A/N: Well, kids, this is it—the end of the line. This story, and therefore the trilogy, is officially finished. All of you have been simply awesome! Your reviews have made me laugh, given me inspiration and encouragement, and made me realize that you care as much about this story, and these characters, as I do. Some of you have been faithfully reading and reviewing since the first chapter of 'The Devil, You Say,' and to you, a special thanks for your loyalty. I've made some great friends through this experience. I started 'Devil' in hopes that I could educate at least one other person in the difference between dependence and addiction, and discovered that I'd educated many—goal accomplished. 'Demons' was written to see if I could credibly alter House's character to make it possible for him to trust—goal accomplished. And 'Details' was created to show the reality and potential devastation of psychosomatic illness; I hope I've done that. My heartfelt thanks to all, for making this journey with me. mjf 27 November 2006
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: Return
"House! Breakfast!" It's their first day back at work, and Wilson knows that House is nervous. He knows, as well, that House will never admit it, even to himself. While the problems with his left leg have diminished greatly, they haven't disappeared—Dick's told them that that could take several months. They're all hopeful that House's return to work will aid in his recovery—but that can't be guaranteed. And Wilson can see the uncertainty hidden in House's eyes. So Wilson's gone out of his way to make certain that this morning runs smoothly. And that, of course, includes macadamia nut pancakes.
When House enters the kitchen, Wilson has to smile. They've succeeded; House looks like he's just spent a couple of rough weeks with the 'flu—but that's all. He's still down about twelve pounds, not an unreasonable amount after a really nasty bout of influenza. But House's favored style of dress, all those undoctorly layers of clothing, camouflage not only the residual weight loss but also the ports of the PICC line. They've decided that another two weeks of nightly TPN will help keep House's energy level up, keep his weight moving in the right direction.
House pours himself a cup of coffee, and sniffs the air appreciatively. "Are those little slices of heaven that I smell?"
"Certainly are," Wilson says, putting the plate down in front of him. "I'm reviving an old family tradition; mom always made our favorite breakfast on the first day of school."
House digs into the pancakes while Wilson goes to answer the front door. He ushers Cuddy into the kitchen.
Cuddy looks at House and shakes her head. "Couldn't you have picked something a little… nicer… for the first day of school? All the other kids will have on their best starched lab coats, and you… you look like a bum!" she says, in her best critical-mother voice.
House doesn't look up from his breakfast. "The two of you are just determined to run this whole school analogy thing into the ground, aren't you? So, in the spirit of the game, lemme just inform the principal that I've got a doctor's note, excusing me from clinic duty for another two weeks. That's on top of what you promised me before, you know," he adds helpfully.
Cuddy looks at Wilson in surprise. "He's already snowed Dick? That didn't take long." Wilson shakes his head and shrugs; this is the first he's heard of it.
House pulls a piece of paper from his pocket, and hands it to Cuddy.
"House, this is your signature!"
"Aren't I a doctor? 'Cuz if I'm not, then you and Daddy have a nice day at work; bring me a present when you come home." He smirks at Cuddy while she glowers at the note.
"Fine. So you've got, what, a month of no clinic duty now? But I'm adding these two weeks onto the end of what you already owe me. Which takes us well into the twenty-second century."
"Works for me," House mumbles around his last mouthful of pancakes. He turns to Wilson. "Let's get outta here before she realizes that that means she's stuck with me for eternity."
"No quick escapes from me today, House. We're all going in my car. Wilson finally got the time to put his in the shop a few days ago, remember? And—unless you want to scribble yourself another official doctor's note—you're restricted from the bike until the PICC line comes out. So you're stuck with me."
"Fine, but in that case, I'm instituting another first-day-of-school tradition. The only people who get to lay a finger on the music controls in that car are the people with canes."
Wilson and Cuddy exchange the traditional, weary, House-based eye roll, and then triumphant, indulgent smiles—they'd let House get away with just about anything this morning—and follow him out the door.
There's no conversation on the drive to Princeton Plainsboro—House has made that impossible, with both his choice in music and in volume. Wilson and Cuddy understand; they voice no complaint.
Cuddy and Wilson have already decided that they're gonna walk House to his office. They all ride up in the elevator together, and House steps out without a backward glance. When he figures out that they're following him, and turns around to glare, Wilson has his retort prepared. "Now son, please allow Mommy and Daddy to see you off to your first day of preschool; we've earned the pleasure."
Cuddy jumps right into the game. "And sweetie, remember what you and Mommy talked about. Try not to insult the other kids. Don't steal their food at lunch. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your cane to yourself. Remember to use your inside voice. And don't pull those nice red fire alarms, okay?" Then she adds, in an undertone, "And call us if you need us."
Wilson's whisper is so quiet that it's inaudible to Cuddy. House almost has to read his lips to get it—but he does. "Whatever it takes. Always…." For just a moment, the two brothers lock eyes, and in that brief instant, strength, and gratitude, and trust, are exchanged—fully and reciprocally.
They've reached the office door. The team is seated at the table, their backs to them. They have a new case, but somehow the conversation has veered into House's anticipated return. House, Wilson, and Cuddy stand quietly, listening as Cameron says, "If House would just learn to trust someone besides himself, we could've helped him out; we could've made all this a lot easier on him, and on Wilson too. Would it really have killed him to trust someone?"
Foreman, grinning, nods with exaggerated emphasis while Chase, with a smirk, intones, "Uh-huh!"
"Good morning, people! What've we got?" House booms, as he stalks confidently into the room. Then he turns and winks at Cuddy and Wilson—just before he shuts the door unceremoniously in their faces.