Rating: R to be safe. Sex is discussed and somebody gets nekkid, but nothing really happens.
Characters: Whole Cast
Spoilers: None. This an AU. Because after a certain point, the Canon Whedonverse began to suck very, very hard. This story is set in the summer after S6. Nothing after Billy on A:TS happened, and Tara never died on BTVS, so the “Vengeance Willow” storyline never took place. And heck, while I’m at it, Xander and Anya actually made it down the aisle.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, and I’m not making any money from this. I’m just using the characters to send what I think is an important message.
Summary: Buffy’s friends help her to face one of her own demons—one as dangerous as any of the literal kind.
Note: This was originally intended to be a short satire called “Ally McBeal Is Not A Character On Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, but sometimes a story gets away from you. This story is big and serious, like an after school special or at least a “very special episode of BTVS”. But maybe that’s a good thing—some things should be talked about earnestly.

Running on Empty: Famine
By Matt

Spin kick.

The vampire should have been knocked down, but it only stumbled back a few steps, and Buffy’s foot touched down wrong. Not very wrong, no, but she was just a touch off balance. A vampire that wasn’t fresh out of the ground might have been able to take advantage of it.

Vampire coming again.

Heel-of-the-hand punch to the nose.

Stiff fingers in the throat

Still coming

Kick to the chest to push him away, get some room

Not working. Something was wrong. All of these moves and maneuvers had long since become as natural as breathing to Buffy, allowing her to defeat lesser foes like this in a sort of unthinking, move-to-move reaction-fugue; allowing her to step back and strategize against greater threats.

But now she was an instant slow and getting slower. The vampire, who should have been dead already (if only she hadn’t stabbed him in the shoulder with her first try at staking him!) was now throwing his own punches, and her blocking reflexes were slow and sludgy.

She was having to think about what she was doing, like needing to think about how to tie her shoes—something was wrong.


Bright spangles of pain exploded in her head as one of the vampire’s punches got through. No big deal, shake it off, but instead she staggered away, the world blurry and spinning.

“Put up more of a fight than I expected,” the vampire was saying, “But that just helped me work up an appetite.”

He was reaching for her and she blindly lashed out with her stake and then he was dissolving into ash and she was falling into darkness.

The last sound she heard was a strangely familiar voice calling her name.


Buffy awoke to the smell of chicken-noodle soup, and for a moment she was a little girl again, in bed on a chilly, rainy winter day with a cold. “Mmmm…Mom?” Then her heart twisted as she remembered.

“I’m sorry, no,”

Her eyes snapped open. “Angel?” She sat up abruptly, or tried to.

Angel put his hand on her shoulder and lowered her back to the bed. “Easy,” he said. “Take it easy. Just relax.”

Since sudden movement set her head to spinning, Buffy didn’t resist. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Feeding you,” he answered, unfolding the legs on a tray and setting it across the bed.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she snapped, sitting up again and glaring at him. “What are you doing in Sunnydale?”

Some part of her expected him to look confused and say that he’d never left, that the past three years had been just one long dream that had darkened into a nightmare.

Instead, he answered: “Cordelia had a vision.”

“And you couldn’t just call me with a warning?” she asked, exasperated.

He shook his head. “If Cordy gets a vision, then I’m supposed to be here. Anyway, she saw you passing out and falling to the ground after staking a vamp.”

“Is that how I got here?” One of her hands flew to the side of her head that the fledgling had struck. Still tender. “Oh, my god,” she said. “He knocked me out with one punch! Not even Glory did that!”

“I know,” Angel said. “We were thinking someone had cast a spell on you, or drugged you, or something like that.”

“Well? Which was it?”

“None of the above,” he answered, shaking his head. “I knew what the problem was as soon as I saw you.”

“Well? Don’t go all cryptic guy on me again. What is it?”


“Malnutrition,” Wesley said, hanging up the phone. “Buffy hasn’t been eating properly for quite some time. In fact, she’s been eating very little at all. They’re fairly certain she’s anorexic.”

“Great. So now my visions are the nurse’s call-button for Buffy’s mental health,” Cordelia groused. “Shouldn’t I get a health insurance payout from the Watchers’ Council or something out of this?”

“It seems to me that anorexia is no less of a threat than any demon,” Wesley argued.

“Yeah, but why give me a migraine over it? And why send Angel scurrying up to fix it? She’s got her Watcher and her sister and all her little friends—how can they not notice it if it’s happening right in front of them?”

