Email: mizzmarvell [at] yahoo [dot] com
Fandom: Baby-Sitters Club (BSC)
Spoilers: A few throughout the entire series, but they're mostly minor.
Notes: Thanks to marcyleecorgan, leah1878, yankeedog, and wickedwonder1 for donating their thoughts on the 'ship. Also, many thank yous again to marcyleecorgan for the beta.
The venerable Baby-Sitters Club book series, starting in 1986 and ending in 2000, with roughly one book appearing every month, follows approximately one year (don't bother trying to figure out how that works) in the lives of several baby-sitters, all either thirteen or eleven years of age. With adventures largely centered around their baby-sitting, they grow, change, have their falling outs, but (for the most part), anyway, manage to remain 'the best friends you'll ever have.' Just like it says on the back of all those books. How convenient.
Despite a pronounced focus on Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne, Dawn, Abby, Mallory, Jessi, and occasionally Shannon and Logan (really, don't ask), over the years a colorful cast of secondary characters was created, consisting of friends, classmates, enemies, baby-sitting charges, parents, and, most importantly for this essay, siblings.
Yes, believe it or not, there is a BSC fandom, consisting mostly of young adult women who read the BSC series during its heyday in the 1990s. The volume of fic is relatively small; there are no archival sites, like you commonly find with other fandoms, but it's growing steadily. The favored story set-up appears to be, "What the BSC members are doing in _ years," aka the Reunion Fic, with het pairings that often involve canon couples (Mary Anne/Logan, Stacey/Sam). As one might guess from the fact that the largest compendium of BSC fic can be found at Fanfiction.Net, quality varies widely.
Considering that the BSC series chronicles the close friendship of eight attractive girls, it shouldn't be surprising that femmeslash popped up fairly quickly in this fandom. Generally concentrating on relationships between the core club members, it tends to be of very high quality, and there's a fairly decent number of fics out there.
But what was there in the BSC fandom to offer the fans of plain old male/male slash? Nothing, and I mean that almost literally; until Byron/Jeff, I had seen exactly one BSC fic with a slash pairing therein, consisting of Logan/Bart, and Logan/Byron existed within the context of the babysit roleplaying game. The end.
When I first became active in the fandom in 2003 through babysit, this situation was somewhat frustrating to me, a growing slash enthusiast. With so few strong male characters of a similar age, it was difficult to even come with a plausible slash pairing, let alone one that would flow naturally and be of any interest to anyone. After a while, the answer became obvious: slash the innocent children.
Jeff Schafer is a California boy, born and bred, with white-blonde hair, blue eyes, and a love for health food and the beach. Stereotypes aside, he loves his life, but when he is nine years old, his parents divorce and his mother uproots him and his older sister, Dawn, to go live in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, where she grew up. Dawn quickly finds a place with the newly-formed Baby-Sitters Club, but Jeff's transition does not go smoothly; he desperately wants to return to California and his father, and following increasingly aggressive behavior at school, does go back in book 15, Little Miss Stoneybrook...and Dawn. As yankeedog points out, "He shows amazing guts by confronting his mom and demanding to be sent back to California; Jeff is the trailblazer and Dawn [who also returns to California near the end of the series]has it much easier."
His appearances throughout the mainstream BSC series are thereafter almost entirely regulated to his visits to Stoneybrook, or Dawn's trips to Palo City, California, and he remains a steady ten years old. During this eventful year, he not only sees both parents remarry, but also gains two sisters - stepsister Mary Anne, also a BSC member, and baby half-sister Gracie.
Dawn once called Jeff "a kid who knows how to get attention," and this is a pretty accurate description; he's not exactly outgoing, but rather has a personality that commands attention. He has a good sense of humor, usually leaning toward sarcasm, beyond that of a normal ten-year-old, and can be something of a mouthy little brat a lot of the time. Generally, he expresses a low opinion for other people (though, as we usually find him thinking about his sister and her friends, perhaps this is an unfair judgment), and has a quick temper that is exasperated by the fact that he tends to hold a grudge.
There is another side to Jeff, however. In one of the most ridiculous BSC books (and believe me, they can get pretty outrageous), Super Special #4, The Baby-Sitters' Island Adventure, he, along with Claudia, Dawn, and three other kids, get stranded on a deserted island off the coast of Connecticut. Seriously. Possibly the one redeeming factor of the whole scenario is that it demonstrates Jeff's positive aspects: he's really a more able helper in the crisis than his own sister and certainly the other children, assisting with various rescue schemes, entertaining the kids, and even fishing for breakfast. He rarely complains, even about a cut on his foot that becomes infected by the time they're rescued.
