Title: Medical Homicide
Disclaimer: They aren't mine. If they were, things would be different, referring not to the Huddy but to a lot of other general writing and character strategies over the last few years. I do own Jensen, and they can't have him - unless they want to pay me. :) Also, once again, I remind you that I am not a doctor. Research is all you can do at times, and that will be done.
A/N: Medical Homicide follows the events of Onslaught and is set in the Pranks universe. It is a 2-part story. Part one is this first chapter. Part two, taking place months later, is far longer and far more intricate, many, many chapters. This first chapter is just a prelude of sorts. Part two also is not done, nor close to it. The story is fully blocked out and known, but a lot of work getting it into shape and ready remains. So don't expect immediate updates on this one. Just thought I'd go ahead and write down chapter one while work fishing on a very light-work load going into the holiday weekend. Might as well earn reviews if I can't earn money.
This story carries warnings for abuse and very dark themes, but don't get too hung up trying to guess where I'm going from this first chapter. Things will be far more complicated and subtle than it might appear from this first glance. One of the joys of a series is having a character develop and grow, and I hope House's progress can be clearly seen in the stories. He's been in therapy with Jensen (who in my opinion is a great improvement over Nolan) for over a year now, he's working hard on things, and he has a happy family support network for the first time in his life. But yes, there are abuse moments that still come up. The past can be overcome, but it cannot be eliminated, and there will still be scars. And, as I said, the themes of this story are quite complicated and for more people than just House. Problems in this one extend well beyond House, although he will always be the central character of the story.
In addition to serious angst and problems, there will be, of course, humor, fluff, Huddy, and always an accompaniment of music, which hits all emotions equally well.
Enjoy part one!
The big reception room was a cacophony of activity, the collective sound almost a living thing, rising and falling in its own rhythm, easily audible clear down the hall. House stiffened, and his stride slowed to a crawl as he approached the door.
Cuddy, beside him, reached out with the hand that wasn't holding Rachel and hooked his left elbow. "Come on, Greg," she urged him. "You knew there would be people."
He tilted his head toward the open door looming ahead of them that formed the mouth of the volcano of noise. "That is not people. That is officially a crowd." He came to a full standstill in the hall. "They haven't seen us yet. We've still got time to turn around and go home."
"Home!" Rachel agreed happily.
"See? She agrees with me. Motion carries, 2 to 1. We're outta here."
"Hold it!" Cuddy expertly tightened her grip, accustomed to being a traffic cop on her husband at times around the hospital. "Greg, we promised, and you have an obligation."
"They didn't say that half of New York State would be here. If the rehearsal dinner is like this, how many do you think are coming to the wedding?"
"As many as they invited." She succeeded in turning him around.
House shook his head. "I can't believe Jensen would spring this on me. People do know this is the second time around the track for them, right? The audience is supposed to get less excited for a rerun."
"Don't you dare make comments like that during the rehearsal. Or tomorrow, either. Now move," Cuddy hissed, and she started forward herself, nearly - though carefully - dragging him. House took a deep breath and followed.
The room looked much like it had sounded, a whirling beehive of activity. House and Cuddy both paused in the door, her looking for anybody they knew and him looking for an isolated corner as a retreat. Before they had finished sifting visually through the crowd, though, they were spotted themselves.
"Dr. House!" An 8-year-old girl with a mature face but happily innocent eyes sprinted up to him and nearly knocked him off balance with the force of her hug. "We've been waiting for you."
House returned the hug. "Hi, Cathy. Where's your father?"
"Dad's right over there." She released him and waved an arm toward one side of the room. House and Cuddy followed the gesture visually and then did a double-take.
It was Jensen times two. The physical similarity between the two men standing side by side was only accentuated by the fact that they wore almost the same outfits - not yet formally dressed for tomorrow's wedding, just elegantly casual for tonight's rehearsal. Even the expression and the stance were the same as they were both absorbed fully in their conversation.
Cuddy blinked. "Which one . . ." she started.
House tilted his head, looking across the room. "On the left."
"Wow." Cathy smiled up at him. "Most people besides the direct family can't tell, not without a lot of practice."
"I knew he was a twin, but I didn't realize they were identical," Cuddy stated. "That's uncanny. Did you know, Greg?"
"Identical? No. We usually talk about me, not him." He almost sounded apologetic that a piece of information had escaped his mental grasp.