Wesley and Gunn looked at each other, then back at her.

“What?” She asked, looking back and forth between them both.

“That is a damn good question,” Gunn said, mostly to Wesley.

“No, seriously,” Cordelia demanded. “What are you staring at?”

“I think I know how they could have missed it,” Wesley answered slowly. “They missed it because it happened a very little bit at a time. When something happens very gradually, day to day, it’s very easy not to notice. It takes someone who’s only there to see the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ to see how radical the change really is. But I suspect that now that they’ve had it pointed out to them, it will be impossible for them to ignore.”

He placed particular emphasis on the last sentence, and Cordelia caught it immediately. She could be insensitive, but she wasn’t oblivious.

“Okay, you can stop looking at me like that now,” she ordered. “I’m not the one who has a problem.”

“Yet,” Gunn retorted.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m not crazy like Buffy. It’s just that an actress—especially a hopeful like me—can’t allow herself to get fat.”

“I don’t know,” Wesley mused. “It can be taken too far. The actresses on Friends have gone from lovely to emaciated shells of their former selves.”

He came out of his musings to find both of his companions staring at him.

“You watch Friends?” Gunn asked.

Wesley blushed. “Uh, well…”

Gunn waved him off. “Beside the point.” He turned back to Cordelia. “Look, I always thought white girls were too skinny. Give me a real woman with a real butt and some real boobs. But your bony ass takes it a step beyond. You need—“

Cordelia held up a hand. “Your attempt at brutal honesty is clumsy, and is only succeeding in pissing me off. Stop while you’re still healthy.”

Gunn deflated. “Look, if you want muscle, you can have muscle.“ he said. “I can help you with that.”

“Perhaps we could even talk to Angel about including a gym membership in your health coverage,” Wesley added.

“But you really need to eat something.” Gunn finished.

Cordelia sighed. “You’re not going to leave me alone about this, are you?”

“No,” both men said in unison.

Cordelia shook her head in frustration and flopped down on a couch. “God, even hundreds of miles away, Buffy Summers manages to ruin my life.”


Angel waited for Buffy to say something. During the hours she had been unconscious, he’d sat by her bed and mentally rehearsed what reactions she might have to his diagnosis. While he had most feared—and braced for—anger or denial, he knew that the blank-faced incomprehension he actually faced was even worse. It meant that Buffy didn’t realize, on any level, that something was wrong.



“As in starvation.”

“As in.”

“You mean something Hellmouthy, that just looks like starvation.”

“No I don’t.”

“Or some attack, like that time that Catherine the Great cast that blood-poisoning spell on me that made me feel and act all drunk.”

“Not that Giles or Willow were able to detect.”

Buffy shook her head, still frowning in confusion. “But it can’t be. I mean, I’m on a diet, but it’s nothing that’s out of control.”

There it was. The opening he’d been waiting for. Angel opened his mouth to say “why on Earth are you on a diet” when the door burst open and Dawn stalked in. She stopped at the foot of the bed, drew herself up, crossed her arms over her chest, and glared at Buffy.

Angel was stunned at Buffy’s reaction. He’d never seen her intimidated by any authority figure, be they mayor or mother, principal or watcher. If she wasn’t actually answering back, she was standing fast, facing any punishment with defiance and dignity. And if she didn’t defend herself very effectively from her friends, she didn’t exactly back down either.

But confronted by her glowering sister, Buffy was starting to wilt.

“So,” Dawn said. “I hear you’ve decided to try starving yourself now,”

Angel didn’t like her tone, or the further wilting effect that her speech had on Buffy, but he didn’t move yet. If a kick in the britches would help to save Buffy’s life…

“You’ll go to any lengths to get away from me, won’t you? If you can’t do it any of the quick or easy ways, you’ll try to sneak—“

That was as far as she got. The words had no sooner hit the air than Angel took her by the shoulders, picked her up, marched her out the door—squirming and squealing all the way—and handed her off to Giles, who looked completely unsurprised. He merely quirked a questioning eyebrow at Angel as the vampire returned to Buffy’s room, as if to ask “And what do you want me to do with this?”

“Bring her back when she has a civil tongue in her head,” Angel said, answering the unspoken question. Then he slammed the door.


“Angel!” Buffy exclaimed as she shot upright in bed.

“What’s wrong?” Angel asked, hurrying to her side.

