My apologies for how long this is taking to finish. Since this story is mirroring my own self-discovery and healing journey, it is naturally a bit slow and sporadic but I think I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For both myself and for House.
Chase showed up at House's office just after four as promised, bearing coffee and cookies, and the two men made sure each was stable then mocked the patients Chase had seen in the clinic until quitting time.
Diagnostics got a patient that occupied the rest of the week so House had little time to worry over what would happen that weekend, staying long hours at the hospital and going to Marius' house when they insisted he rest and get seen by Sidney. It took until well past midnight Thursday to finally get the diagnosis and treatment to stabilize their patient. Timmy picked him up at the entrance and drove them both directly to Gyndol's farm where he was hustled into bed and left to sleep as long as he could.
He woke up too warm and wrestled out of the covers, scrubbing his face as he blinked away sleep and took in the bedroom. It was a large room with a full sitting area on the other end, tall windows and french doors opening out onto a patio. The sun was up and a glance at his wristwatch proclaimed it to be nearly noon. His stomach grumbled and carefully rising, made his way into the ensuite bathroom for a quick shower, put on clean clothes and headed out to find food and the rest of the clan.
He followed the sound of voices until he found several people, Ekaterina and Sam among them, sitting with a group of eight that he didn't know. Sam spotted him and waved him over.
"Oi! We wondered if you'd be up before dinner. Come sit with us," Sam called out. House smirked and walked over, taking a seat next to Sam.
"Might have but I was too hot and I'm hungry," he admitted.
"Lunch will be served in forty minutes but I could send for food now," Ekaterina offered.
"No, forty minutes is good."
Sam introduced the group around them and they easily included House in the conversation, which was about the pre-season football game the night before. House hadn't seen the game but knew enough of the draft choices and such to be able to hold his own until someone came to call them to lunch.
House stopped just inside the doorway and took in the number of people present, surprised and a bit intimidated. Sam clapped him on the shoulder and kept going, as did the others, all but E'katerina who stopped just behind him.
"It's astonishing how loud this room is with the entire clan here, at least at lunch," she added with a chuckle. "Breakfast is more about getting in enough coffee and dinner has a more "dinner with Father" feel than school lunchroom."
"I knew there'd be more people but…"
"You didn't expect to see so many, and all in one room."
House nodded, eyes anxiously scanning the sea of faces.
E'katerina laid her hand on his shoulder and waited for him to finish taking in the scene and decide whether he would go in or turn back. Either way, she would stay with him.
After a moment, he took a breath, shot her a grateful glance, and nodded. "Let's get in there before Sam eats everything."
She chuckled and stepped forward leading the way. "Do you want to participate in the chaos or retreat to the relative safety of Gyndol's side?"
"I think I'll sit the chaos out this time."
They made their way along the edges of the room and took seats next to Gyndol. Ekaterina made certain that House was sandwiched between them.
"I do hope you have gotten enough rest," Gyndol said once House was seated.
"Woke up overheated and hungry so I guess I did."
"Well, let's do something about that then," Gyndol answered with a wink, sliding a platter of sandwiches in front of House, who nodded his thanks while helping himself.
Gyndol and E'katerina kept the conversation light, allowing him to eat and find his footing, both taking turns to pair names to people that caught his attention. After the meal ended and most drifted off to some activity, Thorn approached their little group.
"Master Gyndol, Mistress Ekaterina," he said with a graceful bow. "House, I wonder if you would allow me to show you what my special brand of care is. You look as though you could use some pampering today."
"Pampering, eh?" House asked, shooting a look at both his companions who wore near matching smirks. "Yeah, sure, but no eyeliner, no painted nails, nothing gender bending, got it? I swing both ways but I like to look masculine."
"I could look back through history and challenge your perceptions of what is considered masculine," Thorn replied with a slightly challenging smirk and slightly raised brows then smiled. "I concede to your conditions. Come."
With a sigh, House got up and followed Thorn through the house to a large spa like room just past the swimming pool.
"I think some time in the whirlpool would do you some benefit," Thorn said, leading the way to the tub and starting up the jets. "It's comfortably warm bath temperature. Settle in and I'll get the rest of my things set up."
House undressed and waded into the whirlpool, settling down on a bench with a contented sigh as the water jets helped ease the soreness and stiffness out of his body.
Thorn returned after a few moments and began to massage his neck and shoulders with oiled hands, eliciting some muffled groans of pain from House.
