Miro was sentenced to two years of community service to make up for two years of vigilante justice.
He’d almost laughed when Simler had announced the verdict. She was archaic and traditional, and was maintaining order within the Federation in the only way she knew how: by refusing to admit that Miro was completely in the right, and the galaxy needed him. But “community service” was just her way of saying galaxy service, and the details were laughable. Miro was to work alongside Starfleet in its pursuit of galactic peace.
His punishment for trying to save the galaxy…was to keep trying to save the galaxy.
The downside was that, in a way, Miro had lost this case. For two years, he had enjoyed the neutrality that came with being not only a vigilante, but on the run from Federation authority. He had always known that if he wasn’t careful, this was exactly what would happen upon his return home. So he’d simply stayed away. And maybe that was partly out of resentment for the officers who hadn’t even tried to defend his home, but only partly. Emotion wasn’t something that tended to cloud Miro’s judgement. Trauma did, but emotion…not so much. He’d lived too long for that.
No, the main reason he’d stayed away was so that he could pretend, just for a while, that he truly was neutral. He could pretend he wasn’t a Federation citizen at all. He could pretend he had no attachments, no legal obligations, no authorities watching over his shoulder. Anyone who might want to lock him up was light-years away, and he wasn’t worth the effort to chase down. And neutrality definitely had its benefits. A lack of neutrality was exactly what had started the rapid decline of the galaxy nine hundred years ago. Having allies was dangerous—it made for a tangled web of political obligation that Miro had no interest in getting trapped in.
But he had to admit, a political obligation to be Starfleet’s vigilante-for-hire was better than being stuck in a cell doing nothing. Odo had done his best, and his best was pretty damn good.
Miro stiffened, fingers curling around the edge of his bench. He’d know that voice anywhere. Eella Kirel.
“What are you still doing here?” he snapped. “You did your job. Thanks for the sparkling review. Now don’t you have a patient to attend to?”
“Actually,” Kirel said, joining him on the bench, “I took a week off.”
“Hmm,” Miro said. “And who’s the lucky Trill?”
Kirel frowned at him. “Miro, were my services really so terrible?”
He looked away, shame at his callousness and irritation at her flooding him in equal measure. For all the friction between them, he knew she’d been invaluable to his recovery two years ago.
“No,” he muttered.
“Then I fail to see why you’re so resentful.”
“Maybe because you still look down on me, even after everything,” Miro snapped. “I saw the look on your face when the prosecution got me to admit that I felt…” He trailed off, clearing his throat. “Inadequate.”
Kirel softened. “Miro, my disappointment was in myself. I had no idea the symbiont’s trauma was still troubling you this much.”
“Yes, you did,” Miro said. “You knew it would always trouble me, and you prepared me for that. Now…” He sighed and looked away. “I’ve failed.”
“No, you haven’t,” Kirel said.
He scoffed. “Sure.”
“Miro, level with me. Are you still experiencing flashbacks?”
“Not often,” he admitted.
“Haven’t had one of those in quite a while.”
“Well,” Miro said, “I think getting disoriented when lots of people are firing at you is kind of normal.”
Kirel smiled. “Miro, two years ago, phaser fire would have triggered a flashback.”
He snorted. “You’re forgetting the panic attacks.”
“Indeed. Precisely my point. You are doing better.”
“I always believed in you,” Kirel said. “And that’s never more true than it is now. Do you think I would take a week off to attend your hearing if I didn’t believe you could be helped?”
Miro chuckled. “Kirel, you didn’t believe I could be helped two and a half years ago. You were all set to discharge me.”
“I was bluffing. I hoped you would recognize your own denial, and choose to stay regardless.”
“Sure you did,” Miro said. “But you weren’t bluffing. Admit it, you were desperate. You didn’t know what the heck to do with me.”
Kirel smiled. “I admit you were one of my more difficult patients.”
Miro smirked. “Glad to hear it.”
Kirel shook her head in amusement. “It is good to see you again, Miro. I’m glad you’re doing well. It’s not often I have the opportunity to follow up with my patients this far in the future.”
Miro finally favored her with a true smile. “Well…just so long as you don’t keep poking your nose in my business, it was good to see you too.”
Kirel’s smile reached her eyes. “You have no idea how gratifying it is to hear that.”
“I think I have some idea.” Miro straightened and waved a hand at her dismissively. “Now go, get out of my hair. Can’t you see I don’t need a therapist anymore?”
