At no point in his life can Sollux recall having visited a desert, let alone having set foot in one during the day.
For some reason, it's a lot more hospitable than he'd imagined. His skin isn't blistering painfully under the unforgiving onslaught of the sun's rays, the sand beneath his feet isn't melting the soles of his sneakers. In fact, the heat is surprisingly bearable- even comfortable. It is aggravatingly bright, even if it isn't blindingly so. When he squints his eyes, he can't make out much besides the heat-hazy, wavering forms of distant dunes. Then again, it's a desert- what the hell else is there to look at?
He can think of no logical explanation for why he'd be standing in the middle of a desert and not immediately bursting into flames or something. For that matter, he doesn't have a logical explanation for how he got there in the first place. If this is a dream- a real dream, not the sort where he wakes up on the golden moon- it's an unprecedentedly pleasant one.
Which means it probably isn't.
Actually, the whole dream theory is probably invalidated by having come up with it in the first place. You don't know when you're dreaming; there's no sense of identity in that fog of bloodlust and instinct intermixed. If this place were some sort of game construct, Sollux still doesn't know why he's here or how here ended up here.
It doesn't look much like Tavros's planet, the sand is too white. There's no evidence this place would even be part of the game- no consorts, no imps, no bizarrely-themed cryptic ruins with stupid puzzles in them. But most glaringly obvious of all, is the distinct absence of the voices in his head, which can only mean one thing.
His only remaining conclusion, then, is not entirely unexpected.
"Guess I'm dead then," He says aloud, just to hear his own voice break the stifling silence. And that was that. "Not really what I expected out of an afterlife," - one he hadn't ever really believed in- "but I guess it's kinda fitting. You fuck up in life, you spend the rest of eternity languishing in a desert. Awesome."
As he shuffles forward through the sand- he might as well explore this place, for lack of a better idea- he tries to think of what constitutes as a good enough reason to subject a troll to post-mortem torment. Obviously, he's qualified for it, so Sollux begins to list any and all reasons he can think up. They must be pretty spectacularly bad, given life as a troll isn't exactly a multi-tiered planar-confectionary-walk to begin with.
"Maybe this is what happens when you don't fill all your quadrants. Or kill your moirail. Or are responsible for the extinction of 98% of your race. Better yet, this is probably where you go when you fail so hard at life that fate considers you undeserving of non-existence. It's like not existing, because there's literally nothing to do, forever, except you don't get the luxury of being without a consciousness because that would hinder your appreciation of how much it sucks." He rambles. Frankly, the prospect is rather unnerving. "I've been here like two minutes and this sucks harder than pretty much anything else in the universe. Except for me. Which, I guess, is how I got here."
And in two minutes it's become evident that there really is nothing, absolutely nothing except sand for miles and miles around. He flops down at the crest of a dune and sighs heavily. Alternia's red sun hangs perpetually at the horizon, casting its strange vivid glare over the desert landscape.
"Could be worse." He grumbles half-heartedly. "Beats being on fire. Or-"
-blood streaming down your face, from your eyes, your mouth, your nose; your body convulsing in the throws of a nameless agony to the shrill, piercing wail of a voice without pitch; a discordant chorus fused with your own screams-
The memory unexpectedly breaches his thoughts with the finesse of a pick-axe through glass. If he hadn't all ready been on his knees, he surely would have collapsed.
Somewhere beyond the renewed waves of head-splitting agony, Sollux distantly notes that he is screaming. He clutches at his skull, grounds himself in the pseudo-sensation of his claws digging into his scalp because it's all he has at that moment; incapable of thought, of even the will for it to stop. As quickly as it comes, it's gone again, leaving him shaken and gasping for breath.
Sollux stumbles to his feet, his limbs weak and trembling with the lingering effects of the adrenaline rush. He's vaguely aware of his glasses falling askew and dropping somewhere at his feet. There's an itchy tingling at the corner of his mouth, inside his ears, and when he swipes at his face with a shaking hand, his suspicions are confirmed: warm blood smears his palm.
It seems ludicrous to have forgotten how he'd ended up dead, but for some reason it's only the sight of his own blood that jogs his memory. Only… that… that hadn't been some sort of post-traumatic flashback, that had been the real fucking deal, which was even less logical than anything else he'd experienced so far. It was outright impossible- the Vast Glub didn't happen twice.
"H-how…?" He murmurs falteringly, staring at his palm in bewilderment.
If this really is a shitty afterlife for shitty trolls, maybe he wasn't giving this place enough credit. If he was dead…. no, he was definitely dead. With that memory ripe in the forefront of his mind, there wasn't any way he could deny it, he was dead at least once. Whatever that meant. So, hey, great, his prophetic doom was right on the mark. Hopefully, he won't have to hang around here long enough to relive it again.
