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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 07:15 pm
Fleet of Stars
Title: Fleet of Stars
Author: Lovesrain44
Genre/Rating: Gen/R
Verse: Fleet Verse
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Word Count: 20,927
Warnings: Non con.
Summary: The conversation Willie has with Buzz in Inches and Miles leads Willie to remember his travels with Jason as he compares the freedom he once had with the eternal prison that is now his in the Old House.
A/N: I once thought, back in the day, that Jason was quite cruel to Willie. Then, when I really started watching and studying these characters, I realized that they were quite close friends. Not slash close, but close. And I have often wondered where these two “sea tramps” travelled to. The poem below inspired the title:
Fire in the night, O dreams!
Though she send you as she sent you, long ago,
South to the desert, east to ocean, north to snow,
West of these out to seas colder than the Hebrides I must go
Where the fleet of stars is anchored, and the young star-captains glow
The Dying Patriot by James Elroy Flecher

Willie hopped on the back of the bike, his hand resting briefly on Buzz’s waist as he settled his feet on the posts, and pressed his legs along the edge of the smooth, leather seat. The night was cast darker now, a breeze kicking up, a good breeze, bringing a promise of summer’s warmth beneath the cold, crisp slide of air down his shirtcollar. Water sloshed across the sand as the tide began to go out and Willie felt the jerk of Buzz’s body as the bike’s engine barked into life. The sound was hard and edged against the silence of the sandy bay, and Willie thought he heard Buzz ask him a question, so he leaned forward and said, “All set.”
Even though he wasn’t.
He wanted to stay out beneath the stars forever. The stars were where Jason was.
Buzzed eased the bike into first, lifted his feet from the gravel, and in that second it was as if the bike had taken flight. Balanced beneath Buzz’s hands, a knowing touch sending it to hop over a hillock and onto the smooth, dark, white-lined roadway. Wheels humming as the bike sped through the rows and rows of trees, sliced through overhead with the canopy of stars. A bright wind whipping his hair straight back, Buzz’s outline cutting the chill only a little bit, Willie hooked his hands on the bar behind him, and titled his head. Up, up, so his eyes could see the stars as the bike flew beneath them.
A thousand stars, and a thousand more behind that, all silver and white, burning far, far away to slice through the space between them. As Buzz raced the bike, curving into the turns, not hurrying, but moving, constantly moving, like the stars through the sky, or the cut of a hull through the splash of fine, cold Pacific waters, or the softer spray of the warmer South Pacific. Or even the frozen Atlantic, off the coast of Greenland, once, the stars pouring down through crystal air as they were now, the sudden image of Jason in his ever-present black hat, elbows bent on the iced railing, pointing at the bleak tip of an iceberg under the dark sky. His breath smelling of whisky, and the cold tap of the metal flask as he’d passed it to Willie.
And from his lips, nothing profound, nothing sacred, or even remarkable, but Willie remembered laughing just the same. “Now that’s what I call cold, boy-o,” Jason had said. “Colder than a well-digger’s ass.” Tipping back his head, laughing, Jason catching the flask as Willie dropped it, chuckling in his turn. They’d both been so drunk, well-armed against the cold with pea coats
and woolen socks, sailing on the Bonny White Lady, signed up for crabbing, but both so horribly bad at it, discovered only when it was too late, that the captain had set them to rolling lines of rope, and baiting the cages, and staying out of the way. Their pay would be cut in half upon their return, they’d been told, but Jason had shrugged, and Willie had thought it very likely that the other man had something else lined up and that the Bonny White Lady was only a stopover on the way to someplace else. It was taking them, after all, to the port of Sandvosk, in Norway, and from there, well, the world was full of boats. And stars.
It hadn’t been like that at first, of course. When Willie had first bumped into Jason, it had been beneath smoky, humid-dark skies over a Brooklyn tenement street. The middle of summer, and so hot, even as the sun went down, you couldn’t breathe for feeling your lungs were on fire, with the stars blocked out by city smog and dust. That was the way summer was, hell-hot, cut through by violent storms that didn’t do a thing to rinse away the dirt or the heat or the smell.
