We can shoot the place out, till we wake the neighbors up,
Yeah, I'm in it for the kill, keep on shooting never stop,
Gimme your guns and keep your stupid roses,
Bang bang bang b-baby, bang bang bang!
~Nicole Scherzinger, "Guns and Roses"


Shaundi was not in a good mood. She stormed up the flight of stairs to the penthouse and burst in, anger building to the point where a single offender would trigger a nuclear upsurge.

"Where the fuck is she?" she yelled, blazing eyes searching for the familiar dark hair. "Where's that lying bitch?"

The room answered with a wave of silence, seemingly void of life. The gaudy furniture clashed with the glistening stripper poles and cream walls, creating a giddy atmosphere. Through the huge windows, the pool shimmered like tiny glass beads in the bright sunlight.

The boss wasn't anywhere to be seen.

She growled with irritation, storming to the bar and grabbing some vodka, gulping the distinctive drink straight out of the bottle. Fucking dick! She thought to the message she had received in the morning, brows furrowing in frustration.

"I can't go Mexico? Why the fuck not?" she had protested.

"Girl, the boss called. She said we need you to promote some shit here," Pierce tried to explain. "I Wanna Sleep With Shaundi's gotta wait."

She had to miss the trip to film the newest episode of her show for some fucking t-shirts? Normally she would take the boss' instruction with no objection, but this was the last straw. Fucking t-shirts. A few more sips of the strong substance allowed a cool sensation to descend on her spirit, her eyelids fluttering shut in a false calm.

"My beautiful Shaundi, is that you?"

Fuck no. This was not happening. She put the head in her hands and groaned. She didn't need this, not now. The room went quiet again and she remained still, peeking out through her fingers.

Josh Birk lay sprawled across the giant purple couch, chocolate eyes blinking back at her. He swung his arm over the side, clutching an issue of TeeVee Magazine. Shaundi rolled her eyes when she saw the picture of Nyte Blayde on the cover.

"My dear…it is I, Joshua!" he said, smouldering eyes locked onto her tense form. She groaned inwardly and put on a tolerant face. The conceited moron may have seen her superior.

"You seen the boss around?"

"No, she has not passed. My gaze only falls upon your stunning form." Shaundi winced at his false approval. "It's just you and I."

She knew he just wanted to get into her pants; any idiot could see that. Perhaps the bohemian Shaundi from a few years ago would have given Birk a chance, but the global icon she had become couldn't afford a scandal. There was a fine line between being a sexy vixen and a slut, and the polished Shaundi of the present wanted to stay in the former category as much as possible, especially with the protests since the fall of the Syndicate.

Loren's death had been pitiful and far too quick in her opinion; the fall of the Syndicate, however, had been majestic. Killbane's unmasking, Angel's rise, the adventures the boss had in the Decker User Net, taking down Miller and securing a surplus of weaponry at a discounted rate. There had been danger too, but thankfully, the boss had made the right decision for the crew – the girls had been saved; Shaundi had been saved. She had the inkling that if Burt Reynolds had not been tied to the statue, the boss would have gone after the masked madman. She tried not to dwell upon that thought; it made her uneasy.

Anyway, the sound of Josh's voice irked her so, and besides his floppy caramel hair and soulful eyes, she didn't find him attractive. Whatsoever.

"Have you seen my newest Nyte Blaydettes?" Birk asked, zoning out a little as he thought of the curvy beauties reined in for the new season of his show. "They keep getting hotter and hotter!"

"Nice to know, Josh. Nice to know." She casually eyeballed the muscular frame of the actor. His body isn't bad; pity about the terrible personality.

"None of them even come close to you," he said, wistfully gazing at the girl he wanted so much. It was more than the thought of getting with her, he knew, and his stare wavered.

She snorted in defiance and looked away. He's so full of bullshit. Placing the drink down, she decided to continue the search for her elusive boss, just to get away from Birk's dashing good looks and- the fuck am I thinking?

"I'm going to find the boss," she declared.

"Before you go, won't you tell me what a fox like you is doing for Valentine's Day?" he asked, watching her freeze.

"Valentine's Day?" she repeated, astonished.

"Yes, it's in a week," he said softly, bemused and rather surprised. "I thought someone was dazzling as you would be out on a hot date! Maybe even with me-"

Oh my god, the nerve! "Yeah, I've already got a date," she lied. Truth be told, she had no idea such a momentous day was looming. It was essential to her career to be seen with someone, as being alone never went well with the press. She smacked her forehead, realising if she had gone to Mexico, the whole fiasco could have been avoided. Now she would have to be alone and stay indoors, or even worse, hire an escort.

