All Keith could remember was a blur – a fuzzy memory of him driving back home from Garrison on a speeder, then a sudden crash, followed by lots and lots of headaches. Voices he couldn’t recognize and conversations he heard but couldn’t comprehend, a weird feeling of aching numbness, and, again, hellish headaches.
The first time he woke up, he heard the beeps of a heart monitor. He was laying in a bed, of that he was sure. He had no idea how he had gotten there, however, since it definitely wasn’t his bed. Opening his eyes was quite an easy task, but when he tried to sit up, his body just… Wouldn’t move. Keith wasn’t even able to move his head a bit to look around.
After five or so minutes of trying not to fall asleep again, doing his best to keep his eyes open, he could hear someone entering the room and coming closer to him.
“Keith, great, you’re awake! Wait a second, I’ll get the doctor. Your dad is here too, I’m sure you’d like to see him.” The person said in an overly sweet voice as if they were talking to a little child.
But well, at least now he could figure out where he was. Probably a hospital, then, if there were doctors here. Keith had no idea when he got here, though, and he definitely didn’t know what happened to him and why he wasn’t able to move his body.
Minutes later, his father appeared, along with the figure from before and a middle-aged man in a lab coat, who Keith assumed was the doctor. His dad approached him and gave him a weird mix of a hug and a pat on the shoulder. Keith couldn’t explain what it was supposed to be.
“I’m so glad you’re awake, Keith,” Keith’s dad gave him a smile, then turned back to the doctor, and started a conversation with him. Keith couldn’t make out all the words, even though they were standing right beside him, and it frustrated him.
Keith must’ve fallen asleep again, because the next thing he could remember, his dad and the doctor were gone.
The figure from before, a nurse, sat down beside his bed and grabbed a plastic plate from a tray Keith hadn’t even noticed was there. She started feeding him, like one would do with a toddler, shoveling the food into him with a spoon, praising him for every bit he managed to swallow. That wasn’t even that big of a problem, but she talked to him as if he were a dog or a little child, saying things like ‘good boy’ and ‘you’re doing an amazing job sweetie’.
This had been going on for at least a week, nurses and doctors coming and going, feeding him, stretching his muscles, doing daily check-ups, while he just laid there, unable to move, (or to speak, as he discovered – when he tried, he just got groans, vowels that didn’t mean anything, sounding like some caveman trying to learn how to communicate) staring at the ceiling and wondering what the quiznak was even going on.
Of course, he’d figured that he must’ve been in some kind of accident and that he was now paralyzed or something (well, maybe not paralyzed, he had learned how to move parts of his body a bit, although he wasn’t all that good at it yet). His head felt like it was constantly being hit with a brick and the little movement he managed to do was hurting his body like hell. Probably a few broken bones, he guessed. He had heard the word ‘coma’ and ‘TBI’ or ‘traumatic brain injury’ from staff members passing by as well, so he concluded that he had been in a coma for a few weeks before waking up and that he had injured his brain in some way (well, duh).
No matter how much time went by, Keith had been frustrated rather than confused all this time. Everyone acted like he wasn’t there when they were talking about him or his condition; no one talked to him directly, and even if they did, they treated him like a toddler. He just wanted to know what happened to his body, and when this all would be over. Why did they all have to act like he ‘wouldn’t understand it anyway’?
It took the doctors three more days before they finally talked to him. Not even then was it completely directed to him, but at least he was included in the conversation. He had been hanging out with his dad, who was telling him about how much progress he had made and how the doctors said there was a pretty high chance he would almost fully recover when Dr. Iverson entered the room and grabbed a chair before greeting them both.
“So… Keith, you’re doing great. You’re healing faster than anyone else I’ve seen before, I swear. Well, but this also means that you’re eventually going to have to be released from this hospital. Mr. Kogane, we’ve got a few suggestions when it comes to TBI rehabilitation centers, but I highly recommend Voltron. It’s truly an amazing place, and it’s got incredible recoveries, especially teenagers like your son. Keith would be able to learn how to do everyday tasks again in no time...” Dr. Iverson kept rambling about the rehab, but Keith couldn’t force himself to concentrate on that anymore. He was tired of all of this. As much as he wanted to go back to his normal life again, the little therapy he had gotten here already tired him out and got on his nerves. There was no point to try and make him walk, talk, or read again when he wouldn’t be able to do it anyway. He was broken now.
