It’s only a rough, stone hewn archway in the middle of the Martian desert.
Truth be told, Juno would much rather be anywhere else in the Universe - he’s had more than his fill of creepy, ancient Martian artifacts. But Buddy and Nureyev were both fluttering around it, Nureyev in raptures about the history come to life and Buddy as exited as she ever got over the doors trading an artifact like this will open.
It’s just some defunct, abandoned Martian junk.
Juno has to believe that.
And he does.
All the way up to when a sudden, strong wind starts to whip at his clothes. Through the panicked calls and frantic shouts to get back to the ship. From when a piece of the cliff the archway is nestled in front of breaks off and flies at his blind side, sending him stumbling, tripping, falling -
Frantically, Juno grabs at whatever he can to try and stay on his feet. His hands rasp against rough stone. The jagged carved symbols bite through his palms but he finds no real purchase.
There’s sand in his eye and coating his mouth and between one second and the next Juno Steel falls through the archway and crashes into the sharp rock on the other side. The harsh impact works with the whipping winds to steal the breath from his lungs and his chest shudders between wanting to protect his banged up ribs and wanting to gasp and struggle for what little air there is.
Juno Steel was the only person dumb enough to get this close to the archway.
Juno is, very suddenly, not alone.
There is a shape lingering at the edge of his vision now. A person shape on the other side of the arch that collapses under the strain of the storm.
Juno squeezes his eye shut, refusing to turn his head and confirm what his mind insists the blurry, dark outline is. His heart pounds, demanding that he recognize the breadth of the shoulders, the cloud of dark hair pinned in neat, attractive twists.
A large, rough hand grabs his arm, and still Juno refuses to look. He lets himself be pulled, pushed, shoved through the blanket of sand nipping at his skin like the death of one thousand cuts until finally, miraculously, it stops.
Juno wheezes, the bass pounding his ears finally beginning to fade out as Rita’s hysterics begin to filter in.
Juno’s aching lungs seize up, cutting off in a choked gasp like some poor thing in its death throes.
“No, you’re not here,” says the ghost that followed him from the archway.
He couldn’t agree more.
He isn’t here. He can’t be.
It’s THEIA. He never got away. This has all been a dream, a wonderful, terrible hallucination of growth and healing that he never lived because of course he didn’t. It was too good to be true. Even the hurts were never as bad as he deserved.
“I don’t need you, Juno. You can go. I’ve been okay,” the ghost continues, calm in a way that people usually sound when they’re not calm at all but the illusion is all that is keeping them from just fucking losing it. "You're not here."
“He can’t be,” the ghost cuts in almost gently, as if reassuring a child that their nightmare will not follow them into the waking world.
Juno keeps his eye closed and focuses on trying to kick his abused ribs into working properly.
“Why not?” Nureyev. That's Nureyev's soft, coaxing voice. His 'mark' voice. The one he brings out when he wants you to spill all your secrets.
“Because Juno Steel is dead," the ghost's voice shakes. "I’m sorry. I don’t know how you knew him, I don’t know what kind of…mass hallucination this is, but he isn’t here. He’s not real. I’m not -” the ghost cuts himself off as his voice loses it’s calm edge and gets high and tight, like he always did...
“Ben,” Juno sobs. He doesn’t mean to, he doesn’t mean to speak at all, or acknowledge the ghost in any way.
“Don’t!” The ghost snaps, twisting fluidly, strong and graceful and somehow here. “You’re not real. I don’t know what you are, but you. Aren’t. Real."
A silence descends only broken by the rough sobs Juno can’t swallow back and the increasingly laboured breaths of a ghost.