99. Watching the Storm Build

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Titus was in a rather bad mental state when Dankwart came back. His longing for movement had by no means diminished and his stubborn efforts to keep still because Vox needed to rest had caused his thoughts to run wild instead.
When the door opened, he was busy dwelling on the next utterly heretic thought: Titus had owed his life to the Emperor. Today, he had given this life to fulfil his duty. That he was still upright and breathing he owed to Vox.
Titus knew that he had fallen a long time ago in that cursed cell. The inquisitor had brought him down. His faith had given out. It had been Vox who had caught him. When he had been pinned to the ground by spears of ice, Vox had melted them and got him out of the line of fire. When they had been lost in that warp rift, she had carried him out. When the Genestealers had jumped them on the Ghost, Vox had called the white fire. When they were faced with her hostile sisters, Vox had pulled them away. When they were faced with Tyranids and traitors, she had given her all to pull them through. The few times he had gotten her out of danger seemed insignificant against the towering list of her deeds for him alone.
He owed her.
But he should have owed the Emperor.
Glad to see his apothecary rather earlier than expected, Titus stood up with the slumbering Vox in his arms.
The sanguinary priest looked surprised when he saw the two of them like this. He probably had not expected his efforts to bear such rich fruit.
After a calculative look at the captain, Dankwart went straight over to the cupboard to take out a robe. A glimpse showed a sufficient supply of them on a shelf. A cynical smirk crossed Titus’ face. Both of them had been too preoccupied with one another. He wanted to be happy about this and failed under the gnawing uncertainty.
Very carefully, he laid Vox down on her slab. She opened her eyes while he took the robe but in his tension, this escaped him.
“Captain, you are awaited in the mechanicum”, Dankwart reported while Titus dressed. “You have to take your oath afterwards. The commander has declared a feast day.”
Titus nodded and became aware that Vox was moving sluggishly. He caught her in a loving embrace for a moment.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can”, he whispered in her ear. “You just rest.”
She did her best to scrape a sentence together but Titus drew back already. He was gone with a last nod to Dankwart before she had uttered a word.
Her gaze jumped to the apothecary instead.
“Dankwart, what did you mean, when you said our Primarch speaks through me?”, she demanded as soon as she had regained control of her tongue.
Dankwart needed a moment to construct a startled reply.
“I heard him through the white flame”, he told his friend. “He called your name when you called mine.”
“I never heard him”, she declared as if the revelation shocked her.
“I did.”
Vox frowned in deep thought.
“Damn!”, she burst out after a moment. “The world is too loud!”
Dankwart looked down at her in helpless incomprehension. He picked up on her worried confusion but was unable to do anything about it.
“I can’t help you with this, I’m afraid”, he said.
“No, you can’t”, she said meekly and tried to sit up. She had a gauntleted hand barring her way immediately. Dankwart pushed her back firmly.
“But I can help you with that”, he declared, pointing to the towel that stuck to her wound.
Vox nodded her assent.
“Your armour is on its way over”, he informed her. “Tiberius is worried about it but he has to see to the captain’s armour and can’t come himself right now.”
Vox smiled faintly.
“One day I might even tell him which security protocol he keeps walking into”, she said.
Dankwart gave her a reproachful look while he drenched the towel with a fluid from his narthecium.
“Don’t look at me like that”, she demanded. “As soon as I can I will tell him, I promise!” She looked down at herself. “I also will get clean before I get back into my armour, just so you know it”, she changed the subject.
“What have you two been up to?”, Dankwart asked, leaning closer to examine her mangled flesh.
“I attacked him while dreaming”, she said dismissively. “Hell Dankwart, I’m fed up with all this washing. As soon as we get home, I’ll take a bath just because I can, I swear!”
Dankwart smiled.
“You think we’ll all go?”, he wanted to know quietly.
