Okay, I'll admit it. I need help getting Spike and Xander together. Does anybody have any ideas? I'm not gonna do another chapter until I know how I'm gonna do it. Next chapter, the romance will start, I promise.

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Chapter 12: Money Problems

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By the time Spike came home that evening Giles had already gone to bed so it wasn't until the next morning that Giles could pass on the woman's message.

Giles looked up from his newspaper at the sound of his nephew making his way into the kitchen. "Good morning."

"Mrnin'," was the grumbled reply. Dressed in his boring work uniform, hair slicked back, but still blinking sleep from his eyes, Spike fell into one of the kitchen seats and stared at the table. He hated mornings. They always seemed so unnatural to him. Who wanted to get up when the sun was still shining? All the fun stuff happened when it got dark.

Giles couldn't help a small, fond smile at the sight. "Did you sleep well?"

"Eh," Spike grunted with a shrug and Giles took that as a 'good enough'.

"Would you like some tea?" he offered.

Tearing his eyes away from the tabletop, Spike narrowed his eyes at Giles in thought, tilting his head as he worked the question through his sleep-fogged mind. Did he? A quick think, or as quick as he could when it was this early, and he shook his head no.

"Then how about some breakfast?" Giles asked. "I made pancakes."

Pancakes? Slowly coming out of his daze, Spike looked around the kitchen, noticing a stack of them over near the stove. "Yeah, sure. Why not?" Standing, he went to get himself a plate. Taking three—he could always go back and get more—he went back to his seat, grabbing the syrup bottle and pouring a generous amount over his food. Giles smiled again and rustled his paper, about ready to go back to his daily routine when he remembered the call last night. "Oh, yes," he said, looking back up, "Before I forget. You had a call last night."

Spike groaned around a mouthful of pancake. There was only one person who would call him here. He swallowed and forced himself to ask, "Wot did that wanker want now?"

"No. No it actually wasn't Angel. It was a woman."

At this, Spike frowned, looking up from his plate. This was new. "Yeah?"

"Yes. She said she was with the . . ." Giles tried to remember, "North Bay Medical Center, I believe." That sounding right, he nodded, not seeing Spike suddenly look much more awake at the name, "Yes. The North Bay Medical Center. I have her name written down here somewhere. Um . . ." Putting his paper to the side, Giles looked around, trying to remember where he had put the name and number. By the phone? "Wait here a moment," he told Spike, meaning to go get the number and come right back.

But Spike wasn't that patient. Seeing Giles get up, Spike got up to follow him out, asking as he went, "Wot did she want?"

"I believe she said there was an incident," Giles replied absently as he reached the phone and began to rifle through the many bits of clutter scattered across the table surface. "She wants you to call her back as soon as possible," and he found the number, "Ah. Here it is." Giles smiled and handed it to his nephew.

Taking it from him, Spike read the short note—really just a name and number—and nodded, reaching for the phone.

Giles frowned. "You're going to call her right now?"

Spike shot him a weird look. "Course." If there had been an incident he needed to know what happened. He could already envision horrible thing after horrible thing happening to his dark princess.

"But what about your breakfast? It'll get cold."

"I'll heat it up later." A clear dismissal.

Hearing it for what it was, Giles nodded but still looked a little concerned. Worried for his nephew. He knew this call was probably important and could only imagine why a hospital would call in the first place, but he wouldn't force his questions and knew Spike would never tell him willingly. "Very well," he simply said and went back into the kitchen to finish his paper.

--

Xander stared at Willow, despairing. Here he'd come to her with his problem—that he was running out of money and soon would have no place to live—and she was barely paying attention to him. She was just kind of staring into the space to the right of his head, not really blinking much. "Um. Hello?" He waved a hand in front of her face. "Remember me? Xander? Your best friend?"

