Author's Notes: This fic was written for 25lively, who wanted to read a story that explored why Cuddy chose Masters for House's team. Thank you for the inspiration; I hope you like it. Also thank you to my brilliant and speedy beta whose patience and dedication never fails to inspire me.

Disclaimer: The show belongs to other far more talented people.

Potential
By Duckie Nicks

When she posts the job ad, she's not actually looking to hire a new assistant. In a rare turn of events, Cuddy is content with the one she already has. But knowing that House will almost certainly find it online, she creates the ad anyway; listing qualifications only a fellow – not an assistant – would need, she knows what kind of impression it will give him.

It'll make him think she's hiring someone for him.

Truthfully, that's not her intention. But if he won't hire someone to replace Thirteen on his own, Cuddy's going to make sure he thinks she will.

A few days later, though, he still hasn't hired anyone.

Whether he's seen the job applications she's left on her coffee table in a purposefully careless manner or not, she doesn't know. She would like to assume that he has, that he's merely calling her bluff, but she can't be sure.

What she can be certain of is the fact that his behavior (and the reasons for it) doesn't matter. Her next step is clear, regardless:

She sets up the interviews.

In her mind, it's not a waste of time. Either she finds someone for House or he resents her meddling so much that he stops playing games and hires someone himself. And since she gets what she wants in both of those cases, she doesn't exactly care that she has to spend a few hours of her already overextended schedule interviewing candidates.

It will be worth it in the end.

Truth be told, however, she doesn't expect to conduct a single interview. She expects House to put a stop to all of this before it even really begins.

He doesn't.

Cuddy doesn't bother considering why this is. Because he wants her to find someone for him, because he just doesn't care, because he plans on firing whoever she hires anyway – there are plenty of reasons at her fingertips. But she makes no move toward any of them; trying to understand House's motives is an impossible endeavor at least fifty percent of the time, and she thinks it's a better use of her time to focus on moving things forward. So she begins the interviewing process instead.


Masters is the third person she talks to that day.

Cuddy spends the five minutes before Masters walks in reading her resume. Graduated high school at fifteen, doctorates in art history and applied mathematics – Cuddy likes what she's reading and nods her head as she continues – before she could apply for med school in... 2007.

Immediately she stops reading and sighs. It can't be denied that so far, Masters is probably the most desirable candidate, the one who will give House the biggest challenge. Her I.Q. is in the same ballpark as his, which is reason enough to hire her, honestly. She's got the longest list of accomplishments, which doesn't scream (unlike the first two interviewees) that her biggest achievement has been not being sued after accidentally killing someone.

But Cuddy doesn't think she can ignore that this woman isn't a doctor. Of all the qualifications to have, that one seems kind of important.

It doesn't help that, when Masters walks into Cuddy's office, she looks all of about twelve. Her cheeks have a youthful fullness, accentuated by the dark bangs that frame her pale face. Her big brown eyes are wide and frightened, possibly from realizing somewhere along the way that she's meeting with the Dean of Medicine and not some faceless administrator. And with the Mary Janes and black tights, she looks absolutely nothing like the kind of person Cuddy needs to hire. If anything, she looks like someone House would eviscerate in five seconds.

Still, there's something compelling about being in the room with an actual genius. It's not Cuddy's first time; that would be House – one of the only firsts of hers he can claim to have taken. But that feeling of irresistible curiosity, the sense that unlimited potential is in the room with her is not diminished. And despite feeling as though Masters cannot possibly be on House's team, Cuddy gestures warmly for her to sit down.

"There's no reason to be nervous," she says in obligation. She would like to mean the words, but her own ego prevents her from being able to do so.

Masters sits awkwardly, her naïveté both obvious and painful to watch. "I-I-I didn't realize I'd be interviewing with you. You're, like, one of the most successful female doctors in –"

"Thank you," Cuddy interrupts. It's nice being reminded that she's hardly a lesser mind compared to Masters, but Cuddy doesn't need the flattery. She's certainly not going to waste valuable time on it.

"Sorry." Masters swallows hard. "When I'm nervous, I tend to talk. A lot – I pretty much ramble incessantly if you let me get started, especially to other women for reasons I –"

Almost repeating herself, Cuddy interrupts, "You don't need to be nervous." But she can't help but feel her brow knit together in judgmental confusion anyway.

"Maybe not from your perspective, but from mine, interviewing with the Dean of Medicine to be her assistant is pretty nerve wracking." She smiles apologetically.

"Actually," Cuddy says slowly, tentatively deciding that she might as well be honest. "I'm looking for someone to fill a different position."

Masters stops fidgeting in her seat. "What kind of position?"

"Dr. House recently lost one of his fellows. He's looking for someone to replace her." Whether he wants to or not, Cuddy adds silently.

"Oh. Wow."

"He needs someone with an incredible mind, someone who can pinpoint diagnoses and treatments, no matter how unusual, under pressure."

Masters nodded her head but said, "You do know I'm a med student… right?"

"Yes."

"Shouldn't you be looking for someone who… is a doctor?"

Inwardly Cuddy knows she's simply speaking the truth; House's fellow should be a doctor. But at the same time, Cuddy's beginning to feel that that's an unwise choice.

She refuses to say that it's the wrong one, because rationally she knows that it isn't. However, in the back of her mind is a niggling thought: doctors are easy to find.

Geniuses are not.

"As I said, of utmost importance is intelligence. He needs people he can bounce ideas off of."

"Right."

