"So… this safe word thing."

House's soft, cautious words broke the sated silence that fell in the wake of their intense encounter. His back was to Wilson, whose arms were wrapped around him, holding him close, bare skin against skin under the warmth of the blankets draped over them. Wilson was silent, slowly stroking affectionate fingertips back and forth along House's arm as he waited patiently for him to continue.

"Is that for… any time? Or just during sex?"

Wilson was quiet for a moment, considering the question and carefully weighing the right response. Finally he spoke in a hushed, thoughtful tone.

"This isn't just a game for us, House. This is a… a lifestyle change. If you're going to be submissive to me… that's… all the time, not just when we're sleeping together. Not even just at home. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week."

Wilson bit his lip, a worried frown creasing his brow as he waited for House's reaction, wondering if perhaps that realization might be too much for House to accept. After a few moments, however, House replied in a wary, thoughtful voice.

"What about at work?"

"Well… you do work during the regular twenty-four hours of any given day," Wilson replied with wry gentleness, his hand slowly running up and down House's arm, drawing him instinctively closer as he leaned in to press a soft kiss to his bare shoulder before amending, "I've been thinking, though; and… I think it's a bad idea for me to try to interfere in your work. That's… your space."

House turned slightly to look over his shoulder at Wilson, a dubious brow raised in surprise. "What about Cuddy's sanity and the safety of my patients and all that crap you were so worried about a couple of days ago?"

Wilson shrugged slightly, a sheepish smile on his face as he admitted, "Bringing those things as close to the edge as you can possibly get them, and then bringing them back again is… your thing. Cuddy hired you, and needs you at this hospital, because of the borderline insanity you create every day – your particular way of doing things. It's where you're the most confident, and it's what you do best." He paused, shaking his head slowly, an affectionate smile on his lips as he met House's eyes. "I wouldn't be helping anyone by screwing around with that."

House turned away, but not before Wilson caught a glimpse of the satisfied smile that formed on his face at Wilson's assurance.

"Good to know," he murmured as he settled back into Wilson's embrace.

Wilson waited a moment before venturing to add, "Of course… that doesn't mean that our arrangement isn't in effect during working hours. We should always remember it and keep it in mind – but there's no reason to make it obvious."

"Like referring to you as 'master' in front of Cuddy, and such?" Wilson felt House's smirk against his arm, and couldn't suppress a grin of his own at the mental image inspired by his words. "Why not? That could be fun."

"Yeah. And also… problematic," Wilson replied, still smiling. "No, just treat me the same as always in front of people while we're at work. But… any time we happen to be alone… you're to continue to be submissive… respectful. You know me well enough to know what I expect."

House didn't speak, simply nodded slowly against Wilson's arm.

"And even in front of the others… there are certain lines that aren't to be crossed. And again… you know what those are," Wilson went on quietly. "Sarcasm is one thing; deliberate attempts at humiliation are another, you know?"

House was silent for a long moment, and Wilson's heart sped up a bit with apprehension, as he found himself wondering once again if he was perhaps asking a bit too much of his partner. Finally, House let out a soft sigh of resignation as he muttered a teasingly petulant response.

"You realize you just took away the highlight of most of my days, right?"

Wilson let out a slow breath, measuring it carefully in an attempt to suppress his visible reaction. Overwhelmed with gratitude and relief, he kissed House's neck again, pleased when House instinctively arched his neck to grant him better access. After a moment, he raised a gentle hand to turn House's face toward his own, meeting his eyes as he murmured a low, enticing suggestion.

"Then we'll just have to find you a new one."

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

Disaster struck the following afternoon, shattering the new-found tranquility of their recovering relationship.

Wilson was sitting in his office, alone when Chase knocked on his door. Although he was not eager to discuss the topic he knew Chase was coming to talk about, Wilson beckoned him in, aware that he owed him at least the most minimal and vague of explanations in return for the good advise that had probably saved his and House's relationship from complete failure.

"So how'd it go?" Chase immediately asked, eager curiosity in his blue eyes as he took a seat across from Wilson's desk.

