“Why are you telling me all this now?”, Titus inquired cautiously after a while. “I mean… Things haven’t changed. I’m still your superior. Even more so you could say.”
Vox let her hands sink, resting her elbows on her knees and stared at the floor despondently.
“Because I saw how much I did you wrong. I don’t want the world as wrong as this.”
“Vox? May I inquire why you didn’t believe me?”
She laughed bitterly.
“Because you’re unbelievable, captain. You have turned my comrades to my side. Hyron and Vyron standing in for me against their brothers? Unthinkable. Tiberius readily and openly taking my part during the trial? Unheard of. I was always good on a one on one basis. I can find an understanding with anyone as long as we’re alone but that people suddenly stand shoulder to shoulder with me… That they take pride in my presence, that they… You did that. You led the way. This has not happened since…” She broke off. “You’re a good man”, she continued. “And a loyal and devoted friend on top of it. Something psykers don’t get for free.”
“You didn’t get me for free”, Titus pointed out softly.
“Maybe not”, she conceded. “But all in all you were quite inexpensive.”
“I’m glad that you didn’t say ‘cheap’”, Titus laughed.
“That wouldn’t have been true, so I didn’t say it.”
“You’re a truthful person then?”, he teased her.
“I’ll own up to one outright lie in the Deathwatch”, she said with a smirk.
Vox was silent and Titus understood that this was still hidden under her black shield regardless of the fact that she did not wear it right now. To get his mind off the fact that she hardly wore anything else, he changed the subject: “I’m sorry I imputed to you that you had shamed Leandros.”
“Oh, that one was a pain in the ass…”, Vox chuckled gratefully. “I’m incredibly glad that I got the nicer Ultramarine in exchange.” She smiled but avoided his gaze. “I’m sorry I said you didn’t respect my black shield”, she added then.
“Well… You were kind of right”, Titus had to admit. “I really never respected the black shield. Respecting you now…”
Vox rubbed her face again. He knew this gesture so well… Then, she looked up at him with large, pain-filled eyes but found no words anymore. Titus could not think of anything to say either because he was struggling with his desire to touch her. It was just sitting in his mind, distracting him and finally, he had to push it away with force. There was something very important they had to sort out before anything else happened.
“Vox”, he said and the sound caused a pleasant echo in his head. It made him smile. “I think we can agree that we messed this up good and hard, yes?”, he said. “None of us was alone in this and we only got through it with a lot of luck and quite a bit of help from our friends.”
“Apart from the friends part, I’m reluctant to agree to this”, Vox said despondently.
“Fine by me as long as you get there”, Titus replied peaceably. “Now. I suggest we let this lie for a while and see what we still have to sort out when you don’t threaten to fall over any moment, right?”
Vox blinked slowly. She had started to shake quite a while ago.
“I will have to sleep again”, she conceded cautiously. “Thank you for waking me.”
“Sorry for hurting you again.”
“Oh, never mind that”, she said dismissively. “At least you got me awake before I could do harm… I set the building on fire when it first happened to me and from then on it didn’t get better.”
“Dankwart mentioned that you dream of the last moments of your Primarch.”
“Yes”, Vox said quietly and slung her muscular arms around herself. “We wander through the ‘Vengeful Spirit’ with him and find Horus. We fight him and cause a tiny breach in his armour and get killed for it…”
“The worst part is the sorrow”, Vox breathed.
Titus was surprised.
“I’d expect more anger than sorrow.”
“For the others there is”, she admitted. “All the other sanguine blooded I spoke to experience nothing but anger about what they have to witness.” She frowned and through her constant, slight trembling, a shiver went over her body. “But I can’t shake this sadness afterwards”, she said meekly and Titus saw that she started to claw her fingernails into her upper arms. “An endless dismay that we are fighting the beloved brother. That it had to come this far. That we have to see him deformed and corrupted like he is… Horus got lost among the stars and…” Vox took a deep breath. “We weren’t there when he slipped and we weren’t there when he didn’t stop making errors because it was too late in any case…” She shook her head and looked at Titus as if surprised to find him.
Titus finally allowed himself to reach out and take her hand. He told himself that he only did it to stop her from hurting herself but his heartbeats very emphatically told him otherwise. A shiver ran over his skin when she let out a long, deep sigh as if relieved from something. Probably the world, he told himself. When she touched him, it could not reach her.
“I admire that in you”, he managed. “This ability to connect. To feel for those around you.”