“What’s wrong? That’s my sister you just manhandled!”

Angel relaxed. “Oh, that.”

“Yes, that!”

Angel sat back down on the edge of the bed and eased her back onto the pillows. “I used to do that to my own sister all the time—half of the time for fun. She’s fine.”


“I’m fine,” Dawn snapped, shaking Giles loose.

“Good,” Giles said, his voice cool and neutral. “Perhaps we should go downstairs. Have a bit of a chat in the kitchen.”

“In a minute,” Dawn said, glaring at the door. “Who the hell does he think he is? She’s my sister, and this is my house! I’ll—“

A firm hand settled on her shoulder. “Perhaps we should go downstairs,” Giles repeated. “And have a bit of a chat in the kitchen”


Dawn sat cross-armed and sulking in her seat at the kitchen table as Giles prepared a cup of tea for himself and a cup of hot chocolate for her. He ignored her glare as he set the drink down in front of her, then took a seat on the other side of the table.

“I apologize for pulling you away so abruptly,” he began. “But I fear that it was necessary.”

“Yeah? Why?”

“You were about to act like a fifteen-year-old,” he retorted. "And now is not the time for it.”

“Then when?” she demanded. “When Buffy feels like it? Which will be never? She’s hurting herself, Giles!”

“And you’re taking that as a personal affront, aren’t you?”

“How else am I supposed to take it?” she burst out. “She’s trying to die again! Over and over she keeps saying that things are going to get better now, but then she just turns around and tries to leave me again! She doesn’t want to be here, she wants to go back to where she was—anything to get away from me!”

“Enough!” Giles barked.

Dawn fell silent, first staring at him in blank shock, then growing sullen. “Okay, fine,” she muttered. “I’ll be quiet. After all, she’s the Slayer. She’s perfect. I’m just—“

“I said enough,” Giles said. “I don’t know exactly what the source of Buffy’s eating disorder is—there are quite a few possibilities, few of which are mutually exclusive—but I am quite certain that it has nothing to do with her desire, or lack thereof, to be with you. In fact, it may well predate you.”

“Right,” Dawn muttered, looking away. “Why don’t you name me one of these ‘quite a few possibilities’?”

“Depression,” Giles offered. “Depression kills the appetite. That’s one of the symptoms of clinical depression, as opposed to the kind of depression you get when it’s a rainy day and your plans have been cancelled by the weather.”

“So why would Buffy be depressed?” Dawn asked, still sulking.

Giles stared at her incredulously for a moment. “Because she was taken out of Heaven, of course, for one.”

“That was almost a year ago,” she protested.

“It’s a wound that will never fully heal. According to some theologists, the primary punishment of Hell is to be separated from Heaven.”

Dawn continued to sulk, and Giles realized that he was following the wrong track. To Dawn, so fixated on abandonment, the fact that Buffy had been in Heaven just meant that there was someplace that Buffy would rather be than with her.

“There is also the fact that Buffy was the Slayer for five years before you even existed,” Giles continued. “Seven years of constant war can add up to considerable combat fatigue.”

Dawn’s crossed arms started to loosen, and she looked up at him for the first time. Good. Some headway. “But there may be more to it even than that,” he went on. “You see, when I found out that my primary task in life would be to supervise a teenage girl, I decided to study up a bit. See if I could avoid some of the psychological deathtraps I knew I was walking into.”

“Guess it didn’t work, huh?” She said.

“Not as a rule, no.” He grinned over at her, and she cracked a smile. “In any case, have you ever considered the fact that, despite her enormous power, Buffy has very little control over her own life? Her destiny as the Slayer interfered with what should have been a broad choice of universities, and it prevents her from pursuing a career. She’s now trapped in a dead-end job, trying to support both of you and pay the bills for a house that was originally bought and paid for by a much better-educated and better-employed woman—a rather hopeless battle. Even if the stress didn’t kill her appetite, someone who feels that helpless is liable to take control of one of the few things that she can: her own body.”

“But…that’s crazy,” Dawn protested. “Hurting yourself because you already feel bad? That’s…like what Riley did, isn’t it?”

“I’m glad you feel that way,” Giles said. “If it makes you less likely to do it yourself. To be honest, I was starting to have worries in this direction toward you.”


He nodded. “Perhaps you should eat a bit more, too.”

She shrugged. “If you say so. If I’m too thin, it must be all the running around. I’m not starving myself.”

