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Novella: Smoke on Water Part 4 of 4

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex and adult situations
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count this section: 6,550
Total word count: 15,125
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: Mortimer is profoundly affected by their strange encounter.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a sequel to "The Lone Freighter". If you haven't yet read that fic then you really need to go back and read it first as this won't make a lot of sense otherwise.

By the time they returned to the boat that night the two U-boat officers had met so many people they had blurred into a sea of faces. They had also lost count of the number of speeches they had heard from the grateful dignitaries of the city of New York.

"They were sincere though," Mortimer admitted as he folded his uniform trousers.

"That was quite a banquet and ball the lady mayor threw."

"Yes, I saw you and your Kriegsmarine comrades all having your picture taken."

Hartenstein was unbuttoning his shirt. "Perhaps we shall be in the papers."

"Well at least you didn't all get drunk and maudlin like you usually do."

Hartenstein chuckled. "Everybody was much too happy. They all said how strange it was to be heroes instead of enemies to the Americans." He glanced at Mortimer who was unbuttoning his shirt. "I saw you dancing with that redheaded lady."

"She quite fancied me."

"Did she invite you home?"

"She invited me to her hotel room. She was from Texas and just visiting New York."

"And what did you tell her?"

"I said I regretted I had to get back to my duties on the boat. She was quite persistent though. Said that I must look her up if I ever got to Houston."

Hartenstein chuckled. "You have a fatal attraction for women. Did she give you her address?"

"And her telephone number. Anyway I saw you chatting up several women."

"The ladies were very sweet but I was not 'chatting them up' as you put it."

"Did they issue invitations?"

"Oh, their spring ball, their banquet, or this or that party or social occasion." Hartenstein checked his deck watch to see if it needed winding.

"But of course you turned them all down."

"Of course. After all, we're not staying in New York."

They got into bed and settled down.

"I hope that's not the only reason you turned them down."

"Merely the simplest to explain."

Mortimer was suddenly serious. "Do you mind? I mean having to explain that... that we're together?"

Hartenstein thought about it. "I admit at first... it seemed awkward.... I mean to say that I'm committed is... not difficult. To explain that I'm committed to my first officer, or to say that we are lovers... I confess it... well it still seems strange to say something that in my old life would have sent me to a labour camp, or prison."

"Either way, disgrace for both of us," Mortimer agreed, "but I'm so proud now that you're my lover."

"And I of you."

They hugged each other and kissed a bit.

"Another early night," Mortimer sighed.

"We will be up at 0500. I have a meeting with the Port Authority. Then the pilot will be coming aboard for 0600 departure. Titanic will be first to sail down the Hudson."


"In honour of her belated thirtieth."

"Another sexless night then," Mortimer muttered "I thought I'd fall asleep listening to all those speeches."

"I had to nudge you."

Mortimer chuckled.

Outside, the wind came up and they felt the boat bump gently against the dock.

"I suppose when we get back I'll have to see Dr Benson."

"We will, meine liebe. We will see her together."

"I mean there's no denying what happened. I wasn't the only one who saw it."

"Yes, but you were the one who felt it most deeply. I'm sorry you had to experience that."

"Maybe she'll tell us it's happened before."

"Perhaps it has. We shall see."

Seeking to distract his melancholy companion Hartenstein leaned over to kiss him thoroughly, distracting him as only he could, after which he gazed into his companion's blue eyes and murmured, "Now, do you still wish to discuss an apparition, or would you prefer it if I suck your little British cock?"

"Oh, god..." Mortimer moaned as warm lips and tongue worked their playful way down him. "Keep that up and it won't stay little for long..."

His lover grinned.

As one by one the race fleet departed New York the three largest vessels went first, Titanic in the lead. However, the weather had changed and it was overcast and raining steadily. Nonetheless the gaily decorated vessels made a colourful sight that stopped traffic as they left the safety of New York harbour and, accompanied by their guardian U-boats, made their way out into a choppy North Atlantic with a stiff breeze that blew rain into the eyes of all in the conning tower of U-156.

