Chapter 7

The empty plastic lollipop stick made a soft clang as it fell into the metal trash can. That was immediately followed by the crinkling of yet another lollipop being unwrapped – apple flavoured, Wilson's favourites.

He usually went through three or four lollipops during his workday – everyone knew he had a massive sweet tooth – but on days like this, his intake could very easily double. Stress did strange things to people, and in Wilson's case, it made him a sugar junkie.

The day had actually had a great start – there had been no traffic on his way to work, he'd exchanged zingers with Cameron, and he'd actually gotten to discharge a few patients. Things had started to go downhill when he'd gotten C.C.'s latest test results back: the tumour wasn't shrinking fast enough.

It wasn't entirely unexpected, given the advanced stage of her disease. He'd known it could happen, and if things didn't change soon, then the possibility of C.C. needing a bone marrow transplant would quickly become a reality. He didn't want to get to that stage – not when he knew the cure was just as (if not more) gruelling as the disease itself. They had time still, luckily, but he didn't like it when his patients' struggles worsened.

That feeling was made all the worse by the knowledge that it was Miss Babcock they were talking about. He'd never say so out loud, of course (that wasn't the way he wanted to toss out his own reputation), but there it was. He was worried for her beyond all belief, because she was his friend as well as his patient by this stage, and he knew how much she was hurting.

Sue him for breach of the "no mush" contract, but that was the way it was.

He'd already decided to sustain the treatment regime they'd already planned so far. The tumour wasn't shrinking as much or as fast as he'd hoped it would, but the chemo was clearing out Miss Babcock's lymphoma. It was working – he knew it would – but the tumour was a constant nag in his mind. It was a mix of good and bad news that he thought he could work with, as long as he monitored the situation carefully.

None of it was exactly enough to take care of the emotional toil the whole thing was inflicting on the former producer, though. He'd heard from Cameron how shaving C.C.'s hair had gone, for instance: it had been a completely and utter disaster. In fact, it had probably been one of the hardest things they'd gone through so far.

Their patient had been laughing and joking all the way there (a common sign of self-comfort and reassurance), but when the hair cutting had started, she had begun to cry. It only got worse as the razor did its work, escalating until she hadn't been able to speak. It had truly hit home how real it all was, and the hair loss was the last straw that had snapped that camel's back in two.

She'd spent the rest of that day crying, as well. And her fever hadn't gone away, either, which was a deep concern for Wilson all by itself. She was doing badly, physically and emotionally, and the latter of those was paramount if she wanted to do well with the former.

Wilson knew he'd never say that he didn't know what to do. That was one thing his patients could always rely on. But in this case, it was a toll on his own heart and mind because he wasn't sure they could just keep going the way they were.

Miss Babcock needed more support than she was getting. More than just the phone calls and occasional visits she had with her brother – they weren't enough to make her feel like she wasn't alone. They were training wheels on a bike, but weird ones that only touched the ground if you were going to tip over. A last resort, if you will. Just enough to keep her going but not enough to help her thrive with confidence.

It was a terrible thing to have to go through alone…

There was only one solution, in Wilson's mind: she had to have somebody there with her.

He would have to talk about it with Noel when he next visited. For all Wilson knew, the college professor might be able to make her see reason. Wilson and Cameron had tried to get C.C. to contact her family and friends on many occasions, but she'd shot them down each and every time.

The woman was too stubborn for her own good, and refused to even consider she could be wrong about not needing anyone to help her through this. There was nothing they could do, though – she was a grown woman, and ultimately, they couldn't force her to involve others in her treatment if she didn't want to, even if it was detrimental to her recovery.

The road ahead was both long and daunting, and Wilson sometimes wondered if his bullheaded friend had misjudged just how difficult this would be. It wouldn't be over in months – her being done with chemo didn't mean she'd be cancer free. No, chemo was only the first part of a years-long recovery, and what followed it would be just as difficult if not more.

Emotional support was crucial for patients to successfully go back to normal. She couldn't go back to the life she'd led before all this had happened just like that, not if she wanted to go into remission and, eventually, get to the stage where she could be declared cancer-free.

Wilson suspected Miss Babcock hadn't quite accepted this yet – she was still grieving and very much in denial, but that was normal in most cancer patients. It wasn't easy to kiss goodbye to everything you were before a horrible disease took over, after all. But the main difference between Miss Babcock and most of his other patients, was her non-existent support network.

Wilson had seen cases – heartbreaking cases – where patients lacked support and had to face treatment alone. More often than not those patients would end up withering away in care homes until the disease claimed them and put an end to their misery. But C.C.'s case wasn't like those – she was making a conscious and thorough effort to reject any source of support that came her way, even when there were people who'd be there for her!

He didn't understand it at all. Then again, a lot of people would say that he often understood medicine and treating people better than he understood their feelings. Not that he thought that was true, it was just some crappy rumour that had gotten started by people who hadn't liked his methods.

People – especially some people – were just more complicated than others. And he had one on his hands right then.

He knew what he would do in this case, though, as a substitute until a better plan came along. It was something he'd been doing for a while. His own visits were some of the few C.C. couldn't reject outright, so he always made the effort to go and see her. Asking her how she was and chatting might've seemed like a very doctor-ish thing to do, but in this particular case, it was also something of an unregistered, unofficial therapy session and a friendly visit at the same time. He didn't mind, as long as she spent time with someone and it took some of the burden off her.

And, as he'd seen in her case file, she needed all the burden taken off her that she could get. Especially to help her body overcome the fever.

