We are the Dead by DD Agent
I wrote 'The Lost World' back in August but was never really happy with it. This version, with time and a good idea, made me realise a strong direction I can go in and also just generally make the story make sense. I hope you like this rewrite - and now with this edit I can continue monthly additions of this series. Enjoy!
It occurred to Jenny Shepard, covered in someone else's blood and close to falling apart, that the book 1984 had never been more apt to her. She was stuck in a world where she could tell no one she was alive, where she was almost trapped in California and the mere presence of her would unleash the men who she had tried to destroy. She was lost.
Like the main characters in the book, there would be no happy endings for her. No reunions, no long retirement with the man she loved. It was only a matter of time before someone put a bullet in the back of her skull.
She was already dead.
One Day Earlier
"I think I could do this forever." Jenny Shepard looked up at her lover, watching as he tied the rope to secure the boat to the harbour. Once he had finished, Leroy Jethro Gibbs turned to her and grinned. "Couldn't you?"
Jenny smiled and nodded. "I'd go anywhere with you."
As Jethro continued to go through the motions of securing the boat, Jenny looked around the small dock they were now at. The sun was just coming out over the horizon, and the small harbour town was waking up in the summer sun. Picture perfect moment. It was then that Jenny reached for her camera and snapped a shot of Jethro in front of the sun rise.
"I hate having my picture taken."
Jenny giggled. "Do you believe it steals your soul, Special Agent Gibbs?"
Having finally secured the boat, Jethro walked over to his lover. Sailing around the Mediterranean with Jenny - he could honestly not think of a better way to spend his summer vacation. Sitting down on the boat with her, he pulled her close and pressed his mouth softly to hers.
"You've already taken my heart. Don't want to lose anything else."
Jenny grinned and put her hand on the back of Jethro's neck. She wanted a proper good morning kiss. Her lover didn't deny her.
The two of them had been travelling around Corsica for the last three days, the French island being a great place for them to travel. Jenny could use her expert French to good use, and it was so out of the way that no one would think that the beautiful redhead was actually the NCIS Director who had 'passed away' three years ago. Only two people knew that Jethro's former and now present lover Jenny Shepard was still alive. One was softly kissing her. The other was dog sitting in DC.
"Looks a pretty little place. Some sand, some shops," Jenny said once Jethro had moved to just holding her. "We can send Ducky a postcard from this stop."
Jethro nodded and looked out onto the port. The boat they were on was one he had bought as scrap and fixed up in the bereavement time Vance had ordered him to take after Mike's death. She didn't have a name, but on all the paperwork she was called 'Jenny'. He had wanted to build a boat for her, but usually his boats were only for one. This one was for two, like his life was gradually becoming.
"So…what do you feel like doing today?" Jethro asked. "We could go swimming…" He nuzzled her cheek. "You promised me that red bikini, Jenny."
Jenny giggled and stole another kiss, brushing her thumb over his nose. Every moment together she treasured. They were always in short supply.
"Swimming sounds good to me. Then ice cream and we can come back and make love on the boat," Jenny suggested.
She was rewarded with a kiss. For the moment, as the town woke up, it was just the two of them. Just the way they liked it.
There was chocolate ice cream on his chin. But Jenny didn't want to say anything as she found him too adorable for words. It was rare to see the great Leroy Jethro Gibbs acting cute, so missing his mouth was something Jenny couldn't help but giggle at.
"Damn this is good," Jethro groaned, digging into his mint choc chip with gusto. She had never met a man who liked ice cream as much as Jethro did.
After swimming in the sea - and Jethro declaring Jenny's bikini too dangerous to be worn in public - they had walked into town and purchased ice creams. Jethro was holding her incredibly close, which was how Jenny believed her chocolate truffle ice cream had ended up on Jethro's chin. The scene was ridiculously domestic, and Jenny realised she didn't want anything more. She didn't even want to return to NCIS if it made her lose the wonderful relationship she now had with Jethro. She had never been happier.
"I love you, Jen," Jethro whispered into her hair. She grinned back, choosing that moment to lick the ice cream off of his chin. He chuckled and kissed her again. The locals watched and shook their heads, but neither Jenny nor Jethro minded. They were enjoying the moment too much to care.
They turned a corner into the less touristy parts of Propiano, still kissing. Eventually they took rest on a brick wall and finished off their ice creams. They sat there for a moment, holding hands. Jenny loved these moments, but a voice in the back of her head reminded her that they were few and far between. All holidays had to end, this was true. But this was almost paradise and Jenny felt her heart breaking at the thought of them separating once more.
