House's mood was better than it had been in weeks as he left his shift in the clinic to go and check on his current patient. He was even humming a little under his breath as he made his way toward his office, where his team was waiting.

It had been a long time since he'd felt so flattered.

Of course, he knew better than to allow anything to happen between himself and the ridiculously attractive teenager whose father he had just treated. Contrary to what he read in Cuddy's alarmed, warning expression as she'd watched him watching the girl leave, House was neither a pedophile nor an idiot. Even if the girl pressed the issue – and there was a nice fantasy in which to indulge – House would never be foolish enough to do anything other than reject her advances.

Still… it couldn't hurt to dream.

At first, he'd almost felt a little suspicious, wondering if there might be some ulterior motives, when the teenager had begun flirting with him. Then, when he'd realized that she was simply attracted to him, suspicion had turned to pleased surprise. He marveled that a young, beautiful girl like her could find anything attractive in an older, crippled, cranky man like himself.

As he made his way down the hallway, more cheerfully than usual, House realized just how profound an effect Wilson's abuse had had on him over the past two years. His self-esteem was in tatters, so much so that the very idea of someone besides Wilson finding him attractive at all had been foreign to him. He'd spent so long convinced that he had no alternative, that the only one who would ever want him was Wilson – that he somehow deserved no better than the physical and emotional violence Wilson chose to deal him on a nearly daily basis.

All things considered, House saw nothing wrong with indulging in a little harmless fantasy and enjoying the attention, as long as it didn't go any farther than that.

To his surprise, the girl – Ali, she informed him the next day – seemed determined to make it go farther than that. She showed up at the hospital twice more that week, and called several times more when she was turned away by either Cuddy or House's team. Her harmless crush only seemed to intensify over the course of the next few days.

Cuddy was horrified and agitated, warning House repeatedly not to get involved with the girl or do anything to encourage her. House agreed, not bothering to try to hide his amusement at the situation. He knew she was right, and knew better than to get into the kind of trouble involving himself with a minor could cause.

Still, he couldn't help but enjoy it a little.

House's good mood lingered throughout the week, even as he headed for his car to go home on Friday evening. The sound of the song he was softly singing echoed off the walls of the parking garage, and House smiled, enjoying the acoustics that made the notes sound richer and fuller.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so good.

He hadn't heard from Wilson since he'd turned in his resignation. He hadn't expected Wilson to accept the restraining order so easily; but he hadn't shown up at the apartment again, or the hospital – hadn't so much as called. House missed him, of course – but he had to admit that not having him around was like having an overwhelming weight removed from his shoulders.

He felt free again, for the first time in years.

With his luck… it couldn't last long.

House reached into his pocket for the keys to his car, humming softly under his breath as he located the right one and started to put it into the lock. He didn't get that far, however, before he felt a strong grip on his arm, pulling his hand away from the door. Before he could react, he was spun forcefully around and pushed up against the side of the car.

He instinctively cried out in startled fear, but the sound was swiftly muffled by a strong hand over his mouth, pressing his head back against the roof of the car. There was a momentary feeling of relief when he recognized Wilson, and realized that at least he was not being car-jacked or mugged by some stranger – followed by the sick, sinking realization that being alone with Wilson, in this scenario, might be the more dangerous of the two situations.

He tried to pull his head away from Wilson's grasp, raising his cane in his free hand. Wilson released his left wrist long enough to grab the cane and toss it across the concrete several yards away, then grabbed his arm again, his other hand following the motion of House's head to keep his mouth covered and keep him from crying out.

"Shhh," Wilson soothed him in a whisper, his gaze intent and urgent as he used his body to pin House against the car and prevent his escape. "Easy, I'm not gonna hurt you, I just wanna talk to you. Easy, House, come on… settle down…"

Panicked, House ignored Wilson's words, struggling to pull free. He felt trapped, claustrophobic, unable to move… barely able to breathe, with Wilson's hand over his mouth. He tried to push Wilson back, but couldn't get his balance without his cane.

Wilson clearly had the advantage, but he was not satisfied with that.

Frustrated and furious, Wilson abruptly released House's mouth, just to grab his free arm and slam him hard against the side of the car. His voice went from soft and cajoling to a vicious, threatening snarl in an instant.

"Stop it, House, just shut up and stop it!"

House flinched, going abruptly silent, his stomach in his throat as he struggled to obey, against his instincts. His heart raced with fear, but he dared not resist any farther, not when he'd been disarmed and rendered helpless. He had seen this side of Wilson far too many times in the past two years to defy him now.

