"Director, Jennifer Shepard has arrived," his assistant informed him.
"Send her in please, Cynthia," he replied.
He sighed, he would miss parts of this job, but the promotion was too good to pass up, and the agency needed some new blood. He had a feeling that Jenny would be the one to shake NCIS up and see some results.
A red headed woman entered the room, walking confidently to his desk. "Director Morrow," she greeted him with a smile. "It's been too long."
"It has," he agreed amiably. "But I'm sure you know that I didn't ask you here just to catch up."
"Of course not, sir," she sat as he did, her tone changing to strictly business.
"I'm sure you've already heard about my promotion," he gave her a smirk. She had a knack for making useful contacts with United States and international agents, so she was typically well-informed.
"Yes, and NCIS will be sad to see you go, but your promotion was definitely earned," Jenny replied smoothly.
Morrow nodded and continued, "It's been a rather quiet couple of weeks, nothing too out of the ordinary. I've recently received intel that that is going to change sometime soon, so I brought you here earlier than I had initially planned. I think you would be better suited than I to deal with what's coming."
Her brows furrowed, "And what is coming, Director?"
"I know you've done a couple of ops with Mossad and their agents, so you're familiar with them, yes?" he asked, although he already knew the answer.
At her nod he plowed on, "Recent chatter has suggested that one of their operatives isn't as loyal as they thought he was."
"Is he here?" she asked, concerned as to how this would affect NCIS.
"Supposedly," Morrow paused. "This operative has a particular...history...with the MCRT unit."
Jenny blew out a breath, connecting the dots, "Jethro's team. What happened?"
"The operative was sent undercover by Mossad to infiltrate Hamas with the intention of getting into Al-Qaeda. It appeared to have been successful. But during that time, the mole brushed up against NCIS a couple times. We had the body of a Hamas agent that they needed to recover. He was sent to retrieve it. It wasn't pretty."
Jenny snorted, "I bet that's an understatement."
Morrow nodded, "Of the century. Dr. Mallard and his assistant Gerald were taken hostage in Autopsy. An agent, Caitlin Todd from Gibbs' team, had to deliver the evidence from the scene to Autopsy and she was also taken hostage. It ended with a SWAT team storming the room after Jethro went down alone and unarmed. He was hit in the shoulder and the undercover agent got away."
Jenny nodded, "So Jethro is obsessed with finding the agent. He's not one to let things go."
Morrow gave a small laugh, "One of his best and worst traits. We weren't made aware of the agent's status until after that, and it was kept from Gibbs' team. Couple months after that, he turned up in DC again, buying illegal missiles and training a small group of suspected terrorists. They kidnapped Agent Todd and asked her help in identifying Air Force One, since she used to be Secret Service."
Jenny looked shocked at that, "I didn't hear anything about that."
"Of course not, Jenny. It ultimately failed, and they were all caught. It was reported as a drug bust. In a private meeting between Jethro and the agent after that affair, he walked away with the same injury Gibbs had after the hostage situation here, but the official stance on the meeting is that it never took place."
"Of course it is. I assume Jethro would never take advantage of that in order to shoot an undercover agent in the shoulder for revenge," she seemed to be both amused and annoyed. "So now you've received word from Mossad that he might not be as loyal to them as they previously believed, and more importantly, they believe he is coming back to DC." Jenny contemplated the situation, "Who gave us that information?"
Morrow shrugged, "It came from the Director's office. But it wasn't the Director, and when I questioned him he ended the call."
Jenny nodded, "Mossad has always been secretive. When I did ops with them I was always working with the bare minimum; case facts, contacts, you name it. Most of the time the only reason I wasn't flying blind into the situation was my partner," she gave a small smile in remembrance.
Morrow caught it, "Ah yes, Ziva David."
"That's her," Jenny said with another small smile.
"Which brings us to the other, rather large problem with the undercover agent."
Jenny didn't like that at all, but Morrow cut across her before she could speak, "It's not her. But she's the control officer assigned to the agent."
