A/N: This story follows from another prompt (/challenge?), because that's what I get when I whine to my lovely friends in this fandom ;). It's a bit of a departure from my usual all-angst-all-the-time approach, and I was possibly cognitively impaired while writing at least parts of this because of my own flu woes (ugh!), but I hope it came out at least partly intelligible in the end!
This takes place in some sort of vague timeline where there's increased security because of the threat letters, but Rusty is still going to school - so you can think of it as either right before 'Poster Boy', or in some undefined later and slightly AU-ish time where he's not on virtual house arrest.
Out of Order
(or, 'How Sharon and Rusty Learned to Navigate Yet Another Aspect of Daily Life, and Nearly Drove Each Other Crazy in the Process')
Sharon was moderately sure that she was dying.
She hadn't had the flu in years – in fact, not since the last time that her kids lived at home and didn't care about getting vaccines and brought home all the viruses from school. Living with a kid was like a time bomb in that regard: one never knew what would come next. Living with two children had been even worse, although by the time her younger had hit first grade Sharon's immune system had thankfully adapted. After that, she'd rarely gotten any bugs off her kids (although there had been that one time when her daughter's entire fourth grade class had somehow become infested with lice…). But there had been a couple of years with particularly bad flu outbreaks, when even her painfully-trained immune system had thrown in the towel. Ricky's sophomore year at St. Joe's had been the last, a flu season so bad that the whole school had closed down for a few days since half the students were sick (and had generously passed it on to their families too.) Sharon and her kids had all come down with it then, and had spent the most miserable few days living on bad take-out food and trying to guilt each other into going out for medicine and tissues. (Somehow she'd always lost those fights.)
But that had been – what, eight years before? Nine? And since then, Sharon was proud to say, she hadn't gotten anything worse than the mildest case of the sniffles – and her body had undergone some not-insignificant changes in the meantime, too, all of which she'd weathered with surprisingly few ill effects. Her constitution could generally be relied on to fend off bugs, seasonal colds and assorted afflictions.
Except apparently all those bugs she'd ever resisted had banded together and decided to take their revenge. And they'd succeeded. Her immune system had clearly been targeted, besieged and promptly obliterated, and now its last defendants were being beheaded in the public square.
She felt like she was dead . Maybe she was dead – she wished that she were dead.
The intervening years had made her forget just how awful the flu was, and how much she hated it. Actually, she was pretty sure it can't have been this awful last time, because she would've kicked her kids out for putting her through it. Oh she loved them, sure, but she was pretty certain that she hated this more.
A knock on her door made her roll onto one side and bury her head in her pillow.
"Sharon…? Uh, it's seven-ten…?"
I hate you, she thought in resignation. It wasn't enough that he was trying to get her out of bed, but he was doing it in order to get to school, that unholy den of contamination that had probably brought the plague down on her in the first place.
Another knock, and she let out a muffled groan into the pillow. "Sharon? Are you okay…?"
He sounded almost worried, which somewhat mollified her unkindly feelings, even though she still wanted to throttle him because I told you to get the damn flu shot, didn't I? She decided to give her voice a try, and cleared it softly.
"Ten minutes," she called back, wincing when it came out as a croak and made her head start pounding, to boot. "You can finish breakfast without me…"
Then she decided to brave actually getting up, and, pushing the blanket off regretfully, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. And – yup, throbbing temples, aching back, breathing in was a painful effort and her eyes were burning behind her eyelids. When her breath came out dry and hot, she crossed another symptom off the list, and abandoned hope that maybe it was just a bad morning.
This was the worst morning.
She managed to stand up and went over a litany of angry complaints in her mind as she grabbed a robe and wrapped it around herself with shaking fingers. It was still uncomfortable to breathe. Her head felt about three times its regular size, her neck was stiff and her throat was scratchy and Sharon hated, hated, hated all of it.
She shuffled into the bathroom and might have slammed the door a little harder than necessary, except all it did was reverberate painfully in her head, and it made nothing better.
The medicine cabinet held an impressive assortment of band-aids and elastic bandages, creams, ointments and anti-inflammatory meds for scrapes and bruises, some stomach meds and exactly one unopened bottle of Ibuprofen. In short, everything she thought she'd ever need for the requirements of a teenage boy, and nothing at all that would help her at the moment. A little desperate rummaging revealed an old, nearly-empty bottle of Tylenol and some DayQuil, as well as some of those bags of powder medicine that you were supposed to dissolve into hot water or tea.
