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Fic: The Man Who Wasn't There

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count: 4,850
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: Just who is the stranger at the stern and what does he want?
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: Sequel to "An Interrupted Night".



On her return voyage to Homeport, U-156, escorting the liner Titanic, was travelling at optimum speed through a stiff noreaster. The grey of the ocean matched the leaden sky and the sea was dotted with a million white caps.

First Officer Thomas Mortimer climbed up into the conning tower to join the captain and Waldemar as Mannesmann went below.

Captain and first officer had enjoyed their leave in Spain very much, even if it had been cut short, but now they were back on duty as part of the International Admiralty's Rescue Fleet. For the time being the radar was reporting no other vessels nearby and all was quiet.

Mortimer turned to stern to watch Titanic sailing smoothly in their wake, however, his gaze was immediately caught by the lone figure of a man standing at the stern of the U-boat - a person he did not recognize.

The man wore the uniform of a German naval officer and he stood at the stern rail gazing to starboard as though searching the seas.

"Captain!" he said in a hushed voice.

Hartenstein, who was facing forward, turned at the urgent note in his first officer's voice. Following his gaze to stern, he was perplexed as nothing seemed to be amiss.

"Mortimer?"

Now it was Mortimer's turn to be puzzled.

"Can you not see him, sir?"

Hartenstein was beginning to get agitated.

"See who, Mortimer? There is no one at the stern."

"Sir, I beg to differ. There is a man at the stern and he looks like a... like a German officer."

Hartenstein, still peering to stern, could see nothing amiss.

"Mortimer, there is no one at the stern."

"But there is, sir. A stranger. He's standing there staring out to starboard. Strange... He doesn't seem to notice us."

"And I can't notice him," Hartenstein muttered. Abruptly, he turned. "Waldemar, can you see anyone at the stern?" he inquired.

Puzzled, Waldemar, who was manning the helm, turned to look. "No, sir. I see no one."

"Damn it, there is!" Mortimer muttered. "He's just standing there staring out to sea. With your permission, sir, I'll go and see who he is and what he wants. I wonder how he got on the boat."

Hartenstein had some misgivings but acquiesced.

"Very well, Mr Mortimer."

However, as Mortimer turned to descend to the deck he suddenly stopped.

Hartenstein, whose gaze was wavering between his first officer and the, seemingly, empty stern, was perplexed.

"What is it?" he demanded.

"He's gone, sir."

"Are you sure?"

Mortimer turned to gaze around the boat from bow to stern. "Yes, sir. I can't see him anywhere." Nonetheless he descended to the deck and walked past the gun to the stern railing gazing out to sea. For a moment he thought he saw something in the water nearby, a dark shape, but then it was gone and there was only the waves and endless white caps of a slate grey ocean. He looked at Titanic but all appeared normal.

Well, nothing amiss then, he thought. Except there was. The man had definitely been aboard the boat. But who was he? And how come no one else seemed able to see him? He shivered for no reason and wondered what was going on. Was he losing his mind? He didn't think so, but strange things could happen in this world of the Fourth Realm. He looked up at the conning tower to see his captain gazing down at him, a look of concern on his face.

Shrugging, he rejoined his commanding officer.

"Must be seeing things," he said.

Hartenstein was silent but gripped his arm in reassurance, his eyes kind as they shared a look of affection.

Later, over a meal in their shared quarters, they had time to discuss the incident.

"You believe me, don't you?" Mortimer asked, his gaze troubled.

"Mortimer, if you say there was a man at the stern then I believe you."

"But you couldn't see him and neither could Waldemar."

Hartenstein put down his fork and grasped his companion's hand. "Mortimer, we know that there are strange things in this realm, but I have faith in you. We will get to the bottom of it."

Mortimer smiled, warmed by his commanding officer's faith in him.

"Promise me this: If you should see this man, this German officer, again, call me immediately. I should like to meet him."

Mortimer smiled. "Even if you can't see him?"

Hartenstein returned the smile. "Even if I can't see him."

Mortimer nodded. "I will. You'll be the first person I tell."


