If Faith had cared more, then maybe things would have been different.
They’re not though, and on Monday morning she turns up at school with her hair messy and her eyes dark, her knuckles bruised and her shirt loose and she gets a detention half an hour into the school day, and nothing is unusual.
And everything stays the same for a while.
Her friends approach her and other people stay far away. Faith doesn’t hand in her homework for History, or for Math, and everything is so ordinary, mundane.
Faith thinks that this is why she gets into trouble so much. Because everything is boring and lifeless and monochrome. Her teachers dismiss her, passing her off as a lost cause and not worth the time, the effort. They think she’s looking for trouble, when really all she’s looking for is a splash of colour. Some green maybe, some red or bright blue to cut through the black and white.
(That’s why she’d spray painted the back of the library while Buffy kept watch, their hoods down at 1am, Faith grinning to herself because that’s it. The adrenaline and the ink staining her fingers, that’s what being alive feels like.)
She doesn’t voice any of this, of course. Faith isn’t good with words and most of the time she prefers to keep quiet, anyway. She doesn’t keep her head down but when you keep your voice low, especially if you’re someone like her, sometimes people listen far more than they would if you were to shout. And so Faith never really raises her voice. Not unless she’s shouting, not unless she’s trying to come across as far less intelligent than she is. But nobody ever gets that.
Faith meets Buffy outside of the English room, skulking slightly. She’s leaning up against the wall with one earphone playing into one ear, her shirt wrinkled and her jeans sagging slightly.
They’re not the most common match, Faith and Buffy. It isn’t as if they’re worlds away, because they’re not. Buffy is not a victim, she’s not a quiet kid who caught Faith’s eye because that isn’t how things work, and if she’d been someone to lurk in the depths of libraries during lunch hour, Faith probably wouldn’t have given her a second glance.
Buffy is someone who hangs on the outside of the social circle. She isn’t good but she isn’t bad, and she’s smart but not too smart. And she’s not mean, no, and she became far more intimidating when she and Faith became a thing, but she isn’t much of anything.
The thing Faith likes about Buffy is that she is average and yet, she doesn’t fade into the black and white background.
She’s nothing special. And yet she doesn’t fade to monochrome, and if Faith was a poet she’d describe Buffy’s eyes as far more green than they actually are, to try and justify the fact that she sticks out to Faith despite the fact that she’s nothing.
She isn’t though. She’s something, and she is Faith’s best friend, somehow. And she’s sometimes her girlfriend, occasionally, sometimes. Faith doesn’t care much for putting a label on whatever they have but they fuck on the weekends and Buffy kisses her a lot, and sometimes when Faith is on the verge of losing her temper and lashing out, Buffy holds her hand, brushes their fingers underneath the desk and it’s calming. And maybe that’s why she isn’t another shade of grey. Maybe.
“Faith?" Buffy looks surprised to see her, and that’s fair enough because it’s Faith and even she can’t predict her own actions because they just happen. Words fall from her lips and she finds herself saying and doing things and then not really caring.
That’s the thing about Faith: she doesn’t care. And apathy is far from romantic, it isn’t something that’s cool, it’s just something that she experiences. And maybe if she wasn’t so apathetic she’d wish for a brighter outlook on the world, eyes that see past black and grey more often than not. But she doesn’t care.
“Yeah, hi,” Faith says, smiling at Buffy lazily. “I was thinking that you should definitely skip whatever class you have next and hang out with me.”
“Faith," Buffy looks torn, lowering her voice because there are teachers milling around the building, and just because Faith doesn’t care doesn’t mean that Buffy doesn’t. “We can’t, exams are coming up soon, and-”
“And?” Faith repeats, and she’s doing that thing where she smiles, her dimple obvious and she widens her brown eyes and she looks so fucking innocent, somehow, and Buffy finds it hard to refuse her when she makes that face.
