A quiet beeping beside him. A surface under him that definitely wasn’t water, though he couldn’t tell what else he could be laying on. His clothes were wet. Wet and cold.
The aching numbness in his left hand was probably the worst part. He balled it into a fist, but it didn’t make a difference.
Where was he? Did someone fish him out of the pool (-heh-) and bring him back to his room? No, he didn’t remember his bed being so… firm and cold. Unless someone did bring him to his room but forgot to place him on the bed. Maybe they left him on the floor.
Then again, if he was lying on the floor, it didn’t necessarily have to be the floor of his room. Maybe he was dumped into a hallway after he fell asleep because people didn’t want to hear his snoring – not that he was the snoring type, of course.
Groaning, Keith started rubbing his head. It kind of hurt. What had happened? Lance had been with him, and… Not entirely sure what they had been doing. But Lance wasn’t here anymore, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t have let Keith sleep for so long. Granted, Keith had only experienced it once, but he had the impression that Lance had an extraordinary talent of not letting people sleep.
He warily opened his eyes. It was still dark. The floor was wooden if he wasn’t mistaken. Not that it mattered, except for the fact that so far, he had only encountered linoleum floors at the rehabilitation center. Concluding, it was definitely not his room he was in.
After propping himself up and taking a better look around the room, Keith decided that he was still in a room of a patient. Despite the many differences between his and this room, it was still obvious that it wasn’t just some normal guest bedroom or something.
There was only one bed, but it was surrounded by medical equipment. A heart monitor, IV stands – more than one – and a bunch of other stuff Keith didn’t know the function of. Not like it mattered that much, anyway. The TV on the wall across the bed was bigger and more modern looking than the ones on his floor. Several flower pots with exotic looking flowers decorated the room, and there even were two armchairs in the corner with a small coffee table. A huge luxury for a hospital room. Keith wasn’t sure if the flowers weren’t breaking a rule in the hospital etiquette, though. All in all, it wasn’t a hard task to figure out that the relatives of this patient must’ve had a big fortune. Paying for this whole thing was definitely not cheap.
Keith stepped closer to the bed, now shifting his focus on the patient herself. It was a woman in her thirties, probably. Slightly darker complexion and dark hair, a thin white scar starting on her forehead and running across the top of her head.
She looked so peaceful in her sleep. As if she had nothing to worry about. Pretty unusual to see in a hospital of some sorts.
Against his better judgment, Keith reached for the clipboard at the end of the woman’s bed. Surprisingly, he didn’t find much on it. Only her name. That’s all. No description of the injury’s circumstances, no list of weird terms informing the reader of her medical history. Just that. ‘Hana Stark’. The name didn’t ring a bell, and Keith didn’t remember seeing her around.
What was Keith doing here then? How did he get here? And where was Lance? Had he been sleepwalking again, even though he hadn’t even been asleep? Was that even possible?
Keith bit his lip and gently grabbed the woman’s shoulder, shaking it just a bit. Maybe she could tell him where he was. “Hey, excuse me, ma’am…” He whispered and stopped abruptly soon after. Maybe the woman was in a coma. The heart monitor would make a lot more sense then. If so, he was wasting his time trying to wake her up. Even if she were just a heavy sleeper, Keith was a jerk for disturbing her for his own selfish needs like trying to get to his room.
Besides, what was stopping him? There was a white door just behind him. The best way to discover where he was would be by exploring the place.
Being as quiet as possible, he turned around and opened the door. He was met with an empty hallway looking similar to the one on his floor. Only that there was way less stuff laying around on chairs and small tables. Actually, there weren’t even chairs and tables here. Probably meaning that whoever lived on this floor was either able to walk perfectly and didn’t need to sit down for a pause sometimes, or that the patients weren’t able to walk at all, or didn’t leave their rooms. Most likely the latter, unless ‘Hana Stark’ was an exception.
As Keith continued going through the hallway, he came to the realization that most of the rooms here were offices. That made the room of that woman stand out even more.
Now that he was in the long hallway with not much to do besides dragging himself towards the stairs, Keith also started noticing that he was freezing. He blamed it on the wet clothes and the open windows. The reason why he was wet though - he had absolutely no clue, and he probably would never be able to find out.
He glanced through a window he passed and got a glimpse of a yard. A yard he knew. It was the yard the meeting of Lotor and his little friends had taken place in. Keith could still remember that.
