“I said, get out. NOW.”
Miro’s own words still rang in his ears long after Eeris had spun on her heel and marched away. Some distant part of his mind, the part that had promised to keep her safe, registered the tears that had welled in her eyes, but mostly he was overcome with anger. It took a good few minutes to get himself under control, forcing deep breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth.
But the anger drained away, leaving him with nothing but the persistent ache that had been clawing at his chest from the moment Naral had approached him outside Federation Headquarters. He sank down onto his bench and buried his face in his hands. It was too much. First Naral had to show up, and now Eeris was hounding him for answers more than ever before. When he’d first offered to take her on board, he hadn’t expected that admirable tenacity of hers to lead to this. He supposed he should have thought it through more. But apparently this was what he got for making snap decisions in a moment of loneliness.
Suddenly, he heard the soft slap of footsteps around the corner. He looked up and instantly regretted it. It was Naral. He looked away immediately; he refused to give her the satisfaction of speaking to his face. Not after what she’d done, not after she had the nerve to drag him back down memory lane.
“Here to gloat?” he muttered.
Her eyes crinkled. “I can’t believe you think so little of me.”
“I know you betrayed me to the border patrol,” Miro said. “Safe to say my opinion of you isn’t too high right now.”
“Miro, I didn’t have a choice,” she said.
“The hell you didn’t.”
“I’m worried about you,” she said.
He laughed bitterly. “Yeah, you should be.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. What could possibly be wrong?” He shot her a scathing look. “Oh, that’s right. You’re here.”
“I don’t understand,” she said. “What did I ever do to you?”
“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 know you don’t feel the same way I do, don’t get me wrong, but I hoped…”
Despite himself, his gaze softened. She was his friend. Their differences had come between them in the last few months before everything had changed, but she had always been his friend, his partner in crime. Even a betrayal deeper than words could describe and two years of distance couldn’t dull those memories. It hurt to see her hurting, and he knew he should stop caring for her, but he couldn’t help it.
“Hoped what?” he asked, standing and tentatively approaching the forcefield of his cell.
She hesitated, then blurted, “I thought you might finally regret it. You know, running away from me, after I tried to help you.”
“Help me?” Miro retorted, most of his affection for her melting away. “How does leaving our home at the mercy of the Klingons in any way count as helping me?”
“I saved your life,” Naral said.
“Yeah,” Miro bit out. “At the expense of millions!”
“There was nothing you could do!”
“Well, we’ll never know that, will we?” he snapped. “Considering I was unconscious for most of it!”
“Oh, no. You don’t get to pretend you’re innocent in this,” Miro said. “Who was it who knocked me out in the first place?”
“I was trying to protect you!”
“Protect me, maybe,” Miro said. “Our families? Everyone else who died that day? Not so much!”
“Miro,” Naral said, “how many times do I have to tell you that’s not our job? That’s for Starfleet to do!”
Miro shook his head. “No, I’m not having this argument with you. Not again.”
Naral sighed. “You’re not going to stop, are you?”
“You’ll just keep playing the hero,” she said. “You’ll keep trying to throw your life away, no matter what I do to stop you.”
“Glad to see we finally understand each other,” Miro said.
Naral chuckled. “Yeah, but there’s something you still don’t realize. I never stopped loving you.”
“Oh, as if love is what you feel for me!”
“No, no. Hear me out.” She held up a hand, and he snapped his jaw shut. “I never stopped loving you. And that means I’ll always do everything in my power to keep you safe.” She paused. “Even if that means taking the Challenger from you.”
A lead weight dropped in his stomach. “What?”
“You heard me,” Naral said. “I’m taking the Challenger away from you. Clearly, you can’t be trusted to have a ship of your own—you’ll just keep diving into danger.”
“Naral, how can you?” Miro cried. “She’s all I’ve got, you know that! You can’t just—”
“If it means saving your life?” Naral said. “I can, and I will.”
“You don’t understand,” Miro said. “The galaxy isn’t safe! Viresa’s planning something, she’s going to dismantle everything I’ve worked for, she’s going to plunge this whole galaxy into ruin! You can’t leave me without a ship!”
“No, you don’t understand,” Naral said. “This isn’t about the galaxy. This is about you—and keeping you safe.”
“Naral, this is bigger than me,” he said, fighting to keep his voice even. “It’s bigger than the Federation. It’s bigger than the Alpha Quadrant! The whole galaxy is at stake!”
Naral frowned. “What do you mean, the whole galaxy?”
“I mean, the whole galaxy,” Miro growled. “Naral, the Dominion’s coming!”
“Now I know you’ve lost it,” Naral scoffed. “That’s not possible. We haven’t had any contact with them in hundreds of years.”
“No, I’ve heard enough. You just won’t stop,” Naral said. “There’s no way I can let you keep playing the hero. You’re a danger to yourself.”
Miro groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Naral,” he said through gritted teeth, “when will you get it through to your head that the galaxy needsme? Now, more than ever!”
