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All Knives Out

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"I don't like this any more than you do, you know."

This earns Nureyev a sideways glance before Vespa sets her jaw and looks back at the view sprawling out ahead of them.

A rooftop stakeout. Not exactly Nureyev's favourite way to spend time, but the documents they need are kept in a high-security building across the road Buddy wasn't able to procure schematics for, and Peter and Vespa's unique team skillset is stealth. So. Observe the movements of the occupants, wait until the moment is right, and...

And whatever happens then will happen. It isn't the focus for now.

Nureyev lies back and feels the warm ceramic of the tiles under his back. It's an old style of architecture— more Earthern. More Brahmese.

Outer Rim planets each have a distinct architecture. It's one part the unique conditions of the planet itself (with the varying quality of dome tech Outer Rim planets acquire, more physical adaptations need to be made on their surfaces than those of the solar planets), and one part a sort of source of cultural pride. Often, each culture has its own form of insignia woven into parts of the building. Show him a picture of a building, and Peter can probably pick the planet it comes from from the insignia alone, if not the exact city.

"What are buildings like on Ranga?" he asks.

"It's not gonna happen, thief," Vespa grates at him, and Nureyev holds his tongue from pointing out, yet again, that they are all technically thieves.

"What isn't?"

"This," Vespa gestures between the two of them. "Us. Bonding. Especially not about where I come from."

"Why not?" Nureyev asks, "I'm Outer Rim myself, you know."

That makes Vespa bark a small laugh and look at him again, appraisingly. "You're nowhere near traumatised enough for that," she says bitterly.

"Hm," Nureyev says, and fixes his gaze back on the window of the building across the road. He senses Vespa's eyes on him for a moment more, and then she looks across at the window as well.

It would take an idiot not to notice that the crew distrusts him; and Peter Nureyev is not an idiot. He is, perhaps, a little... awkward. He's spent a year among these people, thrown himself into every family challenge, spent hours planning heists and spending spare time with them. Yet it hasn't slipped his notice that Vespa's grip hasn't faltered on her knife the entire time they've been sitting here together. Laying in wait for his inevitable betrayal. It's, honestly, exhausting.

He would blame her distrust on her paranoia, if he didn't know in his heart of hearts that actually, she's smarter than the rest, and that she had every right to distrust him. He would brush aside her dirty looks and insults if he didn't also want to throw himself at her feet and say that she's right, that he can't be trusted and that even though he's doing everything in his power not to hurt them all with his dishonesty there's always a chance, always a chance that he'll get killed and they'll come for the rest of them, and all of the stress and sleep deprivation and vomiting into the toilet with anxiety when everybody else is in bed will be for nothing.

But what frustrates him to no end about the distrust is that if it would just subside for only a moment , he could have this. Play at belonging to a group for a while. He wishes he could have grown close enough to Vespa to be able to call her a friend, before he is forced to disappear. But there's not much more chance for that now. Time is running out.

"On New Kinshasa," he says quietly, "We call our buildings bahay na bató. They have big sliding windows for the breeze, and the roofs are tile, like this one. Children have classes making tiles in school, learning how to pattern them with Brahmese insignia. That's what made me bring it up."

Vespa leans back on her elbows on the roof. She flips her knife between the fingers of one hand. "You could have found that info anywhere," she says.

Nureyev shrugs, "I suppose I could."

They descend into silence.

Nureyev wishes Juno were here. Everything's always strained without him. The rest of the crew trust Juno, and by proxy they lighten up a little around him when Juno is around. And Juno works so hard to make him feel a part of their little group- noticing when Nureyev goes quiet and inviting him back into the conversation. Deflecting every little jab or suspicious glance. Trusting him so earnestly.

And for what? Is that all Nureyev really wanted Juno's trust for? To use him as an alibi while he twists the knife into his new family's back? It's taken him more than twenty years to start to move past the betrayal of his last family, and no sooner does he take a step forward does he fall into his own trap. Doomed to repeat himself, evidently. Betrayal must run in the family.

This is all very bleak. He is tired of turning the same moral dilemmas over and over and over in his mind until he makes himself motion sick. Nureyev sighs audibly, and ignores the glare Vespa shoots at him. He fishes through his pocket for something sharp to fiddle with. If Vespa can't offer him the professional courtesy of assuming he won't plunge a plasma knife through her neck at any moment, after all, then why should he?

A moment later, the comms beeps. It's set up on a tripod on the roof that allows the camera to get a good view of both of them. "Finally," Vespa growls, and reaches forwards to accept the call.

Buddy and Juno pixellate into view. The second Peter sees Juno's soft eye in the camera, he feels part of the tension in his shoulders evaporate.

There's silence for a moment. Buddy and Juno both stare at the two of them. Then Juno says, "Oh my God. Do we have the same type?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Vespa asks.

"In order to answer that question, darlings, I ask you both to look at each other's hands," Buddy says, her voice light with amusement. A cursory glance reveals to Peter that he and Vespa are both now spinning knives in their fingers.

He pockets the blade at the same time that Vespa does, and she glares at him.

"And to answer your question, Juno," Buddy continues in the meanwhile, "I prefer my partners a little more functional."

"Excuse me?" Peter asks.

"That's fair," Juno says.

"Excuse me?" Peter repeats, a little more desperately.

"Kidding, babe," Juno says, and Vespa pretends to gag.

