The Absence Of White
by Harper Masterson

"So that's it, then. You're leaving, just like that?"

Faith wasn't sure how the girl had gotten in and she wasn't sure why she was letting her stay, but there she was and the dark Slayer couldn't do a damn thing about it. Or, maybe, wouldn't do a damn thing about it because even though this was clearly not a time to be hopeful about much of anything, it felt really good to know that somebody cared. She'd left places all her life without anyone giving a damn, and for just this moment she wanted to revel in the knowledge that this time she was leaving behind someone who might, just might, have wished she'd stayed. Not that she wasn't going to destroy that, really, before all was said and done. But, the devastating effects that her future plans might have aside, it was still nice.

"Time for me to be moving on, C." Actually, she probably should have done that a long time ago, before things got so complicated, got so crazy that she couldn't control them and just ended up coasting along blindly, letting herself fall into the same self-destructive trap that had plagued her for so long that she couldn't remember a time when she didn't make bad decisions.

"Running away is more like it," Cordelia said derisively. She didn't appreciate this, didn't appreciate the cold shoulder she was getting and the dead eyes that had greeted her at the door and the knowledge that she was standing there staring at the other girl's back as Faith moved around an apartment that was so clearly not her, throwing clothing and assorted odds and ends into a duffel bag that probably wasn't going to be able to hold much more.

Faith paused for a second at that, her shoulders stiffening in muted outrage as she considered the words. "I'm not running away," she said finally, not able to hide the trace of bitterness in her tone. And so what if she was running away? It wasn't like Sunnydale had much to offer her in the way of happily ever after, was it?

"Right," Cordelia drawled, her disbelief sketched firmly into each drawn out syllable. She wasn't sure why she was there, wasn't sure if it was some last ditch effort to hold together something that she wasn't even sure if she should want in the first place or if it was just some masochistic need to torture herself just one last time before finally letting this thing between them die its natural death.

She wasn't sure how it had all gotten started. They didn't hang out in the same circles... hell, Faith didn't even go to school, so it wasn't as if they bumped into one another on the way to their respective lockers. Sure, she saw her with Xander and his friends on occasion, though really not often because Faith was invited around even less often than she was. And she'd seen her at the Bronze, of course, dancing wildly with Buffy, body seeming to pulse with the music as her arms had flailed above her head with abandon, not a trace of restraint or fear or propriety anywhere to be found. She'd seen her killing off vamps, had watched her taunt and tease the demons, luring them close enough for a death blow that she didn't deliver. Well, didn't deliver immediately, often choosing instead to fight them with the sort of desperate desperation of someone who alternately has nothing to lose and who hopes, secretly, in some hidden dark chamber of their soul, to lose it.

She wasn't sure when they began to talk, really talk, though she could pinpoint with ease the first time it had happened. She'd been walking home alone, an admittedly stupid thing to do, when Faith had appeared out of nowhere, just falling into step alongside her as if they always walked together at night. For a moment she'd simply looked at the other girl askance, taking in the slightly hunched shoulders and the way her fists were thrust deeply into the pockets of her worn leather pants, taking in the air around her slim form that simultaneously said "Don't fuck with me" and yet still made you want to, inexplicably, pull her close and hug her and assure her that everything would be alright like some mother figure that Cordelia was well aware she so was not.

"Ain't too smart being out here by yourself, Queen C," the Slayer had said finally after they had walked for long minutes in silence, each covertly studying the other from under hooded lids. Cordelia was aware of that, well aware of that, but she'd just had a fight with Xander and she hadn't wanted to crawl into his car and listen to his stupid boy noises and excuses, so she, with all of the regality that she could muster, had stormed away, leaving him standing there gaping and sputtering. Of course, pride hadn't seemed quite as important when she realized that the move might just have landed her her very own pine box... well, not a pine box because she'd haunt her parents to their very own graves if they so much as thought about burying her in anything less than a top of the line casket, but that was beside the point.

