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put your money where your mouth is

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Shaundi isn’t her type.

 

She’s attractive, for sure, nobody could really deny that. If you’re into dreadlocks on a white girl, shifty eyes and a slim build, you’re set, and even if you aren’t Shaundi proves time and again that she’s easier than a bullet through the chest. You just gotta get her high, as many construction workers and DJs and gang members have found out. Maybe even some of the Saints. The Boss doesn’t like to ask.

 

She’s high right now, as a matter of fact, and Roe is slugging back cheap vodka someone hurled into her office earlier this morning. Nobody would own up to it - vodka shitty enough that the bottle doesn’t even break when it hits the ground isn’t worth a cold look from the Boss. So shitty she can feel it coating the back of her throat, ripping off the skin like a Molotov burning through banners. Roe hacks up nothing.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yep,” Roe manages.

 

It must be about two am. Johnny left hours ago. Pierce is still here, somewhere, and she wouldn’t be surprised if Carlos is waiting outside the door - the hole in her wall - for a chance to come in, tell her he has something. There are other Saints elsewhere in this underground shithole, but she can’t hear them or see them. The radio set in the corner of the room is playing something old.

 

Shaundi licks her lips. Contemplatively, like she’s discovered an entirely new taste by running her tongue over her mouth. “You know, there’s nobody else here.”

 

“I noticed.” Are there two swigs of vodka left in this bottle, or three? She tries squinting down the rim.

 

“We could have sex,” Shaundi says, entirely nonchalant. She pats the frizzy cushion of the sofa they’re sitting on, the one Roe found just tossed out in the parking lot upstairs one morning. “This wouldn’t be super comfy, though. Your place? It’d be weird having sex at one of my ex’s places.”

 

Roe puts the bottle of vodka down quite hard. She’s grateful now, that it’s cheap, because she’s decided that there are three swigs left, and she doesn’t intend to waste them by smashing the bottle. “What?”

 

“Sex. Y’know, that thing people do sometimes because they wanna have fun or they’re bored or they’re high. We could do that.”

 

“Do you… want to have sex with me?”

 

The response she gets is a shrug. “Hey, I’m not gonna be sober for a few hours. Gotta have some way to pass the time. Figured I’d ask.”

 

You sound sober enough. I didn’t think you swung that way? What the fuck, Shaundi. Yeah, let’s go! All these and more swim around in Roe’s slightly vodka-addled head until Shaundi is poking her arm, laughing a little, saying, “Hello? I thought I was the one who was baked, Boss. C’mon, it’ll be no strings. We don’t have to talk about it in the morning. No weird.”

 

Shaundi says that, but she is seized by the unexplainable feeling that if she says yes, now, while Shaundi is high as balls and she herself is tipsy on the worst fucking alcohol she has ever drunk, it might be the biggest mistake she has ever made. Bigger than running away from home and hitch-hiking to Stilwater as a kid? Bigger than making her first lift while dating a cop?

 

Oh yeah, some part of her brain says. Much worse.

 

“No strings,” Shaundi says again. She’s fiddling with the strap on that grey tank she always wears. Shaundi isn’t her type, is her friend and her lieutenant-

 

Roe clasps the head of the bottle of vodka like an anchor. “Nah,” she says.

 

“Last chance?”

 

“I said no, Shaundi. Jesus, you can get weird when you’re high.”

 

“Okay then,” turning away with her hands up in the air. “Just… figured I’d ask. You’re not getting another shot when I’m sober, just so you know. Boss.”

 

At the time, she thinks that that’s fine, that’s dandy. She doesn’t want a shot with Shaundi.

 

~

 

Turns out a lot of other people do want a shot with Shaundi when they go corporate, though. The Saints-Ultor Media Group. Producers of music and clothing and sports drinks and now a fuckin’ dating show, called-

 

“I wanna sleep with Shaundi,” some douchebag says. Then another one. “We all do, man, that’s why we’re here.”

 

“Not me,” a man with fucking waxed eyebrows declares. His name is Chad, or Brad, or something along those lines. “You all may be here to sleep with Shaundi, but I am here to make love to her.” He holds out his hands like he’s performing Shakespeare, gesturing wildly. “The love that has blossomed in my heart over the last three days like a blazing wildfire! Shaundi has become my very heart’s desire. I will not leave here without her.”

