Vox was still asleep when Titus awoke. The dawn crept into the sky outside and a few patches of his skin had gone numb. He shifted position and rolled the beloved off him. The air in the room was cold, even colder than yesterday. His breath condensed in the air. Titus snuggled up to Vox again and stroked her gently. Idly he counted the scars on her upper body when he suddenly noticed that he knew them all. Bar one that looked like the entry wound of a shot on her left arm, he was able to place which wound had left them. Of course, Astartes healed well, so old scars would not be visible but only one scar, he did not recognise? Titus felt a bit guilty about it but he pulled the blanket aside and searched her skin. He refrained from turning her around but on the front side of her body he found only two significant ones, he could not assign to a wound he had seen. He was deeply unsettled about this. Especially since the fresher ones included the cut at the shoulder, where she had taken the Tyranid claw for him. It looked so insignificant now…
Titus rolled aside for a moment and was startled when Vox was suddenly upright. She had made no noise. She just crouched in the bed all of a sudden, staring at him like a hunted animal. Only then, did it dawn on him that he had lost contact with her for a moment. The world coming back must have pulled her from wherever she had gone.
“Good morning”, he said a little bewildered and sat up as well. Vox’s eyes followed his movement as if watching the muscles ripple under his skin.
“Greetings”, she answered quietly. Then she relaxed and sat back on her haunches. She rubbed her face with both hands.
“I didn’t mean to wake you”, Titus apologised.
She shook her head, still hiding her face behind her hands.
“Don’t worry about it”, she murmured. Then she opened her arms and plunged into his embrace as soon as he mimicked the gesture. She slung all appendages around him, clinging to him as if her life depended on it.
He held her tightly waiting for a hint about what had happened.
“Titus?”, she asked after a few minutes of this.
“I’m right here.”
“There is something I’ve been meaning to tell you for quite a while.”
“Oh, dear”, he said flatly. “What is it?”
“I’m more than a hundred years older than you.”
“Older than Grimfang?”, Titus wanted to know.
He was relieved that she had settled on such a light topic.
“I was wondering when you’d tell me off about the little brother”, he joked.
She sniggered and kissed his neck, causing him to shiver with pleasure.
“Of all the trials I had to endure, keeping a straight face about this was the hardest by far!”, she teased him.
“You’re not telling me I’m too young for you, are you?”, he inquired playfully.
“As far as I can tell, you’re old enough to know who you are, so no. Am I too old for you?”
“As far as I can tell, you’re still young enough to rethink your convictions from time to time, so not at all.”
When she spoke next, the cheerfulness had fled her.
“I found him”, she said. “I know what to do now.” She paused uncomfortably before she added: “Things will get immensely complicated from here on, I’m afraid.”
“Things in general or things between us?”
She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him calculatingly. One of his armour ducts had left an impression on her cheek.
“Depends on how much we let complication creep in, I suppose”, she answered hesitantly.
He stroked her hair and used the opportunity to let his fingers glide between the golden strands. Gently encompassing her neck, he pulled her forward until their foreheads rested against each other.
“Let’s keep an eye open for that then”, he said.
They allowed themselves a moment to breathe in unison, just enjoying the presence of the loved one.
“Is your Primarch the reason you think it’ll get complicated?”, Titus asked after a while.
“Partly. Mostly, it’s because I don’t know how to legitimise you. I will be able to make you stay but I might not be able to keep you close.” She looked at him and then smiled as if she had thought of something. “Duty first”, she said dreamily and Titus took a deep, serene breath. They kissed. There would be seconds, they just had to find out where to safely draw them from.
“Thank you, Titus”, she said when they parted.
“For what?”, he wanted to know in surprise.
She grinned a bit sheepishly.
“Everything really”, she replied and turned serious. “That you came for me. That you stood by my side and wouldn’t budge even though I really tried to hold you off. Thank you for coming and staying.”
Titus was unbalanced by this. For a moment he thought about apologising for the times he had not stood by her side or explaining that he would have done most of what he had done for any other brother but then he realised what a beautiful gift she had made him. Of course, there had been things he had not been able to avoid or would have done for anyone but with her well-chosen words she had acknowledged everything he had wanted to do especially for her.
