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It's Always The Time Of The Year

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Levi leans back against the nurses’ station and looks around the E.R., sighing in satisfaction at how empty the beds are. The few patients that are here are already being looked at by other doctors, so Levi has nothing to do for a while.

He’s supposed to be meeting up with Taryn for lunch, and it looks like he’ll actually make it in time today. He won’t say it out loud, but it’s been a quiet day so far. He hasn’t had blood splashed on him yet, and that counts as a win in his book.

The nurses have already decorated their corner of the room, lights hanging off the sides of the desk and colourful little trees covering every surface available. It definitely helps to put people in the right mood, if the way everybody seems just a little bit happier has anything to do with it.

Maybe it’s just Levi projecting. It’s not like he’s skipping around singing and throwing glitter, but he’s in a good mood, so he’ll take it as long as he can.

Work has been good, great even, and he likes his colleagues. Working in such a well-known hospital has been both challenging and rewarding, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s not the first holiday season he’s working, but it’s the first time he feels like he fully knows what he’s doing. He knows where everything is, and most of the staff’s names, and he’s almost stopped panicking every time a patient asks him who they can talk to about reattaching their severed finger.

That seems to happen a lot around Christmas time. Levi guesses it’s because holiday food and alcohol don’t really go well with carving and cutting, but people still try.

As Levi is lost in his thoughts, somebody walks into the E.R., and Levi turns his head to the side as soon as he hears the soft footsteps, ready to face bloody patients or screaming paramedics.

It turns out to just be Dr. Kim, the new Ortho attending, apparently looking for someone.

Levi watches him look all over the room with a frown on his face, before he notices Levi and their eyes meet.

They’re not the best of friends. They also aren’t archenemies, because they haven’t really interacted enough to be either of them. Levi has gotten to work with him on a few cases and it hasn’t been the worst experience, but that’s the extent of their relationship.

Sure, the guy seems nice enough. He’s also the only openly gay surgeon Levi has ever met, and watching him be so unashamedly proud of who he is also gave him the courage of coming out to his mother, so Levi can’t help but feel a good dose of respect for him based on that alone.

They still don’t really know each other that well. That’s why it’s really weird when Dr. Kim’s expression changes into one of pleased surprise and he walks up to Levi, fidgeting with the watch on his right wrist.

“There you are,” he says, clearing his throat. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Levi straightens up, thinking he’s about to be scolded, even though he has no idea what he’s done wrong.

“I’ve been here all morning,” Levi explains. “I’m on Dr. Hunt’s service today.”

“Oh, yeah, right,” Dr. Kim nods, still looking around.

Levi notices that he seems nervous, moving his weight from one foot to the other while he wrings his hands. He also has a slight blush spreading high on his cheeks.

Every instinct inside Levi’s body is telling him to mind his own business and pretend that nothing is going on, but Dr. Kim looks like he’s trying to find a way to say something, so Levi settles for scratching the side of his own head and waiting patiently.

It doesn’t last long, because he can’t help himself.

“Is something wrong?” Levi asks.

He speaks quietly and doesn’t look directly at Dr. Kim, trying to make this as comfortable as possible for the both of them. As bad as it sounds, he suddenly wills somebody to come in through the emergency door.

“Are you busy right now?” Nico ignores his question.

“Uh, no.”

“Do you maybe want to have lunch with me?”

Levi opens his mouth and immediately closes it. He doesn’t even know where to start his confused train of thoughts, so he just stares at Dr. Kim for a few seconds, hoping that there’s more to it. With the way Dr. Kim just stares back with wide eyes, he doesn’t think there is.

He thinks of Taryn and their plans for lunch, but he thinks she’ll understand if he’s curious about this.

“Um, sure,” Levi finally decides. “But like… why?”

Dr. Kim looks like even just the thought of answering that question is putting him through immense pain.

“Did you need to talk to me about something?” Levi suggests, trying to be helpful.

He only really wants this incredibly awkward moment to end, so he’ll do anything.