That’s the thing- Faith knows that, and Buffy knows that, and it’s sort of like some kind of manipulation. Faith asks, and Buffy generally says yes. And it’s probably not the best but it happens and Buffy lets it, and if you asked why she couldn’t tell you. Faith drags her down, and she’s stupidly alright with it.
“And,” Buffy swallows. “I want to get good grades.”
“You will,” Faith says, simply. As if it’s that easy. She makes it sound so easy.
Buffy can never really say no to Faith.
The second time Faith got suspended was at the start of grade 11, when some kid in their year made some kind of homophobic comment underneath his breath, his eyes glaringly focused on the fact that Faith and Buffy were sat a little too close and Faith had kissed her for three seconds on the mouth a few moments before.
Buffy can’t even remember what he said. She didn’t even catch it, but Faith did.
And Faith can remember getting angry, her blood boiling beneath her tattered white school shirt, seeing red because in a monochrome world, people like that boy are the blemishes in the photograph. The rips, the tears and the marks where someone has moved and there is a blur on the scape and it’s so obvious and ruins the image.
And Faith remembers pinning him up against the rough school walls, red-bricked and unwelcoming, holding the boy by his collar. Her hand near his throat, and she remembers punching him three times in the stomach. And she’d only gotten into trouble because the school nurse had walked past at that exact moment, on the way to her car.
Faith remembers the head teacher’s office and her mother yelling at her for hours because she’s had too many second chances.
(She remembers not caring, clearly, more than anything. She doesn't cry and Faith Lehane isn’t going to show weakness for anyone.)
No one ever made a homophobic remark in front of her again.
They’re not officially together, but at the same time, they kind of are.
And so Faith makes sure that she doesn’t fuck anyone else because she knows if there were someone else’s hands running over Buffy's chest, she’d feel wrong, and she’d get angry, and Faith is a lot of things. She isn’t a nice person, but she’s far from a hypocrite.
She stays true to her word, sort of, and even when she’s out somewhere and some boy or the occasional girl is coming onto her, blowing secondhand smoke into their parted lips when their pupils are diluted and they’re whispering dirty things into her ear, she doesn’t react and she doesn’t bridge the distance. She doesn’t make a move, and they give up, scowling as they retreat into the darkness.
Faith is a percentage.
She’s part of the government statistics, whether it be on the topic of teenagers who are failing their exams- which Faith finds funny, because she’s predicted a C in most of her subjects, just for the kicks.
She wants to watch the expressions on her teacher’s faces when she gets an A or a B, just to show them that they can’t decide who succeeds and who fails.
She's a statistic in the numbers shown in newspapers, about how so many percent of teenagers will have taken an illegal substance by the age of fifteen, or how so many people under the age of eighteen have been warned off by community officers for antisocial behaviour.
She's a statistic. And she hates statistics because they’re there, too, in black and white pictures. When a camera is put on flash and sometimes it shows up on the image, prominent and bright. Impossible to ignore. And they’re ok, sometimes, but not when they’re obvious and not when they become the definition of the whole photograph because that’s when they ruin things and they fuck things up and Faith hates it. Hates being a number.
She hates it because it’s weakness.
Because if she is a number, Buffy is a black bolded headline that should be on the front page of a newspaper, but it isn’t because there’s a stupid story on the first page, because it’ll catch the world’s attention.
Something stupid. Like Faith, like the statistic and the number that makes people worry and makes people announce fake promises to make things better.
Faith drags Buffy down.
Faith is a very selfish person.
She’s not really sure how it was drummed into her, but it was.
The idea that she can't cry, she can't show weakness and that’s something she kind of sticks to. Even at her most intimate moments with Buffy, when she’s murmuring words into the crook of her neck and running her fingers along her hip bones, she refuses to show weakness.
Faith hates vulnerability.
And so sometimes, just to give her the upper hand, put her a few paces in front of Buffy so that she's always dragging behind, she’ll fuck up. And it’ll be completely on purpose, but she does it.
