Test my reality
Check if there's a weak spot
Clingin' to insanity
In hopes the world will ease up
Annabeth resurfaces in darkness. The air reeks of sulfur, and she can hear anguished cries and monsters' snarls. She examines her surroundings, unsure as to how she ended up here, wherever here may be. The near blackness is daunting and mortifying, but she instinctively grasps the knife attached to her hip.
Annabeth can hear a sword clanking behind her as she turns her head. She sees a boy fighting nigh unsuccessfully against a monster. His body is covered in constellations of cuts and bruises. She wants to call out to him, but the words die on her lips.
He turns his head and sees her. A light flashes across his stormy green eyes and they shine like sunlight through sea-glass.
"Annabeth," he breathes, his voice like a prayer, "Annabeth, you're awake. Thank the gods." She tries to focus on his voice, because she isn't sure if this is simply a nightmare or reality, but she can feel herself slipping away. His voice becomes more frantic with his cries of "Annabeth! Annabeth!" But the world around her is already fading away, the decrescendo after the musical climax. She can feel herself slipping and she is in the hellhole no more.
Between her midnight activities with Reyna, time spent tracking down playing-card servants, settling disputes between talking animals and dishware, meandering through the gardens and her nightmares, she spots the dark figure with the large grin and dead eyes enough times for her to feel followed. When she gets lost in the ever-changing corridors of the palace and he always seems to be there, lurking in the shadows right around the corner. And soon after, she decides to confront him.
Annabeth turns to him and demands, "First you lead me here, and now you're following me, slinking about in the shadows and shit. What do you want?"
"You know," he says in a vague tone, though his eyes look concerned and pained. That same kaleidoscope of broken glass, like Reyna's before Annabeth came to soften them. He gave her the strangest feeling that they had met before, before Wonderland, in some other life perhaps?
"I've already met you," she mutters absently.
"Here in Wonderland?" he asks, "or before?"
"Both, I think," she says, though her head is starting to ache.
"That means two things," he replies, "One, the me that you met wasn't me. It was just an echo."
She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off, "And It means that you're remembering." He gently bites his lip in concentration.
"Remembering?" she asks, "Remembering what?"
"Reality," he says and then he starts to pace around the corridor.
"What do you even mean," she says, "this is reality, just a different sort. It's Wonderland."
"No," he says, shaking his head so that his shaggy black hair bobs around him, "this is a dream, Annabeth. You're dreaming."
"I can't be," she says, "I've gone to bed. I've done all these mundane things. I've dreamt. This can't be dream."
"What have you dreamt," he asks, the fear flooding into his eyes.
"That I was in some hellish world," she says, "and there's this boy, always a boy with me, fighting monsters. He knows my name."
"Annabeth," he says, "that's what's real."
"No," she says, suddenly grasping what this all means, "you aren't telling me-you can't be telling me that this is a dream? And that hellhole is my reality?"
"I'm sorry," he says, "I'm so sorry."
"If this is a dream," she says, "then why are you telling me this? Aren't you just a figment of my imagination?"
"Yes, well, no, not really. The me you met earlier was, but I'm real, well, as real as you are. I'm the son of Hades," he says, "I can enter the dreams of the dying."
"I'm dying?" she asks, trying to prevent her breathing from speeding up, "you're telling me that I'm dying in your world?"
"I'm sorry," he says yet again, "I'm so sorry."
"You came here to tell me that my whole life is a lie and that I'm a dead woman?" she asks, "Is Reyna fake? God, can you fucking tell me anything useful?"
"Everyone here is real," he says, "in theory. They're caricatures of people that you once knew, if you cranked up the crazy. Kind of like the dream in the Wizard of Oz."
"What," she asks, her anger seeping into her tone.
"Never mind," he replies, "the point is that this isn't really real."
"What did you even come here to tell me?" she shouts, "or did you just come to dismantle my life?"
"I came," he says, "because you deserved to know the truth before you have to make your decision."
"Can you tell me what that decision's going to be?" she asks, "or are you just going to be a cryptic little bastard about it! Fuck-why am I even considering what you're saying! You're the maddest of us all!"
"Yeah, you're right. I am mad. But you believe me. Deep down you know that this isn't right. You can feel it. That's why you're still listening to my ramblings. And for the record, it's a decision between your own life and the fate of the world," he says, "And this dream, it was created to entice you to choose the world. But I came here because I thought you deserved the option." A look in his eyes told her that he hadn't done it for her.
"Percy," he said, his voice straining, "Percy will never be the same if he loses you. He'll be broken." The like me was left unspoken. And all of a sudden it all made sense. The boy from her hell dreams was Percy, and he, probably, loved her. But Nico loved Percy, and he had to least try to save her. For him.
"I can't tell you when," he says, "or what or why. Gods, I don't even have the time. I think that I'll be kicked out of your world for interfering soon enough."
He turns his head around suspiciously and says, "Remember reality, Annabeth. People tend to get lost in paradises. Trust me. I'd know." And he melts into the shadows like smoke in the wind.
Annabeth's gray eyes open to the infernal world of her nightmare. Or as she more recently learned her reality? The thought makes her shutter as she starts to regain her bearings. Percy has his hands on her shoulders and he's shaking her.
"Annabeth," he says, his frantic voice cracking under the pressure, "You have to stay awake. We're almost through." He notices that her eyes are open.
