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“So,” Miro said, leaning forward over the table, “here’s the plan.”

It had taken them almost three weeks to regroup. Odo had encountered Miro again several days into his journey aboard the Cardassian ship, after Eeris had been beamed to Deep Space Nine. Miro, Odo had been surprised to find, was suddenly all too eager to have him on board the Challenger again. Though Odo didn't understand the Trill's change of heart, he had the sense not to question it. As long as he was wanted on the Challenger, he could stay near Eeris, and his presence in this quadrant would be of some use after all.

They hadn't escaped from the Cardassians easily, of course. In order to jailbreak Odo, Miro had had to disable the Cardassian ship's shields, beam on board, sabotage main power so that the holding cell's forcefield dropped, and pretty much force their way out with a phaser in one hand and a gas mask in the other—of course because sabotaging main power meant life support couldn't be trusted. They had managed to beam out with minimal grumbling from Miro over Odo's refusal to use a weapon, just before shields had come back up. Then they'd snuck along the Romulan border in the Challenger for a few days, traveling slowly so as not to leave a warp signature, until Miro had finally deemed it safe enough to hightail it away from Romulan territory.

Why they had been in Romulan space, Odo had no idea. He'd had no idea whatsoever of his location in the galaxy until Miro had shown up. They had regrouped on Deep Space Nine, because that was where Eeris had been waiting—somehow, still alive and not starved to death.

All roads lead back to Deep Space Nine, Odo thought uncharitably.

The three had now gathered in the replicate, and it struck Odo oddly that they were even at the same table where they had met almost three weeks ago—almost as if they had come full circle. Miro hadn't wasted a minute in grabbing them food from the replicator, which he was currently consuming mostly on his own as he launched into the subject at hand—their plans for the future.

"A plan sounds good," Odo said. "Please, go on."

"Odo," Miro said, "this is gonna sound weird, but I need you."

"You have seemed strangely eager for my company recently," Odo agreed. "Why? What made you change your mind?"

Miro sighed. "Wish I hadn't. You're bad news. But the fact is, Viresa's opening a new wormhole."

"You're sure?" Odo asked.

"Absolutely," Miro said. "I saw it myself. I don't know when it's opening, but I just know it's gonna lead to the Gamma Quadrant. I can't prove it, but Viresa seems very sure of herself. It explains why she wanted that amber so badly, why her Cardassian lackeys wanted you the moment they realized you existed. I spoke to her, and I think she has a lot of other ambers. Infant Changelings. Whatever. She's going to trade them all with the Dominion for an alliance. And we both know how that will turn out."

"It does seem as if the Dominion won't uphold its end of any deal for long," Odo said. "What about the amber? Do you still have it?"

Miro rolled his eyes. "Of course I do!" He reached in his pocket and opened his palm to Odo before hiding the amber again.

"I had hopes that the Dominion would always honor the treaty it signed nine hundred years ago, but it's clear the Founders have no wish to coexist peacefully with the rest of the galaxy. They killed the Prophets and closed the wormhole, after all."

Miro glared at him. "No thanks to you."

"I was under the impression we were moving past your…hard feelings," Odo said.

"Yeah, I know. It's just not easy, this is all a bit…too close to home." He shrugged. "You know the Founders better than anyone else, Odo. You were one of them for almost nine hundred years. I need you on my side."

"Your side?" Odo repeated. "I didn't think you had a side."

"Not usually," Miro said. "But I have to admit, I can't do this on my own. If I could, I would have put Viresa out of power years ago."

"Years?" Odo examined the man before him. Miro couldn't be older than his early twenties. "Surely you haven't been at her throat for that long."

"Not me," Miro said. "Dax. Sizran, mostly. Viresa really only rose to power about fifteen years ago; I've been out in the galaxy for two. And only one of those was spent holding the galaxy in check. But the point is, we've been at each other's throats for that long. We know each other. I've pushed back against her reign since the day she became a political figure. And look what's happened. She's won anyway. She's the empress of the Romulan Star Empire, she knows it, and she knows I can't beat her alone. Hell, even I know it!"

"What's this plan of yours, then?" Odo asked, grateful to have a more defined purpose in this quadrant. He had come here to help Eeris, but it was still unclear just what needed doing.

Miro rested his chin on his laced fingers, elbows on the table. "I don't have one yet."

"But…you said…"

"We need to watch her," Miro said thoughtfully. "Let her make the first move. That's the plan, how about that? I need to get good at predicting her. We should probably close that wormhole, too."

"If memory serves," Odo said, "a couple photon torpedoes will do the trick."

