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doctor, doctor (give me the news)

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As far as Al was concerned, there wasn’t a single reason for him to stay in the hospital a minute longer. He’d had his surgery, knew which medicines he needed to take and how often to change his bandages and even which parts of his new diet were going to make him the most irritable; surely that meant he could go home and convalesce in peace. 


Not even getting sponge baths from the pretty nurses was enough to make him want to stay.


Unfortunately, his daughters and his doctors were of a different mind. 


“Dad, you’re healing from open heart surgery, not a cold,” Natalie had pointed out after she caught him trying to pack his bag to leave. “You need to rest.” 


The fact that he’d had to sit down and catch his breath not even halfway through was certainly a point in his daughter’s favor. Not that he would ever admit it.


So, in the hospital he stayed. 


On the plus side, and he really could not stress how very few pluses there were to this situation, Al did get front row seats to the performance art that was Mike Lawson struggling for the first time in a long time to impress a woman. 


And what a woman. 


Dr. Ginny Baker was, if Al had ever been petitioned for his opinion on the subject—the fact that he wasn’t now, nor had he ever been, solicited for this kind of advice was a matter of some ruffled pride—exactly the kind of woman he’d pick for Mike. She was smart as a whip and warm and funny to boot. It didn’t hurt that she was pretty easy on the eyes, either. Maybe she was a bit on the young side, but she’d already worked her way through medical school to land a coveted cardiothoracic surgery internship at San Diego Memorial. As the proud father of a surgeon, Al knew exactly how hard that was. If Dr. Baker was mature enough to handle all that, she could certainly take on Mike Lawson.


Not, however, that she seemed to have much interest in that.


(Whenever he got particularly bored during the day, which was often, Al took great pleasure in recalling the dumbfounded look on Mike’s face turning to grudging intrigue after his first altercation with the doc. He hadn’t seen anyone put Mike Lawson in his place so efficiently in what felt like a decade, and never someone who looked the way Ginny Baker did. 


That he’d then gotten to witness firsthand Lawson’s intrigue turn to curiosity to interest to respect just spoke to how long Al had been stuck in this goddamn hospital.)


Honestly, it was good for the kid. He’d been getting too big for his britches lately, with all the carousing and hound dogging. Yeah, the divorce was rough on him, but Mike wasn’t made for all this casual nonsense. The boy didn’t do casual, though he’d done an okay job of pretending lately. It’d be a nice check to his ego if Mike had to work a little for something for once.


And he was definitely putting in the work. After making daily visits for the past week and a half, coincidentally always right around the time Dr. Baker made her rounds, Mike was finally beginning to make progress. 


It probably helped that he’d given up on needling the poor doctor into lashing out at him just for a little bit of her attention. She was generally too cool a customer for that, having treated Mike, and the observing Al, to a seemingly endless supply of barbed zingers nearly every time he’d tried. 


(”I don’t believe you actually have a license to practice medicine.” Mike had declared once as Dr. Baker went over Al’s chart. 


It was only a few days after their first meeting, if Al remembered correctly. Mike was still raring for a fight, arms crossed over his chest, chin jutted out in challenge. Clearly, the man had been waiting to strike while she was unaware. But given the way his catcher’s eyes roved over her form as she flipped through pages, Al thought he was maybe hoping for a more favorable outcome this time around. Al managed not to roll his eyes, but it was a close call. What was so wrong with behaving like an adult around a pretty woman? 


“This isn’t some Doogie Howser situation, is it?”


Dr. Baker hadn’t even bothered to level him with a withering stare the way she had at their first meeting. Instead, she just continued reading and absently replied, “I don’t see what’s so unbelievable about it. If you can still get paid to play ball at your age, I can be a doctor at mine.”


Then, without missing a beat, she’d turned to her patient, said, “Your vitals are looking good, Mr. Luongo. I’ll see you for evening rounds,” and walked out the door, leaving Mike stunned for the second, but certainly not last, time.


Al hadn’t laughed so hard in a good, long while. They’d had to check and make sure he hadn’t burst any of his stitches.)


Since then, things had gotten better. Then again, they couldn’t have gotten much worse, could they?


It was all much to Al’s approval. 