"Seven days left," Jenny whispered. Seven more days of just the two of them before Jethro would return to NCIS. Who knows when they would see each other after that?
Jethro could see that the holiday blues had crept into Jen a little early, so he leaned over and pressed a kiss to Jenny's temple. "Don't think about it, Jen. It's seven more days than what we would have had if Svetlana and McCallister had succeeded."
"We wouldn't have needed those if I hadn't been such a fool."
He took her chin then, raising it up so he could look into her eyes. He hated the self doubt, the self hatred that he saw with her sometimes. She was good at hiding it when he was around, but sometimes when she didn't think he was watching he could see it. "You weren't a fool, Jen, you were young. McCallister is to blame, not you. He didn't expect us to succeed." He kissed Jenny softly. "Come on. You're alive, we're together…everything's okay."
"I know…" Jenny sighed, her thoughts gripping hold of her in a way that shouldn't be allowed in Jethro's presence. "I am so happy to be with you. I am so happy to be out of that life, not to have to make those sorts of decisions anymore. I haven't picked up a gun in three years…" Jethro squeezing her hand made her want to carry on, say what she had never told him. "Sometimes, when I'm alone in that big house, I see Will and Benoit and all the people that died because of me. Sometimes, when you're not there, I feel like I'm in purgatory for what I did."
Jethro sighed softly and pulled Jenny close to him but she struggled out of his grip. "Jen?"
She stood off the wall and smiled at him, a sad little smile that made Jethro want to comfort her. "I'm going to take a walk, okay? I'll be back on the boat in an hour; I just need to tell my demons to leave us alone."
Jethro nodded, understanding her need for space. He took her hand into his and pressed his lips to it. "Well tell your demons that you're mine, and that they can't have you." He reached over and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I love you Jenny."
"I love you too, Jethro."
She walked off up the less commercial route into the hills of Propiano, where the residents of the port lived. She could feel Jethro's eyes on her. Jenny just needed to breathe, wanted the space to think. She loved being with Jethro, and she was happy that she was alive. She lived for those visits with him, those moments where she could forget her mistakes and just concentrate on her retirement in California with him. But sometimes she wondered if she deserved it, sometimes she wondered what her mistakes had cost her and those she loved. Despite McCallister's role to play in her nightmare, she couldn't put the blame all on him.
Jenny didn't see the man until she had already knocked him to the floor. Turning around to help him, Jenny realised too late that she knew him. And as he got his bearings, he recognised her. He was Agent Callahan: one of the men who had been assigned to the Benoit operation, one of those who she had humiliated with her endeavours into tracking the arms dealer down. He had never liked her, and by the fury in his face at the sight of her, Jenny could see that that hadn't changed.
"You…you're supposed to be dead!"
She acted quickly, pushing him back to the floor and running as fast as she could up the hill. But she was in flip flops and had been retired for three years; he was a CIA agent on the top of his game. Just as Jenny turned a corner onto a secluded path, Callahan grabbed her by her hair and pulled her down to the ground.
She cried out as her face hit dirt, screamed as his boot cracked the bones in her cheek. He pointed his gun at her head, his face carved into a pantomime grin. "Well isn't this a surprise."
Jethro checked his watch for the fourth time in half an hour. He had waited near the harbour, waiting for his lover to come back from her walk. Too many thoughts were running through his mind, he shouldn't have let her go. She could have run off, or done worse. He had been trying to spend more time with Jenny, as much as he could. He loved her, he missed her, and he understood that for most of her days she was really in a prison of her own making. She had a life, but she mostly stayed up in her house thinking about all the things she had done wrong.
He walked up through the town, trying to see if he could spot Jenny. He didn't want to draw too much attention to them, so he just acted like he was going for a walk himself. Jethro finally found the spot that he had last seen Jenny nearly two hours ago. He used his investigator skills to look around for some sign and eventually found it.
One of Jenny's flip flops.
"Oh god, Jen."
He felt for his knife in his pocket and palmed it. He slowly walked up the trail, looking for any signs of his lover, any signs of anyone else. He saw scrapes in the dirt and signs of someone running. Keeping low, Jethro continued up the trail until he turned on a secluded path, hidden from the town by a walkway of mangled trees.
There he found his Jenny, face bloodied, being held at gunpoint by a very angry man. Jethro slipped his knife back into his pocket and raised his hands, trying not to startle the man. He took a step forward, but the man just tightened his grip on Jenny.
"I'm unarmed. Now how about we let her go and we can talk about this?"
