It was a small-ish room, poorly lit and bare, at least in their corner of it, where they slept on an inflatable mattress that needed topping up with a foot pump every night to keep its firmness. Some of the other residents hung wet laundry in their own corners, or left belongings on their beds.
Nothing valuable, of course. They weren't stupid.
There were six of them living there – Will and Deanna on the inflatable mattress, two young Chinese men on futons in the corner, and two Ukrainian women who shared the only real bed in the room. There were three other bedrooms in the house, and all of the occupants shared a single bathroom.
Deanna hated it and was grateful for it in approximately equal measure. It was hard not to be grateful, when your last bed had been a cold bench in the open air. It was hard not to hate it, when you never had a moment to be alone. She thought she ought to miss her friends on the Enterprise more, but what she missed was space to move, space to breathe, space to think.
It had been a week since she and Will had followed Sagar Korvin, who was wanted in five solar systems and had killed three Starfleet officers, through the unstable time portal, which had then closed behind him. It had been five days since they had given up trying to find him in the thronged and confusing streets of early twenty-first century London, and realised that they had to find proper food and shelter and appropriate clothing for themselves before they could get any further.
It had been four nights since they had slept outside, in the cold, in the shelter of a bus-stop, where people without their own transportation waited to be taken to their destinations. Perhaps slept was not the right word. They had dozed alternately, one of them always alert, the other sometimes managing a drowsy half-sleep that did little to relieve them.
It had been four days since they had sold the outer casings of their combadges (in any case, the badges had stopped working the moment they stepped through the portal) to buy food and clothing, and asked and asked and asked where they could find work or a place to stay.
It had been three days since they had met Mr Huang, and been offered jobs in his factory. He had given them a place to stay, as well, with others who had found themselves in London without the proper documentation.
The factory was in a basement, reached through a side street, and there was a heavy metal door that blocked light and noise from the outside world. There were two main rooms, the warehouse, where Will dragged heavy crates back and forth without any sort of lifting equipment, and the production line, where Deanna sat in a row of other women and did the same thing over and over until her fingers hurt. They worked for fourteen hours every day, from eight in the morning until ten at night. They stopped twice for meals, which were provided.
Most of the workers were Chinese, and didn't speak much English. The others were mainly Eastern European, spoke somewhat better English and, hearing Deanna speak – without the Universal Translator, her English was strongly accented – decided that she was one of their own and invited her to sit with them when they worked.
None of them trusted Will. Everyone knew Americans didn't really count.
That seventh evening, while Guo and Ning slept and Oksana and Valya were out doing whatever it was they did in the evenings, Will angled the little table lamp so that Deanna could see to reprogram the combadge components. Will knew more about this sort of thing, but without precision tools his hands were too large, and so they worked slowly, and he watched Deanna and made suggestions occasionally.
'Do you think this will work?' Deanna asked, not looking up from the wire she was stripping with her fingernails.
Will shrugged. 'It's the best we have. The range will be small, but at least it's a start. And if we can save a little money, maybe we can buy more components to increase its effectiveness.'
They had already used what little money remained from selling the combadges to buy a small battery. Mr Huang would not be paying them until they had worked for two weeks.
'The thing I'm concerned about,' Will continued, 'is whether we made the right decision.'
Deanna stopped and looked up. 'There's no point in second-guessing ourselves,' she said. 'And I don't think there was a decision to be made. Stopping Korvin and preventing him from killing anyone else or doing damage to the timeline is more important than getting back to the Enterprise. We need to scan for Korvin's presence more than we needed the beacon.'
'But the Enterprise's sensors have a much higher chance of finding him than we do like this,' Will said. 'For all we know he may have a way of concealing his natural radiation anyway – this scanner's a shot in the dark. The Enterprise could detect his life signs in minutes.'
Deanna put her hand on his, and he stopped. 'We talked about this, we decided,' she said. 'It's too late now, anyway, the scanner is almost finished. And perhaps the Enterprise will find us without the beacon. Have a little faith. Captain Picard would go to the ends of the galaxy to find you, Will.'
Will just shook his head. 'It's a shot in the dark,' he repeated. 'If only we could tell the authorities, at least make sure they're looking out for him...'
'And tell them what?' Deanna asked, under her breath. 'There's a serial killer on the loose, he's an alien from the future, you won't find any bodies because he absorbs his victims, also we are from the future and have no documentation to prove who we are, but please don't arrest us?'
