Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spoilers: All of BtVS, minor for BtVS:Chaos Bleeds videogame
Email: sadbhyl at yahoo dot com
Personal website: Responsible Adults
Disclaimer No academic prowess was harmed in the writing of this essay. Any injured copyrights were unintentional
Notes All quotes and episode references come from the database at Buffyworld. Enormous thanks go out to mydeira and trkkr47, who read each piece as I slugged it out, and to eurydice79 who was my objective outsider and gave me good points to make it stronger. And greatest thanks of all to Kristine, Robin and Tony, for creating such complex, nuanced characters for us to enjoy and play with.
It started as a joke.
My writing cohort was looking for new odd pairings to write (and since she wrote Cordy/Lyle Gorch, she knows from weird), so I threw out a bunch of combinations. After a few minutes, she says to me, “You know, Joyce seems to be involved in a lot of these.”
“After everything she’s been through, she deserves a lot of sex. What about two guys at once?”
“Yeah, but who?”
“Well, what about Giles and Ethan? They’re hot together.”
“ . . . Why the hell not?”
It is my belief that characters and relationships wait in the fringes of the collective creative unconscious for someone to come along and say “what if?,” at which point they move into that person’s brain and take up residence. Jo Rowling has said in a number of interviews that she was riding on a train, letting her mind wander when she had the what if of a young wizard riding the same train. By the end of that train ride, she had in her head the plot and major characters for the entire Harry Potter series. He had just been waiting for someone to think of him.
This is how it was for us with Joyce, Giles and Ethan. It was as though they were just waiting for someone to think of them so they could have an outlet for the stories they had to tell. It took my partner two weeks to write the first tale of their relationship. Two weeks after that, we had four more stories done. By the end of two months, we had completed an entire season. The three of them seemed to us a natural, obvious relationship and they had found their mouthpieces.
But feeling the truth of a relationship and proving it are two very different propositions. By understanding the individuals and the characteristics each possess and the interrelationships between each couple, we can see how a strong and lasting relationship between all three is possible.
On the surface, Joyce Summers is a fairly straightforward character. Single mother to Buffy and (eventually) Dawn, divorcee, entrepreneur, relatively well educated. She is as conscientious as the parent of a teenager is allowed to be, attending PTA meetings, networking with other parents, etc. But a deeper examination of these traits reveals cracks in the appearance.
Joyce understands the rules and mores of societal behavior, but she isn’t always comfortable with them. In her second appearance on the show, as she confronts Buffy about going out late at night (The Harvest, BtVS 1.2), she says “The tapes all say I should get used to saying it. No.” But her tone lacks conviction, as though she is saying what is expected of her to say and not what she actually believes. Buffy responds accordingly, by rolling her eyes and slipping out anyway.
We get more insight into this issue in Band Candy. (BtVS 3.6) With Joyce’s restraint and conformity lowered, she reveals her true thoughts on the roles she has taken on. “I feel . . .special, like I'm just waking up, kinda. Yeah, like, uh, getting married and having a kid and everything was just a dream, and now things are back like they're supposed to be.” And of course, on sighting the ultimate symbol of her attempt at conformity, the SUV, her instant and violent response is, “Oh, my God. What was I thinking when I bought the *Geek* Machine?”
She sets up this dichotomy for Buffy as well. When telling Buffy about her meeting with Principal Snyder to discuss Buffy’s behavior, (School Hard, BtVS 2.3) she says,
“Principal Snyder said you were a troublemaker. And I could care less. I have a daughter who can take care of herself. Who's brave and resourceful and thinks of others in a crisis. No matter who you hang out with or what dumb teenage stuff you think you need to do, I'm gonna sleep better knowing all that.”
Joyce lays out the dialectic of conforming versus being true to herself. The fact that she rewards Buffy for stepping outside cultural norms is telling of her own feelings on the subject.
That same conversation also highlights another underlying characteristic in Joyce’s personality which isn’t overt, namely an uncertain relationship with authority. In letting Buffy off the hook for her school behavior in light of her leadership on Parent/Teacher night, Joyce shows that she defines valid authority by ability rather than position. She condones Buffy’s behavior and in fact berates Principal Snyder for not following Buffy’s leadership, despite his being the official authority on site.
