May 4, 2010: Good grief. I am so sorry. I knew I should have let this damned story percolate for a day or two before I started posting it. I wasn't satisfied with the end and I knew it even as I wrote it, but I made the mistake of not listening to myself... and then the fic just stopped cooperating. I swear, this one's been more trouble than all the rest put together and I have no idea why. :-P Maybe it's related to Cloud. ^_~ Anyway, I hope you enjoy and thank you all for your patience!

And do remember... comments and reviews are love! ^_^

Disclaimer: Neither the musical nor the boys belong to me, if they did they'd be groping each other on sta--. *pause* *blinkblink* Huh. Look at that... they do. *eg* :D ((*coughs* For the record, "Hair" was written in 1967 by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and with music by Galt MacDermot... not in 1985 by Jeanie Ryan. Thank you very much.))

Warnings: Slash. Some kissing. Nothing too scary.

Hair, Part 6
by Renee-chan

Jeanie stared around at the chaos with a blissed out smile on her face. When she had originally set out to put her story to paper, she couldn't have possibly imagined that all of these wonderful things would come out of it. Her show had opened to rave reviews. Her son had the start of a bona fide career and would be staying with her. She'd managed to give both Claude and Berger some measure of peace as regards the past. There was a tribal reunion of epic proportions going on in the theatre. But best of all...

Turning her head towards the left hand side of the orchestra, her smile widened at what she saw. Berger was perched on the stairs leading up to the stage, Claude sitting a step below him and leaning back into his lover's embrace, smile glowing like a small sun. In all the time she'd known him, Jeanie didn't think she'd ever seen him look so happy. And why? Because of the woman sitting demurely in one of the orchestra seats opposite him, smiling along with them, an expression of not-quite-belief on her face.

Reaching out a hand to the man sitting behind her on the stage, Jeanie pulled his long arms around her, murmuring quietly, "You did good, Woof. Real good."

Though he obliged her by enfolding her in a gentle embrace and planting a kiss on her temple, Woof shook his head, "I didn't do this." When Jeanie turned a questioning look on him, he shrugged, "I may have seen it coming, but I didn't do this." Expression turning wistful, he smiled, "Man, do I wish I had, though. What a hell of an early birthday present that would have made..."

Jeanie laughed and leaned in closer to press a kiss to the corner of Woof's mouth, "Well, I guess it's the thought that counts, huh?"

"So, if you didn't call her, then who did? Dionne and I were pretty sure it had to be you..." was Crissy's answer as she walked up to join them.

Woof shrugged again, "Nope. Wasn't me."

Jeanie held an arm out to the smaller woman and Crissy climbed up on the stage to curl up against her, "So, if it wasn't you and it wasn't me and it wasn't Jeanie... who got in touch with her?"

Jeanie shrugged, "Maybe she read it in the paper like everyone else."

Claude could practically feel Berger's joy and excitement thrumming through him as he sat behind Claude on the stairs. He'd wandered out of the theatre mere heartbeats after Claude's mother had thrown herself into his arms in breathless excitement, almost sobbing in her relief at having found him. Claude had stood there frozen, arms loosely wrapped around her as she struggled to calm herself. His mind hadn't just tripped, it had stumbled and landed in a tangled up heap. He just couldn't wrap his head around the fact that not only was his mother here but she was actually happy to see him.

When she'd finally leaned back, a thousand questions warring for expression in her face, Claude had panicked. In spite of the warm welcome, he was almost terrified of what his mother might have to say. He'd been out of contact for three years, she was bound to be angry. If she was here, she'd almost definitely seen the play -- and consequently now knew about Berger -- and would be angry. His father might be here... and would be even angrier.

Before he'd managed to open his mouth and say something he would regret, however, a pair of strong, warm arms had wrapped around him from behind and a head had hooked over his shoulder, smiling gently, "Oh, hey, look, Claudio! Isn't that your mom?" Ignoring Claude's attempts at a response, Berger had just raised one hand and waved, "Hi, Claude's mom! How was the trip from Kansas? Did you bring the mister with you?"

