“Since you’re my new roommate, I decided to make some things clear.” Lotor continued, casually sitting down on Keith’s bed. No signs of brain damage whatsoever. He was moving and talking like any other person.
Was he faking it? Then again, why would someone fake being in a coma? Was that even possible? Keith’s thoughts began to race, thinking about every possibility. After a few seconds of staring at Lotor with wide eyes, Keith’s mind decided that this all must be a dream. Right? There’s no way someone who isn’t even aware of their surroundings in the daytime can walk around and talk to others at night.
Keith tried to move his arm to his thigh to pinch himself, just to make sure this was a dream after all. He managed to do it. It didn’t hurt – he didn’t have strength in his fingers at all – but he did feel it, which must’ve meant that this all was really happening.
All right. Don’t panic, Keith. Maybe it was all just a miraculous recovery overnight. Either way, he had to inform somebody about it.
Lotor seemed to have read his mind. His expression turned more serious, brows furrowed, eyes focused on Keith, hands balled into fists. “You see, I tend to take walks around here. But that shouldn’t concern you since you should be sleeping most of the time I do that. Everything that happens here at this time of the day stays between us two, understood? We don’t need the doctors or nurses to know about all of this.”
Keith strongly disagreed. He had to call someone. But how? Shiro gave him a button before he left, that would work. He felt the button under his arm and moved to try and grab it. The movement under his blanket had been unfortunately noticed by Lotor too, who immediately snatched the small device with the button from Keith.
“Alright, I said it will stay between us. You won’t need your button.”
A simple ‘why’. That’s all what Keith was trying to ask, but what actually came out was nothing close to that. This caused a wide smile to spread across Lotor’s face.
“I see. You speak fluent ‘brain damaged’. That’s great. You surely won’t tell anyone about me this way, then.” Lotor grinned, then stood up and turned away from Keith, seemingly about to leave.
As he opened the door, dim light from the hallway hit Keith’s face. Lotor wouldn’t go unnoticed if he left the room now, that’s for sure.
Keith could just yell. Even if nothing comprehensible can come out of his mouth, a loud noise would still alert anyone who’s awake, right?
So he tried that. His throat hurt, but the scream was loud and clearly audible. It sounded like he was in pain – which he kind of was, but that’s not the point – just how he had intended. That would hopefully get someone’s attention.
It seemed to take Lotor by surprise, who spun around and rushed up to Keith.
“You little...” It almost seemed to amuse Lotor. Keith must’ve looked pathetic: drenched in sweat, heart racing, literally unable to move, staring up and Lotor completely defenseless against him.
“I could just smother you with a pillow, you know...” Lotor hissed with a grin before quickly climbing back into his bed, almost resembling a scared mouse hurrying to hide somewhere before it got discovered. Well if that wasn’t a quick mood change… A second later, he looked just like he did this morning as if nothing had happened. Keith wasn’t even sure if he was just pretending or if he really did fall asleep this fast.
The door opened and Shiro entered hurriedly. He looked so troubled and tired, Keith had to wonder if he wasn’t the first person to cause troubles this night. The sudden light after his nurse turned on the lights in the room blinded him at first, but his eyes got used to it pretty fast.
“What’s wrong, Keith? Did you have a nightmare? That’s not uncommon with people who had accidents like yours...” He went up to Keith’s bed and sighed. “Do you need help with anything, or will you be fine?”
Keith shook his head. No, he did not have a nightmare, and no, he was not gonna be fine. His comatose roommate threatening to kill him was the furthest thing from fine.
“Does something hurt?”
He shook his head again. No.
“Are you uncomfortable then? Should I bring you another pillow?”
No. That’s not what he needed. What he need was someone to stay here so that they could see too what Lotor was doing and reaffirm Keith that he wasn’t going crazy.
“What is it then? Keith, you could’ve just pushed the button instead of yelling, I was worried something happened...”
Yes, something did happen. Keith nodded, a little too fast even, so that he got rewarded by a sudden headache.
“Do you mean something happened?”
He nodded again, then looked at Lotor, who was still laying in his bed. In a weird position, but with even breathing.
“Did something happen to Lotor?” Shiro frowned and stood up. After giving Keith a last questioning look and seeing him nod again, he went over to Keith’s roommate and checked his breathing, eyes, scar, and other stuff.
“Nothing’s off about him. Keith, are you sure you didn’t dream something bad?”
Keith let out an audible sigh, then shrugged, or at least tried to. He didn’t even know at this point.
“Alright. Keith, maybe you were just hallucinating. That happens after a traumatic brain injury sometimes. Look, I’ll check up on you in the morning, and Dr. Trigel will pay you a visit too. Is that okay?”
Keith nodded, a little embarrassed.
Shiro smiled. “Good night, Keith.”
