dedicated, affectionately, to all writers of "hysterical
historicals" (don't you realise what you've been putting the
poor sods through?)
Time-coordinates: 1975. Space-coordinates: southern England.
A city that's been standing since Roman times. A building that's much
younger, in a district called Whitehall. A room in the building. A
grey man behind a grey desk, and standing beside him a younger man
with a bashed-in cheekbone and wild hair. The dark-haired man stands
in the doorway for a moment, looking them both over with eyes gone
very blue, face expressionless; and then he comes further into the
room, automatically taking the hand the older man is offering him.
"George Cowley. Welcome to CI5, Bodie. This is Raymond Doyle. He'll
be your partner."
We go back a long way, him and me. About three thousand years,
as far as I remember. At least, I remember tumbling in the dust of
the village where we were born with him, when we were surely no more
than three or four. I tumbled him, too, behind his mother's hut, a
few years later. About two years after that, we went hunting and a
wolf-pack hunted us. According to most archaeologists that kind of
village existed about three thousand years ago. Give or take a
millennia or so.
Mind you, knowing my lick, we were probably bloody amoebas
together. Thankfully, I don't remember that far back, but that
neolithic village was definitely not the first time it had happened.
Nah, I'm not that old. I'm not even twenty-eight yet. And I'm
not immortal. That's one thing I know for sure. I've died a lot, and
usually with him. That seems to be the whole point of it, assuming
that there is a point to it.
I remember once during the Roman occupation, my tribe attacked
this idiot pair of travellers, a courier and his bodyslave. Someone
else hit him over the head (not too hard, 'cos a live slaves' worth
more than a corpse any day) but I thought he looked familiar, and I
rolled him over. It was him.
You don't keep your name when you die. Just as well, or we'd all
be called little variations on Grunt. You don't keep your memories,
at least nobody else seems to, just me. But you keep the same body.
Every time. Every blood time. I tell you, I never realised I'd get
to hate mirrors so much.
And I always know him. That's how I know that neolithic village
wasn't the first time, 'cos I remember thinking when that wolf came at
us, Not again.
I started noticing something, back about one and a half thousand
years ago. I'm not sure exactly how long and there aren't any experts
around to help. I know it was just after the Romans pulled out,
because I remember my mam in Less Britain telling me about it, when I
was a little tyke. I used to tell her stories, about battles that had
happened long ago. Then I realised I was remembering them, not making
them up. I always start remembering when I'm about five. Takes me
maybe ten years to get all the memories back. Then I meet him.
He never remembers me. Never. Every time, for him, it's the
first time. And it's always the same. First sight of him,and there's
this little spark; and sooner or later, and often sooner, we're
screwing the arse off each other. God, the number of times he's
leaned back against me and told me that it was perfect, as if we were
made for each other.
And every time, just as soon as I've got to him, we're dead.
It's been as little as four days. I remember, once, we had more than
Don't look for me or him in the history books. Somehow we never
get in. That time just after the Romans pulled out, I was Bedwyr, and
he was Merlin. Nobody wrote any ballads about us.
I outlived him that time. That's worse than dying with him. I
knew he'd be back, though.
'Cos that's what happens. We're born, we grow up, we meet, we
make love, and we die. I've been knifed, drowned, burnt, strangled,
suffocated, and more, with him. Star-crossed lovers, that's us.
Reincarnation, that's what the experts call it. I call it lack
of bloody imagination. It's not just us tow - I've met a lot of
people a lot of times.
I remember sailing up the Thames in a longship, off viking, rob
all the women, rape all the men. And he was in the first monastery we
raided. God, I was jeered at for the rest of the trip, for saddling
myself with a monk who wouldn't fight and knew the most extravagant
I wish I knew who was running this. Whoever it is seems to like
making life difficult for us. When I came over with William the
Bastard for Santlache fight, and I was seasick half the time and my
horse was seasick half the rest, I was knighted on the field and I
didn't have more than a quarter of my mind on my new honours, 'cos all
the rest of it was hoping no one would find out that I'd hidden a
Saxon peasant in among my father's men. Then we had ten years before
a villein with a grudge assassinated me, and there must have been a
vicious malicious bastard up there running the show that time, 'cos
take it form me, there's nothing more difficult than being
passionately in love with a Saxon peasant when you're a Norman knight.
But as long as I can remember, the fact that the first sight of
him means the rest of my life is likely to be short and difficult,
s'never made any difference. Love him? I am him.
When I was born a serf on my lord of Gisbourne's land, and killed
a deer and ran to the outlaws in Sherwood forest, somehow the first
sight of him sitting on a fallen tree fletching arrows made me feel at
home. Even though I guessed this time we'd been born to be hung, and
damned if I wasn't right. We did have five years together, though;
five very draughty years.
