Bernard/Manny (Black Books)
Spoilers: entire series
Personal Website: dress_fic
So said the lovely Sarah (nerdcakes) when contemplating Black Books slash: “Bernard/Manny is practically canon anyway. Writing it would be like writing out the alphabet.” The thing about writing about these two is that if you’ve actually watched the show, you don’t need me to explain why they’re so very very gay. But hell, let’s go and state the obvious anyway.
Let’s look at their names to begin with. Bernard Black and Manny Bianco (means white, people) – well, do I have to spell it out for you? Bernard’s the cranky one, the grumpy Irish wine-guzzler who can’t function without approximately “eighty bajillion” cigarettes a day, someone who runs a bookshop but utterly detests his customers. Manny is sweetness and light – well, not quite, but he’s the closest thing to a pure innocent soul that Black Books offers. Manny is great with the customers. Manny doesn’t drink quite as much as Bernard does. Manny swallowed The Little Book Of Calm this one time. He also looks like Jesus and scared away some Bible-toting folk when they called at the shop. Bernard is dark-haired and foul-tempered; Manny is fair-haired and easy-going. If ever there was a more obvious example of opposites attracting, I haven’t heard of one.
The third member of the Black Books trio is the lovely Fran, who – unusually – is not a romantic interest for either of the men. She does sometimes go out on dates but she isn’t great with the relationship thing, really, and in any case we don’t care too much about that. (We do see her on this one date being surprisingly quick to discover that he’s gay; considering she spends most of her time around Bernard and Manny… well, let’s not make too many assumptions right away, shall we? Though they are clearly having the sex.) Fran slept with Bernard once but he’s not allowed remember it; she’s a good friend to both of them and intervenes whenever they’re having trouble – convincing Bernard not to fire Manny after his first day, and trying to ease the tension in general.
Fran: “You know, if you two did something relaxing together maybe things wouldn’t be so tense around here.”
Bernard: “What, you mean that every time we bicker we should have sex?”
Well, gosh, let’s not jump to conclusions there, Bernard. Though personally I think that’s exactly what Fran means. She is, after all, the one who encourages Manny to move into Bernard’s spare room. Manny, to make it clear, is not homeless. He does, one can assume, have a home prior to starting to work for Bernard. He was an accountant, for goodness’ sake. Then – after Bernard “rescues” him from a fight with three guys by bringing their wrath upon himself (really a selfish gesture; Bernard wants to be injured so that he can avoid doing the accounts) – Manny brings him back to the shop, and takes care of him, and then comes to work for him. It’s the classic romance scenario – the brave knight intervenes in a battle, but is wounded in the process, and then is nursed back to health by the grateful, devoted servant.
Early on in the series there is actually a conversation about being gay. Manny is trying to offer advice on how Bernard could improve the shop, suggesting more lamps.
Bernard: “Why didn’t you just say you were gay?”
Manny: “What? Wh – uh – I’m not.” (I’m not convinced. Are you?)
Bernard: “But you’re interested in –”
Bernard and Fran: “Lamps.”
Manny: “Yeah, but I’m interested in, in women. And lamps. I thought you were, actually. Gay, I mean.” (Clearly he wants to find out whether Bernard is. He looks very interested.)
Bernard: (who’s staring at a book now, not looking up right away) “So did I, for a bit. Then I found out about the prohibitive standards of hygiene. And all that dancing!”
So. Bernard thinks Manny’s gay. Manny thought Bernard was gay. Bernard thought he was gay himself, except he doesn’t like the dancing. Later on in the series we find out that Manny has had sex with a man. If ever there was a show where the “Character X would never be gay!” defence could be used – well, this isn’t it. Girlfriends are occasionally mentioned in the show and even occasionally one of the men might find himself a nice girl, but it inevitably goes wrong (all right, with the possible exception of Manny’s girlfriend at the very end of the series, but that’s because we don’t have enough time to see it all go pear-shaped) because – well, they’re too dysfunctional for proper relationships.
Besides, they’re too dependent on each other. Manny makes Bernard breakfast, and pours him his wine, and brings him newspapers, and generally looks after him. He puts up with an enormous amount of abuse from his employer, usually involving snide comments about his beard, or that time Bernard tried to make him as hot as possible to find out what happens when he experiences temperatures above eighty-eight degrees. (He goes mad and jumps up and down on top of a car naked, for those of you who don’t know.)
