DISCLAIMER: Two of these characters aren't mine. Unless you count George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams as characters; in which case, four of them aren't mine. ;) Also, the beverages Red Stripe and Pilier belong to someone, I imagine. The moose in spats is a Woody Allen reference.
SUMMARY: Next in The Iceman Cometh; "off we go, into the wild Blue yonder..."
WARNING: strong language and references to nonconsensual sexual activity
NOTES: My apologies to Devo for shameless use of Northstar. ;) Again, this is the fourth of a series.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please.

Chicken Soup
by Alestar

"-- but that's all a matter of speculation. Me, I always thought Shaw was a bit of a nut."

"What?! Shaw was one of the- the greatest literary minds of his time! And that's saying a lot, I mean, Williams, Ibsen --"

"Don't even get me started on Ibsen."


"All I'm saying is --"

The conversation drifts over to our table in waves, beating against a numb harbor. We drink in silence, allowing ourselves the delusion of camaraderie; and I'm sure he's wishing as much as I am that I'd come alone.

I feel a surprising pang of guilt as I surreptitiously watch him sip his beer. The poor guy looks miserable. He might have been able to disguise his discomfort, if not for his highly distinctive features, just not bred for deception; the slanted brows, the sharply nose and cheekbones, the hawklike eyes...

The alabaster skin, tight against the passionate planes of his face; the bright, sultry blue eyes, dancing with the reflected light of the bar; the full lips, drawn into a delicious pout, begging to be...


This just isn't working.


He looks up, startled. "Yes?"

"I...I'm sorry."

He cocks an elegant eyebrow. "About what?"

Good question. What do I say?

I'm sorry you're not having a good time.

I'm sorry I'm not having a good time.

I'm sorry I called you up, asking you to come all the way down here, and we can't even come up with enough conversation to last through the first round of beer.

I'm sorry that I assumed that just because you and I are the only two openly gay men in our little extended family, we would hit it off splendidly.

I'm such an idiot.

"Your, um, beer. I'm sorry they didn't have the kind you wanted. I'm really surprised, I mean, they- they usually have it all. I remember one time I looked all over town for this Jamaican beer called Red Stripe; well, I mean, I didn't look all over town, but I looked a lot of places, and nobody had it, until I came here and..."

And I can practically see the shutters fall shut in his eyes as he falls into default nodding every few seconds.

Great. Rambling and lying. Your honestly pact didn't last too long, did it, Drake?

"...but I'm sorry for more than that."

This catches his attention, and his eyes come back into focus.


"I said I'm sorry for more than the beer."


"Well, yeah. I'm sorry for dragging you down here," I gesture at our surroundings, and at the space between us. "This was a bad idea. I'm sorry."

He nods. "A bad idea, perhaps, but an understandable one," he gives a small sardonic smile, "Expected, even."

I cringe. "Expected? Geez, I really have been an idiot, haven't I?"

Jean-Paul relaxes visibly, and laughs, kindly. "Not an idiot, no. Look at it this way, at least now we know, c'est vrai? If only we could've found more tasteful surroundings to find out in," he looks around at the bar with a sneer. "I've never heard of a bar which didn't offer Pilier."

I laugh, and we get up to pay our tab.

Jean-Paul and I part ways in the parking lot, with a firm handshake. I figure it'll take me about 45 minutes to get back to Salem Center. That would put me home at 9:30.

Ah, well. I've had earlier nights.

Except nobody was ever curious about those dates. Now, I know that when I get home every light will be burning brightly, with a handful of people wanting to know how Bobby's first date with a guy was. Thank god I didn't tell them who the date was.

I could just tell them that...that I couldn't find the right bar. Yeah, I got there, and then I waited for an hour, and he never showed, and so I called his cell phone, and he picked up, except he thought I had meant another bar and so he was there, but it was all the way on the other side of town, so we...

Jesus, Bobby. Just stop it.

If you can't tell them the truth, then don't tell them anything.

Like that would make any difference. I can see it now.

