Feet of Clay (10)

Stephen remained to talk to Gibbs and Abby.

He looked at each of them in turn, allowing time if either wanted to speak. When they didn't, he asked, "Abby, how do you feel about sharing your anger with Jethro today?"

The couple had their hands interlocked, and Abby was smiling. "I feel very relieved, like I have nothing to worry about anymore, no burdens. Like things are going to be okay."

"And you, Jethro?"

He gazed into her green eyes, still a bit moist from her tears. "I have never been happier in my life."

Both Abby and Stephen were a bit shocked by his response. "What do you mean?" Abby asked.

Gibbs gave her one of his half-smiles that made his eyes sparkle. "You took a burden off me, too," he answered. "The guilt that I've felt for so long – that I've allowed to build up – you released it by your anger and by your forgiveness." He paused, considering. "I think Shannon and Kelly would have forgiven me, too."

Abby gently touched his cheek. "Oh, my silver-haired fox," she breathed, "they already have."

*******************

Tony ended up falling asleep in front of the TV and didn't wake up until about nine. It was getting dark.

"Ziva!" he called. "You back?" She wasn't there, and there wasn't any indication that she had been there. Tony had to wonder; was she with someone else? Sure, most of the people there had a significant other, but there were the counselors, the workers or just someone else who had come to the same conclusion that they had. Tony paced the room for a minute; the thought of Ziva already in the arms of another man infuriated him.

Maybe he should at least give her the benefit of the doubt. Her swimsuit wasn't there; maybe she was still at the pool. Who could swim for five hours? Ziva, if she was particularly upset. Tony felt a glimmer of hope, then was ashamed of himself for being happy that the woman that he, well, at least cared for, was upset about their breakup. He would go and find her. If she was upset, maybe he could reassure her. If he could pretend he wasn't just as unhappy.

He found Ziva at the pool, not swimming, but lying on her stomach on a towel by the side. Her head was leaning on an elbow and the other hand was swirling the water lit by underwater lights, giving everything a cast of greenish blue.

"Mind if I join you?" he said, walking over and standing beside her. She didn't respond, but when he sat down, she splashed a little water in his direction in greeting.

"Have a good swim?"

"The water was a little cold, but yes, once I got moving. Did you have a good afternoon watching basketball?"

"Fell asleep actually."

"You must have been worn out from this afternoon."

"Guess so. I'm still trying to accept it, really."

"Yes. But it makes me wonder…what makes her stay with him?"

"He's…Gibbs. She's loved him forever, I think. Honestly, I think they know it's supposed to happen and they aren't letting anything come between them." He took his shoes off, rolled his pants up and sat beside her with his feet in the water. "Kind of makes you feel like wimp, huh?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know. They're still together even after he raped her. And we're…why are we breaking up again?"

"What you Americans call 'irreconcilable differences'."

"Oh."

"Do you really think they should still be together?"

"So you wouldn't stay with me, then?"

"As I said this afternoon, you would be dead if you even tried it. But aside from that, I wonder if in some cases it would be better just to admit defeat. It wasn't so hard for us to do so."

"It wasn't?"

"Relatively speaking. Nothing messy; we just agreed to disagree. I didn't mean to say that I wasn't sad about it, or that I'm not going to miss you." She looked at him for the first time since he had joined her. "Are you alright, Tony?"

"I don't know." He stared at the water for a minute. "'Tell what you believe your mother might think about you right now.'"

"I'm sorry?"

"That was my card; the one I got on Friday. I didn't want to tell anyone else about it, but I want to tell you, and do you know why?"

"What's wrong with you?"

"I'll just tell you about the card first. The honest truth is that I don't know that my mother would think of me at all, particularly if she had a drink or a man around, because she so rarely did under those circumstances. I don't know if I ever even made top ten on her priority list. I try to think of her as little as possible because it just seems wrong to me for a person to think about their dead mother without feeling just the tiniest bit sad. And I don't know if she would even care that I don't." He took a deep breath. "So you want to know why I told you this?"

