Disclaimer: I do not own any part of NCIS and am making no money with this work. Merely taking them out to play for a bit…

Spoilers: There may be minor references to the following episodes: Last Man Standing, Agent Afloat, Twilight, SWAK, Judgment Day, Bury Your Dead, Requiem, Bait, Heartland. Should additional spoilers work their way in, they will be posted in pertaining chapters.

A/N: While this story builds on the foundations of my story Conversations, I believe it can be read as a standalone. There will be references in this story to history established within Conversations. I am however trying to provide enough context to references to not make Conversations required reading. In an effort to minimize disruption of the flow of the story, I am planning on only having Author's notes at the beginning and end of the story. Ramblings about progress will be posted in my profile page, should anyone find they are interested. Thanks in advance to those who review; I'll do my best to personally reply. As always, constructive criticism is appreciated.

Scars, Faded

Prelude

Lieutenant JG Mason Hastings clenched his frostbitten fingers around the small plastic oar, willing himself to not succumb to death just yet. He had to make it to shore, get the message out about the traitorous act that had put him at the mercy of the North Atlantic. His shipmates were dead. He was the only messenger.

He shivered. As long as he shivered he'd be okay. He knew he would be in big trouble when the shivering stopped, hypothermia closing its ever-tightening coils. The sky was gray, light snow obscuring the horizon; he knew the sun was rapidly sinking. The wind was bitter, blowing spray off the swells. They were small yet, but he knew it wouldn't last long with the winds blowing from the east. A Nor'easter was on the way.

His teeth chattered violently. He knew the odds. His chances of survival were slim. The young lieutenant rested his numb cheek against the stiff rubber of the raft. The contact barely registered in his mind. He'd never felt so miserable, so alone. He forced himself to sit up, vigorously pumped his arms to get some circulation back to his hands so he could hold the oar. He could not fail, could not succumb to despair. He had a duty his country.

One pull at a time he drew himself towards shore. The easterly wind pushed him. Above him a few foolhardy seagulls cried. Shore was near. They had been just over twelve nautical miles out. He'd been pushing towards shore for a couple hours now, the wind he estimated was upwards of 25 knots. He ran a few calculations through his head, they gave him confidence, renewed his energy. He was close.

Chapter 1

The bullpen was unusually quiet. Several teams were out on assignment. Gibbs was up in MTAC; McGee was with Abby putting together a new server array for her lab. Tony came up for air under the avalanche of paperwork. He made a show of stretching and yawning, making an effort to be as obnoxious as possible. He glanced at Ziva, disappointed in the complete lack of reaction from the Mossad liaison.

He stood up and grabbed his coat. It was 11:30, and it was his week to pick up lunch. He snatched a peanut off his desk and pitched it at Ziva. His previous disappointment was surpassed when she intercepted it with casual indifference.

"Really, Tony?" she said with an air of irritation, "The peanut thing, again?"

"I haven't pegged you with a peanut since Halloween."

"Only because I threatened to kill you with McGee's staple-remover," she narrowed her eyes at him, "I think you forgot about that." She jumped to her feet and purposefully strode to McGee's desk.

Tony's eyes went wide, "You wouldn't!"

She plucked the office supply from McGee's desk, and brandished it threateningly at DiNozzo. "I would. But I'll grant you reprieve if you bring back Pad Thai chicken."

"Done!" DiNozzo agreed. He smiled on his way to the elevator. Slowly, but surely Ziva David was discovering her inner child.

Thirty minutes later he was delivering his teammates' favorite entrees from the local Thai takeout. He left Gibbs' on the boss' desk, their fearless leader apparently still tied up in MTAC. Down in the lab he set Abby's food and a Caf-Pow refill on the lab table. DiNozzo figured she was due a Caf-Pow seeing as Gibbs had been in MTAC all morning. He was starting to get curious what was going down.

Tony made himself comfortable on a lab chair, listening to the lightning-fast exchange of techno-babble between the Goth and the Geek. He quietly chewed on his noodles until he was snapped out of his thoughts by a loud SMACK.

"What was that for?" McGee griped.

"You're cabling wrong!"

McGee looked at Abby incredulously. He looked like he was about to defend himself, then appeared to decide that this was a battle not worth fighting. With a perturbed expression he grabbed his Thai off the lab table, muttered a thanks to Tony and walked out of the lab.

Tony shrank into his seat when Abby turned her gaze on him. Yep, she was definitely due for another Caf-Pow. He slid it her direction as a pre-emptive peace offering. She started muttering about switches, and LAN and WAN and five or six cats he was lost.