To top it all off, apparently, this isn't even a personal afterlife.
Some undefinable sixth sense raises the hairs on the back of Sollux's neck. Nervous tension coils in the pit of his stomach. He's hyperaware of something he can't consciously pick up on- maybe it's a subtle scent, or sound- some primal indicator of presence he's otherwise oblivious to.
Sure enough, in the split second it takes to deduce this, his concerns are validated.
"How….?" His spectator parrots, in the deep, brassy baritone of what makes Sollux's instincts shriek, PREDATOR PREDATOR PREDATOR-
"SHIIT!" Sollux startles, whips around so fast that he staggers for purchase on the shifting mound of sand. His feet slip out from under him, and he lands in an ungainly heap on his backside. The stranger is much too close for comfort- they can't be standing more than eight feet away. Sollux can't make out much of their features, but he knows two things for an absolute certainty:
One, this is an adult troll. The man looks nearly double his size, and that's comparatively small for most adults. From what Sollux can see of his arms, the guy could snap him like a twig if he wanted to.
Two, even for a troll, he is dressed abominably. A heavy, cumbersome grey cloak- presumably for desert travel or something- covers nearly all of his upper body; the hood leaves his face in shadow. Sollux is pretty sure those are leggings he's seeing, and besides the occasional red accent, every item of apparel he's wearing is either black or grey. The entire outfit is retro as all hell; save for the leggings it's got none of the sleek, skin-tight practicality of Alternian military wear.
To top it off, poking through the hood of his cloak are nearly the least threatening pair of horns Sollux has ever seen. They have a slight inward curve, but don't quite come to points; they can't be any longer than his thumbs. He hadn't thought that particular gene would have survived the slurry more than once, but Karkat would probably be satisfied to learn that he wasn't alone in terms of really lame, non-threatening racks.
If I ever get the chance to tell him. Sollux remembers. Right after I chew him out for getting me killed in the first place. I mean, seriously?
Shitty horns aside, this is still an adult, and you don't take chances with adults.
"Who the hell are you?" Sollux demands, the reassuring tingle of energy sparking along his fingertips, static sticking his hair to his horns. The energy cracks and spits at the sand at his feet, illuminating it sporadically in washes of red and blue. The stranger raises his hands, slowly and placatingly, and takes a few cautious steps back. Good.
Sollux waits apprehensively. He's not sure what this troll's blood hue is, but if the adult has abilities he doesn't know about, he's screwed. He's well aware of how ludicrously powerful he is in the psionic department, but all that power can't hope to match up against dozens of additional sweeps of experience, even against a lesser ability.
The adult is stills. When it's evident that Sollux is only issuing a warning, the stranger lowers his hands, slowly, and speaks. "I should ask you the same. These are my memories, after all. It's uncommon I encounter someone I don't recognize."
"Memories?" Sollux repeats, brows furrowed. "This is your- a memory?"
"Not one of particular significance," The man replies, "But yes."
With a sweeping gesture towards the horizon, the dreamscape ripples and the sun sinks beneath the dunes. Familiar indigo creeps across the sky, tiny pin-points of light scattering along its expanse. Sollux can't help but gape. The air chills in seconds, sending goosebumps along his arms. He can all ready feel the cold seeping through his sneakers.
"Are you dead, too?" Sollux blurts. "I mean- yeah, sorry. Nevermind, that was a stupid question. There's only like two people I know of who would have survived psychic armageddon."
The man's hood shifts as he tilts his head inquiringly.
"… The Vast Glub?" Sollux adds, uncertainly, after a weighty beat of silence.
Sollux can't see it, but he hears the frown in the man's voice. "To answer your first question: I suppose I'm as dead as I'll ever get. However, I …don't recall any armageddon taking place during my lifetime. There is likely a… time disparity between our passings."
"Oh," Sollux says dumbly, looking again at the man's clothing. Obviously they weren't from the same time period, why the hell would he even assume that? This guy looks like he popped right out of the middle rages or something, Captor, you are an idiot.
But then, if the Vast Glub hadn't been a part of this guys memory, then-
- sharp pain lances through his skull again, the shriek of the emissary echos in his head-
- It was definitely a product of his own.
This episode is more brief than the last, but no less afflicting. Sollux has one hand clapped to the side of his face, tasting blood where his teeth spasmodically clenched over the tip of his tongue. He doesn't remember the stranger having moved, but when he opens his eyes, the older troll is a good six feet closer than he remembers, his broad hand resting across Sollux's bony shoulders. He's too overwhelmed to pull away- for the moment, it's more bracing than unwelcome.
