Title: The Crux of the Matter

Summary: Because my favorite flavor of McGee is oblivious.

Warnings: Takes place during/after Jackknife. Tiva. McAbby. Silliness.

Disclaimer: I do not own them. This is a bit of an experiment for me. And it's almost crack-fic.

The Crux of the Matter

2:12 AM Monday

"Where's the rest of my team?" Gibbs asks McGee. The alley is dark, it's the middle of the night, and still McGee can see the impatience on his boss's face, like his features broadcast emotion in reverse night-vision.

"Getting them out of bed. Right now," McGee says dutifully and dials faster.

Three rings. Five. Eight. "Pick up, pick up, pick up," McGee mutters and watches as Gibbs places a call that gets answered right away.

"This better be an official midnight wake-up call Probie," Tony says, fuzzy in his ear as the shrill tones cut out. "Because if you sat on your phone and butt-dialed me or something, there will be hell to pay."

"Dead marine," McGee says hurriedly, like the familiar phrase is a crucifix or holy water and he's warding off awakened vampiric wrath. "Gibbs needs you and Ziva to come in."

"Do you know what time it is?" Tony asks grumpily.

"I'm going to assume that's rhetorical," McGee says, checking his own watch and stifling a groan. He glances up to see Gibbs is standing impatiently by the car, already done with his phone call. "Actually scratch that, it's time for me to play chauffeur again. Can you call Ziva?"

"Sure," Tony says amidst yawn.

"Don't fall back asleep," McGee warns as he fishes in his pocket for the car keys. "Call her now."

"We're up and at 'em Probie, promise," Tony says sleepily. "See you in twenty."

"Make it fifteen," McGee hisses and disconnects, and between dropping the keys, and Gibbs sighing loudly, and sliding into the seat as fast as he can, and turning the ignition too hard, and Gibbs sighing again, and realizing that his boss is way too awake at this late hour to be anything but some sort of vampiric creature of the night himself, McGee totally forgets to think about the importance of pronouns.

* * *

11:36 AM Thursday

McGee needs to get his hands on a crucifix.

He's not that religious of a man (Though he was leveling up a Druid as a second character before all his free time got eaten up by involuntary, sneak-attack naps. Anyway, not the point.) In any case, he needs the crucifix not for worship but protection. These past few days in Gibbs' near-constant presence have made him realize that the 'creature of the night' theory is scarily plausible. The man doesn't sleep. He feels no pain. He subsists on coffee and the energy he drains from the souls of those who disappoint or lie to him.

McGee feels very, very drained.

Hence, his need for protection. His first thought is of course of Abby. Abby ably straddles that fine line between the forces of good and evil, creatures and slayers. Abby has an arsenal of knowledge regarding things that go bump in the night and how to deal with them. Abby probably has special nun-approved crosses guaranteed to displace evil. He thinks the technical term for that is 'exorcise.'

He's working up the energy to leave his desk and go in search of his gothy friend when someone else occurs to him. Abby kinda is a giant crucifix when you get down to it. At least she has one tattooed on the pale skin of her smooth and perfect back. It falls lace-like over her skin. It lines up with the dip of her spine. It is most definitely holy.

McGee shakes his head hard, like that will knock thoughts of Abby's bare skin out one ear. Sleep deprivation is doing strange things to his thoughts of late.

The shaking knocks one thing loose at least. He realizes, with the familiar disappoint that means a hypothesis has failed, that Gibbs hugs Abby all the time.

Right over the crucifix on her back.

McGee sets his head down very gently on his desk and tries not to think about anything at all for a while.

* * *

11:52 AM Thursday

There are voices above him.

"He looks so…innocent."

"Proof positive how very deceiving looks can be."

"Is that a trace of bitterness I detect?"

"What cause have I to be bitter?"

"I am unsure, but ever since lunch you have been rubbing your nose and scowling in my direction."

"Just relieving memories Ziva. Remembering when my beauty was almost stolen from me."

"Ah. Selective memories then. Because I seem to recall a case we just finished where a good-looking and much-reformed former marine greatly assisted us."

"You have to do it, don't you? Mention how good-looking he is?"

"Of course. We were discussing appearance after all."

"True. But I don't like it."

"Why? Does it make you insecure?"

