Wilson stood looking down at House in silent expectation, waiting for House to obey his command to stand in preparation for his punishment.

House just sat there, staring up at him in wide-eyed apprehension -- making no move to stand.

"I'm... not sure this is a good idea right now," he objected after a moment, his voice small and subdued, with just the slightest hint of a tremor. "We still have the whole work day ahead of us. If I'm in... too much pain, I... I won't be able to do my job..."

"Oh, yeah," Wilson retorted with mild sarcasm, a single dubious brow raised. "All that sitting and thinking... so much harder after..." His voice trailed off, his expression shifting into a thoughtful frown, as he realized the unintentional truth of his words. "Actually... I guess it... might be." He shook his head, squaring his shoulders as he glared down at House again, struggling to harden his demeanor against the rising panic he saw in House's wide, vaguely pleading eyes. "But punishment isn't supposed to be easy, House..."

"Someone might notice."

There was just the subtlest suggestion of warning in House's too-innocent voice, and Wilson's lips tightened into an angry line as he took an intimidating step closer to where House sat on the sofa.

"Is that a threat?"

As he spoke, he tapped the crop into his palm impatiently, feeling a twinge of guilt when House flinched slightly, swallowing hard, his breath quickening with alarm. He shook his head emphatically, closing his eyes for a moment before looking up to meet Wilson's challenging gaze.

"No," he answered softly. "No, it's... not a threat. Just... I'm just saying... I might not be able to... to hide it... all day... if I'm in... too much pain."

Wilson's brow creased in a pained expression of sorrow and regret that he swiftly wiped from his face, trying to maintain a hard, resolute demeanor. Despite his efforts to remain firm, however, he found himself wondering about the wisdom of his own methods, and whether or not he might be doing more damage than good.

Just how much pain does he expect me to put him in?

"You're not going to be able to put this off forever, House," he stated, his own voice trembling slightly in his confusion and frustration.

"I know." House nodded, his eyes downcast in an unusual expression of subservience and respect. "It's just... if we could just... wait. Until... until we get home..."

Wilson was silent for a long moment, caught in his own mental war between merciful reason, and a stubborn desire not to yield. Finally, his shoulders slumped slightly as he relented with a heavy sigh.

"Fine, then. Until we get home." He paused, waiting until House met his eyes in a grateful, relieved nod before continuing, "But only until then. This will be dealt with before we go to bed tonight. Is that clear?"

House nodded again, a nervous, convulsive swallow in his throat, but did not voice the fears that were so clearly visible in his expressive eyes. As he placed two Vicodin in House's palm and watched him make his way out of Wilson's office and toward his own, Wilson felt a tight knot of dread beginning to form in his chest. He knew that, as much as he was not looking forward to what he would have to do that night, that unpleasant knot would not be going anywhere until he had finished the unpleasant task that lay ahead of him.

Evening could not come soon enough.

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

At the end of the day, Wilson found himself lingering in his office. Every time he was about to leave, some little thing he'd left undone managed to catch his attention -- until finally, he had to admit to himself that he was subconsciously searching for excuses not to go home.

When he passed House's office on the way toward the exit, he was unsurprised to see that House had already left for the day.

Guilt and confusion and uncertainty consumed Wilson's muddled thoughts as he made the short drive home -- which seemed even shorter than usual on this particular night. He stopped outside the door to the apartment, drawing in a deep, shaky breath in an attempt to steady himself before walking inside.

House was seated on the sofa, watching television. When Wilson entered, he did not look up, did not give any indication to even acknowledge Wilson's arrival -- but a slight wince and a slow swallow in his throat betrayed his rising apprehension.

"Hey," Wilson said by way of nervous greeting.

"Hey," House echoed, apparently very interested in the sitcom on the television.

Wilson almost laughed aloud at the absurd normality of the exchange. There was nothing normal about what was about to happen in the next few minutes.

And it had to be the next few minutes -- because Wilson was afraid that if he didn't do this quickly, he would give in and not do it at all.