All in all, not the best arsenal to combat her current misery, but the powder thing had the words 'relief' on the label, and Sharon would've taken any relief at this point.
She hesitated a good thirty seconds trying to decide whether or not to check the expiration dates on the medicine labels. Did she really want to know? In the end, the adult in her won out, but as usual, being responsible came at a price.
The most recent of the precious flu remedies had expired in 2009.
Sharon stared longingly at the DayQuil.
After all, how bad could it be? And everyone knew medicine didn't really expire when the label said it expired! It was all a ploy by the drug companies. She'd probably be fine – in any case, she couldn't get worse, because nothing could possibly feel worse than this. Giving birth had been easier than this! (Okay, maybe that wasn't strictly true, but giving birth had been well over two decades before, and this cursed flu was here and now, and Sharon felt entitled to hyperbolize because damn it!)
She felt unreasonably disappointed to discard the long-expired medicine into the trash. She'd have to pick up some more at a pharmacy, and the last thing she wanted right now were errands.
Through the bathroom door she heard her phone go off.
Scratch that – the second to last thing she wanted were errands. The last thing she wanted was murder.
Unless it was done by her. In which case, she was okay with it.
The shower hadn't helped much. If anything, now she was grumpy, aching and shivering slightly with cold, and even throwing on a warmer sweater in lieu of her usual blazer didn't do much. She'd been tempted to take the day off, but she didn't have a fever and she wasn't coughing and honestly her head had cleared a little in the twenty or so minutes since she'd gotten up… and it felt a little wrong to beg off work because she'd caught a minor bug, when there were three murder victims missing various organs and limbs in the morgue, waiting to be given justice.
Perspective: Sharon hated it at the moment. At the very least, she was planning to postpone justice long enough to buy half a pharmacy.
And she definitely wanted to yell at the St. Joe's administration for not forcing their students to get the flu shot. Who cared what a bunch of irresponsible teenagers wanted? They didn't get sick, they just carried it blithely and then inflicted it on innocent others! That was reckless endangerment in the second degree and it was illegal and it just. wasn't. fair!
Her indignation abated again when she walked into the living room and Rusty looked up nervously from the couch and he was just so genuinely concerned when he asked: "Everything okay…?" Of course, it would've been better if he hadn't followed it immediately by, "We're already fifteen minutes late," but at least he'd bothered to ask how things were, first…
Sharon grabbed the coffee mug from the table and drank half of it in one go, but the relief only lasted as long as it took the warm liquid to slide down her throat. Her sigh was a little shaky when she put the mug down.
"Sharon?" Rusty was starting to fidget in his seat. "Are you like, sick or something?"
So much for playing it cool. She let her shoulders slump in another uncomfortable breath (lungs weren't supposed to hurt like that, they didn't even have pain receptors for god's sake!). "There's a small chance," she admitted, "that I've contracted the flu." She took another sip of the coffee and contemplated crawling under the table and curling up to die.
Rusty grimaced. "Isn't that why you got that flu shot? I told you it would do more harm than good," he muttered darkly, and he sounded so convinced that she couldn't help a small groan.
"People don't get the flu because of the vaccine, Rusty," she croaked, "they get it despite of it. Mostly because of other people who don't get the vaccine and allow the strains to evolve and then pass it on."
He shrugged defensively at her pointed look. "Hey – I didn't give it to you! I'm not sick!"
Sharon let her chin drop to her chest with another groan. Then she finished the last of her coffee. "Get your schoolbag," she sighed tiredly.
But he hesitated for a moment longer, giving her a doubtful look. "Shouldn't you take the day off if you're sick?"
Sharon carried her coffee mug to the sink. "That's not necessary," she hummed, "I'm not feeling that sick and I'll just stay far enough from everyone to make sure no one else catches it. That includes you, young man," she said archly when she turned around to find him right behind her, putting her untouched breakfast plate in the fridge. "Keep. Your. Distance," she instructed.
Rusty shrugged dismissively. "I never get sick."
"Let's keep it that way," she replied, and shooed him away from her with a determined gesture. "Now, go get your schoolbag. We're twenty minutes late…and I'm afraid the flu excuse isn't transferable."
