Vox lay on her back and drifted in and out of consciousness. It was a restful state with her mind and body only loosely connected. Pain happened but somewhere far away from her. For once, there was nothing to do. She could just hold still and listen. In a detached sort of way, she observed the turmoil rampaging through the close warp, noticed the daemons screaming, the memories of other times intertwining and the possibilities colliding around her. There had been human apothecaries at some point. They had been excited about something and as far as Vox could tell, Dankwart had actually yelled at them until they had gone away. She still heard the swirls of his excitement around her. Dankward rarely spoke but he wanted to be heard. Vox had never been able to ignore him. The friend had been well worth the trouble and a steady supporter in dire need.
Right now, he was concerned about something. Probably her wounds. He usually got upset about her wounds. At some point, he stood beside her and she tried to apologise but the words failed her. Soon her intent dwindled into the confusion around her.
Vox got the impression that there was something important she was missing in the hubbub of events and chances and time but before she could investigate further, she noticed that Dankwart had disappeared from her side. She focused on her body and found it alone in one of the medical rooms, bereft of her armour and covered by a blanket. For a moment she thought she was home. Where else could she be naked? The realisation that Dankwart simply had reached his wits’ end as to what to do about her was cold and sobering.
Without a clue how much time had passed or what had happened, she looked around blearily.
Five narrow healing beds stood around in the room but none was occupied. She was alone. In her weakened state, she was irrationally emotional and actually had to blink away tears. She wanted to go home.
With agonising slowness she tried to get a grip on reality again. What had happened anyway? She remembered the pain in Titus. Not the physical pain. That had been bad enough. The emotional uproar inside him still reverberated in her soul. It brought a worrying certainty she had not been mistress of before: Titus was in love. With her.
Reading the mind she healed had always been part of the white fire and finally seeing the wounds that had made him act like he had done, made everything so aggravatingly clear she hardly knew what to do about it.
For a moment, her hearts swelled with admiration for a man who managed to put all his agony aside to apologise in the attempt to make things right again. Then, they sank under the conviction of her own misdoing.
He had been so sure and she had taken this away from him. How could she have screwed up as hard as this? Burning her own essence to bring him back after all this hardly seemed an appropriate compensation. Was he alive? She could not imagine stopping before the beloved breathed again. Where was he? As always with Titus, her search was ineffectual. Dankwart was the only one close enough to distinguish through the raging turmoil around her. He was beyond the door.
There was something else in the noise. A voice calling her. It had the faint echo of familiarity about it. She had heard it countless times but her consciousness winked out before she could make sense of it. The approach of three tense minds jerked her awake again. The fourth, she had not been able to distinguish but he looked tense as well when they all entered.
Vox was lying as far away from the door as possible. A casual passerby would not be able to see her even if the door had been left open. This way, she had a bit of time to examine the four men filing in.
Neither the commander, nor Corven or Titus had taken the time to get cleaned up. Vox had to smile. They looked like victory.
Except for Tiberius, the commander had brought everyone who knew Vox’s secret. They spread out around her.
Dankwart came to her right side.
“Vox? Can you hear me?”, he asked and there was this mild, friendly concern in his milky-blue eyes he only rarely displayed.
She nodded. She knew the friend so well but in her mind, his face was suddenly overlaid by other features. Features she missed like crazy. Features she had not seen for more than twelve years now. Vox was old but the last twelve years had been the longest of her life. There had been so much going on, so much to endure, so much to suffer. Her friends were aeons away it seemed. She blinked lazily. How she longed to return…
“Can you speak?”, Dankwart asked.
She shook her head and thought that a tear rolled from the corner of her eye.
When she awoke again, Dankwart stood on her other side, holding a syringe in his right hand. His left was placed over her sternum. She got caught up in watching the apothecary’s chapter markings on his right shoulder. A black drop over a goblet on a white field. Dankwart was an apothecary of the Blood Drinkers. After a few seconds of this, she managed to look around and noticed Titus staring at her. She smiled. So, he was alive.
The wound on her right shoulder, which he had his eyes fixed on, was more than worth it to keep him that way.
“I thought you should see this”, Dankwart just said to Ferone. “His armour is intact but underneath such a wound… I have never seen anything like it.”
“That is because it’s only half a wound”, Titus said distantly. Vox felt like settling back comfortably. With Titus in the room they probably could conclude everything for themselves. She would be spared the necessity to speak much.
“And where has the other half gotten to?” Corven sounded annoyed.
Mutely, Titus tapped his right shoulder piece. There was still a bit of gold and blue to be made out on it but the ceramic lining of the plate had cracked and flaked. It had taken most of the paint with it.
“You shared my wounds”, Titus said to Vox.
She nodded dreamily.
“And this was my price?”, he demanded. There was a deep, sorrowful dismay in his features.
Vox managed a shrug with the left shoulder and smiled softly.
“We’re both alive”, she pointed out in a barely audible whisper. “I’d say, I did good.”
“Could you please explain what you two are talking about?”, Ferone asked calmly.
With her testimony about the white fire during the trial, Titus and Dankwart could do most of the explaining. Vox only had to nod confirmation once or twice. The white fire needed to take integrity from somewhere and Vox could enter the realm Titus carried around with him. So, all the integrity she had been able to bring was her own. She had sacrificed it to bring him back to life. Balancing where to stop had been a problem. Each of them retained certain remains of these wounds even though Vox had gotten the worst of the deal by far.
“A strange gift indeed”, Ferone concluded when the explanations had finished. He was looking at Vox thoughtfully. “And now the events from this morning, please. If you can manage.”
