No amount of artfully arranged Christmas lights, tinsel, or trays of microscopic pastry were enough to make him feel marginally better about the way his evening thus-far was going. Briareos glanced towards the door for what felt like the eight hundredth time in the past half hour, but neither of the new arrivals were people he gave a crap about.
The only thing worse, he supposed, than worrying about what sort of absurd dress Deunan was going to wear to the Governor's Holiday Gala... was having her not show up at all. The last he'd heard from her was the text message she'd sent all of five minutes before she was due to leave with him from the apartment saying that she'd have to make her own way because she was getting held up by some last minute paperwork at the end of her shift. That was over an hour ago and not only had he been compelled to deal with the initial round of introductions alone, but he was worryingly close to being obliged to sit down to dinner solo too. Briareos spared a thought to dial her number again, not at all surprised when it went straight to voice-mail.
This had to be revenge for the handful of times that duty had compelled him to stand her up for a date as a teenager, he sighed in resignation. He checked the door again, and resisted the urge to curse in frustration at yet another not-Deunan's arrival. At this rate he'd be compelled to lock himself in the bathroom to get a break from the reporters for a few minutes.
"You look about as happy as a cat that's stepped in wet paint." Someone drawled at his elbow. "Calm down, son. You're going to give yourself whip-lash if you keep gate-watching like that." The voice was familiar, as was the face. Briareos sighed in relief to meet someone who _wouldn't_ want a photo op from him for the evening. Reaching out, he gratefully shook the older officer's hand. "Agent Hollister. Mrs. Hollister. Always a pleasure."
"Seems like we're dining together." The senior negotiator tipped his wineglass a hair to note the cards placed around the nearest table. Nodding towards the 'executive' table placed up on the stage for the other notable guests, he raised an ironic eyebrow. "They didn't rope you into a seat at the grown-up's table?"
"I told the Colonel that if he did, I was bound to get nervous and spill something on myself." Briareos half-joked. "I didn't want to be here in the first place, being in the spotlight for more than the requisite 15 minutes is not _my_ idea of a good time."
"I can't blame you in the least. Public speaking always makes me sick to my stomach." The wispy looking woman on Hollister's arm smiled up at him and then shrugged helplessly. "I must say, Briareos. I would have never recognized you if my husband hadn't assured me of who you were."
"Perils of reconstructive surgery, ma'am. I hope you never have to experience it." He gave his now-standard reply.
"Where's the little woman?" Hollister glanced around, "I was looking forward to heckling her. Haven't had a chance to really talk to her since that stunt at the bank... She's not coming tonight?"
"She's AWOL." Briareos shrugged at the agent's polite surprise. "Got a last minute call to assist with something case-related before she was due to come down, and I haven't heard a peep since. With my luck she'll be tied up until morning."
"Rotten way to spend Christmas." Hollister agreed. "If you want to borrow Marlene for company when you're up on stage, just say the word."
"Don't you dare promise such a thing!" His wife pinched his arm, comically aghast. "I wouldn't know the first thing about what to do up there!"
"That's ok. Neither do I." Briareos shrugged and stared wistfully at the tray of wine flutes passing by. Deunan, of course, had promised to pack straws in her handbag, so he hadn't thought to slip one in his pocket. "All I'm supposed to do is stand there and look impressive while the pro's do the talking."
"Speaking of pro's. Here they come now." Hollister muttered into his drink. "The wife and I will just wait over on the other side of the table, shall we? Quack like a duck if you need to be rescued." Briareos sighed in defeat as the pair of departmental PR officers descended on him with no less than three reporters in tow.
With the expected pauses in conversation for welcoming speeches and general announcements, Briareos fended off the more-impertinent questions as best he could, letting the staffers run interference for him whenever possible. Despite is earnest effort to keep his answers short and vague, he was chagrined to find that the informal inquisition that ringed him had managed to fill half a notebook in next to no time and gather a small audience as well. Biting back a less-than-politic reply, when one of the gossip-jockeys started asking about maintenance fees, he cast another desperate look towards the door.
