A/N: Good morning, and thanks for all the reviews. Short chapter, but all I had time for. We'll have a few covering the family evening, and then Saturday, it's off to the races for the bulk of this story and a lot of things going on between Thomas and House.
Thomas studied the house with frank curiosity as his son pulled into the driveway. Neat and orderly, at least from the outside, and very nicely landscaped, though not with Blythe's personal touch. He pegged it as Lisa's house that Greg had moved into, not vice versa. Once they parked in the garage, though, he was totally focused on the door. The essence of a home is in its people, and he was looking forward to seeing his granddaughters again. The promised family evening all together stretched out before him, every moment to be savored, even though he expected the highlight of this trip to be tomorrow as he finally, for the first time in his life, got the chance to spend quality time alone with Greg. He quickly got out of the car, then waited while Lisa climbed out and while Greg stalled, obviously stretching his exit from the driver's seat far beyond that physically required.
Cuddy held back her sigh and popped the trunk from her key fob. "We might as well go ahead and take your suitcase in now. Saves another trip back out tonight." Thomas walked around to retrieve it.
House finally closed the driver's door. Every sense was focused on the other man, and he could feel the anticipation in him, like an electric current. Those enticing granddaughters were only a door away.
The distance quickly became even less as House's dragging his feet produced the inevitable result. Rachel managed to get the door from the house open and came running out, trotting nimbly down the two steps into the garage. "Thomas!" She ran to him, and he put down his suitcase and bent to give her a quick hug.
Marina and Abby appeared at the door. Rachel was going a mile a minute. "You finally came! Can you stay? Where's Ember? My Ember says hi." She squeezed the whinny ear on her beloved stuffed horse.
Cuddy pried Rachel away from Thomas' leg. "We can all talk once we get inside, Rachel. You have to give him room to walk while he's got the suitcase. Were you a good girl for Marina today?"
"Uh huh." Rachel finally backed away from Thomas.
"They were both good," Marina put in from the doorway. "Excited, though."
Rachel rounded the car, bouncing up to her father. "Daddy! Ember says hi." The horse whinnied again. House studied Thomas, gauging. "Ember says hi!" Rachel insisted from knee level, the horse now snorting as well as whinnying at him.
"Hi, Rachel. Hi, Ember." He picked her up, setting his balance carefully first. It was more of an effort now, especially on bad days. How long would he be able to do this?
Rachel noticed. "Was it hell leg day?"
Cuddy sighed aloud that time, Thomas couldn't help a quickly stifled grin - not at his son's pain but at her way of phrasing the question - and House noticed and started for the door with an annoyed tilt to his shoulders and even more stiffness in the damned leg than he had felt earlier this afternoon. "No," he replied finally. "I'm fine." Upon reaching the stairs, he first set Rachel down inside the house, not trying to climb them while holding her. Part of him stubbornly wanted to try it, just as a statement, but falling wouldn't be the kind of statement he had in mind, and more importantly, falling with his daughter was a risk he didn't want to take. Marina and the girls backed away, and Cuddy and Thornton watched behind him. He felt the eyes from both directions.
Finally in, he gave Rachel's shoulder a squeeze, then picked up Abby. "Hi, Abby."
"Hi, Daddy." The blue eyes were too perceptive at close range, and he set her back down.
Cuddy and Thomas climbed the stairs, and House couldn't help noticing how easily the old man did it, even carrying the suitcase. Cuddy greeted both of her daughters, and Thomas put down his suitcase and turned to Abby. "Hi, Abby."
"Hi, Thomas," she replied.
He tilted his head, studying her. "You're growing," he noted.
Cuddy smiled. "She does seem to be getting taller the last month. Greg thinks she's finally starting to go into a growth spurt. Maybe she'll try to make up for lost time."
House walked on through the house to the living room. It was where he felt most at home here, aside from their bedroom, and the old man didn't have license to go that far yet. Thomas trailed him, along with both girls, and Cuddy gave him a sympathetic look and then turned to Marina. The nanny had promised to start making dinner preparations, and indeed, the main dish was all ready to slide into the oven, the vegetables sliced and ready for cooking. "Thanks, Marina. I don't know how I would have managed it all myself before bedtime." Bedtime, of course, would probably be a very fluid value tonight. Even Abby was excited, and Rachel was nearly vibrating.
"I'm glad to help." Marina walked back into the living room to pick up her purse. "Good bye, girls. I'll see you Monday. Everybody have fun this weekend." She smiled at Thomas, then left.
Thomas was drifting around the living room now, soaking up the atmosphere. Rachel was his tour guide, pointing out this or that, divided into the two main categories of her world: "Can't touch," and "okay." The interior of the house was a nice mix of his son and Lisa, not nearly as much hers alone as the outside. The baby grand dominated the room in more than just size. He walked over and looked at it, careful not to touch, remembering his father's. This one had a special cushion on the bench, he noted. A beautiful instrument. Next to the people, it was the physical soul of this home.
As for the rest of the room, the couch and chairs matched and were neatly arranged, but the many books on the wall were eclectic. There was an ample selection of DVDs and CDs, too, including a lower shelf of children's movies for the girls. Blythe's little desk was here, along with a somewhat larger one while still not full office sized. There were also pictures, not a solid wall of them like Blythe's but neatly arranged in appropriate points throughout the room. They were mostly of Greg, Lisa, and the girls in various combinations. He noticed his drawing of Blythe, framed, as well as another picture of her. One of Lisa with a couple, probably her parents. Everyone was smiling, but there was a hint of reserve there in her posture. Nothing like the body language in Greg's childhood shots, but still, Thomas wondered about her parents.
