A/N: This is my second "Elisabeth" fanfiction. I am not one to usually beg for reviews, but I do know that several people read my other "Elisabeth" story, yet did not review. Anything would help me improve my writing!
Disclaimer: I do not own "Elisabeth" or the characters mentioned herein. I do, however, own the plot.
Elisabeth wiped a hand across her brow, as if she could erase all that she had just seen. The guilt and sadness, the very shame, weighed heavily upon her, threatening to break her and tear apart her soul. Her nightmares were now her reality; what she had once feared beyond anything else was now all that she had, and such a thing was simply inerasable. The unimaginable had become the truth.
They, the doctors and the detectives and the press and who knows who else, had called for her early the morning after it had happened. Their voices had seemed desperately urgent, yet they were clearly trying to remain calm for her sake. But she had had enough of lies in her lifetime, and so their carefulness did little to appease her mind. They, following her pleas, had given her a concise description of the scene. And earlier than the current time, when the sun was just reaching the top of the horizon at noon, Elisabeth had gone to the place where it all had happened: that seemingly innocent Mayerling hunting lodge. What a lovely name for such a deathly affair.
Tears began to inch down her soft cheeks as she remembered all that she had seen. Her child, her beautiful son, her Rudolf, had been stretched out upon the stone flooring in his own blood. They had not dared to clean up the scene, both because they feared her wrath and because there appeared to be some debate over exactly how he had met his end. She knew, though, how everything had played out. How could she not? She herself had once been seduced by that keeper of the underworld, and she knew that her Rudolf was of a rather weaker mind than herself. He would be one to value safety over freedom.
Rudolf had been in his finest clothes, yet his coat had been curiously missing, tossed off over a chair to the doorway. His hair lay across his pale forehead, slightly obscuring his right eye. His head was at a strange angle, turned to the right in a way that he had never turned it in life. His eyes, his beautiful grey eyes, were closed. At last, her child, her little son, could sleep in peace.
All the same, he was dead. He would never again cry for her in the dark of the night, wishing for the mother that would never listen to him. He would never ask her again impossible questions to which she had no answers…
She had no one now, too. Even her childhood friend, her love, her keeper and her freedom-bearer, was gone from her life. She had sent him away, and he would no longer visit her in her darkest hours.
But of course, one could hope.
She sank down upon the floor of the parlor room, her shawl falling to the ground beside her shaking body. "Death…" she whispered, calling him in her absolute desperation.
"Elisabeth," came the responding murmur, and she looked up, searching for him. Out of nowhere, like a perfect phantom, walked Death, all blue, black, and blond. He walked up until he was standing straight in front of her, regarding her. His eyes, once kind and excited, were now dark and forbidding.
"I…I don't know what to do," she said. "Why…tell me why you did it," she ordered, suddenly regaining her fierce stubbornness. But still, she knew that no one, not even the Kaiseren of Germany, could order around Death. He worked on his own agenda and for his own aims.
"Did what?" Death asked, the picture of perfect innocence.
She stared at him, anger filling her and threatening to bubble over. "You know perfectly well what you have done. You have taken Rudolf," she gritted out, crossing her arms across her chest. If only she could see how childish she looked, taking such a stance.
"True," Death replied. He leaned against the arm of a couch, regarding her with once-kind blue eyes. "But it was, of course, because he asked me to do it."
"No!" Elisabeth nearly shouted, aghast. She could not tear her eyes away from his pale face, that face that filled her terrible dreams and gave her sweet nightmares. "How could you say such a thing?"
"I say it only because it is true," he replied, calmly. "Rudolf asked me to help him, and so I did it. It was, after all self-defense." He let a smile grace his face, staring deeply at her.
"What did he need to defend himself against that the guards could not protect him from?" Elisabeth asked. As soon as the question left her mouth, she felt rather ignorant. Of course, there had to be a darker, deeper meaning to Death's careful words. He only ever spoke in metaphors and the like, it seemed to her.
"You," Death replied, and she looked at him, fear filling her. Fear for her dead son and fear for herself, for the guilt that she now would have to live with. "Life," he continued, not noticing her pain. "The Kaiser. Me, even. He saw no way out except through my kiss. He asked for my help, my love. I tried to prevent it, of course, but he forced me to do the deed. Even I can be powerless, sometimes, especially where you mortals are concerned."
"He forced you?" Elisabeth asked, shocked.
"Yes, Elisabeth," Death said. For an instant, she thought that she could hear a note of fatigue in that usual musical, calm voice. "He was in despair. He requested, no, pleaded, that I end his misery. What was I to do? Better he met me himself, still with his mind intact! Rather than five years later, perhaps, mentally instable like your sister! He was true to me. I was true to him. How could I have possibly done any better? I gave him his last wish!"
"You could have let him live!" she yelled. She rose from the floor in one swift moment, her shawl falling behind her. She pushed up against him, crushing him against the arm of the couch. She looked up at him, challenging him. When he made no movement of retaliation, she hit him across the face, looking for any sort of reaction. The red mark made by her hand stood plain on his pale white cheek. Still, he simply looked down at her, and she wondered for the first time if perhaps he could feel pain, mental or physical. He was after all, Death, both a giver and an alleviate of pain.
Then, he moved to wrap one of his arms around her waist, and the movement made her sick. The hands of her son's murderer were touching her body…She tried to twist out of his grasp, but he held her tightly to his body.