He’d been on his way home from the brickyard, which had been the third job his dad had gotten for him in as many months, with the unhappy news that he wasn’t going to be joining the union anytime soon. Not that he cared, but dad would have a hairy fit, and be liable to send Willie’s head through the plaster. So he was taking the long way, past the bars on the docks. The sweat was sticking to him like a heavy paste that had been thrown on him and then it had started to rain. It had been like standing under a waterfall, with the only shelter being in the Bulldog, and so even though neither him nor his dad was a regular customer there, he slipped inside. No one was likely to tell him to scat, not with the rain pouring down, the gutters filling with dust and mud slipping past. He even had his last fifty cents in his pocket; maybe he could get a beer.
The taproom was like so many others in Brooklyn, dark wood, designed with grace from another time, but begrimed over so that any gentleness that had existed was beaten down by the rude noise and the almost black sawdust on the floor that had seen its last change several months back. The smell was a familiar one though, the thick burst of local brewed hops, and the sharper cut of whiskey straight from the bottle, poured without ice or soda. And sweat, the unwashed kind that begged for soap and hot water, but whose cries were drowned by clothes that were worn, of necessity, every day except Sunday.
Somebody had a radio on, the baseball scores were being ripped through. There was a shout, and a murmur, and Willie stepped into the room, feeling somewhat more at home.
A small silence fell, and he stuck out his chin, running his tongue over his back teeth, and marched right up to the bar. Then the regular noise built up again, and he raised a finger at the man behind the counter. “Beer, Mac,” he said.
“Name ain’t Mac,” said the bartender, wiping his hands on his blackened, button-down shirt.
“Gimme a beer anyway,” said Willie, flipping his hair out of his eyes. Sass always took him a long way, and he would use it now, even though this was an unknown bar, and the patrons no friends of his. Didn’t matter anyway, did it? They’d sell him a beer, wouldn’t they, when he pulled out his fifty-cent piece.
He reached into his pocket and laid his money on the counter, slipping onto the stool and tucking his feet into the railing below. His muscles relaxed the second the mug of beer was slammed in front of him and the money taken away by a hand with dirty fingernails. Taking the first sip, he sighed. Two dimes rattled down in front of him, and as he took a second, deep swallow, he wished he had another nickel. Then he could have a second beer and then maybe dad’s shouts and blows wouldn’t matter so much.
Not that they did, of course. Not that Willie cared. He was out of here anyway, soon as he could figure out just exactly how.
Behind him he heard the flutter and slam of the door as someone else came in, and the ripple of a coat and a hat being removed and shaken, and he saw Mac nod at the newcomer and sipped at his beer. Down at the end of the bar was another commotion as the newcomer sat down and was greeted with mock blows and growls of hello, and a shot of whiskey was put in front of him without his having said a word.
Slick. That’s what he was. Slick as an eel. Willie watched as he downed the shot without even moving his throat, head tipped back, dark hair swirling with dampness around his face. Flushed with the heat of the room and the warmth of the drink, he only smiled as Mac asked, “Hey, McGuire, you got that two hundred you owe me?”
“Of course I do,” came the reply, his accent as thick as if he were off-the-boat Irish. He patted his own pockets as if concerned. “But of course, in this neighborhood, all those thieves about.” He nodded, smiling with his teeth. “It’s in a safe place, of that I can assure you.”
The man, McGuire, turned his head, making a motion for another in his glass, and caught Willie’s eye. Winked, and Willie felt himself sniggering. Mac’s money was long gone and he was an idiot if he believed McGuire. But believe him he did, pouring another whiskey and bringing a cold beer besides, waving away the man’s attempt to pay. “On the house,” he was saying, fully believing that his errant money was actually on its way.
