A/N: Only one chapter left in the story. After that, we will probably have a bit of a gap, as neither the floating one-shot nor the next long story is ready to go yet. The one-shot will most likely finish cooking faster, being far less complex.

Thanks to everyone for coming along with me on this latest roller coaster. The last chapter of Father's Day, my favorite, was written down long ago already on a day when I needed a pick-me-up, so it won't be long. I'll give this chapter a day or two for reviews, as I don't want the final chapters to be seen as a "two for the price of one" special, but it should be up before the end of the weekend.


Cuddy stepped into the shower and let out a sigh as the hot water hit her body. She stood there and let it wash away the remnants of tension from her muscles, and the steam rose to surround her. Ahh. This was wonderful. She was abstaining from the hot tub in unspoken sympathy until House could use it, but this shower was the most unclaimed time purely for relaxation for herself that she'd had so far this week.

It was Tuesday afternoon, and the girls were taking a nap. House had urged her to indulge in a nice, hot shower, lingering and enjoying herself, that he would call if the girls woke up and needed anything that they couldn't handle physically. Thomas had seconded the motion, telling her to take her time, that she deserved it. Cuddy felt a little guilty at punching out on the time clock, but she also hoped that House would take the opportunity of her absence for some tentative private conversation with Thomas. He seemed to want some time alone with him at the moment, which was a step in the right direction.

Her husband had been very quiet the last few days, the perpetual challenge to his father faded, at least, but it was as if he didn't quite know what to replace it with or how to start. Neither he nor Thomas had mentioned what had happened during those hours of being trapped together in the shattered wreckage Saturday, and Cuddy hadn't asked for details. Thomas was rapidly improving at modern video games and had even beaten his son a few times now, but as near as Cuddy could tell, they hadn't actually talked about anything that mattered. Patience, she reminded herself, repeating Patterson's advice from last night when she let herself admit privately to some frustration. The future was going to be so great for the whole family that she was eager to get there without delay, but this was a whole new country for House, and he needed to explore it at his own pace.

The girls were doing amazingly well with this week. They looked rather worried at times when watching House and Thomas move, but both of the men were also putting on a great front for them and downplaying things. Thomas had taught Rachel all the technical terms for the colors of her various Breyer horses, and Abby never tired of working and reworking her puzzle.

House had even managed to give Abby a piano lesson earlier this morning, which didn't require as much freedom of movement as playing himself. That had been the first Abby lesson in a long time that Rachel had been present for, and both of her parents kept glancing at her, weighing her reaction, but being in the middle of a discussion of horses with Thomas on the other side of the room, she didn't seem too bothered by her sister's ability. She even looked impressed the few times she was paying attention. Cuddy thought Thomas would be marvelous for Rachel especially; they connected so well. Maybe horses would be her own passion. More and more, Cuddy and House realized that Rachel didn't particularly enjoy music. Not that she disliked it, but it was her father playing that held the attraction. Without him, it quickly bored her.

Abby. Cuddy turned, letting the hot spray run down across her back, working on the final tightness hiding there. She wished Abby would accept Thomas a little more, but that, too, was going slowly, not challenging like her father had been at first, simply gathering and analyzing data. Abby had always been reserved with strangers and built acceptance at her own pace.

As for the invalids, Thomas was starting to feel better. Cuddy could tell from the brightness in his eyes, the easing of his expression. Still very stiff and sore, still battered and moving painfully, but he was doing much better Monday and today than he had Sunday. He was healing more quickly. Of course, he didn't have broken ribs, which would simply take time, nor a chronic pain problem in the first place. Still, Cuddy had caught her husband analyzing his movements a few times with shielded envy. The fact that his 75-year-old father was bouncing back faster was a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how much he could recite the relevant medical facts.

House himself was still barely able to move, and his leg was as insulted as it had been in years. The stronger meds helped but didn't eliminate the problem. Cuddy did note to her surprise that he was sleeping soundly without nightmares and without raising the dose on the sleeping pills. She had worried about dreams of being trapped, but if anything woke him up at night, it was simply his body's protest at moving wrong. Belle, with unfailing feline pain radar, was infinitely careful with him, usually pressed up against him in bed rather than climbing on top, but she, too, was staying close.

