More than this, Peter Pettyfer is also beloved for the kindness and care he shows to his men.
When he strides purposefully into the yard, he is accompanied by a much younger gentleman, the son of one Captain Hale, a merchant who owns a fleet of thirty-three vessels. The captain is a shrewd and practical man, successful in many businesses, and much more interested in mercantile pursuits than spending any more time helming a ship. Hale has engaged Pettyfer to repair his oldest vessel, the Isabella, which has returned from her most recent expedition laden with riches but badly damaged.
Captain Hale is a cheeseparing man, however, and instead of retiring the boat, or sailing it to Pettyfer's shipyard for repair, he has sent his son to hire a team to complete the work in her home port, thereby saving the ship the back and forth trip and setting her underway on her next voyage the faster.
Smooth of cheek and fair of face, Jasper Hale is young – having only just completed his college studies the previous year – but has from birth carried the air of destiny about him. The son's passions conflict with the father's, however, and as much as the elder Hale desires to consolidate his fortune on land, away from the fickle and various sea, the younger is tormented by an everlasting itch for things wild and remote.
Before he embarks for Mystic, Jasper made a last play for freedom.
"I forbid it, Jasper! Goddamn you, I forbid it!" His father had pounded his fists on his great mahogany desk. The crystal chandeliers, the leaded glass in the windows, shook with his fury. "I will not have my son set to sea like a common green hand. I have amassed a fortune on the backs of my father and his father before him, and I will not stand by while you spew it on the tits of pygmy girls in Oceania!"
The son's rage matches the father's, but it is as yet untethered to true power. He strides angrily from the room and bids his mother a short good-day, thereupon to undertake the passage to Connecticut where he will arrange for the repair of the ship on which he never will sail.
x x x
Though Pettyfer introduces the young gentleman with great warmth, the latter's response is reserved – a simple nod of the head – which seems to the boy to be one of contempt. He instantly becomes protective of himself and the men he's only just met. His muscles coil, all senses on alert, while he trains a watchful eye on the man whom Pettyfer insists on formally presenting to each and every one of them in turn.
When Jasper Hale realizes, with horror, that he is to be introduced to every single man that will touch the Isabella, he draws himself up and assumes an air of cool formality.
x x x
He has little experience with gentlemen, but out of habit the boy assesses Jasper Hale's stance – his shoulders, the flat of his stomach – and finds that, despite his fine clothes and the careful cut of his hair, he is not soft but unexpectedly well put together and balanced. He is also wound tight as a screw. So while the boy doesn't doubt which of them might prevail in a fight, the captain's son doesn't seem as if he could easily be taken. Yet, as the introductions wear on, the boy notices that with each new grip, each name spoken, the young gentleman's reserve slips just slightly.
Despite his bearing, Jasper doesn't like to be perceived as grand or worthy, and as one after another of the men take his hand, he is visited by a great fondness for those similar others he has known when he was still permitted to roam the wharves unfettered, before he realized he was to be given free rein into every aspect of the harbor, only to be denied the very things he has grown to love and respect – adventure, the sweat of his own toil, the camaraderie of a day's honest work.
By the time the last man in line steps up. Jasper feels himself being assessed. The boy stands as tall as he, and has a gaze, under heavy brows, that carries the weight of many things seen, but what causes him to take note is his voice. It is wary, but neither timid nor deferential, when he speaks his name.
"Edward Masen," he says, and extends his hand.
x x x
That night Edward Masen is included in the celebration of one ship successfully delivered and the beginning of work on another. The men are treated to roasts and fine ale, the pianoforte of Pettyfer's pretty wife, followed by bawdy sea chanteys, and ribald yarns of guts and glory, all told with the pride and romantic yearning of men who find themselves in the midst of a boom and a demand that seems unending.
Pettyfer would have taken only the slightest note of the new hand, but for the flushed faces and whispers of his daughters who pick him from the crowd straight away. His eldest even asks the boy to dance a reel, but Pettyfer's consternation gives way to relief when the boy firmly declines her flirtatious advances.
x x x
From where Jasper Hale is seated, perched on the edge of a divan and situated between two young women who are bending his ear with local gossip, he catches the sideways angle of the boy, who is sitting in a hard wooden chair against a wall, watching the merriment as though observing the sights and sounds of a circus. Though his discomfort is apparent, his posture is exquisite. His clothes are ill-fitting and only serve to emphasize the tense curve of his muscular back, the forward thrust of his hips, the way his hard thighs flow into strong calves. After refusing request after request to dance, he simply leans forward, props his elbows on his knees, and closes his eyes.
