Chapter 7: Closer

"Now do I get to take your pants off?" Sara quipped, her breathing a bit ragged when they finally separated.

There was a drowning intensity to Gabriel's eyes as he stared back at her for a few moments, chest heaving as he tried to get his breathing under control.

"Yeah," he responded, his voice deep and hard.

Sara didn't need the witchblade to tell her he was struggling to maintain his composure. Much as she was tempted to lighten the mood by teasing him provocatively, she resisted. He was so serious, it was a side of him that she hadn't seen much of and needed to consider. She also knew that she had a habit of shying away from the intensity of her partner's feelings in a relationship. Perhaps it was part of the reason her relationships never worked in the end, she was always trying to deflect the sort of deeper emotions that might lead to a more serious commitment.

Gabriel's watched her silently as she worked the buttons loose on his jeans. Sara found it difficult to let him watch her so intently, but she stubbornly avoided doing anything that might change his behavior. Once the buttons were undone, she hitched her fingers in the waistband and drew the jeans down over his slender hips, letting her hands deliberately skim over the simple cotton of his boxer/briefs and down the length of his well-muscled thighs. Tossing the jeans into the corner with his shirt, she tried to stand motionless before his scrutiny.

When he finally spoke, the tension in Gabriel's voice let her know that she was glad she'd resisted the urge to tease him. "Why don't you hop in and get warmed up?"

She nodded and carefully avoided touching the tiles on the walls as she slipped under the spray of the shower. God, we have so much to learn. Sara tilted her head back under the water and let the spray pound into her scalp. She felt Gabriel's long slender fingers slide through her hair and trace down the length of her back. Hm, I didn't even hear him get in, she noted. Her breath caught when she realized that his hands weren't stopping their descent. They traced past the small of her back, over her tailbone, around the curve of her ass, and down the first few inches of her thighs before slipping away from her skin.

She glanced at him over her shoulder and the view made his body tighten and vibrate pleasantly. Hmm, nicely developed arms, long slender fingers, straight shoulders, not too muscular, smooth chest. I think I could get used to the nice proportions. She grabbed his hands and wrapped them around her body to cup her breasts. He tried to move away, but her own hands were still covering his and kept them firmly in place.

" Mystical bullshit aside, I'm going to do this the old fashioned way; this is exactly where I want your hands RIGHT NOW. And if I hadn't made that promise, I'd be fucking you against the wall."

Gabriel felt Sara's body shaking with silent laughter as she felt his undeniable reaction to her words pressed against the small of her back.

"Well, now that we know this is a completely mutual attraction, care to take advantage of the circumstances and help me get showered?"

Wordlessly, Gabriel grabbed the bottle of shampoo, squirted some into his palm and began to work it into her hair.

He shook his head, "are you always this demanding?'

"I've never been accused of being a timid lover."

Blood sang hotly in Gabriel's veins, "why do I suddenly worry that I'm in way over my head here?"

Sara's hips moved against his in a manner that was both suggestive and enticing.

"You sure you still want to keep that promise?" she teased.

"No," he growled.

"Turn 'round," she ordered.

Gabriel threw her a smoldering look as he turned and deliberately put his palms against the wall, spreading himself like one of her perp collars waiting to be patted down. Sara was stunned by how strongly she responded to the correspondence. She knew cops who got turned on by checking out a perp before cuffing them. Oh this is definitely going in directions that none of my other relationships have gone before. This is either going to be very unbalanced and unhealthy or its going to be better than anything I've ever had before.

Shit.

Sara had to work had to keep her touch efficient and business-like as she worked over Gabriel's body with the soap. I never would have guessed he had such a great body. I'm guessing I'm not the first woman who's overlooked him because of the baggy clothes. I wonder how many chances have passed him by because of it? On the other hand, if this goes the way I hope, other women noticing him won't matter any more. If she'd taken time to ponder, Sara might have been unnerved by how seriously she was considering the potential of this relationship. As it was, she had far too much distraction in the warm skin under her fingers to wonder at the serious tone of her own thoughts.

She looked him over critically, "anyplace I missed?" she teased invitingly.

"Tsk, tsk, Chief. Innuendo isn't going to get you anywhere tonight."