“That’s never been more apparent,” Kirel said and stood. “Good luck, Miro. I trust you’ll do this galaxy good.”
“No pressure or anything,” Miro muttered as she walked away.
What Kirel still didn’t know was that, two and a half years ago when she had been prepared to lay down her cards and discharge him, Miro hadn’t stayed because he believed he needed the help. No, he’d still been too deeply entrenched in his denial for that. He’d stayed simply to spite the Symbiosis Committee. He’d already been there for six months, which was all the time the Psychiatric Committee allotted its patients. Staying meant being granted a continuance, and it meant shaming the Symbiosis Committee. They didn’t like to admit that sometimes, the joining got messed up, and their patients needed more than six months of help.
As far as Kirel was concerned, Miro had stayed because she had put her entire career on the line for him when she begged the committee for his continuance. And Miro was just fine with that. It probably would have been his reason, if he had been in a less…shell-shocked…state of mind at the time.
After Kirel was gone, Miro stood from the bench outside the courtroom and started back down the hallway of Federation Headquarters. If anyone had told him twenty-four hours ago that he would voluntarily hang out in this building after being released from custody and declared a free man, he would have laughed in disbelief. But that was exactly what he was doing. Because stalling in a building where he was no longer considered a criminal was worlds better than facing Odo and Eeris on the Challenger.
But the universe, it seemed, was determined to throw obstacles his way regardless. Approaching him—and standing between him and the freedom of the outdoors—was Naral Prallax.
Miro tensed and came to a halt, glaring daggers at her. He’d told Eeris he was angry with Naral. Angry didn’t even begin to cover it. No, he didn’t hate her, but her perpetual desire to keep him out of harm’s way was really getting old, and it didn’t help that he couldn’t even look at her without imagining the screams as everyone he knew burned in the Klingons’ flames. And she had the nerve to approach him now, when it was her fault he’d gone through all this hassle—he could have avoided the border patrol routes, landed near a good pawn shop, traded in that book, and been out of there before Viresa even had time to plan her next conquest, if Naral hadn’t given him away.
“Naral,” he said as she approached.
Naral took one look at his expression and sighed, shaking her head. “One day, Miro, you’ll see I was right. Or, at least, I hope you will.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Miro said.
“This isn’t over,” Naral said. “That Changeling friend of yours…he was good. Better than good. I thought I had you beaten when I got you dragged into court—you never were good at playing nice with the law. Next time, I’ll anticipate him.”
Miro smiled. “Oh, Naral. He’s not the one you should be worried about. I was the wrong enemy to make.”
“Oh, is that so?”
His smile went cold. “Let’s get one thing straight, Naral. If you think my…sentiment…for our friendship is going to hold me back, you’re sorely mistaken. Yeah, I’ll probably always miss you, but that’s the worst part.” He paused. “I don’t take kindly to betrayal.”
“I haven’t betrayed you,” she said earnestly.
Miro nodded. He’d had a long night in a holding cell before his hearing to accept that she would always believe that, and he had lost her. “I know.”
Naral watched him with sad eyes as he brushed past her, but Miro’s expression didn’t shift and he didn’t look back. That was what he was best at, in the end—not looking back. Diving headfirst into the thick of danger and not looking back. Stopping one battle or another and not looking back. Trapping his enemies and not looking back. Losing his home…and never looking back.
Losing all his friends as Ezri, all those centuries ago…and for the love of fate, if he valued his sanity, if he had any hope of moving forward and accepting the memories he was stuck with, not looking back.
He had no doubt he’d always miss Naral. Walking away from her was like twisting a knife into his soul, because for all she had done, he still cared, and that was his curse. But fate, he knew he couldn’t afford to look back. He forced himself not to look over his shoulder, not to check her expression, as he continued down the hall. He picked up his pace until his footfalls filled his ears and drowned out the desire to run back in the other direction. He pushed through the front doors of Federation Headquarters, at last a free man, and let them slam behind him. He bulldozed his way across the dirt expanse to the Challenger, jaw set, eyes locked on his destination. He would not look back.
And as he pounded up the gangplank, he realized his mistake. He still wasn’t ready to face Eeris and Odo. Odo’s inevitable sympathy, even as he respected Miro’s privacy…or Eeris’s thinly veiled curiosity.
But it was too late to turn back. If he turned around now, still on the gangplank, he’d probably run straight back to Naral and beg her to stop pursuing him, to let him go, to stop this madness once and for all so they could be friends again. And he knew he’d be wasting his time. So he took a deep breath and stepped through the airlock, into the cockpit.
