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twenty five to life

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Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house.

(Oceans 11)

 

 

 

  

There are a lot of nights like this; Juno stays at the office longer than he should, sorting through paperwork he doesn’t want to read, tidying up loose ends, staving off sleep. Idly waiting for a call, maybe - not expecting one, because that’s a different feeling, an edge, but wondering. It’s been a few weeks and he tries not to worry because it makes him feel childish, or too attached; he does anyway, of course, which reinforces that he’s invested in this in a way that perhaps he shouldn’t be, tracing flight paths on intergalactic star charts and looking up the weather on Uranus in his spare moments.

The skyline outside his window is lost in the late night smog and light pollution, red-tinted like everything here is red-tinted. Juno turns pages and the words swim a little on the page; tired eyes. Eye. Will it ever not be an adjustment? Someday, maybe.

Something blinks and rings on the screen of his console. An unknown name, an address he doesn’t recognize. Probably an ad, or spam but -

Juno accepts the call.

There are a lot of nights like this; Peter’s face, several light years away and smiling through the pixelated screen. It’s more like the impression of Peter’s features, when he leans close to the screen, but Juno knows his face well enough to imagine them clearly. Dark hair, dark eyes. That smile.

“I’m casing a bank tomorrow,” Peter says. It isn’t the first thing he says. The first thing he says is I missed you.

“La-la-la-la -- “ Juno shoves his fingers in his ears for show. That’s not the first thing he said either; the first thing he said was Yeah.

It’s easier, when his hands can do the talking for him.

Peter makes a derisive noise; the sound is clearer than the image coming through the console. He must be very far away.

“Are you calling for some banking puns?” Juno asks. “They’re not my area of expertise but I bet I can whip something up. When I asked if I could get insurance if the nearby volcano erupted they assured me I would be covered.”

Peter stares at him.

“Eh? Get it? Covered? Like a -- nevermind. Martian jokes.”

“I didn’t think Olympus Mons was active anymore.”

“It’s not, but it’s kinda hard to wipe the time an entire city got smoked under rubble from your cultural lexicon.”

“That isn’t why I was calling, though I’ll tuck that into my back pocket for a rainy day,” Peter says, which Juno strongly suggests is sarcasm. “I need your opinion on something.”

“Really? Usually I feel like you’re asking me to keep my thoughts to myself.”

“Only when they’re distracting. I need you to tell me,” Peter stands, and Juno can see, blurrily, that he’s in a hotel room, or maybe a cabin on a shuttle, “which of these jackets make me look more like a banker to you.”

“You think I spend a lot of time with a lot of bankers?”

“I’m aiming for the vibe.”

“Stuffy.”

“Yes, actually.”

“Go on then,” Juno leans back in his chair and waves at the screen. He isn’t about to stop Peter from either disrobing or re-robing in front of him, no matter how pixelated.

What? Lady-like’s a subjective measure.

“Alright,” Peter pulls a jacket up over his shoulders and buttons it. It’s square in the shoulder and it makes him look boxy, twice as wide as he is and uncomfortable with it.

“That one’s only channeling awkward,” Juno says. Peter raises up his arms, so his pale hands peek out of the too-long sleeves.

“I could take it in a little.”

“I wouldn’t think a damn jacket would matter so much.”

“It makes a world of difference!” Peter insists. “You think Rex Glass would have been as convincing in any other suit?”

“I think you’re only convincing if you wanna be convincing,” Juno says, and neglects to add that Rita has, recently, insinuated that she knew Rex Glass was very much a fake Dark Matters agent the minute she met him, because of the suit. It’ll probably hurt Peter’s feelings.

“Looking the part is maybe a third of the art of it,” Peter says. “Body language is another third.”

“If you say so,” Juno says.

“You don’t believe me?”

“The one time I tried it, they knew right away I wasn’t who I said I was.”

“Because they’d done research on you the minute you showed up at the resort, dear. You could do it again, probably much better this time!”

“This whole damn planet would have to freeze over first,” Juno crosses his arms.

“That’s too bad. I suppose that means I won’t spare the details of this job that’s come to my attention with you, because it would require a little incognito work - “

“All your work is incognito work,” Juno points out. “It’s part of your allure.”

“Allure!”

“You’re probably better off doing it on your own, anyway.”

“Why? Are you full up? Busy? Am I interrupting a case?”

“Cause I’m not great at it,” Juno says for the sake of argument. “Incognito work.”

He wonders sometimes what Peter would be like in a life where he had to stay fixed; one name, one address, one set of engrained habits like grooves left in old Martian metal, nothing fluid or mutable, no testing of his own limnal edges and the blur of identity and personality. Juno sometimes thinks he can see it, not only the physical change but a metaphysical one as Peter tidies up the traits of the person he’s been pretending to be and files them away for later, returns to himself. Sometimes, Juno thinks he can see them linger for a little while; a funny quirk he hadn’t noticed before or something different in the way Peter’s mouth curves when he smiles for a few days.

On the other end of the line, Peter laughs as he swaps one jacket out for another. “You aren’t bad at it,” he says, which Juno knows is a stretch. “You just can’t forget you’re pretending.”

“Oh, right.”

“You don’t like being anybody except for exactly who you are.”

“Speak for yourself,” Juno says a little sourly. “I can think of a few days where I’d have done just about anything to trade lives with someone else. Except nobody else would want mine.” He can’t help thinking of a suggestion, a few years worn now but never quite forgotten, to leave it all behind and run. Its edges skirted but never spoken, still tender. Maybe Peter is right; after all, Juno never has been able to say yes to that.

“That’s exactly my point,” Peter’s voice gets muffled as he tosses another jacket off and away. “Anyway, I find it endearing. A true expectation of honesty is not a trait many people I know have, you know. Lies are expected. So it was quite enchanting, when you were so angry at me for lying to you.”

“Which time?”

Peter just laughs.

“The first jacket you had on looks better on you,” Juno says, “but the second was more in character.”

“You think so?”

“If I ran into you on the street I’d ask you for a loan.”

“That’s what I’m going for.”

“What’s the job?”

“Oh, don’t tease me you know I can’t bear it.” Peter - the blurred impression of him - pulls the second jacket back on. He hunches his shoulders a little, worsens his posture. Even in silhouette from a long way away he looks stodgy and detail-oriented.

“You know you’re gonna tell me eventually -- “

“I am great at keeping secrets, I’ll have you know.”

“Sure.”

“Are you asking because you’re practicing making pleasant small talk or are you asking because you’re willing to help me?”

“They cut the budget for social etiquette at my high school and I missed out on small talk.”

“And yet I still find you charming, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with me.” He leans closer to the screen, an experimental portrait of his face. “Can I interest you in an adjustable rate mortgage, Mister Steel?”

“Only if that’s a euphemism. Just tell me what it is.”

“Well, it allows for the interest rate to periodically adjust based on an index which reflects the cost to the lender -- “

“The job, Nureyev,” Juno snaps, swallowing his laughter. “You did your damn research. Good for you.”

“Well you should have said that.” Peter sits up straighter, his facade falling away just like that. “It’s just a little thing.”

“What?”

“Robbing a casino.”

What?”

“I told you that you wouldn’t be interested.” Peter shrugs the jacket off. It would probably be alluring watching it slide down his shoulder in another context but considering Juno’s blood pressure has skyrocketed his nonchalance is just maddening. “It’s not even on Mars, anyway.”

“Well, my answer’s no! Clearing that one up for you now.”

“I understand. I will point out that it’s a casino owned by Ambrosius Lee who is, by all accounts, a very bad man. I understand there’s a very big reward for anyone who can bring the HCPD information on his illegal business dealings to and from Mars so if you were to say that anyone deserved -- “

“There’s a pretty clear line to what side of the law we operate on,” Juno snaps, even though Peter is right - especially because Peter is right, “and you always seem to think you can convince me to cross it you have a good enough reason and I don’t even wanna hear it, Nureyev, so don’t even get started -- “

“What if I told you that I know where he’ll be keeping the records attached to both his weapons deals and an under-the-radar prostitution ring he runs out in the Martian desert, and that I plan to take them. Among other things.”

“I -- “ There is nothing Juno can say to counter that so he blinks for a moment with his mouth wide open. “Fuck. Really?”

“Oh yes.”

“It would put him away for good.”

“It would.”

“And the HCPD would have to admit that I did them a favor.”

“They would!”

“You could just take them yourself. We both know you’re capable of it. Altruism, or whatever.”

“Questionable. It’ll be more complicated. I need a partner. I need your help.”

Juno closes his eyes and takes a very deep breath, weighs the pros and cons. The potential implications. When he opens them again he knows from Peter’s face that Peter knows he’s won; even across all that distance and blurry pixels, he’s grinning ear to ear like a demon.

“Go on then,” Juno sighs. “What’s your plan? I know you have one.”

“Well,” Peter rubs his hands together. Literally grins and rubs palms over knuckles, like a handsome maniacal supervillain. Juno sighs again, for good measure. “It’s a six-part process. Listen closely. It goes like this.”


 

 

1.

“The first step for you is to pick up something nice to wear. I do mean nice, darling, and preferably not black if you can help it -- “

“Why?”

“Because Ambrosius Lee is throwing a party, and I’ve been invited. ”

“What the hell did you do to get an invitation?”

“I ought to get my fuchsia suit pressed -- it’s important we blend in, detective, because Lee and I have met before. Long before I met you, of course. Getting in the casino isn’t the problem but there’s something I need you to do right off the bat and it needs to be done with conviction. The Solstice casino has a state of the art security system, brand new, and nobody knows much about it.”

“So, what do we do?”

“Oh, I wasn’t finished. Yet. Nobody knows much about it yet.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks crawl by without a word about casinos or heists, which makes Juno reflexively keep an ear out for any news stories about casinos or heists. Nothing. Peter himself is involved in some complicated operation that seems to involve moving a great number of livestock off Io under the radar (Juno doesn’t ask for the details) and he works three cases almost back to back. He’s up for nearly three days straight tracking down someone’s stolen engagement ring -- pawn shop -- and then he sleeps for almost twenty hours straight. So when he comes into the office, Rita waves at him like she hasn’t seen him in a month.

