Sometimes I feel like I just write the same story over and over again, with only the tiniest details changed. This is one of those times. Anyway, this is basically going to be a bizarro version of the end of Season 8, but with Cuddy in the picture. Any resemblance to 87 Letters is, well, unavoidable. Not sure how many chapters it's going to be. I have some ideas going to forward, but haven't quite mapped out the whole thing yet. (I know. Inspires confidence, huh?)

My apologies for the appearance of Dominika. I understand she's a dealbreaker for some of you. Just remember, in my fics she's a harmless simpleton and a sign of how low House has sunk.

"We don't need to order the twice-baked potato and the mashed potatoes," House grumbled.

Dominika, who loved all things American, had become particularly enamored of steak houses. She couldn't get over how huge the portions were.

"In Ukraine, this would feed whole family," she would often say, her eyes widening as her steak arrived.

But when it came to ordering, she showed little restraint. House tried to explain the steak house ethos.

"They gouge you by making everything a la carte," he said.

"What is a la carte?" Dominika said, wrinkling her nose.

"French for expensive," House said.

"But pleeeeeease, Doctor Greg! I want it all!"

House rolled his eyes, shrugged at the waiter, as if to say, "Let her order whatever the hell she wants" and began idly scanning the restaurant, looking for ways to distract himself. (Dominika was many things—a good conversationalist was not one of them.)

His eyes set on a group of well-heeled men sitting around a table with a younger woman. The woman had her back to House, but he could tell just by the way the men were leaning toward her, grinning stupidly, their tongues practically hanging out of their mouths, that she was beautiful. Men were so predictable.

And then the woman at the table laughed. And Dr. Gregory House turned white.

"Doctor Greg, you look like you just saw a ghost," Dominika said to him.

He looked up at her, swallowed hard, threw his napkin on his empty plate.

"We're leaving," he said quietly. "Let's get the check."

"The check? But Doctor Greg, our steak hasn't arrived yet. I haven't had the potato that is cooked two times."

"Tell them to put it in a doggy bag," House hissed. He handed Dominika his credit card. "I'll meet you in the car."

And he left the restaurant as though he was fleeing the scene of a crime.

In the empty car, he said outloud: "Get a hold of yourself, House."

But he was completely rattled.

What the hell was she doing in Princeton?

Who were those men?

How could he have possibly, for a second, not recognized her, even from behind? He had memorized every inch of her body a thousand times over.

He was losing it.

Dominika got in the car, holding an enormous bag of food, looking concerned.

"Are you sick?" she said, going to feel his forehead.

"I'm fine," he said, violently shaking her off.

"Then why did we have to leave?"

"I was suffocating from the stench of pretension," he said.

She began to pout.

"You never take me out for nice American meal," she said.

He gunned the engine, peeled out of the parking lot.

"You do realize that I'm not really your husband, right?" he growled. "This is all for pretend so you don't have to go back to the Ukraine and I don't have to go back to jail."

"Why are you yelling at me?" she said. "Why are you always so mean to Dominika?"

And she started to cry.

"Oh Christ," House said under his breath.

He was in a hell of his own creation.


After Dominika went to bed, he grabbed a bottle of scotch, sat in his favorite chair and called Wilson.

"Did you know about this?" he demanded.

"About what?" Wilson said, groggily.

"You know."

"House, it's 1 am and you just woke me up from a particularly good dream. Nurse Tiffany was involved. Whatever it is, we can talk about it tomorr—"

"What's Cuddy doing in Princeton?" House said.

He could hear a shift on the other end, as Wilson sat up in bed.

"Oh," Wilson said.

"Oh," House echoed.

"How did you even. . . "

"I saw her at The Prime Cut. That's besides the point. Wilson, what the hell is Lisa Cuddy doing in New Jersey?"

A pause.

Then, finally: "She's in talks for a job at the hospital."

"What job? Foreman has her old job. There is no job." He felt a little frantic.

"A new position: CEO. She would oversee both the medical departments and the administrative ones and serve as a liaison to the board. Basically, ever since the hospital opened the new wing, there's been a feeling that we needed more seasoned leadership. . . They want her back, House."

House took a gulp of his scotch.

"How long have you known about this?"

"She called me a few weeks ago. Told me when the talks were beginning."

"And when were you planning on letting me know?"

"I didn't think there was any point in agitating you until she accepted the job. . . Tonight, that meal you witnessed at the Prime Cut? That was her final meeting with the board."


"She accepted, House," Wilson said, in an unnaturally calm voice, as though he was talking to someone standing on the edge of a cliff. "She's moving back to Princeton."

House slumped back into his seat. He went to pour more scotch in his glass, but found that his hand was shaking too much. He took a swig from the bottle instead.

"What does this mean?" he said.

"It means that she's done running away from her problems. She wants to come home."

"Does it mean she's . . . forgiven me?"

Wilson hesitated. Sighed.

"I don't think she's ever going to forgive you, House."

She started two weeks later. They gave her gorgeous new office, in the new wing, and there were rumors of a seven-figure salary.

It was, by all measures, a triumphant return.

House knew he had to take the bull by the horns and go see her.

He strategized his approach:




Impossibly suave and nonchalant?

He was still mulling over his best option when he felt a presence in his office. He looked up. She had beaten him to the punch.

"Hello, House," Cuddy said.

His mouth went dry.

She looked better than ever—if that was even possible. Her hair was a little longer, it hung on her shoulders in loose waves. She was wearing a form-fitting pinstriped business suit. He had never known a woman who could combine power and sex appeal like Dr. Lisa Cuddy.

"H. . .hi," he managed to choke out. (Nearly mute had not been one of his options. But she had blindsided him.)

