January 30, 2010: And finally... finally... we get some resolution. Would you believe me at this point if I told you it's a happy ending? Also, this part is the reason I gave this fic a slightly higher rating. *eg* *waggles eyebrows* There's some intense kissing and a bit of making out. I'll leave it to you to find out who. :-D
Where Do I Go? -- Part 3
It was a week... a very long week... before Berger was through the worst of his withdrawal symptoms. Jeanie warned Claude over and over that she didn't know how much of Berger's madness was the drugs and how much was true insanity, but he refused to listen. They would take this one step at a time. The first was to get Berger off the drugs. The next was to get him physically healthy and stronger. Hopefully by then they'd know what they were dealing with.
Once he was off the drugs, Berger was calmer, but still not entirely lucid. He drifted in and out of consciousness, struggled to understand his surroundings. He couldnt take care of himself, seemed to have lost what little will to live that he had left. Claude, on the other hand, with his memories fully intact and Berger now back in his life, had rediscovered enough will and passion to keep an army alive.
Gently but persistently, he nursed Berger through his illness and weakness. He patiently spoon-fed him small amounts of soup -- about all he could keep down -- as often as he would take some. He helped him to the bathroom when he couldn't stand on his own. He bathed him -- and often with him -- every day, taking extra care with Berger's long, curly hair, working hard to get it back to the point where it matched up with the images in his dearly won memory. And finally, nearly a month after bringing Berger home from Central Park, Claude nearly cried with the full force of his relief when those warm, brown eyes settled on him and filled with recognition. His broken voice full of wonder and uncertainty, he spoke his first truly lucid word since they'd found him... and it was his name, "Claude...?"
Claude dropped to his knees beside the bed and took Berger's outstretched hand in one of his. With his other hand, he caressed that wrinkled brow, smiling down into confused brown eyes, "It's me, Berger."
The hand in his grip tightened on his until it was almost painful. Voice hoarse with disuse, Berger insisted, "You... died."
Claude shook his head, "No, I didn't. I just... I lost myself for a little while." He brought the hand clasped in his up to his lips and planted a gentle kiss on the knuckles.
The hand that threaded through the short waves of his hair was like a benediction as Berger spoke again, voice still confused, "I was so sure... They said you were dead. I didn't believe them at first. So, I waited for you... but you never came."
Now it was Claude's turn to clutch at Berger's hand as though it were a lifeline as guilt swamped him, "I know you did. I'm sorry I was late."
Berger slowly and shakily pushed himself upwards. Claude looked up into his eyes, that guilt swimming in his gaze. Berger raised his free hand to caress Claude's cheek, then pulled his head down to rest in his lap. Once Claude settled, he wrapped his arms around Berger's waist, unconsciously mirroring the posture they'd been in under the bridge one month ago. Berger continued to thread his hands through Claude's hair and down the back of his neck and shoulders. Claude could feel the short huff of laughter that Berger uttered as his stomach moved near his ear, "You know, I'm still not convinced that you're not some drug-induced hallucination... but I don't think I care. I'll take you anyway."
Insistent hands pulled Claude up by the shoulders to sit on the bed. He went willingly into Berger's arms, trying to get as close to the other man as he could. Berger pressed a gentle kiss to his temple, then another to his cheekbone, then the soft spot where the pulse beat in his throat. Claude's breath caught in a strangled gasp at the instant clench of desire that coiled in his belly. Berger took immediate advantage and clenched their lips together in an open-mouthed, almost violent kiss. Claude gave back as good as he was getting, exploring the welcome heat of Berger's mouth with his tongue one moment, then sucking the other man's tongue back into his own mouth the next. They traded control of the kiss back and forth like a pair of dancers long used to partnering each other. It would have frightened Claude, how natural this felt, if he weren't so lost in the pure joy of having Berger with him... really with him... for the first time in almost 16 years.
