Percy Jackson almost died when he was five years old.
It wasn't like he could remember too much; he had been so young that the memory was blurred at best. Still he could remember the way the air smelled of ozone that day and the earthy odour of leaves on the ground. He could hear the wind rustle through what was left of the trees and the thunder that was rumbling somewhere far above his head. He had always been scared of storms. Later on, when he was twelve years old, he learned the reason why.
Storms simply indicated that the Big Three were engaged in one of their countless fights, which meant that the end of the world as we know it might be approaching.
Anyway - that Day, he had run away from home. Why so? That was one of those things he couldn't exactly recall; maybe it had been Gabe who scared him away by being fat and ugly, maybe he'd seen a Pegasus or something and followed it. Not that it mattered anyway.
In the early evening, he ended up at that park. It wasn't Central Park or anything; it looked pretty rundown in fact. The benches he could see from outside the fence hadn't been painted for many years. A lonely swing was standing a couple of feet away, half broken and creaking when moved by the wind.
As a child, you usually didn't notice such things, but Percy immediately knew something was wrong. It seemed like the air was… dark. Something about the atmosphere in there was strange. The stupid thing was: Being the unlucky little half-blood he was, he got curious. And so he pushed open the gate to the park with a loud creaking sound and walked in. The storm clouds above him were shifting considerably and the wind kept becoming stronger, the dirty leaves whirled around the young boy.
Unfortunately, he didn't notice how someone behind him smiled a distorted smile who waited a minute and then followed the child into the park. A knife flashed up in the pocket of his dark coat.
The first thing Percy did notice was the voices.
He couldn't make out anything specific, but he had lived with Gabe for long enough to recognize the tone of a person who was incredibly angry. As far as he could tell, there were a couple of men who were fighting; he couldn't possibly determine whether there were two or five for the voices were quite similar and constantly changing tongues. They spoke English at first, but sometimes they would start speaking some other language he didn't recognize, but it still felt… familiar.
Percy crept closer to where the people stood, staying behind a big oak tree that allowed him to watch without being seen.
A weird, tingling sensation flooded him as he spotted the owners of said voices. It seemed like the air was full of energy around the figures. Instinctively he noticed the powerfulness of these people. It wasn't exactly fear, nor was it safety he felt. It was more a scintillating combination of both. Later, he would describe it as respect.
Percy couldn't remember the details about those people; he only knew there'd been three men, arguing over something that must have been important. All of them sent shudders up his spine. Just one of them didn't seem quite as threatening as the other two. There was no face he could have placed, but the man had looked vaguely familiar. And there was this bright flash of light in another man's hand, as if he was holding one of those really bright neon lamps.
Before Percy could react, someone suddenly grabbed his shoulder.
He swirled around and looked into brown, small eyes. A man around forty towered over him and smiled. "Are you lost, boy?" he asked. Something about the look in those eyes seemed wrong.
"No, I'm okay", Percy replied politely, stepping back a bit since he wasn't supposed to talk to strangers. Besides, he was more interested in what was going on with those three guys back there – but when he turned to look, they were gone. Well, actually, two were gone. The familiar one was still lingering there, holding something that looked like a really big fork and glaring at it intently. Then he ran a hand through his hair. Why did he look so familiar?
Suddenly, the man's gaze wandered directly to Percy and he seemed completely taken aback, his eyes widened. He also noticed the stranger standing behind Percy. Then, he looked incredibly pained, as if someone had just stabbed him.
"Should I take you home? My car's right back there", the weird guy said, drawing Percy's attention again and pointing towards the street. "It's almost dark. I bet your mommy's worried. A pretty boy like you, all alone in this part of town…"
Percy gulped, now seriously feeling threatened even though that man hadn't said anything mean. There was a feeling in his gut, telling him: Run.
Behind the weird person, Percy noticed an owl sitting in a tree, staring down at him, as if it were thinking the same. Its big, perfectly round eyes didn't move, as if it were observing him. For the second time that day, a shudder ran down his spine.
"No. I'll walk. Thanks" he said quickly, making to leave.
"Are you sure?" the man asked softly.
"Y… Yes. Goodbye!"
Then Percy turned on his heels and walked away as fast as he could, almost running. He only cast a side glance at where the three men had stood before, and to his relief the familiar-looking man was still standing there, observing quietly. His hand was clenched to a fist around the fork, his lips were pressed to a line. It looked as if he was trying not to lose control or something.