Keith showed an obvious disinterest all morning, unwilling to cooperate with anything Shiro tried to get him to do. He wasn’t sure how acting like this would help his embarrassment. It’s not like refusing to eat was going to make his hallucinations go away. But he simply wasn’t in the mood to endure Shiro’s clearly fake cheerfulness.
“Oh Keith, come on...” Shiro groaned, watching him from the edge of Lotor’s bed while he was feeding Keith’s roommate. Keith almost felt sorry for him- the poor guy looked like he hadn’t slept at all. “You have to eat something. It would speed your progress a lot. Besides, I still have other patients I have to visit.”
After finally giving in and struggling for fifteen minutes, Shiro was satisfied and left, letting Dr. Trigel take his place. She didn’t stick around for long either, though. All she did was ask Keith a few questions: whether or not something was aching, or if he was dizzy, etc. – she asked Keith about hallucinations too, to which he turned away, trying to dodge the question. His answer was obvious though, and Dr. Trigel scribbled something down on her paper before continuing with her next question.
Shortly after that, Keith was taken to ergotherapy. It was with a sweet young woman called Romelle, who seemed to have endless patience. That came in handy since Keith was already about to give up after the fifth time trying to brush his teeth without sticking the toothbrush down his throat.
After half an hour of suffering, Keith decided that ergotherapy was worse than he’d expected. It was just holding a ball, brushing his hair or feeding himself. Normally, that wouldn’t have been anything even slightly tiring. Despite that, Keith felt exhausted after this session. Romelle had assured him that he was doing really good considering this was his first time, which gave him hope. Who knows, maybe the others used to have just as much trouble with all of this when they first started therapy.
“And, how was your first therapy with Romelle?” Allura asked as he got wheeled back into his room.
Keith smiled, assuring the nurse that he was satisfied with himself after this experience. Lying to the nurses about such small things seemed much easier than complaining and letting them think that he was an unthankful and unmotivated jerk.
“That’s nice. You know, you could start participating in group activities in the common room soon. It’s really fun there. You can do arts and crafts, maybe make music, eventually play on the computers, and so on...” She said with a smile while setting him back into his bed and starting to mess his blood pressure.
Arts and crafts, music… How amazing. That really piqued his interest right away. The last time he got excited about such things was in kindergarten. Although he had to admit, watching teens and adults act as kindergarteners would at least be amusing.
Then again, maybe Keith just hasn’t gotten used to rehab yet. He had to realize that this all was very different from normal life – everyone here at some kind of temporary disability, mostly brain damage. Including him. At least those partaking in those activities were able to move their body parts how they wanted to. Keith was way more ridiculous than any of them.
“Also, Shiro told me your parents will be visiting you this weekend. That will be fun, don’t you think? You’ll get to show them how much you’ve advanced. Anyways, I have to go now, I’ll come back in half an hour to give you your lunch before bringing you to the cafeteria… Do you want to get back into the wheelchair and look out the window? It’s nice weather outside.”
Keith nodded absent-minded, still processing all the info. His parents were coming here? He wondered how they would react when they saw him. Are they expecting a faster recovery from him? Or will it just be the usual awkwardness and pity they showed him at the hospital? Keith felt sorry for them, yet didn’t feel much self-pity for some twisted reason. Hating the state he was in didn’t count as self-pity, right?
He found himself in the wheelchair again, this time facing the yard of the rehab center. Allura was right, the weather was amazing considering it was just late February. It was February, right? How long had Keith been in a coma? Well, that didn’t matter much anyway. He would sooner or later figure everything out.
The current date was the smallest one of all the mysteries he had to deal with right now.
Two figures in the yard got caught in Keith’s eye. One of them was a boy with brown hair, a slightly darker complexion, walking with a slight limp. Lance. The other person was an older male, with red hair and a majestic mustache. Keith couldn’t recall seeing him before, and he wasn’t even sure if he was a patient. He and Lance were talking and laughing like old friends. Did Lance remember him too, just like he did with Shiro?
A sudden noise on behind him disturbed Keith’s train of thoughts. He turned his head in his usual slow-motion, afraid to see Lotor standing behind him or something. He was greeted by the comforting surprise of Lotor still laying in his bed, completely harmless, but in a strange position, groaning unintelligible stuff.
Keith wondered if he would be capable to wheel himself over to him. He had never tried it before, but he had to admit that the ergotherapy with Romelle that morning helped him a lot. He felt a lot more confident concerning his ability to do such things.
He slowly and carefully moved his arms to the wheels and grabbed them. His grip wasn’t strong at all, but he managed to move backward by pulling his arms back. But when he tried a second time, it didn’t work anymore. Keith automatically kicked with his legs to push himself back. It hurt but seemed to move him. After a few attempts at this, he ended up at the side of Lotor’s bed. Now all he had to do was to turn around. Wouldn’t be much easier. He tried to repeat the same motion he had been doing before, except he only used his right leg. He did turn a bit, although not much. He was still able to see Lotor clearly, so this was enough for him.