“The galaxy needs Starfleet,” Naral said. “And the Klingon military, and the Cardassian military, and every other military force there is. That’s their job, Miro. To protect civilians like us. To give up their lives in the name of peace, in the name of freedom, so that wedon’t have to.”
Miro studied her, clenching his jaw against the torrent of emotion he’d been holding back since the moment he’d seen her. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that argument from her. But back then, he’d still clung to that tiny, desperate hope that they could still be friends, that their values hadn’t already diverged so completely they’d never be able to see eye to eye again. That first time, when she had argued so fervently for him to stand back, to live a life of cowardice, and let Starfleet do its job, he hadn’t truly believed that he’d already lost her.
He saw that now, with the clarity of two years’ separation. It didn’t make it hurt any less.
“Naral,” Miro said carefully. “After all these years, after everything we’ve been through…do you really want to throw that away?”
“That’s why I’m doing this,” Naral said. “I want to keep you safe.”
He took a deep breath. “And there’s nothing I can do to stop you?”
Naral shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Well, then.” Miro shoved his hands in his pockets and looked her straight in the eye. “Go ahead, give me your worst. Because believe me, Naral, I’ve seen a lot of this galaxy. I’ve taken on foes you wouldn’t believe, fought in wars no one thought could end. You have no idea who you’re going up against.”
She lifted her chin. “Fine, then. If that’s how you’re gonna be.” She smirked a little. “Don’t think that whole ‘I’m so old’ speech is gonna scare me.”
Miro retreated back to his bench and sank down, barely catching her smug grin before she darted out of the security area. He scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed, wishing for the simplicity of his life just two months ago. He’d been alone then, after having traveled without Naral for two years. He’d begun to crave humanoid contact like nothing else, and it had impeded his judgement. Now, not only was he stuck in a holding cell with Naral and Eeris free to hound him as they pleased, but Benjamin was watching oh-so-subtly over his shoulder, Odo was hanging out just outside the building, and Viresa was ready to bring the galaxy’s unsteady foundations crumbling down any minute.
His life had never felt so chaotic. And that was saying something—he’d fought on the front lines of wars, watched the shifting tides of alliances, for twelve hundred years now. But at least his personal life had never felt thrown off balance. In the last century or so, he didn’t even have much of a personal life.
Miro had no real way to gauge the passage of time in this infernal cell, so he wasn’t at all sure how much time had passed before he heard a very distinctive trickle of liquid. He shot to his feet just as an amber column rose from the floor outside his cell and Odo solidified into humanoid form.
After traveling with Odo for the better part of two months, Miro was starting to get used to the way just the sight of the Changeling triggered memories of phaser fire in that Bajoran valley so long ago. It was a little annoying to be assaulted with flashbacks now after having controlled them perfectly for the last two years, but he could ignore them if he just didn’t close his eyes and focused on his real surroundings. Still, he was afraid that if he let Odo stay on board the Challenger for much longer, his control was going to slip.
“Oh, as if it’s not bad enough!” Miro cried. “What the hell are you doing here?” A second too late, he remembered their truce and added, “Sorry, sorry, I know, moving past.”
Odo glanced in either direction before tentatively approaching his cell. “It’s alright, Miro. I’m well aware this trip has awakened some…unpleasant memories for you.”
“Yeah, you can say that again.” Miro scrubbed one hand over his face with a groan. “But never mind that. What are you doing here, Odo? And what made you decide to sneak in like that?”
“Apparently the Federation isn’t too fond of Changelings,” Odo said. “I was stopped outside the front doors when Eeris and I tried to approach.”
“Ah, right, shoulda guessed.” Miro frowned. “But you still haven’t told me why you’re here.”
“I want to help you,” Odo said.
Miro blinked. “What?”
“Miro, you’re wanted for legitimate transgressions against Federation law,” Odo said. “And normally, I would side with the authorities. But like you said before, the galaxy needs you…and I have to admit, after the conversation I just had with Eeris, I think you need someone on your side.”
Miro sighed. “Ironic, that it’s going to be you.”
“I don’t suppose I can ask what I did wrong?”
Miro groaned. “What is it with everyone wanting to dig up my past today?”
“I’m sorry,” Odo said. “I shouldn’t have…”
“No, no, no.” Miro waved him off, in no mood to linger on the subject. “You said you wanted to help me. How?”
Seamlessly, Odo switched gears, and Miro had to appreciate the deep understanding his old friend had for privacy. “I’ve been doing some research,” he said. “Looking into loopholes that would allow you to escape a prison sentence.”
Miro straightened. “What’ve you got? Anything good?”
“It does look promising,” Odo said. “And I’ve found precedents that would allow me to represent you in court, if you appoint me.”
“Oh, good,” Miro sighed in relief. “Federation lawyers are rubbish.”
Odo gave him a discerning look that said he didn’t believe him, but wasn’t going to push the subject. “There is, of course, the small matter of my even getting near a Federation official, in order to announce my intention to represent you…”
Miro waved him off again. “Oh, never mind that. You got in the holding area, didn’t you?”