Miro shook his head. "We don't know that. Who knows that this wormhole's made of? Knowing the Romulans, it's probably pretty tough stuff—they've been perfecting cloaking devices for centuries, they can even fire while cloaked. They're masters of subspace phenomena. I've even known them to create a black hole or two, though thankfully, those were too unstable to last." Miro shuddered. "The Romulans are paranoid. This wormhole's perfect in structure, from what I saw. I don't know how to close it, but one thing's for sure, Viresa's not going to let me anywhere near it."

"That reminds me," Odo said, "there's something I've been wondering, ever since you engineered my escape from the Cardassians."

"What's that?"

"Why were we able to get away so easily?" Odo asked. "I mean, it wasn't easy to break me out of that ship, but you have to admit we were mostly left alone once we were creeping along the border."

Miro shrugged. "Viresa wants me alive. She knows my ship."

"But…she has no reason to let you move freely.

"Sure she does. She's feeling overconfident, certain she's beaten me already. She doesn't think I stand a chance. She wants me to employ every tactic I can against her and still lose, and she wants to kill me when it's all over, when I'm watching the galaxy collapse all around me with nothing I can do to stop it."

"How do you know what?" Odo asked.

"She told me."

"She told you?"

"We've got a long history together." Miro grinned and popped a piece of fruit into his mouth. "We know each other."

Odo harrumphed. "And you say she's the overconfident one."

"Well, she hasn't defeated me yet," Miro said. "And I intend to defeat her. That's why I need you. If the Dominion comes through the wormhole, you know I don't stand a chance against their combined forces."

"Agreed," Odo said. "But I don't see what I can do to help."

"See Eeris here?" Miro nodded at the Bajoran girl, who was sitting at their table with them and thus far hadn't uttered a word. "Your job is to know them well enough to keep her out of harm's way, while we all figure out a plan together. Not to mention, since you going back to the Great Link lines up with both Viresa's and the Founder's plans, I need you as far away from that wormhole as you can get. It's not easy for me to admit this, but I can't win this battle alone. Not this time."

"Alright," Odo said, nodding slowly. "I understand. I'll do whatever I can."

Miro smiled. "Okay, then. First order of business."

He leaned to the side and rummaged in the rucksack he'd brought aboard Deep Space Nine with him. Odo watched as he brought out a familiar object and waved it at Odo, grinning wickedly. It was a book—a real, old-fashioned paperback book—and its cover was emblazoned with a couple gazing soulfully into one another's eyes. Odo recognized it—he'd found it himself in the Nebez flea market.

Odo blinked. "It's…that book. I…thought you sold it?"

"Nope," Miro said, eyes dancing. "I'd make a better fortune on Earth. No one would pay me enough for it out here." He tossed the book across the table so it landed on Odo's side. "Enjoy!"

Odo stared down at the book, half expecting it to rear up and bite him.

Eeris muffled a giggle. "You really do want to read it, don't you?"

Odo looked up, affronted. "Hmph! Of course not!"

Miro's grin widened. "Aw, come on, you want to start me believing you can actually lie? You really think you want to lose my trust, Founder?"

Odo glared at him. "Don't try that, Miro."

Miro chuckled. "Go on. I don't want it. It'll take us a couple days to get to Earth, anyway, and longer to sneak around the patrol. You might as well have your fun while you can, Odo."

Odo's mind stuttered over Miro's words—what patrol was he talking about? —but quickly dismissed it. Surely, in all of Dax's travels, he'd made an enemy or two. Odo turned his attention instead to the book, which he still refused to pick up. He didn't know what had possessed him to grab it from that flea market in the first place. He'd told himself he only wanted it for its value. That had been their mission, after all—to grab whatever was valuable and bring it back to Miro so he could bargain the shopkeeper down. But this book…Odo hadn't wanted it just for its value, and at the time, he couldn't help but wonder if maybe it wasn't worth Miro's purchase, and he could keep it for himself.

It reminded him all too well of that time aboard the Rio Grande, when he'd been escorting Quark to a court hearing under the mistaken assumption that Quark was the one in trouble, and not merely testifying as a witness against the Orion Syndicate. In the unfortunately close quarters they'd shared, Quark had caught him reading a romance novel—quite an enjoyable one, though Odo had been loathe to admit it—and had teased him about it mercilessly.

"I don't want to read it," Odo said.

Miro shrugged. "Fine, just hold it for me then, will you?"

"If you insist," Odo grumbled, still not touching the book.

"Oh, I do insist." Finally, Miro pushed his chair back and stood. "Shall we head back to the Challenger? Might as well get moving, we've got a couple days of travel ahead of us."

