Sweet Sixteen (SWAT Style?)
an 'Appleseed' fanfic
pre-cyborg Briareos + Deunan
For her sixteenth birthday, the guys on the SWAT team all chipped in and bought her a monstrous Desert Eagle .50 and low profile back-holster to store it in. Deunan grinned to herself as she vaulted over the railing of the staircase, skipping the last few steps before the ground in favor of a little gymnastic exercise. The micro fiber and mesh harness barely showed under her jacket, and the heavy gun felt good pressed snuggly against her spine. Antique it might be, but the weapon was hot! She'd always wanted one, and couldn't guess how much time or money it had set her squad back to find it for her. Let other girls dream of sweet sixteen's with dancing and jewelry. The veteran members of the city's riot duty squad were the best bunch of bastards around. She wouldn't trade them for anything, not even a mansion in the New Hollywood Hills.
Between the gun, the surprise cake served at the mess hall at lunch, and the general glow of finally being able to call herself a 'young woman' instead of a kid, she had thought the day couldn't get much better. And then the memo from the chief had caught her on her way out of the dorm after lunch.
Even the weapon diminished by comparison to the official sheaf of papers now filed next to the others in the main office. The Chief of Police for all of LA himself had accepted her application for formal enrollment in the police academy a year early. After years of living on campus as just a strange kid she could finally claim to be a real officer in training. Her first year was 'provisional' due to her youth, but that was nothing, she already knew all of the instructors, and more importantly, they knew her. No more "Well maybe next year, Deunan's," from the chief. No more behind-her-back talk about how she was only allowed on campus because her dad pulled strings from new recruits who didn't know her history. She could finally get her certificate and kick some ass with her boys rather than just sniping at paper targets on the range under Briareos' watchful eye or sitting around uselessly waiting for them to come home, hoping no one was hurt. The very thought of getting to drive a police bike, much less one of the riot wagons made her grin in anticipation. She had declared her intended specialty without hesitation. The Chief, well acquainted with her father hadn't tried to dissuade her. SWAT was the best. They only way they'd get her to change her mind about joining the unit after graduation would be to cut her legs off.
Deunan paused in front of a plate-glass section of the HQ's wall, swiveling to get her profile in the reflection. Her formal uniform, newly furnished by her aloof parent was a necessity for an incoming recruit to the academy. That she had been able to wear it today when accepting her approved application from the chief, and his Chief was pure luck. Either that or her old man had known weeks ago that this would be her year, which honestly was more likely. The trim cut of the material did a nice job of showing off her waistline and ass, but sadly hid her legs behind some fairly standard blue trousers. A pity, she thought, since her legs were one of her better assets. The jacket did nothing at all to enhance her as-yet-un-remarkable cleavage. Apparently supermodel sized breasts didn't just pop out the minute your 16th birthday rolled around. She made a face at her reflection and stalked off down the path. Well she could hardly wait around another year hoping they'd get a move on! She had promises to keep.
Maybe she should have worn her push-up bra. Deunan wondered as she badged into to the training complex and crossed the main lobby with quick strides. The officer on desk duty waived her in with a 'happy birthday' and the burst of pleasure temporarily distracted her from her disappointing chest. Braireos would know it was for show anyway, she decided, skipping the locker rooms in favor of just heading for the track. She wasn't here for a run today, at least, not right now.
The idiot had spent enough time with her for the past several years, he was bound to notice if she suddenly showed up with a padded chest. It was bad enough being teased about being flat, to be heckled for stuffing her shirt was something else entirely. 'Let he who had no sin throw the first grenade,' wasn't that how it went? It wasn't like the Greek bastard didn't have his own faults. He could bloody well learn to live with an A-cup girlfriend, couldn't he!
Girlfriend. The very thought made her clap a hand to her mouth, smothering her laugh. It was too absurd. Deunan's merriment faded. Probably he had forgotten. Probably he wouldn't go for it even if he had remembered. Jerk. Bastard. Ungrateful former-KGB dickhead. Why was she friends with him again? She rolled her eyes grinning at her own unfairness. She was sixteen now, and a police cadet as well. Nothing was going to stop her from making the most of it. Not even a certain stoic SWAT sharpshooter. Spying her target loping with his usual ease around the track, she looked around and easily found his gear. A towel and water bottle were waiting for him on their usual bench. Briareos was nothing if not a creature of habit sometimes. Which made his behavior today all the more annoying!
Someone hadn't been at the mess hall this morning when they'd served her favorite pancakes. Someone had 'important' business all day in the city too. Not so much as a quick 'happy birthday'! Not even an e-mail! A card even? Nothing! And now he was out here running as if nothing special had happened, never mind that the whole squad had to know by now that she was due to get accepted into full time training. What an insufferable blockhead. Well he wasn't going to get away with it. She swept his towel up and draped it over her shoulder as she sat, waiting for him to finish his lap. Just to be vindictive, she took a swig of his water bottle too.
Deunan made a face as soon as she swallowed. Why did he constantly spike it with lemon? Warm lemon-water was about one hair above drinking dish water, in her opinion. There was no saving some people from themselves however, and after 4 years of stealing drinks off of his canteen she had become resigned to the harsh flavor. It did cut through thirst like nobody's business, she supposed, recapping the bottle.
Briareos rounded the final quarter track, unable to not notice her as his path brought him straight towards their bench. To his credit, his stride didn't change so much as a millimeter. Either he wasn't surprised to see her, or he hid it well. Deunan crossed her legs and leaned back on her hands giving him her best wolf-whistle as he approached. That got a smile out of him, his teeth white brilliant against his tanned skin. He tossed her a jaunty salute as he loped past.
"Hey!" She called after his retreating back in surprise. "What the hell?"
"One more lap, little girl!" His voice drifted back from a quarter mile away, each stride carrying him further from her.
"You bastard!" She shouted after him. Folding her arms across her chest she indulged in a pout, but a few moments out in the perfectly gorgeous afternoon and she decided she wasn't all that angry.
That was one thing that could be said about LA. It might be a bit run down compared with the old days, most of the heavy industry had relocated to the inland states to try and gain protection from the threat of ICBMs. But the parts of downtown that weren't ghettos overrun by drug dealers, slave traders, and cyborg rogues from the army were really pretty, and the weather was nearly always prime.