Faith had left when they'd reached her front door, disappearing into the same inky blackness from which she'd appeared, and Cordelia had shrugged it off as one of those strange things that just seemed to happen on the Hellmouth. Demons arose, apocalypses threatened civilization every few weeks and Faith of no last name dropped in out of nowhere to walk her home.

But, she must have thought that the regal exit thing had worked so well for her before, thus earning a repeat performance, because about a week later she once again found herself storming away from an increasingly cagey Xander, cursing and muttering under her breath. Why she'd ever decided to go out with the likes of him was beyond her. Maybe it was some sort of affliction, some sort of horrible fetish that she'd unwitting acquired after long years of getting off on ridiculing the masses, a blight that would curse her forever.

"I never took you for stupid." And she'd appeared again, once more materializing out of nothingness, this time wearing pants that were tan and tight, made of some type of fabric that would undoubtedly burst into flame if it came within twenty feet of an open fire.

Cordelia had chosen to ignore that, instead looking at the unexpected companionship of the other girl as an opportunity to vent. "Boys are stupid," she'd muttered, a scowl marring her normally even features. Usually she wouldn't have let herself scowl because of the wrinkle-causing potential of the gesture, but tonight she was pissed off and didn't really care.

"Often they are," Faith said, her tone taking on the wizened quality of someone who either had a Ph.D. or lots of practical experience.

"I mean, I've made sacrifices that you wouldn't believe, and for what? For a boyfriend with bad hair, atrocious fashion sense, absolutely no rhythm and an apparent sudden onset of severe ADHD? He spends the entire evening jumping at the slightest noise, and I swear to God, if I had to look at that eye twitch thingie that he gets for just one more second, I would have staked him."

She felt better after the slightly violent outburst, and staking had a lot of appeal to her at the moment. The words, she knew, were insufficient. There wasn't any way that she could explain what was wrong because she didn't quite know what it was herself. All she knew was that something was wrong and she didn't appreciate the gnawing feeling in her gut, the one that was quite often right, telling her that she was being played for a fool.

"So dump him," Faith had offered, shrugging her shoulders as if to suggest that it really wasn't all that difficult of a task to accomplish. And, it probably wasn't, but then Cordelia would be alone and sometimes even an annoying boyfriend was better than no boyfriend at all.

"It would serve him right," she'd muttered, enjoying the idea absent its implications. She could see it now, the hurt in those puppy dog brown eyes, the slouch of his shoulders as he crawled away in disgrace... all, ultimately, good thoughts.

Faith looked at her for a second, watching the emotions flit across her face... pleasure, a near sadistic glee, and then, finally, resignation. "I hear a but."

"Maybe it'd be too much effort to replace him," Cordelia sighed, then stiffened in affront when Faith snorted in amusement.

"Uh-huh. You'll have to forgive the disbelief, Queen C, but I can't imagine that you wouldn't have a line of anxious little girls and boys forming at your door step should Xander be forced to vacate his position."

She'd continued to chuckle quietly, even as Cordelia slowed to a stop, eyes narrowing slightly. "Girls and boys?" she asked, stressing the first of the pair.

A slow, lazy and infernally sexy grin spread across the Slayer's face at that, and when she did speak, her words seemed somehow different, pitched lower in a tone that implied lots of dark promises that Cordelia hadn't really ever considered. "Girls and boys," Faith drawled, taking immense pleasure in the light flush of red the words brought to Cordelia's cheeks. "And, I'd be up at the front of the line."

