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There weren't all that many ways to react to an explosion.

Thankfully, Scotty knew most of them by instinct, and apparently, so did Neva.

He was grabbing the device off of the table and shoving it into a handy pocket, even as she grabbed hold of the nearest handbag and arm-shoveled the platinum into it, and all of that before the ringing had fully faded from his ears. Whatever it was that blew up was further back in the building, and neither of them wanted to hang about and find out who decided to come calling.

"Where you followed?!" she hissed, making for the opposite direction of the explosion, which just happened to be the front door.

"No! Friends o' yers?!" he hissed right back, following and pulling the phaser off his hip to cover their retreat.

"I sure hope not," she muttered, shoving past the Rigellian, who was yelling in his native at her.

Everyone else was conspicuously absent. Whether they were in on it, or just in on something and not wanting caught up in something else, Scotty didn't know and didn't care.

They burst out into the market, and then Neva reached back, grabbed his wrist and started dragging him through the crowd; he barely had time to reholster his phaser before he was going along for the ride.

The market didn't appear to take much notice to the chaos left back at the cafe. The crowds were lighter, though, than they had been. Neva seemed to know where she was going, which was more than Scotty could claim; he had studied the maps, but he couldn't compare to someone who lived there.

Even so, he was sort of surprised when she dragged him back behind a market stall, then crouched down.

As far as Scotty was concerned, they were still far too close to whomever decided to try to blow them to smithereens, but the minute he went to tell her that -- quietly, mind -- she clapped a hand over his mouth and whispered in his ear, "If it's my friends and not yours, they're going to be in more than one place."

Working with Neva was going to be a trial. Even being quite effectively shut up, her scent was enough to immediately make at least two-thirds of his nerve endings spark to life and make him feel heady. Especially that close up. Adding in the adrenaline, and Scotty was proud of himself for being coherent, let alone capable of action. Albeit dizzy-feeling action. He managed to wrench his head to the side, whispering back, "I know I wasn't followed."

"Pity," she answered, on a breath.

It probably was a pity. The only people who could have possibly followed him would have been Starfleet. Her, on the other hand -- the entire Orion Syndicate, all of whom would be very, very displeased about that device falling into the wrong hands.

Scratch the probably. It absolutely was a pity.

"Gotta plan?" he asked, at some short length.

Neva peeked her head around the corner, taking in the crowd. After a moment, she pulled back. "Follow me, and don't get distracted."

Scotty nodded, resolutely, but he couldn't help his next thought:

I'm in a lot o' trouble.

The plan, shared over two blocks and a couple of alleys, was to make it to the subway and then take a train to the city center, and they would then try to catch a taxi and reach the spaceport above ground, where they were less likely to get ambushed. But if they really were surrounded, then going to the nearest, easiest to reach subway station might be suicidal, so they had to go out of their way. Then, the additional problem with that plan was that it left them exposed on the surface until they did reach the other station, and while there was ample cover, they were still dangerously visible.

The market was the easiest place to hide, in the crowd, but it was also the most obvious. Especially given where they left from.

That was how they ended up in the likewise busy clubbing district, some six blocks later, and how Scotty ended up with the exceptionally warm arm of an Orion woman inside of his coat, around his waist, making it absolutely clear why Neva had admonished him not to get distracted. Because no matter how much he didn't want to get blown up, or take disruptor fire, or how much he did want to get to the spaceport and meet his contact, there was just no way not to get distracted by that, and by the scent of her hair, and the silky smooth of the skin on her shoulder, where his arm rested around her, and--

--she pinched him in the side hard enough to make him yelp. "Don't. Get. Distracted."

"Ow," Scotty protested back, vehemently and maybe, honestly, a wee bit petulantly. "That's easy for you to say."

Neva scoffed, but she patted his side where she'd pinched him. "Don't knock yourself, Starfleet, it's not that easy."

Well, that was enough to make him blink and forget about the pinch. He raised his eyebrows. "Really?"

Neva smirked, the sort that was hiding a grin, and didn't look over. "Don't let it get to your head, either."

"Ye say a lot o' 'don't', if ye haven't noticed," he said, but only after he failed to stop himself from grinning.

"Men. What can I say?" She wove them expertly between couples, out partying and some of them quite drunk. "Just act natural, and we'll both try not to get distracted."

Easier said than done, but Scotty could honestly find no complaint with that.

They survived boarding the subway, and while they didn't let their guards down, it was still a relief. Most of the riders were party-goers heading home, or shift workers headed out to work the graveyard shift, and Neva was the only Orion on the train. Not that the Syndicate couldn't afford to hire assassins of other species, but that was probably less likely.

At least, Scotty hoped so.

Neva crossed her arms, leaning back in the ratty seat, and Scotty just absently scraped at old marker graffiti on the long faded steel of a window pane with a nail. Outside, in the darkness, occasionally a green light would flash past.

