"What the hell were you thinking, House?" Cuddy was yelling; her tirade slapping House in the face like sleet on a freezing day. "First, lying to get yourself into a study that you knew you wouldn't qualify for and then letting the whole hospital believe you were dying…"

"We're all dying," House interrupted. Cuddy shot him daggers with her glare.

"…For what?! To, as Cameron told me…to get high? What, Vicodin not doing it for you anymore?" She gestured at him disgust, signaling an end to the rant.

She had been awaiting him, her fury rendering her unable to wait until morning. It was just past 2:00 a.m. She continued to stare at him, waiting for him to respond in some way; to offer some sort of explanation for what he had done. His eyes always told the truth, she knew. In them, he could never hide—not for very long. The initial harshness she saw in them dissipated into hurt and then shame.

"I wasn't doing it to get high." He stopped as if that were enough to say; that she would understand somehow. House did not want to be doing this now; the last 24 hours had been hard enough without having to justify himself. Cuddy reacted by sitting on his leather sofa, waiting for him to go on. "I thought we'd finished. I'm going to bed, so unless you're feeling frisky and want to join me, I'll trust that you'll let yourself out. Leave the key on the coffee table."

It was no one's business why, how and if he joined a clinical study. That they all felt it was their job to dig and delve into his own private matters, it was their problem that they were led astray. Maybe next time they wouldn't…

"House." Cuddy interrupted his thoughts, drawing his attention back down the hall to the living room where still she sat on the sofa. "Then why?"

House blew out a breath. He wasn't going to get rid of her that easily, he realized. Neither was explaining going to a simple task, dismissed with a moment's worth of offhand remarks. Defeated, he returned to her, sitting.

"I have to do something." It was a simple enough sentiment. And it was true, if his more recent liver panel results were to be believed. "I can't stay on the Vicodin…"

"No kidding." House ignored the remark, continuing.

"I've been researching…" he began again.

"Yeah. Let's see…drug implant into the pleasure centers of your brain. Sounds like fun. Like the kind of research we all did back in our college chem labs." She was being dismissive and it stung. Probably served him right, he reasoned. House's expression changed slightly, catching Cuddy's attention. His eyes sought understanding from her, begging her to comprehend the desperation that he had felt; still felt to put an end to his pain. To find something, anything, to put things back to "normal," whatever that was.

Pain and depression, intricately interwoven, one feeding on and multiplying the other into a driving desperation to a reset button that House knew really didn't exist. But he had to try. House was a master at diagnosis. The master. He could figure out the rarest of conditions and determine a course of treatment with his vast knowledge, understanding and eerie intuition. His own case, on the other hand, had eluded him as he had scoured journals, conference papers, monographs and the internet for clues; for breakthroughs; for anything that would get him off the pills.

In a way, his team was right. He was dying, just not of brain cancer. Each morning he held his breath peering into the bathroom mirror, scanning his sclera for any yellowing. It was a risk, taking the Vicodin, and the amount he had consumed over the years was enough to put his liver on borrowed time. He had known that last spring when he had convinced Cuddy to try the Ketamine. She had looked at him with sad, sympathetic eyes, as she had the other night, thinking he was dying. And then the Ketamine failed. He couldn't talk about it: to her, to Wilson, to anyone.

His father would tell him to simply suck it up; be a man. Stoicism is something that can be beaten into you, after all. "No one cares," he had so many times in one way or another, "about your silly little paper cut. Put a bandage on it and get back to your chores. Now!"

As the joy of September faded into the freezing dampness of October, the hopefulness that House had dared to experience had dissipated into a angry hopelessness. He keenly missed running: the freedom of flight; the lightness of his step fueled by months of rehab. The taste of it still burned into his brain as a memory growing more distant with each passing day. He needed to recapture it before it was gone forever, buried beneath a toxic hopelessness and despair.

"I'd read about the Mass General study back in September. "

"It was for terminal cancer patients. How could you think…"

"The reason it was being tried on terminal brain cancer patients was because of the risk. It wasn't a cure for them, it was a way to test a drug on the hopeless, whose life expectancy was nil. It was a way." House looked down at his hands. He couldn't say much else without revealing the depth of his disappointment and frustration of having been outed.

"Wilson told me about your patient. The one who couldn't sense pain…" House stood, pacing away from Cuddy, stopping in front of his desk. He picked up a random journal and thumbed through it mindlessly.

"Wilson had no right…"

"You were going to…"

"I know what I was going to do. But I didn't. Even when I could have; when Wilson said I should have."

"Then why didn't you…" House looked back at her. She knew that answer. Or she should have.

"It wouldn't have been right." Cuddy heard the emotion in his voice and it broke her heart. "This study; the drug they were testing and delivery system could have…"

Cuddy finally understood. The drug was intended to treat drug-resistant depression. The risk of brain damage made terminal brain cancer patients an ideal group to test. But stimulation of the brain's pleasure centers was also tied into the sensation of pain. It would address both House's immediate physical pain as well as an related psych pain. "But House, the risk…this procedure…why would you…?" But she knew without his responding to the question. He was desperate. More desperate than he had been last winter when he begged her for morphine; more than when he decided to try the Ketamine.

"House." She walked over to where he was standing at the desk. "I'm still here for you if you need me." He looked at her slightly stunned. "Even if you're not dying of cancer."

"I need you." As she had the evening before in her foyer, she reached up and embraced him. She half expected him to make another grab for her ass. But the circumstances were so different. He returned the embrace, simply holding on to her. Simply grateful for her presence. Simply being.