"Guess this is- j-just me, then," He says shakily.
"Just you, I'm afraid." The man confirms, more softly.
"This is. My memory. Inside your memory." Sollux pinches the bridge of his nose, hoping to relieve some of the ache in his head, and tries to sound more exasperated than unsettled.
"Most likely." The adult replies.
"Oh, is that all? Here I was- t-thinking this was like, my own personal hell." Sollux grumbles, easing away from the older troll's hand and flopping heavily back to the sand. He has the presence of mind to scoot back and put a little distance between him and Mr. Touchy-feely as he does. The adult seems to get the hint, because a moment later he drops into crouch where he stands, arms slung over his knees, and comes no closer.
"Why would you think that?" The man asks, in the same soft tone as before. It's like the sort you would use to calm your lusus, or your moirail. Coming from an adult troll, it's surreal and more than a little suspicious.
Sollux eyes the adult warily, eyes narrowing. "… Why do you care?" He snaps a little defensively, "Coming off just a bit desperate, aren't you?"
It occurs to him a split second after the words are out of his mouth that it might not be the best idea to tick off an adult, not when he's evidently still capable of feeling pain. The stranger seems to bristle in offense at the accusation, and Sollux tenses in turn, eyes narrowed warningly. Just as quickly, the man snorts and relaxes again, shoulders slumping.
"I'm not allowed to express pity without propositioning someone, am I?" He growls lowly, "Perhaps you should try to look a little more robust, if you're so concerned about pale advances, wiggler."
Sollux can't find it in himself to feel properly affronted while his head still throbs and his clothes are smeared with his own blood. He half-heartedly bares his fangs in response, which only serves to elicit an easy chuckle from the adult.
"Good effort." The man laughs, reaches out, and flicks him on the forehead.
Sollux chirps indignantly and jerks his head back on reflex. Rubbing at spot gingerly, he shoots the adult a glare. "It's weird, all right? It's not like adults generally give a fuck about my well-being."
"What's so strange about it?" The older troll retorts.
"Seriously?" Sollux's says incredulously, "Some dude twice my age approaches me out of nowhere and starts pitying me and you're saying I shouldn't anticipate ulterior motives?"
"…No," The adult says at length, "I'm saying you shouldn't have to."
There's a melancholy in the way he speaks that's too poignant not to be genuine. It's the sort of sentiment only expressed by liars and lunatic bleeding cardiovascular pumps and the soon-to-be-dead (all of whom, unsurprisingly, seem to overlap). To his credit, he hasn't done Sollux any harm thus far, as dubious as his good intentions seem, but Sollux maintains a healthy amount of disbelief.
"…. Ok. Really, who are you?" Sollux squints up at the adult's face; tries to make out what features he can from within the shady confines of the huge hood. "I've heard of cultists like you, bunch of terrorist radicals hell-bent on overthrowing the empire or whatever. You one of them?"
"Hardly," The man grunts, sounding mildly affronted. "Terrorists? Is that the tale they're spreading now?" The adult spreads the folds of his cloak behind him in the sand and falls back onto it, crossing his legs. "My aims were never so elaborate. It was not so much the empire I wished to extinguish as the crooked values it was established upon. Most of my followers eagerly ascribed to the ideals of class equality, others… were not so forgiving of the mistreatment they'd endured as a member of their blood caste. I did my best to guide those errant few, to encourage them to relinquish their vengeful desires... but I was not always successful."
Sollux frowns, raising a high, skeptical eyebrow. "Riiiiiight. Who did you say you were again?"
Well, he was right on one front: this guy wasn't normal. What he was describing didn't sound like a cult of lunatics, though. It sounded idealistic, idealistic to a fault- but not unreasonable. It wasn't that a part of Sollux didn't want to believe in the existence of a movement promoting class equality, it was just that you'd have to be delusional to even consider spearheading one yourself. This troll seemed good natured enough, but terribly, painfully naive.
"Oh, they were thorough, weren't they?" The adult mutters darkly, leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees. Before Sollux can ask him what he means, he continues, "I've been referred to by any number of monikers throughout my life, but I find I'm most partial to 'Signless'."
"… Not really ringing any bells," Sollux says slowly, dubiously. "Sorry."
"I'm not entirely surprised." Signless sighs resignedly. "Well, I don't suppose you'd care to introduce yourself? Unless you'd prefer I call you 'wiggler'?"
"No, thanks," Sollux says sourly. "My name's- Sollux Captor." He enunciates the 'S' as best he can- it comes out as more of a hiss, but his lisp hasn't given Signless much trouble so far, and indeed, the man repeats his name with perfect clarity.
