The episode "Aftershock" might very well be the most talked-about episode of Law & Order ever. It certainly has generated its share of fan fiction! This story is a behind-the-scenes look at some of the events of the episode and the possible aftermath of those events.
By Katherine Anne MacLean
Claire sat on the edge of the bed, buttoning her blouse. She had her back to him, but Jack could still read her distress in the tension across her shoulders, in her silence.
It had been a very long week. Death penalty cases were always a source of friction between them, but the rapidity with which this one had progressed pushed their squabbles into full-blown fights. Neither could seem to force themselves to back down, and as the days passed, they were fighting almost against their will. The growing closeness between them seemed shattered almost beyond repair at some points, but neither was willing to give up on the relationship completely. The resulting frustration only added to the mounting tension.
Jack had been surprised when she told him she planned to watch the execution, having assumed that she would boycott the whole thing. The urge to challenge her was almost automatic by now, but he forced it down, saying only, "Good. We'll go together." She hadn't protested.
They had left work earlier than normal, skipping their usual semi-business dinner for lack of time, and took a cab back to Claire's. She had barely waited until they were safely indoors before reaching for him, pulling him towards the bedroom. All this in a wordless silence, as though by leaving words behind she could somehow puncture the barrier the arguments had raised between them. In their lovemaking she drew from him the only comfort she felt she could.
She had curled up against him afterwards, buried her face in his chest and just clung to him, unwilling to meet his gaze and shatter this truce they had somehow achieved. The silence was a living thing, leaving room only for feeling as they were finally allowed a respite from the eternal tension.
When the alarm went off, she had rolled away from him and begun getting dressed almost automatically. He sat in bed a moment longer, watching her. Finally he sighed and went to dress and shave.
He emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later to find her staring out the window into the night sky. Crossing the room slowly, he moved to stand behind her. He stood there a moment, then rested one hand lightly on her shoulder. For a brief second her gaze found his, reflected in the glass, ghostly and ethereal, suspended in time. Turning away, she shrugged off his hand and went to find her purse.
Jack's gaze kept returning to Claire throughout the long car-ride. He had never seen her like this before. She was a strong, capable woman and he suspected that had been a large part of why he was attracted to her; he worked towards justice for victims, he didn't date them. Claire was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and, until now, he had never felt any need to protect her or to shield her from anything. Frankly, Claire was a little too close in age to his own daughter for him to feel comfortable with any kind of paternal emotions.
As they approached the prison, Jack, too, retreated into himself as a sense of sick dread descended over his mind. Despite the fights, despite his beliefs, faced with the reality of it, he didn't think he could stand seeing that accusing gaze Claire had leveled on him so many times these last weeks. Only once, after they were seated in the gallery, did he risk a glance over at her. She had her arms crossed over her chest like a shield and her shoulders pressed back into the wall as though she wanted nothing more than to push right through it. He directed his gaze once more at the closed curtains.
The silence after they turned off the wail of the heart monitor was deafening.
Claire felt numb. After all the fights, all the dread, the only thing she could feel now was... nothing. It was all too surreal.
Faint shuffling rose up around her, Briscoe cleared his throat, and the terrible silence was slowly pushed back. Claire rose with the others and they all filed out. The men stood in an uncomfortable knot outside, trying to pretend it hadn't affected them, trying to make conversation. Claire passed them, uncaring, and headed for her car.
The drive was at the same time soothing and unreal. From the pre-dawn twilight of early summer through a watery sunrise Claire watched the road, her mind still a blank. As they entered the city, however, the traffic increased, real life pressed in and dragged Claire back to herself. The normality of it all felt so wrong, and it edged under her skin, left it crawling. The car felt too confining, pressing in, giving her a headache, the stop-and-go traffic left her dizzy.
Jack, too, it seemed, felt the change. He attempted small talk for the first time since they had left the office the day before. Somehow even that devolved into the same old argument. How naïve of her to think that just because the execution itself was over their relationship could return to what it had been. And to face a whole day of this... She couldn't. She would start screaming or crying and she wouldn't be able to stop.
