In Absentia

Princeton, New Jersey
May 20th, 2012

Julie Paulson felt the very act of crossing the threshold to Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital with all of her bodily perceptions scarily enhanced, and that brought chills down her spine and a strange sense of missing air in her lungs and the ground below her soles.

Wow.

She threw a quick glance around the main hall: it was pretty, and she found that unusual for a hospital. Polished, wooden panels covering the walls, flowers decorating the nurse station, nice, relaxingly nuanced paintings hanging all around and glassy sliding doors you could easily get a peek through, to what seemed a walk-in clinic on the left side, and the Dean's rooms on the right.

Julie knew where to go. As much as she has anticipated that moment, she was now completely clueless regarding how to bring about the actual conversation with the actual person.

Hello, doctor House. I'm Julie. I need to talk to you...

She bit her lower lip. That was dull.

Hi, I'm Julie. Can we talk?

No. No, no and fucking no.

It had taken her all day to get herself to where she was. Upon landing in Newark, she had tried her best to waste the day between the transfer from the airport to her friend Amila's campus accommodation in Princeton and a quick tour with her. Of course, she had told Amila what was behind her trip, and her friend had eventually forced her into the hospital before sunset.

"You won't go tomorrow. I know you won't, Julie." She had declared. "It needs to be today or never. I've known you long enough."

And then she had left, disappeared into the breezy atmosphere of a late-spring sunset on her Indian flats, her sari dress waving into the golden dimming light.

The elevator door shifted closed.

Department of Diagnostics - 4th floor

Julie pressed the button. She had almost wished to miss it, go somewhere else before realizing she had lost her way to his office, and then find him gone for the night. But the label read what she was looking for, and that was unmistakable: there was no way of fooling herself into making any mistakes. Upon reaching the fourth floor, she cautiously peeked into the hallway. She didn't want to bump into him before having a chance to calm down, take a breath, have one last bout of second thoughts. It was deserted though, silent and empty. Julie stepped out of the elevator.

Wilson sat down at House's desk. From where he was, he tried to see what House saw every day, the way House saw every day, trying to catch his late friend's perspective, trying to photograph the surroundings exactly as his friend's eyes would photograph them. He tried to engrave those pictures in his mind, knowing that those walls and objects and lights were among the last sights that had encountered House's blue irises as he contemplated the possibility of a last escape, as he envisioned his own final disappearance, his fall into oblivion, before the fire in the warehouse and the definitive, heartbreaking glance the two of them had exchanged. Wilson's sight got teary. He heaved a suffocated sigh, but the ever-present, dull chest pain from the tumor hit him in an angry twinge of unexpected intensity. Coughing tiredly, Wilson screwed his eyes and brought a hand to his mouth.

Let it just be over.

Trying to catch his breath, he got dizzy and nauseous.

Please.

But then, as it came, the stinging pain left, and Wilson was left with a pounding, sudden headache that a good night sleep and a dose of ibuprofen would chase away one more time, who knew for how long still. He sat back, eyes shut, hands entwined upon his forehead, recovering from the scare of one of his first nearly respiratory crises.

"Doctor House?"

Wilson's eyelids blinked open. His eyes focused on a person standing in the doorframe. A thin, curly-haired young woman wearing sandals and a maxi dress with flower prints was shyly waving at him. Her figure was petite, and the freckles on her cheeks and nose sweetened her expression, framing her bright blue eyes. The woman came closer. Her knuckles blanched as she fastened her grip on the tote bag she was holding to her chest with both hands.

"Doctor House? I'm..."

"I'm doctor Wilson." He stood up. "Doctor House is not here, I'm sorry."

Wilson regretted his flat pitch, cold expression almost immediately as the woman's surprised, disappointed stare hit him.

"I'm sorry." She whispered. "Thought it was his office."

Wilson couldn't help but fix his eyes into hers. He then shifted to the shape of her face, her fair hair color and complexion.

"It's six o'clock." He noted. "Kind of unusual for an appointment."

"Yeah..." She escaped eye-contact with him for a brief moment, but then her lips turned upwards in a warm smile as she held out her hand. "I'm Julie Paulson. I just... wanted to see him about something."

Wilson stood in silence. Was it time to break the news yet? Julie went for a sticky note on House's desk and scribbled down a name, email and phone number.

