Summary: Sometimes he stops, takes a look around, and wonders how the hell he wandered into this life at all.
Fandom: House MD
Pairing: Gregory House/Stacy Warner, Stacy Warner/Mark Warner
Disclaimer: David Shore, Bad Hat Harry Productions, and FOX Broadcasting own the characters.
Original story: Three Dreams Stacy Had That Didn't Come True by roga.
Notes: Thank you to my betas.
Stacy loved the scent of jasmine in April. Even the fake soap-scented Body Shop perfume reminded her of home, the long honey-days when everything was in bloom, magnolias and morning glory. It was as far as she could get from the congested air of New Jersey struggling towards spring. Stacy laughed quietly to herself, striking a match and lighting the tea light under the jasmine oil in the bathroom.
Every once in a while she could push Greg to indulge her, to wear a tie without pouting, to go dancing with her, her head resting over his heart, his hands warm at the small of her back and his lips curving against her temple. This was a push of another sort--candles and silk sheets--though she'd stopped herself from scattering rose petals on their bed. She paused at the CD player and hesitated, but she'd crossed the line several counties back, so she switched the Stones for Stephen Jacob and set the remote on the bedside table.
Stacy paused in the doorway, one hand on the knob, and swept her eyes over the room. Romantic. Relaxing. And half the fun would be listening to Greg's complaints, watching the comic incredulity on his face when he saw the transformation.
She padded to the living room and settled on the couch to wait for him, wrapping herself in a blanket that smelled of him and picking up a brief to read between glances at the clock and the door.
She smiled when she heard his key in the lock, and set her papers aside. Greg pushed the door open, still barking into his cell phone, and Stacy nearly laughed when his nose wrinkled and he blinked at the apartment as if he'd never seen it before. His hand dropped to his side, Cameron's tinny voice still ringing from the cell phone, and stared at her.
Stacy let the blanket fall and crossed the room to slip her hands across his chest, to his shoulders, linking her fingers behind his neck. He watched her solemnly, his mouth open slightly, and she moved up on her toes to kiss him. He turned his head so that the kiss was only the slightest brush of their lips, hesitant and tingling. He must have skipped shaving this morning. But he had more than his usual five o'clock shadow, and she couldn't have missed that yesterday or the day before. He tensed under her touch, and Stacy leaned back to watch him, starting to frown. "What?" she asked softly. "What's wrong?"
Greg shook his head, still standing on the threshold like he couldn't believe he'd walked into the right apartment. The tentative, serious look on his face sharpened, and his eyes narrowed. "What the hell are you doing?"
Stacy drew back. "Okay," she said, a bit annoyed, but trying to tease him into a better mood. "I know the perfume's a little much..."
Greg tilted his head, studying her, the faintest hint of smugness coloring his smirk. "Does Mark know you're here?"
"Mark..." she said, frowning. There wasn't anybody named Mark at her office or at the hospital. "Who are you talking about?"
He shrugged her off. Stacy stepped back, and for the first time she registered the cane in his right hand. The door hid how he was propping his weight on it, and she'd barely noticed that he was holding his phone in his left hand.
"Your leg," she said, her heart starting to race. It had been five years since the surgery, and there were days when he rubbed at his thigh, but he was better. It was healed. Something must have happened to make him take a cane from the hospital--he'd always hated them, even when he was first recovering. "What happened? Are you all right?"
Greg glared at her. "Nothing," he said, stalking forward and slamming the door shut behind him. "Either he knows you're here, and this is business, or he doesn't, and you're here for me."
"Let me see it," Stacy said, her voice trembling. "Take off your pants." She had to know. She wouldn't be able to stand seeing him so sick again. Maybe he'd simply fallen, sprained his ankle.
"I had to pay the last girl who said that to me," Greg said, his voice cutting.
Stacy rolled her eyes and reached for his belt. He stumbled away from her, limping heavily. Something was wrong. "You are such a jackass."
"And you've invaded my home!"
"I live here," she said. She could feel herself shaking. "Greg, what the hell is going on?"
He stopped in front of her, breathing quickly. The cane looked alien in his hands, but it was clear that he wasn't letting go of it. When she looked closely, she could see more changes--how tired he looked, how much deeper the frown-lines on his forehead and around his eyes were, the amount of grey in his beard and hair. "What--what happened?" she asked.
"You don't know," he said, and his voice was so bitter that it felt like a slap. She'd heard him angry before, more times than she could count, and they'd had plenty of shouting matches. But this was personal, as deep as the pain-lines on his face.
