A/N: This story was inspired by series five of Doctor Who. Amy, the doctor's current companion, once met the Doctor when she was a little girl, and she called him her Raggedy Doctor. One day, when she was much, much older, he came back. This is a similar story.
There are also small nods to Minority Report, The American President, Harry Potter, The End of the Affair, and Rainbow Brite. No copyright infringement is intended. Some references are more obvious than others. Brownie points to those who find them.
I'd like to thank my lovely beta, Penelope Cartwright. Without her support and encouragement, none of this would be possible. I also want to thank Akemi1582 for her honest insight and help in this story's final stages.
My Raggedy Doctor
Rachel is three years old.
She wonders where he's gone, her playmate, her friend. Her mother stays in bed a lot, her eyes red-rimmed and her cheeks stained with tears. She wants to ask why her mother is so sad, but she thinks she knows. Even at three years old, she knows. Because she misses him, too.
Later in her life, when she's old enough for it to mean something, she'll remember asking her mother where he went, her brave, playful, stubborn scallywag friend. And she'll remember her mother's forlorn reply, "I don't know, baby," as she brushes the hair back from her daughter's forehead. She'll remember the vibrant blue of his eyes the longest – that will be the last memory that fades before he's just a blur in her adolescence, the warm feeling in her chest when she thinks of her childhood.
But for now, at age three, her emotions undeveloped, she is angry. Angry that he's been ripped from her life. Angry that her mother was happy and now she's sad. Angry in that way, that you don't quite know why you are angry but there's nothing you can do to change it.
Rachel is four years old.
Her mother is telling her that they're moving far, far away. She cries, helplessly. She asks her mother, tearfully, if she can bring her bunny with her. Her mother smiles, "Of course Bunny can come. That's not even a question."
When she asks her mother why they're leaving, her mother explains that she's going to work at a bigger hospital in a town called "Seer-a-cuse", where they'll have lots of playgrounds and snow and other fun things for them to do together. She tells her that she can make new friends there, but Rachel is upset, missing her current ones already.
"Is Hows coming with us?" Rachel asks one day, absentmindedly coloring her Rainbow Brite coloring book while her mother packs dishes into boxes. Her mother freezes, her breath catching. She doesn't like to talk about her playmate much anymore, after she helped him in the hospital when his leg was hurt, because she knows it makes her mother sad. But if they're moving, then of course House has to come with them, right? They can't just leave him here. Who would he play with?
Her mother turns, her storm-gray eyes sparkling with unshed tears, "No, honey. House is… he can't come with us."
"How come?" Rachel asks inquisitively.
She watches her mother, too young to recognize what searching for a lie looks like, "He has to stay here. He's… very sick. And he needs to be here to get better."
"Can't he get better in Seer-a-cuse?"
Her mother sits at the table, brushing a stray curl back from her forehead as Rachel puts down the blue crayon in exchange for the yellow. Rainbow's hair is always yellow.
"House has to get better here. And we're going to go away for a while, and maybe one day, when we come back, he'll be better. And we can see him again."
Rachel is seven years old.
She loves to run. She chases Danny when he pulls her pigtails, and oftentimes catches him, punching him lightly in the arm in playground rules of reciprocation. She loves dinosaurs and ninjas and wants to be an astronaut when she grows up.
Her long, brown hair cascades down her back, blowing in the wind as she races down the sidewalk from the bus stop. She opens the front door of the Cuddy family home, shrugging off her coat and throwing it dismissively on a nearby chair.
"Mom!" she calls out, bounding down the hallway. She hears her mother's voice in the study, speaking quietly, then a man's soft baritone. She freezes, startled, then recognizes the voice.
"It doesn't matter. He threatened the life of my child. He can go to hell, for all I care," she hears her mother say.
"Cuddy, he's better. He's under twenty-four hour guard. He's doing the group work, taking the meds, he's –"
Rachel runs into the room, arms akimbo.
"Uncle Wilson!" she screams, wrapping her short arms around his frame as he stands in the middle of the room, looking at her mother. Rachel doesn't notice the plaintive look on his face, or the anger in her mother's. She's just happy to see a friend.
