How to Dock a Boat
Present day Paradis, two and a half years after the war with Marley
“I’m gonna teach you a simple method for bringing your boat alongside a dock or bulkhead,” Jean told Philip. “Doesn’t matter whether you’re docking a big or small boat: the principles are the same.”
Philip gripped the boat wheel, eyes fixed on the dock. Jean stood next to him, his hand over his son’s, guiding him.
“Your judgement comes in when you need to line up your approach. Use the wind and current as a guide. How strong they are will affect your boat’s momentum,” he continued. “What do you think of the wind, Philip?”
“I think we’ve got a fairly stiff wind behind us today? So it’s gonna help us along?” answered the boy, with uncertainty.
“That’s right. Now, come in slow. Bump the engine in and out of gear to keep your headway limited, like so.”
They were on the Wings of Marco, one of the Kirschteins’ small boats. After enjoying a sailing excursion on calm waters they were ready to call it in. Jean spent the day teaching his son the basics of handling a boat. It was supposed to be his off day with Mikasa, with the three of them doing some family sailing, but something urgent came up at work with the Royal Marines and Mikasa had to go to their headquarters. So it became a father and son outing.
“Never approach a dock faster than you’re willing to hit it,” Jean told the boy. “Keep your boat pointed in the right direction, while monitoring your speed. Where do you aim for, son?”
“I think I should be aiming for…about the center from where I want to tie alongside the dock?” was the child’s answer, again in the form of a question.
“Yes, that’s right. Good. Make sure you come in for a soft landing. Now that you’re about a boat-length away, swing the wheel hard to start with, like this,” Jean said, demonstrating. “This is for port side ties. Do you remember which side is which?”
“Port side is left and starboard side is right.” This time Philip didn’t end his sentence with a question.
“Good! You remember well.”
The boy grinned up at him. “Your tip helped: that ‘port’ and ‘left’ have four letters.”
“Now that you’re about parallel with the dock, roll the wheel all the way back to port, like this,” Jean puts his hands over the boy’s to show him how.
“That’s the finishing flourish. All that’s left is securing your boat. I’ll reach out here and grab a piling. Hand me over a line. Now I’m all set to tie her up,” said Jean.
“Please, let me do it, dad!”
“You can hop on shore and tie one on, but watch your step.” Jean watched as his son sprang sure-footedly onto the dock. The boy was all energy and good spirits.
What a difference two years make! When he first met him he was a puny bag of bones, with bruises and scars all over his body. Now that he was eight years of age, the bruises had disappeared, the scars mostly faded. He’d put on a lot more weight and had grown significantly taller. Six years of malnutrition made him smaller than average, so at eight he was still smaller than the royal twins, who were a year younger. But he was catching up fast. He and Mikasa put their heads together and thought of the ways they could help him grow.
“I want to grow up and be just like dad!” he’d declared to Mikasa on his seventh birthday.
When she told him he should make a wish when he blew out the candles on his cake, but not tell anyone what he wished for, he kept his mouth shut for the duration of the party. Still he ended up telling her anyway as he helped wash the dishes after the guests had left. He told his mum, gushingly, unabashedly, how he wished to become as tall as Jean, as big as him, as clever as him, become an admiral like him.
Jean chuckled, looking pleased when Mikasa relayed the conversation to him that night. “He’s already pretty clever. The admiral part is the easiest, I reckon, as the job doesn’t care what size a person is. As for the others, well, we’ll just have to feed him a lot now, don’t we?”
But Mikasa, being Mikasa, took the issue of health and nutrition very seriously. She started researching, planning nutritious, balanced meals for the child. She squeezed Hange’s brain of their knowledge of vitamins and minerals and metabolism, asked every parent around her with a healthy preteen kid what they’d been fed when they were Philip’s age. She visited her mother-in-law at Trost with Philip in tow, and demanded that she write down Jean’s daily meal plan when he was a kid. The older Mrs Kirschtein made Mikasa master the art of the eggs omelette as she believed it had been the key to Jean’s growth.