She sat back against the chair, "Well I wasn't expecting that. Ziva is more of a field agent than a control officer. Although if the alternative was sitting out on the op she'd take whatever position she had to."
Morrow shook his head, "She requested the assignment. The agent in question is Ari Haswari."
She sucked in a breath, "Ari?"
Morrow actually looked surprised, "You know him?"
"Barely," she said, still shocked. "He's her older half-brother. When Ziva and I worked together they often remained in contact, even when they were both on missions. They established most of the safe houses that we used across the country and they frequently shared intel regardless of the classification. I only met him once, and briefly at that."
Morrow digested her information, "Certainly a capable agent then. Trained by Mossad, and in league with Hamas and possibly al-Qaeda."
"I don't know him well enough to say whether or not he would betray Mossad and Israel. I know there's no lost love between him and Deputy Director David, especially after his mother died. According to Ziva, Eli was never close to any of his children. But where Eli left a void, Ziva stepped in. She and Ari are extremely close, which makes it hard for me to believe he would betray them, since it would mean betraying her."
"You don't have to believe it, Jenny. No matter how it turns out, you need to be able to separate those feelings and act appropriately."
Her eyes flashed at the challenge, "I am well aware of what duty means, Director."
He nodded, not at all insulted or surprised at her reaction, "I know, Jenny. That's why I picked you to fill my chair."
She let the surprise wash over her features, but he wasn't fooled. She'd heard about his promotion so she certainly knew why he had called her here today.
That's why he savored what was to come. He pushed the intercom, "Cynthia."
"Make sure I am not disturbed. No calls unless it's a matter of national security, and certainly no visitors. Get a security guard if you feel the need, but Jethro is in the field today so I doubt he'll come knocking."
"Of course, Director."
Satisfied, he turned to Jenny. "Now for something that you need to know," he looked at her seriously. "This is a secret beyond being classified. Only a handful of people know what I'm going to tell you, so before you hear it, I need a definite answer."
Jenny's face was carefully neutral, but he could tell she was interested, "I will gladly fill your shoes as Director of NCIS."
"Good," he smiled. He looked over her shoulder, and she turned to look as well. She was about to ask what they were looking at when he spoke again.
"Weasel. Please show yourself now."
She couldn't help it; she flinched back and gasped in shock. Where before there had been an empty room, now a figure stood in the corner, the shadows pulling at him like he was part of them. Beyond words, she turned back to Morrow.
"Everyone reacts that way at first, Jenny." He stood, walking towards the figure and gestured for it to move closer. "ANBU Weasel, this is Jennifer Shepard, the new Director of NCIS."
Morrow gently tapped Jenny on the shoulder and she hastily stood, uncertain if she should greet the figure or not. She was saved a moment later.
"It is a pleasure to serve you, Madam Director." The figure spoke with a definite masculine voice, although it wasn't as deep as she thought it should be.
She could only weakly nod as she inspected him in the light. There wasn't much that was visible. The hooded white cloak hid everything but his face, which bore a bone white mask with red markings on the front. An animalistic nose protruded from the mask, and the two eyeholes were dark, giving no indication of his eye color.
She gathered from the silence that they were waiting for something, so she took a moment to ensure her voice was level and strong. "Thank you, ANBU Weasel. I look forward to working with you in the future."
At a nod from the Director, Weasel inclined his head in both their directions and brought his hands together in an odd way before disappearing silently. Seeing that, Jenny lost the little composure she managed to scrape together, and fell back into her chair, staring at the spot where there was once a person.
Morrow chuckled quietly as he sat back down in his chair as well. She wheeled around to face him, her shock gone in favor of anger. "You wanna tell me what the hell that was?"
Morrow wasn't fazed, "It is up to each outgoing Director and President to inform their replacement of the existence of those Special Forces. Director Bennett told me in the same way I am telling you now. He laughed at my reaction and I couldn't deprive myself of the same entertainment, plus it is one of the more effective introductions."
