February 11, 2010: I don't know what it is about this musical that inspires me so damned much, but whatever it is... I'm loving it! ^_^ This is a direct sequel to my first Hair fanfic, "Where Do I Go?". This one takes place a little less than a year after that one ended. This time from Berger's POV. Our boys are finally settled into their life together and enjoying their time as "newlyweds"... but nothing can ever be quite that easy. Part 1 of 3.
Warnings: Still slash. ^_^ Strong PG-13, dipping its toes into 'R' territory here and there. Enjoy?
I Believe in Love
If he'd known what the weekend would bring, Berger wouldn't have allowed Claude out of bed that morning. He'd have tied him to the bedpost, locked the door to their apartment and not let him out again until the next month. Unfortunately, he didn't know... and Claude would not have been happy with that. In that respect, he hadn't changed much since they'd been young... over a decade ago. He still found it hard to grasp sometimes, this idea that he'd lost almost 13 years of his life. It was such a monumentally large amount of time, it made him shudder to think about it. But anytime that he would start to get overwhelmed, start to slide under the waves of his ever-ready drug flashbacks, there would be Claude -- real and warm and whole and there -- to bring him back to reality.
He couldn't even begin to count the ways in which he was lucky to have the other man back in his life, but for this one he was more grateful than most: Claude was his anchor to the present, the bedrock that kept the ground stable beneath his feet... the safe haven where he could rest when life got too hard to handle. It had been a bit shocking to discover, however, that for all that... Claude wasn't entirely stable himself.
Berger lazily rolled over to face the other side of the bed where the man he loved was peacefully sleeping... or not, as the case might be. A frown crossed his features. He hadn't even felt Claude get out of bed. That meant he'd done it far too early. With an irritated sigh, Berger got out of bed and grabbed for his robe. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes with one hand and pulling the robe on with the other, he made his way out into the living room. He wasn't too surprised with what he found when he got there.
Claude was sitting at the kitchen table, staring out the window and cradling a cup of coffee in his hands. Based on the mild shake he could see in the other man's hands, he had to conclude that that cup of coffee had not been his first. Moving slowly so as not to startle his lover, Berger joined him in the kitchen. When he got there, he gently pulled the coffee cup out of Claude's hands. He took a small sip and had just enough time to put the mug down on the counter before Claude realized that it was missing and that he was no longer alone... and jerked around to stare wild-eyed at him.
The first time this had happened, Berger hadn't expected it and it had nearly scared him back into a schizophrenic break. That had been months ago. It was a sad state of affairs that it had happened so often since that he now not only wasn't startled by it, but he had a system to deal with it. At his lover's frantic look, Berger just calmly raised an eyebrow. Given a few moments to work through what had happened, Claude would usually come back to himself. If he didn't... well, it hadn't happened often and the few times it had -- those had been bad days. As bad as Berger's bad days. To himself, he snorted, What a pair we make...
Sure enough, after a moment or two of staring, Claude's eyes unglazed and he seemed to recollect where he was. He slumped at the table, head dropping onto his arms as he let out a breath and some of the tension along with it. That was Berger's cue. Stepping forward, he placed strong hands on his lover's neck and started gently massaging muscles that were still far too tight. Eventually, Claude let out a small moan and the rest of the tension left his shoulders. Berger turned the massage into a caress, letting his hands slide around the other man to pull him back against his chest. Claude rolled his eyes up to look at him, a weary yet grateful look on his face as he whispered out, "Thanks."
Berger planted a gentle kiss on those upturned lips, then released him to sit down on the chair caddy-corner to him. Taking one of Claude's clenched hands in his, he started gently working the tension out of it, too. He sighed, "That's the second time this week, Claudio. How long have you been up?"
Claude took his free hand and rubbed at his eyes before turning to look at the clock. He groaned when he saw that the time read 6 AM, "Almost four hours."
Berger clucked his tongue at him as he traded hands so he could work on the other one. Quietly he asked, "You wanna tell me about it?" It was a loaded question. Sometimes, Claude did want to talk about whatever nightmare had driven him out of the warmth of their bed -- sometimes he didn't. And when he didn't, he was... touchy about it. Berger would have liked to say that he hadn't been like that before, but the reality was... he had been. He'd always been far more likely to run away and hide from his problems than to try to confront them and he was far too prone to making important, life-altering decisions when he was overwrought. It was just one of those odd personality quirks that made him who he was. And Berger had found that he'd grown to love him for it, even if it occasionally made things far more difficult than they had to be.
