Arrick lay on his sleep slab, staring despondently at the ceiling. The twisted joint of his left arm had been set and was clamped in a complicated device. He turned his head sluggishly. For a heartbeat they stared at each other but as soon as he recognised her, he jerked upright.
Intent on appeasing her worst suspicions first, Vox was hardly quick enough to prevent him from falling off his slab.
Her still dysfunctional armour was no help in this matter either. When she had caught him and dropped him back onto the pillow, he visibly struggled with nausea for a moment.
“Vox!”, her friend gasped when he had caught himself a little. He groped for one of her hands.
“I thought you wouldn’t come”, he said.
“Arrick…”, she replied, searching for something to say. His mind was a mass of swirling emotions but the tooth-ache like screech of the daemons was missing and she decided to leave him alone. When she folded her senses back into her being, she became aware of his large, soft fingers between hers. Her hands were bare because she had held hands with Titus just now. The sensation was unsettling on a wholly new level. She sighed and dragged a chair over to sit down beside the bed. When nothing more sensible presented itself, she finally asked him: “What the hell?”
Arrick gave an aggravated groan and avoided her gaze.
“What’s the matter with you?”, she demanded when he did not answer. “You endangered him and yourself. For what?”
“Oh, come on Vox…”, Arrick said and swallowed hard. “Ever passed a mirror? Wouldn’t you fight for you?”
“What? No, I wouldn’t!”
“Then you’re stricken with rather bad taste, my love”, Arrick said and shakily tried to pull her hand up to his lips.
She retracted it before he could kiss her fingers.
“Arrick, what the…”
“Oh, spare me that shit!”, Arrick demanded impatiently. “I know you’re a woman, alright? I know…”, he shifted uncomfortably. “And it makes me sick seeing you with that bastard! Literally”, he added with an uncomfortable glance to the side.
Vox had frozen in shock. She searched for words and after seconds managed: “Since when?”
Arrick shot her a reproachful glance.
“Oh, please. You sat beside me for nights on end. After training too.” His unsteady gaze wandered aimlessly through the room. “I sure know what sweating women smell like”, he mumbled. “Well, and… You’re rather easy to spot to tell you the truth. Hell, Vox. Have you any idea?”
“Not the slightest”, she said in a stunned voice and was too confused to prevent him from grasping her hand again.
“Thought so”, he mumbled and this time managed to kiss her knuckles before she took her hand away again.
“Titus knows too, doesn’t he?”, he inquired.
“Damn. I so hoped for gay Ultramarines! Emperor, why do you torment me so?”, he asked the room at large.
“Stop blaspheming!”, Vox demanded, even more shocked.
“Arrick, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Seriously?”, he asked sarcastically and dared to look at her. “Because of your damned black shield, of course!”, he scolded her. “I listen, you know? If you want to keep things secret, why should I blurt them out? Also, I was rather busy gawking at you and wondering why the hell you indulge that moron at every turn.”
“If you insult Titus one more time, I’ll break your other arm”, Vox promised.
“And you think this would make you any less hot?”, Arrick snapped and the intensity of his gaze was rather uncomfortable.
“What the fuck, Arrick?”, Vox exclaimed, completely taken aback by his behaviour. “Are you possessed?”
“To my dismay, no!”, he burst out. “Could you please kick your captain overboard and claim the possession rights I’m waving here?”
Vox stared at him.
“Amazing”, she breathed then. “Well done, Arrick. I have never been as bewildered and uncertain about what to do as now.”
Arrick closed his eye.
“I’d suggest wild smooching, but…”
“That’s out of the question”, Vox underlined.
Arrick sighed deeply.
“You mentioned that…”
“What?”, Vox burst out. “When?!”
“After you told me that Cadia was gone”, Arrick said so quietly, it cut into Vox’s hearts like a knife. “I said ‘don’t fuck with me’ and you said, you weren’t planning on it.” His gaze was even worse than his tones. It was so filled with resigned dismay that Vox failed to recount the event he had just mentioned. It was hard enough not to drown in his dark despair. She closed her eyes for a moment and focussed. Learning to cope with emotions was one of the key skills for a psyker and learning to distinguish whom they originated from was the crucial first step. The pain she felt was not hers but it was a deep, dark, devastating pain that burned through someone she had opened herself to and it was hard to get a grip on it. She started with finding out where it came from.
“Why are you hurting so much, Arrick?”, she asked softly.
The white wolf just looked back.
“Come on”, she urged him. “Tell me. What do you fear?”
“I shall know no fear”, he replied unthinkingly.
“And yet you do”, Vox claimed gently.
