The first time he met Robert Rath, Lee was drunk off his tits and really fucking confused.
There's a bar at the Continental and Lee knows it's meant to be for the exclusive use of hotel patrons; that night, on the other hand, he had fuck all idea what "the Continental" even was except a posh-looking hotel with a bar attached to it. And, considering he'd just had a big damn payday and then got stranded in New York 'cause Barney had fucked off to Belgium on some super-secret operation (which Lee liked to think had something to do with Hercule Poirot sucking on a chocolate truffle), it seemed like setting himself up for an expensive night out he'd probably regret by the morning was 100% the way to go.
They let him in at the door, and maybe at the time he thought it was borderline strange they called him Mr Bishop but he thought eh, whatever, he'd had about eighty more aliases over the years than he could actually remember, at least not after the first five shots of tequila. He bought himself a whiskey at the bar, something overpriced that came back in a crystal glass just hefty enough to really fuck a fella up if it came to a bar fight, then he turned to go find himself a table, or a lady, or table and a lady. He didn't even move another step away, though, 'cause he saw a familiar face down at the end of the immaculate bar.
"Aren't you meant to be in Belgium eating a block of fucking Emmental or something?" Lee asked, as he plonked himself down on the next stool along.
Later it occurred to him that the bar should've seemed oddly quiet for a Saturday night around midnight, but right then all he'd got to focus on was that big damn ugly mug in front of him. Except when Barney turned to him, there was something weird and it wasn't just the fact he was wearing a really nice suit. But it was a really fucking nice suit and Lee was pretty sure he could count on the fingers of no damn hands the number of times he'd seen Barney dress up nice.
Maybe-not-Barney glanced at him sideways, calmly, with one hand resting on a smash-your-head-in glass of his very own.
"You've got me confused with someone else," he said. "I'm not meant to be in Belgium. And I think Emmental is Swiss."
"Didn't realise I was talking to the cheese police," Lee muttered, and he squinted at him. "Sorry. You just look a lot like someone I know. I swear you could be brothers."
"I'm pretty sure I'm an only child," the guy said. He drank. He put his glass down, but he still held onto it, like a pro, just in case.
"You sure you don't have a twin?" Lee asked. "Yea high, arsy son of a bitch, maybe handsome before he turned into the Cryptkeeper?"
The guy full-on turned to him. "Look, if this is meant to be flirting..."
Lee raised his brows. "Trust me, I'm a lot more charming when I'm flirting," he said. "You just--"
"--look like someone you know. Cryptkeeper. Arsy. I heard you the first time."
But the thing was, the guy maybe looked like Barney and maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, except Lee was so fucking drunk he couldn't've told the back end of a horse from the front of one and either way, maybe-not-Barney didn't seem mad. He seemed amused, and he'd taken his hand off his glass like Lee wasn't a threat. And he wasn't a threat, he supposed, because if it was Barney then, well, it was Barney, and if it wasn't, well, that was interesting, too.
"You ever been to Belgium?" Lee asked.
"Once or twice."
"I got lost in Bruges once on a stag night. I was wandering around for an hour and a half trying to remember the Dutch word for hotel, which as it turns out is actually hotel."
The guy almost smiled. "It's an easy mistake to make," he said.
"And when I got back, the lads had all fucked off to the airport. I missed the plane and ended up driving a shitty 2CV that looked like something out of 1953 all the way to Calais."
"Did you make it to the wedding?"
Lee snorted. "Yeah. Just in time to drink half the champagne and laugh at them playing White Wedding." He finished off his whiskey and gestured at their matching empty glasses. "Can I get you another one?"
"I think you've had enough."
"The night's young!"
Maybe-not-Barney checked his flashy watch. "The night's so old it's the morning," he said. "Do you have someplace to sleep it off?"
