Our Lives Are Different Than Other People's
An Essay On Giles And Oz

by Glossolalia

Originally written for Ship Manifesto

I shouldn't even be doing this. Kate Bolin once wrote, on just this topic: You can't force yourself to like Giles/Oz. It doesn't happen that way. Either you're automatically going "Oh. Yes. Please," or you're not. You can't leap in expecting to learn to love it, and you can't write it without loving it.

I should take up a brush pen or strum an unplugged electric guitar or write several haiku rather than an essay, and certainly not a manifesto.

This is a ship about subtext and subtlety, extrapolation and exploration, sounds and gazes.

There's no declaiming here, and while there's a hell of a lot of pain, there's very little noise. There's the Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo, hamachi and jasmine tea, heavy iron cages and heavier wooden bookshelves, vinyl albums and beat-up vans.

There's just Giles and Oz and what might be.

Giles and Oz are the quiet ones, frequently found alone in the dark playing their guitars. They're both thoughtful and capable of deep, sustained emotion, but neither is very flashy or dramatic when it comes to such emotion. While it's possible to argue that the bulk of their canon identities derives from the women in their lives — Buffy for Giles, and Willow for Oz — the characters also stand quite well on their own as steady, stoical souls who might just be a little too lonely for their own good.

As a pairing, the appeal comes in the study of their contrasts — young/older, autodidact/highly educated, loosely unconventional/tradition-bound, notoriously silent/articulately, if stammeringly, voluble, werewolf/Watcher — as well as in the meeting of their similarities: music, intelligence, loyalty, and a taste for the periphery and for escape. The ship's not really for those who want a lot of high drama and mega-angst in their fic, because Giles and Oz are going to persist, work out problis, and never waste their time gnashing their teeth and rending their garments. Think of Giles, fingers splinted, at the end of "Becoming, Part 2"; he's just been tortured for hours by Angelus, yet there he is, back at work; Oz's lowest moment, when held captive by the Initiative in "New Moon Rising", is simply a silent, naked huddle in the corner of a cage.

Rather than high angst, the pairing provides the sort of quiet you can't find in other Jossverse ships; this is a couple who'd willingly and happily spend an afternoon (or eight pages of a fic) just reading together. This is not to say, of course, that all is cozy domesticity and schmoop, only that as two of the smartest people in Sunnydale, they much prefer books, music, conversation, and excellent sex to anything else.

It's impossible to ignore the age difference between these two, and some fairly decent fic has concentrated solely on the appeal of Oz's youth to Giles. I'd like to believe, however, that the age difference is less a solely aesthetic matter than it is a complicating factor along several dimensions. If one were to write Giles/Oz where it's all about the bare young skin and untouched innocence, it might as well be Willow or Xander in Oz's place. It's more interesting to think about what Oz might be attracted to in Giles' age, what problis the age difference might cause, their respective opinions on the matter, and so on. As a ship, G/O requires a fairly particular take on both characters in order to work, but this is especially true of Giles' characterization. He has to be written not only as the decent and caring man he is onscreen, but his willingness to enter a relationship with a much younger man must be well-developed and thought-out. The Giles of G/O, in its many forms, is in many ways one of the most complex and well-written Gileses in fanfic; those dedicated to writing this ship share, whatever their other differences, an appreciation for Giles as Watcher, as librarian/historian, as former demon-channeler, and as forever wanna-be rockstar. All these facets of Giles are drawn on when writing him with Oz; he's not just Buffy's Watcher, never simply reluctant pater or merely sexy older man. He's all of those, and more. It's easy to reduce the pair to a dirty old man and luscious young thing; it's much more rewarding, though far more difficult, to tease out just what it is in Giles and Oz that draws them together.

That said, however, it's important to note that the tenor of Oz's relationship to Giles differs considerably from those of the rest of the Scoobies. Oz is not a member of the core four, nor does he seem to expect and need the same sort of mentoring and looking after that Xander, Willow, and Buffy all look for from Giles. At the same time, he also doesn't indulge in the sort of routine denigration of Giles ("His diapers were tweed!") that all three, plus Cordy, enjoy. Oz, alone among his peers, maintains his own life and circle of friends, most notably Devon and their band, unconnected with the world of slayers and demons. Even Cordelia's social life shifts (she would say suffers) when she learns about slaying and becomes acquainted with the trio. Despite becoming the most affected of all the kids by the monstrous world, through Jordy's bite, Oz remains apart within the insular world of slayage.

