[A/N: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ENDGAME. My first LoD oneshot, written--quite literally--the day I finished the game for the very first time. It was a massive brain dump of images and emotions. Even so, my head was clearly spinning with other stories...]


WHERE I REMEMBER YOU

The cataclysm that engulfed the twisted husk of the Divine Tree filled the skies for days with smoke and clouds of strangely sweet-smelling cinders. Until the Dragoons came limping into Deningrad, broken and weary, many believed that their mission had failed and the end of the world had come after all. In time, however, the skies cleared, and blessed rain pounded the ash and the fear into the ground. The springtime earth responded by flinging out new sprouts at a rate never before seen. The Tree's ashes, it seemed, had not forgotten their origin.

For the warriors, spring was slower to arrive. The horrors they endured had left their scars. The freshest, dealt by the hail of fiery particles from the Tree's demise and the murder of a newborn God, blistered in angry white and red fingerprints on the skin of the more unlucky Dragoons.

The worst victim was Kongol, who had sheltered tiny Meru without hesitation. Her white skin remained clear, while his brown, weathered hide merely absorbed the new scars into like company. Miranda and Haschel had each received their badges of war, and even Albert had added a veteran's touch to his handsome face with a burn that nearly took off his left eyebrow.

The spirit of the Divine Dragon had shielded Dart's body from the flames, jealous of its right to wrack him. His scars were all on the inside. Only a few were visible: those on the face and limbs of the Moon Child, tiny burns like freckles, the kisses of the Virage.

Only later--once the shipping routes had been recalculated for the new tidal pattern, and leavetakings granted and journeys home begun--did they notice another victim of the blast.

Most of their gear had been abandoned in the heart of the fallen Moon, along with enough money to make a king's treasurer weep with envy--Albert's had, as a matter of fact, when he heard of the loss--but a few tokens had been saved. Among these was the miniature portrait of Lavitz, which Dart had folded and carried inside his armor. A scalding fragment had seared through the armor and burned a hole in the canvas, almost in the center of the Serdian knight's chest.

"Where Lloyd killed him with the Dragon Buster," Albert said when he saw. His eyes dimmed with the bitter memory.

After a moment of thought: "Nope," Dart answered. "Where he stabbed himself-- in Mayfil."

Shana, who had heard that tale along with the rest, said nothing. She only laid her bandaged hands on Dart's shoulders. She had cried for Lavitz's torment in the City of the Dead even harder than she had wept on first losing him.

The three Serdians were the last to return home, having seen off their comrades one by one: Haschel and Kongol, his new protégé, to Rouge; Meru to her forest and the shy young man waiting for her; Miranda to her adopted sisters in the Crystal Palace of Deningrad. "Are you gonna tell her?" Dart murmured to Shana as they watched Queen Theresa embrace her wayward daughter, happy tears in her eyes. "About... you know... you and Louvia?" The Dragoons had held nothing back from her, and the Moon Child's origin was no longer a mystery.

Shana leaned on the rail of the Queen Fury, still weak on her feet. Her eyes glowed as she watched the tension leave Miranda's shoulders, but she shook her head. "She would have kept me anyway, if I wanted. She invited me, when you left me in Deningrad and the dragoon spirit chose Miranda instead."

The words held no resentment now. Dart put his arm around her, sharing his body heat, as the wind--still bearing a promise of late snow, this far north--wound around them. "But you don't want to stay here?"

She leaned her head back and smiled wanly up at him. "She has her family," she answered, with gentle emphasis. "And I have mine. We're both happy already." The smile turned a little stronger, her eyes crinkling with humor. "Besides, it's too cold here!"

That had been Deningrad; at Furni, Meru squeezed them goodbye. She had begged enough money from the Queen Fury's crew to buy Guaraha some new, human-style clothes so spare her 'absolute humiliation,' as she put it. Lastly, the ship docked at Bale, with surprisingly little pomp. King Albert resumed his throne and sent a formal proposal of marriage to Princess Emille.

"And as for you, my dear friends. Back to Seles?" the young king asked, smiling as he took their hands. This was their last farewell, on the steps of the castle,

"For now." Shana glanced shyly at Dart.