When not being annoying or acting noble in the face of crisis, Jeff enjoys playing soccer, compiling his joke book (Jeff's Off-the-Wall, Krazy, Explode-Your-Sides Sense of Humor), and listening to the Grateful Dead.
Byron Pike, also nine-years-old at the start of the series, is part of a family that is significant for its often madcap antics, and the fact that there are eight children: Mallory, Adam, Jordan, Byron, Vanessa, Nicky, Margo, and Claire. The older boys are particularly significant because they are identical triplets, which figures largely into Byron's characterization both in canon and fic. He too quickly turns ten, and finds himself the sibling of a BSC member when eleven-year-old Mallory joins the club and somehow manages to get her only slightly younger siblings to be obedient to her on a daily basis. (But hey, this is fiction, so whatever.)
When lumped together with Adam and Jordan, Byron emulates them by acting as a mischievous, boisterous boy, who teases his younger siblings mercilessly and tends to have a gross-out sense of humor. In this light, he is not terribly likable, though the triplets do add a lot of fun to the raucous Pike household. But despite the fact that this characterization runs off and on throughout the entire 131 book BSC series (excluding mysteries, specials, and so forth), Byron is set apart from his brothers early on.
Ann M. Martin, who created the series, but only wrote a fraction of the books, actually gave Byron some individual thought - in book #8, Boy-Crazy Stacey, he is revealed to be quieter and somewhat sensitive and thoughtful. He is teased bitterly by Adam and Jordan because he's afraid to go into the ocean and a haunted house. "Triplets stick together. He's ruining everything," Adam states at one point, demonstrating the importance of being together and alike in their relationship. He is stubborn enough to refuse to go into the water until he's ready, and even then it's on his own terms (he stays by the shore, where he can see where he's stepping).
From then on, when it serves the story, Byron is the Quiet, Sensitive Triplet, and this depiction became predominant toward the end of the series. When his older sister goes to boarding school, he is mature enough to share a room with the somewhat annoying, tag-along little brother, Nicky, despite Adam and Jordan's objections. He also steps pretty seamlessly into the role of Older Brother once Mallory is gone, responsibly helping the younger children with their homework after school every day. Mallory, insecure about her position in the family, claims that he does this in order to be in the biggest and best brother, but we never hear Byron's opinion; what we see is Claire (the youngest Pike) clearly adoring him, and Mallory (who is prone to dramatics) admitting that the other kids love having him for a big brother, too.
Due to his sweet nature, Byron, along with Nicky, is the most popular of the younger Pikes among BSC fans. Chestnut-haired and blue-eyed, he has a fantastic imagination (Super Special #1, Baby-Sitters On Board!, has a prolonged storyline in which he, his three brothers, and a friend find what they believe is a treasure map, and with Byron as leader spend lots of time searching for buried gold), likes to read, and play with Wandering Frog Men action figures. He's in Little League (though he's not as devoted to the game as Adam and Jordan), and loves to eat, a fact which has the potential to be used with great fun in slash fic.
As a pairing
As children, Jeff and the Pike triplets interact a great deal. They are in ice hockey together when Jeff still lives in Stoneybrook, and are in the same grade, at the same school; it is completely plausible that one or more of them were even in the same class, though that's just speculation. After Jeff is regulated to mere visits to Stoneybrook, it is often mentioned that they're out playing together. The Pike boys go with the family to pick up Jeff at the airport a few times, and are even his only guests at the wedding of his mother and Richard Spier. Keeping in line with the idea of the triplets being one unit, he repeatedly calls them JAB at one point.
There are only three books with really significant interaction between Jeff and the Pikes, sadly. In #64, Dawn's Family Feud, Jeff becomes depressed when he thinks they no longer want to be friends anymore, since he likes soccer and they like baseball.
"My friends here found new friends and completely forgot about me."
"That's not true," Mary Anne replied. "The triplets ask about you every time I babysit for them"
"Really?" Jeff's face brightened.
Later, of course, Jeff turns out to be happily mistaken.
"Jeff!' Mary Anne called. "Your friends are here."
"What friends?" Jeff asked, adjusting the baseball cap on his head.
"Us!" Byron, Adam, and Jordan popped their heads inside the doorway. "We came to say goodbye."
Jeff's face lit up with a grin that seemed to stretch from ear to ear.
In #98, Dawn and Too Many Sitters, the four boys attempt to become BITS (Baby-Sitters in Training) in order to make some extra money during the summer. They turn out to be rather irresponsible and flaky with their training, and thankfully quit before the BSC has to fire them. In this context, we see the boys actually interacting as typical, ten-year-old boys, and that they really are good friends, hatching plots and hanging out together.
