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Fic: Return to Ascension Part 2 of 2

A sequel to The Good with the Bad

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex and a bit of violence
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1942 A/U
Word count this section: 2,710
Total word count: 5,270
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, some violence
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: What awaits Hartenstein and Mortimer at Ascension Island is hardly what they expected.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a sequel to "The Good with the Bad"

At Ascension Island all eyes were on the radar which, stubbornly, still showed no other vessels in the vicinity. Slowly, U-156 made its way to the narrow inlet where it had once hidden while a shore party led by its commanding officer had conducted a successful raid on the American base back in the Third Realm. Hartenstein ordered periscope depth and the boat shortly disappeared into the depths, the afternoon sun shining on its grey stern as it quietly submerged.

As it slowly came upon the inlet Hartenstein watched carefully. In this realm they knew that there was no American base. In fact the island was uninhabited. However, a newly arrived vessel from the Third Realm wouldn't know this and, if it was a German vessel, they would expect to encounter the enemy there.

Finally, Hartenstein spied something. "All stop!" he ordered, training the periscope on one particular area. On the right side of the inlet just beyond a small headland there was something protruding beyond the cliff itself. There! There was something there!

He handed over the periscope to his first officer who had a good look.

"Yes! There's something there all right, but it doesn't look like the stern of a U-boat. Looks more like a fishing boat, though a decent-sized one." He handed the periscope back to his captain.

"Whatever it is, the fact that it's hiding here in an inlet would explain why radar couldn't detect it." Taking off his cap, he ran a hand through his hair somewhat distractedly in a gesture Mortimer well knew. "So be it. The channel is deep enough for us to remain submerged, so we shall surprise them."

When the much larger U-boat surfaced beside the smaller vessel, it seemed to take the its crew completely by surprise. They were indeed German and as the U-boat rose out of the water and its hatches opened they heard shouts of all hands on deck and to stand to attention.

The boat, complete with fishing nets and a winch, appeared to have been attacked, with much of its superstructure burnt and blackened.

As Hartenstein introduced himself and inquired their identity a young man responded.

"Maastrict, Lt. Klaus Hansen in command."

"And why are you disguised as a fishing vessel when you clearly are not?"

"Indeed we are not, Captain. We are under orders to lay mines."

Hartenstein invited the man aboard, the two men continuing their conversation in the captain's quarters where they were joined by Mortimer.

Lt. Hansen was young, in his early twenties, Hartenstein judged, with a thin, gaunt face and a somewhat haunted look about him; a look that said he had suffered much in recent times.

"Now tell me, Lieutenant Hansen, what brings you to Ascension Island?"

"We were sent to Ascension to mine the small harbour used by the Americans for their base. We laid the mines but, unfortunately, we were pursued by an American destroyer. It fired on us but we managed to lose it in the fog. We carry little ammunition and we only had a few mines left, so we discharged them in its path hoping to stop its pursuit. This is why we are also very low on fuel and we should have been halfway home by now. I realized that I had no choice but to return to Ascension for fresh water for the trip home and I also hoped to steal diesel oil from the Americans. We were lucky to find fresh water, but..."

"But what?" Hartenstein prodded.

"You will think me mad, Captain."

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"When we returned here... we could not find the American base. We could not even find any sign that there ever was an American base here - no road, no runway, no planes, no buildings. The harbour where we had laid mines had nothing; no vessels, no docks and no people. I cannot believe it. None of us can. In fact I thought we must be at the wrong island, but I'm sure my navigation skills are not that bad even though we were chased off course by the American destroyer. So I am most glad to see you, Captain Hartenstein."

"You must not concern yourself, Lieutenant. There is an explanation for the disappearing American base but we'll get to that later. First of all, to more immediate problems. Tell me: Do you have injured crew?" Hartenstein inquired.

The man nodded vigorously. "Three sustained burns in the attack. The mate has done his best but there is little we can do. We are only a small vessel with a crew of twelve."

Hartenstein shook his head. "We will take your injured aboard and do what we can for them." Pausing, Hartenstein, gave orders to Mannesmann to help the injured aboard before turning once more to his guest. "How are you off for food?" he inquired.

"I confess we have been at sea for weeks and we have almost none left. I have had to ration it severely. We were hoping to find some animals on the island but there seems to be nothing."

Just then food arrived in the form of a freshly baked apple strudel and coffee laced with brandy. Mortimer also joined them.