"I still have Mr. Ducky, Uncle Wilson," she exclaims.
Wilson looks down at her, patting the crown of her head gently, "Oh, yeah?"
She nods excitedly, "He's kinda dirty cuz I was playing with him in the snow and there was some mud, but I cleaned him up all nice and he is almost good as new, just a little more mustardy than he was before," Rachel rambles, pleased to see him after almost a year.
He sits down, then, picking her up and putting her on his lap. Her mother's sour expression changes to one of pride as she watches her daughter fill Wilson in on the events of her life.
Rachel doesn't ask about House. She stopped doing that a while ago, when she realized that each time she did it made her mother sad. Rachel doesn't want to make her mother sad. She's sad enough already.
Sometime later, her mother interrupts Rachel's story about the people of Whoville and the giant elephant who can hear them, "Wilson, would you like to stay for dinner?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, pleeeeease?" Rachel begs, pulling on his lapel.
She notices his bushy eyebrows rise in surprise, then lower as he smiles and replies, "Sure, but then I have to get back to the hotel. I have my presentation at eight tomorrow morning."
Later that evening, while Rachel lies in bed staring at the glow-in-the-dark swirl of constellations on the ceiling above her, she pretends not to hear Uncle Wilson and her mother whispering heatedly to each other. She knows who they are talking about, though, and a tear tracks its way down her cheek as she strives to remember her old scallywag friend. She remembers his eyes, and his gravelly laugh, and his feigned exasperation. But nothing else, not anymore. He's been gone nearly half her life.
"He's never going to apologize," her mother sighs, "I know him too well. This was his way of moving on. Who cares if anyone else got hurt in the process?"
"He never had any intention of – "
"I don't care what his intentions were, Wilson. What he did is unacceptable. I'm glad he's getting help – he needs it – but he is not welcome back into my life until… hell, I don't even know. An apology would be good, for a start. But we both know that will never happen," she hears her mother whisper.
"He is sorry. You know that. He may not say it, but the rehab, going back to Mayfield. He's doing that for you," Wilson replies plaintively.
"I don't want him to do that for me. Look what happened the last time? He put so much pressure on our relationship and it broke. And you and I were left picking up the pieces. One of the pieces was home. And one of them was my daughter," Rachel hears her mother's voice break on the last sentence, and buries her head further under the covers, trying to drown out the whispers down the hall.
Wilson is quiet.
"You go back there and tell him. Tell him that I'm sorry for breaking his heart. I am sorry for my high expectations and my inability to acknowledge his pain and fear. But tell him this, too. Tell him that if he ever tries to hurt me or Rachel again, I will kill him," her mother says with finality.
There's some rustling, then the front door opening.
"Please tell Rachel I said goodbye," Wilson says before closing the door behind him.
It takes a long time for Rachel to get to sleep that night.
Rachel is nine years old.
She thinks dinosaurs are lame, and has taken up painting instead. She wears fake blue extensions in her hair – the kind you get at Sally Beauty for $3 – and her nails are a rainbow of glitter. She wants to be a doctor, like her mom, and she sneaks into her bedroom to play with her makeup when her after school sitter goes to the bathroom. She gets yelled at, sometimes, but she doesn't care.
She prides herself on reading the first three Harry Potter books in two days.
It's a blistery spring morning when her mother comes home unexpectedly early from the Syracuse University Hospital, where she's Dean of Medicine. The sitter is paid and rushed out of the house before Rachel even turns away from her NickToons cartoons.
"Mom?" she asks, curiously, looking around the now empty living room. Did she just hear her mother's voice? She hears the slamming of a closet door upstairs and runs up to see what's going on.
"What's going on, Mom?" she asks as she watches her mother pull a small suitcase out from under the bed. Her mother stops, sighing in relief.
"Oh, good, you're here. We have to run up to New Jersey for a couple days, okay?"
"A… friend. He's sick. We need to go help him."
"Um… okay…." Rachel snarks until a worried expression crosses her young features, "Is it Uncle Wilson?"
