House could barely speak as he stared down at the none-too-pleasant options Wilson had arrayed for him, vaguely aware that Wilson had moved from behind him to slide his desk chair around the desk and position it behind the place where House stood. His stomach felt queasy, and his mouth was almost too dry to move enough to form words. When he finally managed to voice a cautious, halting objection, his voice was a hoarse, barely audible whisper.

"Wilson… you can't actually be serious. This is… this is ridiculous…"

His protest was cut off in a startled yelp, as Wilson placed a heavy hand on his shoulder and yanked him abruptly and forcefully down into the chair – placing him at a distinct physical disadvantage to Wilson, still standing and thus, for the moment, towering over him.

"Stop stalling and choose, House." Wilson's voice carried a distinctly warning edge.

"Wilson, I didn't even…"

House gasped as Wilson grasped his hair sharply, jerking his head back, and closed his eyes, swallowing hard as Wilson leaned over him, resting a hand on his left thigh as he spoke quietly close to his ear – subtle warning shifting instantly to steely authority.

"This is not a joke or a game, House. You're not going to talk me out of this. We made an agreement, and you are going to honor it." He paused, edging nearer, tightening his grip on House's hair as he lowered his voice and continued. "Is that clear?"

House's heart was pounding in his throat, his hands clenched around the base of the chair in a desperate attempt to prevent himself from following his instincts to resist. He drew in a deep, shaking breath, every muscle in his body taut with the preparation to either resist, or flee.

Wilson slowly released his grip on House's hair, withdrawing to stand over him again, waiting until House looked up at him in questioning trepidation to speak with soft, matter-of-fact clarity.

"Unless… you just want to get up and walk out. That's an option, too."

Strangely, that option was more frightening and unsettling to House than the prospect of the punishment Wilson was about to administer. He considered rising to his feet and shoving Wilson away from him, insisting on the autonomy and respect he knew he deserved – or simply getting up and walking away, refusing to submit to Wilson's demands.

In the end… he did neither.

House knew that this was his last resort, one final attempt at regaining control over the disaster his life had become – even if that control was Wilson's and not his own. The conflict with Tritter, his near-death by overdose, the brief time he had spent in rehab, and nearly going to prison – all only served to prove that his own choices were not necessarily the ones that were best for him. At that moment, House was only sure of one thing in the confusion his life had become.

Wilson.

And he could not lose him.

"No," House whispered at last, eyes lowered in defeat. "No, I… I don't want to… to go…"

Wilson nodded in satisfaction, his hand returning to the back of House's head, this time in a gentle, affectionate touch. "Good. Now, choose."

Desperate to avoid the punishment Wilson was forcing upon him, House tried again. "Wilson… please just listen. I didn't…"

"House." Wilson cut him off again, stern warning in his voice. "That's it. You're not going to talk your way out of this with some lame excuse. You will not speak again unless I give you permission to do so. Just… keep your mouth shut, and make your choice."

House stared down at the items on Wilson's desk, a rising sensation of nausea swelling up from his stomach to lodge in his throat. The whole thing seemed so surreal, as if it was just some insane dream from which he would awaken at any moment, to find that everything was back to normal, and Wilson was back to his old, comfortably enabling self.

Unfortunately, the array of weapons laid out on Wilson's desk was unsettlingly real.

None of his options seemed to be good.

House jumped, startled, when Wilson's hand came to rest heavily on his shoulder, sliding around in a sideways embrace that was strangely comforting, considering the fact that Wilson was the one forcing him into this predicament. Wilson's voice was gentle, yet firm and warning, as he spoke softly from where he stood at House's side.

"If you don't choose," he explained patiently, "your right to choose will be forfeit, and I'll choose for you."

House nodded slowly, swallowing hard as he reached out a trembling, dutiful hand toward the items arranged on the desk.

The first was one of Wilson's belts, House suspected the very same one which he had embarrassed himself by freaking out over a few weeks earlier. His hand slid over the smooth, brown leather with only a cursory perusal, not really even considering it, as he moved on immediately to the next item.

It was a thin metal ruler, flexible but sturdy in his hand. House ran his fingertips along it's edge, finding it frighteningly sharp. He closed his eyes for a moment, fighting back a fresh wave of sickness at the unpleasant memories it provoked, as he set it back down on the desk, barely managing to suppress a visible shudder.

