Hi readers. Special sneak preview here. This is chapter one of the fourth story in the Pranks set. This story IS NOT complete yet, although it's moving along. Therefore, completion will be a while, as the second part of it, the medical intense part, has a whole lot of work left. It's like the framework on a building without walls at this point; I know the shape and what it will be, but lots of construction still to come to make it usable. But the first portion is set earlier and less intense medically and angstwise, and I'd already worked over this first chapter to satisfaction. It will NOT be updated soon, nothing like my usual time. But consider this the trailer, like a movie preview. Coming this spring/summer to a computer near you . . .

I'm still debating between two or three different titles, so official title still to come. This one, like all of them, will be a roller coaster. Love is a great thing but doesn't solve all of life's problems.

Disclaimer: They aren't mine. If they were, Lucas would have never entered season 6, Kutner would have never left in season 5, and House and Cuddy would be together, although of course, it wouldn't be all wine and roses.

Fourth in the Pranks universe, following When Pranks Go Wrong, Desperado, and You Raise Me Up.


August 2009

"Good afternoon, Dr. House. Good to see you." Jensen held the door to his inner office open invitingly, and House entered with a short nod of acknowledgment, not conventional politeness but still a definite response to the greeting. Jensen smiled to himself at House's back, taking the brief opportunity to do it unseen. The diagnostician certainly had his own style about things, social conventions included, but Jensen by this point looked forward to these sessions all week, liking House for himself as well as enjoying his true progress in therapy. House didn't take his usual chair with the ottoman, instead picking the one just across from the desk, and Jensen's eyes became a little more intent. He walked over to the coffee pot in the corner, fixing two cups, and then sat down at his desk and offered House's, which the doctor took again without conventional thanks but with a brief flash of gratitude in the eyes, so quick that someone less observant might have missed it but no less sincere for that.

"So, Dr. House," Jensen began. He'd been seeing House in these sessions for over six months now, and Wilson had long since become James to him, but he still addressed House not only by his last name but always with title. They'd never discussed it, but Jensen had sensed from the first session that House appreciated the authority and respect, the sense of status, it gave him during the very tough conversations they had had by this point. House was in general more comfortable with himself as the doctor than as Greg. Getting the title, the formal recognition of his accomplishments, while talking about his horrific past made things a bit easier for him, and Jensen allowed him that. "How are the wedding preparations going?"

House smiled, an expression he had a lot more than formerly. "Not that I have a whole lot to do with them, but they're all set. Cuddy is chasing herself in circles, though, frantic to avoid that dreaded last-minute dropped detail." He never called Dr. Cuddy by her first name during these sessions, either, although Jensen knew he called her Lisa in private now. But his private doors were very thick ones, and even with Jensen, he held the slight distance of name from her. Jensen didn't think it was professional acknowledgment of Cuddy, like his of House, at least not in the sessions. Maybe at the hospital. But Jensen sensed that part of House wanted to treasure her identity as Lisa as his privately. He had had so little intimacy in his life. He clung intensely to it now, guarding it from the world. The fact that others knew of the relationship didn't bother him, but the relationship itself was still a wonder, hidden gold that he was mining on his own.

Jensen returned the smile. "With only a week to go, surely there isn't much she hasn't thought of."

"Try telling her that. I think being caught unprepared for something is one of Cuddy's recurring nightmares."

Too good an opening to miss. "Speaking of which -" House flinched "- how are you sleeping these days?"

House hesitated for a few seconds, and Jensen patiently waited him out, letting the response be his choice. "Overall pretty well. Still using the sleeping pills at half dose. I've only had one nightmare in the last three weeks, and I have headed off a few at the pass, I think. Noticing triggers in the day consciously instead of subconsciously, like you said. Not the most fun way to spend my thoughts, but it is better than the dreams."

"Excellent." Jensen leaned forward slightly. "You have made a lot of progress in only six months. You should be proud of yourself for that. I'm sure she's proud of you."

House had automatically deflected on the middle part of that set of statements, but the last caught his attention. "You know, I think she is," he said, considering it, and there was still an edge of wonder in his tone. "She says it, but I think she means it."

"I know she does. As she should."