"Come on," Cathy urged, tugging at him. "Dad wants to talk to you, but then I get to show you the piano." She bounded along in front across the room, and Cuddy, watching her, saw both Rachel and Abby a few years down the road. She looked over at House to share the thought, and she nearly laughed at his expression. He still looked a bit like a deer in headlights, on edge from the unexpected attendance here, but he also had locked in as if clutching a life preserver on one word of Cathy's: Piano. Only the thought of music brought that specific expression to his eyes.
House had been asked, at Cathy's request, to play the piano at Jensen's wedding. Jensen himself had told House he fully understood if he didn't want to, but Cathy had been mesmerized by House's playing at his own wedding last August. Not that this would be like that. No original composition, no central focus during the ceremony. House had agreed, to Cuddy's surprise and somewhat to Jensen's, but he had specified that it would be clearly different, that he would not try to repeat what had been a deeply personal moment for the two of them. Which was fine with all parties, as Jensen and Melissa and Cathy already had plenty of their own touches planned. House would be over unobtrusively at the side and would simply be playing for about 30 minutes as background music before the ceremony while people came in, then the processional, with everyone's attention on the bride, then the recessional afterward.
Jensen looked up as Cathy bounded into the middle of his conversation with his brother. "Dr. House! I'm glad to see you." He included Cuddy in his smile. "This is Dr. Gregory House and Dr. Lisa Cuddy-House. My brother, Mark Jensen."
"Nice to meet you," Mark replied, shaking hands with both of them. House hated hand-shaking, but he was under threat by Cuddy to be good for the next two days, so he endured in silence. "I've heard so much about you," Mark continued, and House's eyes flicked toward Jensen with a look of half surprise, half fear, before Mark completed his comment. "Michael's told me how you saved Cathy."
House relaxed a bit. Cathy's case. Of course Jensen had talked about that with his relatives. Jensen gave him a reassuring smile, confirming silently but absolutely clearly that conversations about House had been edited. "Excuse me a minute, Mark." He reached out minutely toward House's wrist, stopping far short of touching him, but the subtle gesture was there, and House followed him. Behind him, he heard Mark asking Cuddy about Rachel. The voices were much less similar than the looks, but clearly Jensen's smoothness in conversation was a shared trait.
Jensen reached a marginally less-populated portion of the room and turned to face House. "I apologize," he said, keeping his voice pitched low. "I didn't know this many people would be here."
"Aren't they your family? Or hers?" House looked around at the group.
"Hers, mostly, but I'd forgotten just how large Melissa's extended family is. Not only that, but most brought along a few friends. There are people here I don't even know myself. I'd told you we had a private wedding the first time." House nodded. Jensen had explained that he and Melissa were going the whole nine yards on their second wedding because their first had been just them and a justice of the peace. Melissa's parents had been convinced that they ought to give their daughter the all-American dream wedding, but with another wedding already previously that year, a few health crises, and a lost job, the money wasn't there. They would have spent it anyway, going into debt, and Melissa and Jensen had eloped to save the parents' budget. This time, though, with things more financially stable, her parents insisted on making up for the wedding that had been denied them the first time, and Melissa had decided it was harmless to indulge them, even if the size of the ceremony mattered more to her parents and family than to her. "Anyway," Jensen continued, "since we didn't have the whole thing at the first wedding, and there haven't been any more family weddings in between, I'd never seen the full crowd in one room, with extra friends and acquaintances attached. Not everybody comes to things, usually. Obviously, a wedding is the exception. I should have known, knowing some of her relatives and how big a deal this was to her parents. I apologize."
House relaxed a fraction more. The crowd had startled him, but at least Jensen hadn't deliberately set him up for it and concealed that fact just to get his agreement on the music. Actually, the idea of the ever-efficient Jensen being caught off guard himself by the enthusiasm of extended relatives was a nice thought. The man was far too efficient at times, too good at his job. Part of House enjoyed the idea of an oversight and a suggestion of nervousness that he wasn't used to seeing. "I almost turned around in the hall and bolted," he admitted. "Rachel would have voted with me, but Lisa overruled us."
Jensen chuckled. "I wouldn't have blamed you, but I'm glad you didn't. I had a few seconds myself walking in where I thought about running off for another private one, but her parents would never forgive us for that trick twice. Melissa and Cathy being here matter more than how many people are watching. For tonight and tomorrow, I can deal with it, and I'll probably never get all of them together again. They aren't an oppressively present family; they just enjoy a good ceremony." He looked back over at Cuddy. "How's Abby doing?"
"She's great. She's just still a bit fragile for a trip like this into a large group of people." House looked around. "You should be glad she's with the nanny. If we'd had her, Lisa would have bolted away from the noise of the crowd herself and left me in her dust. She's still very protective."
