After the even meal and -prayer, Vox and Titus walked as usual.
“Vox, what happened today?”, demanded he as soon as they were out of earshot. He was utterly confused about the way things had gone and needed an explanation.
“Arrick came to talk to me this morning”, she informed him in careful tones. “I don’t know if you noticed it.”
Titus shook his head.
“He told me that he has been with me while I was asleep. Could you tell me how this came about?”
Titus recounted in short words what had happened but Vox asked him to repeat it in detail. She looked thoughtfully at the floor while he talked.
“Did you have any other interaction with Arrick since you have been promoted?”, she wanted to know a while later.
“Gladius was one of the teams I chose to help me clear the holding tract”, Titus told her.
“How did he behave then?”, she wanted to know, her eyes narrowing in deep concentration.
“Normal I’d say. Do you think he treated my offer as backing down?”
“Yes”, Vox said firmly. They turned a corner and made sure that the corridor beyond was empty. The last thing they needed now was someone listening in.
“With Corven or Xavor it wouldn’t have been a problem”, Vox continued the discussion. “Just the courtesy you meant it to be. But Arrick…” She shook her head uncertainly. “He’s incredibly tricky when it comes to hierarchy. He hates it but he had to survive by it when he was younger. Today, he avoids fighting over it wherever he can but if someone challenges his position he goes ballistic.”
“So, my promotion hasn’t settled our hierarchy, it made it seem to him that I challenged him?”
“I don’t know”, Vox said slowly. “Arrick is neither an animal nor an idiot. He knows what promotions mean and you said he acted normal right after you had been made captain. Something else has gone wrong and I can’t think what.” She frowned and thought for a moment.
“Why did you set me on him?”, Titus wanted to know.
“I saw him go violent on someone who questioned his status once and when I talked to him this morning, he showed exactly the same emotional patterns. I was listening for him all day. I don’t know why it took him so long to act but I wanted to make sure that you had the upper hand.”
Titus’ gaze danced over the richly ornamented walls for a moment. They were close to the quarters of the pilgrims and symbols of the Omnissiah were everywhere here. Before he could frame the words to explain how uncomfortable he was with having hurt a brother like that, Vox grasped his hand.
“Captain”, she said, clearly seeing his distress. “I saw most of your fight. Arrick refused to yield to you”, she said insistently.
“Alright. I agree that it might pose a problem if a sergeant doesn’t yield to a captain readily and also breaks the rules of the current unit simply to go on attacking.”
“I tell you: Something is wrong.”
Titus smiled a little sadly.
“Come on, say it.”
“Say what?”, Vox asked in confusion.
“You want to visit him tonight to find out, right?”
“Well… Yes, but… could you please not interrupt while I break this to you gently?”, she teased him.
“Oh, sorry. Go on.”
Vox pushed him and grinned. He was happy to return both gestures, then he sighed theatrically.
“And here was me, thinking that the winner gets the girl.”
“Only as long as there are girls involved, captain”, Vox corrected this misconception reproachfully. “We’re all men here, remember?”
“Damn”, he said peaceably. “And I heard that both of us are straight.”
Vox shot him an amused glance.
“You know?”, she asked. “I think I might be willing to adjust my alignment for you.”
“And what kind of dependency is tied to this?”
“Oh, come now!”, she said playfully annoyed. “Mutuality of course!”
Titus looked around. He had trouble breathing for all the joy inside him.
“Does this corridor count as ‘public’, do you think?”, he asked as he grabbed and pulled her towards him. He was astonished to find that Vox could blush just as readily as he could.
Suddenly, she looked around and both of them sighed. Titus had heard the voices as well.
“I’m quite sure”, she stated sheepishly and stepped back from him.
Xavor was not trying to speak loudly, his voice just carried. At the moment, it carried a whole conversation by the sound of it. He and whoever was with him discussed Grimfang’s injury. Vox and Titus exchanged a glance while they listened to Xavor elaborating in what circumstances an arm could be broken. Apparently, they had spoken to the sergeant and were discussing the information they had gotten.
“Magnificent!”, Xavor exclaimed when he turned the corner and spotted Vox and Titus. Irdan Yorg was with him. “Let’s hear the other side of the story! Captain, what’s been going on with Grimfang and you?”
“What did he tell you?”, Titus inquired.
“Now, now, captain!”, the black wolf scolded him playfully. “I wouldn’t want to bias you!”
“Since you’re not entitled to hear anything from me, let me hear what Grimfang said so that I can go along with possible lies”, Titus insisted patiently.
“He said he’d attacked you after he had been hit and you broke his arm for that.”
Titus lifted an eyebrow.
“Yes, that was roughly how it went”, he confirmed.
“Vox?”, Yorg inquired as politely as possible, lest Titus took offence that he still went on asking. “You went after them, right? Did you see them?”
“I did”, Vox confirmed. “Arrick refused to give in even though he had been hit”, she said calmly.
They all exchanged glances and shrugged.
“Can’t help him in that case”, Yorg said, seemingly relaxing.
“You don’t seem to believe it, Irdan”, Vox called him out. “What’s the matter?”
While the four of them started to walk again, the Doom Eagle shrugged one shoulder.
“After two years of constant cabin fever, I know when my sergeant is hiding something”, he said and added with a smirk: “And when you two didn’t accompany us to visit him, I thought that this was odd.”
“How did he take your visits?”, Vox inquired innocently. She had seen what Titus had done and by Arrick’s reaction strongly suspected that the white wolf had been concussed. It was very hard to do that to a Space Marine. Their skulls and brains were specially designed to avoid a warrior becoming disabled by a blow to the head. When she had been a child, however, Vox had suffered this condition more than once. She remembered well how horrible too many impressions had been for her.
“Not very well”, Irdan admitted, a little uncomfortable under her smug gaze. “He seemed disoriented to me.”
“See?”, she said, elegantly ending the inquiry of why they had avoided visiting. “We’ll check on him when it’s gone quiet.”
Irdan shot her a glance from his mild, grey eyes. Like always, he gave the impression that there was a lot going on in his head. He might even have parted with it, had he and Vox been alone but when he looked over to Xavor and then to Titus, he apparently decided that, whatever he might have said, was not for this company.
The four of them continued to chat idly and reflect on the training day until they reached the quarters where they parted.
Vox accompanied Titus to his room where they shared a serene smile and a short good night.
“Please, ask if I may visit him tomorrow”, Titus requested and she promised to do so, leaving him to rest while she made her way to the apothecarium.
The late hour made the ship quiet and Vox met nobody in the corridors. She took her chance to enjoy the silence before the tension claimed her again. She had come like this before. Silently walking through the night, with the intent to keep a friend company in the darkness. It was possible that she would face an enemy now. Corruption could take anyone, even friends and Vox had come prepared. Spreading her senses, her warp blade sitting ready in its sheath, she opened the door.