Overall, it was definitely a family's room but neat and efficient, although he had a feeling that it would accumulate an item or two out of place the longer Greg was in it. It obviously had just been cleaned; not a speck of dust visible. They probably hired a housekeeper, and Lisa would have made sure to schedule a visit for today before he arrived. Not that he cared how spic and span the place was when he got here, but he knew that it would matter to her. They most likely hired someone to do the yard work in the summer, too. He couldn't see Lisa with a lawnmower or weedeater any more than he could Greg, though for different reasons.
Cuddy had taken the suitcase back to the guest room, and by the time she rejoined the group, Rachel was pulling out a few of her movies to show Thomas before putting them back. Abby was switching attention constantly between Thomas and her father, looking a little worried. House, of course, had drifted to the piano as usual when he was uneasy, touching it, drawing stability from it.
"Dinner should be ready in about 45 minutes," Cuddy announced, looking at her watch. "Until then . . ."
"Relax, Lisa." Thomas gave her a smile. "This is a nice house. Friendly but organized."
"You expected something less with her living here?" House asked.
"Not at all. It's almost exactly what I had pictured." Thomas broke off as the family member he hadn't met yet entered the room. The white cat paused at the end of the hall, eying him, tail waving slowly. She had uncomfortably intense golden eyes, and they sized up every inch of him right now. "Hello there," he said.
Rachel looked around. "Belle!" She bounded over to the cat, changing speed halfway as Belle pulled back just enough to remind her to approach gently. Rachel dropped to the floor, petting the cat. "This is Belle," she said to Thomas.
"I figured that. She looks like a fine cat." Belle gave him a cold look as if unable to conceive of any other kind of cat.
"Say hi!" Rachel insisted.
"He already did," House commented. The pain in his leg had increased steadily since arriving home, and he sat down on the piano bench, sinking gratefully into the black cushion, hoping the old man hadn't noticed its presence.
Rachel shook her head. "Not like that, Daddy." She stroked Belle a few times in illustration. "Say hi, Thomas."
Thomas instead walked to the recliner and sat down. "Why don't I let her come say hi to me? Cats like to introduce themselves when they feel like it. She'd rather make it her idea."
"You have a cat, Thomas?" Abby asked.
"No, Abby. I used to. I've had several over the years but not one right now." Their last cat had died at the age of 18 about the time that Emily's treatments were doing nothing for her but making things worse, and Thomas had been too focused on her illness to even think of a replacement. In some ridiculous way, replacing the cat seemed to him like it would be accepting not just the previous feline's death but Emily's eventual death, too, and moving on. He had thought of getting another a few times in recent months but put the decision off until the question of where he wound up living was settled. Cats were notorious worshipers of routine, and no feline would appreciate a cross-country move. "I know a few cats out at the stable where Ember is, though."
"Ember likes cats?"
"Yes, Ember likes cats. Most horses do. A lot of stables have cats living in them." For practical reasons, although he didn't push that point with Rachel right now. Even nowadays, no other rodent control system could match a good barn cat.
Belle, meanwhile, was slowly approaching, pausing every now and then to nonchalantly lick a shoulder or look in another direction. Finally, she arrived at Thomas' feet. She sniffed them over thoroughly, then up his jeans legs, finally rearing up and then jumping onto the arm of the recliner. He held still, and when she had finished a thorough survey of his person, he reached out slowly to scratch her ears. "Hello, Belle." She leaned into his fingers for a few seconds, then pulled away and jumped down, trotting over to House. "I guess that was what you two would call a CAT scan," Thomas said.
Cuddy laughed, and even House relaxed a little into a brief grin. Belle, at his feet, sniffed his legs and shoes, then jumped up onto the piano bench beside him. She started to climb onto his bad thigh to arrange herself, and he firmly deposited her back on the floor. No, the cat wasn't going to join the rest of them this evening in drawing attention to his leg. Belle stalked off, tail erect.
Cuddy looked at her watch again, timing dinner, and disappeared into the kitchen to check on its progress. Rachel retrieved another of her movies and handed it to Thomas. "Let's watch a movie!" she suggested.
"Not right now." Thomas looked at his own watch. "I don't think we have time before we eat, Rachel. Maybe later."
Abby walked over to her father and touched him lightly on his good leg. "Play, Daddy," she requested.
House started to object that he wasn't in the mood, but then, looking at the old man over there obviously enjoying interacting with his older granddaughter, he changed his mind. His hands leaped at the keyboard, starting Flight of the Bumblebee. Rachel was on the other side of the bench long before he finished, and there was no doubt that Thomas was interested in his contribution to the evening now. He shifted from that piece into a medley of assorted rock, jazz, and classical, the common theme between all of his changing selections tonight being difficulty. He was purely showing off, Cuddy thought with an understanding smile. She drifted from the kitchen to the living room, both enjoying the concert and monitoring the meal in progress. By the time the food was ready, even Belle had reappeared, music easily winning over feline pique, and was stretched on the arm of the couch closest to the baby grand, her ears pricked alertly, her soft purr inaudible in the larger sounds that filled the room.
Cuddy hated to break the moment; she could tell that Thomas was loving this. House was more free in giving of himself at the keyboard than he ever was anywhere else. But finally, she had no choice. "It's all ready. Let's come eat."
House gave a final run, ending with a flourish. Rachel clapped her hands. "Yay!"
He looked over to find his father smiling at him. He had expected him to look impressed, but the further layers to it, the open pride, suddenly threw him off balance again. Too much there to try to analyze quickly. "I'll be there in a minute." He stood a little stiffly and headed for the back room to apply a heat patch to his leg and gain a few moments of breathing space.