A/N: Thought I'd do the notes and credits here instead of at the end. Hope you enjoy this long final installment of the story and how House and Alex's journey concludes. Don't forget to leave me a review and tell me what you thought! I have just updated my blog too, so take a wander over there when you're done (address is on my profile page).
Thanks to everyone who's been reviewing along the way. To use a uniquely Aussie saying, "I loves yas all!"
In this chapter I reference Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations, Dawn, 1886. I sourced the English translation from: www mag4 net / Rimbaud/poesies/Dawn. html (put in the dots and remove the spaces as required if you want to go read more of those beautiful words).
"Good morning Dr House."
The senior RN in the ICU was one of the few nurses in the hospital that House didn't hate on principle. Which had come in kind of handy over the past few days. House had also found that carrying a baby around with him was conducive to more friendly relationships with other medical staff and, for once, he was glad of it. It didn't hurt to keep them on edge around him, but it also wasn't a bad thing that they weren't actively trying to sabotage him. Considering Alex's life lay in the balance.
"Want me to take the baby?" the nurse asked.
House liked her, but that didn't mean he'd bothered to learn or remember her name. "Nah, I'll keep her with me while she's asleep," he said.
The nurse walked with him over to Alex's bedside and House put Tilly's car seat down next to a chair before walking to the end of the bed and picking up the chart.
"No change overnight," the nurse said, all business-like. "Her wound is healing well and her bloods and sats are good, but there's still no sign of consciousness."
House checked the chart, a little uselessly given that the nurse's update was completely accurate. Nothing to do but wait and watch. Watch the monitors. Watch the various tubes of fluid going in and out of Alex's body. Watch the hole in her chest and make sure it healed; wait for the lung that had been punctured, the ribs that had been shattered, the blood vessels that had been blown open, all to repair themselves. And the brain, Alex's brain that had been starved of oxygen for so long – maybe too long . . .
Santino had been aiming for House's heart, which was strange really, House thought. He would have figured a professional like Santino would have gone for the head. Then again, maybe he had been and Javier's bullet had been the first to leave its chamber and enter its victim, causing Santino's aim to drop. He'd never know. All House knew was that a bullet that would have entered the centre of his chest and most likely killed him instead entered the right side of Alex's chest through her shoulder blade. The bullet exited just above her right breast, piercing her lung and shattering her ribs along the way, before scraping through House's arm on its way to its final destination somewhere in the sofa cushions.
His arm was still bandaged and throbbed dully; it probably needed attending to. Thankfully the bruise on his jaw had begun to fade which meant the comments had stopped. People had been assuming that the thugs had punched him, and House hadn't corrected that assumption. It seemed unmanly to admit that it had been caused by Alex's head had connecting with his face when she'd thrown herself over him and their daughter as a human shield.
He replaced the chart and sat heavily in the chair next to the bed. He might take a nap, he thought. Especially given Tilly was still sleeping. The ICU was noisy and busy, but over the past few days he'd found it a restful kind of bustle, one that was comforting and conducive to drifting into a doze.
"Is Dr Wilson bringing your coffee today?" the nurse asked.
House shook his head. Wilson had made a point of telling House that he'd be tied up that morning with patients – his schedule was backed up to the point of insanity after he'd spent the first two days of Alex's coma with House in the ICU.
The nurse disappeared and House closed his eyes, drifting to sleep. He woke up just a few minutes later when she returned with a cardboard coffee cup and a small tray of first aid equipment. She handed House the cup and then rolled a stool over to where he sat, pushing up the sleeve of his t-shirt to his shoulder, clucking her tongue as she attended to the festering bandage.
House sat and sipped his coffee, letting her tend to him without saying a word, just wincing at the sting when she daubed antiseptic on his wound.
After a few scolding words about how he should know better, the nurse re-wrapped his arm in fresh gauze. "I'm off, but I'll be back on shift in the early morning," she said, as she walked off. "I'll call you if anything changes when I get back in. Have a good day."
A good day? Another day sitting and wondering when the time would come to make the call. Turn the machines off? Or not? How long was too long, to wait? He'd had to "kill" Alex once before, when he'd forced her to see that her assumed identity was false. Would he be forced to do it for real?
