128. The Name of Threachery

Vox was silent on the way. It was hard to tell if she was deep in thought or just dead tired. When they reached the archway to the library tower, she hesitated in her steps and threw him an uncertain glance.
“You are not leaving me here, are you?”, he asked and his tones were far more uncertain than he would have liked.
“Do you really want to come up?”
“You have to ask?”, Titus demanded reproachfully.
“Forgive me”, she said and shied back from him as she lowered her gaze. “I remember… has our quarrel been resolved?”
“It has!”
As if her slow nod had brought all her exhaustion down on her head, she suddenly sank against his breastplate. They stood there until Titus decided that she needed to sleep as soon as possible. It took him a few attempts before he managed to fold her wings in a convenient manner and pick her up.
Limply, Vox allowed him to carry her up the stairs. She felt as light as a feather in his grasp. As if her time in the warp had taken more from her than the armour.
To open the door, he had to put her down and Vox walked into the room like wandering in a dream. The servitor lurking in one corner irritated her.
“What’s that doing here?”, asked she.
“You sent it up yesterday to help me get into my armour. I didn’t know what to do about it afterwards.”
The thing had the half starved torso and head of a human but its limbs had been replaced with three spidery appendages each. Vox regarded it with a slight concern in her features before she wandered aimlessly through the room. She finally came to sit in the chair and once again the contrast to yesterday was forced on Titus. So aloof and yet so bereft of the vitality she had radiated through all injuries she had retained before.
“Everything is so far away”, she said absent-mindedly.
“I can’t even begin to imagine”, Titus said and wanted to turn to the servitor to get out of his armour again when she spoke.
“Wait. I… have to tell you something”, she said and her tone alone was enough to cause a sinking feeling in his chest.
“And it can’t wait until we’re snuggled up?”, he asked.
“No, I… would like to give you the option to leave again…”
“I will not leave you for anything”, he said in annoyance.
“Please…”, she whispered. “Please, don’t make that a promise. Please, hear me out and afterwards, I shall not be aggrieved at you whatever you do…”
He hesitated before he came over to her to kneel and grasp her hands.
“Tell me then.”
“I… I think I don’t have to tell you that reviving the Emperor is a rather crazy thing to take up.”
“I’m glad that we’re on the same page here”, Titus said.
“Among other things we must accomplish…” She looked around for a moment but apparently, there was no way out or back from here. “We will retrieve Horus Lupercal.”
Titus knew that his hands twitched. He felt their grip tighten against his will for the fraction of a second. Vox had looked down in any case but he was sure that she focused on their intertwined hands now.
“It is not strictly necessary that we find him”, she continued. “But I happened upon a way to get him back and… It isn’t out of our way. We’ll have to find Guilliman in any case and he is hunting Abaddon and they are close enough to the Eye of Terror that we can get a chance to retrieve Horus…”
“Slow down!”, Titus demanded. He proved unable to cope with the simple mention of the traitor’s name, much less the rest of what she had just said about him. The other names made even less sense.
“What does my Primarch have to do with that?”, he asked full of confusion. “My Lord Guilliman lies in stasis in his shrine on Macragge”, he insisted.
“No”, Vox informed him quietly. “Someone brought him back. He walks under the stars again and he’ll recognize Sanguinius in me and then, hopefully, prove our ally.”
Titus took a deep breath and pushed this consideration away. He could dwell on it later.
“Alright”, he said slowly. “Now, run this thing with Horus past me again. What do you mean by retrieving?”
“We’ll find a body for him and I will fuse what is left of Horus into it and thus bring him back to life.”
“I was taught that there is nothing left of Horus”, Titus said slowly.
“So… how?”
Vox looked at him with this deep, fathomless sadness in her face.
“No”, Titus said in horror. “You’re not telling me that you’ve brought him back as well!”
“No. Not really at least.”
“Not really?!”, Titus burst out and sprang to his feet. He could not help it. His promise held. He was not about to leave but this simply went too far.
