Title: Three Degrees to the Right
Fandom: Guilty Gear
Characters: Sol, Ky
Notes: Drawing a breath at dusk.
Three Degrees to the Right
"—never in my whole life have I been so betrayed! To think a knight of the Holy Order would…! Do you have any idea, even the faintest—"
The man's voice was cracking as he continued to rant, approaching a state of near hysterical rage. It was bouncing off the walls of the cabin, ringing through the room despite the speakers being set to 'low', and although he had never met the head of the Subcommittee in person, Sol could picture him all too easily; purple-faced and raving in his perfect, safe, stylishly furnished office thousands of miles away, as if all this were some kind of personal offense designed to humiliate and wound him.
As if the kid owed him. Owed any of them anything at all.
"—assure you, every single one involved will be held responsible! This is treason! High treason! You of all people—!"
"Everyone involved was acting under my direct orders. This entire operation is my responsibility, and mine alone."
It was the first time Ky had spoken ever since the call had come through, just sitting at his desk and letting the stream of accusations wash over him without response. Sol had expected him to take it harder, being stabbed in the back by the very organization he was devoting his life to, but he seemed barely moved at all, as if he had simply not expected any better.
"Oh, you will answer for your crimes, Commander! Destruction of military property! Unlawful appropriation of resources! Insubordination! You will answer before an official inquiry, and I assure you not even Undersn will be able to save—"
Sol couldn't hold back a snort.
It just seemed incredibly funny that the guy thought this would be the first time the kid had disregarded orders; hell, anyone in the army with enough rank and brain to recognize when a plan was complete and total shit did, considering what they had to work with. When you were sitting in a pit surrounded by man-eating nightmares, there was no time to be thinking about protocol and decorum.
The entire thing just hinged on not letting the higher-ups know about it.
And trying to court-martial the very person they had promoted as the Savior Descended, the rising star of hope for the people to turn to, et cetera et cetera, the whole nine yards of pretentious religious bullshit… was more than just a little laughable.
Despite that, Sol wouldn't have been surprised if Grantz tried to make good on it. He knew that ilk, made up of petty vindictiveness, too fixated on himself to realize what was going on right before his eyes.
"I am fully prepared to face the consequences."
"Your acceptance of your punishment won't save your subordinates, Kiske."
Grantz was winding down now that he had spoken his intent, obviously under the impression that it had struck a nerve, and intending to drive it in deeper. "Not only did they fail to do their duty of removing you from command, but I have it on good authority that some had already led a failed mutiny well before your arrival. They will be made to answer just like you, Commander, and believe me, just because you might have friends willing to put in a good word for you, doesn't mean that they do."
In his seat, Ky stiffened, his hands clenching into fists. "These men and women risked their lives to do what they thought was right—to fulfill their oath. They have pledged to save innocents, and so they did. You would find them guilty for upholding the highest principle of the Holy Order, sir?"
"Do not try to argue semantics with me, Kiske. The Order was created for the good of all, not for a bunch of soldiers to use as they please, and sentimentally risk everything we fought for."
"'We', indeed," Sol growled, so low that the microphone didn't pick it up. Part of the standard rhetoric of a politician who had never been forced to wield a weapon or run for his life, but that didn't make him want to wring the guy's neck any less.
"How many people…" Ky didn't even seem to have heard, his head bowed and his voice dangerously quiet. "How many people does it take… before it becomes wrong?"
"I would like to know where 'a few' ends and 'all' begins by your definition, Minister Grantz. Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? How many people does it take?"
"I'm warning you, Kiske. We can get your subordinates in much more trouble than you would like. Demotion, pay cuts… it doesn't have to end there. But that's entirely up to how you choose your next words."
"Fifteen thousand three-hundred and seventy-six. That's how many people we have been able to rescue, including ninety-four of our own soldiers stationed at Moscow. Several dozens might not survive the night. You won't find one among them who hasn't lost someone; a sibling, or a parent, or a child. I am sure… that they are simply dying to know that you consider them expendable."
"You wouldn't dare, Kiske."
"I don't even have to, Minister. How will you keep this grand trial a secret from the public? How will you explain to them that you sentenced more than fifteen thousand people to be eradicated, and would punish those who sought to prevent it?"
The other end of the line had become silent.
