I know I said I wasn't going to write canon anymore, and this isn't, really. Just an AU, 'what if' version of the 'Hiatus' story arc, a lot more palatable for me than the actual one. And scouse, I think I had more … in this story than you did in yours! Also -

It was the call that he'd been waiting for. After almost four months of barely there communication between himself and Gibbs, Tony saw the magic number on his phone screen – Mike Frank's cell.

"Hey, Boss, what's up?" he asked casually, as if Gibbs were calling him from home on a day off and wanting him to go help him pick up something from the lumber yard.

"I'm ready, Tony." Gibbs' quiet voice responded on the other end. "Catching a flight in half an hour, I'll call ya when I get to the airport."

"I'll be there waiting for ya, Boss." Tony supplied, and hung up with a small, hopeful smile.

Tony estimated the time Gibbs' flight would arrive barring any delays, and as the fall weather hadn't brought any major storms to the southern part of the country, he figured he'd get there just about the time his boss was checking into customs. He occupied himself with games on his phone, looking up from it on occasion for the familiar face, tapping his foot nervously like an impatient teenager.

He had missed Gibbs in so many ways he couldn't count, but had kept it mostly to himself, not even letting on to Gibbs himself how difficult it had been to have had the man gone for so had been back briefly to help Ziva get out of a compromising spot with Mossad, but then had turned right around and headed back to Mexico as soon as she had been squared away. The older man muttered something of a half-assed apology to his ex-SFA, but the younger man had walked away not wanting to hear it. Too much turmoil, too many emotions. Tony had had to steel himself against it all, letting his anger at the man keep him from breaking down. If Gibbs couldn't find enough to make him stay after all this time, then he probably was never coming back, and that was a loss Tony didn't think he could bear.

But a week or so later, Gibbs had called him late one night, a little on the drunk side, and Tony had debated telling the man to call back the next afternoon when he was sober and not hung over. He didn't know if he could handle hearing the truths that Gibbs would inevitably tell while under the influence – that their friendship hadn't been strong enough or important enough to the man to withstand the tests of a coma-induced amnesia, and he'd rather spend the rest of his days drinking Coronas on the beach with his 'anything-goes' pal Mike Franks. That Tony didn't mean enough to him to come back to D.C and at least be an armchair Team Lead to help the younger man deal with subordinates who were oh-so-slightly pissed at him for not being Gibbs, and a director who seemed to be going off the rails on her own private crazy train.

But Gibbs had surprised him, so much so that he'd had to sit down while Gibbs talked, and when they were done, pour himself a few fingers of top shelf scotch he reserved for very special occasions.

"Been doin' a lot of thinkin', Tony. Did some when I was up there last week, but didn't have time to really...think about it..I mean, think of how to say it in words...wasn't fair of me to leave again without talkin' to ya. Wasn't fair of me to leave the first time like I did, no warning or reason why...don't like havin' to explain myself, and couldn't 've explained it even if I'd wanted to back then...but..I sat on the beach yesterday..all day. No booze. Just me and the ocean. It was like my...brain just clicked, or...somethin' let loose...I dunno, but...a lot of stuff came back to me, not just the bad stuff from..when Shannon and.."

Gibbs had choked up on the names of his girls, and Tony had waited patiently on the other end for the man to sort himself out a bit and continue.

"Stuff from when we first started workin' together, and...what a team we made..better than Franks and me, cause you had somethin' I didn't have back then..back then I joined up with him to...well, it was for all the wrong reasons, Tony. You may have been comin' off a bad situation in Baltimore, but...you were still doin' it for the right reasons..anyways...tryin' to tell ya that I decided after all my preachin' to ya I'd better..well, start practicin' some of what I was preachin'. Rule Number One..."

There was a pause, and Tony realized that Gibbs was waiting for him to fill in the blank.

"Never screw over your partner."

"And the Corps rule number one...never leave a man behind. You've never done either to me, Anthony, and I had no right to do it to you..I left you high and dry with a team that wasn't ready to be left with you...and before you start yellin' about it, I said THEY weren't ready..not that you weren't ready to lead them. Saw some of their bullshit when I was there last week..my gut told me I'd screwed the pooch, but my head didn't give a shit. It does now."

"What're you saying, Gibbs?" Tony queried cautiously. He wasn't at all sure where this drunken, surprisingly lengthy confession was leading, or if it was leading anywhere at all besides the 'one more reason to be pissed at Gibbs' list.

"I'm saying I wanna try to make it up to ya, Tony. I wanna try to get my life back, if you'll let me. I want another chance from you, to show ya I'm not a...a total screw-up, that I still have some things...some people...in my life that MEAN something to me. That who and what I was four months ago is not what I really am now.."

"You want your old job back, Gibbs?" he asked quietly.

"I won't beg ya for it, Tony, I won't come stormin' back to D.C and raise a ruckus for it. I was the one who walked away, you were the one I picked to take my place...and to pick up the pieces... But I don't feel like I'm done yet, feel like there's still stuff left unfinished. Don't wanna alienate ya anymore than I already have, Anthony. That's..that's something I'll regret no matter WHAT you decide..Wanna try and fix what I broke when I left..if that's even possible. And if you tell me to go take a flyin' leap, I'll understand that. Just...needed to ask ya. If it was possible. To come back and lead the team."