“Boss! Good. There’s a pile of mail for you, some things that definitely look urgent on account of all the red ink on ‘em.”

“Nice to see you too, Rita.”

“Did you get some rest?”

“More or less.” Juno shrugs off his coat, scoops up the mail and rifles through it.

“There’s this too,” Rita drags her eyes away from whatever she’s watching on TV to push a box in Juno’s direction. “The address is right but the name is all wrong. Don’t think it’s really for us.”

“If we start getting mail for the psychic reader upstairs again I’m gonna lose it,” Juno says.

“Yeah, you’d think being able to read the future would prevent you from giving out the wrong office number,” Rita says contemplatively. “It ain’t for her though. Don’t recognize the name.”

“Guess I’ll just give it back to the postman. Unless -“ Juno pauses. “Please don’t tell me it’s another bomb.”

Rita’s eyes pop open. “What if it is?” She gasps. “It’s just been sitting here for an hour waiting for you, Boss, it could go off any second!”

“Calm down,” Juno says quickly. The panic in Rita’s voice put him on edge just like that and he forces himself to take a breath before picking up the box. “If it is we’ll -- oh.”

“What! What! Do I gotta call the bomb squad, I got them on speed dial -- “

“It’s not a bomb.” Juno glares at the box.

“It’s not?”

“No.”

“How do you know?” Rita stands to look over his shoulder. “Do you know - uh - Dahlia Rose?”

“Yep,” Juno says, and he grabs a pair of scissors to cut the tape off.

“Who is she?” Rita’s intrigued now, so Juno can’t shake her. He sets the box down and opens it up and finds more or less what he expected. A set of shiny plastic ID cards, a passport. He lifts the ID out and turns it around so Rita can get a good look at it.

“She’s me,” he says. “More or less.”

“That’s a nice photo of you, Boss,” Rita says. “But -- what’s that?” She reaches over and snatches something out of the box before Juno can stop her. “Ew!” She shoves it into his hand.

“It’s - “ Juno stares at it. “An eye.”

“No,” Rita says. “Look! It’s a camera! One of those brand new high-tech things. It matches too!”

“It sure does.” Juno rolls the eye around in his palm. From the front, it looks like a glass eye - until you look very closely at the iris, slightly metallic sheen almost hidden in the blue. It must have cost a fortune. “Rita,” Juno says slowly. “I need your help with something.”

“What’s going on Mister Steel?”

Juno frowns down at the eye in his hand. “I need to buy a suit,” he says, and Rita’s whole face lights up.

 

 

 

 

That night, Juno’s comms rings after he’s already in bed. An unregistered signal. He answers on the second buzz.

“Better not be selling something,” he says, yawning.

“Not today, no! Did you receive my package?” Peter’s voice is fuzzy but unmistakable, and Juno sits up to lean against the headboard, closes his eyes. With them closed they feel closer together, somehow.

“I’m not gonna ask where you got it.”

“The ID? I made it.”

“Not the ID."

“Oh.” He can hear the smile in Peter’s voice. “Handy little thing, I thought. Is it the wrong color?”

“No,” Juno says. “It’s pretty spot on. Your attention to detail’s really uncanny.”

“That’s why I’m the best. Juno - “ Peter clears his throat. “You don’t have to, if you don’t -- after I sent it I got a bit worried it might send the wrong message.”

“Are you trying to be tactful?”

“It means you’re less likely to attract attention,” Peter says carefully. “But we can work around it, if you -- “

“Means I don’t stick out.”

“At least not for that reason.”

“And it records things?”

“Well, I do like to multitask.”

“Duke and Dahlia? Really?”

“Well, he is the one with the invitation and it seemed easy enough, seeing as you and Dahlia are already acquainted.”

“Yeah, for five whole minutes before Engstrom spilled the beans, Nureyev.”

“Though Lee hasn’t seen Duke since he got married -“

“Wait,” Juno says. “Married?”

“You didn’t open the passport?”

Juno hauls himself up and crosses into his kitchen, where the box and the fake ID and the eye are all sitting. He flips the passport open. Taped to the inside is a ring. Well, two of them -- one, a large stone set in silver and the second a simple gold band.

“Married,” Juno says slowly. “Right.” He puts the ring on. It fits. Of course it does. “When did Duke and Dahlia get married?”

“Recently,” Peter says. “I was thinking honeymoon but I’m open to other opinions.”

“Honeymoon,” Juno says. “At a casino.” He pulls the ring off. He’s beginning to feel, slowly but surely, that this is a terrible idea.

“What’s wrong?”

“What kind of people honeymoon at a casino?” Juno puts the rings and the passport back into the box, moves around the counter and pours himself a drink. He knocks it back, probably faster than necessary but the rising feeling is turning into something like dread.

“Duke and Dahlia Rose, apparently.”

“And this has to be convincing?”

“Yes,” Peter says, and now Juno can picture the consternation on his face. “Juno.”

“This is, uh,” Juno eyes the empty glass. “Your area of expertise. Can’t Duke Rose just hire a detective?”

Peter laughs. “It’s not a science. Don’t be so worried about it. What’s Dahlia Rose like, Juno?”

“Me with nicer clothes on?”

“That takes all the fun out of it.”

“It’s supposed to be fun?”

“It can be. Well, alright. What kind of person would get married to Duke Rose?”

Juno pours himself another glass.

“Didn’t realize this was a quiz,” he says. “Uh. Well, he’s kind of a twit isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Peter says breezily. “A moron. Handsome. Not bad at what he does but rather naive about it. Caught up in the idea of the thing rather than dirty nitty-gritty. And an absolute idiot.”

“Well,” Juno says, feeling stupid, “guess she’s the smart one, then.”

Peter laughs again, delighted, and when Juno closes his eyes it almost feels like they’re in the same room.

 

 

 

 

Haumea is technically classified as a dwarf planet, but it’s more of a city it is anything else, sprawling and inorganic. They ran out of real estate decades ago and began to build up for lack of room; buildings tower but they also layer, artificial roadways and parks separating the city into strata like the inside of Martian volcanoes. The farther you are away from the bottom, the more expensive the rent and the nicer the view. Some things are the same everywhere.

It’s quite a view from the shuttle though, Juno will give it that. Dense and bustling and complicated, his eyes have no idea where to focus. It makes Hyperion City feel tiny.

Juno reads over Peter’s somewhat convoluted email on the shuttle that takes him from Mars to Neptune, and then reads it again on the transport from Neptune to Haumea. They aren’t staying at the casino, but that’s where he’ll meet Peter, and there’s something Juno has to take care of first thing when he arrives before finding him.

The transport drops him off at a hotel and when he asks Juno finds Duke Rose has already checked into their room but isn’t there now. He hauls more luggage than he needs into an elevator, then into the room itself, which is quiet and generic and un-slept-in. Juno dumps his bag, containing only his duster and a change of clothes, on the bed without opening it. Waiting for him on the bed is a small case, elegant dark leather and clearly Peter’s, with a hand-written note on the top of it. Juno reads it, rolls his eyes, stuffs the note into his pocket. He leaves the room with his second suitcase, containing his newly purchased not-black eveningwear, and the case, and heads out to call a cab.

The Solstice casino is much higher up in the city than their hotel; Juno watches bullet trains and glass skyscrapers and artificial parks stream by outside the cab window as they ascend. He blinks around the fake eye situated in his face and feels, oddly, a little uncomfortable without the eyepatch on. He’s gotten used to it, somehow.

The casino is a huge spiral of glass and chrome, spotted from a far distance as they approach. It cuts across the darkening evening sky, green and blue-streaked from the planet’s gas, like an exclamation point. Ambrosius Lee is not subtle, nowhere near it. Juno touches the note in his pocket, the handle of the black case. When the cab stops he tips the driver, takes a very deep breath and stares up at the huge shimmering casino sign over the doors.

“Here the fuck goes nothing,” Juno says, and he walks inside.

Huge hotel lobby; water feature, glass elevator. A woman at the desk smiles blindingly in Juno’s direction and he sets the black case down on the counter in front of him with as much imperiousness as he can manage.

“Checking in,” he says. “The room is under Rose. I believe my husband is already here.”

She taps at her console. “Yes, he checked in yesterday,” she says. “Welcome to the Solstice, Missus Rose! I’ll call the valet to bring your bags upstairs, just a moment.”

“No,” Juno interjects, before she can hit the button on her console. “Not this one. I need it to be placed in the casino’s main vault.”

The girl’s smile doesn’t waver but she looks a little panicked. It’s what Peter had suggested she’d say in his email - I very much doubt they’ll just let you so you may have to talk them into it. “I’m very sorry, Missus Rose, but only items approved by Mister Lee can be stored in the vault. I assure you the security in this hotel is top of the line - any possessions you keep in your room will be perfectly - “

“That isn’t good enough I’m afraid,” Juno says. “These items are priceless. The suggestion that I leave them in a hotel room is, frankly, absurd.” His heart is hammering but he feels himself warming up to Dahlia, a little tempestuous and insistent on getting her way.

“I’d be happy to have them placed in our safe - “

“I want to speak to your manager,” Juno snaps, and the girl winces and goes to get him.

They go through the same process again, but the manager, a stuffy little man who somehow seems to look down at Juno even though he’s shorter, is less impressed.

“If you’re making this request,” he says, enunciating clearly, “I think the least you can do is tell us what is in the case, Missus Rose.”

Juno has no idea what’s in the case.

It would be easier to just give in - storm away - but the tone of Peter’s message had indicated this was a crucial step in the whole thing and he had promised --

“Open it yourself,” he says haughtily, and he slides the case and its key across the counter.

He feels a beat of sweat at the back of his neck under his collar, comically ridiculous, like a character in one of Rita’s daytime dramas, and he doesn’t brush it away. The desk manager stares at him for a moment, then takes the key and clicks it into the lock.

Juno’s prepared to be surprised, more or less, but he probably double-takes anyway.

“Oh,” the manager says, eyes wide. The contents of the case are reflected back in them, overwhelming, and then he snaps the case shut again.

