Rock had barely opened his mouth when Revy cut him off.

"If you bitch about not seeing your girlfriend one more time, I'm gonna stab you," she said, dropping the crates next to his foot. Rock rolled his eyes.

"She's not my girlfriend," he said. "Anyway, I wasn't talking about Balalaika. I'm asking how many more of these boxes we have to move."

Revy jerked a thumb towards the still-laden deck of the Black Lagoon in answer. "Count them yourself. Or better yet, shut the hell up and keep moving." She shoved the boxes in place before going back for another round. Fucking Dutch, she thought. That man had better pay us extra for all the money he saved hiring coolies.

"Is it my imagination, or is February really, really hot?" Rock panted, heaving another crate onto the stack. His shirt was soaked through and his hair dripped with sweat, running down his face and neck.

Revy eyed him critically. He didn't move the cargo as quickly as she did, but Revy had to admit that Rock was toughening up just fine, getting a bit of bulk on his skinny frame, his arms turning a healthy brown from their semi-honest work. She would feel pretty proud of him, if she could forget what a fucking idiot he was for hooking up with Hotel Moscow's mob boss.

Then again, if he hadn't, she wouldn't be having so much fun. "Ya gonna do something for Valentine's Day?" She grinned, picking up another crate. "Get her flowers or some shit?"

"Uh, no?" Rock said. "It's not the right day."

Revy stared at him. "What other day is there?" Anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas sprang to mind, but she didn't think they were already settled into ABC sex. Not with the way Balalaika rang the office phone every day.

"No, Valentine's Day is for girls, then White Day is for guys," Rock said, as though that explained everything.

"Wait, back up," Revy said, dropping her crate with a bang. "What is this girl-guy-white-day bullshit?"

Rock told her about White Day, how men returned the favour to ladies who gave them gifts on Valentine's, and Revy laughed so hard she had to sit down. The confused look on his face just made her laugh louder.

"Oh my god," she wheezed, fanning herself. "Japan is weird. Rock, you better get Fry-face something because she comes from the rest of the world, which does it the other way round."

Rock paled. "You mean…"

"Yep, Valentine's is your time to shine!" Revy said, managing a straight face for about two seconds before dissolving into tears of laughter.

Panic made his voice really squeaky. "But it's tomorrow!" Rock said.

Revy looked him in the eye with a deadly grin. "Then you might want to start running," she said, as she mimed pulling a trigger.


"Why do people keep doing this?" Balalaika demanded, throwing files down in disgust. She stood over a map of Parkana Square, half buried under hasty notes and informant reports. Boris noted several circles marked on it, probably where they would have to order a hit. He shuffled the documents back into their respective desk trays. Balalaika continued, "They know we have to retaliate when they peddle drugs in our area."

"Just take it as a bit of spring cleaning," Boris said. The weather hardly changed in Roanapurr, but decades of northern winters had set so deeply in his bones he could feel the snow thawing halfway across the world.

"Yes, spring cleaning," she said tartly. "Most people just chase rats out of their house, but here I am cleaning the entire south side. Lovely."

Boris reminded himself that the ire wasn't personal. She'd been moody ever since Lagoon Company left on a cargo run, but he'd finally got wind of them returning this morning.

"Kapitan, might I suggest you plan something for yourself this Wednesday evening?" he said mildly. "And keep Thursday free?"

"Why?" she asked.

"…it's a special day?"

Her eyes skewered him with suspicion as she opened her diary. "It's the fourteenth of February, I don't see what's so special about—" Her hand flew to her mouth. "Boris."

He seized his chance. "The Black Lagoon docked this morning, so I'm sure Rock's in town."

"I'd love to see him," Balalaika said finally. "But won't it hurt his… pride… if I take him somewhere?" Her tone made it quite clear how she felt about having to fight over the bill in this day and age. After all, most places would comp the tab for the crime syndicate leader, not the deckhand.

"No, in Japan it's the woman's job to do the gifts," Boris said. It felt strange to imagine the role reversal, but he confirmed it with a bunch of Japanese sailors. "So for once, he won't give you trouble about that."

