But the fact is that the crime is never perfect, for the world betrays itself by appearances, which are the clues to its non-existence, the traces of the continuity of nothing. For the nothing itself — the continuity of the nothing — leaves traces. And that allows itself to be sensed, while at the same time hiding away behind appearances.
The Perfect Crime, Jean Baudrillard
Sometimes, Peter thinks he carries the names with him like a long list of talismans. All the people he’s been, the ones he’s lived once and killed off and the ones he’s returned to so often they feel comfortable and worn, a broken-in pair of shoes or that chair you love in front of the window of your house. All of them are a record, all the lives he’s lived. Lived, and died, and risen again.
Symbolic of something, he’s certain of that. But he doesn’t like to think about it too hard.
Here is Special Agent Rex Glass, smiling in his identification photo even though nobody smiles in Dark Matters identification photos, eyes hidden behind dark glasses and a set to his shoulders that says Impress me with something I don’t know yet. He’ll ask you to thrill him with the wildest conspiracy theory you can think of, and leave you wondering if he isn’t somehow involved. Rex: King, counselor or ruler.
And there’s Octavius Green, an importer of the expensive and hard to obtain. He maintains an office address at the top floor of a high rise in Rio de Janeiro and if you know his direct line then you are very well connected, or very soon to be in a great deal of trouble. He’s well known in the business, Octavius Green. Appeared out of nowhere a decade or so ago. It’s well known Octavius is not his real name, but nobody who’s gone looking has lived to reveal the truth. His smile, icy and controlled, says How much will this cost me? Octavius: Born eighth.
And looking even farther back, here’s Rani Stone. In the photo snapped in his arrest warrant file, his face is young and unlined and his gaze and dress are careless. It’s an old photo, because the branch of Dark Matters that investigates interplanet piracy and smuggling only ever got one picture of him. Even from far away, his eyes say What are you going to do about it? Rani: Queen or sovereign.
And down at the center - if there is a center, a strata, something still living at the very messy truth of the matter -
Solid. Immobile. Until it’s shattered or broken.
There’s no way to know what that means without knowing who gave it to him. And he doesn’t remember who gave it to him.
There’s no way to know what his face is saying, because the only remaining photograph outside of grainy captured security footage is an identification photo. In it, a seventeen-year-old boy stares into the camera. His eyes are very dark and his jaw is firm and no matter how long you stare at him, he doesn’t look away.
He has nothing to feel sorry for. Not yet, anyway.
He expects panic to set in.
It’s a natural part of pulling a job, something one can expect, if not exactly prepare for. Bracing for the fear makes it worse, and Mag always told him to let them happen, and recognize them, and work with them until they work for him instead.
And the panic never comes.
Peter feels a preternatural calm, a heavy blanket of logic that drops over him as he slides, small and unnoticed, through dark alleys and streets. He got himself off the city and to the streets below on the same shuttle pod they’d arrived in, a sheer stroke of luck that it hadn’t been discovered yet. He abandons the pod in a parking structure and doesn’t bother wiping it for fingerprints. They already know who he is, and he doesn’t have time to waste.
What he has are needs. And he weighs them, systematically, as he steals a change of clothes and snaps the wire on a public restroom camera before entering.
He needs to get off of this planet. He needs to not get caught. He needs to go far, far away from this part of the galaxy and to never, ever return, to become somebody else, to twist and transform into someone unchaseable, untrackable, unknown and unfound.
“Alright, Pete,” Peter says to himself, out loud, and then stops. “Alright,” he says. “Nobody. Alright.” He feels no panic, nothing more than a strange, dull ache. Outside the door of the public restroom he hears the sounds of the street, music and vehicles. The movement of lives who, as of yet, have no idea how close they came to being wiped out entirely by one man with a mission that overshadowed reason.
Peter turns the water on, pulls off his stained uniform and scrubs his hands. Blood clings to his knuckles and wrists, stubborn. He talks under the sound of the water, with nobody else there to hear him.
“You need a new ID and you need a way off this planet,” he tells his reflection. It’s strange and unrecognizable, his eyes huge in his face. Blood red on his chin, where Mag had -
Peter scrubs at it until the water runs pink and his skin tingles.
“A new name. A way off this planet. And somewhere to go.”
But that isn’t right either, and it isn’t what he wants, and for a second he doesn’t understand why. The blood won’t come out from under his fingernails and his hands are smarting from the scrubbing. He needs a plan, an escape route, a next step. There isn’t any other way to do this. If he doesn’t come up with something he’s as good as -
The thief who doesn’t know which direction he’s heading in is as good as dead. First rule of thieving, Pete.
“Fuck you and your rules,” Peter says to his reflection, because he knows the advice is wrong. It doesn’t matter where he goes next. He doesn’t care. Anywhere else in the entire galaxy is going to be better than this is.
He’ll find out which planet that the shuttle system on Brahma travels to is farthest away, and he’ll buy a one-way ticket, and maybe he’ll stop there and maybe he won’t. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t care.
For the first time in his life, Peter feels untethered, looking skyward with something closer to holy anticipation than anger or fear. For the second time in his life, he knows that Mag was wrong.
Yesterday, Peter had accepted everything Mag said as the word of gospel. But yesterday was over, and Mag had said a lot of things that seem to have no bearing on what’s real and what’s not.
It isn’t until this thought crosses his mind and sticks that any of it feels real. Suddenly, horribly, Peter Nureyev starts to cry.
Six hours later. A city in panic, the specifics vague and threatening enough behind the propaganda language from on high. Terrorist , and national threat, and betrayal , and for the good of the people. People gather in the streets to look upward at screens flashing and alarms blaring in a city where people do not gather in the streets.
“The threat has passed,” the soothing recorded voice says. “We have done what was necessary to protect you. The threat has passed but remain vigilant.”
“Not you,” Peter says out loud, knowing he won’t get a response. “That wasn’t you.” But it almost doesn’t matter.
Six hours later, and a huge government-issue photograph is splashed across television screens. Have you seen this man? The television asks. Come forward with any knowledge you may have for the good of the city. A woman drinking in a bar mutters, under her breath where she is sure nobody will hear, that he hardly qualifies as a man. A boy, really, and there is something going on here that they aren’t telling. The bartender nods, shushes her. There is always something going on here that they aren’t telling. It’s only a matter of what it is today.
There are people who recognize him, the face on the television screen. Knew him as you know someone who frequents your business, or who lives on your street, or knew him as you know someone with whom you share a vision, a mission, a point of view.
None of them come forward. For fear of their own lives, mostly, but he was a nice young man if a bit sticky around the fingers with a tendency to swipe pocketbooks. Was it possible that he has done what the government said he’s done? Probably not but - well, his father had always had ideas. And, sometimes, that Nureyev kid seemed to pull things off that anyone else would consider possible.
So, maybe. Maybe so.
Peter’s face, on the screen, is young and guileless. He’s staring into the screen unsmiling, his eyes large behind glasses that don’t fit his face properly. The kind of expression that says Don’t mind me and You won’t remember taking my photo later. His hair is too long and he’s got the shadow of a bruise on his chin. He looks too young for the expression on his face.
