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Home Is the Hunter

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The graveyard had been his home for thirteen years, and Bod had thought of it and its inhabitants often since then, but he'd failed to account for the changes it would undergo in the decade he'd spent away. New plants ringed the paths, and trees that had seemed quite tall enough when he'd been a child were still taller now. Even the gravestones and statues, which had always seemed so vastly permanent, now proved their secret instability. He saw more than one crumbling gravestone that had been whole, albeit precariously so, when he'd last been there.

Bod wandered the paths slowly. It was just past dusk now, and the denizens would be emerging from their graves in numbers. He thought that they would recognize him--he hadn't changed that very much in appearance--and he could imagine them gathered about him curiously. But, of course, there was no way of knowing for sure. A rustling sound came from a nearby hedge; it might have been the wind, and then again it might not have been.

Although the graveyard was neither as familiar nor as welcoming as it had been when he'd been younger, nor was it unfamiliar to him, and certainly not eerie or unsetting as he knew a graveyard at night was to many others. And, even if graveyards didn't have a certain reputation, the paths were dim, and it would be easy to stumble in the meager light.

So it was unexpected to turn a corner and see a man standing with his back to Bod. Bod wrestled with the idea of approaching his fellow visitor to the graveyard, but, before he'd made up his mind, the figure turned sharply to look directly at him.

"Silas!" Bod said, a little startled, and not just because of discovering his old guardian in the graveyard when he'd expected him to be several thousand miles away. For the first half of his life, Bod had been used to his family and friends--with the exception of Scarlett--never changing in an appreciable way, neither in body nor demeanor. Silas hadn't changed now, of course, but the decade that had passed since Bod had last seen him had changed Bod, and Silas looked different by extension. A little less tall, though he was still a tall man. Considerably younger: when Bod had been a child, Silas had seemed quite old, but now he revealed himself to have the appearance of a man of about thirty or thirty-five years.

Silas inclined his head. "Hello, Bod."

Bod grinned and stepped closer to him, reaching out his hand. They shook--Silas's hand as cool and strong as Bod remembered it, though it no longer engulfed Bod's as it once had. "I hadn't expected to see you here."

"Nor I you," Silas said. His voice was smooth, but his eyes pierced Bod with an intent gaze. "Why are you here, Bod?"

"I was going to leave you a letter." Bod slid his hand into his jacket pocket and drew out the slim envelope with 'Silas' written across the front in the perfect copperplate script that had become something of a personal trademark. He handed it to Silas.

Silas opened the envelope and read the letter, his eyes flicking over the brief lines. Then he folded the letter back into the envelope and returned it to Bod. "As per your request, I'm here and at your disposal," he said with dry humor. "What did you want to ask me?"

"Could we walk in the meantime?" Bod asked. "Or possibly go to a cafe? It's a little cold this evening."

For the first time since they'd met, Silas looked something other than perfectly at ease, though Bod couldn't parse the expression on his face beyond that: whether he were uncomfortable or surprised or what have you. "Certainly," he said and started down the path towards the entrance that would let them out closest to the high street.

To forestall any further questions--which Bod wanted, but not until they were settled in a warm cafe, with the weight of inertia keeping them in their chairs--Bod asked one of his own. "I wasn't sure, when I brought the letter here, if I might not hear from you for years yet. Are you back in England for a while, or is this just a brief visit?"

"No, I'm here for the foreseeable future," Silas said. "The task I undertook when we parted ways ten years ago has been completed, and several other tasks besides. There is always more to do, but, for now, I am able to remain here."

They were coming up to the front gate, and the streetlights were bright on its other side. Before they could step into that spill of light, Bod said, quickly, "It's good to see you again, Silas."

Silas nodded his acknowledgement, but didn't return the sentiment, which led Bod to the conclusion that Silas had looked in on him, likely more than once, in the intervening years. "It has been a number of years, though not, admittedly, as many as I thought it might be," Silas offered, his voice threaded with some emotion that Bod couldn't decipher.

As though he knew that Bod wished to have a moment to collect himself, Silas remained silent after that, and they walked quietly to the nearest cafe, where Bod ordered a latte for himself and a glass of water for Silas. When they'd settled themselves at a remote table, Silas asked, "And have you done many of the things you wanted to do, Bod?"

Bod finished swallowing his sip of latte and nodded. "I work as an architect, designing bridges, mostly, though I've done other projects. It lets me travel quite a bit; I've seen a lot of the world for my job, and then I've seen other places on holiday. I've met loads of people, and made friends with some of them. I've learned and seen and done more things than I can remember, and I've only been at it for ten years so far."

Silas gave him a faint, approving smile. "Have you a family yet?"

"No." Bod shrugged. "There was a man I met in university who almost--but it didn't work out in the end. We broke up about a year ago, and there's been no one serious since then. I've a dog, though, Hidalgo, who certainly considers himself to be family. And I've friends, of course, from school and work and so on." He realized belatedly that he was rambling and shut up, meeting Silas's eyes for the first time since mentioning Gerald.

