A/N: We will find out in the next chapter whom House called and why (and no, it wasn't the track people). And don't worry about Abby, she wasn't forgotten, although she will wind up having what's coming to her adjusted as Rachel does. About House's pain/leg/body image issues, which a few people have commented on along the way and which surface again in this chapter, we are heading there but slowly. That's going to really come up in the second long story out from now (not counting the flexible one shot that I'm not sure where it goes). I warn you, though, I'm a realist on his pain based on their own initial data from Three Stories and the early season episodes. While treatment could definitely be improved, there are no magic bullets, no "just needed physical therapy," no everything can be almost like before with just a few adjustments and he can lead a perfectly or practically normal life. His leg will continue to be an issue in this series, an increasing one as he ages.
Hope you enjoy this longer update.
"Dr. House, Mr. Thornton." The two men entered the room. Cuddy straightened up in challenge but then caught herself and didn't say anything up front, though she did look at her watch. They didn't need to stay too long.
The taller of the two took the lead, approaching the beds. "I'm Steven Taylor, the manager at the racetrack. I hope you two are feeling better this morning."
"Kind of hard not to," House stated. "Yesterday trapped in the dark for hours while your ceiling fell down on us in pieces set the bar pretty low. Of course, all that came after we had warned you that the bomber was dangerous and that we even thought he was armed, and your security moron still decided to waste his time checking us out first."
"I have talked to the security department already, and we will have more meetings on that this next week. Our employee should have taken steps on the current threat at the same time as he asked for checks on you. That was a mistake." Switching to appeasement, he gestured with one bag-filled hand. "I wasn't sure which model horse you bought at the gift shop, so I brought several of them. A few other things, too. I remember from the news last year that you have daughters. Also, I brought an assortment of shirts to replace whatever you lost. The size we were guessing from your licenses that security copied yesterday, but if they don't fit, we can make an exchange."
House - and Thomas, too - were eying the bags with interest, but Cuddy couldn't resist throwing in a far more expensive point of compensation. "Of course, we will expect you to cover all medical expenses after insurance. I'm sure our insurance companies will be in touch with you themselves, too." Insurance companies were always looking for somebody else to potentially pass their claims to.
"Of course," Taylor agreed quickly. "Just send us the bills. No problem." The track lawyers were already cringing in anticipation of potential lawsuits. Several people had been injured minorly in addition to the three who had been trapped, and among that number of injured, odds were very high of one or two opportunists. The track couldn't deny that they had delayed acting on the warning. Thornton and House had by far the best claims; if the track could escape from them with only medical bills and some gift shop merchandise, Taylor would be thrilled.
"There's your betting clerk, too," Thomas reminded him. "He's going to miss a lot of work."
"We'll hold his job for him," Taylor assured him. "And pay him full salary while he's recuperating, of course. We will be talking to him, but his wife said earlier this morning that he wouldn't be up to visitors for a few days."
House nodded. "He did have brain surgery last night. It will take him a while to start getting stronger." He well remembered how totally weak he had been in those first days after his own operation following the car crash and Abby's birth. Even aside from the speech difficulties, it had taken weeks for him to feel anything remotely approaching 100%.
"We do apologize for everything," Taylor said. He looked around for a surface, considering the beds and then deleting that idea. He didn't want to hurt them; both men looked bruised and battered. At least they were alive; apologizing to people injured at his track was far preferable to apologizing to their next-of-kin. He hooked the roll-over table toward him with his foot and then started opening bags. If they wanted model horses and shirts, they would get model horses and shirts. He pulled out a model horse from the first bag. "This is our most popular model, Smarty Jones, who raced at our track. This is even one of the ones signed by Stewart Elliot, the jockey who won the Kentucky Derby on him." House considered it. It was the same model he had picked up for Rachel, although he hadn't popped the significant extra dollars for a signed one. He had picked that one because of the vaguely reddish color of the horse, although Thomas had pointed out that Smarty Jones was technically chestnut and not a blood bay like Ember.