Though some part of him had desperately wanted to interrupt this thing before it went any further, the rest of Claude had been so glad that Berger had stepped in that he ended up saying nothing. His mother had blushed a little when she realized who Berger must be, but otherwise hadn't commented on it. She'd simply smiled softly and said, "Please, call me Helen. And thank you for asking. The trip was uneventful, though it was my first time on an airplane," meeting Claude's eyes with a sad look in her own warring with the smile, she said, "...and Claude's father unfortunately couldn't make it. He was... he was occupied with business." Left unsaid was the certainty that that was merely an excuse. Not wanting to probe that particular pain, Claude had let the white lie go without comment.

Seeing that Claude wasn't quite capable of handling this unexpected curveball, Berger had wrapped one arm firmly around the other man's waist and had extended his other arm to Claude's mother, "I think it's time we moved this little party inside to join the bigger party, don't you?"

Helen had accepted Berger's offered escort and allowed him to lead them both inside. The pause in the moment, and the fact that his mother seemed anything but angry, had allowed Claude to get his proverbial feet back under him. By the time they'd settled themselves down in the spot Berger had chosen, he'd even figured out how he had to open the conversation. He cleared his throat, "You know... it's almost funny that you're here, Mom. I was actually going to call you tonight..."

His mother let out a silvery laugh and shook her head, "I appreciate the effort, but you don't have to lie for my benefit, Claude. I know you." Looking up to meet his eyes, she said, "You're still my son."

As Berger's laugh erupted from behind him, Claude blushed. Ignoring the other man poking playfully at his cheek and muttering, "Brat," he explained, "I really was going to call you. Tonight was... it was eye-opening in more ways than one." Sighing, he shook his head, "Berger's right. I was a brat -- and a spoiled, ungrateful one at that. And apparently that hasn't changed. There's no excuse. No matter what else was going on, I should have found some time in the last three years to pick up the phone and let you know I was all right."

Reaching out to take one of his hands in hers, Helen smiled gently, "Hindsight is forever perfect, isn't it? The important thing is that I'm here and you are all right. In fact, if I may be so bold as to say it... Claude, this is the first time in over twenty years that I've seen you happy." Pressing her other hand to her chest, she said, "I almost don't care how it happened as long as it did. All a mother ever wants is to see her son happy."

Berger leaned over and pressed a small kiss to the side of Claude's neck, "Forgiven, forgotten, eh, Claudio?"

Claude just smiled, then raised his mother's hand to his lips to give it a gentle kiss before patting it and releasing it. Needing to back away from the moment before he made a total fool of himself by crying, he cleared his throat and asked, "So, Mom... Why... How did you know about the show?"

Smiling self-consciously, Claude's mother pulled an envelope from the confines of her pocketbook. From that envelope, she drew a much folded and creased newspaper article -- it was the review of Jeanie's show from when the press had been allowed into one of the dress rehearsals. She explained, "I received this in the mail last week, along with a ticket for tonight's show and a note explaining that there were things in this show that I should see, things that might help me understand why everything went so wrong that year you were drafted. It also indicated that if I was to be here, I might get a chance to see and talk to you, as you would be here, as well." Eyes flashing, she said, "I was not going to take the chance of disbelieving that and thus missing you. And since that faith seems to have been amply rewarded... I'm glad that I chose to believe."

Feeling Berger go still behind him, Claude wondered at the reason. He reached out his hand for the note and his mother handed it over without comment. And once he saw it... he understood. He knew the handwriting on that note, knew it as well as he knew his own. It was Berger's. Berger had sent this letter to his mother, answering a need that Claude wasn't even aware he'd communicated, and he'd done it all without even letting a hint of it reach Claude. And if his mother had never answered that summons... Berger would never have told him he'd sent it, never have even hinted that he'd been rejected that way. It was the most wonderful gift he'd ever received. Completely overcome by it, Claude turned in the other man's embrace and pulled his head down for a kiss, not even caring that his mother was sitting right there. When he finally leaned back, Berger's eyes were dancing with the happiness of realizing that, for once, he hadn't screwed up. Instead, he'd done something right... very right. Smiling softly, he kissed Claude's nose and murmured, "You're welcome, Claudio."

A polite cough abruptly had Claude blushing and turning back around. At the embarrassed look on his mother's face, he hunched in on himself, suddenly feeling like a teenager again, one who'd just done something worthy of grounding. To her credit, his mother merely cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow, "I presume that your friend didn't exactly take liberties with that part of the choreography, then..."

