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[ Finished Log | Sometimes beginnings aren't so simple... ]
I Can End You, Hm?, Enjoying The View?, *Quirks Brow*, Tattoo
bladed_dragon wrote in red_moon_comm
Who: Tenten, Sasuke
What: When a second is indispensable and power becomes a necessity. 'Business as usual' was never so argumentative. Or fun.
Where: Sasuke's office
When: Tuesday, May 11th [ way, way backdated >>; ]
Rating: PG-ish for a minor implication/mention.
Warnings: None, really.

With a light ding, the elevator doors slide quietly opened, and the polyphonic chime of muzack greeted her as she stepped into the empty cabin. After pressing the appropriate button, Tenten flipped open her phone and checked for the time. Though he never specified when, it was never a good thing to keep her boss waiting for too long, if at all. Uchiha Sasuke was not know for being the most patient person in the world, after all. And with the power that he held under his thumb, the young woman felt it smart not to poke the sleeping lion. Time was valuable, after all, especially in their business.

"Lord knows what would happen if I made him wait longer than necessary," she muttered to herself as the doors closed.

Still, the message had not been entirely unexpected. While the merge with the Akatsuki faction provided them with more resources and opportunities to see their goals realized, it also brought with it a new slew of potential problems. And while he had done well to keep his thoughts in check, Tenten made no effort expressing her concerns about the entire situation.

It was one thing to trust someone she held a scattered acquaintanceship with when they were younger. But it was another to do a complete turn around from enemies to associates. It was impossible for habits and tendencies to change overnight.

The soft bounce of the elevator did well to pull Tenten from her inner thoughts and signaled that she had finally arrived to the right floor. And from there, it was just a short walk down the hall to Sasuke's office. But Tenten knew better than to simply barge in, even if he was expecting her. Even if this scene was an all too familiar one between the two of them. And so, it was with an air of professionalism that she lightly rapped her knuckles against the hard wood of the door and waited to be invited in.

A sharp blade sliced through the silent air of the large, open office and bare feet whispered softly as they slid across the polished hardwood floors. The normally pristine white and pressed dress shirt sleeves were rolled up to the elbows to allow better range of motion, and the always present suit jacket and tie were carefully draped over the back of the soft leather chair behind a large polished wooden desk. When the morning had been cleared for the meeting expected later, that opened up time to run through sword exercises.

Sasuke acknowledged that he was lucky to have someone under him who not only was talented at their job, but also capable in the skill of weapon crafting and repair. It was one of the reasons he was able to have the beautiful weapon in his hands, the other being that the service came to him freely, though he could have paid anyone any price for such work. There was somethign to be said about personalized work, and the young Uchiha knew that a bit of recognition also went to the maker when their work was seen in the hands of someone such as himself.

The soft knock at the door did not detere the man from launching into another series of techniques and movements, thrusting and slashing through invisible enemies with a viciousness spoken about in samurai legend. Dark eyes gleamed with a burning, almost mad fervor as in his mind he saw the blood spattered on his hands and at his feet, the dark red rivulets running down his sword like crimson tears, and his ears heard the pained screams and wails from the pitiful creatures that he cut down. Adreneline rushed through him and he knew that even if he tried, he could not halt his actions, but he could speak. "Come in Tenten."

Attentive and readily leaning against the frame, the young woman wasted no time entering after the order had been given, quietly shutting the door behind her. As safe and secure as they would've liked to believe the young Uchiha's offices to be, the possibility of spies was too great in their profession to take the chance. Better to be overly cautious than trusting and be proven otherwise. It had happened once in her lifetime already, and Tenten would be hard pressed to allow it to happen again.

She remained standing, poised and straight like a statue, just inside of the room as caramel brown orbs rested on the beautiful gleam of the sword in his hands. Though the young woman was well versed in both the creation and maintenance of a blade, there had been few chances for her to actually make them herself, save for a few that had been specially ordered and commissioned. -- Not since her father had... but that was hardly the main cause of it. -- Which allowed Tenten to remember each and every one that had been wrought by her own hands. And that beauty, in particular, had been one of her favorites.

Watching him practice kenjutsu kata was a familiar sight, to be sure. He was nothing if not meticulous about perfecting his swordsmanship. And, admittedly, Tenten had seen improvements in his form and technique. They were a lot cleaner, smoother than they had been before, although only a trained specialist could see the small minuta of imperfections. It was a thing to be proud of, and certainly, Sasuke was not lacking in that department.

