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Toxicity

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I just wanted to let readers know that I am still alive and that I’m back writing new stories again. I just completed a 134,000-word fix-it story, at the Quantum Bang. I will eventually post it here on this site but it is 29 chapters long and at the moment I want to try to keep writing and finish a couple of outstanding stories while I'm in the zone so if you want to read it now, head on over to http://quantumbang.org/. It’s called the Charming Gardener and it's a major redux of season four and five. It will be posted on the QB site 2nd June. 

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Toxicity - the extent to which something is poisonous or harmful. ~ National Cancer Institute.

Abby Sciuto walked into her lab after a one-week leave of absence and felt as if she'd come home. In a way she had – her lab was her real home, not the apartment that she spent a scant few hours every day if she was really lucky. Since she was the only forensic scientist in the DC office, she worked crazy long hours. And she'd really missed her babies, especially Major Mass Spec, who she had a deep and enduring relationship with, but she'd been ordered to take leave after being tricked by that piece of crap, Master Sergeant Robert King.

The dirtbag had posed as a dying Afghani war veteran and he tricked her into completing what Dr Philip Heller had started. Both scientists had mistakenly believed that they were working on a cure for sick and dying soldiers. The truth had been much more sinister as each had been working on one-half of a biological weapon that would enable someone to kill a single individual by targeting their unique DNA.

King was in perfect health, even if he tricked her into thinking he died. He was only interested in creating a weapon he could sell to the highest bidder, and he targeted her because she was gullible. If she'd really ever bothered to think about it, there were other people who were eminently qualified to work on the problem who were pure research scientists. But 'they' were also trained to be sceptical – it was a tenet of empirical research to be sceptical of results. But that also tended to translate into suspecting the motivations of people around them, and the lack of information about the research and inability to study Dr Heller's data would have had most of them as suspicious as hell and running for the hills. Not Abby Sciuto though!

King had targeted her specifically, not simply because she had the expertise to get the job done, but even more importantly, because she was a notorious bleeding heart, do-gooder, recognised for her liberal leanings. Working for a pittance at NCIS instead of what a multinational conglomerate pharmaceutical corporation would have paid her to work for them, combined with her volunteerism, might as well have painted a big neon sign above her head saying SUCKER. And that bastard Robert King played on her well-developed empathy by hanging around with his portable tank of oxygen and his damned nasal prongs – pretending to be gravely ill, nobly asking her not to let them name the cure after him – PIG!

She fell for it - hook, line, and sinker. What a stupid, stupid idiot she was. She knew that part of the reason she was targeted by King, and not a research scientist, was that working for the military, she was accustomed to the cloak and dagger, need-to-know crap. Plus, working so closely with the MCRT that she identified herself as a Gibblet first and NCIS second, she was well used to being kept in the dark. Gibbs had a similar philosophy to that SOB King in that no one on his team was ever completely read in on all the facts of the case except for himself.

Gibbs treated every case as if it was a black op – essentially, he didn't let the right hand know what the left hand was up to. Sometimes she wondered if he even let his own left hand know what it was up to, which may get a little awkward at times, like when he had to take a whiz. As Ziva hung out in the men's head so much, she'd have to ask her how he coped with that conundrum.

So, Abby really hadn't thought twice about the mushroom approach of being kept in the dark and fed crap, utilised so adroitly by Dr Jones when she first arrived at Tarbust. After the FBI had kind of abducted her outside the dentist's office, she was on too much of an adrenaline rush to think clinically. In fact, it had been kind of thrilling to be whisked away and wooed like that, and that had probably been King's intention – so, she made decisions based on emotion, not intellect. And then for good measure, just in case there was the slightest doubt beginning to creep in – he'd organised for the delivery of the batch of rabbits. Cute, furry, huggable, snuggable, living breathing bunnies to distract her from the big picture. King was a real bastard, but he most definitely had her number, and it pissed her off - big time!

She was feeling angry, betrayed, guilty, and was well aware that there were still service men and women dying, or even dead, who'd been used too. In fact, they'd been used even worse than she had as for some of them, time was rapidly running out because they'd been misdiagnosed on purpose. Pawns in his deadly chess game!

Which was why she was such a mess and the director had insisted she take a one-week leave and attend mandatory counselling. But now she was back! She looked around the ultra-modern high-tech lab that she referred to as Labbyland and smiled a smile that the Cheshire Cat would be proud of.

