This is my attempt to tie series two and three together by explaining what happened in Canada. If you don't like Bernard/Manny, you'll probably be able to tolerate this because I'm not a fan of the pairing either. But it sort of fell into place this way, and I assure you any impulses have been done away with, in this version of events, by the episode Manny Come Home. Turned out much longer and more pointless than I imagined, and for that I apologise. I do, however, like my ending, so I suggest you stick around. I'm biased, of course, but who isn't?
I love Dylan Moran too much to ever attempt to steal what is rightfully his, including the wonderfulness that is Black Books. That's my disclaimer. So enjoy... and review! Please!
Bernard sat at his desk with his head in his hands. His hand was still tingling from its recent collision with the right side of the sandwich toaster. He could still hear his hairy carpet of a former assistant's tinny voice right before it happened: But what, Bernard? You've been edgy ever since Canada! Just because – He'd had to do it, to slam the lid of the toaster down as hard as he could, to stop the words that were about to come from that beard-covered, nauseating mouth. Self-defence. They'd said they wouldn't talk about Canada.
But it was Fran's fault, really. At least she was in Cornwall, alone and probably miserable. That gave him his usual sort of savage pleasure. Her reflexes were considerably better than Manny's and she might have dodged the lid of the toaster and used the rescued hand for a purpose considerably more harmful to him, but two weeks ago, it had been Fran that had planted the seed of doubt in his mind. She had said something, something terrible. He couldn't quite remember what it was, but he remembered his response quite clearly. "What, every time we bicker we should have sex?"
And that had got him thinking. Sex with Manny. With that horrible high voice calling his name and hair getting in every corner of his mouth. Yeuch. It was so nauseating he had actually thrown up the first time he thought about it, though that casserole the Beast had cooked up had been fairly suspect and he had had rather a lot of wine. And besides, the poor boy was clearly insane and seemed to think Bernard was somewhere between wife and father to him. But after that first time, he'd found himself thinking about Manny in that capacity a lot more. He'd found once before that if enough people tell you that you're gay in a strong enough voice, you eventually start believing it.
But – Manny? Ming the Merciless, the Fruit Storm? He'd attempted to keep the notion locked up in the back of his brain, under blankets of cheap wine and cigarettes. But then the Freudian slip he thanked God hadn't been worse than it was; he'd somehow managed to say 'son' when the word he was thinking of… couldn't be said. It had been sheer dumb luck, really. Then he'd seen the shrink, and though he hadn't dared mention the thoughts to her, she'd kept him thinking. And then Manny had hugged him, and when that body was so close to his, he'd felt… elated. He could have killed Fran as she barged in, smashed out of her own head, yelling for the whole world to hear. Thank God she was too pissed to tell how upset he really was, and Manny, the second he saw her, had ceased to care.
And then Canada. God, that had been the worst holiday ever, and that was Fran's fault too. He needed a holiday just to recover from the stress of it. He needed to get away from Manny, just for a while, just to empty his head of the thoughts he'd been having, to come back to a fresh start, just like the beginning when he hadn't been afraid because Manny was so unquestionably inferior and no threat whatsoever to his reputation or sexuality.
But Fran had ruined the holiday too, and he'd been left in the shop with the mess and the horrid voice and the Beard, with Canada hanging between them, so many idle questions that Bernard didn't think he was quite ready to answer yet. How had it happened? And what had he been thinking?
He'd been groggy from the drugs he'd had to inject himself with on the river boat, and then those black tribesmen had leapt out of the bushes, screaming something in another language, waving dead monkeys around and bowing down to Manny like he was some sort of god. Fran had done it too, grinning, and for a while he'd thought they were all simply mocking the sandal-clad being for his resemblance to the monkeys still flying through the air all round them, until he'd started to feel… strange. It was all the physical exertion so soon after the life-saving surgery he'd performed on himself hours before, and the fact that because of said surgery he hadn't had a drink since that morning, he'd told himself, and attempted to sit down.
