Disclaimer: None of the characters from NCIS belong to me and this story is purely for entertainment purposes.
Warnings: Some less than flattering analysis and portrayal of Gibbs, McGee and Ziva so if you are blindly devoted to them then this story is definitely not for you. Also this story by definition, as a sequel to a 'what if' story, is most assuredly AU in nature. Also, I feel like I should warn you that the bits most likely to offend some people were all written months before the changes to the cast were announced and the current appalling mêlée resulting in cast members and their families (including those not yet born) being attacked and threaten. Do the words 'get a life and chill out' resonant with any of these so called fans?
A/N Here we go again - the sequel to Will the Real Narcissist Please Stand up? As you probably surmised from the title, this story picks up one year after Tony's resignation from NCIS and features four chapters from the point of view from each of the original members of the MCRT plus a prologue from Director Vance examining how Tony's departure affects each individual, the team and those around the. The final chapter looks more to the future and contains a reunion of some characters and some resolution with others. I really hope that it lives up to the hype :)
Finally credits: Arress is beta-ing this story once again and big thank-you for her help and suggestions. FYI the TKO line is all down to her, that little gem went over my head. Oh and as per normal, all mistakes are my bad.
This chapter contains an attempt to try to tie up some story lines that were never resolved (at least in my mind lol) in the episodes Knockout and Enemies Domestic and even seemed to contradict each other. Let me know what you think!
What a Difference a Year Makes: 8760 Little Hours
NCIS Director Leon Vance: 12 months later
Director Leon Vance stood on the mezzanine level looking down on the bull pen, watching the MCRT as he contemplated the last 12 months. His premier investigative team was imploding and he felt powerless to arrest the decline. It was as if he was a helpless passenger on a runaway train and there was nothing he could do to stop it crashing. Part of him had known that not forcing Gibbs into retirement last year after the Rixon Wells debacle was going to come back to bite him on the butt, yet he really didn't have a lot of choice.
After all, it had been pointed out to him so eloquently, people who lived in glass houses or had their own dirty little secrets shouldn't throw stones. That oh so helpful pearl of wisdom had been offered to him courtesy of Supervisory Special Agent Gibbs when he'd suggested on behalf of SecNav, that maybe it would be better for all concerned, if Jethro being compromised, followed DiNozzo's example and resigned or rather took early retirement. For the good of NCIS, Leon had hastened to add. When Gibbs refused, Leon had made a veiled reference to how Special Agent Macy had been asking after him, knowing that Gibbs would realise that his Hernandez vendetta wasn't so secret as he would like.
Which Leon decided in hindsight, probably wasn't the smoothest of moves, especially taking into consideration Gibbs' reputation as a ruthless SOB. Challenging him had resulted in him coming out swinging as Gibbs retaliated with a metaphoric, yet none the less deadly, upper cut to the jaw and Vance realized that McCallister or Sharp, damn their souls, must have passed on his identity problem to Gibbs. And essentially it left the two alpha males at an impasse, warily circling around each other, but neither of them willing to make the first move. They both had too much to lose.
Of course Gibbs was right about one thing. Having a secret as huge as Leon did, made for one paranoid director, but then again, what could he do? What's done was done, there was no going back and he'd been paying a high price for his mistake. Not the least of which was being laid open to extortion in some form or another, ever since. Thirty years was a long time to serve for his crime and there was no indication that he would face a reprieve any time soon.
Leon still couldn't be sure if or how Gibbs knew that he and his boyhood friend, the original Leon Vance, had switched identities so that his friend assumed his identity to become Tyler Keith Owens and he adopted Leon's identity. Looking back, it had been dumb… actually, it had been incredibly dumb, but they were eighteen years old when they had first embarked on the dangerously and ultimately slippery slope that ended up with them switching lives. Who didn't have regrets about mistakes made in the past, especially at that age, after all? Unfortunately, neither boy could have foreseen the implications of the idiotic attempt to cheat the system.
Leon Vance was his best friend and they'd both grown up dirt poor and desperate. Desperate to do almost anything to get out of the ghetto, convinced that boxing was going to be their meal ticket and ultimate salvation. Then Leon met a retired Marine Colonel who became his mentor and inspired him to apply to enter the Marine Corps and the Colonel had even pulled some strings to have him attend the Naval Academy. The only obstacle to Leon achieving his dream was that he was extremely weak in mathematics and he pleaded with Tyler to help him to gain admission.
