The Other Side

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Not betaed. Again. I swear, one of these days I'll finish stories in time to have them properly edited again.

Abby closed her apartment door and leaned back against it, smiling even as she let out a long, slow breath. Now that she'd seen and touched Tony, felt him warm and alive and seen him walking around and talking just like the Tony she remembered, the excitement of his recovery ran out of her like water, leaving exhausted relief in its wake. She closed her eyes briefly. "Thank God."

"Didn't I tell you he wasn't even close to crossing over?"

Abby jumped, then glared at the woman standing in the middle of her living room. "Don't do that to me, Kate!" Abby said sharply. "You scared the hell out of me."

"Sorry," Kate said sincerely. "But it's not like I can knock." She reached out and tried to poke the couch. 'Tried' being the operative word. Her hand passed right through it.

Abby concealed a grimace. She hated it when Kate did that. Most of the dead were at pains to appear as real...well, as alive as possible. God knew that they were real. But Kate didn't seem to have any problem with being dead. She was always popping in and out, or walking through furniture and doors.

Pushing off of the door, Abby shed her jacket and purse and boots and headed for the fridge. "Sure, you told me," she said as she rooted around, looking for something to eat. "But a coma isn't a whole lot better than dead for those of us on this side."

Kate tilted her head. "You could even say that being in a coma is worse," she commented. "After all, you can talk to me."

Abby paused for a moment, a dish of leftover casserole in her hands. She put a small smile on her lips and straightened up, turning to face Kate with the leftovers in her hands. "No offense, Kate," she said lightly, letting the fridge door close behind her, "but I wasn't about to wish Tony dead just so that I could talk to him again."

"It's not so bad, you know," Kate said awkwardly. "Being dead, I mean."

"I know," Abby said. "We talked about this when you first showed up, remember?"

"Yeah," Kate said, frowning a little.

That conversation had been Abby's first real lesson in How The Dead Are Different From The Living. They had talked for hours, Kate telling her about what it was like to cross over and Abby trying to explain that being a medium didn't mean that the line between living and dead didn't matter anymore. That conversation hadn't gotten Abby anywhere but frustrated. Mediums hadn't existed when Kate had been alive and no one had known anything for certain about the afterlife, which meant that it wasn't possible for her to learn how these things worked when she was alive.

And now that she was dead... Well, it turned out that the dead couldn't learn. If they hadn't understood a concept when they died, they never would. They could remember, and if they were careful and had good memories they could almost fool you into thinking they'd learned something new, but they didn't really understand. They were just being polite, repeating what they remembered because they could see that it made whoever they were speaking with more comfortable.

Sometimes Abby swore that Kate started to realize her own limitations, but the moment always passed. Kate knew that she was dead, but all that she understood about what that meant was what she'd understood before she'd died.

"So," Abby said briskly, popping the casserole into the microwave, "you'll never guess how Gibbs got Tony to wake up."

"Gibbs got him to wake up?" Kate said, surprised. She smiled suddenly, wryly. "I should have known that it would be Gibbs and not the doctors."

Abby's smile broadened into a much more sincere grin. "He wasn't about to let Tony keep lying down on the job," she agreed cheerfully. "Although I guess the doctors did help out."

"So?" Kate prompted. "What'd he do?"

Abby hitched herself up onto the counter while she waited for the casserole to finish heating. "The way Tony told it on the phone, Gibbs had the doctors plug him into Tony's mind, and once he was in there he just kind of occupied all of Tony's empathy. So now instead of Tony being overwhelmed by the emotions of hundreds of people, all he has to deal with is Gibbs."

Kate laughed. "That's just like Gibbs," she said. "Demanding all of Tony's attention."

Abby grinned back at her. "Yeah. Tony doesn't seem to mind, though."

"If Tony could, he'd take all of Gibbs's attention," Kate said dryly.

"He might be able to do that now," Abby commented, waggling her eyebrows. "A side effect of hooking Tony up to Gibbs's emotions seems to be that now Gibbs is hooked into Tony's emotions."

Kate's eyebrows flew up and then she started laughing. "Oh God," she gasped eventually. "Poor Gibbs!"

"I don't think he's gonna mind that much," Abby said, her grin turning smug.

Kate let out a long breath, trying to calm the giggles. "Oh?"

"Yeah." Abby paused, suddenly unsure of sharing this particular bit of gossip. She'd never really been sure when Kate would be opened minded when some of her more strait laced tendencies would win the day. If Kate had still been alive, Abby would have been confident she could talk her around. But if she wasn't okay with it now, she'd never be okay with it.

"Abby?" Kate prompted. "Is something wrong?"

Abby forced her smile back. "No, no, it's okay."

"Gibbs isn't going to mind that much...?" Kate gesture for her to go on.

Remembering the look on the guys' faces when she'd left, Abby's grin became more natural again. "If I'm reading them right, and I'm pretty sure I am, Tony is about to discover that his feelings aren't unrequited after all."

