Disclaimer: After that finale, I wouldn't go near it with a ten-foot pole.
A/N: Spoilers for the finale...but if you haven't seen that, why are you reading fanfiction? Set several years after "Moving On"
Thanks to Pandorama for betaing.
Maybe it's the fact they've know been on this road trip for four days, or the fact she hasn't asked this question since Maryland and by now they're almost out of Delaware. Admittedly, Delaware takes about twenty minutes to cross, but they're approaching the turn-off for their final state line and she feels compelled to ask again.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
She knows she's asked this question several times already on the drive up from Florida on Interstate 95, but she can't help herself. She still hasn't come to terms with the fact that she's allowing her daughter to do the one thing she vowed never to do again.
They are going to see Gregory House.
Ten-year-old Rachel already has her adopted mother's glare down cold; she is demonstrating it right now as she answers. "Yes." Sensing trouble, she reminds her, "You said that I could go."
"I know," Cuddy answers, sighing. "But that still doesn't mean I think it's a good idea."
"It's complicated." She knows it's a cop-out answer, but she has never told Rachel about the last meeting she'd had with House, when he drove his car through her dining room. Literally through it. She can only be thankful Rachel hadn't been in the room at the time. She hasn't seen House since he returned her hair brush (which she has long since thrown away). She found out later from the police that he had been intercepted at the airport upon his return from San Jose. Why he had chosen the Costa Rican capital as his getaway location, she could only guess, but he hadn't made much effort to conceal his whereabouts. He hadn't even used a fake passport.
They've been living in Miami so long she's surprised Rachel even remembers Princeton. She can still remember Rachel explaining one of her earliest members as writing a note in a hospital room and wanting to know who the man was for whom she wrote the note. Cuddy has kept House's worst moments from her daughter, preferring that if her daughter has to remember him at all, she should at least get to remember the good parts. Cuddy wishes she could do the same.
"You always say that," Rachel answers unhappily. She shifts in her seat so she's facing away from Cuddy. "You never tell me anything."
They have reached the Pennsylvania border. Although they don't have to go all the way to New Jersey to find him, the fact this is the closest to her former home she's been in years is not lost on her.
"What do you remember about him?" Cuddy asks, surprising herself with the question. But she is genuinely curious. This is Rachel's birthday wish: Cuddy had promised that as Rachel's special gift for turning double digits, she could have anything she wanted within financial reason. Unfortunately, she hadn't banked on needing to set an emotional limit. But she has to wonder why Rachel would choose to see someone Cuddy thought she barely knew, let alone could remember.
"Feed the monkey," Rachel replies. "Didn't he teach me how to play?"
"Yes," Cuddy says, "but do you remember that? Or did someone tell you he taught you?"
"I remember," she says defensively.
"Okay," Cuddy concedes, though she remains doubtful. "Anything else?"
"He hurt his leg."
Cuddy nods; she knows Rachel is remembering that fateful night when House decided to butcher his leg in the bathtub. She wishes she didn't remember. Looking back, she should have realized that was the beginning of the end.
"But why do you want to see him?" Cuddy presses.
"To see if his leg is better," she answers, as though this is the most obvious thing in the world.
Cuddy knows it won't be. "That's all?"
"No, that would be silly!" Rachel proclaims.
A sheepish smile graces her daughter's lips. "He was my first friend."
For all the memories she has tried to bury and erase, she has underestimated the impact that House had, however unintentionally, on Rachel. She feels a flash of guilt, as though she has denied Rachel some essential part of herself, of her childhood. She thinks back to the wide-eyed toddler who ate her oatmeal with her spoon held backwards, the toddler with whom House had played, even without being asked. She has spent so much time suppressing the memories, trying to move on with her life, professional and personal alike. She's had four suitors but no rings. And no more children. It's just her and Rachel, and that has to be enough.
Her attention snaps back to her daughter. "Yes, sorry. What were you saying?"
"I was answering your question. I said he was my first friend. And then you didn't answer because you started thinking about how he was your friend, too. Right?"
"Uh – right," she answers distractedly. "Here." She hands Rachel the folder of documents that have been printed for this trip. "Find the MapQuest directions in there and pull them out for me."
