The alarms went off in Keith’s head and he opened his eyes immediately, expecting to see Lotor or some other figure leaning above him with a pillow, ready to murder him.
He released the breath he wasn’t aware he was holding as soon as the figure next to his bed turned on the lamp on his bedside table, illuminating the face of none other than Lance.
“Thank god you’re awake. You have to see this.”
Keith sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with his wrists, trying to figure out what the quiznak was going on. What time was it? Why was Lance here? What was he talking about?
All this question, and only an amnesiac to answer them.
As he looked around the room, he discovered that it was clearly the middle of the night. It should’ve been obvious since everything even mildly exciting in this hospital happened at night.
The night also meant that he was able to speak.
“What is going on? Why did you decide that I’m the best person to bother?”
“You’re the only one here I know, duh.” Lance, who, strangely enough, was wearing at least four layers of shirts and jackets despite the temperature being pretty decent, whispered and pulled on Keith’s arm, probably with the intention of yanking Keith out of his bed.
Oh, right. So he remembered last night. But not today. Weird, but not something Keith wasn’t used to at this point. They could’ve told him Pidge was actually a robot, and that wouldn’t have surprised him.
“Not this again. You don’t remember your sister visiting you today, I suppose?” Keith asked, just to be sure he wasn’t mistaken. Lance’s unsure headshake and his confused expression already answered that for him though.
“Look, I have no clue what you’re talking about… again. But I have other things to worry about. Like the fact that half of the beds, on this floor at least, are empty.”
“Excuse me, what?” Keith first looked at Lance, then at Lotor’s empty bed. If one patient could just leave their room, why wouldn’t the others be able to?
“You heard me right, now come on.” With that, Lance threw a sweatshirt at him and started heading for the door.
Keith climbed out of bed and followed him after a few seconds of staring at the piece of clothing in surprise. He also started putting on Lance’s sweatshirt – he did it automatically without really thinking about it; and besides, there must’ve been a reason Lance gave it to him, or perhaps it was actually from Keith’s closet and there was nothing to it.
While he was stumbling through his room, he kept staring at the empty bed next to his own. That wasn’t anything unusual, Lotor was missing almost every night. Half of the beds on the whole floor being empty, though… It must’ve been chaos outside.
To his surprise though, he was met with the same dimly lit, empty hallway once they left the room. Only the sound of heavy rain outside made tonight different.
“Are you sure, Lance? Maybe it was just a dream?” Keith turned to the brown haired boy with a frown, but Lance’s gaze was determined and sure.
The voice was quieter this time, almost as if it didn’t want to disturb Keith and Lance. It still managed to get Keith’s full attention despite that.
‘What’s gray?’ He thought. If he had been able to communicate with the voice during the day, it was guaranteed the same during the night.
‘They’re out of control.’
‘Yeah, but what’s gray? Is the thing that’s out of control also gray?’ Keith was becoming frustrated with the lack of response after that. The voice was doing the same thing it had been doing this morning, getting his hopes up and then completely disappearing.
Keith had only noticed now that Lance had stayed still during his short conversation with the voice; standing in the middle of the hallway, looking at him expectantly. It was creeping him out. He took a step back, but Lance didn’t move. Once he cleared his throat, though, Lance jumped a little as if the noise had completely surprised him.
“What was that?” Keith furrowed his brows, his eyes still fixed on Lance, ready to defend himself at any moment.
“Huh? Sorry, I just got lost in my thoughts for a second.” Lance shook his head and turned on his heels. “Let’s go to my room first, I can show you my roommate’s empty bed.”
Keith sighed and followed Lance. Should he tell him about the voice? He had already tried telling his friends about it at the beginning of his stay, but they had dismissed it. Lance was different, though, he was awake at night too and he had witnessed some strange stuff along with him. Despite that, he had never mentioned a voice and he had been acting kind of weird just a few seconds ago – which slightly reminded him of that one guy’s behavior who had attempted to murder him that one time. Ah, nice memories.
Before he could come to a decision, they had already reached room 207. Lance entered without any hesitation.
Keith was met with the sight of two empty beds and one of the most chaotic rooms he had ever seen. It didn’t look like a hospital room at all.
