Halfway through his nap – around three in the afternoon – Don Eppes again appeared in his room without knocking. Or at least, without knocking loud enough to alert him, which may have required more decibels than the human ear could typically withstand without permanent damage.
“Agent Eppes, to what do I owe this visit?” he asked in his best surprised host voice. Considering he was completely naked under the bed-sheets, he thought he was being pretty damn conciliatory to the man who kept barging in on him when he was short of clothes. Don’s eyebrows disappeared into his baseball cap at the question…the baseball cap he was wearing backwards, which made him look about seventeen years old…ok, he looked like a seventeen year old ‘roid abuser, but that was only because typical teenagers do not
have that much muscle.
“A little chat about your interrogation techniques, that’s all. My boss is giving me shit for letting another civilian in on interrogation…he’s gotten used to my brother’s help, but I rattle his chain a lot.”
“What’s it got to do with me?”
“Merrick, the director, he wants you to see a department psychologist to be cleared to work with us.”
Xander frowned. “My background check cleared Quantico. That should be enough.”
“It’s either Merrick or the psychologist, Xander, or you’ll never work with the L.A. Department again. Plus whoever else Merrick can convince, and he has a lot of friends among the directors. It’s a lawful and reasonable request - even the head of the FBI can’t get mad at him over it,” Don shrugged. “We have to know we can trust our consultants.”
Xander sighed. “Him or the psychologist?”
“Not you?” the one-eyed man pressed.
“It’s not like the request should be that
surprising. I’ve worked with you. I met Director Merrick once. I hate shrinks. You’re the logical alternative. Talk to your Director. I’ll wait,” he said, unconcerned.
Don muttered something uncomplimentary and reached for his cell. The conversation was short and hushed, though Xander knew immediately what the answer was.
Don, however, looked stunned for a full five minutes after he’d hung up.
“I have the rest of the week off. I’m supposed to tell him Monday if I trust you or not.”
“How do you plan to determine if I’m trustworthy?” Xander asked from the bed.
“Tell me about your scars,” Don said finally. “If there’s a clearance issue, tell me what made the scar if not how it happened exactly.”
Xander shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re getting into. And I don’t know if I trust you
with that information yet.”
Don frowned. “How do I get you to trust me
“Follow my lead…I’ll get to the scars. What’s your full name – all three?”
“Donald Edward Eppes.”
“Alexander. You probably figured that one out for yourself. I haven’t used that name voluntarily since I was five. Lavelle – I try not to admit that exists. And Harris. I changed my last name from Harris to Summers when I was twenty-five. My middle name is my mother’s maiden name. I don’t blame her for it, and I don’t even mind it, but I was sick of getting shit for it, so I just quit talking about it. The other two are my father’s fault.
“My father was an ass. He always called me Alex. I associated Alex with him and Alexander with my parents yelling at me. Lex was too close to Alex. I decided to go with Xander, and it stuck.
“As a direct result of my father being an ass, I decided not to keep his name. For more of that story, you’re going to have to wait to hear about my scars.”
Don nodded, and moved to sit.
“Also, you’re going to need to wait for me to put on some boxers, at least, because I don’t do tête-à-tête’s in my skivvies.”
Don turned around and stared at the hotel door immediately.
“Okay, jeez, you don’t have to act so repulsed,” Xander laughed. “You can turn around now. Continue thy interrogation, m’lord,” he joked.
“Tell me something about yourself. One person and one hobby you love,” Don said after a moment of thought.
“Hobby is pretty easy – whittling. Well, that or collecting Babylon 5 commemorative plates.” He pouted at Don’s snort. “You don’t appreciate my dorkiness?” he asked, mock-hurt.
“Person?” Don prompted, grinning.
Xander smiled softly, jokes forgotten. “My Willow. Willow Rosenberg, she’s my best friend since kindergarten.”
The love in his voice was so powerful Don couldn’t help but ask the next question. “Is she your wife?”
Xander laughed uproariously again. “Willow – me? …Married?” he gasped between chuckles. “First of all, we tried that dating thing once, while we were most inconveniently dating other people, and it was such a fiasco we decided to never
do that again. Second, I’ve given up on women after an incident a few months ago…again, I’ll give you the full story with my scars. Third, Willow hasn’t dated a guy since she was twenty. She’s a total lesbian now – not that I have anything against that, I just got pole-axed by your question. I mean, we’ve been told we argue like a married couple, but…”
“It’s just…it was obvious you love her a lot from your voice, but I guess it’s all platonic.”
“Yep. She’s just…my Willow.”
“I think I get that.” Don paused. “My mother died a few years ago, of cancer, and it felt like someone was putting my heart through a wringer. I left my fiancée in Albuquerque and stayed here for months. She’d call and ask me to send for her or come back…or just break it off already. The letter with the ring came a week before Mom died.”
Xander nodded. “I got almost all my parenting from my high school librarian and my best friend’s mom. So from fifteen on, they were it, them and my mom – when she was sober. Joyce – my friend Buffy’s mother – died when I was twenty. It felt like all the stability in the world was gone.”
“How much longer are you in town?” Don asked.
“I can stay however long I want. The beauty of being independently wealthy and only working part-time. I’ll probably rent an efficiency if I end up staying past the weekend.”
“Don’t worry about it – I’ve got a spare room, and I’m supposed to clear you…I’ll feel better if I spent some time one it.”
“If you don’t mind, then, I’ll check out and go to your place.”
“You don’t trust me enough to talk about your dad, but you’ll come to my apartment?”
Xander laughed. “No matter how much time you’ve been an FBI agent, no matter how much you’ve seen or done, there is nothing
you could do to me that someone else has not done already and more painfully than you can even imagine. I trust you not to hurt my body beyond what I’m used to…I’m not so trusting with my heart.”
Don shook his head in disbelief. “I guess you have a point. D’you have any plans for dinner?”
“I was thinking a restaurant, but I hadn’t decided.”
“Usually I try to eat with my dad and brother every Sunday and at least one other night a week. You wanna come with?”
“Home cooked meal? Are you sure I won’t be intruding?”
“Probably rib-eyes, if we’re lucky. My dad makes a mean rib-eye,” Don tempted.
“Count me in, then,” Xander grinned. “Should I bring wine or something?”
“Nah, usually we all just have a couple beers.”
Xander’s face fell. “Oh. Well, I’m…”
“Charlie has some other stuff in the house,” Don reassured hastily, though he wasn’t sure what was wrong.
“Don, if I see two big guys drink beer and grill me on my personal life, I’m gonna run. I know Dr. Eppes isn’t that intimidating, but your father is a big man. And Charlie will probably do most of the questioning.”
“You’re probably right,” Don said. “But we don’t have to drinl. If I tell Charlie you’re a recovering alcoholic he’ll probably leave all the beer in the garage just so you don’t have to see it.”
Xander shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t want to inconvenience your family, Agent Eppes.”
“You keep calling me that and I will call you Lavelle, no matter how sick of it you are. My name is Don.”
“And it’s not an inconvenience. It’ll give my father’s liver a break, anyway. We’re not big drinkers, Xander – I’m probably the worst, and I only go to bars after bad cases – and we can go one night without alcohol.”
“Will it be a problem, me staying in your apartment, then?” Xander asked tentatively.
“Nah. I’m all out of beer, anyway. I was gonna get a six-pack to take to Dad’s and another to leave at my place, but the point’s pretty moot. And, hey, if you can keep me off alcohol for a few weeks, my wallet will thank you…and my dad, too. He worries about me constantly,” Don rolled his eyes.Must be nice,
Xander thought to himself. He gave a weak smile for Don’s benefit, but didn’t comment.