In the midst of the stress over the mayor's impending ascension at graduation, Willow rattles off a number of spells she's found: "If we want to make ferns invisible, or communicate with shrimp, I've got the goods right here." Oz gives one of his serene nods and notes, "Our lives are different than other people's." This observation sums up the Scoobie experience, but even more than that, it is Giles and Oz. Their lives differ from Buffy's, Willow's, Xander's and Cordy's. Giles will always be the odd man out in a group of people a generation younger, a keen and sensitive man whose sexuality is dismissed as "very gross" and whose intelligence is, while respected, often the butt of wisecracks. Oz will always be a werewolf, a marker of difference that's nothing like Buffy's Slayer status or Willow's innate Wicca-ness. Those qualities are strengths, for all the angst they cause Buffy and Willow over years, but Oz has little to offer as a werewolf beyond an enhanced sense of smell — and Angel already has that, plus night-vision.

In a group already divided from the normal world, then, Giles and Oz are different from the rest and the dynamic between them differs as well. As Sheila Perez once said, "Oz doesn't need Giles' approval and Giles doesn't (seem to) feel responsible for Oz". A moment in "The Zeppo" (3x13) displays this dynamic beautifully simply:

The library door opens, and they look up to see Oz come in.
Oz: Hey. [He appears pissed off, though we never learn about what.]
Buffy: Hey.
The clock on the wall behind Giles shows it's 5:20pm.
Giles: (checks his watch) Um, y-you're cutting it a bit close.
Oz: (steps into the cage) Well, you know me.
Giles seems reluctant to take Oz to task, as he would, without thinking, Buffy, Xander or Willow, and Oz offers no explanation. He pulls the cage door shut, and the scene is over.

They are the smartest members of the group; while Willow's original role as brainy hacker gradually morphs into that of powerful witch, Giles is always the brains of the operation, as demonstrated by his role in the "Primeval" spell as "Sophus...Mind". For his part, Oz is "the highest scoring person ever to fail to graduate". Their similarities extend to how they deal with crisis; both attempt to shoulder all of the responsibility on their own. Giles, in "The Dark Age" (2x08), knows that Eyghon is coming after members of his old group one by one; he doesn't tell anyone until Ethan appears. Oz, in "Phases" (2x15), knows that he is a werewolf and sets about chaining himself up. Both he and Giles tackle the threats they pose at home, rather than in the familiar context of the library, site of group probli solving. Oz's resolute self-sufficiency continues in both "Wild at Heart" (4x06) and "New Moon Rising" (4x19); he doesn't tell Willow about Veruca and her presence in his life until she discovers them naked in the cage, and when he returns near the close of the season, he is isolated in the Initiative's facility without recourse to the Scoobies.

Moreover, both Giles and Oz, at different times, leave Sunnydale. Unlike Angel and Cordelia, who also leave but who remain in touch, when Oz and Giles leave, they appear to vanish from contact. Upon his return in "New Moon Rising", Oz finds out that Willow had tried to write him, but had no address; when he leaves at the end of that episode, he is never heard from again. When Giles returns at the end of Season 6, having missed some major events — Buffy's descent into a relationship with Spike, Xander and Anya's abortive wedding, and Willow's turn to the dark side — Buffy has to catch him up. No one called him, just as no one hears from Oz. On a show and in a group structured according to shared secrets, close-knit constructed-family ties and, above all, staying in Sunnydale, Oz and Giles are again different from other people.

The affinity one can sense between Giles and Oz is dramatized most explicitly in "The Wish" (3x09). In the first of the series' canon alternate-universes, Giles and Oz are allied as White Hats, stalwartly resisting the Master's ever-growing power in Sunnydale. Xander and Willow, who in the previous episode, "Lovers' Walk", destroyed the group's status quo when they were caught kissing, appear as the Master's favorite proteges. As Cordelia exclaims, "No way! I wish us into Bizarro Land, and you guys are still together?" The Wishverse isn't quite Bizarro-Land, because it isn't an inversion of the existing order. It is, rather, an extended riff on characters' potential and qualities. Larry, for example, is a White Hat, prefiguring his death in the graduation day melee; Giles is a former Watcher, as he soon will become in "Helpless" (3x12); and vamp!Willow evinces signs of what Willow will become in ensuing seasons, both in terms of her flexible sexuality and her penchant for darkness (Willow murmurs "Bored now" just before flaying Warren, just as her vampire doppelganger did upon meeting Cordy). It is, then, not entirely ridiculous to find evidence for Oz and Giles' similarities in canon within their alliance in the Wishverse.

