Silence ruled the apothecarium at night. The few humans on shift needed no more than a gesture to keep away from her. Titus lay in the room commonly used to treat the Space Marines on board and she took care to close the door behind her as silently as she could.
The light was dimmed. Enough for a human to see, more than sufficient for her genehanced eyes.
Wrapped in a blanket, the sergeant lay on the same table she had occupied recently.
Vox stood by the door and listened.
A sleeping Space Marine breathed only a couple of times per minute and she was uncertain whether she had missed a few cycles over the chattering in her ears. She considered leaving but she had no choice. They had grown too loud. Writing was no distraction, reading impossible.
The coma had neither helped with her exhaustion nor the wounds. What it had achieved however, was to leave her mind scrambled for the substances Dankwart used to push her from deep sleep to wakefulness without giving her time to dream.
On top of it, her armour was instructed to lower her dosage of painkillers at night so that she would fall asleep less easily. This meant that she was left with enough physical pain to aggravate her while keeping her just as irrational as usual in recent times.
Arguing with herself was no use. She had no choice.
Stalking over to him like a wounded predator tracking a dangerous animal, Vox removed her gauntlets.
They would wake him tomorrow, Ignatius had told her. She needed to seize her chance now.
Her head began to spin when her hearts turned up their pace. That both were beating again had caused very strange effects during training today. She had been on the brink of collapse several times.
The Emperor had seen fit to grant her healing in a moment of crisis and the guilt for her lack of gratitude ate away at her.
Right now she needed more than a second heart.
Reluctantly, Vox reached for Titus’ shoulder.
She almost toppled over when the world stopped pressing in on her.
The touch of his skin brought it. She could escape into this small, quiet realm he carried if she was only allowed to touch him. Not even the echoes of his thoughts were audible while he slept.
To her who bore the resonance of violence every day, this was bliss of unimagined proportions.
Calmness she had known before but never silence.
If only there had been nothing else about him she longed for. Vox shook her head, trying to dislodge the thoughts. She wished she could blame it on the medication but she knew that it was her own doing when she leaned over him.
Cursing herself all the way, she bent down and placed a kiss on his forehead.
His scent enveloped her. It was fainter for the coolness of his body but in the silence of her mind it was sweeter on her senses than placing the last stroke to win a battle. She had liked his smell from the start. Even under the stench in his cell, there had been this note of vitality and wild strength. It had expanded with his recovery, grown into the promise of a partner at her side.
She felt so stupid.
She had wanted to do this for so long, had wanted to stroke his hair, touch his lips with hers. When he had threatened to kiss her after the trial, she seriously had considered grabbing him, disobey and be done with it.
But the commander had forbidden to reveal herself and she had dreaded what he would do when he found out in any case.
And now, here they were.
Both injured, both hurt, both alone. She had not wanted it like this. She had not wanted to come like a thief in the night to steal a few minutes of silence from him. So stupid.
How could she have ended up here? How could his smile make her dizzy? How could a friendly gesture make her sweat? How could the sound of his mellifluous voice make her feel like melting inside?
Vox could not even say where it had started anymore. He had registered as the usual, stiff necked Ultramarine at first. For the first couple of weeks he had been hardly more than a weight to carry around in training but he had outgrown this picture. He had been so determined, so bent on bettering himself after they had gotten him free. The respect for him had grown and softened her hearts. Soon, she had enjoyed his company. Had been able to look with benevolence on his stubborn efforts to recover. When his attempts to control them in their first fight had dwindled and he had instead relied on the prowess of the comrades around him, she had started to feel safe with him. Treacherous, treacherous safety. This was what it had led to: A dangerous fancy for a dangerous man in a dangerous position.
How in the Emperor’s name could the feelings for him not have gone away since he had become her bailsman? She lived to protect her chapter and he was able to harm it now. He was a threat to her and all she held dear. How could she still love him? How could he have gained such power over her?
