The Power of Three:
A Study of the Willow/Buffy/Tara Dynamic
Once in a high-school math class, my teacher described the triangle as the most stable and flexible form of geometry. Whether this is true or not, human beings are a different matter and triangles are seldom stable or flexible. Among people, triangles, especially romantic triangles, can be painful, even destructive.
This doesn't stop writers to create romantic triangles. And among some fan-fiction circles, triangles can evolve into three-person relationships. In the category of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the most popular three-way groupings involves Buffy, Willow and Tara. Not that I can blame any of them, all three of them are charming and sexy women.
Why do writers seem drawn to these three as a match? Besides the obvious sexual images of two blonds and a redhead ravishing each other, there's a genuine friendship between these three that such a relationship can explore.
The Buffy/Willow/Tara ship is in some ways an extension of the Buffy/Willow; Tara's presence in the show is seen by some B/W shippers as an obstacle to Buffy and Willow being happy, but Tara is too nice to do anything nasty to (unless you're Marti Noxon. Joke). So some writers choose to work their way around the obstacle by inviting Tara into the ship.
In some ways, Willow's relationship with Tara mirrors Buffy's relationship with Willow. When Buffy first met Willow, she was shy and unsure of herself, in her power as a woman and as a person. Buffy's friendship with Willow helped the shy young hacker break out of her shell. Willow, in turn, showed the same love and support for Tara, when they first met at the campus wiccan meeting, and Willow realized that she was more than one of the wanna-blessed-bes. And although Buffy was initially wigged to learn that Willow had given her heart to another woman, when it came to crunch time Buffy was as supportive of Tara as she had been of Willow. When Tara's family tried to reclaim her, Buffy stood in their way, declaring that she and her friends were Tara's true family.
So why would a mutually committed relationship between these three women be so hard to envision? They compliment each other greatly; Buffy with her strength and passion, Willow with her intelligence, Tara with her control and her calming demeanor.
The easiest method of writing this relationship is to simply have Willow and Tara try to include Buffy in their lives once they're established as a couple. Willow feels as though she's neglecting her best friend, and invites Buffy over for a girls' night or something, just the three of them. Dirty imaginations take it from there. Or Willow and Tara, usually after a passionate session of lovemaking, end up revealing that they both have fantasies about Buffy, and decide to do something about making fantasy into reality.
Since three-person relationships are not generally the norm in society, stories that center on the three girls often rely on an outside force to bring them together. Either a miscast spell or a prophecy acts as the catalyst for the three discovering the depths of their emotions for each other. Oddly, the majority of B/W/T stories seem to have the three girls developing a telepathic, or at least empathic, bond together. My own "The Third Power" and Hunter Ash's "Red Moon Rising" series use this theme; once their minds are linked, their hearts (and inevitably bodies) will follow. In other stories, a prophecy involving three women of power joining their hearts to create something even greater than themselves is often the means of bringing Buffy, Willow and Tara together. Sam Shadowmage's "Triad" is a prime example of prophecy in action.
Another advantage in this unusual grouping is that it allows other characteristics in the three players to develop. This is especially true for Tara, whose character was never allowed to fully develop on the show (and judging from the last eps in Season Six, she won't get the chance). In The Bear's "Please" series, for example, Tara finds strength she didn't know she had, as she becomes the dominant figure in the sensual games she plays with Buffy and Willow. Hunter Ash's stories often have her as the calming influence or the voice of reason in Buffy's life.
The amazing thing is that most B/W/T stories I've read on various lists and sites aren't in the realm of PWP (Porn Without Plot, or Plot? What Plot?). While there is a great deal of sensuality in some of them, and in some cases a bit of kink, most that I have found provide character development and strong plotlines as well. While the odds of Joss even trying to get away with such a relationship on the show are about the same as the odds of my winning the local lottery (especially considering that I don't buy lottery tickets), fanfiction writers aren't as limited in their options. The sky's the limit, and often only a limit to be surpassed. Using different situations and relationships to study characters and see what makes them tick are one of the hallmarks of fanfiction. And the dynamic between the Slayer and the two Witches is one that is certainly worth exploring.