"Greg," she said, forcing herself to keep her voice steady. "Please, trust me. I don't know."
He hesitated a second longer, and then unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them down. At first, she couldn't even understand what she was seeing. His left leg looked the same as always--muscular, firm, smooth-skinned--but on the right, there was only a gash of a scar where his thigh should be, a sunken absence, white with scar tissue. What had done this to him? There were lines like the old trace of stitches, and she realized it was a surgical scar. She remembered Lisa telling her that there was a third way, a middle way. This was what she had almost chosen for him.
"Oh. Oh my God," she said. She moved forward, to touch it--it couldn't be real--but Greg flinched back as if she was about to take an axe to his leg. It looked like somebody had. "I did this," she whispered. "You think I did this to you."
Greg pulled up his jeans, covering the scar. "Who are you?" he asked, the question coming like a shot.
"I'm--you know me," she said. She couldn't find more words than that. There was no way to explain that she knew him, that they'd been together for twelve years, that he was hers. "Greg..."
Greg looked past her, his face that unreachable blank that she hated. When he yelled, at least she could yell back, but this was different, a venomous emptiness that she'd never truly seen before. "You ordered the surgery."
"No," she said softly. "You had the clot removed. You almost died, but you were fine after the surgery." She reached for him again, cupping his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her. "Greg, I swear to you that's what happened."
He closed his eyes, and she realized too late that it was the wrong thing to say. "Where is this?" he said. "Why are you here?"
Stacy saw, then, what he did: their apartment, chaotic and cluttered, and filled with her things as much as his; their life together, when clearly she wasn't a part of this Greg's life. "I never meant to," she said, and she knew it was true. "She thought you were going to die."
Greg's forehead creased, and she wanted to smooth away the weight of years, of pain, in that frown. "Get out," he said.
"No," she said. "Greg, I am not the one who did this to you." She paused, and remembered him asking if she was with another man...Mark. She couldn't imagine having moved on from Greg, of finding anyone else who knew her as well as he did. She wondered if he'd left her, or if he'd managed to drive her away, but suddenly, she didn't care. "Come on," she said sharply.
"Come with me." She took his hand--the left--and led him down the hall to their bedroom. His walk was uneven, lolloping, but he managed well enough, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
He stopped in the doorway, and she expected him to pull back. When she looked at him, though, he seemed far more like himself, with a bemused look on his face. He was staring at the candles and the red sheets on the bed. "Do we live in a New Orleans cathouse in this universe?" he asked.
Stacy smacked him on the arm. "Lie down," she said. "Clothes off."
He caught her eyes for a moment, but he started to unbutton his shirt.
It was easier to look at him when he was naked, when she could keep her eyes away from his leg and pretend nothing was wrong. She wanted her Greg back, but this was a chance that she never could have had. She waited for him to sit down awkwardly on the bed, a little nervous, she thought, not that he'd ever want her to know. She turned away to light the candles, the sharp scent of the match mixing with smoke and wax, and she brought the jasmine oil from the bathroom, dipping her fingers and feeling its warmth against her hands.
"You know, nothing says 'I was incredibly wrong' like apology sex," Greg said, and Stacy shook her head and rolled him quickly to his stomach.
"Shut up," she said. "This would have been romantic."
"If he was here."
"If you were," she said, and started the massage.
It was an apology, traced between her fingers and his warm back. His shoulders were tighter than she'd ever felt before, and she sat back against his ass and dug her palms in to the muscles, easing the tension, working away the knots. She traced the line of his spine down to where she knew he was ticklish. He moved slightly, squirming a bit, but when she said, "Hey, relax, it's me," he calmed beneath her. She felt it when his breathing evened out, but he wasn't sleeping. He was probably analyzing every moment, trying to find the place where she ended and the Stacy he knew began. She kneaded his shoulders, his back, his arms, touched his ass, reached lower, felt him stiffen again.
"Stacy," he said, catching her wrist. "That's enough."
"No," she said. "Let me."
He hesitated, but when she shifted to make him roll to his back and reached for his thigh again, he didn't say anything.
The scar was even worse close up, and Stacy worried too much to press hard. His thigh was wound tighter than steel, and Greg turned restlessly as she rubbed slow circles over the spasmed muscles that remained. The jasmine oil slipped between her hand and the strange too-smooth texture of the scar tissue.