Kate's jaw dropped. "Okay," she said after a minute, "I knew Tony was hopelessly in love with Gibbs, but Gibbs? Are you sure?"

Abby blinked. "Wait a second," she said. "You knew about Tony?"

Kate snorted. "Isn't it obvious? Tony practically falls all over himself trying to please Gibbs. But how do you figure Gibbs feels the same?"

"Aside from the fact that Gibbs has spent every spare moment he's had in the past month at Tony's bedside?" Abby asked. "And that he permanently bonded himself to Tony without so much as checking to see if there was anyone else willing?"

"Point," Kate said, shaking her head. "Wow. Gibbs and Tony." She seemed thoughtful for a long time. "But you know, I bet they'll be good for each other."

Abby gave a mental sigh of relief. "I think so, too," she said firmly. "And I think it's just in time, too. Gibbs is going to need someone to lean on."

Kate looked skeptical. "Gibbs has never needed anyone like that."

"Maybe not," Abby said. "But he isn't exactly the most flexible guy, and the world is going crazy right now. Nothing works quite the way it used to anymore. Half the people we arrest are getting their cases thrown out of court. Nearly every court case that actually goes through is making new law. The system is completely swamped." The microwave beeped and Abby jumped off the counter and went to retrieve the casserole. "Eventually the system will catch up with the changes and we'll be able to keep the bad guys off the streets again, but in the meantime the crime rate is through the roof and there's absolutely nothing the cops on the ground can do about it." Abby served portions of the casserole onto two plates and carried them and a couple of forks over to her dining table. She sat, Kate taking the chair across form her. "Gibbs is having trouble with that, even if he won't say so. He doesn't deal well with helplessness."

"And you think Tony can help with that?" Kate asked.

Abby shrugged. "Sure. Don't you? Tony's always been an adaptable kind of guy. And he's got a lot of positive energy going for him. Gibbs is going to need that."

"But Tony is a month behind," Kate pointed out.

"It won't take him long to catch up," Abby said confidently. "Especially since he won't have to learn how to use his gift the way the rest of us did. For most purposes, he might as well not have a gift."

"You think he'll be okay with that?" Kate asked. "I mean, Tony always did want to be first and best at everything. Now he might as well not have a gift in a world full of people with special powers."

Abby ate a few bits of casserole while she considered that. "I don't know," she said eventually. "I mean, he's got Gibbs, so that'll overwhelm everything else for a while. But once they settle in together and Tony gets used to the way the world is now? I don't know. Maybe he'll be envious. Maybe he'll feel left behind. But I hope that Gibbs will be enough to give him a sense of being special."

"He's special, all right," Kate said, smirking.

Abby laughed and shook a finger at Kate. "Now that wasn't politically correct."

Kate just shrugged, smiling. Then her expression grew more serious. "What about you?"

"What about me?" Abby asked, concentrating on the casserole.

"How are you handling all of this?" Kate asked, gentle but firm.

Sighing, Abby set the fork down and propped her head up on one hand. "If you'd asked me six weeks ago what I'd think of all this happening," she said, "I'd have said it'd be the coolest thing in the world."

"Reality isn't as fun as theory, sometimes?" Kate suggested, wryly.

"Completely," Abby said with feeling. "It's the scale, you know? It'd be cool if a few people discovered these abilities and we could just work them into the world we know. But everyone at once?" Abby's voice grew quiet, subdued. "People are dying because we don't know how to handle these abilities. Dying and getting hurt and losing friends and family and livelihoods and...there's nothing cool about it."

Kate reached up and rested her hand on the plain gold cross that she wore. "You know," she said, "I really do believe that things happen for a reason. And might be awful now, but there is potential for amazing, wonderful things to come out of it, too. It's just going to take time."

"I know," Abby said, straightening up, setting her jaw, and nodding firmly. "I mean, this is a huge leap forward for human evolution. Maybe now we'll actually have a chance at pulling humanity's ass out of the fire, as far as our long term survival goes."

"That's the spirit," Kate said, smiling and thumping the table top. Then she blinked suddenly and tilted her head. "Oh, damn. I have to go meet a friend. You going to be okay for awhile?"

"I'm good." Abby waved a hand. "Go!"


Kate vanished.

Abby started, then looked down at the second, untouched serving of casserole on the table. She swore softly but emphatically. "Kate is dead, you know that," she muttered under her breath as she cleared away the extra portion. "You can't keep forgetting, that's just not healthy."

"Maybe you should make a list."

Abby looked up and smiled at the guy leaning up against her fridge. "Hi, Eric." Dead, she reminded herself. He'd lived in the apartment before she moved in. "What kind of a list?"

"Of who's alive and who isn't," he said seriously. "'Cause people really are going to get worried if they think you can't tell the difference."

"The perils of being a powerful medium," Abby said cheerfully...even if she was a little worried, herself.

Maybe a list wasn't such a bad idea.