90. Disturbing

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Silence fell like a blanket.
Suddenly, all was gone. No daemons, no threat. Just Vox in his arms, her forehead resting against his cheek.
Skin contact.
She had never specified what enabled her to hold on to him. Suddenly he understood that it was skin contact.
He could feel her blood throbbing through her temples and her breath rattling through her still injured lungs. Her smell engulfed him. She smelled of blood and something he could only think of as ‘Vox’. He loved this smell. Since she had carried him through the corridors of the ‘Lawbringer’ he had never lost a thought about why it was so beguiling.
They had ended up leaning against a boulder and stayed like this for a long time.
When Vox drew back and sat on her haunches, she first tried to wipe the blood on her face away. Titus reached out to help her and, before he knew how he had managed it, his hand rested against her cheek. She looked at him in disbelief and blinked a few times. He was so shocked himself that he did not even flinch when anger suddenly flashed in her eyes. She swiped his hand out of the way and punched him in the face so hard, he heard his cheekbone crunch.
“Explain yourself at once!”, she demanded at the top of her voice. “What was all that about?”
Titus found himself laughing with relief while he tried to sit up with difficulty.
“You hit like a girl”, he blurted out giddily. The sheer joy of seeing her alive made any other cause of action unthinkable. Touching his cheek gingerly, he tried to determine the extent of the damage. It hurt badly.
“Compliments will not get you out of this!”, Vox growled. “What do you want from me? Why did you drag me here?”
“I wanted to talk to you”, he said meekly, his grin dissolving fast.
“Then why didn’t you? Why did you attack me instead?”
“I didn’t! I wanted to put the sword away!”
“Yeah, right. After a prelude like that, you swung your blade by accident.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I know my phrasing was awful but I honestly didn’t mean to attack you. You have to believe me!”
A steep crease of uncertain concern appeared between her eyebrows but she found nothing to say.
“I have no idea how to talk to you anymore since I found out”, Titus pushed on desperately. “You told me to stay away from you but I just… I just want to come back, Vox! Please, I… I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry for insulting you! I’m such an idiot but I miss you like crazy and I have no idea how to get out of this!” He hesitated, staring at her in helpless bewilderment, which he found mirrored in her face ten fold. “You ask what I want as if I could demand anything of you…”, he added meekly. “Please, Vox. I want anything you can give me after I screwed up so hard… I lost faith… I really thought you had betrayed us… I’m so sorry, Vox. Please, I don’t dare to ask your forgiveness, I’m just sorry for everything…”
Titus sat frozen under her gaze. He felt severely constricted in mind and body alike. The impact wounds in his side had probably stopped bleeding but he ached all over and his thinking was fuzzy on the edges.
He twitched when she finally spoke: “When did I tell you to stay away?”, she asked in bewilderment.
“On Zenith after the traitors were dead when we were alone on the roof”, he recounted that dreadful moment.
“What? Serge!”, Vox exclaimed. “I needed you to keep your distance in the fight so you wouldn’t disrupt my powers! That was all I meant!”
Titus stared.
“That was all?”
“Yes!”
Titus blinked several times.
“Suddenly, misinterpreting my gesture as attack doesn’t seem so absurd anymore.”
“Why, thank you…”, she began sarcastically but Titus leaned forward and waved his hands about to interrupt her.
“Please”, he said. “Please, I’m utterly sorry. I feel so stupid… What must you think of me…?”
“I thought you felt betrayed and hated me”, she clarified flatly. The declaration made him cringe.
“No, I don’t hate you! I only feared…”
“What?”, she demanded when his voice trailed off.
“That… That you’d never return to me after what I have done to you.”
Now, it was Vox’s turn to blink.
“Could you clarify what returning to you looks like in your mind?”, she asked in round-eyed bemusement.
Titus felt the terrifying uncertainty rise inside him but he managed to hold out his open hands to her.
“I don’t know, Vox”, he whispered. “I have no idea how to get this straight. Please, at the very least I want us to stop fighting. I miss you. Give me the chance to make amends for my failings.”
Slowly, Vox reached out to grasp his hands but, just before they connected, she suddenly looked around as if startled.
“No!”, she whispered. “Not now!”