Odo was leaning against the aft wall, arms crossed, clearly having saved the pilot seat for him. Eeris, on the other hand, was sitting in her typical spot, hunched over the dashboard. To the untrained eye, she might have looked dejected, like she had lost a prized possession or something. But Miro saw the glances she kept sneaking in his direction. On one hand, he appreciated her effort to stay quiet. On the other, he hated the way she and Odo both clearly felt like they were walking on thin ice. Like one wrong step and he’d break.
For fate’s sake. He was private, not broken. Doomed, perhaps, but as long as he could still fly the Challenger, he’d happily go on pretending he wasn’t.
“So, you’ve got questions,” he said, leaning one elbow casually against the bulkhead. “Go ahead, shoot.”
Eeris blinked at him, finally looking him full in the eyes. Miro smiled. That was more like it.
Odo, however, cut off anything she was about to say. “I was beginning to wonder if everything was alright. We’ve been waiting for a while now.”
Miro shrugged. “Had a few run-ins, end of story. Now, you gonna let Eeris talk or what?”
Odo frowned. “I…thought you would want her to respect your privacy.”
“Well, sure,” Miro said. “But look at her. She’s clearly bursting at the seams. She’s not gonna change overnight, you know that.” He nodded at Eeris. “Go on, ask. If I don’t wanna talk about it, you know I’ll just say that. When have I ever let you pry?”
Eeris’s mouth quirked in a tentative smile. “True.”
“So, go on!” he said. “What are you waiting for?”
“Is it true?” she asked quietly. “You don’t believe you can save us?”
Well, that was not what he’d expected she would ask.
“Well,” Miro said, “it’s kind of a tall order, you have to admit. It’s a whole galaxy we’re talking about here. Well, three quadrants if you count the Dominion’s looming threat, but same difference.”
Eeris chuckled. “You know what I mean, Miro. What you said before, in the courtroom. About…”
“…believing I can’t do it, because of…the symbiont?” Miro asked softly.
She nodded. “Well…yeah.”
“I meant it,” Miro said.
“But what I said,” Eeris said. “About, you know, how you’re the one we can count on to save us. That you can do it, no question. Do you believe that?”
Miro shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“It matters to me,” Eeris said quietly.
“Because…” She hesitated, then sighed, shoulders slumping. “Because after what I did to you, I hoped I could make a difference.”
Miro smiled. “Well, say it enough, and maybe one day you’ll convince me.”
She looked up at him hopefully.
“Yeah, Dax has left me some pretty big shoes to fill,” Miro said. “No idea if I’ll ever be enough. But I can at least try, right? That’s what I’m doing, every single day. Least I can do, really. The galaxy’s always needed a Dax.” He shrugged. “Like it or not, I’m the best it’s got.”
Eeris chuckled. “Figures, that you could be impossibly self-doubting and amazingly arrogant in the same sentence.”
Miro tilted his head in a shrug. “You know, that’s not quite what I thought you’d ask.”
“Oh?” she asked. “And what did you think I’d ask?”
Miro braced himself, hoping she wouldn’t take this as an invitation. “What happened nine hundred years ago.”
Eeris shook her head. “I don’t need to know that.”
Miro raised his eyebrows. “You don’t?”
“Course not,” Eeris said. “It’s like this whole business with Naral. It’s none of my business.”
“Well, no,” Miro said. “But I still expected…”
“Miro,” Eeris interrupted, giving him a small smile. “You have no idea how tempted I am. So stop tempting me, okay?”
Miro broke into a grin. “Sounds good, Eeris.”
With that settled, he slid into the pilot’s seat, still unable to keep his grin off his face. Yes, he’d definitely been right to take Eeris on board, and he was right to keep her around.
“Miro?” she asked hesitantly.
He tried and failed to restrain his grin. “Yes?”
“Obviously it’s none of my business, but do you want to talk about it?”
Miro snorted. “No.”
He glanced at her, pressing his lips together, but he was sure his eyes still twinkled. “Maybe someday.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really?”
He outright laughed. “Don’t get your hopes up, Eeris.”
She quickly looked away, but he caught her smile on her averted profile. Still grinning, he returned his attention to the controls.
“Alright, you two,” he said. “Ready for takeoff?”
“Almost,” Odo replied, and Miro watched over his shoulder as the Changeling disappeared into the galley.
