Chapter 1: I Lose What Little Street Cred I Ever Had
All right. So. I keep forgetting that every time the seasons change, I start coughing up my lungs. Like, it genuinely slips my mind right up until I've been coughing for three days straight, and that's when the lightbulb moment finally happens. Oh, it's that time of year again, is it? So it is. When did that happen? I'm a dumbass, if any further clarification is necessary at this point.
That winter/spring transition, though, it was worse than it had ever been before. Sometimes I just cough a lot. Sometimes I cough so much my voice gives out until I can't do anything more than wheeze out something high-pitched and breathy. Sometimes my stomach actually gets irritated and I get stuck in the bathroom heaving my guts out and hoping Mom doesn't notice, because she'd probably take me to see a doctor when I know perfectly well that I'll be fine in an hour. Sure, the whole part where this happens four times a year is a little worrying, but I can deal. It couldn't be that serious. Also, I've always been pretty accustomed to taking care of my own problems. Spend enough of your time without friends at private schools where everyone, including the faculty, hates you and I'm sure you'll start taking care of your own problems, too. A couple of Advil, a mountain of cough drops, and I'm all set for the seasonal switchover.
Most of the time.
Are we remembering the part where I, Percy Jackson, am a dumbass?
Good. It's important you keep that in mind.
So that seasonal change, I coughed like crazy the first couple of days, just like normal. On about the eighth day, when the coughing normally peters out, I hadn't gotten even a little better. I had a 103 degree fever, which I certainly hadn't told Mom about, and my voice was wearing pretty thin. I hadn't upchucked yet, so there was that. So much for little blessings. It was also Spring Break, so at least I didn't have to, gods forbid, socialise while slowly dying inside. Still was going to avoid seeing the doctor, though. I make some truly awesome life decisions.
I shuffled out of my room, dragging my comforter with me. No way was I going to give up that safe haven of warm softness. The floor of the kitchen was vinyl and cold as anything in the mornings, whether spring was on its way or not. Unfortunately, the comforter did not protect my feet, and it always creeped me out to sleep with socks on, so… I had to bear with it. I abducted some poptarts and a banana (the potassium's good for fevers, right?) and a can of hashbrowns. I didn't want to get up for a very long time, and I was going straight back to my room to eat them. If I got crumbs everywhere, so be it. A small price to pay for comfort.
And so that was how I spent my morning: eating crap food in my room while reading a book in Greek that Annabeth gave me. Well, I had it on loan. No way was Annabeth going to let me actually take one of her books for keeps. I'd seen her reaction when someone so much as touched her books without permission before, and I'd frankly rather take a nap in one of Cerberus's mouths than incite her wrath.
On the fiftieth page (and I never got tired of how my dyslexia seemed to vanish when the words were all Greek), the shitstorm hit me. The minute I felt the coughing fit coming on, I shut Annabeth's book firmly. No germs on her pristine pages; no, sir.
My chest spasmed as it grabbed hold of my lungs and squeezed. Every last part of my body shook and jerked as I seized up, choking on whatever was in my lungs, drowning me in ways water never could. My throat hated me so much, but there was nothing I could do. I could feel the veins on my neck standing out, my vision whiting out occasionally into television snow with each new coughing fit. The fever just compounded issues. Every time my body moved too quickly, whether the action was voluntary or not, the room spun. The dizziness didn't help with the nausea, and my choice of breakfast wasn't doing me any favours, either.
It finally subsided, or came as close to subsiding as it ever did. Small, weak coughs still tore from my throat. If I could just take a nap or something, I could almost pretend that it would all be over with when I woke up. Page fifty-one would just have to wait.
I drifted off for a while there. I hadn't been looking at the clock, so I had no idea how long I'd been out, but I felt every bit as nasty as I had before. So much for that whole "sleep-is-the-best-medicine" theory.
Then I realised that I hadn't woken up on my own. My own senses had me on high alert.