This of course comes around to bite her as well in the confrontation with Buffy at the end of Becoming. (BtVS 2.22) When Buffy is adamant about going out to face Angel, Joyce, unable to reason with her, finally resorts to pulling rank. “You walk out of this house, don't even *think* about coming back!” Buffy is hurt and angry, but she’s learned Joyce’s lesson well. By her ability, she has the authority, not Joyce, and so she ignores her mother’s command and walks out.
When Buffy returns to Sunnydale, her and Joyce’s struggle to get Buffy back into school creates another moment where Joyce’s conflict with respecting authority shines through. In confronting Snyder regarding Buffy’s readmittance into school, Buffy, in a very mature, socially appropriate manner, says “So let me get this straight. I'm really back in school because the school board overruled you. Wow. That's like having your whole ability to do this job called into question, when you think about it.” (Faith, Hope and Trick, BtVS 3.3) Rather than leave it there, it is Joyce who taunts him with “I think what my daughter's trying to say is nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah, nyah.”
Joyce has other qualities as well that make her inclined towards such an unusual relationship. She has a playful regard for sexuality, at least when it comes to her own sex life. The classic example of this is when she teases Buffy after Joyce comes home from her date in I Was Made to Love You (BtVS 5.15):
BUFFY: It all looked pretty tame to me.
JOYCE: Well, I suppose by your standards it could seem pretty ... (pauses) Oh dear.
JOYCE: I left my bra in his car.
Buffy looks shocked and horrified.
JOYCE: I'm joking.
BUFFY: (sighs) Good god, that's horrible. Don't do that.
JOYCE: I left it in the restaurant.
Buffy puts her hands over her ears and starts running up the stairs.
BUFFY: No more! No more! No more!
JOYCE: (yelling up the stairs at her) On the dessert cart!
BUFFY: (OS, faintly) I can't hear you!
Joyce has a daring streak that rears its head on occasion. In School Hard, she confronts Spike with an axe, despite the fact that he is obviously stronger than she and has backup. And when Angelus comes to the house looking for Buffy, Joyce stands up to him despite Buffy’s warning of how dangerous he is. (Passion, BtVS 2.17) Even when being held captive by Faith, whose capabilities Joyce fully understands and who is currently wielding a very large knife, she responds to Faith’s diatribes with the simple, “Were you planning to slit my throat anytime soon?” (This Year’s Girl, BtVS 4.15)
She’s also shown a definite interest in bad boys. When Spike returns to Sunnydale, Joyce welcomes him into her home despite knowing his true nature, even offering him comfort and advice. (Lover’s Walk, BtVS 3.8) This conversation also gives some more insight into Joyce’s attitudes on sex. Spike is very open about the extremities of his relationship with Drusilla, but Joyce is not put off by it, and in fact tries to play matchmaker.
And then there’s Ripper.
Rupert Giles is likewise a very well defined character within the Buffyverse. Watcher, mentor, disciplinarian and defender. But as with Joyce, these titles don’t reveal the whole depth of his character, and in several similar ways.
Like Joyce, conformity to social expectations is a defining issue for Giles. He seems to be the poster child for conformity with his three piece tweed suits and prim glasses and patrician behavior towards Buffy and the Scoobies. But he admits to her that this isn’t the role he would have chosen for himself. “No, I had very definite plans about my future. I was going to be a fighter pilot. Or possibly a grocer.” (Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, BtVS 1.5) He became a Watcher because his father and his grandmother had been Watchers, and it was expected of him. He rebelled against it in his youth, leading to the death of one of his friends.
“I was twenty-one, studying history at Oxford. And, of course, the occult by night. I hated it. The tedious grind of study, the... overwhelming pressure of my destiny. I dropped out, I went to London... I fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. We practiced magics. Small stuff for pleasure or gain. And Ethan and I discovered something... bigger.” (The Dark Age, BtVS 2.8)
It is implied strongly that his return to the family business was a form of penance for this act.