Sticking his lollipop in the corner of his mouth, he gathered up her paperwork (which had been in several small piles on his desk) and put it away in a filing cabinet. He wasn't going to leave it all lying around if he was going to see his patient, and he wasn't going to need it for the time being.

He left his office fairly quickly after that, stopping only to grab another spare lollipop (a strawberry one, that time), which he stuck in his pocket as he closed the door and started the journey to Miss Babcock's room.

It never took long for the route to his patients' rooms to become muscle memory. Even when it was kind of a long route, he could tune out and come back in right when he'd reached the right door. It saved him a lot of time, and meant that he could concentrate on other things on the way.

Usually, at any rate. Today, however, something was different.

Everything had been fine for most of the route, but the moment he got to the corridor that connected to the reception, he overheard something very familiar mixed in with the ordinary conversation of a working hospital.

"––looking for Miss Chastity-Claire Babcock. Her room number is 505?"

Wilson's feet halted, one after the other so his right side had to swing out and then fall back into place where he stood.

Somebody in there was looking for C.C.? This was a revelation and a half! He didn't know if he believed in God or not, but somebody up-or-out there liked him and had sent him a saviour!

Well, even if it was just a coincidence, Wilson didn't care. That person was the lifeline he'd been looking for and he absolutely had to see who it was!

Creeping-hurrying (a term he'd invented in med school whenever he'd have to sneak out of the lab after hours – after breaking in to conduct experiments, of course) his way towards the reception, he stopped at the corner just before the turn. From there, he could just about peek out over the corner of the reception desk to get a good view...

Directly at the person who'd asked for C.C..

The guy that was stood there would have been elegantly dressed, had the suit he was wearing not been so dishevelled. It wasn't far behind his sand-blonde hair, which he had apparently been raking through out of stress at some point.

None of this bothered the receptionist – Gina, if Wilson recalled correctly. They were all used to all kinds of people in that place, especially concerned friends and loved ones who hadn't slept properly for days.

"Of course," Gina replied, probably with a smile that Wilson couldn't see. "If I can just see some ID, I'll be happy to let you go right on through."

The man at the desk appeared to do the human equivalent of a computer glitching, and Wilson quirked an eyebrow. Something was up; did this tall, not-that-dark stranger have something to be worried about? He looked as though he did.

"I...I'm afraid I don't have any with me, I really need identification? I'm Niles Brightmore – I phoned just yesterday...! I to Miss Babcock then..."

Gina half-shrugged, "It is our policy, sir; you know the code."

The man blinked, "I'm sorry, code?"

"The code number, for Miss Babcock's room. 505," the receptionist explained. "Only trusted friends and relatives of our patients are, at the patient's discretion, given the number. They can then use it to talk to them over the phone without going through a background check. But, to make sure none of that information ever slips into the wrong hands, we always ask for ID on personal visits."

Wilson felt a smile spreading across his face, as a siren or bell something like the triumphant ending of a game show went off in his head.

Niles Brightmore?! The butler C.C. had mentioned before? That man out there was the one that she had spent all that time trying not to talk about! He'd practically had to force the information out of her, but now the guy himself was stood in front of him, trying to come inside!

He clearly wasn't as "in the past" as C.C. had tried to make him out to be! He'd made it all the way out to them from New York, just to see her!

The sight nearly made Wilson want to punch the air. He couldn't believe it! The butler himself had actually arrived to see her; this couldn't be a bigger stroke of luck if the doctor had tried!

He had to do something quickly, though – the butler wasn't going to be allowed to stay much longer if he couldn't cough up some form of ID. Or, as a stroke of genius suggested, find an advocate who just happened to be "expecting" him...

"Is there any way I could see her without an ID?" the butler insisted – practically pleaded. "She doesn't know I'm coming to visit her – it's a surprise, you see…"

"I'm sorry, Mr Brightmore, but I'm afraid you––"

" –– couldn't have come at a better time!" Wilson loudly declared as he came over to meet and shake the man's hand. "I'm so glad you could make it, even if my call was on such short notice. Gregory Wilson, by the way, Miss Babcock's oncologist, as you might remember."

"Oh, of course! It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Dr Wilson," replied the butler, not skipping a beat – he'd clearly caught on to what Wilson wanted to do, and he'd caught on fast! "I came over as fast as I could."

"I'm sorry, Dr Wilson, but were you expecting him?" Gina asked, "You didn't mention anything about this to us."

"Must have slipped my mind," Wilson said with a shrug. "Not the first time it's happened. Anyway, there's no need to ask for Mr Brightmore's ID – I called him yesterday and asked him to come, you won't find him in the system yet."

"But, Dr Wilson, hospital policy––"

"Gina darling, it's like you don't even know me! When do I ever even remotely care about following hospital policy? Let me give you a clue –never," Wilson said. "It was a last minute thing – no time for paperwork!"

He watched, anticipating her thought process as Gina's mouth opened and closed a little. It was almost as though she were trying to form an argument. The only thing was, she probably couldn't think of one that didn't start with the words "but hospital policy". And, as the doctor had made it very clear he was going rogue with this "newly invited guest", she didn't have much of a leg to stand on when it came to getting things done the correct way.

She had to relent. She had to reach the conclusion that it wasn't as though this guy was a stranger, if Wilson had called him personally – and how would this Mr Brightmore know the code if he hadn't been one of Miss Babcock's trusted few? That was actually probably something Wilson should ask Niles himself about in a moment, now that he thought about it. Once he'd congratulated him on his cojones for trying to lie and sneak in, of course.

Gina had just come to her own conclusion as well.

"Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt just this once, if you know who he is, Dr Wilson," she said, searching around in the desk. Probably for one of those ridiculous Visitor lanyards they had. "Just please remember to fill in the paperwork as soon as you can and we can get Mr Brightmore into the system. Then this won't be an issue again."

