“Aaaaaaoooooo,” Aradia belted out. Beside her, Sollux watched as she pressed her face against the window; she was far too polite to enter uninvited. “Whoooooaaaugh! Ablooblooblooooo - oh, they’ve spotted me.” Through the window came a wavering shriek of terror. “That was a good one,” she shouted back, “just short. Try a semidemiquaver.”
“You’re pretty into thith,” sighed Sollux. Aradia had been a banshee far longer than he - 184 sweeps, to be precise, versus his two - but still maintained a certain relish for the job. When she got the inexplicable urge to haunt someone’s window, she haunted the hell out of it. Also, unlike other banshees who were satisfied to wail for a while and then go on their ways, she gave tips.
“Yeah!” she exclaimed, then pursed her lips. “Is that weird?”
“Yeah...well no, I gueth not,” he admitted. Screaming was what banshees were meant to do. She was lucky to enjoy it; if anything, she was gifted. It was Sollux, soft-spoken, morose, and completely uninterested in wailing, who was strange. “You’re great, actually.”
“You’ll get there,” she encouraged, uncannily as though she could read his mind. That wasn’t impossible, he thought. She too had been a psychic in life, though he was unsure what her abilities were aside from occasional foreknowledge. “It’s not like we don’t have forever!”
That sentiment was considerably less heartening. “Thankth,” he mumbled. “Thankth a lot, AA.”
She offered a reassuring nod before turning back to the window. “I’m afraid you’re doomed,” she shouted, “completely doomed, but as you can see I’m having a lot of fun! So really it’s not so bad, is it?”
“Aaaaaaaaargh!” the voice screamed.
“Next time,” she advised Sollux, “why don’t you get more involved? I think things will improve,” she added with a knowing smile.
“Yeah,” Sollux sighed as a voice invaded his mind, a harsh-voiced scream that impelled him to move. “I’ll thee you around, okay?” Aradia nodded, turning to the window again.
“I said semidemiquaver,” she yelled, “it means thirty seconds.”
“Aaaaah,” Sollux called quietly at the closed window, then paused. “Woooooooooo.” It was a nice hive in a decent lawnring. Normally he would let out a few obligatory groans and be on his way, but he considered Aradia’s advice and peered into the room. The doomed troll sat at his computer, a pair of sickles and a few gaming magazines on the desk beside him. He was petite, but solid; his hair stood out in spiky snarls, his mouth downturned in a grimace that looked perpetual. “Hey,” Sollux said, loud and insistent.
“Wh...fuck!” the troll shouted, leaping from his chair. “Holy shit!”
“Hello,” Sollux said, leaning on the edge of the window in a way he hoped looked relaxed and self-possessed. “Um. Mind if I come in?”
“No! Fuck, I mean yes, stay out!” He took a deep breath and steadied himself, staring at Sollux for a long moment. Sollux stared back. “What the hell.”
“I’m a banshee,” Sollux loudly explained. “I hear the voithes of the imminently detheathed and wail about it. Woooooo,” he added when the troll looked unconvinced. “I can’t affect the living though, tho I can’t hurt you or anything. You’re thafe.” He paused, considering. “From me, anyway.”
“Wait, what? How? Why?” Sollux stared through the window and held one spectral hand to his ear. “What do you hear me saying?” Karkat shouted. “How am I dying?”
“Thoundth like ‘aaaaaaaagh,’” Sollux called. “I don’t know.”
“Great, that tells me a hell of a lot.” Sollux shrugged, palms up. “Are you always right?” Cautiously, the troll approached the window and looked out. “Are you good at this?"
“Not the thcreaming part,” Sollux said loudly, “but the dying part, yeah.”
“And you’re hearing me because I’m doomed. Specifically.”
“Shit.” After a speculative moment, the troll hooked his fingers under the large window and pulled it up with obvious effort. “You’re not just fucking with me, right?”
“It’s weird you’re thith calm, actually.”
“I’m kind of used to the idea,” he answered, looking through Sollux to scan the dusky sky. “So you’ll keep hearing me until I die, then.”
“That’th the idea.”
“And you only hear the doomed.”
“Did I not thay that enough?”