The constant sun did wonders to keep her in good humor, and had the added benefit of making Briareos' already naturally olive skin tan to a really sexy brown. Her own tan was more of a warm gold. She peeled off her dress-jacket before the dark fabric could make her sweat, and admired her arms. The tan was a good color. It gave her well defined muscles a sporty, beachy look, and made her hair look more blonde. If only she had some breasts worth mentioning, she might even pull a wolf whistle of her own when in a bikini, she flattered herself. Maybe she should get Briareos to take her to the beach tonight; they could go drinking at the wharf. He had tomorrow off, baring any emergency missions her crackpot father contrived. She had checked the duty roster before coming down to the field. He had no excuse not to go out on the town with her and a few of the other guys tonight, unless he was determined to continue to be a ghost for the next 24 hours.
Really, she was surprised he wasn't volunteering to chaperone, overly responsible busybody that he usually was. Her first 'legal' night of drinking with the boys? He ought to have been all over that like a junkyard dog on a sirloin steak, reading riot to Nichols and the others about setting a good example and not taking her anyplace too seedy. Instead she hadn't heard so much as a peep about it. Weird! Deunan couldn't help but really look forward to having a little fun. No more sneaking bottles of Cuervo Gold from the ice-chests when the chief wasn't looking, or stealing sips off of Briareos' exotics when he was inclined to humor her mature tastes. No more tagging along to the pub just to be stuck drinking coke after coke and wishing it was a proper beer as the guys sang rowdy police songs and Briareos kicked their asses back to HQ. Would he kick her ass? There was a thought.
She let her self enjoy a little daydream of being drunk and carried home by the hunky officer someday. Wouldn't that be nice! Her brain was too pragmatic however and rapidly derailed her happy fantasy with the more likely reality. He'd carry her back, sure. Then hold her under an ice-cold shower until it froze some sense into her and proceed to verbally flay her alive for inappropriate behavior. Probably have her peeling potatoes for a month. Having witnessed his usual regime of punishments for other recruits who dared rack up a drunk-and-disorderly while in training, she wasn't thrilled by ever experiencing it first hand. Spoil sport. The object of her suddenly lousy fantasy life was jogging now, cooling down as he covered the last quarter mile back to where she sat.
Deunan stuck her tongue out at him in punishment for ruining her daydream. "Boo. You suck."
"What?" He stared down at her, frowning in confusion. "What the hell is your damage, crazy kid. Give me my towel if you're just going to talk nonsense." Pulling the towel off her shoulders he rubbed his short hair and face before systematically working down his arms and chest. Deunan worked earnestly at not openly admiring his pecs, thanking god for the small favors he provided. Briareos running without a shirt on was one of summer's better perks.
"Water bottle? Hello?" He snapped his big fingers in front of her face to get her to pay attention. Realizing he'd already asked once while she'd been not-staring she made an apologetic face and passed the plastic container up to him.
Briareos simply shrugged, not pausing until he had drunk the container dry. Deunan slid sideways on the bench to give him room as he stretched his arms above his head one last time and then swung a leg astride the wooden trestles, settling down next to her. "Well, well. Don't you look all official." He grinned again, twirling the bottle between his palms. "You shouldn't let your cuffs dangle in the dirt though. Dust'll get in all the braid."
"What?" She looked down to see he was perfectly right. As usual. "God damn it! I just got this too…" Shaking it briskly she got the worst of the grit off the sleeve before glaring at the offending detailing on the cuffs. It didn't look so bad. Probably could avoid a dry cleaning order.
"I think I can sponge off the rest. What a pain. Would you believe I only put the damn thing on two hours ago?"
"That's a new record for you." Briareos chuckled, raising one leg so he could plant his foot on the bench and lean against his knee. His normally pristine boots were dusty from sole to shin from the red clay track. "Usually it takes you at least four hours to ruin a new outfit."
"Oi." She threatened him with a fist. "I'll have you know I'm armed and dangerous now. You'd better treat me right!"
"Oh really?" He raised an eyebrow and gave her and arch look. "So they gave you your present early, did they?"
"We had cake at lunch." She shrugged. "I guess they figured it was as good a time as any."
He whistled, feigning awe. "Wow. You've got even the jokers in the kitchen wrapped around your little finger. They made you a cake? I'm impressed! Not even the chief gets cake on his birthday. You're quite the little princess of this outfit."
"Shut up." She made a face, embarrassed by his assessment. Knowing that she was something of a 'mascot' for the city's police force, and being reminded of it to her face were two separate things. Sure there were other women in uniform at the academy, some even in SWAT, but she was 'Carl's little girl who learned to shoot uzis when she was 10' and that apparently was all it took to make her a minor celebrity on the small fortified campus. It didn't matter that her father didn't say more than two words to her in any given week, or that she lived full time in the barracks instead of with him. The man just cast a long shadow. Even Briareos was a little afraid of him, it seemed, usually he was pretty caviler towards the rest of the chiefs once out of ear-shot, but he never said boo about her father.
She shot the muscled policeman a considering look out of the corner of her eye. He was watching the track with a thoughtful expression. Even dear-old-dad had bothered to send her a card today. Not more than a store bought sentiment, a signature, and a hundred dollar credit slip at the campus bookstore -probably the whole thing assembled by his aide- but that was something. Here Briareos sat, like a lump, and still didn't say 'happy birthday'? She reached out and punched him lightly in the head.
"Ow." He turned back to her, annoyed. "What was that for?!"
"Say it." She demanded.
He blinked and then almost-smiled, his dark eyes hinting at silent laughter. "Say what, little girl."
She growled in annoyance at the condescending nickname. It was about time that was retired. Now was as good a time to start as any. "I am not a little girl, you blockheaded Neanderthal. I am a policewoman-in-training! Official this afternoon at oh-thirteen-fifty, I am officially on the roster for initiation in two weeks!"
"I see." Briareos' face grew serious. Looking away again, he shrugged. "Still time to change your mind, though. Nobody would fault you if you wanted to apply to college instead, make something of yourself."
"I am a policewoman!" She banged her fist on the bench. "I'm NOT going off to college to become some boring brain case. I belong here." She laughed. "Besides, you lot would be lost without me!"
"Isn't that the truth." He relented, shaking his head in mock-despair. "And you'd be a holy terror without a badge to make you marginally responsible. I shiver in horror at the idea of you ever going off on your own without a sergeant to keep you in line."
Deunan grinned wolfishly. "See? It was meant to be. You're stuck with me. Get used to it."
"Woe is me." He reached out to ruffle her hair playfully. "Maybe I should ask that they assign you to another instructor's squad before you get me fired."
"Hey now!" She glared at him. "You'll never find another shooter as good."