Late that same night, while the captain was deep in discussion with Rostau, Mortimer decided to take a turn around the deck, wondering if the strange apparition would return. He hesitated to call it that but, since no one else could see it, and there was no logical explanation for the man being there, what else could it be? Perhaps it really was a ghost he had seen.

It was colder now and the night sky was still overcast. The moon was endeavouring to shine through the heavy clouds but only managing to appear intermittently. Even though he was dressed warmly he shivered, gazing at the ocean where a distant moonbeam appeared to light the all-pervading gloom. With some trepidation he forced himself to turn towards the U-boat's stern.

There was a dark figure there! It had to be him, Mortimer reasoned, standing there as before, gazing out to sea. Heart pounding, he watched the lone figure standing there, unmoving.

He remembered his promise to the captain. Leaning down, he called softly into the open hatch to fetch the captain. While he waited for Hartenstein to appear he quietly watched the unmoving figure at the stern.

When Hartenstein climbed up, one look at Mortimer's gaze was enough to alert him.

"Can you see him now?" Mortimer whispered.

Hartenstein had a good look but could see nothing and shook his head.

"I'll see if I can talk to him."

Hartenstein, about to tell his first to be careful, bit his tongue. After all, Mortimer was no child. In the end he merely nodded.

Taking a deep breath and calming himself, Mortimer climbed down the ladder to the deck. Still, the figure didn't move as he walked slowly and deliberately towards it, determined to find out who this apparition was and what he wanted. He stopped some six feet away. The man had not moved, his gaze never wavering from the darkness of the ocean.

Mortimer spoke the man in German.

"Captain?" There was no response. "Captain?" Again, no response. "Sir, may I ask your name?" he inquired politely. Still no response. "Captain, what is your vessel?" he inquired, sounding more determined.

The figure gave a start.

"My... My vessel? My vessel... I fear she is lost to the sea."

"And what vessel is that?"

"U-138. I don't know where she is. I seem to have lost her."

"And your crew?" Mortimer asked gently.

"The same. I know not their fate but they are good men."

"Do you remember what happened?"

"We were attacked. Bombed. I was blown overboard but when I surfaced the boat was gone. I have been searching for it ever since. I can't understand it. Why didn't they come back for me?" He gave a sigh of despair. "What am I to do? I fear that my boat was damaged in the attack and is now lost. There is no other explanation."

"You're on another U-boat now, sir. This is U-156 commanded by Captain Werner Hartenstein."

Mortimer beckoned to the watching Hartenstein to join them.

"What! What is this you say? But Hartenstein's boat was lost..." he trailed off, lost in thought, "...I fear like my own."

Hartenstein had climbed down from the conning tower and was walking slowly toward them, finally able to see the man with whom his first officer was conversing. He was unable to explain it but from the time his own name had been mentioned the unknown man had come into view.

"Captain, may I present my commanding officer, Captain Werner Hartenstein."

Startled, the man turned toward Hartenstein. "You cannot be! You were lost."

Hartenstein saluted. "As you can see I am not lost. And you, sir?" he inquired, his voice kind.

"Albert Jakobs, U-138... or at least I was." He belatedly saluted. "I... I seem to have lost my boat... and lost myself along the way. Forgive me, Captain, I..." He shrugged.

"I am pleased to welcome you aboard U-156, Captain Jakobs."

He proceeded to introduce Mortimer who saluted smartly, Jakobs returning the salute.

"Meine colleague, if you will forgive an observation I see that your clothing is wet; you must be very cold. Will you accept my hospitality and come below for some warmth and refreshment?"

"That is... most kind of you, Captain, but I search for my vessel. I know it was somewhere nearby that... that I lost it and I must find it. I have a duty to return to it."

"My crew will keep a sharp eye out for your vessel and we will also use the radar. If U-138 is in the vicinity we will find her, fear not. Now come and let us warm you up. It's a cold night."

"Cold?" He looked down at himself, astonished to see that his uniform was quite wet. Indeed he was wet all over. How could that be? And why did he not feel it? He should have been shivering, he realized, but he merely felt numb.

