Title: While You Were Out
Characters/Pairings: House/Wilson (friendship).
Summary: House believes he’s at fault for Chase’s injury. Wilson begs to differ.
“Chase is in ICU with an SCI,” House says flatly. “Incomplete paraplegia at L5, secondary to occlusion of the radicular artery.” He resists the urge to reach for his new, non-pranked bottle of Vicodin: right now, it wouldn’t be for the leg. “I diagnosed it in time to stop it from being complete paraplegia.”
Wilson nods but stays silent, inviting the rest, and House gives him a thumbnail sketch of the incident and Cofield’s inquisition. “Chase’d rigged my Vicodin to explode, and I walked out on Cofield to get my patient treated for tumor lysis syndrome. Patient’s wife came in the next day to add a plea in favor of my process, and Cofield was moved not to send me back to prison. He decided it was nobody’s fault.”
“Thank God,” Wilson says.
“I told him he was a coward.”
“What, you wanted to go back to…?” Wilson trails off with a frown; his expression turns incredulous. “This is last year’s insanity all over again, isn’t it? You thought you should be punished for wrecking Cuddy’s home; you earned yourself a year in jail. Now Chase was attacked, you feel guilty, and instead of dealing with it—”
“He could’ve died!” House snaps, banging the tip of his cane down on the floor. “He’ll be a cripple for the rest of his—”
“—whereas if you’d gone to jail, the scales of justice would balance and he’d be completely healthy and able to walk?” Wilson releases a long breath, lowers his voice. “House. Sometimes tragedies happen. And sometimes, however it offends your view of the universe, there’s no one to blame.”
“I put that patient on the diagnostic trial that caused his psychotic break.”
“You didn’t put Chase in the room with him,” Wilson says, holding his gaze. “You didn’t order Chase to bring in sharp objects. You didn’t cause the clot that damaged his spinal cord. And you diagnosed it in time to minimize that damage.” He reaches for the hand House has clenched around the handle of his cane, closes his own over it. “Now. Logically. How is what happened to Chase directly your fault?”
“I should’ve been able to narrow down the differential without risking a psychotic—”
“I’m not defending your process to you,” Wilson says. “If he’d had a psychotic break and someone you care about hadn’t been hurt, you wouldn’t have given a crap.” His hand on House’s is steady warmth, steady pressure. “You took a risk, so did Chase, and by freak chance, they both went horribly wrong.”
He stares past Wilson, seeing Chase braced between parallel bars, betrayed by his own legs. Seeing him struggle to walk, his grip white-knuckled, his breathing labored with the effort. Hearing his half-stifled grunts of pain.
Remembering his own physiotherapy, holding himself exactly that way, biting down on every stab of agony as he fought to make his fucking useless leg start to bear weight and recover range of motion. Knowing it was ruined; it was never going to heal, never going to work correctly again, no matter how much rehab he did or how many hopeful platitudes the physiotherapist tried to sell him.
“I told him I was sorry,” House says at last.
“Yeah,” House says. “That was basically what he said, too.” He barks a laugh, hard and bitter. “He’s nicer than I am. I made Stacy cry the first time she told me—”
“I repeat: you didn’t damage his spine,” Wilson says. He’s starting to move away from ‘consoling’ and toward ‘annoyed.’ House takes his hand back. “The mobility he has, he has because you saved it.”
“He didn’t accept my apology.”
Wilson laughs, shaking his head. “Unbelievable. You bring your baseless guilt to him, and somehow, it’s not his first impulse to gift you with forgiveness for the thing that wasn’t your fault!”
“It also wasn’t not my fault.”
Long-suffering sigh. Kneading of temples. “Okay. Let’s try this one: based on your own experience, if he did blame you, he’d have listened to your apology and told you to screw yourself.”
“Not saying that is not the same thing as saying ‘It wasn’t your fault,’” House says tersely. “Which should’ve been easy if he didn’t blame me; you’re saying it like a broken record.”
Wilson ignores that. “Have you tried to talk to him since then?”
“I watched him from the hall. He watched me watch him.”
“And nothing. He stared at me for a while and went to sleep.”
“May I take from that that he wasn’t glaring daggers?” Wilson doesn’t wait for a response. “Did you consider the remote possibility that he doesn’t think you ruined his life? That maybe he’s grateful you diagnosed him in time for him to keep some use of his legs?”
There’s a universe of difference between ‘some use’ and full use. And even incomplete paraplegia at that level means some sexual dysfunction and probable complications with toileting; those are sure to inspire gratitude. So is the pleasure of neuropathic pain, which something like sixty-five percent of SCI patients get to experience.
If lost function hasn't inspired hatred yet, pain will.“He can’t seriously blame you for this,” Wilson says, reading that certainty in his face. “He was the one who went in the room with a scalpel!”
House hadn’t contributed to the incident immediately precipitating the attack. That doesn’t make him guiltless. “A decision he made based on the methods I taught him.”
“Say a teenage boy goes out riding his bike and gets hit by a car,” Wilson snaps, throwing up his hands. “He’s not wearing a helmet; he ends up brain damaged. So do you blame him for that bad decision? No. Do you blame the driver of the car that hit him? No again. You,” he says, pausing for effect, “are the blind idiot who blames his father, who taught him nine years ago how to ride the bicycle!”
House stays silent.
“Blaming yourself won’t help him,” Wilson says quietly. “And out of everyone he knows, you’re the only one with any idea what might.” He replaces his hand over House’s. “Give him some space to start processing this if you think he needs it, but if you’re going to see him, don’t just stand in the hall.”
“He’s going to hate me.”
“Give him a chance not to,” Wilson says, “and see what happens.”
Note: Those interested can read Chase's perspective on all this here.