There wasn’t enough time for Juno to even begin to process what was in there; diamond earrings (more than one pair), a display of necklaces, several shiny closed black boxes and, in the center, a stone, maybe a sapphire, the size of an egg.

“When I said these items are priceless,” Juno says into the silence, louder than necessary and smugger than he means to, “I mean their combined worth is more than your establishment makes in a year.” He doesn’t know if he wants to strangle Peter, or kiss him. “So are you going to allow them to be placed in your vault, or should I take them, and my business, somewhere else?”

The manager sighs, and he pinches the bridge of his nose, and he makes a call.

He only puts up a moment of protest when Juno insists, again pitching his voice higher into a level of near-shouting hysteria he usually reserves for near-death situations or making fun of Rita, on following them down to watch the case be put into the vault itself. They descend several flights of stairs, pass through three locked doors, go down an elevator and then a hallway. A security guard unlocks the vault door, huge and steel and complicated, and takes the case from Juno’s hands and takes it inside.

Juno can almost feel the camera embedded in his glass eye working away, and he hopes it’s picking up what Peter needs because this seems impossible.

“Now Missus Rose,” the manager says, once they’ve re-ascended the elevator and the stairs, “is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Nothing at all,” Juno says, and he smiles, and he waits until he’s in the elevator heading up to their room to mop the sweat from the back of his neck.

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel room is a dozen floors up, spacious with a view. The bed’s been slept in, Peter’s cologne still residual in the air, and there’s a rumpled uniform hanging in the closet - a waiter maybe, or a busboy. Juno drops his bag, peels off his jacket and collapses onto the bed for a moment.

It begs the question - it always seems to. How did he get himself into this? The answer is always the same.

Sighing, Juno gets up and washes his face and starts changing into his suit.

His comms rings as he’s buttoning his pants. Unregistered number.

“There was a great deal of commotion at the front door,” Peter says cheerfully. Juno can hear voices in the background, and music. “Did you see anything when you came in, Dahlia dear? It seemed as if someone wanted to get into the vault!”

“Nice to talk to you too.” Peter’s voice is glib and airy; he’s in public. The bar, maybe.

“I’ve been sick at heart without you,” Peter says heavily.

“Alright, alright. Don’t kill it.”

“I’m simply in the business of saying how I feel,” Peter says, which is a veiled insult at the same time that it’s an almost hilarious falsity. Peter says how he feels when it suits him, or when he’s especially moved to. In a pinch, he’s more inclined to borrow how someone else does.

The things Juno wants to say never seem big enough, anyway.

“Which depends on who you are today,” Juno says, and Peter chuckles, an acknowledgement of a not-quite-argument placed on hold for some other time.

“Was there any trouble with your errand, darling?”

“It was kind of a pain in my ass, but it worked out,” Juno says, setting his comms down so he can do the buttons up on his shirt. “I thought for a minute they were gonna say no, but I talked ‘em into it.”

“You did!”

“Don’t sound so surprised.”

“Just pleased! Honestly. What did you do to work your magic?”

Juno peers at his own face in the mirror -- clean-shaven, probably as pulled together as he’s looked in a long time. “Thought about what you would do, I guess.”

“You - “ Peter’s voice drops a little and he sounds suddenly over the moon, “you seduced someone.”

“What - no. I shouted. Got a bit snotty about it and everything. What?”

“Nothing. So all is well?” Peter’s voice rises again.

“Well, they had to open it up,” Juno says. “Didn’t seem to wanna believe a guy like me could be carrying something worth that much fuss. I am not gonna ask where any of that came from. That rock? Did you case a mine?”

“Oh, it’s simply a few things I’ve picked up here and there,” Peter says. “I thought they might be useful.”

“Useful. Sure.”

“Are you on your way down here?”

“Yeah, just about.” Juno stops poking at his hair. It is, he decides, as good as it’s going to get. He does up the middle button on his suit jacket, leaves the top few open.

“I”m at the bar,” Peter says. “You can’t miss me. My suit is very bright. Ta-ta darling, see you soon!”

“Sometimes you - “ but he’s already disconnected, leaving Juno to pull on his shoes and shake his head in silence.


  1.  

 

“So I scope the vault. You do - whatever illicit things you need to do that I want to remain unspecified because I know you’re just showing off - “

“Oh, Juno - “

“What’s next?”

“To the point, are we? What’s next is the fun part of the evening. We go to the party. Set the stage. We drink, mingle, dance a little - and wait for the right moment.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter is waiting for Juno at the casino bar, and Juno spots him immediately across the room because he’s unquestionably both the best looking person in it, and the most brightly dressed. In a room full of decked-out gamblers, sequins and huge hats and long tails, that’s saying something. His long legs are crossed ankle-over-knee in the most violently pink pair of pants Juno’s seen in his life.

“You took me seriously!” he says, when Juno approaches, and he plucks at Juno’s lapel with almost delirious delight. Their suits clash. “You look beautiful.”

“Rita picked it out,” Juno says, sheepish.

“Tell her she has great taste.”

“I absolutely will not. Where’s your party, then?”

“In the next room. Just - “ Peter tugs a little on Juno’s lapel so they’re standing a hair closer than they might, in public. Boundaries have strange edges, and Juno likes to cross them subtly. Peter seems to treat it like a puzzle, usually, but now he almost crowds into Juno’s space so their knees touch. There’s a line to his spine that Juno finds unfamiliar; soft and almost sweet in its affection as he looks up from his seat into Juno’s face.

It’s been a while, since they were in the same space. And it’s always strange to see him like this, someone who both is and isn’t Peter Nureyev all at once.

“The suit brings out your eyes,” Peter says, and he touches Juno’s eyebrow. The right one, above the fake eye.

“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Juno says. It feels like one side of his face is heavier than it should be.

“Look - “ a moment of space, Peter bends his head low and the expression on his face is all Peter and nobody else. “You look great, but I can probably handle this part on my own if you want to go gamble and wait this out until we’re ready. I know this - “ he gestures to his suit, indicates the room, “parading around isn’t what you like to do - “

A part of Juno considers it for half a second because this is an odd sincerity, an acknowledgement of the strangeness of their situation and how it’s clearly, at the moment, in Peter’s court. And he’s right -- if given a choice with no context Juno would probably rather be scarfing expensive barfood and throwing money at the roulette table, not standing around with people wearing wardrobes that cost more than his rent for a year. But he’s inclined to excess only when it serves some kind of purpose, and he’d agreed he would help. That’s a promise, and promises have to mean something coming from him every time, at the risk that they’ll stop meaning anything at all.

Some things broken can’t be repaired.

And anyway, there’s something to the idea of acquiescing to be Peter’s partner that’s caught under Juno’s skin. And not in the “fake engagement ring” way.

“But honey,” he says, considerably louder than Peter’s words, “I thought you said I was your good luck charm.”

Peter doesn’t grin but he looks like he wants to; instead, he smiles with the corner of his mouth. “Yes,” he says, “of course you are. Let’s go into the party, shall we?”

He stands and offers Juno his arm and Juno takes it, holding onto Peter’s elbow closer than he normally might.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places like this, you can feel the way the money flows through them. Practically see it. They pass through rows of roulette tables and poker and pai go, people winning and losing and drinking regardless of if they’re winning or losing. Lies layered in lies, this place - the lie that you can win it all if you’re lucky enough, and the lie that that matters somehow, and the lie that there isn’t something else going on, deep beneath the glamour and the flipping cards.

Casinos always have the same feeling, and this one more so than most; lights, music, cigarette smoke, a moment of decadence to hold on to when the lights go out. But the Solstice holds secrets and lies, the kind that the people who visit either pay enough to ignore, or pay enough to keep secret.

The party is in a back room; Peter shows an invitation and they’re allowed through into a room decorated with a tremendous crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Juno blinks, feeling immediately shabby, ill at ease. Peter touches his back, between his shoulder blades.

“The trick’s to stand up straight,” he whispers, his lips barely moving. “Half the trick of blending in is looking like you believe you belong there.”

Juno thinks, just for a minute, about a scrappy teenage boy in need of a haircut, off-world for the first time, holding his spine like a ramrod and his new fake name like a shield. It’s learned advice. It means something. He stands up straighter and doesn’t let go of Peter’s arm.  

It reminds him, he realizes, of Valles Vicky’s Vixen Valley. At least on the surface. It’s the dazzling stylishness, all carefully orchestrated, as an elaborate cover for something much darker. But the Valley - it’s duplicitous, two sides, but once you understand them, you understand them. Vicky herself operates by her own rules, but once you understand them you understand her - she might try to blindside you to signing a contract without knowing it, but she’ll follow the damn thing to the letter.

This place isn't like that, Juno thinks. It isn't what it professes to be on the surface, but unlike the Valley it doesn't want anyone to know what its real face looks like. 

So, Juno suspects, does Ambrosius Lee. 

Peter doesn't have to point him out for Juno to know who he is on sight; he's seen his image, sure, in a few case files the HCPD has listlessly started knowing that they won't go anywhere. But even if that weren't the case Juno suspects he would know anyway. Lee is the kind of man who draws attention and power towards him like water runs down a stream. Not desperate, not showboaty - just slow, steady and inevitable. 

"These people look like piranhas," Juno whispers. He puts his lips against Peter's ear to say it, pressing up on his toes a little. He wants to say it but he's also aware, suddenly and horribly, of how they need to look. Some of these people, too well dressed, may have met Duke Rose before. And as surely as Juno is observing them, they are all watching him. 

So - lips to Peter's ear. Peter ducks his head. Those tiny, secret moments between people who share tiny, secret moments all the time. 

"Are you a zoologist now?" Peter says. 

"I've been invited to a few fancy parties in Hyperion City," Juno says. "And dragged to a few more. There's a look." 

"This won't be that bad, surely."

"Nobody's stabbed anyone yet." 

Peter laughs, straightens. "I'll get you a drink, darling," he says, and his fingers linger on the back of Juno's hand for a moment as he turns away. Juno watches him go, idly twisting the stupid fake engagement ring on his finger. It's uncomfortable, cumbersome. Pinches. How do people wear these things? 

