Outside, Vox came to the legate’s side.
“These damned, thought-controlled mag locks”, Solomon said, folding his hands behind his back.
“They’re a real pain in the ass”, Vox agreed noncommittally. “As soon as you want to shoot someone, they just release your weapons.”
The two of them exchanged a glance and again it was hard to tell if they were on very good terms or on very bad ones. Shortly after this, Vox let himself fall back and Ecurael took his place at the legate’s side.
Titus walked last in their loose formation and wanted to close the gap on his little brother but the Heartrocks beat him to this.
They flanked Vox left and right and one of them said: “No hard feelings, eh?”
“None, Hyron”, the son of Sanguinius answered.
“I’m Hyron”, the other one claimed.
“Nope”, Vox disagreed.
“How do you tell us apart anyway? No one else manages it!”, one of them wanted to know.
“Got you marked down, boys”, Vox said quietly.
“Oh great, see? That’s why no one likes psykers”, the alleged Hyron burst out. “You’re just smug little bastards who know it all.”
“Yeah. That’s me”, Vox agreed peaceably but Titus could see his hand curl into a fist behind his back. “Objectionable, smug, little bastard.”
Vox received a push from the possible Vyron for this.
“Don’t push it”, the Space Wolf said happily. “You’re not that little.”
Indeed, Vox was about as tall as they were, even when he made himself small.
“Greatness does not always come with sheer size, brothers, and I am happy to bow to your accomplishments.”
Now, the probable Hyron pushed him from the other side. “Are you trying to insult us?”, he asked.
“Of course. That’s psykers for you”, Vox said calmly and unperturbed. “Always insulting distinguished warriors without having anything to show for themselves.”
Vox had walked slowly and the three of them had fallen a bit behind. The rest of Aegis, including the legate, had just turned a corner.
Titus, who had kept his distance behind them, saw the two brothers pushing him again. This time they tried it from both sides at once but Vox dodged backwards swiftly. His crossed arms came up, grabbed both their wrists and pulled them together with force. An Astartes himself, Vox was strong but this alone would not have felled the two Space Wolves. A well-placed jump that connected in both the hollows of their knees at the same time brought them down, however. They rammed their heads together with a well audible thump. Vox leaned over them, pushing their twisted arms up to retain control.
“Just to be clear, my cubs”, the librarian hissed menacingly, and Titus was surprised that none of them tried to fight back. They just knelt and squinted at Vox from the corners of their eyes.
“I will take no lip and I will also take you to the cleaners, should you annoy me further. Don’t worry, I’ll make the scarring uniform so that still no one will be able to tell you apart but don’t think I’m not capable of that!”
With this, Vox pushed them out of the way, stepped between them and walked up to the corner.
The twins came to their feet and scuttled after him, surprisingly happy in the face of what had just happened. They pushed each other playfully and when they caught up, slapped Vox on the shoulders. He waved for them to follow the others while he waited for Titus to catch up. They exchanged a grin and fell into step.
“Space Wolves”, Vox said with a shrug. “They really take getting used to but when you have, you miss it when you don’t have one.”
“Pack animals?”, Titus inquired with a smile.
“Yeah, and this weird hierarchy of theirs… It even works with higher ranking Space Wolves. You can be as nice as you want afterwards but you have to fight it out first. Funny enough, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose the first standoff. Those I met are good superiors and subordinates alike but unless you have proven yourself, you’d better not try to give them orders.”
“And? How many wolf packs have you led in your time?”
Vox gave a short laugh.
“Sadly, you don’t get whole packs in the Deathwatch. I have my favourite Space Wolves, that’s all.”
“How do you tell the twins apart?”, Titus wanted to know.
“Hyron has a chip in his left front tooth”, Vox pointed out. “You can see it when he speaks. Also, when you can tell them apart reliably, they’re not so similar after all. It’s only confusing because they switch names and places all the time.”
“Vox?”, Titus asked. The others were well out of earshot in front of them.
“What’s with this brother Ecurael mentioned?”
“He’s Ecurael’s problem”, Vox said steadily.
“And what did he mean? What do you know?”, Titus went on.
“Basic Mathematics”, Vox said smoothly. “I can count up to a hundred at least.”
“Poetry too?”, he inquired to get away from this topic again.
They took a few steps in silence.
“I wouldn’t even have told the captain, brother”, Vox said then.
“Yeah, I know”, Titus replied. “I’m just nosy. Forgive my intrusiveness.”
“A small mind is a tidy mind, brother”, the librarian reminded him.
“You mean an open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded?”
“Indeed, a broad mind lacks focus.”
“Because Ignorance is a virtue?”, Titus checked.
“So, be strong in your ignorance!”, Vox encouraged him.
“And examine your thoughts!”
“And dread what you find there in your case”, the young man suddenly broke their flow.
“What? Giving up so soon?”, Titus asked, smiling. “I thought, we’d at least get to the ship before we run out of proverbs.”
“Did you listen to any of them?”, Vox asked demurely.
Titus gave a humourless laugh.
“All my life, Vox”, he said and only noticed the bitterness in his tone as he said it. A part of him, he tried to keep hidden, had shot to the surface unattended. It was the part that doubted what he had learned. It was what brought inconvenient suggestions and desires like the longing for a friend where none was to be found. Maybe, he thought now, it even was what had made him lay his rank down so readily. What it certainly was in any case, was the fuel for his ravenous curiosity.