"Outside of myself." He corrected, deliberately baiting her. Gathering her patience, she restrained her reply to a cool glare, folding her arms across her chest.
"Good try, little girl, but I know it's all for show." Briareos snorted. "You'll follow orders, you hear? No cowboy antics trying to prove your stuff to the other recruits. We know you're good. You don't have to flaunt it and get your cute little ass shot off by a disgruntled classmate during a training simulation. Got it?"
She unfolded with a sigh. "I'm not that stupid, Bri."
"I know that." He replied lightly. "I just wanted you to know that I knew it. And now we both agree on it, and it won't have to get said again."
"Yessir. She sighed.
"Oh, and Deunan?" He poked her shoulder to get her attention. She looked over to find him smiling the private little smile he saved just for her. Rough and tough he might be, but the rare expression made him seem more of a teenager than she was. "Happy birthday, girlie."
Mollified, Deunan worked to repress her grin. Forcing herself to a frown she shook a finger at him. "About time you said it! And how many times will I have to tell you, I'm not a girl anymore?!"
"You're not?" He rose in one fluid motion, towering over her. "What are you then?" She stood as well, following him back towards the field house. Even standing, she barely came up to his shoulder. Her mother hadn't been particularly tall, or at least hadn't seemed that way in the few photos Carl possessed of the woman. She couldn't really remember much of anything about her mother, but it seemed she too would be doomed to a life of shortness. It didn't stop her from folding her arms and glaring up at the man next to her though.
"A woman, of course! A policewoman!" Deunan stamped her foot.
Briareos threw his head back and laughed. "Not for at least two more years, girlie. On both counts. Don't be in such a rush to grow up." Gesturing she could proceed him into the building he continued to snicker softly all the way to the changing room as Deunan tried repeatedly to kick his shins.
She had donned her jacket again and been chatted up by several friends by the time Briareos emerged from the men's locker room, showered, shaved and dressed in street clothes. Deunan eyed his tight jeans and battered old bomber jacket with silent appreciation. As good as the man looked in uniform, he was a stud when out of it too. "You going somewhere tonight, big boy?" She pushed off the wall with a foot and slunk over to him, making a show of draping her self against his arm. "Wanna take me with you?"
"Knock it off." He smiled and cuffed her head lightly, taking the tease about as well as ever. "You know perfectly well we're taking you out tonight, no need to be coy."
"Ah ha! You said, 'we'… that means you're designing to attend our lowbrow soirée, are you?" She bumped him with her shoulder before pulling away, not wanting to make him uncomfortable. "How noble and self-sacrificing of you."
"What, can't I enjoy a drink occasionally too?" He dared to look put-upon. "I missed lunch you know. I could use some dinner unlike the rest of you lazy lot."
"Poor baby." She made sad-eyes at him as she led the way to the exit.
"Besides, someone needs to make sure you don't get so drunk you puke on the waiter, your first time out." He caught up with her on the stairs, sport bag slung across his back as they walked together across the quad towards the barracks. "If I leave it up to Peterson you'll land in the clinic for sure, and then your father will suspend the entire squad for not looking after you properly."
"You may have gotten a card from the old man for your birthday." Briareos replied dryly. "But I got an ultimatum."
"Oh." She grimaced. "Sorry about that."
"So, birthday girl's going to wear her dress-uniform to the party?" He grinned down at her, apparently unfazed by dire threats from top officers. "It's fine by me, but it might crimp the style of the bar's usual patrons…"
"What, we're leaving now? It's not even 5!" She looked up at him in alarm. "Hell no, I've got to change!"
"So change." He gestured to her dormitory. "I'm going to drop my sweats off and finish some paperwork. Meet you around back in an hour? It will be an honor to escort the princess to her party…"
"Bike?" Deunan couldn't hide her enthusiasm. "Bike? Come on, taking the bus is lame. Please Bri?!"
The policeman rolled his eyes, deliberately pausing to think. "I don't know, with the price of gas and all…"
"Alright you minx. We can take the damn bike. So bring your helmet! And no bitching about my driving!"
"That's because you drive like a granny." She couldn't help but snipe back before throwing her arms in the air for an undignified whoop. "Birthday motorcycle ride! The tradition lives! You're the best, Bri!"
"Lunatic." He growled, but gently, before turning to his own dormitory.
Deunan was ready in half an hour, but forced herself to waste at a good fifteen minutes with needlessly tidying her room and organizing her emails, not wanting to rush downstairs like a kid. She'd never get Briareos to leave off calling her a girl if she was down a quarter hour before him, cooling her heels in the parking lot. She brushed her teeth again for good measure and stood back appraising her outfit one final time. Sonya had helped her pick it out, last time she had been in the city. The glamorous captain was usually too busy flirting with politicians to bother with 'Carl's little soldier' but some puppy eyes and a confidential plea for help had won the woman over. It was hardly like she could ask one of the SWAT guys to go with her to pick out a sexy dress. They'd either be mortified, or too busy heckling to be of any help.
In the end she wasn't sure whether she had managed 'sexy' or not. It could have just as easily passed for 'sporty,' she sighed in frustration, knowing her own tendencies had gotten the better of her. She should have bought the red cocktail dress that Sonya had favored, but instead had gone for the halter-top and skin-tight capris. At least it was girly enough to meet with the woman's approval. The top had both ruffle and spangle enough to make it definitely 'not a work shirt' and the trendy little blazer that went with it would help her not freeze to death should the guys want to go someplace drafty later. A rare bit of make up and she found she cleaned up pretty well, for someone who didn't do it often. She looked at least eighteen, to her jaded eye. Posing one last time in front of the crap mirror glued to her closet door, she nodded approval. It was as good as it would get. Snagging the motorcycle helmet on the desk, Deunan made for the parking lot.
"I'm almost not-ashamed to have you on the back of my bike." Briareos flipped up the visor on his helmet to appraise her outfit as she trotted down the last few steps at the back of the quad. She paused at the bottom and held out her arms, twirling for his inspection. "You look practically decent, for once."
"Jerk." She planted her fists on her hips and glared at him. "You suck at giving compliments!"
"Uh huh." He flipped the reflective shield down over his face again and gestured with his thumb to the extended seat pad right behind him. "Get on, birthday girl."
