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Casey’s in the cube truck and Taryn is holding up the other end of a box full of books when the front door opens inward and knocks into Levi’s back. He shouts, nearly dropping the box on his foot. Panic over bone fractures immediately switches to panic over his fractured heart when he realizes that it’s not Casey coming up to check on them.

 

Nico was supposed to be in surgery for another few hours. Levi didn’t think he’d be here. He was planning on leaving his key on the kitchen island since the apartment locks automatically. Then he’d just have to avoid Ortho for another few weeks until they’d run out the clock on Nico’s fellowship. He could catch up then. Minimal interaction and minimal shame spirals—that was the plan.

 

By the look on Nico’s face, he’s not on board. “I know things aren’t good right now, but I thought you’d let me help at least.”

 

“What?” Levi glances between his ex and Taryn, who looks no less confused, but much surlier. Before the breakup, he missed the days when she liked him and they could all hang out. Now he’s just glad to have her on his side.

 

“Moving you into your new place. I could have helped.” Well, fuck you too, he thinks.

 

“Why would you do that?” Levi’s face scrunches in that confused face his mom tells him will give him wrinkles.

 

Nico shrugs, “I know I pushed you to find a place, but-“

 

Levi’s confusion is so great that he directs his question to Taryn, “Is it normal for exes to help with this kind of thing?”

 

Taryn fixes Nico with a cold stare. “No. It is not. Stop toying with him, Kim, you’ve done enough.”

 

“Exes? What?” Nico makes it through the door and closes it behind him, placing himself between them and the exit. “Levi, what is she-“

 

“Usually when you break up with someone, you absolve yourself of the responsibility of helping them!” Taryn wields her words like a cudgel and with the way her hands are clenched, he doubts her fists are far behind. She’s a really good friend, yelling at him so that Levi doesn’t have to.

 

“Break up with you? Levi, I didn’t break up with you. It was just a fight.”

 

“What?” Taryn’s tone is simmering.

 

“Well it definitely felt like a breakup! In what world is ‘I hope you find someone who can give that to you’-?”

 

“Are you quoting me? Seriously?”

 

“Yes!” And to his utter shame, Levi starts to cry. “Of course I remember every word you said, because it’s all I can think about. Over and over, ‘Alright’, you said. I’m sorry but fuck off, that is terrible.

 

“I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, I just-“

 

“And then you left! How else am I supposed to interpret that-?”

 

“-I was trying to give you space so we wouldn’t start screaming in the middle of the hospital!”

 

“You made me feel like shit about myself!”

 

Nico lift his hands to Levi’s shoulders, but he flinches away. “Please, can we talk?”

 

“You want to talk now?!”

 

They’d forgotten Taryn was even there.

 

“Tar… can you wait downstairs in the truck with Casey? I’ll be down in a minute,” they make eye contact, briefly and silently communicating their discomfort with everything that’s happening.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” Then, like a champ, she hefts the box of books all by herself and walks through the door, which Nico opens for her. Always a gentlemen, except when it counted.

 

The door clicks behind her and Levi still hasn’t found the words for everything he wants to express.

 

“I don’t want to break up,” Nico says.

 

It’s what he wanted to hear, but it feels too late. Levi laughs darkly, “Yes you do. Everything I do annoys you. Being with me seems to be exhausting and I can’t feel guilty for existing in your orbit anymore. I can’t make myself any smaller to make you love me, it’s not okay. You might not want to break up but I…” the startled hurt look in Nico’s eyes makes him hesitate, but he pushes through. He’s so angry he can’t take it.  “I… I think that I do. I don’t feel like you respect me. Sometimes I worry that you don’t even like me. I love you, but you can’t stand to be around me unless we’re having sex. That’s not a relationship, that’s not love.”

 

“Of course I love you-“

 

“I don’t believe you! I know you’re going through a tough time, but-“ he sniffs and hugs himself, holding it together as best he can. “There are things that I need from you that you’re not willing to give.”

 

He latches on to that. “Because I won’t give up a job I’ve been working for since before I knew you?”

 

“I never wanted you to give up the job,” he protests. “Well, no. I did. But I would never have asked you to. I just wanted the consideration of talking about it. Of figuring out how or if we could make it work. I love you,” and, lest Nico hold on to any hope, “But I don’t think you love me.”

