Ambiguous Bestowal

Author notes: I do not own the characters mentioned/depicted in this story, except of course the nameless prisoners and guards :P. Takes place Christmas day, the fifth season of Buffy.

Faith could hear the other prisoners in the cells surrounding her, their voices higher, more excited and animated than normal, laughter erupting more often, in a way that was not at all usual of their mornings. She could hear them moving around, shouting out across cells to each other, and the prison guards were doing very little, for once, to silence them or to maintain order. Although she was awake- like she could really sleep through the noise they were making- she lay very still on her bunk, her face turned towards the wall, pretending, if not actually enjoying, sleep. She kept her eyes closed, her breathing as even as possible, even though her heart was already beating slightly faster than usual. Damn… she wished she could sleep, it would make today so much better.

Figures that the one day of the year the prisoners were allowed to sleep in, Faith had barely been able to sleep at all. She had been restless most of the night, tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable or stop her flow of thought for long enough really sleep well. Probably out of her dread for the approaching day…Christmas.

In prison there was little exterior evidence of the holiday that was touted so highly and extravagantly in the civilian world. There was no snow or any of the activities that went along with snow, although in Los Angeles, California, snow was hardly part of the expectations of the Christmas season. There was no brightly colored Christmas lights or lavishly decorated trees, no wreaths or holly or stockings, no gingerbread houses or Santa displays. There were no candles or garland or eggnog, no apple cider or Christmas carols, except, of course, the ones the prisoners regaled her with themselves, to Faith's extreme irritation. There were no Santa Claus impersonators or brightly wrapped gifts, and yet, none of this seemed to make much difference. Everyone was aware of the day and date regardless, and most of the prisoners seemed to be pleased, spreading about an air of excitement that Faith could not and would not share.

Faith hated Christmas. The first time she'd ever watched the cartoon Grinch on TV, she had understood the guy's feelings right away- what she hadn't understood was his dramatic conversion at the story's end. She had figured out the Santa myth by the time she was seven, when she finally realized that every Christmas instead of getting the cool toys she asked for, she either got cheap crap from a discount store, or nothing at all. Her mother had told her the two years she forgot Christmas that Faith must have been a bad girl that year, but Faith had known damn well that Bobby Tucker was worse than she was and he still go the bike he asked for, along with fifty other things. Santa was a load of shit, and so, Faith had believed from that point on, was Christmas.

For a while she had been jealous of the people who liked Christmas, when she was a still a kid, and young enough to want the glitz and glitter of it, the toys and myths and peace on earth crock. But as time went by she just started to get sick of it all, and sickened by the fanfare everyone made over it. They were all a bunch of hypocrites. How did they get off on lying to kids and spending millions on this shitty stuff, tackling each other to the floor over a toy, for god's sake, and all the while stand there smiling about peace and love and good will for all mankind? Bullshit. Faith wanted no part of it.

Even so though… some of them seemed so damn happy. They had family and food and gifts, and they really liked Christmas, really got into all its sappiness… and Faith had rarely been able to have that. She had had TV dinners and cheap gifts she hadn't wanted or asked for, if her mother cared or remembered to get her anything at all. She almost had hated it when her mother tried, because the results had been the same- her passed out on the couch or floor or bed, bottles piled nearby, and Faith either left alone, or fending off the newest boyfriend's attempt at "company."

The year with her Watcher had been different… but Faith wasn't going to think about that now. Even with Buffy… but no. Damn if Faith was going down that road, not now, not today, not ever, if she could help it.

Today was just like any other day to Faith. No…actually it was worse, because she couldn't hide from the world, couldn't ignore humanity by holing herself up somewhere alone for the day. She would have to watch the other women go see visitors, exchange cigarettes or stamps or candy with each other for gifts, and she couldn't pretend it meant anything other than the truth…and she knew very well she wouldn't get any of that shit. Maybe she should just lay in bed like she was doing all day- it beat the alternative at any rate.

Angel had come to see her the day before, bringing with him gifts that were approved to be given to female prisoners- socks, fruit, chocolate, some books, and toiletries that Cordelia had no doubt had to help him select. It had meant a lot to Faith that he had come, let alone that he had brought her a form of gifts. He had explained to her that he wouldn't be coming to see her today, but that he wanted to make sure he was there on Christmas Eve.

"I won't tell you merry Christmas, Faith, because something tells me that might be stretching it," he said quietly, looking into her eyes through the glass between them. "But you're going to get through it…I'm proud of you."

Faith had been horrified that she had had to blink back tears, her throat tightening- between his words, his presence, and the things he had brought for her, it was too much. It felt like the nicest thing he could have done for her, and she was embarrassed that he had done it, and how she had responded. It had taken her a few moments to navigate back to the safety of bantering with him again, leaving touchy-feely emotion behind.

