I'm lost for words that this child of yours is actually a very sane, balanced adult and not some screwed-up hippie didgeridoo-blower of sorts. Julie is great and her adoptive parents did a good job silencing that stupid genetics of yours... and Cuddy's. She's moving to India to do U.N. work, and you're not going to be her dad anyway because she's 27 and has a life of her own. So I beg you, be gentle. Be honest with her. I know you're probably too shocked at this point, but don't hate on Cuddy for keeping Julie a secret. She was probably a scared 18 year-old, and you disappeared from her for years to come. Please, find her. Help Julie. She needs to know who she is.
And, House... If you can, help yourself. I don't know how this whole matter is going to unfold, but please, don't waste a chance for change. And forgive my silence all these months. I heard you cry from time to time when you thought I was sleeping. It's still better than overdosing Vicodin or slitting your wrists, and I know you'd never do that while I'm still here. But I see your despair, and I am utterly sorry to cause such pain to you, and this hurts me more than my own physical ailment. I don't want to die, and this is about my own, human fear of the unknown. But beside my fear of death, I suffer to see you like this, to see the sadness that my dying is causing you, the fear and the brave face you put up. I once asked you to tell me that you loved me, but I already knew you do. And this time is for me to tell you that I love you more than any person in my life, and it breaks my heart that I'm gonna leave you like this. I couldn't add any emotional burden to these few months we've had by bringing up such a delicate matter as Julie's existence. And although not being brave enough to tell you is shameful of me, I didn't want to mention Julie just to have her come here before I went. She'd never have been the center of the picture, like she should be.
Thank you for being my friend. I love you.
House folded up the printed paper sheet in what seemed like an eternity. Holding it with both hands, his cane laid against the doorframe, he couldn't help his own appalled expression: eyes fixed into the young woman standing soaked under the rainfall, he had to control the shaking of his fingers as he grasped the handle of his cane in a choke-hold. Without saying a word, he stood back to let her into the cabin.
Julie moved a step inside, uncertain whether her own feelings were going to burst out in some unexpected reaction or boil up inside her, hidden to the man that was now gently closing the door to what seemed to her like a very stylish, cozy refuge from the apocalyptic pour that was battering the fields and that village to which she had driven for hours, rehearsing the upcoming conversation in a way that she had forgotten the moment she had knocked on the wooden door.
"He gave this to you."
Julie jolted at House's words. He turned to her, not a smile curving his lips, not the shadow of a feeling coming from his eyes and body language. House was standing there, leaned against that cane of his – she wondered what was with it –, his free arm holding out Wilson's letter, and the flat pitch of his question lingering on between them.
"He..." Julie swallowed. "Yes. He emailed me... a year ago. I think... I think he died shortly after."
"He did." House replied throatily.
"I know. I was at the funeral." She whispered.
"You...?" House gestured vaguely. "In Princeton?"
"Yeah." Julie smiled. "It was lovely. He was loved."
"He was." House lowered his stare. They stood in silence. Julie felt the nails of her right hand clutching the palm of her left, in a strange mixture of numbness and pain.
"Look... I, uh." She bit her lower lip. "I can go if you want. I just had to give you the letter. I'm sorry if this wasn't the right time."
"It is never the right time." House replied. "Wilson is dead. No time is the right time. Ever."
"I'm sorry." Julie grabbed her umbrella and cracked the door open. "Take care."
That said, she walked out in the rain. House stood frozen, incapable of collecting meaningful thoughts as to why someone claiming to be his child had been able to cross that threshold, and give him something from his own late best friend, a letter mentioning things they had never even remotely discussed, events that he had ignored all his life that involved someone he hadn't seen or talked to or even heard of in two years, but whom he had known and worked with for twenty, without her ever mentioning that this person existed somewhere in the world and that she was their blood. And of all people alive on Earth, even in death Wilson had managed to manipulate his life into something he had felt was going to help him cope.
For god's sake, Wilson.
The door busted open.