The weather was very rough with not a trace of the calm seas they had experienced on the outward bound trip. Aboard U-156 Mortimer prayed not to again experience the feelings, or the apparition, they had seen only four days previous.

"It was the anniversary," Hartenstein reassured him, "and I am convinced of this. We happened to be in the same area at the same time. That's all it was."

Mortimer appeared doubtful, the feelings of doom from that night haunting him. He told himself it wasn't real. It was a ghost; an apparition in the night, and nothing more. After all, the real Titanic was large as life and following in their wake. He climbed down to the deck and walked to the stern watching her. There was nothing of a ghost ship about her. She was as solid and real as the deck he was standing on, her sheer bulk blocking much of the horizon to the east. What kind of miracle was she? he wondered. This realm was like Lazarus for lost ships, he decided. Logically, his brain still couldn't understand it, yet somehow in his heart he knew it was right - indeed far more right than a realm where they were forever gone and lamented.

Beyond Titanic was her sister ship Britannic. She, too, had been lost on her maiden voyage; holed badly by a mine in the Greek islands during the war that was supposed to end all wars in the Third. It would be her anniversary next year. Now, she sailed proudly beside her older sister, the two near identical in appearance.

On Titanic's other side was Lusitania, also lost in the same war; sunk by a torpedo off the south coast of Ireland. She was even faster than the two White Star liners. It would be her anniversary in two year's time.

He wondered if they would still need the protection of U-boats then. Surely the wretched war in the Third would have to be over by then. Or would they all go on slaughtering and bombing each other forever? No! Surely not! It had to be over soon. It had to be, he pleaded..

When they reached Homeport it was the race winner, Oronsay, who entered first, her passengers descending happily from the gangways and vowing to be back for the big race again next year, as did passengers from all the other vessels which had taken part even though quite a few had been seasick on the return voyage due to the roughness of the Atlantic. Also, more passengers had been picked up due to even more shipwrecks from the Third Realm and the U-boats had been kept busy. Hartenstein, on the whole, was satisfied that the operation had gone relatively smoothly.

Titanic was once more safely at her berth. Aboard U-156 the captain and first officer were preparing for their meeting with the Admiralty.

Mortimer was straightening his tie. "Bet they ask why didn't we stop Titanic from hitting the iceberg."

"How could we? If we'd got in her way the boat would now be in two pieces. They know very well that she's uncontrollable when it comes to icebergs."

Mortimer grinned. "Yeah, that they do, but they'll still say we should have done something."

"And what would they have had me do?" Hartenstein was combing his hair.

"I'd like to see them answer that one. Is Andrews gonna be there?"

"Oh, yes. Says he wouldn't miss it for all the rivets in Titanic." He buttoned the jacket of his freshly pressed uniform.

"He's a terrible liar."

They inspected one other, each to the other's satisfaction.

The Admirals, having read Hartenstein's report, were well prepared for them and, after the customary welcome, Admiral Strong threw open the floor for questions.

"Yeah, I have a question for Captain Hartenstein," the American admiral began. "Why the hell couldn't you prevent the attempted hit on Titanic? I mean that's your duty. That's what you U-boat commanders are supposed to do - protect the ships."

"I understand my duty very well, Admiral," Hartenstein began, "and as I said in my report, it all happened very fast. U-403 took a hit on the starboard side. This caused her to veer off course as her commander chose to slow to one quarter speed to check for damage. I would have done the same myself. This left Titanic's starboard side unprotected and before I, myself, could take up that position, a second torpedo was fired and this was a close thing."

Admiral Strong turned to Andrews. "Captain Andrews, it's my understanding that no damage was done to Titanic by the impact of the torpedo hit on U-403. Is this correct?"

"Correct. Although the explosion was in close proximity it was on the starboard side of U-403 and therefore the side facing away from Titanic. In any case the extra reinforcing on her hull is very strong."

Admiral Strong turned to Hartenstein. "So what you're saying, Captain, is that it all happened so fast that there was literally nothing you could do to prevent the near miss?"

"None, sir."