“Thank you for finding our way through the darkness”, he said in an attempt to return at least a little of this.
She stroked his hair and they exchanged another kiss.
“Vox?”, Titus then inquired. “Why are your chapter colours red and gold? The fortress and everything else here is white. How come? I asked Meriar about it but she didn’t know.”
“It’s because we lost our former homeworld to the Hadex Anomaly. You know? That one large blot in the middle of the Jericho Reach?”
“The records on how that happened so close to us are lost. We don’t even know what kind of world Yebech was but I always thought that we must have fitted our former surroundings better. Anything else you want to ask?”, she inquired with an impish smile and kissed his forehead.
Titus had to laugh. He indeed enjoyed the novelty of being allowed to ask questions for once.
“Yes”, he admitted. “Why wasn’t the servant allowed to enter the tower?”
“We’re above the library”, Vox told him. “There are some warp artefacts on the higher levels that eat souls if they can get them. Some just drive people mad.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No”, she said with an amused grin.
“And that’s where they let you sleep?”
“I asked for it, actually”, she conceded. “It’s astonishingly restful. One of the artefacts eats daemons, so they mostly keep away. Most of the others are dormant until someone approaches.”
“Are you kidding now?”, he wanted to know.
“Still not.” She turned to peer at the small clock on the wall and grunted quietly. “We missed the morning prayer. Won’t hurt if we take a little more time, don’t you think?”
“Now of all times, you’re kidding!”, he accused her in annoyance.
“Yes, sorry”, she said guiltily but still smiled. “I told Celeste most of the deal I made with Ferone but I should be there to clarify details when they start the official negotiations.” She sighed deeply. “I’ll send a servitor up to help you with your armour.”
“Alright. You’d better leave before I decide that I will not let go of you. I’ll meet you downstairs as soon as I’m presentable.”
They tightened their embrace for a moment, kissed the lover’s face once more and then Vox stood up to collect her robe. Even after last night Titus still lowered his gaze bashfully. She noticed this and returned to him for a moment, the robe over her shoulders was still open. Wordlessly he let his hands and lips wander over her firm, warm body before he closed the fastenings for her. She returned his contented smile and the joyful beauty she was radiating beckoned him to stand up and kiss her one last time.
When she was gone, Titus looked around the room. It had not changed much since last night except for the light of a bright winter’s day coming through the windows. For the first time, he was in a position to take a look at the landscape. However hostile it had been last night, from up here it presented a sight as beautiful as a pearl. The snow-covered rock formations were kissed by algid sunlight now, and started to glow like the feathers of angels. How very fitting, he thought and sealed this picture inside his mind before he turned away to lay out his armour pieces. When the servitor arrived, he was ready.
Titus found Corven and Xavor waiting for him at the base of the tower when he came down. Their guides were nowhere to be seen. The younger Space Wolf sniffed when he approached them.
“You smell funny, captain”, he said instead of a greeting.
When Titus looked over at the older Space Wolf, Corven’s face was an open declaration of war. The captain smiled softly and said: “That’s because I’m the luckiest man alive, Xavor.” With a second glance to the epistolary, he added: “Supposing, Corven refrains from ripping out my throat, that is.”
“What do you mean, captain?”, Xavor asked in puzzlement.
“The way your father looks at me tells me that he knows so, why don’t you ask him?” He shamelessly patted both of them on their shoulders as he passed them by. He could not have resisted the comment had he been inclined to try and their baffled faces were his just and hilarious reward.
“Yes… Xavor”, he heard Corven say after a few seconds of shocked silence while he strode on. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
“I’m your father.”
“Yeah, I know”, Xavor replied confusedly. “But what’s that got to do with anything?”
“What?!”, Corven burst out
“What, what?”, the black wolf wanted to know. “Why do you think I’m here? Eh, captain!”, he bellowed before Corven had overcome his confusion. “Get back here! We’re leaving for the hangars! Vox sent us to pick you up!”