OK. Last night, elin2002 tells me that she rented Priscilla and Eloise at the Plaza from the library. This morning, I wake up to a FB message from her that she was pounced by an Eloise bunny last night and has five pages so far. As I was half asleep reading this... she woke up a bunny. And holy flying fuck, did she wake it up with a vengeance. I've been pushing this one off for over a year because I just didn't want to deal with it because I couldn't see a way to make it work. *sweatdrop* So much for that.
So... yeah. Here we are. And apparently my first "Five Times" story. Enjoy?
Title: Five Times Berger Saw Him...
Fandom: Hair, the musical: 2009 Revival x Eloise (Movie-verse)
Pairing: Claude/Berger, Bill/Rachel, Berger + Bill
Rating: G? PG? Eh, a peck on the lips is involved. Call it what you will.
Word Count: 4,683
Warnings: Slash, angst, gooey sweetness
Disclaimer: Neither the musical, the movies, the books 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 and the Eloise books by Kay Thompson.))
Summary: The first time Berger saw him it was Spring, and he was certain that he was having a flashback.
June 4, 2011: So, I also need to give a nod to Gavin Creel here. He was the initial thing that prodded this bunny into existence, mainly the fact that he played both Claude in Hair and Bill in Eloise and my mind just loves to play with juxtaposing things like that. So... yeah.
Enjoy and please remember... comments and reviews are love!
Five Times Berger Saw Him... and One Time He Saw Her
The first time Berger saw him it was Spring, and he was certain that he was having a flashback. The way the bright April sun glinted off golden hair, the way those warm, earth-brown eyes sparkled, the wide spread of that perfect smile... they couldn't be mistaken for anyone else. Berger had seen them so often in other flashbacks, they haunted his dreams every night and there was no way that he could miss them now in the bright spring sunlight. In a way, this vision was more like an old friend than any of his old friends ever were and he smiled to see it go by, even waved. It didn't even bother him when he was ignored - flashbacks didn't usually wave back, after all.
It wasn't until much later when he came down that he realized he'd been high when he had that flashback... and he didn't usually have flashbacks when high.
The second time Berger saw him it was Summer. The air had grown heavy with the pregnant weight of heat and humidity, and Berger felt languid and lazy along with it, thought for sure that this time it was a mirage. Yes, that would be just like him, to appear along with the haze of summer, teasing Berger in the August heat, taunting him with his mere presence, then disappearing like so much smoke when Berger turned to get a better look at him. He didn't dare come closer, though, didn't dare reach out and touch, for fear that he would touch nothing but air. So he stayed away, stayed hidden, stayed safe. He had no desire to bring these sightings, however rare, to an end.
It wasn't until much later when the cold bite of evening chill permeated the air that Berger realized that it hadn't been quite hot enough yet for a mirage... it was only June.
The third time Berger saw him it was Fall and he felt like he'd been transported back in time. Berger was in the park, where he often was this time of day and this time of year. He wasn't high, not yet, had felt the desire for a moment of clarity within himself as the Earth grew colder, started settling down for the winter. He was sprawled in the grass, staring up at the white, puffy clouds as they drifted by overhead, idly trying to identify ones that looked like his long lost friends when he heard it. A muffled sob.
Before he even sat up, he knew it would be his vision making that heartbroken noise... but how could that be when his dreams, his flashbacks, his illusory mirages had never before uttered a sound?
Berger pushed himself upright, braced his weight on his hands as he scanned the park, tried to identify the source of that soft crying. And there he was, on a bench, not thirty feet away from where Berger had been sprawled.
And Berger could no more resist him now than he could thirty-five years ago. He got up from the ground, dusted off his hands, then hesitated, shifting from foot to foot as he warred within himself over what to do. He needed to go to him, take that vision in his arms and kiss away the pain in those heartbroken cries. But what would happen if he did? Experience told him that his vision would disappear like so much smoke, leaving his arms empty and his heart more empty still. Was that a risk he was willing to take?