They looked at one another, and both sighed. It wasn't an argument, not a real one. Since they arrived here they had gone back and forth over the same questions, as if doing it enough might make an answer appear that hadn't been there before.
'It's late,' said Deanna, at last. 'I'll finish this connection and then we'll sleep, yes?'
They had no clothes for sleeping in, so once Will had topped the inflatable mattress up, they just stripped to their underwear and climbed into bed. Deanna snuggled close to Will, and reached her arms around him so that they met on his chest, her head pressing against his back.
She lay awake. Her body ached as though she had run for miles, with a tiredness that soaked right into her, but her mind refused to quiet. Even sleeping, Will felt angry and scared. She was angry and scared, too. She could feel the others in the house – many of them slept every spare moment they had, but some of them were awake – sad and homesick and anxious and pleased and aroused and confused and intent and angry and tired. Outside sirens blared in the distance, and people shouted nearby. There was always noise. She cleared her mind, reinforced her empathic shields and ran through some relaxation techniques, and she was almost asleep when Valya and Oksana returned, trying to be quiet and not quite succeeding. It was another hour before she finally slept.
* * *
Will and Deanna woke early, dressed, and tiptoed down to the kitchen to finish the scanner. The kitchen was usually busy in the mornings and evenings as people boiled water for drinks or washed in the sink, or sat at the table to talk or read, but it was early enough that nobody was there yet. They opened the blind a little to let in enough light to finish the work from the previous evening.
'That should do it,' said Will, at last. 'It'll beep in the presence of his radiation – it should beep a little somewhere he's been recently, more somewhere he stayed for any significant length of time, and very strongly if he's still nearby.'
'All right,' said Deanna. 'We'll decide on a search pattern and start after work tonight.'
* * *
Deanna spent the day trying to convince herself that, when the day ended, she didn't want to go back to the room and lie down, and really what she wanted to do was to walk around London, in the dark and the cold, looking for someone they had only the smallest chance of finding, and who they had no means of capturing or bringing to justice even if they did find him.
She worked hard at it, and by ten she had managed to achieve, if not enthusiasm, at least a sense of grim determination that would hopefully last at least a few hours.
They had no coats, and the evening was cold, so they walked briskly, with their arms around each other. They started outside the factory, since it seemed as good a place as any, and activated the scanner before they walked the search pattern they had decided on, in loops growing wider and wider each time. The scanner didn't beep, but then, there was no way to test whether it was working.
They walked for a few hours, and found nothing. They stopped when their fingers were too cold to hold the scanner, and went home.
For the next few weeks, they walked every night, or sometimes caught buses. Mr Huang began to pay them, once a week. They saved up the money – Will was sure that contemporary computer equipment could be used to extend the range of the scanner, and they waited anxiously for the day when they would have enough to buy the necessary components.
* * *
Deanna's head ached often. It was partly the effort of keeping up mental shields in such a crowded place, but it was tiredness, too – by the end of a day her ears rang from the noise on the factory floor, and she saw the production line going past when she closed her eyes.
The night that they finally had enough money to buy the components, it was particularly bad, and Will insisted that she should stay in the room and lie down. She didn't have the energy to protest much.
She knew something was wrong when Will was still miles from the house. She sat up, blinking. Confusion, sudden fear, anger, indecision, furious determination – they mingled and flooded over her in a rush that lasted no more than a few seconds, perhaps half a minute, then began to subside, to be replaced with a deepening, despondent shame. He rebuffed her tentative mental enquiries. He was safe, he was on his way home, that was all he would say.
She waited anxiously for him, plexing and resisting the urge to pace.
'Deanna, is problem?' Oksana asked, looking up from her book.
'I'm just... worried about Will,' Deanna said. 'I thought he would be back by now.'
'Where he was going?' Oksana asked.
Deanna shrugged helplessly. Oksana nodded, and used one of her own teabags to bring Deanna a cup of tea. Deanna managed a smile of thanks before returning to her fearful speculations.
When Will came back, he looked unhurt, but his eyes were red and swollen. Oksana looked meaningfully at Valya and the two of them retreated to the kitchen. Guo and Ning were already asleep.
'What happened?' Deanna asked, once the door had closed. She put her arms around him and for a moment he resisted, then gave a long sigh and hugged her back.
'The money, for the components, I lost it,' he said, his voice cracking a little.
