In a world free of emotions, people lived and died without shedding a tear. There was no anger, no sorrow, no tears, no violence, no laughter, no joy. Courtship and love were a thing of the past. Marriage was about survival of the fittest, not about a connection, not love. Children weren't a blessing, they were simply a way to keep the world running. Everything was peaceful, tranquil, dead. That is, until she was born.
Her parents were poor peddlers, who, like other adults, got married and decided to have their first child soon after. Yet from the moment she was conceived, something was different. Her mother placed her hand over her abdomen where a child was beginning to form and felt a strange warmth flood her body. Her lips turned up in a smile, an expression that had never before crossed her face.
When the time came for the child to be born, her father watched in stoic silence as his wife screamed in pain, one of the few feelings that hadn't evaporated from the world. He brushed her hair back gently, but there was no love in his eyes, only cold understanding. Yet when the midwife set his squirming, pink daughter into his hands, something changed. Tears welled up in his eyes, and for the first time in his life, he cried.
"Elise," he whispered to the infant as he held her in his arms. A steady stream of salty tears dripped onto the newborn, who watched him silently with unfocused eyes.
The girl grew up, and for a while, her parents managed to keep her secret. But even their hardest efforts could only protect her for so long. Yet for the first fourteen years of her life, she remained hidden, safe from the emotionless world around her.
When the girl's parents grew ill, they knew they didn't have enough money to pay any doctor. In a world with no mercy, it was clear that they would surely die. The girl's two protectors died within a few months after her fourteenth birthday, but she felt no sadness. She simply took the last few coins from their purses and turned away from their still forms one last time. With no other relatives willing to take in a young girl, suddenly, she was thrust into the city, forced to live an unprotected life.
The girl's secret became known very quickly. All it took was a touch, and suddenly all the emotions that people could no longer feel would flood to the surface. She lived her life as a novelty at first. People would walk by her and brush their hand against hers, and suddenly they would be alive. They would feel things they had never dreamed of. They would look at their spouse or their child, and suddenly feel all the love that had built up over the years. Yet after a short time, they would go back to being emotionless, cold, and only another touch could make them live again.
News of the girl spread quickly, and soon, people were flocking to her from all over the country. It was as if she were a sage, a healer. People brought her expensive gifts, money, all to simply touch her hand.
After the excitement of sudden fame wore off, she tried to hide. Yet even locked doors couldn't keep her hidden forever. People would wait outside her fancy home for days, hoping that she would come out. And when she did, she would immediately be mobbed by reaching fingers and desperate hands. She was a drug to the people. She could make them feel what they had forgotten how to long ago.
Yet the same mystery that made her a blessing to the people was a curse to her. Although she could make others feel emotion, she herself felt nothing. She was as dead as everyone else in the world. She cared about nothing, about no one. She walked around as if in a daze, not having emotions to be angry or afraid of the people who worshiped her, not feeling enough to be grateful for their gifts.
If she could feel anything, however, she would've felt something for him. He was nothing special, merely a petty thief, a scoundrel. He was her one ally, and if she had been able to feel, he would've been her friend.
When she was fifteen, she was walking home one evening. The air was hot and stifling, but she kept her hood pulled over her face, and managed to avoid being noticed. Yet despite her care to avoid people her hand brushed against the side of a tall, broad-shouldered man. She kept walking, keeping her head down and her steps rapid, but she was too late.
All the rage that had built up in the man's veins over forty years suddenly boiled to the surface, and he directed it toward the closest person. With a few strides he overtook the girl and threw her against a wall, pinning her with one meaty hand.
People walked by, their eyes turned toward the girl with nothing more than mild curiosity as the man pummeled the girl with his fists. They didn't care enough about anything to stop him. He struck her again and again, and she cried out in pain, although she wasn't afraid. She couldn't be afraid. She struggled and tried to pull away as the man unleashed his rage, but every time his fist struck her, he only grew more angry.