"How long have ye been out?" he asked, watching bits of marker flake off against his thumbnail.

Neva looked over; in the harsh white lights of the subway car, she still looked beautiful. But older. Probably fairly close to his own age, he guessed; her hair was raven, still, and with hints of green and violet, like the wings of birds, and her eyes were startlingly blue, but there were fine lines in her skin that lower lights hadn't revealed.

Somehow, it made him like her all the more.

"Long enough," she answered, with a shrug. "Not long enough, too."

"Was that really yer cover?" Scotty tipped his head back in the direction they'd left behind.

"Sure," Neva said, smiling a little bemused smile. "Like I said, what better cover?"

"I'd think it'd bother ye, wouldn't it? I mean..." he trailed off, not quite sure how to say it.

"Having sex with men for money, after having to have sex with men for years under contract?"


Neva laughed, reaching over to pat his arm. "No, Starfleet. Believe it or not, not all cultures are quite as hung up on it as yours can be."

"Aye, but the exploitation--"

Neva cut him off with a look, then turned to face him, pressing her lips together. Her eyes, bright and sparkling, were not quite filled with mirth. But a cousin to it. "It's not exploitation when it's my choice. Now, it is. If I happen to get paid for it, all the better, but it's definitely my choice. But even before, when I was under contract, it's not like you adorably naive Earthmen think it is. Or, it wasn't before it was outlawed." She shrugged, then, and leaned back. "In some circles, it was bad. But in most, it was an honorable profession. I trained under the finest lodubyal ot. I learned dance, conversation, art, music; I learned to serve, to entertain, to be gracious and seductive. I learned self-defense. I enjoyed it; until my master sold my contract to his business partner, I was quite happy, and quite well off. Unfortunately, his business partner was a Tellarite."

Scotty couldn't imagine a life like that; where someone owned someone else. The mere notion of slavery made his skin crawl. Even so, there was nothing deceptive in Neva's voice.

She must have noted his incomprehension. "On Earth, you had them. They were called geisha. Or courtesans. Or any of a host of other names. It was not freedom, but more... what's the term? Indentured servitude."

It was still over Scotty's head, but he tried to wrap his brain around it. He still didn't agree with any of it, and not even with her seemingly romantic and benevolent idea of it, but she believed in it, and that was enough to make him at least want to try to understand where she was coming from. It was in sharp contrast with what he had caught glimpses of, particularly in the time after Article 1 was signed.

"It changed everything," Neva said, and for a moment he wondered if mind-reading was one of the things she was taught. She gestured, though not at anything in particular. "It became criminal, and so it became hidden; what was once celebrated became something for dark alleys and dark dealings, and the lodubyaln paid the price. The men were not ready to give up what they felt was their right, no matter the Federation's edict. Of course, now it must all end." She slumped a little, tiredly, looking off into something only she could see. "Of course, I will help it end. Still, I miss dancing."

The train slowed to a stop; loaded new passengers, offloaded others. "Is that what this is?" he asked, finally, nodding towards the bag where a small fortune's worth of platinum sat.

Neva slid a glance over sidelong. "Maybe, Starfleet. Just maybe."

To that, Scotty could only nod.

Fair enough.

The rest of the ride to the city's center was uneventful; they both ended up lost in their own thoughts, though they managed to maintain enough vigilance not to be ambushed. Offloading and finding a taxi was another thing entirely; in this district, primarily business in nature and certainly more upscale than the market district they'd left behind, Neva's skin color and Scotty's general state of looking like a freebooter was enough to deter cabbies from slowing down when they were hailed.

Scotty was reasonably sure he was more the cause than she was. Mostly because no one went by her without doing a double-take.

The city itself was set up in a ring pattern; everything radiated out from the business district, which gave way to industrial or residential or other commercial areas. Per regulation, the spaceport was outside city limits, so if they didn't find a ride, it was a bloody long walk. Nothing Scotty would shy from, but definitely enough of one to put him past his window of opportunity with his Starfleet contact. And procuring other transport wouldn't exactly be easy, if that was the case.

"If I were a criminal, I'd hotwire a skimmer," he said, trudging along the now rain-slick sidewalk.

"We could try the subway again," Neva said, but she didn't sound too enthused with the idea herself. Mostly because there was one transfer point for the whole of the city -- Central Station, which they'd left themselves -- and only one train from there which went directly to the port, a high speed service with no stops. If there were assassins watching, and there probably were, they'd be watching that train.

"How long before daybreak?"

"Five hours. Then the shuttle buses start running again."

Scotty huffed out a sigh. Well, five hours of hanging about wasn't the worst thing. At least the company was charming. He shoved his hands into his pockets and balanced on the curb, one step in front of the other. "Could be worse, I suppose."

