A/N: Here we arrive at the end of Verdict. Hope you've enjoyed this rollercoaster. The next story is a one shot that is something completely different and pure fun, a 1-day episode to give us a breather. It should be up in probably a week or so. After that, we will have a gap until the next full-length story. I cannot tell you how long the gap will be. My muse isn't done with it yet and doesn't give me estimates, and there are things going on in RL, too. But it will come. That next full-length story will be back to working problems out and will have more of House/Cuddy/girls, Jensen, Thornton, as well as returning, though always secondarily, to Wilson and Sandra and their new one.
Thanks for reading Verdict.
It was 12:30 by the time House and Cuddy arrived at Diagnostics. They did make a joint arrival at Diagnostics, to House's annoyed disappointment. Cuddy was stuck to him like glue clear across the lobby, not even glancing toward her office, and she followed him into the elevator. He had hoped to lose her in administrative details, especially given her uncharacteristic late arrival, but the receptionist's calls fell on deaf ears. She stayed with him as they exited at four, not going ahead but determinedly at his side and refusing to be moved.
House entered the conference room. "Good morning. You're all fired. But first, how's the patient?"
The team had been deep in differential and were startled at his entrance. "We've ruled out . . ." Foreman broke off as he turned around enough from the whiteboard to see his boss. "What the hell happened to you?" Cuddy had offered no explanation earlier, and Taub, who had taken the call, hadn't asked for one, simply reported the rules of engagement for the morning to the others.
"Odd," House replied. "Have you been losing trains of thought partway often lately? Better get checked out; as a neurologist, you know that. Once again, how's the patient?"
Cuddy took a half step forward and held out her hand, silencing the team's next question or reply, whichever it would have been. "Here is your first patient of the day, and he gets at least a brief check before any of you say one word on the other patient." House's eyes went immediately to the whiteboard, and she marched over and turned it around. "He fell last night and clipped his head on a piece of furniture on the way down. I don't think he has a concussion, but I'd appreciate a second opinion on that and the cut."
"Give me an update now, or you're fired," House insisted, hiding his relief that Cuddy hadn't mentioned all the details of that fall to the team.
"You already fired us a minute ago," Kutner pointed out.
"I would have unfired you if you'd given me an update. The offer is still open, but the clock is ticking."
Cuddy came back over to him and pushed him down gently into a chair. "You are not getting out of this, Greg. It's a perfectly reasonable precaution with your history of multiple serious head injuries already. The best way to get me off on my own work day and to get down to your patient as soon as possible is to cooperate for a minute."
The team was already closing in with clinical interest, Foreman the neurologist, Taub the plastic surgeon, and Kutner, refusing to be left out of this even if his specialty wasn't involved. Unless House had hurt his leg much, of course, but getting him to submit to an examination of his leg would be even harder than his head. Since Cuddy hadn't mentioned his leg and he had walked in here, they would have to trust that the leg was no more than strained.
Foreman whipped out his penlight and started studying House's eyes as Taub gently pulled off the bandage. "You did a good job on it," Taub commented, studying the gash.
"Haven't you ever heard the saying that anything worth doing is worth doing well?" House replied. Cuddy sighed. Foreman put away the penlight and reached around himself to the cut, probing the contused area around it, obviously checking extent of that versus the location of the old bus wreck fracture. Taub headed over to the cabinet to get the first aid kit.
"Any dizziness? Nausea? Vomiting?"
"No, no, and no. Are we done yet, Mother?"
"What about headache?"
"Not until I started talking to you." His mild one by the end of the session with Jensen had gone away fairly quickly, and much as he hated to admit it, House had to face the fact that that one was most likely psychosomatic.
"Well, your eyes look okay." Okay for House, that was. He was obviously on pain medication, even a bit stronger than usual, but that was understandable. His leg had to be giving him hell today.
"Did you hear that, Cuddy? I'm fine." Kutner, hovering nearly as anxiously as Cuddy, let out a soft sigh of relief simultaneously with her.
Taub returned with the kit and set it down on the table, snapping it open. "I think we can do this without stitches, although it's borderline. But I can get it a little better than it was." Cuddy was sure he could. She had still been practically shaking herself in the shock of everything. House held relatively still with a martyred look as Taub carefully pulled the gash together and applied a new bandage. Finally, the plastic surgeon stepped back.