At that comment, Berger all but choked on his laughter behind him, finally burying it in Claude's back in an effort to control it. And, always one to play to an audience, Berger also took that opportunity to let his hands do a little roaming from where they'd been resting so inconspicuously around Claude's chest. Blushing even more fiercely, Claude grabbed at his lover's wandering hands and pressed them firmly against his stomach where they couldn't cause much mischief.

Helen covered her mouth with her hand, apparently to cover her own laughter. When the two finally had themselves back under control, she commented, "My goodness... is he always like this? I mean... I gathered from the show that... Oh dear." Now it was her turn to blush, "You know what? Never mind. I don't think I want to know."

Claude watched her for a moment, stunned by how accepting she was being. A large part of him just wanted to let it slide and take it for the gift that it was, but a smaller, stronger part of him couldn't just leave it alone. Already regretting the words that were about to emerge and the self-destructive tendency that was making him say them, Claude asked the question, "Mom... not that I'm not grateful for it, but... how is it that you're OK with this?"

Ignoring Berger's almost panicked shushing noises from behind him and shaking off the hands that grasped at his shoulders and tried to cover his mouth for him, Claude leaned forward, "Mom... I need to know. Are you really OK with this? Can you really look me in the eye and tell me that you don't have a problem with the idea that I'm sleeping with another man?"

Helen's blush, which had only just calmed, once again flare hotly at that question, "Claude... I can't do that. You know I can't." At Claude's indrawn breath, she hastened to explain, "No mother can look their child in the eye and happily acknowledge that they are having sex... of any kind." Eyes taking on a panicky glaze, she added, "To some part of me, you'll forever be two years old, toddling around the house in Superman pajamas. And two year olds shouldn't be having sex! With anyone. Ever."

A neat ducking of the question, but Claude found himself reluctant to push the issue. He recognized what his mother was doing with that bit of redirection. She was giving him an out, a way to just let this situation be what it was without turning it into a new source of pain. So, at his mother's entirely discomfited look and the way she now refused to meet his eyes, Claude reluctantly let go of the tension that had surged through his body at her initial words. Instead, he turned to look at Berger and deliberately played into his mother's ploy for banality, "Huh... Maybe you and she should talk. Of the three of us, I'm the only one that doesn't seem to understand that issue."

And Berger... dear Berger. He picked up on it, too. And to play into it in his own way, he threw Cloud into the fire without a single qualm. Snorting, he answered, "Yeah, that's because of the three of us, you're the only one who didn't know your 'child' as a two year old. You and Cloud didn't meet until he was fifteen. It's different."

Of course, Helen latched right on to that, "Wait just one minute, Claude Hooper Bukowski! I have a grandson? And you didn't tell me??"

And naturally, that shouted query echoed through the theatre in one of those rare moments of silence that descends upon a large group of conversing people. Claude blushed, Berger laughed and Cloud -- as prone to playing to an audience as his Uncle Berger -- shouted from the other side of the theatre, "Uncle Claude, don't make me come over there! I'm tired and I'm comfortable and I don't want to have to deal with your usual shenanigans tonight! Can't you just behave for once?"

At that, the original Tribe and all their accompanying children burst out laughing. Berger yelled back, "Don't you worry, Cloud! I've got your Uncle Claude well in hand!"

"That's what I'm afraid of! Don't think I've forgotten what happened during Act II!" Muttering darkly, Cloud extricated himself from Zack's embrace and started making his way over.

Claude's poor mother was now looking thoroughly confused. Taking pity on her, Berger explained, "Cloud's our friend Jeanie's son. He's never known his dad, but Jeanie's been in love with Claude his whole life. So, he grew up thinking of Claudio, here, like he was his dad. When they finally met..." He shrugged, "Karma, man. Fate."

By this time, Cloud had reached the three of them and was standing over them with his arms crossed over his chest and an eyebrow raised. When no explanation was forthcoming he rolled his eyes and started tapping his foot, "I'm waiting..."

Helen laughed and got to her feet, holding out a hand to the young man, "Helen Bukowski. I'm Claude's mother. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

By the fifth word, Cloud's other eyebrow had joined the first in climbing up into his hairline, but he still took the offered hand and shook it, "Ma'am, I beg to differ. The pleasure is all mine, I assure you." He then swept her an elaborate bow, "Claude Ryan, at your service."

Claude reached out a foot and tapped the younger man in the shin, "That's enough out of you. I realize we're in a theatre, but I'll thank you to remember that this is not a play. It's my life. Behave."

