September 10, 2010: See? I haven't forgotten my favorite fandom! I just hit a minor writing burn-out. O_O;;; But I'm back! From outer space! I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face! I should have changed... that... stupid... lock... *sweatdrop* OK. I think I'll stop now. -.-;;;

OK, I don't normally do this this way, but I couldn't resist iscreamlouder's sad plea for fic and this one doesn't feel finished and I don't think I can get it there tonight. So, this will serve as part 1 and I'm going to post it now, even though I don't have a part 2, yet. Hopefully I'll have one soon... at least I'll try. ^_^ In the meantime, enjoy!

Title: My Conviction
Fandom: Hair, the musical: 2009 Revival
Pairing: Berger/Claude, Margaret/Hubert, Jeanie + Claude
Rating: PG-13 for some adult themes
Word Count: 6,124/?
Warnings: Slash. Mild angst. Gender confusion.

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.))

I've been threatening this one for awhile now and Josh Lamon's excessive cuteness (and the fact that he is on the tour!) prompted me to finally spew it forth. ^_^ This is the story of Margaret Mead's meeting with the Tribe and ultimately about Claude's thoughts on parting with his loved ones. My thoughts were with all my fellow Hair fans in London as I was writing this along with my best wishes for a swift healing from your loss. I understand all too well how you feel, as I've been through it twice myself. *massive snugs to you all* And on that massively cornball note... the fic!

O_O;;; Damned Nyquil. O_O;;;

My Conviction: Part 1
by Renee-chan

"Come on, man. You gotta see this!"

Claude shook his head with a heavy sigh. Those words almost never preceded anything good these days. It was his own fault, really. He'd been so down lately and Berger was just trying to cheer him up, give him a reason to smile. It would have been endearing... except that Berger was already prone to some pretty wild feats and he'd been outdoing himself in his craziness in his attempts. Not even Sheila was managing to keep him in check.

"Come on... I promise, Claudio. You've really gotta see this."

When Claude heard the note of mild pleading creep into Berger's voice, he knew he'd already lost. It was only a hop, skip and a jump from there to real desperation and Claude could never resist giving the younger boy whatever he wanted when he was that concerned. Finally lifting his eyes from the ground where they'd been firmly fixed, he raised an eyebrow, "What do I have to see, Banana-Berger?"

Having gotten Claude's attention at last, Berger's lips stretched up into a smile and he held out a hand to the other boy, "Uh-uh, Claudio. I said you've gotta see it. Trust me."

"Trust you? Trust you? Berger, the last time you said that, we both ended up taking a dunking into Bethesda Fountain... with our clothes on," but even as he spoke the words, Claude was grabbing Berger's hand and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. The reality was, no matter how often the younger boy proved he wasn't worthy of it, no matter how many times Berger had nearly gotten him into serious trouble, he did trust Berger. He trusted the other boy with his life- no. No, he trusted him with far more than that. He trusted Berger with his very soul... and with his heart. And he knew that given the opportunity, he'd follow the other boy to the ends of the Earth and back. Following him to the other side of the park was nothing in comparison, even if it ended with them in another fountain... in November.

Berger's smile widened as he used his position to pull Claude not only to his feet, but into his arms. As he settled his arms firmly around Claude's waist, he pressed a gentle kiss to the tip of his nose, "Aw... it was hot that day. You said yourself that you needed to cool off. And I said I was sorry, didn't I?"

Shoving lightly at Berger's shoulder, Claude frowned, "You can't always fix everything with an apology, Berger. Some things just can't be fixed." He wasn't talking about the dunking in the fountain anymore and he could tell by the suddenly shuttered look on the younger boy's face that Berger well understood that. Still, he didn't say anything. He didn't have to, really... except that Claude might have almost welcomed the chance to talk to Berger about it. He didn't push, though. He wasn't that cruel. It had almost become taboo, an unspoken thing between them... Claude's draft card. Berger thought he should burn it, as did the rest of the Tribe, but for some reason, Claude just couldn't. He didn't want to die, but would the alternative really be any better? He couldn't take that final step that would land him in jail and destroy what little was left of his relationship with his father. And after Berger had confessed last week that he'd been kicked out of school? It became that much more painful a subject to broach and the one time he'd tried it had prompted a rare argument between the two of them that had taken days to resolve. Claude didn't really want to waste any of the time they had left by starting another one.

