DH AN: *blows dust off of fic* Hi! Ok, it's still Christmas Eve somewhere and as par my tradition, you guys get a Christmas Eve update from me. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. Please enjoy Chapter Forty-Two: Behind A Closed Door.

AN 2: Special thanks to Author meijosui for allowing me to use creative license in regards to Bryn Harkin.

Chapter Forty-Two: Behind A Closed Door.

Bryn Harkin stood nervously in the office as he stared at the note serving as his summons that rested in his hands, simultaneously surprised and worried that he found the office unlocked and its owner absent. He ran a hand smoothly through his short mousy brown hair once. His brown eyes were the only thing that moved after that. He immediately averted his eyes to the front as he heard the slam of the office door, successfully masking a wince as the echo reverberated throughout the office.

"Your promptness has successfully served you yet again." The R.H. motioned for Bryn to seat himself in the chair out of two that was closest to the door, after which The R.H. took his own seat in the executive chair behind the desk. "I shouldn't be surprised; you are one of the few who has proven quite dependable when it comes to punctuality." He threaded his fingers loosely, placing his elbows on the desk.

"You wanted to see me?" Bryn asked tentatively, holding the note in two fingers of his right hand, his thumb on top of the stained paper.

"Ah yes. You are also one to be rather prompt when it comes to matters at hand." A habitual slight smirk graced the face of the male behind the desk. He stood abruptly, pacing toward the filing cabinet to his left, near the door. He rummaged through the top door, pulling out a one-inch binder marked with the numerical series: 2796-427546. Returning to his desk, he gently pulled the binder open by one of the tabs therein. Bryn watched nervously as eyes quickly scanned the page's contents. He was jolted from his nerves by two knocks on the door.

Arlomhe waited anxiously after The R.H. went into his office. She wrung her hands repetitively in a nervous matter in attempts to delay the presence of sweat on her palms. The action was proven futile. She attempted to relax but the tension remained.

She closed her eyes and involuntarily clenched her teeth. From the second they left the oasis, she was aware that the answer she was given in response to her inquiry about the Rare Hunters did nothing to put her at ease. The R.H.'s avoidance of giving her any information beyond what she already knew simultaneously irked and nerved her. The irritation she was feeling would best be kept to herself; it was a task that seemed easy enough. She paled and shook for a second. Her trepidation would be more difficult to conceal; The R.H. had been able to pick up on faint traces of doubt just one day prior… nervousness would be far too easily perceived. And that would not be in her favor either.

The girl whirled around as she heard footsteps echoing throughout the corridor. Arlomhe heaved a relieved sigh as she saw it was Raji who stepped toward her. The woman held a tray on which rested two insulated pitchers, one black and one white, as well as small square containers that held sugar and dry creamer. Arlomhe caught sight of what looked like teabags as well. She was not surprised at the absence of coffee mugs on the tray; she surmised The R.H. had a set of mugs in his office for these occasions. She hadn't seen him without one resting on the desk when she could spare glances at the room's furnishings during their previous encounters in his office.

Raji smiled slightly, seeming to perceive Arlomhe's apprehension. "Will you knock on the door twice for me? I would do so myself, but my hands are full." Arlomhe nodded, knocking twice as requested.

Though the sound was muffled by the closed door, Arlomhe could not help but inwardly squirm as a single sentence crisply filtered through it. "Harkin, retrieve the tray from Ms. Rejorahl and see Ms. Sharti in." Arlomhe quickly backed away from the door, stopping when the obstruction creaked open softly.

Bryn blinked twice, staring at the girl. Sparing a quick glance over his shoulder, he saw The R.H. nod his head slightly. With a small reluctant sigh, the brown haired male gently removed the tray from Raji's hands as he gave her a small nod of slightly forced gratitude. He then raised a brown brow as he surveyed the girl whose height came to a zenith at his hip. What was she doing down here? Unless… she was the one who snuck into the meeting a few nights ago. He had to resist the urge to pummel two of his idiot cohorts after they were unable to stifle their irksome laughter at some horrid pun he had been unable to catch. Fortunately, the subsequent entrance of The R.H. silenced the two quite nicely. Sighing with slight resentment, Bryn set the tray onto the small mahogany side table where three substantial sized mugs waited to be filled at his right. He then returned his attention to the girl, who was clenching a portion of the tan cloth of her garment in her fists.

