Spoilers: Vague for all of season one and season two through 217, "All In". More specific for "Pilot", "Detox", "Babies and Bathwater", "Honeymoon", "Need to Know", "Sex Kills", and "Clueless".
Notes: The screencaps are courtesy of spiffy_themes.
researchgrrrl, stickmarionette, rhiannonhero, anitac588, and swanswan looked over the first draft of this essay for me. Their suggestions were invaluable. All remaining defects are mine alone.
Wilson: You can be a real jerk sometimes. You know that?
House: Yeah, and you're the good guy.
Wilson: At least I try.
House: As long as you're trying to be good you can do whatever you want.
Wilson: And as long as you're not trying you can say whatever you want.
House: So between us, we can do anything. We could rule the world!
Doctor Gregory House is the brilliant and misanthropic head of "Diagnostic Medicine" at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. With his staff of three bright young doctors, he attempts to solve "medical mysteries" that no one else can diagnose. The cases they treat are invariably critical, life or death situations that deteriorate rapidly. House and his team use a battery of tests and methods that are unusual and frequently ethically questionable in their quest to diagnose and treat the patient in time.
"Everybody lies," is House's guiding credo. He avoids having to actually deal with his patients face to face, ostensibly because of his general disgust with people. His lack of faith in humanity is frequently borne out when the answer to the patient's condition turns out to hinge on some critical piece of information that the patient or one of his/her family members is lying about. This pattern can also be used as a red herring, however. Even when the lie is there, it isn't always the answer.
House is driven by his passion for medicine as well as by his own experience with the consequences of misdiagnosis. An infarction in his right thigh was misdiagnosed several years before the action of the show begins, and this mistake resulted in part of the muscle dying. The dead tissue had to be removed. House walks with a cane and suffers from chronic pain, which he manages with the prescription painkiller Vicodin.
House is acerbic and sarcastic. He delights in politically incorrect humor (often making racist jokes to his black employee, for example) and in telling truths that make others uncomfortable. He's a jerk, but he's also very funny, extremely principled, exceptionally competent, and he has a well-hidden compassionate and noble side.
The character of House is based on the great detective Sherlock Holmes (Get it? House/Holmes("homes") Ha, ha.), and as you know, there can be no Holmes without faithful Watson by his side.
Doctor James Wilson is the head of the Oncology department at Princeton Plainsboro and House's best, and only, friend. Wilson at first appears to be everything House is not: warm, caring, conventional. He's almost always dressed in a tie and a white doctor's coat, and he clearly does take a warm interest in his patients. Yet, there are many indications that Wilson is not exactly the unassuming, button-down fellow he presents himself to be.
Wilson is on his third marriage when the show opens, and it's obviously not in good shape. House is constantly accusing Wilson of cheating on his current wife, Julie, and by Wilson's own admission he did cheat on his former wives.
Second of all, Wilson can lie and manipulate with the best of them.
Finally, he's friends with House. Clearly he takes pleasure in much of House's bratty behavior and knows how to push back when House pushes him.
Patient: Does [House] care about you?
Wilson: I think so.
Patient: You don't know?
Wilson: As Dr. House likes to say, everybody lies.
Patient: It's not what people say; it's what they do.
Wilson: [reflects for a beat] Yeah. He cares about me.
The above exchange is from the pilot episode. The pilot, mind you, gives us the framework for understanding House's feelings for Wilson.
Examining House's actions, here is a man with very little use for other people, someone who finds almost everyone unbearably dull and irritating. Wilson is the one person in his life who he seeks out as a companion. By all indications from the show, they spend a great deal of time together. They malinger together (sneaking into exam rooms to watch baseball, for example), appear to eat lunch together almost every day, often have dinner together. In one episode Wilson is at House's place first thing in the morning to give him a ride into work. House says in "Histories" that he's met Wilson's parents and his brother. House's parents seem to know Wilson in the episode in which they appear. This is not a casual work acquaintanceship. There's no way House would be spending this kind of time with Wilson if he didn't enjoy his company.
