Rating: PG
Pairing: Stella, Fraser/Kowalski pre-slash
Warning: Angst. Not a death fic.
Thanks: Thanks to Miriam for beta, advice, and the title, and also for not hassling me for breaking my no-more-fic-for-a-while promise.

Next of Kin

by china_shop

Stella had finished with the Everett file and was tidying its pages prior to putting it in her OUT tray and, please God, never seeing it again, when Constable Fraser walked into her office and shut the door. He was wearing clean clothes—a shirt and jeans—and his hair was wet and slicked back, but there were cuts across his cheeks and nose, and a large red bruise on his chin that would no doubt darken and swell by the end of the day. More than that, he looked awful.

Stella stood up and came around to the front of her desk. "What is it?"

He said something. She heard the tone before the words sunk in. It was the voice people used to talk about death. Stella looked around suddenly. "Where's Ray?" And then the words unfolded in her mind: There's been an accident.

She felt ice crystallising in the pit of her stomach, and sagged against her filing cabinet. Fraser's throat worked silently.

Stella wanted to shake him, but he was already shaken. "Is he dead?" she asked.

Fraser shook his head violently, but his eyes closed as though he couldn't face the thought.

Stella put every ounce of command she had into four words. "Constable, talk to me."

Fraser swallowed and clenched his hands into fists, and said, surprisingly calmly, his voice a tight hum of anger or fear, "There was an incident. A shooting. Ray was shot in the abdomen." Fraser briefly touched his own stomach, just above his belt. "He's in surgery. They said—it could go either way." He looked down at his hands. "I wanted to—before he lost consciousness, he asked me—he wanted me to tell you." His lips closed tight, keeping things unsaid.

"Oh god." Stella put her hand to her face. It had had to happen. Stupid cop, getting shot at for a living. He could've been—hell, he could've been a mechanic. No-one shot at mechanics. "Did you get the guy?" She didn't even know why she asked that. Did it matter?

Fraser looked at her, his face drawn. "The gunman was a young woman, and yes, she's in custody. Her accomplice caught me off-guard, distracted me, and I didn't get there in time. I should have known." The words were flat and hard, and then he stepped forward, and added quietly, "I blame myself."

You would, thought Stella. What she said was, "Don't."

It should have been her loss, her grief, but here was Fraser, visibly distraught and moving towards her as though he didn't know what else to do.

"If I had just—if I hadn't—" He put his big Mountie hands on her upper arms. "I should have been there." And she only realised how broken he was a second before he kissed her, his mouth desperate and hungry.

Stella struggled briefly and he loosened his hold. When she realised she could push him away, she stood passively and let Fraser circle one of his arms round her, holding her tight, and pressing his lips on her forehead, her cheek. It was both disturbing and comforting.

"I'm sorry," he said into the hair above her ear. "I should have—" He cut off, and shuddered. She felt a drop of water shatter on her neck.

He was hoarse, his face buried in her hair. "Oh God, I'm sorry." He wasn't talking to her. Stella realised she was a substitute, even as he pleaded, "Don't leave me."

She gave him a quick squeeze and then pushed him back. "Constable."

He looked at her, pale, blurry and swollen-faced, his eyes wet. He was lost and she was the only one here to find him. She held him at arms' length. "Fraser," she said. "There's still a chance."

He rubbed his face and looked at her, his eyes focussing, his bruises mingling with a flush of embarrassment. "I beg your pardon," he said shakily, but with his everyday formality creeping back in. "I had no right—"

She ignored this. "Are you serious?"

Fraser seemed to understand the question. He stepped back. "It's not important."

Stella could see the reserve layering back on, his posture stiffening, the crisis heading underground. She wanted to make him say it before he withdrew entirely. "Does Ray know?"

He shook his head a fraction, maybe faking denial, maybe answering the question.

"Tell him. If he makes it," she stumbled at that, the alternative hitting home. "You should tell him."

Fraser pulled away entirely, walked towards the door. "If he—I can't. I can't take that risk. I can't lose him." He looked at her levelly. "You won't say anything?"

"I don't know, Fraser. I think you should tell him. Ray is—he's okay with that, you know?" She made a gesture, trying to explain Ray's tendencies without being explicit. "And he cares about you."

She caught a glimpse of Fraser's face crumpling as he turned away and reached for the door handle. He didn't leave though. He just stood there silently, his head bowed, looking terribly alone, and clearly not yet ready to face the world, let alone a hallway of public servants on their lunch breaks.

Stella felt sorry for him, and also a sense of solidarity. Here they were, the two people other than Ray's parents who'd loved Ray most. Even if the Mountie drove her crazy most of the time, that wasn't important. They should stick together. "Stay here a while. Have a seat. We can share a cab to the hospital."

Fraser nodded without turning around. "All right," he said. "Yes."

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