House pushed the door open with his cane, wincing as a sob pierced the air. He saw Rachel lying flat out on her bed with her face pressed into the pillow, a shrill wailing sound emitting from her parted lips. He made his way over to her and poked her back gently with his cane.
"Go away!" She shouted, not looking at him.
"Move over," he ordered. She didn't hear him, and kept crying. Louder, "Move over."
Rachel snapped her neck up to look at him. Her eyes puffy and red and still streaming tears. "Gimme a break, kid," House implored. "There's only so long I can stand on this leg."
She deliberated for a moment, then moved over to make room for him. She pouted and sniffed, but stopped the hysterical wailing. House gave an internal sigh of relief and then winced as he sat on something poky. He pulled the doll out from under his butt and flung it across the room, Rachel watching him intently.
He narrowed his eyes at her and she narrowed hers right back. They stared at each for a few minutes before House opened his mouth. "First, I do not hate you."
Her lip quivered. "Then why - "
"Shut up," he told, but with a kind edge to his voice. "I'm thinking. You sprung this on me."
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"S'cool," he replied and continued to think. He knew that this was a very delicate situation - and he had nothing. Honestly, he was sitting across from her and had no idea what he could say to make it better. He didn't love her... did he? He'd seen her everyday for seven years, and he knew he cared about her, but... love?
He wasn't going to lie to her, but he was potentially willing to tell her he loved her if he did. He just didn't know.
"Rachel, I've known you since you were two. And trust me, you were far more annoying then than you are now. You would chew my shoes, draw on my helmet, hide my things, pull my hair, climb into bed with me and you mom... and I didn't hate you then. So there is no logical reason for me to dislike you more now. if anything... you're kind of cool." House tried, but he knew that he wasn't doing a good job.
"But you don't love me," she said sadly.
"I don't know," he told her honestly. The rain was the only noise in the room.
"Could I do something? Would you love me more if I...?" She waited for him to fill in the blank.
"You are the smartest, most awesomely manipulative kid I know, with a rockin' dress sense and great taste in TV," House told her truthfully, and he saw the hint of a smile grace her face. "And whenever I need to pull a prank on mom, I know that I can count on you. 'Cause you're a little bit evil, and it's awesome," he continued, and she giggled. "But I'm not your dad," he popped the bubble.
"You're here every day, you live here! You take me to school, you make me dinner, you help with my homework... You came to my dance recital!" She pointed out. "Those are all the things dads do!"
"Don't be a moron. Don't turn me into something magical and perfect. I'm not." He stressed.
"I love you," Rachel told him, smiling nervously.
"Oh, kid," House lowered his eyes. "You're breaking my heart here."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rachel challenged.
"Don't do that to your tiny nine year old brain. Don't say things like that, like the L word, when you know I won't say it back."
"I think you're scared," she told him. "Because you do really love me."
"I don't," he said with finality. "I really don't, Rachel."
It wasn't true, of course. He did feel something for her, maybe love, but he didn't want to serve the kid with false hope. That was the worst kind.
"I don't want you to live here anymore," Rachel sniffed, her tears starting. "I want my mommy."
"We have to talk about this, Rach. You can't say something like that and then not deal with it. You're always whining about being treated more like an adult - this is part of it. Dealing with the messes you make." House poked her arm. "And you know how mad Mom gets if we leave mess around the house."
Rachel pouted. "Fine. But you have to answer my question. I didn't ask if you hated me or not, I asked why you hate me. You never told me."
"I don't hate you - "
"Fine," Rachel sighed, like it was some great chore. "Why you don't love me."
They sat in silence while House thought. The rain continued to pound on the window.
"I don't know how to love you," he revealed.
Rachel looked at him, surprise evident in her now wide eyes. "What?"
"I've probably been in love with your Mom for thirty years, three times as long as you've been alive. It took me twenty of those years to even admit to myself that I could, possibly, love her. Took me another two to even think of bringing it up with her." He spoke slowly, carefully, and Rachel sat silently and frozen, having never heard House speak like this - to her or anyone else.
"I don't love easily. I drive myself insane thinking every little thing over and over again and even when I should be mindlessly blissfully happy all I do is wait for misery to strike. I don't talk about how I feel, I mean... I don't even really feel. I repress - "
"I don't know what that means," Rachel dared to speak up. She didn't want to risk him stopping his monologue - she'd never had this kind of connection with him - but she didn't want to misunderstand. If she was going to have to hear that he didn't love her over and over, she at least wanted to understand why.
"It means I bury it and don't think about it," he explained. "I spent years trying to be a better person, to love your mom the way that she deserves. I don't have the... energy to learn how to love you the way you deserve," he let out, and Rachel watched as he placed his head against the wall and shut his eyes.
Rachel leaned over and hugged him. She wrapped her small arms around his large form and put her head on his chest. "I'm sorry it's so hard for you," Rachel sympathised as best she could. "You may not be able to love me," she whispered, "but I do love you."