"You were subsequently successful in persuading Bristol's commander and crew to board Titanic."

"Yes, sir. Once he understood the true situation Captain Alexander expressed remorse for his actions."

"Indeed he did," Andrews added. "He apologized to me personally. Said that he'd never have taken such action if he'd known it was really Titanic he was firing on and it was the last ship in the world he'd want to sink."

"Good. Any more questions?" Admiral Strong inquired.

It was the American admiral who spoke once more. "Yes, I have another. Captain Hartenstein, did you do anything - and I mean anything at all - to prevent Titanic from hitting the iceberg?"

Under the table Mortimer nudged Hartenstein. It was the question they had both expected. The latter kept a straight face. Andrews merely looked bemused.

"Admiral, there was nothing I could do. When we spotted the iceberg on radar naturally I was going to steer a path around it, but then I saw that Titanic had already veered off towards it. Knowing of her reputation, I feared the worst. I immediately contacted Captain Andrews who informed me that he had no control. What could I do when her own crew could do nothing? If I had attempted to place my own small vessel between her and the iceberg I would have been jeopardizing the safety of my vessel and crew. Taking into account that her bow has been reinforced and the quantity of her watertight compartments, I reasoned that even if she suffered a rupture in the forward compartment she would easily survive and I was therefore not prepared to attempt a physical intervention."

"Even though this was an especially large berg?"

"Even though."

"So you don't believe there was anything you could have done?"

"In the circumstances, no."

"If I may?" Andrews spoke up and was given the nod. "If Captain Hartenstein had attempted to place his U-boat between Titanic and the iceberg I very much fear that it would have been cut in two - and to no avail. Titanic would have simply ploughed right on until she hit the iceberg."

The American admiral gave a resigned grunt. "Damned if I know why we let Titanic sail at this time of year anyway. I mean with her addiction to breaking bergs it's only asking for trouble. White Star must be crazy."

"Bill, if White Star are willing to take the risk, who are we to complain?" the British admiral admonished.

"And since when does it matter what time of year she sails?" the Irish admiral began. "The good lord knows she manages to find icebergs wherever she goes at any time of year."

"Quite right, Liam," the British admiral agreed. "We all remember the time she managed to find an iceberg in the middle of the Mediterranean at the height of summer."

"Too bloody right," the Australian admiral began. "We all remember that one. How the hell can you have an iceberg in an ocean that's too warm at any time of year for them? Makes no bloody sense at all. Fair dinkum, where do they come from? I swear she could find one in Sydney bloody harbour."

"Ah, le magnifique bateau!" the French admiral exclaimed. "She makes them up."

"And that makes no sense either," the British admiral responded.

"Och, the little people make them for her," the Irish admiral remarked.

"Oh, now, Liam, don't start with that 'little people' business," the British admiral chided.

"And why not? It's as good an explanation as any. Well does anyone here have a better one?" There was silence around the table. "I thought as much. And aren't there a great many things in this realm which we can't explain at all at all? That's just one of them."

"However they manage to appear, the point is she smashes into them just like she did during the race," the American admiral reminded all, "and then she has to go into dry-dock to have her plates checked. Ties up the damn docks she does."

"She never ties up the large dry-dock for long," Andrews defended. "Anyway the divers have already checked her bow for damage and she's quite all right. A few scratches but they'll keep 'til her next paint job. Besides, the passengers love it when she smashes another iceberg. Every single passenger goes home not only satisfied but happy as larks. All they're wanting is another cruise, and who can blame them?"

"Too right, mate," the Australian admiral chimed in. "They get a fair dinkum thrill when she smashes the iceberg and doesn't sink."

"Yes, yes, we all know her party trick," the British admiral remarked rather impatiently.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," Hartenstein interrupted, "but, other than firing on her rudder to disable her there is simply no way of stopping her from performing her 'party trick' as you call it."

"And I should hope you would never contemplate such an egregious action," Andrews responded.

All eyes turned to Hartenstein who turned to Andrews.

"You have my word, my friend, that I would never consider such an action. I have sworn to guard Titanic and I will. I would never harm her even if I thought it was for her own good."