//Door opens to looks of mixed curiosity and preemptive sympathy.//

//"You're home early" trailing off, query for details left unvoiced, and unanswered.//

//Finally, "So how was the date?"//

//"I don't want to talk about it."//

//Faces ooze comfort, brows tilted upward in sympathy, nodding their understanding. Yeah, they understand. Poor Bobby thought his lovelife was kaput because he was living a lie, when actually it was just because he's a loser.//

I hit the brakes hard, and the car screeches to a stop, throwing me to the limits of my seatbelt. It's a good thing I'm already out of the city.

I'll be damned if I'm back home before three fucking a.m.

I throw it into reverse until I find a place to turn around, skidding pavement, singing my frustration with the screeching of tires.

It's about 9:20 when I walk (crawl) into the bar. The headsplitting pulse of music and the sledgehammer of cologne are almost enough to distract me from the sight that greets me as I pass through the doors. Almost.

The room is dwarfingly large; larger than a high school gym, smaller than the Danger Room; with most of the space for dancing but some reserved for booths and tables and stools lined against the bar. And everywhere I look, I see men. Men dancing, men drinking, men talking, men touching, men kissing.

I've been an X-Man for almost eight years, and I don't think anyone could accuse me of having lived a sheltered life; but this is my first time a gay bar, and I have never seen these things, and my first instinctual reaction has been pounded into me since I was old enough to frighten my father with talk of beauty and sentiment. I feel revulsion. This scene around me, this has never been, this...is unnatural.

My throat closes up, and I feel a panic coming. I back up, trying desperately to find a wall to cling to, but I run into a couple. A couple of men.

I see the glow of an exit sign and I make a mad dash for it. My hand presses against the saving grace of the door handle, when a hand grabs my arm.

"Hey, man, you gotta get your hand stamped if you wanna come back in."

I spin around, meeting eyes with a big dyed-blond black man with a too-tight yellow t-shirt, the owner of the firm hand.

"Oh, well, thanks, but I'm not coming back," I manage out, "Heading out for the night, y'know?"

He gives me a bemused look. "But you just got here."

"How did you know that?" I say, startled.

"I saw you come in," his mouth curves into a smile, showing off a few gold teeth, "You're not easy to miss." His hand, still on my arm, doesn't loosen, but definitely softens.

I open my mouth to ask him what he means, when I stop.

Jesus. He's flirting with me.

He waits a moment, for a reply, but I make no response other then my mouth continuing to hang open and my eyes continuing to stare.

He clears his throat. "Listen, man, you look like you could use a drink." He tugs on my arm, and, still numb with shock, I follow. Guiding me to the bar, he introduces me to the bartender, Dil. Dil shakes my hand, lingering, and with a smile of his own.

The man then introduces himself as Terrence.

"I -- my name's Bobby."

Quick smile, flash of gold again. "Bobby, huh? Like Bobby Fisher."

I nod, dumbly.

Terrence hands me a drink, on him, he says, with another smile. I take it in one gulp, and the burn shakes me out of my stupor. He hands me another one. Out of the frying pan into the fire...

Terrence is watching me carefully as I take my fourth drink. "You're really throwin' those babies back, Bobby. Let me guess. First time in a bar?"

"In a bar?" I say fuzzily, the effects of whatever this is already hitting me hard. "I been to plenty of bars."

He smiles indulgently. "I meant in a gay bar."

I feign a shocked look. "What?! This is a gay bar?! I thought you guys were just eccentric and overpaid!" This strikes me as exceedingly funny, and I laugh until I'm gasping for breath, doubled over.

Or maybe I'm doubled over for another reason. My head feels funny.

I fall to the ground, strong hands catch me and drag me, not up, but...over? That's strange.

Or maybe it's not.

And then it's nothing at all.

The mild white sauce at that Chinese place that closed down a year or two ago due to health violations.

The smell of cologne.

Hands at my belt, fumbling, grasping.

I try to open my eyes, but they're heavy, and my mind is sluggish. Then another tug, my belt slides off, clattering to the floor, and the hands move to my zipper. And I come slamming home.

My eyes fly open, to a darkened room, and I take in several things at once; that I am not only without a belt now, but a shirt as well; that my hands are restrained behind my back with something more than cloth and less than metal; and that the man now struggling with my pants, Terrence, is completely naked.

