AN: I should really be working on my NaNovel right now... but I couldn't leave this unfinished for a whole month. Takes place during SoN. Enjoy and please review!
"Mom. Mommy! Mooom! Mom. Mom—"
"What, Jonathan?" Jonathan's mother finally replied, whipping her head around as she finished selecting the perfect loaf of whole-grain stone-ground organic bread packaged in recyclable plastic, as if plastic wasn't always recyclable. Even then, the woman wrinkled her nose slightly, as if she wished the bread could have been just that much healthier.
"I want ice cream."
Sally Jackson stifled a laugh and gave Jonathan's mom a sympathetic smile as she passed by in the grocery store aisle. The woman huffed indignantly and then scolded her toddler about sweets, but Sally continued with a nostalgic smile on her face. Gods knew how many times Percy had done that when he was that age…
And as quickly as it had come, the smile slipped away. She couldn't even go to the grocery store without being reminded of her missing son. He was everywhere – stories on the evening news about teenage delinquents, the rivers glittering in the sunlight, happy families packing up cars to go to Montauk for the weekend, and gods help her if she saw something blue.
Percy was everywhere, all the time, but no one had seen him in half a year.
Perhaps a normal person would have become less nervous, more resigned as the time went on. Every day he was gone was another day he was more likely to stay gone, in a normal case at least. And especially when she had heard where her son was – or rather, where he was supposed to be – Sally had thought maybe the waiting would become easier. It didn't.
The demigods had discovered his supposed position back in December. It would probably be a few months, they had said, until Percy remembered everything and gained the Romans' trust so that he could contact them. And then another few months until the flying ship was complete. And Grover had that empathy link, so he would probably be able to get in touch with Percy soon.
Days passed. Nothing, but that was expected. And then weeks. They all started to worry a little bit, but maybe the gaining trust thing was taking longer than they thought. Months. No word, no dreams, no contact of any sort. For all the campers knew, Percy might have been – no, it was unthinkable. It was just Hera interfering again. Definitely.
Sally had, of course, been very much a part of their anxious waiting. Every single day for the last six months she'd been reminded that she had no idea where her son, her only son, was, or if he was okay or if he was even alive. Paul helped with the waiting; he missed Percy too. But nothing could ever quite take the edge off the fierce worry.
Worry. It was a very watered-down word to express exactly what she felt, but 'terror' and 'mind-numbing fear' would seem strange in normal conversation. After all, normal parents didn't feel such paralyzing dread and agony when their teenagers went away to military school, and since that was the best excuse she and Paul and Chiron had come up with, that was the act she had to put on.
"Ma'am," said the gum-chewing cashier, interrupting her anxious train of thought. Sally hadn't even realized she had reached the front of the line. "Do you have a card with us, or—?"
Sally pulled the neon plastic rectangle out of her wallet before the cashier could continue. In two minutes (the bagboy was slow today, Sally noted) she was out the sliding door with a few days' worth of food for a family of three. She could never get used to the conspicuous gap at their dinner table every night. Or the absence of the black hole that was her son's stomach. But mostly the first one.
She said hello to the doorman, mentally reminisced about the time when Percy had thought he was a monster and nearly decapitated him, and took the elevator up to their small apartment. She used her key (the blue one, of course) to open the door, stepped inside, and was met with silence.
"You sure you don't want to go to sleep?" Leo asked, poking Annabeth's shoulder until she acknowledged his presence by shoving him. "Even I'm sleeping tonight, and I haven't done that in, like, weeks."
Annabeth blew a wisp of hair away from her face in annoyed huff. The rec room, where she'd set up her headquarters, was dark save for her small fluorescent desk lamp. "I told you, I am fine. I just need to finish this one map—"
"—and then you'll go to your cabin and sleep, and besides, you're older than me and I shouldn't be telling you when to go to bed because you're a responsible adult and can make your own decisions," Leo finished. Annabeth just smiled wearily; clearly she'd been using those excuses much too often. She would have to come up with some new ones…
"Seriously though," he continued. "If you stay up late and stuff, you're gonna, like, die from exhaustion. There was this brain scientist lady—"
"Yeah, that. And she came to the Wilderness School this one time 'cause they had to educate us because of some stupid law—"
Annabeth rolled her eyes. "Gods forbid you actually be educated in a school. Maybe I should make you a map after I finish this one, because you seem to have trouble getting to the point."
"Ooh, burn. Too bad I'm fireproof." Leo quickly ducked the hand that swatted at him. "Anyway, the point is that if you never sleep you're not going to be able to function when we go to Rome. And we kinda need you, since you're the super-smart, all-knowing daughter of Athena and stuff. And since you might be the only one who could get through to Percy if he doesn't—"
"Yes, Leo," she cut in. The daggers in her suddenly stormy eyes were more than sharp enough to slice straight through one measly son of Hephaestus, so he shut up pretty quickly. "I know. And I'll go to bed soon. You should take your own advice and do the same, especially if we're aiming to set sail by three. You're fixing the secondary engine tomorrow morning, right?"