It’s early morning by now, and a young man in a dark uniform suit pays his way into the back of a transport shuttle and he glances through the glass towards that image, digitized on the shuttle boarding station’s wall. There’s a passing resemblance but it’s only passing, the way two people with dark hair and glasses look alike. This young man’s hair is short on the sides, crisp and newly cut. There is nothing expressive on his face, nothing readable. There’s no way to guess his age. Young - but not around the eyes.
Peter makes eye contact with his own photograph. There’s a word plastered across it, bright and impossible to miss.
Wanted, it says, for crimes committed against the government of Brahma. Wanted.
“If that’s so,” Peter says, under his breath even though there is nobody there to hear what he says, “then come after me.”
When the shuttle departs he doesn’t look back.
For a decade, when Peter dreams with his eyes open he dreams in the voices of people he is creating. It's required, for authenticity, to give them desires and driving needs and wants, things they strive for, things they fear. His own desires are more complicated - he follows the worsening situation on the Outer Rim and feels frozen with inaction until he is pushed towards recklessness. He fabricates notoriety, things that are true and some that aren't, and waits to see what will stick. It always surprises him to know what will stick. And he covets the void of reputation, being too big for the rumors that come attached with a name and a face.
When he dreams with his eyes shut, it's always about holding the knife.
There are worse trade-offs.
Juno Steel’s life is lived-in.
That isn’t the first thing Peter notices about him, but it’s close. The first thing he notices is that unusual name, the specificity and cadence of it. Given to him and, he thinks later, perhaps not wanted or earned. But fitting - and he didn’t expect it to be. He’d imagined a number of things and what he’d found was a man pulled tight like a wire, speaking through his teeth and two limbs out a window overlooking a tiny fire escape and a busy street. Goddess of protectors, Peter thinks, and he grins with all his teeth and takes a stab at what will work with this man wound like a bomb about to go off.
That is, until Juno looks at him. Those eyes - so striking, in a face like a granite countertop, impassible. They speak even when he’s bullshitting.
“It’s gotten me to Mars, Juno Steel,” Peter says, savoring the way those words feel, their cadence, the hidden intricacies. The meaning behind them, the promise. “And it’s gotten me to you.”
Juno blusters and scoffs and his eyes follow Peter’s face for a second too long, and Peter knows that he’s got him.
It isn’t until later that Peter realizes he’s the one that’s been gotten.
It’s almost novel, until it stops being funny.
So the second thing he notices - or perhaps the third, if he’s counting the detective’s eyes which are a color he hasn’t seen before, or at least stopped to consider - is that Juno Steel’s life feels lived in. Heavy, messy, and he slides away from elaborations and specifics with a practice that’s almost masterful. He doesn’t want to tell Peter - tell Rex Glass - any more about the case than he has to. So Peter arms Glass with an aura of blithe silliness and harmless flirtation, wide-eyed fascination that allows him to take in the details. The needle points still left in the doors of the Kanagawa mansion. The gore coating the inside of the mask’s display case - open and waiting with too many eyes on him. And every word that comes out of Juno Steel’s mouth, and out of Cassandra and Cecil Kanagawa’s.
Every single person in this case, including the agent from Dark Matters who’d called Special Agent Rex Glass up late the night before, knows something about Juno Steel, and Peter can’t for the life of him determine the details.
And that’s fascinating.
Lives run in patterns. And Peter wants to guess where this one goes, and what it leads to.
But it’s not until he stumbles, intentionally but a bit clumsily, into the heart of the matter that he even begins to guess.
“Juno,” he says, because he likes the way that name sounds and how it suits the man it belongs to and so has been finding any excuse to say it out loud, “about your brother - “
“Don’t,” Juno says. His face, before somewhere between pain and intense focus about the details of the case, slips. It wavers into something Peter doesn’t know him well enough to be certain about, but he guesses it’s vulnerability. An old memory, one that hurts, and Peter can guess at their trajectory and at the tragedy caught there, in that expression.
He finds that he wants to unravel the specifics behind all of Juno Steel’s expressions, to see what falls out when he does.
Business is business, but that doesn’t mean Peter can’t enjoy himself in the process.
Grim’s mask, locked in Juno Steel’s office safe, is a grisly little talisman even trapped inside a sealed evidence bag. Peter tucks it into his pocket and takes a moment to deactivate the handcuffs around his wrist before he heads out into the street and towards the interstellar shuttle stop. He leaves the identification and passport belonging to Rex Glass in a trash incinerator on a street corner. He considered leaving them in Juno Steel’s office, but felt somehow that was one step too far in the one-two step game they’d been playing. He was going to win anyway.
The Martian night is hot and gritty, and Peter pauses for just a moment to breathe in the specificity of it before he heads onto the shuttle. The passport he proffers says his name is Alabaster Smith, and the photograph projected on it offers no reason to think this isn’t the case.
This is the part he’s gotten the best at, over time. The disappearing. Those tidy next steps - dispose of the evidence, increase the distance, misdirect the suspicion, collect the reward, find the next job.
Retell the story, hold onto the details, learn the lessons and get better next time. And move forward to a new place, new suit, new name.
It’s a shame about Rex Glass, really it is. Peter touches the folded-up Dark Matters uniform tucked into the bottom of his suitcase once he’s on board.
“Sorry old friend,” he says. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to accept an early retirement.”
That feels a little silly, but nobody’s watching. Rex Glass had been useful, if for his credentials more than the specifics of his personality, and he’d been an incredible amount of work. Aptitude tests, psychological profiles, lie detectors. He’d practiced maintaining an iron-clad control over his heart rate for two months. And he was fun, in an overly whimsical way that always made Peter tired when he had a moment alone. It was a shame.
Maybe that’s what makes him turn, look out the window as the shuttle pulls away from the docking port and pushes towards the edge of Mars’s atmosphere. There’s a pull and then a snap as the shuttle breaches the atmosphere and moves beyond it.
And Peter looks back.
In the distance, Mars is a dusty red globe and he can see the shimmering glint of light off of the dome that protects the inhabitants of Hyperion City from radiation sickness and death.
He wonders, idly, if he’ll ever return here. The thought surprises him because that would be lunacy, incredibly reckless. But the urge is there, and Peter wonders -
Peter has lived a lot of different lives, and he’s met a lot of people, kissed a fair number of them. Kisses of all kinds - good and bad and breathtaking, useful and distracting, fun and a little tragic.
This wasn’t anything like any of them. Peter touches his mouth without realizing he’s done it as he watches Mars get smaller. Thinks about Juno Steel’s top lip and how he’d tasted like whiskey, and of his blue eyes, and of the rasp of his voice as he’d spelled out everything he’d figured out about Peter, unable to resist the bait. It wasn’t perfect but it was close. Closer than anyone else would have gotten, Peter’s certain.
Kisses are kisses, and it had been a nice kiss. More than nice. One with promise in its edges.
But the kiss wasn’t why Peter had left the note. That was something else.
“Bit of a fool, you,” Peter says out loud, like he’s talking to himself from the outside in. Somewhere in there, wanting to be seen or even tripped over. He feels the sudden roil of nerves in the pit of his stomach. Juno could take that name to the police, or even just run through a search system, and he’d discover all kinds of interesting things that are very far removed from a little misdirection bait and switch.
The thought excites him. Or terrifies him. Peter’s not sure why he can’t tell the two apart.
