Titus was unclear on how the mechanicum had gotten his armour repaired in a matter of hours after a whole section of it had been ripped off. He might have suspected that they had given him a new mimetic polymer but an armour had to be attuned to its wearer and his was still attuned to him. The damaged plates would have been replaced, of course, but he could not even begin to imagine how a polymer was to be repaired at all.
When he saw his old captain’s insignia on his right shoulder guard, he suspected that Tiberius must have been involved in the repair. Maybe, he could ask him later.
His oath had been the same, private affair it had been the last two times but when he followed the commander and the chaplain out, he smiled to see all the brothers on the station gathered to honour him.
Corven and Captain Josef, who had returned together with Kill Team Ictus yesterday evening, waited next to the keepers. Further along stood the three remaining members of Aegis and behind them Gladius, Saltus, Pugio, Ictus and finally Morsus. He felt his hearts jumping when he saw that Vox was here but she was so pale that he suspected that there was a reason for her presence other than her state of health.
The other captain came to Titus’ side, while Corven walked alone behind Ferone and Loor, the five of them enclosed in the honour guard of the six keepers. The kill teams fell in behind them in a long silent procession on the way to the great hall.
Once there, the solemnity of the occasion thawed. Food and drink were brought in and the event seamlessly turned into the promised feast day.
In the echoing emptiness of the great hall the approximately fifty Astartes were a bit lost. Clustered at one end, they nevertheless managed to make it into an enjoyable convocation. For once they were a little less restricted by the boundaries of kill teams and rank and Fenrisian Ale helped to drive the stiffness away.
Titus still felt uneasy and restive under the aftereffects of the white fire. He would rather have partaken in training than to stand around in this hall. The Mjød was of no help either. It just made him squiffy to a point that he had trouble controlling his temper. He had almost hit the last brother, who had slapped him on the shoulder to congratulate him.
Vox meanwhile, had claimed a bench in a corner and not budged from it yet.
Whenever he looked, she seemed to talk to someone new. It was impossible to get her alone. Corven at first, then some other people. Even Captain Josef joined her for a while.
He lost patience shortly after Grimfang had been replaced by another Space Wolf which he remembered to be a member of Morsus. The black haired man let himself fall down next to Vox and pulled her into an unceremonious embrace. She laughed about it but jabbed a finger under his chin when he tried to ruffle her hair. He shied back from the sudden attack and let himself be defeated by another stab to the side of his head. They laughed and started to talk.
Titus knew that he was rude for it. Vox had glanced over at him several times and he had never made a move but now he put his mug down in a meaningful manner. Tiberius who had talked at him for the last hour was left standing with a pat on the shoulder.
Vox spotted him coming.
“I’m sorry, Xavor”, he heard her say. “I think the captain wants a word with me.” They both stood up.
It was a bad start. The Space Wolf was even taller than Titus. Dark of hair and eye, with the pelt of a giant wolf slung around his shoulders. He turned out to have the kind of voice that boomed back from distant buildings.
“Congratulations, captain!”, he shouted cheerfully, a smile buried somewhere under his black beard.
“Thank you brother”, Titus answered stiffly. “I need to borrow my librarian for a moment.”
“Right you are, captain!” He grinned and went off with a lazy salute.
Vox searched Titus’ face and uncertainty rose in her eyes.
“What’s the matter?”, she asked cautiously.
“I need to speak to you.”
“I’ve gathered as much… No, not outside”, she said, holding him back when he wanted to turn to the door. “Let’s just go back there somewhere. We don’t want to meet Zork’s spies.”
The great hall did its name justice. It was easy to retreat into the shadows in the background.
When they had gained sufficient distance to the others, Titus turned around to her but before he could say anything she caught both his gesticulating hands.
“Please”, she said quietly and the sound of her voice was so warm and soft, he felt himself melt for this simple word alone. “Slow down a little”, she asked. “I’ve seen you like this before and that was a bad day.” Carefully she let go of him again.
“Vox…”, he said and tried to get his gestures under control. “I owe you my life. How can I repay you?”
She stared at him in astonishment.
“What are you thinking? You owe me nothing.”
“You burned yourself to get me back.”
“Yes, but… I already got you in return.” She smiled shyly. “Even more of you than I had expected. What else would I want?”
“But we are not for each other, we’re for the Emperor”, Titus said desperately.
Vox cocked her head.
“No, that’s not how I understood it”, she disagreed. “I learned that we are of the Emperor. And I don’t see why we shouldn’t love each other in this case.”
Titus looked at her in a breathless moment.
“You don’t think this is heresy?”
“I… never considered it. How did you get there?”, she asked uncertainly.
“I was taught that my love is for the Emperor.”
Vox never broke eye contact while she thought about this.
“Do your teachings continue ‘and all he has created and given’? Because mine do.”
