Aegis waited outside and Vox almost walked into them. Their librarian looked at the ground as if cursing it and only spotted them when he was a few steps away. The look he gave them was full of dark, distracted bewilderment. His hands came up defensively when he saw their faces.
“Now, don’t get soppy”, he urged them. “I simply made up for my own mistake. Had I spotted the damned xenos earlier, all this wouldn’t have been necessary, right?”
They had drawn closer all the time. Now, they stopped in front of him. Hyron and Vyron exchanged a glance. Then they hugged him. Vox sighed and returned the hug by awkwardly slinging his arms around their necks and ruffling their brown hair. This was quite difficult in power armour.
“Thanks, man”, Hyron said.
“You’re completely crazy”, Vyron added. “Thank you for that!”
“Thanks for leaving me alive”, Vox mumbled and let go of them.
Tiberius stepped up next.
“Can you forgive me, Vox?”, he asked solemnly.
“For playing by the rules?”, Vox asked back, smiling half-heartedly. “Can you?”
Tiberius returned the smile in the same manner and they shared an embrace as well. They whispered something to each other and Titus only caught Vox answering “Yes, you did” when they parted.
Dankwart and Vox did not speak. They just extended their hands, linked the right ones at the thumbs and grasped them with the left. The gesture lasted for only a second and yet it was intense and meaningful.
Titus had watched the proceedings with a soft smile.
“You four go off to training”, he ordered when all their gazes turned to him. It was not his intention to stay behind for long. He just wanted a few private words with Vox after what had happened. Their period of waiting was a little extended by the commander leaving the room. All this gave Titus sufficient opportunity to observe Vox’s expression. It showed a troubling development. From grim discontent over outright annoyance to hardly concealed fury.
“What in Terra’s name was that? Developed a taste for catching bullets have you?”, Vox demanded as soon as Ferone was even remotely out of earshot. “And where the hell did you learn of the bailsman?”
“I met a psyker and his bailsman once.”
“And they seemed like a happy couple to you?”, Vox snapped.
“Vox, you’re overdoing it”, Titus warned. It was not only the higher rank he carried now. He felt offended by Vox’s behaviour.
“No, sergeant”, Vox said icily. “It is you who screwed up. There are procedures.”
“Are there?”, he asked, folding his arms.
“Yes!” His little brother drew out the pause for dramatic effect. “You should have proposed beforehand. With a ring!”
Abruptly, Vox turned and walked away.
“Oh, dear”, Titus said, frowning in puzzlement. The bubbling anger Vox displayed was hard to bring in congruence with a joke like that. On the other hand, if there were jokes, maybe there was a way out.
“But seriously”, he tried. “How often have we walked towards the altar together? You could have seen it coming!”
Vox rubbed his face in a most irritated fashion.
“This is rather less funny than you think”, he declared.
“You can whisper the details in my ear later, my love.”
They walked in silence for a moment with Vox at a complete loss for words. Now Titus came to think about it, this topic had always managed to unbalance his friend. Almost nothing else had.
“Sergeant?”, Vox said and stopped walking. He sounded incredibly aggravated. Suddenly, concern and dismay drove away the anger on his smooth face.
“The day will come when you regret this.”
Titus turned to him, cocked his head and hesitated. In the pause, he looked deeper. He had learned this from his little brother. There were reasons behind the anger. It was important to stand the storm long enough to see them shine through. Titus felt himself going soft inside.
“Did I ever thank you for getting me out of the grasp of the Inquisition?”, he asked, managing a smile.
“I didn’t get you out, so you could go crazy on inquisitors after I got rid of them!”, his little brother burst out, his anger flaring up again.
“You really think Zork would have left you alone?”, Titus inquired steadily.
“Of course!”, Vox almost screamed. “The moment he made me tell him when I learned about the white flame, I was safe! There’s a delicate balance between the Inquisition and the Deathwatch. The commander didn’t have to concede to anything after I had conceded to that! Unwritten rules, sergeant! Things that can kill you if you don’t use them right!”
“Vox, the sentence clearly states that you may use all your skills without penalty”, Titus said insistently. “Skills. Not powers. Whatever comes now, you are safe from them.”
“And what about you, you moron?”, Vox burst out, even giving Titus a push to the breast plate. “I know the field of law and was safe enough! You are not! Do you remember why you laid down your rank? To get off the radar of the Inquisition! And do you know why you were promoted just now? Because with putting yourself on the line like this, you’ll need every bit of protection we can find! Loor is a good man and he is careful and considerate in his judgement but this is the Deathwatch! There will be others and if anything, anything at all goes wrong and any of them mouths the slightest doubt about you, the Inquisition gets to grab you again! And this time, no one will be able to come for you!”
Titus looked him in the eyes. These eyes, blue like the summer sky over Terra, shining through the anger bright and clear. This man, who had crossed the Jericho Reach for a stranger, raged and screamed because he was concerned for a friend.
“See?”, Titus asked quietly. “That’s why I wanted to do that.”