"You know what, actually?" Julie was standing on the doorstep once again, this time without even bothering with an umbrella. "I dumped my fiancé to find you, you know?" She declared. "I went to fucking India for one year, knowing that you were fucking dead. Your friend cried for you. I left him dying and grieving and now you're here and he's not, and you owe him," She swallowed her tears. "If not for me, you owe him to bother with me for five minutes of your life, because I'm the one who was given up for adoption, and you didn't know about me,"
"...And you didn't know about me and it's okay to be upset," She joined her hands "but please, please please don't..." Julie lowered her stare. "Do not ignore me. Please."
They stood there, stares fixed into each other's, for a few seconds. By the time House had invited her in again, Julie knew already that things were going to be different this time around. She felt reassured by House's eye-contact, and this time all she could read in his expression was some sort of fragility and the the scars of a long-lasting grieving process that she knew wasn't really over for him.
The two of them found themselves standing in the cabin once again, but this time something was telling Julie that there was going to be an actual conversation.
"So what's with this India thing"
"What's with the cane"
House giggled, a light blow of air coming out his nostrils in amusement.
"Bad choices." He snarked.
"Me too." Julie replied.
"Did she name you Julie?"
"Her sister's name's Julia. That's... creative."
"Yeah..." Julie shrugged.
"I like it."
She saw the first shadow of a genuine smile forming on House's lips.
One year earlier
The phone rang. The Dean dropped his pen and grabbed the receiver.
"House? Is that you?"
Foreman knew instantly.
"I just woke up, found him. Think he just... let go. Respiratory arrest. I was asleep."
"Are you okay?"
Foreman rubbed his chin with his free hand. He was expecting the news any day now, but somehow the actual moment tasted bitterer, dryer.
"House, you're not thinking this is your fault, are you?" He asked.
"I don't know."
"Because... It's not." Foreman stood up and walked up to the window. It was a beautiful, sunny day outside, breezy enough for a few golden leaves to whirl about in the air.
On the other end, no sound came.
"House. 'You still there?"
"Yeah. I'm here."
"Good. Look, I need to know that you're going to be okay." He paused. "Are you?"
"I think so."
"I'll send someone over to pick him up. How's the clinic going?"
"Closed for the day." House whispered.
"Just make sure everyone is okay."
"They have my number."
"Okay then... I guess..." Foreman had focused on some invisible point beyond the trees he could see from his window. "I am so very sorry, House."
Then, House hung up, leaving Foreman standing there, feeling the carpeted floor below his soles getting colder and harder, and Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital getting a bit lonelier, a bit sadder than it had ever been. It didn't take him too long to make his decision. He felt like going behind House's back with it, but in a good way. In a way that was going to give him a choice.
"Are you fu... are you kidding me?!" Chase was facing Foreman, arms spread, eyes popped out, shaking his head in disbelief. "How the hell did he manage that?"
"He tampered with evidence. Switched the dental records and a couple labels here and there."
"He's going to jail." Chase whispered. "After all he's done, this is gonna destroy him."
"How? And..." Chase was now pacing the room. "Why the hell haven't you told me?"
"He trusted me with it. I..." Foreman sat down tiredly. "I had records of his last patient, the drug addict. After the funeral, I learned that he was alive. And."
"I went back to the coroner's office."
"And you told him you made a mistake?" Chase raised his brow. "I'm wondering how you pulled that."
"I didn't exactly..." Foreman paused. At this point, making Chase apart of his secret was going to bring him down with him in case things went south. But he knew they wouldn't. Not now, not anymore. "I broke into the coroner's office."
"Jesus, Foreman. Jesus." Chase turned back to him, hands on his hips. "I... I can't... are you out of your mind? You're in charge of this place. You're not House."
"No, you're right. I'm not. But I care about him."
Chase shook his head, resigned. "I'm not sure I wanna hear the rest. Better keep a cyanide pill ready in case we get arrested."
"You're going to want to hear it. Because I switched the records back before they got issued to the city hall."
"I can't fucking believe that." Chase whispered.
Foreman felt a rush of warmth to his hands and cheeks as he was finally, liberatingly making another living soul apart of what he had done.
"You remember I went to the coroner after the fire... With Wilson. And we got the dental records and I saw... I was the one who officially recognized the body. Even though...well." Foreman hesitated. "I had the death certificate in my office for counter-signature. Once I learned the truth, it took a minute to scan the paper and make a modified copy. With the right name on it. And sign it."
"And give it to the coroner."
