He can't sleep. It's a little embarrassing to admit, but he always has trouble sleeping away from home, in any bed other than his own—it just never fits right with him. Outside, the wind howls and tree branches whip against the window, and Sollux tosses and turns in bed, the sheets tangled around his legs. He's the only one still awake, from what he can hear; the cabin's filled with the sound of snoring, bunk beds squeaking and creaking. Sollux growls, pulls his pillow over his head, and completely regrets ever agreeing to come to this stupid summer camp that he's not enjoying in the fucking slightest. He wouldn't have bothered to come if it had been totally his decision, but his parents had been nagging at him to "get off that damn computer and enjoy the outdoors for once" or some shit like that, and if this would finally shut them up... well.
Now, he's pretty much cursing himself for how easily he gave in. Next time he's leaving the electronic comforts of his room either kicking and screaming or not at all. He just doesn't do nature, really.
The wind whispers at the window—Sollux plays a game with it out of sheer boredom, twisting and turning the sound in his mind until he can almost make out words in it. Voices, arguing, fighting. His name, strings of numbers. It nearly makes sense, bleary-minded with exhaustion. Sollux stares at the ceiling, vaguely wishing that there was some kind of discernible pattern on it in the darkness, something that he could follow, trace, obsess over.
Hi, the wind says. There's a sharp tapping at the window: stems and branches beating against it. 'Hi', Sollux nearly says back. Instead he thinks this is stupid and rolls over to bury his face in the mattress. Hi, the wind says again, a little firmer, louder. He ignores it. His head hurts and he's so sleep-deprived that he's starting to hear things and he doesn't want to be here and
he blinks. There's a sort of—clicking noise, somewhere, and there's a breeze on the side of his face. I said hi, he hears, from beside, and screams.
Nothing comes out. There's the sudden noise of something—someone—dragging itself on the floorboards, and then everything happens very quickly; hands tug at the bedsheets and doesn't think to untangle himself from them before he's sliding off the edge of the mattress, flopping onto the floor; he can feel something moving weirdly against him, slowly slithering over his back; there's a hand curled over his mouth, all cold dry skin and long bony fingers, and a voice, from behind, now, right at his ear. It's saying things that Sollux can't make sense of at all, maybe because his mind's gone a complete muddled mess, a knot of nothing but holy shit i'm going to die. Everybody else seems to still be sleeping soundly—God, those assholes, Sollux thinks desperately, how fucking dare they even be deep sleepers.
The voice is still murmuring nonsense against the shell of his ear. He's starting to realise that maybe it's not him being confused at all—it's really not any language he's ever heard. It doesn't sound human, somehow. It's frighteningly sharp, all clicking and hissing, and it feels like it's cutting straight into his fucking mind. Sollux is approximately ten seconds away from pissing himself.
"Oh god who the hell are you and what do you want," he manages to spit out, except against the hand over his mouth, it just comes out as a long, incomprehensible, mumble. He's shaking. God, he's actually shaking. This is a nightmare or something, he tells himself, this is just some really weird dream. He'll wake up in a second or a minute or—
It shifts audibly, behind him. It's hiding under his bed, he suddenly realises. It's... hiding. There's another, quieter, series of clicks and hisses in his ear, before there's just silence. Then:
"So-rry. I... didn't mean to. To scare you."
Its hand tentatively pulls away from his mouth a little. Sollux could scream now but—somehow he just feels completely unable to say anything, really. He feels like he can barely breathe. Then what the hell did you mean to do, he thinks, but the actual sounds refuse to form in his throat.
"Sometimes I just—regress. You know? Wait, no... no, of course you don't," it says, not entirely unkindly. It sounds kind of fond, actually. Its voice is still just as weird like this, like it just doesn't fit with human language, as though its tongue isn't made for the shapes and sounds of it. At least he can understand what's it's even saying, now. "But oh, I'm so sorry! This isn't going well at all, is it?"
Sollux breathes, slow and shakily, into the thing's palm. He isn't waking up. It giggles, for some fucking reason. It... sounds a little like a dolphin squealing, if he's totally honest. It's bizarre.
"Hehe... sorry, sorry! That just feels so funny," it (she?) says, wriggling around on the floorboards. He's starting to think this person or thing or whatever isn't going to kill him at all—it seems to be acting somewhat friendly now, actually. Not exactly like a murderer, at least. "Maybe we should just try this again, okay?"