"Annabeth," he begs, his voice coasting quickly between fear and Hope, "You're awake." But she feels dizzy once again.
"Not a-fucking-gain," he screams, shaking her more violently, "Anna, Anna stay with me." But his cries are muffled as Annabeth's consciousness flies away from that place.
She visits the hellish world for short blurbs of time, but otherwise life continues as it normally does. She tries to keep hold of what the boy had told her, but as her days blur together the conversation gets foggier and foggier. She falls back into her routine with Reyna but she doesn't forget the conversation. Though many of her memories have dissolved, flying away like dust in the wind, she still remembers too much. She remembers the monster-filled Underworld and Percy fighting for his life and the fact that this isn't real. No matter how much she would kill for Reyna to really be here and to really love her so, it isn't real and she feels terrible for enjoying the illusion so much. She wishes that she could reset the clock because nothing makes sense, even more so now as she wanders her paradise with her fears and memories and the occasional interruption from the depths of perdition.
"Are you alright," Reyna asks one day as they meander through the baroque mazes of roses red and oak trees.
"What do you mean?" Annabeth asks, though she already knows. The nightmares and a sense of foreboding, you will have to make your decision and the fact that her little Eden is a dream and that Reyna isn't really real and that she wants to scream.
"You seem," the queen says, pausing for a moment to locate the right word.
"Off," she finally decides, "Like you've got some heavy weight on your shoulders."
"No heavy weight on these shoulders," she says, "I'm not holding the sky." It sends a twinge of odd and unrecognizable emotions through her that she pushes away.
"Just-," Reyna says, "Just know that you can talk to me." Her eyes look concerned, and suddenly, the golden crown atop her head seems as though it might be weighing her down.
The darkness extends like the wind, whooshing into every corner of her mind. The tortured screams and creatures roars claw at her eardrums as she awakes yet again in that cursed Underworld.
She can hear the whispers on the breeze, "You're damned, little one. You'll never get out and we'll tear you to pieces. Rip you limb from limb." She can hear Percy's anguished cries as he stabs another monster, but she can also see something at the end of the tunnel. It looks a bit like a set of oaken doors, but her dream is cut abruptly once more.
"I love you, Reyna," she says one day whilst they lied in bed. Reyna's lying down with her eyes closed and her eyelashes fluttering slightly. Annabeth's almost convinced that Reyna's asleep before she notices her smile.
She isn't sure why she has to say it now, but it feels like the day of reckoning is upon her and she might not have another chance. So she seizes this one, and she wraps her arms around Reyna, taking in the soft, vanilla scent of her hair and the warm comfort of their bodies pressed together. She tries to forget for a moment that this isn't real, because it's real to her, damn it, and she'll have her fucking moment.
She holds her breath and resurfaces in her nightmarish reality once more. Percy's carrying her bridal style through the smoky sulfur stenched air that echoes with that same cadence of suffering. His arms feel comforting. For the first time in the longest while she finds her voice in this world.
"I'm up, Seaweed Brain," she says in what sounds like teasing exasperation, though she doesn't know where the words came from and she's more petrified than annoyed. His eyes light up like blue-green lanthorns at a festival dedicated just to her.
"I thought-," he says, his voice cracking, "Fucking gods, Annabeth. You're alright, really, really alright. We're almost out." She wants to leave with him. Annabeth really does. She wants to make his puppy dog eyes innocent and happy again, but the memories come flooding back to her. Times that she laughed with this boy, times she cried, a life time of pain and joy hitting her like a truck. She remembers meeting Reyna, the praetor of Camp Jupiter with the battle hardened expression and the sweet tooth and she understands why she was there. Why she was so perfect, because maybe she was a little bit in love with both of them. And something else hits her as she sees the doors, the fabled doors that spell both life and death.
Doors open from both sides.
Doors open from both sides.
This is her decision. Her great test, this is the moment that Nico, that was his name, had warned her about. She would have to close them herself, allow Percy to, or watch the world burn. She knows in an instant what she had to do, to protect her reality and have one last glimpse of her dream.
The doors were within her reach and she was struggling behind Percy, monsters at their tails. She slams the door open and waits for Percy to go through. Then she slams it behind him. She leans her back against the door, keeping her weight against it and keeping it effectively shut. She can already hear his pounding against the door, and his screams of, "Annabeth! Annabeth! Don't you fucking dare! Annabeth!" She hears the gleeful snarls, growls and roars of the monsters. Annabeth takes a deep breath as the world fades for what might be the last time.
She awakes in their large, soft bed with head pillowed on Reyna's stomach. She remembers her dream, and she knows that the end is marching closer and closer by the minute. Reyna awakens and she murmurs to Annabeth as the girl kisses her full on the lips. Their lips brush together with electricity and intensity like the many other times that they've done it, only this time is more beautiful in a frantic sort of way.
"I love you," Annabeth asserts, "I don't even care that this isn't real. I love you, Reyna, and this sweet dream." Reyna looks momentarily confused, but when Annabeth kisses her again, she leans into it, moving her lips forcefully against Annabeth's.
The two kiss as the Titanic sinks around them, as the fires of Pompeii consume her Wonderland, and Annabeth can't bring herself to care. Percy will be safe, and there's only her dream of Reyna and her soft, dark locks between Annabeth's fingers as the world goes dark one last time.