'It was taken...' he said.
'You were mugged?' she asked, softly.
Mugging was a new and horrifying idea to both of them, but they had heard enough stories in their few weeks in the factory to know how it worked.
'I feel like a damn fool, Deanna,' he said, sinking onto the floor to sit. 'It was only two of them, and they were... pretty big, I guess, but... I should have been able to stop them. They had knives, but I fought them off, but in the fight one of them grabbed my wallet and by the time I realised... I ran after them but it was too late. It was dark and I couldn't see where they went...'
'It wasn't your fault,' she said, stroking his hair.
'I've fought Klingons and won!' he said. 'There shouldn't have been a problem. I shouldn't have even let them get close.'
She climbed into his lap and hugged him close. 'You're back, and you're safe,' she said. 'That's the most important thing. You're safe. We can always earn more money.'
They smiled at one another, but neither of them really felt it.
* * *
Deanna told Oksana about what had happened, on the condition that she wouldn't tell Will that she knew. Deanna felt that he had nothing to be ashamed of, and Oksana agreed, but there was no sense in doing further damage to his wounded pride.
'This is one problem of being illegal,' Oksana said, while they worked side-by-side on the production line. 'When something bad is happen, you cannot tell police, you cannot get help. They will not listen, or they will arrest you.'
'It's awful,' said Deanna with feeling.
'Is happen all the time,' Oksana continued. 'My friend he was deported only last week. Another friend she was attacked by gang of teenagers, she cannot even get doctor in case they tell police she is here. Some week ago Chinese man working here is simply disappear.'
'And nobody knows where he might be?' Deanna asked, aghast.
'Anything can happen,' said Oksana. 'Police can find him, or accident can happen, or something like this. We just do not know. Is happen sometimes.'
* * *
Valya knew someone who knew someone who needed a labourer for some heavy lifting in their furniture warehouse, and who would pay almost a real wage for it, and Oksana persuaded her to recommend Will. Mr Huang wasn't going to have any man staying in his house who wasn't working for him, and the money for the new job was good enough that he and Deanna could move to a room of their own, in a house that didn't smell bad and wasn't on such a noisy street.
Deanna was shocked at the excitement she felt at the prospect.
The room was small, and the window was frosted so that light came in, but it was impossible to see anything. There wasn't space for much except a double bed and a rail for clothes, but there was a sink in the corner and they only shared the bathroom with one other family, who lived downstairs. They even had their own keys, to come and go as they pleased without answering to anyone. They arrived there one evening, each carrying a plastic carrier bag full of belongings. They closed the door behind them, and locked it.
'Oh, Will...' Deanna breathed. 'It's quiet. Listen – not a sound.'
She sat down on the edge of the bed and looked around. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly, letting go of her mental shields a little, enjoying the novelty of comparative space and emptiness.
After a few minutes, she reached out a hand to Will and he took it, and she pulled him towards her, dragging him onto the bed, where she rolled to lean on his chest and look down coyly at him. She kissed him, once, and began to unbutton his shirt.
It was a strange and sudden impulse – it wasn't as if they couldn't have done it back in the other room. It wouldn't have mattered. A few times Deanna had awoken to Oksana and Valya's whispers and stifled moans, and felt glad that they could be so happy, at least for a while. But Will and Deanna never thought of it.
Tonight, though, they hurried through the business of undressing, wanting to touch one another, skin to skin. They lay on top of the covers, bodies pressing against one another, arms and legs clutching tightly, hands grabbing, lips and tongues meeting and parting and moving warmly across necks and shoulders and chests and hips.
Deanna half-remembered for a moment that they were supposed to be just friends – but why should that matter? All they had was each other. Unless the Enterprise found them they would be there, just the two of them, until they died. What meaning was there in drawing lines across their relationship?
So they made love, loudly and violently and it felt like they were saying: this is ours. This is a thing that we can control. It felt like they were making a space in the world for themselves to fit into.
Afterwards they lay there and the cramped, dark room felt like a stronghold and a haven, and it seemed wonderful that they could fall asleep naked and not worry about what anyone else would think, and not be woken in the night by comings and goings, and not lie with a hand on their possessions just in case. Deanna slept better than she had in weeks.