Damn, it felt sooo good to be back!

After switching on her babies and welcoming them all fondly, she looked around the pristine lab with approval. Renee, the locum who'd filled in for her, had left it with barely a trace that she'd been here in Abby's territory, and she was grateful. Unlike Tony, Timmy, and Palmer, who'd made such a big mess, but she'd had her revenge on them. Oh yeah, even if she had been on leave, she'd snuck in to clean up the chaos they'd wrought on Labbyland. Since Abby's Rule #1 had been trampled to death by King, she decided to remind the trio of Abby's Rule #2 – Don't mess with Abby. She highly doubted that her boys would dare try anything like it again.

Heading up to the bullpen to greet the other Gibblets, she bounced out of the elevator, already pleasantly buzzed by a Caf-Pow in addition to her morning coffee.

"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs. I'm back and my babies are really, really, really happy," she shrieked wildly, joyfully. Looking around the bullpen, she noted all the empty desks. "Where are all the Gibblets, Gibbs?" She bounced up and down on the spot. Secretly she was a little hurt that they hadn't been waiting for her in her lab with a cake and Caf-Pow, but maybe they had a case and they were chasing down dirtbags, she told herself sternly.

Gibbs got a steely look in his eyes. "MuhGee and Ziver are down in the gym fighting, Abbs."

Abby punched him on the biceps. "Fighting? What are they fighting about? We're a family – we're Gibblets. Families don't fight… well, some do and kill each other… but not our family. Do something, Gibbs, you're the Poppa Bear… make them stop. What are you sitting around here for? Ziva will kill Timmy, you know she will." Finally running out of steam, she gave him her best pleading eyed, cute puppy dog look that always worked on him.

Unmoved, he resisted the urge to rub his arm. Damn it, for a slender, itty bitty thing, she could really pack a wallop – it would bruise for sure. "Training, Abbs."

"Oh! That's mean, Gibbs. Why are you torturing Timmy like that? You know he hates it when he has to do hand-to-hand with the Ninja."

"What's the matter, Abs? The only one allowed to torture the Elf Lord, is you?"

Abby frowned. Gibbs' tone was gruff, and she was taken aback by his question. It was almost as if he was angry at her, but surely, that couldn't be right. She was Gibbs' favourite out of all the Gibblets, after all. Of course, she occasionally had to remind the others of that, or they might forget the pecking order around here. It must be a case that had him all out of sorts – he was probably snapping and snarling all over everyone else too. It must be a real nasty one, and when he got like this, it was better just to ignore it.

"Okaaaay, so where's Tonnnnney, my super-hot Silver Fox."

If anything, the glitter in his eye got even brighter and instead of gruff, his enunciation became clipped, staccato.

"Need to know, Abbs. You. Don't."

"Is he okay? You didn't lend him out to another agency again, did you? You know he hates being sent away. His father sent him to boarding school and military school. Wait, he isn't on some super-secret undercover mission for the director, is he? Please tell me he isn't."

"No, he isn't, and that's all I can tell ya," Gibbs snapped.

Okay, 'Mr. Grumpy Pants' definitely got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Abby decided ruefully. Maybe it was because Tony wasn't there - he always got crabby when Tony wasn't there to keep everyone from getting too serious. She hoped that he came back soon, or it was going to be a really long miserable week. She decided it was safer down in Labbyland and was just about to head back down there where her babies awaited her when a thought occurred to her.

"Hey, Gibbs, the Gibblets working on any cases at the mo?"

"Nope, cold cases, Abbs," he replied.

"Okey-dokey. If anyone needs me, I'll be in the lab with Bert and Major Mass Spec," she informed him and headed for the elevator. Bossman obviously hadn't been eating his Shredded Wheat lately, she decided.

The rest of the morning was hinky! People were coming and going from her lab like normal, but everyone was just a little off – giving her weird looks and being just a bit… well, hinky. She couldn't put her finger on it, and no one would admit to anything, but it was as if they were keeping something from her. McGee wouldn't come down to the lab to see her on his own, but she tried to convince herself that it was because he was freaking out about making such a mess in Labbyland. That made sense seeing as how he was scared of her, which came in handy when she needed to make him do something he didn't want to (and could maybe just possibly get him fired- like making unauthorised calls at Christmas using MTAC) but that's okay, because Gibbs would never really let that happen.

