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Steve stopped by Danny’s office a few hours after lunch on Thursday.

“I need to take some personal time,” he said, leaning against the doorframe. “You good here?”

“Yeah.” Things were as quiet as they ever got around Five-O, but this was the first Danny had heard of Steve taking time off. He peered at Steve suspiciously. Experience told him it could be anything from hitherto unknown family members to undocumented covert ops. “How about you—everything okay?”

Steve coughed into his elbow. “Mmm. Just—I think I’m coming down with that flu you and Grace had and I want to try and nip it in the bud.”

Okay—so the last thing Danny expected. “You sure?” he blurted out. “You seemed fine this morning.”

“Sudden onset,” said Steve pedantically, if somewhat hoarsely. “Is a classic symptom of the flu. Just because I hardly ever get sick doesn’t mean I can’t recognize it when I do. ”

Danny surveyed him again; Steve did look pale under his tan, and kind of red-eyed. Danny felt a stab of guilt. “Aw, man--I knew I shouldn’t have let you come round with groceries. The docs were right, that thing can make it past every flu shot known to man.”

“It’s okay.” Steve waved off the apology, coughing again. “The virus was everywhere—no reason to think I got it from you guys specifically. So look—just call me if you need anything, but I’m gonna go home now.”

“Good—I mean—you do that—“

“What? Rest and fluids are really the only things that help—I think it’s already too late for TamiFlu.”

“No. I mean—it’s just that I always figured you for the type who’d have to be carried out on a stretcher rather than admit to being sick like a normal human being. This is—it’s very mature of you, that’s all.”

Steve scowled. “Public health, Danny. These things are much more contagious in the early stages. No need to spread more germs. I’ll be back twenty-four hours after the fever breaks.”

“Oh my god. You even have protocols for getting sick.”

“Shut up.” Steve looked annoyed now. As far as Danny knew, that wasn’t a symptom of the flu, just a symptom of being Steve. “I know you think it’s ridiculous, but I—well, I don’t have a great track record with this stuff. Sometimes I can head it off with a lot of vitamin C and shut-eye.”

Suddenly, Steve really did seem ill—exhausted and green around the gills. Danny softened—after taking care of Grace and suffering through it himself, he wouldn’t wish this particular flu on his worst enemy, never mind his partner. “That’s a good idea, babe—you just take care of yourself, and give a shout if you need anything.”

+

Danny checked up on him, of course—it seemed the least he could do after infecting him the first place. He phoned after work, and then again the next morning. Both times, Steve sounded slightly groggy and very grumpy, but he refused Danny’s offers of company and supplies.

“I’m really just sleeping,” he said. “And I’ve got everything I need.”

Around 3pm on Friday, though, Danny’s cell buzzed.

Give me a lift to the doc?, Steve’s text read. Possible ear infection. Too dizzy to drive.

Danny stared at the screen for a moment. They were words he knew, but arranged in combinations he never thought he’d see from Steve.

Be right there, he wrote back, uncertain whether he should laugh or worry.

+

At first glance, Steve didn’t look too bad when he opened the door to Danny’s knock. He was dressed in his usual polo and cargoes, and he’d even shaved. On second glance, however, Danny saw that he was pale as paper, except for patches of red over his cheekbones, sunken-eyed, and hunched in on himself as if everything hurt. He didn’t even look annoyed anymore; just focused, like it was taking all his concentration to stay upright.

“How you doing?” Danny asked.

Steve looked at him blankly, and then made a kind of plunging gesture at his right ear. “All clogged up. Can’t hear shit.” He coughed harshly into his elbow.

Danny scrunched up his face sympathetically. “That sucks,” he said loudly. He took Steve’s elbow as he made his way of the house, only a little surprised when he didn’t pull away. “Come on, let’s get you to the doctor.”

+

They took Steve right away at the clinic, and Danny, grateful for small blessings, flipped idly through a very old copy of O magazine while he waited. After a while, he moved on to a very old copy of Us. By the time he’d gotten desperate enough to start reading Living Simple, he decided that more time had passed than looking in Steve’s ears and writing a prescription for antibiotics should’ve rightfully required.

“I’ll check for you,” the receptionist said to his inquiry, with a kindness he wouldn’t have expected from her lacquered and disapproving appearance. She punched a number into her desk phone, made a series of mmns and uh-huhs into the receiver; then hung up and turned back to Danny.

“They’re just giving him some IV fluids,” she said. “You can go back and sit with him if you like.”

Danny blinked. And then fought back a wave of after-the-fact anxiety. Steve had seemed sick, but not that sick. Were there signs? Should he have seen the signs? He shouldn’t have let things get that bad.

Disconcerted, he followed the receptionist’s directions and found Steve lying on gurney in a tiny exam room. He was still pale, but his annoyed look had returned. Danny filed away the absence of annoyance as a dangerous symptom in McGarrett-land.

He leaned over and squeezed Steve’s shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling this bad? I could’ve brought you in this morning—last night even.”

But Steve just made a face and closed his eyes—exhausted, or maybe his ears were still blocked up.

Just then, a woman in scrubs came in to check the level of the IV bag. She smiled at Danny, who moved aside to let her work. “He should feel better soon. The dehydration was pushing his temperature higher than the doctor liked, that’s all.”

“Right.” Danny nodded, like he knew what she was talking about and wasn’t kicking himself for not noticing how sick Steve was.

“And they’ve given him something for the nausea, too.”

“Nausea?” Despite Danny’s best intentions, it came out as a squawk.