Somehow, he'd kissed Manny instead. Those thoughts had been swimming around in his head when he was unconscious that morning, and he wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but suddenly his whole body was pressed up against the Doormat, and the Beard, the thing he hated most in all the world, was rubbing hard and rough against his chin and all he wanted was for it to go on.
When it was over he'd been disgusted. The tribesmen had been cheering and Fran had just been standing there, a sacrificial monkey at her feet, the festivities gone from her face, staring at him. Then, thankfully, he'd passed out, and when he resurfaced the three of them agreed never to talk about it again. But that hadn't buried it, or banished it from anyone's mind. On one of the many planes between Canada and Heathrow, he'd decided it had to be done, for the sake of hygiene and propriety.
He had to get away from Manny.
It had been easy, really. He'd done it calmly, quickly and painlessly. Manny had lost the bag – and the wine – in Poland, and climbing through the window of his own shop in the skirt he'd had to borrow in Suva could quite easily serve as the last straw.
He could see Manny outside still, just sitting there, and for the briefest of moments he felt sorry for him and was tempted to call him back inside; he needed a drink and the wine was in the kitchen, and he couldn't reach his lighter, and his head hurt, and wouldn't it just be so much easier if he let Manny inside to do it for him?
But he had to struggle on. Even the sight of Manny's bald head through the dust-coated window made him feel sick again. And even this short distance between them and the security that he never had to see that ugly face again was making him feel better. He'd be all right. Now, if he could just find the wine…
Ten minutes later, Bernard gave up in desperation and rested his head on the cold wood of his desk, groaning softly as the sound of the rain drumming on the roof drilled sharp holes in his brain, and cursed Fran and Manny and at the same time, wondered how long it would have to be before he could call them back.
Fran sat on a beach in Cornwall, frozen around the edges from the wind that was struggling its hardest to push her over. She couldn't help thinking maybe she should just let it; she let everyone else. If she hadn't blown it with Bernard she'd probably be in a café somewhere, gulping her hundredth glass of Merlot and laughing with him about how crazy he'd been in Canada.
She couldn't help feeling like that was her fault somehow too, like the Dubai incident when her thong had become entangled in a pile of his shirts because she was too lazy to do her own washing and Manny always did Bernard's for him.
She wasn't quite sure what she did to him in Canada, but it must have been awful. Bernard was her oldest friend, and, she'd thought, the only man who accepted her for what she was, madness, big nose, serious boyfriend problem and all. The man who sent her off on dates with the cynical comment of on no account must they see the real you. Whatever she'd done to upset him, she wished she could have foreseen his reaction when she told him she was accompanying him to Cornwall.
She knew the main reason he was going was to take a break from Manny and try to forget Canada, but she didn't see why that meant she couldn't come too. She was only trying to help. Bernard had always wanted her beside him, even when she took his assistant's side in an argument, which she usually did. He'd been happy enough to sleep on her sofa that night, to have that serious talk on the floor in the dark…
"Why don't you just sleep at the shop tonight? It's not like it's noisy anymore."
"Manny's there, it's never quiet with him around. He snores like he's dying, until you wish he would."
"I didn't hear it in Canada. Is that what the problem is? Canada?"
Bernard had paused before replying softly, ashamedly. "It wasn't just Canada."
"I just need to get away from him, Fran, he's driving me nuts. It stops now. Tomorrow I'm going to Cornwall and when I come back things will be normal and I'll be able to look at Manny again without picturing him in bed. Which is your fault!" he spat out, at last in his usual sporadic manner.
"Maybe you won't, Bernard," she said softly. "Because in Canada –"
"Can we not talk about Canada, please! Mother of God, it was just an accident!"
"You… accidentally kissed Manny?"
"You think I'd kiss that human haybale on purpose?"
Fran bit her lip. "I think you need help."
