I should know better. I really should. Don't post a story until the whole thing's finished. *sigh* I have learned my lesson. Thank you very much. Anyway, I found myself being more than a little affected by the recent rash of tragic suicides among GLBT youth and that theme kind of crept into the second part of this story. So, I'm just going to take a moment to say: Suicide is never the answer. As long as there is life, there is a chance for life to get better. That's all. *hugs for all*

Title: My Conviction
Fandom: Hair, the musical: 2009 Revival
Pairing: Berger/Claude, Claude/Sheila, Margaret/Hubert, Jeanie + Claude
Rating: PG-13 for some adult themes, heading into 'R' territory in part two.
Word Count: 12,919
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.))

Summary: Claude has all but given up on the idea that he will have a life to live now that he's received his draft card, but a chance encounter with an unusual pair of tourists convinces him to try to infuse one last bit of magic and hope into his Tribe before he is taken away from them for good.

October (Cripes... O_O) 1, 2010: It's about damned time, right? Sorry. People stopped talking to me and Hubert wouldn't talk at all. It was like pulling teeth, I tell you. O_O Then they were talking too much and all at once. We finally seem to have it sorted out though. ^_^

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and remember... comments and reviews are love!

My Conviction: Part 2
by Renee-chan

Claude left Margaret in Jeanie's more than capable hands with an admonition not to tell any of the other girls what he'd just told her. She'd been understanding, more than even he would have given her credit for, and had just gently shooed him off. Claude knew that he could trust her to look after Margaret. It was why he'd singled her out in the first place. Seeing her gently exasperated look as he'd wavered another moment before leaving made him smile. She might not realize it yet, but Jeanie already had all the skills she needed to be an excellent mother. Then again, she'd been mother to the entire Tribe for longer than he'd been part of it. He only hoped she would come to understand that for herself eventually. Brushing one gentle kiss against her cheek in thanks, he went off after Berger and Hubert.

It didn't take him long to find them. Hubert was thinner than just about everyone in the Tribe except Woof, who was much taller than he was. Since that was the case, they would have to buy him clothes. There was a thrift store not far from Washington Square Park that the Tribe often shopped at, being the least expensive in the area and used to catering to the tastes of the city's hippie crowd to boot. When Claude arrived, it was to find the other men arrayed around the store idly playing around in the racks. After a few pointed questions he found Berger, Hubert and Woof towards the back of the store in one of the nooks and crannies of the wall that passed for a try-on room. Poor Hubert looked absolutely terrified.

Sighing heavily, Claude stopped next to Berger and just raised an eyebrow. The younger man gave him an unsure but game smile and wrapped an arm around his waist, "Done so soon, Claudio?"

Claude rolled his eyes, "No. I left Margaret with the girls and came to check up on you. And it looks like it's a good thing that I did." At Berger's raised eyebrow, Claude sighed again, "Can't you see the poor man is petrified of you?"

Berger ducked his head and shrugged, "I didn't do anything."

Leaning over, Claude placed a soft kiss against Berger's temple, "I know you didn't. You never do. The thing is... some people just need gentler handling than others, Banana-Berger. And Hubert here needs very gentle handling."

Berger rolled his eyes, gave him a one-shouldered shrug that seemed to say, "Well if you think you can do better, why weren't you here to begin with?" Claude just smiled in response, pressed another kiss to Berger's temple and bumped him gently with his hip. Berger's eyes lit with understanding and giving Claude one last squeeze, he grabbed Woof's hand and took off into the store. Claude turned back to the terrified Hubert, "Sorry about that, man. He really doesn't mean any harm."

Hubert immediately shot back with, "Where's M-M-Margaret?"

Claude clapped him on the shoulder, a delighted grin on his face, "She's off with the girls getting herself all dolled up for you, man. Don't you think you owe her something of the same?"

The poor man went beat red all the way from his collar to his hairline and stammered something unintelligible. Claude just smiled and patted him on the back, "Easy there. You're going to give yourself an ulcer, Hubert. Come on. How about we step outside for a little and get you some fresh air? You look like you could use it."

Hubert nodded vigorously, looking like he would agree to just about anything if it would get him out of this store and away from Berger's insanity. Claude walked him outside and back across to the park. The older man seemed calmer once he was back outside, but he was still twitchy enough to make Claude want to jump out of his own skin. Eventually Claude put a hand on Hubert's shoulder and pleaded, "Hubert! You're killing me here. Just relax. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not going to rob you. Believe it or not, we just want to help you guys, OK?"

