143. Driven Away

Titus had wished for little else in his life as much as for the uncertainty about Vox to go away. He had wished to serve the Emperor and prove worthy. He had wished to crush his enemies, sometimes even to live to fight another day but never had he dared to wish for her love or her time and attention. On their way to Erioch, he finally got painfully aware that he lacked at least two out of the three and as much as he tried to be content and supportive, he was unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong. Sadly, he proved equally incapable of laying his finger on what it was.
It was just a feeling. That it was the same vague perception of wrongness he had felt after becoming her bailsman did not improve matters. Somehow, Vox had started to isolate herself from him in subtle ways. He got the impression that there were problems she was unwilling to discuss. Instead she drew back from him ever so gently. It drove him outright crazy. Last time this had happened, it had been bad enough. This time, he had not only promised to keep himself at bay. No. Vox was his direct superior. He had pledged unyielding loyalty to her. There was no way of getting at her if she was not inclined.
The thought that she was pushing herself and struggled with her exhaustion became a permanent mantra in his head because he found nothing else to do about it. Very soon it started to annoy the hell out of him. All he could do was to hold on to his composure and try to conceal his bad mood.
On the day before they arrived on Erioch, he learned that he had completely failed in this endeavour: Grimfang voxed him during a free training unit.
Besides the men of the Deathwatch and their guides, only the best warriors in the ranks of the Wings of War accompanied them. With all four captains and company champions they travelled with a company’s worth of fighters.
In this training unit, Celeste had devised a fight everyone against everyone. Because no training ground on the ‘Hammer’ was large enough to accommodate a hundred Astartes, they were running through the corridors for this. One hit meant a fighter dropped out and joined everyone else in an exhaustive and less space taking strength exercise overseen by Captain Elysse. It was allowable to team up to gain a temporary advantage but in the end there would be only one winner.
“Aegis?”, Titus heard the resonant tones of the white wolf over com while he was sneaking down a corridor. It was a private line. Space Marines could never tell how they knew. The black carapace bound them so intimately to their armour that the information if someone voxed them personally or in a wider channel was simply a feeling. “May I have a word?”, Grimfang asked.
“Now?”, Titus snapped and took cover from the salve of a team of the Wings of War that had stalked him for a few minutes already.
“Since you usually vanish in a few minutes, yeah. Now”, the Space Wolf confirmed.
“What do you want?”, Titus demanded. It indeed was the time when he only waited for Vox to call him away from training so she could sleep.
“I’m right behind you”, Grimfang informed him easily. “Fall back to me and we’ll sort out the girls.”
Titus was suspicious about why the sergeant had not taken him out of the fight yet but since he was pinned here in any case and had no way to move except backwards, he quickly ran down the corridor and ducked into cover at the next crossing.
Grimfang hovered opposite, his bolter ready and picked out two Wings of War when they came around the corner.
Titus was surprised to see that the Space Wolf was wearing his helmet and interpreted it as the sign that the man really wanted a completely private word with him.
“Thanks”, the former Ultramarine said and put his helmet on as well. He had not anticipated communicating much and since it took a moment until his auto senses woke around him, he needed the cover the white wolf provided to do it.
“My pleasure, aegis”, Grimfang answered and changed the clip in his bolter.
“What do you want?”, Titus inquired a little more gruffly than it was called for in the circumstances.
“I wanted to know how you are”, the sergeant said a little reproachfully. “You and Vox both I mean. None of you have talked to any of us since she awoke, did you notice?”
Titus frowned. He had not noticed but would rather be damned than admit this.
“We’re quite busy right now”, he said leadenly while the two of them peered around their corners. With a few signs they agreed that Grimfang should switch over to Titus’ position and both of them snuck down the corridor to maybe get into the back of their opponents.
“Vox still sleeps for up to eight hours”, Titus said as if to defend his point.
They approached a melee. Someone else had ambushed the group that had followed Titus and, to tell by the sound, took them apart quite effectively.
“How does she sleep in the warp at all?”, Grimfang wanted to know and Titus felt himself blush under his helmet while he tried to concentrate.
“As long as she has skin contact with me, she can sleep”, he decided to get it over with.
“Very much so.”
They were quiet for a moment while they moved into position and opened fire at the warrior who had won the melee. It was Saphane. The chaplain spun around when both their bullets zinged away on her armour, nodded at them and left.
“So, why are you so fucked up lately?”, Grimfang asked bluntly.
“I can not answer that for the sheer offence I take at this term”, Titus declared hotly and considered, taking Grimfang on right here and now. He wanted to have a go at someone in any case.
“Sorry, aegis… Sorry”, the sergeant said immediately, shrinking back from him. “I’m just worried as hell. Last time you two were going on like this you tried to kill each other, remember?”
“We’re not going on like this!”, Titus insisted.