Jasper takes note of his lowered lashes, the bump on his nose where it appears to have been broken, his wide and perfect mouth. Pettyfer's eldest, a flaxen-haired beauty, approaches the boy as she has repeatedly all evening and asks if he is exhausted from his trip. He opens his eyes and looks up at her, and when she places her hand on his shoulder, her touch wakens something in Jasper. The boy's very indifference speaks of a nature in which there lurks no civilized hypocrisies and blind deceits. For the first time in a long time, Jasper feels his cock stir.
The boy senses Jasper's stare and when they lock eyes, Jasper's blood rises as if to the hunt.
x x x
Over the next few days, Jasper keeps himself busy with procurement, meetings with other merchants and financial men, though he also makes time to walk the shipyard to survey the work. Ever the enterprising man, Pettyfer suggests additional work that might be done on the Isabella, and goes to great length to praise the skill of the men that will take up residence on the island to repair his ship. He identifies one man's prowess, another's expertise, then casually comments on the boy's diligence, on the strength it takes to carry the long oak boards to be steamed in the kiln, by the way he toils in the heat. Jasper nods silently and finds his equilibrium sorely tested when he catches a glimpse of a naked back, muscular and supple, straining under the weight of yards of lumber.
x x x
Edward spends his first few days catching on to the rhythm of the men, the smell of sawdust in his nose and the pounding of hammers in his ears. Pettyfer's Shipyard employs many crews to keep up with demand, and at this point there are two ships under construction – one whose ribs are exposed, another whose decking is being installed – and a few at the dock awaiting repair. The work necessitates huge quantities of nails, barrels of pitch, cables of rope – all of which he transports back and forth from one work station to another with nary a word.
The yard is so busy that the youngest workers are given bunks on one of these, and the boy finds himself tightly quartered below deck, in the middle berth of three, smashed between a lardoon who snores and shifts the night away, owing to too much drink, and the insomniac below who kicks at the boy's thin mattress in the hopes that he will do the same to the one above. Across the tiny space, other men struggle under the same cramped and fetid conditions. It is not so different from the rooming houses he has stayed in, and same as then, is forced outdoors to take refuge under the midnight sky.
x x x
On the third night of his visit, arriving back at his lodging from yet another dinner and another round of overly enthusiastic attentions, the captain's son finds himself wide awake and reluctant to go indoors. Walking down by the docks, he means only to look at the ships, to imagine that he might take the helm of his own and sail her around the world.
The bright light of the full moon creates long silhouettes of every structure in its path. Jasper keeps himself tight to one named the Victoria James and watches the flow of the river, entranced by the way it travels toward the mouth of the sound. Time passes and as the tide rises, it brings the dock almost level with the boat decks. Sensing movement in his periphery, he finds Edward Masen standing mid-ship, tying and untying knots and trying to rope the capstan. After a while, he seems to grow tired of his game and wanders aimlessly on the deck, until he settles against the mizzenmast, cloaked in shadow, and takes out his cock.
The sight is staggering and lands in Jasper's gut. He instantly makes to leave and give the boy his peace – but a last quick glance at the young man's face, which has grown tight with discomfort, rivets him to the spot. Edward's lips whisper words Jasper cannot hear but imagines he understands. He can almost scent the desire, feel it as his own, and notes when the boy's cock stiffens until it no longer points downward but hugs his belly like a sword. The sight brings Jasper's to full steel.
Edward's hand wraps around his pale and lovely prick. His fingers, slender and strong – alternately squeeze and open with elegant control. Jasper is mesmerized by the way he catches the drops from the leaking tip then moves back up the shaft, adding slickness as he slides his palm back down toward the dark curls dusting his full balls.
Eyes closed, Edward groans low from the sensation. Jasper resents the uncomplicated satisfaction, as much as he wishes to cause the boy's abandon, but on the morrow he is to leave for Boston – and whatever this is, it is not for him.
x x x
In the days that follow, Jasper keeps himself well away from the shipyard, going about his business as though nothing might please him more than reviewing an order for a new binnacle that will make the navigation of the Isabella almost infallible or purchasing maps that show land newly discovered. He can think of naught but the boy on the ship deck, the memory of whom has descended on his soul like a fog.
