It felt as if he'd just managed to fall asleep, when the shrill ring of his phone jolted him awake. He fumbled for it, groaning when he knocked over the empty glass next to the phone. It rolled off the bedside table before he could grab it, shattering against the floor. Swearing under his breath, Russ snatched up the phone.
"Agnew," he growled. Whoever it was, had better make it good.
"Russ, hey! It's me."
Milt. Damn it all, it was Milt. Glancing at the clock — 3.15 AM, for fuck's sake — and then down at the mess on the floor, Russ decided he was in no mood to talk to him.
"Don't know anyone by the name of 'me'," he said, and hung up.
A smirk on his face, Russ burrowed down under the covers. Oh, there was no doubt Milt would call back — the man could not take a hint — but for now, he'd enjoy the satisfaction of having blown him off.
He should probably get up and clean up the broken glass while waiting for the call, but... Screw it. He lived alone, so it wasn't as if anyone else risked getting hurt. The shards weren't going anywhere. Yawning, Russ looked at the phone to make sure he hadn't accidentally turned it off. It was still on, and Milt would be calling any second now.
Five minutes later, Russ was pissed. Sure, he had been the one to hang up, but that didn't matter. Milt was bound to know that Russ expected him to try again, so by not doing that he was, quite simply, being an ass. Russ should just roll over and go back to sleep; that'd serve him right.
Gritting his teeth, Russ dialed Milt's number.
It took him four rings to answer, and when he finally did it wasn't with his usual composed 'Special Agent Chamberlain'. No, it was with a loud rattling sound, as if he'd dropped the phone on the ground, before a breathless "Yeah?" confirmed that he had things back under control. Or some semblance of control, at least.
"Milt, what the hell?" Russ snapped.
"Russ! Hi, how are you?"
Russ frowned. If he didn't know better he would've suspected that Milt was drunk off his ass. "What's going on? Why didn't you call back?"
"But you hung up. I thought you didn't want to talk to me."
"Never stopped you before," Russ muttered. "Listen, Milt — are you drinking?"
"Not right now." Milt snickered, as if he'd made a particularly funny joke. That cinched it. Milt wasn't the type to snicker — not while sober, in any case.
"Where are you?"
"That's a good question. You always ask the good questions, Russ."
Sighing, Russ got up from the bed and began putting on his pants. "You don't know where you are?"
"There's — there's a cornfield off in the distance, and I'm sitting by a lake."
A cornfield and a lake, that'd have to be... "A lake," he said, "more like a sorry excuse for a mud pit, right? Are you sitting on the ground, Milt? Seriously?"
"So? What's wrong with that?" There was a note of petulance in his voice, like a bratty kid.
Russ snorted and quelled the urge to laugh. "Well, for one," he replied, "it doesn't quite suit your image."
Silence. Then, "No, I suppose it doesn't."
His voice was oddly subdued, the way he'd sounded last evening when wishing Russ a good night. Grabbing his keys, he headed for the door. "Just stay where you are. I'll come pick you up."
Now that, was a good question.
"Just stay put, dammit." He hung up again, before Milt could say anything else.
Thirteen minutes later, turning off the dirt road to park beside the so-called lake, Russ knew why. He was doing this because it was the perfect opportunity to get some answers out of Milt. Drunk, his defenses would be down — and Russ could take advantage of that.
He stepped out of the car, leaving the headlights on. He wanted to get a good look at Milt, and mere moonlight wasn't gonna cut it.
Milt was sitting by the edge of the lake, long legs stretched out in front of him. As Russ watched he threw a flat stone at the water. It skipped across the surface perfectly, making Russ sneer in disgust.
"Your pants are probably ruined."
"I have another two identical pairs," Milt replied.
Right, of course he did. Who didn't have triplicates of their clothes? "Come on, get up already."
Milt looked over at him, and Russ took great pleasure in the rumpled hair and bloodshot eyes. "Why are you here, Russ?"
