It's her voice; she recognises that. But her mind can't seem to process what its hearing.
"Dr Cuddy? Are you alright?"
Blinking, she drags herself back to the present. The leather couch she's sitting on squeaks as she shifts nervously. Beside her House sits like a stone statue, as he has since they entered the office. Biting back a sigh, she focuses on the man sitting across from them - Dr Matthews, the doctor dealing with Wilson's case.
"How bad is..." The words fail her. She gestures vaguely instead.
He returns her gesture with a shrug. "Difficult to tell. He's still very disorientated. It's possible some of that will disappear once he's recovered from the initial effects of the accident. Best guess right now? He's missing five years."
Five years. Her mind automatically scrabbles to work that out. She can barely remember where she was five years ago so has no chance of figuring out the same for Wilson. Her mind's whirling and it takes her a second to realise that House is up and moving, the thud of his cane against the floorboards mapping his journey towards the door.
"House.." Twisting around in her seat she catches a glimpse of his face, grey from lack of sleep. "Wait. I'll come with yo-" As the door slams shut she slumps down into the couch, closing her eyes against the tears that are suddenly threatening to fall.
"How are you feeling?"
She's already mentally kicking herself as the words come out of her mouth. Wilson's pale face is marred with bruises, an angry red cluster above his left brow marking where his head made contact with the sidewalk. He musters up a weak smile in reply to her question but the stiff way he's holding his body gives away his true condition. Depositing the magazines she's borrowed from the Oncology lounge beside his bed, she pulls up a chair.
During the walk from her office to Wilson's room she's been thinking about what she's going to say. Dr Matthews doesn't think it's a good idea to bombard Wilson with too much information. She understands why but it's hard - ever since he regained consciousness he's looked bewildered. Extremely bewildered, she amends, as he frowns at her.
"What?" she asks, forcing a smile on her face.
"Nothing." His head dips down and he's blushing. It's the most animated she's seen him since the accident and she takes advantage, leaning over to nudge him gently. "You just look...older," he explains finally, his eyes fixed firmly on his blankets. "It's...wrong."
His voice trips over the last word and she swallows hard against the lump in her throat. Leaning over to hug him is what she wants to do but sensing its too much she goes for light-hearted instead. "Hopefully I've improved with age," she offers, forcing her smile to reappear. He nods to himself as if deep in thought.
With a nervous cough she shatters the uncomfortable silence that is threatening to smother them. "Um, House sends his apologies," she starts, resorting to the script she's been practicing.
With a shake of his head, Wilson stops her. "It's okay."
'No it's not', she feels like yelling. You don't understand. But Dr Matthews was adamant about this part. And House has been like a ghost, haunting the hospital corridors, disappearing into thin air every time she's tried to track him down.
He's frowning again. Following his gaze she realises her hands are shaking. Angry with herself she clenches them shut. Breathe, she reminds herself. And stick to the script. "Your parents are flying in this afternoon."
She's been expecting the question, dreading it. But still it blindsides her.
"I screwed up again, didn't I."
Wilson's voice is calm, matter-of-fact. It's a statement not a question. She's opens her mouth to protest, to explain what actually happened, but he's curling into himself, collapsing like a puppet that's had its strings cut. This time she doesn't think twice when her heart tells her to envelop him in a hug.
The rhythmic 'thud, thud, thud' noise grows louder as she approaches House's office. Through the glass partition she can see Chase hunched over the table. He glances up then looks away, guilt written across his face. She feels a moment of triumph; Chase was the one who called her, he's the reason she's about to enter the lion's den. On the other hand she can't blame him; she'd love to be hiding out too.
Not bothering to knock she sweeps open the door to House's office, slamming it behind her for extra effect. It's a wasted effort. Slouched down in his chair, House doesn't miss a beat as he carries on throwing the ball against the wall.
"You're scaring the staff." It's a lame statement and she knows it; he scares staff everyday. What she really wants to do is drag him down to Wilson's room but she knows how lethal he is with his cane. Instead she sits down opposite him.
"He's asking for you."
"No he's not."
His words are said with utter conviction and she forces herself not to flinch. He's right, Wilson would never ask for him. That's not what they do.
"He knows about Julie." For a split second the ball stills then starts again. "He'd probably appreciate some company right now."
"So, go talk to him."
If it wasn't for the dark shadows under his eyes, the obvious lines of exhaustion on his face she'd walk out now, she thinks. Instead she leans forward, taking a moment to pick her words carefully. "House, you have to tell him. How is he supposed to get-"
With a snort of disgust he throws the ball harder. "He doesn't need me. He loves Julie."
He spits the word 'love' out, like it's a bad taste and she recoils, shaking her head. "He doesn't love her. He doesn't know it yet but…" She trails off as he gets to his feet and starts pacing.
"Up here he loves her," he says, angrily tapping the side of his head. "Five years ago he was madly in love with her." As she opens her mouth to argue he comes to a halt, leaning down to hold her gaze. "I remember," he tells her, his voice low, "even if he can't."
"Can I help you with that, Doctor Cuddy?"
With an exasperated sigh she steps back from the wheelchair she's been struggling to manoeuvre. As the nurse steps in, expertly wheeling it into Wilson's room, she takes a moment to compose herself. A knot of dread has settled in her stomach, making her feel nauseous. She's forcing herself to take deep breaths when the nurse reappears, with Wilson safely stowed in the chair.
The bruises on his face are starting to turn yellow, making him look even paler and drawn. Since the day she told him about Julie he's been quieter too. His doctors say it's to be expected. He just needs time. It's a phrase she's getting sick of hearing.
