Jensen found his thoughts throughout Thursday and Friday drifting back to House in moments where the psychiatrist wasn't occupied with something else. He was worried, but he still managed to resist the impulse to call. From Wilson's description of Sunday night, Jensen wasn't sure what kind of condition House had been in, between illness, drugs, and stress, and he strongly disagreed with the oncologist's decision to just leave him at the hospital before Cuddy was even awake. He wondered if Sandra had had a few words on that subject later, too. Whether or not House had asked him to go, Wilson should have at least stayed in the hospital nearby a little longer, available if needed, until Cuddy was fully awake and House was doing better himself. By Wilson's own account, House had been in bad shape with the leg worse than usual, had even hit a 10 on the pain scale that day. Someone - someone House would accept help from and someone who hadn't just had surgery, which pretty well limited that list - should have stayed near him to monitor the situation. Based just on Sunday night, Jensen couldn't be sure if the lack of a call from House was a conscious decision or just drugged oversight.
However, Sunday had been several days ago, and that fact definitely swung the balance. Between House himself and Cuddy, one of them would have called Jensen since if they thought a talk before Friday was needed. Clearly, in their judgment, it wasn't. Jensen didn't fully trust Wilson, but he did trust House and Cuddy in combination. He needed to respect their decision. He also was trying to work himself on his tendency to put in extra hours right and left. Melissa had been very understanding during the Patrick Chandler crisis, which really had required a lot extra, but Jensen knew how easy it would be to slip back into old habits. No, the best thing to do now was simply wait for House's next session to judge for himself how his patient had handled an obviously very tough weekend.
Still, Jensen was looking forward to that session Friday, even more than he usually did.
House arrived on time Friday afternoon, and Jensen greeted him and went over to get coffee for both of them from the coffee maker in the corner. Jensen himself didn't have a cup with every patient through the day, though he always offered a drink to them, but he routinely had one with House. He turned back with a cup in each hand and hesitated for just a fraction, then recovered almost instantly. House had taken the chair in front of the desk, not his usual more comfortable one with the ottoman where he could stretch out his leg. A subconscious move, but it spoke volumes. House also looked like he was under a new strain, seeing a new road that he didn't like stretching out in front of him. The signs were subtle, but to Jensen, they were as plain as billboards on the highway. Something new was definitely bothering House, something that hadn't been there when Jensen saw him last a week ago. Either Wilson had totally missed it in his assessment of House at lunch Wednesday, or it was new since then, but Jensen's money was on the former. To have had yet another acute stressor come up since Wednesday would have pushed even House's abysmal luck.
Jensen gave House his cup and went around to take his chair behind the desk, not commenting on the different seating arrangements. "Dr. Wilson mentioned Wednesday that Dr. Cuddy had an appendectomy," he started. "How is she doing?"
House relaxed just a fraction, and the psychiatrist, alert to every minute detail, noted it. It wasn't Cuddy who was bothering him. "She's doing fine. A bit frustrated, of course. She doesn't do taking it easy well." Jensen grinned, remembering House's own reaction to that advice on a few occasions. "It was pretty straightforward, and they did do it laparoscopically. Just a couple of tiny incisions. She's a little sore but on her feet. She'll be back at work next week. In fact, she was trying to convince me that we didn't even need Marina there today, because she could handle the girls and everything."
"I take it you won?" Jensen asked.
"Me and Marina between us. And Rachel threw in her 2-cents' worth, too." Just a flicker of change of expression there, only for a second before it was gone. Something involving Rachel? "Lisa really is making a good recovery, though. She'll be fine." And he called her Lisa. House was definitely on edge about something, although it wasn't his wife's surgery.
"James also said you'd been sick last weekend." Jensen was starting to get a vague outline of a picture based on an few of Wilson's comments, House picking the less comfortable chair today, and Rachel.
House tightened up, a flash of annoyance in his eyes. "Sounds like you did an awful lot of talking about me during his session Wednesday. You ever hear of confidentiality? I know he hasn't, but I'm surprised at you."
Bingo, Jensen thought. Even after nearly two years of therapy in which he was now a willing participant, even admitting the value of it, House still often had a good dodge in him when they were first approaching the neighborhood of a tough topic. It was like a reflex with him. House trusted Jensen by now, and if he were really concerned about confidentiality, he would have objected at the first "Wilson said" comment, not just the second.