"Good." Wilson nodded, smiling. "He actually agreed to go with me to see her. And… she gave us some very good advice. I think… we're going to be fine."

Both men jumped guiltily when the door abruptly opened and House poked his head inside.

"You," he gruffly addressed Chase, pointing his thumb over his shoulder and nodding toward the hallway. "My office, now."

"O-okay…"

Chase hesitantly complied, rising from his chair with a suspicious frown and edging warily past House out into the hallway. House stalked into Wilson's office, slamming the door behind him. He wasted no time in getting directly to his point.

"Was that conversation what it sounded like? Does he know?"

Wilson gave an apologetic grimace, lowering his face into his hands for a moment and letting out a weary sigh. His suspicions confirmed, House threw his arms up in frustrated disgust, his cane waving wildly.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Wilson looked up, a matter-of-fact expression of resignation on his face as he answered with a slight shrug. "Talking to Cuddy right away about sound-proofing my office, apparently."

"Damn it, Wilson, this is not a freaking joke!" House snapped, cutting him off, his voice trembling with fury. "Isn't that what you said just last night? It's not something to play around with – unless it's you playing around with it, bragging to my employees about how you've got me right where you want me…"

"No." Wilson's tone was sharp, edged with warning. "House, that was not even close to what happened…"

"How much does he know?" House demanded, taking a step toward Wilson, then changing his mind and storming back to the door.

"Very little, I swear…"

Wilson was still attempting to calm House when he threw the office door open, bellowing out into the hallway, as though he expected that his employee was not already long since out of sight.

"Chase!"

Unfortunately for Chase, he was not out of sight.

He was standing a couple of feet from Wilson's door, apparently attempting to overhear the conversation between House and Wilson. House's unexpected shout sent him staggering a couple of backward steps, nearly losing his balance completely as he stared at House through wide, startled eyes. House blinked, a slow, malicious smile forming on his lips as he realized why Chase was still there.

"Get in here," he demanded, beckoning toward the door with a dramatic flourish of his hand. Once Chase had hesitantly obeyed, House slammed the door hard, demanding without preamble, "What do you know?"

Chase glanced helplessly between the two of them, swallowing hard, eyes wide and slightly panicked. He had no idea what he needed to say in order to diffuse the obviously volatile situation.

"Uh…"

"You know what? Never mind," House cut him off, returning to the door and jerking it open, glaring at Chase and then Wilson before returning his furious gaze to Chase and concluding in disgust, "You're only going to tell me what he wants you to tell me, anyway, because you're a pathetic little suck-up; and he doesn't want you to tell me anything, because he's a lying, two-faced bastard. Forget it. It doesn't matter. This…" House waved his pointer finger back and forth between himself and Wilson, holding Wilson's gaze as he stated coldly, "… is over."

Wilson's stomach dropped to somewhere around his shoes as House stormed out of his office, stalking furiously down the hall away from him.

No… no, not now… not when things are finally starting to be good again…

Fighting off his own sense of panic, Wilson scrambled to his feet, following after House, leaving a dumbfounded and confused Chase standing uselessly in his office. The hallway was empty except for House and Wilson, so Wilson called out sharply, stupidly hoping that his words alone would stop House's retreat.

"House! Stop!"

Of course, House didn't stop.

Unwilling to draw attention to them, Wilson remained silent as he followed House through the halls to the elevators, hurrying his pace in order to catch up with him just before the elevator doors closed. He reached out a hand to keep them open long enough to slip inside, ignoring House's quiet curse of frustration at Wilson's successfully intercepting his escape.

Once the doors had closed, Wilson turned to face House, arms crossed over his chest.

"You realize that you've just completely defied me."

"No shit," House scoffed, a cold smirk on his lips as he met Wilson's eyes at last. "Just one of the pleasant little perks of ending our relationship!"

"You haven't ended our relationship," Wilson insisted. "Until you use your safe word and call a halt to our arrangement – temporary or otherwise – you're not free of me and our relationship." He paused, his tone hardening slightly as he concluded, "You're just… disobedient."