Suddenly she realises Wilson and the nurse are watching her. "We good to go then?" she asks, taking over control of the wheelchair when Wilson nods. Silently they head down the corridor.
The silence grows deeper as she drives them away from the hospital. When Dr Matthews had first announced that they were ready to discharge Wilson she'd seen a look of panic flash across the younger man's face. With Julie gone he had nowhere to go – until Dr Matthews announced that House had volunteered to look after him.
"This isn't the way to House's apartment."
She glances right and he's staring at her, his eyes wide with confusion. Not for the first time she wishes she could turn the clock back two weeks and pretend this never happened. "He's got a new apartment," she explains.
She waits for more, praying for some glimmer of memory. From the corner of her eye she can see him looking out of the window, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown. Suddenly the knot of tension is back. Her hand drifts towards her cell phone: she should call House now, stop the whole thing before something goes irretrievably wrong.
"Why'd he do that?"
The frown's deepened, his face is almost scrunched up. "Needed more space," she replies, congratulating herself on keeping such a calm voice.
She's not feeling calm fifteen minutes later as they wait for House to answer his door. Beside her Wilson is breathing heavily, reminding her that this is his first full day out of a hospital bed. Annoyed with herself, she offers him an arm. He leans in and she takes his weight. He looks tired, she realises. 'Too much, too soon', she thinks but the door is already opening.
House doesn't look any better. Leaning heavily on his cane, his hair is mussed up. As he backs up to let her steer Wilson into the apartment she notices his limp is more pronounced than usual.
She's been to this apartment before, for dinner. But as she leads Wilson to the couch, hovering as he lowers himself down, she notices things are different. It's not the layout – that's the same. It's the details, she realises, the small things. There are less DVDs and books on the shelves.
Wilson's things are missing.
Biting back the first scathing comment that comes to mind, she twists round towards House. Dr Matthews had told them to not bombard Wilson with information but she wants him back and House's idiotic reluctance to risk showing his feelings makes her want to scream. The words die on her lips though as she catches sight of House. Standing in one corner, his back against the wall, his gaze is on the couch where Wilson is sitting, oblivious to his scrutiny. He looks terrified.
It hits her then, how much is riding on this. For a second she panics. Then she glances down at Wilson. Despite his tiredness, he's looking around the room and the frown is back on his face. She's about to offer to make coffee, anything to break the silence, when Wilson gets up and begins to slowly walk around the room.
She follows him with her eyes, trying to understand what he's seeing. House may have removed all the obvious signs of Wilson, she realises, but there are still traces of him in the room. She remembers that he'd chosen some of the furnishings. And the place is organised, despite House's best efforts to make it look otherwise.
"You live here?"
For a moment she thinks the question is addressed to her. Wilson's staring at House though. She watches as the older man swallows hard before nodding. Wilson pauses for a second then retraces his steps, reaching out to gently run his fingers along the bookshelves as he passes.
"I live here too?"
Her heart misses a beat. Wilson is standing by the couch and he's staring at it intently. It's his hands that catch her attention though: he's stroking the fabric on the couch, clenching and unclenching his fingers. She makes a move towards him but stops as House moves too. It's only two steps, enough so that he can wave in the direction of the bedrooms with his cane.
"Your room's through there."
The deep frown is back but Wilson goes. She hesitates, torn over which man to worry over the most. Now that Wilson is out of sight House is leaning on his cane heavily, his shoulders curled. Sympathy wouldn't be appreciated though so she forces herself to wait.
She doesn't have to wait long. Wilson soon reappears and her heart sinks. Confusion is written all over his face.
"Are you alright?" she asks but he ignores her, heading straight towards House.
"This is my apartment too, right?"
The tone is curt and she holds her breath. House just nods.
"And I sleep in that room there?"
No. That's not right but she's promised House he can do the talking. Wilson paces away, his hands planted on his hips. She recognises the body language: alarm bells start ringing in her head. There's going to be argument and that's the last thing they need right now. She looks to House for help but he's frozen to the spot, his attention focused on Wilson. Exasperated she moves but not before Wilson's moved too, spinning round to confront House. He's shaking, his eyes flashing with anger.
"You're lying to me."
"No." He jabs a finger in her direction. "He's lying to me." He blinks, as if suddenly coming to a conclusion. "You both are. I would never have agreed to live here with him, not as…"
"Not as what?"
House's voice is so low that she has to strain to hear it. But it cuts through Wilson's anger like a sharp knife. Crossing his arms defensively across his chest he turns away. She holds her breath as House follows him, stopping a couple of paces behind. There's still fear in his blue eyes but there's determination too.
"Not as what?"
Wilson closes his eyes and his shoulders slump. 'Too much, too soon', she thinks again, taking a step forward. Wilson recovers though, straightening his shoulders and turns. "As friends," he whispers tiredly. "I would never have agreed to live here with you, just as friends."
Wilson pulls away and she realises he's trembling, exhaustion finally overtaking him. She steps forward again, any agreement she has with House forgotten. But he's faster than her. Leaning forward, he hooks Wilson's elbow and pulls him close. Nervousness flashes across Wilson's face, changing to surprise as House leans in to whisper in his ear.
"We're not just friends."
For a split second, Wilson looks confused again. But then he leans in further and she lets out a low sigh of relief.
"I think I need to sit down."
House chuckles; it's a low rumbling sound that lifts a weight off her shoulders. She watches for a moment as House slips his arm around Wilson and leads him towards the couch, the two of them shuffling awkwardly. The doctor in her wants to help but House catches her eye. The emotion in his eyes takes her breath away and she just nods, quietly letting herself out of the apartment.
No, she thinks, a smile breaking out as she walks back to her car. They're not just friends.