Taking in a deep breath, Hubert nodded then dropped down onto a nearby bench and hunched over, hands clasped firmly between his knees. The poor man looked so wretched that Claude's heart went out to him, "Hubert, why are you and Margaret here, hmm?"

Hubert looked up at him with an eyebrow quirked as though to ask, "Are you dumb? Margaret told you why we're here."

Claude let out a soft laugh as he sat down beside him on the bench, "I know Margaret said that you guys are on your honeymoon, but what exactly does that mean to you? I mean, Margaret obviously wanted to meet some hippies. And it seems like you just went along with that, but you must have had a reason for agreeing. Why would someone like you wander so far outside your comfort zone?"

Hubert sighed, eyes turning downward again. His response was so soft that Claude almost missed it, "I love her. She w-was always talking about how much she w-wanted to come to Manhattan, so..." He shrugged, "That's all, I suppose."

Claude leaned back on the bench, "Yeah. That's love for you. It makes you do all sorts of crazy things that you wouldn't normally even think of doing, doesn't it?" At Hubert's soft snort, Claude laughed, "It's kind of reassuring that that doesn't change with age, I guess."

Hubert mumbled something under his breath that sounded an awful lot like, "You ain't j-j-just whistling' Dixie."

Laughing, Claude clapped him on the shoulder, "So you do have a sense of humor! I like that in a man." At the resurgence of Hubert's intense blush, Claude just rolled his eyes, "Relax. You're a little old for me." When Hubert calmed down again, Claude decided to try a different tack, "Why don't you tell me how the two of you met?"

Though Claude wouldn't have thought it possible until he saw the man do it, Hubert hunched even further in on himself and muttered, "W-Why do you want to know?"

At that, Claude dropped his head into his hands and let out a small groan. This was just ridiculous. He had to do something to get the older man to open up to him or they'd never get anywhere. Letting out a weary sigh and leaving his head in his hands, Claude started to talk, "I was almost eighteen when I dropped out of school. Up until then, I'd been the perfect student, the perfect son. Everyone just knew I was going places. I was my high school's rising star... most likely to succeed and all that. I got straight 'A's. Hell, I even played on the varsity baseball team." Snorting softly, Claude turned an eye towards Hubert and smirked, "Not even Berger knows that."

Hubert swallowed hard, relaxed a fraction from his hunched posture, "W-with... With all that g-g-going for you, why d-did you drop out?"

Oh, thank G-d. Finally. Claude leaned back on the bench again, staring up at the canopy of autumn-hued leaves over their heads. Softly, he answered, "I felt like I was suffocating. I felt like I was trapped in my own mind, screaming and begging for someone to let me out, all the while knowing that no one could even hear me past the faade I'd put up. Every time I looked down the road to my future: college, medical school, a wife, two kids and a dog all living in a house in suburbia trapped behind a white picket fence... Jesus, I'd all but start hyperventilating. On the inside, I was dying, little by little, losing more of myself every day... and no one could see it behind the smile." Turning to look at Hubert, he raised an eyebrow, "I'll bet you know what that's like."

Hubert didn't answer verbally, just hunched his shoulders again and nodded miserably. Claude sighed, "Yeah. Thought so." Leaning in to look at the older man, Claude added, "I'll bet you're smart, smarter than most of the kids you grew up with. And you're a little on the scrawny side, so I'll bet you got beat up a lot, too. And I'll bet you spent a lot of Friday nights alone, huh?" At Hubert's second miserable nod, Claude sighed, "Thing is, Hubert, life isn't any easier for the people at the top. I may not have spent many Friday nights alone and I may not have been bullied... but life was no picnic for me in school, either."

Hubert finally turned to look at him, understanding and sympathy in the weight of his gaze, "Your p-p-parents?"