They’re also weirdly comfortable together, in their routines and interactions. In the third episode, for example, Manny brushes his hair and flicks it out, and Bernard tells him his hair looks amazing. Manny experiences pain and Bernard wants to know what’s wrong. Perhaps most significantly, they are both invited to house-sit for a friend of theirs who’s going away. Both of them. Already their relationship has gone beyond that of employer/employee. They live together. They are seen as a pair by those who know them. They are, even at this stage, like an old married couple, except a bit more bizarre and a lot more drunk.
When Manny runs away because of how Bernard is treating him, Bernard pretends not to care, but is actually devastated, and both he and Fran report Manny’s disappearance to the police. Bernard picks up the pieces of the yo-yo Manny once played with – before Bernard cut the string in a fit of annoyance – and declares, “Without him it’s just a yo!” Meanwhile, Manny’s been posing for a photographer for magazines like Big and Beardy, and it’s only when he’s expected to go a casino with a foreign businessman and then sleep with him that he rebels, and reminisces about a little bookshop in which he found love.
That’s what he says. Love. All right, so he goes on to say, well, not love exactly, more respect, really, and by the end of this speech he comes to the conclusion that at least, working in the bookshop, he was never contractually obliged to sleep with foreign businessmen.
And then he returns to Bernard, but a chip from a casino falls from his pocket, the audience gasp and realise that he did end up sleeping with the guy after all. Canonical gay sex, people. Manny has sex with someone and then ends up going home to Bernard? Draw your own conclusions.
When they go on holidays, they pack all their stuff in the same bag. Bernard, of course, takes out all the essentials like clothes and puts in records, books, alcohol and other such necessities, but let’s squee over the same bag part, shall we?
It is also in this episode that the most infamous of all Manny/Bernard scenes – well, for fangirls, anyway – takes place. Fran is staying over at their place, as they’ve an early flight to catch, and she’s going to be sleeping in Bernard’s bed.
Fran: “Can I have your bed?”
Fran: “Got any bin-liners?”
Bernard: “In the kitchen.”
Fran goes into the kitchen, followed by Manny.
Fran: “And, er, Dettol?”
Manny (pointing): “Under the sink.”
Manny: “Yeah.” (hands it to her)
Manny: “Are you really actually gonna get in the bed?”
Manny: “Um, better take these.” (He hands her a bunch of bananas.)
Fran: “No, I’m not hungry, thanks.”
Manny: “No, it’s not for you, just chuck ‘em under the bed.”
Fran: “Wh-wh-wh-what’s under the bed?”
Manny: “Dunno. We just call it The Thing.”
So. We have Manny offering Fran advice on how to deal with spending the night in Bernard’s bed. Even more than that, we have Manny telling us that him and Bernard call whatever is under Bernard’s bed The Thing. The two of them, together, in Bernard’s bed, have come up with a name for this creature. Subtext? Who needs subtext when we have Bernard and Manny?
They live together, pack together, get drunk together, and despite whatever sniping goes on, despite whatever disagreements they might have about facial hair or what’s really important in life, they stay together. They are scarily co-dependent, but also really, when you think about it, rather adorable. Sure, Bernard says horrible things like, “If I lived with a normal person, there wouldn’t be so much to block out”, but it’s evident that beneath his surly demeanour he really does care about Manny. Besides, he’s probably just having issues with all the hot gay sex they’re having, while underneath the bed, The Thing gobbles up all those bananas and covers its ears to block out the noise. Awww. Ain't love grand?
Here follows a list of all the Bernard/Manny fic that I know of. Which people should really add to. Write, you slashers, write!
Apathy by anemptymargin
Breakfast by paranoidkitten
Burglary by calapine
Constant Reminders by elfinessy
Fran's Idea by paranoidkitten
Freddie's Place, Later That Night by elfinessy
Green Monsters by elfinessy
*Manny and Bernard On A Desk Surrounded By Those Furry Things You Never See In The Episode 'Blood' by elfinessy
Out Of Habit by elfinessy
The Cause Of And Solution To All Of Life's Problems by paranoidkitten
*The Irishman, The Ex-Accountant, Their Nosy Friend and His Insecurities by elfinessy
The Love That I Found In A Little Bookshop Off Russell Square by elfinessy
The Next Morning by nerdcakes
The Ogre And The Farm Boy by paranoidkitten
The Thing by paranoidkitten
*Through The Bottom Of An Empty Glass by elfinessy
(Untitled) by kitkatdoll
(Untitled Thing-fic) by kitkatdoll
ETA: General Black Books links
Black Books fansite
We Miss Black Books
Black Books DVD set
*New since this essay was originally posted.