Pairing: Sapphire/Steel, Sapphire/Silver, Sapphire/Lead, Copper/Silver, Sapphire/Rob Jardine, Liz Shaw/Silver,
Spoilers: To the best of my ability, none.
If you're not familiar with British TV c.1980, you're probably wondering what Sapphire and Steel is. Rest assured, this manifesto will tell you all you need to know (not very much) to appreciate the wonderful fic.
S&S was a British SF show that ran from 1979-1982, starring Joanna Lumley and David McCallum. It has a Wikipedia entry here, and there's a brilliant and amusing introductory picspam by eponymous_rose here. There's also a comm for all your needs: sapphirensteel.
All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
There's not very much actual canon - only 34x 25min episodes, broken down into six serials, known as "Assignments". It was created by PJ Hammond, who'd written for Ace of Wands (UK 1970s fantasy children's show) and would later write two episodes for Torchwood, but is most famous for Sapphire & Steel.
It may not have had a long run but it's an exceptionally original and genuinely weird piece of television. It's not hard to see the influence it's had on things since. It has the slow pace and low budget values of much British TV of the time - but takes the clever approach of turning both into virtues in a way that can still unsettle modern viewers. (Endless close-ups of the two leads don't hurt, either.)
The first rule of S&S is mystery. We don't know who or what Sapphire and Steel are. We know that they're not human, that they have strange powers (including telepathy) and that they are sent by a higher authority to intervene on our behalf against Time, which in the S&S universe is a malevolent force using any means it can to break free and wreak havoc. And by any means, we here mean paintings, photographs, clocks, pillows, motorway service stations, flowers and nursery rhymes. Everything is a potential "trigger" or threat.
And that's it. You can already go read the fanfic. Congratulations!
All the main or recurring characters are non-humans, known as Elements. Or Elementals, if you prefer. (The first rule is mystery, yes?)
Sapphire (Joanna Lumley)
Sapphire is an Operator, partnered with Steel. She can read things and people, turn back time and seems to have the most powerful telepathic abilities out of the Elements we meet. She's obviously awesome and gorgeous, as she's played by the amazing Joanna Lumley, what more can I say?
Steel (David McCallum)
Steel is also an Operator. His main abilities include strength (he can tie lift cables in knots) and taking his body temperature down to freezing at need. (It helps him defeat evil paintings and suchlike.) He's a shade too serious, as Sapphire says, but you'll get used to him. And he's hardly less pretty than Sapphire, what with being played by ex-Man From UNCLE David McCallum.
Together they fight Time...
... And perfect the art of standing beautifully, often close together.
Sapphire and Steel, always so perfectly posed. (They can also do synchronised walking.)
Lead (Val Pringle)
Lead arrives in Assignment One because, once Steel's reduced his temperature, he's in need of cuddling better from Lead. Lead's possibly even stronger than Steel and doesn't seem to be fazed or bothered by anything they face.
Silver (David Collings)
Silver is a specialist or technician, who is sent in to help Sapphire and Steel with specific tasks and you'll find him in Assignments Three and Six. He's the character you're most likely to come across in fic, other than our eponymous duo. Silver likes to make an entrance, steal doorknobs and shiny things, has the ability to transform and reduplicate objects, and make stuff glow. Oh, and he flirts with everyone...
Other Elements mentioned in the original series are sometimes picked up by fic authors. You're most likely to find Jet (who sends Steel her love, via Lead), Copper (who is apparently having trouble with Silver again) and Mercury (said to be a technician with similar abilities to Silver). As there are over 100 unknown Elements around, you may meet any element/mineral/alloy an author chooses.
There are references in the show to Elements having joined the other side, or to the "unreliable" Transuranic Elements, and also the Transient Beings, who seem to be like dark mirrors of our Elements. There are several humans, including the children Rob and Helen Jardine (from Assignment One) or George Tully (from Assignment Two).
In recent years, Big Finish released some Sapphire & Steel audios, with David Warner and Susannah Harker in the title roles. They also gave us new Elements in Gold, a technician with arrogant tendencies, (played by Mark Gatiss), and Ruby (Lisa Bowerman).
Somehow, you're not going to be surprised by the dominant ship for this fandom: Yes, Steel once had a terrible time aboard the Mary Celeste... Oh, no wait. Okay, here they are, as you will no doubt have gathered by now:
Sapphire/Steel is the ship that is the ship. They've been partnered for something like 90 years, Steel admits that he loves her in Assignment Two and while they're inhuman and always focused on the task in hand, they're clearly the most important people in each other's lives. The threat of one losing the other always seems to panic them, and there are occasional brief kisses, even aside from the general lack of personal space. And all the shared glances and touches and... yes.
Not shippy at all, then. Of course, what Elements do, or if their partnership is deep but platonic and they're just teasing and confusing the humans like us, who are watching, who knows? (Yes. It's still a mystery.)
So, really, there couldn't be any other ships in this fandom, because who would ever be able to come between these two? It's unthinkable.
Or, at least, it's unthinkable until Assignment Three...
Sapphire and Silver have a strange bond and a history that goes back to before she was partnered with Steel, and she likes having him around. Silver, in return, clearly adores her. And sometimes he just likes annoying Steel anyway.
That said, it's not as if Silver isn't an equal opportunities sort of Element when it comes to flirting:
Obviously, all recs below will feature het ships, but if Silver's around, this sort of thing will happen even in the most het of het fics. He's a canonical flirt, that's all. Occasionally, you might also come across evil!Silver, for reasons of canon ambiguity. (It's a mystery, remember. Any interpretation is valid, even if that one makes me sad.)