"This is me." She stuck the note to the Phrenology head model sitting on the desk. "Just tell him I'll be back."

This said, she dashed out in a scent of strawberry and shampoo.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

Julie stepped out of the elevator, back into the entrance hall. The sun had eventually set and it was dark and windy outside. She hated the man for not being there, as if he had to know she would come today. All of a sudden, her courage was fading away, possibly, she feared, forever. How could she come back here, risk another goddamn heart attack just to find a sickly guy sitting at his desk with the saddest eyes and the coldest handshake? Julie felt like crying. Since the day her parents had died, almost exactly one year earlier, since she had left Jake in January, she felt she was ready for a good old breakdown. She plopped down tiredly on a bench in the waiting area and screamed into her tote bag, letting out every sigh she had retained for months and weeks. Nobody was there to see her anyway. This wasn't a hospital of the regular kind, with blood and tear and dirt and fussy newborns and yelling mothers and... this was a quiet place. A hospital where nighttime meant quiet and occasional polite elderly women coming in for a stomach ache, occasional polite parents coming in with feverish infants. Nothing scary, no gore, just the immaculate white coat of the on-call physician in charge of the clinic and the few people waiting their turn for a check-up.

"Julie."

She lifted her eyes. The doctor she had just met in House's office was standing in front of her. He wore that immaculate white coat. He was the on-call physician.

"I thought you were here to see doctor House." He whispered.

"I was."

"If you're not feeling well, you found the right place." He smiled. "We have a walk-in clinic, House gets the tough cookies only."

Julie wiped one last tear with the back of her hand.

"No." She smiled back at him. He seemed gentler than before. Actually, she felt reassured by his touch on her shoulder, like everything was not lost. "No, I was just here to see doctor House. I'm not sick..." She took a breath. "I'm his daughter."


Wilson froze.

She's his what.

Julie stood up, trying to get herself together. "I'm Julie, doctor House's daughter."

"I'm James. Wilson." He whispered. "I work here."

Julie giggled, pointing at Wilson's white coat and name tag. "I had my suspicions. Do you know him?"

Wilson's head spun multiple times in search for an anchor point. This time, though, it wasn't most certainly from the cancer. It was utter, complete, pristine surprise.

"Yeah."

Julie turned serious. "Look, I'm sorry I broke the news this way. Just..." She wound a lock of hair around her finger. "This is private... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. Please," she joined her palms. "Please, try to forget I was even here. I'll be back."

This said, she headed for the entrance and disappeared into the dark.

"Julie! Hey..." Wilson ran after her. "Julie!"

Goddammit, House.

He caught her just outside.

"Julie." He called once more, softly this time. She turned back to him.

"You should come back inside." He whispered.

Julie felt her heart beats getting louder and heavier. "What? What's wrong?"

Wilson got closer, slightly out of breath.

"There's..." He swallowed. "There's something I need to tell you."

She sat frozen, nothing was betraying her feelings. Wilson was ready for anything, but at this point he could not imagine how to resolve that predicament in which Julie was showing no feelings whatsoever over the news that her father had just committed suicide.

"I'm sorry." He sat back into his office chair. His almost empty study was crushing him in its emptiness. Everything he had always known was being washed away by the events of the last months. His terminal illness, House's shocking death, his job coming to an end. And now a twenty-something dressed in flowers and sandals claiming she was House's blood, a part of his best friend sitting in front of him, watching his own tragedy unfold before her, perfectly in control of her feelings.

"I'm sorry..." She whispered. "I am so very sorry, doctor Wilson."

"No, Julie..."Wilson shook his head. "You lost your father. You don't need to be sorry for me."

"I lost my father eleven months ago." Julie declared. "His name was Ben Paulson. He was a theatre teacher in college. He died with my mother in a car accident."

"That's terrible." Wilson noted.

"It is. You lost your best friend, I'm sorry for you. I know," She held out a sad smile. "I know it may look like I'm heartless, but I didn't know this man. I can't mourn a stranger."

"That's okay." Wilson dropped the teaspoon in his cup, realizing it had gotten so cold it was actually pointless to keep steering it, or drinking it whatsoever. "I'm just sorry you didn't have a chance to meet him."

Julie's stare was focused on a red, oversized tennis ball sitting on Wilson's desk. "How was he?"

Good question.

Wilson hesitated for a brief moment. "He was a good man, Julie." He declared. "Not in the traditional sense, but he was the most... decent, thoughtful human being that I ever met."

