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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.”

Chapter Text

They sit at a café by the hospital instead of Joe’s, and Levi is not so secretly glad. On top of there being less people they might know to witness their weird agreement, it’s quiet and toasty in here. Also, Nico offers to buy him dinner, so he really can’t complain.

“How many people are we talking?”

Nico still looks like he doesn’t completely believe that Levi is agreeing to this, and he keeps shifting around in his seat, occasionally taking bites out of his sandwich.

“There’s a lot of us,” he eventually answers, tilting his head side to side. “Just a couple of aunts and uncles but lots of cousins with their kids. It’s a noisy affair, Christmas in my family.”

Levi nods, but he feels anxiety run through him when he thinks about being amongst so many people. Mostly about lying to them. “Okay. Do all of them know about you?”

There is no need to specify what he’s talking about.

“Yeah,” Nico confirms. “They’re all great about it.”

He’s smiling as he says it, but it soon gets clouded by an almost sad expression.

“You must be wondering why I feel like I have to pretend to be taken, then,” Nico mumbles, picking at the crumbs in his plate.

Levi covers his hand with his own, stopping Nico’s nervous movements. “Trust me, I get it.”

They look each other in the eye without speaking. Nico must find something that convinces him in Levi’s gaze, because after a few seconds he nods and sits up straighter.

He clears his throat and crosses his arms over his chest. “Is there something you want to know?”

“Of course. How long are we staying for?”

“Four days. Twenty-third to the twenty-sixth.”

“That’s a lot.”

“Too much?” Nico immediately goes back to looking worried.

“Depends,” Levi pretends to check his nails. “Will there be home cooked meals, snow, and maybe an old family pet?”

Nico chuckles. “Yes, yes, and three, actually.”

“Cats?”

“Chubby, fluffy, black as ink.”

Levi nods in approval. They’d actually already discussed most of the important things, like where the house is – by a forest in the middle of nowhere, a building as huge as it is old –, how they’re getting there – Nico’s going to drive them –, and what they’re going to do – a list of activities that had made Levi start sweating a little bit.

Part of him is still wondering what the hell he’s getting himself into, but the more he thinks about it, the more he wants to do it. Even if it’s just to shut the hesitating part up.

A particular thought makes Levi smirk. “Are we going to sleep in your childhood bedroom?”

“Yes. There’s a double bed.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Rich kid. Is it as cringy as I’m hoping?”

“Nope. Mom took everything down after I moved out.”

“But there was something,” Levi insists.

Nico mimics zipping his lips up. Levi glares at him as convincingly as he can, but Nico doesn’t budge, so he changes tactic. Putting on his best puppy eyes, Levi tilts his head to the side and walks his fingers on the table in front of him.

“Baby pictures?” he tries.

There’s something in the way Nico stares back without blinking that tells Levi he wants to say more than he’s allowing himself right now.

“If you play your cards right,” Nico finally answers.

That’s more than Levi was hoping for, so he’ll take it. They both chuckle and look away, sitting back more comfortably in their chairs. Levi picks at his napkin and lets the silence stretch out for a couple of seconds.

“You really don’t have to, you know,” Nico says quietly after a while.

He’s not looking up at Levi once again, but he looks less insecure than he did earlier. He actually looks like he’s putting up a hard front for some reason, but Levi sees right through it.

“I already agreed to it, didn’t I?” Levi jokes.

It just makes Nico frown. “This isn’t, like, a contract. You’re free to change your mind any time.”

Levi feels like this isn’t going to get them anywhere. Nico is an infuriating mix of generally confident and occasionally exactly the opposite, so Levi calls up all of his own confidence and courage and decides for both of them.

“Told you I’m in, you’re stuck with me now” he shrugs.

A hint of a smile appears on Nico’s lips. “Alright.”

“Alright,” Levi echoes. “Now, about those home cooked meals…”

-

Nico picks Levi up bright and early the next morning. It’s probably better that it happens so suddenly, because if Levi had more time to think about it, he’d probably start questioning if he’s actually lost his mind.

Luckily Nico had somehow gotten their days off at work sorted out for both of them, so they’re good to go with no other obstacle. Levi is not going to question how he managed to do that. He’s most likely going to be left with the hell shifts when he gets back, but he decides to worry about that later.

Levi’s mother had barely batted an eye when he’d told her, too busy getting ready for her cruise. She’d actually looked glad that Levi had real plans. Granted, he didn’t tell her the full extent of them, but what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her.

So he’s sitting in the passenger seat of Nico’s car with a suitcase full of the warmest clothes he owns in the trunk, setting off to Nico’s family house to spend the holidays with them.

He’d barely slept at all last night, too busy trying to stuff as much stuff in his bags as he could, so he’s sprawled on the seat with his shoes off and his legs pulled up, arms wrapped around his knees. It’s warm in here, and Nico is dressed in soft clothes that make him look younger than he is. All in all, it’s nice.

There’s a song that sounds familiar playing on the radio, but Levi is too busy laughing loudly with his head thrown back to pay attention to that. Apparently, as it turns out, Nico loves his Katy Perry in the morning.

This is yet another side of Nico that Levi hadn’t been expecting. He silently wonders if he’s ever going to stop being surprised when a new one shows up. He kind of hopes he doesn’t.

“Link never lets me put music on in the O.R.,” Nico comments when the song comes to an end.

“I truly don’t get why,” Levi chuckles.

Nico glares quickly at him, then focuses back on the road. They fall back into silence as the hosts of the radio show chat between each other, the hum of car engine almost drowning it out.

Levi watches Nico’s profile for a few seconds, then turns to look out the window at the scenery going past.

They get along better and way easier than Levi had anticipated. They don’t have that much in common, but they don’t let that be a deterrent. In fact, Nico seems honestly interested in what Levi has to tell him, so it couldn’t get better, for a pretend boyfriend.

A thought suddenly pops into Levi’s head. “Shit.”

Nico shoots him a look. “What?”

“How did we meet? How long have we been together? Where was our first date?”

“What?” Nico asks again, this time even more confused.

“Just some of the things your family will want to know.” Levi explains. “What are we gonna tell them?”

“Oh,” Nico breathes, eyes wide. “I don’t know.”

Levi keeps watching him, expecting him to say something useful, but Nico just stares out the windshield and drives silently. It’s almost like thinking about the details of lying to his family immediately send him down some weird spiral.

There’s surely more to it than it appears, but Levi doesn’t know how to access it, so he lets it go. Instead, he opts for solving the problem right in front of them.

“Let’s just go for the truth,” Levi offers. “We met last year when you started at Grey Sloan and we’ve been together ever since.”

“That’s the truth?” Nico lifts one eyebrow and glances over.

“That’s enough of the truth to call it as such,” Levi decides.

Nico nods, but he’s still smirking. “And the first date?”

Levi shifts on the seat, first stretching out his legs in front of him, then propping his socked feet up on the dashboard. "You tell me."

“I don’t know, dinner and a movie,” Nico shrugs, following the line of Levi’s legs with his eyes. “Put your feet down.”

“Romantic,” Levi scoffs.

His feet stay exactly where they are, and Nico keeps looking at them every few seconds. Levi is almost sure that he’s going to tell him off again after a while, but Nico surprises him, to say the least.

“Last week I had to pull a girl’s kneecaps out of her shoulders because she refused to sit properly,” he says as if he’s talking about the weather.

Levi freezes for a second, then slowly pulls his legs back and folds them underneath himself on the seat. Nico gloats silently.

The rest of the drive goes smoothly enough. They have their backstory sorted out for when somebody will inevitably ask, so Levi gets to spend the time left pushing down the anxiety that keeps bubbling up in his stomach.

He’s doing this a hundred percent on a whim, because if he stops even for a second to actually think about it he’s sure he’ll chicken out. So he just doesn’t.

Nico is a good driver. He switches lanes effortlessly and doesn’t even swear when people come too close or just straight up cut him off. Levi envies him for how calm he is, honestly.

Conversation comes easy when there’s something to actually talk about; otherwise, they’re good at being quiet, each of them minding their own business for a while. Levi likes feeling comfortable enough to get distracted without fearing that things will get awkward.

The house isn’t particularly far from Seattle, just a little removed from the centre of the city. The streets are busy though, so they get stuck in traffic for longer than they’d like, causing them to not be able to stop anywhere for lunch.

By the time they finally take the last road they have to drive down to reach their destination, it’s four in the afternoon and the sun is just about to set, casting a whole palette of colours into the sky that reflect on Levi’s face and make him squint. His stomach is grumbling and his legs are cramping, but the scenery is nice enough to make up for it.

The apparent calm in Nico’s behaviour seems to start cracking as soon as he parks in front of his house – which is as huge and fancy-looking as promised – and turns the engine off. He’s holding onto the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles are white. Levi picks up on the change in his mood immediately.

“Forgot to tell me something?” Levi guesses.

Nico sighs. “It’s not that. It’s just…”

He trails off, brushing his fingers through his hair and looking out the window. Levi waits patiently for him to find his words, taking advantage of the time by putting his shoes back on and propping his feet on the edge of the seat to tie the laces.

“Put it here,” Nico breaks the silence by patting his lap.

Levi looks between his face and where he’s waiting with his hands hovering over his legs, confused. Then Nico reaches for Levi’s foot on his own, pulling it to lie across his thighs.

Steadying himself against the door, Levi yelps, but refrains from complaining when he notices Nico’s fingers working carefully to tie his shoelaces for him. Any word he had been meaning to say dies right on the tip of his tongue.

The whole car feels like it’s filled with static as Levi holds his breath and watches Nico work. It all lasts just a couple of seconds, but it feels like it stretches on forever.

Then Nico speaks and breaks the spell. “Let’s go inside.”

Levi pulls his leg back and takes care of his other shoe, looking at Nico out of the corner of his eye, unconvinced.

“You sure? We can hang out for a while if you’re not… ready,” he tries.

Nico chuckles humourlessly. He leans in closer to Levi and points to somewhere in the distance. “We don’t have that luxury.”

Levi follows the line of his arm until he focuses on the big window right by the front door. A quick movement of the curtain falling back into place from where it had been previously pulled aside catches his eye.

Somebody had been watching them until they realized they’d been caught. Levi doesn’t know how to react.

“That would be my cousin,” Nico explains.

He pulls the key out of the ignition, takes a deep breath, then opens the door. Cold air rushes inside the car and immediately makes Levi shiver, so he hurries to put his heavy coat on and follow Nico outside.

Levi stretches after sitting all curled up for so many hours, a satisfied sound coming out of the back of his throat when his back pops in just the right spot.

Suddenly, he feels an arm being wrapped around his waist, Nico bending down to kiss Levi’s cheek as he rolls a suitcase behind him.

“What are you doing?” Levi questions him.

Nico is smiling almost maniacally, raising his arm higher and dropping it on top of Levi’s shoulders. “They’re watching.”

Sure enough, there are more little faces at the window trying and failing to be sneaky. Levi has to smile at that, going along with Nico’s impromptu affection and sliding his arm under Nico’s coat.

“We didn’t really discuss this,” Levi points out.

Nico hikes one of their bags over his shoulder, then pushes both of them towards the front door. Every step forward makes Levi’s heart jump, but he pushes it down in favour of putting on his best winning smile.

“I know, I’m sorry, is it okay?” Nico mumbles.

Levi thinks about it. Nico’s arm is heavy and he radiates warmth like a furnace, so he’s definitely not complaining.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” he decides.

There isn’t even the time for Nico’s finger to press on the doorbell before the door is swinging open, revealing a short woman who looks so much like Nico it’s almost scary.

“Hello, boys!” she exclaims.

A hint of an accent can be made out, but it’s mostly unnoticeable. Levi smiles and goes to greet her back, but all he gets is a mouthful of perfumed hair.

“You must be Levi!” she continues, still way too loudly.

“Hi, yes, nice to meet you, Mrs. Kim,” Levi chuckles, lightly patting her on the back.

“Call me Mae, please,” she immediately corrects him.

Levi blushes and nods, moving aside to let Nico finally have his turn at saying hi to his own mother. Their height difference makes the scene look almost comical, but she smiles like she’s been waiting for this exact moment for a while.

“We were all waiting for you,” Mae lightly smacks Nico on the outside of his arm.

Nico rubs the back of his neck and nods, smiling tightly. He doesn’t answer her, instead just picking their bags up again and nudging Levi forward.

“We’re going upstairs,” is all Nico offers before walking inside.

Levi smiles quickly at Mae, then hurries to follow Nico.

The entrance is wide and bright, light coming in from two big windows on the other side of the room, past a huge spiral staircase that sits right in the middle of it. There are rooms on each side, but Levi doesn’t have the time to peek into any of them, too busy following Nico.

They basically run up the stairs, but as long as it’s Nico carrying their stuff, Levi will refrain from complaining. Besides, Nico doesn’t really look like he’s up for chatting and joking right now.

Upstairs is just as ridiculously spectacular as any other part of the house Levi has gotten to see so far. He kind of can’t wait to explore more.

“Here,” Nico mumbles, stopping in front of a dark wood door with an elegant N engraved in it.

The door creaks loudly when Nico opens it, letting them both walk inside. Nico goes directly for the ensuite bathroom, leaving Levi to spin around on his heels as he takes in every detail of his childhood bedroom.

It looks… sterile. Empty. Levi was expecting some posters on the walls, some embarrassing sheets on the bed, or at least a couple of old pictures in ugly frames on the desk in the corner, but there’s just nothing.

“You weren’t lying about your mother taking everything down,” he pouts.

Nico makes a noise from the bathroom that could pass as an acknowledgment of Levi’s words, but doesn’t add anything else. Levi waits for something for a couple of seconds, then mentally shrugs and opens his suitcase, figuring that he can start settling down as Nico goes through whatever is currently bothering him.

He takes out his toiletry bag and drops it at the foot of the bed, then puts his hands on his hips and looks down at all of his heavy sweaters and pants crammed in the not so big space. There’s nothing else he wants to do less at the moment, so the decision to just let them be isn’t a hard one to make.

Levi sits down on the edge of the bed and lies down, stretching his arms up and behind his head, letting out a satisfied groan when his back pops in all the right places. He closes his eyes and definitely doesn’t think about how this is the bed Nico slept in as a teenager.

“What are we doing today?” Levi calls out.

Nico takes a while to answer, so Levi toes his shoes off and pulls his legs up, bending them at the knees and then letting them fall open. If he actually let himself, he might fall asleep like this. It’s comfortable up here.

The silence seems to stretch on for just a bit too long, so Levi cracks one eye open.

What he finds is Nico leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest and head tilted to the side. Levi pushes himself up on his elbows and tilts his head the opposite way, holding Nico’s gaze and smiling at him.

“You have no idea what you signed up for,” is what Nico chooses to say.

Levi’s smile falters a little, but he doesn’t let Nico get away with it.

“That’s ominous,” he comments. “And dramatic.”

“It’s the truth,” Nico shrugs.

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

Nico sighs but apparently gives in, pushing himself off the door and stepping between the bed and the door. He extends a hand towards Levi, who grabs it and uses it to stand up in one fluid movement.

They end up way too close to each other, Levi having to dip his head back almost ridiculously to be able to look Nico in the eye. There’s also the fact that they’re still holding hands. Neither of them points that out.