As he closed his eyes to try to sleep, other questions invaded his mind. What was Alex thinking? Was she thinking? What would she want? Would she want him to end it for her? Was that the definition of loving someone? More practically, was it really good for Tilly to be carted around a hospital like this, exposing her to who knew what? House knew he'd eventually relax enough to let his child out of his sight, but that time hadn't come quite yet. Still, Javier's visit had helped on that score, he realized.
And then he slept.
It was dark.
And then it was a different kind of dark.
It took a moment before Alex realized what the difference was. The difference was noise.
She summoned up every ounce of her strength and managed to open her eyes for a moment, blinking. It was still dark, but it wasn't the total blackness – blankness – that she'd been living in up to then. There were things, shapes, objects.
"Hello," a voice said.
Alex blinked in surprise, the only movement her body seemed capable of.
"There's someone who'll be very happy to see you. Two someones, actually."
Alex tried to reply, but nothing happened. Her body wouldn't obey her brain.
"It's very early, but I think I'll call him," the voice said, almost to herself.
The shapes and objects around her began to coalesce and Alex was able to make sense of them. The pastel blue shape to her right was a person, and it was that person who was speaking.
"Can you hear me?" the person asked. "Can you blink, twice for yes and once for no?"
Alex blinked twice, wondering why the person wanted her to communicate with her eyelids. Surely she should just talk. She tried to do that, but again, nothing happened.
"That's excellent," the voice said, sounding very pleased.
The blue person disappeared and Alex suddenly felt very tired. She tried hard to remember what had happened to her, but her thoughts were scattered and fleeting, hard to hold on to. It was Christmas day, presents and food. Sex under the Christmas tree, she thought with a smile, although she couldn't tell if her mouth was moving. And then visitors. And . . . a throne room?
She must have slept for a while, but when she woke up again it wasn't the peaceful, swimming out of darkness like it had been before. This time it was violent and painful and frightening. She was drowning. She tried desperately to take in air, but something was stopping her, something was in her throat, closing off her airway. She felt consumed by panic, which was only increased by the discovery that she couldn't move.
"Hey, shh, you're okay." The voice from earlier was back. Alex opened her eyes and the blue person was there, leaning over her. A nurse. "I know it doesn't feel like it, but this is a good thing. Just relax. There's a machine breathing for you. Relax and let it. You'll be fine."
Alex struggled to let go, to let herself surrender to the mechanical assistance, but it was incredibly difficult to suppress her impulse to breathe. Her entire body was consumed by the need.
After what felt like hours, the nurse spoke again. "Okay, we need to get that out. Let me call someone. I'll be right back."
Hurry, Alex urged in her head.
Again, it felt like hours, but then the nurse returned, with other people, and there was a flood of words around her, conversation, argument, that she couldn't make sense of. Then she was told to blow out hard and Alex wondered how to do that, given she couldn't breathe, and then, suddenly she could. She took a deep breath in and then out, but it caught it in her throat. She coughed and lights of pain exploded behind her eyes.
"Breathe again, Alex, in and out," the nurse said. Alex could feel her squeeze her hand in encouragement.
Alex did as she was told and breathed, in and out, and the pain built, excruciating in its rawness. She tried to cry out, but all that happened was a funny moan that sounded vaguely inhuman.
"That's good. We'll give you something for the pain now."
Alex blinked twice and felt tears roll down her temples and run over the tips of her ears. A plastic mask settled down over her face and Alex half wished she'd never woken up. But then things loosened, her chest felt freer, and the darkness came back. Alex dived into it without hesitation.
"But she was conscious, responsive," the nurse insisted.
"It's been more than forty-eight hours since then and there's been no further sign of improvement."
"You think she's in a vegetative state?"
House figured that it was because he was a doctor that Alex's attending and the RN felt they could discuss Alex's condition in such brutal terms in front of him instead of the polite, condescending layman's terms they'd no doubt usually use in front of a patient's family members. He honestly wasn't sure which he preferred. If they were being gentle and obscuring the facts he'd no doubt be annoyed, and his reputation probably assured them of that. But interestingly, he was finding the blunt conversation distressing to listen to.