"Maybe I could-"

"I already told you, I've got a date. Why not take one of your Nyte Blaydettes out? If you can find one that isn't twelve," Shaundi pouted, speaking with disgust.

"Must you vex me so, my bitter queen," he said, lowering his voice to a dull smoke. "Possessing the warmest of bodies with a heart colder than ice."

The ash blonde girl shook her head in disbelief. He was still as pretentious as he'd ever been; she must have imagined the flicker of softness in his manner.

"I'm leaving," she announced again, meaning it this time. "If you see the boss, tell her I am not happy."
-

The curvaceous girl stretched and yawned, glancing at the pink heart-shaped clock on the cheap wood table. Between its fuzzy furs she read:

[02/14] / 21:00

Nine o'clock on Valentine's Day and she lay in her ex's loft, lounging on the grotty couch and watching the flickering television.

I love Rim Jobs and you can too! Hop down to your local dealer for the thrill of a lifetime! I used to be a sceptic until I got my first, mind-blowing Rim Job experience!

So come on down to Rim Jobs- get yours today!

What the hell happened? Shaundi, the Shaundi, had actually ended up alone on Valentine's Day. Everyone had plans; Pierce had got himself a luxury ho, the boss was back at Stilwater sorting out some business. Even Oleg and Kinzie had hooked up; she was apparently making him pancakes tonight. Viola…well, she didn't care what happened to her. Zimos had his bitches and Angel had exiled himself to his gym for the past month, bitter about Killbane's escape.

She was the only one alone that evening, alone out of sheer circumstance. Admittedly, there were hordes of males, from teenagers to senior citizens, willing to fuck her brains out, but none would take her out on a date. To them it was always sex, sex and sex.

Nyte Blayde must choose wisely between his sweet Marian or the resurrection of his darling Sylvia….

"No, Mister X! Do not make this such a wicked choice!"

"Nyte Blayde, you stand no chance…Mwahahaha!"

"Sylviaaaaaa!"

The vampire makes the final cut. Josh Birk stars as Nyte Blayde. Season 2, coming soon on Channel 12.

Shaundi's mind wandered as her unusually light eyes closed. It would be Marian, she thought. Nyte Blayde always chose Marian. She hated to admit it, but she loved the show. Not Birk, just the show. The Cardinal's kinda hot too…

Free of make-up and tight clothing, her mind and body felt unnaturally liberated, and her thoughts were more open. Josh isn't so bad… Being with him would be better than being alone right now.

She thought back to the obscure gentleness in his eyes, so out of place on his rather good-looking yet arrogant face. It seemed too genuine to be her imagination, she concluded, and she couldn't help but wonder what had caused it. He's usually so self-centred and narcissistic. Why am I so…? She wouldn't let herself think that thought. The actor from Nyte Blayde was not what she was after. Hell, even Pierce was more her type than that brown-haired, green-eyed bastard.

Yet still she could not stop thinking about the only offer of a date she had received. "I don't understand," she said aloud. "What the fuck is wrong with me? Less than a week ago he's so repulsive and now...I don't even know-"

A loud knock interrupted her monologue. What the hell? she frowned, wondering whom it could be, almost certain she hadn't ordered pizza.

"Shaundi, your destiny is here!" called the famous voice, cutting through the thin wood. She groaned, unsure of what to do. "I know you're in there, my princess...my sexy sexy princess."

"Leave your signed headshots at the door and go home," she called, frustration growing as a red glow rose to her cheeks: she hated being anything else besides in control or stoned. Anger was another emotion she tolerated if the situation called for it.

"I've got some of those with me, if you want them..." his voice turned husky, and as much as she hated to admit it, a little hot.

"Ugh."

"I know you're free. I'm not interrupting anything." He gave a light cough. "And I'm certain I'm not, so you can let me in."

"For fuck's sake..." she growled, swinging the door open. The tall, edgy form of the forbidden fruit looked back at her earnestly. His hands clutched many gifts; a box of chocolates, a bottle of Saints brand champagne, and a bouquet of luscious bright flowers. Roses, really? How original. She stared at the velvet buds, floral petals blooming a seductive cerise, the thorns slightly protruding the sheet of plastic surrounding them. They were exquisite, if a tad overdone. At least he made an effort… Shaundi then sighed as she saw the slim box he held: a season special of Nyte Blayde on DVD.