"Depends. Does he make me look less pretty?"

"I do not think your ego needs any help today Tony."

"I disagree. Especially after all the abuse you've heaped on it lately. Especially after the flirty little chat you had earlier, with your handsome little friend."

"So you were listening to my conversation! For your information, he called to let me know his flight had landed okay!"

"And that took sixteen giggling minutes to say?"

"If you two wouldn't mind," McGee says finally, "having your little lovers' spat somewhere else, I'd really appreciate it."

"Well I'd appreciate it if I could work without the sight of drooling probies disrupting my 'productive environment,'" Tony says pleasantly. "But we all have our crosses to bear."

"Go away," McGee begs. "Please."

"Come on Tony," Ziva says, taking pity on her fellow probie at last. "Let's leave McGee in peace and go continue our discussion. I believe we were talking about gross invasion of privacy."

"Really?" he snipes back. "Because I thought we were talking about how pretty I am, and oh yeah, how it's not a private conversation if you have it on your work phone."

Even with his eyes closed McGee can tell Ziva has rolled her eyes and stalked off in the direction of the break room. Tony grumbles under his breath and follows.

Alone at last McGee tries to reach for his jacket to pull it over his head so he can block out the light, return to slumberland, and maybe even wipe the string of drool off his cheek while he's at it, and only then does he discover that his right hand is shackled to his desk chair with a set of fuzzy purple leopard print handcuffs.

"Uh guys?" he calls hopefully. "Guys?"

But they're gone.

* * *

2:14 PM Thursday

The handcuffs land on McGee's chest with a decided thump. He jerks awake.

And hits his head on the underside of the desk.

He never learns.

"Ow," McGee says weakly, because he doesn't even have the energy to lodge a more strenuous protest against a self-inflicted injury.

"You didn't have to break them," Tony chides, nudging the now-disjointed set of cuffs with his shiny leather shoe. "I left you the key under your pencil mug."

"Too bad," McGee tells him and climbs wearily to his feet. Abby hands him his jacket with a sympathetic glance. "Thanks for the use of your futon," he tells her.

"Anytime," she promises, and skips back to her workstation.

"Boss wants us," Tony says, jerking his head to the door where Ziva stands with her arms crossed and an amused expression lighting up her face.

McGee casts a longing look at the futon and then trudges wearily to the door. Abby tilts her CafPow in his direction as he goes by, but he wrinkles his nose, and shakes his head. He's no that desperate. Ziva holds the elevator door for him and Tony and they start the ascent in silence, which is quickly broken by the rumble of McGee's belly. His mind is sluggish on the uptake, but his nose is unaffected by exhaustion.

"You guys smell like strawberry poptarts," he observes, peevish that while he was staging a jailbreak and moving to safer territory they remembered to eat.

"They finally restocked the vending machines in the break room," Tony informs him smugly. "I haven't been saving my quarters for naught."

"You have any left?" McGee asks without hope.

"I had to make up for lost time," Tony reminds him, and gives him a little shove between the shoulder blades as the doors open. McGee stumbles out.

"And Tony was kind enough to share," Ziva adds as they go to their desks. She brushes an invisible crumb from her lip and grins.

"Tony doesn't share," McGee says suspiciously.

Tony shoots Ziva an annoyed look. "She means to say she stole from me."

"They looked so delicious," Ziva says, unapologetic, angelic.

"Oh don't give me that butter-wouldn't-melt-in-your-mouth look," Tony snaps.

"Why would there be butter in my mouth?" she asks, confused.

"Nobody's putting butter anywhere," Gibbs says, swooping in out of nowhere to snag the coat off the back of his chair. "Let's go."


"Not my fault you slept through lunch McGee," Gibbs says, and he's suddenly halfway to the elevator and looking impatient again, so McGee gives up on looking in his desk drawer for a power bar and adds crazy psychic powers and can probably turn into a bat to his mental list of reasons Gibbs is probably supernatural.

* * *

Friday 11:42 PM

McGee knocks on the door. Or something. His hand and the door make contact and noise results.

Loud noise.

"Tony," he calls. Or something. His mouth and vocal cords work in tandem to expel air and make sounds. But he suspects those sounds may have been closer to "Thagahhhh."