"About time," Balalaika muttered, sinking into her chair. "I suppose I can clear my schedule."

Boris kept his face very still, trying not to betray relief. "Yes, Kapitan." They got through the rest of the documents in record time, emptying the 'In' tray into their respective folios.

"Oh, and Sergeant," Balalaika said, as he got up to leave. She tapped her temple and smiled. "Don't think that I didn't know you were trying to get me laid. We'll talk about it next time."

There were great white sharks that showed less teeth. Boris saluted with all his dignity and closed the door.


She was clearly doing Rock a favour, but the dumbass just wouldn't listen to her. He groaned. "Revy, we talked about this—"

"Because you don't know a good idea when you hear one!"

"- and I'm not buying Balalaika a gun," he said firmly.

Sirinsaya Market was a riot of festivities, with the thrilling atmosphere one gets from always being one gunshot away from a stampede. They'd been combing the street shops for over an hour, but after Rock complained every single one of her shop recommendations turned out to a damn criminal, they gave up and headed for the main complex. The local mall was a thick, grey building with a tile facade that had been fashionable about thirty years ago, cold air slapping them in the face as they entered.

"I don't care how practical they are," Rock added.

The crowd had thinned slightly inside, ebbing around the more popular stores. Rock made towards the gift section, Revy following in exasperation.

"But they're so useful!" Revy said. "Reliable and everything!" A hand brushed where the hilts of her beloved Berettas would be, tucked on either side of her chest. Thankfully, she'd left them behind, since open carry in a crowd would probably have resulted in her arrest. "She obviously likes guns, okay?" Revy continued. "But since you won't fucking listen to me…"

Rock was full of backtalk today. Apparently, saying that someone liked guns because they used them made as much sense as him falling in love with the office Telex machine. Revy fumed.

Revy looked up into the mall, the mirrored ceiling making the shopping possibilities endless. "Do you even have a fucking clue what you wanna get her?" she asked.

His answer then had been "no", and it was still "no" three hours later.

"What about flowers," Revy said sarcastically, after they left the billionth shop in the plaza.

" 'Too useless'," Rock said, sounding dejected. "That's what she said when I tried last time, anyway."

Revy blinked. "You gave Fryface flo - y'know, I'm not getting into that." She flicked her cigarette, shortening it by half. "This is seriously pathetic, Rock. Just get her something." Anything, she silently begged. While Revy's patience dried up faster than water in a hot pan, Rock insisted on rejecting perfectly normal gifts on the tiniest excuses:

Earrings? "She doesn't wear any."

Biscuits? "She doesn't like them too sweet… yeah, these are too sweet."

Necklaces? "None of these suit her."

Chocolate? "She only likes that Russian brand, I don't see it here."

A gun? "Revy…"

Revy ground out her cigarette butt with a bit more venom than usual. Just buy something, she wanted to scream. It doesn't have to be fucking perfect -

Oh. Something fell into place in Revy's mind. She watched Rock pick up an antique clock, examining it closely. She mentally kicked herself for not realising sooner. The idiot's looking for something perfect. Now all his bullshit makes sense.

Rock was looking for a present practical, useful and pleasing all at once. It probably had to represent some kind of commonality between him and Balalaika, though Revy had no idea how 'ruthless mafia boss' and 'giddy boy scout' worked out. And Rock probably believed he could buy a single thing that would be all these and more.

Revy considered falling in love to be some kind of insanity, and by god was Rock proving her right.

The crowd was starting to trickle away as shops began to close. Revy was bone tired; she didn't think looking at things would be worse than moving them. She excused herself to a distant bench, hoping that if she couldn't see it, she could pretend Rock wasn't still shopping like a dumbass. With the crowd thinning, she spotted a familiar face head and shoulders higher above everyone.

"Hey, Sarge!" Revy called, waving. Boris flinched when he spotted her, walking over quickly with his hands signing the universal "Cut it out!" signal.

"Jeez, relax, just seeing what your end's up to," Revy said, but quieter this time. "What'd she say?"

"She said she'll leave the day free," Boris said. "We're still working, so I haven't asked what she's planned."