Still, Jensen backed off momentarily, taking the time to reassure him. "That was only the first few minutes of the session, and none of it was about your therapy. We almost wound up having that whole discussion by accident. I noticed that James wasn't looking quite 100% and asked, and he said he'd had the virus the last few days, following that with a list of everybody else who had it recently, too, plus the fact that Dr. Cuddy had appendicitis instead. I did ask him for a few more details to make sure everything had turned out all right, since I hadn't known that. But we got down to his own issues fairly quickly."
House looked down at his cup, doing a differential on the coffee. "I thought about calling you Sunday night from the hospital, but I decided not to. I knew you'd been sick, too, but I really felt then like I was okay. It was a hard day, but it ended all right. Lisa was stable, and I wasn't freaking out over her. I was dealing with things."
"Good," Jensen said, accepting that statement as he hadn't quite accepted Wilson's.
House looked up, challenging. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"Yes, I do," Jensen replied evenly, not rising to the bait. House definitely was on edge today, looking for an argument to distract himself. "And that is good. That's progress, to take the bad days in stride." The last word was a bit of a subliminal shot in the dark, and House looked back down at his coffee cup as it went home. Jensen wasn't lying; he did believe House's analysis of Sunday night, and he was glad to hear it. But he also knew that on further reflection, parts of that day - and not the surgical parts - continued to bother House. "So your whole family was sick Sunday. You'd meant to put up the Christmas tree with Rachel that day, right?" He deliberately brought Rachel back into the conversation.
"Right. Didn't get it done then, though. We did it Wednesday night." House stalled again, and Jensen gave him a moment, seeing if House would arrive at the pertinent point of Sunday himself before Jensen gave him a boost. The psychiatrist had a pretty good idea of the central issue by now, not necessarily the exact details that got there but the basic problem.
House took a few swallows of coffee, killing time, then looked up at the psychiatrist. Jensen was sitting there pleasant as always, perfectly willing to wait him out, but House knew with one look at his eyes that the other man had him treed. Politely but firmly treed. House was so used to the upper hand in analysis of data and interpersonal maneuvering that it always rankled a bit to be confronted with just how good at it - equally good at it - Jensen was, only with smooth professionalism instead of snark. "Damn it, you're annoying sometimes," House said but without half of the irritation that had been in his tone a minute ago, just a verbal salute to a worthy opponent.
"I'm sorry," Jensen said, using the phrase to invoke Cuddy. No doubt she knew what was going on, too, and had been trying to support her husband herself this week. Jensen stopped with the strategic apology, still leaving House the opportunity to initiate the topic on his own.
House set his cup back down. "Abby walked on Sunday," he said finally. Again, he felt the surge of pride in his daughter, even if that pride had developed a slightly bittersweet topping the more he had thought - okay, obsessed - about his girls all week.
Jensen smiled. "That's wonderful! She's really getting stronger. She'll catch up with all the others by the time she's a year or two older."
"Yeah," House agreed. "I was so proud of her right then. For those few minutes, none of the rest of it mattered."
"And what was the rest of it?" Jensen asked softly.
House sighed. "The reason she walked. She's never even tried before; just to the pull-up-on-things stage. She was pretty wobbly then, but it was definitely walking. She just got so determined to do something right then that wobbles didn't matter."
"And what was her reason?"
"She was trying to help me." House looked down at his leg, running his right hand over it, feeling the crater that would never again be whole. "I'd just woken up, and it was just me and Abby in the bed; Lisa and Rachel were off somewhere arguing about Christmas trees with Wilson." House paused to see if Jensen would accept that enticing rabbit to chase. It was tempting, but Jensen filed it for later in the session, refusing to let House back away now that he was coming to the crux of what was bothering him. House sighed again and continued.
"So it was just the two of us in the bedroom with the door shut. I had to go to the bathroom - they had me on IV fluids." And with that morsel of information, a testament to just how sick House had been Sunday, Jensen again thought that Wilson should not have completely left the hospital Sunday night. "So I got up, but Abby was determined to come along. I was afraid she'd fall off the bed, so I put her down on the floor." Instead of carrying her, the psychiatrist noted. "I went into the bathroom, and then I got sick and threw up again. And that's when I realized I couldn't get up from the floor." House trailed off, distracted by the glint of anger in Jensen's eyes. "What?"