House let that thought rattle around behind his eyes for a moment, then changed subjects, as Jensen had expected. Self-esteem was definitely a work in progress. At least he knew that a deflection by House did not mean the statement hadn't gone home, more the opposite. "Back to the wedding," House said, "she's got the ceremony all planned, the cake ordered, dress, photographer, etc., etc. More details than there are bacteria in the hospital. You'd think having me, her, rabbi, and a few witnesses would be enough, but nope, she wants the whole thing." There was a smile in his voice and his eyes, though. He was enjoying giving her the wedding she had wanted, even if 20 years late.

"What about her family?"

"She and her sister aren't speaking. She gave an ultimatum to her parents that they could come without Lyla but not with her." House shook his head slightly. "She insists that she and Lyla had a falling-out long coming."

"But you still feel that it's your fault?"

"Of course not. Nothing's my fault. See, I'm learning from these sessions."

Jensen smiled. "There's a whole lot of territory between nothing and everything. As much as you wish it, the world isn't completely black and white. Not everything comes in absolutes, and that's what you have trouble admitting." He changed back to the former subject himself that time, saving House the trouble. "What about your mother? When is she coming?"

House relaxed a bit but not completely. Less stressful to think of his mother right now than Cuddy's family. His mother was at least a known factor at this point, and their relationship had steadily improved all year. "She's flying in two days before the wedding."

"You haven't seen her since your visit to Lexington after her accident, have you?" Jensen asked.

"No. I've kept in touch with her doctors, though, besides my calls with her. It's been a slow recovery in some ways. She's still having problems with her arm and somewhat with coordination and balance after the head injury. Fine cognitively, fortunately, but there seem to be mild physical residuals from the double bleed. She's still in physical therapy." Jensen saw House's eyes tighten up on the last two words.

"What about you?"

"What about me what?"

"Something about physical therapy bothered you there. What were you thinking of?"

"Mom and her ongoing physical problems." Jensen sat in silent, polite skepticism, and after a minute, House relented. "I wasn't going to tell you about it."

"Whatever you weren't going to tell me, which is tied somehow to physical therapy, that's your choice. But you aren't going to be able to convince me there's nothing. Besides, you already gave yourself away at the beginning."

House looked puzzled briefly, then realization dawned. "The chair. Damn it."

"Right. You're either feeling distance from me and want the desk between us, which doesn't seem to be the case, or you've decided not to allow yourself physical concessions today such as propping your leg up." House didn't answer. "If you'd like to tell me, you can. Or if not, tell me that. But don't lie to either of us and say there isn't something bothering you related to your leg."

House sighed slightly, his eyes fleeing to the guitar hanging on the wall. "Go get it if you want," Jensen offered. House immediately stood and walked across to the wall, taking the guitar down from its holder. Jensen followed his gait with his eyes, confirming his earlier impression when House had walked in. House certainly couldn't have been described as having a normal gait, but it was no worse. His recovery over the last months from the severe ankle sprain and torn ligament had been steady, and right now, he was nearly back to baseline, using the cane but no more. House turned back with the guitar and found Jensen's assessing look on him.

"No, nothing's acutely wrong," he said, an edge of annoyance in his tone.

"I believe you," Jensen replied, calm as ever.

House sat down, his eyes annoyed but his hands soft, sensitive, feeling out the guitar with an almost loving touch. He strummed a few random chords as if shaking hands with the instrument, then started a light jazz tune. Jensen waited patiently. He would respect House's decision either way, but he wouldn't let him avoid making it. He had realized, too, that House's annoyance was much more with himself than with the psychiatrist. On some level associated with his leg, acutely and not just in general, House felt today that he had failed somehow.

Finally, House spoke, his eyes down, the guitar still singing softly. "You know I've been in PT for the ankle for several weeks."

Jensen nodded. "And you are making very good progress. You're almost back to baseline." One chord rang out a bit sharply, then instantly quieted, House soothing the guitar almost like a baby. "That's the problem, isn't it?" Jensen asked. He was leaning back in his chair, not closing the distance between them, still leaving the answer as House's choice.

