They breathed in unison for a long time and Titus already drifted off to sleep, when Vox suddenly lifted her head.
“Why aren’t you asleep?”, he asked with a quiet, exhausted laugh.
She hesitated for a moment. Then she pushed herself up and got out of the bed. Her wings moved wearily while she stood with her back to him. He could see that she had her hands clamped over her face.
“I can’t do this”, she muttered. “I’m sorry, I want to but I can’t.”
Titus took a deep breath and sat up.
“Vox”, he said. “We’ve been at this point before but this time, there is no black shield between us. Tell me of the necessities.”
“At least something. What is it then?”
“I will lose control over my memories in sleep. If I touch you…”
Titus was torn. He longed to glimpse the lifetime that separated them but he had never gained real certainty about the incident last time. Her memories had been unsettling and there had been no time to discuss what could have been done better.
“This doesn’t have to happen right?”, he asked. “When I held you on Erioch, I saw nothing.”
“It doesn’t have to”, she confirmed. “But let’s be realistic: It will.”
“And why is this?”
He saw her tensing all over.
“Because I long for you”, she breathed so quietly that even his enhanced hearing had trouble picking it up.
Silence ruled for a few heartbeats.
“Come here, my angel”, Titus asked her then and waited as she turned around to him with aggravating reluctance. As patiently as he could, he extended her hands to her.
“I will not pretend that this night will not cost me but I long for you too. So, please, let me bear this. For both of us.”
Slowly she returned to him.
“Are you really sure?”
“Stop questioning this”, he demanded a little gruffly as he closed his arms around her. “I’m your shield. I made my call and you confirmed me. Remember that? It was just now.”
“I’m sorry”, she mumbled, hiding her face at his neck.
“I understand that you have been away and I haven’t”, Titus said with all the composure he could muster. It was so hard to prevent his concern from turning into annoyance. “But you have come back with this huge, crazy certainty. Where does all this doubt come from?”
“I spent so long questioning everything…”, she breathed.
“Yes, but you have to stop somewhere. Stop here. With me.”
“I will”, she promised a little indistinctly. They sank to the bed again and had a bit of difficulty sorting themselves out so that they could both lie comfortably. They ended up with her head on his right shoulder. One of her wings was stretched over him and the other crammed between bed and wall. Vox groped for his free hand and grasped it firmly. Then, she opened herself to him. She did it so that she could steer it at least a little before she fell asleep and when he beheld the changes in her, Titus was grateful for it.
The first thing he encountered was a third consciousness. It appeared only for a moment, reaching out to him in surprise because it had never seen him clearly before. It was old. Incredibly old. Immensely powerful and all the more humbling because it remembered being far more powerful than now. He knew who it was, of course but even though Sanguinius managed to sink down into a corner of Vox’s mind after this first contact, Titus felt discomfort. He realised that he could not be alone with her anymore.
When the mighty presence of the Primarch had shuffled out of their way as best it could, Titus found the whole devastating extent of what had happened to the beloved. The few considerate gestures earlier, the recommendation for Tiberius and teaming Cephaya up with Grimfang, had just been unravelling shreds of what she had been. A few remaining memories, things she had thought up before she had entered the cave and dimly remembered now. In truth nothing like this was left inside her anymore.
She had grown hard and cold and sharp and unforgiving. Like a blade.
There was an echo to this thought as it came up. A vague memory that her friends had referred to her as a sword sheathed in velvet. Her time in the warp had stripped her soft sheath away and left only her hard, shining, brutally cold core. The part of her that always had made all the tough choices. It was the part that had killed Vitus Berethen to get all of them out in their final stand against the Tyranids on Zenith. It was the part that had slaughtered the priests who had tried to keep the Wings of War safe from extinction by the Imperium of Man but would have held the chapter back at the crucial moment. It also was what had made her stand up after she had felt Sergei Vargov and Ecurael die. What had brought her in line when they had been falling towards Almond. What had driven her onwards to find Gladius after she had been injured so badly on Zenith. It was the part of her that prevailed.
It was terrible and fascinating at the same time. It had been hidden yesterday. Shrouded in love and consideration. Covered by compassion for those she had been chosen to protect and those who had been chosen to stand at her side. Now, the compassion for Horus loomed forlornly in the desolate realm of where this heat had been.
Titus looked at all this, torn between agony and admiration that she had endured what had happened to her. After a while, he found that Vox had fallen asleep over it. Her presence dulled a little, got less directed, less unforgiving but just as he noticed this, he realised that this hardness had been her last protection against the horror of certainty and determination.
Had he been alone in this devastated realm of her mind, it would have been bad enough but when he watched her unravel and tried to find Vox’s true core to hold her together, he found Sanguinius barring his way. A mind, old and superior. Filled with the chill of knowledge and purpose.
Slowly, Titus started to panic. He knew the tendrils of this dark fiend. It was what had come to haunt him when he had been locked in a cell again. Against this terrible burden he could hardly cope with the sensation that Vox was dying right next to him.
As he watched, the frost of necessity ate its way into her soul like a disease. It choked what had been her under black, clinging inevitability.
If it succeeded, what would rise tomorrow would not be Vox any longer.
The process itself was terrible enough but here was one of the most awe-inspiring beings Titus could think of not only letting it happen but spurring the process on.