This time, Claude paled at the question and swallowed hard. Before he could open his mouth to make up some kind of excuse, Berger held up a finger to hold the other man's lips shut, then shook his head, "Don't. If it was that bad... I don't want to make you relive it again."
A shudder was Claude's only answer. Berger placed his hands on either side of Claude's face and pulled him in for a tender kiss. It was almost odd how the tables turned so often between them, changing their roles back and forth from comforter to comforted with almost no warning. It had started about three months after they'd moved out of Jeanie's apartment and into their own. They'd had a lot of fun in those months, rediscovering all the things they'd loved about each other and for once fully able to focus on one another now that Sheila wasn't between them. Every day was a discovery -- doubly so with Claude regaining more and more of his memory all the time. It was a gift as it gave them plenty to talk about without having to touch the 13 years that Claude had been held captive by his life in Kansas and Berger had been prisoner to his madness.
It wasn't until those three months had passed that they'd discovered that Claude's returning memory could be a curse, as well. It had never really occurred to them that when Claude had said he was missing most of his life before 1970... that included his time in Viet Nam. Oh, he'd had nightmares about it before, sure -- Berger slept with him, he couldnt help but know that -- but Claude had never seemed to carry the memory of those nightmares into the waking light of day. Not so anymore. Not since that night...
They'd been meeting Jeanie, Cloud, Crissy and the man she was dating for dinner. They usually tried to do that once every 1-2 weeks. If they didn't, Jeanie or Crissy would show up on their doorstep and try to pound down the door. It was probably leftover fear from all those years they'd had to track him down on the street, and really it was cute in a way... it was just that they had such awful timing. It made Berger realize that there was, in fact, something worse than no sex at all -- and that was interrupted sex. Having just as much of an issue with Jeanie and Crissy's bad timing as he did, Claude made meticulously sure that they met the girls for dinner at least twice a month to reassure them that they were still alive and sane.
That night, Jeanie had been more excited than usual to see them. She had some sort of project that she was working on and wanted to talk to them. Once dinner was over and Cloud had gone to bed, they'd shared bottle after bottle of wine and stories of their past bounced between them in a never-ending round robin as the alcohol flowed. Crissy's poor beau hadn't been part of the hippie culture and seemed to get more and more shocked with every story and every indiscretion they shared. Thank goodness for the alcohol blurring the edges for him or Crissy might have had to find a new boyfriend come morning.
Finally running out of things to share, Berger and Claude had stumbled home, more drunk than either had been in a long time and more drunk than either cared to admit. They'd crawled into bed, barely coherent enough to get out of their clothes, much less do anything else. So, it was with great dismay that Berger had been awoken out of his drunken stupor not two hours later by Claude's arm flung across his face. He'd sat up, rubbing his nose and ready to scold his lover, when he'd realized that Claude was not exactly awake... but he was clearly distressed. Realizing that Claude was dreaming about his time in Viet Nam, Berger had tried to soothe him out of it, as had always worked before. Not this time. This time, Claude grew increasingly disturbed, no matter what he did. Finally, he'd awoken himself with a strangled cry, sitting bolt upright in their bed, that frantic, not-quite-sane look in his eyes. He'd turned those haunted eyes to the other side of the bed and when he spotted Berger, he'd collapsed into his arms, letting loose a torrent of soul-sick weeping.
By morning, Claude was almost back to normal. Berger tried to get him to talk about it, but all that Claude would say was that he'd remembered something about his time in Viet Nam, something bad. Berger had been too scared of making things worse to ask him to elaborate and he hadn't seemed willing, anyway. These days, Claude's nightmares had gotten quieter, though no less traumatizing for that. The only advantage to Claude was that he could slip out of bed to run those agonizing memories over and over in his head without Berger waking up and trying to lance the festering wound. Needless to say, Berger didn't consider that much of an advantage. And on those rare bad days, Berger was almost willing to trade in his own sanity if it would take those memories back away from his Claude.
Releasing his lover, Berger got up from the table and went to go wash out the coffee pot so he could make some fresh coffee. When Claude made an interested noise and stood up to follow him away from the table, Berger wrinkled his nose at him, "Who said you get any? I think you've had enough."
