This turned out way longer than I was expecting…I always intended it to be read as a one shot, but if enough of you guys think it's too long and would be easier to read if I broke it into chapters, I will do that, just let me know.

I wanted to explore the effect grief has on different people, how they respond to it, and how one person getting hurt can hurt so many people, those close to the person and those close to the people who were close to them, if that makes sense. Anyway, this is what came out. I know it's very long! Thanks in advance for reading, and I appreciate any feedback you're willing to bestow :)

Thanks to lily for discussion, and for comforting Sid in his time of need!

Disclaimer: I have too strong a desire to hurt and/or kill characters I like, so if I owned CSI:NY, either everybody would hate the characters, or the show wouldn't last very long because they'd all be dead! Kidding. Sort of.


"You bitch!"

They barely had time to turn. Shots rang out. Rang out. Ringing in her ears, wouldn't stop. Ringing.

"Hey, it's me."

"Hi! How are you? Still missing me?"

"Something's happened."

He tried to hold the tears out of his voice, not wanting to scare her. He was scared. They were all scared. Hell, what was the point? She'd be scared anyway, as soon as he managed to stomach the taste of the words he had to say.

"You sound awful. Are you all right?"

"Linds, something's…happened."

"Danny, you're scaring me, what?"

There, see? Scared. Just say scared. No, get the words out first, then you can be scared together.

"Stella, it's Stella. She's in hospital, in a coma."

He heard the gasp as a rush of static through the earpiece.

"She got shot a bunch of times, Linds, it ain't looking good. She and Angell were conducting some sort of private investigation together, and Angell got shot too, in the arm, but she's okay, it's just Stell – "

"But how – what happened? How did this happen?"

He took a breath right down to his diaphragm, trying to keep himself reigned in.

"You remember her thing with the guy from the Greek Embassy? The one who attacked her?"

There was silence on the other end, and he felt desperation building, threatening to knock and overturn the carefully balanced reservoir of sadness and fear inside him. He needed her to speak, needed someone to hold him together, but he was afraid of falling apart in case he remained broken forever.

He took another deep breath, holding the mouthpiece away from his mouth so Lindsay wouldn't hear. His emotions were brimming dangerously close to the surface.

"That guy shot her?" she said finally, sounding like she too needed time to gather herself.

"No, he's dead. His partner shot at them, trying to get Stella back for locking him in a shipping container and sending him to Cyprus. Angell told Mac and Don everything they'd been doing, guess she figured it'd been a bad idea to go behind everyone's backs after all."

Now he sounded bitter, and he was getting a bile taste in the back of his throat. His emotions were churning like acid in his stomach.

"So…so what do they think…is Stella going to be okay?"

He took a few moments to answer.

"It's pretty unsure at the moment," he managed.

"What are you all doing?"

"Everyone's taking turns to be with her. We don't know if…if she's gonna wake up or…if it's gonna be the last – "

He'd been trying so hard to keep it together, not to let on just how terrified and upset he was. But his voice cracked and it was like a crack in a dam, and he couldn't hold it back any longer. Danny had never learnt the skill of keeping emotions inside, and quite frankly he didn't think he ever would. It just wasn't something he could do.

" – the last time we get to spend with her," he finished.

A sob escaped him, and another, and then he was breaking down over the phone to his terribly uncomfortable wife. She was deadly silent, apart from the occasional desperate-sounding, 'Danny', which he guessed was her pleading for him to stop.

He wanted to be strong for her, he really did. He wanted to be able to take care of her, and the baby. He needed to prove to himself that he could hold someone else together. But he was afraid that he wouldn't be able to. He was afraid he might fall apart before he could try to hold Lindsay up. And he was afraid that if he did, she might not be able to put him back together.

He needed somebody to lean on, he always had. He needed Lindsay now, Stella needed them both, and he didn't know what to do. Stella always knew. He had known Stella for many years, remembered her berating him, encouraging him, keeping him in line, even stepping out for him sometimes. He pictured her throwing an arm around his shoulders as they bent over evidence together, looking out for him with the Sassone thing or when Reuben died, supporting him when Louie got hurt, and never judging him for needing to be held up. She was a good friend, and a good person. He didn't want the lab to have to survive without her.

