Just A Dream
Just A Dream
Bianca waved him over, ignoring Travis, who protested briefly through the mouthful of food at the idea of the 'kid' joining the table. Nico grinned as he walked over to join her, Percy trailing after him.
Setting his tray down, he leant over and pecked Nico on the cheek. "Hey, kitten," he greeted, affection clear in his voice.
Nico scowled at him, feeling the flush work its way onto his cheeks.
" I told you to stop calling me that!"
" Yes, angel," Percy muttered as he stole a few cookies out of Nico's lunchbox. It revealed the neatly inked tattoo of a series of 0's, nicely done, a perfect line down his arm.
Nico huffed, looking away from Percy. "That's not so much better, you know," he muttered, trying to sound a little more mature to salvage some of his pride. He knew, of course, that he failed. It did not quite matter when Percy leant over and kissed him again, properly this time, right on the lips.
He tasted like chocolate chip cookies. That, and the strawberry-flavoured toothpaste he always uses –
Nico bolted upright in his bed. Of course, he rammed his head into the bunk above him. He stilled, waiting to see if the occupant above had woken up, and almost sighed in relief as the snoring continued. Wincing a little as he rubbed at the sore spot, he glanced at the clock hanging on the wall beside the door. At this point of time, it was more of a habit than an actual concern about the current time.
He flopped back down onto his bed and glared at the glow-in-the-dark stars barely visible now. Rationally, he knew that they had done nothing to offend him – he was the one who moved, after all, they can only hang there, immobile, but he was so sick of waking up at this frankly inhumane time in the morning. It's already been six months and twenty-one days, not that he was counting.
Never mind that it was always directly preceded by dreams of a life in which everything was, well, not perfect, but as good as it could get.
That was the strangest thing.
He was fairly certain that people were not supposed to be able to remember their dreams, especially not those peaceful ones. He himself certainly could not recall any of the dreams that were not a particularly vivid nightmare.
Perhaps the ability to retain the memories was the trade-off for being woken up directly when the dream was about to end?
Whatever the reason was, he had been consistently woken up every night at 4:00AM after a glimpse of a life that was better than he could ever hope for, and, truth to be told? It was pissing him off a little.
He shut his eyes bitterly, trying to forget how it felt, to be part of that world.
Whoever said that a taste was better than nothing clearly did not know just how much it sucks, to be offered a quick preview of what could have been yours, directly before it was taken away and you were left wishing you could have more all while knowing, logically, that it was not possible. If he concentrated hard enough, he could still faintly taste Percy's lips on his, from when they had kissed, in this weird dream-world-universe thing that his subconscious appeared to have built for him.
He forced his eyes open. It was far too easy to soak in the world his mind had created. Easy, to the point that it was hard to remember that it was not real, to forget the fact that this was reality, and that was just a dream.
He needed something to do.
Something to distract him from where he just knew his train of thoughts was leading to.
He did not want to move, however. Besides, was it truly that hard to admit to himself that Percy was Annabeth's has been and always would be, in reality?
To believe, even for a single second, that Percy could have felt something for him when he asked Nico out, was what made him the fool in this play. This story. Of course, he had known that there was something off about this whole charade, but he had brushed it off.
A bloody idiot, that's what he was, for thinking that Percy could ever return his feelings.
He had never learnt how to swim, but when Percy had offered to take him somewhere, anywhere, for a date, he had agreed without thinking twice and allowed himself to be caught by the riptide of emotions.
To be swept away into the ocean, where Percy's affections and reassurances were really the only things keeping him afloat.
For a while, everything was perfect. Even though their relationship was kept in the shadows, away from everyone else. Even though he was still invisible at home and non-existent in school.
He managed to bury the little voice telling him that this was a joke, a dare - it was not real, cannot be real. He ignored the rational and sane part of him telling him to rebuild the wall and keep Percy out, to leave now and protect himself. To save himself by not setting his feelings up for the time when he would eventually hit the ground after falling too fast, too hard.
He just had to accept Leo's dare to go to the classroom behind the auditorium, the one that was always locked, the one that was too dusty and unused for him to want to go close to. The door being unlatched was the first indication, but he pushed it open, regardless. What he saw behind the doors crushed him.
Percy was flushed, breathing hard and fast and locked in passion with her, hands travelling close to dangerous territory –
Nico had fled.
He was not too proud to admit that.
'Dangerous territory,' he thought. His lips twitched slightly at the wording. He looked at the clock again.
It appears that introspection was quite time-consuming.
'I should wash up a little. Might as well work on staying awake properly, since I'm not going back to sleep anytime soon.'
He clambered out of bed a little unsteadily, careful not to make too much noise, too aware of Hazel snoring lightly in the bunk above.