Startled, Willow jumped guiltily. "Oh!" she said and turned to him to apologize, "I'm sorry. I'm just really tired. Me and Tara did this ritual last night and it was amazing," getting sidetracked, "There was this presence and—

"Yeah. Not really caring right now. Remember my problem?"

"Um," Willow stopped talking and began to look guilty. "No?" obviously trying for innocent, "I think I might've zoned out just a little bit. Just a little." Holding up her thumb and index finger to show just how little she meant.

"Willow!" Xander said, exasperated.

"I know! I'm sorry. I'll listen now!" Willow settled in on her bed to listen, gesturing for him to start talking. "Come on. Tell me. I wanna know."

Seated in her desk chair, the two of them alone in her dorm bedroom, Xander crossed his arms over his chest and looked away. "Well maybe I don't want to tell you anymore. You should've been listening the first time."

"Xander," Willow chided, "I said I was sorry."

Xander sighed irritably, but relented. "Fine," he said, "I was talking about how I was running out of money. You know, for rent and stuff." Getting over his anger, he turned to her seriously and told her, "I haven't eaten a real meal in three days. I've been living off of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper."

Now Willow started to look a little worried. "Xander, that's not good."

"You think I don't know that?" Xander asked defensively, "I'm not gonna have a place to live, Willow," he said with wide eyes, getting frightened as he remembered. "You know that dirty old homeless guy who lives in that cardboard box on Owensmouth? The one that smells like fish?"

Willow looked a little confused, obviously wondering what this had to do with anything. "Yeah . . .?"

"I'm gonna be him."

"Xander," Willow said, getting this look on her face that said she obviously thought him over-exaggerating which he totally wasn't. "It's not gonna be that bad."

"Yes, Willow," Xander said seriously, "Yes it will."

"Well, maybe you can do something to avoid that. Why don't you get a second job?"

"Don't you think I've tried that? Nobody will hire me, Willow," Xander had to repeat that just to make sure she got the seriousness. "Nobody."

"Maybe you're just not looking hard enough," Willow suggested.

"Willow!"

"What?" Willow asked, starting to get defensive. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"I want you to fix things," Xander said, fisting his hands and leaning forward imploringly, "Help me. Just do something. Not tell me that I'm not trying hard enough. I'm working my ass off here. You think I want to starve cold and alone on the streets?"

"We're not gonna let that happen," Willow said seriously, seeming to start to get the seriousness of the situation. For a moment they were silent, Willow thinking and Xander letting her think. Finally she looked up. "What about a loan?"

Xander sighed, leaning back in his chair, and looked down. "I have no credit. No bank would give me a loan" He'd actually already thought of that.

"But what about if you got a loan from someone you know?"

"Like who?" Xander asked, looking back up at her skeptically, "Everyone I know is just as poor as me."

"Not Giles," Willow pointed out.

And Xander wanted to stay far away from that thought. "Oh," Xander said, backing up as far as he could on his chair, "Oh no. There's no way. Don't even think it."

"Why not?" Willow asked, obviously already getting excited about the idea. "It's perfect."

"It's the G-man," Xander said. And that really was all he should need to say.

But Willow obviously didn't understand the obvious. "So?"

"So?" Xander repeated back at her, looking at her like she was crazy. "So, it's Giles. You can't mooch off of Giles."

Willow rolled her eyes, obviously thinking he was just being difficult. "It wouldn't be mooching. You'd pay him back."

There was one major flaw in that argument. "But what if I can't?"

"Xander," Willow just looked at him, "You'd pay him back," she said simply, as if it were just an obvious fact, "And even if you didn't, do you honestly think he'd care?"

Xander looked her straight on defiantly. "Maybe he would," he said, more just to be difficult than anything else.

"Giles isn't like that," Willow said, shooting him an exasperated look. She probably knew he didn't really believe that either. Willow always could read him like a book. "And, really, we all know that you're practically his son."

