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House Call

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Danny is half-caught in a fever dream about a dance recital gone horribly wrong when there’s a series of very loud, very persistent knocks at his door.

Starting awake, he fights his way out of a tangle of sweat-soaked sheets. Glancing over at the clock, he curses. It’s 10:00AM. He has hazy memories of waking up four hours ago, choking on phlegm, and blearily hammering at the alarm clock until the beeping stopped.

He’s sick.

Castellanos don’t get sick.

The knocking hasn’t stopped. It has, in fact, increased in both volume and intensity, which means it can really only be one person. Suddenly acutely conscious of his sweat-soaked nightshirt, sleep-mussed hair and ratty boxers, Danny stumbles, cursing, to the door and peeks out the keyhole.

It’s her, all right – though he can’t be sure if that vivid orange is her coat or some horrendous side effect of the fever.

“Quit banging,” he manages to croak as he fumbles at the lock. The knocking continues for a second and then stops as he pulls the door open to reveal none other than Dr Mindy Lahiri, arms full of brown paper bags. “You’ll wake the neighbours,” Danny continues feebly.

Mindy breezes past him, tossing her hair in that way she has. “For your information, Danny,” she says haughtily, setting her load of bags down on his counter as though she belongs here, “it’s 10:00AM. There’s nobody else to wake up, because everyone else is at work.” She rolls her eyes at him as though this is obvious - which, Danny supposes upon reflection, is true.

You should be at work,” he points out. “Why aren’t you at work? Don’t you have patients?”

Mindy shrugs. “Jeremy said you didn’t call in sick, so Peter agreed to take this morning’s patients for me. I figured if it was bad enough that you didn’t even call, you might be dying or something.” She steps back and takes him in, tousled hair to clammy forehead to sweaty pyjamas, seeming remarkably unruffled for someone who rushed over thinking her co-worker might be in peril. “Are you sure you aren’t dying?” she asks. “You’re really sweaty. I mean, sweaty even for you, which is a pretty serious achievement, given that your sweat glands regularly break some kind of Guinness World Record for - ”

Danny wants to say something to shut her up, but instead, he breaks into a series of hacking coughs.

Something just clicks then. He’s seen it when she’s handling particularly tough patients – that glint of steel in her eye, the sudden transition from Mindy Lahiri, bubbly social butterfly, to Dr Mindy Lahiri, saver-of-lives. He’d never say as much, but it’s a little awe-inspiring. He’s suddenly acutely aware that Mindy is six years younger than him and an equal partner in their practice. She’s not flashy about it, but she’s good.

Lost in thought, Danny is too slow to protest when Mindy abruptly ushers him into the bedroom before starting to unpack whatever is in the bags she brought with her. “Change out of those disgusting clothes, you look like you took a bath in them,” Mindy calls from the kitchen. Danny half-heartedly pulls off his sweat-soaked pyjamas, rummaging through his dresser for a fresh set, and is halfway changed when Mindy walks in, carrying a bowl of steaming chicken soup and a glass of ice water on a tray.

Danny can’t help but let out a sound he would definitely not allow anyone to classify as a yelp. He instinctively cringes, covering his half-naked body with his arms.

He’s not blushing, is he? Surely it’s just the fever.

Mindy rolls her eyes. “Castellano, not only have I seen it all – “ she pauses meaningfully, which Danny takes to mean while we were dating, before you randomly broke my heart – “but you are a grown man and I am a doctor who examines genitals for a living.” She sets the tray down on the bedside table, takes the cotton undershirt from Danny’s unresisting hands, and tugs it down over his head, her movements brusque but somehow comforting in their casual intimacy. For a second she’s brushing his hair out of his eyes and he feels a little flutter deep in the pit of his stomach, but then she’s bundling him back into bed and setting the tray down on his lap, and it’s gone.

“Are you going to stay?” Danny asks. It comes out more pleading than he’d meant it to. Maybe it's a moment of weakness, but he’s missed this – Mindy in his house, in his bedroom, acting like he’s someone she enjoys being around and not someone infected with the oh-my-god-stay-away-from-me plague. He wants it to last just a little longer before she remembers that he was an asshole to her.

“Well, obviously,” Mindy says, staring at him like he’s a five-year-old, but Danny thinks he sees a little affection behind her exasperated expression. “I didn’t take off work just to accidentally see you half-naked and bring you soup, dummy. I figured you’d need someone to make sure you didn’t try to jog yourself better, or whatever stupid thing it is you do to yourself when you get sick – “

“ – Castellanos don’t get sick,” Danny protests.

“Clearly,” Mindy says drily. “In all my years as a highly-trained medical professional, I have never seen someone as healthy as you are right now, Daniel Castellano.”

Unable to come up with a witty rejoinder (it’s definitely the fever, it’s dulling his brain), Danny takes a sip of the chicken soup. It’s surprisingly good. “You made this?” he asks, looking over the rim of the bowl at Mindy as he slurps another sip.

“Are you serious? I want to make you better, not give you food poisoning. I got it at that Chinese place down the road from the practice on the way here.” Mindy plonks herself down on the other side of the bed (at a safe distance, so as not to be covered in Danny’s germs, but close enough that he can smell her jasmine-scented shampoo). “Eat up. Or slurp up, you giant baby. Every man becomes so pathetic when he’s sick, I swear.”

Danny chooses not to dignify that with a response. The soup is good and the steam is clearing his sinuses. He can take a couple of little digs in exchange for nasal decongestion and antioxidants.

“We can watch what you want,” he says between sips. He notices blister packs of ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine on the tray and pops them into his hand, swallowing them with a gulp of water. “Since you skipped work to take care of me.”

Please. I had Mrs Paulson first thing this morning, you’re doing me a favour,” Mindy replies, though she’s already got his remote in hand and is flicking through channels. “Oooh, House Hunters marathon! I love this show, it reminds me that everywhere else in America is so much worse to live in than New York.” She grins and shifts a little closer to Danny. Rooting through her pockets, she produces a bag of sour straws, which, after several unsuccessful attempts, she tears open with her teeth. It’s simultaneously ridiculous and a little charming.

“I’m glad you came,” Danny mumbles eventually.

“That’s what friends are for,” Mindy replies, punching him softly in the shoulder. She turns back to the TV. “Oh my god, tell me she’s going to pick property number three, those hardwood floors are to die for.”

It’s not what he wants, not really. But it’s a start.

He slurps his soup and smiles.