"Why are you here?" he countered. "In the middle of nowhere, drinking... let's see..." he bent down, snatching the bottle from Milt's lax grip. "Blanton's Gold Edition. What is that, a horse? Jesus, can't you even get drunk like a normal human being?"
Milt got to his feet, staggering a bit. Without thinking, Russ reached out to steady him. "Thanks," Milt mumbled.
Russ let go off him with a grimace. "Just didn't feel like explaining why you drowned in this pathetic thing."
"You would've saved me, if I'd fallen in." Milt's lips curved into a lopsided grin. Russ longed to wipe that smug look off his face — preferably using his fists.
"Don't be too sure," he growled.
Milt laughed as he reached out and took back the bottle. "That's what I like about you," he said, before removing the stopper and taking a swig.
"You know the true value of things."
Milt didn't answer, just walked past him, heading for the car. "I didn't mean for you to come pick me up," he said. He went to the side of the car, stealing into the shadows and leaving Russ to stand alone in the headlights, exposed.
Feeling anger rising, Russ stalked forward. "Then what the hell did you call me for?" he asked, getting into the car.
Milt got in too, somehow managing to take another swallow at the same time — the bastard didn't even spill a single drop. "I wanted to apologize."
"For lying to me?"
"I saw Holly leave with her date," he said, ignoring Russ' comment. "I said a lot of things, got your hopes up, and then... I'm sorry, Russ. You must be heartbroken."
"Look," Russ ground out, taking the corner a bit sharply and spraying gravel into the darkness. "I told you this already: I'm not in love with her. So no, my heart isn't broken. Disappointed? Sure. But that's the extent of it."
Milt toyed with the bottle, the amber liquid sloshing inside with every twist and turn of his long fingers. "Alright, if you say so. I'm still sorry. I'll make it up to you."
"You're not trying to tell me that's why you were out drinking in the middle of nowhere, are you?" Russ asked, incredulous.
Milt didn't answer.
Russ was at a crossroads — literally. One road led to Milt's fancy place, the other back to his. He hadn't gotten any of the answers he'd been hoping for, but maybe...
"Tell you what," he said, as he made his decision, "you can sleep on my couch tonight. I'll make sure you don't die of alcohol poisoning or crack your skull open on the bathroom floor. But I want something in return."
The bottle slipped from Milt's fingers, landing on the car mat with a dull thud. He didn't say anything, but the tense line of his body told Russ that he was listening.
Asking him why he was in Battle Creek was too big; a question that needed to be worked up to. "Why did you ask for me?"
"No," Russ cut him off, taking his eyes off the road to glare at Milt. "None of that 'gut instinct' crap. Tell me the truth, for once. Everyone else would've been overjoyed to work with you. But you chose me. Why?"
"That was why," Milt said, voice toneless. "You're a good judge of character. They were all smiles, welcoming and excited, but you — you hated me on sight."
That... wasn't what Russ had expected. At all.
They spent the remaining minutes of the drive in silence.
"You've got a nice home, Russ."
Russ tossed the keys on the desk, scoffing. "Compared to your place it's a regular dump."
Milt continued to look around, pausing to squint at a couple of old family photos. "It's not mine," he said, absently. "Told you that before."
"Yeah, well, you still live there."
Milt shrugged, finally looking away from the photos. "I do, but it's not home."
"Getting philosophical again, huh? 'Home is where the heart is.' Maybe that lama of yours came up with that, too?"
"No, that's just a proverb."
"Whatever," Russ spat. "So tell me, Milt, where is your heart?"
Milt began walking down the hall, heading for the bedroom. He glanced back before slipping inside, meeting Russ' gaze. There was a nasty, cold look in his eyes. "What makes you think I have one?"
Stunned, Russ could only stare. He stood there until the clink of glass tore him from his stupor. He hurried forward, bursting into the room to find Milt crouching on the floor, picking up the broken glass.
"Stop that," he said, angrily. It was none of Milt's business in the first pace, and doing it while drunk was just an accident waiting to happen.
Milt ignored him, calmly picking up another shard and putting it with the rest — on the upturned palm of his other hand.
