[A/N: Spoilers for end of Disk 2, more notes at bottom.]


"Lloyd," the Wingly thief whispers. Her voice, once bright and sharp like the breaking of little glass bells, now rasps empty and unmusical as waves on a dead sandy shore. When she steps back on one dainty bare foot, she stumbles, nearly falling. Where her skin splits, blood runs paler than that of any human's.

The battle is over--the Moon Dagger lost--its thief vanquished. The Red-Eyed Dragon Spirit releases Dart. He feels his own flesh return, so soft and fragile after wearing a dragoon's armor; he feels a lingering halo of heat. His eyes adjust. The madness is over and, as often happens, he finds himself remembering. Simple, human memories ground his dragon-snared soul.

The memory this time is recent. It starts with a sensation, not an image: Shana's arms around his neck, fever-hot and twilight-cool. He recalls her breath and her hair tickling his cheek. She is taller than usual, carried on his back, barely heavier than a rucksack. The air smells cloying, webby; it is the swamp tainted by Feyrbrand's poison. Shana smells like water because Lavitz has just emptied his canteen to rouse her out of her faint.

"I cannot fight like Rose," she says, so terribly sad, angry with herself.

He tries to comfort her. "You don't need to pretend to be strong. You can rely on me."

"Lloyd," Lenus gasps. "My lifeā€¦" She is dying. She pulls back the two half-moons of her blades, reeling for balance, fighting just to stand.

Beside him, Shana steps forward. Dart puts out an arm to stop her. Lenus wants to die; she is dying for the man she loves. She just wasn't strong enough. No one is strong enough to endure the wrath of the Dragoons.

In that memory, Dart is unable to soothe Shana. She pretends he does. When his memory gains vision, the first thing he sees is her sad, brittle smile. The next are her muddy hands and skinned knees. She is ashamed of needing protection.

Dart wonders sometimes if he is strong enough to finish this. He does not let it stop him. Still, the past few months have played out as one experience after another of being not quite enough. A little too slow. A fraction too late. Yes, he saved Shana from Hellena Prison, but only because he was not there in time to prevent the raze of Seles. He rescued Albert, but failed to save Lavitz. He lost the Moon Gem. He lost the Moon Dagger. What else will he lose is he does not act in time?

He does the best he can.

"My life is for you."

Lenus, falling, dying, staggers forward, flinging her arms wide. The crescent blades arc through the air, spinning drops of blood and water. They make talons of Fate, steaking toward Dart.

Then he feels Shana's arms around his neck, moonlight-cool, blood-hot. All the weight of her small body pushes him aside. Her hair ghosts across his neck. For a flickering instant he sees her eyes, brittle and brave.

In that instant, he understands what Shana wants. She wants to stand beside him, not be carried on his back. She has tried to show him since Hellena, and he was blind, because all he saw was his baby sister. She has tried to be strong enough. Now, if she cannot overcome the limitations of her frail body, she will at least die for the man she loves.

Lenus falls. The blades whirl, moons of death setting on Shana's life instead of his. Dart has been too late for all of his life, always reaching what he wants in the moment after it has been snatched away.

He seizes Shana and spins her out of death's trajectory. With his sword he deflects the blades and flings them away into darkness. A few hairs float through the air where they snipped the end of Shana's locks.

Only then does time resume its path. He is fully human, fully in the now, shaking like a leaf in a gale. Behind him, the other Dragoons let out ragged breaths.

In the corner of his vision, Meru stands over Lenus' body. Such a look of somber contemplation has never before crossed her face. Dart sets Shana back on her feet, but they hold onto each other a moment longer, breathing together. She tries to stand steady against his greater strength. They do the best they can.

[A/N: On the second playthrough of the game, this moment caught my attention. First, it's the first time that Dart and Shana save each other on equal terms. Secondly, for those who watch Dart and Shana instead of Meru, when he sets her down, there's a moment where they just stand gazing at each other. I think that this is the moment when Dart finally works out exactly what it is he feels for Shana, as little sister or beloved. From studying the game, this is also as best as I can figure Shana's personality-- physically weak and humiliated by it, and saddened by her inability to be an equal partner for Dart. As for the comments about being too late... Think about it. The entire game is about being too late, right up until the final battle!]