Nodding slowly, Claude said, "My father." Swallowing hard, he continued, "My mother just wants me to be happy and safe. I can't really fault her for that. But my father... I think he's way too aware that I'm his only chance. He doesn't have any other children, no brothers or sister, either. If I don't succeed, there's no one else after me to bring pride to our family name. And the more he tried to make me conform to a mold that I didn't fit, the more I rebelled. Dropping out may not have been the smartest decision as acts of rebellion go, but it was the only choice I felt I had." Smiling softly, he added, "And no matter how terrified I am of the consequences, I don't think I'd go back and change it, even if I could. Better to live for a year, as myself, finally able to breathe, than to live for 50 as a dead soul walking."

At that, Hubert actually smiled. Quietly he said, "I know exactly what you mean."

Claude blinked, then smiled, eyes dancing, "Hubert! You didn't stutter!" Before the other man could shut down again, Claude grasped his shoulder, "It's a good thing, man. Sorry I called you on it."

Hubert winced, "I j-just get so n-n-nervous..."

They sat in silence for a moment longer. It was Claude who eventually broke it, "When it's just you and Margaret... do you stutter then?"

At that, Hubert smiled, eyes softening as he shook his head, "I'm never n-n-nervous around Margaret."

With a gentle smile, Claude asked, "Now do you think you can tell me how you met?"

Hubert didn't even bother nodding, just quietly started to talk, most of the stutter gone from his voice as he lost himself in the memory, "It's... it's actually a little unusual." At Claude's encouraging nod, he said, "I'd been doing some freelance photography to m-make a little extra money. Things were tight back then. Anyway, I'd made enough that I had to claim it on my taxes. And I've never been all that great with money. Science makes sense. Photography makes s-sense. Money..." Wincing, he shook his head, "I just seem to have trouble holding onto it. A coworker of mine recommended his accountant to me, a Peter Brooks, said he was brilliant. He was supposed to be a real hotshot - the best. If anyone could figure out how to keep my money in my pocket and not the government's, it would be him. I figured I c-couldn't be any more embarrassed than I already was, so I'd go meet with him."

Relaxing a little more from his hunched posture, Hubert smiled, "It was like meeting my long-lost twin. We didn't look anything alike, but in spirit, we could have been brothers. He was shy, too, and smart. He really was as brilliant as my coworker had said. And he was so gentle, never made me feel nervous or threatened or like I didn't deserve his time. It was so nice to have someone to talk to that I was almost sorry when tax season was over."

"The next year, I couldn't wait for that season to start again. I was at his office as soon as I could be, just happy to get to spend time with him again, to be with someone who understood what it felt like not to belong. And I might be kidding myself, but I think that he was just as happy to see me as I was to see him," the wistful smile on Hubert's face was almost painful to see.

Claude, meanwhile, couldn't help a smile of his own. Interesting, indeed, that he'd asked how Hubert had met Margaret and instead got the story of how he met Peter. Most men would have just said that they'd been introduced by a friend, not given the entire story of how they'd met the friend that introduced them. That was beyond interesting...

Hubert continued, "Every year, it was the same thing. It felt like Christmas, better, really. Every year as tax season came around and I made my appointment to see Peter, it was like... it was like I was finally coming home. I'd never felt more comfortable around anyone else, never felt like I'd had a real friend until Peter. We would spend hours talking, sometimes, not about taxes, though. We'd talk about everything... everything we wished we could do, everything we wished we'd done." Eyes shuttering a little, he said, "We went on that way for a while, meeting every year to do my taxes. Then one year, it had to be almost ten years later, when I called to make my appointment, I was told that Peter wasn't in, that he'd taken a leave of absence from the firm. I... I p-p-panicked. He was the only friend I had and I just had this f-f-feeling like he was going to slip away from me and I'd never see him again." Voice dropping into a whisper, he added, "I wanted to kill myself."

Claude laid a gentle hand in support on the other man's shoulder, not wanting to interrupt, but moved by the pain in that quiet voice. He knew a little bit what that was like, too, to be in such despair that death seemed a preferable option. Fortunately, someone had knocked some sense into him before he'd done himself any harm. That someone had been Berger.

Finally, Hubert got himself back under control and picked up the tale, "That night, though, before I could decide to go through with anything, Peter called. I was so relieved, I think I actually cried. He said he'd known I would be calling and he hadn't wanted to worry me, but that all those talks we'd had had made him really think about what he wanted to do... about who he wanted to be. And he'd decided that didn't want to be Peter Brooks, CPA, anymore... and he was finally ready to take the next step in his life. He didn't want to leave me alone, though. He knew someone, a woman, that he thought I'd like. He wanted me to meet her. At that point, I'd have agreed to anything if he'd just say he was coming back, so I said I'd meet with her. I took down the address of the restaurant, got myself dressed and went."

