A/N: It’s that time of the year for coughs and colds, and while I’ve seen plenty that had Jane being sick and Maura being the caregiver, I haven’t seen any that reversed the roles. So I thought I’d give it a shot. Just as an aside, Detective Ash Brooks is from my story “Knots”, and Frank’s Franks were first mentioned in my fic, “Bread and Butter”. I’m sort of creating my own R&I universe, which is a combination of show canon and mine.
For happycamper5, my beta and my “in sickness and in health”.
The cough brought the bullpen to a halt.
Three heads turned and pinned her to the floor, if not with accusatory stares, then certainly with suspicious ones. Maura shook her head and waved away the unspoken.
“It’s just a little tickle,” she said. The stares didn’t waver. “Really, it’s nothing.”
Short of making clicking noises at each other, decisions were made and signals were sent between the three. It was Jane who stood.
“Out,” was all the detective said.
“What? No, I told you, it’s just a tickle.” Her fingers fluttered at her throat. “It’s nothing.” Even as Jane bustled her out into the hallway, she protested over her shoulder, “It’s nothing!”
They got into the elevator, one less willing than the other, and Maura sighed.
“I am not sick. I have been more than diligent in my preventative measures.” Jane snorted at the understatement, but when there was no verbal joust, Maura examined Jane through narrowed eyes. “Are you holding your breath?”
Jane shook her head ‘no’, when the answer was obviously ‘yes’. Maura crossed her arms and looked up at the ceiling.
“You’re wasting your time. Let’s say I am sick - which I am not - considering our recent carnal- ”
Jane exhaled sharply. “Don’t use that word.” Before Maura could ask, she said, “‘Carnal’. Sounds too much like ‘carnival’, then I start thinking of clowns, and that’s the last thing I want to be thinking about when we’re, you know…”
“Engaged in sexual activities?” Jane rolled her eyes. “Shagging like bunnies?” Jane’s head slowly turned, her mouth open. “Detective Brooks,” Maura cheerfully answered the unspoken question. “His grandmother was English. I’m learning all kinds of interesting expressions from him.”
Wrinkling her nose, Jane said, “Yeah, well, unlearn them.” The bell dinged and the elevator came to a halt. “Your stop.” As the door silently opened, Jane gave Maura a light shove.
“If you need to bring up anything case-related, send Chang. Give her a reason to flirt with Brooks.”
Jane waved her hands, as if shooing away any lingering Maura germs. “Remind me to grab some masks and a Tyvex suit before we go home.”
Maura’s lower lip jutted out. “I’m telling you, Jane, I am not… not…”
Jane frantically jabbed at the elevator buttons. “Go, go, go!” The doors closed just in time for her to hear a sneeze and Maura’s plaintive, “Sick.”
When they had first put up the contamination curtain across the doorway to the bullpen, Cavanaugh said they’d lost their minds. Six days into an epidemic that was sweeping the entire city, it didn’t seem so crazy now. Every department had dropped like flies, from the Gang Squad to Narcotics to Vice. Every department except Homicide. Though Jane wouldn’t admit it, it was Maura’s diligence that carried them through, even if the rest of the department thought they must’ve made a deal with the Devil. A makeshift wash station had been set up just outside the curtain, and there was so much anti-bacterial gel around, Jane had considered buying stock in the company. Maura had shown them proper hand-washing technique, and reminded them the gel required more than a “half-assed” effort.
After doing both the hand wash and gel - and making a mental note to talk to Brooks about his influence on Maura’s vocabulary - she stepped back into the bullpen, and found herself under immediate scrutiny. Though she couldn’t blame them, she also couldn't help throwing in some snark.
“You want to take a swab of my mouth?”
Korsak was having none of it. “Please. You two inspected my fingernails with a magnifying glass this morning.”
“Because they’re nasty!” Jane said. The glance to her partner received an agreeing nod.
“Sorry, Vince, but yeah.”
“Alright, alright. I’ll get Kiki to take me for a mani-pedi next time.” His sing-song tone said the exact opposite.