Despite the fact that Lindsay was now his wife, his life partner, he'd never thought of her when he needed support. He wanted to protect her, he supposed. Didn't want her to figure out that he wasn't strong enough to hold her up. And now there was a wrench in their lives that went beyond their own personal involvement. He wanted to support her, but he didn't know how. He was used to being on the receiving end, not the giving. Either she would have to learn to support him too, or he would have to learn to not need it.

"What are you going to do?" he asked, sniffing back his tears in a way he knew she hated. He wanted her to say she'd come back to the city. He wanted her to say she wanted to be with Stella, wanted to be there for him. Maybe he was being selfish too, thinking of Lindsay being there for him when Stella was her friend as well, lying in a coma she might never wake up from. But having something happen to Stella of all people, something none of them could control, had made him take a sharp look at his own life. Nothing was guaranteed, not old death or new life, and he should be more aware of that than most people, but somehow he wasn't. Somehow he had never thought of dying when he dragged Lindsay to City Hall.

"I don't know, Danny," she answered, her voice thin and high. "I don't know if I can come back to New York, they don't generally allow women to fly in their third trimester."

She had practically read his mind, he realised. She had heard the question he had really wanted to ask and answered it without him having to voice it. That kind of connection, being so in-tune with someone you could communicate without words was something he had always observed and perhaps envied of Mac and Stella. He felt a surge of relief that Lindsay had done it, that maybe they would have that too one day, maybe they would connect in a way they never managed to before. Maybe they would learn all the things about being together that they had yet to learn, maybe they would learn how to really be together in every sense, and just maybe, everything would turn out okay.

Her heart thudded, her fingers white on her gun and red on her arm, preparing for the worst as she was trained to do, she found her way back to where Stella had fallen.

"Hold on, Stella. Just hang on, everything's going to be okay…"

"Sid? You in here?"

"Just hold on Sheldon, I – "

Sheldon was too quick and Sid was too slow, and there was silence as the former's face gave way to sorrow, and the latter halted in his attempt to hide the photograph, freezing with his back to the door.

"I'm…sorry, Sid."

The older man made no answer, and Hawkes made to leave.

"She's so beautiful, isn't she?"

He turned at the door, the unbearable tenderness in Sid's voice tugging at his heart. Sid hadn't moved, still hunched over the edge of the bed that Hawkes himself used to sleep in, one hand on the pillow, one on the photograph. Hawkes glimpsed a familiar head of curly hair. Slowly, he approached Sid, looking over his shoulder at the picture.

"Yes, she is."

His hand hovered awkwardly away from his body, wanting to place some comfort on Sid's shoulder, but feeling inadequate.

"I can't do it, Sheldon."
Hawkes, sensing that this wasn't the time to prompt, waited. Sid looked up at him at last, his soft, kind face crumpling.

"I can't cut her up, I just can't."

"She's not dead yet, Sid," he said, feeling another painful tug at the thought of her, cold and waxen and lifeless on an autopsy table. She had looked so pale in the hospital. Not deathly pale. Not yet.

"If she dies. Will you do it?"

He thought about it, but he didn't have to think long.

"No, I won't."

Sid shook his head, closing his eyes and resting his head on the edge of the bed. Hawkes found himself staring at the photo in his hand, so hard that it seemed to seep the strength out of him, and he joined Sid on his knees beside the bed.

"I couldn't do it, not to Stella. It would be like killing her."

Sid nodded without opening his eyes, and Hawkes knew he thought the same.

"She couldn't be dead. She's too alive."

Sid made an odd noise in his throat. Hawkes felt a stinging in his nose and eyes and tightness in his throat. He shut his eyes too, and he felt Sid place an arm around his shoulders. He was sorry that he hadn't managed to offer the contact first.

"She's far too young, Sheldon," Sid's muffled voice said.

"I know."

"She's so beautiful, so loving, so full of life. She doesn't deserve to go now, not her."

A tear tracked onto Hawkes' arm, and he could hear the weakness in Sid's voice that probably meant he was weeping too.

"No, she doesn't."

