Bod had expected to see Silas many times in the two years since he had left the graveyard. He had expected to see him in Paris on his birthday, in Jakarta on Halloween, in Dubrovnik on New Year’s Eve. He hadn’t expected that he would be standing on a windswept street in Prague on a nondescript night in March. He hadn’t expected to be bleeding. He certainly hadn’t expected to be furious.
Silas, on the other hand, seemed unperturbed by Bod’s rage. Partly this was because it took a lot to surprise someone like Silas, a great deal more than anger. Mostly it was because Bod was seventeen, and you don’t need to have walked the earth for even a tenth of the years that Silas had to know that it’s easier to be angry than anything else when one is seventeen.
“You could have done something,” Bod yelled against the wind and the fine rain that seemed to be tumbling in from every direction. Silas was nothing more than a shadow in the corner of the alleyway, but Bod had been able to recognise that suggestion of a figure for most of his life.
“I saw you there, just watching as they dragged that poor girl away. I saw you, Silas, you weren’t lifting a finger to help.”
Silas stepped forwards into the light so that Bod could see his face, implacable and not even a little softened by the warm glow of the streetlights.
“It wasn’t my business to help,” he said simply, folding his arms as if that closed the matter. With most people, it would have.
Bod swept on regardless. “Oh really? What is your business, then? I thought you were one of the Honour Guard? Does that not include guarding people? And for that matter, I thought you were my guardian? Even if you didn’t have to keep her safe, you should have to help me.”
“Bod,” Silas said, and his tone was almost gentle, “I’m not your guardian any more. You know that.”
Bod thought back to that day, when the gate had shut behind him and the world had opened up in front of him, and remembered. Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to be angry with Silas. Then he thought about the girl, screaming as the ghouls dragged her along, and about how he had turned, cheek slashed open, and had seen the shadow that had always meant help. And how help had not come.
“I thought you were at least my friend,” he said, finally, voice low. Silas went very still at that, and something shifted in his face, like a breeze over still water. Bod stared at him for a few moments longer and then very deliberately turned and walked away.
Pia looked over Bod’s shoulder and said, “Don’t look now, tesoro, but I think you have a stalker,”
Bod, as everyone in the history of the world has ever done when told not to look now, looked.
There wasn’t anyone in particular in the dingy corner of the bar, but there was a gap where there might have been, seconds before, a tall, thin man.
Pia raised her eyebrows and glimmered her eyes at him, just like she’d done when they’d sat down at the same table in a café in Casablanca. He’d liked her because she had talked with her hands and let the strap of her sundress fall from her shoulder and not cared. She’d liked him because when, at the end of their meal, both their hands covered in honey and couscous, she’d said, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Bod had looked pleased and had said, very serious, “I think maybe it could.”
He’d told her stories of his time in the desert and she’d taken him back to her hometown at the foot of Vesuvius to teach him about volcanoes. Amongst other things. Pia was twenty-one, two years older than Bod and he loved how she always tasted of limoncello when he kissed her. Bod had discovered he loved limoncello, was strangely drawn to the way it could be sweet and sour at the same time.
He looked at the space where Silas had been, and suddenly that didn’t seem so strange after all.
“I don’t think he’s a stalker,” he told Pia and Silas, who was doubtless listening. If Silas had let himself be seen, more than once, then he clearly wanted to be seen, which was strange, because Bod had rather assumed that he was destined to be seen but never see for the rest of his life.
“Oh really? Then what is he?” Pia asked, dry as Tuscan white wine.
“I’m, um, working on that,” Bod confessed, and as she laughed, he could only turn the question over in his head.
Bod had known, somehow, that Silas would be there on his twenty first birthday. He’d looked for him as soon as the sun went down, only a lifetime’s habit stopping him from looking into shadows during the day. The evening had worn on though, and still there was no sign of him. His friends had appeared at the door of his dorm room with presents and promises of “legal, finally,” drinks, which they were well into by the time that Jojo noticed what he was doing.