"You wanted to speak with me?" she inquired softly, professionally, after a moment.

The massacre and the katas began to slow as the exercise wound down, the quick panting coming from the dark-haired man struggling to slow and become steady and even once again. He was able to see the woman who had entered the office out of the corner of his vision, and he knew that she would wait for him to finish, and that she knew that he would finish before continuing their business. The sword's arc became more graceful and smooth, Sasuke's body still alert, but relaxing and gaining more fluidity as well. His movements looked more artful now, no longer like a soldier in battle, and it was at this part of his exercise that felt the most reverent and spiritual, and his attention to each shift of muscle and limb sharpened. As he entered the last kata, Sasuke finished his movements in an easy kneeling position facing the small shrine in his office, sheathing the sword and bowing his head in respect. It was one of the more traditional practices that the Uchiha observed, though no one outside of his office knew that or ever would.

After a moment of silence, the pale man rose fluidly and turned to approach the other person in the office. Padding over to his desk silently, Sasuke placed his sword into it's display on his desk then collapsed into his chair, looking up at Tenten, and gestured to the chairs on the other side of the furniture with an easy wave. "Yes, sit down. There is a matter that has been weighing on my mind, and after a meeting with Madara, it's presence has become more pressing." He shifted a little in his seat, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the top of his desk, hands tented before his face as he thought. "Since the merge of factions we have...had a shortage of those who would hesitate to stab a knife into my back. Madara's power easily sways the minds of the recruits you're working with, and their lack of fear of me is concerning. I want more bodies, more weapons, and while I don't want this to sound...traitorous, I am looking out for my interests as well as the organization's."

There was always a sense of serenity and peace that came with most forms of martial arts, she noticed. That, perhaps, was more important than the physical aspects of the forms. After all, as the young girl's sensei had always said, they never mattered as much as the spiritual connection one received while practicing them. And for Tenten, it had never been more true than at that moment while she watched Sasuke complete the series of kata. Or saw the reverie in which he ended the session with dutiful acknowledgment to the souls and deities that guided his every move.

Whether she would openly admit to it or not, it was one of the things she respected most about him. Science and reasoning could only explain so much, whereas the soul could continue on for eternity.

Never one to disturb more than necessary, the guard remained silent and patient while he went about his ending routine, giving one last sweeping glance over the slight curve of the katana's blade before giving up all attention to the only other person in the room. He was overdue for a maintenance check, Tenten noted, and made a mental reminder to pull out the tool kit and clear away time for it next week when duties and responsibilities did not rest so heavily on her shoulders. As much as he feigned annoyance at her habitual caution, she knew that deep down he appreciated her anal retentive behaviors, particularly when it came to the functionality of his own sword.

Shaking away the momentary thought of distraction, it only took her a few quick strides to cross the room and take her appointed seat in front of the other's desk. And like any other meeting between the two, she listened with quiet alertness until the moment came for her to speak. To react to his claims and concerns.

"You know how I feel about Madara and his organization; about this merger in general. I've made no effort to hide that, least of all, from you." Trust was a fickle thing, after all. And while Tenten could see the benefit of having Taka join with a larger clan, she could never understand what advantages the elder Uchiha and his Akasuki organization gained from this unholy union. Other than easy access to and further influence over a rising power that could potentially threaten his own way of living.

"His faction has always been larger than ours so I don't doubt your claim of more people wanting you dead, and I've taken precautions in lieu of that," she continued without pause, "But you have to admit... there are advantages to being underestimated."

Indeed, very few would know more about that than her.

Sasuke listened, leaning back into his chair and rocking slightly as he considered her words. The merge had come somewhat unexpectedly, the small Taka faction receiving an offer from a relative Sasuke had known very little about. The offer promised power and recognition as a reward, the idea of a larger network meant that their influence could fan out even farther in the city, and that had appealed greatly to the young boss. Things had gone smoothly, only a few ruffled feathers and people who needed "persuading", and the new organization was up and running, it's size and power making a statement to Konoha and any fools who dared to challenge them. The inside changes had come as well, and Sasuke had to admit that going from absolute authority to...well, not absolute authority had been a bit of a shock. He was in charge of everything he had had before, and now the body guards for the whole, but the orders he was told to execute came from another mind and mouth.