“Of course, you have your own bad ideas for dealing with your problems…” He fixed her with a sharp eye and she sank back into her seat, squirming. After a moment he let her go and took a sip of his tea.

“But you bring me to another point by bringing up Riley,” he continued. “You may have noticed that your sister’s relationships with men have been nothing short of catastrophic.”

“Oh, yeah. Dad got us off to a good start, and it’s just been downhill from there.”

“Exactly. Angel, Riley, this Parker pillock, even my own terribly ill-considered departure, they’ve all done their damage. From what little she’s told me, her relationship with Spike was virtually a program to tear down her sense of self-worth. Add it all up, and Buffy is convinced that something is wrong with her. After all, every man since her father has decided that he doesn’t want to be around her. I remember after Riley left, she tried to change her personality to make herself less intimidating to men. Fortunately, she encountered Warren’s robot woman not long after that, and decided that wasn’t the way to go. Unfortunately, she seems to have decided to change another aspect of herself in order to be more attractive and acceptable.”

“By getting thinner,” Dawn said, her voice starting to harden again.

“You know what the pictures in the fashion magazines look like,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, but—“

“If you must have someone to blame, Dawn, blame me,” he said. “She’s been thin to the point of unhealthiness for a long time now—since the end of high school, I believe. I should have noticed and done something sooner.”

“Yes, you should have,” she agreed. Then the self-righteousness fell from her face. “But then, I guess I should have, too.” She swallowed hard. “Or Mom.”

“Perhaps,” he said. “But we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves, either. These things don’t happen all at once. It’s sometimes difficult to notice that Buffy isn’t taking a doughnut during research sessions anymore. In any case, my real point in all of this is that there are a host of reasons Buffy might have done this, none of which involve malice toward you. There is nothing to be gained by passing judgment on her.”

“So this entire speech was Giles-speak for ‘Lay off her’?”


“Okay. I think I can do that.”


Despite his reaction to it, Angel had not dismissed Dawn’s speech from his mind. He was particularly concerned about what she might have meant by Buffy trying to take the “quick and easy” ways to “get away” from her. He didn’t like the sound of that at all.

It was something he would have to get details about later. Deal with it then, if necessary. There were more immediate priorities right now.

He picked up the bowl of soup, ladled out a spoonful, and held it out to Buffy, who just kept glaring at him.

“Don’t make me play ‘airplane’,” Angel said. “It’ll just embarrass us both.”

Buffy bit the soup out of the spoon sullenly, then muttered “Give me that,” and took the spoon out of his hand. She pulled the tray closer and started to eat, steadfastly refusing to look at her hulking nurse.

Angel sighed. “I’ll apologize to her later, if it makes you feel better.”

Buffy only grunted in reply, but she visibly relaxed.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Buffy eating, Angel watching. He only broke the silence to say “Noodles and meat, too.” Buffy flicked an annoyed glance at him in reply, but obeyed. It wasn’t until she neared the bottom of the bowl and started to slow down that he picked up the conversation again.

“Now, before we were so rudely interrupted—“ Buffy gave him another annoyed look “—did you say that you were on a diet?”

“Yes,” Buffy replied, spooning up the last of the broth. “I did.”

Angel stared at her quizzically. “Why?”

She stared back at him much the same way. “Because I need it,” she answered, sounding like he’d asked her why she did anything so time-wasting as sleep.

“No you don’t,” he said. “You get hours of vigorous exercise every night. If anything, you need to eat more than most people so you’ll have enough energy.”

“I used to believe that, too,” she said, setting the empty bowl back on the tray. “It’s funny how you can fool yourself.”

Angel took the tray and set it on the floor, then looked back at her, frowning in frustration. “Buffy, it’s true.”

She snorted. “If it was, then I wouldn’t have been so hideous and bloated back when I used to count on exercise to make up for all those calories I swilled down.”

Angel stared at her in blank shock. “Hideous and…? When were you ever hideous and bloated?”

“Back in high school,” she said, her tone somewhere between defiance and shame.

“You’re kidding,” he said. He’d half-expected a story about how she’d been overweight at some point in her early adolescence, before he’d known her. But no, she really was talking about her years in Sunnydale.

“No, I’m not.”

“You didn’t think so then,” he pointed out. “Remember what you said to the Master? ‘I may be dead, but I’m still pretty’?”