No luck. Not only was there no Deunan, but even the flow of arrivals had all but trickled to a stop. Some kind soul, probably Hollister had fetched him a tall whiskey with ice and set it next to his plate.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. He snagged the nearest waiter as the boy was setting out baskets of bread. "I need a drinking-straw. Don't care what kind. There has to be one in the kitchen somewhere, go ask."
The odd-ball request raised a few eyebrows from the crowd. But as he wasn't going to explain himself without being asked. With the PR guys excitedly talking over each other as they warmed to the topic of ROI on a one-of-a-kind civic investment, nobody could quite bring themselves to make issue of it. Then some wise-ass derailed the conversation by asking about his post-cybernetic-love-life and he was obliged to stutter something about 'seeing someone' without encouraging them to poke him for sordid details.
He cursed Deunan's absence all over again. If she'd just _been there_ he could have stood back and let her have a field day with the too-personal-questions. But she wasn't. He was sitting down to dinner with a reporter for Cybernetics Monthly still chatting his ear off, happily preempting the seat that should have been hers. Next time, he promised himself. He'd flat out refuse to come in the door until she was ready to walk in with him. Either that, or he'd line up a backup date for when his first one got unavoidably derailed.
"Wow. Now there's a case of better late than never." One of the lingering reporters standing around him nudged his friend with the camera, who did a double take and immediately lifted the lens to his eye to take a picture. "Who do you suppose _she's_ here with?"
"Me. With any luck." The cameraman joked. Briareos leaned around the pair, and nearly gaped in surprise. The girl had a passing resemblance to Deunan. Same height, same hair color, but there he was obliged to stop and second guess. _His_ Deunan didn't have hair that was cooperative to being swept back or curled, or styled in general. And there seemed to be... more of it... then there'd been that morning. Likewise _this_ girl had - by some occult means - managed to _pour_ herself into a shimmering evening gown that was just a little too green to be counted as a holiday color, but which did wonders at making the rest of her skin look a fantastic shade of gold. She must have known it too, because she was showing a lot of it.
The dress left Deunan's arms, shoulders, and all of her back visible. But otherwise, he was forced to concede, she shown remarkable restraint. It was well within acceptable boundaries for a ballgown. It was just the girl wearing it that made it seem, somehow special. The fact that she managed the feat of projecting both bashful and glamorous at the same time as she pardoned her way through the last of the crowd only made it that much more surreal. She was beautiful. She was graceful. She was gracious. The first, he supposed came naturally, but where the hell had she learned the other two? Certainly not on the SWAT training grounds.
Feeling stupidly out classed by a girl he had been expecting to simply be late, not late and jaw-droppingly lovely, he stood up to greet her properly. Somehow, the look that Deunan gave him - half relief, half tightly-wound nerves - gave him a little more confidence. She wasn't _quite_ as put together as she seemed. Acutely aware of the fact that the tables nearby were openly staring, he offered her a hand as she got close enough, and guided her through the maze of chairs.
"I'm _so sorry_ that I'm late." Deunan leaned against him briefly in greeting, giving the strangers at the table a fake smile, and then turning to look up at him with quiet exasperation. "It was just one thing after another... I don't even want to know how many speed camera snaps I will probably get in the mail next week."
"I don't know." He joked softly, "I'd say you got here just in time. Any later and you'd have missed the salad." It was weird, he supposed, to see Deunan wearing full makeup these days. How often in the past year had she gotten really dolled up for anything? His last real memory of her this done up was when she wasn't yet seventeen. Even when doing the stakeout, she hadn't looked this nice. At the time, he supposed she'd been aiming for 'easy' more than 'elegant' in her preparations. He studied her face for a moment before deciding that the overall effect was startlingly good. Not that he'd expect the level of effort from her on a day-to-day basis, but for a special occasion? He'd forgotten how well the touches of cosmetic suited her.
"Something on my face?" She fidgeted under his stare. "God don't tell me I smudged something on my run up the stairs... I'll feel like an idiot."
"You didn't. You're fine." He looked away, feeling guilty for making her nervous, just in time to get half-blinded by the flash of another camera. Briareos counted to five to keep the reflex reaction of driving the camera back into the poor man's face to himself. Deunan flinched and laughed next to him, shielding her eyes with her clutch bag, which did far more to dispel his sudden fury.
