Spoilers: through Season 7, “The Killer in Me”
Personal Website: London Calling: the Embankment
Giles/Anya in Deep Focus
Deep focus: Crisp, sharp definition of everything in front of a camera, both in the foreground and background, in one shot.
The two-shot needs black-and-white film to do the characters and the scene justice. A well-dressed, middle-aged man argues with his (seemingly) young business partner, her eyes sharp but her smile wide and oddly innocent, over an artifact they both claim for their own. They stand toe to toe, equal partners in the fight, as his usual stammering sangfroid is broken by her passionate honesty. Their hands slip closer to each other on the effigy in question as they shout – “Give it,” “No, you give it” – their words sliding over and under each other like the angry little slaps they land on each other’s arms. Hit is exchanged for hit, touch for touch, word for word.
Somewhere, Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges looks through the view-finder and smiles.
Next, the two-shot shifts into deep focus, revealing the shadows in the background. The man, battered and silent, lies in their destroyed magic shop. Beside him the woman in black kneels, her hands on him as he struggles for breath. They both have known grief and loss, so much gone forever, but this potential loss is as pain-ridden for her as the first. “Don’t die. I have so many things to tell you,” she says sweetly, almost formally, her sharpness worn away by the tears she’s not allowing herself to shed. He reaches up to grasp her hand, smiles at her. The partners rest together in the midst of chaos and destruction, there in deep focus.
One more scene: the two are alone in their still intact shop, with traces of magic swirling in the air around them. There have been fighting, recriminations, and a well-thrown engagement ring. There have been far, far too many bunnies. But he’s sent away the darkness now, and she’s grateful and apologetic. Putting on her ring again, she smiles at him. Her voice is open, vulnerable: “Don’t leave me....” His smile is as open and loving as hers, and with her name a gentle exhalation of breath on his lips, he goes to her and sweeps her into his arms. They fit together like they’ve done this a thousand times before, kiss like George Cukor is immortalizing this moment in seventy-foot-high light and shadow.
Even though the scenes I’ve just retold are moments from the series, Giles/Anya is still an unconventional ‘ship. The partnership they share in the series is not as deep as I or other Giles/Anya shippers see it, and some readers and viewers like to freeze them in early Season Four, before they develop their idiosyncratic connection. Even the big-screen “Tabula Rasa” kiss comes when they don’t remember their pasts. However, there is no magic influencing the comfort, the conflict, and sexual interest they display with each other in that episode in canon.
So, albeit unconventionally, this is my Giles and Anya – stylish aggression, but also deep, quiet understanding in the midst of loss; alongside the quirks and the arguments, an open-hearted, passionate connection. The stars of their own lives together, they deserve the big screen.
In the Background: Canon
So, who are they on the show? He is a watcher, sent to Sunnydale to observe and teach the slayer; from the beginning he’s an outsider who doesn’t really belong in this bourgeois world. At first he appears to be every inch a stereotyped tweed-bound, nearly middle-aged English librarian – intellectual, reserved but caring, rather eccentric, dryly witty – but the surface is complicated by his past as the youthful chaos-worshipper Ripper and later canon hints that the angry, rebellious sensualist never really went away. When he loses both his official watcher job and the school librarian post, he lives through a mid-life crisis and his isolation until he opens the Magic Box – and hires Anya.
Although she was first Aud, for over a millennium she was the vengeance demon Anyanka, until the reversal of Cordelia’s vengeance-wish in Season Three traps her in the body of a teenager. Anya loses her power, in fact, when an alternate-universe Giles smashes her amulet; their link is first forged in that alternate space which changes canon. Also an outsider, she doesn’t easily fit into her young human body or in Sunnydale, but she keeps working at it; she’s pragmatic, ebullient, often inappropriate, searching for purpose, and frankly odd. Although her entree into the Scoobies is through her boyfriend Xander, she doesn’t become a regular part of the group until she begins to work with Giles at the Magic Box in Season Five. The two of them – outsiders, workers in the same enterprise, people with dark histories – are much more than they seem.
Their relationship onscreen truly begins in Season Four; neither has a well-defined role in their small society, and so they interact as comic relief. Whenever Anya accompanies Xander to Giles’s apartment for Scooby meetings, there is usually a ritual moment where she (often unwittingly, through honesty alone) upsets him and Giles insults her in return, as in “Hush”: “Yes, that’s exactly the most appalling thing you could have said,” he mutters, after she quite correctly identifies his anticipated visitor Olivia as his “orgasm-friend.” The volleys exchanged are out in the open, the aggression on the surface.
