Chapter 2: Oddities
"Well," said Gin, smiling, "I'm awfully glad you decided not to turn me in on sight."
Rangiku lifted her head off of his chest and regarded him sternly.
"You know, I still could," she said, nuzzling closer.
"Yes," grinned Gin, "You could turn me in…and I could kill you, but it seems we have other priorities, ne?"
"For the moment," the red haired woman said, warningly, "I warn you that I could change my mind at any minute."
"True," said Gin, stealing an indulgent kiss, "but I do hope you'll decide not to. It would be a shame to ruin things when we're having such fun!"
Rangiku's eyes softened and became anxious.
"Seriously, though, you can't be here in the morning. You will get caught. Not everyone will be fooled by the illusion…"
"Not to worry," said Gin, good naturedly, "I have no intention of being here after dawn…and every intention of returning to Hueco Mundo."
Rangiku sighed and sank deeply into his embrace.
"I wish I understood why you stay with him…why you betrayed everyone."
Gin sighed in annoyance.
"Oh, let's don't start all that again!" he complained, "I thought we agreed to just live in the moment…to leave our questions at the bedroom door and just enjoy ourselves. We aren't going to agree, so let's save ourselves the headache of trying. The simple fact is, we want to be together. Let's just do that…and worry about the rest later."
"And what happens when your leader is ready to move forward with his plans?" she asked.
Gin leaned forward and kissed the questions away until the red haired woman's body relaxed beneath his and she grew quiet and calm again. He met her eyes warmly and nuzzled her cheek.
"Here now, that's much better," he said softly, "Let's indulge one more time, before I have to go."
Her bright eyes filled with reticence, Rangiku melted beneath his kisses until everything else disappeared.
Byakuya lowered his reiatsu and flash stepped back to the Squad Six office. He moved around to the back of the building and slipped in through the window into his quarters. He kept his reiatsu lowered and moved to the door, listening. A worried male voice seeped in from the nearby office.
"No one has heard a thing from Taichou" Renji's worried voice said, "He didn't come to work and he didn't take leave. He just…disappeared!"
"No one at Kuchiki Manor has seen him since he went to bed last night," added a male voice he recognized as his cousin and bodyguard, "There were no detected disturbances during the night. His personal attendant heard nothing out of the ordinary last night or this morning, and nothing appeared to be out of place in his room."
My attendant was either drugged, or a participant, Byakuya theorized, and after I lost consciousness, someone cleared away all signs of struggle, the body of my attacker…and that same person dumped me in Hueco Mundo. It's so odd that I woke up back in the Seireitei. It makes me wonder if I simply hallucinated the part about being in Hueco Mundo…
He had a momentary flash of memory. Gentle hands touching him, a soft, curious voice, flares of power and shattering pain, a kiss that seemed to still warm his lips. He shook his head in confusion as the voices continued outside his room.
"I checked his room here already, the training grounds, everywhere I know he would go," Renji went on, "I'm at the end of my rope wondering, but Yamamoto soutaichou says we've gotta wait for there to be proof of foul play, that it may be that he discovered something of importance and is simply investigating it."
Renji's voice paused for a moment.
"What about you, Rikichi? Did you see or hear anything?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, sir," Rikichi's voice said in reply, "I haven't heard or seen anything."
Byakuya waited as Rikichi walked past his room and continued on towards the barracks, then he opened his door and stepped into the hallway outside the office.
"Rukia is beside herself," his cousin continued, "She saw him return to his room last night, and no one at all was told he was leaving. At very least, he would have told me if it was a mission, even a personal one. He would, Renji-san."
Byakuya's cousin broke off as Byakuya stepped into the office, dressed in a simple shihakushou and without his usual accessories.
"Tetsuya, Renji," he greeted them in a serious tone.
"Byakuya-sama!" Tetsuya exclaimed.
"Taichou!" Renji gasped, his face breaking into a relieved smile, "Taichou, where did you disappear to? You scared the life out of Tetsuya and me, Rukia, your attendant, your whole staff!"
Byakuya gazed at the two quietly for a moment, thinking.
"Come with me," he said, turning back into his quarters.