Still angry, but now a little confused as well, Jenny opted for silence. Morrow continued, "No one really knows how long they've existed, but they were first discovered in the late 1800's. There were brief encounters with them before that, strange occurrences that can now be traced back to them, but the first concrete meeting was sometime during the 1880's. Before that they had lived as most sovereign people of that time did; untouched by the outside.
"They live in a village, dependent on themselves and with their own government and council to keep order. There are other villages like them and they all fight amongst themselves for power, land, and access to merchants and trade routes. We only know this because they told us; no one has found the villages yet and they still live there. We think they originated in Asia, but no one is sure.
"During the 1880's and '90's they came into closer contact with our world. Especially as the superpowers extended their control over territories and islands. Their abilities remained a secret, but they began to take on outside jobs- construction work and the like. And they stayed out of notice, but remained a curiosity to the governments in the countries where they popped up. People could tell that there was something different about them, but apparently they can blend in when they're not in uniform.
"Anyway, the jobs started to gain more attention. People started hiring them for personal contracts after word got around that they had special skills. All of a sudden there were murders that have almost no evidence, and priceless objects that were hidden or protected went missing. The governments put two and two together and sent emissaries to ask around for them, under the pretense of hiring them for a job.
"This happened over a span of thirty years, so some countries were made aware of their existence sooner than others. We were among the last of the superpowers, so far as we can tell. World War I was stirring around that time, and large numbers of them were hired by the warring governments as mercenaries and sent on secret missions."
He paused, giving Jenny a minute to digest the information. "What kind of abilities do they have?" she asked eventually.
"I'll get there in a moment. It's important to understand their history- or what we know of it- before that. It was almost impossible for any normal soldier to stand against them, and seeing the disadvantage, the Allies recruited them as well.
"After the war, they kept in contact, seeing how lucrative their previous jobs were, and there was a high demand for their skills. It was much of the same thing for World War II, but it wasn't until President Kennedy's assassination that we started to look into other possibilities where they were concerned.
"After that it became standard procedure to leave one or two of them as a guard with the President, although the Secret Service agents don't know about it- just their Director. Then, with the end of the Cold War, President Reagan contracted more and informed the Directors of their presence. They've become their own branch of the military, although you won't find any records of them anywhere. We know that most of the other countries that can afford standing contracts have adopted a method similar to ours."
"I still don't understand," Jenny said. "Who are they?"
Morrow smirked, "They are shinobi." At her blank look he continued, "Ninja."
He held up a hand to stifle her response, "I am entirely serious, Jen. They refer to themselves as shinobi, and after what I've seen, there's nothing else to describe it. The things they can do..." he was at a loss for words and shrugged a shoulder.
"By all of our definitions it's impossible. One of their stipulations- aside from complete secrecy- was an oath that they served their military capacity only. No experiments, no testing, no measuring. Can't say I blame them."
She still looked skeptical and he gestured to the corner once more, "You saw it yourself, Jenny."
She turned to look once more, as if to assure herself that it was still empty. Admitting defeat, she asked instead, "But what does that have to do with us?"
"SecNav doesn't want things with Mossad blowing up in our faces. Our relationship with them has to remain good, but he'd rather not have it come at a cost to this agency or any other. Previously we've had little use for the shinobi. Aside from guarding the Director, they have occasionally been sent out to monitor missions or cases that have been matters of national security.
"Part of the problem is that they have to maintain a low profile. They have their methods to avoid detection, but there's always the chance of something going wrong. As far as NCIS is concerned, they're an absolute last reserve. It's why I held back during the autopsy hostage situation, and with several other high profile cases. With your field experience, though, you might be able to make better use of their skills than I did."
Still overwhelmed, Jenny waited for Morrow to continue. "ANBU Weasel will be your guard for the time being. If there is a change he will alert you and introduce you to his replacement- it'll be someone from his team. His codename is Weasel, ANBU is his rank, and he is the captain of his team. It's an extremely high level from what I have understood.
