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Welcome to Read This Fanfiction, a deep dive into the world of fic: its history, its future, and all its splendors. In the world of fanfiction there are tropes — common themes and storylines that writers and readers flock to, be it out of interest or a desire to scratch a specific itch. From hurt/comfort to University AU, these tropes are popular for a reason. But where do they come from, and what about them resonates so deeply? This month, as part of our Origins of Fanfiction series, SYFY WIRE explores the origins of the “there’s only one bed” trope.
Two characters. One bed. Finally, these two will admit their feelings for one another when forced to be in close proximity. Or rather, that’s what readers of the sharing a bed trope brand of fanfiction often hope for. With over 28,000 works on Archive of Our Own, sharing a bed is arguably a niche trope in the grand scheme of fanfiction subsets. However, it is one you’ll find across a wide scope of fandoms and even in more mainstream entertainment.
Often referred to as “forced proximity” in romance novels, it can be summarized as two characters together in a situation they cannot escape. This ranges from getting stuck in an elevator a la Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye to being trapped in a tower with a murdering princess in Ariana by Ash Dylan. It’s all about being unable to leave, and whatever comes of that. Usually a romance.
What makes it a specific fanfiction trope, though, is the particular inclusion of one bed. It’s rarely anything else, save for a bedroll for fantasy settings or something genre-specific. It’s a favorite trope of Erica Massey, a lecturer in English and Communications at Western Colorado University who teaches a range of courses, including comics and media studies. She’s also been active in fandom for most of her life. To her, a one-bed fic needs to have two factors: emotional and physical intimacy, in whatever form they take.
“There needs to be an impetus behind [the trope]: the characters could take turns or sleep on the floor, but they choose not to, for whatever reason,” Massey tells SYFY WIRE. “There needs to be a degree of hesitance or fear — the characters are concerned they won’t be able to hide their feelings with that level of proximity, or, conversely, the characters are enemies and they don’t trust one another.”
It’s that close proximity that creates drama and makes the one-bed trope such a great plot device in fanfiction. That said, romance novels and more general media do make use of the one-bed trope themselves, examples being One Bed for Christmas by Jackie Lau and even Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne sharing a bed in 2006’s Superman/Batman Annual #1, the issue that launched a thousand slash fics of Batman and Superman.
However, only one fic was first.
Who shared a bed first? Kirk or Han?
Given the scope of forced proximity, finding an origin for the trope is nigh impossible, but what can be traced are some of the first popular fanfictions that used the trope. It should come as little surprise that it comes down to Star Wars vs. Star Trek.
So who did it first?
The answer would be “Bunkies.” Written by L.A. Adolf in the zine Against the Sith #4 in 1979, “Bunkies” saw Luke Skywalker and Han Solo (sorry, Trekkies) sharing a bed when no double rooms were available. This "gen fic," meaning it does not contain any romantic or sexual elements, sees the two Rebels killing some time on a backwater planet before making contact with an agent.
“Han and Luke seemed likely to have different sleeping styles, so putting them into the situation also seemed a winner,” Adolf tells SYFY WIRE, indicating the inherent humor of the situation.
There are some tell-tale bullet points to “Bunkies” that are frequent in other one-bed fics. For starters, the two aren’t so pleased with having to share a bed. Luke outright says it: “It’s bad enough I have to sleep with you. I’m not going to sleep with a fully energized blaster as well.” Han is also intoxicated, which offers up its fair share of fumbling.
But in “Bunkies,” it’s meant for laughs, with a grumpy and drunk Han forced to share a rock-hard bed with a far too talkative Luke. Talking to pass the time and diminish the awkwardness of the situation is another frequently used tactic in writing one-bed fics, as is one participant taking over much of the bed. In this case, the bed hog is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Luke.
“The idea of sharing a bed platonically seemed to have some comedic potential. Back in the day, fanfiction tended to be fairly serious, and I tend to be an iconoclast at heart, so I thought to have some fun with it,” Adolf explains. Indeed, many of the reactions to the story commented on its humor, though Adolf says that it wasn't particularly popular at the time. However, she had no idea that the short story would become a hallmark of the one-bed trope.
“Anyone who has shared covers with someone has inevitably run into the cover/bed hog at some point, or ended up married to one, so I thought why not go for it?” she says. “Bunkies” was the first work Adolf had published in a fandom sphere, though she would go on to be quite a prolific fanfiction writer, with multiple FanQ awards to her name, mostly in Star Wars, The Sentinel, and the Ritchieverse Sherlock Holmes fandoms.