"Exactly. I switched back the dental records and then came back to him and offered to take the paperwork to the funeral home so they could do what they had to with it."
"And the funeral home issued the whole thing to the city hall..."
"...And the city hall registered the death of House's patient, instead of House's. It was a matter of hours."
"I saved his life."
"The irony." Chase plopped down on the couch and tied his head back. "It's kind of amazing though. That he's pulled such an epic prank on all of us. Except you."
"Guess he was worried I'd kill myself with guilt."
"You'd never appreciate the beauty of such evil ideas. You'd rather know the truth and be alone with your secret, than have a good laugh later."
"He's alive, Chase. And he's all by himself. What would he do if he had no bank account, no ID, passport, name? Just to get five months with a dying friend."
"I wouldn't say just."
"But that's what it was. An insane idea. He got lucky that I have criminal records."
"Whatever. I tampered with the papers and made it right. And he can still practice medicine. Be House."
"That's..." Chase smiled. "Lovely. What you did for him."
"I know. I owe him. We all do."
"Yeah. We do."
"So, he saved your life." Julie smiled. "You seem to have good friends after all."
"I'm not sure I deserve them." House whispered.
"Come on. Self-pity doesn't suit you." Julie declared.
"How would you know."
"Because..." She stood up from the couch and went to get the kettle off the fire. She poured boiling water into two red mugs and brought them to the coffee table. House eyed them suspiciously.
"What's that." He interrupted her.
"It's tea. You need to get off coffee for a while." She dropped a sugar cube into her cup. "You're not solving puzzles anymore. And I would know because I've been here three days and you haven't mentioned your leg once. That's how I know."
"You look more and more like Wilson. 'You sure Cuddy didn't..." He gestured vaguely. "After all they've always gotten along pretty well."
"Shut up." She laughed. "You're the guy. Wilson was cute, but it'd make me extremely unfortunate to have two dead fathers." Her eyes saddened.
"I'm sorry I mentioned that."
"So how was he? Your dad." House felt the words leaking off his lips before he could even think about how and if he really wanted to hear the answer. After all, was that any of his business, when he had been unaware of the mere existence of this person until three days earlier? Julie sat back, holding the cup with both hands.
"He was a theatre teacher in college and a computer guy in his spare time. People brought their hardware in to get fixed in our basement. He could fix anything."
House sat through Julie's story in silence.
"My mother worked for the Department of Defense. She was an engineer, had top clearance with many projects... it eventually hit them as a couple..." Julie flipped her hair. "...that she had such an absorbing career. They were separated for a while." She put the cup back onto the table. "Until she got diagnosed with breast cancer. She tried to fight it alone because that's who she was, but then she couldn't keep it from him, and they got back together, and she was cured. Andrew was in third grade or something."
"Theology major in college, UC Berkeley. He's their birth son. I'm helping him through fees and stuff. This India job pays for that, and I get to save too."
"You seem like a good person."
Julie burst out laughing. "No." She got serious again, all of a sudden. "No. I'm not. I'm fearful. And cowardly. And I have a tendency for running away from... whatever good comes to my life."
"It doesn't look like that." House smiled.
"That's... because I don't want to look like a loser. To you."
"Everybody lies. Doesn't make you any different from the rest of humanity."
"So you think men are liars."
"Yes, I do."
"It's true. I don't give it a nuance of morality or anything. It's a matter of fact."
"I was engaged to be married when my parents died in the car crash. A couple months after their funeral, my fiancé told me he wanted to tie the knot as soon as possible. Before I left for India."
"And you stabbed him with the engagement ring."
"I told him I wanted to find my birth parents first. And he helped me with that. He found you."
"He's a doctor. He was familiar with your scientific work, so when I mentioned your name and my birthplace in Michigan he was one-hundred percent sure it was you. The registry officer at the university ran a search based on your name for the years previous and subsequent to my birth, and only one result showed. You. It said you transferred in 1986. The year I was born."
"You framed me." He joked. "So what happened to the guy? I see no ring on your finger."
"I dumped him."
"He insisted I took some time off work, focused on our relationship, organize the wedding then go to India. He said he'd wait for me for however long I said I'd stay in Bombay, that there was nobody else he'd wanna be with, that I had to follow my dreams. Stuff like that."
