I had some trouble writing this part... mostly due to Gabe's choice of clothes. Hopefully it's believable, he didn't come across as being possessed, and you like it.

Essential 22

Gabe stood in front of the bathroom mirror and grimaced. He was wearing part of the suit that Lina and his mother had helped him to pick out and buy on the basis that a successful businessman had at least one suit in his closet. Whether he wore it often or not. Gabriel's dark blue suit spent the majority of its life with him living in the back of his closet under a protective plastic bag. As he looked at his reflection, he was glad that he'd eventually followed his mother's advice on getting a classically lined suit instead of a trendier one. He didn't wear the piece of clothing enough to wear it out and he didn't have to replace it to continue to look decently "business-like" as was required with a few of his clients and the bank. The dark blue pants were paired with a lighter blue long-sleeved shirt that was tucked in. The jacket to the suit was tossed across the arm of his sofa and he debated whether or not to wear it.

Deciding that he was going to show him a new side of himself but still be himself, he put the jacket back onto the hanger so he could hang it in his closet. Looking at his watch, he bit back a curse. If he dawdled any longer, he was going to be running late.

Grabbing his leather jacket and making sure that he had his cell phone with him, he reached over took the clear plastic object he had left on a shelf by his door so he wouldn't forget it. He climbed into his newly washed and waxed car and went on his way to Sara's loft. He wasn't entirely sure if she would be ready, but he wouldn't mind waiting. After all of their casual dates, he was as at home in her apartment as he was in his own. Even with the unusual quietness coming from the lack of blasting retro music.

When he reached the door, he knocked as he normally did. Although he still possessed the key that Sara had given him the night they had the miniature fashion show and went through Sara's flea market prize, he rarely used it even when she was expecting him. The very fact that the extremely private detective had let him keep it was a show of trust that he wasn't going to abuse. He hesitated and knocked again, unsure if she had heard him before. Her motorcycle was downstairs in the parking lot, proof that she was home but not answering.

Finally the door swung open to reveal a flushed and flustered Sara wearing a short, bright cerulean blue robe. She had a vividly colored striped towel around her neck that she was using to pat her hair dry. "Hi, sorry. As you can see, I'm running a bit late," she told him as she stepped back to allow him entrance.

He swallowed almost audibly before answering, "uh, no, that's okay. We still have some time."

She nodded and closed the door behind him, her trained eye running over his un-Gabe-like clothes before gesturing to the sitting area and kitchen. "Make yourself comfortable; you know where everything is. I shouldn't be too long," she said as she rifled through the closet for a minute before grabbing a bunch of the hanging clothes and disappearing into the bathroom.

Gabriel shrugged out of his jacket and slowly made his way to the kitchen with a shake of his head as the sound of a blow dryer going filled the loft. Life around Sara definitely wasn't boring. He'd thought that she could answer a door pretty normally but it turned out that he was just a little wrong. Adding it to his mental checklist of unexpected things he should semi-expect, he pulled a bottle of cold water out of the refrigerator and took a long drink. He looked down at the plastic box he still held and gently put it on the counter. With a rueful chuckle, he admitted to himself that it was a good thing he'd decided against the traditional bouquet of flowers. The stems would have been crushed at his reaction to the unexpected gift he'd been given upon arrival.

Lifting the half-empty bottle of cold water, he pressed it to his face as he closed his eyes. Tonight was to show that he wasn't just teasing and rented movies and dates she'd never thought of. He could be normal, romantic. In his opinion, too much normality was often over-rated, but a little could be nice. Give people a chance to see things in a different light. She'd already begun to since his birthday, maybe even before. Another small nudge wouldn't hurt. Her greeting at the door put a little kink in his plans. How was he supposed to be sweet and romantic when all he could think about was how wonderful it would have been to loosen the towel and let it fall to the floor as he kissed her and tasted her freshly washed, still damp skin? He gave a strangled groan and took a deep breath, doing his best to clear his mind. Thoughts like that wouldn't help him at all.

The door to the bathroom opened, making him aware that it the noise from blow dryer had been missing for some time. He quickly finished his water and set the plastic bottle on the counter to be refilled before turning around. Sara was nowhere in sight, and he stepped around the counter and forward before hearing a muttered swear word. Sara popped up from where she'd been kneeling in front of the closet.