Scanning him over again, she took in his typical outfit - brown blazer jacket thrown effortlessly over a well-fitting white t-shirt, spattered with a blood-like effect. A black cord with a gleaming red jewel hung loosely around his neck. His jeans were faded, the navy denim contrasting with the dusty white tears, and a pair of orange-tinted sunglasses were clipped around the waistband. Birk did look rather dashing...until he opened his mouth.

"My love..." he breathed. "You look amazing in even the dreariest of outfits."

She suddenly felt self-conscious in her tattered Saints pyjamas, the loose t-shirt and baggy shorts definitely not doing her figure any justice.

"What do you want?" she got straight to the point; she didn't want to have him in her place longer than necessary. At least he hadn't shown up in his Nyte Blayde outfit, and for that she was grateful.

"I'm here to see you, the love of my life, on this spectacular day!"

Shaundi's eyes wandered to the dark buckle of his belt; her gaze drifted lower and lower, pausing a moment too long at the bulge between his legs, before darting back to the jingly item containing the offending shine of silver that caught her eye. The distinctive shape of the metal was analysed under her wary look.

"You brought a fucking gun?"

"Oh?" he asked, glancing down at his belt. "That's what you were looking at..."

"Why did you bring the gun, Josh?" she leaned forward with aggression, arms poised to strike. His eyes darted around, looking for somebody who obviously wasn't there.

"Don't tell the boss, but I heard about a Morning Star operation-"

"What? I thought we were done with those French fucks!"

"I don't think we got them all. The location's downtown, and I thought maybe you and I-"

"Wait here." She plucked the drink and the flowers from his hands and slammed the door in his face, dropping them on the counter. She slid out of her sleepwear and into her usual attire – the skin-tight purple pants felt even better when she wore them to kill. Shaundi knew this was a ploy to get her out on a date, but she couldn't pass up a chance to take out the last of the gang. Now, which gun to take?

She flung open the closet and admired the array of firepower. The decision was instant – TEK Z-10

"My love, are you ready?"

"Like I said, stop saying that." She stepped out and raised the gun. "Let's do this."

The Bootlegger was a glossy purple, trimmed with gold, simply oozing the attitude of the gang Josh Birk now served. The night was damp; it had rained heavily the previous evening, the sweet scent still lingering in the air. Stars winked down at the double act, showing their support for the couple, and the buildings stood with pride, luminosity emitting a cloudy glow over the city streets.

"We're not gonna do anything…violent, are we?" Shaundi looked up from the road the idiot's words, glaring at him.

"You bring a gun, a car and information on the fuckers that killed Johnny and don't expect me to do anything about it?"

"When you say it like that…" he turned his attention to the plastic casing around him, struggling not to stare at the woman he loved. "I knew you'd come around, my dear."

"Shut up." For the first time since they had kept each other's company, Birk obeyed without complaint. The serenity descended on his face, the queer mildness in his eyes as he fiddled with his hands.

The fiery girl watched him for a while, discreetly sneaking peeks at his calm face. It frightened her, the compulsive urge to hold him, and when she tried to break the spell, a dull ache spread across her chest. What the hell is up with me?

She exhaled, realising she had been holding her breath, composing her wild thoughts. This was Josh Birk she was thinking about. Josh fucking Birk. Maybe if she knew what was going through his head, she'd loathe him once again.

"What's on your mind?"

"Want to know, eh? You're not the first. I only think of you…and that temptress, Viola DeWynter," he said, without thinking. "But you're my one true love!" he added.

Of course he's thinking about that bitch. Shaundi was surprised to feel a wave of emotion smear her thoughts. Am I…jealous?

She blanked the sound of the actor as he hummed along to the theme tune of Nyte Blayde. This was business, she assured herself. As soon as the pesky Morning Star were dealt with, they would part ways again, to never meet.

He came to me, she thought. The boss would have single-handedly crushed the remainder of the gang without so much as a blink. Shaundi couldn't do it alone, yet fuelled by vengeance, she wanted to.

For once, Birk had done the right thing.

"Hey," she said, her sudden words a surprise. "I owe you."

"What for?" Birk's perfect smirk was borderline creepy. He knew, of course he knew; he just wanted to hear it from her.

