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Lasagna: A Love Story

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Milo doesn't mind hospital cafeterias so much as he minds hospital cafeteria food. During the daytime, when the people are reasonably awake, and there are plenty of pre-packaged sandwiches and candy bars and soft drinks, he has absolutely no problem with the concept. But in the evenings, or even later, when he's dead on his feet himself, and the only people with reason to be in the building are the sick and the relatives of those in truly serious condition... then things begin to resemble a horror movie.

Trailing into the cafeteria of an LA hospital just before midnight, and knowing he won't be seeing a bed until past dawn, Milo buys a Coke from a machine, and casts a glance over the various trays of gloopy institutional food on offer. From the look of the place in general, few others have dared to venture this far: a few depressed patients in hospital gowns who have somehow escaped their wards, and a man in a lab coat not too far from where Milo's standing, surrounded by books. He looks a little old to be studying for med school, but who knows these days?

Milo clears his throat. "Hi." Getting the guy to glance up from his book requires several extravagant gestures that probably only make him look like an escapee from the asylum. "Any recommendations?" he asks hopefully, cocking his thumb back at the array of food options.

Presumably doctors aren't usually asked their opinions on food, but this one at least frowns in consideration. "I'd stay away from the mashed potato. The lasagna's all right, as long as you don't start wondering what's in it."

"Mm." Milo scoops out a dollop of suspiciously murky pasta onto a plate. "How can anyone get mashed potato wrong?"

Instead of pretending to ignore him, the doctor has actually closed his book. "I don't know. But as far as I do know, it's not supposed to contain actual living creatures."

Milo slowly backs away from the counter, and slips into a seat two away from the doctor, poking at a bit of what might be eggplant with a plastic fork. "Thanks for the warning. Milo Sturgis." A slightly grubby hand is extended.

The doctor shakes, his nails pristine, a very nice stainless-steel watch a little loose on his wrist. "Rick Silverman."

Rick. Milo feels like writing this down in his notebook. Good-looking guy, very clean cut, probably in very good shape under that lab coat. Even if they look little alike, he gives the same impression Alex Delaware does - the kind of boy you could take home to your mother.

He checks out the title of one of Rick's books. "Neurosurgery, huh?"

"Mm hmm."

"Impressive."

Rick nods, and, after a moment of silence, raises his eyebrows. "I'm waiting for you to make some kind of joke about needing your head examined."

The lasagna really isn't bad, as long as Milo doesn't chew too much. "One of my best friends is a psychologist. I used up all those jokes long ago. But if you like, I've got another cliche - what's a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?"

He looks at that watch of his. "I have a patient in recovery upstairs. Touch and go. It's easier to be on call here than at home. You have a relative or someone in the hospital?"

"Oh, no." Milo swallows hastily. "Only a victim." He grins at Rick's sudden look of horror. "Relax, I'm a cop. Maybe your patient and my girl are one and the same. Gunshot wound to the temple?"

"Mm." Rick is looking at him with renewed interest. "A real mess. But I hope she'll pull through."

"Trouble is, in your business it's a success if they're up and walking. In mine, she's got to be able to ID the guy in court."

Rick scratches his jaw. "That could be a problem."

"Don't I know it. And even if she does remember, having brain surgery pretty much makes the defense's case."

"I'm told I'm very convincing on the witness stand."

Milo re-evaluates that clean-cut appearance. "Yeah. I bet you are. No one would ever believe I could do anything with a scalpel."

"But you look like a great police officer."

"You're a real charmer, Rick." Milo has just about had it with his food. "But I do try to cultivate that look of a guy who lives on coffee and hasn't had a shower in weeks. All part of the service."

Mutual looking at watches.

"So... when do you get off call?"

"Probably the same time you do," Rick points out. "When my patient and your victim wakes up."

"But that could be days."

"Could be weeks."

Milo hasn't picked up a guy in at least a year, but he has to at least try this one. How often does he have good-looking doctors even inadvertently coming onto him? "Anyone waiting up for you at home?"

Rick checks his pager. "No... even my cat walked out on me for never being around. He went to live with my neighbor. Her kids pretty much dote on him. How about you?"

"I have similarly been abandoned by all living things," Milo announces with a little dramatic flair. "Can I buy you a drink to commiserate? There's a bar a few blocks from here. A good one."

"On call? It'll have to be a Shirley Temple."

Milo beams. "I'll drink to that."

***

The next night, neither of them are on call. Milo's victim and Rick's patient is conscious and lucid, if a little dazed, and her memory loss is what Rick reassuringly calls "within normal parameters".

