Notes: Elisabeth is a German language musical about an empress who falls in love with Death. In this musical, Death is personified in the form of a very attractive, young, usually blonde man. It's been one of my favorite musicals for years, and I highly recommend it, though it mostly hasn't been translated into English. Anyway, I've borrowed Elisabeth's Death for this story. On the off chance that somebody decides to read this, all you really need to know about the character is that he literally is Death, and that a kiss on the lips from him signifies the end of life.
Since I assume this story will have a very small readership, if you do read it, I'd love to know what you think.
Disclaimer: I don't own Elisabeth or Little Women. Beth's last lines are lifted directly from the novel.
Beth stared at the sea and shivered. The chill that had come over her was not the wind - of that much she was certain. She felt the familiar caress of icy fingers on the back of her neck and down her spine, but she didn't turn around. She knew what, or rather who, she would see.
"I didn't expect you," she whispered, looking down at the sand. "I'm feeling well today."
He didn't answer, but that wasn't unusual. He was the only person Beth knew - if he could rightly be called a person at all - who was less talkative than herself. It was nice in a way. She could tell him her thoughts and fears as easily as if he were one of her childhood dolls, and trust that he would not react to anything that she said any more than they did.
He kissed her neck, and Beth shut her eyes. This was new.
Her strange friend did not have a name, but she knew him. She felt as if she'd known him all of her life. She had seen him for the first time at the age of fourteen, when he'd sat quietly at her bedside through the strange dreams and wanderings that scarlet fever could produce. She thought perhaps she'd heard his voice long before then, whispering in his insidious way that she must be calm, that she must learn to accept, that there was no need for ambition or aspirations, for he was her guide and always would be.
This sudden intimacy between them though… Beth wasn't sure that she liked it. She'd tried to imagine such things for herself before, back when she had been trying to hold on to life, but she had not been able to get past how obscene and wrong the idea of being kissed by a man outside of her family was. This friend of hers was beautiful - his lips were clean and chaste, made of glass or wind or snow, but that didn't mean that he loved her or that she was ready.
"You're afraid," he said. There was a note of mockery, as if he could not believe that she would still be afraid after all of this time. She'd had more than half a decade to become accustomed to him.
"I must be," said Beth, for she knew that he friend knew all things and she didn't. "I thought I'd learned to overcome the fear, but perhaps I won't entirely until it's over. I'm sad as well."
"Everyone follows me eventually. It's natural an inevitable. I'll take you gently. It does not happen this way for most others."
Beth nodded. She wondered, not for the first time, why he told her these things. They were a comfort, but she knew that she did not matter to him, and for the first time she began to think that he did not matter so terribly much to her. He wasn't eternity itself. She would be with him for at most a moment at the end, and then she would be with God, never to see him again. At least she hoped that this was true. Didn't the Bible say that one could only die once?
The shore was empty, without even the sound of gulls to keep Beth company. Her friend too was gone. The tide was going slowly out, and Beth felt instinctively that he'd meant for her to see it.
Beth opened her eyes. She was stretched out comfortably on the picnic blanket that Jo had carried down to the beach that morning. The sun was warm upon her cheek, and there was a lively sea breeze that sure would be enough to sustain her had there been anything left to sustain. Even these dark thoughts were not enough to keep Beth from smiling up at Jo, who was looking after her as always. At least she smiled until she saw Jo's expression, which was that of one who had just lost something precious. Though she did not like to see the people that she loved as terribly unhappy as Jo looked now Beth felt a surge of relief.
"Jo dear," she started. Words were hardly necessary at this point, but for once it felt good to be able to admit her secret to a living person. "I'm glad you know it. I've tried to tell you, but I couldn't."