 

Nico’s teeth grit and his hands clench against his thighs. “Don’t tell me how I feel.”

 

Big bambi eyes stare up at him, watery and red behind his glasses. “Fine. You didn’t want to break up, but… I do.” Careful not to touch him, he moves around Nico to get to the door. “My key’s on the counter. I hope you find someone who can give you what you need too.”

 

The cube truck is a three seater. Taryn sits in the middle and Levi stares at his own face in the side mirror as he sobs the whole way to Jo’s apartment.

 

.

.

 

In the following days, Nico sees very little of Levi. Glimpses of the back of his head as he rushes up and down the halls, passed out on gurneys in brief respite and his name on the OR board.

 

He misses him like nothing else he’s ever felt before. He’s so angry all the time. And it’s not fair. He was working through it, sort of. He was moving on by moving fast. If he just kept busy, if he inundated himself with work and sex, he wouldn’t have to think about Josh or the future. He just wanted to live in the moment with Levi. And Levi wouldn’t let him. Maybe this was always going to be the fundamental difference that separated them. Nico loves to feel needed, he loves to be touched. Levi loves to be loved and to be told so. Are either of them so wrong?

 

‘Why worry about something that hasn’t happened yet?’ He would have talked to him after he heard back. He doesn’t like hypotheticals. If Levi didn’t think he could hack it long distance, Nico didn’t want to know it unless he had to. Levi is his guy; a magnetic, funny, wonderful person. He’s so perfect, Nico didn’t want anything tainting that.

 

Without him though, he realizes he doesn’t have a lot of friends here. He’s never been like Levi, drawing people in, making everyone comfortable with his own goofiness. Nico’s always had a harder time. People are intimated by him or they think he’s a cocky asshole or whatever. He’s no good at reaching out and forming connections. So now, he’s on his own. F

 

or once, he wants to talk. He needs someone to help him work through this, because if it’s really, actually over, he doesn’t know what to do.

 

When he’s not at work, Nico sleeps all the time, when he’s at work, he’s even more intensely focused than usual. If he stops to think, he doesn’t know what’ll happen.

 

There’s a lull and hours left in his shift still, he’s been on his feet for what feels like an eternity, so he picks an on-call room to collapse in. He doesn’t look before falling face first onto the closest available cot. He turns his head to get more comfortable and locks eyes with the occupant of the opposite bed.

 

Levi’s wide eyes stare, shining in the dark. They both freeze. Nico isn’t tired anymore. “I can go,” he offers and Levi looks like he’s going to take him up on that, but he shakes his head.

 

“I’m fine,” but would a person who’s fine turn towards the wall and draw the covers over his head? He doesn’t know. But Nico’s not fine and instead of sleeping, he stares at Levi’s back until their pagers go off for a trauma.

 

.

.

 

 

“When did you stop liking Nico?” down in the tunnels, the interns pile next to each other atop a gurney, textbooks in lap. Their exam is coming up and instead of sleep, they’ve taken to hiding down here and quizzing each other.

 

“I miss Dahlia,” Taryn sighs, evading the question. “Her handwriting was incredible, she’d make great notes.”

 

“I’m serious,” Levi whines. He’s learned that sometimes friends know better; can see what you can’t. He just wants to know what he missed.

 

“He called you a failure.”

 

You call me a failure,” he points out.

 

“But we don’t mean it,” Casey groans, stretching his arms above his head.

 

“He didn’t mean it either,” Taryn corrects with confidence. “But he was trying to hurt you. I don’t like that.”

 

“And that’s when you stopped liking him?”

 

She shrugs, “I don’t know, around then. Maybe later, but like. You stopped gushing over all the sweet things he said and that stopped balancing out the shitty things. He was treating you like a fuck buddy and you are… not that.”

 

His protest of “I could be a fuck buddy,” is met with snorts. “I could!”

 

“You could not! You’re so squishy and emotional. You have depths that jock just cannot plumb,” Taryn singsongs.

 

Levi doesn’t think that’s true. Nico could also but squishy and emotional. He thinks of the way his voice cracked when he told him that he missed him. He thinks of him saying that his heart broke when he was in the hospital. He thinks of his hand in his when he mourned Uncle Saul. Nico doesn’t lack a depth of feeling, maybe just depth of feeling for him.

 

.

.

