6 months, 0 days
There was something inarguably ironic about celebrating your recovery by returning to the hospital you had just been discharged from. Congratulations on your discharge, can’t wait to see you back here in a week. The only difference was that instead of his ass hanging out of a hospital gown, he was tucked neatly into nurse scrubs.
Overall, though, he felt pretty good. Or rather, as good as you can feel two months after a deadly car crash. Which was surprisingly good. And as he clocked in and entered the sterile hallways of St. Trost’s Hospital, he couldn’t help but find the pristine white walls and overwhelming smell of sanitizer as anything less than invigorating.
His reverie was abruptly interrupted with a friendly, but rather forceful karate chop to his back. Making a sound like a punctured bike tire, he rounded sharply on the woman laughing loudly at his inevitable anger. “Levi, you old devil. Look what the cat dragged in. Look at ya. Let me just take you in you little survivor, you!”
“Hanji-“ Levi began, before the excitable woman clamped her hands firmly on both of his cheeks. He tried to look intimidating, but as anyone who has had their face squished together, it is a daunting task to strike fear into so much as a small rodent’s heart, let alone a human being. It also probably didn’t help that Levi himself barely made it to Hanji’s shoulder in height.
“You’re back at work so soon,” she gushed, giving his cheeks gleeful pats. “You wouldn’t believe what happened the other day. Mike was trying to get delivery during lunch to the break room but when he called…”
Hanji prattled on, emphasizing her points with various pressures on his cheeks. Levi looked disinterestedly at her from under his eyelids, arms crossed. He let his eyes wander over the bustling hospital, nurses dodging in and out of rooms with clipboards and various packaged tools, doctors glued to their phones, walking bravely through the traffic, placing far too much faith in everyone’s ability to avoid their distracted selves.
“Oi, Levi!” Hanji’s tone turned authoritative and Levi snapped back to her face. “What are you still doing here, you’re supposed to be checking vitals on the coma patients in the 6th wing. Hop to it man-nurse,” she grinned, slapping his back once more before bustling off, straight into a distracted doctor, papers flying everywhere.
Levi frowned in her direction before turning neatly on his heel toward the 6th wing. While it was thoughtful of the supervisors to schedule him to such an easy round for the six-month rotation, he would have rather been anywhere else. Besides being intensely boring, the coma ward’s atmosphere was nothing to look forward to. None of those patients were waking up. The coma ward nurse was a babysitter for dead people. The only difference between the 6th wing and a funeral home was that for some inexplicable reason, the bodies in the 6th wing still had beating hearts. But a heartbeat does not a person make.
After nearly being comatose himself, Levi thought he would have had a more romanticized view of the 6th wing and its inhabitants after his car crash, but dead was dead.
He was surprised to find, though, that the 6th wing had company that day. As he entered the ward he saw a new bed with two people seated around it. Dr. Smith’s broad shoulders, neatly combed blonde hair, and lab coat were easily identifiable, but the woman with smooth, black hair was unfamiliar to Levi. A visitor, he reasoned.
He pulled the chart for one of the other patients in the ward, distractedly checking vitals and jotting down notes as he listened in on the conversation around the new bed.
Dr. Smith had his I’m-sorry-for-your-loss voice on and was speaking in quiet, deep tones. “…so I really wouldn’t expect much at this stage. I’m not a man cruel enough to give false hope. I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. Eren is brain dead, and there’s really nothing we can do.” The woman in the chair was nodding numbly, her face deathly pale. “Now, here is what I suggest for most families going through this. We’ll give it six months. We will leave Eren on life support and we’ll keep him comfortable for six months, and if we don’t find any change in brain activity, we’ll – ah, I mean, you pull the plugs,” he finished, at barely more than a whisper.
“Aw hell no, do not let anyone near any plugs!”
Levi whipped around, knocking over a magazine rack and a blood pressure reader. A tall young man with disheveled brown hair and a panicked look in his green eyes was gesturing wildly his dissent. “No one is unplugging anything!” the man insisted.
