The next morning Byakuya woke to a thin stream of sunlight shining through his window. He rolled over on his back and gazed at the ceiling, mentally running through the multitude of tasks that he had to complete today. Eventually he slowly stood up and stumbled into the bathroom, his mind still fogged with sleep. He gazed at his reflection in the mirror wincing at the image of a haggard man, with hollow eyes gazing back at him lifelessly. Heaving a sigh Byakuya splashed cool water on his face, hoping that he wouldn't look so worn out once he had groomed himself. After running a comb through his hair, and decorating them with his kenseikan pieces, Byakuya quickly threw on a fresh clean shihakusho and donned his haori. After straightening his scarf he gave a satisfied nod, pleased at what he saw in the mirror and made his way to the second division barracks.
The days were becoming shorter as summer gave way to fall, the leaves on the trees slightly tinged with yellow. Byakuya enjoyed the slight chill in the air as he strolled to the second division barracks letting the warm rays of the sun kiss his pale cheeks. Once he had reached the second division barracks, he gazed at the steps leading to the entrance and slowly started climbing up the stairs. Byakuya rarely had any reason to visit the second division barracks, yet he knew that they boasted the most luxurious accomodations of the Gotei 13, and despite himself Byakuya was curious. Upon reaching the entrance he rapped on the door sharply, and was greeted by a member of the second division whose cheerful smile died on his lips as he gazed into the cold grey eyes of the sixth division captain.
"Captai Kuchiki!" the young man squealed. "What an honour. What brings you so early to the second division barracks?"
"I request to speak to captain Soi Fon as this is an urgent matter that needs immediate attention."
"I'll let her know you are here at once!" replied the young man enthusiastically giving him a low bow. The young man dashed away, his heavy footsteps thundering down the hall. Byakuya's face showed a slight hint of disdain as he watched the young man creating a loud racket so early in the morning. That's something I would have reprimanded him for had he been a member of my division, thought Byakuya stiffly. After a few minutes a petite woman with short dark blue hair emerged from around the corner. Her two long braids swayed as she walked, hanging down to the yellow obi that was wrapped around her slender waist.
"Captain Kuchiki," said the young woman looking up at him. "What brings you here so early in the morning?"
"I have something urgent that I wish to speak with you in private."
"Fine, I don't have very much time though," she said briskly, leading the way to her office. The rumors held true and Byakuya was surprised to see that the second division barracks were extremely well furnished with automatic doors as well as air condititioning to accomodate the summer months. As Byakuya follwed behind her, he noted that the wall of the main hall was decorated with the giant Shihoin family crest, despite the clan's leader preferring to live in the real world. He grimanced as he thought of that cat woman with her taunting yellow eyes, teasing him whenever she had a chance to when he was a teenager. Reaching the office Soi Fon made her way towards her desk and turned around facing Byakuya as he let himself in and firmly closed the door.
"So, what is this urgent matter that you wished to discuss with me?"
"It's regarding the evidence against Abarai Renji. I believe that it was the Omitsukido that was responsible for collecting evidence that was used to wrongly accuse him."
"What are you saying captain Kuchiki?" asked Soi Fon sharply, her eyes narrowing. "Those under my command do not make careless mistakes. A member of the Gotei thirteen was attacked and so the Omitsukido were responsbile for investigating the matter."
"Did Ginrei approach you asking you to investigate the attack?"
"No, it was Ukitake who came to me that night you were attacked. He said that Abarai Renji told him you were attacked by someone, and asked me to investigate."
"Captain Unohana gave you the weapon to examine?"
"That's classified information captain Kuchiki," reminded Soi Fon.
"Were Renji's prints on the knife?"
"As I have mentioned before, I cannot divulge that kind of information," replied Soi Fon crossing her arms over her chest.
"I have reason to believe that Abarai Renji was set up."
Soi Fon raised an eyebrow, "You are saying that he wasn't the one who attacked you?"
"Renji and I were walking when a figure rushed at us. I couldn't see the attacker's face since it was obscured by a thick hood and large sunglasses."
Soi Fon gazed at him curiously, "Apart from you were there any other witnesses?"
"No," replied Byakuya stiffly, clenching his fists.
"We have substantail evidence pointing to Abarai Renji that warranted his arrest. However it wasn't the Omitsukido that made the arrest. Ginrei Kuchiki requested that he take matters into his own hands once he had learned that your vice captain was a prime suspect."