"What the hell-?!" I jerk, struggling away from him.

A glint of gold that translates to a smile, and he grabs my hips, pinning me closer to the table that I'm sprawled up against.

"Calm down, Newbie. It'll be over soon. Trust me, you'll like it."

"The HELL I will!" I freeze the leather of the belt and jerk my wrists, shattering it; and bring my right fist forward, connecting solidly with the big man's jaw. My left hand shoots out to his balls, jerking them forward as he falls back, ripping a strangled cry out of him and effectively shriveling his hard-on. I ice his neck to the floor, and leave him with an icy vise around his genitalia, flopping around like a fish.

Looking around, I find another door, an exit, and I rush through it to a dim-lighted alley. On some level, my mind spits forth an acidic comment about not needing to get my fucking hand stamped.

Once out there, I ice the door shut, and allow myself time to catch my breath. I lean against the brick alley wall, panting. I feel the drop of something salty in my mouth and realize I'm sweating. The salt mixes with another strange taste in my mouth. Must be the remnants of that drink. I bring my hand up to wipe the sweat from my upper lip, where it meets something dried and crusted.

I look at it, come off in my hand, and then curiously bring it up to my nose to smell it, sniffing it once or twice.

Oh god.

It's cum.

On my mouth. In my mouth.

My knees buckle as my stomach contracts, dropping me painfully onto the hard concrete. I wretch again and again, until there is nothing left but tears, and then they go too. When my stomach and eyes have emptied themselves, I burrow deeper into the pavement, wishing I could feel the freezing burn of it against my skin; and a million thoughts race through my head at once.

why I should've never come here I'm so stupid I'm going to kill him Hank Jean why did you let this happen why did I let this happen I'm so stupid oh god what if he has AIDS Jesus what was I thinking those drinks must've been drugged never never again I can't believe I did this I'm such an idiot I swear to fucking god never again...

Eventually, feeling enough comes back to my legs, and I am able to stumble up, and feebly make my way out of the alley, across the lighted street, narrowly avoiding cars, to a glimmer of streetlamps through foliage, Central Park.

The trip takes most of my reserve energy, and I drop limply into the park bench directly across the street from the bar. I can hear that same music, pounding into my skull, and I press my hands tightly to my ears and screw my eyes shut, trying to shut it out.

I startle out of my skin when I feel a light tap against my shoulder.

"'Scuse me, sir, but -- are you alright?"

I jump up, ready for a fight, thankfully having the sense to retain my skin form; but my weakness immediately claims me, and I stumble forward. The man catches me and drags me upright, supporting me with a strong arm.

"Whoa there, be careful. I'm not gonna hurt ya. Are you sick? Do y'need a doctor?"

I pool the last of my reserve and pour it into my legs. I shakily pull away from him, standing on my own power.

"No, I'm fine."

"You don't look fine," he looks at me through narrowed, inspecting eyes. "When's the last time you had something t'eat?"

"I ate earlier tonight, thanks," I say coldly.

He leans closer to me and sniffs, twice. "But threw it all up, didja? Ya gotta go easy on the drinks here." He nods towards the bar. "C'mon, let's get you somethin' on your stomach."

I shake my head no, of course, but the motion makes me dizzy, and my knees give way again; and so I have no choice but to follow him as he catches me and pulls me along.

I regain a little of my strength on the way to wherever he's leading, a diner, he says, and I am able to walk, weakly, on my own. Only once did I stumble, and he was there in a flash, to catch me; except his hand wrapped around the same spot that Terrence's had before, in the bar, and I couldn't suppress the shudder. He mistook it for being cold and offered me his beaten brown leather jacket. It would've taken too much time and energy to explain to him exactly why I wasn't actually affected by the cold, so I took it.

It turns out he was leading me to a diner after all. He pulls me in, and then ushers me to a booth, where he gestures to a waitress.

She saunters over with an appreciative glance for both of them. "Hey there, fellas. What can I get for ya?" a flirtatious grin, "See anythin' ya like?"