At that point, Claude was ready to cry, himself. Jesus... all this time, he'd thought he had it hard. How much worse would it have been for him if he'd been as painfully shy as these two? How horrible would it have been to be teased, put down and tormented just for being who he was? How long would he have lasted under those circumstances? As strong and as popular as he was, even he almost hadn't survived being different on the inside. And if not for Berger and the Tribe, he still might not have. There but for the grace of G-d, go I... Feeling the need to say something, Claude asked quietly, "And that was Margaret...?"

At that, Hubert smiled - a true smile, brilliant like the sun, "And that was Margaret. I got to the restaurant, nervous all over again at the thought of meeting someone new, but I knew that Peter would never wish me harm, would never put me in a situation where I would be unhappy. She was sitting at the bar wearing a pale blue gown and long, white gloves. Her hair had been a deep brown, almost black, but now it was mostly silver and done up in an elegant little French twist. And she had the most amazing storm blue eyes - I know you've noticed, I've seen you looking at them." Claude smiled, eyes twinkling, as he shrugged.

Hubert's smile became pleased, as though daring Claude to admit that he was jealous of Hubert for having Margaret when he didn't. Seeing Claude ready to do no such thing but perhaps tempted to anyway, his smirk deepened, "The funny thing is... I'd never really noticed her eyes before. It was only then, offset by the color of her dress and with her make-up highlighting them that I noticed how beautiful they were..."

And when he raised his eyes to meet Claude's again, Claude got the distinct impression that those eyes were whispering a secret. Claude's eyes widened as his jaw slowly dropped, "You... you know."

Hubert smiled, shrugged, "I could never have admitted it before, but I can say it with certainty, now: I've loved Maggie from the moment I first laid eyes on her, from the very first time we talked. I know every line of her face, every nuance in her voice, every single one of her adorable mannerisms. How could I not know her when I saw her again?"

At that, Claude laughed out loud, "Oh dear G-d, what a pair you two are!" Still chuckling, he slapped a hand against his leg, "Looks like I'm going to get to work my miracle, after all... even if you've gone and done most of the work for me." As he arched an eyebrow at Hubert, the man at least had the decency to blush. Clapping the man on the shoulder, he said, "OK, so what's holding you back, man? Why not tell her that you know?"

The speed with which that wildfire blush raced across the older man's face was impressive. Finally, in a breathless whisper, Hubert stammered out, "I... I... I c-c-c-can't do... I d-d-d-don't know... I've n-n-n-never..."

Claude's eyes widened as he started silently swearing to himself. Oh no... not again... Groaning, he dropped his head into his hands, "How the hell did your generation ever manage to produce mine? Do none of you know anything about sex?" Before Hubert had a chance to pass out at how blunt he'd just been, Claude waved it off, "Never mind. It doesn't matter." Meeting Hubert's eyes head on, Claude asked, "Has it ever occurred to you that it doesn't have to be about sex? It's about love, man. She loved you so much that she changed everything about herself for a chance to be with you. And the crop she reaped from that is living in constant fear that you'll find out and reject her for it. If you really love her, don't you owe it to her to take that burden from her?"

Hubert's mouth dropped open, "I... I never th-th-thought about it like that."

Claude sighed, "No. No, of course, you didn't." Rubbing a hand over his face, he muttered, "Damned repressed adults." Sensing Hubert's eyes boring into him, he turned back to look at him, "What?"

Hubert's blush deepened, but his eyes took on a calculating look. He didn't say anything, just continued to stare. Finally, Claude leaned back, edging away from him on the bench, "OK... now you're weirding me out. What the hell, man?"

Hubert just continued to stare. Eventually, he said, slowly and calculatingly, "Y-You... You have a male lover."

Claude's eyes widened and he started to sweat. Before Hubert could even get the question out, he broke, jerking up off the bench and holding his hands out in a warding posture as he backed away a few paces, "Oh, no. Oh, hell no, man. No way."

Hubert stood up, advanced a pace towards Claude, "W-Why not?"