"No, Uncle Wilson's fine. Rach, we don't have time for this now. I'll explain in the car. Go get your Blue suitcase – the one with the flowers – just pack two days worth of clothes, okay?"
"Mooom," Rachel whines, "I don't like the blue suitcase anymore."
Her mother rubs her forehead in exasperation, pausing her packing to stare down her child, "Fine. The green one, then. Go." She points in the direction of Rachel's room and Rachel stomps off to pack her things. In her exasperation, she doesn't notice her mother slowly taking a seat on the edge of the bed, the hand at her brow trembling with fear.
The miles of road stretch ahead of them, and Rachel fights the boredom of the four and a half hour drive with her iPod playing at a volume her mother completely disapproves of. She listens to the Disney pop while she contemplates her mother, noticing how she brushes her hair away from her face nervously, or taps her left foot on the floor of the car. Her driving is a bit erratic, too – not faster, just… more jumpy. Like she's waiting for something bad to happen. Rachel is worried about her mom, to be sure, but she's more worried about missing her friends, or soccer practice, or choir, than anything else.
She's pretty happy about missing Math class, though. She hates Math.
After a while, when she's played all the songs in her playlist, she puts the MP3 player away and stares out at the green scenery going by.
"Mom?" she asks, once again glancing at her mother from the back seat of the SUV.
"Yeah, sweetie?" Her mother regards her in the rearview mirror, an eyebrow raised.
"Where are we going again?"
"New Jersey. Plainsboro, New Jersey."
Rachel is quiet for a moment, curiosity etched on her young features, "I was born in New Jersey."
"That's right, sweetie. In Trenton," her mother smiles warmly.
"Are we gonna see where I was born?" Rachel doesn't realize how difficult this question is for her mother.
"Not this trip, sweetie. Maybe when you're a little older."
"Okay," Rachel shrugs, pulling a book from her hastily packed backpack and opening it to her bookmark. She reads for a moment as her mother watches her, her eyes alternating between the road and her daughter.
"Why are we going to New Jersey?"
"Remember when I told you my friend was sick? Well, he's very sick. I want to spend a little time with him to make sure he gets b-"
"Is it House?"
Her mother is shocked for a moment, then replies, nodding, "Do you remember House, sweetie?"
"I guess. I mean, a little," she shrugs again, "I remember you told me he was sick. I thought he was gonna get better and then we could see him again."
"I did, too, sweetie," her mother nods solemnly.
"Is he gonna die?" Rachel asks, fear creeping into her voice, "because Rabbi Schulman said when people die they go to heaven, and if House goes to heaven, that wouldn't be so bad, right?"
"No, that wouldn't be so bad. But House is not going to die, so don't worry about it, okay?"
"Okay," Rachel goes back to her reading for a moment before lifting her head up once again, "Can I see him?"
"We'll see, honey."
When they arrive at Princeton Plainsboro, everyone stops to see the former Dean of Medicine walk through the halls. Rachel's mother is greeted by nurses, doctors and orderlies alike, with mumblings of "Good to have you back", and "We've missed you", and "How is Syracuse treating you?" They don't talk to anyone long, and eventually make their way up to the fourth floor.
Her mother kneels down in front of her next to a closed door. She gently cups her daughter's shoulders, "Rach, honey, this is Uncle Wilson's office. I need you to stay in here for a little bit while I go check on House, okay?"
Rachel looks at the door, then back to her mother, "Does he have a TV?"
"No, sorry, sweetie. But he does have a couple toys in the cabinet behind his desk that you can play with. Just be careful because they were gifts, okay?"
She stands up, holding Rachel's hand as they enter the office. Rachel looks around, then grabs a seat behind Wilson's desk. He's kindly left paper and some crayons out for her, and a small stuffed bear next to it. Rachel picks up the bear and smiles, barely hearing her mother as she says, "Rachel, I'm going to close this door. If anyone knocks, don't let them in unless you know who it is, okay? And don't leave."
"Okay, Mom," she sighs exasperatedly as she is focused on the bear. She doesn't even hear the door close.
