Chapter 4: Making Waves
"The Nobles' General Council will now come to order," said Grand Councilor Daisuke, looking around the large gathering hall at the hundreds of noble representatives from the full complement of noble families, "First on the agenda, Council wishes to welcome Saito family's newly appointed leader, Saito Katashi. You will have two minutes for a short introductory statement."
"Arigatou, Yukishima-san," Katashi said, rising, "Greetings, my fellow representatives."
His golden eyes found Byakuya's and held them for a moment, then flicked away.
"I am honored to join the ranks of those charged with the interpretation and enforcement of his majesties laws and the noble traditions. I promise to faithfully execute the responsibilities of my position, and I look forward to working alongside my fellow representatives in that pursuit. That being said, I believe that a foulness has overtaken us...an old evil, revived from the past that threatens to resurface. The Pureblood Protectors..."
"Grand Councilor, I object!" exclaimed a representative of the Kuromatsu house, "This is not an introductory statement, but an incitement to class warfare."
"Yes!" agreed a representative of the Ishimori clan, "He is purposely fanning the flames for the purpose of his own 'half-blood' agenda!"
"Peace," Daisuke said, motioning for silence, "While I understand your objections, there is nothing written in our rules that limits what the man says in his opening statement to council."
He turned to look at Katashi.
"However," he added, "if you are planning to seek the support of these councilors, then perhaps you should consider approaching them more diplomatically."
"My apologies," Katashi said, bowing his head slightly, "But what is the diplomatic way to say, half-bloods are being targeted by a hate group that intends to kill, not just half-bloods, but purebloods too!"
He nodded in Byakuya's direction.
"They have even taken aim on the leader of the greatest of our noble houses, Kuchiki Byakuya!"
"Well," said Kuchiki Orochi, glaring at Katashi hatefully, "As a member of the greatest of the noble clans, I think that the group was just making a statement."
He glanced at Byakuya, narrowing his eyes.
"I think that the group has made it clear that those who favor commoners and mixed bloods will be treated as blood traitors...whoever they are!"
"Be that as it may," said Byakuya, standing, "and...my apologies, Grand Councilor, for speaking out of turn, "But we have gotten off topic. Councilor Orochi, you are out of line. You will allow Saito Katashi to finish his statement, or, as leader of your clan, I will have you ejected from this meeting forcibly!"
"Yes, come now, Gentlemen," Daisuke said, still calmly, but firmly, "Let us first allow Saito Katashi to finish his statement, then we can address the issues regarding the rumors of the return of that criminal group."
"Arigatou, Grand Councilor," said Katashi, turning back to face the rest of the council, "I will finish by saying that while much has changed in the more recent past, it is important to adhere to the rules and statutes of the clans, and to be certain of their just interpretation, as it applies to all people, noble or not. The Saito clan is committed to this and will work hard to see that justice is served, as well as to see that violators are punished."
"Thank you, Saito clan leader," Daisuke said, formally dismissing him, "And now, let us move on to a report from the Kuchiki clan regarding attacks on the sixth division taichou's quarters, and on Kuchikis Tetsuya and Rukia. Kuchiki Byakuya?"
"Two separate attacks occurred, the first in the forested area, just north of Kuchiki Manor, and the second about forty minutes later at the sixth division headquarters. The first attack involved heavy kido fire involving an unknown number of assailants. They attacked Kuchikis Rukia and Tetsuya as they were riding Tetsuya's stallion, Arashi, back to the manor from the thirteenth division. Arashi was left unconscious, but not badly injured. Rukia sustained only minor injuries. Kuchiki Tetsuya suffered internal injuries and a serious injury to his sword hand, both requiring hours of surgery. Kuchiki Rukia is now under the protection of her taichou, and is on a military mission. Tetsuya has been placed in protective custody until the perpetrators are found."
"And have you found any leads as to the identity of the perpetrators?" asked Daisuke.
"No," Byakuya answered, "However, two things concern me deeply. The first is that a clip that is always in my cousin's hair was placed in a leather pouch and left at the site of the sixth division bombing. The second is that while Tetsuya was recovering from surgery, someone poisoned his food at the fourth division. It was this that prompted me to place Tetsuya in protective custody. Gentlemen, it is clear that the ones who did these things are determined to end my cousin's life. And they also strike at me, I assume because of my acceptance of Tetsuya into my family."
"But there is, as yet, no evidence of that," said Orochi, "This could be other enemies you have. There is no proof that this was the work of a hate group."
