John House shifted his weight from his left to his right foot. "Are you sure you told Greg the right flight number?" he asked his wife.
Blythe sighed and looked up from her magazine. "Of course I did. Twice. I'm sure he was just delayed at the hospital." She took in the impatience and tension in his stance. "He'll be here."
"He's half an hour late," John replied, trying to keep the disapproval from his voice. Blythe wanted their visit to go well. He didn't want to start it off with an argument, but Greg knew how he felt about punctuality. "Call him and find out where he is." He refused to carry a cell phone himself, but he had bought Blythe one in case of emergencies.
"He's only twenty minutes late," Blythe replied, but pulled out her cell phone anyway. She shrugged her shoulders when there was no answer. "He's probably driving and not able to reach his phone."
John didn't think a little thing like traffic safety would stop Greg from answering his phone, but some things were better left unsaid. Blythe would believe what she wanted, and if that made her happy, it was enough for him. He shifted his weight again and decided he'd wait another ten minutes before he suggested they catch a cab. It was still three minutes short of his deadline when he saw a young woman hurrying towards them. She looked vaguely familiar, so he stepped forward to greet her.
"Colonel House? Mrs. House?" The young woman smiled and held out her hand. "Allison Cameron. Your son asked me to pick you up."
Blythe smiled back and gave the girl a quick hug. "It's nice to see you again, Allison." She turned to her husband. "I told you Greg hadn't forgotten."
But John saw Allison Cameron's pleasant smile fade away and ice flowed through his veins. "Did something happen?" he demanded. He knew he had guessed correctly when she flinched and looked down.
"There was an accident at the hospital," she said softly. "But House is all right," she added when Blythe gasped. "He's a bit shaken up, but he's all right."
John wasn't reassured. He could now see signs that Cameron had been crying at some point earlier. "What happened?" he asked, as gently as he could.
Blythe stepped closer and put her arm around the girl's shoulder. "There was an accident," she prompted.
Cameron took a deep breath. "Dr. Wilson was making sure House left in time to pick you up. On their way out, they cut through the emergency bay. They stopped to let an ambulance go by, but a car pulled around blind into their path." Her voice quavered and she took another deep breath. "Wilson saw what was happening in time to push House aside. He fell on his bad leg, but it's not serious."
Blythe sighed with relief, but John knew there was more to the story. "What about Wilson?"
Cameron shook her head. "He wasn't able to get out of the way."
"James?" Blythe gasped. "Is he all right?"
Cameron tried to smile reassuringly, but it wasn't even close to convincing.
"What aren't you telling us?" John pressed. He needed to know what he was dealing with.
"The car just clipped him, but when he fell, he hit his head hard on the curb." Cameron's voice was barely audible now. "He's bruised pretty badly and he has a hairline fracture to the skull, but he was conscious and aware. They were taking him for a CT scan when I left." Her cell phone rang and they all flinched. Cameron flipped it open and turned slightly away. "Any news?"
Her shoulders slumped and John stepped closer to his wife and took her hand.
"Did Foreman go in? Good. We're just leaving the airport now. I'll be there as soon as I can." Cameron closed her phone and turned back to face the Houses. "He's been taken into surgery. There's bleeding, pressure on his brain."
Blythe grabbed Cameron's arm. "I don't understand. You said he was conscious."
"It's what's called a lucid interval," Cameron explained gently. "A period of consciousness after a head trauma followed by rapid deterioration. It usually indicates an epidural hematoma — bleeding between the skull and the dura mater. What they're doing now is evacuating the blood to relieve the pressure on his brain."
"Brain surgery?" Blythe gasped. "Oh, my god. James."
"It's a routine procedure," Cameron assured them. "If the bleeding is localized, they'll drill a burr hole and suction out the blood. Believe me, he's getting the best treatment possible." She picked up Blythe's suitcase. "I'll take you to the hotel or to your son's place if you'd like, but then I have to get back."
"You can take us directly to the hospital," John said, not needing to look at his wife for confirmation. He almost smiled at the expression on Cameron's face, but then he thought about someone operating on James Wilson's brain and looked away.
"It's all right, Allison," Blythe said gently. "He won't want us there, but he needs us."
Cameron nodded and led them to her car.
John insisted that Cameron take them directly to their son, but they detoured long enough to leave the luggage in Greg's office. Then Cameron led them to the gallery above the operating room. There were half a dozen people already present. John recognised Lisa Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine, and a blond man who came over and introduced himself as Robert Chase, one of Greg's other fellows. There was a third, he remembered, Eric Foreman, who was presumably assisting with the surgery. Cameron had mentioned that he was a neurologist. There was a cluster of other people at the far end of the gallery, members of Wilson's department, Cameron whispered as explanation. But John's eyes sought out and found his son.