He tries to center himself, get a read on the room and a stake on who is at this party. It does feel like a Hyperion City gig; opulent, exclusive and dangerous. There are a handful of faces who are at least distantly familiar, in the way faces that appear in the news from other planets often are. What he can't quite grasp are the intentions, here. He doesn't know if there's something unfolding that's more than simply a rich-and-powerful desire to be around people more rich and powerful than they are. 

Juno is mulling this over when someone clears their throat behind him, so he starts to turn a little defensively before he remembers he's supposed to be someone who fits in here. He makes his face relax, half expecting Peter or a waiter, and finds himself looking up into the cool green eyes of the man who owns this casino.

"You must be Mister Rose's plus one," Ambrosius Lee says, and Juno takes a very deep breath. "He didn't mention your name when he said he was coming. Frankly, I was surprised he did at all. It's been some time since I've heard from him, you know."

Lee is tall, handsome, well-dressed but not showy. He has incredibly green eyes and his cufflinks match them perfectly. There's an implication in his voice that Juno can't even begin to place; he is saying one thing and thinking something else entirely. 

Juno's gut reaction is to quip, deflect, get nasty in an Oldtown bar-room brawl way, something to cut off the tone of Lee's voice. But Dahlia Rose - 

"He's been somewhat preoccupied, you know how he gets," Juno says, and he extends his hand, big wedding ring visible. Lee takes it and - Juno wants to laugh - kisses it. "We can't accept every invitation we receive, of course, but this one was hard to turn down. It's Dahlia." 

"Consider me a poor host for not knowing," Lee says. He smiles and it does not reach his eyes. "And also for knowing so little about you." 

"Not at all," Juno says, and he takes his hand back. The ring, the bright suit, the lipstick on his face all feel like armor. He thinks he understands how Peter does this. He doesn't have another choice. "I am a rather private person." 

"And your new husband never shuts up about you," Lee says. "We had a drink, yesterday. He extolled your virtues. You seem quite too good for him. How long have you been married?" 

"Three weeks," Juno says. "And that's a matter of perspective, I suppose." Peter should learn to keep his big mouth shut. 

"Congratulation," Lee says. "Where are you from?" 

"Io," Juno improvises. "Originally." This feels like a test. He has no idea what Peter's said, what he hasn't. 

"Your husband told me the most interesting story about your work," Lee says, and Juno's breath catches. "I wonder if - '

"Darling!" Like a big-mouthed angel of old, Peter appears at Juno's elbow, drinks in hand. "There you are. I've been looking all over for you."

"Took you long enough," Juno says, and then to soften that he presses a kiss to Peter's jaw. It leaves a mark, purple lipstick, like a mouth-shaped bruise. 

"Oh, Ambrosius! Can I introduce you to my wife?" Peter smiles sunnily and Juno and at Lee. 

"We've already met," Lee smiles again and his eyes remain ice cold, the dead opposite of Duke Rose's blithe bright enthusiasm. 

"I didn't know what you wanted," Peter offers a glass to Juno, whiskey and ice, and Juno feels like this is a litmus test somehow because Lee is watching them. 

"Darling," he says, "you know I don't drink whiskey." 

"Oh!" Peter glances sharply down at the glass, then up at Juno. "I've handed you the wrong glass. Silly me! Here." He passes the second one over, something lurid pink with a cherry in it that he probably ordered for himself, and then knocks the entire glass of whiskey back in one go. 

"Mister Lee was just asking after my work," Juno says, pointedly, and sips the drink. It's very sweet. 

"Ah," Peter says. "Well, I told him yesterday that the world of luxury starship interior architecture isn't that interesting but it can come in handy from time to time."

Luxury starship interior architecture? 

"Right," Juno says. "Access to blueprints, you see." 

"Fascinating," Lee says, making no attempt to disguise the fact that he does not think it's fascinating at all. "It was very nice to meet you, Missus Rose. If you excuse me - the president of Mercury has just arrived."

"Wonderful to meet you too," Juno says, and they both watch him go and Juno feels Peter exhale very hard, then cough. 

"Disgusting," he says, smacking his lips. "I don't know how you drink that stuff."

"Not all in one go." Juno is still watching Lee, who is shaking hands across the room. "That man is batshit terrifying."

"He's very dangerous," Peter says. "I didn't mean to leave you alone with him."

"I'm not exactly a stranger to dangerous people, you know." 

"It would have been amusing to see you tell Lee to jump into a hole in the desert," Peter says. 

"I'll settle for sending him to jail." 

Across the room, a band begins to play something melodic and lyric-less. A space clears in the center of the room and a handful of people pair up, begin dancing. It's such a ludicrous display of pomp and circumstance that Juno can't help but snort into the dregs of his drink. He opens his mouth to make a comment to Peter but pauses when he notices Peter has set his glass down and is looking at him.

 "Can I ask for this dance?" Peter asks, and Juno stares at him.

"Uh," he says. "No." 

"Dahlia." 

"Not just no, but hell no." 

"You can't? Or you won't?" Peter is pouting, an expression he probably practices in the mirror for maximum effectiveness. Juno raises his eyebrows and stares back. 

"Both," he says firmly. "I'd rather be tortured. With a spoon." 

Peter rolls his eyes, imperceptibly. "Another drink, then," he says, and offers his arm so they can walk to the bar together. 

“So how does Duke Rose know Ambrosius Lee?” Juno asks, under his breath. He wants to slouch across the bar counter because that’s how he approaches bar counters, little islands of consistency everywhere in the galaxy you go where you can get whiskey and ice in a glass, if nothing else. But that’s what Juno would do, not Dahlia -- so he stands up straighter and lets Peter get the bartender’s attention instead.

“He hired me,” Peter says, after he orders another round - no whiskey at all this time, just wine.

“Of course. Of course he did.”

“Five years ago, maybe,” Peter accepts the wine glasses and passes one to Juno. “I hope that’s dry enough for your liking, my love,” he pitches his voice up. “I know how particular you are about whites but they have fewer options that I would have hoped.”

It’s always uncanny, watching him switch on the spot from one tone of voice to another. Two people’s voices coming out of the same mouth. Duke’s words are brighter, his eyebrows up, wide-eyed and completely oblivious to the fact that he could be construed as rude.

Juno sips the glass. He doesn’t know the first damn thing about wine but it’s a very good glass. “It’ll do,” he says, and he looks down his nose at the glass in his hand, just a little. Peter’s face doesn’t change an inch but his eyes get brighter somehow.

Juno slides his free hand through Peter’s free arm and leans into him just a little as they turn away from the bar and Peter turns his face down so their words are muffled in the space between them. Peter’s eyelashes are dark on his cheeks as he looks down at Juno.

“Which one are we keeping an eye on?”

“Tall man, grey jacket. Bad haircut. The other end of the bar, there. We need to wait for him to have a few more drinks and let his guard down some.”

“Do you need his keys?”

“No no. I got here a day early and disguised myself as a bellhop and had a skeleton copy made before he noticed they were gone. He has eagle eyes, he’s watching the hallway to his office.”

“So we wait ‘til he’s sauced enough to enjoy himself.”

“Exactly.”

“What did you steal? For Lee.”

“Some art. It was hanging in the entranceway actually.”

“That’s a little tacky, isn’t it? I thought Duke Rose was supposed to be a bit of a ditz.”

“He has a reputation,” Peter says this practically against Juno’s ear. “For being less than bright but incredibly lucky.”

Juno snorts, and Peter smiles into his hair.

“Don’t play it off. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make yourself look lucky? I practiced looking surprised for two months to make it convincing.”

“Well, wouldn’t want you to get bored.”

"Speaking of - " Peter's eyes dart. "Let's mingle. Keep your eye on that man like he's cheating on his wife." 

"I do other jobs." 

Peter nods and smiles at a few people and an elderly woman with an enormous feather in her hat inquires after the make of his suit. He answers politely and finds himself trapped - Juno sees it happen - in a longwinded story she begins telling. They can't see the security chief from here. They can't reach the doorway. 

"Honey," Juno says. He shoves impatience into his voice, or maybe expectation. It comes out closer to irritation, a little too sharp; too Juno. But it catches Peter's attention. And the attention of the lady in the hat. Juno doesn't know what to say next, so he lets the first thing he can think of fall out of his mouth. "You promised to dance with me." 

Improvisation, Juno thinks, is for chumps. 

"I did," Peter says smoothly, and his surprise doesn't register on his face but Juno can tell he is anyway. "You'll have to excuse me," he says politely. "Marriage, right? What a trial." 

Juno extends his hand. Peter takes it. 

Juno stops at a spot on the dancefloor he hopes will give one of them a better view of the bar, and Peter presses one hand to the small of Juno's back, takes his hand. This is definitely way outside of Juno's skillset, but he's watched enough of Rita's period-piece comms feeds to at least know what this is supposed to look like. Peter does seem to know what he's doing - of course he does. He leads, movements sure and effortless. Juno lets himself be lead. 

Their movements are more romantic than they are technical, shifting of weight. Peter spins Juno and pulls him back in and Juno's steps are off for a moment so they both look towards their feet until they're lined back up. Peter's arm and shoulder is sure under Juno's, but Juno can feel the alertness in his spine. His eyes are tracking Ambrosius Lee, the hallway, the man at the bar. When Juno leans his head against Peter's shoulder, a little, he can see the security chief is staring and frowning at the doorway.

"You're full of surprises today," Peter says quietly. 

"You're a pain in my ass. You were gonna vanish into that conversation and I was never gonna see you again." 

"I could have extricated myself. I'm good at that." 

"Duke Rose is like candy to little old ladies." Peter spins him again. "This how they get down on Brahma?"

Peter's mouth twists. There's a certain set to his mouth that indicates when he wants to talk about where he came from which isn't always. It unravels out of him sometimes, anecdotes and recollections. Juno's own childhood appears in fits and starts. "Not in the income bracket I belonged to. I broke into a few parties in my wild youth, of course. Picked up a few things."

"And your wild adulthood." 

"Well that's a different matter entirely. I took lessons, once. I had to get a diamond off of an intergalactic cruise ship and mediocre dancing was not going to cut it for a week in space." 

