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The truth about Abby and McGee's relationship on NCIS

Viewers come in their millions to NCIS to experience the thrill of the chase, to hear the cheesy lines, and to watch the bad guys get their comeuppance. But they've kept tuning in week after week — for nearly two decades — to watch the dynamic between the team. Most tantalizing of all are the will-they-won't-they-did-they-already romances.

One of the relationships fans have been shipping from the start is "McAbby." This is the banter-filled, gloriously geeky, heart-eyes-emoji coupling of forensic scientist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) and cybersecurity expert Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray). It was love-ish at first, er, call. On the seventh episode of NCIS season 1 — which marked McGee's first appearance on NCIS — the pair "met" when they spoke over the phone and then went on a date. (McGee also had a less successful date with a tattoo machine in an effort to impress Abby: after all, Sciuto's tattoos on NCIS are the character's signature.) 

Sciuto's quick wit and McGee's awkward longing filled every one of their shared scenes on NCIS season 1 with a current of sexual tension. But as fast as the spark lit, it was snuffed out. Here's the truth about Abby and McGee's relationship on NCIS.

McAbby went from NCIS' hot couple to just friends

For the first season of NCIS, McAbby consistently delivered some much-needed lightheartedness. There were regular hints that Abby and McGee were going under covers in a way unrelated to work. They went on dates at poetry nights, slept (and did other things) in Abby's coffin bed, and found reasons to spend time together at work (much to their boss's irritation). The two were so in sync that they could type on one keyboard at the same time, and Abby even shared her beloved Caf-Pow energy drink with McGee. (If you know the truth about Caf-Pow on NCIS, you'll know that's Sciuto's love language.) Even though Sciuto was always more casual about the fling than McGee, fans saw the relationship as a staple of the show.

Which is why season 2 felt like going through a breakup. When NCIS returned, the McAbby relationship had been moved to the back-burner. There were still flirtatious moments and occasional hints that Abby and McGee were hooking up, not to mention harboring jealousy towards other romantic interests and showcasing a strong sense of protectiveness. But gradually, the relationship became less sexy and more like brother and sister. 

McGee continued to worry about Abby throughout the years, and occasionally pined for what could have been, but he also started dishing out romantic advice. By the time season 15 rolled around, Abby was the one who got McGee's wife Delilah (Margo Harshman) to the hospital to have their twins, declaring the day of their birth "only, like, the best Thanksgiving ever." 

Fans may have been hurt, but McAbby had no hard feelings.

NCIS dropped McAbby to prioritize Tiva

Why did CBS break up McAbby? First of all, the NCIS world does not look kindly upon interoffice romance — at least in theory. "Never date a co-worker" is one of Gibbs' (Mark Harmon) rules — number 12, to be precise. Also, long-term commitment doesn't fit in with Abby's free spirit. She even has a personal directive against romances that last longer than two months (although McGee appears to be the exception). And from a purely practical standpoint, it's possible the writers felt that tying two major characters into a relationship with each other so early on in the series would make the audience lose interest in them.

However, another theory posits that CBS quietly shelved McAbby to promote a new hot couple. Matt Roush at TV Guide suggested that "pairing up all four members of Gibbs' team romantically might seem like overkill, and the Tony-Ziva dynamic... is so integral to the show's core" that it took priority over the relatively lighthearted McAbby. The biggest obstacle facing McGee and Abby is that she's just not that into him. In contrast, Tony (Michael Weatherly) and Ziva (Cote de Pablo) have to deal with abduction, awkward in-laws, fake deaths, and a secret child — much more interesting dramatic fodder.

For her part, actress Pauley Perrette liked the dynamic McAbby settled into. In 2010, she told TV Guide, "There will always be something between McGee and Abby... They may not be a couple, but they do love and respect each other." (Perrette, however, was not feeling the love toward the show, as the untold truth of NCIS reveals, and left in 2018.) The NCIS team is undeniably skilled at solving Navy-related crimes, but they can't always untangle matters of the heart.