House looked at Cuddy pointedly. "Okay," she said. "Call me if you start feeling off. And that applies to all of you."
House stood up, trying to hide the fact that it took him longer than usual. "You want to hear from all of them if any of them start feeling off? That seems a little extreme."
"Shut up," Cuddy said pleasantly. She touched his arm gently. "See you at 5:00." She had refused to let him drive in, so they were both in her car. With a brisk, administrative stride, she was out of the conference room, heading to her own postponed and now compressed day, as House turned the whiteboard around.
"Progress report. Go."
"Are we still fired or are we unfired?" Kutner asked, trying to get the situation straight first.
House smiled at him. Not a friendly smile. "That depends on how fast we solve this case."
The team dove into the differential.
Lucas spent the morning in his car in the parking lot at the Ramada. He was in a position to see Thornton's rental car but not too close. He had no intentions of following the other man, which he knew would set off Thornton's spidey senses, learned in a far more potentially deadly field than PI work. Still, he wanted to see him leave and see whether it was with or without suitcase.
Would Thornton be leaving Princeton today? He didn't seem the type to hang around in limbo; the PI figured that today, he would either leave to head back home or would march over to PPTH (assuming he didn't have House's unpublished home address, quite likely given House's hostility) to talk to his son about last night. Lucas would have bet money on the former course of action. Thornton in fact had seemed very concerned last night that House not be contacted. That whole encounter also hadn't had any hint in the tones of staging a scene for someone else's benefit. Nope, last night had been purely Thornton's private revenge, not a card to play subsequently with his son. But Lucas needed to be sure. Because if Thornton did intend to go to House himself for further conversation and negotiations, Lucas would yield the field to him. This whole thing was, after all, none of Lucas' business.
But if Thornton did not go to find House . . . The older man was clearly interested in his son and regretted his own errors. He had to want to build a relationship now that he knew the truth. He must be leaving it purely as House's choice, probably a wise decision but one which could have extreme and permanent consequences because House was furious at him. Would House eventually come around at least enough to open the lines of communication? Lucas knew that House hated being pushed on anything. However, Lucas also knew that House was missing vital data here and that last night's encounter absolutely did not match House's stubbornly held picture of his father. House would be annoyed at interference, even by Lucas. But House was incapable of ignoring data. If he had it, he would apply it into the picture. Lucas only wished he had video from last night, but the audio itself was priceless. The PI had sat there grinning ear to ear as he listened. He liked House's father's style, and it reminded him irresistibly of the son's. Those two needed to get to know each other. If they could ever wade past misunderstandings and regrets, they would enjoy each other's company immensely.
So Lucas waited. He listened in on the hotel room bug, but Thornton made no phone calls this morning and said nothing. He took a shower and then was using his laptop; Lucas could hear the keys. That laptop had been the most tantalizing thing in the room on Lucas' quick search Sunday evening, but it was passworded, and Lucas didn't take time to probe further than a few obvious possibilities which failed. He hadn't known when Thornton would return, after all. Thornton also listened to more music this morning. He obviously liked piano music, no doubt remembering his own father, House's grandfather.
About 12:30, there was the sound of activity, then the door closing. Lucas sat in the car and waited. About 10 minutes later, Thornton exited with his suitcase, loaded it in the trunk, and drove off. Lucas stayed where he was but switched to the rental car bug. If Thornton was going to PPTH on the way out of Princeton, he would arrive there in under 10 minutes. However, the traffic noises after a few minutes indicated that he was getting on the highway, and even better, Thornton said audibly after a brief period, "City limit. Goodbye, Greg - for now. This isn't over."
Lucas switched the bug off. "Goodbye, Thornton - for now. This isn't over." He turned on the car and headed for PPTH.
The team was deep in differential, House letting them toss it around and watching them brainstorm. He thought he had it now, had pieced it together about five minutes ago, and he was watching them probe for the answer, analyzing their diagnostic progress. Fully immersed in work, he felt in his rightful place again, the horrible last week forgotten.
Until Lucas appeared outside the door. House, standing at the whiteboard but facing the table, saw him first. Lucas stood there and tilted his head inquiringly, asking for a few minutes. He probably had additional details from Ohio or St. Louis. House scowled, and the three younger doctors looked around to see what had his attention suddenly. "It's Addison's disease," House announced, ending the game. "Go. Treat. And test to confirm."