Across the room, their mark is doing shots. He sloshes the first one down his front, to the great amusement of the woman he seems to be with. He is not watching the hallway. As if on cue, Peter begins to lead them, subtly, towards the other edge of the dance floor. Juno concentrates on watching his feet. There's something kind of appealing in the observations of their footsteps, weaving back and forth in step with one another. Forwards, back - and slowly across the room. Juno gets, maybe, why people think of this kind of thing as romantic. 

The song ends and they move off the dance floor together, now on the other side of the room and very close to the hallway entrance. Peter doesn't let Juno go, though. His hand remains pressed to Juno's back, right under his shoulder blades, and so Juno puts one hand up on Peter's shoulder so their stance looks somewhat natural. It makes him feel conspicuous and awkward, this very public assertion of association. It doesn't come naturally to him. 

From this stance though, Juno realizes he has a clear view of the security chief across the room and he nods when Peter raises his eyebrows. 

"You dance very well," Peter says. "Despite what you said."

"I absolutely don't, unless you could thrashing around to throwback Earth metal cover bands." 

"Really?"

"Mick and I went through a phase." 

"Show me sometime." 

"Not your scene, Duke." 

"Well, you held your own." 

“Next time, if you’re gonna insist I wear this thing,” Juno waggles his hand in Peter’s face, ring-finger up, “I need you to upgrade.”

“I don’t need to tell you how much that cost, Juno,” Peter’s eyes follow the diamond and he’s smiling in a self-satisfied way that implies many zeroes.

“And I don’t need you to tell me that you didn’t spend a cred of your own money to get it,” Juno says dryly.

Peter gasps, affronted. “Now I’d never - “

“It could be a little more utilitarian, that’s all,” Juno cuts him off.

“That’s hardly the point of a wedding ring, darling.”

“What is the point of a wedding ring if you can’t break someone’s nose with it?”

“Well,” Peter sighs dramatically, “there is no accounting for taste. I bet you could do some damage with those pointy bits on the side there though.”

Juno studies them.

“Fair point,” he says. “Bleed a lot. Okay, it can stay. For now. Are you ready to stop wasting time and put your plan into action?”

“I think there’s sufficient distance between us and our friend, yes,” Peter nods. “Next time?”

“Don’t.”

“You’re enjoying yourself.”

“You’re pushing your luck.”

“It looks nice on you,” Peter says. “The ring - it compliments the color of your eyes. Now come on. It’s time to do some burglary.” He turns and steps out of the circle of Juno’s arms. Three long strides take him halfway towards the hallway.

“Don’t say that out loud,” Juno swears under his breath, hurrying after him. “You get off on pushing your luck.”

“Well,” Peter’s grin is lascivious. “You are my lucky charm, Dahlia dearest.”

“I walked into that one,” Juno concedes, and Peter laughs.

 


 

3.

“This is Jackson Bilous, Lee’s Chief of Security, and he’s a little more than a security lackey for a casino. He oversees his smuggling operation. Tidies up loose ends. Not someone you want to cross, but we have to go through him to get the information we need.”

“Assuming you mean we can’t just beat it out of him.”

“Not that kind of man. Lee is rich, meticulous and very paranoid. He moves the information on his accounts every day, and the only person who records that information is Bilous. So before we get the evidence, we have to steal its whereabouts.”

“Can’t you just hire someone to hack him? Hell, hire Rita - “

“I can’t.”

“She’s really good. Took me by surprise and do not tell her I said that though, no way.”

“It’s not the capabilities of your secretary that are in question here, detective, as I firmly believe she could hack her way into Dark Matters’ secure email servers if pressed, and her ability to obfuscate attention really puts me to shame -- “

“She wouldn’t, though. Those suits don’t email about juicy gossip so what’s the point?”

“The point is that you and Bilous have something in common. You’re both technophobes. The records are written down. We have to go get them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackson Bilous has a large, well-organized office with a complicated lock. Nobody sees them go through the door and Peter shuts it quietly behind them before switching the light on. Bookshelves, a heavy desk made of real wood, a computer. 

“What is it supposed to look like?” Juno peers over the objects on the desk, pokes the computer screen with a finger. It’s dark and sleek and it seems like it glares back.

“Leatherbound, I think,” Peter says. “Big and square with a silver lock on the cover. Oh, come away from that. Don’t hurt yourself.”

“That’s uncalled for. If anything, I think this makes me more right because, look, if he kept all his data in his computer you’d have hired someone to hack into it and that would have been that but instead we’re here. I know how to stop someone from breaking into my office.”

“Really now.” Peter quickly shuffles through a few shelves, frowning.

“Well, not you. What drawer do you think it’s in? Bets on the middle one.”

“Is there an art to it? Or a science?” Peter pulls open a cabinet drawer then closes it again.

“You’re the thief. You tell me.”

“Bottom right drawer. There will be a false bottom.”

“Really? Huh. False bottom?” Juno moves the chair out of the way and pulls open the drawer. A few stacks of envelopes, some blank letterhead. He lifts it and feels across the bottom. The wood is solid, expensive, and flush with the bottom of the desk. “No dice.”

“Show me up then.” Peter has knelt down and is feeling under a shelf. He sounds frustrated, an edge of irritation creeping into his voice. Juno knows he’s mentally counting the seconds down in his head, the amount of time that’s passed. He feels it too, the edge of something that could go very wrong very quickly. Peter rises quickly, doesn’t even brush the dust from his trousers as he begins rifling through books on shelves. Half-heartedly, Juno pulls the middle drawer open. It sticks a little.

“Well,” he says, and he pulls out a flat leather-bound journal from the top. “Someone’s not very creative.”

“Oh!” Peter crosses the room in two strikes. “Careful - fingerprints! You were right! How did you know?”

“You have to think like the person you’re investigating. What do you keep in the middle drawer of your desk? You don’t have a desk.”

“What do you?”

“Bottle of booze and a picture of my brother. And a note you left me once.”

“Ah.” Peter presses his mouth, fast and hot, against Juno’s temple at the same time that he flips the book open. His gloved hands flip pages, fingers tracing words until he finds the date. “There. Tenth floor. Now put it back, quickly, and let’s be gone.”

“Sure - “ Juno slides the book back into the drawer. He begins to slide it closed and it sticks, right in the middle so he shoves at it for a moment. “Here, help me - “

“Oh - “ Peter leans his hip against the drawer, so he’s distracted when Juno, angled towards the door, sees the knob begin to turn. When he clamps his hand around Peter’s wrist, hard enough to hurt, he can feel the surprise-turn-fear build up in his body.

Options tumble through Juno’s mind, fast and useless as a newspaper in the rain. Hide -- but it’s a small office, and sparse. Duck behind the desk, sure, until someone comes around it. Lines of bookshelves aren’t much help. One could be toppled as a distraction and they could fight their way out - Juno’s free fist clenches involuntarily - but beyond the room is a hallway and a party full of people.

The door begins to inch open and he can see, or imagine, dark suits on the other side of it. The drawer is still trapped open. Peter doesn’t move.

Juno does the only thing he can think of that makes sense.

He grabs Peter by the waist, shoves him sideways so his knees knock against the drawer, then up across the desk’s surface. Papers fly and flutter. Pushes his knees apart, his arms out of the way. Peter grabs at Juno’s shoulder in surprise to steady himself and Juno uses the momentum to slide across his lap and finally - finally - Peter’s body catches up with Juno’s intentions. Juno straddles him and Peter’s hands slide up his thighs and Juno kisses him, hard, when the door opens.

There’s nothing false about the desperation in Juno’s jaw, the thrum of tension in Peter’s spine. He digs his fingers into Peter’s hair, his hips into Peter’s hips. Peter’s pulse, under Juno’s fingers, races and jumps.

The door swings open.

Peter’s tongue chases the line of Juno’s teeth and his fingers, through thin trousers, burn like a brand. For a single second he gets lost in it, his own blood fast and hot in his ears somewhere between lust and panic and the edge of being in control. Acting first.

“Hey!” Stern security-guard voice. “You aren’t supposed to be in here. Hey - knock it off!”

Peter starts to pull away and Juno doesn’t let him, just for a second longer, shoves his hips and his weight almost violently against Peter’s thigh so the drawer to the desk slams shut. Then he comes up for air, heart racing, forcing all expression beyond guilelessness from his face.

Peter’s fingers might leave bruises on Juno’s thighs later. He can imagine them, shadows of the shape of his elegant hands left for memory. Despite everything, that thought makes him shiver.

“What?” He asks, and he looks at the three security guards standing in the doorway but he doesn’t get up off Peter’s lap. “Is someone looking for me?”

“How’d you get in here?” A tall woman who seems to be in charge because she’s wearing the sleekest suit snaps.

“Are we not supposed to be?” Juno asks, blinking.

“No! This is a private office - get off there this minute - “

Juno slithers off of Peter and the desk, offers Peter his hand to pull him to his feet. Peter must be acting, dazed and glassy-eyed, and he lets himself be led.

“The door was open,” Juno shrugs, “and it wasn’t occupied. Did you see that party? What a snooze, am I right? I was desperately bored and, let’s face it, I have much better things to do with my time.” He grins, a wink and a nudge.

“It’s our honeymoon,” Peter seems to come alive again, somehow embodying the edge between embarrassed and turned on. He drapes one arm over Juno’s shoulders, fingers grazing his neckline.

“How wonderful for you,” the security guard says. “If you’ll follow me I’d be happy to escort you back to your room.”

“That would do nicely,” Peter says, and the guards move out of the way to let them pass through the door. Juno hears it close and lock behind them. “Isn’t he just exquisite? I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

“Have them send up a bottle of champagne too,” Juno interjects.

“Oh yes,” Peter points at the security guard who is, unquestionably, a security guard and not a waiter. “If you’d be so kind? Something expensive. Only the best for the light of my life!”

The woman’s gaze could cut metal, and they hurry still arm-in-arm back away from the party and back towards the casino floor as fast as they can.

 


 

4.

“So how are we gonna get upstairs without anyone noticing anything suspicious? I am not scaling the side of a building, Nureyev, I’m telling you that right now.”

“No, no. The front of the casino’s all glass - we’d be spotted like frogs on a microscope and shot. There was a reason for all the legwork early on and that’s a distraction, that’s going to divert security and give us the break that we need.”

