A/N Another House one-shot snuck up on me. This one isn't fluffy. House is a little OC in this one, too. But, since I'm not getting paid for this, I can write him any way I want. Huddy haters may want to skip this story.
WARNING This story contains descriptions of child abuse. Readers who are bothered by this should hit the back button.
Greg House settled into a more comfortable position on the sofa. His feet were propped on the coffee table. A football game played on the television with the sound turned down low. He put his arm around Cuddy's shoulders and smiled as she snuggled closer to his side. She was alternating her attention between the medical journal in her hands and the football game. They hadn't spoken for quite some time.
They weren't arguing. The fragile state of their relationship had both of them avoiding conflict. But, Greg House knew Lisa Cuddy was unhappy. More specifically, she was not happy with the tenuous relationship he had with her daughter. As much as she protested that she didn't want him to change, it didn't take a world-famous diagnostician to observe that she was hoping for more than he was willing or capable of giving. House knew his girlfriend hoped he would come to care for Rachel and eventually think of himself as the little girl's father. He had been obsessing for several days over a random comment Cuddy had made. He ignored the television and pondered her assertion that they should be brutally honest with one another.
"I was six the first time he beat me." House broke the silence with his softly spoken admission. He felt Cuddy stiffen. "He was receiving an award and I was dressed up for the ceremony. I went outside and got dirty. We were late."
Cuddy opened her mouth and then wisely closed it. She knew House would stop talking if she interrupted his narrative. Her intensely private boyfriend rarely allowed anyone to see inside his damaged psyche.
"I was eight when he broke my arm." House rubbed unconsciously at his damaged thigh and removed his arm from around her shoulders. "I was supposed to clean the garage. I went down the street and played with some other kids instead."
Cuddy fought to keep her breathing even. She could feel her heart rate accelerate. The fight or flight response was kicking in. She knew she had to stay strong for him. But, Lisa Cuddy had a burning desire to punch something.
"I was nine when he broke my jaw." House swallowed and battled down the gag reflex triggered by the memory. "My grandmother had sent a jar of her home-made pickles she knew I liked. I ate the whole jar. When he found out, he beat the hell out of me, and then made me drink the pickle juice. Throwing up with a broken jaw hurt worse than the beating."
Cuddy slipped her right hand into his left and hoped her touch would somehow anchor him in the present. She had seen enough traumatized children come through the hospital. She knew there was nothing she could do to ease the pain of his memories.
"I was ten when his favorite punishment became making me sit in a bathtub filled with ice water." House rubbed his thigh again to hide the way his hand shook. "It didn't matter how insignificant the infraction was or even if there had been one. I'm pretty sure I had a mild case of hypothermia once."
Cuddy looked blindly at the television. She knew she didn't dare look up him. Her heart ached and she knew he would not welcome what he would interpret as pity in her eyes. She clasped his hand tighter and offered him what small measure of comfort she could.
"I was thirteen when he found my stash of...reading material." House shifted and sighed. "He made me sleep in the yard. December in Washington, D.C. gets pretty dammed cold."
Cuddy bit back a curse and tried to breathe evenly. There was no way to stay detached. Her emotions were bouncing from blinding rage to stark horror to crushing sadness.
"One summer he never spoke to me at all." House snorted. "That was the best summer of my life. He would slip notes under my door before he left for the base. As long as I stayed in my room when he was home, he ignored me."
Cuddy felt a tear slip down her cheek. She gritted her teeth and didn't move to wipe the tear away. She was afraid any movement would give him an excuse to stop.
"The last time he hit me, I was a senior in high school." House felt himself tense at the memory. "He should have waited until I put my lacrosse stick away. He outweighed me; but, I had the element of surprise on my side. I broke a couple of his ribs and the son-of-a-bitch never hit me again."
Cuddy couldn't stop the sound that escaped. Half sob, half laugh, she wrapped her arm around his and held on to his hand for dear life. However inappropriate it would be, she wanted so much to congratulate him for that one, small victory.
"The verbal abuse never stopped until he died. His attacks became more subtle. He knew which buttons to push. He became quite proficient at drawing blood without using his fists." House sighed and then looked at where their intertwined hands laid on his left thigh. "I used to lie in bed at night and pray he would die. Other Marines died. Why couldn't he?"
Cuddy laid her head on his shoulder and fought the need to speak. She knew he needed her to listen and try to understand what he was really saying. This was more than just stories about his past. He would never open up himself like this unless he had a point.
