Alternate universes. And I've said this before, but alternate universes come in many flavors, from body-snatch ("Wouldn't it be cool if Xander Harris looked like Justin Timberlake?") to eigenstate ("What if Two-Face's coin had come up heads?") to brand new suit ("What if Casey had stayed in gymnastics? And been really good at it?") to mutant hybrid ("So, if Beecher is Cathy and Keller is Heathcliff..."). I'm not a big fan of the body-snatch AU, but otherwise I'll read whatever is going. What's going today? Mutant hybrid, brand new clothes, and major eigenstate (only one thing happened differently, but it turned out to have a major local effect). In other words, just another ordinary day in fan fiction. FF, how I love thee!
Best FF That Will Give You a New Appreciation for Current European Monarchs. I Mean, You Think Prince Charles Has Funny Ears? Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman. Sherlock Holmes x H. P. Lovecraft, and I imagine the author would say it was gen. (It is, actually. But Gaiman does such a good job of recreating - or, well, re-doing - the Holmes canon that slash lurks in every corner and between every line, just waiting for someone to say its name and make it manifest. And then write a sex scene or two.) You need to know at least a smidgen about both fandoms to enjoy this. But if you do? Oh how you will enjoy it. I just can't give you specific reasons, because I can't say much about the story without spoiling it. So instead of persuading you with logic and incisive critique*, I'll have to go the whining, begging, pleading route: Read this! Even though it is not your fandom! (Unless of course SH x HPL is your fandom, in which case I have an anthology you'd like to read.) Even if it is gen! (Or, if you are a gen reader, even if it does have slashy overtones!) Because it is, well, really good! So good that I would even throw a second exclamation point into that last sentence, except that the shame would break me; I'd end up like Dimmesdale. (I.e., in a closet with a scourge. And Hester Prynne.). Or maybe like a Lovecraftian hero after he discovers - too late, too late - that research is the real most dangerous game. (I.e., gibbering in moderately purple prose.) My point is, you need to read this story right now, unless you don't know the canons, in which case you'll want to do some other reading first. (I suggest A Study in Scarlet and The Call of Cthulhu.) I may not be Lovecraft's biggest fan, but, seriously, this story is worth the effort.
Best FF That Will Make You Want to Eat Cake. A Decorated Cake. Or, OK, One Specific Decorated Cake. Or Maybe It's Just Me Who Wants That. Deke, by Rhi Marzano, aka rhiko. Due South, Ray Kowalski/Benton Fraser. Two authors I love share a dS site (this one, in fact), and of the nine stories there, four are AUs. And these are good AUs, AUs I have long admired. So picking just one was, you know, challenging; I finally went with this because it's got hockey. And we all need more hockey AUs. I mean, OK, yes, dS has more hockey than your average fandom (Although why other fandoms don't have much is an unsolved mystery. Who doesn't want to see Ron Weasley play goalie? Or Bobby Drake as center-forward in what has to be his natural habitat? Or Beecher and Keller suddenly playing for the same team? (Hockey team.) I hear all of you chorusing, "We don't want to see that," but you are wrong. Every fandom needs hockey. Even ones that are, technically, set prior to the invention of the sport.) Also, I'm beginning to think that NHL hockey may survive only in fan fiction AUs, so I'm doing my part to encourage fangirls everywhere to get to know hockey. (And then come explain it to me, because I've never met a team sport I understood.) You say hockey is not enough to convince you? Give up now, kiddo, because I've got lots more reasons you should read this. Like, for example - Fraser is still the canonical Fraser. Blending an AU-type character and a canon(ish) character is not easy, but Rhi does it with great panache. And you like panache, don't you? Plus, I find myself actually liking Smithbauer in this one, which is like a miracle on the ice. Also, there's cake.
Best FF That Proves That Dysfunctional Romance Is the Basic Black Dress of Interpersonal Relationships. Force Draw, by actizera. Oz, Tobias Beecher/Christopher Keller. A good Oz AU is hard to find, man. I don't mean eigenstate AUs; I'm talking about ones that change the setting. Oz is maybe the most setting-dependent canon in existence, and taking the guys out of the cage changes way too much for it to work. I mean, you could write, say, a law firm AU (sadistic senior partner Schillinger, newly-minted sacrificial lawyer Beecher, hotshot trial guy O'Reily, Keller bribing juries and sucking cock to get - well, pretty much anything), but it'd be tough to preserve the characters, let alone the relationships between them. Oz is all about having no choice, all about being penned up with wild animals (and everyone is a wild animal in there; the only choice is predator or prey), and even though many of us would liken attorneys - the ones we don't love, obviously - to wild animals, it's just not the same without the walls and guards and locks. Beecher/Keller is a particularly tough pairing to sell in a changed-setting AU; it's just really hard to buy their relationship outside of prison. Which is, as you may have guessed, why I love this story. These guys are canon Beecher and Keller, and they have the same relationship; they just play pool instead of cards, and they screw in a truck rather than after lights out, but otherwise it's all the same, and it's believable, which is a miracle. You don't even need to know how the characters got to this point; this is a vignette, not an epic, so there's not a lot of background, but that totally works. For one thing, you pretty much know the background after you read this scene. All hail Actizera, who wrote the impossible AU. And who apparently gets Beecher and Keller on a scarily deep level.
Best FF That Supports Gerund Rights. Specifically, Gerund Rights to Appear in Titles. All We Are Saying Is Give Gerunds a Chance. Coming up for Air Series, by Delilah. The Sentinel, gen. First, the caveats: this series is a work in progress, and although each story stands alone fairly well, the last one ends on a cliffhanger. Also, some of the stories need to be beta-read - there's a lot of typo-type errors. But it is definitely worth reading. It's a fascinating extrapolation of the canon; the potential for all of this is present in the series but never explored (or, I suspect, even considered). The minor characters are extrapolated, too; Jim's family is very present, and as much more than just plot devices. Stephen, in particular, is an interesting and complete character here, and Sally gets a lot more time. Bonus: the mystical stuff makes sense. Normally I can only take so much supernatural-shaman-spirit guide blah before I'm ready to move on to something slightly more probable, like why Ron Weasley is really Dumbledore. In fact, I sometimes OD on the whole caboodle in the time it takes to read the words "black jaguar." In this series, though, it makes much more sense and works a lot better than in most stories. And this AU concept just feels right; it's believable in a way the canon sometimes isn't. And for the record, I don't find these stories sad. Oh, didn't I mention that in the warnings? Because, yeah. Everyone I've ever seen mention this series (which is, admittedly, not that many, even though it's a rather famous series) has described it as sad. Disturbing, even. But for once I don't agree, and given that I can tear up over video games and the death of characters who are, technically, cars, that's saying something. (Although I can't tell you whether it's something about the series or about me.) No one dies in this. Nothing that happens is worse or more upsetting than the canon. Jim is different, yes - his senses came fully and permanently on-line when he was six, and that changed him and the course of his life - but I don't see him as even remotely a tragic figure; he is damaged, both by the senses and by some aspects of his family, but that's true of canon Jim, too. To me, this Jim is, if anything, more comfortable and more secure than the one in the canon. But, well, others don't agree with me, so you are hereby warned: this might make you sad. (If it does, please say so in the comments. I'd like to know, and it will serve as a warning to others.)
* I know. Like I ever do, right?