Peter Nureyev was a liar. Juno had known that from the start- after all, the first time he’d met Peter, he’d been Rex Glass and a Dark Matters agent and a half dozen other things that weren’t true. He knew Peter lied easier than he breathed- hell, he even knew why he lied, after what he’d seen in his mind. They say everyone becomes their parents eventually, and the closest thing Peter had to a father had lied to him as long as he could remember, right up until the truth killed him in that red room.
All of which was to say that it shouldn’t have been a surprise to Juno when Peter lied to him again, and yet, it was. He’d thought when he left Peter alone in that hotel room he would never see him again. That his thief- that the thief would be off-world in one hour and thirty-seven minutes- maybe even less. After all, he’d told Juno that if he didn’t want to come with him, he’d leave immediately and never return. Juno had known when he’d abandoned Peter that it was the end. A real, final end for their story, with no epilogue to follow. He’d gone back to his office that night and drunk himself into a stupor, only coming out of it a week later when he’d finally finished off all the alcohol he’d kept lying around. He’d managed to stagger back to his apartment, glad the reek of liquor and his own stink was enough to bury the familiar, sharp scent of Nureyev’s cologne. He’d cleaned himself up, crashed for a full twelve hours, and then called Rita.
He should have waited longer before he called her, in retrospect. She’d screeched so loudly that Juno had ended up muting her until she finished ranting at him, too hungover from his bender to handle anything at that decibel. When she’d finally stopped berating him for his admittedly insensitive voicemail telling her to sell off his belongings if he died and the loss of his eye (which admittedly would have been avoidable if he hadn’t made the mistake of swallowing that damn Martian pill in the first place), she agreed to come back to work for him.
It was good to know a month in a Martian tomb still hadn’t been enough to change her- she was still too good for him. It made Juno feel strange, in comparison. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something about him had shifted infinitesimally in that tomb, even after that growth was gone from his head- and yet he still stubbornly refused to recognize it. He had to be the same Juno Steel, near death experience or not, no matter the odd looks Rita gave him when she thought he wasn’t looking. After all, he’d only lost an eye. It wasn’t like he’d lost something serious.
They hadn’t even been re-opened for a week when the first case came in. Some fancy banker type from Olympus Mons, robbed in the middle of the night. Apparently, she was occasionally entrusted with valuables over the weekend while the bank was closed- items of particular rarity, or items that were in the process of negotiations between a buyer and seller that couldn’t be officially deposited until an agreement was reached with the new owner. The thief had managed to break into the supposedly uncrackable safe in the banker’s bedroom where she and her wife slept without even waking up the pair’s cat (which was, apparently, notoriously shy of strangers and slept in the room with them). They hadn’t even realized a crime had been committed until she opened the safe the next morning and found Juno’s business card in place of a first edition copy of a classical Earth novel.
The second she said that, holding the card in a plastic bag out to Juno, he’d broken out in a cold sweat. He knew who it was- didn’t even have to investigate it- except that the only thief he knew who could have been able to pull off a job like that wasn’t on this planet, couldn’t be on this planet. He’d sent away the protesting banker with a recommendation to report the crime to Captain Khan at the HCPD and locked himself in his office with a bottle of whiskey, safely away from Rita’s suspicious looks and questions. He’d made it a third of the way through the bottle before he managed to calm himself down, telling himself he was being ridiculous. After all, there were plenty of criminals out there who had a grudge against him, or even just powerful people who he’d pissed off enough they might hire someone to set him up like this. All he knew was there was one criminal it couldn’t be, which should have been a relief.
Juno’s gut told him he knew who the thief was, and his gut was never wrong, even when he wanted it to be. And boy, did he want it to be wrong this time. But as the cases started rolling in, he felt that certainty growing like a lead weight in his gut. After that first case, it took almost a week before the next victim showed up- another robbery, this time in Minerva Heights, some socialite missing a painting by some famous Brahman artist, Juno’s card tucked into the frame. He sent him to Khan too, and downed what was left of the bottle of whiskey.