Claude grumbled, "At this point, I'd inject the stuff IV if I thought it would help me wake up."
Berger snorted in response to that, "Your own damned fault for picking a job that you have to be at by 7:30 in the morning and then not having the sense to come back to bed when you wake up in the middle of the night."
Claude's face shuttered and he looked away, "You know why I didn't come back."
Feeling unusually belligerent this morning, Berger turned around to face him, arms braced on the counter behind him, "Yeah. 'Cuz you'd rather mope around in the kitchen drowning your sorrows in brandy-laced coffee than come back to me and let me help." At the other man's shocked look, Berger sneered, "I know you pretty well, Claudio, and I'm no idiot. I know the taste of alcohol when it hits my tongue."
Claude's eyes landed on the coffee cup that Berger had pulled out of his hands, then he slumped, "I didn't want... You need your rest, Berger."
And there was the crux of the problem. Walking across the kitchen, Berger pressed Claude back against the counter and wrapped his arms around him, "I haven't been that fragile in months, Claude. I'm not going to break and you don't need to handle me with kid gloves." Planting a chaste kiss on his lover's forehead, Berger offered him a teasing smile, "In fact, you did such a good job helping me put myself back together... I'd like a chance to do the same for you."
Claude was trembling in his arms, like he'd like to run from this as he did everything else. Berger wasn't letting him go this time. This time, he'd get the answer he wanted if it killed them both. Claude had had a thirteen year grace period on not dealing with these memories and that had been a blessing, really it had. If Claude had had to deal with them without having anyone around who could help, he'd probably have ended up like so many of those other Viet Nam vets that Berger had known while living on the streets of New York -- trapped in the horror of memory with drugs their only escape. For that reason, alone, Berger had to be grateful for the amnesia that had taken Claude away from him, because it bought him time until Berger was ready to help. But he couldn't do it if Claude wouldn't let him!
Finally the tremors eased and Claude let his head fall to rest on Berger's shoulder, face pressed into his neck. If Berger hadn't been listening for them so closely, he'd have missed the words that Claude spoke into his skin, "I can't promise you anything... but I'll try. OK?"
Rubbing gentle circles around his lover's back, Berger felt like he'd won a major victory, "OK, Claudio. Not the best answer, but I'll take it." Pressing a kiss into the exposed crook of Claude's neck, Berger reluctantly let go, "Why don't you go take a shower while I finish with the coffee and make breakfast?"
Claude frowned, probably remembering one of the many times Berger had set off the smoke detector in their apartment, "Since when can you cook?"
Berger just gave him a bright smile, "I can't." Holding up a finger to forestall any protests, Berger finished with a flourish, "But I pour a mean bowl of cereal and milk!"
That last finally did what Berger had hoped it would do -- it put a smile on Claude's face. Seeing the smile chase the last of the tension from his lover's eyes, Berger shooed him out of the kitchen and turned back to the coffee pot. Just like they had all the others, Berger was certain that somehow they'd weather this storm, too.
A shower, three cups of coffee and a bowl of cereal later, Claude looked a little more alert. He'd have a rough day of it today, but at least Berger was no longer afraid he'd get run down in the street by a bus for lack of attention to his surroundings. It was unfair to send Claude to work when he was so clearly exhausted, but they didn't have much choice. It was times like this that he worried most about the fact that only one of them had a stable job. The last thing he wanted to be was a burden, but having been expelled from high school and never having gone back, there weren't many jobs he was qualified to do that didn't involve menial labor. And trying to hold down a job that he didn't have the heart for had made it harder for him to hold himself together. It wasn't that he was too stupid to do the work... He just hadn't been able to bring himself to care enough to try to do a decent job at whatever he'd tried. Then he'd get reprimanded and given warnings and hemmed in by all those added rules and restrictions he'd start to fragment again. Claude had understood and finally begged him to stop trying. He'd said that he had faith that when the time was right, Berger would find what he was meant to do and when Claude said it, he believed. And until that happened, at least Claude made enough money to provide for them both.