A small sigh escaped his lips and he tried to protest. He opened his mouth and tried to speak, say ‘I don’t want to’, but as always, what came out was ‘Aaaooioo...’ This managed to get the others’ attention, who looked at him, expecting him to say something else, but Keith couldn’t get himself to. His caveman speech was already embarrassing enough, no need to try a second time.
“Anyway, so Mr. Kogane, if you’d like some brochures, feel free to take a few….” Dr. Iverson continued after a few more seconds of silence, then turned back to Keith. “Keith, would you like to say anything?”
Keith turned his head to the left side. Then to the right. To the left again. It was a weak attempt at shaking his head, but it seemed to have worked, as Dr. Iverson stood up and patted his head before turning on his heels and exiting the room, shortly followed by Keith’s dad after he said his goodbyes to Keith.
A week later, it was time to move. Keith’s family had decided on Voltron Rehabilitation Center, the one Dr. Iverson had suggested. Keith was put into a car specially designed to transport paralyzed patients. The drive must’ve taken quite some time, but Keith was asleep for the most part of it, he wouldn’t have known.
Keith had a chance to look at the building while he was taken out of the car. The rehab center was modern looking, big and tall, with four smaller buildings surrounding the biggest, white and blue one in the middle. It almost resembled a spaceship a little bit, but Keith didn’t know if he should find this amusing or just cringe.
A nurse made his way to the car to bring him upstairs to his room. The first time Keith was put into a wheelchair. It was quite a weird experience to sit upright after laying for so long. As he was being pushed through the building, he started to look around. It didn’t resemble the hospital he’d been in at all – everything was way more modern and friendlier looking. There were patients chatting or playing: teens, adults, and the elderly, everyone seemed to have a good time. A few of them glanced up and greeted the nurse or gave Keith a thumbs up as they passed them.
They stopped in front of what was apparently Keith’s new room. The nurse entered slowly and quietly, as if someone were already in there, and pushed Keith to an empty bed.
“Alright. Nice to meet you. My name is Shiro,” he said with a huge smile while effortlessly lifting Keith and placing him into his bed. “Your roommate-” Shiro pointed to the bed next to Keith’s, where a young man was lying motionlessly. “-is Lotor. He’s in a persistent vegetative state, so you should have it pretty peaceful here… Sorry, that was distasteful... Anyway, if you need anything, just press this button, alright? Look, I’ll place it under your hand. I’ll come back in fifteen minutes and explain your therapy schedule, okay?”
Keith nodded, or at least tried to, and gave Shiro a weak smile. The nurse returned the gesture, then left. He was alone now, except for the guy in the neighboring bed, although he doubted he would talk to him.
Great. He would be in rehab for another... - how long? Months? Maybe a year? What if he never got better? Then again, he shouldn’t sink in the self-pity before starting therapy. Who knows, maybe it will be super easy.
Keith took a deep breath and calmed down. At least the view from his window was nice. The building was probably surrounded by a forest because Keith could only see trees and nothing more. He wondered how long it would take for him to get sick of all of this. Less than two weeks, most likely.
Before he knew it, Shiro had appeared again. Were fifteen minutes already over? Huh. Time flew fast here.
“Hi,” the nurse greeted him with his warm smile and started fumbling around at the head of Keith’s bed to make him sit in an upright position. “I’ve got your schedule.” He waved around a piece of paper before placing it into Keith’s lap. Despite his best efforts, Keith couldn’t understand what was written on it. Great, so he forgot how to read now as well?!
He didn’t seem to need to read it, though, as Shiro had already begun to read it aloud to him: “Look, on Monday you’ll start with speech therapy at 10, then occupational therapy at 12, in the afternoon at three, Nyma will take you to physical therapy. Then on Thursday, you’ll…”
The door suddenly burst open and a boy around Keith’s age limped in. He looked around, unmistakably confused. He sighed relieved when his eyes caught Shiro.