The excuse turned out to be transferable, after all; the school authorities decided to cut the post-lunch periods and send everyone home for an early weekend in an attempt to stave off another flu outbreak. (Too little, too late, Sharon thought bitterly as she drank the last of her now-cold tea. She was so writing them an angry letter as soon as she managed to hold a pen firmly again.)
By the time Rusty stuck his head through her office door a little after noon, Sharon had decided that life was maybe just not worth living.
She felt pains in muscles and bones she hadn't even known she had. Each breath of air felt so hot and dry as though she were breathing inside a furnace. Her ears were buzzing, her joints felt twice their normal size, her eyelids kept trying to glue together and as if all that wasn't bad enough, she'd lost her voice at some point too. She'd been reduced to issuing her orders in hoarse whispers that made everyone around wince in sympathy.
Almost everyone – Dr. Morales had taken one look at her and promptly slammed on his mask and banned her from the morgue for the next week.
Which was crazy, because there was no way she was allowing this cursed bug a whole week. It had one day, that was it, and then it was going away and Sharon would make sure she never got it again, even if she had to forcefully vaccinate every single human being she came into contact with, for every flu season, for the rest of her life.
Starting with her foster son, who'd just walked into her office from his flu-ridden school and now stood there with that cautious look and she didn't know whether to hug him or kill him. A feeling she remembered all too well from the last two teenagers she'd raised.
"How are you feeling?" And again the concern might have been heartwarming, if Rusty hadn't followed it instantly with a wary grimace, "You look awful."
She pressed her lips together in reply, and he backpedalled.
"I mean – more awful than…" Wisely, he trailed off before he could finish 'than usual', because Sharon wasn't sure how that would've gone. "You look like you should be at home," he rephrased.
She felt like she should've been downstairs in the morgue, but admitting that wasn't going to make anything better. Besides, she was banned from the morgue (which frankly was ridiculous, it was the morgue for god's sake! Hardly the place to instate health requirements for admittance…!).
"Don't they have like, sick days, at the LAPD?"
"I'm not sick," Sharon said automatically, "I just have the flu."
Rusty gave her a long look. "You do realize that qualifies, right?" He rolled his eyes at her expression, and slung the schoolbag off to reach into it. "Here." He pulled out a bulky white plastic bag and deposited it on her desk.
Sharon's eyebrows rose, and even that hurt. "What's this?"
"Medicine, Sharon." He stuck his hands in his pockets. "You owe my 'security detail' $12.50, by the way," he muttered. "I didn't have enough cash."
A variety of packs and bottles spilled out when she opened the bag, and Sharon couldn't help a warm smile, even though it took an unusual amount of deliberation to get her facial muscles to cooperate. "You didn't have to get me all this," she said softly, but there was a definite pang of relief at the blessed sight of about twelve different kinds of drugs. Modern medicine was her friend right now. "Thank you." She picked up a light-blue box of pills that she'd never heard of before.
"That's for if you're allergic to uhm, … whatever's in Tylenol," Rusty provided. "And the green one is uh, if you're not allergic to Tylenol but you're…" He paused and pulled out a folded piece of paper from his back pocket, which he frowned over. "…okay, if you're allergic to something called pseudo-ephedrine, then that one's okay. Oh, unless you're on any other meds, in which case, you should…read the instructions. Here." He handed her the crumpled paper. "This is everything that the pharmacy guy said."
"Thank you," she smiled again, then immediately had to turn her head and cough dryly into the crook of her elbow.
Ah, yes, the coughing – it had been late to the party, but had made a great entrance halfway through her inspection of the crime scene. It made her chest hurt and her eyes burn and her head pound all over again, and between the racking coughs and the dead bodies, she'd considered herself lucky to the have skipped breakfast, after all.
Suddenly she was very, very grateful for the medicine that littered her desk. And more so for the boy who'd been so considerate to bring them to her, even if he did keep telling her that she looked awful.
By four p.m., however, Shaon's gratitude had waned. Something weird was happening with Rusty, whereby he was suddenly everywhere she looked. This was the same boy, mind you, who could barely be convinced to sit down for three minutes of small talk about his day, whose idea of being social involved retreating to a desk in the corner and minding his own business, who vocally complained about having to spend all his time at the station and pointedly rolled his eyes and sulked and avoided all of them just to make a point – that boy was now pretty much camped out on her doorstep and seemed to want nothing but the attention he usually eschewed.