“Speaking of your better half, how’s she doing with all this?” Brooks asked.
“She’s upstate, taking care of her mother. I miss her, but I’m drowning my sorrow in Frank's Franks.”
“Mmmm,” Jane murmured, eyes closed. “I need to find a reason for Maura to go upstate.”
“Awww!” Brooks said. “Besides, you know that’s Patient Zero land for shit like this, right?”
Jane dismissed his concerns with a snort. “It’s a hotdog. A cold is the last thing I’d be worried about.”
Brooks conceded the point with a chuckle. He stretched back in his chair. “I’m kinda surprised you didn’t take Maura home.”
Jane stopped twirling her pen mid-rotation. “Should I?” She looked off to the side as if the option never occurred to her. “Huh. Maybe I should.”
“Gotta convince her she’s sick first, though,” Korsak said. “There’s your challenge.”
“Not like there’s much of one around here these days,” she replied.
Korsak laughed. “Even the criminals are too sick to do anything.”
“Besides,” Brooks said, “it’s one hell of an opportunity for Brownie points.”
Nodding eagerly, Korsak said, “Because women love it when you fawn over them.”
“Yeah, I get it since, you know, I’m a woman.” She glared at them both but couldn’t help laughing. Standing, she remarked, “I don’t know why I’m taking relationship advice from two divorced guys-”
“Three times!” Brooks pointed at Korsak.
“-but you’re right; we’ve had 3 cases in 9 days. And if nothing else, I’ll be saving the lab nerds from contamination.” She threw on her coat and patted her pockets for her keys. She gave Brooks a sly grin. “I’ll tell Chang you forgot your lunch.” The teasing remark hit the target, and he blushed. “Call me if you need me.”
Despite the workload being nearly nonexistent, Jane knew the medical examiner's job was never done, so she swung by the morgue first. She was slightly surprised to find it empty, but didn’t give it much thought as she turned the corner to Maura’s office.
“Hey!” Jane looked down at the little projectile that had bumped into her.
“Oh, sorry, Detective,” Susie Chang said.
Noting the haste in which the criminologist came out of the office, Jane frowned. “S’up, Chang?” Normally a greeting meant to annoy the young woman, this time, the question was sincere.
Susie pressed a disposable mask into her hand. “If you’re going in there, wear this.”
“That bad, huh? I told her.”
“Perhaps you could tell her again. She’s very…” Jane watched in amusement as Susie was clearly trying to choose her words carefully. “Stubborn.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Jane assured her.
She slipped the mask over her mouth, but not before adding, “Oh, Detective Brooks has some questions about… that case. You know, the-” she wracked her brain for their latest cases. “The Gibbons case.”
“Oh. I thought that was-”
“Susie.” Jane tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. She could almost see the light bulb go off over the woman’s head.
“Right,” Susie said. “I’ll get on him. It. The case. Good-bye!”
Jane cracked open the office door and poked her head inside. A forlorn figure ignored her presence, resolutely staring at her laptop. Jane sighed.
“How many shoes have you bought?” When no response came, she stepped in and closed the door behind her. She was about to speak again, but Maura beat her to the punch.
“I’ve been quarantined to my office. By my own staff!”
Jane murmured her commiseration. “Why don’t I take you home? If you’re going to be quarantined, you might as well be stuck in front of a big screen TV with a beer. Or maybe that’s me.” The comment was met with a determined click of a mouse. “C’mon, Maura,” she all but whined. “Is it so bad that we just want to take care of you?”
The room was quiet for several minutes, until, at last, Maura closed the laptop and looked up. If she had been melted by the words, it lasted as long as it took to see the mask on Jane’s face.
“Really?” she asked, tossing a well-worn expression back at Jane.
“What?” Her eyes crossed as she tried to follow Maura’s gaze. “Oh.” Pulling it off her face, she untangled it from her hair and tossed it into the garbage. “Better? Can we go now?”
She seemed to be searching for a good reason to say no, but finding none, sighed and stood. “I suppose I could catch up on all those documentaries I’ve recorded.”