An hour later, Rachel has used up all of the paper that Wilson has provided. She's drawn houses and flowers and rainbows and even tried a self-portrait, with mixed results. She is bored with her books and music – she used them in the car already. She cracks the door open, looking around for her mother. She is nowhere to be found, so Rachel ventures further out into the hall. Nurses and orderlies pass her, paying no attention, as she stalks the halls. To her left, she sees a room full of doctors arguing over blue and green folders, and she stops to wave at them. They pause their argument to wave back, confused, until she moves on.
It's a few more twists and turns before she hears her mother's voice, and she doesn't like what she's hearing. She hides behind the nurse's station, peering into one of the hospital rooms. A nurse eyes her curiously as she brushes by, but says nothing. From her position on the floor, Rachel can see her mother's legs. She knows that someone's in the bed, but can't see his face. But she knows it's House. She can feel it.
"You don't have to do this, House," her mother is saying, her voice angry, "I can't do this for you."
"You have to," she hears him reply, his voice weaker than Rachel remembered, and older.
"Why don't you have your… concubine… do it? Isn't she your legal – "
"She left, two years ago. Sent me the divorce papers in Mayfield. I guess she thought a green card wasn't worth having a husband in a mental hospital, even if the marriage was a sham."
She can hear the plaintiveness in her mother's voice, "Please, House. I can't. You want this now, but eventually, this will be – you'll blame me all over again."
"Cuddy, I never blamed you the first time. You sure acted like I did, but it was… I need someone I can trust to do this for me. Wilson thinks I'm crazy but you know different. You know this is what I need,"
Rachel squeezes her eyes shut. She's not sure she wants to know what he's asking, but she does know that her hunt for her mother is over. She gets up to go toward her mother, her voice quiet, "Mommy?"
A few feet from the door, a hand gently stops her. She looks up to find her Uncle Wilson, and smiles.
"You can't go in there right now, Rachel," he says solemnly.
"But…" she looks at her mother's pained expression, then back at Uncle Wilson.
"C'mon, let's get you a snack," he says as he pats her back, slowly guiding her away from her mother and House.
"Look; I know you don't owe me anything," House's voice is quiet as Rachel walks away, "I know I screwed up. Frankly, I'm surprised you even came out here at all. I just wanted… forget it. I'll find –"
"I'll do it," comes her mother's terse reply as she and her uncle walk out of earshot.
Rachel follows her mother into the lobby of the Marriott hotel, her eyes bleary. She had fallen asleep on the sofa in Uncle Wilson's office, surrounded by empty snack packs and a rainbow of crayons, and now it's three o'clock in the morning and she's dragging her small suitcase and backpack up to their room. She is cranky, and tired, and upset. But most of all, she is worried. Her mother has been stoic all evening, to the point of coldness. She can tell, even at her age, that her mother is barely holding it together.
When they enter the hotel room, Rachel throws her bag on the oversized king bed, barely noticing when her mother slips into the bathroom. Holding her ear to the door, she can vaguely make out the sounds of her mother crying, and this scares her. She vows to be a good girl for the rest of the trip. She won't cause her mother any more stress. She promises.
Her mother's phone rings while she is putting her pajamas on. She expects her mother to open the door to answer it, but the door remains closed. Rachel pulls the phone out of her mother's purse. There is no name, just a picture of a house and a phone number. If Rachel's learned one thing over the years, it's never answer Mom's phone, so she puts it aside, letting it ring. She crawls into bed, and is half asleep when her mother comes out of the bathroom. In the shadows, Rachel can see her mother's tear-stained face and defeated posture.
Her mother climbs into the giant bed with her, and Rachel looks into her eyes. "I'm sorry you're sad, Mommy," she whispers, her hand reaching out to softly pat her mother's head.
Her mother smiles, though it doesn't quite reach her eyes, "I am, too, honey."
"Do you think House is going to be okay?"
"I don't know. I hope so."
"I miss him, Mommy," Rachel admits quietly.
"So do I," her mother replies. She pulls her daughter close, wrapping her arms around her tightly and burrowing her nose in her soft hair.
"I love you, Rachel. More than anything."
"I love you, too, Mommy."