It was like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' and 'The Twilight Zone' rolled into one, and Sharon wasn't so sure she was equipped to handle the abrupt attitude adjustment. For a little while she'd wondered if she was delirious.
He kept barging into her office about every five minutes despite her repeated warnings to stay away, and he followed her whenever she left the office (with a wary stare if it was impossible to do it in person, though he managed to do it in person just fine and oh ye gods), and he generally behaved in a completely uncharacteristic way that could only be described as hovering.
Sharon was baffled.
Touched – but honestly. The constant surveillance was getting a little unnerving. And there were only that many cups of tea she could handle per unit time. That many reminders about the proper use of medicine (she knew how to take a Tylenol, for god's sake, without a printout from WebMD!) and that many not-so-subtle suggestions to go home. And she was starting to wish she could cough her lungs out in peace without having to worry about him looking miserable whenever she so much as started to clear her throat.
Not to mention he'd started a campaign to dissuade whomever so much as made a move toward her office, his glares and pointed mutters having turned at least three people back from coming to talk to her.
Basically her sweet foster son had abruptly turned into the personal assistant from hell.
Which was only fitting, Sharon figured, since she was feeling as though she was in hell. The constant painful pounding in her head and the inability to breathe in and the way her throat felt like sandpaper… Worse, since she still had no fever (her immune system clearly wasn't even bothering to fight back), most of the meds were not really providing much symptom relief… and she'd lost track of what pills she'd taken, anyway. Not very responsible, but today was just a not-very-goddamn-responsible kind of day.
She lowered her face into her hands and went back to her little fantasy regarding the flu shot dictatorship regime.
Her shoulders slumped. She gave Rusty a miserable look, the source of which he clearly misread, since he returned a slightly wary gaze and offered: "I'll get you more tea."
Sharon bit her lips. "That's alright, I still have a nearly full cup … Rusty –"
"It's supposed to be hot, Sharon, that's kind of the whole point of tea." he informed her. "Are you feeling any better? Are the meds helping?"
"Yes," she lied, and wasn't all that surprised to find him looking doubtful.
"Are you sure?" He took another hesitant step inside the office, and for the fiftieth time she held up a hand to tell him to keep his distance, not that the previous forty-nine times had made any difference. "You don't look so good."
She might've felt mad if he hadn't sounded so honestly worried. And if she hadn't been too exhausted to be mad. And if her ego wasn't too bruised to be mad. Honestly, she was fifty- … ish, and she had the flu, and she'd put herself through a full work day to boot, what did he expect, Claudia Schiffer?
"Who's Claudia Schiffer?"
Sharon groaned, first because she hadn't realized she'd muttered the last words out loud, and second because really, did he have to keep making her feel old?
"Sharon…" Rusty hesitated with that endearing awkwardness, and she managed to tilt her head about two degrees to indicate that she was listening. "I know you let my security detail go for the day, but if you need to like, go to the hospital or something – "
"Oh god, honey, no –" she waved a dismissive hand, turned to heave another dry cough into her shoulder, then continued in the most persuasive tone her raspy voice could handle: "Rusty, I appreciate that you're concerned, but this is just a seasonal bug," (or maybe the ninth circle of hell) "and there's no need to …" Her voice stopped working again, and she cleared her throat in an effort to get it back.
"Are you sure? 'cause, I don't know…" Rusty looked entirely too nervous, in her opinion. "This doesn't look like the regular flu… are you sure it's not like, pneumonia?"
Sharon sighed. "I'm positive."
He crossed his arms. "I really think you should go get it checked out. Aren't you the one always going on about responsible behavior and good decisions? Going to the doctor when you look like this," he pointed at her, "is a 'good decision', Sharon."
Her eyes narrowed (or at least she hoped they did, her eyelids felt a little funny). "Like I said, I appreciate that you're concerned," she wheezed, "and that you want to help. But this isn't the first time I've had the flu – although I fully intend it to the be the last," she joked as an aside. "Trust me, there's nothing for you to worry about. Except catching it yourself," she amended warningly, "if you keep ignoring my advice to stay out of this office."
Fifty-one. But Rusty remained unconvinced.
"Don't you have homework to do?" she pleaded.
"Can you at least ask Dr. Morales for a second opinion?"