The man snorted. He gripped Jenny's neck tighter, but turned the gun in Jethro's direction. "It's too late for that, Special Agent Gibbs. I had my suspicions that I'd find you here, we all used to talk about your relationship with Director Shepard. Now just Ms Shepard, am I right?" The man chuckled. "Or is she Jenny Gibbs now? Did you marry your zombie Director? Is that legally necrophilia?"
Gibbs growled, this man making a mockery of both his Jenny and their relationship. Adrenalin was pumping through his body, waiting for the right time to take the bastard down. Jethro took another step forward. "Have we met before?"
The man who was still clinging onto Jenny's neck so hard it looked like he would crack through her spine just laughed. "Name's Callahan. I work for the Agency."
The only thing worse would have been if an arms dealer had a grip on his lover. Jethro was worried for Jenny - she didn't carry a weapon on her anymore, and all he had was a knife. They had naively thought they would be safe. Love made them all fools. "We haven't hurt anyone. Just let us go. Let her go, please."
"I'm sorry, Gibbs, I can't do that. She made a mockery out of this Agency because of Benoit; she's made a fool of us all by faking her death. I can't let her just go. She has to face up to what she did to us. And I'm sorry, but I can't let you go either."
Jethro was still trying to work on a plan when Callahan, who had become distracted from hurting Jenny by explaining things to Jethro, started screaming in pain. Jenny had sunk her teeth into his arm. Running forward, Jethro tackled him, throwing the gun to the side. This left Jenny crashing to the ground, eating dirt. Just as Jethro was about to reach for the gun, Callahan pulled a secondary pistol from an ankle holster and pointed it mere inches from Jethro's head. He stood up, leaving Jethro in the dirt.
"You think I'm stupid, Gibbs? Always carry a back up." Callahan looked at his arm, grimacing. "You'd have been fine, Gibbs. We had no beef with you, just her. But now? I think my report will say self defence."
Before Gibbs could respond, Callahan's face collapsed in on itself and he fell to the ground. Jethro could see the bullet hole in his head. He looked over his corpse to see his lover holding the gun, her face covered in blood. Just as Callahan had done, Jenny collapsed to the floor.
Scrambling to his feet, Jethro rushed over to comfort Jenny. He ran his hands over her face, happy that she was alive, happy that they both were alive. She dropped the gun to the ground, tears in her eyes.
"It's okay, Jenny, it's okay," Jethro whispered, pressing his forehead against hers. "It's over, he's dead." They would have to bury the body, get out of Corsica as quickly as they could. Destroy their papers…it could be done. They'd done it before. They would be okay.
But all Jenny did was shake her head. "Jethro…it's not. While we were waiting for you, he called the CIA. The Agency knows I'm alive; they'll want revenge for Benoit and for Callahan. Dead woman walking."
Jenny continued to cry, and Jethro continued to hold her, not sure what more he could do to comfort her. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. They had had a good run, a year or so of being together just the two of them. The only two in the world.
"Maybe we can go to Vance for protection, Jen," Jethro whispered. "There has to be some way to keep you safe from the CIA until we can make a deal with them."
"Jethro, I just killed one of their men," Jenny choked. "I don't think deals are an option. And anyway…we always said there would be others. Now I don't have the status, the security…I'm a free target for those we tried to bring down."
Jethro didn't know what to say, didn't know what he could say to Jenny. He could hear her whispering against his shoulder again and again: "I didn't think I was her, I didn't think I was her anymore."
She wasn't taking this very well. He looked at the body of the dead CIA Agent and grimaced. "You killed him for me." He looked at Jenny, stroking her face. "Jenny, I know you have regrets about your past but you have protected me more than anyone has ever done. You have saved my life in more ways than one, Jen. I am not going to let them hurt you. It's time I protected you for a change."
He reached over and pressed his lips to hers, a gentle but reaffirming kiss. She clung onto his skin, desperate to hold onto him. Jethro held her tight, thinking of all the things they needed to do. He knew it would come eventually, the moment when it all would change. Once again, his lover had upset her life to save his own. He hated that he hadn't protected her when she needed it most.
They needed to leave, cover their mistake. But one more kiss. Just one more.
One Week Later
Navy Yard - NCIS Office
"Run it by me again."
Ray Cruz looked up from the conference table and watched as NCIS Director Leon Vance clicked his pen continuously in his hand, appearing nervous. Cruz looked over the files again. "Agent Callahan, one of our agents in Europe, was reported missing a week ago. He had been working in the Mediterranean, had been for three months but was taking a few days off to see his girlfriend. Her location is unknown, although we do believe she's from Corsica."
