Cunn ignored the doubtful glances of the brothers as they left. Instead, he held steady eye contact with Titus.
His expression did not change until they were out of sight. Then, a roguish, almost amused glint entered his eyes.
“Do you know, what intrigues me, brother?”
“The subtle play of moonlight on water, sergeant?”
“There’s that of course”, Cunn conceded. “But what also intrigues me is a brother of second company with the features of a captain I’m sure I have seen before.”
“Which company are you?”, Titus inquired, gritting his teeth. Sometimes, he just hated being right. If the latest information the sergeant had was that Titus had been imprisoned for heresy, things could still turn very bad.
“Fifth”, was the friendly answer. “Tiberius and I served together before he went to the Deathwatch.”
Titus found himself cocking his head.
“And you were able to detect Vox going off limits and find your way here through an unfamiliar ship within a few minutes. Despite your injuries”, he recounted. “Impressive.”
“I’m no librarian but a bit more sensitive to matters of the warp than you.”
“But you didn’t burst and spill daemons.”
“You know?”, the sergeant said casually. “I lay next to this rift opening, but Vox crying out was worse.”
“Let us not forget that rather powerful shield we were provided with”, Titus pointed out drily.
“Yes, of course”, the man conceded. “Now. Titus. I have personal reasons to welcome the thought that your librarian has a friend who speaks up for him and since none of you sets my teeth on edge like all corrupted people I met so far, I’m willing to let things slide a little. I’ll see you for prayer. Brother.” Cunn turned and left. Rather slowly and unsteadily Titus noticed.
It had been an unsettling encounter but before the Ultramarine took time to reflect on it, he wanted to check on Vox. For the second time today he knocked and entered carefully despite the lack of an answer.
The psyker sat leaned against his sleep slab, sunken forward as if unable to support himself. Sluggishly he turned his head when the door moved. His face was still covered in blood and congealing lumps of scab stained his blonde hair.
Titus was uncertain what lay in his expression. The usual impish delight had fled. Left were only grave sorrow and exhaustion. Maybe even a bit of dark reproach. It was strangely hard to step into the room under this gaze.
“I’m sorry, little brother”, he felt obliged to say. “I shouldn’t have asked for the song.”
Vox looked down. Everything about him seemed slow and heavy. So unlike his usual self.
“Things have gone too far”, he stated quietly and Titus found himself retreating into a defensive stance immediately. With crossed arms he leaned against the wall.
“I think we can agree that I hit my limits today, yes?”, Vox asked.
“Yes”, Titus replied steadily. He disliked being led like this, however.
“But if you think you can play lonely, little psyker again, spare me the drama!”, he added quickly.
Vox seemed puzzled by this. He thought for a moment.
“What do you mean?”, he finally asked.
“I get the feeling that you are about to play rough to push me off. I don’t intend for this to work.”
“You’re very sweet.”
“I’ll take that as an insult.”
“It was”, Vox assured him and rubbed his face. “Now, have patience with me. I might still be able to reach the end of this line of thought.” His friend looked at him from tired, blood-encrusted, blue eyes and Titus found he could not stand his gaze. He turned to the washstand, dampened a cloth and knelt down to wipe his face clean.
“Forgive me”, he said a little gruffly. “My highly developed sense of aesthetics suffers from seeing you like this.”
By slowly and carefully taking the cloth away, Vox utterly crushed this attempt to lighten the mood.
“Alright, little brother”, Titus said darkly, sitting back on his haunches. “You want to be serious? Then, go ahead.”
“You might have noticed that I have some trouble coping lately.”
“Among the things bothering me are you.”
Titus gritted his teeth and said nothing.
“You aren’t the worst by far”, Vox continued, holding his gaze. “But you are the only one I can do something about. As far as I see it, there are two ways for you to help me out. One is to leave me alone.”
Vox made a pause to await a reaction. When Titus remained silent, he continued: “The other one, and I want to note that this would be my preferred option, is to become my friend.”
“I am your friend, you moron!”, Titus burst out.
“No”, Vox said patiently. “You are the guy to hang out with if I want to have a good time. Being my friend would mean being the man I turn to when I have bad times.”
Titus took the cloth away from him again.
“Fine by me”, he said grimly and tried to continue his doing. Vox grabbed his hand when it reached for his face. The gesture was gentle, without any strength behind it and Titus could have easily pushed on.
Suddenly, there was something fragile about his friend. Something that might easily break if he was careless.
“It’s not as simple”, Vox said, his bare fingers gently resting on Titus’ fist. “If I turn to you in bad times, I need to rely on you.”
“When did I disappoint you?”, Titus wanted to know.
“Don’t get impatient”, Vox urged softly. “It’s important that you understand the full extent of what I’m asking. I’d require a few things from a friend.”
“Tell me!”, Titus demanded irritably. He wanted to act, wanted to help. Seeing his friend like this ground over his nerves like a steel brush on raw skin.
“First of all: I notice a distressing tendency in you to ask questions until you get answers.”
Titus actually blushed for this but he held his young friend’s gaze stubbornly.
“I need you to trust that I will tell you what I can”, Vox said to follow this up. “And I will need you to spot when I can’t or shouldn’t go on. Being sorry afterwards isn’t enough. If I turn to you, I can’t fend you off at the same time. I need to feel safe with you and this means you will have to hold yourself back for me.”
“You mean I should stop digging under your black shield.”
“That sums it up nicely. Well done.” The grip around Titus’ fist tightened for a moment.
“Alright”, Titus said reluctantly and finally let the hand with the cloth in it sink. For reasons he could not explain, he laid his free hand on Vox’s fingers to keep them from slipping away.
“Understood”, he underlined. “What else?”
“I need you to be ready to pull that trigger”, Vox said. “Today wasn’t the day but one day, I will lose my battle against chaos. I need to trust that there will be someone with me who is willing to protect the world from me. There are more things but you’ll have to spot them yourself…” He fought to keep his eyes open. For a moment, his head sagged backwards. It was a strange gesture. Almost as if he was exposing his throat to Titus.
“And finally…”, his friend managed, focussing on him again. “I need you to leave. Go away and contemplate what I just said. I need you to understand thoroughly that I’m a psyker and a black shield combined. One day, you will have to kill me and you’ll never ever be allowed to ask the significant questions. Should you, after you have thought about this, step up to me and declare that you want to stand at my side, I must be able to trust that you will follow through to the bitter end.”
They stared at each other.
Vox had astonishingly blue eyes Titus noticed in some detached part of his mind. He had read a poem once where eyes like these had been described. Eyes as blue as the summer sky over Terra. The brother’s eyes looked just like this. Blue, streaked with grey so light that it was almost silver and the merest, tiniest suggestion of gold around the pupil. Like the corona of a yellow sun. The eyes in the poem had belonged to a woman though.
Once more, Vox reclaimed the cloth. With his blue eyes alone, he pointed to the door. Without fully willing it, Titus found himself obeying his silent demand. The door falling shut between them had a strange gravity to it.
Blinking as if awoken from a dream, the former captain did not know what to do next.
He opted for wandering around until prayer. Afterwards, he made an early night.