“You ‘not really’ brought the greatest traitor in history back with you from that damned cave?”, he roared.
Vox stiffened on her chair. She looked down at her tightly intertwined hands in her lap, the wings rigidly folded to herself.
“It’s not really him”, she said even quieter than before. “Just an echo. Something, Sanguinius remembers of his brother…”
“This brother is a traitor, Vox!”, Titus screamed and got no further, because all of a sudden she rose to her feet, facing him.
“What if it had been me?”, she snapped, spreading her wings aggressively. “You called me brother once, what if it had been I who had gone astray? Wouldn’t you suffer? Wouldn’t you do everything you could?”
Titus stared at her in breathless horror.
“I will not suffer the world like this!”, she said hoarsely, subsiding as fast as the anger had ignited in her. “I will not suffer a world where my brother makes an error and then simply goes on because there is nothing to return to in any case!”
“Vox, stop!”, Titus begged her. “I know you felt sorry for them but please, stop! You can’t bring this man back to the world!”
“I have followed Sanguinius more times than I can count”, she said and tears of anger and despair shook her voice. “He died in grief for his beloved brother but do you know what happened afterwards?”
Titus shook his head indignantly.
“Spare me that!”, he spat. “The Emperor knows what happened then, how should I?”
“The Emperor defeated him, Titus”, Vox said. “He defeated his son and the daemons left Horus alone.” Another tear ran down her face. “And Horus lay dying, crippled and alone and he begged his father’s forgiveness.” Vox bunched her fists and took a step forward. Even under her robe, Titus could see her muscles rippling and he shied back from her. “And the Emperor didn’t give it!”, she cried. “He wiped Horus from history, he destroyed everything of the traitor, so no daemon could make use of him anymore and he didn’t forgive him! What’s a god without forgiveness, Titus?”, she demanded hotly. “What kind of god will I forge if I don’t get Horus back, so that he can be forgiven?”
Suddenly, she cooled down. As if all her strength was spent she retreated from him and buried her face in her hands.
“And I wanted to tell you beforehand”, she mumbled. “Sanguinius screams at me that I’m not to tell you but I didn’t want you to find out because it slips over in my dreams or because you conclude it for yourself… My bright, discerning, dearest Titus… I wanted to tell you beforehand. And now, please leave. I have seen what you think of this…”
Titus swallowed hard.
“Do you want me to leave?”, he managed.
“No”, she said while she let her hands sink and it sounded like a question. “But why does this matter?”
“Do you even listen to yourself?”, he asked and reached out to pull her towards himself. “You don’t want a world in which errors isolate you and drive you ever deeper into them but expect me to leave now?”
“This isn’t an error, Titus”, she insisted, resisting his tug.
“That remains to be seen”, he replied mercilessly. “Whatever happens, you haven’t done it yet and I will not leave you even if you attempt it. Let’s just think about this further, yes?”
“We have thought about this”, Vox stated.
“You and Sanguinius”, Titus pointed out. “Not you and I and before you say it: I don’t care how low Sanguinius values my opinion, Vox. You always held it in high esteem.” Suddenly, her resistance seized and she let him pull her into his still armoured embrace. He felt her arms shaking when she slung them around his neck.
“Titus, I… I can’t tell you how much this grieves me”, she said. “And I can’t explain to you why. Horus was the greatest traitor in history and still… Sanguinius and I… We were lucky. We had people who came for us. When he got lost in the warp, nobody came…” She took a deep, ragged breath. “I was able to come for my Primarch and you came for me. When Horus got lost, nobody came for him. He had been left by our father and even though theoretically, he left him in charge… He simply got lost and he didn’t find the way back on his own. And when I tried to come for him, he was too far gone!”
“Vox”, Titus said as calmly as he could and tried to find a sensible way to hold her in an embrace with the wings getting in the way on top of the armour. “You are not Sanguinius”, he insisted. “Yes, you speak for him and you told me of the sadness. You told me that he was struck with grief to have fought and been killed by his brother but this is not your grief. Horus is the man you never knew and who tried to kill our Lord, murdered your Primarch and millions of other people for reasons I personally don’t even want to know!”
