A/N: Okay, guys. This is it-the last chapter of this tome. "Home" has been so much fun to write and it's been great to know that House fans have enjoyed reading it. The comments and encouragement I've received have been tremendously valuable and very much appreciated. Writing "Home" got me out of a writing slump, and the experience has been so positive and I hope to contribute more to the fandom.
Disclaimer: House belongs to David Shore and Fox!
The Ghost Of Christmas Future strolled past his door.
House parked his car at the end of the block, letting it idle, keeping the heat set at a steady eighty one degrees, while observing the figure pacing in front of 221B. The Ghost wore a black hooded cloak, which flowed down and around its ankles; its features were shrouded in shadows, set deep within the confines of the hood. Ghostie drifted up and back, up and back by his front door, seemingly unperturbed by the bite of the bitter cold night air.
Without a doubt, this Dickensian bearer of bad news was waiting for him.
His leg ached; he could still taste the traitor chicken that had abandoned him in a putrid rush. He wanted to go home. But the Ghost was there.
The bearer of bad news, indeed. You've already trudged through a land fill of bad news. It was just awful how those memories ganged up on you one at a time. Poor you! If you hadn't gone home to Eldridge, they would still be lying dormant in your cranium. But noo-ooo, a little push set them free to join the party. Shit. You'd think they would have done the polite thing and just stayed comfortably put.
Driving home, he tried his best to rationalize, to somehow justify the abuse he'd been victim to all those many moons ago.
Daddy didn't mean to screw you up this badly. You needed discipline. Too smart for yourself, you were. A stint in boot camp would have done you a world of good. But not according to your mother. She coddled you, taught you the piano, gave you all those books, drowned you in cul-cha. Now look at you. Smart is smart but you still don't have what it takes to be a real man. Doesn't look like you ever will.
Again he found himself trapped in the memory of lying on the examination table, thoughts tumbling as the pain decimated his spirit, while his father stood calmly by the door, observing the master at work...
...and House realized, with only a miniscule sense of grief, he would never find it in himself to forgive.
Going public with this revelation wasn't an option either-more for his mother's sake than any other reason. Confronting his father, pulling the old bombshell out of his hat to give the old man a shocker would have made Gregland a much more festive place. But to what end? What would that solve? No. He would just leave it be.
Leave it be...
The Ghost stopped its pacing and faced him, as if it had heard his thoughts, as if it had come up with a better solution than keeping things all nice and neat the way they were.
Go., Get the hell away from my place. If it could read his mind, maybe it would take the hint and scat. But uh-oh, what was this? Ghostie raised one hand in that languid, creepy way ghosts had of communicating, and pointed at him.
Shit. This was some kind of maniac; it...he...she...whatever it was, was probably wielding an ax under that robe. House pictured himself lying in pieces on the icy walk in the morning-bits of chopped Greg to go with a Christmas feast. Sprinkle liberally and sauté lightly. He moaned, gently bouncing his forehead off the steering wheel, thinking, thinking. Well, he could drive away. Yeah, that's the ticket. He sat up, twisted the key in the ignition. The engine thrummed.
Coward. You want to go home, don't you?
Then get your ass out of the damn car...and go! Just move past the son of a bitch. Give he/she/it one of your famous 'don't even think about it' glares, hurry up inside, then slam the door behind you. That'll send Ghostie away to wherever it is ghosts go...when they go away...
Nawww, one of his patent 'intimidate the nursing staff'' glowers wasn't going to work on this thing. Not since it just ambled that...much...closer to his vehicle. Another minute and Ghostie would materialize in the car, shoving the ax handle up his butt before wrenching it out and gleefully using it to hack him to bits.
He turned off the motor, pulled the key from the ignition and glared at the apparition.
It stood, waiting, its head slowly tilting to one side as its arm drifted down.
Okay, this is it. Grabbing his cane, he pushed open the driver's side door and made it out to the street. The cold air hit him like a slap, causing him to shiver. The Ghost remained mute, watching him over the hood of the car. House sensed some sliver of amusement there, a crumb of curiosity. This is where it gets good. Silently he thanked his cane for enabling him to put some speed on, and crunched through the ice, trudging past the parked cars as fast as his bum leg would allow. From the corner of this eye he could see Ghostie matching his strides, drifting along the sidewalk. Just a few steps more and he would be in line with his door. Just a few steps-
Going ass over head was a funny thing. You didn't realize it was happening until you were down for the count.
