Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and House, M.D. belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and David Shore.

When Dawn called London Headquarters from her hotel room in New York to tell him that Gregory House was getting fired from Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, Watchers' Council Head Rupert Giles closed his eyes, counted to ten, and told himself, You are the Head of the Council of Watchers, now behave as such!

"Get him," he told Dawn. "We still need a head for our Medical Branch."

"He's not fired yet," said Dawn, and he could almost hear her rolling her eyes. "Vogler's making his life hell, but he's still got tenure. The Board hasn't voted."

"Offer him tenure," said Rupert, even as another, larger part of him shouted, No! Don't give him anything! Let him rot! "Effective immediately. Twenty percent higher salary, sets his own schedule..." Rupert, you madman!

Dawn raising her eyebrow was nearly as deafening as Dawn rolling her eyes. "How do you know this guy again?"

"I do not." Want to, I do not want to. "I mean, he's...his—his notoriety precedes him."

"I know," said Dawn, "which is why I ask. We put a lot of money into that Medical Branch, Giles. Too much money. And you know whoever we get as Chief of Medicine is going to have to be briefed on...everything, I guess. I did the research, and I have to ask, how many bottles of way too expensive liquor did you have to get through before you could convince yourself to put his name in as a candidate? Are you sure you want to put those kinds of resources and knowledge into his hands?"

Rupert carefully set down his cup of Earl Grey, removed his glasses, and held the bridge of his nose while he tried to resist the urge to throw his chair into the window and shout into the speaker phone, No, I bloody well enough don't!

"Offer healing for his leg," he said then. "But only as a last resort."

The silence of the speaker was shocking in its completeness.

"If you say so," said Dawn finally. The very neutrality of her tone was suspicious, but he was relieved enough that she was letting it go that he refused to comment on it. "But I don't have time to go to New Jersey. I'm holding interviews for security personnel all week, and most of these people are limited availability. I can't reschedule."

"Ah," he sighed wearily, leaning back and picking up his tea again. "Who else do we have in the area?"

"Robin," said Dawn immediately, "but he's busy with the mess in Cleveland. Um..."

She stopped, and Rupert knew that she was mentally working through the roster of everyone they had operating in the United States because he was doing much the same thing.

Apparently, she came up with the same result he did, because she cleared her throat.

"We're short-handed in the States right now, you know," said Dawn, "and I don't want to send a Slayer. Do you know how seriously most people take an offer of employment from a seventeen-year-old?"

"I can imagine."

"Are you really sure about this? There's always this Cox guy at Sacred Heart, he's got a good—"

"No," said Rupert. "We need the best. The best that we can possibly get. And Gregory House—" Oh, how it hurt to say. "—is the best."

Again, there was a pause, and his stomach clenched at the foreboding that filled it.

Dawn cleared her throat. "You know, there's always..."

His heart wrenched. Regret and bitterness filled his mouth with something like bile.

"I mean," said Dawn, "it's not—it's not as if Buffy's not still with us, or anything."

He said nothing.

"She's here in New York," said Dawn, "and I'm pretty sure she'll do it if I ask."

He closed his eyes.

"I know you don't like—what's going on with her right now," continued Dawn, and he almost smiled at her refusal to refer to—that—as anything but a situation, "because believe me, none of us do. But there isn't really anyone else close enough, and—"

Bloody hell. She was talking as if he didn't trust Buffy with a pencil, much less headhunting. A twinge of indignation made Rupert interrupt more abruptly than he meant to. "That isn't the point."

Dawn didn't speak. Rupert set his jaw.

"I'll go tomorrow," said Dawn quietly. "I can cut a few interviews."

"No," said Rupert, "no, that...that won't be necessary. Call Buffy. Please."

Again, Dawn fell silent, and Rupert tried to breathe, tried to calm, tried to take control of the anger and resentment and panic that had suddenly gripped him so thoroughly in their barbed teeth—

Dawn's voice, when it came, was a whisper through the speaker. "Giles, you're falling apart. You need to talk to Buffy. This is killing you."

"Dawn," began Rupert.

"I know," she interrupted, talking over him. "It's none of my business. But, Giles—"

"Thank you, Dawn," said Rupert, and heard, in his own voice, something of Ripper bleeding through. "I'll take that under consideration. Now, if you would call Buffy and...and arrange things."

"Fine," said Dawn flatly, and disconnected.

Rupert disconnected his own line and then slumped back in his chair, his face in his hands.

How had it come to this?

"Sir?" The knock at the door was tentative, almost fearful, and made him wonder exactly how secure that conversation had been. "Sir, the five o'clock..."

"Yes," he said tiredly, "of course."

Too old. He was getting too old. A man of his age and experience ought to know better than to behave the way he was behaving, to nurse a decades-old grudge against a miserable recluse, to deliberately repulse those close to him and that he knew meant only well.

To sit in his office, shuffling papers and feigning to work, while his heart, his foolish, foolish heart—

He thought of Gregory House. He thought about how hiring Dr. Gregory House was probably the worst mistake anyone in his position could make, about Gregory House and his arrogance, his misanthropy, his blatant disregard for rules and conduct, for the feelings and humanity of others, his brilliance, his talent, his priceless and analytical genius—

—his obsession with all things unique, all things to which there could be no answer or equivalent—

He thought of Buffy. He thought about how distant he had become to her, how far they had drifted from each other. He thought about the last time he'd seen her, when he'd so mercilessly condemned her behavior without the least regard for her feelings and Buffy had so heartlessly told him exactly what she thought of him and exactly how he compared to—

Rupert put his face in his hands.

Buffy. Who wasn't a girl anymore, not at all, who had, somewhere, somehow, when he hadn't been looking, had turned into a woman, a woman who no longer needed him, to whom he had become superfluous in his roles of teacher and father, unwanted, a woman—

—who was incomparable, a woman before whom all other women were pointless, redundant—

And now he was sending her straight to Gregory House.

Idiot, said Ripper, disdainful.

"Yes," said Rupert, and, retrieving his glasses, stood up.