Author's note: Yes, I know we just got rid of Stacy, but they dropped enough hints about their relationship and original break-up that I got to thinking. This fic wil cover eight chapters, with each chapter showing a day in each month from House's return home post-infarction to the time Stacy leaves.
Thanks as always to Auditrix for the Beta.
EIGHT DAYS, EIGHT MONTHS
The sun was already up when House woke, a steady light breaking past the heavy curtains that still covered the windows.
His head, though, remained wrapped in a thick, medicated blanket that surrounded him as he lay there. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again the light had changed, become even brighter.
He wondered if the fog would lift if he slept longer, but he could hear Stacy outside the bedroom, down the hall somewhere and instead he rubbed his eyes to get them to focus.
House turned his head to catch the time on the alarm clock, surprised to see it was well past 10 a.m.
"You're finally awake." Stacy's voice came from the doorway on the other side of the room and House rolled his head toward her, following her progress around the end of the bed and to his side where she sat carefully on the edge of the mattress. "James said you'd be out for hours. I guess he knows his sedatives."
"His patients also don't live long enough to complain about the side effects," House said. "I feel like my head's been stuffed and mounted."
"He said it'll wear off, and you needed the sleep."
House didn't argue the point. After weeks spent in either the hospital or the rehab clinic, he'd been looking forward to coming home. Sleeping in his own bed. Sleeping through the night and waking to familiar settings, rather than the squeak of rubber soles and wheelchair tires on linoleum floors or the clatter of the breakfast cart.
But nothing at home felt right either. He and Stacy had switched sides on the bed so now she was on his left, less likely to accidentally bump into his right leg during the night, and everything seemed out of place -- the room itself aligning itself in the wrong shapes and at the wrong angle. The clock was on the wrong side, the bedside lamp cast the wrong shadows.
Even Stacy seemed off center. She had been on edge since he first arrived at the hospital, and it only got worse after his surgery, which really shouldn't have been hard to define. But he kept thinking that somehow, sometime things would feel right again with her, but she'd sweep into his rooms wherever he was and this sense of "wrongness" that he hadn't been able to name seemed to follow in her wake.
Now that he was home, she kept finding ways to keep herself busy somewhere away from him. Stacy had always enjoyed cooking the occasional major meal, but now she was spending hours in the kitchen every day -- preparing, then cooking, then cleaning -- when they had always split the chores in the past. His first night home, she had made his favorite seafood fettuccine dish, the second night home she made her mother's moussaka recipe. Yesterday, when he told her he wasn't hungry and asked her to take a break and come sit with him on the couch, she lectured him about how he needed to eat more, then began talking about how his mother had sent her the recipe for her beef stroganoff and headed into the kitchen.
The one time he had attempted to carry his own plate to the sink she had taken it from his hand and insisted he looked tired and should go rest.
And she had taken up smoking again -- had been since they moved him into rehab -- though she wouldn't have admitted to it if he asked. From the time they had met she had raged against smoking with all the missionary zeal of an ex-smoker. Now she had taken to sneaking outside to light up, returning with mints on her breath and smoke clinging to her hair.
She seemed to measure every word carefully when they spoke. Sometimes House knew he was on the verge of saying something that would upset her, send her back out for another clandestine cigarette. Sometimes he stopped himself just before he said it. Sometimes he didn't care whether he blurted it out. Sometimes he said it knowing exactly what her reaction would be.
He had hoped that once he was home, once he was back in his own bed, in his own world, that things might slip back into normality. That she would relax. That he could just let go. Instead, he lay awake at night, his mind racing, sleeping only in fits and starts, trying not to move, not to set off either his own leg or Stacy, who would look at him with concern and pity evident on her face.
Four days after his return home, he was still waiting for it to feel like home again.
When Stacy asked Wilson about sleeping pills, House had agreed to try one, both for her sake and his own, though he'd always hated the thick cotton-filled morning-after feeling he'd had whenever he had been given them before.
"How are you feeling this morning, other than the taxidermy effect?" Stacy gently caressed his forehead and cheek. House thought he picked up a faint familiar smell from her skin. It wasn't smoke, but his brain didn't click into gear fast enough to place it before she pulled her hand away again.
"I'm all right," he said.