Eyes flashing with mischief, Cloud stood back up, "Hey, I worked hard tonight, I deserve to have a little fun."

"At my expense?" was Claude's answer.

Smirking, Cloud shrugged, "Well since it's your fault I had to work so hard..."

A snort of disbelief, "How is it my fault? Your mother wrote the play and you're the one who decided -- against her wishes, no less -- that you were going to audition. How on Earth is any of this my fault?"

Settling down in the chair next to Claude's mother, Cloud just grinned, "For being such an angst bunny. Damn, Uncle Claude. Being you for three hours is exhausting. How on Earth have you managed it for 36 and a half years?"

As Berger burst out laughing behind him, Claude could only splutter, "For being such a... a... what?"

Face taking on a self-satisfied smirk, Cloud repeated, "An angst bunny. Adam and I coined the term sometime in the first week of rehearsals. Mom liked it and it kind of stuck." He shrugged, "You can't deny that it fits."

Before Claude could answer, his mother burst out laughing, tears threatening to leak from her eyes. When she managed to get herself under control, she looked up and shook a finger at him, "OK, you're right. Biological or not, he is your son. Even I can't deny the resemblance."

Unbelievably touched by that statement, Cloud smiled hesitantly at Claude's mother, "You really mean that?" It was understandable. After all, in addition to never having known his real father, Cloud had also never known a grandparent. Jeanie's parents had disowned her when she was pregnant with him and with his father gone from the picture long before he'd been born, he'd also never known his parents.

Seeing the almost childlike hope in the boy's eyes, Helen bit back the teasing response she'd been about to make and raised a hand to his cheek to give it a soft pat, "I really mean that. I'd be honored to have you as a grandson." She then enfolded him in a gentle embrace.

Back on the steps, Berger cradled Claude against him and pressed a kiss to his temple, "Good day, Claudio?"

Claude let out a happy sigh and tilted his face upwards for another kiss. When Berger released his lips, Claude smiled, "The best, love. The best."

A rude snort interrupted the happy moment and both men turned narrowed eyes at its source. Cloud rolled his eyes and made a gesture in their direction, "You see what I mean? You can't take your eyes off them for a minute! It's not right, I tell you! They don't even have the excuse of being teenagers, for Christ's sake!"

Deftly avoiding the swat that Claude aimed in his direction, Cloud gave the group a cheeky wave, "And on that note, I think I'll go wander back over to the other side of the theatre and find Zack."

Claude smirked, "By which he means that we've inspired him and he'd like to go do some making out of his own."

Whether it was the fact that Claude's teasing had been spot-on accurate or because his newly acknowledged grandmother was sitting right there, Cloud blushed beat red. Delighted, Berger poked the boy's leg, "What's with the blush, kiddo? Don't you know it's a parent's solemn right to embarrass their kids?"

Before Cloud could answer, Helen jumped back into the conversation, "Why, George, you are absolutely right. Claude, why don't I tell the story about that time at your father's thirtieth birthday party when we found you and your cousin--"

A completely panicked look on his face, Claude desperately waved his hands at his mother, "No! That's really not necessary! I'll back off, I swear! See? This is me, backing off! Please don't..." That last was a desperate whimper.

Cloud beamed a brilliant grin at Claude's mother, then bussed a gentle kiss against her cheek and wandered off. Berger, meanwhile, gave Helen an appraising look and a wide smirk, "Later. You and me will talk later."

At Helen's ready laughter, Claude spluttered, "Now that is not fair. Not when I can't retaliate by asking your parents embarrassing questions about you."

Berger stilled again behind him, then muttered, "Yeah... shame about that."

Biting off a curse, Claude turned to look at him, "You know, love... it's not too late to rectify that. It's not like they disowned you." Berger looked away, uncomfortable, like always, with this topic of conversation. Claude sighed, "Crissy said that they used to call on a regular basis to check up on you, you know. I'm sure she still has their phone number..."

Forcing a humorless laugh, Berger shook his head, "Not today, Claudio, OK? We'll talk about it some other time, all right?"

Unsatisfied with that answer, but unwilling to push, Claude let it go. A grim silence descended. Helen was the one who eventually got up the courage to break it, "So... Claude... I couldn't help but notice that you've regained some of your memory...?"

Snorting softly, Berger commented, "Out of the frying pan into the fire, eh, Claudio?"