Something was rattling the front door. I could hear the creaky hinge all the way in my room. I already knew it wasn't Mom just because she never took this long to get the key in the lock, but a quick glance at the clock confirmed that she was still supposed to be at work. Just my freaking luck. A monster comes to call right when I'm sick, still sleepy, and miserable. Stellar.
I sat up and tried to stave off the dizziness. I peered around, looking for Riptide. It was right on my nightstand where I'd put it. See, the boxer shorts I normally slept in didn't have pockets, making it a bit of a challenge for Riptide to zap itself into one. No monster had ever targeted me in my sleepwear before, so I hadn't thought it would be too much of a problem. My foresight was never as awesome as I wanted people to think it was.
Much as I hated to do so, I abandoned the warmth of my blanket, gripping an uncapped Riptide and opening the door to my room a crack. I could just see into the kitchen from where I was, but the front door was still obscured. I opened the door a little wider, encouraged by the lack of claws embedded in my door.
As far as I could tell, no-one was in the apartment but me. Everything was right where it had been earlier. The door wasn't rattling anymore, and looked very comfortable sitting on its hinges, as though it had never been disturbed. Monsters generally didn't let silly things like locked doors get in their way. Maybe it had gone for reinforcements and then would come back later to break down my door. Well, I'd be ready for the sonuvabitch, keeping an eye glued to the peephole for when it returned. Then I could lop off its head and go back to sleep. A solid plan if ever there was one.
I walked as steadily as I could out of my doorway, heading for the front entrance.
I wish to the gods I hadn't.
Thick arms wrapped around me from behind, locking my arms by my sides. I tensed immediately, letting out a hoarse yell and trying to jerk out of its grip. I struggled for a while, but getting my arms away from my sides just wasn't going to work. It occurred to me that it didn't have to. Instead of trying to wield Riptide, I jammed my elbow backwards into the thing's ribcage. It spat a curse and its grip loosened just enough for me to kick myself free.
I eyed my stealthy attacker. It looked human enough, but I'd been fooled by the Mist before and I would be again. It looked like a balding white guy, maybe in his late 30s. Dark eyes. Fingernails that had been gnawed to the quick. About three layers of shirts and undershirts, most of them some unfortunate plaid-like print, with a faded green army jacket atop them all. Stained blue jeans and thick brown work boots that had seen better days. The look in its eyes, though… half enraged and half hungry… I was spooked. There was a fevered gleam in them that I'd never seen in a monster's eyes before. There was a sheen of sweat on his skin that also had me off-balance. He might have looked half-respectable with a shower (or three), some decent clothes, and a night's sleep to his credit, but in that moment, he looked like an axe murderer from one of those cop shows Mom used to watch until I made the mistake of telling her that the blood didn't arc like that when you hit an artery.
I wasted no more time and stabbed out with Riptide, aiming between his third and fourth ribs. I wasn't going to take any chances with a slashing motion, which almost never did any real damage. I felt my blood freeze as it passed right through him – with no resistance.
He was mortal.
I just sort of stood there, frozen, blinking like the idiot I was. I watched a smile grow on the man's face. It wasn't a pleasant look on him.
"A pen's not gonna help you much, kid." Shit, this guy couldn't even see through the Mist. He really was just a normal person… except he'd made it very clear that there was nothing normal about him. "Get over here," he growled, and lunged for me again.
Still trying to recover myself, I didn't get braced properly, and that was what lost me the short wrestling match. I'd never been good at wrestling at camp and after figuring out that my talents lay with swordsmanship, I'd never seen a reason to learn. Bad move.
The man used his wider stance to throw me backwards into the corner of the coffee table. I let out a weak, sharp cry and just sort of let myself crash to the ground. The room spun, my fever making all the sudden movements a nightmare for my equilibrium. Still, oak corners stabbing into your spinal column is a terrifying thing even when you're perfectly healthy.