Berger gave a quiet laugh as he cleaned up the dishes from breakfast. That had been a bit of a surprise, actually. He'd known that Claude had lived a whole other life in those 13 years in Kansas, but they'd never really discussed it. Then sometime in July, a few months after they'd moved, Claude had quietly told him that he'd made some inquiries and sent out a few resumes and had gotten a job at one of the nearby high schools.
He'd been stunned by that revelation. They'd both been so anti-school when they were younger -- hell, Claude had been a drop-out and he'd been expelled for never showing up! -- that Berger couldn't imagine why he'd want to get a job in one and couldn't figure out what kind of job he could even be qualified for, if he did. It was with the red heat of embarrassment suffusing his face that Claude had admitted that his parents had forced him to get his GED when they'd first arrived in Kansas, then had talked him into using the GI bill to go to college. And what had he become? A teacher. He'd spent eight years in Kansas as a history teacher. Berger hadn't quite known how to respond to that. Claude as a history teacher didn't jive with his memory of him or with the new picture he was slowly painting of the person he was now. History teachers wore tweed jackets, suspenders and reading glasses and had a constantly pinched, narrow-eyed look to their features from all the small print they read. That wasn't Claude. It didn't fit... except that obviously some part of it had to or he wouldn't be doing it. And it was the first time they'd ran aground of any issue that indicated how much they'd changed over the last decade and a half, even though in so many ways, they hadn't changed at all.
The good news, though, was that teachers were in demand, especially in the city, and Claude had easily found a job. And with his eight years of experience, his salary was more than enough to cover living expenses for two. That gave Berger time to figure out what he was going to do. And Claude, his sweet Claude... he had indicated more than once that he was willing to support them both forever if that was what it took to make him feel happy and safe. That didn't mean that Berger was thrilled about it, though. He'd had no problem with the idea of living off the generosity of others when he'd been a teenager, but the thought of taking advantage of Claude that same way made him feel a little ill.
Shaking off the memories, Berger decided that sitting around the kitchen in his robe certainly wasn't getting him any closer to a solution. He got himself showered and dressed, then eyed the clock. It was barely past 8 AM. Damn these early hours. It might be true that the city never slept... but since it never slept, it generally didn't like to rise all that early either. It was far too early to drop in on Jeanie -- and she'd been awfully preoccupied lately, anyway -- Crissy would be on her way to work at the hospital if she wasn't there already, and Berger didn't really know anyone else. They hadn't contacted any of their old friends other than Jeanie and Crissy. It was as though they were too afraid to shatter this oasis of calm that had settled around them. Also... they all knew that once they started contacting the rest of the former Tribe, it would only be a matter of time before they would have to include Sheila in that list... and both Berger and Claude were terrified of adding her back into a mix that was working so well without her. It was selfish and more than a little unfair, but after what they'd both been through, they not-so-secretly thought they deserved to be a little selfish.
Unfortunately, that postponement of contact and his lack of a job left Berger with a little too much idle time on his hands and very little to do with it. And he was worried sick about what he might end up doing with all that empty time. The temptation of turning back to drugs just to make the time pass easier was a strong one, but he knew with sick certainty that once he started with that again, even if it was only one joint, he'd fall right back down that hole he'd been in when Claude had first found him. Hell, he was so afraid of that possibility that he even avoided alcohol whenever he could get away with it.
Drumming his fingers on the table, Berger blew his hair up out of his face. What to do, what to do? Finally unable to take it anymore, Berger grabbed his keys and his jacket and left the apartment to take a walk. Maybe a little fresh air would give him some kind of inspiration for what direction in which he should take his life... and if not, at least it would help pass the time.
Two hours later found him sitting in Central Park, staring up at the sunlight filtering through the trees. It wasn't as satisfying to be out here these days, now that he had no one to share it with... but some part of him still felt more at home here than he did cooped up in an apartment. If only he could have had Claude out here with him, it would have been perfect.