Without warning, she rushed forward, slung her arms around his neck and pressed her cheek to the undamaged side of his face.
“We’re out of time”, she whispered and Titus did not dare to breathe with her so close. “I pray that we live through this but if you stay behind, please be alright. That’s all that matters to me, do you hear? Come on.”
Titus’ innards rebelled under her words but she was already standing up and pulled him to his feet.
“Corven, we’re here!”, she called out.
Footsteps got closer. A Space Marine came into view. He wore the black and silver armour of the Deathwatch, a fur-lined cloak around his broad shoulders and lightning claws on his left hand. The handle of a beautiful battle axe protruded from his back. His right shoulder plate showed the crest of a Space Wolf. His wild, grey hair curled freely around his shoulders and his face, bearing a resentful scowl, was scarred and bearded. Despite extensive scar tissue on one half of his face, he still had two working eyes. Dark and twinkling with just a hint of evil delight. He wore an epistolary’s insignia and the helmet clipped to his belt had the form of a wolf skull. Titus knew that the Space Wolves, who did things differently at every turn, called their librarians rune priests.
“You two make a hell of a lot of noise”, the newcomer said unceremoniously, his eyes unpleasantly fixed on Vox.
Then he sprang forward.
Titus moved without thinking and he was sure he would have brought the Space Wolf to the ground, had it not been for his whole right side disobeying his orders. He tackled the onrushing warrior with his left shoulder but was unable to get enough force behind the push to unbalance him. The man made a few steps around him, kicking Titus’ supporting left from under him and spun him in the air, so that he landed heavily on his back. The rune priest was quick with the bolt pistol. He drew it in one flowing movement while Titus fell and the shot aimed at his head only missed because Vox kicked Corven’s hand aside.
“Corven, leave him alone, I yield!”, Vox cried out. With a scrape of metal on metal, the scene halted.
“He’s just bailing”, she said insistently. “He’s my bailsman!”
From his prone position Titus could see that the scrape had been the lightning claws, wedging themselves around her shoulder guard. The Space Wolf stood breastplate to breastplate with her, pressing her against the rock. If he pulled his hand back sharply, he would slit open her throat.
“Then, your bailsman should have killed you several minutes ago when the tremors started!”, Corven growled and the pistol swung back to aim at Titus’ face.
“Or get me stable. Which he did!”, his beloved lexicanum argued.
“Isn’t the penalty for an incompetent bailsman death?”, the rune priest growled menacingly.
“To be determined by a lawful court after the bail has been dealt with!”, Vox insisted. “So, you should be concerned about me, not him!”
“I am concerned about you like hell, little brother”, the man assured her. “But I need you. I don’t need him!”
“Fuck you, Corven, you’re in the wrong!”, Vox snarled menacingly. “I’ll make you break your own hand before you pull that trigger. Put the damned gun away!”
A pause ensued.
“You are threatening to attack me with one of your powers?”, Corven inquired casually. “Really?”
“Put the gun away”, Vox repeated firmly.
To Titus’ surprise, he did.
The rune priest threw a calculating glance around.
“Alright”, he growled and Titus downright refused to believe what he had just seen. By no means could the man have cooled down so readily.
“There are probably enough daemons here”, Corven stated in a soothing tone that was completely out of tune with what he had said so far. “So, you just calm yourself.”
Vox relaxed.
“I slipped”, she said quietly. “I’m sorry.”
“Rather tell me how the hell you managed to get a grip again after that!”
“I told you. He got me stable. I held on to him”, she answered, pointing at Titus who was sitting up.
When Corven looked at him and then back up at Vox, he seemed uncertain.
“Do I want to know about the details?”, he asked himself out loud but refrained from pressing for an answer. Instead, he stepped back and wiggled his lightning claws free.
“Ferone, come in”, he voxed. “What’s your status?”
“We lost seven astropaths, a couple of undetected psykers and Lord Bereveau has gone missing”, they heard Ferone’s voice over the open speakers in Corven’s armour. “What’s the situation?”, their commander demanded.
“Stable.”
There was a pause.
“Stable?”, the commander asked, his deep voice calm even over the com. “Did you shoot anyone?”
“Nope”, Corven said with a cynical smirk. “Could you explain this bailsman bullshit to me?”