Every time it seemed they would have to break for air, one of them would find just enough to keep going and would plunge back in. Neither was willing to let go long enough to reposition themselves, to raise an objection, to even think about whether what they were doing was a good idea. So maybe, in the long run, it was a good thing that Jeanie walked in at that moment with dinner for them both. At the sight of the two of them making out on the bed, she let out a small gasp. The two men broke apart, eyes wild with no small amount of shock at the interruption. Berger tried to put a brave face on it -- though he was far from as recovered as he was trying to play up -- and exploded with, "Jeanie! What are you doing here?"
Jeanie, to her credit, merely raised an eyebrow and said wryly, "Well, if you're recovered enough to be having sex on my bed, maybe we should move you out to the pull-out couch so I can have it back before you soil it."
Berger blinked, once again confused, "Your bed?"
Claude ran a hand through Berger's hair to get his attention. Once the other man turned towards him, he explained, "This is Jeanie's apartment. She lives here with her son. She's been letting us stay here and with you so sick, she was gracious enough to let us use her room and her bed."
Berger's eyes narrowed, "Her son...?"
Jeanie sat down at the foot of the bed, legs pulled up underneath her, "You've met my son, Berger. He was born a few months after Claude was drafted... remember?"
At those words, Berger's eyes started to glaze over again. Reaching blindly to his right, he grabbed for Claude's hands, "Claude...? Claude was drafted... I couldn't find him! I looked -- I swear I did! -- but he was gone... He was gone!"
With a muttered curse, Claude grabbed Berger's face in both hands and wrenched him around to meet his eyes, "Berger! I'm right here, remember?"
Berger let out a pained groan, pulled his knees to his chest and buried his face in them, "No... You're a hallucination... just a drug-induced dream! A bad trip... You're not real..."
Claude sighed and pulled Berger back up against him, slowly stroking his hands down the other man's back. Jeanie's eyes were huge and horrified and she looked ready to cry. Claude shook his head before she could speak, "It's OK, Jeanie. It's not your fault." As Berger started to keen from where he was pressed into Claude's side, Claude just held him tighter, "Actually... in light of this, I think it's probably a good thing that you interrupted us when you did." Turning sad eyes on the sobbing man in his arms, Claude finished off with, "We need to get him better -- really better -- before we think about anything else."
Jeanie nodded, "I'll leave you guys alone, then." Putting the tray down on the bedside table, Jeanie moved to leave. At the door, though, she turned back, "Claude... I don't know if you're ready for this or not, but Crissy called today. She noticed that no one's seen or heard from Berger in a month and she's worried. What do you want me to tell her?"
Taking a deep breath, Claude opened his mouth and did the third scariest thing he'd ever done, "If you could buy us a little more time, that would be appreciated, but then... Invite her over. I think she should hear this in person." Then before he could regret the decision, he turned his attention back to Berger, doing his level best to soothe the other man.
Jeanie was as good as her word. She managed to put Crissy off for another three weeks. Of course, by the time she showed up, he still hadn't figured out what he was going to say to her. Berger was better than he had been, but he still wasn't entirely lucid, wasn't entirely convinced that he wasn't hallucinating this whole thing. And so, Claude heard the knock at the apartment door with a sense of impending doom. He heard Jeanie open it and greet Crissy. Claude sat in Jeanie's bedroom, watching Berger sleep and slowly starting to panic. Eventually, Cloud knocked on the door and poked his head in, "Claude? Aunt Crissy's here. Mom asked me to come get you."
Claude nodded, "Thank you, Cloud." Nodding towards Berger, he asked, "Do you mind sitting with him while I'm out there?"
With an eye roll, the boy nodded, "Yeah, yeah, sure thing. Now get out there before you get me in trouble."
With no other excuses to push off the inevitable, Claude walked out into the living room to face the music. The first thought he had when he got there was that Crissy hadn't changed much. Like Jeanie, her hair was the same and her style of dress wasn't much different, either. No... the only difference was in her eyes. Like the rest of them, hers were no longer so innocent... and when they saw him, they blazed with anger. Her shriek warned him just in time to duck before her thrown purse hit the wall where his head had been. Eyes wide in shock, Claude stayed crouched on the floor while Jeanie grabbed her friend to prevent her from throwing anything else.
