Stocke never reminisces with them. He comes with Raynie and sits in the bar (or Garland's fortress or Eruca's castle) with everyone, and he'll have a beer (but never more than two on the nights when they all get together). Yet when the conversation turns (as it always does) to "do you remember when…?" he falls silent, and just listens to all of them.
She asks him about it once, and he says that they tell the stories so much better than he does. She doesn't think it's true, but there's no arguing with Stocke when he sets his mind on a thing.
She does notice, though, that she dreams more on nights when they've all been together. At first she blames it on the whiskey (at least she did the time she tried to drink Garland under the table, which is a thing they just don't speak of. Marco had better not speak of it again, or she'll talk Gafka into hanging him by his furry pants from a balcony. She wouldn't, really, but it's soothing to think about it.)
She's thinking about the dreams this morning as she works in the fields—and how amazing is that, that Conuts can put Mana back into the land so that the desertification can be reversed somewhat!—and it occurs to her, right in the middle of pulling a weed, that some of the things she remembers are blurry. It's like she remembers two ways something could have gone.
She brings it up over dinner that night. Stocke has slowly unbent a bit since he—since he came back, and she doesn't like to think about that part—and while he's never as carefree as some people they know, he doesn't usually retreat into a shell of cold silence. This time, though, there's an odd quality to the way he's quiet. It's watchful—wary, almost—the way he was when they first met and he didn't know yet if he could trust her and Marco.
It hurts, because she'd thought they were getting closer after the last year, but she doesn't say anything about it—she doesn't really know how. She doesn't say anything else about it, but the thought occurs to her as she goes about her days.
She asks Eruca once—it seems silly, to bring her problems to a Queen who has far more to worry about, but she doesn't know who else to ask. Eruca looks at her thoughtfully, and shakes her head.
"I don't know," she says. "He's never told me much about it." She rests a hand lightly on Raynie's. "Give it time."
She tries, but he never speaks of it again. It's like the conversation never happened. He's mostly just like himself—they live together, sleep together, talk with each other, but he just won't talk about it.
Eventually she asks Marco, who's set up shop in Alistel as a healer. She's there ostensibly for a strained wrist she got trying to tend the fields, but that's not really it and he knows it. He listens to her spin out the story while she rambles around his shop, picking things up and putting them down again.
"Well, do you think he's hiding something?" Marco asks her.
"I don't know. It's hard to tell with him." Raynie frowns and turns a bottle in her hands; the greenish liquid inside glistens in a way that makes her uncomfortable. She doesn't like the thought of drinking something that looks like that to get better; it looks more like a poison to her. "He doesn't talk about it at all, you know? We all tell stories, but he doesn't."
"Well, what's bothering you about it?" Marco retrieves the bottle from her, trips on his way to the counter and bobbles it, but rescues it from a messy and sharp end.
She hops up to sit on the counter despite Marco's frown. "It's just—every time we all get together and tell stories, I have weird dreams. Like I'm dying."
Marco pauses with his hand still on the shelf he last reached for. He looks at her for a long moment, still stretched out on tiptoes. "In general, or in particular?" he asks.
Raynie shrugs, uncomfortable with his focus. "There's one dream where you kill me," she says uncomfortably. "You're—upset because Minel was turned in as a spy and you blamed Stocke. But Minel's just fine—we saw her last week in Cygnus."
Marco slowly comes back down onto his heels and folds his arms across his chest, bending inward in that way that he does when he doesn't want to talk about something. "I've had that dream too," he says very softly. "Stocke turned her in as a spy and she was tortured, and I had to make sure he paid. And I did—but I hurt everyone else to get there, and the world..." He moves his shoulders uncomfortably.
Raynie thinks of the other dream she's had, where she and Stocke ran away and didn't fight Apocrypha, and how in the dream Stocke looks so guilty when the arable land runs out. She doesn't mention it, because it's private, but it makes her heart feel heavy. Doesn't she have enough on her mind, without dreaming that she single-handedly doomed the world? And they saved it, that's the thing, they saved the world (Stocke still won't say how, just that he knows they're okay for a while, and Eruca says the sacrifice was accepted but Stocke's still here.) He didn't walk away from his responsibilities. So why does she dream that he did?
"Do you remember—sometimes I dream that we fought Palomides right when we joined Specint," Marco says. "That we fought, and—"
"We lost," Raynie finishes, and her voice sounds hollow even to herself. She hasn't remembered those dreams until now, but to hear Marco voice it...
"But we didn't fight Palomides then," Marco replies. "Why would we both dream it?"
Raynie forces a smile she knows is too bright, and musses his hair because he hates that and maybe it'll distract him. "Great minds," she says, and knows it's a weak joke. She hops down off the counter and leaves some money behind. "Thanks for working on my wrist!"
"You're welcome—hey!" Marco says, but she's already out the door with a smile and a wave.
When she gets home, it's Stocke's turn to make dinner (which is good, because she's an indifferent cook at best). She perches on the table and watches him slice vegetables and throw them into a stew, and after a while he looks up with a quirked eyebrow that would be an actual question asked aloud, from anyone else.
She shrugs, and he goes back to cooking. She waits until he's distracted, and pounces with a question, just like they taught her in Specint training. "I was just wondering," she says. "I keep thinking I remember us fighting Palomides in Lazvil Hills, but we never did that."
He freezes, and maybe he wasn't distracted enough, but the cat's out of the bag now. "Sometimes I think you knew more than you let on," she says. "And not just because of Heiss."
His expression is the same closed, shuttered look he's had every time she asked him previously. "I guess you can't tell me," she says after a moment. "But what I wanted to say is—thanks."
"For?" He won't look at her. Those carrots are apparently really fascinating.
The more she looks at him, the more she's sure that there's been more than one time he somehow fixed a bad decision. She has no idea how he did it, but she's finally putting the pieces together (what can she say? They didn't train her as an analyst; she was always going to be muscle. But she still knows how to find a pattern.) "For making sure things came out okay," she says.
He gives her a look that's so "okay, whatever you say" that it's comical, but she's sure she figured it out, so she kisses him on the cheek and leaves the kitchen before she causes some kind of inadvertent damage to dinner.
She's never been sure, since he came back, if he's here because he wants to be or if he's here out of a sense of obligation. But having some idea of what he did to keep them all safe reassures her that he's not going anywhere now.
She hums to herself as she finishes up the chores.