McGuire was taking off a thick sweater, in the heat, and Willie figured he had really just come off a boat. Maybe not from Ireland, maybe not, but from somewhere. Somewhere cool and cold, not smacking of pressured heat, and the dirty grime that fell from the skies with the rain. He was folding the sweater now, in the warmth of the bar, placing it to one side, seemingly confident that it wouldn’t be taken, and Willie moved back, and took the last swallow of his beer. Not as cold as the first swallow, but a damn sight better than a warm one, or no beer at all. Jostled the fellow next to him and felt the splash of something cold along his side, and then a grip on his arm. Pulled off the barstool inside of a second, and the man holding him, shouting. Red faced with drink, as if he’d started the moment the Bulldog opened.
“You spilled my goddamned beer!”
“Did not,” said Willie, narrowing his eyes. “So let go of me.”
The grip on him tightened. “Buy me another beer!”
“Ain’t got the money, so what are you gonna do about it, huh?”
The logic of this baffled the other man, and the patrons in the bar were only watching, including Mac, as if this were their afternoon’s entertainment, and not one of them wanted to miss a thing. It was almost perfectly silent as the other man’s breath whistled through his nose, and his glassy eyes tried to pin some sort of focus on Willie.
Willie wasn’t afraid, not really. Yeah, nervous, okay that much he could admit to, because this was a new bar, and he didn’t really know how much swinging room he had, or if the floor tilted or how slippery it was, or who might stand at his back if things got out of hand. In his own neighborhood, in the Red Hat, he wouldn’t have even needed to ask or worry about any of this.
The other man shook Willie, his hand like a bear claw, and the muscles of his shoulders bunched up, looking like he could make one clean move and jerk Willie’s arm right out of its socket. The feeling was going from his shoulder on down, and now he was starting to sweat.
“BUY me a BEER!”
“Don’t have any—”
A fist was coming at his face, and Willie ducked, but he could only duck so far, and the fist grazed the top of his head. Three inches lower and his face would have been a pulp. But the man didn’t let go and Willie had a feeling the second blow would be much more accurate. And his own left fist would only do some good if it could connect with an eye, or a jaw, but the other man was tall, like a bear standing in a forest and Willie had to look up so far that it threw him off balance, and he began to think that the beating he’d been fearing from his dad was coming from a stranger in a strange bar anyway. Some things just couldn’t be avoided, he guessed, and shifted his weight to balance when the next blow came. Maybe he could duck, maybe the grip on his arm would slip, maybe—
“Well, now,” said an Irish voice in his ear, “what a welcome home this is, and me with money in my pockets to burn. Give us a round, eh, Pete? For me and my new friends here.”
He clapped a hand on Willie’s shoulder, causing him to jump three feet, and then on the other man, gripping the collar of the shirt and giving it a jerk.
“A nice cold beer, eh, my friend? That’s what you want, isn’t it? Well, have a seat.” Here he shoved, and the other man was forced to let go and slither onto the nearest barstool. His elbows landed with a heavy thud, slipping in the spilled beer, and the patrons in the bar seemed to sigh with disappointment and turned away.
Blood pumped through Willie’s liberated arm, and he rubbed it, looking at the other man reaching into his pockets and paying with a dollar for the beer, nodding and smiling, saying “Keep the change,” and then giving a nod to Willie as he stood between him and the other man, pulling a mug to his mouth and drawing it back and sighing, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Tuck in, lad,” he said, jerking his chin at the beer Willie now saw was being pushed at him. “Tis not going to get any colder, is it.”
Willie shrugged and sat back down. Free beer was, after all, free beer, and he could save his twenty cents for the servomat and get a sandwich and a candy bar later. If it was at all possible, the first draw of his second beer of the afternoon was better than the first had been. McGuire stood at his elbow, polite as if he were waiting his turn at a party for the dip, until the man sitting on the stool had finished his free beer and shuffled off to find the urinals. Then McGuire slid in next to Willie, his elbows avoiding the spilled beer until Pete came with a damp rag and wiped it all up. He seemed to settle in and finally relax. As if he’d been waiting for just this bar stool, this moment, to take a deep breath and let his head nod down.