"I can feel you all knotted up. I would have thought Sidney could prevent this level of muscle tightness," Thorn remarked. "Breathe through it. Holding your breath just tightens those muscles up against me and will make it hurt more."
House grimaced as Thorn pressed on a particularly sore spot. "He does a good job. This is mostly nerves and stress."
"Why are you so nervous to meet the greater clan?" Thorn asked curiously. "You've been accepted by our senior leaders and our retired clan leader."
"That won't stop some from objecting in more subtle ways."
"Ah. So you fear the gossip and hidden words. Well, that is more understandable. But you must know that the more you let them know it bothers you, the more fuel you add to their fire. You must appear to them unaffected, no matter how much you are in truth. Reveal that only to Marius, Lucius, Gaius, and Gyndol."
"Fake it? That's your grand advice?" House huffed, chuckling sardonically.
"Yes. Practice self-confidence, consistently and long enough, and you will in fact become self-confident. In yourself, in your masters, in your own standing and place here with the clan. And - for the record - the only gossip I've heard thus far is that of curiosity of the unknown, not rejection or disapproval."
"I don't care if they approve or not."
"Ah. But you fear their opinion could bring disapproval from those you do care what they think. Now, don't try to deny it. The record is written in your muscles."
House stifled the automatic denial, then sighed deeply. "Every good thing in my life gets taken away from me eventually," he muttered.
"And do you fight to hold onto it or watch it go with learned helplessness and fatalism? Do you know that this clan's leadership will let you run your fear out but will never let you go? That is the whole concept behind clansman for life."
When House didn't respond, Thorn tipped his head to the side, trying to puzzle out what was holding him back. Inspiration brought a probable answer and he nodded, continuing the massage until House's fingers began to prune up from the water.
"Come. The pampering isn't finished yet," Thorn smirked, coaxing him out of the water and onto a low chaise to the side of the room.
"What other evils do you have in mind for me?" House teased as he settled uneasily down.
"Moisture back into your skin to start with. Manicure and pedicure, appropriately masculine and no polish, as promised. Trust me?" Thorn asked as he settled down on a low stool next to the chaise.
House debated a moment before finally nodding. "Okay fine."
"Thank you," Thorn replied sincerely before picking up a lotion bottle and began applying it, slowly, making certain to cover every inch of skin thoroughly. The promised manicure and pedicure followed, including getting the callouses from his feet from his uneven gait. A bit of manscaping, just a trimming, Thorn promised, cleaned up his chest and back after which he was treated to a head massage and a quick trim of his hair.
"Would you like a shave or just a beard trim?" Thorn asked.
"Shave it off. It grows back quick enough. Goes with the whole theme you've got going here."
"So would scruff, I assure you," Thorn replied with mock haughtiness then smiled and treated him to a shave with steamed towels.
"There. What do you think?" Thorn asked, leading him to a full length mirror once he was dressed again.
He had to look twice to recognize himself and in that moment, he realized how much he'd let himself go in the last few years. He looked younger. More vibrant. Alive.
"Wow," he said after a long look in the mirror. "I haven't looked like this since before the infarction. Even with the cane, I … I never realized."
"Trauma affects every aspect of a person, mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. It's extremely challenging to even the strongest person. Climbing out on your own for one, maybe two aspects, is more than most people can face doing. Adding on a third aspect requires outside help. Taking on all four requires a village in my experience. And someone who can look deep into your soul to see the person you are within, to do all we can to bring that person back to the surface. This isn't any magic I've done, beyond TLC and skill with the tools of the trade.
"That person… this is you," Thorn said, moving to stand behind him so that House could see both of them in the reflection. "You're still in there. Everything that you've experienced, everything that tried to take you down, failed. Oh, there are some lingering effects," he added, letting his hand trail down House's right arm to rest over his hand on the handle of the cane, "But they did not defeat you. Look at your reflection. See that independent, brilliant, fiery man, battered and scarred but unbowed and strong. This is who we see when we look at you. This is who we want to help you see in yourself again."
After a long moment, Thorn walked away to pick up the area, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
House stared at his reflections for a long time, running his eyes back and forth, up and down, taking in every aspect. The person in the mirror was a stranger to him and yet seemed so very familiar. He stood taller, straighter, more confidently. And for the first time, House didn't see the cane as a shameful stigma marking him a cripple, but as a respectable symbol of the strength it took for him to walk again. He couldn't fully hold onto that thought yet, but he wanted to. He pulled his cell phone out and took a picture of his reflection, to be able to look at it and recall these feelings and this moment.