The fact that it could be an issue again was the only thing which kept Wilson from practically screwing up the thought of the paperwork and mentally tossing it into a trash can. He had a hunch about Niles, and if it was correct the butler was going to need easy access to and from the hospital.

"It will be with you as soon as possible," Wilson told the receptionist, watching as she passed a lanyard over to Niles. He then turned to the butler. "Ready to go? I'm sure C.C. will be delighted to see you!"

Niles coughed minutely in return. It almost sounded like choking, being disguised as him clearing his throat.

"Y-Yes, I'm all set, thank you," he replied, putting the lanyard around his neck. "Which...which way is her room?"

Wilson let his face stretch into a broad smile. This was going to be just perfect – he could feel it already! If he couldn't already sense the nervousness that practically radiated from the guy's body, he would've slapped him on the back. Niles turning up really had done a complete one-eighty on his mood. This was the greatest miracle-coincidence he'd been through since...since...well, probably ever! Not that he'd ever admit such a thing out loud; how else could he ever keep up his reputation of going through all kinds of miracles literally every day? It would force away the illusion!

"It's just this way, my friend – not far at all," he gestured into the corridor, following a step or two behind as Niles headed off.

He wanted to make sure that Gina went back to her work before he and C.C.'s surprise guest got talking, just in case their voices carried when they got into the corridor.

Wilson kept his voice low as he started, too, just in case it did anyway.

"Bet you're glad I came along just when I did," he muttered to the butler, coming in alongside him. "I must note now, if we're going to learn anything at all about each other, that you'll find out I am fantastic at timing."

Niles looked at him in return, now back to being as confused as he'd been when he'd been dealing with Gina, even if the relief of not being caught was still nestled in there somewhere.

"And if you must know anything about me, it's that I like to know what's going on at any given time," Niles replied quickly. "Might I be allowed to know right now, Doctor, or is that kept under a special code as well?"

Wilson spluttered out a chuckle. Oh, it was no wonder C.C. had mentioned this guy – he had the same quick wit about him. The doctor could only imagine that seeing the two of them together would be something akin to seeing electricity crackling right in front of one's eyes.

He couldn't wait. But he could delay it long enough to help this unexpected visitor out.

"No, no special code for this; I'll have you caught up in no time," he began scanning the upcoming corridor for a potential target. They had to find somewhere quiet to chat before going to see the lady of the hour. "We just need to take a little detour before we go to see Miss Babcock. That's not a problem, is it?"

He found a suitable room – a currently unused doctor's break room – just as Niles answered.

"I think it might actually be for the best, I...I don't know how much she's actually talked about me, but–"

"She's told me enough to know we'll get along famously," Wilson said, cutting over him and opening the door. He gestured inside for the butler. "After you."

Without hesitation, Niles walked into the room, Wilson following close behind and closing the door after him. The faster they got this over and done with, reasoned the butler, the faster he could get to Miss Babcock. He didn't attempt to sit or get comfortable; he didn't intend for this meeting to last for long. He simply stood in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest and eyes on the still smiling oncologist – Miss Babcock's oncologist, based on what the admission letter said…

It still didn't feel real…

"So, we meet at last," Wilson said, getting the ball rolling. "Niles Brightmore, Babcock's royal pain in the ass!"

Niles' lips twitched into a brief smile. It didn't make sense, but there was something reassuring about Miss Babcock having spared him a thought or two. Maybe more, judging by Wilson's words. He'd been so sure that she'd forget him – stash away each and every memory of them together into the back of her mind…

But she hadn't. And that alone was enough to fill him with the bravery he needed to face her again.

"Good to know she still thinks highly of me," Niles said, smile all but gone and now replaced by a neutral expression. "How much has she told you about––"

"Your relationship?" Wilson cut him off. "Enough. Actually, it's what she didn't say that interested me the most, and it's also what earned you a ticket into this clinic, courtesy of yours truly."

He bowed with a flourish, looking all the more smug if that were possible.

"You'll have to elaborate, Doctor," Niles replied. "I'm afraid I'm not following."

"Figured you wouldn't, pal," said the doctor, finishing the last of his lollipop and immediately getting the other one from his coat's pocket. "Let's just say that she spent an awful lot of time talking about a man she supposedly hates. Not to mention she does the equivalent of a turtle retreating into its shell whenever I bring up this particular issue."

He watched as what Wilson suspected was hope flickered in the butler's eyes. It was gone in almost an instant – probably his mind denying it after his heart had hoped, or some Hallmark-y schmaltz like that. But Wilson had seen it, whether or not it might later be denied.

"Really?" Niles' eyes casually (but not subtly) went to the door where they had come in.

He seemed ready to go back out here and find C.C.'s room on his own. Not that Wilson would let him, of course – it was too much of a good scene to ever miss that happening. Besides, he was sure that this would work and that they could pull it off all together, if Niles was completely on board.

He just needed to know a little of what had been going on behind-the-hospital-curtain while he'd been away.

"Really," Wilson replied with an air of confidence that only he could muster. "She doesn't mention anybody else half as many times as you, but she always clams up and cuts me off whenever I deign suggest she tell me more about the two of you."

Niles felt his insides seize up, like clockwork that had just had a cog come loose. It jammed up the whole system, stopped it from working, made it all freeze.