She laughed enjoying the verbal sparing that had always been part of their easy friendship.

"Let's get that shampoo out of your hair," Gabriel gently turned her under the shower's spray so he could help her rinse.

I could drink the water off her body, he thought fervently as he watched the rivulets converge and flow between her breasts. Down Bowman, remember you want this one to last. There'll be plenty of time. He reached over to enjoy sifting strands of Sara's smooth hair through his fingers. She leaned back into his hands and let him do all the work. She certainly seems to be enjoying this at least as much as you are. He tugged Sara out of the spray, grabbed the bottle of conditioner, spread a portion of it out across his palms, and worked it in from the ends of her hair to her scalp.

"Are you always this meticulous? No wonder your hair always looks so good. You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Absolutely," he agreed happily, "how could I not be enjoying life when I'm sharing a naked shower with one of the most drop-dead gorgeous women I've ever met?"

Sara's skin flushed and she bit her tongue to hold back a defensive comment. She wasn't used to letting men see her as an attractive woman. With Gabriel, she found herself wanting to let him see her without trying to shape his view. She was eager to see a different person reflected back through the rich chocolate of his eyes. For the first time in her life, Detective Sara Pezzini was considering who she might be when not defined by her badge and the blade on her wrist.

Gabriel stretched fluidly letting his long lean body fill the space. He's taller than I'd thought. Seeing him stand straight with no awareness of her scrutiny, she realized that most of the time he stooped with his shoulders tight and his neck forward. I wonder if it's the time in front of a computer or if he's subconsciously trying to be less noticeable in the world. I've seen victims at the precinct that looked like that; the ones who've been beaten one too many times. I really don't know a thing about his childhood, do I? All this time that we've been friends and I've never even asked whether or not he has a happy family somewhere out there. For all I know, he could have grown up with worse than what I got. We really do have a lot to learn. But I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to not noticing that body again. God he's graceful. I doubt he knows how attractive he can be when he isn't trying to hide out. Guess we both try not to be noticed in our own ways.

A light touch on her cheek broke Sara from her contemplation.

"Serious thoughts?" he asked, a moment's hesitation in his voice.

We're both still feeling our way here. Is she having doubts about getting involved with me? He hated himself for letting it get the better of him, but Gabriel couldn't help the insecure voice that seemed to ride shotgun in the back of his mind when it came to Sara right now. The silent movies that sometimes played in his head had never featured her returning his interest. Sure, the fantasies had always been pleasant fodder on cold nights, but being faced with the reality was an entirely different thing. Take it moment to moment right now, Bowman. Just let it be what it is and try not to get too lost in this. No sense losing your heart over her this early when things might still fall apart.

"I was just noticing how tall you are when you stand up straight. Did you realize that you don't usually?"

Her reply wasn't what he expected, but it only served to highlight how much they could still mis-read each other without the benefit of the witchblade sharing their thoughts and emotions.

"Huh," he replied thoughtfully, "you're right. My aikido instructor used to pound on me for it all the time so I at least stand straight when I'm in the dojo. But I guess I still don't do it under normal circumstances."

"Any particular reason," she asked. She wanted to know so much more of his past, of the parts of him that she didn't know yet.

"I hit this really fast growth spurt somewhere around my sophmore year of high school. It made me kind of clumsy for a couple years, which was why I started taking aikido. For a while though, I was all arms and legs. I don't think I really filled in all the way till I was close to twenty. By then, I'd learned to be comfortable in my own skin again thanks to 6 years in the dojo every week, but I guess I never quite stopped standing a little funny when I wasn't in front of a sensei."

She ran a hand lightly across the span of his chest from shoulder to shoulder.

"Well you should do it more often. Your body dynamics change pretty drastically when you're standing straight. And for the record, it shows off some of your, um, appealing attributes." She couldn't help but flush a little as she enjoyed the feeling of the wet warmth of his skin beneath her fingers.

He swallowed hard. That shower's gonna turn cold pretty soon and if she keeps this up, I'm gonna need it!

"We should get finished. The hot water tank is only good for about 20 minutes before you end up with nothing but luke-warm misery."