 

The first douchebag rolls his eyes. “Yeah, okay. I just wanna get my hands on her junk, y’know?”

 

“I’d buy her dinner first, right? She seems pretty decent to talk to. For a chick.”

 

“Dude, you let your chicks talk to you?”

 

“Shaundi has captured my heart in her net woven of wildflowers-”

 

Roe switches off I Wanna Sleep With Shaundi: Men Tell All, Uncircumcised! and dials Pierce. Maybe Shaundi should be the one coming along on their next fake-ass bank robbery with that actor guy. Berk? Anything to get her away from this pack of dickwads.

 

Pierce doesn’t pick up. She thinks about throwing her phone at the wall and going to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, for the hell of it, and then scrolls through her contact list again and finds Shaundi’s number, the one with ‘Don’t Call Boss I’m On Shoot’ next to it in big glowy digital letters. She presses the green receiver button.

 

“Saw you on TV just now.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You lost the dreads.”

 

“Lost the drugs, too,” Shaundi says. She sounds exhausted; the whine of a vacuum cleaner is audible at the other end of the line, far away. “Show business fucking sucks, Boss. We should’ve stuck with drive-bys and…” She trails off. “I can’t remember. What was it we used to do?”

 

Roe says, “You sound like Johnny.”

 

“God, I wish I was Johnny sometimes. At least then I wouldn’t be up on stage wearing a bikini having like twenty crazy stalkers fighting over me. You know one of them actually did use to stalk me? I asked the producers to get him off the show, and they said it would be better drama if he stayed and it was a big reveal. Can you believe that?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Television,” Shaundi curses. “This thing is taking years off my life. I hope I can get back to Stilwater soon. It’ll be good to be home. My house, my sofa at Purgatory, my bong.”

 

“Your lightbulb?”

 

That gets a laugh out of her. “You’re never going to let that go, are you?”

 

“Nope.” Roe hangs onto that note of laughter as long as she can. Shaundi hasn’t been around in what, three months? A quarter of a year. Crazy. “I miss you,” she says.

 

“Huh.”

 

The single word sinks to the pit of her stomach, unexpectedly. “That’s all I get? Huh? You don’t miss your old friend and boss? I was thinking of inviting you along on our heist next week with Mister Dick-Sucking Vampire to shoot some guns, but hey, I’m sure Pierce-”

 

Shaundi snort-laughs again, almost gasps. “Hey! Hey, don’t you dare invite him instead of me. I’d die for some fresh air and a beer with Johnny and you after.”She pauses; Roe can imagine her twisting an imaginary phone cord around her finger, somehow. “I miss you too, asshole. Didn’t I tell you not to call this number while I was on shoot?”

 

They wrap it up, because the vacuum cleaner in Roe’s ears is getting louder and louder and Shaundi has to go to drinks with the producers and try to convince them to get rid of her stalker again. She feels good when she hangs up. Sad, too. It’s odd how much she misses Shaundi not being here now - one of the smaller puzzle pieces in the jigsaw of her life growing larger until it all the way covers something big. A Friendly Fire. She misses Shaundi like she’d miss Friendly Fire if it disappeared off the face of the earth.

 

She doesn’t think she used to. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, she guesses.

 

~

 

Johnny dies.

 

It fucking sucks, feels like a hole in her head where her best friend used to be. She can barely pull a trigger for a couple hours. Her gun hand just seizes up - Johnny was her gun hand - and she has to switch to the other one to blow her way through the Steelport armoury. They load up a helicopter, set it down at Shaundi’s ex’s place and unload. Move in, more like, stack boxes of ammo and gun crates all over the living room, and she is so damn busy making sure it’s all in the right place that it takes her a while to notice Shaundi is missing.

 

Shaundi isn’t the first person she’d usually be looking guns over with, anyway. That’s - well, now it’s Pierce. He shoots off when she tells him to deal with the helicopter, disappears down the stairs, eager to prove that he can still get shit done on the street side of the gang after so long starring in commercials. He's going to have plenty of opportunity now and god, wouldn’t Johnny have kinda loved this like Roe does, in her blood. A new city to conquer.

 

She puts down the high-powered rifle she’s been inspecting for the past minute without seeing it and wanders down the corridor. One of the other apartments is unlocked and open and empty; she kicks the door a crack wider. The walls are an ugly paisley the colour of shit. There is no furniture, just bare, grey linoleum. Shaundi is sitting on the floor against the opposite wall. Just staring. Loosely palming a handgun. Christ.

