"I want to visit him," Eeris said.
She and Odo had remained on the Challenger after Miro was marched away into holding. Naral's parting glance at the two of them—no, at the Challenger itself, as if it was a spoil of war she was eager to claim—had sent shivers down Eeris's spine, and she was all too eager to find out what had happened between those two.
Besides, she thought with a twinge of guilt, it would get her away from Odo for a little bit.
"I'm sure Miro would appreciate a visit," Odo said. "Especially from you."
Eeris nodded and stood. She'd gotten good at balancing, leaning forward a bit and pushing herself upright, so she could stand without the aid of her arms. She still missed them, though, and there was a little niggling seed of impatience growing at the back of her mind the longer Odo didn't do anything about it. He'd claimed that he would do anything to help her, but so far he was just sitting around and letting events transpire as they pleased. She wished he would at least broach the subject, do something…
Shoving those thoughts out of mind for the time being, Eeris headed to the still-open airlock and stood atop the gangplank. It glimmered bright under Earth's sun, and not for the first time, she noticed how vibrant this world was. It was nothing like Bajor, but didn't quite compare to the complete chaos of Nebez. Where on Bajor, haze hung low in the air, Earth's atmosphere was a pristine paradise. Off in the distance to the side of Federation Headquarters, she saw a faint, grayish undulation on the horizon and wondered what it was—until she realized that they were the shapes of mountains, and she could see that far on this clean planet.
The outdoors suddenly seemed terrifying, without Miro there to guide her. Her heart pounded as she looked down the gangplank, calculating how many steps it would take for her feet to hit alien soil…her shoulders hung uselessly at her sides, making her feel even more vulnerable.
"I'll come with you, if you like," Odo said.
Eeris nearly melted with relief, her earlier desire to put some space between them forgotten. "Could you?"
He smiled and stood. Or, at least, she thought he smiled—it was still difficult to read him, even at that most basic level, despite the fact that she'd spent about two weeks at his side. He approached and, after a moment of hesitation, offered his hand. Eeris shrank back and didn't let it touch her shoulder. She was all too aware of how bigotry felt, and knew from their first conversation aboard the Challenger that she didn't hide hers well. She didn't exactly like being that way. It was just so hard to shake, when he was so alien.
If Odo noticed her discomfort, he didn't point it out this time. He simply walked down the gangplank and paused on the ground, turning around to ask, "You coming?"
"Right, yeah," Eeris said. She dashed after him, this time remembering and correcting for the gangplank's slant, and joined him on Earth's soil.
And stopped. It was her second alien planet; how could she not?
"You alright?" Odo asked.
"Yeah," she said, wiggling her toes so the soles of her shoes undulated against the ground. It didn't honestly feel that much different from Bajor or Nebez, and she wondered why she'd expected it to. "Just getting a feel for the place. Prophets, I wish Miro were here."
The line of Odo's mouth twitched. "So do I. Well, hopefully, we'll figure out exactly what he's been charged with and get this over with as quickly as possible. I, for one, have no wish to stay on Earth for long."
"Why?" she asked as she started walking, and he fell into step beside her. "What's so bad about Earth?"
He shrugged. "Nothing important. Just, I've had a few prior experiences here, and none of them were pleasant."
She frowned, considering. "This was back when you and Miro worked on Deep Space Nine?"
He nodded. "That's right."
"What brought you this far out?" she asked. "I mean, we're not exactly next door to Bajor."
Odo chuckled. "No, we're not. It had to do with the Dominion, actually. I was consulting for Starfleet at the time, and they thought it wise to work on ways to better detect Changelings. Unfortunately, it put me in the position of lab rat."
"They did experiments on you," Eeris said. Her eyes narrowed. "How is that in any way right? Did they even ask you first?"
"Oh, they asked," Odo said. "That was the ironic part—that I would spend seven years wishing to set foot outside a laboratory, only to spend part of another seven as a willing specimen."
She frowned. "Wait a second. "YOu're telling me you spent seven years in a laboratory? When was this?"
He shrugged. "It's not important. Anyway, we're almost here. Do you want me to wait outside, or go in with you?"
Eeris looked up; to her surprise, they were indeed almost to the building's doors. "I wouldn't mind the company."
