- character: superman,
- fandom: dc comics,
- fandom: futurama,
- fandom: how i met your mother,
- fandom: m*a*s*h,
- fandom: marvel comics,
- fandom: south park,
- fandom: spider-man,
- fandom: star trek tos,
- fandom: starsky & hutch,
- pairing: barney/robin,
- pairing: kirk/spock,
- pairing: steve/tony,
In a new post, list ten FICS that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take but a few minutes, and don’t think too hard — they don’t have to be the “right” works, or even all the same pairing or fandom, just the fics that have touched you or that stuck with you somehow.
I swiped this from moetushie , whose answer to the meme is here, way back in March, started it, forgot about it, rediscovered it a week or so ago, and finished it. It's rambly unfiltered musing and I have made a conscious effort to excise as much critical thinking and journalistic argumentation out of it as I can, and just write down what these fics are in my head and the imprint they left in my memory, rather than what they may be in reality.
Well, I spent much more than a few minutes on these. And they all got so long that I had to put cuts in all the "What Stuck with me and Why" bits so people's eyes don't glaze over while scrolling over it. Though I DID jot the list of fics down pretty fast, though, because if I didn't it would be impossible to choose just ten. So if anyone swipes this from me, moetushie's approach to the meme is probably closer to what it's meant to look like. ;)
As the description implies, these are not recs. Not in the sense of "read this, this is so good!" They're personal why-this-fic-stuck-with-me musings. However, in my opinion, they all do qualify at least as this-was-a-pretty-interesting-story recs.
I do recognize that a couple of them would not affect me the same way if I first read them today instead of reading them when I did read them, so any overpraising belongs to the fic's personal impact, not my critical analysis. But here goes:
1. Prison Of Glass by LuipaardJack (Futurama, Fry-centric)
Summary: "Before you contradict an old man, my fair friend, you should endeavor to understand him." - George Santayana
Context: Read when I was 16, deeply embroiled in Futurama and other cartoon fanfic.
What Stuck With Me and Why: There is a concept that Futurama embodies so well I and a couple people I know call it "Futurama Dissonance" -- the brain-breaking effect that happens when a show is built from a surreal cubist mash-up between good solid satirical self-aware Simpsons-esque humor with a porous fourth wall, and utterly soul-crushing deadly serious tragedy, psychological horror, or pathos. Futurama was always good at kicking the viewer in the balls without staying bogged down in the serious bits long enough to feel incongruous or ridiculous, and explored on a number of different fronts -- the relationship between Fry and Leela, the sci-fi concepts (e.g., The Sting and Godfellas), and, most of all, the premise of Fry being accidentally cryogenically frozen and then reawakened 1,000 years later. This last one is pretty much a pandora's box of implications that get more depressing and complicated the longer you think about them. Futurama explored it in canon just enough to keep it in the forefront of the viewers' minds, but not fully. That was left to fanfic, such as this one.
I have read quite a few really good and in-character studies of Fry and the fact that he is, in fact, over one thousand years old, and everything he knew is gone, and there is absolutely no one like him anywhere. However, this fic stands out in my memory for some reason. Probably because it has no "process" -- no resolution or conclusion that makes sense of things. His circumstances just exist, and he's in them now. Quiet, following random thoughts and observations. It tracks the premise of the show without cover ups for the liberties of sci-fi concepts. Short and not overdone or over-clever, just pure truth. The parallel to Sleeping Beauty really stayed with me.
2. Sick Home by Lance Ruhiru (South Park, Scott Tenormen-centric)
Summary: When time makes it worse. (Scott Tenormen's thoughts about Cartman, South Park, and the nature of reality and fiction, years after Scott Tenormen Must Die).
Context: Written years before 200 and 201 aired, so retroactively AU yet eerily prophetic. Read when I was 15 in my several months-long nothing-but-South-Park craze, during which I inhaled almost the entire ff.net archive.
