The final chapter. Thanks for the reviews. Sorry I didn't get it up earlier, but life was hectic with a concert this weekend. Coming soon: Verdict, in which the trial of Patrick Chandler takes a very unexpected turn for our favorite doctor.

About House the show ending, I haven't watched myself since S6 and had had the show on "probation" since half of S5. Thus it isn't going to affect my writing plans at all, as someone worried. Since I haven't watched for a while, what they are doing currently didn't impact my stories for the last two seasons anyway. I have no idea of current story lines, and I've even quite a while ago stopped reading fic based on S7 or later because it's too much work to fill in background gaps (and admittedly because I hate unjustly criticizing an author for unbelievable plot elements when that author isn't the one who came up with them and was only borrowing from Shore and company). If I ever stop writing House stuff, it will be because my muse just chose to end it, nothing related to what's on TV or not at that moment.

About non Pranks stories, yes, there are plenty. Will be additional ones in the future, although I can't predict my muse at all, but at least one non-Pranks already is on the stove (maybe two, new idea this weekend, will see if/how it grows). Just look at my profile if you want to read other than this AU for a change. My personal favorites are Calling the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Smokin' Hot, and Help Yourself (my answer to Help Me). There are "good" Lucas stories (those were based on the show back when I was still watching), lots of H/C, a House/piano story without any "ship" at all, even a House/Wilson story, although only friendship, not slash. I just can't see those two together as a couple. And a "sci-fi" ish Foreman fic, if you want something really bizarre. Pranks was my first House story, and this universe will always be dear to me, but there have been other things along the way, too.

A presidential book recommendation for those fellow history buffs out there among the readers. My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House by Lillian Rogers Parks. Memoirs of a woman and her mother who were both maids at the White House, between them spanning 51 years and eight administrations, 1909 to 1960. All sorts of interesting presidential anecdotes from the perspective of house servants. I just finished reading this book this week, and it's great. I do love reading history - as long as it's interesting. And if a history book is not interesting, that is a fault of the author for writing it badly, because history itself is so dynamic and full of interesting people and plots that it's a ripe field for harvest. There's no excuse for making it dull.

Hope you've enjoyed Three Cases.

(H/C)

House solved his new case late that afternoon before discharging his other two patients, but the warm satisfaction of a puzzle solved was fleeting. The closer he came to home, the more he was tied in knots. That, of course, only made the leg raise the volume of its protests. He and Cuddy had driven in together after their morning nap and lunch, and now they stopped by Marina's house on the way home to collect the girls. Rachel bounded out to the car with her usual enthusiasm, scampering ahead of her parents. House watched her strides, assessing. Yes, he definitely saw Rachel doing something in track in the future, much more than he saw her playing the piano. Tonight was the right move for his daughter's sake. He just hoped she wouldn't be too disappointed at how far he'd fallen.

Cuddy had stopped to thank Marina, and she came up behind him with Abby as he was buckling Rachel into her car seat. Her hand on his arm made him jump slightly, and she wished she'd spoken first. "It will be okay, Greg," she assured him very softly.

"I hope," he replied, still facing away from her, but at least he didn't deflect her support and refuse to approach the topic at all. He wasn't retreating from her touch, either; she had simply startled him a moment ago. She hoped herself that last night had done some good between them far beyond merely setting the stage to reveal his athletic past to Rachel.

She kissed him briefly, and Abby, in her arms, took the opportunity to give him a hug herself, even though she had no idea what they were talking about. He smiled at the multi-armed embrace from his girls.

Rachel, whose patience with car seat confinement was never long anyway, banged on the seat in annoyance at this waste of time. "No kissing. Go home, NOW!"

They split apart, laughing. "Okay, Rachel, we're about to leave, soon as Abby's buckled in," House said. Cuddy was already heading around the car to reach the other back door and the other car seat. House got in front on the passenger's side and sat there waiting, breathing deeply, one hand unconsciously massaging his leg. Cuddy, once she got in, held his other hand throughout the short drive home, and he didn't pull away.

Once they were home, Cuddy suggested ordering pizza, knowing that House was keyed up and thinking he might eat more of that than a "healthy" meal. Rachel was enthusiastic in her approval, and Cuddy picked up the phone to call for delivery. House wandered over to the piano, looking at the gleaming surfaces, the black and white keys. Music had always been there. That wasn't a substitute for athletics; even in childhood, he had loved music. That had been the one area where Blythe stood up for him and challenged John. He ran a hand along the instrument, wishing that Rachel could actually know this, too, that a substitute weren't required.