The ride home was silent, not because Maura had any lingering resentment for her co-workers’ sabotage, but because she fell asleep in the passenger seat. The Mercedes kept the world at bay, and Jane didn’t have the heart to wake her, even if it meant taking the long way to Beacon Hill to give her a few more moments of blissful slumber. But every journey requires a destination, and she couldn’t put it off any longer. The car came to a gentle stop, barely registering with Maura, who uttered a small whimper but nothing more.
“Oh, sweetie,” Jane whispered, brushing back a wisp of blonde hair. Quietly getting out of the car, she went around to the other side and opened the door with care. Kneeling, she began to rouse Maura with a soft whisper that grew to a speaking voice. “Maura, c’mon. Time to wake up. Maura. Let’s get you inside. Dr. Isles?”
It was the years of being conditioned to answer to her professional name that did the job. “What is it?” she immediately asked. When she realized she wasn’t in first year residency, she blinked hard. “Jane?”
Maura glanced around with no small measure of confusion. “Where-”
“At home. We’re home. But we need to get inside before we freeze to death out here.”
“While it only takes our body temperature to drop 3.6 degrees before hypothermia begins, I’m confident we'll be fine.”
“That’s just automatic for you, isn’t it?” Jane asked. “The Google thing.” The reply was a weak shrug, and Maura’s eyes drifted closed once more. “No, no, we’re going inside, remember? Let’s do this together. Come on.”
A few false starts later, they huddled their way to the house, Jane maneuvering the door behind her and the doctor in front of her. The home’s warmth greeted them, and Jane welcomed the heat. She quickly removed her coat and boots before helping Maura do the same. Wordlessly, she guided them upstairs.
As Jane began to undress her, Maura plaintively pointed to Jane’s Red Sox T-shirt on the bed. “That.”
Dutifully, Jane slipped the shirt over Maura’s head, and she sighed at the contact. Heavy down blankets were pulled back, pillows were plumped, and finally, Maura was settled in. Jane rested the back of her hand against Maura’s forehead and frowned.
“Do you know why we use the back of our hand?” She took Jane’s hand in hers. “It’s innervated primarily by the radial nerve, which comes from the posterior cord of the brachial plexus.” She idly traced over tendons and bones. “The posterior cord has the highest number of nerve endings in the hand.”
“That’s fascinating, it really is.” Jane covered her smile by pressing her lips to Maura’s forehead.
“That’s not as accurate.”
Sitting back on the bed, Jane brushed back Maura’s hair and looked into sad hazel eyes. “Ma left some of her chicken soup in the fridge. I’m going to warm that up and maybe bring you some hot tea. Okay?” Maura nodded. “Anything else I can get?”
Shaking her head, Maura replied, “No.”
“Okay.” Jane stood and rubbed Maura’s leg. “I’ll be right back.”
She was a foot away from the door when she heard Maura call out, “Jane?”
It wouldn’t have taken a brilliant medical examiner to look at the tiny bundle in the bed and make that diagnosis. With the blankets up to her chin and her face bereft of the spark that made up so much of her personality, Maura cut a pitiful figure. The sneeze only cemented what they both already knew. Jane returned to the bed, her sympathy overriding her natural sarcastic instinct.
“I know, sweetie,” she said.
“It’s not fair!”
“Oh, oh! I’ve been waiting my whole life to say this- ‘no one said life is fair’.” Jane’s chuckle lasted as long as it took to see Maura’s face slowly begin to crumble and the tears well up in her eyes. “No, no, no, I’m an idiot.” She rubbed Maura’s leg under the blanket. “I’m stupid. Don’t cry.”
“I don’t understand!” Her bottom lip trembled. “I’ve done everything to avoid this: I wash my hands continually throughout the day. I use antibacterial gel. I carry around antiseptic wipes. I’ve eaten so much of your mother’s chicken soup I’m surprised I haven’t sprouted feathers.” Jane suppressed her laugh. “Vitamin C. Ginger. Echinacea. Sleep. Exercise. I’ve done it all, Jane!” The tirade exhausted her, and she fell back into the pillows. She summoned enough energy to blurt, “But you’re fine!”