"Sollux, is it?" He asks, a hand disappearing beneath the hood as he props his chin on its heel, elbow on his knee. "You remind me of an old friend of mine." Sollux thinks he detects some wistfulness in Signless's voice, but without a facial expression it's a little hard to place.
"Uncannily so, in fact." He adds, more thoughtfully. "It must be more than mere coincidence we've chanced to meet under such circumstances." He must have finally taken the cue from all of Sollux's squinting, because at last, he reaches up to tug his hood back over his head.
Sollux's slack-jawed awe does not seem to be quite the reaction he'd expected. Signless gives him a bemused look. "… Do you not believe in fate?"
The younger troll snaps his jaw shut with an audible click, and swallows hard. "Um."
If he hadn't before- and admittedly, he'd always been a little dubious- than he certainly did now.
The horns had been distinctive enough, but the resemblance didn't end there. With a little imagination, Sollux could believe that Karkat might one day share signless's short but muscular build, his strong jaw and chin. Other similarities were more overt. The characteristic row of little fangs just visible from behind his upper lip. The slightly rounded nose. The coarse, disheveled mop of hair that defied taming, framing his face on all sides. That smile, just shy of a smirk, with such a genuine fondness behind it that Sollux has only ever seen it twice before in his life…
Signless is right. This can't be mere coincidence.
In contrast to the familiarity of Signless's other features, the man's eyes are a mere distraction- vacant and pearly white, they lack any mortal resemblance. He wonders idly if his are the same. Probably. It seems an appropriate substitute for the eyes of the dead. Slightly unnerving, but appropriate. Having spent nearly all his life with his mind under the psychic bombardment of the imminently deceased, blank white eyes are the least disturbing of mental images Sollux has come to associate with the dead.
Rationally, Sollux knows this isn't Karkat. The eyes are solid proof of that, if nothing else is; and if Karkat isn't alive… well. Sollux knows that in due time, he won't be, but it's going to be hard to…. metaphysically exist with himself, for a while. Signless is well over six sweeps, most likely lived thousands of sweeps before either Sollux or Karkat were even genetic material.
Signless is still watching him (or at least Sollux is pretty sure he is, he can't really see where the adult is looking, precisely). It's become impossible to think, to articulate himself in any conceivably intelligent manner. He looks up at Signless's paradoxically familiar face, mouth gone dry, and rasps, without really thinking about what's coming out of his mouth, "Oh my god, you're fucking shameless."
That earns him the equivalent of a pupiless eye-roll, the downward quirk of Signless's mouth in what could be the beginnings of a disgruntled scowl, and the behavior is so, so painfully familiar that Sollux forgets for a moment that he's not talking to a ghost in the mental projection of a desert in god knows where.
"You're an incorrigible optimist." Signless snorts, but not entirely without an air of jest.
Sollux manages a chagrinned grimace, feeling his cheeks flush with heat. 'Holy shit, I can't believe you just said that to a complete stranger. This guy is not Karkat, get it through your head, Captor. How much more do you plan on utterly humiliating yourself today?' He tells himself rancorously.
Signless watches the inner exchange with a frown. "… A quality, it seems, you could stand to express more freely," He continues, and Sollux doesn't realize he's turned his head away until he feels Signless's callused palm cup the side of his face, tilting it gently back towards him. Even after he's pulled his hand away, the unnatural warmth of his touch lingers.
Sollux resists the temptation to reach up and touch the spot on his cheek. It's a weak gauge of blood color, but Signless's skin is warmer than his own; warmer even than Sollux can remember Aradia's being when- when she was alive. This places him in the range of maroon bloods, but the curiosity is enough that Sollux wishes Signless had pupils to confirm his guess. He wonders where the similarities between this man and Karkat end, and if blood color is included in them.
The way Signless is looking down at him- brows pinched in concern, mouth drawn in a sympathetic frown, and doing it all wearing his best friend's face- Sollux can't bear to meet his eyes. Looking away does nothing to abate his blush; embarrassingly, it seems to spread further down his neck and across the tips of his ears.
"I'm dead." He snaps, veiling his humiliation in anger, "I think I'm past the point of thinking very optimistically."
It doesn't seem to fool Signless. "If you plan on remaining in my memories, I'm afraid I won't permit you to wallow in misery for the duration of your stay. It doesn't make for very pleasant company." He smiles lightly. "I should know."
Sollux is quiet for a moment, pensively sifting sand through his fingers. "Optimism is for people who don't know what fate's got in store for them. I was never afforded that luxury."
Signless sits a little straighter, shoulders falling back. "No?" Sollux fidgets a little under the sudden attentiveness.