Odo looked at him evenly. “I’d prefer not to engender distrust around here.”
“Hell, that’s never gonna happen,” Miro said. “Nothing you can do about that. But since when do you need trust to represent me in court? I’ve never met a lawyer I trusted. You just have to follow the rules, and you’ve got the credentials to show them you will.”
Odo sighed. “I suppose you’re right, but…”
“No buts,” Miro said. “Now come on, tell me what you’ve found already.”
Odo’s response was immediate. “Starfleet’s case against you is strong. Vigilante justice is technically against the law, and you fit every stereotype. But their entire case rests on your status as a Federation citizen, since you haven’t even come near Federation space in all the time you’ve been acting as a vigilante. If we can get them to see you as a separate entity and not part of the Federation, they won’t have a case.”
“Well, I’m kinda screwed there, aren’t I?” Miro said. “I am a Federation citizen, whether I like it or not. There’s no legal process for splitting off.”
“Actually,” Odo said, smiling, “there may be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What do you know about the Maquis?” Odo asked.
Miro frowned. “Your basic fringe group. You know who they are, Odo—they’ve been around since practically the beginning. We dealt with them back on Deep Space Nine.”
Odo nodded. “Yes, I remember. But I’m talking about the present day. What do you know about their legal situation?”
Miro shrugged. “The Federation hasn’t bothered with them in a few hundred years. They’re pretty much considered autonomous now—there were a few disagreements back in the day, but it’s mostly smoothed out. They’re not viewed as their own separate government like the Klingons or the Tholians or the rest, but they’re not subject to Federation law either. What does that matter, Odo?”
“It matters,” Odo said, an excited glint dawning in his eyes, “because that story sounds very familiar, wouldn’t you say?”
Miro’s brows furrowed. “You’re comparing me to the Maquis? First of all, there’s a whole group of them—I travel alone. And second, they’re dissidents, rebels. Not heroes. I don’t see them rising up to defend the galaxy from the latest crisis.”
“Which makes your case even stronger,” Odo said. “Like you said, the Federation has ignored the Maquis for several hundred years. They’re not considered a threat…and yet they’re definitely not trying the same heroics you are. You don’t just deserve the same legal autonomy as the Maquis—you’re better. I think the Federation would do well to consider you an ally.”
“You really think that’s gonna fly in court?” Miro asked.
Odo smirked. “Do you doubt my ability to present your case?”
“That’s not really the problem.” Miro swallowed. “You’re good, Constable. Best law enforcement officer there is. I’ve never doubted your ability to handle yourself in a courtroom. But representing me? You’re a little too friendly with the law.”
“That’s exactly what you need right now,” Odo said. “Miro, from what I’ve seen, you don’t like to follow the rules. And for the most part, that lifestyle works for you. But you may have just stumbled into the one situation that won’t be solved by outrunning the law. If you trust me, I can get you out of this. But if you don’t, there’s nothing I can do for you.”
Miro snorted. “How the hell am I supposed to trust you?”
“Trust the security officer in me,” Odo said. “And the part of me that’s still dedicated to our friendship, even if you aren’t.”
The reference to their friendship smarted, but Miro ignored his anger in favor of their truce—and Odo did have a point. “Yeah, I suppose. Don’t have a choice, do I? Someone’s got to represent me, and it better not be a Federation lawyer—I’d never stand a chance.”
Odo nodded. “That’s settled, then. Can I assume the dates and times of high-profile hearings like yours are still public record in the Federation?”
“Unfortunately,” Miro grimaced. “I mean, hey, at least if I lose, I’ll go out with a bang.”
Odo regarded him. “That’s not happening. Not on my watch.”
“So you keep saying,” Miro said.
Odo sighed. “Miro, I’ll look up when your hearing has been scheduled for. In the meantime, I think I’d better brush up on the fine print of Federation law. You never know when it could become crucial to a defense. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“You better be,” Miro said. “Don’t think I’m letting you plan out my entire defense yourself.”
Odo leveled him a speculative look, but if he was wounded at all by Miro’s lack of trust, he didn’t show it. “Of course.”
Odo turned around and melted back into a gelatinous golden column before shrinking back into the floor until his form was indistinguishable from the white tiling. Miro watched him go with a sigh, before settling back onto his bench and setting his chin in his hands. He wasn’t used to being this helpless. He was usually the one who swooped in on his ship to save the day. He didn’t ask permission, didn’t rely on anyone—he just did what he had to do. Now he was stuck in a holding cell, completely reliant on a being he didn’t even trust if he was going to get out of this mess and stop Viresa from sending the galaxy into ruins.
But Miro knew that if there was one thing he could trust, it was Odo’s dedication to the law, to order, to honesty. And in a world that didn’t trust him simply because he was a Changeling, he wouldn’t dare make a wrong move. Odo was too cautious for that, too wary of criticism. Miro would just have to hope that after nine hundred years, Odo’s skills as a security chief weren’t too rusty.