They sat there, Hawkes' knees hurting quite badly after a few minutes, Sid's arm still around him. His knees must be numb by now, Hawkes thought.

"What are we going to do?" he asked. "I'm not sure this place will handle another loss of our own."

"I don't know, Sheldon," Sid said sadly. "I don't know what will happen."

They knelt there until their shoulders began to shake in unison.

Stella's body was shaking uncontrollably, and Angell tore her jacket off, pressing it to the worst wound. She needed help. There was no time.

When he saw someone else was in with Stella, Don tried to turn away, but there was no time before Angell looked up and saw him. She hadn't been crying, as far as he could tell, but her eyes were desperate and pain-filled. He came in slowly, reluctantly, not wanting to be at Stella's bedside with someone else because he wasn't sure how long he could keep his composure. He didn't want anyone to see him that exposed, not even Angell.

She moved her gaze to the prone form on the bed, masking the emotions in her eyes, and he gazed at Stella too as he came to stand beside Jess. It was wrong. Everything about the image was wrong. Stella should not be lying there. She should not be covered in tubes and electrodes, a drip in her arm, her life beeping across a screen. Her eyes should not be so closed that they might never open again.

"She's getting worse," Jess said softly, in a voice he had never heard her use before the moment he had seen her at the crime scene, her hands blood red, her face blank. The second scene he'd been at where Stella was the crime.

"Worse how?" he croaked.

"I don't know, Don. Worse. That's all. Not better."

She leaned forward in her chair, resting her head on her fist and running her other hand through her hair. She wasn't crying, though. She wouldn't, the same way he wouldn't. The same way Stella wouldn't.

"Kolovos?" she asked from under her hair.

"Dead," he answered. "Died last night."

"Have they done an autopsy?"

He nodded.

"It was Stella's bullet that killed him."

She sighed deeply, fiddling with the bandage on her arm.

"He didn't even go down. I chased him, I'm pretty sure I shot him a couple of times myself, but it didn't even do any good. He didn't go down."

"You shot him in the shoulder and the arm. Stella got him in the stomach. He wasn't far from where he shot Stella, he probably collapsed not long after you went back to her."

"I should have stayed with her. I was supposed to help her."

"Goddamn it, Jess," Don burst suddenly. "Why did you have to help her? Why would you let her put you and herself at risk? You know what she's like when she gets a case under her skin."

She looked up sharply.

"No I didn't, Don. How could I know that? You're the one who knows her. You're the one who always works with her. I could count on my fingers the amount of cases I've worked with Stella since I became third grade. I hardly knew her at all."

"You knew her well enough to know that her not telling Mac was a big deal. He told her to leave the Diakos thing alone."

"She asked for my help, Don. I didn't know it was part of a case. She said she'd been attacked, that the man was from the Greek embassy. I thought it was a personal thing."

"Yeah, well it's personal now, that's for sure."

Jess stood abruptly, angrily.

"Don't make this my fault, okay? Stella knew what she was getting into, and you know what, I wanted to help her. She trusted me to help her when she knew no one else would, and she let me in to the exclusive CSI club where no one else did, not even you. She was a good person, and sometimes helping a friend is more important than toeing the line."

"She is a good person," Don said, seething and wanting to cry at the same time. "She didn't deserve this."

"She knew the kind of men we were dealing with, Don," Jess said. "That's why she was so determined to get them."

"And she won't be the first CSI whose determination gets her killed," said Flack, his voice cracking unexpectedly. Mortified, he lowered his head. There was a moment of silence when neither of them moved. It was as if some cardinal rule had just been broken, and left both of them wondering why it was so important for them to hide their emotions from each other. The rest of the world, maybe. But not each other.

Flack felt Angell's hand on his arm, and forced himself to look at her. He knew she could see the pain in his face, and he could plainly see the fear and guilt in hers, despite her own insistence that he not blame her. For a moment they just stared at each other, uncertain in the face of real, open emotion.

"I'll leave you alone," Angell said, slowly letting her hand drop from his arm. She touched the side of his face instead. He didn't move, and after a pause, she left the room. Flack sank into her vacated chair, his eyes on Stella's face.