Silas was watching him with the same interested look on his face that he'd had their entire conversation, not appearing surprised in the slightest, much less anything worse than that. Bod hadn't really expected otherwise, but it was still somehow a relief.

"It sounds as though you've done very well for yourself, Nobody Owens," Silas said.

Bod did his best not to blush; Silas's praise had always been worth earning. "All except for one thing," he said.

Silas raised an eyebrow at him.

"I'm forgetting what I learned when I was younger, all that you and Miss Lupescu taught me. That's the reason I came here to try to contact you, actually. I tried to find other sources of information, and I took a few likely-looking classes in mythology in university, but they weren't really sufficient to my purpose. It's not that it would be very relevant to my present life--though there was one incident with a troll when I was building a bridge in Hungary that I'll have to tell you about later--but I don't want to lose that knowledge, either."

Silas nodded. "Very understandable. It might be difficult for me to track down a tutor for you, although you can of course ask me any questions you might have, whenever our schedules coincide so that we might meet. I have an alternative solution, however. A few among the Honour Guard--not many, since most of us find it easiest to do our work without the interference or even the knowledge of the living--have written books or memoirs. I could find some of those for you."

"I'd like that, thanks," Bod said. He sipped his latte again, feeling warmth and contentment spread through him. The promise of help solving his minor problem was already more than he had hoped of this visit; the implicit guarantee that he and Silas would be able to see each other again in the future was as pleasant as it was unexpected.

"I'm thinking of moving back here," Bod said one evening, when he'd come to return a handwritten book and stayed for a chat in Silas's crypt.

Silas was silent a long moment, and then he said, "Is your decision influenced by my having returned home?"

Bod's heart gave a queer sort of leap at Silas's calling the graveyard 'home,' but he kept his reaction off his face as best he could. "That's part of it," he said honestly, though he suspected that Silas wouldn't entirely approve of that motivation. "But there's more, too. I'm getting tired of London--too dirty and noisy for my tastes--and I've enjoyed my visits here for more than just the fact that I get to see you. I'd still be close enough to London that I could get in for work whenever I really needed to, though a lot of that can be done on the internet now.

"Most of my friends have scattered, as well, so it wouldn't be much more difficult to meet up with them than it is now; it'd just be both of us traveling to London to get together, rather than them coming to me. Not to mention that I could rent an entire house with what I currently spend on a smallish flat."

"There's not much in the way of entertainment here, compared to London."

"No," Bod agreed. It occurred to him suddenly that that criticism applied even more when the town was viewed through Silas's eyes, and he wondered, as he'd never thought to wonder as a boy, how Silas had come to live there out of all the places in the world. But none of that was anything Bod could ask about, so he just said, "Books and television and movies and the internet are the same everywhere, though, and, as I said, London isn't very far away if I wanted more than what I can find here. I could make friends here as easily as I made them there. And I could have a vegetable garden here, and possibly a few chickens."

Silas raised an eyebrow, which made him look faintly demonic in the bluish light cast by Bod's torch. "You want to keep chickens?"

"Yeah, maybe. One of the ladies in town, Mrs. Culpepper, has a sort of kennel for chickens, and she'll keep yours for a small daily fee if you have to go out of town for a bit, so I wouldn't have to worry about how to care for them when work takes me out of England. It would be nice to have fresh eggs, I think, and chickens are apparently easy to care for."

"I've never tried," Silas said.

Bod shrugged. "That's what I've read online, anyway. I know it's a bit odd moving back after all these years, but it doesn't feel like trying to return to my childhood home so much as wanting a change and liking the looks of this place, no matter that I've lived here before. Besides, you did the same thing."

Silas shot him a curious look, which Bod returned as mildly as he could. "I suppose you're right," Silas said at last.

Moving was both easier and harder than Bod had expected. He'd let a furnished flat and was moving into a furnished house, so that was one huge task that he didn't need to worry about. But he'd also lived in his London flat for three years, which was apparently enough time to accumulate more books, clothes, cooking utensils, and other sundries of daily life than he'd realized. His original plan of borrowing a friend's car was scrapped in favor of renting a moving van, despite the exorbitant cost, and, after a full weekend's effort, the best he'd managed was to move a mountain of cardboard boxes from one home to the other.

Hidalgo liked the house, running up and down the long hallways at the slightest provocation and dodging boxes as he went, and he loved the garden. He also approved of the surrounding countryside, including the graveyard, which was a two and a half mile walk from Bod's new house.

Silas he was considerably less certain about. The first time Silas came to visit Bod, Hidalgo yipped excitedly at the sound of a stranger on the walk, only to subside with a confused whimper when Bod opened the door and invited Silas in.

Silas held a patient hand out to Hidalgo to sniff, which only made Hidalgo whine again.

"He'll get used to you soon," Bod said, more to get rid of the expression on Silas's face than because he believed it. Hidalgo was a smart, friendly dog, but Silas was rather more unusual than his doggy experiences had prepared him to deal with. "Right through here," he added, gesturing Silas towards the sitting room. They watched an episode of Doctor Who--Silas apparently was a semi-frequent moviegoer, but he didn't have much opportunity to watch television--and talked for a while afterwards. Two hours after Silas had arrived, Hidalgo decided he was tolerable enough to share a room with and joined them, pressing close to Bod's leg with a warm, heavy weight.