Andrews smiled at him. "I thank you, Captain. Your faith in the strength of Titanic's design means much."

There was a momentary silence until the British admiral spoke up.

"Quite right, Captain Hartenstein. Let us agree, ladies and gentlemen, that until a method can be found - if it ever can - of preventing Titanic from finding and destroying icebergs, there is no sense in blaming anyone for it, or for being unable to prevent it."

There were murmurs of assent around the table, if a disgruntled one from the American admiral. However, it was now the British admiral's turn to ask a question.

"Captain Hartenstein, I believe you encountered a somewhat unusual fog bank."

"We did."

"Why did you ask Titanic to wait and not enter it? After all, it was only fog and she has radar. She would still have been able to follow you with reasonable accuracy even if she couldn't see you very well."

"That is true, Admiral. I... I suppose you could say I was wary. The fog seemed to appear from nowhere. One minute the horizon ahead was clear, the next it was totally obscured by a thick bank of fog stretching to the north and south as far as we could see. There was no way around it and I could not see if it was hiding any dangers. So I ordered Titanic to wait."

"And you entered it yourself."

"I did."

"And was it safe?"

"I... believe so."

Admiral Strong had long ago noted that Hartenstein never usually appeared uncertain, but he did now, and his curiosity was piqued.

"Captain, what did you see on the other side of the fog bank?"

Hartenstein hesitated. "Forgive me, Admiral, I...." He shook his head. "I... submitted an incomplete report."

The British admiral stared at him. "Captain Hartenstein, this is most unlike you. I trust it will be forthcoming?"

"Yes, sir."

"So what's missing, Captain?"

"Yes, I think we'd all like to know that," the American admiral chimed in.

"I..." Hartenstein glanced at Mortimer who gave a nod of encouragement. "I saw what might be called an apparition."

There was dead silence in the room, all eyes focused intently on Hartenstein.

"What sort of apparition, Captain?" the British admiral inquired.

"After entering the fog bank we shortly came out the other side and at first I was relieved that nothing seemed to be amiss. The sea seemed even more calm than before, but then... Then I realized that it was darker."

"What was darker?"

"The night. The ocean. Everything. Everything was darker. Then I remembered..." he took a deep breath, "...the moon had been shining, and I said so. We all looked and the sky was quite clear. We could see the stars, but no moon. No moon anywhere," he said quietly.

The assembled admirals exchanged glances. "Continue," the British admiral stated.

"The fog bank was now at our stern and we had moved some way from it, approximately a half mile, when we observed a large vessel steaming towards us at full speed from out of the fog."

"Impossible! We never moved," Captain Andrews exclaimed.

"I know that now, Captain," Hartenstein acknowledged. "It was then that I discovered that not only was our radar not working but neither was our radio or the engine. I ordered the signal lamp be brought on deck and my radio operator tried desperately to signal Titanic but there was no response. What's worse she was heading directly for us. We were fortunate as it was a very close call and we were rocked violently by her passage."

"By the passage of an apparition?"

"Yes, sir. I know it seems strange."


"I then realized that the other two U-boats I had left guarding her were not with her and there was something else. There was smoke coming from three of her stacks - black smoke which blew downwards and we all smelled it. I knew then that it was not the Titanic we all knew but a vision of her as she was on her maiden voyage in the Third Realm - on her way to meet her fate," he added quietly.

Around the table there was a prolonged silence. From the corner of his eye Hartenstein saw Andrews close his eyes and Mortimer hide his face. Beneath the table he reached out to squeeze the latter's hand.

The British admiral took a deep breath. "And after that?"

"After that we found that everything was working once more. We retraced our course back through the fog and found Titanic just where we'd left her and with two U-boats still guarding her. The fog dissipated rapidly and all vessels then proceeded on course for New York."

"I see. Gentlemen, I regret that you saw such a vision. I know it can be distressing, however, if it's any comfort you are not the first to experience this, especially on her anniversary, am I not right, Captain Andrews?"