“The only reason he didn’t laugh out loud is because I hit him right after I said that.”


Down the hall from the room where Buffy and Angel sat talking was the room that Tara and Willow shared.

Tara entered without turning on the light, and closed the door as quietly as she could. Across the room, moonlight from the window shone on the bed, outlining Willow’s sleeping form.

Tara crossed the room and stopped at the bedside, standing and looking down at her lover. She didn’t dare sit yet—the shifting bed would surely awaken Willow, and Tara needed a moment to think.

When the two of them had gotten back together, Tara had found herself obliged to help Willow re-learn the way of True Magic. There was no question of Willow giving up all magic forever—magic was too much a part of her nature. It would have been like someone deliberately refusing to use their right arm for the rest of their life. It was either re-learn True Magic, or eventually fall back into the Dark Magic.

But recovering junkie in a magical twelve-step program or not, Willow was still the most powerful magic-user they had. So she was the one did the most to search Buffy for curses. She’d scanned Buffy atom-by-atom, on all levels of existence, and found nothing but starvation. Without the stimulant high of Dark Magic to prop her up, she’d been left exhausted, and Tara ended up carrying her to bed.

Angel had been impressed that Tara was able to do that—though not entirely surprised when he found out that Tara had been a farm girl—but Tara was worried. Willow had always been tiny, but she’d felt so light.

She thought about what was going on in the room down the hall, and made her decision: she sat down on the bed and began to stroke Willow’s hair.

Willow rolled her face up out of the pillows and blinked into the darkness. “Mmf? Huh?”

“Hey, sweetie,” Tara said softly.

Willow smiled up at her, and Tara wished she could see better. Willow always took a minute or two to get her eyes all the way open, and until she did, she looked like a newborn kitten.


Tara gave a soft, saddish smile in return and kept stroking her lover’s hair. “Buffy’s awake,” she said.

“She okay?” Willow asked sleepily. It was a measure of just how tired she was that she hadn’t sprung out of bed and raced down the hall to her friend’s side.

“For now,” Tara answered. “Angel is in there right now, trying to make sure she stays that way.”

Willow frowned in confusion and concern as she sat up. “What do you mean?” She asked.

“He’s trying to figure out why she isn’t eating,” Tara answered. Willow nodded and mouthed “oh” in comprehension as she continued. “It could be depression, stress, anorexia, or all of the above. We need to know why before we can help.”

“I gotcha.”

“You could even help,” Tara added.

“You think Buffy would tell me something she won’t tell Angel?” Willow asked. “It’s possible. I mean, I am her best friend, but it’s not like she hasn’t—“

“Actually,” Tara interrupted, “I meant that you could help me understand by telling me why you’re not eating.”

Willow stopped dead. Even in the dark, Tara could see the rationalization machinery moving behind her eyes.

“Please don’t try to tell me otherwise,” she said. “I carried you to bed tonight, and it felt like I was carrying Miss Kitty Fantastico.”

Willow deflated with a sigh. She was silent for a moment, then began to speak: “For most of my life, nobody noticed me. There was always somebody prettier to pay attention to—whether it was Buffy or Cordelia or Faith or whoever.” She paused a moment and smiled fondly. “Oz noticed, but he was just as much of a weirdo as I was.” Then the smile faded. “And even he…” She shook the painful memory out of her head and continued. “After that, I decided that I needed to do something to get prettier. I figured it would be easy to lose some weight—after all, we do all this exercise. All I need to do is—“

“Stop eating ice cream,” Tara said sadly.

“Right!” Willow said, not catching Tara’s tone. “Or cookies or cake or chips or soda or burgers or pizza and generally less of everything. And I guess it worked ‘cause, you know, there’s you, and—“

Tara put a finger to Willow’s lips. After a moment, when she was sure Willow was going to stay silent, she spoke.

“Willow, do you think I’m pretty?”

Willow tried to open her mouth, but Tara left her finger in place.

“No. Don’t answer right away.”

She stood, crossed the room, and turned on the lights. Then, without fanfare, she undressed to her skin and crossed back to stand before the bed. “I want you to really look. And really think about it.”

Willow really looked. She’d seen Tara naked many times before, of course. But this was different. Usually, when she saw Tara naked she was either out-of-her mind horny, or she wasn’t really paying attention because after awhile, watching your girlfriend get dressed after showering becomes casual.

This was different. Clearer.