The man sitting across from me smiles politely, but says nothing more than "Two coffees and a Sunshine Platter, thank you." The waitress sniffs, short-changed, and strides away.

From some default conversationalist deep inside comes, "You realize now she's going to spit in our coffee."

He laughs, and his smile is wide and bright and infectious, with his eyes crinkling up in the corners, and I find myself smiling back, in spite of myself.

A strange look comes over his eyes then, as he looks at me for a long moment, before looking away, flushing. He looks up again, and extends his hand.

"M'name's Austin."

I take his hand. It's long and tapered, but strong. "Mine's Bobby."

"Yeah, I know."

I frown. "What?"

His eyes open wide as he realizes what he's admitted, before blushing furiously. "Well, I- In the bar earlier, I asked the bartender if he knew you. He said he didn't, but your name was Bobby."

"You asked about me?"

He smiles, sheepishly, "Yeah. I saw you come in, and --"

"Two coffees and a Sunshine Platter." The waitress plops the plate and two styrofoam cups on the table, and then bustles off.

The man -- Austin -- pushes the plate in front of me with a smile. I look down at it, and whatever I am it's not hungry. I understand that I have to get something on my stomach, so I reluctantly pick up my fork and push around the eggs on the plate. As I scoop the first forkful into my mouth, Austin settles back into his cup of coffee, letting me eat in silence.

The food falls like cardboard down my throat, landing like lead in my stomach. Instead of eliminating the putrid taste in my mouth, it seems only to accentuate it. My stomach begins to turn, and I clench my mouth, willing it to quiet.

Across from me, Austin is trying to be subtle about watching me, concern in his eyes.

But why would he be concerned? Why is he helping me? Unless he expects to get something in return.

Like hell.

All the more incentive for me to eat, so I can get out of here, away from this guy.



"Are y'okay?"

He's got an accent, southwestern or something. Hmph. He's probably feigning that, too. Probably thinks it makes him seem more trustworthy, less deceitful. Same with those big, honest blue eyes. And the blue-black hair falling into his face. And the easy smile.

The bastard.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I reply curtly. "Look, thanks for getting me here and all, but don't feel like you have to hang out and make sure I'm okay. I'm fine."

He regards me for a moment, and then says quietly, "I've heard what happens sometimes to guys in bars like that." He leans forward, reaching out his hand as though to touch me, and then thinks better of it, settling on, "I'm sorry."

My throat closes. I manage out a choked, "What makes you think I'm one of those guys?"

His face fills with sympathy, and he says quietly and slowly, as though trying not to startle a frightened animal, "You've been crying."

Embarrassed at my own release, I start, "That doesn't mean --"

"And you...sir, you've got it all over your chest."

What? I look down, not understanding, through the jacket, and I see what he means.

More of the flaky dried substance, covering the expanse of my chest. If I had been more together, I would've realized it already.

"Oh, God."

And then my tempestuous stomach contracts again, and suddenly Austin is there, grabbing me up and running me to the men's room, where I empty out my recently-attained breakfast before settling into agonizing dry heaves. All the while, Austin squats beside me, patting, soothing my back.

When I have exhausted myself even beyond the point of involuntary muscle spasms, I fall back, caught by strong arms. Reassuring whispers at my ear, shhh, it's gonna be okay, you're fine now, there's nothing gonna hurt you here, shhh, you're fine...

Finally, the exhaustion claims me, and my eyes close, safe and warm...

And wake the same way.

On something soft and plush. That smells like cedar.

My eyes flutter open, and even this slight action ignites an electric throbbing in my head. I try to sit up, gather my surroundings, but fail.

"Whoa there, sir. Don't try to sit up. Here." The voice -- Austin -- helps me to an upright position, and uses cushions to prop me up.

Cushions? Couch cushions. Dimly-lit room, rolling and stacked city lights through a stretching window.

Through cracked lips, "Where am I?"

"You're in my apartment," comes a voice -- Austin's voice. Fearing my suspicion, I guess, he hurriedly adds, "I didn't know where else to bring you. You passed out at the diner. I couldn't leave you there."

I nod my head, kind of, in understanding. A bedraggled, "I'm thirsty."