He tentatively placed a hand on her right shoulder, speechless as the tension seemed to leave her body at the simple gesture. Not wishing to ruin whatever relaxation had come to her, Bryn calmly led her into the room. He removed his hand from her shoulder and shut the door. He turned his head to the right only to see the girl quickly reach for the black insulated pitcher. She had just gripped it in a position where she could pour the liquid into a cup with ease when The R.H.'s voice halted her. "That is not your purpose here, Sharti. Pour something for yourself and have a seat." Bryn watched the girl hesitate, still with the pitcher gripped in her fingers. He placed his hand on her shoulder once more and watched as she slowly relinquished her grip on the ebony carafe and reached for the white one, pouring the liquid therein into a deep blue mug before plunking a teabag and a rather generous amount of sweetener into the cup as well. She set it on the desk and looked at The R.H. and then to her left at him.

Her gaze returned to The R.H. "If you would allow me to…to get your drink, I'd feel better, Sir."

"I said have a seat Sharti." The R.H. almost hissed.

The girl mutely stood still, and turned to face the table again. Bryn watched in mild horror as she quickly snatched up the black pitcher, poured the coffee into a matching black mug, and moved to place it on the desk alongside her own. Instinctively, Bryn gripped the coffee mug a second before the girl's hands were invisibly pinned behind her back against her will.

Swiftly setting the mug on the side table, Bryn skittered away until his back met the door. He watched as The R.H. rose far too slowly from his chair and stepped toward the girl, whose eyes frantically scanned left and right as to seek anything to avoid The R.H.'s cold glare. Bryn turned his head away, shutting his eyes and hoping against hope that this girl would come out of this far better than he had.

Arlomhe panicked when her hands were pinned painfully behind her back without warning. It was as if someone was digging their fingernails into her wrists. Frantically, her eyes went looking for the other man, however upon seeing him cower at the door, her stomach churned uncomfortably. She paled and returned her gaze to the front as The R.H. paced toward her.

"You will learn to do as you are told, Arlomhe Sharti." The last two syllables of the sentence were harsh and blunt. His eyes met hers as he jerked her chin up with two of his fingers, continuing with a deathly calm voice. "Consider this as your first lesson: Defiance of any sort will not be tolerated." He knew she wouldn't dare look at his side to confirm the Rod was held tightly in his grasp just as he was sure that she was no fool. He paused, glaring at her, and was satisfied to see her shrink back slightly. "Is that understood?"

"Y-yes." Her voice shook with fright as the invisible grip tightened around her wrists. "It won't happen- it won't happen again." Arlomhe flinched as a grin spread across The R.H.'s face. The expression vanished as quickly as it had appeared and she collapsed to her knees as her hands returned to her sides.

"Get up." The R.H. stated through lightly clenched teeth. Arlomhe heard the distinct somewhat snapping swish of The R.H.'s cloak as he turned to face his desk. She stood as The R.H. turned his attention to the male still backed against the office door. "Harkin, if you would return to your seat…" Footsteps echoed throughout the office as the male stepped toward his allotted chair. Arlomhe stood, still facing the desk, ignoring the sound of the chair beside her now bearing weight.

"Sharti," Arlomhe's fright-filled gaze immediately followed The R.H. as he stepped behind his desk. "With some reconsideration, I believe I would like that mug of coffee on the side table. After you bring it here, you may take your seat." Arlomhe did as requested, placing the black mug onto the desk in front of him before backing into her seat. Collapsing into it, she stuffed her hands into her lap.

She glanced to her left at the male. His face was set into an unreadable expression. He leaned onto his knees, breathing heavily. "Sir…why is she here?"

"You would probably know why if you were in attendance two nights ago." The R.H. stated.

"I-Sir-my sister called me… she doesn't call often and…I lost track of time." The male's speech was filled with hesitation.

"You do realize the issue of your absence will not go unaddressed." The R.H. watched as Bryn nodded slowly. "It really is not my place to say why she is present." Arlomhe shrank back as his gaze fixed on her. "Sharti, if you would, please tell exactly how and why you are here."