"And here's a Breyer Zenyatta model." That one was darker, nearly black, with a distinctive blaze. It was posed in full gallop. "Then there's the Thoroughbred family. Your girls would love that." The family was a triple set, two adult horses, one slightly larger than the other, and a spindly-legged foal.
Patterson suddenly laughed, and they all looked at her curiously. "Dr. House, do you realize how many Breyer model horses there are available? Get Rachel started on those, and you'll have a collection you have to feed for years and years to come. It never ends."
House shrugged and winced a little doing it. "I know the one I got isn't a stuffed toy like her Ember." And he refused to merely copy his father's idea. "But it looked realistic. I thought she might appreciate looking at them while she's too young to have an actual horse herself." The visible future on her bedroom shelf, something to dream with, not only to play with.
"She will," Thomas agreed. "I got my first model horse when I was about her age, not that it was one as nice as these. I got Silver, complete with Lone Ranger action figure, saddle, bridle, and a stand that could make the horse rear. But Breyer prides themselves on making their horses look realistic instead of just like toys."
Taylor smiled. "Every horse-crazy girls loves Breyer models. Take all of them if you want. I'm sure she'd like them, and the signed Smarty model will be quite valuable in years to come. There are a limited number of those."
"What about Abby?" Cuddy asked. "You can't take Rachel bags full of gifts and nothing for Abby."
House looked thoughtful. "When it was just one model horse, I was going to give Abby a few extra piano lessons. She would have been perfectly satisfied with that as equal value. But you're right; this is pushing it."
"We brought a couple of other things," Taylor added quickly. He rustled in another bag. "I wasn't sure of the age on your daughters, but I did bring several of our general toys. Here's a stuffed unicorn. We have a child's horse puzzle." That was a scene of a field of horses, mares and foals, but the pieces were large and thick, made of foam rubber for easier grasping by young hands. It didn't have more than 20 pieces.
House considered it. "Abby would like the puzzle. Fitting patterns together. Rachel might, too, but it would push her patience. The unicorn could work." Abby did like stuffed animals in general, and she didn't have a unicorn.
"You can play off that to distinguish it for Rachel," Patterson suggested. "The model horses are realistic, like you said. Point out how much they look like real horses and how little the unicorn with a rainbow horn does. And Rachel already has a stuffed horse she loves."
"And here's a toy bugle; you just said your girl likes piano. This can be played a little bit, although it sounds like a toy, of course. A real bugle is hardly intended for indoors. But it also has a recording built in." Taylor pushed a button, and the call to the post filled the room. House groaned, Thomas laughed, and Cuddy sighed. Abby would enjoy that and spend hours trying to duplicate the tune, playing the recording and then her own notes, but the noise quotient in their home would rise accordingly.
"Then there's our very popular electronic horse game. Like I said, I wasn't sure of the ages." He pulled out a rectangular box.
"What kind of game?" House came to attention, having missed that somehow in the shop yesterday between the crowd and watching and analyzing his father picking out shirts. Cuddy mentally filled in the appropriate age herself. About eight, she thought.
"Horse racing, of course. It can be played by one to six people. You place bets on your choices and see who can win more during the day's card." House and Thomas looked at each other, and Cuddy extended her previous estimate to include the next bed. She doubted that particular peace offering would ever make it on to Rachel and Abby.
"And of course, shirts. We brought two of everything in what we think is your size." The second track representative, silent so far but watching like a hawk, absorbing everything, had been exchanging bags and providing more merchandise as needed. Taylor started pulling out assorted T-shirts, sweat shirts, and yes, even jackets.
Thomas and House watched the rotating clothing selections. "That all looks very good," Thomas said after the last bag was emptied, "but I want two more things."
The two men steeled themselves, waiting. "I want two lifetime passes to your track," Thomas stated.
"No problem. We can send them to you. We'll add free concessions."