“Let’s go meet everybody, then.”

Chapter Text

‘Everybody’ apparently means a lot of people. Levi had been warned, sure, but he’s convinced that nobody could ever be fully prepared to be in the presence of almost twenty pairs of eyes scrutinizing every his every move.

That’s probably exaggerating, but Levi does feel exceptionally out of place in the huge living room filled with people. Most of them look about his age if not a bit older, but there are so many kids.

“You weren’t kidding when you said there was a lot of you,” Levi jokes under his breath.

Nico laughs and grabs the hands of the toddler he’s currently hosting on his lap, who has been trying to tug on his hair with a truly inspiring determination.

“Yeah,” Nico shrugs. “Big family.”

Levi’s family reunions and holidays are never this loud or crowded. The sound of children laughing and running around is a welcome addition to what his expectations were, though.

That is, until one of them starts crying, and almost all of the others follow suit.

“Alright, it’s nap time!” Nico says out loud, picking up a couple of the kids around him as if they weigh nothing and starting to walk down the hallway.

Some of the other parents grab their own kids and disappear from the room, leaving Levi to stare after them. His ears take a second to get used to the newfound silence.

It’s blissful, until he realizes that he’s now left in the room with only Nico’s older relatives. They’re chatting amongst themselves for the most part, but a couple of the people who were introduced as Nico’s cousins keep shooting glances at him every once in a while.

Levi shifts around in his seat and looks down at the glass in his hands, the dark liquid – some kind of fruit juice, he doesn’t remember, but it’s really tart – still chilly enough against his warm fingers.

Suddenly, a weight drops on the couch next to him.

“Hi,” a girl with long, straight, and bright red hair and a huge smile says. “I’m Clary. And you’re Levi.”

Levi looks at her with wide eyes. “I am.”

“I almost didn’t believe Nico when he said he was bringing the boyfriend home,” she muses. “It’s never been true before.”

The strong need to justify Nico’s actions makes Levi sit up straighter, expression settling into something hard. “He probably didn’t feel comfortable before. You know, with everybody making such a big deal out of it. And probably for the wrong reason.”

It’s insinuating way too much and Levi regrets it as soon as it leaves his mouth, but Clary doesn’t react how he thinks she will.

Clary physically recoils, one had pressed to her chest and eyes wide. She goes to put her other hand on Levi’s forearm, hesitates, and then grasps it firmly, all while staring in Levi’s eyes very intently.

“I’m a lesbian,” she says slowly and clearly.

It takes a second for Levi’s brain to process it. When it does, a small smile appears on his face.

“You might want to rethink your greeting strategy,” he considers.

“And miss that mama bear look on your face?” she lifts one eyebrow. “Never.”

Levi chuckles and shakes his head, finally relaxing back into the couch and taking a sip out of his glass.

“I’m not a mama bear,” is all he can think to comment on.

Clary raises both eyebrows and tuts, twirling a strand of hair around her index finger and looking at Levi from under her lashes. “I’m glad you’re here, anyway.”

She sounds honest. Levi opens his mouth to answer her, maybe keep the friendly arguing up, but he gets interrupted by Nico coming back and unceremoniously sitting down in the small space between them.

“What are we talking about?” he asks, stretching his arms over the back of the couch.

“How I’m obviously the superior cousin,” Clary quips.

“And who decided that?” Nico glares at her.

Clary reaches out to pat Levi on the knee. “Sweet Levi over here.”

Nico turns around with an incredulous expression. “Et tu, Levi?”

Levi is saved from having to think about a way to answer that by Nico’s mother coming into the room, wearing a bright purple apron and urging everybody to get up and find their seat at the dining table.

A quick glance towards the clock against the wall tells Levi that it is indeed dinner time, and his stomach rumbling loudly seems to agree.

Everyone stands up at once, hurrying to go sit down at the table, chatting excitedly amongst themselves.

The only person who doesn’t look so happy is Nico. His lips are set in a straight line and his back is visibly tense as he gets up himself and presents both hands to Clary and Levi, helping them get up.

“What are we eating?” Levi wonders out loud, smoothing his shirt down over his chest.

“What aren’t we eating,” Clary corrects him, smirking.

She grabs his wrist and tugs him towards the seats of her choice, around one of the corners of the table so she can sit right next to him. Nico follows without a word, walking past them both and sitting on Levi’s other side.

Settling down is a noisy affair, chairs scraping the floor and cutlery clinking against empty dishes, until Nico’s mom and a few aunts start bringing the food out. As it turns out, Clary was right: there’s so much food that Levi feels full just looking down the table.

The curious glances thrown his way haven’t stopped, not at all. Levi is just trying his best not to acknowledge them. It’s not that he thinks he’ll find they’re mean-spirited if he looks, but he doesn’t particularly enjoy the feeling of being the new guy in a place he doesn’t belong.

“Now the fun begins,” Clary whispers in Levi’s ear at one point.

There’s copious amounts of pasta being passed around, forks already stabbing through the different sauces. There’s a sudden quiet as everybody takes their first bites and hums in appreciation.

Then it starts.

“So, Nico,” an older man with a truly impressive moustache begins. “Still a doctor?”

Nico dabs his mouth with his napkin and clears his throat. “Yeah. I’m a surgical fellow.”

“Well, fixing broken bones doesn’t really count as surgery, does it?” another man jokes.

A few people chuckle and murmur amongst themselves. Levi watches Nico look down at his lap, napkin held tight in his hands.

“Does spending fourteen hours in front of a surgical table count as surgery?” Nico answers after taking a deep breath.

“Yeah, yeah,” the first man dismisses him. He shifts his eyes from Nico over to Levi. “And what do you do?”

Levi widens his eyes and finishes swallowing quickly. “I’m a surgeon as well. Resident.”

The people at the other end of the table say something that Levi can’t quite make out. He’s about to ask them to repeat, when a woman Levi thinks is Nico’s aunt sends a fake smile his way, then addresses Nico.

“Well, you seem to like them young,” she comments.

Levi feels blood immediately rushing to his face as one of Nico’s cousins admonishes his mother. Nico stares at the opposite wall with a tight jawline, his eyes pulled down in a sad expression.

“Yo, Carl, did you hear about Angie?” Clary perks up.

A young man a couple of seats down the table nods and starts rambling about somebody doing something to an armchair in a club – Levi is not really listening. He’s too busy trying to sneakily catch Nico’s eye.

When it’s clear that that’s not going to happen, he resorts to tapping a knuckle against the outside of his thigh. With that, Nico finally follows the movement from Levi’s hand, up his arm, and finally to his face.

“It’s okay,” Levi mouths.

Nico looks like he wants to argue about that, but he just gives him a half nod and turns back to his plate.

Conversation keeps flowing freely around them, along with a second course of all kinds of meats and fish. The subjects thankfully stay away from Nico’s business. Or Levi’s, for that matter.

It’s a bit uncomfortable, Levi will admit that. He’s been through too many occasions in his life in which he had to pretend to be perfectly at ease, though, so he doesn’t let it show on his face.

They manage to get through a decent amount of dinner before things go south just as quickly – if not faster – than they had before.

“I don’t like the idea of making a career based on people having a hard time,” one of Nico’s cousins’ voice stands out. “You can ask Nico how miserable that is.”

All the eyes at the table turn to Nico once again.

“What?” he asks, fork halfway to his mouth.

“Cindy said she wants to be a therapist or something like that,” the cousin waves his hand. “Tell her that a job where you have to hope somebody’s sad or gets hurt is not something you want to do.”

Levi’s jaw drops even though he tries his best to hide his surprise.

“I mean, there has to be something seriously wrong with you if you actively choose to do something like that,” the oblivious cousin continues. At one point he seems to realize what he’s saying. “No offense, of course.”

Nico stands very still for a couple of seconds, while everybody else shifts uncomfortably on their chairs. Levi mentally starts looking for escape routes.

“John, you literally work for your dad’s funeral home,” Nico says slowly, one eyebrow raised.

Clary tries really hard – not really – to stifle her laughter into the hand she’s using to cover her mouth. Cousin John blinks a couple of times, a smile frozen on his face. Nico steals a piece of carrot from Levi’s plate.

“Why do you always have to do that?” John says.

Nico visibly wasn’t expecting that. “Do what?”

“Ruin the joke. Do you even ever laugh? You always have that same face on.”

“John, shut the fuck up,” Clary interrupts him.

Levi turns around to look at her so quickly that he almost gets dizzy.

“Clarissa!” her mother scolds her all the way from the other end of the table.

“What? Nobody else is going to say it!” she throws her hands in the air.

The voices start getting louder, a few swear words get thrown in the mix, but Levi tunes it all out in favour of observing Nico’s sour expression as he shakes his head and finally lets go of the napkin still in his hands. It’s crinkled beyond repair.

Levi is totally out of his depth here. He can barely survive his own family fights, let alone someone else’s. He feels really bad for Nico, though, so he opens his mouth to say something, anything, to make a joke, or maybe to simply ask him if he’s okay.

He doesn’t have to choose, because Nico suddenly pushes his chair back. The loud noise the legs make against the floor gets almost drowned out by the loud arguing, but it all ebbs away as Nico stands up and steps away from the table.

Nico taps a finger on the back of the chair and clears his throat. “Good night.”

He quickly looks at Levi with an apology written clearly in his eyes, then takes one, two, three steps backwards, until he can turn on his heels and head for the staircase.

“But dessert!” Nico’s mom calls after him.

Levi quickly looks from what he can still see of Nico’s back, to his mother, and then settles on Clary. She tilts her head to the side and nods as a way to say it’s okay to go. Or that’s what Levi hopes it means.

“I’m sorry, I…” he begins, standing up as well. “Sorry.”

Without waiting for any kind of answer, he puts his chair back under the table and hurries to follow Nico up the stairs. He can hear whispering and murmuring starting back up in the dining room, but he has more important matters to take care of right now.

He’s not actually sure that there’s anything he can do, but being in the presence of Nico freaking out has to be better than hanging out with his apparently bloodthirsty family.

Maybe that’s exaggerating. Maybe not.

The sound of a door slamming shut carries down the hallway as Levi reaches the top of the staircase.

Levi can’t help but wonder how and most importantly why he got himself into this situation. He’s pretty sure that if he were to tell Nico he wants out right now, he wouldn’t think twice about taking him back home. What he’s not sure about is whether this is his breaking point or not.

As he slowly walks towards Nico’s room, he takes some time to actually take in his surroundings.

The hallway is wide and long, which paired with the moonlight coming in through the windows lining its right size, gives it a very eerie atmosphere. It’s also dead silent up here, which definitely doesn’t help.

Levi knocks on Nico’s door with less certainty than he would like to possess.

“It’s open,” Nico calls out.

He sounds tired, so Levi turns the handle and peeks his head in before walking in and letting the door click shut by leaning back against it.

Nico is sitting on the bed with his legs crossed, elbows digging into his knees, and head turned to stare out the window. It’s pitch black on this side of the house, so he’s basically looking at nothing. Levi chooses not to comment on that.

“Hey,” Levi says, for a lack of other words.

“I would say sorry, but I wouldn’t even know what for,” Nico sighs.

Levi steps further into the room, grabbing the back of the swivel chair under the desk and unceremoniously sitting in it. He gives himself a push and rolls closer to where Nico is sitting.

“You did warn me,” Levi says after a while of silence.

Nico lifts one eyebrow and turns to look at him. “Did you feel warned?”

Levi chuckles. “Alright, I guess you could have been more specific.”

Quiet again. Levi can feel anxiety building in the pit of his stomach, but he pushes it down for the moment.

“You don’t have to explain these kinds of… shitty things to me, you know,” is what he settles for.

Nico looks at him curiously. He doesn’t seem to take offense in the way Levi basically just insulted his family members, which is a win in itself.

“It’s not so much shitty as it is… annoying as fuck,” Nico sighs, leaning back and lying down on the bed, hands above his head. His shirt rides up a couple of inches over his stomach, and he doesn’t bother fixing it.

“I know.”

“Imagine how much worse it usually is,” Nico continues. “I thought they would lay off if I finally had a boyfriend, but they apparently just found something else to comment on.”

Levi doesn’t know how to answer that. He doesn’t necessarily like the way it makes him feel, being reminded that he’s only here to pretend he’s someone he’s actually not.

A thought suddenly pops in his head.

Standing up and kicking the chair away, Levi walks over to his suitcase and starts rummaging around in it. Nico leans up on his elbows and watches him with a frown on his face.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

Levi hums in victory, standing up straight with his pyjamas in his hands. He turns around to face Nico.

“Let’s go to bed.”

Nico doesn’t look as impressed by the suggestion as Levi was hoping.

“I’m already in bed,” he points out.

Levi lifts one eyebrow. “Don’t be a smartass. Get your pjs and let’s get under the covers.”

Nico looks like he wants to argue, but he ultimately sighs and uncrosses his legs, stepping off the bed and opening his own suitcase, starting to dig around.

Satisfied for the moment, Levi dips into the bathroom to get changed, take his contacts out, and brush his teeth. He takes a second to look at his own reflection in the mirror, brushing his fingers through his hair and mentally giving himself a pep talk.

There’s still the feeling that he’s doing something way out of his comfort zone, but he chooses to ignore it, even if it’s just out of spite. He’s tired of limiting himself. If he wants to take care of his almost-boss after his family threw him for a loop, he damn will.

“Knock knock,” Nico says quietly, appearing in the doorway.

Levi shakes himself out of his self-induced freakout and directs a smile at Nico.

“I’m done,” he pats his face dry with a towel. “Bathroom’s all yours.”

Nico nods and steps aside to let Levi out of the room, then closes the door behind him.

Levi walks over to the bed, hands on his hips, and tries to guess what side he can take. Nico had been sitting in the middle when Levi had come in earlier, which leads him to believe that he doesn’t have a favourite. So Levi just climbs on and crawls over to the side furthest from the door and nearest the window.

He slides his legs under the covers, marvelling at how soft the blankets are and how pleasantly heavy the duvet is. He pulls it up and over his chest and cuddles back into the pillows, getting comfortable as he waits for Nico to get out of the bathroom.

It’s the first quiet moment he has had for himself today, Levi realizes. The walls must be way thicker than the ones he’s used to, because if he holds his breath for a couple of seconds, the only sound he can hear is the faint noise of water rushing from the bathroom.

He’s comfortable and warm, especially when he notices that the wind has picked up outside, the tree branches swaying and something bouncing soundlessly against the windowpane.

It’s getting increasingly harder to keep his eyelids from falling shut. Would it be so bad to just fall asleep before Nico comes back? The ultimate goal is to sleep it off, anyway, so…

“Here I am!”

Levi jumps and snaps his eyes open. When he notices the smirk with which Nico is watching him, he tries to mask it with a yawn, but the damage has already been done; Nico chuckles and comes closer, fumbling with his watch to take it off his right wrist.

“You sleep on the right side?” Nico asks.

“I sleep horizontally, but I thought that it would be nice of me to give you some space as well,” Levi quickly recovers.

Nico hums and throws the covers on the empty side back, then sits down and burrows under them. Levi watches him out of the corner of his eye until he fully settles down.

Then they’re left sitting side by side in Nico’s childhood bed, with Nico’s family still downstairs, presumably still finishing dinner. It’s not as weird as it should be.