For a moment, he let himself indulge in a trip down memory lane. He was risking a flashback, he knew, but sometimes it was worth it... worth it to feel the comfort of being surrounded by those he loved in a time when his life had still made sense. It was easy to picture them -- too easy, really. Looking out across the lawn, he called their images to mind. Claude, of course, would be sprawled out before him, head in Berger's lap, gazing dreamily up into his eyes -- of course, he'd claim he'd been staring at the clouds, but they all knew better. Woof would be curled up nearby -- he'd always been drawn to Berger and Claude, but never had the courage to intrude unless he was invited. Crissy would be over by the flower patches with Angela, weaving garlands of daisies to drape over her girlfriend's hair while they both giggled over some boy. Jeanie... where would Jeanie be? Ah, yes. Jeanie would be near Claude's legs, maybe with a hand draped over one of them, wishing desperately to be closer, but like Woof, not daring enough to intrude. And Sheila... what about Sheila? Ignoring the flash of pain thinking about her always produced, Berger pictured her in painstaking detail. There would be a gentle smile on her face and long blonde hair falling over one shoulder as her sparkling blue eyes gazed down at the two men she loved. She would be standing over them, earnestly guarding their repose like a collie with only two sheep.
Feeling the peace of memory wash fully over him, he let out a pleased sigh. He missed those days. Life had been so simple then, so uncomplicated. He'd known where he belonged and who he belonged with. He'd known his purpose... or thought he had. This time his sigh was weary. Those days were long gone and no one knew it better than he. Disillusioned by his own thoughts, Berger opened his eyes... and immediately cursed. He knew he'd been risking a flashback with what he'd done so deliberately, but he hadn't thought he'd bring one on so quickly, or that it would feel so real once he had! The face above his smiled gently and the slender body attached reached out a hand to touch his face. He jerked away before that hand could make contact. He didn't need this, not now, but at least he knew how to deal with it. From experience, he knew that a direct confrontation usually dissipated these milder flashbacks. Cursing again, he clenched his fists and stood up to face his memory's apparition. It was still there. And this time, she held out that hand in entreaty, a sorrowful look on her face, "I'm so sorry, Banana-Berger. I... I didn't mean to startle you. I shouldn't have even... you just looked so peaceful... I'm sorry."
Well... that was weird. The girl in his memory would never have apologized to him like that. She'd have considered it her G-d given right to disturb him whenever she wished. Something was wrong, here. Taking a closer look at the apparition, Berger started to notice more things that were out of place. For one thing... there were tiny wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. For another... he'd never have pictured her in a smart little skirt-suit. Mouth dropping open as he realized that this was no drug flashback but was real, he almost choked on her name as he spoke it, "Sheila??"
A hopeful look entered those wide blue eyes, "You... you know me?"
Berger could only stare, "What? Of course I..." Then he paused. Wait... there was no 'of course' about this. The last time Sheila had seen him, he'd been completely stark-raving mad and high on about 4 different kinds of drugs... and as he'd just been pondering earlier, no one had contacted her to tell her that that was no longer the case. Oh good G-d. Now that he thought about it, he didn't think they'd even contacted her to tell her that Claude was alive. Now that really had been unfair. Apparently that was all a moot point, now. What the hell she was doing in New York, he didn't know -- according to Jeanie, she'd been living in D.C. -- but she was here, and he had no idea what to do with her.
She seemed to realize that something was wrong and pulled her hand back, "Berger..." She did a swift reassessment of him, eyes running up and down his tense form from the tips of his shoes to the top of his head, cataloguing all the differences she hadn't noted before. He was sure he could list most of them: clean hair; new, warm coat; sturdy, sensible shoes; full awareness in his eyes; well-filled out muscle in his arms and legs, no hollows in his cheeks... clearly not the picture she'd been expecting when she found him. Eventually, her eyes snapped back up to meet his, "You... what happened?"
Oh... that was bad. He opened his mouth to answer, but couldn't think of a single thing to say. Claude was supposed to have been here when this happened! He couldn't do this alone! Eventually, he managed a strangled, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Seeing those shining blue eyes fracture in front of him made him add another mental curse to the list. Why could he never seem to say anything that didn't hurt her in some way? Occasionally he did it to Claude, but not nearly with the frequency he'd always done it to her and Claude usually gave it back as good as he got. He didn't just stare at him out of wounded, shining eyes, as though he was a martyr waiting for the next blow to fall. It was just one of the reasons why once the other man had been taken out of their threesome, they'd been unable to hold it together without him.