"Owww. Some warning next time? Guys?" She blinked owlishly as she cleared her eyes.
"Sorry miss," Came the chorus of sudden apologies.
"Better yet, wait until after dinner and I'll let you snap one of me kissing the big guy under the mistletoe. Ok?"
"Deunan!" He scolded at her blatant flirting. It was one thing to humor the lunatics, it was another to outright encourage them. She merely winked at him as she turned around to take in the lay of the land. The cub from Cybernetics Monthly was still sitting, bread roll in hand, staring up at her as if she was some sort of second-coming.
"Excuse me." She aimed her broad girl-next-door-smile at the poor man, which only caused his blush to stretch all the way to his ears.
"I think you're in my seat?"
Briareos covered his face with his hand at avoid cracking up at the reporter's suddenly mortified expression. Hollister, on the other side of the table, saw no reason for such tact, openly biting his knuckle to swallow his laugh as he slapped the table. Stuttering apologies, the reporter managed to not only get out of her way, but also hold the chair for her; proving that he did have some manners regardless of his professional nosiness. Deunan sat as gracefully as if being stewarded to dinner was a daily occurrence for her. Deftly setting her handbag down and shifting utensils, she turned and wordlessly offered him her bread-plate, his partially mangled snack still evident. That merited another embarrassed apology which she waved off with a sparkling smile. "
See you after dessert, fellas." She made vague shooing motions at the rest of the crowd. "Man's gotta eat." Amazingly, the reporters did as they were told, bashfully fading back to their tables and friends without further protest.
"You know." Briareos remarked conversationally as he settled back into his chair and watched her sip from her water glass. "If _I_ tried to shoo them the way you just did, I'd get looked at like I have two heads..."
"Yeah. Well. I'm a girl." She tucked her napkin into her lap and fished her compact out of her bag to check her reflection in the tiny mirror. "There have to be _some_ perks to balance out the never ending battle against misogyny."
He got distracted from thinking of a snappy reply by trying to figure out what she'd done to her hair. Some sparkly looking pins were clustered over each ear, and at regular intervals further along the curve of her head. As improbable as it was, with each pin it seemed like she had more and more hair to work with until finally there was a rather pretty sort of feathered mop of golden locks piled at the very back, almost like the crest on a bird. It took looking at it in a different spectrum to really understand what he was seeing. "Half your hair is fake!" He only realized he'd blurted it aloud when she paused mid sip to stare at him in disbelief.
People did that. He reminded himself. He'd probably dated women before who'd worn extensions on occasion and not given it a second thought. Briareos kicked himself for sounding stupider than usual. It was just unexpected. He didn't know _Deunan_ knew how to do that. It didn't seem right, for some reason. His girl never had felt the need for such artificial enhancement before. Part of him stubbornly insisted she didn't need it _now_, no matter how pretty it was. "I... Just." He scrounged for something slightly more eloquent than 'it's nice' to say and came up empty handed. "Makes a change. Is all." He caught the chillier vibe almost immediately and kicked himself again. "Must have taken a while to do?"
"Hair dresser." She stated what ought to have been obvious. Turning to study him again, she flashed a hesitant smile. "Uniform seems to be a good fit?"
"I feel like an idiot."
"You don't look like an idiot." Deunan chided, looking first to him, and then his untouched drink with a small frown. "No straw?"
"I don't suppose you could do the honors?"
Fishing in her handbag she produced the essential item and handed it to him only to look around in bafflement. "You telling me you've been here over an hour... and nobody bothered to find you a straw?"
"I sent a guy to go look for one." Briareos shrugged. "He never came back."
"Good lord." She blinked again. "What have you been drinking?
"There's a water-fountain out in the hall by the men's room." He admitted sheepishly. "That's about it so far." Sucking down several long pulls of his drink he felt immediately more cordial about the whole evening. Deunan was giving him the look she saved for days when he was being especially masochistic. "I did ask." He pointed out in his defense.
"I'd have thrown a fit after the first five minutes if I were you." She countered, leaning forward as she scolded and giving him an inadvertent view down the long line of her back. Her dress had a strand of brilliant rhinestones holding it nominally together below her shoulder blades but otherwise was functionally gone from neck to waist. Unable to help himself, he wondered what she was doing for a bra, but it wasn't something a guy could just ask in public. Probably he'd find out later, he mused. Unless she banished him to the couch for being especially inept tonight.