"Maybe,” Karkat said, “you’d better come in.”
Sweeps had passed since Sollux last entered a hive. He curiously examined the room as he floated through the window, the computer and the recuperacoon and the movie posters lining the wall, all the trappings of life. They looked like strange, old-fashioned toys, things he had long since outgrown.
“Hey,” the troll said, nervously extending his hand. “I’m Karkat.”
“Um...” Sollux passed his hand through the proffered hand, frowning. “Thholluckth,” he enunciated carefully. “With an eth and an eckth, not with a th.”
“Pretty much fucked from the start of your life, then.”
“And you’re dying tonight,” Sollux retorted, “tho I gueth we’re both fucked in our own thpecial wayth.” Karkat snorted, raising a middle finger. Sollux regarded him with interest; he had expected fear, lamentation, useless pleading. Karkat had so far responded with startlement, curiosity, and an unaccountable willingness to banter. Sollux wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.
“You don’t know how?” Karkat asked. “What about my lusus?”
“I only hear voitheth. Never luthutheth.”
“And you’re sure.”
“You denthe fuck,” Sollux snapped, “did you hear me wailing or not? Oooooowooooo,” he added for good measure, waving one hand in the air.
“Yeah, that screams ‘you’re going to die.’ I think it’s the deadpan delivery and the total lack of emotion involved that really sells it.”
“Thcrew you,” Sollux retorted, a little stung, impressed despite himself. He determined that taking advice had been right on the terrible, stupid level of every other idea he had ever had, but in a world where he disliked almost everyone - Aradia was okay, he liked Aradia - he could at least deal with this troll.
It wasn’t as though it would take very long.
“I guess the first thing to do is check on my lusus,” Karkat said. “I’m going downstairs, come if you want.” Having nothing better to do, Sollux drifted after Karkat, surveying with interest the stairs and the livingblock. He visibly brightened upon seeing the organic purple couch. “Wow, I had one like thith,” he said, floating above it. “Jutht like it.”
“That’s fascinating,” Karkat said, glancing into the nutritionblock. “I’m fascinated.”
“Thcrew you, I could go back to wailing.”
“No, god no, that’s annoying as shit. Seriously, why is that even a thing you do.”
“I get an urge to,” Sollux answered, but that wasn’t the half of it; he knew the compulsions all too well, the way they guided him to the hives of the doomed and filled him with increasing cascades of anxiety when he attempted resistance. Not going was torture, but it wasn’t as though complying was satisfying or fulfilling. There had to be, he thought for the umpteenth time, more to death than this. “There’th not much more than that to living,” he added bitterly.
“At least stuff I do actually makes a diff...” Karkat trailed off, grimacing. “Touche. Do you like it?”
“No,” Sollux sighed. “Even when I wath alive I could hear the voitheth, I jutht didn’t do anything about it. I kind of thtill don’t. I’m a shitty banshee, I don’t like shouting. And I don’t give two shitth about all thethe athholeth I don’t know, tho if they can’t hear me it’th not like I care. It thoundth shitty, but-”
“What killed you?”
“That,” Sollux snapped intensely, “ith a perthonal ithhue.” Karkat raised his hands palms-out in surprise, the universal gesture for ‘no harm intended.’
“Okay, I don’t give a shit. About most of what you just said, actually, so shut up. What I want to know is if anyone who heard you tried to stop it. Did anyone?”
“Not that I know of.”
“That’s bullshit,” Karkat declared. “There’s no fucking way that no one, in the history of you doing this, has ever tried to survive.” Sollux shrugged transparent shoulders, reclining on the couch. Or, to be precise, about a foot above the couch. Karkat attempted to ignore it.
“I thaid I didn’t know, not that they didn’t try,” he answered. “What am I meant to do, go around looking in their windowth like thome thpooky ghotht voyeur until they kick off? I athumed they died becauthe I couldn’t hear them anymore.”
“If they weren’t doomed anymore, you wouldn’t hear them. If they lived,” Karkat argued, his expression obstinate. Sollux sighed again, rolled over in midair, and sank to the couch face-first.
“I gueth. You have thome troll caegarth in the cushionth here.”