The bunk that Bianca once slept in.
Nico winced a little at that. He had promised himself that he would never blame Hazel for everything that had happened. She was an excellent sister and Nico could accept that while she would never replace Bianca or the position she held in his heart, he had the space to accept another sister, one who was just as lost as him when it came to navigating the murky waters that was their lives with father, if not more so.
After all, it was not Hazel's fault that she turned up on the one month anniversary of Bianca's death, just as it was not her fault mother walked out when she found out that father was unfaithful. Hazel was slightly older than Nico and younger than Bianca, implying that father had bedded Hazel's mother only a few months before Nico had been conceived.
He sat back down, rather abruptly, feeling a little out of it. He did not want to think about this now. Then, he realised that there was a dust bunny on the floor, near the foot of his bed. His skin crawled a little as he wondered if he should clean up a little. Who knows how much dust could have gathered under the bed or settled on the floor while he was asleep?
Suddenly, he was extra aware of all the dirt that had probably accumulated since the last time he cleaned up. He was itching to get started to clean up now, but he refrained from doing so.Breathe in, breathe out and focus on breathing. It took a while for it to work, but he calmed, eventually. The urge to rearrange everything precisely and neatly faded to an annoyance worrying in the corner of his mind. Then, he sighed, shoulders sinking a little. No wonder Percy went back to his ex, even after swearing that he never wanted to do anything with her again.
Anyone was better than a 5'6" clean freak who flipped over bread crumbs in the carpet on better days and got obsessive with tiny details like the placement of stationary and cutlery on the worst.
Sure, he had come a long way from that, but it still creeps up every now and then, especially when he got a little more stressed.
He was forever grateful to Hazel, though, for putting up with him during the period in which he attacked everything with cleaning supplies and start rearranging everything whenever he thought it was dirty or messy, even if it was in the middle of the night and she was trying to sleep. She was more understanding than his father ever was.
Nico had no idea what had changed.
After Bianca had died, Hades was the one who had helped Nico through the compulsiveness. Even after Maria had walked out, they were close. Even if he treated Hazel better than he did with Nico, they had the understanding, the bond.
Then, Hades started spending less time with them – locking himself up in his room, spending extra hours in the lab after work hours to work on his pet project, forgetting that Hazel was around sometimes. It started around the time Nico started having the dreams, and even if Nico did not believe in coincidences, it felt a little far-fetched to say that his father's behaviour was linked to his dreams.
It hurts, though, that instead of offering help, his father just sent him directly to the psychologist and let the doctor deal with him, without giving him a chance to try, to recover on his own first.
Reading, he decided. Reading would take his mind off these thoughts.
He could not focus on the words, though. Instead, he found himself wondering. Even he indulges in the occasional what-ifs, after all. What if Hazel had never arrived with the letter, the photograph and the clothes on her back her only belongings? Perhaps mother would never have left if Hazel had never entered their lives.
Who was he kidding?
He knew that mother had never liked the States. He knew that she had always wanted to go back to Italy, preferably with her children.
More specifically, Bianca.
He looked at the silver of a reflection he could see, on the metal stand of the lamp.
Pale skin, high cheekbones, messy untameable hair and brown-almost-black eyes. Enough for people who notices him to call him pretty. Not visible enough though, apparently.
His parents had not acknowledged Nico's existence since Bianca had died. The only real sign that they remembered he existed was the pocket money left in an envelope on the fridge every Saturday morning.
He could understand, even if he could not sympathize or empathize, as they were a bit caught up in their fight against each other. For months, their relationship simply worsened steadily, eventually becoming a tense silence whenever they were in the same room together, whether or not Nico was present.
Hazel was simply a catalyst, a simple, convenient excuse for mom to justify leaving. Deep down, he knew that if Hazel had never arrived, she would simply have found another reason to walk away.
If he were to be honest with himself, he was truly surprised that she had held on to the marriage and the family for this long.
He was an expert at lying, though.
Especially when it came to lying to himself.
It had been way too easy to pretend that he had never saw this coming, that he had actually expected her to stay for him, if not for anything else.
There was a reason he joined the drama club and excelled in the theatre electives he took up.
It was not much, just little things. Things like the fact that he was more visible on stage than he was anywhere else, even if nobody ever remembers him, even if he was only ever the character he was playing at the moment to them. He always took the mute and insignificant roles no one else wanted, only standing in for the main characters when the actual actors were absent, just to keep things going. The teacher, at least, acknowledged that he was good at this.
Acting was really one of the only talents he had and was proud of.
Doesn't that just say so much about his life?