Andrews nodded. "Indeed, Admiral Strong. Many people have told me they witnessed this same vision and always on the anniversary. I... I have no explanation for it except... well I believe it is perhaps the regret felt by many in the Third Realm at her sorry fate there. They think of her maiden voyage and... and in a way they relive it and their thoughts create a manifestation of her as she was at that time. Of course they have no way of knowing that she's very much alive and well, as indeed are all who sailed with her on that voyage."

Again, there was silence until Admiral Strong spoke up.

"I... thank you for your report, Captain Hartenstein, and for your honesty. I... believe I speak for my colleagues when I say that there will be no need for you to amend your report. It will stand as is."

Hartenstein expressed his gratitude and the meeting broke up.

Once outside, Andrews asked the two U-boat officers if they fancied Italian and led them back to the docks and Titanic's a la carte restaurant. Once they were seated and eating a very tasty pasta and fresh salad he queried them as to what really happened.

"Now come, you two. I had the distinct feeling you weren't telling all."

"It was... frightening," Hartenstein began. "She was heading straight for us. I thought she would cut us in two."

"Good lord! How close was she?"

"Very close. No more than four yards. Mortimer?"

Mortimer nodded. "Yes, about that."

"You must have been caught in the backwash."

"We were. The boat was spun around."

Andrews shook his head. "I'm so sorry this happened to you. All I can say is that it's happened to others." He looked at Mortimer. "Mortimer, you're very quiet."

Mortimer gave a wan smile and forked some more pasta into his mouth.

"Mortimer felt it very much," Hartenstein said quietly.

"I'm so sorry, my friend. I... wish... I truly wish you hadn't had to experience that."

Mortimer swallowed his food. "I'm all right now."

"He felt their passing deeply," Hartenstein remarked softly.

"'Their'?" Andrews queried.

"The souls on that ship," Mortimer murmured. "I felt... their doom."

"Forgive me, my friend," Andrews murmured. "I forget you are not from this realm. It's why you feel things so deeply. You are more sensitive."

Mortimer sipped his wine. 'It's all right now. The boat healed us all that night."

"Ah, you woke up with headaches."

Both men nodded.

"It's not your fault," Hartenstein said, his gaze on Andrews. "We would never blame you."

"No, never," Mortimer agreed. "We'd never blame Titanic either."

"Never," Hartenstein agreed.

Andrews shook his head. "I could wish that you'd been assigned to escort some other vessel. If you wish I could ask the Admiralty to assign some other U-boat to Titanic."

"No!" both U-boat officers exclaimed simultaneously.

"We're both very fond of her," Mortimer declared.

"And we're proud to have been assigned to guard the queen of the seas," Hartenstein continued. "I understand that all the vessels here are... What is the word?"

"Let's say they have their idiosyncrasies," Andrews said with a smirk, "and they do."

"And Titanic has hers and we wouldn't change it for the world," Mortimer concluded.

"Thank you, my friends. That means..." he swallowed, "...very much to me. I know you have to see Dr Benson but would you do me the honour of returning later to spend the night aboard?"

The two men turned to each other.

"The crew will be ashore and the boat is secure for the night," Mortimer said.

Hartenstein turned to Andrews. "In that case we would be delighted. It's always an honour to spend the night aboard Titanic."

Andrews beamed at them.

Dr Cora Benson was at her most serious. "You describe the boat being rocked by the ship's bow wave."

Both men nodded. "And spun around," Mortimer added.

"And you, Mortimer, you say you could feel a sense of doom?"

Mortimer nodded. "It were as though, even though the ship had yet to strike the iceberg, many souls on it were feeling a sense of doom and gloom. It's hard to explain, I know. It felt... leaden, heavy." He shook his head, endeavouring to describe what he had felt. "Like ice."

"And we smelled the smoke from her stacks. It was the smell of burning coal," Hartenstein added.

"Yes, we were all a bit choked by it as it was blowing downward," Mortimer explained.