“Seriously, Bod, stop worrying, you actually have valid ID now,” she laughed, snapping her fingers at him to bring his attention back to the table. Jojo had been the first of Bod’s friends. He’d not planned on making friends; he’d come to America because it was easier to blag your way into an American college with some careful work and a little charm. Jojo had been his dorm mom, who had explained breezily that she had divorced his dorm dad and so Bod was going to be a single parent child, but that she was “getting alimony in kegs” and had a “BFF” who could lend a hand in raising Bod, and also that she found his accent “totally adorkable.”
Bod hadn’t realised just how much of a foreign language American was up until then.
And so he’d acquired friends, a group of people who thought that knowing how to call for help in every language of the world was cool, just something awesome that Bod had learnt to do, like knowing how to order a beer in Klingon or all the capital cities of Europe or pi to twenty digits. He had trendy hair and underneath it a head full of knowledge. He’d learnt how to drink, how to make ramen and somehow, somewhere along the way, how to be friends with living people.
Bod had never really considered friendship before. But recently he’d given it plenty of thought, in that serious way that he’d never been able to shake, the habit of rote learning Miss Lupescu’s lists still engraved somewhere on his brain in purple ink. He felt that no judgement was the key ingredient, and talking, and a sense of equality.
Which was why it was easy to answer the question that he’d been dreading, the question, “Who are you waiting for?”
“An old friend,” he said, absently.
Eli shook his head and said, “You and your fucking mysterious past.” Eli had been Bod’s friend ever since he had stridden across their kitchen, removed the potato peeler from Bod’s flailing hands and said, “You are forbidden to touch a utensil again until I’ve taught you how to cook.”
Bod supposed it had just never occurred to Silas to teach him to cook. It had been odd, knowing that Silas had left gaps that it was entirely up to Nobody Owens to fill, and they were gaps that Silas never would, never could understand.
“We grew up together,” a voice said, and Silas insinuated himself onto the bench.
The silence rippled out across the table like a stone dropped into a pond.
“This is Silas,” Bod said, gravely. “Silas, these are my friends.”
The silence continued creeping through awkward towards downright unpleasant until Anna said, “Oh god, I’m sorry. It’s just, we’ve never actually met anyone Bod knew before he came here. We were beginning to think he was an alien or something.” Anna, Bod decided, was his new favourite person. Lover of myths and breaker of silences.
“You are my new favourite person,” he told her and she smiled and called him, “carino,” because they were the only two people they knew who spoke Italian and it was their thing. Bod had never had a ‘thing’ with someone before, unless you counted encounters with the Sleer. Which he didn’t think most people would.
Silas’s fingers tightened on the edge of the table. It was probably weird for him to be here and see Bod in his new context.
“So, what are you doing in America?” Jojo asked Silas, her eyes flicking back and fourth from Bod to the man sitting next to him, seeming unsure as to whether this was an exciting development or a worrying one. Jojo had never really stopped being Bod’s mom, in many ways. Bod hadn’t realised he’d missed having someone to worry about him until Jojo had fretted over his sleep habits, still rather off after years of a half nocturnal life, and had worried about unsuitable boys breaking his heart.
“Well, I was visiting some other friends in the area and I thought it would be nice to see Bod on his birthday. I’m delighted to find him in such good company,” Silas said with a smile that Bod had never seen before, one designed to charm. It worked like a charm itself, but Bod didn’t think it actually was. Silas didn’t need magic to be appealing.
“So, you’ve known our Bod a long time? Has he really always been called Nobody?” Anna asked Silas, levelling a sideways look of great suspicion at Bod.
“Almost all his life,” Silas said and gave Bod a small, private smile, which Bod couldn’t help but dwell on for a second before he turned to give Anna a triumphant look.
“We haven’t heard that much about you,” Tom said, just the polite side of accusatory. “Not like Pia.”
There was a round of sighing and a chorus of “Oh Pia, she was so wonderful and beautiful and interesting…”
Bod glared at his friends who looked far too amused and unrepentant.
“I haven’t seen Silas in, oh, about 4 years?” Bod said, making it into a question even though in reality it was far from being one.
“We had somewhat of a disagreement,” Silas said, the words easy but his eyes not.
“Oh what a surprise, there’s a story behind it,” Jojo stage muttered, rolling her eyes.