He glanced over at Eeris. “Buckled in?”
“There’s no buckles on these seats, Miro.”
He laughed. “Exactly how I like it.” And without warning, he yanked up on the joystick. The landing thrusters engaged and lifted them off the ground. Eeris gasped and pressed herself firmly against her seat, her shoulders tensing. Miro grinned and eased up their flight as he tipped the Challenger’s nose up toward the darkness of space above.
“I can’t believe you’re keeping me around,” Eeris said wonderingly.
“Oh, come on, why wouldn’t I?” Miro asked her. “You got any idea what it was like flying alone on the Challenger? I’ll put it simply—no fun at all.”
“So I’m fun, huh?” She shot him a side grin. “Even after trying to destroy your privacy?”
Miro shrugged. “I’m willing to look past it.”
“Why?” she asked. “Miro, that’s all you knowof me. I’ve been like that every minute you’ve known me. And I’m useless out here. I’m no help to you. I’m nothing but a burden.” She sighed. “I need you, but you don’t need me.”
Miro glanced at her. “You know, Eeris…”
She looked up at him hesitantly.
“What do you think was the hardest part of all this, for me?” Miro asked quietly. “Take a guess.”
“I dunno…getting cooped up in a holding cell?”
Miro scoffed. “Hardly.”
“Um…having to trust Odo as your lawyer?”
He shook his head. “That was hard, but definitely not the worst.”
“I don’t know. What?”
Miro clenched his jaw and looked straight ahead. “Losing Naral.”
“I don’t trust easily,” he admitted. “So when someone breaks that…”
“Oh, Prophets, I’m sorry,” Eeris breathed.
“No need,” Miro said. “I’m just telling you…” He sighed and shook his head in annoyance at his own inability to communicate. “Look, Eeris, I’m not super good at expressing this stuff, but you should know it’s there. I took you on board because I needed someone, alright? And maybe it was the mistake of the century to take on a random stranger, but you turned out to be one of my better split-second decisions. So no, you are not a burden.”
“But…I hurt you,” Eeris said.
“So did Naral,” Miro said. “Worse than you did. And you have no idea how badly I wanted to run back to her, even after all this.”
Eeris looked at him tentatively. “Can I ask…”
“Have you ever…had anyone else besides her?”
He shook his head. “Never felt the need for more than one friend. We were as close as it got. I didn’t need anyone else.”
“I broke your trust,” Eeris said. “What’ll it take to get it back?”
“I don’t know,” Miro said honestly. “But you’re making a good start.”
“I’m just glad you’re keeping me around.”
“Long as you want, Eeris,” Miro said.
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
He smiled. “Yup.”
He caught her grin out of the corner of his eye, but before either of them could say anything else, a light blinked on the dashboard. It wasn’t the comm this time—it was a different subspace channel, one mainly reserved for the news service. Miro quickly swept his emotions to the side and put it up on the screen, engaging autopilot as the Challenger eased out from Earth’s atmosphere.
Eeris stared raptly at the images on the screen. “What’s that?”
“News service,” Miro said. “I catch ’em when I can. There aren’t many reporters who dare to be out there on the front lines these days, but the ones who do—well, I can’t help but respect ’em.”
Eeris nodded. On the screen, several Cardassian warships whizzed past in the darkness of space. They changed course, and an all-too-familiar planet rose up into view. Miro would know those scattered continents anywhere, however hard he tried to forget them—it was Bajor. He swallowed hard as he watched the warships descend into a low orbit. A voice-over began, the volume just barely within Miro’s range of hearing. The joint Cardassian and Romulan fleets were mobilizing. Enough ships had been sent Bajor’s way to repeat history…all over again.
Miro sighed and rested an elbow on the dashboard, scrubbing a hand over his face. How exactly was he supposed to ignore this? If Viresa had chosen to back the Cardassians enough for an occupation, billions of lives were in jeopardy. He couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. But more likely than not, this was a distraction from the real danger. It wasn’t intended for him, or for Starfleet, or any other military—Bajor had fallen off the political map, after all. This was the distraction Viresa needed to keep the Cardassians busy long enough to open the wormhole and let the Dominion through.
And besides…Miro honestly wasn’t sure if he could face Bajor again. He hated that his past was impacting him even now, when lives were at stake, but he would be no use to anyone if he relapsed. Simler had freed him on the basis that he was fit to be a hero, and there was every chance he’d lose all the progress he made if he came near Bajor.
