148. Right and Wrong

Merely a few hours later, Titus watched the angel undress while a serf helped him out of his armour. He was unclear why the Primarch had not rescheduled the bathing when it had become clear that he would still be part of it but he was ready to take this chance. He was certain that Celeste and Saphane would be in reach outside the door by now. As soon as they made too much noise, the two of them would be in here and they would be armed and armoured. So, he had to get the timing right.
For now, he contented himself with watching her body.
It was the first time that he got to see the scars he had been allowed to touch only yesterday. Since the major injuries had taken place inside Vox’s chest, there were only two: The entry wound of the blade, right under her costal arch and the one where the apothecaries had opened her rib-cage by forcing it apart at the sternum.
Even though the surgery scar was the larger one, it was healing well. Red and clearly visible, not going to fade anytime soon but just a scar. The other wound in contrast looked like a livid, purple and black creature nesting on her skin, ready to open its disgusting mouth to vomit blood any moment. It was easy to imagine that this thing ripped open at will. Titus knew where to search for the other scar that had been caused by the blade. It had not healed well but at least it was less livid and unnatural than this new one.
Apart from these considerations, it also was the first time that Titus came to see her body as a whole after Oertha. It grieved him how much weight she had lost during her long injury. She was thin and wiry. Not a patch on the muscled, strong woman he had held in his arms once. Her movements were awkward and slow as if pain still ruled her body but her features were calm and content.
Titus knew that he was creating the tense atmosphere between them all by himself. Sanguinius’ act was perfect. There was a little admiration about this in Titus but not overly much. The Primarch was certainly the better actor but the shield of his lady had no desire to compete with him in this respect because he knew that he was the stronger warrior right now. This meant he wasted no resources on seeming relaxed or casual or unmoved but let his natural tension show and watched how his opponent reacted to this. For some reason, the Primarch wanted to keep up the appearance of a relaxed demeanour instead of confronting him. It certainly had to do with letting Titus make the first move. This was a gift he accepted readily. Being the one to determine when the battle started had all kinds of advantages to it and this fight would be won with timing alone. If Vox was unable to pull Titus inside her mind before Celeste and Saphane disturbed them, he would not be able to help her.
It was the first time since her injuries that the angel partook in a bathing ritual again and it turned out that she was unable to stand the ultrasonic shower. It caused strange resonance in the bones. So, he quickly dismissed this option of getting clean and only watched Titus finish this part of the ritual.
“Titus?”, he asked when Titus stepped out of the shower cabin. “I am concerned for you. You don’t seem to have taken the destruction of the Aurum very well.”
Titus smiled mirthlessly.
“Yes”, he said simply and climbed into the bathtub.
“But you understand that it had to be done?”, Sanguinius asked and took the hand Titus offered him. Titus tensed. Vox had needed skin contact to read his mind. Did Sanguinius try to do this now?
Whatever was going on, Titus had no time to take it into account. 
Vox stumbled.
He was sure that he saw her foot jerk awkwardly before she fell forward and without hesitation, he seized his chance. Catching her easily, Titus managed to wrap his arms around her wings in the movement and pushed her underwater with as little noise as possible.
The warm water engulfed them, penetrating their lungs. It was hard to breathe but all participants in this fight had more pressing problems than this right now.
Dampened by the water he heard the angel screaming but for now it was possible to contain her. Pressing himself to her, he begged her forgiveness for his failings and implored her to pull him into her mind. He hoped like hell that the contact alone was enough for her to hear him but when he realised that Sanguinius would be listening in, the desperation set in. Bereft of other options, he tried to keep a grip on the struggling angel but finally his grip slipped for a moment and Sanguinius got one wing free. When it slapped down on the water with a loud splash, he knew he had lost.
He had not just lost this fight, he had lost Vox. The burning love inside him transformed into pain so towering, so all-encompassing, so unbearable that Titus started to scream himself. He clung to her body because it was the last thing he had left of her. It was irrelevant that he was about to die. Sword to the throat or bullet to the head, no matter. He only screamed for the pain inside. It was so all-encompassing he hardly noticed the gauntleted hands gripping them to tear them apart.
And suddenly, they connected.
In the second or two before Celeste and Saphane dragged them apart, Vox managed to pull him inside herself.
It was different than last time. Back when he had first taken up the fight against the Primarch he fought his way towards Vox. He had found her in the coldness of her soul. Now, he was immediately next to the small, warm spot that kept apart from the freezing certainty of Sanguinius.
Vox cried and tried to force her body to hold onto Titus to get a moment longer with him. She tried to drink in the heat of his devotion to revive what lay devastated under the grip of her Primarch and Titus redoubled his efforts to hold onto her while Sanguinius raged around them. He screamed into their minds that Vox was too precious to be spent saving idiots from warp mirrors. That the Imperium hinged on her success. That she could never again be allowed to follow the stupid fancy for her friends. That it had been too close.
Vox and Titus huddled together under these mental attacks and while they felt the hands that were dragging their bodies apart claw into their flesh at least Sanguinius could not separate them here.