Claude stared, felt an irrational giggle coming on and desperately tried to head it off, "I just... Shit, man, you're twice my age! At least! I can't... I can't teach you about sex!" And there was that unmanly squeaking again. Damn it.

Hubert 's face fell and he slumped, "O-o-okay. I'm s-s-sorry for asking. I j-just thought..."

Claude let out a small whimper, "No... no, I'm sorry. I just... Hell, I don't even know why I'm embarrassed. You really want...?"

The speed with which Hubert's hopeful eyes locked on his was frightening. The quick nodding and the pleading in his face that followed it nearly did Claude in. In that moment he was forcibly reminded of Woof. Wait... Woof... Berger! Yes! He could foist this off on Berger! Eyeing the hopeful yet mortified eyes of a man who'd already endured far too much, Claude slumped. No. He couldn't hand Hubert over to Berger for that kind of a talk. The poor man would end up scared off sex for the rest of his life.

Hubert took another step closer, eyes earnest, "I... I want to give her everything she wants, everything she deserves from a husband. But the last thing I want to do is hurt her. Ever. Please."

And that did it. Letting out a soft moan, Claude dropped his head into his hands and rubbed them against his face. After a few moments, he briskly slapped his hands twice against his cheeks and straightened, "OK. OK. I'll do it. But afterwards, you will let Berger dress you up without a fuss and you will stop acting like a terrified little mouse every time one of the Tribe approaches you. I get the feeling you're going to be spending some time with us while you're here and to be honest... my nerves can't handle your nerves. Agreed?"

Hubert looked like he might agree to anything as long as Claude agreed to help him. He nodded vigorously. Claude sighed, "I can not believe I'm actually doing this." Sitting back down on the bench, Claude dropped his head into his hands and took a deep breath. When Hubert settled back down next to him, Claude lifted his head, "OK. Why don't we start at the beginning. Do you at least know about sex between a man and a woman?" At Hubert's blush and miserable look, Claude whimpered, "OK. OK. Why don't we start there, then? It may never apply to you, but it never hurts to know the basics." At Hubert's hopeful look, Claude fought off the urge to whimper again, Jesus... this is gonna take a while.

As the sun was setting over Washington Square Park, Claude was forced to admit that that hadn't been as bad as he'd feared. Hubert was at least an attentive student and generally seemed to pick things up on the first go round. Still... if Claude never had to do that again, ever, it would be way too soon. He'd left Hubert in Berger and Woof's hands, admonishing Woof to keep an eye on the situation and not let Berger get too out of control. He just needed to get out of there for a while. Hell... after that talk, what he really wanted was to take Berger with him and put his lecture into practice, but the other man was so excited about getting to dress Hubert up like a hippie that Claude didn't want to take that away from him. Some things were just more important. So, instead, he wandered back over to the other side of the park to check on Maggie and the girls.

When he got there, it was to an find an awesome sight. The girls were sitting in a circle in their usual clearing, relaxing and sharing a few joints. And sitting between Dionne and Crissy, animatedly talking and gesturing at Sheila, was a new addition to the Tribe. One of the girls stood up from the circle and made her waddling way over to him, "Hey, Claudio."

Claude smiled as he pulled Jeanie to him in a gentle embrace and pressed a kiss to her temple, "Hey yourself, Jeanie. I see she cooperated."

Jeanie laughed as she melted against him, "Took a little convincing, but once I got her alone and told her that I knew, she relaxed and got into the spirit of it. We actually had a lot of fun finding her clothes. And you know what? It suits her, Claudio. She really does fit right in with us. Not just on the outside." Lifting a long-fingered hand to rest against his chest, Jeanie smiled softly, "In here, man. It's karma. She belongs with us, Claudio."

Squeezing her gently, Claude beamed a smile at her, "I'm glad. I like her. Hubert, too. I really do. They deserve a little happiness, don't you think?"

Nodding vigorously, Jeanie's smile widened. She poked him in the shoulder, "Speaking of which, how did things go with Hubert? I notice he's not with you."

Claude shook his head, "Unexpectedly, Jeanie. They went unexpectedly." At her raised eyebrow, he laughed, "He already knew, Jeanie. He's known since the first time they 'met.' How's that for a kick in the ass?"