"It's rather complicated because they still operate out of their villages, so they answer to the President, to their own their leader, and whoever they are assigned to. For the moment, there are no other operatives at NCIS, although Weasel has his team on standby should the need arise."
Jenny recovered her voice, "How old is he? His voice sounded like it hadn't finished cracking yet."
Morrow gave a sigh, his shoulders falling slightly. "That's one of my biggest problems with the program," he said softly. "From my best guess, Weasel is thirteen at the oldest."
"Thirteen?" Jenny yelped. She had suspected he was young, but not that young. "What place does a thirteen year old have in this?" He could hear another question- how is a thirteen year old qualified for this, but only answered her spoken query.
"They aren't a talkative bunch, especially when it comes to their village or their lives there. But from what I've heard from the other Directors, Weasel is one of the youngest ever. Most aren't involved until they reach the appropriate rank- usually in their late teens, early twenties. The fact that Weasel achieved such a rank at his age shows how much talent and drive he has."
Jenny wasn't pleased, but remained silent. Morrow stood again and Jenny followed suit, sensing the change. "Well, Jenny, I've given you a lot to think about, but the best way to figure it out is to talk to Weasel later. I will be officially handing over the title to you at the end of the week, so I want you back every day so we can cover everything and get you acquainted with your duties. See you tomorrow at 0500." They shook hands again, and Jenny left with her mind spinning; she knew she wouldn't sleep much tonight.
The week progressed quickly and Jenny was feeling comfortable in her new role. She was extremely grateful to Morrow for coaching her throughout the week- his last week- to make it easier on her.
Friday was his last day and the ceremony and swearing in would take place over the weekend so she could start with a new week. They didn't mention the shinobi again that whole week, although Jenny ached to. There was no one else she could turn to for confirmation or to answer any of her questions at the moment. The secrecy behind the entire operation made it clear that only those with clearance could be told, so she could contact the other directors, but something kept her from actually doing it.
Call it pride, stubbornness, whatever you will; Jennifer Shepard didn't call in the big guns until it was necessary. And even then it was with great reluctance and some kind of leverage to tilt the conversation in her favor.
She didn't get to be Director of NCIS without learning the importance of information and the rules of the political game she was joining. The ceremony was a big deal, lots of pomp and circumstance, oath making, and then of course being sworn in. Many other directors, agents, and politicians were there and she spoke with as many as possible as soon as she was able. It was better to get a feel for the people she would be dealing with firsthand.
The directors of both the FBI and CIA were polite to a fault, their comments always a double-edged sword, searching for a weakness in this new female director. She rebuffed them, threw a few barbs of their own, and the three parted ways, wry smiles of anticipation worn by all.
When it came to a close, Morrow herded her back to NCIS and she followed him to his- her- office. It was cleared of his personal effects, it had been an ongoing project during the week, and her boxes were stacked on the ground next to the desk. She was surprised to see Weasel sitting on the couch in the office, and he stood immediately.
He gave a nod to both of them, "Director Morrow. Madam Director."
"At ease, Weasel. We will get this done so you and Jenny can better acquaint yourselves," Morrow said. He moved closer to the shinobi, and motioned for Jenny to stand on Weasel's other side.
"Good luck, Jenny. You'll be a fantastic director," he gave a joking smile. "Don't hesitate to put Jethro in line." Morrow turned to face Weasel, and both of his hands rested on the Director's face.
Jenny looked on, confused as to what was going on. Weasel's hands glowed green and he whispered several words. She was worried now, unsure as to what was going on, but as she moved forward to stop it, Weasel dropped his hands and quickly disappeared.
Confused, she looked at Morrow, but there was no indication that anything was wrong. "Well, this is it Jenny," he said. "Good luck. You'll be a fantastic director." He smiled again; "Don't hesitate to put Jethro in line."
With a gentle pat on her shoulder, Director Morrow saw himself out of the office, leaving Jenny more confused than ever. She stood in the same spot for a minute before a voice pulled her out of it, "Close the door, Madam Director. I will explain everything now."