"Second." Thomas paused to gather his thoughts on this. He was feeling quite tired, very battered, and the headache was a little stronger now than earlier. He wanted a nap, but he wanted discharge even more. Still, he knew he was pushing it already today - and he knew that Lisa probably was right. He wasn't in shape for a press conference yet. But the media was all over his son's part in the story, and delay would only give that more room to expand with half-facts. "You need to give a press conference today."
For the first time, the second executive-appearing man joined the conversation, and Cuddy guessed quickly that he was a lawyer. "We will this afternoon; we're preparing statements. We did manage to keep the names off the news for yesterday while all of the families were notified, but there's no way to keep the back story under wraps permanently. Too many people know. Someone already released the fact that you had warned the track before the explosion, and that was not an officially authorized statement." The potential sources there could have been either in track security or somewhere in the Philadelphia PD, who had been forwarded Thornton's and House's licenses yesterday to check out.
At that moment, the doctor appeared in the door and hesitated, unsure about intruding. Cuddy beckoned him on in, thinking he might help speed the parting guests, and he came a few steps inside, then waited, still at a token distance. House looked at him, then stiffened up. The man was holding not only lab printouts and a few syringes in one hand but also a quad cane in the other. House had said earlier that he would need a hospital cane for discharge as his was destroyed in the explosion. That led to a medical debate - the doctor actually recommended a wheelchair for him the first few days, and House had firmly vetoed it. Using a wheelchair on a bet was one thing. There it had been his choice, and he could stand up at any point and walk off just as usual. He hadn't needed it, so using it hadn't been a true admission of that level of disability. But the current circumstances were different. He was going to re-enter that house on his own two - three - feet, just as he had left it, not wheeling in like a 90-year-old. The girls didn't need to see him that helpless.
Crutches had been proposed next, a little better as he would still be on his own feet, but they both agreed after considering it that those would put increased muscular strain along his left side, which would be intolerable at the moment with his ribs. He stuck to his guns stubbornly, demanding a cane. But he hadn't meant a quad cane! Here it was in front of everybody, too, one with a large platform, not even as streamlined as some quads he had seen. It looked like a flashing neon sign to him. Damn it.
Thomas felt his attention shift and followed his gaze, then turned back to the officials. The doctor waited just inside the door.
"We do appreciate you keeping the names private yesterday, but today, they are out there, and furthermore, the story that's being broadcast is inaccurate. It's your responsibility to correct that."
"Our statement will make it clear that it was you who gave the warning first and Dr. House who backed you up, Mr. Thornton. We will give credit where it is due."
Thomas flinched. "It's not a matter of . . ." He edited himself, carefully not to glance at the his son's hospital bed. "I don't want Dr. House pestered to death by the media; he already went through that with the Chandler trial. But I'm not really feeling up to a press conference myself today." The doctor beside the door shook his head vigorously, giving his emphatic professional opinion on that point. "So I'd like you to tell them what really happened in that bathroom."
Both track representatives alerted there. They did not know those details yet. "What did happen in there?" Taylor asked.
Thomas hesitated. Claiming his own role and asking for the credit was still difficult, even in a good cause. He didn't want the publicity. But what he wanted wasn't the important issue here. "I saw the betting clerk go into the restroom and followed him in to warn him," he started.
House took over, and Thomas yielded immediately, gratefully. "Since you idiots weren't going to even warn the clerk yourselves until later. Anyway, we went into the bathroom and talked to the clerk. He identified the cell phone photo and called his wife. At that point, the bomber came into the room. He stopped in the doorway, just enjoying the scene for a minute, taunting the clerk. We were trying to talk him down, but the man was unbalanced. Then he started forward, and we knew he was going to detonate the bomb. At that point, Thornton grabbed my cane and threw it at him, knocking him backwards. He fell back into the passageway, and the bomb went off there. If it had gone off in the open room, it would have blown a hole clear through your ceiling instead of just badly damaging it, and that whole section probably would have fallen in for two or three levels."
Both men were shocked out of their professional fronts, as was the doctor. They stared at Thomas. "It's only because of him that the bomb didn't kill several people," House emphasized. "And then you really would have had some lawsuits to look forward to."