Berger moved over to the bench in question, startled beyond belief that the vision remained, unchanged. As he got closer, though, he started to notice... differences. Berger frowned. His vision had golden hair, yes, but it was short, neatly trimmed... and just a hair darker than his memory painted it. He was dressed in black slacks, a white shirt, black waistcoat and a red bow tie... almost a tuxedo, minus the jacket. That certainly didn't fit. More than that, he really couldn't tell, with the man's face buried in his hands the way it was. But those hands... those hands were the same as Berger remembered. Long-fingered and graceful, like those of a musician, they, at least, were exactly right.
Berger sat down beside him, thrilled to feel the heat of the other man's body as he settled closer. He lifted his right hand, slowly stretched it out to the point where it would have slid into the other man's hair... if he really were his vision. That was where Berger froze, uncertain. If he closed that remaining distance, allowed skin to touch skin, this vision would end, leave him sitting on this bench alone. And he couldn't... he couldn't... his vision had never allowed him this close before. He didn't dare reach for more, for fear that what little he'd been given would be taken away.
Before Berger could make up his mind to touch or not, the other man seemed to sense Berger's presence, raised his head. Those brown eyes were red from crying, the eyelids underneath bruised and puffy, as though he hadn't been sleeping well, those full lips were dry, chapped as though they'd been gnawed on... and he was beautiful, just as beautiful as Berger remembered.
His heart thundering in his chest, Berger let his hand travel the rest of that distance, slid around to cup the back of the other man's neck. The flesh was warm beneath his questing fingers, the pulse steady and sure, though fast. Berger let out a small sob of his own at that, relief flooding through him. The other man's breath hitched, caught up in his throat with the sob he couldn't quite contain. That was all Berger needed. He pulled his vision to him, wrapped his other arm around him, as well. He frowned as the other man resisted momentarily, pushed at Berger's chest to try to get away. His resistance didn't last long... then again, it never had. Moments later, he was clutching his fingers in the fringe of Berger's vest, tears soaking the denim shirt underneath, only the occasional mumble of a woman's name - Berger thought it might be 'Rachel' - interrupting the sobs. Berger ignored it, held the other man close to his heart, breathed him in and let memory carry him away.
Berger never did find out the man's name, didn't really want to know that it wasn't 'Claude', didn't want to know any more than he had to for fear that it would destroy the illusion of his vision... it was all he had left. But he couldn't help himself. They'd parted awkwardly that day, the other man beyond embarrassed to have been witnessed in that state by a total stranger. Berger wanted to tell him, to explain that they weren't strangers, that Berger knew him better than anyone ever had or ever could, that they were bound together by some mystical fate that would never let them be parted... but at the banked grief in the younger man's eyes, the words dried up on Berger's tongue, withered and died. His vision didn't need Berger's grief, Berger's needs added to his own. So, Berger kept silent, held his piece... and waited.
The fourth time Berger saw him, it was Winter. With the chill that had crept into his bones and set up lodging in a way it never had when he'd been younger, Berger thought he might be a fever dream. The younger man saw him first, eyes lit up with dim recognition as they took in the huddled form curled up in the alley beside the Plaza Hotel. He approached slowly, as though he were the one afraid that Berger might disappear if he reached out to touch. Berger watched through half-lidded eyes as the younger man drew closer, tried to focus through the internal heat making his head swim.
When a mere four feet of distance separated them, it all fell apart as Berger broke into a spate of harsh coughing, his breath rattling in his chest in a most unsettling way.
The younger man moved faster after that, dropped to his knees beside Berger and lifted one of those long-fingered hands to touch Berger's forehead. The cool touch was soothing and Berger turned, pressed his face into it and smiled. It had been so long... The younger man frowned, clearly displeased with what he'd felt when he touched Berger's head, but uncertain what to do about it. He opened his mouth to talk, but before he got even one word out, he was interrupted by his fairy companion.
Even feverish and confused as he was, Berger was sure there was something wrong with that thought. But he couldn't deny that his vision had a little pixie with him. She was bright eyed and had wispy blonde hair, little apples in her cheeks. Berger liked her on sight, recognized the glint of mischief in her eyes as kin to his own. He reached out a hand to her, wanted to see if she was real. He'd never met a fairy before...
