Her ankle felt funny. Like crunched Styrofoam, disconnected from sensation, incomplete. There was no pain. Shouldn’t there be pain?
Her body feeling like Styrofoam, artificial, disconnected and incomplete. I was trying to evoke the odd feeling of dream perception.
A knock on the door and then Lara peeked around the door’s edge, hands fidgeting. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” Buffy said slowly, feeling disoriented.
Lara sat down on the corner of Buffy’s bed, careful to avoid jarring Buffy’s leg propped up on a stack of pillows. “You feeling any better?” She leaned forward and brushed back the hair that had fallen over Buffy’s forehead.
Lara touching Buffy here is very intimate. Within the dream, it shows how Buffy finally sees Lara’s affection and devotion to her.
“I guess so. My head kinda hurts.” She struggled to sit up, then huffed a breath at her tangled hair. “The worst part about slaying? Hair wear and tear.” She ran her fingers through the gnarled clump, grimacing when her hand caught in the snarl.
“Want me to…?” Lara nodded at the brush sitting on the bedside table.
Shifting her leg off the pillows and moving into a more comfortable position, Buffy scooched forward to let Lara sit behind her. She winced at the first rough pull.
“Sorry! I didn’t…sorry,” Lara exclaimed.
Lara doesn’t want to hurt Buffy and works to carefully ensure that she helps Buffy, easing her pain rather than increasing it. The hair brushing itself is incredibly intimate and caring, something that shows patience and love.
Abandoning the brush, Lara began to untangle Buffy’s hair with her fingers, gently pulling. One hand encircled a handful of blonde hair, bracing it against the scalp to dampen the pressure against the roots. Her hands breezed against the nape of Buffy’s neck and the tips of her ears. Picking up the brush, Lara began to comb the bristles through, sliding smoothly back and down. Back and down. Buffy closed her eyes, relishing the massaging motion. The bristles rasped against her scalp, gliding down to brush the back of her neck and the top of her shoulders. Her head dropped forward, chin bumping her chest. Heart slowing, she breathed in deeply and exhaled.
Buffy nodded, humming. The brush kept dancing, pulling weight off Buffy’s temples and dropping it to the floor. It was perfect. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this relaxed.
Time passed. She might have dozed, she wasn’t sure, but the hand on her shoulder jarred her eyes open. The brush had stopped. Looking over her shoulder, she eyed the brush in Lara’s hand expectantly.
This is such a selfish twitch here. Buffy is this far away from glaring at Lara for stopping. Buffy wants to keep feeling good and she feels Lara needs to give her what she wants. This highlights how Buffy is the taker and Lara the giver in their dynamic.
“Would you do me, too?” Lara asked.
Swallowing, Buffy nodded reluctantly. Lara smiled and crawled to the side, turning to let Buffy switch spots with her. Reaching back, she handed the brush to Buffy. Her hair was blonde and shiny and familiar. Buffy wondered if it even felt the same as her own. Raising her hand tentatively, she scooped a section of hair back over Lara’s shoulder. It was soft and smelled like jasmine. Pretty.
Buffy doesn’t want to return the favor. And important to also note, symbolically, Lara is Buffy. The same, but different.
Grasping the hair firmly, Buffy pulled it up and into the air. The handle of the brush went heavy in her hand, sharpening, darkening, morphing. The bristles flashed silver and melted flat into a jagged edge. Pulling harshly on the hair, her knuckles popped. Sawing back and forth, she watched the blonde strands break away from the scalp. The blade swiped too close to skin and red stained blonde. She’d always loved painting pretty colors. Rouge on her cheeks, bright splashed on her eyelids, lips stained to a bright sheen.
And the dream state is explicitly revealed. The brush transforms into a weapon and Buffy begins to slice away at Lara’s hair. Where Lara brought comfort and devotion, Buffy gives pain. The cutting of hair, the slicing away of Lara’s identity and even her sanity. Originally, I’d meant to take this even further and have Buffy cutting off Lara’s clothes before threatening to stab her with the knife, but the nudity didn’t jive well with the way the dream would morph to other characters.
“No talking,” Buffy said absently, continuing to slice away at the blonde hair.
Callous. She’s silencing Lara, uninterested in her reactions because she has ‘work’ to do. Lara's feelings are the last thing she's concerned with.
Shoulders tensing, Lara shivered. “Buffy, please I don’t-”
Ripping Lara’s head back, she snarled, “I said no talking.”
Vicious anger. She doesn’t have time to be interrupted. Lara doesn't matter.
Hands clutching her sides, Lara hugged herself. Her shoulders shook. “You still don’t trust me, do you? You’re never gonna-”
Lack of trust leads to these consequences. With trust comes empathy and when you refuse them both, how do you remember to consider how others feel? How do you care for their well-being if you can’t be bothered to view them as a person?
“Keep your head straight,” Buffy instructed, holding another large section of hair and sawing the blade across the base. Silken strands fell to the bedspread. A piece of hair floated close to Buffy’s face and she blew at it, sending it flying across the bed and to the floor.
The way Buffy blows at the hair just undercuts how what's happening to Lara, what has been happening to her for so long, never mattered. It never bothered Buffy. Buffy just went on her way, continuing to slice away at Lara. Lara was an extension of Buffy, someone she co-opted to be her and in this way she uses her the way she uses her own fists, only even more negligibly. The dream is a manifestation of her guilt at what she's done and her understanding of how she's hurt Lara.