Abby reached for the overly-sugared, overly-caffeinated beverage and took a long draw. She plunked the cup down and walked over to the computer that was busily running a ballistics match. "I don't have any results for you yet," she with mild exasperation.

"Wasn't here for results," he replied. Tony stood up and plunked the white cardboard box next to her keyboard, "Lunch."

Abby smiled at Tony as she caught scent of her favorite dish. "I didn't even ask!"

Tony stood up and winked at her, "I know." He smiled enigmatically and walked out of her lab. He was polishing off the last of his meal when he made it back to his desk. McGee was busy typing at his computer. Ziva was on the phone. He turned to grab a soda from the vending machines when the door to MTAC opened.

All three agents looked up to the mezzanine to see who emerged. Gibbs looked down to see his team waiting expectantly. "Go home and pack up. Our flight leaves in 90 minutes."

"Uh, Boss?" McGee began, "Where are we going? Need to know what to pack."

Gibbs glanced at DiNozzo and hesitated for a fraction of a second before answering, "Pack for cold weather."

Their team leader said nothing more as he strode to the Director's office. The three agents began gathering their gear, when they heard Gibbs call, "DiNozzo, tell Abby to forward all her results to Jenkins' team. They're taking over our investigation."

DiNozzo picked up the phone and hit the speed-dial for Abby's extension. He held the handset away from his ear as industrial music blared in the background. "Abby, we're heading out of town. Gibbs just came out of MTAC; he wants you to forward all your results to Jenkins."

Tony finally managed to break off Abby's tirade about Jenkins investigative inadequacies. He looked at his watch then glanced up to the Director's office. Something was definitely brewing, and his gut was telling him it was not good.

McGee and Ziva were heading for the elevator. They paused, waiting for DiNozzo to join them. Tony waved them on. He lived much closer to the Yard than they did; he had plenty of time to pack if the bag he had stowed in his locker wouldn't meet the need. He wanted to talk to the Boss before he headed out. He hadn't missed the look Gibbs had given him. And that made him nervous.

Tony picked up the phone again. He punched the speed dial for the tech center. "Hey, Lucas," he greeted. "Could you bring the laptops up? Looks like we're heading out of town for a while… yeah, standard McGee configuration will do…Our flight leaves in 90 minutes…Excellent, McGee will be thrilled…Yeah, thanks, you too."

DiNozzo placed the handset back on the cradle. He worked through a mental checklist for any other items they may need. He glanced up to the Director's office before heading back down to the basement. He grabbed a couple of crime-scene kits and a camera bag. He checked to make sure everything was stocked, tucked the camera bag under one arm and grabbed a kit in each hand.

"Hey, Duck?" he called as he poked his head into Autopsy. "You hear what's going on?"

The M.E. looked up from the body he was currently examining, "Not unless it pertains to this poor chap," he gestured to the moderately decomposed figure before him. "I haven't heard nary a peep from anyone since we got back from retrieving this fellow."

DiNozzo smiled, it had been a long shot but was worth a try. "Thanks. We're on our way out of town shortly, Gibbs hasn't said where yet. Has the feeling of something big and mysterious if you know what I mean."

"Oh?" Dr. Mallard was intrigued.

"Gibbs has been in MTAC all morning. Now we're heading out, not hard to put those pieces together," he smirked. "I'm gonna stop by and see Abs quick before we head out. Take care, Duck!"

After visiting Abby's lab again he dropped off the kits and camera at his desk. He was debating on running home to grab a few more things when he heard the door to the Director's office open. He leaned against the corner of his desk and waited.

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs barked. "I thought I told you to get packed?"

"I'm already packed, Boss. I keep a bag here. Unless we're heading to Hawaii, then I'll have to change a few items up."

Gibbs noted the crime-scene kits, the camera bag. The elevator dinged and he turned to watch Lucas from tech lug four laptop bags over to DiNozzo's desk. Even after eight years, his senior field agent would find ways to surprise him.

"Here you are, Tony," the young computer tech offered the bags to DiNozzo, "four McGee specials." Lucas placed the bags on the ground when DiNozzo nodded to the floor. "We just got these machines in the other day, got 'em all imaged up to the boss' specs."

Gibbs and DiNozzo shared a smirk at Lucas' reference to McGee. "Thanks, Lucas. I'll pass that on to McGee," Tony smiled.

As the tech walked away, the smile dropped from DiNozzo's face. "So, where are we going, Boss?"

Gibbs held eye contact with DiNozzo before replying, "We're going to Long Island, DiNozzo. Montauk."

Tony swallowed, "I think I need to go home and get my parka, Boss."