“So,” Levi starts, speaking quietly. “Clary is nice.”

Nico visibly relaxes and chuckles. “She is. She’s nothing like some of the other ones.”

Levi nods, the exchange with those particular family members of Nico’s playing back in his mind.

“That was really rude of them,” he tries.

Nico laughs humourlessly. “You have no idea.”

He scratches the side of his neck, then pauses and looks at Levi for a few seconds.

“One of my uncles stopped me after I brought the kids to bed,” he explains quietly. “He asked about you. Said that we look like brothers more than boyfriends.”

Levi frowns, honestly confused. “We look nothing alike. For obvious reasons, may I add.”

One of the corners of Nico’s mouth lifts up into a hint of a smile. “That’s what I told him. Still, he didn’t think we were convincing enough.”

“We’ve been here less than…” Levi checks the time on his phone. It’s almost ten. “Six hours. What were we supposed to do to be ‘convincing’?”

Nico shrugs. He looks really tired. “I don’t know. I’m just sorry I brought you into this mess.”

Levi decides that that’s it. He scrambles out of bed and throws his suitcase open, pushing his clothes aside and reaching for his laptop at the bottom.

“You came prepared,” Nico comments.

“Always,” Levi answers distractedly, plugging the charger in and climbing back into his spot.

He opens the laptop and boots it up, pointedly ignoring Nico’s curious looks. Only when the browser finally opens and he’s done typing the address in, does he meet Nico’s eyes with a small smile.

“Netflix?” Nico asks. He doesn’t necessarily sound opposed to it.

“Yep,” Levi pops the p. “We’re gonna watch Friends until we can’t anymore.”

Nico smiles and shakes his head, but he goes with it when Levi lifts the centre of the covers to allow him to shuffle lower.

They get settled with the duvet up to their chins and the laptop balanced between them. Nico stretches one arm to flick the switch and turn the lights off, then props it behind his head and relaxes. Levi grabs a pillow and cuddles into it, pressing play and letting the opening song fill the silence.

A good couple of hours pass with Levi either giggling at things that actually aren’t that funny, or quietly pointing out how nice the outfits look.

At one point Levi finds himself glancing over at Nico without really meaning to. Nico doesn’t look back, mostly because his eyes are closed and he’s snoring ever so slightly.

Levi smiles at the scene and closes the laptop, letting it slide off to the floor, then snuggles back under the duvet. He’s warm and the mattress is soft, and after the day they’ve both had it’s not weird when Levi is seconds away from falling asleep after just a couple of minutes from his head hitting the pillow.

The last thought that pops up is that they need to do something to avoid anybody else thinking they’re not actually together. He’ll think of exactly what when he wakes up.

Chapter Text

The morning is full of noises, especially if compared to night time. Levi comes to with a deep sigh, tensing up his muscles before releasing all of them at once.

There’s a dull pressure low in Levi’s belly, his bladder yelling at him to get up, but he’s not ready to leave his comfortable cocoon yet.

The rest of the household seems to be awake, if the banging noises and loud voices are anything to go by. Levi has no idea what time it is, but it must be later than he thinks.

He thought that it might take a second or two to remember where he is and most importantly why, but he’s perfectly aware that he just woke up in Nico’s bed, both because his own isn’t this big, and because Nico’s body feels like a furnace, warmth coming from his side in copious amounts.

Levi lets the memories from the previous day show back up slowly. Yesterday around this time he was still in Seattle. He hadn’t gone through the endless road trip with Nico, he didn’t know what his family house looks like, and he sure as hell hadn’t met the people waiting for them in it.

They’re not all that bad. Clary and Nico’s mom are nice, as well as a couple of other cousins and uncles, but they hardly make up for all the bad ones, sadly. Still, Levi is here to help, and he’ll do whatever it takes.

“Morning,” a deep voice says from right next to him.

Levi almost jumps out of his skin. He snaps his head to the side so fast that he feels a painful twinge in his neck.

“Shut the fuck up,” is all Levi’s still panicked mind manages to think up.

Nico laughs, a breathless sound still rough from sleep, and stretches his arms out. One of them smacks Levi right in the middle of his chest, hand briefly pressing against it. Levi puts his own over it before Nico can take it away.

“What?” Nico asks, not really eloquent yet.

“I thought about it,” Levi explains. “What your uncle said. He might have a point.”

Nico looks a healthy mix of offended and confused. Levi just acts before he can think better of it.

In one fluid motion, he throws his leg over Nico’s and straddles his thighs. He might end up kneeing him in the stomach a little bit, but if that’s the case, Nico doesn’t complain about it. He just puts his hands up and stares at Levi like he’s grown another head.

“Uhm,” Nico blinks.

Levi stays on the brave path he took already and looks him straight in the eye.

“We look awkward around each other because we are,” he says, figuring that straightforwardness is the best option here.

Nico frowns slightly. “And we’re supposed to have been together for a year already.”

“Exactly,” Levi nods, happy that Nico seems to have caught on.

“Exactly,” Nico repeats, but there’s a smile growing on his face. “How do you suggest we fix that?”

Levi chooses to ignore the tone with which Nico pronounced that sentence. Instead, he puts both hands on Nico’s stomach and leans on them, getting closer and closer. If he holds his breath all the way down, that’s his business only.

“We could…” he shrugs, their faces so close now he can feel Nico’s breath. “Practice.”

Nico lifts an incredulous eyebrow. “Are you drunk?”

Hurt shoots through Levi in a quick, burning strike, but he masks it by rolling his eyes and putting on a sarcastic façade. “I’m doing this for you, you know.”

“Yeah,” Nico nods. “Just… explain what you mean by ‘practice’.”

Levi moves his hands so they’re digging into the mattress on each side of Nico’s head and shrugs.

“Get used to this,” he looks pointedly down at their bodies. “Touching…”

“Touching,” Nico parrots once again. His hands travel up the outside of Levi’s legs and settle on his waist.

“Kissing,” Levi continues under his breath.

Nico just looks at him. Levi looks anywhere but at him. His bladder is still yelling insistently.

“You’re right,” Nico says, way too loud for the current atmosphere.

“Of course I am,” Levi scoffs.

Nico rolls his eyes and Levi is about to add something, maybe force him to take it back, but he doesn’t get the chance. He can only yelp as Nico grabs his shoulders and uses some kind of secret power to push him backwards so that he lands with his back on the bed.

“Woah,” Levi breathes.

He tries to hide it, but there’s a satisfied smirk on Nico’s face that makes heat spread in Levi’s lower tummy. This is definitely more interesting of a morning than he was anticipating.

“So we’re going all out with this?” Nico asks as he settles more comfortably between Levi’s legs.

They’re tangled in the sheets and a couple of the hundreds of pillows Nico keeps on the bed have fallen to the ground, but there are certainly more pressing matters at hand right now.

“If we have to do this, then let’s do it well,” Levi shrugs, then hesitates. “If it’s okay with you, of course.”

“It’s more than okay with me,” Nico chuckles, dropping so that his elbows are supporting his weight. “Is it okay with you?”

Levi moves his hands up and behind himself, holding onto the pillow under his head. “Why would I suggest it if I wasn’t okay with it?”

Nico moves even closer. Levi has to go kind of cross-eyed to fully look at his blurry face.

“I don’t know. So, are you?” Nico insists.

Levi rolls his eyes, exasperated. “Yes, I wholly agree to this. Can we move on now?”

Nico just smiles at him. Levi chooses to squish the sudden butterflies in his stomach by tilting his chin up and staring back at Nico, although definitely not smiling.

Time seems to slow down, and Nico doesn’t seem to want to speed things up anytime soon. So Levi does the only thing he really knows how to do, which is acting on impulse.

He grabs the back of Nico’s neck and brings him down to finally connect their lips.

It’s a tentative kiss, chaste and soft, but Levi can tell right from the start that they really don’t need any practice. That doesn’t mean either of them stops.

Nico moves one of his hands to cradle Levi’s jaw and angle his head better so he can deepen the kiss, tongue peeking out to trace Levi’s lower lip. Levi hums and slides his fingers into the short hair at the base of Nico’s neck.

The sheets make a soft hissing sound as they move around on them, Nico lowering his free hand to curl his fingers around Levi’s waist, then carefully lies back down and guides Levi on his side.

Never one for letting things take control of him, Levi hikes a leg up over his hip and shuffles closer to him.

They keep kissing and it feels so easy, so comfortable, that Levi almost loses himself in it. That is, until Nico moves his legs back and brings Levi’s with him, their crotches brushing against one another.

Levi gasps and pulls back, hands against Nico’s chest and hips snapping away. They stare at each other with wide eyes, both of them breathing heavily.

“Okay,” Nico nods, brushing his hair off his forehead. “That was…”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. Levi only notices because he’s staring at his puffy lips.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Good practice.”

Nico nods, but doesn’t add anything. He moves the hand still around Levi’s waist and walks his fingers up Levi’s shoulder, then finally takes it away.

They’re quiet for so long that the atmosphere starts getting heavy with the kind of tension that makes Levi want to lean back in and kiss it away, but his bladder sends him a last warning.

“Alright,” he clears his throat, then pats Nico randomly on the face and scrambles to get up.

Levi hears Nico start to say something, but he closes the bathroom door behind him before he can understand what it is. He leans with his back against it and takes a second to catch his breath and calm the erratic beating of his heart.

That was definitely nice, which is going to make this easier, that’s for sure. For now it only makes Levi blush harder than he would like, but he’s sure he’s going to get over it soon enough.

He’s not used to having tall, handsome men kiss him like that when he’s just woken up, alright?

“We’ll get summoned downstairs soon,” Nico’s voice comes through the door.

Levi nods before remembering that Nico can’t see him.

“Yeah, I’ll be quick.”

He usually would take an incredibly long time to get ready, but he guesses he can make an exception and hurry up just this once. He still takes a shower, because he’s not an animal, but he makes it a quick one.

The water pressure is amazing and the towels he finds neatly stacked under the sink are incredibly soft, so he could definitely have it worse.

That’s what he thinks until he realizes that in the rush to get away from the bed, he had forgotten to take any clean clothes with him.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Levi mumbles under his breath.

He refuses to feel anything that resembles embarrassment, so he wraps a towel around his waist and throws the door open, absolutely and completely on a whim.

Nico looks up with wide eyes that get even wider when he notices what Levi is wearing. Or rather, all he isn’t wearing.

“Bathroom’s all yours,” Levi clears his throat, pointing with his thumb at the door behind him.

Neither of them is going to comment on it, but Nico’s cheeks are tinted with a suspicious shade of red. Interesting.

“Sure,” Nico suddenly perks up.

He grabs the few things he has gathered next to him on the bed and gets up, walking past Levi and into the bathroom with his eyes firmly glued to the floor. Levi follows him with his gaze until the door closes between them, then deflates with a deep sigh.

It’s just some awkwardness. It’s normal. It’ll go away.

Hopefully.

Levi quickly gets dressed, shimmying into his jeans and popping his head through a thin long sleeve. One of the maybe ten he brought. He’d definitely underestimated how cold it would be here.

Before he can do something weird like put another shirt on over the one he’s already wearing, Nico steps out of the bathroom. He’s wet but clothed, but it leaves Levi wondering exactly how long he’d spent just staring at the floor.

“That was a quick shower,” he points out.

Nico shrugs. “I’m hungry.”

Levi nods, towelling the back of his head dry. Nico sits down on the bed to put his socks on, looking up at Levi once and then doing a doubletake.

“You’re gonna freeze your ass off in just that,” he says.

“I didn’t bring any heavy sweaters,” Levi admits.

“Why?” Nico shakes his head, but he’s also smiling. “I told you there could even be snow.”

Levi just shrugs. He doesn’t have a true explanation, other than the fact that he packed his suitcase at three in the morning.

“Here,” Nico says, standing up and opening a drawer of his dresser. “It’s gonna be big on you, but it’ll keep you warm.”

He presents Levi with a soft looking, dark green, truly huge wool jumper. It looks like it would be baggy on Nico himself, so Levi is really going to drown in it.

Levi still takes it and pulls it over his head. The sleeves go well past his fingertips. It is warm, though.

“Help?” he stretches his covered hands in front of himself.

Nico looks up at his face and then down at his hands. “Oh. Sure. That’s a serious case of sweater paws you’ve got there.”

He folds the extra material over Levi’s wrists, both of them looking down at his hands working, but neither of them speaking. Until Levi just can’t hold it in anymore.

“Did I make it weird?” he asks quietly.

Nico finishes the folding job, then grabs both of Levi’s wrists and squeezes them. Only after a few seconds does he look up at Levi with a small smile.

“No,” he assures him. “I’m just being dumb. We’re good. This is good.”

Levi still doesn’t know what ‘this’ is, but it’s enough for now. Confidence strengthened, he twists his hands around and uses Nico’s grasp on his arms to pull him up and towards the door.

“Alright, then,” he smiles. “Let’s go eat.”

-

Apparently Nico’s family members have all left already, so it’s only them and Nico’s mother at the table. Actually, it’s just them, since Nico’s mother hides in the kitchen for the most part, trying and failing to pretend she isn’t spying on them.

The food is as amazing as it had been last night. Levi forces himself to stop eating after the third slice of homemade chocolate angel cake Nico’s mom sneakily slides towards him, but it’s harder than it should be.

“Is everybody just… still here?” Levi wonders out loud when he’s done drinking a truly amazing cappuccino.

“Oh yeah,” Nico sighs. “Some sleep upstairs, some go home and come back before lunch.”

“Yikes,” Levi dares to whisper.

Nico raises both eyebrows and smiles in a silent ‘I know’. Levi doesn’t like how resigned it looks.

“Want to run away, just for today?” he suggests.

“And go where?”

“I don’t know,” Levi shrugs. “Show me around.”

Nico looks like he’s considering it for a second, then seems to give up on the thought.

“There’s nothing around here,” he says, almost apologetically.

Levi rolls his eyes and gently slaps his forearm. He’s trying to give him a reason to escape fighting with random family members, even if only for a few hours, and he’s not picking up on it.

“You grew up here,” he insists. “I’m sure there are many places you could show me.”

Clary chooses that exact moment to happily run down the stairs, her red hair flowing behind her like a cape.

“Good morning, you guys!” she yells, basically sliding into the room. “Sleep well?”

She pats Nico’s head and wraps her arm around Levi’s shoulder as she rounds the table to sit down across from them.

“Of course,” Levi answers her.

“Eh, I don’t know,” Nico surprisingly interrupts.

Levi shoots him a confused look, but Nico just rubs the back of his neck and leans in closer to Clary so he can speak in her ear.

“This one over here snores a bit,” he whispers, not trying to be quiet at all.

Clary bursts out laughing and Levi puts on an outraged expression. “I do not!”

Nico winks at him, then does a truly impressive fake yawn, stretched arms and all, which he props around the back of Levi’s chair.

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” he shrugs.

Levi pouts and crosses his arms over his chest. Clary looks between them with a smile on her face, chewing  a huge bite of cake or something.

“Well, you managed to keep the secret for a long time,” she says.

Both Nico and Levi watch her with confused expressions. She just stares back and sips on her coffee. The silence stretches on for a dozen of excruciating seconds.

Did she guess something? Were they actually that obvious and that bad as actors?

“What do you mean?” Nico finally breaks.