"So?" Vespa says, "What's the update?"

"No news here, I'm afraid," Buddy sighs. "Not even our talented hacker can get any intel. It seems our marks use the only un-hackable form of communication known to man: written correspondence."

"Then what," Peter asks, "is the purpose of this call?"

"Mostly to make sure you two haven't killed each other yet," Juno says, and Buddy elbows him.


"Just to see if you'd made any progress yet," Buddy corrects. " And to ensure you two haven't killed each other yet."

"Wow," Juno says. "You know, I'm beginning to think you get your kicks out of being a hypocrite."

"Well your boyfriend here is making it real tempting, Steel," Vespa grumbles. "He's been annoying me all morning, what with his—"

"—doing absolutely nothing?" Nureyev completes the sentence for her flatly.

"Yeah," she glares at him. "That."

"There are no problems here, Captain," Nureyev addresses Buddy directly. "It's been quite a pleasant day, occasional death threat aside."

"Seems like everything's par for the course, then! I'll check in again later on, darlings. Buddy out."

The comms disconnects, and Vespa crosses her arms and leans back against the roof again. "This is great," she says. "These stupid people never leave their goddamn room occupied, and we have to sit here rotting until one of them gives us an opportunity to break in."

"Yes, and heaven forbid we talk to each other to pass the time," Nureyev adds.

He freezes up the second it's out of his mouth. Damn it all— this is what happens when you stay in one place too long. Get too attached with people and you start letting your guard down around them, you forget that you are not safe.

Well, the murderous look he can imagine Vespa giving him is nothing if not an effective reminder. He prevents himself from looking at her, sneaking a hand into his pocket in case he needs his knife. Vespa is quick, but he is too, and if she struck at him he could probably—

"Shut up, Ransom," Vespa mumbles at him, and Peter pauses, honestly surprised.

That was a markedly less energetic response than he expected. He hesitates on whether or not to pull at Vespa's strings to see if they'll unravel, and then posits, "It wouldn't kill you to talk to me, you know. I've had a hundred thousand possibilities to hurt you, Vespa, and taken none. And even if you believe my motives for being on this crew insincere, I have nothing to gain from hurting you now. Or from sabotaging a low-grade mission."

"Hmph," Vespa says, and leans back on the roof again, her arms crossed and knife tight in one fist.

Nureyev huffs as well, and throws one arm over his eyes. Now he's really blown it. All the elegance of an elephant through glass, is Peter Nureyev in a social situation.

The sun cooks them both for another five minutes. Nureyev stops sulking and starts observing their targets again, unwrapping a nutrient bar in one hand and giving it a few cautious nibbles before handing it over to Vespa. She doesn't often eat unless he bites first, and he doesn't think she's eaten yet today.

She accepts it wordlessly, of course. She takes a big bite out of the bar, chews, swallows, and almost surprises Nureyev to the point of toppling off the roof when she says, "Ranga was known for its walls. Red walls. Gold insignia." She snorts, "Not where I grew up, though. The swamp-dwellings were lucky to have walls."

"Well, the slums on Brahma were lucky to have roofs," Nureyev smiles at her, "I suppose we were both denied our cultural pride, then."

Vespa tips her head back and laughs hoarsely. "Bullshit," she says to him, "As if you lived in a Brahmese slum. You ever heard of anybody else who made it out of there alive?" A pause, "I didn't think so."

"What reason would I have to lie to you?" Peter asks.

"Don't know, but until I know your name—"

"Oh for—" Peter rolls his eyes, "For all you know I changed my name because I'm a Brahmese fugitive. Ever considered that?"

Vespa hasn't. Nureyev knows, because suddenly the laughter drains from her face and she analyses his with her sharp eyes. "An infamous criminal fugitive from Brahma?" she asks, slowly.

Nureyev freezes for too a second too long. "It was only hypothetical," he says quickly, because now Vespa is sitting up, and she won't stop looking at him.

"You're joking, right," she says in a voice that doesn't sound like she thinks he's joking. "You're not—"

"Choose your next words carefully, Vespa," Nureyev says evenly, "I don't want to hurt you."

She looks to where his fist has tightened around a plasma knife, and then back to his eyes. "You wouldn't," she says, like it's a dawning realisation. "You can't hurt me. The rest of the crew would hunt you down, and Steel would never look your way again."

This is what happens when you let your guard down. People get in too close. They learn your tells. And that's especially dangerous when—

"But me," Vespa says. "I could do whatever I want to you. Sure Steel would never talk to me again, but that's no big loss. Buddy would believe me if I told her you struck first."

Nureyev locks eyes with her. There is bile rising in his throat. He had forgotten, momentarily, that he is not safe with this crew. That he never was. And now he is going to pay the price. He loosens his grip on his knife, signaling clearly that he is about to drop it.

There is a flash of movement across the road. Vespa and Nureyev both whip around to follow it, and see that someone has opened the window of the building across the road for fresh air. Vespa hisses, "This is our chance, angel. Don't blow it."

Nureyev almost falls off the roof entirely at the new choice in name. He can feel his heartbeat in his fingertips, rattling his chest.

Vespa glances at him one more time, looking at him up and down. "We're talking more about this later," she says, and then without another word, she sprints off towards the edge of the roof.

Nureyev hesitates only a moment, and then follows.