SUMMARY: When Julia almost dies of the scarlet fever, young Tybalt makes a bargain with Death. It doesn't go quite how he hoped it would. This is technically a crossover with Elisabeth, but you don't really need to know Elisabeth canon.
CANON: Rómeó és Júlia/Elisabeth (Budapesti Operettszínház)
CHARACTERS: Tybalt, Julia, and Death
RATING: T for canonical suicide
NOTES: For madame-le-maire, who requested Tybalt and Halál; ended up creepy gen rather than slash as such, this time around.
by some vile forfeit of untimely death
Tybalt is not supposed to be here.
He is supposed to be in his bed, asleep; in the morning he is supposed to go to his lessons, to study Greek verbs and the thrust in tierce, as if his cousin Julia is not burning up with fever, as if she is not dying.
The servant set to watching her dozes in the corner, and with a flare of anger, Tybalt considers waking the old woman; but then she would tell his father, and he would be thrashed—something he does not care much about—and Julia's door would be locked at night. That he does care about; he would not even have this, to be able to kneel at her bedside and pray, as he has never prayed for anything in his eleven years, for God to spare her.
Later, he cannot say why he looked up: the shifting of air in the room, perhaps, like a breeze through an open window, though all the windows are shuttered; or simply the instinct of an animal sensing danger. But he looks up, and sees a man standing at the head of the bed, his hand outstretched over Julia's unhappy face.
He is not a man. Tybalt remembers the stories Julia's nurse used to tell them, before his father had said he was too old to be playing with girls, that he must apply himself to his studies to become a man worthy of the Capulet name. He remembers the stories, he looks at the strange pale figure with starlight in his hair, and he knows with bone-deep horror that something terrible will happen if the man who is not a man touches Julia. It cannot be otherwise, with Lord Death.
"Wait." It comes out more a croak or a whisper than the firm command he meant; his voice cracks damnably.
Death goes as utterly still as a marble statue, impossibly still, then turns his head abruptly, with the swiftness of a striking snake. There is something almost like surprise on his face, the seeming without the substance, as if someone had told him what surprise looked like and he had tried to mimic it.
Their eyes meet, and Tybalt feels as though he is falling into an endless abyss; his stomach flips and drops, his legs tremble, his heart pounds so hard in his breast that it hurts. "Please," he says, "don't take her. I'll do anything."
Death regards him for a long moment, head cocked to the side, impassive. "Anything at all?" His voice is at once as gentle as a mother's and as echoing as a sepulchre, terrible and beautiful beyond anything Tybalt has heard before.
He thinks again of the stories, trying to remember how the heroes bargained with Death. It is not a simple thing, he knows; but Julia shifts fitfully on the bed, opening glazed, unseeing eyes. Her cheeks and brow are angry scarlet. Tybalt cannot remember what to be wary of, cannot think of how to wield words like a weapon as his sometimes-friend the Prince's nephew does; his tutors think him stupid, and perhaps they are right. All he can think to say is "Anything."
It is true. If Death asked for his life now, in exchange for Julia's, he would give it.
With a motion so smooth it is more like gliding than walking, Death rises from Julia's bedside and comes over to Tybalt. He is very tall and very beautiful, but it is beauty tinged with horror, with decay and destruction and the cold of the tomb. He reaches down and brushes his fingertips through the air by Tybalt's cheek, not quite touching him but leaving an icy numbness in their wake all the same. "All I ask," Death says, "is a kiss. Only a kiss. Then I will stay my hand."
Tybalt nods, his throat dry. Only a kiss. It does not seem like a great price for Julia's life and yet fear settles like a cold stone in his belly, that instinct of prey to flee the hunter seizes him, and it is all he can do to remain still, waiting. This is Lord Death, and it cannot be only a kiss.
But Death draws his hand back, stepping away in a swirl of black silk and glittering embroidery. "I will return to collect."
Julia opens her eyes and sees Death.
"I remember you," she says, the words falling from her tongue slow and sticky. It is hard to think, hard to make her mouth shape words; her thoughts ooze like syrup. "When I was a girl—I was sick—but you left—" She frowns, the memories slipping away like minnows through her fingers, when she was a child and Tybalt had tried to show her how to catch them. Tybalt. "Tybalt was there—" Tybalt was dead. Romeo was dead. She is—
Death nods; his hands close on her bleeding wrists and they are blessedly, mercifully numb for a moment, before the cold ache sets in. Still, the pain is better than it was. "I swore to him I would stay my hand," he says, and Julia cannot look away from his mouth, the cruel shape of it, the promise. "I did not swear that I would stay yours."