Not that Lawson ever specifically asked for it. In fact, Mike was very careful not to mention Dr. Baker at all to his manager. He just continued to show up every day, like his timing was purely coincidental and he hadn’t sweet talked one of the nurses into giving him the good doctor’s schedule. 


(Mike wasn’t the only one who could charm information out of nurses. That Louise sure did love to gossip.)


Well, if Al had to wait for any of his guys to ask for approval of their personal lives, he’d go to his grave before any of them managed to pull their heads outta their asses. No one ever said ballplayers were the most emotionally open guys in the world.


So, yes, things had gotten better, but that didn’t mean it was a painless process. In fits and starts, Mike had stopped acting like a little boy tugging on pigtails in the schoolyard and begun to act like an actual gentleman. Some of Mike’s first attempts at honest pleasantries, did not, it was safe to say, go over well. But it wasn’t as if the boy didn’t deserve it. 


Dr. Baker’d been rightfully suspicious the first time Mike said something conciliatory, shuffling self-consciously under Al’s reproving stare. Her bewildered gaze had bounced between Al and Mike, looking for some sign of mischief. Although there’d been none to be found, that exam had gone quickly, the doctor beating a hasty retreat and leaving the two men in bemused silence. 


Luckily, Lawson hadn’t been deterred, and Dr. Baker was a pretty quick study. Once it became clear Mike was determined to show off only his best side, she adjusted easily enough. She hadn’t given up on her zingers altogether, but Mike started laughing at them rather than sulking and could rally back without sounding like quite such an ass. 


Slowly, a tentative alliance formed. Together, Dr. Baker and Mike were pretty successful in bullying Al into taking it easy where his daughters and grandchildren so often failed. It would be a hell of an inconvenience if Al weren’t so satisfied at being proved right. They made a pretty good team.


But it seemed like they’d stalled out at that single-issue alliance. 


Which didn’t mean Al was about to put his nose where it didn’t belong. For his part, he mostly stayed out of it, even if the one thing keeping him entertained was starting to get pretty stale. It was far less interesting to watch two people gang up on him while pretending they weren’t sneaking as many glances at the other as they could without getting caught.


If these two stubborn idiots kept moving at this snail’s pace, Al might expire of old age before anything came of it.


And that just wouldn’t do. 







Al Luongo may not ever be the best manager in MLB, but he hadn’t gotten this far in baseball without knowing and catering to his strengths. He was wily and never underestimated the value of patience. 


Even so, every day he had to watch his catcher flirt ineffectually with his doctor, that patience was wearing thinner and thinner. 


Which was where his wiles came into play. 


If the two of them weren’t willing to see what he did—and act on it for God’s sake!—then Al would make them.


He was still waiting for the perfect setup—why was it suddenly so much harder to concoct a strategy when it was only two people on the field? shouldn’t fewer moving parts make it easier?—when Mike blew into his private room, a little later than usual. Dr. Baker had already arrived for her daily check in. 


(Al knew he hadn’t imagined the flash of disappointment on her face when she came in and Mike wasn’t there and was privately thrilled by it. It was nice to have a little confirmation that his plans were based in reality and not just figments of his bored and overeager imagination.) 


Since the boy brought a bag from the sandwich shop across the road with him, though, Al forgave him immediately. There was only so much hospital food a man could eat.


The doc’s shoulders smoothed out under her white lab coat when Mike flashed a boyish grin her way. Al had a feeling he wasn’t the only one forgiving the man his late arrival. 


As the good doctor began to check over Al’s chart—which she’d delayed doing before Mike showed up, dawdling like she was giving herself a better chance of seeing him today—Mike set up lunch on the rolling table. Though he was sure there was no reuben, and certainly no BLT, waiting for him, the smell of fresh baked bread was more than enough to soothe Al’s disappointment. He answered Dr. Baker’s questions, the same ones she’d asked for weeks, with uncommon good humor. 


In no time at all, Mike finished laying out the spread.


Well, nearly finished.


One last item came out of the bag.


Grape soda? What the hell is he doing with that?


Thankfully, Al didn’t have to wait long for answers.


