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For as long as she could help it, Eeris refused to leave Miro's side. It was more out of her own fear of being alone than out of a desire to keep him company, though that was part of it. She could tell his attention was beginning to drift, his worry distracting him from his usual optimism. He was good at hiding it, but Eeris could tell—his grins were more forced, his shoulders stayed hunched, and he didn't really stray from his bench in the back of his cell.

Eeris, meanwhile, stayed slumped against the wall, her body tilted so that she could see the arch of his cell's entrance out of the corner of her eye.

She was grateful for the forcefield between them; it was too tempting to just walk in there with him. The forcefield spared her the embarrassment of running into Miro's arms and seeking comfort in his embrace, the comfort she knew her father would give if he were with her. She imagined knocking on his office door, barreling into his lap, sighing as his arms closed around her…and was pulled from her fantasy every time when she remembered that knocking required arms, and so did hugging. She couldn't do either of those things anymore.

Any comfort Miro could give would be one-sided. So why embarrass herself by asking it of him? Maybe he'd even give it, but she knew he'd just see her as the weak Bajoran girl he'd taken under his wing on a whim. Maybe it would even make him want to abandon her sooner.

That was when her thoughts became incongruous. Odo, the very being who frightened her and, shamefully, repulsed her, was the one who had comforted her when she needed it and not seemed to mind at all. Miro was the one who she'd entrusted with her safety from the beginning, the one who had promised her the galaxy and who, despite that smattering of spots down the sides of his face, wasn't so frightening. And yet he was the one who didn't care for her.

The waning hours of the day seemed to crawl by. Miro met with his lawyer, who hd snapped at and grumbled at just as much as he had Simler, and Eeris was eventually forced to leave the holding cells. One of the building's security officers drove her out to a transit station where she could spend the night. It was the first time since leaving Bajor that she had been truly alone, not a single familiar face in sight. It was not an experience she cared to repeat.

A different security guard picked her up on the morning of Miro's trial and drove her back to Federation HQ. She was escorted back to the holding area, where she and Miro were left alone. The air was heavy between them, and silence swelled until it nearly felt suffocating.

"I really am sorry," Miro said.

"For what?" Eeris asked.

He shrugged. "Trapping you here. Not the most amusing place in the world, I have to admit."

She lifted one shoulder up and down. "It's alright, it hasn't been that bad…I mean, I guess I'm kinda glad I know about you and Naral, now."

He didn't answer.

"She told me what you did to her, you know," Eeris whispered.

"And?"

"And?" Ereis sprang to her feet, much more practiced now after having been armless for days. "What do you mean, and? You say that like it doesn't even matter! Have you even seen the look on her face when she talks about you? I'm pretty sure you broke her heart!"

Miro laughed bitterly. "Nope."

Eeris blinked. "You didn't? How can you know that?"

He looked away.

"Well, you at least broke your friendship," Eeris said. "Do you even care?"

He glared at her. "What makes you think we had a friendship when I broke it?"

"Now you're making it sound like it was her fault," Eeris said.

"Well, she's not innocent," Miro said.

"So why'd you do it?" Eeris asked. "Why'd you maroon her?"

"I don't want to talk about it, Eeris."

Eeris stared at him, jaw agape. He was seriously doing this now? She was right on the verge of answers, and he was closing off on her again? As she watched, he dropped her gaze and hunched forward, clearly not about to change his mind.

"Did you think about it?" Eeris asked.

He glanced up at her but looked away just as quickly, as if holding her gaze physically pained him. "Eeris."

"No, answer me," she said. "Did you think it over, or did you just leave her behind, just like that? I know you never told her what she did wrong. Did you even give her a chance to see it coming? Or did you just blindside her?"

He made a muffled sound and buried his face in his hands. "Eeris, stop."

"No, I'm not done yet," she said. "Because from the looks of it, you did this pretty easily! How do I know you're not gonna do the same to me?"

He straightened and looked at her, wide-eyed, expression more open than she'd ever seen it. "Eeris, enough!"

She stopped, shocked. And she'd thought she'd seen Miro at his most vulnerable before—the look in his eyes, in the slight furrow of his brows, could only be described as absolute terror. Was this what her cousins had seen in her eyes, back when they'd taunted her in the school cafeteria?

In the time it took Eeris to back down, Miro had relaxed back onto his bench and composed himself. He looked so completely normal, Eeris wondered for a moment if the past few seconds had even happened.

"Listen," he said quietly, "I'm not going to leave you behind. I don't go to Bajor, remember?"

"Well, you didn't exactly leave her behind on her home planet," Eeris mumbled.

Miro sighed. "That was cruel of me, yes. I regret that. Do you honestly believe I'd do the same to you?"

