It was after they did what they always said they’d do. After high school, after college, after watching friends die and come back and die again, after Sunnydale finally, finally was no more, that the darkness fell at last. In some ways Xander was surprised that it had taken so long for night to close in around them and cast its inky shroud around their movements. But the rest of him, the parts that were still cracked and shattered and dissolved after the last seven years, saw the twilight coming and embraced it with open arms. The Xander that he’d been seven years ago, back when he saw the world in black and white with two eyes and a quiet confidence that good would always win, that Xander would have fought this darkness. But not this one. This Xander understood something his younger self could not…or maybe refused to grasp.
They’d been fooling themselves.
There was no light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what they’d been fighting for all this time. And he realized now that they’d all given up on it long before this
Buffy had given up the puppy dogs and rainbows when she’d been torn away from them. She’d gotten to the end of the tunnel, but her friends' misplaced love and, later, her own secret love of the darkness had cast her out of heaven. They’d all found out the hard way that the tunnel kept pulling you back. Maybe someday Buffy would find the light again. Maybe she'd stopped trying.
Willow’s disillusionment wasn’t quite so fast, but in some ways that made it worse. It started when she wiped Tara’s memory of a simple fight. Then the tunnel seemed to get too long and twisted and for a long, long time all she could see was Tara’s blood and Warren’s muscles. Sometimes Xander wondered if Willow even believed that there was a light for her. What made it worse was that he couldn’t tell her that there was.
Giles…Xander didn’t know if Giles had ever really believed in a happy ending. He’d almost had one once, with Ms. Calendar. Maybe he’d had a chance before that. But he had always been too jaded, too weary of the world to really believe in all that happily ever after crap. Giles had been their rock. Now he was eroding, and that was probably the scariest thing of all. When had evil become so big that the Watcher had bowed to its burden? When had fighting it become so hard that Giles, even Giles lost the will to stand against it?
Maybe the night only looked so helplessly big because they’d lost the will to fight it.
Or maybe it was because the night was inevitable.
Xander hoped it was the second one. Because his fight had died with Anya, and he was pretty sure that he’d left his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with Anya at the altar. The light he’d carried for himself, for them for so long had died and been distributed to rekindle in others more worthy of the task of bearing it. Dawn and Andrew, the potentials-turned-Slayers around the world. Even Faith, as screwed up as that was in the universal karmic scene.
He was almost envious; sitting in the dark as he looked at the light these loved ones still possessed. He vaguely remembered being that full of purpose, but the pictures were distorted, like he was looking at a blurred image through dirty glass. He remembered a time when Willow still laughed without that guilty look in her eyes and Buffy still cared about them and Giles still knew exactly the right thing to do.
Xander remembered a time when his younger self could see the world with two eyes and call it good and worth fighting for.
Maybe someday, it would hurt to look out on that world and wonder why he wasn’t living in it any more.
Someday. Just not today.