A/N: This is totally not a song!fic. I just used lyrics from a Bob Dylan song to divide the fic. And the verses are related to the sections. And the fic title is the song title…okay, it's totally a song!fic. What? No, don't go! I swear it's not really bad, I swear! And do read the lyrics, because Bob Dylan is awesome.

In the still of the night, in the world's ancient light

Where wisdom grows up in strife

My bewildering brain, toils in vain

Through the darkness on the pathways of life

Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air

Tomorrow keeps turning around

We live and we die, we know not why

But I'll be with you when the deal goes down

They thought…they thought that he was lonely and alone. They were right – half right. He was lonely, always had been. He remembered lying in bed with Stacy, being able to feel her heartbeat against his chest and still feeling lonely. It was just something you got used to. It was like the leg pain: sometimes attacking in sharp stabs of anguish, but mostly a just dull twinge underscoring and diluting all other feelings. Just something to be managed however possible and kept under control.

The other thing was just plain wrong. He understood why 'lonely' and 'alone' were always used together. Semantically speaking, the connection was simple, logical. Logic he liked. But it was still wrong, wrong, wrong. One more pill.

The fact was, he was never alone, never had been. Whenever he needed something, needed it badly enough to humble himself and ask, there was always someone there to give it to him. Sometimes Stacy, sometimes Cuddy, always Wilson.

He reaches for the bottle, but his hand misses, swishing through air and hitting the table, provoking a hiss of pain as the knuckles rap against the polished wood surface. He supports the wrist with the other hand, raises it, and wraps his fingers around the glass neck. His arm trembles as he pours out another measure and knocks it back, the liquid burning as it streaks down his throat and into the stomach.

The difficulty of being a doctor is that you can't feign ignorance. You can't pretend that you don't know or understand what's happening to you, can't close your eyes and make it go away. He knows this. He lifts two fingers to his neck and holds them there, his heavy eyelids closing. The slow, faint pulse he expects is there, feebly kicking under his skin. It has slowed a lot, and will slow even more. One more pill.

The room seemed to get warmer, and his eyelids stayed closed for longer periods of time. No…not time to sleep, not yet. More pills first. It was so hard to stay awake, his hands were numb and could barely manoeuvre pills out of the bottle, and there was that shallow little heartbeat fighting to keep his system normal and failing. He had to keep awake.

Oxycodone is an opiod. Other opiods, what were they? Morphine, Tramadol, Methadone, Lefetamine. Warm in here. If you go to sleep now, you'll be fine. A little rough for a couple of days, but no-one need ever know about it. No, no, no. Laudanum was an opiod. Sufentanil, Fentanyl…A-An-An-Anileridine.

He looks at the pill lying in the flat of his hand. The hand is cold enough for him to know that the pills are knocking at the doors of his nervous system. It's only a matter of time before they call for the battering ram. The pills, the look on Wilson's face as he flaunted them earlier, was all a part of the ritual. It was like that movie where the dad gives his son a mouth organ that can summon him from anywhere in the world. Pills were like the mouth organ. If he carried on taking them, until the bottle was empty, Wilson would come. He knew – just knew – when things were really bad. Things were really bad now.

We eat and we drink, we feel and we think

Far down the street we stray

I laugh and I cry and I'm haunted by

Things I never meant nor wished to say

The midnight rain follows the train

We all wear the same thorny crown

Soul to soul, our shadows roll

And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

House never apologises to anyone. He can't make the words come out of his mouth, but he finds ways to express regret. The worse his offence, the more extreme the ways. That's how things used to be. If he argued with Cuddy when he knew she was right, then he would shut up and do some clinic hours without complaining the next day. If he made a joke too many about Wilson, he would let him keep his lunch intact that afternoon. Now, things were different. He had hurt people, more than usual at least.

What he had said to Cuddy, in the shower stall, words pouring from his mouth viciously, thoughtlessly, a barrage of spewed-up anger and frustration. He remembered two things: the expression on her face and the pain all over his body. He would have liked to have said that he didn't know which one hurt more, but he did. The leg hurt more, always would. That was the worst thing about the pills, or lack of them; they made you a bad person. Not a sarcastic person, not an misanthropic person – those were down to genes and experience – but a bad person. He had hurt her and done nothing to repair the damage, not one remorseful glance or bowed head.

Wilson, too. He had done so much damage to him recently. His life, his privileges, his career had all been held back for House's benefit. And again, he had done nothing in return. So now, there was so much to make up for, so many apologies to be made without words. This gesture had to be extreme. Two more pills.