Electing not to answer what Claude had said, Berger instead pressed himself up against the older boy, hands insistently sliding beneath his shirt to touch the bare skin of his back as he nuzzled his face against Claude's chest. His next words were quiet, almost inaudible, "Please, Claudio... just come see."

And there it was, that note of true desperation, a hint of fear. Claude had known it was coming, had known he was provoking it with his own reaction and felt a stab of guilt for causing that pleading tone to enter the normally happy-go-lucky Tribe leader's voice... but he'd needed to hear it. He needed to know that Berger feared losing him. He needed to know that he'd be missed when he was gone, that the younger boy would remember him. He needed to know that he still had a place at Berger's side for however long he could fill it. And if that made him weak, so be it. Lifting a hand to run it through Berger's wild curls, Claude bent his head and whispered his next words directly into the younger boy's ear, "All right, Sexy-Berger. I'm all yours. Show me."

The speed with which the younger boy bounced back never ceased to astonish Claude. His head jerked up from Claude's chest and that wide smile reappeared as though it had never gone. Tugging lightly at the other boy's hand, he said, "This way, Claudio!" Claude followed him, laughing at the folly of it all, but unable to turn away or refuse, like always.

They reached the other side of the park after a long but enjoyable game of balk-and-tug, with Claude playfully pulling back on Berger's arm and making the other boy drag him along for a step or two before relaxing his arm so that the loss of resistance made them snap together like a rubber band. At this point one of them would then steal a kiss. As eager as Berger was to reach their destination, he wasn't exactly protesting the nature of their travel. He couldn't, not really - he'd invented the game to begin with. And it wasn't Claude's fault if he'd turned out to be a better player. With a smirk, Claude got ready to allow himself to be pulled in one last time, but was stymied in his plans by Berger stopping short right in front of him. Naturally, Claude ran right into him, letting out a small "Oof" as Berger's elbow impacted with his stomach. At the sound, Berger turned to give Claude a questioning look, then smirked at the older boy's predicament. Letting out a soft snort, he snarked out, "Graceful."

Claude made a face and a rude finger gesture while irritatedly rubbing at his solar plexus. Berger just smirked. After a few seconds of rubbing, Claude straightened back up and looked around. Most of the Tribe was sprawled out in the grass or cavorting around in the piles of autumn-colored leaves. Crissy was braiding Sheila's hair and Jeanie was sprawled in Sheila's lap, twirling a leaf between her fingers. Woof was sitting up in the branches of a maple tree, dropping leaves down on top of a sleeping Dionne. Hud was a little ways away, sprawled out on top of Suzanne. The rest of the Tribe was similarly engaged. In short... it was a perfectly normal day for the Tribe in Washington Square Park, "OK... I'll bite. What's so special?"

In answer, Berger lifted a hand and pointed across the park. Claude squinted in that direction, trying to figure out what on Earth could have caught Berger's interest. There was the usual smattering of older couples walking the paths, parents out with their children, people playing with their dogs and younger couples making out on the benches. He couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. Finally he turned to Berger and shrugged. Berger sighed, pressed his cheek to Claude's and turned both their heads to look off to the right, then quietly said, "Mr. and Mrs. Joe Ohio on the bench over there. See them?"

