A/N: Post-tritter, post-rehab. House and Wilson have a talk about their friendship. (i know, i know: EVERYONE does this fic. too bad. i like mine and i'm posting it.)

For a while after House returned to work, Wilson waited for him to apologize. Verbally. It was clear that he was sorry; he'd stopped doing outrageous things in front of Wilson's patients, stopped making nasty remarks about the wives and the hotel and the affair with the dying woman. He'd even partway stopped stealing lunch – some days he'd cheerfully snatch up all the best bits from both plates, but other times he'd hold out his chips in a wordless offer to share… and sometimes when he reached the cashier first, he would even pay.

Obviously, it meant he wanted to make reparations for all his screw-ups. And Wilson wanted to forgive him for them. He did. He just… wanted it said first. He wanted the gesture.

But House wasn't big on gestures, Wilson knew that. It occurred to him one day that House would probably never be able to step up and make an unprompted apology. Maybe, he thought, he could make it happen by setting a good example, and apologizing for his screw-up first. (Even if he didn't actually consider it a screw-up. Going to the police to get House a deal might look like some kind of betrayal from where House was standing, but he knew it was the right thing to do.)

Still. They needed to clear the air. He would apologize, and get House to apologize, and they could rebuild things properly. And then maybe House wouldn't feel like he needed to try paying for his lunch. Wilson would die before admitting it, but he actually missed forking over his credit card every day with a sigh – he might not be anybody's husband anymore, but he still liked the feeling of being man of the house.

So he engineered some private time in his office one day by using a sandwich as bait. He sat House down opposite him at the desk and then asked, "Don't you think we should talk?" into the silence.

House spoke from around a mouthful of roast beef: "How about you talk, I eat." He sounded a little wary.

"Okay. I… wanted to apologize for going to the police behind your back." The words came easily to Wilson because he only half-believed them. He watched House's chewing slow and his eyes narrow. "I maintain it was the sensible thing to do," he qualified, "But I know how it must have felt for you, and I'm sorry. I should have thought more about your feelings first."

After a moment of silence, House forced the enormous mouthful down his throat. "You've got nothing to apologize for," he dismissed. "You did what makes sense for you. You know I wouldn't be pissed about that."

It didn't sound like he was lying. "Then why are we not… back to normal?" Wilson struggled to put words to his confusion. "If you're not mad, then why are you pushing me away?"

"I'm not pushing you." House heaved a sigh. "Why is it that you only read me right when we're playing poker?"

"Oh, come on!" Wilson had to laugh. "You say about three words for every thousand you're thinking. I have to read you all the time."

"I said read me right," House repeated. "You had it so backwards in Atlantic City." He shrugged uncomfortably and looked back to his sandwich. "That's what made me realize I must've had it all backwards, the whole time we've been friends. I wish you would have told me sooner."

"What..." He knew House hated stupid questions, so he tried first to figure it out on his own. But there had been too much said in Atlantic City, with the ride there and the sniping about the prescriptions, and the ride home, while he'd sat there aching for House, for what he'd just had to do and because he'd had to do it alone... And hating House a little, because he suspected maybe it didn't bother House as much as it bothered him, because nothing ever got to House...

No, too much had happened that night to have any idea what he meant now. "Sorry, we said a lot in Atlantic City," Wilson reminded. "Which thing did you mean?"

"I meant when you told Coma Guy we'd be there in two more exits and instead we were there in three."

"Ah, yes. How could I have been so wrong? I wonder if he'll ever forgive me." Wilson shot him a hard look. "House."

House put the sandwich down but couldn't take his eyes off the plate. "You have to remember, I'm new to this. To the whole best-friend thing. I never really understood how it worked..."

Oh - Wilson remembered now. "I yelled at you for trying to push it til it broke. Is that what you're talking about?" A nod. There was a long uncomfortable silence. He could tell House was searching for words and suddenly felt terrible – it wasn't right to make him beg for forgiveness, not after he'd offered his own so freely. "You know what, it's okay," he said quickly. "You don't have to apologize."

"Apologize?" House's head shot up. "I wasn't apologizing, moron. I'm explaining. Just listen." He took a deep breath and Wilson didn't interrupt him, totally mystified as to what House could be about to say. "I wasn't trying to push it til it broke. I just… this might be exceptionally stupid, I'm sorry... it just never occurred to me that it could break," he admitted. "I had assumed a best-friendship was unbreakable... unconditional... Like I said, I'd never had one before. I didn't know any better."

Wilson was too shocked to answer, but House was too uncomfortable to notice. "I know we had a good thing," he said slowly, "And I've always known I put a lot of strain on it... I can see now that that wasn't okay, that I did some damage. For that I guess I really do apologize - it's not what I wanted to happen. I didn't think it would."

Another silence passed, and House got up. "Gotta go. I'll just leave you here to sit and marvel at how clueless I really am."

Wilson sat there for a while, marvelling. Of all the explanations he had concocted for House's behavior over the years, he'd never considered the simplest and most backwards: in Houseland, you treat people like crap when you do care about them. If your friends will put up with you regardless, why go through the effort of being easy to put up with?

I assumed a best friendship was unconditional... Had he really? That was possibly the sweetest and saddest thing Wilson had ever heard. House, the cynic who wouldn't believe in love if it kicked him in the head, believed in unbreakable friendship.

Used to believe, Wilson corrected himself. It put a little ache in his chest.

And also, after a moment, made him laugh. How ironic was it that after being House's friend for so many years, for putting up with him and defending him and fighting tooth and nail to get him to let down his guard just a little... that he would be the one to make him more of a cynic than he already was?

And how ironic that after all the outrageous, unforgivable things House had done, it was that simple warning to treat the friendship with respect that had finally broken it.

It was the kind of thing that would usually depress him and amuse House. Today, though, he was the one laughing bitterly. He doubted House found it amusing at all.

The End.

For the record, I don't actually think that's the explanation for all House's horrible behavior. But it could be.