Her head whipped around to see Weasel standing where he had been only moments before and she jumped back. I didn't even notice when he came back. He was right next to me and I didn't hear him. There was a twinge of fear but she decided it was best to close the door. If he said he wanted to talk then he probably did; had he wanted to kill her he would have already done so.
When she turned back to face him he was in the soldier's ready position; feet shoulder length apart, head up, arms bent at the elbow, and hands behind his back. She hadn't really noticed earlier, but his white cloak was thrown over his shoulders and the hood was down, allowing her to see that he kept his hair long, with a few bangs of black hair framing his mask, and the rest pulled into a tail at the nape of his neck.
He wore the strangest arrangement of armor she had ever seen. It started with a sleeveless black body shirt that came up to his neck. Short black arm covers of the same material extended from his wrist to above his elbow and were secured with bandages midway up his upper arm. His shoulders were bare. A large grey chest protector that reached down to his hips was secured with two shoulder straps. Grey arm guards covered his forearms and extended past his elbows although they were not secured on his upper arm, allowing him to bend his arm freely.
She shivered when she saw the hilt of what looked like a sword on his back- why does he have that?- and she forced herself not to stare. Long black pants melted into strange black sandals and there were odd black straps that snaked up his calf, stopping just below his knee. Fingerless gloves adorned with metal bits on the back were on his hands and she could see several pouches on his legs and hips. She could make out some kind of tattoo on his left shoulder, but he spoke before she could analyze it further.
"Part of our contract with your government assures us that we will remain a closely guarded secret. We have no wish to be pulled any further into outside affairs than we already are. As such, anyone who is not the current leader of a military or intelligence office will be unaware of our existence. Outgoing leaders who have fulfilled their roles are submitted to a technique that erases all knowledge of us from their minds. When another is chosen to replace you, you will do the same as Director Morrow just did."
"You erased something from his mind! How is that even possible?" she asked, aghast at this new information and the cool way in which it was delivered.
Weasel continued with an almost bored tone, "As I said, our techniques allow us to do many things. One of them is access the minds of others. Their cooperation is helpful, but unnecessary. Knowledge, in this case anything to do with me and others like me, can be...altered. Erased is not the proper term, forgive me." He paused but Jenny just waved him on.
"Very well. Director Morrow's meetings with any shinobi he may have encountered have been locked away behind a seal of our design. The seal will prevent him or anyone else from accessing those memories. Whenever possible, the technique simply represses the memory. It is not very hard, since the only time we are in contact with someone is when they are alone and the orders you give us are to remain off the record of your agency. Director Morrow will not be able to recall any of us, and since our existence and our missions are only kept in a coded ledger by the guards to the President, there is no issue of paperwork. Missions detailed by individual directors are reported verbally directly by the shinobi executing the mission."
Jenny's eyes widened in shock, "How is it that nothing overlaps? It seems like a ridiculously roundabout way to take care of issues that could potentially threaten our national security."
She could hear the smirk in his voice when he answered, "Every ninja in the field has access to a universal scroll. We report our missions to the keepers of that scroll, and they add it to the mission list. No detail is spared, because everything has the potential to become vital. Before accepting a mission we are to check the scroll to ensure no other shinobi will be completing a similar mission."
"How are the directors apprised of the mission list?" she asked after that.
Again that damn smirk sound, "We do not share the contents of the scroll. If a mission overlaps we are only permitted to give the shinobi's base of location. We operate under the belief that if our individual clients need to be in the know, they will be kept informed by others in similar positions."
Jenny gave her own smirk, Good. So there's still something for me to do. I'm sure a lot of anonymous tips and classified missions can be credited to these shinobi. This will certainly be interesting, since the directors all know where the information came from but can only dance around the subject. "So, what about foreign operatives?"
"Many other counties, both those that are allied with your country and those that are against your country, also have standing contracts with shinobi villages."
"Well that was a nice introduction, but keep talking Weasel, that didn't tell me anything I didn't already know," she raised her eyebrows and waited expectantly.
