Pairings: House/Stacy, Stacy/Mark.
Spoilers: General spoilers for season 2 up to 2x11. Specific spoilers for 2x11 Need To Know.
Summary: Mark doesn't actually resent Stacy. Not for that, anyway.
Disclaimer: Property of Fox and its creators.
Notes: Thanks to stickmarionette for the beta. Any remaining errors are my fault. There's no death in this story, despite the title.
Mark doesn’t resent Stacy for being able to walk. He likes the idea of it though. It’s simple and understandable considering his condition. It’s only logical that a man suddenly put into a wheelchair just hours after meeting one Gregory House – former boyfriend of his wife (possible still love of her life) – would resent said wife for basic functions, like being able to walk.
That’s not it though.
Mark’s therapist (the one so caring she tried to reach out to House) wants him to put into words exactly what it is, but he can’t, no more than he can get up from his chair and walk.
He resents… no, he …
Closer, Mark, reach out with your mind and stretch what you know is there.
He wants her…
Closer, focus, it's on the tip of his tongue...
He-- He wants to know why she took the job. They don’t need the money, it’s one hell of a commute – so much so that they had to rent – and Mark knows that any hospital could handle his out-patient care. Private hospitals, even. Ones without former lovers running (no, limping) around playing God in his Diagnostics department.
Maybe there are words after all.
Stacy doesn’t talk about House. Ever.
Mark knows that House is a scourge upon the hospital’s team of lawyers. He knows Stacy was asked to stay on because she knew House, so in theory she would know what to do if House stood up in court and said something like: I object: none of us would be here wasting my time if the patient weren’t such a gibbering moron who through only sheer luck has avoided accidental death. Stacy should have stories, ones full of bitter “I can’t believe I fucked that” tones and sarcastic amusement.
Whenever Mark tries to broach the topic she snaps and then says strange things that echo of previous conversations he’s never even had, like, “I suppose you’re going to call me pissy too!” And then she’ll leave the room and go outside, or to the bathroom for half an hour. Mark doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes he snaps back and they end up arguing for the rest of the day, or even the week. Everything becomes an argument - from who left the hall light on (“I can’t even reach it! Whose fault do you think it is!”), to what time the post is collected (“I’ve seen them, 5pm is the time it’s collected from the box!”) and he just doesn’t know how to fix it, or if – just maybe – there’s something he’s missing.
Sometimes he thinks she’s talking in code; that everything he wants to know is laid out in the things she shouts when they bicker, but if there is he can't read it. House would know what’s wrong with her, possibly already does. The bastard would probably take one look at her and know, and he’d tell her too. Then he’d gloat to his friend – the bland looking fellow that Stacy calls only Wilson and never Jimmy, even though that’s what was written on the bear. It’s just something else Mark doesn’t understand.
(Differential diagnosis: Patient is irritable, tired and stressed. Refuses to open up to loved ones, sudden behavioural changes and disinterest in sex. Cause: failing marriage causing septicaemia. Recommended treatment: immediate removal of the offending tumour by divorce procedure.)
But Mark doesn’t know what’s wrong with her anymore, only House does.
Perhaps because House did it.
These are the symptoms Mark tries not to think about:
House is in his kitchen, not having sex with Mark’s wife.
House isn’t in the cafeteria when Mark visits for lunch, even though Dr Wilson is.
There is a toilet seat left up in Mark’s bathroom.
Stacy stops yelling at him.
There’s a connection; an underlying cause, but Mark cannot see it for all he tries. And, maybe (he doesn’t tell himself), if he can he just doesn’t want to.
Stacy goes to Baltimore with House and comes back different. There’s a smile on her lips, confusion in her eyes and she talks to him for once, apologising so sincerely (for something she’s not admitting to) Mark can’t help but smile and kiss the tip of her nose, just like he used to. But even before the moment is over and Mark can be suddenly assured that everything is all right, he’s sure that everything is wrong.
She talks about the trip to the airport, the low quality of the makeup you get from the corner shop, how she felt naked without her crucifix, how simple everything was in Baltimore and how boring the flight was.
For once, she even talks about House.
“Would you believe it: he got into an argument with a security guard because he was on the phone about a patient and wouldn’t board the plane. Of course he couldn’t just come out and say what was wrong with the guy, no he had to be Greg and draw it out, tease them with clues. It really didn’t help that he was standing in front of a wall that had been completely graffiti’d with gibberish and had a black marker sticking out of his pocket. The only reason he doesn’t get beaten … more often, is because of his cane.”
Mark laughs appreciatively and wonders why she had to come back different, why she had to leave at all.
For a few days she’s actually happy. For a few days she’s pleasant and cheerful and calls him Mark instead of ‘Honey’, which is her pet name for him when she thinks he’s being a moron but isn’t about to say.