But more lies between them than the comedy of their conflicts. One interesting point is that it’s she, not the Scoobies, who first acknowledges him as a sexual being in “Hush”; even as later in the season she will complain that he’s boring and old, she’s also right there with Willow and Tara, lusting after him as he sings in “Where the Wild Things Are.” The stage is a place of revelation for both of them in Season Four. She takes center stage in his dream in “Restless”; while Xander and Willow research, Giles gazes at Anya from afar, so intent on her that Willow has to recall his attention to the crisis (and to the Scoobies). “She’s doing very well,” he says earnestly, in some surprise. He’s beginning to see her, if only in dreams. (Of course, he follows her onstage, too; they’re linked as performers in his mind.)
Season Five shows the deepening in their relationship after he hires her to work with him in the Magic Box. She begins as she always does, in excessive enthusiasm and inappropriate honesty, and he reacts with his established irritability – they exchange hit for hit, such as her thrust in “Shadow,” “Are you stupid or something?” and his riposte, “Allow me to answer that with a firing” – but as they begin to develop a working friendship, the banter changes. In fact, when she insults him in “Into the Woods,” he responds almost with hurt, rather than a return of fire. This shift is significant; much of Season Five shows us both her growing concern for his opinion and his growing respect for her. The nature of the conflict changes; by the time we reach “The Gift,” he thinks of her as enough of an equal to shout at her during the Scooby meeting, and she responds not with anger but with a practical suggestion. She reacts to the man beneath his superior attitude; they are working their way toward equality.
Season Six is the crucial season for the ship; from “Bargaining Part One” to “Tabula Rasa” to “Grave,” there is enough Giles/Anya subtext to float an entire navy. In two scenes in “Bargaining Part One,” for instance, we see both their overflow of passionate aggression and their care for each other. First is the heightened screwball tussle over the artifact, where Giles and Anya are focused entirely on each other until Xander recalls their attention. Interestingly, neither one immediately lets go of their link. Their more balanced relationship is highlighted here as the two of them argue about the nature of their partnership and who gets what – it’s Xander who insists that she’s in danger of being fired as in early Season Five, although the scene suggests that’s no longer even an issue with Giles. He and Anya have grown into sharing power (okay, yes, negotiations might continue with a slap-fight, but what do you want?). This new balance is clear too when Anya watches Giles trying to train the Buffybot and then points out the futility of what he’s doing; her honesty is kind, even when expressed with her characteristic bluntness, and although he replies with irony, he does listen to her. Alone together, they act like grown-ups.
This is not the only time their partnership is reinforced. In an almost throwaway scene in “Life Serial,” Anya is going over Buffy’s first Magic Box sale (the infamous mummy-hand) and sees that Buffy didn’t include the charge for delivery. Trying to be helpful, she says brightly, “Well, I’ll just take it out of your pay!” When Buffy looks to Giles for a way out – after all, Xander can be relied on to take Buffy’s and Willow’s side over Anya – Giles winces but says, “Yes. Well, I’m sure Buffy understands that....” The small moment where he upholds Anya’s authority marks an enormous change in their partnership, one that flowers in “Tabula Rasa.”
What can I say about this episode? Giles and Anya’s belief that they’re engaged comes from shockingly flimsy evidence, even before they learn about their co-ownership of the shop – contrast it to Xander and Willow, who decide they’re not a couple even though she’s wearing his jacket when they wake up together – and the two fall into their self-chosen roles with gusto. Their amusing screwball arguments don’t need my retelling; what I would emphasize is their attraction, their physical ease with each other in the way she straightens his tie or he plays with her hair as if the sense-memories of a life together have been released, and the way that their normal conflict and comfort read so effortlessly romantic here.
The grand, passionate kiss at the end is on one level certainly played for laughs – but in fact the simplicity of her need for him and the warmth of his physical response is an amped-up reworking of their interchange before the Tabula Rasa spell. When he announces he’s going to leave, she says, “For real this time? A young shopkeeper’s heart can only take so much.” Then, as she realizes the ambiguity of her statement, she reaches out to him, physically and verbally: “Not that I want you to go!” Where her hand goes, where she connects to him, is out of the camera’s eye, below the surface – and Giles smiles when he looks down at the unseen link. That connection is sub rosa, literally “beneath the seal,” but when Willow’s spell lifts the seal, their kiss fills the frame.
Of course the seal comes down again when the spell is broken. The next time they see each other is in “Grave,” where they exchange comfort. In the opening scenes, he is there to notice her hair colour change (once he’s prompted) and to open his embrace to her as well as to Buffy. Once Willow has battered him and taken his borrowed magic, however, it’s Anya’s turn to care for him. She stays with him in the wrecked shop – he shouldn’t be alone, she tells Buffy, and indeed he isn’t. She chooses him.
There is her sweet confession and eccentric thank-you to him when she thinks he’s dying, and there is his hand reaching for hers, holding on as the world falls in around them. When Willow’s power falls away, they smile at each other in the ruins. He tells her that Xander saved the world; she says nothing. The last time we see them in Season 6, she’s supporting him as they walk out of what’s left of the Magic Box.