* * *
A few good days followed. Will worked shorter hours than Deanna, now, so sometimes he was able to cook a real meal for her when she got home. Mrs Musamba, who lived downstairs, said that he should help himself to any herbs and spices in the kitchen, and once or twice she and the oldest few children shared a meal with them. Mrs Musamba seemed impressed in spite of herself at Will's culinary skill.
They still went out with the scanner most days – and Will's new wage was enough to buy the components they needed to increase the range. They modified their search pattern accordingly, and didn't have to walk down quite so many tiny back streets, keeping instead to main roads. Will often went while Deanna was at work, but sometimes they went together. One day the scanner even beeped, slowly and faintly, on a lively high street, outside the Tube station.
'He's been here,' Will said.
'Not for long, though,' said Deanna. 'Or a while ago.'
They asked inside the Tube station whether the staff had seen anything suspicious, or if anyone local had disappeared, but they wanted to know who was asking and why, and if they had any information, they weren't sharing it.
They talked to a few shopkeepers, asked a few teenagers on the street, anyone they could think of. Nobody could tell them anything useful.
'It's a start, at least,' Deanna said. 'We can carry on looking in this area.'
They looked up and down the road, at the rows and rows of houses and shops.
'It's a start,' Will agreed.
* * *
'Will,' said Deanna, early one morning, 'I don't think you can go in today.'
'I have to,' he said. 'They won't pay me if I don't go in.'
'If you do go in, you'll collapse before you get there,' she said. She felt his forehead. 'Will, you have a fever.'
'Do not,' he retorted, but he was swaying, and his face was grey. He tried to carry on doing up the buttons on his shirt, but he couldn't get his fingers to cooperate, and he fumbled.
'A little help here?' he asked Deanna, frowning.
She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him gently so that he sat back down on the bed. 'A man who can't even button his shirt is not a man who should be doing heavy lifting,' she insisted. 'I'll go to the telephone on the corner and tell them you're sick. Now get back in bed, that's an order.'
'I outrank you,' he pointed out, but he was already lying down and closing his eyes.
Deanna found fifty pence and the scrap of paper with the telephone number, and went to call Will's boss. When she returned, Deanna set food and drink for Will beside the bed, and made him promise to get Mrs Musamba to telephone Oksana, who had a mobile phone, if he needed her to come back from work. She left him sleeping fitfully, the sheets already drenched with sweat.
She worked the day in an anxious daze, half of her mind constantly back with Will. He slept, most of the time. She sensed the vividness of his fever dreams and worried for him, but he awoke periodically and seemed lucid enough, although he was too weak to reply to the telepathic messages she sent. She sent many, wishing that she could be there to comfort him herself. She hurried home the moment her shift ended.
When she returned, Will looked even worse than he had, and although she had no instrument to measure with, she was sure his temperature had risen. She went downstairs to ask the advice of Mrs Musamba, who gave her a box of pills and told her to give Will two every four hours.
She didn't sleep that night. Will took a turn for the worse at around two in the morning, as Deanna sat, wetting his face and arms and chest with a cold cloth. His waking moments were barely that, and it was a struggle to get him to take a few sips of water, let alone the pills.
'I wish Beverly were here,' she told him, at six in the morning as she ran the water in the sink to get it cold enough. 'Even without Sickbay, she would know what to do.'
He was asleep and didn't respond.
She couldn't leave him. Kelly, the eldest Musamba daughter, watched him for the few minutes it took to run to the phone box and call Oksana to ask her to explain Deanna's absence at work. Then she settled at his bedside again, to give him whatever help she could. She wished she knew what was wrong, or how to fix it. She was too afraid to find a doctor – the girls at the factory swore it was the quickest way to get discovered, and there was no telling what that would do to the timeline.
At lunchtime, Mrs Musamba brought her a sandwich. Deanna ate it without tasting it. At dinner time, Kelly brought up a plate of something called ugali. Will tossed and turned and sometimes said things, nonsense things, without seeming to wake up. Deanna cried a little and cooled him down and talked soothingly to him and felt helpless.
It was the next afternoon when Will, squinting against the daylight through the window, asked for a drink of water. She hurried to give it to him, pressing a hand to his forehead. It was sticky, but cooler than it had been, and after he drank the water he spoke, and stayed awake for several minutes before drifting into a sleep more peaceful than he'd had in days. Deanna shook with relief. She got up and went to the window, opened it the small amount that was possible, and leaned out, taking long breaths of fresh air.