He...he wasn't quite sure that he could've heard Wilson correctly. And he was definitely sure that if he had heard him correctly, then he didn't understand why! Why on Earth would Miss Babcock talk about him anybody?! And even if she did, why would she suddenly stop when anybody tried to find out more? Wouldn't she at least toss them a pithy remark about how he wasn't even worth mentioning? Or a zinger perhaps, about how if she said his name too many times he'd show up? Then she'd probably refer to him as "Butlerjuice" and delight in her own sharp wit...

But he was getting side-tracked! He had to snap himself out of it and find out what was going on. He was there now and he couldn't stop dead forever.

"That really...I don't think that that sounds much like Miss Babcock," he eventually managed to get out. "Did she say anything else along with it? Like an insult about how I'm irrelevant, or incompetent, or something of that nature?"

Wilson thought about it for a moment before nodding.

"Both of those, on different days. And yet, it still never stops her from talking about you."

Niles thought he might need to sit down until the world stopped spinning. Or turning on its head, as the case seemed to currently be. How else was he supposed to describe what he was hearing?

Miss Babcock was talking about him. Willingly, and to other people!

That had never once happened back in New York. Why would it? He was only the butler who used unwashed cups to make her coffee, or polished surfaces too hard to make her slip and slide about on them. He was a pain to her – a nuisance. But as soon as she left the mansion, he didn't even have to appear on her radar. He'd been a part of her usual, ordinary, everyday life (which this wasn't, really; it was extraordinary circumstances) but he hadn't been an important one.

But knowing that did leave him with one question: what had changed?

The incredulity and confusion must have been obvious to Wilson, because the doctor made a face like a fat, spoiled cat who'd gotten both the cream and the canary.

"Surprise...!" he pretended to declare, using jazz hands to give it another flourish. "You've got a bigger part in this play than you imagined, bud. It's why I knew you'd be perfect to help out, as soon as I heard you say your name back at the desk."

The butler blinked, again not following.

"I'm sorry? What do you mean by "help out"?"

He couldn't imagine Miss Babcock accepting any help coming from him. He didn't have the best track record, admittedly. If he knew her (and he did) she wouldn't want to risk it when she was at her most vulnerable. Not that he would ever dream of hurting a woman (anyone, really) who was this sick, but he didn't blame her for not trusting him.

Niles didn't know why she'd left without telling the Sheffields about her condition, but he could understand why she had left without telling him, in particular. He wasn't going to lie – it was a little insulting that she'd thought that he would have mocked her suffering from a horrible disease, but it wasn't unwarranted.

"There are very few reasons why I'd be willing to break HIPAA rules," Wilson said, looking serious for the first time in their conversation. "And my patient's life being at risk is one of them."

"What do you mean?" Niles said, feeling his stomach twisting into tight knots and his heart jumping into his mouth.

"I mean that she isn't well, Niles, both emotionally and physically speaking," Wilson said, pulling the lollipop out of his mouth. "Let me try and give you a general idea of her current situation: Miss Babcock has stage 4B Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. It has affected several lymph node groups and has caused a tumour to grow between her left lung and her heart. As her disease is quite advanced, her treatment regime is extremely aggressive. She needs eight chemo cycles and, if the tumour doesn't shrink, she'll also need a bone marrow transplant. All in all, she's facing at least a year of treatment, followed by a lengthy recovery. Without proper support, I fear she won't be able to pull through this. I feel she hasn't grasped just how hard this will be on her, and her stubbornness might translate into a slowed down recovery, and that's the last thing she needs."

Even the slight shift in Wilson's already grave tone made the butler feel like he was shrinking. The enormity of what Miss Babcock had and needed far outweighed any kind of support he felt able to give. Wouldn't her brother be better for this, or her father? They had her trust, her confidence and understanding. She knew where she stood with them, and most likely wouldn't be keeping a record in the back of her head as to whether or not they had been playing jokes on her, for all the time that she was unwell...

But before he could say that the doctor had the wrong man (and potentially admit that this had all been a mistake anyway), Wilson carried on with his explanation.

"But, this is where you come in. Kinda like a...well, maybe not the light at the end of the tunnel, but I do believe that you are the train tracks that will get us to said light."

Trying not to reel too much at the metaphor, Niles blinked, "How? I'm not exactly medically qualified, nor am I Miss Babcock's favourite person in the world..."

Wilson clapped his hands together once in a loud snap, pointing finger guns at Niles immediately after.

"And that is exactly why I needed you, my friend. Miss Babcock hasn't spoken to anybody but her brother since she arrived. No one apart from him knows what's going on, and Noel hasn't been able to convince her to reach out to anyone else. He can't be around a lot, which means she's spent most of her days on her own, cooped up in bed. They're at an impasse, and you're here to change just that. You have to combat her stubborn side and give it a good kick in the pants, all to make sure that she gives cancer a good kick in the pants," he said, sounding quite pleased with his own idea. "You don't have to be medically qualified to piss people off – trust me, I know – or to stick in their craw so much that they can't think of anything else. Again, I know that from experience. You have somehow managed to do both to my patient over the years, making you the perfect candidate to get her to accept some much needed support so that she can move along a bit more quickly in her recovery."

Niles nearly felt himself stumble. The fact that his relationship with Miss Babcock was complicated had never once come in useful before in his life! If anything, it had only seemed to make a lot of things harder, when he wasn't planning on pranking her or setting up a zinger...

In fact, those times were some of the few that he found least difficult to understand, whenever he thought about them.

But did the doctor really want him to basically annoy Miss Babcock into accepting help from others? It killed him a little bit inside to think that the former producer hadn't spoken to anybody at all apart from Noel, but surely there were people better suited to helping her? He was just a thorn in her side, and there were people out there that she loved, who would do the job just as well...

People out there she hadn't told, who deserved to see her far more than he did.

