Been a while, huh? ^_^ Didn't think you'd gotten rid of me that easily, did you? Anyway, another new story, this one starts a new AU ficverse that splits off from the WDIG? set right after "Going Down." Very angst-ridden, but gets better by the end, I promise. ^_^ Written as a b-day fic for a dear friend who knows who she is. ^_~

Title: The Algea
Fandom: Hair, the musical: 2009 Revival
Pairing: Berger/Sheila, hints of Claude/Berger, Claude/Berger/Sheila, Claude/Jeanie
Rating: PG-13 for some kissing, R for angst and trauma. Pick your poison. ^_^
Word Count: 33,098
Warnings: Slash. Angst. Holy hell, is there angst. O_O Sorry 'bout that. Rebound effect from 'Flesh Failures,' I think...

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 ((Hair was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot.))

Summary: Sheila has watched Berger destroying himself for months and finally decides that she can't take any more of it. She's going to save him from himself no matter the cost... or the ultimate prize. Sequel to "Going Down."

Juy 16, 2010: So, this takes a little explanation, I think. A couple of months ago, back when I was struggling with "Donna," I decided that for 21's birthday, I was going to write her a fanfic. ^_^ In retrospect, probably should have been an "Alice" story or a "Primeval" story... but my muse speaks mostly in Claude/Berger these days and I wasn't up to fighting it. ^_^ Anyway, she had mentioned several things along the way that she would like to see in a Hair story - things that I generally don't include. So, I decided to write her a story with the few of those things that I could remember in it. ^_^ Of course, with my muse and the inspiration of the oh-so-angst-ridden Winchester boys egging me on, the story ended up far more angsty than I intended, but it's me, so what do you expect? ^_^ And it ends happy, so that has to count for something... right?

Continuity: This story is still an AU... in fact, it's an AU of an AU. O_o;;; Can't do anything simple, can I? :-P It splits off from the WDIG? ficverse right after "Going Down" and is, in fact, a direct sequel to that story. That, right there, ought to clue you in to the angst factor. O_O Things that are true in that universe are not necessarily true in this one and vice versa. In honor of the new 'verse, I decided to split off and use names that weren't Hair song titles - need to keep those for the WDIG? set. ^_~ Titles in the "Trinity" universe will be based off Greek mythology. Have fun looking up titles! (If you get really stuck and you want to know, though, feel free to ask, and I'll explain. ^_~)

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

The Algea: Lupe
by Renee-chan

The room is large, larger than any he's been in for longer than he can remember. There is enough room to pace a good ten steps in all directions. And there is a bed. He should be giddy with the joy of it, should be overcome with happiness at the freedom and luxury inherent in those two simple facts. He isn't.

It's too much space, too much freedom, too much luxury. Too much, too much, too much... and far too soon. He's afraid to leave the wall, the corner.

Too exposed. You stand out too much. They would see you. They would see you... and that was bad. Badbadbad to call attention to yourself. Safer to stay in the corner.

And the bed! He hadn't seen a bed, a real bed, in so long he didn't even remember what one felt like. And, oh, how he wanted to lay his weary body on it and rest. But that is bad, too. Such luxury items - like unspoiled food, unsullied water, clean clothing - they were traps, bait for the unsuspecting.

Take the pretties, little soldier. That's right... Take the pretties and enjoy them, feast on them, revel in them. But come morning, we'll come to collect the price of these gifts, whether it's one you're willing to pay or not.

Safer... far safer to refuse those luxuries, no matter how the rotten food and brackish water cramps your stomach, no matter how cold you are in your torn, muddy clothes, no matter how your body aches from the hard ground. Safer. You lost far less of yourself that way.

And even the safety is a lie. He knows it. He's seen them, milling around outside his isolated room, looking in the window at him cowering in the corner. It's only a matter of time before they want a closer look... to see, to touch... to hurt. He knows their kind, knows them well. They act like they're here to help... to help. A bitter laugh escapes his lips. He knows better. No one in this G-d forsaken hell on Earth helps anyone else. No one looks out for anyone but themselves.

The door creaks open and he freezes. There they are... five of them this time. Five... The last time there were that many just for him, it was bad. Badbadbad. So very bad. He knows he can't survive that again. Not again. Please, dear G-d in heaven - And G-d must be in heaven, because He's sure as hell not here, not here, never here - not again.