"Play, Dada!" Rachel bounced up to him, and he gave her a wistful smile.

"Not tonight, Rachel. Tonight, we . . . we have a special movie."

"Yay!" She raced off, doing laps of the living room, and he noted the ease with which she dropped the musical request. Hopefully Cuddy was right and she would accept substitution for a House-like activity. The realization that she did want to be like him was a marvel, something he would have to mine and analyze slowly. But tonight, he had to get through the pictures and DVD while focusing just on her. He turned away from the piano, then stopped with a grin. White cat hair liberally sprinkled the black cushion.

Cuddy came up beside him, speaking first that time, and he leaned into her embrace. "About 30 minutes, they said." She noticed the cat hair herself; he felt her tense up.

"That's enough time for a quick vacuuming if you want, Lisa."

She wrestled with temptation and won. He needed her at the moment more than the cushion did. "Not right now, Greg." She kissed him again. Abby tugged at his good leg, and he picked her up, including her in a group hug. His family.

Rachel stopped in front of the TV. "Watch a movie now?"

"No, not yet. We need to eat first. Wouldn't want to stop in the middle of it." Nevertheless, he walked over and grabbed the remote, turning the TV on. Maybe there was something worth watching while waiting for the pizza.

The President immediately appeared on the screen as footage of him being wheeled out of PPTH was played on the nightly news. ". . . discharged this afternoon," the anchor was saying, "and while he will be in outpatient rehab and physical therapy for a while, he should be able to continue his administrative duties without interruption. The President was upbeat and optimistic about the future and had some inspiring comments as he left the hospital."

The screen jumped to a close-up during the brief press conference in the lobby of PPTH. "I must also say that this minor setback has given me even deeper appreciation for the far greater disabilities faced by the true heroes, those men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces." The delivery was perfect, the voice sincere, the eyes steady. House snorted.

"He's acting. Those aren't even his words, and he certainly didn't agree with them. I walked in on a rehearsal with the speech-writer yesterday."

"Shhh." Cuddy held out a hand, having heard her husband's name underneath his rant.

". . . truly is a great doctor. I had heard of his reputation, of course, for seeing what others cannot, but I now can confirm personally that that reputation is fully earned. Again, my thanks to Dr. House and the staff at Princeton-Plainsboro."

House rolled his eyes. "I'll bet the speech-writer wrote that, too."

Cuddy was lost in her own surge of pride. It didn't matter to her who had written the words; they were the truth. She reached for him again. "The speech-writer didn't write these, okay? I'm proud of you for last week. Medically and - and otherwise. You did well." She kissed him, and it took him a few stunned seconds to start to respond. Another small knot from last week began to untie itself, some of the sting going out of the memory of "I'm disappointed in you." They couldn't get too much into a kiss in front of the girls, but House wasn't thinking about the President, at least, when they broke away.

Rachel, meanwhile, had walked up to the TV and was looking at it accusingly. "No!" she scolded.

"Think the news is boring, do you? Actually, I agree." House grabbed the remote. "Let's see what else we can find." He browsed through the channels and finally came across a nature program. He and Cuddy sat on the couch, with both girls and ultimately the cat joining them, as they waited for the pizza. Rachel's attention was held by the program, but Abby gave a look back at him a few times, sensing how tense he was tonight. Had to be careful around this one, he reminded himself. She saw too much. But unlike Rachel, she had the gift. Warm pride blazed through him. Abby did have the talent for music. He was looking forward to her future.

The pizza arrived, and they ate, House choking down a few slices. They were down to mere minutes now. The clock was ticking. "Don't forget to take your pills," Cuddy said softly. That was routine with meals, and the girls didn't think anything of it, but he looked at her, hearing the silent suggestion in her voice. Part of him resented it, but a larger part was analyzing her posture and her voice, searching for any judgment or disappointment and finding none. He took out his pill bottles and sorted out a full round of pain pills, plus the Ativan. One gulp, and it was gone. She reached over and squeezed his hand, her eyes reassuring him. It doesn't matter.