 

Jo throws herself against the nurses station next to Link and whines. He laughs, “What’s the matter dude?”

 

“Schmitt.”

 

Nico’s ears perk. He’s at the computer console nearby, but she hasn’t seen him yet.

 

“Is he a bad roommate?”

 

For the record: Schmitt is an excellent roommate. He cleans up, cooks enough for everyone, plus leftover. He never watches ahead when he starts a tv show with someone and he’s quiet when he comes in late, as interns often do. Nico enjoyed having him, when it didn’t morph into the source of an ongoing panic attack.

 

“No,” sighs Jo, “He’s actually kind of great. But there was a guy in my kitchen again this morning.”

 

“Again?” Link asks in disbelief. Nico thinks Link knows he’s there, is he tormenting him? “Same guy?”

 

Different. Guy.” She exclaims in disbelief. “And they’re all enormous and muscly. Could probably bench press both of us. The last one was actually a little I dunno, tall, dark, leather and tattoos?”

 

“Are you feeling unsafe?” Link demands, concern rising in his voice. “Did any of them do anything?”

 

“No, it’s just… I’m feeling…. Wanting. You know? Like. It’s so unfair, how is Glasses such a commodity? I do not understand gay men I mean, it’s like he’s catnip for tops—And like, it’s been a while and I’m kind of feeling like I need the Schmitt break up special. Get over Alex and under a- OH… Uh!” Jo’s panicked eyes meet Nico’s. He realizes that he’s staring. Intently. “Hi… Dr. Kim. Uh. I was just-“ She whips around and grabs Link by the front of his scrubs. “How long has he been there?”

 

“The whole time.”

 

As her forehead meets to desk surface, Nico stands up so fast that his stool flips over. He takes a second to right it before bolting, preferably for a scrub room where he can wash everything he just heard off of him.

 

.

.

 

“I’m getting concerned,” Casey confides to Taryn, “One of the guys showed up at work looking for him.”

 

“Good for Levi, maybe sex is  what Dr. Kim saw in-“ Taryn elbows Hannah in the gut before she can finish that sentence.

 

“He wanted me to set him up with Grindr, I set him up with Grindr. He’s a big boy, he can make his own choices,” even if she doesn’t approve of them. It feels… not him, but everyone’s gotta go through their ho phase. Even if that person was previously thought to be the type who mates for life (this is not her extrapolating. He did a whole speech about penguins and swans like a month ago).

 

“If the point” Casey says at length, “Is to find someone to fulfill him emotionally—”

 

“I promise, that’s not the point of Grindr."

 

“—He’s going about it wrong, he doesn’t know anything about these guys, they could be—”

 

“So?” Hannah points out, “I don’t know anything about the guys I meet on Hinge, except for what their ideal date is or whatever nonsense. Don’t slutshame him.”

 

“I’m not slut-!”

 

Levi drops his tray on the table in front of an empty seat. His smile is beatific. It’s impossible to tell if he overheard. “I brought my cue cards, who wants to go over cardio?”

 

.

.

 

Even the voices of the Critical Role cast aren’t managing to calm Levi down from his pre-exam jitters. All the interns have congregated in the hall outside the exam room, practicing their various rituals. Some are still pouring over textbooks, some are quizzing, Casey’s meditating and Taryn is playing her hype music.

 

Levi plays with his shoe laces and tries to block out the chaos around him until he’s startled by a throat clearing.

 

Oh no.

 

From where he sits, Nico looks like a giant. He blots out the fluorescent lighting. Like the Greek god he always joked about him being, Nico has a halo. He looks away and shoves his hands in his pockets, shoulder around his ears. Levi can only stare, dumbstruck. “Good luck,” says Nico. Like nothing happened. Like he cares. He went out of his way and for a second, Levi kind of feels like a jackass and also a little bit like there’s hope.

 

But when Levi tries to lean sideways to meet his eyes, Nico nods to himself and stalks away, all that hope squished under his shuffling feet.

 

.

.

 

“Dr. Bailey, you asked to see me?” Levi gulps, sure this is bad because in his experience, there’s no way  it can be good. Oh god. Oh god, he’s fired, isn’t he? He fucked something up. Or he’ll have to repeat his intern year. Which is worse? He’ll never get a job in Seattle again. San Francisco’s looking pretty good right about now.