House pushed himself up into a seated position, Stacy adjusting the pillows behind him. He couldn't stop himself from reacting as the pain from his leg cut through the fog. Just before he closed his eyes, he saw Stacy give a sympathetic wince.
He kept his eyes closed for a moment and leaned back, waiting for his head to adjust. When he opened them again, Stacy had turned to the night stand and was opening the amber plastic pill bottles.
"Ready for your morning meds?"
"I can get those myself," House said. "That's the advantage to having them right there."
"I know." Stacy held out a glass of water in one hand and two pills in the other. "But I'm here, and I don't mind."
House waited for a moment, considering whether he could make her put them down and let him handle it on his own, but decided he didn't have the energy to fight her just now and took the water and pills. He stared at them in the palm of his hand -- the orange Coumadin tablet and the larger white Vicodin. He debated whether he could go without the Vicodin this morning, but decided he didn't feel like fighting his leg either and swallowed both down with a gulp of water.
Stacy took the glass back from him and placed it on the night stand. She leaned in for a kiss, lingering for just a moment before pulling away, but caressed his face again with her right hand. "I'll start some more coffee," she said. "You feel up to breakfast?"
"Is that a yes shrug or a no shrug?" Her hand dropped down onto his chest and he could feel the warmth from her skin through his t-shirt.
"Yes," he said. "Just don't go to too much bother."
"Well it's Sunday morning," Stacy said. "How about I splurge and toss some frozen waffles into the toaster oven? I even picked up some of that god-awful sugary crap you prefer over real maple syrup."
"That crap has more substance than that thin watery so-called natural slime you prefer," House said.
"It also has a list of ingredients I can't even begin to pronounce."
"Chemicals are our friends." It was an old argument, but one that felt more natural than any conversation they'd had in days.
"You feel up to eating in the kitchen or do you want me to put it on a tray and bring it in here?" House leaned against the pillows again. Back to the invalid theme then.
He shook his head and pushed himself back upright again. "Kitchen," he said. "I need to get up anyway."
Stacy stood and he pulled back the covers. She waited just to his left side as he used his hands to swing his right leg to the ground, looking like she barely could stop herself from reaching over to help.
It was further down to the floor than when House had gone to the hospital. Wilson had come in before his return home and raised the modern Asian-influenced bed up with blocks under the legs so it'd be easier for him to get up and down. Yet another change that had been waiting for him when he finally made it home.
House took a few deep breaths once both feet were on the floor and shook his head to try and clear away the fog again. He saw Stacy start to reach around him for the crutches leaning against the wall, tucked into the space between the bed and night stand.
"I've got them," he said and reached out to grab them. "I'm good."
"You sure?" House nodded and she leaned down to kiss him on the cheek.
"Maybe you should shave today," she said. "It might feel good."
House could feel the pieces of the puzzle snap into place. "Oh crap," he said and looked up at Stacy. "When is she getting here?"
"The only time you ever bug me to shave is when your mother's coming," House said. "And I can smell the jewelry cleaner on your hands. The only time you feel a need to clean and wear that crucifix is when you're mother is here for a visit."
"I wear it more often than that," she protested.
"Not that often. A good 80 percent of the time it's when you expect to see her. Now, when is she coming?"
Stacy opened her mouth once or twice and shook her head, but then rolled her eyes up and off to the left. "This afternoon."
"Haven't I been through enough lately?"
"Greg, she's my mother," Stacy protested. "She's been ... worried about you."
"So tell her I'm not up to visitors." House pushed himself up and onto the crutches, settling himself on the foam pads under his arms and beneath his hands. He caught his balance before turning to look at Stacy.
"That's what I said the first two times I told her not to come. Now that you're home, she wouldn't buy it a third time."
"Why not? Spice it up a little. Tell her I've had a relapse. Tell her it's mutated into an airborne variant and she could catch it herself."
"She's coming," Stacy said and walked across the room. "Deal with it."
"Why should I?" House asked and Stacy stopped at the doorway, turning back to face him. "She hates me anyway, so why should I have to put up with her?"
"Because I have to," Stacy said. "And we're a package deal." She crossed back over to him and kissed him on the cheek again. "Now stop whining and go get cleaned up."
House watched her walk back out of the room. "I'm not shaving," he called out.