The things they had said didn’t make sense in the slightest. Not without any context. ‘It’s the right time’ - for what, exactly? And what was better, the thing that was new? Keith’s question made just as much sense as things the patients had said, and there weren’t even answers.
In the meantime, Keith had reached the staircase and was now slowly going down the stairs. Slower than usual.
At least now he knew that he was still at the rehab center. He only had to find the exit leading to the yard and he had finally got out of the side building. Because that’s apparently what it was. Just a second building a little further away from the yard that he had never noticed before.
From that point, his brain turned on autopilot and he was barely aware that he was crossing the yard and heading towards the side entrance. The only thing Keith comprehended was how tired and cold he was. Not even his concern of Lotor finding him again could get in the way.
The first thing he noticed when he stepped inside was Shiro walking down the hallway towards the main entrance, head buried in a stack of papers in his hands and definitely not paying attention to his surroundings. He was probably about to go home for his day off, judging from the casual clothes he was wearing.
But if Keith went up to him, he would surely help him get back to his room and put on some warm clothes…
‘Don’t. Turn right and hide,’ The voice in his head commanded sternly, but Keith had no intention to do what it said. He didn’t want to put up with its absurd shenanigans again.
Suddenly, Keith froze. He tried to get his legs to move forward, but they instead turned and started heading right, towards a room Keith remembered to be a small waiting area for the parents for when they visited. No matter how hard he tried, his body just wouldn’t obey him. Well, he was kind of used to that since he wasn’t able to move his body at all just a few weeks ago, but this was a lot different.
Becoming more and more desperate, he grabbed the wall and tried to stop himself. His arms let go of it almost immediately and he couldn’t move them anymore. When he tried to call for Shiro to help him, it was as if his jaw was stuck in its place, and he simply couldn’t open his mouth. There he was, silently struggling, tears forming in his eyes, as his body was dragging itself towards somewhere he didn’t want to be. All the while he was shivering and about to collapse from exhaustion.
He could only watch as his body did whatever it wanted. Well, technically, his body should’ve been controlled by his brain, but it just didn’t listen. As if someone else was lurking in the back of his mind and messing everything up. Was this what it would’ve been like to be possessed?
To his luck, whatever was controlling his body didn’t expect the door to make such a loud noise when it was opened. Shiro jolted up and hurried over to Keith, who had fallen to the ground just milliseconds ago. Again, not because he wanted to.
Shiro just stared at him with wide eyes for a good ten seconds. Keith didn’t blame him. He must’ve been a sight to see. Laying on the ground in a fetal position and quietly crying, clothes and hair wet as if he’d just fallen into a lake. And it would be worth mentioning that he was still on the first floor, where he definitely didn’t belong. Not at night, or rather, at quarter to four in the morning.
“Keith? What- How-” The nurse knelt beside him and hesitantly ran his hand through Keith’s wet hair, all this while trying to form a sentence. “Are you okay?” Was all that he could manage in the end.
He received a vehement headshake as an answer. No, Keith definitely wasn’t okay. At all. The furthest thing from okay, perhaps.
It took two nurses an hour until Keith was back in his bed with warm clothes and dry hair. Shiro, being the angel he is, had stayed as long as it took him to comfort Keith and make sure he was okay. He and Allura had helped their patient into some fresh clothes after a warm bath and ran all sorts of tests on him to ensure he wasn’t going to get sick. They had also tried their best to give emotional support and find out what had happened, but Keith was seemingly too shaken up to even attempt answering their questions.
Keith didn’t particularly care if they held him for a coward or an idiot afterward. Maybe they didn’t even question it, Keith wasn’t in his top form mentally after all. Perhaps they figured he was starting to develop PTSD. That still wouldn’t have explained why he had been soaking wet, though, but as long as he didn’t catch a cold again, that wouldn’t have mattered that much. Keith would be able to explain everything after he calmed down, hopefully.
From now on being able to speak from experience, Keith could swear there was nothing worse than not being able to control his own body. And he had all right to be upset. Who knows when this would happen again. And he couldn’t even explain it to anyone since he wasn’t able to talk or write. Maybe his body will be out of his control the next time Lotor decides it’s time for his little games again, and Keith will have no time to defend himself…
Wait. Out of control. Is that what the voice meant? That his body is out of control?
But what about the voice? How did it know about it all? Was it responsible for all of this? It would make sense, the voice must be in his head as well, somehow the two things could be connected.