Titus burned with anger and with love and with his help, Vox reared up and summoned what Sanguinius had done to hurl it against him like a weapon.
When he had met Solomon, Sanguinius had received an unbidden glimpse of the future in which Elaine had awaited them at the Jericho Maw Warp Gate. The fleet she had set against them in this future had matched their own and she had accused Vox of attempting to kill the Emperor on Terra.
After that, the Primarch had taken every step to prevent this future from coming true. He had done it ruthlessly and without reserve, ignoring Vox’s feeble plea to simply talk to Elaine. The inquisitor was hard to read but she was sure that there would have been a way of mutual understanding. Despite this Sanguinius had judged her too dangerous to be kept alive. He had never taken another look, had never watched the tides of the future, had never tried to find the crossroads and turning points.
The lovers screamed together that this was what Vox had always done and that Sanguinius could have made use of this ability. In fear and hatred he had instead removed one of the few decent inquisitors in the Jericho Reach, leaving the power vacuum to be filled by who knew which forces to endanger the Emperor’s cause even more.
It was at this moment that an old guilt flashed through Sanguinius and in the tight coil of their minds, Vox and Titus could not miss it.
Sanguinius, the angel, the infallible, the martyr had died at the hand of his brother Horus because he had done exactly this: He had seen the future and not given it a second look. He had seen that he would be able to cause the breach in Horus’ armour which would enable the Emperor to triumph over the traitor and he had given his life in return. He had not searched on. Had not tried to navigate around the critical moments and when his father had been mortally wounded and his brother had lain dying, begging for forgiveness, Sanguinius had not been able to do anything anymore.
He had been forced to watch the most beloved people in his life destroy each other. Screaming without being heard, witnessing without being present.
Vox and Titus both shed tears for this and tried to hold on to each other even harder while the strong hands of their friends struggled to separate them.
For all his might of body and mind, Sanguinius had failed to do something Vox did without thinking: He had seen a future, had rated it acceptable or unacceptable and simply gone with or against it without searching for different options and finding a way around the events.
Other than Vox, he had not been able to watch the future from second to second. He had only seen the big pictures, not the small stones that changed the current of time. And instead of learning from her, taking her greatest strength and turning it to their advantage, he had simply repeated his greatest error.
Calling his sacrifice an error, not with resentment but with true, honest pity hurt the angel more than anything else they had done to him so far.
The Primarchs were supposed to be flawless beings. Perfect in every respect. Far above mortals and Astartes. Wise, just, far-sighted and able to guide the galaxy with gentle but firm hands.
And here was a Primarch imprisoned inside a lesser being and he was at a loss about what to do.
He had tried to make the accession of her mind as gentle as possible. He had only done it at all because he had wanted to protect her from her own flaws and errors. Yet, even though he had taken control, he had never been able to quell her quiet voice in the background. It defied him and tortured him with her remorse like a guilty conscience. And here was a second of these lesser beings, breathing new life into his host and both of them had the audacity to judge his behaviour wrong and pity him for it.
Sanguinius threw all their memories at them he could get hold of. Of Titus broken and humiliated, chained to the wall. Of Vox how she had trodden Titus into the dirt in her own mind. Of all their doubts for each other but the two of them just huddled closer together and loved each other. They knew they were fallible. They were simply human and still, they just wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder and serve their purpose to their limits.
Titus looked at the millennia-old angel and conjured up the image of his own angel against it. Vox had succeeded where Sanguinius had failed. So much smaller and weaker than he, she had not rested until she had found the way to resolve and protect. She had been the advocate of the deserving and the innocent. The one who found the right measure between the forces. The one who spoke for the voiceless. She had been the guardian angel. The picture of the tarot card was clear as crystal in his memory. The one who resolves and protects.
Sanguinius could scream at them all he liked. He could point out that Vox had fought by unjust means too and pull up proof for that from both their memory. He could tell them that Vox had sacrificed the priests of the Wings of War who had only been trying to protect the chapter, to take over in their endeavour and continue their doing by different means. He could point out that Vox had killed Vitus Berethen and that the trials for Laraise and Thrax had not been all honesty as well.
Titus still knew the difference. The difference was that Vox had never stopped in her struggle to leave the smallest possible impact. She had never feared the future enough to refrain from trying to alter it. Vox would have searched and searched for the way around the threat she had seen. She would have gone with the flow to seek the most favourable outcome. Not just for her own means.
Inquisitor Elaine of Angor might have done wrong in her career but she still had been a far better person morally than many other inquisitors. That she was lost to the Jericho Reach would have far-reaching and probably dangerous consequences, none of them could fathom yet. The Primarch would probably not suffer the consequences of this murder but someone out there certainly would.
Despite all this, they were sorry for Sanguinius. Seeing him now left no other option and their compassion for him proved the shield they had not found before.
Nothing else had been able to repel him but before their sorrow and pity he fled in shame.
And then, their time was up.

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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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