A muffled sob sent Lara’s shoulders heaving.
“Are you crying?” Buffy shoved Lara down, pushing her over to stare at her tear stained face. “Are you sad now? Oh, poor little girl. Your life is so hard. No one understands you. Wah wah wah. You think you’re the only one who’s lost someone. You don’t get to feel sorry for yourself. Get it?” Buffy waved the blade in Lara’s face. “You don’t get to cry!” She slapped Lara. Hard. “Stop crying! Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Raising the blade up, she held it over Lara’s stomach. “Shut up or I’ll-”
And here remember that Lara is Buffy. Buffy is also the “poor little girl” who “no one understands”. But in later seasons she’s become hard. She doesn’t complain about her duty as much, she “doesn’t get to feel sorry for” herself. She doesn’t “get to cry.”
“You’ll gut me, B?” Faith asked, leaning up to let the tip of the blade graze her midriff. “You really wanna go there again? Yeah, of course you do. You liked it, didn’t you? The way it slid into me like butter. Easy. Having me gone made your life easy. Come on, B. Do it. You know you want to. Do it. Do it.”
And Lara morphs into Faith. Another person who Buffy struggles to trust. Who she’s hurt and threatened through this lack of trust.
“Shut up,” Buffy said, shaking her head. The blade vibrated in her hand.
“This is how you solve your problems, right? When you can’t ignore something, you have to kill it. That’s the only way to fix this. Fix us. Gotta bury it deep. It’ll make everything better, big sis. Come on. Make it quick. You know, I could never tell you before, but…” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “A part of me always wanted it, too.”
This is pretty on the nose. Buffy avoids. A lot. And when she can’t avoid, she sublimates. She kills her demons to exorcise them. But these are violent and indirect ways of coping. Then we have Faith seducing Buffy into action here and besides admitting to wanting “it” from Buffy and wanting to be close, she’s also vocalizing her own death wish.
Buffy licked her lips.
“Come on, B, give it to me. Take me there with you.” Faith reached for Buffy’s hand and started pushing the blade against her belly. “We can do it together.”
The sexual feeling here is something that just happens in dreams. Things go weird, intense. Violent penetration. And it’s what Faith had wanted, to “do it together” with Buffy, to be equals and connected and one.
Buffy gasped as she felt the blade penetrate skin. Her spine fired sparks up and down her back. Hands tingling, she shoved the blade in deep.
“That…wow, I wasn’t ready for that,” Willow said, staring at the Scythe’s sticking out of her chest. “You think you’re ready, you know? You wait over two hundred years for this moment and then when it happens…” Tears pooled, distorting the black of her eyes. “It hurts, Buffy. It really hurts.”
First, the imagery is calling back to this moment in the comics:
“I’m sorry. You wouldn’t let me go. I had to…Oh, god,” Buffy cried, pulling the Scythe out of Willow’s chest. “I didn’t want to hurt you.” She pressed a hand down on the bloody, gaping hole in Willow’s chest. “Will? Willow? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you.” A stake appeared in her hand, the pointed end pressing down against Spike’s chest. She tried to pull away, but her hand refused to move. “Please, I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispered.
First, Willow wouldn’t “let [Buffy] go” by her in order to get to the portal and return to the past. But also Willow just “keeps coming” and won’t let go of Buffy and let her be alone. She couldn’t let go after Buffy died. Sometimes it’s a good thing that Willow cares so much. Sometimes not. It’s complicated. And Buffy’s guilt at hurting Willow is still haunting her. As is her distrust and fear that Willow will succumb to her magic again and go dark. Trust issues.
Spike ran a finger along the back of her clenched fist, looking up at her with gentle understanding. “Then don’t.”
And now it’s Spike who Buffy dreamed of killing before. Who she has killed before. Who she struggled to trust in the past but had finally reached this stage where the trust is implicit.
She focused all of her being into lifting her hand. Her arm shook, but her hand kept inching down, pressing the hard point into Spike’s heart. “I’m sorry,” she gasped as the stake plunged, turning flesh into ash.
But it doesn’t matter that she can empathize, that she loves him, that she trusts him. It’s already too late. She fears she's doomed to murder those closest to her, whether she cares or not.
The progression of dream avatars corresponds with empathy and trust growing with each victim that Buffy threatens in her dreams. She goes from callous rage at Lara, to reluctant and resentful anger at Faith, to grief-stricken regret at having to kill Willow, to horror at unwillingly staking Spike despite fighting to not hurt him.
Then outside the dream, the chapter revolves around Buffy’s inability to trust herself. She can’t face Lara, she’s silent while everyone is dealing with Simone. This is the sort of event where Buffy would normally take charge. Yet she runs away from them, out into the dark by the lake, wanting to submerge, to hide.
And who finds her in this darkness? Who always finds her? Her vampires. The ones in the dark show her how to find her way back into the light. Their implicit trust in her is all guiding her back to trusting herself. Angel’s shock at Buffy robbing a bank doesn’t shake him; he still believes she’ll do the right thing in the end. He has faith in her. Spike doesn’t even know what’s bothering her, but he doesn't need the details because he knows her. His faith in her is just as strong.
Trusting others and trusting yourself go hand in hand. Affection and love are all based on trust. To open yourself, to be vulnerable, requires the greatest trust.