A/N: Fair warning before you read this. After this chapter, it's outlines of where it was going to go next. One day, if I have time, I may rewrite it into a full fic. For now, I'm satisfied. And well aware of the irony of the only written chapter of my Percy/Nico fic technically being Percy/Annabeth.
χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά: Khalepà tà kalá: "The good and beautiful things are difficult to attain."
The not-quite-morning air is cold at the top of Half-Blood Hill, still untouched by the sun, and I sneak closer to Annabeth, draping myself over her shoulder.
"Using me as a sweater again?" she smirks, wriggling free.
"I mean, technically I'm the one between you and the air..."
"Oh, sorry. I meant to say I'm a space heater," she teases, but she twists back to face me, and wraps her arms immediately around my neck.
I grin, nodding, and can tell she's biting back a smile. "See, this is just another reason you can't go visit your family. I'll freeze without you."
She snorts, and ducks her head down onto my chest to hide it.
"Ah yes, I'll put off visiting my father, who's desperate to see that I'm still alive and okay, to give you a reason to get out of wearing a sweater."
She pulls back, grin huge now, and starts shrugging free of her baggy Caltech hoodie. I try to shout a protest, seeing where this is going, but her eyes are flashing with the challenge now, and she yanks It down over my head, trapping me, before I can get out more than a syllable.
I force my arms into the right sleeves, and yank my head out, hopefully looking betrayed and indignant.
She just crosses her arms, smirking. "Any other excuses, Seaweed Brain?"
I grab her hands, and pull them back around my neck, cocking an eyebrow at her muffled giggle.
"The Romans decided they needed a few more weeks to get their army mobilized, and I heard they invented parties?"
"Oh, well then. I guess I have to stay. Because the first thing you think when you hear Annabeth Chase is definitely party animal." She smiles again, reaching up to run her fingers through my hair, and I fumble for another excuse. We both know she made her decision late last night, when we were both vulnerable enough to whisper our real fears, but every second we spend on this game means delaying the departure a little more.
"Well, I hear the naiads are looking for a giant fishtank to get them to New Rome. That's kinda your thing, right?"
"That is engineering, not architecture."
"Ah. Well. Give me some time, and I'm sure I could come up with—"
Finally, she reaches up and kisses me, and this time I can't help smiling. I slide my hands up beneath her shirt, and she yelps at the cold, pulling back.
Her eyes are shining, face flushed, the perfect bright touch to the sunrise of her smile. My cheeks ache with the force of the grin I give her in response. For this perfect moment, as she laughs and leans back in to press her lips against mine, every lurking fear that something will go wrong melts.
A world where a smile like that exists has to be perfect, right?
A horn blares from the mortal side of the boundary, and I pull back reluctantly, trying to step away.
Annabeth's face hardens, and she pulls me back, close enough for the sound of her heartbeat to ricochet through me. Something about the closeness steals the light from the moment, and suddenly, both of us are fighting tears.
"Hey. Together forever, Wise Girl," I whisper, bending to brush my lips against the top of her head. My voice shakes, and I can't tell if her quiet exhale is a laugh or a sob. "I promise."
Finally, she lets go, trailing down to hold my hand instead.
I can see the tears in her eyes. They make the color even more intense, catching the light and shattering it. I squeeze her hand, throat dry.
It took me a long time to realize that the fact that she would cry in front of me meant so much, but every time I see it now sends chills down my spine.
We stand like that, neither of us able to pull away, until the horn blares again, loud enough that I jump, and Annabeth smiles again, almost involuntarily.
"I think he might be getting tired of waiting for you," I say. She breaks into a grin, only slightly watery.
"Well, then." She bends to sling her backpack over her shoulder. An idea hits, and I dive for the handle of her duffel, taking off down the hill.
She rolls her eyes when I look back, but she's still smiling widely enough that I have no regrets.
Even when she sticks out a foot to trip me halfway down, steals the duffel, and sprints for the idling taxi.
I catch her tossing the battered thing into the car, and pull her back into a hug. She shrieks, and bursts into laughter, and I'm already laughing too hard to breathe, and the driver shouting something about fucking teenagers just sets us off more—until I have to let her go to bend over and catch my breath.
"See you in a week, Percy," she grins, and darts a kiss onto the top of my head before she leaps into the car.
I stay sprawled on the ground. Watching the taxi whirl away, until even the dust has faded.