“Where you in from?” asked Willie, half to be polite and half because he wanted to know.
“Come bound from the North Sea,” Jason said, sipping his beer, “across the Atlantic.”
“Is it cold there?” Willie asked, his eyes flicking to the pile with the sweater and the hat.
“The Atlantic is as cold as the North Pole,” came the answer, somehow glittering and smooth at the same time.
“Even in summer?”
“Even then, boy-o.”
“And where’re you goin’ now?”
“Catching a boat to go round the Horn,” said McGuire, not looking up.
“Aw, c’mon,” said Willie. “Really, where?”
McGuire shrugged. Not caring if Willie believed him or not, it seemed. Just stating the facts and Willie could take it or leave it. “Round the Horn, stopping at Tierra del Fuego,” he said. “Good money going on a ship picking up spices, and the water is warm.”
Warm water was not thing Willie felt short on, not with summer so hot, and ice water as far away as winter, and he couldn’t imagine it. Nor even picture in his head where the Horn actually was, his geography learning days far enough behind him that even a sensible map of the country he lived in was falling to dust. He could only nod, and sip at his beer.
“Naturally, after that, I’m headed to San Francisco, and after that, who knows. Maybe Seattle or perhaps the China Sea.” McGuire smiled at his beer, as if his thoughts were far away. Naturally, as if he knew exactly where all those places were.
“China Sea, huh?” Willie asked, and McGuire smiled with all of his teeth as if he’d been waiting for Willie to ask just that question.
“It’s not the work I’m after, you see,” he replied, tipping his head back. “But rather a fine, dusky beauty with velvet skin who speaks a language that needs no translating.”
The guy went for oriental dames, that was clear, and Willie felt a churn of something deep in his gut. Yeah, that would be the life. Sailing from port to port, picking up a local lovely and then leaving her without a question or a promise. Not like in Brooklyn, where if you even wanted to get past second base or even first, you had to shell out. Meet the parents. Take her for walks in the park or along the battery. Or the movies, with her in a white on white dress that you dared not even touch. Timewasting. And the end result was blue balls and the tantalizing remains of her perfume.
“So, ah,” he started, running his thumb along the damp edge of the handle of his beer mug, “what do you do on these boats?”
“Ships, lad,” said McGuire without heat. “They’re called ships. The big ones. The trawlers, the tankers, cargos, all of them, ships.”
Willie tipped his head in a half-nod. Still looking at his beer, still thinking about it, wondering if the air was fresher out at sea, cleaner, the way it looked in all the ads that plastered the walls of the subway, or lined the brick buildings outside the place that sold tickets to places he could never afford to go.
“To answer your question,” said McGuire now, swallowing back a mouthful of beer, “I do just about anything. As little as possible, of course, but enough to get by.”
“Uh, like what?”
“Cargo man, cook, and oh, let’s see, one time, even got a position as first mate. That didn’t last very long though.”
“Why not?”
“Well,” began McGuire, his eyes flicking to Willie’s and then away, his brow furrowing as if he were greatly distressed. “There was some problem with the captain and the drink, you see. And what with the papers for the port authority not being filled out completely, well, you can see what a muddle that would be. A great deal of confusion, naturally, and I was forced to step to shore. Unannounced, as it were.”
Which was, apparently, McGuire’s way of saying that he’d had a brush with the law. Had walked away from it, too, from the sounds of it. Wasn’t overly concerned about the morality of it, either.
“Well here’s to stepping to shore,” Willie said, feeling something turn inside him. McGuire was more interesting than the usual boozers he met in the local bars. Knew more too. Had a glance that riveted, and a sparkle and flash of having been places. Seen things. He lifted his beer and McGuire lifted his and they toasted.
“Here’s to the shore,” said McGuire, “and here’s to leaving it as soon as possible.”
