Chapter 6: Negotiation

(Thanks to Princess Moon Shadow, Renji-Bya-Lover (You are really smart), TomyAllen (Here's that next one! Enjoy...), Chakragoddess (Oh, they will be up to no good, that's for sure!), and LLawliet13 (So glad you like!) Enjoy the chapter!)

Renji found himself enchanted by the sakura trees that lined the steps he, Byakuya and Tetsuya climbed, that led into the massive Kuchiki Council Hall. Large double doors at the front of the building led into an open lobby area that was lined with lovely rounded bushes and tall white pillars.

"The council meeting chamber is straight ahead," Tetsuya told Renji, "but Byakuya-sama will take us to his office to wait until the rest of the council members have gathered."

"And this will also give my cousin time to inform you about the councilors who will be addressing us during the meeting," Byakuya added, turning them off to the right, leading them down a long hallway, left and into a spacious office.

Once inside, Byakuya closed the door. Renji noticed a second door that he guessed was a personal entrance into the meeting chambers. Byakuya sat down at the large desk in the room and motioned for Renji and Tetsuya to join him. They sat in two chairs opposite him. They watched as he turned the monitor on top of his desk, worked at the keyboard for a moment and called up the security cameras within the council chamber.

"You spy on them?" Renji said, sounding impressed.

"They know I can watch and listen in from here or, if I am unable to attend, from remote locations, using my personal entry code. So they know better than to use this chamber for their plotting."

"Mostly, he just uses it to know when to enter, but it will give us a way to introduce you to the councilors ahead of the meeting, so you will know who you are dealing with."

Byakuya pointed out the oldest looking councilor, a tall, stern looking man with ebony eyes and flowing silver hair that was pulled back and fastened with a black hair tie. Despite his age, his body retained a powerful, muscular look, and his reiatsu pulsed softly around him.

"That's Head Councilor Nori," Tetsuya explained, "He has been around pretty much forever, and leads the strongest of the clan's subfamilies. Byakuya's immediate family is the lead family and there are currently eight recognized subfamilies. Each subfamily elects a member to act as their representative on the council, and the council meets to see to matters of law, business, and personal interest to the clan. Byakuya-sama is Head of Household and therefore, the ranking member, but Nori leads the council itself, acting as spokesperson and guiding the group in their discussions and votes. He is one who appreciates a respectful and dutiful attitude. He is usually fair in his thinking, leaning toward the importance of duty and adherence to the rules of the clan. He can be expected to oppose your place as Byakuya-sama's lover, but if we are successful in negotiating with the others, he will also respect a majority decision to accept you."

"On his right," Byakuya went on, "is Councilor Arisu."

"Councilor Arisu is another strong leader," said Tetsuya, "but unlike Nori, she is a bit more open in her thinking. The real strength in her subfamily lies mostly within the women. She is an excellent judge of character and will decide within minutes if she is for you or against you. If we can win her to our side, she will likely bring several other councilors with her. However, if she lines up against us, we will likely find the way from there treacherous."

"And what does she look for in people?" Renji asked.

"Respect, sincerity, integrity," Tetsuya answered with finality, "Be yourself with her…just mind rules of general etiquette."

"The councilor to the right of Arisu is Ryuu," said Byakuya, "Ryuu's subfamily was once the lead family, but fell many years ago when their family was disgraced by a horrid scandal. The heir was murdered by his jealous brother, who then was executed."

"It is the only time that the Kuchiki council has carried out an execution," Tetsuya said, nodding, "But the scandal happened many years ago and Ryuu has made no secret of the fact that he thinks his son should be made heir. He might support your relationship, knowing that his son is the strongest of the candidates for heir if Byakuya should remain childless."

"So this works in his favor," said Renji, "I get it."

"The councilor on the end, nearest Ryuu is Shima," Tetsuya continued, "Shima's subfamily is relatively small and very focused on appearances. He pays careful attention to his outward looks and reputation, but hides a much darker person underneath his beauty. He is very self serving and hard to anticipate. And even if he supports us in council, he may be quick to turn on us if it benefits him to do so."

"Nice guy," Renji muttered.

"I will be across from Nori and at Byakuya-sama's left. Next to me will be Councilor Fumio. He is a scholarly sort, very book learned, not enamored of physical battle as a means of solving disputes. While not being terribly powerful, he is an influential man, because of his high intelligence. He could go either way on this issue, but tends to look to Arisu for a leaning. Next to him is Councilor Haru, the youngest of us."