It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. She shouldn’t cuddle up to him on the couch and stroke her hands down his chest. She shouldn’t smile and kiss him. She shouldn’t go down on him without cause or reason.
It’s all wrong and she’s still smiling. Mark should be happy (you won; you married her) but he just can’t smile too.
(Why do you think this is, Mark? Do you think you’ve been happy since your treatment?
Just because you can’t walk doesn’t mean you can’t be happy with other things in your life. Mark, I think we’ll talk about this later.)
Mark is losing his wife. It’s a battle being fought every moment they’re near House; near this goddamned place. Mark is going to win; they came here for House to save his life, not take it from him.
House leaves him spread across the stairs and shouting abuse at his back, but Mark doesn’t even know what he’s saying now. It’s all a blur, as if his mouth is disconnected from his brain just as he was disconnected from his limbs all those months ago. Or maybe words just aren’t important now.
Mark knows. He opened his eyes and he saw what he always knew was there.
Stacy works late. It’s a terrible cliché and Mark wonders if she doesn’t feel the need to make up a good excuse.
She comes home with her face scrubbed of makeup and four boxes of her stuff from the office. She doesn’t say anything and as Mark’s elation crumbles in on itself Mark has to wonder if he’s won or lost here. She turns the lights off in their room and they have sex silently in the dark. Mark pretends not to feel the soft drop of tears on his chest.
The next day she packs up their stuff and tips the movers an extra $200 to get them there at 8 in the morning. She pulls drags off menthol cigarettes with a practiced hand as they speed down the highway and back home.
Mark has nothing to left to say (when did you start smoking, Honey? When did you start fucking him, Honey?); he’s already won.
The house is covered in a fine film of dust, just like their lives. To pick up just where they left off is impossible, because now everything they touch leaves trails in the gray powder that he can’t think of as anything but ash. They try to dust and clean until it’s how they left it, but the smears remain.
Their friends visit and now Mark realises they have two kinds of friends: those that are more-Mark’s-than-Stacy’s and those who are more-Stacy’s-than-Mark’s. They’re easily told apart.
Stacy’s friends huddle her away after giving their obligatory best-wishes-how’s-it-going to Mark. They’re often angry, hissing in low voices that Stacy just up and left and never told them she was going to try Princeton-Plainsboro.
And then they look at her – really look at her.
“Oh, Stacy,” they say, each and every one of them without fail.
Mark drinks his beer and pretends not to notice. In some things it’s easier to just pretend not to care.
(Besides, he won.)
Mark can almost forget it all when he takes his first tentative steps. He feels like a child again and incredibly apprehensive, but he takes a step and the muscles in his legs feel taut and ready. He knows they can hold him, if only for a little while. They will not crumple and fall like so many times before. This time – this time for sure.
His feet feel strange on the carpet after months of the cold plastic footrests of the wheelchair.
He steps forward, putting his weight first on his toes and then rocking backwards slightly onto his heels. He doesn’t collapse. In front of him Stacy’s holding her breath, biting her lip in anticipation and hope. He puts the other foot in front of him and places the weight on that too. The movement feels strange – he’s so very out of practice, but soon he won’t be. Carefully he lifts the left leg up just a little bit and puts it down again. Simple, easy – so easy he can do it again with the right. Another five steps and he reaches the other bar. Gratefully he grabs it and sinks into another chair. A small distance but he did it.
Stacy runs up to him and kisses him happily, congratulating him and saying how proud she is. And even through her words a terrible part of Mark wonders if she’s cheering his achievement, or that she’s one step closer to being able to leave him.
Mark knows that it’s coming – somewhere inside Stacy’s head is a point where leaving Mark no longer equals guilt, and going to House is not morally reprehensible.
Every step forward is a landmark achievement fraught with pain, accomplishment and terrible fear. Can she leave me now? he asks himself, and the answer is never satisfying, because the answer is always not yet. She wants to – he can see it in her eyes, the lines of her face, the way she says I love you. The underlying diagnosis is easy, even to him: I love him more. There is no cure, or maybe the only one who has it is House, but he’s also the affliction. Mark thinks savagely that House may be a doctor, but he’s not a healer. Their marriage was probably doomed from the moment Mark got sick.
(He wonders if it would have been better for him to have remained undiagnosed…)
There is no satisfaction in winning anymore. Perhaps there never was.
One day is just like every other day: they go to work, they come back home, they talk about their day, do the dishes, watch TV and go to bed. Every day is the same as the last and in every respect this is a marriage; this is what a marriage should be.
Except she’s not here, and Mark knows that in one, maybe two, maybe three years she won’t be with him either.
House, as Stacy used to point out, never loses in the end.
Comments and criticisms are well appreciated.