“Shiro! I can’t find Hunk, he’s not in our room…” The guy said a bit overdramatically in a panicked voice. He had made a weird first impression on Keith altogether: some blue lion-slippers, pajama pants, a t-shirt along with a brown jacket (the pants and jacket definitely didn’t fit together), accessorized with a small bag, writings on every visible spot on his body, and a large scar at the side of his head, mostly covered by the boy’s short, brown hair.
“Calm down, Lance,” Shiro frowned. “Maybe you just forgot to write down where he went. You should probably look for him in the cafeteria though. I can give you a map if you lost yours.”
The boy, Lance apparently, pulled a notebook out of his bag and quickly breezed through the pages, until he found what he was looking for. “It’s okay, I still have it. This is the second floor, right?”
“Yes,” Shiro said with a small smile. “Next time, ask Allura if you need help. I’m currently a bit busy with our newest patient. His name is Keith. Don’t forget to write it down somewhere.”
Lance nodded and finger gunned Keith. “Alright, welcome Keith. If you’d like, I can show you around after I myself figure this place out. See you until then, I guess.” He winked, and within seconds, he was gone.
Keith looked at Shiro questioningly.
“That was Lance. He’s got anterograde amnesia, he can’t create any new memories, he forgets most stuff every few hours. Have you seen the movie ‘50 first dates’? He’s in a similar situation to the girl in that movie, except that he can remember small bits of information, like my name or that he has amnesia. And he’s still getting better. It’s quite a miracle how fast he’s recovering. Anterograde amnesia usually doesn’t get better… Anyways. I’m sure you could join his group of friends when you get better. He’s quite popular here, you see...” Shiro smiled, then turned back to Keith’s therapy schedule and resumed where they had left off.
Maybe Lance forgot about him, Keith thought. Yes, that was the most logical answer. It was almost time for dinner, and Keith was tired out from the constant visits of doctors and nurses. He was quite disappointed to see that being at a rehab center didn’t equal fewer check-ups and no attention to him at all. Well, but it was for his own good. He would keep getting better and he’ll return to his normal life as soon as possible.
He was contemplating pressing the button and asking Shiro to show him around instead, when the door opened and Lance marched in, pushing an empty wheelchair. He was followed by a young woman with white hair, probably his nurse.
“Well, hello there!” Lance grinned. It was the sort of awkward grin when you actually had no idea what was going on but pretended that everything was fine. Keith wondered if Lance used that grin often. Most likely.
“Hi, Keith… I’m Allura. Would you mind Lance showing you around?” The nurse waited until he gave his approval, then set him into the wheelchair.
Lance steered him out of the room and down the hallway. “This is the second floor,” he began. “It’s where the teenagers’ rooms are. The adults and elders are on the third floor; the common room, cafeteria, and stuff are all on the first floor.”
Allura, who was still following them, chimed in: “Lance, how about you show Keith the common room? Most patients are in the cafeteria at this time, the common room should be empty...”
Lance nodded enthusiastically and went to the elevator at the end of the hallway. The rest of the floor seemed to be empty. Everyone must’ve been at the cafeteria like Allura had said. Keith wondered when he’d be allowed to eat there. This morning, he’d been fed in his room, just like how it had been at the hospital.
As soon as they reached the first floor, they could all hear the shouting coming from the common room. This didn't seem to bother Lance, as he continued to push Keith toward the automatic doors until Allura put a hand on his shoulder.
“Alright, maybe we should bring Keith back to his room, I don’t think he would enjoy all this noise,” Allura said quickly, trying to grab the handles of Keith’s wheelchair.
Keith shook his head, turning it as best as he could to look at Allura. If something was finally happening, he didn’t want to lay in his room instead of witnessing it.
“See, he wants to see what’s going on!” Lance retorted defensively.
“Or he agrees that he, in fact, doesn’t like all this noise.”
Keith tried to signal that he was agreeing with Lance by staring at him. After a few seconds, Allura seemed to get the idea and sighed.