When she admitted feeling ill, she knew Jack saw right through her, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Jack hated the fighting as much as she did, but spending another day joined at the hip wasn't going to make things right, and right now she needed to get away. She could tell he was hurt, but he gave her the day, as she knew he would.
He left her alone in the car, but the pressure inside her did not decrease. By the time she reached her building, it was all she could do to get herself up to her apartment. She headed straight for the bathroom and threw up, again and again until all there was left was dry retching. When the heaves subsided, she curled up on the cold tile of the bathroom floor and finally let herself cry.
It had seemed so natural in the beginning, as it always did. Drinks after work became dinner to discuss a case, became a lift to work the next morning. Jack and Claire both enjoyed the arrangement, there was no great emotional attachment, but it did give two very busy people a sense of connection with another human being. The sex was left at home, but other than that, there was very little distinction between their working relationship and their personal relationship. Some would consider this the best of all worlds, and indeed, it worked for them for over a year.
Claire was young enough, however, that the passage of a year could still mark significant changes. She grew more confident in that time, more comfortable with herself and with Jack. Her skill as an attorney grew as well, the experience she drew from this allowing her own set of personal morals to develop from the ideals she had started out with.
Their working relationship changed as she did, moving from a situation where Jack was acting almost as her mentor, to one where they were near equals. It was inevitable, with all of this, that their personal relationship should change too.
In the beginning, even on their off time, there had been the sense that he was The Boss, which left a certain mandatory distance between them. Claire wouldn't show weakness, indecision, or even overmuch emotion in front of him. Increasingly, however, as they moved to more equal footing, Claire was opening up. The distance between them narrowed, and their relationship became less a mere extension of their work.
It had been so long since Jack had fallen in love that he barely recognized it for what it was. He was beginning to think he saw some of the same reflected in Claire's eyes, as well. That was, at least, up until this execution case. The last week had been especially bad, their newfound emotional connection merely allowing them to hurt each other all the more. Jack was beginning to remember why it had been so long; the heartache just wasn't worth it. Certain that there was nothing left but a few more weeks of miserable squabbling before one of them finally ended it, she had surprised him again last night when she turned to him for comfort. Her absence now left him hollow. He could still feel the ghost of her touch, her face pressing into his chest, and it scared him how much he liked that closeness. He wanted more, he just didn't know how they would survive the next few days.
The execution had left Jack feeling nearly as sick as Claire looked, and he was just grateful that it was over. He refused to feel guilty; he had done his job, and done it well. Thanks to him, society was rid of an animal that had brutally raped and killed a girl merely because she had rear-ended him in traffic. He didn't want to think about it, just wanted to put it behind him and move on to the next case. His weak attempt to pull Claire from her silence had only proved that she was not going to be able to do the same, nor did she want to. He wasn't sure if he was angry with her or worried about her.
Jack hated the way the whole damn situation was leaching his attention. He had a lot of practice burying himself in his work to escape his personal problems, but unfortunately the fact that today he was burying himself in Claire's work was putting a crimp in the process.
He finally gave up in frustration and reached for the phone. He wasn't sure what he was going to say to her, he just wanted to put this to rest.
It didn't matter.
There was no answer.
Even home wasn't a refuge. Her apartment, too, felt constricting, and finally, sick of her own weakness, she had thrown on her sweats and headed for the park. She took her frustration out on herself, pushing herself as hard as she could, running until her muscles screamed and her lungs burned before settling in for the long jog around the park. The physical release felt good, and she returned to her apartment exhausted, but a little calmer, a little more in control of herself once again.
A long shower later, she dressed in jeans and a cotton top, needing to feel as far from the person she had been that morning as she could, and she finally felt able to think again. More than that, she felt ready to talk. She thought briefly about calling Jack but she didn't think she could stand it if the conversation devolved into another fight. Instead she found herself seeking out Mac.
