Title: White Noise
Spoilers: Cracked, season eight.
Summary: He doesn't understand. He can't follow her logic, can't protect her. Not from herself.
Author's Note: This is a missing scene, and it takes place after the one where Abby learns about Thorson's hallucinations, but before Gibbs visits Ducky in the morgue (the scene that begins, 'There's no reasoning with her.').
"What don't I understand?"
Gibbs quietly sets his peace offering down on the workbench, and Abby stares at it, biting her lip. He's not sure how deep the wound he opened is, and he doesn't expect a Caf-Pow! to help, but it's an opening bid to regain her regard.
"Forget it, Gibbs," she says, her voice slow and heavy, the way it always is after she's been crying. "No matter what I say, you won't get it. You'll just wait me out, and nod, and interrupt me to ask me to dumb it down for you-"
"Want me to apologise for not having a college education? Cause that's not the Abby I know." He keeps his voice calm, though her shot at his lack of book-smarts stings a little. It's always been a barrier between them; one of only three, the others being pop culture and technology. With everything else, they're in accord, sharing the same moral codes, beliefs and work ethics.
She stares at him, distress overcoming her as her conscience pricks. Before he can tell her not to worry about it, she spins and heads into her inner lab, snatching up the evidence bag that contains Thorson's diary on the way past.
Seeking to lose herself in work. Distancing herself from her connection to him, and her guilt at her careless words.
It's not a good sign.
Gibbs isn't as immersed in Clea Thorson as Abby is, but he's delved into her mind far enough to know that the two are alike. Beyond the obvious scientific connection, the statements given by the victim's associates paint a picture that's familiar to him.
"Abby." He doesn't get too close; she'd only build her defences higher. She pretends not to hear him; her hands tremble a little as she puts on latex gloves, then opens the bag and pulls out Thorson's diary. Not for the first time, he imagines.
"If you don't wanna talk, that's fine. But I need you to listen to me."
"Can't right now. A little busy." She keeps her eyes focused on the diary, though he can tell she's not absorbing any of the information on the page she's looking at.
He can either take the notebook from her, or he can just start talking. He chooses the latter, leaning against the wall and watching her pretend to read. "I know you and the Lieutenant had a lot in common, Abbs. Looking at her… I'm just glad it's not you on that slab."
She bites her lip, then sets her jaw determinedly, pitting her resolve against the urge to let everything that's walled up inside her spill out.
"'Mr. K' was a dead end. We need to backtrack. We know Thorson was poisoned, and in a way that Ducky can't figure out. And that's what we need to focus on right now. How she was poisoned, and if that narrows down the search for her killer.
"I know you wanna concentrate on her research, but Abby… we're already sending standard tests to an outside lab because you're vanishing for entire days. And somehow, you're personally involved in this. If you were one of my agents, I'd order you off the case. Or the Director would."
That gets her attention. "You have no right to-"
"Yeah, I do. But I don't want to." He sighs; shakes his head; shifts his weight. "You're off your game, and you know it. Today, when you went off the grid… What if 'Mr. K' had been real? What if he'd been following the investigation? You fit her profile, Abbs. You could have been in danger."
She gets up from her desk, folding her arms across her chest with narrowed eyes. "You really wanna know what you don't understand? Okay, fine. Just because Clea had mental problems, Gibbs, it doesn't mean there isn't a 'Mr. K' somewhere, or a real-life counterpart. It doesn't make her research any less valid. It doesn't make her any less intelligent. Just because she hallucinates… It doesn't mean-"
As she talks, her composure slips, her anger fading as her voice cracks and her eyes fill with tears. Acting instinctively, Gibbs pulls her into a hug, and she freezes, stops breathing and tries not to fall apart in his arms.
"Breathe, Abbs," he murmurs against her forehead, and she lets out her breath in a shuddering sob, and then another. He holds her close as she cries her heart out, clinging to him as though he's her only anchor to the world outside her head.
He's not sure how much time passes before she calms. Even then, she doesn't try to pull away, and he's content to let her take as much time as she needs.
Finally, she steps back, scrubbing at her face with the hem of her lab coat. Gibbs nudges her chair toward her, and she sits automatically, her hands beginning to twist in her lap.
He grabs her Caf-Pow! from the outer lab and offers it to her, and sits on the edge of her desk as she gulps it down. Once she's paused for breath, he touches her shoulder briefly. "Tell me."
"I promised her. That I would figure out what she was trying to do. I promised her that I'd understand."
He sighs. "Rule thirty-two, Abby. Never make a promise you can't keep."
"I can keep it," she snaps, glaring at him.
"Yeah? You don't sound too sure," he says, and lets the silence drift between them.
Abby takes another sip of her drink, her focus firmly on the floor tiles. He gives her a minute, then repeats himself. "Tell me."
"I've been where she was." Her words are almost a whisper, and she doesn't even try to look him in the eye. "Back when I was studying for my post-grad degree, I was helping one of the professors with a research project, on the side. I got really… stuck into it. Crazy, I guess."
The similarities have been bugging him, right from the moment he saw the footage of Clea Thorson at work. Abby often has the look that Thorson had in her security videos; completely absorbed in what she's doing and unaware of her surroundings. She constantly complains that Gibbs sneaks up on her in the lab, but if it's a case that captivates her, she's unlikely to notice if an entire brass band marches past her desk.
It never occurred to him that her identification with Thorson might run so deep, though. "Hallucinations?"
"Once," she admits, biting her lip. "But I think that was mainly cause I hadn't slept in three days, and I saw this dog just run past my desk… It was weird. I went to sleep after that. Or maybe I just passed out."
Gibbs refrains from commenting, though he has no idea how any science experiment could be more important than sleeping. Putting a voice to that thought will just irritate her again, and in a way, she's right.
He doesn't understand. And he can't follow her logic, can't protect her. Not from herself.
"Most of the time, I just had this… I dunno, this fog around me. Like, I couldn't see past what I was doing. Nothing else existed; most of my senses were just tuned into white noise when I didn't need them. But my brain was working on this higher level. Skipping around and finding connections and ideas and possibilities, even if some of them were wrong; and it was amazing, like I had this direct link into the universe and I was just downloading things out of the ether so I could put them to work."
There might be a chasm between them in terms of scientific knowledge, but Gibbs recognises her description of 'white noise' well. His own personal fog descends when there are cases involving children, or when someone close to him is threatened or killed. With Ari Haswari, he'd stopped at nothing to find the terrorist's true identity, spending every free second looking for him, even though the search had taken months.
Maybe they're all a little crazy.
But he's stayed silent too long, and the trust she's shown him by allowing him to comfort her evaporates, leaving her feeling too vulnerable. "But I was wrong about you. The second you saw that tape, you just changed tack, right away. Like Thorson's work and her opinions and her life are suddenly a little less important, because she had mental issues."
He tries to interrupt her, but she glares at him, daring him to contradict her. "Her research got her killed, Gibbs. I know it. And I'm going to figure out what she was working on, because it's the least I can do for her. If you don't like it, you can go back to the outside lab and ask them to do the stuff you think is more important, because obviously Abby is too insane to see reason."
With that, she cuts off any further argument he might have made, because it'll just reinforce her belief that he thinks she's incapable of logical thought. She's won this battle, though the war is far from over.
Leaving her to her white noise, he heads for the morgue. Maybe Ducky will have some ideas as to how he can pull her out of the obsessive fog that shrouds her.