"Secondary ability, I guess you could say." Sollux explains, "I'm a prophet. Heh." He chuckles bitterly, favors Signless with a grin like a bear trap. "Not as glamorous as it sounds, but at least I didn't go blind.Yet." Which he isn't quite sure how he's going to manage, being dead and all.
Signless lets out a long breath, regards Sollux with a sort of surprise that he hadn't before. "Of course," He replies faintly, "A psionic and a clairvoyant."
Sollux frowns. "Sort of. Not really. More like psychic dreams, and I can hear the -"
"- screams of the imminently deceased." Signless finishes absently.
Sollux jerks in surprise. "… Yeah. Ok, that was weird. You're not psychic, are you?"
"An… educated guess." Signless shrugs, albeit not quite as carelessly as his words imply. "As I said, I used to know a troll a lot like yourself."
Sollux is beginning to see a pattern. He looks to Karkat's doppelganger, to his own hands, and thinks, 'No way.' Because he'd never put any faith in the concept of ancestors before, but this… was too weird. Who else could these trolls be?
For a moment, he entertains the theory that they might even be clones- clones of he and Karkat, thrown into the far past of Alternia's history as a result of Weird Time Shenanigans.
(- It is, of course, an incredibly ridiculous and implausible theory, and Sollux dismisses it immediately, feeling a little stupider for having thought it up in the first place.)
"So... your friend. Did he have prophetic dreams too?" He asks Signless.
"Oh, yes. Frequently. Intensely unpleasant ones." Signless shakes his head grimly. "But not all came to fruition. In the end, he acknowledged it wasn't worth the torment of always keeping them in the forefront of his thoughts. If they showed the truth, so be it. He refused to allow mere dreams to control his waking hours."
"Easier said than done." Sollux says glumly. It wasn't all that comforting to know his potential ancestor suffered from the same dreams- it was just more proof of how royally fucked over he'd been in life. If his ancestor hadn't overcome them, than what hope did he have of doing so? Not that it mattered anymore, he guessed.
Signless considers the younger troll for two heartbeats, leans forward on his knees. "Nor did he attempt to weather through those difficult times on his own. It doesn't hurt to have a friendly ear around when the burden is too large to bear alone."
A fresh surge of guilt springs from Sollux's ever-replenished reserves of self-loathing. "Yeah. I used to have one. She…." He hesitates, swallows thickly. "I- I let someone hurt her," Is what he says.
What he'd had with Aradia had been something intimate. Karkat and Terezi were friends, but he couldn't… talk to them in the same way. He'd told Aradia things he'd never told anyone else, and had vowed to never tell anyone again.
"Intentionally?" Signless asks, voice carefully neutral.
"No. God no." He shakes his head in two short, emphatic jerks. "It was out of my control. I couldn't… keep it from happening. But that's my fault."
"You're at fault for circumstances beyond your control?" Signless presses.
"Why am I even telling you this." Sollux shoots the man an accusatory look, deflects the question.
Signless shrugs, huffs a vaguely exasperated breath. "You tell me. Do not feel compelled to share with me what you otherwise would not freely."
Sollux leans back on his hands in the sand, gives a frustrated sigh. He knows, of course, why he's feeling compelled to spill his guts to a dead stranger. It's partly because the guy has his friend's face. It's got more to do with the fact that it's been a long fucking time since anyone's pitied him even a little and he's maybe just a bit desperate for some of that attention. It's mostly because the guy listens, which is more than Sollux can say about most of his friends, most of the time- save for when Karkat is in an exceptionally good mood.
Signless waits with the patience of…. something that has no comparable equivalent in troll culture. Maybe the way a particularly gentle lusus cares for an obstinate wiggler. Patience is sort of a rare quality in trolls.
Sollux watches him from the corners of his eyes. There's …. something else about this man, besides all of his familiarity. It's encoded in the way he moves, the way he smiles or frowns; it's in his words, in the timbre of his voice. He fairly exudes a sense of altruism, a quality that is distinctly absent from most. There are trolls that radiate bloodlust strong enough to taste, but not trolls whose sympathies extend to strangers. Signless, for all appearances, is their antithesis.
Sollux had always assumed a disposition like that was disadvantageous, but he's beginning to reconsider. The longer he spends in this troll's presence, subjected to his gentle demeanor, the weaker he suspects his defenses grow. The vulnerability makes him feel raw, but he can't find it in himself to pull away.
'Shit.' Sollux's stomach flutters more pleasantly than his dawning alarm should warrant. His skin has gone warm again- he refrains from clasping his face in his hands to hide the reaction in shame. He's literally just met this man, and he's waxing poetic about his pale qualities. He's undoubtably just set the record for most pathetically premature/dangerous pale crush. To be fair to himself, it's nothing like with Aradia- he was pale as a lusi's hide for Aradia- but he knows pale when he feels it.