"She has reason to be, after everything Abby's been through. As long as she does get some break from it all for her own sanity regularly."
"Every week," House confirmed. He turned at the sound of footsteps as Cathy bounded up again. The girl was irresistible, that almost ethereal combination of youth and wisdom in her expression. This time, he himself saw Rachel and Abby in a few years.
"Dr. House," she insisted, latching onto his arm, "I need to show you the piano."
Jensen smiled at her enthusiasm. "I told you I wanted to talk to him first, Cathy."
"Wasn't that what you just did?" she asked with the persistence of a child on a mission.
House smiled himself; he couldn't help it. Another twist of the knots inside him relaxed. "It's okay, Cathy. I'd love to see the piano." She grasped his left wrist and led him along, though carefully not doing it too quickly. Jensen watched the two of them leave the room, his thoughts full of his own future and gratitude that, thanks to the blue-eyed genius crossing the room with his daughter, Cathy would be part of it.
Later, after meeting the piano in the chapel on the floor above the reception hall, after so many repetitions of rehearsing the ceremony that House was starting to have nearly irresistible urges to switch from the requested soundtrack into something wildly inappropriate just to watch the reactions - those thoughts instantly quelled by Cuddy's eagle eye as she heard them - the group returned to the reception hall where dinner was now set out at one side. Everyone filled a plate and sat down at the long tables down the room. House had long since worn out his minute store of social chitchat, and Cuddy was still shooting him reminder glances against saying what he was really thinking, so he sat mostly quietly, feeding Rachel and listening to bits of conversation around him.
The concept of a family this large, even if friends were included, was completely alien to him. How did they even remember each other's names, much less the other details? The woman behind him, who was complaining nonstop about her bad knees, would be better off paying more attention to her lungs and stopping smoking. He could clearly hear the slight wheeze punctuating her words. The teenager several chairs down the table from him and the girl across from him were clearly having some recreational activity on the side and trying to keep their respective parents from knowing it. They put far too much effort into not looking at each other.
A hand from the other side of the table and a few people down reached across a few plates with a half-mumbled apology, going for another roll from the bread basket in the middle of the table.
Cuddy was deep in conversation with Melissa about Abby, one of her favorite subjects, and she didn't see House flinch, but Rachel, in his lap, did. The girl reached up to pat his cheek questioningly, and House felt his heart start back up again. He smiled at her reassuringly, offered her another bite, and then unobtrusively looked down the table for the source of the hand.
The man was tall, but there the other resemblance physically to John ended. This man had obviously never seen the Marine Corps and had no military crispness. He had a middle-aged paunch and an slight air that he, too, was wishing he were anywhere else other than in this press of relatives. He felt House's gaze on him and looked back questioningly, and the eyes met for a moment before House looked away.
Rachel in his lap patted his cheek again, and House smiled at her and returned to his task of feeding his daughter.
About 20 minutes later, House was returning from a trip to the bathroom, but as he passed the stairs on his way back to the reception hall, he irresistibly diverted, heading up them. The chapel was dark now, blessed solitude, and without turning on the lights, he slid onto the piano bench and gave his mind and his hands free rein.
Even after a year, it was hard, unbelievably hard at times, to face and feel emotions or to let himself remember things instead of stuffing it all back deep down and recorking the bottle of his past. Jensen had worked extensively on this with him, and even House had to admit at this point that the psychiatrist was right. Afterward, he did feel better for letting himself feel, for going through the emotions instead of detouring around them, and the occasional nightmares were in fact triggered at least sometimes by reminders in his day and sometimes could be avoided if he would let himself remember while awake rather than forcing it into his dreams.
To let himself remember. . .
He remembered John's hand, reaching across the table toward him, reaching across a room toward him. Large, strong hands. Powerful hands with a slight flex as they came as if already feeling their captive beneath their grasp. Inevitable hands, leading to inevitable pain.
For just a moment, as that hand reached across the table to capture a roll, it had been John's. The resemblance physically was quite strong, the same bone structure, the same size, even the same slight eager flexing. Never before had House met someone else who reminded him so powerfully of John's hands. The reaction surprised him. Even with an amazing anatomical similarity on that feature, House would have thought he was past threatening to fall into a flashback, even if it had been averted, just by somebody reaching across the table. He was annoyed at himself. His daughter, of all people, had noticed. He had to get a better grip on himself before she got much older and would attach questions to her observations. No, if his daughters ever discovered his past, he wanted it to be because many, many years down the road, he had told them, not because they noticed themselves that something was wrong with their father.