"Y-you're not supposed to… to be here," he ventured, his voice barely over a whisper. "You're not supposed to touch me…"

Wilson's smile was cold, frightening, as he edged in nearer to House, one hand rising toward his face again; but instead of reaching for his mouth, Wilson's hand closed firmly around House's throat, tightening just slightly as House drew in a sharp, shaky breath, wide-eyed with alarm.

"I haven't hurt you, House," Wilson reminded him softly. "Haven't left a single mark. It' my word against yours if you tell anyone about this – and you've just been through a pretty severe trauma. It's understandable if you have a little freak-out walking through the parking garage alone at night." Wilson shrugged, his smile fading, his tone dropping in warning as he added, "But there won't be a single shred of evidence that I was ever here, House, if you go to the police. All you'll do…" His hand tightened slightly, and House let out a choked, wordless cry of pleading alarm. "… is piss me off."

House wasn't sure that Wilson's explanation was at all accurate. Had he been able to think clearly, he'd have remembered that the law was almost always on the side of the victim in these cases. However, it was difficult to focus on such rationalities in the midst of the terrifying situation in which he'd found himself.

It was difficult to focus on anything besides simply drawing his next breath.

"I saw you with that girl, House," Wilson informed him in a hushed, secretive tone, a smile on his lips that didn't match the blazing fury in his dark eyes. "I saw you flirting with her… leading her on."

House frowned, trying to shake his head, his lips parted to argue, but Wilson just increased the force of his grip, pressing House's head back against the car. The wordless order to silence was clear, and House bit his lip, forcing back his words of explanation.

Wilson's lips twisted into a vicious sneer as he whispered in clear disgust, "Have you really sunk so low, House?"

His grip eased slightly, and it seemed that this time he was actually expecting an answer, so House swallowed hard to dampen his dry throat and attempted to explain. "It's not… not what you think. She just… has a crush. It's nothing, I swear, I'm not… leading her on…"

"That's not how it looked from what I saw," Wilson countered, suspicious resentment in his voice.

House wanted to ask him what he'd seen, and from where – but he didn't dare. He felt sick at the thought of Wilson somehow spying on him over the course of the past week, when House had thought that he was actually respecting his limits and staying away. A chill of apprehension went through him as he realized that the safety and freedom he'd felt had been nothing more than an illusion.

"You listen to me, House," Wilson continued, and the menace in his voice drew House's attention back to him. "I don't know what you think you're playing at with that little piece of jailbait, but I'm telling you now, if I see you with her again, I'm going to do something about it. All it will take is a single anonymous call to get you fired, investigated – probably arrested for child abuse. You don't want that to happen, do you?"

House shook his head automatically, though the threat was far emptier than the physical threat Wilson was still presenting at the moment. House knew that he had done nothing with Ali and therefore there would be no cause for any charges against him.

He also knew that if Wilson really felt he'd slept with Ali, he would not stop at simply phoning the police.

"I don't care what that stupid piece of paper says, House," Wilson went on, easing his hand slowly away from House's throat and allowing him to raise his head, his voice soft and calm, frighteningly controlled. He waited until House warily met his gaze to conclude, "You're still mine. You always will be. Cuddy, the authorities – no one can change that. Not even you. We belong together, and sooner or later you're going to remember that."

Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, Wilson released House and turned to walk away, leaving House leaning against the side of his car clutching his throat, staring after him in confusion and fear. Shaken, House tried to make sense of what had just happened, tried to decide what he should do next.

Despite what Wilson had done, he couldn't quite bring himself to call the police and have him arrested.

Cuddy could. She'd do it in a heartbeat.

He considered calling Cuddy and telling her what had happened, but swiftly rejected that idea. He didn't want to drag her into this and take the chance of Wilson hurting her as well. Also, if Wilson was watching him – as he obviously was – he knew that Wilson would not be pleased to find that House had turned him in, even if only to Cuddy. House shuddered at the thought of how much further Wilson might take things if he found that House had told someone about this encounter.

His hands trembled as he unlocked his car and got inside, immediately locking the doors. He sat there for a few minutes, trying to get his emotions under control enough to safely drive home – wondering if Wilson was waiting somewhere just out of sight to follow him.

Once home, he moved as quickly as he could up the sidewalk to his door, opening it and locking himself in, though still not feeling secure. He pulled all the blinds, double-checked the door again, then took the phone off the hook. He didn't think Wilson would call – he hadn't thus far – but House couldn't think of anyone else he'd want to talk to tonight, either.

He wanted to feel alone and secluded and safe.

He lay down in his bed, but soon discovered that his tactics were unsuccessful. No matter what he did, he wasn't sure he'd be able to feel safe at all any time soon.

He didn't sleep at all that night.