 

“Yes Schmitt, come in. Take a seat.” He would really rather stand, but he sits; knees knocking together and spine rigid, ready for the berating that’s about to commence. “I asked to see you because the intern exam results will be released later today and I wanted to talk to you.”

 

“Oh god, Dr. Bailey, I can do better, I swear. Please don’t fire me!”

 

She snorts. “Better? Better than a perfect score? I’d love to see that.”

 

“What?”

 

“You got a perfect score on the USMLE. Haven’t seen that since Torres, congratulations.”

 

HOW?”

 

“Hard work or cheating, I assume.”

 

She has now placed him in the extremely precarious position of having to admit he did a good job. He gulps. “Hard work ma’am. It was, uh, work.”

 

“I know you’ve had a tough year,” she says gently and walks around her desk to sit next to him. She takes his hand and squeezes. “But that’s over, okay? You can breathe now. Time to put it behind you. You are an extremely promising surgeon, don’t let anyone tell you any different. Ride this, stick up for yourself. Fight for surgeries so you can be as great as you can be. Do not let anyone walk all over you.

 

“Th-thank you Dr. Bailey,” he’s breathless. His heart hurts. It’s everything he never thought he would hear.

 

This year he dropped his glasses in a patient, been a human blood bank, had an ersatz heart attack, came out, lost his favourite uncle, ruined his relationship with his mother, moved out and broke up with the love of his life. He feels supremely alone and yet, triumphant. He survived all that.

 

“This year will be better,” he promises her. “I won’t let you down.”

 

“I know Schmitt,” she says in that long suffering tone he’s gotten used to. “Want me to announce it in front of all your little friends and throw in a solo Appy?”

 

“Oh god, yes please!”

 

.

.

 

In the locker room, Dr. Schmitt is cocky. He’s riding high after performing an appendectomy all on his own; Jo chilling in the corner with a book, not once looking up except to tell him to ‘be cool, glasses’. “I flew solo today and nothing can touch me!”

 

The other interns roll their eyes and complain. Those who’ve already undressed throw their dirty scrubs at him.

 

“Suck it everybody, Blood Bank is killing it!” He dances, arms flailing, booty wagging. His friends laugh with him, instead of at him. But there’s a laugh he’s more attuned to and when he hears it, he spins around. “Dr. Kim.”

 

And Nico smiles, warm eyes and dimpled cheeks, like he’s forgotten where they are—what they are now. “Mazel tov, Doctor.” He taught him that. Nico listened. Even when he didn’t talk, he always paid attention.

 

“Th-thank you,” the air is sucked out of the room but his heart soars to new heights.

 

Maybe that’s why he follows him down the hall, why he grabs his elbow and drags him into an on-call room. Maybe it’s why he looks into Nico’s eyes that are wide and full of feeling, warm like caramel. Maybe that’s why his hand reaches out to clearly and purposefully lock the door.

 

Nico is about to say something when Levi surges up into a startling, deep kiss. His mouth is hot on his and his arms wrap around strong shoulders that flex under his fingertips. Nico knows how to hold him, how to haul him around. His back hits the cot and Nico lands on top of him.

 

Dr. Levi Schmitt flew solo today and his heart is soaring right beside him, outside of his body.

 

.

.

 

Nico stares at Levi’s chest as he pulls his scrub top over his head, breathing deeply. They’re both smiling.

 

“So…” Levi trails leadingly, when Nico does nothing but grin stupidly, he blushes, “That was nice. Really nice.”

 

“Just nice?” He looks down at himself, where just a sheet is preserving his modesty.

 

Levi huffs, which turns into a giggle. “You know exactly how good it was. And… this is good. This can work.”

 

Hope. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah, it can just be sex. Really nice sex.” he emphasizes meaningfully with a wink. “That’s the part that worked, right?”

 

Splintering hopes. “Yeah,” Nico chokes.

 

“I won’t talk your ear off, I promise,” Levi pats his pockets, checking for his phone and pager. “I’ve got some labs to run for Dr. Shepherd, I’ve gotta run.”

 

And then. Like a big idiot, Nico leans forward, lips pursed—all muscle memory—and Levi doesn’t even look back. He just leaves, without kissing him goodbye.

 

.

.

 

“You’re back with your ex?” Jo demands when Nico comes home.