On the morning of his departure, per his father's orders, he promises Pettyfer a bonus if his men can have the repair work completed within one month. And in that time, he has convinced himself that he will stay away from the island and the ship, from the depressing thought that she will set sail without him. He imagines a unplanned visit to Rhode Island, where – under the ruse of throwing himself head first into his father's business and drowning in reams of paper – he might lose himself in study, visit a professor with whom he corresponds, renew an acquaintance or two up on College Hill, anything to purge the boy from his mind.
Why then did such a span sound like an eternity?
x x x
Nantucket Town 1846
Edward Masen takes to the sea as if born on the deck, and for the duration of the voyage can be found standing at the prow spellbound.
He knows not a thing about sailing, though he has spent long days and nights learning to bend the planks and caulk the holes with oakum, passed time with the barrel-chested smith, the sinewy roper, and the red-faced cooper. The stories – the blood of the kill, the heat of the rendering, the processing of the creamy ooze – seem the height of adventure, and the erotic tales of the islands seep into his dreams. He does not yet know that the violence of the industry is, in every way, more brutal than the streets he has recently escaped, because suddenly there is possibility, and for the first time he begins to think about more than just securing that day's labor and his evening's meal.
Nahuel visits him from time to time on the journey to shed some light on their new employer. His accent is often difficult to catch, not only because of his mixed breed but also because of his terminology.
"In 1826, the Captain was given command of a handsome craft called the Littlesea and made a voyage of two years duration. Ay, she proved to be a fast sailing ship and made quick return across the Atlantic, but back in port, she went ashore on Nantasket Beach.
"It was in winter and she had five hundred tons of cocoa in addition to the oil, but he could find no one willing to go into the water and unload her. But the Captain is a tough old buzzard, so he hired an ox-team and went down himself. He spent all day long back and forth in the icy water and saved the whole of the cargo. In gratitude for the money he had saved them, the underwriters presented him with a silver tea-service."
Edward Masen has never seen a silver tea service, but he instantly assigns great worth to it and decides that he will someday own one – two, if possible.
x x x
Arriving at the harbor, the air smells of salt water, hot tar, and paint, and even though it is a heat wave, nowhere is the stink of human excrement that wafts over Manhattan on the hottest of days. The shipyard is already teeming with the men at work on other vessels. Though he senses no hostility, he keeps his shoulders square and his fists clenched, lest he be caught unawares and suffer the worse for his lack of heed.
Nahuel notices the boy's caution and laughs.
"They've got a long day's work ahead, boy. Short of showing your horn to their women or stealing their drink, your stay should be peaceable enough."
x x x
Though Jasper manages to stay away for almost the entire month, it has not mattered, for when he arrives home the Isabella is still in port, and despite his rigorous attempts to purge himself with too much wine, late nights playing cards, and the single and particular company of a few classmates who needed no excuse for the opportunity to comfort the most beautiful and brightest among them, the boy is still on his mind.
On his first day home, he comes to the breakfast table bleary-eyed and miserable, far too late in the morning to have met with his father, and just in time to listen to the tail end of a conversation between his mother and sisters about a party which is to be held on the upcoming Saturday at the home of Captain Brandon, a coffee merchant whose solitary child is the brightest bauble on the island.
Jasper's mother looks at him imploringly.
"Please say you will come, dear. We have all missed you so much, and I am certain Mary Alice will be quite put out if you don't attend."
This is not a request, but a command, and Jasper recognizes it as such.
He removes the napkin from his lap, wipes his mouth deliberately, places it next to his plate, then pushes his seat back to glare across the table at the woman whose shining blue eyes have doted on him for his entire life.
"If I am to be flung in front of every available woman on Main Street, Mother, the least you can do is respect my intelligence. Do not presume that I am so dimwitted as not to recognize that you are parading me in front of the Macys and the Greenleafs and the Brandons as a husband for their daughters. And, much as it might please me, I am certain you are aware that we are not adherents of the more natural and permissive societies to be found aboard ship, which would allow me the pleasure of many wives' company."
Mrs. Hale has the good sense to smile at her beautiful son rather than meet his challenge, because she knows, for all his indignation, that he will never give her cause for grief that he might otherwise have the means to prevent.
She stands from the table, her grey silk swishing as she moves, daughters in tow. She places her hand on her son's shoulder before she passes and, bending low to his ear, whispers: "I am so very glad you're home." In return, she receives an exasperated sigh and a shake of the head from her first and best-loved child.