What Stuck With Me and Why: I was lucky enough to be exposed early on to the best of the best when it comes to dark "but what happened to...?" fanfics for thoroughly unrealistic and unserious shows like South Park. This one takes the unseen aftermath of Cartman's murder by proxy of Scott Tenormen's parents and runs with it -- but not in the obvious, tiresome "look, this is what would really happen!" direction. No, it runs in an entirely different direction, the opposite direction most fanfic runs -- towards us, right through the fourth wall instead of deeper into the show's internal universe. This fic's exploration of the nature of reality, of the idea of fictional worlds, with fictional laws of nature and physics and time and space, of sliding timelines, the orphaned quality of fictional events and the way they intersect with real life, the melding of reality and fiction, outstrips anything I've seen professionally published, and does so in only a few paragraphs.
3. Nothing Compares by Cszemis (South Park, gen, Stan & Kyle, Kyle & Cartman, death-fic)
Summary: "His fingers traced over the shadow of Stan. “When we are dead and gone nobody will care about these pictures. No one will remember how happy we were. How much it all meant.” How much he meant to me…"
Context: Continuing the dark fics for goofy shows trend. Read when I was 15, yada yada see above.
What Stuck With Me and Why: The author was clearly horribly depressed back in 2007 when she wrote this and some of her other fic, though I believe she is doing much better now. The fic stuck with me because of the sincerity and unflinching ballsiness combined with a teenage-to-the-bone author perspective, which nonetheless is not a flaw. This story is part of the reason I don't feel that "teenager-y" suffices as a writing flaw, for the writing and perspective on life here is utterly teenager-y, but that does not mean the story is invalid. Honestly, I've graduated from being a teenager quite a few years ago, but I've really had it up to here with people thinking that something that's written in a "teenager-y" way basically means "wrong, wrong about everything, disposably wrong, amusingly wrong, wrong to the point of having no validity, so wrong its perspective is of value to no one but parents and therapists, so wrong it has no right to exist and can have no benefit to any reader in the whole world, ever"...but I digress. No wait, actually, I don't digress. That's actually the whole point of why this story stuck with me. Teenage existential frozen misery personified, and I don't mean that in a smirking, patronizing way. I mean that in a 100% serious way. The characters' actions may be South Park-surreal but the feelings and impulses and thoughts are as teenager-ly real as real can get. The sort of real that is more emotionally real than realistic depictions would be, if you know what I mean. Screaming, bottomless rage and grief; intense, fierce love that makes a best friend a kid's whole world; desperate pain with no social mores or perspective; a bleak and crushing (not tragic, not cathartic, not bittersweet) ending.
Also, another thing that stuck with me about this fic is the prologue. It begins with an unsophisticated but intelligent philosophical musing on the nature of soulmates. It now reads as rather clunky to me, but back then, it was really reassuring, as back then I was starting to get really bewildered by why media and language equated love and romance as if they were synonymous rather than a set and a subset. As weird as it is for me to think about it now, that silly little prologue was one of the most memorable things that helped verbalize my understanding of relationships, keep these feelings from slipping out of my brain under the weight of deaf, matter-of-fact silence, without getting hijacked by the Romantic-Doublethink Industrial Complex that is mainstream media and ship-dominated fandom. I still remember every single scene.
4. Mystery Kirk/Spock Slash Story of Awesomesauce by Mystery Kirk/Spock Slash Writer of Awesomesauce (Star Trek: TOS, Kirk/Spock)
Summary: I don't know and can't remember and cannot (and will not) find it again. If anyone recognizes this fic, don't tell me or link me or I will hunt you down for wrecking my childhood memories.
Context: I was 15 years old, and TOS was one of my very first and primary fandoms. I had read some smut, in the form of triofic in Harry Potter, but not much slash except some lame OOC stuff that belonged in a teen drama. I was also at that point in sexual development where encyclopedia descriptions of sexual acts were wildly titillating to me. From what I recall of the writing style and attitude, I am pretty sure this story was written in the '70s or '80s.
