When House awakened from his coma, he was not alone. He felt the light pressure of a warm hand clutching his, heard a voice of quiet urgency speaking to him in tremulous relief. He turned and looked toward the source of the familiar voice, opening his mouth to speak; but his mouth was too dry, his voice too hoarse to form the question he wanted to ask.
Why is it you? Where is he?
It was just as well
that he couldn't speak, House decided, as he followed her advice
and gave up, closing his eyes and drifting back into a drug-induced
rest. Cuddy had taken the time to wait at his side for who knew how
long; it would be incredibly cruel – even for him – to
immediately point out to her that she was not the person he had hoped
to find at his side.
Hoped – but not expected. Not really.
Why would he be here? Why would he even want to see me again? It's my fault he lost her… my fault she's gone…
Still… he did hope. He couldn't help it.
Trapped in the hospital bed under Cuddy's watchful eyes, there was little for House to do but think; and the other possible outcomes of his self-induced situation were too painful and difficult to consider. There was really nothing for House to do as he lay there – slowly recovering from the injuries he had taken in a vain attempt to right the wrongs he had committed – but to hope.
His hope was stirred that first morning, when he awakened to find Wilson standing by the door, staring at him through red-rimmed, tearful eyes – and then crushed when, without a word, Wilson turned and walked away.
House barely spoke to anyone for the remaining time he spent as a patient in the hospital.
When he was released, one week after the deep brain stimulation that had triggered his seizure, he remained quiet and withdrawn. Much to Cuddy's dismay, and against her advice, House returned to work immediately, throwing himself into his work as a means of forgetting what was missing from his life.
He tried to avoid walking past Wilson's empty office, but every now and then, when his path took him past that familiar door, House could not help but glance through the narrow windows in the hopes that Wilson might have returned. Wilson hadn't spoken a word to him before taking off on his bereavement leave, and House had no idea how long it was going to be before he returned to the hospital.
Not that he'll want to talk to me when he gets back, anyway. He blames me. He should. It was my fault.
Still, House kept hoping that Wilson would come back, and somehow, things might be as they once had been.
Yet on the day when House ventured past Wilson's office to find the door standing open, the quiet rustling sounds of shifting papers coming from inside… he rushed by in a momentary mindless panic. He was suddenly terrified to face his friend, uncertain of how Wilson might react to seeing him outside his door. House returned to his own office, telling himself that when and if Wilson was ready to talk to him, Wilson would seek him out.
Wilson didn't seek him out.
House almost wished that Wilson would confront him and tell him off, even if it was only to tell House that he hated him and wanted nothing more to do with him. Yelling, screaming, even physical violence would have been preferable to the cool distance with which Wilson was treating him – as if their friendship had never existed.
Wilson did not seem particularly angry with House. He didn't seem particularly interested in him at all. He simply did his job in quiet solitude, and went home alone at the end of each day, without ever so much as glancing in House's direction. House told himself to just leave it alone, to give Wilson as much space and time as he needed to get past what had happened; but his heart was gripped with a cold terror that whispered continuously in his mind.
What if he never gets past it? What if he never forgives me for what happened?
Finally, House couldn't take it any longer.
One week after Wilson returned to PPTH, House found himself standing in the open doorway to Wilson's office, trying to work up the nerve to speak. It would have helped if Wilson would have looked up, or spoken, or in some way acknowledged his presence… but he didn't.
The pen in Wilson's hand froze mid-word for just a moment, but then he simply continued his work without looking up or saying a word.
"Did you hear me?" House demanded, his voice trembling with agitation as he stepped into Wilson's office. "I said I'm sorry." He paused, finally opting to fill the awkwardness with a self-deprecating joke. "Don't you want to write it down somewhere for posterity? It's not likely to happen again."
Still, Wilson said nothing.
House raised his voice in frustration as he crossed the room, reaching out to snatch the pen from Wilson's hand. Wilson jerked away from him just in time to prevent his taking it, glaring up at him in annoyance – but nothing more. House swallowed hard, troubled by the lack of intense emotion he saw on Wilson's face. His voice was softer, trembling slightly, when he finally continued.
"I'm talking to you here – and if you think it's easy, it's not. Even if you've decided to blow me off, the least you could do is listen first."
Wilson passed on the easy opportunity for mockery House had left open, finally looking up at House with a level, solemn gaze. At last, he nodded slowly, his voice soft and heavy with sorrow when he spoke.
"I know. I just… can't do this here. I'm… I'm working."
Subdued by the quiet restraint in Wilson's voice, House lowered his eyes uncomfortably, swallowing as he took a step backward. Despite Wilson's reasonable explanation, he couldn't help but feel an intense sense of rejection.