Titus tried to think straight.
“So, on the day we fall from Him…”
“I’m quite glad you stopped there”, she said nervously.
“This is all rather complicated”, Titus stated and suddenly noticed how tense he was. He made himself relax. “Or maybe it’s not and I just think it’s complicated. In any case, I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, do we have to do anything?”, Vox asked. “Apart from what we usually do, I mean.”
“Maybe not. Certainly not ‘have to’.” He buried the gaze of his grey eyes in hers and then he had to laugh.
“Well, look at us”, he exclaimed. “You could almost mistake us for rational people.”
Her face lit up too.
“Just listen to us simply talking and coming to conclusions!”, she agreed happily.
“Without screaming at each other”, Titus added. How much this happiness suited her. He wanted to get hold of her but even though they were beyond the lights, they were probably visible if anyone looked in their direction.
“How do you feel by the way?”, Vox asked with a smile. She had seen the telling signs of his restlessness much clearer than he could have. “Trying hard not to hit anyone?”, she inquired.
“Oh, yes”, he laughed. Now his attention was drawn to this, Titus reckoned that his longing for movement probably had worsened his troubles far beyond the extent they would have taken on normally. Again, he found that all his muscles were bunched up and forced them to relax.
“I finally understand why Dankwart took two days on the ‘Ghost’”, he mused. “Why does it have this effect, do you think?”
“I’m not sure”, Vox said with a small shrug. “Have you ever had too much oxygen? It’s a bit like that I suppose.”
“Now you mention it”, Titus confirmed thoughtfully. “After they gave me the blood maker, I had a few very strange days until my breathing rate dropped.”
“Yeah, me too.” She laughed weakly and Titus felt his good humour sink again.
“Not a problem you’ll encounter right now…”, he estimated bitterly.
“We’re both alive”, she reminded him softly and the two of them spent a while smiling shyly and letting their gazes wander around until Titus took a deep breath.
“We should get back, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, captain”, she nodded and walked by his side.
“Then you can talk to Space Wolves.”
“No, the three that are left are all up to date about my injuries. I need to talk to Ferone next. Captain?”, she asked after a short pause.
“Don’t be jealous of my Space Wolves. I meant it when I said that I’m faithful.”
“I have to admit that this statement of yours was bugging me”, Titus conceded. Indeed, looking back now, the exchange about faithfulness in the Marble on Implicit had a very peculiar aftertaste.
“Yes, that was aimed at you”, she said, avoiding his gaze while her ears reddened.
“And after something like that you went around flirting with all these women?”, Titus asked. He struggled to walk in a straight line for the strange, prickly excitement in his belly.
“Well, what was I to do to distract myself?”, she asked in playful defensiveness. “Even when we were alone, you refused to snuggle up!”
“What? I didn’t… It’s not that I didn’t…” He let his fingertips brush over the service studs on his head. Vox smiled. She liked this gesture on him.
“Emperor, what am I saying?”, Titus exclaimed. “I mean… Oh Vox, you just love to make me blush, don’t you?”, he accused her.
“Yes, it suits you”, she grinned. “Makes you look alive.”
They sank their gazes into each other and almost collided with Xavor as they stepped back between the brothers.
“Captain!”, the huge Space Wolf bellowed. “You’re back! Here!” Xavor handed him the mug he was holding. “And you…” He pointed at Vox and looked around for another container with fenrisian ale. Grabbing it off a table, he leisurely ignored the brother who searched for it a second later. With his black eyes fixed on Vox, he took a sip and held it out to Vox.
“Here”, he said and his voice and stance suddenly communicated a certain kind of inevitability.
“Xavor”, Vox scolded him softly. With the gentleness of absolute self assurance, she took the mug from him and handed it back to its owner. “Look at me”, she bade Xavor and managed to reduce her swaying to a minimum as she turned back to him. “See the eyes? And the hair? I’m a descendant of Sanguinius. I can’t drink Mjød”, she stated as she looked him earnestly in the face. “It would dissolve the broom up my ass!” With this she swept past him and headed towards Ferone, whom she had spotted leaning against a wall a bit away from the others.
Xavor stood transfixed as he stared after her.
“Did he really just say that?”, he finally asked.
Titus nodded and grinned into his newly acquired drink.
“Yes, he did.” There still was this burning desire for exertion in him. “I always feel it’s unfair when he does that”, he teased Xavor. “There is just nothing left to say afterwards. For the dull-witted”, he added in a pleasant tone and finished his drink. Captain or brother, this was a feast. There were possibilities here. Xavor was the biggest guy around and he had tried to touch his woman earlier. That said woman had directly proved her capability of self defence was irrelevant. Titus put down the mug and grinned provocatively when the Space Wolf turned and fixed his dark eyes on him.