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   When the exhaustion hits, Levi chalks it up to a potent mix of fresh heartbreak and no sleep.  If he closes his eyes, he still sees Nico walking away on loop, his stride assured and effortless.  It’s draining—the constant realization that Nico did not feel what Levi felt…feels—so he has avoided sleep for the last couple weeks to conserve what little energy he has.  But it’s really more of a Sophie’s choice: lack of sleep makes shutting his eyes for just a moment incredibly enticing, but a moment is all it takes for the silhouette of Nico’s back to appear against his eyelids, so sleep he staves off, and closing his eyes becomes ever more attractive.

  It's an ouroboros threatening to consume Levi alive.

  Rounds and surgery give him a booster shot of adrenaline, and he moves through the routine as if dancing hazily to an accustomed rhythm.  But, inevitably, the music dies out, and Levi is left alone with himself and the sirens of slumber luring him to a death by memory.

  “You okay?” Taryn asks, looking up suspiciously from a set of lab results.  Her nose wrinkles as she takes in a deliberate whiff, probing Levi’s scent for signs of ailment.  It’s not like heartache has a smell, though, so she must ultimately rely on his answer.

  “I’m fine,” he lies.  He rubs his eyes vigorously with curled fingers.  “Just…tired.”

  “Sure,” she dismisses with an arched eyebrow.  “Let’s go with that, because I’ve to get these labs to Shepherd and don’t have time to call ‘bullshit.’  Just know you look sweatier than usual, and it’s not attractive.  So, if you’re ‘tired,’ go grab a power nap or energy drink before you keel over and embarrass yourself—again.”

  She marches off, and Levi mulls over her advice.  Taryn’s beta tenor doesn’t have the propellant distinctive to alpha timbres, the commanding undertones that snap lesser wills to attention, but Levi, too fatigued to resist his primal instinct, finds himself inclined to obey.  It helps that he has been given the illusion of options. 

  So, he starts walking too, full intending to locate the good vending machine on the third floor, the one with Five Hour Energy and Red Bull, but when he boards the elevator, it’s not button number “three” he reaches for.  

 

  Dr. Carina Deluca is in the middle of a consultation when it hits her nostrils—a sweetly woody fragrance she initially mistakes for ylang-yang.  Yet, then the scent smooths into something more piquant, and she nearly trips over her own feet in her rush to excuse herself from the patient’s room. Meredith, who had called for her expertise, is hot on her heels, Parker the intern following close behind.

  “Carina, is everything alright?” Meredith questions, tilting in her head in confusion.  “Is Ms. Thomas—”

  “Do you smell that?” Carina interrupts.  Meredith’s eyes dart side to side as if scent is something that can be seen.

  “Smell what—” She summons a deep inhale and quiets.  “Oh.  That…that’s not your perfume?”  Slowly, Carina shakes her head, while Parker sniffs at the air vigorously.  His pupils dilate, black corroding his blue-grey irises.

  “What is that?” he murmurs, his voice slurring into sedation.  “It’s nice.”  Immediately, Meredith snaps her fingers centimeters from the bridge of his nose.

  “Parker!” she hisses, and he blinks back to lucidness.

  “What,” he says hoarsely with an acute headshake, “just happened?”   Carina, swallowing, looks to Meredith, whose tight, pursed lips mirror her trepidation.

  “We need to find Dr. Bailey,” Carina concludes aloud.  “Now.”

 

  Meanwhile, one floor down, Nico is preparing to drill into a hip bone.  His hands ache for the feel of the tool quaking as it bears down on calcium and phosphate.  He wants to lose himself in the motion, so he can forget the persistent unease in his stomach, the ill sensation that he has misplaced something important.  He wants to blame it on the jitters that accompanies the prospect of impending job interviews, which he is not immune to despite how coolly he presents, but his better sense knows its related to the chill infecting his bedroom sheets.

  Sighing determinedly, he turns to Brody and holds out his palm.  His lips part, readying to issue his first order, but the words don’t come.  Instead there is the taste of a perfume on his tongue—sweet, tangy, delectable.  Familiar.

  “Dr. Kim?” Brody inquires, but she might as well as be trying to speak through a wall of water.  Retracting his hand, Nico stands and peels off his gloves, the left first, then the right.  Brody’s dark oak eyes swell with alarm.  “Dr. Kim!”

  But Nico, tossing his mask to the floor, is already out the OR door.