"Pointless debate," House interrupted brusquely. "Knowing that makes no difference to her care at this point, so shut up."
"But House," the other doctor protested, "we need to think about the future. Physical therapy, permanently inserting a feeding tube, long-term care."
"I'm not making any of those decisions now, so it doesn't matter," he said firmly, reining in a sudden urge to send the upstart to the floor with a sharp right hook.
The expression on the other man's face told House that he'd suddenly remembered that House was not just another doctor called in for a consult, but the patient's partner. "I'm sorry," he began, "it's just . . ."
It's just that no one in this hospital is remotely used to treating me like a human being. House's limited patience snapped. "Get out."
The nurse and doctor retreated and House sat by Alex's bedside in silence for a while as the ICU did its usual bustle around him. He'd finally thought everything was going to be fine. The nurse he liked had called him at four am the day before yesterday to say that Alex had regained consciousness, but by the time he'd come in, she'd slipped away again. There had been no improvement since then, except for the fact that she continued to breathe on her own. The nurse insisted that Alex had been responsive – blinking answers, but House privately had doubts. He knew what it looked like when medical personnel became personally invested in a patient and the ICU RN definitely had done so with Alex. Perhaps because she'd cared for Tilly a few times, helped to settle her when House hadn't wanted to leave Alex's side, or perhaps because for some strange reason she didn't hate House. Who knew? The point was that the nurse was easily susceptible to seeing improvement, to seeing a response, when there wasn't anything actually there.
The other doctor was probably right. It was time for House to make decisions about Alex's long term future. It just seemed so unfair. She'd worked so hard to rebuild her life . . . Scratch that. He'd worked so hard to rebuild their lives! Their family! Why he should be surprised that life hadn't turned out to be fair, House wasn't sure – he'd never expected it to be so before now. But now his life was different in every possible way, so he figured it must be a side effect of all that change . . . A sudden, unexplained – and ultimately futile – optimism.
House was stirred from his thoughts as a woman approached him, one fingernail gripped between her front teeth in an ultimate display of uncertainty. Her blonde hair was cut in a short, mannish style, and she wore navy pants, a white button-down shirt and sensible shoes, with a leather satchel hitched crossways over her shoulder. Lesbian. She clearly did not dress to interest the eyes of males.
"Are you Greg House?" she asked, her voice soft but raspy.
"Who are you?" he asked without answering. House didn't have to check her fingers for nicotine stains – the gravelly voice and the lines around her mouth revealed a faithful dedication to keeping Philip Morris in business.
She gasped when she stepped close enough to the bed to see Alex. Her hand covered her mouth in surprise. House was used to it now; he'd forgotten that the sight of Alex's bandaged and monitor-studded body could be a shock.
"I had no idea . . . I heard on the news and I thought it couldn't be, not again . . . Oh my God."
The woman looked in imminent danger of fainting, but House couldn't be bothered getting up. If she passed out, there were plenty of medical personnel around who would help.
"Who are you?" House repeated.
His question seemed to penetrate her shock and she took a deep breath and turned away from Alex to look at him. "I'm sorry, my name's Kate. Kate Foster. We spoke a couple of times on the phone."
The mysterious Kate! So this was the woman who had lunch with Alex once a week – the only friend she had in Princeton. Having judged the woman's sexuality, House couldn't help wondering if there was another motive to Kate's care and concern.
"So you're Kate," he said, once again letting his eyes run over her, head to toe.
The woman sneered at his look and looked about to do something threatening before she remembered her surroundings and seemed to pull herself in check. "Yes, I'm Kate," she said. But then she couldn't seemed to hold herself in any longer. "And your girlfriend is in that hospital bed so it's rude to check out other women," she bit out. "Besides, as I'm sure you've probably surmised, I don't play for your team."
House instantly decided he liked Kate. "I play for lots of teams," he couldn't help rejoining.
"Not mine, you don't." She gave him a reluctant smile that let him know that he'd passed her test. Her smile faded quickly, however. "How's she doing?" Kate turned back to the bed.
