Prologue: Batter's Up!
SLASH Pairing: Xander Harris / Don Eppes
Disclaimer: I don't own either the Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Numb3rs premise (or any characters created for either show). Anything recognizable is not mine. This is a work of fiction written purely for the enjoyment of myself and those who choose to read it. Please do not sue as no money has been made in the sharing of this work.
Beta: Lynx - all remaining mistakes are my own.
“Why exactly are we here again?” Xander asked as he followed Dawn through the stadium towards their seats. The small crowds were moving fast and he was having trouble keeping his balance as he was jostled to and fro.
Dawn glanced over her shoulder at him and sighed. She paused long enough in her search for their seats to grab a hold of his arm and carefully guide him along slightly in front of her. “We are here because you’ve been working way too hard these last few months - and don’t think that I don’t know why - and I won some tickets. I wasn’t going to let them go to waste just because I know next to nothing at all about baseball. You’re a guy, you’re obligated to know at least the basics of this game...well at least I know that you know a couple of the players.”
The two of them sat down in their seats and were getting comfortable just as two guys came up to their row. They sounded as though they were having a good natured argument, and from the tone of their voices, it was an old favourite.
Xander couldn’t help himself from listening as the two men moved their way past his knees to settle in the seats directly next to his and Dawn’s. The taller of the two brunets had taken the seat next to Xander’s and was smiling as he listened to the other man.
“I know that this is a pointless endeavour. It is a statically probable, though highly unlikely, event to predict the turn out of this game simply by going on the amount of losses in a row that the team has had over the last three weeks. Yes, the fact that their third-baseman is back from his medical leave has some...”
Xander tuned out the rest of what the obviously younger man was saying as he caught the grin on the other man’s face. He was so intent on watching the older of the two men that he was completely taken off guard when Dawn’s elbow planted itself into his side.
“Jesus, Dawnie, what was that for?” he demanded as he rubbed his newly bruised ribs.
Dawn offered up one of her ‘I know something that only a younger sister would catch’ smiles. “As tasty as your current piece of eye candy may look, you’ve a game to explain to me,” she murmured under her breath. She chuckled when her words prompted Xander to blush around his ears.
Xander glared at her but quickly conceded her point. He had come to this game with the agreement that he would help her to understand what was going on. In his mind though, baseball was one of the easiest games to watch. Either a guy hit the ball or didn’t, he walked or he ran. Simple to get and easy to understand - at least the basics.
“You brought me here to shop, didn’t you,” he accused the girl.
“Of course I did,” she stated calmly. “They are off limits though. Too close by so we can’t really get into details. Just a bit too obvious who we’re talking about.”
“We could use code,” Xander offered.
“Can’t now,” Dawn replied when Xander’s phrase caught the attention both the men seated next to them. She cocked an eyebrow at him and stared him down. “Now look elsewhere.”
Xander grumbled to himself as he let his eyes scan the crowd. Once he felt the scrutiny of their neighbour’s eyes off of him, he heaved a relieved sigh. He hadn’t meant to grab the attention of the two of them. Although, the older of the two had potential, he wasn’t quite ready to have either of the two men focusing all of their attention on him. After another minute or two, he gave up his perusal of the crowd. He chalked his lack of interest in people watching to not being able to focus on anyone more than twenty feet away. That, and there being no more then a few dozen people scattered throughout the stands.
“I can’t believe you brought me shopping but you won’t let me try on the one thing that strikes up my interest?” Xander asked in a slightly offended tone, using their regular code even though Dawn had already made it clear that they really shouldn’t.
He couldn’t help it, though. Dawn was the only person he had told in his small group of friends that he was probably just a little bit gay and, for that reason alone, he felt the most comfortable around her. He could easily bring up his interest in certain guys with her without worrying about her reaction. Because of that, he almost couldn’t stop himself from babbling around her, which was probably why she had created the shopping code to begin with.
