Was in the mood for another post finale fic. Hope you enjoy. - atd
Rachel was getting bored.
It wasn't that she didn't like the National Air and Space Museum. It was actually her favorite museum at the Smithsonian. But second grade field trips basically sucked. They involved lots of being shouted at and herded by frazzled teachers—not to mention that horrible bagged lunch they had forced her to eat. As far as Rachel was concerned, she'd much rather explore the museum on her own.
As Mrs. Shipley went on and on about "solar radiation" and "solar wind," Rachel's eyes wandered to some of the other exhibits. There was a giant diorama of the solar system, a close up of the surface of Mars, and a picture of the crew of Apollo 11. Then she noticed a full-scale replica of the Voyager spacecraft. She casually scratched at a mosquito bite on her ankle, then made her way to the replica. No one seemed to notice her slip away.
She was checking out the Voyager's enormous and complicated control panels when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a man, sitting on one of the museum benches, reading a book. He was tall and craggy and he looked weary somehow, like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
She had a strange sensation she had seen him before and it forced her to look again. That was when she noticed the cane leaning up against the bench.
She walked up to him.
"I know you," she said.
"Go away," he said, not looking up from his book.
"But you're House, right?"
Now he looked up. He had a nearly full beard and he was wearing a cap, slung low on his forehead. But his eyes, large and bright blue, were a dead giveaway. He blanched when he saw her.
Then, shakily, he said: "You've got the wrong guy."
Rachel continued to stare at him, slack-jawed. Finally, she said: "It's me, Rachel.".
"Nice to meet you, Rachel. The name's John Wilson." He looked beyond her, saw the school group huddled around their teacher. "Aren't you supposed to be over there?"
"You're not John Wilson," Rachel said stubbornly. "You're Gregory House."
"I'm telling you, little girl. You're confused," the man said, more confidently this time. "My name is John Wilson. I'm a researcher here at the institute."
"You're supposed to be dead," Rachel said.
"And yet I'm clearly not dead. So therefore, you have the wrong guy."
"Why did you tell everyone you were dead? You made my mom so sad."
"Kid, your class seems to be moving to another room," the man said, anxiously. "Run along. You don't want to get separated."
He gestured to Rachel's school group, which was shuffling out of the gallery.
"I'll only go if you admit that you're Gregory House!" Rachel said, putting her hands on her hips.
"I'm serious, it's not me. You said so yourself, this Gregory House guy is dead."
"Then why do you have his cane?"
"It's my cane. Old sports injury."
"You have his cane! And his voice! And his body! And his . . .soul! Because you're him!"
"No such thing as a soul, kid."
"That's exactly what he would say!"
The man squinted at her.
"I don't remember you being this annoying," he said with a sigh, finally giving up.
"House!" she said, enveloping him in a hug. "I knew it was you!"
He allowed himself to be hugged, then pulled away.
"No one can know I'm alive, Rachel, okay?"
"Why not?" she said.
"Because I'm supposed to be dead. If the cops find out I'm alive, I go to jail."
"But I can at least tell Mama, right?"
"No! Absolutely not. She's the last person on earth who can know."
"But if she knew you were alive it would make her happy."
"Doubtful. She hated my guts before I died. It's unlikely much has changed since then."
"Mama never hated you, silly. She loves you."
"You're cute, kid," he said. He ruffled her hair, which had gotten quite long since he last saw her, but still had bangs, that fell into her inquisitive eyes. "But you've got to promise me, okay?"
"And you have to call me John. Because that's my name now. I paid some very shady people an exorbitant amount of money for it."
"You're not John, you're House!"
"I know, Rach. But it's make believe, okay? Only make believe for grown ups. With super serious consequences. Like me rotting away in prison and getting shivved. So what's my name?"
"John Wilson," Rachel said, solemnly.
"Good kid," he said.
He peered at her for a second.
"Look, I'd love to stay and catch up, but you should probably get back with your group."
"But I have a zillion questions!" Rachel said.
"And here's my answer: Life's not fair. Not all questions get to be answered. Let's go."
And he stood up from the bench, took her hand, and led her to the adjacent room.
But when they got there, there was no sign of the class. In fact, the room was empty, save for a guard.