"I'm sorry about that," he said eventually. "I don't know if you can hear what's going on around you or not, but we shouldn't have done that here. If you can hear me, don't start blaming yourself. I know you're good at that."

He pulled his chair closer to her bed, clasping a cold, limp hand in between his.

"No one's mad at you, Stell. Well, Mac might be after he's sure you're okay, I don't know. But we just want you to come home, okay? Just come back to us, please. Things are going to hell already without you."

He lowered his head to their joined hands, not even caring if she felt him cry.

"Please come back, Stell."

"Come back to me, Stell. Stay with me."

"Sir, we need you to wait here."

"Mac, stop."

"What the hell happened, Angell?"

"I'm so sorry Mac, we should have told you – "

She should have told him. She should have told him, then he might have been able to protect her. Then this nightmare might not have begun.

She didn't tell him because he would have been furious with her for defying him. What would he have done, he wondered. Suspended her? Fired her? No, he couldn't do that. Maybe if he had let her investigate officially in the first place, she wouldn't have got herself hurt. He supposed she would be triumphant to know that he couldn't be mad at her now. He would be far too relieved to see her alive. He'd let her do all the unorthodox investigating she wanted if she would just make it through this alive. When she awoke, she'd make some joke about having known that getting shot would make him forgive her, and he would smile.

He'd gone home for half an hour. Half an hour, to shower and change his clothes. His suit jacket had been so wrinkled it was starting to leave imprints on his face when he fell asleep with his head on his arm. He was also pretty sure he was starting to smell rather distasteful. He guessed from the way Don had pulled away from their quick hug at the door to Stella's room, his nose slightly scrunched.

The shower had taken up most of his allotted half hour, so he had spent more time than he wanted to hovering in the hospital cafeteria, trying to find something edible.

Now he stopped short outside Stella's room, paper bag in hand, having just become aware of the voice coming from inside. It was Adam's voice, and he was crying.

Mac wondered if he should go in, try and comfort the kid, but to be honest, he wasn't sure he could dredge any comfort up from the dark place he was existing in right now, and besides, he had never been especially comfortable with tears. That was one of the things he and Stella had in common. Neither of them were good at sharing their hurt with others. Neither of them relished being open with their emotions, being vulnerable. He could count on one hand the amount of times he had seen Stella cry, and even then it had been a few tears, leaking out without permission, to be quickly swiped away. He had never seen her cry like Adam was now, until her eyes were red and her nose was stuffed up and she was gulping tears down.

Though, he was giving her less credit than she deserved. She didn't like to be sad in front of people, or disappointed, or hurt, or vulnerable. But it was just Mac who had trouble with other emotions, Stella expressed herself in every other way, vibrantly, and often. He had seen her so happy she clapped her hands and jumped up and down like a little girl, or laughed until she had to make a run for the toilet. He had seen her punch the air in triumph, throw her arms around someone who brought her good news and fly out of the lab in a whirlwind of excitement. He had seen her cheeks glow from a compliment, her eyes sparkle with mischief and her hair crackle with determination. Stella forced feelings not only into him but out of him as well, and now, with the sound of Adam's voice, choked with tears, floating into the hallway, and the thought that he might never see any of those happy, triumphant, excited, bashful, mischievous or determined Stellas again, his eyes were suddenly stinging with unshed tears.

"You must think I'm such a geek," Adam said thickly, Mac finally able to pick words between the tears and his own thoughts. He didn't want to eavesdrop, not at all, but neither did he want anyone apart from an unconscious Stella to see the tears in his eyes.

"I guess I am a geek, but I can never say anything intelligent when I'm around you. I get nervous I guess. I'm kind of scared of you, well no, not scared scared, I mean just like intimidated a little bit. You're so incredibly smart and gorgeous and talented and you're so warm and kind to everyone, even stupid idiots like me who can't say anything that makes you laugh or feel good because they're trying so hard to impress you that they screw everything up the second it comes out their mouth."

He gave a large, rather disgusting sniff.