With the stress on their friendship from being apart so often, he just hadn’t felt his newfound sexuality was something he really wanted to share with either Buffy or Willow. Oddly enough, he had never felt that strain when he was with Dawn, just the odd moment of uncomfortableness when something brought up a memory of the last year or two in Sunnydale. Whenever he had been with Buffy or Willow in recent weeks, he received those odd sidelong looks from them that told him they really weren’t sure what to make of him. Willow was still feeling guilty for the way she had treated all of them during her Black Hair Phase, as she liked to call it, and Buffy could barely look him in the eye anymore. On the rare occasions that she did, her face would get that hard look and she’d leave the room or get really quiet.
Dawn looked at him incredulously when his words, again, caught the attention of their neighbours. “Xander, as much as I may love you to pieces, your taste leaves just a tad bit to be desired - along with your lack of sense of self-preservation. For example, look at what you’re wearing.”
Blue jeans and the jersey of the team that they had flipped a coin to support along with a black cloth baseball cap didn’t seem too bad to him. Underneath the jersey, though, was another story. A large floral print Hawaiian shirt in pinks, purples and oranges had been his garment of choice. Dawn had paid him ten dollars to wear the jersey that she had bought for him.
“My choice in clothing aside, you can’t just take -”
“Ampata,” Dawn stated firmly, “French, Cordelia, Anya, and that one that nearly got you killed just before we all left Sunnydale. What did they all have in common?”
“All foreign design,” Xander replied quickly, his eyes darting to the guys next to them and back. The two men were a little too focused on the players throwing practice balls out on the field to just be minding their own business.
Dawn rolled her eyes and spied the hotdog vender three rows over. “You’re buying lunch,” she said, easily ending their line of conversation.
“Hey, would you mind grabbing us a couple of dogs while you’re at it?” Mr Tall Dark and Handsome at Xander’s side asked softly. He injected his words a little too smoothly into their conversation to have just happened to notice what they were talking about. “We appear to be invisible to the guy.”
Dawn gave him her ‘it’s a stranger’ smile and shared a look with Xander. After a very brief mental conference, the ability left over from Willow’s ever present contact in their minds back during the summer before they had resurrected Buffy, she shrugged. “Sure. Xan, give me money, I’ll be right back.”
Xander took the money that his neighbour offered and added his own twenty to the mix. He handed the money to Dawn who stood to go deal with the vender. “I want all my change back,” he called after her once all their orders had been taken.
“She seems like a handful,” the brunet said, again in his soft voice.
Xander shrugged. “I’ve known her since I was fifteen; I’ve loads of blackmail material in case she gets too uppity.”
“Really?” he asked. “It must be nice to stay in contact with your childhood friends.”
“Well, considering we work for the same organization,” Xander said, “it's hard to lose track.”
He kept an eye on Dawn as she weaved through the stands. Once she reached the vender, he spared a moment to face his neighbour and offer a quick, nervous smile. “I’m Xander.”
“Don,” the man replied, offering his hand but Xander, thinking that he had only offered his name to be polite, had turned back to watching his best friend’s sister.
It was difficult work to manage with only one eye. The dummy eye that had been magicked up for him so that he could get through daily work with a minimum of scrutiny didn’t do much but act as a very advanced prosthetic. In a small environment it allowed for depth perception, but with the size of the stadium, he was having a hard time focusing on Dawn and a headache had started to form behind his real eye.
“Are you a fan of the team?” Don asked.
Taken aback at the note of interest in the other man’s voice, Xander stumbled to get an answer out of his mouth. “Um ... no we flipped a coin and bought a jersey. Dawn was offended and apparently blinded by my wardrobe choice.” He laughed nervously as he brought up the sleeve of his jersey to reveal the garish colours beneath. He pulled his sleeve back down and glanced in Dawn’s direction with a scowl when she sent him a mental image of him stripping for the man. Being too far away to send her a message in words he allowed her to see Andrew leading a Dungeons and Dragons meeting. He was unable to follow up the image like he planned when he was again drawn away from watching her by his neighbour touching his arm.
