"You Come Here Often?"
Paula sat quietly on the bench waiting, as she had been for the past who knows how many hours. Maybe days. Could have just been seconds. There was no way to tell. She sighed and let her head fall back against the wall behind her. A wall that she didn't remember being there until she let her head fall back against it. But, then again, it had been a busy day. She was tired. It didn't matter.
"So … you come here often?"
Paula jumped. She hadn't felt anyone else there … hadn't seen anyone come in … hadn't heard anyone come in. She turned quickly and saw a dark-haired woman sitting on a chair near her. A chair that she didn't remember being there. Paula blinked for a second and cocked her head to the side. She smiled a small tired smile.
"Kate," she said.
The other woman smiled. "Hello, Paula."
"I should have realized you'd be here," Paula said.
"It wasn't automatic," Kate replied with an enigmatic look. "It's not like there's someone who says, 'Hey – an NCIS Agent was killed in the line … Kate, go meet her'. I heard about it, and figured I should come." She looked at Paula a bit sheepishly. "I …um … I actually did it for Tony."
Paula's eyebrows went up. "Tony?"
"You should have seen his face," Kate said, just a little bit sadly.
"His face?" Paula asked, not quite understanding.
Kate smiled a sorrowful smile. "When the wall swung closed and then again when the bomb went off. The grief on his face …"
Paula looked surprised for a moment, and then bowed her head a bit and smiled a sweet, poignant smile. "Tony …"
"Yeah," Kate said quietly, bowing her head a bit. "I miss him too." Then a pause, as her face took on a slightly sarcastic edge. "Mostly."
Paula grinned. "I understand," she said. Both women laughed.
Kate paused for a moment and then looked up. "He told her that he loved her, you know," she said, in a tone that Paula couldn't quite read.
"Tony," Kate explained. "He went to Jeanne's apartment and told her he loved her."
Paula smiled and nodded. "Good."
"And he almost meant it," Kate added, as an afterthought. Paula opened her mouth to say something, but decided against it.
There was a long pause as the two women looked around, sighed, and realized that they'd run out of conversation topics. Tony was, really, the only thing they had in common. Except for, you know, being dead.
"So," Paula said, shifting in her seat. "What happens now?"
"It's different for everyone," Kate said casually. "Someone will be by soon to pick you up and get you started." She had a stern, but somewhat playful look on her face. "You caused quite a stir you know," she said.
Paula raised her eyebrows. "I did? How?"
"You went out of turn," Kate tried to explain. "You weren't supposed to jump. The wall was going to swing closed in just a second and everyone would have been safe. But you jumped. Hall and Nelson were really pissed about that."
Paula looked totally confused. "They … what? Because I …? What?"
Kate laughed. "You get points for saving a bunch of people – even if the plan was that they'd be okay anyway, you still get points for selfless sacrifice – but still, it causes a ton of paperwork when someone jumps before their time. You're going to get a little bit of a reprimand."
"I don't …" Paula began.
"They'll explain," Kate said with a reassuring smile. "It's not a bad thing. The end products stay the same, they just have to re-route how people get there. There were still a bunch of things on your to-do list, and they need to be seamlessly assigned to other people without those people realizing that they've had stuff added to their lists. It happens. It just puts the guys upstairs into kind of a whirlwind." She leaned toward Paula and whispered conspiratorially. "They're a little OCD upstairs."
Paula stared at her, trying to take it all in. "Will I get to see them?" Paula asked, suddenly.
"The guys upstairs?" Kate said, eyebrows raised and a laugh in her voice. "Um … no."
Paula rolled her eyes. "No," she said. "Hall and Nelson."
Kate nodded. "Eventually. They're still being debriefed."
"De …" Paula began.
"Sorry," Kate interrupted. "It's hard to let go of the lingo."
"But you've been dead for over two years," Paula said.
Kate smiled tolerantly. "Time works differently here than there," was all she said.
"But I saw them," Paula said. "Hall and Nelson. Just before the bomb went off. If I wasn't supposed to be there …"
"They were there to see you," Kate said, not entirely certain she should be telling Paula this.
Paula was even more confused now.
Kate took a deep breath and tried to explain. "When people die suddenly and violently, like they did, it takes them a while to understand that it's all part of a sequence of events. It's nothing personal, it's just how the world works. People are born, people die. But when Hall and Nelson got here, they were pissed. Mad as you-know-where that it happened, and really really worried that you would do something … well … something stupid in order to get revenge. So they pretty much yelled and screamed in order to get sent back and make sure you were okay."
Paula looked surprised.
"It's not an everyday thing," Kate said, somewhat nonchalantly, "but it's not all that uncommon either." She shifted in her seat and continued. "Anyway, they were supposed to see that you were alive, you were okay, you were handling it, and then they could move on to debrief. It's kind of hard to explain." Kate sighed. "But then you showed up and it threw off the timing. You just came flying through the door. They were pretty stunned to see you."
"If we had known that was going to happen," Kate continued, "we'd have had a couple of guardians standing by to intervene, but we didn't so … here you are."
Paula considered all of this information. Her face gave away that she had a million questions.
"There are …" she began, tentatively. "There are actually guardian angels?"
"Oh yeah," Kate said eagerly. "They're great. You can literally make requests and they'll go keep and eye on people for you. Apparently, that's how Tony recovered from the plague. Some guy he tried to save in Baltimore wanted to return the favor, so he put in a request. It was pretty cool how it all worked."
Paula stared at Kate and blinked; she was speechless. There was another pause.
"I'm hungry," Paula said, suddenly. "Should I be hungry?"
"It happens," Kate said with a chuckle. "The subconscious picks up things from life and they carry through. Let me guess … you're dying for –"
Paula looked at her sharply.
Kate smiled a slightly evil smile. "Sorry … slip of the tongue." She continued. "You're hungry for … a bagel and cream cheese, right?"
Paula laughed. "How did you know that?"
"Those cream cheese commercials are apparently quite the pain up here," Kate said. "Everyone comes in wanting wings, a cloud and a bagel."
At that moment, a man sort of materialized in the distance. It wasn't like he had entered the room or come around a corner, he just … materialized.
"Hey Paula," the man said as he got closer.
Paula stood in surprise. "Pacci!" she exclaimed, hugging him tightly. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm dead, Paula," Pacci said, with a twinkle in his eye and a slightly sarcastic tone.
She stared at him. "Right."
"I'm here to escort you over," he said, offering his arm. "You ready?"
Paula looked around. "Do I ever get to go back and see how people are doing?" she asked Kate.
Kate and Pacci exchanged looks. "They'll talk to you about that," Kate said slowly as she stood.
Paula nodded. "Okay, okay" she said, nodding in understanding. "I'll try to be patient." She took a step towards Kate and the two women hugged. "It was nice of you to come and meet me," Paula said.
"My pleasure," Kate replied. "I'll see you around."
And then, as Pacci and Paula walked off into the distance, Kate stretched and sighed. She looked around her until she saw a woman and a child in the distance. She waved and headed in their direction.
"Hey, Shannon!" she shouted. "Kelly! Hey guys … wait for me!"