Renji and Tetsuya exchanged confused glances and followed the noble into his room. Byakuya sat on a chair beside his coffee table, while his two subordinates sat on the sofa. Both looked at him questioningly.
"I will tell the two of you what happened, but it will not go outside the three of us and Rukia. I will tell her when I return home."
"What happened, Taichou?" asked Renji worriedly.
"There was an attempt on my life in my own room within the manor last night," the noble said, watching Renji and Tetsuya's eyes fly open wide.
"Who…?" Renji began.
"How is that possible?" Tetsuya interrupted, "No one sensed anything! Not even Arashi or me. How could this be?"
"I killed the one who struck at me, but I was badly wounded, myself. I lost consciousness and was taken from the manor, and my room was fastidiously cleaned and set back in order, then I was dumped deep in the desert in Hueco Mundo and left for dead. At least, I remember being there at some point."
"You were in Hueco Mundo?" Tetsuya mused breathlessly, "How did you get back, Byakuya-sama?"
"I do not know. I may have only dreamed of being in Hueco Mundo. I don't know because I woke up in a cottage on the shore of a lake near the manor. It may be that I dreamed of Hueco Mundo and was placed in the cabin, but my wounds were healed and I had been bathed and dressed, then placed in a bed there. As I was not restrained in any way, I assume that the one who placed me in the cabin was not the one who arranged for my assassination."
"And you don't think the guy who attacked you was the one who planned all of this?" Renji asked, "Are you sure about this, Taichou?"
Byakuya nodded firmly.
"He was a hired assassin. An enemy would have explained his intent before finishing me off. This man said nothing, and he struck with intent to kill instantly."
"Holy shit, Taichou!" Renji gasped, "Whoever this was is serious! How did he manage to reach you through all of that security? And to hire a competent assassin? It must be another noble, right?"
"Not just another noble," Byakuya said calmly, meeting Tetsuya's eyes meaningfully, "A council member."
"What?" Renji whispered, "But…your own family?"
Byakuya and Tetsuya nodded.
"You know that marrying Hisana was against clan rules and I compounded that rule breaking by adopting Rukia to honor Hisana's last request. Those actions caused a deep ripple of discord in the council, and recently the discord has deepened as I have refused every attempt that they have made to urge me to marry again. I am not of a mind to marry for convenience and so plan to choose my bride when I feel I have met her."
"Well…that doesn't sound so bad, Taichou," Renji said, scratching the back of his neck, "Certainly, it's not enough to kill a guy over!"
"It isn't so much the act as the pattern of behavior. It could be the continued disobedience…or…it could be one using that to mask a deeper purpose."
"But who would want you dead, Taichou?" asked Renji.
"Hmmm…" Byakuya said, thinking, "The one with the most to gain from my death is Kuchiki Orochi. He is the next most powerful and is the chosen successor if I were to die. In addition to this, Orochi is just as venomous as his name suggests. He has long despised me, saying that my father was weak and therefore, he should have been chosen over the issue of one who couldn't have qualified as captain level."
"Sounds like a real prick…" commented the redhead.
"Orochi also despises me because a very long time ago, he was involved in the running of a secret noble prison where Tetsuya and his family were incarcerated. I led a rescue that saved Tetsuya, though his family was lost, and Orochi has never forgiven me for that."
"Nor me," Tetsuya added.
"There is Head Councilor Nori, but he is the eldest and, I feel, the wisest on council. I don't know what motive he could have beyond despising me for my disobedience, but he has never evinced any sign of that before. He has, in fact, sided with me on many occasions. Next are Tori and Tomi, twins from the largest subfamily and always up to something. Usually, it relates to swaying the council in whatever way they favor, but murder would not be beyond them, if it would greatly benefit them."
"Nice," Renji observed sarcastically.
"Arisu was once a prospect to be my future wife…but I refused to be forced into marriage."
"Did she take offense?" Renji asked.