"Point taken," she laughed. Oh no you don't. I may let you off the hook for the moment, Gabriel, but I am going to learn more about you. And if I have to learn to accept your scrutiny, then you've got to take it from me too. The more I learn, the deeper I want to be drawn into your world. I really hope you're willing to share and let me in.

Sara stepped back under the spray and vigorously scrubbed the conditioner out of her hair then quickly rinsed the soap from her body. She didn't notice how Gabriel stilled to watch her intently as she moved under the steady rain of the shower. By the time she returned her attention to him the heat in his gaze had been carefully smothered as he refocused on the safely innocuous bar of soap. She didn't feel his eyes as they bore into her again, watching the sweet spot where her ass and thighs met as she stepped out of the shower.

Gabriel shook himself mentally as she stepped out of the shower. Rinse, he commanded himself. She's not going anywhere.

"So, um, why were you dressed so, um-" he found that he couldn't finish the sentence.

Sara smiled, so you noticed the clothes, huh, Gabriel. Maybe there had been an unexpected fringe benefit to her undercover assignment She made a mental note to see if she could get him to reveal how long he'd been attracted to her before the witchblade forced both their hands.

"I'm working an undercover assignment right now. A couple hookers have turned up beaten to death recently and we're trying to collar the perp before this turns any uglier."

"God if you've been going out dressed like that, you've got to be attracting some serious attention," he tried and failed to keep the protective concern out of his voice.

"Relax, Gabe. Remember, I've always got Jake for backup and the witchblade if that fails." Not to mention a certain psycho-stalker. Lord knows what Nottingham will do when he finds out about Gabriel and I.

"Just be careful, okay? I know this is your job and I'm not going to suddenly become some over-protective moron. But with the witchblade giving you distractions, you might not be as fast as you think you are right now."

"Fair enough. I promise I'll be more cautious than usual till we get this figured out. Speaking of the witchblade, any idea what's going on with that band around your arm?"

Gabriel tried not to let his mixed emotions at that particular turn of events come out in his voice when he answered, "none of the research I've done up till now has included anything like this. That doesn't mean this is entirely new, after all I've never had reason to look for any sort of male counterpart to the witchblade before this. It might be that there's an explanation, but I've never come across it because I wasn't looking. I'm going to do a deeper search."

She couldn't resist smiling at his supreme confidence that he would be able to find something. She knew he was tenacious when it came to research. She doubted that he had ever failed to find information about a chosen subject of interest. If any previous records of the witchblade claiming a second person while still actively bonded to a living wielder existed, he would find it.

"A word of advice from experience," she offered, "you may not like it, but for the moment, you probably don't want to take that thing off or try to mess with it. If it's anything like the hunk of metal on my wrist, it won't take kindly to being separated from you."

"I'll keep that in mind," he responded, stepping out of the shower and grabbing a towel off a hook on the back of the door. He couldn't keep the uncertainty and anger out of his voice.

"Do you blame me for this," Sara asked haltingly. She had to know.

"No," he sighed, "we both made choices here. I'm just really not comfortable being drawn deeper into this."

"Now you know how I feel. I never wanted this. I'm finally learning to live with its presence in my life, but I was never given a choice. The acceptance has been hard won for me." I hope it will be easier for you, she thought silently. You may not ever know it, Gabriel, but I promise I'm going to try to shield you from the worst parts of what's to come.

Sara had always been fiercely protective of her friends. She was beginning to realize that need to protect had always run deeper with Gabriel than most. He could handle himself but she never wanted to see him lose that incredible spark that made him who he was. She knew from her own experiences that close contact with the witchblade would slowly and surely devour someone like Gabriel leaving nothing but an empty shell in its wake. Sometimes she felt like that was what it had done to her; there was nothing left but the struggle to bring justice and balance to a fight so ancient and cosmic that she knew it would never be achieved in her lifetime. That knowledge had ground her down as surely as centuries of pressure turned coal to diamonds. Like a diamond, Sara frequently thought of herself as nothing but the distilled elements necessary to achieve certain perfection. All that would remain when the witchblade was done with her would be a perfect world. She'd fought against it at first, but now she knew that a small part of her had had welcomed the knowledge that the world would be a better place when she finally left it behind. Accepting the witchblade's had at least bestowed that one gift on her. That didn't mean she was eager to share the experience with this man whom she was just beginning to love.