"Would they shoot us, if they catch us?"

"Juno, if Ambrosius Lee catches us we're both dead. And if Ambrosius Lee suspects we did it, we have to be invisible enough that he will not find us or, again, we'll both be dead. I do like to think of high-class thievery as a gentleman's game, there's a certain expectation of civility - oh, don't make that face I know you're making - if you rob someone they hit you back, then it's done. But Lee doesn't play by those rules. He's not a gentleman. We have to either put him away, or run for it."

"Alright. High stakes. Threat of being whacked. Guess this is my kinda job after all."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What are we waiting for?” Juno hisses into Peter’s ear. He’s bent over Peter’s shoulder, watching him win at poker. He’s been winning at poker for the last ten minutes with a kind of nonchalant determination that shouldn’t be possible except that it is. Juno suspects he’s counting cards.

Peter turns his head and kisses Juno hard, on the mouth. “Midnight,” he hisses against Juno’s lips. “She’s my good luck charm, you see!” He announces to the table. Several very disgruntled players glare at him.

“And it’s our honeymoon,” Juno puts his hand on Peter’s shoulder, and a few faces relax, a little. Maybe a nice couple visiting from the outer rim deserve to win a few hundred creds on their honeymoon.

“What happens at - “ Juno starts to whisper, but Peter pinches his leg under the table and he shuts up. A distraction, of some kind, though what exactly Juno can’t guess. Peter wins, asks to be dealt another hand. It’s ten minutes to midnight, then five.

Then three.

Juno feels his heart rate increase, watching the huge glass clock on the opposite wall above the casino bar, so he focuses on the cards. Peter’s hands turning them, almost hypnotic. The fine bones in them as they move.

Two minutes.

Thirty seconds.

They tick by slowly. Peter places a bet. Over his shoulder, Juno can see he has a full house.

Ten.

Nine.

Peter lays his cards down - a winning hand, probably.

And then somewhere, deep beneath the building, so deep it seems to echo inside of Juno’s chest, there’s an explosion.

Panic descends almost immediately. Alarms blaring, red lights flashing. People scream and scatter; security guards draw guns or start shouting, yelling into their comms, yelling, screaming, that incessant alarm, and Peter grabs Juno hard around the waist and smiles like a knife and says “Surprise.”

“Where to?” Juno mouths, against his jaw.

“Up,” Peter says, and they push through the panicked crowd together down a hallway, through a room that’s definitely a kitchen, and into another hall.

“We have to take the stairs, unfortunately,” Peter says, opening a side door which does indeed lead to a dark back staircase. “Elevators will be far too busy. Now, the books are on the tenth floor and I’ll have to leave you briefly on the seventh because the -- “

“The errand you have to run. The non-illegal one. Because, remember, I’m a detective and you’re not going to tell me what you’re really here to steal because that would be stupid, and a real violation of our mutually acknowledged rules about what I do not want anything to do with - “

“ - the errand I have to run, yes, is on that floor.” Peter winks, which is not reassuring. Red light flashes and flashes.

“So you run your errand,” Juno grits his teeth, “and I clear out any remaining security on the tenth floor?”

“I’ve been telling you we work well as a team.”

Juno rolls his eyes.

“But,” he says a second later, and Peter pauses with one foot on the stairs, “what about the vault? What’s in the vault?"

“Piles of security,” Peter shrugs. “We’re not going into the vault. We’d be caught in a minute. Come on now, time’s wasting.”

“Wait a minute,” Juno says, somewhere between the fourth and fifth landing. “So the jewelry and shit I put in the vault earlier had an explosive in it, and you just detonated it with a remote. I’m following that and I will admit it’s clever, though I’m kinda wondering if you stole it from one of those old movies from Earth. But you just said we’re not going into the vault to nab what you want.”

“I did say that,” Peter doesn’t turn around and hops up a few more steps.

“So what was the point of all that shit from earlier - the fake eye and following the stuff down into the vault, which was a colossal pain in my ass - if you don’t need to get into it?” Juno has a creeping feeling that he gets sometimes when he spends a lot of time around Peter. It’s the sensation of being one-upped, of being one step behind.

“Oh,” Peter looks back over his shoulder, “well, it’s a very state-of-the-art vault. I have no idea when I’ll have the opportunity to get a look inside one again unless I’m breaking into it!”

“I did your research?” Juno splutters.

“It was advantageous.”

“Duplicitous!”

“Opportunistic?”

“We aren’t doing a fucking crossword.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter doesn’t sound sorry. “You would have said no.”

“Yeah.”

“This is my stop.” Peter pauses at the seventh floor door. He waits until Juno, a few steps behind him, reaches the landing.

“Don’t get caught,” Juno says dryly.

“Darling!” Juno has no idea how Peter manages to be shameless enough to look affronted, but he does. It’s an expression that sits well on his face, along with haughtiness and slyness and vulnerability. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” And he vanishes through the door.

“Yeah, yeah,” Juno waves him off, then stomps up the last three flights of stairs alone.

 

 

 

 

There is a security presence on the tenth floor, just conspicuous enough for Juno to know he’s in the right spot, but not enough to be a real problem. He deals with them by pulling what he thinks of in his head as another Rita - wide eyed expression and no head for directions.

Rita doesn’t usually grab people by their shirt collars to klonk their heads together and then drag them, unconscious, into the stairwell -- but she’s been known to surprise him.

But the coast is clear and Juno is leaning nonchalantly against the locked door when Peter arrives a few minutes later slightly out of breath. It is, Juno thinks, kind of nice to have a minute to pull off something with a little panache. He understands why Peter does it.

Maybe.

“Oh,” Peter pushes his hair out of his face and cocks his head. Juno smiles and watches him come down the hall, watches the precise, elegant movements of his hands as he undoes his cufflinks to loosen his jacket around his angular wrists. “Looking for me?”

“Was waiting for my husband,” Juno says, and Peter’s face dissolves into a grin, a real one. He’s elated, a little manic. Overflowing. He got what he wanted to find. He’s fascinating to watch when he gets like this, on the edge of something almost out of control.

“Lucky me. How was your bludgeoning? I saw your handiwork in the stairwell.”

“Just fine. How was your burglary?”

“And people say married life gets boring,” Peter’s face is all eyes and teeth and Juno can’t bring himself to look away.

Peter’s hands operate the lockpick with the skill of a well-practiced expert. It’s almost like an art, watching him work. Juno can gerry-rig a lot of locks open with a pick and either enough time or determination, but there’s nothing elegant about it. Peter does it like breathing, and he does it in style.

His hand slips, just a little, and his eyes flicker back up to Juno’s. Juno’s seen him pick locks under fire, under pressure, up against the clock, and he’s never seen that. He’s about to comment when it clicks, and Peter stands and opens the door for him.

“Check your pocket,” Juno says, and Peter blinks, grabs at it. There’s something glittery, a line of bright stones on a chain, hanging out of it, and he pushes it back in.

“Most of what I came for is in our room. That's the handy thing about stealing jewelry. A million credits of it does fit in the false bottom of a suitcase,” he says, like he’s warning Juno off. “This is a security measure in case we bump into anyone who needs to be bribed. After you.”

"A million credits? You think we're going to walk out of this place with a million credits worth of stolen goods?" 

“Yes, I do. It's a little exuberant but I had to replace everything I put into the vault. It had to be convincing, of course."

“Security measure,” Juno repeats. “From the walking security threat.

"Pots and kettles, detective. Now let’s see - “

The door opens into a hall and then a fairly nondescript office, not the high-security lockup Juno was expecting.

“How many ledgers?” he asks.

“Four. They’re right there - “ Peter crosses the room to lift up a metal case and lift up four black notebooks. He flips them open, one after another, to confirm their contents.

“You know,” Juno says, relief rising in him, “this is probably the moment in things where someone says something stupid and I really hate for it to be me but this really seems to be - “

“No!” Peter barks, like he knows what’s coming.

“ - too easy,” Juno finishes, then stares at him. “What?”

“You had to?”

“Are you superstitious?” Juno says, delighted already. “You? Really?”

“I’m not not superstitious,” Peter says, somewhat defensively.

“Don’t tell me,” Juno can’t help grinning. “You carry a luck sand cat’s foot around in your pocket and you have to eat the same thing before you do a job and you spit on your hands before you pick a lock.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Peter rolls his eyes. “I know plenty of people in the business who act exactly like that and I am not one of them. I prescribe to the theology of better safe than sorry. When you say it out loud like that, right now, it just feels - “

“Like what?” Juno says. “Like I’m asking for - “

“Drop those books and put your hands in the air!” Someone shouts, behind them, and Juno’s whole brain spends a precious few seconds flashing neon letters that read HATE TO SAY I TOLD YOU SO before it begins to figure out what’s going on.

Team of security -- three people. Armed with laser pistols.

“I am getting really sick of you people,” Juno says, and he grabs at the nearest big and heavy piece of furniture he can reach, a filing cabinet, and he topples it.

The rest is fast; the three security guards join the filing cabinet on the ground, unconscious. Juno clobbers one, Peter grabs the neck of the second and they both meet at the third man who tries, for half a second, to run until Juno runs his head into the wall.

Juno, breathing hard, wipes sweat out of his face. Peter picks up the notebooks again, raises his eyebrows.

“Trouble,” Juno finishes, somewhat unnecessarily. “Like I’m asking for -- “

There’s a sound behind them, one he’d know anywhere.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Juno manages, before the laser fire hits him in the back.

 


 

 

5.

“Now, step five is both the most easily forgotten part of the process and the most important.”

“Don’t tell me, I’ll guess. It’s the deep and soulful shoegazing where you realize the error of your ways and vow to spend the rest of your life repenting for your crimes.”

“No. It’s the part where you ensure you don’t get caught.”

“Well, that’s important too.”

“First rule of thieving, Juno.”

“Always have an escape route?”

“Well, sometimes an escape route isn’t always possible. Sometimes you call for backup, you keep a knife up your sleeve -- “

“You talk a private eye into watching your back, okay. I got it.”

“I like to call it a contingency plan.”