"I don't believe you!" House exploded, shaking his head in indignant disbelief. "You're the one who betrayed my privacy and told one of my subordinates something intensely private and personal without my permission, then lied to me about it – and you're going to try to make this my fault? I have every right to break up with you right now!"

The quiet ding of the elevator light above them indicated their arrival at the first floor of the hospital, and House took an eager step toward the door, all too eager to escape this confrontation. His jaw set with determination, just as desperate to prevent House's escape, Wilson stepped forward with him and pressed the button to keep the elevator doors shut for the moment.

"Yeah," he replied quietly, meeting House's irritated, accusing gaze with calm certainty. "And yet… you haven't…"

House just glared at him stubbornly for a long moment, before finally looking away, uncomfortable with Wilson's calm scrutiny.

"… because you're not sure you really want to."

Wilson stated his observation with quiet conviction, gratified when House did not contradict his words. House glared at the floor for a long moment, visibly struggling between his anger at Wilson's betrayal, and his unwillingness to simply walk away from him, in spite of that. Finally, he spoke in a soft, hurt tone of voice, without raising his eyes to meet Wilson's searching gaze.

"You lied to me."

"I didn't lie to you," Wilson quietly insisted. "I just… didn't tell you everything." He was quiet for a moment, well aware that his excuse was not enough for House – and rightfully so. After a moment he amended his words softly.

"I should have told you everything. I was just… trying to protect you," he admitted. "Chase figured it out on his own; I didn't tell him. And when he asked me about it, I… I was… confused, and… and I was screwing everything up… and he seemed to know what he was talking about, so…" Wilson shrugged with a sheepish grimace. "… I opened up. And it's a good thing I did, because it was Chase's idea to talk to a professional about… what we're doing here. It just sort of… happened. I didn't mean for it to, but it did. And then once it had, I… I didn't see any reason to tell you, because I knew it would upset you."

House looked up at him sharply, accusation in his eyes.

"But I still should have," Wilson hurried to amend. "I know. And… I'm sorry."

House was quiet for a few moments, considering. Wilson tried to fill the awkward silence with tense, anxious babble, trying to be reassuring, but mostly just succeeding in being a little irritating.

"I'm pretty sure he won't say anything to anyone else. He's got a little bit of experience in these matters, and he was pretty respectful when we talked, so I don't think we have to worry about him gossiping with the rest of the team, anything like that…"

"No, of course we don't," House retorted, a single brow raised. "Not if I so fully terrify the shit out of him that he won't dare say a word to anyone." A slight, wicked smile formed on his lips as he gave a little half-shrug. "He's already such a suck-up that he probably wouldn't say anything anyway."

Wilson nodded with a smile of amusement as he imagined the sort of tactics House might employ to ensure Chase's silence. After a moment his smile faded into a more serious expression as he reached out to touch House's cheek, gently turning his face up, insisting that he meet his eyes. Despite the firm authority of the gesture, however, there was uncertainty in Wilson's voice when he spoke.

"So, then… we're okay?"

House let out a softly derisive huff. "I'm okay. You're a liar and a blabbermouth."

Wilson did not smile, a troubled frown creasing his brow. "But… you don't want to break up?"

House sighed, rolling his eyes as he admitted, "No."

"Good." Wilson nodded, still solemn. He hesitated a moment before adding, "But… you know, then… your disrespect in my office will still have to be dealt with."

"Oh, come on!" House protested, and although his tone was mocking, there was a slight note of apprehension to his voice. "I had a right to be angry! You admitted that yourself!"

"You did," Wilson agreed with a single nod. "You didn't have the right to talk to me the way you did in front of Chase, regardless of how angry you were."

He reached past House's suddenly tense form to press the button to allow the elevator doors to open, then turned so that he stood side-by-side with House, not looking at him as he reiterated with firm authority.

"We'll deal with it when we get home."

The doors opened, and Wilson strode away before House could respond, leaving him to ponder what fate Wilson might devise for him in the wake of this most recent conflict.