Three more patients had died from complications but the rest would survive, so the team from N.I.H. plus one returned to Bethesda. They split up as usual at the end of the case, only differently. Azkadellia was going home with Miles and Natalie accompanied Connor and Jack back to N.I.H. so Connor could drop off the reports. Connor was glad she kept Jack away from the most surreal meeting he had ever had in his entire career to date.
He met them in the parking garage next to his El Camino and Natalie's compact car. Natalie caught sight of his expression and winced sympathetically. "Typical Kate meeting?"
"Yes, yes it was. I know it was supposed to be, but still, turning in a report like that." He shook his head. "Don't ever let me tell Azkadellia, I mean Dellia to cast a spell on her."
She smiled. "I'll restrain you from your worse impulses."
"Glad to know that hasn't changed." He stepped closer to her.
Jack huffed somewhere nearby. "Go on and kiss her, Dad. I know you're dating."
How did he find out briefly crossed Connor's mind before he pulled Natalie close and kissed her. "I have something to do with Jack. Meet us at my place about 8?"
"I'll bring pizza." She kissed him again quickly. "Jack, you have a favorite pizza?"
The mood in the El Camino was north of uncomfortable and east of awkward. Why was it the mere fact that Jack was his son made it so hard to talk to him? It was so easy to promise he wouldn't be his father all over again, and make different mistakes that added up to the same thing. "Natalie and I… it's recent."
"It's cool, Dad. I like Natalie. Not as much as you like her." Jack's smirk was almost looking into a mirror.
"She means a lot to me, you both do. I know I'm not the best at showing that, but I want to get better." He gripped the steering wheel tighter. "My job is not more important than you."
Jack stared out the window. "I know that. I know people are counting on you to keep them from dying."
Connor snorted lightly. "That's the reason that justifies the paycheck. It's not why I became a doctor." He parked the car in front of the florist's shop on the route. "Wait here."
Jack's curious expression didn't abate when he passed him four long-stem red roses to hold. "Shouldn't these be in water? So the flowers are okay before we see Natalie again?"
"They're not for Natalie." He found a parking space near the entrance to the cemetery. Jack silently followed him down the path he had memorized. Natalie had been that quiet too, when he brought her after the plague outbreak in Baltimore. He stopped before the too-familiar gravestone and set one of the roses in his hand on top of the granite.
Therese Anne Connor
1964 - 1982
Connor took a deep breath before he looked down into Jack's puzzled brown eyes. "This is your Aunt Therese, my big sister. She died when I wasn't much older than you." He dug out his wallet and passed the tattered photograph to his son, so Jack could see the vibrant blue-eyed blonde girl that he would never know. "The doctors couldn't save her. And nothing was the same after she was gone."
"She was why you became a doctor." Jack put that together so quickly, Connor would never be able to tell Natalie she was wrong ever again. He laid one of his roses beside the one Connor had left.
"I wanted to keep people from feeling that pain." Connor tugged Jack to his side for a one-armed hug. "I don't want you to feel that way, Jack. You don't have to be a doctor to make me happy or proud. I'm proud of you for just being born, for being you, no matter what, okay?"
Jack's arm tightened around Connor's waist. "It's okay, Dad. I'm not ready to decide on a career yet."
Connor swallowed hard. "I don't want you to have my regrets. Because I can't save everyone. I try, but nature doesn't care." He tugged Jack to the next gravestone. "And it's not your responsibility to fix me. And it's not your fault if I hide too much of how I'm feeling." At least the photograph of the toddler was on this headstone and he wouldn't have to go fumbling with his wallet again. "I don't have any better ways of getting through the day. But I'm trying."
"I know you are, Dad." Jack didn't move his arm from around Connor's waist.
Connor felt his lips purse to hold in everything else, but he parted them anyway, gesturing to the name on the headstone with the rose. "And this is your sister, Maggie."