A/N: Thanks for the reviews! A couple of people have wondered now over the last story and this one about Cuddy's parents and how they will react to Thomas. We will get there eventually, but it won't be in this story. The series mentally runs right now through the next two stories, both of those full-length ones which are developing. There's always a possibility for my muse to revise/adjust/throw in another along the way, especially before the second one out, which is very new and just forming. The story after Father's Day is the story after Father's Day, definitely. That's the team case.
I have always loved that part of the Little Prince. And yes, the fox really does wish to be tamed. :)
Enjoy chapter 2.
House kept stealing glances at Cuddy as they sat in the waiting area. She was the picture of anticipation. Not tension, or rather only as a reflection of his, but for herself, she was simply looking forward to seeing the old man. How could everybody else be so sure of him already? Or was it everybody else who was the point here? He shifted a little. His leg was indeed worse than baseline today, which he doggedly refused to put down to his own nerves. He had a legitimate medical condition, after all. All the doctors including even Jensen the mind wizard agreed on that. Pain didn't require some deeper meaning; it was often just pain. Once again, he let his imagination go to the desk of a pharmaceutical company and tell them exactly what he thought of the term "painkillers." If only. Things killed were supposed to stay dead, not refuse to ever flat line at all.
Dead. Like his mother. Her death still hurt, surprising him at times as a memory caught him off guard and pounced. Some moment in his day would abruptly remind him of her, even stupid little things. Things like the airport just now. The last time he had sat here waiting, it had been for her flight to arrive for their last Christmas ever together. At least the airport gate was different today. The feelings of guilt over not grilling her on her health were getting better; several sessions with Jensen over the weeks had done that much. The psychiatrist had told him, and he had to agree himself, that she almost certainly would have lied to them, and nothing would have changed. But her loss still hurt.
He realized Cuddy was watching him with that unspoken worried look again. Damn. He wondered suddenly if part of her offer to come with him this afternoon to Newark wasn't only to see Thornton faster but to give him company on the trip, to help distinguish it from that last one. Either way, he was more glad of her presence than he would ever be able to say. Tomorrow was soon enough for one-on-one. Tonight, he welcomed the buffer.
"Flight 134 arriving from St. Louis," the PA system announced.
House hauled himself to his feet gingerly. He would put on a heat patch once he got home, and maybe that would help keep his leg from being such a vocal uninvited guest tonight. Too much else would be going on tonight; he needed to be able to focus without distractions. Cuddy came gracefully to her feet beside him and edged a little closer. "This is nothing like last time," he said abruptly. "Last time, they were playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and had those damned tinsel and lights all around." Cuddy laughed, but the quiet squeeze of her hand on his said more, and he returned the pressure of her fingers.
The passengers started emerging from the tunnel. Thornton was among the first few, and the undiluted eagerness in the old man's eyes and stride startled House. He came straight up to them, smiling. "Hello, Greg."
House analyzed that for further meaning but failed. He always felt awkward during the first few moments of any conversation with his father, on the phone and even more in person. "Hi," he said softly. Thornton looked at Cuddy, who had been hanging back slightly and letting the two men meet first, and House caught the glance and the wish behind it. "Oh, go ahead and do what you really want to," he said, retreating half a step.
I wish I could, Thomas thought. But he knew better. Not now, not yet. Maybe never, and if Greg could never be totally at ease with physical contact, he certainly would understand that. But he was looking forward to the day when they could share silent hugs, at least, two spirits nodding warmly to each other and acknowledging the bond between them. Instead, he paused long enough to make it clear that he was moving on past his first wish, and then he turned to his daughter-in-law, hugging her tightly. "Hi, Lisa."
"Thomas. So good to see you." She gave him an extra squeeze, then stepped back a little to eye him critically. She hadn't seen him in over a month. "You're looking better."
He smiled at her. "What was I looking like before?"
House abruptly found himself pulled back into the conversation. The old man was absolutely asking to be teased there. It was all over his tone. "Well, I could think of a few options, especially that one morning, but she probably would object to me saying so."
Cuddy elbowed him firmly in the ribs. "Shut up, Greg," she said, but her tone had relaxed, and the awkward first moment slipped away.
Thornton looked from one to the other of them, and he was serious suddenly. "I guarantee, neither one of you have ever seen me at my best."
Cuddy shook her head. "I beg to differ." She became aware of the crowd again and turned toward the baggage claim. "We'd better get your suitcase and head for Princeton. The girls are waiting, and they'll be driving Marina nuts."
House looked at his watch. Under two minutes until mention of the girls, although it had been Cuddy and not Thornton who introduced the subject. Did that disqualify it from statistical significance?
Cuddy and Thomas were chatting comfortably as they walked toward the carousel, both of them holding the pace down for House but at least being subtle about it. They arrived and watched the luggage dropping down onto the wheel.
"Not here yet," Thomas said. "I hope it made it to the right state. Hope it's even still in the right country."
"I'll bet you've seen some royal screw-ups," House said. As much traveling as the old man had done over the years, military and otherwise, it was bound to have happened.
Thomas laughed. "The worst one that caught up with me eventually was a suitcase that somehow went to Greece instead of Austin, Texas."