She felt the moment when he finally unclenched, when he took a shuddering breath and let out a moan. "God, Stace," he said, as if he'd forgotten who they were. It was enough that she was there, that they were together. She stretched out next to him, her hands gliding smoothly with the oil over his shining skin, smelling warmth and spring and sweat in the hollow above his collarbone.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm sorry," and when he kissed her, she knew she was forgiven.
Stacy locked her purse in the trunk of the car, picked up the small bouquet of forget-me-nots, adjusted her sunglasses, and started up the hill. It was hot for April, and the sun burned against her hair and through the white top she wore. Insects danced in the sunlight above the long morning-damp grass. Foxgloves dipped their heads in the still air. The hoary oaks sighed as a breeze crested the hill, their bright sun-and-spring green leaves fluttering, flinging off the last of yesterday's rain. It was just before noon on a weekday, and the cemetery was empty of everything except birdsong.
She had come here a month ago, when she caught a glimpse of a tall man in a crowd, his hair curling chestnut-grey over his ears, his head tilted just so, and she knew, she knew, that when he turned around his eyes would be that perfect spring-sky blue that was impossible to describe...but he did, and his eyes were dull brown, and it wasn't Greg at all; and she barely managed to get back to her office and shut herself in before she had to close her eyes and breathe through the dizziness, sobs catching in her chest.
Today wasn't his birthday, or the day he died. His parents kept those anniversaries, and Stacy couldn't face them. Their silence spoke of the years Greg never talked about, that they would never share with someone who was not, after all, family.
The headstone was beveled granite with his name and the dates carved in simple curves, and beneath that, Beloved Son, which was not, as Greg would say, the truth, or the whole truth, or nothing but the truth. Stacy crouched down, placing the forget-me-nots on the grass, and touched the cool stone. She traced his name, and then, with the same fingertip, she touched the crucifix that rested at the hollow of her throat.
"I thought I told you I wanted 'He Was Better Than You' on that thing," a voice said behind her.
Stacy stood up so quickly that she nearly slipped in the mud. He was standing at the foot of the grave, smirking at her in that completely infuriating way of his, that was half chagrin and all charm.
"Greg," Stacy said, and, "Greg," again, and she couldn't stop saying his name, and suddenly his arms were around her. She buried her face in his chest, strong and solid, his heart pounding, smelling of earth and grass stains and a t-shirt he'd worn without washing. She clutched at him, fiercely, tightly, to prove he was real or because if he disappeared, she wanted to go with him. Before she knew it, she was crying, because she knew that he wasn't real, that she was hallucinating or delusional and Greg had always said there was a difference between the two but she could never remember what it was...
"Stacy, shh, Stace," Greg was saying, warm rumbling voice, and she shook her head, smearing her tears and her make-up on his t-shirt. He hugged her back, just as tightly, and she could hear him laughing raggedly, the way he did when it was either that or cry.
"You bastard," she said at last, her voice deepened and rough, and she pushed him back, smacking him on the chest. "How can you be here, how can you be here now?"
"After a hundred lifetimes as a do-gooder mayfly, I figured it was about time," he said, and he grinned when she couldn't stop her half-gulped laugh. "I don't know. Stacy. I didn't know."
"You idiot," she said, brushing angrily at her eyes. How could he do this now, when she had come here for one last moment with his memory before putting it behind her, when she was finally ready to move on?
Greg pulled her back into his arms, one hand resting on her shoulder, and bent down to kiss her. His mouth was gentle and perfect and so goddamn knowing, and Stacy let her eyes fall shut and kissed him back, like she hadn't for seven years. She kissed him slowly, tasting her own tears, salty, at the corner of her mouth. Her body felt weightless, and she loved Mark but she loved this more, the way Greg could find the very heart of her with a kiss.
When it ended, Stacy looked at the ground--Greg was wearing those ridiculous sneakers he loved--and said, "I'm getting married next month."
Greg didn't answer. She didn't dare to look up. "He's a good man," she said, and she tried to believe it when she added, "I think he'll make me happy."
Greg snorted at that. "He's--"
"Greg, you don't know him," Stacy interrupted, before he could get started. "Don't try and diagnose him. You can't."
"I know you," Greg said. "He won't be enough--"
"No," Stacy said, putting her hand on his chest. "Don't."
Greg looked down, taking her hand in both of his, looking at the diamond solitaire ring on her finger. It was small, and tasteful, and nothing Greg ever would have picked. "This sort of thing never meant anything to you," he said.