He loved being someone else, though. As that person, he had the reassurance that even though he was less than perfect and was not particularly important, he would still do something right eventually.
Unlike in real life, where he just made mistakes after mistakes, since everything he did was always wrong, no matter how hard he tried.
In a way, he was addicted to the person he was and could be when he was not the failure of a son and a brother that he was in reality, after he left the stage and went back home.
The clock told him that it was now 4:23 AM.
He gave up on reading the book. Leaning back, he stared at the ceiling. There were no tiles there for him to count, he noted absently. Inevitably, his mind strayed off once more. Obviously, it went down the forbidden path of thoughts.
An affair. With Percy Jackson.
It sounded sordid, even in his head.
That's really what it was, though. Since, when he confronted Percy about his not-really-ex-girlfriend, Percy revealed that it had never meant anything, that he had just wanted to explore and try something new after Annabeth was no longer a part of his life.
Percy had simply been curious, and Nico had stood out in the sea of students in the school.
He supposed that he should be flattered. Out of so many boys in this school, he was the one Percy had chosen. It hurts, though, and he was too heartbroken and strung out and emotionally wrung out to be optimistic about this.
In a way, it was similar to the state he had been in when Bianca ended up in the car accident after leaving the house in a fit because of a silly argument they had.
Only difference was, the first time, no one even noticed, and he eventually managed to pick himself up again to press on in life. This time, though…
He had made sure to keep everything quiet, since Percy had never wanted anyone to know and he was okay with being silent. Somehow, it had leaked, though. And, like all rumours, it spread like wildfire the moment the wind caught hold of it.
People started giving him sideways looks, and some, in particular, took to sneering at him and giving him a wide berth. Percy remained unaffected, whether due to his status or the fact that no one had known he was the one with Nico.
Nico took the fall for them.
He caught the eye of those who sought out weaker members of their community. He was not weak, not really, but he had been defenceless and was caught off guard.
Truthfully, he was able to fight back and more than capable of defending himself. After the first time he was cornered, he had swallowed his pride and asked his study partner to teach him how to fight. Reyna had agreed, and she had never asked him why, for which he was thankful.
Fighting was against the rules, though, and every single time he fought back, he was punished alongside them, more often than not. They almost suspended him for it, bringing it to his father's and Hazel's attention. She had begged him to stop fighting, tears shining but not falling. His father had simply gave him a cold look and told him to stop being so childish.
Detention after detention, until he learnt to just take it and keep quiet, then nurse his wounds silently later when he was alone, when there was no one around to see.
At least they never left visible bruises.
Nico rubbed his side absently, even though that bruise was already mostly healed. It has almost been two weeks. He should watch out, the next 'fight' would not be that far away.
After Percy, he had started dreaming. By the time the rumours started flying and he began to despise going to school, the other realm was ingrained into his life. For a while, he had lived solely for the little glimpses of the life he could have had.
Hazel broke him out of it the one time he had told her, telling her that this was the reality, and he should focus on his life. She brought him back on track.
It helps that at the start, in his dreams, he was pining for Percy too. He knew that he was a selfish brat for revelling in that fact. At that time, though, he was simply glad that he was not alone in practically suffocating. That, together with the fact that the only time he could still meet Bianca again was in that dream world he visits every night, helped to cement his belief in it. Even though, logically, he knew that the place in his mind simply does not exist, that it was a fraction of his imagination, he liked to think that it, and all its inhabitants, was just as real as he was.
Even though he knew that Bianca was dead and gone and would never come back, and that his mother never cared much for him.
Then, Percy went and asked him out.
The next time he fell asleep, they were dating. Ever since then, he had been waking up to the end of their interactions more often than not.
He had tried to be jealous, but he just ended up feeling heartsick.
He was tired of forever being second to someone else. He would never admit it, but he wanted someone who would love him unconditionally. Someone who would care enough to care about how he felt. In a way, he was glad for his dream self.
At least, he knew that Percy would never do the same thing Percy from reality did. Dream-Percy was always caring and loving, doting on him, and, mostly, proud of him. He was alright with holding hands in public, willing to let his friends see that he was with Nico and he never failed to praise Nico when he thought that Nico had done well. Even if he always ended up blushing, he knew that Percy had never been ashamed of him.
Unlike in reality.
It was not fair, really, to assume that Percy had been ashamed of their…affair, but in the times when he was feeling particularly vulnerable, he wished that he had had the courage to have asked Percy if they could have gone public.
At least then, he would have found out earlier that Percy had never felt anything for him and saved himself from the hardest part of the heartbreak.
Gosh, he sounded delusional, Nico thought as he slid down the chair a little. Wishing that he would be better off in a dream than in real life.
It was, after all, just a dream.