"I like you, and I admire you, so much, and I wish you liked me, I wish I knew you properly like the other CSI's do, 'cause I think I'd be so lucky to be able to say, 'Hey, you know what, I'm friends with Stella Bonasera.' I'd be so proud to be friends with you. I don't mean to do stuff like try and brush eyelashes off your cheek when I could have just told you it was there. I don't know why I do stuff like that. I don't think properly, or something, I don't know. I hope you don't think I'm really stupid. You must think I'm stupid now, crying like a baby and saying all this stuff. I talk too much, people tell me that all the time."

He sniffed again.

"You need to wake up, so you can tell me to stop talking. That's the only way it's gonna work, you know that, right?"

There was a sigh, a sad, wet sounding sigh. Mac could hear little rushes of air, like silent laughter, but he knew the younger man was trying to hold in fierce sobs, escaping from wherever they could.

His voice was worn and shaking when he spoke again.

"I kinda love you a little bit, Stella, I mean – "

There was the sound of the chair being pushed back, and footsteps. Mac started violently, drawn out of his emotional torpor with the fright he would be caught eavesdropping. He jerked in two different directions, caught wildly off guard and no idea how to disguise what he'd been doing, but luckily Adam did not exit the room. There was the sound of a nose being blown, and the footsteps crossed the room, back to the chair beside the bed.

" – not in like an awkward way, I don't want you to like wake up and be all freaked out because I made this big confession cause you were on your deathbed and everything and now you've just come out of a coma and the first thing you have to do is let me down gently, no, 'cause I'm not in love with you or anything intense like that. Not that I think you're not worthy of someone's love, you are, you deserve more love than anybody I've ever met."

His voice cracked again, and Mac, hearing muffled sobs issuing from the open door, imagined Adam lowering his head to the edge of Stella's bed, much like the position that had given Mac himself a stiff neck.

"This shouldn't have happened to you, Stella, you know?" he continued through his weeping, not bothering to compose himself.

"I mean, no one really deserves this, really, death is something that should come to people when it's their time, even people who do terrible things. But you've already had so much bad stuff happen, and you've fought and come through all of it, and you shouldn't have to do that any more. And if you die, you'll leave behind so many people who love you so much that it will rip a hole in them."

Mac leaned against the wall and shut his eyes, knowing this would allow his tears to escape. It didn't seem to matter as much as it always had.

"Death can't be too bad, I think. I mean, you're not going to know much about it, and if you've been in pain for a while, or if you've lived a good long life, then I think it's gotta be pretty peaceful to die. Death only hurts the people who have to go on living with that hole inside them. I don't want you to think I'm being selfish here, because if you really find it too hard to keep living, then I wouldn't want to drag you back. But you're going to leave a hole, Stella. It's going to be the biggest hole any of us have ever had to live with, even Mac. I know you were thinking not him, but you haven't seen what he's like, Stella. He already has to live with the hole Mrs Taylor ripped out of him, and if you die now, he might not be able to live with another one. Maybe none of us will."

Mac felt like he was in a too-tight straightjacket, unable to get that dearly needed deep breath.

"So I'm just saying, if you can live with the little bullet sized holes in you, you'll save a lot of people trying to survive with giant Stella-sized holes in them. You're smart, Stella, don't pretend you don't know which is going to be easier."

"I know I don't need to tell you to keep fighting, 'cause I know you've been fighting hard all this time. I know that's the type of person you are, you're not going to just give up. Just think of this as a friendly reminder. Everybody misses you so much, and when you wake up, it's just going to make their day."

Mac pushed himself upright, away from the wall, steeling himself. He took the couple of steps to the right that stood him in Stella's doorway. Adam was in one of the chairs in the room – the nurses had added another when they realised Stella's visitors weren't going to peter out – pulled right up so it was touching the bed. His elbows were resting beside her arm and he held one of her limp hands in both of his. His head was pressed onto his own hands, but Mac was sure Stella could feel the tears anyway.

Adam shook his head, as if to an unsaid protest from Stella.

"Please come back," he whispered.

His eyes and nose stinging again, Mac stepped forward. Adam jerked his head around, hearing him. He looked guilty, like he'd been caught doing something forbidden, the evidence of his grief plain on his face. He swiped his arm under his nose, sniffing for good measure, and palmed away the tears on his cheeks, fairly fruitlessly, as more simply followed their tracks. He still had Stella's hand clasped in his free one.

