96. Pronouns

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“These healing rituals only last for so long”, Dankwart broke the silence when Vox’s breathing had settled down. “It’s always tricky when Vox gets hurt”, he mentioned as he turned to Titus. Steadily, he started to help Titus out of his armour.
“The other apothecaries get suspicious when I have to treat him alone. So, I would like to leave you in this room with him.”
“I salute your ability to use the male pronoun effortlessly when you speak of her”, Titus said, absently staring at her. She slumbered peacefully now. Her golden hair curled around her head like a halo, her angelic face was untroubled. Only now did it dawn on him that not only was she naked, he would be too in a short while. Irrespective of the fact that she was unconscious this embarrassed him.
“We all do what we can to protect our brothers”, Dankwart said, derailing his thoughts.
“Thank you”, Titus said after a moment’s contemplation. “This is a good way to think of it.”
Dankwart smiled briefly and continued with his work.
Even without emergency, the apothecaries were allowed a simpler form of the ritual to remove a power armour. It took them less than twenty minutes to peel him out of the badly damaged plates. Titus tried not to look over to the sleeping Vox when he slipped out of his under armour a few minutes after this.
Dankwart sent the armour away via a servitor to take it over to the mechanicum and made Titus lie down on the table next to Vox. He intoned a quite painful ritual to remove the bolter rounds that still stuck in his flesh. Since this would make the constant pain they caused cease, Titus welcomed it with stoic resolve.
The removal of the bullets was followed by a check on his implants since he had been exposed to the white fire.
Apart from the rites, Dankwart worked in silence but at some point he stopped and frowned. Then, he shot Vox a glance and shook his head in wonderment.
“What is it?”, Titus wanted to know.
“I get a reading on your hibernator”, he said with a frown at his narthecium.
“What? Is this possible?”
Instead of an answer, Dankwart looked closely at Titus.
“Your hair is darker than before”, he noted. “Maybe a rejuvenating effect”
Now, Titus looked over at Vox too.
“Well. She said that she can reinstate past conditions and that the fire sometimes gets overenthusiastic about it”, he said uncertainly.
“At least, next time Vox won’t have to go through all this trouble to keep you alive”, Dankwart stated drily. Like always, he kept a perfectly blank face while handling possible irony.
They continued with the testing. It turned out that Titus was unable to engage his batcher’s gland properly. Both of them deemed this a small loss, however. Especially since Dankwart thought that it might be a reversible state. The batcher’s gland was one of the organs that had to be activated consciously. It did not work directly after it was implanted and a neophyte only learned the usage of it through the special hypno-conditioning he got after surviving everything. Since only veterans came to the Deathwatch, there was nobody on Erioch who could administer this but Dankwart deemed it possible that the relevant parts of his initial conditioning might be reactivated when he underwent his next hypno-conditioning cycle.
After the tests, Dankwart examined the wound on Titus’ shoulder. He even pushed his and Vox’s table closer together to compare the two patients.
“Your arm got ripped off?”, he asked.
“Yes.”
Dankwart gave a craftsman-like nod.
“Without your hibernator, this would have killed you”, he stated.
Since the wounds were dry, they were left undressed and Dankwart started to tidy his equipment away.
“Why did he take such a risk do you think?”, the Blood Drinker asked casually. “His gene seed would be lost. Unlike yours.”
Titus shot his apothecary a glance.
“Well, in my experience, Vox never leaves anyone behind she can still get at.”
Dankwart smiled softly.
“True”, he said peaceably. “I wonder… Humans can be driven mad by pain”, he mentioned. “We can’t. Our nervous systems are too well designed, but Vox sees and hears so much. I wonder if hearing someone you are close with die is so painful that you’d go mad if you didn’t do anything about it.”
“I was with her when Vargov and Ecurael died”, Titus conceded. “It was like she had to experience their deaths with them and come back to life afterwards.” What he refrained from pointing out was that Vox had never been able to perceive him. There had been more than pure self defence this time. Titus swallowed.
It was quiet for a while.
“I have to tell you that there is another reason why I want to leave you with him”, Dankwart then changed the subject. “We sanguine blooded sometimes dream of the last moments of our Primarch. Last time it happened to Vox, he nearly killed our leader for disobeying his commands while he was convinced that he was Sanguinius himself. If he tries to run around naked, there will be no protection for him. Male pronoun or not.”
“I’ll keep an eye open”, Titus said, a little stricken about this prospect.
“It should be sufficient to be in the same room”, Dankwart calmed him. “I’ll lock the door, you just collect him if he starts to wander.” He gave Titus a blanket and tucked Vox in more tightly. After a glance at the clock, he said: “It’s almost time for morning prayer. I’ll see if someone else needs my assistance and join it afterwards. You two are on healing duty at least for today. Get some sleep. I’ll check in on you at mealtime.” Dankwart dimmed the light and left. As promised, he locked the door from outside.
Titus lay back.
Many a time had he spent his nights and days on a table like this. Without his armour, sometimes surrounded by tubes or wrapped in bandages, nothing to do but to heal and reflect on things.
He managed to sustain his prone position for several minutes before the restlessness drove him up again.
Suddenly, he understood why Dankwart had marauded through the Ghost for several days after being touched by the white fire. Even after a couple of hours cleaning the holding tract, Titus felt like bouncing off the walls.
As he shuffled through strength exercises suitable for a training without armour, he caught himself hesitating for a moment. Over his own heartbeats, he detected Vox breathing. It was a slow and soothing noise and in it lay a strange sweetness. It brought a smile to his face.
They were both alive. There would be time to talk after all. Just not now.

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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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