The fandom is so tiny, though, that almost any non-Sapphire/Steel ship is likely to be represented by one fic, but some other het ships include Jet/Steel, Jet/Lead and Silver/Copper (all at least vaguely suggested in canon).
But, never fear, if that's sounding dull, Sapphire and Silver are always ready to flirt with passing humans in the course of duty...
The recs: most fics won't be spoilery. The main thing to avoid is reference to the show's ending, and I'll flag that up where it occurs.
There is a fine line between the elusive, non-human, subtle as-canon shippiness and fics that explore telepathy and/or the characters' fascination with each other (they seem to be almost as much a mystery to each other as they are to us) and what some people might call gen versus the more straight-forwardly human/romantic approach, but I'll do my best to rec a mix.
Now you're ready for the weird and wonderful world of Elements. Let's begin.
Fic Rec #1: something lifts towards a light
Rating/Warning(s): Not Rated (I'd say Adult, to be on the safe side). Vague spoiler for Assignment Six.
Why This Must Be Read: As the summary says, Three times they tried it the human way. Raven writes amazingly for this fandom and in this she not only delivers the above brilliantly but does it without compromising Sapphire and Steel's inhuman nature or the unique nature of the series itself and that's what makes this short fic such a thing of beauty.
Fic Rec #2 Snowflakes
Rating/Warning(s): All ages.
Why This Must Be Read: Fluff with these two isn't always easy to pull off, but that's just what this - a sweet, unexpected moment of affection between the two by a very talented writer.
Fic Rec #3: Time in a Bottle
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/PG. Spoilers for the ending of the series.
Why This Must Be Read: Sapphire and Steel, together forever, in their own inhuman way. It's a bleak but hopeful take on the ending, beautifully done and showcases the characters and this unusual TV series perfectly. No matter what happens, all Sapphire and Steel ever truly need is each other.
Fic Rec #4: Caught
Rating/Warning(s): PG. Possibly very slight dubcon (in Steel entering Sapphire's mind without permission - but only in ways fully in keeping with both characters and the series).
Why This Must Be Read: While Sapphire sleeps, a curious Steel explores her mind. This plays with the unusual nature of the characters and the show and their relationship in a fascinating way - and I love the ending in particular.
Fic Rec #5: i'll be waiting for you
Why This Must Be Read: As the summary says The aftermath of another assignment leads to a mutual lowering of defences. It's a short ficlet, but beautifully done.
Fic Rec #6: transgressive sight
Why This Must Be Read: Sapphire and Steel, and the nature of their partnership and how Sapphire sees Steel. It's another very short piece, but sharply done and captures Sapphire's fascination with her partner very well.
Fic Rec #7: Be Here
Rating/Warning(s): All ages
Why This Must Be Read: A quiet moment, with Steel taking the time to explore his more human nature, together with Sapphire. It's lovely.
Fic Rec #8: Left Behind
Pairing: Sapphire/Rob Jardine
Rating/Warning(s): All ages. Refs to Assignment One.
Why This Must Be Read: Thirty years later, Sapphire returns to see Rob. It's a wonderful and slightly chilling look at a possible human/Element pairing, and explores both these two and, generally, the fascinations and pitfalls involved, before bringing some closure.
Fic Rec #9: The Curious Incident
Pairing: Copper/Silver, Sapphire/Steel
Why This Must Be Read: It's a great bit of "missing assignment" type fic, anyway, but also an enjoyable take on Silver/Copper, in which Silver, now that he and Copper have finally sorted their differences, must face up to the fear of losing her again.
Fic Rec #10: Interrupted Night
Pairing: Liz Shaw/Silver
Rating/Warning(s): All ages. Crossover with Doctor Who.
Why This Must Be Read: It's another (though very different) look at the possibility (or impossibility) of a human/Element ship, this time with Liz Shaw and Silver - and in this case, how it might just work, at least in passing. It's really well done, comprises part of a missing assignment and never stepping out of character, or out of keeping for either show, making a random pairing like this feel perfectly natural.
Fic Rec #11: Two Queens
Rating/Warning(s): All ages.
Why This Must Be Read: An unusual combination, from a fic written for this year's yuletide. It's a lot of fun, it uses an historical setting (Ancient Egypt) - and it's a tale told backwards, a device used appropriately here for reproducing the feel of a fandom that never quite makes sense and likes to throw its audience off by breaking the unwritten rules.
Fic Rec #12: Contagion
Rating/Warning(s): Adult, explicit.
Why This Must Be Read: In Assignment 3, Silver claims that he and Sapphire once... well, you know. hearts_blood gives us that once in this fic, setting it in Eighteenth Century France. It's Elemental first time fic with Silver educating Sapphire as to what else their human forms might be capable of by a very classy writer of such things. It's also the only fic I've found anywhere yet that explores Sapphire and Silver and their very strange relationship pre-series and there are a lot of intriguing hints and interesting characterisation here, too.
Fic Rec #13: Entitled
Pairing: Sapphire/Steel, Sapphire/Silver (also some Sapphire/Silver/Steel)
Why This Must Be Read: I'm not entirely sure which ship dominates here (I think Sapphire/Steel, but you will find an actual OT3 moment towards the end) but this fic is so clever. It's told from the pov of someone watching Sapphire and Steel (and later Silver, too) and captures exactly the fascination of that, the attraction of Elements, and trying to pin down what their relationship might really be - but also how it feels to be a fan, turning what you see into a ship. And it's a really good, properly weird-as-anything missing assignment and the author pulls off a second person narrative voice to achieve it.
(N.B. To the mods - I'd imagine only Sapphire/Steel probably merits a tag, but I leave that up to you.)