Jeanie giggled, then quickly turned her face into his shoulder to stifle it as Margaret turned their way. Seeing Claude standing there, her eyes widened, her hands fluttered and she immediately got up to head over. Almost breathless with her own excitement, she stopped several paces from the two of them and clasped her hands together, "Where's Hubert?"

Claude just shook his head and smirked, "First things first, little lady." Lifting his free hand he spun his finger in a little circle, indicating that she should spin for him. Blushing slightly, she did so. They'd done well by her. They really had. She was wearing a loose white peasant top with sapphire blue and jade green embroidering on the neck and sleeves - Claude recognized it as one of Bourle's - and a loose, flowing tie-dyed skirt in various hues of blue. She had a soft pair of moccasins on her feet and her hair had been let down from its pins to float loose about her head, adorned only with the flowers Crissy had placed there earlier. And, of course, Sheila had dug out one of her many oversized wooden peace signs for her to wear around her neck. And best of all, she seemed to have a soft glow about her... a sense of freedom and self-confidence that had been lacking before. She was beautiful.

Letting go of Jeanie, Claude took a step closer and wrapped a gentle arm around the older woman's waist. Pulling her slowly up against him, he leaned closer. Smirking as her breathing sped up, he pressed a soft kiss to each cheekbone and another to her lips. Smiling down at her, he said, "You are one lovely lady, Margaret Mead. The Tribe did right by you and I'm glad."

Margaret stared up at him for another minute before blushing and pushing him away, "Oh, you! You're incorrigible! I'm twice your age! Beast!" And yet in spite of her words, Claude could see that he'd made her happy with the attention - embarrassed maybe, but happy.

The rest of the girls laughed, gathering close around their wandering Aquarius to steal their own kisses. Feeling indulgent tonight and freer than usual, Claude obliged. Eventually Sheila stepped up to him and wrapped her slender arms around him, turning her face up for her own kiss. Indulging her more thoroughly than any of the others, Claude let the rest of the pain and fear of the last few weeks just wash away. He was with his Tribe, the people he loved. He was helping someone, doing a good thing. That was all that mattered right now.

When he and Sheila reluctantly let the kiss go, she said, "I'm glad to see you so relaxed, Claude. Really glad." Unspoken was the cause of his earlier stress. Not even Sheila wanted to jinx the moment by bringing that up. Quirking an eyebrow at him, she added, "But I can't help but think I'm missing something. You're in on it. Jeanie's in on it. I'm not sure about Berger and Woof - actually, I'm never sure about Berger and Woof." Smiling hopefully up at him, she asked, "Will you let me in on the game?"

Pressing another kiss to her soft lips, Claude, nonetheless, shook his head, "Sorry, Sheila. It isn't my secret to tell. But if I don't miss my guess, you'll find out soon enough, anyway."

And as if those words had been a summons, Berger and the rest of the men arrived, announced by their Leader's boisterous call, "Oh ladies - and Claude - your men have arrived! The orgy can now commence!"

As one, they all turned to look. And there was Hubert. This Hubert, however, was transformed, not just in body, but in mind as well. Berger had dressed him carefully and with great consideration. He wore a pair of bellbottomed jeans, artfully torn and patched like the rest of them. He had on a soft, flowing green poet's shirt, unbuttoned to halfway down his chest. Over the shirt he had on a fringed, black suede jacket that could have been the younger brother of the one Berger was wearing. On his feet were a pair of black suede boots and he wore a beaded headband similar to Claude's, but in hues of green and blue.

Margaret let out a small gasp from behind him and Claude turned just in time to catch her clutching her hands to her chest, eyes round with delight as she breathed out, "Oh... Hubert..."

Hud leaned down and whispered something in Hubert's ear, then gave the older man a nudge to send him in Margaret's direction. Hubert didn't need to be told twice. He walked over to Margaret, fringe swirling around him as he moved, making him seem larger and somehow more confident - or maybe that last was thanks to the look in his eyes. Margaret was entranced with him. When he reached her, he looked back towards Hud who smiled and waved him on. He turned back to Margaret and in a voice barely loud enough to carry five feet away said, "Maggie... you look just as lovely as the day I met you - more so, in fact. I am so proud and so happy to be your husband. My life would be so empty without you. You're my best friend. You always have been and you always will be. Nothing could ever take that away. Nothing could ever make me love you less." Wrapping one arm around her waist to pull her close and lifting the other to cup her cheek, he asked gently, "So... is there anything that you want to tell me?"