The smirk voice was back, "It is an interesting conflict, since the shinobi villages have been fighting for supremacy since the establishment of the villages. Even before that the clans fought each other-"
"Clans?" she interrupted.
He hesitated, but answered, "Most villages are made up of clans of families. Citizens who are not from a clan can still be shinobi; most people are born with chakra."
"And chakra is?" she interrupted again.
"I cannot go into much detail, but it doesn't matter because you have passed the age where you could harness it. Chakra is what lets us do our techniques. It is a mixture of physical and spiritual energy that we learn to use through training."
"So it's like magic?" she quipped.
"No. It's nothing like magic," Weasel said coolly. "Because chakra is actually real."
Somewhat chastised, she tried again, "Is that why your hands were green earlier?"
"Exactly. That was my chakra being channeled into my technique."
"So the foreign operatives?" she reminded him. She fancied that she could hear a quiet sigh from him, but when he answered his voice was level, "With the establishment of the villages the fighting became more controlled. Each village established a base and attracted more shinobi to it.
"There is a civilian population that typically lives with the village and they can commission missions for the younger shinobi who are still in training. The elite shinobi are given the more difficult missions- assassinations, espionage, and tracking down traitors. And of course, there is a rotation schedule among those eligible for serving this contract."
"Why a rotation? And who commissions assassinations?"
This time there was a definite sigh, "Civilians, if they can afford it, can hire shinobi for a number of jobs. If a civilian village is threatened with invading shinobi, they can hire a friendly village to kill them. As for the rotation, it would not be prudent to leave a shinobi in his post for too long. Usually one to two years is a sufficient length of time. Otherwise training and fitness can suffer."
Now there was a definite sarcastic tone, "And we do have families as well. I don't think they would appreciate it if we held our position here until we died."
She nodded her apology and changed the subject, "So Weasel is your codename, correct?"
"Yes. It would be unwise to tell you my real name. It is easier if attachments are not formed."
She gave her assent, although she wasn't particularly happy about it; calling someone 'weasel' didn't sit well with her. "Is this the beginning or end of your rotation?"
"Beginning, when it was decided that there was to be a new director, my team was given the rotation, and as captain I took the first shift."
"I see. How do I contact you?"
"I will always be close by; you may call for me when you have need of me. But I should warn you that my vow to my village comes first. I am not to expose myself unless it is a last option or the situation demands my presence."
"Of course," she replied, although she wasn't too sure how she liked his answer that he'd 'always be close by.'
"There is one more thing," he hesitated and seemed genuinely nervous.
"Yes?" she asked, betting that she wouldn't like whatever was going to come. He pointed to his arm, turning it to show her the tattoo. It was an intricate swirl, and almost looked like a teardrop.
"You can identify us with this tattoo. Every shinobi that is able to serve a position with this contract will bear one. Men will have it on their left shoulder, women carry it on their right shoulder. And I have been ordered to show you my face as well, although when I follow you outside of the grounds, I will not appear as myself; if you notice me I will identify myself to you so you do not alert your other guards. I doubt you will ever see me."
She caught the arrogance and realized it was to mask his nervousness at exposing his face. She didn't push him, just waited patiently as he brought a hand up to remove the painted mask.
It fell away with no strings or straps, but she didn't notice that. He's so young! she thought sadly. It was definitely the face of a boy, and as Morrow had said, thirteen at the oldest. His bangs fell to his cheeks without his mask there and his eyes were a shade of grey that she didn't think was possible.
He had lines on either side of his nose, and frown marks on his forehead and around his mouth. But his face was still soft, with a stubborn bit of baby fat left, filling his angular face only a little. By his current expression, she could tell that he was watching her carefully and she forced herself to be the Director instead of Jenny when she spoke.
"Very good, Weasel. Is that everything?"
There was a shift in his eyes, something like gratitude, but it passed immediately, and he fixed his mask back in place. "That is all, Madam Director."
Edited and re-posted on 4/11/14