Claude nodded, still perplexed. They looked like any of the other older couples out enjoying the park, even if they might as well have the word "tourist" stamped across their foreheads. Claude still didn't see anything particularly special about them. Berger continued, "They've been hanging out in the park watching us for a couple of days, man. Mr. Ohio was even snapping pictures at one point. They seem pretty harmless, but there's something about them, man... I don't know. Can't put my finger on it, but something just isn't right."

And that was when Claude understood. This wasn't Berger finding something crazy or indecent to jerk Claude out of his depressive rut. This was Berger, the Tribe's leader, worried about something that might be a threat to his little flowers. Claude didn't get to see this side of him often, but he recognized it just the same - it was the side of Berger that Woof called his "George side." And that side of him was concerned about this couple and wanted Claude's support to find out what they were all about. Well, this was something he could do. He and Berger had played out variations of this scenario with tourist after tourist after tourist. Feeling his own wicked streak waken to match Berger's, he nodded to show he understood. When he saw Berger's answering smirk, he placed one gentle kiss against the other boy's temple, then separated from Berger and moved to approach the bench from the front, leaving the younger boy to approach from the back.

As he walked, he took in the couple's appearance. They were older, maybe his parents' age, maybe even a little older than that. The man was skinny, a little twitchy. He looked like a clerk, actually, with a constantly pinched expression to his face, like he needed to squint even with those coke-bottle glasses. The woman was... stately, even beautiful in an unconventional sort of way. Her silver hair was elegantly coiffed into curls and she wore long white gloves and a silk dress under her blue wool coat. She had one arm wrapped around her husband's as she leaned close to him and murmured soft words into his ear. Claude was forcibly reminded of his mother while watching her.

Once he got within ten feet, she seemed to notice him and looked up from her husband to turn her storm-blue eyes on Claude. Not to be deterred, he let a slightly wicked smile bloom on his face and said, "Hey, lady. Spare a quarter for the bench usage fee?"

She blinked those wide blue eyes at him and blushed, then turned her eyes back to her husband and whispered, "Hubert...?"

The man swallowed hard and tugged at his shirt collar. The poor guy looked like he was about to have a fit of apoplexy. Taking pity on him, Claude let his smile warm a touch, "Hey, it's cool, lady. It's a free park, I was just messing with you." Settling down on the bench on the other side of the woman, he draped an arm around her shoulders, "So, where are you two lovebirds from? Not from around here, that's for sure."

Clearing her throat, the woman answered in a husky alto voice that Claude secretly admitted did wonderfully naughty things to his libido. Even though she was far older than could interest him, Claude concluded that her husband was a lucky man for those eyes and that voice, alone. She said, "We're from Ohio. We're here for our honeymoon."

Smile widening, Claude poked the woman's husband in the shoulder and waggled his eyebrows, "Ah... so you're newlyweds, then! Isn't that great? Make love, not war! Because love is what it's all about, man, am I right?"

Hubert blushed even harder than his wife had and ducked his head into his coat collar. It took everything in Claude to not burst out laughing at the poor man. It didn't even much surprise him when his wife leapt to his defense, a snap to her voice that, again, reminded Claude of his mother, "Now that's just vulgar. There's no need for that kind of behavior."

At that Claude did laugh, "Oh boy, lady, did you pick the wrong place to honeymoon."

Lips pursing, the woman's eyes flashed, "You should show a little respect for your elders. Ohio or New York, it just isn't right to treat us with such disrespect."

Sensing Berger raring to jump in on the other side of the bench, Claude graciously allowed the responsibility for that answer to fall to the other boy. Berger settled down on the other side of Hubert and let his smile grow some teeth, "So I suppose an invitation to tonight's orgy wouldn't be too well received then, huh?"

Not having noticed his approach, the older couple jumped and whipped around to face him. By then his smile had settled into one of pure innocence. Claude didn't buy it for a minute, because Claude knew him better than that. Something about these two had woken Berger's protective instincts and he was ready to bloodlessly gut the pair at a moment's notice. This opening act was nothing. Hubert blushed a wildfire shade of red and turned to his wife, spluttering, "An o-o-o-or... M-M-Margaret?"