Mac looked him in the eyes, wondering if his tears were as obvious simply because he never cried in front of anybody. He came closer, until his knees were nearly touching Stella's bed. Adam was looking up at him almost apprehensively. He sniffed again involuntarily.

"I know," Mac said. He meant, he knew what it was like to be afraid of what would happen. He knew what it was like to want so much to be able to stop something from happening, to turn back time, to do something and yet be completely helpless. He knew what it was to see someone so important slipping away and be able to do nothing but wonder how you could ever survive it. He knew what it was to have so much emotion inside that you just couldn't get it out, even if their perceptions of being unable to get it out were quite different.

And Adam nodded, as if he understood exactly what Mac knew.

Mac sank to the floor, taking Stella's hand in Adam's hand in his. Adam, his other arm crooked on the bed beside Stella's, laid his head on his arm, tears running down under closed lids. Mac put his other hand on Stella's belly; his head on his hand, letting tears fall because he knew it didn't matter.

"Please don't leave," he whispered.

"Too late, bitch," Kolovos screamed at Angell, who, not knowing the depths of his words, fired again, screaming herself in rage, the image of Stella's too-still body burned onto her retinas.

Mac, Sid, Hawkes and Flack were there when it happened. Lindsay got there too late. Danny was getting some desperately needed sleep, Angell was on her way, and Adam was at the lab, waiting on some results for a test that didn't matter, for a case that didn't hurt anyone remotely connected with them.

Mac had been in her room, asleep, when he was awoken by the incessant beeping of machines. In his nightmare, it had been cars honking furiously at him as he stood, stuck, in the middle of the freeway. He had woken up just as he was about to be hit by a speeding truck, to something so much worse. Doctors and nurses propelled him out so fast he hardly knew what to say when Flack came back from his coffee run. In the end he didn't need to say anything. One look at his shell-shocked face, his position outside Stella's room, the bustle inside, and Don's heart plummeted. This could not be happening. This absolutely could not happen. Still, the responsibility in him refused to be oppressed, and he called everyone he knew would want to be there, left messages for the three he couldn't get hold of.

Despite the time of night, Sid and Hawkes were there within ten minutes. Angell was there in twenty-two, and Stella was dead in sixteen. They were told it was a surprisingly long time for someone to hold on after going into cardiac arrest. At the time that information almost made it worse. Stella hadn't wanted to die. She had held on as long and hard as she possibly could. She wasn't strong enough this time.

They had all known, though none had allowed themselves to accept, when the doctor came out after all the other doctors and nurses, his eyes seeking them out resignedly. He said the words that they had all said more than once, many more times than once. This man even added an adjective before the 'sorry', to spice it up a little; 'I'm terribly sorry…'

Hawkes walked away without a word, unable to stand it. Sid sat down – there was nowhere to sit so he slid down the wall, his eyes creasing with unbearable sadness. Don demanded more of the doctor, how this had happened, if he was sure, why he couldn't try harder, why he hadn't gotten to her sooner, in time to save her. Mac stood, watching Hawkes disappear down the hall, feeling Sid shake next to his leg, his ears echoing with Don's anger. At first he was frozen. He couldn't take in what the doctor had said. Stella, his partner, his best friend, couldn't be dead. She couldn't, he couldn't believe it, and suddenly he had to see for himself and he walked past Flack and the doctor, and they didn't realise where he was going until he was nearly there, and the doctor called him back but it was impossible, he kept going, he kept walking, into Stella's room, stopped.


She didn't look like Stella, lying there. She didn't look like she was sleeping, like it said in the storybooks. Her face was blank, empty of any expression, even peace. Her skin was waxen and drained of colour. Her lips looked slightly blue already. Even her hair seemed lifeless, as though Stella's energy had given it it's curl and colour and now that she was dead it would seep away until all she was left with was white wisps. Mac was relieved her eyes were closed. He thought if he'd had to see those green eyes staring at nothing, without her fire behind them, he might have broken beyond repair.

He approached her like he was in a dream, like any minute now he would fall into an endless hole in the floor and wake with that uncomfortable jolt. He walked to her with his hand outstretched, to touch, but when he got within reach of her face he stopped, recoiled away from the Stella that wasn't Stella, the body that had once been his friend.