Vox nodded her confirmation. She had entered a strange, detached state of mind. Everything was alright with her. In the part of her mind that always watched and kept the secrets she was sure that Dankwart had given her some kind of drug. Had Laraise used something like this, she would have told her anything.
“My sergeant took me out to train with him in the hunting grounds”, she started to recount. “We made good speed and brought down one of the beasts. Afterwards, we had a little misunderstanding. He told me that he had confirmed his bailsmanship and that he wanted to learn about me. I mistook his subsequent gestures as an attack and we fought. My memories end after he informed me that for the first round, we’d take first blood.”
A dead silence fell. Vox peered uncertainly at Ferone, who lowered his gaze. Dankwart turned away and Titus was sure that he caught a glimpse of his cheeks colouring.
“You did what?”, Corven burst out into the embarrassed silence.
“Be silent, Corven”, Ferone said quietly, before the epistolary had finished drawing another breath. The commander did not turn around to Titus. He did not even raise his head again. He just explained calmly: “Captain Titus, it seems you didn’t know this yet and since we don’t like to talk about it, the blame does not lie with you. For the future know this: We are called Blood Angels for a reason. Do not speak to us of our life’s essence when things get… excitable.”
Titus was aware of the deep shame of the descendants of Sanguinius and the bubbling anger of the Space Wolf but he was uncertain what to make of it.
“I’ll remember”, was at least something he could confidently say. So, Blood Angels reacted to blood.
“Go on, Vox”, Ferone said softly.
She made an indistinct noise and continued: “Not much more to tell. Couple of daemons. I think I tried to slit his throat at some point. He disarmed me.”
“You are Vox’s bailsman, captain”, Ferone said in a calm manner, that still managed to be ever so threatening.
“Technically, my duties are in abeyance on Erioch”, Titus pointed out before the commander could mouth the whole accusation.
“The Codex states…”, Vox started but broke off. “Nah, I forgot.”
“Good”, Titus snapped, annoyed that she of all tried to spoil his case. “Because without you foretelling it, Bereveau’s treachery would have been discovered too late. If you remember: In the end, you just count.”
Vox winced irritably when he cited Grimfang but Titus was not to be derailed.
“Seven astropaths and three undetected psykers dead, Erioch still here”, he stated firmly and lifted his gaze to the commander’s regular features. “That counts as a win in my book”, he said and he could see that Ferone cautiously agreed to this.
“Corven went after you when he found out that you had taken Vox to the outer hunting grounds”, the Master of Vigil informed them. “He called a major alarm on the whole station as soon as the tremors in the warp started. I have never heard of any librarian surviving something like this. How did you get Vox stable again?”
“As Vox already laid out to you in court, she is able to ground herself on me. You might remember that this was a reason to make me her bailsman.”
“I remember”, the commander admitted and turned to Corven. “What can you tell me about this?”
“Just a second. Let me ask our expert in matters of crazy shit. Vox, what the fuck?”
“I call myself prejudiced”, Vox mumbled.
“I don’t care”, Corven informed her roughly. “Just tell me how it’s done.”
“If I establish skin contact with him, I can escape into his realm of existence. It’s like hiding in a cave. It’s safe there. And silent. He’s like a rock to hold on to.”
Ferone and Corven exchanged a look and the Space Wolf shrugged.
“I couldn’t do it. And not only because I refuse to snuggle up to baily here.” He pointed a thumb at Titus.
“So, what do you suggest?”, Ferone demanded.
“I suggest”, Corven replied testily. “That you consign Captain Rocky and Little Brother White Flame to me, so I can go back to Chapter of Amazons and carry out my previous orders.”
Ferone’s icy demeanour suddenly wavered. He sighed deeply, rubbed his face and looked around at them. There was concern in his features but mixed with a slightly sad amusement.
“Yes, I thought you might say that”, he declared. “I’ll see what I can do.” He took a moment to think, which nobody dared to disturb. “Carry on all of you!”, he ordered then and left abruptly.
Corven looked after him and turned to Vox when the door fell shut.
“Tell me, little brother”, he said and leaned over her. “You risked using the white flame right next to a recently closed rift because you could hide in this dimension of his, right?”
Vox nodded faintly and actually reached out and stroked through Corven’s beard.
“Technically we were as far away from the rift as we could get”, she said absently.
“Next time, I’ll shoot you anyway”, he threatened while he gently untangled her fingers from his beard. Contrary to his words, he squeezed her hand lovingly as he straightened up.
“You do that”, she encouraged him and Titus had to stifle a laugh. Dankwart had been right. For some reason, none of them could kill her. At least not before she was clearly taken by the warp.
“I should check on your wounds, captain”, Dankwart said, stepping up to him.
“I came here to see Vox naked, not you”, Corven joked with a grim smirk. “I’ll leave you to it.”
“He’s probably grumpy because you didn’t take him bathing”, Titus said, watching the door close after him while musing that, indeed, Vox was probably naked under her blanket.
“Since I didn’t get to bathe either, I don’t see why he should be like that”, Vox said weakly. “You know, captain, when you told me this morning that I’m with you today you really should have mentioned that you mean it.”
Titus looked down at her and smiled.
“What a day”, he said vaguely. Then he tilted his head. “You called me captain.”
“It was hard to miss”, she said, sounding faint. “My congratulations.”
Dankwart stepped between them before he could answer. Vox had trouble keeping her eyes open again. The apothecary nodded to her soothingly and laid one hand on her throat to perform a silent rite. It was a soft gesture and it seemed to calm her enough that she stopped fighting the sleep and let herself drift off.