From nowhere, a shadow darted between the man and the girl, but he was not there to help. Instead, her reached for the necklace that hung from the girl's neck, intending only to rob her before she was beat to death. But her struggling fingers brushed his fair skin, and suddenly, he was flooded with emotions. In one fluid movement, he drew the knife from his belt and pressed it to the hulking man's throat.
"Leave," he said simply, his blue eyes flashing with sudden anger.
The man froze for a moment, but it was long enough for the effects of the girl's touch to wear off. He shook his head, confusion in his eyes, and walked away.
"Are you okay?" the boy asked her, his hand gently cupping her battered face.
"I'll be alright," she replied, blood dripping from her lips. The scarlet drops fell to the grimy stone beneath her feet, and tears of pain trickled down her cheeks.
"Come back to my place," the boy encouraged, his hand resting lightly on her arm.
"Why?" the girl asked simply. In a world devoid of mercy and kindness, charity was an unknown word.
The boy blinked in surprise, biting his lip. "I'm not sure. Just come with me and I'll patch you up."
"Okay," she said and nodded, letting the boy help her to her feet. Her blonde curls were stained with blood, and her bottle green eyes were nearly swollen shut.
"Come on," said the boy, taking the girl's hand and leading her to his waiting horse. He helped her onto the gelding's broad back and then climbed on in front of her. She clung to him as they cantered through twisting sidestreets until they finally reached an abandoned building.
He helped her off the horse and half-carried her slender frame into the decrepit house. Without letting go of her, he lit a candle, bathing his hideout in light. Stolen coins, trinkets, and jewelry sat in piles on the floor, all ready to be sold to put money in the boy's pockets.
"What's your name?" he asked the girl as he wiped the blood from her swollen face.
"Elise," she mumbled, wincing in pain as he poured alcohol onto one of the deeper cuts above her eye. Her voice was dull, groggy, like someone who had just been woken up from a deep sleep.
"I'm Vincent," he said, running a hand through his dark hair as he sat back, looking at the injured girl in front of him. He kept his hand resting over hers, marveling at the strange feelings running through his veins. He felt sad for the girl, and angry at her attacker. He was protective, merciful, kind.
"Where do you live, Elise?" he continued as he pressed a chipped glass of water into the girl's hands. "I'm sure your parents are waiting for you."
"They're dead," she said in reply. There was no sadness in her voice. She didn't know what sadness was. "I live alone. People bring me gifts in exchange for a touch. It must be miraculous if so many would throw away their belongings for only a few minutes of being able to feel."
"It is," the boy answered, his lips trembling.
"Can I stay here for tonight?" she whispered, her eyes drooping. "I just want to sleep."
"Sure," he answered, and easily lifted her onto his bed. He pulled up a chair to her bedside and covered her hand with his own. Soon, he was asleep as well, and for the first time, he dreamed.
Time passed, and the two children grew up together. He was her shadow, her knight. He was strong for her, he protected her as no one else could. Every night, they returned to his hideout to fall asleep, his hand firmly grasping hers. As long as he remained by her side, he dreamed, he was alive. She was his reason, his life. She always counted on him to hide her away when the overwhelming crowds of people grew too oppressing. He always went to her for a simple touch of her hand. Her touch was like life for him. She put color into the world, she made everything come alive. Yet she was trapped like a bird in a cage. While her song brought others happiness, she herself could never be free.
One night, when she was seventeen and he was nineteen, she fled from the throng of people who followed her and went to their usual meeting place. He was waiting for her, like always. His blue eyes were dull, but when she reached for his hand, they lit up.
"Take me away from here, Vincent," she whispered, her emerald eyes tired and worn. "I don't want to be around these people anymore."
"Of course, Elise," he whispered, his breath tickling her ear. Hand in hand, they ran through dark streets, the sound of her rustling skirts and his booted feet the only sound in the quiet night.
When he reached their hiding place, he shut and locked the door behind them like always, but this time, he did something different. He pulled her into a tight embrace, his deft hands wrapping around her as they never had before. She stood, wooden, confused.
"Vincent, what are you doing?" she asked, gazing up into his eyes.
