Slowly, without letting her go, he removed his gauntlets and dropped them carefully to the floor. When he let his bare hands wander over her back, feeling her strong muscles move gently under the cloth, he wanted to drown in this feeling.
This alone was far more than the silent guard he had held over her back then and more than he had ever dared to wish for. Vox got caught between his shoulder plates and chest piece several times before he managed to return enough from his silent rapture to take them off. She tried to help him but, unfamiliar with the appropriate chants for his armour, she could only do it in gestures. When his shoulder guard had fallen, his vambraces got in the way and then the upper arm pieces, the torso piece and bit by bit his armour plates fell, ceasing to separate them. Vox helped him to peel back the mimetic polymer and stroked over his arms and shoulders when he slipped out of his under armour. The sensation was incredible and unlike anything he had ever felt before. Hands, lively and hot in contrast to the cold air, wandering over his skin. He closed his eyes, letting himself sink into the joy of this.
Vox’s breath had accelerated like his own and he could feel the pulse in her temples when she rubbed her face against his. None of them knew who had started but also none of them shied back when the corners of their mouths suddenly rested against each other. They paused for a moment as if listening for a reaction. Then, their lips sought each other out, igniting a new kind of heat between them and suddenly, Titus could not tell how, Vox’s robe was gone. They stood skin to skin, breathing heavily as they kissed and held onto each other as if they could drift apart any moment.
When they leaned back to look at each other, they found how kind the bright moonlight was to them. It showed the lovers in all their perfection, gently softening all the scars on their bodies, making them marks of honour instead of livid reminders of failure and sacrifice.
Their searching gazes made them aware of how similar they looked. Scratched and scarred and yet alive.
After a moment Titus’ gaze came to rest on the one scar between them that had not healed yet. In this light, it looked black on her white skin. Like Celeste had done it not long ago, he extended a hand towards it. When he hesitated, Vox pressed his warm fingers on it as if this gesture could bring healing. They looked each other in the eyes.
How much they had survived.
They had faced inquisitors and xenos, traitors and chaos and the darkness in their own heads. They had suffered for their common cause, had held the line against the threats of the unfeeling galaxy to give humanity the breathing space it needed to prosper. They were warriors. They had served their purpose and in this private moment, the world gave it all back to them. It made it all worth it and granted them the reward for having stood through everything together.
How strong they felt now.
They sank into each other’s embrace again and kissed passionately.
A moment later, Titus was taken by surprise when Vox sprang up to sling her legs around him while she covered his face with kisses.
Suddenly, there was nowhere left to retreat. Just now this had not mattered but all of a sudden, things went too fast for him. He panicked when her hand crept down between them and caught it.
“Wait!”, he gasped. She stopped at once and leaned back to look at him. An apologetic smile bloomed on her lips just before she slung her arms tightly around his neck and whispered: “Sorry. I got carried away.” When the grip of her knees around him loosened, he grabbed her.
“No, don’t go away”, he begged. “I just… please tell me… what will you do with me afterwards?”
“What?”, Vox asked in puzzlement, drawing back again to stare at him.
“Tomorrow… when I have served my purpose…”
“What?”, she burst out. “Wait! Stop right there! You think this is part of what I asked of you earlier?”
“Isn’t it?”, Titus whispered and averted his gaze. He had to swallow hard on all the difficulty that had crashed back into him so suddenly.
Vox took his face into her hands and turned it gently back to her. “Look at me”, she bade him. “I must have failed to make this clear, so let me correct my mistake: I love you. This doesn’t serve any purpose. It’s not required, it’s not a payment for your time. This is just me longing for you.” For a moment he saw her certainty waver. “And I was hoping”, she whispered. “you did too.”
It took Titus forever to unfreeze from this and even longer to sort his rampaging thoughts to a point where he could take control of his body again. At last he managed a nod.
“I do”, he whispered. “I do, my angel, I do. I love you.”
They kissed again, stroking each other, trying to calm down but Vox shook herself free after a moment and looked at him, frowning. “Would you have done that?”, she demanded.
“If it was just for the purpose of… finding my Primarch?”
“Vox”, he said with a deep, desperate look into her eyes. “I’d do anything for you.”
“By Terra’s ass, captain!”, she burst out. “What’s going on in your head?”
He leaned the concerning head against her sternum to listen for her heartbeats.