Jensen took a double-fisted grip on himself. "Nothing. Nothing more important that what you're telling me, anyway." He firmly slammed the mental door on thoughts of Wilson's actions Sunday night. Nothing could be changed now, and in this session, he didn't need to let House get off the topic he'd finally gotten onto. "Go on. So Abby was trying to help you get up?" That mental image, the undersized 1-year-old and her quite-tall father, was adorable, and the psychiatrist was careful to hide any hint of a smile. House would misread it as pity right now, which he was obviously already doing with Abby.
House nodded. "Right. She was across the bathroom, pulling up on the sink. I was on the floor by the toilet wondering what the hell I was supposed to do now. Nobody else nearby and the bedroom door shut, remember. Didn't even have my cell phone on me. So I stretched out a hand to her, just as a joke, really, and asked her to help me out. And she let go of the sink and walked to me." Again the surge of pride.
"I'll bet she was proud of herself, too," Jensen commented.
"She was. She knew I was happy with her, and she was loving every minute of it. It was funny, though; she resented being asked to do it again just as a circus trick. Lisa walked in a little after that, and it took some maneuvering to get Abby to do it again for her. Basically had to recreate the scene, and I could tell she wasn't quite buying it the second time, but she finally cooperated. Then we wanted to show Wilson a few minutes later, and she totally refused on that. Just said, 'No,' and sat down again."
"Has she walked since?"
"Yes, a few times. She's gaining confidence in it slowly. She still doesn't like doing it just to show off. Rachel, now, when she started walking, was all about showing off." Again, the tension increased even more subtly on Rachel than it had with Abby.
"What happened Sunday with Rachel and your leg?" Jensen asked directly.
House took another swallow of coffee before answering. "The whole morning, she was annoyed because of the change of plans on the Christmas tree. She wasn't feeling well, which made her cranky, and she was really irritated about it. She seemed to decide that if she didn't admit she was sick, maybe we could do it anyway. But that was the recurring theme; we could never quite get away from that Christmas tree. And my leg . . . the pain was bad that morning anyway. I couldn't keep down the meds, and I'd had several trips bolting up to the bathroom. It was giving me hell. Lisa wanted to move on to the rescue meds, which we could do injections for, but I was putting it off and hoping I could just ride the virus out."
"Why?" the psychiatrist asked.
"I didn't want to be out of it for the whole day. It was supposed to be a family day, damn it. Even sick, it was kind of a family day. But drugged-out dad didn't fit in that picture. I didn't want the girls to see . . ." He trailed off. "And a whole lot of good that did. What they did see was a lot worse."
"What happened?" Jensen repeated.
"Rachel was going on again about the Christmas tree and demanding to do that. I had picked her up and was trying to explain again that we were sick and couldn't do it that day, but we'd reschedule it. She was disappointed in me." He paused, that part still hurting even aside from the physical pain. "She tried to physically push away and get out of my arms, and she wound up kicking me square in the leg. Hard." Jensen winced himself in sympathy. House looked down again at his thigh, rubbing it. "I don't even remember the next part. I was just trying to keep breathing. Wasn't aware of the others at all; I couldn't think about anything else right then." He looked back up at the psychiatrist. "Not even my daughters. I couldn't even think about my daughters."
"Nobody could have just then," Jensen said. "There's a reason that 10 on the pain scale represents the worst level. You've seen plenty of people in your practice having a severe pain flare who weren't even aware of their surroundings for that period when it was at its worst, right?"
"I know. Medically, it makes sense. But . . . if I could have reassured them somehow . . . maybe it would have helped. They were terrified. Both of them, right there in the bed. They saw all of it. Lisa and Wilson went for the rescue meds then, of course. I couldn't have even gotten them myself; I was fighting passing out. They knocked me out, and when I woke up a few hours later, that's when Abby was so concerned. She wouldn't even let me go to the bathroom by myself. And Rachel . . ." He sighed again. "Rachel had some questions for Lisa, wanting to know what was wrong and if I'd ever get well. And Lisa answered them. And since then, the whole damn week, I can see Rachel watching me. Every night when I come home, she's trying to get a pain reading herself. Everything I do, she's a little bit concerned on it. Wednesday with the Christmas tree, she even told me to be careful when I was putting the ornaments on the top part. I've become fragile to her. So now they know everything." House slammed his hand down suddenly in anger and hit his leg himself - unintentionally. That had simply been a frustration reflex, not an aimed blow, but the thigh couldn't distinguish between intentional or not and went into a cramp. House jumped, closing his eyes.