"Did you see a bunch of kids come through here?" House asked him.
"Yeah," the guard said.
"Yeah, they left."
"Like, went to another room in the museum?"
"Like, headed toward the exit."
House looked at Rachel, in distress.
"Don't they have one of those buddy systems?" he asked her. "Two-by-two, like Noah's ark? Wouldn't they notice you were gone?"
Rachel nodded. Then she wrinkled her nose and said, "Except. . ."
"Sally Schlesinger has an imaginary friend named Dolores Fingerbottom. So maybe when Mrs. Shipley asked if her buddy was with her, she said yes. But she meant Dolores Fingerbottom, not me!"
"Are your teachers actually that dumb?" House asked. Then he added: "Don't answer that. C'mon, we have a bus to catch up to."
He grabbed her hand and, more quickly this time, they headed to the front doors.
Several buses were lined up, but they seemed important, adult-size, cruisers.
"Do you see your bus, Rach?" House said.
She shook her head, beginning to panic a bit.
House turned to another museum staffer, a 30ish woman in clogs: "A bus. With a bunch of kids, about her height—and one extremely idiotic teacher. Did you see them?
"That bus pulled away about 10 minutes ago," the woman said.
"Shit," House said. "She was supposed to be on the bus."
"Uh oh," the staffer said.
"Uh oh? Uh oh? That's all you can say? There has to be some sort of protocol. Some sort of channels we can follow. Who's in charge of these kiddie tours anyway?"
"I am," the woman said.
"So what's next?"
"Do you have a cell phone, sweetie?" the lady said, bending toward Rachel.
Rachel shook her head.
"Do you know the phone number of your teacher?"
Rachel shook her head again.
"How about the bus driver?"
"Oh, I'm sure Rachel has the bus driver's phone number memorized," House said sarcastically. "Who wouldn't?"
"No," Rachel said, looking like she was about to cry.
"Don't cry, sweetie. We'll figure something out. We'll call your mother. And if we can't get in touch with your mother, we'll call your school. And if we can't call your school, we'll call the National Guard." She winked at House, who was not in the mood to share her little joke. "Let's go back to my office, okay?"
"Okay," Rachel said.
House peered at them.
"So you'll, uh, take it from here?" he said.
Rachel's eyes widened.
"House!" she said. Then she put her hand to her mouth, realizing her mistake. "John Wilson!"
And she grabbed House's arm.
"It'll be fine, kid," House said, unconvincingly.
"Don't leave me!"
She tightened her grip on his arm.
The staff lady gave them a curious look.
"Do you know this little girl?" she said to House.
"Um, we just met," House said. "But we…bonded quickly."
"And you work here, right?" the woman said, squinting at him. "In research?"
"Right," House said.
She heaved a sigh of relief.
"This works out well then. Because I need to ask a huge favor. Can you see that this child gets reunited with her family?"
"Isn't that kind of your job?"
"Normally I'd do it myself but it's my son's birthday tonight and we're having 30 people and I have to pick up the cake and the balloons and the streamers and since the girl already seems so attached to you. . ." She gestured to Rachel, who was still clinging to House's arm for dear life.
House looked down at Rachel, who looked totally freaked out over this entire turn of events.
"Okay," he said. "I'll handle it."
He took her back upstairs, to his office.
His colleague gave him a curious look.
"I didn't know you had a daughter, John," he said.
"She's not my daughter. She's my, uh, niece," House said. Attempting to actually explain Rachel's presence just seemed way too complicated at this point.
"What's her name?" the guy said to House.
"She actually knows how to talk," House said. "I know you've been stuck in this lab for a while, Gordo, but kids start doing that around the age of 2 these days."
"I'm Rachel," Rachel said cheerfully. Now that she was with House, she felt confident again.
"I'm Gordon," the scientist said. "Your uncle's a genius, did you know that? A royal pain in my ass, but a genius."
"I know," Rachel said.
"See that, John? Even your niece knows you're an asshole."
"Cute, Gordo. C'mon Rachel."
He led her into his office. It was small and cluttered, although mostly with books, with names like The Fabric of the Cosmos and Quantum Mechanics. There was also a small electric keyboard and a set of headphones resting across the keys.