The man was going to give himself neck problems looking over his shoulder like that. Unless Boris was waiting for a certain someone. Revy blanched. "Is she here?" she said.

"Yes," he said.

Revy clapped him on the arm in goodbye. "Nice talking to ya!" she said. She ran off to find Rock, snatching him as he came out of a menswear shop.

"Nice timing, Revy," he said, amenable even though he was being pushed out of the shopping centre. "I wasn't sure where you went."

"Yeah, yeah," she said, not listening. Revy kept an eye behind them the whole way home. No point splitting the target.


The next day was uneventful, until the phone rang for him.

"You wanted to see me tonight?" Rock said, surprised. He dodged Revy's death glare and held the phone a little closer, speaking softer. "Yeah, of course… I was just about to ask that, actually."

Balalaika's voice was no less smooth over the electronic line. "Well, glad you're available. Wear something… nice." The line went dead.

Revy was on his back the moment he put down the receiver. "You waited so fucking long, she asked you out instead," she said. "Oh my god, just give your balls to someone who deserves it already."

"You should give them to Revy," Benny called unhelpfully from his computer room.

"Fuck off!" she said.

Rock felt a headache coming on. "You don't ask Balalaika out," Rock snapped. "Anyway, she's usually busy, so it's better to wait and find out when she's free -"

"And wait for her to call?" Revy mocked. Her eyes widened. "Holy shit. You're like her call gi—"

Rock left the office before she could finish her sentence. They were in between jobs, so the morning was crawling slower than a lame tortoise. He'd rather sweat it out in the sun than stay at the desk and listen to Revy loudly bet on his sex life. To be fair, he hadn't given Revy any new material in the last two weeks, cramped up with cargo in the Lagoon's hold. The whole journey had been a drag, in more ways than one. Between her crude jokes, Benny's unwanted advice, and Dutch's ongoing amusement, Rock would almost say the sex wasn't worth it. Almost.

He'd missed hearing from Balalaika though. Tucked in between the meetings of the workday, their frequent, short calls seemed to carry more weight than their trysts. It had been a lot quieter on the boat. Mobile reception didn't exist over the waves, and there was no way in hell he was taking one of Balalaika's more sultry voicemails on the satellite phone, where anyone on the bridge could hear.

Rock was a block away from the office when his cell phone rang, flashing one of Balalaika's many active numbers. Hotel Moscow was keeping an extremely close eye on the Lagoon's office if she already knew he was out. He picked up, saying, "Yes, Miss Balalaika?"

"Yakol will pick you up from the office at seven, then down to mine, and we can go have dinner together by quarter to eight," she said crisply.

Her drill sergeant tone detailing date night was hilariously dissonant. Operation 'Ask Rock Out' has begun. Rock bit back a giggle. "Of course," he agreed.

"Good," she purred, stretching the word out. "And don't bring anything except your lovely smile." She clicked off again. Rock's hand brushed the small box in his pocket as he slipped his phone away. He already knew he wasn't going to follow instructions.


A few hours later, Rock knocked on Balalaika's office door and let himself in.

Balalaika was at her desk, head in her hands. A pile of stubborn reports were open in front of her, holding her undivided attention.

"Stasi, Borya," Balalaika said, pushing the files away. "Kogda sye mi by- Rock?" Her eyes darted to the wall clock. It read 5:40 p.m., way before his actual scheduled arrival. Balalaika didn't reprimand him, only raised an eyebrow. "Did you walk here?" she asked, rising from her chair.

"Definitely not." He hadn't changed into a fresh shirt, jacket and cologne only to soak in perspiration on the sidewalk. Rock coughed. "I'm glad you called because it's… it's Valentine's Day and um… well, I thought it would be nice if we, uh…" Rock faltered. Oh god, maybe Revy was right. He didn't actually have the balls to ask anyone out.

Balalaika circled her desk to stand in front of him, smiling slightly. "My, my, I never would have guessed it was Valentine's," she said. "Nice flowers." Rock flushed and tried to hide the roses; difficult, when Balalaika could quite easily see over his shoulder.