Had he really be hallucinating last night? Lotor did look pretty harmless, staring at the ceiling with a blank expression, his left eye slightly squinting. One arm was lamely hanging off the bed, the other twisted in an unnatural position which was definitely not comfortable.
There was no way Lotor could’ve woken up, let alone walked over to Keith and talked to him.
But did Keith really imagine someone threatening to kill him?
Well, nightmares like that were completely plausible, but it felt way too real for it to be all a nightmare. Keith knew very well that his brain couldn’t be trusted in this state, but a feeling in his gut assured him that this time, his mind was right.
He had to find out the truth. And he was going to. Keith wasn’t going to get any sleep that night, but he was going to get the comfort of knowing what was happening here. Because something was definitely off here, he was completely sure of that.
Then again, if he stayed awake, Lotor could threaten him again. Or worse, he could actually try to smother him. Keith would be completely defenseless.
Keith sighed and slowly started to shift his weight by leaning his hands on the armrest of his wheelchair. With some difficulty, he placed his right foot on the ground before him, then, slowly but surely (extra pressure on the ‘slowly part’. Keith was seriously slower than a snail) grabbed the edge of Lotor’s bed with his right hand and tried to pull himself forward.
He expected was to stand. What he did instead was squat there for a few milliseconds with wobbly knees before they gave out under him and he landed on his butt, almost on his back. It hurt a lot more than he had expected it to – he probably didn’t take it into consideration that he had had a few broken bones beside the TBI as well.
Great. He had to be a bit more patient before attempting to stand or walk then, he guessed. Not thinking this whole action through enough only lead to him not being able to get up again, laying on the ground with aching muscles and the knowledge that he was a complete idiot. How was he going to explain this to Allura? When would she be even coming back? It didn’t feel like thirty minutes had already passed.
So he had to wait. Keith had never been good at waiting, especially when he didn’t have anything else to do in the meantime. He sighed, looking up at the white ceiling. Everything in this room was so boring. White walls, a basic looking flower painting next to the entrance, and a TV that Keith wasn’t allowed to use yet. The doctors had to make sure that he wouldn’t get an epileptic seizure from it or something.
The only slightest bit interesting thing here was Keith’s hallucination, but that wasn’t the kind of interesting he had hoped for.
He missed his old life. Going on trips with his parents and their dog, coming home late after afternoons spent hanging out with his friends – Keith had to wonder, had they ever visited him while he was in a coma? - and racing around on his speeder. His speeder, which got him here. Shiro had told him about his accident a bit yesterday – he told Keith that someone else’s vehicle crashed into him because they had a malfunction of some kind. Keith himself had no actual recollection of any of this happening, but judging from how worried his dad was when he first woke up, his injuries must’ve been pretty nasty.
“Keith? Keith! What are you doing there, are you alright?” Allura rushed to his side as soon as she noticed him on the ground.
Keith shrugged as she helped him up and put him back into his chair.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Geez, I can’t leave you alone for twenty minutes without you trying something, huh,” she smiled and ruffled Keith’s hair. He rolled his eyes. “Anyways, here’s your food. Chicken soup and noodles. I hope you like it.” She tied a bib around Keith’s neck, just in case having to drink from a sippy cup wasn’t enough.
Allura sat there patiently and fed him until he had enough. That meant he didn’t eat more than a quarter of the noodles and a few spoonfuls of soup, but it seemed to be enough for his nurse.
“Good job, Keith, I’m proud of you. Now, do you still want to meet the others at the cafeteria?”
Keith nodded enthusiastically. He had been waiting for that all day. Making friends would make his whole stay a lot less boring.
The cafeteria was a bright room with huge windows on two sides. Right next to the entrance was the kitchen-part with the personnel, the rest of the room was filled with tables of many sizes, with pathways between them that were wide enough for wheelchairs to move freely without any problem.
Keith guessed that most of the patients were currently here – almost every table was occupied. Talking and laughter filled the room. People passing by, some slower, some faster, occasionally greeting Allura if they noticed her.
“Keith, is everything alright? Are you okay with so much noise?” Allura asked, a bit louder than usual to still be audible despite all the disturbing sounds of the cafeteria.
Keith nodded slowly, his eyes already searching for the fellow teens he met yesterday.
Allura led him to a big table at the corner of the room, which was surrounded by the familiar faces of Pidge, Matt, and Lance, this time accompanied by a guy wearing a yellow cardigan.
“Keith! Nice to see you again, buddy,” Matt smiled as Allura parked Keith’s wheelchair at the table. He had a vanilla milkshake and a sandwich in front of him, but he didn’t seem to have touched any of it yet.
