Dad Was . . .
Summary: Wilson and House off to the funeral. Spoilers for Birthmarks.
Rating: General. Angst. No slash. Mild language.
Disclaimer: I manipulate the sexy House to me hearts content. No money, just fun.
"Maybe I could tell them about the summer he decided not to speak to me. Two months. Not one word. If he had something to tell me, he'd type it out and slip it under the door."
"Your mother wants to believe, for one moment, that she had a happy family. Go. Do it as a gift to her. Lie."
"Give me my cane, and I'll go to the damn funeral."
Wilson climbed back behind the wheel and put the car in Drive. "You'll get it when we arrive."
House pulled his legs in the car, and slammed the door. "Why are you doing this anyway? Cuddy paying you or is this out of the goodness of your heart? For old times sake?"
"I'm delivering you to your mom, that's all."
"Ah. Doing this for my mother whom you've met a grand total of three times in fifteen years."
"Yes. She deserves more than for her son to not give enough of a damn about her to attend his own fathers funeral and avoid breaking her heart."
"She doesn't want to be embarrassed in front of friends and family. It has nothing to do with me not breaking her heart."
"You're amazing." Wilson shook his head, a note of fermented bitterness on his tongue.
"Right." House toed the carpet with his shoe. "Go to the funeral, stand up there and lie. A convincing lie so she feels good for a while. Or at least can forget the marks and the pad-lock on the basement door. Everyone will have permission to pretend to feel good about what a great guy he was."
"What locks? And why do you find it so hard to believe that not everyone is an ass?"
"Why do you find it so easy?"
"Okay. Maybe your dad wasn't a very nice man. You're fifty years old. There is such a thing as forgiveness. You forgive, you move on."
"Right. I seem to remember you skipping that first part."
Wilson ground his teeth together, willing the highway to shorten and the un-traveled miles ahead to disappear. "No one could put up with what I put up with."
"I thought you "put up" with me because you cared. Sorry. My mistake."
Wilson drove for the remaining hour in silence. House stared out the passenger window trying to think up some well-rounded bull shit.
Blythe House approached her son, who had arrived at the last minute with James Wilson in tow. She took James' hand and they exchanged funeral parlor hand-shakes, where one held the others hand in both their own, held it longer than usual, and then they switched. Regular hands-shakes when there was a dearly departed lying somewhere near-by was simply crass.
"Thank you for coming." Blythe, red-eyed and teary, smiled the flat lipped, no teeth showing smile that was also required by funerals. The smile that said: Let's both pretend you cared about him too.
House hugged his mother, his eyes everywhere but on her. Mostly on the casket sitting to one side in the next room adjacent to rows of chairs where everyone would hear whatever lies he had knit together on the way. House imagined polite nods, some people waving the programs in their faces to ward of the stifling hot air, others nodding off, tears and hankies and his mother sitting there in the front row looking up at him, waiting for the words she knew would be false. Waiting with a polite, sweet motherly expression of proud but appropriately somber expectation.
She was longing for the lies he would have to somehow make attractive, weaving them into a nicely painted scrapbook of the past and the wonderful father and husband he had been. Things the audience would easily swallow even if they didn't believe them. Things he knew he normally wouldn't be able to choke down on his best day. He had been assigned the job of crafting lies so pretty to look at, they could almost pass for truth. Were the folks in attendance actually being honest with themselves, House knew they would agree.
But that's what people did at weddings and funerals. Most people married who they liked no matter what you thought of them. Most people believed the dead were beyond reproach no matter what sort of son-of-a-bitch he had been. People allowed the lie because, well, he was dead and it wasn't their problem anyway.
Wilson stepped away while mother and son chatted for a minute. Wilson heard her ask House about his work and the trip. House replied with truthful though meaningless phrases designed to tell her something but nothing too.
House left his mother and wandered through the crowd of nameless relatives and faceless military buddies of his dead fathers corp. House found the food table and a punch bowl. Punch wasn't crass?
His stomach was heaving so food was a no-go. But he sipped a short plastic cup of punch. Fruity. Non-alcohol. He set it down.
Wilson wandered over and House, suddenly feeling his presence, flinched. "You don't have to stay, you know. She won't care. She'll be too busy hating me."
Wilson sucked in a breath. "What you mean is, you're going to break her heart."
"I don't know yet." He really had no idea what he was going to say. He had not prepared a speech of any kind. He still had visions of slipping out somewhere between, "Beloved family and friends of the departed" and "Giving the eulogy today will be . . ."
"Your dad is dead, House." Wilson said. "Words can't hurt him. But they can still hurt the living."
House turned to him and stared for a few very disconcerting seconds, then dropped his eyes and looked back down on the table with the quartered, drying tuna and egg salad sandwiches and tiny, sweet pickles. "Words hurt. Yeah."
Words. People. Can't have one without the other.
The time for the eulogy arrived and House limped up to the podium. In a weird out-of-body way, he also saw himself standing off to one side watching himself limp up.
For real House grabbed both sides of the podium. In his mind he stood straight and tall, unconsciously standing up proper for his father who was laying in the coffin and yet it felt like the old man would at any time sit up and scold him anyway for being a slouch.
House clutched at the podium, willing the old man to stay put so he could get through this without feeling like even worse crap than he already did.
Everyone was staring at him. How long had he been standing there? "My . . ." He paused. "My, um, dad . . ." He stopped, glancing toward his mother who looked with such encouragement and love, and tears wringing from her eyes like a sopping dish-rag. She stared and smiled a little to give him her mothers loving strength.