The next item in the row was a broad, flat wooden paddle, the kind that had once been a child's toy, attached to a tiny ball on the end of an elastic string. He had received many such toys during his childhood, always with the understanding that, when it inevitably broke, it would become the property of his father, instead. House bit his lower lip, his brow creased with a pensive frown, before setting the paddle down again.

House's eyes widened as he picked up the next option, a rather intimidating riding crop made of stiff, rough leather. He tested its weight in his hand, sucking in a slow, whistling breath as he realized that this was no toy made for make believe and found in your typical sex shop. No, this was the genuine article, intended to inflict actual pain. He winced slightly as he considered the damage such a weapon could do, in the right hands.

However, unlike the other items, House could only imagine the effect the crop might have – and that made his decision much easier.

His expression was solemn, eyes wide and apprehensive, as he silently raised the crop in his hand, holding it out to Wilson. Wilson frowned, surprised and troubled by House's decision. His head tilted slightly in confusion, he looked thoughtfully back and forth between the crop in his hands, and his quiet, subdued lover, sitting there in front of him, eyes downcast and focused on his hands in his lap. Wilson's voice was quiet, speculative, as he asked a soft, simple question.

"Why?"

House shrugged, anxiously licking his lips, avoiding eye contact. "It's as good an option as any, isn't it?"

"It's a… slightly more severe option than any of the others," Wilson pointed out, cautious concern in his voice. "House… are you sure?"

House nodded, still not looking at him, a slow swallow visible in his throat. Wilson's frown deepened as he glanced down at the crop again, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. He found that his hands were trembling slightly, and a queasy sensation was beginning in the pit of his stomach.

He really did not want to do this.

Why would he want me to use the most painful, damaging option I gave him? Why would he choose to let me hurt him as much as possible? It doesn't make sense. If the belt was enough to freak him out the other night... how can he be even remotely okay with...

Wilson's thoughts trailed off as something seemed to come together in his head. Unwillingly, his mind was drawn back to the night when he had first attempted to use physical discipline on House, only to fold like a Spanish fan when faced with House's reaction of dread bordering on sheer terror.

The sick sensation in Wilson's stomach intensified as he considered the other choices he had laid out for House, as well as the troubling conclusions he had reached on that fateful night -- and suddenly, the pieces came together in his mind.

A paddle... a belt... a ruler... all things that scare House more than this riding crop... maybe because... they're... all things that have been used on him before...

"House... tell me why you chose this," he repeated, his voice carrying a stern note of command.

House remained stubbornly silent, his eyes downcast, his jaw clenched in clear refusal.

"Stand up."

Wilson gave the order in a soft, quiet voice, wincing inwardly when House flinched almost imperceptibly, visibly steeling himself as he gripped the desk and pulled himself painfully to his feet. It was clear from the flash of fear in his eyes, the hesitation in his every movement, that House assumed the moment of his punishment had come.

Wilson placed a firm but gentle hand under House's elbow, guiding him slowly toward the sofa against the wall and motioning for him to sit down. Once House had obeyed and was looking up at him in apprehensive anticipation, Wilson sat down slowly beside him, setting the riding crop down on the floor at his feet -- deliberately placing it out of play for the moment. His words were thoughtful and deliberate as he met House's eyes with tenderness and concern.

"I think we need to talk."

House was silent, staring down at his knees, his hands folded in his lap in an uncharacteristic gesture of acceptance and submission. It was unsettling to Wilson how easily House seemed to slip into this unusually obedient mode -- and only served to further confirm the disturbing suspicions forming in his mind.

Wilson's voice was gentle but confident when he finally drew in a deep breath, and plunged into the difficult conversation he knew they needed to have.

"You chose the crop because... you already know what the other choices feel like. Don't you?"

"Yes," House answered with a decisiveness that Wilson knew to herald House's own brand of not-so-subtle sarcasm. "For no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity. My regular hookers are highly adventurous, but they always stop just short of hard leather objects that can actually draw blood and cause permanent scarring. Just wanted to find out what I was missing."

"House... I wouldn't ever hurt you that badly. And… this isn't... sexual, for me. You need to know that." Wilson's voice was quiet and thoughtful when he added slowly a few moments later, "And... neither was what I'm talking about. Was it?" When House was silent, refusing to confirm or deny Wilson's assumptions, he added softly, "We're talking about long before you were hiring hookers." He frowned, reconsidering momentarily. "I hope."