Then she overheard him whining in the bullpen when the bossman ordered him to take her a Caf-Pow for a report she was working on related to his cold case. She'd come up to see if she could get them to talk but quickly ducked down out of sight to eavesdrop. Well, it was good enough for the bossman!

"But, Boss, she'll force it out of me."

"No, she won't, since I'll make it a direct order for you not to tell her about DiNozzo."

"But, Boss, it's Abby. She can make me talk even when I don't want to. She has evil powers or something and I lose control of my brain."

Gibbs glared at him and he started wilting.

"I'm sorry, Boss, but it's true. I can't control myself around her."

"Holy crap, MuhGee," Gibbs roared. "Stop thinking with your little head and grow a pair. What sort of federal agent lets an ex who he slept with more than five years ago control him, for pity's sake?"

"Um, ah, sorry, Boss."

"And stop sayin you're sorry… it's a sign of weakness. No wonder Abby can eat you up and spit ya out." Looking at the man, who did indeed look weak and broken, he sighed. "Man up and go down there. And if you open your mouth, my boot's going to be so far up your ass that you won't need that fancy looking detox crap that you ordered online. Now git!"

McGee swallowed several times and nodded before heading off, looking like he was headed for the firing squad.

Ziva cleared her throat. "Gibbs, I do not believe it is wise to send McGee down there alone. We both know that it isn't just Abby that can make him talk – I can do it easily, and we have not had sex. Well, not together. If you do not wish for him to spill his butt to Abby, then perhaps I should accompany him to the lab."

Shaking his head in disbelief, he growled, "Spill his guts, Ziver, not his butt, but trust me, I'll be spilling it if he does." He scrubbed at his forehead vigorously as if he had a headache. "Fine," he snapped. "Go hold his hand. What is he, a man or a mouse?"

Abby, who had crouched down hiding behind one of the office partitions so she could eavesdrop, was disappointed not to hear what it was they didn't want her to know.

She heard Timmy thanking Ziva profusely and she gave an evil cackle. "You are much too easy to break, Tim. In Israel, you would not last five minutes as a Mossad officer. Even my ten-year-old cousin could break you without even trying."

Abby heard a loud snort from Timmy. There was a pause before Ziva offered. "I could torture you to build up your resistance to pain so that you will not crack when I drill you, yes?"

"Ah, Ziva, you grill someone, not drill them."

"No, Tim, I meant drill. Mossad uses cordless electric drills to train their officers. I have several."

Abby didn't hear his response, but it sounded like he was trying not to barf. Then she heard Ziva change the subject as if they'd been discussing the weather, and she tried hard not to giggle and give the game away.

"And I always thought the colloquialism was 'Are you a man or a moose?' Are you sure that Gibbs is not mistaken? What would a mouse be doing in NCIS?" Her voice grew fainter as the elevator arrived and they went inside.

Abby snuck back to her lab, but she missed out on being able to talk to Ziva and Timmy because she had to go via the stairs rather than take the elevator. As she arrived, they were racing out again. Gibbs had called and they had a new case – a private first class had had a psychotic break and was holding several people hostage in a downtown market.

After lunch, fed up with all the field agents acting hinky around her and giving her weird looks when they thought she wasn't looking, she got pissed off. Clomping off, because it was just too damned hard to stomp off in four-inch platform boots, she made her way to the Autopsy department. Jimmy took one look at her and he started acting hinky too, and it was enough to push her over the edge and mad enough to take hostages with her.

"All right! That's it! Everyone stop acting hinky. Where's DiNozzo? I demand to know right this instant." She stamped her boot-clad foot, pursed her lips, and screwed up her eyes, arranging her hands on her hips.

Jimmy thought she looked like one of those scary nuns in the Blues Brothers… well, except for the Goth get up, of course. "Sorry, Abby," he faltered, his voice pitched several tones higher than normal, like he always did when he got nervous. "That's need-to-know. Gibbs' orders."

Clomping over and glaring at him before punching him on the biceps, she growled at him. "I NEED to know, Palmer! Everyone else does, so why not me?"

Jimmy rubbed his arm. Man, she acts mean when she didn't get her own way. No wonder McGee always caved when she got started on him. But Jimmy was made of pretty tough stuff and he gritted his teeth. Gibbs would kill him if he said anything, but more importantly, he'd promised Tony.