This ship's appeal is, in the end, difficult to pin down. From my experience, either you get it (whatever it is) or you don't. Either you think that a 45-year-old, highly educated Englishman and an 18-year-old alt-rock SoCal boy have a vibe between them that deserves elaboration and exploration, or you scoff, get squicked, and turn to a superficially "prettier" pairing.

I first became interested in the pairing via a strangely tangled route — I wanted to try to write Oz and I had just read Te's Summer Reading series, which is Giles/Xander and quite good. Yet I was, honestly, slightly disturbed by the prevalence of Giles/Scoobie fic, because so little of it seemed to address the significant power imbalance and other issues that would seem to exist in a relationship that's both intergenerational and overlaid with Giles' paternal/avuncular role. I set about writing Giles/Oz to test whether I could credibly address those issues and/or convince myself that such a relationship was possible. I chose Oz for all of the reasons I've limned here — not that I could name them at that point, but because I had a hunch he would hold Giles' interest. In other words, Oz is the most mature of the Scoobies and has the most in common with Giles; furthermore, he's a more interesting, less overtly and explicitly characterized character than Xander, and he is more peripheral to the core Scoobie dynamic, all of which made him a more attractive challenge to tackle. It helped to discover that some of my favorite Oz-writers, like Dolores Labouchere, Kate Bolin, & Sheila Perez, had written Giles/Oz fic that I found compelling and believable.

Neither fic nor the show alone, then, made me a believer so much as a confluence of suggestive canon, personal interest, and good fic. Book of Daniel was, I thought, supposed to show me that Giles/Scoobie fic couldn't work; instead, I ended up writing a love story that I'm still trying to understand.

There is very little explicit canon subtext for this ship; I've used canon throughout this essay to point out the moments that seem to suggest and spark the affinity between these two. For explicit subtext, just two moments spring to mind. First, there is the long, silent gaze Giles gives a naked, sleeping Oz in the cage before unlocking it in "Beauty and the Beasts", a moment which has inspired roughly 30% of all fic in this ship, that of the naked-caged-Oz and Giles-the-lusty-Watcher subgenre. The other moment is the "Either I'm borrowing all your albums or I'm moving in" exchange in "Harsh Light of Day" (4x03), centering on the Velvet Underground's album "Loaded". This exchange is followed up in the opening scene of "Wild At Heart" (4x06), when Giles shows up unexpectedly at the Bronze. In response to the group's shock and discomfort at his presence, he protests that he is hip to music:

Buffy: Yes, but it's your cutting edge 8-tracks that keep you ahead of the scene.
Oz: Don't scoff, gang. I've seen Giles' collection. He was an animal in his day.
Giles: Thank you.

Here we have the essence of G/O in their group context — Buffy makes fun of Giles' age, Oz quietly respects Giles, and Giles is grateful and formal. That Oz uses the term "animal" for Giles not only as his werewolf stalker Veruca takes the stage, but in the same episode in which he kills Veruca and leaves Sunnydale in order to learn how to control the monster is, at the very least, suggestive. It's not the kind of subtext that's fairly indisputable, like Spike and Xander's "moist and delicious" exchange or Angel and Spike holding hands; instead, it's evocative, redolent, subtle.

G/O shippers will tell you that there's more subtext to be found, and there does seem to be quite a bit of cross-cutting and reaction shots, in addition to physical proximity, between Giles and Oz, especially in s4, but our subtext, like the members of our ship, is peripheral and very quiet. It is composed, again, of a vibe much more than it is of hamhanded, intentionally homoerotic subtext. Shipping these two requires a willingness to explore and riff on affinity, maturity, and melancholy.

For those interested in this pairing, the gilesoz community and Loaded, the archive maintained by Kate Bolin, are necessary and frequent stops. G/O fic is, almost as a rule, exquisitely well-written; this may be due to any number of reasons, but the pairing's marginal status — composed as it is of two characters far less popular on their own than Buffy, Willow, Xander, Angel and Spike, and constituting an intergenerational homosexual couple — seems to mitigate against all that much mediocre- and bad-fic.