“But will it be as good as the one about the soccer team mascot wars?”
“Or the one with the porpoises-”
“Or the time he got arrested -”
“Actually, it was Silas who bailed me out that time. So you see, you have heard of him,” Bod informed them.
“I suspect I was more of a bit part than a protagonist in that particular story,” Silas said with a self-deprecating dip of his head. That was another new expression on Silas.
“It was in Prague,” Bod began. There was a general sigh and someone put the notebook on the table.
“Prague,” Anna murmured, “Nope, not had Prague before.” She added it to the list. Bod kind of both loved and hated the list.
“So, it was a dark and stormy night in Prague,” Eli intoned. Silas frowned and said, “Yes, it was, actually.”
“Wow, you two really did grow up together,” Jojo said with a snicker and Bod and Silas exchanged the puzzled glance of the pop culturally illiterate.
“Shush. The story,” Anna said severely.
Silas leant in a little, as if he didn’t know the story that Bod was going to tell. Although, he didn’t really, hadn’t heard the way Bod could weave his past into the fabric of normal reality.
“Remember I said I was a bit of a, well, vigilante?” he asked. “Well, Silas was more of the actual authorities.”
Everyone nodded apart from Silas, who looked at Bod with something that could have been amusement, and could have been exasperation. Bod had spent about a year in ‘vigilante’ mode, seeking out the shadowy spaces in between the everyday world and the extra-ordinary, looking for a sense of familiarity. It had been easier than he’d thought to find members of the Honour Guard. You just looked for people whose eyes didn’t match the rest of them, too young for their worn faces or far too old. Or sometimes far too red.
He’d always got the feeling that Silas hadn’t really approved of this. He’d tried to glean information from some of the other members about his former guardian, slipping his name casually into conversation, but they never took the bait. Silas was one of their own, and Bod was nothing but an interloper, however knowledgeable or useful he made himself.
“We were both in Prague and there was a girl in trouble,” Silas said into the expectant quiet, “and Bod saved her.”
That had been the important thing, Bod supposed. She’d run away, looking just as afraid of Bod as she’d been of the ghouls, but she’d been saved. That would be what Silas would remember.
“But I felt that Silas could have conducted himself in a more proactive manner. That’s not exactly how I put it at the time,” Bod added with a smile.
“Indeed,” Silas said and everyone laughed. Bod’s friends and Silas were sharing a joke that came from a fight about ghouls. This was probably the most surreal night of Bod’s life, which was a tough category to win. Bod’s life had a worrying amount of nights that could qualify for most surreal night in history.
“I’m sorry, Silas,” he said without even thinking about it. He was sorry, even though he still wasn’t entirely sure why Silas had done it. He suspected that Silas was letting Bod fight his own battle that Silas would have stepped in if Bod had failed. But he wasn’t entirely sure. You never quite could be, with Silas.
“I think maybe for that, I owe you a drink,” Silas told him and he was lost in the crowd at the bar in seconds.
There was a short, crowded pause and then an explosion of shocked, delighted commentary, which ended with Tom saying, loudly enough that everyone finally went quiet, “Basically Bod, we always knew that you must have had friends before us, and that they would probably be, well, weird. But still. Who is that guy?”
“He’s Silas and I’ve known him most of my life,” Bod answered. He was very sure about those two things, they were unquestionable, unlike so much else about Silas.
“But what does he do? Is he for real?” Jojo asked, voice rising at the end in a slightly distressed way. She’d always believed Bod’s stories, of course, but it was quite another thing to have someone make them fact.
“Yes, that’s just the way he is,” Bod said with a shrug. “What? He’s not some sort of crazy person. Seriously. He’s quite normal in loads of ways.”
“That is clearly a lie,” Eli said, shaking his head.
“I think he’s fascinating,” Anna sighed and Tom and Eli looked despairing. Bod could identify. People shouldn’t go around saying things like that about Silas, it was too strange. It wasn’t that Silas wasn’t fascinating, but nonetheless, it made Bod feel on edge, like someone was telling everyone Bod’s secret.