 

"Yo, uh, Shaundi? Are you alright?"

 

"I just can't believe he's gone," Shaundi says. Monotone as all hell. "I can't believe we left him on that fucking plane."

 

"Shaundi. You don't have to - do you wanna put down the gun?"

 

She wasn't even really holding it before, but now she lets go of it completely, glances at it as if she hadn't noticed it before. "What, this? Oh, I wasn't going to - I was just. This shit reminds me of him."

 

"What, guns?" Guns and and cars and explosions and greasy hamburgers and two-toned haircuts-

 

“Yeah.” Shaundi’s eyes are unfocused, glazed, but she can’t be high. They haven’t been here long enough for her to score and besides she’s off everything at the moment. For the show. Somehow, Roe doesn’t think the producers will be able to convince her to come back for a second season.

 

She sighs. She takes another few steps into the empty apartment until she's backed up against the same wall Shaundi is, and then slides down to sit beside her. “I’m - sad, too, Shaundi.”

 

“Sad?” She looks at Roe as if she’s never heard the word before. “I’m not sad. I’m furious. I wanna drive over to Morningstar HQ right now and punch Philipe Loren in the nuts, Boss. They killed Johnny. That’s what we fucking do. We take them all down, we don’t stop until every single guy wearing red in this town is dead and the earth they’re buried in is goddamn salted, okay?”

 

It doesn’t sound like something Shaundi would say. The older - no, younger - Shaundi would be crying. Maybe getting high off her skull in honour of Johnny. Revenge would come later, but New Shaundi is clawing her own tight jeans off in lieu of Loren’s throat. New Shaundi. The one who spent three months on a dating show fighting showbiz tooth and nail and came home without trashy dreads.

 

“You’re not leaving me at home.”

 

“Huh?”

 

She’s still staring at the wall. “It's not just gonna be you and Pierce out on your quest for vengeance while I stay at home waiting for you guys to take down Loren, okay? I'm gonna be out there, and I'm gonna put a bullet in his head myself. A whole fucking clip. I'll do it alone if I have to."

 

"Wh- Shaundi, of course you're coming with us. Of course. You know Pierce is just bullshitting when he says that stuff." Roe hesitates, long and hard, before she touches Shaundi, pushes her hand against Shaundi's shoulder. "You and him and me, we're what's left of the crew now. We're the Saints. We do it together."

 

"Good."

 

They sit, together, and Roe thinks about New Shaundi and Old Shaundi. Maybe some people would say that it's unhealthy, what's happened to her - Roe, somewhat guiltily, would have to admit that she likes Shaundi better this way. Fired up. Gung-ho. Rocking a studded jacket and a 'fuck you' attitude. Angry .

 

Shaundi’s elbow digs into her ribs. “Don’t.”

 

“The fuck? Don’t what?” Roe says, wincing.

 

"Don't pity me, or whatever. I just - I wish we hadn't heard him die. That blast of gunfire on the radio and knowing there was nothing we could do about it." Shaundi isn't crying, but she's sniffing like she's snorted five lines in a row. "We fucking left him there. If I could go back and do it all over again-"

 

Roe doesn't let herself hesitate again before she slings her arm around Shaundi. "You can't," she says, as if she hasn't had the same fucking thought knocking around since they landed in Steelport. Someone in the stringy remnants of Ultor left after the Saints took over must be smart enough to build a time machine, right?

 

She just wishes there'd been enough to bury him.

 

Shaundi's breathing is more regular; she's inhaling through her mouth, not her nose, big deep breaths. No more sniffing. With a wave of her hand, she shoves the gun away from herself, leans deeper into Roe's arm. "I know."

 

"You can't - be Johnny, either," Roe adds. "None of us want you to be. You just gotta be yourself. Whatever that means."

 

"Nobody can be Johnny but Johnny," Shaundi says firmly. Then, "And all those fucking mascots. But they aren't really him."

 

Roe laughs a dry laugh.

 

She gets to her feet after a good minute more of staring at the wall with Shaundi and offers her a hand. Shaundi takes it, leaves the gun on the floor - "It's not even loaded," - and gets up, too, wipes her face clean of any stray tears and strands of hair. "Thanks, Boss," she says. She’s still holding Roe's hand.