Byakuya's eyes widened, as he gazed at the second division captain, his lips slightly hanging apart. He felt flabbergasted, unable to believe that Ginrei was always one step ahead of him. "When...when did you speak to Ginrei?" asked Byakuya quietly, regaining his composure.
"After we finished our investigation Ginrei came to me, convinced that it was Abarai Renji who was the attacker, and asked whether he could make the arrest himself. I couldn't deny him. As you are aware, it is illegal for members of the Gotei 13 to meddle in the affairs of the noble families in Seiretei. I had to step down and let him make the arrest." Byakuya felt his blood turn to ice, freezing in his veins as Soi Fon's words slowly sank in.
"I had a feeling you would come seeking for answers. Ginrei mentioned that you probably would have wanted to speak to me regarding the attack."
"You seemed genuinely surprised to see me this morning," replied Byakuya coldly.
"Captain Kuchiki, there is nothing that I can do for you at this point. This is beyond my control now as your grandfather had requested that we drop the case once Abarai Renji's arrest was issued.
"I already told you captain Soi Fon, Renji was wrongly accused for a crime that he did not commit! I remember seeing a hooded figure rushing towards us. Renji was not the one who attacked me. I need you to reopen the case, and to look into this matter. I am a witness in this case."
"We were told to drop the case captain Kuchiki and as I have mentioned it is against the law for the Omitsukido to meddle in the affairs regarding the noble families unless the noble family in question is suspected of the crime," said Soi Fon, a hint of impatience entering her voice.
"I am the head of the Kuchiki family! Ginrei relinquished his title once I became the leader of my house."
"He wields a lot of authority despite handing over the title to you. I know that you are one of the most powerful leader's the Kuchiki clan has ever had. However, don't forget that Ginrei was the head of the clan for several hundred years as well as the sixth division captain. He has considerable influence in Seireitei."
"Are you saying that you are willing to condemn an innocent man to jail?" snapped Byakuya, his nostrils flaring.
"Are you sure, you are not just trying to protect the sixth division? I understand that it's terribly humiliating to have the vice captain of your squad arrested. If it were my vice captain I would have him demoted or transferred to another division. Are you trying to somehow come up with evidence to have him released in order to protect the pride of your division?"
"That's absurd! This isn't about my pride for the sixth division. This is about sending an innocent man to jail." retorted Byakuya.
"There is insurmountable evidence that points to Abarai Renji. Apart from the evidence it was no secret that he wanted to surpass you."
"That doesn't mean he wanted me killed." spat Byakuya, the vein in his temple throbbing painfully.
"He was resentful that you took the only family he ever knew," she said bitterly. "These facts are well known around Seiretei. They remain unpsoken but everybody knows."
"Are you saying that you are unable to help me?"
"There is nothing more that I can do captain Kuchiki." said Soi Fon firmly. Byakuya's grey eyes bored into hers, his mouth set in a thin line as he turned on his heel and stormed out. He was quivering with rage, his hands balled into tight fists as he marched out of the second division barracks, glaring at the young man who stood by the door. Byakuya had never been more outraged in his life, wondering how Ginrei could have gotten the Omitsukido wrapped around his crooked finger. The situation was looking grimmer by the minute and Byakuya was quickly running out of options. A cloud of doom settled around him, raining down sheets upon sheets of anger, and guilt as trudged through the sixth division barracks. Entering the office, he slammed the door behind him, and made his way behind the ornately carved desk. Slumping in his chair, he rubbed his aching temples, mentally willing the throbbing to cease. He closed his eyes, inhaling in deep breaths, and exhaling slowly. Calm down. There’s no use in getting so worked up. That’s the last thing Renji needs. Once his hands stopped trembling with rage, Byakuya opened his eyes, his mind a little clearer than it was several minutes ago. Despite being confident that he wouldn’t have to speak to the twelfth division captain, he now saw that it was an option he had to revisit. He winced slightly, knowing the conversation would be uncomfortable and unpleasant. Byakuya had an inkling of a feeling that the researchers in the twelfth division lab were responsible for processing evidence that was handed to them by the Omitsukido. He was hoping captain Kurotsuchi may have come across another set of prints, fibre or even hair, anything that could be used to dissuade Renji as the primary suspect. With his vice-captain jailed, the brunt of the paperwork had now fallen on him, and lately he was too distracted, unable to complete his tasks in a timely manner. Heaving a sigh Byakuya glanced at the massive heap of papers stacked high on his desk. Grabbing the first set of papers, he flicked through, signing where he needed to, his mind occupied by other thoughts.