* * *
The phone box at the end of the road rang and rang. Then stopped, and rang again. Deanna ran down to answer it.
It was Oksana. Mr Huang had told her to tell Deanna not to bother coming back to the factory. He didn't need workers who took time off. Oksana was furious on Deanna's behalf, and suggested a few unfortunate things that might happen to Mr Huang, which made Deanna smile in spite of herself.
But something wasn't right. Oksana sounded more upset that Deanna would have expected.
'Is everything all right, Oksana?' she asked.
There was a sniffle down the line.
'I am just a little worry,' Oksana sniffled. 'My friend Lera, she said she will meet me for drink last night, and she is not come. I am call her mobile but she is not answer.'
'Oksanka, I'm sorry,' Deanna said. 'I hope she gets in contact soon.'
'Probably is fine,' said Oksana. 'She has work late or her phone is stolen or something. I am just worry.'
'I hope she turns up all right,' Deanna said, as the phone pipped to let her know that her time was up.
* * *
The next day, Deanna rose early in spite of the fact that she had no job to go to. She fitted a new battery onto the scanner, while Will protested that he was feeling well enough to work and she insisted that one more day of bed rest was absolutely necessary.
'You are going to stay here,' she told him, 'and I am going to go out with the scanner. But first, there's one thing that I need to do.'
* * *
She walked slower as she approached the factory. She hated confrontations. She had never relished them in the way her mother seemed to.
It made her chest hurt a little to think about Lwaxana. Ordinarily she would receive three or four messages a week from her, passing on all the gossip from the Betazoid social scene, asking after her friends on the Enterprise, talking at length about whatever topic came into her head. Deanna wished now that she had replied more often.
She shook her head. She had work to do, there was no time for regrets. If her mother was on her mind – fine. She would use that.
'Daughter of the Fifth House,' she muttered to herself, and she began to walk faster. 'Daughter of the Fifth House. Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed.'
She repeated it, like a mantra, and by the time she had reached the factory and swept past the production line and into Mr Huang's office in the corner of the floor, she felt every inch of it.
Mr Huang looked up at her with a sneer. 'I thought I told you not to bother coming back,' he said.
'I'm here for my back pay,' Deanna said. 'It was pay day on Friday and I'm owed six days.'
He shrugged. 'I do not pay people who don't turn up to work.'
'I turned up to work,' she said, levelly. 'I worked six days for you and I earned that money, and you are going to give it to me.'
'Who is going to make me?' he asked. 'Nobody will fight for you. The police won't care, and even if you did tell them, it would mean trouble for your friends here. You don't want that, do you?'
'You're right, I don't,' said Deanna.
She smiled at him, and sat on the edge of the desk. He sat back a little, and she sensed he was anxious. Good.
Through the open doorway, she could see the production line workers peering at them, trying to work out what was going on. So much the better.
She leaned in, and said, in confidential tones: 'Does your wife know about you and Jiao?'
His anxiety spiked. It had been a gamble – she had no real evidence except for the emotions she had sensed from them, the occasional looks she had intercepted across the factory floor – but he was sweating now. He glared at her.
'There's no reason she has to find out,' said Deanna. 'You've been doing an excellent job of keeping it secret. I'm really very impressed.'
'How much do you want?' he asked.
She smiled sweetly. 'Just six days' pay.'
He stuffed the cash in an envelope, and she thought she saw him put in a little extra. She tried to keep her expression neutral as she took it.
'Now get out of my factory,' he growled.
'Happy to,' she said.
She waved the envelope at her friends on the production line as she walked past, and Oksana winked at her. Deanna grinned back, feeling buoyant. Standing in the entrance hall where the workers kept their outdoor clothes, she put a little of the money in the pocket of her jacket, and tucked the envelope with the rest into her underwear for safety.
Outside, she activated the scanner, and began to walk away to begin the search pattern – but the scanner was beeping already. She walked away from the factory and the beeping slowed – back towards the factory and it sped up again. A suspicion began to grow.
She opened the door again, peeked in and looked about. Mr Huang wasn't in the room, and the door to his office was closed.
'Hey! Oksana!' she hissed.
Oksana looked up, and Deanna beckoned her.
'You forget something?' Oksana asked, hurrying over.
'No,' said Deanna, 'I need to ask you something. Since I was last here, has anyone disappeared from the factory?'
Oksana nodded. 'Woman called Hui. She go outside last night to smoke cigarette and after that not come back inside. Strange. All her things still in her room.'
