When House awakened the next morning, he was, not surprisingly, quite sore.

He stifled a groan, not wanting to wake Wilson and alert him to the pain in which he had left him -- and confused, wondering at why he would not want to let Wilson know how badly he had hurt him. Ordinarily, House would have taken great satisfaction in the guilt that he knew Wilson would feel for causing him pain -- but somehow, he found himself wanting to protect Wilson rather than to get back at him.

That thought alone was irritating to him, and made him want to get back at Wilson all the more. He thought of letting out deliberately louder moans of pain, making Wilson feel as bad as possible for the punishment he had administered -- but he couldn't decide whether or not that was really what he wanted.

However, the decision was taken from him as he realized that Wilson had already awakened.

A warm, gentle hand trailed cautiously over the bare skin of his back, carefully avoiding the welts left by the riding crop as it made its way up to House's shoulder. The feather-light touch of Wilson's hand was immediately followed by a soft kiss, the caress of warm lips against the sensitive skin where House's shoulder met his throat.

"Morning," Wilson murmured, shifting cautiously nearer to House from behind him. There was concern and regret in his voice as he asked anxiously, "Does it hurt?"

"No, not a bit," House retorted flatly. "It was only a leather riding crop. It tickled."

House felt Wilson's frown against his skin, and was further irritated by the pang of regret he felt for his sharp words.

"I'm sorry you're hurting."

Wilson's voice was soft and sympathetic, but his choice of words made it perfectly clear that he had no intention of apologizing for the punishment itself, as he braced himself on one hand and rose carefully to a sitting position, doing his best not to cause House any further pain. As Wilson reached into the closet and took out a clean button-down shirt to wear to work, he spoke to House casually over his shoulder.

"Maybe you should stay home from work today," he suggested. "Just rest and... feel better. I know you're in pain, so... maybe that's best."

House didn't respond -- not sure how he wanted to respond.

Wilson's gentleness was both soothing and irritating to House, and he wasn't sure whether to just take advantage of it and enjoy it -- or to use it to play up the guilt Wilson was feeling as much as possible. He just lay there, undecided and unresponsive, as Wilson finished getting ready for work.

Once he was done getting ready, Wilson took the first aid supplies from the bathroom and brought them to the bed, where he set about gently treating House's injuries and changing the bandages on his back. When he was finished, he leaned down and tenderly kissed House's cheek, trailing his fingers through House's hair as he sat up straight.

"Yeah," he said in a soft but decisive tone. "You should just stay here and rest. I'll tell Cuddy you're not feeling well."

"No," House countered, gritting his teeth and bracing himself for the pain as he struggled to sit up. "No, you won't." He shook Wilson's assisting hand off in annoyance, insisting on sitting up without help. "I'm going to work."

"You shouldn't," Wilson repeated, frowning in disapproval. "You're in pain."

"I'm always in pain."

"House... I don't want you to put yourself through this, for no good reason..."

"Is that an order?"

House's piercing gaze was sharp and challenging as he met Wilson's eyes, waiting for the younger man's response. Wilson stared at him for a long moment, swallowing hard, before finally shaking his head slowly.

"No. No, House. You can decide whether or not you can go to work today. But... I'm just saying... I don't think you should."

"Okay, then." House nodded decisively, sitting up the rest of the way, suppressing a grimace of pain at the movement. "Noted. I'm going to work."

Wilson waited while House took his time getting ready for work, hoping that Wilson would get tired of waiting and just leave. However, by the time he was ready to go, House had decided to let Wilson drive him to work, as his back was already screaming its protest at his mistreatment of it, and he knew that he would never be able to manage the drive himself.

Despite the events of the night before, the drive was surprisingly pleasant, filled with the sort of casual conversation in which they usually engaged -- and by the time House reached his office, he was in an unusually good mood. He didn't want to let Wilson see it, but the relief of knowing that things were all right between them again in the wake of his deception was enough to gradually bring down House's defenses, and allow him to enjoy the ride, and the prospect of the day ahead.

House's good mood immediately aroused the suspicions of his team, as did his stiff, awkward movements that betrayed his pain -- not that he was trying all that hard to conceal it. As usual, House's curiosity got the better of him, and he found himself torn between his promise to Wilson to keep the nature of their relationship a secret, and his desire to know how his team might react to the knowledge.

Cameron frowned with concern when House winced as he took his seat at the conference room table. "What did you do?" she demanded, her tone almost accusing. "You're hurt. What happened?"

"You know that thing, where when someone wants to confide in you, they actually do?" House responded with an insincere smile. "Do you see that happening, here?"

Cameron rolled her eyes, but her frown deepened, and she watched him closely throughout the morning. When House left the room mid-morning to get his next Vicodin dose from Wilson -- though his team had no idea that was where he was going -- Cameron turned to Chase with a suspicious expression on her face.

"Something's wrong with him."

Chase raised an eyebrow at her, his expression mild and unconcerned. "You're just now noticing this?"

"Seriously. Something is going on with him lately -- and I think we should try to find out what it is."

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

Wilson looked up and smiled as House entered his office. House closed the door behind him and drew the blinds closed as Wilson rose from his chair and came around the desk to place his hands on House's waist and draw him cautiously closer.

"Hey," he murmured. "How're you doing?"

House returned his smile, dipping his head down for a kiss before drawing back to respond. "Never better."