Now that he was gone, though, and Christmas day was here, she couldn't bring herself to be able to sit up, to use or even look at what Angel had brought her. To do so would bring her too close to feeling or showing emotion other than irritation, and Faith would not, could not risk that right now.

She could hear a prisoner or two try to get a rise out of her, calling her name and taunting her for her lack of participation, but she ignored them, forcing herself to be still and silent even as anger shot through her veins. She would give them no satisfaction.

Faith heard one of the guards come in with the mail for the day, heard him start calling out names, and she knew it was letters, Christmas cards, all things she would not be receiving. She could not comfort herself with the memory of Angel's visit now, not when she could hear the excitement and exclamations, the boasts and jeering of the women receiving their own approved gifts. She wanted to cover her ears, but she refused to betray her alert state, and so endured the best she could in silence.

When the guard called out her last name, Faith's mind refused to believe it at first. She had to be convincing herself that she heard it, was all…her mind was playing with her, trying to make things worse. She ignored it, not even opening her eyes.

It wasn't until the guard called her name again, more irritated this time, and banged on the bars of her cell, that it occurred to Faith that she may have heard correctly. SHE had MAIL… how the hell did SHE have mail?

She rolled over slowly, trying not to give away the sudden rush of excitement that coursed through her, to reveal in her expression her extreme curiosity. As she sat up, faking a lazy, reluctant yawn and stretch, the guard tossed an envelope through her bars, proclaiming curtly, "Nice to see your ears still work, Lehane."

Ignoring that beyond giving him a slight smirk- what was really wanted was to flip him off, but Faith had learned early on that was not a good idea- she stood and made her way to the envelope, still trying not to show how much she wanted to see what it was and who had sent it. Angel- had he decided to send a card or letter or something after all? That was the only thing that would make sense…

Thus having decided upon what all of this must mean, Faith returned to her bunk, blocking out the noise of all the others around her, and flipped the envelope over. Her name and the prison's address were written across the front… but it was the return address that caused her to inhale sharply, her chest tightening, hands stilling. Buffy's… what would BUFFY be sending HER?

She looked at the return address for nearly a full minute, sure she must have read it wrong, or maybe she didn't remember Buffy's address right. But no, there it was… Buffy's name, clearly, and that WAS her address.

The inmate in the cell next to her sneered another taunt at her, but Faith ignored her, drawing up her knees in an effort to block her actions- and the contents of the envelope- from her view. She opened it slowly, swallowing, trying to deny to herself how strangely nervous she was feeling.

What she withdrew from the envelope was two photographs… two photographs that were by now exactly two years old, showing images that stunned Faith as much as when she had first seen the envelope's return address. There was nothing written on the backs, no notes or letter accompanying them…just the photos, photos that confused Faith even further as to why they were now present in her hands.

She had recognized them immediately, of course…they were from Christmas day in Sunnydale two years ago, when she had been invited to the Summers' house. Despite her knowledge that it was a charity act and Buffy's taking off after a suicidal Angel halfway through, it had been a nice evening, with warmth and gifts, food and company that Faith had hardly expected to enjoy. It had been really nice of Mrs. Summers to have Buffy ask her to come.

And now she held the two photos of her that had been taken that night…the first one of herself and Joyce, with Joyce smiling warmly, her arm wrapped around Faith's shoulders, head tilted close. It had been she who had insisted on the pictures, and on having one of just her and Faith, though Faith had never understood why she wanted it when she was just the charity case and not her daughter or even her daughter's friend. In the same picture Faith was smiling but also looking a little uncomfortable, one hand tugging at the skirt she had worn in an effort to look nice for them, but that had still been a few inches too short to really be appropriate.

Staring at the picture, Faith blinked, her lips thinning. Joyce had been a real class act… just looking at the picture of her, of herself with her, made a rush of nostalgia, regret, and shame press against her chest. She hadn't deserved the grief Faith had given her, in exchange for her kindness.

The second photo was also of Faith…Faith, standing with Buffy in front of their fireplace. They were not touching, and in fact, both had rather awkward smiles, as if they had been forced into taking the picture together. Which they totally had. But they were leaning towards each other instinctively, subconsciously… and something about their posture in the photo made Faith's breath catch, made her have to concentrate very hard on blanking out the emotion that must be rising in her face and eyes.

She didn't understand. Why would Buffy give her these pictures… and today, of all days, without a word of explanation accompanying them? Was she trying to hurt her, to show her what she couldn't have now in prison, what had never really been hers to begin with? Was Buffy trying to rub her face in what she had done, and what she had lost because of it? Could she just not stand to have pictures of Faith in her house anymore, but didn't' want to rip up or destroy a picture of herself or of her mother?

Or…was this intended to be a gift? Was this supposed to be some weird, screwed up, Buffy-type way of encouragement… a memory of better times? Was this Buffy's was of extending at least the beginning of forgiveness?

Faith didn't know, and at the moment, couldn't even try to guess. She simply held the pictures in slightly shaky hands, unwilling to look away.