"So, a bunch of people are getting together for my friend Anna's birthday party this Tuesday down at the pub," Bod said. "Would you like to come?"

"Bod," Silas said, sounding heavy with disapproval.

Bod turned an expectant look on him.

"I am not like you," Silas said in a voice that was soft and terrible at the same time.

"I know that," Bod said. "But you're not entirely unlike me, either. If you don't want to come to the party, that's fine. I only asked because I'd like you to be there, and I thought you might enjoy it."

"What could I enjoy about it?"

"Well, you seem to like spending time with me," Bod said, shrugging. "And I bet you'd play a killer game of darts." He could see a considering look enter Silas's eyes, so he pressed his advantage. "You don't have to answer right away. One person more or less won't make a difference to the party. If you decide to come, just show up here around seven and we'll walk down together, all right?"

"All right," Silas said slowly, and Bod smiled and changed the subject to the most recent book Silas had found for him.

Silas didn't come to the party. Bod waited until a quarter past seven before setting out himself, his stomach sour with disappointment even though he'd known it was the most likely outcome.

Shaking off his unfortunate mood took a bit of effort, but Anna was worth it, and she cooed happily (and a bit drunkenly) over the hologram of a gothic cathedral that he'd made for her. Bod accepted the kiss on the cheek she gave him in thanks and ordered a round for the table, tucking into his own lager as soon as it hit the table. He might not have Silas beside him, but he had a circle of friends and an excellent pint and even better food--he'd gotten a steak and kidney pie with his order--and that was more than enough to be getting on with.

Bod was rather drunk by the time he returned home--Anna was popular, and there was rather a lot of people buying drinks for the table--to find Silas standing at his front door waiting for him.

Bod smiled at him a little sloppily and handed him the keys, since asking for help couldn't look any worse than fumbling with the lock for ten minutes would. "You could have let yourself in earlier," he said while Silas silently opened the door and let Bod into his house. "I know you can."

"I didn't want to intrude."

Bod waved an airy hand at him. "'s no intrusion. Especially since you're not likely to be raiding my refrigerator or anything."

"No," Silas said, though Bod didn't know if he were responding to that last sentence or to Bod's extension of an open invitation, and he didn't have the wherewithal to pursue the matter at that moment.

"Thanks for getting the door," he said. "Did you want to have a seat? Only I'm a bit knackered, so if it's anything important, or, um, long, then perhaps it should wait until tomorrow night, because I'm likely to fall asleep midway through."

"It can wait," Silas said, turning to go, but there was something in his voice that made Bod shoot out a hand before he even knew what he was doing and catch hold of Silas's sleeve. Silas glanced down at the hand and then looked up again expectantly.

"It's okay that you didn't come to the pub," Bod said. "I had fun without you. Though it would've been better if you'd been there."

Silas shook his head. "I think, perhaps, that you do not understand the full implications of who I am."

Bod snorted a laugh, and Silas frowned slightly. "I think the same about you all the time," he said. Silas's frown deepened, and Bod shifted a little as his feet started to tingle with faint numbness. "Fuck, I'm too drunk for this conversation." He paused to try to order his spinning thoughts. "It's put me in a category with the rest of the living, and don't notice all the ways I'm different from them. I can Fade and Haunt. I have a childhood that I can't tell anyone, or they'll think me mad. My family is all dead, whether recently or hundreds of years ago. I'm one of the living, but I'm not like them, except for the ways that I am. Just like you."

Silas didn't respond right away, and a small and no doubt drunken voice was urging Bod to go ahead and put all his eggs in one basket, so he raised himself up a little and pressed a kiss to Silas's cool, soft mouth. "I like you as you are," he informed him.

There was a long silence, and then Silas said, "And I, you, Nobody Owens," before he tipped his head down to kiss him back. His mouth tasted faintly and sweetly of autumn leaves, and Bod could only hope that Silas found the taste of lager half as appealing.

They stood there kissing in the front hall for some time, until finally Bod had to pull away to yawn. "Sorry," he said after. "I really am tired. You can stay, if you like, but I'm liable to fall asleep the instant my head hits the pillow, so maybe it would be best to come back tomorrow."

"I should go," Silas agreed. "I haven't eaten yet, and I had some other things to do tonight." Even half-asleep, Bod noted that. Silas never talked about eating; in its own way, this brief moment of conversation was more intimate than their previous kisses.

"I'll see you tomorrow, though?" he persisted.

Silas looked into his eyes, and then he kissed Bod again quickly. "Barring an emergency, yes, I'll return tomorrow night."

Bod grinned. "Okay. Good night, Silas."

"Sleep well," Silas said and left, the door clicking shut behind him.

Bod made his own slightly unsteady way up the stairs to his bedroom, where he managed to lie in bed for an entire five minutes before slipping into sleep, hugging Silas's promise close to himself.