A tear ran down Titus’ neck.
“He begged, Titus…”, Vox whispered. “He begged for his father to take him into his arms again and he was denied absolution. Even if the Emperor had killed him afterwards, he didn’t forgive him! What will we face if I remake our god without Horus? I can’t bear the thought of what the world will look like tomorrow…”
Titus gritted his teeth. He found nothing to say any longer. Too soft and warm did the endearment steal over him. She cared. Not specifically but in general. For the wellbeing of people who had done nothing to grow dear to her. The Guardian Angel hung in his arms and lamented about what was amiss in the world and other than most others, she was not content in wallowing in the misery. She would set out to unmake it.
He still thought that she was about to do wrong but he could not argue against her natural impulses any longer. He could only walk the path at her side and help her find the alternatives.
“We are not there yet”, he pointed out gently. “We still have time. Promise me that we will think about this further.”
She hesitated for a moment before she nodded.
“I promise”, she finally conceded and Titus was satisfied with the gravity of her words.
With a kiss on her cheek, he pulled away to get out of his armour. She needed to rest even more than he did and he felt exhausted to the bones already. Vox made no sound while she sat down on the bed. The way she let her gaze brush around him but never let it linger on his form made him uncertain.
Naked at last, he realised how much it had mattered that she had taken the lead in these matters. Last time he had been allowed to be bashful because she had carried such confidence. Now all her certainties had swayed another way and there was none left for the two of them. He made a mental note to organise a robe for himself tomorrow but this would not save them tonight.
Helpless and ashamed, Titus forced himself to step closer. That she rose from the bed made the situation grotesquely worse. For her the memories that still burned on his skin were mere echoes from long ago.
To ease the situation, Titus tried to grab the blanket off the bed. If at least the precarious half of him was covered up, things might subside. Vox stopped him. She stepped into his path without daring to touch him and when he straightened up before her, she seemed as uncertain as he was.
It took a long time until Titus thought to open his arms and Vox dared to sink against him. With a long sigh, her tension eased out of her and she curled up in his embrace.
“I remember this”, she whispered. She bent down a bit further to press her ear to his broad chest and listen for his heartbeats.
“Come on”, he said and stroked her carefully. His fingers tangled in her hair as they travelled upwards. It was not a millimetre longer than last time.
“You need to sleep. You’ve been awake for a lifetime.”
“I am asleep”, she murmured and slung her arms around him. “Only a dream could be as lovely as this.”
“You will have this all night and every night after this, as long as we both draw breath.”
“I remember that it was quite hard to keep you alive at times”, she said and at least the dry sarcasm made him snigger.
“I promise I’ll look after myself”, he said with a roll of his eyes. “Please, do the same for me.”
When Titus tried to manoeuvre them onto the bed, Vox suddenly wound out of his grasp. Now, it was his turn to sit and watch her as she started to doff her clothes. Her eyes were dark in the moonlight reflecting off the flagstones and she dared not to let them linger on him. With shaking fingers she tried to unfasten her robe. Her breath heaved as if she had to fight her garments off and at some point she actually gave up. Titus was so concerned that he forgot his own bashfulness as he reached out to help her.
It was tricky, he had to admit. Especially, since they had to peel her out of several layers of cloth. Finally she stood before him like yesterday morning. Her robe hanging open, her wonderful, muscular body visible under the cloth. He grabbed her and pressed himself against her belly just to lessen the feeling that they had drifted apart so desperately far.
Her face averted all the time, she let the robe slip off her shoulders and stiffly climbed into the bed. It took a long time before they had sorted out which limb could be folded where. In the end they opted for resting her on his chest again.
With her wings tightly folded around them it was tricky to cover her with the blanket but Titus persevered. Finally settled down, they closed their eyes.

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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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