Yeah, I know, not a whole lot to go on for Byron/Jeff. (Well, in #98, when Byron accidentally farts, he shoots a nervous glance at Jeff rather than anyone else, but who the hell wants to read romantic significance in that?)
The mainstream BSC series ends with Jeff's Connecticut house burning down in a devastating fire; he's in California at the time, but it does prove to be a terrible shock for the whole family. The event served as a jumping off point for the ill-fated BSC Friends Forever series, which attempted to focus on the lives of the original four BSC members (Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne) outside the context of baby-sitting. Bad move; the series is generally regarded as terrible by the fandom as a whole, and only got decent by the later books. Despite this fact, the BSC Friends Forever series gives us what's really the cornerstone to why it's Byron/Jeff rather than Adam or Jordan.
Welcome Home, Mary Anne, #11 in the new series, deals with Jeff coming back to Stoneybrook for the first time since the fire. He has difficulty accepting the new house, which is built from the barn that once stood on their property; this is moody, angry, bratty Jeff again, at his best. He's even sullen when he goes to visit the Pikes.
"What are you guys up to?" I [Mary Anne] asked him.
He shrugged again.
Out of all the Pike boys, only Byron makes a visible attempt to cheer Jeff up.
Byron touched Jeff on the shoulder. "It's your turn on the computer," he said. "I can show you how to get around the evil wizard, if you want."
Adam made a face, then headed out the back door, letting the screen door slam. Jordan and Nicky followed in his tracks, each with his own ice-cream sandwich. Byron watched them go, then looked back at Jeff.
"Go ahead," Jeff told him. "I don't think I want any ice cream anyway."
Jeff loses it shortly afterward, crying and telling Mary Anne how much he misses how things were before the fire.
Just then, I turned to see Byron standing quietly in the doorway. He looked sympathetic..."Hey Jeff," I said. "You know what? I bet your friends would love to help you figure out how to fix up your room so you're happier in it."
"No, they wouldn't," Jeff mumbled.
"Oh, yeah?" Byron asked from the doorway. "Yes, we would. That would be cool!"
Good old Byron. I smiled at him.
Jeff looked up. "Really?" he asked.
"Wait here," said Byron. "I'll get the others." ...Within minutes, everyone was sitting around the dining room table, plotting and planning.
Good old Byron indeed. The rest of the book doesn't single out any Byron/Jeff moments in particular, but for me at least, these little moments really set up all we need for any future relationship. They are all friends, but Byron is the one who really tries. The fact that Byron hesitates before following Adam and Jordan is only a split second of action, but it's so significant when you consider them as a unit, a single force, all for one and one for all. Byron chooses Jeff over the Triplets for that moment. He really cares.
And Jeff responds.
Like pairings in the Harry Potter fandom, Jeff and Byron age several years for purposes of fic. At the youngest, they are thirteen and just starting to awaken sexually. At the oldest, they are young adults, living together in a committed relationship. For the most part, they tend to be about sixteen in fic, ripe with emotional and hormonal confusion.
Byron is by far the favored of the two boys, usually being narrator or focus of the story. In keeping with his canon characterization as being sensitive, he is generally the one to realize his feelings first, brooding over them; there are many funny moments where he is rather neurotic about the entire situation, being clumsy and tongue-tied in Jeff's presence. He also exudes a great deal of worry over the situation, particularly over Jeff's and his brother's reaction to his feelings.
Jeff, meanwhile, is depicted at the more physical of the two. Whereas Byron is the first to realize his feelings, Jeff is almost always the first to act on them. Being the more impulsive of the two, this is certainly in keeping with his character. Beyond that, his fic characterization is more varied than Byron's - he can be entirely clueless about the depth of Byron's emotions, coy, as equally worried as Byron, and so forth. He's usually more confident than Byron (but then, who isn't?).
As in the canon BSC series, stories often take place during Jeff's visits to Stoneybrook during the summer. Fanon quickly pinpointed Jeff and Byron as becoming 'best friends' at some point, though there is still a great deal of interaction with Adam and Jordan, as well as with like-aged former BSC clients.
Why does the pairing work?
But why these two, in this fandom? If one really wanted to, Logan/Alan or some other pairing could probably be culled from the murky depths of subtext, and recently Nicky Pike has found some footing in slash, being paired with his friend, Matt Braddock (with Byron/Jeff usually in the background as a secondary pairing). But what makes Byron/Jeff far and away the most common BSC m/m slash pairing?