"For telling me first. These bastards will get what's coming to them."

"Wiping out the Syndicate wasn't enough for you?"

"Johnny's still dead."

"Huh." There was a pause. "Killing them won't bring him back."

"Yeah," she said, weighing up the weapon in her hand. "But I'll feel good." Birk didn't reply, pulling up behind the building.

"We're here."

"How many of these little shits are there?" she asked, eyes narrowed. Josh shrugged.

"Not sure. Could be ten, twenty, fifty..." Worry was written on his face. "Should we call back-up?"

She shook her head. "This one's all ours."

Hopping out of the car, Shaundi leaned up to the wall. The shaky brunette clutched his pistols, getting ready to kill for the woman he loved. "These guys look mean!"

"Don't even go there." She turned to face him and saw a look of horror crossing his features. "What?"

"Shit!" He threw himself on top of her, pushing their temperate bodies to the floor as the torrent of bullets cut through the air.

"They saw us? How the hell did they see us?" she hissed.

"Ce n'est rien," a voice called out, accent distinctly European.

"They didn't..." Birk said. "They were just being careful."

"We gotta move." She got to her feet and dusted herself off, noticing a long rip in her pants, a light crimson stream flowing from the graze on her knee. She wiped the cut with the back of her hand before Birk could comment on it, afraid to look up in case she saw the disapproval in his eyes.

"Are you-"

"I'm fine," she snarled. "Let's go." The twosome moved with great stealth through the shadows and Shaundi couldn't help but notice Birk having improved in skill considering the last time they had tried to commit a crime.

"Don't worry, I won't blow our cover," he whispered, as if reading the girl's mind. "I know what to do now."

"Maybe if you stop talking I'll be sure."

"Yeah. Sorry." Shaundi suddenly felt bad. She hadn't meant to snap at the well-meaning comment. Sighing, she glanced ahead.

The Morning Star grouped around their cars, the shiny metal of the black and red Infuegos and Justices gleaming under the ill-omened full moon. The meagrely clad women held large guns and the businessmen in the suits lingered around them, conversing. There were a dozen or so armed goons, surrounding the cars in groups. The imprint of the Syndicate's star was visible on the gang's clothing and vehicles, and a surge of rage ran through Shaundi.

We took these fuckers out, she thought. They shouldn't be standing. She knew her patience was being tested and breathed, determined to do this in the proper fashion. Slow, steady and not under the influence of anger was how she wanted to approach the situation. The fury would be unleashed on the remnants of the unsuspecting gang during the fight.

"Les drogues, they are just the start," announced a woman. "We get l'industrie back, and the Saints will wish they had never fucked with us."

"The deal will be made," a grey-suited man commented, accent accentuating the phrase. "The Morning Star have not been exterminated! We will rise again!"

A quiet cheer rang out and the green leaves passed around, hundreds of dollars worth of transition made in mere seconds.

Something inside Shaundi snapped, unable to take any more of the crap. "On three," she murmured to her companion, who swallowed and nodded. "One..."

The Morning Star clinked their glasses together, the sweet wine sloshing.

"Two..." mumbled Birk, bracing himself for the impact.

"Trois!" screamed a goon from behind them, whacking Birk in the back of his skull with the base of a Gravedigger. The actor crumpled to the floor, groaning in pain.

"Son of a bitch!" yelled Shaundi, blasting off the head of the Belgian, limp body falling. The group turned to the noise, thudding footsteps echoing as they approached the raging woman. She gave her acquaintance a hand up, and they kicked the body into the shadows, pressing themselves as close to the wall as possible.

"Oh god, we're gonna die-" Her hand clamped over his mouth, fingers jamming it shut. At least he doesn't have a concussion, she thought.

She couldn't see his face due to the inky night, but felt his warm breathing grow heavier still, not knowing if it was because of his injury or the fact that they were so close. The contours of their bodies moulded close, as if designed for the very purpose of togetherness. She felt her heart leap to her mouth, being so near to the burly body of the man she despised so much, yet found so undeniably striking. His sinewy muscles flexed against her smooth legs, arms crushing her own against the wall, his warmth on one side and the flat stone on the other.

"Merde! There's someone here! They killed one of us!"

She pulled her hand away from his mouth and ran it over his arm, feeling his curled biceps, her knees going weak. No. Not him. Not now, not ever. Her fingertips trailed higher up, caressing his shoulder and running over the veins under his skin. Birk inhaled sharply as she fluttered over a particularly sensitive spot at his neck, and she grinned to herself.