House lay in the street as two cars whizzed by him, the breeze from their motion riffling his hair, making his already chilled body that much colder. Wriggling, writhing, pushing up on his elbows, he grappled for his cane, which had slid just beneath the parked car to his right. He grabbed hold, pressing the rubber tip down hard against the ice. He leaned into it, attempting to give himself purchase to rise to his feet. But the ice wasn't having it. Each sliver of progress was met with a downward slide and a short wet skid across the icy patch. One step forward, two steps back...
He was breathing hard now, heart beating a tattoo against his ribs. Despite the cold, a trickle of sweat had started its journey, making its way down from his hairline, to his temple, before rolling merrily along his cheek.
A crunch of boot heels against ice caused him to moan and flail against his invisible bonds with renewed gusto.
So this is how it ends. What a pathetic finish to a marginally interesting life...
The Ghost Of Christmas Future stood over him, its arms folded across its midnight black torso. It bowed its head, and suddenly its shoulders shook and shuddered as a waterfall of laughter cascaded from beneath its hood. When the laughter trickled to a stop, Ghostie spoke.
"Greg, what the hell are you doing?"
House's mouth fell open. When he could function again, he swallowed hard, then breathed, "Stacy?"
She shook the hood away from her face and extended her hand. "Get up from there."
He grabbed her hand and pressed down on his cane to steady himself. Swaying as he stood, House managed one unsteady step forward before stumbling into her. She fell back against the car with a grunt, then pushed against his weight to right herself.
"Are you alright?" Securing him around the waist, she walked him to the curb.
"My leg is killing me, and my ass is soaked, freezing and sore."
They stood close, eye to eye, nearly nose to nose, their warm breath mingling in the cold, cold air. Smirking, she gave his cheek two quick pats. "Poor baby."
"Maybe you should look at it." He leered. "My ass, I mean."
"Maybe I shouldn't."
"You'll hate yourself in the morning if you miss this chance." His voice was gruff, seductive. "It's never been pinker...or more tender."
"Thanks, but I didn't come all the way here to see your ass."
They moved along side by side and stopped in front of his door.
"No?" Her hair was tousled, falling in a careless waves around her face, making her look like she'd just rolled out of bed. It was a nice image. Gently he plucked a strand of hair away from her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. "I thought you were a ghost," he said softly.
"A ghost?" She snorted out a laugh.
"Mmm, I was afraid," he said. "Then I thought you might be hiding an ax under that...that getup."
"I'll have you know this 'getup' is considered quite chic in the big city." In her haughtiest tone, she added, "I would never think of concealing something as gauche as an ax beneath such...style."
Their laughter mingled and merged. She set a hand on his shoulder. "I missed your birthday and wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas."
"I could have been out all night. Wilson invited me to a party in the Hamptons. Could have gone. Then what? "
"You never go out on Christmas. You hate Christmas."
"I know," he said sheepishly. "Why aren't you doing the family thing at your sister's?"
"I was at a business party at the apartment in New York." She sighed. "It was full of boring, drunken old men, trying to pinch my butt."
"Ahhh, my kind of crowd."
"I felt obligated to be there. But it just got to be too much."
"Stepped out for a breath of air and ended up in my car. I got on the highway and kept going until...until, well, here I am."
"Yeah. I see that."
"So?" Her grin widened; her brows lifting, her eyes glimmering with mischief.
"What?" he asked.
She indicated the door with a dramatic wave of her hand.
He touched her face, traced the line of her generous mouth with one finger and let out a shaky breath. This wasn't a great idea. It wasn't even a good idea. The odds of crash and burn were off the map. But she was warm. Her presence made him feel good, relaxed, carefree. He'd missed talking to her, being with her, missed the humor, the spark.
He'd missed her.
Crash and burn.
"You're taking a chance, stepping through that door."
"I know." Her smile never faltered.
"Okay." He dug his house key from his front trouser pocket, pushed it in the lock. "You sure?"
"Shut up, Greg," she said, giving him a playful punch on his arm.
He shrugged, smirked, pushed open the door, feeling the glow, that rare incredible warmth. Stacy was walking into his apartment.
"Yes, " he thought, without a trace of trepidation. "I am one selfish bastard."