He took her hand and lifted it up to touch his chapped lips. Her eyes widened in surprise, but she felt nothing.
"Elise, please," he whispered, his free hand cupping her face like he had done years ago. "Can't you feel anything? Can't you at least see what I'm feeling?"
"I don't understand," she whispered. "What are you talking about?"
"I care about you, Elise. More than anyone else. I'm in love with you."
She stood there, blinking in shock, before slipping out of his arms. "You know that I'll never understand what that means. I'll never be able to appreciate it, I'll never be able to return it." Her voice was rational, calm, dead. Just like it always was.
"Please," he whispered, tears pooling in his sapphire eyes. "Can't you at least try? Maybe there's someone else out there, someone like you, someone who can make you feel."
"Don't talk like a foolish person, Vincent. This is how I am. You should move on. Find another woman. You can bring her to me, and I'll do the same for her as I do for you. I'll make her feel, so that she can... Love... She can love you in return. Find someone who is capable of returning your affection."
"You don't understand," he whispered, tears falling from his eyes. "I don't want anyone else. I want you." He touched her soft lips with one calloused finger, gently tracing their outline. His hand moved to cup her face, and he brushed his lips gently against her forehead. His eyes fluttered closed as he kissed her lips, putting all his affection into that one gesture.
She brought her hand up to his chest, and his heart began to pound faster. But when her hand fisted in his shirt, it was only to push him away. "You're right. I don't understand," she said, shaking her head. Her face held nothing, her eyes were as dead as always. "And I never will." Without another word, she turned away and laid down on her bed.
Tears fell from the boy's eyes as he turned away, and he went to his own bed. But this time, he didn't reach for her hand like he had every other night for the past years. For the first time in years, he slept without dreams.
The boy woke up as a different man, one like the rest of the men in the world. He felt nothing, he cared about nothing. He looked at the girl sleeping in the same room, and wondered why he had let her into his hideaway in the first place.
"Elise," he said, not touching her arm to wake her as he usually did. Today he didn't want to feel, didn't want to have his heart break as he gazed at her blank face.
She sat up, blinking the sleep from those emerald eyes. "Good morning, Vincent."
"Leave," he said simply. He felt no regret, no sadness, no love. "Don't come back. I'm through wasting my life with emotions, with you. I was a fool."
She nodded, not upset by his words. "Alright. Good bye." She left without looking back once. She didn't miss him, she didn't seek him, she didn't care about him. She was empty.
For the next four years, they lived separate lives. He continued his life as a thief, living his life alone. He never married, but not because of his forgotten feelings. He could simply find no one willing to share a life with someone with as little to their name as he.
She went back to her life of fame and wonder. People continued to flock to her like moths to a flame. Yet though she was rich and beautiful, she never married. Once people would touch her, they would realize who they really loved.
The two lived in the same city for years, their paths never crossing. But one night, coincidence led them to the same corner that they'd always meet at. Their eyes met, but nothing stirred in either of them. They were dead.
"Evening, Vincent," she said formally. "It is good to see you." Her words were a lie, a simple recitation that humans kept using even as they stopped caring about others.
"Likewise, Elise," he said. His beautiful eyes were dull, ugly, broken. His face was like that of a doll, the smile on it was fake, a poor disguise for the emptiness behind his eyes.
She walked past him, not brushing against him. He did not reach for her, although his eyes never left hers.
An old man tottered after her, reaching out to her like a drowning man. "Miss Elise, please, grab my hand! It's wearing off, and I want to keep feeling. I don't want to forget what it's like to love my daughter. Please, before I forget."
She turned toward him, reaching out to him. It wasn't mercy or kindness that moved her hand, just simple irritation. She didn't want the old man bothering her anymore.
In his haste, the man stumbled into her, knocking her into the street. She tripped on her full skirts and fell to the cobbled ground.
Vincent saw the oncoming carriage at the same time she did. The driver saw her too, but didn't stop. Why should he care if his carriage killed a girl? She watched its approach coldly. There was no fear in her face, no terror. Nor was there any in the boy's. He didn't care about her. He cared about nothing. Yet still, his body was moving, as if it still remembered although his mind had long forgotten what it meant to love.
