Aftermath
by Sängerin

When it was over, Zoe couldn't stop shaking.

She put down the gun, though she hardly realised she was doing it. She leant against a desk, and that was when she lost muscle control. For the first time she could remember, her knees really began to knock. She gripped the edge of the desk and her knuckles turned white. That desk was the only thing keeping her upright.

Harry hugged her. He held her close and there was no way he didn't notice how upset she was. Her elbows were thumping against her ribcage, and her breath was coming in shallow gasps. He held her until she was calmer not calm, but calmer. Then he kissed her on her forehead and let her go.

She breathed deeply and slowed her pulse down. When she could stand, she pushed away from the desk and got out her phone. She felt desperate to get in touch with someone, anyone, who had been living a normal life over the past two days someone who could reassure her that the world had not almost ended. That she had not held a gun, pointed at the head of a colleague.

She wandered away from the others, barely noticing that Tom was doing the same. Barely noticing that Sam had dissolved in tears, that Danny had moved quickly to the Scottish woman's side to comfort her. She spoke quickly, realising that there was nothing she could say. There was no way to explain why she was calling, out of the blue, early on a Saturday morning. No way to explain the quaver in her voice. She said goodbye and hung up.

Harry was at her side again, handing her a plastic cup of mid-range champagne. As she held it, the alcohol splashed up the sides. She held her wrist with her other hand to steady it, and smiled at Malcolm, who was still looking shell-shocked. He smiled back, his expression as fake as her own.

She could still see the gun in her hand: she was sure everyone else could, too.

 

They went to the George as Harry suggested. They filed in, dishevelled from their long day and night. Malcolm and Colin went straight to the bar. Ruth joined them, laughing and joking with them. Danny and Sam came in together, his arm around her shoulder.

Zoe chose a dark corner, tucking her hair behind her ears and sinking into a chair. The post-adrenaline let-down hit her, and hit her badly. Every bone in her body ached. She folded her arms on the table in front of her, and lay her head on top of them. She closed her eyes.

'Rough day?'

She sat up to see a woman, the blonde firefighter, standing in front of her with a pint of beer in each hand.

'Think this will help?' the firefighter asked, holding out one pint.

Zoe took it from her, nodding her thanks. The firefighter sat down in the chair opposite.

'Stephanie, right?' asked Zoe.

'Steph. And I'm not really a firefighter.'

'And you're not dead, either,' Zoe noted, pointlessly.

'It was all pretty stressful, yeah,' said Steph.

Zoe snorted. 'You knew it wasn't real. We were locked in there, for two days, with hardly any food or water...' She could feel her pulse speeding up again, and stopped.

Steph reached out a hand to cup Zoe's cheek. Her skin was cool against Zoe's flushed face, and her eyes were steady as she held Zoe's gaze. 'Zoe, you did really well. You all did,' she said softly.

Zoe pulled away. She sat back in her chair and reached forward for her beer. She took a sip, and then a gulp. She looked back at Steph, and saw her still watching with those steady eyes. 'Tell me you're not from the psych department.'

'I'm not one of Miranda's little minions,' she replied, firmly.

'Good,' said Zoe, sighing with relief. She drank more of her beer. A bowl full of chips arrived at the table, and Zoe picked up a handful, suddenly ravenous. The first few she didn't even bother with vinegar or sauce. Steph was watching her, amused.

'You had food, didn't you?' asked Zoe, her anger building once again, forcing its way through her exhaustion. 'Food and water and...' She was beginning to shake again. The amusement fled Steph's face as she jumped up to sit beside Zoe and hold on to her. She held Zoe until the shaking stopped, and then kept holding on. 'I should be able to cope with this, damnit,' muttered Zoe.

'You thought the world was ending,' said Steph.

'I thought you were dead,' said Zoe. 'And you were a person, and it was horrible, but you were still just a firefighter I didn't know.'

Again, she calmed herself. Training came in handy at times like these. Pulse, breathing, mind. Slow, calm, collected.

'You don't know me much better now,' said Steph.

'But right now, I don't care,' replied Zoe. And this time she was the one who lifted a hand to caress Steph's cheek.

 

While the rest of the team had a riotous time in the front bar, letting off steam and generally recovering in whatever way suited them best, Zoe and Steph stayed in the dark at the back. Midway through the afternoon, they left. Tom watched them go, his own eyes haunted by a decision Zoe could guess. But she did little more than wave in his general direction, towards where he sat between Malcolm and Ruth.

Ruth would cheer him up - of that, Zoe was certain. Like Danny would do for Sam. And Steph for Zoe.

Two hours later, Dot saw the warning on Ruth's screen.

Two and a half hours later, they were all back at the grid.

 

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