I thought I'd try something different, so I picked out the J2 stories that have over 400 bookmarks on delicious to review them. I knew I'd read them all, and I wanted to see if they had anything in common, and how my reading stacks up against their popularity.
Disclaimer: This is a totally unfair method of finding "the most popular" fics. Stories that are posted in multiple places, or where the author may have changed their journal name or posting location will have the bookmarks split up into multiple piles and won't make my arbitrary cut. Stores posted in several parts over time, like the Quarterback verse won't be he here either, even though they might be more popular. This method is going to automatically skew to older stories as well. What it does do is stop me from playing favourites in picking the stories.
Before even reviewing, I can see that one thing the six stories have in common is their length, all at least big bang length by the more modern definitions of the term, but the length varies greatly from 16,000 words to almost 200,000. They are all at lest two years old and every single one is an AU. Two were not written as part of a challenge or fest, the rest were. Five are rated adult or NC-17 and one is not rated.
My track record of liking the really, really popular stories is not great, but I enjoyed most of these, even if I wouldn't call any of them my favourites.
Author's Summary: Struggling actor Jensen takes a job as big-shot movie star Jared Padalecki’s dogsitter. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Posted in 2007, not part of any fest or challenge.
Technically an AU, but more of an alternate history sort where Jensen never made it as an actor and Jared did rather better.
This is much more the standard J2 fare than some of the others, with Jensen being a bit of an asshole and Jared being a little too good to be true. The guy's guy banter and douchey Chad cameo are mixed in with frothy schmoop and angst in turn. It's tied up with a red bow of an ending with a first time meaningful sex scene and a thick coat of gloss over any conflict. I know that amounts to a lot of fans' bulletproof kinks, they're just not mine.
The use of Sandy as Jared's PA, an unpleasant person who exists in the story to portray Jared as having to live a life managed by others, wouldn't be as problematic as it reads to me if she'd been an OC, if the opening scene isn't Jensen's thoughts on her breasts, and if there was one other woman in the story with dialogue.
The very core relationship is fun and the story will lead you to invest in it, but there's a bit too much jerkish sexist guy humour for me, and it sails too close and too uncritically to some fanfic tropes that I don't care for, for me to really like this story.
Author's Summary:Dr. Jared and single-dad Jensen in Seattle, with love and complications.
Written for fluffandfold in 2008.
The shortest of the bunch, and my favourite, closest to being one of my all time favourites. This is not quite classic J2, for all it brings the clichés in bulk; the execution is more adult and bittersweet than the usual fandom fare. Very nearly ofic, old school story with Mike and Tom and JDM rather than Chad and Sandy and Danneel.
This story is what I think of as the more modern take on WNGWJLEO, where the straight until now half of the pairing is fairly accepting of his "suddenly being gay" as this story calls it, and the conflict comes from other issues. It's a way of foregrounding emotions over identity without erasing identity, and I find it less prone to problematic execution than the original trope.
This story is also kidfic of a kind I rather enjoy, where the story is about forming a family. I like the dialogue, which is sharp and brittle at times and sets the right tone of ironic detachment that reads true for this group of youngish upper middle class careerists. The story turns on the issue that rankles a lot of readers of slash romance, the question of career vs. family and who makes the sacrifices. This isn't a you can have it all fantasy where having a family is never an impediment to your other life choices. This is a you have to define all a little differently when you have a family story. Which is in line with how I see the world, so it's not a surprise I enjoyed this story.
Author's Summary: Jared’s a philandering CEO and Jensen’s his overworked assistant – that is, until Jared decides he needs to improve his image by having a serious relationship and chooses Jensen to be his fake boyfriend. But Jensen’s a little in love with Jared and Jared has ideas of his own, and pretty soon no one is certain what’s fake and what’s real anymore. Featuring dancing, denial, a lot of inappropriate work behavior, and an infamous office holiday party.
Written for SPN Harlequin in 2007.
Given the theme, that this is written for a Harlequin challenge and takes an actual book summary as a prompt, it's not really fair to critique the plot too much. Again, this is a very close to ofic story, and one where the plot is driving the car so the bits of Jared and Jensen that are retained for this characterization are the ones that serve the plot.