The damage was already done, though. Cloud's head poked out of the bedroom, eyes just as panicked as the voice coming from that same room that yelled out, "Claude?? Where are you?"
"Shit!" With a sour look for Jeanie and Crissy, Claude fled back into the bedroom to calm an abruptly awakened and terrified Berger. It took almost a half hour to get him calmed enough to fall back asleep. By then, Crissy and Jeanie were hovering in the doorway, the former with a mortified and apologetic look on her face. Claude rose from where he had been curled around Berger and motioned them back into the living room. He only followed them after making sure that Cloud was back inside to watch Berger and leaving the door open a crack to listen for any further signs of distress.
When he reached the living room, Crissy raised a sardonic eyebrow, "Funny... you look awfully lively for a corpse."
Claude winced, "I was never dead, Crissy."
The girl snorted, "Obviously, Claude Hooper Bukowski, the reports of your demise were greatly exaggerated. So where the hell have you been all these years?"
Hands clenched at his sides and jaw clenched in his face, Claude gritted out, "In Kansas, suffering from amnesia."
Rising to her feet again, Crissy hissed out an angry, "Which you got over just in time to come back here and fuck him up even worse than he already is??"
Claude reeled back from the force of the anger in the one-time gentle woman's voice. Jeanie stepped between them and put the mom-snap into her voice, "That's enough! Both of you! This isn't helping anything. We're all here to help Berger and we can't do that if we're busy ripping each other apart!"
Stung by the fact that they'd both needed the reminder, Crissy and Claude both looked sheepishly at each other. Crissy held out her hand first, "Truce?"
Eager to move past the open hostilities, Claude shook her hand, "Please."
Crissy sighed as she resettled herself on the couch, "Jeanie... I think I'll take that drink, now." As the blond moved to the liquor cabinet, she turned back to Claude, "And from you... I think I'll take that explanation."
Claude took a deep breath and, in as few words as he could manage, described his time in Viet Nam, his parents abduction of him upon his return, his amnesia and the hell his life had quickly devolved into before he'd gotten the hint that had brought him back to New York. At this point, Jeanie took up the tale, not shirking from her responsibility for this small part of the tragedy that had brought them to this point.
When they were done, silence reigned for a minute before Crissy spoke, "Well... if that's all true, then I guess I owe you an apology. I've been worried and I guess I overreacted." Her eyes raised from her glass of brandy and for the first time since she'd entered the apartment, Claude saw a glimpse of the sweet, innocent girl she'd once been in her eyes, "And I guess I forgot to tell you how good it is to find out that you're alive." Her lips stretched into a bright smile and she put down her glass to launch herself into his arms, "It's really good, Claude. I'm glad you're back."
Holding the small woman tightly to him, Claude let out a soft laugh, "You have a strange way of showing it!"
Crissy leaned back from where she was perched in his lap, "Well, you can't really blame me." She glanced over at Jeanie, as though asking permission. Jeanie shrugged. Turning back to Claude, Crissy explained, "With each passing year, he pulled away from more and more of us, Claude. Me and Jeanie are the only two of us that he still lets find him from time to time... and if he was pulling away from me, then that would leave her on her own with him. Then it would only be a matter of time before we lost him completely. I panicked."
Claude pulled her in for another hug before releasing her so she could go back to the couch, "It's really OK, Crissy. It's good to know that he has people who care about him like that."
Crissy blushed a little and picked up her drink to hide it. After taking a fortifying sip, she raised her eyes to the two of them and asked, "How is he? Really?"
Jeanie shrugged, deferring that question to Claude. Claude sighed, "Some days he's better than others. On his good days, he's almost back to normal. On his bad days..." He shuddered, "He thinks I'm a drug-induced hallucination."