"What... what'd you mean?" Sollux says as quietly and steadily as he can. He's still very much aware of the fact that they're not the only ones in this cabin right now.
"Welllll, maybe you could come outside with me? I wanted to talk to you, you sea! But I don't think we're reely going to get much privacy in here... and I'd just plain like you to come back to my plaice for a while. It gets awful lonely down there sometimes."
"Oh," Sollux says. He can feel it moving again, all of a sudden, snaking over his back—before he can react, its face is right up in his, its (her, her) eyes wide and dull in the dark, her hair tumbling down her shoulders, long and wavy and dripping wet. She's so close that he almost shrieks before she can clap her hand roughly over his mouth again.
"Clam down!" she whispers, quietly giggling again. Sollux can't feel her breath, even from this close. That unsettles him, honestly, it really does. "Glubbing goodness, you humans are such easily spooked little things sometimes. It's actually somewhat cute."
Cute, Sollux thinks, disbelieving. Disbelieving of everything about this situation, really. He swallows. And—'you humans'. God. Not 'us'. 'You'.
"Hey now, I'm not going to hurt you, little farlowella," she says, smiling with a mouth full of teeth that Sollux can't help but imagine are murderously sharp. He feels suddenly very small. "How about we just sneak out of here and I can take you somewhere a whooole lot nicer than this old place? And we can talk properly!"
Her hair swishes over his cheek, still-wet and stringy. It smells... odd. "Okay," he blurts out, and just hopes very hard that this won't end in him being killed and eaten or anything like that. But what else could he say or do here, really? "Y-yeah. Okay."
It's lighter outside, with the moonlight, but hardly by much. He still can't really make out her appearance and somehow it frustrates him: having all these awful thoughts about who or what she could be and nothing to confirm them by. She doesn't walk, with her legs, he guesses, unable to carry her properly on ground—instead she crawls, drags herself along, and although she seems to have little trouble keeping up with his tentative pace, he stills feels horrifying conscious of the very much unusual movement. He tries not to stare, even though in the darkness it would mean nothing.
They move almost in silence, save for the sound of leaves crinkling under his feet and her body, and her humming softly and contently. She sounds happy in a way that Sollux feels he can't begin to understand right now. He's tired and cold and, quite frankly, still somewhat terrified, and he'd be wishing to be back in bed and asleep if not for the fact that he may have, completely by accident, stumbled on some kind of genuine discovery here that he might never have the chance to witness again. She just has the most alien air to her, something decidedly, frighteningly, inhuman.
"What's your name?" she says, suddenly, catching him admittedly off-guard. He pauses in his tracks for a second before muttering, "uh, Sollux".
"Sollux... that's a nice name," the girl replies. "I like it. Mine's Feferi."
Sollux frowns. "You have a name?"
"Well, of course I do, silly—why wouldn't I?" she says, sounding almost amused. "I always knew it was mine. The lake sang it to me, as a spawn."
Oh. Sollux stops and watches her crawl ahead for a few moments: the stiff, awkward hunch of her shoulders, the weak tremble of her legs as they drag along. It's slowly becoming lighter, as they progress, and he can now at least make out her outline clearly. "The... what?"
"The lake," Feferi says, turning to look at him. The forest is beginning to clear, around here, and the ground dips down a little; the grass beneath his feet is small and weedy. He catches up to Feferi in two quick strides and doesn't resist when she loops her arm into his. Her skin is cold and dry and her body does not move with the contractions of breathing. She smells of earth and rot, salt and seaweed.
The lake glitters with the moon and the stars, and Feferi glitters, too. In her reflection he can see her eyes, her smiling teeth, sharp and glassy. She falls, and he breathes in deeply and lets himself fall with her.
The water swallows him, ice-cold and foamy, and he sinks. Bubbles drift from his mouth, carrying themselves away, bursting and fading to nothing. Seaweed clings and tangles around his legs, and he sinks, and sinks. Above, the surface shimmers. It's almost beautiful.
He vaguely registers that Feferi is touching him. Down here, her hands are cooler, softer, to the touch, and when they wrap around his wrists, he can feel the smooth skin that webs between fingers; her hair floats above her, in long, silky tendrils. She smiles for him, so brightly, and opens her mouth, and his head fills with the flowing, unearthly lilt of an angel's voice—a mermaid's song. It's unlike anything he's ever heard.