Whether it did or not, he was about to find out. He stood up. "I'm going through the bathroom before we get started."

"Good idea. Do you need to go, Rachel?" He heard Cuddy put the pizza box away as he limped out of the room. He went back to their own private bathroom off the bedroom, not the larger one in the hall, and he picked up a heat patch out of the nightstand. As long as he was relying on chemical and outside assistance for this conversation, he might as well add some more. He stuck the heat patch in place, used the facilities as an afterthought, then took a deep breath and walked down the hall.

Abby was in the living room alone, Cuddy and Rachel obviously in the main bathroom. She walked over and hugged his leg. "Okay?" she asked, a small furrow of concern between her eyes.

He picked her up, hugging her tightly. "I'm okay, Abby." He walked over to the desk and removed Blythe's envelope. The notes jumped out at him again but in a different sense this time. Urgent. Handle with Care. Fragile. Very Important.

He hoped his care tonight would be enough when opening this can of worms with his girls. The topic was indeed fragile. But at least he didn't have to do it alone; Cuddy would be there.

She came back down the hall with Rachel, and House sat down on the couch, still holding Abby. "Come on, let's all sit down."

Rachel looked at the TV, and House grabbed the remote and switched it off. "You said movie," she protested.

Cuddy stepped in. "In a little while. It's a very special movie. But first, we have a few things to show you. Come on, Rachel." Cuddy had sat down right next to House, so close their bodies were firmly touching, feeling the connection. Rachel climbed into her lap and finally noticed the envelope which Abby was already fingering curiously.

House took out the stack, setting the DVD on the coffee table and then flipping the pictures upside down, forcing the girls to see them one at a time. He took the first off the pile. It was the close-up lacrosse shot, his eyes and intensity of purpose clearly visible. He held it out where they all could see, and Cuddy slid her right arm around his shoulders, pulling him even closer.

Rachel looked at the picture, puzzled, then suddenly got it. "Dada?" she asked, with a slight questioning rise at the end. He looked different, but she knew those eyes.

House stared at her. He had never expected her to guess his identity on seeing something as foreign as him doing sports.

"Yes." Cuddy smoothly took up the reins of the conversation. "This is your father when he was a lot younger."

Rachel studied it, fascinated. "Like me?"

House chuckled in spite of the tension. "Not that much younger. I was about 17." The age had no meaning for her. She looked at the shot more, and House kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Didn't she get it? Still, the question never came. Maybe it was because this was a close-up. You could see the game in the background, but the whole focus was his face. He tried the next picture. Ah, yes, that was the lacrosse shot with him leaping for the ball. He offered that one and waited.

Rachel looked at it. "Dada." The identification was much more confident this time. She reached out to trace his image, then frowned. Ah, there it was. House waited for her to comment that he couldn't do things like this anymore. "Dropped the cane?"

He couldn't help a short laugh there. The whole idea of playing lacrosse with a cane, dropping it for jumps and then picking it back up, was ludicrous. "No, Rachel. I . . ." He trailed off, and Cuddy gave him a reassuring squeeze with her arm around his shoulders. She stepped in unerringly.

"No, Rachel. He didn't have the cane then. This was before his leg got sick."

His daughter accepted this and nodded wisely. "Before." She looked at it, then at the stack. "Nother picture?"

House was getting puzzled. When was she going to make a point of the fact that he couldn't do things like this now? Cuddy bumped him, jostling him into action. "Get the next picture, Greg."

He slowly picked up the running shot. Now she would understand. He held it out.

"Dada," Rachel cheerfully identified. She traced the legs. "Before got sick."

"Right," Cuddy agreed. "That was before his leg got sick."

"No cane." It was just an observation, not a judgment. She looked at the shot, then looked up at him. He cringed, waiting, and Cuddy squeezed his shoulder again. "You run fast?"

He blinked back sudden tears. "Yes, I could run fast." He went on to prompt her gently; the suspense was getting to him. "But I can't now. I can't do it anymore."

Rachel nodded again. "Leg got sick," she agreed, the pure simplicity of the statement striking him.

"She doesn't get it," he said very softly to Cuddy as both girls fingered the picture.

Cuddy fought back a sigh. "She gets it, Greg. It doesn't matter."