House's lips tightened. "I've really been working at the PT this time. Did the exercises. Did everything. All that they've told me all along was what I needed to do."

"It hasn't really been long enough to make an assessment about the leg in general, especially considering the acute ankle injury you've been recovering from. PT could still improve your baseline to some extent down the road."

"Not soon enough." House's fingers picked up tempo, the tune becoming slightly agitated.

"I know you'd said you didn't want to be on crutches or still with a brace at the wedding, but you've accomplished that." Jensen was getting a better picture now, tying into the old self-esteem issues, but House needed to be the one to offer details.

The music chased itself through an increasingly complicated set of notes, and Jensen watched House's hands, fascinated. He was a decent casual musician himself, but he wasn't close to this. "You really are good," he said, noting that House didn't deflect that compliment either verbally or with body language. With music and with medicine, he was sure of himself.

House straightened up slightly, decision made, and the music settled down again, a steady but somewhat mournful tune now. "I decided several weeks ago that as long as I was undergoing PT for the ankle, I'd really work on the whole leg before the wedding."

"So that?"

House exhaled softly in defeat. "So that I could carry Cuddy into the hotel room on our wedding night."

Jensen forced himself not to flinch. He remembered his own look at House's leg in the ER that night. House had described his infarction and surgery since. Much of the quadriceps was simply missing. Long-term PT, much longer term than just a couple of months alongside another injury, might indeed help him, but the leg would never have normal function. Cuddy was a petite but full-grown, not to mention pregnant, woman. With her pregnancy combined with House's recent severe ankle injury on top of his general leg status, it would be foolish to try walking while carrying her. The goal had been pretty much doomed from the beginning, especially on this tight time table. Still, Jensen knew that any expression of sympathy or comfort would only annoy House even more than he was annoyed at himself. "You can't do it," Jensen said, stating a fact. A purely medical fact with no overtones of any accompanying failures.

House looked up, searching for pity, finding only understanding. "I know," he said. "I should have known from the beginning. Dropping her and our kid just to prove a point wouldn't prove it. And I'd probably psych myself out anyway; we've established that part of the pain flareups can be psychosomatic at times." His eyes fell again, and the guitar slowly stopped singing, the chords fading away to nothingness. "I already made myself fall a few months ago and wrecked the ankle. I can't trust myself to carry her, even if I thought it was physically up to it. But I don't. The ankle's about 85% now, but that's not 100. I can tell it isn't to full strength yet, and if I really stressed it abruptly with a bad step, I'm not sure that ligament would hold both of us. The thigh hasn't improved off of PT enough to compensate. It's not good enough to risk her and the child." He studied his silent hands on the guitar. "I tried yesterday all through PT to convince myself I could do this. But I knew better."

"Yes," Jensen agreed. "Medically you shouldn't try this right now. But that doesn't ruin her dream wedding."

"That's supposed to be part of the overall wedding picture," House insisted. "Package deal with the dream."

"Dr. House, do you really think Dr. Cuddy will be thinking the next morning as soon as she wakes up about your failure to carry her into the hotel room and how that ruined the night? If so, it's your performance in other areas that should be concerning to you."

House looked up, startled, and then slowly the smile spread. "Maybe not her first thought," he admitted with a soft chuckle. "Okay, maybe not in the first hour."

Jensen shared the amusement, glad that House's perspective had shifted slightly for the moment. Hopefully he would remember that. He was, of course, 50 years old now, but Cuddy's current status against the short length of their intimate relationship proclaimed that whatever physical disabilities House might have were limited to his leg. "How did your father define himself?" Jensen asked abruptly.

House tightened back up, but of course, his father was a normal theme in these talks. "What do you mean specifically?"

"Did his definition of status include as a part of it physical accomplishments?"

"Definitely. That and military status." House smiled in remembrance, relishing the day a few months ago when he had destroyed all of his father's military decorations. Jensen gave him a minute to soak in that. That day had done House a world of good in his therapy, giving him something positive to put against all the negative memories. He had ultimately gotten the last word over John. After a minute, House continued unprompted. "He was a physical fitness fanatic, even beyond the basic Marine routines. He thought any son who wasn't in football or boxing or 'manly' sports was a failure. I went out for lacrosse instead of a more standard sport to spite him."