"He looks like he's just a kid," commented Renji.

"He is young, but he is quite powerful and wise for his age. He is also bisexual and changes lovers often. He is liberal in his thinking and…erm…looks up to Byakuya-sama."

"Looks up to him, eh?" Renji repeated, lifting an eyebrow, "Should I be jealous?"

"Be quiet and pay attention, Abarai," Byakuya muttered, narrowing his eyes.

"The councilor on the end is Kukiko. She is nearly as old as Nori and she is extremely conservative. She will likely be against us and despite maintaining her poise and proper speech, can be quite confrontational. You will want to show respect, but not flutter about or grovel, because she hates that."

"Well, that's good, because groveling isn't really my thing," Renji said, smiling.

"But you do tend to get riled easily," Byakuya interjected, "And you do not want to let that happen here. It could be disastrous, so do try to contain yourself."

Tetsuya laughed softly, drawing their eyes to him.

"What's so funny," Renji objected, "I'm about to have to go into a roomful of sharks, waiting to eat me alive, and I have to make nice, be honest, but don't let out even the slightest hint of anger or I'll offend them and they'll probably shred me where I stand! What could possibly be funny about that?"

"Do not take offense," Tetsuya said, biting at his lips softly, "but the thing about volcanic material is that when it is held back for too long, it can erupt quite forcefully."

"Well," said Byakuya, standing, "so long as it does not 'erupt' during this meeting, we should come through it just fine, ne?"

He passed close to Renji as they followed Tetsuya to the door that led to the council meeting chamber.

"And I promise you," the noble continued, leaning close and whispering hotly in his ear, "When we get back to the manor, I will assist you in finding a way to release your pent up tension."

"Oh, shit, that's just mean, Taichou," Renji hissed back.

XXXXXXXXXX

Tetsuya crossed the meeting room and took his place at the large table around which the councilors had gathered. They waited as Renji took a seat that had been set between Byakuya's and Tetsuya's, and then as Byakuya sat down, facing them. Nori looked around the table and cleared his throat softly.

"Fumio," he said, in a businesslike tone, "please note that all members of council are present for this proceeding and that Abarai Renji is in attendance."

"Hai," answered the soft spoken Fumio, making the notes onto a sheet of paper in front of him, "All present, and Abarai Renji's attendance is noted."

Renji let his eyes run around the room as Nori went on to read the council agenda, which, he noted, consisted of only one item…discussing the ramifications of Byakuya-sama's 'intimacy' with him and what it meant to the clan. Nori's eyes were lowered as he read the agenda, and Fumio's head was bent over his notes, but the others had their eyes fixed on Renji, and some of them looked more than a bit ruffled. Arisu's eyes were penetrating and curious. Ryuu's seemed somewhat disinterested. Shima wore a disgusted expression. Haru's eyes traveled from Byakuya to Renji and back again, and Renji felt warmth on his face at the way he gazed at them. He didn't miss the fact that his eyes flicked now and again to glance at Tetsuya. The look he gave Tetsuya was different, Renji noted, almost frustrated. Kukiko's eyes were as cold as her name, and she glared at Renji, as though wanting to end the discussion then and there by simply ordering his immediate execution.

Yikes…that woman is scary.

"Byakuya-sama," Nori said, capturing Renji's attention and bringing his eyes back to the head councilor, "I would like to begin by noting that although this is somewhat of a private matter, council feels that it bears discussion because of the ramifications for our honor and reputation, as well as the keeping of vows made to this governing body upon your ascension to leadership. We do not wish to attempt to invade your personal choices, but feel we must step in to make certain that those choices do not reflect poorly on us."

He looked at Byakuya sternly.

"I gather we can expect that you will resist a council urging to abandon this union?"

"Of course," replied Byakuya calmly, "It is not the place of the council to decide who I may love. Indeed, I do not feel it is even a matter of my own choice. My heart has set itself upon being in love with this man, and I feel that I have no choice but to follow it. I will do so respectfully. And as we move forward, I will continue to honor and protect the pride and reputation of our clan. I will keep to my vows and if my relationship with Renji precludes the bearing of children, then I will work with the council to identify the best alternative heir from the subfamilies. Thus, can our power and reputation be assured."

"You say that you honor your vows," Kukiko said icily, "but you already admit that you are as much as abandoning any attempt at making heirs. I realize that we can certainly look to the subfamilies for an alternative, but we all know that an heir of your body would be more likely to be stronger."