"The fact that we have lost most of our weight has tipped the scales in Madara's favor. Even if we do pull in recruits, he finds a way to pull them into his net. We need more specialized forces...his whole circle of trusted men each has a special skill or trade, and through that they can sort their recruits who have the same skills or knowledge under those men and effectively make them feel valued while securing their loyalty at the same time." He growled softly, moving one hand to rub at his temple slowly. "Aside from that I agree, if we are not watched closely then we do have a bit more freedom of movement, but in the end I do have to meet with him to discuss our progress and activities. I could lie to cover things, but he sees through the lies and then there is no cover. We have nothing to hide right now, there is nothing Madara doesn't know. In fact, I'm sure he has seen how the recruits have been falling and is enjoying my frustration like a fine wine. I want results Tenten. I'm not looking for an advantage right now, just results."

"It's always been in Madara's favor. It was his offer, his organization, his expansion with us serving under him." Tenten had not always been so mistrusting of others. But given her past and the experiences that came with serving as Sasuke's second, even now, suspicion seemed to come instinctually these days. And, perhaps, she was right in believing that there had been an ulterior motive behind the elder Uchiha's offer. It was only natural to come to such a conclusion when there was hardly anything that they would be able to offer him to compensate for everything they had gained from his good graces. The young woman's hand could not help but ball into a tight fist at the thought of actually owing much of their livelihood to him and his generosity. "You're fooling yourself if you thought otherwise. This was an offer to both tempt and destroy us."

But as long as they held their wits about them and could use the power of Akatsuki to their advantage, what was a few months of humility under their scrutiny so long as Taka rose out of the aftermath on top? Getting there, however, would prove to be a long and difficult road, she knew. If it were even possible. It would be some time before any one of them would be able to stop a foot out of place without the head of the organization finding out. Still, Tenten, at least, had begun making preparations for that possibility. "But we're not without our own resources, scant as they are."

Relaxing her fingers, she sat up straighter in her seat and calmly met the other's eyes. "It's true that Madara's forces are better organized and distributed in several fields. More than us, that's for certain. It's why he has such power over the city. And attempting to do the same with what little we have would leave us too vulnerable to do anything profound. But results will come in time, that, I can assure you. They need only wait for the right moment."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed as he looked at the young woman across the desk, and he sat up a little straighter as he listened to her. He certainly did not appreciate the insinuation that he had made a foolish move by agreeing to join with Madara and the Akatsuki, and he was very sure that the joining of their two factions was not just made in the hopes of gaining more power, even though he did remember the thought of it and the hunger he had felt at the prospect. Sasuke loved having the upper hand, loved knowing that he was in control and had an advantage, and usually he would do just about anything to gain that higher ground, no matter who had to be cut down or what had to be done. However, he grudgingly acknowledged that his older relative rivaled all of Sasuke's cunning, and even then Madara had years more of experience. One could almost say that Sasuke respected the older Uchiha, but no one was foolish enough to do that.

"You make it sound as if I'm trying to hopefully plan a coup, or that I am even interested in doing so. You and I both know how idiotic and pointless such a notion would be, now or at any point, especially against Madara. He sees and knows everything that goes on, and with what little credibility I have with him, I will not destroy it with rumors or lies of possible traitorous actions. Like I said, I just want to get a little more meat on our bones, so to speak.Taka's numbers are not what they once were, and because I know that, many people on every level in the city know it as well." The dark-haired man took a slow breath, rubbing at his temple for a moment to get his thoughts organized. "Tenten...I've been hearing about a number of "free agents" if you will, who have suddenly appeared and gotten involved in our organization's business. What have you heard, and what do you know?"

In truth, it had never been her intention to suggest anything beyond stating her opinions. It was a dangerous move to agree so readily and willingly to the merger, yes, but one that she knew to be necessary. They did not possess the power or reputation to stand on their own and survive in the city. Not yet, anyways. As talented and resourceful as their men were, most clan wars were decided in numbers and how long one could outlast the other. And as prideful as the both of them were, the Taka organization was far more important than their personal egos. "It's only a coup if we plan on taking over in Madara's place. That's hardly the intention or the direction, but I'll spare you the details."

She let her voice trail off after that, thoughts turning into a whirlwind of chaos and order as they always had. He trusted her, she knew, to do what was right and beneficial to their cause. But that was different than placing a reliance in her judgment. Sasuke was a man of action, not of words, and for all her pander there was hardly anything she could show for it. Because her plan relied on stealth and careful precision. And most importantly, time. Rome was not built in a day, as the saying went, and for her to garner the results he so craved, she would need more time to cultivate all of the components.

