The car is crowded. House knows that Wilson doesn't know that, doesn't see Amber's reflection in the mirror, doesn't hear Kutner tapping impatiently against the glass, doesn't feel Esther crowded in beside them, but they're all there.
Or they're not there.
He tries to remind himself of that. They're not there. No one's there. But when he turns to look at Wilson, Esther calls him "Dear," and pats his knee, and he looks out the window instead.
They all press up against him and he feels like he can't breathe, like he hasn't been able to take a deep breath since Cuddy's office, since the truth rushed at him in a whirlwind and he couldn't do anything but look for something solid to hang onto, something real.
"House?" Cuddy called his name and touched his face, and he tried to focus on that, but maybe she wasn't real either. She hadn't been real before, no matter how real it had felt. But he wants to believe that this time, she's real.
The chair she guided him to felt solid under his body, so he believed in that too, but when Cuddy stepped away to grab the phone, he felt the other world move in, surround him. He reached out for her hand, like it was a lifeline. Hell, maybe it was.
"Don't," he said. "Don't."
He wanted to say that he needed her, but that felt too much like his delusion, like the fantasy he had before. He doesn't trust words anymore. Doesn't trust his memory. Doesn't trust himself.
"Don't," he said again.
"I'm not going anywhere," Cuddy said, and knelt next to the chair.
House closed his eyes, tried to wish away Amber and Kutner and pretend that they weren't there, but their voices filled the silence.
"Never done this before, have you?" Kutner asked. "Lost your mind?" He'd moved in closer, out from the corner of the room as if he was getting more comfortable with the setting. "How does it feel?"
"He's not going to tell you," Amber said. House could hear her next to him, could almost feel the weight of her non-existent body against him as she perched on the edge of the chair. "If he tells you, then he might as well tell everybody about what really goes on inside that head of his." Her fingers stroked the side of his face, a mockery of Cuddy's own hand.
He opened his eyes, saw Kutner and Amber, but tried to ignore them. He turned to Cuddy, gripped her hand tighter.
"You're real," he said.
Her eyes narrowed and she looked confused. The other Cuddy had been too quick to understand what he'd meant, as if she had read his mind. That was a clue, he told himself. That was the first one he'd missed.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked. "Have you been --"
He nodded before she could finish the question. He saw the way it took her a few moments to work through what he'd said -- everything he'd said since that morning.
"You're real," he said again.
Her eyes widened and her lips pulled tight, and he hoped she could put the rest of the story together for herself. He didn't want to have to say it, didn't want to say anything. She drew back, pulled away from him.
"Uh oh," Amber said. "Now you've really done it."
Cuddy looked away from him, out toward the hallway, and House looked down at her hand, down at where his own hand was gripped tight around her palm. He waited for the feel of her hand pulling away, waited to feel himself cast adrift, but then she knelt in close to him again, and he felt her hand on his cheek once more -- warm and real, so different from Amber. Her eyes were wet when she raised his face to look at hers.
"We're going to get through this," she said.
There were ghosts waiting for him in the lobby: the wrestler who'd been exposed to radiation, the woman with rabies, the street hustler with a simple infection. They didn't say anything, just stared at him, and shook their heads.
House kept his head down. He didn't want to look up, didn't want to move, didn't want to think, but Cuddy's hand kept a gentle pressure on his back and he let her guide him forward, step by step.
He heard a baby cry and looked up. He recognized the body as it was during the autopsy, cut open by his own hand, the virus that had taken its life still hidden in its tissue.
"Shh, shh. Don't cry." The woman who held her was wearing a blood stained gown, blood that might as well have come from his selfish battle with Vogler as her own cancer. Naomi. The name came from same mind that was breaking down, short circuiting, casting out these images like some random static.
All the names came now: Victoria, Carnell, Lupe. Faces he thought he'd forgotten, cases that had come to him too late, mistakes piling up on after the other and picking up speed like a freight train, its light blinding him.
House looked away again, and let Cuddy move him forward. He didn't feel any pain. Didn't feel anything. Didn't want to feel anything.
"Shock," Amber said. "Emotional trauma. Don't worry, you'll pay for it later." He heard the laughter in her voice. "I'll make sure you do."
Amber wasn't happy to see Grace in Wilson's office. "Why don't you go back to Italy?" she asked. "You were happy there."
"I was happy here too."
"You were dying here, remember?"
House put his hands over his ears and let all the noise collapse into itself, the voices fading as if he was under water -- Cuddy's and Wilson's, Amber's, Kutner's -- muffling both the real and and the unreal. He couldn't stand the way that Wilson was looking at him, so he closed his eyes too. It was almost peaceful there, sitting on the corner of Wilson's couch, the afternoon sun against his back. Maybe Wilson would let him stay here -- just for a while. Just until they all went away.
"I'm not going anywhere, son." Dad's voice cut through the jumble, louder and stronger than anyone else in the room, just like it had always had. "You think you're so smart, and you can't even understand that much?"