Sheila pulled herself up straighter and wiped surreptitiously at her eyes. Her voice was quiet as she spoke, "Jeanie... you remember her, right?" Not wanting to explain any of the thoughts running circles through his head, he just nodded. She continued, "She invited me up to New York for a few days, said she wanted to pick my brains about some things that happened... back in '67." He could easily hear the words she didn't add -- when Claude was drafted. It made him want to grab her and shake her and tell her that it was OK to talk about him now. He hadn't realized how much his condition had damaged those around him... not to mention the disservice it had done to Claude. If he really had been dead... his friends should have been allowed to remember him for the joy he'd brought to all of them, not for the emotional wreckage he'd left behind. Shamed by the thought, Berger forced his attention back to Sheila's words, "I... Since I was going to be here, anyway, and it was on the way from the hotel, I thought I'd stop in the park. Then I saw you..." She paused again, then took a step closer, a puzzled frown overtaking her face, "Berger... maybe I'm reading too much into this, but you're..."
With a bitter smile, he finished her sentence, "...sane?"
Her frown deepened, and she huffed, "I was going to say 'sober'."
He looked away, unable to meet the accusation in those eyes, "Well, to answer your question... I'm both. Mostly."
Her frown gave way to a gentle smile, "I'm glad." At his disbelieving look, her smile widened, "No, really, I am. I almost don't care how it happened, I'm just glad it did." The nearby church's bell suddenly clanged out the hour and Sheila jerked. Looking down at her watch, she stamped her foot, "Shoot. I'm late." Looking up at him, clearly torn, she started shifting from foot to foot.
Unable to take her fidgeting anymore, Berger let his tense posture relax, "Look, I know where Jeanie lives. Why don't I meet you there later and we'll talk, OK?"
Her tension faded into a look of pure relief and she nodded, "I'd like that." Their parting was awkward. Sheila clearly wanted to pull him close in an embrace, and Berger was just as obviously shy of physical contact... at least with her. He finally settled for patting her awkwardly on the shoulder and letting her give him an equally awkward kiss on the cheek.
The minute she was away, Berger practically flew back to the apartment to call Jeanie. This situation was volatile enough... he did not want Sheila knowing about Claude before they got there later. The second he heard Jeanie's voice at the other end of the phone, he started yelling. It started with, "What the hell where you thinking??" and got worse from there.
When he finally paused for breath, she screamed back, "I can't tell you and you weren't supposed to find out yet, anyway!!"
Shocked that she'd had a response ready, Berger gaped for a moment. Jeanie, more calmly now, added, "I'm sorry. I had hoped to have her here and gone before either of you had a chance to know she'd been here. I should have known it wouldn't be that simple. Fate takes far too active an interest in all of us." Then there was a big sigh, "Look, I won't mention Claude and I won't talk to her about you. I assume you'll be coming here once Claude gets out of work?"
"Yeah... I think that's the only thing that makes sense at this point," was his response.
Finally sounding back in control, Jeanie said, "OK, then I'll make sure we have something available for dinner. And I think we'll just keep it to the four of us. In fact... It's Friday. I'll send my Claude over to a friend's house for the night. I don't think we need him cluttering up the situation, either."
Letting out a breath of relief, Berger thanked her. She just groaned in response, "Don't thank me. This whole damned mess is my fault to begin with. I should have just left Claude with you two and gone down to D.C. instead of inviting her up here, but I just didn't think." Another sigh, "Well, maybe it's for the best. We'll deal with it... like always." There was a pause, then a short curse, "I gotta go, Berger. I think she's here. I'll see you guys later."
She gave him just enough time to say 'Goodbye,' then hung up. Berger stared down at the phone in his hand for a moment, then cursed. He hadn't thought, either... Claude had always been a match for Sheila, even at her most pedantic, but with him already so exhausted from last night, he wouldn't exactly be at his best for a confrontation with her. And she was sure to be in rare form when she found out that he was alive and well... and that they'd been with each other all this time, not telling her. It reeked of deceit, even if they hadn't intended it that way. This had the potential to be very, very bad. Hanging up the phone, Berger let out a quiet whimper. Why couldnt he ever do anything right?
Berger: *twitch* Just can't cut anyone any slack can she?
Claude: *wince* You're telling me.
R-chan: *snerts* Oh please, I've been nice.
Berger/Claude: *disbelieving looks*
R-chan: *sweats* Mostly...
Questions, comments, pineapples? ^_^
Coming Soon: Berger breaks the news to Claude that Sheila's back in town... and their first reunion most definitely does not go as expected.