If Gibbs is a vampire, McGee is a zombie. A shambling, groaning, biddable voodoo creature of the night. His undead boss has brought him down to his undead level.

Okay, alcohol may have played a role.

Okay, alcohol and the thoughts of Abby's back tat that have been cropping up of late and which drove him to drink in the first place. He's got it figured out now though. Crucifixes don't render Gibbs helpless, just nicer. They should all get back tattoos to protect themselves.

McGee is quite proud of this theory that occurred to him sometime after his fourth round. He thought Tony should know about it.

Tony doesn't seem interested in McGee's theory though, because Tony is not coming to the door. Tony is apparently not worried about the peril of his immortal soul, which is silly because as a lapsed Catholic it should be one of his main concerns.

McGee does more things. More noise results. He has to practice these door-mauling techniques if he really wants to make it as a zombie.

Mid-maul the door opens violently to at last reveal Tony. He's wild-eyed and disheveled, but he's not holding a stake, a sawed-off shotgun, or a Super Soaker of holy water, which just proves to McGee how not seriously he is taking the whole situation.

"You are obviously not taking this seriously Tony," McGee says. "What if I was a real zombie? D'you think if I was a real zombie Abby would show me her tattoos again? D'you think if I got a tattoo it would make me look alluring and mysterious too?"

Or something. It may have been closer to "Thuguuuuhhhh…"

"Jesus Christ," Tony says, which McGee takes as a hopeful sign. Tony grabs him by his jacket collar and hauls him inside. The doorjamb tries to trip him because it's spiteful, and Tony curses a little, and then he's swaying in the middle of Tony's living room.

"Don't move," Tony tells him, "Don't touch anything. Don't throw up. I'll call you a cab. Just, just stay." He goes into the kitchen.

Usually McGee is a very biddable creature, but right now he really wants to find a bathroom. Not because he has to throw up or anything. He simply finds it very comforting to lie on the cool floor. He tiptoes out of the living room and into the hall.

Okay, he tries, but zombies don't really tiptoe so much as crash into furniture. Thanks to Tony's penchant for overstuffed leather furniture, at least he crashes quietly. With some careful maneuvering he makes it to the dim hall, and feels his way down the walls until he comes to a cracked door leaking light under the bottom. He pushes lightly and the door swings open.

It's not the bathroom. Oops.

Tony should really learn to firmly close doors behind himself when he leaves a room. Especially if he's going to leave beautiful and vulnerable women in his bed where any zombie could stumble across them.

Of course, this particular beautiful woman isn't all that vulnerable. McGee's willing to bet she's well versed in zombie-killing. He'd bet on her against Buffy any day of the week.

Ziva's sitting up in bed, a green sheet pulled up to her chest and a dark green coverlet crumpled over her knees. Her hair falls around her smooth, bare shoulders in messy curls, and underneath the tangle her eyes widen for an instant to see his disheveled figure appear in her doorway, then soften to amusement and concern.

"Hello McGee," Ziva says and McGee waves listlessly in response. She straightens a corner of blanket so it covers her bare feet as well, a strangely modest gesture in an extremely odd tableau, and he thinks, suddenly, that she looks like a mermaid in that green sea of tangled bedclothes. It strikes him as terribly fair though, because Gibbs shouldn't have a monopoly on being mythical.

"The bathroom's next door," Ziva suggests gently, and her face is luminous and her arm when she lifts it to point is a work of art, but McGee thinks something is missing from her skin, and he thinks it might be ink.

"Thanks," he slurs, turns obediently, and shuffles off in the direction she indicated. There is indeed a bathroom next door and the floor is indeed wonderfully cool and quiet. He rests his head against the smooth side of the bathtub and listens to Tony's indignant voice next door, and Ziva's gentle laugh, and the creak of bed springs and the opening and shutting of closet doors. Two sets of feet appear in his vision and leave again, and somewhere the front door he assaulted earlier swings shut with a slam.

"If you could take your lovers' spat somewhere else, I'd greatly appreciate it," McGee whispers, but the bathtub doesn't seem to be listening.

* * *

Saturday 8:50 AM

"Explain again how I woke up on your couch?" It is the worst morning of McGee's life. This is how vampires must feel, he thinks, because the sunlight is literally going to kill him, frying him from the inside out, starting with his eyeballs.