Put some effort into it, he chided himself, but it was easier said that done.
It was the dress, he mused. Under normal circumstances he was pretty confident he and Deunan were on the same level, in terms of social graces. But in this light? In that dress? She was down right intimidating. Nothing he could think to say seemed quite right.
It was only after her third sideways glance at him, while distractedly picking at her salad, that he realized that he was overcompensating for not being an idiot, by not saying anything at all. He gave up sounding intelligent in favor of not getting kicked. "You look really nice."
"You think?" Deunan smiled in a way that made him realize that she'd probably been waiting for his approval since the moment she'd walked in the door. He sighed at how they could so easily cross signals even after all their years of knowing one another, and nodded to further emphasize his approval.
"You look good in green. You always have."
"Thanks." Blushing at the praise. She resumed stabbing at her salad with more gusto than before.
Between Deunan and the Hollisters, he managed to have a reasonably enjoyable dinner, trading stories and gossip until interrupted by the unpleasant call of duty once more. Deunan squeezed his arm in sympathy as he was called up to the stage to do his one minute introduction, and then stand mute while others bragged on his behalf for far longer than he felt necessary.
Watching the film footage, a combination of training ground practice and recent operations recordings, was only _mostly_ mortifying. The colonel had been true to his word and ensured that the whole SWAT team had decent coverage in the marketing fluff piece, and that it wasn't just a twenty minute advertisement campaign for his 'super' strength. It didn't stop the final Q&A however from being anything but an all-cyborgs-all-the-time marathon of inanity. Briareos cursed silently as he was obliged to stand as a prop in the background and let the PR folks have their fun, wanting a drink, or several drinks in order to shake off the nerves that came of having an entire room full of people staring at him for the better part of an hour.
Finally allowed to retreat to his seat as the 'presentation' portion of the night wrapped up. He found a fresh drink ready and waiting. Deunan rubbed his shoulder as he woefully sucked it down. "You looked great. Didn't stutter or anything. Good job."
"Kill me." He disagreed with her assessment. "Just kill me now before the reporters come by again."
"Want to hide on the dance floor?" She nodded over to the slowly filling half of the room where the band was playing some sort of waltz. He eyed the swaying crowd of executives and city-fathers and shook his head in rejection of the idea. It would just be a disaster in the making if he tried to so much as shuffle at the sidelines. He could seen the headlines already, 'Cha-Cha-ing Cyborg Clubs Governor at Christmas Gala.'
"You go ahead." He advised her, not above giving her a gentle shove towards the dancers. A new flock of reporters had already homed in on his location, Briareos sighed in dismay. At least Deunan could still escape and have some fun.
She ignored his hint and simply swapped her water glass with his empty, switching the straw into the new glass and setting it in front of him. "Hydrate. Tin-man, or they'll talk you dry."
Deunan proceeded to turn her brilliant smile on his approaching horde, and like a true heroine, put herself between him and the crowd to distract them while he did as he was told. Listening to her laugh and tease the reporters and PR guys alike, Briareos marveled all over again at what Deunan had been doing while he'd been 'dead' to transform her from the rough-and-ready girl he remembered to the complex woman she'd clearly become.
Not that she wasn't... herself. He winced at a particularly direct answer she gave to the question what it was like to be one of only ten women currently serving with SWAT for the city. But somehow she'd perfected the trick of smiling as she said things, or otherwise distracting her audience with her natural charisma. Instead of coming off as awkward, or blunt; she was somehow pulling off 'fun and down-to-earth' as she talked about her life, the LAPD, and even their relationship without ever letting the conversation slip into TMI territory. He listened to her with silent pride, and no small amount of relief as she managed to deflect a good ten minutes of attention from him. Being _her_ background prop was a far easier thing, he found, than being up on stage.