“Well, I don’t have much choice.” She laughed uneasily. For a moment Titus thought she would withdraw from him but instead, she gently started to play with his fingers.
“Those around me scream their emotions at me all the time…”, she said absently. “Nobody listens, you know?”, she asked and tapped his fingertips with her own. “So, they are used to screaming helplessly.”
“But you hear them”, he whispered hoarsely.
“I like to think that I fill a gap in the universe”, Vox said quietly. “But… It’s a large breach and I’m a small Vox… So, I’ve… stopped listening to those who… don’t give enough back.”
“You say that like an admission of guilt”, Titus said, grasping her hand to squeeze it carefully.
“It is”, Vox breathed and there was a fathomless pain in her tones. “I wish I didn’t have to discriminate… There are a lot of souls out there worth listening to. It’s like standing on a beach, collecting grains of sand. You are only ever able to hold a hand full and even those run through your fingers…”
Titus smiled softly.
“So, you have started to sieve your grains?”, he asked and Vox nodded.
“Say… That order, the commander gave you after the trial? That was to conceal your gender?”, Titus wanted to know after a while.
“Yes. I asked him if I may tell you and he denied. I… Really would have liked to control time and place. In hindsight, we might even have gotten by without… Everything.”
Titus had to laugh for the sheer thought about how it had gone now.
“And how, in the Emperor’s name, would you have started a conversation like this?”, he demanded to get his mind off this.
She grinned and gently trailed the lines on the palm of his hand with one finger, making him shiver.
“’Captain, I have a rather embarrassing deformity you should know about. Now, let’s go kill stuff’?”, she suggested.
“And then, you would have thrown down the card to paint me a picture?”, Titus sniggered.
“Good idea!”, she exclaimed, her eyes twinkling when her gaze fleeted over him. “If you look closely, you can even see her armour ducts. No further explanation needed.”
“What does it mean?”, Titus wanted to know.
“The Voice?”, Vox asked, turning her attention back to his hand. “She’s the guardian angel. The one who finds the right measure between times and forces to resolve and protect.”
He gave her a long, thoughtful look, she dared not to meet.
“Very fitting”, he said quietly. A part of him screamed to pull her into his arms but the rest of him simply locked all movement down. He was hardly able to cope with the touch of her hand already.
“How come you have your own card in the Emperor’s Tarot?”, he inquired and at least allowed his gaze to wander over her. White skin in the dim light. The muscles under it bulging as it befit an Astartes. Blonde hair, her beloved face, her smell, the heat of her skin. This was a moment he would treasure among his memories he knew.
“Damned if I know”, Vox mumbled. “In my old deck, the number fourteen was called ‘The Guardian Angel’. It was gamine and didn’t look anything like me.”
“What happened to your old deck?”, he inquired.
“I asked after the future of my chapter and each card I laid down burst into flames while I read it.” She looked at nothing for a while. “I have never received an omen like that. I mean, you saw me on Zenith. That was a crazy one but on the day the tarot burned… All I understood was that I had to travel to Pellor. There, I was caught by the Imperial Guard.”
“And met Corven.”
She gave a humourless little laugh.
“Yeah, the only good thing that happened there.”
“You and your Space Wolves…”
“I like Space Wolves… Most of them are soft and gentle under their rough shell and once they let you in, they’re unafraid to touch and be honest… Unlike everybody else I met since I’ve been here… At least I sometimes think that.” She sighed deeply. “Everything with you men is so complicated…”, she complained agonizedly. “Space Wolves are not. They’re simple. If a Space Wolf hates you, he’ll just hit you in the face instead of stabbing you in the back.”
“I noticed that you must have won your hierarchy fight with both of our current ones.”
“Yes”, she confirmed. “Although, I didn’t know of that mechanism when I met Corven and can’t tell you where he backed down. He told me about it later.”
Vox forced herself to stand up at this point but still held on to his hand. Titus stood up as well. He felt her tremble.
“I’m sorry”, she mumbled. “I have to sleep…”
There was a moment where it could have gone either way. They could have let go of each other and parted without a further word. Both of them were unable to express how much they feared this but in their gazes the horror of isolation was visible. Inside they screamed to connect, to get close to each other and secretly they tried to muster the courage to span this last gap between them.
Titus raised a hand and timidly stroked over the scar the Tyranid claw had left on her shoulder.
Vox gave a laugh.
“That could have gone better too”, she admitted and then, as if this had finally resolved everything, they sank into each other’s arms. Careful and excited in equal measures their muscular, hurt bodies slowly pressed themselves against each other.