"I'm sorry to just show up in your office unannounced," she said, as though reading his thoughts. "But we need to talk."

"Have a seat," he said, gesturing to the chair.

"This won't take long," she said, not sitting.

And in that very moment he knew: She wasn't going to forgive him. This wasn't a thawing, any kind of détente. She hated him. Seeing him right now was a formality, something she had to swallow, like medicine.

"I guess you heard that I've taken over as CEO," she said.

"You're the talk of the hospital," House said. "Congrats."

"I just want you to know that our interaction will be at an absolute minimum. I'm in the new wing, no doctors report to me directly except for Foreman. You'll never have to see me. Nothing has to change."

"Okay," he said.

"I'm sorry if my presence makes you uncomfortable," Cuddy said.

"It doesn't," he lied.

"This was just too great an opportunity for me to turn down."
"I completely understand."
"If you don't like it, you can leave," she said, jutting out her jaw a bit.

He wondered if she had practiced her speech. Wondered if she had settled on cool and defiant.

"I'm happy for you," he said.


"How are you?" he said, lamely.

"I'm fine," she said, turning to leave. "That's all I had to say, House. Have a nice day."


At the end of the day, he went by Wilson's office.

"Wanna get shit-faced?" he said.

"Tempting, but I can't," Wilson said. "I….have a date."
House frowned at him.

"No, you don't."

"I'm pretty sure I know when I have a date."

"I know you don't have a date because you don't have on that horrible aftershave you douse yourself with when you have a date. And you're not wearing your lucky date socks."

Wilson looked down at his feet.

"These socks have always brought me extraordinary luck," he said.

"What are you really doing tonight?" House said, folding his arms.

Wilson sighed.

"If you must know, a bunch of us are going out with Cuddy, celebrating her return to the hospital. I didn't want to tell you because—"

"I'm not on the guest list."


"I can handle it, Wilson. Cuddy is back. People are going to see her, talk about her. You're going to see her. I'm fine with that."

"Are you?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"I guess not." He looked up cautiously at his friend. "Have you seen her yet?"

"She came by my office."

"Bold move."



"I believe the expression is colder than a witch's tit."

"You were expecting hugs and balloons?"

"Nope. I thought maybe we could manage 5 minutes of small talk. A kind of, 'How was St. Louis? Fine. How was prison? Sucked.' sort of deal. But no. She could barely stand to be in the same room with me."

"I'm sorry, House," Wilson said.

(Not, "she'll come around, House" or "give her time, House." Wilson thought the situation was as bleak as he did.)

"It was Cuddy but it wasn't, you know? It was like talking to a stranger," House said, almost to himself. "How did I fuck things up so badly?"

"It's your special skill, House."


Cuddy was right. They were able to complete avoid each other. House never went to the new wing (it even had its own separate cafeteria) and Cuddy rarely came to the main part of the hospital.

There was a time when he might've stalked her, hacked into her computer, found reasons to "accidentally" bump into her in the new wing—but there was no point. He knew that now. And if there was one last decent thing he could do for her—one tiny way to make amends—it was leave her alone. She deserved that much.

So as not to appear too desperate, he didn't grill Wilson—or Chase or Foreman for that matter—for details on her life, but he picked up bits and pieces.

She had been successful in St. Louis—a department head; the hospital loved her; there was even a big article in the local newspaper on St. Louis General's rising star—but she had missed her mother and Julia. In particular, she felt guilty that Rachel was growing up with her grandmother.

So when PPTH came calling, it seemed like a sign.

She had a new boyfriend, House heard—a psychiatrist named Noah Bernstein. They had been dating for 7 months. For now, they were attempting a long distance relationship.

(House hadn't been able to help himself: He googled the guy. He was 50 years old, a barrel-chested man with a dark beard and lively eyes. He had been a star wrestler in college. Articles on him referred to him as "the brilliant psychiatrist Noah Bernstein." House cringed a bit.)

A few weeks after her arrival, Cuddy gave a "State of the Hospital" address that the entire staff was obligated to attend. House signed the attendance ledger and ducked out, hid in the park across the street. He didn't want to see her dazzling people. It would hurt too much.

Things with Dominika had completely soured. They had never been great, to be honest, but he had at least tolerated her. He was lonely and she was a warm body in the next room. She cooked for him. She was nice to him, even when he was a dick to her. (The beauty of Dominika was that she was too dumb to notice when he was being an asshole). She was harmless and agreeable and she worshipped the ground he walked on. But he could no longer fool himself. She wasn't just a poor substitute for Cuddy. She was no substitute at all. She was a sign of how low he had sunk.

As happens when people sense they are being rejected, Dominika got a bit desperate—pawing at him, whining, demanding his attention like a petulant child. He found himself yelling at her more and more. He hated himself for it—it was like yelling at a newborn foal. Finally, thankfully, the envelope from the Department of Immigration and Naturalization arrived and they were able to amicably part ways.


And then Wilson got sick.

It was a sucker punch—a bad joke, proof that God didn't exist (or did exist and had a sick sense of humor), that his life was fucked permanently.

And Wilson, always so cautious, so reasonable, so well-behaved, had chosen now of all times, this end game, to be rebellious, to act like, well, House.

An extreme blast of chemo and, if that didn't work, he was calling it a life.

So House smuggled the chemo equipment out of the hospital, nursed his friend for two days—mopped his brow, changed his bedpan, endured the kind of desperate, delirious, asshole-ish behavior that he usually specialized in.

But it didn't work. Wilson was still sick. Without treatment, he had five months to live.

And then House's worst fear would finally come true: He'd have nobody.