“Are you all right?” asked Don, probably noticing the frown of concentration in place on Xander’s face.
The younger of the two men leaned forward to join in the conversation. “My name’s Charlie. You really shouldn’t hurt yourself looking for your friend; she’s on her way back. I’ve been keeping an eye on her ever since I noticed you having trouble.”
“Huh?” Xander asked, dumbfounded.
“While watching your body language and the way you turn your head completely around every time Don catches your attention, I was able to extrapolate that you have been compensating for a lack of sight in your left eye. I would say you are nearly blind in your left eye or that you are using a prosthetic.”
“How did you...?” Xander trailed off, astounded. His eye was very nearly perfect. The only reason why it didn’t work as well as it should was because Caleb had managed to destroy his optic nerve nearly beyond repair. What little depth perception he now had was thanks to the dark ‘oogedy-boogedy’ magic of Wolfram and Hart.
“Charlie’s a mathematician and he’s trained in logic. He’s very good at problem solving and is extremely talented in his field,” Don offered.
Just then, Dawn appeared with their food. She was laden down with all kinds of goodies and handed them all out quickly. After that, she gave Xander 37 cents. “Your change, sir,” she said with an innocent smile and a not so innocent mental picture of Xander and Don snuggled together hand feeding each other grapes.
“You did that on purpose,” Xander accused as he opened the tinfoil packaging around his hotdog, casually ignoring Dawn’s presence in his mind.
The girl merely smirked before she bit into her own food.
Don shared a look with his brother before he turned to watch their neighbours interact. The two of them were so close that they acted like they could read each other’s minds at times. They appeared so much closer than he and Charlie were. He had a feeling that he and his brother would never be quite as close as those two and he spared a moment to lament that relationship he would never have.
On close inspection, the two of them seemed to have an underlying uneasiness that implied there was history there that they were either trying to ignore or compensate for, not unlike him and his brother. It made him think unwillingly of how rough things sometimes got down at the office when Charlie disagreed with him and how he wished it would be easier for the two of them to work things out.
He leaned in his seat so that his shoulder was resting against his brother’s and he was facing the pair of them. He was able to keep half an eye on the game, while at the same time he could examine the two of them. A running bet with Charlie about the outcome of the game had him putting a minimal amount of effort into watching it. The girl looked to be barely out of her teens – if she was at all. Her long dark hair framed her face in a way that hid her eyes from all but those she chose to look at. Xander, though his nearly black hair was longer than most would consider tidy, was an open book. His thin face and wide eyes drew a person in in a way that Don couldn’t describe. He was thinner than could be described as healthy but his thick, well muscled shoulders leant him a fighter’s air. All in all, the man had a strong, earthy handsomeness to him.
“Either, you need to stop staring at me, or tell me what it is you find just so interesting about my ear,” Xander said, catching him off guard.
Until the other man had spoken Don had thought his watching them had been well disguised. Xander hadn’t even been facing him. He shifted in his seat, caught sight of the scoreboard and grinned uneasily. “I’ve just been trying to decipher your earlier code,” he said quickly, glad when the idea came to him. It had been nearly an hour since Xander and Dawn’s seemingly bland coded conversation about clothes. Nevertheless, it was as good as any reason for him to be scrutinizing them.
His words caught his brother’s attention and he felt Charlie shift so that he could be included in their conversation. At the look on his brother’s face, he just knew that he had opened a can of worms that wouldn’t be closed until Charlie had solved this current mystery.
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about that too,” Charlie said enthusiastically. After that sentence, Don was lost. His brother was talking in his usual set of Mathematician tongues, using polysyllables and quoting another Mathematician’s work, at least that’s what Don thought his brother was saying.