"If... If you do not mind I will stay here, however, coffee would be welcome."

"I'll see to it," Mortimer replied, hastening to the radio room to request all information on U-138 and her commanding officer.

When he returned to the stern it was to find Hartenstein and Jakobs as he had left them, the former studying the latter and the latter staring out at the dark Atlantic.

"Ah, Mortimer! Captain Jakobs has been telling me his boat was attacked and he was thrown overboard."

"Ja, but when I surfaced I couldn't find the boat. I assumed it had done an emergency dive but there was no sign of the plane that attacked us either. There was... nothing." He shook his head. "I cannot understand it. If the plane had gone why did the boat not return to pick me up? I think there must have been some mechanical problem. I fear now it is lost." He shook his head.

Shortly after that Dengler arrived at the stern carrying a tray with hot coffee laced with brandy and some sweet pastries filled with strawberry jam.

"Oh, my!" Jakobs exclaimed, tasting the steaming brew and savouring it.

"I consider myself lucky to have Dengler," Hartenstein remarked, offering one of the sweet treats to his guest.

"Oh, but this is good!" Jakobs exclaimed, biting into sweet pastry and licking sugar from his lips. "I... I can't seem to remember when I last ate anything. And this coffee..." he drank some more, "... your cook knows how to make proper coffee."

"Dengler's coffee warms the soul," Mortimer remarked, sipping his own, the cold wind biting into his cheeks as all three warmed their hands on the hot mugs.

Weber climbed down from the conning tower and Mortimer went to meet him. On returning to the stern he gave an infinitesimal shake of his head.

Very well then, Hartenstein thought. No record of U-138 which most likely meant that she was still in the Third Realm even if her commanding officer was not. That would explain his tale of falling overboard then surfacing to find no trace of the boat or the plane that attacked it. Without realizing it Captain Jakobs had transitioned to the Fourth Realm.

"Do you remember how you came to be overboard?" Hartenstein inquired of their guest.

"I... I'm not sure. I was on deck and there was an explosion. We were being bombed. I seem to remember hitting the water and... and then I surfaced to find nothing but an empty ocean. After that I... I don't know. Then I... somehow found myself on your boat. Captain, I am most grateful for your hospitality but I must search for my boat."

"Captain, please listen to me carefully. You said that you'd heard my boat was lost. It was. I was bombed, my boat was sunk and I came here - and ‘here' is the Fourth Realm, which is where you are now."

The man appeared bewildered. "But... But this is impossible. And what is this Fourth Realm you speak of?"

"The Fourth Realm is where we go when we die, especially those who die at sea."

Jakobs shook his head. "But... but that is not possible. I am not dead. You can see that I'm not dead."

"Nor am I," Mortimer answered. "Nor are any of us. We are all very much alive just as you yourself are."

"Nein, this is not possible." Jakobs shook his head. "This is all some kind of nightmare." His expression changed to one of determination. "I know what's happened. I was injured like I remembered and the crew took me below and gave me some painkillers and I am hallucinating. Ja, that is what it is! Some morphine hallucination!"

"Nein, Captain Jakobs. Please listen to me." Hartenstein spoke in earnest. "You cannot find your boat because it's still in the Third Realm. We cannot find it here for the same reason. Your boat survived as, I assume, did your crew. However, you did not."

"Nein! Nein, my boat is out there and I must find it." Jakobs was becoming increasingly agitated. "I must return to my crew; they will think that I deserted them. There is a war to be won and we of the Third Reich will win it. We will be victorious."

"Captain, have you not noticed the vessel we escort?" Mortimer inquired, seeking to distract him and indicating with a nod of his head towards their stern.

Jakobs, for the first time, noticed the giant liner travelling some one hundred yards behind them.

"Escorting?" he inquired, puzzled.

"Ja, escorting," Hartenstein answered. "She is the great ocean liner Titanic. My boat is honoured to be her escort."

"Ti... Titanic? Surely you jest. She's at the bottom of the ocean. Oh, you mean this is a replica."