"I only know how this story ends," Tony points out, slamming his door shut with extra force and causing McGee to whimper. "You showed up blind drunk on my doorstep and then passed out. The end. The only reason I even put you on the couch at all is because I need you to recover as fast as possible so you can drive Gibbs around some more. I didn't think my bathroom floor would be that conducive to your convalescence."

"Uh thanks?" McGee ventures.

"Don't mention it," Tony says darkly, and backs his car out of the parking lot like it's done something to offend him.

"Did I, um, interrupt any plans?" McGee ventures, because while he's sorely lacking in evidence from last night, any sound hypothesis regarding Tony on the weekend would point to that answer being yes, you dumbass.

"Of course not," Tony says, the sarcasm dial is turned up so high McGee actually winces and surreptitiously checks to see if his ears are bleeding. "I always spend my Friday nights sitting around, hoping that one of my teammates will show up grossly inebriated and thinking he's a zombie."

"Zombie?" McGee echoes tentatively.

"I said don't mention it," Tony reminds him and this time McGee heeds his advice.

They pull up in front of Gibbs' house to find their boss waiting on the sidewalk. He gives them both very pointed, knowing looks while McGee drags his quaking body out of the passenger's seat and into the back because he knows without being told that vampires always ride shotgun.

* * *

Saturday 10:25 AM

"It's killing me," McGee explains earnestly. "That man is inhuman." His head is aching less now, but he still feels guilty about Tony's half of the ordeal so he's hiding out in the lab while Abby analyzes the very special and important evidence they had to go collect on a Saturday morning. He watches Abby's clever hands break down the contents of the evidence bag into proteins and proof. Every time she cocks her head to consider a point, and the lacy web on her neck wrinkles, it soothes his raging headache a bit more.

"Hey, Abs, did you ever think—"

"That Gibbs was a creature of the night?" Abby finishes. "McGee I had that theory within my first week here. Get with the program."

"Oh." He considers that. "So what about—"

"But we can't exorcise him," Abby explains preemptively. "How many cases do you think we'd solve if Gibbs didn't have the power to pull people's souls out through their eyeballs?"

This is a point McGee had not considered. It rings true.

"So that's it?" he asks despondently. "I'm doomed to wander the earth in a sleep-deprived haze forever?"

"Just think of it as leveling-up," Abby says brightly. "Maybe you too can evolve to a state of near constant awakefulness. Or, you know, you can wait for his arm to get better."

"Bleh," McGee responds, and rests his head on her cool metal table. After a moment he lifts it again. "And if we—"

"Holy water only temporarily incapacitates," Abby says briskly and with authority, like her mass spectrometer has already unraveled that particular problem.

He nods in resignation and slumps again, but a moment later he's raising one finger. "And the esteemed—"

"Vance isn't a vampire," Abby says, laughing, and her smile is the good kind of sunlight, that sort makes him feel warm and bright all over, rather than making him want to claw out his eyeballs. "He's a bureaucrat. Different kind of soul-sucking."

"Ah," McGee says, and settles down again. But one last question nags at him. "Do you think it's at all possible—"

"That Tony and Ziva are sleeping together?" Abby finishes. She sets down the clipboard she's making notes on and frowns. "Now see that one's been bothering me too."

"Um yeah, I really don't see that happening," McGee says. "You should've seen how he got pissed with her over poptarts this week."

"Yeah," Abby agrees. "You're probably right."

"Anyway, I actually was going to ask if it was at all possible to use your futon again," McGee says.

"Ohh," Abby says, and makes a final notation on her clipboard. "Actually, I was going to catch a catnap too, while the samples run." She yawns and stretches. McGee notes the new ink on her hip where her shirt rides up, and the smeared ink on the back of her hand that would explain why she's not that well-rested either. Any hypothesis with Abby and the weekend has to take into account the fact that she is a princess of the night creatures and the nighttime in general. "We could share if you don't mind," she offers.

McGee doesn't mind one bit. He doesn't mind for about forty minutes, because after Abby takes off her cuffs and her spiked collar and lines them up next to the mat, they realize they can only both fit if she curls up against his front, and then just as he's drifting blissfully off to sleep she takes his hand and pulls his arm across her stomach like a seat belt. He sighs happily into the spiderweb on her neck, and she snuggles closer.