The woman raised one gloved hand to stroke her husband's cheek and gave him a smile of such gentle warmth that Claude was actually a little embarrassed at the teasing they'd been subjecting the couple to. At that smile, the man calmed and leaned into his wife's touch. That accomplished, the woman turned her flashing eyes back on Claude and demanded, "I'd like to know why you're treating us this way. We're just visitors from another-"

Before she could finish, Berger interjected, "...planet?"

She scowled as she whipped around to face him and bit out the word, "Gen-er-a-tion," in clipped tones before continuing, "We've never done anything to you."

Berger at least had the good grace to look a little sheepish at that, "To be honest, lady? You've been in the park spying on my Tribe for the last few days and your little bookworm of a husband has been taking an awful lot of pictures. It's making me a little edgy."

At the younger man's explanation, Margaret seemed to reevaluate the situation and her expression softened, "You thought we were here to do your friends harm?" Berger just shrugged. That soft smile again alighted on Margaret's face as she reached across her husband to pat Berger's cheek in the same way, "And aren't you just the most darling thing ever?" Before Berger had a chance to react, she'd turned to give Claude the same treatment, "And you were worried, too, cupcake?"

Claude looked up to find Berger nearly in stitches as he mouthed the word "cupcake" over and over. He sighed. Looked like he'd just acquired a new nickname... Forcing his attention back on Margaret, he shrugged, "When Berger worries, it's usually for a reason. It doesn't happen often, so when it does, the whole Tribe pays attention. I'm no exception."

Margaret nodded, a thoughtful smile on her face. Finally, her eyebrows both shot up into her hairline as though she'd had some epiphany. All but bouncing in her excitement, she fluttered a hand in the air, "Oh, oh Hubert! I think you were right!" Turning back to Claude, eyes shining, she asked, "I'm sorry to be so blunt, but I need to ask. Are you... are you both... Are you hippies?"

Berger snorted and rolled his eyes. No wonder. Claude privately thought that it would have been obvious that they were hippies, but maybe there weren't any in Ohio for them to compare to. Laughing softly, he nodded and spread his hands, "The whole Tribe, Maggie. Can I call you Maggie?"

So delighted was she by his response that Margaret just nodded distractedly as she turned to her husband, "Hubert, how exciting! It's a whole haggle of hippi!"

Berger caught Claude's eyes again and mouthed, "Hippi?" Claude just shook his head and gave Berger a pleading expression in response. He didn't know what it was about this couple that had set Berger off. Truth to tell, they looked awfully normal to him. And the fact that they were handling this so well - and with such apparent delight - was a point in their favor as far as Claude was concerned. He tried to wave Berger silent, but acted a moment too late. Berger was on his feet in front of the pair, a mischievous smirk on his face, "So instead of sitting over here playing the voyeurs, maybe you'd like to meet them?"

Hubert looked like he'd like to say no, seemed more like the kind of man who preferred sitting on the sidelines and letting life pass him by. Claude could sympathize. He'd been like that himself before meeting Berger and still was to a large extent. Margaret, on the other hand, leapt to her feet like a schoolgirl on Christmas morning, breathlessly answering Berger's question with an, "Oh, yes! We'd be delighted!"

Looking more comfortable with each passing second, Berger smiled gamely and offered the older woman his arm. She wrapped her own around his without hesitation, a glow to her cheeks and a smile in her eyes as she started expounding on her interest in the youthful counterculture and how she'd insisted that she and Hubert honeymoon either in New York or California for that very reason. She admired them for their sense of freedom, of willful abandon, and how they managed to maintain such contrary dedication to their cause at the same time. Listening to an older woman expound so eloquently about their virtues made Claude blush. He wasn't that special, had never been that special. Berger was the special one. Berger and Sheila, Jeanie, Dionne and Hud, even innocent little Crissy. They were the special ones. With a sigh for the inevitable, he waved Hubert off the bench and they followed meekly in their partners' footsteps.