It was funny, really, the two women talking about chicken eggs as the magic formula, because on the mantel there was a family portrait with Jean’s long dead father. Although Jean inherited his mother’s coloring, it was obvious from the picture where Jean got his tall and majestic physique from.
What had Philip’s biological father been like? His biological mother? Neither of them knew. But no matter. Lots of eggs, and plenty of grains and vegetables and meat and milk, along with daily play and exercise should do just fine, they jointly concluded.
There was a period in Jean and Mikasa’s life as a couple when their conversations focused mainly on their jobs, on their work in the military. But now that they were parents, a large chunk of their discussions centered on their child.
How to make a growing boy grow as he should? How to make up for years of neglect and abuse? How to help a battered, beaten child learn to trust grownups, and develop healthy self-esteem?
For it wasn’t only malnutrition or physical security they had to deal with. Given his tough background Philip, although he’d only been six, had a hard edge to him. He trusted no one, was suspicious of everyone. The early years are crucial to a child’s development and Philip’s had been severely traumatic to say the least. He had all kinds of issues: trust, anger, attachment, fear of abandonment, fear of intimacy. During their first weeks together, he recoiled whenever they reached out to hug him.
It took a while before he learned to fully trust them, when he could eat at the table without his eyes habitually darting left and right, top and bottom, being on guard, wary of someone taking his food away from him.
But little by little, the boy opened up to them. Now he ran to hug them, kissed them on the cheek, and held their hand willingly, even when other boys his age no longer wanted their parents to hold theirs.
Indeed, what a difference two years make in a warm, caring environment with two parents that loved each other and were more than happy to welcome a child into their home. Jean and Mikasa knew it would take years to undo the damage that had been done, but they were willing to learn how to help.
Years later, when Philip came of age, he told Jean how grateful he was to them, how he owed them everything.
But Jean shook his head. “No, son, we’re the ones who should be grateful. Whatever good thing it was we’ve given you, you’ve given it back to us in spades.”
It was true. Philip had been too young to be aware of it, but he came into their lives when they needed him the most.
Jean watched helplessly as Mikasa struggled to deal with the cruel fallout of the war with Marley. For the killing she had to do she suffered greatly. How she suffered! Jean had killed many, too, and never felt good about it. But he knew it was not the same. Thanks to long-range guns on battleships, the war he fought at sea had been starkly different from the mountain guerilla warfare that Mikasa had to engage in at close quarters.
It was she who had to do the impossible, the one who felt with the palm of her hand the warm blood pulsing through the child soldiers’ veins, the one who felt on her chest the beating of their small hearts milliseconds before she slit their throats, more than three dozen of them.
One of Jean’s talents, one that made him a great leader of men, was his ability to put himself in the other person’s shoes. It was this ability that enabled him to be better than anyone at chess, for it allowed him to read his opponents, to anticipate their next moves. It was this same ability that helped him formulate a war strategy for beating back the enemy. He read their moves in advance, predicted the possible scenarios of what happens then, and prepared for them.
This ability to read and understand the enemy allowed him to take a major gamble. It was a gamble he could get away with only because his men, the entire Paradian Royal Navy, stood by him. And the reason for their unwavering loyalty was the knowledge that their admiral was a man who could put himself in other people’s shoes, and in doing so acknowledged each and everyone of them, not as pawns to be sacrificed but as human beings.
They knew he recognized their full humanity.
The seamen and sailors, from the rank-and-file to the vice admirals that commanded battle groups, knew that Jean saw each of them as individuals with loved ones, families, relationships, eccentricities and passions, hopes and dreams. Because of this, each one of them in turn did what they could to support Jean. What other ruthless, cold-blooded leader deemed as a weakness Jean turned into a strength. The result was incredible: never in their planet’s history have such a small navy fought so hard, with that much heart.