“I’ll talk to the commander how exactly we’ll play it but with the captain and me he has no choice. After today he can’t protect us anymore, new rank or not. What do you think this feast day is for? It’s an excuse not to talk to inquisitors. Tomorrow he’ll present Zork with a fait accompli. Ouch”, she added dispassionately when Dankwart was a little less careful with getting the towel free.
“Do you know why his wounds are healing so much better than yours?”, her friend asked. “He didn’t seem restricted at all.”
Vox thought about this for a moment.
“Remember that I said the white fire burns integrity? Usually I can find enough in the world around me but for him, I had to burn my own.”
“Then you don’t know the consequences?”
“No. I never did it like this before.”
“I ran checks on your implants earlier”, Dankwart told her. “You’ll have trouble controlling your armour…”
“It was to be expected”, she sighed. “The black carapace is always the first to cause trouble. Let’s just hope it reverses like before. Anything else?”
“All of them, I’m afraid”, Dankwart admitted.
“At least that’s a solid medical reason to refuse to drink on that feast. After all, I don’t want to end up sniggering and telling people about this deformity I have.”
“You’re on healing duty”, her friend pointed out mildly.
“Dankwart, your political awareness is absolutely adequate for the Deathwatch”, she gave back cynically.
He eyed her uncertainly and Vox regretted this remark immediately.
“I’m sorry”, she said quietly. “That was stupid of me but you have to understand that what I can’t afford right now is lying around here. I’d be easy prey for Zork”, she explained. “This feast is a means to protect us. Let’s not sabotage the commander’s intent, yes?”
Dankwart nodded his reluctant consent.
“You won’t be able to hide that you shouldn’t be up yet”, he warned her however.
“Yeah, I feel like it.”
They were interrupted by something bumping against the door. When Dankwart went to check, it was the servitor with Vox’s armour. The wheeled thing had the typical four spidery arms to assist in the rites. In a basket on the back it carried Vox’s armour.
They had to make do with a bucket of soapy water to clean Vox and getting her into the armour afterwards was greatly hindered by her restricted ranges of motion. Like Dankwart had predicted, Vox was unable to engage most of its features even though it woke correctly. None of the various internal systems were responsive. Vox felt awful. Wearing the armour all the time was bad enough but usually she at least felt safe in it. Now, it was a dead shell around her.
Since nobody here could be told how to tend to it properly, Vox simply awaited the day her machine spirit would lose patience with her in any case. She sighed deeply. Soon. Soon, she would be on her way back. She had to cling to that.
Dankwart stayed close by while they made their way towards the traditional spot to gather when someone took his oath. The new aspirants were not supposed to see their brothers on their way in. Afterwards, they had to be welcomed with open arms.
For a Watch Captain, all the active keepers stood vigil over the entrance and they required all brothers to join them, not just the squad of the oath taker.
Most of the other Space Marines on the station had already gathered.
As soon as she came into sight, Arrick joined her.
He had not seen her since Titus had taken her out after prayer and had been beside himself with worry when Corven had called a major alarm. The absolute lack of further information had made him aggressive. In this state he found any number of things to be angry about, starting with the mark on her face and working his way along from there.
Confronted with his fury, Vox soon was at a loss as to what to tell him. She was so embarrassed. How could she be expected to hide the reestablished harmony between her and her beloved captain?
It took all the steady assurance she could come up with to convince Arrick that, even if Titus had been responsible for possibly broken cheek bones, he was not to be attacked.
She finally opted for making the severely annoyed Space Wolf promise that he would walk by her side. Aegis was odd numbered. Sorted by rank, Vox would have to walk alone behind Dankwart and Tiberius. Not only would this arrangement enable her to keep an eye on Arrick, it also would come in handy to have someone to surreptitiously lean on.
Finally the Keeper’s call delivered her into blessed silence. As they lined up, Vox smiled softly to herself.
Friends around her. The beloved on his way. The future laid out in front of her. There was nothing left but to send a prayer of gratitude to the Emperor.

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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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