Titus had been unable to sleep. He had been haunted by memories. Back in his torture chamber he had known states like this but never as drastic and devastating. There, he had been able to live on the conviction that he had made up for his shortcoming. That he had at least done his duty and retained his honour.
Tonight, he only found one unrectified error after the other. Everything he remembered about Vox amounted to one big mistake. Moments that had been awkward between brothers were downright offensive with a woman in the picture. The embrace on Almond. Threatening to kiss her after the trial. Their contact on Implicit. The moment he had asked about her sexual alignment.
He reviewed them over and over and with each turn, things got worse.
Under the pressure, the ability to enter half sleep had abandoned him.
When he stumbled out of his chamber to attend the prayer, he idly asked himself how Vox could stand the constant sleep deprivation.
His every thought was of her and he was powerless against the tide.
When he reached the chapel, some of her words came at him with renewed force. He passed the spot where she had stood and said: ‘Forgive me.’
What had she done to ask his forgiveness? Had she betrayed them after all?
It got worse when she did not show up. Nobody commented or tried to postpone the prayer and Titus failed to pose the relevant question. He was so numb and sore in his mind that he completely missed the smell of blood lingering among the benches. When Grimfang came up to him outside, he was unable to process the man’s unusually bad temper.
The Space Wolf told him that Gladius would get geared up and rejoin their training.
Titus was almost glad of it. Not having to coordinate his crippled kill team was a relief.
During training, he collected more errors.
The shooting practice against dummy targets was downright depressing. When they moved on to fight each other, he started to suffer for his shortcomings. Busy with counting his mistakes, it did not occur to him that there was rather more fire aimed at him than anyone else. Towards the end of the first training phase, three bullets finally pierced his belly armour in close proximity. Real bolter shells would have killed him. The training ammo only left him disabled.
Somehow, the pain made it better. Finally something to equal his internal agony. Hurting for this kind of wound was at least allowable. He was almost disappointed when his armour provided painkillers.
Dealing with a wounded comrade was excellent training for the field and Titus was trying to decide if he should play a corpse or just the temporary cripple for his team, when he was dragged away by Dankwart and Tiberius.
Making their way determinately, the two of them managed to extract Titus from the hall in short order. When Dankwart carried him towards the apothecarium, the sergeant briefly considered reprimanding him for interrupting the training but the shameful relief to be out of it prevented him from doing so.
In the infirmary, Dankwart worked at his accustomed, steady pace. While he peeled Titus out of his armour, they were joined by Ignatius.
Ignoring his colleague’s inquiring glance, the Blood Drinker nevertheless accepted help. With the armour out of the way, the two apothecaries performed a ritual on one of the armour ducts on Titus’ back. In consequence, he lost the feeling for his body from the chest downwards.
The Ultramarine was unhappy with his state. Lying around like this gave him far too much time to think. Not even watching the healers rummage around in his abdomen granted him sufficient distraction. On the contrary. The rite they were persistently repeating was a further aggravation for his nerves.
When it finally seized more than two hours later, he still had to wait until they had put his intestines back and sutured his belly.
The last ritual left him with a needle poking into a vein and the sinking feeling of sleep coming over him.
Titus was so enraged by now that he pulled the needle out of his arm as soon as the apothecaries turned their backs. For a moment his senses left him but when he came back, he heard the healers talking.
Ignatius was just saying: “He seemed out of sorts yesterday.”
Titus held his breath. He hoped that his guess as to whom they were talking about was wrong but he doubted it.
“I’ve pushed his pain medication”, Dankwart admitted reluctantly. A few quiet clinks and splashes indicated that they were cleaning their instruments.
“But today? Asleep?”, Ignatius continued to ask.
In the pause, Dankwart left before he granted the answer, Titus cursed himself. If Vox got injured, of course the other apothecary would have questions. This was all his fault.
“I’ve put him in an induced coma”, Dankwart finally conceded.
“May I ask why?”
Again, Dankwart hesitated.
“He had some kind of fit yesterday. All his wounds ripped open. It’s better this way.”