A series of bright flash-bulb flares promptly quelled his growing optimism for the night. The downside, he realized, to Deunan looking as lovely as she did, and him standing next to her, was that they were now _the_ picture everyone was trying to get for the party. The PR guys steered them both unsubtly to stand next to the mayor, and then the other commissioners until his head spun from keeping track of how many hands he'd shaken and groups he'd managed to silently endorse simply by standing next to Mr. X or Mrs. Y for the necessary photo op.
Glancing over his shoulder at one point, he realized Deunan had become detached from him only to end up pulled into a 'candid' photo with her own parent. The look on Colonel Knute's face, as he was obliged to hold a party-cracker with his daughter and pretend that it was a feat he commonly did with his surviving offspring, almost made up for his own frustrations. To her credit, his girl gave the same wide girl-next-door grin to her father that she'd given to everyone as she too feigned the holiday tradition for the sake of someone's society column.
He wasn't surprised to find, on checking again a moment later, that she was gone, slipping away through the crowd the minute people stopped looking. He caught Holister with a look, raising his extendibles in silent question. The man mouthed 'balcony' back in reply, and then, like a true friend, did his part to run interference so that he too could escape.
Slipping through the crowded party as a seven-foot cyborg took some doing. Briareos rapidly discovered that he could simply choose to not stop walking and have it work startlingly well. Dancers, waiters, reporters, random spectators, no one wanted to be in his way when he was on the move, and anyone who tried to keep up would find themselves inevitably detached as they were caught up in the eddies in the crowd. Pleading 'bathroom' he cut his way out of the main room, and dodged several more curious among the business-types as he navigated the side lounge. The balcony was nominally 'closed' for the season, the cool evening being too much for the native Californians. But the glass doors weren't locked, merely shut to prevent a draft. A few diehard smokers lingered at one end of the space, his girl was leaning against the railing at the other extreme end.
Briareos silently joined her, resting his palm on her back as he leaned next to her and looked out at the city lights. Her skin was still plenty warm to the touch, he mused, but she was probably feeling the chill without some sort of wrap. "Hey." He offered after a moment of her not looking up.
"Hey." She acknowledge him, still studying something in her hands.
"What've you got there?" He nudged her shoulder so that he could get a better look. Deunan snorted in soft laughter before standing up and holding her trinket aloft for him to get a better look at. It was a little keychain with a small plastic bear dressed as a policeman stuck to the end.
"Cute. Huh?" She shook the toy slightly. "It's from the party cracker. Apparently there's also a little EMT duck, and a little fireman dog you can get..."
"What are you going to do with it?" He laughed softly, coaxing her to lean back against him so that he could provide a measure of warmth to keep her from shivering as the breeze picked up.
"Dunno." Deunan shrugged, still studying her toy. "Dad said I should have it after the reporter got distracted and left. When I think about it... this is the first Christmas present I've had from him in eight years... Funny huh?"
Sensing that he wasn't supposed to answer, Briareos chaffed her arms gently as he watched her thinking, never quite sure what to do at times like this. It really wasn't his place to get involved between the pair of them, their dysfunctional functioning complex enough without his well intentioned bungling.
It didn't mean he was insensitive to her hurt however. They didn't talk about her relationship with the Colonel any more than they talked about him and... anything about his life before LA. So even if he wanted to ask; wanted to know what precisely was so upsetting to her about the feigned family-moment after all the years he'd seen her acting indifferent towards the man. He couldn't bring himself to upset the status-quo.
"You want it?" Deunan turned to look up at him with a wry smile, teasing him with the dangling key-chain.
"Sure." He nodded slowly, catching her wrist and guiding her into a proper hug. The smokers might gossip later, but he didn't care as he stooped to brush his nose against her forehead. "Let's go in though. It's cold out here for a girl wearing next to nothing."
"Oi." She pushed against him playfully as her mood brightened. "Is that a dig about my dress?"
"I wouldn't dream of it." He let her pull him back into the stuffy warmth of the party, but was surprised when she stopped him before going into the main room again. Fussily removing his obligatory corsage, Deunan deciphered a means to hang the little toy from it before pinning it back to his shoulder. Looking down he snorted with amusement at how it looked like some sort of medal-of-special-achievement as it dangled against his uniform next to the real pins and commendations he'd been given over the years. "And to what do I owe the honor?" He joked when she looked up at him.