She heard him move around on the sofa and wondered if maybe she'd pushed him too far; admitting he needed help was not a strength of the Irishman's. "I went to a shrink last week about him, you know what she said to me?"
"What?" she asked in trepidation, not really wanting to know.
"Absolutely nothing. I am going to Cornwall and that's going to make it all better," he said resolutely. Her stomach twinged.
She'd left it for the night; he was no good to talk to when he was like this. And in the morning she was packed and ready to go with him.
Next thing she knew, Bernard had thrown the biggest paddy she'd ever seen and moved back into the shop with Manny.
Men. She'd never understood them. Now she sat on the frigid, windswept beach without Bernard's coat over her or his sarcastic remarks about everything from the weather to the couple that just walked past making her laugh.
One day, she told herself for the umpteenth time, she would get herself some proper friends. Stable ones. Ones that didn't yell at her and insult her all day and scare away people that might have actually cared about her. She'd show Bernard; how would he cope without her? He drove everyone else away with his cold, flinty heart.
Did it say something about her, then, that he was her oldest and best friend? That she spent all her time with that Irish bastard and his nutjob assistant instead of finding friends that appreciated her? That she let their petty squabbles occupy her life instead of her own pleasure? She'd never thought of herself as like Bernard, but when she considered their relationship, she did enjoy his company a lot more than other friends, and her recent forage into an alternate lifestyle had somehow resulted in this mess. For a minute of her musing she tried to blame Eva, but it was hopeless.
Alike or not, they were best friends, and whatever she did to upset him she regretted it now. Whatever it was. All she wanted was to keep him company – but it was so like him to overreact.
Maybe when she came back they'd be together. Manny was so malleable that if Bernard came onto him he wouldn't refuse, whether he wanted to or not. That was the thing about Bernard – he complained about Manny non-stop, but when push came to shove he still had the upper hand. For some reason, Manny would follow Bernard to the end of the earth and then jump. Maybe the two of them were in love.
And where would that leave her?
The sunlight faded around her, leaching the few dodgy remnants of warmth from the wind and the sand around her, and wondered if going away was really the clever thing to do.
Manny sat on the curb, rain slicking his hair to his round, balding head. He didn't think he was crying, but he couldn't quite be sure; his body had long since shut off its reaction to emotional pain and the physical hurt was calming. He glanced down at his hand. It was still smarting.
The memory, too, was still smarting. It hadn't been so different, to start with, than all the other times, and yet somehow it had ended so much worse. He thought back to when it had happened; he'd been making lunch, just like always, and Bernard had been complaining about how the cheese fell off the sides of the bread when it melted and how it was still hot seconds after it had come out of the toaster and how he imagined he could see a long, ginger hair on the bottom of his plate.
Manny put his head in his hands. It was over now, all over, gone and finished and over. He was outside in the rain and Bernard was inside and neither of them ever wanted to see the other again. After years of abuse and neglect and stress and overwork, it was finally over. He didn't really know if it was something he should be relieved about or as upset as he was now, but there was a hollowness inside him that didn't spring from his sudden unemployment.
He just felt like things could have been different. Like he'd done something wrong way back when Bernard had first taken him on, and from then on the relationship had been doomed. That was why he'd stayed all those times, still holding on to the forlorn hope that maybe an apology and a kind word would change everything.
Because Bernard could be nice sometimes. Last Christmas they'd gone to see a film together, and though Bernard had fallen asleep, he still seemed to have enjoyed the outing. And there were times, usually after he had consumed a considerable amount of wine, when he seemed almost appreciative of all the cooking and cleaning that was done for him.
For some reason, with Bernard he remembered the good times and forced himself to forget the abuse and ungratefulness, and with his old job he remembered the stress and the horrors and forgot – deeply, irrecoverably – any fun he might have once had. He felt a sort of pride when he looked at the change in the Black Books accounts, at the income/outgoing imbalance that had almost tipped to positive in the time he had been there.
