By Just Exchange

He has freckles now, and tan lines. Other lines, too. They mark the corners of his eyes and the corners of his mouth, testament to the laughter that is seldom far from the surface. He smiles often, laughs much - where before his face in repose was guarded, these days it is open and happy, lips curved up, a flash of white teeth showing. His smile is hard to resist. Annoyance has no chance against it; nor fear, nor anger - though there isn't much anger anymore. The sudden reality of finite time has cooled his emotions, bring home to roost the words "life's too short."

The others can't resist his grin either - his zeal is contagious. He's like a little kid sometimes, and like a child, he makes them do things they'd not normally do and makes them love it, and him. Even Angel can't help himself - he smiles more when Spike's around, though Buffy has confided to Xander that his moodiness is often deeper after those days.

He's like a child when he's asleep, too, but that's Xander's secret. He loves to watch Spike sleep. He loves to lie next to him in bed and watch early morning sunlight play across tanned skin and now-darker curls. Spike sleeps on his stomach, hands tucked under the pillow, fingers curled in that warm dark cave with Xander's own. Most of the time he smiles in his sleep, too.

Xander wonders if Spike's heart hurts like his does. If Spike ever watches him sleep and savors the pressure of love, the deep ache of knowing how lucky they are - the pain of the gift they live each day. It's a good pain, one that makes their pleasure all the sweeter in contrast, and Xander rubs lightly at his chest, as if Spike's heart beats there instead of his own.

He leans down to feel Spike's breath on his cheek, a common miracle. He runs fingers lightly through Spike's hair and freezes when he finds a silver strand, nestled among the strands of honey and wheat and oak. He touches it, this reminder, this tangible evidence that Spike's alive, and for a moment the pain in his heart is a sharp sting.

Spike's breathing changes and blue eyes open slowly. He arches into the hand at his head and Xander resumes his petting. Eyes drift closed and they return to sleep.

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