But even within the confines of this conformity, Giles has his own continued moments of rebellion. In arguing with Buffy regarding what defines good music, he goes against expectation to claim, “The Bay City Rollers. Now that’s music.” (The Dark Age) His album collection is enough to make Oz threaten to move in with him. (Harsh Light of Day, BtVS 4.3) His music seems to be the strongest remaining vestige of his true self, coming out at key moments of self-identity. Not surprisingly, we see it when he reverts to Ripper under Ethan’s spell, (Band Candy), but also several times in season four as he’s being forced to redefine himself after losing his library and his job as a Watcher. (Where the Wild Things Are, BtVS 4.18 and The Yoko Factor, BtVS 4.20) And finally we see him turn to it again when he mourns Joyce, the last person to have touched his true self. (Forever, BtVS 5.17)
In Giles, this struggle has resulted in an imbalance between his ego and his id. His public persona is very tightly controlled. But when things go wrong, he surrenders that control totally and without regard for consequences. Upon identifying Phillip’s corpse and learning of Deidre’s death, he descends into a drinking binge that endangers himself, his Slayer and his girlfriend. (The Dark Age) Likewise, when taunted with his uselessness by Spike, Giles once again turns to the bottle, making him useless at a time when Buffy needs him most. (The Yoko Factor) After Jenny is killed, it is not booze but rage he surrenders to, taking on Angelus, Drusilla and Spike in a battle he has no hope of surviving. He doesn’t let go of that rage until it is literally knocked out of him by Buffy. (Passion, BtVS 2.17)
Giles also mirrors Joyce in regards to his relationship with authority. Unlike Joyce, however, rather than lashing out with words, Giles resorts to violence. He faces down Principal Snyder in an attempt to get Buffy back into school after her time away in Los Angeles. When Snyder derides him and threatens Buffy, Giles slams him against a file cabinet before issuing his own threat, regardless of the risk it presents to his own employment. (Dead Man’s Party, BtVS 3.2) Likewise he resists the attempts of the Watchers’ Council to administer the Cruciamentum upon Buffy’s eighteenth birthday. (Helpless, BtVS 3.12) Although initially resigned to it, he continually argues with Quentin Travers about the necessity of it until finally flaunting Travers’ authority and revealing all to Buffy. When it proves a fruitless gesture, he turns on Travers, abusing him before racing off to try to help Buffy himself.
Giles is willing to set aside social rules if it serves a higher cause. In talking to Kendra about Buffy’s training, Giles is forced to admit, “After meeting you, Buffy, I realized that the handbook would be of no use in your case.” (What’s My Line 2, BtVS 2.10) He has put aside traditional models in favor of dialectical training, a more effective method in Buffy’s case. And of course, in Chosen, (BtVS 7.22) he lays out his position quite clearly. “Buffy, what you said, it—it flies in the face of everything we've ever—every generation has ever done in the fight against evil. I think it's bloody brilliant.”
Giles’ own sexuality is fairly liberal for a “sexy fuddy-duddy”. (The Dark Age) Caught by Buffy dressed less than casually with a strange woman in his apartment, he remains relaxed and unapologetic. (The Freshman, BtVS 4.1) And he is not judgmental when the loss of Buffy’s virginity and the consequences are revealed.
“Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. And I can. I know that you loved him. And he has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are gonna, are gonna be hard. I suspect on all of us, but if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is my support. And my respect.” (Innocence, BtVS 2.14)
While this is not documented, we are also able to infer from the stories we hear from Giles, from Ethan and from Olivia that Giles’ sex life in his earlier days was anything but conservative. (The Dark Age, Hush, BtVS 4.10) The drug culture of the mid-Seventies was not reserved to pharmaceutical abuse, especially in a close knit group experimenting with magic as well as drugs. Sex was almost certainly a part of that mix.
And another member of that circle was Ethan Rayne.
It is difficult to discuss Ethan from canon, as he only appears in four episodes. One thing that is abundantly clear is that he does not have the same issues Joyce and Giles do. Ethan has no respect for social rules and a total disregard for authority. His guiding principles are power and gratification. When Giles threatens him if he won’t break the costume spell during Ethan’s initial visit to Sunnydale, Ethan’s response is “Why should I? What's in the bargain for me?” (Halloween, BtVS 2.6) Later on, Ethan lays out his personal philosophy very clearly, “You know, I hope you're not taking this personally, Buffy. I actually kind of like you. It's just that I like myself a whole lot more.” (The Dark Age) But there are certain characteristics that incline him towards a relationship such as we are studying.