“To put me in fear for you?”, Vox asked, suddenly cooling down for the sheer bafflement.
“No, Vox”, he said, laying his hands on Vox’s shoulder plates. “Because you put yourself on the line without hesitation. Your first concern is always with others and no one ever watches out for you, just because you happen to be the psyker. But this is over now. They can’t reach you anymore because I will stand in their way. Because it’s you, little brother.”
Vox treated him to a really dark look.
“Now, what was so hard about that?”, he asked icily, brushing Titus’ hands off. “First, declaration of love, then proposal, then tying up ‘til death do us part. Now, where is that ring?” He turned and started to walk again, wildly gesticulating in a dismay that was only half comical.
“So, you fear for me?”, Titus said, testing if the sudden return of humour meant that things would subside.
“How can you even ask?”, Vox grumbled.
“Because we shall know no fear, my darling.”
“Wishful thinking if ever I heard it”, Vox growled.
“Hold it, my little bail”, Titus laughed. “You speaking heresy like that will get me into trouble!”
“I am utterly convinced that the Emperor never meant us to be mindless tools! Yes, alright, we are not cowed by terror like the mortals. We do not freeze in the face of danger and our life as warriors sure as hell dulls us even more but no fear at all? Then what we do is just idiot bravado. If we don’t fear for what we might lose, there is no courage in us at all! How do we know worth and worthiness if we are not able to fear its loss?”
Titus looked at him for a long time, shuffling options.
He finally settled on: “Vox, what’s the matter?”
There still was anger and deep, dark pain in the friend’s eyes when he shot Titus the shortest of glances.
“Well, first of all, you managed to get yourself promoted.”
“Yes, that was unfortunate”, Titus conceded. “But I’m your bailsman now. I’m supposed to know you. The Codex can’t argue against that. Oh, don’t look like this!”, he demanded when he saw the displeasure on the friend’s face. “I know, you still wear the black shield. As far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed. Except that what I promised you as your friend is now part of my duty instead of a difficult arrangement. In fact, we can relax!” Titus smiled for the sudden realisation. Vox was safe.
To tell by his demeanour, he also was still full of doubt.
When they turned the next corner, Titus decided to change the subject. “You’re headed to the library now?”, he inquired.
As he said it, Vox seemed to remember the scroll in his hand. It consisted of two pieces of paper. He unrolled them and stopped dead after the first glance.
“May I accompany you?”, Titus asked, coming to a halt as well.
“And then what?”, Vox asked distractedly while he skimmed over the documents. “Tell anyone who asks that we had our wedding night?”
Titus grinned and waited.
“Oh, Emperor”, Vox groaned and rubbed his face irritably while the scroll was left to roll up again. “Sometimes, I just can’t stop myself.”
“That’s what I love about you”, Titus assured him and decided to push the joke for the sheer pleasure of it. “May I kiss the bride now?”
Vox stared at him, blank horror in his face.
“And what if I said yes?”, he demanded, apparently unable to believe what he had just heard.
Titus took a step closer. He was still grinning as he laid a gentle hand under his little brother’s chin.
Vox caught the hand forcefully, a strange furious bewilderment in his eyes while he searched for repartee.
“The Codex Astartes prohibits kissing in public!”, he finally claimed.
Titus knew that his grin started to verge on the diabolic now.
“Oh, I bet it does”, he said, leaning closer and dropping his voice to a deep, promising growl while he wrapped his fingers around his little brother’s hand. “Tonight then…”
To his surprise Vox took several steps back, lifting his hands defensively.
“I yield”, he said. “Just… drop that subject.”
“Alright”, Titus promised, confused about this. “See you at prayer?”
“No”, his librarian said, cleared his throat and straightened up. “No, sergeant. I advise that you really follow me to the library and spare me further jokes, please! As sergeant, you are entitled to read the personal files of your kill team. Since you’ll renew your oath after the next prayer and we’ll leave for Implicit as soon as they have sorted out which ship we get, you should take your time now.”
“Very well”, Titus agreed and they continued on their way. Without comment, Vox handed him the papers he had just read. Both were only copies but one was the death sentence for a certain Louis Sassubell of Thrax and the other was the bill of indictment in matters of heresy against the Emperor and His chosen for a certain Yarah Laraise.
“Now, that’s what I call a wedding gift…”, Titus said in surprise.
“You promised to leave it alone”, Vox growled.
Titus looked over at him. Vox was still struggling hard with this, he could see it. He also was sure that there was even more to it than the concern for a friend and the concern to lose a friend over their ranks. With a slight annoyance, he registered his curiosity and pushed it aside. Instead of digging deeper, he laid a hand to Vox’s shoulder guard. The librarian closed his eyes and visibly pulled himself together.
“I thank you for your intent”, he said after a while, a steep crease of fury still between his eyebrows. “And I’ll try to be a good bail. I just wish you hadn’t done that.”
“I’ll try to be a good bailsman”, Titus promised.
“Do you want to keep the copies?”
“Then I’ll file them away.”
Titus handed them back without further comment.