"Yeah," he says, "you're most likely dehydrated. I'll get you some apple juice."

"Just water, thanks."

He strides past me, into a kitchen, I assume, and comes back with a glass of water. He holds it to my mouth, and I allow him to pour it in. The water hits my palate like a tidal wave of a thousand different needs, and I grasp his wrist tightly, nursing from his hand. He eases the glass away from my eager mouth.

"Careful, now. Ya better not t'drink it all down at once."

I back down, swallow, and nod up to him in thanks. As I catch my breath, I glance down, and find myself clothed now in a white button-up dress shirt. It's the one Austin was wearing earlier. He is now wearing a worn t-shirt.

He notices my appraisal, and says, "I didn't want you gettin' cold on the walk from the diner, so I put y'in my shirt." He nods at my chest, "Cleaned ya off a little, first."

I smile.

First time anyone's ever literally given me the shirt off their back.

He catches my smile and returns it tenfold, a dazzling, disarming display of teeth.

I reach again for the glass of water, this time managing to hold it in my own hand. I drink slower this time, a paragon of control; but my hand is still shaking from the exertion.

Austin's voice at my ear, gentle, as though dealing with something fragile. "If I made ya something t'eat, d'you think you could keep it down?"

I nod, mouth preoccupied with hydration, and let my eyes carry my gratitude.

He smiles again, briefly, and then jets back into the kitchen. It must be right behind me, because as he speaks, the sound has little distance to travel.

"How 'bout some chicken soup? I've never seen anythin' better for a tender stomach. My Aunt Maggie used to prescribe chicken soup for every ailment under the sky."

"Oh yeah?" I call out softly, "Is that what she prescribed for being fucked in your sleep?"

The noise behind me, the clanging of pots and such, stops, for a moment, before continuing, in a hurry. Then Austin walks back in, and I feel the cushions beside me dip under his weight.

Beyond closed eyes, I hear, "Sir. Look at me. If y'please."

Despite my better judgment, I do, into the city's reflection in dark blue eyes.

"What happened to you, it was wrong, and it shouldn't happen t'anyone. But it's over, and you're okay, and you got no call to feel like you done anything wrong; so there's no reason t'beat yourself up over it like this. Let it come, let it be, let it go," he smiles a hesitant but steady smile, "Drown in chicken soup."

He leaves me then, walking back into the kitchen, and I am left alone with his words.

"No call to feel like you done anything wrong..."

I should've known better than to accept a drink from a complete stranger. I should've known better than go into that bar. I should've known better. I'm such an idiot.

//"You're such an idiot."//

//"It was an accident, Dad. I'm sorry."//

//"Just stay away from the tools from now on."//

//"I can do it, Dad, I know I can; just give me a second chance . ."//

//"And what are you going to with that second chance, Bobby? Blow up the entire neighborhood?"//

//"It was an accide-"//

//"I should've known better than to leave you to your own devices, after you flunked that test . ."//

//"That's different, Dad. I just have a, a hard time understanding trig-"//

//"You know, Jason Culvahouse passed that class with straight A's."//

//"I know, Dad, it's just...."//



//"It was an accident, Dad."//

//"Whatever. Just stay away from the garage from now on. Think you can understand that?"//

I bury my head in my hands, shoving down the memory, ripping through my father's disapproving face, swallowing the tears I can't afford to shed.


I hear soft footsteps behind me. "Yes, sir?"

"Would -- would this have ever happened to you? Would you have let it happen?"

He comes around me now, and reclaims his seat on the couch. He looks at me, deeply, and says, "That's one of the things we can never know. Tonight was my first time in a gay bar, but I was there with a friend, showin' me the ropes. If I had been alone, who's to say I wouldn'a taken that drink? Now, that wouldn'a made me especially foolish or naive, just in the wrong situation at the wrong time, scared and uncertain, right?"

I nod my head, reluctantly.

"Sir, listen to me."

I nod again.

"This wasn't your fault."

And he sits back, letting his words sink in, watching me. I sit quietly for a moment, and then look up at him.



I watch him. A complete stranger, and yet the planes of his face already seem familiar to me.