He started to shake. A tiny tremor in his lower legs that was rapidly traveling upward. It was weird. Like a mini earthquake all for him. House looked out over the audience. No one else was moving.
But he had strength. His hands gripped tightly to either side of the wooden podium until his knuckles turned white. He was certain the wood was about to crack. All kinds of strength there.
"My dad . . .we . . .he . . .um . . ." House felt the muscles across his chest shrink and tighten. His stomach threatened to spill out of his mouth. He could feel the old scars across his back pull at the strips of un-marked flesh in between. He felt cold all over. Ice cold bit at the level of his neck and was creeping higher.
Now he was having trouble getting a full breath. The freezing water was passed his lips then his nose and he was about to die. He would drown and all he would leave behind were lies about a man he hated and whom he knew had hated him.
"Do it as a gift to her. Lie."
Only he couldn't make his mouth actually speak.
Any other time, yes. He was adept at the art of lying when necessity called for it. Little lies to save anothers' feelings (he admitted to himself, yes, he occasionally indulged in that failing), medium lies to keep someone from making a stupid decision about their health, like refusing treatment that could save them.
Big lies . . .
Not too many of those in his past. He had always been frustrated by but also held onto a bit of pride when it came to spinning the big lies of life. He had not been one to collect those. Not to Stacy. Not to Wilson unless he knew Wilson was already manipulating him (Wilson called it "Lying to you for your own good"), but never to his mother. Not once. He had kept things from her but not spoken lies to her.
But now he had her complete and utter approval to do just that and found it impossible. But he had to try. "Dad, . . my father, . . I . . .he just . . he was . . .Dad was ..."
Dad was not.
Dad was no more.
House closed his mouth again because nothing would came forth and prove he was not an ungrateful son who had been nothing but a shame to his harsh, brutal, distant father. Even now, dad was scowling at him and the pathetic murmurs he was trying to pass off as a eulogy. From the coffin not twenty feet away House could hear John Houses' thorough disapproval.
While the pain twitched in his leg and pounded in his head, the corpse of his father spoke: "Maybe I should come back when YOU have things more under control?"
House tried and this next effort to articulate anything ended with himself gasping for air, tears rolling down his cheeks and his eyes fixed on the grain of the wood beneath his hands. His nails dug into the flesh of the wood like claws into something dead. What ever words he had managed to conjured up from his mind, poked just an inch from behind his chattering teeth and died.
House knew it didn't matter anyway. The lies were nothing he wanted to say and nothing his father would believe. Neither the words nor he and his father had any relation to each other anymore or any memories that were real or right. Whatever useless sounds escaped his lips now fell hard to the floor between himself and every staring eye. It was like trying to give a lecture to rows and rows of fake people, baked in clay and posed just for the occasion. So still. So polite. All waiting for him to tell them tender, loving lies they wouldn't believe or even remember to care about five minutes after the service was over.
If he spoke them, House knew he would carry them like a weight on his shoulder the rest of his life. For forty years he had already carried the weight of his secret hate and his fathers' phony love but no more. Not one more hour. He didn't think his twenty-nine dollar cane would hold up.
House suddenly couldn't breath. He was weak from the cold and his legs were the consistency of boiled asparagus.
He had no idea how long he had stood up there trying to speak a word that hadn't ended in spurts of nonsense. For sure his father was disappointed, and as for his mother. . . she seemed to be staring up at him in a rapture.
Hands gently took his elbows and fingers tenderly uncurled his vise-like hold on the injured podium. He was walked to another room and eased down into a chair. He didn't know who walked with him because he couldn't raise his eyes up long enough to see. He just sat and cried with his head in his hands for what he knew must have been hours or days. Until more arms discovered his body, the casing that used to contain him, and guided him to Wilsons' waiting car.
Soon they were speeding along, the world rushing by at speeds too crazy for his stomach. So he kept his eyes shut against it.
Wilson spoke softly to him. "You did good, House. No one would have expected you to finish. It's okay."
House, weak from an hour of uncontrollable tears, found speaking difficult. "I couldn't do it."
Wilsons' voice was gentleness itself. Love and pity and pride. "It's okay. Everyone was moved. Your mom was so proud, well, after she stopped crying long enough to tell me how proud she was."
House was very confused by Wilson. Wilson seemed to have been to a different funeral than the one he had been to.
"I guess you must have found a way to forgive him." Wilson sounded like he admired his ex-best-friend and House puzzled over the contradiction.
"Why did you bring me here?" He asked Wilson. Wilson almost never gave straight answers unless it was to criticize.
"Your mom asked me to."
"You were willing to spend time with me so she would feel better? So she wouldn't cry?" Two very long, very tiring sentences. "You wanted her to have some peace and so tolerated me today?" He was empty of power now.
"I did all this for her, yes."
"So not one minute of it was for me?"
At that, Wilson misplaced his voice.
House recalled images of being let out of the basement and in from the cold backyard in early morning. He remembered being pulled from the ice-water after his mom pleaded with her husband. He felt the old scars on the flesh of his lower back and how clearly they spoke the things he had been unable to.
Dad gave in because he loved his wife. Not once had he stopped because he loved his son.
Wilson found his voice again, breaking House from the black memories. "Do you understand now why it was so important for you to be there? To try and be there for your mother? Why she needed you to give the eulogy, even if you were too grieving, too broken up to finish it?"
House found if he sucked in enough of the fresh air from the window crack, he could keep his senses and not sob. He could speak a few more words before leaving it all behind again.
A bit of truth once a day was good for the soul. "I guess she needed the lie."
She got it.