Neva pushed her wet hair out of her face and then grinned. "We could be reduced to bits of flesh back at the cafe."

She was good at getting him to smile. "Aye."

"And if we wait until daylight, it will be busier."

"Aye." Scotty glanced over. "Where will ye go? Ye can't exactly go back there."

Neva shrugged, a sort of delicate move, then wrapped her arms around herself. Without thinking, Scotty slipped out of his coat and put it around her shoulders; it was only about fifteen seconds after he did it that he realized she could probably stun him and walk off with the device, and the platinum, and his type 2 phaser, and his IDs, both of 'em, without much effort.

Neva apparently had no such plans, though; she just shot him a grateful smile and slid her arms properly into the coat. "I don't know, Starfleet. Somewhere." She nodded out towards the city with her chin. "I'm good at landing on my feet."

"Ye know, ye could come with me." Then, realizing how that sounded, he amended, "I mean, I could take ye on the transport I've got arranged, get ye offworld."

"Mm. No, but thank you." Neva crossed her arms; the juxtaposition between the heavy, slightly ratty coat and the relative lack of the rest of her clothing was somehow endearing. "I have a few ideas."


"Aye," she answered, eyebrow up, smile on her face.

So much trouble.

They had no better luck with the cabbies, and no better luck beyond that but to find a place to wait out the night and the rain. Which ended up being another all-night cafe, though at least of some better caliber than the one Neva had been working out of. Outside, the rain went from spitting to a torrent; inside, at least it was dry, if not strictly warm and cozy.

And at least the coffee was good.

Neva tended to elicit looks from all and sundry; less, in the market district, which seemed a good deal more diverse, but even then she attracted attention. She didn't so much seem to notice, though. Or, she noticed and didn't particularly feel like acknowledging it. Nor could Scotty blame her; he had never in his life been one to gain much notice outside of his intelligence, but he had a feeling that it would get annoying quick.

Luckily, the many rumors about Orion women were enough to keep people from acting stupid about it. Namely, that they could cut parts of you off and present them to you before you had time to realize you were bleeding.

It seemed a wholly strange contrast to the reality of her sitting there, wearing his coat, sipping tea and looking tired. Beautiful still, but tired.

"We should get a hotel room," she said, looking out of the window.

There was a thunk, and then searing hot on his lap, and it was right about there Scotty realized he'd dropped his coffee.

Neva actually looked startled as he jumped up, trying to swipe the rapidly cooling liquid off to absolutely no avail and managing to keep that noise of pain in his throat. Then she started laughing.

Burned a bit -- literally and maybe a wee bit non-literally -- he grabbed a napkin, mopped off the seat and did his best to ignore the few other patrons and the waiter looking at him like he'd just danced the bolero. "Funny to you, maybe..."

"Just a little," Neva said, schooling her laughter, though not her grin. "I'm flattered. I don't think I've ever gotten that reaction before."

Scotty sat down with a huff, crossing his arms. But it was only about five seconds before he found himself smiling back at her. He'd sort of lost track how much of that was pheromones and how much of that was just the fact that he liked her. "Really? In yer line o' work, not one man's damaged himself fallin' all over ye?"

"Not like that," she answered, chuckling, reaching across the table to use her own napkin to mop up what was left of the coffee on its surface. "Most men show up for different reasons, Starfleet."

He wasn't quite sure what to say to that, so he didn't try.

Neva set aside the coffee-soaked napkin, then folded her hands to rest her chin on them. "No, you're something different."

"How's that, then?" he asked, resting his crossed arms on the table.

Neva looked off for a moment, thoughtfully, then focused back on him with a little, warm smile. "In my line of work -- all of my lines of work -- they watch me, and they lust. They see a green Orion animal woman, fierce and sensual, and they picture all of the things they want to do to this green Orion animal woman. The married ones often hate themselves. The kind souls who would rescue me from my life see a poor, sorry victim, but even they have their fantasies. Oh, repressed, to be sure, but fantasies anyway. But you, Starfleet..." She reached over and tapped the tip of his nose. "You see me."

His mouth was dry again, and pretty much every cell of him wanted to follow that fingertip back to her side of the table, so Scotty wasn't wholly sure she was reading him accurately there. But he managed to answer, voice a little rough, "I think ye're bein' a bit too forgiving, if ye think I haven't noticed ye."

"No." She leaned in closer, and without a thought, he did too. "No, you have. But -- and this is the important part, so pay attention -- but you see me despite it. Not because of it."

If she got much closer, he thought he might faint. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he wondered if she was ratcheting up her pheromones intentionally, or just instinctively. Either way, the effect was dizzying.

"Excuse me," a voice broke in, though it wasn't quite enough to actually make Scotty look over, no matter how annoying it was. "You're disturbing the other patrons."

Neva leaned back, and then smiled at the small woman who had appeared. "I'm sorry. Please, give them my apologies."

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