House's mother arrived a couple of hours later, immediately fussing over him, concerned and confused about exactly what had happened to him. The police had given her only very minimal details, informing her that he had been involved in a hostage situation, but he was going to be all right. House appreciated that courtesy, but it didn't really help him much.

He wasn't at all sure how much to tell her.

He allowed her to hug him, quietly reassuring her that he was all right; but when she asked him what had happened, how he'd come to be in such a dangerous situation, he just told her that he didn't want to talk about it. She accepted that for no more than a few minutes at a time before hesitantly attempting to broach the subject again, clearly confused and full of far more questions than he was capable of dealing with at the moment.

There was a part of him that was grateful for her presence, soothed by her comforting touch and her motherly fussing; and there was yet another part of him that was upset and confused, uncertain as to how to talk to her or what to tell her, troubled by the fact that he had to spare her feelings and protect her from what had been done to him, and he wasn't quite sure how to do that.

Mostly, though – mostly, he was just numb.

He had no idea what he was supposed to be thinking or feeling – what was "normal" in a situation like this.

He considered the possibility that "this" had never actually happened before, and therefore perhaps there was no "normal" for it.

The fact that his mother didn't ask about Wilson made House wonder if perhaps she had picked up on something at his father's funeral, after all. The last time she'd spoken to him, Wilson was the only one with whom he was known to be in contact; therefore it would only make sense, in such an urgent situation, for Wilson to be at the hospital with House – but he wasn't, as far as she knew.

And yet – she didn't ask about him.

House didn't volunteer the information, either – but his thoughts were incessantly focused on the guarded room somewhere in this hospital, far out of sight from his own room, where Wilson was being treated. He was already technically in police custody, his comatose form chained to his bed, and an armed guard stationed outside the door.

House was partly relieved and partly indignant for the man that he still cared about more than could possibly be normal, in his opinion. After all, how dangerous could he be, in a coma caused by a nearly fatal gunshot wound? A shudder passed through House as he remembered Wilson's dark eyes, glittering with mad rage as he'd struck out at House in the basement, and despite his own rational assessment of the situation, he was suddenly very glad for the unnecessary handcuffs.

House remained very quiet and composed for most of his stay at the hospital, submitting to whatever treatments and tests and procedures the medical staff – closely observed by Cuddy – decided on. Several times she came to him and asked him if he approved of everything that was being done, clearly trusting his opinion above that of the strangers in charge of his care.

Without fail, he would simply nod and hesitantly reply that whatever they thought was best was fine with him. He had to look away from the sorrow in her eyes when he would answer, knowing what she had to be thinking as she would lean forward and hug him almost by instinct – certainly not because he'd ever indicated that it was what he wanted, not now, or at any other time in their rather rocky relationship.

Regardless of what he felt about it, when Cuddy or his mother hugged him, or when the doctors carried out their routine procedures, or when the police came in to ask him questions – without fail, House complied totally. He didn't dare pull away or refuse or resist in any way, he'd been so completely, thoroughly trained to obedience.

On one level, he knew none of these people would hurt him.

On another, he was always on edge, just waiting to make some accidental misstep that would result in the pain and degradation that had become such a constant in his life.

Once he'd been there for a week, they had determined that there was no permanent physical damage, and he'd regained enough strength to go home. Of course, neither Cuddy nor his mother thought it was a good idea for him to go home alone just yet. Mrs. House suggested that he come home with her, but House felt a little sick and very uneasy at that prospect. He loved his mother, but he didn't want to be a burden to her; and he didn't want to spend the next several weeks dealing with her persistent questions, trying to avoid them while still searching for a way to put her mind at ease.

He listened gratefully as Cuddy calmly argued that he needed to be under the care of his own physician – namely her – and would be more comfortable and recover more quickly if he was in familiar surroundings.

"I'll take him back to Princeton and help him settle back into his own place," she offered. "Don't worry, I'll keep a close eye on him. I'll even stay with him for a few days if he'll let me, just to make sure he's all right."

House was aware that a few months earlier, he'd have been irritated and indignant at the way they were speaking about him as if he wasn't there. He'd have angrily informed them that it was his decision, and he didn't need either of them to babysit him, that he would be just fine on his own without their help.

But, House didn't have his own decisions anymore.

He had grown accustomed to being treated like an object, a possession – a person that might as well not have existed at all.

He quietly accepted Cuddy's offer, and allowed her to drive him home. Once there she busied herself about his apartment for a while, cleaning up and arranging things for his convenience, keeping up a steady stream of pleasant, casual, and utterly one-sided conversation. All the while, House just sat on the edge of his sofa, staring around him at the surroundings and possessions that should have been intimately familiar, but now seemed like things he'd only once dreamed, a long time ago.