Half of the room looked decent, though. It had the bedside table with personal belongings, mainly books and snacks, and the hospital bed with the casual light blue sheets.
However, the other half…
The best way to describe it would probably be to just say that the walls were covered in photos, sticky notes, and posters. There was one poster that stuck out the most. It was on the wall across the bed, with big black letters letting the reader know that they had suffered brain injury and were now in Voltron Rehabilitation Center. Keith guessed such posters were in the rooms of every patient with amnesia.
All the sticky notes and photos must’ve been there to help Lance keep track of his and his family’s most important memories in the past year. That way, Lance wouldn’t have to read everything in his notebook every time he forgot about something.
The thought of it was heart-wrenching, especially once Keith discovered one sticky note in the corner letting Lance know that his abuelo had passed away in November. It truly brought it into perspective just how much Lance had missed during his one year in the hospital. And who knows how much longer he’ll have to stay here. Keith could now understand why Lance would freak out every time his parents visited. His family must’ve changed so much.
Keith’s thoughts were interrupted when Lance gave him a gentle push to get closer to Hunk’s bed. “See?”
Right, he didn’t have time to think about Lance right now. The current situation was way more important.
“Who else is missing?” Keith shifted his eyes to Lance, who looked no less worried or confused than he was.
“I haven’t been to every room… But from what I’ve seen, one of the beds is empty in every room. I don’t know them all by names, of course.”
“So... There’s a pattern?”
Lance shrugged. “I guess, yeah. It still makes no sense, though. And I haven’t seen them anywhere. They’re gone. Disappeared into thin air.”
“Well, they have to be somewhere.” Keith crossed his arms and sat down on Hunk’s bed.
“Thanks, captain obvious. It’s just that we have no idea where they actually are, and I don’t wanna go to the nurses’ office about it because the staff here is up to no good, judging from what we saw a few hours ago.”
Keith sighed. Lance was right, they didn’t know who to trust here. Still, it would’ve been so much easier to just go to Shiro or Allura and show them one of the beds. Didn’t they, like, go around at night? After all, Shiro discovered Lance in the pool when he was taking a walk on that floor.
“Let’s go look for them.” Lance breathed out quickly, almost as if he’d kind of hoped it would go unnoticed by Keith.
It took Keith a few seconds to find the right words. He looked surprised, to say the least, and, well, also somewhat impressed, although he wasn’t sure why. Going out there in the middle of the night was basically a death sentence for people like them, considering that not every patient was that benevolent. “Are you sure? Lotor...”
“What else can we do? Would you rather spend the rest of your stay here having no idea what’s going on?”
“...Fine. Let’s go.”
“So Matthew, James, Lotor, Shay, Nadia, and two more girls on this floor. Do any of these names ring a bell?” Lance asked, turning to Keith after he closed the door of room 215.
“I’ve met Matt and Shay – and Lotor I guess, but I only heard about James from his roommate. I don’t know the others.” Keith shrugged, then quickly added “Don’t ask me where they could be though, I have absolutely no clue.” as soon as Lance opened his mouth to speak.
“Hm...I suggest we go to the first floor, then. I mean they might’ve sleepwalked to somewhere they know. The cafeteria is on that floor, right?”
Keith nodded and Lance grabbed his arm right away to pull him towards the staircase. His grip wasn’t strong, just enough for Lance to be able to lead Keith, but it was by no means hurting him.
Suddenly, as they were about eight feet from the staircase, Lance stopped abruptly, causing Keith to do the same.
His gaze was fixed on one point in the wall and he didn’t move a muscle. He was acting exactly like before when the voice was talking to Keith.
Before Keith could say anything though, he was back to normal again. Well, except for a deep frown that was on his features now.
“Let’s take the elevator. There’s someone on the stairs.” Lance whispered and steered towards the elevator, which soon started coming to their floor – without anyone pushing the button, Keith noted.
“Are you sure? Did you hear footsteps?”
Lance shrugged. “Yeah. Now come on.” He stepped into the elevator, followed by Keith.
They reached the first floor without any trouble and hurried down the hallway towards the cafeteria.
