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Fic: A Dance on Water Part 1 of 2

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count this section: 2,600
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, adult situations
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: In order to effect a rescue U-156 is caught in an Atlantic storm.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: Sequel to "A Foggy Night to Remember".

Autumn was well advanced now, mid November, and the winds were turning. Long gone were the summer breezes. The birds, always mindful of the change of seasons, were flying south to warmer climes. The weather, although still clear, bore a stiff nor-westerly that plucked at the waves and caused each to form a white cap.

Thus far U-156 had been fortunate with the weather. They had rescued crews from three sunken freighters and two U-boats. The whole Rescue fleet had been kept exceptionally busy all summer as the war in the Third Realm raged while its victims and vessels washed up in the Fourth complete with cargoes and weapons, beliefs and fears.

In his quarters Hartenstein was writing reports while in the conning tower Mortimer was on duty, the sharp wind whipping at him and the other men there.

Fiedler climbed up bearing two pieces of paper. The first was a radio message from headquarters. A plane had spotted two more wrecked freighters some thirty miles east-nor-east and would they check them out to see if they were occupied. The other was a weather report. It seemed the first Atlantic storm of the season was beginning to build, though for now it was well south of their position.

Mortimer climbed down into the bridge and checked the charts, calculating their current position and new direction. He was about to give orders to change course and notify Titanic when Hartenstein came onto the bridge.

"Change of course, Captain," Mortimer reported. "Two more freighters sighted."

Hartenstein glanced at the radio messages. "Good. Give the orders, Mr Mortimer."

"Aye, sir."

As Mortimer gave the order to change course the U-boat turned easily in the indicated direction bringing the wind across her bow, the waves now slapping against her port side as she cut through the snow-capped ocean.

To her stern, the liner Titanic received the U-boat's radio call and also began the change of course, her turn slow and ponderous compared to the much more manoeuvrable U-boat. Some three minutes later she had managed to turn fully in the indicated direction and was once more following her escort on the new heading.

On arrival at the designated coordinates they found both freighters, some half a mile's distance between them. The first was in bad shape, more than half full of water and listing onto her port side. Small wonder she had sunk, Mortimer thought, as they boarded her sloping deck. On making their way to the bridge they found she was carrying a cargo of machine parts to be used in fighter planes. Apparently, her crew had all survived in the Third as there was no one aboard. The second ship, however, was a different matter. It was a much larger vessel and so badly broken that no one could figure out how it was holding together. Barely floating, there were yet fifteen men clinging to the stern. However, their greeting to the nearby U-boat was anything but warm.

"Bloody, stinking krauts! You the ones that sank us?" one demanded.

Hartenstein assured them he was not and that they were there to rescue them, indicating Titanic which stood a little way off and was in the process of lowering a boat.

"On the contrary, gentlemen, I can promise you a lovely cruise on a luxury liner."

The survivors all stared at Titanic. She was close enough now that they could make out her name.

"What the ‘ell's that?" one muttered. "Is this a joke?"

"Yeah, Titanic's at the bottom of the sea," added another. "So what's that ship?"

"Must be the Olympic," someone else said.

"You really need glasses," someone answered.

"The bleedin' Olympic went to the breakers years ago, so it can't be her," someone else said.

"So how come that ship says ‘Titanic' on it?" someone demanded.

"Because it's the one and only original Titanic," Mortimer said cheerfully, "and you'll have a great time on her."

"Pull the other one," another scoffed.

"Someone build another one?" someone else queried.

"All original," Mortimer answered. "You'll see when you board her."

"She a ghost ship?" someone asked.

"She is no more a ghost than you are," Hartenstein answered.

"I don't think I wanna get on it," someone said.

There was a chorus of "Me neither".

"Would you rather stay where you are and freeze?" Mortimer responded. "There isn't another rescue ship for another three hundred miles."

"And there's a storm coming this way," Hartenstein added.

The wet and shivering men exchanged looks.

"Wouldn't you rather be warm and dry with good food and a bed to sleep in?" Mortimer asked.

"Yeah, well let's hope there's no icebergs around," somebody complained.

"I wouldn't worry," Mortimer said. "Just look at all those lifeboats. Anyway she's unsinkable now."

"Un-bleedin'-sinkable my arse," someone scoffed.

