Miro stood when Naral approached his cell. He owed her that courtesy, at least, after what he'd done to her. And now that he'd gotten over the shock of seeing her again—even if the sight of her was still bringing up unpleasant memories he'd thought long since buried—he could face her with dignity.
"Naral," he said. "You betrayed me to the border patrol, didn't you?"
She smiled. "Figured that out, did you?"
"It wasn't hard. We're the only two left who know the Challenger's schematics. You must've told them what to look for, where to find me."
"Surprise," she said.
Miro folded his arms. "Not much of one."
"You know," she said, "I've spent a lot of time over the past few months, thinking about what you did to me. Wondering how the man I used to love could possibly change into you."
"I'm sorry," Miro said.
"It's too late for that."
Miro laughed bitterly. "Yeah, same."
"You never did come back for me," Naral said.
He shoved his hands into his pockets, knowing there was nothing he could say that would help. So why waste his breath? He'd damaged their friendship irreparably, and the worst part of it was, he didn't even regret it. Although, in his defense, the wounds she had inflicted weren't the kind one easily forgot. Still, he secretly wondered if some small part of him missed her and wanted her forgiveness, just as he had once looked to her as an example. But even if that was the case, it didn't matter. The life he'd built for himself, the life he loved and was proud of, didn't include her in it.
What he did regret was the way he'd left her. But at the time, he hadn't seen another option—he hadn't exactly been thinking with his brain.
"Miro," she said softly, "if I asked you what I did so wrong, would you tell me?"
"As if you don't already know," he said.
She glared at him. "How could I possibly know?"
He glared right back.
Naral sighed. "Maybe it was foolish of me…but I thought maybe…things would be different. I'm never gonna forgive you, don't get me wrong, but I hoped…"
"Hoped what?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Never mind, it's stupid."
Miro remembered a time, just over a year ago, when he would have reassured her that he was her friend and would never think any less of her. Her best friend in fact. But he couldn't possibly tell her that now. He had made exceptions for a lot of people over the years, knowing that people did strange things when they were hurt, but he couldn't find it within himself to do the same for Naral—not after everything she'd put him through. It tugged at his heart, that he couldn't give her the reassurance he wanted to. Instead, he stood in silence, wishing things could be different. He hoped that somewhere out there in the great expanse of the multiverse, there was a pair of them that had actually done things right, and had nurtured their friendship while they still could.
Naral, to his surprise, spoke up without his prompting, her voice suddenly accusing.
"I thought you might regret it," she bit out. "I thought you might…talk me out of hating you. But you don't even care, do you?"
Her words were a direct punch to the gut, and she didn't even realize it. The weight of his mistakes suddenly too much to bear, Miro sank down onto his sterile prison bench and hunched forward. He couldn't meet her eyes.
Naral seemed to mistake his silence for affirmation. "I knew it."
He squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't stand it—she still, after all this time, held a direct key to his heart—but he deserved this. Every last minute of it. It would be wrong of him—wrong—to deflect her punches.
"I guess that's my cue, then," Naral said. "If there's no chance that you'll…I don't know…take everything back…not that it would make any difference if you did…"
"No chance," he confirmed.
She nodded. "My turn with the Challenger, then?"
He flinched. "What?"
"Hey, fair's fair," she snapped. "You've had her for a year, and I've been marooned."
"Naral," he whispered. "You can't."
"Oh, that got you, didn't it?" she smirked.
He stared at her.
"Wow, you love that ship." She smiled. "What would you do if you lost her, Miro? Where would you be?"
Miro's jaw opened and closed, uncomprehending. Where was she going with this?
"I think you loved her more than me," Naral said. "Well, is that it, Miro? Is that why you could never quite fall for me? You loved our ship too much?"
He frowned. "Naral—"
She held up a hand. "I'm not finished."
His jaw snapped shut.
"What if you lost her?" Naral asked, her smile wide. "What would happen?"
Miro blinked rapidly, refusing to even picture that. If he lost the Challenger, his only home left in the universe…it didn't bear thinking about.