“Didn’t you sneak a glance?”
“No! I can’t do that with you…”
“Unless we have skin contact.” Titus smiled with closed eyes.
“I forgot that you knew…”
“When did you find out that this worked?”, he inquired.
“On the ‘Fall of Angels’ when I was carrying you”, she admitted. “I had trouble sensing anything with you so close and strained my senses… And sometimes, when I looked around or so, we touched and then I could hear you.”
Titus looked up at her. He had picked up on something in her tone. “There was a lot of Mira in me, right?”
“Not exactly”, she said uncomfortably. “Just… pain…”
Slowly, he let his hand wander over her back, pressing her gently to himself. His body was on fire with the sensation of her so close but the rest of him longed for a totally different kind of connection. “Come”, he whispered, giving in to this. “Take a look now. I think you’ll like what you’ll find.”
“What are you saying?”, she asked uncertainly.
“I miss you, Vox”, he explained. “You may think the white fire goes only one way because we are unconscious before you call us back but, in this moment, you were here inside me. And I want you back there.”
Now, she unslung her legs from him and tried to shy back. There was a tense shiver that ran through her muscles when Titus tightened his embrace to prevent her from this.
“You don’t know what you’re asking”, Vox said with a strange, flat horror in her voice. “You don’t know what it’s like to see all of a person.”
“You saw all of me”, he pointed out, gently trying to pull her closer again but Vox suddenly got rough and pushed him back. In the pale light outlining her, he saw her breath heaving.
“What are you?”, she wanted to know. “A daemon after all? How can you offer me this?”
“I didn’t mean to offer you anything”, Titus said, frowning for this downright offensive accusation. “I was requesting”, he clarified and tried to stay calm. “Please, before we start to bicker again, could you tell me what you think I am asking for? We seem to have very different assumptions on this topic.”
“You are requesting a total union of our minds.”
“I can follow so far.”
“And you don’t want that.”
“No, don’t”, Vox wailed. “Really, you don’t want that.”
“But you do?”, Titus inquired innocently and grinned when her mouth remained open. So he had found something she really, really wanted to do. To such an extent that she accused him of temptation. As soon as he had worked out what was holding her back, they both would get what they longed for.
Vox found no answer. Instead, she started to back away as if trying to flee. Titus followed cautiously and gently grasped her shoulders again when the window blocked her way. Her breath was flat and fast.
“Is there a rule against this?”, Titus inquired softly, leaning closer.
Vox shook her head.
“Then why do you hesitate?”, he breathed and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Or at least he tried to.
Vox suddenly crouched and rammed her hands into his chest. Her push catapulted him backwards with force. Landing elegantly was something, his body did on its own and it had to because with this movement she had done what he had asked: From one moment to the next his mind was filled with emotions and considerations that were not his own. They were strangely different from his and yet disturbingly familiar for all the uncertainty and downright painful fear in them. Vox feared. To lose him.
She had inevitably given him her reasons on top of the nagging doubt and he tried to sort through them.
Vox longed to merge her mind with him. She was dying to flow into him, to feel this deepest of connections but she feared that he might not like what he would find in her. She knew that she was able to seem friendly, honourable and caring on the outside but inside, she worked by rather less superior measures. She had left Titus believing that she had crossed the Jericho Reach just to get him out and keep her promise to Leandros. What she really had been doing, was finding chances to work with Laraise until the woman gave her the crucial opening. Saving Titus had just been a means to an end and a convenient way to keep Tiberius in line. The techmarine would not have supported her for a trip of revenge alone.
Titus had to smile at this point. Vox, usually so adept at reading and understanding him, had completely failed to get her head around why he loved her. He loved her for exactly this: Starting out with necessities and doing nice, friendly and honourable things on the side. Sometimes without thinking about them.
He looked up at her and saw her eyes glinting in the moonlight. Defiant and challenging.
“Still want me?”, she demanded.
“Hell, Vox”, Titus breathed. “Look at you. How could I not want you?”
Ready to accept her challenge, he stood up. All the time he had been uncertain. He had not known whether his longing for her would be returned and just now, she had shown him how much she longed for him herself. Suddenly, all his barriers melted away, freeing him from the crippling doubt to leave him strong and content.
“This you mean?”, Vox snapped and made a gesture that encompassed her wonderful, muscular body.
