Disclaimer: I don't know own Jack Knight, the Shade, Hope O'Dare or any of the other characters from the excellent Starman comic. They are property of DC Comics/Time Warner and I am making no money from this story.

Immortality Bites
By Smitty

From the Shade's Journal...

On the surface, immortality seems like a very good thing to have on your side. People try to kill you and you just don't die. Endlessly frustrating to them and gives you a pleasing sense of satisfaction to know that you will be carrying on as you always were while they rot in the ground.

Of course it doesn't take an overly educated man to scratch that surface and realize just how unlucky immortality might be. After all, you are bound to outlast not just your enemies but also those who become your friends and lovers. Year after year they age, adding years and memories to the complicated mosaic they call a life while you simply observe, outside the passing of the days, because you know that there will be infinitely more days ahead and procrastination becomes something of a norm. The only way around that, of course, is to simply find other immortals to befriend or love, and even that has its down side. Immortals tend to be frightfully arrogant and self-inclined; matching two of them never seems to result in any sort of success.

What those who scratch the surface don't realize is that the lack of luck which accompanies immortality is conquerable. The first few years are somewhat traumatic, I'll admit, watching your contemporaries waste away and die. After that you become nothing more than an observer, finding ways to amuse yourself--because after all, what's the point of living forever if the life you live is dreadfully dull?--and occasionally meddling in things that don't concern you, just for the diversion.

I had found it quite a nice existence.

My good friend Jack Knight reminded me how easily all that can be turned all that on its ear. I feel I'm slighting Jack in using a word so pedestrian as 'friend' to describe him, but I rather think he'd like that. He played quite an important role in my existence a bit back and I feel I owe him at least a modicum of respect for that event. Either way, he had left Opal some years back to marry and raise a family. I admit to being a bit disappointed in his abandonment. I had thought him as committed to his city as I, but times change and with them, so do people. At least people who are wont to live and die. At any rate, he's a sentimental sort and returned to his city in his later years, presumably to say good-bye. He came by for a visit, naturally and I greeted him with open arms and bottle. We drank and talked far into the night, recalling the days when our lives held more danger and excitement.

Jack asked me the most peculiar question.

"So," he queried, sipping at his glass of absinthe, a pleasure he enjoyed but never quite properly appreciated, "what ever happened with you and Hope O'Dare?"

Ah, what indeed?

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I told him rather archly, lying quite through my teeth.

"Oh…really?" Even at his advanced age, Jack was more than adept at that curious expression from his youth that I remembered so well. I believe it's known in the common vernacular as the "deer-in-the-headlights" look.

"Yes, why do you ask?" I queried, the very picture of innocence.

"Oh, uh…" Jack took another quick drink and nearly aspirated on the excess. "Well, when I left, Hope told me she was going to Mexico for a while and then she was gonna come back and ask you out on a date." Jack shrugged, a move he never managed to make elegant. "Guess I was wrong."

"Imagine that," I said mildly.

Hope had indeed gone to Mexico and come back as tan as an O'Dare could hope to get, which is to say burnt lobster red. And she had indeed asked me out.

"So, I was thinking we could go get some coffee and talk about our lives."

She was wearing one of those scandalously short shirts and a pair of denim pants, I believe they're now called jeans, and her sunglasses were perched on top of her head. Her fists were firmly planted on her hips in a manner that threatened a challenge. All in all, she looked half of her 28 years.

"Funny," I said, turning away as not to allow her to see the corners of my mouth twitch upward as they so very badly wanted to do, "that wasn't what I was thinking at all." Even though my back was turned, I could picture her shoulders squaring up in preparation of rejection or perhaps a suggestion a bit more lewd. "I had something more along the lines of a dinner and a night of dancing in mind." I dared a glance back in time to see her eyes widen and light. "But whatever suits you is acceptable by my standards."

She regained her composure rapidly and folded her arms across her chest, the trademark smirk returning to her face. I hadn't seen that smirk since well before my possession by Culp and it brought an unaccustomed warmth to my body.

"Dinner and dancing it is, then," she agreed. "I never would have pegged you as a romantic, Dickie. It suits you."