"I'll bet you'd be devastated, wouldn't you?" Naral said, looking like the cat that got the cream. "You wouldn't have anything left. I've kept informed about you, Miro. You'd have no way to fly across the galaxy and save the day at everyone's beck and call! Losing her…it'd be a death knell, wouldn't it?"
Miro glared at her, unable to express how right she was. The words were stuck in his throat; he hadn't tried to express himself verbally in over a year. He wished she'd just shut up—the Challenger was literally everything he had, he couldn't lose her.
"Then I'll bet that'd show you how I felt, hmm?" Naral said. "Give you a taste of your own medicine?"
"Naral," Miro pleaded unthinkingly.
She grinned. "Oh, this is brilliant! Thought with your reputation, you'd have cottoned on to my plan by now, but that really threw you for a loop."
"What?" He blinked. "Naral, are you just having me on? No, wait, why would you do that? But…wait…Naral, make your point already!"
"The Challenger's mine," Naral said. "Well, half mine, that is. And while you're tied up in court, I'm gonna take her."
All the air left Miro's lungs in a rush and he felt lightheaded for the first time since leaving Naral, when he'd been prone to flashbacks and disorientation. Damn it, didn't she see the indecency in kicking him when he was already down? She'd hurt him enough a year ago, and he'd paid her for it, albeit a little too harshly—why did she have to come back and try to rip the rug out from under his feet now?
She grinned. "Wow, that really got you."
"Naral, you can't!" he cried.
"There's the Miro I remember," Naral said. "Desperate, no confidence, terrified. Shoulda known this would take you down a few pegs, especially after you were so desperate to keep her. Well, now you'll know how I felt, Miro. Losing you-I loved you. But you loved the Challenger more, didn't you? And now I'm going to take her from you."
You never loved me, Miro thought. Nothing you ever did was love.
"Naral, please," he said. "Don't. I'll do anything."
"Even sacrifice that Bajoran friend of yours?" Naral asked.
Just like that, Miro's composure snapped.
"Sacrifice?" he yelled. "She's flesh and blood! How dare you? How can you even—"
"That Founder friend of yours has a ship, I'm sure," Naral said. "How else did he get here from the Gamma Quadrant? They'll go on without you. If I can't have you, no one can, Miro."
"You don't understand," Miro said. "The galaxy isn't safe for Eeris. Viresa's planning something, she's going to dismantle everything I've worked for, I can't—"
"Oh, this is even better than I thought!" Naral crowed, laughing. "Miro Dax, galactic hero, felled by a holding cell! Oh, you'll be chafing at the reins now, won't you? What'll that be like, stuck here, following the course of justice, while Viresa herself brings everything you've ever built without me crashing to the ground?"
"Naral, this is bigger than me," he said, fighting to keep his voice even. "The whole galaxy is at stake. If you need to hurt me, go ahead, but please, anything but this!"
"Oh, I don't think so," Naral said. "I'm as tired of letting the universe mess with me as you are. If you think, even for a second, that I'm going to let you keep the Challenger and do what you do best, then you are sorely mistaken."
"Naral!" Miro shouted. "Come with me. Make my very existence hell. Disparage me every chance you get, if that's what it takes! Just don't let the galaxy suffer for this, I'm begging you!"
Naral smiled. "I like that, you begging. Do it again."
Miro's jaw dropped, beyond shocked. But needs must, no matter how humiliating it would be—with barely a second thought, he dropped to his knees before her, gazing up at her in what he hoped passed for supplication. He chafed at the indignity—it was as unfair as unfair got—but he had no choice, if it meant he could keep the galaxy out of harm's way. If it meant he could make it a safe place for Eeris to live in, beyond the shelter of her rather xenophobic people.
Naral, however, didn't seem even remotely moved. "Oh, Miro! Look at you! Is there no end to how good you'll make this?"
"So glad I amuse you," he snapped, jaw throbbing with anger.
"Of course, it makes no difference," she added. "I'm still taking the Challenger, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
"Nothing?" Miro repeated. "Nothing? Naral, just think, just for a second. If you do this, I won't be the monster here!"