At that, Margaret's breath caught and she turned to look at Claude, fear plain as day spread across her features. Claude just gave her an encouraging smile, "What more reassurance do you need than that, Maggie? Remember? All you need is love... Love, man."

As he spoke those words, he felt Berger slip up behind him and wrap his arms around his waist. Nuzzling his face into Claude's neck, he gave the join of his shoulder a gentle nip. Claude reached back behind him to bury his hand in Berger's thick, dark curls, sighing softly in pleasure. This was what he'd wanted. This was what he'd needed, what he'd been denying himself the last few days out of fear. No more. If he only had another month, another week, another day... this was what he wanted. Turning his head, he caught Berger's lips with his own, exchanging one of those soft, leisurely kisses with the other boy that Berger openly disdained, yet secretly loved. When he turned back, he smiled at Maggie and Hubert and raised an eyebrow.

Emboldened by their performance, Maggie turned back to Hubert and nodded, "There... there is something I've been wanting to tell you, Hubert. It's... it's about your friend Peter." Seeing Hubert doing nothing but smiling encouragingly, Maggie took in a deep breath and let her voice drop back into its natural range, "I... I am your friend Peter." Then blushing wildly and shaking in anxiety, she buried her head in Hubert's chest.

There wasn't a single sound amongst the rest of the Tribe. No one moved, they hardly dared even breath. It was as though the entire world had paused, waiting in desperation for Hubert's answer to Margaret's admission.

Hubert tucked a gentle finger under Margaret's chin and slowly lifted her face so she could meet his eyes. Once she did, he slid that hand into the curls at the side of her face, then around to cup the back of her head. Gently pulling her towards him, he sealed their lips together in a soft, passionate kiss. When they parted, he smiled down at her, eyes still shining with love, "Thank you for finally telling me, Maggie. I'm honored that you trust me that much." His lips sliding into a soft smirk, he placed another kiss on the tip of her nose, "And I still don't love you any less. How could I? I loved you long before I ever met 'Margaret.' I just didn't have the courage to admit it until now."

Maggie let out a breathless little cry of pure joy and threw her arms around Hubert's neck, quietly sobbing in her relief. Hubert soothed her, murmuring gentle words of love into her ear, her neck, her cheek, whatever part of her was within reach. When she finally calmed, he leaned forward to claim another kiss, deeper, lingering this time. Watching the pair, Berger smirked against Claude's neck, "I think I recognize a familiar style and technique, there, Claudio. What exactly were the two of you up to when you were having your little chat?"

Claude blushed and ducked his head with a soft groan, "It was horrible, Berger. He didn't know anything. He didn't know... he just... it was painful, OK? And he was trying to understand, he really was, he just... how do you explain to someone how to kiss when they've never done it before?"

Berger let out a delighted huff of a laugh, "You let him kiss you, didn't you, cupcake?"

Letting out another groan, Claude turned in Berger's embrace to meet the other man's dancing eyes, "I knew it. I just knew that nickname was going to stick." Berger just waggled his eyebrows, eyes dancing. Claude sighed, "Yeah, I let him kiss me. Just to help him get the hang of it. And that's all. Nothing else. OK?"

Berger laughed, pulled Claude flush up against him and started pressing nipping kisses up the column of his neck, "Good. Because, tonight this..." and with that word, he let his hands slide downward to cup the curves of Claude's ass and pull him closer still, "...is mine." Grinning possessively into Claude's eyes, he said, "OK?"

Smirking right back, Claude pulled Berger's head down for another kiss, deeper, probing, more aggressive this time. When they parted, panting, for air, Claude let his smile soften, "OK, Sexy-Berger. OK." And it was OK. Maggie and Hubert were going to be fine. They would stay with the Tribe that week, learning what they needed about them and about each other. The Tribe would take care of them and they would take care of the Tribe. Claude planned to have a talk with Maggie, in particular, about helping to look out for Berger after he was gone, but not now. Not now, with the moon full and shining overhead and the man he loved shouting promises of passion at him with his eyes. There would be time enough for that later... tomorrow.