The Autopsy Gremlin shook his head. "I can't. I promised."

Abby was just gearing up to start in on him and he was steeling himself to remain stoic when Ducky intervened.

"Oh, Heavens to Betsy and little fishes - enough of this foolishness. Mr Palmer, can you go and check the inventory in the van? Abigail, come into my office and stop carrying on like a constipated bullfrog."

"Dr Mallard," Jimmy protested. "Tony made us promise not to tell her, and Gibbs ordered everyone not to speak about it because Tony made him promise too."

"Oh, fiddle-faddle, Mr Palmer! You gave your word to Anthony, not I. And as for Jethro, I do not answer to Special Agent Gibbs, nor am I afraid of his wrath. I happen to think that Tony is wrong and that Abby should know where he is and why. Now, unless you want to be complicit in this conversation, I suggest you go and find yourself an alibi." Looking at the conflict in his young assistant, Ducky gave him another push. "Now, Jimmy. Go!"

Taking her into his office, and brewing them each a cup of tea, he sat down at his desk and examined the forensic scientist sitting in the chair opposite. She had suddenly turned surprisingly mute, staring at her cup of tea. Looking uncharacteristically stern and unyielding, Ducky considered her for the longest time, and Abby felt as if she came up wanting.

"Anthony is recuperating. Bradley sent him to the mountains where the air is clear to regain his strength," Ducky finally stated without preamble.

"Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh. What happened to him, Ducky? Is he okay?" She started adding lumps of sugar to the cup.

"He was exposed to chemicals and his lungs were affected, rather badly, and while he was in the hospital, he caught an opportunistic infection and we nearly lost him. He's still very weak and Bradley was concerned about his immunity and wanted him somewhere where the air was clean and there weren't a lot of people and germs."

"Where did he get exposed to chemicals, Ducky? With his scarred lungs, he knows he's gotta be careful. And I still don't see why all the secrecy – why didn't he want me to know?" The Goth started furiously stirring the sugar in her tea so violently that it sloshed over the rim and the ME leaned over, confiscating her spoon.

"That's very true, my dear – he does need to exercise caution. It happened here at work, I fear," he said harshly as he placed the abused spoon on the saucer of his teacup because Ducky never drank tea out of a mug.

"Here at NCIS? How the hell did that happen, Ducky? No one said anything about a chemical spill. Was it sabotage?" Abby demanded, incensed.

"No, Abby, no attack or spill. He came into contact with them in the lab. So did Jimmy and Timothy, but they don't have impaired lung function, and that made him far more vulnerable, I'm afraid."

Without the spoon with which to torture a perfectly fine cup of tea, she leapt up and started pacing, restlessly. "Did Renee expose them to toxic chemicals, Ducky? Why would she do that – there are safety protocols in place to prevent accidental chemical exposures from happening. She knows that. How could she be so  careless?"

Dr Mallard looked at Abby as if she was being particularly dense. "It wasn't Renee, Abigail. It was you when you made the three of them clean up that chemical spillage in your lab which occurred in your absence. The caustic cleaning supplies interacted with the chemicals used to test DNA, and later that day Anthony collapsed in respiratory distress and was rushed to Bethesda. They treated him with oxygen therapy and steroids, and that's when he picked up a chest infection in there. It was a drug-resistant bug that thrives in hospitals, and we nearly lost him."

"Ohmygod, ohmygod, Ducky. I never meant for that to happen, but the boys messed up my lab. I couldn't let it go. They had to be taught a lesson."

"Well, yes, Abby. I'm thinking that they learnt their lesson, but despite what they might, or in some cases, might not have done, that does not excuse you ignoring accepted safety protocols and OSHA laws, my dear girl. The janitorial staff are trained in safe practises for cleaning up toxic spillages and have the correct safety gear. They should have been called in to deal with it, not two agents and an autopsy assistant with only gloves and no masks. You of all people should know better – you DO know better," he scolded her, firmly.

"I know, you're right, of course. I know better, but when I saw what they'd done, I was just so mad, and I was angry with Robert King, and I didn't think." The forensic scientist wrung her hands, distressed. "What a sec, what did you mean, Ducky? What they might or might not have done, Ducky?"