“Oh yes.” The nurse—Yuki, according her nametag—seemed quite cheerful about it. “Used up all the emesis basins in Dr. Paley’s exam room—but that’s what they’re there for, isn’t it?” She patted Steve on the arm, and he opened his eyes long enough to smile wearily at her. “But at least there’s no sign of pneumonia this time. I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you.”

“Pneumonia?” said Danny when she’d left, in a voice that would’ve gotten through anybody’s clogged ears. “This time?” It didn’t seem exactly fair to yell at Steve when he was laid out like this, but honestly.

“It’s been a while,” Steve said, as quiet as Danny was loud. “And it was only ever once or twice. Not counting the bronchitis, that is. Besides, I told you.”

Danny thought back. “That thing with the track record?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew it. I knew you weren’t just being mature.”

“Shut up, Danny. That’s what maturity is: learning the hard way.”

Chagrinned, Danny couldn’t help putting his hand on Steve’s hot, damp head, tousling a little. Steve didn’t pull away from the touch. Somehow, that made Danny feel even worse.

+

After what he’d just learned about Steve’s medical condition, Danny thought no one could blame him for driving more slowly on the way back from the clinic than he had on the way there. But of course Steve did.

“Jesus, Danny, I’m not made of glass. Just get us home already.”

Steve actually did look like a fragile, crystalline version of himself—huddled into Danny’s spare windbreaker from the trunk, lips pressed in a thin, miserable line—but Danny spared him the observation. “You promise not to puke if I go faster?”

“Promise. They gave me a magic pill, remember?”

Steve staggered to the sofa when they got back to his house, and sat there looking so beat that Danny said, “Why don’t you just crash there? I’ll get you a blanket and some ginger ale. Maybe you even feel crummy enough to watch TV.”

“Uh-uh.” Steve heaved himself to his feet with a grunt of pain. “You can only get decent sleep in a bed. Soda is almost as dehydrating as coffee. And TV is just gonna destroy the few brain cells that might survive this thing.”

“You,” said Danny as he shadowed Steve up the stairs. “Are the most uptight sick person I’ve ever met.”

Steve flipped him off, which Danny took as another sign of returning health.

+

When Danny got back from picking up the antibiotics, however, he found Steve flat on his back on top of the covers and wide awake.

“Can’t sleep?” he asked, perching on the bed next to him.

Steve, predictably, had protested Danny sticking around at all, but there was no way was Danny leaving Steve alone with his “track record” right now, and he’d cleared the rest of the evening on the way to the pharmacy. Now, however, Steve seemed to take Danny’s continued presence as a given. It was probably a sign that he was feeling rotten again.

“Hot,” Steve muttered, as if in illustration of the point. He tugged at his left ear. “Hurts.”

Danny pressed the back of his fingers to Steve’s forehead, and frowned; despite the clinic’s best efforts, Steve was still running a wicked fever. He vividly remembered this stage of the virus from his own experience: too woozy to do anything; too achy and miserable to rest. The only thing that had gotten Grace through it was an endless loop of Disney Princesses, while he’d relied on the Syfy Channel. But Steve had set his mind against all that.

Plotting his next move, Danny tapped out two pills from the prescription bottle, and then cracked the top of a new Ibuprofen container and added a couple of those as well. He waited while Steve pushed himself up on an elbow to take them.

“How about you eat something?” Danny suggested. “These things are supposed to be taken with food.” Steve made a face. “I saw some organic low-sodium chicken broth in the pantry—you want some of that?” The face got grimmer. “Free-range eggs?” And queasier. “Okay—You gotta believe I wasn’t going to offer this unless your own methods didn’t work—and it doesn’t have anything like the healing properties the lime jello my ma would’ve made for you. But: it’s possible that while I was out at the store, I might’ve picked up some ice cream.” He enunciated the words carefully to make sure they got past Steve’s blocked up ears. “Good, old-fashioned, vanilla ice cream.”

Steve coughed disapprovingly, but his eyes looked a little wistful.

“Nothing fancy, but it’s cold and sweet and easy on the throat. Did I mention cold?”

After a long pause, Steve nodded grudgingly. “Yeah. Maybe I could eat that.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t.” Danny pounced on the advantage. “But you gotta come downstairs for it. If you’re gonna stare at the walls, you might as well find some different walls to stare at.”

It was a slow process, but he eventually got Steve installed on the sofa with a bowl of ice cream in his hands. He made a bowl for himself, too—someone had to set a good example, right?—sat down next to him and turned on the TV.

Steve groaned.

“Seriously, dude.” Danny felt exasperated and a little sad at the same time. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you get to break the rules a bit when you’re sick? Little things, y’know, indulgences—they can make you feel better. No reason to suffer if you’re already suffering, right?”

“Mm?” Steve stared at him blankly, a spoonful of ice cream halfway to his mouth. He wiggled his head. “Still can’t hear much—were you saying something important?”

Danny sighed. “Nah, never mind. Tell you what. We’ll take it slow, okay? You see how you do with the ice cream, and then maybe we’ll ease you into some screen time. The History Channel, maybe.”

“Now that’s just not right,” Steve exclaimed, in a louder voice than he’d used all afternoon.

Danny started—he hadn’t meant to offend. But it turned out Steve wasn’t responding to him at all. He was staring, outraged, at some of the milder excesses of Dance Moms, currently parading across the screen.

“That?” Danny said. “That you’re gonna watch after all the lectures on the evils of TV I’ve had to endure?”

But Steve was transfixed. “You would never do that to Grace, would you? I mean, I know you wouldn’t, or Rachel either—even if she wanted to. Would you look at that!”

Danny didn’t bother to respond. He just settled back and had another spoonful of ice cream himself. Distraction—distraction was the key.

 

the end