When they are gone from the room, he finishes his coffee, contemplates whether to head to his father's office to be dressed down for his month-long absence, or to claim exhaustion and retire to bed with a bottle of claret. Instead, he is interrupted by his mother's maid who announces that a delivery boy has come by to drop off a parcel.
x x x
As he waits in the grand hallway, Edward admires the sense of balance he has come to recognize in the architecture of this world, though the portraits on the walls, which depict the solemn visages of generations of Hales, are comical. Most entertaining of all is the imperious painting of the young master – a fact that is proven even more accurate when he appears in the room and attempts to pull the same stern face he'd affected for the painting.
Having never had any true interaction other than their first meeting, Jasper feigns indifference, though his proximity to the boy threatens to undo him.
"Masen... is it?"
Edward swallows his amusement and nods.
Jasper notices that his skin is sunburnt, and his hair has bleached copper from long days in the sun – if he was beautiful before, now he is godlike. He reaches for the package, which is wrapped in twine.
"Thank you. I'll get this to my father."
But the boy doesn't let go, and when their eyes meet, the question in the one's goes unanswered by the curiosity in the other's.
Jasper fishes in his pocket, assuming he is looking for some kind of payment for his services, but when he places a coin in Edward's hand, his momentary confusion is replaced immediately with rage.
Now that he earns a fair wage, the feel of a piece of silver offered as gratuity for his legitimate work is demeaning. "I've been asked to return with your father's signature," he says with clenched jaw, the heat of his dishonor running red along his neck and cheeks.
Jasper is shocked again by the beauty of his voice, even as it tips with embarrassment, and makes haste to explain that his father can be found at the counting house in the harbor, then nods in dismissal and returns from whence he came.
x x x
Days pass. Ships sail. Still others return with treasure troves. Celebrations are held in both the merchant's stately houses and the sailor's modest homes. All are lit bright with the very cargo that trades so dear in cities across the globe, and Edward wonders about the riches that are to be gained from the sea.
Amid the festivities, Edward finds himself in a place he would never have been invited to had he still lived among the Manhattoes. His lack of breeding, the threadbare elbows of his coat, and his unruly forelock, none of these seem to impede his welcome, and though he finds enjoyable company among the small pod of men from Mystic, the humiliation of this morning, the coin from the captain's son's hand, and the insinuation in his tone, sets poorly in his gut.
He does not dance – not because he cannot, for his natural grace has been much remarked upon by the women who frequent the corners and bars of his original home – but because he is hypnotized by the luxury on display.
He drinks punch from a cut glass mug and sups on chowder flavored with the ever present broth of clams, but which also contains a toothsome bit of lamb, and tastes cakes flavored with the spices brought in from the South Pacific – until the appearance of Captain Hale and his family.
They enter en masse, resplendent in their finery and are welcomed by Brandon as if royalty has entered their midst. Edward watches from within the protective cluster of the Pettyfer men, for that is how they have become known, as the young Hale and his sisters split off. The entire evening grows more brilliant as the golden heads of the brother and sisters anoint the room with their presence.
The evening grows long. The elder Hale commands center stage until it grows time for the merchants to retire to the drawing room to smoke. The married women set themselves upon a few well-tufted banquettes to conspire over the lives of those as yet unmatched. This late in the evening, the democracy falls away and the exclusive club becomes apparent.
Jasper knows that, for the men, this is business disguised as romance and makes his way around the oil-lit room, charming the young women who pose prettily for his pleasure. Daughters of merchants come with dowries, which are often much more attractive than the young girls themselves. Thanks to their father's money, the girls can look forward to a life of comfort, if not love. He knows this from the ordeal that his own sisters endured earlier this evening – the filing and buffing, the brushing of tangles from their hair, the powder and lip stain, and their complaints from the upstairs hallway. But he also has cause to know of the rest of it – the stockings, the garters, the small clothes that might be found under the china silk – for other reasons entirely.
Mary Alice steps into the room, an occasion she has timed for maximum effect. Jasper notices only briefly, for what truly catches his eye is the boy he has been trying to avoid since his return mingling with a knot of men gathered protectively near the punch bowl. Even as his nose is tucked into his cup, deep in drink, Jasper sees he is watching, his eyes brooding. He imagines there is longing there too. In spite of himself, the pantomime he proceeds to perform, though it must seem like the most obvious of seductions to others, is solely for Edward Masen.
x x x
Edward finds, to his astonishment, that his cup is never empty. The entire scene becomes luminous. The temperature of the room grows heated. Bright shining faces swim into view only to be replaced by others. Emboldened by drink, he cannot take his eyes off the spectacle in front of him. He feels a mix of rage and covetousness at the way Jasper's clothes shift when he moves, and jealousy at the way his arms encircle the tiny whale-boned waists of the young women.