Tense and shaking, he fights the instinctive need to run. If you run, you get punished and that'll be worse, so much worse than whatever they've already planned. And besides... it's useless. There's nowhere to go. As they approach, he makes himself as small as possible. The one in the brown suit frowns at the action. He whimpers. Nonono, he didn't mean it! Whatever he did, he'd take it back if he could... Sorry... so sorry!

The one in the white coat turns to the one who frowned with an angry scowl on his face. He pulls the other aside and speaks a few harsh words. The suited man gestures in his direction, voice raising more and more with each word spoken. He wishes he could understand the words, but he can't. Their meanings lie just beyond his grasp, somewhere in that time and place before he was damned to this hell. He can no more touch them than he can reach the stars.

The two finish their argument and the one in the white coat steps forward. He manages to hold himself still right up until the point when the man kneels down beside him and reaches out a hand to touch. And it's toomuchtoomuchtoomuch again. With a terrified cry, he jerks away, head banging hard against the wall behind him. He doesn't even feel the impact. He is too busy screaming as the other three men - large, muscular, no way he can fight them - reach out and grab his arms and legs. He struggles anyway, desperately trying to break free, certain he won't survive whatever they have planned for him this time.

When the one in the white coat pulls out a syringe, his flailing intensifies, unintelligible pleas tumbling from his lips. The man and the syringe come anyway. Held immobile, he is helpless to stop the man's approach or the effortless sliding of the needle into his arm. Mere moments later, his body ceases its struggling, ignoring every terrified command sent from his brain.

When they feel his body relax, the three larger men lift him from his safe, little corner and deposit him on the bed. Next they secure his arms and legs in restraints. By the time the other two approach he is incoherent in his terror. And as the one in the white coat reaches out a hand to touch his forehead, he finally finds that little switch in his brain - the one that has saved what little sanity that he has left on more occasions than he can count. Desperate to get away in any way that he can, he flips the switch... and is gone.

Her body suddenly feeling as heavy as her heart, Sheila sank to the ground. It was already the second time this week that she'd had to drag herself up to Central Park to haul Berger's ass out of the threat of impending inclement weather. She couldn't keep doing it, especially with Berger getting more and more scattered with each passing day. The last time she'd gone to fetch him it had almost turned into a wrestling match in the mud. When he'd come out of whatever fugue he'd been in, he'd been all apologies and make-up sex, but the fact remained that he'd almost really hurt her. She couldn't go through that again.

Forcing her body upright, Sheila walked over to where Berger was crouched under the bridge, reading that blasted letter... again. G-d. Between Woof's certainty that Claude was coming back and Hud's accidental delivery of a letter from him saying the same thing... poor Berger just couldn't accept the reality of his friend's death. And it was killing him. She'd feel sorry for him, but Berger's slow death was slowly killing the rest of the Tribe. And Sheila needed them now more than ever... needed him more than ever.

Kneeling down in front of her lover, she splayed a hand over the letter to block his view. He continued to mumble the words under his breath. Sighing, Sheila took Berger's face in both her hands and pressed her lips to his, willing him to some kind of response, any kind of response, that wasn't the mumbling of those desperate words. After a few seconds, the words cut off on a half-sob and he grabbed her to him with almost bruising strength, crushing their lips together in desperation. When they broke apart, Sheila ran gentle hands through Berger's hair and brushed the tears from his cheeks. Softly, she said, "Berger, honey... I miss him, too. I wish he was still here with us. More than anything, I wish that. You know I do." Cupping his face in her hands, she forced his bloodshot green eyes upwards to meet her earnest blue, "But this... Berger, this doesn't help. You killing yourself, destroying whatever is left of your sanity... he wouldn't want this, baby. You know he wouldn't." Taking the letter gently from his hands, Sheila held it up, "He told you so, himself. He wanted you to live your life, to be better... to be whole."

Berger shook his head and pulled away from Sheila's hands. His voice was a harsh whisper as he responded, "I can't. Sheila, I can't." Before she could say anything in response, he spun back to face her, eyes desperate with the need to explain, "It didn't used to be this hard. I used to be able to make the pieces fit. But Sheila... they just don't anymore. No matter how I try to piece them together, the pieces don't make a whole anymore. I think... I think Claude took some of them with him when he left." He let out a small sob, "And now... now I don't know how to be a whole person without him. Sheila, he has to come back. I can't do this without him, anymore."

