"I know you," he breathed, studying every part of her face, from her large, light eyes to her strong nose and jaw. And although her dark hair was shorn, he could see the tiny wisps of curls escaping the handkerchief wrapped around her head. She had been so beautiful in his memories of her, with rosy cheeks and long dark curls. But even now, even in this place, she was strikingly beautiful. He had always thought so. He would always think so.
She had attended a Jewish school not far from his own school. He would see her walking home every day, and followed her back to the apartment building where both of their families lived. He had always felt intrigued by her, by her mysterious eyes, by her purposeful gait. But he had never had the courage to walk home with her, or to even say hello. So he had to make himself content with the spare glances she would cast if she caught sight of him after school, or with the rare smiles she sometimes gave if they passed each other in the apartment building lobby.
They once had ridden an elevator together. He had felt so awkward, so tense, standing that close to her and not being able to say a word. As she exited the elevator, she gave him a small smile, giving him a little bit of hope for the future. But that was the last time he would see her. Her family was taken away the next day. He thought he would never see her again. What were the chances of seeing her here? Now?
"I know you," he repeated in awe, stunned by this fortune.
Her eyes filled with tears and she shook her head. "No," she whispered. "No, you can't know me anymore. Because now I'm a prisoner here and you're a guard. So now we are strangers."
He looked down at his uniform. It felt so foreign. Why had this determined his life? Who he could trust? Who he could love?
He slowly reached upward, touching her hand which was clenched to the fence that separated them. He felt her cold, chapped skin under his fingers, and wondered what they might have felt like if he had tried to hold hands with her back when he had the chance.
"I don't think we were ever anything more than strangers," he told her solemnly, looking into her eyes. "I wasn't ever brave enough to say anything to you."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I..I always thought your face was kind. I always thought you must be a good person." She opened her eyes and looked at him fiercely. "But how can I still think that when I see you in this uniform, the one that causes everyone such terror?"
His heart dropped as he looked at her stern face. It had thinned, and her cheekbones now protruded sharply from her cheeks, her eyes seeming even larger than they always had, dark circles ringing them. He had done this to her. She was this way because of his people. He let his hand drift from hers, giving up everything.
But suddenly, her arm shot out, and she reached her small hand and bony wrist straight through a crook in the fence, and grabbed his hand back, clinging to it with all her might.
"I always thought your face was kind," she repeated again, with such conviction in her voice. "And now, yours is the only kind face I've seen in this place. You say you didn't have the courage to say anything to me before...have the courage to say something now. Tell me that you'll help me through this. Tell me that I won't die here." Her voice shook terribly as she spoke these words, leaving him breathless.
He held her hand tightly, and reached his other toward her face. The tips of his fingers could only skim her cheekbone through the fence, but she closed her eyes at the soft touch and sighed. "Please," she whispered.
He let his hand drop from her face and clung to her hand with both of his. "Leah." It was the first time he had ever said her name, although he had known it for years. She opened her eyes and looked back at him.
"I promise," he assured her. "I promise I won't let you die here."
A/N: "In Another Life" has had a huge following since I started it a few years ago, but I didn't like where the story was going and ended up having major writer's block with it. I decided to abandon it last year, but I loved the theme of the story so much that I wanted to write a new version. So here is the new and improved, better researched, version of "In Another Life"! I hope you all enjoy! :)