"That's an Order of the Bear. First-Class. Given to those brave officers who are compelled to attend Christmas parties for the sake of PR photos." She ad-libed, standing on her tip toes in order to press a kiss to his jaw and make it official. "Well done, officer. Your city thanks you."
He squeezed her to his chest with a chuckle and steered her back into the ballroom, arm in arm. "If that's the case, we need to get you one too."
"I want the duck." Deunan quipped with a merry look. "It's cuter, and would make a great phone charm."
"I'll see what I can do." Briareos agreed, sure he could trade someone for one as the evening wound down. "Wine?"
"Yes please?" His girl nodded, accepting the flute he liberated from a passing tray.
Another flashbulb, broke their private moment just as he was going to ask if she was feeling better. Briareos resisted, yet again, the urge to take the journalist's camera and use it to test his throwing-distance. Recognizing the man as the Cybernetics Monthly kid, he sighed at the photographer's horrible timing. Deunan was laughing however, so he kept his annoyance to himself and put up with the unwanted celebrity.
"Uh Miss Knute...? The guys and I were wondering..." Flushing at being pushed to the front of his delegation, the young man swallowed to gather courage before continuing. "Were you serious before? About the mistletoe thing? Because I checked with my editor and he said... that it would be great, if you would. That is- Given that it's Christmas and all...? If you didn't mind? We'd love to have that photo." Several of his compatriots nodded even as Deunan laughed louder. Briareos covered his face with his hand.
"What do you say, big guy. You? Me? Mistletoe?" She leaned back against him as she looked up to gauge his opinion.
"No." Briareos offered his vote.
"Why not?" Deunan wheedled playfully. "You won't dance with me... At least do the mistletoe... It's tradition!"
"I don't dance with you because I don't want to maim you by accident. And what are you talking about, tradition... We've _never_ done the mistletoe thing before. It's silly." He pointed out the fallacy in her argument.
"It'll be fun!"
"I think I've already made enough of a spectacle of myself for one night, thanks." He murmured down at her, trying to play up the pity angle.
Deunan pursed her lips, giving him a calculating look. "Someone's aiming to be stripped of his Order of the Bear, I think... I may just have to go stand under the mistletoe with someone _else_ tonight... You think Hollister would oblige? Or maybe that hot guy from the Urban Planning commission?"
"Deunan..." He couldn't help but tighten his grip on her waist, not sure if she would make good on the threat, and not willing to find out.
"One kiss." She smiled sweetly up at him, knowing that she'd won. "That's it. Because it's Christmas, and because I want you to. Please, Bri?"
"When we get yelled at later-" He reminded her.
"You can say it's my fault." Deunan smirked, "I accept full responsibility."
"You'd better." Briareos grumbled, steering her over to the popular corner of the room and the line of couples waiting to stand beneath the arch of fake holly to perform the obligatory kiss of the season. Unsurprisingly, seeing the 'cyborg of the city' approaching, the line rapidly melted away to give him priority access. He steeled himself for the inevitable heckling he'd get in the morning and spun Deunan out from his side in order to position her directly under the decorative foliage, deciding if he was going to go through with it, he might as well give them the show they wanted. Deunan's smile was huge, and for once, completely sincere.
"Merry Christmas, baby." She lifted her arms in invitation for him to stoop and do the deed. Feeling her hands resting on his shoulders, he obliged her with a peck on the cheek, ignoring the flashbulbs, and the inevitable cheerful-boo's from their gathering audience.
Deunan's eyes were full of laughter as he pulled back, daring him, as only she could. He grumbled so that only she could hear before taking a steadying breath. "Merry Christmas, Deunan." Stooping again, he kissed her on the lips, holding the pose just long enough for the inevitable barrage of flashes to stop. Lifting up, he tucked her back against his side and dipped his head in acknowledgment of the applause before steering them both away to the bar. "For the record. You're a cruel, cruel woman."
"So brave." She laughed against his coat, reveling in his embarrassment. "Come on. It _was_ fun... It'll make a great photo!"
"I'm sure to look stupid." He sighed, relenting with a chuckle as she stuck a straw in a fresh drink for him and held it up to give him easy access. "I hope my Christmas present is worth the abuse you've put me through tonight, woman."