“Fine, but as soon as you start feeling unwell, we’ll go back to your room. It’s almost time for your dinner anyway.”
Lance nodded and entered the common room with Keith.
Allura cleared her throat to get the attention of the girl and the boy fighting about a tablet in the middle of the room. All faces turned to them and everyone got quiet as soon as they saw Allura’s face.
“Pidge and Matt, keep in mind that you aren’t the only ones here. People are trying to get better, but that’s impossible with all the commotion you’re making. If you’re feeling so well, I can inform Dr. Zarkon and suggest that you don’t need to be here anymore.” She crossed her arms, but it was clear that she didn’t mean it.
The girl wheeled herself over to them. “Alright, sorry Allura… Hey, what’s up, Lance? Do we have a newbie?”
Lance looked at Allura with an uncertain expression. She just shrugged, then walked over to the other teen the girl had been fighting with, grabbing the tablet from his hands.
“His name is Keith.” She said casually. “Matt, we have plenty of interesting books in the library, but you aren’t allowed to use tablets yet.”
“My brain can’t get more damaged than it already is, what’s the point?” The guy said jokingly, before grabbing the crutches laying next to his seat and wandering over to Keith and Lance. “Ooh, nice scar. Don’t worry, your hair will grow back in no time, Keith.” He said with a grin, running his fingers across a long scar on Keith’s head. The scar from the surgery. Keith hadn’t even realized he had it, and it wasn’t a big concern for him either.
Keith took a better look at the two he just met. They looked almost exactly the same, besides the obvious height difference and the fact that the girl didn’t have a scar on her head, but was sitting in a wheelchair. They must be siblings.
“Lance, you wanna hang out in the cafeteria tomorrow? If you give me your notebook, I can write it down for you, since you probably don’t even remember us right now. Right?” Pidge rolled her eyes at Lance’s embarrassed face, sticking out her hand until Lance handed her his notebook. She quickly scribbled down something, before giving it back. “You can bring Keith too if Shiro has no problem with it. I don’t think he and Hunk had the pleasure to meet yet.”
Keith nodded gladly. He would be happy to see more of this place than just his bedroom.
Allura, who had been standing in the doorway all this time, tipped Lance’s shoulder. “I should take Keith back, I’m sure he’s hungry. You guys should eat something too.”
Keith wanted to disagree. He wasn’t hungry at all. He’d preferred to stay with the others, but he doubted Allura would’ve supported that idea.
“C’mon, Keith, you have to eat something! You won’t have enough energy for your first ergotherapy tomorrow if you let yourself starve,” Shiro said desperately after his 23rd failed attempt at putting a spoonful food into Keith’s mouth.
Keith rolled his eyes.
“Please…” Shiro muttered one more time before setting down the spoon defeated. “Fine, have it your way… But if you’re not eating here, you’re definitely not ready to visit the cafeteria tomorrow either. I heard from Allura that you got invited by Pidge.”
That just wasn’t fair.
Keith opened his mouth, at last, earning a smile from Shiro who immediately picked up the spoon again and started feeding him. After gulping down five or six bites, Keith turned his head away from Shiro and refused to keep eating.
“Alright. I think it’s time you get some well-deserved sleep. I’ll put the button beside you, just press it if you need anything, like always. Well then, good night, Keith.” Shiro stood up, picked up the remaining food and left after fixing Keith’s pillow.
Keith fell asleep surprisingly fast, sleep came for him as soon as he closed his eyes.
But that doesn’t mean he slept well. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. Because a few hours later, Keith woke up, in the middle of the night.
It took his eyes some time to get used to the darkness, but as soon as they did, Keith noticed a figure standing right above him.
“Hey, there, Keith...” An unfamiliar voice echoed through his head, as he tried and tried to remember where he had seen the figure’s face before.
That’s right. It was his roommate, Lotor. Lotor, who was in a coma. Lotor, who shouldn’t be walking around like he had no care in the world. Lotor, who shouldn’t be walking around at all. Especially not in their room, hovering above Keith, staring at him creepily.
It was at this moment Keith knew, things weren’t going to be fine.