Eeris shrugged, barely able to meet his eyes.

"Eeris, look at me."

She tried, but her gaze flicked away at the last second.

"Eeris." She heard him stand and walk over to her. "Please, look at me."

Eeris wished she could sink straight into the ground. But since that was clearly not an option, she forced herself to do as he said—and was surprised to see that he didn't even look angry. But she could still see the hurt lingering in his eyes, and that was worse.

"Eeris, talk to me," he said. "Do you believe I'd leave you behind, like I left her?"

"Well, what do you think?" she said. "I just met you, Miro."

He flinched. "Let's just say, kid, I wasn't unprovoked. It was wrong and I wish I hadn't left her the way I did, but it's in the past, I can't fix it. What I can do is promise you I'm never gonna do the same thing. Unless you're planning on betraying me in cold blood anytime soon?"

Eeris blinked, startled out of her self-flagellation. "What? Where did that even come from?"

"Didn't think so," Miro said, flashing her a grin. "So no, I am not going to leave you the way I left her. If we decided to stop flying around together, then I'd leave you on Deep Space Nine, okay? I don't go near Bajor."

"Why not?" Eeris asked.

He started to answer her, but stopped and looked away.

"No, honestly, why not?" she asked.

He sighed. "Because the last time I was there, it wasn't fun. Let's just say, kid, Bajor's not my favorite place in the world, and it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, so guess what? I get to ignore it! Works out well for me, that way. Viresa will never be interested in it, and the Cardassians can't start up an occupation without her help, so…" He trailed off, shrugging.

"You're sure they can't?" Eeris asked quietly, suddenly remembering her foray through the streets of Hill.

"Kid, we've been over this," Miro said.

"But are you sure?"

"Course I am." He frowned at her. "You should see Cardassia Prime. No, wait, I take that back, bad place for you to be—but take my word for it, they barely have the strength to keep their own planet running. That's why they turned to Viresa in the first place. Big mistake, if you ask me, but…oh well, that's what I've got to deal with these days. But no, they'd never occupy Bajor. It just isn't feasible."

"What if they did?" Eeris asked.

"What if?" Miro repeated. "First of all, they wouldn't—they can't. And second of all, why are we talking about hypotheticals?"

Eeris shrugged. It had taken enough courage to dredge up the subject with him again. She'd never in a million years actually admit to having gone back there—it defeated the entire purpose of escaping.

"Just humor me, alright?" she said.

Miro sighed. "Alright, fine. Whadya wanna know?"

"Let's say you're right," Eeris said. "The Cardassians don't have the means to occupy Bajor. What could bring them back there again? Let's say they were on every street corner, just waiting, watching. Why? Would would that get them? And would they stay?"

Miro frowned. "Why, is that what's happening?"

Eeris flinched backwards. "Why would you think that?"

"I dunno, you're the one who's been on Bajor the most recently."

"I—how did you-?"

He peered at her. "Well, you sort of made it clear enough when we first met, didn't you? I mean, you said you were escaping Bajor…"

"Oh, right." Eeris breathed out a sigh of relief. "Yeah, I was on Bajor, and no, there weren't Cardassians on the street corners. But what if there were?"

"Wait a second," Miro said. "You somehow stayed alive on the station for three whole weeks while Odo and I made our way back to you. I was content to never know before, fate knows I can understand having secrets, but now—"

"The Emissary provided for me," Eeris said. "Just leave it."

"So you weren't on…"

"No," she snapped, hating to lie to him.

"Well, alright," Miro said, eyeing her. "If you're sure…"

He was giving her a chance to be honest with him. Eeris wondered if he saw through her lie. And for a moment, she considered telling him the truth—after all, she expected no less from him. And she had already hurt him enough for one day, drilling into him when he was clearly already wounded. But he couldn't know the had gone back to Bajor. It was entirely too humiliating. And what was the point in telling him about goings-on on Bajor when he didn't even consider the planet worth his while in the first place?

"Of course," Eeris said. "Like I said, the Emissary provided for me. Simple as that."

He frowned. "If you say so, kid."

"So," Eeris said, changing the subject, "You haven't answered my question. What if there were Cardassians on the street corners?"

Miro crossed his arms, one hand coming up to pinch his chin in thought. "Well…I suppose it wouldn't be so different from last time. They hung around for a bit, got the Bajorans used to their presence. Course, the guise of peace probably wouldn't work this time around, Bajor's been through enough trouble at alien hands to know better. But I can see them bringing the mines back—Cardassia may be weak, but Bajor's weaker, there wouldn't be much resistance. And without help from the Federation or anyone…" He shook his head, hands dropping to his sides. "It wouldn't be pretty, Eeris. Why are you asking me about this? Your home's safe, the Cardassians aren't coming."

