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Title: Self-Flagellation
Author: lit_luminary
Rating: R for discussion of (non-sexual) BDSM content.
Characters/Pairings: House, Chase; House/Chase mentorship/friendship.
Summary: House diagnoses the aftereffects of a coping mechanism.  (S7 AU, sidestepping out-of-character serial womanizing and Cuddy-induced myopia.)

“…[In] its function, the power to punish is not essentially different from those of curing or educating. It receives from them […] the sanction of technique and rationality.” —Michel Foucault, “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.”



Chase is less distracted today, less tightly wound: House has been watching carefully ever since Cameron left, since between that and the Dibala debacle—especially factoring in the massive Catholic guilt and the abandonment issues—it’d be beyond stupid not to expect aftershocks.

He knows from their conversation a few weeks back that the confessional was no help (obviously), and he sincerely doubts therapy: one, therapy doesn’t work that fast; and two, if Chase believed in the efficacy of that kind of help, he’s had plenty of reasons to seek it before this.

It’s possible he’s on an SSRI that’s recently kicked in, but drugs wouldn’t do much for depression that doesn’t have a neurochemical basis—and then there’s the way he’s sitting.  Leaning towards the table slightly, so only his lower back is against the back of the chair.

Granted, the metal frames of the conference room’s chairs aren’t designed for comfort, but Chase half-lounges when the DDX hits a lull—not always, but often enough that House notices he isn’t.

So. Elevated mood plus avoiding the back of the chair equals…

He takes the next two or three minutes to steer the team around to a prospective diagnosis (too early for this to be the real one, but every condition ruled out is another puzzle piece slotted into place) and sends them filing out to run tests and imaging studies. Chase hangs back, halfway between the conference table and the door, and turns to face him.

“You already have a puzzle,” he says. “I’m—” An instant’s pause as he revises an untrue ‘fine’ to “doing better,” which House is more inclined to believe: if he weren’t, he wouldn’t care about lying badly.

“Okay.” House moves from his preferred spot by the whiteboard, closing the distance so Chase is within arm’s reach. “So, do we do the thing where I pat you on the back and watch for the flinch, or do I get a straight answer without having to dig?”

Chase sighs. “The chair?”

“Yeah. All things being equal, decent chance you lounge in it when the diagnosis is slow. And your mood is up: big dose of endorphins plus x equals not liking the uncomfortable chair against your upper back. Making x…?”

“Do I need to be here, or is this just you showing your work?” Chase says.  But he concedes a nod.

All cracks about leather stethoscopes and spankings from Cuddy aside, that’s worth a raised eyebrow. “I wouldn’t have said you liked pain.” Definitely submission, possibly bondage; but pain, no.

“I don’t. That was the point.”

The psychology there is basic enough: punishment generally eases guilt; in absence of punishment from the legal system, Chase had arranged something for himself, and presumably known enough to draw the line before real injury. “So pain relieves guilt?”

“No. But the guilt is…easier to cope with.”

“Will it still be easier to cope with tomorrow?” House asks. “Or is this self-flagellation thing going to be a habit? Because I’m the only one allowed to bleed in my office.”

“Once was enough.”

That’s probably true: anything unpleasant enough to purge a largish amount of guilt wouldn’t make his list of desirable experiences. “Good. Take off the lab coat and turn around.”

“It’s fine,” Chase says. “I obviously didn’t—”

“You’re in the wrong office if you want personal boundaries,” House breaks in. “Either you let me look so I know you didn’t do anything stupid, or I start devising creative ways to extract you from your shirt.”

And Chase shakes his head, but he takes his lab coat off, hangs it over a chair and turns so his back isn’t to any outer walls, because he knows House will do whatever it takes to learn what he wants: the easiest thing is to give in before the point of drastic measures.

House pulls up the back of Chase’s shirt, assesses: there’re multiple red marks over and slightly below both scapulae, groups of vertical stripes, each about half an inch wide; but no welts, broken skin or bruising, and no impact sites near the spine or the kidneys. Everything carefully placed and controlled, so no way had he been striking his own back. “Okay,” he says, and Chase puts his clothes back in order. “Whoever you got to do that knew how hard and where not to hit.”

Chase nods as he pulls his lab coat back on. “I know. I’m not trying to be self-destructive.”

House isn’t above inflicting some secondary injury on himself to drown out the leg in emergencies: he understands the idea of pain as a mechanism. If being lightly flogged means Chase isn’t going to have a breakdown, he has no problem with that. “And you’re coping now?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“Good. Go run whatever tests aren’t done yet.”

Chase half-smiles and leaves, and House moves into the inner office and settles in the recliner, mentally upgrading his intensivist’s condition to stable.

END.

Notes: A 2011 study published in the journal Psychological Science reports that physical pain does, in fact, have a measurable and significant effect on the alleviation of guilt. (Summary of its findings here for those interested.)
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