The air seemed to vibrate around him. Why was he watching? Why didn't he tell the stranger to go away if he was so bothered?
Percy turned again, but he didn't even reach the gate before two strong hands closed around his neck and mouth and dragged him into a bush. Part of him froze in horror. Instinctively he started kicking and flailing his arms, but he just wasn't strong enough.
"Don't scream", the man said from behind him, his mouth so disgustingly close to Percy's ear that he could feel the breath as he spoke. He smelled, just like Gabe did.
"Now, you're going to stay cal-OW! What the fuck?"
Percy looked at the fresh bite mark he had just inflicted upon the man's hairy arm, and then he aimed a kick at where his mother had told him not to. The guy muffled a scream and fell to the ground, clutching his abdomen with both hands. Thanks to his ADHD, Percy noticed how the air suddenly smelled of salt, like it did when he was at Montauk Beach with his mom. How was that possible?
"YOU… damn bastard!" the man yelled. "Just wait till I…"
He only got as far as that when suddenly, Percy saw out of the corner of his eye how a bird swung itself into the air and a blinding flash of white light lit up the darkness behind the bushes. Percy had to close his eyes and shield them with his small hands. A weird odour reached his nose, like something burning. He didn't dare lower his arms since he was unsure whether the source of the light was gone.
A clear, female voice said: "You can open your eyes."
Percy blinked, then he obeyed and his hands sank. There was something about the voice that would not be denied.
There, again, was a gap in his memory – he couldn't for the life of him remember what she looked like. Well, he was pretty sure she had long hair – but so did almost all women.
And as for the weird man who had grabbed him… he had disappeared completely. He was alone with the woman who was standing some two metres away from him. The smell of something burning was still in the air and he saw black smoke shift a couple of metres above them. Then it was carried away by the strong wind.
The woman nodded as if Percy had said something she approved of. "That was a great kick, I must say. You aimed just right. Very good strategy. You caught him off guard by biting and then went for his testicles when he least expected you to. I admire that."
Percy blinked again, but this time not because he was blinded but out of confusion.
"What?" he asked.
The woman scowled. "Words don't seem to be one of your strengths. But well – I didn't expect them to be."
"Who are you? Where is that evil man?" Percy asked obliviously. The woman kneeled next to him. Suddenly, Percy realized that the fork man was still standing behind her, just where he had before, some metres away from them, and intensely glaring at the woman with a look he couldn't read. Was it confusion or anger? Percy blinked, and then the man had disappeared. How strange.
"He is gone, Percy", the woman said and Percy noticed she was also looking at where the man had stood. He wasn't sure anymore whether she meant the kidnapper or the fork man.
"How do you know my name?" Percy asked as a thought occurred to him, taking a step back, worried about whether she, too, was a bad person. He forgot that she still hadn't introduced herself.
The woman smiled slightly. "I know everything."
"You're lying", Percy replied immediately. For some reason, that seemed to annoy the woman.
"You don't believe me? Test me."
Percy put a finger on his chin, thinking about what to ask.
"My favourite colour?"
"My mom's name?"
"What did I eat yesterday?"
His eyes widened. "So you really DO know everything?"
She sighed. "You're slow, aren't you?"
"Actually, I'm a real fast runner…"
The woman slapped her forehead.
"Is everything okay?" Percy asked obliviously.
"Yes. I'm just wondering why I saved you. That's all."
Percy pouted. "You think I'm dumb, don't you? Just like everyone else."
"Why would I think that?"
The boy looked down at the earth; only for a second he wondered why he was about to tell this strange woman stuff that was so personal. He was sure his mother would be furious if she knew. "They say I'm stupid. They say…" His voice cracked slightly. "They say I'm so stupid even my father left me. He didn't want me."
The woman leant down and did something she didn't seem accustomed to, for the action appeared very clumsy – she put a hand on his shoulder. Then she looked him up, evidently thinking hard about what she was about to say.
"You're not stupid and that is not the reason your father left. He wanted you, boy; he wanted you enough to risk the world for you."
Percy took a step back. "That's what mom says, too, but he isn't here! He never helps me or gives me stuff or protects me from evil people who say I'm dumb and they hate me. All the other kids have daddies who do that stuff! And my daddy's gone!"
