For a while, Eeris lost all track of time. She didn’t even feel the rain until her clothes were thoroughly soaked, her pants beginning to cling awkwardly to her body with every step. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been walking. Minutes, hours; did it even matter? She shivered, shoulders hunched against the cold, and wished fervently for her arms. But thoughts of her arms only took her mind back to the one place she was unwilling to go: Odo.
She wasn’t ready to face him again. His eyes had a way of seeming to drill down into her very soul, until she felt splayed open, her transgressions laid bare. And it wasn’t just that—she had the sinking feeling that she’d been right all along, when she’d guessed that her words did make a dent in his armor. He just had no intention of showing her how hurt he was, and every intention of being there for her regardless. He had vehemently defended Miro’s privacy, but made no such defense of his own. Eeris was beginning to think he never would.
She didn’t deserve him.
Eeris had been plowing through the untended brush behind the headquarters building for what seemed like ages when the thickness of the underbrush finally forced her to come to a stop. Now and then, she’d felt something hard and uneven beneath her feet; she suspected this area might once have been an open field, perhaps with concrete pathways, but there was no way to tell for sure. There seemed to be hundreds of years of overgrowth here. Tangled vines wormed their way across the ground and twigs snagged at her wet clothes.
She turned around, shivering. The overgrowth shielded her from the rain somewhat, but the water coating the leaves still splattered her. Through the curtain of rain ahead, she could see the vague shape of the headquarters building rising up ahead, not too far away. Eeris shook herself and started plowing back the way she’d come. It made no sense to stay out here in the cold and the rain, waiting until the chill sank into her bones.
Eventually, Eeris broke clear of the bushes and rounded the side of the headquarters building. She picked up the pace, knowing the Challenger was only a short distance away. She squinted, wishing she had a hand to shield her eyes from the rain, but couldn’t make out its shape. It was only when she’d spent several more minutes walking, still with no sign of the ship, that she started to worry.
It couldn’t be gone…could it?
Eeris broke into a run, trying not to panic, but there was still no sign of the Challenger. Honestly, where could a ship of its size hide? It was small, but it was still a whole ship, and she was certain it had been parked somewhere nearby. She should have found it by now.
The gangplank had been down when she’d left. Maybe if she called, Odo would hear her.
“Odo?” she called.
Her voice was lost in the crash of the rain.
Eeris’s chest rose and fell with the pounding of her heart. What had happened? Where was it? What was she supposed to do?
Her head whipped around to face the behemoth of the headquarters building, a dark shape rising out of the ground nearby. Miro was in there. Miro, the man who’d taken her on board his ship with barely any questions, who’d accepted her into his life and given her the out she’d wanted all her life. Miro, the man who’d promised to show her the galaxy and asked for nothing in return. Miro, the man who’d insisted on protecting her even when she said she didn’t need it.
She didn’t think. She just started running, her feet carrying her towards Federation Headquarters of their own accord. She passed the guards by, barely mumbling a plea before the doors were held open for her and she was ushered inside. Her feet pounded down the hallway as she made a beeline for the security area, heedless to the water and mud that trailed in her wake. She only stopped to catch her breath for the requisite security scan, and then she was pushing through the security doors, into the holding area.
And standing before Miro Dax. Who was now sitting on his bench, the picture of dejection, shoulders hunched and face in his hands. And she remembered that she had no business talking to him at all. Shehad done this to him. If he was hurting, she had no one to blame but herself.
She turned to leave, but it was too late. He’d already looked up at her.
“Eeris,” he said, standing.
Eeris shifted on her feet. “Hi.”
“What are you doing here?”
Right. The last thing he’d said to her…had been to get out. She hadn’t left of her own accord.
“Um…sorry,” she said. “I’ll leave.”
She turned to go again, but his voice stopped her.
She turned back to face him, frowning. After everything she’d said to him, after the way she’d demanded answers he had every right not to give, he asked her what was wrong?
But then she realized that she did need to tell him. It wasn’t about her. The Challenger was his ship, and he had a right to know she was gone.
“It’s the Challenger,” she said quietly. “It’s…it’s gone.”