Arrick swallowed and answered as if hypnotised: “I fear that you will send me away.”
“Why should I?”, she asked.
“Because I lost the fight.”
There was something in his expression she could read. The pain she had accidentally touched on was an old one. It lay deep, almost at bone level. It was so old, Arrick probably had forgotten the absence of it but Vox could see the shape of it. This time it was her who reached out and took his hand.
“Who sent you away because you lost the fight?”, she wanted to know.
“My… tribe”, Arrick managed, strangely helpless at this moment. The hand he had sought out with persistence did not even receive a slight squeeze.
“And whom did you fight?”, Vox wanted to know softly.
“Older our younger brother?”, she inquired carefully.
“My twin brother”, Arrick answered and his words seemed to come from a long way away.
Vox had not caught herself sufficiently to paint over her astonishment.
“You’re a twin too?”, she asked in surprise.
“Why too? Who else?”, he wanted to know in confusion.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you”, she apalogised. “We had Space Wolf twins with Aegis a while back.”
“What were their names?”, the white wolf wanted to know.
“Hyron and Vyron.”
“You had the Heartrocks?”
“What, you know them? How?”
“Well, twins aren’t common, right? We fought together in the last black crusade and I talked to them, ‘cause they were twins too…” He looked down at her hand holding his.
“What’s this twin thing, Arrick?”, Vox wanted to know.
The white wolf gritted his teeth.
“Twins are… bad omens for the tribes back home”, he explained. “My mother died in childbed… That’s not very unusual I have to say but…”
“But you had to fight your brother?”, Vox prompted softly when he stopped. In the half light of the apothecarium at night, she spotted a few fresh cuts in his face where he had received new anchors for his bionic eye.
“Yes”, Arrick confirmed darkly and his gaze wandered around the room again. “We didn’t even get names”, he told her, starting to fiddle with her fingers. “The tribe fed us to our fifth summer or so and then, they set us against each other. I don’t know Vox, I don’t know how all that happened”, he said, closing his eye. “Maybe my father needed a successor or something. I don’t know, really. I was just a kid…”
“And you lost?”
Arrick nodded and kept silent.
“How did you get your name?”, Vox inquired after a moment.
“The shaman of our tribe…”, Arrick said hoarsely. “She found me in the wilderness after they had cast me out. She asked me if I wanted another chance to carry the name Grimfang… She brought me to meet the Sky Warriors and… They took me along and… Gave me another chance… One of them called me Arrick when he heard my family name. He didn’t give his reasons and I don’t remember his name… I just…”
“Who else sent you away after you had lost the fight?”, Vox inquired when he stopped again.
“Vox”, Arrick sighed, opening his eye and fixing it on her. “Please… I’m in pain and rather heavily drugged. I know, I’m not very rational about this… Just say ‘There, there Arrick’ and it’ll be alright…”
Vox stroked his head with her free hand.
“You’re with us now”, she said.
Arrick smiled sheepishly and patted her hand.
“Thank you”, he said. “I… Sometimes I just…”
“Not just you”, Vox said with a gentle smile. Everyone needed a little care and attention sometimes. It was one of the basic human desires, right after food and drink. Now she thought about it, she realised that the men did not seem to know that. Not explicitly at least.
“What would you have done had I beaten Titus?”, Arrick wanted to know.
Vox thought about this.
“I’d have made sure you wouldn’t kill him”, she answered then.
“Nothing else?”, Arrick asked, seemingly surprised about this.
“No, it’s not my job to stop you from squabbling. In time, I might have told you how little honour there is in disobeying a captain… But apart from that…”
“That’s… really infuriating”, Arrick stated flatly.
“What exactly?”, Vox inquired.
“That you made your choice and won’t even have it challenged, of course!”
“Sorry”, she said calmly.
“Yeah…” He sighed again. “Me too. Could you give me a hug?”
“In power armour?”
“That’s how I like it…” He struggled upright and Vox allowed him to sling his functional arm around her neck while she tried to sort out how not to hurt him.
“Vox?”, he asked into her ear.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you don’t sleep during warp travel? I would have liked to keep you company on our way to Erioch.”
She freed herself from his arm and stared at him. A number of expressions crossed her face.
“Say…”, she inquired when she had reached annoyance. “Could you just lay open all the things you’ve concluded about me right now? I’d feel so much calmer!”
Arrick sank back onto his slab and looked away.
“I know that you can read minds but try not to do it”, he started to recount. “That power you used on us on Zenith is probably one of your own so you must be able to see the future… and you’re no lexicanum… But that’s so obvious, it shouldn’t count as conclusion.” He dared to raise his gaze to her again. “Will you tell me why you don’t sleep?”, he asked.
