Chapter 3: Investigation
"I had not been informed there had been a change of leadership in the Saito clan," said Byakuya, looking down at where Saito Katashi's hand held his for just a moment longer than seemed proper for the gesture, then let go.
Katashi's smile widened.
"The announcement is to be given within the Noble's General Council meeting today," he answered, "However, I thought that it would be good for me to become acquainted with you as soon as possible, given that I hope that we will be allied in our interests on the council."
"Well," said Byakuya, feeling an odd warmth on his face as he met Katashi's golden eyes again, "Whether we maintain an alliance on council will, of course, depend upon how you represent yourself and your clan as of your introduction here. Still, I agree that, as our clan has shared an alliance with yours in the past, if the past is an indicator, I think that we will work amicably together on council. But...something tells me that your decision to seek me out prior to this meeting is not solely based on an interest in maintaining an alliance."
"Astute and as expected of the leader of the great Kuchiki clan," said Katashi, smirking approvingly, "I must admit that I have always been intrigued by you."
"Have you?" Byakuya inquired archly, "And why is that?"
"You are somewhat of an enigma, Byakuya," Katashi answered, surprising the Kuchiki clan leader with the more intimate use of his name, "Leader of the greatest of the noble clans, an example to all...yet oddly broad minded and accepting of members of the simpler class."
"Be that as it may," said Byakuya, his reiatsu flickering softly, "I am also determined to honor the laws and codes as laid out in the noble charters. My personal decisions aside, I take both my position as head of household and as a representative on the Noble's General Council with perfect seriousness."
"Yes, so I had heard," said Katashi, nodding, "And let me assure you that I am no different. I too have a commitment to following the rules and laws of the noble charters, remembering that those documents were the soul king's own orders. And I see it as a solemn duty to do what I can to see that his majesty's intent is not purposely misdirected. I..."
"Gentlemen," Nori interrupted quietly, "It seems that it is time to go in. Come, Byakuya-sama."
Saito Katashi watched, a half smile on his face as Byakuya disappeared into the group entering the gathering hall.
"So..." he whispered to himself, "You are as elusive as they say. Hmmm...and every bit as lovely...Byakuya. I very much look forward to us getting to know each other better."
"Here," said Renji, setting a cup of tea he had made in front of Tetsuya, "This is better for you than the stuff they make here. Made it myself. It's Taichou's..."
"Healing blend?" Tetsuya said, smiling and accepting the tea.
"Ah, you're familiar with it..."
Tetsuya smirked cutely.
"One might say that," he said enigmatically, "I was the one who first made it for him. It has a rather dubious history, being an herbal remedy that we in the prison used to make to soothe our injuries after harsh treatment by the guards. We were allowed to grow herbs in the small courtyard there and to make tea from them."
"Oh," said the redhead, shaking his head, "I had no idea..."
"This is actually an improvement on mine," the noble commented, taking another sip of the concoction, "I am grateful, Abarai-san."
Renji smiled good-naturedly.
"Well, you're welcome, and I told you to call me Renji."
"Renji-san," Tetsuya corrected himself, yawning and blinking sleepily as he finished the tea.
An orderly entered the room, pushing a small cart with a food tray and more tea on it.
"Here you go, Kuchiki-san," the orderly said, smiling kindly and setting the food tray in front of Tetsuya, "Let me know if you need anything else."
"Arigatou," Tetsuya said, looking down at the tray, "but I am so tired, I do not know if I will be able to manage it before I fall asleep."
"Yeah," chuckled Renji, "Well at least take a few bites before you drop off. It will help restore your energy."
"Right," agreed the noble, taking a bite.
He took a few more bites, then set the tray aside, an uncomfortable look on his face.
"Hey, uh, you okay?" Renji asked in a concerned tone, "You don't look so good. You want me to get a healer?"
"Ah..." Tetsuya managed, his eyelids fluttering oddly and the look of discomfort increasing, "I think...oh...oh, Renji-san...there was...something..."
He climbed out of the bed suddenly and started towards a small closet across the room, where his uniform and sword had been stored. He started to collapse halfway there, and Renji caught him up in his arms.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going? Get back in bed. I'll get a healer, okay?"
"P-poisoned!" Tetsuya gasped, "I need my zanpakutou, quickly, Renji-san!"
Renji flash stepped to the closet and grabbed the sword, then carried weapon and shinigami back to the hospital bed, where he laid Tetsuya down on his back and drew the slender blue steel sword for him. Tetsuya laid his hand on the hilt and breathed a quick command as Renji flash stepped away, calling for a healer.