"I see." Dr Benson put down her notebook and took a deep breath. "Gentlemen, I believe that what you experienced was much more than an apparition. I think you'll agree that an apparition would not have spun your boat around, or emitted choking, black smoke. I believe what you experienced was a warp in time. It happens occasionally that the dimensions overlap and people in one realm may briefly experience an event from the other. Generally, it's harmless and passes in moments, as indeed yours did. However, this was Titanic, and it was her anniversary and no doubt many souls in the Third Realm were remembering her maiden voyage - a deeply tragic event from their point of view. Titanic is naturally drawn to this and, being the great healing ship she is, wishes only to heal the wounds her untimely passing left in the Third. So, at the time of her anniversary, she draws the Third Realm to her and attempts to heal those who mourn her loss."

Hartenstein was staring at her. "Do I understand you to mean that... that this could have been predicted?"

"Only in a general way."

"Then why were we not warned that something like this might happen?"

"Because there really was no way of knowing. I would ask you both to keep this to yourselves but I've no doubt your crew would have already spread the word. These things always get around."

With that she dismissed them. Both men decided they could use a drink and headed for a nearby bar which many U-boat crew frequented. However, as Hartenstein was ordering drinks he was pounced upon by two U-boat commanders of his acquaintance who carried him off with them to their table in the far corner.

Mortimer sat quietly watching the goings on. There were eight other U-boat commanders there who all knew his captain. He caught snatches of their conversation which was mostly in German. Fortunately, he knew enough now to be able to follow it.

"What's this we heard about you seeing a ghost ship?" and "Ja, Werner, tell us what you saw." and "Was it the ghost of Titanic past?" There was a general chuckle at that. "Is it true you nearly got chopped in two?" "Sheisse, word spreads," Hartenstein muttered. "Did you see her hit the iceberg and sink?" "Nein, nein. She just sailed past." "Is it true your engine failed?" "And I heard your radio failed too." "Ja, it's true," Hartenstein admitted. "I heard she's cursed." "Ja, and I heard she's forever doomed to hit icebergs." "She just doesn't like them," Hartenstein responded. "And I heard she's not so unsinkable after all and the next iceberg she hits might be her last." "Nein, nein, nein. She has so many watertight compartments now that her captain says even if she was cut in two, the two halves would still float." "Wasn't the captain her designer?" "Ja, he designed the unsinkable ship so good she sank like a stone," somebody quipped to sniggers all around. "I tell you I'm very glad I'm not assigned to that ship. She was cursed from the day she was built and so was her sister ship." "Ja, not an ounce of luck between them." "That's right. Both sunk on their maiden voyage. How unlucky is that?" "I tell you, Werner, I would not want your job." "Come, come, Horst, and the rest of you, you've all been on her and had a ball. Did she feel cursed to you then?" Hartenstein queried. "I heard she's haunted by the ghosts of passengers who sank in her. Is it true?" "Ja, I heard that too. It must be true." "What is this talk of ghosts?" Hartenstein protested. "Her current commander and many of her crew came here the same way we all did. She is the finest ship in the fleet and I am most proud to be her escort. And now, my friends, if you will excuse me?"

Mortimer watched him make his farewells though not before they pressganged him into playing football with their team on the weekend. "We have a good team and you were a good player." "Ja, Werner, you must join us." "Is that your first over there? Does he play? Get him to join us too!"

Mortimer could not help smiling. He had played soccer but not since he was in his teens. Well, well.

Hartenstein rejoined him.

"Forgive me. They..."

"Kidnapped you. And did I hear the word 'football'?"

"It seems the old Kriegsmarine have a team. What do you think?"

"Might be fun. Good exercise anyway. Save us going to the gym."

"Come. I'll introduce you."

Much later they boarded Titanic once more to be greeted warmly by her officers who all knew them well now. It was a warm night and they sat out on her stern with Andrews and several of the other off duty officers admiring a glorious sunset sky. As twilight set in and the lights came on the others wandered away and Andrews led them to one of the lovely suites on the Promenade Deck. They insisted that he stay for a while and shortly a steward arrived with a trolley overflowing with supper.