At the murmur of her name, all attention snapped back to him as she listened intently like always to what he was asking, both directly and indirectly. "It's a good system, employing freelancers and informants to work in his service. They, more than anyone else would possess the best inside information on other organizations simply through their own dealings with those clans. And Madara pays top dollar for those extra little tidbids, I can assure you that." It was why his foothold in the Black Market had been so prominent as of late. Good information garnered greatly beneficial rewards to those who were mostly loyal to him. But Sasuke did not want to know that. "He has dozens of them scattered throughout the city and tries to enlist their help in turns, but he has favorites just like everyone else."

Of course Madara would have already had dipped his fingers into the free agent market in order to expand his pool and generate a greater income, Sasuke should have guessed that before he even asked. "So if Madara is using this system already, how can we get in and lure more of those little rats than my dear relative? Our money comes from the same pool as Akatsuki's now, so why shouldn't we be able to pay them more than top dollar to try and ensure a little more loyalty? If we can gather greater numbers, and possibly increase what our men specialize in, we'll be able to take a wider variety of jobs and offer more services to our clients." The idea was extremely appealing, and expansion was never a bad thing as long as it was monitored and kept under control.

"I want to find them, and I want to recruit them. I want to start pulling them in, offer them bait that they can't refuse and then hook them so that they can't escape. What I want to know from you is if you have worked with or even know anyone who is currently unaffiliated, then I want you to bring them to me after warming them up to joining us." The dark-haired man drummed his fingers on his desk thoughtfully as he considered what would be offered to any new recruits. "I can put together an incentive package, a sign-on bonus if you will. If these people are working in the market, they know that anything we can offer will be valuable to them. What do you think?" Rarely did Sasuke ask for a second opinion, his decisions and opinions usually resolute, but he knew that when it came to recruitment, his methods could come across as slighty...cut-throat. Tenten was one of the few he trusted and whose input was actually helpful and worth considering.

"It's simple," she voiced, eyes trailing idly along the floor in thought while the orders were processed. And in an instant, her mind was already making lists and forming plans to achieve his goals, analyzing and checking for errors like it was second nature; such was the level of organization required to be one of Sasuke's most trusted advisers. "What's powerful enough to make even the most cowardly man risk his own life?"

The answer, of course, was money. And she knew that there was no need to reply to her own question out loud like what would usually happen when she was explaining a concept or idea. Sasuke had been in the business long enough to draw up the same conclusion on his own. And with their link with the Akatsuki organization, they possessed a flowing abundance of it to line the pockets of all the informants in the city and neighboring suburbs with plenty to spare for themselves. Instead, the young woman's thoughts circled around the one obstacle standing in their way.

"The problem is Madara," Tenten continued, "As you said, he's got a foothold in everything that goes on in his organization, including where the money's going, and his treasurer has a rather tight grasp on the purse-strings."

Indeed, though her interactions with Kakuzu were limited to one assignment, it had been enough to learn all she needed to know of the man. Then again, he wasn't really all that difficult to figure out. He was a guard dog of sorts, and a good one at that. He protected Madara's investments and ensured that the entire kingdom's financial foundation remained functioning and flowing. And he would be a big obstacle to overcome. "But there are ways around that, though without stepping on any toes or causing suspicion."

It would be a grand scale search, indeed, especially in a city as large as Konoha. And such an endeavour would take up a lot of time and energy, particularly if they wanted to be low-key about it. But in the end, Tenten decided, it would be well worth it if it meant freeing themselves on their reliance of Madara's reputation and resources. "I have a few informants in mind, and they'll lead me to others."

"We have the financial means to get what we want, but there is more to it than that. Once we have them in we must gain their loyalty, so that turning on us will the be last thing on their minds. If we can convince them that we are the ones worth fighting for, then the rest of their employment will be easy to regulate." He knew that getting the needed funds from his relative wouldn't be too difficult, they were in need of finding new locations to try and pull in more members anyways, so he really was focusing on something that would benefit the organization as a whole. "The money will be going towards an organization goal, so he will just see it as a benefit."