Pulling her own helmet on and clipping it tight to her head, she was suddenly glad she has chosen pants after all. Swinging a leg over his bike would have been a definite-no-go with the dress, and riding sideways seemed like a great way to get killed, no matter how many other women she had seen doing the same. Besides, this way she got to snuggle up against Briareos' solid bulk. Deunan wasted no time in wrapping her arms around his waist and banging on his chest with her fist in their old signal for 'shake a leg'. She could feel his huff of laughter as he gunned the motor and released the clutch with a practiced kick. Careful driver or not, they were off down the entrance road and around the rotary before she had a chance to do more than cheer. Slipping into the stream of traffic on the superhighway, she let him nimbly jockey the bike into position and settle into a cruising speed before stretching forward to knock her helmet into his.
"So where are we going? I forgot to ask!"
"They didn't tell you at lunch?" Briareos' voice was muffled as the sound was transmitted between the surfaces of their helmets, but his amusement was clear. "I figured you would have weaseled it out of them before pulling off the wrapping paper."
"Didn't even think to interrogate, actually." She admitted, admiring the view of the city skyline as they rode the curve of the road over the peak of the fly-over. "Was kinda distracted by the present."
"You'd better take good care of that." He admonished sternly. "That's a serious piece of artillery. I'll have you know I thought twice before agreeing to get one for a little girl."
"Call me little girl one more time, Bri and I swear I will murder you." She stated flatly. "And for the record, I love it, and I'm never taking it off."
"Sweet Jesus, Deunan, tell me you're not wearing a gun to the club tonight?! I swear I will turn this fucking bike around and dump your ass back at the dormitory…" He nearly swerved the motorcycle into a traffic barrier as he craned his head around to glare at her.
She banged his shoulder in protest. "The ROAD, moron! Watch the road!"
"Deunan, tell me you're not carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon to your own god damned birthday party." Briareos kept his eyes forward but his voice was all business.
"You trying to get us killed?" She laughed. "Idiot, I want to live to see seventeen, you know. I've got plans!" Deunan thumped his shoulder again when he growled impatiently. "I am NOT wearing the 'Eagle tonight, thank you very much. I thought about it, but I didn't know I was getting a gun when I bought this outfit and it spoiled the line of my jacket. Unsightly bulges are not sexy."
"It's safe back in my room! No guns! I'm completely gun-less, ok?" She cried, exasperated. "Quit mothering me! You carry a gun all the time!"
"Not a bloody .50, girl! That thing is practically an assault rifle! You could seriously hurt someone!"
"And you're saying I can't hurt someone with a .22?" Deunan squeezed the man in a hug, amused by his contradictions. "I really appreciate you getting it for me. I promise I'll only use it on the firing range. Ok?"
"The guys got it for you, not me." He replied, calmly pulling into the fast lane to duck around some slow moving trucks and military caravans. "I just let them."
"Oh? Well! In that case you owe me a birthday present!" She scolded.
"The bike ride is the present." Briareos growled. "Now shut up, sit properly, and let me drive. Talking to you while on this expressway is suicidal."
"Yes, Bri." Slouching back against his back, she rested her head between his shoulders, wishing she had worn a leather jacket over her new outfit to cut the wind. Returning to the police training grounds this evening would be a cold ride. All the more reason to snuggle close, she grinned to herself. Seeing the usual exits for downtown flash past she blinked again, realizing she still didn't know where they were going. Pushing forward until their helmets clunked against each other again she pushed her luck. "Bri?"
"What did I just say to you?"
"Shut up, sit properly and let you drive." She repeated by rote. "But I still don't know where we're going!"
"Should have thought of that before you gave me the heart attack." He drawled. "Now you'll just have to wait and see."
"But the club-district is behind us!" Deunan pointed out.
"So we're not going clubbing!"
"Sit down and-"
"-Shut up and I'll find out, right?" She finished for him.
"Right." He relaxed his hardnosed tone a little. "Hold tight, hot stuff, I want to grab the limited access lane, cut around some of this rush hour shit."
"Alright!" Resuming her seat, Deunan huddled close against Briareos' back, leaning with him as he took the bike into a tight space between two cars and over a grit-covered divider lane into a section of the highway reserved for busses and official vehicles. Strictly speaking, off duty officers looking for a night on the town weren't supposed to use the road, but the general rule was to turn a blind eye, so long as people yielded to official traffic. Once clear of the general crush, Briareos opened the throttle in a rare display of devil-may-care driving, and they tore over the highway at an exhilarating rate. Glad he couldn't hear her while she was sitting properly behind him, Deunan let loose with a wild howl, loving every heart-stopping curve in the road.
The neon sign proudly proclaimed the restaurant to be 'Jack's'. The name honestly didn't matter the slightest to Deunan, she wouldn't have recognized it anyway. Over an hour south of the police academy, it was well beyond her usual roaming radius. What mattered most to her was that it was built right on the beach, far enough south of the city that a few stars dared twinkle out of the perpetual light pollution of LA's region. The ocean breeze was clean and heavy with the tang of seaweed. The crashing waves were all but drowned out by the outrageous island music thumping out of the speakers around the bar.
"Luau night?" She read the sign as she followed Briareos into the thatch-roofed building. "What's a luau?"
"Party." He reached back and caught her hand, leading her through the sudden mob of people. "Dancing, drinking, big mother of a roast pig grilled in a pit. You know. Fun."
"I'm game!" Deunan ducked to avoid an overly energetic waiter carrying stacks of dirty dishes and collided accidentally with the back of another bar patron. "Oops, sorry!"
"Watch where you're going, dumb bitch." The guy turned with a curse. Deunan rolled her eyes at the obviously fake pair of high fashion sunglasses. Hadn't they busted the alley full of bootleggers last week selling the same stuff for ten bucks each along with those horrible furry handbags? "You could have spilled my drink!"
"I'm so sorry." She tried her favorite escape technique when faced with aggressive drunks in the bars downtown, her best airhead-smile. "Someone totally pushed me, you know? It's like, totally busy here tonight! Oh my god! Hey, are those glasses real? They are totally hot."
"Uh. Yeah." The guy looked down at her, mentally backpedaling from picking a fight to trying to be suave. It was sad really, how easily the 'dumb and blonde' act could hook them every time. "Hey, look, no harm right? Let me buy you a drin-"
"This guy bothering you, babe?" Briareos' had a remarkably convincing pissed-boyfriend-voice when he wanted to. Deunan glanced over her shoulder, realizing belatedly that she was still holding his hand. Her minor damage-control of the drunk had stopped her in her tracks, and so him with her. She made a face at him, to say she had a handle on it, but he didn't even glance down at her, still glaring at the idiot at the bar. So much for scoring a free beer off the drunk, at the rate Briareos was going, the boozer would be picking his teeth up off the floor. She cursed her friend's protective streak. It was hardly the first time some dick with beer-goggles on had tried to annoy her, it wouldn't be the last. While she was usually flattered when he came to her defense, in this case it was unnecessary.
