At a Glance

by Dira Sudis

There must have been a time, a place, somewhere in all the cities and all the years, where no one looked twice at them. Sometime after the horror-stricken looks of his friends faded into a fond-yet-disturbed acceptance. Sometime after those first few years, when he was young enough that Spike seemed to have swiped him from a playground somewhere, which wasn't so far from the truth. Somewhere other than the demon haunts where they looked like a vampire and his lunch, or the redneck hangouts where they had to choose between touching each other and getting back to the car without committing major property damage.

They're pretty much finished with the endlessly itinerant lifestyle now, back in California more or less full time, to the extent their collective attention span allows, and nobody on the West coast looks twice at two guys holding hands, or stealing kisses in the park. But Xander's twenties and thirties are behind them now, scattered across highways, squandered in hotels and rest stops and on strange dark streets and moonlit beaches.

He wouldn't trade a moment of it, not for anything in this world or any other, but it's gone now, irretrievable.

He doesn't remember when exactly Spike stopped looking old to him. Somewhere between Cleveland and Barcelona, sometime after the first time, sometime long before today. He knows that Spike has been around a century and a half, knows that he can never actually catch up to the span of years that his lover has passed. But still, there was a morning once when he was lying in bed, studying that pale and ageless sleeping face, and realized that he was older now than Spike was when he died, that he was older now than William would ever be.

If you'd asked in the first year or two, Xander would have been sure that vampires didn't grow up, didn't change. Those days of midnight Wal-Mart tag and endless sex in semi-public places and death-defying acts of silliness seemed to say that there wasn't much to chose, between a twentyish boy and his hundred-twentyish undead boyfriend. Xander would have argued that, being immortal and unchanging, Spike was simply incapable of acquiring the maturity that a similarly aged human would have.

But lately, Xander can feel Spike changing, can see it. It's not just that Spike's humoring him, because he's never shown any hesitation in continuing to be exactly what he is in the face of Xander's occasionally irritating human limitations. Close to two decades--god, when you say it like that, decades--of minute observation have left Xander plenty capable of seeing what's really going on with Spike. He can't hide anything, not if you're really paying attention; Xander asked him why once, and he said he supposed he never needed to before. Dru hadn't been exactly anybody's ordinary girlfriend--either on some other planet, or directly plugged in to the truth, and no chance of hiding what the little singing burning fishes were already telling her. So Xander knows he's not imagining this, knows it's real. Spike, the Lost Boy of all time, is growing up, growing old, at his side. Slowing down, just a little, just enough to notice, just like Xander is; it's not that either of their bodies are failing, because Xander's not that old yet, and Spike never will be, but they're getting old enough to be tired. They've seen just about everything, and what they really want now is to sit on the couch and take a break. Or. Do other things, maybe, strenuous sweaty things that they used to do in the backseat of the car in a different state every night; now they just stay home for it.

The years are accumulating around them, clinging to Spike as well as Xander, even though by rights they should roll off him like they always have. Xander is making Spike old, which is horrible enough, but it's worse than that.

Xander is getting old himself. He's not really there yet; he's forty-one, which isn't nearly as old as he used to think it was. His hair is sprinkled with gray, but it looks all right, and his face is getting lined. He's paler than he used to be; he's spent half his life now keeping out of direct sunlight. But now, when he turns from staring at his own face in the mirror to look at Spike's, he finds that his lover has begun to look young. He wasn't the first to notice, nor even the second. He could have borne it, he thinks, if it had been Spike who pointed it out, teasing, that the tables have turned and now it's Xander who looks like a dirty old man, taking advantage of the fresh-faced innocent Spike had been, once, a long long time ago. But Spike didn't notice, and Xander didn't notice; it's such a little thing, and crept up on them so gradually, and they were so accustomed to thinking of Xander as barely an adult, and Spike the world-weary and experienced one, no matter his immortal youth. But other people noticed; there were strange sideways glances in bars and grocery stores, and something like a glare as they stood together in the drugstore, mulling over toothbrushes, Spike's head on Xander's shoulder. That was when Xander realized it, right out there in public, realized that other people could see what he had sometimes glimpsed in bad dreams and overly introspective (never say brooding) moments: he's too old for Spike. Ridiculous, but true.

Spike, immortal, ought to always, always be young, but Xander is getting old and he's taking Spike with him. It's criminal, and it's obscene, and three or four or seventeen weeks of restless nights after the fact, he finally fesses it up to Spike. Lets it all pour out, the way he can tell Spike is changing though it will never show on his face, the way he's dragging Spike through the mortal travails of getting old, when he ought to be free of all that. Cries, because it's scary and shameful, and because there's no reason not to, lying there with his head in Spike's lap, cool fingers slipping soothingly through his hair.

When he's finished, Spike kisses him, and says softly, "Well, nice to know you care, pet, but you realize it's much too late?"

And Xander can only nod, because two decades on, so tangled up in each other that Spike is growing up just because Xander can't help it, there's no way to free Spike to get on with his ageless unlife. It's not like Xander could ever let him go, and not like Spike would go if Xander somehow found a way to say he could.

"Anyway," Spike whispers, between kisses turning from comfort to something warmer. "I like being stared at."