Thus, when Mikasa fell into the deep, deep abyss of post-traumatic stress disorder, Jean put himself in her shoes. Clinically depressed, she withdrew from sex, so he took it off the table. She only wanted to be held, so he wrapped his arms around her without poking his erection into her thigh. She cried each night without wanting to be asked why, so he kept quiet, only hugging her and stroking her hair. It was a massive change from the pre-war days when she demanded all the shagging he could give they were constantly on a sex-induced euphoria, a natural high.
But Jean found ways to cope. There was plenty of work to do post-war, given the massive rebuilding and reconstruction efforts needed on all fronts. Because the hours outside of work he and his wife previously used to fuck each other’s brains out were now empty, he filled them with bouts of inspired writing. The months after the war were his most productive in terms of written output.
He wrote the paper Treatise on Naval Tactics, two books for the naval academy titled Some Principles of Maritime Strategy with Focus on Island Defense and The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, and a work of moral philosophy titled Maritime Supremacy and the Opening of the Eldian Mind. He also co-authored with Hange A Treatise Explanatory of a New System of Naval, Military and Political Radio Communication of General Application, co-authored with Armin A General Treatise of Naval Trade and Commerce, and co-authored with two of his vice-admirals A Treatise of the Principles and Practice of Naval Courts-Martial, and Survey of the Geostrategic Features of the Oceans Surrounding Paradis Island and Its Effects on Naval Strategy, among other writings.
He didn’t want to be a slave to his carnal desires, nor did he wish to cheat on his wife, so he dealt with his horniness by himself, in a quick and pragmatic fashion. Needless to say, Jean was no stranger to self-pleasure; he simply reverted back to the days of his adolescence when every boy seemed to masturbate under the covers in the dark.
But he missed his wife of old. Their lack of sexual intimacy took its toll. Taming the wild horses of his high sex drive was no longer so easy, once you’ve experienced the joy of galloping at full speed. Outwardly, he made a good show of coping. He threw himself into his work. Mikasa, too, did the same. They worked and worked and worked some more, trying to deal with their internal struggles by burying themselves in the daily grind.
Yet, he was falling into a melancholic despair. It was when he thought he’d go crazy because of the way the war, which they technically–not to mention ironically–won, had ruined their lives that Philip appeared out of the blue.
Such a small boy for his age, greedily wolfing down the bleah-tasting ration Feldman gave him as if it was the last—and most delicious—meal of his life. He ate like a wild animal, was constantly tense and on the lookout for grownups whom he automatically assumed would either beat up or arrest him.
It was this wild child who revived Jean’s love for chess. Philip turned out to be incredibly bright, a quick study. He took to chess like a fish took to water. It was the boy’s enthusiasm for the game that brought Jean out of the doldrums. During sea duty, after a full day’s work, he’d usually retire to his cabin and spend the night writing until his brain had nothing more to give. He’d go to bed feeling depressed.
But now that this chess-crazed boy was here before him, everything changed. The child’s passion for the game, his genuine eagerness to learn, revitalized something in him. Why did teaching a child the minute differences amongst the ten most common chess openings, the initial moves of a chess game, seem to lift the dark rain clouds inside his mind? He didn’t know why, but it did. And it helped Jean as much as it taught Philip.
Perhaps the most important change Philip brought into the Kirschtein household was the change in Mikasa.
It was six months after the war when she first met the child. She had been recovering from her trauma slowly. But having Philip around seemed to accelerate her healing. Mikasa threw herself into her new motherhood role, fussing over the small boy the way she used to fuss over Eren Jaeger. She was overprotective like a mama bear, and the child, having been neglected and abused his entire life, joyfully lapped up the generous attention. He flourished and practically glowed underneath the umbrella of affection and loving kindness his new parents gave him.
It was the night after they decided to formally adopt him that something magical happened.
