Title: Judging Distance
Pairing: House/Wilson established relationship
Rating: T for sexual suggestion
Warnings: medical realism; gratuitous House torture; male/male intimacy
Summary: A look at distance, when it's needed and when it's not, in the early days of an already established relationship between House and Wilson. House gets sick and Wilson must learn to judge distance.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no claim to ownership, etc.
Note: This story is of the same AU as "Knowing and Doing," but takes place prior to that fic.

The Distance Equation

Work had always contoured their relationship. Long before they went beyond friendship to a new level of intimacy, work exerted pressure on every aspect of their lives.

More than case consults, clinic consults, taking up each other's office space, sharing food, listening (Wilson), talking (House), and occasionally going to bat against Cuddy, work determined mood. House careened wildly between manic and depressive; Wilson remained steady, sometimes moving up, sometimes down, but always smoothly and steadily. House worked for thirty-six, forty-eight, sometimes seventy-two hours without any real rest, followed by a day off or a half-day; Wilson arrived at nine and left at five, unless someone (like House) needed him to come early or stay late. So while it came as no surprise to either of them that House kept odd hours once they started living together, Wilson wished he'd call more often.

Seven a.m. on a Sunday, the first full day Wilson had entirely to himself, barring a page or a call, and lying on his stomach breathing in fabric softener—suddenly he missed the smell of their combined sweat and semen, and regretted washing the sheets, though they had been filthy—he realized he was bored. He missed House.

For three days House had been working on the case of a young boy. Wilson hadn't seen him since mid-afternoon yesterday when they'd officially, definitively ruled out cancer and House had skipped on to the next theory without so much as a dismissive hand wave. Accustomed to House's behavior, Wilson hadn't taken it personally, but he had roamed aimlessly around the apartment until every surface, dish, and article of clothing was clean.

He dug his nose into the clean pillow. Seven a.m. He couldn't even sleep late.

There was no way around it. He missed House.

He realized his inner life needed work about five minutes before he heard the door opening; he hadn't gotten out of bed yet to work on his inner life.

Coming down the hall, House's limp spoke of the sheer exhaustion which almost always accompanied the crash from the adrenaline high of a case. Wilson sighed into the pillow, his hot breath spreading chin to nose. House wouldn't be up for anything this morning…and judging from the heavy, slow gait, maybe not this afternoon either.

Face down in the pillow, Wilson heard House enter the room. Even the cadence of his breathing spoke of bone weariness. Wilson turned his head and watched House unbutton the wrinkled blue shirt he'd worn since Friday morning, let it fall to the floor, and lift one of the many slim-fitting graphic t-shirts he owned over his head.

Shoulders slumped forward, House retrieved an undershirt and thin pajama pants from his dresser drawer.

"You're still in bed?" he asked as he pulled the undershirt over his head.

Wilson watched. He enjoyed watching, especially when the show wasn't for him.

Pajama pants slung over his shoulder, House pushed his jeans to his knees so he could shake them off.

"Physically," Wilson answered. "Spiritually, I'm in a galaxy far, far away."

Not so much as an appreciative sniff for his Star Wars reference, Wilson noted with dismay as he parsed out the variables that comprised House's mood. He took a deep breath, held it, and released it slowly. Not only had House come home exhausted, he hadn't mentioned the case yet. Wilson knew from House's silence that his patient hadn't made it. And House's reticence indicated that he might not have figured it out, either…though Wilson assumed he'd stay until the autopsy was conducted if he could. That meant he couldn't. Wilson gathered this information before House had a foot through his pajamas.

So House had finally come home, but there was nothing to say until House broached the topic. Wilson rolled onto his side. Sex was out; talking was out; House was clearly intent on going to bed; maybe he'd allow a little physical contact. Just a little something….

"Gonna get up?" House asked, yanking his pants over his hips.

"Might," Wilson returned lazily.

House used both hands to lift his leg to the bed. Wilson couldn't help but notice; he had too many years of noticing behind him. He said nothing as House curled up on his right side, his back to Wilson.

Tentatively, Wilson placed a hand on his shoulder and let it gently slide down his back. House shifted uncomfortably, pulling the comforter up to cover his exposed upper arm.

"Too tired," Wilson heard him mumble.

Wilson moved his hand back to House's shoulder. "I can't be next to you?" he asked lightly.

"Really tired," House sighed.

Wilson, seeing no conflict between being tired and snuggling, slid toward House.

House shrank at Wilson's touch. Wilson frowned, hurt by the unexplained behavior. House didn't always like to snuggle, but in the past few months they'd been together, he'd never actively rebuffed Wilson's desire for intimacy because he was tired. In pain, yes. But never because he was just tired.