"I agree," said a member of the Furukawa clan, "Perhaps this is a matter for the Kuchiki clan to settle. The Noble's General Council should only involve itself if it is proven that this is a plot that includes members of multiple families, or if there is clear evidence that the Pureblood Protectors have been revived, and are responsible."
"So, you are saying that this council is going to ignore the severity of the three attacks Byakuya mentioned for no better reason than that we cannot prove it was the Pureblood Protectors? What, do you require for Kuchiki Tetsuya and others to be murdered in cold blood and their carcasses be hung from a wall, bearing a personal message from the group before you will believe they are back and take action?" demanded Katashi, coming to his feet and glaring at the others.
"Saito Katashi, you are out of order," Daisuke said sternly, "Stand down."
"I won't stand still and watch this council deny justice to any clan member!"
"Perhaps," Byakuya said suddenly, drawing all eyes to him as he spoke, "the council could admit the strong possibility that these attacks were hate crimes, and acknowledge that all of the ones targeted were either clan members with commoner blood or pureblood members known to be accepting of such. This would clear the way for at least a council investigation of the matter."
"I find your suggestion quite sensible, Kuchiki Byakuya," said Daisuke approvingly, "Will council members please indicate whether or not they support the suggestion of a council investigation of this matter?"
He watched quietly as each representative entered his or her vote on the screen in front of them and the computer swiftly compiled the information, then he nodded briefly.
"The motion to investigate these incidences passes with 212 in favor and 175 against, 13 abstaining. Kuchiki Byakuya, as you suggested the investigation and are a military officer whose expertise will be invaluable, will you head the commission to investigate the matter?"
"I will," Byakuya agreed, "I will have my security forces deployed to the attack sites to see if we can locate any new clues to the identities of the perpetrators, and will have the crimes profiled to gain an understanding of the persons involved."
"I would like council's permission to offer my services to Kuchiki Byakuya in the investigation," Katashi said.
"That will not be necessary," Byakuya said, matter of factly, "I have sufficient staff to conduct the investigation. I only desired council approval and oversight of the matter."
"I understand," said Katashi, "but I wasn't offering my services as a messenger boy, Byakuya."
"Oh?" queried the noble, raising an eyebrow.
"No," said the Saito clan leader, smirking, Byakuya thought, brashly, "I am offering you my expert services."
"Expert services?" Byakuya repeated, "In what capacity?"
"Well, I thought that, as a survivor of Akuma no Manako (Devil's Eye)...the only known survivor of that prison, I might be able to offer valuable information and insights."
"I object!" announced Kuchiki Orochi, standing, "That prison has never even been proven to really exist! I defy you to prove you were ever there!"
"Very well," said Katashi, turning his body slightly away and slipping his top down off of his shoulder.
A council monitor focused on an area where words had been engraved in the man's skin and sounds of surprise and dismay filled the room.
"This," Katashi said, "is a prison identification inscription. I will gladly allow any who wish to verify its authenticity to do so."
Byakuya felt a shiver pass through him as Katashi's golden eyes found his again.
"I know your cousin was a prisoner of Itamigiri, another secret half-blood's prison, but with him being one of the victims of the crime in question and in hiding for his protection, do you not see the sense of including me in your investigative team, Byakuya?"
Byakuya thought quietly for a moment, then nodded.
"I have no objection to this," he said calmly.
"Then, it is done," said Daisuke, "Kuchiki Byakuya, we will leave this in your hands and expect a report at the next council gathering.
Byakuya nodded and fell to listening again as the council meeting moved on to the next issue. But all the rest of the time they were gathered, he felt the Saito clan leader's eyes watching him closely.
"This might hurt some, okay?" Renji warned Tetsuya, taking the noble's slender hand in his and gently removing the protective dressing.
To his surprise, the noble sat quietly, only yielding a slight flutter of his eyelids as Renji carefully cleaned the area again, then infused Tetsuya's hand with healing reiatsu.
"How do you do that, eh?" Renji asked, studying the younger man's calm expression, "I'd at least be clenching my jaw and sweating all over."
"Hmmm," sighed Tetsuya, watching as Renji replaced the bandages on his hand, "I would say that it is a matter of necessity and training that came from the time of my imprisonment."
"Oh," Renji said, uncertain about how to answer.
Tetsuya noticed his discomfort and smiled disarmingly.
"It is all right, Renji-san," Tetsuya said bracingly, "If you want to ask me about it, I am not averse to speaking of it, and if it makes you uncomfortable, we can certainly change the subject."