"No, she is the one and only Titanic of the White Star Line. Here in the Fourth Realm is where you'll find many famous ships which sank in tragic circumstances in the Third."

Jakobs could not help himself - he stared at Titanic, the dark shape of her enormous bow following in the U-boat's slim wake, the sea illuminated to either side of her by the vessel's myriad lights. He also noticed the bright light on the U-boat's stern illuminating the ocean in their wake.

Not for the first time Mortimer was grateful that Titanic was such a useful distraction.

"This is impossible..." Jakobs muttered.

"There are many things possible here in the Fourth Realm," Hartenstein replied. "Would you like to board her?"

"Board her?" a distracted Jakobs queried rather uncertainly.

"Yes, board her," Mortimer responded. "We can arrange it you know and you will have a lovely voyage on her."

"I don't suppose there are any icebergs at this time of year."

"Not at this time of year," Mortimer replied, winking at his commanding officer.

"She also has the full compliment of lifeboats," Hartenstein added, "and her watertight compartments now come right up to the upper decks. For all intents and purposes she is now what she was once advertised as - unsinkable."

"She has several restaurants, her cuisine is superb and all passengers are given the first class treatment," Mortimer supplied.

"This is really true?" Jakobs inquired, a note of hope in his voice for the first time. "I could really go there? I should like to see her."

"Then you shall," Hartenstein responded. "I will contact her and make arrangements to transfer you."

"Oh, but I will be a prisoner there. After all, she is an Allied ship."

"Remember there is no war here and never was. No Allies and no Axis powers. No weapons are allowed at all. Titanic is considered an international treasure. You will enjoy your time on her very much."

Abruptly, Jakobs's expression changed and he appeared once more troubled.

"What is it?" Hartenstein inquired gently.

Jakobs shook his head. "My boat, my crew. I must rejoin them somehow... somehow. I must find them." He sighed hopelessly.

"Meine colleague, as I have explained, they are most likely in the Third Realm still fighting the war. We have checked and they are not currently in this realm. You, on the other hand are now in a place of peace. There is much to learn and you can lead a good life here."

Jakobs seemed resigned. "I suppose you're right."

Hartenstein smiled at him, convinced that the man believed him. "Good. Come and let us get you some warm, dry clothing."

However, as Hartenstein turned to walk towards the conning tower Mortimer had an odd feeling and he waited, allowing Captain Jakobs to proceed him.

Without warning, Jakobs turned suddenly, pushing Mortimer aside and jumping over the railing into the water.

"No!" Mortimer shouted, making a grab for him - to no avail as he himself fell helplessly into the ice-cold water, his head grazing one of the support posts.

"Man overboard!" Hartenstein shouted to the conning tower. "Hard to starboard!"

"Sheisse!" he muttered as the boat began to turn to the repeated sound of the horn as he threw off cap and jacket and jumped overboard.

"Where is he?" he spluttered, the shock of the cold water already making him shiver as he began to swim rapidly in the reverse direction as he searched for his first officer.

Just then the moon shone from behind the clouds and Hartenstein spotted Mortimer and called out to him, relieved when the figure turned towards him.

"Mortimer, are you all right?"

"I'm all right but we have to get out of here."

Hartenstein realized he was right - there was a greater danger than just being overboard and it was well nigh upon them.

Titanic's gigantic bow was insidiously close, the enormous vessel only now beginning to turn, her deep horn sounding repeatedly.

Stroking frantically, both men managed to get out of the way but were hit by the liner's bow wave, crewmen calling out to them and throwing lifebuoys which they were able to grab onto and utilize as the great liner passed dangerously close, the churning water of her spreading wake soon hitting them and they bobbed helplessly in it, the floatation devices of great assistance.

"No sign of Captain Jakobs?" Hartenstein inquired.

His answer was a shake of the head as Mortimer coughed up seawater. Both men searched the surrounding blackness of the ocean.

With Titanic now safely out of the way U-156 was able to come alongside and pick up the badly-chilled and shivering men.

As they were helped out of the water Hartenstein ordered Weber to check the first officer's head.

"Let me see." Weber ran his hands over Mortimer's head and when he felt the left side there was a decided flinch.