Jared is privileged, self-centred, spoiled and both self-aware and guileless enough to get him forgiveness for it. I think the popularity of this fic can be found right there in that characterization. He's enough of a little rich boy to balance out the sugar sweet lovable goofball persona so he is neither too good, nor too bad. The characterization sells the central idea--that Jared has been a big fan of no-strings sex and doesn't get the appeal of monogamy until he tries it out in a fake boyfriend set up. I never felt like this story was trying to get its emotional hit by pushing the monogamy is always best so it wins button, rather, it was earning it the hard way by saying this relationship works for these people in this way.
This is a frothy roll through a few fannish favourite tropes and romance clichés, for sure, but it reads like real people doing the rolling around. The fact they have sex, non-sybollic fun sex for the purpose of having orgasms, long before the romantic climax lifts this story out of the rut most of these sorts of fics fall into.
Author's Summary: It’s not like he doesn’t try to fit in and make friends, he really does. It just seems like nothing he does is good enough for them. If he smiles they blink. If he speaks they stare. And whenever they see him coming they get this panicked look in their eyes like they want to run away and they don’t even know why. Jensen knows why. It’s the same thing that makes his dad worry and his mom cry. That makes Nana tell his parents he’s going to Hell, not even caring that he can hear her. It’s what makes him ‘weird’.
Posted in 2009, not part of any fest or challenge.
I'm going on memory for this one as I don't wish to reread it.
I enjoyed the first part a great deal. It's an original magic realism story with a unique Jensen who has strange abilities and no social contact outside his repressive family, until he meets a young Jared he agrees to teach piano to. This is very nearly ofic, particularly in the first part.
There's a couple of strange English word choices in the first part, but otherwise the prose flows well. The originality really shines through, and I found it an engrossing read. I found the angst of Jensen's overbearing and extremely emotional mother a bit much for my taste, and the scenes where Jensen "sees" Jared as an adult even while interacting with child Jared were a bit creepy and the implications of the way Jensen responded to Jared as part child part adult were glossed over.
The second part is a long, long, angst-o-rama with every H/C fic cliché brought out to play. There are massive issues with the power dynamics in Jensen's relationship with Chris and then with Jared, and I found the whole thing an unsettling and unsatisfying conclusion to the opening story.
The first part doesn't read like traditional RPF fic at all, the second is everything in the tradition that is not for me.
Author's Summary: When Jared desperately needs a date for his brother's wedding, he hires an escort. Jensen's the perfect fake boyfriend, except pretty soon things get a little too real. Based on The Wedding Date.
Written for abouttwoboys in 2008 - 38,000 words
I've never seen the film, so I can't say anything about how this fic interprets the film plot. This is the second of Belyste's stories in the top six, and this one is not quite as polished as the Harlequin fic, but it's still a fun story.
Jensen is an escort is this story, and is also a sex worker, but we don't ever see him in that role, and there's one odd line about Jared being his first male client that doesn't actually fit with what we see later. This story isn't trying to be realistic to any degree about sex workers, nor is it trying to fulfill the narrative kinks that usually surround sex workers in fic. The escort thing is more of a variation on the fake boyfriend theme. It might be the most canon-like of any of these, with both characters being actors and acting like actors.
Jensen is very confident and easy going in this story and that's contrasted to Jared's insecurities and doubts about himself. I liked that aspect of the story and it makes the central relationship interesting and gives the play-acting--the fact that being an escort or a sex worker is a kind of acting gets some welcome attention--a purpose beyond creating sexual tension. I enjoyed this on reread a lot more than I expected to. It's candy floss, but it's well-made candy floss.
Author's Summary: When he can't find any acting work, Jared takes a job as driver and bodyguard to Jensen, who is an extremely expensive prostitute with a bad habit of attracting crazy people.
Written for SPN J2 Big Bang 2008.
