As an FBI agent Milt was used to being interrupted all the time by a ringing phone. Usually it happened during his waking hours, so that was something, but he made sure to turn the volume up at night so that if he was needed while he slept he would hear it and answer the phone. That didn’t prepare him for this phone call, however.
It was around 2:45 when his phone rang, startling him out of a dead sleep, and he sat up and fumbled for his phone. The ringtone was the one he’d set for Russ, and he was too groggy to find that unusual when he answered, “Hello?”
“Milt?” Russ’ voice was distant sounding and slurred, and there was a small commotion and a string of imaginative cursing. “What’re you doing up?”
Milt rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock, confirming the time. Maybe this was all some sort of strange dream. “You called me, Russ,” now that he thought about it if it had been a case the call would have come from Guizeman or the precinct. So why was Russ calling at nearly three am? Was he drunk dialing Milt?
“Didn’t really think you’d answer. It’s like one in the morning on a Sunday,” Russ said and yeah, he was definitely drunk. They hadn’t been around each other enough when they were drinking for Milt to recognize that slur in Russ’ voice right away, but based on the stories of Funk’s bachelor party he knew that Russ had a pretty high tolerance.
“It’s actually later than that. Did you need something, Russ? Do you need me to pick you up somewhere?” Milt asked. He wouldn’t have thought he would have been Russ’ first call, but maybe he wasn’t. Maybe that was why he didn’t think that Milt would pick up.
“Nah. I’m at home.” Milt wasn’t sure how to respond to that, but thankfully after a short pause Russ continued, “Holly and I had a Skype date earlier. We broke it off.”
“Oh, Russ. I’m so sorry,” Milt said sincerely, though something deep down inside him was actually glad. In the months since Holly had left for law school she and Russ had gotten further and further apart, despite their attempt at long distance dating. It had put a huge strain on Russ and Milt had hated seeing it. He didn’t like how upset Russ was now, and he hoped that Russ wouldn’t remember this conversation in the morning because he knew otherwise he would be mortified, but he also was glad that things had finally come to some kind of conclusion.
“Whatever. Long distance never works,” Russ grumbled, “Knew it wasn’t gonna work.”
“You tried. And that’s important,” Milt said. He knew if Russ were sober enough he’d be accusing Milt of just trying to use annoying platitudes, but Milt really did believe that. He wanted Russ to be happy no matter who he was with, despite the conflicted knot of feelings that was building in his gut for Russ, and Russ had wanted to be with Holly. If it had worked it would have made them happy.
“You’re annoying, you know that?” Russ asked, though it was with the tone of voice that Milt knew meant he was actually fond.
“Yeah. Russ, do me a favor, okay?” He wasn’t sure this would work, but it was worth a shot.
“Depends on what it is.”
“Go into the kitchen and get a big glass of tap water and some aspirin. Drink the whole glass and then refill it. Put the glass and the aspirin somewhere you’ll see it in the morning - you’re gonna want it.”
“Hey that’s actually a good idea. I think I’ll do that,” there was just the sound of Russ’ heavy breathing for a moment, then a slight moan and some incoherent mumbling that sounded like he was unsteady on his feet. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea. Milt didn’t want to be responsible for Russ hurting himself because he was too drunk to walk properly. But eventually Milt heard the tap running, so he knew that Russ managed to get to the sink without falling over.
After several long minutes Milt asked, “Are you going to be all right?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Russ sighed a little and said, quietly, “Thanks for answering.”
“You’re welcome Russ. I’ll see you at work on Monday, but if you need me you can call me.” Milt waited until he had gotten an affirmative noise before he hung up. Hopefully Russ would be fine for the rest of the night.
Despite having all of Sunday to recover from his hangover, Russ was still in a shit mood on Monday when he came into work. After the breakup he’d opened a bottle of whiskey and then things had gotten kind of fuzzy. He didn’t remember getting to bed at all. At least he couldn’t have done anything stupid considering he hadn’t left the house.
As he walked into the building he glanced over at the FBI side and frowned. Milt’s secretary of the week was there, but Milt wasn’t. He turned to the BCPD side and his frowned deepened. That would be because Milt was over near Russ’ desk. Perfect. Though he did have some pretty decent looking coffee, if Russ wasn’t mistaken about the brand.
“What do you want?” Russ asked when he got to his desk, accepting the offering of coffee with a grunt.
“I have a case you might be interested in helping with. We’d be leaving town, though,” Milt said after Russ got a chance to drink some of his coffee. “I’m the only one of us who would actually have jurisdiction there, and even then it’s arguable.”
“Where the hell are you talking about?” Russ asked. He hated it when Milt beat around the bush.
“A cruise ship.”
Russ waited a moment for Milt to say something else, for the other shoe to drop, anything, and when he didn’t he asked, “Wait, you’re serious?”
