General Zero had watched her dig out bullets and stitch up the six men still breathing in the infirmary tent. Then they had given her two portions of jerky, dragged her to a grated hole beyond the tents, and dropped her into it. She landed on her feet mostly, then crashed against the dirt wall when she lost her balance. But the jerky didn't hit the ground.
"Natalie?" Jack pulled her upright with a hug. "Did they hurt you?"
"I'm fine. Did they hurt you?" He shook his head before letting her go. "This is supper, I guess." She handed him a jerky portion.
They sat down with their backs against the wall so they could watch if the grate would open. "S'mores was too much to hope for." Jack started chewing. "They kept you a long time to not hurt you."
"They had men who I had to treat." She chewed off some of her jerky.
Jack vibrated, but pulled his voice down to a whisper. "They kidnapped us and hurt Dad and you're fixing them!"
"I'm a doctor and I can't choose sides when someone needs help. You should ask your father just how much trouble it has gotten him into. Besides if I hadn't, they would have hurt us."
He accepted her arm wrapped around his shoulders. "Dad doesn't talk about work."
Natalie winced. "He doesn't?"
"I know he gets called in when other doctors don't know what to do and we're all in danger of catching it. Mom said once that everybody dying was more important than his living family. Does Dad like his job? Is that why he doesn't want to talk about it?"
Did Stephen honestly think his son would never notice? "It's kinds of like school for you; there's parts you like and parts you don't." And your father is a brooder who feels every loss, no, that was something for Stephen to share. If he still could.
No, she wasn't thinking about that gunshot.
Jack scuffled his shoe in the dirt. "Sometimes when he calls, it sounds like he's making himself sound happy."
Natalie squeezed him. "It's hard, doing what we do, fighting time and microscopic infectious organisms to make people better, and watching as our best efforts don't always work. But none of that is more important than you are to your father. He doesn't want to scare you or make you sad about our work."
"It's less scary when you know."
"Yes, it is." Natalie hadn't been much older than Jack when she lost her mother. She'd bet Frank a steak dinner with a bottle of wine that Stephen had never told Jack about Therese either. Did Lisa even know? That was a story to share only if Stephen couldn't. "Would you like me to tell you about one of our cases?"
Jack leaned against her, pulling his hands into the sleeves of his windbreaker. "Sure."
She thought over the cases their team had faced. Jack didn't need a story that had his father in serious danger and Stephen didn't need a story that added to the myth he was a modern Asclepius. "We got called into a hospital in Montana. A family of campers had been brought in, three of them presenting with a red rash that was swelling into bumps and a fever, except the youngest, a little girl named Brooke. She was the one who got help when her parents got sick." She continued on with the case, and all the wrong theories they had from a toxic mold infection to the bioterrorism fear.
"My dad tackled a meth dealer." He covered his mouth so his giggles wouldn't carry.
"Agent Maloney was very impressed."
"Dad played football in college." The boy snuggled closer. "He's looking for us, right?"
"As hard as he looks for infectious organisms." Natalie looked up at the sky and hoped she hadn't lied to him.