Knowing that information would’ve probably made him relieved, except that he still couldn’t do anything about it. His head was a ticking bomb that could decide to lose control again whenever it wanted. And it was all in his brain, there was no chance he could try to solve the problem on his own.
Sometimes, crying was the only option. And Keith hated it. But he hated being helpless even more. Bottling up his emotions wouldn’t work this time. Not when the problems were already overflowing and he had no choice but to sit back and wait, wondering who will die first, and if this will ever stop. So far, it didn’t seem like it would.
Keith bit his lip and buried his head in his pillow. Lotor – who had of course been back in their room when the nurses brought Keith back – might not be able to see him, but Keith still felt as if he was invading his privacy just by being in the room. How dare he just lay there all day and then threaten to murder him at night, still keeping his status as ‘poor helpless young man’ in the eyes of everyone but Keith? Why did he have to be the only one to see what was really going on?
For all he knew, these weren’t even some hallucinations he could take meds for. Meds didn’t make his clothes wet or smother him.
At least, if there was one positive thing about crying, it was that it helped him fall asleep. That didn’t make up for all the negative aspects, of course, but at least his brain was peaceful while he slept.
‘Get help. Storm.’
Keith sighed and took another bite of his cupcake. The voice was a really untalented meteorologist. The sun was shining bright and there weren’t even any clouds in sight.
In the last few days, the voice’s credibility was in the gutter in general. Keith hadn’t had any sleepwalking episodes and the voice hadn’t stopped talking about some storm and about something gray. Perhaps the meds they had given Keith to calm him down weren’t exactly cooperating with his developing schizophrenia. At least he guessed that’s what he had.
He finished his food and stood up, carefully taking the plate in his hand while his other one held the walker before a staff member hurried up to him and took his plate from him to avoid another one breaking that day. The first one had been Hunk’s... It’s a long story.
After successfully returning everything, he left the cafeteria to head to his therapy session with Romelle. Despite all the stuff that’s been going on, he still had to fight through hours and hours of therapy to repair his brain. Well, putting it that way made it sound better than it actually was.
Pidge almost ran him over when he stepped out of the cafeteria. She and Lance were storming down the hallway and hadn’t noticed Keith until now. After Pidge managed to stop her wheelchair just at the right moment, Lance walked back to them as well, greeting Keith with a bright smile.
“Hey, wanna play some board games in the common room? Allura told Pidge they have bought a new memory game.”
Keith could see Pidge’s amused expression from the corner of his eyes. He shook his head, about to turn on his heels, when someone grabbed his shirt.
“Keith, you have barely hung out with us in the last few days… Are you okay?” The worry in Pidge’s voice was something he had never heard before this time, and he had to say, it genuinely surprised him; he had forgotten to consider that his friends could’ve noticed his rather odd behavior. Might’ve been because he was too busy with overthinking everything to worry about such unimportant stuff as playing snakes and ladders or uno.
“Trust me, cutting off contact with everyone isn’t the right choice. We understand if you find it hard to deal with what has happened to you, but this is not the correct way to do it. You’re going to stay here for a while, might as well have fun during that time.” Lance chimed in, giving Keith the brightest smile he could manage.
Keith returned the smile and made a dismissive hand motion, then tapped his wrist twice and started pantomiming brushing his teeth.
“Oh, it’s time for your ergotherapy? Sorry to bother you then. But you’re still welcomed to join us after you’re finished.”
He nodded, then turned around once more and set off towards the therapy rooms on the other side of the building.
Lance, of course, still didn’t remember anything from their adventures together. Just like before, he was acting as normal as ever. Chaotic, sure, but cheerful, friendly, and seemingly lacking any of the confusion and concern Keith’s head was filled with. And to make matters worse, there wasn’t even any evidence that Lance had been with Keith when he witnessed the ‘nightly meeting’ of Lotor and others on his floor. He had had dry clothes on and had been lying in his bed when the nurses woke him up the morning after. Only Keith’s memories could serve as proof, but those were meanwhile just as untrustworthy as Lance’s. The fact that Matt didn’t remember leaving his room that night didn’t help much either.
The therapy session with Romelle was far from over, but no one in the room was doing anything useful. Keith was fully aware of why he hadn’t been productive at all, but at least Romelle didn’t blame him for it this time. They both spent the entire twenty minutes so far staring at each other awkwardly, trying to tune out the voices of four other staff members clearly talking about Keith in the other room.