So, when Berger took advantage of his grip to lift the older boy off the ground, Claude wrapped his legs around Berger's waist and just let it happen. And it was then that he noticed Sheila and Jeanie, both staring after them with wistful smiles on their faces. He was used to seeing Jeanie that way, had long since developed a selective blindness to it - he'd had to - but seeing Sheila wearing that same look... Mood dampening, he whispered into Berger's ear, "Banana-Berger... Sheila..."

Berger paused, and Claude could feel the fight he was having with himself over the issue, trying to decide between what he wanted and what was right. Claude could understand - he was having the same one. Finally, Berger husked out, "Do... do you want her? Do you want her to come with us?"

Staring across the small gap separating them from the other member of their threesome, Claude felt his heart start to thunder in his ears. He... tonight wasn't supposed to be for him. It was supposed to be for them... for the Tribe, for Sheila. And she wanted to come with them. He could almost feel the wave of her yearning as she stared at them, blue eyes boring into his. And he found that, for once, the answer to that yearning was "No." A fine trembling starting at his core and spread to the rest of his limbs as he struggled to put the conflicting need into words.

Rescue came from an unlikely source. Jeanie put a hand on Sheila's shoulder and leaned close to whisper in her ear. Sheila started, eyes flashing initially at the intrusion, but eventually, as she listened to Jeanie's words, her eyes softened. When she raised them back up to meet Claude's, there was gentle understanding and forgiveness in them. She mouthed one gentle word, "Go," then turned away to walk off with Jeanie.

Heart swelling with love and relief and feeling a little less like a heel for wanting what he did, Claude tightened his grip around Berger and whispered his answer into the younger boy's ear, "No. No, I don't want Sheila. Tonight I want you. Only you, Sexy-Berger. You and me. Just you and me." He was babbling, he knew, but he couldn't seem to stop.

But Berger understood, he always seemed to, and he leaned up to stop Claude's rush of words with a gentle kiss, "OK, Claudio. Just you and me. I get it. I want it, too."

With those words, Claude all but melted in his relief and he nodded, "OK. OK." Berger then beamed a smile up at him and finished carting him off into the woods. That in itself was a little unusual, for the Tribe leader to seek out privacy for a tryst... but then again, Claude understood that, too. There was a rift between them that needed healing before he left and they needed that privacy for it. And Berger, in spite of frequent proof to the contrary, was just as sensitive to the moods of his Tribe as Jeanie. Like always, he knew what Claude needed before he even knew he needed it. So, he found them a spot, secluded from the others, and laid Claude down in the soft bed of leaves and gave him what he needed, for as long as he needed it.

And it was then that Claude realized that he wasn't going to give this up, not without a fight. If he couldn't stay, then he would make damned sure that he came back. No matter what he had to endure, no matter who he had to kill... he would make sure that he came back. If Peter could change his entire self, his entire being to be with Hubert, then Claude could do this. He would learn to fight and he would become the best, would kill more Viet Cong than anyone else, if it meant he could come home to Berger. Because more than anyone, more than Sheila, even, he needed Berger. He needed him just as badly as Berger needed him. And in that moment, as they lay together in the soft autumn leaves, Claude silently made him that promise - that someday, they would be together, just like Hubert and Maggie, no matter what it took. And just before he fell asleep, he finally said those words that he'd held back ever since he'd met the other boy, whispering them into the fall of Berger's dark curls, "I love you, Berger..."

And it might have been his imagination, but mere moments later, he thought he heard Berger whisper in response, "Love you, too, Claudio... Always."

Part 1 | Part 2


And now for some chibi silliness!

Claude: *twitch* Haven't you had enough of that in your Sims game?

R-chan: *sweatdrop* What are you complaining about? You're finally getting some on a regular basis. Not only that, but it leaked! Into the fic! O_O

Berger: *smirk* Boy, oh boy, did it ever... *_*

Claude: *twitch* Well... I suppose you do have a point there...

R-chan: *pleased grin* See? Told you.

Questions, comments, Mutsu apples?

What? We're going out East tomorrow to hit the farmstands. I'm excited. ^_^

Nuriko: *twitch* I don't care. If they get sex before we get sex, I'm gonna be awful pissed. That's all I'm saying.

R-chan: *blush* *slightly hysterical* No one's getting any sex!

Berger: *smirk, cuddles a Claude* Speak for yourself.

R-chan: *more hysterical* You're not helping any!

Nuriko: *laughs* You know... I think they're starting to grow on me.