Nureyev wakes slowly, wincingly, to the sound of pen on paper.
Years of training kick in and he gives no outward sign of his waking, body relaxed and breathing even; but still the pen stops scratching, and then a voice says, “Nice try, kid.”
Nureyev allows himself a moment to swear colorfully—within the privacy of his own mind, of course—before opening his eyes with a sigh. “Doctor. What’s the prognosis?”
“Prognosis,” Vespa scoffs. “Don’t be dramatic, you’ll be fine. Even manage to keep both of your legs this time around. Nicely done.”
Cutting or no, Nureyev blinks at the compliment. He looks up, preparing to say something, though he hasn’t yet decided what, but Vespa’s no longer looking at him, uncapping her pen and marking something off on the form that is undoubtedly his medical record. “And Juno?”
“Also fine. God, you two drive me up the wall. Though I’m very, very sure that he’ll have some thoughts about your idiotic rescue plan, Nureyev.”
He mediates his breathing. It is instinctive, this thrill of panic whenever someone speaks his name, though Juno never caused it, and he has only ever really felt it twice otherwise: once when the Monsieur Rossignol first reached out regarding Nureyev’s debts, and the second when Rita let slip that she knew. Of course Vespa knows his name, Nureyev told her himself; but it terrifies him, all the same.
Habit creases that thought in preparation to fold it away, but Nureyev stops himself, smooths it back out. Because it should not terrify him. The crew already knows him. He’s spent nearly a year with them. Adding this one facet of his past will hardly change their perception of him. Hopefully, they’ve never heard of Peter Nureyev at all before today. And if they have, well, he’ll work that out when they bring it up.
That settled, as well as he can stomach, he turns his thoughts and gaze toward Juno. Juno, who lies still and shallow-breathed across from him, just out of reach. Apart from the bruises around his wrists and the bandages wrapped around his neck and shoulder, he looks fine. He’s alive.
Belatedly, panic mounts in his chest at the memory of the call informing him that Rossignol had collateral, and that he unceremoniously folds away. That, he will unpack later, with Juno, not here in the medical bay with a doctor just as likely to stab him as save his life.
Vespa sighs, dragging his attention back to her. “I didn’t want to admit it, but it fits.”
Vespa’s stopped writing, her gaze trained on her paper. Then she huffs an angry breath, caps the pen, and sets it aside. “Your reputation, Nureyev, proceeds you,” she growls. “By a lot. And at first I couldn’t figure out how you two were the same goddamn person, but, uh. Makes more sense now.”
“Ah.” Nureyev’s eyes close, just briefly, just long enough to regret. “You’ve heard of me, then.”
“Yeah. As a kid, you—” Vespa breaks off. She takes a breath, and says, “You were pretty famous. Buddy and I looked into working with you until we realized you were, what, sixteen? At the most.”
Nureyev stares. “You—sorry, what?”
“You brought down New Kinshasa, kid, almost single-handedly, of course we were interested,” Vespa snaps. “Don’t be an idiot. Had a bounty on your head with more digits than our comms coordinates and could probably steal twice that amount in a month flat, with what you pulled off. So yeah, we looked. Couldn’t find you, though.”
They knew of him? They’d wanted to work with him?
His thoughts spin frantically around those two questions, impossible to shove away and fold into neat boxes. She—Vespa Ilkay—she and the legendary Buddy Aurinko had heard of him?
“Stop staring, damn it.”
“My apologies,” Nureyev says smoothly, and looks away, glad of the excuse.
He has no idea what to make of this. The Captain knew of him, then, she would have recognized the name. Why did they help him? To rescue Juno, perhaps, he is a part of the Captain’s family as integral as any other, but Jet and Vespa were the ones to extract him from the Rossignol mansion even after he’d pressed Juno into the Ruby and told her to return home. Why would they come back for him, knowing what he did? Knowing how he failed an entire planet?
“You worked with me,” Nureyev says carefully. “Even after I told you my name. I presume that was to save Juno.”
He expects her to make some crack about Juno, or perhaps even spout some of the Captain’s nonsense about family. Instead, she stares at him for a long, long time.
Then she leans forward on her elbows and says, “The Angel’s a hero on Brahma. That makes you a hero on Ranga, too.”
“You heard me. I’m not saying it again. Really, the mystery for me was how someone like the Angel of Brahma could become someone like you, but I thought about it, and Buddy, uh, pointed some stuff out, and it makes more sense now. Even if you’re still a slippery bastard.” She scowls. “Don’t think this means I trust you.”