Sheila sighed and pulled Berger's head down to rest against her shoulder, "Baby, do you think it's any easier for me? When we love someone else, that's what we do. We willingly give away pieces of ourselves and take pieces of those we love in return." Smiling softly, she added, "But you know something, Banana-Berger? Claude may have taken a piece of you with him when he left... but he left you a piece of himself in exchange. It's a piece you still have. And it may not fit perfectly in with your other pieces, but if you try, I'll bet you could make it work. In fact, I know you can, because there's a piece of me inside you, too. And that piece of me won't let you give up that easily. OK, sweetheart?"

Berger lay still in her arms, absorbing her words as she steadily rocked him. Finally, with a small sniffle, he nodded against her shoulder. Sheila placed a gentle kiss on top of his crown of tangled curls, "Good. Then why don't we get you home, get you sobered up, and we'll talk more in the morning, OK?"

Wordlessly, Berger allowed her to pull him to his feet, no fighting this time. Silently, he let her lead him out of the park to the subway. Sheila would have worried more at his apparent docility, but she knew how much this battle of wills had cost him in strength. He was exhausted in mind, in body and in spirit. Much of his will, his passion for life, had gone with Claude. And though she might not be able to give him Claude back, if her luck held, she might at least be able to give him back some of that passion, give him another reason to go on living. It wasn't everything, but it might just be enough.

The next morning, Berger drifted around the apartment like a ghost, flitting from one object to another, eyes lost and glazed. It broke Sheila's heart to watch him. He'd been so full of life when they met, so full of passion. Sometimes she feared that he was destined, like those great minds of the past, to burn so very brightly... but for so very short a time. But, no. She had to show him that life didn't have to be so intense that it burned you up, that life could be quieter, but no less wonderful for that... that there were other ways and other reasons to live.

After an hour of watching Berger pace listlessly around her apartment, Sheila finally approached him. She guided him to sit on the couch and sat beside him. Gently taking his hand in hers, she raised her right hand to cup his cheek, "Berger, I need to tell you something and I need to know that you're going to hear me. This is important."

A soft snort and a shrug, "With you, it's always important. Why should this be any different?"

Frowning, Sheila patted his cheek - perhaps harder than she needed to, judging by the resulting wince, "I'm serious, Berger."

Sighing, Berger lifted his eyes to meet hers and nodded, "What is it?"

"I didn't want to say anything before now, because I just wasn't sure. And things have been so terrible, lately..." A single tear spilled over and ran down Sheila's cheek, "G-d knows, this isn't the best timing. Hell, it couldn't be worse timing if it tried. But you don't always get to plan these things, you know?"

Feeling the sudden role reversal as Sheila started to fall apart, Berger started to shake, "Sheila...? You... You're scaring me. What are you trying to say?"

Taking a deep breath and wiping away the solitary tear, Sheila did her best to pull herself back together, "I'm sorry... I'm not doing this very well, am I?" Abruptly locking gazes with the younger man, Sheila said simply, "Berger... I'm pregnant. And it's yours."

Berger's mouth dropped open. For a full minute he just sat, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, staring at Sheila like she'd grown a second head. Sheila was just starting to really regret having been so blunt when Berger flung himself from the couch and started furiously pacing the apartment, hands buried in his hair and muttering under his breath. Sheila cursed under hers, "Wonderful. Brilliant job there, Sheila. Couldn't have fucked that up worse if you'd tried. Damn it."

Abruptly, Berger stopped his pacing and turned back to face her, a finger raised in accusation, "But... that's impossible! You said you were on the pill. I remember. It was that night we found out about Jeanie's baby. You said it! You can't be pregnant!"

Of course, Berger's notoriously patchy memory would remember that little detail. Sheila sighed, "I know, honey. Believe me, I said the exact same thing to my doctor. What she told me was that no method of birth control is 100% and that stress can always play a part in how your body reacts to things." Snorting, she added, "And I've been under a hell of a lot of stress lately, Banana-Berger."

Sinking back down on the couch, Berger let out a small whimper, "This is real?"

Sheila nodded, "This is real, Berger. It isn't a bad trip. It isn't a hallucination. It isn't a dream." Smiling softly, she said, "You're going to be a father."

Berger made a noise that was something between a laugh and a sob, "Well... ain't that a kick in the ass."

Sheila couldn't help a small laugh of her own, "It certainly is." As Berger just shook his head in amazement, she admitted, "I almost didn't tell you." Berger's head shot up, a look of betrayal on his face. She sighed, "Baby... you have no idea how awful it's been, watching you slowly destroy yourself. I was afraid that if I told you, it might be the thing that finally pushed you all the way over the edge."

