Author's Note: It takes place after Bargarining Part 2 and Heartthrob, but it pretends that Darla did not get pregnant, so no Connor. It also deals rather harshly with the Scooby gang, but after what they did in Empty Places, I feel they deserve it. The title, which I thought of after I had finished the story, is taken from one of my favourite poems by John Clare. The full poem is available for you to read at the bottom of the story.
Disclaimers: © 2002-2007 Daniella Harwood. All rights reserved. Distribution only by permission. BTVS/ATS: All characters are owned by Joss Whedon, 20th Century Fox, UPN Networks, Mutant Enemy Inc, Greenwalt Corporation, Sandollar Television Inc, Kuzui Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Rather Stranger Than The Rest.
"And een the dearest - that I loved the best -
Are strange - nay, stranger than the rest."
I am, by John Clare (1793-1864).
It was not long before she realised. Before she saw the signs. Before she felt she was an outsider looking in on a world she had once been a part of. Before she saw that her so called friends, far from needing her, were doing fine regardless.
They had brought her back to a world where she did not belong, and to a place she had outgrown long ago. But while she could adjust to the former, the latter she knew immediately had to be changed.
So she made her plans. She made a few phone calls, called in a couple of favours, set several things in motion, making sure that this time, no one would ever realise that she had left. Then she took her last patrol, dropping in on the one occupant of Sunnydale whom she not only needed to tell, but felt the truth to be his due, to safeguard her plans, before catching the first bus out of town.
She arrived in Los Angeles two hours later. She spent the first night in a one bed suite at the Marriott Residence Inn before checking into the apartment she had rented in the district of her old high school. The next day she registered at UCLA and started attending classes.
Gone was Buffy Summers. In her place was Anne O'Connor. College student and vampire slayer, though the latter would be revealed to no one this time. She would keep her friends close, but her enemies closer. She did not want to experience the same hurt she had felt over the last few months by telling some campus friends the truth of why she rarely agreed to joining them at a nightclub or a dusk to dawn study session.
She had been living her new life for a month before he noticed.
By chance he took a case from the area around Hemery High School. At first he put the familiar feeling within him down to the memories which inevitably washed over him concerning one moment almost seven years ago. He felt her presence immediately. Instead of making contact however, he merely observed, then returned to the hotel and made a couple of phone calls which confirmed his suspicions. The he traced her new address.
She sensed him from the moment she entered the apartment. Silently she deposited her books and bag by her laptop then hung up her coat. She walked into the kitchen area before she spoke to him.
"Your usual, or something more conventional?" She called out to her visitor.
He emerged from the shadows of her bedroom, and leaned against the back of the sofa which faced the back of the kitchen cabinets.
Buffy stopped what she was doing to take a good look at him.
He returned the move. "You look good," he remarked. "Dark hair suits you."
"Thanks," she replied, her voice unable to hide the pleasure she received from that compliment. "You look tired."
He did not bother to argue with her judgement. "Its been a trying few years."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Oh. Er, tea please."
She turned to take to two cups out of a cupboard, and set them on the granite surface. Then she took out two Earl Grey tea bags- a taste they had both acquired thanks to a certain watcher, who did not even know she was alive until she had called him a week ago, making him the second person to know the truth, -and put them in the cups.
"So," she began when she had set them down before the kettle. "How did you find me?"
"I called Sunnydale, then I called Spike. He told me what happened." Angel watched her movements. "How did you manage to repair the robot?"
She smiled. Everybody else had called it the Buffybot. Not he. "I called in a favour from some computer friends of mine. Ones I knew from Hemery." She paused to pour the tea. "They made it even better than the first. It was almost impossible to tell the difference." she pushed the tea towards him. "Now, what's happened to you?"
He found himself telling her everything, as he always had, even though he had concern over her reaction to Darla. Shame was building up within him regarding that particular affair, because that was what it had felt like -an affair with which he had betrayed the woman sitting opposite him now. The woman who was, and always would be, his soulmate.
Buffy said nothing until he had finished telling her everything. "You've had it rough," she commented sympathetically.
Angel bowed his head, not sure whether to be pleased or sad that she had not yelled at him over Darla. "Not as rough as you, I'd imagine," he remarked, looking at her. "You were in heaven, weren't you?" He uttered seeking confirmation.
Buffy nodded. "I was and when they brought me back,..." she trailed off, shivering at the memory. "I couldn't see why they did. They didn't need me, they were coping perfectly well without me. All I felt there was that I was watching it all from the outside. I no longer belonged there. That's why I left."
She paused, and sensing it was still too painful a subject to talk about, Angel motioned to her books. "How's UCLA going? Are your courses interesting?"
"Yes," she smiled, "I'm taking psychology as my major, with American and English Poetry and Occultology as my minors."
"Occultology? That's actually a course?"
"Yes. I was surprised too. At first I thought the Watchers Council had discovered me, but the Professor's American." Buffy paused to refill their cups.
"What do you intend to do after graduation?" Angel asked her.
"Honestly, I don't know. I'm not going back to the hellmouth, that's for sure."
"Well, there's always a place for you at Angel Investigations."
"Thankyou." She looked surprised at this, causing Angel to feel saddened at what his leaving had done to destroy the level of trust that used to exist between them. Again he changed the subject, inquiring about her recent patrols.
They talked well into the dawn at which hour they reluctantly parted, Angel taking a sewer tunnel route home to the Hyperion.
He told no one of his visit, nor of the ones which followed. They had lost too many chances to risk letting others influence this time. It was like the dreams he had experienced with Darla, only without the guilty feeling that he was doing something wrong.
She too felt the same sense of rightness about what begun after that one night. It was comfortable, familiar, and yet new at the same time. The latter sensations made all the difference. There was no need to rush, no feeling of urgency, no concern that their next evening might be their last. Sitting up all night taking was also enough. They were content to wait for his shanshu to have more in this relationship.
The years passed by. Buffy graduated from UCLA with honours, though not enough to warrant a picture in the newspapers. At the same time Angel persuaded Wesley to advertise for a vacancy at Angel Investigations to which she applied.
It took awhile for Wesley, Cordelia, Fred and Gunn to realise that the slayer was to join their firm. Even when Angel spoke up for Anne O'Connor as the right candidate for the job, they failed to realise her true identity. Only when they walked into the lobby of the Hyperion after telling her she had the job did they witness Angel and her kissing, thus discovering the reason for his recommendation.
As for the hellmouth, the guardians of Sunnydale, once the Scooby gang, never guessed that Buffy was no longer residing amongst them, despite the hellmouth decreasing in it's levels of evil, and villains with desire to take over the world relocating to the city of angels. Even when the tragic death of Dawn occurred, through an automobile accident a day after her high school graduation, they remained ignorant to the fact that their Buffy was a robot.
Not wishing to hurt them any longer, Buffy arranged for the bot to go travelling after Dawn's death. She and Angel attended the funeral incognito and took the bot back to Los Angeles where they dissembled it.
With no slayer in town the hellmouth became less and less of a threat, causing the Scoobies to pair off- Anya and Xander, Willow and Tara -marry and move. When they were gone, Spike also relocated to Los Angeles, joining Angel Investigations. He was followed a year later by Faith when she earned her parole.
As for Angel's Shanshu, he gained it two years after Buffy's graduation. The couple celebrated by marrying at the Hyperion, where they lived happily ever after.
I am: yet what I am no one cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of all my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And een the dearest - that I loved the best -
Are strange - nay, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, GOD,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below - above the vaulted sky.