"That's saying something." Julie raised her brows. "I've heard stories about him."

"All true. He was a dick to everyone of us." Wilson couldn't help the smile. "Whenever we were being pussies, lying, omitting. He hated cowardice, he hated rules, he hated lies more than anything."

"That's cool." She noted.

"That's how he couldn't save one single relationship he ever had, except from ours."

"Are you like him then?"

"No. I lie, Julie." Wilson took a deep breath. "A lot. I manipulate. I used to get him to do things I thought would help him improve himself, but that was arrogant of me, and he'd always catch me with my hands dirty in the process."

"You seem like a good person to me."

"He was a good person. I just get by trying to do my best."

"You loved him very much." Julie whispered.

"Yes, Julie. I loved your father a lot."

Julie felt the air all around them become heavier, the atmosphere darker, and sadder. "Doctor Wilson..." She hesitated. "Do you know who Lisa Cuddy is?"

Wilson blinked the thousandth charge of tears away, staring fixedly at Julie he seemed to eventually be able to put together the final pieces of an inner puzzle of his.


"I tracked him down very easily. He's..." Julie giggled. "He was kind of famous, you know. World-renowned diagnostician, easiest to find when I researched his name."

"You did your homework, uh?" Wilson raised his brow. He and Julie sat in his living room, sipping Chianti from crystal stemware. He felt like he had to stay with her for some time, and that it would be cruel to just let her go back into her life without even trying to help her find a meaning in her coming to see her father.

"I did." Julie smiled. "My fiancé... my ex, Jake, he said I was going to ruin my own life embarking in this search, that I needed to recover from my parents' death first."

"Mh. That was... reasonable, I guess." Wilson sat back. "It's obvious you didn't listen."

"I left him."

"Jeez."

"He's not over us, but I just... needed to know. And he couldn't get his mind around it." Julie's eyes saddened. "I miss him. But I can't let him stay with a miserable, unsatisfied do-good-er with the complex of abandonment."

Wilson smiled. "You have no idea how many times I've had this conversation."

"With him?"

"Yeah."

They sat in silence for a while. Julie was comfortable, she felt safe and she realized how much she was enjoying Wilson's company, even though they were touching tough, private and sometimes unpleasant topics of conversation. She didn't feel an inch of embarrassment over talking to him, even though she had known him for just a few hours.

"I also left Jake because I'm moving to India." She suddenly declared.

Wilson couldn't help his surprise. "Wow. Wow. For how long?!"

"I don't know." Julie put the glass back onto the coffee table and propped her knees to her chest. "I'm a lawyer. Graduated last year from Stanford. I specialize in Human Rights and International Law."

"That's impressive." He noted.

"I don't know. I love my job. I won this internship for the UN, Women's Rights section. It's happening."

"Julie." Wilson turned serious to the point the atmosphere in the room got colder and darker.

She furrowed her brows, surprised at the sudden change of tone in the conversation. "What? What is it?"

"What do you know about your birth mother?" He asked, in a whisper.

Julie shook her head. "Nothing, doctor Wilson. She signed for my adoption, she declared who my father was, and that was it. He never signed anything, it's just her word and her name."

"Did you try to find her?"

"Not... not yet." Julie admitted. "With him it was easier. Jake is a doctor and as soon as I told him, he was all over the internet, showing me his publications and stuff." Julie poured some more wine in her glass and sipped it. Wilson realized how graceful she was, and pretty. She didn't look much like either of her parents, except from a few details you had to know she was their child to actually link to them. She was thin, petite and curly-haired like Cuddy, and had House's blue eyes and serious expression. She was very feminine, without even having to underline it she just moved and sounded like she perfectly knew what she wanted at every second of her life, from one more sip of wine to finding out about her birth parents, or moving to the third world to work.

"So you gave up on your mother." Wilson said.

"No..." Julie realized she couldn't hide much from the guy. "I guess I still want to find her."

"And you started with House because it was easier."

"I started with him," Julie whispered. "Because he wasn't the one who put me up for adoption." Her lips trembled but she was able to keep it together. "His resumé says he attended Michigan as a post-grad and he was there in 1986, when I was born."

"Easier than looking up every Lisa Cuddy in the Country." Wilson noted.