Arlomhe blanched, the color slowly draining from her face. She closed her eyes, not wishing to acknowledge either male in the room visually. "I slipped into one meeting, and... then I slipped into another two nights later." She opened her eyes and inhaled as she saw that familiar look of satisfaction in the frightening amethyst eyes so similar to her own. "He allowed me to leave after the first meeting unscathed." She lowered her eyes. "When I slipped into that atrium a second time…H-he offered me a wager…a proposition that I was unable to refuse…" Arlomhe spared a quick glance at The R.H. before focusing once more on the tile at her feet.

"What was the proposition, Sharti?" The R.H. pressed.

"If I won, I would go free." She shook her head slightly. "If I lost, I would be forced to join your ranks, as I knew too much and you do not let trespassers off lightly…"

"How was the proposition to be carried out?" The R.H. stood slowly, looking down at the girl in the chair.

"I-it was a duel with the stakes clearly known, S-sir." Arlomhe stammered.

"You aren't explaining your circumstances to me." The R.H. stated softly, cocking his head toward the male in the chair. "I was there. I know all of this already."

Arlomhe inhaled to continue, but the male beside her spoke first. "She really doesn't need to say anything more." He stood abruptly, not meeting The R.H.'s gaze. "She doesn't need the loss rubbed in her face any more than it already has been."

"And how can you be so sure that she lost our little wager?"

"You wouldn't have asked me to bring her in here and she'd be working in the kitchen, where she was originally assigned, Sir."

"How do you know that I assigned her in the kitchen?"

"She attempted to serve you when she first came in." He stated pointedly with a soft submissive undertone.

Neither Arlomhe nor The R.H. spoke after that. Arlomhe sipped the tea from her mug, extremely grateful for the reprieve from the interrogation. The warm liquid eased her shaking.

She cautiously watched The R.H. grip his own mug, the right fist locked around the handle slowly going white. "Very good, Harkin." The R.H. murmured, surrendering his grip on the mug soon after. He laced his fingers, eying both occupants of the chairs before him. "I suppose you both want an explanation of why you are here." He stood, noting that neither individual answered his inquiry.

"Why am I here?" The male, Harkin, asked somewhat sharply after a minute.

"You're here because you were en absentia at the last meeting." The R.H. stated tersely. He gestured to the girl. "Sharti is present due to the circumstances of her uninvited attendance at that same meeting."

"And…you think that sort of justifies having us in the- in the same room would be a brilliant juxtaposition?" The male asked, shaking slightly.

"That was merely a coincidence Harkin." The R.H. snapped, turning on his heel decisively. "You know better than to make assumptions regarding my methods." He circled the seated male. "You are one of the few who has not incurred my ire. I would hate to see you jeopardize that." He stepped back to the desk. "You've always presented well in the presence of guests. What prevents that now Harkin?"

"She's not exactly a guest, Sir…"

"Do you see anything identifying her otherwise?"


"Now that we understand each other, I will inform you both why you are here." The R.H. stepped in front of Arlomhe, shifting his attention between the two. His eyes stopped on the male first. "Sharti lost the wager." His eyes shifted to the girl. "As a result, she is to join my ranks." His gaze returned to the male. "You have a fair track record, something that you've almost tarnished numerous times." Another focal shift. "Harkin has always managed to avoid that outcome." The R.H. stepped behind the desk, facing the wall. "He can often be far too careful." He turned his attention once more to the girl. "You also are often far too careful."

Arlomhe was shaking as his eyes narrowed slightly on her. She now had a two-handed grip on her mug, willing the shaking to cease. She found it useless as she heard the liquid in her mug slosh against the sides. "W-why are you doing this?"

"It isn't simply to watch you squirm as if the discipline that has twice favored you is now lacking." He stepped towards her, wrapping his hands around the mug gripped in the girl's shaking grasp. "Be careful. You'll drop this if you shake any harder." His voice was calm and soft as he felt her hands pull away from the mug, leaving his alone holding it. He placed it on the desk, and turned to face the two once more.