Jensen was around the desk even before House had realized he was moving. "Stop it," the psychiatrist demanded, pulling his hand away. Jensen carefully probed along the scar, finding the spasm and gently manipulating it loose. His hands almost commanded relaxation, and the leg and House himself couldn't help responding. Jensen massaged the leg for a little longer, then straightened up. "Move," he said firmly. "Get in the other chair." Almost meekly, House stood up stiffly and moved over to his usual chair, stretching his leg out and propping it on the ottoman. Jensen topped off the two coffee cups, then came over to take his own seat, both of them in their routine positions now.
"I didn't mean to do that," House told him, accepting the cup. "Not the leg, anyway. I just felt like hitting something."
"To quote Rachel, be careful next time. And you might not have meant that, but you definitely meant to punish your leg, at least subconsciously, by sitting at the desk. You didn't take a break from driving to stretch it out on the way up this afternoon, either, did you?" House's silence conceded the point. "Tell me, Dr. House, what is it you think the girls know now? You said they know everything. Define everything."
"You know," House protested.
"Pretend I don't. What is everything?"
House looked away. "How hopelessly broken I am," he said softly.
Jensen shook his head. "That's not true. And even aside from whether it's true or not, that's not everything. Even you don't believe that that is a summary statement of your life anymore."
House looked back at him, the blue eyes annoyed. "So now you're going to tell me what I'm feeling? You're good, but you aren't omniscient last time I checked."
"You're the one who told me," Jensen replied.
"When?" House challenged.
"A couple of places. First, you said that you were okay Sunday night, that you felt you had dealt with a tough day fairly well. You obviously were telling the truth there. You were feeling like you were getting better Sunday night, weren't you? Not talking about the virus but in general terms." Slowly, House nodded. "You also said that all being sick together Sunday actually had been a family day of sorts. The experience wasn't completely negative for you. And when you were talking about Abby walking for the first time, you said that at that moment, none of the rest of it, not even your leg, mattered. You think, correctly, that your life is improving, that things are good with your family. You are enjoying that, even things like being sick with them. Think back to Sunday night, Dr. House. Remember how you were feeling then. You said you were okay with that day at the end of it, probably still regretting the girls discovering the extent of your pain, but over all, in the balance, it wasn't a bad day. It was a tough day but not a bad one. Is that a fair assessment for how you felt Sunday night?"
House sighed. "Yes."
"So what happened between Sunday night and now?"
"I woke up," House replied with a twist of bitterness flavoring the tone.
"Have you had repeated pain flares like that in front of the girls this week and scared them several more times?"
"No. It hardly ever gets that bad. Thankfully."
"Have they or Dr. Cuddy told you they find you lacking as a father, there's no chance for success, and you should just leave?"
House's head snapped up on that. "I can't leave them."
"Excellent, Dr. House. And you're correct. This is your life, and you are irrevocably committed to your family and your children. But back to the question, have they asked you to?"
"No," House said.
"So what changed this week? Nothing new seems to have happened. Rachel especially is still reacting to Sunday, which is understandable given her age, but there's a difference between concern and disappointment, even for a 2-year-old. It doesn't sound like your family has concluded that Sunday was a hopeless failure on your part."
House squirmed slightly in the chair and dodged by taking another drink of coffee. He hated talking about his feelings, even now when he knew it helped. Jensen waited him out. "I was just . . . thinking, I guess."