He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out of the way just as the carriage clattered by. Suddenly, he was alive again, and everything he had forgotten over the years flooded back. The dam in his mind was broken once again.
"Elise," he breathed, and her name was like a song in his mouth. "I should never have left you."
"Vincent," she said, her eyes dull, not sad, not happy, not guilty. Just empty. "Why did you reach for me? I never wanted this to happen. I didn't want you to remember me."
He pulled her close and she sunk into his embrace like she always had. She listened to his heart racing, and wondered if hers would ever do the same. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her soft curls, breathing her in.
"Come back," he whispered, like he had so many years before. "Come back to my home with me."
"Why?" she murmured, unable to understand.
"I don't know," he replied, a smile on his gentle lips. "Just come back with me."
She disentangled herself from his arms, but left her hand in his. She allowed him to lead her through those twisting streets, even though she could've found the way there by herself.
They reached his home, and everything was the same as it had been years ago. He kicked the door shut behind him and pulled her close, as if by holding her tight enough, he could make her heart's rhythm match his.
"Vincent, stop," she said, bracing her hands on his chest. "It never worked before. Nothing has changed."
"I won't give up. Just let me be with you, let me stay with you for a bit longer."
"Fine," she said, her eyes cast toward the ground. "But nothing will change. I won't change." She went to her old bed and lay down as if nothing had changed over the years. In minutes, she fell asleep. With a sad smile, he laid down in the other bed and reached across to take her hand in his. For the first night in years, he dreamed again. He was alive again.
Months passed, and the two went back to their old ways. They were inseparable, yet as she had predicted nothing changed. She could never return his feelings, and it was slowly killing the gentle boy. She couldn't care about him the way he cared about her.
One day, it grew too much for him again.
"Elise, I'm so sorry," he whispered as he took her into his arms for the last time. "I promised not to give up. I promised. But it's too hard. I love you too much to be with you like this. I can't help you."
"I'm sorry, Vincent. If I could love anyone, I would love you," she whispered in return. "Don't come back this time. It will only hurt you again."
He flinched, as if her words had slapped him somehow. "Wait, what did you say?"
She frowned, confused. "I told you not to come back. I don't want you getting hurt again."
His face lit up like it never had before. "Elise, why don't you want me getting hurt again? Why?"
She blinked in surprise, drawing back from him in shock. "I... I'm not sure. I just... When I see you in pain, it... Hurts. I... I don't like it when you're hurting. It hurts me too."
He reached out and pulled her to him, tears of joy running down his face. "Elise, that's what caring about someone is. That's what feeling is."
She blinked in confusion, not understanding herself, not understanding what had just happened. "Does this mean I'm learning to feel? Vincent, what's happening to me?"
"I don't know," he whispered into her hair. "But I think this is a start. I think maybe you really are learning what it means to care. Let me show you what it means." He stepped back from her and stared into her confused eyes, trying to look for something in them, something he hadn't seen before. And he found it.
With one step he closed the distance between them and took her face in his hands. He captured her lips with his, and was met with a startled gasp. Something in her broke with that one gentle touch. Suddenly, her fingers twined themselves into his hair, pulling him closer. She returned his kiss, her heart pounding in her chest, beating for the first time.
"Vincent," she breathed as they parted, and there was enough emotion in that one word to last a lifetime. Tears flowed from their eyes as they held each other, sobbing for everything that had happened over the years.
"Elise, I love you," he whispered.
"I love you too," she replied, and for the first time ever, she knew what it meant.
Days passed, days full of happiness, love. She could feel, she was alive. Something in him had fixed her, just as she was able to fix others with a gentle touch. Now, she was happy. She helped others, not out of dull boredom, but because she wanted them to feel what she was feeling. She wanted them to see what the world looked like through living eyes, she wanted them to know what it felt like to have your heart pound in your chest.
Even larger crowds began to follow her as her magnetism for others grew. They saw the joy on her face and wanted to feel it too. Crowds clamored around her, seeking her touch, wanting to feel.