He returned a moment later, with Hanatarou on his heels. The young healer dashed to Tetsuya's side and carefully removed the sword from his grasp, giving it to Renji to sheathe.
"He said that he needed that," Renji objected, "He said that he was poisoned!"
"Yes," Hanatarou confirmed quickly, "There is a virulent toxin in his system, and one of his blade's powers allows his body to dilute the poison to delay the effects while in battle, so that he can continue to fight. Usually, he would have still been conscious after an infusion of his blade's power, but this is a very strong poison!"
"Damn it!" swore the redhead, glancing at the food tray, then out the door.
He ran out the door and spotted the orderly pushing a medical cart down the hall. Flash stepping forward, he grabbed the young man by the front of his shihakushou.
"What are you doing?" the orderly cried in dismay, "Have you lost your mind?"
"That food that you brought for Kuchiki Tetsuya was poisoned!" he yelled, "He's in there dying. Where the hell did that come from? Who brought it?"
"It...it was delivered before I came on duty, Abarai fukutaichou!" the young man insisted, "It was already there when I got here! I swear, I would never hurt anyone! I'm training to be a healer!"
"Shit!" Renji snapped, letting the orderly go and flash stepping back to Tetsuya's room.
Unohana taichou had joined Hanatarou at Tetsuya's side, and was infusing the unconscious noble with a powerful burst of reiatsu. Renji stared at Tetsuya's pale face, his heart in his throat as the healers worked to save his life.
"He is beginning to respond," Unohana said to Hanatarou, "Keep the infusion going."
"Is he...going to be all right?" Renji asked shakenly, realizing suddenly that there were tears in his eyes.
"Yes," said Unohana taichou, keeping the infusion going as she spoke, "He is very lucky to have had his own ability to respond quickly to this. Had he not invoked his Re-kuhime's power, he would have died before we could have done anything to stop it. Your quick actions helped to save his life."
She paused for a moment, looking down at Tetsuya's pained features.
"But even though we are able to heal him," she went on, "We are not able to keep him safe. So, I will ask what I normally would not. Abarai fukutaichou, for this young man's safety, you must leave with him as soon as we have completed his healing."
"Before he's even awake?" queried Renji, "But...!"
"I understand it will put stress on his healing body, and that Urahara-san might not be ready to receive you. But this is a medical facility, and not well enough equipped to deal with something on the magnitude of what is happening. The perpetrators here are likely the same as the ones who already attacked this young man once, and who caused the explosion in your own division. They are not likely to give up. And while I will, of course, order an investigation and additional guards, I can offer him no guarantee of safety here."
Renji held his breath for a moment, thinking, then let it out in a shuddering sigh.
"Damn it! Who is doing this? This is crazy! But...I think you're right. I think the best thing is to get him to Kisuke. He'll find a safer place for Tetsuya."
"I will send Hanatarou with you to assist Tetsuya-san."
"Okay...good," Renji said, nodding, "Whatever you say. Just...someone needs to tell Kuchiki taichou. He'll want to know as soon as possible!"
"There will already be a hell butterfly on the way to him," affirmed the healer, "although with the council in session, he may be delayed for several hours."
Unohana taichou let her power fade and nodded briefly.
"Tetsuya-san is stable enough to transport to Karakura Town now."
"That fast? Are you sure?" Renji asked worriedly, "Because just a minute ago, the guy looked really bad. He does look better now, though..."
Renji broke off as Koji burst into the room, a frantic look on his face.
"Tetsuya-san!" he exclaimed, "What happened to Tetsuya-san?"
Renji turned to the youth and shook his head grimly.
"Nothing good," he admitted, "Someone slipped something into his food and poisoned him."
"What?" Koji gasped, staring, "But...I left him. I was supposed to be with him and I...I left him to get some things he asked for."
"Don't worry about it," Renji said bracingly, "I was with him, and I still didn't do him a hell of a lot of good. I don't know that we could have stopped this. These people seem really determined."
"But you are strong, Abarai-san," Koji said, trustingly, "You will be able to keep him safe. We just need to get him to Urahara-san and to a safe house. Then, Tetsuya-san will be out of their reach!"
"Right," said Renji, "So, you gather his things and I'll bring him. We'll go now."
"Shouldn't I go on ahead to Urahara-san's?" asked Koji, "I should let him know we're coming."
Renji shook his head firmly and Koji looked back at him questioningly.
"Too dangerous," he explained, "We have to assume these people know that you are his attendant...and that Hanatarou is likely his healer. That makes the two of you targets also, so you're staying with Tetsuya and me."