"In with you it is, then," Odo said, and fell silent until they reached the doors. There, two armed guards—in gold uniform tunics just like the ones who had come for Miro—stepped forward from the sidelines and blocked their path.
"Identify yourselves," one barked.
"I'm Eeris," Eeris said, her voice small. "I've got a friend in there, I just want to see him."
The guard nodded. "The Founder will stay."
"I'm not a Founder," Odo said.
"It makes no difference to us what you call yourself," the guard said. "We don't allow your kind around here. You're lucky we're letting you stay on the premises at all."
Odo harrumphed. "And here I thought a peace treaty with the Dominion would actually do the Alpha Quadrant some good."
The guard blinked, startled. "That was quite some time ago, Founder. Now, I would ask that you return to your ship. We will allow you to stay on the premises so long as you're contained."
"How generous," Odo said dryly.
The guard rested the heel of his hand on his weapon where it was holstered on his belt. "Do I need to ask you again?"
Odo turned to Eeris. "You'll be alright?"
"Course," Eeris said, not quite believing it.
Odo assessed her a moment longer, but seemed to realize he didn't have much choice in the matter when the guard drew his weapon and inch from its holster. He eyed the security guard one last time, reminding Eeris of a long-ago reference of Miro's—security chief, he was—and she wondered if he was remembering what it had been like to be in this guard's position. There was a strange look in his eyes, but as usual, Eeris couldn't decipher it. Finally, he nodded once and turned on his heel to head back to the Challenger. The guard immediately relaxed, and his partner held open the door for Eeris to enter. She quickly crossed over the threshold, and the door thumped closed behind her.
Federation Headquarters was nothing like she had expected. From all Miro's tales of how the Federation had been marginalized and wasn't even worth a second glance, she had expected maybe a shabby interior, barely staffed, maybe even with flickering lights. But the sight that greeted her was far different. She was standing underneath a cathedral ceiling that reminded her of the High Council chamber on Bajor. A wide hallway extended in front of her with numerous doors set into alcoves along the walls. She walked along, footsteps echoing in the vast emptiness of the place, hoping to find some sort of clue soon as to how to get to Miro.
She found it in the form of one of the hallway doors. It was guarded by another of the gold-uniformed officers, making her wonder if this was the security area. She walked towards it with more purpose than she felt and nodded to the officer before leaning her weight against the door, hoping it would swing in the right direction, and heading inside.
She found herself in yet another hallway, but this one ended quickly in a desk with a single computer monitor and another security guard in attendance. She approached tentatively, but the guard waved her on after scanning her with a device that made her wish Miro was at her side. She imagined him explaining what the scan was looking for, banishing the tension that had settled into her shoulders at the alien intrusion, making light of the fact that they were, after all, on another alien planet. And like on Nebez, Eeris was powerless here. She'd never realized how much she'd gotten used to being the center of attention until she'd stepped out into the wide open galaxy.
She headed on past the guard, through another set of doors that gave before her weight, and found herself in a broad room ringed with holding cells. She spotted Miro in one near the far right. He wasn't alone—nearly all the cells held a prisoner or two of their own, and not all of them species iris recognized—but unlike most of the other prisoners, Miro was alone in his. Eeris imagined that was a plus, even if it couldn't be fun to be stuck down here in holding.
"Miro," she called as she approached.
"Eeris?" His eyes lit up and he stood from his bench, meeting her at the front of his cell. "What are you doing here?"
"Thought I'd come check on you," she said. "Can't be fun holed up in here, when you've got the whole galaxy to worry about."
He grimaced, but it faded almost instantly. "Yeah, well, never mind me. Whadya think of Earth?"
She shrugged. "Cleaner than Bajor."
He grinned. "Yeah, that's for sure. Less air pollution around here. Course, twenty-first century had all these people pumping so much crap into their atmosphere you'd think it would be poisonous to breathe, but that stopped soon enough—nowadays, it's just clean air and water for everyone. Quite a step away from what you're used to, huh?"
She smiled, unable to stay afraid in the face of his enthusiasm. "Yup. Very different. And different from Nebez."
Miro laughed. "Ha! Not so many different aliens around here, are there?"