After that, they started pouring in like a water through a broken dam. All thefts, all people drowning in money with the best security systems that money could buy, and all with Juno’s card at the scene of the crime. Besides those three points, there was nothing connecting the crimes- different locations on Mars, different things stolen, different times of day and methods of robbery- it had the cops stumped. They got desperate enough that Khan himself showed up at Juno’s office to try and haul him in for a connection to the crimes, and if it wasn’t for Rita and her ability to hack into every security camera in the city to prove his alibi, Juno would have been rotting in Hoosegow faster than money changed hands in Hyperion City bureaucracy. Instead, Khan just ended up berating him for information for the better part of an hour before throwing up his hands in disgust at Juno’s non-answers and stomping out, muttering to himself.
Her willingness to prove his alibi notwithstanding, Rita was almost as irritated with him as Khan was. Her suspicion and curiosity after he’d rejected the first couple cases had turned into concern and then, rapidly, into annoyance after Juno refused to answer any of her questions either. He wasn’t particularly subtle when he didn’t want to deal with something, and she could normally use the number of bottles he went through a week as a good measure of how bad it was. One bottle was a good week, two was a problem, and three was normally reserved for his birthday and what should have been his wedding anniversary. Now, he was going through four or five bottles a week without fail, and Rita was genuinely worried about him.
She knew whatever was eating at him had to do with the thefts, but couldn’t tell why they were affecting him so strongly, or why he was refusing to investigate them. Juno was terrible at resisting a challenge, so seeing him ignore one so resolutely was beyond strange. Rita hadn’t seen him so off his game since the case with the Martian mask, and she was pretty sure this didn’t have anything to do with Dark Matters, which was a shame, really, since she’d been pretty sure that Agent Glass would have been more to happy to help Juno relieve some stress in a way that didn’t involve a bottle of liquor. Regardless, Rita really didn’t like not knowing or understanding things, especially when she could see Juno hurting. He liked to pretend he didn’t feel a thing, but Rita knew he was hiding the softest heart on Mars under that trench coat, and she’d do whatever it took to protect it... if only she knew where to start.
Exactly one month after the first robbery, Juno entered his apartment and froze like a deer in headlights. A sharp scent hung in the air, one that he’d carefully drowned out after he’d come back from the Martian desert, mostly through vigorous application of liquor fumes. It was Peter- Nureyev’s cologne.
His hand went to his gun automatically, even though with his eye gone he had a better chance of destroying his shitty apartment than actually hitting someone. Not that he’d want to hit Nureyev anyway. Hesitantly, he flicked on his light, half expecting to see Nureyev splayed out on his couch the way he’d found him the last time he broke into Juno’s apartment. The couch was empty, though, and there was no sign of the thief in the room besides the unmistakable smell in the air.
Moving quickly, Juno checked over his apartment and came up empty-handed. Peter had been here, he knew it, and he hadn’t been gone for long- the only thing disturbed was Juno’s bedroom, his bedsheets rumpled and still warm. His pillows and sheets all smelled like Nureyev- hell, the whole apartment smelled like him- but he could tell that he’d taken his time in the bedroom, shifting things just enough to let Juno know he’d looked around. There was a dahlia on Juno’s nightstand, tucked into the neck of an old liquor bottle that had been filled with water. It was a message as clear as if Nureyev had written it on the walls- apparently, Peter was done waiting for Juno to track him down. If Juno wasn’t going to come to him, he would come to Juno, and he would make sure Juno wouldn’t be able to escape him at home.
So, naturally, Juno started sleeping in his office.
At that point, it was just an obstinate refusal to give in more than anything driving his actions. Juno was angry, more so than he really wanted to examine. Sure, he’d left Peter alone in that hotel room, but Peter had wanted to leave Mars. Why was he still on this irradiated hell of a planet? Juno had left Nureyev because he couldn’t leave Mars, and he knew that it would be cruel to try to tie him down. And this whole game of criminal chicken- it was childish, and stupid, and annoying as hell, and Juno almost wanted to catch Nureyev in the act just so he could punch him in the face. Moving into his office- purposefully rejecting Peter’s message- it was the closest he could come to that without coming face to face with the man himself.
