HE WAS ALONE by Layne Ewing

"May I have this dance?" He asked, giving her a slight bow.
"You may." Her voice resonated so delicately that he almost didn't catch her response. Returning the bow, she accepted his extended hand. Morgan held her fingers as if they were a fine heirloom, delicate and irreplaceable. 
Leading them out from the poorly lit corner of the ballroom, the extravagance was inescapable. Every reflective surface shimmered from the yellow light of the sconces and chandeliers, perhaps most impressively the ivory stone floor with its emerald veins streaking throughout its entirety. 
He led them out among the other couples. The men generally wore black to events such as these, which were seldom held in the first place. The women's apparel, as one might expect at any lavish occasion or within society in general, was quite varied. Rich hues of gowns ranging from dark sapphire to deep emerald to the occasional crimson tourmaline graced the feminine figures. The whole room was an ambient rainbow. 
Except for the woman standing in front of him. 
A long-sleeved black gown hung from her shoulders and past her ankles just barely gracing the emerald veined floor. Across her bodice and arms stretched a black-lace overlay which peeked up and around her neck. Her skin was littered with scars, the more sizeable ones were currently hidden by the gown. He stood for a moment and simply gazed upon her. He knew he looked foolish, but her beauty outweighed any embarrassment he might suffer. Yes, it was cliché, but that never caused any harm. 
He took a breath and adjusted his arms to begin dancing. In doing so his hand brushed the cool of metal under the lace. 
"Hera?"
"Yes, Morgan?" 
"Show me your arms."
"Show you my what?" She almost growled.
"Let me see your arms." He knew he was pushing her.
"Morgan, please. Don't." Hera pleaded as he reached to move up her sleeves. "Morgan please, I need them. I have to." her silky voice snagged in her throat.
Continuing to slide the fabric up her arms he found them. Two silver blades placed in their sheaths, strapped to the inside of her forearms. Gently, one at a time, he unstrapped them and tucked them into his coat. A tremble found its way through her body.
The fact that she had weapons was not what worried him. They had all grown up fighting. The only difference was that she had grown up fighting alone. 
"No one is going to hurt you here."
She knew that. Of course, she did. However, she also knew that she didn't know and eight years of not knowing developed a few trust issues in a person. 
"Hera? Would you look at me?" She wouldn't. She only stared past his shoulder to some unknown fixed point. 
"There's so many." A whisper.
"What?" 
"People, Morgan. There are so many people." She whimpered, wringing her hands together. He knew she felt vulnerable without a weapon, he just hadn't known how vulnerable. 
She had been missing for eight years. 
Eight years with no home and no family. Both had been destroyed in the fire. Thirteen was too young to have your mother and father stripped away as well as being thrown into the wilderness with nothing but a sword and a horse. He had tried to not remember. She clearly had. 
---
They all knew it was coming. All but her. In the morning before he left for her house he had saddled his horse and filled the saddlebag with a canteen and what little dried meat was left over in the winter pantry. It wasn't much, but they had to prepare for the worst. After he had arrived at the girl's house and the majority of the weeping had stopped from her mother, Hera had been in too much shock to make even a whimper, he and her father had tried discussing logistics. 
---
The girl had only rooted herself on the rough wooden floors. 
And now?
The woman only rooted herself on the emerald veined floors. 
His taking of her weapons was supposed to be his way of showing her he would protect her. Could protect her. Instead, he thrust her back to that morning eight years ago, where he had failed her. 
Neither of them was in any mental state to dance. Morgan stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. Hera, willingly accepting, tucked her hands up under her chin as her head rested on Morgan's shoulder. He swayed gently, as he hummed quietly with the music looking out on the other dancers. For a moment he wished that could have been them. He wished she didn't have to be afraid. He wished that a carefree childhood would have been a possibility.
She would have been a marvelous dancer.
Hera adjusted her head so that her forehead was against his neck. After a few moments she shifted again, but when she looked up to where her head had just been, she froze. There, slightly above Morgan's collar was a small scar. Inhaling sharply, she jerked back from his arms, whimpering apologies into her palms. 
"What's the matter? What happened?" Panicked he grasped her shoulders tightly.
"I'm so...so sorry, I made it happen." She stammered into her hands. 
"Sorry? What did you do?"
"Your neck. I made it happen." She traced the scar with her fingers. "I did this, it's my fault you… you…" She trailed off, drawing a ragged breath. Her head hung into her palms, shoulders trembling in sobs. 
---
The scar. 
Her Morgan had thrown her onto the back of his horse and ordered her to ride. Ride anywhere far far away. Anywhere but here. She didn't know why he hadn't come with her. He said it was because his horse would be to slow with the both of them. Two young teens? That hadn't made sense to her. 
She had only just crested the last hill before she would be in the woods when she heard a blood-curdling scream. 
Morgan. 
She yanked the dapple grey back towards the noise against all her better judgment. She smelled the smoke first, then saw it. Her home roared with flames and her breath caught in her throat. Her mother and father were in there. They didn't feel anything. They were already dead. Slaughtered by the soldiers. She was too overwhelmed and traumatized to cry. The soldiers… 
They had Morgan!
Without a thought, she screamed. Screamed his name. Screamed at the soldiers to stop. Morgan's eyes, as well as the soldiers', snapped up at her. This, of course, did nothing but give away her location. 
Morgan howled at her to run. To get out. To do anything but stay. The soldier's knife had been at his neck and Morgan had cut himself straining against their grasp, shrieking at her. 
The scar on his neck was her fault.
---
"Hera, look at me." He said, lifting her chin. Tears still falling from her red eyes, he brushed them away. "You have done no wrong towards me in any way. Promise me you will stop placing the blame on your own head. As for the scar, it's nothing to worry about. It's my reminder that I…” He paused, looking up and his throat swelled.
"Morgan?"
"It's my reminder that I wasn't strong enough."
"Oh Morgan, no," Hera said, lifting her arms above his shoulders and around his neck. He circled his arms around her waist, pulling her close and squeezing her tightly. Their faces buried in each other's necks.
"I love you Hera. Surely you should know that I always have." He whispered into her shoulder where his head was buried. For a moment he hoped she had not heard, however, those thoughts were quickly contradicted when she pushed back against him. 
"I'm so sorry. . . I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable I just. . ." Morgan stuttered. He looked at the ground between them. She could turn him into a blabbering boy with a single look and if that wasn't power he didn't know what was. 
"Oh you poor man, you don't think I feel the same?" She spoke slowly. Lifting her hands to cup his face, his muscles relaxed at the contact. Leaning in she placed a single kiss on his forehead. They let out the breaths they were holding. Morgan wrapped his arms around her once more, and they stood there amongst the dancing couples. If asked, he would've said they were the only two there.
Morgan looked up over Hera's head. 
They were the only two there. 
There was no ball. No elaborate grandeur or exquisite dancing couples around them. There was only silence. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He knew what was happening, he'd done it again. Looking back down his eyes were rewarded with only the sight of his empty hands. She had died eight years ago and he had dreamed her back again. 
Morgan never danced.
He was alone.

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