Her face turned solemn. "He isn't here because that is the way he can protect you the best. Your father is very powerful. If he were here, you wouldn't be safe at all."
A single, angry tear made its way over Percy's small, red cheek, his look was childishly defiant. "I just want him to love me."
At that, she just smiled and said: "I will promise you something."
Percy looked up. "And what?"
"Tomorrow, you'll turn on the TV…" she said. "And you will see news about a storm somewhere that destroyed lots of places."
Percy made a face. "What's so great about that?"
"If I'm right and there was a storm… It shows how much your daddy cares. Don't ask why, but I know I'm right. I always am."
She patted his shoulder and turned to leave.
She took a couple of steps, but suddenly, a small hand clutched the hem of her dress.
"What is it?" she asked, scowling. That seemed to be one of her regular expressions.
"Why did you save me?" Percy asked. Something about the boy's tone made her twitch inwardly. He didn't sound like a five-year-old at all.
"Well… Let's say I didn't want that person to harm you."
"Yes. But… why? Who are you?"
She smiled, this time more honestly, but there was a slight blush on her face as she waved. "Goodbye, Percy Jackson."
Then, suddenly, he felt drowsy and his eyelids closed. The little boy drifted off to deep slumber and fell into the woman's arms, oblivious to how someone suddenly materialized next to them. The woman smiled triumphantly.
"I knew you would stick around", she said to the man.
He knelt down next to her and looked at Percy. He didn't look up, but she knew what he wanted to ask.
"I know everything, like I said", she announced and lifted Percy up with surprising strength.
The wind got less strong, but still Poseidon was lucky his hair was always a mess anyway. The sea wind did that. The woman wasn't as lucky, though. He was sure she would have knots after standing in this storm.
It was so dangerous he was standing here so close to his son. He desperately wanted to wake him up, embrace him and protect him from anyone who dared hurt him, but that would have led the other gods straight to him, and he knew without a doubt they would have killed Percy.
He was glad she had burned that disgusting molester, because otherwise he would have done it himself. He had already summoned the sea winds when she'd attacked in the form of an owl. Otherwise Poseidon would have killed that mortal himself.
In the end, hell hath no fury like a parent protecting his child.
He had been so engaged in the fight with Zeus and Hades he hadn't kept an eye on Percy; gods, he had been only a couple of metres away from his uncles who both wanted to kill him and none of them had noticed, not even Poseidon himself. The thought was scary. What would have happened if they had seen him? Zeus had been standing just right. He should have. Had she manipulated the mist?
"I'll take him to his mother", the woman suddenly announced and disintegrated without saying another word, taking Percy with her. That was a moment in which too many words were superfluous anyway. What could they say? Poseidon was too dumbstruck to say anything, besides he already knew why she had saved him.
She knew they couldn't prevent the prophecy anyway.
It was evident to him that she had just tested the boy and looked whether he was worth it to keep him alive. Had he proved to be too stupid or too weak she would have killed him herself, thus making sure the child of prophecy was strong and fearless enough.
He clenched his jaw. Damn that woman and her strategies. She had probably seen to it herself that the paedophile went after Percy. Otherwise it was just too much of a coincidence that his son had appeared at the park where they were fighting (he doubted that was her doing, too, because that would be suicidal, even for her) and happened to run into a crazy person on the way. She had probably taken the possibility to test him when Poseidon was distracted and she realized he was so close to the Big Three. But if she hadn't been there and Zeus and Hades had noticed him...
For some time, Poseidon just stood there and pondered, knowing she kept her promise to bring him home, for he could see how she laid him down in his bed unharmed and left. After a while, he coughed, knowing he had to say it. The words felt like they were strangling him, locking his throat. He let the cold wind burn his skin as he opened his lips and whispered:
"… Thank you, Athena."
And he knew she had heard him, no matter where she was, and for a second he could feel her smile.
The next morning, Percy woke up in the bunk bed in his own room. When he opened his eyes, he could see his mother's sleeping figure next to him. She slept over in his room a lot even though married people usually slept together.
Remembering the last day, Percy snapped awake and jumped out of the bed.
In the living-room, Smelly Gabe was sleeping on the couch, his chips spilled all over the floor. Percy paid him no mind; instead, he turned on the TV.
Right after the announcement of some boring politician's re-election, there was news about a hurricane hitting the West-Coast of the USA the day before and damaging the shorelines of three states.