So he sat here in the darkness, the music much more emotional now than his earlier selections. The notes ran through a storm of gathering thunder, flickers of lightning, then pounding rain and crashing sound effects, finally emerging into calm and the rainbow on the other side as he let himself think about John's hands, including the ultimate satisfaction that those hands were dead. It was over. He had survived.
House jumped, his hands alone remaining steady, the notes falling flawlessly from his fingers.
"I'm sorry," Cathy said, and he forced himself not to flinch again. "I didn't mean to startle you. I was looking for you and heard the music up here." She smiled at him. "What music was that?"
He ran back mentally. "Part Rachmaninoff, part Wagner, part House."
"I liked it. It felt things."
That was the point, he thought silently. "I didn't mean to run out on everybody. We'd probably better get back downstairs."
Cathy's shoulders twitched in disagreement. "There are so many of them down there. It's almost smothering."
He smiled. "Exactly. Fortunately, according to your father, this is probably the one time you get the full congregation at once. Until your own wedding, that is."
"Oh, I'm never going to get married," she stated with the firm conviction of 8. "Boys are gross."
He chuckled and didn't even realize that the music had shifted again until she sat down tentatively onto the bench next to him, pulled in by the current of the even, peaceful melody. "I wish I could play."
"Ask your parents for lessons. I'm sure they'd give them to you."
"Oh, I've been taking lessons for a year. But it's all exercises and simple things. It's stiff. I wish I could play. Like you do."
"If you keep at it, Cathy, it can get better."
She brightened up slightly. "So I will be able to play like you someday?"
The mood of the music shifted again, slightly melancholy. "I don't know, Cathy. Practice is only part of it." He felt the disappointment radiating off her. "Sorry, I ought to be telling you of course you can."
Her chin came up defiantly. "No, you shouldn't. You don't lie to me. Lots of people lie to kids, say what they think we want. And they think we don't notice."
He smiled slightly. "Here, Cathy. Slide over a bit and put your hands on top of mine." She did so, spreading out her much smaller hands to partially cover his. "Now relax your fingers. Don't try to do anything. Just feel it." He changed into a lyrical, fluid sonata, something not too challenging, as she was a bit of a technical obstacle to him, but something with enough music in it that hopefully she could feel the difference, could at least experience the Promised Land of music, even if fate would ultimately deny her the right to enter herself.
She was absolutely still, soaking it up through his hands, and when he finished, she broke away and gave him a spontaneous hug. "I could feel it there. Thank you."
"You're welcome." The piano was hushed now momentarily, and he looked down into her young-old face. "Cathy, who was the man sitting five places down from your mother at the table?" She frowned slightly in thought, her mind rewinding through the places at the table. "Tall," House prompted. "Slightly overweight. Big hands, and . . " He trailed off before he actually said it. Cold eyes. The other feature besides his hands that reminded House of John.
"Was he wearing a green shirt?" she asked.
"I think he came with one of Mom's cousins? I'm not sure. I don't think he's a relative, but he might be dating somebody. Why?"
"I just wondered. I was noticing him at the table." She shrugged, obviously having seen people more worth noticing in her eyes. "We'd better get back downstairs before Cuddy realizes I'm gone. I promised her I'd be good for today and tomorrow."
She laughed, a golden sound that pushed back the shadows in the room. "Mom made me promise that, too."
"I'll bet you'd have to work at being bad, Cathy."
She stood up with enviable ease. "You don't know me. Besides, I'll bet you'd have to work at being bad yourself."
He pried himself somewhat stiffly up from the piano bench. "You really don't know me. Ask anybody at the hospital. I'm a total jerk."
She laughed as if he had made a good joke. "No, you're not." She skipped happily out of the shadowed chapel ahead of him, the light spilling through the open door and outlining her hair in a halo effect. House smiled, again wondering what Rachel and Abby would look like at this age, admiring her pure innocence.
The crowd was starting to disperse, Rachel was falling asleep on House's shoulder, and Cuddy was starting to make "get to the hotel" noises. They had a room tonight to save the driving. Wilson would be coming up just for the wedding tomorrow morning. "Just a minute," House told Cuddy. "I want to say goodnight to Jensen." He took two steps toward the Jensen brothers, who were once again confusingly side by side and deep in conversation, and then he turned back and passed Rachel to Cuddy. "Take her for a minute, would you?"
Cuddy frowned. "Why . . ." He was already gone again. Why on earth would he want to say goodnight to Jensen without Rachel present?
House came up to the two brothers, who turned identical looks of inquiry on him as he broke into their conversational circle. "Could I talk to you just for a minute alone?" he asked of the one on the right.