"We-well?" The girl stuttered. Her eyes were focused on The R.H., fright and fear at the back of her mind, pounding, wanting to just bolt from this room. She glanced over at the male in the chair and paled as she saw that the same things in his gaze.

"Well what, Sharti?" The R.H. countered. "If you want something you will need to finish your statements and quit stammering."

"Why are we here?" Arlomhe stood boldly.

"So you have a spine after all." The R.H. chuckled darkly, circling her. His second circle brought forth a response to her question. "I have my reasons Sharti. You'll soon know why you both are present." In the middle of his third circle, he stopped abruptly. "How forgetful of me; you two have yet to be introduced to each other of your own volition." His next sentence was somewhat facetious. "I apologize for being a poor host." He stepped towards the door. "I left something in another room that I need to retrieve." He unlocked and opened the door. "I have no doubt that I can leave you two to get acquainted." Before either could protest, he exited and slammed the door.

"How long do you think he'll be gone?" The male asked.

"I don't know." Arlomhe sank into her chair, terrified of the one who had just exited the room.

The male shrugged out of his cloak. "Hopefully long enough for me to have a reprieve from cooking in this thing. How he stands being in one of these constantly is beyond me."

Arlomhe laughed softly. "That's something that we'll probably never know."

The male stood and poured himself coffee and plunked a spoonful each of dry creamer and sweetener into the mug with a soft sigh. "You want another cup of tea?" He looked over to where the mug rested on the desk. "Whatever's in there has probably gone cold by now." The girl nodded as the male stepped over and grasped the mug. "My name's Bryn, by the way."

He poured hot water into the mug, replaced the teabag and added three spoons worth of sweetener into the liquid as well. Placing it carefully into her waiting hands, he stepped to retrieve his own mug and then sank into his chair. "Since The R.H. isn't here, why don't we just rotate our chairs so that we're not staring down that desk? It's a bit intimidating even when no one's sitting behind it."

Arlomhe nodded, turning her chair to face his. "I'm… Arlomhe." She took a sip of her tea. "Thanks for speaking up for me…earlier when…"

"If it were anyone else, I wouldn't have." Bryn sipped his coffee. "You looked like you'd heard enough of it already."

"Dare I guess that what you did was really bold?"

The liquid in Bryn's cup sloshed quickly against the mug as he jolted from his rather relaxed position. "Extremely. I'm shocked that he simply shrugged it off. Probably knew there is only so much intimidation a person can take in one sitting."

"Something tells me I don't want to know what normally happens." Arlomhe drank from her mug.

"You really don't want to know." Bryn stated, fixing his gaze on the wall behind her. "Let's just say it makes his current behavior seem normal." He sighed. "You probably have caught glimpses of what normally happens already."

"I'll-I'll take your word for it." Arlomhe emptied the mug and set it on the floor. "You have a sister?"

"That was established fairly recently."

"I take it she doesn't call often." Arlomhe stated softly.

Bryn nodded. "She doesn't like to call much, thinks it's too much of a hassle."

"Clearly, you don't think it's a hassle." Arlomhe smiled.

"I wish she would have called earlier. I would have been in attendance if she had called a half hour prior."

"Between you and me, you didn't miss much…two nights ago."

"There's no such thing as confidentiality here. That's one thing you need to learn now." Bryn then cracked a small smile. "Plus, I know I missed what got you in this mess in the first place. I'd say that's a lot."

"It was." Arlomhe stated simply. "Too much in so little time."

"I don't doubt that…" Bryn stated softly.

"I hear footsteps." Arlomhe stated softly. They quickly righted the chairs and Bryn wordlessly slid back into his cloak just as the door opened.

The R.H. calmly paced into the room. "I see that you two are somewhat acquainted." He watched as both silently nodded and kept their eyes on him as he stepped behind the desk. "Harkin, you are to further acquaint Sharti with the procedures and regulations of the organization. Before you protest," He stepped to the right and stopped in front of the seated male. "need I remind you that you are still in my good graces?" The R.H. sighed, looking almost apologetically towards the girl in the chair on his left. "I'd rather someone with your degree of tact take care of her."

"Of course, Mas-"

"That is all I require from you, Harkin. You are dismissed." Arlomhe watched Bryn arch an eyebrow incredulously, a tell that something was a tad amiss; a tell that The R.H. rather quickly dissuaded. "The matter of your prior absence is one for discussion between two rather than three."