Cordelia had been extremely relieved to find that she was at her house, because she wasn't sure how, exactly, to respond to that. So, she hadn't, had merely turned and marched up her front steps with the sound of Faith's seductive laughter trailing after her. She tried not to think about it, because something told her that if she thought about it she'd only want to think about it more, but there didn't seem to be a way around it. In the darkness of her bedroom she'd close her eyes and hope for sleep but instead all she'd see would be that face, with its lush dark red lips and dark sloe eyes, and her breath would quicken and her skin would get unaccountably warm and she wouldn't be able to do anything but lay there and think about the possibilities.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, so maybe that was what it was. She didn't see Faith, didn't do more than hear Xander babble on about the other girl's apparently extensive leather wardrobe, until finally the pressure inside her rose to the near explosion level and she decided that she had to see her again, had to know exactly what was going on. Because, it wasn't fair to make a suggestive statement like that and disappear, wasn't fair to let a mind that hadn't ever thought that it might even be remotely inclined to entertain the thoughts it was entertaining alone to ponder the possibilities. So, she did what had always managed to bring the other girl to her before. She went walking.

And, nearly got herself killed. Honestly, she'd made it through two night-time jaunts through Sunnydale with no worries, so she hadn't really figured that the third would be a problem. After all, there was that saying... third time's a charm. Perhaps she should have forgotten the promises of old maxims and stuck to conventional methods of protection like bottles of holy water and crosses and wooden stakes, but she really hadn't expected to find herself in any compromising positions.

That didn't stop the vamp who had decided that she looked just fine for an evening meal, and she'd gotten to know him a bit too up close and personal for her tastes before he was ripped away. She'd looked up to find Faith there, smirking slightly, and she had the grace to blush until the other girl was forced to turn and fight the creature who was clinging rather annoyingly to her back. With the Slayer's attention otherwise occupied, Cordelia had been free to focus on the lithe grace of long muscles and the unrestrained strength of supernaturally powerful limbs.

When the annoying vamp had been disposed of properly, Faith had sauntered back over to where she was standing, that cocky grin once again in place. "Told you, C... nocturnal strolling isn't your best bet."

She'd ignored that, partly because she didn't want to have to get into another discussion on the merits of her chosen method of conveyance on occasion, namely her feet, and partly because Faith was bleeding. It was romantic in a haplessly heroic way that she was fairly certain the other girl wasn't even aware of, but she felt beholden to take care of it nonetheless. After all, Faith had been injured while saving her hide, so it was the least she could do.

"Pretty nasty cut you've got there," was her reply, and Faith reached up indifferently, seeming to be not at all concerned when her fingertips came back smeared red with her blood.

"Ah, its not too bad. Probably'll be gone by tomorrow," she'd said dismissively, but Cordelia had come up with a new and improved plan, and this fit into it nicely.

"Come on, my house is just up the block. Patching you up is the least I can do to thank you for taking care of that little problem for me." For some reason, she'd felt remarkably like a mob boss saying that, and the thought nearly made her laugh. She didn't laugh though, so all Faith knew was that Cordelia had invited her back to the mansion with a big smile on her face, two things that would hopefully only bode well for her.

Cordelia didn't bother with stealth. Her parents were rarely around and when they were, they didn't seem to be too remarkably interested in what she was doing. She undoubtedly could have brought the entire football team home for a celebration party and they wouldn't have blinked an eye, but she was so not into the whole porn queen scene. Besides, it was just a hyperbole designed to cheer her up, the image of Sunnydale's finest replete in their cleats and pads shuffling across her mother's Italian marble flooring a nice image to savor. As it were, her mother would no doubt cringe with horror were she to catch sight of her with Faith, walking cheap fashions model that the girl was, but she was unlikely to ask any questions because questions would indicate interest and her mother certainly wasn't suffering from that.

"Nice digs, C," Faith had muttered, trying to seem nonchalant. In truth she was a bit awed by her surroundings, unable to help it. Cordelia's house looked more like a hotel than it did a home, and it baffled her mind to know that people really lived like that. For some reason she'd consigned places like this to the ephemeral realm of the movies, to fantasies created to lift her out of the dull, dingy and ultimately poverty-stricken reality of her life.