She moves so much more easily, now. Her legs kick, and she pulls him up to the glowing light of the surface, holding him close, their bodies squished together. Her arms are strong and her voice does not waver. The song carries through the chambers of the lake, and it carries through him.
They burst through the surface suddenly, like a bubble popping, and Sollux comes back to earth; Feferi's song mutates into a jarring screech, all alien warbling and wailing. It aches to listen to.
"Wha—," Sollux starts to choke out, water dripping from his mouth and his hair and everywhere, but he can't. Feferi quiets to a slow hiss, and eventually stops, and she's looking at him, mouth half-open, eyes wide, still kicking her legs idly underwater—really looking at him. The sky is clear above them and the moon shines; the edges of her frame burn bright with light. He can see her.
Her skin is graying, dry and shrunken, and her lips are a lifeless, pale purple. Her eyes are glassy, iris and pupil solid black, and there's heavy lines of violet bruising underneath them. Hair clings to her back and shoulders and chest, impossibly long and tangled, a mess like a seaweed wreathe. She's naked, all broad hips and thighs, and her chest doesn't heave with breathing. Sollux hesitantly reaches a hand out to her, and she doesn't resist as he rests it, trembling, on the side of her chest, above the breast.
There's no pulse.
Feferi presses her hand over his; her skin is cold, so cold, and wrinkled on the palms. He can feel tiny flakes of it halfway peeling away. She's staring at him with those deep, black eyes, and he shivers.
"You're dead," Sollux says, quietly. Feferi nods.
"Yes, I'm dead! Is that a problem?"
Sollux can't really help it—he laughs a little, at that. He might as well, otherwise he'd probably cry. "Uh, well, yeah, you could say that."
Feferi 'hmph's and lays a hand on her hip, but she's holding the tiniest hint of a smile, too. "Well, excuse me for being dead! Cod, how glubbing rude."
Sollux clasps their hands together, and tries to ignore the little shards of her skin flaking onto his. She's beautiful. She's beautiful, and she's horrifying, and she's dead.
He strips of his soaking clothes, and she drags him down again to the lake-floor, through reeds and seaweed, over swept white sand. He holds his breath admirably and clings to her as best as he can, and she sings for him again. It's the most hauntingly perfect thing he's ever heard, every note slithering out of her throat so smoothly that it feels like a caress.
They clamber onto the bank together, him gulping for breath, and lying on the grass she wraps herself around him—he feels like he's being held by an octopus, almost, all wet, clutching hands and slimy-skinned legs. He's both disgusted and horribly fascinated.
"Oh, it's so nice to have someone else here," Feferi chirps, wiggling her feet in the shallows of the water. She's missing some of her toenails, Sollux can't help but note, and probably some of her fingernails, too; he's trying to resist the urge to check. "It was awful, being alone all the time!"
"Alone," Sollux repeats. "So I'm the first?"
Feferi nods. Her fingers toy with damp strings of his hair, affection written over her face. "The first that came. I mean, I tried to talk to others before you, but they all just got scared! Glub glub."
"...Oh." She's resting a hand on his stomach, now, and he's starting to feel that this is going to go somewhere weird. He's not sure how he feels about that, really. "So how long have you been here, then? And... what are you, exactly, anyway?"
She makes a small thoughtful noise, drumming her fingers on his skin incessantly. "You know, I'm not all that sure! I know I've always been here, I was born here, but... there never seemed to be any point in keeping track of time. So really, I have no ide how old I am now." She leans her head against his awkwardly. She smells cloyingly wet. "As for what I am—well, I'm a spirit of the lake, I suppose. Although I think I used to be a human."
Sollux frowns, looking at her out of the corner of his eye. "You think?"
"Yes, but honestly, I can't glubbing remember at all. I just have this feeling deep down, you know?"
"I guess." He nudges a hand against hers, on his stomach, and she laces her fingers into his contently. The feel of the webbing between hers almost makes his stomach turn, but he just about manages to hold it back. "So, uh, what about this 'spirit of the lake' thing? What actually is that?"
"Well, like I said, I was born here—reborn, reely. The water took my life, once, but it gave it back, too. Just not quite the same as it used to be. And now it's my job to sustain the water's life in return!"