"And the more you've gnawed over and analyzed things all week, the more the bad parts of Sunday have grown in your mind and pushed out the more positive aspects, haven't they?" House nodded after a moment. "Part of you still thinks you don't deserve this and that it's going to fail. That's the part conditioned by your father, and that part keeps looking for failures. But that's only part of you, Dr. House. Trust your initial reaction Sunday night. You are getting better, and it's the present that's the current reality, not the past. Getting better is frightening in a way, and that's what you're facing. You think what if your new assessments are wrong, and is it all going to blow up like so much has in the past. Let yourself acknowledge those fears, but don't let yourself obsess on them. Don't let worry push out the good memories. Abby walked Sunday. It doesn't matter why; the fact that she did is a victory. Hold onto that memory, like you wanted to at first. Let yourself trust your present."
"But Rachel keeps looking at me. She's even asked several times this week how much I'm hurting."
"Rachel is two. She'll settle down and learn to read more subtle signs. But tell me, did you really think you could go through raising your daughters and not ever have them learn the facts about your leg?"
"Of course not. I know they would have put it together at some point. But not yet."
"That's an interesting choice of words. You said they would have put it together at some point. Did you ever picture yourself eventually just telling them?"
House almost physically shied away from that thought. "Right, let's see how that would go. 'Hey, girls, today we'll define what it is to be crippled. Exhibit A.'"
"What if they asked you outright?"
"I'd . . . I guess maybe I'd tell them. But not yet. Lisa actually talked to Rachel, tried to give her real answers, I mean. How is that supposed to make a 2-year-old feel, to learn that her father is never going to get better?"
"What do you think Dr. Cuddy should have told Rachel? She was apparently asked a direct question, right?"
"Several of them. But she could have . . . I don't know, played it off, or distracted her - you can usually distract Rachel - or told her she'd tell her when she was older."
Jensen grinned. "I'd recommend against that last one. One of the surest ways to get Cathy annoyed is to put something off until she's older. But chase that thought for a moment. Say that Rachel needed to be older before she had the hard facts. How much older do you think she'd need to be?"
House hesitated. "Just . . . older."
"Five years old? Ten? Fifteen? Thirty?"
"Thirty sounds good, yes. Fifty sounds even better. I probably won't even be around by then; I just could have left them a letter."
"In other words, just put it off as long as possible." House looked back down at his coffee. "Has Rachel ever asked you before Sunday about your leg?"
House took time for another couple of swallows of coffee. His right hand went to his thigh, resting on it again but not digging in. "She . . . might have a time or two."
"And what did you tell her?" Jensen asked. Again, he would have bet money that he knew the answer.
"I told her it just ached a little sometimes, like when she stubbed her toe."
The psychiatrist leaned forward a bit. "Let me give you a basic principle of child raising, Dr. House. If they are old enough to ask a serious question, they are old enough to get some kind of truthful answer to it. I'm not saying Rachel was ready for everything. But don't ever dismiss a question like that. Dr. Cuddy was right to try to give her some of the facts. Actually, I'm sure that reassured Rachel to some extent."
House looked at him sharply. "Reassured her? She's been worried about me all week."
"She'll settle down. But without some kind of information on what she saw Sunday, she wouldn't be just worried. She would be scared. You said that terrified them, and I'm sure it did. Can you imagine from a 2-year-old's point of view wondering what on earth happened, wondering if it would happen again at any random moment, and having no additional data to work from?"
"I hadn't thought of it like that," House admitted.
"If Dr. Cuddy had just glossed over a scene that traumatic and not answered her questions, I'm sure you would have seen a lot of difference in Rachel this week. Nightmares, clinging, afraid to let you out of her sight. Any actual information is less frightening than having no idea what's going on. And that principle isn't just with kids, either. Remember when you were trying to conceal Dr. Cuddy's pregnancy from her?"
House's shoulders drooped. "Yes. It just made it worse for her."
"Exactly. She was more scared of the unknown, because she knew something was wrong with you and had no idea what. Dr. House, I think the fact that Rachel actually has asked you about your leg a few times before is very telling. And Abby, even with few words, is brilliantly perceptive. I think even without last Sunday, your girls would have needed to know the truth very soon. Forget putting it off until they're thirty. I don't think you possibly had even another year until they needed that conversation, even if they never saw how bad the pain can get."
House's hand rubbed gently up and down his thigh, feeling the scar. "I just . . . wish they didn't know yet."