Cordelia had actually been surprised to learn that her bathroom emergency kit yielded gauze and that soft tape that they used to wrap wounds without removing copious amounts of body hair when removed, but then again, she'd been known to pull stranger things out of her cabinets. So, with a damp washcloth in one hand and medical supplies in the other, she'd returned to her bedroom, unable to stop herself from noting the way that Faith seemed so totally and completely out of place there. Among the soft pale pink duvet and the shelves of cheerleading trophies and high school memorabilia, she'd looked distinctly uncomfortable, perched on the edge of the bed as if she were afraid to actually relax.

Cordelia had never really considered herself a girl who possessed too many comforting type skills, but she'd felt the urge to be gentle overwhelm her as she dabbed at the cut marring the other girl's skin. It proved to be long and shallow, nothing overly serious, and the bulky white rectangle of the bandage that she'd fashioned looked obscenely bright against the light tan of Faith's skin. But, she had the girl where she wanted her, at least for the moment, and if things went sour she had a perfectly legitimate excuse for having her there.

"Did you mean what you said the other night?" Subtlety never really had been one of her strong points, but she had the feeling that Faith wasn't much for coy word games herself. Of course, she could have been wrong because some people enjoyed teasing banter and barely veiled innuendoes, but she doubted it.

For some reason, the question seemed to put Faith at ease, and the girl who had been squirming uncomfortably only seconds before had regained a bit of that 'master of my domain' quality that she usually wore so well.

"When I said what?" she'd asked, and Cordelia had frowned. She hated being toyed with, and considered, for a moment, just dropping the whole thing. It would be easier, certainly, and if she did that then she wouldn't have to worry about the what ifs any more because Faith's recalcitrance would go a long way toward making her think that she'd given it a shot.

Faith apparently seemed to realize this because her demeanor changed, shifting from comfortable to slightly predatory, and Cordelia wondered if the other girl was aware of just how loudly her nonverbal communication spoke for her. "Yeah, I meant it. At the very front of the line, C, and if I knew that you wanted me there, there wouldn't be anybody in line behind me."

Cordelia couldn't decide if it was a cheesy come on line or the most tantalizing proposal that she'd ever heard, but there was something, undoubtedly her libido, pushing for it to be the second.

"So I could be another notch on your bedpost?" she'd asked acerbically, unable to help herself, her naturally distrusting nature springing to the fore.

That smirk had reappeared, the look strangely attractive even as it achieved its purpose, namely eliciting her frustration. "Nope, no notching. Until you're ready, that is."

The last was said with a leer, and as much as Cordelia wanted to be affronted, she'd merely found herself smiling.

She wasn't smiling now, not with Faith standing there, her near to overflowing duffel sitting at her feet. All of the shields that she'd cultivated over the years were firmly in place, guarding her from anything and everything, and that included Cordelia.

"Time for me to get going, C." She tried to keep her voice as emotionless as possible, tried to achieve that nonchalant cool that had always seemed to be there at her disposal, but for some reason it was unaccountably hard to squeeze the words past suddenly uncooperative lips.

Cordelia's throat worked rhythmically for a moment, as if she too were having trouble forcing her words out of lips that weren't quite sure they wanted to say them. "I waited for you, you know."

Faith felt her heart leap at the words, though she guessed that she really shouldn't have allowed herself that guilty pleasure. But still, the thought of Cordelia actually hoping that she'd return to the land of the conscious was... was... she couldn't even think of a word to describe what that meant to her.

"I couldn't understand what had happened, what went wrong. Tell me what went wrong, Faith."

The dark Slayer had stolen a soft kiss before they parted that night, surprised that Cordelia had allowed the liberty. They hadn't made any promises or even hinted at anything like a future between them, but she felt good about it. There was curiosity there, and interest, and where those things co-existed, she had a chance. She wasn't sure why she wanted this, because Cordelia Chase was, if anything, just a mass of complications waiting to happen, and she was a fairly complication-free girl, but she did want it. Wanted it badly.

And, she was too intrigued and attracted and lonely enough to latch on to the prospect of having someone who actually liked her back to do anything but hope that it would work out. There wasn't anything in particular that she was looking for, not a relationship, not a quick fuck... well, she certainly wouldn't be adverse to a quick fuck, but it wasn't her main objective. She realized that she'd picked an unlikely target for her potential romantic intentions, but if there was anything that would keep her sane in his God-forsaken town, it was a challenge.