“Later, when you explain sudden stability to me”, Ferone assured him.
“Yes, commander. With your permission, I’ll bring them back now.”
“Do you advise to have the teams stand by?”, the commander asked instead of granting his approval.
Corven squinted at Vox.
“Nah, get the boys back to training”, he then said. Titus and Vox exchanged a worried glance. So, the whole station had been mobilised. The aftermath to this was bound to be interesting.
“Affirmative”, the commander voxed. “Ferone out.”
“So”, the rune priest said, his demeanour thawing even more. “That’s the official stuff sorted out.”
He reached down to pull Titus to his feet.
“Corven Whiteskull”, he introduced himself. “Call me Corven. You are Sergeant Titus?”
“Yes”, Titus confirmed. “You are the commander’s adviser in matters of warp related questions?”
Corven raised the lesser scarred eyebrow.
“Yeah, that’s me”, he declared in his gravelly tones. “And I advise that you two get your gear together and we get the hell away from here.” He turned to Vox. “Ferone mentioned some new power of yours.”
She smiled unhappily.
“The white flame isn’t new”, she said. “What’s your next question?”
“Still thinking them up.”
“It’s still me”, she said meekly as if she was sad that this should be so and picked up her gauntlets.
“I’d take your word for it but you know how it is”, Corven said with a shrug of his left shoulder.
Vox rubbed her face.
“Could someone please just shoot me, so we can stop having this farce over and over again?”, she asked the world in general.
“I don’t see mutations on you”, Titus said drily and collected his helmet. “So, that’s not my job.”
“They’re under my armour”, Vox replied nastily but started to smile.
“Great!”, Corven cut in. “Lemme see! I need to rate them.”
Now, she laughed and pushed Corven. He grinned around his scars and pushed her back. They squabbled for a moment, gently thumping their fists on the armour of the other and finally ruffling through each other’s hair. With an unbelievable tenderness after how things had started, Corven stroked a gauntleted thumb over the pale scars on Vox’s face.
“Nothing”, she said quietly and her fingers danced over his scarred features in turn.
“Something”, he grumbled peacefully. “At least mine don’t make me look like a wuss!”, he added with a happy gleam in his dark eyes while Titus stared at the scene in frozen resentment.
Vox laughed shortly.
“Bastard”, she said and turned to collect her gear. “Or are you telling me that the Whiteskulls are pure pedigree too?”
As if by accident, she laid a hand to Titus’ arm while she bent down to pick up her helmet. Somehow, this gesture righted all wrongs. Vox had always been easy going with touching her friends. Titus had been privileged to learn that first hand. He was less good at returning these small, gentle gestures as the Space Wolves but he reckoned that he could be alright with it as long as she did not exclude him from these acts of friendship anymore.
“Pure pedigree? Me?” Corven laughed hugely about the question. “Hell, no!”, he bellowed. “And I’d fight anyone who says so. No, I’m a bastard by rights! But what’s that got to do with anything?”, he inquired with a slight scepticism to his features.
Vox rubbed her face.
“Arrick made that joke when I called him a bastard.”
“You called Grimfang a bastard? That guy has a lineage as long as your leg! How did you get away with it?”
“Me?”, she asked innocently and then shrugged. “Oh, you know. I was just nice and normal.”
Corven rolled his eyes in playful amusement.
“On the day you act normal, you’ll have me really worried”, he declared. Then, he began to eye Titus’ blood-encrusted side.
“I’d suggest that Vox demonstrates that white fire on you but that’s a warp gate I don’t wanna see ripped open.”
Vox shook her head as she ambled over to a crevice.
“Can’t call the flames at will”, she said while she fished around under one of the boulders. “Also, he’s resistant and there’s a price to that”, she continued and handed Titus his bolt pistol back.
Corven shot the sergeant a calculating glance.
“You’re that guy Vox went to fetch when Leandros died?”, he asked.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Weren’t you supposed to be a captain?”
“Yes, but you know how it is. Promotion hits you sooner than you think.”
“Yeah, right. Story of my life too”, Corven said with a shrug.
The two squabblers needed a while to appease the machine spirits of their equipment. When this had happened, they set out back to the core of Erioch.

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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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