Before they could touch, however, his vision pulled his fairy away from Berger with a frown. Berger let out a pleased little chuckle at the move, Jealous as always, eh, Claudio? He watched as they bickered for a moment, as the little fairy waved her arms expansively to support her point. Eventually the little pixie stormed off in a huff, loudly proclaiming that she was going to talk to a 'Nanny' about getting help. Berger snorted out a laugh. He didn't need help. He just needed his vision.
Reaching out, he caught at the other man's hand, gave it a brief tug. His vision turned his attention back to Berger, lightly squeezed his hand as he brought the other up to rest against Berger's forehead. It was perfect, if not for the frown resting on the other man's face. Berger didn't like that frown, wanted it gone, and for just a moment... he forgot that this vision of his wasn't real. He leaned forward, like he'd done so many times in the past, pressed a soft kiss into the corner of the other man's lips. At the first touch, his vision jerked, the frown disappearing in favor of an open-mouthed stare. Berger laughed, eyes dancing. Well. He could certainly work with that...
Berger leaned forward, determined to take advantage of that open mouth, but his vision's hand on his chest prevented him from closing that distance. The younger man was blushing hotly now, stammering out a thousand words that made no sense. Berger stopped trying to understand, just let the richness of that voice flow over him. Another difference. This voice was slightly higher in pitch, but full and rich in a way that Claude's had never quite been. Berger smiled, soft and tired, let his body droop against the younger man's. When arms closed reflexively around him, Berger snuggled into the warmth, murmured softly, "Claudio... Sing me a song."
The body wrapped around his froze for a moment, went stiff and hard beneath his cheek, then finally relaxed, started rocking Berger as though he were a child. Moments later, he began to sing a soft, soothing melody... an old melody. Berger recognized it, fought the tears that tried to fall at his vision's choice. The Sound of Silence... It had been Claude's favorite.
By the time his vision hit the second verse, Berger had turned his face into the other man's chest and, too exhausted to hold it back a moment longer, quietly started weeping.
They parted ways that time even more awkwardly than they had the first. It turned out that Berger's vision worked at the Plaza Hotel. His little pixie was a bright young girl of five with as much of a penchant for mischief as Berger had initially suspected. To put it mildly, she and Berger got along, as she had put it, "rawther well." They'd had a grand old time plotting adventures the entire two weeks that Berger was convalescing.
And after all that time... Berger now knew his vision's name. He'd tried to ignore, tried not to hear, but with so many people in and out that knew his vision in person, had worked with him for years, it was impossible not to know. His name wasn't Claude. Berger had known it wouldn't be, known that it was stupid to even hope that it was... but still he had. His vision's name was Bill. Just... Bill. What an ordinary name. Still, Berger couldn't deny that it was an ordinary name for an extraordinary person. Bill had nursed Berger through his illness - Berger, a perfect stranger whose only claim on him was that he had once done him a kindness. And what a way for that single kindness to be repaid! Bill had talked the owner of the hotel into letting Berger stay there, free of charge, until he was well, even arranged for a doctor to come and see him. (Berger later found out that Eloise had had a hand in that, as well, and by then knew her well enough to not even be surprised.) Bill had then temporarily moved into the suite with him to make sure that someone was on hand to take care of him until he was back on his feet. But, what now?
Berger was healthy, or as healthy as he was going to be. It was still Winter. Mr. Peabody wasn't eager to let a vagabond live in the hotel all winter long free of charge and Bill was even more reluctant to let Berger go back to a life on the streets when the worst of the season had yet to strike. So, they stood, awkwardly dancing around the subject of Berger's homeless state as Berger gathered the few belongings he had - the clothes on his back and a few gifts from Eloise - and prepared to leave.
Finally, Berger shook his head, huffed out a short laugh. Walking over to Bill, he took the other man's face in his hands and planted a gentle kiss on his lips... for old time's sake. It shut Bill up as well as it once had Claude. Berger smiled softly, brushed a thumb against Bill's now flushed cheek, then released him, gathered up his belongings and left. And if it amused him to no end that Eloise appeared just outside in the hallway to give him a high five as he went... well, he certainly wasn't going to tell.
