Peter’s mouth opens, but he can’t find the words.
Juno’s talking to two different people right now. One is the master thief, charming and refined and always in control, the man who flashed a thousand smiles and took him to bed. The other is Peter Nureyev.
There are days when Peter doesn’t even know the difference between the two anymore, but somehow Juno does, and that scares him. The last person who could do that used him and betrayed him and died in his arms and he’s missed him ever since. Nobody’s ever hurt him the way Mag did; nobody since Mag has ever gotten that close.
Except for Juno Steel.
Juno Steel, who loves him.
Juno Steel, who wants to mutilate himself to forget he ever met him.
“Juno, no.” He chokes on the words. “You can’t do this.”
“It’s not your choice to make,” Juno says, gathering himself up. “You weren’t even supposed to know. You should have been on a spaceship out of the system by now.”
As if that would make it better.
Things are rattling loose in Peter’s head– doubts and fears that he’s pushed aside are rushing out to meet him, each one bringing with it another, until Peter’s lost in the cascade, until he’s clinging to Juno just to keep from being swept away as it crashes down around him.
“Juno, forgetting– it doesn’t fix things.” The words tumble out of his mouth before he can stop them. “The memories aren’t completely gone, they’re just barely out of reach. Juno, I know things I shouldn’t know. I recognize things I don’t understand. And there are things I don’t know, and that’s even worse. Juno, you knew my name– the closest thing I have to a weakness, and you just knew it, and I didn’t know how. Do you have any idea what that was like?” His breath is ragged, his voice raw. “We were tortured, and I had no idea. I don’t know what was done to me or if it left lasting damage or if I’m going to wake up five years from now to pay for it. Every single person on the street might have met me before, and I don’t now who they are or what aliases they know. I don’t know what plans I can make or what precautions I can take. I don’t know what to do next. I–”
Scarred hands cup his face. A forehead presses against his own.
“I didn’t know,” Juno says softly.
The space between them is narrow; there’s only room for secrets here. “I’m trying to find a way to live with it because I don’t have a choice.”
Juno offers a slight nod– he understands. Peter isn’t sure which one of them is shaking, but they hold each other until it subsides.
“Would it–” Juno breaks off, but tries again despite the note of self-consciousness. “Would it help if I told you what happened? I don’t know the whole story, but I can tell you the parts I was there for.”
It shouldn’t be that simple.
The kind of information Peter needs is the kind that has to be pieced together from receipts and coaxed out of unsuspecting witnesses. It can’t be asked for, because people can’t know what he really wants, or why. They wouldn’t give it to him if they did.
That’s the way it works. That’s the way it’s always worked.
Except with Juno Steel.
And so Peter lets go.
“Please,” he whispers into the space between them.
Juno’s arms wrap around his shoulders, protective and reassuring. “The first time I met you, you were going by the name Rex Glass, assigned to disprove a curse on an Ancient Martian burial mask that had already racked up a body count, and according to the writing on the wall, I was next up on the chopping block. Naturally, I didn’t want anything to do with you. By the time you walked through that door, I was already on my way out the window. And then I saw you.”
He weaves the story like a tapestry, detail by detail and beat by beat. He pays special attention to the feeling of people– Cecil Kanagawa’s overbearing showmanship, Brock Engstrom’s smugness, Miasma’s cold disdain– and to the personas Peter wore. He doesn’t recognize Rex Glass or Duke Rose, but he can feel the outlines of them in Juno’s words, the identities that he might be able to slip into someday like an ill-fitting suit.
Juno shows him the scars where needles and electrodes bit into his arms, and traces the place where titanium knuckles carved into his own.
He tells him about offered tenderness that Juno was too raw to feel, of hours spent watching him sleep, of a mistake he never forgave himself for.
“You said you were in love with me,” Juno admits, soft and hesitant and slightly ashamed, as if it was ever a secret. As if it wasn’t written into the note he hands Peter, now yellowed and falling apart from being folded and unfolded a hundred times over, the ink fading where fingertips traced over the words.
Peter lets his glance linger to that note, illuminated by a streetlight outside the office. The last of the daylight faded as Juno was telling him about the things he saw in Peter’s mind, and neither of them has bothered to unbury the desk lamp from the pile of Dark Matters files, let alone turn it on.
In the hours since the story began, they’ve settled into more comfortable places– Peter sitting in the windowsill and Juno on his desk, more at ease than they’ve been in days, basking in the companionable quiet and dark.
And then that peace is interrupted by the beep of an uncustomized comms ringtone and the too-bright glow of a screen.
Juno picks up the comms. “It’s Cecil,” he says quietly. And then he looks up at Peter. “What do you want to do, Peter?”
“If you turn those files over, Dark Matters will come after you.” It isn’t an answer, just a fact, weighed carefully in his hand.
“If I don’t,” Juno says, “they might do the same thing to somebody else.”
And that matters to Juno. It was worth swallowing the Martian Pill, worth locking himself in a room with a bomb. But this isn’t a choice between cowardice and martyrdom.
“Then come with me.” Peter slides down from his windowsill and strides to Juno’s side. “Give the file to Kanagawa and let me take you someplace where Dark Matters won’t ever find you.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re asking?” Juno lets out a soft breath, almost like a laugh. “I’m a real mess.”
“So am I.” It feels strange to admit that after all this time, but he feels lighter for saying it.
“I can’t leave Rita behind,” Juno says. “Not after I got her into this.”
“She’s welcome to come along. A woman of her talents could get into all sorts of trouble.” He leans in with a gentle smile. “It could be quite an adventure.”
Juno picks up the comms.
“Let’s see what the galaxy’s got to offer.”