For the space of an instant, his expression didn’t even shift. It was as if her words plunged it into an ice age, and the not-quite-smile he was giving her froze on his face, stopping just short of his eyes. And then his whole body seemed to melt, the light draining from his eyes and his shoulders drooping as he sank bonelessly onto his bench.
Eeris stared at him, not quite sure what to make of this, and certain any words out of her mouth would be hurtful.
“Is Odo gone, too?” Miro asked suddenly.
Eeris blinked, shaking herself. “I called out to him, but he didn’t hear me.”
“Well,” Miro said, “that certainly complicates things.”
“Are you alright?” Eeris asked without thinking.
He glared at her, the first eye contact he’d made since he’d ordered her out. “What do you think?”
Eeris flinched and fixed her eyes on the floor. “Sorry.”
She looked up, deciding to take a chance. “I really am, you know.”
“No, I don’t know.”
She winced. That was not a good way to phrase an apology.
“Miro,” she said, silently willing him to look at her again. “I’m sorry.”
She was gratified when he reluctantly met her gaze, but the sheer distrust swimming in those emerald depths almost made her lose her nerve. “Are you, really?”
She nodded. “Odo gave me a piece of his mind, believe me. Forced me to see how selfish I’ve been. Forced me to realize that I’d hurt you…not the other way around.”
Miro sighed and stood, shoving his hands in his pockets. He wandered to the front of his cell, and his casual pace reassured Eeris, but the dejection that still seemed to weigh down his every movement tempered her relief.
“Kid, I don’t even know what to say to you. I promised I’d show you the galaxy, and I promised I’d keep you safe. I’m not going to let you down. But I can’t trust you. I tried that with Naral, and you can see how that worked out. I promised myself I wouldn’t make the same mistake with you.” He smiled wryly. “And look what happened. I did it anyway.”
Eeris nodded, biting her lip and blinking back tears. She had earned this. She deserved this.
“Alright,” she nodded.
Miro blinked. “What?”
“Alright,” she repeated. “I don’t expect you to trust me. Why should I, after what I said to you?”
The corner of Miro’s mouth quirked up. “That’s not quite the fight I expected.”
“Yeah, well,” she said, shifting on her feet, “I’d like to think I don’t rebel all the time.”
Miro nodded, a small chuckle escaping. “It’s a start.”
Eeris allowed herself a tentative smile. Maybe she hadn’t ruined things between them completely.
And then she realized something else—maybe Miro wasn’t going to confide in her, but she could at least show him she cared. She had the perfect opportunity. For once, she knew exactly what was bothering him—the loss of the Challenger—and she thought she remembered Naral mentioning something about him losing his home.
“I’m sorry about the Challenger, too,” she said, taking an uncertain step forward.
Miro grimaced, but finally seemed to shake off the melancholy that gripped him. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll figure it out.”
“Pretty sure it matters to you,” Eeris said.
He shot her a warning look. “Eeris…”
She shook her head. “I’m not gonna press.”
“Not this time.”
Miro nodded slowly, watching her.
“I just…I know it’s not just about me,” Eeris said. “I’m not gonna press, promise. But Naral mentioned something about you losing your home, and I know what the Challenger means to you, and…” She broke off, eyeing the floor. “It’s just, I know you’re having a hard time here.”
Miro’s brows furrowed.
“I’m not asking you to talk,” Eeris rushed on. “I’m just saying, I know it’s not just about me.”
Miro nodded again.
“…Anyway.” Eeris shifted awkwardly and took a step back. “Maybe I should…go.”
“No, don’t go.”
She stopped, daring to look up at him. A soft smile, the first he’d given her in who knew how long, graced his features.
“And how are you doing?” he asked. “I know I’ve effectively stranded you.”
Eeris shook her head vehemently. “This isn’t your fault. You just wanted to sell a book. Naral’s the one who trapped us here. And I still don’t really know the full story there, but…”
She trailed off, suddenly remembering her conversation with Naral. Naral had implicated Miro in all this. Miro was the one who’d left her, after she saved his life. Miro was the one who took the Challenger and left her on Earth. Miro was the one who’d blamed her, when all she’d ever done was help him.