"Don't be mad, honey!" She oozed sweetness as she brought her heel down firmly on Briareos' toes. He glanced down at her, acknowledging her existence with a pained wince. "It was like, totally my fault. I bumped into this nice man. But everything's totally ok now, right?" Deunan smiled assertively at the dick at the bar. The guy had clearly appraised his odds of surviving a fight with her 'boyfriend' and was nodding weakly.
"Forgiven, forgotten… you two have a nice night."
"Thanks." Briareos murmured, still exuding his aura of menace. This time he caught her by the shoulder, almost tucking her under his arm as he pushed ahead through the crowd. Deunan couldn't help but laugh at his unintentionally possessive hold on her, happily going along with it, even hooking an arm around his back to tuck two fingers into the belt loop on his opposite hip, guaranteeing that they entered the back of the cabana restaurant arm in arm.
The sudden array of familiar faces made it clear that half the force had taken the night off to party it up with her on the beach. Deunan punched air in greeting, whooping for joy while Briareos endured a few appreciative whistles and lewd remarks about jail bait as he promptly removed his arm from around her shoulders and moved towards the temporary bar the restaurant had set up just for the rowdy pile of police officers.
"You are like, totally my hero." She tucked her hands together and posed with them under her chin, unable to resist tormenting him for his tough guy act earlier.
Cringing he turned back. "God Deunan, that valley-girl shit is just so wrong."
"What, don't you go for the dumb-but-easy type?" She called after him as he threw his hands up in the air and left amidst the general cheers. "Get me a beer!" Deunan called after him, wondering if his patience extended that far after the ribbing he was receiving. Feeling slightly bad for the long suffering SWAT officer, she regaled her already soused audience with his valiant exploits out in the main room, adding a solid brawl to the narrative for texture.
By the time he returned with a pair of bottles and tall glasses, he was met with a new round of cheering. Briareos gave her a dark look but set the beer glass in front of her just the same, silently pouring out a full measure. "That's one. The rest you'll have to milk from your willing masses, little hellcat."
Someone called for a toast, and she saluted them with her glass. Soon enough another was set in front of her, and a second cheer erupted. Somewhere between beer-number-three and four, platters of pit-roasted meat and potato salad made the rounds. Then someone draped a necklace of plastic flowers around her neck, and whisked her off for some dancing.
Deunan staggered to a rest after an hour of partnering up with half the graduating class at the academy, only bowing out when the crew broke into an impromptu line dance. Finding the edge of the balcony and clinging to the railing with a sigh of relief, she let herself sag forwards until she could rest her forehead against her arms. The party was outrageously fun, but the noise and crowd was making her head spin. Things were never so lively at the academy, and certainly there had never been so many toasts at any of the other parties she had been invited to. Suddenly it occurred to her that there had probably been parties she hadn't attended. Probably late ones where the guys living on campus could meet up with their buddies and go out, get trashed, and harass cute waitresses without feeling guilty at having a kid in tow. For a moment she was furious at being so left out, but soon a sense of resignation chased it away.
They had been good to her. As good as possible for a crowd of former military types and otherwise hardened SWAT members could be. Even the latest batch of graduates had started to feel like part of her extended family. But it couldn't be easy for them, having a little girl following them everywhere like a tail. She couldn't blame them for wanting a night off every now and again. The fact that she was here now, more than a little drunk, and dancing with every graduate officer she spotted proved that she was part of the team now in a way she hadn't been before, didn't it? She rubbed her eyes, suddenly teary from gratitude.
Deunan inhaled the thick sea air, trying to find her lost equilibrium. The alcohol wasn't doing her any favors, causing her emotions to get the better of her, turning sour in her stomach as it settled. The sudden and very real probability of puking made her concentrate her energy on moving further away from the crowd. How much had she drunk? She couldn't really remember. Too much apparently, despite it having been fun a the time.
A set of stairs at the edge of the deck led downwards to the quiet of the beach. That seemed the most likely escape possible at the moment. Her stomach rebelled forcefully as soon as she staggered to the beach. Somehow Deunan made it to the convenient shadow of one of the restaurant's pilings before hunching over and surrendering to the inevitable. Food and drink from the evening reappeared in a series of gut wrenching heaves. She hooked an arm around the piling as she bent over next to it, needing the solid post to keep her oriented as another wave of nausea struck.
The last time she had been this sick had been during one of her father's less than well-advised attempts to get her a head start on her combat training. She remembered distinctly the shocked look on Briareos' face when he had come upon her puking her brains out from the after effect of inhaling a good face full of CS gas. Apparently he had a long talk with Carl after that because she was never invited to join the first years in that particular riot training exercise again. As unpleasant as the gas had been, at least she had known what to expect and had been at least mentally prepared for the misery, this time was both foul tasting and unexpected.
Large hands caught her by the shoulders as she heaved, supporting her and keeping the chill at bay. "Easy girlie, just get it out of your system. It'll be fine in a minute."
"Christ." She coughed and spat to clear her mouth, letting go of the damp wood in favor of bracing her hands on her knees as she caught her breath. "Remind me again why people like drinking?"
"Some to remember, some to forget. Isn't that how the old song goes?" Briareos chuckled, rubbing her back as she recuperated. "You done? Or are you down there because you're contemplating round three?"
"I'm giving it serious thought." Deunan spat again, sorely wishing that it had been anyone but him who had found her, but also deeply grateful. Briareos would tease her about it, but he also would know what to do. "Don't suppose you have any-"
As if by magic, a thick stack of napkins appeared next to her face. Sighing in relief at not having to stagger up stairs in her sorry state, she accepted the help, scrubbing at her face and hands. Instructing her stomach that is was to stop this foolishness and behave at once, she slowly stood up, "Remind me to not do this again."
"I'd have stopped you two drinks ago, but you'd never have believed me." His grin looked pained. "Sorry about that."
"You been keeping tabs on me, old man?" Deunan chuckled, wadding up the soiled paper and tossing it into the dark waves. Kicking off her shoes at the tide line, she walked forward over the cold pebbles until the tail end of the surf lapped at her toes. The icy water did the trick, shocking her stomach into submission. She stooped to wash her hands and then patted her face. "Whew, the cold feels good. It's way too hot up there."