“Yes!” Dr. Kim perks up. “Yes, I need to ask you something. That’s it.”

Levi has never seen him this nervous. He’s usually the coolest and calmest person in the room, so this is new.

“Alright, then,” he concedes. “See you later?”

“Sure, thanks,” Dr. Kim nods. “Bye.”

And with that, he’s gone just as fast as he had gotten there. Levi is left staring at the spot he was standing in with a puzzled expression, brows furrowed and words caught on the tip of his tongue. He turns to look at the nurse, who’s failing at pretending she hasn’t been listening to them all along.

After a few seconds of trying to understand if he’s gone mad or if that whole exchange was as weird as it seemed, he mentally shrugs and sets off to actually do some work. That’ll keep him from worrying himself sick.

-

‘Later’ turns out to be three in the afternoon, because three old ladies march into the E.R. loudly claiming to have caught the plague, and Dr. Hunt happily lets Levi have them.

Of course, they’re as healthy as can be, but Levi still has to run all of the tests they request, even though they complain the whole time that he’s doing it wrong and that he shouldn’t work here. Levi stops listening to them about two minutes in.

By the time they finally accept that they’re fine and leave, Levi has almost forgotten about his… appointment with Dr. Kim. That is, until he gets paged to the cafeteria.

He motions for the nurse to call him if they need him, then jogs down the hallway and rounds the corner, only to find Dr. Kim sitting by himself right in the middle of all the empty tables.

Levi takes a deep breath and tells himself that the sooner he does this, the quicker it’ll be over.

“Hi, sorry for making you wait, Dr. Kim,” Levi immediately apologizes as he sits down across from him.

“You were working, it’s okay,” Nico waves his hand in front of him. “Also, you can call me Nico.”

He’s probably not going to do that, but he appreciates the thought. Sitting up straight and as uncomfortable as ever, Levi nods and looks around them. The lunch rush ended a good while ago, so they’re pretty much the only people in the room.

“So, you had something to ask me?” Levi prompts.

Nico looks at him consideringly for a few seconds. When he seems convinced enough, he joins his fingers on the table in front of himself and leans forward. Levi bounces his leg nervously.

“This is going to sound really weird, and I wouldn’t blame you if you absolutely didn’t want to,” Nico starts.

Levi laughs nervously. He might be holding his breath. “You’re kind of scaring me.”

Nico’s eyes widen almost comically. He reaches out to cover Levi’s arm, but thinks better of it at the last second, settling for knocking against the table between them.

“I’m sorry, I’ll just get to the point,” Nico shakes his head, then breathes deeply. “As you’re aware, the holidays are coming up.”

Levi nods and motions for him to continue. Nico bites his lower lip and pinches the inside of his own wrist.

“Please don’t think I’m completely crazy,” he lets his head hang down. “I might have told my family that I have a boyfriend.”

“What’s wrong about that?” Levi can’t stop himself from asking. “Are they not… supportive?”

Nico hints at a smile. “They are, they’re great.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“The problem,” Nico sighs and closes his eyes. “Is that I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Okay…”

“And in a moment of panic I might have told them it’s you,” Nico finishes, all in one breath.

Levi blinks. Nico squints one eye open to look back at him.

“That is a bit weird,” Levi admits after a while. “Why me?”

“Remember when those journalists came and took a bunch of pictures for an article?” Nico asks.

Levi nods. He does remember the day he spent almost an hour in front of the mirror obsessing over whether to shave or not, only to end up with half a beard and having to run to Casey, desperately asking him to lend him his electric razor because his own broke. It had been a more than stressful day.

“My aunt found the article and started asking, and I just… didn’t say no when she pointed at you.” Nico shrugs.

He’s still not looking Levi in the eye, but he’s stopped worrying the thin skin of his wrist.

Levi replays his words in his head, waiting for them to start feeling as absurd as they should. Somehow, they never do. He knows the exasperation of having to deal with nosy family members who think they have rights to every aspect of his life.

“I’m so sorry,” Nico continues when Levi doesn’t say anything.