 

“What? No! Wait. How did you know?”

 

“I have ears everywhere Schmitt!” Like a triumphant panther with her prey in her mouth, that’s what Jo Wilson is like.

 

“It’s not like that. It’s just sex.”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“It is!”

 

“Sure.”

 

“It is.”

 

Here, she pauses, sizing him up with an unreadable expression. “Wait, really?” At his nod, “But… you love him.”

 

“No. No, I- No I don’t,” he scoffs, it’s entirely unconvincing.

 

“Yes you do, why else is every night here like a who’s who of gay calendar boys—very impressed by the way—you have so many feelings and you think you can screw your ex with zero consequences? Isn’t that why you broke up with him?”

 

He doesn’t really know what he’s doing or why he’s doing this. He just wants to take a little joy for himself. He misses Nico. And if he can have him for a little while, with the parameters in place, what’s the harm? He can do this, he can compartmentalize. Having him is so much better than not having him.

 

“He broke up with me first.”

 

“Doesn’t matter, it matters who broke up with who last!

 

“Could you drop it please!” But she doesn’t. She comes closer.

 

“When he leaves for the Mariners, you’re going to be right back at square one. You know you will.” She argues with the ferocity that fresh heartbreak gives a person. He doesn’t want to fight her. He knows she’s right. So he just has to protect himself.

“I felt really good today,” he admits, slumping down, feeling like the failure he promised he would no longer be. “And I just- I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to feel perfectly good for once and the truth is that I need him for that. I still need him, even though he hurt me. Is that insane?”

 

Jo is not a physical person, but she throws an arm around his shoulder and squeezes. “It’s not insane.”

 

.

.

 

Irony is the fucking worst thing in the entire universe and to be quite honest, Nico is done with it. He’s done with pining, with being sad, with listening to Taylor Swift alone on the floor of his living room. It’s so much more fun to listen to Taylor Swift with Levi on the floor of his living room.

 

Nico unwittingly broke up with Levi because he always wanted to talk. Levi broke up with Nico because he always wanted to have sex instead of talking.

 

Now, Nico would give anything to have a conversation, but Levi bolts before they’ve caught their breath.

 

The sex is as good as ever, it’s intimate and sweet, there’s lot of eye contact and Levi is still incredibly generous with him. When they’re together, it feels like things haven’t changed, but when it’s over Levi, the biggest cuddlebug in the world, can’t stand to be touched. Then he leaves to go be a Rockstar surgeon on everyone’s service but his. He doesn’t even get to share professional victories anymore.

 

There are things that Nico wants to know. Is Levi talking to his mom? What specialty is he warming towards if not Ortho? How’s the new place? Is he still sleeping with all those guys from Grindr?

 

He should ask. It would be irresponsible not to. They’re sleeping together and you know what they say, you’re sleeping with everyone your partner’s ever slept with. Maybe they should go together to get tested. He can hold Levi’s hand while they draw blood so he doesn’t faint.

 

But no. That’s a couple thing. They’re not a couple.

 

He takes a breath and tries to remind himself of their problems. Levi never gave him space, he was everywhere; at home and at work. He always wanted to talk about feelings that Nico was still processing. Levi was still doing First Relationship bullshit like moving too fast and being petulant when Nico resisted. Nico is going to take the Mariners job and be away for half the year. But not really half the year. Half of half the year. Baseball season is six months, half are away games. And it’s not a long term kind of job. The other half of the year he can do literally anything. He could get privileges at Grey-Sloan. He could guest lecture. He could take up a hobby or two. They could jet off on an extravagant month long vacation.

 

And here he is, talking himself back into a relationship with a guy who broke up with him. He didn’t think this would be him; pining for… the sweetest dork in the whole world.

 

.

.

 

Finger pushed against his left ear and his right pressed against his phone, Nico paces the empty hallway of the OR wing. “Thank you so much Mr. Dipoto. It’s an honor.”

 

On his next lap, he turns around to find Levi standing in the hall, on his way to prep for surgery no doubt. They lock eyes and Nico holds his breath. The GM of the Mariners is on the other end of the line and still talking, but it’s muffled by his own heartbeat.

 

‘Congratulations,’ mouths Levi, eyes bright, lips trembling. Then he walks past him into OR 4.