Like most girls, Claire had been fairly miserable at fifteen. Her father was gone, and she fought constantly with her mother. Then Mac had come along, her mother's boyfriend, thrust into her life. Bad enough her mother was trying to control her life; she hadn't needed this guy as well. And he was a professor...they all thought they knew everything. She fought with him almost on general principle, but Mac had learned very quickly not to let her get away with that. He turned every argument into a debate, forced her to defend her position, and conceded defeat when she had a valid point. He taught her the proper structure, and after a while it became a game between them. She began to enjoy it, and gradually forgot how much she was supposed to hate him.
He helped to sort her out then, and countless times since, and it was that kind of guidance she sought now. He was able to provide it for the most part. The swift kick in the ass he tossed in for free, but it helped almost as much just the same.
Feeling a little better, she had headed for the police station, hoping for a little of Lennie's irreverence to just lighten the mood a little. She found Anita Van Buren's wisdom instead.
By the time lunch rolled around, Jack had reasoned all his myriad emotions into silence, and had finally gotten absorbed in his work. In one brief conversation as he sat down at the table, Dr. Olivet managed to unravel it all. He let his anger cover the guilt and uncertainty she had once again dredged up, and left the restaurant as soon as he could, heading for a bar where no one knew him, quite ready to fall into the nearest bottle of scotch. He was sick of thinking.
The alcohol didn't work quite as he had hoped, however. All it did was blunt the edge of his anger, allowing thoughts that would normally be quelled by it free reign. As a result, he sat in the bar and poured his heart out to a complete stranger, told this man things that no one else knew, not Adam, not even Claire.
Not even Claire.
His scotch-addled brain stopped on that for a moment. He had watched Claire change in the past two years, open up to him, but he still hadn't shared anything with her. She had turned to him for comfort when she could just as easily have turned away. It was the most vulnerable he'd even seen her, but he couldn't even admit to her that he had his own doubts, his own guilt as well. He had let all the skeletons fall out of the closet and into the lap of this man he had just met... maybe now was the time to show them to Claire, too. Now, while he was still too drunk to be scared.
He pushed himself unsteadily off his stool and made his way carefully to the phones.
Claire had always hated the term 'girl talk'. It sounded almost derogatory, as though women couldn't possibly have anything important to speak of amongst themselves. Inappropriate as it seemed, however, it was all she could come up with to categorize her conversation with Anita Van Buren. The first conversation in months, it seemed, that didn't revolve entirely around work.
It had become her entire life. Long hours were the norm in her line of work, and most nights were spent with Jack. She enjoyed their relationship, and was slowly coming to the frightening realization that she was falling in love with him, but while they were together, work was still fair game. There was no break, no respite, and she was losing her perspective. She had no time to stop and regain her balance, to remember what was important to her. They dealt in people's lives, and that was a tremendous responsibility, but unless she could find some way to keep herself grounded in her own reality, she was going to burn out rapidly and be of no use to anyone.
She hadn't seen her mother in months, had let friendships slide, always too busy, with work, with Jack... Perhaps it was time to take a step back and find the other sides of her life. She needed time to think a little.
In the meantime, however, she was ready to face Jack again. Given the message he had left on her pager service, she didn't think he was capable of arguing his way out of a wet paper bag.
She always slept better when he was there anyway.
Jack wasn't sure at first what had woken him. The room was silent; the only illumination was the faintly orange glow through the blinds from the city lights. A warm breeze blew in through the open window, easing his throbbing head, somewhat. He was still fully dressed, his whole body sticky with sweat.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
Something was wrong.
The phone began ringing again.
Something was very wrong.
The next few hours stretched out in Jack's mind like one long nightmare. He couldn't remember how he got to the hospital at all. He sat in the waiting room, convinced he was going to wake up any minute, to find Claire sprawled on the bed beside him, or standing in the doorway, ready to lecture him through his hangover.