Even so, he watches until the shuttle increases speed and Mars, pulled into a thin red line in the distance, is swallowed by the blackness of space.
When Peter was young, he used to dream in metaphor. The sky, the sea, endless expanses unbroken, wild in their freedom and promise. Feelings and wants before words and ideas. He’d try to make sense of them, tease out a narrative or some kind of meaning. Predictions, or a bigger picture. Promises.
“I had this dream last night,” he would say, determined that an answer would fall out of it.
“Tell me all about it,” is always what Mag would reply. “And write it down so you don’t forget.”
Peter did, concentrating on the shapes of the letters. Meaning teased from motions of the hand. He’d lived in a shapeless world, before Mag had found him, relying on his gut and not his head. Mag taught him meaning, a world beyond the endless loop of sleep, survival, safety, sleep. And so he dreamed of something bigger, something waiting on the other side of that ocean or that sky. A man usually, sharing a last name.
He dreamed about looking towards the sky, and not feeling fear about what’s going to fall down out of it.
And Mag didn’t laugh, when Peter said that out loud. He just watched him, drinking coffee he bought under the table from an importer in the market district who has a connection to the world outside Brahma, who showed Peter vids of planets that are nothing but oceans, or deserts, or crawling city skyscrapers where people come and go whenever they want and however they want without asking for permission. So different from the sprawling jungle, the climate-controlled cities beating it back, that looming shape always above them like an angry semicolon dragging the end of a sentence out to a confrontation.
Mag didn’t laugh, when Peter said what he thought. It made him feel like his opinion was worth listening to, and worth something.
“There,” Peter said, pushing the pad of paper in Mag’s direction as Mag poured himself a second cup of coffee - an excess, probably, but he never seemed to be able to live without it and that felt very adult, drinking coffee in the mornings. Peter thought it was too bitter.
“You dreamed about looking up into the sky and seeing someone looking back…” Mag read from the piece of paper. “That’s quite a dream, Pete.”
“It was pretty weird,” Peter admitted, toying with the recycled plastic silverware sitting next to his plate. Metal repurposed towards the war effort. “What does it mean?”
“I can’t say,” Mag stroked his beard. “It’s inside your head, Pete. What do you think it means?”
“I’m not sure,” Peter said. “Does it have to mean anything? Is it supposed to?”
“Only if you want it to.”
“I think it means,” Peter considered for a long moment, flipping the plastic table knife in his hand - over his knuckles, then back under, then over as fast as he could go until his grip slipped and it fell onto the floor - “that I’m looking for something.”
Mag grinned behind his beard. When he smiled real large the corners of his mouth vanished.
“Kiddo,” he said, “aren’t we all?”
“I guess so.”
“Now,” and he pushed the pad of paper containing Peter’s dream back across the table. “Burn it.”
“Not your dream. The paper it’s written on. We’re leaving here in two hours and we don’t want it to be found.”
“But why would it matter?” Peter asked, confused. He stared at his own handwriting, spiders scrawl on yellow paper. “Who’d care about this?”
“That’s not the point. It’s a habit to get into. First rule of thieving, Pete.”
Peter braced himself for what came next because it was never the same but it was always the same; the lesson, the meaning in the action, the combination of words to be applied next time they were in a sticky situation. Sometimes, it was funny to be exasperated with it. Mostly, Mag was just right.
“What is it this time?” Peter said.
His eyes, big yellow eyes, looked at Peter across the table. Peter will never meet anybody else with eyes like that, not across galaxies.
“Never leave anything behind.”
“Then what,” Peter asked, suddenly annoyed, because he had to, “was the point of writing it down?”
“Oh,” Mag shrugged and drained his coffee cup, his eyes twinkling, “that’s so you don’t forget it.”
There’s a part of him that wants to write down what happened, on Mars. Write it down and burn it and leave it on some planet he won’t come back to so it’s gone, ashes and dust.
“Thank you for visiting Hyperion City,” the woman who Peter purchases the cross-galaxy cruise liner ticket for smiles at him as she punches a few buttons on her computer and his tickets pop up on his comms. “We hope you return to see us again.”
“Not likely,” Peter hears his own voice say, barely recognizable. It rattles, rather than glides. “I’ve seen enough of it, I think.”
The woman blinks at him, taken aback, and Peter says nothing as he turns away towards the boarding platform.
He’s wearing a new shirt and shoes, sporting a new haircut, new cologne. A new passport. Carrying a new suitcase. He’d left everything he’d had on him, which hadn’t been much after two weeks in the desert, in the hotel room. He hadn’t paid the bill - the name he’d registered the room under was fake.
Looking like a new man, he boards the shuttle.
But there are things the body doesn’t forget, no matter how much you disguise it as something it isn’t. And Peter turns his head as the ship leaves Mars’s orbit.
“Seen enough of it,” he makes himself say. His tongue doesn’t feel like it belongs to him, mechanical and slow. Enough of all the hotels in that city and their terrible room service, and their retro-futuristic neon style, and enough sun, and enough sand. Enough sand for the rest of his life. Enough of the political infighting to control a city stranded in an ocean of the stuff, and the people who inhabit it, and the way they talk. The food they eat. The music they listen to. How they walk, talk, laugh, curse, kiss.
Behind him, Mars is ugly and burned, monstrous. Peter hates it, right down to the center of him. But he can't look away from it, a big red blot that for a moment obscures his view.
Nobody has ever ruined a whole planet for him before. Not since Mag, anyway, but that was different.
The ticket he's purchased goes nowhere in particular, just as far away as he can go. He may stop, he may continue. He doesn't know. He doesn't care. He expects panic and feels hollow, like something's been pulled out of him and stolen.
Like it's Juno whose done the thieving, this time. The thieving and the leaving, with Peter staring at the silhouette of where he went with no answers as to why.
The shuttle lifts off and for one second, the one that's all dizzy nausea and claustrophobia, Peter wants to get off of it. There's been some mistake, and it's something that can be repaired, and he wants it so bad that it hurts, hurts, the way things you want with your heart and soul hurt. Real things, big intangible things - victory, freedom, notoriety, love.
Then the shuttle lifts through the atmosphere and the feeling fades to nothing but a dull ache and Peter doesn't look away, because that feels like a challenge. One he wants to win.
"If that's so," Peter says under his breath, so nobody else in the shuttle notices he's speaking, "then come after me."
Juno stands at the doorway and he pauses. Peter had been mostly asleep, when this had happened, and he doesn’t know how long Juno had waited there. What his face looked like. What, if anything, he had said. He had felt the motion of his moving and had known, somehow, that he would wake up alone. Perhaps he’d known that before they fell into bed together. Known it before Juno knew it himself.
But Juno stands at the doorway, and he pauses and looks back. Peter wants to say something, the right thing that will change the outcome and reshuffle the cards so something else lands face-up. But he doesn’t know what that is. Juno Steel puts him at a loss for words.
“Why would I stay with you,” Juno says, from the doorway, “after what I saw in your head?” His voice is ice.
“I tried to tell you,” Peter says, futile, “that you might not like what you find in there. You can’t ask me to be ashamed of what I’ve done. I can’t live like that. You and I are different.”
If shame can’t catch you, shame can’t win. But Juno is unmoved.