Not even Arrick helped in any way. Brought back by the unlikeliest of events, the wolf had taken his place by her side without doubt or hesitation. He supported and protected her in a delicate dance of power. Submissive to her judgement, he allowed her to live in his shadow and follow in the wake of wherever she sent him. Just like her best friend Celeste had always done it.
Maybe this was the reason. Arrick felt so similar to Celeste that he triggered Vox’s homesickness.
Titus meanwhile… Never had she met a person like him. So closed off and yet reaching out for her with such confidence. That this certainty had cracked under the revelation hurt beyond belief. While she had been unable to do wrong in his eyes, she had already dreaded the day of discord. It had come with even more force than she had anticipated and it hurt her every day anew.
She had seen it before. That Titus should be one of the men who would hate her because she was a woman was painful but there was a kind of logic to it.
Titus had held his little brother in the highest regard, she was sure. To find out that he had been deceived by someone like that must have been hell for him. Treason left wounds ever deeper the closer the traitor had been and Emperor! Had she come close!
Led by his want of connection, she had been unable to keep her distance. He had opened and enveloped her and she had found herself in his soul before she had realised how much damage she would do here. Worse. The feeling of safety he projected had nestled far too deep in the centre of her own being when he had been elevated to sergeant.
Vox sighed and rubbed her face as if this could break the dreadful cycle of thought.
“I’m sorry, my captain”, she whispered. “I keep the secrets. It’s who I am.”
She had to go. After more than ten years away from home, her path had finally become clear. She had to walk it step by step. Back to her chapter, back to her friends. She had a duty and Titus had no place in it.
Vox failed to move. Her fingers seemed riveted to his shoulder. Outside, the daemons were waiting. She had stumbled already. It had been too close too often. If she left now, she might falter again.
She needed Titus. She needed his support, his silence and she hated this dependency. It meant she was relying on something she could only be given and he had taken it away. That her success should hinge on another was intolerable. Vox had to stand on her own. Support? Yes. Someone to lean on or lend a hand in a tight corner? Gladly. But not dependence.
Vox felt the shift inside her and funnelled strength into it. Titus had caught her. He had been there when she had needed him. He had granted her respite and stability where she would have failed on her own.
And she had found nothing better to do than yearn for more. That was a road to corruption, if ever she had seen it.
Her tears came suddenly. They were born of love and relief and a few dripped on his face when she encompassed it with her hands to press a last kiss on his lips.
“I failed you, my love”, she whispered. “I dishonoured your gifts but this will change now. Thank you for all you have done. Thank you for getting me this far. I’ll make the most of it.”
One last time, her fingers trailed through his hair. Once more, she touched the service studs on his forehead and for the last time, she smiled at him. Gently, she stroked the tears away.
She dived back into the world, ready to take on the storm and the whispers fled before her burning self.
Nobody could stop her from loving him. All she had to do was to refrain from demanding his attention. A grim smile made her eyes glint dangerously. The Emperor had granted her so much and it was His decision what he took away. To lose the gratitude for all his gifts alongside a single token was inexcusable.
These thoughts were like a dislocated joint clicking into place. It still hurt but it would heal. Titus would stay at a distance now. She could love him from here and there were others to love as well. Maybe not as passionately and maybe even more distant for now but they had been enough before. Making them enough again was possible.
She would start with Ferone by writing her report. The commander was an honourable, wise and considerate leader. She liked and respected him and she enjoyed writing for him. Sometimes, she put little poems into her reports to please him and she knew that no one else was meant to see the glimmer of his smile when they exchanged a casual nod. Arrick would wait for her in the morning. Dankwart and Tiberius would be around. Together with the others, they would outweigh Titus’ hostility long enough.
Back on Erioch, Ferone would handle the logistics of the matter and one day, Corven would return. When her fellow librarian was able to drag her along again, talking to a black shield would no longer be political suicide for the commander. Matters would be resolved then.
Step by step. She just had to get there.