"This is marvelous, Vincent," she breathed into his ear as they walked down the street, laughing. The sound was beautiful to his ears, and he smiled in return as he pulled her to him.
"Look how happy you make everyone," he whispered, kissing her cheek. His dark lashes fluttered against her skin, and she shivered with delight at his touch, leaning into his arms.
"Make it stop," screamed a voice.
She stepped out of his arms, her eyes scanning the crowd in confusion. The old man who had once come to her every day so he could keep loving his daughter was staggering toward her, his face lined with grief.
"Take it back," he screamed, reaching his hands toward the girl. "I don't want to feel anymore. I don't want this sorrow."
"I don't understand, what happened?" she asked, stepping toward the man.
"My daughter is dead, but I can't stop loving her. I don't want to forget her, but she's gone, and all I have is this grief. Take it back! Please! Let me love her, but take away my pain." His eyes were wide and crazed, but she took another step toward him.
"Please, calm down, sir," she whispered. "I can't make you stop feeling. But if you stay away from me, it will go away. But you'll also forget what it meant to love her."
"Don't try to trick me," growled the man. "Take away my pain. I'm sure you can do it. You have to help me. Make me stop hurting."
"I can't," whispered the girl. "Just don't come to me again, and it will all go away," she assured him.
"I can't live with this," he whispered. "I don't want to live another minute with this pain. Take it back right now."
"I can't. I'm sorry," she repeated, tears welling up in her eyes.
The man howled in pain, but said nothing else. She cast her eyes to the ground and turned back toward the boy, reading the sorrow in his eyes.
"I wish I could help him, Vincent," she whispered, taking a step toward him. She frowned in confusion as she saw his eyes widen in sudden fear. He reached toward her, her name on his lips.
She felt the knife pierce her back, felt the pain course through her body. She fell to the ground, her gaze sliding over the old man. He realized what had he had done and threw his knife to the ground, then staggered away with tears on his weathered cheeks.
"Elise," cried out the boy. He fell to the ground beside her and took her in his arms. "No, this can't be happening. You'll be okay. I can patch you up again. It'll be okay. This isn't that bad." But he could feel the blood seeping through his fingers. He could see the light leaving her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Vincent," she whispered, a gentle smile on her face. "I was just learning what it meant to love. I'm sorry I have to leave you so soon."
"It's alright, Elise. Just stay with me. Don't leave me yet. I'll patch you up, I promise." Yet as he touched her face, he realized it was too late.
"Don't forget me," she whispered, tears falling. "Don't forget what it means to love. I know it'll hurt, but please, try to hold on. Don't forget."
"I won't, I promise. I won't forget you," he whispered, but she was already gone.
He sobbed, clutching her still body to his heaving chest. He swept for hours, sitting there on the sidewalk, holding his love in his arms. People walked by, not feeling, not caring that the one who had allowed them to feel, who allowed them to be happy, was dead, gone forever.
After a while, his shaking subsided, and his racing heart began to slow. The boy opened his eyes, and his tears evaporated as he looked at her still face. He touched her face one last time, but felt nothing. He wasn't even sure why he was holding her so tightly. What was her significance to him? Why had he wasted all those years following her, trying to fix her? She was just a girl, just a beautiful, broken, empty girl. He let her body fall to the ground, feeling nothing. No sadness, no loss, no love. Just empty.
He stood up and turned away, leaving her broken form behind him. His heart slowed down, resuming its slow, steady rhythm from years before. He was empty again. Without her, he couldn't feel. Neither could anyone else. Yet they would go on, dead, empty, broken. Because they had learned to shut out their pain, and everything else with it. They were nothing.
Unbidden, a last tear dripped down his cheek. He caught it on his fingertips, looking at it curiously, wondering what had caused it. He frowned, and continued on his way. But that night when he slept, he dreamed. He dreamed of her.
[A/N: Just a short story I wrote quite a while ago. This is just the first draft, so please forgive the errors. Please review and let me know what you think. ~DarkHawk]