She’s not sure why. Maybe she wants Buffy to hate her, just a little bit. Maybe it’s so that Buffy will know that despite anything and everything, Faith won’t need her. Faith doesn’t need her, and even when Buffy is threatening to fuck off forever, Faith won’t ask her to come back.
Buffy does that of her own accord.
Faith is not a nice person.
She never pretends to be. She doesn’t make false smiles across the room because she doesn’t want people to like her- she doesn’t care.
And yet she has friends. She has too many of them, and she’s popular and that doesn’t make sense to her because she isn’t a nice person. She isn’t particularly funny or smart, she’s just as average as the rest of them, except for the fact that she doesn’t try to pretend that she isn’t.
Faith does stupid things. And Buffy hates it, she knows she does.
It’s the main source of their arguments because Buffy can’t stand the way that Faith acts sometimes, the way that she acts so superior and she can bring someone down in just a few words. Buffy hates it. And she hates the way that often Faith will skip lessons to chain smoke and she hates the way that Faith is always hungover on a Sunday morning.
But Faith hates parts of Buffy, too. She hates that Buffy is a fucking hypocrite just like the rest of them and she hates that though she doesn’t need Buffy, she cares. And Faith fucking hates caring, because normally she doesn’t. She won’t cry and Buffy is no exception to that, and often Buffy acts as if she is.
She hates how Buffy tries to bring her up, to make it seem like Faith's a better person to excuse the fact that she’s falling more every day for someone who isn’t. She hates it when Buffy confronts her, and she hates it when Buffy doesn’t.
Really, they don’t mix. Not at all. But Faith's selfish and yeah, she cares about Buffy because she’s the prettiest part of a perfect photograph and sometimes she’s like the dimmest shade of indigo but mostly she isn’t special and she isn’t colour. Mostly she’s monochrome too.
Faith doesn’t need her because there are plenty of brighter colours in the world and in a collection of the best quality photographs Buffy is just as inadequate as Faith is.
She goes too far. Of course she does.
It might be because she can feel herself falling a little faster for Buffy, even when they’re arguing.
Because their relationship is weird. And sometimes it consists of shouting and yelling and Faith wanting to punch her in the nose, and sometimes it consists of having sex and Faith lets her guard down, lets Buffy fuck her, and lets herself be weak for a moment. And sometimes it consists of lying on forest floors and not saying anything, just being content to be together and that’s scary and it’s strange and afterwards Faith feels more aggressive than ever, and much more like a statistic.
It might be because of that. Because Buffy gets brighter every day and Faith is most definitely not a poet but she finds more and more metaphors that make Buffy's smile crop up in the back of her mind.
Or it might be, just maybe, because Faith’s a bad person. Because she stopped thinking of the consequences long ago and she’s hurt Buffy sixteen times over but this time she’s gone too far.
Maybe. That could be why, it’s probably why.
Maybe, even, it was just because familiarity turns even the brightest of colours back to black and white and no matter how much attention to detail you pay, the most delicate shade of grey will never be as interesting as the most vibrant shade of red.
And so she fucks up. For real this time, and she’ll remember her name in the morning and she’ll remember everything she said and why she said it, but she won’t remember her phone number or the words she whispered into her ear because she’s not Buffy and she doesn’t matter and that’s probably why it feels so good.
In the cool light of morning she feels dirty and she feels wrong, but she feels so fucking good. She feels free.
It’s when Buffy finds out. That’s when she regrets it, and dirt sticks to her skin and she can’t wash it off.
Buffy is shaking her head, eyes looking a lot less bright when they’re blinking in disbelief.
It’s written on her face. Anger and disappointment and a bit of hurt, humiliation etched in there as well.
“I can’t fucking believe you,” she says, spits, snaps. There are too many words for how she says it but it stings and Faith doesn’t know why and she can’t find a single adjective to describe just how it makes her feel.
Faith shrugs. “We were never official, were we?"
“We were as good as,” Buffy says. “I thought-”
“Thought what?” says Faith, feigning innocence. And she hates herself. She does. Really, truly, and if you asked her why then she couldn’t answer because she doesn’t know. “Thought that you mattered to me?”
