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Nature of the Game

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Detective Fontanelle White sat in the hospital waiting room and stared. Russ hadn’t moved since he’d been released by the ER and had taken a seat in the waiting room.

They had yet to hear any word about Milt.

Font shifted. It had been a long day.

“So what was that all about?” he asked, impatient with the wait.

“Huh?”

“I mean, that thing. What, uh, what was that all about? I know Milt always comes out of things smelling like daisies, but handing a guy who wants to kill him a loaded gun is a little much, even for him.”

Russ grunted. “It’s complicated. And his business.”

Font stared, struck momentarily dumb by the hypocrisy. “Oh, you’ve got to know something.”

Russ shrugged. “You’re sure they haven’t said anything yet? Not while I was still being held hostage by Nurse Ratched out there?”

“Nothing,” Font said, slumping back in his seat. “Not one word since we came.”

“Huh.”

“Guz called. She’s going to want to hear from you.”

“Yeah.”

He gave up for a bit after that, until finally a nurse came to give them an update—Milt was out of surgery, it had been a little touch-and-go for a while but he should recover, no you can’t talk to him because he is currently unconscious, but yes one person can stay overnight so he wouldn’t wake up disoriented and alone in a strange place, did they want to call someone?—and shook his head as Russ started forward without a glance at him.

“I’ll need to let everyone know,” he said. “We’ll be back for visiting hours tomorrow.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Russ said, waving him off. But his head popped back over the doorframe a second later. “Hey Font?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

Font smiled. “Anytime, Russ.”

~

Everyone was still at the station when he got there, despite the hour. He couldn’t blame them—he’d called Katrina on the way over to let her know he’d be late himself.

“Russ is fine, Milt’s out of surgery and going to be fine,” he reported, and everyone seemed to sigh in relief in unison.

“Where is Russ? Did he go straight home?” Holly asked, peering behind him like she’d find Russ lurking there.

“No, he’s staying with Milt at the hospital.” And there were the blank stares. He understood the urge. “Yeah. He was—well, he was freaking out a little when Milt got shot. I guess maybe the guy grew on him.”

“Or it’s shared trauma-induced bonding,” suggested Erin, shrugging.

“Well regardless, it’s good that Milt’s not going to be alone tonight,” Guz cut in. “And frankly so long as we know they’re both safe, you should all go home to your own families. I’m sure Milt will appreciate a visit in the next few days. You can satisfy your curiosity then.”

There was a general shuffle as everyone gathered their things and prepared to leave, and Guz caught Font’s eye and tipped her head at her office. He slipped in behind her and closed the door.

“You can write up your official report tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t want to keep you too late. But did Russ say anything else about what happened today? This whole case has been an exercise in frustration. I need to sort through what we’re allowed to know and what we can put on the public record and what we can’t.”

“No, he didn’t say anything. I asked, he said it was Milt’s business and pretty much that I should stay out of it.”

Guz’s eyebrows shot up. “Russ said that? Detective Russell Agnew?”

Font huffed. “Yeah.” He paused, unsure how to phrase what he’d seen and heard without making it sound like Milt wasn’t fit for duty. “Russ...he said some stuff to Brock, trying to talk him down, that makes me think Milt told him about the case. Maybe more about the case than we got from the FBI. And when Milt, um, made me throw away my gun, he didn’t react the way I would’ve expected him to.”

Guz gave him a flat look. “Made you throw away your gun? That didn’t make it into the initial report.”

Font winced. “I...was distracted?” Yeah, that look told him an excuse wouldn’t cut it. “Okay, I didn’t want to say it over the phone, and Milt had just gone into surgery, it felt like tattling to tell you about it then.”

“Tattling.” She sighed, and waved him off. “Fine. Go home to your wife. I’ll get the story out of Milt tomorrow, or at least out of Russ.”

“Yes ma’am,” Font said, rushing out before she called him back.

~

Font brought flowers to the hospital the next day. It seemed like the thing to do. He passed Funk on the way in, who was shaking his head as he left.

“Russ is still in there,” he warned Font. “Maybe you can talk some sense into him, you’re his partner.”

“What, you think that gives me any pull with the guy?”

Funk snorted. “At least make him let up on the questioning. Poor guy’s drugged to the gills and Russ is just trying to find out his life story when he’s too out of it to know better.”

Font winced. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“No problem,” Funk replied, waving as he left. Font swore he heard him muttering something about crickets as he went, but he ignored it and approached the door.

“Hey,” he greeted, poking his head into the room.

“Heeeeey!” Milt replied, grinning, and oh wow he really was high as a kite. The overall impression was maybe intensified by the utter lack of product in his hair. It was...fluffy.

“Hey, Font,” Russel said from his seat next to the bed. “Pull up a chair. Milt was just telling me why the hell he asked specifically for me as his partner.”