"Of course. It would have meant a higher position in the clan for her as the mother of the next heir, but she, of course, gave no sign she would have been attracted to me otherwise. My cousin, Fumio is book learned and quiet. It is hard to know where his leanings are, except that he usually sides with me. Ryuu is a powerful cousin, but not in line for leadership because he has a commoner for a father. He gained permission to wear the Kuchiki name because of his respectable powers, but I have sensed dark emotion in him, though I don't know if it is directed at me personally. The last council member is Eri. She is another who was considered as a prospect for marriage for me, but she was as resistant to the union as I was. She seeks power, but for herself, not on the heels of any man."
"Ouch, Taichou!" Renji mused, "That's a long list of possibilities. Do you have any relatives who wouldn't want to kill you?"
"Rukia,I think, and of course, Tetsuya."
"Cute, Taichou. But seriously, it sounds like you won't be safe among them until we find the one who set you up."
"I also need to find out who protected me and why. We will do both, but as we do, I must place my safety in your hands. The two of you are the only ones outside of Rukia who I am willing to trust. As fukutaichou and as my bodyguard, I am charging you two with that mission as of this moment. During the day, you are to be at my side unless I leave you as part of the investigation. At night, the two of you and Rukia will alternate with two guarding, while one will be sealed in my room, here at the sixth division with me in a reiatsu cage to make attack improbable. I assume that whomever did this will attempt it again. It will be up to you to see to my safety until we identify and stop that person."
"You can count on us, Taichou," Renji said determinedly.
Tetsuya nodded in agreement.
"I knew that I could," he said, a touch of warmth betrayed in his voice, "but it is good to hear you say it, just the same."
He paused for a moment, thinking silently.
"I think the first thing we should do is to reassure Rukia all is well. Renji, I want you to go to Kuchiki Manor. Assure the staff and Rukia that I am all right, then privately inform Rukia about my situation. Tetsuya, you and I will go to the council chambers."
"B-but, Taichou…you said that one of them tried to kill you!"
"One or more, or perhaps all, yes," Byakuya acknowledged, "And Tetsuya is going to help me try to figure out who it was."
"When we enter the council chambers, Tetsuya and I will study their faces. We will focus on reiatsu changes around them and make a mental note of anything unusual we see or sense."
"Hai…if you say so…but I still say closing yourself in a room with your attempted murderer is crazy, Taichou."
"Maybe…" Byakuya admitted, "but it is going to take extreme measures to flush the guilty party or parties out."
"Okay, I'll trust your thinking. You're right more often than not…and you would understand their thinking better than I would."
"Then, come…we must act quickly, before word of my return reaches them."
He moved to the closet and removed two hooded cloaks. He handed one to Tetsuya, and donned one, himself, then watched as Renji left for Kuchiki Manor.
Byakuya left the Squad Six headquarters alongside Tetsuya and the two flash stepped towards the Kuchiki Council Hall, keeping their hoods around their faces and their reiatsu masked. They swept up the steps and into the entry, shoving aside the guards and nearly taking the council chamber door off its hinges. All eyes turned to stare as they flash stepped to the front of the room and drew back the hoods, revealing their faces. The elders' faces flooded with shock and as Tetsuya read each stunned expression, Byakuya studied the changes in the reiatsu in the room. He was quiet for a moment as he took the information in. Head Elder Nori stood.
"Byakuya-sama!" he exclaimed, "Thank kami, you are safe! When word came from Kuchiki Manor that you were gone and your reiatsu could not be located, we feared the worst!"
"My apologies for unnerving you," Byakuya said calmly, "There was, indeed, an attempt on my life last night, but as you can see, I was rescued before I could expire."
"By whom?" asked Orochi, "We certainly owe them for our leader's rescue."
"I was asked to keep the information private, but let me assure all of you that I am alive and well, and in addition, that I have a group of highly trained shinigamis investigating this matter."
"But we should assist with this!" said Eri, sounding deeply concerned, "It is one of our most important duties to see to the protection of our leader."
"I agree," said Fumio, "Our codes do charge the council with oversight of our leader's safety."
"Under normal circumstances, I would agree," said Byakuya, "However, it was necessary for me to move quickly, and it is equally important that we give no sign to my assailant what our movements will be. I do not want this criminal to escape justice. We must move carefully. Tetsuya and I will continue our private investigation and the council is free to begin its own investigation if you choose to do so."