What Stuck With Me and Why: My loathing of Romantic-Doublethink does not in any way mean I loathe actual individual romance fanfics, and explicit friend-slash is my favorite type of romantic fic by a good margin. Not quite at the level of my top favorite type of fic -- pre-established gen friendship -- but pretty high up there. Captain Kirk was a major sexual awakening of mine. Not my first sexual awakening of "guys are hot, guys can touch me, that sounds oddly pleasing," but my far more important "girls can gaze at guys and know them as sex, pure sex, absolute sex, the same way guys gaze at girls." I realized this mostly through Kirk/Spock fic, where Spock's point of view of this impossibly enticing human being that caused feelings he couldn't control or understand in a context that was compatible with his socialized identity was very, very relatable to my own teenage feelings about guys. And about Kirk, of course.
This fic was also the first explicit K/S fic that made any sort of impression on me. Probably at least partly as a result of my 21st century, ex-hippie, ex-Californian Big-D Democrat New England family, my reaction to discovering the existence of the concept of slash was simply something like "oh, this is a thing, huh?" At least that's what I think it was, because my reaction was so low-key I don't even really remember it. Since I had little to no resistance to it even in the beginning, slash never gave me that opportunity for revelation that I've heard other slash fans recount experiencing -- the process of recoiling from something they'd been conditioned to think of as not-kosher only to have their mind broadened and their preconceptions altered by the realization that actually, it was totally awesome. The extent of the negative opinions about homosexuality my parents allowed me to hold was pretty much limited to a brief period of "wait, ew, they stick their dicks in where?" However, the experience of actually reading believable, in-character, well-written slash was totally mind-blowing for me on an entirely different level -- one that had little to do with homosexuality and everything to do with the female gaze and male sexual desirability and the subversions of expectations of how romantic relationships are supposed to look. Somehow, it had never really occurred to me that men could be looked at, that certain characterizations, dynamics, or sequences of events pertaining to sex and romance could transpire differently than they did in Hollywood or in high school, or that the visible part of a character could be one thing onscreen and a completely different thing in a fanfic without the character breaking in half.
The best thing about this fic is that I barely remember anything concrete, mostly just the leftover flashes of imagery and the echos of my own reactions, memories of the impressions it made, not the actual story itself. Kirk and Spock were out for a long, hushed, night on the town on shore leave, and Kirk slowly, softly seduces Spock, one aching, crackling, simmering, teasing, tripwire-taut, can't-even-relax-enough-to-draw-breath sexually-charged scene after another, then sex that I can't remember because my nervous system was so overloaded, and what I perfectly remember is my brain melting out of my 15-year-old ears as it grasped the idea of men-as-sex all at once, like a fuse being blown. I remember Spock burning, quietly Spocklike and without exclamation points, verbal or mental. I remember alien women, alien sights, quiet alien restaurants, and a looming alien sky. I remember them slowly walking through the streets, lights glowing through the post-midnight muted surrealism. I remember the shaded yellow light and glossy black windows of a hotel room, somehow always unmistakable no matter what the planet. I remember Spock looking at Kirk's twinkling hazel eyes and thick curly chestnut pubic hair. I would not re-read this fic even if I could, for I want to preserve that memory.
5. No Means No by idioticonion (How I Met Your Mother, Barney/Robin, domestic violence, dub-con, rape(?))
Summary: "Barney is accused of raping Robin. This a single, fractured story told in one hundred drabbles going back and forwards in time. Spoilers up to The Goat. Written for the HIMYM DarkFic Livejournal Comm. Warning: Very dark."
Context: In 2011, How I Met Your Mother single-handedly dragged me out of the worst summer of my entire life, the only time in my life I can remember being depressed for longer than a few days. I leapt into the fandom in gratitude, which was a bad idea because it jilted me horribly a few months later (season 7, what a nightmare). However, unlike 99% of sitcoms, HIMYM has a fantastic fandom. This is partly because of its extensive and detailed continuity, and partly because of one writer, idioticonion, who wrote around 200 HIMYM fics, many of them extremely dark, ranging from ludicrous ~edginess~ to genuinely chilling what-ifs. This fic, while technically OOC, is mostly towards the latter.