"Although, I was a bit surprised," Eeris said. "The ground beneath my feet…I feel like it should feel different, each new alien planet we go to. But it mostly feels the same."
"Same gravity," Miro nodded. "And all the planets with life are generally the same underneath. Terrestrial, rocky, molten metal core…you get the picture. The difference is who decides to live there, and in Nebez's case…it's everyone! Course, Bajor's just got you Bajorans, and the Steward, might I add, but Earth's got some character itself…humans, yes, but a couple others, as you probably saw just within these holding cells. Not as many as before, though. Federation's collapsed a lot in the last hundred years, lost some of their old territory, and some of the newer planets got taken over, annexed by other galactic powers. It's a mess out there beyond the border, I'm telling you. Still, though. Earth's just about as cosmopolitan as you can get."
"You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you actually liked it here," Eeris said.
Miro shrugged. "It's not Earth I don't like. It's the Federation I stay away from. Thought it was worth it to earn a few bars of platinum—that'll teach me to swing anywhere near it in the future, huh?"
"All this wasn't just because you hate the Federation," Eeris said. "That…that woman, earlier. Naral, was it?"
Miro stiffened. "Yes."
"Something happened between you, didn't it?" Eeris asked. "What was it she said…something about waiting eight months to find you? Why?"
"No big deal," Miro said.
Eeris frowned. "What, no 'I don't want to talk about it'?"
"Well, no!" Miro cried. "It really is no big deal!"
"Then tell me!" Eeris said. "What happened between you two?"
"Nothing you need to worry about, kid," he said with a smile.
But Eeris wasn't fooled. Maybe it was because for all of his tendency to close off when she prodded at a sensitive subject, he was actually pretty transparent about his emotions most of the time, but she could tell when his smiles were false.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "I saw you when you set eyes on her. It was like you'd seen a ghost."
He shrugged. "Yeah, well, maybe I did."
"So tell me," Eeris said. "I know something happened between the two of you. I've never seen you like that."
"And a good thing, too," Miro said. "Imagine that—me, Dax, explorer, surfer of all fate's waves, the only tour guide you've got, cowering before every threat we run across like some kind of…" He shook his head in derision, as if there weren't even words for how shameful that would be.
"Tell me," Eeris said, stepping closer to his cell.
"What makes you think it's any big deal?" he asked, still smiling cheerily. "For all you know, she just shocked me with her new cosmetic workup or something."
Eeris raised a brow. "Seriously?"
He shrugged. "Okay, not my best lie."
"So, what happened?"
He shook his head. "Honestly, kid, it's nothing. Nothing you need to worry about."
She frowned. "Miro, I'm not going to forget about this."
"Yeah, I'll bet," he muttered. "Can I ask you a favor, though?"
"You can ask."
His smile was thin. "Don't talk to her. Please?"
"Don't talk to who, Naral?"
"There's something about her that bothers me," Eeris said. "I want to find out what's going on."
"Well, at the very least, don't ask her about me," Miro said. "Or listen to anything she says about me. Okay, kid? Really, resentment has a way of tainting opinions."
"She resents you? Why?" Eeris asked.
Miro's mouth twisted in a grimace, but he didn't answer.
"Well?" Eeris asked. "Tell me."
"I think not," Miro said. "Believe me, kid, it's not for your ears."
"Fine," Eeris said. "I'll just ask her, then."
Miro looked pained. "Really, kid, is it too much to ask that you don't talk to her about me?"
"Yup," Eeris said. "Unless you want to tell me yourself."
Miro sighed. "Oh, go on, then. Get the story from her, get the wrong idea. Just don't blame me when she paints a horrid picture."
"Fine then." Eeris spun on her heel. "You had your chance. But I want to know what's going on here, and if you won't tell me, I'm gonna ask someone who will. Even if she lies!"
Miro frowned and gave her a strange look that, for once, she couldn't read, before looking away and examining the floor.
"See you around," she said, and walked out of the holding area.
Eeris was surprised when she ran into Naral not far from the doors to security. The Trill was walking down the broad hallway, eating up the floor with long, angry strides. Eeris ran up to her and tried to fall into step next to her, but Naral's pace made it nearly impossible.
"Hi," Eeris said breathlessly. "Naral, right?"