We had dinner and dancing indeed, and as time passed more dinners and more dancing along with my humoring her frightful addiction to the cinema. After the incident with Merrick and his poster demon, she had become quite well read and even spoke a passable bit of French, which I attempted to assist her with, to no real success. I introduced her to the pleasures of absinthe and she taught me the rudimentary skills of rollerblading. For a while I was part of a large family as she dragged me to Sunday afternoon football games, holiday gatherings and even Mason and Charity's wedding. I was most discomfited to suddenly find myself in possession of a certain article of women's lingerie in the midst of such an event, though I admit to a certain sense of...smugness when Hope caught Charity's carefully aimed bouquet.

The moments of happiness I stole in those months will be forever cherished in my memory, for they were not to last.

After all, I would not grow old.

And she would.

I realized this two days before she thirty, the day she found her first gray hair.

"Look at this!"

I reluctantly opened my eyes, as I was not seeing anything but darkness at the moment she spoke. She wasn't leaning over me and she certainly wasn't on the ceiling, so I lifted my head and located her standing at the mirror, wrapped in my dressing gown.

"What is it?" I asked, lifting myself off the bed and watching my reflection come up behind her and rest gentle hands on her shoulders.

"Look at it," she demanded, holding one strand of hair between two fingers. "I'm going gray." A sharp tug and she was a redhead once more, untouched by any unpigmented strands.

"You'll be beautiful when you're gray," I told her, turning her to kiss me. "I can't imagine you not beautiful."

I was quite correct. Her hair is now completely gray and she's still utterly beautiful. But these days, another man kisses her in front of the mirror and runs his fingers through those strands.

You see, that morning she made her discovery in the mirror, I made quite a different discovery. She discovered that for her, youth was not eternal. And I discovered that I did not want the eternal youth gifted to me. At that moment when I kissed her I realized I wanted to grow old with her.

I'd gone and fallen in love with her.

Unwise at best and unforgivable at worst.

Yet, I couldn't bear to break her heart, to leave her, so the deeper I found myself falling in love with her, the more I retreated into my own world; the more I tried to erect walls around the heart I'd nearly forgotten had resided in my chest.

"Shade, I--"

She'd stopped calling me Dickie--a habit I'd tried to discourage, which only made her more determined to employ the dreadful nickname--some time ago. I'd never expected to miss it.

"Go on. Spit it out."

"I think we should break up."

I'd spent months trying to shield myself from the pain that would accompany this moment, but an icy stab of pain burst into my chest anyway.

"If you think it best."

"Come on," she said, her voice deceptively casual and her eyes not meeting mine. "We've been drifting apart for quite a while now and well, I think we'd both be happier if we didn't keep pretending there's still something there."

She'd tried to make me talk; I'd balked, knowing that if she were willing to brave the future, I would never be able to refuse her. If she'd wanted to hurl the fact that this breakup was my fault, that I'd never tried, never given it a chance, she would have been perfectly justified. But she didn't.

"You're a sensible girl," I said instead. "I quite agree with you. No use beating a dead horse now, is there?"

"No. Not at all." She stood very straight and was very quiet. Very controlled. Not my Hope at all. "Good day, Shade."

If she'd begged me to stay, I would have been powerless to resist.

"Good day, Hope," I replied with a cheer I didn't feel. I waited until she left the house, the door echoing behind her. "And good-bye."

And that was the end of that. We saw each other quite a bit around town, though not for the first few months. I spent much of the initial months following the breakup in an absinthe-induced haze and rarely ventured out of my residence. An ordinary man would have killed himself on the amount of drink I swallowed in those days, but my constitution prevented that most admirably.

As it was, I built up quite a tolerance to the pain and began to venture forth once more, occasionally seeing her or Mason or Clarence around town. We forged a tentative friendship of sorts, though we were both careful to stay detached. She eventually married another officer on Opal's police force and settled down in a pretty house to have three children, all redheads who grew up to join Opal's finest. She sends me a Christmas card every year and the usual invitations to various holiday gatherings, all of which I refuse. Her oldest is married now and the younger girl looks exactly like she did that day when she asked me to go get coffee.

Hope is happy and I have settled back into the comfort of detachment that one such of myself should enjoy.

And yet...Jack said something that has lodged itself in my mind with its stark simplicity and utter certainty. It is a truth I have long denied and fought against in all the days I have walked this earth. It is classless and blasé, typical of Jack, but holds a clarity that belies its heritage.

Immortality bites.

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