Clary lifts one eyebrow. “The snoring? I would have freaked out after, like, a week.”

 Levi breathes a quiet sigh of relief, at the same time as Nico squeezes his shoulder.

“Yeah, well,” Nico chuckles, turning to look at Levi. “It’s kind of cute, so I don’t mind.”

He barely winces from the kick Levi lands right on his knee. Clary is thankfully too busy swooning to notice.

“Adorable,” she squeals, then digs back into her breakfast.

She’s… peculiar, but not in an unpleasant way. She acts a bit over the top, but it somehow doesn’t step over the fine line in the middle. Levi definitely likes her.

He quickly shoots a glance at Nico, silently checking in after the close call. It actually wasn’t, not at all, but it still felt too close to home. Nico just winks again, lifting his mug up to his lips to drink his tea.

“Do you have any plans for today?” Clary asks after a while.

Levi hums. “I was trying to convince him to take me around.”

“Oh, you can bring him to the treehouse!” she suggests excitedly.

Actual outrage forces a sound out of Levi. “A treehouse?! You said there was nothing to see!”

Nico laughs and ducks to avoid Levi’s prodding fingers. Levi just keeps trying until he can pinch the skin over his ribs.

“Alright, alright,” Nico grabs his hands. “I give up. I’ll take you to the treehouse.”

Levi whoops loudly enough that Nico’s mom pops her head through the door with a concerned expression. When she sees that nothing’s actually wrong, she just smiles at them and disappears again.

“Just give me twenty minutes to get ready,” Clary says as she picks up her dirty dishes.

“Ready for what?” Nico asks, taking everything from her and effortlessly gathering it in his arms.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean?”

They stare at each other, matching confused expressions on their faces. Levi glances between them, probably more confused than both of them combined.

“Are you coming with us?” Nico articulates.

“Yeah,” Clary frowns, as if that is the only acceptable answer.

Nico looks like he might do something dumb like question her or protest altogether and make everything a hundred times more difficult than it needs to be, so Levi makes his presence known again by shamelessly interrupting them.

“We can all go,” he shrugs. “Reminisce about childhood stories together.”

Clary smiles happily at him, then jogs back up the stairs and disappears upstairs. Nico doesn’t seem as happy.

“What’s wrong?” Levi quietly asks him.

Nico bites his lower lip and looks around, probably to check that nobody is close enough to hear.

“It’s gonna be exhausting,” he explains.

It actually doesn’t explain anything. He’s still holding all the plates and mugs in his arms.

“We don’t have to go out if you’re tired,” Levi tries.

“No, it’s not that,” Nico sighs, then makes a frustrated noise and goes into the kitchen, presumably to drop off the dirty dishes.

Levi watches him go, listens to the sound of cutlery falling to the ground and Nico’s mom yelling at him, then follows him with his eyes as he comes back. He lifts an eyebrow in a silent question.

Nico nods his head to the side and motions for Levi to follow him into the living room.

“What’s with the secrecy?” Levi whisper-shouts.

Only when they’re as alone as they’ll ever be, does Nico put his hands on his hips and looks Levi in the eye.

“We’ll have to pretend the whole time if she comes with,” he says.

Levi will admit that he’s kind of hurt by that, though he can’t explain exactly why. He shifts his weight on his feet and crosses his arms over his chest, trying his best not to make a big deal out of this.

“We don’t have to do anything,” he says after a couple of seconds of silence. “She doesn’t notice stuff like that.”

“Of course she does,” Nico rolls his eyes. “She’s just too smart to comment on it.”

That leaves Levi thinking. She must have her own opinions about their story, but it’s way too early for her – or any of them, for that matter – to have picked up on the lack of something. Nico is just being paranoid.

“You need to calm down,” Levi tells him as such. “We can, like, hold hands. I don’t know.”

Nico smiles at that. “Hold hands?”

“What, you’re too good for it?” Levi challenges.

“No,” Nico shakes his head. “It’s perfect.”

He surprises Levi by pulling him into a hug, arms squeezing around his shoulders. Levi pats his back twice and smiles to himself.

“I’m sorry I keep acting like this,” Nico mumbles into Levi’s shoulder. “It’s just that I would never hear the end of it if they found out about our… arrangement.”

Levi pulls back and lifts an incredulous eyebrow. “What worries you is people teasing you?”

“It’s not teasing. They would get legitimately angry at me for lying,” Nico shakes his head. “They’re… difficult.”

There is so much stuff that he’s not saying, and it’s most likely for a good reason, so Levi doesn’t press for more. All he does is gently slap the outside of Nico’s arm and give him a tight-lipped smile.

“Clary isn’t difficult,” Levi points out. “You said it yourself: she’s smart.”

Nico breathes out a laugh and dangles his head side to side as he considers what Levi said. After a while he seemingly accepts that it’s true, nodding and finally smiling like he means it.

“Alright, want to see the best treehouse ever?”

Chapter Text

It really is amazing. It’s a big structure on a big tree in the middle of the huge stretch of land behind Nico’s family house, and it looks like something straight out of Levi’s childhood dreams.

“You think the steps still hold?”

That’s one of the problems with the treehouse: it’s old as fuck. Neither Nico nor Clary know who built it and most importantly when, so they’re justified in hesitating in front of the ladder that leads up to it.

“They held when we were kids,” Clary shrugs.

“Yeah, when we weighed a third of what we do now,” Nico scoffs.

Levi ignores both of them and puts one foot on the lowest peg. It creaks loudly, but otherwise stays put.

“I’m going up,” he decides.

“No!” Nico basically shouts.

It would be funny, if they hadn’t been standing in front of this trunk for half an hour already. It’s cold and Levi was promised a treehouse tour, so he’s going to get it one way or another.

“I appreciate the concern,” Levi sighs. “But it’s less than ten feet from the ground.”

“You won’t even make it three feet,” Nico lifts one eyebrow.

Levi smirks. “That just makes me want to try even more.”

Nico rolls his eyes as Clary laughs and raises a hand to high-five Levi, which he obviously accepts.

The walk from the front of the house was a long one, both because they took their time and because they got lost a couple of times trying to remember where the treehouse actually was, but Clary never stopped being as great as Levi thought she would be this whole time.

It might be that if they let her, she would talk uninterruptedly for seemingly hours. She ran up in front of Levi and Nico and walked backwards so she could keep telling them about the new brand of hair dye she found, and she definitely payed no mind to how intimate or not they were acting.

Furthermore, she tends to side with Levi in the little arguments the three of them often find themselves in, so she’s already high up in Levi’s good books.

“You’re gonna fall,” Nico just repeats.

Levi stares at him with his foot still on the peg. “Be there to catch me, then.”

He doesn’t look at Nico long enough to see how he reacts to that. Instead, Levi reaches up to grab a peg, pausing to take a deep breath before putting all his weight on his foot and hoisting himself up.

The tree complains as much as a tree can. The pegs, particularly, make a snapping sound that makes Levi’s heart jump into his throat and forces him to prepare for the inevitable moment his ass will make contact with the ground.

That moment never comes, though, because Levi can feel Nico’s hands firmly grab his hips and hold him steady in place.

Levi snaps his head around to ask him what he’s doing, but Nico just squeezes his fingers and pushes him upwards a little bit.

“Go on,” he says, nodding towards the entrance of the treehouse. “I’ve got you.”

If anybody asked, Levi would go down swearing that the blush on his cheeks is due to the effort of climbing up the side of a tree.

“Alright,” Levi breathes, then turns back to the task at hand.

He reaches for the next peg, tests his weight on one foot, then pushes himself up. Nico helps him along and even supports him when he can’t quite coordinate fast enough, Clary snickering away from where she’s standing. She might even have snapped a photo or two.

Levi keeps going until he reaches the trap-door. That’s when he realizes that his arms are absolutely not long enough to unlock it.

He thinks for a second, then pats one of Nico’s hands. “Think you can hold me up?” he asks.

“I already kind of am,” Nico answers, voice strained.

“No, like, up,” Levi repeats.

It’s totally unhelpful, but he figures that showing is going to be easier than explaining, so he tightens his abs and throws himself back and up, hoping for the best.

Nico yelps and lets out what sounds like the beginning of an insult, but thankfully still holds him straight up over his head. Levi grabs the latch and hangs onto it until the door pops open, only narrowly missing hitting him in the face.

“Careful!” Clary shrieks.

“I’m okay!” Levi yells back. “Nico, one last push and I’m in.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Nico grunts, but still complies.

It almost doesn’t work, but Levi catches himself on the edge and hangs on, but it’s not enough to fully get in.

“A little higher?” he calls down.

“My arms are only so long,” Nico complains.

“C’mon, just a bit!” Levi talks over him.

Nico hesitates for such a long time that Levi’s hold on the old wood almost starts slipping. He opens his mouth to tell him to hurry up and do something, but he gets wholly shut up by Nico quickly moving his hands lower, right over Levi’s ass.

The world feels like it stops moving for just a second. Then it starts running again at double the speed, even throwing a couple of flips in.

“Get in already!” Nico groans, pushing him up higher.

Levi scrambles to lift a leg and get it inside, rolling on the floor enough to hit the opposite wall. He smiles to himself with his eyes closed and a satisfied expression on his face.

“Alright?” Clary calls from outside.

It’s a little dusty up here, but the whole structure looks and feels sturdy enough. Levi crawls over to the trapdoor and sticks his head in, looking down at Nico and Clary waiting for an answer.

“It’s as amazing as promised,” Levi smiles. “Get up!”

Neither of them moves. They just stare up at him. Levi stares back and lets the rope ladder roll down.

“Get up,” he repeats, then sits back to look around.

There isn’t much to look at, actually. There’s a chest against one of the walls and a closed window over it, maybe a couple of small things in the corners, but it’s too dark to tell.

Levi is about to look down the trapdoor again, but Clary’s head pops up before he can do anything. The smile on her face is so big that Levi can’t help but smile back.

Once Clary is in, they both sit there waiting for Nico to come up as well. Except it doesn’t happen.

“Nico?” Levi calls.

There’s no answer, so Levi leans forward to check what the problem is. He’s just standing there, hands on his hips and lower lip caught between his teeth.

“Do you need a formal invitation or something?” Levi deadpans.

Nico looks mistrustfully at the ladder. “That’s not gonna hold my weight.”

“It held both of us,” Levi shrugs.

“No offense, but you’re half my size.”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Stop complaining and get up.”

After that he sits back scoots over to make space for Nico, for when he’ll eventually give in to peer pressure and climb up. Clary is sat right in front of him, watching him with a glint in her eye.

“You two are like an old married couple,” she says.

Levi is saved from having to find a way to answer that by one of Nico’s hands appearing and looking for something to grasp. Both he and Clary reach out to help him, one of them grabbing his arm and the other pulling him up by the back of his shirt.

After a minute of struggling they manage to get him inside, all three of them sprawled on the floor and breathing heavily.

“That was harder than I remembered,” Nico laughs.

“I think the last time we climbed up here you were shorter than me,” Clary says as she sits up. “And as thin as a stick.”

“I’m gonna need photo proof of that,” Levi interjects.

Clary gasps. “You haven’t shown him baby pictures yet? No wonder he didn’t recognize who I am!”

Levi can physically sense how much Nico tenses up at that. He shoots Levi an obviously worried look, to which Levi answers with a wink, trying to be as reassuring as possible.

“Seriously, a year together and you haven’t busted out the baby pics?” Clary insists.

“We were waiting for the right moment,” Levi tries.

Clary lifts an eyebrow so much and so quickly that Levi is momentarily worried that it’s gonna pop off. Nico must panic without letting it show, because he evidently tries to change the subject, or at least move the attention to something else.

“Alright, shove over, there’s no room for me to sit down here,” he says, motioning at them to make space.

“There is no room here either,” Clary shrugs, staying exactly where she is.

Nico shoots her an unimpressed look, then turns to Levi and flicks his fingers to try and get him to move.

“Where am I supposed to sit?” Levi asks.

“I don’t know, just scooch over,” Nico says exasperatedly.

Levi wants to keep being difficult, and a glance at Clary tells him that she would love nothing more than to see that, but he also feels kind of bad for Nico. So, as a middle ground, he shuffles closer to the centre of the room and pats the now free space behind him.

Nico’s eyes move from said space, then to Levi’s face, then back to the empty spot. Levi thinks he might even be about to start begging, but Nico surprises him wholeheartedly.

With way more agility than he demonstrated so far today, Nico gets up from where he’s crouching and steps behind Levi, sliding down and sitting with his legs on each side of Levi’s body.

He pats his chest and leans forward to look at Levi. “Go on. Lean back. Get comfortable.”

Levi nods, clears his throat and tells himself that refusing would make Clary incredibly suspicious. So he does lean back into Nico’s chest. He even goes as far as grabbing his arm and wrapping it around his own waist.

“Cute,” Clary smiles at them.

“Shut up,” Nico immediately shoots back.

Clary looks at Levi and rolls her eyes. “He still gets embarrassed because of stuff like that, huh?”

Levi just nods for a lack of any real answer.

They really don’t know each other. Well, Levi was aware of that, but it’s moments like these that make it painfully obvious that they didn’t think this through. Nico’s newfound talent seems to be improvisation, though, which comes in handy right now.

“How about you, Clarissa?” he says.

He must touch some kind of button for her, because she immediately flashes his middle finger at him. Nico just smiles serenely back at her, then tilts his head to the side.

“Seriously, though. Any special girl?”

Clary looks between Levi and Nico before answering. “Not that special.”

“Yet?” Nico asks before she can change her mind.

Levi watches her tight-lipped smile grow into a full-on open one. She might even be blushing a little bit.

“Maybe next year,” she finally concedes. “We can have a double date.”

Some part of Levi’s heart might break a little at that. He feels Nico’s arm tighten around him and his chest move because of a deep sigh. They might be thinking the same thing, but he doesn’t turn around to check.

“Speaking of,” Clary continues. “I have a call to make.”

She gets up on her knees and shuffles closer to leave big kisses on both Levi and Nico’s cheeks, then starts the process of climbing back down the ladder.

“Wait, you’re leaving? Just like that?” Levi calls after her.

Clary stops for just long enough to glance at the both of them with that same smile that looks like she knows something they don’t.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way to pass the time,” she winks, jumping down from the last few pegs. “Don’t miss me too much!”

“See you at dinner!” Nico yells.

And with that, they’re left alone in the treehouse, sitting up against a wall, wrapped in each other’s arms. It should probably feel more awkward than it does.

“So,” Levi starts, tapping his fingers against Nico’s forearm. “I might love her.”

Nico chuckles. “Yeah, she’s amazing. I feel bad for doubting her.”

Levi nods, then falls silent. He looks around the small space, just now noticing the signs of how long this place has existed, and how many people have had fun in here.

There are many mysterious stains on the walls, maybe even a few charred spots, but mostly it’s covered in colour. The room is not painted, because there is seemingly no order to organize the splatters, but they’re everywhere. There must be a fun story behind that.

“Treehouse,” Levi says out of the blue.

“Yep,” he feels Nico nod.

“Rick kid,” Levi teases.

Nico doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even make any kind of noise that might hint at how he’s reacting, so Levi leans to the side and tilts his head back to look at his face. Nico mirrors his position to look back at him.

