I love rare pairings. I love stories that stun me with their pairings - what? who'd ever think of writing this? - and then totally sell me on them. It's not an easy thing; I mean, there's a reason Ray/Fraser is more common than Welsh/Dewey (note to the easily alarmed: I've never actually seen a story with that pairing, so stop worrying) (note to the highly suggestible: I'm not sure I want to see a story with that pairing, either, so stop cackling in that scarily evil way) - subtext. It's a lot easier to slash people who have some chemistry. Hell, it's a lot easier to slash people who occupy the same part of the space-time continuum. But when an author finds some hidden gem of subtext or rationale for a pairing no one else would write, well, I want to embrace that author. And then tie her to keyboard and force her to write me stories every day. But I usually refrain from both those things, and I imagine the authors are grateful.
Best FF That Pairs the Two Least Scrutable People in a Whole Universe, Leading to a Relationship That Must Be Like Reading Runes in the Dark. But With Way More Sex. The Undiscovered Country series: Plans, by debchan, Sun, by Te, aka thete1, and Moon, by The Spike, aka spike21. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Daniel "Oz" Osbourne/Ethan Rayne. This is one of the very few series I've found with every entry by a different author; it's all the rarer because all the stories are good. (My personal favorite is "Moon," for the world's best look at the unimaginable power and impulsiveness of Ethan Rayne.) And Oz/Ethan isn't a pairing that seems like it would work, especially in a long-term sense - I mean, come on. Ethan Rayne? Committing to something? Committing to someone, and I don't just mean in the show-up-and-torment-him-every-few-years way, but in the here today, here tomorrow way that most of us mean by commitment? Except - if he was ever going to do that, it'd be with someone as deep and unfathomable (and, yes, those are horrible adjectives, but I'm sorry; they just are Oz, and there's nothing I can do about it) as Oz. Oz is never going to get boring, that's for sure, and yet he's reliable and constant. (That makes him sound like Oz Osbourne, the original strange attractor, but let it go.) Um, sorry, the Oz-love is getting a little overwhelming, isn't it? So let me just say this: read these stories, and you'll be able to buy into Oz/Ethan, too.
Best FF That Makes Me Pity a Character I Normally Dislike. And Makes Me Absolutely Despise Her at the Same Time. Which I Think You'll Admit Is Quite a Trick. Covet, by Speranza, ak cesperanza.* Due South, Stella Kowalski/Benton Fraser. Yes. I am not kidding. Speranza has clearly taken the Fan Fiction Writer's Commandments to heart (#8 states that there is no practical difference between love and hate when it comes to writing sex scenes). And this isn't just some random thing where someone thinks of the world's least likely pairing - Dan Rydell/Sally Sasser, say - and writes it, canon be damned. No, this is a totally believable Stella/Fraser pairing, which is one of the stranger sentences I've written today. But slashers, do not fear; this will not hurt you. RayK/Fraser shippers, including the one who shares my bed each night, do not recoil; this will not violate your deeply-held beliefs. And everyone who is looking from the pairing to the fandom and back again and saying, "What the fuck?" loud enough for the person in the next cubicle to look over in surprise, trust me. No, wait, don't bother trusting me; trust Speranza. You won't be sorry.
Best FF That Makes Me Forget All About the Stupidity of Rubber Suits, and Makes the Distant Sound of Squishing Frenchmen Positively Romantic. Springtime in Paris, by dijeron. I'm not sure what the fandom is - monster movies, maybe. Godzilla/King Kong. I am quite serious. And so is the author; this isn't played for laughs. When I started reading this, my mind was full of men in bad rubber monster suits tromping on tiny model cities, and I was prepared to giggle; when I was done, I understood for the first time why Peter Jackson wants to remake King Kong. I honestly can't think of any other way to describe this or to explain why you should read it. So instead I'll whine. See, the title makes me think of "Springtime for Hitler" - and, really, I'm not sure why, since there's only the one word in common - and every time I see it I find myself singing that under my breath. Which, OK, but there's a limit to the amount of time I want to spend with my own hideous live version of the soundtrack for "The Producers." Although that does suggest a rare fandom that I need to enter at yuletide...no, no. The sickness must stop.
Best FF That Accuses Dana Whitaker of Previously Unsuspected Evil - Namely, Love for K. C. and the Sunshine Band, Which I Think Is Punishable by Law in Some Boroughs of New York City. Girls' Night In, by Annie, aka out_there. Sports Night, Dana Whitaker/Lisa McCall. (I guess that's Lisa's last name, at least at this point in the canon history.) This story answers an interesting question: how did Casey get Dana in the divorce? I mean, yes, crush, yes, friends, yes, working together - but Dana was Lisa's friend first and longest, and that makes a difference. I would've expected, at the least, a year or two of strained friendship with both sides. But as early as the pilot episode, Dana has made her choice. Or did someone else make it for her? I'm amazed by this story, and the moreso because I have a hard time seeing femslashiness in Dana; she tries so hard to be simultaneously one of the boys and one for the boys that it's tough to imagine her focus switching to girls, even for a night. This story, though, describes a Dana who didn't used to be like that. It's astonishingly well-done and believable. All hail Annie, who saw the femslash potential in a show practically struck blind by the boy love. (Note: so far I have not been required to post a Certified Safe Alternate for SN stories. I suspect, however, that's only because I've never recommended a story that wasn't Danny/Casey and happy-ending-ful. We shall see if death threats and bouts of vicious pouting result from this rec.)
* Many thanks to estrella30, for solving the Mystery of the Missing Link (the missing link being me, of course, not the story; the story was there all along, but my brain was MIA) in a timely and soothing fashion.