It would be a perfect day, Nico could feel it in his fingertips.
As a surgeon, the body part he trusted most were his fingertips. Not his stomach, sometimes not even his brain. And his heart? At the moment, it was pounding so much, Nico could feel it, well, right down to his fingertips.
He was looking forward to skiing, the feeling of loose snow beneath his skis, the fresh cold air in his lungs, the adrenaline and of course, intimate togetherness with Levi in the evening. Simply put: A perfect day.
They had decided to visit a Ski field over a long weekend; Nico, his mentor and friend Link, Link’s childhood friend Jo and her husband, Alex. And, how could he forget, Levi. Glasses. Or Schmitt. But in reality just Levi. Levi, his boyfriend. Levi, who seemed to constantly smile, but even more often looked as if a warm gust of wind just hit him directly in the face – adorably bewildered. Levi, who would tell endless stories about himself that were so absurdly honest and funny, Nico would have silently accused anyone else of making them up. Levi, who could make Nico laugh just as fast as he started to bug him – but in a good way, of course. In a let-me-interrupt-you-with-a-kiss way.
When the group of five doctors left the cable car that morning, the sun was shining down on them like a white spotlight. The freshly fallen snow looked like cotton and cream. And the wind blew with the (non-existent) force of a light breeze.
“The weather is great today!” Alex exclaimed. He was carrying his skis over one shoulder, and because he was a gentleman, he was also carrying Jo’s snowboard. She stuck her face out towards the sun and smiled consentingly.
“Right?” Link caught up with them, his snowboard under his arm. “I can’t wait to hit the slopes.”
“Same here!” Nico said. “I bet the pistes are fantastic, now that everything is still smooth.”
“Spoken like a true winter sportsperson” Levi mumbled while leaning on his skis for support. He was looking incredibly cute today, with his hair peeping out from under his helmet and his skis that were so much shorter than Nico’s.
Nico patted him on the back, almost throwing him off-balance in his ski boots. “Just wait, you’ll get there.” He grinned. “Two days, and you’ll talk like that, too.”
Levi shook his head. “I doubt it.”
The five came to a stop at the edge of a small hill that led from the cable car station to the first slopes. There, they began to clip on their skis. Jo was the first to finish and, while waiting, surveyed the others with narrowed eyes.
“Is something wrong?” Link laughed and put on his snowboard goggles.
Jo eyed Levi thoroughly, before answering: “I’m just not at all used to seeing you in anything else than blue scrubs.”
Nico followed her eyes with his. Levi wore a ski suit that was black, grey, white, and yellow, grey boots, and a black helmet, all of which suited him perfectly. Having heard Jo, however, he looked a little uncertain.
“Oh, don’t listen to her” Nico whispered, leaning over to Levi. “You look amazing.”
Levi laughed unhappily. Nico just now noticed how pale he’d become. He seemed shaky and nervous.
“Are you alright?” Nico asked.
Levi nodded his head unconvincingly.
Meanwhile, Alex shouted: “Guys, let’s go!” He let out a loud cheer and then pushed himself off the edge of the hill. Jo followed right in his tracks, laughing out loud as the wind caught her loose hair.
Nico couldn’t wait to go after Alex, too. The bright snow, the clear sky, it enticed him. Link, grinning widely, exchanged looks with him one last time, before boarding off. He went down the hill in wide, confident turns, and Nico pursed his lips, almost in awe. Link was not only the best surgeon he knew, he was also the best snowboarder.
“You ready?” He asked Levi, only then noticing that his boyfriend was still fiddling with his bindings.
“Obviously not!” Levi replied sharply.
Nico bent down as much as his skis would let him helped Levi secure his boots to his skis. “Don’t want you getting hurt.” He said with a playful tone when they were finished.
Levi just shook his head in silence and used his ski poles to push himself towards the edge. When he reached it, he started to slide down. Nico looked after him, stunned for a second. Briefly, he asked himself if it was something he did wrong. Then he dropped the thought. Levi was probably just a little angry at himself for appearing slow in front of his colleagues.