“Are we gonna move?” Levi asks.

Nico smiles. “I don’t know. Are we?”

Levi only pretends to think about it. “Nah. You’re comfortable.”

“Thanks. You’re nice to cuddle as well.”

“I know,” Levi answers as he wiggles around so that he can stretch his legs out in front of him.

He’s perfectly aware that this goes beyond the agreement they have, but it’s truly too nice to even think about moving. It’s good practice for casual intimacy, anyway.

“Are you secretly a painter or something?” Levi asks, pointing to the paint splatters.

Nico laughs, and Levi feels it against his own back. “Almost. Clary and I used to do little projects up here. Sometimes they were just a card for mother’s day or something, sometimes…”

“They exploded?” Levi finishes for him.

“We might have moved on to throwing the paint at each other at some point, yeah,” Nico admits.

They laugh, and Levi can tell that Nico is remembering some of those moments by the way he sighs happily. He lets him and doesn’t interrupt for a while, both because it’s nice to see him smiling genuinely, and because Levi’s own mind is already racing at a million miles per hour.

He’s already thinking about the rest of the day, possibly even tomorrow, anxiety trying to force him to consider every single way things could go wrong.

It’s just that, anxiety and its fun tendency for ruining even the nicest of moments. Because sure, last night didn’t turn out as good as it could have been, but it also wasn’t the worst.

Also, if Levi had to say it, he would admit that he’s having fun. So far, being here beats any plan he might have had for the holidays at home.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Levi blinks. He might have forgotten exactly where he is for a second or two.

“Nothing important,” he pats Nico’s arm twice, then gets onto his knees to go sit down against the opposite wall. “Tell me more about this treehouse.”

-

They end up staying tucked away up there for hours, full stomachs even allowing them to skip lunch, talking and laughing so hard that Levi finds himself leaning against the wall for support more times than he can count.

Nico is funny – like, really funny. You would never think that a guy who looks so stoic in the workplace would be the same one who giggles when he tells Levi about the time the ladder broke and he was stuck in the treehouse with just a bag of chips for sustainment until somebody noticed he was gone.

Levi laughs in the right places and pipes in with little stories of his own, but he mostly lets Nico talk and observes him.

This tall, strong, handsome man who’s as successful at life as he is terrified of his family. Levi was only used to seeing him in the O.R., breaking bones and then putting them back together like it’s nothing, so witnessing this version of him is honestly heartbreaking.

He’s noticed that Nico looks more relaxed when he’s away from the annoying family members. Levi will take a little bit of credit for that, because he’s pretty sure that his presence also has something to do with that. Or at least he hopes so.

Anyway, it’s pretty obvious by now that they bring the stupidest out of each other, as is demonstrated by the situation they find themselves in at the moment.

“I’ll catch you,” Nico says for probably the twelfth time.

Levi looks down between his dangling legs and purses his lips. “You’ll drop me.”

“I won’t!”

He probably won’t, that part is true, but Levi still doesn’t fully trust him. “Tell me why I can’t just use the ladder again?”

Nico just smiles and makes grabby hands at him. Levi huffs, checks that his coat is closed tightly over his chest, and then slides off the edge of the trapdoor.

He falls for about a quarter of a second, lets out a shriek that he would never admit to, then feels Nico’s arms around him, effectively and safely catching him. Levi breathes out a surprised laugh.

“Nice,” he smiles.

“Told you,” Nico shrugs.

He doesn’t let go of Levi, and Levi doesn’t ask him to. So they just stand there, Nico’s arms under Levi’s back and knees, the cold wind getting under their clothes and making them both shiver.

Levi’s stomach growls loudly.

Nico lifts an eyebrow. “Hungry?”

“No, it’s just the tiny lion inside my belly.”

“Oh yeah? Is he the hungry one?”

Levi pats his stomach and nods, putting on his best puppy eyes. He’s pretty sure that dinner is where they were headed to next anyway, but it couldn’t hurt to ensure it.

“There’s gonna be people at dinner,” Nico suddenly says.

The smile dies on Levi’s face. “Yeah. We knew that already.”

Nico nods and looks away, back to looking like he’s in a place where Levi can’t reach him. At least not yet.

“Alright, put me down,” he decides.

After Nico lets him put his feet on the ground, Levi grabs his hand and locks their fingers together. Nico makes a surprised noise, but Levi just ignores it and starts pulling him along, back towards the house.

Levi wants to tell him that it’s gonna be okay and all that stuff, but he genuinely can’t know that. Instead, he squeezes his hand and hopes that it’s enough to get both of them through this meal without any unnecessary drama.

-

“Are you fucking serious?”

Levi slides lower on his chair and hides his face in his hands.

“Why is that such a weird thing for you?”

Nico slams his hands on the table so hard that everybody’s glasses shake.

“You don’t think it’s my fucking business?” he yells.

“Language,” Nico’s mom warns quietly.

Nico literally seethes, but just hangs his head and squeezes his eyes shut. He sighs heavily, looking like the textbook definition of distraught.

Levi hates seeing him like this, and he might hate the people that cause him to look like this. That’s a problem bigger than him, though, so he does the only thing in his power, which is bringing comfort where he can.

He sneakily moves one of his hands under the table and puts it over Nico’s leg, squeezing just above his knee. He hears Nico’s breath catch in his throat and he momentarily worries he’s stepped over some sort of unspoken line.

Until Nico scrambles to put his own hand over Levi’s, squeezing it so hard it almost hurts.

“Honestly, Nico, you should be open about these things with your family.”

Levi turns his hand over and holds Nico’s properly, squeezing it back as a way to tell him to stay calm, not to engage them, anything that might help this mess be over sooner.

Of course, even if he gets what he’s trying to say, Nico pointedly ignores it.

“You know what?” Nico says, lifting his head up again. “You’re right. From now on, you’re gonna be privy to everything I do. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go fuck my boyfriend.”

The entire table falls silent. Clary fails at stifling a laugh from where she’s sitting next to Levi.

“Let’s go, sweetheart,” Nico says directly to Levi.

He stands up, pulling Levi with him by their still entwined fingers. Levi doesn’t even hesitate a second before getting up as well, shooting everybody looking at them an apologetic look.

Well, kind of apologetic. Mostly not at all.

“Thanks,” he waves half-heartedly, then stumbles after Nico, his long legs already taking him halfway across the room.

Clary winks at him as Levi looks back just for a second to try and gauge everybody’s reactions. There might be more than twenty people in the room, but none of them seem interested in the situation. It’s as if they’re all just used to it by now.

“Oh, I almost forgot.”

Nico stops so suddenly that Levi can’t help crashing against his back. Nico just steadies him with a hand on his shoulder and faces the dinner table. He points two fingers towards it.

“You and you,” he starts, moving from his uncle to his cousin. “Are no longer welcome here.”

“This isn’t your house, you can’t kick us out!” his cousin protests.

Nico basically burns him with his eyes. “Fine, then. If you’re here tomorrow, I’m leaving and I’m never coming back.”

A few gasps go around the room, but Nico ignores them and turns around again. His and Levi’s eyes meet for a split second, and Levi can see the tears that line Nico’s.

“You don’t have to come with me,” he whispers, for Levi’s ears only.

Levi shakes his head and squeezes his hand. “I’m not leaving you.”

Chapter Text

Nico keeps walking and doesn’t stop until they’re in a part of the house that Levi hasn’t seen yet. They had run down a flight of stairs into a huge room that looked empty and felt cold, mostly bathed in darkness.

“Are we in the basement?” Levi wonders out loud.

“Pool,” Nico mumbles.

“What?” Levi asks, thoroughly confused.

He looks around, even though he can’t see anything, as Nico disappears from his side in order to walk further into the room and mess around with something. Levi waits patiently where he is, mostly because he doesn’t want to trip over something he can’t see and hurt himself.

After just a couple of seconds too long go by and the darkness starts feeling somehow threatening, Levi opens his mouth to call out for Nico, but he gets cut off by every single light turning on at once.

“Pool,” Levi confirms.

It’s an underground one, decently sized and surrounded by lounge chairs that look like nobody’s sat in them in years. It’s ridiculously fancy, so over the top that Levi almost doesn’t believe it. He would make fun of the whole thing, if he didn’t notice that Nico has a tear falling down his cheek.

“Hey,” Levi whispers, taking a step closer to him.

Nico turns away before Levi can get to him. “Let’s get in.”

Levi frowns. “What? Where?”

“In the pool,” Nico answers, as if it makes any kind of sense.

“It’s freezing cold,” Levi argues.

“Water’s heated.”

“Of course it is.”

Nico walks back to the only door that leads into the pool area, locks it, then turns the lights off again. It’s pitch black until another set of hidden lamps turn on, the room getting lit up by tens of small, soft lights.

“I don’t have a swimming suit,” Levi tries.

It falls on deaf ears. Nico just turns to face Levi, bottom of his shirt caught between his fingers, and stares at him.

“Am I crazy for getting so mad?” he asks, voice quiet.

“Somebody asks me when I lost my virginity in front of my entire family, and even gets angry because I refuse to answer…” Levi tilts his head side to side. “You’re pretty calm, all things considered.”

Nico nods and looks down at his feet. “It’s not just that. This was a long time coming.”

“I know.”

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Levi repeats.

They stare at each other, unmoving, until Nico breaks the spell and pulls his shirt up and off, throwing it on one of the lounge chairs, quickly followed by his pants. Afterwards he just stands there, in his underwear, watching Levi with an almost blank expression.

Levi tilts his head to the side and stands just as still. He looks down just once, and he doesn’t think he can be blamed.

“Swim?” Nico asks again.

The water does look nice. And if it really is heated…

“Sure,” Levi finally agrees, but doesn’t make a single move towards undressing.

“Might be uncomfortable swimming in that,” Nico points out.

Levi rolls his eyes and shimmies out of his sweater, throwing it to the side. Nico’s sweater, he reminds himself. He hooks his fingers in the belt loops and hesitates. Nico smirks.

“C’mon, I’ll wait for you in the water!” he yells, turning around and jumping in the pool.

The splash he causes is so big that Levi has to take one big step backwards to avoid getting his clothes wet, but his socks still get drenched anyway.

“Hey!” he complains, but there’s laughter in his tone.

“You’re slow,” Nico sing-songs.

He’s crouched so the water laps up to the bottom of his ears, and there’s a mischievous glint in his eyes. Levi watches him for a few seconds, almost considers staying where he is, worried that there’s some kind of a line he’s about to cross here.

It’s probably the fact that he’s chest deep in family business that isn’t his own and there’s a very high chance that it will end badly, but there’s also something telling him that if he misses this opportunity right now, he’ll regret it.

So he has to decide if he wants to be cautious or just go with it because he wants to.

It isn’t a difficult choice.

Levi hurries in pushing his pants down, stepping out of them and kicking them in the same direction as his sweater. Goosebumps appear on his skin from the cold, so he doesn’t waste any time in reaching the edge of the pool and bending down to dip his hand in.

The water is actually warm, so he only waits a second before standing back up and diving in head first.

He stays underwater as long as he can, only resurfacing when he’s right in the middle of the pool. Nico is standing a few feet away, hair plastered to his head and a curious smile on his face.

“Nice, huh?” he asks.

Levi forgoes answering by shaking his head like a wet dog, sending water everywhere. Not that it matters, since he’s in a pool and all, but whatever.

“Do I have to say it?” Levi smirks.

“Rick kid,” Nico nods.

Levi chuckles, dipping his head back so his hair stays pushed back. Nico mimics him, except he keeps going to end up floating on his back, arms spread out at his sides and eyes closed.

“Do you think they’re actually going to leave?” Levi asks quietly.

Nico sighs and kicks his legs enough to float away. “Probably not.”

“Are we leaving, then?”

No answer comes from Nico, so Levi splashes some water towards him. It doesn’t even reach his chest, but Nico must hear the sound it makes, because he smiles.

“I must seem like such an asshole,” he murmurs.

Levi shrugs, even though Nico still has his eyes closed and therefore can’t see him. “I don’t judge other people’s business.”

“Wouldn’t really be other people’s, since I brought you right in the middle of it.”

“I agreed to it,” Levi reminds him.

“Still,” Nico sighs. “It’s not fair.”

He stands up and rubs his face, looking anywhere but at Levi’s face. When he finally does, it’s with eyes lined with tears once again. Levi’s heart breaks a little.

“We can talk about it, if you want,” Levi tries. “I’m a good listener.”

Nico shakes his head. “It would turn into a huge pity party.”

Levi makes a noise and looks down at the blurry shape of his hands underwater.

“I mean,” Nico continues. “I’m not saying I won’t ever tell you about it. Someday. Just not today.”

The promise of someday does something to Levi’s insides. He smiles and steps closer to Nico, the water rippling as he walks through it.

“Of course,” he says, then bites his lower lip. “What do we do now?”

Nico sits back and glides away, smirking just above the line of the water. He reaches the edge of the pool and raises his arms to rest on it, droplets of water dripping off his torso and glinting in the low light. He’s a sight for sore eyes and he absolutely knows it.

He shrugs. “What do people usually do in pools?”

Levi keeps slowly walking closer to him, until they’re standing just a few feet apart.

“Swim, I would imagine,” he tilts his head to the side. “Do you want to swim? Race me?”

Nico shakes his head. Levi flicks some water at him, but he doesn’t even flinch.

“Diving? I can barely move without hurting myself when I’m on dry land, but we can try.”

“No diving,” Nico chuckles.

“Well, you think of something, then,” Levi rolls his eyes.

Nico goes back to worrying his lower lip between his teeth. Levi still has to decide whether that makes him nervous, or… something else.

“Do you remember what the reason I gave you for asking you in particular was?”

Levi wasn’t expecting that. He wraps his arms around himself and bends his legs, chasing the chill in the air away with the warmth of the water.

“Something about somebody seeing a picture and you not denying it,” he recalls.

“Yeah,” Nico confirms. “I might have been lying.”

Levi lifts an eyebrow. “Have you, now.”

Nico doesn’t look even a little bit sheepish. He just smiles and nods.

“So there was no picture,” Levi asks, just making sure.

“Nope.”

“So you just asked the first gay guy you saw in the hospital?”

Nico smiles even harder. “Nope.”

Levi feels like he’s missing something, but Nico’s grin is too contagious to ignore. There’s a nagging thought in the back of his head, though.

“How many people turned you down before I accepted?” Levi asks.

He doesn’t really want to know the answer, but the atmosphere down here makes it almost impossible to keep things like these inside.

Nico frowns. “That’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean, then?” Levi spreads his arms by his side. “I don’t really like this guessing game.”

“I know,” Nico grins.

Levi scoffs and splashes water at him again. He’s starting to feel a little dumb, and like he doesn’t know what he actually wants to get out of this conversation. He opens his mouth to say as such, but Nico beats him to it.

“I meant that I asked only you.”

“Oh,” Levi breathes. “Alright. I appreciate the trust.”

Nico looks like he wants to add something that would possibly make Levi huff and threaten to leave, but he wisely drops it.

“Was that meant to go somewhere?” Levi tries, after a while goes by without either of them saying anything.

There’s something that crosses Nico’s expression at that, but it’s gone too quickly for Levi to be able to tell what it is. It just gets replaced by a quite convincing smirk anyway.