'And what about your friend, the one who didn't come to meet you?' asked Deanna.
'You know something?' Oksana asked.
'Not yet,' said Deanna. 'But I'm trying to find out. Please, anything you can tell me about her would be helpful.'
'All right,' said Oksana. 'Here, I write her address. But if anyone asks, I did not tell you.'
'Of course,' said Deanna. 'If I find anything out, I'll let you know.'
Oksana took her hand, and squeezed it. 'Be careful, Dishenka,' she said.
* * *
She walked briskly to the address on the piece of paper, her thoughts running at warp speed. Of course he would target the undocumented people – what better way was there to ensure that he would go unnoticed? Certainly nobody was going to report it to the police, and if they did – what then? No sense in looking for people who were never officially there at all.
That still didn't narrow it down, though. There were people all over London who could disappear without causing a stir. And a man like Korvin who didn't mind stealing and lying to get around might be anywhere – the city was enormous.
She reached the street where Oksana's friend lived. It was a quiet, pretty street. There were flowers in the neatly-kept front gardens, and the cars looked shiny and well-kept.
The scanner began to beep softly as she walked down the street, and suddenly sped up as she passed a garden surrounded by tall hedges. A street like this might be deserted in the evenings. A man attacking a girl behind a tall hedge might not even be noticed.
So Oksana's friend was dead, almost certainly.
Deanna sat down heavily on a bench, and took a few deep breaths, trying not to picture the poor girl's last moments. It was a horrible sight, the way Korvin killed, the way he drained and consumed a person's life essence. She had seen it once before and hoped never to again.
When she had calmed herself a little, she went to the house and asked Lera's flatmates if they had seen her, but they claimed to know nothing, and they didn't even know where she had worked or who her friends were.
It was all so impossible. If people didn't want to be found in the first place, how could you find them when they went missing?
And then she realised.
'Where is he finding them?' she said aloud.
She walked for a few minutes before she found a phone box. She pulled a coin from her pocket and dialled.
'Oksana, it's me, Deanna,' she said, the moment the girl picked up.
'You find something?' Oksana asked.
'I'm not sure,' Deanna said. 'Your friend Lera – how did she find her house, and her job?'
'She had agent who find them for her,' said Oksana. 'I use same agent. Many people use her, they come to London and give her money, she find them place to stay and to work.'
'Do you know if Hui knew the same woman?' Deanna asked. 'And the man who disappeared before that?'
'Is possible,' said Oksana. 'I have seen her few times, often she find workers for Mr Huang.'
'How do I find her?' Deanna asked.
Oksana told her an address, and Deanna wrote it down.
'Disha?' Oksana asked.
'Yes?' Deanna replied.
'You think you will find Lera?'
Deanna paused, and her throat felt tight. 'I don't know anything for certain yet...' she said.
'Is what I thought,' said Oksana, and the waver in her voice said that she knew what Deanna meant.
* * *
When Deanna reached the street Oksana had told her, she switched on the scanner again and it immediately began to beep steadily. She walked towards the house, and it sped up. Her heart pounded. The scanner was practically humming by the time she reached the doorstep. She switched it off and rang the bell.
The woman guardedly conceded that she might be the person Oksana had mentioned, but she refused to tell Deanna anything else about herself, or even let her inside. Deanna asked if she knew anything about any disappearances. She refused to answer, but Deanna sensed that she did not. So she wasn't working with Korvin. How else would he have access to the information?
Thinking hard, she described Korvin to the woman. She denied all knowledge of him, but Deanna sensed a flare of recognition and saw the woman's eyes flicker involuntarily to the house next door. He must see them arrive, and then follow them away to wherever they went.
'Thank you for your time,' said Deanna.
She reached out with her empathic sense, looking for him. He was there, or somewhere nearby. She waited until the woman had gone back inside before knocking on the next door. There was no answer. The house was at the end of a terrace, and she walked around it, looking for a back door.
He was there, in the back alley behind the house. He was just leaving, and looked up at her as she approached. There was nobody else around.
He smiled at her. 'Commander Troi. How nice. Are you enjoying London?'