Don's voice came from behind him – "Stell," – soft and broken, he could hear the tears in the other man's eyes and he wanted to run, get as far away as possible from this place where Stella was dead, find that black hole and fall into it so he could wake up. He started to back away. Don's arm wrapped around his shoulders, his other hand clutched his forearm, and he pushed them both closer to the bed where Stella's body lay.

"It's not fair," he said.

Mac shook his head, because he hadn't the strength to do anything but agree, and because it wasn't fair. He wanted to see her again. He wanted to buy her the cannollis he'd recommended and never delivered. He wanted to talk to her, hear her laugh, get her mad. He still had to get mad at her for investigating behind his back. He had to ask her that thing about that case that he'd thought she might have some ideas about. He wanted to hug her, feel her arms around him. He wanted to share a look with her, and know that she knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to see her, talk to her. There were things to say, and it wasn't fair that they would never be said. He wanted them to be friends forever, and when forever ended, he had wanted to be the one to leave first.

He didn't know whether Don or himself fell to their knees first, but his strength was gone by the time they got down there, and he cried, the sobs tearing themselves free. Don leaned forward to kiss Stella's forehead and collapsed back next to Mac, holding each other uncomfortably, gracelessly, desperately. Sid entered with the doctor, Sid standing on Mac's free side by Stella's head, touching her hair gently, almost reverently. His other hand dropped softly onto Mac's shoulder. The grief ran through the three men like an electric current.

"You really shouldn't be in here unless you're family," the doctor said hesitantly.

None of them moved.

"Jess, what's the matter?"

"Don, I can't do it, I can't – "

"What, what?"

"Call Mac, please, Don, I – "

"All right, I will, hey, don't worry about it. What do you need?"

"You need to come to the hospital. All of you."

After that first time with Don and Mac and Sid, which was broken up by Angell's arrival, they all came in one at a time. There was probably some amount of time between Mac and Don and Sid and Angell finally being hustled out by the doctor, and the first of them coming in on their own, but time had little meaning anymore.

Sid came in first, that was one thing real and true and for certain. It was hard to find real, but Sid was, because he had been lucky or unlucky enough to be elected first. Maybe they had chosen him, maybe he had volunteered. It wasn't certain whether coming in first was a hardship or a privilege, but he was first to say goodbye, and that was certain.

He touched her face and cried and said he was sorry. His hand, cool and soft, lingered a long time on her cheek, just stroking gently back and forth across the skin. Sometimes his fingers would leave her face, and come back wet. He said things, things that didn't make sense, or did, or would have once but now the sense was just out of reach. He spoke of guilt, and deep, deep sorrow. Sorrow for her, and for all the others she had known, including himself. The guilt and the sorrow filled the room, and his voice and hands and him, as though they were more real than her.

The next thing real was Adam, who came in after Sid. He sat on her bed and tucked his legs up, and then he lay down, half his body across the end of the bed and half tucked in next to her legs, resting his head on her knee, which was all real too.

He said he would miss her. He shook as he spoke, his body and his voice both shook, and he said he was really going to miss seeing her and talking to her. He said they'd had a little bit of fun, at least he hoped she'd had fun because he had, and he was really sad they wouldn't get to have more fun. He was sad he didn't get to know her better. He was sad that she died, and he didn't want her to think less of him for saying this, but he wished someone else had died instead of her. He sat up and got off the bed, that was certain, and he said she still looked pretty, and kissed her on the cheek. He said he was really going to miss her.

Hawkes came in next, and said he was sorry he hadn't come in before. He said he'd needed some time to compose himself, which he realised now was one of the stupidest thoughts he'd ever had. It didn't matter, he said, whether he was composed or not, or at least it shouldn't matter. They should all be able to share in this, help each other though it. Now was not the time to close himself off, Hawkes said. He spoke of guilt, like Sid, only his guilt was more personal. He felt he should have been there, been treating her from the beginning, because maybe the other doctors didn't realise how special she was and how her death was going to hurt so many people. He would have taken extra care to save her, he said. And he wished now that he had saved her, hadn't decided to leave it to the hospital doctors. They didn't know how important she was to so many people, he said. He wished she had known. He wished he had saved her.

