"This is not over."

Wilson's words echoed in House's mind as Wilson tried to reassure him, resulting only in making House feel more self-conscious and uneasy than he had earlier. His stomach was a mass of tangled, quivering knots, as the image of Wilson standing in the bedroom doorway with the belt hanging from his hand filled his mind, in spite of Wilson's promises never to even suggest using it again.

Not over? The hell it isn't! This is most definitely over – all of it.

The mere threat of the belt was enough to make House seriously rethink his arrangement with Wilson. Even the idea of losing Wilson's friendship for good seemed like a worthy sacrifice in light of the danger in which he had almost found himself. Despite the risk – House was quite certain that he didn't want to go through with this anymore. The whole situation was frightening and confusing, and required far more openness and vulnerability than he was willing to give.

The next morning, House woke up before Wilson, and quietly got ready for work in the stillness of the living room so as not to awaken his friend. He took his motorcycle to work, stunning Cuddy when he made his way through the clinic toward her office fifteen minutes before he was due to arrive.

"Good… morning." She greeted him in a slow, cautious voice, giving him an appraising look as he sat down in the chair across from her desk. "Dare I ask what I can do for you?"

House passed on the obvious opportunity to make a lewd joke at her expense, instead jumping straight to the point. "I need a favor."

"What kind of a favor?" Cuddy asked, a single brow raised in suspicion.

"I need you to write me a Vicodin scrip."

"Wilson writes your prescriptions," Cuddy stated unnecessarily. "You can't wait…" She glanced at her watch. "… ten minutes until he gets here?"

"So picky about minor details," House whined impatiently. "I'm out, and I need more, and I don't see why I should have to spend the next ten minutes in pain just because Wilson's work ethic isn't as strong as mine…"

"Give it up, House." Cuddy's suspicions faded into a knowing smirk. "I've already talked to Wilson, and I know what you're up to."

"That's great," House replied dubiously, an uneasy feeling beginning in the pit of his stomach. "Mind enlightening me?"

"He told me all about the new rehab regimen you're starting," Cuddy clarified, her smirk shifting into a warm, pleased smile. "And I've got to say, I'm impressed. I'm very proud of you that you're trying to quit, House. That's great." Her smile faded, her expression and tone becoming serious as she added a bit more sternly, "But if it's going to work at all, you're going to have to stick to it. You can't be going behind his back looking for extra pills."

House was stunned, his mind racing as he tried to figure out the implications of her words. "I'm not…"

"Don't even try it, House. Wilson told me he's monitoring your pills, and warned me that as you start to withdraw from your usual dosage, you'll be looking for a way to get more." Cuddy shook her head slowly with a sympathetic but unyielding smile. "I'm not going to write you a prescription and mess up the good decision you've made."

The pieces fell together in his mind, and House realized that Wilson had planned to commandeer his Vicodin supply from the beginning. He felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as he got up without another word and made his way swiftly out of Cuddy's office and toward his own. As he left, he did not noticed Cuddy picking up her phone and swiftly dialing an extension as she watched him go.

When he reached the conference room, he nodded to Cameron before heading into the privacy of his own office, and she followed him there. House wasted no time in making his request, though he knew immediately the answer he would receive, when he saw the discomfort in her averted gaze as she stumbled over her response.

"Cuddy… just called here, not five minutes ago. She specifically said that… any one of us who wrote you a Vicodin prescription would be immediately terminated," Cameron admitted, nervous and apologetic. "I'm sorry, House. I would, but… I can't."

House swore quietly under his breath, dismissing her with a wave of his hand. He didn't bother to ask Foreman or Chase, knowing perfectly well that neither of them would risk Cuddy's wrath to fill the prescription for him. Cameron had been his best shot, and even she had not been willing to go so far as to sacrifice her job for his addiction.

Wilson had deliberately set things up so that House had no choice but to go to him for his pills.

By the time House reached Wilson's office, Wilson was already there and getting his morning agenda in order. House raised his cane and recklessly swept it across Wilson's desk, scattering papers and office supplies everywhere.

"Give me my damn pills," he demanded in a low, warning voice.

Wilson looked up at him, quiet, angry surprise in his eyes. "I think you'd better pick those up, House," he suggested softly.

"I think you'd better give me my Vicodin before I knock something off that's a little more important to you than your paperwork," House retorted. "I'm in pain, Wilson. You can't just keep them away from me…"

"I had no intention of keeping them away from you," Wilson informed him with a quiet, ironic laugh. "Not completely, anyway. I was going to give you one as soon as I woke up… but you weren't there when I woke up, so…"

The use of past tense verbs was not lost on House, who stood there in silence for a moment, considering. "You were," he echoed quietly. "But now…?"