The hours flew to Byakuya’s delight as he immersed himself in his work, grateful for the brief distraction. When he finally glanced at the clock, the sun had just set behind the horizon, and dark clouds were starting to obscure the stars winking at him from above. He tidied up his desk, and after locking the doors to his office, swiftly made his way to the twelfth division headquarters.
He was greeted by vice captain Nemu who gazed at him with robotic indifference, "Cpatain Kuchiki, welcome to the twelfth division headquarters. How may I be of assistance?"
"I wish to speak to captain Kurotsuchi regarding an important matter," replied Byakuya stiffly.
"One moment please," she replied in her robotic voice, her hips swaying as she walked away. Byakuya turned his attention to the massive building nearby, The shinigami Research and Development Institute founded by Urahara Kisuke. He wondered if Kurotsuchi was immersed in his research and knew that he would be furious if he were interrupted.
A few minutes passed by before vice captain Nemu came back for him, "Please follow me captain Kuchiki." He walked a few paces behind the young woman, unsure whether the captian would be able to give him the necessary help that he requested. Sighing mentally, he knew that it was at least worth a try. He wouldn't be able to live with himself had he idly sat by, letting Renji be condemned by the unjust laws of Soul Society. Vice captain Nemu led him to a well furnished room, and told him to be seated. Lowering himself onto the cushion Byakuya thanked Nemu as she exited the room, closing the door behind her. After several minutes, the door finally slid open, and captain Kurotsuchi walked in, his yellow eyes gleaming mischeviously.
"Captain Kuchiki," he sneered, flashing his yellow teeth. "To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?"
"There is something I wish to speak to you regarding a matter of grave importance."
"Grave? No doubt to you. Make this quick, I have to get back to my tests subjects to document their reaction to a new experiment I'm conducting," he leered.
Byakuya inhaled slowly, the vein in his temple throbbing painfully. He was sorely tempted to unsheathe Senbonzakura and start hacking away at that grotesque mask that covered Kurotsuchi's face. "This is regarding the evidence for Abarai Renji's case. I believe the knife with his prints was handed to your division in order for it to be processed."
"Ahhh. I should have known this is what you wanted to speak to me about. Yes, it was handed over to our division."
"Were Renji's prints the only ones that were found?"
"That's classified information captain Kuchiki," replied Kurotsuchi smirking, his yellow eyes glimmering.
"I don't need you to tell me anything except if there were another set of prints that belonged to somebody else."
"There were only one set of prints found on the knife. I suggest you stop prying in this case Captain Kuchiki. All the evidence that has been gathered by my squad as well as the Omituskido points to one person, who is already in jail and awaiting trial."
"Was there anything else besides the fingerprints?" continued Byakuya ignoring him. "Perhaps fibre, or hair? Anything at all?"
"The mind can be quite frail captain Kuchiki. We are conditioned to think that determination, and hardwork can get us what we want. That we can become successful individuals who achieve ultimate happiness. But the truth is, nobody every considers the fraility of the mind. How easily the fibres holding our sanity together can snap, how they can become entangled, and ensnared, fabricating a mind that's plunged into chaos."
Byakuya shuddered slightly, his grey eyes narrowing as he wondered where the mad scientist was going with this. "What are you trying to say? That Renji was struck by a bout of maddness?"
"Who knows? It happens, even to the best of us," replied the twelfth captain snickering.
"Is there nothing else that you are able to tell me?" asked Byakuya flatly.
"I'll say it once more, there were only one set of prints on that weapon. Nothing else, no fibre, no strands of hair and since Abarai is in jail, a certain conclusion can be drawn from that."
It's hopeless, he thought bitterly, gritting his teeth. It was always a lost cause, from the moment Ginrei found out, we were doomed. "Thank you for your time captian Kurotsuchi," said Byakuya stiffly as he rose and made his way to the corridors of the twelfth division. He had exhausted the few possibilities that he had come up with, and now the last glimmer of hope was ebbing out of his body. The faitgue of the day's events were starting to take a toll on him as Byakuya slowly made his way back to his own headquarters. He wearily trudged through the fallen yellow leaves, watching them dance in the wind, tumbling in a golden blur. The gloomy clouds were racing after one another, obscuring the moon as Byakuya's shadow disappeared into the darkness. There was a sense of doom than hung about the air, reflecting the ominous sensation in Byakuya's heart, for the last bit of hope that he had sheltered in the deepest crevices of his heart, had finally vanished altogether leaving nothing behind.