This is likely a story known to people when they can count on one hand the number of J2 stories they've read. It is almost completely ofic, for all Jared ends up acting on a Supernatural clone show. This is, by fanfic standards, a serious look at a particular kind of sex work. We do see Jensen with clients, the way Jared reacts to that, and how that changes as his relationship with Jensen changes is the central conflict. There are no other issues apparent between them other than Jensen's job. This story is long, well plotted, written with a kind of immediacy and intimacy that draws you into the action that is one of the things fanfic does best. It's not hard to see that it's a popular story.
If it isn't obvious already from the words I've used in this post, I don't share the widespread fascination with what fandom calls hooker!fic. I could go on for about 5,000 words or so on how the commodity model of sex (which is a little more complicated than just the obvious thing about selling sexual services--for reference see this blog post and the Slate article it deconstructs) is so foregrounded in fic involving sex workers and what I think that means about how sex is written as narrative kink in fanfic. I, er, will spare you that for the most part. Suffice it to say that this story is a brilliant depiction of the commodity model, that seeing himself and Jensen through that lens actually prevents Jared from living his life in a fulfilling way. Both characters struggle to frame their lives and their feelings for each other without ever rising out of that model, and while all of this is perfectly plausible, the story depicts but does not critique. It is for me impossible to read this story in any kind of immersive way, I can only intellectualize it.
Beyond the fact that Jensen's sexuality is something he never has agency over even when there is explicit consent, the most troubling aspect of this story is the characterization by everyone of the clients of sex workers in moralizing and demonizing terms. This is a fairly bog-standard feminist view of the male clients of sex work performed by women. These men are disdained as perpetrators of patriarchy only with their own sexual desires or needs written off as base and morally repugnant. The ideological support for criminalization of "Johns" and public shaming exercises is fairly broad. In this fic the depiction of this attitude leans over pretty damn far into kink shaming, since the most egregious client behaviour is kink done really, really unsafely, without negotiation and without genuine consent.
There is absolutely some great stuff here in this story. We get a genuine sense of Jared growing up some, which is a wonderful thing to see in a fandom about a guy who is successful without a hell of a lot of setbacks at a really young age and yet rarely matures over the course of a story. The central relationship is rocky and yet fundamentally honest within the world it exists in. The story takes a very mature and adult look at how you negotiate your place in the world.
We also get a world where not one single person ever even thinks about decriminalization of sex work. The realities of capitalist exploitation are never questioned or moralized in the acting profession nor is the idea that careerism is necessary to personal self worth. The exploitation inherent in sex work is moralized and the moral stain is born by Jensen because he is seen as allowing his own exploitation.
The story is also a vivid portrayal of what good looks entitle you to and also cost you. Jensen's appearance makes him a commodity of value, and he pities the people who aren't attractive enough to charge as much as he does and therefore can buy some level of security of the person. Jared clearly sees Jensen's work as detracting from his worth as a person and his looks as adding to it. When Jared uses his own looks to advance his career in television, he is not depicted as complicit in any kind of exploitation. He remains morally untarnished. Again, all of this is valid, realistic, very well done depiction, but there is not the remotest criticism of the systems that makes all this manifest.
Your kink is okay, just like the guys in this fic are entitled to want to role play domination or humiliation with a fully consenting sex worker, it's okay for you to enjoy the tropes in this story uncritically. All I want is a little more examination of those tropes and what kinds of beliefs they're rooted in and how those attitudes affect the lives of real people. Oh, and full human rights for sex workers and their clients, even if prostitution does prop up the patriarchy.
Right, so clearly saying this fic isn't for me is a massive understatement. It is a very well told tale, and worth reading, even by me. And that's what I love about fandom, that there's stories that make your heart soar, and stories that make you think and the same story might be both those things to different people.
So, after re-reading most of these, I'm still not sure what they have in common to make them representative of the very popular stories in the fandom. Just saying they're all romances with a HEA ending doesn't quite get to it. They don't have the same tone, relationship dynamics or themes. They don't all conform to the romance fic technique of making the climax of the story the, er, climax. They do all show that a couple is greater than the sum of their parts, so maybe that's all you need to move people, is to reinforce the idea that there's a point to human relationships beyond the fleeting pleasure.