"You spoil us," Mortimer exclaimed, removing the silver cloches and checking everything. "Let's see. That looks like a caesar salad, and those sandwiches are cucumber and these are ham and chicken. What's in this tub?" He pried the lid off a small tub in the same ice bucket as the wine. "Strawberry ice cream! Lovely! And what are these?" He went on rummaging like a child at Christmas as the other two watched with indulgent eyes.

Of course they insisted that Andrews join them.

"I swear I eat too much when you two are around. Oh, very well. I'll have to go to the pool tomorrow and swim it off."

"Looks like we'll be playing football," Mortimer remarked, forking bacon and lettuce into his mouth as they ate the salad.

Hartenstein explained how they'd been talked into playing with some old U-boat acquaintances of his and Andrews laughed telling them how he once played too but these days he was much too busy.

"You would never give her up, would you?" Hartenstein inquired, drinking some wine.

Andrews put down his glass. "Don't think I ever could, old boy," he replied quietly. "She was my creation and I hoped to be able to design many more like her. I was sure she was the best, the safest design I could make... and I was proud of her. I was proud to be aboard for her maiden voyage. In the end they only made one more like her, her sister ship Britannic, and she was even safer with watertight compartments up to the higher decks, yet she too was lost." He shook his head. "Forgive me. I'm being silly. No ship is unsinkable in the Third. Fortunately, that's not the case here and I've been able to not only have her restored to her original glory but made safer as well. I believe now both she and her sister ship are as safe as anyone could design ships of this size and vintage. I admit I've been to hell and back on her, but she's part of me. I could never leave her."

Hartenstein glanced at Mortimer - to see a certain brightness in his eyes. "We understand, my friend, and we will always protect her for you."

Andrews nodded. "You will always have my gratitude - and my friendship." He raised his glass. "To friendship," he toasted.

"And to loyalty," Hartenstein added.

Later, when Andrews bade them goodnight it was Mortimer who unexpectedly embraced him.

"What's all this?"

"It's just... seeing Titanic as she was," Mortimer tried to explain.

"Now listen to one who knows," Andrews began. "All these vessels have a past, including your U-boat, but it's best to put it right out of your minds. Think of her as she is today - free to sail the seven seas, with your protection of course, and she makes people happy. I'm so glad the Admiralty agreed to her participating in rescue missions. Yes, I know she's a great big target for the odd torpedo, even a British one as it turns out..." his companions chuckled, "...but she's tough and she'll survive this awful war in the Third. We all will," he added.

"Yes, my friend," Hartenstein responded. "We will. Come, Mortimer, let the man go. You British are far too sentimental. Now we Germans, we are much more sensible."

Mortimer scoffed. "Don't you believe a word of it!" he remarked to Andrews.

After Andrews had gone they finished the last of the wine and decided to have a bath - together. This resulted in a lot of water on the floor as they filled the bath rather too full and every movement caused water to splash onto the tiles.

"Look at all that water on the deck. We'll sink the ship," Mortimer complained while simultaneously scrubbing his companion's back and buttocks. However, scrubbing became fondling, the wet, slippery flesh too delightful to resist. In fact there was far more fondling than washing going on and by the time they got out and Mortimer wrapped a large, snowy bath sheet around both of them they could barely keep their hands off each other.

They were still quite wet when they somehow managed to get from bathtub to bed though neither could have said exactly how they got there. Lovely, warm, damp flesh rubbed enticingly as they rolled about on fresh linen, their sighs and whimpers of pleasure goading each other on as much as the intimate touch of hands on all the places they knew the other loved, all the while sharing the deepest kisses that drove them wild.

"Ah, my Britischer, what you do to me," Hartenstein groaned. "You always drive me wild."

"And what am I doing with an enemy officer who sets my blood afire?"

"My handsome, young Britischer, I will make a collaborator out of you." He stopped to suck on hard nipples. "You will tell me all of your secrets."

"Ah, so that's your game," Mortimer gasped, stroking hard thighs, hands sliding up to fondle swollen testicles.

"You tempt me too much and I'm going to fuck you through the deck."

"Never! Britannia rules the waves!"