He sighed. "I'm saying that you jumped to conclusions and convicted innocent men, Abby. According to Mr Palmer, he and Anthony tried to stop Timothy from mixing the two chemicals that reacted to each other and caused such a mess in the lab, but he refused to listen to them. Anthony told him that the gel should be heated up in the microwave, but he wouldn't listen to him, citing his degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins and his other degree." Shaking his head at her, he tsked in that oh-so-British way of his.

"The implication being, of course, that he was much more intelligent than his companions. Unfortunately, if he'd stopped to think about it, he might have realised that Jimmy's pre-med and medical degrees meant that he is extremely qualified in a laboratory – he is far from just a general dogsbody. While Anthony's chemistry and science subjects that were an integral part of his Physical Education degree meant he was also not entirely as clueless as Timothy would like to believe. Combine that with Anthony's observational skills and general nosiness, which are second to none, and he's also watched you on countless occasions carrying out those tests."

"Noooo, Duckman! If they were innocent, why didn't they speak up?" Abby protested violently. As she paced even more frantically, she wrapped her arms around her torso – giving herself an Abby hug – trying to self soothe and failing.

"Did you give them a chance to? Did you ask them what happened? Did you bother to watch the security footage since you lip-read, or did you jump to conclusions, my dear? And you know that Tony is very protective of his teammates and often takes the blame for their cock-ups. Timothy has been in hot water with Jethro a lot lately for being distracted, and our Anthony was feeling bad that Thom E. Gemcity's book earnings that he'd invested in a hedge fund had tanked and he lost it all."

"But, Ducky, why wouldn't Timmy speak up if Jimmy and Tony weren't to blame for something he did? That doesn't make any sense. He knows Abby's Rule #1 is Never Lie to Abby! You must be mistaken." She shook her head so violently that Ducky was worried that the Goth scientist would do herself a contrecoup brain injury.

"Then why did McGee steal your cupcake, Abbs, and then lie about it? Why did he make you go around suspecting everybody and force you to conduct DNA tests to track down the thief? Why did he put on gloves so he wouldn't get caught?" Jimmy Palmer demanded furiously, having returned to Autopsy.

He'd agreed with Ducky in principle that Abby should be told about the damage her stupid temper tantrum and failure to obey safety protocols in the lab had caused, but he'd given Tony his word, and he hadn't been willing to break it.

"Tony told him not to mix the gel and the ethidium bromide together, but Tim knew better. You've complained plenty about him shoving his degrees in your face, so you know that he does. And he never spoke up or admitted he'd made a mistake to us, either. After he messed up, he left Tony and me to run the DNA test while he went running back to his computer," he told her rather bitterly.

Abby looked back and forth between the two men and saw they were both pissed off with her. "You're right, Jimmy, You're both right. Oh my god, what have I done? I'm so sorry." There was more hand wringing and wailing and rocking. "I need to send Tony some flowers to apologise. But why didn't Tony want me to know where he is? Is he mad at me? Does he hate me? How am I going to make it up to him? Maybe I'll buy him pizza for a month."

"No!" Jimmy and Ducky yelled in unison.

"Anthony is on a very strict diet – food has to be nutritious and carefully cooked to ensure there are no nasty bacteria lurking, because of his perilous immuno-compromised status. Absolutely no takeout, Abigail, is that clear?

"And no roses either Abbs. The last lot you got him made him sneeze and he doesn't need an allergic reaction on top of everything else."

"Quite right, my boy. I suspect that he was sensitive to the dye used to create your black roses, my dear. The fewer chemicals the better – everything organic."

She nodded, much chastened. Her pacing had finally ceased – now she was standing frozen, like a deer caught in headlights.

Jimmy had decided that since Dr Mallard had already spilt the beans, there was no point in holding back. "Surprisingly, Tony doesn't blame you – even if he has good reason to. He didn't want you to know because he knew how upset you were already over Robert King and the biological weapon, and he didn't want to cause you any more distress. Honestly, Abby, everyone loves you – may be too much, but everyone walks around on eggshells, so we don't upset you like you're some kinda Victorian heroine with the vapours or a child. Especially Tony and Special Agent Gibbs.

"You're a grown woman and smarter than most people will ever be, but sometimes you don't have a lick of sense, and when it comes to measuring emotional maturity, frankly, Beanie Babies have more of it than you do. You are not a child, Abby, but sometimes you sure as heck act like one. You really need to grow up!"

The End