Although he (Tyler) assumed at first that his friend Leon wanted him to tutor him in Math, it turned out that Leon wanted him to sit the exam for him. As luck would have it, or not as it turned out, Tyler Owen and Leon Vance had an uncanny resemblance and were often mistaken for brothers when they were together. When they were apart, people who didn't know them really well would often confuse them for each other. So it wasn't such a stretch to see how Leon had come up with his scheme and at the time it seemed so harmless. So he helped his best friend to gain admission to the Naval Academy. He (Tyler) was brilliant in mathematics and although he was careful to not completely ace the entrance exam, he was happy to help Leon, who he regarded as a brother. It seemed like such a small thing, but one that could change Leon's life forever.
And seeing how happy his friend was when he was accepted into USNC, his sense of purpose and his pride in himself, Tyler was more than happy with his own decision to help his best friend. Although he missed Leon when he left Chicago, Tyler knew that Leon would achieve great things. In fact Leon's success inspired Tyler and he began to dream. He started to question that maybe his plan of pulling himself up out of the gutter as a professional boxer might not be as easy or smart as it sounded, as he'd first thought. He even started writing away for information about college admissions and scholarships.
Then disaster struck when Leon detached his retina in a boxing bout after he sustained a blow to his head. When he found out that he wouldn't meet the physical requirements to serve as an officer in the Marines, he was devastated and decided to leave the Academy. Tyler told him he was crazy and tried to convince him that even if he couldn't serve in the Corps, there were plenty of other ways to serve his country that would honour his mentor.
Yet Leon was shattered and obdurate. When Tyler got angry and yelled at him not to be an idiot and throw away his unbelievable opportunity, Leon had replied that if he felt so strongly then they should swap identities and lives. He even argued that if it hadn't been for Tyler, he would have never passed the entrance requirements in the first place. He even joked that since he was going to chase his dream of becoming a professional fighter the name Tyler Keith Owens was much more appropriate one for a boxer. When Tyler had looked at him, confused he'd smirked before explaining, "Your initials Teek, they spell TKO."
The temptation was too much for the director and he agreed to the swap. They figured that with the time off that the real Leon had needed after the surgery, given their physical resemblance to each other and their love of boxing that it would be fairly easy to pull off the substitution. Tyler Owens would become Leon Vance and when he returned to USNA he would maximize the chances that the switch wouldn't be detected by switching divisions and subjects. Leon had enrolled in Division I - Engineering and Weapons, but Tyler decided to swap to Division II which was the Mathematics and Science division. It would make their ruse much more difficult to detect for one thing. Apart from that, he was interested in computer sciences and knew that if he graduated, the world would be his oyster. Once at USNA the fake Leon Vance previously known as Tyler Owens thrived.
So it was ironic that his success was what had attracted the attention of the intelligence community and in particular, NIS Special Agents McAllister and Sharp, who had ferreted out his secret, seemingly as easy as shelling peas, and blackmailed him into a suicide mission. Not that he'd known it was a suicide mission at the time, of course. No, they'd preyed on his vanity about his computer and analytical skills, appealing to his sense of patriotism, with some not so subtle coercion thrown in. But for one renegade Mossad agent named Eli David, he would have died in Amsterdam, but even as he climbed the ranks of the agency, Leon Vance knew that people like McAllister and Sharp knew what he had done and could and did use it against him.
At the time, he'd never really stopped to think that what he and the real Leon Vance had done was serious fraud but in the years since that irrevocable decision, he'd had plenty of time to consider the ramifications of their hasty act. Apart from the fact that it could land him in prison, it also meant that he had to deny his sister Tara since the real Leon Vance was on only child. Although he kept in periodic contact with Tara Cole, his sister, using the cover story that he was an old boyfriend, which was downright creepy, he had foregone any legal claim to a relationship with her. As he grew older, he realised what he'd given up. Or in the case of his son and daughter, what he'd deprived them of, not to mention the price he'd asked his sister to pay, too.