"Hurts there?"

"Yeah."

"Not surprising. You have quite a bump there. Do you feel dizzy?"

"I don't think so."

"Come then," Hartenstein urged. "Let us go below."

Mannesmann reported that there was no sign of Captain Jakobs. Hartenstein gave orders to continue the search and to ask Titanic to help as he helped his first officer below and into a hot shower.

Mortimer was infinitely grateful for the hot stream of water, not to mention the hands that rubbed him, warming him wonderfully as he returned the gift, hands sliding all over the chilled, wet body of his captain.

"How is that?" Hartenstein inquired solicitously.

"Mm-hm."

"Sehr gut."

In silence they towelled each other dry before Hartenstein ordered Mortimer to rest, helping him into bed.

"I'm all right," came the expected protest.

"You have a lump on your head," Hartenstein accused.

"You exaggerate. It's not that big."

"Go to bed - that's an order! We'll see what Weber says in the morning."

Dengler had brought fresh brandy-drenched coffee and Hartenstein pulled the table close to the bed before pouring.

"You could have drowned," he murmured, perching on the bed and giving his lover a one-armed embrace while enjoying the hot liquid as it slid down his throat, warming and comforting.

Mortimer, too, savoured the hot brew which also had cinnamon in it. "You know I'm made of sturdy Anglo-Saxon stock. We British are a seagoing nation." He grinned. "Besides, I have a handsome German commander to rescue me."

Hartenstein could not help but return the smile, as always captivated by the way his lover's mouth turned up at the corners. "It's getting to be a habit," he grumbled giving his companion a one-armed hug.

Mortimer leaned closer, reaching up to stroke a bearded cheek. "A habit I'm most grateful for," he murmured.

"Sheisse, I should have had him by the arm," Hartenstein muttered.

Mortimer shook his head. "Even if you had it was like he had extra strength. I don't think either of us could have stopped him. But what made you turn around?" he inquired curiously.

"The railing rattled when you hit it." He shook his head. "I was sure we had convinced him he could lead a good life here, and he wanted to see Titanic. He must have been somehow drawn to us for help, but now... Now, god knows where he is. I blame my own incompetence and if you had been unconscious you could have drowned."

"If you blame yourself then you must blame me too. I must be equally guilty." Mortimer stroked a bearded cheek waiting for his lover to meet his gaze. Finally, troubled hazel eyes met his own. "Captain Jakobs was convinced that he'd lost his boat to an Allied attack and he was loyal to his crew - perhaps too loyal. To his way of thinking he was the sole survivor and he couldn't live with that. I could feel his guilt. I only wish that we could have got him to Titanic where he could have been helped."

"Ja. As always you are right, meine liebe. Still, I wish we could have somehow saved him from himself." He shook his head. "Forgive me, meine liebe. I did not mean to blame you," he added.

"Then you can't blame yourself either, my captain," Mortimer replied in earnest, gazing into his lover's troubled hazel eyes.

"Touché, but it does not stop me from wishing that things could have turned out differently for the poor man."

Mortimer's gaze was hopeful. "Then let us make a wish that he will somehow find himself on Titanic."

Hartenstein gave the smallest of smiles and it warmed Mortimer's heart. "You are right, as always. Somehow, we don't know how, but somehow he made his way to us, to our boat. Perhaps somehow he will make his way to Titanic where he can be helped."

Mortimer smiled at him. "Yes! Let us wish him well and that somehow he will be drawn to Titanic to get the help he needs." He suddenly yawned and Hartenstein took the mug from his hand.

"Sleep now, meine liebe."

"Are you coming to bed?"

"I shall join you shortly. Go to sleep." He leaned down and kissed his first officer goodnight. "Mm, you tempt me, but go to sleep."

Mortimer slid down in the bed to be covered up by his commanding officer. Smiling, he allowed himself to drift off.

Dressed warmly, Hartenstein went aloft once more to observe the search. Titanic, now stationary nearby, had launched three boats and U-156 was navigating in ever larger circles around her.