Finally, Nico slipped over the edge of the hill. He spotted Jo, Alex, and Link at the start of one of the slopes, waiting. Levi was about halfway down. Nico copied his turns, but after two curves decided he was going to slow. So instead, he just went straight downhill. This caused him to quickly gain speed and the pressure of the wind against his face to increase. His surroundings began to blur slightly and then suddenly it was only him and his skies. It was almost like Nico had fallen into a trance, one that caused him to block out everything but the cold air all around his body and the swooshing sounds in his ear and the speed and the adrenaline that made his every nerve tingle with excitement and joy.
Oh, how he had missed this feeling. “Whoo-hoo!” Nico exclaimed and pushed one of his fists into the air. His friends came closer way too quickly for his taste. Why wasn’t this hill longer? Sighing internally, he forced himself to slow down.
“That. Was. Amazing!” He shouted towards Link.
His mentor nodded, an excited look in his eyes. “You were right, the snow is perfect. This is going to be a great day!”
Nico noticed Jo doing impatient little feet-tied-to-the-snowboard jumps towards the edge of the next slope, and Alex staring in the opposite direction, the one they all had just come from. His gaze was fixed on Levi, who was still making his way down the hill, taking noticeably more time than the rest of the group had.
“You think Schmitt is gonna be able to keep up?” Alex asked Nico.
He furrowed his brow and just let the question sit between them for a second. Then he said: “Of course he will. We’re all equals here, right Karev?”
Alex just nodded. “You can count on it.”
By now, Levi was catching up to them. When coming to a halt, he accidentally caught an edge and lost his balance.
“Whoa!” Nico quickly wrapped his arm around his boyfriend’s waist, holding him up. “Easy.”
“You alright, Schmitt?” Link asked with a grin that was half-concerned and half-amused.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Levi hissed.
Nico bit his lip. If his boyfriend wasn’t going to have a good day, he wouldn’t have one either. And he wanted to. For himself, and for Levi.
The group advanced to the next edge. The first piste they had picked was marked red, which meant it wasn’t easy, but not very hard either. Link had opted to start with a blue one (blue meant easy), Jo, Alex and Nico wanted to do red and Levi had stayed out of the decision.
So, red slope it was. Nico risked a glance over the edge, realizing it started off with a pretty steep section, after which it became gradually flatter.
“Well, that first bit could’ve very well been marked black.” Link said. Black was the highest difficulty.
Nico clutched his ski poles. It didn’t matter, he was ready.
“Are you still up for it?” Jo asked.
Link shrugged. “It’s our first run for today, and we all haven’t skied in a while. I still think we should do another one first, but I’ll do what you guys are doing.”
“And here I thought you were afraid.” Jo grinned.
Link laughed. “Oh, you wish. Race you down?”
“What’s the winner get?”
“Let’s say, uh, bragging rights for the whole trip?”
They both jumped to the edge awkwardly with their snowboards, and then got into their starting positions. Alex counted: “Ready … set … GO!” And then the two plunged themselves down the hill.
Nico and Levi looked after them, Nico chuckling, Levi wide-eyed.
“I’m betting on Jo” Alex suddenly said in a challenging tone.
“Alright, my money’s on Link then” Nico replied, still chuckling, and held a hand out towards his colleague. They high-fived in their thick skiing gloves and grinned at each other.
“What are we betting on?”
“Whoever loses has to buy the drinks for tonight.”
Levi was already standing at the edge, ready to start. “You guys coming?”
“Right behind you, babe.” Nico smiled and pushed himself towards him.
As anticipated, the piste started off pretty steep. Nico struggled to maintain balance from time to time, even with the still flawless snow beneath him. Link had been right; this was not the ideal slope to begin the day with. But before he could think too hard about it, the difficult part was already over.
He stopped by the side of the piste and looked back for the first time, noticing that Levi was not far behind him. In fact, he caught up with him only a few seconds later.