She bit her lip, moving slowly, carefully closer to him, watching him intently. He was vulnerable for the few moments it took to prepare for absorption, and she didn't intend to miss an opportunity. She didn't see a weapon, but then, he was wearing a long coat, so there was every chance he had something concealed. She balanced her weight, the way she'd been taught in her combat classes. He was tall, but not heavily built – quickly, she ran through a mental list of mok'bara holds that might allow her to subdue him.
'Not as much as you apparently are,' she said, bitterly.
He grinned at her, and licked his lips. 'I've always been fond of Earth cuisine,' he said.
'How many people have you killed here?' she asked, struggling to keep her voice even.
'A few,' he said, airily. 'What do you care? It's not as though anybody will miss them.'
Her fist flew towards his face before she realised what she was doing, and she connected with a crunch and a scream of rage. All thoughts of mok'bara holds fled from her mind. While he clutched his bloodied nose, she drove an elbow sharply into his stomach, then followed it with a foot when he dropped to his knees. He groaned, and she kicked him a few more times, without any precision, and a knee to his head finally knocked him out cold.
She gasped a few breaths and swallowed, feeling nauseous. She reached out mentally to Will, caught him and held on, steadying herself.
I got him she said.
Are you all right? he asked.
Just come she said.
She waited, watching Korvin for signs that he was waking up, but seeing and sensing none. Her hand hurt like hell. She touched it and winced. Something was broken, certainly. She began to cry, not trying to stop herself, and by the time Will arrived her eyes were dry again.
He put a cautious hand on her shoulder and she leaned back into him, resting her head on his chest for a brief moment.
'What are we going to do with him?' she asked.
* * *
It wasn't as though they could take him to the police. As a temporary measure, Will stole some anaesthetic from a hospital and they kept him sedated and tied to the sink in their bedroom, and when Will was at work Deanna kept a baseball bat by her side, just in case. She hated it. She watched the wounds she had inflicted slowly begin to heal, and didn't feel at all sorry for having caused them.
They talked over and rejected a dozen more permanent solutions. Deanna barely left the house – she visited the factory at closing time on the first day to tell Oksana what had happened to Lera, and to assure her that the man responsible had been caught. She hugged her when she cried, and wished there was something more she could do.
After that, she only stepped onto the street for a little fresh air whenever Will came back from work to relieve her. Mrs Musamba, when they met in the kitchen, noticed her hand and bandaged it properly, and asked if everything was all right.
'Better than it was, at least,' Deanna told her.
* * *
Four awful days passed before the knock on the door came. Deanna made her way quietly down the stairs to see Mrs Musamba slide the chain onto the door before opening it a crack.
'I'm sorry to bother you, we're looking for some friends of ours,' said a familiar voice.
'Beverly!' Deanna shrieked, and she took the rest of the stairs two at a time, fumbling with the chain and flinging the door open, and there was Beverly, and there was the captain, and she almost choked with the shock of it, and then she was hugging them and she was holding Beverly's hands and crying, and Beverly started to cry too, and she wondered how she had ever doubted they would come.
* * *
Data had found the way through the portal, of course. Geordi had managed to track down their combadges even though they had been cannibalised and recycled twice over. Korvin was sent back to the ship. It seemed unreal. They gathered their things, even though they had everything they could possibly need on the Enterprise. They said goodbye to the Musambas. Deanna left Oksana a message that explained nothing at all, really. And then, just like that, they were on the Enterprise, and everything was back to what was supposed to be normal.
Her quarters felt impossibly big, and she couldn't remember what she usually did with all the space. It felt good. She walked up and down the room, gazed at the starscape outside, stretched. She lay down on her back on the floor, limbs spread, feeling the faint hum of the warp core and breathing with it, closing her eyes.
'Come in, Will,' she said, before the chime came.
He walked in, and chuckled.
'Comfortable?' he asked.
She took a long, deep breath, and let it out slowly. 'I'm getting there,' she said. 'How are you doing?'
He sat on the floor next to her. 'I just spent an hour sitting at the replicator, just tasting things once and putting them back,' he said. 'I'm wearing clean clothes. I took a bath and I filled it right up and I stayed in there until I wrinkled. I guess I'm readjusting.'
'I looked Oksana up in the records from that era,' Deanna said. 'There's no mention of her after she left the Ukraine. I'll never find out what happened to her. Or any of them.'
'But at least they're safe, thanks to you,' Will said.
'No,' Deanna said. 'No, they're not.'
Will nodded, accepting that. Deanna sat up and shuffled to lean against him.
'It's still good to be back,' she said.