“This place is the only thing that matters to me,” Juno says, and he gestures towards the window where Mars revolves, huge and dusty red. That isn’t possible, they’re on Mars, but there it is like it’s looking in at them. “Why would I abandon my home for someone who killed his own father?”
“He wasn’t my father - “ Peter says, suddenly angry, because that isn’t for Juno to know, or to speak to. But Juno doesn’t seem to care.
Peter can’t see his face from the bed, not really, until Juno takes one step forward back into the hotel room. And more angry words are stopped cold, because his face is that death’s mask that had emerged from one side of a locked door, the dark cave of one eye shiny with blood and gore.
“You were just a means to an end, Peter,” Juno says, and for the first time Peter realizes what this is, because Juno has never said that, verbal intimacy, not even with his mouth pressed hot against Peter’s shoulder when Peter had said his name, relishing how it sounded in repetition - Juno, Juno Juno.
“How does it feel to be used the way you use people, Peter?” Juno asks, in his dream, his face caught in a grimace and coated in his own blood, and Peter has no answer to that. None at all.
Peter doesn’t mean to come back. In fact, he makes a point to avoid the entire sector, steer clear. He passes up a few well-paying jobs in the asteroid belt because it feels like a superstitious taboo, and he’s not the kind of thief to hold to that kind of thing but he does it anyway and breathes easier when he’s politely declined. He goes out of his way to point himself anywhere else but the vicinity of Mars, and it feels a little like breaking one of his own rules because it means that something has stuck, and can’t be shaken off.
He’s the only person who follows them, and he gives himself a free pass, considering the circumstances.
So it’s something closer to fate when Peter, three drinks down in a fancy club in the red light district on Sayama, feels someone grab him from behind and wakes up on Mars.
He can tell it’s Mars because of the way the light looks, coming in through an uncomfortably small window in the room he’s been locked in. He’s never seen anything like it.
“I hope you would be so kind as to tell me,” Peter says into the intercom system mounted on the wall, “who you are, what I have done to displease you and what, exactly, you want from me?”
“Sorry,” a voice says, “no can do.” That makes Peter feel, for some reason, that they don’t have a clear idea either.
So he waits. Because he’s good at that - biding his time. A muscle that needs practice.
And when, a day or two or three later, a new voice crackles through the intercom and gets his attention, Peter isn’t quite certain if it paid off.
“Hello?” The voice says, and it’s one Peter recognizes, distantly but absolutely. “Special Agent Glass? You listening?”
“I am,” Peter says, marveling at the fact that his voice stays steady. “And I’m not really a special agent, you know.”
“Well, I know that, Mister Glass,” the voice says, like this is obvious. “I just didn’t know how formal we were here, but I don’t really got time to go back and forth on it so Mister is gonna have to do. Mister Glass, you gotta listen to me real closely, okay?”
“I’m all ears,” Peter says firmly.
“I’m gonna pop the lock on that door in just a second,” the voice says, “because it’s a plain old electronic lock, and if they didn’t want you getting out they wouldn’t make ‘em so darned easy to open would they? Anyway, I’m gonna unlock the door and I’m gonna deactivate the security cameras but I can only do it for three minutes otherwise the system’s gonna know there’s a problem and things are gonna get real messy. So, Mister Glass, you’re gonna have to run. You any good at it?”
“When motivated,” Peter says. “Where am I running to?”
“All the way down this hall til you hit a big doorway, then you gotta take three rights, then a left, then another right and then there’s a loading bay and there’s a purple beat-up car waiting for you - oh, it better be waiting for you or there’s gonna be trouble cause that means something’s gone wrong - and you gotta hop in it and go! Did you get all that?”
“Yes,” Peter says, because he did. “Three minutes, you said?”
“Three minutes. You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Peter says. “Take it away, darling. And might I say - you are quite sensational at this?”
“Oh Mister Glass,” Rita giggles through the intercom, “the things you say!”
The door pops open.
And Peter runs for his life.
“I need to get this fucking thing out of my head,” Juno says, and his voice is wildly unsteady, raw and cracking, “and I need to get off of Mars. And not necessarily in that order.”
Peter thinks about getting angry. He wants to be. Deserves to be, even. It’s the natural reaction to any and all of this even without Juno’s plea - dramatic irony cuts hard and fast and as they look at each other there’s the knowledge that they both know that this is upside down and backwards from how it should be, how it should go.
He’s thought of a thousand ways to approach this. Hot, mean truths or cold indifference. Laughter or tears or cruelty or rage. A thousand different names and people he would be and they’d all handle it with a different flavor based in how they feel - because the best aliases all have a grain of truth in them somewhere. But now, faced with the real and inevitable truth of the matter, none of them fit and none of them are what he feels, at all.
It’s easy, to borrow the emotions of others and wear them like a coat. But he’s struck through and honest with surprise and none of them fit.
He - Peter Nureyev - is just tired.
Juno’s face is asymmetrical, but not in the way Peter expects. He’s cautious and braced for retaliatory anger at the same time that he’s still looking Peter in the eye with the closest thing to earnestness Peter’s seen there. His right eye is too bright, a metallic sheen. It doesn’t seem like it belongs.
“Alright,” Peter says.
“Nureyev,” Juno says.
Four hours before the cargo shuttle they’re paying their way aboard is supposed to depart, Juno goes missing.
Peter thinks, at first, that it’s the end of some long and exceptionally cruel practical joke and he steels himself for the hurt that will follow until Rita sighs and points towards her car door.
“Sure he ran off cause he didn’t want us following him,” she says. She’s remarkably calm about the state of things. She hasn’t asked where they’re going, or if they’ll return. “Partially cause he thinks he’ll get us both caught if he gets caught, and partially cause he just doesn’t want us following him.”
“Where has he gone?” Peter tries to keep the betrayal from his voice. And Rita doesn’t answer, just starts the car and pilots them towards Old Town Hyperion City.
She parks on the street in front of a low-slung grey concrete square that Peter can’t guess the purpose of. It looks like a bunker.
“Three rows over and about fifteen down,” Rita says, pointing with her thumb. Peter has no idea what this is referring to, but he gets out of the car then pauses, to lean his head into the window.
“Thank you,” he says, and Rita shrugs. She looks morose. It isn’t an expression that sits well on her face. Rita, like Juno, would have an impossible time pretending to be anybody else because she is so exactly herself.
Peter turns and opens the door, expecting a library, and what he finds is a mausoleum.
Shelves and shelves of names, grey concrete stamped with names and dates. Years and years and years of them, perhaps marking the location where a carbonized body, compressed and dusty and stored tight, stays forever.
Peter feels nervous, as he walks three shelves over past the names of Hyperion City’s dead. It’s the weight of history, the number of people whose lives have come to a conclusion in this drafty concrete bunker, and the knowledge that Juno is here because there’s someone he’s visiting.
He’s standing in the middle of an aisle, just about fifteen down, and he doesn’t look up until Peter is standing right next to him. They both stare at the name, letters stamped in concrete and two dates. Peter does the math. Seventeen.
“Rita tell you where I went?” Juno asks. His voice is brusque and almost businesslike, like he doesn’t want to acknowledge the clench of his jaw or the tense brightness of his eyes.
Peter just nods.