"Christ, at least put them in here," Russ said, grabbing a bowl — still containing the remains of the cereal he'd had for breakfast yesterday — and thrusting it at Milt.
Milt flinched, losing his balance and falling backwards.
Russ had a second's worth of relief that his ass hadn't landed on the glass, before noticing the blood.
He must've reached out, trying to regain his balance, forgetful of the fact that his hand was filled with glass. Most of it had scattered across the floor, thankfully, but one shard was embedded in Milt's palm.
"Come on," Russ said, "sit down on the bed." He half lifted, half pushed him onto it, before making a beeline to the bathroom.
He returned with the first-aid kit just in time to see Milt pulling the shard from his hand, hissing softly.
"Dammit, Milt! Let me do that."
Russ sat down on the bed next to him, taking the bloody shard and carelessly tossing it on the floor with the rest. Milt chuckled, though he quickly quieted when Russ took hold of his hand.
"Don't think you need stitches," he mumbled after washing away the blood, and having gotten a better look at the cut. "I'll put some butterfly bandages on it, and some gauze to keep it clean — but you should get it looked at tomorrow."
"Seems like you know you're doing," Milt said.
"Working here, you get good at patching yourself up."
Milt hummed in response. "Russ," he said after a while, "why'd you break the glass?"
"What do you mean, 'why'? It's not like I did it on purpose."
Russ looked up, frowning. "You thought I did? Why would I?"
"Thought you might've been... upset, last night."
Aha, that again. "I'm perfectly fine, Milt." He fastened the gauze and eyed the bandaged hand. Not the best job, but it'd last till Milt could see a doctor. "There, all done."
Russ lifted his head and saw that Milt was staring at him, eyes narrowed. He opened his mouth, but whatever he'd meant to say was forgotten when Milt surged forward and kissed him.
Milt caught him by surprise. It was so unexpected, so completely out of the blue. That was why he responded to the questing lips, opening his mouth and meeting Milt's tongue with his own. It had nothing to do with the heated thrill that shot through his body at the contact; nothing to do with the rough rasp of Milt's beginning stubble against his skin; nothing to do with Milt's taste, the sweet burn of the whiskey that still lingered.
No, it was none of those things that made him lift his hand, cupping the back of Milt's neck, as if trying to keep him there forever. It was just pure reflex, his body acting of its own accord, on autopilot, due to the implausible turn of events.
He was panting by the time Milt broke the kiss to lick a path down his neck, yanking his shirt out of the way when it hindered his exploration. A button went skittering across the floor, but Russ couldn't make himself care — Milt was sucking at his collarbone, no doubt leaving a hickey.
It was enough to make him groan and start tugging on Milt's clothes. Immediately, Milt pulled back, gently pushing away his hands. "No," he said, "this is just for you."
Russ watched as Milt reached for his zipper, as his mind finally kicked into gear and penetrated the haze. What was it Milt had said in the car? 'I'll make it up to you.'
Feeling like someone had dumped a bucket of cold water over his head, Russ grabbed Milt's hand, stopping him.
"Wait, I don't want..." he trailed off, at a loss. He'd meant to say that he didn't want Milt to do this for the wrong reasons — but what the hell were the right reasons, in this situation?
Milt smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Don't worry," he said, "not having a soul doesn't preclude me from giving great head."
"No!" Russ blurted, feeling a sting of guilt. "That's not it at all. I just — I don't want you to do this because you think you owe me or some shit."
The smile faded, replaced by an intent, thoughtful look. "And what if I told you that wasn't the only reason? That I wanted this, too?"
"Then," Russ replied, swallowing, "I'd tell you to say that again, when you're sober."
Milt was silent for a long time, head lowered. "You're a good person," he finally said, "and that's why I won't."
Before Russ had a chance to reply he got to his feet, only giving Russ a glimpse of the suspicious sheen in his eyes.
"I'll call a cab, don't worry. Good night, Russ."
And just like that he walked out, closing the front door with a soft click.
Russ didn't get any more sleep that night.