When Angell came in, she took a long time to say anything, and then didn't stay much longer. It could have been because she didn't know what to say, but that wasn't certain. She was sorry, which was certain, because she knew she really could have done something when she was there, changed the way things happened. It had happened, and whether she could have done something to stop it or if there was nothing more she could have done, Stella still died, and she really was so, so sorry. She didn't speak to Stella, but more to herself. She wished she could change things now, make it all right. She whispered that it should have been her, knowing it could easily have been her lying there, but not wanting to admit it.

Danny didn't say much either. He just sat by her bed, probably in a chair but that wasn't certain, held her hand and cried a lot. Her hand got wet. He said some strange things about himself and Lindsay, how he was afraid for them.. He said he wanted her back, he needed her, they all did. He said he never let her know how much he valued her, how he'd always been wrapped up in himself. He begged her to come back. She couldn't.

There was probably some time between Danny and Don, who was the next person to come in. There were probably different amounts of time between each person, but time wasn't certain.

Don hovered around her bed, saying things to himself, before he finally came and sat on the bed beside Stella. He said sometimes he wasn't sure if being a cop was worth it. He hoped no one would ever hear him say that, especially not Mac, because he would never understand the feelings of despair some people got when bad things happened. He wouldn't understand that the standard response from a cop to a death – 'we'll get the bastard' – didn't mean anything when someone you cared about was gone forever. Mac was the type, he said, to power on no matter what happened, always seeking justice, always doing the right thing, making the right choice. He didn't know exactly how untrue that was. If he had told Stella when she was alive, she could have explained it to him. He never saw Mac shut himself down when Claire died, never knew the strength it took him to not just give up. He had to fight to regain his belief in the system and faith in the world.

Don said he believed in his badge, he really did, but sometimes the sacrifices they had to make were so great and so personal, and some of them had to make too many in their careers. Then he stroked his hand across her forehead, kissed her lightly on the lips and said he wished it didn't have to be this way. He wondered if she ever knew what she meant to him.

Lindsay, when she arrived, seemed afraid to come too close, but she sobbed from the end of the bed and said that she had planned to make Stella the baby's godmother. She said she was afraid for Danny, that she wasn't sure he could handle losing another friend. She said she wasn't sure what to do to help him. She said she was sorry, for never telling Stella how much she appreciated having a friendly face to come to work to, when Mac was intimidating, Hawkes was just so much smarter than her, and Danny was aggravating and made her nervous. She hoped Stella knew how important that arm of friendship had been to her when she first arrived in the lab. She said she would never be able to fill the hearts of everybody the way Stella did, and she didn't think anyone could. She said, through further tears, that things would never be the same without her.

Mac came in after all the others, probably by design, and probably after insisting everybody else go home. He said he'd never imagined having to say goodbye to her for the last time. For some reason, although he'd feared for her many times, he'd never pictured her death as an actual eventuality. Maybe it was because he couldn't imagine living without her, he said. She took up so much of his life in so many ways, she almost took it over. It was half hers now anyway, he said, so he didn't know how he was going to survive having half of his life ripped away. He asked her if she knew she saved him after Claire's death. She was the reason he didn't wilt and die. Now he didn't know who was going to save him any more. He didn't know if he wanted to be saved. He asked her how he was going to go on. She couldn't tell him.

He didn't say much more, and his voice was hoarse and unlike his own. He sat beside her for a long time, a long time without touching her or speaking or moving. He could have been crying. She wasn't certain. He sat closer to her than any of them had, but without actually touching her, and she could feel him searching for her, reaching out and trying so hard to find her she was afraid he would.

He touched her after a long, long time. Just before standing up, he put both hands on either side of her face, her cold face. His fingers went behind her ears and into her dead curls. The heels of his palms touched her lips, that if she had been alive, she could have touched her tongue playfully to his hands and made him leap away. She would have, too. He held her face in his hands for what could have been a long time. His hands were cold. Almost as cold as her. His lips hovered near her, but not near enough to touch.

A long time later, he let her go. He left.