Taylor found his voice first. "Mr. Thornton, thank you. Yes, we will definitely include those details in our official statement." He gave a quick glance at the lawyer for the legal opinion, receiving a slight nod in return. "The record will be set straight. And thank you very much, on behalf of everybody at the track yesterday."
"One more thing." Thomas couldn't help a quick glance at his son there, pleading for understanding. "Don't mention any connection between us or that we were there together. I don't want them trying to find me through him. He doesn't need more hassle with the press after Chandler. We both just happened to be at the track, that's all, and he backed up my opinion when I asked him."
It was almost painful for him to make that request, but he did see Greg relax somewhat, appreciating that public story more than the headlines of his imagination, though those probing eyes rested on Thomas' face momentarily, searching. Thomas would seize a private chance later to reinforce the point that it was only to respect his son's privacy that he asked that. The track authorities couldn't have missed the fact by now that there was a connection between them, even if they didn't know the exact biological details. Thomas would have been proud to tell the world, but the timing of making that public should be up to his son, not to the staff of the evening news at the TV stations. It wasn't even general private information yet among Greg's own family and coworkers, and Thomas thought that once they did hit that step, they would need to stop and appreciate it for a little while before taking the next one. Right now, the world wasn't invited.
Taylor looked from one of them to the other. "Okay. We won't link you up at all." He was the picture of cooperation. If he had his own curiosity, the potential for a hefty lawsuit more than subdued it. Cuddy gave Thomas a smile, knowing how hard that had been for him, but she agreed that her husband did not need to be pushed on this. She wished he would hurry up and acknowledge Thomas openly, but ripping the choice away from him and putting it on the front pages wouldn't help matters. She'd volunteer to talk to Kate later unless he wanted to himself. They could present the same request and alleged reason, avoiding the press hounding House. Josh wouldn't be up to discussing things with reporters for a while, so they had a little time to coordinate with Kate.
"And tell them that I will make a statement to them. I just need to heal for a few days first." Hopefully, Thomas thought, they would run off searching out details on him in the meantime and leave Greg alone. Any chasing of his own past that occurred would lead the media to St. Louis, not to his son's circles in Princeton, and none of Thomas' friends knew the true relationship here.
"We will," Taylor agreed. "We'll make sure that all gets in our statement this afternoon."
Thomas shook his head and winced slightly. "You don't need to make a statement this afternoon. You need to make it this morning, here, from the hospital. We're going to be discharged in a little while, and we're sure the press has the entrance to the hospital staked out just in case we're at this one."
"They do," the doctor put in. Everybody looked back at him - and the quad cane, House thought, which seemed about five times life-sized. He cringed. "We're withholding information on the patients, but it will be difficult to get out the door without being noticed. They'd recognize Dr. House."
"So we need you to be a diversion," Thomas continued. "You can announce a statement in - do you have an auditorium here?"
"Yes," the doctor replied.
"Lure the press all over there. Give them the whole story, and meanwhile, we'll be leaving without cameras in our faces."
Taylor looked at the track lawyer. "That can probably be arranged," the lawyer said slowly, his mind already working down a checklist. "When are you being discharged?"
"Probably about an hour," the doctor said. "Just a few final details to cover first." House glared at the quad cane, then looked away.
Cuddy turned to Taylor. "Thank you for coming, but we'd like some privacy now." She knew that the forthcoming scene with the doctor didn't need official track witnesses, and besides, the track had some details to arrange themselves. That was a wonderful idea of Thomas'.
"Of course. Whom should we see about logistics on the press conference, Doctor?" The doctor gave them the name of the administrator, and they left, leaving all the bags behind.
House exploded the minute they cleared the door. "Hell, no. That is not a cane. That's a . . . that's for little old ladies and 95-year-olds."
"You're going to need the extra support," the doctor insisted.
He shook his head. "I'll call Wilson and get him to bring a normal cane. That's all I need."
"I have to verify that you are mobile before you can be discharged," the doctor said.
"I am mobile," House roared.