“Just a bit,” Buffy mutters. “Just- I thought-”
“You shouldn’t have,” Faith says, quietly. “Because Buffy, I really don’t care.”
It doesn’t matter.
Buffy will forgive her. She will. And that’s why she doesn’t feel scared, anxious.
There’s an open wound where Buffy's words had scathed but otherwise, it’s fine. It’s like- exclusive hurt. Kind of, maybe.
“You slept with her,” Buffy says. She isn’t looking at her anymore, her eyes are on the floor. “Why would you do that?”
“We’re not in a relationship,” Faith points out. “We never said we were. We’ve never said anything about commitment, B, so don’t-”
“But you stopped doing that,” Buffy says. “You stopped getting off with every other person you saw when you were pissed. And you can’t say that that doesn’t mean anything, because I know you Faith, and it does.”
“Well,” Faith says. “It doesn’t mean anything now, does it? We weren’t together. I have nothing to be sorry for.”
Buffy says nothing.
“I have nothing to be sorry for,” Faith repeats, quieter this time.
“I thought it meant something,” Buffy admits. “I thought- and I know we never made it official, but I thought of you as if we did.”
Fauth doesn’t answer. She just shrugs, carelessly.
“I think you should go,” Buffy says. “And I don’t think you should come back. Okay? I want you to leave me alone.”
“Really?” Faith's tone suggests that she doesn’t believe Buffy. That she’s lying, putting on a front. She probably is.
“Yeah, really,” Buffy says. “I don’t want you to see me anymore and I don’t want you to text me or call me or talk to me at school. I mean it, Faith, I want you to get out of my life, yeah? Because I’m sick of you dragging me down. And that’s all you ever do. You drag me down.”
“I don’t think you mean that,” Faith says, stepping closer.
“Okay,” Buffy says. “Then don’t. But I do, so stay away from me, okay?”
Faith isn’t fazed. “Okay.”
And on Monday morning she turns up at school with his hair messy and her eyes dark, her knuckles bruised and scattered with tiny red cuts, her shirt loose and she gets a detention two hours into the school day, and nothing is unusual.
Everything stays the same for a while. Her friends approach her and other people stay far away. Faith doesn’t hand in her homework for History, or for Math, and everything is so ordinary, mundane.
Until it isn’t anymore. Because when she waits outside of the English classroom with a smirk on her face, Buffy walks right by her.
And when she texts Buffy in the middle of Chemistry, she doesn’t get a reply.
And when she tries to approach her in the hall, Buffy turns the other way.
It turns out that Buffy is true to her word.
And Faith wants to assure herself that Buffy is going to come back, but it hits her pretty quickly that she isn’t.
If Buffy cares, she doesn’t care enough to break her silence because she doesn’t say a word to Faith.
If Faith cared more, things might have been different-
But Faith doesn’t cry, and maybe Buffy is expecting her to fall to her knees and beg for forgiveness but she won’t. Faith won’t show even an inch of emotion.
The worst part is that she could probably get Buffy back if she used her words and she said she was sorry, but she’s not going to. She’s not going to say she’s sorry at all, because that’s a sign of weakness, that’s a crack in her facade.
That’s vulnerability, and it’ll make it seem as if she cares about Buffy when she doesn’t. At least- not that much.
She’s not going to say she was sorry, she’s not going to care because she won’t cry. And it’s not worth it, and she could fix things if she wanted to, but instead she’ll just laugh.
She'll laugh because that’s the easiest form of armour that Faith can obtain. She’ll laugh and she’ll take the piss, sitting at the back of the classroom. Buffy doesn’t matter, nothing matters.
Faith's dug herself a hole, deep in the ground and she’s buried herself alive. She is just a number, a statistic. A blemish on a photograph she doesn’t have the skill to take, and the world moves by in monochrome while she chokes on dirt beneath the ground.
She could call for help, yeah-
But she doesn’t cry.