Romelle had tried to ignore it and motivate Keith to do the same. She really did. But honestly, how was she supposed to convince him to try tying shoes when there was something going on that was way more interesting concerning him and his health?
After five or so minutes, she had enough of watching Keith’s confused face and started to explain. “They’re talking about last Tuesday. You do remember Tuesday, right?”
Keith frowned. What day was it today?
“Three days ago. Shiro and Allura finding you on the first floor, you do remember that, right?”
Finally, something he understood. A nod.
“Good. Well, they’re talking about what could have happened. Are you sure you don’t know about it yourself?” Romelle tried to hint at the soaking wet clothes.
He hesitated shortly, before shaking his head again. Better avoid possible trouble by not admitting that he climbed into the pool voluntarily and then went outside again. Being awake at that time was already bad enough for his health.
“Okay. To sum it up, Rolo and Shiro are considering to ask Dr. Trigel if it wouldn’t be wiser to just give you some extra medication to help you sleep through the night. Allura, Adam, and Nyma are arguing that the side effects wouldn’t speed up your healing process either and that the somnambulism is to be expected, considering your hypothalamus was damaged in the accident as well. The hypothalamus is partially responsible for sleep. Did that explain it to you?”
Keith nodded again, he understood most of it. So the nurses were basically just trying to find out what was wrong with him. That was nice. The words ‘hypothalamus’ and ‘somnambulism’ had also shown up in Romelle’s explanation, two words Keith now knew the meaning of, thanks to the little medical dictionary in his head in the form of the voice.
“You have nothing to worry about though, the nurses here constantly discuss such things about the patients. Though I have to admit that I’ve been wondering about the recent ‘popularity’ of sleepwalking too. Almost every patient in the last two years has done it at least once. In comparison, we’ve barely had similar cases before that. I guess times are changing, after all, VRC isn’t the only one experiencing this.” Romelle seemed to have given up on having a normal ergotherapy session with Keith today. Instead, she leaned back in her chair and started rambling about how strange this ‘sleepwalking trend’ was.
At the end of the session, Keith may have not been better at tying shoes, but he certainly had some information that may come handy later. He was perfectly satisfied with that and exited the room after saying ‘gooooied’ to Romelle. Nonetheless, she was glad he at least attempted it.
He jumped a little when Lance stepped out from behind the door once he was outside.
“So, how was therapy? Do you wanna play some Jenga?” Lance chirped nonchalantly and was already taking some steps backward while still waiting for Keith’s reply.
Keith shook his head, not only because he knew full well that Lance would beat him in any hand-eye coordination game, but also because he had more important things to do.
Passing Lance, he instead walked towards the fire door that separated the therapy rooms from the patients’ bedrooms.
“Aww, you can’t be serious Keith! Please dude, you’d be missing out on so much!” It didn’t take Lance long to be trotting behind Keith annoyed, reminding him that it was only like two in the afternoon and that it was definitely too early to take a nap.
And that hadn’t been Keith’s intention either. He slowly made his way to room 215 – he still couldn’t go that much faster with his walker – and knocked on the door. No one answered, and he figured that meant no one was there or if yes, they were asleep and wouldn’t mind him checking something out really quick.
When the two boys entered, Lance had to try his best to suppress a laugh. “You are aware that this is a girl’s room, right?” After saying that, his eyes flew over a short note scribbled on his arm with a sharpie. “Our rooms are on the other side of the hallway. Mine at least.”
Keith rolled his eyes and walked over to the bed near the window. Both beds were empty, so he didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone. Lifting up the clipboard with patient’s information at the end of the bed caused him some difficulties – grabbing things with his whole hand was easy, now, however, he only needed to use his fingers, which was a much more complicated task – but once he managed it, he proceeded to point at it and then look at Lance hopeful. Even though he had worked on his reading a bit with Adam, it still didn’t go as unproblematic as he would’ve liked.
“What do you want with that?” Lance inquired with furrowed brows.
Three more tries. That’s how many it took to get the message across to Lance. Keith was doubting his pantomiming abilities by the second try already.
“Uh, sure. Kind of a weird request, but why not.” Shrugging, Lance took the clipboard from Keith’s hand and looked at it for a few seconds. “Hmm… Nadia Rizavi, 16, tumor in the partial lobe...” He listed the parts of the brain affected by the tumor and a bunch of other medical terms. “...ENB Gen 2.”
Keith gave him a thumbs up as a thanks, then stepped over to the next bed and pointed at the clipboard at the end of that bed.