They stuck going down. His hand slowly reaches for the bottle again, shifting the pills down into his system with a swig of whiskey. His hands were numb now. He picked up the near-empty pill bottle and turned it round and round between his hands, trying to keep his fingers moving.

Wilson would come. Wilson would see him lying there, vulnerable, exposed to the world and realise the magnitude of his remorse. He would see House silently begging his forgiveness, and he would accept his wordless confessions. And he would tell Cuddy, and she too would understand that he was sorry. Who else was there? His fellows? He didn't really care about them; they had not suffered enough to be worthy of his remorse. He felt no need to leave them an explanation. Let them do the math themselves, without him to hang over their shoulders. He poured out another whiskey, but before he could drink it another thought permeated the mists which were beginning to envelope his brain.

His parents. His mom. She deserved something. To her, there was never going to be a proper explanation for this, but she deserved just something to let her know that he was thinking about her. He picks up the phone lying next to the bottle, dials a number and waits for what seems like hours. He leaves a message which sounds almost normal, even managing to laugh a little. There is a pause, as he thinks desperately for something to say, something profound which will make sense afterwards. There is nothing. The pauses stretches out ahead of him, and he knows that every second of silence is a shade more worry she will feel when she hears the message.

"I just wanted to say Merry Christmas."

He puts the phone down, and wrenches the cap from the pill bottle. There are two rattling around inside. He throws them into a hand which is rapidly starting to deaden, and claps them against his mouth. The whiskey stops him from even feeling them, as he drains the glass. Halfway through it, he gags as the liquor starts to burn, but forces himself to finish. The slam of the glass on the tabletop seems to reverberate around in his head. Done. Finished. Over. It was all going to end, either temporarily or permanently. It was a bad sign that he didn't care which anymore.

The pills make him feel like he is sitting in a tank of syrup. Each movement is laboured, and his arm seems to leave a blurred trail as if in slow motion. It is an unnerving sensation, to feel your body cooling down. Switching off, preparing for shutdown. Breaths come much slower than usual, but he doesn't feel a need for more air. He feels peaceful. The closest to feeling good in a long time. He should do this more often – he laughs here, and picks up the whiskey bottle. Damn, it's empty – he knew that already.

He suddenly felt hot and nauseous, wanted to run into the cool night and jog off the stupor which had once been comforting but was now a torture, keeping him from his brain. Patches of black flashed in front of his eyes, moving, blocking parts of his vision. A greasy, oily film was starting to creep over his eyes, covering the room in a grey gauze. The gauze shifts suddenly, jolts violently upwards.

He is unconscious by the time he slides forward onto the ground.

Well, the moon gives light and it shines by night

When I scarcely feel the glow

We learn to live and then we forgive

Over the road we're bound to go

More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours

That keep us so tightly bound

You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies

And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

He was on the floor, but his sprawled position had no effect on his leg, already dead. There was vomit lying a few inches from his face, but he couldn't smell it. He could barely hear either. He looked at the vomit and then closed his eyes. He had stopped himself from going all the way. Great doctor, his DNA intent on preserving life even when his mind disagreed. The body was such an amazing thing, conspiring to keep him alive despite all the shit he threw at it. It was like Wilson – he was pushing it, testing it, trying to see when it would break. He didn't want to break it, but he had to know how far he could go.

He turned his head and tried to see his watch. He had been here nearly an hour, from what he could make of the dial's hands. The stupor was descending again, brought on by his small movement. There was a bell ringing in his head, and the mists lowered over him, dulling the sound. He let it enfold him and take him away.

The first few knocks shook him into consciousness. The second made him stir, and try to make sense of the sound. The third … that was the door he was hearing, someone there. Wilson. It had to be.

"House! You okay? I called three times."

It was. The door clicked open, and House shifted himself aimlessly. He raised his head with its manifold weights and shackles, and the tendons in his neck strained to keep it from sinking back to the floor. A foot came into view, then both legs kicking around the table and leaping towards him. A body bearing down on him, then dropping low at his side. A head, Wilson's, leaning over him, years of hidden fears and repressed anxieties splattered across his face in vivid streaks of wild colour. His eyes swam overhead, his hand reached for the empty bottle, lifted it up.

Now was the time. House waited for Wilson to look him in the eye again, and when he did, tried to display that expression, that look of deep regret. The look he had been thinking about for hours, the one that would somehow communicate all he wanted to say, all he had ever wanted to say.

He turned up his eyes and let the unspoken words flood into them. This was the moment when Wilson would understand, when he would… Wilson was gone.