Wilson and Sandra had come over Monday evening after work, picking up Daniel as well as Chinese for everybody on the way. House had already called Monday morning, interrupting the oncologist at work, of course, to demand a verdict on the night before. Once they arrived Monday night, conversation had centered on congratulations and plans. Both of them wanted a small wedding, just a few friends. Sandra had never been married, but her parents were dead, so any big wedding with all stops pulled out would have simply underlined their absence to her as she walked down the aisle either alone or with a substitute for the father she missed so much. Cuddy knew she had been very close to her parents. Wilson had only his brother left, and Danny was still not independently functional, living in an assisted care facility for adults. He would be invited for the wedding, but the simpler the occasion the better for him. Nobody directly mentioned that this would be Wilson's fourth trip to the altar, but he did say himself once, "This time, it's going to last," not as a hope but as a promise.

The House clan was definitely on the limited guest list. That got Rachel tripped off asking what weddings were like and if animals ever came, and House told her that she herself had been at theirs, so she already had wedding experience. She didn't remember, of course, but the disk of photos was brought out, and everybody, including Thomas, who was seeing them for the first time, and Wilson and Sandra from their new perspective and anticipation, enjoyed reliving that day. Abby did ask where she had been, and once her location was pointed out, she noted Cuddy's emerging baby bump at every pictorial opportunity.

Cuddy had had a long session with Patterson by phone last night after Wilson and Sandra and Daniel had left and everybody else in the house was asleep. She still felt rattled by events, but talking through it helped, as did Patterson's reassurance. House had even told her again last night, "You're doing fine, Lisa," before they went to bed. She was trying her best, determined to make this time different. This hot shower did feel good, and she pictured it washing tension down the drain, leaving not only her body but her soul clean and refreshed, an image Patterson had suggested to her a few times for use on difficult days.

The mail delivery in late morning had been an eventful one. There was an overnight package for her husband from Middletown which proved to be fudge from Cathy and a homemade get-well card which had a respectable childhood attempt at drawing a kitten batting notes off a music score. That package caught House totally by surprise. The other packages, also on overnight shipping, had been expected; he and Thomas had both ordered replacement cell phones Monday, though Thomas' had been delivered to House with his own name not appearing on the outside of the box. The mail man was none the wiser about their undercover house guest. The two men had spent an hour after that programming and setting up the new ones while the girls played with their new toys.

House's other interest the last few days, besides just studying Thomas live, was following the media. He devoured every story he could find on the internet or, when the girls weren't around, on TV. The media was trying to track down details of Thomas and had uncovered that he was a former Marine, but the more interesting parts of his service weren't publicly available. Lucas had admitted last year to going to illegal means to obtain them, and even he hadn't had all the details. Apparently, no reporters had been willing to go that far yet. They instead settled for statements from friends and neighbors in St. Louis. Everybody in Thomas' life liked him, much to House's confusion; he'd even noted it out loud to Cuddy last night. None of them had trouble believing his actions, but to them, he was simply a respected neighbor and a good friend. At least that was the official version they gave in the stories, as House commented. "Nobody is liked this much, Lisa," he protested, but it wasn't a challenge as much as wonder.

The media was leaving the House angle mostly to the background, although a few reporters had been around PPTH. But those were content to accept "he's injured but healing" and wished him well. From House's perspective, this was nothing like the circus at the time of the trial. Cuddy couldn't help commenting to him when they were alone last night that he should be grateful Thomas had given them an alternate and fresh, undissected focus. He had immediately changed the subject.

How long had she been in here? The water was starting to lose a little bit of its edge, though it wasn't yet cold. Reluctantly but also guiltily, she switched it off. Stepping out, she couldn't help hurrying a little in drying off and getting dressed. Part of her hoped that she hadn't missed a call from House with some need of the girls (come on, Lisa, she scolded herself, he would have just gotten louder until you did hear him), but the other part hoped that he and Thomas had made productive use of the time. They needed to talk to each other or at least to be with each other, needed some private time. Patterson was right.

