On his way to the prayer the next morning, Titus made a quick detour to hide the files in his room.
He was the first to arrive in the chapel but not for long. When Grimmfang arrived, he inquired after Vox immediately. As Dankwart gave him the answer, Titus was sure that the man flashed him a distrustful glance. He only saw it from the corner of his eyes because he had averted his gaze. He remembered the last time Vox had been missing. Titus had been unable to find the strength to inquire where she was and the shame stung bitterly. Steading himself he vowed anew that he would make amends for his shortcomings. Against everything he had dared to hope for Vox had forgiven him. He would prove worthy of his second chance.
It turned out to be a pleasantly uneventful training day and Titus spent his free time in the evening in idle chit-chat with the brothers. Tiberius had been right. Too long had they neglected the ability to connect to others. Time to learn.
When the tattoo had claimed the others, he went to the apothecarium. The effects of the white fire had worn off today and left him pleasantly tired but he wanted to see Vox at least for a while before he slept. Maybe, he could sleep on the chair beside her.
The light was dimmed when he entered and the quiet room was filled with the sweet sound of her slow breathing. Titus performed the rite to remove his gauntlets before he sat down and tenderly grasped her hand. It was cool and limp but he still took it and placed a loving kiss on her fingers. While the question if this was inappropriate drove a slight blush into his cheeks, the door opened. Titus had only just enough time to let go of her hand.
Grimfang came in.
The sergeant stopped dead after a single step into the room. For a moment, Titus was uncertain if he had spotted him. Even the eyes of an Astartes needed a moment to transition between the lighting conditions outside and in here but then it occurred to him that Grimfang had a bionic eye to compensate for this.
“What the hell are you doing here?”, the menacing question came a heartbeat later. Grimfang’s stance tensed and he seemed to crouch a little as if ready to spring.
“I might ask you the same, sergeant”, Titus replied as calmly as he could.
“I’m visiting my friend”, the man declared with a distinct note of belligerence in his voice.
Titus allowed himself a few seconds of thought. He had gathered by now that Grimfang and Vox were fond of each other. That this had developed to an extent where he would sneak into her sick chamber while she was unconscious surprised him, however.
“Vox will be asleep for at least a week”, he pointed out, noncommittally for now.
“Then why’re you sitting there?”, Grimfang countered.
“I enjoy the company.” Titus knew immediately that it had been the wrong thing to say. A comment like that could be turned against him in so many ways that he could not think them all through before Grimfang reacted to it. The Space Wolf managed to surprise him. He turned the aggressive baring of his teeth into a dangerous grin.
“You know, cap’n?”, he asked in a calm tone that was incongruent with his body language. “Vox never told me what the fuck was going on between the two of you. Why don’t you?”
“Because it’s not my secret to tell”, Titus answered steadily. “But if you like, I can ask Vox if I may tell you”, he offered.
“It’s something to do with that black shield?”, the sergeant wanted to know.
Titus thought he saw the man gritting his teeth for a moment.
“Won’t touch that”, Grimfang grumbled then. “Can you tell me why you two suddenly seem goody-goody instead?”
Titus brushed his fingers over the service studs on his forehead bashfully.
“Actually, this is our default”, he said uncomfortably. He could understand the disbelief very well. After all, he was hardly able to come to terms with the change himself.
“That you saw us fighting was due to unfortunate misunderstandings and misconceptions”, he tried to clarify without telling the whole story.
“Wonderful long words for you being a damned son of a bitch”, Grimfang commented almost sweetly.
“Careful, sergeant”, Titus warned. “I feel I owe you that you cared for my little brother in recent times but that gets you only so far. Now, what do you want here?”
Grimfang gritted his teeth and averted his gaze for a moment as if he regretted that his tongue had slipped like this.
“I want to keep my brother company in the night, captain”, he said earnestly and turned the intense gaze of his one eye back to Titus. “He shouldn’t be alone in the darkness.”
Titus fell silent. He was impressed. Not only with the tenderness of this declaration but also with Grimfang’s courage to admit something like this to a superior. Always grimly baring his fangs at Titus, the man had registered as nothing but a nuisance and a rival up until now. For the first time, a glimmer of respect was sparked in Titus’ chest. Thoughtfully, he let his gaze wander over the white wolf while he contemplated what Vox had confided in him: She was forced to select whom she pulled close. Somehow Grimfang had earned his place in her hearts. It was hard to accept her affection for him but Titus felt that he had to. Also, she would be asleep for at least the first two jumps. It was no use to her if Titus stayed awake that long. With these considerations in mind, he stood up.
“I give you every second night”, he said curtly and walked towards the door. There, he halted for a moment and looked at Grimfang who had turned to watch him leave.
“Good night, sergeant”, Titus said. “May the Emperor guide you through the darkness.”
The white wolf frowned.
“You too, cap’n”, he replied. For a moment Titus was sad for him. How little Grimfang knew. He himself had known as little. Even less but he had been blessed with so many answers. And more.
Suddenly, it was easy to consider himself the luckier man and from this position, it was no effort to be generous. Why not grant Grimfang time with a slumbering friend while Titus took his rest?
It turned out to be a smart decision.
Dankwart decided to leave Vox in her coma for the full sixteen days he had specified at the beginning. Her healing rate was so slow that he only risked waking instead of transferring her into a stasis field because they were undertaking shorter jumps than usual. That Ignatius had been inquisitive about the arrangement was another incentive to end it. Since he had been fitted with a new arm, the other apothecary was bubbling over with industriousness. Keeping him from running all kinds of tests on Vox was a challenge that got harder to master every day.
The trumpet player announcing that they had left the warp came late in the day. Dankwart left unobtrusively without prompting and Vox was able to join the even meal and prayer.
Towards the others she disclaimed feeling weak and announced that she would join the training again tomorrow. When they walked alone after the prayer, she confided the truth in Titus. She was more stricken than she liked and being unable to control her armour properly would not help with her state. Despite his concerns, he could not suppress a smug grin as he revealed the training plan for the next day to her. It consisted almost exclusively of units she could drop out of without trouble. The rest were personal sparrings in which he planned to keep her to himself. Being teased that their last few sparring units were no cause for reassurance in this matter was hard to tolerate but Titus decided that humour was better than any other approach they had found so far. They parted happy and content to sleep for one precious night before the warp would hold Vox in its nocturnal grasp again.
The next day, it turned out that she had a serious stamina problem on top of the restrictions she had already foreseen. Between the general training, Titus found spaces to assist her with this. He had noticed before that Vox showed unique patterns of movement in combat. Her astounding endurance in a swordfight had always been mostly due to a peculiar efficiency in her style. As long as she had matched the others in fortitude, she had been able to outlast any of them by weaving in little breathing spaces if pure skill did not suffice already.
Since their disastrous quarrel on their way back from Zenith, neither Titus nor Grimfang had let them train in their established pairs to avoid a repetition of this debacle. Today, the captain did a great deal to make up for this. Among themselves the two of them were able to expand the benefits of Vox’s fighting style. She adapted better and better during the day. That her armour stayed unresponsive, however, could only be worked around by leaving her helmet off. This way, their day was challenging but manageable. Until Grimfang happened.