Jean wondered why it was taking Mikasa such a long time to come to bed. Each night she read Philip a bedtime story before saying goodnight, the way her parents did for her when she was a child. But it never took this long. Did Philip ask for extra stories? Jean poked his head through the boy’s door, expecting to see Mikasa still reading. But what he saw made his heart leap for joy.
Mikasa had laid her head on Philip’s bedside. She was asleep, one arm bent under her head for a pillow. The child, too, was sleeping, his small body curled up forming a C-shape around Mikasa’s head. From the rhythm of their breathing and the rise and fall of their chests it was obvious they were both sound asleep.
It was the sweetest sight Jean had ever seen in his life.
For seven months Mikasa couldn’t sleep a wink. She cried at bedtime, then tried to close her eyes, tossing and turning, only to be plagued by nightmares, after which she woke up in a mood and drifted in and out of a shallow sleep for the rest of the night. Sometimes the panic attacks were so bad she stayed up all night in her study trying to get some work done in order to calm herself.
During the day she barrelled through using her extreme Ackermann strength. All those months of sleeplessness would have completely felled an ordinary person. But Mikasa was far from ordinary. And so she managed to survive, but on a thread.
But tonight. Oh, what a wonderful sight! Jean debated with himself whether to move her or not. He decided that position would give her a neck and shoulder cramp in the morning. So he tucked the covers around Philip before lifting his wife and carrying her to their bedroom.
He laid her down, changed her to her pyjamas, pulled the covers over her. Through it all Mikasa slept like a baby, only turning once and murmuring something about titans. Jean wanted to watch over her the entire night, drinking in the view of her peaceful, beautiful sleeping face. Oh how long, how very long it has been since he’d seen her like this, her first deep sleep in ages! But soon sleep overtook him.
Waking up the next day to the smell of fresh pancakes, he stepped into the kitchen to find his wife and child grinning up at him with a cheery “Good morning!” Mikasa was by the stove frying the pancakes while Philip balanced on a stool next to her, mixing the batter. He came over and put his arms around them, kissing Mikasa on the cheek and ruffling Philip’s hair.
“Sleep well?” he asked her.
“Like a log!” she replied, happily. Her eyes twinkled and her face looked rested, something he hadn’t seen since the war.
That wasn’t the only miracle. Another one happened two weeks later, after they finalised the adoption papers and Philip was officially a Kirschtein.
They held a party at their house, with Jean’s mother, the royal twins, Jürgen, Queen Historia, Levi, Hange, Connie, Hitch and a few other friends and colleagues from the military in attendance. Philip was so happy he grinned and laughed the entire time.
The joy they felt that day was enormous, and also deeply healing. That night, for the first time in nearly eight months, Mikasa reached out to Jean in bed.
“Jean, my darling, I want you,” she said plaintively.
“Tell me what you want and it’s yours,” he replied, fearful he was misinterpreting.
But Mikasa caressed his cheek with her fingers and said, “Make love to me, please, the way you did for the first time on that boat…the most beautiful night of my life.” She wanted a replay of one of her most treasured memories: that night on the sailboat when Jean proposed and they had sexual intercourse for the very first time.
They made love slowly, tenderly, and Jean was so sweet and gentle it brought tears to Mikasa’s eyes. Her infertility brought her unspeakable grief made far worse by the war destroying her on the inside, and her body reacted by closing in on itself. She genuinely feared this day would never come. But it did. There were tears in her eyes because she could see how much effort Jean was putting to rein in his urges. After all those months of abstaining, he wanted to rut into her, wanted to take her roughly and mindlessly. Yet he controlled himself, with an incredible self-control that only a man still very much in love with the woman in his arms could muster. Mikasa wept in gratitude as he gently, oh so gently, brought her to completion.
Afterwards, things steadily got back to normal. They had sex a few times a week, and quickly worked it back up to the daily couplings they used to enjoy. The main difference was nowadays, they learned to be noiseless in bed, given that they now had a child sleeping across the hall.