House sat down at his desk and gestured for Rachel to do the same.
"You have to call your mom and tell her to come pick you up."
"She lives five hours away!"
"They have high speed trains these days. She can be here in 2 and a half hours. Do you know the number?"
"Okay, here, call. Keep very calm. Tell her you're at the museum, that you got separated from your group, but that everything's just fine. You're with a researcher who's happy to look after you until she arrives, okay?"
Rachel nodded again. House went to hand her the phone, then stopped.
"What's my name, Rach?"
He gave her the phone.
Rachel dialed carefully. After a few rings, Cuddy picked up.
"Mama! I got separated from the group and the bus left without me!" she wailed.
House rolled his eyes. "Not exactly sticking to the script," he muttered.
He could hear Cuddy's agitated voice on the other end of the phone. He tried to imagine where she was sitting. What she was wearing.
"A man," Rachel said. "His name is . . . John Wilson."
Rachel pressed the phone against her chest.
"She wants to talk to you," she whispered.
Oh shit. He should've seen this coming.
He shook his head and made the cut sign against his throat.
"He can't talk to you," Rachel said. She looked at House as he slashed his throat. "Because he. . .um, has a sore throat."
House put his head in his hands.
Rachel cupped the phone with her hand.
"She still wants to talk to you," she said.
House sighed, took the phone.
"Hello?" he said, trying to disguise his voice, by pretending he had a terrible frog in his throat. He ended up sounding like he was making a prank phone call.
"Who am I speaking with?" Cuddy said.
"This is Dr. John Wilson, I'm a researcher here at the Smithsonian," he croaked.
"Wow, you really do have a sore throat!" Cuddy said. "I can barely understand you."
House cleared his throat, pretended to hock a loogie.
"Better?" he said, in something resembling his normal speaking voice. (She hadn't seen him in 5 years and he was supposed to be dead. No way she was going to recognize his voice over the phone.)
"Much!" she said. "So you have Rachel?"
"Yeah, it's my fault she got separated from her group. She was asking me questions about one of the exhibits and I guess I got a little carried away by her enthusiasm for, um, astrophysics. We must have lost track of time."
"Whoa," Cuddy said, sounding shocked.
"It's true. She has a real acumen for this sort of thing."
"No, I meant, whoa, you sound very similar to someone I used to know. Like, cue-the-theme-to-Twilight-Zone similar."
(So much for not recognizing his voice.)
"Oh, uh. . .maybe it's because of my sore throat?" House offered.
"Sorry," Cuddy said. Her voice suggested she was trying to shake herself back into focus. "So she's with you. She's safe. I can't thank you enough for watching her, Dr. Wilson. I'm looking at the train schedule right now." He heard the fast clicking of a keyboard. "I can be at the museum by 8. Can you occupy her for that long? Maybe give her something to eat?"
"Um, the museum closes at 5:30," House said.
"Oh. . .can you stay open a couple of extra hours?"
"I don't think that's allowed," House said. "It's a government thing."
"Oh. . .then. . .well. . ."
"I could bring her back to my apartment, I guess. It's not exactly kid-friendly, but I've got a TV."
"Are you sure your wife won't mind?" she asked hopefully.
"No wife," he said. "Sorry."
"I confess, this situation would be 70 percent less creepy if you had a wife," Cuddy admitted.
"I assure you I'm harmless. Rachel and I are getting along great. It's like we've known each other for years."
Cuddy hesitated. He could picture her in his mind, biting her nail, weighing her options. Of course, she really didn't have too many at this point.
"Put Rachel back on the phone, will you?" she said.
House handed the phone back to Rachel.
"Yes," Rachel said to her mother. "He's very nice." Then, "Yes. . very safe." Then she cupped the phone again. "She wants to know your address."
So he took her back to his apartment, which was not nearly as nice as the one she had vague memories of in Princeton. That one had leather couches and rich looking throws and framed black-and-white photos on the walls, plus stacks and stacks of records.
This one was more spartan. Like his office, it was overrun with books. The couch was putty grey. There was a piano—a small, somewhat rickety looking upright. No record player, but an iPhone connected to two small speakers.