The fifth time Berger saw him, it was all Eloise's fault. It was Spring again and Berger knew now that Bill was no vision, no illusion. Bill had spent half the winter searching for him after he left the hotel, fretting when he couldn't find him. Berger knew. He'd watched. But he hadn't wanted to be found, had needed to pull away to disentangle himself before he did something... inappropriate. Because Bill... Bill looked so much like Claude that it broke Berger's heart. He could have been Claude's long lost twin, separated in time by nearly four decades. And Berger missed Claude. He missed Claude like a severed limb, like the half of his soul that had been ripped away by a Viet Cong bullet in some jungle halfway across the planet thirty-five years ago. And Bill wasn't Claude. Except in looks he was nothing like Claude, really. Berger had spent the entire winter watching him, figuring out what made him tick.
Bill was young, barely into his twenties. Then again... Claude had been young, too, younger, in fact. So had Berger. So had they all.
Berger had known that Bill could sing, but he'd been right about the other man's hands, too. Bill was a musician. He played the piano. Berger had heard him and he was good. Claude hadn't had a musical bone in his body, couldn't carry a tune in a bucket with two hands and the assistance of his friends, but it used to amuse Berger to no end getting him to try. At least Claude had been good natured about it.
Bill was an actor, too. Well... he was an aspiring actor. Whether or not he was any good, Berger couldn't say. He didn't seem capable of lying, even to save his life, and what was acting but an elaborate set of lies used for the purpose of entertainment? Claude... Claude had been a consummate liar. He'd had most of the tourists of New York convinced that he was from England, had convinced some of the Tribe, too. He'd lied to his parents, often and with great creativity, had convinced them that he'd stayed in school for months after he dropped out. Berger had thought he'd been immune, the exception, the one person that Claude wouldn't lie to... but he'd been wrong on that count, too. Claude had even lied to Berger... had convinced him that he was going to stay. It wasn't until the next morning at the protest, when Berger had realized how he'd been deceived, had cursed and railed against the unfairness of it all, had called himself a thousand kinds of a fool for not realizing what Claude had planned, for not handcuffing himself to the other boy so he couldn't do something so stupid. But he had. Claude had done the dumbest, stupidest thing of all... and all because of this: of all the people Claude had lied to... he'd lied most convincingly to himself. He'd convinced himself that he wasn't needed, wasn't wanted... wasn't loved. And that was so far from the truth that to this day, it still broke Berger's heart.
So, Berger watched. He picked up on all the nuances of Bill's behavior, all the things that he could use to differentiate him from Claude. And it worked. Berger no longer thought of Bill as a vision of Claude. Bill was just... Bill. Only... that was a problem, too. Because Bill... Bill was who Claude could have been if he'd had parents who loved him and tried to understand him. Bill was who Claude could have been if he'd grown up in a time that was safe, free to pursue his dreams without the fear of death hanging over his head. Bill was who Claude could have been if he'd had all of his imperfections ironed out. Not that Berger wanted that. He'd loved every single one of Claude's imperfections and eccentricities... but now that he'd gotten to know Bill... he was falling a little bit in love with him, too. And that was bad.
And what was even worse was that Eloise, that little brat who Berger almost loved like a daughter... she knew. She'd been the one to help him spy on Bill all winter. And Eloise was a hopeless romantic. She wouldn't care that Berger was more than twice Bill's age. She wouldn't care that Bill didn't like men that way. She wouldn't care that Berger was half in love with Bill only because he looked so much like Claude. She was five. Those things didn't matter. So, Berger had to nip these plans of hers in the bud before it was too late.
So, when she had dragged Bill to Central Park, ostensibly because she just had to ride the Carousel today, and instead had dragged him to where she knew Berger would be, Berger had resignedly allowed himself to be found. And at the cascading relief and pleasure in Bill's eyes when he saw Berger... Berger nearly tossed all of his own plans to derail Eloise's. But, no. No, it wasn't what it looked like. Bill was a nurturer. He enjoyed taking care of people - it was what made him so good at his job. And he had taken care of Berger. The only reason he'd looked for Berger all winter - the only reason he was so pleased to see him now - was because he'd feared for what would happen to his charge once he was out from under Bill's care. It was nothing more than that, nothing more than Bill's innate kindness.