"I got something for you," he said unnecessarily, but her eyes widened in surprise when he offered her an oblong box the size of her palm with the bouquet. Balalaika placed the flowers aside, brightening as she opened the box.

"Where did you get them?" she exclaimed, pulling out a sturdy, bright piece of silver, shaped like a thick pin. "You don't wear these, but you clearly know how to pick them out."

"They reminded me of your eyes," Rock admitted, taking the other one to show her the stone set in the top. They even reflected light the same way, splitting nearly violet along their edges around a circle of sky blue.

"Let me put them on," Balalaika said, shrugging off her jacket. Unpinning the old, plain cufflinks on each sleeve, she replaced them with his present, holding her hands out to better admire them as they shimmered on her wrists.

The sun was starting to set through the window, backlighting her thick blonde hair in vivid gold. Rock put his hands on her waist, and she lowered her head for a quick kiss. The soft locks were now tickling his neck as she leaned over to speak into his ear. "I do feel bad," she said, placing her hands on his shoulders. "Here I am supposed to give you something, but you've outdone me completely." Her eyes flicked to few bottles of wine standing ready on a nearby shelf. She stepped closer.

"How could I possibly repay you," she said lowly, her voice sending jolts of electricity down his spine. His head spun as Balalaika pulled him over the last few inches and kissed him hard, all tongue and desire. Her arms wound behind his neck, pulling him up towards her mouth. Rock was giddy with the sensation, sending his hands over her breasts, heavy and ripe under a thin cotton shirt.

Her mouth smeared lipstick down his neck as she nibbled lower across his torso. Rock untucked her shirt and slipped his hand onto her bare waist. His fingertips traced the familiar scars knitted over her ribs, following them onto her back, tangling in the clasp of her bra.

"Oh good," Balalaika said, muffled at the side of his neck. "Get rid of it."

Rock didn't need to be told twice. It took both hands, but he managed to unhook the massive thing, though it still clung to her stubbornly, held in by her blouse. Balalaika laughed when she noticed his disappointment.

"Fine, we're both overdressed anyway," she said, grinning wickedly. Rock hurriedly got out of his jacket and dress shirt, throwing his tie and belt over them on the back of Balalaika's chair. He locked the door as she undressed. Balalaika was at her desk, sweeping reports and folders aside, seating her topless self in the newly cleared space.

Rock eyed the desk. "Again?"

Balalaika crossed her arms underneath her breasts. "Unless you'd like to do it against the wall?" she said archly. Her tone made it very clear just who was going to be done in that scenario.

Rock didn't fancy being slammed into hard surfaces on his tiptoes much. "Fine, but one day we're gonna break this thing," he muttered, joining her. He knelt between her stockinged legs, pushing her skirt higher. The lace of her thigh-highs followed up from her garter to the suspender belt under her clothes, creating a hot friction in his palms every time he rubbed over them.

She'd magically removed her underwear from under all that. Rock was grateful; bras were tricky enough, he didn't need lingerie to present him a challenge more akin to lock picking than lovemaking. He kissed the inside of her thigh, drawing a soft moan; Balalaika always liked being touched there. He nipped at her sensitive skin for a bit, before moving on to pleasure her between her legs.

Her entrance was hot and salty, the scent of her body filling his mind as he ran his tongue over the edges of her labia, occasionally pushing inside to taste. She coaxed him deeper with her hands, running through his hair, gently nudging him into position to lay pressure where she was most sensitive, sighing in wordless appreciation. Rock didn't mind, he was grateful for the direction, and every time her body rocked against him it sent a shot of arousal straight to his cock.

When Rock finally reemerged, Balalaika was panting, splashes of colour on her pale cheeks and collarbone, legs trembling slightly. He leaned over her and licked the taut skin around her navel until her breathing slowly evened out.

"Ready?" he asked.

Her hands were warm on his neck. "Yes," she said.

The condoms were in the top drawer, and she rolled one on him quickly. Balalaika sat upright, leaning her forehead his shoulder. Shiny with the lubrication, her hands eased him inside her slowly, teasing out the moment as long as possible. She shuddered as the head of his cock disappeared, followed by the shaft. It didn't take long before he was hilt-deep inside her, his own breath shaky. Fuck, Balalaika was never less than amazing.