“Russ, you really shouldn’t take advantage—”

“It’s because you’re an asshole,” Milt said, and Font had to stop talking immediately to keep from bursting into laughter.

“Well, yeah,” Russ said, like this was a reasonable assessment of his character, which, okay, it was. “I’m an asshole specifically for the purpose of avoiding that kind of thing. So why did you ask for me?”

“Wait, are you telling me you could not be an asshole but you’re actively choosing to act this way?” Font asked, and was soundly ignored.

“No, you’re an asshole, and you already hated me, so it’d be easier. That way when you hated me later, it wouldn’t be a problem. Because you already hated me.”

Oh god, that was so sad.

“That’s messed up,” Russ said. “Then was all your prying just a smokescreen? Keep me resentful of you?”

“Russ, man, c’mon—”

“Lil bit,” Milt said, “but then just because I liked you. And I wanted you to be happy.”

“Awww,” Font said, drawing an embarrassed and angry look from Russ. “Hey, if you don’t want to hear potentially humiliating revelations, don’t interrogate the man when he can’t hold back the way he normally does.”

Russ snorted, and turned back to Milt. “Yeah, well...”

Milt, meanwhile, was continuing. “I thought I was doing so well, keeping distance. But then you got kidnapped and I was so scared, Russ, and I didn’t know how much you meant to me until—”

“Okay, okay, that’s enough,” Russ said quickly, cutting him off. “I believe you. It’s fine. You don’t have to say anything else.”

Font looked away determinedly. It was one thing to humiliate Russ, his partner for years, and quite another to embarrass Milt. But he couldn’t help hearing.

“I’m sorry,” Milt said, “I never wanted to get you mixed up in this. I was going to ditch you when we figured out where Brock was.”

“Like hell. You’re my partner. You don’t get to ditch me.”

Font felt like he really ought to object there—annoying or not, Russ was still his partner, not Milt’s, technically—but he didn’t want to ruin the moment.

“Thanks,” Milt said, and he sounded slower and quieter.

Russ snorted, and Font looked back to see him shaking his head as Milt drifted off. “Nurses told me not to get him excited,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“He just had major surgery, Russ,” Font said. “He needs sleep to recover.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Russ said, standing and stretching. “I gotta get some coffee.”

~

The coffee in the hospital cafeteria was, of course, shit. Russ didn’t bitch about it half as much as he normally did.

“So you seem to have finally made friends with Milt,” Font said, jumping in the deep end.

“Huh. Well. Man was finally actually honest with me,” Russ answered. “How much do you know? About the whole—” he waved his hand vaguely—“abduction thing?”

“Milt was involved in a sting on a drug lord, and his civilian informant was killed in response to the drug lord’s son being killed,” Font said promptly, “and I assume from what he said he feels guilty about it.”

“Ha. Yeah, that’s about it.” Russ stared at his coffee. “Don’t tell him I said this, but he maybe has reason to. But he doesn’t deserve to die.”

“Of course not,” Font said, staring at him. “I just...I didn’t know you cared.”

“Yeah, well.” Russ took a long gulp, and Font did the same, grimacing at the taste. “When that prisoner took me captive...he said some stuff. Made me think about Milt. And then with what happened, well.”

Font grinned. “You made a new friend.”

“Shut up, Font.”

“You care about him.”

“Goddamnit, Font.”

~

Russ came back to work a few days later. Guz had apparently gotten all she needed to get from him sometime in the intervening days; at least, she didn’t call him into her office any time Font saw. Milt was still out; it’d be a few more weeks before he could even try to qualify for fieldwork again.

Russ being back meant that they all had to be in the same room as him and Holly. She seemed to be keeping her distance, and Eric kept sending her these worried looks. Font had a sinking feeling in his gut.

He was proved right when he forgot his jacket one evening and found them close together and talking intensely. He froze, not wanting to draw any attention.

“You knew exactly how dangerous my job can be, Holly. For god’s sake, you work here.”

“I know, Russ, but between this and that other time you were kidnapped a few weeks ago, I just...I can’t do it. I can’t fall in love with you and then be hours away when something happens to you.”

“But you knew this! Nothing has changed in the past few days. Nothing.”

“Well my outlook has. I’m sorry, Russ. I really, really don’t want to hurt you, and I’m not saying I don’t want to be with you. Maybe someday, when we can both be in the same place...”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Holly turned to go, and gasped, jumping a little when she saw Font. That got Russ’s attention.

“Um. Hi, guys,” Font said, giving an awkward little wave. Russ just closed his eyes and dropped his head as Holly very quickly said goodbye and left.

“So...you wanna grab a beer?” Font asked at last, breaking the silence. Russ regarded him for a long time.

“Fine.”

~

Milt stopped by a few days later, to the general disapproval of the department. He bore it with a smile as he always did, just waving off all the “You should be resting!”s and accepting all the handshakes and careful hugs.

