Disclaimer: Fox's characters from House, M.D. are not mine. Jensen, Abby, and Patterson are mine, as well as other supporting cast in the story whom you haven't seen on your TV screen.
Reminder: My series veers off from canon partway through the Greater Good. Anything after that is fair game to be changed. For instance, no "bad" Lucas in this world. He's the character he originally was introduced as.
Series: This is the next story in the Pranks series, and it follows Three Cases. It will be shorter (I think), but it's a power-packed little thing. While each story in the series contains its own arc, plot, and resolution, so it's not one long soap-opera trail of "to be continued," you will miss a few background things if you just start reading here. In particular, for Verdict, you probably want to read Medical Homicide first if you haven't yet to get the background on Patrick Chandler.
Enjoy Verdict. And buckle your seat belts. Short roller coasters can still give you a hair-raising ride.
"Would you like me to be there?" Patterson asked.
Cuddy hesitated, then shook her head emphatically. "No. I mean, thanks for the offer, but . . ." She trailed off at Patterson's pleasantly accusing gaze.
"You're doing it again."
Cuddy gritted her teeth. "This isn't about me. Really, this particular time, it isn't. Greg doesn't need somebody else sticking around him; he's already got me, Wilson, and Jensen. He'll get claustrophobic in the waiting room with much more, especially somebody he doesn't really know well. I can't be focusing on how I feel about the trial. We all have to stay calm and supportive for him."
"So you admit that you do have your own feelings of stress about it?"
"Yes, damn it, but they don't matter. That's not the point." Cuddy trailed off, aware that she had walked straight into the trap once again that she had already visited several times during the month in which she'd been in therapy. Counseling was nothing at all like she'd anticipated going in. She had expected their discussions to focus on what had happened with the assassination attempt on the President and how it indirectly hurt her family. Instead, Patterson usually steered them into a mixed bag of the distant past with her upbringing and the not-so-distant past with things that had happened physically with House from the infarction on. The goal of all of it seemed to be to get Cuddy to admit that she had feelings and stresses herself that she had never faced in her hyperfocus on everybody else's opinions or needs.
Sessions were difficult, though Cuddy did feel a little bit better after them. But they were also intensely frustrating. Having finally grudgingly admitted that she had totally lost control and felt powerless in the assassination attempt, and that those feelings had impacted her whole family, she had come to therapy prepared to confess that and instead kept finding the playing field extended. The sin she was ready to confess wasn't even usually their topic. These sessions with Patterson were still new, still getting used to each other and getting background on the table, but Patterson's definition of background was turning out to be hugely different from Cuddy's. More and more, Cuddy was developing a sinking suspicion that she did have a lot else to deal with, not just the events during the President's hospitalization.
Her respect for House had increased sharply, not that it had been low in the first place. Over two years. He had done this for over two years. She now realized why he didn't especially want to talk about the sessions with Jensen, and Friday nights after had become a total break for them, just a relaxing date, a time of mutual catching their breath. Her former curiosity as to details of what had happened earlier in his afternoon on Fridays was now gone. She had respected the limit on questions in the first place, but she had never fully understood it.
They did talk about sessions some, no pressure either way, just what each of them wished to volunteer whenever it came up. But without exception, it never came up on Fridays. She felt guilty now for all those evenings when, even if silently, she had wished for more data from him.
"Stop feeling guilty," Patterson admonished her, breaking into her thoughts. "Dr. Cuddy, you have your own emotions and fears and needs. There is nothing wrong with that. Yes, this will be tremendously stressful for your husband, but it also will be for you. Don't deny that. Remember, every time you open the closet door and just throw something in to get it out of sight, you bring the next avalanche that much closer. Sooner or later, things will fall back out on you and on those around you."
Cuddy sighed. "In this particular case, I really do have to think about him. We're going to have a hard enough time keeping him from going crazy waiting around before he testifies. He's the last witness for the prosecution, and Martin told us things would take much longer to get there than they did at the preliminary hearing. Not only that, but like I told you, the defense has asked to have the witnesses excluded from the courtroom until after they testify. Martin warned us that almost always happened at full trial, but not knowing exactly what's going on in there will be worse than sitting in the court room hearing it. The rest of us have to . . ."
Patterson cut her off. "You need to support him, absolutely, but don't take the full responsibility for handling the situation on yourself. For one thing, he's an adult. He needs you as a partner, not as a baby-sitter. You've got a good point, though, about him having enough people with him in that little waiting room for witnesses. But if you would like me to be out in the courtroom those days, just to know I was there, I will. I won't encroach on him. But you would know somebody is there for you."
Somebody is there for you. An unfamiliar thought through much of her life. Now, there was House, of course, but to have a very recent acquaintance offer to be there for her was unexpected. Patterson's suggestion, a new offer today, had caught Cuddy by surprise. "I'm not sure. . . Martin warned us Greg will probably be on the stand more than one day, and we don't know which days yet. Depends on how the trial goes. It would snarl up your schedule, too; Jensen's booked three weeks off to avoid risking patient conflicts. Thanks, but no. But thanks for the offer. I wasn't expecting that."