By the time they'd reached the girls where they were sprawled out in the grass, they'd garnered a bit of attention. The rest of the Tribe slowly melted out of the wood to gather around and see what their leader had brought them. He introduced them as Margaret and Hubert, visiting from 1940s Ohio. Claude rolled his eyes at that one, but Margaret just continued to grin with delight as the rest of the Tribe stepped forward to introduce themselves in turn.

When they had finally all been introduced, Claude saw a calculating smirk enter Margaret's eyes and had to hold back a shiver. He knew that look. It was kin to one of Berger's and if that was any indication of what it represented, then it wouldn't lead to anything good. Claude stepped up next to Berger and wrapped an arm around the other boy's waist. Margaret watched the two for a moment, an unreadable expression on her face. Then she seemed to shake off the mood and return to her earlier expression of mischief. She said, "Since we're all friends, now, perhaps you would permit a question?" At the collective nod she received, she asked, "W-?" She paused a moment, then started again, "Wh-?" Finally, making a frustrated noise, she waved a hand to indicate Berger, and said simply, "Why?"

For a moment, no one reacted. There was so much that she could have meant by that statement. Why choose Berger as their leader? Why the tattered jeans? Why the bare chest even with autumn's bitter chill in the air? Why the attitude? There were so many things to choose from in that list. But there was something in the way that Margaret was now stroking Hubert's nearly bald head that finally clued him in to the real question and Claude couldn't help but smile when he finally caught on. Reaching up to ruffle Berger's wild, dark curls, he asked, "Why this?" At Margaret's nod, he laughed, "Why not, Maggie?"

The rest of the Tribe responded to that with howls of laughter. Hud stepped up from the back of the crowd to stand next to Hubert. Draping a hand around the poor man's shaking shoulders, he smirked, "You ask me why, Big Daddy? I like the feel of the long, silky strands caressing my skin." Turning to stroke a gentle hand down Margaret's cheek, he gave her a lascivious grin, "Don't you agree, little lady?"

The rest of the Tribe still laughing around them, Margaret turned to her husband and softly sighed. Taking a step closer, she turned his head to face her. Once she had his attention, she cupped his cheek again, "You see, Hubert?" Eyes shining, she said, "They do it for the sensual experience... because it feels good."

At that, Berger practically crowed with delight as he swung Claude into a tight embrace. Smirking up at the older boy, he replied, "Lady's got that right, that's for sure!" Smirking even more widely at the scowl now crossing Claude's face, he added, "I could use a little of that 'sensual experience,' right now. What do you say, Claudio?"

Scowl deepening, Claude rolled his eyes, "Berger, knock it off. We have guests. You could try to be a little more hospitable."

Berger gave him that same innocent look that had failed to impress him before, "But, Claudio... I invited them to the orgy. How much more hospitable can I be?"

At that point, Woof wandered over to whisper something in Berger's ear. Berger's grin stretched to epic proportions and he threw back his head and laughed. Claude's eyes narrowed, "Woof? What did you tell him?" When no answer was forthcoming from the Tribe's resident wild child, he poked Berger hard in the shoulder and asked again, "Berger? What did he say to you?"

Eyes full of mischievous glee, Berger pulled Claude flush up against him and pressed a smirking kiss to the corner of his lips. Claude refused to play along. Normally he was all for harassing tourists, but for some reason, this was leaving him feeling a little cold. They were a nice couple. He liked them. And his heart just wasn't really in this carefree tomfoolery today. It hadn't been in some time. Sensing that he wasn't going to be able to bully Claude into a better mood, Berger sighed and loosened his grip, "Our Shaman suggested that Mr. and Mrs. Mead might benefit from a 'hippie makeover.'" Waggling his eyebrows, he added, almost daring Claude to disagree, "I think it's a great idea."

