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Title: Bearing Strain
Author: lit_luminary
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Wilson; House/Wilson friendship.
Summary: Cuddy calls Wilson at five in the morning: the conversation we didn't hear.

The buzz of his phone vibrating breaks into Wilson’s sleep, and he grunts into his pillow and reaches for it, blinking bleary eyes at the backlit screen: Cuddy, calling at five A.M., and that goes straight to his adrenals.

There’s exactly one reason she’d call him this early, and he prays Please, don’t let House be dead as he answers it with, “What happened?”

“He’s in recovery at Princeton General,” Cuddy says.  She sounds weary, but—thank God, thank God—Wilson doesn’t hear any grief. “He’s going to be fine.”

He releases a long breath as those words make way for a second thought—Goddammit, House, not again!—and he remembers a dozen examples of self-destructive insanity that’d put his heart in his throat. Then he asks, “What did he do?”

“He was taking an experimental medication, trying to regenerate his leg muscle,” Cuddy says. “It hadn’t been approved for human trials, and it gave him tumors. In his leg.” Now she breathes deeply, and Wilson braces himself.  “He called me, and I found him excising them in his bathtub.”

“In—he was operating on himself? In his bathroom?” Instantly, thoughts of bloodstained tile and sepsis crowd into his mind. “He…“

And then he trails off helplessly, because this is only one more entry on a long list: broken fingers, inducing migraines and tripping on LSD, faking brain cancer, a knife in the wall socket, and on and on until the most recent: toxic experimental drugs.

“House will be fine,” Cuddy repeats. “He’s on broad-spectrum antibiotics to ward off infection, and they didn’t have to take any additional muscle from his leg. He may need to be on crutches while the incision heals, but he’ll be back to his usual irascible self in a week or two.”

“Right. So he can start this entire cycle over again, and sooner or later the phone’ll ring at some ungodly hour and you’ll say ‘I’m so sorry, Wilson; House is dead.’” He hears the bitterness in his own voice and squeezes the phone so hard his hand aches: House can’t keep going like this, and Wilson cannot stand to get that last call. “At least tell me he called you before he started going into shock.”

“No.  I was last on the list,” Cuddy says. “When you didn’t answer, he went through his entire team first.”

Wilson curses himself for setting the phone on vibrate, for every extra minute House had spent with his leg gaping open. “Chase, even Taub would’ve been more able to handle any complications,” he says. “I’m sure it wasn’t personal.”

“He wanted me to finish the surgery,” Cuddy says after a moment. “He was alert and lucid; whether he was sane is debatable, but…he’s in recovery now. He’s not conscious yet, but I thought…”

“I’ll sit with him,” Wilson says. “You go home. Sleep.”

They exchange goodbyes, and Wilson gets out of bed, peels off pajamas and starts putting his work clothes on like armor: respectable, responsible Doctor Wilson, who deals with this kind of thing and worse all the time and handles it with grace.

“God, House,” he says to the empty room. “Why, why do you do things like this?” Doesn’t he realize that if he just asked for help—that people care about him, dammit, and if he killed himself…

Last year, the surgery to transplant a lobe of Wilson’s liver, the echo of House’s voice: If you die, I’m alone.

It’s as true for him as for House: oh, he has plenty of acquaintances, superficial friendships, but no one else knows him as well or matters as much; Wilson thinks of Danny and of Amber, and knows losing House would be worse.

Something has to change; something has to give, because House can only be impossibly lucky so many times; because the heart-jolting fear of so-late-it’s-early phone calls and the bedside vigils never get any easier.

He leaves food and water for Sarah, since he doesn’t expect to be home for at least a couple of hours, and drives to Princeton General on autopilot.   Shock and anger are fading; all that’s left now is numb exhaustion, because House has done this kind of thing too many times. Because Wilson knows him better than anyone else, had seen the warning signals, and it still hadn’t been enough.

In the recovery room, Wilson reaches for the hand that isn’t tethered to an IV line and entwines his fingers with House’s: contact would never be allowed if House were awake, but since he’s not, Wilson allows himself the solid comfort of touch, of feeling warm skin and the faint beat of a pulse.

He promises himself he won’t open with accusations of insanity; that he won’t put House on the defensive and shut down any chance of meaningful communication: he has to make House see the need to stop this for his own sake, not for Wilson’s, and that can’t happen unless House sees the usual cycle break.

“We need to talk,” he says to himself, “and we both need to listen, because there’s got to be a better way than this.”


Note: ‘Bearing strain’ is a mechanical term—i.e., the deformation of weight-bearing parts of a machine when subjected to a load.
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December 2016


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