“Didn’t tell her but she’s no idiot,” Juno says. “I had to just - had to come here. Before we - “
His throat works and no words come out, for a long moment. Peter thinks of something to say and gets nowhere. He wants to say he wishes he could have known him, and that he hopes they would have gotten along, and that he wonders what he was like and what happened to him. But all those things seem obvious, implied. He wants to say he’s sorry - about this family tragedy, and the outcome. But that seems trite. He wants to ask for the whole story - but he knows Juno won’t tell it. Now right now.
“He was the whole reason I ever - ” Juno says, and Peter looks over at him, almost startled. Juno’s looking towards the floor and his fists, both of them, are clenched tight. “You know. Nobody thought I could be a cop, this punk kid with a big mouth. But after he - “
He stops, teeth clenched together like a vice.
Even when you do everything in your power to shake the things that you were, the places you came from, they still reach forward into your future. Peter has only gone where he is - standing in the mausoleum that smells like red dust - because a very long time ago someone pushed him in one direction instead of another.
“It’s quite a name,” Peter says, surprising himself. The words propel action and he leans forward to trace his fingers along the letters, feeling the hard edge of the concrete in the shape of a capital B, the z in the center. “Is that what you called him?”
Juno snorts. “Yeah, Ma had a real thing for mythological mumbo-jumbo. Benten, if you were in a hurry but still wanted to sound like you meant it. But mostly just Ben, because he got in trouble half as much as I did.” His voice loosens, a question he can answer.
“I didn’t think about this when I asked you to - “ Peter starts, then stops.
“Didn’t tell you,” Juno says sharply. “Didn’t try, didn’t - I didn’t - “
“I asked you the wrong question.” Peter turns to look at him, his hand still touching the first letter of his brother’s name. “Didn’t I?”
“You asked it to the wrong person. And I gave the wrong answer, anyway.”
“That isn’t what I said.”
They look at each other, and neither of them look away.
“This is all that’s left of him,” Juno says, slowly. It’s like it’s being dragged out of him, how he feels about his brother. What this means and why he’s here. “That - that little box and the shit I remember. He was just a kid. We remember him like that and we’re not, anymore.”
It comes to him like a shock, the question. He doesn’t know how he’s never considered it before now. Hasn’t wanted to - but now that it’s in his head Peter can’t stop wondering. He never stopped to think what happened to Mag’s body, the physical remains of him Peter left behind. Logged and sorted, probably, as evidence. Or destroyed, now property of the state.
There is nowhere he can go where the memories of him coalesce behind something physical, like this place where the remains of Juno’s brother’s body will stay long after he’s no longer there to visit them.
Juno’s history is here, on this ground. Stories caught in stamped letters in concrete and red dust. There’s nothing left to mark Peter’s passing but the stories that follow him - and many of them aren’t true.
“We can stay as long as you need to,” Peter says quietly.
“Gonna stand here and watch me act like a real basket case?”
“I suppose so.” Peter touches the knuckles of Juno’s right hand with his own and they’re warm and firm, and when Juno reaches out to put his palm against his brother’s gravestone, he does so with his left hand.
“Alright,” he says, his voice a shadow. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Juno doesn't look back as the cargo freighter leaves the system. He stares forward, the tendons in his neck like iron cords, and he doesn't look back. Peter loves him for that, and Peter turns to do it for him because now it feels like a habit.
He isn’t entirely sure what to make of their accord, or their affair, or their agreement - the accuracy depends on the day, but it’s stuck whatever it is.
First rule of thieving, Peter thinks, third time’s the charm.
That only counts when he’s stealing something, and he’s not in this to steal anything.
Maybe that’s why it’s different.
“When you register to become a private detective,” Peter muses, almost unaware he’s saying it out loud, “do they give you a handbook?”
“No,” Juno says dryly. “They nail a big lists of do’s and don’ts to your office bathroom door.”
Juno is half a galaxy away and Peter can still pick up the crackle and rise in his voice, wanting to be irate but not committing to it, knowing he’s got too much work to be wasting his time but unwilling to turn away altogether. There’s something to this that foretells some kind of future - the fact that Peter, bored and half a galaxy away, has gotten Juno to boot up the aging computer in his office in the middle of the night just to fill the dead air between them with a pointless conversation.
If Juno was actually annoyed, he’d turn the computer off. Or unplug it. Instead, he shuffles through holographic file displays and half-listens. Peter would say he was keeping one eye on the screen if he had more than one eye to spare.
“No set of rules? Or guidelines?”
“Sure,” Juno is frowning at the projection of somebody’s arrest record. “Don’t get in the way of the HCPD, and keep the property damage lower than what you pay in rent for the year.”
“Avoid investigating local government figures?”
“No, but that’s supposed to be common sense.”
“Third time’s the charm?”
“Don’t know that one. I’m not getting anywhere with this. None of these people know each other, far as I can tell. But it doesn’t make any sense unless they do.”
“It’s from Earth,” Peter says. He’s in a rented apartment; his, at least temporarily. Decorated as the man Octavius Green would decorate an apartment. Minimalist and stylish, but not cozy. So he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor because the chair in the living room was designed for someone much shorter. Long-term impacts of the gravity on Haumea. “You’re working.”
“Barely.” Juno, at his desk, pushes the file away from him and sighs. “Rita and I need to go through this with a fine-toothed comb tomorrow. I’m not getting anywhere. And I’m seeing everything all lopsided. Worse than usual.”
“You missed it,” Peter says, which is a guess that he knows is correct. Juno rolls his eyes, but his expression tells Peter he’s right.
Juno had returned to Mars eight months ago. Peter hadn’t asked him to make his absence from the planet of his birth permanent, even after it betrayed him, even as he’d had to flee it. A part of him always looking back, a promise to himself he hadn’t spoken out loud.
Peter had been afraid, for a while, that there would be no going back. That he’d have to demonstrate, in real time, how final forever could be in exile.
But he’d been wrong. And he’d watched, fascinated, as Juno become Juno Steel again. Juno, looking back, measures the things he is against the things he refuses to become and forces them into shape. It has to hurt.
Peter ran, once, to leave the things he hated behind. And Juno carries them everywhere he goes. Peter doesn’t quite understand how he can do that, year in and year out.
“Maybe I did,” Juno says, with Peter so lost in thought he almost forgets what Juno means. “Only thing I was ever any good at, anyway.”
“Not the only thing.” Peter props his chin on his knuckles to wink into the screen. “What’s the case?”
“I’m trying to dig up a connection between this factory closing down and this new pharmaceutical release,” Juno leans back in his office chair and drops his head sideways onto the armrest. “Apparently all I’m good for is political intrigue and conspiracy, now.”
“That’s what happens when you meddle,” Peter says. “You develop a reputation.”
“I’ve always had a reputation.”
“I’m a bit fond of this one.”
“A pain in the ass?”
“Not in mine.” Peter grins. “And weren’t you always?”
Juno smiles, disarmed. “Yeah, just depends on the ass in question. More often than not, my own. Where the hell are you, anyway?”
“The station off of Eris I,” Peter says, and points the screen towards the apartment window. The dwarf planet’s moon is visible, though that does little to contextualize his location. “Not too far, all things considered. But things are moving very slowly here. I’m sick to death of the food, and the trend here is late 42nd century minimalist, which is not what I think of when I think about retro. It’s dismal.”
