France, Summer 1920
“Poplars and plane trees, beeches and birches, or a mountainside of firs.” Sandro stared into the bottom of his wine glass and tried to keep the misery at bay. “Is it really too much to wish for a few olive and lemon trees? I’ve not been near my grove in six years. Six years, Raijin!”
“What if they’ve dug it up?”
“Why would they?”
Sandro set the glass down. “To spite us,” he said.
Raijin stared at him.
“I know, I know. It’s not like me to think badly of people.” He waved a hand. “But what other interpretation is there for the way Tan Hao treats us? Every time we finish a task, he finds another one that keeps us from the base. Do you really think he does that to everyone?”
Raijin wisely kept his mouth shut.
Sandro was grateful. He’d never been a maudlin drunk, but the last six years had changed many things. Being prevented from visiting the only home he’d ever known… hurt. Even if he’d barely spent a day alone while the human world tore itself to pieces.
Maybe he shouldn’t complain. Especially not to Raijin. He hadn’t been home for far longer, but… He lifted a hand to summon the waiter and order another bottle of wine, when Raijin stopped him.
“Come along. I have an idea.”
“The good kind.” Raijin smiled the soft, lopsided smile that Sandro had no defences against.
“In a moment.”
They paid for their meal and left the restaurant, wandering up the street towards their lodgings. They had their own courtyard garden, had food, and even wine, but Sandro had been too restless to stay home, and Raijin had indulged him.
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately.” He tried to express his gratitude.
“Indulging me. I’m… Ignore me.”
“Never.” Raijin unlocked the gate and ushered them into the place they’d made their base since the Armistice. It was clean, comfortable, and private. But it wasn’t home.
Sandro had no idea what Raijin meant to do, but he didn’t have to wonder long. As soon as he’d locked the gate behind them, Raijin took hold of his arm, opened the veil and tugged Sandro through.
Two steps later, scents of brine and citrus hit his nose. Soft, springy turf caressed his feet, and one look at the familiar trees had him fight back tears.
Raijin had brought them to the top of the Custodia base. Had given Sandro what he’d most needed: a visit to his grove of lemon trees.
If he could have touched all his trees at once, he’d have done so. Since he lacked that ability, he wrapped his arms around the nearest tree, and hummed.
The trees responded, impressions wrapping him up like a cloak: comings and goings, hot sun and sparkling raindrops, a storm from the east. Sandro soaked it all up like a starving man and shared his own experiences in turn.
After the first sharing was done, Sandro went from tree to tree, touching, checking, renewing his connection. When he joined Raijin at the centre of the grove and accepted the glass of wine Raijin had poured him, he hummed with green energy, his watcher sight as sensitive as it had never been before.
“I wish I could explain—” he began hesitantly.
Only for Raijin to wave it away. “It’s fine. You wanted to check on your family. I understand.”
Raijin wasn’t demonstrative.
But when he chose to make a point, he took Sandro’s breath away.