He nodded. "Listen," he said quietly. "Just because I can't love you doesn't mean I don't care about you. I don't want you to ever... feel like you can't come to me if you need me. Just because love is not something I can offer you doesn't mean it's the same for safety."
He smiled companionably at her. "You're safe with me, okay?"
"Okay," Rachel nodded, her cheek rubbing against his shirt. She sat up, eyes clouding over with tears. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Hey," he said lightly. "Don't go all weepy on me." He was trying to make a joke of it, but he couldn't. He still hadn't decided whether, by telling her more than he'd ever revealed to anyone except maybe Cuddy, he was hurting her or helping her. "You should go to sleep," he suggested, sliding out from her loose grasp and pulling back the blanket so she could crawl inside. "It's late."
"I'm not tired," she tried to protest.
"You are," he replied smoothly. "Plus, if you're still awake when Mom gets home, I'll be frustrated for yet another half hour."
Rachel frowned. "Huh?"
"Grown up joke," he amended. "Night night, sleep tight, let the bed bugs give you a fright, yadda yadda yadda. Night kiddo," he saluted her from the doorway and then left. As he flopped down on the couch, exhausted, he thought back over what had just happened.
Really, if you thought about it, he'd just saved his and Cuddy's relationship.
If he'd made Rachel hate him and not trust him and be scared of him, Cuddy would have had no choice but to end it. He'd have been kicked out so fast that there'd still be cripple shaped imprint on the couch. With everything he actually cared about dangling in front of him, he'd managed to sort it out.
He'd done the right thing.
He was still feeling a little smug about this ten minutes later when Cuddy got home, shaking the raindrops out of her hair and shrugging off her jacket. "Hey," she smiled widely, giving him the joyful toothy smile that always turned him on. "Good day?" She murmured, pressing her lips hungrily against his and letting his hands mould themselves around her back.
"Getting better," he replied, snaking his tongue around hers and flipping her over so she was pinned beneath him. He put his mouth to her neck and sucked eagerly, feeling the flutter of her heartbeat beneath his lips.
"You know, I got the weirdest voicemail today," Cuddy mumbled, eyes closing as she enjoyed his ministrations. "I have no idea who it was from. There was a lot of shouting - and then I heard your voice." He stopped his kissing and stared at her. She smirked. "Some hooker party I don't know about? Whoever she was seemed to be pretty pissed off."
He swallowed. "What did she say?" He asked delicately.
Cuddy eyed him suspiciously. "Just that she hated you. It was pretty muffled and short and high-pitched, but I got the gist of it." She stroked his cheek. "Am I going to have another law suit on my desk in the morning?"
House pulled himself up off her and sank back. He'd been on the metaphorical fence about whether to tell Cuddy about Rachel's and his conversation, and it the spur of the moment he'd just ran with the touching and kissing - forgetting that Cuddy needed to know this. She had to know that he wasn't a deadbeat and that he did care. Long gone were the days of not trusting each other or of Cuddy being convinced that he didn't care about her, but still - House always felt that he had something to prove.
"The girl on the message," he said quietly, Cuddy sitting up to pay attention, "it was Rachel."
Cuddy frowned. "Why would she say she hated you? Were you teasing her?"
"No," he shook his head. "We were talking about... nothing. School, blah blah - and then I said something and she freaked. She started screaming, asking why I hated her and why didn't I love her and why wasn't she good enough..." He looked up at Cuddy, wincing at her horrified expression. "She says that I'm always mean to her," he relayed softly.
Cuddy swallowed. "But, you've never done anything to her, right?"
"Of course!" House answered immediately. "Come on, I would never hurt her."
"She's my child," Cuddy said slowly. "She says she's upset because of you, I'm going to believe her." She paused. "You know that, don't you?"
"I know," House nodded. "I think... she's right. I think I am mean to her - not deliberately, not obviously - but she seems to think of me as a dad. I've never thought of myself that way and apparently all the paternal affection that I wasn't showing her was making her think I hated her." He gulped. "I may not want to be her daddy, but I do not hate her."
Cuddy was stunned. "Did you... tell her that?"
"Yes," he answered. "I explained to her why... I am the way I am. Not my leg, just why I act so cold to her sometimes. She seemed okay when I left - she was going to sleep. It's fine and I handled it and she and I are definitely okay... but she's your daughter and you deserve to know when she apparently hates the only man in her household." He shot her an ashamed look. "I thought I should let you know."
Cuddy got up quietly. "I have to check on her," she muttered. House leaned up to grab her hand. "Don't..." She turned to him. "I should have noticed that she felt like this," she elaborated. "But I didn't. Thank you for trying to sort it out, but until I talk to her, just... Don't. Okay?"
"Okay," he accepted. "Cuddy," he said as she started toward her daughter, "I tried to do the right thing."
Cuddy nodded. She couldn't even begin to form any opinions or judgements until she'd spoken to her daughter. "I hope you got it right," she offered, then started through the house.