Milo, suddenly struck with fear at the idea of having a date with someone he actually likes, ropes a reluctant Alex in to give him a pep talk while he showers and shaves and picks out a reasonably-new, unstained suit with a shirt and tie that might not clash horribly. Sadly, spending all day at the gym in an attempt to completely redesign his entire body doesn't seem to be a viable option.

"He liked you last night," Alex points out with his usual knack for not helping at all.

Yes, last night, when Milo had been his usual rumpled, over-tired, poorly-dressed, not-exactly-a-catch self. Maybe Rick had been so stressed and exhausted he had completely overlooked Milo's bad skin, extra pounds, complete lack of fashion sense...

But he somehow gathers the courage to go to Rick's house anyway, feeling out of place in a neighborhood that must be filled with nice Jewish doctors, lawyers, and accountants who really shouldn't be inviting grouchy detectives to dinner. He parks at the end of the driveway, far enough in that none of Rick's neighbors will frown at his wreck of a car, and promptly trips over a cat.

At the door, he rings, half-hoping that Rick's been called out to deal with an emergency, contemplating all the terrible reactions he might possibly inspire. Maybe Rick regrets inviting a random police officer to his house. Maybe he's completely forgotten about it. Maybe Milo's misinterpreted his invitation, and this is actually a house party for a hundred people (although, admittedly, a hundred people without cars).

But Rick answers the door in a snugly-fitting blue sweater and jeans, and looks genuinely happy to see him even before Milo holds out the bottle of Californian wine Alex had helped him pick out. "Hi. Milo. Did you get here okay?"

"In one piece," Milo says, arms wide.

"Well, come in, come in. Welcome to my humble abode." And, in no time, the door is closed, and Milo's in a plush hallway with Rick's hand warm on his back. "I hope the hospital didn't put you off pasta for good. My neighbor baked me a lasagna, of all things. She thinks I don't get enough proper meals, and she's probably right. Doctors are some of the most unhealthy people I've ever met."

In the dining room, there are faint strains of classical music Milo hopes is Beethoven. If they get into discussing Holst or Brahms, he's going to be completely lost. At least he knows Beethoven was the deaf one. "You should see cops."

"At least you get some physical activity," Rick says, pulling out a chair for him.

"Physical activity?" Milo has to wonder if Rick is being faultlessly nice, or just completely insane. "Most I usually get is picking up my espresso."

"Ah, bicep curls," Rick notes with a smile, before disappearing into the kitchen to get the food.

Milo thinks he might very well be in love.

***

The first night they spend together is two weeks later - an eternity in terms of policework. The only good point is that Milo's so busy with paperwork, tracking down suspects, and antagonizing Alex that he doesn't have much time to stare at his phone and wonder if Rick has forgotten about him.

They run into each other at the courthouse, Milo minding a witness, Rick looking hopelessly dapper in a gray suit. With a young street kid fidgeting by Milo's side, looking as if he might bolt at any second, they have to talk in vague generalizations. Somehow, Rick doesn't interpret Milo's casual, "How've you been?" as an invitation to drag him into the stairwell and kiss him, but he does walk away with an invitation to Milo's apartment later that evening.

On this occasion, Milo has no time to panic, no time to clean up his apartment or make a three-course dinner. Locked into typing up reports without any subordinates to rely on, he only makes it back to find Rick already standing outside his door.

They sit on Milo's very well-worn couch, and order pizza as Milo hopes his phone will ring with a notification of some heinous crime only he can solve. This is all a huge mistake. He's not Rick's type. Not anywhere close. And they should have gone to a restaurant...

"This is nice," Rick says, putting down the takeout menu and relaxing into the cushions. "Sometimes I'm afraid to even touch my furniture."

"I should really get new stuff," Milo says, still on edge. "But I'm not here very much."

"I know the feeling." Rick's hand has crept onto Milo's back again, rubbing, reassuring. "Thank you for inviting me. It's nice to... have someone to spend time with."

Nice. It's everything Milo is not. But he makes himself lean back, letting Rick put an arm around him. He can't walk on eggshells forever. "I'd like to spend a lot more time with you," he says, cringing at how unpracticed he sounds. Alex would do better.

Rick pulls him close, and Milo breathes out in utter, complete relief just a second before Rick kisses him.

They make love in Milo's bed with the phone off the hook and their pagers left two rooms away under a pile of jackets. Milo's condoms and KY must be months old, but they're usable, and Rick's already proved that he's far from picky. In his arms, Milo feels more than good, more than just barely acceptable as a gay man. He feels loved.

Woken hours later by the dull beeping of two pagers, Rick kisses Milo good morning and asks if they can see each other again.

"Sure," Milo says, still half asleep. "I'll bring the lasagna."