And despite his irritation, Juno wasn’t ready for that. He didn’t think he’d ever be ready. It was one thing to leave, knowing he’d never see Peter again- it was another to abandon someone in a hotel room after they’d told you they loved you and then have to actually face them and explain yourself. Juno had never been good with his emotions, even before the whole thing with Diamond- his mother had mockingly said that the real reason Benten was born was to be his translator. She was cruel, but she wasn’t wrong. Juno had always felt that the day Benten died was the day he lost what little ability he had to actually express anything real. He’d tried, after all, when he was on the brink of death in that Martian tomb, and look at where that had gotten him.
His move to the office didn’t go unnoticed by Rita, who suspiciously pointed out that he was spending a lot of time at work for someone who wasn’t even taking cases. He gave her some half-hearted excuse about his apartment being fumigated for Martian scorpions, which only made her more annoyed. She’d stared him down, her eyes sharp and bright behind her glasses, and just said, in a tone that made him feel like a child again, “Mistah Steel, if you wanna lie to yourself about what your problem is, that’s fine. Just don’t you go lyin’ to me and think you can get away with it.” She’d stomped out of his office and hadn’t spoken to him since, except to tell him when a new would-be client arrived. Juno had never thought he would really miss her chatter, but in the face of her stony silence, he found himself wishing she’d tell him about what was happening in the latest episode of her streams. He didn’t think he’d ever felt so alone as he did in that silence.
A week after his conversation with Rita, he woke up to find out he wasn’t as alone as he’d been when he fell asleep. The smell hit him first, like always, even before he opened his eyes to see a tall, slim figure standing at his window, staring out on the Hyperion City skyline. “You’re a hard man to pin down, Detective,” Peter said.
Juno sat up, rubbing uncomfortably at the ache in his neck. His couch was too short for sleeping on, but it was still better than the floor. “I imagine the HCPD could say the same thing about you. They’ve been trying to set a trap for you for over a month.”
“I imagine they would have had better luck if you’d helped,” Peter said, his voice expressionless in a way Juno hadn’t heard since- since he’d told him his name didn’t mean anything in the bathroom of the Oasis. “After all, you are the only person who’s ever managed to truly catch me off guard.”
“You’ll make a lady blush, going on that way,” Juno said acidically, falling back on his usual sarcasm to shield him from his guilt. “Why are you doing this, Nureyev?”
Peter turned at that, a minute wince at the way Juno said his name the only crack in his veneer of impassivity. “I’m a thief, Detective Steel, as you’ve pointed out multiple times over the course of our... acquaintance. I’m just doing what thieves do.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Juno said, feeling his temper rise. “You said you were leaving Mars.”
“And you said you were leaving Mars with me. Clearly we both said things we didn’t mean that night,” Peter said back, his voice sharp as one of his knives.
Juno couldn’t stop himself from flinching at Nureyev’s words before biting back like a cornered rabbit. “So that’s all this is, then? Just some petty revenge for me leaving you in that hotel room? What, do you want me to say I’m sorry ?”
In that moment, Peter looked almost... ancient. He normally had such an air of vitality that he could easily be mistaken for someone much younger, but it was like Juno’s words had flipped some sort of switch, pulled off that mask of eternal youth. Juno could see all of Peter’s hard years in his face now, lines drawn tight and his mouth and eyes. It was like seeing him naked- actually, Juno had seen him naked, had even seen inside his head, and both of those almost felt less intimate than this moment. “No, Juno,” Peter said, his voice soft. “I just wanted to know why. I wanted to look into your face- into your eyes- and hear you tell me why.”
Juno turned away from him, shame dragging his eyes to the floor like magnets. “It was never gonna work, Nureyev,” he said. “We both knew that.”
“Wrong,” Nureyev said, a modicum of fierceness returning to his voice. “Try again.”