"So how come the Allenvale is still floating when she's got more holes than a sieve?" someone asked.

"Yeah, I've been wondering about that too," someone else said.

There followed a chorus of "Me too".

"Anyone would think she was unsinkable," someone else muttered. "And we know that can't be true."

"But look at Titanic," Mortimer said.

"She wasn't unsinkable," someone said.

"She went down and took a lot of good people with her," someone else agreed.

"Yet there she is," Hartenstein remarked, "and here is her boat to rescue you. There are doctors aboard and they will check you for injuries."

As the men were helped into the lifeboat it appeared that several of them were indeed injured.

The rescue complete, Hartenstein reported to the Admiralty, while U-156 rejoined Titanic and waited for her new passengers to board. However, even as he did so there was another call from headquarters to say that a half-sunk U-boat had been spotted some forty kilometres to the south. Hartenstein, on calculating their course, realized that it would take them directly into the path of the low pressure system and requested Fiedler to get the latest information on it - and it was not good. Seas already three metres and rising with winds gusting to sixty-five kilometres per hour.

Hartenstein called Andrews.

"Bad news, my friend. Sunken U-boat and it will take us into the storm."

"Damn! I was hoping we could go home."

"Cheer up. You are going home."

"But you just said there's a sunken U-boat in the storm."

"My own vessel will complete the rescue. I will not ask that Titanic make this trip as the weather will be extremely rough."

"Don't be ridiculous. We can manage. You'll be the ones getting the worst of it."

"Andrews, this will be the roughest weather we have encountered yet. I would not ask you to subject your vessel to the strain this will put on her. I will therefore undertake this rescue alone and will request another escort to accompany you back to Homeport."

"Hartenstein, are you serious? Yes, I'm sure the rescue will be dangerous and I'm equally sure that you're going to need a vessel the size of Titanic to conduct it."

"Your passengers are likely to get seasick."

"The infirmary has a large supply of seasick pills just for landlubbers. So don't worry about Titanic, worry about your own small vessel."

"The U-boat can cope - well I trust she will - but how will Titanic cope?"

"Don't worry about the old girl, my friend. She may be getting on now and she may have a leak here and there but nothing the crew can't cope with. If necessary she has her pumps but I'm not anticipating that things are likely to get that dire."

"Touché, my friend. Watch out for the good White Star china!"

Andrews chuckled and signed off.

Mortimer ordered everything loose to be put away or tied down and the gun crews to check the deck guns to ensure that they were well prepared for rough weather.

The journey south was indeed taking them into the path of the storm, the sunshine faded to be replaced by overcast skies and rising seas that broke over the bow of the low-slung U-boat to splash against the walls of her conning tower. It also began to rain, fat drops of it falling into the rising ocean. Further south the skies were much darker with the occasional flash of lightning reflecting on the waves.

Within an hour they were in the thick of it. On U-156 the waves were crashing against and over the top of the conning tower. Those manning it were drenched to the skin in spite of their wet weather gear. Rain and wind lashed them, visibility was low and the seas were continuing to rise.

On Titanic, fountains of spray flew upwards as her huge bow plunged into the troughs between waves, her passengers warm, dry and holding on to anything that was bolted down. Much to the consternation of her officers who tried to shoo them indoors, some of the braver ones ventured out onto the bow, allowing the spray to soak them as it rose high into the air only to fall on them as the wind blew it into their faces. Soaked by salt spray and with the gale whipping at them they didn't stay out there long, soon re-entering the great liner's warmth dripping wet, laughing and wanting something hot to drink.

Still others watched their escort as it disappeared between waves, its occupants severely buffeted by the elements so that even its bright stern light was difficult to see in the conditions.

The radar reported that the unknown U-boat was close now and Hartenstein ordered Titanic to station-keeping while the U-boat continued at reduced speed, still unable to see their goal.

Finally, almost on top of it, they found the U-boat wallowing on its side, the sea continually washing over it as some fifty men clung to it via lines attached to the conning tower.

As they took in the pitiful sight all aboard the Admiralty vessel knew well what it meant; that the Kriegsmarine vessel had gone down with all hands, victim of a successful Allied attack.

After taking in the situation Hartenstein radioed Titanic requesting that she proceed to their location and take up a position to the windward side of the half-sunk vessel so that her bulk would shelter the survivors from the worst of the wind and waves while she utilized one of her cranes with a sturdy chair attached to lift the men one by one onto her deck.