"Ready to get a tour of the farm?" Thorn asked, walking back over.
"Yeah. Yeah, I think so," House nodded and followed Thorn through the house to a sunny room where Marius and Lucius were sipping tea. Both men looked up and smiled at House.
"Time for the grand farm tour," Marius remarked nodding gratefully to Thorn but careful not to mention the change to House. Not yet. "Gaius wants to take you on the carriage and I have decided not to try to climb into one or be lifted into one, but Lucius will go with you."
"Sure, that's okay with me," House responded, nodding when Thorn quietly said goodbye and left the room. "How big is the farm that we're getting a carriage tour?"
"A little over 150 acres," Marius said. "Over the years, Gyndol has had riding trails and carriage lanes made to wind through the wooded areas and meadows. We don't grow any crops here beyond an herb and kitchen garden, so there's plenty of beautiful land to enjoy."
"Sounds like he has more than a couple of horses then," House mused as Lucius finished his tea and stood.
"Yes, he has a dozen horses, a cow, six sheep, and a big flock of chickens," Marius chuckled. "We eat a lot of eggs here."
"Ready?" Lucius asked.
"Yeah. See you at dinner then?" House asked Marius.
House followed Lucius through the house and out into a wide cobbled area leading him toward a building joined to a barn by a white boarded corral.
"Is this a family farm?"
"Not in the sense of growing crops or raising livestock," Lucius answered, "but Gyndol inherited the acreage from his father decades ago. It was the wooded half of a larger farm split between two brothers. Gyndol decided to keep his in a natural state as much as possible and even planted more trees and seeded the meadows with native grasses and wildflowers. His uncle's farm has been since split and sold to two separate farming families, both of whom we purchase produce and meat animals from."
After meeting up with Gaius they all climbed into a carriage and House was treated to a very nice tour of the farm. It was beautiful, with forests and meadows; even the pasture that the horse, sheep, and cow grazed in was well kept and green. Conversation was pleasant and light and he found himself able to relax and enjoy his surroundings.
"Looks like Gyndol was right," he said eventually. "I do miss getting outside. This was great," he added.
"Glad you enjoyed it. You'll have to visit more often. The change of seasons is something to behold and there's usually some little gathering once a month. Food, a bonfire, some treat of the season, and some of the musically inclined of the clan play for us. As we're outside it's mostly wind, string, and percussion instruments. And one very devout bagpiper thrown in for good measure," Gaius said with a grin.
"Here's something I think you'll enjoy," Lucius said as the carriage drew to a halt. They were in a large field, dotted with old hardwood trees. House could see a tall pole deliberately set in the ground if the worn path around it was any indication. There were standing stones around the field, placed in such a way that House's mind grasped a pattern if not the purpose for it. But Lucius had gotten down and led him to a cobblestone labyrinth spiral on the ground.
"We use this field for spiritual celebrations, Midsummer, Samhain, Yule. This is used for contemplation and meditation. A way to seek the heart of the question winding inward and to extrapolate an answer winding outward."
House stepped carefully onto the cobblestones, finding them fairly level and cared for. "So you just walk and think on the question?"
"Yes. Really think about it, much like one of your differentials. The goal is to get at the central issue, the root cause or the real question."
Lucius watched him closely as his eyes traced the spiral. "We can bring the carriage back in half an hour if you want to try it. There's plenty of time before dinner.'
House stopped short of automatically rejecting the idea. Something about the idea was tugging at him.
"Don't forget about me. I don't want to walk back to the house."
"We'll just make another loop and be back in 30 minutes," Lucius promised, returning to the carriage and filling Gaius in. He smiled and nodded to House then they left.
After the noise of the horse and carriage had died off, House took some tentative steps on the spiral. He wasn't sure what his actual question was as he had so many swirling through his mind. But the one that kept coming up time and again was that comment by Gyndol. That something broken could be remade into something completely new and beautiful. And although he wasn't sure he believed it could happen to him, he desperately wanted it all the same. So with that thought in mind, how to remake his broken life into something new, he started to slowly walk the cobbled spiral.
How do you take the shards of something broken, shattered really, and make them into something new and whole? The cobblestones themselves gave him something to think about. Small stones, about the size of his fist, but joined together to make the path that formed the larger spiral. That thought brought to mind mosaic art. Made entirely of broken pieces of ceramic, put together in mortar to form intricate artwork. Alright, he got the concept but how to apply that theory to his life?