Leaning back against his lover for support, Claude turned back to his mother, "You noticed correctly. I've regained just about all of it. I started getting it back within the first month that I was back in New York." Turning his gaze over to where Woof, Jeanie and Crissy were still cuddled up with each other on the other side of the stage, Claude's face relaxed into a smile, "Jeanie had a lot to do with that. She took me in when I got here, supported me until I was able to stand on my own two feet." His gaze turned melancholy, "I'm still sorry that I couldn't give her the only thing she ever wanted from me."

Kissing Claude's temple again, Berger said softly, "You love who you love, Claudio. Can't change that. Jeanie understands."

Helen sighed, "You know... Claude, I learned more about you in the last three hours than I have in the last 36 years. I have to say... it saddens me to think that in all this time, I hardly knew you at all. That you had this entire network of friends and loved ones that I never met... You kept your entire life from me. The you I got to know in Kansas... it wasn't you at all, was it?"

Shaking his head, Claude's said, "No, no it wasn't." Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, he finally continued, "It was hard for me then, Mom. Very hard. I didn't really know who I was, I only knew that I wasn't the person you and Dad wanted me to be. And I couldn't figure out how to tell you that. Every time I tried, it ended in me and Dad screaming at each other and you crying. Eventually... I just stopped trying. I figured it was better to let you believe that I was the child you wanted... and not let you know that I was really someone else. The me that lived in Kansas... he was an extension of that thinking. He was made up of your hopes and dreams for me, nothing more. There was nothing -- or very little, anyway -- of me in that person. I think I knew that it had to be that way... that it was the only way to make you happy."

Reaching out a hand to grasp one of his, Claude's mother shook her head, "I'm so sorry. We should never have forced that choice on you. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair to you. G-d... It's no wonder it took you so long to come back to yourself. Deep inside, you knew that around your father and I, you couldn't." Waving her other hand up at the stage, she said, "You really did want to be invisible, didn't you?"

Claude shrugged, "It was less painful that way. If I was invisible, it didn't matter who I was, because no one else would ever know. I wouldn't ever have to know." A small smile broke through the melancholy, "But you know something, Mom? That's no way to live. If you're invisible, if you don't know who you are... how can anyone ever truly love you?" Turning to catch Berger's eye, he continued, "If you're always high, how can you recognize when people are reaching out to you?"

Berger snorted, "You can't. It's a shame we both had to learn that lesson the hard way." Sighing, he lamented, "Man, oh man, were we dumb when we were kids."

Claude laughed, "Yeah, I guess we were at that. I suppose the important thing, though, is that we eventually did learn from our mistakes, right Banana-Berger?"

Smiling, Berger planted a small peck of a kiss on Claude's lips, "Yeah, I guess so, Claudio. I guess so."

Giving Claude's hand one last squeeze, Helen released it, "My goodness. It's uncanny, really... watching you two. You're like a married couple."

With that comment, Claude smiled, "Someday, I hope we will be."

A teasing laugh interrupted whatever Claude's mother was about to say in response, "Yeah, and in the meantime they're getting in all the practice they possibly can, so they'll be sure to get it right when the time comes. Though, for the record, guys... married couples don't make out as much as you do. Just saying."

"Georgie!" At Sheila's mortified exclamation all three turned to look at her and she offered them a pained smile in response, "Sorry, sorry... Georgie, don't you think you owe them an apology, too?"

Her daughter, on the other hand, merely smirked and said, "What for? It's true, isn't it?"

When Sheila looked like she might be about to go off on a lecture of monumental proportions, Berger just caught her eye and shrugged. She sighed, immediately deflating from her righteous indignation, "Oh... fine. I suppose you do have a point."

Georgie's smirk widened, "Though now that I think about it... based on the way you and Dad go at it, maybe married couples do make out that often..."


Berger leapt up from where he was sitting to wrap his arms around Sheila and prevent her from chasing after her daughter as the girl raced back to the other side of the theatre. Claude was too busy laughing to offer any assistance. Berger pulled a fuming Sheila back against his chest and placed a soothing kiss on top of her head, "Easy, Sheila... Easy. You know she's just trying to get a rise out of you."

Letting out an irritated huff, Sheila grumped, "Yeah. I guess you would know, wouldn't you, Banana-Berger?"