"It is a bit rowdy, yeah." Briareos watched her from the safety of the dry sand. "You feeling better?"
"Yeah." She laughed at her own folly. "But I think I'm sticking to soda for a few hours." Slogging out of the creeping tidal sand, she met him at the dry line, grabbing her shoes and settling on a convenient bleached log. Checking herself over for any lingering damage she was pleased to see that she hadn't puked on anything noticeable. That was a small mercy. Looking up at the deck, she could tell she hadn't been missed. All bright lights and raucous music, the party had a rhythm all its own now, her birthday had just been the initial excuse. The crew could drink all night for any reason at all. She grinned at their enthusiasm, but didn't have any immediate need to rejoin the merry chaos.
Briareos settled quietly beside her, reaching out to ruffle the hair at the back of her head. She leaned into the familiar gesture, momentarily forgetful that she wasn't a little kid, and he for once, didn't pull away. Putting her feet up next to her on the log, Deunan pushed herself over until she could rest her head against him, half slouched against his chest. Even with the stupid leather coat he was warm, a perfect pillow as the breeze picked up. His arm circled around her, shifting her closer still until she really was propped entirely against his chest and shoulder, safely pinned by his hold. She made no bones about snuggling backwards to get more of his affection, earning a snort of amusement for her efforts. "You're growing up too fast, Deunan." He muttered. "Soon you won't have any need for old-Briareos anymore. You'll have half a dozen guys pleading to be your puke-buddies."
"Ha ha." She rolled her eyes. "But how many of them would be sensible enough to bring me something to clean my hands with!"
"And a bottle of water." He added calmly.
"Water you say?" She craned her neck to look up at him in disbelief. "I could really use a drink, actually. My mouth tastes foul."
"Thanks for that report." The dark haired man replied drolly. Reaching into his coat pocket, he produced the desirable item and passed it to her. "For you. Drink it all, and at least one more before we leave, or you'll hate yourself tomorrow."
"If you get me up for the usual 10K run at five in the morning when I'm suffering from a hangover tomorrow, Bri, I will kill you. I will kill you and wear you as a hat."
"It'll teach you a lesson about minding your limits, at least."
"I've learned it." She made a face and sipped the water letting her stomach acclimate to allowing things in rather than pushing them out. "Believe me. God, how much did I just drink?"
"By my count that was just over eight in ninety minutes." He chuckled. "In future I suggest you keep it under three in an hour. Two if you want to be lucid enough to not embarrass yourself in front of strangers."
"Good to know." She snorted, feeling a little guilty now that her initial frenzy had passed. "Not exactly how I planned to spend my birthday… Sorry to make you play babysitter again. You must be sick to death of it by now."
"Nah." Briareos squeezed her gently, "You keep me on my toes. At this point I sort of expect your insanity. If you suddenly disappeared I wouldn't know how to fill the idle hours."
"So you get off watching cute girls puke, do you?" She asked archly, stretching her legs out along the crude bench. Rubbing her feet together a little chaffed some of the now-dry sand from her toes, but she wasn't keen to put her shoes on yet.
"Sure. Have you seen any lately?" He asked innocently.
"Puke?" Deunan frowned, confused.
"Cute girls." Briareos replied, mater-of-factly.
She reached back to crack him in the head with the half empty bottle. "Jerk."
"Ah, you must be feeling better." He quipped, ducking a second attack. "I said drink it, don't beat me with it."
"Picky picky." Deunan polished off the rest of the bottle and let her head fall back against his shoulder again. One of the nice things about Briareos was that he had a knack for knowing exactly when to stop talking. There were seldom awkward pauses with him, just friendly silences that could stretch on for hours.
She rubbed her head back and forth a little, enjoying the physical contact. He hadn't held onto her like this in a while and she was surprised by how much she had missed it. Probably her own damn fault, insisting she was all grown up and independent. In pushing away her surrogate 'big brother' she had given up one of the few people in her life she was able to relax with. But what else could she have done? It wasn't like she had asked him to be her stand-in father. Even at eleven, she had known she wanted the sharpshooter for a rather different role. The ensuing years had only confused the issue horribly. It was bloody awkward to tell him now that she'd rather he thought of her as a woman, and not family. She'd tried to tell him years ago, but he must have just assumed that was childish stupidity.
"Do you remember my thirteenth birthday?" Deunan blurted, unable to stop herself.
Briareos shifted, she could feel him staring down at her. Probably his eyebrows were furrowed in thought. She couldn't quite tilt her head back far enough to check, not without giving up prime cuddling. "I'm afraid not. Was that the year I was gone for that six month exchange program, training those idiots in Antigua?"
"No, that was fourteen." She laughed. "For thirteen you were here in LA beating on your usual slacker recruits. You took me to the city beach for the afternoon."
"Hmm. It sounds like something I'd do."
"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you..." Deunan snorted at his failing memory. Signs of getting old, no doubt.
"It was three years ago, little girl." He made a noise as she elbowed him but continued without comment. "A lot of shit has happened since then, forgive me for not memorizing your most-important milestones."
"Well you do have a lot on your mind." She teased lightly. "What with babysitting, and sharp shooting, and getting bashed in the head by thugs and all; senility was bound to set in early with you."
"Oi." He squeezed her again in punishment. "Not so old that I can't beat the snot out of little punks like you." She drew her legs up tight against his arm making the most of his warmth. It was criminal really, how toasty he was. She wondered if it was his Mediterranean blood. "You cold?" He asked with characteristic concern.
"A little, but I don't want to move just yet." Deunan felt the last of the alcohol evaporating slowly from her system; not all together sorry to see it go. "You took me to the beach, just the two of us, because everyone else was either busy, or injured from that weird gang-war that summer."
"Now that I do remember." He mused. "The Crypts caused a lot of trouble until we got their leader in the pen. Wonder when he's due out on parole…"
"Never, with any luck." She could hardly scold him for remembering the year based on the incidents rather than the down time. It was his job after all. "You bought me ice cream, and showed off on a rented surfboard for a bunch of cute co-eds from Stanford."
"I'm sure I didn't." Briareos murmured, abashed.
"I had a lot of fun." Deunan turned her head so that she could rest her cheek against his jacket. "I remember thinking… that I was really lucky, to have met you, Bri. Isn't that crazy? At thirteen? I already knew that you were the best thing that had ever happened to me."
"You didn't exactly have sky-high standards as a kid." He chuckled. "Ice cream and motorcycle rides were all it really took to keep you happy."
"And they still do, really." She laughed with him. "You don't buy me ice cream cones anymore though."