"C-Can I move?" Rock said. It was difficult to hold still. His legs felt like they were going to give way under him. She nodded and let go of him, lowering herself flat on the desk, her breasts heavy and wide. Her eyes were like black coffee in a blue saucer, the surface liquid and shimmering.

It would have been so much more comfortable in her hotel room, but sometimes sacrifices were made to fulfil a fantasy. He started with slow, even strokes, changing directions every few thrusts, looking for the angle that would drive her insane. Unfortunately, from Balalaika's relaxed expression, he wasn't finding it this time. After a few minutes, Rock pulled out partway, trying to concentrate. The friction was warm and gripping even through the condom, and if he moved any more he was absolutely going to come before her.

"You're already this close?" Balalaika said, surprised. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Hm. Give me your hand," she said. Without waiting for him to obey, she took his hand off her hip and hooked her leg over, placing his palm squarely on the table. Rock winced. He had to brace himself against the extra weight of her leg, but with one knee dangling next to his shoulder, Balalaika looked very…open… underneath him right now.

"Oh, fuck," he said, because instead of helping him last longer she'd pretty much kicked him off the edge. He moved on to plan B, which was to immediately climb off her and give her another round of head, buying a moment to cool off.

It was extra work, but on the bright side, the generous foreplay was really turning her on. Balalaika started moaning every time his lips pressed around her clit, and her voice jumped when his tongue pushed inside roughly. She probably came too, if the cry of his name and the painful heel to his kidney was any indication. Rock swallowed the pain and pulled away, surveying his effort. Her light pubic hair was soaked in his saliva and her own wetness, her flushed red entrance glistening between shivering legs.

They were both ready for it, he knew, as Balalaika helped him rearrange her limbs so that she wouldn't accidentally kick him off the table. With her legs raised up, her hips followed easily, and he slid back into her in one go. In this new angle, Rock felt like he was reaching much deeper as he looked for her sensitive spot, pushing just that extra inch closer to satisfaction.

"Rock," Balalaika groaned, shifting under him. "You're so slow…"

Rock looked at his lover, cheeks flushed nearly as bright as her nether lips, and pressed into a new angle that took him further back, pushing her legs down at the same time. To his delighted surprise, Balalaika cried out, clenching involuntarily around him. He didn't wait, repeating the action again, just harder and faster. He knew he'd scored when her voice jumped an octave, and her words tumbled out like she'd run a long way.

"Just… Just a bit higher, please," Balalaika said faintly. This new position made her a bit more helpless than usual, Rock thought smugly, so she actually had to ask him to do things rather than just manhandling him into place. He could really enjoy this.

Taking 'higher' to mean the front wall of her body, Rock straightened and thrust into her with all his might. The noise she made echoed off the walls and sent his manhood off the charts. Seriously, if Balalaika learned how to make that noise at will, Rock would jump into gunfire, punch a tree in half, do whatever she asked at her feet. Luckily, as she arched sinuously beneath him and called him filthy names, all she wanted now was for him to fuck her senseless on her own desk.

He thrust again, and again, and again until he lost count, but Rock made sure to hit the same place every time, setting her pleasure points on fire. She writhed and jolted around his cock, breasts bouncing with every hard stroke, her loud cries swinging like a pendulum between "Rock, wait!" and "Don't stop!"

He was so close to his own climax, giddy with endorphins, he barely felt it when Balalaika raked his back with her long nails, crying something incomprehensible in Russian as she pulled him roughly down. She kissed him savagely, nearly twisting his neck. One hand tangled in his hair, sending tendrils of pain across his scalp where her fingers caught and pulled blindly. Rock broke the kiss and bit her sharply on the shoulder, pushing her down to the table, forcing her legs wider. She gasped and dug her fingers into his skin, shuddering from his rough thrusts and moaning a phrase over and over in her native tongue than he knew meant Fuck me, oh fuck me, oh god. With teeth and nails, Rock added little pains that would translate to ecstasy by the time they reached Balalaika, riding her second orgasm and finishing with a loud sigh.