Byron/Jeff works on several levels. At its base, you have opposite personalities and their tendency to attract one another, the awkwardness and confusion of friends becoming attracted to each other and falling in love, and the simple joy that is found by watching teenage boys try to figure themselves out. They're also just so darn likable - these two are each gems in their own way. How can one not like soft-spoken Byron, or bright, funny Jeff?
It is also significant that Jeff and Byron appear more in the books more often than many of the male characters; they are even members of that exclusive group of non-BSC members who are given chapters of first-person narration in the Super Specials, Byron in Baby-Sitters On Board! and Jeff in #12, Here Come the Bridesmaids! and #14, BSC in the USA. Whereas other boys in the series have very little character (and what is there is usually pretty flat), these two have well-rounded personalities, with depth. We know their voices when others cannot speak for themselves.
From there, we can treat Byron and Jeff as individuals and, keeping with the canonically unfulfilled goal of keeping the BSC members real, treat them realistically. We find no random, spontaneous sex in Byron/Jeff fic. In fact, it's rather the opposite - there is an at times excruciating amount of pre-slash, carefully working up to realizations and physical encounters. It can be killer to wait through a fic to get to 'the good stuff' sometimes, but finding the innuendo and detail is a joy, and when true slash does happen, the wait makes it all the better, and very real.
There is also, in a way, the same allure that makes many people in the fandom write BSC Reunion fics. As marcyleecorgan states, "We get to write their lives for them, especially since we are aging them five years or so. I like not knowing how the story ends and being able to make up my own ideas about it."
Fandom also plays a part. marcyleecorgan goes on to say, "The fandom seems to work really well together. That's something that can make or break a ship really fast. We all seem to get along so fantastically."
wickedwonder1 probably sums up the pairing best: "I'm a B/J 'shipper because it works. I mean, two boys that we know (their families, things about them) but at the same time, we don't. Their possibilities are endless. They are the BSC's Little Black Dress."
The BSC fandom is a growing one, and its slash fic is growing right along with it. At the moment, Byron/Jeff is the only prominent m/m pairing, and even then it's Rareslash; all other slash pairings are offshoots of it.
And why not? This pairing gives us everything. You want angst? Byron/Jeff's got angst. Fluff? That too. Sweaty, hormonal boys making out? Oh, hell yes.
After all, there's a reason we call it B/J. It's that good.
babysittersclub - This is a good community for everything BSC-related. There's a lot of discussion and activity, but beware of subjects getting dealt with over and over. ("Who is your favorite BSC member?" "Here is what I think the BSC will be doing in so many years." Et cetera.)
bsc100 - A BSC drabble community that's been a little slow getting started, but there's some good stuff there, including some slash, and at least one Byron/Jeff. The Pike challenge was particularly fun.
bscslashfic - Just about all the B/J ever written can be found here. This community is extremely well organized; just click the Memories section to find everything.
babysit - The first online BSC RPG, which was very first place that gay!Byron was introduced. There, he's currently paired with former baby-sitter Logan Bruno (scandal!), but Jeff is also a character, and they're friends.
a_second_later - A second generation BSC RPG that's only just starting; in fact, it hasn't started yet. But keep watching - Byron and Jeff are already characters that are spoken for.
As I said before, Byron/Jeff is a Rareslash pairing. So, compared to a lot of more prominent couples, there ain't a lot. What there is, however, is quality. Here is a small sampling; if you want more, check out the Memories of bscslashfic.
Blue by mizzmarvel - I feel like a jerk starting off with my own fic, but this really was the first Byron/Jeff. Set during their junior year of high school and from Jeff's POV, this long WIP looks at the boys' evolving friendship.
Flood Tide by mizzmarvel - Another one of mine; I'm sorry. A Byron-focused piece that deals with his main rival for Jeff's affections - California.
Drive Me by marcyleecorgan - The first in a really fun series that, once again, watches Byron and Jeff become more than friends. This series tends to be a little more light-hearted, as is easily apparent in the early installments.
Costumed by marcyleecorgan - Another part of the Drive Me series. It's Halloween. Things are...interesting.
Shouldn't Talk At All by marcyleecorgan - Another in the Drive Me series; the first NC-17 (MA) rated B/J fic. Huzzah!
Completely Oblivious by leah1878 - Jeff comes off as kind of an idiot in this one...which, you know, he is a lot of the time. Really a lot of fun.
Return of the SAs by leah1878 - One of my very favorite B/J fics; it's absolutely hilarious, and really a joy if you're into canon BSC trivia.
He Thinks We Don't Notice by leah1878 - An excellent look at the Pikes' feelings about Jeff and Byron.