Startled at the abrupt end of the differential, the team looked back and forth from Lucas to House, then came to their feet and exited as Lucas stood aside politely. He entered the conference room once House was alone. "Couple of more details for you, House." He looked curiously at the bandage but earned a few points by not asking.
"I already paid you and paid you well, so anything more is free details," House pointed out.
To his surprise, Lucas didn't wrangle on that. "Yeah, I know. No charge." He walked around the table, getting closer. "First of all, I spent this morning staking out the parking at the Ramada. Thornton left a little while ago with suitcase. He must be heading back to the airport."
House was relieved and tried to cover for it with a sharp tone. "Well, of course he left. He's good at that."
Lucas ignored him. Instead, he held out a small manila envelope. "Here's something else for you that I copied off last night. You'll find it interesting. Also, this is the only copy left in existence, at least the only one I have control over. It's out of my hands now, so I'm done. See you." That quickly, the PI turned around and exited, leaving House holding the sealed envelope. He gave it a few seconds' delay, but that sealed flap was irresistible. Inside was a CD. Blank, unlabeled CD.
House walked to his office and popped it in, putting on the headphones as a precaution against Wilson or early return by the team.
He listened. He listened twice. Three times. His expression was a road map of a journey, first curiosity, then quickly recognition, then a smile in a tug-of-war with absolute amazement, first one side winning, then the other.
The recording ended the third time, and he stopped it and sat at his desk, completely stunned.
Thornton had stepped forward for him. Not as a manipulative tool either, since he had left without making any attempt to tell House about this encounter. He had simply acted out of anger that someone had unjustly attacked his son.
He did regret the past. He had acted decisively where he could in the present.
But he hadn't been there. He had laughed at his 6-year-old son's plea and walked away. Blythe, for all her faults, had at least been there. She had been the one person in his daily home life with any positive associations. To have questioned her then, even aside from John's threat, was unthinkable, because if he hadn't had her at least partially in childhood, he truly had had nothing.
But she had failed to see it. As had Thornton. They had both let him down. Even while part of him admired Thornton's manipulative style on the recording with Stevenson, another part had tightened up every time Thornton referred to him by name. It grated. It sounded wrong somehow, claiming an association much closer than the one that existed. It made them sound like family, and biological technicalities aside, they weren't family. Not yet, at least.
House sat there for nearly half an hour, wrestling, debating. Finally, slowly, he pulled out the card from his wallet and opened up his laptop. There was no salutation in what he typed.
You haven't earned the right to call me Greg.
Gregory House, MD
Thomas Thornton sat in the Newark airport, having arrived there a few hours early for security as advised. The rental car was turned in, and his flight should be called soon. He sat lost in thought for most of the wait, reviewing the tumultuous last few weeks, trying to decide on the next course. When would be too soon to push if he didn't hear anything from Greg? Taking the younger granddaughter's birthday as a contact occasion would be a bad idea. Thornton finally decided on Christmas. He would send him a Christmas card to PPTH, just a reminder of his presence and interest. Christmas and his son's birthday were roughly 6 months apart, and for the rest of Greg's life, or at least the rest of Thomas', neither would fail to be acknowledged. He couldn't push him, but he wasn't going to go away. He hoped it wouldn't be that long, though. Greg needed to take the first step, but while Thomas had patience, he also had determination.
He signed onto his laptop for a last check of email before they called boarding in a few minutes. He had checked email so often in the last week that seeing the message actually there, seeing his son's name in the sender line, was almost like an illusion, and he stared at it, afraid to hope it was real. Five seconds. Ten seconds. A full minute. The bolded, unread item in the list was still there. Thornton held his breath as he clicked.
His smile widened as he read the brief message. Of course, the anger and abandonment were clear, but he also read the subtext underneath, the longing for what might have been, almost afraid to hope for what might eventually be. And with this, he had his son's email address, given to him personally, and he could respond to it. Thomas had to force himself not to reply immediately. He would have to be very careful here, would have to go slowly, step by step, nothing abrupt, not too enthusiastic, not building on what wasn't established yet, taking time with it like the Little Prince taming the fox. But the door was open, even if still guarded at the moment. No matter what the exact words of this email, that was the overall message, and he read it clearly. The door was at least a little ways open.
It was a beginning.
With a smile, he closed down his laptop and stood up, heading for the gate.