Voice dropping into a whisper, she said, "There's this boy... I met him back in '67 when I went down to Washington for the march. He's been good to me, really supportive. And he wants to marry me. He didn't even care that I was still with you. He said he'd wait. And he'd be a good father, I know he would. He's kind and gentle, everything my mother ever wanted for me. And he would support us..." Looking up at Berger she shook her head, "But I don't want him, Banana-Berger. I want you." Breaking into a small sob of her own, she finished, "You're the only piece of Claude I have left, other than the small piece that I carry myself. When we're together it's almost like he's still with us. I want that. I need that. And I want our child to have that. But I need you with me, really with me, to make this work. No more drugs, not like you've been using them. No more wrestling matches in the rain. No more attempts to throw your life away."

Taking Berger's hand and placing it against her abdomen, Sheila smiled a watery smile, "She needs you whole. She needs you here. She needs you, Banana-Berger. Can you do that? Can you be that person? Do you even want to try?"

Berger was silent for a minute, hand gently stroking Sheila's abdomen through her shirt, eyes full of fear... and no small amount of wonder. Finally, he leaned forward, lifted her shirt and pressed a soft kiss to the spot just below her belly button. He then pressed his ear against that spot and wrapped his arms around her waist, stretching the rest of his body along the couch. She had to lean close to catch the words he spoke, "I want to try, Sheila. I just don't know if I can. Things are so broken now... without Claude. It wasn't just a piece of me he took with him. He took half my soul when he left. And the pieces... they're a complete jumble now that I can't make any kind of sense of. I know I'm a mess. A sad, sorry, broken mess. Why would you want me? Why would our child want me?"

Carding gentle fingers through Berger's curls, Sheila answered, "I'm not expecting you to be perfect, Berger. No one expects that. I know this won't be easy. I know it won't make you better overnight. But if you want to try... Berger, that's more ambition than I've heard from you since you were sixteen and trying desperately to seduce a recently matriculated me at the shore."

That last prompted a weak chuckle in response, "I was pretty strong then, wasn't I?"

Sheila smiled, "You still are. You always have been. You just got a little lost along the way."

Berger brought one hand forward to rest against her abdomen, the other still lightly encircling her, "I was lost long before I even met you, Sheila. I don't think I can find my way back anymore." He let out a bitter laugh, "Some damned bird ate all my bread crumbs."

Sliding a hand under his chin, Sheila tipped Berger's face up so she could look into his eyes, "Berger... you may never get back to where you were. You've grown, changed, since you were sixteen. But you can get to a better place than where you are. I know you can. If anyone's strong enough to do it, it's you." Smiling, she added, "You can do anything. Right, Banana-Berger?"

After meeting her steady gaze for a moment, Berger's lips relaxed into an answering smile, "Yeah. I guess I can." He then planted one more soft kiss against Sheila's abdomen and sat up. Suddenly, he frowned, "There's just one thing I'm confused about."

Recognizing the opening notes to Berger's "Sheila-baiting" tone, Sheila rolled her eyes, but it had been so long since Berger was feeling well enough to bait her that she was almost glad to hear him starting with her again. And she was so relieved that this conversation had gone as well as it had that she was ready to give Berger whatever answers he needed to whatever questions he wanted to ask... no matter how ridiculous, "What is it?"

Eyes lifting to meet hers with a gentle smirk, he said, "What makes you so sure it's a girl? It could be a boy, couldn't it? And even if it's not... can we still name it 'George?'"

In spite of knowing that she was being baited, Sheila still couldn't resist rising to it. Spluttering, she answered, "I don't know! And no we are not naming our baby girl 'George.' Who the hell said we're naming her after you, anyway? I thought you didn't even like the name 'George.' I was planning to name her Martina. Martin if she's a boy." At Berger's confused look, she sighed, "After Martin Luther King, Jr., Berger." Voice quieting, she explained, "Since Jeanie already named her son 'Claude,' I thought it would be too strange to name her 'Claudia'... and it'll be even worse if she is a boy."

Berger was silent, eyes turning serious again, "Yeah, I guess that would be a little weird."

Sheila patted his hand, "We'll think about it. We've got another six months or so to figure it out. I'm sure we'll come up with something."

Eyes drifting downwards, Berger placed his hand back against Sheila's abdomen, a gentle smile gracing his lips, "Yeah... we'll come up with something. Something great. Don't you worry about that, little one. Somehow... somehow, we'll do right by you."