Patterson turned toward the door. "I'm going to go down for some coffee and to call my friend with the limo company. I'll be back in a little while." She left discreetly, and Cuddy gave her a mental salute. She could melt away almost as well as Jensen, and House would appreciate the decrease in audience, but he still had his stubborn look on. Cuddy came up beside the bed, taking his arm gently, and he pulled it away, refusing to be settled.
The doctor closed the door of the room, then walked over to the bed. "If you can walk well enough with this that it doesn't seem to be needed, we can get a straight cane from hospital supply for you to go home with. Meanwhile, the morning labs are back." He let go of the cane and shuffled papers invitingly. "Your hemoglobin level has been stable through the night after the transfusions, Mr. Thornton, which is reassuring."
"I already told you I'm not still bleeding anywhere," Thomas said. "And I've never been anemic. It was only because of that one cut; I'm feeling a lot better this morning."
The doctor eyed him in the bed, silently reading several of the physical signs against that, and then continued. "White count is somewhat up for both of you but not extremely up."
"That's just a stress reaction," House insisted. "We're not febrile, and if it were an infection, it would be heading for the ceiling, not only up a little." He reached out for the pages of lab work, and the doctor passed them to him.
"It probably is just a stress reaction, but you still need to be very careful for the next several days. I brought another dose of IV antibiotics, and we'll give you those before pulling the IVs. You'll be on oral ones for the next 14 days, and I would recommend taking your temperatures twice a day. Anything over 100.5, head immediately to the nearest ER." He looked at Cuddy, emphasizing the point.
"Believe me, they will," she nodded vigorously.
"Okay. Other than watching for infection, the most important thing is to rest. You two have had a lot of trauma here. It's going to take time."
"We know that," House grumbled.
"Both of you did eat breakfast? Feeling fine since? Any nausea?"
"No." Thomas' tone wasn't as sharp as House's, but he was looking nearly as impatient.
"And check in about a week on the stitches. I'll assume you can get somebody from your own hospital to remove those, Dr. House."
"I can remove those myself," House replied.
"Let's give you the antibiotics, and then, I need to make sure you can walk well enough to get from the bed to the bathroom." The catheters they had had overnight had already been pulled earlier that morning by the nurse. The doctor injected both IVs and then removed them. Cuddy, meanwhile, was clearing away all the sacks from the track, leaving nothing right up beside the beds for either man to trip on. She piled them in one of the visitor's chairs.
The doctor finished pulling Thomas' IV. "All right, Mr. Thornton, you're up first." He had debated whether it would be easier with House to see the other man go first, emphasizing that he was also hurt and stiff and sore, or just make it worse, emphasizing that even though older, he didn't have a bad leg on top of it. He'd finally decided there was no easy way to do this. But the quad cane was going to be needed, no question. Between House's leg and his ribs, the extra stability would be required.
Thomas moved the covers aside and slowly sat up. All of his battered muscles protested that movement, and he gritted his teeth but persisted. Finally up, he sat on the side of the bed for a moment, steeling himself.
The doctor looked at the hospital gown. "By the way, do you have clothes to change into?"
"Our friend is out buying them." Thomas slowly dropped down onto his feet. The doctor stayed close in safety position, ready to grab if needed.
"Do you feel dizzy?"
"No." That was the truth. His headache was a little worse standing up, but he wasn't dizzy. Standing up did make the physical chorus sort itself out more. His right side and his back had taken most of the force of the explosion and had most of the cuts, and several points stung and pulled as they shifted. His left shoulder was a deeper ache but not as acute. All of his muscles were generally stiff and sore. He took a tentative step.
House watched from his bed, suspicious and concerned in rotation. He had been afraid the old man would exaggerate his own status to try to make his son feel less crippled, but he didn't seem to be. He clearly had enough to deal with without inflating it. Stiffly, moving like he was 90 himself instead of 75, he headed for the bathroom. Cuddy watched closely, and House could practically feel the worry coming off of her in waves. Thomas and the doctor achieved the bathroom door, and the doctor indicated the little room with a nod. "I need to make sure everything is working before I can discharge you," he said. They disappeared, and the door shut.