Placing one last kiss on her temple, Berger released her, "Of course I would. And it's your own damned fault for taking the bait every time. You're just too fun to tease!"

When she turned around she promptly smacked the younger man on the arm, "Jerk. And here I was coming over to deliver some good news. See if I ever do that for you, again."

At that point, Claude rose from his seat on the stairs and walked over to the other two. Taking Sheila's hands in his, he pulled her close and kissed her forehead. Berger then curled around her from behind, arms wrapping around her stomach. Glancing back and forth between Claude's gentle smile and Berger's self-satisfied grin, she sighed, "I don't know why I even bother. You two still have me so firmly wrapped around your fingers that I'll never get myself fully extricated."

Claude just leaned over and kissed her cheek, eyes twinkling and mischievous smile firmly in place, "Oh, you know you love it."

Snorting, she disentangled herself from the two of them, "No doubt. Otherwise there's no way in hell I'd put up with either of you."

Berger walked back around her to wrap himself around Claude, looking happier and more settled than he had in a long time. Something about being able to indulge the ties between them without the pressure of trying to make it be what it had once been... it was wonderfully liberating. All three knew that it wouldn't go beyond casual kissing and touching, but even that casual contact brought with it a sense of renewal. Sheila might never have been the central piece that held their trio together, but she'd been an important part and had been sorely missed... even though neither man had wanted to admit that initially. Claude reached out a hand to her and she sighed but came willingly enough to curl up against him. He asked, "So, what good news where you coming to deliver?"

Sheila looked up at him and smiled, "Me, Suzanne and Dionne were talking and we've decided to have a party."

Claude twitched, "A party...? Sheila it's almost 1 AM, already. I can't speak for you, but I'm not used to staying out until 5, anymore."

Rolling her eyes, Sheila clarified, "Not tonight. Tomorrow. We're all going to meet in Washington Square Park and have a picnic. Say around 3 PM?"

Claude frowned, "But doesn't Jeanie have another show then?"

Nodding, Sheila answered, "She does. But I figure we'll be there for a while and she and the cast can join in when the show's over. That'll give the Tribe a few hours to catch up without any kiddies but our own underfoot and asking a million questions." Turning to look at Claude's mother, she added quietly, "And that'll give you some time to spend alone with your mother before you drag her into the full insanity that is our Tribe."

Helen's eyes widened, "I... I would never think to intrude..."

Sheila waved her hand in dismissal, "Nonsense. You came here to reconnect with Claude... to get to know your son. You can't do that without getting to know the rest of his family, too. If nothing else, tonight should have shown you that."

Ducking her head, voice quiet, Helen said, "I... I don't know what to say. I expected that you would all be angry with me, would want nothing to do with me. After all, I'm the reason you thought he was dead all those years."

Sheila pulled away from Claude and Berger to sit on the stairs across from Claude's mother. Having also expected Sheila to be angry, Claude was extremely interested in hearing her response. Sheila took Helen's hand into hers, "I was. For many years, I was. And many of the other Tribe members are bound to be. I won't lie to you about that. But speaking for myself... I have a new perspective on why you did what you did and so I think I understand it." When Helen looked up, Sheila smiled a sad smile, "I'm a mother, too, Mrs. Bukowski. I may not agree that you made the right choice, but I can't deny that I understand why you made it." She turned that smile on Claude and reached out her other hand to grasp his, "Ultimately, you did it to protect your son... to keep him safe. And I can at least respect that, in spite of the pain that resulted." Turning back to Claude's mother, she said, "So, I've decided that I'll do what I can to encourage peace between you and the Tribe, because I think Claude's suffered enough... don't you?"

Overwhelmed by Sheila's words, Helen could only nod. Claude, on the other hand, used his grip on Sheila's hand to pull her firmly back into his and Berger's embrace. Hoarsely, he said, "I love you, Sheila. You have no idea how much."

Berger added in his quiet two cents, "That goes double for me, gorgeous."

Smiling softly, Sheila kissed them both soundly on the lips before pulling out the group embrace, "You just watch it, boys. You keep this up, you just might entice me into a divorce..." At the twinned, wide-eyed looks she received, she just gave them both a broad wink, "Well, in that case, I'll see you tomorrow at 3, OK?" Once she'd collected an affirmation from each of them, she smiled and headed off to pass that along to her co-conspirators.