"I know it's a bit daunting," Wilson insisted, perhaps having sensed his reluctance. "But, trust me, you are just what she needs. No matter what happened between you two before. We've tried to reason with her, and it wasn't enough – I feel she needs an eye-opener. A harsh one, perhaps, and I'm certain you are the perfect person to do just that."

Niles sighed – Wilson did have a point when he said Miss Babcock was stubborn and that he was probably one of the few people who could go toe to toe with that side of her, but he still wasn't sure he was suited to help her. He wanted to, not to get him wrong, but he doubted she'd let him in the first place.

Still, he owed it to her to at least try. He'd do anything, if it meant making things easier on her…

"Alright," he said. "I'll try, but I can't guarantee it will work."

"I know that. Still, we have to at least try," Wilson said. "Anyway, now that all cards are on the table, I think it's time for us to get going."

Niles wished he could come up with some excuse to delay what was coming, selfish as that was, but he also knew there was no point in doing that. It wouldn't do anyone any good. She needed help, and he was there to provide it. Any fears he might have had were irrelevant. He'd come looking for her – he'd come wanting to help, and that was exactly what he was going to do.

Or at least try to…

"Lead the way," the butler said, gesturing over at the door.

Wilson didn't need to hear anything else. Looking every inch a satisfied man, he opened the door and walked out, Niles following close behind. They made their way up to her room in complete silence, something which was greatly appreciated by the butler. He wasn't in the mood to chit-chat. Instead, he tried to drown out his growing panic by paying close attention to the clearly luxurious hospital Miss Babcock had chosen to be treated in. It was exactly the kind of place Niles imagined sick rich people went to, when they needed prolonged treatment, but at the same time he was somewhat impressed by the sheer magnificence of it all. This wasn't your typical run-of-the-mill high-end clinic – quite honestly, it looked more like a boutique hotel than a hospital!

It was an ideal place to be, if one wanted to keep a low profile and be as comfortable as possible while in treatment. That was probably why Miss Babcock had chosen it in the first place. It ticked every box: luxurious, discreet and high-quality.

"Here we are," Wilson said, as they eventually arrived at Room 505's door. "Miss Babcock's room. Now, before you go in, a word of caution – she's very delicate. She had chemo yesterday, so she's feeling extremely weak and is running a fever. Try to be as gentle as possible."

Niles nodded, trying not to swallow too hard. He didn't want the doctor to know that he was afraid – it felt shameful, in a way. He knew he should have been ready and raring to go, just like he had been when he'd decided to just drop everything and rush straight out of New York to head for Illinois. But now the moment had finally arrived, all he wanted to do was drag his feet.

He had an image in his head of what Miss Babcock would look like as a patient, and the moment he walked through the door he'd find out just how accurate he had been. He wasn't sure if he wanted his picture shattered or not; if she looked better than he had thought, then he would be relieved. But what if she looked worse? Would he be able to take in the sight without hurting so badly he had to leave?

He didn't know. He didn't even know if she'd want him in the room – she could look up at him the minute he walked through the door and order him to turn right around again, for all he knew.

A nagging voice in the back of his mind told him there was only one way to find out (as well as to stop being a coward).

After giving a little more indication that he was ready (he wasn't, but he supposed he would never be, really), Wilson opened the door to what could have been an apartment in a building on Park Avenue and gestured for the butler to go inside. He then pointed Niles towards a door on the other side of the room.

"Miss Babcock's bedroom is just through there – go ahead, I'll be right here if you need anything."

Well, he'd taken the leap now. There wasn't any turning back or walking away anymore. All he could do was move forwards.

It seemed to take an age to get to the door. If he'd been in a better mood, he might have made an internal quip about how large the room was and how it was no wonder it felt like it was taking forever. But he was too consumed by the thought of what it really was, making him feel that way.

He rapped softly on the wood once he was close enough, taking in a deep, steadying breath before he announced himself.

"Miss Babcock? It''s Niles..."

He could've kicked himself for that. Of course it was Niles – did he have to be so pathetic even just by trying to greet a person?! Who else was it going to be, with his voice?

Not that said voice had apparently gotten him anywhere. There was no sound at all coming from behind the door – not even one telling him to go away, or describing just where he could shove his idea to track her down...

"Miss Babcock, I'm coming in...!"

He felt the need to at least attempt giving her fair warning, as he slowly and steadily opened the door...

He nearly felt his legs give out from underneath him, seeing Miss Babcock asleep in her bed.

She looked...already much thinner and drawn than she had been. Whether that was the chemotherapy, the stress or something else entirely, he didn't know. It didn't help that they'd clearly had to shave her head at the start of her treatment, which somehow only seemed to make her appear smaller, more vulnerable than she already was. The headscarf she had on didn't help, just covering the place where golden locks might once have brought colour and life to her cheeks, which looked deathly pale in their absence. It was someone had taken away the mane of a lion – she didn't look like the imposing, fierce Broadway producer he had known and sparred with daily.

He knew she wouldn't have lost either of those traits, but it was difficult to see them in the woman asleep in that bed, hooked up to an IV drip and weak from rounds of hard-hitting therapy.

It wasn't better than he had been imagining. It wasn't far worse either, but it wrenched at his heart just as much.

He couldn't believe that Miss Babcock wanted to go through this by herself! She had to be in so much pain and in need of so much comfort and reassurance, yet she was shutting everyone that she could out! It made no sense to him – why scurry away and cut off all ties with everyone you've previously known, when going through what had to be one of the worst things that could happen to a person?!

That made him wonder, briefly, if Wilson actually had a point about him being the right person for this job. But he didn't want to get too distracted – not when Miss Babcock was right there, hurting far more than he didn't feel right to be caught up in his own world and worries when hers were far more serious.