"That is not assured," said Byakuya, "If you will remember, I was born of two shinigami parents who did not achieve ban kai. Yet I, myself, possess greater power than both of them. And you know as well as I do that there are two very strong candidates."

"But turning away from that, for a moment," said Shima, his dark eyes glittering, "You will remember that you took a vow of obedience. It is clear that your continuance of this relationship violates your vow of obedience…not that it has stopped you before."

"I was not the clan leader when I married Hisana, nor when I sought permission to bring Rukia into the family. And once I ascended, I followed the rules without fail."

"Until now," said Fumio, "because you know that by definition, bringing a peasant into the family is a violation."

"That is true in most situations," agreed Tetsuya, "but you will also recall that in cases where the one brought in is of respectable power and status, then there is room for an exemption."

"He is only a fukutaichou," objected Haru, fixing his eyes on Renji, "He would have to be a taichou to be worthy of being brought into the family."

"Renji is a fukutaichou," affirmed Byakuya, "but Gotei 13 taichou records place him at taichou level. He has achieved ban kai and is a highly respected officer. He is proficient or advanced in every area that he would be required to be to become a taichou."

"Then why is he not a taichou?" asked Ryuu, an expectant look in his eyes.

"We should ask him," said Arisu, her eyes freezing the redhead in place.

Renji was brutally aware of the importance of the question. He felt every eye in the room settle on him.

"Abarai fukutaichou," said Arisu, "please tell council why you have not been placed in one of the open taichou positions."

Renji took a breath and tried to ignore the heavy pounding of his heart in his chest. He knew that if he did not win Arisu over now, he stood little chance of doing so later. He looked out at the council members and forced his body to calm, and when he delivered his answer, he made sure that he was looking into Arisu's eyes.

"I won't leave my taichou's side until there is another of sufficient power to protect him as I do. Protecting him is my primary duty, and to abandon that duty for the purpose of being promoted wouldn't be right. I will accept promotion as soon as I complete the training of my replacement…not until."

He could have cheered at the soft glow of warmth that rose in Arisu's eyes as she nodded at him, then looked away. He also didn't miss the fact that Kukiko's eyes had grown colder. Haru leaned over and said something to her, and she answered back too softly for Renji to hear.

"Are there any more concerns to be brought to the table?" asked Nori, "because it seems that our focus appears to have settled on defining the delineations of our reputation, our honor, and Byakuya-sama's vows and obedience. Is that all?"

No one spoke out and Nori nodded.

"Then we agree that if this relationship is to continue, which we acknowledge it will, irrespective of any decision of this governing body, that it will do so with those things in mind. We must now hear from Byakuya-sama as to how he will protect our clan's honor and reputation."

Byakuya nodded.

"As clan leader, I am aware of how important our reputation is when considering our place as the greatest of the noble houses. And I think that hiding a relationship with Renji would only invite criticism from those other families."

"But parading around your homosexual romance with this peasant is hardly less scandalous, ne?" asked Haru.

Byakuya's eyes remained cool, and his demeanor calm, but his reiatsu rose warningly. Renji's hands clenched beneath the table.

"First," Byakuya went on, "It is not scandalous for any of us, including me, to have a homosexual relationship. They are not precluded, not even for the clan leader, as long as suitable heir can be found among the subfamilies. And I take issue with your comment about Renji's peasant status, as we have already established that his status and power are respectable."

Haru's lips tightened, but he nodded and glanced at Kukiko. Kukiko's eyes fixed on Renji.

"I wonder," she said softly, "if it is a good thing to place our trust in this one, when he has already raised his sword against our leader once. And in fact, he has loudly announced his intent to surpass Byakuya-sama."

"That was before," Renji said, "when I was trying to protect Rukia."

He saw the trap a moment too late.

"Then…your desire to protect this other peasant is stronger than your professed desire to protect Byakuya-sama?"

"No," Renji said, barely containing his anger, "We worked that out. And I love Taichou. I would do anything for him. I would die for him."

He didn't like the smile that his words brought to Arisu's lips. He swallowed hard as ice seemed to fill his lungs.

"You say you would do anything, even die for him?" she asked, "Abarai Renji, I do not think that it is necessary for us to kill you, however…I would appreciate it if you would answer me this. If it was possible, and we asked it of you, would you marry Byakuya-sama and have his child?"