The lacunae between Buffy seasons are always substantial, but the gap between Season Six’s partnership and Season Seven’s lack of involvement is even more striking for Giles and Anya; however, hints of their past relationship still exist. In “Bring on the Night,” the only person to rouse Giles from his cold, disassociated behaviour is Anya, whose accusation that he blew up the Council because his repression got the better of him (an interesting point in itself, since it suggests that she knows the passion beneath his surface) startles him into a heated protest. “Showtime” gives us Giles and Anya investigating together; it begins with a toe-to-toe battle over whether or not she can help him with Beljoxa’s Eye (where again, fighting with her, he’s the closest to his old self that we’ve seen), continues with their teamwork in the world of cheap sub-Doctor Who special effects, and then concludes with a quiet, painful conversation after they fall out of the alternate dimension. Lastly, of course, it’s her idea to tackle him – literally – in the desert in “The Killer in Me,” because it’s she who realises that no one’s hugged him yet. In isolated moments of even this season, comfort and understanding rest next to conflict.
In the Foreground: the Ship
So why do I ship Giles/Anya? Because I love and respect both characters equally, because I see their potential as leading man and leading lady. Because I value stories about the negotiations necessary even in equal partnerships, which I think theirs becomes. Because they can be so deliciously, eccentrically funny and sexy together. Because I believe they complement each other, that in both conflict and comfort they make each other stronger.
As I’ve suggested, canon shows us that Giles and Anya get along well when they share a purpose or a quiet moment. They fight just as well whenever their edges strike sexual, emotional, or intellectual sparks, which happens often. And, of course, together they are often extremely funny. In the balance of her crisply expressed, precise literalism and his irony, they achieve a kind of screwball equilibrium. Their everyday rhythms – his hesitations and retreats, her explosions and advances, but also the reverses in which he is the aggressor, she the one who leans on him – blend like the footwork of great dance partners.
When I was working on this essay, I found this description of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film entry on her: “...her robustness rubbed off on his remoteness so that he seemed warmed by her, just as she gained cool in his draft.” While that analogy to Giles and Anya’s relationship works on first glance, it is only the surface layer. He is already warm, although it’s often hidden; she is already cool, even if the contact sparks off her make her seem otherwise. She opens him up; he steadies her. On a turn, they can exchange who leads.
However, perhaps because canon rather often reduced them to comic relief or caricature, too many fic-writers succumb to the same temptation to present them one-dimensionally. Many weaker fics, including those with Anya/Giles as a side-pairing, treat them only as the weird, loud-mouthed woman and the stuffy, middle-aged Englishman, or as the two domestic types in the background. While the screwball-comedy archetypal match of the dame and the gentleman can serve as a starting point for the ship, and while they do lend themselves to domesticity, there is so much more beneath the surface with Anya and Giles.
Many of their skills and strengths are points of connection. Both of them have a deep well of knowledge, his derived from books as well as experience, hers from over a millennium of human and demon life. They can talk to each other (and argue) on that level. Both of them need purpose. The further one goes in canon, the more focus they share, and the more she, as well as he, wants to help others. Both also are problem-solvers, although their approaches and conclusions often differ.
Most important, it can’t be forgotten that both have an intimate acquaintance with darkness and grief. She had vengeance, he had chaos, and the consequences of their pasts reach into the present day. At the same time, his past won’t frighten her (unlike Jenny), and he is equipped to understand hers and the hard choices she’s made to be human. Both have known losses and made terrible mistakes, the scars of which they still bear. In their failures, as well as their eccentricities and strengths, they can meet as equals. As canon began to show us, they can give each other compassion and understanding.
While I believe that a Giles/Anya ship is functional and could sustain itself over time, of course the two have lived long enough and are different enough to have conflicts built in. To survey some of the problems that could be dealt with:
*Anya’s relationship with Xander (the nature of which viewers, writers, and readers may see quite differently) is a factor that must be acknowledged. Jenny’s death also is a wound that still makes Giles ache in canon. Their pasts must be respected.
*The Scoobies’ reaction to an Anya/Giles romance isn’t likely to be initially positive. This is further complicated by Giles’s special (and, in Season Seven, troubled) connection with Buffy, which likely would cause additional turmoil outside and within Giles and Anya’s relationship. I’ve suggested that they’re outsiders in Sunnydale, but that exclusion can extend to the Core Three (as Giles says in “Chosen,” he feels as if he’s invisible to them, while Anya has always been a Scooby on sufferance); a Giles/Anya partnership could be divisive in the extreme.
*Age presents several problems. Anya’s true age brings with it her vengeance history and how the two of them deal with it. The difference between Giles’s age and that of Anya’s current body brings up not only real-world questions of health and dying, but also the way outsiders would view what seems to be such an inequal match. (To be summed up, as Jane Espenson at Writercon reported Joss’s verdict, as “it’s icky.”)
