House was sitting on the couch in the living room when Rachel bounded in. It was seven thirty on a cool February evening and she'd been playing in the chilly sunshine with the neighbour's kids. Cuddy didn't let her stay out this late without direct supervision - she was only nine - but Cuddy wasn't here right now, and House was. He made the rules at least until Mama Bear got home.
"Hi," Rachel beamed, flopping down next to him and smiling.
"Hey kid," he acknowledged but went back to watching his show. As the characters frolicked on the screen Rachel eyed him cautiously.
"I'm getting a drink," she told him decisively. "You want one?"
"I know where the glasses are," he murmured.
Rachel nodded awkwardly, then got herself a glass of apple juice. She was sipping it thoughtfully when she launched into conversation. "So today we had to make Valentine's cards in class, and I coloured mine red - 'cause it's the Valentine's colour - and put some pink and gold hearts on it. Then I spent ages - "
"Rachel," House interrupted. "I'm tired. Can't you wait until your mom gets home and then tell her?"
Rachel looked down. "Fine," she grumbled. "I'm going to watch TV," she muttered dejectedly.
"Where?" House asked. He was on the big family TV, and the only other one was in his and Cuddy's room. "Not in my room, you're not."
"But... you're on this one!" She protested, hands on her skinny hips. "What am I supposed to do?" She whined.
He shrugged. "Play a game? Read? Whatever the Hell it is that nine year olds do. Play with a doll?" After staring at her unamused expression, he sighed. "I know I'm watching this, but that's mine and your mom's room. You have your own room. And I wouldn't mind you chilling in our bed if I didn't know that you were angling to sleep there tonight. I'm fed up of coming to sleep on the couch at three am 'cause you can't sleep, but I'm equally sick of having your elbows - "
"Why do you hate me?" Rachel exploded, interrupting his monologue.
The pair stared at each other for a moment before House spoke. "I don't... hate you at all," he said slowly, shocked. "Why would you think that?"
Her big brown eyes filled with tears. "Because! I'm always nice to you and you're never nice to me! Mom said that you'd hurt your leg, so I always try to carry things for you and get you drinks and stuff. I make sure I pick up all my things in case you trip. I was fine with not seeing Nana on Thanksgiving 'cause you had to work - even though I hadn't seen Nana in ages. I'm always trying to talk to you... And you just... hate me!" She wailed.
"Rachel - " He leaned over and tried to touch her arm, but she jerked away.
"Mom said that even though you don't show it, you love us. But that's not true. You love her. I've heard you say so. But you've never said it to me. All you do is tell me I'm annoying or loud or doing something wrong... am I such a bad girl to be with?" She cried.
House was speechless. "What... do you want from me?" He asked, sincerity clear in his eyes.
"I want you to love me!" Rachel shouted. "Is that so much?" She whispered.
House was, again, speechless. But this time, he couldn't even form a coherent sentence. Was he upsetting her that much? Did he make her feel as bad as she seemed to? He didn't want to do that, he would never want to do that. The girl may not be his favourite person, but... he guessed he could live with worse.
And that, right there, was the problem. He thought that feeling that way was okay, but clearly Rachel wanted - needed - more. She needed the affection that she got from her mother from him. He assumed that she understood that he was not her father and therefore would not provide with the same emotions as her mother offered her unconditionally. But she'd been around enough fathers and step fathers to know that a man in the house who was in love with your mother meant a daddy.
Damn nine year old logic.
"I..." He started, but he couldn't find the words.
He was a terrible person - this is why Cuddy shouldn't let him anywhere near her daughter. He couldn't even comfort her when she was crying.
"I thought it was 'cause I wasn't really yours," she told him, tears dripping down her cheeks. "But I'm not really mommy's, and she still loves me. She says she loves me more than anything! She told me that she loved me so much, and that you did too. Maybe she's lying about her loving me..."
"No," House interjected. "Rachel, your mom loves you so much. Really, kid, more than anything. Believe her. Seriously, when was the last time she lied to you?"
"When she said that things would be fun with you around," Rachel muttered.
"Rachel," House said, "I..."
And there it was. When he was validating Cuddy's love for her it came easily. But talking about his own feelings for the runt rendered him speechless.
"Don't bother," she said shakily. She went to her school bag. "I made this for you," she whispered, throwing the mess of glue and tissue paper at him.
She sprinted off to her room, and he heard the sobs increase in volume as she cried into her pillow. He was about to push off and go to her when he looked down at the card in his hands. After looking at the front he read the message inside. He read the words twice.
We're supposed to give our Valentines to someone we love. I could give it to mommy, but she knows I love her. Maybe you don't know it.
I hope you love me too
He scanned the words once more. It really sunk in how much he was paining this little girl. He was hurting her, and it killed him. He had never wanted and still didn't want to be her father, but he never wanted to be a monster in her life.
Feeling a sudden rush of... anger toward himself and his actions and a sort of protectiveness toward the little girl, he started off toward Rachel's room, determined to make things right.