She frowned. None of that made any sense, and it clashed with what she knew about Miro. He could have left her behind on Deep Space Nine. He didn’t—he took her on board with barely a second thought. And he had shown that he cared for her. That didn’t sound like the man who’d left a friend behind.
“But…?” he asked.
Eeris looked up at him, curiosity and confusion warring with her desire to prove she could respect his privacy. “I just…don’t understand.”
He set his hands on his hips. “What else did Naral tell you?”
“That you left her behind,” Eeris said. “That she saved your life, and you’ve always hated her for it.”
To her surprise, Miro barked out a laugh. “Oh, for fate’s sake. I should have known she’d take any opportunity to twist up the story.”
“So what really happened?” she asked. Then she cringed. “Sorry. I shouldn’t ask.”
Miro chuckled. “No, it’s alright. Just this once. I might as well set the story straight.” He paused to retreat back to his bench, but this time, he kept eye contact. “She’s right—she might very well have saved my life. But that’s not why I hate her. And I don’t even hate her, really. I mean, in the strongest sense of the word, I don’t even hate Viresa. I’m angry with Naral, yes. But I don’t hate her.”
“Why, then?” Eeris asked.
Miro took a deep breath and clasped his hands, hunching forward. “She betrayed me.”
Eeris waited, loath to push him before he was ready. When he didn’t say anything else, she said, “Go on.”
He shrugged, looking up at her. “Isn’t that enough?”
Eeris looked away, kicking idly at the floor. “I just thought…”
Miro sighed. “Alright, fine. You said she mentioned we’d lost our home. What did she tell you?”
“That the Klingons attacked,” Eeris said. “That there was nothing left.”
Miro nodded. “Yeah, that’s about the size of it. And I could have saved them. Or maybe I couldn’t have; I’ll never know. I was just one ship, for all I know I would have gotten myself blasted to bits. But I could’ve tried. She didn’t let me. She knocked me out, dragged me onto the Challenger, probably saved both our lives.” He sighed, looking down at the floor. “At the expense of millions.”
Eeris felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Of all the things she had expected him to say, that hadn’t been one of them.
“I’m sorry,” Eeris said.
“Thanks for telling me,” she said.
“What the hell does Naral have against you?” Eeris asked. “I don’t understand why she’s doing this.”
Miro chuckled humorlessly. “Because she thinks she loves me.”
“You heard her, when we first landed,” Miro said. “She wants me safe. That’s all she’s ever wanted. She doesn’t care about what I want, or what I care about, or the kind of life I want to lead. She’ll do anything in her power to stop me from saving the galaxy, because in her mind, I’m just trying to throw my life away. In her mind, I’m being senseless, and idiot, irresponsible. Hell, she’d even go so far as to claim I’m disrespecting Starfleet’s sacrifice by putting myself out there. She believes it’s wrong, somehow. And all she’s ever wanted is to stop me.”
Eeris blinked. “That’s what this is all about? Stopping you from saving the galaxy? But—why would anyone want to stop you? We need you!”
“Yeah, that’s what I keep telling her,” Miro said. “It’s like talking a rock, kid. She’s convinced everything I have to say is a symptom of insanity. I’ll only ever manage to convince her she’s right.”
“Prophets,” Eeris said, huffing in amazement. “That’s just…I mean, that’s…”
“Ridiculous?” Miro asked. “Annoying? After two years, damn infuriating? Yup. Hammer on the nail.”
“I don’t get it, though,” Eeris said. “Did she take the Challenger?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Miro said. The corner of his mouth quirked up, but he scrubbed his hands over his face, negating its effect. “She did threaten to take it from me. I should have seen this coming.”
Eeris sighed and shook her head. A restless energy overtook her and she began to pace back and forth outside his cell. And to think that for a moment, she’d actually sided with Naral! She’d been so wrapped up in her frustration with Miro for refusing to talkto her, she’d actually let Naral give her the wrong side of the story, and she’d listened. That was the worst part. She’d been so desperate for information that she’d listened to whoever wanted to offer it, and had never considered that Miro might be completely in the right.