Her reality made Niles question why he'd ever thought his own fears even had a bearing on the situation! How could they possibly mean anything, when she was so unwell? It had been near-callous of him to think his feelings had any bearing on what was going on in that room.

He wasn't the important one there; she was, and – as Wilson had been so insistent on pointing out – she needed his help. He had gone there to do just that, and what kind of a...friend? Person. Person definitely suited this case better – it was less complicated. At any rate, what kind of a person would he be if he just abandoned that plan and went home again?

No, he wasn't going anywhere. Well, perhaps back to the living room – to wait for her to wake up so that they could talk, like two calm and rational adults. He wasn't about to stay there like some sort of creep just waiting for her to wake up and see him stood over her bed!

The thought was enough to send a chill up and down his own spine, and that was more than enough of a sign that he needed to go. So, turning on his heel, he started to head back out the door…

…Only to hear a moan, and a soft whimper, accompanied by the rustling of bedsheets.

It was too late. She was waking up.

Niles' eyes couldn't help but be pulled straight back to her, even as his body told him to just dive straight through the door, not look back and pretend the whole thing had never happened if she questioned him.

But he never got around to that, because even before Miss Babcock had registered that there was someone else in the room, she was crying out in obvious, gagging discomfort.

"Oh-oh, God!"

She had leapt up and dived as best she could for the trash can on the floor next to the bed, but she never made it. The vomit came before she could get that far, spilling out over the bedsheets, her own lap, the floor as she tried to move herself out of the bed and out of the way...!

All thought of leaving fled Niles' mind then and there, his thoughts becoming flooded with ideas of helping; he couldn't leave her there, like that! She needed him, and she needed that trash can that was just out of reach!

Practically leaping on the bloody thing, he snatched it up and brought it closer, letting her vomit directly into the bin without spilling any more anywhere else.

And C.C. heaved the contents of her stomach into that can until it hurt, letting it and her sides join the rest of her body in aching and burning and feeling uncomfortable all over...

She didn't even stop to think about how that can could've been brought up to meet her face, until the moment she had nothing left to vomit.

It was only then that she looked up, wincing at a pain in her head, expecting to see Cameron's sympathetic smile, or maybe Wilson's own smug features greeting her, but her blue eyes met another, lighter set, in a smug face that she thought she had left far behind!

Niles?! What the hell was he doing there?! How had he found out where she was – had someone told him?! Noel wouldn't do that, would he? Of course not – he wouldn't! But how else had the Butler from the Black Lagoon found out where she was? She hadn't told anybody else!

How the hell had he made all his way into the hospital, and just in time to see her throw up all over herself like a child who hadn't made it to her Mommy in time?!

Oh, God – how had this managed to happen to her?! Why was it that she got the short end of the stick when it came to health, and just when she'd gotten her own plan under control, the last bane of her existence that she'd tried so hard to shut outside the front door simply came in an unmarked side entrance!

And why was it that he was looking at her like he was afraid she'd collapse, or go off like a bomb or something?

"Are you alright, Miss Babcock?" he asked, the panic evident in his voice. It was almost like he'd never had to deal with a sick person before, even if they both knew that wasn't true. "Is there any more? Do you need to keep this with you for a bit longe—"

She grabbed the bin from his hands as he spoke, interrupting his flow with a far more pressing question.

"What the hell are you doing here?! How—" she hissed, having to pause to spit up the last little bit of sick still bothering the back of her throat. The bad taste in her mouth was reduced but it didn't go away entirely. "How could you, out of everybody else I left behind in New York, possibly have been the one to find me?!"

He knew it was only right that she asked that. As he'd told Wilson, he knew that he wasn't exactly her favourite person and deservedly so – why wouldn't she be annoyed at the fact that he had been the one to find her? Even if she had wanted to be alone, she would probably not have felt so bad if someone like Mr Sheffield had come looking and found her. A friend, or a loved one; not some pain in the behind of a butler, who only ever seemed to cause her problems.

Not that he was there to do that right now, but her words still made him bristle. Probably from hurt, knowing he was there to help and she still expected ill intent.

"With a whole lot of luck, that's how!" he replied, perhaps a bit sharply.

But if Wilson had said he was there to combat her stubbornness, perhaps it was the tone he needed? He certainly needed to get to work right away, after this – she was going to need help getting to the bathroom to bathe and brush her teeth, for a start (there was a lot that would have to be washed off). And the sheets needed changing, too, while the floor would have to be wiped...

He continued, looking her up and down, "And it looks like I got here at just the right moment, on this occasion!"

"No you did not!" she snapped, glaring at him. "I want an explanation of what the fuck you are do—"

"And you will get it as soon as we get you all cleaned up," he cut her off, taking the bin in his hands and setting it back down next to her bed. "I know you aren't happy to see me—"

"You can say that again…" she grumbled.

"—but we can get to my being here as soon as you are clean and comfortable," he continued, metaphorically sidestepping her thorny remark. "Now, what do you say if I quickly run you a bath? I'll get all of this cleaned up while you wash up."

C.C. felt her insides angrily seize up, like gears stubbornly grinding to a halt when someone in a factory slammed their hand down on the button to halt all production. It was presumptuous of him to even ask to help, after their shared "history" (if she could call their rivalry-based prank war that), plus the fact that he'd basically barged or snuck into what was supposed to be a private, secure hospital facility...

She wanted to say no – to tell him to get out and that she'd deal with everything by herself, like she always did.