It is late morning when Rachel and Lisa Cuddy are back on the road to Upstate New York, and even later when Rachel reminds her mother of the phone call from the night before. Her mother looks at her phone for the first time in what seems like days, and hesitates before pushing the voicemail button. The car's speakers play the message through the Bluetooth.
"Cuddy, it's me. I know you're probably on your way back up to Syracuse or wherever," his speech was slurred, Rachel can tell, and the steady beeps in the background tell her that he is still at the hospital, "I just wanted to say… I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything. For hurting you, for betraying you, for your house, for your life. I don't blame you for leaving, one bit. I'd leave me, too, if I could. You were right to get as far away from me as possible.
"I love you, Cuddy. I probably always will. But I know that nothing I will do or say will change what I did, so, I guess, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for hiring me, for loving me for a while, for doing… this for me. You think that when I'm not all drugged up I'm going to hate you, but I promise I won't. This was for the best.
"Have a good life. Say hi to the kid for me. No – never mind. She's better off forgetting."
The click at the end of the message is deafening, and Rachel is left staring at her mother's shocked expression in bewilderment and confusion. She doesn't understand her mother's relationship with her old playmate, and perhaps she never will. But as she watches her mother's reaction, sees the strength she possesses under the weight of House's words, she understands that this was the end of something big and powerful. And that she would never see him again.
Rachel is twelve years old.
She has decorated her room in shades of black and red, and is on a Beatles kick. She wears bracelets that jingle and colors her Chucks with magic marker and wants to get her ears pierced but her mother keeps telling her to wait until she's thirteen, which she hates. She loves Doctor Who (Twelve is her favorite). Her grades are decent. She loves to read, and wants to be a writer when she grows up, a profession that her mother disapproves of ("Writers don't make any money until after they're dead. And by then it's too late to enjoy it"). She loves Hemingway and Keats, and is learning to play the piano. She doesn't know why, but she's always wanted to learn the piano.
Her mother, she has come to realize, even in all of her tween rebellion, is beautiful and sad. She works hard, has a few friends, stays home at night (to Rachel's eye-rolling dismay) because she insists on having a family dinner. She is content, but she is not happy.
It's a Saturday, when the doorbell rings. She bounds down the stairs, taking two at a time, and pulls open the door. Standing at the threshold is an old man. He's got a long face, grey hair and a cane, and looks at her with surprise and recognition.
"Rachel?" his voice is gravelly, and he is favoring his right side.
"Yeah?" she replies, snapping her gum impatiently.
"Do you remember me?" he asks.
She turns around, hollers down the hallway, "Mom, there's someone at the door for you!" before bounding into the direction of kitchen, a ball of energy and youth.
"Rachel!" the man repeats, a little louder. There's vague recognition in his bark, the way he curls his r around the a in her name gives her pause. She can hear her mother's footsteps echoing down the hallway, moving closer. She turns around, looking into the man's eyes. For whatever weariness he exudes, his eyes are a stunning blue. A blue that she vaguely…
"House?" Rachel whispers.
Her mother is behind her, then, a solid figure at her back and a cross look on her face, "What are you doing here, House?"
His gaze travels across Rachel's face, his eyes sorrowful, before moving up to her mother's, "I, uh… I needed to talk to you."
"Are you better, House?" Rachel asks before her mother can reply.
He looks at her curiously, then shakes his head, "I don't think I'll ever be better. Not completely. But I am… I'm okay."
She smiles gently, slowly remembering her old friend, "I'm glad. I waited for you to –"
"Rach? Can you give us a minute, please?" her mother interjects, keeping her gaze on House's face.
Rachel huffs in frustration, trudging up the stairs in a, slow, angry stomp. When she reaches the landing, she peers around the corner and down the stairs, watching her mother.
"What are you doing here, House?" her mother asks again.
He is quiet for a moment. "I'm not sure," he admits. I got in my car, and it just sort of drove itself up here."
"How's you're, uh…" she gestures toward his leg, and he looks down at it.
He knocks on his right leg lightly, a hollow sound even through his jeans, "Fantastic," he snarks, "I could run two marathons."
Her mother ignores his sarcasm, "Does it still hurt?"