“Nah, just talking for the sake of it,” Nico shrugs.

Levi still doesn’t fully trust that that’s it, but he doesn’t have the time nor the chance to do anything about it, because Nico suddenly pushes himself off the wall and into the water, swimming away. Levi watches his shape from where he’s standing, bites on the inside of his cheek, then follows him.

-

“I don’t want to get out.”

Nico hums in agreement, treading water. They’re both eyeing the lump their clothes make on the floor, but they’re also not moving towards it. They’re just sitting in the warm water, occasionally spinning around and half-heartedly splashing each other.

“We’re gonna get all wrinkly if we don’t,” Nico argues after a while.

“Speak for yourself,” Levi shoots him a dirty look.

“What, you’re immune to the consequences of staying in the water for too long?”

Levi shrugs, then second guesses himself and rubs the pads of his fingers together. They’re definitely wrinkly. He pointedly keeps his hands hidden from Nico as he moves closer to the edge of the pool and climbs out.

As soon as he’s not covered in water, a shiver runs through him. It’s much colder than it had been earlier, or maybe he’s just now noticing it. Anyway, the wet material of his underwear sticking to his skin definitely isn’t helping.

“Fuck, it’s cold,” Nico says it out loud. “It might even snow tonight.”

Levi gasps. “A literal white Christmas?”

Nico stands up straight and shakes some of the water off, rubbing his hands over the outside of his biceps. He chuckles and steps closer to Levi, their clothes laid out in front of them.

“We’ll be literally dreaming of it,” Nico keeps up the joke.

Levi thinks about just shutting up, but he wants to see Nico’s face too much not to do it.

“I’m not really usually dreaming of any kind of Christmas.”

Nico frowns, pants in his hands to try and find a way to put them over his wet skin. Levi makes a guess that he won’t be able to. He looks forward to finding out how Nico will get around that.

“Not a snow guy?” Nico asks.

Levi scoffs. “Not a Christmas guy.”

Nico turns to face him, and he looks so lost that Levi can’t help the breathy laugh he lets out.

“I’m Jewish, Nico,” Levi finally has mercy on him.

“Oh!” Nico raises both eyebrows in surprise. “You didn’t say… anything.”

“Nothing to say,” Levi shrugs.

Nico still doesn’t look convinced. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“I would have told you if I had a problem with it,” Levi assures him.

He smiles as confidently as he knows how to, and it seems to appease Nico’s small crisis. He turns back to his pants and holds them in front of himself.

“We don’t have a change of clothes,” he points out.

Levi stands next to him with his hands over his hips. “We don’t,” he confirms.

“We’re still wet,” Nico continues.

“That we are.”

“I don’t really feel like walking around like this.”

Levi briefly looks down at himself, goosebumps appearing on the tops of his thighs. They must make an interesting picture from the outside, both of them.

“We could… take the wet clothes off,” Levi suggests.

Nico watches him like he’s suddenly grown another head, but he quickly catches himself and schools his expression into a more neutral one. Levi is pretty sure he can even make out a hint of a smile.

A few seconds tick by where they both just consider what they’re going to do next. Then Nico slaps the outside of his own legs and stands up straight.

“Alright,” is all he offers as a warning before grabbing the band of his underwear and pulling it all the way down.

Levi yelps and turns around, facing the wall with wide eyes and a racing heart.

“What the fuck, Nico!” he gasps.

“Sorry,” Nico says, even though he sounds anything but.

Once the blood stops rushing in his ears, Levi finally relaxes. There’s still some kind of panic thrumming in his veins, but it quickly gets overcome by the feeling that he’s come to associate with Nico. It’s excitement and the thrill of something new, all mixed with a dose of anxiety for good measure.

It’s not clear whether it’s a good or bad thing. Right now it feels really good, so Levi does what he would usually only think of doing, and turns back around.

Nico sputters around a sentence, pulling his pants up in one quick movement and looking at Levi with wide eyes. Levi just smiles serenely and mirrors his actions from before, pushing his underwear down his hips.

The fact that Nico takes a couple of seconds more than what would be considered acceptable to avert his eyes doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Okay,” he quips when he’s done. “What now?”

“Do I look like a tour guide?” Nico laughs as he shrugs his sweater back on and watches Levi as he does the same. “You look really nice in that.”

“Thank you,” Levi smooths his hands down the front. “But it’s yours. You’re basically complimenting yourself.”

“No, I’m complimenting how you look in it,” Nico specifies.

Levi was going for light and funny, and this is the exact opposite. He fights the way it makes him feel, the fact that he can tell his cheeks are getting warmer and Nico probably can as well, and starts walking towards the door.

“C’mon,” he nods his head towards the stairs. “We ran away before I could really eat. I’m hungry.”

Nico nods and falls into step with him. “I’ve heard that more times than anything else in just two days.”

Levi fakes outrage an gently slaps the outside of his arm, but he doesn’t deny any of it. He’s a hungry boy, what can he say.

They climb the staircase together, listening for any kind of noise from upstairs to suggest that there is somebody still around, but nothing carries through the walls. The whole floor is eerily quiet.

“Has literally everybody left?” Levi whispers when they reach the last step at the top. “We weren’t downstairs that long.”

Nico doesn’t immediately answer, and Levi can only guess it’s because he’s worried that that’s actually the case.

The table they almost ate dinner at has been cleared, the chairs neatly pushed underneath it, which means that if every member of Nico’s family really left, at least they didn’t do it in a rush.

“In here,” Nico waves him over from the doorway that leads to the kitchen.

Neither of them even thinks of turning the lights on, but it somehow feels more right like this. Like a secret mission in search of something to eat at something close to eleven at night.

“Why do I feel like your mom would murder us if she caught us?” Levi asks, only half joking.

“Because she would,” Nico answers as if it’s nothing.

He reaches the fridge and opens its door, sticking his head in and rummaging around, so Levi is briefly left by himself to spin on his heels and look at the room as a whole.

It’s surprisingly cozy and lived-in looking, especially if compared to the rest of the house. This room doesn’t look like it was scrubbed of every part that made it feel personal. It’s a little safe space in the middle of an aggressively fake and fabricated building.

Levi feels more comfortable in here than he did in any other place around here he’s been in so far. Maybe the treehouse felt close enough, but it hadn’t been visited in way too long.

“Aha,” Nico suddenly exclaims.

He steps back and closes the fridge door by hitting it with his hip, then presents Levi with a massive cake resting on top of a heavy looking tray. It’s covered in whipped cream and the single slice missing reveals that it’s full of chocolate. Levi’s stomach grumbles immediately.

Nico puts the tray on the kitchen table and does a few rounds to look for plates and forks, then cuts two huge slices out of the cake and nods for Levi to sit down on a chair of his choice.

Levi picks the one directly across from him, curling up with his feet resting on the edge of the chair.

“Thanks,” he says when the cake is set down in front of him.

Nico pulls out a chair for himself and also sits down, then looks down at his own plate and stabs the cake with his fork.

“So,” Levi clears his throat. “Tomorrow will either be a shitshow, or… not.”

“It will probably be the last time I come back for Christmas, so I don’t really care,” Nico mumbles.

“Don’t say that,” Levi shoves some cake in his mouth and hums. “Wow. This is amazing.”

That makes Nico smile. He props his fork against his lower lip and nods towards Levi’s plate. “It’s her pride and joy.”

“And with good reason,” Levi hums around another piece.

“Tell her that and you’ll win her over forever,” Nico laughs.

Levi stares at him as he licks some whipped cream off the side of the fork, so he can tell when Nico’s eyes flicker down to follow the movement.

“I’m gonna be obnoxiously optimistic right now,” Levi warns.

Nico groans loudly and exaggeratedly. “Do you have to?”

Levi nods. “That’s what I’m here for.”

An ever so gentle smile appears on Nico’s lips, but he tries to hide it by sticking another forkful of cake into his mouth. Levi still notices all of it.

“Alright, just do it,” Nico finally allows.

Levi stabs his cake a couple of times, then looks up with his lower lip caught between his teeth. He’s purposefully drawing this out as much as he can, just to see Nico get more and more impatient, even as he tries to pretend he doesn’t care.

He gives in just a second before he knows Nico will start complaining about it.

“Some of your family members are horrible, and there’s no excuse for them,” Levi starts. Nico scoffs. “But you’re lucky enough to have many more, who I’m sure are just fine.”

“The ones who aren’t actively nasty are just passively complacent.”

“That’s not true,” Levi talks over him. “I mean, sure, some of them are content staying in the middle. But others will speak up for you and you know it.”

He’s thinking about Clary, but he’s sure there are more like her. And even if there aren’t, she does enough to make up for the rest of them.

“Can I be obnoxiously pessimistic?” Nico asks.

“Absolutely not,” Levi shakes his head.

“You got to do what you wanted!”

“Yeah,” Levi shrugs. “That was the plan.”

“I don’t remember agreeing to any plan,” Nico lifts an eyebrow.

“That would be because you didn’t.”

“Then how-“ Nico starts, but Levi interrupts him by shoving his fork full of cake in his mouth.

Nico’s eyes widen in surprise, and Levi is already laughing before he even starts sputtering and grabbing Levi’s wrist. He thinks he’s going to push it away, but Nico just holds onto it tightly and looks right into Levi’s eyes as he presses his lips together and slides the fork through them.

Levi feels kind of faint for just a second. Then he smirks and lets the fork go, inwardly laughing at the way Nico scrambles to catch it.

“You’re such a little shit,” Nico murmurs.

It was maybe, but most likely not, meant to go unheard by Levi, but he does hear it, and it makes him grin so hard that his cheeks hurt a little.

“That wasn’t a compliment,” Nico scoffs.

Levi gasps. “You wound me.”

“I’m sure you’ll get over it.”

That’s colder than Levi would have liked his answer to be, so he changes strategies slightly. He looks down at their almost empty plates and sticks his finger in some of the leftover whipped cream, then touches it to the tip of Nico’s nose before he can even notice.

Nico gasps, but his eyes are twinkling happily.

“You have something on your face,” Levi tilts his head to the side.

Eyes crossing to attempt looking at the bright white dollop between them, Nico smiles, tongue trapped between his teeth. He reaches for a napkin and Levi is convinced he’s just going to clean himself and brush this off, but he doesn’t.

Instead, he crosses his arms on the table in front of himself and leans forward.

“Are you going to do something about it?” he asks, voice low.

Levi looks at him, face expressionless, long enough to ensure that Nico starts doubting himself. Then, he pushes himself up from his chair and licks the cream right off of Nico’s nose.

Nico gasps again, but this time it’s softer and deeper. Levi smirks and licks his lips, and Nico shamelessly follows the movement with his eyes.

A couple of tension-filled seconds go by in which neither of them moves a muscle. Levi holds his breath and tilts his head up ever so slightly. He’s pretty sure that time has stopped, but he couldn’t pinpoint when.

He’s about to say something to break the silence, but before he can, Nico leans up and catches Levi’s lips in a kiss.

Chapter Text

Levi presses his hands into the tabletop and uses the leverage to turn the kiss into a deeper one, mouth opening against Nico’s and tongue sweeping against his bottom lip.

Nico makes a sound and reaches up to cradle Levi’s face, hands so big that his fingers almost reach behind his ears. His thumbs stroke Levi’s cheeks and they brush the corners of his mouth, and Levi’s head is starting to spin so much that he just has to pull away.

They stare at each other and it feels like a déjà-vu, except for how it doesn’t. Something’s different this time.

There are small smiles on both of their faces, and Levi can feel how flushed his cheeks have gotten.

“What was that for?” he breathes.

Nico shrugs. “Practice?”

Levi can’t help but laugh at that. He lightly punches Nico’s chest, meaning for it to be playful, but Nico catches his wrist and uses his hold on it to pull Levi forward and kiss him again.

“Think we still need it?” Levi mumbles against Nico’s lips.

“You can never practice enough.”

Levi nods and sits on the table to be more comfortable. It means that he’s taller than Nico like this, but he doesn’t mind the way Nico has to tilt his head back to keep the angle right.

“I think we’re pretty good,” Levi starts again after a while.

Nico huffs and pulls back, their lips smacking apart. The noise sends a shiver down Levi’s spine, but it’s nothing compared to what the sight of Nico’s puffy lips does to his insides.

“There’s always room for improvement?” Nico asks distractedly.

His hands travel down from the sides of Levi’s face to his neck, to the outside of his shoulders, all the way down to Levi’s hips, where he tightens his fingers and easily pulls him forward, closer to his side of the table.

Levi gasps and tries his best not to kick Nico in the face as he moves his legs as well, letting them fall on either side of his torso. Nico’s face only reaches his chest so he’s looking up at Levi through his lashes, and it’s ridiculously hot.

“Have to get perfect at it, yeah?” Levi murmurs, but he’s already leaning down to go back to kissing Nico.

It’s less hurried than before, but still as toe-curling. Nico’s fingers squeeze Levi’s hips and Levi digs his nails into Nico’s back, and the noise that comes out from deep into his throat is totally out of his control.

“Yeah, to be believable,” Nico nods, answer a bit delayed.

A bit of clarity comes back to Levi’s clouded mind, Nico’s last words not sitting entirely well with him. He reluctantly breaks the kiss by pressing a hand to the centre of Nico’s chest.

“What’s wrong?” Nico asks, face pulled into a confused frown.

Levi licks his lips and looks down at his lap, catching his breath for a second. Nico leans forward to try and look him in the eye.

“Let’s slow down, yeah?” he manages to get out.

“Did I do something wrong?” Nico whispers.

It’s obviously still the middle of the night, but now there is moonlight coming in through the kitchen window at their side, and it’s lighting up Nico’s profile in all the right places, angles sharp and shadows deep.

He looks at the same time like he belongs right in this spot, in this kitchen, in this house, and like he’s as far away as possible from his place in the world. Levi himself feels both like he has no idea what he’s doing and like he’s never been more sure of anything in his life.

His hands ache for him to put them back on Nico and maybe explore a little further, but Levi thinks that it wouldn’t feel right.

Actually, based on the way his sweater is sticking to Nico’s still slightly wet body and the knowledge that neither of them is wearing underwear at the moment, it would be absolutely amazing, but it wouldn’t happen for the right reason.

Levi feels exceptionally dumb for even thinking about these things right now, but there’s something in his head that keeps telling him that it would be a mistake. Why, he’s not sure, but he’s been trusting his instincts lately and they haven’t betrayed him yet, so he plans on continuing.

Still, he reaches out and rolls the material of Nico’s sweater between his thumb and forefinger. “You didn’t do anything.”

Nico’s hands are still around his waist, and they feel like they leave a burning trail every time they move. Levi’s heart is still beating erratically and he can feel it in his throat, but the moment has passed.

“Let’s go to bed?” Nico suggests.

Levi smiles at him and nods. Maybe they’re more on the same page than he thinks.

“Piggyback?” Levi shoots back.

Nico bites his lower lip and shakes his head, but eventually pushes his chair back and stands up, turning around and bending his knees to offer his back to Levi.

“We’re leaving the table like this?” Levi worries.

“She’ll never know it was us,” Nico winks.

Levi is pretty sure that Nico’s mother will absolutely know, but he lets Nico’s enthusiasm win him over. He scoots closer to the edge of the table and lifts his arm to wrap them around Nico’s neck.