"Apple strudel! Forgive me but I have not seen any in so long I had forgotten how delicious is the smell. I must be in heaven," the young German officer exclaimed.

"Not quite, my young friend," Hartenstein replied with some irony, "but, as my first officer says, tuck in."

Conversation was interrupted as all three men relished the sweet treat, the young lieutenant feeling somewhat guilty as he devoured a second helping.

"I will also arrange for supplies of food to be sent to your vessel sufficient for the trip to headquarters."

"Danke, Captain. I am most grateful. We have been trying to act like a real fishing boat and catch fish but I confess we are not very good at it, or perhaps it's the season. I am unfamiliar with these waters."

After the strudel had all disappeared the young officer inquired about Hartenstein's reference to an explanation for the disappearing American base.

"Ah! If you will be patient, Lieutenant, I will try to explain. First of all, when your boat was attacked by the destroyer did you think you'd survive?"

The younger man sipped at his brandy-laced coffee, savouring it. "I must confess I thought we would die, the boat blown to pieces by their guns. That was just as we entered the fog bank. I was amazed that we were still in one piece and the fires seemed to be out thanks to the heroic efforts of my crew. I was sure the destroyer would follow us into the fog bank so I instructed them to release the last of our mines. It was all we had left."

Hartenstein sighed. "So you released the mines after you had made the transition. Now it makes sense. How many mines did you release?"

"Six. That was four days ago."

Hartenstein sent for Fiedler, instructing him to contact the mine sweeper and advise them to search for five mines.

"Only five, Captain? Did one by chance hit the American destroyer?"

Hartenstein poured more brandy-laced coffee. "A passenger liner hit one."

"A British vessel?" the young officer inquired eagerly.

"Indeed. It was the liner we were escorting."

Hansen frowned. "You were... escorting a British liner?"

"Indeed we were, Lieutenant. You are now in the Fourth Realm. You, your crew and your boat have made the transition. For all of you, the war is over. This realm is one of peace."

Hansen stared at him, finally shaking his head. "Nein. Nein, what you say is not possible. We are all alive. We survived, but you are saying that we..." He stared at Hartenstein.

"Yes, my young friend. In the Third Realm you perished along with your vessel."

"But we are all alive. The boat survived too. How can we...? How can we have...?"

"Died," Hartenstein said softly, his eyes gazing deeply into the blue ones of the young captain. "You did, my friend, as indeed we also did," he turned to Mortimer who had remained quiet, "did we not, Mortimer?"

"Indeed, we did, sir," Mortimer answered in English.

Hansen now turned to Mortimer. "I had thought your accent strange. You are British!" he accused.

Mortimer smiled at him. "And proudly so."

"Your first officer is truly British," Hansen muttered. "But... but this is treason."

Hartenstein merely appeared amused. "God help me but it's true - he's British. Now you see why you are not in the Third Realm any more? How could I have a British first when we are mortal enemies in the Third? There is no war here which is why there is no American base on Ascension and I can have a British first officer who commands the loyalty of the crew."

Stunned by the U-boat commander's words, Hansen shook his head. "Is this a nightmare? I must be dreaming." His eyes looked from one man to the other, pleading to be told it was all some kind of dreadful joke.

"This is real, Lieutenant," Mortimer said softly. "It's a new beginning for you and your men and you'll lead good lives here. Now, let me see if I've got this straight. You came to Ascension in the Third Realm and mined the harbour. Then you were chased and attacked by an American destroyer which inflicted a mortal blow, so you laid the last of your mines in its path, unaware that it could no longer follow you as you and your crew had made the transition to this, the Fourth Realm. You then returned here to Ascension, unaware that you were now in the Fourth Realm, hoping for fresh water and fuel but found nothing because in the Fourth Realm Ascension is uninhabited."

Hansen gazed from one to the other, his eyes imploring them to say it wasn't true.

Hartenstein gazed gently on the younger man. "My first officer speaks the truth, my friend. You are now in the Fourth Realm."

"Are... Are you saying that I... that we... died?" Both men nodded. "But... but if I am dead, what happened to heaven and hell?"

"They're not around here," Hartenstein began, "but the Fourth Realm is a much better realm than the one we all came from. Trust us, you'll do well here. You'll have a good life and there are many wonderful things to discover. Speaking of which, I'll have my chief engineer show you the engine room. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by it."