House took off Rachel's red windbreaker, tossed her backpack onto the couch.
"You hungry?" he said.
She nodded. "A little."
He went into the narrow kitchen, peered skeptically inside the refrigerator. Then he pulled out some ingredients: A hunk of cheddar cheese, a loaf of sourdough bread, butter. He emptied a can of soup into a saucepan.
"I hope you still like grilled cheese and tomato soup," he said. "Cause that's what you're getting."
"I do," she said.
He poured her a glass of milk.
"So," House said, trying to keep his voice casual, as he sliced the bread. "How's your mom?"
"She's good," Rachel said, swinging her legs.
"And you like your new house?"
"It's not so new anymore!"
"Yeah, I suppose not," House said. "So is she. . .seeing anyone?"
"Not right now," Rachel said, taking a sip of her milk.
House heaved a tiny, ridiculous sigh of relief.
"But there have been a few. . .boyfriends?" he asked, eyeing her.
"Yeah. A few. I liked the last one, Gary. He had a dog."
"But it didn't work out, huh?"
"No. Mom said he was a pompous blowhard."
House gave a tiny laugh.
"Gary or the dog?" he said.
"Gary! The dog was happy and dumb."
"Both excellent qualities for a dog," he said. "So does she ever. . .talk about me?" He flipped the grilled cheese in the frying pan and held his breath.
"Sometimes," Rachel said. "Like, she'll come home from work and say, 'I really could've used House today.'"
"Oh, so, like, work stuff?" House said, disappointed.
"Yeah, but sometimes other things, too. Like a movie will come on and she'll say, 'Remember when we watched this with House?' Or I'll say something sassy and she'll say, 'You sound exactly like House.'"
House slid the grilled cheeses onto plates and ladled the soup. He put the food on the table and sat across from her.
"So would you say she talks about me. . .fondly?"
"Yeah, silly. I told you. Mama loves you."
"She says that?" The hope in his voice was actually embarrassing. He was talking to an 8-year-old about a woman he hadn't seen in five years.
"No, but I can tell," Rachel said. "She used to curse your name a lot and throw things but then when you died"—and then she giggled, because he was not, in fact, dead—"she cried a lot. After that, whenever she talks about you, her voice sounds like she's dreaming."
"I guess it's easy to focus on the good stuff after someone dies," House said, ruefully.
"I wish we could tell her you're alive," Rachel said.
House did, too. In fact, he fantasized about it quite a bit: Calling her up ("Don't freak out") or even just showing up at her door, throwing himself at her mercy. But it would be dangerous for her, as well as for him. He'd carefully constructed his false identity, just as he'd carefully tucked away his feelings for her. Women. Love. Feelings. They had a way of screwing with a guy.
"We can't," he said.
"I don't see why not," Rachel said. "You seem. . .lonely."
He'd been lonely for most of his life. Lonely actually seemed normal to him.
"I'm not, kid. Look at all these books. And that iPod has thousands of songs on it. You can never been lonely in the presence of books and music."
Then he glanced at his watch.
"Shit, your mom's going to be here soon. Let's gather your stuff."
He got her backpack and her jacket and they rode the elevator down to the lobby.
The doorman, Jose, sat behind a desk in a booth.
"Jose, do me a favor, huh?"
"Anything for you Dr. Wilson."
"Watch Rachel here until her mom shows up. Should be any minute now. I can't stay."
"Sure thing," Jose said cheerfully. He opened the door to his little booth and patted the stool next to him. "Hop on, little lady."
Rachel looked at House, who nodded encouragingly.
"It's okay. Jose's cool," he said.
"But I want to stay with you," Rachel whined.
House swallowed hard. Shit. He'd forgotten about this. The way loving a child could make you feel.
"Your mom's going be here soon." He glanced at the front door furtively. "I really got to go."
He gave Rachel a hug goodbye and watched her climb into the booth next to Jose.
But, of course, House wasn't really going anywhere. He turned down a hallway, flattened himself against a wall, and peered out from a spot where he could see and not be seen.
If anyone thought he was going to miss this opportunity to see Lisa Cuddy one last time, they had to be nuts.