So this was power.

Her fingers drifted further, going through his silky hair and upwards. She resisted the urge throw herself at him then and there. The darkness prevented them from seeing the desire in each other's eyes.

A thick, sticky substance oozed onto her fingers and she jerked her hand back. Was that blood? Her eyes widened in shock. She didn't think he had been hit that hard.

"Josh?" she whispered.

"I'm alright, my dear," he said, struggling to stay composed, whitened teeth glistening through the shadows in a smile. "Nyte Blayde doesn't go down that easy."

She sighed, the moment whisked away by his idiocy. Why does he have to bring up the show?

"Les Saints! They're hiding somewhere!"

Shaundi grabbed the man's arm as another group of Morning Star wandered past, eyes sharp, looking for any sign of movement. "Okay," she whispered. "One more second..." She jumped out of the shadows, dragging the unsuspecting Birk with her, spraying the silver metal in an insane manner.

"Sacre Bleu!" cried the bloodstained members at the back, the impact of the bullets working its way through the first layer of the Morning Star. "Get back! Get back!"

"This time, you're going down for good." She fired again, glancing back to check Birk had followed her example. Flinching every time a bullet hit a body, the reluctant warrior pulled the trigger of his pistols. When she looked back, she saw the majority had hopped into the cars and pulled away from the scene. "You gotta be kidding!" she roared.

"Oh no!" Birk added half-heartedly. "I think they're getting away..."

"Not this time." Shaundi noticed the abandoned Infuego. It was severely battered and the mark of the red star on the black metal was dented, the paintwork badly chipped. The occasional tendril of grey smoke curled out from under the bonnet. The bullets had done a lot of damage; the car looked like it would explode if it hit a single thing. Risky, she concluded. But worth it.

Birk followed her eyes and saw the smoking vehicle. "No way, man!"

"Get in the goddamn car." Shaundi stared daggers, and the shivering actor complied.

"We're gonna blow up!"

"You'd better be careful then."

"I'm driving?" She nodded curtly and gestured towards the road. Josh looked at her, gormless, then at the steering wheel and at the escaping villains. He didn't look like he would to move any time soon.

"Just pretend you're Nyte Blayde!" she said, furious, hating herself for encouraging his vanity. Instantly he straightened, shoulders drawn back and hands placed on the wheel.

"Aaaaaaand action!" he winked, and they zoomed off.

Josh Birk was not, to say the least, a good driver. He veered six times through the first stretch of road, causing Shaundi to almost fall out of the window as she leaned, keeping an eye out for the elusive gang.

"Birk, I swear to god-"

"You just got run over by a celebrity!" he called as he drove through the pavements, knocking many a hooker flying. "Also, watch Nyte Blayde!"

He mastered speed, racing through the traffic cones and parked cars. Thankfully, the nighttime meant the cars on the road were few in number, and the reckless driver dodged them with no trouble. Shaundi's heart leapt as they followed in hot pursuit, bullets ricocheting out of the barrel and smacking loudly onto the car tyres ahead, and eventually, a deflated hiss rang out as the motor vehicle ground to a halt.

"Tu faut retourner à la pute qui t'a accouchée!" barked a suited man.

Shaundi didn't stop firing; the car exploded into a large ball of fire, stench of gasoline and burning flesh heavy in the air. She leaned back with a satisfied smile.

"One down, two to go," she announced. A stunned Josh gazed with a new sense of wonder at the woman he claimed to love. She really is something else. So wonderfully different, so naughty, so very bad. Her buxom figure and fixation on revenge is just-

"Josh!" she screamed in panic, grabbing the wheel and swerving yet again, inches from crashing into a solid brick wall. She scowled at him. "You suicidal? Watch where the fuck you're driving!"

"Let's just…chillax for a second," he commented. "Though I like you mad. It's such a turn on." The girl felt the heat rise to her face. Normally she would dismiss the comment as an empty one, but the moment they shared, pressed between the cold stone, had altered her perception. She didn't like it. Mumbling some insult, she reloaded her gun.

Birk beamed, slamming his foot on the accelerator. Another black car came into view and Shaundi muttered under her breath, steadying her SMG.

A woman leaned out of the window, exposed skin goosebumped from the buffeting wind as the driver attempted an escape, black leather coat flapping. She fired her Krukov, screaming in French.