“I’m not mining for sympathy, Juno.” Peter pouts. He knows it’s effective because he practices it
“Do you practice that?” Juno’s eyeing him and trying not to smile.
“I’m accused!” Peter says, affronted. “You ought to know the answer to that, detective.”
“On and off. It has its uses.”
“I’m working and you’re lounging around in retro luxury apartments on Eris,” Juno says, bone dry. “Use it for something with a little more payoff, huh? Be strategic.”
Through the window behind Juno’s head, Peter can see muted Hyperion City light. Red-dyed, a sandstorm maybe. Hot and painful.
“It’s freezing here,” he complains, sighing into the camera. “And I’m so bored.”
“Pick up a hobby,” Juno suggests, smiling. “Like solitaire. Or knitting.”
“I’m not eighty,” Peter says.
“Not yet. How much longer do you have to stay?”
“Oh, a week, maybe two,” Peter slumps his chin into his hand. He feels aggravated and bored and very far away and maybe that’s why he says it, because he’s not thinking at all and instead is just letting the words fall out of his mouth to see what Juno does with them. “Don’t be too bereft,” he says, teasing, and maybe that’s why he says it, because it isn’t meant to be serious. “I’ll be home soon,” he says, without thinking, without considering the implications, without guessing at interpretations.
There is a long, strange silence.
Through the screen, Juno’s mouth snaps shut. Peter can hear the sound his teeth make against each other. It’s the confirmation the Peter did indeed say that out loud.
“You - “ Juno’s mouth opens and closes a few times.
“To Mars, I mean,” Peter amends quickly. “Soon, I can - I suppose, if you aren’t - I certainly don’t have to, if you’re busy. Will be busy. Could be busy.” His mouth feels like it’s been stuffed with fabric, his words clumsy and useless. It’s just a word, one that could be substituted for a number of other words. Nothing more or less complicated than that - and certainly less complicated than this, their accord, which they haven’t discussed in terms that codify anything.
Absurdly, his heart is racing in his chest.
“I’m not,” Juno says, haltingly. “I haven’t planned that far ahead, playing it by ear but - “
They stare at each other. Juno seems to, perhaps, be having a slow motion heart attack. Peter has the impression that he’s grasping around under the table for a drink but doesn’t want to look away.
Saying things out loud makes them dangerous. Peter's pulse will not slow down but he doesn't know how to undo this and so he does what he does best. He bites his lip, he bares his teeth and he bluffs.
"Detective," he says, and he does look away, does break the thread, leaning forward as he does so to expose one shoulder under the robe he's wearing, one collarbone. "The work you're doing - it isn't going to last all night long, is it?"
He smiles. Up close, he thinks perhaps Juno would be able to tell that it isn't a smile that quite fits.
Miles and miles away, Juno clears his throat.
"Depends," he says brusquely. "On what your alternative is."
Peter lets the robe slide another inch down his shoulder and his smile loosens, no longer artificial. "Oh, I don't know," he says, and Juno's eyebrows creep up. "I'm sure I could think of a few things, and I did tell you how bored I am."
Juno meets him at the interplanetary shuttle station, which strikes Peter as odd until he remembers he told Juno when he'd be arriving, and where. He prefers the illusion of surprise, climbing through a window to avoid the security cameras at the doorways of Juno's office building and the surprised look on Juno's face. But today - there's someone in a dark suit and a hat pulled down over his face holding up a sign that reads Ajax Hammer.
"Ajax? Is that what you think of me?"
"Am I that far off?" Juno's eye glints under the hat and he passes Peter the sign and turns without a further greeting, walking towards the entrance. Peter follows at his heels, feeling as if he is a step or two behind. Juno's come to meet him at the station, but his greeting is perfunctory and those things contradict.
He knows why. It's obvious why, and it feels almost physical, his little slip of the tongue. He said it, and Juno knows he said it, and he knows Juno knows, and it's been two weeks and they haven't discussed it. Haven't even gotten close. A rotational dance with rules he's unclear on, a truth he's still guessing at.
He said it but does he mean it? Is it true? Does that matter? He's turned that over and over in his head, grit to form a pearl around. A word is just a word, a useful shorthand expression meant to mean The place where you are and where I'll return to, because both of us know you no longer wish to leave it and I no longer want to ask you?
Is there any difference between that meaning and - and the real one?
What's the real one?
Can you live in two places at once? Not your body, of course, but your heart?
"How was the thing with the hats?" Juno asks as they get into the car, which is absurd idle smalltalk.
"Oh, tremendous," Peter says. "It's really incredible what people will pay for hats that give one the aura of exclusivity and wealth. All fakes, of course, but I can't believe the amount of time it took me to butter them up enough to drop two million on the cursed things. Take it off your head, detective, I can't bear to look at it." He bats Juno's hat into the backseat and Juno cracks a smile.
"Guess you could say that you're," he starts, and grins a little more, "ahead of the game there. Get it? Head? A head? Get - "
"Yes, gotten. Gotten. Please, stop if you know what's good for me."
"You say that as if you're assuming I do."
And silence, of the foreboding kind. Juno drums his fingers on the wheel as they sit in traffic, opens his mouth and then closes it.
"You do know what Ajax means, don't you?" He says, to fill the space.
"No idea," Juno says. "I asked Rita to look up some likely candidates and that was the funniest. Made her laugh for ten minutes."
"Darling," Peter turns to him and winks, to make him smile and to also have the upper hand, "it means profitable. Thank you," Peter offers, suddenly unable to make himself stop talking, "for driving all the way across the city. It isn't exactly nearby."
"Sure, whatever," Juno fiddles with the radio, trying to find something that isn't a commercial or political news. "Wasn't doing anything else this afternoon. It's not not nearby. A couple faster routes that you pick you, if you live here. You know."
"Ones where the cops don't check your speed?"
"Something like that. Gotta swing by the office anyway, pick some files up. Hope that's - "
"Oh, fine," Peter says. "You have work to do? You really didn't have to - "
"Nah. Not pressing. Just some stuff to pick up."
Juno maneuvers the car over three lanes and up two without looking, and Peter grabs at his knee for a moment as the car elevates and then levels out. Juno's eye drops sideways to look at his hand, away from the road, before it returns to the dashboard.
"Detective," Peter says, tentatively, because he knows if this one isn't said it will just hang there unspoken for as long as they both can ignore it, or until Juno internalizes it and turns it into something inward and mean. "Are you - "
"Am I what?" Juno whips a right, swears at someone trying to get into his lane.
Alright was the question, but it's always the wrong question to ask. Peter can see the tension in Juno's shoulders, and his hands on the wheel. There's only one way to do this. Sweat raises along his own hairline, an absurd biological reaction to something so emotional.
"What I said," Peter starts, his own voice unusual and wavering, "the other day, Juno, it was a slip of the tongue. You know?"
"You misspoke," Juno doesn't look at him. "A little unusual, Nureyev. For you."
"It can happen to the best of men," Peter says. His heart moves sideways unpleasantly. "It was hardly - you know, we don't have to discuss it."
"We don't have to discuss what we're discussing?" Juno's mouth twists. "You sound like my mother."
Peter didn't know Juno's mother, but that hurts anyway because he pays attention and he isn't an idiot.