"Nothing went wrong, C. That's just who I am."

Cordelia shook her head gently, disbelief etched into her features. She knew better than that.

She'd found Faith at her motel room, nursing bruised ribs and an aching jaw. They'd had plans that night, nothing big, just dinner at the greasy little diner that Faith seemed to think served the best food on the planet, and when the other girl hadn't shown, Cordelia hadn't known whether to be angry or disappointed or worried. So, deciding that she most definitely wasn't going to put up with this being stood up stuff, she'd jumped in her car and headed over to Faith's room. A little creative jiggling and the door was open, and with one look at the figure on the bed, curled into a stiff ball of hurt, she knew that worried had been the right choice.

"What's wrong," she'd asked, shutting the thin wooden door behind her, once again throwing the room into shadows. She didn't like not being able to see Faith's eyes because she'd learned quickly that the other girl could put on whatever fašade she wanted to wear that day, but her eyes would give her away. Every single emotion, feeling, slight and hurt wrote themselves plainly across the dark expanse, and Cordelia used them as her guide.

"Just go away, C," Faith had sighed, unconsciously curling in on herself a little more. The move elicited a low groan of pain, and Cordelia had quickly shucked her shoes and her jacket, sliding into the bed behind the other girl, wrapping her arms loosely around Faith's torso.

They'd stayed like that for what seemed like forever, and then Faith had suddenly, without warning, started to talk, her voice little more than a rasping whisper in the absolute silence of the room. She told Cordelia about her new watcher, about how the other woman had managed to gain her trust, how she'd made Faith feel like more than just some spare accident of a Slayer. She told Cordelia about the other woman's betrayal, about her fight with Buffy and about how she'd been a fool to ever think that there had been somebody that thought she was good enough, thought she was better even.

And then she'd turned over, near coal black eyes luminous pools in the darkness, and she'd buried her face in Cordelia's shoulder. The other girl probably wouldn't even have known that she was crying had it not been for the scald of tears against her flesh, and a wave of feeling unlike anything she'd ever encountered washed over her. She wrapped her arms around the suddenly seemingly frail Slayer, whispered nonsense words of comfort and showered her dark head with kisses until Faith finally looked up at her, an expression of such keening need etched into her features, and Cordelia hadn't been able to refuse.

She hadn't wanted to refuse at any rate, and as her clothes melted away under surprisingly gentle fingers and hot kisses stole away the last remaining shreds of her sanity, she mused that she just might have gotten into more than she bargained for. Certainly Faith had been, that night, someone that she hadn't expected, with her muted words and sure yet soft touches, and she couldn't help the way she melted inside, couldn't help the way a little part of her was forever stolen from her, to be secreted away by a Faith who would jealousy guard her new possession.

The next morning she'd been so painfully unsure of herself, with nothing but that thin, scratchy cotton sheet and the soft rasp of Faith's breathing to comfort her. She wasn't good at mornings after, which wasn't unsurprising since she'd never actually had one before, and wasn't quite sure of the proper protocol. A large part of her just wanted to scoop up her clothes and get out of there as quickly as possible, but she couldn't do it, couldn't take what had seemed so fragile and delicate and achingly beautiful the night before and turn it into something tawdry.

So, she was lost... lost and confused and utterly alone because she didn't know what to do and she didn't know what it all meant and she didn't know what she even wanted it to mean. In the end, she'd stayed, and when Faith rolled over and flashed her a lazy smile, brushing a light, teasing kiss against her lips, she figured that she'd somehow managed to make the right choice.

It was odd, this thing she shared with Faith that seemed to defy definition. They talked often and she had a sneaking suspicion that she had learned more about the other girl than anyone had ever taken the time to learn before, and she didn't know what to do with that because what they had felt frighteningly like a relationship and what she was feeling felt frighteningly like love.