"I know. Just remember, concern is not assignment of failure. You have real problems with that leg, resulting in real pain, but none of that is your fault, and none of it is going to be the last straw for your family. You don't have to be something you aren't to stay with them or to deserve the happiness you feel. They wouldn't trade you for someone with two good legs even if they could." House looked thoughtful, and Jensen changed the subject a bit, giving him a breather to absorb some of those statements. "You said you put up the tree on Wednesday. I know you're really trying to use reconditioning with the Christmas aspect this year. How did that go?"
House relaxed a bit. "It was good. Just doing it together, Rachel helping me pick out ornaments. Abby's not mobile enough to really help, but she was watching, and Cuddy was on the couch being a supervisor and a distance perspective on how it all looked. It was a good memory. Never had anything like that as a kid. Hell, we never even had a sick day all together, much less anything related to a holiday where we were really all together."
"I can imagine what your father's reaction to sickness was - a statement of weakness, right?"
"Got it in one."
"How did he respond to getting sick himself?" Jensen asked, truly curious.
"It was always my fault," House replied. "He would punish me for it later when he felt better."
"Of course." Jensen stomped down another surge of anger at John. "So I can see how even having everybody sick Sunday was positive more than it was negative for you." House considered, then nodded. "Just don't obsess over things until you force those scales to flip again. Nothing changed Sunday that wouldn't have inevitably changed soon anyway, and nobody is disappointed in you for it." Jensen looked at his watch. "We need to wrap it up, but first, I simply have to ask. Why were Rachel and Dr. Cuddy arguing with James about Christmas trees?"
House chuckled. "Wilson was there during the infamous Christmas tree fit plus pain flare. He saw it all, too. But what he concluded from that scene was that since we were too sick to set up a tree ourselves Sunday, he needed to go get us one and do everything himself instead. Rachel told him off for it."
Jensen sighed. "He does try."
"Yep. I think that should be Wilson's motto. 'I do try.'"
"And how was Rachel's birthday yesterday?"
"It was good," House said tentatively, still a bit uncertain to assign that description to any day. "We gave her a child-sized piano, and I'll teach her some, on a 2-year-old level, of course." He grinned. "She wanted me to play it, actually, and I had to get clear down on the floor to do anything with it." His expression clouded over again suddenly. "And then she and Abby watched me get up off the floor later and worried about it."
"Their concern will get less obvious, Dr. House. But really, it was time for them to know, and they don't consider it a failure on your part."
House abruptly hit his limit on open conversation for the day and lurched to his feet. "Right. We're out of time, like you said."
Jensen came to his feet himself and went over to the outer office door as House got his balance set with his cane. "I'll see you next week, Dr. House."
The psychiatrist opened the door, then stopped in surprise so that House, coming up behind, nearly ran into him. Melissa and Cathy had been in the outer office in the waiting chairs, and Cathy popped up like a grasshopper as the door opened. "Hi, Dad!"
"Hi. What are you two doing here?"
Cathy gave him a hug. "Mom got mad at the kitchen, so then she said we needed to go out to eat tonight and see a movie instead, to celebrate being well."
Jensen laughed. "Sounds like a good idea to me." He moved on, clearing the doorway, and Cathy transferred her exuberant attention.
"Hi, Dr. House!" She gave him a firm hug, though he couldn't help noticing how she, too, was careful of his bad leg.
"Hi, Cathy. How's the piano playing coming along?"
"A lot better. I've got a new teacher the last few weeks, and she's so much better. It's actually fun. 'Course, I'm still not that good yet. But I'm getting better." She finally released him, letting him move over to the secretary's desk to write a check. "Want to come eat and see a movie with us?"
House shook his head. "I've got to get back to Princeton before the nanny has to leave. She's already staying late tonight. Maybe some other time."
Jensen, over beside Melissa now, tossed in his own vote. "You could still order in dinner or something. Have a family time at home yourself, to celebrate being well. That is a good idea, Cathy." He didn't limit it to physically.
"We might do that." House tore off the check and pocketed his checkbook. "See you next week."
"Good night, Dr. House!" Cathy called, but she was already diving into educating her parents on the current movies by the time House got to the door. He left the psychiatrist's office, heading home to celebrate being well with his family, but as much as he tried not to let it matter, he was still aware of the pain in his leg and the uneven footsteps that marked his path to the elevator.