"If you want to tell me."

"I told you because you are one of the few people in the world that I actually trust not to say something stupid like 'Tony, you can't blame yourself for what your mother did' or 'oh, Tony, now I understand why you objectify women; you were never emotionally close to your mother.' Now say what you would say."

"I don't believe that you don't feel sad at all, and you objectify women because you are a cretin whose mind only runs on one track."

"See, I knew it; I knew that you would know what to say. Listen, Ziva, whatever 'it' is, we have it. You and me. We've always had it. And I really don't think we should let it go to 'irreconcilable differences'." It was a moment before Ziva answered.

"I appreciate the gesture, Tony, but I already told you; I don't want to spend my life fighting." She turned away from him. Tony didn't think much about he did next; he just wanted to be able to look straight at her and not have her turn away. So he slid into the pool, clothes and everything. When he came back up, he grabbed the edge and looked her in the face.

"I'm sorry you were feeling unhappy," he said to her. "I didn't mean for you to. You mean a lot to me and I'm sorry if I didn't show that enough. Can we try one more time? Please?" Once Ziva got over the surprise, her face softened.

"I'm sorry about the air conditioner," she said. "You can keep it the way you want; I'll just bring a sweater and some blankets over." He smiled at her and started to say something. "And don't you make a single joke about how what we're doing should keep me warm enough."

"How do you read my mind?" Ziva leaned in to kiss him; instead, Tony ducked underwater, came up and splashed her while her eyes were closed. Ziva screamed a little in surprise and tried to splash him back. He had gotten out of range and was swimming toward the ladder. He climbed out, bringing, from all appearances, the rest of the pool with him. Ziva wrapped her towel around herself and walked over to him.

"So this is your idea of objectifying women?" she asked.

"Well, Ziva, in all fairness, it's long been speculated that you're not a real woman."

"Is that so? So what am I exactly? And what does that make you?"

"Very, very lucky." They smiled at each other for a minute.

"We should go upstairs and get you out of these clothes."

"Fine by me."

"All part of your plan then?"

"Not really, but it worked out well." Ziva put her arms around him and their faces drifted closer and closer.

"Yes, it certainly did." She pulled away and pushed him into the pool; Tony yelled and got a mouthful of pool water. When he came back up, Ziva was giggling, far enough away so that he couldn't pull her in. He climbed out a second time.

"Do you feel appropriately avenged for the splashing, Ms. David?" he asked.

"Yes, Tony." She came back and put an arm around him. "I won't push you in again."

"Good, because considering how wet I am now, I should go upstairs and get these clothes off before I get pneumonia or something."

"I would hate for that to happen."

"Then let's go, and hope we don't meet any counselors on the way. I don't want to know what they would think of this."

***

Abby spent the rest of the conference smiling, and she often caught Gibbs unconsciously smiling in response. She didn't mention it, though, not wanting to make him self-conscious.

As for Gibbs, he frequently found himself lost in thought. He had decided to surprise Abby with something special, but he wasn't sure yet how, when, and where he wanted to do it. Sunday morning he wandered in the gardens while Abby still slept, choosing a flower here and there and placing them in a glass of water he had borrowed from the kitchen. He then gave the glass to the men's group leader, Walker, to hold until later in the day. Walker knew about the surprise and highly approved.

***

The banquet was over; people were standing around talking, but Gibbs was anxious to leave. "Are you ready, Abbs? We need to pack our things and check out."

"What's the hurry, Jethro? I want to say goodbye to our friends," she replied, with a bit of irritation in her voice.

He was frustrated because he couldn't explain or it would spoil the surprise. But he managed to sound nonchalant. "How about I go ahead and you meet me in ten minutes?"

"Okay. Do you want to pinky swear?"

He chuckled. "Sure, Abbs." After the pinky swearing, he kissed her lightly and, unbeknownst to her, headed for Walker's room.