Juno’s head snapped back up at that, eyes meeting Peter’s. “I’m a detective, and you’re a thief, Nureyev. I told you on that train, I catch people like you. That’s my job.”
“Wrong again, Juno,” he said, harsher. “The truth, if you please.”
Juno scowled, then relented, slightly. “I can’t leave Mars, Nureyev. I couldn’t. There’s still too much to do around here- these people need me, need someone who isn’t crooked and just looking out for themselves-”
“Damn it, Juno, that’s not why you left,” Peter cut him off, his voice growing louder and louder as he spoke. “You know I would have stayed, if you asked. I would have understood if you told me you didn’t want to leave. You saw what I did on Brahma, you know I understand feeling that sort of responsibility to a place, even when it doesn’t deserve you-”
“I COULDN’T ASK YOU TO STAY!” Juno shouted at him, his voice harsh. Peter stared at him, shocked into silence, and Juno’s shoulders slumped forward as he rested his head in his hands. “I couldn’t ask you to stay,” he said, softer. “You’re meant to be out there, traveling the galaxy, swinging through the stars, not tied down to this shithole. And even if you wanted it in the beginning, I know how these things go. You would have resented me for asking you to stay eventually, and that- that slow resentment, seeing you stop loving me- I couldn’t take that. Or worse, eventually you would have gotten caught up in my bullshit and get killed because of me, or you’d get bored and pull a job here and I’d have to choose between doing my job and hurting you- there wasn’t going to be a happy ending if you stayed. So I figured it was better for you to have a clean break, to think I was just some jackass that broke your heart. I’d be easier to forget, that way.”
He looked up to meet Peter’s eyes, surprised to find no trace of anger in his face, only sadness. In a smooth, graceful move, he knelt in front of Juno, cupping his face in his cool, smooth hands. “Oh, Juno,” he said, studying Juno’s face like it was a work of art. “Whatever am I going to do with you?”
Juno shrugged, feeling thrown by Peter’s unexpected reaction. “Smart thing would be to do what you should have done in the first place and take the next shuttle off this rustbucket.”
Peter laughed at that, the first hint of his sharp teeth Juno had seen since he’d woken up. “Juno, you might think you’re that easy to leave behind, but I’m afraid that’s not quite true.” Nureyev leaned forward, pressing his forehead to Juno’s so that their noses brushed. “You should have talked to me, darling,” he said, softly. “If you didn’t want to leave, we could have made that work. We still could make it work.”
“You do realize half the HCPD is looking for you, right?” Juno asked sarcastically, not moving his face away. “I mean, they’re idiots, but even a stuck clock is right twice a day.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Peter asked, clearly confused and Juno shrugged.
“Honestly, I’m not really sure. Something my mother used to say about Mick. I think it means even stupid people can get shit right eventually if they have enough time.”
“Well then, we can cross that bridge when we get to it,” Peter said. “Which, judging by my previous experiences with the HCPD, should be a good long while. I was hardly impressed by them on my last visit to Mars, and robbing half the city hasn’t exactly changed that opinion.”
“Still, Peter, you can’t stay here,” Juno protested. “All those reasons I had for leaving are still true- you’re just going to end up hating me or getting hurt if you stay here.”
“You know, I had half convinced myself I’d exaggerated your talent for pessimism in my own head,” Peter said wryly, drawing back slightly. “It’s good to see I was actually spot on.” When Juno opened his mouth to respond, he covered it with his hand, stopping him. “I know you truly believe that, Juno, and I can’t say that some of your fears aren’t invalid. But it is possible to compromise for the ones you love, and Juno, all else aside- I do still love you. So we can, and we will, make this work.”
Looking into Peter’s eyes, his hand pressed against Juno’s lips, Juno could almost believe him. Wanted to believe him in a way he hadn’t believed in anything in a long, long time. So he swallowed his arguments and pulled Peter’s hand away, brushing a light kiss across his knuckles as he did so. “Alright, Peter. We’ll make this work.”