 

Nico clears his throat. “I’d uh. Like to take some time to make my decision.”

 

“We’ll need an answer in two weeks.”

 

.

.

 

His mom calls on Thursday. They haven’t spoken since his parents visit. She’s antagonizing and warm in equal measure, as always but Nico doesn’t have the heart to push back. “Yeah Omma, my interviews went well. I’ve gotta let them know soon.”

 

“Why do you hesitate? Don’t you know which one you want?”

 

“I dunno, I’m trying to figure out which one’s the right call.”

 

“Which one is the best?”

 

“It’s not,” he sighs, “There’s not a best. They’re all good.”

 

“What about the one here, can you come home? That would be best.”

 

“No Omma, I didn’t get that one.”

 

“Then they’re foolish. You’re an excellent doctor,” she says with the surety of someone with decades of medical experience and not decades of experience doing peoples taxes.

 

He laughs, “Thanks.”

 

“You sound tired. You’re working too hard?”

 

“No,” he doesn’t know why, but he feels the urge to be honest, “I’m sad.”

 

She doesn’t seem to know what to say to this, so she doesn’t say anything.

 

“I was seeing someone and they dumped me,” he admits. They’ve never once talked about his dating life. He doesn’t think his parents want to know. After a pause, “You gonna say they’re foolish too?”

 

His mom humphs, “Why say something you already know. Why didn’t you introduce us? We were just there.” Because he’s a man. Because he’s wonderful. Because I couldn’t let dad poke holes in us, when it was the only thing keeping me afloat. “Are you embarrassed of him?”

 

For a second, Nico thinks that he slipped. He searches back through his memory, replaying their conversation. He was nonspecific. He didn’t mess up. “Huh?”

 

“Is he stupid? Is he a barista or an actor?” Shameful, absolutely shameful occupations by her standards.

 

“No, he’s. He’s a genius. And a doctor.”

 

“We need more doctors in the family, your sisters don’t seem like they’re going for the brightest boys on the schoolyard, but who knows.”

 

“Omma, are we going to-“

 

“We don’t need to talk about it,” she shuts down his protests, “I don’t care, I did, but I talked to your sisters and they helped me understand.”

 

“They did?”

 

“Yes. They said you can still have babies, that you can hire a lady who will carry it. Or you can adopt, but please at least adopt a Korean baby. I don’t want them to be confused.” That’s just great.

 

“Does Appa know?”

 

“No,” so blasé, “Should I tell him? I was waiting until there was something to tell, you’ve never been serious about anybody.”

 

“Will he be okay?”

 

“I’ll make him okay,” what mom says, goes. It’s always been that way. “Was this serious?”

 

“It was.”

 

“You’re sure he’s not stupid?”

 

“No,” for the first time he admits, “I was stupid.”

 

 

.

.

 

Nico is in pain all the time. Levi will show up late at night and knock. Even when they were dating and Levi was wary of coming on too strong, he always used the spare key. He gets comfortable in such specific ways and that was one of them. Now he knocks and when Nico opens the door, he takes a second to ascertain if he’s unwelcome before throwing himself at him right on the threshold. There’s no discussion, no preamble. Levi is here for sex and that’s it.

 

They pull each other into closets and on-call rooms. Somehow they seem to be having more sex than when they were actually together. He doesn’t feel fulfilled at all.

 

Levi on the other hand, seems fine. He doesn’t look like he’s going to cry every time Nico looks at him, like when they first broke up. He’s doing incredibly well at work. The other day, Pierce and Bailey fought over him. He looked like he was going to explode from joy, it was so adorable.

 

Levi’s doing great and Nico is falling to pieces.

 

He needs an excuse to talk to him, to spend time together when they’re not having sex.

 

Remember how Nico hates irony?

 

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.

 

Residency is turning out to be way better than internship. Levi has his very own set of interns and they are in awe of him.

 

I heard he operated on a patient while giving him his own blood!” One whispers to the other.

 

“Yeah, well I heard he dropped his glasses in a patient who was open on the table!” Okay, maybe not all of them.

 

A throat clears from the group’s right, “Dr. Schmitt.”

 

“Dr. Kim,” he responds, blushing to be flirting in front of his interns. Well… flirting is a stretch. He pushes his glasses higher on his nose. He can’t find his contacts in any of his boxes. “Uh, interns. This is Dr. Kim, Dr. Lincoln’s Ortho fellow. He’s wrapping up his contract in the next couple weeks before leaving us to work for the Mariners.”