Greatly touched, Sheila leaned forward and pressed her lips to Berger's. He lifted his other hand to cup her face and that kiss... it was more sweet, more gentle than any they'd shared since they first met. For just a moment, Sheila could almost feel Claude in that kiss. And in that moment, she knew that she'd made the right choice... for all of them.

Jeanie watched the pair on the floor with a gentle smile. She'd been beyond shocked when Berger showed up on her doorstep completely unannounced... and sober. She couldn't imagine what he could have wanted or needed from her, but she'd let him in anyway, too relieved to see him looking so well to truly care. They'd sat down at the kitchen table and Jeanie had made some tea. They'd danced around a completely inane conversation for about ten minutes as Jeanie waited for her friend to get up the courage to ask whatever it was he'd come to ask. He never got the chance.

Before long, Claude had crept out of his bedroom to see what was going on. And when he'd seen Berger... boy, oh boy, did he light up. He didn't get to see the older man often anymore, but he was always excited when he did. Jeanie had noticed it before - Berger's almost natural way with children. Maybe it was because he was so free, himself, and children could just relate to that. Either way, once Claude had identified his Uncle Berger, he'd bounded into the kitchen and demanded to be lifted into Berger's lap. Then he naturally had to fill Berger in on every detail of his life that he'd missed in the few weeks since they'd last seen each other. This then naturally led to a discussion of any new toys that Claude had acquired in that time and a request that he have some time with his Uncle Berger to show them off.

And now Jeanie was watching the pair on the floor of the living room, rolling a Nerf ball back and forth between them. Jeanie still wasn't sure why Berger had come over, or why he seemed so... with it... but she was beginning to suspect that this visit had less to do with seeing her and had more to do with seeing Claude.

Eventually, however, even Claude's extensive store of energy began to run low and he began rubbing at his eyes. When he saw his mother rise from the couch, though, he squalled in protest and latched onto Berger's neck. Berger's eyes went comically wide as he attempted to avoid being strangled without hurting the boy. He threw a desperate look Jeanie's way, eyes begging her to do something.

Jeanie just smiled and knelt down by her son. Putting a hand on the boy's head, she said calmly, but sternly, "Now, Claude, you know it's naptime. Screaming about it won't change it. And if you treat your Uncle Berger like that, he's not going to want to come back to see you. Is that what you want?"

Eyes wide and horrified, Claude shook his head. Jeanie smiled and gave him another pat, "Then why don't you say you're sorry and give him a hug and a kiss. If you're good about it, maybe he'll even tell you a story before your nap."

Claude's face immediately transformed into a broad grin. He turned back to Berger and solemnly said, "'m sorry, Uncle Berger. You still like me, right?"

Berger just smiled and pulled the boy close, hugging him and planting a kiss on his mop of blonde curls, "Of course, I still like you, squirt. It would take more than that to scare me away."

Beaming, Claude bounced in Berger's hold, "Then I get a story?"

Berger laughed as he turned to Jeanie, "Mercenary little thing, isn't he?"

Jeanie smiled as she stood up, "They all are, Karma-Berger. You've gotta watch your every step with them. They learn pretty quickly how to take advantage." As Berger stood with Claude still in his arms, Jeanie added, "For example... never tell a kid that they could do worse than something they've already done and it would be OK. They'll push the limits on it, just to find out where yours are." Then she plucked a now-sleeping Claude from a horrified Berger's lax grip and, laughing, took him down the hall to his bedroom to tuck him in for his nap.

When she came back, Berger was sitting on the couch, holding the Nerf ball and staring at it like it held the answers to all the mysteries of the universe. She walked over and sat down next to him. Softly, she said, "Why don't you ask me what you came here to ask, Banana-Berger?"

Letting out a self-deprecating laugh, Berger shook his head, "Man, where do I even start?"

Jeanie smiled and placed a gentle hand on Berger's knee, "The beginning's usually a good place."

"Yeah... I guess it is," Berger took a deep breath, then blurted out, "How did you know you were ready to be a mom? I mean, you weren't really mom material when you got pregnant, but now you're an old pro. How did you figure it out? Where'd you learn all the stuff you know?"

Jeanie laughed, "Oh, Berger... I learned by screwing up." At his incredulous look, she nodded, "It's true! When they handed Claude to me at the hospital and said, 'He's all yours!' I was petrified. I didn't know what to do with a kid! But I took him home anyway and did the best I could. And I'm sure you remember that I was a total basket case - you were here for most of it!" Shaking her head ruefully, she continued, "Crissy's mom gave me some books to read and I read them cover to cover - which gave me just enough knowledge to realize how badly I was fucking up. Man, Berger, I've never been so scared in my life. But you know something? In spite of everything, Claude thrived. He learned to walk and talk. He's a bright little kid, he's sweet and I love him with every fiber of my being. And because I'm so terrified of hurting him or screwing him up somehow... I don't. The rest is just practice."