"Oh, I did not think of that," Koji said, shaking his head, "Abarai-san, Tetsuya-san is in horrible danger, ne? Why does it have it have to be that way? He is such a gentle person, so kind to everyone! I have never understood why those people hurt him before. When he was a prisoner, he was subjected to unbearable things...all because he has mixed blood. But even those things did not darken him! Somehow, he is still a strong person, who commands the respect and loyalty of so many! Yet, even among our own family, there are those who look down on him...and now, these horrid people want to kill him! How can we keep him safe?"
Renji placed a hand on the youth's shoulder and squeezed gently.
"We stick together," he said with determination, "and we just resolve that nothing is going get through us. Now, come on. We need to get him out of here...to someplace safe."
Koji bit at his lip and nodded, then quietly gathered Tetsuya's belongings. Hanatarou conferred quietly with Unohana taichou, then joined Koji at Renji's side as the redhead lifted the still unconscious Tetsuya and waited as Koji opened a clan senkaimon.
"Proceed with caution," Unohana taichou said in parting, "and contact me if you need anything. I have given Hanatarou several coded hell butterflies so that you can safely contact me."
"Thank you, Unohana taichou," Renji said gratefully, stepping into the senkaimon with the others.
They watched the doorway close behind them, then started forward. Koji shivered at the darkness and oppressive silence and moved closer to Renji, who noticed the youth's anxiousness and smiled bracingly at him.
"It's kinda creepy in here, huh?" he commented.
"Y-yes," admitted Koji, "I do not leave the manor very often, except to travel with Tetsuya-san. But...I admit I am not fond of the precipice world."
"That's okay," Renji chuckled, "neither am I. But no one knows we left and no one knows where we're going, so it's okay. It's only once our enemy knows we've left that things will get dangerous again. But we'll stick together and we'll be okay."
"Of course you're right," Koji said softly, remaining close to the redhead as they walked on.
He nearly jumped out of his skin a moment later, and Renji almost dropped Tetsuya as a swift flash step sounded and a dark figure appeared ahead of them. The group held their breath for a moment as the creature stepped closer. Then, Koji gave a sob of relief.
"Arashi! You could have scared us to death!" the attendant exclaimed.
The stallion approached Renji and gently nuzzled the unconscious shinigami in his arms.
"He's just resting," Renji told the nervous looking horse, "He's gonna be okay. But hey, since you're here, you mind giving us a lift?"
Arashi tossed his head, then knelt to let Renji and the injured Tetsuya on. Tetsuya stirred in Renji's arms as the stallion slowly stood.
"R-renji-san?" he whispered dazedly, "What is happening?"
"Nothing," the redhead assured him, "We're just going on to Kisuke's place. We've got Koji and Hanatarou with us. Everything's gonna be fine. You should get some more sleep."
"I will," Tetsuya sighed, "but first, I must thank you, Renji-san...for saving my life."
"What?" said the redhead, frowning, "I didn't do anything...oh, except let you get poisoned right under my nose..."
"That wasn't your fault," Tetsuya insisted, "and you made certain that I reached Re-kuhime, so that I could call on her power to slow the poison sufficiently so that I could be treated."
"Nah," Renji said, smirking, "Tough guy like you? You woulda gotten to your zanpakutou, even if you had to crawl."
"Oh?" said Tetsuya, looking amused, "and what makes you think that?"
"Well, maybe the fact of how long you held on to that thorn bush, waiting for help to come before."
"Ah, that..." mused Tetsuya, "Well, I couldn't allow myself to die just then."
"Yes. I hadn't Byakuya-sama's permission to die, so I could not."
"Huh?" muttered Renji, looking confused, "How's that work?"
"It is simple," said Tetsuya, "Byakuya-sama rescued me from the prison. He saved my life...so I owe it to him. He decides when my debt to him is paid, and I will not die until I have paid him back in kind for what he did for me."
"I see," said the redhead, smirking, "So...you just said that I saved your life too, ne?"
"I think I remember you saying that..."
"So that," Renji said, freezing Tetsuya in place with a dashing smile, "means that we have the same deal, right? You don't die until I say it's okay, too?"
He chuckled at the younger man's instant blush and flustered expression.
"I was kidding," Renji laughed.
His laughter stopped and the smile left his face as Tetsuya's sapphire eyes looked directly into his.
"All joking aside, I am grateful to you, Renji-san," Tetsuya said solemnly, "Byakuya-sama is right, I think, to place his faith in you. I feel much safer with you at my side."
"Yeah," said Renji, his heart throbbing fitfully as Tetsuya's head dropped back onto his shoulder, "Well, keep your guard up anyway. These are some really nasty people coming after you. And they have already slipped through our guard once. I'm not gonna let that happen again."