No sane wiggler would ever seriously consider an adult for a moirail- It's ridiculous bordering on suicidal. By all rights, he should be repelled by the idea of intimacy with an adult. And yet… something tells him that this troll would be an exception. It's a perfectly normal reaction, Sollux reasons, to feel pale for someone who expresses pity towards you. It is entirely Signless's fault this is happening at all- the man has no regard for the sanctity of the pale quadrant at all.
Ugh. He's starting to sound like Karkat.
He can only imagine the sort of reproach his friend's would express if they knew he was opening himself up to a stranger, to an adult- and then, he has to remind himself, he's still dead. That's not a thing that's changed. He probably wouldn't have cared even if he wasn't. Now that he's been given the opportunity, the need to vent what he's bottled up for so long is overpowering. Consequences and social appropriateness be damned.
Anyhow, what does he have left to lose?
If Signless is aware of Sollux's pallor, so to speak- which he has to be, there isn't a chance he hasn't taken notice by now -he remains blessedly nonjudgemental. Sollux sets his teeth against a wave of sudden emotion. His eyes fix on the palms of his hands, his blood crusting beneath his claws, the sand settled over the toes of his sneakers- anywhere but Signless as he monotones, "I killed her."
Sollux hears the other troll shift. He pulls his knees up to his chest and rests his chin on one, uncomfortably aware of Signless's presence at his side. "I killed her and I hardly even remember it. I was in my respiteblock one minute, and the next thing I know, I- I'm standing in front of her hive, and it's on fire-"
He scrubs at his eyes with the heel of his palm. He remembers the acrid stench of smoke, sticky fingers and the cloyingly sweet taste of honey coating his tongue, but not a body. There probably wasn't one to be found, he rationalizes. If there was, he's forgotten.
"I didn't know, at the time, what had happened. Besides having gone crazy and killed my friend. I found out later I was mind-controlled, but," He chokes a bitter laugh, "Like that was any consolation."
Signless maintains an unreadable silence, so Sollux pushes on before he can lose his nerve. "That's not even the half of it. The short of it is, I'm basically responsible for orchestrating the wholesale destruction of my entire fucking universe because I tried to avert it in the first place, and as a consequence all of my friends are going to die."
He doesn't realize he's clutching at his scalp until he feels his claws dig in. He doesn't stop. He can feel the pressure building in his head as anguish gives way to anger, the sweep of static along his horns that he lacks the energy to keep in check. Anger is easy. Anger doesn't leave him feeling helpless.
"I am such a colossal fuck-up in every conceivable way, there is literally no existent comparison for how much I suck. My existence has been a blight on an entire universe, if I'd been plucked up and eviscerated by a skylizard the moment I surfaced from the caverns as a shit-stained grub it would have been a blessing-"
Signless cuts him off with a gentle bat to the forehead. It doesn't hurt- It doesn't even sting; just makes his teeth click together. Sollux is stunned into silence, his emotions evaporating from sheer surprise. He must look stupid, gaping up at the adult wide-eyed and damp-faced, but Signless is grimacing down at him with a look that's equal parts pained and pitying.
"Stop that nonsense." Signless admonishes firmly, an edge of frustration to his voice. "I can't stand to hear people so readily denounce their own worth, even moreso when they attempt to justify their claims with hoofbeastshit reasoning."
After a full three seconds of Sollux's dumbfounded speechlessness, the adult clears his throat. "It gives me indigestion," He adds with a disgruntled little scowl. Sollux can't be certain he isn't imagining the faintly rosy tinge to the adult's cheeks.
Embarrassed, Sollux clenches his teeth and returns his gaze to the ground. "I- … Sorry."
No. Of course no one wants to hear him carry on about how much he hates himself. It just sort of…. comes out. 'Shit, no one cares, Sollux. You're fucking boring him. What the hell are you doing anyway? This was a stupid lapse of judgement in a moment of pathetic weakness and it doesn't even fucking matter anymore, you're dead-'
"No-" Signless pinches the bridge of his nose, exhales and lays a gentle hand on Sollux's shoulder. "Please. You have nothing to apologize for. I merely wish to call attention to the fallacy of your logic. That's a preposterously large burden you have charged yourself with."
"It wasn't an exaggeration." Sollux says dully. "I don't even know if there's a point in trying to explain this to you, given the some-thousand sweeps cultural gap, but… I made a computer game and convinced my friends to play it with me. My dreams foretold the end of the world and I…. thought I had it on good authority that the game would save us. It started the apocalypse instead. The Vast Glub was a byproduct of that, and here I am. You can think I'm full of shit, but that's the truth."