"I... What the hell does any of that mean?" Sollux says, although he has a terrible, sinking feeling that he might understand at least one part of it. The water took your life, he thinks, and rubs at the wrinkling on her palm. And her eyes are empty, so empty.
Feferi shrugs. "Heck if I know! It's just what the lake told me. It taught me how to talk in watertongues, too, but I never saw much point in it because it's not like there was ever anyone to talk to." She pauses, for a second, turning to look at him. "Until you, that is. So did you like my song?"
Just the memory of nearly makes him shiver. "God, of course I did. It was—beautiful."
Feferi giggles into the crook of his shoulder. "Oh, you're too kind!"
The water laps at his toes. They lie in comfortable silence for a minute or two before Feferi turns around fully, grabs his face in her hands, and kisses him on the mouth.
She tastes of saltwater and sand, and maybe blood. Her teeth are so many and so sharp, and she's not careful enough with them that he doesn't end up with a good few stinging scrapes on his lips. He's seriously frightened to let his tongue anywhere near them, but Feferi doesn't seem to have any qualms about sticking hers into him. She tongues at his teeth and gums almost hungrily, occasionally nibbling at his lower lip; she pushes him down, and he fumbles to get his arms round her.
She smells rotten. Their chests squish together uncomfortably, and Sollux is now even more horribly aware of how inhuman her skin feels—how cold and dead. And of course Feferi is beautiful, enchantingly so, but at the same time she makes something in him twist and turn, shrink and shiver.
They slip down into the water again, clinging to each other like driftwood, like lovers shipwrecked out at sea; Feferi pulls him under, her voice filling him with her soul, and they kiss, and they kiss. She has webbed fingers and webbed toes, her nails are either piercingly long and unkempt or not there at all, her teeth could tear him to shreds—she's dead, and she's beautiful, and he thinks he could fall in love with her. His stomach turns and his pulse quickens for her.
"Oh, Sollux," she says, so fondly, pulling away, voice distorted and bubbling underwater. "Oh, glub, you're just the sweetest thing—no-one's ever stayed with me before, never talked to me, oh, I was so lonely—"
She slides incoherently back into singing, and Sollux leans his head onto her shoulder, desperate. She slips a hand in between their bodies, tracing at his hips, his stomach, trailing down to his cock; she rubs her palm over the head clumsily, painfully slow. He claps a hand over his mouth and tries, so so hard, not to gasp for breath. Feferi wraps her fingers around the shaft and strokes, almost tentatively at first: it's fumbling and awkward, and he's achingly sensitive all over, and god, she's fucking dead, but his very blood is ringing with her voice and somehow it's the most amazing thing, the most inexplicably beautiful thing he's ever felt. Her teeth scrape desperately at the side of his neck, and he's torn halfway between visceral horror and arousal.
She quickens and he can't help himself anymore—he moans. Water flows into his throat and he gasps, choking, scratching slightly at Feferi's back. She seems to understand, kicking her legs frantically, pushing them up and up to the surface, to the moonlight, and when they break—
when they break, his ears fill again with horrifying, alien hissing, wailing, and everything goes white. Feferi's teeth sink, just a little, into his throat, and he coughs up water onto the grass, and it's all over before he can think. There's tiny droplets of blood welling up and dribbling down his neck, and Feferi's holding him, so close. Her arms are wrapped around his shoulders and his—his come is sticking between her fingers, on her palm, and he can actually feel it a little on his back, rubbing off of her hand, but he can't even begin to care. He breathes in, shaking, and lets himself be held.
They lie together on the shore for what feels like a very long time. He rests his head on Feferi's chest and she strokes his hair, and now he isn't even thinking about her notable lack of a pulse, the feel of her skin.
Eventually, once the sky blooms to a sickly early-morning-late-night grey, once his clothes are dry and she is craving to return to the water, Sollux makes to leave. He tugs on his clothes and watches Feferi crawl her way back into the lake, a little regretfully.
"Will you come back tomorrow?" she asks him, bobbing on the water's surface.
"Of course," Sollux says, and means it. He leans down at the shore, and Feferi tilts up her head, and when they kiss again now, long and deep, he doesn't care about her taste or smell or body or anything at all but the quickening of his pulse. Against his mouth she smiles, with her sharp, sharp teeth, and he smiles back.