When House walked out of Wilson's hospital room, he told himself that it didn't matter whether or not his words had hit their mark. Wilson's opinion of him no longer mattered. He had said what he needed to say, and how Wilson received it was of no consequence to him.

He kept telling himself that when Wilson called him from jail.

He was stunned when the operator informed him in a cool monotone that she had a call for him from "Jimmy Wilson", and hesitated a few moments, uncertain – before reminding himself that he did not care anymore. Wilson was no longer a part of his life.

He refused the call.

He refused the next one, as well.

After all, he had no idea what Wilson's motive might be for calling him. A part of him – the same part that still woke up in a cold sweat, biting back a scream, every other night or so – was certain that Wilson could only be calling to make further threats and accusations and harassments. Another part of him – the part that ached for the friendship that had been lost months ago – wondered if perhaps there was another motive for the calls.

Was it possible that Wilson was sorry for what he'd done, and wanted to try to make things right? It was highly unlikely, he knew; and even if that was the case – House wasn't sure he was quite ready for that. If Wilson apologized, he really had no idea what he would say.

Still… a cold ache settled in his stomach, every time he declined another call from Wilson.

During the week and a half that passed between Wilson's arrest, and his final arraignment, Cuddy spent nearly every night at House's apartment – and the ones she didn't, he spent at hers.

House wasn't really sure what it was that was happening between them, or how long it could possibly last. He didn't want to think about those things. All he knew was that right then, she was able to offer him something that he desperately needed, some nameless something that he couldn't quite put his finger on – but he knew that he needed it.

So, as long as she was offering, he would accept it.

Painful experience had taught him against being reckless with his heart, and he tried his best to keep his walls up, not to allow himself to invest too much in their gradually deepening relationship. Still, despite his best efforts, every now and then he caught himself indulging a flash of unexpected soft emotion, when Cuddy would look at him in just a certain way, or speak to him with a certain subtle tenderness she couldn't quite conceal.

After all – she was being cautious with her heart, too.

Both of them were stunned when the district attorney approached House and informed him that Wilson wished to enter a guilty plea, in a deal that would allow him to be admitted to an inpatient mental institution instead of prison, until he was deemed safe to be returned to society, in exchange for his accepting the full responsibility for the abuses he had committed against his friend.

House gave his approval of the arrangement, though he tried not to put too much stock in Wilson's agreement to a guilty plea.

He's just doing it to avoid jail, he told himself. It doesn't mean he's really sorry.

But on the day of the arraignment, there was no mistaking the quiet regret in Wilson's soft, humble voice as he gave his plea, then cast a sorrowful, guilty glance in House's direction. He couldn't hold the gaze of his former friend – soft, dark eyes almost immediately averted – but House repressed the desire he felt to go to him, to talk to him before the court officers led him away.

He wasn't quite ready to acknowledge Wilson's guilt and regret – not yet.

But… someday… maybe…

He had more than enough to worry about, just trying to recover from the physical and emotional trauma of the abuses he'd endured.

But at least, for once, he was dealing with them.

I suppose I've actually got Wilson to thank for that. Never would have faced up to any of these things… never would have found the courage to do this at all… if it wasn't for him…

The strangely ironic thought crossed House's mind, four months after Wilson's admission to the psychiatric facility, as he picked up the telephone and dialed his mother's phone number. It was the first day of December, and he supposed it was a good time to call. After all, most normal people made their holiday plans well in advance.

"Hello?" There was clear surprise in his mother's voice. "Greg?"

"Two questions," he replied without greeting or hesitation, taking a deep breath before launching forward. He had a feeling these two questions would have a tremendous impact on his life in the days ahead.

"What time do you want me to show up on Christmas? And… can I bring a date?"