"When you succeeded in that, and in running, as I think you've said once, did he ever soften his attitude?"

"No. He didn't like to come to games. He never talked about it. Of course, music was far worse. That was openly sissy. That was the one thing Mom stood up to him about in my childhood, but he couldn't stand it." House looked down at his hands, flexing them. "He once broke my right fingers two days before a piano recital, just so he wouldn't have to hear others talk to him about his son being there and doing well when he knew I really ought to be out on the football field or somewhere more manly."

"What did you do to him then?" Jensen asked. House looked up to him, surprised. "There's a positive aspect to remembering that episode, along with the negative. Very odd. That's not your usual reaction to recalling specific incidents of abuse."

"I kicked him in the testicles." A visible ripple of pride ran through his body, and he straightened up. "Absolutely nailed him. That was right after he bent my fingers back, and he never expected me to resist. I hadn't since I was a small kid, but I was getting bigger by that point." House grinned openly. "He couldn't do anything for a few days. I know because he was even more harsh verbally than usual, and he was walking like it hurt. Probably made up some story for the guys on the base. But that's the last time he ever laid a hand on me. Verbal still, but nothing physical, not after that. Of course, he had a front for leaving me alone after that, just said I'd wasted enough of his time."

"Good for you," Jensen said softly. House met his eyes. "You took control and ended it when you physically could. You still kept the secrets because of your mother, though, didn't you?"

House nodded. "He always said he'd kill her." He shuddered. "I still think that part of him might have been capable of that." He shook himself, shaking off the memories. "Why does his attitude toward physical activities matter today?"

"Because he clearly drilled it into you enough that it still surfaces at times." House looked up, startled. "Why of all things would you select one minor physical failing, one very explainable and legitimate physical failing, and worry about the entire success of the wedding in your wife's eyes based on that? Just be aware of where part of that feeling comes from, Dr. House. That isn't entirely your belief. It is at least partially your father's. Don't give him a piece of your wedding night. He has no right to it." House was starting to look angry now, which is what Jensen had been aiming for. Anger at John was much better than helpless annoyance at himself. "Can I assume that your father also belittled your disability after your infarction?"

House nodded. "He never lost a chance to. He'd say I didn't need the handicapped parking spot, point out how real men got disabled, which was in combat, not in medical stupidity. He even told me that I didn't know how fortunate I was."

"So tell me, does he deserve to be part of your wedding night?"

"NO!" His voice was rising now. His eyes were glittering like angry blue diamonds.

Jensen nodded. "So give him a kick in the virtual testicles before then, and start focusing on your bride. She loves you. You love her. Your wedding WILL be perfect to her, because the most important aspect has nothing to do with details or carrying the bride across the threshold. YOU are what she wants. Nobody else, no matter how many good legs they have. If you are there, it will be her ideal wedding."

House was breathing a bit quickly now, and Jensen knew it was time to give him some space. After a minute, House nodded. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Who is keeping Rachel?" Jensen asked, a change of subject that wasn't such a change. Jensen tried to mention Rachel at least once a session, to remind House indirectly if not directly that he was proving to be a very good father. House worried about his abilities there much more than he worried about carrying his bride across the threshold on his leg and ankle.

House immediately relaxed a bit more at the topic of Rachel, the slight smile returning. "Dr. Chase and Cameron in the evening, plus the nanny in the days. My mother wanted to, of course, but given her accident, she's not up to it."

"Did she accept that?"

"Eventually. I think she hoped it would work for a few weeks in there, but realistically, she knows it's not possible. Not with all she's still dealing with physically."

"And how did she take that?"

"She said she'd have to wait for her visits with the next grandchild. Which shouldn't be too long. Cuddy's due in January."

"And if her balance and coordination residuals from the head injury never permit her to independently babysit?"

House abruptly realized the carefully drawn parallel in progress. He nodded slightly, as if crediting an opponent in chess with a good move. "She'll have to accept it and find other areas to compensate. Right, I know. Don't say it."

"Save me the trouble then," Jensen countered.