"Tu sentirai la douler de mon revolver, tu américaine merde!" she shouted, shifting her aim to Birk's head. He ducked under the dashboard, steering blindly with his hands. Shots cracked the windshield glass, bullets lodged in the screen. "Ceci est l'arrêt final, Saint!"

"Shaundi, get down!"

"No!" she fired again, the rotary of the bullets blurring in quick succession. The olive-skinned girl gave a groan as a bullet collided with her skull; she fell out, the thick wheels crunching bone as the car drove over her. Birk's jaw dropped as the car then erupted, huge hunks of metal flying in every direction as the final bullet hit the engine. He crept up and resumed his position as lookout.

Shaundi reloaded for what she hoped was the final time that night.

They circled Loren Square twice, and her patience began to wear thin. Birk sighed with each turn; the adrenaline had faded and he fought exhaustion, driving levelling out to a more mainstream intensity.

"Can we go home? We're taping a new episode in a couple of days and my make-up artist likes to draw on my dark circles," yawned Josh, rubbing his eyes.

"We're hunting down that last car if it takes us all night," she said, unsure if she meant it.

"I bet they've gone home and- fuck!" A bullet smashed through the wing mirror, shards of glass splintering. "They're behind us!"

"Thank you, Mr. Obvious!" she yelled, an onslaught of bullets cutting across the band of air. The crew went down in unison, the driver's head slumping onto the steering wheel, car crashing into a local Friendly Fire. The entire place went up in smoke, initial explosion setting off the merchandise, the nearby buildings blazing. Shaundi smirked, full of dark delight. "Got them!"

"I-I wouldn't be so sure," stammered Birk, glancing into the broken rear view mirror. He peered in further, something catching his eye. "Also, fuck me, is that blemish? I cannot- oh, wait. Its just dirt."

"Shit, how many of them are there?" They fired relentlessly, the bullets denting the already crumbling vehicle further. The smoke grew darker as it poured from the bonnet, and a small flame ignited, spreading the stench of melting plastic and metal through the air.

"Get out!" he yelled, flinging open the door. Shaundi bailed out and Birk followed, their bodies colliding as they hit the sidewalk. The car smashed into an abandoned dumpster, the fireball of destruction cremating the surrounding garbage.

Shaundi burst into a coughing fit, choking on the smoke. She pulled herself up and grabbed the gun, kicking Birk in the side, telling him to get to his feet.

"Come on, we almost got them!" she urged, passing him the near empty pistol. His face and clothing were flecked with a dusty grey and Shaundi realised it was soot. Taking a quick look at her hands, she saw the substance covered her too. "And no, we can't go back and change," she intercepted before Birk could make a comment.

They ran down the street, giving hopeless chase to the escaping car. Fuck no! They won't get away again!

"Uh, Shaundi," panted her companion. "Can we, uh, take it down a notch?"

"We can't. We got a bigger problem..." The whirring of a chopper caught her attention.

"Helicopters? Helicopters!"

Shaundi ignored him, eyes locked onto the blood-red dot on her stomach. "Fuck, snipers!"

She crashed into a shop, firing at the chopper, aiming for the bald man holding the deadliest of weapons. His pallid skin glowed in the moonlight like some demented, half-dead creature determined to kill. The laser suddenly vanished. Who is he aiming at, me or Josh? The red, bug-eyed goggles covered his eyes, making it impossible to tell where he looked.

"Even Nyte Blayde can't deal with this," wailed Josh, cowering in the corner. "It's too real!"

"Shoot the chopper 'til it blows!" Shaundi was running low on ammo, but thought it better than to tell the already wrecked actor, knowing he would cower further if he knew the odds of the situation.

He swayed to his feet and discharged bullets through the smashed door, his aim dead on. The pale man tumbled out of the chopped, body splattering onto the road in a bloody mess.

"We did it?" Birk asked, amazed.

"Not yet." The Lieutenant steeled herself for the impact, last of the ammunition raining out on the dark behemoth in the sky. "Keep shooting!"

The helicopter flailed in the sky, the poor pilot struggling to keep what little control he had. The monstrous beast flipped at three-sixty degrees as the engine failed, slamming into a nearby skyscraper.

The pair noticed the trail of death and destruction led far behind them, now conquering the skies as well as the streets. Birk felt a strange shiver run up his spine; it could have been remorse, but he wasn't sure. It could equally have been the thrill of the chase.