Stacy leaned back into the door. "If you do, I'll invite James to join us and even let you two move the Playstation into the bedroom so you can ... get your rest ... while Mom and I talk."
Then she was gone again. House could hear her footsteps moving down the hallway. "Blackmail is illegal, you know," he yelled. "I even know a good lawyer. I bet she'll take my case!"
"No she won't!"
House heard the knock at the door at a little after 2 o'clock. He had the Times spread across the couch cushions to his left, the magazine section open across his lap and his leg propped up on the coffee table.
He could heard Stacy moving aside pots and pans in the kitchen, the radio playing some public radio Celtic music program. He looked up, expecting to see her walk through the kitchen door and across the living room.
She didn't show and the knock came again. He put the magazine on top of the pile of the rest of the sections
"Honey, can you get that?" Stacy's voice came from the far side of the kitchen, somewhere near the pantry. "My hands are ..." She stopped in mid sentence and he heard her set down something heavy.
He had moved his leg to the floor and was reaching for his crutches when she rushed into the room, drying her hands on a towel. "Sorry," she said. "I ..." and stopped herself in mid sentence again.
"I could have gotten it," House said. "You just had to give me a minute."
"Can we not fight about this just now? I can't deal with both you and my Mom right now."
"I wasn't fighting," House said, but she waved her hand at him trying to cut him off. Instead he settled back down and set the crutches back down on the floor.
He heard her let out a sigh. "You're early," she said, sounding more relieved than he would have expected. "Thank God."
"I thought I'd drop by and see if you needed any help," Wilson's voice came from the far side of the room and House looked up to see him, feeling himself let go of some tension he hadn't realized he'd been holding onto.
"Don't believe him," House said. "He's just too cheap to buy his own damn newspaper, so he comes over to sponge off of us."
"I seem to recall something about a pot, a kettle and the color black," Wilson said. "You should check it out."
"Sounds like a really dull story," House said. "Hardly worth the effort."
House moved his leg back up onto the coffee table and leaned back into the couch cushions again.
"James, can you give me a hand?" Stacy called to him from the kitchen entrance. "I need you to get the good dishes down from the top shelf in the pantry."
House opened the magazine again. He tried to concentrate on the article, but he could hear the murmur of both Wilson's and Stacy's voices coming from the kitchen. He could make out the general flow of the conversation -- what Wilson had done that morning, what Stacy was making for dinner -- then the volume dropped to just over a whisper. Great. So now he was the topic. Again.
When Wilson walked back into the living room, he headed straight for the TV, leaning down over the back to look at the wires and connections . "Should I unhook the system or do we want to just roll the whole thing into the bedroom?"
"Oh, what, I have a choice in something about my life now? I have options?"
Wilson stood up again, put his hands on his hips. "Only if you tell me which you'd prefer, otherwise you'll just have to live with whatever I do." He shook his head and bent back over the TV. "Now stop bitching and make a decision."
House sighed and set the paper aside again. "Just grab the system." He put his leg on the floor again and reached for the crutches. "The TV in the bedroom isn't as good, but this way we'll only have to deal with one set of wires."
House stood and watched as Wilson turned the TV at an angle so he could reach behind to the mixture of color-coded cables.
"Look for the red, white and yellow ones," House said.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I've got it."
Wilson had crouched down beside the set, leaning forward to grab the right cables. House knew he could have grabbed the whole set of wires within 30 seconds -- or at least he used to be able to do the fast switch before, whenever Stacy demanded peace and quiet in the living room. Now? He turned his back on Wilson and headed down the hallway to the bedroom.
House was standing at the end of the bed when Wilson carried the mix of Playstation, controllers and cables into the bedroom. He dropped slowly onto the mattress while Wilson placed the equipment on top of the television.
"You'll need to use the switcher box on this TV," House directed from his seat. "Not enough auxiliary inputs."
Wilson nodded and sorted through the cables again.
"Stacy says you slept pretty good last night," he said as he reached around the back of the box.
"Slept like a baby," House said. "Or at least a baby that's been drugged into a coma. I'm still shaking cobwebs out of my head." Wilson looked up at him and House looked away toward the window. "Thanks," he said softly and turned back, but Wilson was looking back down at his work.