"You'll just have to wait and see, won't you." Deunan raised an eyebrow at him smiling archly. "Point of fact, why don't we go find those publicity-maniacs and see if they're done with you for the night, because frankly? These shoes are killing me, and I _really_ think we'd have more fun continuing this party at home... don't you?"
"Briareos. My office. if you please?"
Briareos looked up from stowing his gear in his locker to take in the Colonel's annoyed expression. Mentally reviewing his performance for the past few days, he couldn't see any particular mishap that would require him being called to carpet. A second mental checklist, of Deunan's training performance, likewise left him at a loss for once as to what she'd done to peeve his commanding officer that he was responsible for by proxy.
Deciding that whatever it was, he'd be best off hearing it in private, Briareos nodded in understanding at the request. "Yes sir. I'll be just a moment." Colonel Knute grimaced and exited ahead of him, leaving him to rub his head in confusion.
Making his way to his superior's office, he found the old man staring out the window, his back to the room at large. "Colonel?"
"On my desk, officer, is something I'd like you to look at and offer an opinion of..."
Briareos noticed the stack easily enough, an assortment of newspaper clippings, partly hidden by a glossy magazine touting the latest news from the city center. Oddly, it was dated for _next_ month. He picked it up, curious. "Weird. Is this a draft-"
He paused on recognizing what was on the cover. Strange how the mistletoe, the embarrassment, and even how good Deunan had looked in her dress had so easily faded from memory less than two weeks later. He rubbed the back of his head in chagrin. His girl had been _very_ distracting during their subsequent, and _private_ followup Christmas celebration. Between her efforts, and a considerable amount of holiday themed alcohol that they'd consumed together, the stressful party before-hand had dissolved into a mellow blur.
The photo gracing the cover of the local magazine brought the night back into focus all too quickly. A crowd of well dressed town notables occupied the foreground of the image, obviously having a good time at the governor's ball, but in the background, caught in surprisingly good focus, was the arbor of holly and mistletoe, and a _very_ recognizable girl in a form fitting green dress getting smooched by a cyborg.
Not really wanting to know more, he flipped grimly ahead to the advertised page, and scanned the article. Not two, but _three_ more photos of him graced the lengthy text. One of the pictures also featured Deunan again as well, looking undeniably pretty as she did her part to make him look less like a bit of misplaced military-grade hardware wandering around a swanky downtown party and more like a guest. Flipping the page one last time, he hissed in disbelief at the close up of the scene applied on the cover. Deunan, bent ever so slightly backwards, leaning against his arm as she stretched upwards, her green dress all but sparkling with the intense light of the photographers. His uniform looking darker by contrast with her and his metal skin as he leaned over her to complete the kiss. It was almost artistic, he supposed. It would have been, at least, if it hadn't been _him_ smack in the middle of it. As it was... he didn't know what to think.
The caption on the image was some ridiculous drivel about love conquering all. He would had rolled his eyes, had he still eyes to roll.
"Christ." He sighed. "Is this for real?"
The colonel turned around to fix him with a level look of disgust. "The PR campaign regarding your return to the force... has gone _viral_, it seems."
Holding out his hand, the old man dropped two more magazines onto the table. Briareos immediately recognized the distinct font of Cybernetics Monthly, and Tech News. One had him standing behind the podium from earlier that same night. The other had graciously spared him the humiliation of the Christmas party, by choosing an image of him from the video presentation, in full SWAT armor, with his teammates all but cropped out of the shot.
On second look, he realized his reprieve had been only momentary. They saved 'the kiss' for an inset picture in the bottom right hand corner of the cover with a note advising readers to turn to page 64 for a 'true love story'. Between that, "The Future of Policing?", and "Meet the Ultimate Human Machine," he wasn't sure which article headline made him want to cringe more. What the hell had Deunan _said_ to those idiot reporters during her idle banter that had given them the impression that they were in any way a romance worthy of a cover story? He sat slowly in a chair, feeling dizzy with the potential mayhem that was about to break loose.
"But... none of these have been printed yet... right? We can say no. Can't we?" Briareos asked weakly. "Make them print something else?"
