140. The Big Bad Wolf

When Titus woke up, Corven was standing on the far side of Vox’s slab and stared down at her. He looked pale and unhealthy in his black and silver robe. His dark rimmed eyes wandered to Titus for a moment while his superior sat up. The Space Wolf said nothing but came around Vox’s table and sat down next to Titus.
Time went by.
They both stared at their beloved lady. Maybe searching for words or maybe giving up on finding them.
“Corven?”, Titus finally asked.
“We have to talk.”
“Fuck you”, Corven said nonchalantly.
Dark amusement curled Titus’ lips.
“See?”, he said, a little spiritless. “That’s why it’s a must, not a should.”
“And what will you say?”, Corven demanded while pointedly avoiding his gaze.
“Something like ‘Hell, I want to break down and cry, how are you?’, what would you answer?”
Corven shot him a sidelong glance.
“What are you? Gay?”
“No”, Titus said absently. “Just lost. And despaired”, he continued and after a pause added almost soundlessly: “And full of fear.”
He had anticipated that Corven would mock him further. Instead the Space Wolf stared at him before he curled up and buried his face in his hands.
“You shouldn’t have come for me”, he said indistinctly.
Titus looked down at him and shuffled options. He realised that he had done what Vox had counselled him once: He had made himself soft and Corven did not like to punch soft things.
“I’m glad you’re alive”, he said to test the point further. In response, Corven jumped to his feet and leaned threateningly over him. His hands gesticulated uncertainly while he furiously searched for words.
“I’m not gay by the way”, Titus let him know while he returned his gaze from less than a hand’s width away. “I’d prefer to forego the kissing.”
A breathless moment of almost physical disbelief fleeted past. Finally, Corven retook control over his features and straightened up.
“Shame”, he said.
“Why? Are you gay?”, Titus inquired, still clinging to his deadpan expression.
They each rubbed their faces and cracked up with desperate laughter. Corven sat down again and Titus gave him a playful push just to do something. After this, the relief dispersed again.
“I’ve never seen the world gone as wrong as this”, Corven said quietly. “I mean, I don’t know how old you are…”
“A little more than half your age”, Titus informed him absently.
“What? How do you know?”
“Vox took your file along and as captain, I was entitled to read it.”
“I hate that system.”
“You can’t sing it.” Corven grinned. “Paper is dead. I bet you read all these campaigns I was in and still you didn’t get the slightest idea of what I really did there, right?”
“As far as I saw it, you mostly kicked ass.”
“Hell yes! I could tell you stories…”
“Please do so”, Titus prompted.
“No”, the epistolary said with the suddenness of walking into a wall. “But you will tell me a few things, my boy…” The sentence trailed off when Titus’ demeanour froze. Very slowly, the commander turned his gaze to the rune priest and lifted one eyebrow in an unyielding, silent demand.
“Aegis”, Corven corrected himself, backing down under this simple, confident demonstration of power. “Please tell me why you came after me. And if you say something pathetic like ‘because you’re our friend’, I’ll hit you anyway!”, he threatened.
Titus sighed and thought about this for a moment.
“I’d feel better if I could tell you that this was about you”, he said slowly, allowing his gaze to return to Vox. “But I’m not so sure about that. I think this was more about us.”
“Is this an exclusive or inclusive us?”, Corven inquired rather politely.
“Exclusive”, Titus decided. “We did what we did because of who we are.” He thought a little further about this. “Or, maybe, because of who we want to be”, he had to concede then.
“You’re the kind of people who endanger themselves for idiots who almost get themselves killed by dint of warp?”, Corven growled and his scarred face contorted in the kind of worried contempt Titus associated with the defeated.
“I guess we are”, he said slowly.
“Then you have a few priorities knotted up, my lord”, Corven snapped. “Morons who touch warp mirrors don’t deserve rescuing.”
Titus was silent for a long time.
“When I met Vox for the first time”, he said into the tense, breathless silence. “I was broken. I had been tortured and mistreated. I had lost my strength, my will, my faith. Everything. She crossed the Reach to get me out. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know if I would be worth it. She couldn’t foresee what consequences all this would have for her but she came for me nevertheless.” Titus looked down. “She didn’t just get me out. She helped me on my way, steadied me when I threatened to fall again and ultimately provided me with a reason to live and fight on. I don’t know if she knew what she did for me. Today she doesn’t remember, I’m certain.” Titus paused. “But that’s what Vox did. She never asked for the price or who was deserving. She just asked if it was at all possible to get them through.”
Without checking he knew that Corven was looking at him with bewildered grief in his features that started to turn into helpless anger.