"But before we can investigate, we need to know what you know. What do you remember?" Nori asked.
"I went to sleep last night in my bed. At some point, I remember a man attacking me and fighting back. I vaguely remember the feeling that someone else was with me, and healing power touching me. I do not remember waking, but stumbled into the sixth division this morning, unaware of how I arrived there. I am sorry, but I cannot be of more assistance than that. You will have to draw your own conclusions. You may, of course, visit Kuchiki Manor and we will search my room. But Tetsuya told me upon my return that my room seemed undisturbed. Of course, a deeper forensic scan must be done to be certain there are no clues, so you are welcome to witness this or not as you choose."
"I think that, until this perpetrator is found that you should house yourself within the council hall," suggested Arisu, "Apparently, this person had access to your manor and was able to evade Tetsuya's usually flawless protection."
"Which begs the question of whether, perhaps, Tetsuya was somehow involved, doesn't it?" Orochi asked, turning a disapproving eye on his blue-eyed cousin.
"There is no way that Tetsuya would ever hurt me," Byakuya said sternly, "All of you know that."
"Are you so sure?" Fumio asked, frowning, "He is, after all a..."
"Stop right there," Byakuya snapped, "Tetsuya wouldn't have failed if he was trying to kill me. That is certain."
"But if he wasn't involved, then who could have gotten past him?" asked Nori.
"I have a theory about that, but will need to work carefully to confirm it," Byakuya said, looking at each of the council members in turn, "The one who set this up either was someone within my family or staff…or…"
He paused for a moment.
"Or…an illusion type zanpakutou was used," he finished.
"But," said Ryuu, staring, "to get through the defenses at Kuchiki Manor, the zanpakutou would have to be bankai strength!"
"And there is only one illusion type zanpakutou that strong…" mused Tori.
"Kyouka Suigetsu," breathed Nori, stunned, "You think Aizen Sousuke tried to assassinate you?"
"It would make sense," Byakuya said, nodding, "He hates the noble families because we protect the spirit king and the system of justice Aizen seeks to undo. He used Rukia in his plans, because I am the strongest of the noble leaders. It makes sense that he would strike at me. In addition to reducing the fighting strength of our noble clan, he would simultaneously reduce the power of the Gotei 13 to oppose him."
"That makes sense," said Tomi.
"I agree," said Nori, "But we need to be sure, and it will be difficult. I move that we conduct a careful investigation, but only release to the public that there was a false alarm, that nothing of consequence happened at the manor. We don't want Aizen to know that we suspect him."
"I have access to someone who can monitor Aizen covertly and report on his movements, now that we suspect him. I will not reveal the identity of that person, because it will endanger the person if anyone else knows, but I will set this person in motion, gathering information."
"That sounds like a prudent course of action," said Nori, nodding.
"But during the investigation, how will you be protected?" asked Orochi.
"I have seen to that," Byakuya told them, "As a taichou, I will rely on members of my division to protect me. They protect me from the hollows, and I have never been attacked in my quarters there. I will house myself there until the investigation concludes."
"We shall be happy to provide elite guards…or the second division…" Nori offered.
"No," Byakuya said, shaking his head, "I already know who I will entrust this to. I need no other security."
"Very well, then," said Nori, "You have the full cooperation of the council."
Byakuya thanked the council, then led Tetsuya out of the building. Tetsuya followed, looking at him with uncertainty as they returned to the sixth division, but kept his questions until they were alone in the taichou's quarters.
"Byakuya-sama, you don't actually think that Aizen Sousuke tried to kill you, do you?"
"No," Byakuya said, "but I needed the council to believe that I was convinced of it so that the one or ones responsible will feel they got away with it. It will lure them into thinking they can reach me again."
"That makes sense…"
He broke off at the sound of a knock on the door.
"Nii-sama?" Rukia said from outside the door, "It's me. Renji and I are here."
Byakuya nodded and opened the door, allowing Renji, and Byakuya's relieved sister to enter.
"Nii-sama!" Rukia said, her eyes tearing, "I was so worried."
Byakuya felt a surge of warmth inside.
"Do not worry," he assured her, "I am fine. But I need your help."