The door shut. House let his head fall down hard, carelessly, and turned it onto the right cheek. He stared emptily at the space where Wilson had been, trying to comprehend. Wilson had been there, had seen him and had rejected him. And deep down he knew that when he recovered, he would care, he would hurt and he would analyse the events that had taken place. Now he just wanted to sleep, letting the trance fall over him again. But the pills were wearing off. He was getting better. He couldn't go back to that warm, dark place.

Well, I picked up a rose and it poked through my clothes

I followed the winding stream

I heard the deafening noise, I felt transient joys

I know they're not what they seem

In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain

You'll never see me frown

I owe my heart to you, and that's saying it's true

And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

Wilson didn't think about what he had done until he was at the bottom of the porch steps. Then it hit him alongside the cold air, and stopped him dead. He turned back and looked at the building behind him, trying to filter his thoughts into a straight stream rather than a barrage of theories, ideas and facts attacking from all directions.

Going back was out of the question, so standing around in front of the building was pointless. He got into his car and pulled away slowly.

It was Christmas Day, for God's sake. He remembered last Christmas, bored stupid at his wife's parents' house in a last-ditch attempt at marital repair. But he remembered the Christmas before. At House's, eating, laughing, forgetting for a few hours that there was a world outside the apartment. That House was different to the new manifestation. Old House also liked to push the boundaries, but unlike this House, he seemed to know what the boundaries were. That guy could be many bad things, but he was also fiercely intelligent, funny and loyal. Wilson liked that guy, would have done anything for him. He wouldn't have left him there in his own vomit. But he had to accept that the man lolling on the laminated boards in a stupor was not the guy he remembered, and if he ever wanted to see that guy again he would have to be drastic.

House, his friend, was not that lethargic, bewildered body splayed on his back, sad and desperate. That was a different guy, and Wilson vehemently hoped that he now lay dead on the floor.

He suddenly felt compelled to pull into a lay-by and cut the engine. He looked at the bright strip of lights lining the road, from stores and hotels, feeling completely alone. Other cars roared past on his left, sending tiny vibrations through his seat.

Up ahead was a phone box, and he got out of the vehicle and slowly walked towards it. Cold fingers fumbling for change, he tried to remember Cuddy's telephone number. He lifted the receiver, yanking it from its bed of chewing gum and held it next to his ear. The cold wind whistled in under the glass walls and whipped round his ankles. He dialled the number and waited.

"Hello?"

"Cuddy, it's Wilson."

"Is everything alright? Did you speak to House?"

He kicked softly at the wall in front of him and rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. He considered to question and answered truthfully.

"No."

"You said you were going to stop by his apartment."

"I did."

Cuddy was obviously considering this answer, because he had to wait a few moments before she said, uncertainly:

"He wouldn't let you in?"

"He…ah…he couldn't let me in."

"What?"

The question was sharp, demanding an answer, yet Wilson hesitated inordinately long before providing an explanation. He had to sort out events in his head first, before he could relay them to her.

"He stole a patient's meds. A dead patient."

"Oh my God," Cuddy muttered. Wilson leaned his flushed forehead against the cool glass and carried on mechanically.

"He took a bottle of oxycodone. Coupled with whiskey, it knocked him flat out."

"He…tried to kill himself?" Cuddy asked, unsteadily.

"I…don't know," Wilson said softly, wishing he could have said something better, something more professional and concrete.

"Are you there now? Have you called an ambulance?"

"I'm in a phone booth on Madison. I didn't dial 911."

"He…" she paused to collect her thoughts, "he OD-ed on an unknown amount of pills and alcohol, and you left him there?"

"From the look of things, he brought up most of what he put in," Wilson said. At the other end of the line, Cuddy closed her eyes briefly and tried to avoid imagining the scene.

"He's not going to die," Wilson continued, "But he'll feel like hell. But then he might understand why he needs to take this deal. He'll be fine."

"I trust you. I know there's no way you would leave him there if you thought he was in danger."

"He knew I was there, he could move. When I saw him lying there, I was scared, but when I saw the label on the bottle and realised what he'd done…I just walked away."

"Okay," Cuddy said calmly, "just go home and try to relax."

"Don't g…"

"I won't go over there."

Wilson smiled slightly at the ease with which she could foresee his request. "Thank you."

"That's okay," she said.

"Goodnight," Wilson said evenly.

"Night," she said, then added, before he could start to hang up, "James?"

He started a little at the sound of his first name. "Yeah?"

"You did the right thing."

"I know."

He hung up, got back into his car and drove. Go home, she had said. There was no home to go to, just a simple hotel room like any other hotel room. As soon as you switched off the light, you lost your identity amongst the impersonal blackness of a room inhabited by hundreds before you. Usually, he hated pressing down the switch and diving into anonymous darkness. Tonight, it would be relief.