He couldn’t help but notice that Xander had blushed lightly what he had first mentioned the code though. The shaggy haired man was shifting nervously in his seat and trying valiantly not to touch the hand that Don had placed on the armrest that the two of them shared.
When Charlie finally stopped talking, realizing that none of them had any idea what he was saying, Dawn sighed loudly.
“That’s it, Xander,” she exploded after a moment of quiet, just before Charlie had been about to leap into one of his many colourful analogies. “See if I ever take you shopping again.”
With a note of curiosity in his voice, Xander asked, “How is that a bad thing? Every time we go, you spend the entire time criticizing my choices and simply end up telling me what I can or can’t have. In the end, I always leave empty handed.”
Not yet positive, what the two were talking about, Don turned to face the field properly. As a bit of an afterthought, he said to Charlie, “We should try that new place that Dad mentioned. The one he took the butcher to last week?”
“Antonio's?” Charlie asked. “I don’t think so. The stereotypical name makes me think that they’ve dogs in the back that they sing love songs to. I’m not losing this bet either, so you can just live with Dad’s cooking.”
Don laughed, shifted to adjust his wallet in his back pocket, and leaned into Xander as he did so. In the process he caught the sound of the other man’s quickly indrawn breath as he entered Xander’s personal space. He glanced at the dark haired man out of the corner of his eyes. From all outside appearances, it would seem as if all of his attention was being split between the game and the girl he was with.
Suddenly, Don knew the pair’s code. After only a moment’s silent deliberation, he decided to test his theory. He moved closer to Charlie but got Xander’s attention by nudging the man’s knee with his own.
Xander’s eyes were on him in a heart beat, taking in Don’s easily sprawled form. “Hey, you guys live here in town?”
“We’ve, ah,” Xander cleared his throat and coughed nervously. His eyes traveled Don’s form almost of their own violation, slowing over certain places before he continued his line of thought once he eyes returned to Don’s face. “We’ve an office in town. Dawnie goes to school nearby and I’m on a working holiday.”
“A working holiday?” Charlie asked over Don’s shoulder.
Xander shrugged. “I’m usually in the field, very hands on. I needed some time off but there’s some things that needed taking care of in the area, they asked me to do some desk stuff.”
The vagueness of Xander’s statement immediately caught Don’s attention, Charlie’s too by the looks of it, but he was stopped from questioning it when the people that had been sitting a handful of chairs down wanted to get passed them. A glance at the scoreboard told Don that he would be eating steak for dinner and that it was time to leave.
Xander and Dawn were already standing to clear the path for them. Don and his brother stood as well. The four of them were hustled up the steps by the small crowd behind them.
As they moved, Xander stumbled over some garbage. Don threw a glare over his shoulder at the rowdy group behind them and took a hold of Xander’s elbow. He guided the younger man along until they reached the large parking lot. Once out in the open, Don dropped his hand from Xander’s arm.
Blushing slightly, Xander moved half a step away from Don. “Thanks for the help. I get dizzy sometimes.”
“Not a problem,” Don replied. In an attempt to ease Xander’s obvious discomfort, he gestured towards Charlie. “Looks like my brother’s earned himself a new admirer.”
Xander turned so that he too, could see Dawn and Charlie exchanging contact information. “Oh ... you said Charlie was a math guy, right?”
Xander shrugged. “Well, Dawnie’s always struggled with math. She’s probably going to end up persuading him to help her study for finals. She’s always had a knack for that.”
“I thought you said that you guys work together?” Don asked curiously.
“We do,” Xander replied, “Our employers gave her a full ride scholarship. She does small things for them on the side. Research and development type things.”
Don nodded slowly, his mind still going over Xander’s many evasive answers. He was about to ask another question when Charlie dragged him away. “If we’re going to dinner, let’s get an early one. You are never going to believe the algorithm Amita and I were working on today...”
“Nice meeting you,” Don called over his shoulder, as Charlie went on.