“Yes, Russ. The FBI can obtain jurisdiction on cruise ships when the ship from a U.S.-owned company, the victim is an American, the perpetrator is American, the voyage will set sail from or dock at a United States port, or if it’s in our territorial waters,” Milt said, and Russ could have sworn he actually looked eager. “In this case the vessel is American, several of the victims have been, and the ship leaves from and returns to United States ports. We can claim jurisdiction. Someone I knew back in Quantico is helping build a case around an unusually high number of missing persons this year aboard a particular cruise line. Unfortunately every time they try to investigate people clam up, even when they’ve tried going undercover. So she wanted to see if maybe someone from another area might be able to help.”
“So basically there’s a good chance they’ll make us anyway and we’ll just be getting paid to go on vacation?” Russ asked after a moment of thought.
“I doubt it, since neither of us have been to the ocean or on a cruise anytime recently, but it’s possible, yes,” Milt said, nodding.
“Yeah, I guess I’ll help,” Russ didn’t want to sound too eager, but to be honest it sounded exactly like the kind of case he wanted to be on right now. Something interesting and away from home that would take his mind off of things.
“Great,” Milt grinned wide and stood, “I’ll let her know!”
Two days later they were boarding the ship, about twenty feet apart from each other. The plan was pretty simple. The missing people had all been people who had boarded individually and then found companionship of some kind on board the ship. Before the pattern had been established, suspicion tended to fall on whoever the victim had met aboard the ship, which had probably been the point.
Milt and Russ were going undercover as single passengers who would then meet up after a day or so aboard and spend time together in the public areas, then go back to one of their cabins. They would then spend the rest of the cruise pretending to have really hit it off, as if they’d never met each other before, in the hopes that someone would attempt to abduct one of them. The pattern of the missing people said that someone would probably go missing from this cruise or another one soon. They didn’t exactly want to be kidnapped - and Milt really didn’t know how he’d react if Russ got kidnapped again, after Russ had gotten taken not once but twice on Milt’s watch - but they would be watching each other’s backs and using themselves as bait was a better plan than just hoping they’d see some other passenger get kidnapped.
As Milt checked in he smiled at the woman at the desk that checked him in, making pleasant small talk with her and feeling Russ’ eyes burning holes into his back. Through the whole of their partnership Russ had always seemed to have a strange reaction to how other people interacted with Milt, and Milt had never quite understood it. He didn’t try to flirt with them, they just sort of flirted with him. And if he responded that was generally out of politeness than any real interest.
Smiling one more time, Milt picked up his bags as he prepared to walk away from the desk, giving him the opportunity to glance back at Russ. Yeah, he was definitely glaring at Milt. He didn’t respond for fear of blowing their cover, instead just heading towards his room.
Now to relax for a day or so before they planned to meet up. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Apparently wrong. About four hours after Milt had gotten settled in he got a text from Russ.
@ first aid station. dont worry. just a little cut
Milt’s eyes widened and he texted back immediately, WTF do you mean don’t worry??? How did you cut yourself less than five hours on board the ship?!
did recon. ran into some rusty pipes, cut my arm. no biggie. on board doctor already has me bandaged up & took some blood to test to make sure my arm wont rot off
He tossed his phone on the bed and sighed. Well maybe now that they’d gotten Russ getting hurt out of the way things would go smoothly.
They really had a good plan, despite the fact that he and Milt basically would have to act like a couple during it. And it wasn’t like this would be the first time they’d done that - they’d lured a drug dealer out of his apartment by pretending to be the guy’s new gay neighbors once. That had been really entertaining actually. So Russ wasn’t sure just what about this plan was making him jittery and nervous. Maybe it was being so far from familiar territory. It had been a long time since he’d been this far from Battle Creek.
Who was he trying to kid? It was the fact that he was so recently broken up with Holly and now he had Milt and Milt’s ambiguous sexuality here with him on a silver platter. Before he’d gotten with Holly he could focus on her, not make a real move on Milt with the excuse of being fixated on Holly. While he was with Holly he could say he was being faithful, even though the night before Holly had left for school they had gotten a bit tipsy and had admitted that if possible they’d both put Milt on their Freebie List. Which, of course, had immediately switched him over to the Threesome List, making him the sole person they actually knew on that list. Most people on the list were actors, models, or both.
Despite their drunken shenanigans, Russ had never actually intended on doing anything about it. And now he was going to have to pretend to be a couple with Milt in hopes that he would be abducted by someone they thought was either harvesting organs or was running a sex trafficking operation that catered to people’s specific tastes, based on the wide range of people that had been taken.
It was the second day of the cruise, if you counted the boarding and day they set sail as the first, and they would meet up tonight. Russ finished getting dressed, trying to make sure he looked nice and that the bandage on his arm where he’d cut himself was covered, and then headed down to the ship’s bar and looked around for Milt. It didn’t take long to spot him. There was already a guy talking to Milt, leaning towards him and clearly flirting.
Russ wasn’t fond of people flirting with Milt under the best circumstances. He just found it irritating that they did it while they were clearly working (well, that’s what he told himself at least, and he knew it was a flimsy excuse) but this made him get really hot under the collar.
It was just different right now. Because they were supposed to pretend to hit it off and act like a couple. Yeah, that was why.