“Wow, I could not give less of a fuck. You died from some wasting disease, didn’t you. Trollburculosis or something. Looks like you couldn’t choose between being a ghost and a skeleton.”
“No,” Sollux said abstractedly, “that wathn’t it.”
“So do you still hear me dying?”
“Fuck.” Karkat surveyed the room. “Tell me if you stop hearing me.” Moving with almost exaggerated caution, he unplugged a lamp. “I know the oven’s off too,” he said.
“Do you have a good luthuth?” Sollux asked.
“He’s okay,” Karkat said, glancing back into the nutritionblock where his lusus sat and ate some sort of mangled, bleeding animal it had doubtless caught for itself. Blood spattered the table. “That looks about right. Yours killed you?”
“No. Could be carbon monokthide,” Sollux offered, mildly interested.
“I have an alarm for that. There’s also a smoke alarm, so it can’t be fire.”
“Tho that lamp wath a huge fucking hazard, then.”
“Shut up,” Karkat snapped, yanking the television’s plug from the wall. “I’m covering all the bases. You know, you’re probably being punished for being an asshole in life-”
“You’ll be joining me when you die, then.”
“Fuck you,” Karkat said, his voice quick but without an ounce of venom, and Sollux let out a startled little bark of a laugh that made both trolls jump.
“It’th been a long time,” Sollux said as though surprised. “It’th been a long time thinthe I got to talk shit with anybody.”
“So you’re getting emotional?” Karkat asked, sardonic, sniffing the air to check for gas.
“No,” Sollux answered. “It doethn’t occur to you to want anything much when you’re already dead. Eckthept thomething to do.” Karkat surveyed the room one last time, checked the lock on the front door, and sighed.
“I’m going upstairs to wait this thing out. Easier to defend one room.”
“Okay,” Sollux agreed, following. “Watch out for the thtairth.”
“If I’m the kind of dumbass who forgets there are stairs, death’s too good for me.” He navigated them with an air of disinterest, glancing into the ablutionblock before retreating to his respiteblock.
Karkat settled on the edge of his recuperacoon, staring out the window. The sun had gone down, but one of the moons was nearly full on the horizon; he gazed at it as though waiting for something, a pensive expression on his face. Interested, Sollux settled beside him to watch. “Was it culling?” Karkat asked.
“God, for someone so transparent you’re the densest fucker I’ve ever met. Did you get culled?” Sollux shook his head. One of his spectral hands rested on the edge of the recuperacoon, for all the world as though it were obeying the laws of gravity. Karkat curiously poked at it, watching his fingers pass through and feeling a chill in the air. Idly, he wondered if body heat could warm it. “How old were you?”
“Nine thweepth. Why?”
“Because this is boring. I can’t even turn on my husktop,” Karkat said, looking warily at it and the sickles nearby. “Might explode. Can’t eat, either, with my luck I’ll fucking choke. And if I fall asleep, I bet I’ll just stop breathing and never wake up. That’s the thing. I have the worst fucking luck. I always have.”
“Living thoundth thtrethful,” Sollux agreed as he reclined, curling his body around the spot where Karkat sat. He couldn’t touch him directly, but Karkat’s warmth was tangible; the slime beneath the purple shell was warm too, the filter humming gently. “Why bother?” It wasn’t really a great feeling, he mused, not like living warmth was the best thing in the world. It was just different.
Differences were nice.
“What?” Karkat asked, sounding genuinely shocked.
“You thound pithhed and thcared. I’m jutht bored, it’th not like you’re better off.”
“No, that’s fucking bullshit,” he said forcefully. “I’m not giving up when I haven’t finished schoolfeeding or become a threshecutioner or made out with anyone. I mean yeah the universe’s been doing this prolonged tap-dance on my upturned, anguished face and I haven’t even had a chance to fight back yet, and sure my life is a pile of shit of epic proportions, literally enough shit to drown a musclebeast and bury the remains, but I’m not giving up, and if it happens then fine, but-”
“Whatever,” Sollux sighed, his expression impassive. “I thtill hear you, jutht tho you know,” he added quietly. “I’m thorry.”
“Erotic asphyxiation,” Karkat guessed.