House was silent for a long moment before casually shrugging his shoulders, looking away as he replied, "Draw your own conclusions. Strangely, I don't want to tell my deepest, darkest secrets to the person who's seen fit to leave me in pain for..." He glanced at his watch, raising his eyebrows with a quiet huff of outrage before looking up at Wilson to conclude, "... yes, it's officially hours now. And who knows how much longer you'll feel like getting off on watching me suffer? No, sorry if I don't feel like sharing at the moment."

"Damn it, House," Wilson muttered in irritation born of guilt. He was frustrated and confused and utterly unsure what course of action to take at this point. He didn't want to go through with the punishment anymore, but he was afraid that letting House get away with his deception would only ruin what progress they had already made. "You think I like seeing you in pain?"

House pretended to consider the question before nodding slowly and replying, "Yeah, at the moment, that seems a safe assumption."

Wilson let out a quiet sigh, not speaking for a moment. Finally, he spoke just two simple words, filled with hurt and regret and resignation.

"House... why?"

House shrugged again, and for a moment Wilson thought he wasn't going to bother answering; but then, House spoke in a halting, subdued voice, tinged with an unusual vulnerability -- presumably due to the revelation of his childhood abuse.

"I just... wanted to be sure I... had them if I needed them. I... I didn't even take any."

"You didn't?" Wilson was incredulous, one eyebrow raised in dubious question.

"Count them," House suggested. "They're all there. It was just... just a... security thing. Just in case."

"That's... good to know," Wilson replied with cautious relief, nodding slowly. "That means something, House. It really does." His expression softened, dark eyes solemn and regretful as he added, "But... you shouldn't have gotten the pills at all. My methods would work, if you'd give me half a chance. You should have trusted me."

"How am I supposed to trust you," House protested, frustration in his voice, "if you're just going to withhold my pills the first chance you get, just because you're angry over something I did? That doesn't exactly work in favor of your trustworthiness, Wilson."

"I had no intention of keeping your Vicodin from you for any longer than it took you to get to work this morning," Wilson assured him with a heavy sigh, looking away in chagrin. "I only said what I did about making you wait to call your bluff -- to get you to admit what you did. I would never use your Vicodin against you as a punishment, or... or out of anger. The only reason I'd withhold your pills for any length of time is as a part of the plan you've already agreed to."

House was silent for a long moment, weighing the sincerity of Wilson's words. Finally, he replied, his voice quiet and uncertain.

"I'm not sure I want you to have the power to withhold them at all. Let me rephrase that," he immediately amended, looking up to meet Wilson's solemn gaze. "I'm absolutely sure that I don't want you to have that power."

"Well... I understand that, but..." Wilson sighed, his tone gentle but matter-of-fact as he reminded House, "... you've already given me that power. You agreed to this. If you want to change your mind, you can do that, but..."

"But if I do, you'll walk out of my life and not come back," House concluded for him, a note of bitterness in his voice. "Funny, how this works out so nicely for you. Leaves all the good cards in your hand."

Wilson was silent, neither arguing with House's assessment nor apologizing for its accuracy.

At last, House averted his gaze, swallowing hard. The resignation in his eyes, his slight wince as he opened his mouth to continue, made it clear that he was defeated. They both knew that Wilson had all the real power in this situation -- but they also knew that it didn't matter.

House was not able to fathom the idea of losing Wilson -- and he would do whatever he had to do to keep that from happening.

"I... I'm sorry," he murmured after a long, tense silence.

Wilson looked up at him, startled by the unfamiliar words. He felt tears spring to his eyes unbidden, and quickly blinked them back, fighting back the nearly overwhelming sense of guilt he felt, and steeling himself for what he knew he still had to do.

"I know," he replied softly. "And... I'm glad. It means a lot to me that you are." He was silent for a moment, before adding firmly, "You still have to be punished."

House nodded haltingly, biting the side of his lip as he looked uncertainly up at Wilson, no surprise on his face. "I know."

"Are you... sure you want it to be with this?" Wilson gestured down at the crop on the floor, frowning, hoping desperately that House would change his mind.

"Yeah," House confirmed with another nod. "That's my choice."

"O-okay," Wilson agreed with clear reluctance as he rose to his feet. "That's it, then. Let's get this over with."