"Not yet," Dart added. "I've got one more errand in town."

Albert's eyes darted to Shana's left hand. It was still wrapped in white gauze. The doctors of Fueno had done their best to minimize the amount of later scarring. "Ah," Albert said wisely, and let the matter drop.

They walked down through the city as the sun receded from the moonless veil of sky. Shana reached out and squeezed Dart's hand. Her new ring, hidden under the bandages, pressed between their fingers. "Poor Albert. He'll be so confused later!"

Dart squeezed back carefully. He was no longer certain what his strength was, after the psychotic power of the Divine Dragon had ripped through him. Sometimes he thought he could tear cities apart with his bare hands. Sometimes, too, he saw the world around him in muddy shades of yellow, blue and green, with red where there was heat, until his head began to spin. When that happened, he tried to keep his eyes on Shana, because the Dragon's accursed vision made her a blur of pure white light. The sight burned and soothed Dart's eyes simultaneously.

Now he felt the ring and smiled back. "I just want you to myself for a little while. There's plenty of time for everyone else now."

"Then what's your errand?"

He reached into his shirt and pulled out the much-worn bit of canvas. Shana recognized it before he even unfolded it. "Albert's already commissioned a memorial for him, and his mom's doing alright now that she's opened up the house to others," he explained. "I just wanted to put this where it belonged."

Shana touched the crumpled canvas tenderly. "I understand. I'll be waiting."

"I know you will be."

Her hair was as soft as moonbeams against his lips. "Don't get kidnapped by crazy Winglies, now," he warned. "I need you to stay where I remember you."

"What, a child? Did we just leave Hellena Prison?"

He picked up her hands. Sensitivity in his fingers came and went these days, but he could feel the residual heat of the tiny burns on her arms. "No. By my side."

He left her at the fountain in the fading light and went to Slambert Plaza. The Dragon's eyes painted a halo of glowing flame around the house, and Dart struggled to remember how it once looked. He went in. The tenants informed him that Lavitz's mother was resting, as she often did these days. They said she dreamed of her son.

"She'll be pleased to see you again, though, Sir Dart."

That made him pause. "I'm not a knight."

"Oh? King Albert hasn't...?"

"Nope." Dragoon was title enough. More than enough, if he thought of what the Dragoons had meant and what the Dragoons had done--and, the Dragon whispered, would do again one day, when the madness of men grew too great--had sold their souls to save the world. Had it been a title in its own right, eleven thousand years ago? Were Dragoon Rose and Dragoon Zieg accorded as much honor as the sons of Slambert? The spirits of the ancient Dragoons had held back, resisting the pull of eternity long after their lives had ended; had they had some foretaste of the horrors of Mayfil? They had freed Lavitz's soul, but would the rest of them be bound when their own time came?

"Mister Dart?"

He covered his face until the nightmare passed. Mayfil was a thing of the past. The future was a moonless sky. "No, don't wake her. I'll be by again sometime. I just need a few things."

He found two glasses and a bottle of ale and carried them up to Lavitz's room. It must have been empty for months, almost a year, but almost no dust appeared. Dart imagined his mother tottering up the stairs to clean it. It smelled like Lavitz. He circled the room, touching the smooth sheets, opening the cabinets, but Lavitz, too, was a thing of the past.

His sigh seemed too loud in the stillness. Last time, the window had been open and a gentle breeze had ruffled the room. Dart pushed it open. He propped the creased, worn portrait up against a book on the desk. The paint had cracked along the creases. He wiped out the glasses and filled them both.

"Well, the war's over now," he said to the painting. "Here's that drink I promised you." He lifted one glass to his lips, but paused. "Thanks--for the advice about Shana. I wish you could have seen her again. She grew up good."

He drained the glass and set it down beside the full one. Light spring zephyrs chased each other around the room. When he closed his eyes, the image of the room remained.

"Here's one place I'll always remember," he murmured.

A flutter of wings answered. A falcon perched in the window, regarding him with large black eyes. Dart smiled. It stretched its wings twice and took off again. He left the window open when he left.

As the door swung shut behind him, he heard the glasses clink together.