“Oh, here ya go, doc,” Mike said, like it was an after thought. Al was immediately on high alert. Even if this wasn’t the opening he’d been planning for, it’d make for some great intel. Without an office full of scouts, he had to do his own information gathering. It wasn’t often Mike gave him the chance to steal his signs, but the man was an open book right now. His ears were tinged pink, focus trained conspicuously anywhere that wasn’t Ginny Baker. 


The boy was nervous as all get out.


Doctor Baker took the bright purple can with an absent thanks, though her attention was still focused on Al’s chart. It wasn’t until she’d popped the tab and taken a sip that she blinked and looked at the drink in her hand. Her bewildered gaze turned to Mike, who was still doing his best to look nonchalant.


“How did you know this is my favorite?”


“I didn’t,” Mike protested, pinking up even more. It was his ears that were the giveaway. “The guy at the deli talked me out of getting a Coke when he found out it was for you. Looks like someone’s a regular.”


Unfortunately, Dr. Baker didn’t have the same experience as Al did in reading Mike. She didn’t realize that the kid was lying through his teeth; he absolutely knew her preferred beverage. Had probably spent a not inconsiderable amount of time sleuthing it out in order to keep the nurses from gossiping. 


And Ginny would ever know. She simply looked charmed beyond belief.


“Well,” she said, smiling a little shyly, her pretty dimples popping, “thank you anyway. I missed my lunch, so this hits the spot.”


“Aw, doc, why’d you go and do that for?” groaned Al. Dr. Baker turned her attention back to him sheepishly before offering him a winning grin. Al didn’t give in, just frowned in disappointment. He’d raised enough girls to know when he was being played. “Didn’t you just tell me a proper diet is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle?”


Since she’d said exactly that, and on several occasions, the poor girl couldn’t very well say she hadn’t. Al’s heart may’ve been shot, but his ears were not. He still had a mind like a steel trap. 


A steel trap that had just been sprung.


“Mike, take the lady to the cafeteria and make sure she gets something to eat.” When it looked like they both wanted to protest, Al held up his hands and cut them off. “Go on,” he urged, “I promise I won’t have gone belly up by the time you get back."


“Al,” Mike groaned, scrubbing a hand over his face. Even the doc frowned at him, and she usually at least gave his gallows humor a pity laugh.


“Lawson,” he returned, perfectly willing to play the disapproving, grumpy old man to get his way. It was the role he was born to play, after all. “I can’t have my doctor fainting from hunger on me. The longer you stand there with your thumb up your ass—pardon my French, doc—the longer I have to wait for my check up. Since I’m not gettin’ any younger, you should really get a move on.”


They looked torn for all of two seconds before Dr. Baker ventured, “He has a point.”


Mike narrowed his eyes at his manager for a second longer, as if he was trying to figure out the play. Stupid boy, it was obvious! Take the pretty girl to lunch and do it quick. Women like Ginny Baker didn’t just wait around forever. 


“I guess he does,” he finally agreed, turning to the lady in question. All at once, the suspicion on his face melted away, leaving behind something awfully close to tenderness. Then, in a stage whisper, “And if we don’t humor him now, who knows how he’ll make us pay later.”


Al rolled his eyes, but the delighted giggle that came from his surgeon did not escape his notice. Neither did the way Mike grinned, light and carefree, as they walked out the door. And the way they bumped shoulders, but didn’t pull apart? He’d have to be blind not to see that. 


Well, good. All the signs were there. The conditions were just right. So, he’d put the live ball in the field. It was up to them to make the play, now. 


Good thing Al always had faith in his team. Even if it took them a little longer than he’d like to execute.


Well pleased with himself, Al settled back against his pillows and gazed around his domain. Hey, he was stuck here until his daughters and doctors decided to release him, he might as well think of this place a little fondly. His eye caught on spread of food on the table, just waiting to be eaten. 


Unlike him, though, it wouldn’t be left waiting long. 


(Not that Al minded. Or wanted to know what Dr. Baker and Michael got up to in the entire hour and a half they were gone. Or why they came back and Mike’s flannel was buttoned unevenly.)


As he bit into his sandwich—Mike never said the meatball sub wasn’t his—Al sighed in contentment. 


A just reward for a job well done.