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Between Hell and Heaven (Lies Only Pain)

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It takes Joe an embarrassingly long time to put the pieces together. He doesn't even start thinking about it until he catches Skinny's gaze on Web as he walks.

"Must have been bad, huh?" Skinny says, not taking his eyes off Web.

Liebgott follows his gaze and frowns. "What are you on about, Sisk?" he asks. It comes more irritated than he means it to be, but he's too tired to try and correct it. Luckily, Skinny doesn't notice or doesn't care. With the month they've had, probably the latter.

"His injury, Lieb," Skinny says, frowning hard. "He was gone for four months, but they never keep anyone in the hospital longer than they have to."

Lieb doesn't say anything. He watches Web walk and after a moment he spots it. A slight limp. Barely there, but there nonetheless. His walk is slightly lopsided, putting a bit too much pressure on one leg, leaning too far over to one side.

The more he looks, the more obvious it seems.

Joe walks away and doesn't look back. It's easier being angry. It's easier to rage at Web, be angry at him for not trying to come back to them sooner than to think about how Web's time away may have been well needed if he's still in pain after all this time.

It's easier to be angry.

 

 

Of course, reality catches up with him.

Web is his scapegoat. He wasn't at Bastogne, so Lieb can yell at him as much as he wants and no one realises it's not really Web he's mad at.

(He's mad at the war, at Bastogne, at Hitler. He's tired, he's angry and he just wants to go home.)

But of course Joe's words catch up him, and more specifically, it catches up to Web.

They're standing in one of the rooms in Haguenau, night rapidly approaching. There's a draft drifting through the many cracks in the walls, reigniting that persistent shiver that settled in Joe's bones in Bastogne and refuses to leave.

Web looks… sad. And Lieb is so, so fucking tired he doesn't want to feel guilty for being one of the main causes of that but he is. He is and he hates it.

"You don't have to pretend," Web says, and the words are distant, lacking emotion, but Web's eyes hurt. "You hate me. So you don't have to pretend to like me. Just stop."

Lieb growls at him because that isn't it. Lieb doesn’t hate him. He could never hate him. "I don't-" Lieb starts, but the words catch in his throat and he feels sick. He's an idiot. Web is his friend. Best friend, even if it'll take a lot of alcohol to ever get him to admit it. But he's tearing apart everything they'd built on before Web was wounded.

Before Web's injury, they'd finally been able to cement something between them and they were close. Lieb found himself looking for Web, drifting to his side, hell, even longing for his company.

And he's ruining it.

He's torn it apart and he hates that. But he's just so, so angry and Web just happened to be the closest and easiest thing to take it out on.

"How bad was it?" he asks instead and Web blinks at him, confused by the change in topic.

"The wound," Lieb grunts. "It was bad wasn't it." Web stares at him for a long moment, expression unreadable. Eventually a look spawns across his face, and Lieb wants to forget it immediately. There's pain there. So much pain.

"Yeah," Web whispers. "Yeah, it was."

Lieb curses, throws every ounce of anger he can scrounge up into the words because of course, it was bad. Web isn't a complete asshole, no matter how much Lieb wants to pretend that's the truth. Of course Web came back as soon as he could.

"I'm… fuck. Lieb I'm so fucking sorry," Web says accept his words are stuttered and panicked. "I wish I was there. I wish I could have seen the other guys before.." they died, goes unspoken but Lieb hears it loud and clear. "I wish I could have done something."

Web's sadness burns into hatred, but for once, Lieb can see it isn't at him. "Instead I was stuck in that hospital for three fucking months burning through my own skin, completely fucking useless," Web's hands are in his hair, pulling at random strands too hard. He's looking everywhere in the room but at Lieb. His breathing erratic. 

It's more horrifying than Lieb wants to admit, seeing Webster actually panic, seeing him flounder because Lieb pushed him away too far, because the rest of the boys are doing the same.

Joe stands in front of David and feels about a hundred years older than he physically is.

They're both so young, and yet so old. Watching Web try to hold himself together is more draining than what he could have ever expected.

"Hey," Lieb starts, and he's not sure what he's doing, but he's tired of this war and of people dying, and of people falling apart. But this is one is partly his fault, and he cares about Web more than he thought he thought he could care about anyone, so he has to do something. Anything.

"It's okay," he reaches forward wrapping his arms around Web. Lieb's entire body aches and he's never felt more sick of the war than now, feeling like they're all so fragile and expendable, how they all hurting so much.

He's not good at this. He's not good at hugging people or giving comfort, but Web doesn't pull back. One hand fists in Lieb's uniform and shivers rattle his entire body.

"I'm sorry," Web gets out, his voice muffled against Lieb's shirt. "I'm so sorry," he says as he tries to fight back a sob. Lieb doesn’t know what Web's apologising for anymore - whether it be for leaving for so long, for not being with him in Bastogne, for not being there when so many of their boys died - but it hardly matters anymore.

Lieb lowers them to the ground, his arms still tightly wrapped around Web.

Web is in his arms, shaking through the memories of three months in an understaffed, overfilled hospital and in more pain than he can comprehend, now accompanied by that while he lay in bed, infected and cooking from the inside out, his friends were getting blown to pieces. His friends were dying.

Lieb looks down, and swallows his pride. Web hasn't deserved any of the shit Liebgott or any of the other boys have thrown at him.

"Hey, Web," he says quietly. He doesn’t look up from where he's slumped against Lieb's shoulder but he barrels forward anyway. "I shouldn't have treated you the way I have been, I'm just," he pauses and feels like he's making up excuses.

"Just angry," he says. He lets his head fall on top of Web's. "And tired. But I could never hate you." The honesty weighs heavy in his chest, but no sense of expected regret fills him. It needed to be done.

They sit like that, tangled limbs and laboured breathing as haunting memories come and go until Lieb loses track of time and the sun has long since set. 

"Bitch," Web hisses out suddenly. His hand is still gripped in Liebgott's jacket, not letting go anytime soon. It takes Lieb a second to realise what he said, and a second longer to realise he's joking.

Joe grins, tugging David closer. "Fucker," he whispers back, voice scratchy.

They're going to deny this ever happened in the morning and probably the rest of their lives if anyone asks.

It'll be between them, back in that bombed out room in Haguenau, where Joseph Liebgott - tired and angry and reeling after barely surviving Bastogne - and David Webster - whose memories of the hospital, the screams of dying men all around him and the guilt of not being with Easy still too fresh - had pulled themselves back together and pieced each other back together. 

In the morning, they'd be fine. In the morning, they'd be okay.

But right now… right now in that little bombed out room in Haguenau in each other's arms, they could let themselves fall.