It would take Star Trek a few more years to produce its version of “Bunkies,” though admittedly it is not a gen fic. The Naked Times was a Kirk/Spock story anthology slash zine that ran for 32 issues, the final issue being published in 1994.
“Soundings” by David Alexander appeared in The Naked Times issue #15 in 1987, detailing the captain and Vulcan finally realizing their feelings for one another when they are forced to share a bed while visiting a lesbian couple at a research station. It’s during that visit that Spock overhears the couple having sex, which, in turn, leads the two of them to examine their own feelings, spurred on by the activities on the other side of the wall. (You can read an excerpt here.)
It should come as no surprise that Kirk/Spock slash is a founding father of this trope. The Star Trek fandom created modern fandom as we know it today, with the popularization of zines and increased accessibility between fans thanks to comic conventions beginning. Fanfiction became an increasingly popular way to express the nuances of the Kirk and Spock relationship, and with zine circulation so prominent, it bloomed entirely new genres of fan writing.
“In terms of fic, broadly, the show also opened the door for all sorts of AUs and tropes purely because of its premise. When you’re traveling through space, visiting previously uncharted planets, the opportunities for world-building and trope-insertion are endless,” Massey explains.
Characters giving in to sexual tension in one-bed trope fanfictions is very common. One could even call it a cliché, but there are reasons clichés exist: They’re popular and familiar.
Why only one bed?
While the tag on Archive of Our Own isn’t as succinct as others, the associated tags do bring to light the popularity and "gotcha" mentality that the trope has. Tags such as “[gasp] and there was only one bed!” and “oh my god and there was only one bed” show that while it is a cliché and the surprise of there only being a single bed is typically completely expected, it is still an enjoyable trope.
“Fandom makes the trope. The desire people have to use the same ideas over and over again to create similar results is fascinating,” Massey explains. “Many people enjoy fanworks because of their predictability.”
The ability to check tags and summaries before digging in allows readers to prepare themselves for what is to come, as well as seek out stories with specific formulas depending on what they're looking for. Massey believes the popularity of the one-bed trope illustrates the innate desire for predictability and comfort in fanfiction narratives.
Not to mention that everything is heightened in the one-bed scenario. Even if the characters sleep back-to-back, trying to ignore the situation as much as they can, they will always hear the other person breathing — or perhaps they’ll smell their shampoo or feel every time they shift on their pillow. Little things become much larger when in close proximity; add in unrequited or repressed feelings, and every bit of tension is magnified.
“Sleeping in the presence of another person gives them permission to view you at your most vulnerable,” Massey explains. “There’s a level of trust there, or distrust, that writers love to explore —especially if the characters are wary of that inherent vulnerability, or if the characters are not aware that their affection is reciprocated.”
It’s what makes these scenes so delicious and what has readers, and writers, coming back for more.
Given that it is a fairly common situation people may find themselves in — how many times have you grumpily shared a bed with a sibling or stolen blankets from a friend? — Adolf thinks the one-bed trope is easy to access in memory, giving it fertile grounds to explore in fictional settings.
“You can learn a lot about others by their sleeping behavior,” she says. "You can explore how different personalities might express themselves in that situation.”
In romantic situations, it can also be because of the real-life catharsis associated with declaring feelings for another. How often has someone faltered or hesitated in declaring their feelings or missed the perfect opportunity? The act of having a character’s hand forced in these one-bed scenarios can help those struggling with their own feelings for another. Or it can just be a relief to watch such a scenario play out positively.
It’s something Massey can personally identify with, remembering herself as a closeted queer kid and pining for someone at a sleepover.
“You lay there and you pine and you know you can’t ever say anything to them or it will ruin your friendship and you don’t know what to do with all your feelings and you think you might die of yearning,” Massey says. “It would be nice to love like that again and have those feelings returned, which is a satisfaction that the trope nearly always gives you.”
She explains that reading one-bed fanfiction takes her back to those moments.
While it can and does exist as the sole plot twist in some fanfictions, the one-bed trope often overlaps with a multitude of others — "enemies/friends to lovers" and "fake relationships," mostly. When characters are faced with a single bed in these scenarios, it often acts as a catalyst in their relationship, be it that fateful switch from each other’s villain to each other’s paramour or the reveal that the fake relationship maybe isn’t so fake after all.
Regardless of what comes about, years since its inception, the one-bed trope in fanfiction and forced proximity in the world of romance novels is a trope that is both a juggernaut for relationships and a great plot device for laughs and languid sighs alike.