Titus’ stomach tried to crumple up when he heard this. He could imagine all too well what Vox having a fit looked like but she had been healthy when he had seen her in the chapel. His hearts sank even lower when he concluded that this episode had happened after their fight. So, she was so badly afflicted that Dankwart had put her to sleep and Titus had not even managed to ask after her at prayer…
“How long do you plan to keep him like this?”, Ignatius inquired, another few chinks accompanying his words.
“I’ll wake him now.”
A pause ensued and Titus tried to keep his breathing flat.
“What is the problem with them?”, the Angel Vermillion wanted to know.
“Titus… found something out about Vox”, Dankwart replied reluctantly.
“He obviously didn’t like it”, Ignatius commented. It was hard to tell whether he allowed himself an opinion on this.
“Dankwart, I know you”, Ignatius said after a moment’s pause. “You despise wasting words. Do you wish me to talk to either of them?”
“No”, Aegis’ apothecary said simply. “The commander will talk to Titus as soon as we arrive.”
Ignatius gave an impatient, little sigh.
“Forgive my intrusion”, he said. “But why do you treat Vox at all? If he’s so unstable that he needs it…” the apothecary let the sentence trail off.
“Can’t you see?”, Dankwart asked quietly.
They were silent for a long time.
“Yes, actually I can”, Ignatius admitted then. “There’s something about him, right? You just can’t kill him.”
Titus could not see if Dankwart nodded. He probably did and then answered: “I never even tried. Tiberius failed to shoot him down four times so far. Grimfang didn’t kill him yesterday”, he added quietly. “Vox said he was a damned fool for it.”
“And he always pulled you through, didn’t he?”
“Always. With no regard for himself.” Titus heard Dankwart laugh humourlessly. “We always tell each other that we have to shoot him next time. Even Vox says that.”
“Could you?”, Ignatius asked softly.
“I doubt it”, Dankwart answered in the same manner. “Not before he shows obvious mutations.”
“Brother, that’s bad talk from a squad with a librarian as potent as Little Brother Vox”, the other apothecary said but there was no rancour in his tones. Only concern.
“One word to the right people and Vox will be put in a squad that shoots on sight”, Dankwart replied to this. It was the first time that Titus had heard him issue a challenge.
“Yes, I will totally do that to him after he pulled us through too.”
A pause followed.
“How does Vox handle the detox?”, Ignatius casually changed the subject. “Or do you keep him on medication all the time?”
“I’ll reduce it after his surgery on Erioch.”
Again Ignatius gave this impatient sigh.
“Brother, I told you that we should do this here”, he said insistently. “If his heart hasn’t started beating again, it might decay and then what?”
Titus considered himself lucky that he was lying down at this point. The shock of this information was like a punch to the gut. As if to answer it, the pain of his wound flared up.
The wheel of guilt in his head started to turn again.
Vox had taken the strike from the Hive Tyrant to save him. He had personally made the wound worse by attacking her in the shrine. Yesterday, the whole procedure had repeated because of his inability to reign his temper in and then, she had suffered even more after he had quarrelled with her.
The guilt seemed to crystallise inside him. It poured into his veins like the shards of broken dreams. This silly dream that he could be valued, that his actions could be worthwhile.
“On Erioch, I have the servitors I need”, Dankwart said slowly, pulling him back to the present.
“Dankwart…”, the Angel Vermilion started but was interrupted.
It had never been made clear whether there was a hierarchy between the two apothecaries. Irrespective of this, Ignatius shut up immediately.
“You will go to Vox and ask him”, Dankwart said. This was no suggestion. It was a clear statement of what the future would hold.
“And if he so much as hesitates, you leave him alone. Do you understand?”
“Yes, brother”, Ignatius assured him hastily.
The apothecaries were silent for a while and started to walk about in the room. They had probably finished cleaning the instruments. Now, they tidied them away.
“Could you…”, Dankwart said after a while. “Could you help to keep them stable? Especially Titus… He’s a good man. He deserves better…”
“I can arrange that”, Ignatius said after a brief pause.
“You’re welcome, brother. Go and wake Vox. I’ll keep an eye on things here.”