"Okay," he replied without looking up. "Fine. I get it. I just… had to… never mind…"
He turned toward the door, humiliated and rejected and ready to bolt to the relative safety of his own office – but before he could take a step, Wilson's firm, decisive voice stopped him in his tracks, and he turned back again to see Wilson looking up at him expectantly, holding out a folded piece of paper.
"No, House. I mean it. I… I'm willing to talk to you, just… not here." He cast a meaningful glance around to indicate his office, before nodding toward the paper in his hand, and adding, "Here."
House frowned, puzzled, as he unfolded the paper and found an unfamiliar address written there. "What's this?" he asked, holding it up between his fingers. "Why can't we just meet at my place, or at…"
"House." Wilson's voice was sharper, impatient. "Not now. Meet me there tonight if you want to talk. After work. Sevenish. Or not. Either way – please leave now."
House was quiet for a moment, reluctant to allow Wilson to simply dismiss him like that – but realizing, ultimately, that he had no choice. Finally, he nodded his silent acceptance and left the room, eager and anxious about the mysterious meeting that night.
House looked down at the paper in his hands, double-checking the address as he looked up at the numbers beside the door. It was an ordinary-looking one-story house in a suburban area, a place House had never seen before – but the numbers matched, and as he waited, Wilson's car pulled up and parked in the driveway.
This was the place.
House frowned, puzzled, as he waited for Wilson to approach him. Wilson nodded in silent greeting as he took out his keys and moved to open the door. House followed close behind him, stepping inside as Wilson opened the door, then followed House inside. House looked around the large, rather empty living room area, taking in the stacks of cardboard boxes, neatly labeled in Wilson's precise handwriting.
"So… when did you get this place?"
The tentative question was mostly intended to break the awkward silence, but House was genuinely curious. Wilson's mouth twisted into a grimace of discomfort as he answered, his head lowered, his voice halting and nervous.
"I got it… about a month ago. I just… need a new start, you know? I can't… can't stay in… that apartment, anymore. There's just… too many memories there, you know?"
House's face felt hot and flushed with shame, and he couldn't bring himself to respond, his eyes locked on the floor at his feet. Mercifully, Wilson kept up his nervous babble, barely leaving a moment's space for a response anyway, as he led House past the living room and down a narrow hallway.
"I've… I've made a lot of changes these past couple months. I… spent a lot of time thinking… about… what's important to me. What really matters. And… I've finally got a plan, you know?"
"That's… good," House cautiously replied, following Wilson into a small bedroom at the end of the hall, vaguely wondering why they hadn't stopped in the living room, which seemed as good a place to talk as any. "A plan is… usually a good thing."
He glanced idly around the mostly bare room as Wilson went on, taking in the narrow single bed against the wall, with a tiny, rectangular window positioned high above it. There was a small table positioned so that the television resting on it could be easily viewed from the bed, and a dresser against one wall, but no other furniture. House wondered how long Wilson had been living in this place.
Surely he can't be satisfied with just this… maybe he just hasn't had time…
"I'm sorry I didn't talk to you sooner," Wilson admitted, his voice gentling slightly as he carefully shut the door behind them. "I should have. I just… couldn't. I had to take some time to… to figure things out. And… I think I did figure them out. Where I should go from here, what I should do – what's really important to me…"
As Wilson spoke, House was mostly listening to him, even as he idly took in his surroundings – until he noticed something strange and unsettling on the wall against which the bed was positioned, near the head of the bed.
A pair of iron shackles, attached to the wall.
A cold sensation of apprehension settled in the pit of House's stomach, as he slowly turned to face Wilson, watching with troubled eyes as Wilson nervously checked the door – which he had just locked.
"Wilson…" House's voice was low and wary, and he studied his friend's face as Wilson smiled and moved toward him with disarming ease. "What is this? Why are we here? What are you doing?"
Big mistake… should have watched his hands, not his face…
The thought crossed House's mind a moment too late, as Wilson reached down and easily swept House's cane from his unprepared, unsuspecting hand.
"I'm sorry, House," he said softly, regret in his dark eyes. "But I know what I have to do, and I don't have a choice."
House had feared that Wilson might hate him, might utterly reject him, might even lash out at him in violent anger. Yet in all of his expectations of how Wilson might have reacted to House's guilt, he had never imagined the calculated, determined violence of Wilson's next actions.
There was no time to duck out of the way, no time even to move, as Wilson swung the cane hard, striking House across his temple with its hard wooden handle, and sending him toppling backward to the floor. With a muffled groan of bewildered pain, House tried to rise, trembling hands grappling against the smooth stone floor. He looked up, his blood-hazed vision barely making out the image of Wilson raising the cane again.
He held up a pleading hand in a weak attempt at defense… but it made no difference.
The second blow caught House across the side of the head, and sent him spiraling into silent, dark nothingness.