“Miro?” Eeris asked.
He glanced up at her, then up at the viewscreen, and finally rallied. The most important thing now was to keep his head screwed on straight, to stay focused, to not be pulled off course by his own doubts.
“I just…” She hesitated, biting her lip. “You’re not going to just sit here and do nothing, are you?”
“Eeris, I don’t know what I can do,” Miro said.
“This is what you do!” she cried. “What was that hearing all about? You’re supposed to fly over there and help them!”
Miro shook his head. “I…I can’t.”
“Why? Why not?”
“No, I have a right to pry this time,” Eeris said. “Those are my people, and I’ve already abandoned them twice. I won’t do it again.”
Miro blinked. “Twice? What are you talking about?”
“I…well…I went back home, when you and Odo were away,” she admitted. “That’s how I survived. But Miro, there were Cardassians on the streets. They were all over. My father was terrified of them. He didn’t let on much to me, but I know him, he was more frazzled than I’ve ever seen him. And I just left. I knew they were a threat, you said as much back on Deep Space Nine, but I just left them.”
Miro stared at her. “You knew there were Cardassians on Bajor already? And you didn’t say anything?”
“Well, when exactly was I supposed to do that?” Eeris asked. “When you were stuck in a cell? Because I’m pretty sure there was nothing you could have done from inside Federation Headquarters!”
“When we were on the Challenger on the way to Earth,” Miro said. “You had plenty of time then.”
“And would you have done anything?” Eeris challenged him.
“You just told me you can’t do anything! What would you have done, if I’d said something sooner?”
He felt completely lost, as if he’d been tossed out on the galaxy’s roiling seas and left to flounder. There was no reason to get upset at her for holding this back, he knew that. He cringed at the thought of all the times he’d told her that Bajor was none of his concern. He’d been that desperate to keep it none of his concern. But he shouldn’t have said that to a woman who’d grown up there, and he definitely shouldn’t expect her to understand how much he wished he could help, how much he wished he could just dive in and save the day. She didn’t know how much he wished knowing about the Cardassians she’d seen would have changed anything.
“Miro,” she said, “please tell me. I think I deserve an answer this time. Why can’t you at least try to save them?”
He sighed. She was right. She deserved an answer.
“Because I can’t go back to Bajor,” he said at last. “It’s not just that I won’t. I can’t.”
“Because it’s part of what happened.” He swallowed, forcing his mouth to form the words, despite every instinct screaming at him to clam up. “Nine hundred years ago.”
For what surely edged on a full minute, Eeris was silent.
“Alright,” she said. “So drop me off on the station.”
Miro blinked. “What?”
“I said, drop me off on the station,” Eeris said. “If you won’t help them, I will. It’s my responsibility, anyway, not yours. It’s my planet, and those are my people. I’ve got to help them…and you’ve got to let me.”
Miro frowned. Where the hell was this coming from? Since when was Eeris this caring? As far as he knew, she’d never felt accepted among her people, and as someone with little desire to be kind to those who had wronged her, he’d never in a million years expected her to want to go back.
But here she was, demanding that he let her save her planet. It was no less than he would do, for every other planet in the galaxy.
“Okay,” he said, watching her carefully. “If you’re sure.”
Eeris nodded. “I am.”
“Odo should go with you. You shouldn’t be alone, not without your arms.”
She nodded again. “Sounds good.”
Miro looked her in the eye. “Eeris, are you absolutely sure about this? I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back to you. Starfleet’ll have me busy, and I’m absolutely sure this occupation is just to distract the Cardassians from the wormhole. I’ll have my hands full with the Dominion soon enough.”
Eeris smiled. “Whenever you can come…I’ll be waiting.”
Miro stared at her, drank in the sight of the woman he had whisked away from her home planet, promised the galaxy, began to trust, doubted, and then started to trust all over again. The woman who, despite her fire and her temper and her painful lack of consideration, had carved out a place in his beaten heart. He couldn’t quite believe that he had only just accepted the loss of Naral, was about to say goodbye to Eeris, and was actually considering coming back for her. He’d be better off just letting her go. He never looked back.
His hand cupped her neck of its own volition, fingers brushing through the short hair at the nape. He looked into those sharp brown eyes, not entirely sure what he expected to see…and not entirely sure if he found it. But when she smiled at him, he nodded, satisfied. She would be worth the wait, no matter how long it might be.
“Alright,” Miro said finally. “To Deep Space Nine it is.”