But it made Berger's stupid, old heart beat a little faster just the same.
Berger went with them to the carousel, helped Eloise pick out a suitably glamorous horse, then motioned Bill over to one of the benches so they could watch the girl... and have a little privacy. But once he had Bill alone, Berger had no idea what to say. Dropping his face into his hands, he rubbed at it in frustration. Finally, Bill broke the silence, his soft voice just as beautiful and rich as Berger remembered, "You're not the first, you know."
Berger froze, mind tripping over the myriad possibilities in that single sentence. Finally, he raised his head, met Bill's amused, yet resigned eyes. And the best he could come up with was, "Huh?"
Bill laughed, then, a slightly bitter laugh that reminded Berger far more of Claude than he liked. "Eloise... she likes to see her friends happy. And at five, 'happy' is synonymous with 'in love.' She's been trying to set me up with everyone from her mother's friends, to the maids, to Maggie - her favorite carriage-driver - to her Nanny and herself... and everyone else in between, since the day we met," he said. Bill ducked his head in a shrug, "Since she's been thus far unsuccessful, I guess she finally added together the fact that I'm a musician and an actor and decided to try a new tactic." At Berger's raised eyebrow and soft smirk, Bill smiled back, "You were just the latest to get caught in the crossfire, I'm afraid."
At the look on Bill's face, Berger let out a wild hoot of laughter, slapped the younger man on the back. It took him a full three minutes to calm back down - from the laughter, from the relief... from the disappointment. Still, he couldn't resist asking. Forcing his expression into one that Claude would have recognized all too well - and already been groaning in anticipation of whatever was coming - Berger waggled his eyebrows and nudged Bill with his shoulder, "So... is she right about why she's been unsuccessful?"
Bill gave him the same sour look that Claude would have, but the accompanying smack to the back of the head that Claude would have delivered was absent. Bill said firmly, "No. She isn't. I just..." His voice trailed off, his eyes assumed a melancholy cast and he looked away, suddenly couldn't meet Berger's eyes.
And that was when Berger put it together. He breathed out the word as softly as he could, as though it might somehow hurt the younger man less if said quietly, "Rachel..." Still, Bill winced, hunched his shoulders against the word as though it were a knife aimed directly at his heart. Protected now from the fear of getting too involved by the promise in that name, Berger slid an arm around Bill's shoulders, pulled him closer. "Tell me," he said.
Haltingly, full of sadness, Bill did. Rachel, it turned out, was the daughter of Mr. Peabody, the owner of the Plaza Hotel. She and Bill had been young together... had been young and in love together. And Bill had not fit Mr. Peabody's image of an appropriate match for his daughter. So he'd sent her away, ripped them apart with as much unreasoning finality as the draft had done for Berger and Claude. And just like Berger and Claude, the pain of that separation was as obvious now as it had been when it first happened over three years ago... likely still would be thirty-two years later. And Berger's heart broke, again, this time for Bill and Rachel.
By now, Eloise was done with her carousel ride and was watching them with a proud and expectant smile from several feet away. Berger laughed, said, "Well, you have to give her credit for being creative and persistent."
Bill groaned, elbowed Berger in the side - and if Berger's heart ached because that was so something Claude would have done, he kept it to himself - and said, "I do. With great frequency. Every time that creativity and persistence get me into trouble. Which, for the record, is far too often."
Their parting that time was not awkward, was far from it. It was comfortable, like the parting of old friends... or new friends as the case might be. Berger was still half in love with Bill, was even more in love with who he wanted Bill to be, but that was OK. He could live with that... could even be happy with it. It had been far too long since he'd had friends to care about. He intended to hold onto these.