"You started rolling your eyes and complaining they made you fat." He snorted.
"That may be so, but that doesn't mean I don't still like them, from time to time." She banged her head back against him. "You've got to learn to read between the lines, lover boy, if you hope to ever be successful with the ladies."
"Hey now, I have had plenty of successes, thank you very much. Even now I have a nice girl down on Second Ave who calls me up and says she's lonely."
"Is that the same one you visit only when you are desperate for a lay? You spend maybe three hours with her at a time." Deunan shook her head at the obviousness of it.
"That's not even enough to buy her a proper dinner and sweet talk her before hitting the sheets. You don't get to call them girlfriends if you only call them once a month, shag them and leave, Bri. I believe the term you're looking for is 'fuck buddies'." For a second of stunned silence, she was afraid she'd gone too far. It was possible to hit a nerve on the stoic officer every now and again, despite his usually candid nature. She chewed her lip nervously until his shock gave way to a ripple of incredulous laughter. She sighed in discrete relief.
"Jesus girl, why is it, that you're sixteen, and I'm almost thirty, and yet it's always me that ends up blushing in these conversations?" He couldn't help but chuckle again. "You're unbelievable, the things you say. Sixteen going on fifty is what you are. Your father was crazy leaving you to a bunch of filthy bastards like us to raise."
"Making you blush is no challenge, boy-o." Deunan smirked. "I could do that when I was eleven, as I recall. You're just a prude at heart."
"Apparently so." He sighed. "Still I'd appreciate it in future if you didn't refer to my… female friends… quite so bluntly. You'll make go grey before my time, from shock, if nothing else."
"Duly noted." She let the conversation lapse, wondering how to steer it back in the direction she had been aiming for before it had been derailed. This was not exactly how she had wanted to have this conversation. Really, she didn't know how she had planned to have this conversation. In her head it had all seemed so straight forward and pat. Sitting here on a rather romantic little stretch of beach, slowly freezing as a party was winding down behind her, she realized that she might have bitten off more than she could chew. Still, pride refused to let her back down. She had promised herself 'now or never' and there wouldn't be a better chance for weeks, probably, to get Briareos alone, much less in a cozy mood. Pressing her shoulders back into his chest in nervous annoyance with herself, she resolved to forge ahead. "That day, on the beach…"
"What about it?" He shifted her shoulders slightly, covering her with the edge of his jacket.
"I told you… back then, that in three years, if I grew up to be sexy, and you didn't get too old and boring, that- I wanted to be your girl…"
The words came out all in a rush. She winced at how juvenile it sounded when spoken aloud. This was possibly the stupidest thing she had ever done. But what choice did she have? It wasn't like he would ever think to be the one to ask. "I asked you to promise me, that if I was sixteen and hot, and you were still you, that you would let me be your girlfriend. Crazy, huh?"
Briareos froze for the second time in as many minutes. The silence stretching on for several waves worth of surf. Deunan closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable laughter. What else could he do? How else could any sane person possibly respond to reminiscence like that?
"I- I remember that." The dark tanned officer murmured softly. "I hadn't until just now, but… god what a strange kid you were." She snorted softly, feeling as though the stay of execution had come through. Counting the waves served to calm her racing heart as Briareos was lost in thought. Deunan didn't dare to move, afraid to jar him from whatever it was he was thinking about. "I remember-", he continued after a long pause. "I remember telling you that you'd never grow up sexy. That girls like you never did."
"You told me," She remembered with a grin. "That girls like me grew up to be scary; half-woman-half-sharks in stiletto heels, capable of seducing the boys at fifty paces with a look and then neutering them with another."
"And so you will." He agreed with a chuckle. "You're well on your way."
"And I remember telling you that you'd likely be too old and miserable for me at twenty-six. And that I shouldn't want you anymore." Deunan shook her head at her own folly. "And I was right! Between that broken nose you had last year, and all the running around dodging bullets, you've lost your boyish charms. You're positively surly looking half the time, especially in the mornings. And they didn't get your nose right when they unbent it. Very uncool."
Her teasing broke the tension that had risen between them, causing him to throw his head back and laugh properly. "Sorry about that, girlie. Getting older isn't any fun from this side either, I assure you."
"That's the funny thing, really." She shook her head, confidence building. "You see, it turns out I don't seem to care anymore. Probably I never did. It was never about how good you looked." She shrugged. "Not that I think you look bad, or anything... But what attracts me to you is you… the way you always managed to look after me without looking down on me, all these years."
"Deunan-" He broke in, hesitantly.
"Please. Just- let me finish." Deunan tucked her chin against her chest. "Then you can say 'no thanks' and dump me in a cab to get me out of your hair for the night, ok?"
It took two breaths to settle her thoughts. The object of years-worth of her affections remained blessedly silent. His arm was a leaden weight around her waist. "I've been in love with you for three years, Bri. Longer, probably. It seemed stupid to tell you before, me being just a kid. The last thing you needed was to worry about was me becoming maladjusted over you or something. For the record, it's not a stupid crush, or a hormonal teen thing. I just… every day that I'm with you, I'm- everything is just better, with you."
"I had this daydream of one day growing up to be jaw-droppingly-hot, so hot that even you'd stare when I went by. And then I'd walk over to you and say, 'Do you remember, when I was little, and you promised me that I could be your girl? Well how about it?' And you'd be unable to resist me." She laughed at herself.
"Well, stupid me. I didn't grow up to be a supermodel. I'm just. Me. And I don't expect anything, I swear. But, I promised myself, all those years ago, that when I turned sixteen, I'd tell you." Deunan shrugged, "I'd tell you how important, and wonderful you were, and how sexy I thought you were. And how there aren't two guys in the world that could hold a candle to you… All of those things I've always thought, but knew kids shouldn't say. Just once, I wanted to say them. And if you said 'ok' then, well, great! You know? And if you said 'sorry', well, I'd just suck it up and hope you'd still be my instructor, or something."
"God. This is more awkward that I thought it'd be." She rubbed a hand against her face, feeling a fool. "Anyway, that's it. End of humiliating drunken spectacle. Go ahead and laugh, I know I would."
Her only immediate answer was the surf, its rolling rush suddenly loud after her longwinded confession. Closing her eyes she concentrated on the unemotional sound, willing her blush to fade. She wished she had the courage to look and see if Briareos was blushing too. Somehow that would have made her feel better. But instead Deunan just glared at her fingers, feeling beyond stupid.