He blushed. "Uh, yeah. As soon as we find the—well, yeah. We just need a few more parts, and then we'll run one last check. And then we'll be ready to go. Kinda."
She pinched the bridge of her nose tightly, reminding herself to take deep breaths, just as she'd been doing the last six months. It was going to be okay. It was going to be okay. It was going to be okay…
"Just go to sleep, Leo," she sighed. "We'll sort it out in the morning. Tell the others we're meeting fifteen minutes after daybreak, okay?"
Recognizing his not-so-subtle dismissal, Leo saluted and said, "Yes, ma'am." He started to make his way to the door, then quickly turned around and added in a sing-song voice, "Remember to go to beddy-bye!"
He only narrowly dodged the pencil flung at his head.
Annabeth leaned back in her uncomfortable wooden chair and let her head tilt back. Just one more day of this horrible waiting. One more day, and then she would at least be going towards Percy instead of being stuck at camp planning and drafting maps and making strategies just in case and observing the torturously slow construction of the Argo II and preparing for yet another war…
One more day.
Probably more, in reality, but it was easier to have a set number of hours and stress about being late than to be unsure as to when they would launch.
Six months had been excruciating enough, but Annabeth had a terrifying feeling that these last twenty four hours were going to seem even longer. She had gone one hundred ninety one days without seeing Percy and godsdamnit if she couldn't stand twenty four hours more.
One more day.
With a sigh she turned her gaze back to the map of the Bay Area she and Jason had been marking up. He had been able to remember the location of Camp Jupiter and New Rome (finally) and she was pinpointing important places in the city – just in case they needed to retreat. Mount Tam, because although it had served as the Titans' base and Atlas still held the sky there, the mountain was a decent distance away and held a high vantage point. Her father's house, for reference or in case they needed shelter and supplies (although she would really rather not expose her mortal family to the gritty reality of Greco-Roman warfare). She'd marked the Wolf House. The piers, for docking the Argo II. Golden Gate Park, another backup docking spot…
As she went through the checklist, sometimes mumbling the names out loud and crossing things out, her mind wandered to Percy. And then sleep. And then Percy again. And Percy sleeping. Gods, she was so tired and she missed him so much and she was just so exhausted.
A quick nap wouldn't do any harm, she decided. Leo was right; she needed rest. And she could wake up in half an hour or so to finish the map…
She was asleep before she had even finished formulating her counter-argument.
The sound of the telephone ringing shrilly woke them around midnight. Sally rolled over and groaned incoherently. "Paul," she mumbled. "Phone." Her husband's loud snores cut off abruptly when she poked him.
"Wha—ugh. Fine." Paul stumbled out of bed and over to the dresser. He covered it quite well when he tripped over the lamp stand, so luckily Sally didn't see.
"Who is it?" Sally mumbled. It came out more like 'whoizzt,' but Paul understood. They were both fluent in sleep-deprivation.
He peered down at the bright orange display. "Unknown name, unknown number. Let it go?"
She nodded. "Prob'ly a telemarketer. They're all insane, calling at midnight for Pete's sake…" The phone finished its final, ear-piercing trill and the sound of Paul's voice on the recording came from the kitchen. There was a beep, a pause, and then—
Sally sat straight up in bed. "Is that—?" Without waiting for an answer, she snatched up her old blue flannel bathrobe and sprinted to the kitchen. She knew that voice, she knew that voice, she knew that voice!
"Hera put me to sleep for a while," the recording was saying,"and then she took my memory, and …" There was a sigh, followed by a long pause. Sally stood frozen with her hands over her mouth, staring at the machine with tears in her eyes. She didn't notice Paul right behind her, equally shocked.
Percy, Percy, Percy.
"Anyway, I'm okay. I'm sorry. I'm on a quest… I'll make it home. I promise. Love you."
As soon as the *click* signaled the end of the message, Sally remembered that the phone had only just rung, which meant that Percy had called them right now from gods knew where and that meant she could have picked up the phone and talked to her son if she wasn't such an idiot.
Percy was okay. Percy was on a quest. Percy remembered.
Her heart felt so heavy, as if there was six months' worth of grief and terror dragging her down through every single floor, into the basement, and maybe all the way down to the center of the earth. But then, at the same time, if she'd wanted to she could have easily flown all the way up to Olympus.
She stumbled back until she felt the cool sturdy refrigerator under her fingertips and sank to the floor, desperately needing something solid to lean against. She was dizzy. Paul, after a few seconds, clambered down on the tile next to her.
Sally looked up, her eyes glowing. She squeezed Paul's hand. "Yeah. Yeah, he did."
And then she was sobbing, her head buried in her husband's shoulder and even though she'd been prone to haphazard emotional outbursts over the last six months he still looked quite shocked. His salt-and-pepper hair sticking up in odd places didn't help his image.
