Chapter 14: The Noble Family Kuchiki
"They're ready for you now, Lord Byakuya."
I step into the council chambers with Renji beside me and we move to the head of the table. I sit with Renji at my right hand and Nori calls the meeting to order.
"This council will address the following issues. First, Tomiko Kuchiki has been recommended for a position on council. We will vote on the decision to accept or deny the recommendation. Secondly, we will determine the validity of the life partnership of Lord Byakuya and Renji Abarai and determine whether punishment for any infraction is warranted. Finally, we will vote on the petition to remove Lord Byakuya from clan leadership. To the first item. Tomiko Kuchiki has been recommended by Lord Byakuya and six family members to replace Sora Kuchiki. All in favor?"
There is a pause.
"The motion is carried. Tomiko Kuchiki is approved for a position on council. Council also recognizes the continuance of Hitoshi Kuchiki's proxy. Orochi, has your family come to agreement on a recommendation for your late brother's seat?"
Orochi shakes his head silently. There is still much healing needed there.
"To the second item. Renji Abarai. Council has assumed full responsibility for any and all charges against Vice Captain Abarai and recognizes the right of Lord Byakuya to receive sentence for any wrongdoing. This council has determined that all actions taken by Renji Abarai were of honorable intent and has returned a decision to drop all charges. Now, as relates to the life partnership of Lord Byakuya and Renji Abarai. At last council, Hotaru summated that the partnership is loving and adheres to expectations we would expect of any binding of husband and wife. The Kuchiki heirs have been approved and this means that the partnership is capable of producing additional heirs. There is concern about the mixing of noble and peasant blood, but council recognizes the services performed by Vice Captain Abarai on behalf of the Kuchiki family, and the strength of the power he wields. First vote…Is the partnership approved in the eyes of the council? All in favor?"
I raise my eyes. The vote is unanimous.
"Council finds that the life partnership of Lord Byakuya and Renji Abarai is legal and adheres to family code."
"Finally, Lord Byakuya has been summoned to council for the purpose of deciding if his is proper leadership for our clan. Are there any remaining motions or arguments?"
There is a long pause.
"Very well. Council will now vote on the petition to remove Lord Byakuya from leadership. All in favor?"
My eyes touch on Orochi. He is looking down at the table. The rest of the council is acting in a similar fashion.
There is deep silence.
"The council unanimously supports the continuation of Lord Byakuya's leadership."
The council chambers echo with silence for a moment.
"Before council is dismissed, I would like to take a moment and reflect on our family's recent losses," Nori says softly, "Ours is an ancient bloodline with a long history of greatness and treachery. We are light and dark both. It is important as council continues to form the direction of this family that we remain aware of how our decisions serve those designations. We have been very competent at tearing ourselves apart…Now, let us put that aside and retain those things that make our name honored and respected. Council is dismissed."
As Renji and I return to the Kuchiki home, he walks quietly at my side, but I feel his eyes on me. He still worries. I turn a dark eye in his direction and he smiles warmly. He wants to talk about it…and we probably should. He is waiting for me. Finally, he can contain himself no longer.
"Byakuya, I need to ask you something. There's something that really bugs me in all of this. Why did Sora kill himself like that? Not that he'll be greatly missed, but I don't understand…"
I'm not sure I do…but I work at an answer.
"Sora was insane," I tell him, "but even in his insanity, he remained entrenched in the fantasies he surrounded himself with. And when he was cornered and had failed to kill me…in his well-ordered and scholarly mind, someone had to die. If I took my revenge and killed him, he would have been reduced to an embodiment of evil. By killing himself, he became, in his mind, a martyr for the intolerance he embodied…and he stole from me the privilege of spilling his blood to avenge myself. It was a last stab at me…and I think it connected."
Renji studies me for a moment.
"He may have hurt you, but his attempts to inflame your family's intolerance backfired, Byakuya. I don't know about you, but I think that in council today, your relatives showed more honor, more tolerance than I would have thought they could."
"I noticed," I reply softly, "Thus is intolerance thwarted and thus am I avenged. I didn't have to draw his blood. He undid his own hatred."
Renji looks a bit perplexed.
"I still am extremely pissed that you didn't get to kill him, yourself."
"Renji," I say, stopping to catch his attention, "I am also a person who enjoys the subtleties and ironies of life. One doesn't need to draw blood, to be avenged."
Now, he just looks confused.
"Are you saying you didn't want to kick his ass? You didn't want to kill him yourself?" he says in disbelief.