House glanced quickly at Alex. "She's been unconscious for days. We don't really know if she's ever going to recover." It helped to say that quickly, so the meaning didn't sink in.
"What? Why? I thought she was shot?"
"She was shot in the chest. She stopped breathing and her heart stopped. It might have been for too long – we don't know how damaged her brain is."
"Oh." Kate looked as shattered by that news as House knew he should feel. Except, somehow, he didn't.
"What took you so long?" House asked. "She's been in here nearly a week."
"I was away for the holidays – visiting friends. I didn't hear about it until I got back this morning and was reading the newspapers from while I was away."
House shrugged one shoulder in a way that didn't quite let her off the hook.
The noise of a baby's wakeful cry sounded out.
"They have babies in here too?" Kate asked, looking around.
"Just one," House said, leaning down to look to under Alex's bed – the safest place for Tilly's car seat, he'd found. He reached in and scooped out Tilly, putting her to his shoulder and rubbing her back. She instantly quieted.
"Is that . . . ?" Kate said, her eyes wide.
"This is Matilda. Tilly. Tilly, this is Kate," House said, turning the baby around to face the woman. Tilly blinked slowly as she stared at her.
"O-o-ooh, she's beautiful," Kate said. "Can I hold her?"
"No," House said bluntly. The only other people that had touched Tilly since Christmas Day were Wilson and the nurse and even then, only when absolutely necessary.
"Okay." Kate shrugged as if it were no big deal, and House decided he really did quite like her. She twisted around to pull the satchel to her front and rummaged around in it for a while before pulling out a battered paperback. "I brought in one of Alex's books from her office," she said, handing it to House.
"What is it?" House took it with the hand that wasn't holding Tilly.
"Rimbaud," she said with a smile. "It looked pretty battered, so I figured it was probably a favorite. I thought she might like to read it . . ." She trailed off, realizing it was patently obvious Alex wouldn't be reading anything in her current condition.
House gave a crooked smile as he looked at the book. Illuminations. He'd heard Alex mention it several times, so he thought Kate was probably right about it being a favorite. But the futility of it struck him sharply. "Thanks. As soon as she's up and about I'll put it on her required reading list."
Kate didn't flinch. "Maybe you could read it to her?"
Kate stood there a moment longer and then she closed up her satchel and took a step back. "Okay, well, I'm going. It was . . . nice to finally meet you and to meet Tilly. I . . . I might come back. If that's okay."
House shrugged again. Kate obviously took that as assent because she nodded. "Good. Well, take care." She turned around and left.
House put the book down on the unit next to Alex's bed and turned his attention to Tilly who'd began to squirm against him. He knew that meant she'd soon be wailing to be fed.
He got up and headed to his office where a temporary "Tilly feeding station" had been set up in the kitchenette in the conference room. He walked more slowly than usual, his leg aching, a sense of heaviness settling over him. For some reason Kate's visit had driven home the futility of his bedside vigil. Perhaps the ICU doctor had been right – it was time to move on, to think about the future. He had Tilly to think of. And it wasn't like he wasn't used to being a single parent.
His team barely looked up when he entered, prepared a bottle of formula and then went and sat in the Eames chair in his office to feed his daughter.
He was so tired he felt broken.
That evening House finally agreed to let Tilly out of his sight. Wilson had appeared in the ICU and convinced House that it was time for Tilly to sleep at home, in her own crib. He promised to stay there with her, for as long as House needed, and watch over her. Wilson said he thought it was important that House broke his obsessive attachment to the baby. According to Wilson, House needed to trust the world again and move forward.
House was too tired to mount a sensible argument against Wilson's usual psychobabble, in the end deciding it was easier to surrender. So House was on his own in the ICU. The RN he liked had gone off shift a few hours earlier. Things were surprisingly quiet – there were only two other patients in the ward and both of those were also comatose so they made no noise apart from the mechanical and electronic sounds of the equipment keeping them alive.