Wilson's smile broadened with pleasure as he drew House yet closer, returning the kiss House had offered – but abruptly drawing back at House's involuntary wince of pain. Wilson's smile became a worried frown as his hand shifted cautiously around to House's back, pressing lightly, experimentally – then pulling away when House let out a hiss and jerked away from the contact.

"I don't know how you're managing to work today," Wilson sighed, shaking his head. "You should be resting."

"Hardly adequate punishment if it just means I get to play hooky, is it?"

House's playful smirk was accompanied by a surprising soft, accepting tone – and Wilson found himself suddenly unable to speak, his throat obstructed by a suspicious lump, his eyes burning slightly with unexpected emotion. He cleared his throat, looking away and shaking his head before meeting House's eyes again.

"Do you even have a patient?" he asked.

"Had one," House replied. "Already figured out what was wrong with her. She's going home within the hour."

"Then you should go ahead and go," Wilson urged him. "Seriously, House. This is unnecessary…"

"Cuddy said I should take advantage of the time and knock out some clinic hours." House shrugged. "No reason why not."

"No reason, except that you can barely move without hurting," Wilson reminded him, agitated, running an impatient hand through his hair. "You usually have no problem blowing off clinic. Why today?"

House shrugged again, barely disguising a slight flinch of pain at the movement, speaking but not really answering Wilson's question. "She said to spend the afternoon. I've still got a couple of hours. I can rest in my office for a while… maybe go take a hot shower. Might help some."

Wilson nodded with a weary sigh of resignation, accepting that he was not going to be able to convince House to go home. "Okay," he relented softly. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Just… let me know if you need to go home, okay? I'll take you. It doesn't matter what time it is."

House nodded wordlessly as he took a hesitant step toward Wilson, reaching out to take his arm and draw him across the distance he had placed between them.

"I won't need to go home," he stated with quiet assurance before capturing Wilson's lips in a brief but intense kiss. "Need my pill, that's all. I'll be fine."

Wilson wondered idly if House was simply trying to con him out of more pills as he placed the requested Vicodin – and one extra – in House's palm and watched him walk away. If he was, Wilson decided, it didn't matter. His guilt and uncertainty over the events of the previous evening were more than enough to outweigh the concern that House might be playing him for extra pills. He sighed heavily, returning to his desk and sitting down, resting his head in his hands as he struggled to collect his thoughts – which all seemed to come down to one troubling, undeniable truth.

This really isn't working out like I thought…

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

Chase muttered to himself in irritation as he stepped into the shower room, glaring down at his disgusting, urine-stained scrubs, glancing at his somewhat disheveled reflection in the mirror for a moment before beginning his shower.

Today was simply not his day.

Cameron's obsession with House was as irritating as ever, reminding him at every possible opportunity that he would never be anything more to her than her not-quite-friend-with-benefits. It was all he could do to keep himself from yelling at her to shut up and leave him alone as she persisted in discussing the possible explanations for House's only slightly weirder than usual behavior.

Only she would notice… and only because she wants him… and… not me…

The unfortunate incident that had occurred with the bedpan and the nurse who was cleaning the recently vacated room while he was collecting the patient's chart had simply been an ironically literal mirror for what Cameron had obliviously done to his emotions that morning.

Chase was just about to step into an empty shower stall, when someone else stepped out of the one beside it, clad only in a towel wrapped around his waist.

"Oh. Hey," he greeted House in surprise. "You get piss dumped all over you, too?"

"Not today," House replied lightly.

Chase watched idly as House walked past him and bent down with visible difficulty to pick up the stack of folded clothing sitting on the bench outside the showers, next to his cane. Suddenly, Chase's casual attention became wide-eyed dismay as he noticed the red welts that criss-crossed House's back. It was only when House straightened and turned to look at him sharply that Chase realized he was still staring. He looked away quickly, stepping into the shower stall – his mind racing with the implications of what he had just seen.

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

Wilson was getting ready to leave his office at the end of the day when he heard a soft, polite knock on the door. He didn't look up, too distracted by the troubled concerns that had plagued his thoughts all day to really care who it was.

"Come in."

Wilson glanced up briefly – then looked up again, surprised to see Chase standing just inside his office door. "Can I help you?"

"Um… probably not," Chase replied with a thoughtful frown, closing the door behind him before turning to face Wilson fully, an appraising look on his face. He was silent for a long moment before speaking with quiet, calm candor.

"I saw what you did to House."

Wilson blinked, startled and trapped by the unexpected accusation. "I… I didn't… I mean…" He cleared his throat, looking away from Chase's knowing look, aware that he was not convincing the younger man of his innocence at all, but rather confirming his guilt with his own reaction. "What I mean is…" he tried again, looking up and meeting Chase's eyes with something resembling defiance. "… it's… frankly… none of your business."

"No," Chase agreed quietly, crossing the room and sitting down in the chair across from Wilson's desk, his eyes never leaving Wilson's. "Not as long as you're both consenting."

"That's right." Wilson nodded, looking away nervously. "And we are both consenting, and this arrangement is for House's own good, so it's really just between me and him, and neither of us could possibly care less what anyone else thinks about it, and… and…" Wilson's voice became gradually more shaky and uncertain under Chase's perceptive, unrelenting gaze, until it finally trailed off, and he lowered his head into his hands with a heavy sigh. He looked up again, meeting Chase's eyes with resignation as he admitted, "… and… I don't have a single freaking clue what I'm doing."

"I know," Chase replied simply, nodding once. He was quiet for a moment before adding, "Fortunately for you… I do. And, if you'll let me… I'd like to help."