"You said I'm afraid of Rachel." House's tone was defeated. "I'm not afraid of her. I'm afraid of me. I'm afraid of hurting her. I'm afraid she won't be safe with me."
Cuddy still couldn't look at him. Her stomach was churning with rage for the scared, little boy who had been so tortured and abused. Her heart was breaking for the man who was too afraid to risk loving someone else.
"House, in all the time we've been together, have you ever been tempted to hit Rachel?" Cuddy prayed that he wouldn't take her question as an accusation. "When she colored on you motorcycle helmet? When she spilled her milk in your lap at breakfast? When she dragged your cane into her room and we couldn't find it? When you thought she had swallowed that dime?"
"I…" House replayed the images in his mind.
"You figured out that Fantastic gets crayon off of plastic. You refilled her glass and changed your jeans. You calmly told her that your cane isn't a toy. You spent two days feeling guilty and obsessing over whether she was going to be okay." Cuddy wiped at her cheeks. "I'm not discounting your fear. I just think you don't give yourself enough credit."
House shook his head. "How can I be sure?"
Cuddy took a deep breath. This wouldn't be easy. "We can work through this together. I know how stubborn you are, House. You don't give up on something you care about. You are strong enough to face this. You're a genius after all."
"Even geniuses can be monsters, Cuddy." House changed the position of his right leg and rubbed his thigh again.
"We treat this like one of your cases." She leaned forward and retrieved Rachel's drawing pad and a crayon from the coffee table. She opened the pad to a clean page. "Differential diagnosis, Dr. House."
"Cuddy…" He hesitated.
Cuddy had sat in with his team enough times to know how this went. "Patient is a fifty year old male, Caucasian, IQ over 170. Patient suffered years of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse and neglect. Symptoms?"
House took a deep breath. "Fear." He watched as she wrote the word at the top of the page.
"And?" She still hadn't looked at him. She knew how much Gregory House valued his privacy. He wouldn't want her to see his pain.
"Anger. Guilt." House closed his eyes and fought to stop his hands from shaking.
Cuddy wrote the words. "And? Avoidance? Insomnia? Emotional detachment?"
"Yeah," House whispered. He let his head fall back to rest on the sofa.
"Irritiability? Alienation? Depression? Substance abuse?" Cuddy asked the new questions as she wrote the previous list of symptoms.
House nodded his head and managed a hoarse, "Yes."
Cuddy wrote the answers. She looked at the words written in purple crayon and blinked back new tears. Maybe House was right. Maybe being an administrator had made her a bad doctor. Why had she never made the connection? She was shocked that she had never guessed the cause of his psychological problems. She had blamed it all on his leg.
She placed the pad on his lap. "Diagnosis?"
House lowered his head and focused on Cuddy's scrawl. He had always known. Like she said, he was a genius and a world-renowned diagnostician. Presented to him in black and white, or in this case purple and white, the answer couldn't be denied. As much as he wanted to avoid the truth, he wouldn't allow himself to deflect. He wouldn't be a hypocrite.
"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," he stated flatly.
Cuddy took a deep breath. "Treatment options?"
"Therapy." House snorted. "Years and years of therapy."
Cuddy took his hand again. "That's good. What about parenting classes?"
"I'm more screwed up than you thought." House finally looked at her. "How can you still trust me with your daughter?"
"House, I love you and I trust you. I'm not going to give up on you." Cuddy hoped he was able to see the determination in her eyes. "I know this won't be easy. But, I plan to be here for you. I will help you work through this. I won't let John House win. And, I hope that one day, from where he's roasting in Hell, he will be able to see that you are happy with a family who loves you."
House bent his head and pressed his lips to hers in a gentle kiss. He rested his forehead against hers. "I have no idea what I did to deserve you."
Cuddy smiled. "I told you. You are an amazing person, Greg House. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be surrounded by people who love you."
"And, Rachel?" House was still uncertain.
"I really think the parenting classes would be a good idea. But, my advice is treat her like you would have liked to be treated. Think of how he would have reacted and do the opposite." She rubbed his hands up and down his arms. "House, I already knew you can be a rude, obnoxious, insensitive ass. If I didn't trust you with Rachel, you wouldn't be here. Knowing about your childhood doesn't change that. I think you have the potential to be the most caring, overprotective father a little girl could ask for. If you want that, if you want us, we will be here for you. But whatever you decide, I will help you work through the therapy."
