Fandoms: House, 24
Characters: Greg House, Brittany House [OC], Jack Bauer, Kim Bauer, references to Teri Bauer
Prompt: 024. Family.
Word Count: 2366
Author's Notes: What do you do when you get grossed out by a really bad horror movie you didn't even want to watch? You write fluff.
Set in the future, several years from now. One of the eternal questions in my fanonverse is that Brittany made a promise to her father that she would consider taking over CTU Los Angeles when he retired, but then she moved to Princeton, which kind of shot that idea to hell. House and Brittany have been talking idly about moving back to California, but never seriously, so no one knows what they'll do when that time comes.
They always make everything seem so simple, Greg House thought to himself as he stepped into the Bauer family house, following his wife's lead.
Already, he could hear voices coming from the living room. They'd discussed this in the car on the way over. Everyone in the family was supposed to be here. The real party would be tomorrow, with all the agents from the office and a couple people from Division, the big affair with the caterer and the presents and the bad singing. But tonight it was just family, gathering for dinner, to give the patriarch one last hurrah on his way to retirement. Dinner and some nostalgic conversation. Nothing big.
It hadn't really come as a shock to anyone in the family. Despite the fact that Jack Bauer was widely regarded as Superman, they all knew he wouldn't always be around saving the day. Jack was fifty-two now, and while nobody would have ever forced him to leave CTU Los Angeles, he was making this decision for the better of his unit. He'd agonized over it for months; House had heard his wife on the phone with her father for hours, trying to help him through it. CTU was his baby; it had been in existence now for seventeen years, and he had been the only Special Agent In Charge it had ever known. That meant something to him.
But he'd called a week ago and said he was retiring. Then they were here.
House put a hand on his wife's back and gently steered her toward the living room. "You gonna be okay?" he asked quietly. He was still four years older than her father, and he'd finally started seeing the barest hint of grey hair at his temples. But he knew that she'd grown up working under her father, had worked in the image of her father, and this would be hard for her. "I love you," he added, and she just nodded, obviously with a heavy weight on her heart.
He surveyed the room on instinct when they arrived, something he'd picked up from her doing it all the time as a function of her job, being the Special Agent In Charge of CTU New York. There was her younger sister, Kim, working away in the kitchen. Her Aunt Carol, who'd many years ago been willing to temporarily fake her own death to save Brittany's job -- truly a member of a spy family. Carol's husband and her two kids, Brittany's two cousins, who were in college now. Some other distant family members whose names didn't immediately come to mind. Then there was the man himself, looking a little bit more tired now, but whose eyes still lit up when they arrived.
"How are you, sweetheart?" Jack said quietly, hugging his daughter close to him. Standing next to her, House couldn't help but smile at the way father and daughter always seemed to hold on tight to each other even after all these years. His wife was definitely a daddy's girl.
"I'm fine, Dad," she said with a small laugh as Jack pulled away and held her out for his inspection. She was more than fine. Even though she was thirty-one, she still retained her good looks and the life in her step. The dark brown hair still fell to just below her shoulders, and while she looked maybe a little older in the eyes, she was still as beautiful as she had ever been.
Satisfied with what he saw, Jack turned to House and smiled. "Greg," he said, extending a hand, "it's always a pleasure to see you." House gave his father-in-law a firm handshake and an honest smile. "Likewise, Jack. I'm glad we could be here for this."
Their first meeting may have involved swearing at each other and a crisis, but ten years and some odd months have gone by, and there's an honest respect between these two men. House's relationship with Jack almost makes up for the one he doesn't have with his own father. They don't see each other a lot, but Brittany still makes time to come home, to this same city, this same house, this different life, and when she does her husband is reminded of how much he respects his father-in-law. Not for saving the life of former President David Palmer, or any of the other heroic things he's done, but for how he raised his daughter and how he's accepted a damaged man into their lives.
He's just about to say something else, because he thinks he should at an event of this magnitude, when Carol wanders over, all smile and energy, the way Brittany is when she's not buried under paperwork and the fate of the Eastern Seaboard. More hugs and greetings happen before Carol asks, "How old is Teri now?" She can finally say it without an unwelcome reminder of the fate of Brittany's mother, their daughter's namesake.
"She's eight," Brittany explains with the small smile of a proud mother. "Staying with Brian. She's doing very well in school. We're so proud of her."
"You should be," Carol says with a smile, "With parents like she's got."
"And grandparents," House feels compelled to add for no reason at all, with a slight nod in Jack's direction. Jack just nods back at him and never says a word.
Much of what they have to say to each other is things that can't be spoken of. When they're sitting in the living room, and he's got his fingers laced through his wife's, and he can feel the shake in her hand Greg House doesn't have to be a doctor to know why. He knows what she's waiting for. They've talked about it so many times over the past week. She spoke with the agents at her office yesterday about it. Everyone seems to accept it as a foregone crossroads.
Jack's calling in the marker.
She told him she was moving to Princeton. He asked her if she would consider coming back to run the L.A. office when he retired. She said she'd think about it.