Greg was standing alone, pressed against the gallery window, his forehead resting on the glass and both hands gripped on the railing in front of the window. His weight was fully on his left leg, the cane they both hated lying discarded a foot behind him. He didn't look up when they entered, but John could see his shoulders tense and stiffen. He let his wife go to Greg first.
Blythe stood by Greg's side, running her hand soothingly up and down his back. "He's going to be all right," she murmured.
Greg jerked away from her touch. "And you know that how? From your extensive experience in neurology? Your careful study of his x-rays and CT scans?"
Blythe didn't even flinch. "I know James," she replied firmly. "I know he would never leave you." She waited and when the anger flowed from his body, she stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. "He promised me," she whispered. "And now I'm promising you."
John couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his son close to tears. Even while being punished, Greg had always remained stoic, impassive. When John allowed himself to review those times, he was forced to admit that he had been harsher on his son than he'd deserved, that he'd pushed Greg past the breaking point, just to see him break. He couldn't bear to see Greg so close to breaking now.
John hadn't liked James Wilson the first time he'd met him. He had thought him unsubstantial, untrustworthy, already on his second marriage and not even 30. Greg seemed to enjoy his company, though, and Blythe had been delighted by his charming, gentle manner, but John thought it was all surface.
They hadn't met Wilson again, until they came to visit Greg a few months after the infarction. Stacy had left by then and when he saw how Greg was dealing with the situation, John couldn't find it in himself to blame her.
Greg had made a tiny effort to greet his mother, but had lapsed into silence almost immediately, barely responding when they spoke to him. The apartment was tidy and the refrigerator full of nutritious food, and John had wondered who was taking care of his son, now that Stacy was gone.
He discovered the answer when Wilson arrived just after six, carrying two bags of groceries. Greg had retreated to his bedroom an hour before and John had seen Wilson's eyes turn worriedly to the closed door. Still, he stayed and talked to John and Blythe, filling them in on Greg's condition, giving them an idea of what the future might hold, and generally doing his best to reassure them.
Wilson had looked exhausted, but when Blythe told him to sit down and rest while she looked after everything, he just smiled and shook his head, saying he'd better check on Greg. He left the bedroom door open and John could hear him talking softly to Greg, telling him stories about the patients he'd seen that day. At first he'd thought he'd been hearing things, but when Blythe clutched his hand, tears in her eyes, he knew he'd heard correctly. Greg was laughing.
When Wilson had emerged from the bedroom, hovering near Greg as he moved unsteadily into the living room on his crutches, John had finally seen below the surface. He still suspected Wilson was a terrible husband, but he couldn't have asked for a better friend for his son.
He looked down at the operating room, watching the medical team surrounding the table for any clue to Wilson's condition. When one of the doctors stepped back to give the watchers above the thumbs up sign, he breathed deeply for the first time since they'd arrived. He glanced at his son, but there was no change in his expression.
"What happens now?" he asked.
"He'll be taken to recovery for one-on-one monitoring while the anaesthesia wears off." Greg didn't look at him. He kept his eyes fixed on the room below and the still figure on the operating table. "Then he'll be taken to ICU in case of complications." He turned his head towards Cuddy. "I want Chase on rotation. And don't even think of assigning me any cases until we know he's all right."
"He is your case," Cuddy replied. "Where else am I going to find an intensivist and neurologist that you trust?"
Greg didn't acknowledge her statement, but his hands unclenched, and some of the tension flowed from his body. He stepped backwards, and his right leg buckled. Chase lunged to grab his arm, but John was closer, and he held his son up. It was probably just his imagination, but he thought Greg leaned against him for a brief moment, before pulling away.
Chase handed him his cane without acknowledging the moment of weakness, and John took his cue from the younger doctor. Weakness had never been a subject he could discuss with his son. He let Blythe take Greg's arm and followed them silently out of the observation room.
As soon as Wilson was moved to the ICU, Greg took up position at another window. "I'd just be in the way," he said when Blythe asked why he didn't go in. By unspoken agreement, they didn't challenge that lie. Greg's leg was obviously hurting him - he kept all his weight balanced between his left leg and the cane - but they didn't talk about that either.
John watched Greg watch the monitors, deliberately not looking at Wilson. He wanted to do or say something to offer his son comfort, but Blythe had always been the one to comfort Greg; John had been the one to discipline him. Now he had no idea how to penetrate the walls around Greg; walls, he knew, he had helped build. All he could do was keep quiet and not say anything to upset Greg further.
Blythe finally convinced Greg to take her to the cafeteria for some dinner, on the condition that John would call immediately if anything changed. Greg hesitated, his eyes fixed to the monitors as if only his presence would ensure acceptable readings, but he had never been able to deny his mother anything. "I'll keep an eye on him," John promised, and Greg nodded and turned away, his limp more pronounced than usual.