But surely it was time to move on. Bernard seemed to believe he'd be all right without him. Manny was free to find himself another lost cause, one that actually wanted his help this time. One that wouldn't yell at him and hate him for over a year before suddenly kissing him and then firing him in the same week.
But he had almost enjoyed it in Canada, with Bernard pressed up against every inch of him, heated and passionate. Maybe it was just the thrill of being wanted, of having someone need him, at that moment, with every fibre of their body. Bernard had always needed him, and though he'd never thought it would be the same the other way around, the one time he'd tried to leave, he'd fared worse than the Irishman.
And there were those times when, drunk positively senseless, his employer had staggered into the wrong room and collapsed unconscious on Manny's bed instead of his own. Manny never had the heart to move him. Bernard somehow managed to look cute when he was asleep, unlike what Manny recognised as his own sleeping appearance. Even Fran looked and sounded like a pig when she was asleep, but Bernard didn't snore past the occasional little chortle, and the break from that harsh voice was all too welcome.
But he didn't think he could tolerate Bernard sexually. He was too selfish; any fooling around would become a race for his own pleasure rather than a journey to find someone else's. To have to cook and clean and sell books and God knew what else in the daytime and then not be good enough at night would be more than he could bear.
God, but he didn't know why he kept coming back. He wasn't sexually attracted to Bernard. He just liked watching him sleep; it was so much better than when he was awake.
He wanted to look around, through the window, and see if Bernard was still watching him, but if he was then he, Manny, would be the one who appeared to have backed down, and that would win him no respect from the Irishman. Once again, he had to at least try to make his own way.
He wanted to get up ad walk away, show Bernard his back, but he didn't have anywhere else to go and it was still raining. Fran was to blame. She had stolen Bernard's holiday, and if he had gone instead of her then none of this would have happened. If neither of them had gone, at least he could have walked to her flat and stayed there.
"Are you all right there?"
Manny looked up; right in front of him, without him noticing, stood a man framed by a huge Stereophonics umbrella. He held a thick bunch of keys in his hand and looked as though he'd just come from the new shop next door. He sniffed. "Not really," he said pathetically. Then he had an idea. "Can you look in that window and tell me if there's a man inside?"
The man in front of him frowned, but tipped up onto his toes to peer through the dirty window. "Yes, there is," he said in a tone of confusion, "but he looks like he's asleep."
Good. He could go back inside and in the morning Bernard would have calmed down. And if he still wanted him gone – and after Canada, Manny thought this was increasingly possible – he would have the day to find somewhere else to go. He breathed out slowly and stood up. "Thank you."
"Why did you want to know?"
Manny looked at him. He seemed nice enough; reasonably straight-edged, nothing like Bernard. "I used to work here, but he fired me and threw me out. I have nowhere else to go," he confided. The man frowned interestedly.
"You used to work here?"
"Well, then, Mr…"
"Bianco," Manny supplied. "Manny Bianco."
"Well, Manny," the man said companionably, placing an arm around Manny's shoulders, "I don't know about a place to stay, but I can give you a job, if you like."
Manny did like. He nodded dumbly. This was perfect; he would show Bernard that he could make it without him. He'd be right next door, right in front of his former employer's face.
"Great," the man said, clapping him resolutely on the shoulder. "You start tomorrow. Just go to the desk and ask for Evan." In the gloom, Manny saw the over-cheesy smile. "That's me."
"Oh." Evan made to walk off, but Manny thought one last sentiment would be appropriate. "Thank you, Evan," he called after him. The man made a magnanimous gesture, but did not turn around.
In a thoroughly sterling mood now, Manny let himself back into the shop as quietly as he could and tiptoed up to Bernard, who lay asleep with his head on the desk and one hand reaching forlornly towards an empty wineglass without a bottle in sight.
He thought the pop of the cork would wake him, but it was next to a still sweetly sleeping Bernard that he placed the bottle of £2.50 red wine and the full glass for him to find when he woke.
He couldn't help it. He just looked so adorable when he was sleeping.