First, it is important to understand that Ethan is not evil. Wicked, certainly, but never evil. His magical workings when in Sunnydale lead to situations where people could potentially be hurt or killed, but his actions don’t directly harm anyone. As he points out to Giles while talking with him about the Initiative and Project 314, Ethan could have poisoned Giles’ drink at any time. Instead, he takes the opportunity to turn him into a Fyarl. (A New Man, BtVS 4.12) Because it’s more fun.
Which is another key characteristic of Ethan. He has a wicked sense of humor. Quick, sarcastic, sharp, his words are both a defense and an attack. In confronting Buffy for the first time, he tries to fend her off verbally, and ends up succeeding:
BUFFY: I know you! You were in that costume shop.
ETHAN: Oh, I'm pleased you remember. (tries to go)
BUFFY: (stops him) You sold me that dress for Halloween, and nearly got us all killed!
ETHAN: But you looked great.
She punches him squarely in the jaw.
ETHAN: Owww! (straightens back up holding his jaw) So now we're even?
BUFFY: I'll let you know when we're even. What're you doing here?
ETHAN: Snooping around.
BUFFY: Honesty. Nice touch.
ETHAN: It's one of my virtues. (smiles) Not really.
That humor also gets him in trouble. In being flip with Giles, Ethan only incurs his anger, getting beaten up for his trouble. (Halloween)
Another trait of his that causes him no end of trouble is his tendency to stay around too long. “I’ve really got to learn to just do the damage and get out of town. It's the ‘stay and gloat’ that gets me every time.” (A New Man) Part of this is his affinity for chaos, but it also shows an inherent curiosity. Once he’s set something in motion, he wants to see how things will turn out, and this leads to his capture time and time again.
Ethan serves a unique function within the Buffyverse, that of catalyst. Every appearance by him has led to revelations by one or more of the characters he comes in contact with. The most dramatic of these are in Halloween, where we first get an insight into Giles’ darker self, and in The Dark Age, where the whole story of his youth comes to light. But it is through Ethan’s involvement that Buffy and Riley begin to confront the power struggle in their relationship:
RILEY: Buffy. Earlier, when I talked to Professor Walsh, she gave me very specific orders.
RILEY: She said when we located the demon I . . . I'm not supposed to bring you along.
BUFFY: (not missing a beat) Oh. (turns to leave)
RILEY: Uh, what are you doing?
BUFFY: (faces him) I'm *going* to the car.
RILEY: Buffy, I can't take you with me.
BUFFY: You're not taking me with you. I am going and I am letting you come along.
RILEY: Buffy, it's not really your call. This is a military operation now.
BUFFY: Then call out the troops. Because nothing less than that is gonna stop me. This demon did something to Giles and I'm gonna kill it.
She leaves and Riley has no choice but to follow. (A New Man)
It is during the events of A New Man that Willow starts to feel the reins of leadership for herself in Giles’ absence. Xander learns that he can be strong and competent and still be serving someone else during his time as a soldier in Halloween, and also gains skills he will continue to use later. Cordelia gets her first taste of the strength that would serve her so well in Los Angeles when she takes down Ethan herself when he attempts to escape from the library. (The Dark Age) All the Scoobies get some much needed insight into the challenges and frustrations of their parents’ lives. (Band Candy)
And of course, it is Ethan’s involvement that ultimately brought Giles and Joyce together.
The Pairings: Joyce/Giles
Of all the pairings possible in this ‘ship, Joyce/Giles is the one that is canon. We see it culminated during Ethan’s visit in Band Candy. That moment does not exist in a vacuum, however, nor is the termination of the spell the end of the relationship.
From the moment of their first meeting, there is a connection between the two of them. Giles has a look of wonder and surprise on his face on first being introduced to Joyce in the hospital bed Darla has put her in. (Angel, BtVS 1.7) He stays there with her even though there is no reason to suppose that anyone will attempt to attack her again. And Joyce doesn’t question his presence and her daughter’s absence, even though they have just met.