“Ready?” he makes sure.

Instead of answering, Nico reaches back and fits his hands around the back of Levi’s thighs, fingers wiggling between his legs and the table. Levi chuckles breathlessly and nods to himself, then pushes down on Nico’s shoulders and pulls himself up at the same time, wrapping his legs around Nico’s waist.

Nico groans and hikes Levi higher up on his back, then takes a couple of tentative steps towards the door. He opens his mouth to say something, but Levi beats him to it.

“Don’t you dare say I’m heavy,” he warns.

Nico laughs out loud, way too loudly for night time in the middle of an silent house, putting his foot on the first step of the staircase.

“I was going to say merry Christmas,” he says quietly.

Levi is taken aback, to say the least. “Already?”

Nico nods towards a big clock against the wall in the hallway that Levi hadn’t noticed. Indeed, it’s just past midnight.

“Oh,” Levi breathes.

He tightens his arms around Nico’s shoulders in something that resembles a hug from behind and dips his head down, catching the corner of Nico’s eye. Matching smiles appear on their faces.

Levi leans forward and drops a lingering kiss on Nico’s cheek. “Merry Christmas, Nico.”

-

There’s an alarm ringing loudly and it’s way too annoying for having just woken up, so Levi reaches out with his hand to make it shut up. Except he doesn’t hit his phone or the old ass clock Nico keeps on the bedside table.

“Ouch.”

Levi doesn’t even open his eyes, just keeps groping around with his fingers. He brushes over what he thinks is Nico’s nose, then goes lower and presses his fingers on both of his cheeks.

“What are you doing?” Nico asks through his forcibly pursed lips.

Trying his best not to smile, Levi grabs Nico’s face more firmly and turns it towards him. Only then does he squint one eye open and properly look at Nico. He looks ridiculous, puffy eyes and bed hair, and Levi loves every second of it.

There’s nothing he wants to do more than leaning in and pressing his lips to Nico’s. They stare at each other for so long that he almost gives in and does it, but Nico beats him to it.

“Morning,” he smiles against Levi’s lips.

Levi hums. “This is new.”

Nico looks away and leans back to lie flat on his back. “I know. Slow,” he reminds Levi of what he said last night. “You just looked too sweet. Sorry.”

He sounds like he thinks he’s done something wrong once again, and Levi won’t have that. He sits up with the duvet held tight around his shoulders, then puts a hand on Nico’s chest and flings a leg over his hips, sitting down on the tops of his thighs.

“This is familiar,” Nico comments, smirking.

Levi leans down until there’s just a breath keeping their lips apart. Nico crosses his eyes to keep looking at him, but doesn’t pull away.

“What happened to slow?” he wonders out loud.

“Does this feel fast?” Levi looks down at their bodies.

Nico moves his hands from where they’re lying by his side to the small of Levi’s back, pressing into the skin ever so slightly. His fingers are warm and he even sneaks them under Levi’s shirt, gaze never straying from Levi’s.

“Not even close,” he finally answers.

That’s what Levi was hoping for. He smiles and touches his lower lip to Nico’s top one, pulling back quickly when Nico leans up to fully close the gap.

“A bit too slow now,” Nico complains.

“Always something, huh?”

Nico goes to answer, probably apologize or something like that, but Levi cuts him off by finally dipping his head and kissing him properly.

Their lips smack every time they pull apart and change the angle, which sends a shiver down Levi’s spine. The kiss is hot and it leaves Levi’s lips tingling, so he can’t be blamed for the way he groans out loud when the alarm goes off again.

“I don’t want to get up,” Nico whines.

Levi beams. They were thinking the same thing.

“We don’t have to,” Levi shrugs, kissing Nico again.

They go back to it, breathing heavily even though their movements are slow and calculated. Levi drops down to lean on his elbows and Nico slides his hands up Levi’s back, their clothes hissing softly as they move around.

The duvet falls from around Levi’s shoulders and he goes to grab it, but Nico is quicker, stopping its fall and wrapping it tighter around Levi’s torso.

“We kind of really do,” Nico mumbles.

Levi whines and hides his face in Nico’s neck, nuzzling the still sleep-warm skin there.

“Your mom already has about ten different reasons to off us, what’s one more?”

He can feel Nico’s laughter right against his lips, low and gruff.

“C’mon,” Nico drums on his back with both hands. “Up and at them.”

Levi moves lower and bites his clavicle. Nico hums and digs his nails into Levi’s skin a little bit, then sighs and does what is apparently his best move, which is roll them over so that he’s now towering over Levi.

“For the record,” he breathes. “I would gladly spend all day in here with you.”

He kisses Levi until they’re both breathless, then pulls back.

“Nice,” one peck on Levi’s lips. “And,” another peck. “Slow,” one last one.

Levi’s stomach flips upside down when he leans up to try and follow him as he pulls away for good.

“Fuck,” he whispers, biting his lower lip.

He openly looks at Nico’s face, taking every detail in, from the pillow marks still on his cheek to the way his hair is slightly curling on his forehead, and once again calls up his instincts, hoping for some clarity on what to do now.

Would it be right to give into the sweet fog that seems to be filling his head, or would it be… taking advantage of something? Somebody? Would it be too soon, too ridiculous, too whatever?

Is there even anybody keeping score? Levi certainly wouldn’t care about it even if there was.

“We’re gonna need to have that kind of conversation, aren’t we?” he mumbles as he pushes the heels of his hands into his eyes.

Instead of answering, Nico crawls on top of him once again and leans down to drop one last smacking kiss on Levi’s mouth, then backs up and stands up on unsteady legs. He rounds the bed, but stops to smile down at Levi still lying down before heading for the bathroom.

“Let’s go, sweetcheeks,” he grins.

Levi kicks him as he walks by, but doesn’t even try to hide the blush high on his cheeks.

-

The noise of a lot of people talking loudly between each other reaches them as soon as they let the bedroom door swing shut behind them. Levi notices Nico’s surprised expression, but doesn’t mention it.

All the ruckus means that not everybody left. In fact, it actually sounds like barely anyone left.

Levi reaches for Nico’s hand and starts pulling him towards the stairs, but Nico resists it.

“I’m hungry,” Levi pouts.

Nico smiles the tiniest bit. “Glad to see that never changes.”

Levi rolls his eyes and tugs on Nico’s arm again. Nico digs his heels into the ground and doesn’t move an inch.

“Hey,” Levi gives in, turning around to face him. “It’s okay. They’re all still there.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m worried about.”

Levi steps closer to him and wraps his arms around Nico’s waist, squeezing as tight as he can. Nico pretends to get choked up, but still hugs Levi back.

They stand there, in front of Nico’s bedroom, lightly swaying side to side, until a shrill voice carries through from the bottom of the stairs, the sound of steps climbing them coming closer way faster than they can pull apart.

“Oh!”

It’s one of Nico’s cousins, holding a toddler on one hip and a huge stuffed teddy bear on the other.

“Hey,” Nico clears his throat.

Levi waves at her and pretends to be busy fixing his hair, while he waits for somebody to say or do something. The awkward pauses kill him with every second that passes.

The cousin – Anne? Amanda? Levi mentally reminds himself to ask later – looks between them with a smile, lightly bouncing her daughter on her side. She doesn’t look like she’s mad, or hurt, or any kind of annoyed by what happened yesterday.

“Well, good morning,” she nods her head towards the stairs. “Everybody’s waiting for you to start lunch.”

Nico looks down at his shoes. “Everybody?” he asks quietly.

Her smile gets even wider and definitely more genuine-looking. “Not everybody.”

Levi matches her grin as she excuses herself to walk further down the hallway and into one of the bedrooms, presumably to put the kid to sleep. Nico watches her go, then looks down the stairs, and finally settles back on Levi. He looks like he might start crying.

“Christmas miracle?” Levi guesses.

Nico laughs and wraps an arm around Levi’s shoulders, then starts leading both of them towards the steps.

As soon as they reach the ground floor, a couple of children run past them and disappear into the dining room. Nico and Levi follow them, walking as close to each other as they can. Levi is pretty sure that Nico is holding his breath.

The chatting ebbs a little when they fully walk into the room. Most of the people sitting at the table turn to look at them, expressions on their faces unreadable.

The absence of two or three unfortunately familiar faces is very noticeable.

“Finally!” the voice of Nico’s mother finally appears behind them. “We were about to send a task force for the two of you!”

Nico seems frozen in his spot, so Levi takes the lead. He chuckles at the teasing, then nudges Nico towards the table, over to the seats from which Clary is excitedly waving at them. They sit down next to her, happily going with it when she grabs their faces and kisses them on the cheek.

“Nobody will say it,” she whispers to Nico, but loud enough that Levi can hear it as well. “But they’re all glad you had the balls to do that.”

A few of Nico’s younger cousins catch their eye and wink, and Levi can physically feel Nico relaxing by his side. This is the first time he’s seen him smile while sat at the dining table.

“Thank you,” Nico says to everybody and nobody at the same time.

“Yeah, yeah,” Clary waves her hand in front of herself. “Don’t get all mushy on us, Doctor ‘I break bones for a living’.”

Nico throws a breadcrumb at her and she gasps, throwing her whole napkin back. A couple of people join them and a few seconds of pure chaos ensue, until Nico’s mother comes back with a wooden spoon and a threaten for all of them.

They stop, partly because she doesn’t look like she’s joking at all, and partly because the food starts coming out and about a million different, delicious smells fill the room.

Conversation flows easily without uncomfortable questions being thrown around and without useless arguments being started, and Levi finds that most of Nico’s family members are actually pretty cool and smart.

There are more childhood stories than Levi knows what to do with being told. Apparently, Nico was quite a rowdy child, and together with Clary they used to get in all sorts of trouble. Baby pictures are mentioned again and Levi makes Nico promise to actually show them to him. Nico just laughs.

Levi is not giving up on that. He will see those pictures if it’s the last thing he does. A bit dramatic, sure, but it’s a matter of principle by now.

There’s a moment in which they’re all listening to one of Nico’s uncles telling a story about his late father, but Levi stops listening for a second, instead looking at Nico out of the corner of his eye. He’s smiling as he listens intently, chewing on his steak and with a dollop of sauce on his cheek.

A fluttering in Levi’s stomach brings a smile to his face. He leans his head to the side and presses his forehead against Nico’s shoulder, then looks up at him.

Nico glances down. “Yeah?”

“You’re cute,” Levi whispers.

That’s not at all what he was meaning to say, but it fits. Nico blushes, anyway, so it’s definitely a win.

“I know.”

Levi rolls his eyes and sits back up, but Nico follows him and quickly kisses him on the lips.

A round of gagging noises erupts around the table, but Levi is too busy grinning at Nico to mind.

-

The whole presents thing hadn’t even crossed Levi’s mind.

He sits in the middle of the couch and watches the sea of children on the floor throwing wrapping paper around, mentally freaking out because he hadn’t thought, not even for a second, to bring some kind of gift.

Nico is sitting right next to him, passing box after box to the gleefully shrieking kids, the same happy smile still on his face. Once he runs out of things to pass along, he looks over the whole room, ending up on Levi.

He smiles when he notices Levi already looking at him.

“Hey,” Nico whispers.

“I didn’t get you a present,” Levi blurts out.

Nico chuckles and leans back against the backrest of the couch, first stretching his arms up over his head and then letting one of them fall around Levi’s shoulders. Levi shuffles closer to him so they fit right against each other, dropping his head to rest on the outside of Nico’s arm.

He doesn’t even consider pretending that he’s only doing it to be more comfortable.

“I didn’t get you anything either,” Nico shrugs.

“Are you kidding?” Levi frowns. “I’m sleeping and eating here for free.”

“Free? I was just getting the bill ready.”

Levi rolls his eyes, then looks around to make sure that nobody is looking. Not that it would matter anyway, but he’d feel more comfortable if they weren’t, that’s all.

Everybody seems to be busy watching one of the little boys do some sort of interpretative dance, so Levi reaches up with his hand and grabs Nico’s chin, making him lean down to steal a kiss.

It was meant to be another quick one, but he gets kind of lost in it – soft lips and soft hands that rise to cradle his face –, so much that it takes him a while to notice the tapping on his free shoulder.

“Earth to lovebirds,” Clary shouts at them. “Get dressed!”

“Are we naked and nobody bothered to tell us?” Nico lifts a curious eyebrow.

Clary has a long coat and a bobble hat already on, and is working on sliding her hands into some gloves.

“Shut up, let’s get in the snow!” she exclaims before turning around and leaving.

Nico and Levi look at each other, matching excited glint in both of their eyes. “Snow?”

Chapter Text

Indeed, there is about a foot and a half of snow on the ground outside.

“No!” Levi shrieks.

Nico promptly ignores him, wrapping his arms around Levi’s legs and lifting him up on his shoulder. He spins them around so fast that the only thing Levi can see is the white carpet of snow rushing by under his head.

“Let me down!” Levi laughs, pounding his fists on the backs of Nico’s thighs.

The layers of heavy sweaters, snow coat and gloves probably make it so that Nico doesn’t even notice, but it’s the thought that counts.

“As you wish,” Nico laughs.

Levi is about to ask him what exactly that is supposed to mean, but he doesn’t get a chance, because just a second later he feels Nico’s hands letting go of their hold on his legs, and then just a rush of wind in his ears.

It takes him a second to realize that he just went from being held upside down to being thrown into the closest pile of snow.

Nico appears into his line of vision with a way too satisfied smile on his face, hands on his hips and hat pulled low on his forehead. Levi can only stare up at him, trying to catch his breath and feeling the snow seeping into his clothes more with every second that passes.

“I won,” Nico gloats.

Levi rolls his eyes and lifts his upper body by digging his hands into the ground by his sides. “Manhandling disqualifies you.”

“It does not,” Nico complains.

“You are unfairly advantaged,” Levi shrugs.

Nico just smiles harder at that. Levi doesn’t have it in him to keep up the fake frown, so he just stretches his arms in front of himself and makes grabby hands at Nico.

“Need something?” Nico tilts his head to the side.

The tip of his nose is bright red. He looks ridiculous. Levi loves it.

“C’mon, help me up,” he insists.

Nico gives in and grabs his hands, digging the tips of his boots in the snow against Levi’s and pulling him up. The movement leaves them standing right in front of each other, Levi’s face coming up just shy of Nico’s chin.

He leans forward to drop a kiss on his Adam’s apple. “You’re gonna catch a cold without a scarf.”

“You’d better find a way to keep me warm, then.”

Levi scoffs and turns around, peeking back at Nico over his own shoulder. He’s still standing where Levi left him, a dopey smile on his face and his cheeks now matching his nose.

He looks adorable and he’s absolutely going to at least get a cough, but for now he’s smiling happily. Levi realizes he sounds redundant, but he really likes all of this. This version of him, this time he gets to spend with him, these moments with him.

Alright, that’s disgusting even for him. Levi opens his mouth to tease Nico about something, but he doesn’t get to even get a word out, because with the corner of his eye he catches the blurry shape of a snowball directed right at Nico’s face.

The impact makes so much noise that Levi can hear it from where he’s standing.

Clary cackles as Nico scoops the snow off the side of his face, mouth held wide open in shock.

“Why?” he enunciates slowly and clearly.

“Yeah, why?” Levi cuts in. “Don’t go for the money maker at least.”