“Oh, that’s all I am to you?”

“Depends on the day of the week.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juno might have gotten dressed up for this nonsensical charade but he’s learned his lessons over the years, more or less, and he’s no idiot. The laser fire hurts, a sudden red-hot burning feeling on his shoulder, but it doesn’t do much to the layer of laser-proof underarmor he’s wearing, cotton-thin, under his suit coat.

It is powerful enough to knock him forward though. Juno pitches forward, stumbles and falls over the legs of the security officer he bonked on the head a few minutes before. He hits the floor, hard, head spinning. By the time he collects it again, he decides it’s best to lie still.

Ambrosius Lee comes into the room.

“See?” Lee steps over the body of his unconscious security officer, then over Juno’s legs. Juno holds his breath as he does, willing his face to relax. This is Peter’s line, not his, a reversal of expectations - Peter left standing, stranded in the middle of the room, and Juno pretending to be something he isn’t. “That’s why you always rely on your security team to go in first.”

“Mister Lee!” Peter’s - Duke’s - voice is bright and confused. “I’m so surprised to see you - “

Peter had described Lee as meticulous and paranoid, and he lives up to it; he doesn’t pause for a second to hear Peter out. He fires his blaster, a sleek little silver thing the size of Juno’s hand, and Peter drops. Juno’s lying on his left side so his vision is all but obscured. He can hear Peter fall and Lee step closer to him, almost hear his growing smile. His heart wavers and jumps even though he knows Peter was prepared for this and many other possibilities and if Lee were to turn and look now Juno’s sure he’d see his pulse racing in his throat. Dead giveaway.

But he doesn’t turn. From the way his voice shifts Juno can guess he’s looking down at Peter, who is probably doing a very good impression of a corpse.

“Fancy running into you here, Mister Rose,” Lee says. “I had this feeling something about this evening wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t quite imagine you would have the brain or the guts to try me. I’m impressed, a little. Oh, don’t just lay there. I feel like I’m talking to myself and it’s rude to ignore your host.”

Peter, presumably, doesn’t move. Lee keeps talking anyway. Juno hopes he’s distracted enough, and turns his head some, shifts his weight as much as he can without making a sound. It gives him a clear view of the room; Lee is solidly built, wearing a bespoke suit that’s probably worth more than the stupid stolen ring on Juno’s finger. Peter’s laying facedown on his stomach. And the little blaster is still in Lee’s hand.

“Impressed, but not surprised. Something about you was always a little too naive, Mister Rose. Nobody that naive turns up as often as you seem to - and I was right, because here you are. Playing dead. Like your delightful partner, over there. A pity, really. She seemed nice.”

What would Peter do? Grab him from behind without being noticed. Slit his throat, or at least choke the air out of him. That isn’t in Juno’s playbook, and he isn’t going to be able to get up off the floor without jostling the unconscious guard. He weighs his options, frantically, as Lee scratches his chin with the little blaster.

“No reaction? Maybe you are unconscious. I, however, prefer to be on the safe side, especially when it comes to breaches of security. I’d like to know you have to watch this coming but either way - “

Lee raises the blaster.

Juno stands up.

“Hey,” he says, loudly, and Lee whirls around, caught off guard.

“Who the hell - Oh. You. Dahlia, was it? Stay where you are or I blast your husband’s face off.”

“No, not Dahlia,” Juno makes himself grin. He’s sure it looks feral. He doesn’t mind that. “We weren’t really introduced, and that isn’t my real name anyway.”

“Oh, I apologize,” Lee snorts. “Where are my manners? You are - “

“The contingency plan,” Juno says, and he goes for the blaster.

Juno had meant to grab the blaster from Lee’s hand but he’s faster than he looks so instead his hand makes contact with Lee’s wrist. It’s hard enough that he lets go and the blaster goes spinning across the floor; Juno considers going after it for half a second, then decides that sometimes straightforward is the best approach. Even in thievery.

There’s the Peter Nureyev method for getting things done - and while playing dead and making grand escapes and orchestrating serpentine fallbacks works well, even spectacularly, for some, Juno can admit that he is not one of them - and there’s the Juno Steel method.

He opts for the second.

Juno shifts his weight enough that Lee seems to think he’s going to make a grab for the gun. Lee starts to turn and get himself, and Juno punches him in the face.

Then he punches him a second time. Then a third, for good measure.

Then he hits him with his other hand, out of curiosity. And Lee drops to the floor.

Maybe Peter has a point. Being waltzed through Peter’s six-step thievery is fun, sure, but nothing feels quite as satisfying as cutting to the chase. It lacks finesse and it’s certainly not in character, but Juno’s no good at pretending to be someone else anyway.

“Very well done,” Peter wheezes, moving for the first time. He rolls over onto his back and Juno jumps over Lee’s sprawled figure to bend over him. “I was a little worried for a moment, I will admit. Be sure to grab that little gun when we go, will you? It packs a punch and it would fit down my trousers.”

He takes Juno’s hand when Juno offers it and Juno pulls him to his feet. His hair’s tousled and untidy, face a little red. There’s a conspicuous scorch mark on the left-hand lapel of his coat where the blaster struck armor-lined silk, and Juno touches it. He feels - or imagines - Peter’s heartbeat, thready but sure, through the fabric.

“They didn’t hurt you, did they?” Peter’s hands adjust the collar of Juno’s shirt, brush his shoulders, arms down to the wrists, then his face. Juno shakes his head, and Peter presses the palm of his hand flat against his cheek for a moment.

“What do you know?” Juno says, lifting his left hand up. It’s flecked with blood where the other is only tender and a little bruised from making hard contact with Lee’s cheekbone. “Turns out you were right.”  

“About what?”

“Gonna hang onto this.” Juno moves his hand so the engagement ring sparkles through the blood it’s coated with; it picked up a layer of Lee’s face when Juno wailed on him. “Don’t think it broke his nose but it definitely left a scar.”

“Something to remember you by.”

“Pretty gross. But useful.”

Peter covers Juno’s hand with his own, flicks a clump of blood from the edge of the ring. He doesn’t seem to mind the blood and gore clinging to his gloves.

“You’re very sexy when you get like this,” he says, and his eyes are very bright.

“What, covered in someone else’s blood?”

He’s never been able to figure out how to say this out loud, the way it makes him feel. The effect of Peter’s attention so laser-focused, so concentrated. It’s like standing on the rooftop of a tall building, hot city wind and red sand in the distance and that dizzying upside-down edge of vertigo, where his limbs seem to lose control and any words are stolen from his dry mouth before they can even form. Terror edging into exhilaration from the right angle, the wide expansive view of something much bigger than either of them will ever be. The vast red desert. The whole galaxy. The space between stars.

It’s like that, and it isn’t. It’s also Peter’s gloved hands around Juno’s own rough-knuckled ones, slender and warm and not mindful of the blood.

“Authoritative.” Peter’s smile scrawls its way across his face, slow and wide and wicked.

“You wanna get out of here?” Juno says, and he can’t disguise the fact that his voice is husky.

“Yes,” Peter says. “Let’s go retrieve our bags. But first - ‘

“What now?”

“I think we ought to destroy their security footage. Just in case.”

“Contingency.”

“You’re catching on.”


6. 

“So what’s step six?”

“Sorry?”

“You said you have a six step plan. If everything works out the way it should then it’ll be wrapped up by step five, even with a little wiggle room if something goes wrong - which it will, because I have a bad feeling about this already.”

“Oh, I wish I had your confidence.”

“I’m a pragmatist. Comes from experience.”

“Perhaps a survivalist. I don’t know if I’d describe you as practical, dear.”

“Then a realist.”

“Realistically, adaptability has been more useful to me than pragmatism if I had to choose.”

“You’re not answering my question.”

“Because I thought it was obvious, but it’s not very pragmatic. A little optimistic, even, and we both know how you can’t bear that.”

“What?”

“Detective - step six we celebrate.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they leave the Solstice it’s in chaos; police shuttles lined up in the parking lot. Juno calls a cab while Peter does something with the security footage and their bags and they ride, in silence, back to their hotel.

They have to ride up ten floors in the elevator and Juno can almost feel Peter scrutinizing him.

“Would you call that a success?” He asks.

“It wasn’t a bust,” Peter says. “I got what I wanted. So did you. Nobody’s dead, nobody’s in jail. And - oh - “

He’d shoved his hand into his pocket idly and, on pulling it out, pulls his pilfered necklace with it. It dangles from his wrist a little, catching fluorescent light.

“And here I was gonna say you never get me anything,” Juno says, joking. It’s a cascade of blue stones, refracting light.

“Well you should have said,” Peter says, and he lifts the necklace up. “Hold still.”

“Nureyev - “

But Peter ignores him, steps closer and behind him so he can slide the thing around Juno’s neck, under his collar. It’s much heavier than he expected, the stones cold against the skin of his neck. Peter’s fingers are warm; the brush the curls at the base of Juno’s skull back and then close the clasp.

“There,” he says. “Turn around.” He doesn’t move his fingers from the back of Juno’s neck so, when Juno turns, they graze the skin under his jaw. His Adam's apple, collarbone where the necklace sits against his skin.

“It looks good,” Peter says.

Juno swallows; the jewelry moves against his skin.

“Stolen property,” he says, just to say it.

“My two favorite things,” Peter says, which is a little easy. His hands don’t move and they’re still touching Juno’s neck. He can feel Juno swallow, probably. Feel his pulse. “I like her, you know.”

“Dahlia.”

“She’s bossy.” Peter says the word like it’s longer than it is; like it implies something more than it says. It does, of course. He always does. Entendres and double entendres and allusions and scapegoats.

“She knows what she wants,” Juno says. Remarkable; someone who knows what she wants. Juno rarely wants things that are good for him. Dahlia Rose knows Duke probably isn’t good for her, and Dahlia Rose doesn’t care.

Peter’s eyes are molten, dark, and his hand moves on Juno’s neck for a moment - and then the elevator slows. Three floors from theirs, an elderly man enters and hits the arrow to descend and Peter’s hand drops.

“You’re all dressed up,” the man says, looking at their suits. “Going to a party?”

“Coming from one,” Peter says smoothly.