In the Wars of the Roses, he was York, I was Lancaster. He was
for King Richard and I was with Henry Tudor. (Can't say I blame him,
mind you, on sober reflection; old Henry was a mean old bugger.) The
number of times we've been on opposite sides has to be more than
coincidence. Unfortunately that was the time he decided to try and
get King Richard's nephews safely out of the Tower, and I had to be
the captain of the guard on duty that night. Well, I had to let him
go once I knew who he was, and I suppose Henry had to have my head cut
off for it. It's not the first time I lost my head over him. Nor the
I think it might have been the second or the third life after
that, I decided I was going to try and avoid him. I wasn't sure what
good it would do, but it had finally sunk in that he died young as
well; and well, I thought maybe I owed him a longer life. After all,
he doesn't even know what's going on. I'd been ten years on the
Spanish Main, I had a ship of my own, never a sight of him.
Then this fat Spanish galleon comes by, and we fight her; and in
among the prisoners there's this damned familiar face. Of all the
shops in all the trade he had to be attacked by mine. Well, I hadn't
seen him - by that time - in thirty years (since we were both cut down
by the Queen's soldiers in 1569) and I hauled him down to my cabin and
we had a wonderful four days, until my ship was sunk.
I met him again twenty years later, and this time we had more
than twenty years of living together in peace and quiet. (Fairly
quiet; he's quarrelsome. So am I.) Never had it before; never since.
I hate Civil War; always have, ever since he declared for Parliament
and I went with the King. I did try to tell him then, about us, about
what I knew. He thought I was crazy. I think he must have been at
the battle of Edgehill. I was killed there. Maybe he outlived me,
though; he was younger than me the next time we met.
Not much younger. We were both burnt to death in the Great Fire,
the same bloody night I found him on the street begging for pennies,
and took him home. That really wasn't fair.
Opposing sides? I'd gone to the New World, from Ireland, not
exactly hoping to get away form him and this curse of remembrance -
I'd given up on that - more trying to get away from my landlord. Tall
dark handsome bugger, he was, and come to that I've got to know him a
couple of times since, and liked him; but he was a right sod in that
Then a year later I met this very familiar British soldier in the
middle of a bloody mess; he'd deserted in Quebec, I reckon, though he
never told me that time and it's no use asking him later. I really
wish he remembered; it's not that it would save explanations, since
I've never tried to explain why I pull him out of danger when he
doesn't know me from Adam. It's just that it would be a relief. Just
He's pulled me out of trouble, too. We were in the same cell in
the Bastille for ten months, and I swear, if it hadn't been for him
sitting on me every time I opened my mouth it course the jailer,
I'd've been dead a lot sooner. Made me grin, that, remembering when
he was the foulest-mouthed monk who ever took tonsure. He didn't. He
didn't know why I'd laugh so hard.
He didn't know why he went along with that harebrained team I was
with, rescuing aristocrats from Madame la Guillotine, either; he
thought it was because I didn't have the sense I was born with and I
needed him. I knew why, but there wasn't any use telling him, not
even when we were back in a french jail waiting for Madame. And
anyway, I do need him, more than he ever knows. Well, we fairly lost
our heads over each other, that time.
I remember once in London, I met him at a party; he was telling
Tarot cards, masked like a damned charlatan, and I know his hands
before I saw his face. It frightened me, that, knowing how well I
knew him, all of him. I left the party and London and England as soon
as I could: I went to China.
He looked at me rather oddly when we net a couple of months later
in Shanghai, and commented on the coincidence of us being at the same
party and leaving for China on the same day, different steamers. I
agreed, gritting my teeth, and managed to hold off seducing him for
long enough that he seduced me. He hadn't done that since 1619. Mind
you, I hadn't given him a chance.
I'd inherited a china factory next time we net. He was a
struggling artist. He didn't struggle long. Always liked that in
him; resignation to necessity. I thought we were going to have
another long time of peace together, like we'd had before the Civil
War, but we had barely three years, and I outlived him.
In this life I'd remembered it all by the time I was fourteen,
and I left home and joined the Merchant Navy, and spent the next ten
years wandering round the world. I was a merc in Angola when I caught
myself looking out for him in every bunch of new recruits - though
he'd be older than me, this time around - I knew it was no good. I
might just as well go home. I went back to Britain and I went with
the tide. I joined the Army 'cos that's what my old commander in
Angola suggested, and when I was seconded to the SAS I went along; and
when the brass 'suggested' I go in for the CI5 testing, I went.
And then I walked into the Controller's office my first day with
CI5, and there he was. It had been a long time.
Bodie took Cowley's offered hand, welcoming him to CI5, and
shook it, eyeing him and the man standing behind him warily. CI5 was
a rough mob, from all accounts; given the way things had gone in the
past three millennia, the chances were that now he and his long love
had been reunited (and for once, Bodie thought sardonically, not on
opposite sides, though if he'd taken Martell's suggestion, the easily
could've been) they wouldn't last out three months.
This time, it was going to be different, Bodie vowed silently.
We're never killed off until after we've made love, so this time, I'm
not going to lay a hand on him. I'm not going to let it happen. This
time we're going to live forever.
But it was good to see him again. They'd been apart for far too
long. Bodie found himself grinning with pure pleasure. Doyle turned
and looked at him and grinned suddenly, answering the spark between
them; and Bodie forgot all resolutions. Ah, what the hell. Who
wants to live forever?
-- THE END --