As he walked he could smell the wildflowers growing, hear birds chirping and singing around him. He paused to listen to one bird singing its heart out nearby and whistled back, sharing a little exchange with the bird before continuing on.
If he was going to continue with the analogy of a mosaic, he realized he'd have to have a vision for what the picture would look like and not just be sticking random pieces into place. And wasn't that the core of the problem? His old life was shattered. What did he want his new life to look like? He had no idea. Well, he didn't want to be alone anymore. Although he'd been nervous, afraid even, of having anyone more than Marius, Sidney and Timmy involved, he had grown to respect and like Lucius. Gaius was even more intriguing and baffling to him and the care he'd shown him and been both the same and radically different than that of Lucius and Marius, and had begun to soothe the pain of a very old wound his father had left on his soul. And then there was Gyndol. Very much the grandfather role but so freakily perceptive it scared him and drew him to him at the same time. And he liked Ekaterina and Sam and Thorn. His circle was growing bit by bit and for once it didn't spook him. He wanted it. He wanted to not just know that he belonged but to really feel like he did.
And wasn't that what they meant to confer? With the tattoos and their use of the word clan. They saw each other as family but they weren't blood related as far as he could tell. Each must have an origin story; how they came to be here with the clan. He wondered if it was acceptable to ask. He wondered if he was prepared to answer if anyone asked him. He wasn't sure. A greater part of him still feared rejection and derision.
He still wanted to be involved in medicine. It was in his bones, in his soul. He didn't want to be free of it but maybe it was time to be free from Princeton Plainsboro. Could he start anew? With another hospital, another administrator to deal with? That seemed overwhelming. But where did that leave him then? He could do consults, that he was certain of. But would that be fulfilling enough? To just be, essentially, a reference book? No. No it wouldn't. It would do for a short term but he'd need more in the long term. Was there a way to change things at Princeton? Maybe. He'd never considered it before.
He definitely didn't want to live alone anymore. Wanted the very tentative friendship with Chase to grow and see what it could become.
As he rounded the final spiral into the center he remembered Lucius' advice, to treat this as a diagnostics case to find the root questions to ask.
He wanted to feel like he belonged. He wanted his life to change and not stay stuck in this state of stagnation he'd been in since the infarction really, since he threw Stacy out of his house and out of his life. He certainly hadn't been happy. Why had he clung to it so hard then? Because it was known, he realized with a start. Because to leave it would be to strike off into the unknown and risk something worse. Or something better, he thought, chuckling when he imagined it in Gyndol's voice. Gaius had told him that proving Gyndol right or wrong would require his full commitment and energy. He wasn't sure he had enough energy for either outcome. Was it really necessary to prove it first? Was it possible to just accept it? Partially, he admitted. But some part of him would always wonder unless he proved it to himself.
But as he turned and began to make his way out of the circle he was struck frozen by a question, again in Gyndol's voice. Was he trying to prove Gyndol was right or that he was wrong? Because those were two very different outcomes and mindsets. And just as suddenly he realized that what he really wanted was to prove him right, more than anything else and that he was terrified to fail.
Did this really all come down to the lack of parental approval? God, he hoped not. How cliché. But how true, that other voice in his mind said and he couldn't refute it. It was true. So much of how he acted, how he presented himself, how he pushed himself was tied up in his toxic relationship with his parents. Both of them, he realized, not just John, although he bore the brunt of it. How to shake that off when it was tangled into his soul from the very beginning of his life? That was the root question, he realized. Not what he would become when the mosaic picture was completed but who had he once been? What did the pieces look like? What shape were they? What color were they? He didn't know for sure. He couldn't ask his mother. But his aunt… she might be willing to tell him of his earliest childhood if he couched it to her correctly. There were pieces he definitely wanted to leave out or, if he couldn't do that, to break them into small enough pieces not to be recognizable anymore. Anger and bitterness especially. Now that he'd been with the clan, he realized just how much those two emotions were slowly destroying him and the shreds of good he'd managed to cling to. Wilson for example. It would be like gene therapy, he supposed. Take those earliest bits of memories like stem cells and let them mutate and change the parts he wanted gone. He heard the bird again as he reached the edges of the labyrinth again, singing its heart out and closed his eyes to listen. Could he ever feel that free? Wasn't truth supposed to set you free? He'd thought he'd be free when he proved with DNA that John was not his father but he wasn't. So truth alone wasn't enough. What was, he wondered, as he heard the sounds of the carriage returning.