She still couldn’t quite believe he’d told her all this. She was grateful, but he’d had every right to deny her a confession. He’d been right—this was none of her business.
But now she knew, and damn it, she was going to try to be a good friend to him with everything she had.
“So what’s the plan now?” she asked, trying to get them back onto a more objective track. They couldn’t just sit here and wallow while Naral held all the cards. “Naral’s probably got the Challenger. Odo’s gone. It’s just us, then. But you’ve still got that book…right?”
Miro shook his head. “Still on the Challenger. Odo was holding onto it, remember?”
“Okay…no collectible. No latinum.” Eeris took a deep breath. “We could still start fresh. We could work, save up for another ship.” She braced herself. “You could take me back to Bajor.”
Miro scoffed. “Why would I take you back there?”
“I dunno…to get me out of your hair?”
“What makes you think you’re in my hair?” Miro shook his head. “And besides, kid, I don’t go to Bajor. You know that.”
Eeris frowned, biting back the question on the tip of her tongue. “Right.”
He studied her, mouth quirking up a little. “You weren’t kidding, when you said you weren’t going to press.”
Eeris shook her head. “Nope.”
He smiled, a real smile, for the first time since their argument. “Wow. I could get used to this, you know.”
Eeris smiled back. “Doing my best.”
His smile spread into a grin. “Well, keep it up, kid.”
“Pretty sure it’s gonna drive me spare eventually,” Eeris added. “I’m used to…well, I’m used to knowing my way around. I knew every nook and cranny of Bajor. I had to, to be the Steward. And now…I don’t know anything. You’re my only source of information, and…” She sighed and looked down. “Sometimes it’s scary.”
Miro softened. “Oh, Eeris. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I tried,” Eeris said. “In the only way I knew how. I pressed you for information. When you refused to talk about something, I got angry and pressed harder. I blamed you for holding back.”
Miro sighed and rested his chin on his hands, elbows on his knees. “Kid, I’m not gonna open up overnight. But I’m sure we can work something out.”
Eeris perked up. “Really?”
“Really.” He smiled. “After all, I need my privacy, but it goes both ways. Long as you’re on the Challenger with me…or, for that matter, stuck in my general vicinity, your needs matter too.”
“And…how long will I be stuck in your general vicinity?” Eeris asked.
It was a question she hadn’t dared ask before. Until now, she’d been too afraid of the answer. She needed Miro, much more than he needed her. He was her transportation, her only ticket to freedom. But she couldn’t let that blind her anymore. Because he wasn’t just a ticket, or just a taxi ride around the galaxy. He was the closest thing to a friend she had, excepting Odo. And they couldn’t tiptoe around this issue anymore. She needed to know what her future held.
Miro’s smile was tentative. “As long you want to be.”
“You mean that?” Eeris asked. “Even after…everything?”
“Hey, I made you a promise, didn’t I?” Miro said. “Look, kid, if you’d come back here and started demanding answers again, I might have changed my mind. Gotta protect myself, after all. But you’re learning. We can make this work. And your company isn’t half bad.”
“Then can I ask you a favor?” Eeris asked.
She took a deep breath. “Stop calling me kid?”
He blinked. “That really bothers you?”
“I know you don’t mean it like that,” Eeris said hurriedly. “But it feels a bit…derogatory. Besides, you’re not actually any older than I am.”
Miro chuckled, but didn’t protest. She was glad he didn’t say anything about his twelve hundred years of memories this time. She wasn’t sure how she would have taken an argument from him.
“Tell you what,” Miro said, smiling. “You don’t pry into my past, I won’t call you ‘kid.’ Deal?”
Eeris nodded. She knew she’d still quest after information, and they’d need to work out some other kind of deal. But this would do for now.
“I’d offer to shake on it,” Miro said, holding back a smile, “but this forcefield’s kind of in the way.”
Eeris laughed. She was glad he seemed to have his sense of humor back.
“You sound like you’re feeling better,” she said.
He shrugged. “I’ll live.” He looked her up and down significantly. “Not exactly sure how I’m gonna show you around the galaxy, though.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Eeris said. “That’s not all you’re good for.”
His eyes lit up. “Yeah?”
She nodded. “Yup.”