And though it seems wrong to hire a med student, Cuddy begins her barrage of questions, designed to test the applicants' mental prowess, nonetheless. "A twelve year old girl is treated for a dog bite in her foot. The wound heals within a month's time, without incident. Afterwards though, the girl begins to experience crippling pain in her foot. She begins to use crutches and eventually has to use a wheelchair. She's referred to Dr. House. What's the next move?"

Masters thinks for a second. Then she suggests, "I'd draw blood, make sure she doesn't have Osteomyelitis… or rabies. If that came back clean, I'd do X-rays, bone scans – could be a s-stress fracture." She stumbles on her words when she notices Cuddy watching her intently. "If the bones look intact, then I'd start looking for nerve damage. Maybe the dog nicked something important. It'd be less common for it to appear in a young girl, but I'd also suggest complex regional pain syndrome if nothing else seemed –"

"Good," Cuddy interrupts, satisfied with Masters' answer.

But that doesn't stop them from going through six or seven more rounds of this. Masters, not surprisingly, offers wonderfully round explanations, accounting for every rational possibility for each question. Her responses all better than the last, Cuddy can see that the longer they do this, the sharper Masters' mind becomes, the more at ease she is at demonstrating her brilliance.

Of course that would happen though; Cuddy's not sure why she ever doubted such a thing. Yet she did, and even now…

She's only mildly pleased.

Oh, she's impressed by Masters' ability to recite textbook differentials. But working for House is slightly more complicated than that. He needs more than medical expertise; he needs people who can offer a perspective different than his own, who can read others as well as books.

Still, unlike the last two candidates, Masters has demonstrated that she is, at least, incredibly intelligent. So Cuddy presses her further.

Licking her lips, she mentions. "My assistant has been mad at me all day. Do you know why?"

"He thinks these interviews are to replace him. He saw the job listing and –"

"What gave it away?" Cuddy leans back in her chair, waiting to hear the answer.

"What do you mean?"

"How did you figure that out?"

Masters blinks. "He told me."

"He told you." The words seem odd on Cuddy's tongue.

"He seemed upset," Masters explain in a tentative voice. "I asked him what was wrong, and he told me."

Cuddy's not sure what to do with that answer. Masters makes it sound perfectly logical, and maybe it is to someone who hasn't been influenced by House's rabid distrust of other people.

And that's when Cuddy decides that perhaps Masters really is the better choice. She obviously has the brains for the job, clearly has a perspective that House and his team lost some years ago. Maybe she would be the person best suited to fill Thirteen's shoes.

Or maybe, Cuddy thinks, doubt whispering in the back of her mind, that's the craziest idea she's had all day.

Still, she can't deny she's intrigued. So she decides to test Masters further.

"Say House wants to induce heart failure in a patient. What do you do?"

"Tell him not to," Masters says in a slow voice, as though it's the only option available to her. "Report it to –"

"If he wants you to break into someone's home, would you do it?"

Masters scoffs. "Of course not! Why would I need to break into –"

"Patients lie." Cuddy says this with a shrug.

But it's definitely a big deal to the other woman. "Yeah. I'm sure they do. I don't think that the way to earn their trust is to break into their homes though."

Cuddy likes the answer but decides to push further; it's easy, after all, to take a stand when a job isn't on the line. "You're sure about that?"

"Yeah. I am."

"If House threatened to fire you over it?"

Masters shrugs. "Then I guess he does."

Cuddy can see in her eyes that there's a question there (would he really do that?), but Cuddy doesn't care about that. The important part is that Masters is willing to stick to her beliefs. House will respect her for that and, in all likelihood, have plenty of fun trying to destroy those convictions.

And the idea that Cuddy might have a responsible genius on staff… well, she can't deny it has appeal.

But the rational part of herself tries to say that she needs a little bit more to go on than appeal. She needs to see experience as a doctor, proof that she'll be able to perform under intense pressure. She needs to see something in Masters that doesn't come from a book or originate in naïveté.

Right?

The argument is sound, but somehow it falls short in her mind. And she's not sure why that is, even less sure of why she ends up hiring Masters. But Cuddy guesses that what it comes down to for her is a feeling, that daring that only deeply rooted potential of others can create inside of her.

It's hard to explain, impossible at times to defend. Yet the results almost always speak for themselves. Years ago, she'd taken a chance on House, on someone the entire medical community regarded as dangerous – a genius but a lost cause. And he's repaid her for that leap of faith millions of times over.

Which is why she knows Masters can do the same.

Right now, she's just a naïve girl, a med student without much experience to speak of. But under House's tutelage? That could be something amazing. She will be amazing. Cuddy has doubts now, but she has no doubts about that. And in that case, why not scoop the talent before someone else does?

It'll be difficult, of course, working with Masters' med school and convincing everyone else that this is a good plan. Cuddy fully expects others to assume she's taken the girl under her wing, because she sees some of herself in Masters; it's a move that seems to make no logical sense, so obviously the reason is something irrational. But Cuddy suspects it will all be worth it.

House will hate it.

He will absolutely despise having to work with someone as virtuous as Masters seems to be.

But, Cuddy thinks with a wolfish smile, who says that's a bad thing?

Long after the interview is over, Cuddy prints a new copy of Masters' resume and tells herself:

If he hates her so much, maybe next time he'll hire a new fellow the first time Cuddy tells him to.

Yes, she tells herself, she's definitely made the right decision.

Whether House knows it or not.

The End