 

As the interns whoop, Levi pats himself on the back for not sounding the least bit bitter or resentful.

 

.

.

 

Nico wonder if he should be bitter or resentful about how unaffected Levi sounds at the mention of him leaving. He has to give his answer tomorrow. Now he’s leaning towards taking it, just to bail himself out of his own personal hell.

 

Fight on Kim, live to fight another day.

 

He smiles winningly at the group, “I was just wondering if you wanted to scrub in on a rotationplasty  this afternoon.”

 

“Yeah, uh, can one of my interns scrub in?” Generous. He was kind of hoping to get some semi-alone time with him, but fine. It’ll make him happy.

 

“Sure thing. Observation only though, they haven’t studied the procedure like you have.” For weeks, they’d gone over it in the skills lab together. He loved doing stuff like that with Levi; that they got each other and got excited about the same things.

 

Hands shoot up. ‘Me me me’s in full chorus.

 

“Immaculate labs, minimal whining and impressing attendings; that’s how you get on my surgeries,” says Levi and bless him, the hands shoot down and they listen.

 

“Care to come with me, and we’ll go over the particulars?” It’s a blatant line and by the way Levi licks his lips, he knows it.

 

“Yeah, sure,” to the interns, “Run your labs, do your charting and if you’re done early, report to the pit. Impress me, kids.” They scatter.

 

Once they’re gone, Nico herds Levi towards the 2nd floor on-call room. “Your teacher voice is kind of sexy.”

 

“Yeah?” He peers up coyly from under his lashes.

 

“So much authority. I can just see you in a sweater vest and tweed jack-ah!” he laughs as Levi shoves him.

 

“When I met you, I was the learner, now I am the master.”

 

“Is that the Karate Kid?” the door closes at his back and he rests against it, making sure to engage the lock.

 

Levi leans close, breath hot against his neck. “Star Wars, have I taught you nothing?”

 

He flips their positions and presses Levi into the wood, “I love it when you talk nerdy to me,” he loves it so much that he can’t stop himself from kissing him.

 

.

.

 

A trauma comes in so in the end there are no interns available for their surgery. They scrub in side by side in comfortable silence. There’s something unbelievably erotic about only being able to see the other person’s eyes. When did he stop looking in Levi’s eyes? He used to be so readable. Did that change or did he stop looking?

 

They get to work.

 

Ortho’s a very mechanical job. It takes focus, but it’s not usually a rush job. It’s the kind of thing you can often hold a conversation while doing. As Levi neatly separates the skin and muscle tissue from bone, Nico embarks on his quest to know what’s going on with him, outside of his sexual appetite.

 

“You talk to your mom lately?”

 

Levi stops, looks up at him, wounded but sure, “No. I think I’m still hoping she’ll reach out.”

 

“She will,” he reassures him, “When she’s ready.”

 

Levi nods, but he can tell that he doesn’t really believe him.

 

“I talked to my mom.”

 

“Yeah?” Levi is so focused on the ankle that he doesn’t understand immediately, “About what?”

 

“You. Me. Being gay.”

 

“WHAT?” his hands shoot up, presumably so he doesn’t accidentally cut anything that can’t be uncut. “Y-you did?” wide eyes meet Nico’s. They’re full of pride and love and all the things he used to feel for Nico all the time.

 

“I did,” he removes the fibula. “It went well.” Suddenly he can’t meet Levi’s eyes, he feels terrible. Is it bragging to say his mom accepted him when Levi’s mom has yet to? Is it cruel to tell his mom about them when they’re already over?

 

A hand closes over his, “that’s so great,” sincerely breathed into the air between them.

 

The mask hides it, but Nico’s smiling.

 

.

.

 

“Excellent job Dr. Schmitt, would you like to close?”

 

He turns those beaming bambi eyes on him and Nico is thrilled he no longer has a scalpel in his hand. He lets himself feel it; the weak knees, heart palpitations and sweaty palms. “Thank you Dr. Kim.”

 

He should be closing, but they’re still staring at each other. All the things he used to see in Levi’s eyes are still there, clear as day and right on the surface. They’re doing this stupid, sex-with-no-feelings thing while both of them are still having all of the feelings. It’s insane, it’s ridiculous and it has to change.