“Sanguinius has changed her”, Titus went on. “He has made her powerful but uncaring. And still. Whatever else happened down there, Corven. She grabbed you without thinking.”
“What did you see in the mirror?”, Corven demanded, angry like a wounded animal.
“Is that your concern? That I saw you in love with her?”, he asked.
“If you’re so unconcerned about her, I’ll make advances to her when she wakes up!”, the grey wolf threatened.
Corven stared at him in disbelief.
“How can you be like that? Don’t you fear to lose her?”
“Oh, I do.”
“But not to me or what?”, the rune priest snapped.
Titus allowed himself a satisfied grin.
“Not much, no. As you know, she prefers to stand on rock.”
“Damn, I wish someone was here. My embarrassment has absolutely reached the limit of what it can do alone!”
“And here was me, thinking you were proud and unashamed.”
“Yeah, great. Kick the puppy, go on. Rub it in deeper.”
“You screwed up, Corven”, Titus said laconically. “We made up for it. That’s about as deep as it gets.”
A pause ensued.
“Why didn’t you give me away?”, the rune priest wanted to know quietly. “Why didn’t you tell anyone that it’s my fault?”
“Corven, please stop that”, Titus demanded. “I can’t begin to tell you how much all this grieves me. I have reached the outermost limit of what I can regret. I need to hold on to something and right now, I’m just glad that we got out of there alive and hope that this state of affairs will continue.”
“Damn it”, Corven growled. “Who writes your lines, Ultramarine?”
“This is just the great stand-up comedy that is life”, Titus replied darkly.
“Right now, I fail to see the joke.” They said it at the same time, realised it and had to laugh again despite themselves.
Titus shook his head in desperate amusement.
“What is it with Vox and Space Wolves?”, he wanted to know. “First Grimfang and now you…”
“Grimfang has made advances to her?”, Corven asked in surprise.
“Yes, on our way to Thetis. He had figured out that she was a woman and apparently proposed to take over for me.”
“Was that why you broke his arm?”
“Not exactly. Vox found that out afterwards but she didn’t tell me much. And I didn’t want to ask Grimfang for details”, he added after a moment’s thought.
Corven had gone nervously rigid and stared at the wall for a few seconds.
“Oh, shit”, he said and shook his head with a rather desperate grin on his face. After an awkward pause, he yielded to the silent question on Titus’ features.
“It’s… It really is rather embarrassing”, he explained. “Especially since I ran into it myself. As far as I see it, Space Wolves liking Vox might not have so much to do with her specially, just with her being the alpha female.”
“What does that entail?”, Titus asked.
“Where are you from?”, Corven asked back.
“From Macragge.”
“Then, you don’t know much about animals, right?”
“This is the case”, Titus confirmed.
“Alright, where do I start? You might have noticed that Space Wolves are… How do I put it? Feral creatures.”
“In passing.”
“And you’ve noticed this hierarchy thing we have, I suppose.”
“I had occasional contact with it”, the ultrimate alpha conceded.
Corven gave a short laugh.
“In nature hierarchies are important because… Well. If you can kick your opponents aside you… get to mate.”
Titus did his best to hold Corven’s comically furious gaze.
“Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Space Wolves will fight for the choice of the best woman. Hell, until recently Vox was the only woman around at all!”
“So, it’s mating season?”
“Humans are always in season, Ultramarine”, Corven growled darkly.
They both looked at Vox for a while.
“I feel rather embarrassed to have walked into that”, Corven conceded. “Makes you question whether you can call yourself an intelligent being.”
“What happens to an alpha female when she’s weak?”, Titus asked, his sad, grey eyes resting on Vox’s pale face.
“If she’s with cubs, she gets protected”, Corven said absently. “And if she’s Vox, she gets crazy surgery and soppy idiots watching over her as far as I can tell…”
Again they were silent for a long time.
Then Titus drew a deep breath and stood up.
“Say, can you stay with her for a while?”, he asked. “I’ll go crazy if I don’t get outside.”
“So, you’re leaving her to me after all?”
“Went well last time”, Titus said with a shrug, ignoring the mockery. “When you got lost was when the trouble started. I’ll find something to eat. Want anything too?”
“Something to write would be nice”, the rune priest said.
“I thought you didn’t write.”
“Not much”, Corven conceded. “But someone has to compose all these sagas and I suck at just whistling a tune. I need to write it down.”
“You really had me worried there, Corven”, Titus said, keeping a blank face. “I was beginning to think you had no hidden depth at all.”
“Nah”, the grey wolf replied happily. “I’m so flat, I couldn’t stop a chair from wobbling if you put me under the leg. I just like to write songs.”
“Vox mentioned that Celeste does that too.”