After collecting the flowers, he went back to their suite, beginning to feel the same fear he'd always felt before. But if he'd done it then, he certainly could do it now for Abby. 'Suck it up, Marine,' he told himself. 'You can do it.'

He checked that the ice around the champagne hadn't melted yet. He walked to the window, gazed out at a nearby mountain, glanced at his watch, then returned to the ice. It wasn't melting, as far as he could tell; had time actually stopped? Was fate going to cut him off just before he could act?

Finally he heard the beep of the electronic lock and Abby stepped inside. She saw the champagne first. "Hey Jethro, we got champagne! Did you order it?"

He stepped out of the adjoining dressing room, the flowers held tightly behind his back as he walked towards her. His mouth felt far too dry to produce words, but he heard himself say, "I did, Abbs."

"Are we celebrating this weekend? Good idea because –"

With one hand he gently covered her mouth to prevent more talking, with the other he presented her with the flowers.

He was pleased to hear her gasp. "Jethro! When did you do this? They're beautiful. Thank you so much!" She threw her arms around his neck and he had to chuckle, since she apparently had no idea what he was leading up to.

"Abby," he said gently, disentangling himself from her arms.

She raised her head from his shoulder, eyes wide. "Yes, Jethro?"

"Abby –" he began again, struggling to find the words he had so carefully planned out.

"What is it?" A chill engulfed her, and she felt deeply afraid. "Jethro – no –"

He knew her fear, and it finally pushed the words from his mouth. "Will you marry me, Abby?"

Her chill was replaced with warmth and comfort, and she smiled up at him. "No, sweetheart."

He stared at her, unable to believe that she had turned him down. But just before his heart teetered over into the abyss, she slowly winked and added, "But you can ask me again in a week."

He let out the breath he had been holding, almost sobbing with relief but turning it into a laugh instead. "My goth girl," he whispered, holding her tightly, "you will most definitely be the death of me."

Epilogue

When the conference was over, the couples drove home and everything went mostly back to normal, although everyone did notice some changes.

Tuesday afternoon, when it was getting close to time to go, Ziva went over to Tony's desk and asked if he would be interested in taking her to a movie that she wanted to see that evening.

"And I'm completely serious this time; I'm not lying," she said. "I want to see this movie and I want to see it with you. So, are we going?"

After they had left, Gibbs was looking out into the parking lot. To his surprise, he saw Tony's car. With Ziva getting into the driver's seat. She had to pull to get the keys out of Tony's hand, but he allowed her to get in and start driving. Gibbs smiled; he was glad the conference had been so helpful to them, too. Then he had to laugh. When they got to the edge of the parking lot, the car stopped and Tony took over the driving. But at least he was trying.

On Wednesday, midmorning, Abby appeared in the squad room, looking relatively calm. "Hello, Abby," Ziva acknowledged.

"What's up, Abbs?" asked Tony.

She ignored both of them; instead she climbed on a chair and whistled loudly. "Everybody pay attention! I have something important to say!"

"Is it about Bert?" asked Tony.

"Or leaving your cupcake alone?" McGee grinned.

She frowned at each of them. "No, it's much more serious!"

By this time most of the employees were actually watching her, curious as to what she would do this time. Even Gibbs looked up from his paperwork with a tolerant smile. She looked at him and held his gaze, so that he wouldn't look back down.

"I want to say, where everyone can hear, that I have a proposal to make." Stepping down from the chair, she walked towards him. "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, will you marry me?"

He stood up and met her halfway, looking at her tenderly. "You know I will," he told her. To ease the lump forming in his throat, he pulled her close and kissed her. In the hullabaloo that followed, very few people actually watched them. "You're a wicked tease," Gibbs whispered in her ear.

"Yeah," she said happily.

Suddenly her face filled with wonder and she gasped. "Oh my God, I'm getting married!"

the end

A/N: Stay tuned for Bridezilla Abby!