"Captain, may I ask...? You said that one of the mines hit a British liner; did it sink it?"

"Nein. Titanic is very strong with many more watertight compartments than she had previously. She is even now on her way back to Homeport."

Hansen appeared puzzled. "Another ship named... Titanic?"

"Nein. She is the original. In the Third Realm she lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. In this realm she was rescued, lovingly restored and made even stronger. We regularly escort her when we are sent to rescue those like yourself who have made the transition to the Fourth Realm."

The young officer appeared stunned. "Titanic is reborn? I would not have thought this possible. I would like to see her and... and I regret that one of my mines hit Titanic of all vessels."

"My young friend, you had no way of knowing you were in the Fourth Realm at the time you released the mines. You will certainly see her when we return to port. I will introduce you to her captain and he'll give you a guided tour. He's a good friend and I know he'll want to speak to you personally. Trust me, he will not blame you."

"You are very kind, Captain, but I must apologize to him in person for damaging his ship."

"Do not concern yourself. At the moment she is seconded to the International Admiralty working on rescue missions."

"This... International Admiralty - may I ask is that this strange uniform you wear?"

"It is indeed," Mortimer replied. "You'll get to know them."

"And in the meantime we will give you a tow," Hartenstein added.

"I am most grateful for your rescue, Captain Hartenstein, and your generous hospitality."

After saluting the U-boat officers Hansen left the room accompanied by Rostau.

Hartenstein sat shaking his head. "Are things so bad that my country now sends children out to die? He is far too young for such responsibility. And did you see his crew?"

Mortimer nodded. "I'll wager the eldest is no more than eighteen at most. I hope they all have family here."

"Come. Let us check on the wounded." They stood up.

"You're counting on the boat helping to heal them."

"I'm counting on the return voyage healing them very much." Hartenstein noticed Mortimer watching him closely. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"It's nothing. It's..." He shook his head. "It's just... you make me so proud to serve with you."

"You're impossible," Hartenstein protested, nonetheless giving his shoulders a brief squeeze.

An hour later U-156 was under way, the Maastricht, having been checked for seaworthiness, under tow in her wake. The smaller vessel was now well supplied with food and other necessities and her wounded now settled in for the voyage aboard the U-boat.

That night, the two U-boat officers lay quietly together.

"Rostau said the same - that they're sending children out to die." Hartenstein spoke softly. "One side or the other has to win soon. It has to be over soon."

Mortimer sighed a little. "We can only wait for it to be over. Meantime we rescue the poor souls blown to bits like they were. At least we can be grateful they've no memory of it - and surely that's a mercy," he added. Hartenstein nodded. "We can also be grateful that, for us, it's over and, against the odds, we're together."

Hartenstein shook his head. "We are only one team doing search and rescue but there are over eighty others doing the same, and we only look after the oceans. How many people must be dying on land?"

"There are many more teams that look after the land too."

"I know." He sighed before turning to Mortimer who was lying on his side leaning on one elbow watching him. "Forgive me, meine liebe. Sometimes... Sometimes it's too much."

Mortimer slid down in the bed to take him in his arms, his companion burying his face in his warm neck as Mortimer stroked him, running his fingers through his hair.

"We survived. They will too. And perhaps some will even find each other like we did. What do you think?"

"I think my British officer is a hopeless romantic."

Mortimer merely looked smug. "And who is it who plays seductive classical music while we fuck 'til we're high as a kite?"

"So you're saying that one of us is as bad as the other?" Hartenstein inquired innocently.

Mortimer smiled. "It's the nature of our collaboration."

They were quiet for a while until Mortimer spoke again.

"I was remembering the last time we were in Spain at our house," he mused. "Do you remember it was winter and it was very windy and we lit the fire in the bedroom and went to bed early with a bottle of wine?"

Hartenstein grinned. "How could I forget it? You found a British radio station that played the classics and we spent most of the night making love to Handel and Mozart."

Mortimer was smiling at the memories. "How happy we were. We needed no one else but each other."

"I will never forget that night, meine liebe. It was... very special."

"Time spent alone with you is always special. Ours is a wonderful collaboration, my German captain."

Hartenstein hugged his lover. "And I will guard our collaboration, my British love."

They ended up falling asleep as they were; all concerns of the war in the Third for the moment obliterated as they dreamt of that night on the Spanish coast; how it seemed to them that their very spirits had merged, and how very wonderful it had been.

* * *