While Gibbs never actually threatened to expose his secret in so many words, Vance had long heard the rumours that did the rounds that one didn't cross Leroy Jethro Gibbs because he knew where all the bodies were buried. Another rumour that was whispered in certain rarified circles was that the reason why Gibbs had no desire to become director of the agency, despite being seen by many as a megalomaniac, or at the least possessing a messianic personality complex, was that he was already the real power behind the throne. The scuttlebutt was that Directors did his bidding and took care of all the mundane bureaucratic tasks and politicking that he had no stomach for because he knew way too much and was too implacable an enemy to cross.
While Leon wouldn't go as far as to agree with that assessment, he would admit that there were times when he permitted Gibbs way more latitude than he would have if he hadn't been masquerading as someone else. Secrets did make one vulnerable. Of course, the way that SecNav had reversed his call for Gibbs to stand down after the trial suggested that perhaps he had a skeleton or two in his own closet, and so they had found themselves in an uncomfortable stalemate.
Finally, SecNav had stipulated that Gibbs would remain as the team lead of the Major Case Response Team, but under some stringent stipulations. Gibbs was required to hereon in: Observe all NCIS protocols and procedures, even those that were in direct contravention of his personal rules (both written and unwritten), he was no longer permitted to interview witnesses or interrogate suspects unless he had another NCIS agent present (not a liaison officer) in order to be able to provide independent corroboration and to serve as the primary witness in any court or legal proceedings and that for any high profile cases that went to trial, he would be placed on special assignment to excuse him from having to testify and placing the agency in a vulnerable situation.
Leon had thought that having Special Agent Timothy McGee promoted as the new senior special agent would be a good thing, too. DiNozzo had been too much of a cowboy, not to mention a sycophant, to Gibbs' alpha personality, but Tim would be a sobering influence, he was sure, since he was highly intelligent and by the book. Well, so Leon had believed, but he now realized that when it came to Anthony DiNozzo, he had been blinded by his own dislike and bigoted opinion of the former agent. He had been wrong and now he could see just how much of a moderating effect he had had on his teammates and how after he left, it all began to fall apart.
And what Leon hadn't seen coming was that DiNozzo's departure would affect the de facto members of team Gibbs either. He was shocked when Dr. Mallard handed in his own resignation. Although clearly it was something that was going to happen at some point in the future, he wasn't prepared for it just yet. He knew that the elderly M.E. had intended to retire when Palmer had finished his final exams and had a few years under his belt, but the whole mess with the court case had precipitated an early retirement. Then Palmer handed in his resignation, too, and the loss of the man that had been groomed to take Dr. Mallard's place as M.E. was a further unexpected blow. He had been Mallard's protégé for over six years, and to lose both of them had left a huge vacuum within the agency.
What Leon hadn't really realized until they'd departed was that when it came to Gibbs, Dr. Mallard, DiNozzo, and Abby Sciuto all acted as a buffer and a tempering force for the man's anger and stubbornness, as no one else seemed capable of controlling him. Now Scuito was left to man the bulwark, and it seemed that on her own she wasn't able to contain the man like she had in the past. Of course, she also seemed to be struggling in the wake of the fallout from the damn Rixon Wells case and the resignations of DiNozzo et al. The life seemed to have gone out of the once exuberant forensic scientist, who now seemed flat, almost reserved, by comparison.
In many subtle ways that continued to shock him, since they weren't related to the MCRT as such, things had changed within the agency, and not for the better. He was shocked when the pencil pushers drew to his attention that many of the other teams suffered a small yet statistically significant decline in closure rates. This was attributed by team leaders as being due to what they identified as 'The DiNozzo Factor' no longer being available to consult informally with the other teams when they hit a brick wall in an investigation. It seemed it was quite common for other teams to run cases by him to get his unique outside the box opinion on evidence which often resulted in new leads and results being generated.
While the actual percentage decline was only a 1.08 per cent and didn't sound like anything noteworthy, to the bureaucrats that argued about annual budget appropriations every day, it was a big deal. A huge deal in fact! According to the pencil pushers, such a statistical anomaly could easily translate into millions of dollars being diverted to other agencies annually.
Then there was the equally surprising fact that DiNozzo had acted as a de-facto consultant to the younger field agents, and sometimes some not so young agents, on all things to do with undercover work. It included helping them to cope with the difficult aftermath of shedding an undercover persona. Without him around, tempers were fraying and injuries were up as agents used alcohol as their main coping mechanism. Clearly his practical jokes had served a much deeper purpose than he'd realized.