“It’s okay,” Levi says as convincingly as he can. “I don’t mind them thinking it’s me.”

Nico smiles a little at that, but his expression immediately morphs back into one of unease.

“I’m not done,” he mumbles. “The part where you’ll think I’m crazy hasn’t come yet.”

Levi doesn’t know how to react to that, so he just doesn’t. He stares at Nico as he stares back and waits for the other shoe to drop.

“I might have told them that I’m bringing my boyfriend with me when I go home for the holidays,” Nico squeezes his eyes shut.

That changes things. Levi can feel anxiety bubbling up in his stomach, but he will himself to take a deep breath and not assume the worst.

“Sure,” he tries, clearing his throat. “I don’t really understand where I come into this.”

“Uh,” Nico holds the hesitating note for a few seconds. “Would you mind actually coming with me?”

If Levi hadn’t already been shocked, he would definitely be now. His mind keeps trying to come up with an appropriate answer to that, but he feels like one doesn’t really exist.

Nico has raised his shoulders so much to disappear between them that they’re almost touching his ears.

“I’m sorry, wh-“

“Look, take some time to think about it, alright?” Nico interrupts him.

He stands up and straightens his back, looking like the confident and kind of intimidating attending Levi is used to see him as.

“Take however long you need,” he continues. “But like, not too long, since Christmas is, you know, in a couple of days. Alright. Thanks. Bye.”

And with that, he’s gone. Levi stares at his now empty chair and squints, trying to make sense of whatever just happened. He even goes as far as pinching his own arm to make sure that this isn’t just a dream.

Or a nightmare. He’s not sure yet.

It takes Levi a couple more minutes of convincing himself that he’s not in a movie, that this is really happening, before he manages to shake himself and get up.

He presses his palms into the table in front of him and pushes his chair back, taking a deep breath before deciding that this is far from the strangest thing he’s ever heard. It’s still pretty fucking weird.

Levi doesn’t get paged for a while, so he gets to wander around the hallways and try to come up with a way to make sense of all this.

It probably shouldn’t, but it makes sense that the only way to make random family members stop with the annoying questions was to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear. Levi doesn’t blame Dr. Kim for that.

What he really doesn’t understand is why him of all people. He’s not the only openly gay guy in the hospital, so Dr. Kim could have asked anybody. Levi is pretty sure that the tech lab that works upstairs would literally pay for an opportunity like this.

That only leaves the question… would Levi go for it? Is he that kind of person?

“Schmitt, you done with the nice ladies?”

Levi stops in his tracks and turns around to face Dr. Hunt just coming out of a patient’s room.

“Uh, yeah, they were perfectly fine,” Levi nods as he straightens out his coat.

“Good,” Dr. Hunt looks down at the chart in his hands.

It’s not clear whether that’s it or there’s more, and the fog inside his brain still hasn’t lifted, so Levi just stands there with his hands crossed behind his back and his gaze unfocused on a random spot.

Dr. Hunt looks up and raises one eyebrow. “Do you need something?”

Startled, Levi shakes his head and takes one step backwards. “No, sorry. Just… a lot on my mind.”

It’s oversharing and Dr. Hunt absolutely doesn’t care, but it comes out before Levi can stop it.

“Like what?”

Levi blinks and opens his mouth once, then closes it. He definitely wasn’t expecting that, but Dr. Hunt just keeps looking at him like he’s waiting for an answer.

“Uh, like…” Levi starts, but he can’t find a way to continue.

Like what? Like pretending to be the significant other of somebody you barely know? Like giving up on his own holiday time to make someone else’s easier?

“Like a friend asking for a favour,” is what he settles for.

Dr. Hunt hums. “What kind of favour?”

Levi hesitates for a second, then figures that if he’s talking about this, he might as well say everything.

“Going back home with them for Christmas to appease their nosy family members.”

A smirk appears on Dr. Hunt’s face. “That sounds fun.”

“Does it? Isn’t it… kind of wrong?”