One by one, they went through the few remaining pictures. Rachel and Abby both were fascinated at this look into the past, but "before his leg got sick" was accepted so easily as an explanation that none of their questions after that involved his leg. Rachel wanted a ball like that. Abby was quieter but lovingly said, "Dada" at every shot. Both were rapt, Rachel actually sitting still, but it was the past that held their attention, not the leg, not the difference in abilities.

The stack was finally finished. House picked up the DVD, and Cuddy moved Rachel over and stood, taking it from him and going to the TV, saving him getting up. Rachel snuggled in next to him. "Nice pictures," she said approvingly. "Pictures of me?"

"We have plenty of you, Rachel. We'll look at them some other time."

"She looks at them a lot of times without you," Cuddy put in as she inserted the DVD. "She likes the snowman sequence best. You and her building it."

"Snowman!" Rachel was enthusiastic. She looked toward the front door but didn't move away from her father. "We make 'nother snowman."

House grinned. "That has to wait for winter, Rachel. There's no snow."

"Make snow," she requested, full of childhood confidence.

He shook his head. "I can't, Rachel. I can't do that." Her face fell. Of all things in this conversation, he had never expected her to be disappointed in him for the lack of snow in June. "Even if I could make snow, I can't make it get cold. The snow would melt as soon as it got out there. We'd just have a puddle."

"Like Frosty," she sighed, resigned for the moment. She straightened up as Cuddy came back. "Watch the movie now?"

"Right." House picked up the remote and hesitated. Cuddy gave him a minute, then reached over and hit play herself.

The game on the disc started. Blythe, who had been filming this, was definitely focused on House, making him the constant center of action. He watched his daughters, not the screen, waiting.

"This is your father playing lacrosse," Cuddy told them. "He played a lot of games when he was younger, before his leg got sick. He loved this game."

"You teach me, Dada," Rachel requested.

"I can't." She looked disappointed again. "I mean, I . . ." Wait a minute. The coach on the team had hardly been out there playing in each practice as a live example. He just had given criticism and instructions from the sidelines. "Maybe I could tell you how someday. I could watch you and tell you what to do. But I can't run and jump like that now. I can't play."

"Okay." She accepted the deal.

More and more bewildered, House watched them watching the game. When it finally finished, Cuddy hit stop and looked at him, asking a silent question. He considered, then yielded the floor to her with a nod. He wasn't sure he was capable of actually saying it. "Rachel," she started, "we wanted you to see your father running and jumping like that. People have different things they are good at. They might have trouble with something, but another thing, they can do easily. We all have different areas we can do. And you . . ." She paused, considering. Should she bring up the music or just offer the other without it? She looked back at House for a vote. He sighed. Might as well get it all on the table tonight. "Playing the piano is hard for you," Cuddy said. She did not mention Abby. Abby straightened up in House's arms, about to cast her vote for the piano herself, and he stilled her. She looked back up at him, and he put one finger across his lips. "But Rachel, you can run and jump. You're very good at that."

Rachel broke out in a smile ear to ear, suddenly seeing it. "Like Dada."

"Exactly. He can't do that anymore, because his leg got sick, but he used to. He was good at it. You can be like him there."

House carefully spoke up. "Rachel, when I . . . when I see you running, it reminds me of what I used to do."

"I run for you," she suggested. "But you watch?"

"Of course I'll watch. When you get older and bigger, maybe you can even run in races. If you do, I'll make a movie of it for you, and we can watch that one."

She reached over to hug him. "I run for you." He clasped her tightly, feeling mingled relief with confusion. That was it? That was her response, just to "run for you." Was the conversation over that easily for the moment?

Rachel straightened up and looked at the DVD. "Watch it again. Good movie."

Cuddy looked to him for permission (and a silent analysis of her own), then cued it up. "One more time, Rachel, but that will be enough for tonight. Then it's time for bed."

"No!"

The home movie started again, both of the girls watching just as closely as the first time. Cuddy leaned over to whisper in House's ear. "Greg, it doesn't matter. Really."

It doesn't matter. He looked at her, then back down at his daughters. He was afraid to believe, but they were too little to carry out an extended lie. Rachel would never be able to keep up a front, not for five minutes.

It doesn't matter.

Tentatively, as if stepping out onto a bridge over a chasm and testing its solidity with every stride, he sat back and watched the movie with his family.