A small woman with dark hair appears in the room. Her dress is fashioned off the shoulders to expose her neck and back and cut so low as to be almost indecent.. A dullard named Newton sidles up next to Edward and leers.
Swaying he asks, "Who do you have your eye on this evening?"
Edward doesn't answer because he is focused on the captain's son who is strategically moving toward the newly arrived beauty. When he reaches her, he bends low to pick up her fallen glove. The slowness with which he returns to his full height, his nose practically skimming her leg, is excruciating and erotic. When he stands, he is long and lean to her roundness. She touches his hair and laughs.
Edward imagines the soft fabric against his own skin for just a moment until the sensation remakes itself, and he imagines Jasper's nose skimming along his own body. But when the blond head dips low to whisper something that makes the girl laugh, the storm-blue eyes flash over to him, though his mouth never stops from relaying whatever wicked things he is saying, and Edward finds himself conscious of his own lungs, then feels himself harden, accompanied by a nascent sense of indignation.
He has bedded other men, taken their pleasure, not only as an occasional source of income but as a way to avoid the sickness, the softness, and the issue that inevitably resulted from rutting with women. It has always been purely a physical release, but this is different.
He thinks he might like to bash his knuckles against Jasper's pretty mouth and makes his excuses quickly.
He has never wanted anything for himself outside of those necessities required for survival. Though an occasional object has caught his fancy, it is usually hard earned and shortly held, traded for necessary things like a weeks lodging or the services of the bone-setter. Never before has his sense of purpose involved another human being. Not that he believes in love, but he reckons he could be ambitious for someone else, should the right person come along.
Now, the unexpected desire – not the deep ache in his balls, for Edward Masen is familiar with the demanding nature of men, but the newfound hunger for connection, which has become an uncomfortable fact of his existence ever since he first held the glare of Jasper Hale – makes him insane with need.
So tonight, without hope, but out of habit, he heads for the docks.
x x x
Edward knows that the wharf is peopled at night by men who have moved beyond any sort of society and into almost savage existence. It is a hairy place, but he craves it – the hardness against his suddenly soft temperament. Though he is confident in his ability to dispatch an opposer, if it comes to it, the sharp knife he carries strapped to his leg is additional security.
So he smokes and watches, and when two men approach with a proposition that involves no exchange of coin and promises nothing but brutal relief, he finds himself in a press of arms and legs that, while bleak, brings its own sort of consolation.
x x x
Once Jasper realizes the boy has gone, he takes his leave of the sparkling crowd. His absence casts a pall on the party, and the sadness on the faces of the women is reminiscent of the wretched days when the men go off to sea.
Sober as a judge, he finds himself drawn to the docks, in search for the boy. Standing amidst the gently rocking boats as if among drunken friends, he thinks again of shipping out under an assumed name. Even if he made it aboard an outbound vessel, he rationalizes, it is likely he'd be put off at the first port and returned like some piece of misplaced baggage once his father notices he has gone.
He jams his hands in his pockets and thinks he should jump off quickly, without thinking, but hears – above the roar of the surf – the sounds of a scuffle and turns only to catch the sound of groaning from behind the storage sheds.
"Who's there?" he yells.
He doesn't hesitate to follow the movement.
Pressed in a perverse embrace between two larger men, with his back to the chest of one whose arm is wrapped around his throat, Edward's perfect thighs tense, his britches low on his hips and his pelvis thrust forward as if to present himself to the other who holds his prick captive in one hand. His eyes are closed, and his head is leaned back against the shoulder of the man behind him, his brow furrowed and his beautiful mouth open in either euphoria or horror.
The first punch the captain's son throws is met by the jaw of the first man; the second accidentally clips the boy before Jasper rips him away from the arms of the helpmate. Both would have come back at him, but for the wrath on Jasper Hale's face and the havoc that will be wreaked if he were to be interfered with in any way. They threaten and make a few lewd comments before promising the boy they will see him again, before moving on to find less complicated mayhem.
Furious, Jasper turns to face Edward. It takes everything he's got not to murder him. Though he's made a nominal pass at putting himself back together, a small trickle of blood drips from his nose. He snuffs and wipes it on the back of his hand. When he sees the red, something savage and beautiful crosses Edward's face and before Jasper can move, he hauls back and slams his fist into Jasper's face, but in one swift move the boy is pressed face forward against the brick wall of the Harbor Master's building, an arm bent behind his back.