The book Kate had brought in still sat on the cabinet next to Alex's bed. With a heavy sigh, House picked it up and turned it over in his hands. He remembered Christmas Eve night, how he and Alex had lain in bed as he'd read to Tilly – before their world had imploded, again. House opened the book to the index page, a list of dozens of poems. One called "Bottom" caught his eye and he sniggered, even as he realized it was about Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream character. He had no idea which one to choose, so instead he let the book fall open randomly, and it parted comfortably about one-third of the way through. It was in English, House realized. Just as well. He knew enough conversational French to trade insults, order coffee and a pastry, and ask for sex in half a dozen inventive ways, but that was about the extent of his knowledge. If only Rimbaud had been Chinese . . .
"Iembraced the summer dawn. Nothing yet stirred on the face of the palaces. The water is dead. The shadows still camped in the woodland road," House began to read, the words sitting heavy inside him. The futility of the effort didn't escape him, but he had to do something. He'd decided while sitting and feeding Tilly that he needed to move on. Tonight would be the last night he'd spend by Alex's bedside. He wouldn't give up hope – not completely – and he'd spend the rest of his days striving to find a way to "cure" her, to bring her back, but Wilson was right. Life had to go on. If nothing else Tilly would make sure of that – she'd keep growing and soon, she'd need him for more than just feeding and cleaning. She'd need him to teach her, to guide her, to show her how the world worked. House didn't want to have to do that by himself, but he had little choice.
"I walked, waking quick warm breaths, and gems looked on, and wings rose without a sound. The first venture was, in a path already filled with fresh, pale gleams, a flower who told me her name."
Nice. House found himself becoming lost in the story, in the words and language. He didn't have Alex's appreciation for literature, his bookshelves were filled with non-fiction tomes, but something about the cadence of the words, the rhythm of the phrasing, brought to mind music and in that way House found it was almost like playing the piano.
"I laughed at the blonde wasserfall that tousled through the pines: on the silver summit I recognized the goddess. Then, one by one, I lifted up her veils. In the lane, waving my arms. Across the plain, where I notified the cock." The spell was broken and House sniggered again. How did Alex read this shit with a straight face? Notify the cock, indeed.
He was so absorbed by his reading and his inner mockery of it that he didn't notice Alex's hand move until it was at her forehead, her fingertips running over the monitor tabs stuck to her skin. The noise from the heart rate monitor connected to her sped up fractionally, enough to be noticeable. He watched as her hand lowered, brushing over her nose and chin down to her chest, where it again felt for the monitors stuck to her. Her fingers lingered over the one closest to House, and he noticed belatedly that the skin was red and inflamed there. Perhaps she was allergic to the tape. He watched her scratch at it and decided yes, she was reacting to it. He made a mental note to speak to the nurses about changing her over to the non-reactive . . .
And finally House realized what it all meant. He looked up at Alex's face and velvet-brown eyes looked back at him.
"Greg." Her voice was fragile, barely a whisper, but unmistakable. Not only was she speaking, she'd said his name.
House was on his feet in a moment, book tumbling to the floor, cane forgotten, everything forgotten. He leaned over her, brushing the hair back from her forehead, leaving his hand resting on her head. "Alex?"
"Yes," she said, her voice cracking.
"You're an idiot," he spat, voice full of venom, all his fear and grief and devastation from the past five days escaping in three words. "Why did you do it?"
"You saved me," Alex said, ignoring his words. She even managed a small smile.
"No, you saved me, but you've nearly killed me these past few days."
"Tilly?" Alex asked.
"Is fine. With her Uncle Wilson. Probably throwing up all over him as we speak."
"Good." Alex breathed out and her eyes closed again.
A moment of silence descended and suddenly House was filled with the panic that he'd hallucinated it, that Alex hadn't just opened her eyes and spoken to him. "Alex?" he said urgently. He took his hand from her forehand and shook her shoulder – the un-bandaged one.
Alex's eyes flickered open again. "Yes, Greg?" she answered patiently.
"Stay awake," he urged.
"Okay, for a while," she said, her voice still croaky. She breathed raggedly. "My chest hurts."
"So it should," he said, keeping his comments curt and short to prevent himself from collapsing into the relief that consumed him.