Gibbs wanted to come back, and take over again as team lead? Was that even possible? Hadn't the Director filed his retirement papers months ago? And what was there to say that he wouldn't just take off again in another snit when things weren't going the way he wanted them to? Hell, things hadn't exactly gone the way Tony had wanted them to all those months ago and he hadn't left everyone in an emotional and workplace lurch to go off in a pissy fit. He'd had a job to do, no matter that some folks didn't believe he could do it. And Gibbs was drunk off his ass right now, he had to be to be admitting all this stuff, to be groveling to his ex-second in command. There was no precedent for something like this, that Tony knew of anyways. He'd spent countless nights in a dark place over the fact that he had yet again been demoralized and abandoned by someone he trusted, someone he held in the highest regard as mentor and role model. And now he was supposed to just welcome the man back again with open arms?

Gibbs heard Tony's hesitation, heard him thinking by the silence on the other end of the phone.

"Ya gotta trust me, Tony. I was in a world of hurt when I left, you KNOW that. And I didn't know who anyone was or who I could trust...just...flashes and pieces of memories...but I remember now, most of it, anyways. You meant a lot to me, Tony. You were...my other kid. My boy."

Well, hell. What was he supposed to say to that? What he even supposed to think about that? Was Gibbs just saying that to get back in his good graces and get the team back? Gibbs started talking again before Tony could process any of his last words.

"I...I need that back, Tony, that...whatever it was we had..more than..more than I need the team..but I can't come back and hole up in my basement till I croak. Gotta do something worthwhile or I'll..."

Tony had a pretty much knew what the 'or I'll...' would lead to. Basically, Gibbs would crawl into a bottle of rot gut bourbon and stay there until they carried what was left of him up the stairs and on to Arlington. That was something the ex-SFA knew deep down in his gut. And no matter what had happened in the last four months, Tony wasn't about to stand by and let that happen to Gibbs. Wounded as he was, Gibbs' wounds went even deeper, and pride wouldn't allow the younger man to continue carrying his grudge, now that he knew about Gibbs' loss of his wife and daughter. Everyone deserved a second chance, and Gibbs had apologized to him, for Christ's sake. Had asked him, albeit drunkenly, if he could have his team back. And it wasn't like McGee and Ziva were making it easy for him to lead them with their constant put-downs and reluctant order-following. And someone needed to put the Director straight about exactly what her priorities were, and the only one who could do was Gibbs.

"Sober up and call me back tomorrow afternoon, Gibbs. If you still wanna come back, I'll get you a flight home. We'll figure it out as we go."

Tony heard a heavy sigh on the other end. He could only imagine what it must have taken for Gibbs to call and tell him he wanted his job back. Well, probably a lot of tequila, but still, it had taken more than that for a man like his old boss to even consider spilling his guts and admit he had made a bad decision under terrible circumstances.

"Thanks, Tony...this means..a helluva lot to me..I wouldn't ask anyone else, but I know you..understand me..sometimes better than I understand myself."

"Let's see if you can even find your passport in that dump Franks calls paradise before you start going all sentimental on me, Jethro."

"Yeah...know it's here somewhere..I'll look for it tomorrow."

"You do that, Gibbs. Call me when you find it."

And that was that. Gibbs had hung up and Tony figured if the man was really serious, he would find the thing and call him back to have Tony book a flight. And though Tony swore he wouldn't worry about it one way or the other, he spent that night tossing and turning and coming into the office dragged out and on the wrong side of the mattress. He couldn't tell anyone why, and couldn't concentrate on the work at hand. By two 14:00, he had had enough, and sent surprised and grateful McGee and Ziva home early, then finished his paperwork and headed home himself. Just ducking into the elevator, his cell phone rang.

"Hey, Gibbs." he answered quietly, even in the privacy of the elevator.

"Found the damned thing down the back of a chair. Let me tie up a few loose ends down here and I'll be back in touch."

"Okay, Jethro. Sounds good."

Tony hung up and pocketed the phone. Well, he wasn't going to hold his breath. Either the man meant exactly what he had said or he had gotten himself so shit-faced he didn't remember anything of it other than he needed to find his passport. Not knowing for sure was going to be torture for Tony, but he was used to ambiguity. Nothing had ever been black and white for him when it came to Gibbs except that he knew he wanted to work for the man until Gibbs retired. Retired for real, because he was retirement age, not because of a scrambled brain and a past too hideous to have to relive..

It was going to take some doing, re-adjusting to it all if Gibbs actually did come back stateside and the Director was able to re-tract the his retirement orders, not the least of which was how it would look to the rest of the agency, not to mention McGee and Ziva. His status with his team was already tenuous at the best of times, and if Gibbs came back and just took up where he left off as if nothing had changed...Tony loved the guy like, well, like however it was that Gibbs loved him, but he wasn't into career suicide anymore, and he especially wasn't into the grief it would bring him from Tim and Ziva after he was demoted back to SFA. And God, McGee would be demoted to just being McGoo, McGoogle, Mc.. Tony wondered how badly Tim wanted his old boss back.

Well, there was only one thing to do. Tomorrow morning, he would stop and buy coffee and donuts, and hold a campfire first thing. From there he would know which way to run the ball if he got that call from Gibbs. His gut told him he would be simultaneously relieved and thoroughly demoralized by what they would say when he laughingly told them he'd had a dream that Gibbs had come back to D.C and demanded his MCRT Lead job back from Tony. His gut was right. Both McGee and Ziva had swooned over the thought of their former boss regaining his seat in the bull pen, and neither noticed the vacant look in their current boss's eyes as they went back and forth with their wishful thinking.

Tony had his answer. Now it was just a matter of wrapping his own head around the very real possibility of Gibbs returning and taking his old desk back.