"There's some phantom pain every now and then. Nothing compared to before, though."
Rachel watches her mother's back, unmoving, as she stares at the man in the doorway. Her shoulders are stiff, and Rachel recognizes that posture. That's her "I'm angry and frustrated but keeping it together" posture. Rachel knows it well from all the times she leaves her dishes in the sink or brings home a C in Science class. She hears a sigh, and her mother's shoulders slump as she invites House inside.
His gait is more balanced than she remembers, though he still favors his right side. When her mother invites him into the living room, Rachel tiptoes down the stairs, watching through the banister rails as House awkwardly sits down on the sofa, holding his leg. Her mother sits next to him, and for a moment, Rachel wonders at how they seem to read each other without speaking. Her mother is the first to break the silence.
"I, uh," she rubs her left palm with her right thumb as she tries to form the words, "I got your message. Messages, rather. I thought you should know."
House hangs his head, embarrassed, "I wasn't sure I'd actually called you. I was kind of – "
"Out of it?"
They laugh lightly, then catch themselves.
"I'm sorry I never called you back," her mother says.
"No, it's okay. I know you're busy. Hospitals to run, doctors to boss around, donors to screw," he replies lightheartedly.
"Still. I could have called," she admits.
"Yeah, you could have. But I don't blame you for –"
Rachel, listening intently, brushes her fingers idly through her hair, her bracelets clanging together as they fall down her arm. She doesn't realize that she's been caught until House turns to look her in the eye.
He leans forward, close to her mother, and stage-whispers conspiratorially, "We have a spy,"
Her mother turns around, eyeing her daughter's chagrinned look, "Rachel, I told you to go upstairs."
Rachel stands up, descending the staircase and taking a seat on the chair opposite the sofa where her mother and House sit. "No," she says, "I wanna know why he's here, too."
"Don't argue with me –"
"It's okay, Cuddy," House puts his hand on her mother's arm, and Rachel notices her mother's subtle reaction – like a circuit has been closed, "She can hear this, too."
Her mother sighs, nodding her agreement while eyeing House warily.
"I've had plenty of time to think, y'know? Over the past few years. At the… hospital. In rehab –"
"You were a drug addict?" Rachel asks.
"Yes, for a while," he answers unapologetically, "but also physical rehabilitation, for my leg." He knocks on his leg slightly, and the hollow sound is louder. He lifts up the cuff of his jeans and she sees a long medal rod protruding out of his sneaker and up towards his knee. A prosthetic, she recognizes. They talked about them in health class.
"I had an accident. I hurt some people," he looks right at her mother, then back at her, "I was in a lot of pain for a long time. And then your mother helped me."
"Are you still in pain?"
"No, it doesn't hurt anymore."
"And, are you still an addict?"
"Rachel," he leans forward, "I will always be a drug addict. I haven't taken a pill in seven years, three months, eight days. But that doesn't mean I won't tomorrow."
He shrugs, "Because I'm a drug addict."
Rachel doesn't quite understand, but she lets him continue.
"Anyway, It's taken me a long time…" he turns to face Cuddy directly, "When the pain is gone – really gone, you get this sense of clarity like you wouldn't believe. Suddenly life's not about the pain anymore, it's not about forgetting it, or deadening it, or lessening it. It's not about finding relief either, or this elusive desire for constant, impossible happiness. It's about finding someone who will put up with you. That's it – that's the bottom line," He takes a deep breath, and Rachel notices her mother's eyes glistening with unshed tears, "And I know I was to blame for not being there for you, for not facing the pain. But I've – I understand now. It took a long time, and I made a lot of stupid mistakes, but, Cuddy, it hurts so much more living without you than whatever stupid imagined pain I felt in opening up to you. I'm tired of living without you. It's been eight years of… I just can't do it anymore."
The room is silent for a moment, and Rachel's eyes scan back and forth, from her mother – the only family she's ever really known – to her old scallywag friend, and she is unsure of what will happen next. She doesn't expect her mother to start yelling, but then she rarely does until it happens.