"Had to find my shoes," she explained.

"Not a problem." He cleared his throat as she walked towards him and he got a good look at her rather Un-Sara-like clothing. Deciding to match his casual-but-dressy appearance, she was wearing a long soft looking warm red skirt that had a long slit in one side that revealed a good portion of leg. With it, she had on a sleeveless gold vest that clung gently to her curved, the front dip showing a small amount of cleavage. Also unlike her normal wardrobe, she was wearing two-and-a-half inch strappy high heels, large gold hoops in both ears, and beaded silver-and-gold bracelets on the non-Witchblade occupied wrist. Her makeup was minimal and her hair styled so that it looked like she had just climbed out of her bed. Or someone else's. "You look just like what I picture a gypsy would look like," he finally said.

She laughed, absurdly glad that she had given into Vicki's prodding to buy the uncharacteristic outfit on one of their rare girls' day out. "I think I'll take that as a compliment," she teasingly decided.

"You should," he answered her honestly. "You look..." his voice trailed off as his eyes traveled over her outfit again. Remembering the traditional side to the evening, he turned slightly and took the gift from the counter. "Flowers and candy are traditional," he explained as he handed the object to her.

She accepted it with a smile; her eyes widening at the exquisite chocolate rose that was displayed in solitary splendor. The delicately formed bloom and petals were made of creamy while chocolate while the stem, miniature leaves, and even a couple thorns were made of dark chocolate. "Oh, Gabriel," she said softly, "it's beautiful. Thank you." She looked up from the rose to find him watching her with serious dark eyes.

"Not as beautiful as you," he replied quietly as he reached out and ran one tousled wave through his fingers. "You look absolutely breathtaking."

She blinked at the compliment. Other men had complimented her when picking her up for dates, but none so seriously. "You're looking pretty good yourself," she returned when she could speak, running her fingers from his shoulder to the waistband of his slacks. "Not at all what I expected from you," she admitted.

"Then we surprised each other," he admitted with a grin. "Are you ready to go?"

She nodded and went to pick up the small beaded handbag that she'd bought the same day as the skirt. It was a basically impractical size but it would hold her lipstick, wallet, and ID. When she turned back to him, he was once again wearing his leather jacket and was holding hers out. Accepting the silent offer to help her, she shrugged into it, eyes closing slightly as he made sure that none of her hair was trapped under the collar. "All ready," he announced, his hand lingering on her shoulder, thumb stroking the base of her neck. She answered with another nod and accepted the offered arm, amused at the gallant, somewhat out-of-time gesture that she'd come to expect from him.

They walked like that to the car and Sara waited as he unlocked the door and held it open for her. After he had settled in the driver's seat and turned the car on, she watched him as the streetlights made travelling shadows in the car. "Where are we going?"

"Angelique's," he answered, naming a restaurant that had been around for a few years and was still popular because of the wonderful food, good music, relaxed intimacy, and romantic atmosphere.

"I've never been there," she admitted. "Is it any good?"

He looked over at her with a grin, heat warming his brown eyes. "Very good," he answered.

She smiled in response, not feeling the need to respond verbally, and felt one of his hands catch hers. She looked down as he gave a gentle squeeze, then looked up and caught the simmering glance he sent her way as he released it.

"Very good," he repeated softly.

They eventually pulled up to the restaurant and the car was parked by an attendant as Gabe offered his arm to Sara and led her to the door, which was opened for them by another uniformed attendant. As they made their way to the polished wood stand the maitre d stood behind, both were aware of curious eyes watching them. "We have a reservation for two under 'Bowman,'" Gabriel told the man, smiling slightly when he ran his finger down the list of names and immediately found it.

"Of course, Sir," he said as a young woman in a black dress stepped forward for their coats, waiting as Gabe helped Sara out of hers. She exchanged a numbered card for the two jackets. The man waiting until they had completed the switch and gestured. "This way, please," he said as began walking towards a table on the outskirts of a polished dance floor, making sure that they had fallen into step behind him.

Gabe gave a quick but subtle shake of his head as the man reached out to Sara, pulling out and holding the chair for her to sit on himself. The maitre d waited for Gabe to seat himself before handing them the rich red fabric-bound menus. "Thank you."