“Geez, another? You really like learning about other’s private stuff, don’t you?”
He knew it was a joke, but Keith couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He just wanted to find out what was really going on.
“Oh well, fine.” Lance began to read the medical history of Nadia’s roommate, Ina as well. As soon as he was done, Keith led him into the next currently empty room and would ask him to read that. And so on, until they had read the information of about eight or nine people.
Much to Keith’s disappointment, there was nothing the patients had in common besides some basic stuff. He had to face it, no brain injury was the same.
He gave up after Lance had read his own medical info aloud to him. It was just like the nurses had said, damaged thalamus and hypothalamus, his Broca's area was a mess, etc. Neither he nor Lance understood even half of these terms or what they meant, but it gave him a vague idea of his situation. Which was basically that he was just really, really messed up in the head.
“Can we finally go to the common room? Keith, I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re trying to achieve, but we’ve wasted our time for at least half an hour at this point. Who knows when I’ll forget what I was doing. You won’t be able to tell me and I’ll just continue reading everyone’s private stuff to you...” Lance sighed. “Besides, Pidge probably already gave up on waiting for us in the common room. That’s an opportunity wasted, I could’ve finally won a game against her…”
He had a point. Keith agreed and stood up from his bed, reaching for his walker again.
There was barely a soul in the hallways. Every patient was either at therapy or enjoying their free time. Or they were in a coma, but that’s not the point.
Lance kept giving Keith apologetic looks from time to time, maybe even giving him a pat on the back once or twice.
“Look, I get what you feel. You’ve got nothing to do, you’re curious – I get it, really. I promise I’ll get Dr. Sendak to answer any of your questions after dinner, deal?”
‘Stop. Hide. Get help. Get out of here. Storm.’
Keith did as the voice told him to do – as in he stopped moving. He had not been expecting the voice to show up so suddenly. Probably thinking it was something he had said, Lance imitated his movements and refrained from walking any further.
There were footsteps coming from the stairs. This was nothing unusual of course, but it had caught Keith’s attention right away. Maybe it was a feeling in his gut, or just because he had become so used to being alarmed because of the walks he took through the building at night.
Said footsteps came to an end. The people those footsteps belonged to probably stopped two or three steps before reaching the second floor since Keith could hear them clearly without any echo and also because he could see one of the figures. It was none other thank Professor Zendak.
“You will have to try harder.” That voice belonged to Zendak, for sure. “It would be unacceptable to let it happen again.”
“Look, Sir, there’s nothing I can do! We have no contact to him anymore. Good news, though: I heard the relatives have decided on cremation.” Keith didn’t instantly recognize the voice, but guessing from the way it was talking to Zendak, his best guess was Sendak. “We’ll just have to keep a close eye on the others. We can’t let them get out of control.”
Out of control. This again. Also, what were they talking about? About Blaytz, possibly? Why would they be so worried? They couldn’t get sued for him dying, they had tried everything, didn’t they?
“Of course. Being careful and keeping them in control is the least you can do, Dr. Sendak.”
Bingo. Keith was right.
“Well, we have found the mistake. Besides, we’ve dealt with more complicated situations before, this won’t be that much harder.” Sendak retorted, but with a hint of hesitance in his voice.
Mistake? Did a mistake in the machines cause Blaytz’s death? Perhaps the treatment had a mistake or the medication they were giving patients here. That would explain a lot of things, including Keith’s hallucinations.
“Yes, but back then we had help! And...”
“’But!’ ‘But!’ Stop with this nonsense, Professor Zarkon. I have everything on shutdown until every problem is solved. We can’t underestimate them.”
Zarkon’s voice turned into something barely louder than a whisper. “Don’t be a fool. They’re learning. They’re becoming smarter and more independent.”
“Intelligence is welcome, independence isn’t. I don’t want it to escalate until we have to consider our last resort. Control it. This cannot happen again.” With that, he resumed going up the stairs and stormed away towards the third floor. Fortunately, he was in too much of a hurry to notice Keith and Lance standing there, with completely different facial expressions.
Dr. Sendak seemed to have changed direction, as he never appeared at the top of the stairs. Only a few seconds after Keith was sure they wouldn’t get caught listening in on the conversation between the two doctors did he turn to face Lance. His expression was one of determination, contrasting Lance’s bewildered features.
Now Lance had seen it too. And he could tell the others about it. Keith finally wasn’t completely alone in this.