Much to Levi’s confusion, Dr. Smith had continued talking right over the young man, and the woman beside the bed was nodding dumbly at the doctor’s recommendations of organ donation.
“You ain’t doin’ shit with my plugs Doctor Ken Doll. You either, Mikasa,” he said. He was waving his arms with so much gusto, that Levi feared a plane would mistakenly try to land on them all.
Levi looked wildly between the young man and the gathering around the new bed, gears clicking into place in his brain despite his better judgment. “Are you...” Levi trailed off. “How…” He found himself in a rare state of inability to form coherent thoughts.
The young man turned briefly to observe Levi, made to turn back around to the gathering at the bedside, but then did a double take back to Levi as their eyes found each other. He stared openly at Levi. “Staring is kind of rude where I come from,” Levi managed dryly.
“Well call me a believer at last,” the young man finally managed, clasping his hands together in prayer. “Thank you jesus, Mary, Joseph, Tom Cruise, or whoever I’m supposed to thank,” he said. “You can see me. Oh thank god,” he breathed, running a hand roughly through his hair.
“Yeah, eyesight really was a pretty stunning invention,” Levi returned.
“Tell that to them,” the man said, indicating the young woman and doctor with his thumb. He took a few steps closer to Levi, bringing his voice to an unnecessary whisper. “I’m in a fucking coma,” he hissed, gesturing wildly at the bed of interest.
Levi stared openly at the panicked man. After nearly a full two minutes of open disbelief, Levi cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Um,” he announced awkwardly to the bedside gathering.
Dr. Smith turned around slowly and raised his eyebrow questioningly at Levi. “Levi?” he acknowledged.
“Ah, um. Do you-that is. Is he…?” Levi trailed off, pointing gingerly at the man standing next to him.
Dr. Smith shook his head slightly. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Is, um,” Levi tried to change strategies. “New resident of the ward?” He finished meekly.
“Eren Jaeger,” Dr. Smith answered suspiciously. “Here are his charts if you’re in need of them right away.”
Levi’s eyes shifted worriedly between the young man beside him and Dr. Smith. He cautiously approached the new bed, and just as he suspected, the young man panicking beside him was the same man lying in bed, connected to a series of respirators and various vital monitors. Boy did he hate it when he was right. Levi liked to consider himself a rational man, hard to affect, and quick to dismiss foolishness. The site of the doubled man, though, drained the color from his face and left him stuttering uncharacteristically. “I uh-I need, air…lunch-“ he sputtered, grabbing the clipboard from Dr. Smith and rushing out of the ward.
Levi went straight to the nurse’s station where he found Hanji trying to balance a thermometer on her nose. Grabbing the front of her scrubs, he pulled her down to his height and whispered urgently, “Hanji this is some Sixth Sense shit.”
Hanji stared forlornly at the broken thermometer now on the ground. She then narrowed her eyes, appraising his hostile, worried face.
“Hanji I-“ he lowered his voice to barely a whisper. “Hanji I think I’m seeing dead people or some shit.” Levi released his grip on her shirt and stood back a step, folding his arms as if she would have an immediate solution to his problem.
She nodded slowly, one eyebrow raised pointedly at him. After a minute of appraisal, her face turned thoughtful. “So, are you Haley Joel Osment?” She asked skeptically. “Or am I Haley Joel Osment, and you’re Bruce Willis. Because, I mean, maybe you’re dead, and I am seeing dead people, but like, you don’t know you’re dead.” It was hard to tell if or when Hanji was ever serious.
“I am definitely Haley Joel Osment,” Levi hissed.
“I want to be Haley Joel Osment,” Hanji pouted.
“No one wants to be Haley Joel Osment! The peak of his acting career was when he was like, 10.”
“No, he was in Forest Gump and I’m pretty sure he does a voice in some popular video game franchise too,” she returned.