"And see him even worse?" Death whispered, all emotion gone from his voice. He rested his other hand upon her left shoulder, holding her even closer. "He was dying, Elisabeth. He would have died without my help. He was dying little by little, every day a little bit more. But, I figured, he ought to have a friend with him in his last moment, right? So there I was."
"A friend?" she asked, into his elbow.
"Oh, so then, he had not told you," Death said thoughtfully. "As you once called for me, so did he as well. He was falling, just as you were, though not in so literal a fashion." He leaned into her, his hair brushing against her cheek. She wondered if perhaps this was some way of him gaining comfort. But of course, he would have to be hurting for him to require comfort, and she had not yet determined if he could in fact hurt.
Perhaps hitting him again would do the trick. Yet she did not dare to chance it, as he was finally explaining some of the story to her.
"He was weak," Death continued. "He wanted to be strong."
"My son was not weak!" Elisabeth retorted. "He was the prince of Austria!" She jerked out of his grasp, looking up into his suddenly dark eyes.
"I do not mean that he was weak, like that. He was certainly strong in position and physicality. However, he had everything but strength of mind," Death explained. "He had everything but peace. He was tormented by demons created by those around him. When no one, not even you, Elisabeth, would help him, I had to step in." He brushed a long-fingered hand down her cheek, his eyes closed.
She leaned into his gentle touch, yet his words cut into her body, her flesh, her bones. Suddenly, she forgot all of his words and her anger. She collapsed against him, and he dropped to the ground with her sudden weight. Tears streamed down her ashen cheeks. Their wetness soaked into his coat, and the feeling was like ice, relieving yet biting cold.
"Elisabeth," he murmured into her hair. "What can I do? What could I have done?" He encircled her struggling, drowning, shuddering body with his arms, bringing her even closer to him. "How can I make this easier for you?"
"You could bring my Rudolf back!" she hissed, but even she knew that such a deed would be impossible. He could have laughed at her suggestion, but he could not find the strength in himself to do so.
"No," he said quietly. "But I can save you yet."
"Save me?" she asked, fearing danger once more. "From what?"
"Elisabeth…" he said. "There are many that would have you come with me far before your time."
"I want to be with you now!" she cried. "What do I have to live for now? My son and youngest daughter are dead! My husband loves another!"
"No," Death said, strong all of a sudden. "I want you to live. Though it pains me as each day passes without you with me, you have a purpose alive."
"I am already dead inside!" she countered.
"You have your country, your people, to live for, do you not?" he replied. "And I give you a promise, my sweet Elisabeth: I will never love another but you. You are far too dear to my heart for me to allow you to come with me. You are the bearer of light, for you are life, and I am the bearer of darkness, for I am Death. I will not see you dead before your time!"
"But when is my time?" she asked. "I do not wish to die old." She paused, hesitant. "You would not find me beautiful then." She carefully, slowly ran her thumb across his brow, touching his closed eyelids. "You would still be beautiful, but I would not be."
He opened his eyes, looking deeply at her. She got the feeling that he could see straight into her soul, and that both terrified and excited her. "You will always be beautiful, even aged and past your prime. Beauty is not in hair and face. It is in the mind and spirit. And by that law, I am far from beautiful. In fact, I am ugly."
"No," she said. "You are the most beautiful creature that I have ever laid eyes upon."
"This is not even my true face," Death murmured, and Elisabeth wondered if this was another of his closely-guarded secrets. "I have no true face, truth be told. I can assume human personifications at my will, and I try to fit myself to the ideas of the person to whom I am focusing on. In Rudolf's case, he was searching for a male role model, the image of what he would like to be as a grown man; for that, this guise was perfect. You, I daresay, were looking for a man of dreams, and I rather think that this façade does the trick."
Elisabeth had not realized just how vain he was until that moment. She blushed, looking down at her hands. "You are shameless," she said, a smile finally gracing her features. He seemed to loosen up at her grin, and he moved to trace his hand down the fall of her hair.
"So you are simply an idea without this human body?" she asked curiously, all arguments from before forgotten, at least for the moment.
"Yes," Death said. "It seems strange to your ears, but to me, it is what I am. This body feels strange to me; I feel confined."
"I think I know a better body for you," Elisabeth said. "You would make a lovely cat. The way you move, you always remind me of something rather feline."
"I do not know if I should feel complimented or offended," he said, grinning at her. "But thank you anyway." Suddenly, his face changed, shifting into something altogether more dangerous. He looked at her, seemingly shocked or surprised.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, all childish attitude gone.
He stiffened in her embrace, as if he was almost frightened. "Something is wrong," he said. "I must leave."
"I thought you went by your own agenda?" she asked, yet she left him leave her arms. She stood up with him, helping him straighten out his suit coat. He moved with ghostly, thick movements.
"Yes," he said, and his voice was uncharacteristically stoic. "I…something unprecedented has happened. Yet I should have known that it was coming, I think. Your freedom may soon be compromised far further."
"What?" she asked, grabbing her shawl from the floor.
"Revolution," he said, his voice cold and unfeeling. "Revolution is sweeping over Europe and the Americas both. And it is coming even closer to your doorstep. You may meet me before I had originally intended," he whispered.
"I will wait for you," she said, her voice filled with a strength that she did not feel. "Before I die, I shall look for you."
"I will be there, Elisabeth. I promise that to you, my love," he said. He turned once again to her, as if to memorize her face before he left her side. He reached out, as if to touch her face, but then he abruptly drew back his hand. "I must leave."
"Then go," she said kindly. "I will always wait for you, Death."
He brushed past her, sliding through the doorway. And then, it was as if he had never even been there, like a perfect phantom of the night.