Author's Note: Yes, yes, it's another prompt. It's also a reminder of why we should all love Frank.
Prompt table: Unthemed number one
Prompt: Prowl (Which was a bit of a stretch, but I managed!)
Natalie Durant was as private a person as Stephen Connor forced people to believe he was. Frank had learned more about the latter in a year than he had about the former in seven. Somebody could try to tell him that, of course, he knew more about Connor, the man had been his friend before he had been his colleague, which could hardly be said about Natalie. But she was warm and compassionate, everything an open book should be.
He had always been a little disconcerted by that warmth and compassion that radiated from her secured borders. The soft smile was always there when needed, the calming hand, the timid stuttering of words when dealing with patients, but he knew better than to believe she wasn't as strong-willed as the man who ran the show. Frank had heard her argue fiercely, rationally, with bullet-proof points and a face set so strongly in sternness that he refused to see her as a pincushion. The woman was the complete package, Kim had teased once, poking him in the ribs with her elbow; intelligent, creative, beautiful, and nurturing. No one that perfect existed, he'd told his wife, which meant that Natalie Durant was hiding something.
They talked occasionally and teased each other when it seemed appropriate. You couldn't be in this business without forming a relationship with the people working alongside you. She knew about his little girl's, met his wife, learned how he'd broken his brother's nose with a plastic bat when he was three; he knew that she'd transferred from St. Anthony's, that she liked her beer in a bottle, and that she could produce test results faster than the cockiest pathologist on this side of the solar system.
He wasn't sure if she trusted him; the first time he'd heard about her art loving ex-husband it was from a curious Eva, asking him for more information. All he'd received from Connor was a raised eyebrow and a tempered shrug, the 'Don't ask me' sort the meant their boss was as much in the dark as the toxicologist was. Telling Eva must have been a fluke, he had decided a week after the press liaison had ask him to elaborate further, because the young woman hadn't returned with any new information and Natalie hadn't given any inclination to the entire judge panel that she had told her in the first place.
They'd all heard of her confessions to patients, the way she opened up to them more than she did with her own friends, but none of them were willing to hound the poor people for answers while they lie sick in beds. Once, he'd made the mistake to joke with Stephen that maybe one of them should get sick, two weeks later he had been duct taped to a hospital bed in Greenland; still no life shattering confessions from her past.
Perhaps it was a game to her, the prize watching her coworkers grow antsy. Perhaps she really did enjoy the company of the equipment in her lab to that of people... it's not as if she'd ever tell them which was truer. He liked to think that he'd eventually stop caring that she didn't open up to any of them other than Stephen. Even Miles was neglected, although they often teased her of being motherly toward the young doctor. He also liked to think that his hometown Chicago Cubs would win the world series. Both thoughts were always laced with doubt.
"I should probably say yes to that," she was gazing upward at the titles above the shadowy doors when he walked over to her side. It wasn't often that two members of the team wandered through such a large hospital and accidentally found each other. Though, Frank was certain he'd intentionally sought her out; you didn't see the boss get so worried about her and not start to worry yourself.
"It'd make a lot of sense," Frank agreed.
She shot him a quirky smile before turning her attention back to the search, "No. I'm not lost, just exploring the wing. Connor told me to take a break and I've just had a cup of coffee, so..."
"Sleep is out of the question."
"You betcha. How's the search for the cause coming along?"
"Better than you think," he fell into step beside her, "found out it was asbestos lined in the pipework. The school is having it removed and has canceled classes until the problem is fixed."
"Which is fortunate for the kid's who aren't already presenting symptoms. Is Connor having the rest of the student body tested? We're all aware how the symptoms can take years to manifest."
He ignored her statement expertly and frowned in her direction, "What are you looking for, Nat?" It wasn't exactly tactful, but Natalie wasn't Conner, you couldn't beat around the bush with her and hope for an answer less twisted than the question.
"Room 310," she answered without much thought.
Silence settled for a minute before ending with his next statement, "Anything important about it?"
"You're phone's ringing," she responded without looking; Frank wanted to tell Stephen that compared to Natalie's his avoidance tactics were far less effective.
He'd leave her to herself without putting up an argument.
The toxicologist served as a special sort of messenger, and he was fully aware of this. Often times Stephen wasn't around when Natalie chose to disappear into her past. He'd seen it in New York, with the case of the 911 survivors. Connor had been with patients when she decided to wander away, and so she told Frank where she was going, instead. It didn't mean he could follow, he had understood that. But he had also known, when Stephen asked where she was at, that their boss was meant to retrieve her.
That was the case now.
He didn't see it as a coy game of hide and seek between the superior doctors but as a response to the realistic possibility that they were never always at the right place at the right time. Frank wasn't sought out to deliver the messages, but often sought them out himself. It was something he could do for a friend, regardless of if he would never be told why. He didn't understand why she allowed the alarmingly distant Stephen Connor to know the secrets of her past, but he had a theory that perhaps they shared a common factor between them that no one else did. He'd never really asked. Neither would have answered anyway.
So, when he caught Stephen looking for Natalie in the lab after the case, frowning at the equipment as if they had made her disappear, Frank gave his friend a pat on the back, "She's in room 310. Has been, for an hour now."
"She say why?" Stephen asked, his voice juggling between annoyance and concern, not sure what this moment called for, waiting for Frank to give him the answer.
"Never to me. You'd better go get her before I tell the chopper to take off without her." He'd never do that, not without direct orders from Connor to do so. You didn't leave a member of your team behind just because they needed a moment to themselves. Stephen seemed to understand the implication in Frank's words and let his face settle into concern as he nodded.
Connor disappeared through the door. Raising his eyebrows, Frank turned and followed, taking the opposite direction as his boss at the fork in the hall. He whistled a soft tune, lively in nature, as he headed for the stairs that would take him to the roof, helicopter, and rest of the team. Both of his jobs were done, now all they had to do was wait for Stephen to finish his.