Taking a large swallow, Willie let the beer hit his stomach. “Yep,” he said, wiping the dash of foam from his upper lip. “When you shipping out?”
“Two in the morning,” said McGuire. “High tide. More room in the baywater then for big ships.”
“Oh. Well, good luck.”
“Thanks, laddie.” McGuire took down the last swallow of his beer. He looked ready to gather his things and head on out, his eyes searching the bar for his things.
“Sounds like fun,” Willie said, scooting back on his barstool to give McGuire room to move.
McGuire stood up, and checked the dollar and change on the bar with one hand. “You could come with me,” he said, almost as if he was talking to himself.
“Like I said,” repeated McGuire, in aggrieved tones as if Willie had insulted him by not believing him. “You could come with me. You’d be handy on a ship, if you didn’t get seasick.”
“Aw, c’mon.” Tale tales, that’s all it was. “You don’t mean that.”
“Indeed I do.” McGuire pointed to himself, a wounded expression pulling at his eyes. “You think I would fib about a thing like that? After I bought you a beer on this hot day?”
“No.” Willie had to agree, though he was not sure why. McGuire had a convincing way about him.
The smell of the bar and damp bodies coming in from a pelting rain hit him as he watched McGuire lean down to pick up his sweater and his cap. Then he noticed the seabag in the corner by the door. Then he shrugged. “Thanks, but I gotta...I gotta stay here. My dad, well, you know.”
“Won’t let sunny boy out of sight, eh?” McGuire shrugged back, it was all the same to him, and Willie knew the offer must have been made almost in jest. For who in the world would make an offer like that to someone he’d just met?
“Never mind, then, laddie. When you’re ready, there’ll be a ship for you.”
McGuire turned to walk away, putting his cap on his head and gathering up his seabag with one arm, the coat and sweater slung over his elbow. His hand was on the door and Willie’s heart began to race. McGuire walked like he knew where he was going, and wherever it was had to be a hell of a lot more exciting than anywhere Willie was heading.
“Wait,” he called out, startling the patrons around him. “Which ship?”
“The Fitz Pomery,” said McGuire without turning around. He was, even, opening the door as he spoke. Opening it and stepping out into the rain. “It’s a reefer,” he said, shifting the bag in his hand. “Dock 89.”
Then he was a jumbled figure in the rain, and he was gone, the door banging shut behind him. Leaving Willie to wonder what the hell a reefer was.
The Fitz Pomery turned out to be a refrigerated cargo boat, picking up and dropping off slabs of Argentine beef. Not spices, as McGuire had said. Jason McGuire, as it turned out, born in County Kerry in the stone cottage of a turf farmer, whose whole life had revolved around cuts of peat to be burned in village fireplaces.
“And that was it!” Jason would say, almost excitable in his confusion. “He wanted nothing more than that, and a drop of his whiskey on Sundays.” And he would shake his head, giving Willie the feeling that Jason thought his father crazed in the head and missing out on all that the world was to offer. Because, for all of Jason’s relaxed code of ethics, missing out was the worst sin, the only sin, that mattered. Wheeling and dealing, Jason made sure that he missed out on very little.
And when Willie joined him at dock 89 in the clearing air of an early summer’s morning, a small overnight bag full of things he thought he’d need, he began not to miss out either.
Although, some things would have been better served had Willie stayed home.
Like the time he’d gotten stung by a jellyfish along the beach on the coast of Tierra del Fuego. Not their first stop, certainly not their last, the whole feeling of docking in a new country always too much to resist. He’d gone out walking, since Jason had found his local lovely, not wanting to play witness or join in.The first bar he’d walked into had stunk to high heaven. Something about the pipes backing up, and Willie had backed out pretty quickly, the romance and newness of the place wearing off faster than the shine of a new day. Taken off his shoes and walked in the surf beyond the wharf, watching out for oil sludge and pieces of iron and not watching for the clear, dead looking bodies of jellyfish.