Eeris swallowed, wishing she could tell him just how wrong she was.

"Although," he continued thoughtfully, "I did get wind about a future occupation when I was talking to Viresa…"

Eeris jumped to attention. "What? When? Could that really happen?"

"Well, if she backed them…which she wouldn't…but as far as I gather, she wants to trick them into occupying the planet…" Miro frowned. "It's possible, I suppose. To an extent. I did see Cardassians loitering about the promenade last we were there. But that's just the Cardassians being idiots—as if Viresa would ever support them for long on that one. They'd have to pull out eventually."

"But would 'eventually' be soon enough?" Eeris asked.

"I told you, kid," Miro said. "It wouldn't be pretty."

"My people," Eeris whispered. "They're so isolated…they'd be defenseless."

"Well, yes," Miro said. "But that's not happening, is it? So they're fine. Everything's fine."

"Guess so," Eeris said, eyes on the floor.

"Hey, kid." Miro bent to try and look her in the eye, but was only moderately successful. "What's this all about? Are you actually worried about your people?"

For a brief instant, Eeris's eyes flicked up to meet his, her gaze heated. What was he implying, that she would enjoy watching as her people fell to the Cardassians? But she forced herself to let it slide—she knew it was no use. He would never help the Bajorans.

She shrugged. "Nah, like you said, it wouldn't happen, would it?"

"Right," Miro said slowly, watching her. "Wouldn't happen."

Eeris shifted uncomfortably, wondering if he'd seen through her lie. She had the eerie feeling that he had.

"Well!" he exclaimed, puling her out of her thoughts. "That's enough depressing talk for today, isn't it? No use lingering on what-ifs and would-bes when we've got a whole galaxy to save, and I'm still stuck in a holding cell doing nothing." He cast a significant glance over her shoulder. "I hope that's about to end soon?"

Eeris turned and saw that a guard had entered. The security officer approached Miro's cell and tapped something into a nearby control panel, and the forcefield dropped.

"Well," Miro said, shoving his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels, "what a surprise. Aren't you afraid I'll try to jump ship or something?"

The guard gave him an even look before stepping inside and pulling a pair of handcuffs from his belt.

"Aw, come on," Miro said. "Do you have to? Look, I was kidding, my ship isn't even on this planet!"

The guard paid him no heed as he silently secured the cuffs around Miro's wrists, gripped Miro by the bicep, and roughly manhandled him out of the cell.

"Okay, okay, enough of that," Miro said, shaking him off. "I'll come willingly."

Eeris raised a surprised brow at him.

Miro caught her look. "What? It's not like I can just fly away now, is it? What choice do I have?"

Eeris shook her head in amusement as she followed him out of the holding area. How she'd ever managed to get on board a ship with a twelve-hundred-year-old alien who thought running from the law was a good idea, she'd never know. For all his self-proclaimed wisdom, he really was like an adolescent in that respect. But the thought had barely formed when she realized she'd done the exact same thing.

She stopped in her tracks, and only started walking again when Miro shot her a concerned glance.

Was it possible he understood her? As in, really understood her? No one had ever come close before…she'd always felt isolated and alone on her world, even before her people had started giving her hell just for being herself. She'd known about her strange metamorphic abilities for so long, and others around her had definitely noticed when their future Steward had started changing hair and eye colors without warning around the age of five. And when she'd lost her arm, it had only gotten worse. The piteous glances had been the only thing worse than those of revulsion. And the idea that she was still expected to be Steward of all things had turned her stomach. These people, these Bajorans who hated her so, still expected her to lead them?

But Miro…he'd evaded the law. He'd left home, and he'd hurt others. Though Eeris had yet to get the full story on that, and fully intended to try, she couldn't help but think of the Kiran elder whose death was on her conscience, and all the other perhaps less than noble things she'd done…just to get away from home.

Was it possible Miro knew what she'd gone through? Was it possible there was another being in the universe who understood how much she'd sacrificed just to get away, and she'd somehow stumbled across him in her quest for freedom?

Not for the first time, she wondered at how well the Emissary had engineered all this. The situation was far from perfect, and somehow she doubted her Emissary had intended to put her on the front lines of galactic chaos as Viresa swept in to dismantle the galaxy's fragile equilibrium, but if Miro understood her…not only had the Emissary managed to connect her with the one metamorph in the galaxy who could help her, but it seemed he may have even found that one humanoid out of a million who knew, really knew.

She sighed. It was just a shame Miro didn't care for her. It figured, with her luck. But it was just one more imperfection in the Emissary's plan. She'd just have to learn to deal with it.



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