"Now," Wilson nodded slowly, thoughtfully, before meeting House's eyes with a rueful grimace. "Now, I think you'd better pick up the mess you just made, and apologize, if you expect to get anything from me."

Seething with fury and frustration, House stood there, his hand trembling around the handle of his cane as he glared at Wilson's impassive face. Finally, he snarled in a voice that shook with indignant rage, "I don't need anything from you, and I'm not about to apologize."

Wilson's smile was sad, knowing. "No, I… didn't really think that you would." He paused a moment, before adding patiently, "But when you change your mind, feel free to come back and talk about it. And I know you will change your mind."

"Because I'll be in pain," House pointed out, disgusted accusation in his voice. "And you're perfectly okay with that."

"No, I'm really not." Wilson's eyes became clouded with concern as he sighed. "But all it'll take is a simple apology."

Knowing Wilson well enough to know that he was not about to yield on this issue, House stood there just a moment longer in frustration, trying to think of a way to get what he wanted – needed – and failing. He slammed his way out of Wilson's office with a quiet curse, storming down the hallway toward his own office. He was determined not to give Wilson the satisfaction of reducing him to begging for his pills – and he was also determined not to apologize.

Wilson was the one who was out of line.

For the rest of the day, House alternated between deliberately avoiding Wilson to prove how little he cared that Wilson was withholding his Vicodin, and doing what he could to make Wilson's day miserable, to get him to give in. As the day wore on endlessly, his pain gradually increased until he could think of nothing else. Desperation drove him to lengths of petulant aggression that neither Wilson nor House had imagined he might reach.

Wilson returned from a three-hour stretch in the clinic near the end of the day to find House in the process of virtually destroying his office. His shelves full of books and gifts from patients were empty, their former contents littering the floor around them. The papers and files and other items on his desk were scattered on the floor, the contents of his half-full cup of coffee very deliberately poured over them. At the moment when Wilson opened his door, House was ripping an entire file in half.

Both men froze, staring at each other for a long moment. Then Wilson turned away for a moment, and silently locked the door, before facing House again with unsettling calm.

"I think you'd better clean this up."

House let out a rude, scoffing sound, trying not to show how Wilson's unusually quiet, even voice unnerved him. "You must be a little confused," he retorted. "See, I'm in the process of making the mess in the first place – and the whole point is that you'll have to clean it up, so…"

"I'm sorry," Wilson interrupted with a deceptive smile, and House tensed as Wilson started casually toward him. "Maybe I wasn't clear. Let me rephrase." As he spoke, he closed the distance between House and himself, then took a step further, forcing House back against his desk. His voice lowered dangerously, he repeated in a tone of quiet command.

"Clean this up."

House hesitated a moment, studying Wilson's expression and trying to gauge whether or not he was in any real danger. A couple of days ago, he wouldn't have wondered. As it was, however, he was beginning to wonder if he'd ever known his best friend at all. After a moment's tense consideration, House's jaw set stubbornly, and he replied in a voice of cautious challenge.

"Give me my Vicodin… and I will."

Wilson looked him over appraisingly, taking in his condition – and his expression visibly softened when he saw the way House was shaking, his shoulders taut, his face lined with the pain of going nearly the entire day without a single pill. Still, there was no apology in Wilson's quiet voice when he spoke again.

"You could have had your Vicodin hours ago, House," he stated. "A simple apology isn't so hard. Now, though… now we're far beyond that point, unfortunately."

Those cryptic words made House's stomach feel a little queasy, as he tried to decipher what Wilson might mean. Defiant, he demanded, "So, what? It's too late for sorry? I'm gonna be 'punished', regardless? Yeah." House shook his head, his trademark smirk in place. "Only if I choose to let that happen. Wanna make a bet on whether or not I will?"

Wilson stared at him for a long moment, anger warring with sympathy in his eyes – but he did not answer House's question.

Finally, with a weary sigh, Wilson walked around his desk – ending the tension of the moment, but not House's confusion and anxiety – to open a drawer and take out the key to his office. He rarely used it, because he rarely bothered to lock the door; but apparently, he had no intention of waiting around for House to clean up the mess he'd made, and didn't want to risk Cuddy or anyone else walking in while he was gone and finding the disaster that was left of the room.

"Come on." Wilson nodded toward the door as he picked up his briefcase. "Let's go home."

House let out another rude snort, raising an eyebrow in Wilson's direction. "I'm not going anywhere with you," he declared.

"You think you're in any condition to ride your bike home?" Wilson pointed out. "I know you're in pain, House. I'll drive." He paused, a slight, wicked smile rising to his lips as he turned toward the door. "Besides, I don't think you really want to go all night without your Vicodin, after going all day already – do you?"

