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(Eh, I said I'd do a rec post every weekend in October and it may seem like I'm not sticking with that but I had this Monday and Tuesday off so it's still sort of the weekend for me, so yay! I will probably have more trouble next weekend but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)
Today I want to rec two super-long new/in progress Merlin fics that will take you back to season 1 in very different ways. I loved our characters from all five seasons and at times I missed some of them but I'm tickled by the energy and creativity that these authors have put in to building their own worlds and sets of characters starting from that other, smaller canon that first delighted so many of us.
Exiles by story_monger, Arthur/Gwen/Merlin/Morgana, 51178 words, mature
I found this browsing through the After Camlann Big Bang listings for pairings other than Arthur/Merlin and was surprised to see so few comments on an OT4 fic, especially once I dug in and realized the writing was excellent. I did see that there was a warning for noncon but that turned out not to be very explicit (and it's an OC bad guy so you don't have to worry about any beloved characters turning evil). In fact most of the fic reads a lot like gen, but with that delightful level of shippiness that season 1 canon gave us so much of. As I saw someone say on Tumblr a while back, it was that time when Merlin cared about other characters besides Arthur. REMEMBER? The strongest relationships here are Arthur/Merlin and Gwen/Morgana, but there is all kinds of flirting and caring and possibilities and it is just lovely. In some ways it didn't feel like a fanfic so much as a fantasy novel, the author just seemed so in command of the setting and the plotting and everything. (Sorry that is sort of phrased as if I didn't love fanfic. Obvs I do love fanfic.)
I should say that it starts out with an OC POV and that may have turned a few people off, but that's really just a framing story and almost all the fic is spent with the main characters.
But, um, somehow when I started reading I saw the noncon warning but missed the major character death warning, and there is MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH. It happened and I was like, okay, these things happen in fanfic sometimes but there is magic etc and there is going to be a way to work this out and have a happy ending, but then I read and read and read and got to the end of the 51K words and it was to be continued. So, you have to be okay with living with some angst and uncertainty because I have no idea when the author plans on writing the next part (it would be a major undertaking -- maybe for next year's big bang challenge?) BUT I personally found it to be totally worth it, I'm super glad I read this and highly recommend it!
Falconry by versaphile, Arthur/Merlin with I guess eventual Gwen/Morgana, 492,451 words and counting, explicit
Okay, so then I'd enjoyed a couple of big bangs so much I was browsing through the Gwen/Morgana tag on the AO3 and came across a 260K WIP called A Bird of Paradise and thought hey why not. I started reading late at night and I was like hey Arthur/Merlin after a magic reveal it doesn't get any better than this! And I was so tired and distracted I didn't realize until the next day when I was several chapters in that this was actually the fourth huge story in an epic series. (Yes, this is the recs post of me not reading AO3 tags very carefully.) I was a little reluctant to go back because, you know, what's better than a magic reveal? Who wants to go read the hundreds of thousands of words leading up to the magic reveal? But it turns out I do! Sadly the first three parts don't have any Gwen/Morgana to speak of, and really this is a very different kind of season 1 vibe from Exiles, like something to get into if what you miss about season 1 is the Arthur/Merlin without other ships getting in the way.
But it's really good! I especially loved part 2 because there was SO MUCH SMUT and plus it's this old-fashioned OTP smut where Arthur's really toppy and Merlin's all yes I would give my life for you and I belong to you and so on. Super hot!! Right now I'm in the middle of part 3, which is plottier and involves a lot of fighting and some magic. To me it is a little weird to read about all these adventures with Arthur's knights who are not the knights we know and love but hey, that is what we did after season 1, and it was great! This series actually takes its turn after the first episode of season 2 and it's just hugely impressive how much the author has developed their own world. Also there are regular updates! I almost feel silly reccing it because I guess it's hugely well known but hey, I had to stumble into it so maybe you haven't read it either and maybe you will love it too.