Crissy winced, then put a hand on his knee in silent empathy, "Oh, Claude... that... that's terrible."
Unable to answer past the sudden lump in his throat, Claude merely nodded in agreement. Cloud took that moment to stick his head back out into the living room, "I'm really sorry to break this up, guys, but I think he's waking up again. You might want to get back in here before he does, 'cuz I don't think anyone wants a repeat of what happened earlier."
Taking that excuse for the gift it was, Claude fled the living room for the safety of Jeanie's bedroom. He made it to the bed just as Berger opened his eyes. The other man blinked fuzzily up at him, then reached out a hand with a sleepy frown, "Thought I'd lost you, again..."
Claude grabbed the questing hand and placed a gentle kiss on the palm, "Never again, Berger. I'm not leaving you." Pressing another kiss to the inside of Berger's wrist, he smiled wryly, "You're stuck with me this time, lover."
The other man gave a wicked chuckle as he pulled Claude down onto the bed with him, "I think I can live with that."
Claude pulled the covers up over them both and rested his head on Berger's chest. Berger wrapped his arms around him and pulled him as tight against him as he could, "Claude...?"
Raising his head to meet worried brown eyes, Claude asked, "What is it?"
"I... I think I heard Crissy's voice. I thought we were in Jeanie's apartment...?" came the worried query.
Closing his eyes in pain at the fear and confusion in that beloved voice, Claude buried his face in the chest below him, "We are in Jeanie's apartment, Berger. Crissy got worried that she hadn't heard word of you in a few months and she came here for answers."
Another confused frown, "Then who screamed before?"
Claude blushed, "That would have been Crissy. She was... a little mad at me on your behalf."
Suddenly Berger was pushing at him to sit back up, his eyes wild, "Crissy saw you?"
Now it was Claude's turn to be confused, "What? Of course she saw me, Berger. I just told you that I was out in the living room talking to her--" Before he could finish his explanation, Berger was out of the bed and moving as fast as he could towards the living room. Claude cursed and fought to untangle himself from the sheets to follow.
By the time he reached the living room, Berger was on his knees by Crissy and seemed to be going through some odd ritual that involved inspecting various parts of her by sight, smell and taste. Jeanie quickly walked over to a shocked Claude to explain, "He's just trying to make sure she's real, Claude. He... He does this to all of us when he hasn't seen us in a while."
Swallowing past a suddenly dry mouth, Claude nodded his understanding. When the ritual was done, Berger grabbed Crissy's hand and dragged her over to Claude. His voice was rough when he spoke, "Tell me who you see."
Crissy answered, clearly confused, "I see Jeanie..." At those words, Berger's face fell and he looked ready to cry. Claude's heart went out to him. Crissy continued, "...and Claude. Why?"
At her last words, Berger's eyes lit up like a young boy on Christmas morning who's finally gotten the toy he's waited ten years for. And in just as excited a voice as that little boy's, he asked, "You really see him? You aren't just saying that?"
It took Crissy a moment to catch on, to understand what Berger was really asking. She lifted a hand to cup his cheek, "I really see him, Berger, because he's really here. He came here to find you. He's been here with you for almost two months."
At those words, a tension seemed to drain out of the long-haired man -- a tension he'd been carrying for far too long -- and for the first time since that night under the bridge, when Berger's eyes met Claude's, there was understanding and sanity in the weight of his gaze. He walked up to Claude, purpose written in every step.
From the moment that weighted gaze landed on him, Claude started to tremble, panic settling deep in his gut. They'd been building towards this moment ever since that minor breakthrough a month earlier, but he still wasn't ready for it. Before, Berger had just accepted that Claude had been gone and now was back. But now... now he was going to want answers. And what would happen if he didn't like the ones he got? By the time Berger reached him, Claude was shaking so hard he was surprised his teeth weren't chattering.
Frowning, Berger lifted a hand to cup Claude's cheek, "It's... been longer than 'a little while', hasn't it?"