“Wow, now that was a wake-up call” Levi said, a little out of breath.
“Yeah” Nico replied. “I don’t think it can get much harder.”
“I can already feel my muscle aches forming!” Levi laughed.
Nico joined in, and so did Alex, who had arrived last of the three. “Let’s just hope it stops at muscle aches.” He grinned. “Because one of us, lying on top of an operating table by Monday, instead of standing beside it? I can already see it in front of my eyes.”
“Bailey would kill us” Nico smirked. “Remember how she wouldn’t even let us go on this trip at first? Because ‘risk of injury’? Besides, I have surgery scheduled for Monday.” Monday was the day they would all be going back to work.
Levi gave Nico a long precarious look with, before sliding off.
Nico, a little confused, looked after him for a second before turning to Alex. “Let’s see who’s gonna get those drinks, huh?”
The rest of the slope was no problem for Nico. It was exactly the right width, his skies were going smoothly, and not many other people were there. Perfect conditions. Once again, the piste was over way too soon, ending at the entrance point of a chairlift.
Link and Jo were waiting there with snow sticking to their ski suits. Both had red cheeks and big smiles on their faces.
“So, who won?” Alex asked after stopping next to Jo.
Jo and Link exchanged a look before bursting out into laughter. “We may have crashed into each other at the last second.” Link finally said, brushing a bit of snow off his jacket. “No one got hurt though, no worries.”
“So it was close, obviously, but there is no winner” Jo added.
Nico, who stood beside them with Levi, shrugged at Alex. “Well, I guess we’ll have to go to bed thirsty.”
“We made a bet” Alex explained to the two racers, wrapping his arm around Jo. “Looser would’ve bought tonight’s drinks.”
“Had I known that I would have put more effort into it.” She said.
Link laughed. “I thought this was all you got.”
“Oh, not by a long shot.”
“This again?” Levi mumbled to himself.
“Levi’s right” Nico said. The others turned their heads towards the two. “Let’s not waste our time standing around. You two can continue your bragging match on the lift.”
Link laughed, playfully shoving Jo. “‘Match’ would imply that we are on one level, and I don’t think so.”
“Ooh, you are moving on thin ice, Atticus Lincoln!”
One chair of the lift could transport four persons, so Alex, Link, and Jo (who were still bickering) got on one, and Nico and Levi took the next.
When they were sitting comfortably, Nico took off his ski goggles. “Levi, are you having fun? Because I don’t feel like you do.”
“Why would you think that?” He asked defensively.
“Well, you’re reserved towards the others. And me. And you’re a lot quieter than usual.”
“It’s not easy drowning out all this talk about drinks and who’s faster and whatnot.”
“I … do you want me to apologize? What do you want to talk about?”
“Ugh!” Levi threw up his hands. “You’re not getting it!”
“What am I not getting?!” Nico asked, voice stern. Then, he took a deep breath, calming himself down. “You’re right.” He said then, slowly. “I’m sorry. I don’t get it. I’m not you, I don’t know how you feel.”
The hint of a smile appeared on Levi’s lips. “I forgot. I always have to spell everything out for you.”
“Come on, that is not fair” A smile started to form on Nico’s lips, too, and he leaned his helmet against Levi’s. “But for real. What’s going on?”
“The others … I feel like they are treating me like a child. Like I’m an intern, here, too. Judging my look. Asking me if I’m alright, just because I took it a little slower on the first hill. And did you notice how Doctor Karev started talking about how one of us might end up on an operating table? It was right after I mentioned muscle aches.”
Nico frowned. “He did ask me if I thought you could keep up with the rest of us.”
Levi straightened himself in his seat. “Who did? Karev?”
He huffed. “I may have not skied in a while, but I am at least as good as he is!”
Nico gave him a little kiss on the cheek (which turned out a bit difficult with the helmets, but still). “I know you are.”