But she wasn't sure that she could right at that moment. Vomiting like that had made her feel considerably weaker, and her already-aching and feverish body was, unfortunately, going to need assistance getting anywhere. And he was willing to help her do that, while being the only person around and readily available...

She didn't want to stay sat there covered in her own sick while waiting for Cameron to come from wherever she was in the hospital. She needed to be out of the bedclothes she'd managed to make dirty (God, only little kids threw up on themselves in their own beds!) and she needed to get the horrible taste out of her mouth that was still lingering there.

So, she supposed it was any port in a storm. And Niles was the nearest.

"Alright, fine. You can help," she relented. But she had to make herself feel better about giving in somehow. "I should've guessed you'd want to; you see a mess made and that butler instinct of yours to clean it all back up again just kicks right on in, doesn't it?"

Niles' eyebrow quirked, and he almost wanted to let a grin appear at the corners of his mouth. Clearly, being in this place had done nothing to dull the former producer's razor-sharp wit.

The image he'd had in his mind remained in place, at least in that regard. And that offered him at least a little bit of relief.

He should have guessed nothing would change, he'd just been so fearful that everything would be lost, he hadn't been able to imagine her staying...well, the same inside. But with that sharpshooting character of a doctor out there? She'd probably been having plenty of practice every time the man came in the room – it had kept her toned. Metaphorically speaking, of course – he hadn't been thinking of...physical toning.

That was a train of thought best derailed quickly, which he was more than happy to do by engaging with her how they communicated best. Albeit more gently, considering what she was going through.

"I'm going to let you have that one because you just threw up on yourself and at least three other places all at once," he said. "It's a good thing the one room you don't appear to be using in this place is the kitchen – it would've been at least five places if you'd been dealing with your own cooking."

C.C. sneered back at him, shuffling towards the edge of her bed and trying to avoid the puddles and splashes she'd left behind. She pulled her IV line and its stand along with her.

"Some of us can afford to pay other people to prepare our food for us, Butler Boy. Get the wheelchair – I'm gonna need it if I'm gonna make it to the bathroom right now."

Niles looked in the direction where she was vaguely gesturing, and went to bring it over. The former producer insisted on pulling herself into the chair once it was close enough, even after he'd offered to help, so he simply held it steady so she could get herself as comfortable as she could be.

He couldn't say for sure how comfortable that was. Every movement looked exactly the opposite.

But, he held his tongue (not for the first time, even if that was surprising) and let her do what she had to. After a few moments she seemed to be in the best position she would ever find, so he set off, pushing the chair towards the bathroom, IV stand trundling alongside her.

The bathroom was just as large and luxurious as any other room in the hospital apartment; cream tile flooring and walls, a huge shower, an even bigger bathtub with jacuzzi jets for comfort and relaxation...

Again, it made the butler think how the place could've been any ordinary dwelling back in New York. Well, ordinary for millionaires, but still!

He didn't stand and stare for too long, though – Miss Babcock was most likely getting uncomfortable in her soiled clothes, and he had to do something about it. She'd probably need some help with the IV line in a moment, too.

He directed her wheelchair towards the sink, figuring he could get started on the bath while she brushed her teeth.

"Here – get those fangs of yours looking nice and pearly white," he said. "I'll get started on running the bath."

"Only time anybody'll ever hear you say 'I'll get started running'..." the former producer muttered back, reaching out to grab her toothbrush and the bottle of toothpaste next to it.

Niles' face became unimpressed, but he turned anyway and went to put the plug in and open the taps. Searching the cupboards surrounding the tub, he soon found several nice-smelling oils and bubble baths that could go into the water as well, filling the room with a nice aroma.

It was almost like they were back in her penthouse, and he was helping out there because she was sick and Mr Sheffield had asked him to. Not...this situation.

And speaking of situations, the closer he got to the bath being complete, the more he got to thinking about the next step.

Would...would Miss Babcock be alright to undress herself? He wanted to say yes, because the woman he remembered was strong and independent and never asked for help, ever. But he'd also just seen her in a hospital bed, unable to help herself as she started vomiting over everything, and he didn't think he could be sure that he truly knew how much had changed since she'd arrived!

He knew he would have to help her with the IV. That part was a given. But what if she usually got a nurse to help her undress, too? Did he have a right to do that?

He didn't know. And he didn't really know how to bring it up, either. But the bath was filling higher and higher by the second, the water was the perfect temperature to not scald anybody, and he needed to think of a way to ask, fast.

"Um...your bath, Miss Babcock. It's just about ready," he eventually called out, figuring he might as well just go for it. He heard the former producer spit into the sink in return. "I'll help with the IV, but will you...need my assistance with your clothes?"

"My what now?!"

C.C.'s half-screamed reply told Niles everything he needed to know about her feelings on the matter. The butler could feel his cheeks turning a deep shade of red and, had he not known she really needed his help to get around, he would have most likely rushed out of the room.

He had to safe face, and he had to do it quickly.

"I…I mean… only if you need me to. But if you'd rather do it yourself or want me to call a nurse, I'll be glad to do so," he said, forcing himself to turn and look at the producer.

To his credit, he managed to get those words out without stammering as much as he'd feared he would. It seemed to convince the producer, at any rate. She was still looking at him oddly, but not like he'd grown a second head or anything of the sort. She was probably just confused – this behaviour was, after all, very out of character for him.

"I'm not an invalid just yet, Rubbermaid," she eventually replied. "And I'll be damned before I lose the last of my dignity by having people dress and undress me like a ragdoll."

"I never meant to imply––"

"I don't care what you meant," she said sharply, cutting him off. "And I certainly don't want to discuss this with you. All you need to know is that I can take it from here, so scram."