But the world is different now. That was before they got married. Before she accepted a lucrative job offer from the Director of Central Intelligence. Before they moved into their dream house. Before they had their daughter. Before she moved half her team to the East Coast. In ten years, the foundation has been laid, and a lot on top of it besides. It's not as simple as packing their bags. She's always wanted to come home, but after ten years, the home that she knows -- that they know -- is in New Jersey. And once again, Greg House and his wife are back at where they were when they started dating: trying to figure out if they can give it all up to make it work out.
He remembers how hard it was the first time. The desperation, both of them ready to be the one to make the sacrifice, neither one willing to accept it from the other. Until she'd finally refused to let him win. Something inside him had died when she'd asked if he was sure, and he had told her that he needed her. He needed her to come to New Jersey. And she had come without another word.
The world is different now.
Her father asked to speak to her, and House watched as the two of them walked off and down the hall. He kept track of how long they've been gone in the back of his head while Carol talked about how the kids are doing. Seven minutes and thirty-six seconds later, his wife and father-in-law re-emerged, and then with a worried look she was putting her hand on his shoulder and telling him they needed to talk.
The second inevitable part of this -- father to daughter, wife to husband. He knew this was coming. He nodded, let himself be led out the front door and leans on it when he closes it behind him. Saw the worry and the indecision in her eyes.
"He's asked you to come back," he said, stating the obvious for the both of them.
She nodded slightly, brushing hair out of her gaze and looking at him. "Said I was still his first choice for the job. If I don't want it, the next one in line's Mark Holden." She sucked in a breath. "I told him I needed to talk to you first and I'd have an answer for him in a few days."
House gave a slight nod. "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," Brittany said, running a hand through her hair. "There's taking Teri out of school and everything. Brian and Lex, Michael and Julian -- Lord knows they'll want to come back with me. Which would mean filling the top three positions at the office. And the house, you know how much work we've put into that."
"I'm not talking about any of that, Brittany." He reached out and put his hand firmly on her shoulder, to let her know he was there, to keep her grounded. "I'm asking you, what you want to do."
She looked back at him and swallowed hard. "I want to do what's right," she says quietly.
"Damn it, Brittany." He sighed. "What's right is what you want. Brian and Lex, and the others, they will follow you. I will follow you anywhere. What you want, matters." I wanted to die and Stacy wouldn't let me. I couldn't get what I wanted. I won't do that to you, he thought to himself. Finally, he just let out a long breath. "It matters to me."
"Greg, it's not that simple."
"Yes, it is. We can find another house and make it just as good. We can get Teri into another school. I can get another job. You've always wanted to come home, ever since you moved out to be with me. If you want to come home, I wouldn't think any less of you. I would have moved out here for you when we met, and I will do it for you now, if it's what you want." He's staring her down, forcing her to face the choice, to really think on it. He knows his wife's fatal flaw. Selfless to the end, refusing to think on what she wants or needs. There's only one problem with that here.
This choice isn't about anyone but her.
He watched her stand there. Take several deep breaths. Put her head in her hands. Take a few more breaths. After a moment he thought she was going to start crying.
"No," she said after a moment.
Not much surprised Greg House anymore, but that answer honestly did. From the moment he'd remembered the promise that she'd made, he had figured all he had to do was reassure her that it was okay to say yes. He'd already been thinking on what they'd have to do to get the family relocated. He just stood there now and stared at her. "You're...going to turn him down?" he asked, trying and failing to hide the incredulity in his voice. The woman he loved, who'd always loved her hometown and its people, this city she once knew like the back of her hand, and she was turning down a chance to come home again. This was so very unlike her.
She nodded slightly. "I'm telling him no," she repeated. "We're comfortable where we are. I love the house, and I don't want to pull Teri out of school. I don't want to take you away from the hospital. The next step up for me is the Assistant Director spot at Division -- if I get that, I can be out of the field for good and concentrate on us. On the family. Which is what I've always wanted to do. I want us to have a family and I don't want to lose what we have. I won't risk it."
"If that's what you want," he replied quietly, not sure what to say to that.
"It is what I want." She swallowed again. "My mother worked from home ever since my sister was born, to be there for us. I want to make sure I'm there for our child. Family is the most important thing for any of us. But it's not just in a time of crisis, or on the job, that's all the time. And Dad is family, but we have a family of our own now, and I think that has to come first." A pause. "If you're okay with that?"
"I'm fine with it, love. C'mere," he said, and before she could protest, pulled her into his arms and held her tight. He kissed the top of her head, just listening to her breathe. "I know how difficult this is for you. You have my love, and my support."
"I know." She smiled slightly, pulling back and takig a deep breath. "I'm gonna go tell him while I'm sure of it. Um, if you...you should call Brian, see how Teri's doing. I'm sure she's fine, but...yeah."
"Yeah. I'll call. You go on." He gave a slight nod, looking in her eyes again. She was dead-set, there would be no changing her mind on this. "I'll catch up with you in a couple of minutes." His hand ghosted over her back as she disappeared back into the house.
When she was gone, he dug in his jacket pocket for his cell phone and flipped it open, rifling through the numbers until he found Brian's number. House just stared at it for a moment, thinking about everything. His daughter and her mother, and her mother's father, and everything that had happened between them. Everything that had kept them close over these last ten years, despite a country between them. All the things Brittany had told him about family. About having a real family. And how family came first, no matter what. His family.
He dialed and waited for Teri's godfather to pick up.
Everything seemed so simple when he looked at it like that.