The man got down on one knee next to me, grabbing my wrists and pinning them to the side with one hand. With the other, he quickly fished a rag of some kind out of his jacket pocket. My eyes got huge when I saw it. It had to be chloroform. When your mom watches cop shows, you learn about crap like that. "Shhh, just stay still. It's all gonna be over real soon…" He pressed it to my face, despite my whipping my head back and forth to try to throw the son of a bitch off of me. I couldn't help it. It was hard enough to breathe deeply as it was, my throat and lungs as weak as they were, and I needed every breath. I couldn't afford to hold my breath, and probably couldn't for long even if I had tried. I breathed the noxious chemical in before I even knew what had happened, and felt myself fall into the black.
I awoke to the sensation of fingers running through my hair. It felt nice, and my head hurt, so I welcomed it. There were worse ways to wake up. I must have leaned into it, or made a noise, or shifted, or something, because the gruff voice I vaguely remembered as godsnobadrunhurtpainscared started talking right next to me.
"Finally up and about? That's good. Got plans for you, boy."
I jerked up. I had no idea what I planned to accomplish with that, but I found myself hindered by ropes binding my arms and ankles to four separate bedposts, all of my movements brought to an abrupt and unforgiving halt, wrenching every muscle and joint at once. My spine also felt like one solid bruise, and informed me so loudly.
"No, my boy. Can't have that. No moving around before I want you to," the man said, wagging a finger at me.
"I'm not your anything," I spat. It would have been a lot more impressive if it hadn't come out like a high-pitched whisper of air, or if I hadn't launched into an awful, further back-wrenching bout of coughing. Like I needed my voice to be any more wrecked. I probably gave myself whiplash and couldn't even move to cover my mouth, what with my arms out of commission. When it was over, I was worse than before, weaker and shakier and barely able to perceive my surroundings. My fever had also probably spiked a little higher. It felt that way, anyway. Some remote part of my brain that sounded like a mix of Annabeth and Clarisse happily informed me that if it went much higher, I'd risk permanent brain damage or death.
Eventually, I processed the sound I was hearing: my kidnapper was chuckling to himself. "Oh, man," he said. "That's a good one." Suddenly he was so close I could smell him, his nose almost brushing mine, one of his grubby hands iron-tight on my jaw. "You listen here, boy. You belong to me. You can whine and bitch and moan and deny it all you want, but it's true, and it always will be. You belong to me. All of you." His eyes flicked downward and a chill grabbed hold of me. "You are mine. All mine. Try to escape and I'll have to show you just how much I own you. You got it?"
I couldn't make my mouth or throat work, and even if I could have, I never would have answered. Well, not in a way he'd appreciate, at least.
"You got it?" he screamed, shaking me like a rag doll. A small, involuntary noise came out of my abused throat that he must have taken as an affirmative, because he let my jaw go, stepping back. "Good. If you're a good boy, I might bring you food later. Might."
When you are a demigod with prophetic dreams and a wealth of battle experience to lend your instincts credence, you tend to just go with whatever your gut tells you to do. Ignoring it gets you or others killed. This is why, when my gut told me that I should go over to Percy's place, I put on pants and went without ever second-guessing it.
I hailed a taxi and told him the address, hoping the oncoming rush hour traffic wouldn't snarl the roads too badly. My fingers brushed over the bills in my pocket. Percy might have to lend me a couple dollars for the trip back home, much as I hated it.
The closer we got, the more my stomach tightened up. I had no idea what it was doing or why, but I could guess. How many times do demigods get foreboding feelings and then have it turn out to be all daisies and sunshine? Never. At the same time… Percy was invincible from Achilles's curse. What exactly could be strong enough to threaten him? Certainly nothing I could help him with. Not to mention, if something truly awful and terrible and powerful and all that were on the loose, I'm pretty sure I'd see some signs of it. New York was not that large a city, and Titans and gods stumbling about were pretty hard to miss, given their proclivity to some showy displays of power wherever they went.