Giving the door knob an ostentatious rattle, broadcasting her imminent reappearance, she exited the bathroom and headed straight for the living room. She could hear Thomas' voice, but the tone sounded a little stiff to her, not quite himself, that fact registering even before the words did. She entered the room and froze at the edge of it, and all the relaxation just gained by the long, hot shower fell away from her as she stared in disbelief.


Both men had sat in silence as Cuddy entered the main bathroom, but their ears were straining in that direction, all attention on sharp focus. As soon as they heard the shower turn on, Thomas went into action. He stood up too quickly, in fact, and gave a hiss of pain as his muscles all protested. Pushing on, he made his best pace to the bedroom and returned a moment later with his laptop and with the second phone he had ordered, the anonymous, no-contract, pay-as-you-go phone along with the card to fill it. He had been careful not to let his daughter-in-law see that one as they opened the boxes earlier. Now, he handed his laptop to his son on the way to the recliner. "Look up your favorite reporter from the last few days, Greg, while I set this phone up."

House knew what the general plan was, but he had expected those actions to be reversed, him loading and activating the phone while Thomas searched out contact information. He had never expected to be handed his father's laptop. Waiting for the catch, he switched it on, and the screen came up, requesting password. "What's your password?" he asked, expecting Thomas to recollect himself and take the laptop back in exchange for the phone. He'd never give his son his password. The old man wasn't that naive; he knew that if given, it would be used, and not just on this occasion.

Thomas never even looked up from the phone. "Emberly61," he replied. House stared, and Thomas gave him a smile a second later. "And no, I'm not going to change it tonight. You can have it, Greg. The world can't, but there's nothing in there I mind you seeing. Hurry up," he prompted. "I doubt Lisa is capable of loafing for too long, even when we told her to."

House typed it in, dissecting the password at the same time. "Your wife, your horse, and . . . the year you married her?"

"Yes. The wife, not the horse," Thomas couldn't resist adding.

House rolled his eyes and quickly started searching. A few minutes later, he looked up to find the old man obviously finished with the phone and just watching him. "Not like I've read everything out there," he lied, "and a lot of it's just labeled Associated Press, but the one with a byline I think has made the fewest mistakes with the story is Gene Weathers. He's with one of the stations in Philly." He gave the phone number of the TV station, and Thomas entered it on the keypad. "Sure you want to do this yet, old man?"

"Yes. Preliminary short version, anyway. I don't want them to keep ramping up the pestering of my friends while they can't find me, and besides, you deserve to hear it, and not by watching it on TV." He glanced at his watch. "How long do you think we've got?"

House consulted his own watch. "Another 15 minutes, tops."

Thomas dialed, and House started browsing in the laptop, maintaining a nonchalant air, but as soon as the phone was answered, he was totally focused. "I'd like to speak to Gene Weathers, please. This is Thomas Thornton. Yes, that Thomas Thornton. Yes, I'll hold. But hurry up," he added, sotto voce.

Finding time when Lisa wasn't right on top of them was tricky. She was obviously trying to give them space, but she was never far away, either. He was surprised that she hadn't been more suspicious about why they both urged her to take a long shower, but she must be hoping they were going to talk. Not quite up to real talking yet, but he thought plotting together was a step in the right direction. Greg and, he admitted, he himself had enjoyed planning a short press conference behind her back over the last day. He smiled. Tim had been fun, too, but Greg had even more of his father's flavor, reminding Thomas irresistibly of Timothy Thornton the first. He wished those two could have met, although he wondered what shock waves they would have left now and then around their environment whenever they got in full stride together.

The phone came to life in his ear, and he pushed speaker, setting it on his knee. "Mr. Thornton? Are you there?" Gene Weathers sounded slightly out of breath, as if retrieved in a hurry from whatever else he had been doing.