"Would you go get that red bowl of mine you hate?" House asked.

Wilson's confused expression met House's blank back.

Sensing it, House clarified. "The one with the topless seniorita at the bottom. You thought it was tacky and wanted to throw it away."


House's body tightened suddenly. "Because I'm not done hurling the bacteria from the undercooked burger I ate yesterday and I want to be ready if it surprises me."

Oh, Wilson realized. House was sick; he wanted to be left alone. Oh.

So much for his day off.

"Sure," Wilson replied, scooting out of bed.

He returned with the bowl—which really was hideous; he didn't know where House had gotten it and wished House would let him throw it away—and a glass of water. Placing them on the table next to House, he paused to study House. Curled into a malformed ball, House wasn't asleep and clearly wasn't comfortable. Deep lines cut into his face. His stubble was approaching the stranded-on-a-desert-island look.

"You gonna let me ask or make me guess?"

Wilson saw him sigh mentally at the question. He knew House's stance on asking for help of any kind. Most of the past three months he'd spent judging how much distance was appropriate—a judgment he constantly reevaluated as situations changed. The equation was always the same: how much distance House wanted minus how much distance House needed over how much distance Wilson wanted minus how much distance he needed. The variables changed constantly and he had to know when to push House, himself, or both of them, but he hadn't spent so many years being House's friend without learning a few things about distance. All he had to do now was adjust for the new level of intimacy…which wasn't nearly as easy as it sounded.

Standing over him, Wilson waited. He had a new rule for physical illness: the more communication offered, the more distance allowed. He just wanted to know; then he would go away. He suspected House didn't like the rule very much.

House sighed mentally again. Wilson saw him realize he had to provide an answer.

"I ate a burger with a frosty center," House began, speaking rapidly like he did when running down a patient's symptoms for his lackeys. "Chills, nausea, cramps since midnight; puking since three; fever since…I don't know, let's say five—hard to keep track of your own misery when your patient's arresting; no diarrhea yet, the one thing I really need since I haven't crapped in about a week; my leg hurts like a son of a bitch and daddy told me he was diddling junior by slamming his fist into my gut five times."

He opened his eyes and blinked up at Wilson. "I know you feel lonely and neglected; trade ya my gut o' poison for a few days of psychic misery."

One eyebrow settled questioningly on the bridge of Wilson's nose. "The guy hit you before or after you started feeling sick?"

House's face twisted into the equivalent of a groan.

"It's food poisoning," House said. "Surprisingly, that ability to diagnose people thing works on me too."

Wilson stood silently, not having received his answer yet.

House's shoulders slumped in a bodily sigh at Wilson's stubbornness. "After the cramps and nausea, before the puking. All he did was make me sore in a different way. The one time I don't take it in the jaw…"

Wilson's thumb and forefinger migrated to his chin while he studied House and the list.

"Fever?" he asked incredulously.

"Just enough to make everything extra annoying," House answered, his voice rising through the sentence to indicate his annoyance.

Had he been a porcupine—an animal Wilson often imagined him as—each quill would be stiffly bared.

"I don't have to point out the massive quantities of acetaminophen you consume each day, do I?" Wilson said, arms crossed, vacillating between his worried stance and his I-told-you-so stance. With so much acetaminophen in his system, House would have to be running a high fever for it to show.

Annoyed blue eyes accosted him. "I don't have to point out, 1. puking, 2. that my immune system is wicked awesome."

"Nothing about this feels strange to you?" Wilson asked.

House made a dissatisfied noise Wilson hadn't learned to classify yet.

"This feels like Salmonella with its normal escape route blocked by large amounts of hydrocodone which I'm not going to stop taking because I'd rather puke for days than get the runs, keep puking, and be in agony."

Wilson stood still. "I don't have to point out the flaw in your plan."

"No, you don't," House answered. He grimaced and curled tighter around his mid-section. "Are we done?"

Reluctantly, Wilson relaxed his stance. "For now," he said. "But if you're not crapping by noon, we'll talk again."

"Fair enough," House conceded.

When Wilson didn't immediately leave, House added, "I know my suffering gets your catharsis rocks off, but not today."

Wilson shifted his weight, bothered by the anomalies House had so easily explained away. Food poisoning without diarrhea wasn't food poisoning. The presentation was all wrong. But House thought he was right and Wilson knew how far arguing got him when House thought he was right.

He stood just a few seconds longer—enough time to register his complaint. Then he retreated.

"I'll be in the living room."

House tensed, curling tighter. "Great."