Vox looked down.
“I dream”, she confided in him. “If I dream the wrong things during warp travel, I’ll take the whole ship down.”
“And will you tell me why Titus?”, Arrick asked in the same, soft, almost resigned tone.
Vox coloured and her eyes widened as she averted her gaze.
“I’m not sure I can explain that”, she said.
“Try”, he urged her.
“He feels good.”
“Even after what he did to you?”
Vox looked around uncomfortably.
“Let’s say, he wasn’t alone in making mistakes… Sometimes, things go wrong. I know it must look very strange from outside.”
“More gay”, Arrick said drily and then grinned. “What?”, he teased her. “Don’t look like this! What do you think Rogan and I have been talking about all day?”
Vox grinned sheepishly for this.
“Thank you for not giving me away”, she said.
“Sure.” Arrick tried to shrug and winced. “Gay jokes are far more fun…” He turned his head away. “I would have wanted you even if you were a man…”
Vox laughed, simply to ease the renewed shock.
“Alright”, she said. “Should I ever grow a dick, I’ll turn to you, I promise. I’ll even try to be gay for you.”
“But until then you’ll stick with your Ultramarine?”, he checked once again.
“I’m faithful”, she said softly.
“Great”, he sighed. “Spare me the rhetorics on the worth of your word had you turned from him…”
“Gladly. Arrick, is there something I can do for you?”, Vox asked because she had trouble coping with his dismay.
“Yeah, please assure me that I won’t face an enraged Titus tomorrow who was robbed of his night with you.”
“He asks if he may visit you.”
“He’s the captain”, Arrick said gruffly. “He may do anything he likes.”
“He would like to know if you would be alright with him visiting”, Vox said patiently.
“No, please spare me that…”, the Space Wolf mumbled dejectedly. “Seeing you two today was bad enough.”
Suddenly, he tried to sit upright again and swayed so much that Vox had to steady him.
“Arrick lie down”, she demanded softly.
But Arrick only trembled, half bent double and fought down the nausea.
“Vox, I’m sorry”, he gasped when he could form words again. “I screwed up, I’m sorry. Attacking him was stupid, I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Please, forgive me and please ask Titus if he will forgive me.”
“Arrick”, Vox said, trying to cope with this new development while forcing Arrick down gently. “Allow him to visit you tomorrow and talk for a while. He feels guilty about the incident today, I’m sure you can forgive each other and move on.”
“He feels guilty?”, Arrick asked in astonishment. “For what?”
“For hurting you, dummy!”
“Crazy Ultramarines…”, the white wolf stated flatly. “A Space Wolf would be furious…”
“You know, I get the impression that you shouldn’t return home any time soon”, Vox said with a sceptical frown.
Arrick looked down.
“You’re probably right”, he said quietly. “I’ve never been a very good Space Wolf. All this ado about being manly and tough and loud…”
“Right, you never did that”, Vox mocked him. “Oh, dear”, she remembered suddenly. “So, you really got why it was so funny that I flirted with Laraise!”
He had to laugh.
“Yes! And I nearly pissed myself, let me tell you!”
“No details, please”, she said flatly.
He shot her an insinuating glance but softened up quickly.
“Can I have another hug and we leave it at that?”, he asked playfully.
“What about I just continue to hold your hand until you’ve fallen asleep?”, Vox suggested.
“Oh, yeah. Good idea”, he said sarcastically. “’Cause you in the room isn’t exciting enough. With you holding my hand, it’ll be so much easier to sleep.”
“Concussion is a bad thing”, Vox said, letting her fingertips brush over his forehead for a moment. “Believe me, it’s so much better when you’ve slept.”
Arrick blinked sluggishly for a while then, his dark eye wandered over to her again.
“And you’ll be here when I wake?”
“If you want I’ll wake you before I leave for prayer.”
“I want”, he said quietly. “Thank you, Vox.”
“You’re welcome, Arrick.”
He looked at her.
“Really?”, he asked and there was a desperate earnestness in his tone that made Vox smile softly.
“Very much so”, she said.
“Never been welcome before…”
“Now, you are. Sleep.”
“May the Emperor guide you through the darkness, Vox.”
“May He guide us together, Arrick”, she answered.
“So, that’s what you answer.”
“Congratulations”, Vox said, rolling her eyes in amused reproach. “Another thing you found out. Now, sleep!”
He closed his eye slowly and only his thumb stroked over her fingers for a while before he went still.