“Is that what this is all about? Maura.” Scooting closer, she said, “Ma plays it sweet now ‘Oh, Frankie, are you getting enough sleep? Poor Tommy, have ya lost weight?’- but don’t let her fool you. She didn’t give an inch when we were kids. If we weren’t on our deathbed, we were fine. I don’t even know how many times we went to school with a pocket full of cough drops and a box of Kleenex. ‘It was good enough when I was your age’,” she mimicked.
Maura was appalled. “That’s not healthy. Sending you to school not only didn’t help you, but she risked infecting all the healthy children.”
Jane shrugged. “Everybody did it,” she said. “And in the end, it probably helped my immune system.” She saw Maura’s weak attempt at a raised eyebrow. “I know, I know, it’s not entirely scientific, but being exposed does help, right?” Maura conceded the point with a nod and a sniffle. “Got grounded for bringing mud into the house, but hey, run to school with a head cold!” Maura’s laugh sparked a coughing fit, and Jane wrapped her arms around her until it subsided. “I can’t explain it. I’m just lucky, I guess.” Pressing a kiss against Maura’s temple, she said, “I’m going to get that soup now, if that’s okay with you, Chickadee.”
Maura tried to glower but it melted into a smile. “Okay. Thank you for staying.”
“Why wouldn’t I stay? ‘In sickness and in health’ and all that, right?”
Maura sniffled. “While I appreciate the sentiment, I think that’s a marriage vow.”
Suddenly the room seemed tiny and bereft of air. They looked at each other in silence, though their faces spoke volumes. Maura folded the blanket down from her chin and pretended to be enthralled by the design. Jane watched Maura’s fingers trace the stitching.
“Are you… are you proposing?” Maura managed at last.
“I think I am, yeah.” Maura glanced up, eyes so open and hopeful that Jane immediately corrected herself. “Yeah. I am. Proposing.”
Maura’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. She closed her eyes and tried again. “Now? Like this?”
Jane blinked. “Not the response I was expecting. I can take it back and try again some other time…”
“Don’t you dare!”
Before Jane had a chance to reply, Maura grabbed her by the shirt and kissed her hard.
Pulling back for a breath, Jane beamed, “I take it that’s a ‘yes’?”
“Yes,” Maura answered immediately. “Yes.”
Jane exhaled dramatically. “Good. I was worried.”
Maura kissed her a second time. “Don’t ever be worried. I’ll always say ‘yes’.”
“I’ll remember you said that.” Jane’s sly grin drew a laugh from Maura. “Okay, I’m gonna get that soup. And maybe dig up a ring somewhere.”
Morning spread across the bedroom, the sun bright and cheery, the diametric opposite to the woman in the bed who rolled over and groaned. A hand stretched out from the heavy blankets and searched blindly for her phone. Pulling it under the covers, several seconds passed until a muffled, “Seven?!” broke the silence. As if on cue, a figure appeared in the doorway.
A wild tangle of hair emerged from the blankets, bleary eyes squinting in the light. “Maura?”
“What’s so good about it?” Jane grumbled, flopping back into the pillows.
Maura approached the bed and sat on the edge. “I’m feeling so much better for one thing.”
Jane bolted upright. “I proposed.”
“Yes, you did.”
Jane flashed a sleepy grin. “You said ‘yes’.”
Maura nodded. “I said ‘yes’.”
“Go me,” she whispered. The grin slowly began to fade, and Maura inched off the bed.
“You kissed me.”
“And then you made me… made me…” The sneeze froze the room. “Sick.”
Maura alluded Jane’s grasp and made a beeline for the door. Saved by the distance, she said, “The good news is, no school for you today. Well, I mean besides the fact that you proposed to me.”
Try as she might, Jane couldn’t fight the corner of her mouth tugging upward; Maura’s joy was infectious. “Yeah, that’s pretty good news, too.”
Grinning, Maura said, “I think there’s just enough of your mother’s soup to get you through today. Do you want some?”
Resolutely, she answered that question and all those to follow with a simple answer. “I do.”