Claude then turned to his mother and, needing to pull back from the intensity of the moment, asked brusquely, "Where are you staying?"

Also eager to get onto a less emotional subject, she answered a little too quickly herself, "With Jim and Sally Holden."

Raising an eyebrow, Claude asked, "Our old neighbors? In Flushing?"

Helen gave him a polite smile, "Just because we didn't tell you we'd lived in New York doesn't mean we cut off all contact. Sally and I were good friends when you were younger. We've kept in touch."

Frowning, Claude said, "But how are you going to get back there? The subway? This late?" Crossing his arms over his chest, he said, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that."

Helen sighed and patted his arm, "I have taken those subways before, Claude."

"Yes... but they were safer 15 years ago. Now," his eyes took on a worried look, "They aren't as much. I'm not thrilled with the idea of putting you on the subway alone and with no one to walk you to the Holden's when you get to Flushing."

"So, what would you suggest, then, Claude?" was her answer.

Eyes meeting Berger's for a moment of silent communication, Claude reached a decision, "You could stay with us. If... if you like."

Helen was torn. She clearly would have loved to do exactly that, but... "As much as I would love to, Claude, all of my things are already at the Holden's. For tonight it just isn't practical." Holding up a hand to forestall Claude's objections, she said, "A compromise. Why don't we go back to your apartment and call a cab to take me back to Flushing for tonight. Then tomorrow... we'll see if you'd still like me to stay with you after spending the whole day in my company. If the answer is 'Yes,' I would be honored." When Claude looked like he might object, Helen's eyes narrowed, "Claude Hooper Bukowski, I would say that this is an eminently fair compromise, wouldn't you?"

Eyes widening at the snap in his mother's voice, Claude cleared his throat, "Well, if you put it that way... I suppose I would."

Berger snorted, "Man, you are so whipped."

Turning a grumpy look on his partner, Claude said, "Oh yeah? I'd like to see you do better. Besides... it's not fair. No one can retaliate because no one knows your middle name."

Smirking, Berger laughed, "Yeah, and no one's gonna. I'm not stupid enough to hand over a weakness like that. Remember?" Grin widening, he took on the prim posture of someone quoting another, "'You're as smart as any of us...'"

Claude let out a groan that covered the rest of Berger's statement, "You are really making me regret pointing that out to you, you know?" At his mother's look of confusion, Claude just shook his head, "It's a long story. And really... you don't want to know."

Before she could get a chance to respond that she actually did, Claude was relieved to be distracted by Jeanie's whistle. Berger leaned over to whisper, "You're going to be so sorry you showed her how to do that..."

Sighing, Claude said, "Yeah... I know."

Once Jeanie had everyone's attention, she started talking, "I just wanted to say a few words to everyone before we all left for the night. First to the cast Tribe... you guys... you were phenomenal. I don't have the words to fully express how proud I am of each and every one of you. If you manage to maintain even half the energy and emotion you brought to tonight's show at the rest of our performances, we're going to enjoy a long and successful run here on Broadway."

When the cheering died down, she continued, "And to the half of the original Tribe that showed up unannounced tonight, I'd just like to say how unbelievably thrilled I am that you all got here. I think I can speak for our half of the Tribe in saying that we've missed you all and we're so glad that you found us! And even though I'm annoyed that you're starting the picnic without me tomorrow, I think it's an awesome idea... and we should make this a regular occurrence. At least once a year. Don't you think?"

The cheers to that speech were even louder than to the first. When they all quieted again, Jeanie's face relaxed into a soft smile, "And to the rest of you -- and I think you know who you are -- I hope tonight met your expectations. There was so much I wanted you to see... so much I knew you'd forgotten." Walking across the stage to look down at Claude and Berger, her eyes started to shine, "I wanted to remind you that you are us and we are you... never-ending and beautiful together just the way we are. A part of the universe and yet... free. And so very... very loved."

Claude held up a hand to Jeanie who grasped it and climbed down off the stage into his and Berger's embrace. Voice rough, but raised loud enough to be heard by everyone else in the theatre, Claude answered, "Then you accomplished what you set out to do, Jeanie... and I don't have the words to properly express my gratitude for it. I won't forget again. I swear it. Thank you."

Jeanie raised her face to look up at his, tears shining in her eyes, "Thank you, Claudio. Thank you..."