She babbled gibberish about her little boy and he patted her on the back and said "I know" over and over.
After countless minutes, hours, years, she sat straight up, tear-filled eyes wide. "Oh!" She scrambled out of Paul's arms and skidded over to the phone, frantically dialing.
Paul look bewildered all over again. "What? What's wrong?"
She cursed as her fingers slipped and she had to begin the ten-number sequence all over again. As she brought the phone up to her ear, tapping her fuzzy-sock-clad foot against the floor impatiently, she said, "Don't you think Percy's friends would want to hear about this, too?"
Somebody was shaking her awake.
"Annabeth… Annabeth, wake up," Chiron's voice said.
Slowly, slowly, her eyes opened. The room was dark, but her lamp still buzzed somewhere above her head. Her cheek was stuck to a piece of paper—the map. She brushed it away and sat up.
Chiron stood above her with a knowing expression. Annabeth sighed, not even bothering with an excuse. Having Chiron wake her up at her desk was not an unusual occurrence. In fact, lately it had become something of a nightly ritual.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Just past one," he said. He looked down at her with concern. "You should go back to your cabin. You'll need to be up early for the last check."
She kneaded her forehead. "Leo says the secondary engine is malfunctioning again. And he mentioned something about a missing part. I swear, this thing is never going to get off the ground if we keep having these kinds of delays. We still need to do so many tests, and load the cargo hold…"
Chiron placed a hand on her shoulder.
"The only thing we can do right now is hope and pray that nothing else goes wrong and work as hard as we can to get the Argo II on its way to San Francisco. In the mean time, I suggest you get at least a few hours of rest." He smiled. "We can't have the camp's best strategist falling asleep on the job."
"You're right," she sighed. "Let me just clean this up—"
The phone rang.
The two looked at each other in confusion for a moment, and then Chiron cantered into the next room to answer the call. Annabeth turned to the mess on her desk and began shuffling papers into somewhat neat piles, wondering who would be calling so late…
"How are – He did? When? What did he – Incredible – yes, yes of course – just a moment—" Chiron's excited voice carried across to her and by the time he hurried out of the room she was waiting anxiously in the doorway.
"What's going on? Who's on the phone?"
Chiron –Chiron—was grinning. "Percy's mother."
Annabeth's mouth popped open. Percy's mother was on the phone—Mrs. Jackson had called—that must mean—Chiron was excited—what—
Before she could even form a coherent thought she had pushed Chiron aside and sprinted across the hall to the old cordless phone in the main office. She snatched it up and asked, "What's happened?"
Mrs. Jackson's joyful, tinny voice came through the phone:
For the second time in just a few seconds Annabeth's mouth fell open in shock. She was reeling—If Percy had called, then he must have been able to remember his mother's number, so what else did he remember?
"What did he say?" she asked frantically.
"He said—oh, let me see if I can play it for you— Paul, is there any way to play a message through the phone?" The sound of some sort of fumbling, a few "No, that can't be right"s and then a beep.
Mom. Hey, I'm alive. Hera put me to sleep for a while, and then she took my memory, and … Anyway, I'm okay. I'm sorry. I'm on a quest… I'll make it home. I promise. Love you.
The silence after the beep was deafening.
Percy was okay. Being on a quest wasn't exactly safe, but he knew how to take care of himself. He was okay. He might not have had all of his memories left, but certainly enough to remember a telephone number, so he must be starting to remember a lot more than just a phone number, so it was a strong possibility that he remembered her—
She realized that maybe she had been silent for a little too long and said the first words that came to her.
"It's so good to hear his voice again."
Her voice sounded exhausted and small but also endlessly happy, and that was kind of like what she was feeling right now.
Another thought occurred to her, another part of Percy's message: Hera put me to sleep for a while. That must have been why nobody could contact him—that stupid Seaweed Brain had been asleep the entire time. How typical. But at least he hadn't been fighting for his life every second the last few months. She wondered how long a while was…
"I know," Sally's voice said. "I can't believe it. I just hope he stays okay…"
Annabeth grin faded a little bit. "I hope so too. But I'm sure he will. He's Percy. And if he remembers anything, he knows that I'm going to kill him if he gets himself killed."
Mrs. Jackson laughed.
The clock caught Annabeth's eye and she started, realizing that she had to be awake again in five hours. "Mrs. Jackson, I hate to have to go, but we're planning on leaving for the West Coast tomorrow…"
"Oh, go, go!" she cried. "Don't let me hold you up. Good luck!"
"Thanks, Mrs. Jackson—"
"Oh, and Annabeth," she sounded much more hesitant now, and the change intrigued her, "If you see him, could you tell him that I got his message? And that I'm expecting him to keep his promise?"
She smiled. "Of course."
They both said goodbye, and then Mrs. Jackson hung up and Annabeth still clutched the phone even though the dial tone was beginning to annoy her.
Somehow, she didn't think she would have much trouble sleeping tonight.
Percy was okay.