"Our world has grown small. The people feel close to each other. They don't see a difference between themselves and others. What has happened in Moscow can happen anywhere else. If you are willing to forsake any of them, what guarantee do the others have that they won't be next? How will you keep their faith, Minister?"
An audible intake of breath. "…You haven't heard the last of me, of that I assure you."
The line went dead.
Heaving a deep sigh, Ky leaned back in his seat, pinching the bridge of his nose. Slowly, the flush of anger drained from his cheeks, leaving him looking pale and tired, more worn out from the debate than the actual hardships of battle.
"You could always do a coup and start your own army."
The kid gave a startled laugh, rubbing at his eyes. "When did you get in here?"
"What, you mean you really didn't notice?"
"I was trying to think calm thoughts. And not destroy the phone." He pressed a button to close the transmission, the desk lamp dimming to a soft glow.
"One of these days," Sol said, pushing away from the door, "that self-restraint of yours is going to make you snap."
The barest hint of a smile answered him. "Don't worry. I can always beat you up for stress relief."
"So glad you finally recognize my noble efforts."
"They're a tad difficult to ignore…" Ky trailed off, his brow creasing again, the bout of humor evaporating in the heavy atmosphere.
Under normal circumstances, Sol might have tried to provoke him into a three out of five, work off some steam, but not now, when neither of them was at their best and they would have to deal with the Moscow fallout in a few hours.
It wasn't like he was planning on playing the part of agony aunt—not that the kid actually would spill the beans on his own, stubborn as he was. But stubbornness only got a man so far, and the entire mess was grating on Ky's sense of justice and ethics far more than he was letting on.
"You're not going to do it?" Sol asked eventually, stepping closer.
"I… want to. Believe me, I want to. A part of me would like nothing more than to go down there and tell them exactly how their faith has been betrayed. So many people needlessly dead, sacrificed to the fear and indifference of a handful of men. These people downstairs, they'd deserve to know. Everyone… deserves to know."
Ky sighed, running a hand through his hair. "But I can't. No matter how much it would be the right thing to do… If they don't figure it out by themselves, I can't tell them. We're already fighting a war on two fronts."
"Gears and assholes?"
Ky made a noise that was more a huff than a chuckle, a spark momentarily lighting in his eyes before dying again. "Something like that. I can't risk opening a third. In fact, if anything happens, I'll have to do everything I can to renew their faith in the Order. This world is going crazy. If what we have now… that tiny, tenuous bit of stability that makes everyone buck up and work together… if that is destroyed, I don't want to imagine what would happen."
He paused. "I hope the Committee come to their senses and realize that. This isn't just to save my men from trouble. This most certainly isn't about me, although they think otherwise. It's for all of us. But if they do end up demoting me—"
"They won't," Sol replied, although a part of him took great pleasure in envisioning the spectacle of Ky Kiske, stripped of rank and honor, marching out the gates of Headquarters with more than half the army packing up to follow suit, no questions asked. "There'd be riots."
"If it happens, I'll find ways to continue. I won't let foolishness and fear ruin our future."
"You know, in case you ever wonder why I periodically want to rearrange your face, that stupid martyr bullshit would be a good reason to start," Sol growled, trying to dispel the nagging memory of an idiot who had once said nearly the same thing, in a much less noble context.
That earned him a dark look. "I'm not a martyr, and it's not—"
"Yeah, yeah. In case you hadn't noticed, there's a bunch of other people who like seeing this world go to shit as little as you do. …Well, more than it already is, anyway." He tilted his head, studying the ceiling. "The guys at the top can't risk bad publicity for the Order. Just think of the headlines. 'Savior of Humanity Dishonorably Discharged… For Saving People.'"
Ky grimaced at the title, the idea obviously still a sore spot for him. Hell, anyone happy to be heralded as a post-apocalyptic messiah in this day and age would've had to be insane. Sol shrugged. "It's nuts. Same if they decide to go for the other end of the food chain. The idiot can talk big, but they won't go through with it."
Ky blinked, his eyes reddened from rubbing. "Encouragement, from you? Clearly, I'm hallucinating this conversation."
"The part of the jaded cynic doesn't suit you so much, kid. You're better at dispensing the shiny rays of bunnies and rainbows."
The smallest of smiles answered him. "Thank you."
Sol merely made a non-committal noise in the back of his throat.
"I do mean it. Thanks."