Patterson accepted the refusal. "We won't plan on our sessions while the trial is running. That way, you don't have to worry about that in your schedule with everything else. But you can call me in the evenings if you need to."
"I'd hate to disrupt your family . . ." Cuddy abruptly realized that she was probably putting her foot in her mouth. She didn't know much about Patterson personally, but she had surmised that she was a widow. She had no idea if there were children.
The therapist didn't seem hurt by the verbal misstep, though. "I live alone. My husband and my son both died years ago."
Sympathy crashed over Cuddy like a wave. "I'm sorry. I had no idea." She couldn't imagine losing a child, too.
"It's all right. I do have extended family and friends, but I spend most weekday evenings just with books and with my three cats, and they won't mind a phone call."
Cuddy smiled, picturing the smallish woman sitting in a recliner packed in by feline beanbags of fur. "We've got a cat ourselves. Technically Rachel's, but that cat loves Greg more than any of us, I think. She's expressive, too, always lets you know how she feels. I'm not sure she approves of me the way she looks at me at times."
"Just because she knows you've got some faults? Cats are good letting us know that, but sometimes, that makes them a little wiser than we are. I'm sure she likes you anyway. She just isn't under the misconception that you're perfect."
Cuddy squirmed away from the implication that she herself could take lessons from Belle on that. "Our time's up." She stood up. "Really, thank you for the offer. I wasn't expecting that. If things get too tense, I might call you some night, but I hope it won't be that bad."
"Don't wait until the end of endurance," Patterson reminded her. She shook hands, her small hand as always surprising Cuddy with the strength in the fingers. "But I understand. Good luck with everything, Dr. Cuddy, and give Dr. House my best wishes. It's good to see people stand up against sociopaths like Chandler, and what he's doing is very brave knowing that his own past will be dragged into it and challenged." Patterson flinched in sympathy at the violation of House's privacy. The press would have a heyday with this trial, of course. The media was already circling, and the trial didn't even start until Tuesday, after the holiday on Monday, July 4th.
Cuddy nodded. "I'll give him your best. Thank you. I'll see you . . . well, I'll let you know. Although I'm sure you can follow things on the news, too. Just pick a channel."
"I'll be watching. I'll see you when it's over."
Cuddy left the room, feeling suddenly warmed by the fact that somebody would have been willing to be there for her. Even if it wouldn't work out, the thought still gave an unexpected lift to her spirits as she walked to the elevator. When it's over. Soon, the trial would be over, Patrick would be a permanent resident in prison (Martin honestly saw no way he could lose this case on the physical evidence and House's testimony), and life could get back to normal. Whatever normal was.
House's long, sensitive fingers wandered over the guitar, calling forth more a stream of consciousness flow than staying on one specific song, but even so, there was a pattern and sense to it, a definite if changing melody. Jensen was glad to hear that it kept moving forward, even if with occasional dissonances and tensions. "I've got three weeks off," he reminded House as their session wound down. "I'm taking advantage of it to do some shorter things with my family, but as long as you give me three or four hours of notice, I'll be there when you testify."
House nodded. "Martin said he'd be able to call it roughly several hours in advance. At least that way, I don't have to spend a week in the waiting room in the court house." He shuddered at the thought, the music rippling through a series of rapids. "Not that I'm likely to get much work done, but I can't imagine just sitting there waiting." He strummed another few bars of wandering melody. "You sure your family doesn't mind this? Doesn't seem like much of a vacation."
"They don't mind at all. They know what's going on, and they send you their best wishes."
"What about sending me fudge?" House asked, perking up suddenly even through the tension.
Jensen laughed. "Cathy already suggested it. We are having a 3-day camping trip this weekend up into the Adirondacks with Mark and his kids. That will be a total break with no distractions. It's tradition, actually; we do that somewhere around every 4th."
"Just be sure to take a can of Off or something."
"No danger of forgetting it, believe me. Mark's never going to forget that. He's still not quite up to full speed with running and really being active again; we'll probably spend more time just talking around the campfire. Everybody looks forward to this each year, though. I'm glad we didn't have to postpone it."
House glanced at Jensen's right arm. "Do you ever remember what happened to you when you're out camping?"
"Every single time," Jensen confirmed. "By now, it's usually more just a mental caution. I don't dwell on it. But yes, sitting next to a fire, looking at the flames, it always takes me a minute to get past almost feeling it again, and Mark always remembers it, too. I guarantee, nobody on our family camping trips ever runs and plays close to the fire."
House looked down at the guitar, his thoughts unerringly focusing back on the looming trial. "You're ready for this, Dr. House," Jensen assured him. "A lot more ready than last fall. We've had hours of practice at cross examination, the reconditioning is working really well for you, and if some underhanded trick we haven't anticipated does come up with the defense, you know what to do."
House nodded. "Tell the judge. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not try to fight through it myself." That point had been driven home to him by the psychiatrist numerous times in the months since the evidentiary hearing.
"Exactly. You are ready for this. Not that it won't be difficult, but whatever might come up while you're on the stand, you are prepared to deal with it."
Jensen was wrong.