"Well," said Renji, considering his words, "I would say that I am curious, but I don't want to make you talk about it if it's going to hurt you to go there. I mean, no one walks away from something like that unscathed."
"No," Tetsuya agreed, "And although I am accustomed to internalizing my responses, it doesn't mean that I do not have them. It is just that showing them whilst a prisoner was all too likely to catch the guards' attention, and not in a good way. Internalizing and quietly bearing pain was a survival skill."
"Huh, I don't know if I could do that. I have too much of a tendency to bite back when I'm bitten."
"Yes," Tetsuya agreed, "But in Itamigiri, such people usually ended up dying. My friend, Naoki and I wanted very much to live, so we learned to cope quietly.
"Damn," Renji sighed, shaking his head as he completed his work and let go of Tetsuya's injured hand, "Well, there are no signs of infection, for now. But I'll change that dressing every few hours for the next few days. Let me know if it starts to hurt badly, itch a lot or sting."
"And getting back to what you were saying, I think it takes a lot of courage to do what you did. I don't know if I could do that, not knowing if I'd ever be saved."
"I am sure that you would learn to be a survivor. You survived the streets of the lower Rukongai, ne?"
Renji arched an eyebrow and smirked.
"Hey, uh, just how much do you already know about me?"
The noble chuckled.
"I am head of house security for our clan, as well as being Byakuya-sama's bodyguard. And trust me, if someone is going to spend as much time as you do around my cousin, I make it my business to know everything about that person."
"Really..." Renji mused, grinning, "So..."
"You grew up an orphan in the seventy-eighth district, Inuzuri, alongside Rukia and several other youths, primarily associating with Kin, Masuo and Ishi. You were protective of others weaker than yourself, and like Rukia, you had a tendancy to take in other strays to make a semblance of a family. Unfortunately, only you and Rukia reached the age of entry into the shinigami academy."
"Okay, so you know the basic facts about me," Renji said, looking amused, "But what do you know about me?"
"You are, as I said, very loyal to and protective of your friends. And although you once strived against Byakuya-sama, because you felt he stole Rukia-chan from you, you were touched by how he endangered himself to protect her from Aizen Sousuke. You now see him, still somewhat as a rival, but you respect him as a mentor."
"Also good," admitted Renji, "but tell me something more personal about me."
"Very well," Tetsuya said gamely, "You enjoy taiyaki and sweet and sour chicken, which you nearly always buy at Miki's restaurant, on your way home from work. You pass by the shop near twilight, almost every day, except when you are on assignment and you always ask the owner's wife when she is going to leave him and marry you so that you will never have to taste your own cooking again."
"Ouch!" Renji laughed, "That's good. You do know a lot. I feel like I'm at a disadvantage. I don't know much of anything about you."
He tilted his head and nodded.
"So, what can you tell me about Kuchiki Tetsuya?"
Tetsuya eyed him quietly for a moment.
"He hates enclosed spaces," the noble said softly, "He loves wide, grassy fields and an expanse of sky overhead."
Renji's look of joviality disappeared and an edge of sadness touched his features.
"He sometimes escapes the manor for the sole purpose of walking barefoot in a stream and sleeping under the stars," Tetsuya went on, "He was somewhat feral when rescued from the prison, and although he has learned to submerge those instincts so as to make his place among the nobles, he understands why many refuse to see him as their equal. He has never really been like them, noble blood or not."
"But he stays there, among them because...?" Renji queried.
Tetsuya's eyes softened.
"He stays because he owes a profound debt to the Kuchiki clan leader. What Byakuya-sama did for Kuchiki Tetsuya was the beginning of a lifelong brotherhood."
Renji smiled warmly.
"It sounds like you and Taichou are really tight. Sounds like you would do just about anything for him."
Tetsuya's eyes closed for a moment, then opened and met Renji's again.
"I would die for him," he said softly.
He glanced down at where Renji's hand rested on the bed near his.
"I have a feeling," he went on, "that I am not alone in that devotion...Renji-san."
"Yeah," said Renji, "I guess that we do have that in common. It comes from different places, but we both want to protect him."
He raised his hand and brought it to rest on Tetsuya's shoulder for a moment. The noble looked back at him questioningly.
"But," Renji went on, "right now, we have to focus on protecting you. Taichou will be all right, but we have to keep those bastards from hurting you again."
"Arigatou, Renji-san," Tetsuya said, a dusting of pink rising on his skin, "I will sleep better, knowing that you are here. I always feel that...Byakuya-sama's life rests in good hands when he is with you. And now...those same hands will protect me."