"Yes, I'm here."

"Thank you for calling. I. . . first of all, I do need to tell you I'm recording this."

"I assumed that." Thomas settled into easy, almost friendly conversation, a role he was very used to. His son watched from the couch in fascination, the open laptop on his lap forgotten. "It's all right. You're welcome to quote me. In fact, I'm sure the link to your story will be shared by several other news sites, but you're getting it first. I've appreciated how you have handled reporting what happened last weekend."

"Thank you. So, Mr. Thornton, forgive me for starting off on this note, but how do I know you're actually yourself and not an imposter?"

"Any of my friends would vouch for my voice. Try Lewis Palmer; call him and play him a bit of the recording before you publish it. He's been quoted by a few reporters already." Thomas rattled his phone number off from memory. "I do appreciate your devotion to accuracy, though. I know there are crackpots and attention seekers who call in related to stories."

"Yes, we meet plenty of them." Weathers switched into interviewing mode. "I hope you're recovering physically from your injuries Saturday."

"Yes, I am, slowly. I'm still not close to 100%, and I'm not sure how long my strength is going to last today." House grinned at that, filling in the true translation that they weren't sure how long Cuddy's shower was going to last. "But I'm healing."

"Were you hurt badly?"

"I had a concussion and a bad cut on the head which led to a lot of blood loss, and I needed transfusions for that. Dislocated left shoulder and several cuts and bangs. Nothing that time won't fix."

"What made you first suspect Dale Barrett at the track?"

"He looked like he was there for some special purpose. He was obviously on a mission, and it wasn't just enjoying a day at the races."

"You were in the Marines. Did your training there help you in spotting him?"

Thomas tensed up for the first time. The difference in his voice was subtle, but House caught it. "It assisted, yes, but anyone observant who was really watching him would have noticed something off in his attitude."

"What exactly did you do in the Marines, Mr. Thornton?"

"I worked as a translator." That was the official cover story, anyway.

Weathers didn't sound quite convinced, scenting more, but he already had been warned of the possible short time limit here. He pushed on. "Back to Saturday, once you noticed Barrett, you asked Dr. House for his opinion, right?"

"Yes. He was at the races, too, and I had been quite interested in reading all the coverage of the Chandler trial last year." True enough, technically, even if with large holes in the story.

"Then the two of you went to Security. How do you feel about the actions the track took?"

"I understand them wanting to verify myself and Dr. House. Like we just said, crackpots are out there who are only seeking attention. But I do think they should have also sent someone to watch Barrett at the same time and should have warned Josh Parker."

"So you and Dr. House decided to warn the betting clerk yourself."

"That wasn't preplanned, but I saw an opportunity when he went on break, and I took it."

"What happened in the bathroom with Barrett?" Weathers was a professional, but he couldn't keep the eagerness out of his voice as he got down to this part of the story.

"We showed Josh Parker a picture of Barrett on my cell phone, and he identified him and immediately called his wife to warn her. While he was talking to her, Barrett came in. Dr. House was trying to talk Barrett down, but the man was unbalanced. He wasn't going to be diverted from his mission. Then after taunting Josh for a minute, enjoying having him trapped, he started forward, and I knew nothing would shake him then. So I grabbed Dr. House's cane and threw it."

"What made you think of that?"

"It was the only possible weapon. Tackling him directly would have just set off the bomb and killed me immediately; that was the one long-distance tool within reach that might do the trick."

"Quick thinking, even so. What were your thoughts at that moment? Were you scared?"

Thomas looked directly at his son. "Yes," he admitted with full conviction. "I was scared." He didn't tell Weathers that his fear hadn't been for himself, but his eyes communicated that clearly. "As for my thoughts, I was hoping that the bomb wasn't too powerful. Barrett was starting to approach Josh Parker, who was clear across the room. He wanted a direct-contact explosion. I hoped that wasn't only psychological but because he wasn't as sure of his bomb at a distance. If it wasn't powerful enough to kill us long range, then by knocking him back into the entry passageway, we had a chance. If it was powerful enough after all, well, we were going to die no matter what I did. So there was nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain by throwing the cane at him." House turned his head toward the bathroom, and Thomas realized that the shower had shut off. "I'm going to have to go in a minute, Mr. Weathers. I'm getting tired."

