I hear you saying "But smut belongs everywhere!" I feel that way myself sometimes. The truth is, however, that some stories just aren't ready to go all the way, and authors who honestly love and care for those stories don't force them. So today I'm taking the time to praise those authors who respect their stories' boundaries even if it means going below the NC-17 horizon.
Best FF Featuring a Totally Anachronistic and Yet Totally Appropriate Song: Barter, by Gloria Mundi, aka viva_gloria. Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack/OMC. The easiest way to describe this story is to quote the author's summary: "'Last time the rum runners who used this island as a cache came by, and I was able to barter a passage off.' Barter? Barter what?" I read that and thought, hey, yeah! What did he barter? Glori asked the question and she answered it. This story is sharper and more serious than I usually like in this fandom; after all, the canon doesn't exactly bring the word "gravitas" to mind, so why should the fan fiction? But "Barter" works for me, possibly because if Jack's ever going to be angsty, it's going to be about the Pearl. Hell, the Pearl has to be involved just for Jack to be serious.
Best FF That Teaches Us How Dangerous It Can Be at the Forefront of the Fight for Equality of the Sexes: Gynecology1, by Charlemagne, aka synchronik. Sports Night, Danny Rydell/Casey McCall. Danny is made Woman for a Night, and learns some important feminine facts, which include:
1. There's nothing more dangerous than a group of intoxicated women.
2. Sweet, fruit-flavored alcohol is lethal.
3. Two can keep a secret. Unless they work together. Or the secret makes for really good gossip. God help you if both are true.
4. If you don't know what you're going to say, don't open your mouth.
This story, in my opinion, is a perfect example what sports Night FF writers do so well - humor, fantastically snappy dialog, and a touch of drama simmering under the surface, where you can see it or not, just as you prefer.
Best FF That Reminds Us Why Teenagers Are Dangerous Things to Have Around the House. Or Around the Planet, for That Matter.: Seeing Through the Spaces, by pearl_o. X-Men movies, Magneto/Mystique, Pyro. There's been a lot of FF on Pyro turning to the dark side, and much of it is excellent. This story stands out for me, though, because not only do we see St. John as a sullen, somewhat thoughtless teenager, but we also get to see how vulnerable that makes him to Magneto's manipulation. And he's not vulnerable because he's somehow worse or more susceptible than other people his age; he's not. He's just an ordinary teenaged boy, making life-changing decisions without really knowing or even wondering why. Frankly, I think we should all be very grateful that in our world teenagers can't control elemental forces of destruction. Well, except for cars. And certain kinds of music.
Best FF That Manages to Make Contagious Disease and Its Affiliated By-Products Romantic: Wine, Women and Schlong, by Brighid, aka mz_bstone. The Sentinel, Jim Ellison/Blair Sandburg. This story could use a little proofreading, but it is so worth reading. It's light and fun and funny, and, as I mentioned in the category title, it actually manages to make mucous romantic, which is clear proof that Brighid is a slash genius. Also, I love Sentinel stories that point out what the writers of the canon apparently missed - namely, that no one on this planet could possibly have believed Jim and Blair weren't lovers. I mean, they live together, work together, get jealously possessive of each other, protect each other, and cuddle after life-threatening situations. They probably do each other's laundry, too. Newborn babies must have looked at them and thought "Gay. Totally gay," never mind the people who actually worked with them. It's nice that FF writers could step in and pick up the slack, here. Of course, that's what FF does for every aspect of the canon. This is why a portion of my personal mantra is, "Thank god for slashers, who return a modicum of sanity to the world of The Sentinel."
1 In all honesty I should note that the author himself considered this an NC-17 story. I've read it several times, and I just don't think it deserves such a high rating. R, maybe, but not NC-17. I'd be glad to hear other people's opinions on this point, though.