Trying not to flinch, Niles looked at the door and then looked at her, in her chair. Could she really make it to the bath by herself from where she was? She'd needed him to bring the chair so close just to get in it...!

He gestured to the chair, hand pointing between it and the bath.

"But, don't you need me to—"

"I don't need anything from you!" Miss Babcock snapped. "If I did, I would've said so. Now get out, before I tell somebody I don't want you here!"

Niles winced at the words, nodding, "I'll be outside if you change your mind...!"

All thought after that fled from the butler's mind, before his feet caught onto the trend and carried him out of the bathroom, just about letting him stop to grab the door handle and pulling it to behind him.

He immediately went to lean against the wall, cheeks burning with shame. He wiped at them and wiped at his eyes, which now felt tired. He couldn't believe he'd just asked Miss Babcock that! Of course she'd reacted that way – who wouldn't, upon being asked to let their worst enemy and the man they hated most undress them?!

Wilson seemed to be having less and less of a point by the second...

Speaking of which, the man himself was stood there in the bedroom, arms folded as though he had just been listening to a very interesting radio broadcast, while a pretty brunette nurse mopped up the previously unclean floor behind him.

"Managed to say all your hellos?" the doctor asked. "I thought I'd stay out of it while you two got underway, but I couldn't resist a little eavesdropping. You don't talk to many women, do you?"

"And you do?" the nurse quickly retorted before Niles could say anything.

Frankly, the butler didn't even mind – he couldn't have come up with a more satisfying answer that that. Not that the nurse's little quip seemed to have bothered Wilson – if anything, he looked like a man on a bloody mission!

"Hm, I don't know," he said, grinning. "Maybe we should find out. Dinner at eight?"

"Not even in your dreams, Wilson," Cameron replied, not looking up from her task. "Now, why don't you do something useful and start removing the bedsheets? Miss Babcock will be needing a fresh new set."

Again, Wilson didn't even bat an eyelid. For a man who'd just been shot down, he actually somehow looked brighter and more confident than ever.

"All in good time; you two haven't even been introduced yet!" he declared, making sweeping motions with his hands between the nurse and the butler. "Nurse Cameron, this is Mr Niles Brightmore; that fine fellow that C.C. has mentioned to us both on so many occasions!"

Cameron quirked an eyebrow in a way that made Niles wonder exactly what had been said, but before he could ask, Wilson carried on.

"Mr Brightmore, this is Lisa Cameron, Miss Babcock's personal nurse for the duration of her stay."

The nurse turned her curious expression into a smile, her hands full of dirtied sheets.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr Brightmore – I'd shake your hand, but it's probably best not to right now," she indicated to the bundle she was quickly gathering on the bed. She then looked very deliberately over at Wilson. "Of course, it would all be going a lot faster if I had an extra set of hands...!"

That was when the doctor finally sprang into action, practically jumping straight to helping the nurse remove the sheets.

"See? I said 'all in good time' and now is a good time," he said, starting to strip the pillows of their cases. He then grinned at Cameron. "How's that extra set of hands now?"

"They'd would be a lot better if they worked as much as their owner talks," replied Cameron before turning to look back at the butler. "Mr Brightmore, why don't you go and grab a coffee at the hospital's cafeteria? Knowing Miss Babcock, it will be a while before she's done in there."

Niles hesitated at first, worried that there might be something he'd miss that he could potentially help with, otherwise. But then he reminded himself that he'd just asked to help with the worst possible moment he could've brought up at any one time, and came to the conclusion that Miss Babcock wouldn't want him around for the time being.

It slightly hurt, but he'd already made a commitment to helping and nothing was changing that. He wanted to see her get well again, as tempestuous as their relationship had been before any of this had happened. And he didn't think that leaving her to whatever fate had in store was right or fair, now that he knew what was going on.

Considering everything, he would have actually found it rather cruel and heartless. Even coming from him.

But, if the former producer would be a while yet and he couldn't be useful inside the room for the time being, going for a coffee was probably the best substitute activity he had available. It might let him calm down and shake off the embarrassment (or not – he cringed minutely even thinking of it!), regather his thoughts and come back slightly refreshed. He had had a long journey, after all.

So, he let the hesitation pass and nodded quickly to what Cameron had said, "Alright. I'll see what they have..."

Wilson gave him an encouraging look as well, "Take your time, bud. Not 'cause the selection's great in there or anything, but it really could be a while. Grab a table, sit everything out for a bit and one of us will come get you when it's all alright to come back in, okay?"

Niles wanted to take those words as a sign that he hadn't ruined everything completely. It wasn't the best one, but it was the only one he had. Why would Wilson tell him they'd come fetch him back, if they didn't think he would still be...well, just about welcome?

He nodded again before quickly taking his leave, heading from the room into the corridor. Fortunately, the hospital was well signposted and he was soon on his way to the cafeteria.

He was comforted by the thought that the walk might help him to clear his mind. It had been so overcrowded with worries in the last few hours that he hadn't been able to think straight!

But knowing Miss Babcock was in a facility like this was reassuring – she would receive only the very best in treatment there, it was obvious from literally everything about the place. And now that he'd arrived, he could help her on her journey to recovery. After he'd made up for his faux pas just now, of course. He felt like he might be paying for it for a while, but surely it would eventually have to be dropped.

He'd certainly know never to do it again, and he'd do everything he could to see to it that he got better as a... as a what? A carer? A long term visitor? A friend?

He didn't know. For some reason, he suspected that Wilson would have an answer wrapped up somewhere in that plan of his, but he couldn't say for sure what that answer would be.

All he could hope was that Miss Babcock would let him stay long enough to find out.