"It meant everything," she said, pulling her hand back. "When you weren't there--when I had to explain over and over, or worse, say nothing, and have them look at me--"
"Your parents. Their friends. Everyone." No one could have understood what they meant to each other, what it meant that he was gone. She wasn't a real widow, and it shouldn't have been this hard to let him go.
"I didn't do anything to you."
"Yes, you did, Greg!" she said. "You and your fucking choice. I put you in that coma and you died, you promised you would be fine and then you died...."
He scowled at her, lifting his arms out as if to show off his body, his two fucking perfect legs. "I lived," he said. "I was right."
Stacy swallowed, and held out her hand to him again. He might be solid, but he was still a ghost, impermanent, impossible. "Not here," she said.
Greg met her eyes for a moment before looking away. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. He lifted his hand, touched her chin, then brushed her hair back behind her ear. This time, when he kissed her, he was as desperate as she felt, and she knew how easy it would be to get lost in him all over again. She held his head and tugged him down, and his hands slipped under her ass and lifted her up, into him, and she wrapped her legs around him and tangled her hands in his hair, squeezing the muscles at the back of his neck as he balanced her in his arms.
"Greg, I can't," she said, even while she filled her heart with the feel of his body, his breath, his aliveness. She slid down and forced herself to meet his eyes. "It should have been you," she said, "it should have been you, but it's not, and I can't--I can't stop just because you show up and you're not real."
"I am," he said, loud and angry. "Stacy, it's me."
"It takes a hell of a long time for a girl to get over you, you know," she said, and she touched his cheek one last time, as if that would be enough to make him accept.
Rain was spitting past the curtains of the kitchen windows and over the counter when Stacy walked in. She dropped her coat across the back of a chair and slid the windows closed, with one last deep inhale of the clean scent of rain and cut grass. "Mark?" she called. He should have closed the windows when the rain started, but that was the last thing she'd reproach him for. First she needed to know that he was home, and second, that he was all right.
She found him sitting in the dark, on their bed, hunched over and his elbows on his knees. "Honey, what's wrong?" she asked, dropping to her knees in front of him and looking up into his face. He blinked at her, and anger moved slowly across his expression, before he seemed to shake it off.
"Nothing," he said.
Stacy sighed. "It's not nothing," she said, because she'd learned her lesson about nothing seven years before. "Mark, it's getting worse. I need you to go and see--"
"Greg," he spat, as if it was an insult. The way she still said it sometimes, she supposed it was.
"Yes," she said. "Greg House. A doctor. Who will know what this is, so that you can get better."
He twisted away from her, and Stacy grabbed his hands and held them, clasped together in hers. "Mark..."
"What," he said, "what would it have taken for you to stay?"
Stacy let out a sigh and rested her forehead against their joined hands. When she thought back, it was amazing in her memory how close she came to staying. To enduring Greg's tantrums, his fits of moody silence, and always, everywhere, how he blamed her for it all. Even when she stood outside the apartment, listening to the thunder of Beethoven through the door, she might just as easily have walked back in one more time. "If he'd ever once told me what he needed," she said. "That he hurt. If he'd bought me flowers..."
Crocuses, she thought, in a glazed pottery pot, and she could almost see them, their spiky purple flowers. Crocuses for spring. "Even once," she said, "if he'd asked for help."
Mark jerked out a nod, and laughed shortly. "I do," he said. "I need your help."
They went to Princeton, and Greg was the same as ever, graceful and impossible and still sounding exactly the same in every mood and every moment. When she took the job Lisa offered, Stacy settled down to watch her life like a spectator, never for a moment knowing if it would end in triumph or disaster. And she discovered, once more, that 'detached' was impossible with Greg.
"You're late this morning," he said one day, smiling knowingly at her from under his eyebrows. "How's Mark's physical therapy going?"
And the next: "I think this is tea," he said, shoving a take-out cup into her hands. "Chamomile. The label says it's calming. Of course, it also says the cup's made out of one hundred percent recycled material, so actually you should probably be on the look out for a psychotic break..."
And a week later, in her office, watching her with his careful-confident eyes: "You love me more."
And Greg must have known that Mark had fallen, or that he'd broken down in group and shouted at her until she couldn't stop her hands from shaking, or that Stacy had told her psychiatrist that she couldn't stop thinking about Greg, about all his torturous, endearing gestures, about how it seemed like he might actually want her back.
He must have known. He always knew.