The first sting had taken him by surprise, as if someone had zapped him with electricity, like the time he’d helped his dad, or rather tried to help his dad, to fix a short that had blacked out their TV and left an odd smoky residue in the air. Willie had grabbed the grounding wire, and bam, gone down like a dead haddock. The second sting sent him to the sand, just like he’d been plowed into from inside. His head just inches from the high tide mark, and then the pain had started. Flowing like a hot shower, inside his veins, and then he had started to feel hot all over. Shaking as if he were on fire, and sweat popping out all over. Then he threw up and fell over.
His first clear memory after that was of waking up in the hotel room that he and Jason had rented. Jason standing over him with a cold cloth, pressing it to his forehead. The windows open, and a fan going, ever so slowly, in the ceiling. The smell of his own vomit tart in his nostrils.
Another memory, darkness now, the ease of air sliding over the windowsill, and himself feeling cooler than he had in his entire life. His feet smarting, his legs feeling like hard balloons. But he felt better. Eyes drifting over the dark room, and there was Jason, in the room’s only arm chair, a small short, thing, and the glowing tip of Jason’s cigarette. Puffing and fading, a dim smell of burned tobacco, and Jason’s eyes glinting in the dark.
Turned out that the Fitz Pomeroy would not wait, had sailed off to San Francisco without them. And that Jason had stayed behind. Forfeiting his wages to come, taking care of Willie, who had been ill for a week. For a week Jason had taken care of him. Even his own father would not have done as much. Not that he told Jason that. When he’d tried to express his thanks, not being very good at it, not having had much practice, Jason had shrugged him off, almost angry, saying that it didn’t matter, what did it matter.
It was just what you did.
They ended up catching another ship to take them to San Francisco, a tanker whose name Willie could not remember. Smelly, and dank and noisy, and Willie hated it. After the quiet clean lines of the reefer, it was like stepping into traffic after walking in the local park. And he hadn’t been able to fake his way into the engine room, as Jason had, so he’d been relegated to the kitchens. The work wasn’t bad and the crew was okay, most of them spoke at least a little English. But the smell, like burning tar trapped in a small pipe to burst up under your nose in a heated, sour explosion. He would never forget it.
Once in San Francisco, they missed by three weeks the sailing of the Ardent Heart, a cargo ship that went back and forth to Seattle. But instead of lashing out, as dear old dad would have done, Jason got them berths on the Shakira, which made good two of Jason’s promises. Not only a boat bound for the China Sea, but one that was built to pick up spices. Empty, it made good time, the wind tossing around the remains of previous cargos until Willie was breathing in air that smelled like an adventure.
“The China Sea, really?” he’d asked one night when they were nearing a tip of land that Jason told him was Japan. The cook had brought forth the bottles of sake, and heated it up for the crewmen who weren’t on duty, and Willie’d tossed back a bit more than his share. He felt like a kid and he knew he sounded like a little boy who was about to get a ride on a pony at the circus, but it was hitting him hard. He’d managed to sneak out of the apartment with his gear; dad had never woken up, and would never know where he was. Out in the vast, wide ocean, nearing a strange land that he had never been to. Smelling the damp, foreign air and swallowing back the local brew. His head spun. Japan, the China Sea, some place called Macao, and he was going there. And he’d thought the Horn was a big deal, but it wasn’t. Not compared to this.
“Aye, laddie, the China Sea,” said Jason, smiling at him, broad teeth, an earthen sake tumbler in his hand. He didn’t look at all angry that Willie sounded like he was 12 instead of 19. He’d tipped back his fare share of sake, too.