“He is! He’s so dark and mysterious and…” Anna started and waved her hands at Silas as if she could pluck the right adjective from the air around him.
“If you say Byronic I will be very upset,” Eli warned.
“But he’s wearing a cravat,” Anna wailed. “A cravat, Eli, and he says things like ‘somewhat’. He is actually dashing in real life.”
“Too many Gothic novels, I blame that Brit Lit class,” said Tom, witheringly, and gave Bod an ‘Honestly, arts students,’ look. Tom forgot about 10 times a day that Bod had a study program that his tutor had called “schizophrenic” and that no one really understood how Bod could possible manage, but Bod didn’t mind Tom claiming him for Team Science. It meant that Anna got to make her “But Bod plays for both teams” joke, and sometimes they would let Bod start on his theory about how illogical it was that people went around only playing for one team, anyway, and how beauty was transcendental and people were people and guys, could you stop throwing napkins at me now.
“You’ve got to admit, he’s a very handsome man,” Jojo said, and they all looked over at where Silas was manoeuvring back through the crowded bar. Strangely, whenever someone looked like they were about to get in his way they would either stop or turn round, so that there was always a clear path in front of him.
Bod looked at his pale, intense face and his dark eyes and his half mocking, half curious smile as he caught them all looking.
“Huh,” said Bod.
Silas was less of a stranger over the next three years. He would drift into Bod’s life for a day or two, sometimes he would bring news, sometimes he would just sit, tired and drawn and silent.
Once, Bod came home from work to find Silas sitting on his couch talking politely to his housemate, looking quite at home and deceptively normal.
“Bod,” Silas said as he stood up, looking altogether too serious to be serious.
“Oh for the… You said you haven’t seen each other in years,” James laughed. “Hug or something.”
Bod had always known that Silas was not a person to hug, known it for as long as he had known what a hug was. A hug was a thing of comfort, a straightforward gesture of warmth and a reassurance, things Silas could never want, be, or need. But now he wondered if maybe Silas was the sort of person one could kiss. There were many types of kiss in the world, after all, and a kiss could be Silas, could be velvet soft, and dark, and full of the unknown, and of knowledge shared.
That was very much the kind of thought that once had, could never be un-thought. It wasn’t … unexpected though. It was nothing like being the first person to put a footprint on white sands that stretch as far as the horizon wavering in the heat. It wasn’t like coming back to the place you grew up in and still loving it. It wasn’t even like finally getting a joke you’ve been hearing for years and always found funny, but never known why.
It was only like seeing someone you’ve known all your life and wanting to know what it would be like for them to want you.
Bod turned and locked the front door behind him, smooth wood and cool metal beneath his fingers - good, solid things that he could focus on. He managed to look back at Silas and hoped that somehow his face didn’t betray him.
“It’s good to see you,” he said.
“I see you are enjoying a domestic phase,” Silas said later that evening, as James made pasta and Bod told Silas about his job at a magazine.
“Maybe. Better or worse that the rebel drifter phase?” Bod asked with a smile.
“Oh, much worse,” said Silas, who had quite enjoyed the blue hair.
“Better than my stint at guarding the borderlands,” Bod said and Silas’ eyes were bright and amused. Bod tried to look nonchalant, and hoped for the hundredth time that Silas would never know he’d had the thought, and now he couldn’t stop thinking it.
“Oh I don’t know,” Silas said, “I think you did it about as well as I ever have. I’m still not much good at being good.”
“I wouldn’t want you to be,” Bod grinned. “I’m terrible at it.”
The phone rang and Bod let it for a while, stretching out on his bed and watching the shadows from his TV play over the ceiling of his room. The telephone was on the other side of the flat, but then that wasn’t much of an excuse, seeing as that was exactly 10 feet away.
When whoever it was didn’t seem to get the hint, Bod eased himself up and answered, “Hello?”
There was a long stretch of nothing but a crackly sound and then a voice said, “Bod. I’m sorry, I waited as long as I could,” and Bod nearly dropped the phone.
“What’s wrong, Silas?” he asked quickly because Bod was very, very good at getting over shocks. You had to be, growing up in a graveyard. The world outside was full of really shocking things.