Their chair was slowly reaching the top station. “We can separate the group if you want to” Nico said. “Let Jo and Link have their races, while you and I get some peace and quiet on another slope.”
“Link’s your buddy. And I know you like spending time with the others, too.” Levi gave him a smile. “This is your trip as well.”
“But I’m not happy if you’re not happy” Nico replied, just as the chairlift was approaching its end.
“You’re so corny!” Levi shook his head, trying to keep himself from giggling.
Then, they got off the chairlift and joined the other three, who were standing beside a giant map of the ski field.
“Alright, guys. We are here.” Alex said, pointing towards a spot on the map with one of his ski poles. “Which means we can either take this next blue slope or go for another red one.”
“Let’s do blue.” Link suggested.
Levi agreed with him, earning them both an amused look from Alex and Jo. “Are you guys tired?”
“Come on, let’s not exhaust ourselves already. We have been here for less than an hour.” Link argued.
“Besides, if we take the red piste now, we’ll have to take another black one afterwards if we want to reach a lift of some sort” Levi said, gesturing to the map. “By taking blue, we are gaining access to a whole bunch of other slopes without having to take another lift.”
Nico nodded, smirking. “Good point.”
“So blue it is.” Link clapped his hands.
Before sliding off, Nico approached Alex. “Can you lay off Schmitt? This is supposed to be fun, not a competition. Except maybe for Jo and Link.”
Even though Levi did not ask for it, they ended up agreeing to split up after lunch. At noon, they stopped at a small restaurant by the side of one of the main slopes. It was furnished to look like a typically alpine chalet, and served traditionally Austrian and South Tyrolean food as well.
Nico and Levi ended up sharing a huge plate of Kaiserschmarrn, which was basically a big pile of fluffy sugary pancake pieces served with lingonberries and applesauce. It tasted amazing and had Nico wondering if he knew any restaurants back in Seattle that made alpine food. He decided to google it later and if yes, to definitely go there one day. Take Levi. Have a nice date night, and look back on lots of hopefully amazing memories.
“Did you know this dish was named after one of Austria’s emperors?” Levi asked, still munching on his last bite. “He loved it so much that they apparently just decided to rename it to honor this guy.”
Nico smiled quietly, and gently wiped a little bit of powdered sugar off his boyfriends chin.
Alex, Jo and Link were sitting across the table from them, also still digging in on their meals. “Would you guys mind if we both went off alone for a little after lunch?” Alex suddenly asked.
“Not at all.” Link said. “What about you guys?” He looked at Nico and Levi. “Do you want to go on your own, too?”
Levi shrugged. “Let’s decide along the way.”
Back on the road – or better, on the slopes – Jo and Alex went on their ways. Meanwhile, Nico, Link and Levi decided to make a little round tour of the ski field to skim the area.
When they got on the first chairlift, the sun was still shining from the clear sky, with almost no wind and almost no people on the slopes as well. Nico could hardly believe their luck. Hopefully the whole weekend was going to be like this.
Unsurprisingly, the tour turned out to be lots of fun for him. He was with the man he loved; Levi, and his best friend; Link. Nico and Link both skied (or in Link’s case: boarded) in similar ways: better fast and a little loose than too slow. Levi on the other hand had a cautious style of skiing, which didn’t mean he was slow, just that he was taking it a little safer. Nico didn’t mind. He didn’t think the few instances he and Link actually had to wait for him were a waste of time. The others might have felt that way, but for him it was a welcome break to just catch his breath, appreciate the overwhelming view of the snowy mountains or have a quick chat with Link about the slope they just conquered.
Levi was also visibly happier than before. He got along really well with Link, the final ice breaker having been the discovery that Link was a fan of the X-Men comics, just like Levi. The next few chairlift rides they had then spend arguing whether a guy named Cyclops or a guy named Wolverine was cooler.