Mark grinned in appreciation. "He's got us down, Michael. Lots of people can't when we're together. We've had several mix us up tonight."
House saw the flash of laughter in his eyes. "And you enjoyed confusing some of them and stringing them along for a minute, right?"
A bilateral caught-in-the-act expression crossed both faces, and Jensen laughed. "Never try to pretend anything with him, Mark. He'll see right through you."
"I can see that. Well, I'll go say goodnight to Melissa and Cathy. See you tomorrow, Michael."
"See you." The brothers shared a hug, and House watched. They were truly close, these two, in much more than just appearance.
Jensen turned back to face House as Mark left through the dispersing crowd. "What's up?"
On the verge of telling him, House suddenly felt foolish again. "I'm, um, not sure if there's actually something here or if my mind is just playing tricks on me."
"Start at the beginning," Jensen recommended. "Did something happen tonight?"
"You know the tall man, slightly overweight, green shirt, five down the table from Melissa?"
Jensen did his own memory exercise. "I think he was with one of Melissa's cousins. I'd never met him before. Probably won't again, either. Why did he get your attention?"
House was really feeling silly now. "It . . . nothing. Never mind." He started to turn away, and Jensen caught his wrist, one of the rare times the psychiatrist touched him without first asking permission.
"It wasn't nothing. And if a stranger caught your attention, it wasn't - at least not totally - because your mind was playing tricks on you. If you noticed him, you had a valid reason to. I trust your perception."
House relaxed slightly, though he still felt a bit like he might be making a mountain out of a molehill. "He reached across the table for a roll at one point, and his hand . . ." He shivered slightly. "He has my father's hands." He had looked away while saying it, but now he looked back quickly at Jensen to see if the psychiatrist was thinking the statement was absurd and that coincidences happened all the time. Not a hint of that was in Jensen's eyes. He looked intent and serious. House went on. "So I was looking at him then, and he looked back at me. Just then, when he was annoyed slightly and wondered what my problem was, his eyes were cold. Calculating. Familiar." House paused and then went on uncertainly. "Later on, he was perfectly pleasant, and he didn't look like that. It's probably pure coincidence, minor physical similarities nobody could help, but the trigger came out of the blue. I hadn't been thinking about Dad at all. And just in case my imagination isn't running away with me, I wanted to warn you to be careful around him with Cathy if he is part of your family. Just . . . watch out."
He had looked away again, and Jensen again touched his arm, squeezing it slightly. He looked up into the psychiatrist's intelligent eyes. "Thank you," Jensen said. "If we ever do encounter him again, I'll be aware."
House relaxed, reassured that he wasn't about to be ridiculed for unbased fears. "I don't know anything. It could be nothing. It probably is nothing."
"I understand. And again, thank you."
House turned to look across the room to Cuddy, who was watching them intently. "I'd better get going. Good night, Jensen."
"Good night, Dr. House. Are you going to sleep tonight?"
House turned back to meet his eyes. "Yes. It's okay."
"Good. I'll see you in the morning. I'll come along and say goodnight to Dr. Cuddy." Together, they crossed the room.
"Do you want to tell me what you were talking about with Jensen?" Cuddy asked once they were back in the hotel room. Rachel was already sound asleep. Cuddy tried not to sound pushy, but she was curious.
House sighed. "Did you notice Green Shirt at the table? Five down from Melissa on the other side from us."
She considered it. "No. Why?"
With a sigh, he started again on this tale, and reassuringly, like Jensen, she did not laugh at him. "So that's where you went when you disappeared for a while?"
"Yes. I . . . needed to remember. I played the piano for a while."
"Did it help?"
"Yes. But Cathy came up to join me, and she got me thinking . . . this is probably nothing, but I'd never forgive myself if it eventually did turn out to be something, if she got hurt, and I hadn't said anything."
"So Jensen will keep an eye out?"
"Yes. He believed me."
She pulled him closer to her. "There's no reason not to believe you, Greg. You're more perceptive than the rest of us."
"That's almost exactly what Jensen said." House shook himself as if visibly shaking off the specters - both past and potentially future - from the rehearsal. "Anyway, that's over now. Jensen said he'd never seen the man before and most likely never would again."
"And I'm sure we'll never have any reason to see him again, either him or his hands."
"Right." He gave her a strategically located squeeze. "So do I get a reward for being good tonight?"
"I said you had to be good tonight and tomorrow," she reminded, but she was already melting into his touch. "But maybe we could think of some appropriate reward for halfway."
By the time House was sound asleep later and she was rapidly heading that way, she had to admit to herself that nothing at all with House could ever be called halfway.
END OF PART ONE