Signless takes a long moment to process this, brow furrowed. Sollux doesn't blame him for his incredulity.
At last, he speaks, mouth still drawn in a tight frown. "… I believe you. To convince me of a lie so absurd would be more effort than it's worth," He snorts, and more softly, "No. You're not a liar."
Sollux is somewhere between mortified and awestruck when the adult moves to thumb away a bit of moisture at the corner of his eye. "There's no imitating suffering." He finishes, knowingly.
Sollux stares. By all rights, that is the corniest thing he has ever heard sincerely come out of anyone's mouth, but Signless says it with such unwavering conviction Sollux can't help but fucking believe it. For one wild instant, a visceral part of him wants to curl right up to this man and weep like he's two sweeps old again; like when his neighbor was culled and he finally came to the realization that life's not fair. He swallows hard, and crushes the impulse.
The moment passes- but does not go unnoticed. He doesn't know how he must have looked to Signless right then, but he can't fathom why he suddenly finds himself wrapped in the older troll's arms.
The folds of Signless's cloak nearly swallow him, draw him deeper into to the adult's embrace. For a long, stunned moment, Sollux can do no more than hold his breath. Signless doesn't pull away, and Sollux's cheek is sort of mashed into his collarbone, and if he'd been in full control of his mental faculties, he'd have yanked them apart by now.
He hesitates for a long, anxious moment; waiting to see if Signless changes his mind, or acknowledges the move as a mistake- and when he doesn't, Sollux haltingly winds his arms around the other troll's torso. A desert breeze rolls over the dreamscape, but Signless's body is a buffer to the chill. He's bare-skinned under the cloak, and warmer than a troll has any right to be.
He shouldn't be comfortable with this- but he can't remember the last time he was held like this. When Aradia was still alive, maybe. Her thin arms were never this encompassing, but she was always warm. Her fingers would card through his hair while she whispered reassurances against his cheek, and- god, how he missed her- the Aradia he knew. His arms tighten involuntarily around Signless's waist.
It's as if every stressor has finally come to bear on his overtaxed psyche all at once; every pent-up frustration threatens to spill through the cracks in his weakened defenses. Sollux chokes on a shuddering inhale; bares his teeth and suppresses it all, feels the muscles of his back go tense and quivering with the effort. It's not until Signless begins to stroke up and down his back that he finally breaks.
'Fuck it,' He thinks, and within moments he's blubbering quietly into Signless's chest. He has never felt more pathetic, and for once, he can't care less.
Signless holds him a little closer and murmurs into his hair; a gentle mantra of "Shhhhh, shh, shoosh." Sollux can't even bring himself to be too humiliated. He's beyond any redemption of dignity now, dripping hot tears down the front of some stranger, but he'll be damned if it isn't cathartic. It feels fucking amazing, to just get it all out of his system for once in a way that doesn't leave his surroundings in smoking ruins.
After a solid five minutes of this nonsense, Sollux guiltily disengages, wiping at his cheeks with the back of his hand. "I can't believe I'm doing this," He mumbles, "I can't believe you're letting me do this. Why are you letting me do this?"
Signless loosens his grasp, but doesn't let go. His expression is soft. "I might have a soft spot for hopeless little wigglers wronged by circumstance."
Sollux crinkles his nose at that, but he can't muster the energy to be offended. He turns his head into the adult's neck and lets it rest there. "You take in a lot of charity cases, then?" He questions tiredly.
"It's something of a hobby," Signless admits, resting his palm on the back of the younger troll's neck. Sollux isn't surprised. He's teased Karkat in the past about his tendency to dole out advice for every sob story to grace his chat window- but he's got nothing, nothing, on this man.
"And here I thought I was special." Sollux grumbles drolly into his neck.
Signless hums a low, rumbling note that vibrates against Sollux's cheek. "If it puts you at ease, you're certainly burdened by some of the most unique dilemmas of any troll I've ever come across."
"… Thanks? I think."
Sollux closes his eyes. One of Signless's arms slides back to his side, but he allows Sollux to continue to lean into him. A minute goes by- if it can even be called that, Sollux isn't sure units of time truly exist here- before everything gets a little awkward and he pulls away with a self-conscious cough. He fishes around for something to break the silence with.
"Uh. So. Mind if I ask you a personal question?" He asks, sliding back to give the adult some space. He props his elbow on an upraised knee and tries to look casual, but be can't help his curiosity.
Signless shrugs, adopting a similar pose. "I surmise you're permitted one, regardless."
Signless is young, for an adult, and from what he's gathered so far, Sollux has his theories… nevertheless, he asks. "How did you die?"