He'd been holding back so long he came the moment he was distracted; seeing Balalaika's half-lidded, lazy smile from under a mane of blonde bedhead, Rock forgot about his inner battle of wills and ejaculated mid-thrust, sinking the rest of the way with a low moan. It was a miracle he held out this long. He could feel his cock softening inside her, but the way their limbs fitted together was so comfortable and warm, he didn't want to move anywhere. From her soft sigh, neither did she.

"We still have dinner tonight, you know," she said a while later, brushing the hair from his face.

"Oh, yeah." Rock winced; maybe he shouldn't have thrown his jacket like that. It was definitely creased. "What time is it?"

"About six-thirty," Balalaika replied. "I'll get us picked up here at seven-thirty, so we have plenty of time to clean up."

There was a momentary silence.

"Rock…" Balalaika said gently, as though to an idiot. "Please get off me."

It was a small mercy that she didn't say 'get out of me' instead. "Right," Rock said, blushing bright red. Stripping off the used condom, he made for the office bathroom but was enveloped in her arms, her bare breasts pressed to his back. "Finished already?" Balalaika said in mock disappointment. Her hand crept over his hip. "We have time for another round," she said, smiling over his shoulder.

Rock laughed half-heartedly. "I… I don't think I can hold myself together for another one, thanks."

Balalaika's blue eyes danced as she rounded him, taking his cock in her hands. "What if you didn't have to hold back this time?"

He fell against the wall in complete surprise as she took him into her mouth.


Revy saw the caller ID and groaned, cracking open the phone. For fuck's sake, Boris should be able to dance around his own kapitan without having to hide behind Revy's non-existent skirts. "Have they gone for their stupid dinner date yet?" she snapped.

His dead response of "No, they are having sex in the office," made Revy drop her cell, but luckily onto carpet. She snatched it off the floor.

"Boris!" she screamed. "Show me where the fuck I asked!"

Too late, the knowledge was burned into her mind. Along with way too many vivid mental images. Yeah, she'd never be able to go there again. Not in this lifetime. But Boris wasn't done dragging her down with him. "I've used that table," he said. "I put my lunch on that table. I even -"

Corpses would rot faster at the sound of that voice. "Boris, I'm gonna pause you for one second," Revy began, then hung up on him. She had zero sympathy for the guy. Wasn't that what he wanted? Rock and Balalaika to get over the radio silence and bang? Amazing, people who set out to do things then get surprised when they get results.

The mental images came back and Revy groaned. She needed to get absolutely piss drunk for Valentine's tonight, but not for the usual, single reason. There was just some things that needed to be brain bleached to oblivion.


If their driver thought Balalaika had gone overboard with the perfume, he didn't comment. Rock wasn't about to admit to wearing it himself anyway. It was either Chanel or the lemon cleaning spray under the sink when he looked at his options for not smelling like recent sex.

Balalaika looked much better. Her ponytail was a little askew, but she had changed into a classic, black dress before pulling her greatcoat on. Her bare legs crossed in the car, she held out a selection of red wines for him to choose from.

"1981? Is that supposed to be better than 1991?" Rock said blankly.

"I have no idea," Balalaika said cheerfully. Rock gave up and just picked out the bottle with the fanciest label, an Italian red supposedly hailed from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Neither of them could taste the difference after the third glass anyway.

"There you go, happy Valentine's," she said, tucking the bottle into his arms.

Rock blinked. "Wait, I thought this was for the restaurant?"

Balalaika tilted her head towards the remaining bottles. "Those are for tonight. Don't worry, we won't lack a good drink."

She'd planted the bottle on him like a baby, cradled by his elbow and everything. Rock sighed. "Thank you. I feel useless today, but thank you."

"Nonsense, I really liked those cufflinks," Balalaika said, but her eyes sent him a sideways glance that said a bit too much. Rock wished his face wouldn't catch fire so easily. Balalaika laughed and took his hand, holding it gently. She rubbed it in a reassuring way, giving him a kind look, and he somehow got the message.

I like who you are, not what you do for me.

He squeezed her hand and told her he felt the same way.