Chapter Five

“Why me?”
“Why not?”

He sat quietly as he struggled for a coherent explanation. Well, what did he have to offer them? As far as he could see, he couldn’t understand why someone so insignificant as him would be so crucial in deciding the outcome of the 14th Crusade. Of course, that could simply be because he was shortsighted and didn’t have the capability of envisioning strategy like this commander could. But if he couldn’t see it for himself, then why should he join the movement? Why should he risk his comfortable life for something he didn’t even really understand?

The Duchess sighed as she leaned back on the settee. Glancing at her, Suzaku frowned. And for that matter, why was he? What discomfort and prejudice did he suffer through? He was at the apex; he lived in excess deserving of the Risen. Hell, he held their world in his hands; what grievances could he possibly harbor?

“You don’t agree.” The silver mask seemed to change expression as the soft light threw some of the delicate carvings into the shadows and others still into the light.
“Not really, no.”
“Is it that you don’t agree with what we work towards?”
“No, I… I think somehow, I always thought that that was how the world should be. I never really entertained the idea or gave it much thought, but I think deep, deep inside, that’s what I’ve always thought. I just don’t understand why you want me of all people. I’ve never been all that special. I was always normal; no one paid any attention to me. I mean, Justitia, I was rejected from the Mantis Program.”
“The Mantis Program is not the only measure of value.”
“It is for me.”

The mask fell silent, but Suzaku refused to budge. He knew that there were other ways to judge oneself, but for him, there really only was one true method, and there was very, very little that could be done to change his mind. He had invested far too many of his dreams into it; to suddenly turn towards something else would be like admitting that these past years had been for nothing. And he couldn’t do that to himself. Not after everything that had happened.

“I’m sorry.”
“As I’ve said before, Suzaku. There’s never just one path. I cede the personal importance of the Mantis Program. But what if I offered you the directorship of the Program?”
“I wouldn’t have earned it the right way.”
“Rightness and wrongness is merely a matter of perspective. And who’s to say you wouldn’t have earned it? I assure you that, should you decide to accept, you will have more than worked for such a position.”

This was bribery. He knew it was bribery. And though he knew it was immoral, he couldn’t help but hesitate; what he had said was true. There was more than one path to the same goal. The only difference between one and another was difficulty and possibility, and after toiling for years on the same, worn path, Suzaku couldn’t help but wonder at the prospect of the one that had opened up before him.

“…I need some time,” he finally said. “To decide something like this on the spot is just too… I need at least a week to think this over.”
“Time is sadly a luxury I cannot afford. The most I can give you is 72 hours.”
“Okay. Then give me 72 hours.”

The mask nodded. “Very well then. We shall see one another then, hopefully under more fraternal circumstances.”

And so the clock began to chip away at his 72 hours.

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