They looked at each other for a long time. It probably was due to being in a long, straight corridor without a crowd that they did not walk into anything.
Titus felt exposed under the blue-eyed gaze of his friend and as much as he wanted to, he could not retreat. Vox had heard the words and understood them for what they were: A declaration of doubt.
In the seconds trickling by, Titus remembered tears of shame and humiliation hidden from the world by a gentle hand. This same hand extended itself now and grasped his upper arm. He felt the pressure even through his armour.
“We all doubt”, Vox said quietly. “He didn’t make us with small minds and He didn’t make us ignorant, however much we may pretend but a friend of mine once told me that, used right, doubt can fertilise an entire garden of faith. I always liked that picture.”
Titus took a moment to think this over.
“Thank you for sharing”, he said and a smile crept into his stern features.
“You’re welcome.” Vox withdrew his hand.
“How does it work, do you think?”, Titus mused after a moment. He wanted to lose the severity but was unwilling to let the topic go.
“Do you dig the doubt in and hope it sprouts leaves?”
“Yeah, kind of. You mush it through conversation and prayer until it gets runny and then you water the faith flowers with it.”
“So, you have to talk about it?”
“Preferably with your confessor if you have a good one.”
“That’s always the trick of course.”
“Try Ecurael. He’s good. You could also submit to another hypno-conditioning cycle. That…” Vox blinked. “Calms”, he finished as if his own statement surprised him.
“Everything alright?”, Titus wanted to know.
“Yes, I just… thought of something.” Vox shook his head. “What were we talking about?”, he inquired.
“Confessors”, Titus reminded him, even though he would have liked to know what had been going on in his friend’s head just now. “Are professional confessors compulsory? Or could I also talk to you?”
“They are not compulsory”, his friend told him. “But I’m not a good choice. If brothers discuss their doubt they should be able to share pieces of their minds without barrier. This will get in the way in my case.” He knocked against his black shoulder guard while they climbed one of the transportation servitors, which would take them to the hangar. It was a creature with six long, mechanical legs. It walked a bit shakily, but was able to step over a lot of the traffic in the corridors.
“Whom do you discuss your doubts with?”, Titus wanted to know. It was an attempt to get to the bottom of this concern Vox lugged around since he had skipped training two days ago.
Vox looked away and leaned on the bannister of the open platform they were standing on.
“No one at present”, he admitted.
“So, your garden withers?”
“Not much yet”, the librarian said curtly.
“Would I be a good choice as confessor?”, Titus offered.
“Nope”, Vox said, killing the attempt mercilessly. “You don’t know when to stop digging.”
Vox shrugged one shoulder.
“Sure”, he said lightly, but then frowned and added: “It’s not…” He broke off and straightened up. “Just so you understand: It’s not that I want it this way. I would like to help you with your garden and accept help myself. But there are necessities I’m subject to.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Do me a favour and get help, yes?”, Vox asked. He was still looking down at the walking humans the servitor navigated over and Titus had to frown in slightly amused puzzlement.
“What’s that got to do with anything?”, he asked softly.
“Brother, I see you every day”, Vox said, not meeting his gaze. “And frankly, it hurts me to lay eyes on you. These scars aren’t just on your body but on your soul too. It would take a burden off my mind to see you heal and I can’t help you with it but help is what you need.” The young man shot Titus a glance. “In terms of gardening you just survived a drought like none of us”, he said quietly. “And until you sprout flowers of faith again, doubt will just wash you away.”
Vox watched him carefully, he noticed. As if to see how he would react to words like these. He considered breaking the deep, emotional tension they had entered by making fun of it but decided otherwise. He did not want to do this to Vox when he showed him such kind consideration.
“Sometimes, it is quite disconcerting how easily you read me”, he said and now it was him, who put his hands on the bannister to turn away.
Vox gave one of his pleasant little laughs.
“You’re saying that as if it was an active accomplishment of mine.”
“Isn’t it?”, Titus asked, shooting him a benign glance.
“No, on the contrary”, Vox said, coming to his side, mimicking his stance. “I just listen to what you are telling me.”
Titus thought about this for a moment.
“That’s a rare gift”, he considered.
“Talk to Ecurael”, Vox said warmly. “I’m sure he can help.”
“I will”, Titus promised.
“Thanks. Get better. It’ll make things easier.” He laughed again. “But, just to be clear”, he added and grinned a bit sheepishly. “For the less difficult topics, you still can talk to me. You don’t have to stop just because you’re getting professional help.”
Titus pushed Vox.
“What’s up?”, the young man asked. “Want to establish the hacking order?”
“No, I know I’m your junior as a brother.” They both had to grin as they watched the hangar come into sight. “I just wanted to test if you float away”, Titus explained. “Because your head must be full of air if you really think I’d stop talking to you!”
“Aw, look at us!”, Vox mocked him and stepped back from the bannister. The servitor folded its legs and sank down, so they could leave it.
“All sentimental again and we’re not even exhausted!”
“Just you wait, little brother. I’ll kick you over the training grounds today. There will be enough exhaustion tonight.”
Vox took a deep, delightful breath.
“I’ll hold you to that!”, he said.