Claude sighed, "Don't you think we should ask them first?"

Berger tilted his head to the side, for all intents and purposes appearing deep in thought, then laughed and said, "Nope!" Planting one last playful kiss on Claude's lips, he swung away from the older boy, gathered up Hubert and dragged him and the rest of the Tribe's male members off into the Park.

Margaret held up one hand after her husband, a worried frown on her face and a protest dying on her lips. After a moment, she lowered her hand and tucked it against her chest, looking more sad and forlorn than Claude had seen her all morning. Unable to resist such a look, he stepped closer and dropped an arm around her shoulders. Unconsciously, she leaned into him, tucking her head against his shoulder. Quietly, she whispered, "He... He'll be all right, won't he?"

Claude pressed a soft kiss to her silver curls and gave her a gentle squeeze, "He'll be fine. In spite of appearances, Berger's mostly harmless and he really does have the best of intentions."

Margaret snorted, pulled back to look impishly up at him, "Yes. And we all know what they say about those."

Claude couldn't help but laugh at the tartness in the woman's voice, "Lady, it's a shame you live in Ohio. You'd fit right in with us! You ready for a hippie makeover of your own?"

At that, the older woman unaccountably stiffened, a deep blush suffusing her features, "Oh, I... I couldn't. It just... It wouldn't be right. I... I should just wait for Hubert."

As though she sensed the older woman's sudden discomfiture, Jeanie stepped up to her other side and rested one gentle hand against her cheek, "Why so shy? Just a few minutes ago you were totally excited, grams. Now, your aura's all out of whack. What happened?"

Swallowing hard, the woman answered in a shaking whisper of a voice, "I... I don't like to get undressed in front of other people."

Watching her as intently as he was, Claude's eyes widened in sudden understanding and he let out a small, breathless, "Oh..." As Jeanie's eyes abruptly shifted to land on him, he gave her the most reassuring smile he could, "Jeanie, why don't you and the girls go find some clothes for her and let me talk to her alone? Maybe I can talk her around by the time you come back."

Eyes confused but ever-trusting, Jeanie replied, "OK, Claudio. We'll do that." Tossing him one last eyebrow-quirked look over her shoulder she then headed back to join the rest of the girls. Once in on the plan, Sheila turned her head to look worriedly back at him, too. He gave her the most reassuring smile that he could and waved her off with the others.

Once he and Margaret were alone, Claude let out a throaty laugh and shook his head, "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. You have one hell of a brass set, that is for damned sure." At Margaret's affronted look, he tipped her chin upwards and stroked one gentle finger down her throat, "You had me fooled for a while, but this gave you away. I think Berger may have figured you out, too. At least he knew something wasn't quite right. You have an explanation?"

The flush drained out of Margaret's cheeks leaving her complexion white as paper and the speed with which it happened had Claude grasping at her elbow to steady her. Mentally kicking himself, he led her over to the nearest bench and helped her sit down, murmuring whatever reassuring nonsense he could think of as they went. Eventually a hint of color returned to her cheeks and she grabbed at his hands, eyes a little wild, "He... he wouldn't say anything to Hubert, would he?" At Claude's stunned, open-mouthed look, her blush once again deepened and she ducked her head and added, "He... uh... he doesn't... he doesn't know."

Claude exploded with, "How the hell could he not know? I mean, this is your honeymoon, right? Wouldn't he have, I don't know! Wouldn't he have... noticed?" He could feel his voice getting slightly more high-pitched and hysterical with every word until he finally ended his embarrassed outpouring with a very unmanly squeak.

Seeing the younger boy so discomfited, however, seemed to give Margaret back some of her equanimity and she patted Claude's hand. Once he calmed, she pulled him down on the bench beside her. Quietly, she answered, "You may have noticed that Hubert is... well, he's a bit... inhibited."