Trapped and apprehensive, House wanted to refuse the offer; but his throbbing leg screamed at him to accept it. Wilson had effectively shut him off from any other sources of Vicodin. The frustrating truth was that if he wanted to get to his pills any time soon, going home with Wilson was his best bet – not that he had any intention of yielding to Wilson's demands for apology.

No, finding a way to sneak the pills out of Wilson's possession was more what House had in mind.

By the time they reached the car, parked far across the lot in Wilson's non-handicapped space, House was visibly shaking, his face pale and drawn with pain. Wilson watched him with grim concern as he opened his car door for House and waited for him to get in, before closing it firmly. House's eyes were closed, leaning back against the headrest, and he didn't seem to notice.

The first few minutes of the drive were quiet and tense. House was in too much pain – not to mention too sullen and angry with Wilson – to want to make conversation. Wilson, for his part, wasn't sure what he could say that would actually get through to his friend… but he was desperate to come up with something.

"You know, it doesn't have to be like this," he reminded House at last, with forced patience. "You find it within your capability to apologize for your behavior today, and I'll give you a Vicodin, House. Hell, I'll give you two. You've gone all day without them."

And I never meant for that to happen…

"You just have to understand that you can't just behave any way you like, and expect it to work just like it always has. Things are going to be different now. They have to be…"

Because I can't stand to watch you nearly kill yourself again…

"I'm doing this because I care about you, House. And the sooner you stop fighting me on every little detail… the sooner it can start to work. I know it can."

Please, please just trust me…just let me help you…

"All you've got to do is just show a little maturity… and I'm willing to forget this whole day, like it never happened. I'll give you the Vicodin tonight… and tomorrow, on schedule… like you agreed…" Wilson reminded him pointedly, glancing at House before returning his eyes to the road. "And this time, we'll forget all about any kind of punishments or consequences or anything like that. All right?"

No response.

"House?"

Wilson frowned as he glanced at House again. The older man was staring out the side window, a thoughtful expression on his face. He returned Wilson's gaze with a maliciously mischievous smirk, and Wilson knew before House spoke that he wasn't going to like his answer.

"I'm sorry," House replied with false innocence. "Did you say something?"

That was when Wilson's concerned frustration began to shift to indignant irritation… and then, as he considered the situation more fully, finally… outright anger.

"Fine," he snapped, shoulders straightening as he focused on the road in front of him. "You want it that way? That's fine with me, House. Go all night without your meds. Go the rest of your damn life for all I care! Suffer. It's up to you. You're the one bringing this on yourself."

House stubbornly refused to reply. Wilson wondered briefly why he wasn't retorting with some scathing comment as usual, glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. A regretful pang struck him at the tense set of House's mouth, the way he was leaning back against the headrest again, eyes closed in an attempt to shut out the pain. Realization left Wilson conflicted with guilt and determination, as the reason for House's silence occurred to him at last.

He's in too much pain to think of a comeback… God, this is the last thing I wanted… this is never going to work…

When they arrived home, it was all Wilson could do not to offer House his assistance, despite the fact that he knew, at this point, House would certainly refuse it. It was almost physically painful to Wilson to watch him limp on trembling legs, much more slowly than usual, up the sidewalk to his apartment.

Once they were inside, however, Wilson couldn't resist one last attempt at reason.

"House…"

"Screw you."

House cut him off sharply, not pausing on the way to the bedroom, slamming the door emphatically behind him. Wilson stood there for a long moment, dumbfounded, and struggling to think of some way of salvaging the situation.

**************************

An hour later, House sat on the edge of his bed, slowly rubbing his thigh, struggling to think past the pain, to come up with a way of getting past Wilson's guard and to his much-needed Vicodin. He couldn't focus, couldn't come up with a plan, and found himself just sitting there helplessly, fighting back the tears of frustration and sheer agony that sprang to his eyes.

And the worst of it was… he knew that Wilson was at least partially right. He had agreed to everything Wilson had tried to do so far. It was just so hard – as in impossible – to allow himself to trust the management of his pain to anyone besides himself. He knew Wilson meant well, but how could he possibly know how to decide when he needed more Vicodin? How could Wilson know how much pain he was in, and when?

The idea of surrendering control to Wilson was tempting, in many ways – but it was also terrifying.

He says he cares… says it's all for my good… but… what does he really want?

Every nerve on edge from the pain, House started with a violent jerk when the door abruptly slammed open. He looked up to see Wilson standing in the doorway, glaring at him through dark, stormy eyes full of barely bridled anger. House tensed as Wilson stalked toward him, bracing himself for the violence he saw in every facet of Wilson's expression, carriage, demeanor.

"You know for a genius, you can be a real idiot sometimes."