Sollux hadn't really expected the question to go over well, but it's striking, the way Signless's mood visibly dampens. That painfully bright aura of idealism gutters and dies like a candle-flame in the wind. The troll left in its wake is older and wearier, sporting a bitter smile and a defeated slump to his shoulders.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Sollux swears he sees the bracers on Signless's arms flicker- 'Like how the graphics on a game might glitch in lag,' his mind supplies for comparison. When he looks, nothing about the dreamscape or Signless has changed, but something disconcertingly like the scent of burnt meat lingers faintly in the air, and the adult seems none the wiser.
He's about to bring the phenomenon to the other troll's attention when he experiences it for himself. His metaphysical body- form, projection, whatever it is- gives a sudden, violent shudder. Sollux looks down in time to notice his hands going incorporeal. Unlike Signless's arms, they stay that way.
That's probably not good, he thinks, surprisingly calm about the whole ordeal. After all, he had anticipated "dying" twice. Maybe this was what it meant for the dead to die.
When he looks up again, Signless seems to have snapped out of his fugue. The adult leans forward, reaches tentatively for Sollux's hands. He looks about as baffled as the younger troll feels when his fingers pass right through them. He raises his dead-blank eyes to Sollux's and holds his gaze.
"Well, fuck me." He says lowly, incredulously. It reminds Sollux so much of Karkat, he very nearly laughs.
"So, what? Am I… dying? Again?" Sollux asks, turning his hands over and watching the transparency creep up his arms.
"The opposite, I think," Signless replies thoughtfully, and it takes a moment for Sollux to realize that he's looking at his eyes. He can't see for himself, but he assumes they must be back to their original bi-colored, pupil-less state.
Then he's… alive, again. Coming back to life, which make sense, given his prophecy, and not much else. Sollux frowns, wracks his memory for an explanation-
'Dreamselves. Dreamselves, of fucking course!' He coded those game mechanics himself, he made sgrub with his own two hands. The fact that, too, had slipped his memory is ridiculous. This dream-space is seriously messing with his head.
His mouth curls into smile. He's bought himself a little more time. "No shit?"
"A useful trick." Signless crosses his arms, "You'll have to let me in on your secret." There isn't the mildest taint of jealousy in the way he says it- he means it entirely unselfishly. If there actually was a secret to defying death, Sollux doesn't doubt that he'd have no interest in using it on himself.
"It's sort of complicated. I don't think I have the time to explain, or I would." Sollux says, nonetheless apologetically. Not that it could possibly benefit Signless, but he figured he still deserved some sort of explanation. It probably sucked, being stuck here alone for god knows how long, and the first actual person you talk to in forever up and dissolves on you.
"Another time, maybe." Signless agrees, and settles something across the bridge of his nose. Sollux finds himself looking through the familiar red and blue lenses of his glasses. He'd completely forgotten about them. Signless must have found them in the sand.
"Thanks." Sollux reaches up to adjust them, then remembers that his limbs are presently intangible. "I … guess I'll be seeing you around," He says, only mostly joking.
"Hopefully not." Signless favors him with a somber smile. By the time Sollux realizes Signless dodged his question, the dreamscape has faded to black- then he's opening his eyes to the tarnished-gold ceiling of a tower room on Derse.
He lies there for a minute, trapped in the semi-coherent haze of a still sleep-addled mind. He's overcome with the certainty that he'd been having some sort of dream- and not your ordinary sort of dream. Like with most dreams, the details are unclear- the longer he lies there trying to recall them, the faster they elude him. It's not long before the groggy haze in his head clears away. Memory re-establishes itself shortly, and Sollux sits up and grimaces.
Oh, right. Vast Glub. His other body was dead. He's still got another spare, at least. No use crying over spilled grubsauce. Sollux hovers at the sill of his window and prepares to depart. He's never been on this moon before. It's different, to say the least. Less cheery.
Actually, for having just died, he feels like a million caegars. He can count on one hand the number of times he's woken up from a dream and felt this good- not counting his forays on prospit, which aren't technically dreams anyhow. Actually dreaming in either of his dreamselves shouldn't even be possible, should it? The instant his first body died, he should have been opening his eyes in either the one back on Prospit, or this one. A part of him itches to investigate further, but he doesn't have the time. He's got Princesses to greet, games to win.
Also, it would probably be a good idea to let the others know that he wasn't actually dead. God knows how much of a fuss Karkat is probably making right about now, the douche. Speaking of whom…
Sollux frowns. It's not a eureka sort of epiphany, but now that he thinks about it, he's almost positive Karkat had something to do with that dream. It doesn't sit right with him, though- like he's forcing a puzzle piece into place. It doesn't snap cleanly into its slot like it should; it doesn't reveal any more of the picture than he's all ready seen.
Oh, well. It would come to him, eventually.