Vance nodded, and turned to Cruz with a harsh gaze. "Get to the part where my predecessor, despite me checking her pulse, is actually alive?"
Cruz coughed. "Callahan made a phone call in Propiano, Corsica, where he claimed to his partner that Jenny Shepard was alive. He was then never heard from again - agents have gone over the island, searching for his body but they haven't found anything. Its tourist season, no one could remember seeing anyone matching Shepard's description. However, the records office for the harbour was broken into and several files were missing."
He slid over several sheets of paper, and Vance looked over the evidence that the CIA had collected. He snorted as he realised that the CIA had been working on this case for a week without NCIS even being informed. They had a lot of circumstantial evidence; all they were really basing it on was the testimony of Agent Callahan and his now missing body. If Vance was in charge of this, he wouldn't be so eager to believe Callahan. But he wasn't - this was the CIA's ballgame and they were angry.
"Those higher up have officially declared that Jenny Shepard is alive. We'd like to talk to your agents, see if they've been in contact with her."
Vance shook his head. "You're not talking to any of my agents. They've been through enough. If any of them know about Shepard being alive, then we'll find out soon. But not now. We've got other problems to deal with." He closed the files, thinking about what SecNav had Tony working on. "If you find her, you better bring her back alive. We NCIS Agents don't like it when one of our own gets murdered."
Cruz stood up, hands gripping the edge of the table. "Neither do we."
Vance escorted Cruz out of his office, and watched as he descended the stairs. He passed Gibbs as he exited, but Cruz didn't make eye contact. Gibbs had returned from his vacation a few days early, and now DiNozzo was hacking into his computer to see if their recent present of a digital camera had been used. Sure enough, Vance watched as a picture of Gibbs in Europe with a gorgeous brunette came up. They looked happy together - must be the legendary Penelope.
Vance tapped the banister of the stairs, thinking about his predecessor. It sounded to him that if Jenny was alive - and that was a very big if - Callahan had stumbled across her and she had killed him in self defence. But the Agency would not see it that way, and they would smear Shepard in a heartbeat to get what they wanted. They would paint her to be a psychotic former agent bent on revenge, and reap the rewards when they put a bullet in her.
Leon hoped that wherever Jenny Shepard was, she was safe and that someone, perhaps in the bullpen, knew her location and was taking care of her. She would need all the friends she could get.
"DiNozzo! What are you doing?"
Tony turned away from the monitor quickly, but not quick enough for the head slap. Gibbs had seen him accessing his holiday pictures, and he was not impressed. However Ziva, McGee and an excited Abby were. Abby jumped over to his side and pointed at the woman in the photograph.
"Gibbs, is that Penelope?"
Looking at the picture, trying to appear interested, he nodded. "Yeah, that's her."
It wasn't. But his team didn't need to know that. The woman in the picture was someone he had got talking to in Palma while he waited for his flight back to DC. The story he had fed his team was that he had gone on a two week sail with his girlfriend around the Mediterranean, starting at Palma and working round. Their trip had been cut short, however, when Penelope's boss had become sick and wanted her back as quickly as possible.
In truth, he had spent the last few days of his holiday burning a body in the secluded parts of Corsica and destroying all evidence that he and Jenny had been sailing together, including the boat. She was still in shock - it had been three years since she had last killed anyone and was not adjusting well to returning to that life. But she had done it to save him, and in her mind that was a slightly lesser sin. Jethro's job was now to find out who knew about Jenny's existence, and who would want her dead. Her job was to keep herself safe so they could have a future together.
"She's a looker, boss!" Tony declared, and Gibbs smiled. He guessed she was, but he wasn't interested in her. He was more interested in the redhead whom he loved more than life itself. The redhead who he hadn't spoken to since the airport in Palma where she had used a fake passport to return to the US before the CIA caught on to her.
The redhead who, no doubt, was torturing herself at that very moment.
"Can you honestly tell me you still love me?"
"Now, it was my understanding that we have a case, right DiNozzo?" Jethro snapped, trying to deflect attention away from him.
His team turned away to get back on with what they were doing, and Jethro looked up to see Vance watching him. He had already spotted Agent Cruz leaving. It had taken a week for the CIA to start sharing information. Soon the hunt for Jenny would begin. No doubt they would watch him like a hawk; no doubt they would search all over Europe for his lover. But they wouldn't find her, tucked away in Madison California with a dog named Marseille.
"I will always love you. To hell and back, Jen. I will not lose another person I love."
God help those who tried to get between him and Jenny. He had lost her once, almost lost her a second time. There would not be a third.