151. Another Two

Celeste strode down the corridor in stern silence and Arrick followed her sunken deep in thought. He tried to understand what had happened and was taken by surprise when Celeste suddenly turned into a room not too far away.
“Get in”, she commanded absently and left the door open for him. Arrick made a face half puzzled, half amused and obeyed. A gesture prompted him to close the door behind him.
The room looked quite like the chambers they had just left: Sparsely furnished. Three doors. Two of them on opposite walls. A desk in the middle with a chair behind it.
In the limited space Celeste seemed even more like a predator cautiously circling her prey. That she  moved behind the table and sat down for now had something playful Arrick was hard put to place. He smirked in defiant confidence and watched as she settled into the chair like a large, dangerous cat. For a moment they looked at each other.
“Tell me how you met Vox”, she demanded then.
“How I met Vox?”, he asked with a look around and an impish smile. “Why certainly, Mistress.”
Since she had not invited him to sit, he leaned himself against the wall and looked at the ceiling for a moment. His right index finger tapped his nose a few times and then ran around the rim of his chest plate as if to check that the silver edge was clean.
“There was this day”, Arrick started. “I had just arrived on Erioch and, what with my rank, I had been put in charge of a kill team. Manus had suffered heavy losses during their last mission and only two of the original members remained. The veterans hardly counted, we were basically a bunch of newbies. Well, and me in the lead.” He gave an ironic chuckle. “I have led Space Wolves before but I had none there. In fact, I had only one member who at least had seen Space Wolves up close. The others… Hell, they went sissy over everything! It was like herding a bunch of girls!” Celeste moved not a muscle in her face while he grinned at her. “And I mean little girls on the day the pink tulle ran out”, Arrick felt the need to clarify. “Not admirable warrior women like you Wings of War. Whatever”, he added with a shrug when he still earned no reaction. “I met Vox on my second day in training. A more experienced sergeant was coordinating that and I was getting worked up about the whining of my teammates when I overheard this guy chatting to one of my veteran members. They were talking about the mission that had just gone wrong. He did it while standing right beside me in shooting practice and missing every single target that presented itself. I was about to yell at him for that when this veteran of mine suddenly threw down his weapons and screamed at this little brother. I don’t remember what he screamed but I remember what Vox answered.” Grimfang closed his eye and recited from memory: “’Yes, brother but in case you haven’t noticed: This is war. In the end, you just count: Outnumbered by Tyranids thirty to one and two of you still alive. You did everything you could and you did well. You have to let the dead go and find someone alive to hang on to!’” The white wolf was silent as if lost in thought. When he re-emerged he grinned a bit sheepishly. “Wise words”, he said.
Celeste gritted her teeth visibly.
“Yes”, she said slowly. “Vox was always good with words.”
“More than me that’s for sure!”, Arrick agreed. “She also is good with the blade if you remember. When I challenged her in melee that afternoon, she took me to pieces good and proper. And after she had beaten me up, she made me put on my helmet, opened a private channel and taught me a few of her moves without anyone listening in. Hell, I was grateful! Had you asked me before, I’d have laughed at the idea that someone could put a crimp in my honour but she had done it, alright, and before anyone had time to notice, she raised it just like that. Two of my new teammates congratulated me at the end of this session and Vox never lost a word about it.”
Celeste muttered something.
“Come again?”
“No”, she said simply. Her voice was deep for a woman and it resonated beautifully but however gently she formed this single syllable, it still was an immovable statement.
‘Used to command’, Arrick thought.
“As you wish, Mistress”, he grunted and half averted his amused gaze. “Well, that was how I met Vox. Anything else you wanna know?”
“Not right now, no.”
“May I ask something then?”, he inquired casually.
“Why did you let me get into your shot?”
She laughed bitterly.
“You don’t want to know why I wanted to shoot him?”
“Nah, I know that. She indulges that guy at every turn and you simply go crazy with the two of them”, he stated flatly. “I told you: I’ve been there before. But I’m sure you saw me moving up and I’m also sure that you could have gotten me out of the way easily and still place the shot.”
“Are you?”
“Hell, yes! I’ve watched you fight, you know?”
“Now, when did you have time for something like that?”, she asked with an intrigued glint in her eyes.
“Gladius got a bit too close to you on Oertha and when you had gone by, there was nothing left to do. So, I got to watch.”
She smiled and shook her head as if dismissing such foolishness.
“I remember a few well-placed bullets I accredit to you and I have to thank you for it. None of us had seen these Tau moving up and they had the higher ground too.”
“Slipping once means nothing”, Arrick said gallantly.
“Not when there is someone having your back, no”, Celeste returned his kindness. “Otherwise slipping once is all it takes.”
“I’m sure you would have handled that. I’ve never seen someone as good with the sword as you.”
For the first time in his presence, her scars rippled under a real smile.
“You’re a bad liar, sergeant”, she scolded him.
“Yeah, alright. But I’ve never seen anyone who could match her.”
Celeste took a deep breath and the smile vanished from her face.