"What do you want?" Naral asked.
"Well, I was just talking to Miro about you…" Eeris said.
"Whatever he told you, he probably lied."
"He hasn't told me anything!"
"Nothing?" Naral blinked at her. "Well, that's different."
"You're sure he hasn't said a word?" Naral asked. "Hasn't even given any hints?"
"He's stubborn as a rock," Eeris said.
"Huh," Naral said, eyes distant. "I guess he really has changed."
"What do you mean?" Eeris asked. "Did he used to be more open?"
"Hella open," Naral agreed. "Couldn't hide from me at all. Told me everything. Until one day he just…didn't."
Eeris frowned. "Wait a second. You're telling me it was sudden? Like, all of a sudden he just…changed? Just like that?"
Naral nodded, jaw tight.
"Tell me about him," Eeris said.
"Why would I do that?"
"Because I want to know," Eeris said. "That man we're talking about—he's my only means of transportation across the galaxy. Without him, I'm lost. He's my ticket to freedom, but if he's…if he's different, not what I think…Naral, I need to know."
Naral softened, finally slowing enough that Eeris could match her stride. "You're traveling with him?"
Eeris shrugged. "Suppose so. Hasn't been long."
"I was with him for a year," Naral said. "Just a year. But before that…I was his friend. A pretty close friend, I might add."
Eeris felt herself drawn to Naral's wistful tone. Who was the man she was missing, if not the Miro that Eeris knew?
"Go on," she breathed.
Naral smiled. "He was the best. And I say that with the utmost certainty. You don't get better than Miro Bain. He was kind, loving…he tried so hard to love it broke my heart. But he also had a streak of daring, of wanderlust, that he couldn't satisfy from our home on Trill. I planned to escape with him, you know. I didn't want the stars like he did, but I would have given him anything. At least we agreed not to leave Federation space…that way, both of us were happy."
"But something changed?" Eeris asked.
"I'm not sure what," Naral said. "Maybe I'll never know. All I know is that, in the blink of an eye, the man I'd fallen in love with since childhood was gone. There was nothing left of him. One moment, he was the Miro I knew…and the next, he was a complete stranger."
"What happened?" Eeris pressed.
"I'm surprised he didn't tell you," Naral said. "He was always so open. So open. But then, I suppose he couldn't help it…things weren't easy for him, back then."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he'd just gotten joined, for one. And he found it…difficult, should we say, to deal with his new memories."
Eeris frowned. "I've never gotten that impression. I mean, he doesn't like to talk about any of his life before he met me, except for a few occasions when he's rambled off about something or other to do with Jadzia or Ezri, but he's not…"
"Then maybe he was right," Naral said, sighing. "Maybe he's better off without me."
"He told you that?"
"Not in so many words," Naral said. "He did go as far as to abandon me on an alien planet, so the message came through pretty loud and clear."
Eeris blinked. "He did what?"
"We discussed it," Naral said. "He wouldn't tell me what I'd done wrong…just that I needed to go. That I needed to leave him, and he needed the Challenger more than I did. So he left me, took off on his own. I suppose I should be glad he's done okay in the interim."
"Okay?" Eeris repeated. "I can't imagine him being not okay. I mean, there was that one moment when that alien on Nebez threatened him, but the most vulnerable I've ever seen him is when he saw you."
"That was his most vulnerable?" Naral asked. "That was nothing."
"That's really as rattled as he gets?" Naral asked.
"At least as far as I've seen," Eeris said.
"Hmm," Naral said. "Must still hate me, then, if the sight of me is what did it."
"Hate you? What? I mean…why…"
"I don't know," Naral said. "You'd have to ask him."
"I tried that," Eeris said. "He keeps insisting it doesn't matter, isn't something I need to worry about!"
Naral sighed. "He really has closed off, hasn't he?"
"Tenfold, if what you've told me is true," Eeris said. "And you don't have any idea why he did this to you?"
Naral shook her head. "The change began after we visited Bajor. But he wouldn't tell me why."
Eeris stared at her, the gears in her brain firing up a storm. Her eyes widened as she made the connection.