He headed over and sat on Milt’s other side, asking as smoothly as possible, “This seat taken?”
Milt looked over at him and paused, his gaze raking up and down Russ’ body. Wow that was an intense look. Russ had to fight down his embarrassment at it. “No, it’s not. Would you like to join us?” Milt asked, voice pitched a little bit low and seductive. Over Milt’s shoulder Russ saw the other guy roll his eyes and leave. Mission accomplished! Well. A secondary mission that was not the actual real reason they were there. Whatever.
“I’d love to,” Russ said, waving the bartender over to take their drink order. Now to take small talk and pretend they didn’t know each other when they knew quite a bit about each other.
In the end, walking in an unsteady zig zag back to Milt’s room, sort of tipsy and clinging to each other for balance, it had turned out that the hardest part of the small talk had been not talking about things they knew about each other and making sure to still talk about subjects that might be sensitive but would still be talked about. And talking just loud enough to be overheard but not loud enough to be suspicious.
Okay so it had been a little difficult but it had been a hell of a lot of fun.
“Do you want to come in for a coffee or nightcap or something?” Milt asked, gesturing to his door. According to the plan Russ should say yes and then they go inside for a bit and Russ eventually leaves. But something about that night, about the drinks and other people flirting with Milt, made him lean in and kiss Milt, grabbing his lapels and holding on tight as he does it.
Milt’s mind went completely blank with shock as Russ kissed him. When he regained his senses a moment later, Russ was already pulling back and looking embarrassed. Before Milt could say anything Russ was gone, tossing a comment about texting Milt in the morning over his shoulder.
The next day, and for the next two days, Russ was a consummate professional. They played their roles perfectly while in public and Russ was actually civil to him when it was just the two of them. But he’d stopped being himself. He was obviously hurt and any attempt to talk was shut down immediately. Milt let him stop the discussions, knowing they would eventually happen but that if they didn’t happen quite yet that would be fine - the less distractions the better.
Then on the third day Russ never showed up for their dinner ‘date.’ At first Milt thought he was just late, but when three hours went by without word he went to search Russ’ cabin and found it wrecked. There had been a struggle there, and given that Russ was missing it seemed that Russ had lost.
Milt tried not to freak out, but he knew he did, and instead he channeled his panic into finding Russ. There were only so many places on a ship that someone could be hidden, and only so many places with completely restricted access. The crew, of course, had access to those places, but Russ had to be somewhere that was restricted even amongst the crew. And there was a good chance that either there were several people involved or they had to sedate their victims somehow…
His eyes widened and he burst out of Russ’ room, sprinting towards the first aid station. That had to be it.
Russ regained consciousness slowly, groaning a little.
“Hey, don’t strain yourself. You were pretty heavily sedated,” Milt said gently. Russ felt a hand on his face and cheek, then pressing against his pulse point, before it was moved away. He opened his eyes and frowned.
“The fuck happened?”
“You were successful bait,” Milt said, giving him a little smile. This one was different, though. Soft and fond and relieved. Russ kinda liked it. “Turned out it was the doctor from the first aid station that was behind the abductions. He wasn’t the only one involved, but he was the leader.”
“Huh. How’d you figure that out?” Russ asked. They hadn’t even had any leads before Russ had gotten taken, and Milt hadn’t been anywhere nearby when it had happened.
“I realized that they would have needed to sedate you to get you hidden somewhere without making a huge fuss if the state of your cabin was anything to go by. And you said before that the doctor took your blood to test for tetanus. That's not diagnosed with lab tests.” Milt looked worried again, as if he were reliving it, but the expression cleared again quickly.
“Since they took me a few days later, the blood could have been for an STD panel, if it’s a sex thing, or to try to find a match if it’s a kidney stealing thing,” Russ said. He had no idea which one it could be.
“They got a confession - it’s sex trafficking. He gets clients that ask for people that look the right way and target them.”
“They? You weren’t part of it?” Russ was surprised. Usually Milt would have been all over that.
“Nah. I let my friend from Quantico handle that part. It’s really her case anyway. I wanted to make sure you had someone here when you woke up.” Milt fidgeted a little, glanced away, then looked back at Russ. “You surprised me with the kiss. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it.”
Russ had not been expecting the sudden shift in topic, and it took him a moment to follow. “I - what? Really?”
Milt nodded. “If you’d given me another second I was about to kiss back.”
“Damn. We could have actually been having sex the past couple of nights instead of pretending to, for the sake of the sex trafficking ring,” Russ said, startling a laugh out of Milt.
“Let’s make up the time, then. We still have a few days left of the cruise. How about we take advantage of it?” Milt grinned again and warmth spread through Russ’ gut at the sight.
“Sounds great. For now, though, get over here.” Russ reached up and wrapped an arm around Milt’s neck and tugged him down, kissing him again. This time Milt kissed back and when he did Russ moaned and bit at Milt’s lip eagerly. Distantly he knew he should be more hesitant about jumping into something with Milt so soon after Holly, but this felt right. They’d make it work. And if they didn’t … well, hopefully it would be good while it lasted.