Claude let out a soft snort, "And I think you just won the award for understatement of the year." Blushing hotly himself, he added, "So, I gather you two haven't exactly... um... consummated your relationship then... huh?"

Margaret shook her head, letting out a heavy sigh, "I'll admit to having hoped that the subject would never come up, what with Hubert's... intimacy issues."

Burying his face in his hands, Claude couldn't help the small, hysterical giggle that escaped. This was as bad as talking to his parents about sex - and somehow it was worse, because he'd never expected to be on the other end of the conversation! Finally he cleared his throat and sat back up, "How... Why...?" Making a frustrated noise, he waved a hand over her.

Smiling softly, "Why go through all this? How did I hide who I was? Why choose Hubert?" At Claude's mute nod, she smiled, "I went through all this because... well... I suppose you could say that it felt like I'd been born in the wrong body." Voice dropping into a quieter tone, she said, "I never once felt right about who I was, never felt comfortable in my own skin. Then, one night at school, as a cruel joke, I suppose, the other boys dressed me in women's clothing and locked me out of the dorm. I was forced to go to the Provost's office to get let back in." Her face relaxed into a soft smile, "I never thought I would have cause to be grateful to those awful little wretches... but I am. If not for them, I would never have understood." She raised her stormy blue eyes to meet Claude's, "Walking around campus that night with that soft skirt swirling around my legs and with my feet in heels... I'd never in my life felt so comfortable, so myself. That was when I finally understood."

Seeing that she had Claude's rapt attention, Margaret smiled softly and continued, "Of course, I wasn't ready to act on that knowledge at the time, but at least now things made sense. I graduated school, went on to college, got work in an office. I even dated a young woman for a time. I did anything that I could to make myself fit in with the life that was expected of me. And then I met Hubert. I... I did his taxes for him for several years. And after a time, he grew more comfortable around me, started talking to me the way he did to few others, with passion and bravery in his voice." Eyes shining, Margaret's whole demeanor softened, "And there was just something about him... I can't even put it into words."

But Claude... Claude could. Swallowing harshly, he said simply, "You love him."

Margaret raised a hand and patted his cheek with a grateful smile, "I suppose it does boil down to that, doesn't it? But I already knew that he could never love me as I appeared to be... so I decided to show him who I really was deep down inside. It took almost two years after I made the decision before I gathered up the courage to actually do it, but I eventually told him that I knew someone, a cousin, a friend - I don't even remember what I told him at the time - that I thought would be perfect for him and set him up on a blind date. And when he arrived... there I was dressed as you see me, adorned in a wig and with my former self but a memory. I was no longer Peter Brooks, CPA... now I was Margaret Ann Peters. And Hubert was smitten with me from the very first moment he set eyes on me. We dined and we danced and we talked into the wee hours of the morning like the oldest and best of friends... because, really... we were."

By this point, she was holding tightly to Claude's hand, eyes lost in the memory. Claude didn't dare even breathe too loudly, lest he interrupt. Eventually, she continued, "I had a few less than savory contacts in those days and they forged papers for me: a new birth certificate, social security card, I gather it wasn't that unusual a request. And it didn't take much convincing to get Hubert to agree to elope rather than have a huge ceremony... and here we are: in New York on our honeymoon." Quietly she added, "I hope to convince him to relocate here permanently. I like it here. Truly, I do. And a relocation would solve certain other... difficulties."

Patting her hand gently, Claude said, "So your fascination with us hippies...?"

Smiling sheepishly up at him as though she'd nearly forgotten he was there, Margaret said, "I admire you for your sense of freedom, your willfulness, the fact that you won't compromise who you are to conform to the masses. As you can imagine, I rather identify with it."

Claude raised her hand gently to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, "I imagine you can. If... if you'd had an opportunity to be with Hubert as yourself... would you have taken it?"