He grabbed Hartenstein and rolled him over, kneeling between his legs to spread them. "I'll have you tonight, you arrogant German," he declared.

Both were now panting as Mortimer grabbed the oil, slathering his cock with it before inserting a slippery finger into his lover, satisfied to hear a grunt of pleasure from the man beneath him as he deliberately rubbed his finger over the spot that drove the other wild.

"Ah, you love that, don't you! Tell the truth - you love a great British prick, don't you, you tight-arsed German. Of course you'd never admit it. Oh, no! That would be too much to ask, but you love it deep inside you. Look at you." He gazed at the other's hugely swollen hardness. "So I'm going to give you what you want even if you never admit it."

He shoved a pillow under the other man's arse, lifting it and pushing his eager erection past the outer muscle and sliding deeper.

"Come on, admit it," he goaded. "Admit you love being fucked by a British officer. Go on, say it."

"Never! I will never submit to a Britischer." Hartenstein deliberately tried to push Mortimer off him.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Mortimer grabbed him hard and sank deeper. "There! That's what you get for trying to get away. I'll never let you get away. You're at my mercy. You're at the mercy of an enemy officer."

Hartenstein gazed up at him through glittering eyes. "Nein! Never!"

Mortimer merely laughed at him. "How does it feel, Captain? How does it feel to have the enemy take his pleasure in you?" He gave a single thrust, watching the smoky eyes close in pleasure. "Look at you. Oh, you love it!" He did it again. "Admit it!" Again and again. "God, but you love it! Look at you - a loyal, efficient German officer..." he pushed hard, rocking from side to side, "...who loves being fucked by the enemy." His movements were deliberate and slow now. "You're a traitor, Captain Hartenstein. You not only collaborate with the enemy, you even let him fuck you. What does that make you? Hm? Tell me!"

"Nein. I will tell you nothing. You are the enemy," Hartenstein gasped hoarsely, again trying to push Mortimer off him.

Mortimer pushed much harder now. "You need punishing, Captain," he groaned, "and I'm just the person to do it."

Forcing himself to stillness he lovingly manipulated the other's erection until his lover came uncontrollably, body jerking hard and he, himself, could no longer hold back, his lover's ecstasy completing him as internal muscles grabbed him like a vice and hands gripped hard enough to leave bruises. Finally, he collapsed into arms that gathered him close as they fell onto their backs, their pounding hearts and panting breaths gradually slowing to something resembling normal as they lay there, bodies damp and glistening.

Hartenstein gazed up at the deep blue canopy of the bed. "Making love with you is always pleasurable, and yet here... on this ship..."

"I know," Mortimer said quietly. "There's something about it that... I mean we did no more than normal. I mean we've often gone far longer than that, but..."

"I know. I know what you mean - and I need a drink."

Mortimer, who was nearest the trolley, reached out to pull it over to them and they sat up to drink some water before rising to clean themselves up and don robes.

Mortimer rediscovered the ice-cream, the ice around it rapidly melting. "There's still some left."

He put a spoonful in his mouth and leaned close. Hartenstein grinned and leaned over to kiss him, tasting deeply and sucking the delicious treat.

"Mmm... more..." was his only verdict.

They poured some more of the chilled wine and sat on the bed to enjoy it with the ice-cream.

"This is positively decadent," Mortimer remarked, licking ice-cream from his companion's lips.

Hartenstein's smile was indulgent. "At this moment I cannot think of anything more desirable than sipping wine and licking ice-cream from your sweet lips in lovely surroundings on this fine, old vessel, but I agree - we are spoiled."

They made leisurely love again, eventually falling asleep curled up together.

In the captain's quarters Thomas Andrews lay awake thinking of the two U-boat men. He had never known anyone like them - a German U-boat commander and his British first who was once his prisoner. What a pair, he thought. The odds of their getting together at all must have been enormous - he would never have bet on it himself - and yet there they were, inseparable. "Like you and I, my beauty," he whispered. As he drifted off he distinctly heard a quiet sigh of satisfaction.

* * *