"Stand up," Wilson ordered softly as he took off his coat and hung it on the coat rack, setting his briefcase down on the coffee table.

House reluctantly obeyed as Wilson opened his briefcase and took out the crop he had chosen earlier that day. His every motion was slow, filled with clear dread, as he braced his trembling hand against his cane and slowly stood, eyes downcast, shoulders taut with nervous tension.

Wilson closed his briefcase and stood up straight again, holding the crop between his hands as he met House's eyes with a firm resolution.

"Take off your shirt."

House looked surprised at that, raising his eyebrows skeptically. "What, you've decided against a proper spanking?" he observed. "Decided I deserve a little worse than that?"

Irritated by House's assessment of his motives, which was painfully inaccurate, Wilson snapped, "Actually, I was thinking that making you take your pants off and spanking you like a child is a little more demeaning than I want to be to you." His voice softened, his expression pained as he added, "Also... I don't want to take a chance of... of hitting your leg."

A brief flash of some indiscernible emotion crossed House's face, but he quickly squashed it back, his jaw set in stubborn defiance as he retorted with scathing sarcasm.

"Yeah. You've made it totally obvious how very concerned you are with my personal dignity."

"House." Wilson's voice was sharp, warning in his anger and frustration. "This is hard enough as it is. Would you stop with your smart ass comments and just do as you're told?"

The instant the words were out of his mouth, Wilson inwardly cringed, aware that his tone and choice of words only served to support House's accusations. He steeled himself, prepared to hear House voice just that observation, and most likely in the most harsh and insulting manner possible.

What he was not prepared for was House's slight flinch, his reluctant but quietly submissive answer.

"O-okay."

Wilson felt a hot, sick rush of guilt fill his stomach as he realized that House had probably heard almost exactly that same order before, a very long time ago. He sighed wearily, raising a hand to run through his hair in repressed agitation, as he tried to rein in his own confused emotions enough to give House the reassurance he needed.

"House," he said softly, with renewed patience, "you're wrong about this, okay? I'm doing this because I care about you. I don't want to hurt you. I just want you to know that you can't do this again. Do you understand that?"

House's eyes were downcast, refusing to look at Wilson, but he nodded once, slowly.

"If this is going to work... you're going to have to trust me. Okay?"

Another terse, silent nod.

"You can't be going behind my back, attempting to deceive me and subvert my every effort to..."

"Can we just get on with this?" House snapped impatiently -- but his voice trembled slightly, betraying the apprehension that was the real source of his upset.

Wilson was quiet for a moment, studying House's expression, before nodding slowly. "All right, then," he agreed quietly. "I want you to stand in the kitchen doorway and hold onto the door jamb."

House obeyed with short, halting movements, visibly trembling, his hands white-knuckled as he slowly, awkwardly gripped the edge of the doorway. Wilson followed him with measured, patient steps, stopping when he stood a few feet behind House.

"I'm sorry, House," he said softly, his voice thick with his own threatening tears. "I... didn't want this to have to happen."

Wilson's hands were trembling, and his brow broke out in a cold sweat as he tested the weight of the crop in his hand, giving it a brief, experimental swing, gauging the amount of force he should use. Finally, he steadied himself, blocking out his thoughts and feelings of guilt and uncertainty, telling himself that he had to just do this – or he wouldn't do it at all.

The first stroke fell with a thick, sharp, slashing sound, and House's back arched away from the painful sting of the swift, red welt that formed in its wake. Wilson bit his lip so hard that he tasted his own blood, his vision blurred with tears as he drew back the crop and struck the second blow.

House bit back a cry of pain, his hands jerking against the doorjamb as his shoulders began to shake slightly. He was struggling to maintain his composure, unwilling to allow Wilson to see how much it hurt.

With the third blow, however, his resolve was nearly undone. The muffled, strangled cry died in his throat, but it was audible enough to tear at Wilson's heart, filling it with a sharp ache of regret and sorrow for what he was doing to his friend and lover.