Nico shakes his head at them as Clary comes closer to Levi and holds up her hand for him to high five.

“You’re right,” she nods. “We should aim for something else instead.”

Before any of them have the time to process what she just said, Clary throws another snowball at Nico, hitting him square in the middle of his chest. Levi laughs and steps back, gathering some snow of his own and also launching it at Nico.

He misses by a long shot, but it’s the thought that counts.

“Oh, okay, this is war!” Nico declares.

Before they know it, there’s a full-on snowball fight happening in the backyard. Shrieks and outraged screams echo in the large space, a few swear words also slipping in there and getting shushed loudly by worried parents. It’s everything a family spending time together should be and more.

By the time they decide to call it a tie and declare a truce, Levi has snow in places snow should not be found. He’s shivering so much that he has trouble walking in a straight line, but he’s not the only one.

The weather has gotten worse since this morning, large and fluffy snowflakes coming down heavily and accumulating fast on the ground, and it gets to a point where Levi can barely see two feet in front of himself, it’s so thick.

Suddenly, as he’s spinning on himself trying to find the way back to the house, Levi feels an arm settling around his waist.

He jumps and turns around, almost ready to fight whoever it is, bur it turns out to just be Nico.

“Hey,” Levi breathes.

“How you doing?” Nico asks him, pulling him closer with his arms still around him.

Levi sneaks his gloved hands into the pockets of Nico’s coat and smiles up at him. “I’m great. How about you?”

Forgoing actually answering, Nico leans down and rubs the icy tip of his nose against Levi’s.

“I’m freezing my ass off,” he says, but it’s accompanied by such a big smile that Levi has a hard time believing he actually minds it.

“Do you want to go inside?” Levi suggests, raising up onto the tips of his toes and brushing his lips against Nico’s. “We could have a hot bath.”

“No. I mean, yes, but not now.”

“Want to make sure we both lose a couple fingers before we go?” Levi chuckles.

“No,” Nico brushes a snowflake off of where it landed on Levi’s cheek. “I want to have that conversation.”

Levi’s stomach does a couple of flips, but he ignores it in favour of putting on a fake stoic expression.

“So, when two people really like each other…” he starts, but gets interrupted by Nico laughing and shutting him up with a real kiss.

He sighs into it and tries to deepen it up, but Nico pulls away again. “Not that kind of conversation.”

“What kind, then?” Levi asks innocently.

“You know,” Nico shrugs. “The us kind.”

Levi looks around, trying to see if there is anybody waiting for them. They’re completely alone in the backyard, and the snow is quickly accumulating on their heads, and their arms, and their everything, really.

“And it can’t happen inside the bathtub?” Levi tries.

“The sooner we have it, the sooner we can go inside.”

“What, are you holding me hostage now?” Levi lifts an eyebrow.

Nico huffs and tries to fit his hands into his pockets as well. It’s a tight fit, but their hands are pressed together and definitely warm, so it’s okay.

“You know when I said that you were the only person I asked to come with me?” Nico asks.

“Oh, is it confessions part two?” Levi teases him.

“Shut up,” Nico dips his head to press their foreheads together. “You know why?”

Levi grins. He can’t feel his cheeks anymore. “I might have an idea.”

“Does it involve me having a crush on you for like, six months?” Nico mumbles.

The snow is sticking to their eyelashes at this point, falling down Levi’s cheek every time he blinks.

“Six months?” he asks, honestly surprised.

“Is it as pathetic as I’m afraid it is?”

Levi leans up and kisses Nico, but the way he’s smiling makes it so that it quickly turns into just a pressing of lips against lips.

“It’s flattering, for sure,” he says. “And sweet. Really sweet.”

Nico makes a face. “Sweet isn’t really sexy.”

“Oh, we were going for sexy?” Levi bites his lower lip.

“I don’t know what I’m going for,” Nico admits, shaking his eyes with his eyes closed. “I just really like you.”

It’s probably inappropriate, the way Levi just can’t help but smile at Nico obviously having a bit of a hard time with this. He’s just ridiculous, and Levi could have never predicted that this is how all of this would turn out when he agreed to it, but it somehow did.

He’s definitely not complaining, though.

“I like you too,” he murmurs. “Like, a lot.”

Nico smiles just as wide and squeezes Levi’s hands still inside his pockets, then leans forward to rub their noses together again.

“So we’re doing this for real?” he asks.

Levi pulls his hands out and wraps them around Nico’s neck. “Was it ever anything else?”

Nico laughs. “C’mon, say it.”

His lips are turning blue. Levi is pretty sure that his aren’t that much better off, so he shrugs and kisses Nico quickly. “We’re doing this for real.”

-

“Oh, oh, oh, yes!”

Nico looks a mix of weirded out and amused as he leans against the doorjamb and watches Levi putter around in the bathroom.

Levi reluctantly takes his hand out of the hot water stream, jumping around on the tips of his toes, trying to get some feeling back into them.

“Should I leave you alone for a while?” Nico jokes.

“I’m so cold I would almost say yes,” Levi squints at him, rubbing his hands over his arms.

Nico moves like he’s actually going to leave, but Levi stops him by reaching out and grabbing his hand to pull him further into the room.

“Reconsidering?” Nico smiles.

Levi rolls his eyes and lets him go for just long enough to take his shirt off, then moves back onto Nico’s space and thumbs the bottom of his sweater.

“You’re the least subtle flirt I have ever seen.”

Nico looks like he didn’t expect that. “What?”

Levi light hits his chest. “Swimming in your underwear? Really?”

“We didn’t have swimsuits,” Nico shrugs.

Levi hits him again. “Stripping off, just like that?”

“You did that too!”

“You did it first.”

Nico grabs Levi’s hand, presumably to stop him from keeping up the hitting. “I don’t remember any complaining coming from you.”

The snowstorm has picked up even more since they ran inside, the soft sound of the snowflakes hitting the window drowned out by the rushing of water. It’s definitely not as cold in here, but it could also be warmer. Levi is getting his hot bath if it’s the last thing he does.

“There was nothing to complain about,” Levi says as he pulls Nico’s sweater up.

Nico lets him take it off all the way, lifting his arms over his head and then letting them fall on Levi’s shoulders, hands sliding down his back until they’re just skimming the top of his pants.

Levi looks up at him through his lashes, eyes flickering between Nico’s eyes and his lips. He reaches back and covers Nico’s hands with his own, pushing them down so they cover his ass.

“Yeah?” Nico breathes. “No more slow?”

“We can go slow,” Levi shrugs as he pops the button of his jeans. “Or we can go fast. We decide.”

Nico mirrors him, pulling his pants down and stepping on the backs of his socks to take them off. That leaves them standing in front of each other in just their underwear, cheeks flushed. Maybe it’s from the cold, maybe it’s from something else entirely.

Probably the latter, Levi thinks, as Nico hooks his thumbs into the elastic band of his own underwear.

“Water’s gonna get cold,” Nico whispers.

“We’d better get in, then,” Levi leans in to kiss the closest part of Nico’s body, which turns out to be his collarbone.

Nico sighs, one arm wrapping around Levi’s shoulders to keep him close and the other reaching down to close the faucet.

“How are we going to do this?” Nico asks.

“You in the back, me in the front,” Levi explains.

Nico lifts a mischievous eyebrow, but doesn’t say what they’re both thinking. Levi is silently glad, because then he’d be morally forced to tease him until he takes it back, and he really has something else in mind.

“Alright,” Nico nods.

He makes quick work of pulling his underwear down his legs and stepping out of it. Levi looks away until he realizes that he doesn’t have to, after which he lets himself freely gawk at Nico trying to get into the bathtub without slipping and hurting himself.

Once he’s finally sitting down, Levi wiggles out of his own underwear and climbs in after him, settling between Nico’s legs with his back resting against his chest.

Nico immediately wraps his arms around Levi’s waist, one hand staying pressed against the middle of his chest, the other travelling lower to thumb his hipbones. Levi smiles with his lower lip held between his teeth, tilting his head as Nico moves his mouth up and down its side.

“If you’d told me a week ago that this is how I would be spending Christmas, I would have laughed at you,” he says quietly.

The steam is quickly filling up the room, and it’s almost surreal looking at the snow falling outside through the window while sitting in hot water almost up to his shoulders. Levi covers Nico’s hands with his own, but doesn’t stop his gentle exploration.

“Same,” Nico answers, lips pressed behind Levi’s ear.

His voice is low and a bit rough, and it sends a shiver down Levi’s spine. That one definitely isn’t from the cold.

“Glad that it did turn out like this, though,” Levi continues.

Nico lets his fingers skim the stretch of skin from one of Levi’s hipbones to the other, just under his bellybutton.

“Same,” he says again, this time biting gently down on his neck.

Levi gasps and reaches back to grab Nico’s neck, twisting his torso uncomfortably and simultaneously pulling Nico forward so he can kiss him. It goes from zero to a hundred immediately, three days of tension catching up with them.

“Wait,” Levi suddenly pulls away.

Nico complains at the broken kiss and tries to follow him, but Levi laughs and leans even further back.

“Was our first date dinner with your whole family?” he asks.

“Fuck no,” Nico immediately shakes his head. “I’m taking you out as soon as we get back.”

Levi hums. “That’s assuming that I’m gonna say yes.”

Nico lifts an unimpressed eyebrow. “You want a formal proposal?”

“Of course,” Levi nods.

Nico moves his hand even lower, so that his fingertips graze the fine hair at the centre of Levi’s body. Levi stops him from going further, grinning innocently when Nico makes a frustrated sound.

He stares at Levi and Levi stares back, both of them holding their ground until Nico finally breaks.

“Levi, will you go out on a date with me?” he finally relents.

“I don’t know, I’m pretty busy,” Levi pretends to be thinking about it. “I’ll let you know.”

He pats Nico’s chest and goes to turn back around, but Nico grabs his arm and pulls him close, kissing him before he can say some other dumb thing. Which is probably for the best.

Levi lets go of his hand, and Nico doesn’t waste time in continuing his mission. He brushes his fingers over the soft skin of the inside of Levi’s thighs, up and down until goosebumps erupt over Levi’s arms.

“Fuck,” Levi whispers.

Nico chuckles against his lips and uses his free hand to brush against Levi’s cheek, then dipping under the water to rub it on Levi’s chest, occasionally catching his nipples.

“Can I?” he asks after a couple of minutes of just petting Levi.

Instead of answering, Levi rolls his hips back against Nico, feeling him hard right against the small of his back. Nico makes a surprised sound that turns into a quiet moan when Levi doesn’t stop.

They can’t be that loud, Levi imagines, even though the walls hadn’t seemed particularly thin the previous nights. Still, better safe than sorry.

“You may,” Levi decides to answer.

Nico laughs and finally, finally wraps his hand around Levi’s cock.

Levi lets out a deep breath and bites his lip, turning around so he can go back to leaning against Nico’s chest. The water slows Nico’s movements even more than they already are, but the water is so pleasantly hot and Levi is so comfortable that it really doesn’t take long to get worked up.

“You’re unbelievable,” Nico whispers into Levi’s ear.

“Huh?” Levi asks eloquently.

Nico leaves a row of kisses down the side of Levi’s neck before answering. “You’re so hot.”

“It hurts me to disagree, but that’s you, mate.”

“Don’t call me mate,” Nico complains.

Levi can basically hear the frown. He smiles to himself and gasps as Nico does something clever with his hand – honestly he’s not paying attention, he’ll accept anything as long as it feels this good –, trying to find a way to be as annoying as possible, even now. Especially now.

“Want me to call you baby?” he jokes.

Nico must not think it’s a joke, though, because he makes a noise and squeezes his hand tighter. Levi gasps loudly and spreads his legs, lifting his knees out of the water.

“This is going to be over way too fast,” he moans.

“It’s okay,” Nico shrugs. “We can make it last longer some other time.”

“Still granted I-“

Levi gets shut up by Nico kissing him again, which is starting to become a trend, but right now he doesn’t mind. All he care about at the moment is the tugging in his lower back spreading with every flick of Nico’s wrist.

He focuses on the task at hand – pun absolutely intended – and grabs the rim of the bathtub, hold so tight that his knuckles turn white.

“Mind if I…” Nico mumbles, but doesn’t finish the sentence.

Levi makes a questioning noise, but Nico just shakes his head and presses on Levi’s chest so he’s flush with Nico’s, his cock rubbing again the tight space. They both let out a satisfied groan, both at the change in position and at the way it somehow makes everything feel better.

“C’mon, baby,” Levi urges directly against Nico’s jawline.

Nico picks up the pace, hand moving quickly over Levi’s cock and the water lapping up against the sides of the bathtub from their movements.

“Yeah, baby,” Nico whispers into Levi’s ear.

It doesn’t have the ‘I’m making fun of you’ tone that Levi was using. Instead, it sends a zap of electricity through Levi’s body.

He grabs the arm Nico has around his chest and sinks his nails into the skin, breathing heavily as he closes his eyes and leans his head back against Nico’s shoulder.

Nico is moving against him as well and they’re probably flooding the bathroom, but it’s a problem for later.

For now, all that matters is that Nico squeezes the base of Levi’s cock and then twists it up, and Levi doesn’t stand a chance at holding back.

He lets out a choked moan and comes into the water, Nico stroking him until Levi clenches his legs and traps his hand between them. He laughs at Levi, but it sounds strained and breathy.

Levi rolls his head on his shoulder until he can kiss Nico’s neck softly, looking up at him with a smile on his face.

Nico looks back at him with an expression that looks almost pained. He dips his head to kiss Levi, cradling the side of his face with his hand. It’s only a couple of seconds before he gasps against Levi’s lips and comes as well.

They stay in the by now lukewarm water for a while longer, gently petting each other and coming down from their highs in silence.

Levi’s heart keeps beating just that bit too fast, but it’s okay. He can feel Nico’s doing the same thing right against his back.

-

Leaving the next day is almost as hard as arriving had been.

Clary gets Levi’s number, then hugs both of them and makes them promise that they’ll stay in contact for gossiping purposes. When Nico mentions that double date again, both she and Levi blush.

Nico stays back to let his mother tell him something as Levi waves to all the little kids gathered once again at the window, sitting down into the car and waiting for him. He messes with the radio in the meantime, his hands shaking a bit if they don’t have something to do.

He’s not nervous, not anymore. It’s just that he’s kind of waiting for the moment he’ll realize that this is just some elaborate dream that his mind came up with. He’s almost at the point where he’ll convince himself that it’s all true.

When he’s done saying goodbye to everybody, Nico climbs into the driver’s seat and starts the car. His mother waves at both of them and sends them kisses from the front steps until they start driving down the driveway.

Levi turns to Nico with a smile. “Everything okay?”

Nico beams at him, quickly leans in for a kiss, then turns back to the street, pulling his sunglasses down from where they’re perched on his head.

“You know that nobody will believe us if we tell them about this, right?” he laughs.

Levi shrugs, then grabs the hand Nico is resting on the gearshift and twines their fingers together.

“It’s alright,” Levi nods. “We’ll be unbelievable.”

Nico laughs and Levi follows him, the sun warm on their skin and bright as it reflects on the snow on the ground. It’s a beautiful day, and it’s so regardless of the weather.

“Yeah, let’s be unbelievable.”