Joyce comes to rely on Giles fairly quickly, turning to him for advice on Buffy the way she would a close friend or a co-parent. (Bad Eggs, BtVS 2.12) By the time that Buffy runs away from home, Giles feels familiar enough with Joyce to offer her comfort. And she feels no restraint to respond politely.
JOYCE: I can hardly leave the house. I'm just afraid she'll call and she'll need my help.
GILES: Buffy is the most capable child I've ever known. I mean, she may be confused, unhappy, but I honestly believe she's in no danger.
JOYCE: I just wish I could talk to her. The last thing we did was fight.
GILES: Joyce, you mustn't blame yourself for her leaving.
JOYCE: I don't. (pause) I blame you. You've been this huge influence on her, guiding her. You had this whole relationship with her behind my back. I feel like you've taken her away from me. (Anne, BtVS 3.1)
Giles is devastated as one can only be by someone they care about.
The next time they see each other is when he comes to claim the zombie cat hiding in Joyce’s bedroom. (Dead Man’s Party) They are cordial but tense, the words between them obviously still painful. Giles’ snide comment about the mask that made the zombies later seems more to cover his hurt from Joyce’s earlier rejection. “Unbelievable. 'Do you like my mask? Isn't it pretty? It raises the *dead*!' Americans.”
The enchanted chocolate finally brings about their reconciliation, allowing them to finally act on their mutual attraction. Their discomfort afterwards seems less to do with shame than from a simple fear of getting caught. Joyce’s looks to Giles in front of the school after the candy incident and, when they meet again at the MOO rally, (Gingerbread, BtVS 3.11) seem more coy than mortified, while Giles glances to Buffy to see if she’s watching to determine his behavior to her mother. It is not until after Buffy overhears the truth in Joyce’s mind that Joyce and Giles become comfortable in each other’s presence again. (Earshot, BtVS 3.18)
Their interactions on the show from that point on are minimal but compelling. Giles is willing to chauffer both of Joyce’s daughters around on errands, despite Dawn’s annoying behaviors. (The Real Me, BtVS 5.2) He takes on the dangerous role of protecting Joyce and Dawn when Buffy is needed elsewhere. (I Was Made to Love You) Likewise, Joyce is sensitive of Giles’ ego, considerate of his risk in defending them. “Well, I'm relieved that you're home. Because to be honest, I wasn't feeling all that safe with you gone. (quickly) At first. And then I, um, remembered that, um, Rupert was here and I felt much, much safer.” (Crush, BtVS 5.14) They are able to flirt comfortably with each other as well, even in Buffy’s presence.
GILES: (gesturing to a bottle of wine) Shall I open another?
JOYCE: Oh, do you think we dare?
BUFFY: As long as you two stay away from the band candy, I'm cool with anything.
Giles looks surprised and Joyce amused when their eyes meet over Buffy’s oblivious head.
For the series, their relationship ends with Joyce’s death. (The Body, BtVS 5.16) Giles’ quiet mourning of her passing, remembering the moments they had had together as symbolized in his replaying the music they had listened to together under the influence of the enchanted chocolate, is one of the most poignant moments in the series. (Forever) And afterwards, he continues to care for her daughters, not just because of his affection for the girls but also in respect for his deeper feelings for Joyce.
BUFFY: I don't really know how to say this but it's a little like having Mom back.
GILES: In this scenario, I am your mother?
BUFFY: Wanna be my shiftless absentee father?
GILES: Is there some sort of, um, rakish uncle?
Giles/Ethan is probably one of the most canonized non-canon ‘ships in the Buffyverse. Even the writers of the show acknowledge it. When asked about it, Jane Espenson, writer of two of the four episodes Ethan appeared in, said, “Oh, I’m sure they did [have a relationship]. After all, they both went to English public school!” (Q&A, Writercon, Las Vegas, NV 2004)
Others have written on the subject of their relationship in greater depth than I can explore here. (See “We Go Back": Rupert Giles and Ethan Rayne by trkkr47) There are, however, several points of it I would like to examine.