"He refuses to go to Bajor," she said. "Says Deep Space Nine is the closest he'll go. He refuses to even talk about what happened there. I always kind of wondered if something especially bad happened…"
Naral nodded. "That makes sense, considering. He must have chosen silence as his new defense mechanism. He hasn't had anyone to talk to for the past year, after all."
"What, and he used to talk to you?"
"He needed me," Naral said. "I mean, he really did. The slightest trigger would send him into a panic. He needed me there, to calm him, distract him, to bring him back down to Earth. If I hadn't been there…" She trailed off.
"You know what happened to him on Bajor, don't you?" Eeris realized.
Naral frowned. "Yes."
Eeris was about to ask more, but stopped. She didn't understand Miro and everything she learned about him turned up more questions than answers, but she at least had the decency to allow him his privacy here. As a rule, she tried not to think about the Kiran elder back home, that one death on her conscience, no matter how accidental it had been. If she didn't want Miro to know about that, then what right did she have to pry into his deepest secrets?
Though she still wanted him to stop being so damn closed off. Something needed to give, and soon.
"He also doesn't like talking about Ezri," Eeris said, moving on from the tempting subject. "He's told me a thing or two about her, but when I tried to pry deeper, he shut me out."
Naral nodded. "That, again, makes sense. Ezri was a source of great trauma for him."
Eeris frowned, trying to line that up with what she knew of Miro. It didn't fit.
"Trauma?" she repeated. "Naral, that doesn't make sense. He just…he isn't like that. He's always calm and collected and he loves the chaos of the galaxy, I've seen it in his eyes. I know he's been through stuff, who wouldn't after twelve hundred years? But nothing that…that painful."
"Think again, kid," Naral said. "Remember who you're talking to. Maybe Miro's changed a lot since I knew him, but I'm betting one thing's still the same. Enduring trauma never was his strong suit. But maybe now he's a bit like water and heat—he'll take a damn lot of it before he blows."
"Seeing you again," Eeris said. "What do you think it did to him? Is he…how is he right now?"
"To be perfectly blunt, I couldn't care less," Naral said, steel creeping back into her tone. "I've exhausted my compassion for that man. I gave him too much to begin with. And I've spent eight months tracking him, luring him home—I'm not going to start caring for him again now."
"At least help me," Eeris said. "I…I know him, Naral, at least I think I do. Whatever he did to you, I don't think he liked doing it. Please…tell me how to help him."
"You're on your own, kid," Naral said. "I'll never in a million years expend energy to help that man. It's far too late for us."
With that, Naral walked off. Eeris stayed put, watching her go, for a long moment.
Miro, leaving a friend as close as Naral behind? Now that she had a moment to think, doubt began to creep in. It was true, after all, that Eeris had known Miro for less than a month. Wasn't it possible that she didn't know him as well as she thought she did? What if he was the man Naral was describing, and there wasn't a missing piece in this puzzle? What if he was planning to leave her behind too, leave her at the mercy of the universe, and never give her a second glance?
Eeris shook her head, trying to banish the through she she headed back to Federation HQ's front doors, but it wouldn't go away. It was just too possible. Miro hadn't even wanted to defend himself when she was talking to him. She'd given him a chance to tell his side of the story, and he'd refused. He'd even gone so far as to ask her not to believe a word Naral said, as if he knew she would give a negative report! But if he'd known that, why not try and defend himself? What if it wasn't just because he was closed off and private? What if it was because he was guilty, and didn't want Eeris to know he was planning to abandon her?
Eeris leaned heavily against the doors and pushed through before heading across the way to the Challenger, swiping one useless shoulder stump across her eyes as she blinked away tears. It wasn't possible, was it? Would Miro leave her?
She climbed up the Challenger's gangplank and it rattled beneath her feet. She ducked into the cockpit and breathed out a sigh of relief to be somewhere familiar. The Challenger wasn't quite home to her yet, but she believed it could be.
Would Miro want that?
She couldn't afford to get comfortable here, she realized. Miro had been able to abandon Naral without a second thought, hadn't he? And Naral had said they'd been close. He'd even been more open with her. He'd trusted Naral more. Comparing Miro then with the Miro that Eeris knew, it was clear he didn't trust Eeris all that much and probably didn't value her company either. And why should he? He was a rogue wanderer who took the entire galaxy under his wing. He had no one and cared for everyone. He couldn't afford to favor one particular Bajoran girl.