Claude could only nod, voice still trapped somewhere in his tightly closed throat.
With a sad little sigh as he realized he wasn't going to get a coherent answer from Claude in this state, Berger turned to look at Crissy, "How long?"
Crissy hung her head, unhappiness written in every line of her body, "It's been almost sixteen years since the year Claude was drafted, Berger. Thirteen since we got the now obviously false information that he was dead."
Berger's eyes glazed again at hearing those words, but he fought his way through it back to lucidity, "Sixteen years?" Turning back towards Claude, his voice the only thing betraying his hurt, he asked, "Claudio... If you werent dead, where were you all that time?"
Claude opened his mouth to talk and couldn't make a single sound emerge. Hearing the strength in that voice... hearing it say that silly, silly nickname that Berger had always loved to call him, it had him completely undone. He dropped to his knees and buried his face in Berger's legs, silently begging forgiveness.
Berger's hands buried themselves in hair barely long enough to tug now, his jaw working furiously. Finally he, too, dropped to his knees and pulled Claude into a tight embrace.
Feeling those strong arms tighten around him, finally taking the weight of responsibility off his shoulders, Claude thought he would faint from the pure relief he felt. He was only barely aware of Jeanie explaining how her son had found him wandering the streets of New York City with only a vague sense that he hadn't belonged where he'd been... and an even vaguer one that he might belong here. She explained why he'd been away so long... explained about his amnesia, his time in Nam. Claude shut his ears to it all, only able to concentrate on the feel of his love's arms around him.
Eventually, Berger got a finger under his chin and forced him to look up, "You missed me even when you didn't remember who I was?"
Claude nodded, finally finding his voice, "For as long as I could remember, something had been missing from my life. There was no meaning in it, no passion. I barely had the will to live, much less function. Even when I got here and I started to remember, there was this huge hole in my life... and it was killing me. Then, I remembered you... and I suddenly knew exactly what was missing -- who was missing..."
Before Claude could explain any further, Berger had claimed his lips in another bruising kiss. There was nothing gentle about it. This kiss was possessive, it was marking... staking a claim. Sure enough, when Berger finally released his mouth, he clamped his teeth down on the join of Claude's neck and shoulder, sucking hard. That... that would leave an impressive hickey. Claude couldnt help but shiver with the pure joy of knowing what that meant.
Abruptly he was brought back to himself by Crissy commenting that she didn't know whether to interrupt or go get a camera. Then Cloud made them aware that he was behind them by making exaggerated gagging noises. Jeanie immediately tried to shush them both, but her sternness was ruined entirely by the joyous laughter she couldn't quite contain. He wasn't allowed to be distracted for long. Berger grabbed his chin and turned Claude back to face him. With an impish grin, he started licking his way along Claude's jaw line and nibbling down the line of his neck. Claude could only clutch at Berger's shoulders and desperately hope that his shaking legs would keep supporting him.
Crissy muttered something to the effect of, "That's it, I'm getting the camera," before running back into the other room.
Jeanie, still laughing, urged them on, "Why don't you two hurry up and take this into the bedroom before she gets back?" Her delighted laughter followed them down the hallway as they took her advice... including one last command before the door closed behind them, "And change the sheets in the morning! After tonight, you're both on the pull-out couch, 'cuz I want my bed back!"
With an answering laugh and a wicked grin of his own, Berger stuck out his tongue and closed and locked the door. Staring in wonder at the man doing a slowly stalking advance towards him, Claude decided that now that he had it back, he wouldn't want his life any other way... and that at long last, in this man's arms, he'd found where he belonged.
And it's done! *cheers* See, I told you there'd be a happy ending! ^_^
O_O But I already have sequel bunnies breeding in the living room... O_O *falls over*
Claude and Berger: NOOOO!!!!
R-chan: *blinks innocently* What did I say?
R-chan: *huffs* Well... Sheila's gotta find out about this sometime, doesn't she?
Questions, comments, papaya?