Author: Val Mora
Fandom: The Great Escape, the movie
Pairing: Danny/Willie. Again.
Disclaimer: All to MGM/UA and the guy who wrote the book. 'Cause, you know, Charles Bronson and John Leyton's characters were probably not really doing all this.
Summary: post-war. Danny discovers that he isn't the only one with war scars.
Notes: Willie exhibits mild - very mild - symptoms of what we now call "post-traumatic stress disorder." It was known as 'shell-shocked' in those days. I have, due to creative license, chosen not to portray the fact that PTSD is a problem that rarely gets better on its own without counseling. It also often hitches a ride with other problems, such as depression or substance abuse.
After the war, Danny returns to Poland.
It is a disaster. Too many are dead and the Soviets are everywhere. His hometown, a little village outside Warsaw, is now only a series of empty, burnt house-frames, ruined for so long that the air no longer carries the scent of charred wood.
There is no one left except a girl-who-is-now-a-woman, the daughter of his next-door neighbor from his childhood, and she only survived because she went to America.
He leaves, because perhaps now, as in the war, it is time to go to England.
He finds Willie living in an apartment past the outskirts of London. There is so little furniture that Danny knows, upon seeing it, that Willie wanted as much space as possible after spending all those long months buried in the earth, digging.
Perhaps Danny is not the only one with scars, and it would please him, except Willie is supposed to be the stable one, the one who is afraid of nothing above the ground or below it.
Instead, he finds himself only saddened.
Willie still seems so unshakable that Danny is grimly surprised to find that Willie sleeps only rarely now.
Danny is accustomed to sleeplessness, to anxiety, to fear that chills bones and holds horrified attention. He had thought Willie was immune to it.
Willie does not scream in his nightmares. He is silent, wakes in a cold sweat, says nothing, and does not sleep that night or the night after.
Danny has noted the bottle of whisky in the cabinet and how the amount of liquid in it goes down by half or more every time Willie becomes sleepless.
The liquor worries him less than the fact that Willie does not smile now, and when he does, it feels like something deep inside of Danny's chest is twisting into shards at the shattered-glass brilliance of it.
Their wings were taken away after they came home. Danny does not miss flying as much as he misses having a purpose, which was to get the Germans out of Poland. Well, the Germans are out of Poland, so he has no wings and no purpose, though it does not bother him yet.
But Willie suffers. He sits on the roof of the apartment building and stares at the sky because he cannot be in it. Sometimes he sleeps there, though it is dangerous, and Danny comes and sits beside him to make sure that he won't roll off.
Danny does not watch the sky when he sits on the roof.
One nightmare is worse than the rest – he hears Willie moving around, restless, in the darkness, and Danny does not think on whether he was waiting for it or if Willie's desperation woke him.
He gets up and finds Willie standing beside the cabinet, drinking whisky straight from the bottle, and in the moon-shadow from the window that slants near him, the golden sheen to the liquor fades into a silver that reminds Danny of the vodka Hendley and Hilts cooked up in the camp.
He does not ask if Willie is all right. Instead, he pulls two glasses from a cabinet, sets them down on the counter beside Willie's hand, and says, "It is bad to drink alone."
Willie smiles, the expression awkward on his features, and pours some into both glasses, setting the bottle down. It is a quarter full.
"You'll drink with me then?" Willie asks, draining his and setting it back down.
Willie closes the bottle and sets it back in the cabinet, closing the door. Danny cannot help but feel relieved. Maybe this was what it felt like to Willie when he saved Danny from wire-madness.
Willie sets the glass away from him on the counter and stands back, opening his mouth as if to speak but saying nothing.
"What is it?" Danny has never been one for gentleness, but his voice is lowered and his accent thicker than usual in the attempt.
"Nightmares. It's not important," Willie says, dismissing it, and suddenly Danny is frustrated into anger, stepping closer to him and his voice deeply intense.
"You cannot sleep because of it. Is that nothing? I tell you of my fear and you help me escape when I would have died on the wires and you still will not trust me?" His gaze flicks over to Willie's eyes, seeing darkness-wide pupils swallowing the blue he knows is there.
"I –" Willie begins, his voice raised in protest, but he cuts the words off as he steps forward, too close, and his hands are cold on Danny's shoulders but his lips are warm and bitter with the taste of whisky.
Danny is too surprised to react until Willie is two steps away, hands buried in that blond hair and murmuring, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry – I'll go, Danny, I didn't think, I didn't –"
And he is gone from the room.
The next morning, Willie's eyes are smudged red as though he tried to burn the sleep from them, and he will not meet Danny's gaze. Neither will he touch him or be touched; he shies away from even being on the same side of the room.
Danny finds it unnerving, and his own discomfiture makes him angry.
He traps Willie – or Willie lets him trap him; Danny is not sure – in the corner of one room, one hand beside Willie's shoulder on the wall and the other hanging straight by his side. Not threatening, but trapped anyway.
"I do not like being lied to," Danny says, and then, "I do not like that you fear me."
"I don't fear you, Danny," Willie says, and there is a hint of his old reassurance in the way he says it.
"Then why do you run?"
"I didn't think you would chase."
Danny would think about that, but there is no time, not with the way the dark circles beneath Willie's eyes are burned into his conscience, so he says, "Not chase. Follow. Even through the darkness."
And apparently this was what he should have said, because Willie is fever-warm against his hands and his kiss burns from the inside out.
Danny thinks of his village in Poland, burning down to ash, and thinks of the people who will come to it now, rebuilding and reworking until it is something related but different.
Hands wrapped in Willie's hair, he lets the fire rage.