"Her physical difficulties are not going to define her performance as a grandmother. Just like mine won't define me as a husband. It doesn't matter. I get it. Satisfied?"

"Not quite," Jensen said, catching House by surprise. The psychiatrist would usually obligingly back off of issues that had been set openly on the table and give House some processing space.

"What else do you want?"

"Tell Dr. Cuddy." House immediately tightened up. "Tell her about your plans for your wedding night to carry her into the hotel room, and that you've concluded it wouldn't be wise medically with all current factors considered."

"I thought I was supposed to distract her from noticing that by my sterling performance in other areas."

"No, actually, I think you ought to tell her in advance. You need to see her reaction. I'm sure she wouldn't be worrying about that on the night, but part of you still would. Erase it from the slate beforehand."

"I know what her reaction will be. I could even recite it." House abruptly switched voices, doing a very good impersonation of Cuddy. "But that doesn't make any difference at all, Greg. I love you anyway." He dropped back into his usual tones. "See? Why bother telling her?"

"If you're convinced it wouldn't matter to her, why not tell her?" House looked back down at the silent guitar in his lap. "Do you think she would lie to you?"

"I think she might lie to herself," he said after a minute.

"She isn't marrying an image, Dr. House. She isn't marrying a childhood dream. She's marrying a person, and people have scars. All people have scars," he added as House's hand went unconsciously to his leg. "You don't have to worry about not being her dream. She'd rather have the reality. Listen to her, not to your father, not to your own fears." Time for a subject change, he thought. He'd pushed on that line as far as he productively could with House. "How is the pregnancy going?"

"Fine. She's . . . glowing, actually. She's gorgeous." House sounded slightly self-conscious saying it, but there simply was no other word for Cuddy right now. She was reveling in her pregnancy at this stage, well past the former problem weeks.

"That's wonderful. And how are you feeling about the child?"

The guitar picked up its former light jazz. "Looking forward to it," House said and then finished when Jensen eyed him steadily. "Mostly."

"You do still talk to Dr. Cuddy about your concerns as a father."

"I do, but . . ."

"But what?"

"It's like old conversations with Mom in a way. Where you're operating on two different realities. She listens to me, but it's like she doesn't see anything at all to be worried about."

"Two different realities. Interesting. And which one do you think is the real one?"

House hesitated. "I don't know."

"Very good," Jensen approved. House looked up at him. "You're at least considering the possibility that your perspective is the one in error. You really are making progress, Dr. House. And how has the leg pain been lately?"

"Pretty much baseline. Worse after PT, of course. It flared up last week for a few days with that thunderstorm." He looked up. "It isn't all psychosomatic."

"I know that, Dr. House. And I think your friends even know that at this point. You have a significant insult to the leg. There is undoubtedly real and significant pain associated with that and no doubt always will be."

House looked at his watch. "Any other little gems of truth for me today?"

Jensen allowed the dodge. They had covered some hard ground today. "Just one."

"Which is?"

Jensen smiled openly. "I am very much looking forward to the wedding. So are Cathy and Melissa."

"How are things going with her?"

"Very well. Tentative but well." Jensen and his ex had been dating again recently. "I did want to assure you, though, for all three of us, that you can introduce us however you like to people. Former patient and family works fine."

House considered. He had invited Jensen himself, his one request on the guest list other than Wilson, his mother, and the team, but he still was undecided on whether he wanted to announce to the world he was seeing a shrink. "I'm . . . not sure yet. But thank you."

Jensen smiled at him. "You're welcome, Dr. House. I'll see you next Friday in Princeton, not here."

"Say hi to Cathy."

"I will." Jensen pointedly didn't watch while House stood up, a bit stiff from sitting in the less comfortable chair. House carefully replaced the guitar on the wall before he turned to the office door. Jensen followed him, but House hesitated as he reached for the knob, looking back toward the psychiatrist. "What?" Jensen asked.

"You really think I should tell her?"

"I really do."

Without another word, House opened the door and went on into the outer office. Jensen stood for a moment in the doorway, watching him leave, before turning back to gather his things and head off for a Friday night dinner with his family. Once again, he silently thanked the blue-eyed genius who had made his own plans for that evening possible.