What Stuck With Me and Why: Sitcoms can be too absurdist for that thing that fanfic usually relies on -- divorcing the sequence of events from the narrative framework, so that the timeline of events are not parceled out by episode in the canon-compliant fanfic timeline. It is much harder to write fic even for realistic sitcoms than it is to write fic for the most ridiculous and unrealistic dramas, because sitcoms are unreal -- their very narrative structure makes them near-incompatible with an internal reality with human beings with logical inner thoughts. However, HIMYM's canon framing device of Future Ted's story filters "what actually happened" through his retelling. Fanfic for HIMYM is almost always fanfic of "what actually happened," not fanfic of "Ted's story." Since the only thing we see onscreen is "Ted's story," each fan's opinion of "what actually happened" is very flexible and open to interpretation. Now, Barney is definitely one of those characters who undergoes a terrifying transformation the moment you divorce him from his sitcom context -- but this story actually subverts that rather tediously obvious route.
This story has two unique and memorable aspects to it. The first is an extremely dark interpretation and resulting divergent AU of Barney and Robin's relationship in season 3. It goes there, and then instead of fluttering away after fucking things up like most darkfics, it stays there to the end of the line, until it has totally destroyed the in-universe characters and group and totally made everything into a permanent, unfixable mess and then let the characters contemplate it. The second is that it is an impressive structural tour-de-force, as a drabble story told in anachronic -- but meaningfully arranged -- order, so there's no line where you go "nope, too far" and backbutton -- it's all jumping back and forth all the time so you're sort of hooked for the long haul. Like most darkfic for sitcoms, it's kind of ludicrous, to be honest, if you are in too objective a frame of mind when you read it. But if you read it as I did -- all in one sitting, and fast, and late at night -- it's skin-crawling. Doesn't matter what your opinions of the show are (or for that matter, whether you even watch the show at all). It's unforgettable.
6. The Snow Queen by elspethdixon (Marvel/Captain America Comicsverse, Steve/Tony, fairy tale fusion)
Summary: A fairy-tale fusion between The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, and the characters of the Marvel 616 comics universe (i.e., putting the Marvel characters and ideas into the roles of the fairy tale's plot), with Steve Rogers (named the Soldier) in the part of Gerda, and Tony Stark (named the Smith) in the part of Kay.
Context: I read this in 2010 during my great Marvel and DC comics craze. Even more specifically, during my rabid comicsverse!Steve/Tony shipping craze, which kind of went dormant shortly prior to the release of The Avengers, (and thank god it did because movieverse!Steve/Tony has not a single shred of commonality with comicsverse!Steve/Tony, and being an active comicsverse shipper during the MCU explosion would have made me tear my hair out.) There are innumerable non-canon pairings (especially slash pairings) that I like and enjoy reading, but there are very few pairings I like as much as (let alone more than) the platonic friendship interpretation present in the canon source. And there are even fewer that I actively ship. Comicsverse!Steve/Tony is one of those few.
What Stuck With Me and Why: This fic starts out simply as a beautifully-written fairy-tale fusion, complete with a stunningly and deliciously authentic control over the language, so that it does not contain any words, phrases, passages, dialogue exchanges, or actions that are written in a distinctly modern language. There are no elements that are obviously from another source, and certainly not Marvel-specific. No names are given, no anachronisms that cannot be contained within the bounds of fairy-tale-typical anachronism are committed, and nor is there any hint of that putrid type of self-awareness and post-modernism that writers are forever tacking onto their stories as if embarrassed to write things with a straight face as if their characters are real characters instead of parodies. It really sounds almost exactly like an original fairy tale written during Andersen's time. At the same time, no one with a fairly strong familiarity with the Marvel comics universe and knowledge of the history of Captain America will fail to notice the Marvel elements seamlessly woven into it.
But then! Soon after the Soldier starts out on his Gerda-esque quest in search of the Smith, the fic does a spectacular level-up. One, after another, after another, other Marvel characters drawn from the Avengers and Captain America pop into the fic as naturally as the original characters from Andersen's original Snow Queen popped into that story, aided a great deal by the conveniently symbolic superhero names for these characters -- go on, just guess what form the fairy-tale equivalents of Jan Van Dyke, Peter Parker, or Steve Wilson take. Take a wild guess :D And then, without compromising the story's perfect, serious, airtight fairy-tale language and storytelling mentioned in the paragraph above, the entire fic degenerates -- I mean that in the best way possible -- into a string of the most delightfully creative and just plain fun symbolism-loaded shibboleths that the wildest dreams of the nerdiest fan could ever imagine. And all throughout, its core is held steady by the perfectly in-character (even in a totally un-canon-like situation) portrayal of Cap and Tony's bond.