“You hear about that explosion? Someone bombed a casino.”

“No! Really? How could they.”

Oh, right.

They’d bombed a casino.

Kind of, anyway.

That's a moral and ethical quandary to tackle, at great length, probably. But Juno can’t even make himself get angry about it now; all he can think of, with the memory of Peter’s hand against his skin, is the arc of his fingers across the tiny elevator space. The weight of the necklace against his collarbone. His heartbeat is too fast.

The elevator rises. Two floors away, one. When the door opens they all but rush through it.

“Darling,” Peter opens the door to the hotel room and Juno brushes past him; the door swings shut behind him against Peter’s back and it’s dark and this space, before neutral and tidy and ambiguous, any hotel on any planet, belongs to them. “About before.”

“You’ll have to give me a hint,” Juno says, and he can feel the way his voice catches already, just a little.

“In the hall. When I picked the lock.”

“Sure,” Juno says. “Thought you were supposed to be good at that.”

“That expression on your face.” Peter doesn’t smile but his mouth is soft and the light that’s filtering in from the windows, all red and silver and neon blue and pink, shifts across his face. Slides across the bridge of his nose, a cheekbone, his chin. “It was thoroughly distracting. I nearly broke a pick in that lock because of the way you were watching me.”

He’s too far away and he doesn’t move any closer, standing with his back flat against the door and his wrists pale and exposed in the shifting light.

“I’ll divert my eyes next time,” Juno says. He takes a step closer. Then another. Because he can.

“No,” Peter says, and his voice is a hush and Juno closes the space between them just to get close enough to hear what he says next. “Do it again.”

Peter’s face is mercurial, eloquent. He lifts an eyebrow and it speaks a sentence. Juno thinks it’s because he’s so aware of what every expression means, how every man’s smile says something else entirely. Duke Rose’s says Please look at me. Rex Glass’s says Tell me you’re impressed by what I know.

Peter smiles. It says Surprise me.

Juno’s pulse is thready and he can feel it against the necklace still around his neck. He knows, he thinks, what Peter wants. He knows what he wants. The things Juno Steel wants are often bad for him - but he was invited, at least for a moment, to leave Juno Steel at home.

He bridges the gap, the remaining space between them just inches, with his fingers. He touches Peter’s face. He shaved, that morning. Juno can tell and Juno can picture what he looked like, bent over the sink in concentration, and both of those things are intimate knowledge. Too close, or not close enough. He moves his thumb across Peter’s chin, and his finger up his cheek. The ridge of his ear, the fine strands of his hair.

He can feel the muscles in Peter’s jaw move when he smiles - and then Juno touches his thumb to Peter’s bottom lip, and the smile is replaced by something else.

“You should’ve told me there was a bomb in that case,” Juno says, hushed.

“It wasn’t a bomb,” Peter speaks and Juno feels the words with the edge of his finger. “It couldn’t have killed anyone. I was afraid you’d look nervous.”

“Do I look nervous now?”

“No,” Peter says against his hand, and Juno presses his thumb against the warm, open space of Peter’s mouth, the hard edge of his teeth.

He tilts his head back, closes his eyes. All Juno can see is the exposed line of his throat and the edge of his shirt collar, his suit. He’s desperate, suddenly, to pull at the buttons and so he does one-handed, clumsy but fiercely, as Peter’s lips close around the ridge of his thumb.

When they kiss, Peter’s mouth is hot and he still tastes, a little, like whiskey. Like conspiracy. Juno presses up, fighting with the buttons on Peter’s shirt until he can run his hands along the slope of his ribs, his stomach, his hipbone. Peter lets Juno move first. Peter usually leads; Juno is usually happy to let him. But there’s something about this night - maybe it’s something about wearing someone else’s name - that’s different.

So Juno moves first. Juno, mindless of the inches of height between them, uses the breadth of his shoulders to trap him against the door. Juno kisses him, hard, uses the hand not flat against Peter’s ribs to tilt his head. Peter’s pulse, under Juno’s tongue, is unsteady. Juno’s fingers on his jaw - he scrapes his teeth over Peter’s neck at the same time he loosens the button on Peter’s ridiculous trousers.

Then Peter’s kissing him and his hands are everywhere, and he pulls the expensive suit coat off of Juno’s shoulders. It’s too nice of a jacket to let drop on the floor but Juno’s not about to take the time to pick it up and put it on a hanger so he pushes it out of the way with his foot.

“What do you want?” Peter asks.

“You asking me?”

“It’s your honeymoon.” Peter bites his lip, like he’s feigning bashfulness, but he lets Juno turn them both around, hard and sharp and Juno doesn’t have to say anything before Peter drops to his knees and undoes Juno’s belt buckle.

Juno leans his head back against the hotel room door and closes his eyes so he feels, rather than sees, Peter’s fingers, his mouth. The space under his eyelids is red and purple, traces of the neon from outside their window, and when he opens his eyes again there’s light in Peter’s dark hair. When he winds the fingers of one hand through it, he imagines it’s caught in his fingers.

Peter looks up at him, and Juno’s knees buckle. Peter presses one palm hard against Juno’s hip to hold him still and Juno can’t help but push against it, against Peter’s mouth.

He touches the line of Peter’s throat, his jaw, his bottom lip, the corner of his mouth and Peter doesn’t make a noise exactly but Juno can feel his breath catch, stutter and stop and then start again and for some reason that almost pushes Juno right over the edge. He tugs at Peter’s hair, pulls his head back and Peter sits back on his heels to look up at him, his hand still on Juno’s now-bare hip. He wipes his mouth.

“What do you want?” Peter says, again. His voice is hoarse.

“Go lay down,” Juno says, unsteady. Peter rises and Juno’s knees almost give out without the steady pressure of Peter’s hand against his body. Maybe it’s the distance between them. Peter walks across the room and sits on the bed. Juno looks at him, through the dark and the dappled city light. Hair untidy, the buttons on his shirt askew and his fly undone, his mouth open. Waiting for what Juno will do next.

“Take your clothes off,” Juno says, and Peter’s smile is a slow as the movement of his fingers as he tugs his shirt down over his wrists. He takes his time. Unties his shoes, pulls off his socks, stands to slide his trousers down.

And then he just look at Juno, across the room. Across the space between stars. Juno can see him breathing and he thinks this moment could last forever and he’d never want for anything else.

He breaks it, when he crosses the room to catch both sides of Peter’s face and kiss him, open-mouthed and slow. Juno pushes him gently down onto the bed, or maybe Peter pulls him. It doesn’t matter, the game not lost but forgotten, no longer important, because they reach the mattress together.

 

 

 

 

Peter’s hands look strange when they’re not moving. An artist’s hands, resting on the scar just above Juno’s knee. It’s not a scar with a story that’s anything more complicated than a brother, an afternoon, a barbed wire fence. A mark of Juno’s life, centered in a place and a history. To someone else the scar would mean something different but for him it’s the last remainder of an afternoon in childhood almost forgotten.

Peter’s looking at the scar, and now at Juno’s face. Side by side, they're like inverse mirrors of each other, two sets of shoulders curved inward towards the space between them. 

“You’re ruminating,” Peter says, his voice breaking the stillness. It's late now. The city outside the window feels quiet in a way cities shouldn't. Juno misses home. He misses it as soon as he leaves it but hates it the minute he gets back. 

“I would never.” Juno's voice feels tired. 

“It’s not an accusation.”

“It implies forethought, which is bad for my run-and-gun reputation."

“Or worry.” Peter’s fingers leave Juno’s knee and he touches the corner of Juno’s eye. The right one, still sporting its high-tech twin.

“It’s too late to stop wrinkles. Lost cause.”

“I like them,” Peter says. “Shows where you’ve been. What’s wrong?”

“You assume that - nothing. I’m just thinking.”  

There’s a balance Peter treads; one man, two men. One and the same even when they are not, and Juno doesn’t know how to do that. It’s fun for a minute to pretend, to wear the shoes of someone whose life isn’t quite so complicated or so real.

If he were the kind of person to say things out loud he’d say that Duke and Dahlia are great, well-suited, obnoxious together. But he’s happy, right now, to be someone who shares a bed with Peter Nureyev.

He takes Peter’s hand and touches his knuckles, his clever fingers. Kisses his palm. Hopes, somehow, Peter understands.

“I like how you look when you’re thinking,” Peter says - so maybe he did. “It’s one of the first things I knew I liked about you.”

“Always thought you went for how I shrieked like a kid when I got scared.”

“A little bit of that too. When do you have to be back?”

“Tomorrow,” Juno says, reluctantly. “Couple things lined up. Rita’s scheduling meetings, now. I think it makes her feel powerful.” He’s tired, suddenly; sleep heavy. He yawns. Peter pulls the blanket up over both their knees. “Where’s Duke Rose going next?”

It’s the kind of question that’s a lot more than a question, and Juno knows they both know it. They walk the edge of the nontraditional, something resembling a pact between them. Some kind of accord. It works, except when it doesn’t, and sometimes time and space feel so long. Juno's the center, somehow. Stubbornness, his own bad decision-making, a tether at his center he can't untie to go where he wants. Virtues of a permanent address, something stuck to him. Peter's in orbit, shuttlecraft - airwaves - the train car that pulls into the station. 

There's something to the idea of an ephemeral promise that connects two people who are oceans or galaxies apart. Juno doesn't think of himself as a romantic, mostly. It's an idea for uncomplicated people, and he's never been able to sit still long enough to be uncomplicated.

“I have no idea,” Peter yawns too. His hair is dark against the pillow and his eyes are barely open but he’s looking at Juno. Juno’s heart sinks. “But me,” Peter continues, “well.”

“Funny. If it’s illegal I don’t want to know.”

“Very few things are illegal on Mars, it seems,” Peter says slyly, and Juno can’t help the fact that his heart turns over. “If you know the right people, anyway.”

Two fake people named Duke and Dahlia exchange vows and rings and a kiss. Peter asks Juno to do a job with him, and calls them partners. It's almost the same thing.

“I am not the right people.” Juno pushes Peter’s hair behind his ear, the last gesture in the moments before sleep. “But I guess I’ll see you there.”