"Right. I got you the first time." These constant iterations of gratitude were making him twitchy. Usually, it was just that he hated being thought of as charitable, but now… owing something to someone was a novel concept, and he wasn't sure he liked it.
Ky was shuffling papers, organizing an already organized desk. "Oh, here." He reached out, handing a stack to Sol. "The draft."
"The draft of the report that's going back to Headquarters. Isn't that why you're here?"
Sol blinked, taken aback by the offer.
"…Nah," he said after a moment's consideration, resting the pages on his thigh. If the kid had truly wanted to turn him in, he would have had about a hundred chances between the tunnels and now. "I hate reading through that officialese."
"I still need your account, anyway. Preferably the version where I will be left with more than just 'is' after editing the swearing."
"No fun, kid. No fun at all. Did you even take a break before writing this thing?"
"I was lucky to get it done before the Subcommittee got through."
"You're unbelievable," Sol said, leafing through the pages filled with tiny, meticulous handwriting. "Is there anything you don't do?"
Ky paused, considering. "…Tapdance. Kliff never found the shoes to teach me."
"Hearing you make jokes is just too weird."
There was no reply, Ky rising from his seat and starting to undo the latches on his arm guards instead. "We still have a while until the checkpoint, right?"
"Two hours, maybe a bit more."
"That much? That's funny. I thought more time had passed."
"That's because talking to morons makes every minute seem like an eternity," Sol pointed out, which earned him a snort.
"Alright, then." Ky slipped off the coat, folding it over the back of the chair. "I'll try to get a few minutes before we arrive for clean-up."
"And here I thought you'd have to be manually prevented from running down there to heal the wounded and console the traumatized or something."
Not that he wasn't glad to see the kid's sense of self-preservation winning this one, since he was showing all the signs of a person in the first stages of magical drain—paleness, headache, shivers. Downing that large-class had most likely put a serious dent in his reserves.
"There's… I'd just get angry. I won't be of any use if I'm angry." The chest armor came off, its latches clinking softly, and Ky moved to curl up on the bed without even taking off his boots.
Somehow, he seemed so much smaller out of uniform, without the calm authority he was radiating every minute of the day, no matter the situation. A child with more responsibility than most men could handle, and for all his needling, it was moments like this that drove the fact so obviously, uncomfortably home.
"Wake me up in thirty minutes?"
They both knew he wasn't going to do it, that Ky would have to set the alarm if he really wanted to wake up on time. There was nothing more to do right now, no way to prepare better than they already were—but this was the only way the kid was able to deal with allowing himself a bit of extra shut-eye, by blaming it on him.
Sighing, Sol put the papers down and trudged over to the bed, the only available surface not stacked with reports awaiting processing. Several places on his body twinged in protest when he slumped down on the mattress, reminding him that things were not quite back to normal yet, the new flesh still tender and raw.
"In case you missed it, I'm not that fragile," Sol scoffed, rolling his eyes.
"I know. That's why I'm asking."
He jerked around to look at Ky, who had tilted his head back to observe him, his gaze curiously intent despite the fatigue.
"…Fine." The word slipped out automatically, but to his surprise, Sol found that he meant it.
A nod, and something that might have passed for a smile under better circumstances, before Ky rolled over, bundling himself so tightly in the blanket that only the top of his head remained visible. It didn't take long for his breathing to even out after that, though there was no doubt he would startle awake again at the slightest noise.
Sol shook his head, directing his line of sight to the portholes and the darkness beyond, only broken by the occasional white shred of a cloud.
He reclined, ignoring further stabs of pain when his back met the wall a little too hard. There were a couple of things he should be doing, like cataloguing the missing pieces for the limiter and ordering an adequate replacement for the meat cleaver.
However, his mind was still stuck on the sentiment beginning to seep into his consciousness, baffling and oddly new.
I'm… just fine.
- FIN -
A/N: And that's it. XD Thanks to everyone for sticking with me for this long. Writing this thing was a serious bit of work, so here's where I'll have to say thanks to everyone who supported me through it all. *bows* As always, C&C is much appreciated.
Now for the technicalities:
- I am very fond of Ky playing hardball.
- Had this set to the ending theme from Le Chevalier d'Eon, "Overnight." The piece has a beautiful beat.
- Sol is never, ever going to get over this.