"Yes." Julie hesitated before asking the question that was burning her lips to leak out. "Do you think he knew about me, doctor Wilson?" She asked, choking the stem glass with her fingers.

Wilson didn't have to think twice. "Not at all, Julie. I think he had no idea."

"Okay." She seemed relieved. "It sucks enough that she gave me up."

"Julie..." Wilson took her hand. "Julie, there's something you need to know."

"A night full of surprises." She replied, sarcastically.

Wilson ignored her remark. "Your mother."

"You know her." She whispered.

"I do. She's..." Wilson had to massage his chest to stop the subtle sense of suffocation he was starting to feel. He coughed heavily into his handkerchief, trying to ignore the blood stains on it.

"Hey." Julie got up and flushed Wilson's wine away in the sink, then poured tap water into his glass. She came back to the couch and sat beside him, holding the the glass for him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." He panted as he took the glass from Julie's hands. "It's nothing."

"Doesn't seem nothing to me." She sat back as he stood up to get something from the cupboard. When she caught a sight of the shelves inside, Julie saw they were filled with medication. Yellow pill bottles, stacks of tablet blisters, liquids in brown jars that seemed to contain herbal substances, and a few syringes still in their plastic sterile packages.

"You run a pharmacy in here, uh?"

"I've terminal cancer."

Julie froze.

"Oh my god. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. I'm so sorry, doctor Wilson." She stood up. "I won't bother you anymore, I'm going home. I've a plane to catch early tomorrow." She grabbed her tote and went for the door.

"Julie." Wilson swallowed his last pill for the night and reached for her on the door step. His smile was warm and sincere and caught her by utter surprise, once again this man was annihilating her awkwardness. "Julie, please. I'm okay. Come back inside. Tonight needs to be about you."

"I didn't know you were sick."

"I wasn't going to tell you. But I can't hide it much at this point."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm okay. I told you it's fine. I was about to tell you," Wilson took Julie by the hand, closed the door and led her to the couch, where he sat beside her. "I was about to tell you that I've known your mom for a long time."

She lowered her stare, trying to get her mind around those words. She had come for a person and found two.

"She's here too." She whispered.

"No. Not anymore." Wilson took a deep breath. The meds were working and he could finally have a refill of air to his lungs. "Lisa Cuddy used to be Dean of Medicine at PPTH. She and House worked together for a long time."

Julie's head was spinning. Her mother wasn't an elusive signature on a paper sheet anymore. She was real. She recalled seeing the Dean's room earlier in the hospital. Her mother had worked there for years while she was growing up in another place, with another family. Her mother and her father had worked side by side with Julie's life being a secret they never shared, a load of some sort that her mother had decided to carry alone.

"Cuddy and House..." Wilson didn't quite know where and how to start. "Your mom and your dad... they loved each other very much."

"She never told him I existed." Julie noted flatly.

"I don't know why she did that." Wilson shook his head. "Honestly, Julie... if there's something your mom must have told no one, it's that she had a child while in college."

"But she didn't even tell him." Julie's eyes filled with tears. "What if he wanted to be there?"

"Your parents were very much in love, Julie. But life got between them too many times."

"What's that even supposed to mean?" She asked, sarcastically. "My adoptive parents loved each other, and lived their lives together, not apart."

"I'm just saying..." Wilson was trying to make it sound like it made sense. But today he was starting to doubt that anything in House and Cuddy's relationship had ever done so. "A few very... grave things happened between them."

"And I was one."

"No. No, Julie." Wilson smiled. "This hasn't much to do with you."

"She has kept a secret from him for twenty-seven years, doctor Wilson."

"I know. But I can see why she did that."

"Can you."

"Yes. She was eighteen, Julie. In early 1986 he was expelled from medical school and they never got a chance to meet again until well after your birth."

"But she didn't even tell him I existed." Julie whispered. "How can you see someone every day and keep such thing a secret?"

"It must have been hard for her to bring it up again after so long."

"..."

"Julie, there's something I want to ask you." Wilson sat up, hands joined and elbows pointed to his thighs. "Did you love your adoptive parents?"

Julie's eyes got glassy. A tear rolled down her cheek. "A lot." She replied, throatily.

"Were they a good family to you?"

"Yes. Yes, they were. They loved me very much."

"Okay." Wilson nodded. "Then, please, try to picture your eighteen year-old mom, expecting a child with some guy ten years older, someone she didn't know she'd meet again, be with."