Berger dropped his face into his hands and let out a small groan, "So what you're saying is that the best way to avoid fucking up is to accept that you will fuck up and just do your best to learn from your mistakes? What kind of screwed up shit is that?"

Jeanie lifted her hand from his knee to rest it on his back and gently rub, "It's reality, Berger. It is what it is." After a small pause, she added, "But I can lend you my books, if you want to read them..."

Berger raised his head to meet her understanding gaze. Giving her a weak smile, he said, "Yeah... I think I'd appreciate that." He then sat up and leaned his head back against the couch, "There's... there's one other thing I wanted to ask you."

"Anything, Berger. What is it?" was her answer.

Voice dropping into a shamed whisper, Berger asked, "It hasn't even been a day and I'm gettin' shaky already. How the hell did you deal with it?"

"Ah..." Jeanie leaned back against the couch and sighed, "Not very well, I'm afraid. To be honest, I'm amazed that Claude is turning out as well as he is, all the drugs I did when I was pregnant with him. And I never did quite manage to kick my pot habit, just toned it down to the occasional joint. As for the rest of it... shit, Berger. All the poison you've been flooding your veins with this last year? I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to hurt like a wicked bitch getting it out of your system. And once it's gone, you can't go back to it, either, or you'll have to go through withdrawal all over again."

Berger winced, "That's what I was afraid you'd say. I've... I've seen people go through withdrawal before. It wasn't pretty."

"No... it isn't pretty. It's hard, Berger. But if you're serious about this... serious about wanting to get clean, about wanting to be a good father... you don't have a choice," Jeanie said.

Another sigh, "No... I guess I don't." Rolling his eyes to the right, he raised an eyebrow at the blond woman next to him, "And who said I was going to be a dad?"

Jeanie just laughed, "You did. Why else would you be over here practicing on my kid and asking me how I figured out how to be a mom?" Poking Berger in the shoulder, she added, "So, you gonna tell me when Sheila's due? Or do I have to guess?"

Jeanie watched the wildfire blush race across Berger's cheeks with great amusement. It had been a long time since she'd seen him well and truly embarrassed. Finally he mumbled out, "Sheila said something about us having six months to figure out a name, so I guess she's due sometime at the beginning of April...?"

At that comment, Jeanie let out a sudden burst of laughter. Berger lifted his head to stare grumpily at her, "What did I say?"

Jeanie just shook her head. When she finally got her laughter under control, she said, "Good grief... this Tribe's men are a little ridiculous about passing on their signs. Do you guys plan it on purpose or something?"

Berger just frowned, "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Well, you're an Aries and your kid's going to be an Aries. And Clau-" Eyes wide, Jeanie, abruptly cut off what she'd been saying, ducking her eyes away from Berger's.

However, if Berger high was smart and observant... Berger sober was even more so. He pounced on that tidbit like a terrier on a bone, "How do you know that Claude's sign matches his father's? I thought you and his dad was only a one time thing... some crazy speed freak that was here and gone in a day." When Jeanie just blushed and stammered in response, Berger's eyes narrowed, "Wait a minute. January 22nd... Claude was born January 22nd..." Leaping to his feet, Berger stared at her in abject shock, "He's a fucking Aquarius. You're kid's a fucking Aquarius, Jeanie!" Abruptly, he started to shake, arms wrapped around his middle as he tried to get himself back under control, "You lied... All those years ago... you lied." Voice breaking over a small sob, he continued, "Why didn't you... Why didn't you say something? If... Jesus... maybe if he'd known..."

Jeanie stood up and wrapped her arms around him, tears freely spilling from her own eyes, "Do you think I don't ask myself that every G-d damned minute of every G-d damned day, Berger?"

Unable to respond, Berger just shook his head. Moments later, he gave in to a spate of heart wrenching sobs, burying his face in Jeanie's shoulder. She just held him and rocked him like a little child, desperately sorry that she'd destroyed what little calm he'd managed to find.