“I don’t,” Nureyev says, completely honest. He’s struggling more to understand—a hero? He’d never—when he left Brahma, he did not look back. He should have been a villain, poised to strike the lasers from the sky, until he failed, and he never thought—he hadn’t wanted to find out. Selfish, perhaps, that he’d never so much as looked into his alias, and its reputation on Brahma, but he hadn’t wanted it to be confirmed.
Was he wrong? How much does he not know?
“Right. Good. Now get the hell back to sleep,” she says, brusque, and dims the light in the medbay as she leaves.
The next time he awakes, his Captain sits at his side, immersed in a briefing pulled up on her comms. He has just enough time to parse the title of the document: SECURITY OF THE HASHEMI MANSION, before she powers the display down and turns the full weight of her gaze onto him. “Pete.”
“Captain,” he says warily.
“Well done yesterday,” she says, and if she notices his worry she doesn’t comment. “That was some quick on-the-job thinking, darling.”
“Thank you. Your feedback is appreciated, Captain.”
Buddy studies him, then sighs, brushing her hair back from her face. Her mechanical eye blinks at him along with her organic one in its nest of rotted skin—smaller since they stole the Curemother Prime, but putrid even still—and he sits up straighter under the attention. “You should know something, Pete. Something I think my Vespa might have warned you of already.”
“Your reputation proceeds you,” she says. “By quite a lot, in fact. Now, I’m not sure what happened to put that look of fear on your face when I mention it—I rather suppose that I do not have the full story, and I would guess also that it has something to do with that mentor of yours—but I am here to assure you, darling, that your estimation has not fallen in our eyes because of your name. In fact, it’s risen.”
Nureyev can’t stop himself from shaking his head. Somehow, with the events of yesterday, he cannot seem to assemble any of his masks. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I thought you might not. Let me put it this way, Pete: imagine that you are a young revolutionary on the Outer Rim. You’ve spent years and years fighting a war whose every battle you lose, and you are tired. Then, one day, you hear word of a young man who turned the tide of terror against the government of New Kinshasa, and freed Brahma from its laser-filled sky. Can you imagine, Pete, how that would feel?”
He can, of course, in the abstract. If he places himself in an alias’s shoes he can picture it easily enough: the admiration, perhaps the begrudging resentment, were his alias a sour sort of man. But when he is reminded that the so-called hero in question is himself, all he can remember is Mag, and the red-filled room, his own hands dripping, the uniform he stripped off and left behind. Besides, he failed. He failed.
“But I didn’t stop anything, Captain, their lasers are still functional. I failed.”
Buddy raises an eyebrow. “You haven’t done your research, have you, Pete?”
It’s not a question. Nureyev answers her anyway. “No.”
“Well, darling, it’s as you said yourself: the function of security is only secondarily for its protection, and primarily as a symbol. And you, Peter Nureyev, have become quite the symbol. Why, those lasers haven’t been fired in years.” There is a twinkle in Buddy Aurinko’s eyes that is much more than a trick of the light. “You should really look up your first moniker sometime. The Angel of Brahma is known throughout the Outer Rim as quite the guardian.”
Nureyev takes a deep, shaky breath. “I…had never thought to do so.”
“Yes, you did, but you were afraid of what you would find. Understandable, darling; I’ll assume you saw yourself as the villain. You were wrong, of course, but I can understand why you might think so, had you never looked homeward after you left.
“Now,” she continues, looking smug at the disbelief written huge across his face. “I can hardly tell you how to feel, darling, but I can tell you two things, and if you’ll allow me, I’ll say them now. First: you cannot tailor a person to another, Pete. Connection springs from honesty. You should know that well with Juno. You’re about to find out how true that is with the rest of us.
“Second: thank you for your name, darling. I know the circumstances were far from ideal, but you trusted us with it. The circumstances were rather heated, yes, but it was a leap of faith none of us expected.”
Nureyev is speechless, for one of very few times in his life. Buddy stands, smiles, and pats his uninjured knee. “Rest now, darling. We’ll talk more in the morning. And, Pete?”
“We’re all quite excited to meet you again. And you should know that we would love to meet all of you, Pete, if you think you can manage it.”
Nureyev’s head spins. He clears his throat, still not sure what to say. Authenticity is what she demands from him, and it is one of few things he cannot emulate.
But he thinks of Vespa, younger than she is now, hearing the story of the Angel of Brahma, not framed at all as Nureyev had assumed. Of she and Buddy, researching him. Of his family, learning his true identity.
Of Juno, whose honesty is unwavering, and how often Nureyev has wished he could be the same.
And maybe he doesn’t know who Peter Nureyev is, not really. But he is willing to try to find out.
“I’ll do my best.”