That said, several stories suggest themselves as useful introductions to the pairing. They can be divided into three general groups: those set during Oz's tenure on the show (through the end of Season 4); those set after Oz's departure from Sunnydale; and finally those set in the Wishverse.

First, fics set before Oz's final departure from Sunnydale, which capture the possibilities of what Giles and Oz might have meant to each other and done together through the end of Season 3. One can, and should, start with Gonzo Sunset, which begins Hth's "Lux Vivens" trilogy, part of an AU that posits Cordelia's death in "Lovers' Walk". Megan's Run-On, where Giles' Latin and Giles himself beguile Oz equally, is a charming introduction to the pairing. One could then move on to the fics inspired by Oz's library nakedness, a source of endless fascination and appreciation for reasons both obvious and obscure. KindKit's Perseverance explores Oz's presence in the library and Giles' compulsion to watch him; JadeLennox's Stupid in the Sun He Lies is another gorgeous visit to the silent communication and confusion of the two, one naked, one watching; and this untitled piece and this one, both by Mer, extend the naked!caged!Oz-and-lusting!Giles trope to darker ends. Next, one might look at the turning point of their relationship, and of the show in general — that is, when graduation day comes and the school is blown up. Good stories around this theme include Carpe Diem, by Sarah T., in which Oz seizes (graduation) day to talk to Giles; Kate's Sarongs and Memories, wherein Giles attends Oz's graduation party; and Tactile, by Amy, in which Giles, Oz, and Cordy set out for the American Air Guitar Championships and treasure summer's ephemerality.

After Oz drove away from Sunnydale at the end of "New Moon Rising" — and why did he appear at Giles' apartment at the start of that episode, anyway? — he could have gone anywhere in the world. Many fics consider Oz's trajectory, and find him in all sorts of places and a variety of emotional predicaments — as Dolores Labouchere once noted, "People seem to like putting Oz in weird places. And it seems to work." Forgive Us Our Debts and Page 57, Third Row, Second In, both by Dolores himself, offer strikingly different (though equally moving and aesthetically captivating) visions of where Oz might have gotten to in the world and how Giles will find him. Priya's Everybody's Got a Secret, Sonny is a superb example of Giles unexpectedly running into Oz, a trope of which KindKit's Singing and Other Nice Things is another great, though far more hopeful and mellow, example. Space and Time, by Sheila, was written early in the series' run and imagines a later, just as sad and desolate, departure by Oz. Kate Bolin's Baked offers a sweetly domestic Oz who has returned to Giles (and supplied the cut-text for this essay), while her Just Because is a sexy take on their established relationship, one that's not all that far from Sunnydale proper. And, if I may mention my own work, Giles, Oz, and a Bath, by KindKit and me, suggests a tentative reunion between the two in mid-Season 6, when Giles has returned to England, when they are still adjusting to not being in Sunnydale.

Fanfic set in the Wishverse deserves its own category, since the Giles/Oz subtext pervades that episode and the universe's ambience suggests a much darker and more desperate context for any relationship. Stellar examples include Dismantle The Sun by KindKit, which examines at what Giles goes through and how he mourns when Oz doesn't return from the Master's factory; Kate's Life During Wartime, an aching depiction of their relationship between nightly battles, as are Trekker's In Quiet Moments and Megan's Brave New World; Til It Bleeds Daylight, by Sarah T., a heartbreaking look at the start of something when regrets have become more than overwhelming; Branwyn's Boys of Summer (In Their Ruin), an examination of just what kind of good Oz can do with Giles in the terrible new world. Finally and most sadly, Sheila's World Without End is almost an AU of the Wishverse, featuring one of the most frightening vamp!Giles I've read.

There is just one Giles/Oz vid, but it's absolutely lovely — Green Bunny Goddess' "The One I Left Behind", available on the Loaded media page, which centers on their leavetakings from Sunnydale.

I can't force you to like Giles/Oz. Besides, it would violate everything that's wonderful about them to even think I could try. But if any of this has touched something in you, something mellow or pained, loving or lonely, then this might be a pairing you should check out.

They'll wait. They're patient like that.