That impish twinkle finally reemerged in her eyes and she turned her hand to delicately pinch his cheek, "You mean like you and your young man?" At Claude's blush, she laughed and patted his cheek, "How could I not notice? He certainly isn't very... hmm... inhibited, is he?"

Laughing, Claude shook his head, "No, he certainly isn't that. But that's just part of who he is, you know? Nothing pins down George Berger. Nothing and no one." Eyes taking on a sad cast, he added, "I worry for him, you know? For what will happen to him when I'm gone."

Margaret's eyes narrowed, her voice turned sharp, "And why would you leave if you love him so much?"

Fishing a much creased and abused card out of his back pocket, he wordlessly handed it over. Once she'd read it, her eyes filled with a sheen of tears and she pulled him into a gentle embrace, "Oh, cupcake... I'm so sorry. Maybe you won't be called...?"

Pulling gently away, Claude shrugged. He took the card back and stuffed it back into his pocket, "I've known it was coming for a while. It's not like it's a surprise. Most of the men in the Tribe have one just like it - the price we pay for 'not conforming to the masses.' I just... for some reason, I think I will be called. I'll be called and I'll go... and I'll die. Somehow, I just know. And I can't shake that feeling no matter how hard I try. So, though I wish that I could stay... I don't think it's going to happen."

Having nothing she could say in response to that, Margaret cleared her throat and answered Claude's earlier question, "I think... I think that if I had the opportunity to be with Hubert, no secrets between us, I would welcome that as a rare gift. But in the end, I still don't think I could have been with him as Peter. In my heart, ever since I was a young child, I've always been Maggie. I couldn't have done it any other way. Peter was just as inhibited as Hubert - worse in many ways. Ultimately, I think it's why we were drawn to each other in the first place. And if it had been up to Peter... we would never have had each other."

During her little speech, Claude dragged his emotions back under control, "Well, Maggie... I'm feeling like a genie, today. So why don't we see what we can do about making at least one of our wishes come true?"

With a bright smile, he dragged her up off the bench and over to where the girls were waiting in respectful silence as they finished their talk. Crissy beamed as she bounced over to Margaret's side and wreathed her head in flowers before pressing a gentle kiss to her cheek and stepping back. Claude scanned the crowd while Margaret was distracted until his eyes landed on the woman he was looking for. If he was going to accomplish what he hoped, he would need an accomplice among the girls that he could trust, someone with an innate sense of empathy that could help him navigate the choppy waters that this had the potential to cause... someone who would understand the necessity of keeping some things secret until the time was right. Spotting her blond head in the crowd he made his way over and gently pulled her aside, whispered into her ear, "Jeanie... I'm going to try to work a miracle and I'm going to need your help to pull it off. Are you with me?"

Nearly breathless with excitement and the knowledge that she was needed, Jeanie beamed a smile up at him, "I'm all yours, Claudio... like always."

Looking from Jeanie's shining blue eyes to Margaret's stormy grey, Claude felt the clenched muscles in his chest relax just a fraction. He could do this. For Margaret, for Hubert... for Jeanie and her unborn child. For the Tribe. For Berger. He could work this one last miracle for them before he left. They needed it, this last bit of magic. And he could do it. He really could. Because these last days weren't his, they were theirs... and they deserved it. Smiling back down at Jeanie, he settled an arm around her shoulders and leaned in close, "First, I have to tell you a little secret about a boy named Peter who didn't want to grow up..."


Chibi Silliness...?

Claude: *twitch*

R-chan: *sigh* Didn't think so.

*chibi wanders off to go watch one of her two new movies* Hmm... Flashback or A Serious Person? Kiefer Sutherland + hippies... or Ben Roberts in a bit part? Decision, decisions... maybe I'll just watch both! :-D

Questions, comments, gefilte fish?

Mmm... gefilte fish... *_*

Nuriko: *twitch* Oh for the love of... You know what? I'm just not even gonna.

Coming Soon: Claude makes good on his promise and Margaret and Hubert make peace with each other.