Wilson's voice was low, seething with frustration as he stopped directly in front of House, staring down at him and taking in the violent shaking of his pain-racked body, the trembling tension in his shoulders as he steeled himself for whatever attack he expected Wilson to throw at him.

When Wilson reached out abruptly to grasp House's wrist, jerking him forward slightly, House flinched – and that only served to increase Wilson's anger.

"Damn it, House, would you try to trust me for a second? I'm not going to hit you."

Embarrassed by his own reaction, House kept his eyes focused sullenly on his knees, pulling slightly against Wilson's grip on his wrist.

"Just get out," he demanded in a low, shaking voice. "Leave me alone."

"Shut up and listen for a second instead of assuming you know what I'm going to say and do before I do," Wilson snapped, his free hand moving to harshly, angrily press something into House's open palm, then closing his hand around it.

House looked up at Wilson, startled, as his hand recognized the feel of the objects in his hand, without the benefit of sight.

"Take your damn pills," Wilson ordered, and the resentful fury in his voice made House look away self-consciously.

Wilson reached down with his free hand to catch House's chin and force his head up again, silently demanding eye contact. House felt a strange lurching sensation in his stomach as he finally registered the other emotions in Wilson's eyes, beyond the immediate anger. Wilson's dark eyes were brimming with tears, filled with concern and sympathy and the agony of his conflicting emotions.

House's voice was halting, low and unsteady, as he asked, "So… no apology necessary, then? Because that's so not happening…"

The tone of his voice, however, made it clear that he wasn't so sure of that anymore. A little longer, Wilson was sure, and House would have caved, offering the apology Wilson had demanded earlier.

It didn't matter. Wilson couldn't stand to wait any longer.

"I don't want you in pain, House." Wilson's voice trembled as he held House's gaze firmly, refusing to let him look away. "I'm trying to help you… not hurt you. The whole point of all this is that I can't stand to see you hurting yourself. You think it's any better when you decide to use me as your weapon of choice?"

Stunned by that way of viewing the situation, House swallowed hard, a suspicious lump forming in his throat.

"Take them." Wilson nodded toward House's closed hand, releasing it. "Everything else… we'll deal with later."

House hesitated a moment, before nodding shakily, his shoulders slumping with relief. He raised his hand eagerly to his mouth, dry-swallowing the pills quickly, closing his eyes and letting out a deep, shaky breath at the knowledge that relief was soon coming.

"You agreed to this, House." Wilson's voice was quiet, trembling with emotion, as he reminded House of their arrangement. "You said you'd give this a try. That can't be, just until I ask you to do something you don't want to do, or just until you change your mind on a whim."

Shaken by the ordeal the day had become, as well as the quiet, emotional intensity of Wilson's words, House nodded slowly, eyes downcast.

"I know."

"You can't say you're going to submit, and then do whatever you want anyway – and you can't just freak out and back out of everything the second a punishment is in order. If that's the way it's going to be, this whole thing is pointless."

"I know."

"And we still have to deal with your disrespect and disobedience these past two days," Wilson insisted. "House… you will have to be punished at some point… somehow…"

"I know."

House was silent for a moment, before suddenly looking up at Wilson again, and Wilson was stunned to see the sheen of tears in House's eyes, and a certain openness he was unaccustomed to seeing there. House's voice was hoarse, halting as he added a soft, tentative question.

"Just… please… not tonight?"

The tremulous words, the desperate need for reassurance Wilson saw in House's eyes, touched his heart with a pang of sympathy and regret for the unintentional ordeal House had been through that day.

"Okay," he softly agreed, reaching out a gentle hand to slowly rub the tension from House's taut shoulders. "Not tonight."

After a few minutes of thoughtful, almost comfortable silence between them, the combined effect of Wilson's soothing touch and the double dose of Vicodin began to take effect, and House's head nodded slightly with impending sleep. Wilson felt himself softening further to his friend's plight, as he realized how fully exhausted House had to be.

"Come on," he murmured, one steadying hand at House's back, the other moving to unbutton his shirt. "Let's get you ready for bed."

"I can do it," House half-heartedly protested.

"I know."

But Wilson didn't stop undressing him… and House didn't really seem to mind all that much.

Once House was ready for bed, Wilson pulled the covers back on the bed, then drew them up over House's body with tender care. By the time Wilson had gotten himself ready for bed as well, House was nearly asleep. Wilson slid under the blankets with House, wrapping a gentle arm around him and pulling him close, gratified when House settled into his embrace, rather than resisting it.

Good… then, not too much damage done today…

Wilson frowned, troubled by his thoughts.

But that was awfully close. Tomorrow, he decided as he began to drift off to sleep himself, we're going to have to sit down and have a long, long talk about all of this. Neither of us really meant for it to happen, but today turned into a nightmare… and I can't stand to hurt him again.