“Before she left, we used to have a rate of about fifty-fifty as long as she left her foresight out of the fight”, she confided in the man with the white hair. “Today I can’t match her any more.”
Arrick shrugged.
“Who wants to match a living saint? She’s gone beyond. Apparently she brought back even more gifts.”
Celeste nodded and stared at nothing for a while. When she remembered herself, she found the Space Wolf watching her with a gentle smile.
“You may leave”, she told him curtly.
“You’re not coming?”, he asked as he hesitantly detached himself from the wall.
Suddenly there was something in her face. A dark amusement and a certain kind of enjoyment.
“No”, she said as this flashed in her eyes.
“And you’re sick of my company?”, he joked.
“Mh”, she made. “Now you mention it. I might still have a use for you.”
“I’m at your command, mistress”, he stated incautiously and intensified his smile in answer to hers.
“I’ve been wondering what you look like under your armour.”
Arrick grinned in surprised self defence and actually blushed.
“Similar to Titus I believe”, he replied with amused caution. “Whom you saw in the bath the other day I understand.”
“Oh? Next you’ll be telling me that you men have learned how to communicate.”
“Oh, no! Never”, he was hasty to assure her. “But… some of us can listen.”
They exchanged a long look.
“Well, sergeant”, Celeste finally said. “If you want to stay, take your armour off.”
Arrick lifted his remaining organic eyebrow and started to grin in disbelief.
“You want me to strip off? Alright”, he said, easing his body into a relaxed swagger. “What do I get in return?”
Celeste smirked confidently.
“You get to strip off, sergeant”, she told him.
He weighed his head and shrugged because he found no way to deny that he wanted this.
“That’s not enough”, he finally decided.
“What do you want then?”, Celeste inquired impishly.
“First of all, call me by name. I’m…”
He chuckled.
“… delighted.”
“There are few men under my command and you are the only sergeant”, she told him with a satisfied tilt of her head. “I’m just about able to remember your name.”
“I’m honoured, mistress”, he said, bowed slightly and started to remove his gauntlets. Gently humming the chants to appease his machine spirit, he slipped out of them and laid them on the table. Then he halted for a moment. The piece of furniture between them suddenly irritated him. As he lifted it out of the way, he watched to see what she would do about it.
Meeting no resistance from her, he started to dissemble his armour with care and stacked the parts on the desk in an orderly fashion. It was difficult to undo the armour alone and he did cheat once or twice. Luckily the Wings had learned different chants and Celeste could not tell him off about it.
After some point he started to doubt that she would have scolded him had she known the appropriate rites. She watched him with an impenetrable poker face.
More than slightly unnerved but enjoying the excitement, he finally slipped out of his under armour and took a step backwards.
She was so different from the women who had seen him naked until now. No awe in her features. Just the calculating, yet appraising stare of an equal. It was challenging and exhilarating.
He admired that in her. In all of them really. Up until now, women had been these small, fragile creatures he had to be careful not to damage when he touched them. A certain kind of enjoyment had happened but a warrior needed to let off steam every now and then and that had always precluded the fragile sex.
Up until now. The Wings of War were a delightfully different calibre. Strong and confident and Arrick admired them for it. Vox had fascinated him even while he had been misled about her gender and now he was surrounded by likenesses of her wherever he looked. There was no choosing these women. He had to pass muster before them and had been unsuccessful so far. The occasional playful advance had caused confusion at best. Violence at worst. Although he had managed to escape Cephaya unharmed that time.
Celeste on the other hand… Up until a couple of minutes ago, the chapter mistress had been so far out of reach, he had never even wasted a thought on her and suddenly, here he stood.
Expecting to be thrown out any minute, he plotted his escape and tried to remember the route to the bathrooms from here. If he could just grab his armour, he might be able to reach it with only a few humans seeing him.
Celeste meanwhile tilted her head slightly.
“Doesn’t that get in the way?”, she asked and folded her arms sceptically.
Arrick needed no glance downwards.
“That’s just excited”, he answered with forced lightness.
“Turn around”, Celeste said, her voice sending shivers down his spine.
He obeyed and peered back at her over one shoulder. Lacking further instructions, he soon turned his gaze to the door and waited.
Over his racing heartbeat he heard a quiet rustle which he was unable to place. Then, Celeste stepped up to him. The sensation of her drawing closer was weird. Her armour reflected the heat of his skin oddly.
He swallowed and tensed and twitched when warm fingertips made careful contact between his shoulder blades. So what he had heard had been her gauntlets being removed. The thought flickered by without consequence because his breath stalled under her touch.
He leaned his head back when her hand wandered upwards to encompass his neck. The gentle pressure she exerted was so controlled, so powerful. Memories of other women trying to massage and please him dwindled like the chirping of insects against the roar of a lioness.
Her second hand made contact and there was a kind of longing in the way she gripped him, which left his skin tingling. Celeste wanted to feel him and the joy about that spread through him like sunshine.
A sudden clicking sound made him look down in surprise. The chapter mistress had just reached around him and locked the door. Arrick had thought his hearts had been racing before but the sudden inducement of true privacy made them leap into a higher gear.
