So I think it would be highly appropriate to start off with as much love as we can manage, don't you? Or stories about as much love as the characters can manage, anyway.
The One in Which We Learn That a Really Good Secretary Can Change the Flow of Traffic for You. Suddenly, I Want a Really Good Secretary So Much. The World That You Need Series, by dira. Vorkosigan Saga, Aral Vorkosigan/Cordelia Vorkosigan, Aral Vorkosigan/Arkady Jole. (If you haven't read the Vorkosigan books, I think you can still read this, but having read the books will help.)
I don't even know why I read this. (Okay, I do - it's Dira. But go with me for the sake of a - it's not a narrative device, exactly. Recommending device?) It is so wrong for me. Wrong fandom, wrong pairing, wrong everything.
The Vorkosigan books were significant for me: they were the right books at the right time. There could not have been a righter time for me to read Warrior's Apprentice, and it slotted into my life and mind so perfectly that I have been afraid to re-read it for years and years. (I've learned the hard way that some books don't stay perfect, or even lovable, forever, and there are certain books I'd prefer to love in memory than risk losing.) I mean, Lois McMaster Bujold has certainly had her misses as well as her hits with me, and she's no longer writing precisely what I want to read, but I still bought her latest book in hardcover, mostly out of gratitude for having written the right book at the right time. Warrior's Apprentice was that right for me.
So, obviously, this story had a huge negative against it before I even started it. It wasn't altering a beloved canon; it was working against my fuzzy, nostalgic memory of a canon and the unreasonable and unassailable love I hope I'll always have for this world.
And then there's the pairing, which - well, I do not like big age differences and I squirm away from power imbalances. Older Prime Minister/his young and hero-worshipping secretary is a pairing designed to hit this squick of mine. (And yet it somehow does not, which I had not even believed possible. Dira is amazing.) Also, of course, the older Prime Minister is Aral Vorkosigan, who is married. To Cordelia, a definite fictional beloved of mine. I do not like pairings that disrupt marriages. Seriously, I can't even count how many things this series had stacked against it before I read the first word.
But none of that matters, because this story is perfect. Perfectly navigated, perfectly done, perfectly right. It doesn't just slot into canon - it extends it in an absolutely appropriate way, giving us a look at what the adults were doing while the canon was off keeping an eye on Miles at the Academy. And it expands the canon world in a wholly necessary way; the background on homosexuality on Barrayar is fascinating, and absolutely right. (My spellchecker knows Barrayar, by the way. I find that odd.) Just, wow. This story: wow.
This is one of those stories that will become my internal canon, not just because I believe it, but because now that I've read it, canon alone would seem just a little bit hollow, with a missing piece exactly the shape of this story.
The One Which Paints a Much More Realistic Picture of the Burkes' Dining Room Than the One on the Show. (Why Are Houses on US TV Always So Tidy? Surely Somewhere There's a Show Where People Have Piles of Crap Everywhere.) And Anyone Who's Ever Had a Heart, by liviapenn. White Collar, Elizabeth Burke/Peter Burke/Neal Caffrey.
I love Elizabeth Burke. In fact, I watched (most of the first season of) White Collar because of her. I just couldn't get over how much all the stories I read in the fandom and all the people watching the show seemed to like her. I kept not finding the story where it turns out Elizabeth is a scheming evil bitch - and bitch is surely the term that would be used to describe her - who has sex with, like, all of Peter's enemies, and also secretly gets Neal sent back to prison because he's too interesting to her husband and too pretty or loyal or whatever, but then fortunately Peter finds out and pushes her under a subway train and fucks Neal right there in the station while they're watched by the glassy eyes of her severed head. (If that story exists I DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT, please. Or any version of it. Let me stay in my happy everyone-loves-Elizabeth world, okay? Please?) Eventually, I had to find out more about this show, where half of the main slash pairing could be married to a woman and the fannish result was not a lot of She's Dead, Let's Fuck stories, but rather a lot of She's Awesome, Let's All Fuck stories.
I like She's Awesome, Let's All Fuck stories. And not just because I have an aversion to sex in close proximity to severed heads.
And I'm not the only one, obviously; White Collar fandom, at least the parts I hang out in, is rich with people saying, "But why can't we have the episode where we learn that Elizabeth is really a superhero? Because I think she might be a superhero!" I like that. (Don't get your hopes up, by the way - this is not the one where Elizabeth is a superhero. At least, not in the sense of wearing spandex.) I also like Elizabeth. (And I richly appreciate the rule of the show that appears to dictate that no matter what, there has to be a scene with Peter, Elizabeth, and Neal being cheerfully domestic and bickering. A+++ choice, showrunners! Soon you can show them buying a really big bed!) And in this story, she is awesome. And I am entirely sure fucking occurs immediately after the story ends.
For me, the heart of this story is definitely the Elizabeth/Neal interactions. I love how the first scene of this story completely balances the triangle. I love how it all works out. I love how effortlessly Elizabeth, on one of the worst days of her life, pwns Neal Caffrey.