"That was low, detective. I'm simply trying to say - "
" - that you don't wanna discuss it. Got it, thanks." The car pulls down into the neighborhood that houses Juno's office and also his apartment, an in-between space crammed between sideshows of neon. Peter finds that he can recognize the street they're passing - not because he's done his research, but because he's been here. There's a bar that's open all hours, and a restaurant that delivers breakfast, and a laundromat.
"That it was an accident. It didn't mean anything." Peter says this, and then immediately realizes it was the wrong thing to say.
"It didn't mean anything." Juno slams on the brakes, and they both bounce in the seat for a second until he starts maneuvering it into a parking spot in front of his office building. Early evening dusk has started to stain the city purple, pulling new shades from the neon.
"That isn't what I meant either."
"You're striking out."
"And you don't get to play that card."
"Who's aiming low now?" Juno turns in his seat, eyebrows low and thundercloud-dangerous. Peter levels a stare back at him.
"I'm trying to explain myself," he says, an iron-clad grip on his voice. It balloons into a cartoon version, icy and haughty. "If you're not willing to listen that is hardly my problem."
"Didn't exactly ask you to," Juno shrugs.
"Didn't you? You're saying you weren't waiting for the right moment to write it off?"
"Why would I write off something you just said was a mistake unless it wasn't one?"
"Stop investigating me," Peter snaps. "Poking holes in what I'm saying when you don't even know what I'm saying yet."
"Go on, then," Juno waves his hand, and Peter bristles, opens his mouth without a clear idea of what is going to come out next, and suddenly Juno sighs and he seems to make up his mind. It happens fast enough that Peter can't quite brace himself, but he is certain he's unsure of what's to come because sometimes Juno Steel's thoughts live right there in his eyebrows and other times they're so incomprehensible Peter can only guess at them.
But Juno - for once, perhaps in his life - stops fighting first.
"Shut up," Juno says, quietly. "You're kind of making a fool of yourself."
Before Peter can determine his intentions he leans across the car's armrest and grabs a handful of Peter's coat and pulls them towards each other, two bodies with a collision point and an indeterminate outcome.
Juno's mouth is firm and serious against Peter's and Peter kisses him back, breathless, and he thinks perhaps it's the answer to a question he wasn't sure he was asking.
"You seem to do that to me," he says finally, against Juno's chin.
"It evens things out," Juno says, and his eye is bright.
"And you're laughing at me."
"Only because you wanna," Juno glances away, at the street and the purple dusk, the red dust, the sloping buildings and the entrance to his office, "make something sentimental out of this shithole."
"Can you fault me?" Peter's throat has tightened to a pinhole. "I am an astute student of human behavior, detective."
Juno answers that question by kissing him again. It's one without an answer, instead asking a question - or making a proposition. There's nobody else in my office right now, is the suggestion, or perhaps This is better settled without any more talking.
Peter shoves the car door open, then the door to the building. Stairs are obstacles, Juno's locked office door a conundrum, his hands on Peter's waist even more so.
"Calling yourself a student of anything," Juno snorts, letting the door slam behind him. Peter's blood is high in his face and Juno's mouth is open. "Seems like an insult those of us who were shitty in school."
"It's all in the frame of mind," Peter breathes, and he undoes the buttons of his shirt slow enough that it means something else. "You've got to be willing to learn something new."
"Prove it," Juno says, and he slides his office door closed behind him.
Peter knows he’s dreaming. He knows because he’s dreamed about this before, endlessly and relentlessly, something he can’t move past. He used to shake things off, let them slide off him like water because when the details of your life don’t cling to then nothing else has to, either. Peter Nureyev has edges, and things stick to them. Things he doesn’t forget.
It doesn’t matter that he knows he’s dreaming, because knowing doesn’t stop it from happening. It just makes him sure that what happens next is going to hurt.
In his dream, he’s lying in bed. Not his bed, because there isn’t a bed that really belongs to him and there isn’t even one he can pinpoint from childhood because they were nomads by necessity, sleeping in alleys and apartments and the sprawling houses of recently dead enemies of the state. He doesn’t identify it. It doesn’t matter, because he’s dreaming.
In his dream, there’s someone lying next to him. Not sleeping, because Peter can feel his gaze on him - one sharp eye and one dull one, seeing nothing.
“Nureyev,” Juno says, in Peter’s dream, and Peter turns towards him and Juno’s hands are in his hair and his mouth is on Peter’s mouth.
“Wait,” Juno says, and he’s pushing himself up so he’s sitting, and the room is dark but his eye is bright anyway. “I have to show you something,” he says, and his voice is gravel and promise.
He turns, and Peter watches his shoulders move and he’s so intent on them that he doesn’t notice Juno is holding something in his hands until he’s facing him again. And when he does notice, he recognizes it.
It’s the bomb.
Peter can hear it, so clearly, counting down. He wants to tell Juno to throw it away, anywhere else, and he knows once it begins it can’t be stopped.
“Don’t worry,” Juno says, and his voice is very clear and it doesn’t shake and it’s nothing like it sounded through the locked door.
“You don’t have to,” Peter says, or tries to, but his words stick and his throat is dry.
“It’s okay,” Juno says. “I have to.” And the numbers wind down. In the dark, they’re very bright, immobile and inevitable, impossible to change or escape. So he drags his eyes away, to Juno’s face, which changes.
A corpse mask of pain, exhaustion, gore streaked down one side and the heavy shadows in the corner of his missing eye are so dense and black they’re almost liquid.
“I’m sorry,” Juno says, and his voice cracks and jumps. “I can’t - you take it. It’s your turn.”
Alright, Peter says, or tries to. It’s what he thinks, and it’s what he wants - for Juno to understand he doesn’t have to carry that thing, ticking poisonously, all on his own. That he’s here too, and he doesn’t know how this will end but he can help, he can try. Okay, he says, or tries to. Give it to me.
That isn’t what he says. He hears himself, and he’s filled with horror and he can’t stop it.
“No, Juno,” he says, and he can’t stop it, “it’s yours.”
Juno sighs. It’s one of resignation. He doesn’t argue. Doesn’t even try.
No, Peter thinks, no, that’s not what I mean and it’s not what I want and I pulled into that, I did. I could have robbed the train on my own, I didn’t ask her to hurt you and I would have done anything to stop it, I would have done anything -
“It’s yours,” is all he says. “Juno.”
“Okay,” Juno says, and he lifts the bomb, which changes shape but keeps ticking, keeps counting down, and he looks at it for a long second.
Juno puts the bomb in his mouth. And he swallows it.
And Peter wakes up.
It takes him a moment to figure out where he is - a kind of routine for someone who is a nomad by necessity. Gravity, skyline, the quality of the light, the nighttime sounds in the dark. The air is cold, or perhaps his skin is just slick with sweat, and he’s breathing harder than he should be, his hair plastered to his face and the pillow.
Juno’s bed. Hyperion City, somewhere past midnight. Neon and red sand light slide in through the untidy window shutters. There’s something muted to the quality of the light. Anywhere else, Peter would guess at snow, but there’s no snow here. Hyperion City feels like a heartbeat, something hot and messy and big and gritty and alive.
The spot beside him, a second pillow jammed into a bed that always feels a little too small, is empty.