While not explored in the course of the show, it seems unlikely that there wasn’t some sort of physical relationship between the two of them back in the day. As indicated earlier, the drug culture of the mid to late Seventies had a heavy dose of sexual politics thrown in as well. And the worshippers of Eyghon were noted for their sybaritic rituals.
WILLOW: Wait. Hey, listen. 'Once called, Eyghon can also take possession of the dead, but its demonic energy soon disintegrates the host, and it must jump to the nearest dead or unconscious person to continue living.'
BUFFY: I still don't get what this has to do with Giles.
WILLOW: I don't know about Giles, but ancient sects used to induce possession for bacchanals and, and orgies.
XANDER: Okay! Giles and orgies in the same sentence. I coulda lived without that one.
When you keep in mind that their circle back then consisted of six members, only one of them female, it seems unlikely that the two didn’t at least experiment with a sexual relationship with each other. And in combination with others. But the intensity of their interactions later seems to indicate that it went far beyond simple experimentation.
Their first meeting in the back of Ethan’s costume shop after so many years is intense. Giles drives Willow out, not because she’s in any danger, which she certainly isn’t, being currently intangible, but because he doesn’t want her to see what he is about to do. Perhaps even he himself isn’t certain. Ethan certainly seems to have an idea of how he expects it to go. His tone on greeting Giles for the first time is filled with innuendo and memory, trying to remind Giles of what they had once been together. He doesn’t even really try to get away, seeming resigned to the fact that the game is over but using the opportunity to try to break through Giles’ façade. He takes Giles’ beating stoically, not because he doesn’t want to give up the information but because the violence connects them to each other again. (Halloween)
Violence is a running theme for them. Every encounter they have involves a physical conflict between them, always initiated by Giles against Ethan, for good cause or no. In Band Candy, when he and Buffy chase Ethan through the warehouse, Giles encourages Buffy to hit Ethan again and again with a gleeful, almost lustful gleam in his eyes. The violence has come to replace sex in their relationship, and Giles then as now seems to like to watch. Even when Ethan is finally taken away by the Initiative, Giles can’t resist following. “If you don't mind, I'm just going to . . . go and watch them manhandle him into a vehicle.” (A New Man)
And finally there is Joyce and Ethan. There is no canon presence for this pairing. The two never actually even speak to each other on screen. They are nevertheless an intense, compelling couple.
We see Ethan studying Joyce with interest in the warehouse in Band Candy. Perhaps this is what attracts him to her in the first place, curiosity as to what Ripper sees in her. He is most likely also drawn to the idea of forbidden fruit. The temptation of bedding the mother of a Slayer would be irresistible to someone with his sense of curiosity. Once the idea was planted in his mind, he would pursue it to the end.
For Joyce’s part, the initial attraction would almost certainly be her affinity for bad boys. As has already been established through her friendship with Spike and her attraction to Ripper, Joyce has a soft spot for less than reputable men, a quality which defines Ethan. He is also another connection for her to Giles. She has seen what Ripper was like and knows about the history between the two of them. The opportunity to learn more about him through Ethan would be difficult to resist.
But once together, what keeps them that way? First, they have a good deal in common. Ethan’s sense of humor is definitely compatible with Joyce’s playfulness. He shares all her issues with authority and society, providing her with a model for living outside those expectations. He encourages her to break with them, rediscovering herself in the process.
Ethan won’t coddle or shelter Joyce, allowing her to stretch and grow into the strength we’ve seen flashes of in the series. Unlike the Scoobies and even often Giles, Ethan isn’t afraid of challenging her with harsh truths. Joyce has shown moments of frustration at having things kept from her during the whole course of the series, so this can only be refreshing for her. And he doesn’t have expectations of her. With him she is allowed to be who she is, rather than having to satisfy the roles society demands of her. With Ethan, she is free.
For Ethan, the relationship gives him something else entirely. With Joyce, he can find a sense of intimate connection that he hasn’t had perhaps since the days of his youth with Ripper. With his tendency of staying too long, he allows time for the qualities he so admires in Joyce, her strength, her humor, her passion and independence, to work their way on him until he is once again caught, with admiration turning, we hope, to something more.
And then there were three.
