DISCLAIMER: Law & Order and Special Victims Unit are the property of Dick Wolf and NBC.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the femslash_today Guns and Microscopes ficathon for tremblingmoon, who requested a story about the emotional fallout of "Blast". Feedback, particularly constructive criticism, gratefully accepted.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Caitrin Torres


Afterwards, Melinda found herself at Wilby's. Afterwards, when she'd given a statement and avoided the press and turned down a drink with the sqaud, and when she'd gone home to an empty apartment to shower and try to erase the stench of gunpowder and blood. Showers rarely work when the grime is mostly imaginary, and solitude cures nothing. She needed the comfort that comes from the anonymity of an old, familiar bar and the not-quite strangers who would nod in greeting, then leave her in peace.

She also needed that drink, or three. Growing up, her mother warned her more than once that drinking alone would be the surest way to follow her father into the bottom of a bottle. As certain as she was that her mother couldn't possibly have meant a night like this, she'd been right too often to start ignoring her advice now. Wilby's it was.

She found a booth in a quiet corner and glanced at the television mounted near the bar. Dr. Phil pontificated on a topic she couldn't bring herself to care about. She'd had enough psychology from George Huang back at the station.

It was a slow night. Timmy poured her usual scotch rocks and delivered it himself. "Rough day?" he asked sympathetically.

She sighed. "Yeah. You could say that."

He tsked at her and set the tumbler down with a napkin. "Here. First one's on the house tonight."

It was even odds whether he'd seen the news. He was good at his job, and she'd always been convinced that the best bartenders were just a little bit psychic. People watching helped her keep her mind from drifting back to the shooting and emotions best avoided. She was halfway through her second drink when she heard someone say her name and saw Timmy point her way.

"Anita," she said, relief clear in her voice.

"I thought I'd find you here." Anita said. At Melinda's questioning look, she explained. "Don Cragen called me and told me what happened. I figured you wouldn't want to be home alone. He's proud of you, by the way."

How the Captain knew to call Anita was a question for another day. For now, Melinda was just grateful that he had. "I shot a man today," she said hollowly.

"I know." In the silence, Anita took off her coat and settled in across from her.

"I hate that it hurts," Melinda eventually said. "Elliot took it in stride. They all do. Elliot's alive. I'm alive. Daniel Hunter survived. It feels like that should be enough."

"I hear that almost every time one of my officers fires at a suspect. The men like to be tough and unaffected in public, but the smart ones talk to a counselor later. It does hurt. You're human, honey."

Melinda didn't answer, and they drifted to other subjects. She listened as Anita told her about her detectives' new case and Jack McCoy's latest antics and the broccoli cheese soup at the café she'd tried at lunch. It wasn't as cheesy as she would have liked, but the turkey club was good enough to warrant a return visit. When their conversation lulled, Melinda abruptly dropped her gaze to avoid looking Anita in the eye. "When I was going through weapons training, the instructor pounded it into us that the safest target is center mass," she said quietly. "Go for the largest target, and you're that much more likely to achieve your goal."

Anita nodded.

"It's only true if your goal is to kill," she continued. "There is no safe target if you don't want the person to die. There are so many ways to kill a person with a bullet. I've processed enough gunshot victims to know them all by heart."

Anita reached out to sqeeze her hand as her voice grew tighter. "Chest wounds collapse lungs, puncture hearts, and tear apart the major vessels. Abdominal wounds lacerate livers and spleens and damage bowels. Victims live through the initial trauma and die of infection. A shot to the shoulder can hit the brachial artery, and if it doesn't, the nerves leading to the arm and hand can be damaged or destroyed. Hands are hard to hit. Miss, and the shooter becomes the victim. Most head wounds kill instantly, a shot to the back can lacerate a kidney or sever the spinal cord, and legs...." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Legs are dangerous too. Hit the femur, and it'll shatter. The fragments hit all the surrounding major vessels, and the victim bleeds out. Miss the femur, and there's still the chance of shooting a hole in the femoral artery. Miss both, and hope you haven't crippled a man with the muscle damage. There is no safe target on the human body. And do you know the worst part?"

Anita shook her head in silent question.

"The worst part is that I didn't stop to think through any of that. I reacted. I haven't fired a weapon in years and I didn't know if my aim would be accurate, but I reacted. I think Sergeant Brody would be proud."

Anita stood and slid into the booth next to her to rub her back. "You did what you had to do, and you got lucky. It's all any of us can hope for."

Melinda found a weak, half smile and leaned into the solidness of her support. Later, they'd go home and Anita would take her to bed and remind her that they were both alive, but for now, she soaked in the comfort of an old, familiar bar and the not-quite strangers who saw them and nodded in acknowledgement, then left them in peace.

The End

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