Eventually the tears slowed, but the heartbroken plea in his voice nearly undid her just the same, "I can't... Jeanie, I can't do this." Pushing away from her, he wiped almost angrily at his eyes, "The world doesn't make sense, anymore. I can't be a father. I can't... I can't be this person that Sheila needs!" A small whimper escaped his lips, "She needs me to be Claude for her. I can't... I never could! Only Claude could be Claude..." Voice dropping into a whisper, he said, "G-d, Jeanie... I miss him so much. I want him back." Then, dropping his face into his hands, he dissolved back into quiet tears.

Pulling him down onto the couch, Jeanie gently folded him into an embrace, saying nothing, just offering comfort. There wasn't much else she could do. She could fool herself into thinking that they just had to get him off the drugs, but even she knew it wouldn't be that easy. Sheila hadn't known him back in the beginning, back when he was still 'George.' He'd been falling apart even then. Having Claude's stability by his side that last year before the draft had been all that kept him together. That was why she hadn't told Claude about her son. He was a good man and he would have done the right thing and married her, but as much as she loved him, she also knew that Berger needed him far more than she did... and he had needed Berger just as badly. She couldn't let anything, even her child, stand in the way of that. How could she have known then that her act of self-sacrifice would have such horrific consequences?

Leaning back, Jeanie stretched out on the couch with Berger sprawled half on top of her as he continued to cry, broken and empty and needing so very badly. Eventually, he fell into an exhausted slumber and Jeanie eased out from underneath him. Brushing his hair back from his face, she placed a gentle kiss on his cool cheek. What a fucked up mess this was... Sighing heavily, she pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over him then went into the kitchen to make a few phone calls. This battle was far from over and she was going to need reinforcements before it was through.

Berger went downhill quickly after that morning, so quickly that Sheila was afraid to even think of moving him. Jeanie was gracious enough to move out to the couch and lend them her bedroom, at least. Though that was probably just as much so that Claude wouldn't have to watch his Uncle Berger suffer through withdrawal as it was to give them a little peace. Whatever the reason, Sheila didn't care, she was just grateful.

The rest of the Tribe was also extremely supportive. Many of them came by to spell her whenever they could spare the time, trying to give her as many breaks as they could. The real surprise, though, was Woof. Always uneasy friends, they two had never spent much time together, but he'd been the staunchest support she could have asked for through Berger's withdrawal, along with Jeanie and Crissy. And he'd also been the deliverer of the most shocking news of all - the entire Tribe had elected to give up mind-altering substances to make this transition easier for their leader. To say that Sheila was stunned would have been putting it mildly. She was absolutely awed by that show of support, by the sheer love evidenced by that grand gesture.

That night, once Woof had left and Berger was asleep, she'd gone out to the kitchen, put her head down on her hands and just cried. Jeanie had found her that way and spent the next ten minutes just holding her and stroking her hair. She didn't ask why Sheila was crying - she didn't have to. She just held her and soothed her, and Sheila was never more happy to call the younger woman friend than she was on that day.

Three exhausting weeks later, the worst of it was finally over. It was a Saturday morning and Sheila was in the kitchen entertaining Claude while Jeanie made pancakes. Berger had crept from Jeanie's room to the kitchen doorway, robe clutched tightly about him, to quietly ask if there was enough for one more.

Claude immediately abandoned Sheila to glom onto his Uncle Berger's legs and demand to be picked up. And oh, the look on Berger's face at that request... It about broke Sheila's heart. He so clearly wanted to do it, and just as clearly couldn't. After three weeks in bed fighting the symptoms of his drug withdrawal, he just wasn't strong enough. But before she could even start to come up with a way to explain that to a young child, Jeanie just calmly stepped in and explained to her son, "Sweetheart, you know that your Uncle Berger's been very sick. He can't pick you up right now." As her son's face fell, a wicked smile bloomed on hers and she added, "So you'll have to help him out, OK? He's going to need a lot of help until he's better. Do you think you can do that?" As Claude nodded vigorously, Jeanie's smile widened, "Good. Then why don't you start by pulling out a chair for him and getting him some silverware while your Aunt Sheila gets a plate and some coffee for him?"

Eyes still glazed with no small amount of pain, Berger said nothing as Claude did exactly as suggested. He just sat in the pulled out chair, watching the boy's every move with a haunted look in his eyes. After putting the plate and coffee down in front of him, Sheila brushed his hair out of his face and asked gently, "You OK, Banana-Berger?"

Berger just mutely shook his head and reached for the coffee cup, burying his gaze and his non-response in the steaming black beverage. It was completely unlike him, but Crissy - who'd read up extensively on the subject of withdrawal - had warned them all that that was more likely to be the case than not. That Berger would not be his usual self when he came out of this... and probably wouldn't be for some time.