"You should be careful not to use it all the time," Wilson said. "It can be pretty habit forming."
"You know, I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but it turns out I'm a doctor too."
"Sorry," Wilson said and stepped back k to sit next to House. "I guess giving out warnings is habit-forming too."
"Why don't you fire it up," House said, nodding at the TV and game system. "We can make sure it's all working."
"There's time for that later," Wilson said. "When's Anna supposed to be here?"
"Soon." House leaned back onto his elbows. "Care to place any money on how long it takes her to express some fault in my behavior?"
"She's not coming to rag on you," Wilson said. "She wants to see how you're doing."
"I'll lay even odds that she'll start by pointing out how hard Stacy's working to try and take care of me, and that I should learn to do more so Stacy can get back to her real job."
Wilson just looked over at House. "What kind of money are we talking?"
"Twenty bucks if it's in the first twenty minutes," House offered. "Plus an extra ten if it's in the first ten minutes."
"Done." Wilson held out his hand and House leaned over to shake it. "This will be an easy twenty bucks. She's not some evil villain, House."
"Hah," House muttered. "I heard Disney based Cruella DeVil on her. This is going to be an easy thirty bucks for me."
They both sat up as someone knocked on the front door.
"James?" Stacy called out from the kitchen. "Could you get the door for me? My hands are full."
Anna and Wilson were walking slowly away from the door, in mid-conversation by the time House made it into the living room.
"...pleasant surprise," she was saying. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"You know me. Any excuse to get some of Stacy's cooking," Wilson nodded toward House. "Greg was just complaining that I've been sponging off of them."
"Not a complaint," House said. "Just an observation." He stood in the middle of the floor, hunched down on the crutches. "Hello, Anna. Have a nice drive?"
"The construction was awful," she said. "All those people heading back from the shore, and the road down to only one lane. But that doesn't matter." She walked up to him, her traditional greeting of an air kiss missing by inches because he couldn't lean all the way down toward her. "How are you feeling?"
House could see Stacy coming out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. "I'm managing," he said.
"Hi Mom," Stacy said, stepping up next to House and leaning in to kiss Anna on the cheek. "I'm glad you could make it."
"You look tired, sweetheart, are you getting any sleep?"
"I'm fine, Mom," Stacy said.
"Greg, you shouldn't let her work so hard. Now that you're home, you should be able to make her take some time for herself. She's got a lot of other work to do, you know."
House just nodded and moved around Stacy to take his spot on the couch again. Wilson leaned down to scoop up the newspaper from the couch. "You'll have to wait to collect until I hit the ATM," he whispered. "I don't have thirty bucks on me just now."
House and Wilson left the table before Stacy had even pulled out dessert -- a simple cake she had made late that morning.
"You sure?" she said.
"I'll have some later," House said. "I just want to lie down for a while, if you can make do without me."
It wasn't completely a lie. He was tired, his leg was aching and his head was swimming from a mixture of the Vicodin and his screwed up sleep patterns. "Jimmy will keep me company," he said, and headed back into the bedroom before Stacy's mother could put up any argument.
House settled back against the headboard while Wilson closed the door and wheeled the TV up to the end of the bed. He tossed the controllers up toward House.
"Crap," he said. "I forgot to get the games. Hang on a minute."
House stopped him before he made it to the door. "Don't worry," he said. "I've got it covered."
He reached into the night stand and tossed a box at Wilson. "I've been waiting for the right opportunity to play this." Wilson turned the box over: Madden NFL 2001, released earlier that week.
"Nice. Stacy buy this for you?" He pulled the game out of the box and turned on the player.
"Nah. Turns out there's this thing called the Internet and something else called home delivery, and something else called credit cards," House said. He untangled the cord for his controller and tossed the other one to Wilson as he settled in on the mattress. "You're the Titans."
House dozed off before they'd finished a full game. Wilson had made an easier than expected touchdown and he was about to rag on House for playing lousy defense when he noticed House's eyelids were sliding shut. He had tried to turn off the game then, but House had protested he was ready to go. Four plays later, he was sound asleep, the controller still clutched in his hands.
Wilson turned off the set and slid off the bed. He opened the door as quietly as he could, wincing at the sound of a squeak coming from the hinges, then gently closed it behind him.