No, Peter thinks, almost automatically like a reflex -
But there’s sound from the other room, Juno’s kitchen-living-dining-working room, and light. And Peter wipes sweat from his hair and counts to ten, hearing his own heartbeat slow. An old trick, self control and mastery of fear.
Juno is leaning both his elbows against his kitchen counter, peering at a rotating holographic map. Bare-chested, his shoulderblades slide across his back as he shifts. It isn’t cold, then. It is raining, though.
Juno starts when Peter pushes the bedroom door open, blinking. He looks tired, faded out, his hair in his face.
“Fuck,” he says, “did I wake you up?”
“No, no,” Peter pulls his robe - his, brought here and left here - up over one shoulder as he steps into the kitchen. “Nothing like that. I woke myself up.”
“The weather?” Juno’s eye roams his face. Peter can feel the remnants of the dream sitting on his features and knows it’s pointless to hide it.
“I had this dream,” Peter says, his mouth cold. “It was - it hardly matters. Are you working at this hour?”
“Not really, I’m just - “ Juno shrugs, turns back to the diagram. “Trying to puzzle it out. Someone got in here without tripping a single alarm. Seems impossible. Wasn’t you, was it?”
“Let me see,” Peter turns his attention to the hologram. “No, it hardly rings a bell. And I have an eye for blueprints. This one I would remember.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Juno says a little dryly through the sleep-starved scratch of his voice, “because it’s three blocks from here and you promised to stop casing buildings in Hyperion City unless you tell me about them first.”
“Then it definitely wasn’t. Absolutely not. How diligent you are, rising in the middle of the night to right wrongs.”
He finds that he wants to get himself as close to Juno as possible, near his living, breathing, fighting, kicking, quipping body, the configuration of flesh and blood that makes him up. Peter wants to memorize its details and specifics like the layout of a blueprint, and every time he thinks he gets close he finds something new.
“They say crime never sleeps in Hyperion City,” Juno says, an entendre.
“Certainly not in this house.” Peter crosses the kitchen, puts his hand on Juno’s shoulderblade and watches it move along his back. That isn’t close enough. His chest against Juno’s back so his heartbeat is there against the length of Juno’s spine, and that isn’t close enough.
Peter puts his chin into Juno’s shoulder and his mouth at the spot where his shoulder and his neck meet. Right under his left ear, so Juno can see him coming. He feels his pulse, steady and slow in the late night haze. He smells the way people do after sleep, and like sweat, and like the way Juno’s hair smells.
“You should be,” Juno doesn’t move, doesn’t shake him off. Sometimes it’s a guessing game, how close he can get without being burned. “Criminal or not. Didn’t mean to wake you up. This is just driving me around in circles.”
“What are you looking for?” Peter says it against Juno’s neck.
“I don’t know yet. Anything that isn’t where it should be.”
“If the alarm didn’t go off,” Peter muses, letting his words and his thoughts slide down Juno’s spine, “I’d hazard a guess it’s because someone turned it off. Unless they’re very agile.”
“Is that what you woulda done?”
“Depends on what I intended to steal, and how much of a challenge I was looking for. I didn’t know it rained.”
“Huh?” Juno turns his head so his cheekbone presses into Peter’s forehead.
“The weather. I didn’t realize it rained in Hyperion City.”
“Yeah,” Juno shrugs his shoulder, but not enough to force Peter to move. “When they first built the domes I think they had to schedule it, but now it just happens cause enough people live here. Raining down all the shit we breathe out, with a healthy dose of pollution mixed in. It’ll stop soon, probably. Surprised it’s gone on as long as it has.”
“I’m surprised nobody ever attempted to terraform the entire planet,” Peter says. “So much of it is just empty space.”
“Oh, they tried,” Juno chuckles a little. “Desert’s too damn big. A lot of the moisture farms and mines out there are old outposts, from way back when. Dreaming too big, and Mars wouldn’t have it.”
“You sound almost happy about that.”
“Wouldn’t be the same, anyway. You didn’t do your research.”
“You looked up my police academy records but didn’t check out the weather on Mars?”
“I was preoccupied,” Peter says, “with more important things. The schematics of the Kanagawa estate. Forging two brand new ID cards on the fly. How to avoid being murdered. Little things.”
“Didn’t do your research,” Juno repeats.
“I’ll endeavour to do better next time. It’s pretty, anyway.”
It streaks Juno’s kitchen window, sliding off the shutters. Hot rain, half orchestrated, a buildup of condensation inside the dome that encircles the city.
It reminds him of home, somehow. Of Brahma. The weather pushing back against climate-controlled safety. But here, rain comes because people live and breathe. Without them, there would be no water to draw from.
“How would you turn off the security system?” Juno asks. “Remotely?”
“Is it a newer system?”
“No, pretty dated.”
“They may have had to do it in person.”
“In person,” Juno mutters, bending to peer at the schematics. “Starting…”
“At the bottom. I can sketch it out, perhaps.”
“You could get work as a consultant, you know,” Juno says, as Peter lets him go. He misses the contact almost instantly, but he moves around the counter to sit at the other side of the hologram, pulling paper and a pen with him. “People would pay a lot for insider’s knowledge coming from someone who looks like you.”
“If I get bored,” Peter says. He starts to trace out the rough shape of the building’s bottom floor, but it doesn’t look quite right. Sleep, still clinging to his eyes. “Are there two entrances?”
“Three. Utility entrance along the side.”
“Anything that isn’t where it should be,” Juno murmurs, distracted. Peter’s own words repeated in Juno’s voice. He gives up on the sketch, half completed, just watches Juno study the hologram. He turns it, inverts it and then rights it again, his eye taking in details.
Peter likes to watch him think. It makes his face look lived-in.
Juno’s so caught up in studying the building plans he doesn’t seem to notice the sound of Peter’s pen on the paper, not right away. He’d started trying to describe the dream, but to pull it from his head and onto something concrete was to give it meaning, and permanence, and he decides several words in that this one is best left inside his head. Instead, he just starts sketching, covering the words up with scribbled dark lines as he goes. He has an eye for precision and flare over artistic execution, but it hardly matters.
“What are you doodling?” Juno squints at the paper.
“Nothing,” Peter thinks for a moment about moving it away so he can’t see it, but doesn’t. “Just doodles.”
They both can see what it really is, sitting between them, like so many things sit between them as they talk in circles around, or over, or through them. It doesn’t need acknowledgement beyond the sense that they’re both looking at it, and then at each other. A rough sketch, laid over Peter’s half-started diagram of the building, and an unmistakable face. Dark hair, an ear, the line of a nose and one eye. Peter isn’t a good artist, but it’s not a bad likeness broken down into lines and gestures.
“Why’d you draw that?” Juno asks. He clicks the hologram off so the space between them is clear, the only sound the rain still sliding down the shutters and the side of the building. Rain, on Mars. Peter thinks, for a moment, that he can almost smell the humidity in the air - a fragment of memory. There’s something magical and personal about rain in the middle of the night, even in a city whose lights never really go out.
Peter considers his answer. An easy one to obfuscate, his sketch of Juno’s face as Juno himself looks back at him, but there is a reason and he’s caught by how important it is to suddenly say it out loud.
“Oh, well,” he says, and Juno’s eye is bright and serious in the middle-of-the-night neon-lit kitchen, “this way, I won’t ever forget it.”