He opened his eyes, and saw Dad standing there in his dress blues, his hat tucked under his arm -- proper protocol, as always -- and standing straight even when he was at ease.
"I'm not going to go away just because you don't want me around anymore," Dad said.
His eyes were dark and hard, the look he'd always had when he was disappointed in something House had done -- or hadn't done. House hated that look. It was the one he used to see in his dreams after he'd cut a corner somewhere: cheated, or rushed through a patient exam or skipped ahead to the diagnosis without a full run of routine tests because he already knew what the answer was.
He hadn't cheated this time, but Dad was right. He wasn't going to go away just because House didn't want him there. Or Amber. Or Kutner.
Wilson crouched in front of him. He didn't say anything, and House realized that Cuddy had gone silent too. Wilson reached out one hand toward him, rested his fingertips lightly on House's knee.
"It's not too late for Philadelphia," he said. "I can call --"
Dad grunted, folded his arms over his chest.
"No," House said. "Not there."
Rehab made sense two days ago, when it was just Amber, and when he thought it was just the pills. But now he couldn't think. That whirlwind was still pulling at him, and he wondered what would happen if Cuddy wasn't there, if Wilson was gone. Maybe he would just let go and let the wind take him.
The only thing he was certain of now was that it was all wrong. That he was wrong, and that he couldn't make it right -- couldn't make them go away -- with something so simple as rehab and a few days of nausea and pain.
"Hallucinations. Delusions." He fell back on old patterns, naming the symptoms. "Psychosis."
Wilson closed his eyes for a moment, and his hand tightened its grip on House's knee. Cuddy's hand was making circular patterns on his back. When Wilson opened his eyes again, he glanced at Cuddy, then looked into House's eyes.
"I think I know a place," he said. "Let me make a call." He waited for a few seconds, though, staring at House until he finally saw something he thought he needed then pushed himself up onto his feet.
House didn't ask how he knew the place. Didn't even ask the name. It felt like the words had left him, like all the voices wouldn't give him a chance to speak.
Cuddy left when he wasn't paying attention. He looked over at the place she'd been, and saw Grace there instead, her arms stick thin and a sweater pulled tight around a cold that didn't exist except in his own imagination.
"I can call her, if you want," Wilson said, but House just shook his head. Fewer voices this way. It was easier to just listen to Wilson's voice, to let his be the one that would cut through the noise.
The buzz of voices kept him awake through the night and into the next morning. They still haven't shut up, even now.
In the back seat, Amber and Kutner are arguing about a case that House doesn't bother to remember, but knows that he must, because they both do. Dad's knee forces its way into the back of his seat and he grumbles that House should move his seat forward. House doesn't bother pointing out that Dad isn't real, so he shouldn't care if he's cramped.
He feels Wilson's eyes on him as he slows the car, and House looks out the window and watches the high wall go past. Limestone the color of the cloudy sky.
Wilson gives their names at the gate, but doesn't drive through right away when the wooden barrier lifts up out of their way. He looks at House, and he doesn't touch the accelerator until House nods.
He stops the car a few yards from the front door, and House looks up at the building -- stone walls and narrow windows that loom up above them, like some Gothic version of a nightmare. It looks like it came out of one of Wilson's Hitchcock flicks, and for a moment, he wonders if it's a delusion too. It seems almost too real, the kind of place his imagination would force on him.
Then he hears Wilson's voice, the one person who hasn't lied to him yet, asking if he's ready.
"I'll get your bag," he says, and starts to open the door, but House reaches over, puts his hand on Wilson's arm.
He shakes his head. "I think I have to do this myself," he says. He doesn't want to, but it feels right, when nothing has felt right for days.
Wilson looks like he wants to argue, but he studies House's face. "You sure?" he asks.
House isn't sure of anything, but he forces himself out of the car.
It's quiet when he steps out, and House has a strange thought that maybe they'll all stay in the car, drive away with Wilson and he'll be left alone finally. His reward for doing the right thing for once. Then he sees blonde hair blowing in the wind.
"Kinda creepy," Kutner says, looking up at the building.
House wants to ignore them, but feels a shiver slide up his spine. He forces himself to turn away finally, and gives Wilson his keys and pager and phone. He won't need them here. He takes off his watch. He doesn't want to lose it, and Wilson will keep it safe.
He wants to believe he's doing the right thing -- the hard thing, the only thing that will make them all go away, but he knows that Amber's comments that psychiatry is a sham and that it won't work are his own. This isn't giving up, he tells himself. This is what he has to do.
He hangs onto that thought as Wilson holds out the suitcase. Wilson doesn't say anything, but House sees something in his eyes, something beyond the fear that House knows is written on his own face. There's a sureness there, a steadiness, a confidence that House doesn't feel even as he takes the bag from Wilson's hand.
Wilson nods slightly, and House lets himself believe in Wilson, even if the voices tell him something different.
He finally turns away from Amber and everyone else -- even away from Wilson -- and steps forward.