House clearly has great respect for Wilson. He goes to him for help both personally and professionally. Arrogance is among House's defining characteristics, but he's willing to share his moments of self-doubt with Wilson.
Some more evidence of House's actions showing how much he cares about Wilson: He takes on patients he doesn't want just because Wilson asks. He usually does what Wilson tells him to. House harps on Wilson's fidelity, or rather his perceived lack thereof, with an obsessiveness and sometimes bitterness that can seem like jealousy. In "Sports Medicine" House goes to a great deal of trouble and expense to gleefully present Wilson with all access passes to a monster truck rally for the two of them and is crushed when Wilson says he can't go. He lets Wilson move in with him and then pulls a dirty trick to get him to stay!
Most importantly, though, Wilson makes House laugh. Genuine, relaxed, uncomplicated laughter is one of the most unusual things to see from House, and when we do, you can bet it's because of Wilson.
But what about Wilson? I'm going to say for him too, first and foremost, he sticks around. House is not an easy man to get along with, yet Wilson has been in his life for years. At the lowest point in House's life, following his infarction and the end of his relationship with the woman he loved, Wilson stuck by him and, according to Wilson, "picked up the pieces."
Presumably, Wilson could make other friends, but he doesn't seem to want any. In fact, by Wilson's estimation, House's friendship is one of only two things in is life that "work for" him, the other being his job. Keep in mind, he made this declaration right after he had sacrificed the latter in an attempt to protect House from being fired.
Wilson is deeply concerned about House's well-being all around. He believes him to be isolated and miserable, and he wants to help. He masterminds a plan *behind House's back) to trick House into going off of Vicodin for a week because he believes House's dependence on the drug has changed him for the worse. He tries to make House return the motorcycle he buys. He gets angry when House engages in any kind of self-destructive behavior (purposely giving himself a migraine headache, for example). He's your basic wife.
Wilson is not always kind, he does not always tell House the truth, but he has a kind of faith in House that's beautiful to see. Wilson knows House can make mistakes, and he's the first to tell him when he does, but when House is out on a limb, when others are doubting his diagnosis, or one of his radical treatments, Wilson always has his back. For a man as completely defined by his work as House is, this is possibly the best gift Wilson could give him. Wilson appreciates House. Sometimes when House does something particularly brilliant you can just see the amazement and pride and adoration written all over his face.
As far as female love interests are concerned, Wilson's repeated failed marriages certainly don't impede the slash, if anything they're an argument in favor of it. Clearly something there is not working out for him. There are two clear canon instances of Wilson choosing House over his wife. The first comes when Wilson (although Jewish) asks House if he can spend Christmas at his place instead of at home. The second has Wilson ditching his wife's dinner party to meet House at a bar because House needs his advice. And you can tell that there was never even a question for Wilson that he would come at House's call. House comes first. Period. The show never explicitly states that this might be one source of his marital problems, but it's a theme frequently explored in fan fiction.
Although House still has strong feelings for the woman he used to live with, when he had the opportunity to get back together with her he ultimately decided it wouldn't work out. Aside from his ex, the show occasionally tries to sell the possibility of a romance between House and the female member of his team, Doctor Allison Cameron. However, Cameron's missteps in trying to woo House only serve to highlight how little she understands him compared to Wilson. It's Wilson to whom the other characters go when they're seeking to understand House.
The best example of Wilson's protectiveness of House is that he goes to both of these women and tells them that they'd better be careful with House, or they'll break him (er, more so). In both cases, they scoff at the idea that they could hurt big, bad House. Wilson recognizes the vulnerability in House that other people don't see both because he's paying the most attention, and because he's the one who House let's in. I find that deeply romantic.
To sum up, the first season of House gave us House and Wilson spending Christmas together eating Chinese takeout and laughing, Wilson scheming to try to get House to confront his (perceived) drug problem, Wilson defending House from being fired and putting his own career at risk for him, House taking on any and all patients that Wilson asks him to, House stalking Wilson, House essentially planning a date for the two of them, and, I kid you not, season one is only a tiny fraction as gay as season two!