By the time the fifth and final blow fell, House was leaning heavily against the doorway, shaking hands clinging to the door jamb, his back criss-crossed with the livid red stripes from the sturdy riding crop. Wilson immediately dropped the weapon to the floor, moving swiftly to House's side and wrapping a gentle, steadying arm around his waist.

"Shhh," he murmured. "It's all right. It's finished, now..." House glanced up at Wilson uncertainly -- then did a sort of surprised double take before looking abruptly down again.

It was only then that Wilson realized that his own face was streaked with tears.

House was trembling violently, choking back a sob of pain, but unresisting as Wilson led him slowly and cautiously to the sofa. He helped House to sit down, taking a seat beside him as he did so, running a soothing hand through his hair.

"It's okay. You're gonna be fine," Wilson gently assured him, guiding him into position with his elbows braced on his knees, leaning forward to prevent any painful contact of his back against the leather of the sofa behind him. "I'm gonna take care of you. You're gonna be just fine..."

Wilson made a hasty escape to the bathroom, taking a moment to catch his breath and try to regain his composure in the quiet privacy of the room. He had never felt so guilty, so disgusted with himself, in his life.

He hastily swiped at his tears, blinking away their remnants as he reminded himself that House needed him. He couldn't focus on his own self-pity right now.

No… time to deal with the damage you've done.

Wilson took his time, his hands gentle and tender as they moved with careful precision over the wounds he had inflicted on House's body, treating them with antiseptic cream and covering them with soft bandages.

House was quiet, withdrawn and subdued. He was still shaking slightly, and refused to make eye contact with Wilson, seemingly utterly at a loss as to how to respond to Wilson's affectionate concern, in sharp contrast with the authoritative violence of his previous actions.

When Wilson was finished, he set the first aid supplies aside on the coffee table, and turned to face House, reaching out to tentatively take his hand. Wilson's heart lurched when House's hand tensed under his, but he persisted, reaching out an arm to wrap around House's shoulders, pulling him gently but insistently closer to him.

"I'm so sorry this happened, House," he whispered.

"No, you're not," House muttered, jerking away from Wilson's attempted embrace with an immediate wince of pain at the ill-advised movement. "If you were sorry, it wouldn't have happened."

Wilson withdrew his hands, his head bowed, silently accepting House's feelings, unwilling to force his affection upon him. He swallowed hard, blinking back fresh tears at the -- albeit understandable -- rejection. He hesitated a moment before reaching into the pocket of his pants and taking out the full vial of pills he had confiscated from House's secret hiding place.

"If... if this is going to work," he began in a slow, hesitant voice, holding out the vial and pressing it into House's open palm. "Then... trust... has to be mutual."

House looked down at the vial in his hand, then up at Wilson's face in startled confusion, a question in his wide, red-rimmed blue eyes.

Wilson met his gaze, his own solemn and unflinching. "I want to... to try to trust you, too, House... in spite of what's happened," he explained. "I'm... giving you these pills to hold. Like you said... just in case. But... but I expect that if you... start to have doubts again... if you think you might need to actually take some of them... you'll... you'll talk to me, first?"

House stared down at the vial in his hands, processing what Wilson was saying. After a moment, he nodded slowly.

"Whatever the problem is that you're having," Wilson continued, "I want us to talk about it... to see if we can solve it, first, before you resort to taking the extra pills." He paused, carefully weighing his words as he concluded, "I'll trust you not to actually take the pills without discussing it first... if you'll trust that I really, truly care about what's best for you, House -- that I'm doing this for you."

House just stared down at the prescription bottle, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Wilson's words. Finally, he slowly closed his hand around the bottle with an almost imperceptible nod. Wilson smiled, his shoulders loosening slightly with relief, as he leaned in to press a tender, chaste kiss to House's temple.

Without another word, he rose and walked away -- leaving House to spend some time alone with his own thoughts.