"Jesus, Deunan." Briareos whispered harshly, breaking the silence of several minutes. "What the hell am I supposed to say to that?"
She laughed spasmodically. "I don't know. I really didn't plan this very well. I doubt there are even any cabs this far out on the coast. I'll have to catch a ride home with one of the boozers upstairs! How stupid, right?"
The arm holding her tightened abruptly, forbidding her from leaving. "You're insane. You know that? You're one crazy girl."
"Woman." Deunan corrected, "I'm sixteen now. That's legal to vote in America, you know, not just drink. Today I give thanks to the revised military service draft law of '23, that forced them to roll back the age of majority! Hurray good old Amendment 41!"
"Just proves this country is an insane asylum turned inside-out." He commented dryly. "Besides, if I can't call you 'crazy kid' anymore I'll have to come up with a whole new list of nicknames for you."
"How about 'dumb broad'?" she offered. "Nutjob? Psycho-hose-beast?"
"You don't wear pantyhose." Briareos pointed out thoughtfully. "And you're not dumb. Crazy? Yes. But not dumb. Definitely not a 'nutjob' either; that I reserve for the people shooting me from behind parked cars. And I don't like 'broad', it sounds cheap. English has far too many words for undesirable women, and not nearly enough words for feisty fiery ones."
"Any good Greek words?" Deunan asked, daring to rest her head against his shoulder again. "French? Japanese?"
"Not really." He shook his head. "Not many words in any language can describe a girl like you."
"That's me!" She agreed grimly. "One of a kind. They broke the mold."
"Yes." Briareos mused softly, sliding his arm off her waist and up around her shoulder, strong fingers pressing her head against his chest. "I think maybe, it makes sense. Only a one-in-a-million girl like you, could be crazy enough to fall for someone as messed up as me."
"You're not messed up." Deunan disagreed calmly. "If anything, you're the sanest person I know."
"I believe I've mentioned your low standards before." He murmured against her hair. "You- you meant all that, right? No joke?"
"No joke." She sighed. "If it was a joke, I would have ended it with a coconut cream pie."
Briareos snorted softly, then fell silent, whether mulling over her offer, or how to let her down gently, she couldn't begin to say. There was something absurdly restful about his fingers as they rubbed against her scalp however, and closing her eyes, she let him take as long as he needed, too content to move, much less hurry him. Not even the increasingly uncomfortable chill in the air could incite her to give up her slouch. She shivered at a particularly strong gust got under her jacket.
"Let's get back to the party. You're freezing."
Deunan blinked at the completely ordinary sounding advice, so out of place in their otherwise tense conversation. "But…"
"If you get sick, you'll get left out of your first real week of class." Briareos pointed out, letting go of her and gently pushing her upright. "We can't have that, now can we?"
"N-no." She agreed. "That would really suck." Wincing at the cold beach under her toes, she hopped a little as she slid off the log, not hesitating to slip her pull-ons over her feet, itchy sand or not. Looking up at her friend, she couldn't even guess what he was thinking. His face was its usual calm blank with only a hint of a smile to let her know he wasn't actively annoyed. At least there was that, she supposed. If he wanted to deal with her confession by pretending it never happened, was she dumb enough to force the issue? Apparently she was. "So that's a no then?" Deunan asked softly, hugging herself for warmth as she stood nervously awaiting judgment.
The dark tanned policeman blinked and snorted in amusement at the question. "That's a 'let's get back to the party.'" Shoving his hands into his pockets, he led the way back to the stairs. "Give me some time to think about it, hellcat. I don't think I can answer right now." He paused but didn't turn around, silhouetted by the light from above.
"Oh." She tried not to show her disappointment.
"That's not a 'no' either, by the way." He bent his head, shoulders shaking slightly in amusement. "Not a yes, but definitely not a no. Don't go sulking on me, got it?"
"Ok." Following him up the stairs, she felt more like herself with every bone-jarring thump of the speakers. The energy of the party was infectious. Forgetting about her stupid confession, and the embarrassment of puking on her first night out as an adult, she couldn't help but start to bounce to the beat of the music. It wasn't going to be enough to just play the good girl and chat with strangers until her longsuffering escort hauled her home. She really wanted to dance at least once more. Deunan charged up the last two steps in a rush, deliberately driving her shoulder into Briareos' back, shoving him forward into the noise and crowd. "Think fast!"
"What?!" Staggering and turning to deflect her surprise attack, Briareos caught her by the wrists, "You lunatic, what now?"
"You owe me a birthday dance!" Deunan laughed as she tried to free herself, twisting and tugging and eventually falling backwards and dangling from his grip, confident that he had her safely captive. Briareos pulled her up with a jerk, back onto her feet and forwards against his chest, looking anything but stern and serious as he grinned. Deunan stuck her tongue out in response, confident and care free once more. He might not have said yes. But he definitely hadn't said no. It was just a matter of convincing him that she was right. It promised to be an interesting challenge.
"Since when has a dance been part of your annual tradition?" He raised an eyebrow as he gazed down at her. His body betrayed his relaxed mood as much as his face did, automatically adapting to her weight. She let him wrap his arms around her, deliberately propping her elbows on his chest and playfully feigning boredom instead of clinging. "What's the matter, you too chicken to dance with the birthday girl with all your bro's watching?"
Sacrificing the chance to snuggle again was worth the reward. He laughed again at her, squeezing her tighter before letting go. "You're a menace, girl. You know that?"
"Just so long as I'm your girl." She couldn't help but tease back, resolved not to worry about the future. Determined, she dragged him into the main room of the bar where the rest of the SWAT team and their new recruits were ruling the roost. He let go as they crossed the threshold, allowing her to dance ahead, losing herself to the loud music.
Pulling off her jacket as it became too stuffy, she flung it on a conveniently empty table, reveling heat of the crowded dance floor after a chilly hour on the beach. A pair of hands circled her waist as she swayed and twisted, pulling Deunan back against a broad chest. Briareos' jacket had been left with her own, nothing but his white t-shirt between her cheek and his warmth. She humored him a moment, swaying in time, before spinning out of his grip and twisting around him, forcing her man to keep up, to work to capture her again. Feeling his eyes on her as she swiveled her hips, for the first time she noticed him noticing, and silently exulted. For all his hesitation, her plan had already begun to work. She was sixteen, and filled with the knowledge that she was no longer anyone's kid sister. Deunan laughed as she danced, daring Briareos to keep noticing. He couldn't ignore the fact that they were great together for long, and when he finally did give in and admit it, she would be able to say that she had known from the start.