We are currently in the final third of the second season of House. At this point, Wilson's marriage has collapsed, and he has moved in to House's apartment. They are living together, and House (not so secretly) loves it! They watch t.v., bicker over the dishes. House plays pranks on Wilson like a little boy pulling the pigtails of the girl he likes. Wilson cooked House pancakes, for goodness sakes! It's your basic adorable domesticity fic come to life. They couldn't get any more married if we actually had a wedding episode. In fact, for all I know, that could be what will happen in the season finale. The level of gayness seems to increase exponentially each week!
Wilson: I've got no kids; my marriage sucks. I only had two things that worked for me. This job and this stupid screwed up friendship and neither mattered enough to you to give one lousy speech.
House: They matter.
love, Love, LOVE, baby! True love! If these two aren't in love, I don't know who is!
What I've been trying to get across is that House and Wilson are more than central in each other's lives, they are singular in each other's lives. There's no one for either of them who even comes close. With so much wrapped up in each other there is a lot at stake between them. They can make each other happy—they play and joke around like school boys—but they also have the potential to really hurt each other. When they fight it's with all the ferocity and intimacy of family. Their dynamic is lighthearted on the surface, all witty banter and crazy antics, but you can also see the deep undercurrents of longing, hope, disappointment, and, most of all, love. For me, that's what makes them so much fun to watch, read and write.
Wilson: [speaking to House through the speaker of an MRI machine] House, this is God.
House: [From inside the MRI machine] Look, I'm a little busy right now. Not supposed to talk during these things. Got time Thursday?
Wilson: Let me check. Oh, I got a plague. What about Friday?
House: [laughs]You'll have to check with Cameron.
Wilson: Oh, dammit, she always wants to know why bad things happen. Like I'm gonna come up with a new answer this time.
I want to say that even if you hate doctor shows, I think you should check House out. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who dislikes doctor shows more than I do, but the characters on House make it worthwhile. Also, yes, the doctors are the protagonists, but the show is often critical of the way medicine is practiced, which makes it go down easier for someone who has had bad experiences. For the squeamish, I admit that there are some gross scenes in nearly every episode, but that's what hands are for! (To put in front of your eyes.)
Ten episodes to watch to get a sense of the House/Wilson:
Damned If You Do (105)
Sports Medicine (Important! Aired as 112, but actually the ninth episode of the first season. If you have the DVDs it will be after "Detox," but it actually comes after "Poison".)
Babies and Bathwater (118)
Sex Kills (214)
Bonus: It's relatively low on the House/Wilson, but watch 121, Three Stories. It's an amazing piece of television writing, and it has important back story that is frequently referenced in fan fiction.
However, if you really like minimum canon exposure with your fic, I'd say you can get by on just Fidelity, Detox, Three Stories, and Sex Kills, but you'll be missing out!
house_wilson is a community devoted exclusively to the pairing.
The House Fan Fiction Archive has stories of all ratings and pairings, and is searchable by pairing.
housefic also takes all kinds of House fan fiction.
house_slash has lots of House/Wilson posted to it as well as a fair amount of House/Chase and other m/m and f/f pairings.
house_md is mainly for episode discussion.
crack_van and Polyamorous Recommendations both have House recs lists.
And finally, a handful of recs from me, just to get you started:
The Meaning of Marriage by gigitrek (technically gen, but such a perfect House/Wilson dynamic)
A Momentary Lapse of Reason by agentotter
Pathogenesis and Intervention by astolat
Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics by nigeltde
Side Effects by isagel
House: She [a child with cancer he helped to treat] genuinely is a self-sacrificing saint, whose life will bring her nothing but pain, which she will stoically withstand just so that her mom doesn't have to cry quite so soon. I am beside myself with joy.
Wilson: She enjoys life more than you do.
Wilson: She stole that kiss from Chase. What have you done lately?
House: I'm pacing myself.