When the day slowly came to an end, Nico was still high on Endorphin and probably a whole bunch of other happiness hormones, too. His cheeks literally hurt from smiling all the damn time, but he couldn’t help it. He was sweaty and his limps were starting to get heavy, but still he felt like he hadn’t been this happy in a long time. But, he thought to himself, why wouldn’t he be? He’d spent the last hours with two people whose company he genuinely enjoyed, and had had probably the best skiing experience of his life. Why overthink this perfect afternoon?
Well, it was about to become the opposite of that.
They had agreed to meet up with Jo and Alex at the entrance of the cable car, which would bring them back down into the valley, where they had rented a cabin. The last piste Link, Nico and Levi needed to take was one marked black. It was short, narrow and pretty steep, and judging by the piles of loose snow all over it, it had already seen quite a lot of people today.
The three of them stared down the hill, nobody wanting to be the first to say ‘Let’s do it’ or ‘Let’s not do it’. Jo and Alex were waiting at the end of the slope, waving and calling their names.
Nico was pretty confident he could make it. A few short-radius turns, and it would be over. He just had to be careful not to hit one of the snow piles, because they had the nasty habit of slowing the skis down abruptly, causing the person attached to them to loose balance and fall – which was not a pleasant experience on a hill that steep.
He looked at Link first, who nodded, and then at Levi, who pressed his lips together, and after a short while nodded, too. After spending the day with them, Nico had no doubt either of them would make it down the hill.
“Well then.” Link said, adjusting his goggles. “Let’s do this, the others are waiting.” Then he pushed himself off the edge with a little jump and started to curve down. He was controlled, but not slow, and after barely a minute, arrived next to Jo and Alex at the end of the slope.
“Let’s not go at the same time” Levi said, still staring down.
Nico agreed. Better safe than sorry. “After you.” He smiled. “Again – I’m right behind you.”
Levi laughed, pointing a finger. “Hah, you better not be.”
He took his first turn, slow and steady. The second as well. Then, he got a little more confident and allowed himself to gain speed. Nico blinked, and the hill suddenly looked like a vertical wall. Levi seemed so tiny, his skis so short. Dusty ice was splattering out from under them when he took his next turn. The edges made a scratching sound, and Nico flinched. Oh no. Hidden under a layer of snow, he could suddenly make out floes of ice, and there were probably more all over the piste.
Levi just drove over one at a fast speed. Skis were made to slide over a surface of snow, not ice. On ice, skiers often had difficulties to maintain control. And Levi hadn’t seen it coming. He tried to slow down, but couldn’t do so without risking to loose balance. So instead he tried another turn, and barely made it.
Nico held his breath hoping for the icy part to be over. Then, he gasped when one of Levi’s skies suddenly lost its grip and slipped downwards. It pulled his foot and leg down as well, and now his balance was completely lost.
“Levi!” Nico called out. At the bottom of the hill, Link, Jo and Alex were shouting as well.
Luckily, it was just a scare. With a grunt, Levi managed to get back on his feet. Supporting himself with his poles, he was now standing still about halfway down the piste, breathing heavily from shock.
“It’s okay! You can do it!” Nico yelled, hoping his boyfriend could hear him.
Levi looked up to him, and then down to the others, who were still shouting inaudibly. With a determined look in his eye, he prepared for his next turn, gaining speed again. And while doing that, he completely missed the big pile of snow in his way. Levi’s skis got caught in the loose white powder, sending his body flying forward from the sudden loss of velocity. His helmet hit the ground with a loud cracking sound and then he started sliding downwards head-first, leaving behind a small trail of red in the snow.
“Levi!” Nico shouted again, this time from the top of his lungs. He was suddenly freezing cold. Levi was bleeding and not moving. Was he conscious? What had happened to him? A concussion? Or maybe something worse? A thousand thoughts were flying around in Nico’s head.
He saw Jo and Link running up the slope in their snowboard boots to catch Levi and only then realized that he was still standing at the top of the hill himself. But suddenly, knowing that he had to get to Levi as fast as possible, that stupid little hill didn’t feel like a challenge at all.