A/N: Everything can be rewritten to House/Cameron. No exceptions. Chase/Cameron doesn't exist in my head or this fic. ;)
She knows how to outstep him now, knows his familiar patterns. Fake left, roll right, pivot, except he doesn't seem to be as sharp in his movements anymore - and she knows that's not because he's taking it easy on her (only moments here and there). Something is off about him, something has drained the magic, that childish delight in his eyes that he gets from outsmarting those around him. He used to love pushing her, waiting for a reaction, pulling her apart piece by piece - invading her personal space and challenging her to make a move. More often than not now she's the one pulling punches and calling the shots. She's pushing his buttons and he retreats. She's left scouring the wreckage trying to figure out what caused this catastrophic failure.
It's not that he's not as smart as he was before, because he is still very (exceptionally) brilliant but she didn't think she had changed so much that she could play his games better than him. She's familiar with his steps and his plays but she never thought she'd have the upper hand because truly she's just not that person. She finds herself waiting for him, hoping to provoke him back into their old routine - he picking apart her personal flaws (she's too weak and too nice and the world will just break her) and her slipping through the cracks in his rusty armor - getting a glimpse of the man he really is. It doesn't happen though and she's getting worried (not that she cares about him anymore or anything absurd like that).
She lingers in the lunch line, occasionally catching glimpses of him dining with Wilson. It's easy to see Wilson's customary progression. He has an almost backwards way of getting House to see things he initially dismisses, mocking in a strangely apologetic manner. She's learned a fair deal about how to deal with House from observing their interactions, there's a trust between them that she used to be envious of. Watching the flicker in his eyes as he processes what has been brought to his intention, even though he may be relentless and cruel she knows now that it's how House responds. Underneath it all he hears what they say loud and clear.
Times where she has gone to him she has seen the difference between him in his world and him in her world. There's a distinct edge to him that isn't present when he seeks her out, his eyes are sharp and cold, even his posture is tight and unforgiving.
She begins to pay more attention to it.
Finally he meanders into the ER, besides the telltale tap of his cane against the floor, she can tell by the way the air goes silent (she finds it vaguely amusing that he still has this effect on most of the hospital staff). She turns and immediately notes that his shoulders are slumped, his gait is intrusive and he definitely has that obnoxious self-satisfied smirk (that she doesn't love one bit) plastered on his face. It doesn't quite reach his eyes though.
He holds up a sticky note with her neat (girly) scrawl on it, "Lunch, Dr. Cameron? Are we in middle school?"
She snorts, "By the way you and Cuddy have been duking it out I'm inclined to say yes - Dr. House."
He opens his mouth but closes it as whatever retort he had gets lost or censored. The smirk disappears and she's left staring at a man that looks absolutely defeated. His best friend is moving on, his safe bet has a baby, his dying team member isn't self-destructing anymore, the philanderer isn't, his intensivist is a surgeon, and his immunologist left him. She doesn't want to mislead herself but when he looks at her it's almost as if he misses her and he's begging her to just be that her and come back. Everything in his world is moving on without him and he really doesn't want to be the bastard with no heart. He wants her to show him how again but he just can't bring himself to ask.
"Lunch," he nods, seems like a good start.