Bajoran, Eeris realized. She was Bajoran, and he—according to Naral—had traumatic memories associated with Bajor. Maybe she even reminded him of things he wanted to forget. Yes, she realized, it was certain—he was going to leave her. There was no way in the galaxy he'd want her on board for long.
"Eeris? Are you alright?"
Eeris jumped in her seat as Odo leaned out of the corridor.
"What?" she asked, trying to catch her breath. "Yeah, I'm fine…"
"You're crying," he noted.
"Me? No. Never!" She forced a grin. "Why would I cry? I've got everything I want, I've escaped my home, Miro's gonna ferry us around the galaxy—"
Her voice broke on the last word, and she choked out a sob.
"Eeris?" Odo asked, quickly closing the distance between them. "Eeris, what's wrong?"
She sighed. "It's nothing."
"It doesn't seem like nothing."
"Just leave it, okay?" she snapped. She couldn't handle his gentle, calm voice. It grated against everything she was feeling inside. It seemed almost false to her ears. And how could he possibly care for her? No one did that. Well, maybe except for Miro, and once upon a time, her father. Although Miro probably didn't either…
Another sob tore itself from her throat, and she hung her head, embarrassed.
"Eeris, please," Odo said, sounding lost. "Is there anything I…"
"No," she said. "No, there's nothing you or anyone can do! Now leave me alone, will you?"
"I…if you're sure," he said.
"Damn sure," she said. "This isn't even your job! Damn it, it's for my father to do!"
Odo went still for a millisecond. Then, "I suppose that's…natural. But…he isn't here, is he?"
"No," Eeris choked, hunching in her seat. "He's not."
Odo crept closer and settled stiffly into the pilot's seat across from her. He leaned forward, and Eeris's eyes flicked up to meet his.
"Eeris…" He paused, sighed, and plowed ahead. "Listen to me. Your father may not be here right now, but I promise you, you are not alone. You may be far from home, but Miro will take care of you as soon as we get this legal mess cleared up, and I'm here. You have us, Eeris."
She shuddered. "But that's just the point, isn't it."
He tilted his head. "What is?"
"Miro's not going to take care of me. Why would he? He doesn't care about me, he just met me!"
Odo straightened in surprise. "What makes you think that?"
"Doesn't matter, does it?" Eeris brushed her shoulder stump across her eyes. "It's true."
"Now, I'd be the first to admit I haven't known Dax for nine hundred years, but he's still Dax, Eeris." Odo's expression was softer than she'd ever seen it, and she could almost believe his sentiment was genuine. "Compassionate to a fault, and in your case, utterly unable to neglect someone in need."
"But I don't want to be in need," Eeris said. "And I don't want him to care for me because he feels obligated!"
Odo frowned. "I'm sure that couldn't be further from the truth. Miro cares for you, Eeris, why would you—?"
"Because that's what Naral said," Eeris blurted. "She told me he left her behind! Marooned her on an alien planet! And they were close, Odo, they were friends, she said since childhood! If he could do that to her, what's he going to to do me? He doesn't care!"
Odo was silent for a moment. "I'm sure that if he did that, he had a reason. I'd like to talk to him about this."
"Good luck with that when you can't even get in the building," Eeris said.
"Then perhaps I'd better talk to Naral instead," Odo said thoughtfully. "Eeris…do you think you could direct her here? Maybe I'll have more luck in getting the full story."
"You don't think I tried hard enough," Eeris said.
"I don't think you know Dax very well," Odo corrected. "You're forgetting, I knew him when he was Jadzia. I think I know a thing or two about what Dax is capable of, and that doesn't include marooning close friends."
"You sound pretty sure about that," Eeris said. "You should have heard Naral. She wasn't lying."
Her own words from her conversation with Miro pricked the back of her consciousness—that she'd get the story from Naral, even if the other Trill lied.
"You may be right," Odo agreed. "It could simply be a matter of miscommunication…in any case, I'd like to talk to her."
"I'll pass the message along," Eeris said dryly. "Assuming I see her again."
Odo chuckled. "Oh, I don't think we've seen the last of her."