The dark-haired man nodded slowly as Tenten continued, pleased to hear that she had run into some of the rare, neutral parties that were out on the street for hire. The woman could be very convincing when need be, and she was always friendly, even in cases when it could be called annoying. "I want you to talk to them. Start to warm them up to the idea of a meeting to discuss their future. If possible, get any information about Madara and his hiring techniques so that we can make our offer slightly more tempting. Bring them in, or give me their number so that I can call them and arrange a meeting." Sasuke was sure that he would be able to make good deals and be able to meet any demand that a free agent could throw at him.

Everything he said was true if not believable and simple to repeat should they be forced to explain their actions to Madara. On the surface, the additional men would be seen as a benefit to Akatsuki and their growing forces. No matter how powerful a family or clan, numbers were important. But while they would be employed under the banner of the elder Uchiha on a technical sense, they would be placed under Sasuke's sub-banner for management. And there would be where the slow filtration began. To strip their minds of appeasing Madara and instead work to seek the approval of the younger Uchiha. Only then would it be easier to make the transition if or when the merge eventually failed.

"Creating such a force and loyalty will take time," she mused aloud for him to hear, "Trust is not something that can be given out freely or kept with money."

Ideally, they would be able to live in a world where trust and honor to one's commitments were common practices to believe in. Both she and Sasuke knew better, though, especially when speaking of the underbosses of Akatsuki. They were the minions of their master, after all. "Besides, there's always someone who's willing to pay more. But I'll see what I can find out from the grunts. They're always easy to weasel information out of."

Tenten smirked at that, still amazed that they continued to trust her so much while divulging any secret that might have come their way while working mission upon mission with the senior associates of the organization. Had she been in charge of the disciplinary department of the clan, they would never have been so loose with their tongues.

"There are a few people on file who owe us some debt that could be of some use, too," the young woman added, "One in particular that I've been keeping my eye on for some time now."

"Take them by whatever means necessary. I don't care if you have to bribe, pay, steal, sedu-" His words stopped short, eyes narrowing a little as he looked her over with dark eyes. "You get the idea, just don't do anything that would compromise your ability to work. I...the organization needs your skills." If he really, really needed and felt inclined to, Sasuke could take care of all of this mess by himself. That would require far more money, time, and energy than he currently had. This work needed to be done, well, and with the woman in front of him Sasuke knew that would happen. "I know it will take time, and the results will not be immediate, but even a gradual change would be better than nothing."

Sasuke leaned back in his chair again, idly running a hand through his bangs as he ran through his thoughts and tried to work out what other information needed to be discussed. Tenten was perfectly capable of all of this, and the Uchiha had a feeling that he was starting to repeat himself, which was beyond annoying. He was satisfied that she had his goal in mind, and seemed to have a good idea at how to start getting things rolling.

"I feel like we're both clear on what needs to be done and what is expected. I don't believe there's anything else we need to discuss on it, unless you have any...last minute input." One dark eyebrow arched elegantly, his expression otherwise neutral.

There was no helping the minute twitch at the corner of her lip when he stopped himself short of uttering a particular word. Nearly twenty-two years old and the cause of so much pain and problems in the city -- over two years of service under his command -- yet he still could not find it within himself to say such simple words in front of her. How amusing. It was not that she thought Sasuke to be a prude in any sense. It was hard to be one in the ring that they performed in. But all the same, it was a nice reminder that under all of the seriousness and dangers that aged a soul, they were still fairly young and innocent in some ways. That their wills were strong enough to remain so. Because Tenten knew of so many others who were not so fortunate to be as delusionally sane.

"No, nothing to add, sir," she said, shaking her head in response before settling her gaze back on the sword he had laid aside. Of all things that were gathered in his offices, she was most glad to have that there because it gave her a point to focus on when other things seemed far too dull or off limits. The Uchiha were nothing without their secret agendas, after all. And Sasuke was prone to keeping his cards hidden until the last bet was placed, even from her. "Don't worry, I plan to do whatever is necessary."

Never one to waste time and opportunity, she hoped that there was something more solid and current to focus her attention on while dealing with his request. The process of recruiting the necessary man-power Sasuke demanded would take a matter of months to achieve, especially if he wanted her to do it right. She would have to seek out each individual herself and assess their worthiness before extending the offer to join what promised to be a formidable regime. But that was no reason neglect assignments and duties linked with the entire Uchiha organization in between the pursuit of each candidate. "Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?"