"It's clear to me that he was such an oppressive husband-to-be. Better be safe than sorry."
Julie laughed. "You make it seem like I was a bitch to him."
"He said that my search for you and my mother was going to destroy me. He said you two didn't matter to my life." Her eyes saddened. House peered at her through his crystalline blue stare.
"Do we, Julie?" He asked.
"I..." Her lips trembled. "I don't know. I guess I just wanted to know. I... I think it was just that. But it was so overwhelming. I needed to know."
"And now it doesn't make that much of a difference."
"Yes." She whispered. "Oh god, I'm so sorry..." She brought both hands to her forehead, raising her stare up to the wooden ceiling. "That was kind of awful to say."
"Truth is awful."
"Don't be. We've been strangers for 27 years. And... I know what it's like."
"To need... to know." House sat back. "I suck at leaving stuff alone. It's made me a truth junkie and pretty much socially challenged. People hate me because I can't lie."
"Wilson loved you. That Foreman guy likes you to say the least. He lied to the police because of you. And the line of people waiting at your clinic... they all seem to look forward to seeing you."
"I'm not sure I deserve any of that. I did things. Things I'm not proud of."
"I did drugs. All my life since..." He unwillingly lowered his stare to his right leg and the cane resting beside it. "Since this happened."
"What happened?" Julie whispered.
"I love you..." Stacy whispered to his ear. But House was drifting away already, off to a journey in the realm of unconsciousness, farther and farther from the pain as the seconds went by. Stacy took his hand in hers and cried into their intertwined fists for endless minutes. Was it right to wish for something he did not want, to be that selfish? He would have despised her forever if she had forced the surgery on him: amputation wasn't clearly going to be a viable choice. Not for him. And so she had agreed to let him do as he wished, to let him slip into a coma to try and survive the acute phase of the pain. Though, what could she have done differently? Was anything really in her power? How selfish was he being, in sticking with the most mindless choice he could ever make, one that he would never advise any of his patients on? Despite knowing she was going to be with him every step of the way, nevertheless he wanted to make those steps harder for both of them. Stacy realized how much she loved House and how deeply she hated him for being stubborn over something that was going to affect her life as well as his. She wondered if he was really capable of the selflessness demanded by true love, and the only answer she managed to give to herself was that he wasn't, that he would jump off a cliff rather than admitting to his own denial that he was going to ruin his own life.
Stacy turned back.
Cuddy walked in. The room was dark and she could smell despair and medicine in a deadly mixture. She felt hopeless for the two of them. House was being an idiot and never she would have advised any patient of hers on such a course of treatment. But what did she really know? He could be one step ahead of all of them, like he had always been one step ahead of everyone, like he would always be. Three years they had worked together before he was fired for being that one dangerous step ahead of any doctor in the department.
House is always right.
Cuddy couldn't keep her inner voice silent.
House must know.
Though this time she knew he wasn't, or that no one could foresee that he was. Not even him. Not this time, because he was the patient and she was his attending. Of all things she had wanted to be for him in the years they had known each other, she was now his doctor. The one she would never want to be. She felt like his enemy in a race or a challenge of sorts that they had engaged in, that of being right. If he was right, he'd wake up healed. If he wasn't, he'd wake up in the same insufferable pain he was in before the coma. Although that couldn't be.
It can't be. This can't possibly work.
Not this time. For once in a decade of epiphanies, House wasn't going to save this one life. Cuddy could almost feel the sharp and cold thrill of betrayal filing through her bones. She was going against him, behind him. One second time in their lives she had lied to him, she had omitted... She tried to force the image of a blue-eyed newborn out of her mind, her own fear in holding the baby, the instant realization that this would be her own thing, her own little tragedy. Back into another, sadder hospital room fourteen years later, Cuddy knew was going to act on a hunch against another hunch. She was going to be right. She had to.
Stacy walked up to her. In their exchange of looks, they knew they were in it together. And they saw the love they both had for him.
"The middle ground you were talking about? Give me the forms you need signed."
Cuddy nodded. "You're saving his life."
"He won't see it that way."
"No, he won't."
"She's never ceased feeling guilty." House whispered.
"But it wasn't her fault, was it?" Julie asked.