And he really wished she hadn't said that. "Willow!" he cried, embarrassed and uncomfortable. He didn't really like to think about his relationship with the older man. He knew something was there, but he refused to acknowledge it. Thinking about it just brought on too many questions and doubts and wishes that were just easier to ignore.

"What?" she asked defensively, "I'm just saying, you know?"

"Yeah, well, you need to quit saying."

"Oh fine," Willow obviously thought he was being ridiculous, but still surrendered, "I won't say anything anymore. I'll be good, okay? This is me being good." She settled back into her seat, folding her hands in her lap, and looked to him expectantly.

"Thankyou," Xander said, glad she'd dropped it, "And we can totally forget about asking him for a loan too, okay? 'Cuz I won't do it."

Willow's good-girl face broke as she looked disappointed. "But why not? It's perfect."

Xander stayed stubborn, shaking his head. "I'm just not gonna do it. There's no way."

"But what are you gonna do about the money?"

"I'll find another job," Xander said with a confidence he didn't feel. "I just have to keep trying."

Willow looked at him for a long moment, long enough for Xander to shift uncomfortably under her gaze, before she finally sighed and relented. "Well, okay. It's your life." And that was just a little too easy. Xander hoped she wouldn't do something stupid in an attempt to "help him". Not that Willow did a lot of stupid things, but she'd been known to do all sorts of things in "his best interests" and Xander had learned to be cautious.

He'd have to watch her for a few days just to be sure.

--

If Xander wanted to get a job he needed to throw his pride away and work whatever job was offered. And that was how he found himself in Double-Meat Palace the next day, filling out an application. He'd been putting off this place because of the nightmares he had used to have of working there until the day he died.

But he'd had no luck anywhere else so it was time to suck it up and just do it. Those nightmares were about to become reality and he winced as he put the finishing touches on his application and quickly signed the bottom. Now he just had to actually turn it in.

So he sat there in that small plastic booth and stared at the piece of paper before him. Did he really want to do this? There could be other ways. This wasn't necessarily the only place hiring. Maybe he should wait a while and see if it was really needed.

But maybe this was the only place that would take him. Maybe if he waited the spot would be taken.

Xander bit his lip, caught in indecision. Looking up, he tried to spot the manager, hoping that he was maybe too busy for Xander to bother him, giving Xander a reason to come back some other day. He didn't spot the manager, but he did spot a long leather duster and bright blond head.

"Spike?" he asked nobody disbelievingly. "What's he doing here?" Xander knew for a fact that Spike hated this place. Called it a pit of grease made for fat, balding men with dreams of power.

Xander had to see what this was about. Spike seemed to have just ordered, the cashier disappearing somewhere, and Xander approached quickly. "Spike?" he asked, reaching out to tap him on the shoulder.

Spike jumped, obviously startled, and turned quickly to stare at him. "Harris?" he asked disbelievingly, then backed up a step and looked this way and that as if the rest of the gang was going to jump out of the corners of the restaurant. "Wot're you doing 'ere?" he asked, sounding strangely guarded.

"What am I doing here?" Xander asked, blinking, "What are you doing here? I thought you hated this place."

"Yeah, well," Spike gave a one-shoulder shrug, face going carefully casual, "Mebbe I thought I'd give it a try."

Xander narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Really?" That didn't sound like him.

"Mebbe I did," Spike said, acting maybe a little too defensive before turning the questioning onto Xander. "Wot're you doing 'ere?"

That made Xander step back and stop with the suspicion as he remembered why he was there. He looked down and he rubbed the back of his neck, laughing a little self-consciously. "Heh. Yeah. Could you believe I'm actually filling out an application?"

"Yer— Spike cut himself off quickly and looked away, tapping his fingers against his jeans..

"Yeah," Xander said, tilting his head with a small frown at this curious behavior. "An application. I told about my money problems, didn't I?"

"Y' might've," Spike said shortly then jerked his head in the direction of Xander's table, where he had left the application for all to see. "But why don't I let y' get back t' that?"