However, I should probably put a warning: for anyone who decides to take this as a rec and clicks on it expecting slashy awesomeness as a resolution, you might be disappointed. While there is nothing missing from the intensity and beauty and romanticism of the fairy tale versions of Steve and Tony's relationship, and I know full well that elspethdixon is the queen of Steve/Tony and definitely intended it to be slash, I have read this story three times over and, even though I am a massive "they should be totally canon!" shipper of these two, I still cannot detect a single whiff of slash or pre-slash anywhere in the story. But to be quite honest, it doesn't make a damn difference here. It's that well-written.
7. Just a Face on a Train by katheryne (Spider-Man movies (Tobey Maguire), Peter Parker, OFC, gen)
Summary: "After rescuing a train from Doc Ock's attack, Peter Parker found himself unmasked and indebted to those he had just saved. 4 months later, a train passenger again crosses paths with the young hero. Based on events from Spider-Man 2."
Context: I don't really remember when I read this or why, or how I found it, since I was never in this fandom (though I loved the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies). It was a couple years ago, though, and I am glad I did.
What Stuck With Me and Why: The strange thing about this fic is that I still can't figure out why it stuck with me so vividly. The plot is simple: one of the people on the train who saw Peter's face in Spider-Man 2 was a waitress at a New York City diner, a young mother scraping to make ends meet. And one day, Peter Parker comes into the diner to sit and study like any other college student, she recognizes him, and in a desire to thank him for saving her and the city without embarrassing him by telling him she knows who he is, tricks him into coming into the diner to eat almost for free every day. The fic is really just character study, with the original character's POV of Peter at the forefront.
I think its memorability has something to do with the authenticity of the writing that makes it so memorable and satisfying for me. The waitress character has her own life going on, subtly showing the importance and impact a superhero has on other people, how civilians in a superhero universe have purpose and a stake in staying alive that goes far beyond being props to be used by the hero in showing his heroism and competing with the villain for victory. There is no driving plot or adventure anywhere at hand. Peter's reactions to her are simply the reactions he would have to any dime-a-dozen friendly waitress who he gained a passing familiarity with. Her interactions with Peter are natural and beyond the first meeting have no unlikely coincidences -- she is not special, or unique, and does not have any special connection to Peter in any way. She's just random person #2523, and that is what makes this story great. Most of all, it just exudes honesty and maturity, the mark of a writer who thinks thoroughly exploring this premise is by far fascinating and rich enough for a story's worth of material, and need not jazz it up with anything more.
8. Who's Afraid of the GI Bogeyman? by Curley Green (M*A*S*H, gen ensemble)
Summary: "Naïveté has its advantages. Radar is afraid of the dark, but it's the rest of the 4077th who truly have uncontrollable fears. A series of short vignettes, c. season 7. One-shot."
Context: M*A*S*H was one of my first fandoms, and the first really in-depth one. I read this fic when I was 14, in 2006. If I recall correctly, my fic-reading method in M*A*S*H fandom was mainly to filter the entire ff.net archive by a character combo or genre -- in this case, horror -- and read everything listed there that pricked my ears up.
What Stuck With Me and Why: This fic is one of those fics that really illuminate the special quality of ensemble shows. Probably most people have read this type of fic before -- made up of a number of character studies in which each character is given a paragraph or few to be explored according to a common denominator or overarching theme. These fics, when done right, tend to look kind of like what would happen if you aligned a collection of many wildly differently types of fruit along the edge of a paper slicer and sliced exactly half an inch off all their tops at the same time, and then checked their exposed cross-sections to see how they differ and how they are similar. M*A*S*H did this in canon -- with the episode "Dreams" among others, which showed what the members of the M*A*S*H crew dreamed about during one specific bad day (on one end of the spectrum, you have Hawkeye amputating his own arms and then being given a scalpel to operate on a wounded child, on the other end, you have Potter playing polo with grenades that turn into fireworks while his wife calls him home for dinner).