“It’s a pleasant surprise to even find you in on a Saturday night. Shouldn’t you be out enjoying all the delights of London?”
“I’m twenty five. I’m an old, boring man,” Bod said. If Silas wanted to call at midnight after being who knew where for a year and mock Bod, then Bod could play along.
“I...” Silas began. And then he stopped. Bod tried to remember if that had ever happened before. He felt slightly disconcerted. On reflection, finding Silas attractive hadn’t been half as strange as this, as thinking of Silas as unsure.
“I find myself in need of your help,” Silas said, finally, his voice flat.
“When and where?”
“Would it be that easy for you?” Bod wasn’t sure if Silas sounded impressed or just curious. Mostly he sounded empty, like all the emotion had been worn out of him.
“I’m a travel writer. I have frequent flyer miles to burn,” said Bod, because he liked the sound of it, and besides, it was true. Even if it hadn’t been, he would have made it that easy, for Silas.
Silas’s house turned out to be a huge, looming wreck of a castle. The sun was just setting when Bod arrived, so he at on the front steps and watched the surrounding forest get swallowed up by the shadows until there was a strange scuffing noise behind him.
Bod turned. The great castle door with its huge iron hinges and centuries old wood was shaking. Bod took a step back, he was brave but a little caution went a long way in these situations, he had found. Everything stopped for a moment, then one of the doors clattered open and there was Silas holding a lantern.
“Sometimes the door sticks,” he informed Bod, which was so inappropriately mundane that Bod had to laugh.
Something that could have been a smile given half a chance tugged at the corner of Silas’ mouth and he said, “Come in.”
Silas led Bod though a series of increasingly gloomy corridors until they arrived at a room made bright with candles. It was smaller and cosier than Bod had been expecting, worn wood and leather furniture and books everywhere, on shelves and on tables and in piles on the floor. Bod picked one up.
“I do have a library, but the roof leaks,” Silas said, pouring wine into a glass and setting it down near Bod. “So I brought all the useful books in here. It’s a shame, really, it was a lovely library once.”
“I wrote a guide to the world’s most beautiful libraries once,” Bod told him, taking the seat nearest the stove in the corner, for there appeared to be gales assailing him from every side.
“I remember that one. Is the Canadian Parliament one really as fine as you made it out to be?” Silas asked. Bod felt a sort of fierce, proud joy consume him.
“Better,” he said, then tilted his head a little to make the question seem more innocent. “Why? Haven’t you been?”
Silas said, “The world is most certainly large enough for there to be places that you have been and I have not, Nobody Owens.”
When Bod had been younger Silas had used Bod’s full name to underline the seriousness of what he had been saying. But more often and more strikingly over the years Silas had started using it quite differently, had given it a new edge, one that Bod couldn’t quite identify.
Bod drank some wine and when he looked up from his glass Silas was sitting across the table and staring at him as if he was searching for something.
“I need you to do me a favour,” he said, eventually.
Bod wasn’t exactly sure how to answer that at first, but then he realised that this was Silas. It wasn’t some person. With people you had to judge how much truth they wanted to hear, but with Silas that was never an issue.
“You know I’d do almost anything for you,” Bod said.
Silas’s fingers toyed with the stem of his glass.
“I find myself in somewhat of an unforeseen and problematic situation regarding the local people. They have some plan for my home, but I don’t know what. They refuse to speak to me. They do not trust me. They know what I am. Therefore I find myself in need of some form of intermediary, and I have heard that you have had some success with such things,” Silas explained, laying down each word very carefully, as if he were making a tower of them and one disturbance could bring everything crashing down around him.
“It is something I do when people and, um, not people need a go between. Someone with a foot in both worlds.”
A frustrated line appeared across Silas’ forehead, a thread that unravelled into a fully blown frown when Bod asked, “Do you not approve?”
“I had hoped for something more than that for you,” Silas replied, low. “That you would find a place in the world. Do what we cannot. Not be stuck in between.”
Bod smiled. “Between is a place. It’s my place. I chose it and I like it.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it like that,” Silas admitted. He had lost some of the hunched over tension that he’d been carrying since they started their conversation.