"Who are you? Why are you doing this?"

He smiles. "Now, I can't claim to know the first thing about you, sir, but for some reason, I wouldn't believe you for an instant if y'told me that you wouldn'a done the same for me."

Yeah, Aus, but I'm a hero. That's my job.

"I guess I would. Well, anyway, thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome, sir."

"And that's another thing."

"Yes, sir?"

"Why do you keep calling me 'sir'?"

"What else would I call you?"

"Oh, I dunno...my name maybe? Bobby?"

He smiles sheepishly. "Not without your permission. Sir."

With an incredulous laugh, "My permission? Where the hell are you from?"

His smile widens to a million dollar pride, "Okmulgee, Oklahoma, sir."

"That's enough with the 'sir'. Call me Bobby." I make a mock bow, or as much of one as I am able to make, and say theatrically, "You have my formal permission."

We laugh, and then Austin gets that look again, from before at the diner, and he regards me for a moment, before

"Okay, I will..."


Austin leans forward, the light catching him just right, and the city's back in his eyes. The eyes lid, seeking by instinct, to me.

I follow the pattern, the dance, and my own eyes fall shut as my mouth falls open. I lean forward to meet Austin; his hand finds my cheek, and --


Austin starts, jumping up; and then laughs, trying to hide his flush.

"That's, um, the timer. Heh. Soup's on. Ahem."

He skirts into the kitchen, and I can hear pots and bowls being thrown around, before he comes back balancing two bowls of chicken soup, a glass of apple juice, a carton of saltines, and a salt shaker shaped like a moose in spats, with a hole at the tippy-top of every antler.

He unloads onto an inn table, and drags it over to the arm of the couch, within reaching distance of me.

I slowly bring the first spoonful to my mouth, and I know inherently that it will keep much better than the last I had.

The flavor of chicken soup permeates my mouth, eradicating and proselytizing every other thing in its path.

"for every ailment under the sky"....

Before I know it, I'm slurping down my second bowl of soup, and looking up into the happy, self-satisfied grin of the chef. On anyone else, it would've been annoying. On him, it's adorable.

"Good soup?" he asks.

"Good soup."

"Want some more?"

"No, thanks. I'm filled to the brim with girlish glee, not to mention chicken soup."

"Want some apple juice?"

"Ugh. I'll stick with my water, thanks."

"More water?"

"Um, I've got a full glass right here, Aus."

"Oh, yeah. Well, how 'bout some crackers?"

"No thanks."

"Yogurt? Ya wanna see if you c'n keep down some yogurt?"


"I should have some cereal around here somewhere."


"If you like cantaloupe --"


"Well, then, how 'bout a bed?"

"N- What?"

He smiles. "I said, 'How 'bout a bed?'"

A bed? Jesus, this -- this is too soon.

Or are you just chickening out again, Drake? C'mon, honestly say you don't want to --

"I'll take the couch," he says.



He laughs again, and speaks slowly, as if explaining something to a small child. "I said, 'I'll take the couch.' It's four in the mornin', and I don't know about you, but I'm beat."

Oh. Like a bed to sleep in.

"I would've given you the bed to begin with, except I didn't want to, y'know, frighten ya. Unless you want the couch...?"

"I- I'll stick with the couch."

"Okay, I'll get you some blankets and a pillow." He jolts off through the hallway to my left, and comes back a few seconds later, mission completed.

My strength has pretty much returned, and I don't need much help arranging myself; but Austin helps anyway, and I let him. I wrap the blanket around me, despite my not needing to keep out the cold; and I cannot help notice that it also carries with it his smell of cedar.

I sigh comfortably as Austin switches off the lights, and then comes back to stand before me, still amazingly illuminated in the city light.

"Comfy?" he asks.

"Comfy," I answer.



"Okay, then. G'night." He stoops down, and presses a chaste, warm kiss against my forehead. My breath catches in my throat.

"G- Goodnight," I manage out.

As he walk to the hallway, I hear him call out, "Sleepy good."

I chuckle and answer, "Sleepy good," and then drift into an utterly contented, chicken-flavored slumber.

to be continued >>

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