Jasper clenches his jaw against the sudden engorgement, his cock rising to the prospect of what it would feel like to bury himself in Edward Masen. Jasper wonders if he has followed him to this place only to subject him to the very thing from which he has just been saved.
"Stop," he says harshly into the back of Edward's head, uncertain as to which of them his directive is intended, then cautiously releases him and steps back, only to find himself pushed up against the building.
They stand face to face and neither moves. The shuddering moments that pass are confusing. Normally the boy would not wait, all interactions before now having been driven by raw hunger and opportunity – the goal to finish the act as quickly as possible with a minimum of interaction. Jasper is used to more build up – traversing emotions and levels of understanding while the seduction is organized, planned, put into place, though passion be leeched away by the administrative requirements of secrecy.
In this instant, though, there is nothing to do but close the gap, to start – and the boy tentatively places his mouth not on the lips of the captain's son, but at his neck, at the pulse he knows is there. He places his thumb at the juncture between throat and collar, wraps his fingers around his nape. He feels the bone he could snap, the thin skin just below his teeth where he might tear – but at the quick inhale of breath, Edward brings their faces together and rakes his tongue against Jasper's mouth, his first kiss.
They break for just a moment, and Jasper whispers raggedly, "You've done this before?"
The boy does not answer with words, simply looks at him and slips a hand down Jasper's body to undo the silver buckle. He increases the pressure of his kissing as he unbuttons the placket at his pants. This is not patronage, nor is it surrender, and their bodies negotiate each other with the fluid compromise of water.
"I want you." Jasper's voice is low. The boy shivers to hear him speak like this – like the whores do, in voices calculated to evoke passion in their men – but these are uttered without guile.
And a moment later, Edward licks him entirely, before closing his mouth over Jasper's length. He has tasted other men before, their ammonia and salt, but never has he had the spice and musk of Jasper's skin, and his nostrils flare as he sucks.
They are in an alley, hidden only by shadow, and Jasper wonders why, in this most base act, he feels as though he is in church. He strokes his hand over the bronze hair and whispers coarse words to encourage him, though no coaxing is necessary. His balls grow tight as the boy's mouth sucks back and forth, one hand wrapped around his shaft, the other stroking up and down the back of his legs, then running his fingers higher between his cheeks. Only one other has ever done this to him, and she'd had none of Edward's skill.
Soon enough, he is gasping for breath, unmoored, but before he can regain his breath, the boy stands and firmly turns him. Licking his fingers, he begins to ready him for his own pleasure. For all of his hardness, the boy's touches are gentle. He has stopped listening for footsteps, unable to think of anything but the authority of Edward's hands at his flank, the encouragement of his mouth at his neck, his whispered promise at his ear. Jasper steadies his mind and accepts what is to come, growing used to the insistent pressure, the increasing demand for entry, and his heart pounds in a different way. When Edward pushes inside of him, finally, fully, his body speaks, literate in this language, if no other, fluent in the moment. The shock is white hot at first, lightning, but when Edward reaches around to hold him, Jasper opens his mouth and issues a stream of obscenity that makes the boy smile.
And when they are through, they re-create themselves, fastening breeches, and adjusting collars and sleeves. No promises are made, though oaths have been sworn. There are no niceties, no manners that Jasper has been taught that provide for a goodbye of this type. And in truth, both sense that a certain bond has been formed and each, in his own way, feels assured that they will meet again.
x x x
Days go by, and then it is a week. It is the last night before the day of the Isabella's departure, unable to sleep, Edward wanders the cobblestone streets. He has not seen the captain's son, though he searches for him during the day, expecting that he will be down to inspect the work. At night Edward wanders, staying close to those places where Jasper might be found. His name is mentioned. He sees the shipments of supplies as they are laded on board, the food and casks of wine. But if Jasper Hale exists, he is like a phantom, working somewhere sight unseen.
As the work winds down, Edward must make a decision: go back from whence he came only to take up the dark life he has led, or accept a position at Pettyfer's yard back in Mystic, learn a trade, better himself. The idea frightens him almost more than returning to Manhattan – like a cold blue-eyed tomb or being in church every day for the rest of his life. The choices sit on his shoulders like angel and devil – neither of which he is – and make him edgy. He feels as though the world wants to claim him, keep him.