The first time Berger saw her, it was Winter and he had no idea who she was... but it was easy enough to guess. The easy way she and Bill stood, arms wrapped around each other's waists, the way that Bill's eyes seemed lit from within by a glowing happiness that just wouldn't quit... And really, the way that Eloise was bouncing along in front of them like the person who had arranged for the cat to get the canary, a bowl of cream, a few dozen catnip toys and a huge cushion by the fireplace was a dead give-away.
This had to be Rachel. She was beautiful and her eyes shone with a kindness and love that easily matched that in Bill's. And the way Bill introduced her... it seemed like he was bringing the girl he loved home to meet his parents, desperately hoping for their approval. Only Berger wasn't Bill's father and they weren't in a home. They were in the middle of Central Park, huddled under the bridge that had become Berger's shelter from the snows of the season.
...But Berger felt like an honorary father. And when Eloise dropped down into his lap to strangle him with a hug, he felt like a grandfather, too. So he stood up, Eloise on his hip and pulled Rachel into a firm, back thumping hug, kissed her resoundingly on the cheek and beamed up at Bill, proclaimed loudly that it was about time Bill brought his girl home for Berger to meet... that Berger had been beginning to doubt that she was more than just an illusion.
Rachel was charmed, as taken by Berger as Eloise and Bill... and even more horrified than both when she found out that he lived out here... in the park... even over the winter. And the impressive harangue that she spewed forth when he insisted he was fine out here - and Bill immediately jumped in to contradict him with stories of his bout with pneumonia the year before in spite of the glare Berger sent his way to try to hush him - had Berger nearly red with embarrassment and feeling like a complete fool. Well... in spite of the obvious differences, it looked like his vision Claude had found himself a Sheila to match. The thought made Berger grin.
They parted this time... but only briefly. Because, in spite of his general contrariness, Berger didn't really fight too hard when Rachel dragged Bill and Eloise back later that day to inform Berger that she'd arranged for a suite of rooms for him at the Plaza to use whenever he liked... and that she expected that he would at least "like" to use them all winter long and whenever there was inclement weather.
No... he didn't fight very hard at all. Because curled up in front of the roaring fireplace in his room, with Bill and Rachel singing duets by the Christmas tree they'd insisted on putting up for him, and with Eloise curled up in his lap braiding his hair, all he could think was... it was nice to have a family, again.
And this time he didn't intend to give them up for anything.
Claude: *twitch* This. Does. Not. Please. Me.
Berger: *clutching at Claude, nods his head frantically*
Claude: *cuddles Berger* *scowls fiercely* It doesn't please him, either.
R-chan: *sweatdrop* Erm... I'm sorry?
Claude: *gapes* You're sorry? You made Berger homeless for thirty-five years and you're sorry?
Berger: *twitch* Uh... no. That's not what we're upset about, remember? We're upset that she killed you.
Claude: *sweatrain* Oh... oh, right. That, too.
R-chan: O_O But... but I wrote you sex!
Berger: *roars* Don't even get me started on that, again!
R-chan: Eep! O_O
Eloise: *pops up* Oh, my. Bill... you look rawther nice with long hair!
Berger: *clutches tighter at Claude* *pouts* He'snotBill.
Bill: Eloise... that isn't me.
Eloise: O_O Oh... dear.
Rachel: *wanders over, takes in Bill and Claude* *makes an appreciative noise*
Berger: *looks up* *meets Rachel's eyes*
Berger: *smirks back*
Claude: *smacks Berger on the back of the head - is mildly confused when this prompts a beaming smile from Berger* No. You are not taking turns having us both at the same time.
Bill: *horrified look* D-: What? What? How did you-? Where did you even get that idea from?
Claude: *blinkblink* You, uh... didn't catch the look?
Bill: *confused* The... look? What look?
Claude: *sweatdrop* The one they just shared.
Bill: *shakes head* O_O;;;
Claude: *sighs* You have a lot to learn, kid. That's all I'll say about that.
*As he drags Berger off, you can vaguely hear Berger offering to reciprocate by dragging his doppelganger into the mix.*
Bernadette: Gracious me, Tick! Are you getting sick?
Questions, comments, pomegranates?