by Jane Carnall with Ann
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 millenia or so.
Mind you, knowing my luck, 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 slave's 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 bloody 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 twenty years.
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 two _ 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 curses.
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 from 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 last.
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 ships 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 from 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 life.
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 once.
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 to curse 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 knew 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 met 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 met. He was a struggling actor. 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.
I outlived him. It's odd how dry and empty the world feels after he dies. Even though I know he's been born again for my next life to meet, and love, and lose. How can I ever find him, though? I don't know what his name is, or where he was born; I can't go hunting over Britain for a male baby born the same hour my lover died. The only way to find him is to die; and though I took chances they said no sane man would take, I lived too long.
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 millenia, 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, they 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, and though he suppressed the grin as quickly as he could, Cowley had caught it, and was looking at him, puzzled. Then he smiled, looking as though he had surprised himself, and seeing that familiar half-awkward, but strangely unpracticed smile, Bodie forgot all resolutions. Ah, what the hell. Who wants to live forever?
Space-coordinates; southern England. Time-coordinates; 1975.
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