In this reflective state, he continues his night time circuit around town, until he catches a glimpse of the Captain, his son, and another man exiting the Hale shop. At first he is glad of the unexpected sight, but Jasper's face is haggard. He instantly feels protective, but unable to make any other move, pulls next to a building, jams his hands into his pockets, and looks down at his shoes, so that he may listen to the conversation that had already begun indoors.
An older man with a grizzled beard, who is dressed in the costume of a clerk says, "... and so I suppose the town will be celebrating your engagement to Miss Brandon once the Isabella sails?"
Jasper responds instantly. "That is not – I have not made that final negotiation."
The Captain laughs, and there is not an ounce of rancor in it. "My son desires to see the world before settling down, but he will learn there is nothing like the marriage bed and a well-worn wife to make him worldly."
The older man grins conspiratorially, then claps Jasper on the back before bidding them good night. The father and son turn to head up the street, but not before Jasper looks back toward the docks for a brief moment.
He has kept himself away from the shipyard, fearful that he will not be able to keep his eyes from searching for Edward. He has taken to late nights at his father's shop in town, rather than suffer the indignities of his mother's prodding about his intentions. He has given up any pretense that he will find a way to ship out, but he has gained a new sense of purpose and has decided he will find another adventure and investigate the possibilities of shipping goods west where the riches lie within the land. He will get away from the island and the boy – who has come to represent all that he cannot have – or take him with him when he leaves.
x x x
Captain Hale housed his operations on Water Street. Upfront, the shop sells many of the items needed to head out on a long voyage. In the back are storage rooms for his whaling outfits. The counting-rooms are on the second floor. Though the building had looked solitary and secretive at night, in the cold light of day its goings on are orderly and efficient.
He knows what he is here to do, and so he joins the cast of characters as they make their way inside. Standing on one side of the iron railing that fences off the tall mahogany desks of the bookkeepers, he reminds himself that the lay of a green hand will not be very large; but considering that he has some basic carpentry skills and could splice a rope, he had no doubt, should the proceeds of the voyage be good, that he will earn a handy amount.
A clerk approaches and looks the boy up and down. Edward's strength is as apparent as his lack of experience.
"I was thinking of shipping."
"Thou wast, wast thou? Know nothing at all about whaling, I dare say- eh?" The clerks voice is almost gibberish, but the boy can make out his intent.
Edward shakes his head, but decides he should speak up for himself. "I have no doubt I shall soon learn."
"Can't ye see the world where you stand, boy?"
Edward thought about this for barely a moment before giving his answer.
"Wanting to make your fortune, then?"
Edward nodded and the clerk took a long look at him.
His broad shoulders and his look of determination would have sufficed for Edward Masen to be shipped out on the Isabella, but the shipwright from Mystic had already told him all about the boy – both his fierceness and his ability to work hard hours without complaint. And other than being able to man his watch, having the strength to pull the longboats during the chase, and helping to cut and try out the whale, no skill is necessary.
When he signs his name with an X, he is accepted without further ado.
x x x
Finally, it is done.
On a bright blue day, pregnant with occasion, the Isabella is ready to set sail again on a voyage that might take her a year or three. While her owners stand watch and say a small prayer for her profitable return, the son of the captain murmurs, "Beautiful," though it is not entirely of the ship that he thinks. For now the ship has sailed, he can focus on the future, which, for once, feels firmly in his grasp.
Unbeknownst to him, the boy of whom he dreams is already below deck, chasing a goat that has gotten loose from its pen and is rummaging in the larder.
He looks for him among Pettyfer's men, but none have seen him since earliest morn. Looks are exchanged, but everyone is in such high spirits as they ready themselves to depart the next day that the captain's son is forgotten as they prepare for home.
Still later, he visits the harbor, and when there is no sign of him, Jasper returns home to dine with his family and begin the process of letting his father know that he will be traveling west.
x x x
Seven miles wide and fourteen long, the Island is a temporary empire, built of wood and cobblestone and brick, which is surrounded by an indifferent and precarious nature that withdraws its gifts as capriciously as it bestows them. And on the night of the day Edward Masen departs on the whale ship Isabella, fire hits the wharves.
It begins in a hat store on Main Street, and in no time, races through town, consuming everything in its path. When it reaches the harbor, the barrels of whale oil stored there burst into flame. The burning oil flows into the water, creating a sea of fire. The sky is lit for seven hours by demonic red flame and thick, black smoke; and at its end all the markets and shops, factories that process whale oil, a dozen warehouses, many homes, and the elegant offices of Captain Hale, which contain the manifest of the crew aboard his ships, have been destroyed.