Xander's frown deepened. Why did it seem like Spike didn't want him around? "Spike?" he asked.

"Sir?" The cashier's voice came from behind them, apparently having come back sometime while they were talking. Xander turned to the girl curiously, but Spike stubbornly kept his back to her. "Sir?" the girl tried again. "I have your application."

Why did it seem like she was talking to Spike?

Xander turned to Spike and jerked his head in the cashier's direction. "Is she talking to you?"

Spike clenched his jaw and said darkly, "No."

"Sir?" The girl tried one more time.

"No. No. I think she's actually talking to you," Xander said.

"No," Spike said stubbornly, his jaw still clenched. "No, she's not."

"Sir? Don't you need this?"

There was a moment where it didn't seem like Spike would respond, but then he turned. "Fine. Yes. Yes. I need it." Spike angrily snatched the paper from the girl's hand then turned and stormed in the direction of the door. Xander hurriedly ran back to his table and grabbed his application before racing out the door after him.

"Dude," Xander said, hurrying to catch up to Spike's long strides. "Dude, you're filling out an application too?"

"Yes." Obviously embarrassed and angry, Spike hissed past clenched teeth. "Shut up."

"But that's great! We can miserable together!"

Spike stopped abruptly, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Then another as he tried to calm himself. "I don't want t' be miserable t'gether," he finally said, obviously straining to be calm, "I don't want anythin' t' do with that hell-hole."

Xander looked curious. "Then why are you applying? I mean, it's not like you actually need the money. You get more than enough of that from the pool tables."

In an obvious attempt to get some time, Spike began to search through his pockets, looking for his smokes. Finally finding them, he pulled his cigarettes out of a duster pocket, slipping one out and lighting up. Not looking at Xander, he muttered lowly. "Sumthin' came up."

"Oh," Xander said, nodding his understanding, and then looked both ways to make sure no one was around close enough to hear. They were standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the Double-Meat Palace, with two or three cars in the Drive-Thru, but no one was around. Still, he leaned in closer to ask. "Did they up the price?"

Spike turned to him, obviously surprised. "How did you—" He took the cigarette out of his mouth and started again. "How did you know?"

Xander shrugged slightly, leaning back. "Well, it was kind of obvious. You know with you needing so much money and all."

"Obvi— Spike cut himself off, taking a nervous drag of his smoke. Then, face hardening in resolve, Spike reached over with his free hand and dragged Xander closer. "Who else knows?"

"Well, Buffy," Xander started, a little uncomfortable with Spike's closeness, "It was her idea. But then me and Willow too. And then I guess there's Tara and probably Anya. And Giles. And Buffy's sister."

"So, yer sayin' basically everybody."

"Um," Xander scratched his head and stared at the ground, still uncomfortable. "Yeah."

"Right." Spike let him go, taking another drag of his smoke as he looked off into the distance. Then he turned to Xander again with narrow eyes. "And wot exactly do y' think y' know."

"Well, it's the drug dealers, right? You're in debt and if you don't pay a certain amount of money by a certain time, they're gonna break your legs."

Spike stared at him for a long moment and Xander shifted under that gaze, starting to get the idea that maybe he shouldn't have said anything. Finally Spike spoke, "Y' lot think I'm in debt t' some drug dealers?" No mistaking the disbelief in his voice.

"Is that not right?" Xander asked as he looked up, voice small.

Spike looked like he couldn't believe it. "How stupid do y' lot think I am?"

"Well, what were we supposed to think?" Xander asked defensively. "A guy needs money and won't tell anybody why. The automatic thought is always drug dealers."

Suddenly a lot more relaxed, Spike snorted and turned away. "Mebbe yers."

"Well why else would you be so secretive about it?" Xander asked, "I mean, what else could be such a big deal?"

"That's none of yer damn business," Spike said, glaring at him.

And Xander knew that. He shrugged. "Doesn't mean we can't wonder. There's no harm in that."

--

TBC?