"And I'm tired."
"You're tired? I'm the one who's been awake for practically five days. And looking after a baby with a cold."
"I had to come a long way to get back to you."
House stilled at that. He took her hand, unable to name the emotions that swamped him when she curled her fingers around his. "I'm glad you did," he choked out eventually.
Six months later
Maria only came on Fridays now, to do the housework. She would also cook a meal, just because that was what she wanted to do. Alex was happy to let her – Maria's meal took the place of the take out they would usually have had on Friday night anyway. More often than not, James Wilson joined them for food, beer and a cuddle with Tilly – he liked the baby much more now that she had outgrown her habit of frequent regurgitation.
Kelly had stayed working full-time until Alex was physically well enough to take care of Tilly alone. Kelly hadn't been interested in a part-time job, so now they had Hayley, who was perfectly competent for the two days a week she worked, but who was deathly afraid of House, and always found a reason to leave if he was ever home at the same time she was.
For the two days that Hayley took care of Tilly, Alex worked on her hitherto abandoned PhD thesis. She was almost three-quarters finished and her supervisor had been very encouraging. Alex wasn't sure exactly why her enthusiasm for her thesis had been renewed so enthusiastically, but she didn't want to question it, just wanted to take advantage of it.
On those two days Alex also made the trek to Mayfield for appointments with Dr Beasley. She occasionally wondered if they were necessary, but then something would come up in one of their sessions, or something stressful would happen at home, and Alex knew it would be a while yet before she could consider herself fully recovered. Especially given her partner was prone to saying and doing exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time and occasionally Alex wondered whether anyone completely sane could ever stand to live with the man.
"I'm slacking off," House announced, appearing in the doorway to the room that had become a shared office for them both.
Alex looked around in surprise, her head had been buried in analysis of Rimbaud's Illuminations – the text she credited with bringing her back from that swarming darkness – and she hadn't even heard the front door open and close. "What time is it?"
"It's only two o'clock. But I had no patient and it's sunny outside, Mom," he said, whining like a petulant child.
"Isn't there something else you should be doing? Like clinic duty? Or paperwork?" Alex said, putting on a fake stern face. "James was telling me you are six months' behind in your charting and—"
"You're as bad as Cuddy," House said, scowling.
"Hayley is here. You'd better make yourself scarce."
A mischievous look lit up his face. "Maybe I could sneak up on her and swear loudly in her ear. Or maybe I could put on a porn movie and abuse myself on the sofa just as she walks in the room. Or take you into the kitchen and bend you over the counter and make you scream until she comes in to find out—"
"Stop it," Alex said laughing.
"Have you been to see weasely Beasley yet today?"
"Yes, I went this morning."
"So you can slack off this afternoon too." He gave her a broad cheesy grin.
"Greg, I have only two more months to get the first draft of my thesis done."
"Two months!" he scoffed. "That's forever. Don't you and Tilly want to go to the park? Or we could drive down to the beach? Or . . . we can sit on the sofa and watch TV . . . that'd be good."
Alex frowned for a moment, but she knew it was pointless. She'd never be able to concentrate if he was home – odds were if she refused to do something with him, the Wii would be on and blasting through the house in minutes anyway. With an indulgent sigh she turned back to her computer, saved the document and then shut it down.
House chuckled with glee and she heard him disappear down the corridor. By the time she reached the living room he was sitting on the sofa, feet up on the table, a beer in his hand. Hayley was standing in the kitchen, a frozen expression of panic on her face. Alex wondered what on earth he could have said in the few moments it would have taken him to walk to the refrigerator and back.
"Hayley, why don't you take off for today?" Alex suggested kindly, reaching out to take Tilly from her arms. "We'll be fine here, Greg has the rest of the day off."
"If you're sure," Hayley said her words uncertain, but every other thing about her showing her complete relief, particularly the fact that she had already grabbed her purse and started to head for the door.
"I'm sure. Go have fun. Enjoy the weather – it's a gorgeous summer day," Alex said, following her outside.
"Thanks, Mrs House."
