Chapter 22

Three months later...

A pair of hands flew across the keyboard. A smaller pair typed madly on a keyboard nearby. In near synchronization, the two sets of hands pressed a succession of keys, moving so quickly that they almost looked blurred

"I'm winning! I'm winning!"

"You cheated. You pressed start before I did!"

"Liar! Did not!"

"Did, too! It doesn't matter. I'm up to alphanumeric sequences!"


"Ha! Combinations of words and numbers... along with symbols!"

"I'm almost there!"

"Almost only counts in horseshoes!"

The only sounds in the lab besides the banter and the clicking of the keys were beeps and dings coming from the two computers.

"No! I lost some ground!"

"No way! Me, too! I only have one spot left!"

"I have two! Ha!"

"That won't matter if you lose them both!" The taunting became a wail. "No! Full sentences!"


"No! I hit the 'Q'! I hit it!"

"Better type faster!"

"The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog! Got it!"

"No! I lost another piece!"

"Come on... come on!"

Then, at the same time, the two competitors moaned as the computers beeped the information that they had both lost all their ground.

"No!" Tim shouted and sank back into the long abandoned stool behind him. He sighed. "Man, I'm still not to my previous record."

"Tim, I can't believe you have a record. This is Typing Tutor."

"Don't deny that you were having fun with it, too, Miss 'I'm Winning'."

"Okay, okay, I'll admit that it was more fun and more challenging than I thought. Still, that game is ancient!"

"Yeah, they don't make them like that anymore," Tim said nostalgically.

"For good reason, I think," Abby teased. She looked over at him, or more accurately, at his hands. The very fact that he was able to type as quickly as he had showed that he was almost back to form. David had agreed that his hands were ready for a regular work schedule, provided he continued the once-a-week therapy and his own exercises. Tim still had faint twinges sometimes which made him nervous, but nothing major. His hands would definitely never win any awards for beauty, however. The scarring was permanent. They would fade over time, but the places where his bones had broken through the skin, the places where he had beat his hands against the ceiling made dizzying crisscross patterns across his knuckles. A long jagged line zigzagged down the outside of his hands, from the tip of each pinky down to the wrist. There was an added complication from his injuries, one that no one had considered before. Tim now had quite a bit of metal in his hands... metal that set off every metal detector they went through. It had been embarrassing at first, but after awhile, it became a running joke. Tim as the new $6 Million Man.

Tim noticed Abby's scrutiny. He reached out and gently lifted her face to meet his. "I'm up here, Abby, not down there."

"I know, Tim. I'm sorry."

Tim lifted his hands and examined them, taking in the same scars. "These will never go away, Abby."

"I know."

"Does that bother you?"

"Only because I still get mad every time I see them. Don't you?"

"Mad? Sometimes." Tim looked at his hands again. He flexed his fingers, reveling in the lack of pain. "Mostly, I'm relieved." At her questioning glance, he added, "They still work, Abby. I almost beat you today. I'm almost back to normal. It could have turned out so much worse."

"It almost did," Abby whispered, her eyes on his scars again.

"But it didn't," Tim answered. "I had enough people worrying about me that it didn't." He again lifted her head. "Abby, those scars will never go away, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because I'm still the same person I was."

Slowly, Abby reached out and held his left hand. She traced the numerous healed lacerations. "Yes, you're the same... only better." She smiled and kissed one of Tim's healed knuckles. He grinned and pulled his hand back as his phone rang.

"Yes, Boss? On my way."


"Yeah. New case, a murder out at Norfolk."

"Go get 'em, McGee."

Tim smiled and saluted. "Yes, ma'am." Then, he turned and ran for the elevator.


"You ready, McGee?" Gibbs asked.

"Definitely, Boss." Tim grabbed his gear and followed the team, heading back out into the field for the first time since he had been taken. Ziva met his eyes briefly and then looked down at his hands and back up. Tim smiled and nodded.

"These injuries are not a sign of your weakness. They are a sign of your strength."