She wrapped her arms around his waist and enfolded him in a bear hug. She rested her head on his broad chest and just held him. As he returned the hug, Cuddy realized that all of House's outrageous remarks about sex served to mask a deeper longing. What he craved most was the physical connection and feeling of safety he had never known.
"You belong to me now. It's time to let go of the past," she whispered.
"I love you," House whispered back. He listed to the sound of Cuddy's soft breaths and the rain drumming on the roof. Surprisingly, for once in his life, the future didn't look so dismal.
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A flash of lightening illuminated the bedroom seconds before thunder rattled the windows. The toddler covered her head with her blanket and clutched the worn, stuffed rabbit closer. A second flash of lightening lasted longer than the previous one. This time the thunder seemed to vibrate the very walls of her room. The little girl sat straight up in her bed and looked around with wide, frantic eyes.
This was not a night to be alone. Rachel Cuddy tossed first her blanket and then her beloved, stuffed rabbit over the side rail. Next she scaled the side of her crib. Like a tiny prisoner making a jail break, she hung on to the top for a second before she let go and dropped to the floor. She quickly gathered her rabbit in one hand and the blanket in the other.
The door to her bedroom had been left slightly ajar. Rachel pulled it open and slipped into the dark hallway. A glance to the left showed that the living room was dark and silent. Rachel hesitated when another flash of lightening lit up the living room and hallway. As soon as the thunder rolled past the house, the frightened toddler turned to the right and padded down the hall. The footed jammies she worn muffled her foot falls.
The door to her mommy's room was closed. Rachel hesitated again. She huddled against the wall and clutched her rabbit to her chest. Something thudded against the side of the house with a loud bang. Rachel jumped and dropped her blanket. She grabbed the doorknob and turned it. As soon as the door swung open the little girl ran into the room and to the bed.
The frightened toddler stood quietly, unsure of what to do now. He was there. He had been there at dinner. He had stayed and watched Beauty and the Beast with her. He had still been there when Mommy put her to bed. Now, he was sleeping with her mommy. He was on the side of the bed closest to the door.
Rachel frowned. Mostly he ignored her. Sometimes, he talked to her. He had been nicer to her lately. But, she didn't think he would be happy if she crawled up on the bed.
Another flash of lightening and then a deep rumble of thunder shook the house. Rachel whimpered and moved so that she was now touching the bed. She really, really wanted to get on her mommy's big bed. She looked around the room and tried to figure out if she could get to her mommy's side of the bed without waking him. She looked back and her eyes widened in shock from a new source of fear. Those blue eyes were now staring at her.
Greg House was jolted from a sound sleep by thunder loud enough to shake the house and another, unidentifiable, sound. He opened his eyes and found himself staring into a pair of wide, tear-filled eyes that peeked over the edge of the mattress. Rachel was staring back at him and her lower lip trembled. She had a death grip on that ridiculous, worn-out, purple rabbit he thought should have been thrown in the trash months ago. Thunder rumbled for several seconds. As he continued to stare at her, her lower lip continued to tremble and a single tear rolled down her right cheek.
House heaved a deep sigh. He had known something like this would happen. It had only been a matter of time. When he had originally told Cuddy he wanted to be a part of Rachel's life, he had known that he would experience just this type of situations. At the time he had a vague concept of some shadowy, future events. Actually being around Rachel had raised the ghosts of his own, brutal childhood. Despite Cuddy's assurances, House knew his fear and his self-doubts wouldn't be conquered quickly.
Cuddy was snuggled up to his back with her arm wrapped around his waist. House could tell from her even breathing that she was still asleep. No help would be coming from that quarter unless he woke her. Given her earlier declarations of trust and faith, he refused to cave in to the fear. Cuddy had said to treat Rachel as he would have liked to have been treated.
Wind whipped branches against the bedroom window and the house shook from the force as lightening struck somewhere nearby. As House continued to stare, that lower lip quivered and more tears rolled down her face. He knew what a frightened, two year-old Greg House would have wanted on a night like this. He sighed again and moved back the covers.
"Come on," he whispered.
Rachel blinked once and then flung her rabbit onto the bed. She struggled for a second to scramble onto the mattress. House reached out with his right hand and pulled her the rest of the way. She scooted closer and laid her head on House's pillow. He covered her with the sheet and blanket as she snuggled her back into his chest. House gave a brief thought of thanks that he had worn a t-shirt and pajama pants to bed. He wrapped his right arm around her and that stupid rabbit.
"Thank you," Rachel whispered.
"Go to sleep," House whispered back. He hesitated and then whispered, "You're safe now."