"This country endorses freedom of the press, Briareos." Colonel Knute drawled grimly. "We're asking that they choose slightly different cover images, of course. And that they make judicious changes to the text... But they're adamant on running the articles."
The old man shrugged. "Our press group is inclined to let them. To 'ride the wave', so to speak. Point of fact, they're insisting that your ill-advised mistletoe-antics be reprinted in the police department's charity calendar later this year. Apparently there's already strong demand for it in the local area, and potentially nationally." He rubbed his mustache tiredly. "They're also making a strong argument for having a second calendar... just for you and that damnable girl! The little idiot's 'look' is apparently in line with what is 'trendy' this year. God give me strength."
"You can't be serious." Briareos sat back, feeling more horrified by the minute. "We'll never get anything done if we're smeared across mgazines from one end of the country to the other... I don't _want_ reporters squatting in my parking lot day and night..."
"Don't remind me." The old man sat down slowly, glaring at him from across the desk. "My only hope is that this is a short-lived mania for something new and eccentric, and that something else will crop up in the next month to catch the public eye."
Colonel Knute folded his arms and scowled, fixing him with an even more ferocious look. "In the mean time, I suggest you tell Deunan, as soon as possible, that she is to be on _absolute_ best behavior for the near future. No in-uniform screw ups. No off-duty hijinks. No bar crawls. No shopping-sprees. And for god's sake... Absolutely _No_ Interviews, unless accompanied by myself, or an approved departmental spokesperson. The _last_ thing I want is for anyone to ever think that _she_ is an example of our usual level of courtesy and professionalism! Do you understand me? You will tell her, that if she can't behave, I can - and will - have her shipped off to the East Coast on a five-year stint with the peacekeeping force! And you _won't_ be joining her!"
"Yes sir." Cowed back into his seat at his commander's increasingly furious series of ultimatums, he nodded fervently that he understood. It was one thing for Deunan to enjoy reading tabloids. It was another thing all together for her to become fodder for one. One way or another, they'd lay low until the unwanted celebrity blew over. "Sorry sir."
"I do recall telling you several weeks ago, to keep a low profile at the damn dinner. You've brought this on yourself you know." The colonel sighed, sitting back in his chair as if physically drained from his shouting.
"I swear, I barely said anything. Certainly not enough to justify a fifteen page article. The PR guys talked three times as much as both of us combined!" He raised his hands in defense from the tired accusation. "It was just one corny kiss! She said it was a holiday tradition..."
It occurred to him, as the words left his mouth, that blaming the Colonel's daughter for the unexpectedly popular PR photos wasn't exactly the chivalrous thing to do. Any other girl's father would probably call him out for hiding behind a daughter instead of 'taking responsibility' for the debacle. Then again, the old man _had_ just referred to Deunan as 'that little idiot'. But still, traditionally it was up to him to take his girl's side in these conversations. Glancing down at the trio of blatantly ridiculous magazine covers, all of them featuring _him_? At the moment he was feeling less than charitable.
"Permission to go find my teammates sir, and warn them of the impending shit storm?" He asked after a long moment of mutual commiseration with his commanding officer.
"Agreed." The old man waved him off. "I don't care how 'marketable' the pair of you are, Briareos. Neither of you are paid to sell magazines. I will not tolerate this affecting your availability for either operations _or_ training. Especially for _her_. She has too much still to learn to be distracted by this nonsense on top of her usual duties, honestly. But even I must bow to necessity, if only a little. As a result, tomorrow when the team breaks for lunch, the pair of you are to report for a meeting with the police commissioner, and the press secretary, in regards to how, and when they may wish to make use of your new... popularity. If you're lucky, they may remember to feed you at the same time. But regardless, I expect you both back in armor and on the field again, by the time afternoon drills begin."
"Yes sir." Briareos let himself out before he could be the bearer of any _further_ bad news. Checking his watch, he decided he'd most likely find his girl at the gun-range. God knew he needed to do something to let off his stress. Shooting a few rounds with Deunan would calm his nerves enough that he could calmly, and carefully explain to her that they were about to be front page news for the next month, and that _no_, it wasn't something to be thrilled about. He only hoped she'd listen.