“We should check all rooms on this floor. I mean, they probably go to the common room just as often, don’t you think?” Keith mumbled.
Lance seemingly didn’t find this question worthy of an answer, and instead jogged up to the cafeteria entrance. The automatic doors didn’t open.
“Hm, would be reasonable to close it when nobody is using it, I guess. But they definitely don’t close off the pool if you had been able to wander in, we should try that next.” While pondering the next room to visit, Keith leaned forward to the glass doors and peered into the darkness, trying to make out the tables or chairs inside.
“No need to. I think I’ve found them.”
That caught Keith’s attention and he jumped up, joining Lance on the bench under the window he was looking out of.
“There, in the yard. Those shadows kinda look like people.” Lance pointed at something through the window. Once Keith finally noticed said shadows, he too, admitted that they resembled people. A small crowd, maybe fifteen, standing in a circle in the middle of the yard. They didn’t seem to be moving a muscle. The whole scene sent chills down Keith’s spine.
“How high are the chances that there’s a secret cult run by some patients here?” Keith asked, trying to make it sound like a joke. He wasn’t afraid of the people in the yard, more like the possibility that he could develop some similar weird habits after trauma.
Lance sighed. “At least we found them. We can go back to our rooms and-”
“No way. I have to figure out what’s going on.” Before Lance could finish his sentence, Keith was already hurrying down the hallway, looking for the closest door leading into the yard. He found it three minutes later across from some kind of therapy rooms.
Keith was super thankful for Lance’s sweater. It was a lot colder outside than he had originally thought.
“So, how close should we get? I mean, I don’t think we’ll be welcomed if we get noticed.” Lance whispered.
Keith sighed and started moving closer to the circle of patients, hiding behind benches, bushes, trees, and trashcans in the process. Lance followed close behind, even though he seemed to be a lot more cynical about the logicality of Keith’s decisions.
They were about five feet away from the others when Keith came to a stop. From there, they would be able to hear what was said and would be able to make out the figures with some effort. One silhouette he recognized right away was none other than Lotor, which didn’t exactly put him at ease.
“It’s the right time for it.” That was the first thing they heard. It wasn’t louder than a whisper, but it had been spoken clear and audibly. Keith turned to Lance, hoping to see a sign that Lance had recognized the voice, but he was met with the same confused expression that must’ve been on his face.
“This is new.” This voice, though, was familiar. He had heard it several times this week and knew that it was unmistakably Matt’s. It sounded monotone and emotionless, though, as if someone had programmed a robot to sound exactly like Matt.
“Better, better, better…” The others echoed that like a chant, just as robot-like as Matt.
Their voices gave Keith shivers. The darkness around him seemed so endless and felt so threatening. He could barely see anything, if Lotor would suddenly show up, he wouldn’t have a chance to escape. Not only Lotor. Apparently, Matt and pretty much half of the second floor were on his side. The memory of being smothered was still vividly in his mind. He didn’t really wish to repeat that experience. Now that he thought about it, his almost-murderer was probably between those people. If he tried to do it once, he surely will try to do it a second time. And if the others join in, there’s no way he would survive the night. Fifteen against two…
Keith didn’t even notice he was breathing heavily until Lance made him aware of that by grabbing his shoulder. He motioned towards the circle in front of them and mouthed something Keith couldn’t understand. When Keith raised his eyebrows, Lance sighed and repeated himself, this time actually speaking. “What are they talking about?”
“Back.” A girl whispered, and the circle began to disband, with each member taking a different route to get back inside. Keith could register some familiar figures passing them, like Hunk or Lotor, but he knew it wasn’t the right time to go up to them. He just had to hope they would go unnoticed.
Ten minutes went by before the two of them dared to leave their hiding spot. None of them had said anything, mainly because they couldn’t formulate a single sentence with the storm of thoughts raging inside their heads. At least that was the case with Keith. Though, Lance most likely shared his confusion. What they’d just witnessed made absolutely no sense. Neither one could figure out the context of the words that had been spoken by the little group. Geez, they didn’t even know how it was possible for some of the patients to be there. Lotor couldn’t even eat independently during the day.