“Forest Gump was before Sixth Sense,” Levi said doubtfully.
“Jesus Christ, then why do you have such a problem being Bruce Willis?”
“Bruce Willis was dead, Hanji! I’m not dead!” Levi was shouting now.
Hanji was laughing openly at him at this point. Her laughter was attracting the attention of the other nurses, so Levi quickly pulled her back down to his height by the front of her shirt, clamping a hand over her mouth. “Listen, you fucking hyena,” he snarled. “I was in the 6th ward and there’s some new guy in there and I fucking saw him standing beside his own mostly-dead body. No one else could see him. He was panicking and shit, and I was the only goddamn one who knew he was there,” Levi found himself babbling. He hated babbling. “He was there, in his fucking bed, mostly dead. But he was also standing beside me, telling them that no one was allowed to pull any plugs.” Levi was panting now, more angry than anything.
Recognition lit in Hanji’s eyes. “Oh, so he’s Bruce Willis.”
“Would you shut the fuck up about Bruce Willis,” Levi said, before thinking better of it. “But, I mean, yeah. He’s Bruce Willis.”
“Damn, does that make me like, Haley Joel Osment’s on-screen mom?” Hanji asked sadly.
“That was Toni Collette I think,” Levi pondered.
“Damn,” Hanji mourned.
“No-just, what the fuck Hanji. Am I losing my fucking mind here?” Hanji straightened her glasses uncomfortably, looking past Levi as if the answer might be somewhere on the wall of the nurse’s station. “Maybe I came back to work too soon,” Levi thought aloud.
“This is some grade-A sci-fi shit,” Hanji said, regaining her excited momentum. “Maybe when you were in that car wreck, you like, opened some portal to the afterlife. And now you see people who are like, almost dead, but not really.”
She was having way too much fun with this. Even if Levi had enjoyed fun things, which he often did not, this would have been the opposite of a fun thing.
“Alright, alright. Why don’t you go talk to Bruce Willis coma guy? We gotta test this shit out,” she said, a little too excitedly for Levi’s tastes. Hanji looked like she was going to march them both down to the 6th ward to study the new coma patient, before she caught sight of a supervisor marching towards her, an angry glint in the woman’s eyes. “Shit, I gotta make myself scarce, Levi,” she said quickly. “I’m in some deep shit with the supervisor. I’ll see you later, but you better go talk to Bruce Willis.” She scurried off, but when she was about fifty paces from Levi, she shouted over her shoulder, “Not the actor!” before slamming into the same distracted doctor she had collided with earlier.
“Fucking perfect,” Levi mumbled, trudging slowly off towards the 6th wing.
Standing outside of the ward, Levi knew he had to approach this delicately. The kid was probably even more freaked out than he was, and he didn’t want to make the situation worse. Part of him hoped that it had been a stress-induced hallucination and he wouldn’t see the distressed young man again. Walking into the ward, though, banished that hope from his mind. The patient, or whatever he was, was pacing nervously in front of his own bed, where the black-haired woman was holding his body’s lifeless hand silently. Levi tried desperately to remember the kid’s name. Eren, he thought. Irving. Something.
Eren-or-Irving-or-something looked up as Levi entered the room, and Levi motioned discreetly for him to follow Levi into the deserted hallway.
Levi reminded himself mentally to approach the situation calmly and try not to freak the kid out. Stay calm.
The kid closed the door to the room behind him and turned to face Levi. Levi grabbed the front of the young man’s shirt and pulled him forward roughly, an unintentionally threatening tone creeping into his voice. “Listen here you little shit.”
“Little?” the kid spluttered indignantly. Apparently the fond nickname of ‘shit’ was somehow less offensive than an accusation of being vertically challenged. “Alright, Stubby McMan-Nurse,” he spat.
Levi chose, with much difficulty, to ignore the jab at his short stature. He released the front of the kid’s white shirt grudgingly and stepped back a pace. “Let’s try this again,” he sighed. “Levi,” he introduced himself shortly, extending a hand.