Titus hardly dared to breathe while his thoughts raced back and forth. The part of him that had urged him to do this all along rejoiced and made his blood boil, while the rest, which had prevented action so far, ran around screaming and tried to wave his arms.
It was overruled.
His arms were busy with more important things.
Without reason his breath was heaving, his hearts were hammering and he cursed a certain troublesome body part which made devious use of all the blood rushing around.
Vox’s breath brushed over the sensitive skin at his throat and he felt his knees go weak with the sensation of this.
Vox meanwhile leaned her head against Titus’ undamaged shoulder and took in the heat and smell of his skin. She loved this smell and she allowed herself to enjoy the feeling of him so close for a moment. Slowly and carefully, she moved ever closer, pressing herself to him, enjoying the firmness of his body and wished that she had enough strength left to stroke him but all she could still do was to hold on.
“And once again”, she mumbled, feeling herself tremble with the sheer effort of staying upright. “We will not fit in the damned bed…”
Titus’ whole body gave an unbidden twitch with the thought of a bed being involved in whatever happened here.
“Well, the Codex Astartes prohibits…”, he tried and got no further. “Alright, we’re not in public…”, he had to concede.
Vox nodded, increased the pressure of her functional arm around him a little, sighed deeply and said: “But we’re both wounded… And I’ll fall unconscious in the next couple of minutes…”
“I’m sorry…”, Titus said, burying his face in her hair.
“I hope you’re sorry that it took us so long to get here”, she said with just a little sharpness in her tones and Titus had to laugh.
“Mostly that, yes”, he replied.
They stood in silence for a moment.
“I wanted to do this for so long…”, Vox said then. “Can you even begin to imagine how hard it is to see you every day?”
“You told me…”
“Did I? When?”
“When I asked you if you were gay…”
“Oh, captain…”, she sighed, the memory rising. “That was a bad day… First, that episode with someone called Mira and then, a question like that…”
“Me too… You know?”, she muttered. “I seriously considered asking you what you would do if I was a woman. I even thought about tampering with the tarot to get the Voice on top and find an excuse to lay it when we were alone but the tarot doesn’t excuse things like that. I judged it rather fruitless to get us both killed over this.”
“Why did he forbid you to tell me, do you know?”
“Ferone is a guardian”, Vox whispered. “He protects the people under his command, come what may. It’s just his way and he thought I’d be safer. He’ll not be able to protect us now…”
“He can still send us out with Corven.”
“Not easily… I’ll talk to him later. I have a little leverage for him…”
“Vox…”, Titus whispered because he could hear how utterly exhausted she was. He started to manoeuvre them to the ground carefully.
“Just sleep”, he asked her. “I’ll watch over you.” He came to sit with his legs crossed under him and Vox cradled in his arms. Her head leaned comfortably against his left shoulder.
Hesitantly, he stroked her hair out of the way and gently pressed his face against hers, ignoring the pain of the still damaged cheekbone.
Something inside him broke free in this quiet moment. It felt like fire and noise surging through his being in a hot stream of bliss.
“I love you”, he whispered, closing his eyes for the enormity of the feeling behind this simple sentence. Vox moved sluggishly in his arms. Her left hand reached up and her shaking fingers rested against his cheek for a moment, hardly giving pressure before all her strength was spent.
Titus caught her hand before it sank down lifelessly. He buried his face in her hair again, taking in her smell and the warmth of her skin. What followed was the strangest and most serene moment of Titus’ entire life. He found himself starting to pray. A little incoherently he sent his thanks and gratitude to the Emperor. Here, in this strange, quiet moment, there was nothing left to desire. No questions, no wishes. Just the blithe awareness of the perfect moment.
Tragically, a very unpleasant thought formed in his mind at this point. The Codex Astartes was one thing. Titus had always been easy-going in interpreting it. In his understanding it was just a set of guidelines to point a warrior in the right direction. The way one lived with it showed what kind of man one truly was. They were going against the Codex right now but Titus found he could live with this. His Primarch, however wise and far-sighted he had been in life, had probably never loved. He had merely prohibited the spreading of dangerous ideas. When Titus had reached this point, a totally different problem presented itself to him: Both of them lived for the Emperor. To think they could live for each other, was a very dangerous idea indeed. Something like that was not bordering on heresy, it was heresy.
Titus breathed deeply and deliberately to get the returning uncertainty under control. The important thing was not to run in circles again, he told himself. He needed to talk this through with Vox. Just not now.