Across the street, he spotted his love picking up a parked Torch. She wore a sour grin of satisfaction from the ruin of the gang, complete with a twinge of danger.

The look in her eye made him feral, but he held it in.

Birk calmly entered the car, not even half as shaken as she had expected him to be. Huh. Maybe I underestimated him. She took the wheel and they headed back.

"That was…uh…fun," he said, attempting to converse with the seductress. She nodded, not really sure what to say. He gazed out of the window, the tranquil feeling sweeping over him like a tidal wave of peace.

A silence bordering comfortable filled the car, the smoothness of the ride a welcome contrast to the man's frenzied driving. Shaundi felt like she should say something, but had no idea what to tell him.

"Thanks," she concluded, speaking from the heart.

"You're welcome, my love." Once again, he knew exactly what she was thinking, and wanted to hear the words spill from her lips.

"The information was good. Johnny would have liked that, and murdering those motherfuckers felt amazing."

"If I hear anything again, my darling, you'll be the first to know." The conversation dispersed, and they drove home, the quiet a welcome calm after the storm.

Entering her apartment, Shaundi tossed her jacket to the floor and spotted the discarded presents on the table. She felt a little bad for encouraging such a hasty exit earlier, proceeding to put the extravagant roses in some water. She gasped as she pricked her finger on a thorn, sucking on the blood as she placed them in a vase. She saw one was wilting, tired.

"Stay here," she said, pointing at the sofa. "Some of my ex's clothes are in the drawer." She slipped into the back room, pulling her top off over her head as she kicked the door shut.

Josh stripped and changed into the pair of stonewashed jeans peeking out from the decaying wood. "I don't see any shirts," he called. He splashed a little water on the cut at the base of his neck, flinching a little at the chill. Wiping the soot off his face, he walked to the mirror near the sink, flexing a bicep. He raised an eyebrow, giving himself a scorching look. He sighed; no matter how good he looked on the outside, Shaundi would never like him; she hated him as Josh Birk, which he was used to, but she even loathed him as Nyte Blayde. Birk simply wasn't used to that sort of treatment from the opposite gender.

Shaundi truly was an enigma.

He glanced at the chestnut wood, noticing a chink in the door. Drawn to it like a moth to a flame, Birk looked through, creaking it open a little more.

The girl's back was smooth with a creamy tan, the skin glowing in the bulb's flimsy light. Her arms peeled off her tight pants, pulling them down in a slow dance. She bent over to detach them from her ankles, revealing her toned rear, barely covered by a baby pink thong. The matching bra lay on the floor near her feet. Her golden legs, the envy of every woman in the city, gleamed with perspiration. Josh yearned to incline into the room and stroke her soft skin, aching for her lean body…he longed to kiss every inch of her, her heavenly mounds and amazing neck, the texture just craving to be touched.

His entire being, body, mind, spirit, ached for her.

Mesmerized by the fluidity of her movement as she shook out her glossy hair, he sauntered in, pads of his feet making no sound as they squashed the carpet. He leaned over her and breathed softly on her neck, sending a shiver down her spine. She tensed, but didn't move. He nipped her neck, alternating kisses with quick bites along her neck, working his way to her shoulder. She moaned, and then jerked around to face him, arms crossed over her chest.

"Josh?" she said, eyes narrowed. Stunned by her response, he lurched away.

"I-"

"Get the fuck out!"

"No." He was surprised by the firmness in his manner.

"What?" she said, shocked. Time stood still, allowing Shaundi to observe her sleuth's gorgeous body. His toned, level chest was muscular, abdominal muscles moving with every deep breath he took. The heat pumped through her body; lust. It had to be lust, but Shaundi felt something more…

Josh strolled up and kissed Shaundi, grabbing her hands and pushing himself up against her balmy body. He held onto her palms with a new softness, squeezing them as he tasted the tangy sweetness of her tongue. Their bodies felt warm against each other; they savoured the touch. She felt his muscles tense against her chest; he loved the way her curves fitted so perfectly against his shape.

Heaven had to end sometime, and they broke for air. Realisation dawned on the girl, suddenly aware of her actions.

"Get the fuck out!" she repeated, unable to look him in the eye. He opened his mouth to say something, but decided against it, simply walking out of the room. The door swung shut, taking his musky scent with it.