Rachel takes the folder from her and begins ruffling between the pages of hotel confirmations and attractions in the various states on 95. She finally extracts the page of directions and hands it to Cuddy.
"Thanks," she replies without looking at the document. She doesn't want to be reminded of where she is going.
Finding him hadn't been as hard as she'd thought. She hadn't wanted to ask Wilson or any of the fellows still at PPTH (admittedly, only Taub and Foreman, who was now Head of Diagnostics) because she hadn't talked to the latter two in seven years and didn't want the former to get any ideas. An internet search had led her to a newspaper article that told her all she needed to know.
He had been arrested about five years ago for attempted murder – and not her own. He had been arrested for trying to kill Wilson of all people, though she supposes she shouldn't be surprised. From what she's read, she gathers that the whole incident could have passed for an accident, but anyone who knew anything about House knew it wasn't. He had crashed his car again, but this time Wilson had been a passenger. He had pled down (probably because he was forced) to reckless endangerment and granted some leniency for "diminished capacity." She thinks that is just a technical term for "Vicodin-overdose-impaired-higher-brain-function" but all the same, she is glad her daughter will not be visiting him in prison.
Admittedly, the state institution isn't much better.
The institution is in Philadelphia, and she knows that Wilson is working at the University of Pennsylvania hospital. He is bound to be House's only visitor. Actually, she's counting on it.
She pulls the car into the parking lot and glances over at Rachel. She is looking out the window uncertainly, and for the first time, Cuddy senses that she is nervous. She leans over and takes her daughter's hand.
"Are you going to be okay?" she asks.
Rachel nods without looking back at her. Cuddy squeezes her hand and is about to suggest again that they forget this whole endeavor when there is a soft rap on her window. She turns around and immediately rolls it down to speak to her old friend.
"Didn't think I'd ever see you here," Wilson says seriously.
She is lost for words, and while she tries not to stare, her eyes are drawn to his right arm. Although it is covered by his white lab coat, she knows it to be badly burned and scarred by skin grafts. She can see the mangled flesh on his wrist and hand and knows that he has lost sensation. House's antics have cost Wilson his career. He is now a professor of oncology, and while he does consulting work, he no longer actively practices medicine.
"I couldn't put Rachel on the plane by herself," she answers. She had told Wilson that Rachel was coming; she had no other way of finding out if House was allowed any visitors. "Get in, I'll park the car."
With his left hand, Wilson pulls open the door and slips into the backseat. Through the rearview window, Cuddy sees him extend his left hand out to her daughter. "Hi, Rachel. You probably don't remember me, but I knew you when you were a baby. I'm James."
"Nice to meet you," Rachel answers politely. "Did you work with my mom?"
"I did," he replies. "Your mom, House, and I all worked at the same hospital. He was my best friend."
The use of past tense is not lost on her. "He isn't anymore?"
Cuddy and Wilson exchange a glance before he answers quietly, "No."
She parks the car in short-term parking. Rachel looks uncertain again as Cuddy kills the ignition. When Cuddy looks at her, she can read the visible nerves on her face. "Will you come with me?"
"Rachel…" she says, faltering at her expression. "We talked about this."
"But I'm scared."
"What are you afraid of?" Cuddy asks gently. She's afraid too, but she doubts they are afraid for the same reason.
"I've never been to a hospital myself before."
When Cuddy hesitates, Wilson jumps in. "Well, you know, Rachel, that's why your mom asked me to meet you here. She wants me to go in with you. Is that okay?"
Rachel looks between her mother and Wilson. Finally, she nods her head. "Are you sure you don't want to come, Mom? I'm sure he remembers you, too."
"You know, I'm sure he does, but I am going to let you go with James. He will take really great care of you, and I'll be here waiting for you when you get back."
"Okay." Rachel unbuckles her seatbelt and gets out of the car. Behind her, Wilson does the same. Rachel walks around the car to meet him and though she takes his right hand, Wilson doesn't object. They walk together, hand in hand, for a few steps and then Wilson turns back and approaches the car.
She looks up.
"Are you sure?"
She holds his gaze a few moments, allowing the memories to wash over her. Then the moment ends and she shakes her head.
"Yeah. I'm sure."
A/N: Thanks for reading. Please leave a review if you feel so inclined. I'm not completely adverse to writing a second chapter.