Lee considered that and the answer came back negative. He stood and he would've pretty much fallen on his arse if maybe-not-Barney hadn't been up like a flash and caught him; the bartender reached for a phone and maybe-not-Barney shook his head, and Lee frowned, but he let himself get steered away toward the door, which made sense 'cause he was pretty damn drunk, except he didn't find himself chucked into the street because the door went into the hotel. And he was right: it was a la-di-da hotel. A la-di-da hotel he was being hoisted through by someone who maybe was and maybe wasn't someone he knew, into a lift and out of a lift and down a corridor that looked like the fucking Ritz till he was in a bedroom, on the bed, face down.
"If I'd known you just wanted to have your way with me, we could've done without the whole Belgium thing," Lee muttered into the mattress.
"Y'know, I think we could've done without the Belgium thing anyway," maybe-not-Barney said, but he was trying not to smile when Lee turned just far enough to look at him. And maybe in the low light from the lamps at the side of the bed he really did look like Barney, or maybe Lee just wanted him to. His cheekbones looked the same, and his jaw, and that thing with his lip when he smiled, even if he was about fifty times neater and maybe didn't look like he'd spent thirty years running through jungles with three grenades and a borrowed Kalashnikov.
Either way, Lee pushed himself up. Either way, Lee swaggered his way over there. He kissed him, 'cause drunkenly he figured that would sort out the confusion; there was no way Barney would stand for that shit. But maybe-not-Barney just eased him back instead of decking him. The confusion did not abate.
"You're drunk," he said.
"Very," Lee confirmed.
"You should try to sleep."
Lee waggled his brows. "You should come to bed."
"You should sober up first."
"You think I wouldn't want to fuck you sober?"
"I think maybe I'd like it better if you were."
He thought about kissing him again, but he admitted temporary defeat and took a step back toward the bed. And, a second after that, he woke up in his underwear in bright, godawful daylight, with a vague recollection of chugging an overpriced bottle of water from the minibar then telling him just you wait till I'm sober and fuck off - I don't get hangovers. He had a hangover. Maybe it hadn't been his finest moment.
Maybe-not-Barney was sitting at a small, round table at the window, reading a newspaper in a hotel bathrobe over scrambled eggs on toast. Lee squinted at him. Maybe-not-Barney looked straight back.
"I was very drunk last night," he said.
Maybe-not-Barney folded up his paper. "You were really drunk last night," he agreed.
"I said some things..."
"You said a lot of things." He leaned forward on his elbows. "Did you mean any of them?"
Lee sat up. He pulled himself back against the headboard. "Well, I meant the stuff about the stag do in Bruges."
Maybe-not-Barney stood. "Anything else?"
"About you reminding me of someone?"
Lee nodded. "Yeah." He pulled himself up out of bed. He rubbed his face. "And I still don't know if you're just fucking with my head."
Maybe-not-Barney untied the robe and dropped it to the floor around his feet. There wasn't a single tattoo on him and Lee couldn't help himself - he went over there and ran both hands over not-Barney's utterly tattoo-free arms, and his chest, down to his hips. There was no Expendable there, not like there was on him, no nothing at all.
"I'm not Barney Ross," not-Barney said. "I'm Robert Rath."
"It's fucking uncanny," Lee told him. "You look just like him."
Rath chuckled wryly. "Yeah, I know I do," he said. He put his hands on Lee's shoulders. Even they were so much like Barney's Lee couldn't've told them apart.
"Are there any other differences?" Lee asked, inching a little closer.
"Do you want to find out?"
Lee grinned. Suddenly, his hangover felt a lot less like the sky was caving in. Things seemed to be on the up, in some cases literally. Fortunately, the bed was three steps to his left.
The first time he met Robert Rath, he was confused to fuck and not at his best. But somehow, things turned out fine and dandy anyway. And maybe it felt a bit like make-believe, but Rath didn't seem to mind.
The second time he met Robert Rath, Barney was with him, and things became clear in no time flat. Barney was surprised, but not the way Lee might've thought; back home after that, at Barney's place, they didn't so much talk it out as something else. It turned out the old man had some stamina left in him after all.
And, by the third time he met Robert Rath, Lee could absolutely tell them apart.