Time dragged, and Jack couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't get past willing himself to wake up.
It was all he could do to lift his head when the doctor finally entered the room. Claire was out of surgery. They had stopped the internal bleeding. She had massive head trauma. She wasn't expected to live out the night.
Jack was almost glad of the layer of cotton wool still lining his brain, glad that the words didn't sink in. Couldn't sink in. He was going to wake up.
All he could think when they finally let him in to see her was that Claire never slept on her back. He was flooded with this perverse sense of outrage that she should be uncomfortable while she was dying. He would have rolled her onto her side if he weren't so afraid to touch her.
Touching her would somehow make it real.
She had tubes up her nose, and in her arm. They had shaved most of her hair, and her head was swathed in bandages. She looked so young and so pale and so fragile...
He dropped his eyes and forced himself to put one foot in front of the other until he reached her bedside. Her arms lay on the covers by her sides, the left one, nearest him, discolored by bruises from shoulder to wrist. For a long moment he just stood, hands gripping the bed rail, watching her, feeling something break inside him.
It was real. He wasn't going to wake up. And neither was she.
He unclenched one hand from the rail and reached out gingerly to take her hand in his. Such a simple gesture, yet one they had rarely been permitted. Her hand was cool and dry, and completely unresponsive. He laced his fingers with hers and squeezed gently, bending down to kiss her forehead below the bandages.
Fingers still entwined, he sat down in the chair beside her bed and began his vigil.
Despite the doctor's prediction, the early summer sunrise found Claire still breathing. She lived through the day, and into the next night, and Jack felt such a pride in her. She had always been strong. He left her side only to allow her mother and stepfather some time alone with her, and filled his hours beside her telling her all the things he had vowed he would the night before. He talked himself hoarse, clinging to the irrational conviction that it was somehow the sound of his voice that was keeping her here, and if he could only keep it up long enough, she would have to wake up.
He remained beside her when her heart finally gave out, while the doctors worked to revive her, until she was pronounced at 3:18 am.
Jack left the cemetery as soon as he could, and he managed to avoid having to speak to anyone. Most of the people who had come to pay their respects were, of course, Claire's friends and family. The part of her life that she had shared with him had so little to do with any of them that Jack felt very much like an interloper. It was as though he didn't even know this person whose life they had all come here to celebrate. Her mother had taken over and arranged a Catholic funeral. He didn't think she would have approved. The spirit of the Claire he had known was nowhere to be found in the ornate cathedral.
He took a cab home, but didn't go inside, heading instead for the underground parking. He brought out his motorcycle, and rode aimlessly through the streets, trying to escape the edginess that had settled in during the funeral.
It seemed almost inevitable that he would eventually wind up outside Claire's building. It was as though something in him, some need had been drawing him here all along. He had felt no connection to Claire during the service. It hadn't brought him any of the small peace it seemed to give her mother. He needed, in some way, to feel close to her.
The air in the apartment felt heavy and still, and utterly silent. He closed the door quietly behind him and just stood. She was all around him. Every object his gaze fell upon brought forth more memories. Memories of times that had belonged uniquely to the two of them. He lingered on the couch, seeing in his mind's eye the many Sunday mornings they had spent stretched out there together, surrounded by the wreckage of the Sunday paper, her head on his chest, or his feet in her lap.
His chest felt tight, and his throat ached. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath before finally moving on to the bedroom. He stopped in the doorway. It didn't look as though anyone had been in there since he left. It was all just the same...
Claire had sat on the edge of the bed, right there, buttoning her shirt. He closed his eyes. He could see the exact set of her shoulders, how upset she was. Slowly, he entered the room, walked around the bed, sat down beside her. He could almost smell her perfume. He reached out to lay his hand on her knee, wishing with his whole soul for just that brief contact.
His hand clenched in the still-rumpled sheets.
He let his head sink slowly, and finally gave in to his grief.