It wasn't until Jeanie served the pancakes - each complete with a smattering of chocolate chips as a special treat for the occasion - that a spark of life came back into the deadness of Berger's expression. He was just lifting his hand to reach for the syrup when Claude made a horrified noise. When Berger spun to face him, fearful of what might be wrong, the boy was shaking his head back and forth and making slicing motions with his hands, "No, Uncle Berger! Mommy said you're sick! You shouldn't be picking things up!" Of course, in his two year old mind there was no difference between lifting a 33 lb. boy and lifting a 16 oz. bottle of syrup. Lifting was lifting and his mother had said that his Uncle Berger shouldn't be doing it.

Bemused, they all watched as Claude climbed down off his chair and climbed up his Uncle Berger's to sit in his lap. When Berger had reached down a hand to help, Claude had given him a stern look, shaken his head and continued with his climb unassisted. Once he was comfortably seated, he then reached for the syrup bottle and upended it over Berger's pancakes. And, of course, being only four months shy of three years old, his idea of an appropriate amount of syrup was... a little different than Berger's.

With all of them staring at Berger's now swimming pancakes, silence reigned for almost three minutes as Claude used Berger's fork to meticulously cut up the now syrup-soaked pancakes - right up until the moment when Claude stabbed a piece of pancake and, eyes bright and proud, offered it to his beloved uncle. The pained look on Berger's face as he stared at the dripping piece of pancake, clearly trying to figure out a way to not have to eat it, was what finally set off the other two. Sheila and Jeanie burst out into almost hysteria-tinged laughter.

Berger would have done the same... except for the look on Claude's face. It had been so full of pride, so full of joy... and now it wasn't. The fork slowly drooped and his lower lip trembled. Seeing that, and feeling his own heart lurch with the pain of it, Berger finally started to understand. The most important thing about being a father was to love your children and to do whatever was within your power to make them happy... no matter what it might cost you. If you got that right, everything else would fall into place. Well, he'd done worse things and for far worse reasons. He could do this. Keeping his sigh strictly internal, he tapped Claude on the shoulder and opened his mouth. And the speed with which Claude's expression shifted back to delight was all the reward he needed. As he chewed each bite of the syrup-sogged pancakes, he just repeated to himself over and over that he was doing this for his Claude - for both of them - because he needed to be a good father, a good uncle, a better person... and this was the first step.

When breakfast was finally finished, with both man and boy as soaked in syrup as the pancakes had been, Jeanie quietly suggested that Berger go get cleaned up. Naturally, Claude jumped off Berger's lap, yelled, "I'll go turn on the water!" and took off for the bathroom.

As the girls sputtered back into giggles, Berger frowned and crossed his arms over his chest, "You did this to me on purpose, didn't you, Jeanie?"

Jeanie laughed as she retrieved the plates from the table, "You bet your ass, I did! You have no idea what a nuisance he's been this last month and how hard it's been to keep him out from under your feet. Now that you're up and about again?" She snorted, "He's all yours." Smiling sweetly and nodding at Sheila, she added, "It'll be good practice for you... for both of you."

Berger just groaned and let his head drop into his hands. Before either of them got to answer, however, Jeanie's eyes abruptly widened, "Oh shoot... Berger, you're going to want to go check on that bath... Claude's not allowed to turn on the hot water by himself..."

Biting off a curse and not willing to suffer through another of Claude's attempts to help gone horribly wrong, Berger took off running, Sheila and Jeanie's laughter echoing down the hallway behind him.

A/N: And now for some chibi silliness! :D

Claude: *stares* *splutters* *crosses arms over his chest* *fumes*

Berger: *sweatrain* Erm... Love? This is the after-fic silliness... you can talk here.

Claude: *glares*

Berger: O_O Or not. Totally your choice.

R-chan: For what it's worth, I really am sorry about this one.

Claude: *eyes shoot daggers*

Berger: *twitch* What, no offer of "It gets better by the end, I promise?"

R-chan: Well, it does, but I don't think that statement goes over so well these days.

Claude: *still fuming*

Berger: *coughs* Ah... good point.

R-chan: *shrugs* Guess we'll all just have to wait and see, huh?

Berger: *sighs* *cuddles a Claude* Yeah... I guess we will.

Claude: *whimpers*

Questions, comments, papaya?

Coming Soon: Berger comes to the painful understanding that Sheila needs more from him than to be there and makes the hard decision to step up to the plate to give her the support she needs... and heals an old, painful wound in the process.