Frankly, in hindsight, he couldn't understand how the former agent worked as SFA for the hard-nosed former Marine on the MCRT with a phenomenal close out rate, offered support to the other teams, and managed to be such a playboy. And that's when the realty hit him; that Tony hadn't just been their best undercover agent, but he'd been undercover in the bull pen, and Vance had been taken in by a master of deception. Clearly the irresponsible, juvenile skirt chaser had been just another act, and he'd fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker, never bothering to question why he was so universally liked and admired by so many of his colleagues. It seemed that everyone, bar those closest to him, had been able to see his worth, and that didn't say a lot for them and their so called superior skills.
How could he be that blind as to underestimate DiNozzo so badly? It was deeply embarrassing, and his loss had been felt in so many little ways that Leon simply couldn't have imagined. If he had, he would have fought tooth and nail to have kept him in the agency. Another example which surprised him was that HR reported a significant increase in complaints leveled against MCRT members, and while complaints had primarily been made against Gibbs, David and McGee had copped their fair share, too.
Tensions were running high within the team it seemed and they were taking out their frustrations on everyone else. Even the janitorial staff members weren't immune and were giving them a wide berth, complaining about their treatment. They were refusing to clean their workspace if the team was working in the bull pen. In fact, there had also been a small, but again statistically significant overall increase in stress leave that the HR manager had felt was linked to DiNozzo's departure. The HR staff had theorized that the absence of what Leon Vance had regarded as Tony's inappropriate humour and those damned practical jokes again, had apparently been aiding overall office morale, especially when tough cases made everyone stressed.
If he had still been available, Leon would have groveled and begged him to return as a civilian consultant to the agency, but DiNozzo, as far as he could tell, was rarely in the country these days. The happy-go-lucky former agent seemed to have fallen on his feet and found a new career, literally overnight. He was making a name for himself in Hollywood these days and seemed to have beautiful women falling over themselves to been seen with him. It seemed as if every single time he sat down to watch the television DiNozzo, aka Anthony Paddington, was there, his million dollar smile taunting Leon, as if he was laughing his ass off at him. Kayla and Jarrod were pestering him to get them an autograph, and to add insult to injury, even Jackie had hinted that they should invite DiNozzo around for dinner the next time he was in DC.
Meanwhile, looking at the shambles that was left of his best team, he wondered how it had all gone bad so quickly; or why he'd thought that Gibbs would follow the rules. Or if it came down to it, why McGee would be able to do a better job as the team's senior field agent when in truth, he couldn't begin to live up to the standards that DiNozzo had set. And he wondered what he was going to do since he was in a no win situation. It seemed that he had no choice but to admit to the fraud that he had committed all those years ago, and he wondered how Jackie and his children would ever forgive him for turning their whole existence upside down.
If only he could turn back the clock, go back to when he had first parked his ass in the big chair. Instead of sending DiNozzo off as an agent afloat, he should have given him his own team. It wouldn't have stopped the MCRT self-destructing, but at least the agency would still have a valuable asset and great new team, along with the fringe benefits that he'd never realized that Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo brought to his job and the agency.
Momentarily, he fantasized about taking SecNav's Gulf Stream and tracking Tony DiNozzo down wherever he happened to be now and getting down on his knees and begging him to come back. Realistically, he knew that the reasons why the agent resigned still existed, and even if there was some way to mitigate them, the man was making more money in a week than he'd made in a year when he'd been a federal agent. Why would anyone throw all that away and return to being a badly paid law enforcement professional?
No, Anthony DiNozzo wasn't about to come riding to his rescue on a white charger to save Leon Vance's sorry ass. He was going to be well and truly exposed to the whole world as a sham before he ended up in prison, if he forced Gibbs to retire. The alternative was that he continued to let him ride roughshod over him, and the Secretary of Defense would inevitably step in and fire Vance for his incompetent agency and failure to act in its best interests.
What a choice. Maybe he should simply retire and take a job working in the corporate sector. At least that way he could safeguard his family. His dreams of a career in politics had gone up in flames, but at least he would save his sorry butt, which also meant his marriage could survive, too, and he would still retain the respect of Kayla and Jarrod.
Next chapter up: McGee reflects upon the changes they have occurred during the last 12 months.