Cuddy rolled her eyes. "Because those two are so close together," she commented, but she was watching the chute more critically now, as if she could administrate it into correct baggage distribution just by adequate supervision.
"And that's just the worst that made it home. I still have two bags out there somewhere. They've been gone for decades, and I wonder sometimes where they finally ended up." Thomas came to attention. "Here it is." He scooped the suitcase off the carousel with an ease that sent a stab of envy through House. "Welcome to New Jersey," he announced, addressing the suitcase. "And I'm very glad you made it."
Cuddy gave him another hug. "Welcome to New Jersey yourself," she told him.
"He has been to the state before, Lisa," House grumbled. "It's not like a foreign country."
Thomas looked at him, flipped a mental coin, then seized the opportunity. "Actually, I've been here twice."
"I meant on trips that involved me," House clarified.
"So did I. I wasn't counting general travel."
"The trial. That's only one," House challenged. "What else was there?"
Thomas turned toward the doors. "I'll tell you once we're in the car," he promised. "Come on; we can't keep the girls waiting." House looked at his watch as he and Cuddy started after him. Fifteen minutes from arrival until he had mentioned the girls himself.
Fortunately, Cuddy's car wasn't far, waiting in the handicapped slot. Thomas' suitcase was stowed in the trunk, and then Cuddy climbed into the back seat, leaving the front available. House disliked back-seat travel, which was only comfortable if he turned sideways to stretch out, and Thomas most likely had the same long-leg difficulty, though not the disability adding to it. She wouldn't make him fold himself up back here. He followed the thought and shot her a grateful look as he climbed in on the passenger's side.
House put the keys in the ignition but didn't turn it on yet. Instead, he twisted to face the old man. "What was the second time?" he demanded.
"Actually, it was the first time. Back when you were in the hospital with your leg, I flew up to visit you."
House stared at him. "Clear from St. Louis?"
"Yes. Blythe called me and told me how ill you were. I just wanted to see you." House shook his head. "You were asleep, Greg. I stood there watching for several minutes, but when you shifted a little like you were waking up, I left. I wasn't trying to start anything, especially not then. I only wanted to see you," he repeated.
"You flew clear up here to spend a few minutes looking at me? Several hundred bucks of tickets for five minutes without saying anything?"
"Yes," Thomas replied. He wasn't sure if his son looked disbelieving or confused. "You were in the ICU," he offered. "The third room on the right as you went through the doors."
House's eyes widened. After a moment, he turned away and started the car. There was a brief silence as he pulled out onto the road, and then Thomas filled it. "How are the girls?"
Cuddy spoke up from the back seat. "They're fine. Really looking forward to seeing you. Rachel kept asking if you were going to bring Ember."
House relaxed a little. "She hasn't let it alone." But she had mentioned the old man himself as often as she had the horse. "You realize what you've done here? We're going to have to buy her a pony eventually now, and it's all your fault. I ought to send you the bills."
Thomas shrugged. "I'd be glad to pay them, if you want. But lots of parents have managed to survive ponies. It's even a phase with some kids, and they grow out of it. I doubt she will, though. You said she was keyed especially on the horses watching that parade, and that was even before the Christmas gifts. How's Abby?"
"She can actually read a little bit of music now," House offered. "Just getting going with a few words, too, and those increase all the time."
"That music game has helped with her," Cuddy told Thomas. "Following the notes across the bottom really makes the point. I was afraid Rachel would want to play with it and would get Abby jealous, but she doesn't seem that interested in music anymore except listening to Greg play. And Abby isn't interested in the stuffed horse at all. But they each love their gift. You chose really well on those." She smiled at him as he looked back between the seats at her, and then she tightened up.
"What's wrong, Lisa?" Thomas asked. House barely glanced at her in the rearview mirror. He already knew, and the same point had even occurred to him. Purely as a case of similarity, of course, a similar beginning reminding him of the past. That was all there was to it.
Cuddy sat to the front of the seat, getting closer to the two men. "Thomas," she said firmly in her sternest supervisory voice, "are you sure you are in good shape physically? If there's anything wrong, any symptoms you've been having, don't keep them to yourself."
Thomas looked from one to the other of them, her leaning forward, consumed by the intensity of the question, his son staring straight ahead at the road but with his own tension increased from a moment ago. There was a sympathetic understanding in his tone as he replied. "I'm fine. I promise. I had a complete physical last fall, and I'm not having any symptoms. And if, purely hypothetically, understand, I do start feeling off, I would have the sense to let someone know."
She relaxed. "I'll hold you to that," she insisted. "It's not just us, but think about the effect on the girls."
"I'm fine," he repeated. "It's all right, Lisa."
"Let it go, Lisa," House insisted. "You're the one who said a little while ago that he was looking better." But he, too, felt a knot inside him loosen a little. The old man really was looking better. Not that he had looked ill before, although he certainly had looked dead tired that Wednesday. But now, he seemed like some inner light was burning brighter than it had.
Because of the girls? Cuddy? Or was it in some small part at least due to him?
House drove on toward Princeton, quietly listening to and admiring their easy conversation, throwing in an occasional comment. He didn't even notice until he was entering the city limits that the pain in his leg was a little bit better.