"Fine by me," Eeris said, standing as well.

"Well," Odo said as he stood, reluctantly snatching the book off the table and following them, "I certainly never expected my stay here to pan out in…quite this manner."

Miro laughed. "Neither did I, Founder, neither did I."

"I did," Eeris piped up.

Odo glanced down at her. Eeris had gotten exactly what she'd wanted all this time. She had escaped Bajor, ended up in Miro's company, and now even Odo was coming on board—for an indeterminate period of time, no less. Odo wondered, though, if she had expected to find herself right on the front lines of a plot to wreck the already-unstable Alpha and Beta quadrants when she had first set out from her home planet. It didn't seem to bother her. So perhaps she was like Nerys in yet another way—largely unfazed by violence.

Odo shook that thought aside. No, that wasn't possible, this early in Eeris's life. And Odo resolved to keep it impossible. She wouldn't lead the same life he or Nerys had led. He'd make sure of that.

They boarded the Challenger in silence, and in no time at all, Miro had clearance to disembark and was piloting the ship smoothly away from Deep Space Nine. He aimed them in the direction of Federation space. With him busy at the controls, almost appearing to be lost in his own world as he stared out into space, Odo finally found the opportunity he'd been waiting for—to ask Eeris how she'd fared alone on Deep Space Nine.

Their relationship had definitely smoothed out over the past few days, but Eeris still seemed to have her reservations about him. He'd confessed his love for Nerys to her, sure, but that didn't necessarily mean she understood him any better than before. At least she had stopped shooting him those looks—the ones intermixed with suspicion and revulsion. Odo would have taken it, coming from her, Nerys's descendant, but he'd gotten enough of that nine hundred years ago—he didn't need to face it again.

"Eeris," Odo called from the mouth of the corridor.

Eeris got up from the copilot's seat and walked over to him. He noticed as she moved that both arms were still gone. He'd noticed this from the moment it happened, of course—he'd been right there when the Cardassians had grabbed her—but it was still useful to note that she hadn't gained control over her abilities and grown her arms back in the time since he had last seen her. This, of course, only raised more questions. How could she have fed herself without hands? And even then, how could she have gotten ahold of food? She didn't have any latinum on her, as far as Odo knew. And without hands, it would be difficult to steal, not that Odo would have faulted her for doing so to stay alive.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"Sure," she said. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Your arms," he said.

She frowned and looked at the deck plating.

"We were gone for almost three weeks," Odo said. "How did you manage to survive on your own?"

Eeris shrugged, a motion that looked a little queer without arms attached to her shoulders. "Divine intervention?"

Odo gave her a look.

"I mean it! The Emissary looked out for me."

"Not by hooking you up to a drip and feeding you through an IV," Odo said. "Which, might I add, would require arms."

"I lived," Eeris said. "Isn't that enough?"

"Not for me."

"Odo, I'm fine," Eeris said. "I'm alive, the Emissary is watching over me, and you two aren't going to let me get hurt. So just let it rest, okay?"

Odo knew better than anyone that it was sometimes impossible to get answers out of someone who didn't want to give them, but he didn't want to give up that easily. Even he wasn't above prying, especially where Eeris was concerned.

"I'm not sure that I can," he said quietly. "If someone took advantage of you, hurt you, threatened you, even—"

"Odo, for the Prophets' sake," Eeris said. "No one took advantage of me or threatened me. I just don't want to talk about it!"

"Well, alright," Odo sighed. "If you insist."

"Can I go back to my seat now?"

Odo gave an assenting nod, and she turned on her heel and marched back to the copilot's seat. He watched her carefully, wondering what she wasn't saying.

Whatever had happened, it didn't look like she was any worse for wear than she had been the last time he'd seen her. She didn't look thinner, or even the least bit emaciated. He considered her explanation, what little she had given. Was it really possible that the Emissary had taken care of her? Odo didn't believe that for a second. Much as he had decided to trust Captain Sisko for the time being, he didn't believe his former commanding officer had the sort of power it would take to keep Eeris fed. What would that have entailed—magically making food appear within reach of her mouth? Odo shook his head, dismissing the idea. Whatever had happened, Captain Sisko was unlikely to have been responsible.

Odo did, however, believe that Eeris wasn't lying. Whatever she had done to stay safe, it must have seemed like a godsend from her perspective. She was lost, alone, the only Bajoran he or Miro know of to have left her homeworld in years. Compounding that was the fact that without her arms, she could barely even provide for herself. It was absolutely confounding. Whatever had happened, Odo hoped she would confide in him sooner rather than later.



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