High-concept character studies like this in canon are no doubt partly responsible for the same phenomena cropping up very often in M*A*S*H fanfic. This fic was not one of the best one of these kinds of fics I've read, but it's one of the first. Possibly THE first. What I do know if that every single one of the studies in this fic stuck in my head with perfect clarity even years after I first read it. Upon re-reading they seem extremely simple and not all that insightful compared to a number of other fics with this type of model, but Charles' portion is still one of the most haunting and compelling sketches of his character I've ever read. And the bookends that tie it together -- the contrast with Radar -- gives it a whole other layer. It gives the 4077 -- the idea/experience, not the place -- a shape, that kinds of looks like an invisible spider's web every character but Radar is trapped in and connected by but can't see except at this one angle, so the fic is more than the sum of its parts. Also, Father Mulcahy's portion was apparently too long and involved to be included with the rest of the fic, so there's a companion piece for him: Are You There God? It's Me, Francis.
9. World In Your Eyes by jamjar (DC Comics/Superman comics, gen with background Clark Kent/Lois Lane)
Summary: "The first time Clark had looked at the world from above, he almost thought he was dying."
Context: I read this maybe in 2013, a year or two after my Marvel and DC Comics superhero binge which was abruptly killed stone cold dead by the Nu 52 over in DC. I never lost my love for superhero comics, though, nor superhero fanfic, as in evidence here. Superman is and always has been my favorite superhero of all time, even if he wasn't one of the ones I was most interested in reading about.
What Stuck With Me and Why: If I wanted to give myself a pain in the ass trying to articulate something this important and special and close to my heart, I would write an essay of my own explaining the sheer wonderfulness of Superman/Clark Kent's personality and spend about a week perfecting it and wind up disappointed because it wasn't right. So instead, I shall quote a comment mekkio once made about Superman instead:
See, I've always thought Batman was cooler and Wonder Woman was more bad ass but Superman had a special place in my heart because of Clark Kent. Yes, he was born on a different planet but he was raised in Middle America to a loving, honest couple. And Clark reflected on that. Clark was just a down to earth (excuse the pun), good guy. Superman has always the struck me as the type of superhero who would move your stalling truck off of the train tracks and then fix the truck because as a farm boy, he has been fixing farm equipment most of his life. He's the one superhero you can go to and say, "My cat is stuck up a tree. Can you get him?" without feeling foolish that you are asking this person with god-like powers to do something so mundane. Like he wouldn't make you feel foolish for asking. He'd just go and do it because, hey, the cat is stuck up the tree and it's probably scared and you are worried and I can do it, so, let me do it. As all powerful as he is, he would stop to help a little old lady cross the street. He is just a good, good, salt of the earth guy.
The question I like the most is why and how he got this way, how this personality melds with all the various aspects of his identity. The fact that mekkio's description above is his personality means something in relation to his life circumstances, there is an angle that you can look at him from, and see how this personality fits into and resonates with the context of being an alien and having a huge raft of superpowers and being a superhero and having a secret identity and belonging to a superhero team and being married to a normal human woman and all that jazz. This fic's "argument," if it could be said to have an argument, is that there's actually no contradiction or tension in simultaneously having powers like that and a personality like that. It's that, if he is capable of seeing the world in the way the fic shows, why in the world would he possibly feel or want to act any differently? It is a very short fic, but it is indescribably beautiful.
10. The Thousandth Man by Suzan Lovett (Starsky & Hutch, gen, post-Starsky vs Hutch)
Summary: This was written before the days of summary boxes, so in brief: the ending tag was nothing but a performance, Hutch offers no explanation of his actions nor any attempt to fix things, Starsky kicks him to the curb in a fury, and the two of them spend the next several weeks estranged until the plot finally puts them face-to-face once again.
