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Ressa had kissed dozens of people, maybe hundreds. She had taken classes and lectures on technique and style, and knew all the tricks of the trade. She analyzed every kiss, comparing taste and force, and knew a dozen little tips for coaxing the most out of a partner. She was adept at controlling her saliva, and the pressure of her tongue, and was always taking notes in the back of her mind about the other kisser's skill.
When Bai kissed her, it all went out the window.
She didn't stop to think about any of the theory, only opened her mouth and kissed him back, completely swept away in the heady swirl of passion and emotion. It really was a different experience when love was involved - something deeper and richer and wilder, and for one brief moment, Ressa felt complete bliss, which turned into misery when she remember where they were - who they were - and she broke it off reluctantly.
"We can't do this, Bai," she said raggedly. "We can't." She didn't let go of him - couldn't! - and didn't back away on the harmonichron bench, though she knew she ought to. They were close together on the bench, clasping each other's forearms. She could still feel the whisper of his breath on her face, and the feeling of his hands on her arms was all that kept the unexpected ache of not kissing him at bay. She wasn't sure if she had ever wanted anything as much as she wanted to kiss him again.
"I know," he said gruffly, but he didn't offer to back away, either. Ressa tipped her forehead forward to meet his - it was somehow easier to resist the impulse to kiss him again with that contact, and they sat there for a long moment, forehead to forehead, while she struggled to put her world back into perspective. She somehow knew that once she let him go, she would never be able to touch him safely again.
It was laughter from beyond the doorway that finally propelled them apart on the bench, and there was a long awkward moment where they sat politely apart looking rigidly forward while the laughter faded down the hallway without pause. Ressa's breath felt forced - too fast, and when she tried to slow it, she felt like she wasn't getting enough.
"Bai," she said carefully, wishing her head was clearer. "I... I wish things were different. But they aren't, and they aren't going to be."
"I know," he repeated. "I'm sorry." He sounded so lost and wistful that Ressa nearly reached out to pat him.
She glanced at him, and found that she could look at him again without losing her resolve. "Oh, Bai," she said tenderly, forgetting her own sorrow for the moment. "Don't look like that. You'll break my heart! And your sister - if she sees you looking so hang-dog, she'll have my liver in a basket for breakfast."
He half-smiled at that, and Ressa found that her legs would obey her again, so she stood and brushed her skirt back into shape and smoothed her hair. "I should go," she said firmly. "I should have left hours ago." The light outside the windows wasn't only city lights anymore - there was a twilight haze to the sky that promised sunrise soon.
"You're right," Bai rumbled in agreement, and he stood, too. Ressa always forgot how much shorter he was until they were standing near each other. He politely waited for her to lead the way out, and she did, keeping her face carefully neutral. At the doorway, he touched her arm, and she paused. "There's... I'll never have another chance to tell you," he said. "Once we leave this room, that's it."
Ressa felt the facade of her expression waver, and nodded mutely. She felt the same - the moment they crossed that threshold, everything would be back the way it was, whatever freedom they had stolen here would be gone. She dreaded what he would say - and longed to hear it.
"No one forced me to love you," he said earnestly. "No one tricked me or made me feel anything I didn't already. No perfume or fancy dress or jealousy could have made me love you more. You're... shards of the sundered times, you're everything I've ever wanted in a woman - in any person. You're smart and funny and capable and beautiful and you don't let me get away with anything and you're kind on top of all of it, and if I couldn't have you for myself, I'm glad to have you as my Head of Files, and count myself a lucky man for that."
Ressa had to lean back on the doorframe and put her hands behind her to clasp it, or she would have fallen headlong into another ill-considered embrace. She couldn't answer - emotion crowded up in her throat, and she could only guess how stricken she must look. She wanted to answer, but could find no words or even formulate thoughts that fit. All she could think to reply was 'me too,' which failed on every level.
She was saved having to reply at all by a scream from the floor below.