Abby's being especially psychic today, but that doesn't surprise him. To McGee, she's always mythical.

* * *

Saturday 7:12 PM

"I've triple-locked the door," Tony promises, jiggling the handle for emphasis. Ziva's arms slide around his waist from behind, and he feels her inaudible laugh from where her body is draped over his back.

"I don't think the problem was the locked door," she points out. "I think it was that you went to open it."

"Won't make that mistake again," he promises fervently. "I'd turn off my cell too, but we have to be in contact somehow. Last thing we want is McGee trying to break down this door again, only this time with Gibbs in tow."

"I could think of worse things," Ziva says mildly, as he turns in her arms and faces her.

"You think he'd be fine with us," he guesses, not bothering to hide his impatience with her naivete. "What you don't get is that he'd suck our soul out through our eyeballs. That man takes rule twelve seriously."

She shrugs and scratches her nails on his hips. It feels ticklish through his t-shirt. "I think you underestimate how much he doesn't want to go through the process of breaking in new minions." She looks so proud of her vocabulary word that he laughs and gathers her close, so her fingernails draw designs on his back instead.

"I think you need to learn to be more careful," he says, his chin in her shoulder, but there's no heat to it, only amusement. "You can't go letting people know I shared my poptarts with you."

"Well you can't get so obviously angry at me for slipping up then," she returns. "And besides, no one has noticed anything."

"Abby's suspicious."

"Abby sees what she wants to see. Except if it's right in front of her."

"Now didn't they make just the cutest picture all curled up like that?" Tony says fondly. "Poor McUndead. I can't decide whether to feel sorry for him or just handcuff him to more things." He shakes his head in mock frustration. "My life is filled with difficult decisions."

"You should be nicer to him," Ziva chides, tapping his nose with her finger and grinning as he snaps at it.

"Fine words coming from the woman who produced the fuzzy handcuffs in the first place. And you still haven't told me why you had them in your desk."

Ziva smiles in a way that makes him realize he'll never get an answer on that one. "I just meant that if you are right about Gibbs we may want McGee on our side. He can run interference. Create a diversion."

"One minion can't divert the anger of the actual voodoo master," Tony scoffs. "We'd need heavy duty things like holy water and crucifixes. And I doubt even those could stem the unholy wrath of Gibbs."

"You know, I came upon Abby running holy water through the mass spec the other day," Ziva muses sliding out of Tony's grasp and heading towards the kitchen. "She looked frustrated with the results."

"Well Abby doesn't need defenses against creatures of the night," Tony says dismissively, testing his deadbolt once more before following Ziva into the kitchen. "And she's already Gibbs-proof."

Ziva shrugs. "She's still a minion though. Like us." Tony points at a bottle in the fridge, and she shakes her head. "No, the red. I'm making roast tonight."

"But Abby's not a regular minion," Tony continues, as he uncorks and pours. "I mean, to earn the wrath of Gibbs she'd have to do something pretty bad." He hands her a glass. "She'd have to be breaking a major rule—" he stops stock still in the middle of his kitchen. "Like us," he finishes in amazement.

"I don't follow," Ziva says, eyebrows drawn together.

"I'll de damned," Tony marvels. "She has the hapless little zombie in her sights."

"What, Abby and. Oh." Ziva's eyes widen. "You think that—"

"I take it all back," Tony says gleefully. "McGee may prove quite diverting after all."

"You're not going to share this suspicion with anyone are you?" Ziva asks warningly.

"Of course not," Tony reassures her in offence. "I may handcuff him to stuff but I won't do anything to get him killed." He holds up his glass. "To McGee, and his ignorance. May they be as happy together for as long as possible, and may his death be as painless as possible once he figures out that Abby wants to show him all of her tattoos."

"To McGee and Abby's happiness," Ziva counter-toasts, with a disapproving tone that is belied by her grin.

"That too," Tony agrees magnanimously. Their glasses clink.

* * *

Monday 11:41 AM

McGee gives in. The world has simply grown too fuzzy. Sleep deprivation has rubbed his senses raw. For instance, he's sure Abby hasn't changed the formula lately, but today her perfume seems especially alluring.