They had practised this routine before and had utilized it previously during rough weather. It was risky with the wind blowing the chair around and the half-sunk hull of the wallowing U-boat scraping and banging against the larger vessel's hull plates. However, the shelter provided by the huge liner was vital and Hartenstein was pleased with the way the operation was successfully concluded when all fifty men were safely aboard. Yes, the chair thudded against the hull more than once on its way up, no doubt causing bumps and bruises to the occupants, but no one was seriously injured, all landing safely on the forward deck whereupon they were swiftly taken in hand by crew members and ushered indoors as the crane lowered the chair once more.

Admiralty headquarters had given both vessels permission to return to port, the direction most welcome.

The storm had grown worse with lurid bolts of lightning periodically illuminating the gloom as both vessels sped north-east, their speed impeded by the mountainous seas.

On Titanic's bridge the gale howled around the huge vessel endeavouring to blow it over but only succeeding in giving it a slight list to starboard, its windows and portholes lashed by heavy rain and salt spray. No one ventured outdoors now as the body of the great ship creaked and groaned under the strain of fighting the elements as her officers fought to keep her on course and following the stern light of her escort. As a larger wave crashed diagonally against her hull it would push her bow northward and it was taking two men at her wheel just to maintain her course.

"Hold her steady!" Andrews exhorted as her bow swung around once more.

"Aye, sir. We're trying, sir!" the men at the helm replied.

"Follow our escort, damn it! It's heading north-east and we're heading north! Turn her, turn her or we'll lose them!" Andrews shouted as the men fought to keep the giant vessel's rudder turned. In her thirty-one years in this realm she had weathered Atlantic storms before but this one was by far the worst with winds at hurricane force and seas to match. Her master took to praying that her rudder cables would hold together.

He called the engine room and spoke to the chief engineer.

"How are things down there?"

"We're managing. Any chance we'll be out of this soon?"

"Weather report says we should hit the edge in the next half hour. After that it should improve rapidly."

"Good to hear, sir."

He decided to check on the passengers and assure them that all was well after which he contacted U-156.

"According to the weather report we'll soon be able to dry out," Hartenstein remarked while he and Mortimer changed into dry clothes. "How are things on Titanic? We noticed her steering is a bit erratic."

"You noticed, eh? You lot miss nothing. A slight case of the elements fighting the rudder and us fighting back, but we have it licked."

"Anything broken?"

"You mean other than White Star china?" He could hear Hartenstein chuckle. "No, nothing serious, just some bangs and bruises in the infirmary."

"And your ship?"

"Never heard her complaining so much. She'll probably have to go into drydock to make sure nothing is broken and none of her rivets have popped. She got quite a scraping from that U-boat."

"Any leaks?"

"There's a little seepage but nothing a mop and bucket can't clean up and it'll probably stop once we're out of this."

"And your passengers? How are they faring?"

"The landlubbers are green around the gills and the infirmary says their supply of seasick pills is getting low. The stewards are busy answering calls as many passengers have taken to their beds but the Third Realm survivors are having a grand old time of it, no seasick remedies required."

"And the U-boat crew?"

"Getting on like a house on fire, my friend. It's eat, drink and be merry. I just checked and the band was playing ‘It's a Long Way to Tipperary' and the Germans had everyone joining in."

Hartenstein and Mortimer chuckled.

"There is nothing like Titanic for promoting good cheer and camaraderie," Hartenstein remarked.

Andrews grinned. "You know it, my friend. I think they've already forgotten the war they just came from."

"Good to hear."

They said goodnight as Dengler arrived with a hot meal for the two weary officers. However, as they sat down to eat both men noticed something different.

"Feel it?" Hartenstein said.

Mortimer smiled. "Yeah. The deck's not tilting as much, thank god."

"Ja, we will sleep well tonight I think."

Both men smiled as they attacked their food with relish.

That night everyone on both vessels slept much better with the wind and swell now at their stern. A few trickles were all that was left of the seepage on Titanic. The crew were able to clean up, mops and buckets now barely needed as the sea subsided the further away they travelled from the storm. Well before morning the ocean was calm and both vessels made good progress across the Atlantic while several times encountering other Rescue Fleet vessels.