When the cab stopped, I basically just chucked the cash at the driver and ran full-tilt into the street. That knot in my gut had only tightened.
I must have been on complete auto-pilot, because I found myself in front of the Jackson apartment's door with no memory of having made the trip. I wasn't complaining. With a yank, I threw the door open, noting with further panic that it had been unlocked. That never meant anything good. Percy knew better than to leave the front door unlocked. So did his mother. That damn knot in my stomach again.
At first, nothing seemed wrong. Well, visually, at least. There still seemed to be a faint foreboding atmosphere. I would have thought I'd imagined it all if I hadn't known better.
But there. The coffee table was out of place. Just by a hair, but I'm cursed with a photographic memory at the weirdest of times.
And there. A blanket thrown over the couch that I knew damn well belonged in Percy's room. Percy's room. The door was thrown wide. Percy didn't leave his door open any more than he left the front door unlocked. It just didn't happen.
I made a beeline for the open door and peered around Percy's room for anything out of place. I paled when I saw the sheer volume of medication that had been piled up on the nightstand. Pepto-Bismol, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, various flavours of cough medicine, and cough drops liberally scattered throughout. A nearly-empty box of tissues propped up next to his pillow. Empty glasses of water. A glass thermometer.
I could just see it all, like a puzzle that only made sense when the whole thing was put together.
Percy, sick as a dog and weak as a limp noodle, trying anything to get rid of his awful illness. His mother fetching him new glasses of water when he needed them to take his pills. Percy being too weak to bring the empty ones back to the kitchen sink. Old cough medicines tasting terrible, so new ones laying out to be tried. A bedridden Percy who was cursing his own immune system six ways from Sunday. Something catching his attention outside his room. Something clearly alarming enough to convince him to leave his bed – maybe the adrenaline rush being enough to help him up.
My feet retraced what I thought Percy's steps might have been.
Some kind of tussle. Someone attacking Percy. The blanket Percy took with him getting thrown to the side. The coffee table experiencing some sort of collision with either the attacker or Percy. I sincerely hoped it was the former. But then, I didn't think Percy would be missing if he'd gotten a one-up on his opponent. And, in his shape, adrenaline would only get him so far, demigod or no.
Was it a monster? They generally didn't clean up behind themselves, or move coffee tables back to where they used to be. They also didn't take the time to pick locks, and the front door certainly hadn't been busted in when I got here.
It had to be a human. That, or another demigod. Someone who would have had to use the door, but not had either the brute strength or the guts to just kick the thing in. The thing was, Percy would not investigate something sketchy without Riptide. Demigods would be susceptible, and however weak Percy was, Riptide would be just as sharp as ever. Some blood would be scattered around – there'd be no time to clean it up if a demigod were in the middle of a kidnapping.
A human. Percy had been kidnapped by a human. Riptide would be useless. Percy's illness would keep him from fighting back with his fists or feet. His morals would keep him from fighting with any supernatural powers.
I think that right about there, my brain shut down. Monsters were frightening, but predictable, and nobody had any qualms about running them through with a sword, knife, or whatever was handy. Humans… humans were something different entirely. Humans were cruel. They would tear you apart in ways monsters couldn't even imagine. The things humans did to each other were horrifying, and I'd seen enough of New York City to know that sometimes things slipped through the cracks. People. Criminals. Victims. They all just slipped through the cracks and nobody cared. Not enough to do anything, anyway. All I could picture were all of those headlines I'd ever seen in the newspapers, or on milk cartons: "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS BOY?" or "LOCAL CHILD MISSING: NO SUSPECTS RETURNED" or "TEENAGER'S BODY FOUND! SERIAL KILLER STRIKES AGAIN".
I had sat down on the couch, clutching Percy's blanket under my fingers. I was shaking all over. I couldn't cry. I was just kind of frozen, emotionally. I don't know how to explain it. Probably the shock, I suppose.