"Just a few last questions. Your actions in containing the explosion between those very solid entryway walls most likely saved several people beyond just the three of you. How do you feel about that?"

Thomas was really tightening up now. The old man truly didn't want the publicity, House thought. He had no interest in being a hero. Yet he was one, whether he wanted to be or not. Weathers' statement was perfectly true. Thomas had saved several lives that day. "I'm glad for how things turned out, of course. But I was only doing what anyone else in that situation would have done."

"I doubt that, Mr. Thornton. I'm sure it was only Dr. House's disability that kept him from doing something similar." House tensed up himself there with a stifled growl of resentment. "But most people would not be able to think or react that fast. Is that something else that ties back to your Marine service?"

"The ability to throw straight is inherent. It can be developed, but basically, you either have it or you don't. Fortunately, thanks to genetics, I have it, so it was there when I needed it Saturday."

"But have you encountered similar situations in your past service?"

The bathroom door rattled and opened, and Thomas quickly turned off the speaker, putting the phone back up to his ear as he replied. "I have never run into an unbalanced bomber during my years in the service. I'm very proud of having been a Marine, but I had never run into a situation like Saturday before. I did what I had to, but I'd never had any sort of rehearsal for it."

Cuddy stopped at the edge of the room in annoyed disbelief, and House hurt himself twisting around on the couch to raise his finger to his lips and shush her. "I have to go now, Mr. Weathers," Thomas concluded. "The headache is coming back again." He didn't specify whose headache, so again, technically not a lie.

"One final question," Weathers said, reluctant to end this exclusive. "What is your opinion of Dr. House?"

Thomas had been about to cut him off and hang up anyway, but he stopped to answer that one, even repeating the question for his son's benefit. "What is my opinion of Dr. House? He is every bit as brilliant and observant and compassionate as the media said last summer. I was honored to have him with me through that ordeal Saturday. Now, Mr. Weathers . . ."

"What about the hours being trapped waiting for rescue? How much of that were you conscious for? What were your thoughts? Do you think the workers acted quickly enough to reach you?"

"Final answer. I have no complaints with how the rescue was conducted. That building was unstable, and we could hear it falling apart in pieces. If they had tried to move quickly instead of planning it out and taking time to place the braces, the whole thing would have collapsed on top of us. Good bye for now, Mr. Weathers." He hit end, cutting off the reporter's next comment.

Cuddy was sputtering. "You . . . that was . . . you can't give a media conference yet."

"Oops," House commented. "Okay, old man, she said you can't. Better call the station back and tell him to erase the recording and forget all about it."

"Damn it. You need to be focusing on healing, Thomas."

Thomas gave her a reassuring smile, but he couldn't keep the laughter out of his eyes, too, a look very similar to his son's at the moment. Yes, he had deliberately plotted this behind her back, and yes, he had enjoyed pulling it off. "I am healing, Lisa. I promise. It was just a short phone call, not tossing myself live into a whole room full of reporters. And I did hang up on him at the end."

House took a square of fudge out of Cathy's box on the coffee table and munched. "This is really good, Lisa. You ought to have some; nothing improves a woman's mood like chocolate. Did you enjoy your shower?"

Cuddy turned away and stalked toward the kitchen, deliberately letting mugs clink and rattle as she started making three cups of herbal tea. They had had several cups in the last few days; she knew it would help those two injured, infuriating conspirators in their recovery. It wasn't until a few minutes later as she was removing the bags from the hot water that the smile started. She couldn't help it. She remembered Wilson's comment at one point back in Lexington in January: "Sure you want two of them?" She stood there by the counter waiting until she had full control of her features again before re-entering the living room to distribute the prescribed tea.