“So?”, Corven asked with a nonchalant grin. “Are you trying to get my mind off Vox by suggesting I should make advances to her?”
“Why not?”
“Don’t you think I’ve had my share in suicidal bullshit lately?”
“Well, I won’t contradict you here.”
“She’s the Chapter Mistress and I’m some random outsider. Hey, even in the mirror I could only have gotten close to her by tagging along with her best friend.”
“You know, what bothered me about that mirror?”, Titus asked.
“That giant Sanguinius who tried to throttle Vox and drag her away?”, Corven asked back nonchalantly.
Titus looked away, his eyes searching the walls for something to hold onto.
“No”, he had to admit. “That’s how I got to know him.”
“What?”, Corven burst out.
“Sanguinius… He’s not bad”, Titus said quietly. “He just thinks things should go other than they do and Vox is the only one he can reach.”
“I’d say that’s greatly unsettling”, Corven growled. “At least if I had anything like a formal education. This way, let me say: Fuck that shit! So much more satisfying in any case.”
Titus had to smile for a moment. “It’s not as if we could do anything about it”, he then said with a helpless shrug. “The two of them just have to sort themselves out.”
“Alright”, Corven had to concede. “If that didn’t bother you, what did?”
Titus looked at Vox again.
“In the mirror, she smiled.”
Corven sighed.
“And here was me, thinking you couldn’t make things worse.”
“It’s a knack”, Titus said despondently.
The rune priest stood up and laid his hands on Titus’ shoulders.
“Aegis, do me a favour and listen closely”, he said and among the rippling scar tissue on his face, his dark eyes were severely soft. “When the mirror got us, it created a world with only her and me in it”, the grey wolf said. “Everyone else you saw was just an echo. It rushed us through meaningless, disconnected lives and we simply would have died at the end without significance or purpose because people only gain that through interaction with others. You got us out before it could do much harm. I’d rather live here, never to see her smile again but lead a meaningful and significant life that I’ll and lie down for the Emperor and the Imperium than to dwindle away like that. Alright? Now, get outside before someone walks in on us and thinks we have developed emotions or something!”
Even through his desperation, Titus had to smile. He patted Corven’s arm and went to do something else than brooding over his worries for Vox. The main part, which he tried not to think about, was that he had decided to wake her. If she died now… He breathed in deeply. If she died, she had gotten a last chance to take up the fight and this was what mattered. He knew well that the helplessness of the pending state was what was really bad about the situation. There was nothing to do. Not even coping with her death could start before it occurred. To make things easier, he tried to give in to the relief that she had survived the surgery and had been still alive when he had left the room just now. It got dampened by the thought that she might die while he was outside but he felt a little better overall.
Since Vox needed to eat unaided by her armour, they both had found out where the kitchen was in sheer self defence. Sending servants around took forever, while showing up in the kitchen got results very quickly. For some reason, nobody wanted Astartes standing around there.
When Titus had extracted random pieces of food in a bowl from the anthill that was the normal population of the galley, he walked by the library to find writing material and also pick up a book he could read. As right hand to the living saint, he had access to all the common sections, even though, not even he got access to the secret ones. After this short trip, he felt a little better but he was relieved to come back into the room.
The machine which kept Vox breathing still hissed at regular intervals. The artefact, apparently monitoring her heart rate, showed continuous, spiky lines and Corven sat where he had left him.
The rune priest spent the next few hours occupying one half of Titus’ sleep slab, writing in silence. He asked not to be disturbed because as long as he still wrote things down, he was uncomfortable with them to anyone. Titus did not mind. He read the tome about the history of the Wings of War. It was a chronicle of their early years before they had lost their home planet. It was rather cryptic and he was puzzled about most things in it.
When a third sleep slab was put into their room, Corven’s move was official and in the following days, the Space Wolf proved that his commander’s trust in him had not been bestowed undeservedly. He was a valuable comrade in these hard times.
Both of Vox’s guardians saw to it that they went outside for a while each day, but most of their time they spent together. Talks happened when they had something to say and they both learned to respect and honour the thoughtful intake of breath that preceded one of their conversations. None of them really knew who had started this but they made it a kind of contest of courage among themselves to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. Titus had never thought that something like this could be done with the rough, cynical Corven. Lovingly he thought of his old Vox who had told him about this. Underneath the man’s big bad wolf demeanour lay a rich inner life with concerns, worries and the ability to articulate them. In learning why his beloved had kept this particular grain of sand, Titus’ boundless despair started to ease. Vox had still remembered what counted when it had come to a crisis. This glimmer of her old self was a beacon of hope in the otherwise impenetrable gloom that wanted to silence every thought.

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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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