"This is not an excuse for lying."

"No, it isn't. You're absolutely right." Wilson agreed gently. "But she was just young, and she must have figured you'd have a better life with a real family. Which is what happened."

"I know. I don't blame her for that." Julie whispered. "No, I do. I do blame her. But I see your point."

"Their next encounter was much later. When you were ten, House was hired at PPTH, where your mom was completing her residency."

"Wow."

"She was great, Julie. She is great." Wilson smiled. "She became a fellow a year later. Her life has never been easy, and I see much of what she did under a different light, now that I know about you."

"So they met again in, like, 1996?"

"Yes. Four years after, he was fired." Wilson shook his head. "He'd make no deals, he'd break every rule he stumbled upon. The Board couldn't handle him." He smiled. "Then, your mom became Dean."

"Wow."

"She was 32, just in on the position: second youngest ever, first woman."

"And she rehired him?" Julie asked.

"She's always had a soft spot for him, and went out on a limb to get him to work for her. He was a difficult child." Wilson joked. "The Board wasn't very happy about having him run wild and free, this time as a tenured Head of Department."

"But he was a genius."

"Yes, that he was for sure. And Cuddy got him hired and tenured and running wild and free and all that stuff."

"She went against the board?!" Julie was really into the story at this point. It wasn't even sad or frustrating anymore. She was starting to feel like the void she had felt her whole life was starting to fill up with information.

"She did. And she won them over with the incredible rate at which your father saved lives." Wilson stood up to put the tea kettle on. "Gregory House saved lives."

"You're gonna put that in the eulogy."

"Yes, I think I am."

Julie stood too and went for the kitchen table, against which she leaned back, casually. It was so easy to talk to this man, to share her doubts and thoughts and questions.

"Are you angry that he left you just now?" She asked.

Wilson didn't answer immediately, but she could see his shoulders get heavier, the back of his head lower down a bit. He leaned against the sink, sustaining his weight with both hands.

"Yes." He whispered, without turning back to her.

Julie went closer and put her palm on Wilson's shoulder, knowing there was nothing more she wanted to get from him if it meant he had to suffer like that through every word.

"Thank you, doctor Wilson." She gently got him to turn to her and hugged him for a few, intense seconds during which Wilson felt his loneliness a bit lighter, its weight lifted for a fraction of time.

He kissed her on the forehead.

"Good luck, Julie. Be brave."

"You too." Julie smiled.

Then, she walked out in the chilly night.


a/n – So. I've had this plot bunny in need for a home for, like, EVER. I still feel it's a silly idea and that I'm making a fool of myself writing it. But I needed to get this out and I am really, really trying to make it sound plausible and not too crazy or overly sentimental or anything. I just liked the idea of a "what if" in which Cuddy and House's nighter has more consequences that it actually had in canon. Feel free to read and review, there will be a second part to this and it'll be all there's going to be. Thank you for the love!

TIMELINE:

Cuddy - She's born in 1968 according to House MD Wikia, so in 1986 she is 18, attending pre-med at U-Michigan. More sources: episode where Cuddy tells Cameron "I was an undergrad, he was already a legend."

House - Born in 1959, he's 25 in his last year of med school at Johns Hopkins from which he is expelled and goes to U-M on a provisional basis, waiting to know if he can be readmitted or not. He's not readmitted. Source: House MD Wikia. Known Unknowns.

Julie - Born in September-ish 1986.

1996: House meets Cuddy again when he goes to work at PPTH, about ten years prior to his infarct (source: Vogler arc).

1999: House is fired from PPTH (Vogler arc).

2000: leg accident. Stacy leaves House.
Cuddy, now Dean at 32 (Detox, Autopsy) rehires him.

2004: series starts.

2011: Cuddy leaves.

2012: Wilson dies. Series ends. Part 1 of story.

2013: time of narration of part 2.

- Cuddy/House age gap: in Under My Skin, House's hallucinates Cuddy telling him she just audited the class of Endocrinology he was attending, to be with him. This makes sense because she was an undergrad and he was in med school, so she could only audit the class and not get grades. That must have been freshman year for her, when she met him at the bookstore (Known Unknowns) and tracked him down to the class (KnUnkn, UMS) and then the party and the night together happened.

I'm going to stick with this timeline because it's in the actual episodes and it makes sense.