The charred remains of those caught in the conflagration, are laid out at the shipyard, many of them unidentifiable - and much as Jasper Whitlock Hale prayed to every god he had ever been exposed to by every people and tribe of men he had met on his father's fleet, he is forced to believe that the beautiful boy is among them.
The morning after, the violence complete, the sky is a bright cerulean blue, and the whole of the universe seems to have passed by as lazily as a cloudscape on a bright and sunny day.
And on such a day, no more than a month later, Jasper Whitlock Hale, in stunned disbelief that the pain he feels is possible, leaves the Island for San Francisco – carrying the scars of the flames that scorched both his skin and his heart – only to return when his father has grown ill, and his mother commands in no uncertain terms, that he must pick up the mantle that has fallen.
As for Edward Masen, he has no time to be heartsick, because his work on the ship is demanding and constant, except on some nights, during the dog watch, when he looks at the stars and remembers.
x x x
Miacomet Beach 2011
Edward Masen Cullen arrives on the fairytale island, and the very first thing that occurs to him is how like itself it is. Which is funny, because he has never been to this place in his entire life. He wonders how he has come to know something so well and chalks it up a collective nostalgia for a time which none alive have ever known. Preppy chic. To the manner born. One percent. It was rubbish. All this pretension to civility when three days without food and water would turn all these captains of industry into cannibals.
From the white hot light of the sun on the meticulously maintained harbor, to the girls and boys in their expensively tattered clothes, to the shops with couches artfully arranged as if in welcome to a friend's home – the cultured insouciance grates on him. Having grown up in London, he is susceptible to a certain sneering superiority whenever he visits the States, but this summer he has promised himself he will remain open to opportunity – for it was from this place that the original Edward Masen set sail to make his fortune on the back of a whale.
His agent has secured him a quaint little hovel far from the madding crowd, which his publisher has generously paid for, not only to get him out of the way so they can perform some much needed spin control on his most recent unfortunate behavior but also to stroke and squeeze the last bit of his third novel out of him.
And yet, the carefully laid out street causes a coil of warmth in his sometimes cold and calculating heart.
So with a trunk laden with books, his own dishabille wardrobe, and a silver ring made from a coin that has been worn by all of the Edward Masens since the first, he disembarks from the ship and immediately calls for his ride.
x x x
Jasper Whitlock Hale refuses the numeral that would properly distinguish him from those that had come before – though his mother insists on having it emblazoned on every possible surface she comes in contact with. He carries with him that sense of lightly used gentility that has stuck with his family through generations, even as their riches have not. Some property still remains however, and Jasper has taken his ancestor's shack on the south side of the island as his own. It's been rebuilt and made modern over the century and a half that his family has owned it, but it's three miles away on a part of the island which is still wild and secluded enough to suit his disposition. This being the high season, however, he's moved back to town and into his mother's guest house and rented his place out from June through August to a writer from England whose agent didn't bat an eye at the exorbitant rate, which included a hefty security deposit owing to the guy's reputation as a brawler and his notoriety for destroying hotel rooms.
Though the money is more than welcome, he has second thoughts the moment he receives a call from his celebrity tenant announcing his arrival and wondering how quickly someone can send a driver around to pick him up.
When he hears the voice, it is rich in ways that speaks of more than money. He rubs the back of his neck and looks at his rusted Jeep, and laughs.
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
x x x
So the sea returns what it has washed away, recycled through many worlds and many lives, each made insignificant in the totality, but still burning and bright as at its first inception, and when their hands clasp in greeting, it is as all the first times that have come before. And later that night, all plans forgotten, all sovereignty and freedom up for grabs, Edward Cullen covers Jasper Whitlock Hale's mouth with his own and reaches down to unbuckle his belt. Again.
A/N: "We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects." (Herman Melville)
With love and gratitude to Einfach Mich, Conversed, Domysticated, Lyrical Kris, and Hoochie Momma, who regale me with their own stories and were beyond generous with both their attention and encouragement, and especially to Happy Melt, who made sure the word "ambergris" did not appear anywhere in this post, and who made it so much better than it ever would have been without her.
(And apologies to H. Melville. A few snippets from Moby Dick are peppered through out this story, but Fanfiction does not allow for footnotes. If you are interested, I'll be happy to provide [probably too much] detail.)