 

The dizzying possibility that Shaundi might kiss her crosses Roe's mind, flitting through like a pigeon flying directly towards crossed power lines. Wishful thinking, she decides, and then Shaundi's lips graze her cheek - the metaphorical electric shock, soft and unexpectedly lingering. "Thanks," Shaundi repeats. "Don't - fucking tell Pierce about this, okay?"

 

"Why the hell would I do that? I got your back." She thinks about picking up the gun. It doesn't matter. They have about a hundred more next door. "C'mon. Let's go see which part of Morningstar town we get to fuck up next."

 

~

 

“You remember the first time you asked me if I wanted to fuck?”

 

“The only time.”

 

Roe stretches out her arms and yawns. Her knuckles hit an alien-metal crate stacked way too close to her bed; she hastily withdraws them. “Yeah. You think… this still would’ve happened if I’d said yes?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

Shaundi’s eyes are very dark brown and twinkling like the stars that would be outside their windows, if they had any. No windows and no proper bedsheets - she and Roe are lying on a bed made out of a bulkhead with their jumpsuits for blankets. That old sofa in the underground base would’ve been more comfortable. More homey. “You’re the one who said no.”

 

“Well. Yeah.” She doesn’t remember why anymore. Something about Old Shaundi vs New Shaundi. Old Shaundi is around nowadays too, in the simulation. Where will she go when they shut that thing down? Back into Shaundi’s head? Roe couldn’t understand a fucking thing about the simulation if Kinzie tried to explain it to her for a thousand years.

 

“I’m glad we didn’t,” Shaundi says, tilts her head. Waves of brown hair fall over her shoulders. “It would’ve been weird. It always gets weird when I fuck someone I don’t really know, which is most of the people I ever slept with.” Her eyes get sad. “They’re all dead now, you know? Everyone except us.”

 

“Not everyone.”

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

“You don’t think any of your one-night stands were the world’s best and brightest?”

 

Shaundi nearly drops her head down onto her jumpsuit like it’s a pillow before she remembers. “Really not. Really, really not.”

 

She wants to joke about herself - she knows for sure she’s one of the best, if not the brightest, the fucking President of the United States and she has Kinzie for the smart stuff - but that would imply that this is a one-night stand. No strings. Just something people do when they want to have fun, after they pour what constitutes their heart out to one of their best friends because they’ve just found out that their other best friend is alive.

 

It was just supposed to be “Johnny being back doesn’t mean you’re not, like, important to me, Shaundi, I wasn’t disappointed when I saw it was you in that plane, I was fuckin’ ecstatic,” and instead it was sort of an “I love you.”

 

Wait. Had she said that? “I love you,” Roe says to Shaundi, who jerks, then freezes solid with a deer-in-headlights expression. Shit. “I didn’t say that before, did I.”

 

“You, uh-”

 

“That was what I meant. When I said I was jealous of all those creeps on I Wanna Sleep With Shaundi. And the second season they were gonna do, what was it called?”

 

“Fuckin’ In The White Crib, and that was never going to happen. I told you, I wouldn’t go back to show business if they stuck a gun in my face.” Shaundi’s doe eyes have disappeared, replaced by an unusual pensiveness. She rolls onto her side facing away from Roe for a second; Roe thinks that she’s going to leave, she’s going to walk out and never speak to her again and she won’t be able to do anything about it. You can’t kill relationship problems with bullets, no matter how hard you try.

 

When she rolls over again, however, she’s smiling. “Y’know, I wanted to think that that was you meant, but I was pretty sure I was wrong. It’s not a very you thing.”

 

“... What? Loving someone?”

 

“Yeah. Yeah.” Shaundi’s nodding thoughtfully, the way she does when she’s figured something out. “I love you too.”

 

Roe can’t speak for relief flooding her, thick and heady, so she kisses Shaundi instead.

 

“Hey,” says Shaundi when they finally separate again. “I just - do you remember if Kinzie said anything about these Zin ships being, ah, sound-proof on the inside?”

 

They both look at the door to the cargo room that Roe has staked her claim on as a private room, a big silvery-grey shark’s mouth of a door that is definitely locked, and Roe recalls two nights ago, being kept awake by Keith David monologuing in his damn sleep. From two doors down. She says, and Shaundi’s expression echoes her, “Fuck me running.”