"Where the hell do you get off?" her mother exclaims angrily, her voice thick with emotion, "You did everything in your power to make me hate you. You destroyed my home, my life. You made me walk away for the safety of my child." she points angrily at her daughter, "I tried, for years, to forget you. Forget how much you meant to me. I convinced myself that I couldn't love you anymore, that you'd broken every promise you made when you disappeared to Tahiti, or wherever the hell you were."
"Fiji," he corrects, his head hanging low. Even from across the room, Rachel can see how much hope he'd held in coming here, and how her mother was breaking his heart all over again.
"Mom, stop," Rachel exclaims.
"Rachel, stay out of this, " her mother says pointedly, and it is only then that she realizes how much pain her mother is really in.
"I've made my life mean something again, House. I've got friends, a life. It took time, but…" her mother sighs, then, in defeat. Her shoulders sag, and she cups her face in her hands, trying to hide the tears as they fall.
"I'm sorry, Cuddy," House murmurs as he starts to stand, "I should go…"
"No," her mother's arm shoots out, grabbing him by the wrist, "Don't you get it? It didn't work. None of it worked. I told myself that we would never have lasted anyway. That you could never be there for me like I need you to be. But it didn't matter."
She stands to meet him, a soft smile on her face, "I love you. "
"But you wish you didn't, right?"
Her mother closes her eyes, and Rachel guesses that he's referencing something she said a long time ago.
"No. I just love you."
House smiles, and for the first time, Rachel truly recognizes the man she knew as a child. He pulls her mother in close, her mother resting her head on his shoulder. She's never seen her mother this content, this… happy. That's what it is. For the first time since she can remember, her mother is actually happy.
Rachel books it upstairs when the kissing starts. She loves her mother but, come on. They're old. That's just gross.
It takes some time, but it's worth it. There are nights when she can hear her mother and House yelling at each other from the other end of the building, and nights when it's so quiet she's sure they're doing things in their room that no parent should be allowed to do. They argue a lot, but they are, Rachel suspects, happier than they've ever been. Her mother is quick to laugh a lot more. House is as funny as she remembers, but on the rare bad day he can cut her with a single phrase. Rachel hates it, but she loves him. He's her first friend, and he came back. Why wouldn't she?
Rachel is thirteen years old.
She loves movies, and has a boyfriend named Bryce (House hates his name more than anything) and wears makeup and is about to graduate from 8th grade. She has cut her hair, and painted her room. House is teaching her the piano, and has convinced her to dump her Beatles collection in favor of The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix. She is growing up. But she still wants to be a writer.
House has eased into semi-retirement with a part-time teaching position at Syracuse University. He hates his students, mostly, but doesn't mind teaching. It's Diagnostics, which he loves, and his TAs do all the paperwork for him.
Rachel isn't sure how that works – him working for her mother and coming home to her at the same time. She suspects it's a delicate balancing act. She also suspects they thrive on conflict, so it works for them. She asks her mother, and House on occasion, tidbits about their lives from before. Where did they meet? When did they fall in love, the first time? The second time? The third time? What's different now?
She knows when she asks him that it's never the first answer that she believes, or the second or third. But the forth answer is usually correct, and one day, when she has all these little tidbits tucked away in her head, she plans to write their story; A story of love and loss and pain and redemption, of suffering and sadness and beauty and Joy.
For now, she is happy enough, even with all her teenage angst. She's getting used to having a father again, and even though she argues with him all the time, House is more solemn than she remembers. On quiet nights, when she tiptoes through the house in search of mischief, she can hear them whispering to each other in the dark, like secret lovers. Officially, she thinks it's gross, how much they love each other again. But unofficially she knows how lucky they are to have each other, and how much they understand that the alternative, for all its calmness and monotony, is never going to be an option for them. They gravitate toward each other like planets, forever in each other's orbit.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
Sorry if it goes a bit OOC at the end. I wanted House and Cuddy to have a happy ending, and figured 8 years was enough time for them both to come to a lot of realizations and learn a lot from the mistakes of the past and be ready to start over. It's completely unrealistic in Shore's Houseverse, but this is my own and I want them together, dammit! :P
Thanks for reading!