It was more than thirty minutes now since Captain Jakobs had gone overboard and the darkness made the search well nigh impossible. He knew it was hopeless and gave the order to abandon the search and resume course to Homeport.

Placing a call to Titanic, he informed Admiral Strong, who had been kept abreast of events, that he was abandoning the search. The admiral concurred, agreeing that there was nothing more they could do in the circumstances.

Somewhat despondent, Hartenstein returned to his quarters only to be cheered by the sight of his first officer sleeping peacefully in their bed.

He smiled to himself. "My Mortimer," he whispered, reminding himself of his good fortune.

Bed was tempting but there was one last thing to do. Sitting down at the table, he picked up the radio telephone to thank Captain Andrews for his help in the search for the missing man.

"My gratitude to you and your crew, Andrews. They are most efficient." He spoke softly so as not to wake his sleeping companion.

"I'll pass it on, my friend. I only regret that we were unsuccessful."

"You did your best. I endeavoured to explain to Captain Jakobs that he was where he was meant to be, to no avail it seems. I blame myself for his loss."

"It's all right, my friend. You tried your best and that's all we can do. By the way, you don't half keep my men on their toes when you go overboard and do a sudden about face like that. Lucky the men in the crow's nest were on their toes. As you know, Titanic, much as I love her, is a bit of a beast to turn around; takes over a mile to do a full one-eighty. I'm always terrified that when one of you is overboard she'll run you over. One of these days I should redesign her steering. However, it was kept in its original condition because enough time was spent putting Humpty Dumpty back together and adding additional watertight doors without going to town on her steering. God knows I hate to admit it but Lusitania is as large and she turns far better. Oh, listen to me rambling! Anyway I trust that yourself and Mr Mortimer are still in one piece."

Hartenstein chuckled. He well knew Andrews' tendency to, as he put it, ramble, when it came to his vessel. "We survived but Mortimer has a bit of a bump on the head."

"Sorry to hear that. Do you want the medical staff to examine him?"

"Thank you, my friend," he glanced at Mortimer who was continuing to sleep soundly, "but I believe he is all right. He's sound asleep but I'll see how he is in the morning and let you know."

"Good. I take it the German officer was alone."

Hartenstein was glum. "The Admiralty reports that there is no trace of his boat nor any crew members in this realm. I believe they were attacked and he was knocked overboard by an explosion. The boat somehow survived in the Third, no doubt by way of a crash dive, and he arrived on his own."

"In that event if he is meant to be in this realm then it's possible he may turn up elsewhere."

"I, that is we, were hoping that somehow Captain Jakobs might find his way to Titanic. He did express an interest in seeing your vessel, so perhaps somehow..." He shrugged.

"I see what you mean, old boy. Now you're beginning to think like a Fourth Realm resident. I'll let you know if any unknown German officers turn up. On this cruise he would stand out like a sore thumb anyway amongst all the Admiralty staff. Mind you, he'd probably be terrified they'd take him prisoner."

"I did explain to him that he'd be treated as an honoured guest but I'm not sure he believed me. Just make sure if he does indeed go to Titanic that he does not try to sabotage anything."

"Will do. I'll alert the crew to be on the lookout for him."

Hartenstein gave him a description of the errant man before hanging up.


That night, Werner Hartenstein held his sleeping lover tenderly, running gentle fingers through his hair, careful not to touch the swelling.

"Never lose you, my Britischer," he whispered. "Never lose you. I'll keep you safe, my Mortimer. I'll always keep you safe."

He drifted off, lulled to sleep by the familiar vibration of the engine and the boat's motion as it rode the Atlantic swell, secure in the knowledge that his lover was safely in his arms.


Early the following morning there was a message from Titanic. Captain Jakobs had indeed been found there sleeping soundly in an unoccupied suite. He was now in the hands of the medical staff and a counsellor.

As for Mortimer, he awoke with a huge headache which went rapidly away as was customary when the boat played her part in healing. As for the bump on his head, it was almost gone. In fact he forgot about it entirely when he decided to wake up his captain in a most lecherous and delightful manner.

* * *