His fingers find the stitches first, three of them grouped together just above and behind his ear. He follows the line of damaged skin they hold together.
The scar tissue turns in on itself, creating a zigzag pattern and House finds himself wondering what he hit. A window latch, maybe, or a broken piece of frame.
He remembers the impact now, the way his body fell. The sound of metal screeching against concrete, and the dull thunk of his head colliding with the side of the bus. He doesn't remember pain. Not then at least. Not until later.
His fingers return to the stitches and he feels the tight, compact grouping of them. They're small and he has a sudden memory of Cameron's handwriting, the way her pen shaped each letter with small, precise motions.
She did a good job. There won't be much of a scar, nothing to show what happened. That doesn't seem right, House thinks. Too much happened. There should be something. Some sign. His leg is a neon reminder of Stacy. All he'll have from Amber is a slight puckering that no one will ever see.
There are more stitches on the back of his head, but he can't reach them, doesn't have the energy to move his head far enough to lay his finger on the spot he knows where they must be. He wonders if Chase put them there, or if he'd had Wilson do it. Probably not Wilson, he tells himself. It was probably Chase. He doesn't think there was anyone else there who would have done it, but nothing's really that clear about the procedure except the memories of the bar, and the crash. And Amber.
"Seizures fry the brain," the bus driver's voice reminds him. House knows it's his own thoughts, but the illusions of the past few days have buried themselves deep inside his head and it's hard to shake them.
He wants to shake off everything that's not real, everything that hasn't happened. He focuses instead on what he can feel. What he knows is true. He manages to roll his head slightly to the left, and feels the edge of a bandage, knows what's beneath it.
He remembers an attending during one of his rotations in the ER more than twenty years ago, a man who could tell which intern had sewn up torn flesh. Each doctor has his own style, he'd say. It's like a signature. Now House thinks that Chase and Cameron have left their signatures on his head, but he can't think of what that should mean -- can barely think at all -- doesn't want to think.
He moves his hand back to the side of his head, finds the stitches, then lightly lets his fingers glide down, over the temporal bone. He'd seen the original films, knows where the fracture must be. He's held a skull in his hands before, felt the rough pieces of broken bone, the frayed edges.
He can't feel anything now except hair and skin beneath his fingers.
"Don't do that." Cuddy steps up his bed, and House wonders why he didn't hear the door open.
She touches his hand, guides it away from his head, down into his lap. She lets her hand remain on his for a moment.
"Doesn't hurt," he manages to say. Two words this time.
"Of course it doesn't hurt, you idiot. You're doped up on pain meds." The corners of her mouth turn up in what's supposed to be a smile.
There should be pain. There was pain before -- a rusty spike digging deep into his head, creating sparks all along his central nervous system. And there'll be pain later, once he's weaned off the drugs. And there'll be pain long after that as well, pain that has nothing to do with fractures or stitches.
"You should be resting."
So should you, House wants to say, but doesn't. Too many words. Too much work.
Cuddy sits on the edge of his bed. She's released his hand, but keeps her hand close to his, her fingers so close he could touch them if he wanted to. He's not sure why he doesn't.
There's no time in the ICU. No windows, and only artificial light. Nothing to show the passing of time except shift changes.
House looks at Cuddy, notices that she's changed, the gray suit she'd been wearing for ... God, it seems like days ... is gone, replaced by a simple Navy blue skirt and cream-colored blouse. Maybe she went home. Maybe he slept away a day. Maybe she had someone pick up her dry cleaning.
"How long?" he asks.
He sees the questions in Cuddy's eyes as she looks down at him, sees the way she tries to translate his thoughts. How long since the bus crash? How long was the seizure? How long was in a coma? How long will he be here? He's not sure he could tell her which question he meant even if she asked. Everything's gone numb -- the pain, his sense of time, his every thought. It's hard to focus. He should be more worried about brain damage, he thinks, but can't manage to rouse the energy to do that yet.
His brain is fuzzy because of the drugs, he tells himself, or because of the seizure. It'll probably pass. He tells himself that he'll worry later, but files away the thought that the fact he doesn't seem to care could be another symptom that something else is wrong.
Cuddy takes his hand in hers again. "Amber died early this morning." He feels a slight tremble in her touch. "It's almost midnight now. We're going to do a repeat CT scan in the morning. If the swelling in your brain has gone down enough, then we'll see about moving you into a regular room. Right now, you need to be monitored."
Cuddy actually smiles for a moment. "Do you want me to stay?"
House doesn't know what to say, what to think. He sees a flash of disappointment flicker in Cuddy's eyes when he remains silent.
"Well, too bad." She leans in, smiles again to cover up her own feelings. "I hate to break it to you, House, but you're not the only patient in his hospital. Other people need me too."
She doesn't move, though, doesn't release his hand. He feels her thumb moving in slow circles against his skin.
"Do you want anything?" she asks.
House wants to say yes, to say Wilson's name. He wants to tell Wilson that he's sorry, wants to hear Wilson say that he understands, even if he can't forgive him -- even if he'll never forgive him.
But he doesn't think Wilson wants to see him. He doesn't expect Wilson's understanding anymore than he expects Wilson's forgiveness.
He shakes his head.
"You should get some rest." Cuddy puts his hand down in his lap, gets up. She doesn't leave the room, just circles his bed to sit in the chair off to his left. "Let me know if you change your mind," she says. "I'll be here if you need anything."
He gives in to her, gives in to his body. He closes his eyes, tries not to think about anything -- about stitches, about scars, about the pain that he knows will come. He lets the mist that's filled his brain seep into his thoughts, muffle them. He gives himself in to the familiar drag of pain medication, lets it relax his muscles, soothe his nerves. He takes a deep breath and then another. He feels sleep pulling him down.
"Goodnight, House," he hears Cuddy say, then everything slips away.