Once things settled down, Milt took a seat next to Russ’s desk and everyone turned their attention back to their own work. Font caught a glance of his face as he winced, but turned away quickly. Let the man have his dignity.

“I’m sorry about Holly,” Milt said in a low voice to Russ, and Font focused more intently on the report in front of him.

“How do you even know about that?” Russ demanded, peering around suspiciously to see if anyone was listening. “Holly say something to you?”

“No, no, it’s just that you’ve avoided looking at each other the entire time I’ve been here, and she walked all the way around past Detective Jacock’s desk rather than go too near yours.”

Russ eyed him. “That is so annoying.”

Milt gave this odd little half-smile. If Font didn’t know better, he might think Milt was completely aware of how annoying it was and was doing it on purpose.

~

“Huh.”

Font looked up, distracted. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” Erin said. She was staring out across the hallway to Milt’s office. He got up and peered over. Russ was there, perched on Milt’s desk and talking to him. Apparently he was for once not being a complete ass, because Milt was actually grinning.

“What?” Font asked. “I mean, it’s surprising, but not completely shocking to see them getting along.”

“No, no, that’s not it,” she said. “They just...seem to have gotten pretty close, haven’t they?”

“I...guess? I don’t get what’s so remarkable about it.”

“I just think it’s interesting, you know. I think the last person he wasn’t aggressively unpleasant to was Holly.”

“And I’m sure you mean aggressively unpleasant in the nicest way.”

She stared at him a moment and turned away, rolling her eyes.

“What?” he asked after her. She huffed. “What?!”

~

That conversation with Erin stayed in Font’s mind, but he really couldn’t tell what the issue was with Russ and Milt. It was nice, really, not having to deal with half as much bitching about Milt and how annoying his perfection was and how much everyone loved him. There was definitely still some bitching. Russ was still Russ. But not nearly so much as before.

And it happened a little more often that Milt would take Russ off Font’s hands for a while, and he could work with Funk, or Erin, or Niblet, or hell, even alone. It was a nice change of pace now and again, that’s all he was saying.

And then one day when Russ and Milt were off lord knew where (except Milt reported in religiously, so someone definitely did know where, and thank god for that) they got the call.

Shots fired, officer down.

Milt was the one who made the call.

Font was first on the scene.

Russ was on the ground, and Milt was crouched over him, both hands pressed against his chest, over the red, red stain that was spreading. Definitely below his heart, there was that, but. Oh, god. Could it have hit his lung from there?

Russ was gripping Milt’s arms, staring at him as he talked.

As Font got closer, he could hear what he was saying.

“Please, please, Russ, you can’t do this. Damn it. Please, don’t leave me. I can’t do this anymore without you. Please don’t leave me.”

And that was maybe not entirely weird, when your partner, or close enough to your partner, was lying on the ground bleeding out, but.

Font ignored it for the moment, running forward. “Ambulance is on the way,” he said, pressing his hand to Milt’s shoulder briefly to make sure he had his attention before seeing if he could help. They could hear the sirens already. “Hang in there, buddy.”

“The perpetrator,” Milt said. “I didn’t—we got him. He’s over there, behind the car.”

Font nodded jerkily, and went over as the ambulance pulled up and the paramedics jumped out of the back. He found the guy, their prime suspect for the murder they’d been investigating. But Russ and Milt had only come out to interview his cousin. Font stared at the body, laying in a pool of blood. They hadn’t even been in pursuit yet. Hadn’t even called it in.

~

Font found himself in a very familiar position, sitting in a hospital waiting room. This time it was Milt next to him, waiting for news on whether his partner was going to live or die. This time it was Milt covered in drying blood.

Milt was a little easier to talk to. He’d wanted a distraction when they first got in, something to focus on aside from his worst fears chasing each other around his head. He’d told Font what had happened.

They’d been surprised by the perp, as Font had thought. He’d had a gun, unregistered. He’d thought they were there to arrest him. He’d panicked. They’d responded. But one of his wild shots managed to hit its mark, and now he was dead.

And then they’d only been able to sit and wait. Font was trying very hard not to think about what Milt had been saying to Russ. He tried not to notice the way Milt’s eyes were red-rimmed, or the way his hands were trembling. He was maybe getting half an idea about what Erin had been looking at, those few weeks ago.

And when the doctor came in and told them Russ was going to pull through, he didn’t look at the way Milt closed his eyes and dropped his head, at the tension that was suddenly released. He very carefully didn’t notice the way Milt’s shoulders shook. He did rest his hand on Milt’s shoulder blade for a moment, but he wasn’t looking.

Because he didn’t want to see anything he shouldn’t. He didn’t want to see anything his partner, his friends didn’t want him seeing.

But that evening, after he left Milt at the hospital (of course he did), he went home to his wife. And he held her, because he could. Because she was there and he had her, and she had him. Because he could say everything to her that really mattered.

And hopefully those idiots would know how to do the same someday.