He spun around when a single fingertip started to wander down his spine and laughed up at her to lose the nervousness. She was taller than he. With him barefooted and her still in her armour the difference almost seemed to dwarf him and he felt the strong urge to stand his ground.
“That’s enough”, he chuckled as he grabbed her hand. “You don’t get to play all alone.”
With a cocky grin he pulled the hand up to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles. His one eye wandered up to encounter a face that gave nothing away. He took this for a challenge, turned her hand around and playfully bit into the soft inner part of her wrist but learned immediately that this was the wrong pace for her. She twitched back and he only just could hold on to her hand.
“Shh”, he said, pulling her close again. “Let me try that again.” He kissed her carefully this time and felt her shudder when his lips connected. He pressed his face into her palm after this and she took up her strokes again. While she explored his exposed skin, he pressed himself against her breast plate.
Since there was no pleasure in stroking that, he moved his hands up to her head and buried his fingers in her long hair, ever so gently pulling her down to him. She proved hesitant. So much so that Arrick slowed down once more. Gently, he laid the organic half of his face against hers and rested there for a while. It was she who took up the movement again and the sergeant leaned his head back into her grip when she started to massage his neck again. Growling softly to communicate his enjoyment, he was taken by surprise when her breath suddenly stroked over his exposed throat. He shuddered and sighed when her lips stroked the soft skin under the line of his beard there.
“Arrick?”, she asked quietly between kisses.
“Hrm?”, he gasped happily.
“Have you done that before?”
“What exactly?”
“This thing with the bodies.”
He laughed quietly, lifting his head again to look at her.
“Only with humans.”
Celeste met his gaze.
“Will you show me?”
Arrick was grinning in any case. Now his smile broadened to a point where it started to damage the skin around his implanted eye while he blinked disbelievingly for a long moment.
“You mean with you taking your armour off too?”, he checked to be sure.
“I suppose so.”
“I’ve just died and gone to heaven”, he decided.
“You look quite alive to me.”
“Nah, can’t be”, he said dismissively. “The strongest, most accomplished, most powerful and most beautiful woman I ever met just asked me to lie with her. Something like that doesn’t happen to guys like me while they’re still alive.”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“That’s a total yes, I just can’t believe my luck!”
“You’re supposed to believe in the Emperor”, she scolded him.
“I have to admit that I’m not very comfortable with another man in the room right now, can we please leave the Emperor outside?”
“You are free to open the door for him to leave”, she teased him and started to remove her shoulder plates.
“Mistress?”, he asked, suddenly turning serious.
“May I call you by name?”
She smiled, looking down at him.
“Do you dare?”
Arrick found that he needed a long run up and had to make a detour via: “Mistress Celeste of Jericho Keep.”
“Well done, little warrior”, Celeste purred and laid her second shoulder piece aside. Then, she leaned down to him, took his face into her hands and kissed him gently. Arrick felt his knees go weak under him.
“Now, try again, Arrick”, she said.
“Celeste”, he breathed and finally managed to kiss her back. She smiled contentedly when they parted and then he helped her with the armour where he could. The Mark VI was similar to the Mark VII but the chants Celeste had learned for her machine spirit were different. It took half an eternity until they were skin to skin.
“Celeste?”, Arrick asked.
“May I ask if you ever had a man before?”
“You may. I haven’t.”
He was surprised.
“Why are you so unfazed?”
“Why not?”
“Well, I remember my first time and I sure as hell was nothing like you.”
Celeste gave him a smug smirk.
“Vox mentioned that you men are used to bathe alone.”
Arrick froze in silent rapture for the pictures she conjured up by this comment.
“And that you never touch each other”, she continued, letting a finger trail his well developed pectoral muscles, playfully curling the fine, white fur on them.
Arrick swallowed.
“Hrm”, was all he found to say.
“So”, Celeste asked provocatively. “What’s next?”
He found no answer to that and so he grasped the back of her thighs to lift her up. Immediately she slung her legs around him and gave him a chuckle which actually sounded excited.
His gaze wandered up to meet hers and suddenly his courage deserted him. All of a sudden he needed a much slower pace. Carefully he brought them both to the ground. With legs crossed under them he leaned against her shoulder for a moment. Celeste held him in a warm embrace but her hands were restless.
Arrick meanwhile wrestled with the sudden realisation that there would be an ‘afterwards’ this time. He would not leave in a matter of hours. This woman would stay in his life for the foreseeable future. What if…?
“My lady?”, he asked quietly and in his eye stood a strange vulnerability.
“That’s Celeste for you”, she scolded him.
“Are you just toying with me?”
She cocked her head and smiled with hooded eyes.
“Why do you think that?”
“Because we started it like a game.”
“And you don’t like to play?”
Arrick hesitated.
“I’d like to be serious about you”, he admitted and looked up when she laid a gentle hand under his bearded chin.
“Then let’s be serious, Arrick”, she said. Her voice was like dark honey to the soul and he shuddered under her lips as she kissed him. Unable to resist when she pushed him, he sank to his back. And then Celeste showed him the thing with the bodies.

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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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