It might have been minutes or hours later, but Percy's mother Sally wandered through the front door I'd never bothered closing, bewildered. When she saw me, she calmed a little, straightening.
"Annabeth! We weren't expecting you! I would have put something together for you two if I'd known you were coming. Did Percy call you over? Bet he's bored out of his mind in…" Her voice trailed off and even without ever looking at her face, I knew she was making connections.
Percy's agape bedroom door.
Me sitting on her couch alone, clutching Percy's blanket like it was my one lifeline.
The whole part where Percy was nowhere to be found.
I dimly heard the groceries crash to the floor and a choked whimper of something I couldn't make out.
I think that was what jolted me out of my emotional limbo, actually. My pain was something foreign and removed from the rest of me. Hers stabbed into me like a volley of arrows tipped in poison. Suddenly I was angry. I wanted to throw things out of the windows and scream curses to the sky, slitting the throat of whoever had touched my… my… Well. 'Boyfriend' sounded too trivial. 'Lover' sounded too soap-opera-y. Whatever he was, he was mine. They touched what was mine.
And I was going to kill them slowly for it, whoever they were, mortal or no.
It occurred to me a while later that I couldn't be in the main part of New York. We had to be somewhere out in the less populated parts of the city, where my kidnapper's frequent screaming would go unnoticed. I also had to conclude that the guy wasn't here much, because he kept running into what little furniture there was like he wasn't familiar with the layout of the… house? Cabin? Apartment? I had no idea. That, or he was just blind as a bat. I doubted that one, though, because the looks he gave me were piercing, unwavering, unblinking. Eerie as all Tartarus. I got a major "Silence of the Lambs" feeling from the son of a bitch.
The heating was also either turned off entirely or just really sucky. At first I'd thought maybe it was the fever talking, but when I saw my fingernails turn bluish purple, there wasn't much room for doubt. Of all my health problems at the moment, I really didn't need hypothermia added to the list. Some part of me had already started making a list of all the things that could go wrong and just accepting that all of them, with my luck, would go wrong. Murphy's Law, right?
I was pretty sure I could get free of this guy in a heartbeat in normal circumstances. As it was, with my eyesight swimming and my equilibrium a fond memory, I'd be lucky to be half so coordinated as my clumsy host. I'd knock crap over, make noise, get the guy's attention when I was supposed to be being sneaky. Yeah, that'd work out great. That was also something that normally would not be a problem. Normally, this guy's hand-to-hand combat would probably be pathetic compared to mine. Yeah, okay, I might have sucked bong water at wrestling at Camp Half-Blood, but I was wrestling against demigods. Slightly overweight white guys out of suburban New York were another story altogether, I'd wager, not that I'd ever challenged one while healthy.
I freely admit it. I was rambling in my head, trying to distract from the raging nausea. I hadn't tossed my cookies, for which I could only thank my anxiety which kept all my organs clamped tightly in place.
So I couldn't escape. I couldn't beat this guy into the ground like normal. Riptide was useless unless I was feeling that seppuku vibe, and y'know? Not so much. Actually, the thought made me sick. Moreso, that is. What did he want with me? Men don't just drug and abduct teenagers from their homes for no reason. That annoyingly logical and increasingly loud portion of my brain kept reciting recent headlines about a serial rapist/killer in the New York area. Young men ages 10 to about 17 had been going missing only to show up later in a back alley, or a subway station bathroom, or put out with the trash in a dumpster, all with marks of heavy beatings and multiple rapes before the killing blow of a knife to the gut, which ensured a slow death as the stomach acids ate through the rest of their internal organs. I was too freaked about it to consider the gross factor. Four victims in three months and he hadn't been caught yet. That logical part of my brain was telling me I'd just found him. Or rather, he'd found me.
I was scared. Monsters in monster form, I can fight. Monsters in human form are tougher. Titans might not play by all the rules, but they at least skirt them a bit. I just couldn't stop thinking about how my captor was probably going to try to do things to me that… No. I just… I couldn't. I wasn't going to let him if he tried.