And I really, really love the image of Elizabeth in sexy librarian glasses. (If there is fanart of that, oh god link me now.)
The One in Which We Learn that Sherlock Holmes's Cries for Help Are Just As Over the Top As the Rest of Him. A Terribly Poor Understanding of Love, by candle_beck. A Sherlock Holmes fandom of some kind, John Watson/Mary Watson, Sherlock Holmes/John Watson. (I think this is the movie, but in all honesty tracking Sherlock Holmes fandoms is now beyond my capacity; I can do everything else in my life, or I can figure out all the Holmes permutations. In this story, there's a Holmes and a Watson and they're both men, and there's carriages rather than cars or airships. And no one is a robot. That's the best I can do for you in terms of identifying the fandom.)
A little bit ago, I was talking with sinensis about an AU she is not writing BUT SHOULD, and she brought up the concept of slash fan blackmail. (Like, "Sometimes I think TV shows have too much gay subtext." If you had a screenshot of a slash fan saying that, maybe you could get her to write you the Holmes robot AU!) And now I am going to share with you one of my slash fan secrets, which you could totally use to blackmail me except I'm telling people of my own free will.
I never shipped Holmes and Watson in the original Conan Doyle stories. (I never shipped Jeeves and Wooster, either, despite my preteen years of obsessive fannish love for them. Judge at will.) I preferred to think of Holmes as not being really, you know, human, in the sense of having actual needs unrelated to cocaine and crime. But I still valued the Holmes and Watson relationship intensely, to the degree that I had to de-canonize Watson's marriage. He couldn't leave Holmes! It wasn't right! Holmes needed Watson! (I was, like, 14, and thus did not consider whether Watson needed Holmes, although I'd say the text makes a good case that he does.) Obviously, terrible things would happen if Watson got married and wasn't there for Holmes. (Apparently, if I'd been in Holmes fandom at 14, I would have been writing smarm. It would not have been pretty.)
This story makes it clear that terrible things do indeed happen when Watson leaves Holmes; it's everything I inchoately feared as a teenager, put into black and white. Fortunately, this story also solves the whole problem. Or, I should say, Mary Watson solves the problem, since both Holmes and Watson are too stupid and blind and generally incompetent to manage it. (Yes, I take great pleasure in this. It's always a delight when Mary is like, "Oh my GOD, how can the two of you solve crimes together? How can you even put your pants on in the morning without getting your heads stuck in one of the legs? You are the most pathetic people ever, but I will fix this because I am just that good, and also I care about you.")
So there's awesome Mary and all the agony that made teenaged-me hate Watson for getting married and Holmes and Watson making it work despite themselves, and I love all that more than I can tell you. But I also love the nature of the solution, which involves one partner saying, in essence, "You want him and I'm happy for you to have him. I'll even help make that happen! I have my own things to do. Have fun, darling! I won't wait up." It's so - grown up. Like they're all real people!
The One in Which We Learn That Pegasus Is Well Ahead of the Milky Way When It Comes to Advancements in Sexual Arts and Sciences. 3 Lovers, by cesperanza. Stargate: Atlantis, various pairings. Think of it sort of like pairing tapas, okay? You get a taste of everything.
In this story, Teyla Emmagen has a lot of sex.
Okay, wait, maybe that wasn't the best lead-in. See, this is a story about how the team all gets together and has a warrior bonding exp - no. Okay. It's a story about how graduate students are not even remotely healthy - no. It's a story about how the solution to the Ancient equivalent of ramen noodle addiction is sometimes worse than the problem!
Never mind. Can I just not summarize this one?
And this is exactly the problem I had when the story first came out, too. Normally I pounce on each new story cesperanza posts so quickly that sometimes I accidentally knock my head into my monitor. This story took me about a week to read, and it was entirely because I was like, "...But. I don't... hmmm. That seems..." It wasn't that there was anything unappetizing about the story, you understand. I just wasn't sure.
But obviously that was wholly unnecessary angst (actually, Unnecessary Angst would make a great title for a lot of fan fiction, just not this one; there are whole genres that could effectively be re-titled Unnecessary Angst), because this story is awesome, and I love it. If you tracked how often I re-read cesperanza's stories, although I would rather you did not, this one would end up in the SGA top three. (It isn't fair to make SGA compete with due South. There's Diefenbaker in due South. SGA's biggest failing, in my opinion, was the absence of a large dog.) It's got Ancient technology sex pollen, it's got an awesome Teyla narrative, and it's got every pairing a person could reasonably hope for. (Note for McKay/Sheppard shippers: this story will make you happy. Note for OT4 fans: this story will make you happy. Note for everyone else: this story will probably make you happy, too, unless you ship, like, Sheppard/Todd, in which case I don't know what to tell you. No one story can be all things to all people! But this one comes close.)
Really, the only thing this story is lacking is the coda where they get a puppy. And I suppose I can't really expect every story to fix the dog-shaped hole in Atlantis.
Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comments.