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In Step

by Nestra

Thanks: To shrift for audiencing and the title suggestion, and to the other people who looked at it and offered comments.

Notes: So this is one of those stories where the author looked at a picture and got an idea. I didn't mean to, honest. If you feel like looking at the picture, it's here.

A fluorescent light buzzes overhead, flooding the concrete walls and floor with sickly gray light. Sydney presses you against the wall with one hand while she listens for signs of pursuit. After about thirty seconds, she relaxes a little and smiles. "I think we're okay for the next few minutes. The guards don't change shift until midnight."

"Good," you say, trying to pretend that you're not panting from the breakneck run away from the building's server room. Sydney, of course, isn't winded at all, although how she managed to run in those ridiculous shoes is beyond you. God knows who dresses her for these missions, but her extremely tight, extremely short dress got her past the doorman and into the club that occupies the building's ground floor.

You turn to ask her a question about the bomb that's scheduled to go off in six minutes, but she's wincing as she takes a step away from the corridor's intersection. "What's wrong?"

She laughs. "It's these shoes. I think I'm getting a blister. There's no way I'm climbing any ladders with them on."

Your escape route involves going out a window and down a ladder bolted to the side of the building. She waves away your concerned look. "I'll just take them off. Believe me, I've done it before. Missions like these are hazardous to your wardrobe." She starts to bend down, reaching for the laces that hold the shoes in place, but wobbles on the three-inch heel.

"Here," you say, moving forward before you even think about it. "Let me help."

She hesitates, as she always does when you move too close or let your hand linger on her arm too long. You hate that look in her eyes, the guarded wariness that SD-6's various betrayals have put there. You wish you'd known her before she took it upon herself to save the world. But she knows that you don't have much time for hesitation, so she shuffles back two steps and leans against the wall.

You crouch down at her feet, one knee on the ground, and tug her left foot up to rest on your other knee. The motion pulls her off-balance, so she places a hand on your shoulder, and her fingers curl over and dig gently into the back of your arm.

The shoes really are ridiculous, open-toed and flimsy, completely unsuitable for running. Or even walking. They're the type of shoes meant to be admired and removed. You consider that for a moment, and you're not sure whether it's that thought that heats your cheeks or the fact that Sydney's short, tight dress is riding even higher up her thigh.

You find the ends of the laces tied delicately around her ankle, the pads of your fingers sliding over her smooth skin. A single pull unties the bow. Working your fingers underneath the criss-cross pattern loosens the shoe until the sides gape slightly. You can't resist looking up at her, and she's looking down at you, eyes wide, lips pressed together.

Your fingers tremble, just a little, as you lift her foot and slip off the shoe.

Her foot drifts back down to rest on your knee, your hand cupping her heel. And then neither of you move, even though the seconds are counting down in your head, and you know you only have a little over four minutes before the bomb goes off.

You finally clear your throat and lower your gaze. Still holding onto your shoulder for balance, she carefully places her bare left foot on the concrete and raises her right. You reach for it, and you know you're too eager, but you've got this tiny six-minute window where it doesn't matter that you're not supposed to be personally involved with her, and you don't have the strength to ignore it. Not when you can hear that Sydney's breathing is just as uneven as yours.

You take it slower this time, because as soon as you wrap your fingers around her ankle, you become addicted to the hitch that catches in her throat. You've spent so much time wondering if you have any kind of effect on her, and it makes you dizzy to elicit a reaction beyond a tentative smile. You trace the diamonds of skin outlined by the laces, and you have three minutes left to enjoy yourself.

You're leaning forward, and then your lips touch the skin stretched over her knee. You scrape it gently with your teeth as you work on the laces. Her fingers are clutching your shoulder now, shaking from the tension in her muscles. You've never tasted anything as sweet as her skin. You work your way down her leg as you slip off the shoe, and you reach up to stroke the inside of her knee as you let your tongue slip out to caress her anklebone.

There's that hitch again, and she's kneading your shoulder now, rhythmic motions in time with the sweep of your tongue and your fingers. You lower your knee, letting her right foot slide off and touch the ground. Your hand glides from the back of her knee over the strong lines of her calf as her free hand threads down through your hair to touch your cheekbone. You tilt your head up. Her cheeks are red; her lips are parted. The hand on your shoulder moves to your collar and urges you upright.

You stand slowly, letting your hands settle on her hips. It's hard to read her expression, and you don't move until she leans forward and kisses you. Two minutes.

She kisses like someone who's learned not to waste time, pressing against you and pulling you closer. Without her shoes, she's half a head shorter than you are; you push her back against the wall and open your mouth against hers. She slides her tongue against yours eagerly, her hands grasping at your shoulders. Your kisses are desperate, unbelieving, the two of you wrapped together in an embrace you never expected to happen. You kiss her again and again, her lips soft under yours, her tongue licking the roof of your mouth. You move from her lips to her chin to her neck, enjoying the gasps that she lets out. Tasting the hollow of her throat, sucking on the tendon leading to her shoulder -- you feel like you could explore this stretch of skin forever.

But you don't have forever. You have one minute.

You kiss her one last time, knowing you may never get the opportunity to do this again. You kiss her, breathing in her scent, and then you put your mouth to her ear and whisper, "Run."

It only takes a second for comprehension to hit, and then the two of you are sprinting towards the small window at the end of the hall. She makes you go down the ladder first. You hit the ground and take her hand to help her off the bottom rung. She smiles at you, and you're surprised, once again, at how beautiful she is, even standing barefoot in an alley. You don't let go of her hand as you take off down the street and the building ignites behind you.

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