Titus saw that the Primarch was no enemy. He simply was just like Vox. Aware of necessities and ready to sacrifice anything for the cause of humanity, but Titus rebelled at the thought that Vox had to cut herself to pieces to fulfil her duty. On the contrary! She needed warmth and compassion to find a way through the troubling labyrinth that lay ahead of them! The certainty of this suddenly roared upwards like flames. It enveloped him and gained new strength when the memories of how she had been only a few hours back came to his aid. Against the oppressive tide of what the psykers were doing to themselves, he poured forwards, pushing towards Vox’s innermost essence. Contrary to anything he had believed until now, he shoved Sanguinius aside. A Primarch might have an Astartes at his disposal. He might harness the warrior to his purpose and command their work and devotion. But nobody, maybe not even the Emperor Himself, had the right to cause this kind of destruction.
Titus struggled towards Vox’s core. Burning with righteous indignation, he pushed against the resistance of the first Blood Angel and gained ground. It had been too long. Too long since the Primarch had commanded flesh. Since he had been human. He had forgotten what it meant while Titus had been alive to learn what it was to live and love.
Compassion funnelling into him solidified his certainty around him and Titus advanced. He reached what was Vox’s core to wrap himself around and encompass it in the warmth she had lost. The frost started to rescind but as it fell, it crumbled into thick, clinging lumps of despair that were almost as choking as the icy certainty beforehand. Hardly freed of his own troubles, Titus desperately searched for a way to retreat or fortify their position but nothing would offer itself. He struggled and argued against the screaming demands of Sanguinius that were as solid as punches in this weird inner world. It had to be like this, the Primarch claimed but Titus prevailed. Stubbornly, he cradled what he remembered of Vox in his core and searched on until he found the last solid thing in here. It was the compassion for Horus. In this bizarre, forsaken realm of a dying soul it loomed up like an obelisk of light.
Unwilling to support it when they had been separate, Titus now funnelled strength into the concern for the traitor and finally, Sanguinius left them alone. He dared not to touch this remnant of what had been universal in the beloved woman. Maybe he had preserved it in her in the first place. Whatever the case, suddenly the frost subsided and what had been an intention, became an imperative. Titus felt it taking hold inside himself as well. They would search for the traitor and do their best to breathe new life into him. It was a bitter price to pay but maybe time would present other options after all. For now, survival was crucial.
Half burned up, Titus curled tighter around Vox’s core and remembered. He remembered how she had looked yesterday. How it felt to love her. How being loved by her had brought him to life in the first place. His doing became a hot stream of love and devotion and in it, Vox was preserved. It kept her alive, kept her sane but most importantly: It kept her herself.
In this kindest of embraces she slid away into deeper sleep to rest and renew herself. For a precious while safe from certainty and duty while the beloved man stood watch over her. Guarding the guardian angel that had come to balance the whole world on her shoulders.
Titus thought things would subside now but Vox did not sleep like he did. She dreamed and sitting in the middle of her being, he could not help but to be dragged along. It was a test of endurance even harder than what he had accomplished just now. After the Catalepsean Node had been implanted into his brain, almost a hundred and fifty years ago, he had never again experienced the strangeness of nightly visions. The phenomenon was so strange, so overwhelming that it took all his strength to keep his watch over her. Had they been halfway chronological, he might have endured them better but there was no reasonable pattern whatsoever. Pictures and thoughts, emotions and memories rose, sometimes leapt out of the corners of her mind and straight into his. Unable to foresee what would come next, Titus was swept away on a tide of unsettling, disturbing, even frightening scenes. The last kind were the worst to deal with. Astartes were not made to feel fear but here the Ultramarine found things of such enormity, he could do nothing but to cower before them.
He watched Vox enter the cave and then enter her own mind to follow the call of her blood. He met Sanguinius again and was dragged through parts of their travels and only kept afloat in the doubt because he could remember the certainty he had seen. Vox meanwhile had dwelt in it for decades. Centuries even.
Titus was humbled by what he saw while he fought to stand his ground against the cold, lonely night drawing in again. She had undertaken the impossible and prevailed. The saint had worked her first miracle. The assumption arose that she would continue to do so and when this thought emerged, Titus suddenly saw himself in the cave. The first solid point to hold on to after a lifetime of struggle and doubt. With deafening certainty, he understood that, however strong she was, she needed him. He not only had her gratitude that he had come for her. Had it not been for him, she would not be here at all and without him, she would get lost among the stars.
But with Titus to stand on, she would unhinge their world.
Titus shuddered in his core when he realised this. He had felt the responsibility before but not in its full extent and magnitude. He trembled under it already. A lazy flick of memory whispered that he had always struggled towards strength in any case. Maybe it had been time he got a new challenge but for now, it was too big for him.
Dawn was breaking when the dreams subsided and the lovers found themselves back in their comforting embrace.
Titus was dead tired after everything but Vox felt better. Most importantly she still felt like Vox. Wounded and scarred but Vox. Sanguinius had retreated to the corners of her consciousness and only watched the two of them from a distance. A faint trace of weariness echoed over to them but the eroding chill inside her was gone. Even though he had been unable to repair what she had lost, Titus had kept a grip on what was important.
He stroked her hair and wished for her to kiss him, in his tiredness forgetting that she would see this wish rising. He smiled when it was granted and was delighted beyond belief when, shyly almost, love welled up inside her. It warmed her frozen core to steady it at least a little. Nothing in comparison to the burning flame he had seen only yesterday but he felt gratified that at least this spark had been preserved. For now, the warmth Titus carried, had to suffice for both of them and he hoped that it would be enough to get them through the day.