For perhaps the first time, she really noticed Tara’s powerful shoulders and muscled arms, built by years of farm chores. She really noticed the heavy breasts, tipped with a pink that was nearly white, and the soft convexity of the belly. She noticed the broad hips—and when Tara noticed her noticing, she did a slow turn to display her rounded, dimpled ass—and the legs that were thick and muscular from riding horses, riding bikes, and walking country roads when there was no one to drive.

“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Tara blushed slightly and smiled. “I’m glad,” she said. Then she sat back down on the bed. “I love you, Willow,” she said. “And I think you’re beautiful no matter what you look like. But I worry for you. I worry that you’ll end up like Buffy is right now. Only you’re not a Slayer. If you make yourself sick, you might not get better. And even if you never do…” She paused, trying to think of the best way to say what she wanted to say. “You grew up Jewish, right, sweetie? Isn’t food supposed to be a blessing from God? There’s the potato latkes with the apple sauce, there’s the apples dipped in honey, there’s that twisty bread—“

“Challah,” Willow supplied.

“That’s it. I was never Jewish, but I think that’s a good belief to have. I’m not saying that you have to gorge yourself on sweets and greasy garbage to make me happy. Just…try not to be afraid of those things. Enjoy them when they come.” She reached out and took Willow’s hand. “Do you think you can do that for me?”

Willow opened her mouth.

“Really think about it,” Tara interrupted.

Willow stopped. Closed her mouth. Sat silent for a long moment. Then nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I think I can.”


Angel stared intently at Buffy. He was no longer shocked. He didn’t have time to be shocked. His mind was racing, trying and discarding one tactic after another. Finally, he decided that now was not a time to be gentle. Now was a time to get out the psychological scalpel that he wielded so easily when he was Angelus.

“Buffy, I’m not going to tell you how I always thought that you were stunningly beautiful. Or how many people obviously agreed with me. Nor am I going to talk about how I look at you now, see your ribs even through your clothes, and I’m actually frightened. All of that is true, but you’re not ready to hear it right now.”

Buffy stared at him. Now it was her turn to be shocked.

“What you do need to hear is this: tonight, you lost to a fledgling. Not because he beat you, but because you passed out from hunger. Your body shut down because it ran out of power, and for your body to do that, you must be riding the edge of starvation. This will happen again, and I probably won’t be there to save you when it does. The Powers That Be never give more than one warning. And when it happens—not if, when—it might not be just you that dies. What happens if you collapse trying to rescue Dawn the next time she gets herself captured?”

“You need to leave now,” Buffy interrupted.

“You know it’s true,” Angel said.

“All I know is this:” Buffy said as she climbed out of bed. Angel started up, but she walked right past him. “You took yourself out of my life. It didn’t matter what I wanted—you just did it. There were a few times you had the chance to come back, but you didn’t. Now you’ve been out of it for three years, and you’re coming back to tell me how to run it? I don’t think so.” She pulled her bedroom door open and held it wide for him. “Now get the hell out.”


Dawn was waiting out in the hallway, leaning against a wall and smirking as the door closed behind Angel.

“Ready to try my way yet?” she asked, starting for the door.

Angel’s arm shot out, barring the doorway.


She glared up at him. “Hey, your way didn’t work. And from what I could hear, it wasn’t all that different from mine.”

“I didn’t make it all about me,” Angel retorted. “That’s one difference.”

Dawn flushed. “Be as righteous as you want,” she said. “Didn’t work is didn’t work. My way will at least get her eating.”

“There’s a difference between really helping her and bullying her into behaving normally,” he said. “You can’t do both at once.”

For the first time, doubt entered Dawn’s face. Angel immediately realized that what he’d just said had never occurred to her, and he was reminded of how young she was.

Maybe I should soften up a little.

“Look,” he said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “We have a little time. You watch—for the next couple days, she’s going to eat more than usual so we don’t nag her. After that, she’ll slip back into her bad habits—unless we get her to make a real change. I can stay in town for those days, while we work on it. I still own the house on Crawford Street, so I can crash there.”

“So how do we effect this ‘real change’?” Giles asked, stepping off the top of the stairs. “I must confess, I have no ideas.”

Angel sighed and shook his head. “Me neither. That’s one of the things we’re going to have to work on.”

Tara, who had come out of her room in a bathrobe and listened quietly to the conversation, chose that moment to speak up: “I think I have one.”