What the hell did I just do? She knew what she had done. The better question was: Why? Lust. That had to be it. Josh Birk was unquestionably attractive, and she had known that from the beginning, never having done anything about it before. She now needed him; her heart wanted him just as much as her body. It isn't lust. And that left only one other option. It's not possible… She glided into her sleepwear and sighed.

Shaundi could no longer deny it. She was in love with Josh Birk.

The feeling overwhelmed her, the rush of emotion an unwelcome reality. She loved his body, she could confirm that much, but her heart longed for him. He was adorable, if vain and occasionally shallow, and honestly was the best she had seen in a long time. She thought back to Blake and Veteran Child, and noted that so far Josh hadn't tried to kill her, which had been refreshing. I...I actually feel something. But why now? Her feelings for Birk had always been there, dormant, and had simply been revealed by the night's intense events.

Normally she would battle goons with the boss, Pierce and Gat, and she felt nothing but pride when fighting alongside them. The initial thrill had worn off and the whole procedure had become routine. But battling with Birk's idiocy had bought with it a new level of danger, and had ignited something altogether different in her soul.

And she had told him to leave, on Valentine's Day! After his endeavour to win her heart…she felt terrible. Drained, exhausted...she wanted to curl up and die.

The time had come to bring out the ice cream.

She stepped out of the room and saw the half-naked man she loved sprawled across the shabby couch. The television screen flashed with the actor's face; Nyte Blayde was playing. Birk passed her a glass of champagne, the glimmering purple bottle poised on the coffee table. He then offered her the box of chocolates.

"Would my love like some candy? Oh wait, she's already real sweet."

Shaundi smiled, nervous, shaking her head. He stayed? He was cracking jokes?

"Josh, I-"

"Shaundi, my love, I understand."

"You do?"

"I knew you felt the way I did. You didn't know, that's all."

She grinned, realising it was her first real smile since arriving in Steelport. Not even Zimos had managed to make her laugh...

"You're right." She placed the chocolate in her mouth and lay down next to Birk, placing her lips on his again. The sweet, creamy sensation travelled between the two until the taste disappeared. "Do you really love me?" Shaundi asked softly, voice brimming with suppressed emotion.

"I always have. I didn't know how to tell you, and when I spoke the truth..."

"I didn't believe you."

Josh cracked the signature half-smile he was known for. They leaned back; Shaundi snuggled her head onto his bare chest and he wrapped his arms around her.

"Thank you," she murmured.

"For?"

"For the flowers. For tonight. For everything."

"Hush my dear." He put a finger to her lips. "Nyte Blayde always looks after his Marian."

"Marian, huh?"

"Shit, I-"

"I guessed it would be her. Nobody would choose a corpse over that hot mess," she grinned. "Now shut up and let me watch the episode."

The trees shrouded the forest in nothingness. "He could see nothing, nothing at all, as he hunted down the castle of the malevolent Mister X," the narrator continued.

The screen panned, revealing a sultry castle, lined with revealing statues of the past Nyte Blaydettes that had been taken down by the predictable yet frightening villain. "Stumbling upon it in a sheer accident... he had found the lair."

Wandering in, the determined hero was greeted by a booming voice. "Nyte Blayde...! You have finally arrived."

"Show yourself Mister X! You won't get away with this!"

"We shall see, young one. We shall see."

"Return Sylvia to the grave so she may rest in peace, you putrid scum!"

"Now why would I do that?"

A shard of lightening blew apart across the sky, illuminating the room for a split second, the ominous shadow of the wired man visible behind the vampire.

Nyte Blayde whipped out his skinny sword, the blade gleaming in the rustic glow. "You will rue the day you stole my Sylvia!"

"What about Marian?" asked the professor, shadow hands forming an evil pyramid. "How will she react when you choose a dead girl over her?"

"You have Marian too? NOOOOOOOOO!" Nyte Blayde fell to his knees, sword clattering to the floor. An evil laugh rang out and the screen faded to black.

The new screen prompted the operator of the DVD player to advance to the next segment.

"Seven takes to get that scene right," Birk said. "And the producers were really pissy about my improvisation...too dramatic, they said." His voice faded, blurring with Nyte Blayde's as the tired Lieutenant drank from the well of sleep, eyelids dropping.

"How did you guess pink roses were my favourite?" she whispered.

"I know these things." He ran his hand through her dark blonde hair, tangling lanky fingers through the soft waves.

He knows so much more than he lets on, she smiled. He knew he had me. Josh Birk knew he had my heart at the stupid pink roses.