But they learned to work around that, too, finding ways to make it all about the quiet but mind-blowing intensity and not just the frequency. Now that they no longer had the freedom to have scream-your-head-off wild sex all over the house whenever they wanted, they learned to treasure the few nights when, with Philip at the royal palace for a sleepover with the twins, they were able to dress up or down and be that young, sex-crazed couple once again. It was like a treat, something that tasted all the better because it wasn’t the daily fare.
With a young son to take care of, Mikasa was no longer in desperate baby-making mode. She soon learned to experiment with and enjoy all sorts of sex plays and games, which greatly spiced up their love-making.
Even kissing became more pleasurable. She learned to see it not as the “I’m kissing you in hopes that you’ll give me your sperm soon” foreplay act, but simply as a means to communicate love.
With their sex life revived, work became less of a cop-out and took on a deeper meaning. Their mission now was to prepare for the next war by training and educating the next generation. Along with their parenting, they were giving it all they had. And they couldn’t be happier.
In the end, all the trials and tribulations they went through together brought them closer as a couple, made their bond stronger and more resilient.
All because of a little stowaway, a magic child that appeared over the southern seas.
“Hey, dad! Look at the cleat hitch I made! Did I get it right?” a boyish voice jolted Jean out of his reverie. Philip was pointing to the knot he made to tie the boat to the dock.
Jean glanced at it, tugged at the line. “Looks like a good, clean knot. Well done,” he said, smiling. The boy beamed.
They had caught some herring for supper and Philip promptly started gutting them the way Jean had taught him.
“How will we cook them tonight, Dad?”
“How would you like them done?” Jean asked.
Philip paused for a while. What a difficult decision he was being asked to make! Whole herrings can be fried or grilled, poached or pickled, soused or marinated, salted and smoked, or made into rollmops, filleted herrings rolled around pickled cucumber. All the yummy choices he had!
In the end, he asked for baked fish, so in their kitchen back home they roll the herrings in a dish and add vinegar, raw onions, spice berries, salt and pepper. They bake the dish in the oven until the tops of the fish become crispy.
When Mikasa arrived home that night, the potted herring was all set on the table, garnished with herbs, with butter on the side, accompanied by crusty brown bread to mop up the juices. There was also a dish of grilled vegetables, the sliced carrots in the shape of flowers, courtesy of the child in the house.
Philip tripped down the hallway to meet her at the door, as was his custom with either parent. He was still wearing the little green apron with a golden crown illustration on it that Queen Historia had gifted him.
“Mum, Mum! I caught a bunch of herring today. One was rather big!” he said, hugging her while talking about his day, showing with his hands just how large his biggest catch was.
“Is that so? Good for you!” Mikasa praised him.
The child continued, “Dad taught me the secret of using whitebait and bluebait without them falling off the hooks. Do you know the secret, Mum?”
“I’m afraid not…”
“Make sure they are fresh, and add a handful of dry pollard. We dipped them in fish oil for extra smell! We used berley, too, but didn’t overdo it…” the young boy prattled on.
Mikasa arrived at the kitchen and amidst Philip’s enthusiastic chatter, she caught the savory aroma of freshly baked fish, met Jean’s twinkling eye, saw the table all nicely set for a family dinner. They smile at each other, hearts filled with love and beating with contentment, before gazing fondly at their son as he recounts with delight his amazing time on the boat at sea.
Oh, happy, happy days!
That’s it for this story. Thank you so much for reading! Please please please take a moment to say hi in the comment section below. It’s so lonely and discouraging to find out I haven’t got any readers. Your comments are the only way I know my stories are getting read. Even just one sentence from you will give me the encouragement I need to keep on writing. Feel free to use a pseudonym and dummy email address. Please say something—anything at all—just to let me know you’ve finished reading. Comments do mean the world to me—THANK YOU. xoxo, hana
How to dock a boat instructions are from Win, Lose or Fail: Season 1 (2017. History Channel).
Next – Part VI: The Protegee
Back – Chapter 19: Joy of Baking
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