*It’s a given they’ll argue; it’s a founding element of their relationship, inescapable with two such strong personalities. While much of their passion can be expended in sex, and while they’ve shown in canon they can negotiate their way out of conflict, their sharp edges will still always strike sparks. She won’t allow him to hide behind his reserve; he’ll be irritated by her aggression and respond in kind. (However, canon suggests that when she hits his innermost sensitivities, she’ll respect them and let him work out those emotional tangles in his own time.) Furthermore, in a crisis he will see the larger patterns, the philosophical or ethical concerns behind their actions, while she will focus on the practicalities and immediate consequences of their job – these are complementary strengths, but they introduce points of disagreement as well.
Although my favourite male character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always Giles, and within a few episodes of Season Four Anya became my favourite female character, I’ve only been actively shipping Giles/Anya since “Bargaining, Part One.” As I’ve no doubt made ham-fistedly clear in this essay, I respond to partnership stories, to power-negotiation between equals, and I bring to the discussion a longstanding interest in comic couples from Beatrice and Benedick on.
Even though I see the two of them in that tradition, Giles and Anya are so much more than a great romantic-comedy team. I wrote fic centring on them for two years, and the further I explored the pairing, the richer and deeper it became, the more there was to discover: What does it mean to choose to be human? How does a person start over, long after he thought his chances were gone? What gives a relationship its purpose and shape, day after day?
As I was working on this essay, an online friend pointed me to Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “Conversations with Jeanne,” which contains two lines that capture Giles and Anya for me: Some are called, others manage as well as they can./ I accept it, what has befallen me is just. Finally, I think, this pairing gives me characters who together try, fail, and try again. They accept where they are. They manage as well as they can.
How can I describe what that acceptance and survival might look like in their own stories? It’s his involuntary laughter when she brightly, tactlessly insults a pompous authority figure he despises. It’s how she brushes her hand against his when she walks by him buried in research, how he catches her without looking, and how their fingers link, anchoring him in the now while he reads about the past. It’s a hot, awkward shag in the midst of herbs and magic. It’s the glass that shatters when she throws it at him in the heat of a fight, the second glass he sends after the first when his temper breaks, and the way they silently sweep up the wreckage together afterward, sharing the broom. It’s his quiet pride when she pulls off a business coup. It’s her nagging at him to take better care of himself, then doing it herself with back-rubs and kisses and the medicine she makes him take. It’s their mirrored looks of disbelief at the stupidity of others. It’s the argument that starts over a small question of accounting and ranges over a variety of demon-history questions before it goes supernova; it lasts thirty-six hours, and he’ll sleep on the couch until she tiptoes in at five a.m. and apologizes with a blow job. It’s the way they take turns being the strong one until the latest world-ending crisis is past. It’s the winter nights when she curls in his lap, each other’s heartbeats drowning out the sounds of vengeance and chaos and loss that scream in the wind outside.
This would be Giles and Anya in deep focus on the big screen, made of shadows and light.
Some Fic to Start With
Not much fic out there focuses on Giles/Anya; although they show up in the margins of some Spike/Buffy fic ‘verses, or in lovely vignettes in portmanteau stories like Christina K’s ”Five Ways the World Won’t End (And One Way It Could)”, it’s rare to find them the centre of the story. I’m seeing some new writers come along at last, but for now, I’ll select some old faithfuls where Giles and Anya fill the screen.
Before “Selfless” Jossed everyone, a couple of fics that created fascinating Anya-background: ”All Your Tomorrows,” by Jennifer-Oksana; ”One Door Closed to Shadow,” by Lilith Morgana.
Post-season-six stories are a Golden Opportunity for Giles/Anya shippers, and here are two quite different fics, one Anya-POV and one Giles-POV, that explore the moments right after “Grave”: ”So Many Things to Tell,” by Ozfan; ”Red Flag Danger,” by Alex Dollard. A lovely short fic, set in an unspecified post-season-six ‘verse, is ”Paper Moon” by Kate Higgins.
Even season seven has its tales. ”X Miles to the Rest Stop” by Princess Twilite is a darker-edged how-it-might-begin fic, set late in the season; in contrast, Head Rush’s “Power” provides an early-season-seven adventure (positing that Giles and Anya became involved after “Grave”), and my ”Profit and Lace” is a romantic comedy set after “Showtime.” (If you’re very brave and/or have no objections to long, plotty stories, you can continue from “Profit and Lace” into the quite AU, vaguely post-“Chosen” series ”Investigations and Acquisitions”.)
There are actually post-“Chosen” Giles/Anya stories as well. For a vignette, try ”Way Beyond the Pale,” by Jennifer-Oksana; for a longer, darker treatment, there’s my ”Cross Road Blues”.