He stood silently in the hallway for a moment, waiting to see if House would call him back. He could hear Stacy and her mother talking in the living room.
"I just hate to see you throwing your career away, that's all," Anna Adams was saying.
"God, Mother. I am not throwing anything away," Stacy voice came out in an harsh whisper he had heard her use more than once on House when they were out in public. "I took a few days off to help Greg get settled. That's all."
"And this week?"
"This week I'm working from home for a few days. The key word being 'working,'" Stacy said.
Wilson knew he should cough, say something, make some noise so they knew he was there. He didn't. He wondered if House felt as guilty whenever he eavesdropped.
"Greg should realize that your career is important," Anna said. "He's going to hold you back just like he did two years ago when you didn't take that partnership in Washington."
"He doesn't hold me back. And that decision was all mine."
"So you keep saying."
"I keep saying it because it's the truth. Why is that so hard for you to understand?"
"Maybe I don't understand why it is he doesn't want what's best for you. That's all I want," she said. "Like why doesn't he give you that big wedding you've always wanted."
"You're the one who always wanted that wedding, Mom, not me," Stacy said. "I don't need a priest ..."
Wilson stepped across into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He waited, counted to thirty, then to thirty again. He flushed the toilet, ran the water hard out of the faucet and made sure the door rattled as he opened it. When he walked out into the living room, Anna was sipping at her cup. Stacy turned to look at him.
"Hey," she said. She looked pleased to see him there.
"Thought I'd sit with the adults for a while," Wilson said and took a seat at the other end of the couch from where Stacy was sitting.
"Is Greg OK?"
"He's fine, just getting some sleep."
"Good." Stacy picked up her mug and glanced down into it before standing. "Want some coffee? I made a fresh pot."
Anna looked at him once Stacy left the room. Wilson wondered if she could sense the guilt he felt for listening in on the conversation, but she said nothing.
"Here you go." Stacy handed him a mug and she settled back down with her own mug in her hand. "You let him beat you on the new game?"
"We didn't finish yet, but I was ahead at the half," Wilson said. "You know he was probably just pretending to sleep so he could get in some practice before the final quarter."
"He is sneaky that way, isn't he," Stacy said and smiled as she took a sip of the coffee. "Maybe I should peek in on him, catch him in the act."
"I should get going," Anna announced. She stood and placed her cup on the end table.
"Mom, don't go yet. You barely got here."
"No, no, I'm fine," she said. "You kids have better things to do than listen to an old lady prattle on about things they don't think are important."
"Mom, that's not a problem," Stacy said. "And you haven't had dessert. Why don't you wait a little longer? Greg probably won't sleep for long. He usually doesn't during the afternoon."
"No," she said. "It's a long drive, and there's still all that construction to deal with."
She walked over to Stacy, who stood and gave her a hug. "Are you sure?"
"Positive." Anna looked around the room. "Now where did I put my purse?"
Wilson spotted it on the table near the door and walked over to get it for her. She kissed him on the cheek as he handed it over. "You always were a gentleman, James," she said. "Someday you'll find the right woman."
He walked her to the door and held it open for her as she pulled her keys out of her purse. "All right, I'm ready," she said. "Take care of yourselves, both of you." She walked down the hallway and Wilson closed the door behind her.
Stacy flopped down across House's favorite low-slung gaming chair, one that hadn't been used for weeks. "Thank God," she said. "Don't get me wrong, James, I love my mother. I just can't stand to be around her."
"I've come to understand that's a common disease," he said. "And yet it's been woefully underreported in all the medical journals."
"I need chocolate," Stacy said. "Do you need chocolate? No, wait. Men don't need chocolate."
"I don't know about need," Wilson said, "but I certainly wouldn't turn it down."
"Well there's cake and ice cream in the kitchen, if you can give me a hand," she said, and held out her hand to Wilson who took it and pulled her onto her feet.
They were perched on stools at the counter and Wilson had just cut himself another piece of cake when House entered the kitchen, blinking at the bright sunlight filling the room.
"Is the coast clear?" he asked.
"And you," Stacy said, pointing her fork at him. "You were no help at all."
House blinked again. "Sometimes retreat is the better part of valor," he said. "Or so I've been told." He moved a few feet into the kitchen. "You two leave me any of that?"