"And you would dare call me a monster," Naral said. "After everything we've been through. I don't even know why you bother, Miro. The galaxy isn't that great a place. What good has it ever done you?"
"Not much," Miro admitted. "But you don't understand. This is so, so much bigger than me. I've been around a long time, Naral, and as Dax, I know the galaxy is so much more wonderful than that. These past nine hundred years, it's been spiraling into chaos, but if you could've seeing back then—fate, Naral, it just needs a little help! Help from me, Naral. Please, don't stop me."
"You don't have a case," Naral said. "Goodbye, Miro."
She spun on her heel and marched away.
"Naral, wait!" he cried, scrambling to his feet.
She stopped and turned, glaring daggers.
"At least let me say goodbye to the Challenger before you go," Miro said.
Naral laughed. "You're even more clueless than I thought. Like I'd let you play any tricks, Miro."
He stood helplessly, arms spread at his sides. As she disappeared from his sight, he absently touched his forcefield with the fingers of one hand, the stark reality of his situation hitting home.
He was still gazing down the hallway, dazed, when Eeris came running around the corner.
"Has Naral been here?" she gasped out, stopping before his cell. "Odo wants to talk to her."
"Just missed her, actually," Miro said distantly, sinking down onto his bench.
"Are you alright?" Eeris asked.
Her words barely registered as Miro stared into the middle distance. And he'd thought Viresa's plans were bad enough. He'd never imagined that he'd one day run up against Naral and consider her an enemy equal almost to the Romulan empress, with both the motive to tear and claw at the foundations of his world and the means to do so. He dragged his hands over his face, his responsibility to oppose Naral and fight his own one-time best friend sitting him anew.
"Miro," Eeris said, inching closer.
He sighed, pulling his hands from his face, but he couldn't find the energy to straighten his shoulders. "I'm sorry, kid."
"What for?" Eeris asked.
"I've failed you," Miro said. "I've lost the Challenger."
She frowned. "What do you mean, lost?"
"Naral means to take her," Miro said.
"So we'll stop her," Eeris said. "Odo and I. We won't let her go."
Miro chuckled, unconvinced. "I'm sure she's flying away from here as we speak."
"What about Odo, though?" Eeris asked. "He wouldn't just let her get away."
"Just watch her," Miro said, setting his head in his hands. "Naral is one determined woman. And I'd bet my ship she's gotten even more determined since we knew one another. She'd have to, to survive in the galaxy on her onw."
"She told me what you did to her," Eeris said.
"And I asked you not to listen to her," Miro said.
"Hold on a second," Eeris said. "Where is she right now?"
"Stealing the Challenger, I imagine," Miro shrugged. "While I'm stuck in this holding cell, helpless."
"Oh my god," Eeris said, and bolted down the hall.
Miro sighed, watching her go for a moment before burying his face in his hands and shutting his eyes. What he wouldn't give for someone like what Naral used to be to him…someone he could depend on no matter what, someone who could ease the strain of the galaxy on his shoulders. Someone who could help him make the difficult decisions, just this once. It wasn't easy, being the only Trill alive who hadn't just lived this long, but who had been on the front lines of every major battle in the last twelve hundred years—he alone carried the burden of all the people in the galaxy who suffered, day to day. He was the only one in any position to stop misfortune. Not that he always succeeded.
But he had no one like that, no one to be at his side. And Naral's choices didn't change the fact of the matter—he was still responsible for Eeris's safety, even if he could barely guarantee his own. He shuddered, just for a moment allowing himself to feel Dax's burden.
But a moment later, he pulled himself together, scraping his hands over his face and blinking away the tears that pricked the backs of his eyes. It had been irresponsible on his part to let Eeris see his moment of weakness. She depended on him entirely—she needed his support, no matter what, and she needed to believe in hi. Even if he had a strong suspicion that they were about to find themselves without a ship.
What would he do then, with no way to ferry her about the universe and keep her happy? No easy way to be everywhere he was needed, fix every major dispute that arose?
He was Dax, he reasoned. He'd find a way.