“Dying with a thmile on your face?” Sollux’s mouth curved in a crooked smirk. “I’ll look the other way.”
“No, dipshit, I bet that’s how you kicked it. That’s why you don’t want to explain.”
“Oh. No, it wathn’t that.”
“Then how?” Karkat asked. “Come on, don’t be so fucking melodramatic, you’re already dead. And supposedly I’m dying, so what am I going to do, tell everyone?” Sollux sighed, curling up further, his transparent body intersecting with Karkat’s substantial form.
“Overdothe,” he mumbled. Karkat stared at the blank whiteness of his eyes, the light of them spilling through his thin hands, and fell silent. “It’th not what you’re thinking,” Sollux continued. “I thtarted on a new antipthychotic, got confuthed. Forgot what I’d already taken.”
“Oh. Oh, shit.” Karkat hesitantly raised his hand again, at odds with himself and unable to touch Sollux’s insubstantial form, and put it back down. “Shit, I’m sorry I kept asking. Fuck.”
“I wath probably already toxic and didn’t know, becauthe it didn’t take a lot. I lotht consciouthneth, and I gueth I had a theizure and my heart-”
“No, stop,” Karkat said forcefully. “Stop talking about it.” Sollux trailed off, looking more bored than unhappy. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice unsteady. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“It wath dull,” Sollux yawned. “All the other ghothth laughed at me. If I knew I wath going to die, I’d have tried for thpontaneouth combuthtion. Maybe thet mythelf on fire. Fwoooosh,” he added with a grin.
“I, um.” Karkat tapped his fingers on the recuperacoon and bit his lip, staring out the window again. “I figured I’d die when they forced me into the military. Or when the drones came for my pails. Or...a lot of shit could potentially kill me, I just-”
“You’re that hopeleth?” Sollux asked, smirking.
“No, screw you. It’s my genetics.”
“What was your blood color?” Karkat asked, raising his knees to his chest.
“Yellow. Tho, you know, I didn’t have much to look forward to anyway.” He paused, his grin fading. “It’th not bad. Life thuckth when you’re alive, and it’th the thame later. You’re thtill bored. Not much to lothe.”
“I have a fuckton to lose,” Karkat growled. “Like a pulse, for example. And body heat. And my whole body, for that matter.” Sollux shrugged, listening to the rhythmic hum of the sopor filter. “You said you hated shouting.”
“So you don’t do this all the time,” Karkat pressed, shifting uncomfortably on the recuperacoon shell and crossing his legs.
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t have anything elthe to do,” Sollux answered, gazing out the window. After a long moment, he sighed. “My moirail told me to get more involved. She can thee the future thometimeth, tho I do what she tellth me motht of the time.”
“She told you to warn me I’d die?” Karkat asked intensely.
“Maybe she could tell I’d live if you warned me,” Karkat said, his eyes bright in the moonlight streaming through the window. Sollux looked at him perched on the edge of the recuperacoon, hair fluttering in the cool air, mouth set in a stubborn line.
“Maybe,” he said. “I hope tho.”
“Becauthe you want to.”
“Oh. If I live, you know,” Karkat said hesitantly, “you can drop by sometimes. If you’re not wailing.”
“I don’t think I’m going to wail anymore,” Sollux said quietly. “If you die and you’re a ghotht too, maybe we can hang out.” Karkat nodded, shifted uncomfortably, pressed his legs together.
“I really have to take a piss,” he finally said, “and if the fucking drones are coming for me, I might as well face them without it running down my legs.”
“Why would the droneth-” Sollux began, but Karkat shook his head.
“You’ll find out if I die.” He stood up, uncrossing his legs, and promptly caught the toes of one foot in the cuff of the jeans on his other leg.
“Ah-” Sollux began as Karkat stumbled forward. “Oh,” he continued stupidly as Karkat continued stumbling on the very edge of losing his balance, arms out as though preparing to fly, straight toward the window.
The open window.
“Oh,” Sollux repeated, eyes widening.
Suddenly, Aradia’s knowing smile made perfect sense.
image text: “YOUR DAYS ARE FUCKING NUMBERED, ASSHOLE”