“Maybe”, the white wolf conceded cautiously. “But you feel just the same.”
Titus shot him in the leg for this. Not because he was wrong but because Titus could not bear this far too accurate hit. From this distance, the bullet left a very well visible dent on his thigh plate.
Both of them looked down at it for a moment. Then the unmoving expressions of their helmets met again.
“I’m sorry”, Grimfang said earnestly. “I just wanted to know how you are because you didn’t have time for anyone I’m allowed to talk to. Please, forgive my intrusion and take my thanks for your time.”
Titus sighed deeply and held Grimfang back when he wanted to turn.
“I’m sorry, sergeant”, he said, regretting that he had let his temper get the better of him. “I wish your concern was misplaced.”
“I’m here if you wanna talk”, the man said simply.
“You will agree that you’re there at best”, Titus said despondently, pointing with his bolter towards the training ground. “Now, get there and I’ll try to find time to get back to you, alright?”
“Right. Thanks, aegis.”
“I thank you.”
The exercise ended with Celeste as the victor. This was no surprise. The chapter mistress often proved that she had earned her title. It usually took quite a few of her warriors at once to get her down at all and today, they had not managed it. Titus really had been called away by Vox only a few minutes after his encounter with Grimfang and thus unable to challenge her. For the first time, he was annoyed about this.
Vox’s cabin on the ‘Hammer’ was smaller than on the ‘Primarch’s Bride’. The most notable distinguishing feature in the single room Titus entered, was the lack of the servitor in the corner that would have helped him to take off his armour. They had left it behind. Actually, they had made little use of it in the past weeks but the complete absence of it was suddenly so very noticeable.
Vox waited for him standing and all his dark thoughts dissolved into concern when she lifted her gaze to him. In her blue eyes stood so much pain and exhaustion that it cut into his hearts like a knife. She came towards him, extending her hands and Titus caught her in surprise when she sank into his armoured embrace. He had neglected to take his gauntlets off before he had come in and cursed himself for it now. Vox, however, seemed not to mind. She slung her arms around his neck and pressed her face against his. Titus was completely taken by surprise. What was going on now?
“Titus”, she whispered. “I need you. Without you, I’m lost…”
“Then keep me close, my angel”, he breathed into her ear, overwhelmed by her sudden presence. “I’m here for you, you just have to reach out.”
“I’m so exhausted…”, she mumbled. Her fingers tangling in his hair made him want to purr and then the moment was suddenly over. Her hands slid off him as if losing their strength.
“I can hardly keep upright”, she mumbled, leaning against him lifelessly. “I’m so sorry that I don’t tend to you like I should.”
“Vox, I’m here to support you. What makes you think you have to tend to me?”, Titus asked in confused concern.
“Well, at least I could try and find some time for you, right?”, she replied sadly and as she retracted her hands, she curled them awkwardly to herself.
Titus drew back to look her in the eyes.
“Seconds can be plentiful when you know where to draw them from”, he said quietly. Carefully he placed a loving kiss on her lips which was not answered.
“I seem to have forgotten how to do that”, Vox said and lowered her gaze shyly when he released her.
“I’ll help you remember”, Titus promised and was granted a weak smirk for this.
“Thank you”, she said and timidly stroked over his cheek. Then, she closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry, I need to sleep or I’ll simply fall over.”
Titus nodded. He was able to reach the light switch and turn it off. Then, the two of them manoeuvred themselves to the bed and Vox sank down on it while Titus removed his gauntlets. With his armour, he did not fit into the bed alongside her so, he just knelt beside it. He had done this for a few nights now.
“I’m sorry, Titus”, she mumbled. “Maybe I should have called you sooner. I just wanted you to have time to partake in training properly.”
“You are my first concern”, Titus said softly and stroked over her face in the darkness. She grasped his hand as if to pull it away but gently wrapped her fingers around it.
“I will find seconds for you again”, she promised.
This prospect made him smile. It was irrelevant that she could not see it. He felt the smile and it warmed all the parts inside him that had been affected by the uncertainty.
“At least from tomorrow on I don’t have to draw you away from our friends anymore. I can just go to sleep.”
The joy that had risen inside him, made this blow all the harder. Had she just told him that he would not see her until they entered the warp again?
On the ship, he would be training and only find her sleeping. He had no idea how the time on Erioch would turn out. In a desperate attempt to steady himself, Titus kissed her hand.
“Good night, Titus”, Vox breathed and let go of his other hand, shifting her position carefully.
“Good night, Vox”, he replied and listened to her wings rustling gently while she tried to sort out where to put them. Then, she went still and left him alone with his doubt. He could tell himself that he worried too much, that it would certainly turn out different than he feared all he liked. The concern was too deeply anchored to him by now.
It soon turned out that his worst fears had been well founded: Before they reached Erioch, he did not see her awake again.

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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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