When Cuddy couldn't find anything else to do, she finally sat down on the sofa beside him, reaching out to gently take his hand. He flinched slightly, not quite pulling away, before staring down blankly at their joined hands. He finally looked up to meet her eyes with the same dull, blank expression, not sure what he was supposed to do now.

"Th-thank you," he whispered at last uncertainly.

His mind was suddenly assailed with vicious memories of being forced to thank Wilson for the things he had done that he'd perceived as for House's own good. He remembered Wilson flying into a rage when House would forget to thank him for basic needs such as feeding him or helping him use the bathroom, and a shudder passed through him. He instinctively raised his free hand to wrap around his torso, shrinking in on himself and pressing back against the sofa.

Even in his retreat, he didn't dare retrieve the hand Cuddy held.

Her brow creased with concern as she gently stroked her thumb across the back of his trembling hand. "It's okay," she whispered. "You're safe now, House. I promise, he can't hurt you anymore."

House nodded automatically, outwardly accepting her words – though inwardly they were nothing but meaningless noise.

"It'll get better," she continued softly. "Give it a little time, for you to… to get used to things again. And… I'll make an appointment for you to… to talk to someone, about what happened, and… and you're going to be fine, House. You're going to be just fine."

She might have thought she was hiding it well, but House could hear the uncertainty in her voice, and knew that she knew as well as he did that that might never be true.

Cuddy took the first couple of days back off from work, spending them at House's apartment so that he would not be alone. She left for short periods of time, just long enough to go to her own house and get something she needed, or run to the grocery store.

It took House only the first two such trips to realize that they were trial runs.

Cuddy wanted to be sure that he could be left on his own without doing something dangerously insane.

I'm not crazy. I'm not.

He didn't think she'd believe it any more than he did if he actually said the words aloud.

Finally, she had to go back to work, and House was almost relieved at the loss of the pressure of constantly trying to be "okay" for her, to ease her fears for him. That relief, however, didn't last any longer than the first hour he spent alone. His memories crowded in on him, and the television couldn't get loud enough to drown them out. The first evening when she came by after work, Cuddy found House huddled in a corner of his bedroom, his head covered by his trembling arms, trying to hide from some unseen threat.

"I'll take some more time off," she told him once she had managed to calm him down. "I can work from here."

"No," he whispered, looking up at her with quiet resolution in his gaze. "You can't just… put your life on hold for me. You need to go back to work."

Cuddy was quiet for a moment, and he could see the desire to argue in her eyes – until her shoulders dropped slightly and she nodded, hesitantly agreeing to his words. "You're right. I can have someone come by to stay with you…"

"No." House winced slightly at the harsh sound of his own voice, and his next words were more tentative, pleading. "I… I'd rather not have… anyone else…"

"All right," Cuddy replied without hesitation, reaching out to touch his hand in reassurance. "I'll just come by after work to check on you – and you call me if you need anything during the day, okay? I'll be here in ten minutes."

House nodded his acceptance of her offer, already knowing he would never call her.

Not that he didn't want to, many times, over the course of the next week.

He wished for her to leave, to avoid the awkward lack of conversation – or just to relieve her from thinking she had to try to make it – until she was gone, when the torment of his own mind overwhelmed the awkwardness and made him wish for her company again. He began to find ways to busy himself while she was gone.

Every day when Cuddy arrived to check on House, she found his apartment immaculate as it had never been in the days before his captivity. Usually, she found him working on some invented project – organizing his CD collection, or rearranging the furniture in the living room, or taking out every dish in the kitchen cupboards and replacing them in different cupboards.

Mindless, unnecessary tasks intended for nothing more than to keep him from thinking too much.

She had the sorrowful suspicion that they didn't really work.

Even on the rare occasions when House watched TV – which was not usually enough to keep his mind distracted – Cuddy noticed that he never stayed still. For a man with a bad leg that caused him pain when he over-used it, she knew it could not be a pleasant thing; and yet, House seemed to be constantly in motion. He would pace the living room floor, glancing occasionally at the screen, never content to sit in one place for long.

Cuddy remembered what little Wilson had told her of House's experience with him, and felt a rush of sympathy as she realized that House's compulsive movement was probably due to his being forcibly bound in one place for so long – and she didn't try to stop him, even when she knew it had to be hurting his leg.

She was worried about him.

He had rejected her attempts to get him to talk to a therapist, obediently attending the appointments when she took him, but then quietly refusing to engage in any kind of meaningful interaction while he was there. Cuddy tried to talk to him herself, but he wouldn't say anything more than was absolutely necessary.

He didn't so much as ask about Wilson's condition, though she knew he had to be wondering.

That was why when Cuddy came home from the hospital with the news that Wilson had awakened from his coma, she was stunned by House's unexpected response. He stopped his ceaseless pacing of the living room, looking at her through wide, startled eyes for a long, silent moment, before making the only outright demand he had dared to make of anyone since his rescue, his voice quiet but strong and certain.

"I want to talk to him."