“Ooh, do we have a newbie?” Lance asked with a grin, glancing at Allura and then at Keith. “I like your scar. It distracts from that malformed mullet. Did they mess your head shave up before the surgery or was that your choice?”
Ouch. Keith didn’t care much about his appearance, but he didn’t think his mullet looked bad.
“Lance, that was mean...” The guy in the yellow cardigan mumbled. He spoke slowly and not really clear, some consonants coming out as something very different than he must’ve intended to.
“Hunk is right, Lance. Besides, you’ve already met him yesterday. You were nice to him then, I don’t see why you would want to start your relationship with him this way.” Allura warned, then leaned down to Keith. “Alright, Matt will help you get Shiro once you guys are done, alright? Just signal him if you want to leave.”
As soon as Allura was gone, Pidge turned to Lance. “At least Keith doesn’t try to drown in the pool while everyone is asleep.”
Keith and Lance both raised their eyebrows confused.
“What, I did that? When?”
“This night. You sleepwalked right into the pool and would’ve drowned if Shiro wouldn’t have heard the splashing and pulled you out. Dr. Trigel was afraid you would react worse, considering you’ve already drowned once. Shiro is still worried you will eventually develop PTSD, he’s been trying to contact your family all day to tell them about it. They’ll probably visit you in a few days.” Pidge explained. The last part, the one with Lance’s family visiting seemed to cause a flash of horror on everyone’s faces. Keith guessed Lance’s family wasn’t exactly pleasant to be around.
Meanwhile, Keith was just confused. Not only had he not known that they had a pool, but he was also surprised that no one reacted differently to the fact that Lance sleepwalked around the building at night. It must’ve been a common occurrence then. And he also didn’t know what Pidge meant with Lance having already drowned once. The guy seemed to be fine, besides the amnesia part, but Keith couldn’t explain to himself how that could have something to do with the drowning-part.
Hunk noticed his confused expression and nudged Matt, pointing at Keith.
“Right, you don’t know yet. A year ago, Lance drowned while surfing at a beach his family often visits. The ambulance managed to revive him, but the damage to his brain had already been done. When we arrived, his memory was even worse,” Matt whispered to him, trying to go unnoticed by Lance.
Keith nodded slowly, still wondering why Lance was allowed to hang out with them just a few hours after his newest incident. Had he recovered so fast or was the whole thing not as bad as the others had described it?
“Well, that’s awesome!” Lance smiled, then proceeded to change the topic to what he should order. He was conflicted if he should eat a salad or a PB&J sandwich.
Hunk laughed and went along with the change of topic. Pidge and Matt exchanged worried glances though, before turning to Keith and starting to ask him about his recovery process so far, probably to get Keith’s mind off the previous topic as well. They were really considerate, only asking yes or no questions as soon as Keith had made clear that he wasn’t able to talk at all.
Their little meet-up ended at around 3 pm, two hours after it began. Keith knew a lot more about the other four now, though, and he enjoyed himself a lot. The Holt siblings – he had learned they were siblings when Matt told him about how they had gotten here (he also told him about their dad, who was stationed on the third floor, but was in a worse condition than them) – promised him they would teach him how to use a computer again as soon as Shiro would let them, and Hunk and Lance offered to visit him tomorrow after his speech therapy.
Shiro got him to physiotherapy (aka physical therapy) fifteen minutes later. The therapist was the man with the mustache whom Keith saw talking to Lance earlier that day. His name was Coran. He was weird but very motivating in a strange way. Keith guessed that it was because he would start telling stories about his past every time Keith decided to take a short break from their work. What was also a positive aspect of it was that Keith wanted to practice his speech, too, as much as possible, in the hopes that he would be able to change the topic once he could form comprehensible sentences.
Keith returned to his room exhausted, unable to form any clear thoughts that didn’t involve Coran and some weird figure from one of his stories. Shiro took mercy on him, not bugging him to eat the whole dinner. He told Keith about why he had been busy all day; stabilizing Lance’s condition and filling out paperwork. After quickly messing Keith’s and Lotor’s fever, blood pressure and such, he wished them a good night and left.
It wasn’t even that late, yet Keith had a hard time not falling asleep. He turned to his side, watching Lotor stare at his nightstand blankly. The poor guy seemed to have no intention to leave the room and explore the rehab center.
Keith rolled his eyes at his own foolishness and let the sleepiness embrace him, finding comfort in the unconsciousness that soon overcame him. He fell asleep almost way too fast, jokingly thinking to himself in the last few seconds being awake about how someone must’ve given him sleep medicine. He must’ve been too tired to realize that it wasn’t his thought that gave him this idea. Heck, how should’ve he known that unfamiliar voices that you aren’t able to recognize talking to you in your mind aren’t a completely normal part of suffering a brain injury?