"Of course, Sir," he answered before nodded to a uniformed waiter. "Phillipe will be your waiter this evening," he told them, adding that they shouldn't hesitate to have him called if they had any difficulties during their dinner before leaving.

"Can I get you anything to drink right now?" the young man offered.

Gabriel exchanged a glance with Sara before nodding. "A bottle of wine, please. Use your judgement," he decided. "We aren't entirely sure what we'll be ordering, so something that would work with a variety of dishes would be best," he answered.

"Of course."

Gabe looked over at Sara. "Like the place so far?"

Sara looked around her surroundings. The tables were placed far enough apart from each other to give each couple a sense of intimacy. The small group of musicians playing in a corner was unobtrusive, providing background music for the conversations the patrons were having. The dance floor before them was a decent size and promised that the music may get louder later. The entire ambiance was enhanced by floor to ceiling drapery in the same rich red of the menus with dark wood providing elegance and tasteful gold accents giving a touch of sparkling class. She finally nodded, admitting ruefully "I do have to admit I feel a bit uncomfortable sitting here near the center of the room. I'm usually towards the back of a crowd unless there's a danger of some sort," she explained.

"Would you like to sit somewhere else? I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem," he offered.

Sara looked around them, the dimmed lighting throwing the room into warm shadows enhanced by candlelight. "No," she answered with a small chuckle. "I don't think I want to be a cop tonight," she decided, surprising herself as she fingered the soft snowy white fabric of the tablecloth.

He nodded his acceptance, surprised at the pleasure he felt at the idea. If Sara trusted him enough to be herself instead of a cop, things were definitely looking up. He accepted the glass of wine Phillipe offered to him, tasting it. While he wasn't an expert by any sort of means, he did know what he thought tasted good and this one did. He nodded and watched as Sara was poured a glass and more was added to his small amount. Phillipe left the bottle, saying that he would be back for their orders when they were ready.

Sara opened the red menu, looking at the vast selection with disbelief. If she hadn't figured the place for expensive based on the decorations, the menu certainly would have raised her suspicions. One page was in French while the facing page mimicked it in English and none of the entries had prices attached. Definitely not a place she could afford to go to on any regular basis. Not unless she took bribes and looked the other way. She cast a semi-suspicious glance that was filled with doubts Gabriel's way.

"I can afford this," he promised her after intercepting it with a laugh. "Don't worry about it. I'm a successful entrepreneur," he reminded her.

"And a pretty good friend," came a laughing female voice. They both looked over to see a woman with artfully arranged blonde tresses and an unobtrusively elegant dress standing near their table.

Gabriel grinned and stood up to hug her. "It's been too long, Angel."

She laughed and agreed, her eyes drawing back to Sara. "Too long, if you're showing your serious side to a woman," she teased, laughing again when a flush crept up his face.

"Angel, this is Sara Pezzini. Sara, this is Angel, an old friend of mine and the owner of this fine dining establishment," he introduced, sitting down when he finished.

"Don't let him get away with acting coy," the blonde warned Sara. "I wouldn't have made it this far in the restaurant business if it weren't for his backing," she freely admitted.

"I'll be sure to watch him," Sara promised with a laugh as his face went a shade brighter.

Angel nodded and plucked the menu from Sara's hand, following it up with collecting the one from the table. "Don't even think about ordering from the menu," she warned. "I'll handle everything," she promised. "Why don't the two of you do some dancing while I arrange your dinner?" She sailed away before they could respond, leaving a bemused Sara and flushed Gabe in her wake.

Sara looked from the empty dance floor to Gabe, laughing internally at him. She suspected that one of the few people in this world who could fluster the man sitting before her had just left.

"Sorry about Angel. I've known her for years; makes her think she can speak her mind no matter what."

"Not a problem," she accepted easily. "Shouldn't we be dancing?"

Gabe laughed and stood up. "Unless we want her to come back out and lead us herself," he joked. He held Sara's chair for her to get out of and they made their way the short distance to the floor. Once there, they fell together naturally, the steps coming to each naturally as they danced to the smooth jazz.


Romantic enough for everyone who's been asking for romance? Who wants more?