“No, my angel”, Titus said, smiling. “All of you.”
‘They shall know no fear’, the Emperor had said about his Space Marines but Titus suddenly knew that courage could only sprout from fear overcome. Tonight, he was determined to be courageous.
He strode towards her and reached out but she swiped his hand out of the way. He could only just lean sideways to avoid the punch aimed against his throat. He blocked her arm and got caught on the ear by her elbow when it suddenly changed direction.
The rush of the fight exploding into his body, he went with the force of the connecting thrust and dropped to the floor. Catching himself on his hands he made a valiant attempt to scythe her legs away but caught only one. It unbalanced her enough to cause her to roll away while he pushed himself up in a flowing movement. A few impressions trickled into his consciousness that were not his own. The contact to her skin had brought them. He smiled as he reviewed the short exchange of blows from the other side and was thrilled by her excellent tactical mind in close combat. She had followed his movements to the breaking points and made the most of them.
One of the sensations, however, overshadowed all the others: It was the ecstasy of battle.
It resonated in Titus’ soul with such might that it made his anyway raging pulse jump with unanticipated joy.
Never had he dared to discuss this with anyone. Never dared to avow the lust for violence that lurked behind his faith and dedication to the Emperor. It was the thrill to find a worthy opponent. The excitement for a test of the own strength. It was what made him a warrior and Vox had just shown him that she shared it. How could he not want her?
His hearts sang out. Loud and powerful they pumped the blood that made his muscles swell with the anticipation of being used. So many hours of training they had spent together. So many hours of talking and yet they had never admitted this to each other.
That the violence and exertion brought them satisfaction just for the sheer joy of it.
He was delighted when she took the offensive and thrilled about her mode of attack. She cleared the distance between them with a few quick steps and just brushed her fingertips over his forearm. Only when the contact flooded him with new confusing impressions, did she land a hearty kick to his hip. It forced him to buckle down on one knee.
If she had left her upcoming intention with him or if he had anticipated it himself was immaterial. He leaned out of the way of her knee jerking up and elegantly avoided a broken nose. With great presence of mind, he placed a hand in the hollow of her knee and accelerated her movement upwards while he swiftly came to his feet. Flying backwards, she still managed to twist and place a kick to the side of his neck. Without contact to the ground, her momentum had too little force to do real harm but it still hurt him badly enough to gain her the second or two she needed to roll away again.
Certain that he could cope better and better with the fragments of thought and impression he went after her. In the next flowing encounter, he got hold of her arm. As he twisted it around he had to wince in surprise because he felt the pain too. His grip loosened, giving her enough room to ram her shoulder into his abdomen to throw him back once more. This time, he detected the echo of his own pain in her mind. So, they felt what the other felt.
When they circled again, he took a moment to reflect on all this. What was his goal here? He had said he wanted her but he had not figured out yet how wanting her would look like. Quickly, he decided that he wanted her in his arms. Then they could work their way along.
His options for this were limited as long as she fought back. He was heavier but with their kind of strength, this hardly counted. They were easily able to lift both of them at once. If they tried to test their endurance, the night would be over before they had reached the end of it. With him being taller, he had the advantage of a little more reach but, with a nimble opponent like Vox, he decided not to depend on this too much. He was pretty sure, however, that he was stronger while she was faster. The moment he got hold of her, they were playing on his terms. All this took less than a second to cross his mind and he was ready when she launched himself at him again.
Passing the armour pieces on the floor, Vox flicked one of his shoulder plates up with her foot. She caught it and hurled it in his face while her movement already transformed into a punch to his solar plexus.
She had expected that Titus would reserve a hand to fend off the flying armour piece or at least twitch out of the way and was taken by surprise when he simply took the thing to the forehead. Grabbing her wrist and putting the other hand on her elbow, he forced her down in a tight circle. Shortly before she hit the ground, she managed to spin around her own axis and escape the lock on her arm. Too concerned with winding out of his grip, she neglected to continue her roll and gave Titus the opening he had waited for. He dropped on top of her and locked both his arms around her. His manoeuvre yielded less than perfect results, however. One of her arms was still free.
Sweating skin sliding over sweating skin, Vox twisted around in his grip until she could reach him. He pressed his ear to her sternum to present as little an area of assault as possible and was taken by surprise when the blow did not come. Her arm curled around his neck, Vox lashed out in a completely different way.