Sharon closed her eyes briefly. "Rusty. If nothing else, I assure you that I'm nowhere near the stage of requiring Dr. Morales's expertise." (That didn't feel one hundred percent true… but in any case, the ME had made it clear that he wasn't coming anywhere near her without a hazmat suit.) "Besides, there's no need for a 'second opinion'," she added exasperatedly, "it's just the flu…!"
"It could be like, a hundred things!" he protested. "Do you have any idea how many… reasons there are for feeling this sick and coughing and not being able to breathe properly?"
"It's just the flu," Sharon repeated wearily, and again wondered what weird infernal dimension she'd ended up in. Wasn't she supposed to be in charge around here? Why was nothing going her way?
"Yeah, maybe it's just the flu and maybe it's like… tuberculosis!" The boy threw his hands up. "Or… or sarcoidosis! Did you even know those were options?"
Oh, what fresh hell was this?
"It could be bronchitis, pneumonia, mono! Sharon, it could be…"
Okay, that was it, he was banned from google for life.
"Rusty – honey," she sighed, "don't look up medical symptoms on the internet. That's not a valid form of diagnosis." Sometimes she forgot just how much he didn't know.
"I wouldn't have to look anything up," he countered, "if you'd just go to a doctor! You know, like normal people! You'd make me go…!"
Oh, if only she could make him go.
Her temples were pounding. The light was starting to hurt her eyes. Her body felt so stiff and sore than she wanted to cry.
Meanwhile, Rusty seemed equally unhappy, fidgeting and balancing on the balls of his feet and looking way more frustrated than he had a right to.
"Just go get checked out, what's the big deal?"
"Lieutenant Flynn!" The sight of the man turning up in her doorway was the most welcome thing Sharon had ever seen, even if the lieutenant was wearing a poorly-suppressed smirk. "Please, come in," (and it may have sounded like permission but really, it was an entreaty.) She turned to Rusty, exhausted. "Go do your homework."
The boy crossed his arms again, an expression of profound disgruntlement on his face, but eventually he stalked out with one last muttered warning about going to a doctor and some tropical disease she'd never heard of. Sharon let out a miserable sigh, and made an effort to turn her attention to Flynn, who was still looking unaccountably entertained.
"That's what you get for not taking a sick day."
She tried for a glare, although it ended up more a grimace of pain. "What is it, Andy?"
"The drug company is trying to get the bodies released into their custody, on the grounds of some consent form the victims supposedly signed." He rolled his eyes. "Their lawyer's outside waving papers."
"We're not done with the autopsies," Sharon protested, "and I'm not releasing those bodies to anyone until we figure out why they died. Go tell the company and their lawyer that murder trumps whatever disclaimer the victims signed."
He nodded. "That's what we thought. I'll go inform them that they can stick their release forms… well. You get the picture."
"Send the lawyer in here if he keeps giving you trouble," she advised tiredly. (If the lawyer wasn't amenable to rational discussion, she could always sneeze on him.)
"I can try, but I'm not sure he'll make it past your bouncer service." Flynn grinned and nodded toward Rusty, who'd resumed his seat at a desk right outside her office. Sharon let her chin drop to her chest. "Can't really blame the kid, though," he continued in a more serious tone.
Sharon hummed noncommittally.
"Sarcoidosis isn't something to take lightly."
Her eyes widened in horror. "He's been telling everyone…?"
The lieutenant grinned again. "Nah, we just caught glimpses of his laptop screen."
Sharon let out a defeated sigh. Great – not only was Rusty convinced that she was old and feeble and plagued by some nasty tropical disease, now he was spreading the notion, too. A small shiver went through her, and she suppressed a vague wave of nausea.
Flynn's expression lost some of its mirth, becoming more sympathetic: "You really should go home. You don't look –"
"Lieutenant," she growled. "I think I've reached the limit of how many times I can hear that from the men in my life today."
There was a short pause, and then Sharon froze, mortified alarm flashing almost imperceptibly across her face.
Oh god, she really did need to go home.
A/N: This ended here because five thousand words! ! I swear, someone prompts me to write a 'vignette', and my brain just refuses to comprehend the notion... But, I have a little more written (of course... conciseness is NOT my middle name), and might post the rest, if people are interested to see the rest of Sharon and Rusty's flu season misadventures. But really this can stand on its own as a oneshot, too. (I swear I TRIED to keep it short. I just... don't seem to know how to do that.)
Thank you for reading! And I hope you have a lovely holiday season :).