“Eren,” the young man returned suspiciously, taking Levi’s hand. Eren’s hand was incredibly cold. There was a moment of heavy silence before Eren spoke again. “Am I dead?”
At least he didn’t beat around the bush. Levi’s instinct was to affirm Eren’s suspicions, but he faltered a bit on that point. There was a certain droop to the kid’s shoulders, and Levi couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. “Do you want a medical answer?” Levi asked, giving him a level look.
Eren considered a moment. “I want your answer.”
Levi sighed. “You’re dead.”
“My heart’s still beating,” Eren offered reasonably.
“You’re not going to wake up,” Levi insisted, perhaps a little to bluntly.
Eren seemed to take this reasonably well. He was nodding thoughtfully, though with a distinctly exhausted look in his eyes. Had Eren not been pretty much dead, Levi would have warned him that the intensity with which he was distractedly running his hand through his hair was likely to cause early baldness. “How come you can see me?”
Levi shrugged tiredly. “I don’t fucking know.”
“That’s some Sixth Sense shit, right there,” Eren mused.
Being almost entirely done with any mention of the Sixth Sense, Levi made to protest but was interrupted.
“Yoooooo,” a voice broke into their conversation from down the hallway.
“They can’t hear us,” a girl said skeptically.
“No, look, that dude is wearing the same freaky ghost, dead-person outfit,” replied the other voice.
A girl with long brown hair pulled back and a sheepish grin was approaching them with a shorter young man with a shaved head and a toothy smile. “Hey, kid,” he called to Eren, ignoring Levi entirely. “I see you’ve got death-casual on too.” He motioned between the two. All three of them were wearing white slacks, simple white t-shirts, and black belts. “Welcome to ward 6. I see you’ve already got your uniform on,” he joked. “I think the real question is why the higher powers thought the painter’s uniform was a good look for people who’ve failed to die properly. Personally, I think the heavenly imagery is a bit over the top, but what can you do.” He held out a hand to Eren. “Connie,” he offered warmly. “Nice to meet you, but really sorry it had to be here.”
Eren shot Levi a look before taking Connie’s hand. “Eren,” he offered back.
“Sasha,” the girl who had arrived with Connie piped up, raising her hand in acknowledgement. “Also mostly dead, I guess.”
“This day just gets better and better,” Levi said sourly.
Connie and Sasha turned to gape at Levi. Sasha even waved a hand in front of Levi’s face, waggling her fingers to elicit some response, before he shot a glare at her, causing her to retreat behind Connie.
“Holy shit, dude,” Connie managed, gathering the slack from his open jaw. “Are you dead too?”
“I am definitely fucking not,” Levi grumbled.
“You can see us, though,” Sasha said incredulously. She was looking at him with a deep awe that bordered on worship. “You can see us,” she repeated quietly.
“Unfortunately,” Levi returned. They were all just kind of looking at him and Levi desperately wished he had pretended he couldn’t see Eren at all. He had to open his damn mouth. It was just a good thing that the 6th ward was nearly deserted just about all of the time.
“Is this a thing then?” Eren interrupted. “Like, do all brain-dead coma patients do this cheesy out-of-body experience shit?”
Connie shrugged. “From what I can tell. Gotta say, though, science fiction makes it seem a hell of a lot cooler. Reality’s a bit different, though. Honestly, it’s boring as hell.”
“How long have you been like this?” Eren seemed uneasy.
“Well,” Connie paused, making quick calculations in his head. “I guess Sasha and I have been here about two months. Some of the others have been here longer. Time moves in a weird way around here. When you’re not really sure whether you want time to move forward or backward, it has a weird way of doing neither. Until one day you kind of wake up and notice that things aren’t the way you thought they were.”
Eren tried to nod like he understood, but just achieved a seasick sort of look, that made Levi think Eren was more inclined to vomit on his pristine white shoes than anything. Levi felt like he might join him in that endeavor.