How the three come together is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s a dare. Perhaps they were drunk. Maybe they were just bored. But once the connection is made, the strength of the dynamic between the three of them is such as to resist ending after one encounter. Each provides an emotional pivot point for the other two, supporting and shifting the individual relationships in such a way as to maintain the balance of the whole. And each side also works on the middle, strengthening the individuals as well.
Joyce’s contribution as center is perhaps the most critical to the whole relationship. At this point in time, the relationship between Giles and Ethan has devolved to where their only method of connection is through violence. It is only through the mediation of a third party that they are able to step back from this. Joyce isn’t afraid of their violence, is in fact aroused by it, perhaps as the ultimate expression of their rebel youth, but she keeps it from going too far, forcing them to find new, healthier ways to relate to each other. And in return, the two of them help her heal the psychic wounds left by her divorce. Giles steps into the role of father/husband, providing her moral and physical support in raising the girls while Ethan helps her rediscover her self-identity, encouraging her strength, humor and independence. And both of them make her feel desirable and desired again.
Giles gives both Joyce and Ethan stability and foundation. While it is obvious how this is beneficial to Joyce, what is less obvious is how this impacts Ethan. The stability Giles offers helps ground Ethan, giving him a foundation he hasn’t had before. In return, Joyce and Ethan help Giles reintegrate his psyche. Joyce’s fearlessness in the face of Ripper helps him accept that part of himself as not necessarily a negative if properly channeled, while Ethan’s constant prodding at the “tweed-clad protector of the Slayer and her kin” makes Giles see that all his rigid conformity isn’t always for the best.
Ethan’s contribution is, of course, his irreverence. Joyce and Giles both have burdens of responsibility that he wants no part of, but he helps remind them that there is more to life than just responsibility. But ironically what he gets back from them is the inverse of that, that not all responsibility is a burden. He sees the rewards of it for the first time, the love of a daughter or a student, and the strength that it brings his lovers. And despite all his best (or worst) intentions, Ethan can’t help but be changed by that.
There are several factors that make their relationship different from other threesomes within the Buffyverse. First and foremost among these is their age. All three are well into their forties. Joyce’s tombstone gives her year of birth as 1957, and the men are certainly as old if not older than she is. (BtVS: Chaos Bleeds video game) They all have half a lifetime’s experience behind them, and this gives them a different perspective than the younger groupings. (And yes, I include the vampires in this. While they all have hundreds of years of existence between them, they have the same sense of immortality and casualness with loss and responsibility that most young adults do. They’ve just been acting that way longer.) Joyce, Giles and Ethan don’t have the same sort of romantic ideals attached to their relationship. They understand that it is possible to have an extended and satisfying sexual relationship and not have it based on love, but rather on serving each other’s needs instead. If more comes of it than that, it is not because they sought it, expected it, or even necessarily wanted it.
This is not to say there isn’t passion in the relationship. We’ve seen them enough in other situations, seen Joyce’s anger, Giles’ laughter, Ethan’s intensity, to imagine that they would bring the same energy and creativity to the bedroom. And the living room. The kitchen and the bathroom. And both shops, Giles’ car and never let us forget the hood of the police cruiser in the middle of town. Giles and Ethan bring the wealth of their experience, and while Joyce’s experimentation certainly wasn’t as broad, she too is a child of the Seventies and so is at least open to trying new things. And they are all creative, attractive and relatively fit (Joyce’s eventual illness aside). The combination of all these qualities, all the characteristics of each individual, tempered by a dose of maturity, creates a heady dynamic that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
So that’s where we stand. The first bunny in this ménage came to us almost a year ago now. In that time, we have generated fifty-five stories spanning three seasons and filling more than six hundred pages. And they aren’t done with us. They have us writing at least into Season 5 of Angel: The Series, as well as suggesting back stories to our own series. They whisper to us with alternate realities of our own stories and alternate universe tales where they are the main characters. And slowly they have started filtering into the psyches of others. Such is the strength of their relationship that it can’t be contained in the minds of just two people.
It takes at least three . .
Responsible Adults: Home of the Ménageaverse - the saga as channeled to Sadbhyl and Mydeira
Untouchable by Trkkr47
Unnamed ficlet by raskazzptitsa
Buffyverse1000 ficlet by shetiger