 

Nico knows what he has to do.

 

.

.

 

“Thank you so much for the opportunity, but I have to take a different offer.”

 

.

.

 

It’s late and Levi shows up at Nico’s apartment and walks past him, shedding articles of clothing on his way to the bedroom.

 

Afterwards, Nico refuses to let him go. He pulls Levi against his chest and holds on. He hopes they fall asleep like this. He hopes Levi drowsy talks. It’s so cute, he goes off on these nonsensical tangents and says such nice things about him.

 

Instead, he’s pensive. Tonight Levi lets himself be held, but he’s stiff. Nico is dying to know what’s going on under all that shaggy hair. He kisses it and nudges his cheek with his nose. “What are you thinking about?” A question he’s never asked anyone before.

 

Levi hesitates. “I’m lying here and I’m trying to talk myself into or out of something.  I’ve been trying to distill everything I was upset about into something shorter, less rambly and maybe then I could make you understand and I uh…” He tries to pull away so he can look at him, but Nico doesn’t let him. He wants the honesty, even if it hurts, but he doesn’t want him to see him cry. “You were my partner until you decided you were my boss even outside of work and I… I just wanted to be your partner again.”

 

It’s the saddest thing he’s ever heard.

 

“You should be mad at me.” His hands clench into the sheets around Levi’s waist. “I would be furious. I told my mom about you after we broke up. I ignored our problems. I was so mean to you.”

 

“Are you,” he starts uncertainly, “…trying to get me to leave? Do you want me to go? Because it sounds like you’re just trying to make me mad.”

 

“You should be mad.”

 

“I did things wrong too. I shouldn’t have pushed, this is my fault.” Of course he thinks that. He’s Levi. He’s basically been socialized since birth to take responsibility for everything around him. “I wanted you to be okay but I didn’t help you get okay. I’m really sorry.”

 

It turns out Nico was still mad, but not anymore. Levi didn’t know any better and now he does. It doesn’t budge his conviction that if they could just have another chance, they could get it right. He’d talk. All day, about anything, if it meant Levi could forgive him.

 

“I’m sorry too.” They’re quiet for a while, so long that Nico asks the one question he’s been dying to have answered since Levi’s solo surgery. “Why are you here? Why are you okay with this? This is how things were before we broke up and you were miserable.”

 

.

.

 

He wasn’t miserable. That’s a major overstatement. Things were still good then. Levi loves him, loved him then too, he didn’t know how much the Not Talking bothered him until the gasket blew. The truth is that Levi’s really happy now. For once in his life he’s living in the moment instead of dreading the future; the deathtraps.

 

His love is a physical thing and he knows he’s playing himself, equating physicality to love, but it’s all he has right now. He is fulfilled by this arrangement because he’s grateful for every scrap. “This was the part of us that worked,” he sits up against the headboard and grabs Nico’s hand so he can trace the lines on his palm instead of looking into his eyes. “I know I’m lucky to have you for even a little while and I’m just trying to appreciate it while it lasts.”

 

“Just a little while?”

 

Levi smiles ruefully. “Training season for baseball starts soon, right? You must have given them an answer by now.”

 

“You knew it was baseball,” Nico laughs with wonderment.

 

“I looked up what the Mariners were.” Because he cares. And he can’t stop caring no matter how hard he tries. So Nico will leave and Levi will have his memories and he’ll be sad but he’ll be okay. Nothing is worse than the initial heartbreak, having him right there and not being able to do anything about it.

 

“I gave them my answer.”

 

“Congratu-“

 

“I told them thanks but no thanks.”

 

What. “What? But why would you do that?”

 

Nico is always impossible to read, but he can’t stop looking at him. At least the Mariners are in Seattle. What if he took something else, further away? It would kill even the future’s possibilities and Levi doesn’t know if he’s ready to handle that. Not while he’s still in love with him. Not while he’s in bed, flush against his naked body and enveloped in his arms.

 

“I want to stay. Grey-Sloan has more to offer.”

 

“They do?” With absorbing the other hospital and the growth of newly injected financing, the department must be growing. There’s research opportunities. They’ll need more Ortho attendings and Nico’s excellent.

 

But that’s not what he says. “Grey-Sloan has you.”