"Claude? Claude, are you alright?"
"You don't look so good, brother."
Sheila rushed to his side, letting his head fall in her lap before he collapsed onto the hardwood floors of their apartment.
"He's white as a ghost," she muttered to herself, running her hand across his clammy forehead.
"I'm invisible," Claude mumbled, almost as a question.
"No, you're not, man." Berger crouched down on the floor beside Sheila. Claude's eyes rolled shut again; he didn't faint, he still had a small crooked grin on his face.
"Claude, wake up. Can you hear me? What's wrong?"
"Knock it off Sheila, he's fine."
"No, he's clearly not," she swept the hair that clung to his face away and held her hand to his chest to feel his breaths.
"He'll come out of it."
"You don't know-"
"Sheila," he pushed her hand off of Claude and looked down at his friend; not asleep, but not really awake either. "I'll take him back to his room. He'll be fine by morning."
She wanted to argue with him but couldn't, there wasn't a point. She helped Berger pull the semi-conscious Claude to his feet but Berger insisted he could take him from there.
It was two am before Claude regained full consciousness. He awoke in a cold sweat, naked and afraid in the dark. His heart rate quickened, unsure entirely what he was scared of other than the fact he couldn't recall any definite details for at least the past twelve hours. Tears fell from his eyes that he couldn't control and quiet sobs escaped from between his lips.
"Claude, you crying?" a voice sounded from beside him that startled him again. "Whoa whoa whoa," a large hand planted itself on his chest. "It's just me, are you okay?"
"I don't know," he said with a weak voice.
Berger laughed. "You're talking, that's good enough. How do you feel?"
"Scared... anxious... cold..." Claude wanted to continue his list, he felt terrible. He wanted to go back to sleep, go back to where he was, go back into his head and never leave. He turned to Berger, to warmth, and nuzzled his head into his chest.
Berger wanted to tell him he was alright, but whatever he said he'd be saying for his own well being, not for Claude. Because Claude knew what was wrong with him, he knew what was troubling him and he knew they were his own battles that couldn't be fought and had a very slim chance of being won. Berger knew all of this too, or at least had an idea, but he wasn't ready to admit it. He couldn't admit to himself that his best friend, a man he loved in more ways he thought he would ever love another man, was in the process of preparing himself for a battle bigger than any of them.
Berger thought that he'd like to have Claude sleep beside him that night. For all the times him and Claude had shared a bed, they'd never slept or lovingly held each other, sharing warmth and comfort. But when Claude dropped small kisses on Berger's chest, he knew what that meant.
"You're not tired?" he asked in a low whisper.
"No. Are you?"
"No," he lied as he lowered his hands to run down Claude's bare back. Claude slid his body up so that his lips could meet Berger's and so that his fingers could tangle in his hair. He wrapped a thin thigh over Berger's lap, straddling him. Berger wanted to resist, knowing that doing this wasn't helping any tensions or stress in their lives or in their relationship. But he couldn't say no, not knowing that every moment he spent with Claude was becoming closer and closer to his last.
Berger relaxed his limbs and let Claude's lips press and his hands touch wherever they pleased. Berger couldn't say that he didn't enjoy being in bed with Claude, because he certainly did. It was more than sharing a bed with a man he was attracted to and enjoyed sleeping with, it was sharing a bed with a friend, bonding, loving. It was fighting the man and having good sex at the same time. It was showing Claude what love was all about while learning about it himself.
"You just gonna lie there, Berger?" Claude said, lifting his head from Berger's chest to look up and grin at him.
"No, no, sorry," Berger stumbled over his words and pushed his thoughts aside. He took Claude's face in his hands and brought their lips together. The kiss lasted so much longer than either of them had intended, but neither wanted to let go. They wanted to savor the taste of the other's mouth, the feel of their tongue and their teeth, to become one with their warmth.
"I never want to leave you, baby," Claude whispered into Berger's ear. "Stay in this bed with me forever."
Berger nodded in agreement, though Claude couldn't see him in the dark room. He pushed Claude off of his lap and moved around behind him to kiss his back and his neck.
"I love you," Claude said, this time his tone changing. He was speaking aloud, quickly and with an unsure hesitant voice.
"Claude," Berger whispered, pushing his stringy hair in front of his shoulders and out of his way.
"I do," Claude's voice broke in the way that it does when he cries.
"Oh, Claude," Berger wrapped his arms across Claude's chest, resting his head on his shoulder. "I love you, too, man. If you leave me... I'll... I don't know... I don't know what I'll do without you," he kissed his neck again and began trailing his hands down Claude's bare chest.
"I won't leave you."
"Don't lie to me," Berger whispered directly into Claude's ear as his hands approached his groin.
"If I leave it's my choice. It has nothing to do with you."
It was the same shit Claude had been spewing for weeks, Berger had spent hour after hour arguing with him about it. But tonight he was done arguing, they'd gone this far that to start a fight with Claude wouldn't leave either of them on the right foot.
"Touch me... please," Claude said, grasping at Berger's teasing finger tips. Berger obliged but released shortly after to push Claude down onto the mattress. Claude was nearly out of it again, his eyes nearly closed when Berger teased his entrance. "Don't be gentle," he said through a yawn and a clouded head. Berger bent down to leave one last lingering kiss on Claude's back and obliged.