Clearing her throat, Sheila reluctantly interrupted the moment. "Jeanie... I know I was hesitant when you told me earlier about," she waved her arm around the theatre, "All of this. I know I can't take back words already spoken, but I'd like to give you a few new ones that, hopefully, will take the sting out of them." Once she had Jeanie's full attention, Sheila continued, "I'm proud of you, Jeanie. And I'm proud to be part of this: this Tribe, this show... this. And I'm proud to have my name on it. In fact, I wouldn't have it any other way. And you'd better have a long and successful run on Broadway, because I intend to bring my husband and --when they're old enough -- my other two kids to see it!"

Berger smirked, "And if he doesn't like it, you can divorce him and come live with us!"

Eyes wide, Claude spluttered at him, "Don't you think you ought to discuss that with your fiance, first?"

That exclamation started the entire Tribe murmuring in response. Of course, it was Kelly who got the question out into the open, "Hold on a minute! Uncle Berger has a fiance??" Storming up to them from where she'd been standing with Georgie and her father, she got right up into Berger's face, a look of righteous anger on hers, "When the hell did this happen?? What about Uncle Claude? Hasn't he been through enough this year without you skirting around behind his back? I am not OK with this!"

At the only partially-mock scared look on Berger's face, Claude started to laugh. Kelly continued to harangue the other man until Claude got himself under control and patted her on the shoulder to get her attention, "Kelly! Kelly, calm down. First off, Berger isn't cheating on me. Secondly, this happened just before the show so we didn't have a chance to tell anyone just, yet."

Kelly's eyes widened at that statement and, already putting two and two together to get five, made one of those lighting-fast shifts in attitude that she was famous for and began to bounce on her toes in anticipation. Woof, Crissy, Hud, Dionne, Georgie, Cloud and Zack pushed their way to the front of the group to cluster around them, their own eyes wide in excitement.

Finally, Berger threw his hands up, "Oh, good grief. You could make a three hour tale out of a limerick." Wrapping one arm firmly around Claude's waist, he pulled the other man close before turning back to the rest of their audience, "What Claudio is trying to explain is that I asked him to marry me before the show and he said, 'Yes.'" Turning back to Claude, he smirked, "See, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

Whatever Claude's response would have been, it was lost in the thunderous set of cheering and applause that erupted from everyone else in the theatre. Then, always one to play to an audience, Berger's smirk widened and he took firm hold of Claude to bend him backwards in a kiss so overblown and romantic it would have done a hero in a harlequin novel proud.

There would be time enough to worry about the details, time enough to figure out how on Earth they could accomplish what they wanted to do legally... time enough to get ready for this fight. But for once, with the cheers of his friends and family ringing loudly in his ears, Claude just let himself go to enjoy the moment... and he couldn't have planned a more perfect moment if he'd tried.

A/N: And now for some chibi silliness! And boy, oh boy, is it silly tonight. -.-;;;

Claude: ^_^

R-chan: *pokepoke* So I was right?

Claude: ^_^

R-chan: *laughs* I guess I'll take that as a "Yes."

Claude: ^_^

Berger: *smirk* You know... I kind of like him like this. All blissed out and relaxed. Reminds me of when we used to get him high.

R-chan: *scuffs feet along the ground* *mumbles*

Berger: *eyebrow twitch* What was that?

R-chan: *mumbles louder*

Berger: *laughs* Did you just say, "Georgie helped me make the brownies?"

R-chan: *blush* *scuffs some more*

Berger: And where might these brownies be, exactly?

Claude: *lifts up a hand and points in the direction of the kitchen* ^_^

Berger: *snickers* He is gonna be so pissed when he comes down... you do realize that, right?

R-chan: *smirks* Not if you drag him off to have sex first!

Berger: *eg* Have I mentioned before that I like how you think?

R-chan: *curtsies* *dimples* Once or twice. *makes shooing motions*

Berger: *grabs Claude's still lifted hand and drags him off*

Claude: ^_________^

Questions, comments, apricots?

BTW... Donna, thank you for the lovely review! I'm glad you enjoyed my stories thus far and I'm sorry I made you wait. O_O I figured everyone would be happier all around if I took the time to get it right rather than churn out something that no one would be satisfied with. ^_^ Hope it didn't disappoint! Oh, and please tell your sister that I'm glad she's been enjoying then, too! ^_^ It's always good to get one's siblings hooked on one's own addictions. ^_~