Stacy came home after Baltimore with the rhythm of his bouncing ball in her steps, with the memory of his smile and his kiss and the jumble of words smeared in her Crimson Desire lipstick like a graffiti love letter. She realized that she was smiling as she came in to work, that she wanted to see him, to see how far they could go. She walked the same route to her office that she had always taken--and yes, it passed by his department, but hers was on the fourth floor as well, and most of the time she didn't know whether Lisa had planned it that way or if the universe was trying to tell her something--and his office was empty.
It wasn't simply that he wasn't there, or that his fellows were gone. The two rooms were completely vacant, empty of desks and bookshelves and all of Greg's stupid toys. She stopped short, and for a moment it was easy to believe that he'd concocted one of his pranks, and that all the furniture would jump out of hiding at any moment...but the walls were bare and there was no trace of a cleaner space where the shelves had hidden the paint from fading. Dust dulled the floor, and when she tried the door, it was locked. Stacy looked at the glass then, and Greg's name, and title, and even the inscription that should have read Department of Diagnostics was gone.
Stacy turned around, as if the room might change back if she looked away. The hallway was nearly empty, which it never was this time of day. She caught the arm of a janitor pushing a mop bucket as he passed.
"Excuse me," she said. "Do you know what happened to Greg House? Dr. House's office?"
"This one?" he asked. "Hasn't been used in years. They were going to use it for another department, forget what, but then the doctor died." He shrugged, and started wheeling his mop bucket away. "Sorry."
Stacy stared at him, walking away, and felt as if a hand had reached into her chest and squeezed her heart until it stopped. She wanted to demand more answers, but the janitor was already gone, and there was only the empty office behind her, the glass door cold against her back, her skin standing out in sudden clammy sweat.
Greg. After all these years, when at the least--at the very least--she'd known he was alive, that no matter what else had happened between them, she had saved his life. She'd never known how much she'd clung to that thought until it was ripped out from beneath her. After everything, he'd left her, just when she thought she might be able to trust him.
"I was going to leave Mark," she whispered. "Greg, I made that decision."
There was no one there to hear her.
Stacy went home and packed their bags before there was time to think of anything else. She looked at Mark and wanted to shout, "Who healed you? Who cured you if it wasn't him?"
The words evaporated before she could say them. Maybe it was just as easy to take Mark home and continue their life together as if it was the result of some other doctor's miracle. Greg had saved Mark, and if that was all that Stacy had left of him, then she would take it and never let go.
Mark improved, slowly, and there came a day when they left the windows open to catch the breeze, because there was a glazed pot with crocuses in it sitting on the sill; and Stacy looked at them and thought, only once, only once, but the next instant she buried the thought so deeply that it could never hurt her.
After all, now that Greg was gone, truly gone, it should have been so much easier to forget him.
In another world, in another time, spring came like a southern sunrise, turning from dark to light so quickly that there wasn't time to notice the dawn. Stacy drove from Short Hills in the dark, the wipers pushing away the crusty edges of sleet, the dead ends of winter. She sipped coffee, depending on it to keep her warm, and she took the turnpike like a native. When she arrived in front of Greg's apartment--their apartment, once--it was simply, suddenly, spring; the sun meant warmth instead of a distant light source, and the moisture in the air was soft instead of damply chill.
Her heart was beating hard when she stepped out of the car. She stood on the walk for a long time, wondering if she'd be driving back with her suitcases still in the trunk of the car, and with no place to go. When she finally knocked, she didn't expect him to answer--it was too early, he was too much of a jerk to care who he left waiting--but after a minute, the door opened, and he stood in front of her, his face clearer than ever in the sunlight.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, making no move to let her in.
"You were wrong," she said.
"I'm never wrong," he said--as she knew he would say, as he would say every time she stood here and forced him to hear her out.
"You were wrong in every possible way," she said. "I should have saved you. You should have lived. This should have happened."
She knew she was right, but she didn't know what his answer would be. She waited, watching his face until he finally relaxed, and she could see everything, anger and hurt and sadness, written in the lines around his eyes, his mouth.
Greg squinted up into the sun, then glanced at her car, then stared at his feet, his thumb running over the handle of his cane. "There shouldn't be so many ways it could go," he said quietly. "I didn't survive the last time."
"That was wrong, too," she said.
"You know me," she said. "You know I don't settle for second best." I know you, she thought. I know you deserve to be happy.
And, when he still said nothing, she stepped forward to where he stood in the doorway.
"Stay with me," she said. She placed her head against his chest, her ear over his heart, that place where she knew she still fit. "Stay," she whispered. His arms tightened around her, and she listened to the rhythm of his heart; to the slow, accepting sigh of his breath.