Once inside, they headed towards the staircase. Using the elevator again would’ve made too much noise and it must’ve been around one in the morning or so. If the nurses working night-shift were still awake, they would notice the elevator for sure.
“I told you to mind your own business,” Lotor said, standing on the last step of the staircase, gripping the armrest.
For a moment, both Keith and Lance stared at Lotor with mouths agape, not knowing what to say or what to do. The way to their rooms was blocked, the cafeteria on this floor was closed, so either they could go outside into the frozen cold again or try escaping through the main entrance, risking getting discovered by the porter or the caretaker. Their only possible escape route could’ve been the delivery entrance, but they had no idea where to find that, meaning that that was out of the question too.
Lance reacted first – which wasn’t difficult, considering Keith was practically frozen in place – and pushed Keith in the opposite direction, away from Lotor. They slowly picked up their pace as Keith came out of his shock a, bolting down the hallway as quiet as possible. Keith got ushered through a door by Lance for the second time this week, except that Lance joined him this time and closed the door behind them.
There was a short staircase (wheelchair accessible, of course), leading to a small room with a few doors on the side and a pair of automatic ones in the middle.
“Trust me, I know my way around here.” Lance smiled – the first smile from him Keith has seen this night – and made his way through the small room.
Keith was about to point out that Lance has amnesia and that he highly doubted he knew the place well considering he didn’t even believe he was a patient here when the smell of chlorine reached his nose.
“Lance, is this the pool?” He asked with a frown, questioning why Lance decided the pool would be a good way to escape from Lotor if it had only one exit, the one they just went through right in front of Lotor. Then again, this would explain why Lance ‘knew his way around here’. He almost drowned here a few days ago.
“Exactly. Come on.” Lance led Keith through the automatic doors, which, for whatever reason, weren’t closed at this time of day. So the patients were allowed to go for a quick swim but they couldn’t grab a quick snack in the cafeteria? How unfair, especially considering one of these two had way fewer safety risks. Keith did not consider choking on an apple a serious safety risk.
The pool in front of them wasn’t that deep, probably around three or four feet. It was nothing dangerous for patients with restricted movement abilities if they were being supervised. But there was obviously no one there besides them and maybe Lotor. So no supervision.
Still, that didn’t hold Lance back from slowly going down the ramp into the water. He seemed to be enjoying it, grinning at Keith while taking steps towards the middle of the pool. No signs of trauma whatsoever.
“Is climbing into the pool really necessary? With our clothes on?” Keith asked reluctantly, his eyes constantly shifting between the door and Lance. Lotor could’ve gotten there any moment.
“I don’t think he’ll be looking for us here. Besides, did you see him? He was holding onto that staircase like his life depended on it, he obviously needs assistance to stay upright. He wouldn’t be able to get to the middle of the pool before we have a chance to escape.”
That reasoning was good enough to convince Keith, who hurried into the water right away without even taking Lance’s sweatshirt off. Barely a second later, they could hear the door open and someone step inside.
The water was comfortably luke-warm, but the wet clothes were pulling Keith down. Luckily, it was much easier to move than during the day, and he reached Lance without any difficulties.
“Everything okay?” Lance murmured, with half of his face submerged in water since he was squatting a little. Keith nodded and mimicked his actions after making sure he would still be able to breathe through his nose. He raised an eyebrow as a way to return the question, to make sure Lance was alright too. He was, according to himself, and Keith decided not to worry about it further.
The steps outside indicated that Lotor searched the changing rooms first. This gave Keith some time to calm down and take some deep breaths, though he still couldn’t bring himself to think about all that had happened this night. His brain was in overload and the slight waves that his movements caused just made it worse.
What also made it worse was the slight buzzing in the back of his head that appeared out of nowhere. ‘Get help. They’re out of control.’
Keith’s hand covered his ears automatically, but, of course, that didn’t do anything.
‘Look for help. Get out of here. Quick.’
He was faintly aware of Lance putting a hand on his back and saying something to him, but he didn’t bother to find out what it was. He couldn’t bring himself to care.
‘Thalamus means chamber. Out of control. Get out of here and get help. Storm.’
There was nothing he remembered after that. His vision became blurred first before turning completely black.