I was trying to shrink away. I really was. Trying not to draw attention to myself.
That didn't work so well. Coughs wracked my body still, getting more frequent as my last dose of medicine began wearing off. Okay, so it had been six or seven hours since I'd been taken. Six or seven hours in this cold, dank, decrepit excuse for a dwelling. Six or seven hours tied down, unable to sit up or let the fluids drain from my nasal cavities or throat, ensuring wet, burning coughs that tore what little was left of my voice to shreds. Gods, it burned. I was always so disoriented after a coughing fit, because the jerking motions were just too much. I spasmed again, trying desperately to clear my airways. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't breathe.
I had no idea where he came from, because I hadn't seen him walk up, but the harsh slap across my face was impossible to miss. I couldn't stop, though. I needed air. Everything was spinning worse than usual and now my face hurt almost as badly as my lungs did.
"Stop it, you little shit! Nobody wants to hear that!" my kidnapper snarled.
"Can't," I tried, voice sounding like nothing so much as the scrape of chalk over a blackboard.
"Oh, I'll bet you can."
And with that, he did something over my head that I couldn't see. The ropes around both my wrists suddenly slackened, but I had no time to enjoy it. Both arms were yanked up, forcing me into a sitting position, then further up, up, up. My knees didn't quite touch the bed anymore, my ankles bent awkwardly to accommodate. The ropes around my wrists had been secured to something on the ceiling – a planter hook? It was the only thing I could think of that might secure me at this height.
All thoughts of hanging plants were driven from my mind with the first blow. It was flat and broad, with edges, and unyielding. The bastard was hitting me with a piece of two-by-four. It slammed into my ribcage over and over, alternating sides, switching between my back and chest, forcing the air out of my lungs. I tried not to make a noise, not to give him the satisfaction of hearing me. I was almost thankful that my voice was just about gone – it made my job easier.
The rough and abrupt passage of air through my throat irritated it again, and another coughing fit overtook me. I guess I had underestimated how psycho my captor was, because he let loose a furious bellow, like I'd insulted his mother, and just started laying into the left side of my chest harder than before, and faster. I heard bones crack, and the next slam of the two-by-four had me screaming for all I was worth. Fire. Somehow there was fire in my lungs. I was gasping for air I couldn't get, sobbing after it. Why couldn't I fucking breathe?
He must've stopped after hearing me, must've realised that something was actually wrong.
"Oh, baby," he whispered, unfastening the rope from whatever was on the ceiling. "Baby, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. You can forgive me, can't you?" My body slumped with nothing holding it up, and I found myself in the bastard's arms. I just… I couldn't move. Couldn't get away. Wasn't sure what he would do to me if I tried. "You know I love you, baby. I just get so angry. You shouldn't get me so angry, baby."
This guy was insane. I mean, I feel like it should have been a given, but there are psychopaths, and then there are people who genuinely have lost touch with reality. I don't know why it didn't occur to me until that moment, but I realised that there was no way I was getting free on my own. I was now severely injured, with probably two or more cracked, if not broken, ribs, no voice, a fever high enough that it might kill me, and a kidnapper-slash-rapist-slash-murderer who definitely would.
Dad, I begged in my mind, please help me. I need you.
(A/N): Well, shit, y'all. This is the first PJO kind of thing I've ever written. This is about twice as long as my normal chapter length, and, fair warning, I've proofread none of it. I never do, for some weird reason. Not until I've published it, basically. I don't make too many grammar mistakes (sometimes I leave a word out just because I'm going too fast), but if I messed up plot consistencies DEAR SWEET BABY JESUS TELL ME.
Soooooo... Tell me if I should keep going, I guess? I'm a sucker for Hurt! or Sick! fics and Percy is kind of my sweet thing, you know, which means I have to make him suffer. ...Me 'n' John Green would get on just swell.