Only, she didn't know what Faith was feeling because, aside from the pieced together shreds of confidences that Cordelia had been given for safe-keeping, she didn't know enough about Faith to be able to tell and the other girl certainly wasn't saying.

Faith had heard somewhere once, or read or saw or been told, that white was the absence of all color. She'd found that strange because, instinctively, she would have thought of white as the purest of colors when in truth it was no color at all. It was just a blank slate, awaiting something else to come along and make it exist, make it real.

She didn't see white anymore, and had never really realized until it was taken away just how much she would miss it. Everything was red now, or black, from her blood-stained hands to the vacuum in her soul, and she couldn't bring Cordelia into that world with her. The other girl belonged where she was, with the brilliance of nothing still gracing her palette, and Faith was determined to make sure that she stayed there.

She'd scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed, but the blood wouldn't come out. Cordelia had tried to take the shirt away from her, had insisted that it was as clean as it was going to get, had attempted to persuade her to throw it away, but she couldn't. Every time she looked at it she saw the garishly bright splash of red splattered across the front, heard the gurgle of a death rattle echo through her mind, saw the light fade from Alan Finch's eyes, and she'd take her brush and attack the fabric anew until she realized, finally, that she'd worn a hole through the cloth.

After that, things changed. She couldn't touch Cordelia, not with those hands, the hands of a murderer. And that's what she was, because everyone else had said so, had pointed the finger of blame firmly in her direction. For some reason, without that touchstone, everything else just started to crumble.

She saw the hurt in the other girl's eyes, knew that she had put it there, but hadn't been able to do anything about it. It had been better, then, to make Cordelia hate her.

Just as it was better now.

"You were just a fuck, C. Don't make it out into more than it was. Don't go pulling all this drama shit on me because I just don't have time for it."

The other girl stiffened as if struck, but then, with slow, languorous movements, she shifted back into the loose grace of calm. "You're lying."

"Why're you doing this to us, Faith?"

She didn't mean to sound desperate, didn't want to sound desperate, but she didn't understand why things were slipping away, didn't know how to navigate through the maze of confusion and hurt that she'd found herself trapped in. It was as if everyone else knew the joke, but they hadn't deigned to tell her, and she was floundering, wondering why everyone was suddenly laughing at her. Wondering when, exactly, she'd lost control of her life.

Faith sighed because there really wasn't anything else she could do. This was intensely painful, and she felt like she was moving underwater, struggling yet not actually getting anywhere. She needed to get away from Sunnydale, needed to make sure that she made things so that she could never return, because this place had managed to hurt her like she hadn't ever been hurt before and Faith was nothing if not self-protective.

"You're right, C," Faith admitted, somehow almost physically unable to end things that way, with words of derision hanging between them, discounting what they'd had. "I'm lying, but it doesn't matter. Things are over. You deserve better than me and I deserve better than this place."

She looked so small in the hospital bed, a stark white bandage cutting across her forehead, absurdly bright against the dark silk of her hair, and Cordelia wanted to cry. Everything had just decided to come together at once... the mayor, the Ascension, Faith's part in the betrayal, the feelings that she didn't understand. And so, she did cry, laying her head on the other girl's shoulder, mourning the unresponsive form beneath her, mourning her own loss.

"It doesn't have to be this way, Faith." She didn't want to plead, but she didn't want this to be it either, didn't want to stand here in this apartment and watch Faith walk away from her. It just didn't feel right. She knew, instinctively, that if that happened, she'd be losing something that had been destined to be hers. Knew that she'd never get it back, and a part of her ached with the loss that she instinctively knew was coming.

A deep breath and then, "Yeah, it does. I'm sorry, C. I really am."

And then she left, left Cordelia there in her world of white, and she told herself that it was for the best. Told herself that it had to be for the best, because if it wasn't, then she was living in a world of gray having left behind her savior, having left behind the only person she had that could wipe all the colors away.