“Nah,” Dr. Hunt shrugs. “Do you have something better to do?”

The answer to that would be no. Levi’s mother has a cruise planned with her sisters, so he was just going to sleep and order takeout for the entirety of his time off. “No.”

“Do you, I don’t know, really hate whoever asked you?”

Again, the answer is no. They don’t know each other enough, but Levi thinks that Dr. Kim – Nico, be forces himself to remember – is okay. Even kind of cool, possibly.

He shakes his head, and Dr. Hunt shrugs again. “Then go. Nobody should be lonely during the holidays.”

Levi scoffs despite his instincts telling him not to. “Hard to be alone when you’re surrounded by family.”

“I said lonely, Schmitt,” Dr. Hunt points out.

He turns the tablet still in his hands off and cradles it against his own chest, watching with an amused expression as Levi has an existential crisis right there in front of him.

Dr. Hunt is right. Nico hadn’t asked him because he wants to trick his family members or because he likes lying to them. He just doesn’t want to face them by himself, and he’d somehow thought that Levi could be the one to help him with that.

Levi is kind if flattered, if he’s being honest. He guesses he’s got to look approachable and maybe even trustworthy if he’d been the one Nico chose to ask, so that’s nice.

The sound of somebody clearing their throat brings Levi back to the matter at hand.

“Alright?” Dr. Hunt asks.

Levi nods and straightens his back. “Yes, thank you. That was very helpful.”

“I’m glad,” Dr. Hunt smiles. “Back to work now, though. Incoming trauma in ten minutes. Chop chop.”

He starts marching down the hallway and Levi follows suit, only slowed down by the two seconds he takes to frown and wonder if the words chop chop actually came out of Dr. Hunt’s mouth.

There’s a nurse already waiting for them with gowns and gloves, so Levi clears his head and focuses on the three patients that get rolled in, trying to get one of them to stop flailing so he can look at the cut on her arm.

It’s a frantic couple of hours of loud orders and quick procedures, followed by five more of careful surgery that ends with a proud nod from Dr. Hunt, and Levi stumbles into the changing room with a happy smile. He can fully say that today was a nice, satisfying work day.

He only remembers about the whole ‘come pretend you’re my boyfriend in front of my family’ thing as he’s pulling up his sweatpants. He blanches and stands up straight, fingers still hooked into the waistband.

Levi bites his lower lip and stares in front of him as he thinks about what he’s going to do.

There’s a strong feeling sitting at the bottom of his gut that keeps telling him to shut this off as fast as he can. That there’s no way he can or should do this, that he simply would never make it.

There’s an equally strong feeling that disagrees with the first one and also really wants to tell it to go fuck itself. If Levi Schmitt wants to do this honestly ridiculous thing for somebody he barely knows because he wants to and maybe kind of feels a bit bad for him, he damn will and nobody can tell him otherwise.

He realizes it’s a bit overdramatic and most likely no one will care, but he also needs to hype himself up if he’s going to do this.

Levi jogs up the stairs, headed for the fellows’ lounge before he changes his mind. It occurs to him halfway through that maybe he should check if Nico is even still here, but he’s already standing in front of the door by the time he finishes the thought.

He knocks twice, loudly, hoping it’ll be enough. There is no answer from inside the room.

“Dr. Kim?” he calls out. “It’s Dr. Schmitt.”

The sound of shuffling travels through the door, then the handle turns and Nico’s surprised face appears through the crack.

“Hi,” he says, finally fully coming out and standing in the hallway with Levi.

He’s dressed in simple clothes, out of his scrubs for the day, and his hair falls down on his forehead. He looks nice and less intimidating than usual, which makes it easier for Levi to look him in the eyes and let out a breath he feels like he’s been holding since this morning.

“I thought about it,” Levi starts. “But I’m gonna need a lot more information to get fully convinced.”

“Sure, of course,” Nico nods, smiling like he almost doesn’t believe it. “So you’re in?”

“Yeah,” Levi shrugs. “Let’s do this.”