Were he anything but an Uchiha, Sasuke would have let out a sigh as he knew that Tenten had caught his fumbling. While working for him her job was to do whatever he asked by whatever means necessary, and there was no room in such assignments for worry or protection. Work was done, efficiently and thoroughly, and once it was done it was filed away as a success or as a failure. In their lives there was no middle ground, because there could not be allowed an room for error.

He shook his head slowly, allowing himself to languidly spin in his chair now that the business talk was over. "If there is anything that you need for your assignment you know who to call. I will allow the use of our funds for anything extra that you believe you may need, as long as it's within reason." Sasuke gave her a look then, indicating that any superfluous spending would not be tolerated. "I also know that I do not have to tell you what will happen if your efforts appear to be half-hearted or do not produce substantial results. I know this will be a gradual process, but even the slowest growing things cannot hide when they are being properly taken care of." His dark gaze was even and his eyes promised that the hint of his warning would become reality should she fail, even though he also acknowledged that that would not be the case.

"Have you eaten yet? I was thinking of dining out for lunch."

If there was one thing she could trust in, it was that she understood Uchiha Sasuke; not to a deep sense beyond what he would allow or was willing to show to the world outside of his personal sphere of space, but enough to see the little emotions bubbling just under the surface of his blank facade. Two years of serving under him and climbing through the ranks to become his second had allotted that privilege. A good thing, too, because her ability to read and sometimes anticipate his moods or actions were what kept her continuously employed under his banner. And perpetually in his good graces. Though it did not happen often, it was no stroke of fortune to be placed on Sasuke's grudge list.

"I don't think extra funds would be necessary for most of these," the young woman responded calmly, meeting his obvious look of warning with an unshakable one of her own, "You'd be surprised how many useful people owe us."

He could threaten and speculate punishments all he wanted, but Tenten's record proved that she could be trusted with this task. She was sure of that, even if he did not. There was no reason to believe otherwise, even if it was naturally human to doubt. Even men like Sasuke could be prey to doubt every so often. And it was only with a mild inclination of irritation that the young woman came to that conclusion.

"And no, I haven't," she added, almost as an afterthought, "The message you sent made it apparent that the matter was urgent so I decided to skip it in favor of meeting with you sooner."

"Good, then you can accompany me out for a bite. It's the middle of the day, so who knows who might be out there trying to cut down a piece of the Uchiha powers." Sasuke smirked as he rose from behind his desk, coming around it to head for the door. "As long as you can multi-task, I suppose you can eat as well." He pulled on his jacket and slipped on a pair of comfortable leather shoes, then walked back over to Tenten, offering her his arm. It was a testament of how much trust the man had in his bodyguard, and also complimented her work ethic, since it took a very long time to develop that confidence with the young heir. "I think that our business conversation is over for now. Luckily if I think of anything else you'll be right there to listen. I'll even let you pick where we eat."

The invite, she assumed, was merely a formality to make her presence less intrusive. And, perhaps, it was a small hint of childish behavior to counteract the seriousness of their previous conversation as well. After all, she was his bodyguard as well as one of his most trusted soldiers. It was her job and duty to follow behind and guard him from the dangers that came with being one of the main players and points of authority in the Akatsuki faction. In most cases, she would have gone with him regardless of whether he wanted her to tag along or not. It was only a matter of being openly accepted as his company or simply a piece of decor lingering in the background.

She would not leave him unprotected until Sasuke dismissed them for the day, himself, like he was want to do on occasion.

Allowing her lips to pull back and up into a faint smile, Tenten only took a moment to finally stand from her seat and take the necessary strides across the room to join him at the door, her hand easily slipping around the bend of his elbow. If he wanted to indulge in a sentimental act of courtesy, who was she to deny him the pleasure of acceptance for his gentlemanly gesture? "How very considerate of you to give me such a privilege, not only of dining with you but of choosing where we would have our lunch."

It was a teasing remark, just as she suspected his words had only been in the strange sort of jest they both had fallen into giving each other when they were alone and behind the privacy of closed doors. Life in the mafia was not always business and seriousness, but relationships and camaraderie were tools -- liabilities -- that could and most certainly would be used against them. So as the doors to his personal office swung open into the world, the young woman let her arm drop to her side, her expression smoothing out into neutrality with it. Back to the world outside. Back to reality. And as their footsteps echoed down the corridor towards the elevator, she addressed him with a muted professional air. "...By the way, the blade looked a little dull. Remind me to perform an maintenance check on it sometime soon. It's almost been a month."