John wasn't comfortable with bedside vigils; they reminded him of too many friends and comrades lost. But he couldn't remember the last time Greg had allowed him to do something for him. He opened the door and walked hesitantly over to Wilson's bed. He almost didn't recognize the man lying there. It wasn't the bandage covering the left side of Wilson's head, or the bruise spreading in Technicolor shades from his temple, but the complete stillness of his features. Wilson looked young, vulnerable, not at all how John remembered him.
It felt as though he were intruding, spying on Wilson while he was asleep. But Wilson wasn't asleep; he was unconscious, because he had protected John's son. John believed in loyalty, and he believed in protecting one's own. Wilson was one of his now.
He settled into the visitor's chair, one slightly more comfortable than the standard hospital issue. It was built for long hours of sitting and waiting, but John hoped that wouldn't be necessary. He suspected that the longer Wilson was unconscious, the more frustrated Greg would become. He had seen his son frustrated too many times, at too many stages in his life, to ever want to court that again.
Dr. Foreman had assured them that Wilson was recovering well from the surgery, and his continued unconsciousness was to be expected, but John knew that things went wrong, complications developed all the time. He would be happier all around as soon as Wilson was awake.
After a few minutes, he stood up and walked around the room, restless and uncomfortable just sitting there watching Wilson breathe. He had never been a patient man, at least outside the cockpit. If he'd been more patient, maybe he could have understood Greg better when he was a boy. He sat back down. He could be patient now for Wilson.
His resolve wasn't tested long. Wilson's hand twitched. Then his eyelids fluttered, opened briefly and closed again. His head rocked back and forth, a frown creasing his forehead.
John reached out and touched Wilson's shoulder cautiously. "Wilson? Can you hear me?"
"House," Wilson whispered, licking his lips. He blinked and his eyes focused above him. "Colonel," he corrected. His eyes tracked around the room. "House?" The fingers of his left hand curled around the blanket. "Hurt? House hurt?"
John didn't need to be a doctor to tell that Wilson was getting agitated. "Take it easy, James," he soothed. "Greg is fine. He's worried about you, but fine. I'll call him right now."
But Wilson didn't seem to hear him. "Hurt," he repeated. "House is hurt." He struggled to sit up and the machines attached to him shrieked in protest.
John was afraid to try and restrain him. "Look at me, Wilson," he snapped in his best command voice. Wilson stopped struggling and looked at him, his eyes even more focused. "Greg is fine. You're the one who's been hurt."
Wilson sagged back into the bed as a nurse ran in. "Have my son paged immediately," John ordered, pleased when she went straight to the phone. He suspected Greg had left his own orders.
"House," Wilson whispered.
"He's on his way, Dr. Wilson," the nurse replied, resetting the alarm on the heart monitor. "You just relax and we'll take care of everything for you."
Wilson closed his eyes, his face crumpled in pain. "Sorry," he said, opening them again and looking clearly at John this time. "Ruined your visit."
John closed his eyes briefly, and then placed his hand over Wilson's curled fingers. "You have nothing to be sorry about, son," he said softly. He twined his fingers with Wilson's. "I want to thank you for looking after my boy."
Wilson smiled. "That's my job, sir." His fingers clenched and he gasped sharply. "Fuck," he moaned.
John glanced at the nurse. "Can you get him something for the pain?"
"As soon as we've done an assessment."
Wilson was breathing in short, sharp gasps. "Then do it now!" John shouted. "Can't you see he's suffering?"
"The doctor is on his way," the nurse replied, continuing to check Wilson's vitals.
"Call him and tell him to get his ass in gear," John demanded, just as the door slammed open and Greg hobbled in. "Do something," he ordered his son. "He's in pain."
Greg ignored him. "Give me a number," he said urgently, bending into Wilson's sightline.
"Eight," Wilson gasped, then bit back a cry. "Nine."
"Get me 10mg of morphine," Greg told the nurse, never breaking eye contact with Wilson. "Track my finger," he said softly, watching Wilson's eyes move. "Good." He glanced at his father. "Your left hand seems to be working," he observed. "Move your right foot for me." He nodded when the blankets shifted appropriately. "Left. Good. Wriggle the fingers on your right hand." He nodded again. "Tell me your name."
"Wilson. James Wilson. You're Gregory House. Don't know what day it is any more."
Greg checked his pupils with a penlight. "That makes two of us. Where does it hurt?"
"Everywhere," Wilson groaned. "Head. Side." He shifted uncomfortably. "You okay?"
Greg took the syringe from the nurse and pushed it into the central line. "I'm fine." He watched Wilson slowly relax. "And if you ever do something like that again, I'll kill you myself, you stupid son-of-a-bitch."
"Gregory!" John snapped, appalled.
But Wilson smiled. "You're welcome," he whispered and closed his eyes.