In Macao there’d been more sake, and a week’s stay in yet another hotel while they waited for the Bajamir, another reefer, to take them to Turkey. And another local lovely who Jason had taken into his arms while he’d been sitting in their hotel room, so fast that she’d had to straddle his knees. Her silk dress riding up to reveal a tangle of pubic hair, making what Jason had said yet again true. American money could buy beautiful girls, none of who wore underwear. He’d slapped her gently on her thigh, and called her his lovely Laureen. She’d smiled and dipped her black hair against his face. It didn’t matter what he called her of course, as long as he was paying. What the whore didn’t know, and what Willie wasn’t going to tell her, as he watched this familiar bit of foreplay, was that Jason called all his boughten girls by Irish names. Bridget sometimes, or Ciara, but mostly Laureen. Instantly turning dark haired, almond eyed, dusky beauties into Irish lasses with plump, blushing cheeks, and spinning golden-red hair.
“You want me to go, Jason?” he’d asked.
Jason was pulling his hands through her hair, gently, gently. “Go or stay, my boy, it’s all the same to me.”
But Willie stood up and went out. He had money in his pockets, enough to buy himself a piece of what Jason was having, though he’d learn her name, first, and whisper it to her as if it were a part of his own language. A part of his heart. For he fell in love with them, with each of them, a little bit. Saying her name to her was like giving her back a bit of the gift she was giving him. Even if he was paying for it. Even if it didn’t mean anything to them. Names that rolled off his tongue stiffly when he was sober, and more easily when he was drunk. Names like, San San and Tia, or Hoshi, or Amika. Funny thing was, when he did this, when he pulled back the curtain of their hair to do this thing, he felt them move against him, and open up to him, wet and hot and ready. He practiced his names every chance he got.
Later, when he’d returned that night, Jason was alone, sitting on the long bench just inside the doorway, a glass of beer in his hand, the cigarette lighting his face in odd flashes. He’d gotten a case of beer, it turned out, and it was the first beer Willie’d tasted in months. Since he met Jason at the Bulldog. A glass for him, a refill for Jason, the night breeze kicking up before the dawn, to bring the rain and the smell of spices and the sea, the room cooling off by many degrees. Finally drying the sweat that had taken up residence in the creases of his arms and his knees. He’d kicked off his shoes, and sat next to Jason and drank his beer. Borrowed a smoke, and had that too. Then another beer, the room swimming in the darkness of nighttime, a faint faraway shine from the single streetlight in the area.
He’d thumped his glass on the bench. Jason turned to him, a shadowed eyebrow going up as if Willie had asked to ask a question and Jason was saying yes, ask it.
Willie reached up his hand, his arm so close to Jason’s now that he brushed the cloth of Jason’s shirt.
“You gotta tell me,” he asked now, as if the conversation had been going on for some time, and he desperate to reach some conclusion. “Why?”
“Why what, boy-o?” Jason took a swallow from his glass, tipping his head back far enough to bump against the wall behind him. He was too drunk to notice, and Willie was too smashed to rib him about it. But then Jason looked at him, serious, eyes flickering in the near dark. “Why what?”
“Why me,” said Willie, reaching out till he was almost touching Jason’s face. Almost. Except for the time he was sick from the jellyfish sting, Jason wasn’t the type of man you touched. Not like the guys back home, with back pounding and arm punching. A slap to the back of the head that passed, without words, for affection. He drew his hand back. Let it fall.
“Why did you ask me?” he said at last, realizing that a silence, except for the far away movement of the sea, had fallen over the room.
Jason got up with a sudden movement, moving away. Getting another beer in the dark, breaking the seal on a bottle and pouring it into his glass. Handing the remains of the bottle to Willie. And standing there, swallowed the entire thing dry. Then he turned away to stand in the doorway, where a false dawn was lighting his face into planes of milky ivory. He looked down at his empty glass, his shoulder wedged against the doorjamb.
“Because,” he said, his voice low. Willie leaned forward, almost trembling. He’d never heard that tone in Jason’s voice before.
“Because,” said Jason again. Then he swallowed, and looked up. Toward the horizon of buildings and ships and cranes, and beyond that the sky, which Willie could see through the window was turning from black to purple. “It was like looking in a mirror.”

In the morning, it was the drink of course. They caught the Bajamir a few days later, and the subject was never talked of again.

Fleet of Stars - Part 2