"O-of course, Sir." The last word sounded slightly foreign.

"You are dismissed." The R.H. repeated tersely. Bryn left wordlessly.

Arlomhe stood from the seat.

"You stay, Sharti." The R.H. stated quietly. He watched her reclaim her seat and stepped in front of her.

"You have a choice to make, Dear One." His tone was soft, delicate. He took the seat to her left.

"The contract was-"

"Not the choice I speak of." He inhaled and exhaled twice. "I could easily make it known that you are greatly favored though putting you at a rank befitting of your potential." His voice gained a terrifying edge as he continued "Those who disrespect my higher ranked employ disrespect me, the latter something that I do not tolerate as you experienced firsthand."

She was silent as The R.H. stood from the wooden chair, which wobbled slightly at the movement. She finally willed herself to speak. "You said that I have a choice." She paused, choosing her words carefully. "What is the other option?"

"Your other option is to start from the bottom and earn all of your ranks by merit." The R.H. stated. "Know the only reason I offer you this choice is that I am torn between these two courses. Both have their advantages." He leaned his head back, permitting his hood to drop to his shoulders. "Entering from the lowest rung would see you determine your own pace to a certain degree." He rubbed his finger on the desk in a circular pattern.

"And the other's advantage, Sir?"

"You earned it." The circling of his finger ceased as he turned to face her. "Not many retain their discipline when I serve as their opponent. It speaks volumes when someone does."

"You forced that."

"And you rose to meet the challenge placed upon you Dear One. I reward that."

"I was reckless."

"I don't see it that way."

"You never see it as you would if it were another."

Arlomhe watched the one who had controlled the conversation from its beginning attempt to form words, too stunned to even think of giving them voice. "That is quite the accusation to make." The R.H. murmured after a moment of looming silence, a slight frown tugging at his lips. "On what grounds have I proven this?"

"You were careful when I angered you…" Arlomhe's hair fell into her face and she did nothing to correct it; the cover provided for her tears was far more beneficial. "That was terrifying." She was shaking now. "You could have broken me."

He paced towards her. "Things broken are quite difficult to repair. A too soon broken spirit is almost irreparable." He murmured softly as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Yours is not one that I wish to break at all."

"Wh-why were you so- so gentle?"

"You are mine." He stated softly as he clenched his fists. "I can't see you as I would another."

"You have to." The girl paused. "I've been under this name because your actions insisted upon it."

"My actions, Sharti?" He placed two of his fingers underneath her chin. "What of your own actions that furthered this set of circumstances?"

Arlomhe did not answer.

"Your choice, Dear One." The R.H.'s phrase was soft, yet in possession of a demanding edge as he turned back to face his desk.

"Let me earn them." She watched as he turned to face her and fought the trepidation that inched up her spine as his eyes searched for any hint of reconsideration. "I-" Arlomhe swallowed hard, hoping that her fear went with it. "I want no favors."

"What gave you the impression that you would be favored with either choice?" The R.H. stepped towards her once more and lightly tapped his index finger on her nose twice. He lowered his finger with his next statement, a thin whisper that successfully sliced through any silence at that moment. "I give no favors and show no mercy; learn that, Sharti, and you will prove yourself on that knowledge alone." He watched her pale steadily as he stepped towards the door. "You are now dismissed Sharti." The R.H. stated crisply as he opened the door. "I expect you to meet me here in ten hours for the trip to the tailor."

Arlomhe nodded, but did not stand, nor did she turn to face the door right away. When she finally did stir, her movements were slow and labored. She ambled to the door, eyes focused on the tiles at her feet.

The R.H. halted her before she exited. "Why is your anxiety so pronounced?" His eyes bore into hers with curiosity mingled with intimidation in his gaze. "It was not so apparent the night you took the proposition."

"Perhaps that was because it wasn't what you were looking for. It was there, I can assure you of that." It was a statement that found the girl unusually straight rather than succumbing to nerves. She stepped out without another word.

Behind the now closed door, The R.H. permitted a small smile.

DH: Once again I apologize for my absence. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Please Review.