House immediately turned to Cuddy. "That is not a cane," he objected.
She sighed. "Greg, it doesn't matter. Not with me, not with the girls, not with Thomas. You went through an explosion, which would have hurt anybody, and of course it's going to make your leg worse. It's extra help that you need for a little while, nothing more." He didn't look convinced.
The bathroom door opened to the flush of success, and Thomas made the slow, painful return journey. Arriving at the bed, he climbed back in, grateful for his height. At least there wasn't a jump up required. Thoroughly drained, he leaned back into the mattress, closed his eyes just for a second, and then immediately reopened them as if afraid he had been caught.
"We can stay another day," Cuddy offered. They could work out something with the girls, maybe have them visit.
"No." The men spoke in absolute, rock-solid unison.
The doctor walked around to the other bed. "Your turn, Dr. House."
House gathered himself. He was no stranger to broken ribs, and he remembered from his childhood that the worst moment was in changing from lying down to sitting up, that one point along the journey where pressure and muscular tension on the chest wall cannot be avoided. Experiments as a child on whether it was better to go slowly or quickly had left him with the answer that neither made any difference; the ribs were going to stab him anyway. Currently, he had no choice in the matter. He didn't think moving quickly, given his other injuries, was an option. He sat up cautiously, and the stab in his side came just as expected, nearly taking his breath away. Achieving vertical, he waited for a minute, letting the waves of pain settle. At least he did still have extra and stronger meds on board. He was going to need them.
He carefully adjusted the hospital gown, making sure it concealed as much as possible of his leg. Then, hanging onto the lowered rails on each side, refusing to reach for that quad cane yet, he dropped down gingerly to his feet, testing. His leg didn't go into a full spasm at least, no doubt only because of the amount of antispasmodics he was on, but the pain level immediately rose.
"Greg?" Cuddy asked.
He opened his eyes. "Fine." He looked at that damned cane, sitting there waiting. Sitting upright on its own, because it was an old people's cane. But he knew better than to take a step without it. Total collapse wouldn't prove anything to the doctor. Cautiously releasing the bed rail with his right hand, he reached out.
The thing was far more stable and supportive than his usual cane, reassuringly firm to lean against, and that fact just annoyed him further. His trek across the room was even slower than Thomas', but he did make it. Once in the bathroom, he demonstrated his ability to pee, all the while snarking that he'd possessed that ability for several decades already. Slowly, painfully, he returned to the bed, and his ribs stabbed him again as he got back in and changed his torso back from vertical to horizontal. He was sweating before it was all done.
The doctor looked at him, then at Cuddy, and they both sighed. A wheelchair would be so much easier, but he wouldn't use it. He had made that clear. At least the quad cane would help him more than a straight one would.
House opened his eyes. "So we can walk. Satisfied? When do we get out of here?" He didn't mention again getting a straight cane from hospital supply.
The doctor made a few final notes. "I wish you'd stay another day, but I can discharge you now. We'll have to coordinate with the track press conference if you want to use that for a diversion. And I agree that both of you are in no shape to deal with the press yet. You'll need the clothes to arrive, too."
Wilson tapped and then opened the door just at his last statement. "Did someone mention clothes?" The oncologist was carrying several bags himself. "I've got everything down to and including tennis shoes - and I hope you wear the same shoe size he does," he added to Thomas.
"So as soon as the track people set up the conference and Patterson gets back with the limo details, we can leave," House said.
Patterson came in at that moment. "Everything's ready. A limo for this morning is no problem; one is heading over now and will wait in the parking lot until I call them to bring it up. And my friend guarantees that the driver will keep his mouth shut and not talk to anybody about this, reporter or otherwise."
"Then let's get the hell out of here," House demanded. Cuddy pulled out her cell phone and dialed the track official for an update, and Wilson started presenting his own offerings, less horsey but more comprehensive and practical. At least, House thought with relief, neither Wilson nor Patterson had commented on the quad cane.