Alex had corrected Hayley a number of times, asked her to call her Alex, but House's presence rattled the girl so much she forgot.
Shaking her head, Alex walked out into the yard to collect the mail, giving Hayley a wave as she drove off.
Tilly squinted in the bright sunlight and Alex brought a hand up to shade her face. "It's a pretty day, isn't it ma chou chou?" Alex said. "Almost as pretty as you." She pressed a kiss to the baby's cheek and Tilly giggled, putting her chubby hands out to grab Alex's ears.
Back inside, Alex sat down on the sofa next to House. Tilly squirmed around, reaching out for her father.
"Take Tilly," Alex said. "She's in a giggly mood today. Just like you."
House put his beer down and took the little girl, tickling her stomach until she giggled again.
Alex went through the mail she'd brought in, as smile on her face as she listened to her daughter's laughter and House's silly noises as he played with her. She sorted through various bills, junk mail and a couple of House's journal subscriptions.
A hand-written envelope made her frown and she turned it over curiously. No return address.
She put the other mail down on the table and split the heavy cream envelope open with a finger, reaching in to pull out a single page of notepaper. The handwriting was instantly familiar to her and Alex felt a sharp stab of anxiety pierce through her formerly happy mood.
Something about her breathing or her posture gave her away, because House looked up from playing with the baby and frowned. "What is it?"
"A letter from my father," Alex breathed.
"Oh, crap." House shuffled closer. "What does it say?"
Alex began to read aloud, translating the Argentinean Spanish into English for House's benefit.
"My darling Alexa, I know you will never understand why I had to put you and your family in danger. It was essential for me to uncover the bad apple in my team and now that I have done so I promise you I will never do anything like that again."
"He'd better fucking not," House muttered.
"As you know, for many years I have been providing you with money each month. From now on I will no longer do that – I feel it would be better for your peace of mind if I do not have any kind of regular contact with you. Instead, I have arranged for a single deposit of one million US dollars to be put into your account. You can do with this what you like, but I hope that you chose to put some of it into trust for my granddaughter." Alex paused in her reading and swallowed hard, overcome by emotion.
"Or have a really shit-hot party," House said, trying to put some levity into the situation.
Alex didn't smile. "You know how to contact me, and you are welcome to do so at any time, but I will not try to contact you. Please understand that I do this only to protect you and your family. I remain, your loving Papa. M."
"What does that mean?" House asked, shuffling Tilly around as she pulled the collar of his shirt in her fists.
"It means we're safe," Alex said.
"Why? Why now?"
Alex shrugged. "I don't know. We just are." She couldn't explain it, but she somehow knew this was her father's guarantee that everything would be okay now.
House gave her an assessing look and then spoke, hesitantly. "Do you remember Javier?"
"From Christmas Day?" Alex asked, frowning. "The one who killed Santino?"
"Yeah. He's gone back to college."
"After following us, listening in to my calls, he decided he liked medicine and he's given up the gangster life to be a nurse."
"Are you serious?"
"Yep. He called to let me know he got in. Little shit wants me to get him a job when he's done."
Alex shook her head at the irony. Then she laughed.
"It's not that funny."
For some reason that made Alex laugh harder.
"It's really not that funny," House protested.
Tilly caught the giggles from her mother and began to chuckle her baby laugh too.
House looked between Alex and the baby sitting in his lap. "What is this? I'm surrounded by insane females. Keep this up and it's back to Mayfield with you both."
"Oh, mon Dieu, I love you," Alex said, pressing a kiss to his cheek through her laughter.
"Un Dieu n'existe pas," House corrected.
Alex shook her head. He still looked like her angel. Her fallen angel who said that God did not exist, who'd killed her to set her free and then saved her all over again. "Maybe not, but angels do," Alex said.
House screwed up his face. "Nutter. I knew it. Should have left you there."
Alex reined in her laughter and took his hand in hers. "Come on, let's make the most of your afternoon of freedom. What do you want to do?"
House raised his eyebrows suggestively and Alex smiled. "Oh, really?"
"Yes, really." He looked down at the smiling baby. "Let's tire this one out first so she sleeps for the rest of the day."
And they did.