Context: Every S&H fan and their dog has written a post-"Starsky vs Hutch" Fix-It Fic. The Fix-It Fic is that panfandom fic genre designed to explain and resolve baffling and outrageous canon events -- in this case, it's Hutch sleeping with Starsky's girlfriend, an act whose seriousness has zilch to do with conflict, and everything to do with a betrayal of trust, the cornerstone of their friendship, and the absence of either motive or onscreen reconciliation. The Thousandth Man is much longer and more complicated than most fix-its. It's one of the earlier ones too, written in 1985. I read this during a kick I'm sure some other S&H fans have had -- consuming every post-SvH fic I could lay my hands on and marveling at the S&H fandom's unparalleled reality-weaving powers as it collectively constructed, out of the resonating patterns of the common denominators of a hundred wildly varying fanfics and observations, a shadow-arc for season 4 that the canon never quite articulated. Out of all those innumerable fix-it fics, no one single story ever satisfied me like this one.
What Stuck With Me and Why: I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think I'm wrong to say that a lot of fans have experienced that strange fandom phenomenon of nursing a deeply personal, private, long-lived longing -- different from a kink or a fleeting obsession -- to read a specific story premise that they have fully- or partially-formed in their minds before they ever find a story that satisfied it. Some will (consciously or unconsciously) peruse various canons, fandoms, and fanfics one after the other seeking catharsis, looking for those little puzzle pieces missing from their trove of personal formative stories and myths. Some readers know exactly what they're looking for and just can't find it, others never knew they were missing it before it fell into their lap. But there is always that memorable "aha!" moment when it is finally read.
One of my longings was a preoccupation with the premise of a betrayal or other deeply hurtful act between two great friends. Another was a personal need, from my formative childhood experiences, to see a great friendship -- with no confounding variables or goalpost-moving of romantic explanations or life-and-death/hurt-comfort scenarios -- as the center of a story's universe. Explored and acknowledged and discussed at length, as if this friendship in and of itself was worthy of eternal fascination; painted with all the weight, intensity, passion, brutality, sweetness, roughness, psychic exhaustion, honesty, labor, sacrifice, and socially unexpected emotions it deserves. A tale that did not stop spinning out its natural course to skip the bits about how the dark side of loyalty is to be dragged into the gutter when one friend falls, that the dark side of trust and intimacy is to have no protection if one friend ever turns his claws on the other, that the dark side of halving all burdens and sharing all troubles is forcing burdens and troubles on another even when you don't intend to.
To say The Thousandth Man was all this and more to me, is to say too little. It stuck with me because it was, for me, (on a completely personal note), distilled emotional validation. A friendship's simple existence can be a story's only stakes -- the thing that is threatened, lost, regained, without a single sidestepping concession to the arbitrary horseshit about how certain types of relationships are allowed to be written. The outside context and plot is inseparable from the friendship, but the entire shape of the story is of the friendship. The thrill of Hutch's decency and his caring for his friend emerging from beneath his burnout and apathy and callousness to overcome his temptation to piss his life away; the rawness of Starsky raging and cursing at Hutch that he's sick of carrying you around, like a hole blasted in my gut, as anyone who has been jerked around in circles due to their loyalty to someone who seems to give them nothing but grief can relate to; the tenderness of their tired, sweet, long night of hashing things out, the bravery of Hutch's honesty and humility and Starsky's generosity and guilelessness as they go down to the wire -- so jealousy-inducing as friends that I was tempted to scribble down quotes from the story's third part in a notebook, and keep them for future reference in my real life.
Like the M*A*S*H story above, the story's shape, and the shape it retroactively gives to the show as a whole, more than the sum of its content, is a tangible, visible thing. But to say more would be too much like a review than a personal reaction. So I'll just mention: the summit of this story's personal impact on me is the effect of a single pivotal moment late in the third and final part near the climax. As the friendship teeters on the brink of permanent dissolution, Starsky remembers, in a lightning-flash of revelation, a half-forgotten tucked-away newspaper cartoon, displayed in the story without a single comment or word of explanation, a self-evident melding of narrative and external object. I have been reading stories since I was five years old, and no moment in any story I have ever read in my life lit up my spine with a blinding flood of electricity the way that moment did.
Now I'm thinking up all the other fics that stayed with me but which didn't make the cut of the first ten such fics to cross my mind. Perhaps I'll do this meme again in a few months...