He needs caffeine more than a crucifix. He screws up his face and drinks.

"Huh," he says smacking his lips. "It's not as bad as I remember."

"See?" Abby beams as he takes another cautious sip of her CafPow. "We'll make a convert of you yet McGee. I'll get you your own on my next run."

"Hey the sling comes off on Thursday," McGee says quickly. "I only have to make it until then."

"You only have to make it until I say," Gibbs says at his shoulder. McGee jumps and spins at the same time. Maybe he didn't catch his boss's reflection in the monitor, maybe Gibbs didn't cast one in the first place. At this point, it's irrelevant.

"You find out anything off the laptop yet?" Gibbs asks.

"Yeah, but we have to wait for the decryption program to finish running," McGee says, and promptly yawns in Gibbs' face. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize," Gibbs reminds him. "And wipe your lipstick off."

McGee spins back around to examine his own reflection in horror.

"I'll at least get you your own straw then," Abby decides. She smiles her bright red smile at Gibbs. "You're our first call when we have something."

Gibbs fixes her with a calculating look. She twinkles back.

"Good job," he says grudgingly, and vanishes.

They listen to the computers hum for a while.

"You sure we can't just—"

"No McGee," Abby says gently. "And there's actually no such thing as exorcising someone just a little."

"Fine," he grumbles, and steals her CafPow.

* * *

Monday 7:33 PM

"You've been sharing Abby's drinks too DiNozzo?" Gibbs asks.

"What? No," Tony says quickly and rubs a hand across his jaw.

"Got something red on you."

Tony turns to Ziva. "You said I didn't have anything on my face."

"I lied," she says calmly. He glares at her until she looks up. "Oh for goodness sake, it's just a bit of borscht. Here." She tosses him a stack of paper napkins.

Gibbs raises an eyebrow.

"Would you like any borscht Gibbs?" Ziva asks politely. "I brought some for dinner when it looked like we'd have to stay late, but McGee fell asleep before he could eat his. It's still warm."

Gibbs shakes his head as his phone rings, and while he listens to Abby's chatter, he watches Tony scrub his face.

"Clean yourself up and meet me in the lab," Gibbs orders, as he hangs up the phone and pushes away from his desk. "Bring Sleeping Beauty while you're at it."

"With pleasure," Tony says, and flings a balled up napkin at McGee's sleeping form.

McGee jerks awake on the floor behind his desk and looks cross-eyed at the two pairs of shoes in his line of sight. "We've done this before haven't we?" he asks sleepily, as Tony and Ziva each take an arm and haul him upright.

"Don't know what you're talking about," Tony says. McGee squints at him.

"You've got something red on your mouth," he notes sleepily. "Are you a vampire like Gibbs?"

"We're all just minions," Tony tells him, as they prod him into the elevator. "Just the lowly foot-soldiers of a greater supernatural entity."

"The technical term for that is "orc.'" McGee says helpfully, as they start down to the lab. He sniffs the air. "Do I smell beets?"

* * *

Monday 2:12 AM

Contrary to popular belief, Gibbs sleeps.

Tonight he sleeps badly.

When he wakes for the third time he gives up and goes downstairs for a glass of water. He pushes open the basement door and looks down at the dimly lit ribs of his latest hull while he drinks quietly. Contrary to popular belief, he can't actually see in the dark.

His gut is disquiet of late. The borscht Ziva brought in for dinner was good, but layered over lipsticked mouths it doesn't sit so well.

Contrary to popular belief he's not psychic. Just perceptive.

Sometimes wishes he wasn't.

Gibbs shuts the basement door, turns off the kitchen light, gets back into bed, and stares at the ceiling.

"They wouldn't," he says to the empty room. But really, he's not so sure.

* end *

((While this isn't my favorite thing ever written, I wanted to post something to get the ball rolling again. This was just supposed to be a Tiva-from-outsider's-perspective story, but then McAbby snuck in HARD. I don't even really ship McAbby! Originally this ended with Tony and Ziva toasting, but it never sat right so I added a few more scenes. Thoughts on what works and what doesn't? Questions? Concerns? You can direct all your correspondence to the helpful pop-up box marked 'review.' Thanks for reading!))