"I was certainly prepared to do so," I answer, "and it might have made my recovery easier and faster. But I would not have taken joy or pride in killing my cousin. His mind was twisted with intolerance and even though he surrendered to that evil, he was still family…and, Renji, the intolerance was learned. It came from within the family. The responsibility lies with more than just him. I am, in fact, clan leader. This is one reason why. Our family contains much good, but also much that is evil. It is a solemn responsibility to manage that balance."
"I'm still pissed that you didn't get to kill him."
"And I love you for that, Renji."
I close the distance between us and give him a gentle kiss. I can tell it surprises him. I usually reserve that for private places, sheltered moments. But we have struggled to have open acknowledgement of our love for each other. I won't be held back from showing respectable signs of affection. Not anymore.
We reach the manor and find that Yoruichi and the children have arrived. It took several weeks for me to recover to the point where we felt comfortable enough to bring them home. It is the longest separation we have endured and as soon as Chisaki sees me, she lets me know how much she missed me. Her tiny hands reach for me and she gives a commanding squeal that threatens to become a thunderstorm. I sit on the ground beneath a cherry tree and accept her from Yoruichi.
"Ada…" she says as I pull her into my arms, "Da…da…da…"
"Did you miss me?" I ask her softly.
Her hands bury themselves in my hair. She rests her head on my shoulder.
"Da…da…da…" she says, gently patting my hair.
Renji brings Takeshi and he settles against my other side with a sleepy yawn. Yoruichi says he kept her up until all hours and then slept through half of each day, while Chisaki was up at dawn and slept easily as long as Kisuke graced her with a story before putting her to bed.
"I think that's the happiest I've seen her in weeks," Yoruichi observes, "You do spoil her, though, Byakuya. She'll be unmanageable when she's older. Wait and see."
"Hah," I laugh softly, "This coming from you…"
Byakuya is beautiful sitting on the grass beneath the cherry tree with our children on either side of him. His dark eyes are filled with love and peace once again, but I wonder what he hides beneath them. Because sometimes I see hints of pain that still exists inside.
The signs of stress are slowly fading. He doesn't shy away from being touched the way he did at first and he doesn't distance himself when we make love. It is a gradual return and it will happen over time. But we have time. And both of us have fought for this.
"How is he, really, Renji?" Yoruichi asks softly, her eyes drifting to where he and the children are starting to doze off beneath the tree.
"How would you or I be? How would anybody be after something like that?" I ask, "He's taking it one day at a time."
"He's different, though. You don't go through something like that and come out the same."
"He's quieter sometimes," I admit, "but he's sleeping better and the nightmares aren't so bad anymore."
"Well," says Yoruichi, looking up at me, "He wouldn't have come back at all if not for you. Rukia told me how you stood by him and brought him back."
"He didn't say a word for almost a week after…wouldn't eat, couldn't sleep. I think I was as scared as he was. Captain Unohana came and she helped me to know what to do to help him. She said that they could have hospitalized him, but she thought his chances of full recovery were far better if he stayed here. That's why I didn't want the kids to come home for a while. We just needed time for me to get through to him. After I got the first word out of him, I just held him and cried while he slept soundly for the first time since."
"Oh Renji, I'm sorry it was so hard for you!"
"It's okay," I assure her, "Rukia was here a lot of the time. I held him together and she held me together. We got through. That's all that matters. We're going to be fine, now, Yoruichi."
"Good," she says, her smile returning, "Now, I have some news for you. Kisuke and I examined the kids while they were with us and we found something out that you need to know."
"Huh?" I say blankly, "Is this good or bad?"
"Well," she says, grinning, "I guess it all depends on how you look at it."
"What do you mean? What did you find out?" I demand a bit too loudly.
Byakuya opens an eye and observes us with a hint of annoyance.
"Well," she says, "it turns out that they inherited an interesting trait from one of their parents…"
"Don't tell me that they're…"
"Shape shifters," she finishes, "but don't worry, Renji. They won't actually gain use of the ability for a while yet."
Some comfort, that. I look at Byakuya resting calmly under the tree with them. Enjoy that, lover, because all too soon that peace is going to be shattered.
Later, when I finally tell him, Byakuya surprises me with a genuine smile.
"But I thought Yoruichi drove you crazy with that stuff when you were kids!" I exclaim.
Byakuya only laughs softly and looks at me in amusement.
"Yes," he says finally, "Yes, she did."
That tells me something about the kind of person I love. Byakuya has a strength inside that sees him through everything. All I can say is, I think he's going to need it!
(I am beginning a new Bya/Ren story called Poisoned Fang. First Chapter is going up today. Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of my work! I will also start another Bya/Ren story that furthers the storyline with the shape shifting kids. I just need more time to think about how to approach it. PM if you have any ideas!)