"It wasn't. I got reperfusion injury: sometimes..." House swallowed a lump of unwanted pain. "Sometimes the tissue gets damaged in the process of repairing itself. It happens because blood... it can be toxic to certain cells. And destroy them." He exhaled. "Your mom chunked up a piece of muscle the size of my fist, and then my own blood poisoned the hole in my leg. I got chronic pain from the surgery."
"You got addicted to painkillers."
"I did." House admitted. "And I screwed up my life."
"You saved a lot of lives though."
"Then." Julie smiled. "Then I think you didn't screw up anything. You're worth more than your mistakes. We all are."
"I don't know." House rubbed his scar. "I sure treated someone worse than they deserved."
"Like Wilson. So many times. And your mother."
"Wilson didn't seem like a victim to me." She declared. "If they stayed, it means they liked having you around."
They sat in silence for a while.
"I love her." House whispered.
Julie raised her stare up from the tea cup to him. "Who."
"Cuddy. I love her. I screwed up because I thought she was gonna die."
"I'm not sure I'm following."
The hills darkened, and a full moon rose to watch the windows lighting up. For the first time in a long period of silence, House felt like his soul was getting lighter and that this woman sitting in front of him was after all going to be his friend. Once again, he began to talk. And his life flowing like that, word after word in a stream of eventual, relieving consciousness, wasn't causing him any shame, and any frowning in Julie. He realized that empathy and rationality and tolerance could live in the soul of someone that was his own blood, and that his lifelong fear of being judged, his awareness that so many in his life had seemed to judge him, were after all probably just human, natural concerns. And that he wasn't any different or any worse than anyone else. Julie sat through House and Cuddy's story with a pillow propped up to her chest. When House got to the last time he had seen Cuddy, in court the day of the hearing when he had plead guilty, she knew that some of her unanswered questions were now going to be folded up and put aside like winter quilts at the first breeze of spring. Imperfection and error and awful truths didn't hurt after all like death hurts, because compared to it no mistake in life can stay unforgiven if it means the delay of a goodbye. She saw that in House's eyes when she caught him eyeing at a picture of Wilson and him that was hanged to the wall behind the couch she was sitting in. She knew herself what missing someone meant. She felt a connection to House, something deeper than the possibility of a friendship. She respected him and she could see through him because – she found – they were more similar due to nature than different due to nurture. And that was okay. It was mind-blowing and okay. It was real and it didn't – it couldn't – take away any of the pain they had suffered in both their lives. But it was fresh and new and comforting, and Julie knew she was going to be fine after all, that she was going to call Jake and tell him they were going to be fine if he still wanted, and go to India and keep messing up and living through it.
House sat back.
"So. That's it." He declared. "I know it kind of sucks."
"You learn fast."
One month later.
"So this is the place." Julie whispered.
"Looks like it." House limped to the mailbox. Leaning against it, eyes screwed in the sun, he casually glanced at the large bow-window facing the front yard. "It's just like her Princeton home. Talk of moving on."
Julie locked the car doors and dropped the remote in her purse. Hands on her hips, she stood there, peering at House. "No one ever moves on." She declared. House turned back to her.
"You think so?"
"I don't know. I..." She smiled. "I just don't think we ever forget. Anything. It just gets easier."
She crossed the street and stood beside House, facing Cuddy's window. She placed a hand on his shoulder.
"It will get easier. I promise it will."
"I don't want her to hate me. And... I don't want to forget Wilson."
"She has a right to. But she won't. And... You won't."
"What you said..." He turned to her, eyes fixed into hers. "I'm afraid to let go."
"You have to. She changed you. And Wilson did."
"People don't change, Julie."
She tilted her head back, staring into the sky. "They just don't know they do."
They stood in silence for a while. Then, they walked up to the door and rang the bell.
Cuddy stood from the kitchen table at the ring of her doorbell. She had been waiting for days. She had cried a lot, cringed a lot, hated House a lot... Loved House a lot. Longed for seeing her first born, hearing about the life she had, knowing about the woman she had become. Though she feared Julie would hate her, she wished to whatever she held dear that she wouldn't. She made a mental note to call Foreman, reassure him House and Julie were eventually there.
Wilson's third letter lay on the table, half-worn and wrinkled after many reads.