“It’s true. After all, not all those who wander are lost,” Bod finished, with the least amount of smugness that he could manage.
Silas just raised his eyebrows.
“I can help you, Silas,” Bod promised. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
“I think they want rid of me,” Silas said. “I thought the days of mobs and pitchforks were over, but it appeared they have just hidden themselves in town council representatives and paperwork. I have some,” he grimaced as if the mere thought was unpalatable, “correspondence. I can read it to you, if you like.”
So they went through the pile and Bod sipped his wine and Silas sipped his glass, which, in the candlelight, looked near enough like it was filled with wine.
The town councillors gathered in a knot of anxiety in the driveway. They had met this boy, this ‘Bod’, yesterday and the fact that he seemed perfectly normal did not make him seem any less disconcerting.
He had listened patiently to their objections to having the castle near the village. He had made notes of everything they had said regarding unsafe structures. He hadn’t flickered or flinched when they had discussed the terrible memories associated with its current owner, of the pain and the loss that so many people had known in history recent enough to be memorable. He had just asked questions in clear, quite passable Russian and had promised to relay their arguments to his friend.
His friend, the mayor thought, and tutted to himself.
The boy came out of the castle, a small grey figure against its crumbling darkness, and walked towards them. He smiled very politely and told them that the current owner understood their concerns, and realised that the castle was as close to falling down as any building could be, anyhow. And so the council could do as they wished with it in the New Year. He smiled again.
The councillors put their heads together and all tried to find the evil in this plan, because there had to be some, surely. And when they couldn’t, they turned back to the boy and his nice smile and his nice face and they said, “Thank you. Yes.”
And the boy looked sad at that and said, “I’ll thank Silas for you.”
The councillors left as quickly as they could without actually running.
They had dragged all the covers from Silas’ bed, and the nest of cushions that Bod had slept on, to the top of tallest tower of the castle. There had been some tricky moments on the stairs, but then falling had never really been something Silas had to worry about.
They sat and watched the clouds laze across the moon, and Bod marvelled at the clarity of the stars with the open-eyed wonder of a city born boy.
“In the desert, you can see every nuance of the Milky Way,” he told Silas, leaning his head right back against the half ruined wall. “But I’ve never seen the stars from so high up.”
Silas was looking out over the forest with his eyes half shut, as if he were just waking up from a dream, and unsure about what was real.
“I’m glad you got to see this place before it went,” he said slowly, still not looking at Bod.
“Me too. You knew my home so well, after all. Now we’ve even.”
Silas turned his head then, his face sharp and devastating in the moonlight, his expression unreadable.
“Is that what we are, then? Even?”
“Well, even and a little odd,” Bod said, trying for light, although he didn’t sound convincing to himself.
“Equals?” asked Silas, in a strange, intense voice that Bod had rarely heard from him.
“There are places in this world that you’ve been and I never will, and there are things that I’ve seen that you never can.”
“True.” Silas looked away again. “There are things that I’ve done that you’d never do.”
“I could say the same,” Bod reminded him. He didn’t know why it suddenly seemed so important to make Silas see. But it was, it was.
“What am I to you, Bod?”
When Bod didn’t, couldn’t, answer, Silas leant forwards, until Bod could see his own breath ghost over Silas’s cheek and catch a wisp of dark hair.
“What am I to you, now?” Silas asked, and kissed him. The kiss and the question were one and the same, soft with an edge, lips with a hint of teeth.
“You’re Silas,” Bod said softly, and hoped that Silas knew what he meant. He usually did. He always did. Bod kissed him again, a slow, sweet kiss for all the times that Silas had known exactly what he meant.
“And you are Nobody Owens,” Silas replied. And now Bod could hear the notes, identify them, possession and reverence all bound up into the syllables. His name from Silas’s mouth.
“I am,” Bod said, “and I always was.”
Silas’s smile hadn’t even a hint of a twist to it when he said, “How will this ever work, do you think?”
“Oh, you will be you and I will be me, and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle,” Bod said with a reckless wave of his hand.
“Somewhere in between,” Silas corrected him. “And we can do anything, there.”