Coran had seen many injuries in his long years of serving as both King Alfor’s advisor and as the go-to medic for the Paladins of Voltron.
The damage done to Number Three’s right leg was in a class all its own.
Coran felt his own stomach twisting as he took in the sight of the mangled limb, stretched out on the exam table and looking even worse under the sterile lights of the infirmary and the white linens now splotched with red.
Lance had stepped on a landmine, Number Two had choked out just before he’d lost the battle with his stomach and was still now retching in the corner, the sounds interspersed with apologies and promises to “be right there,” to the still conscious Number Three, although Coran had no doubt he wished he was not.
The young human was pale beneath his tan complexion, sweat beading his hairline, lips pressed into a thin line as though willing himself not to be sick too and his hands in loose fists at his sides and trembling as he lie on the table.
But most telling were the tears beading along dark lashes of closed eyes and the fact the normally chattering human was silent, not able to laugh or quip when he was in so much pain.
Coran lifted one of his hands and pressed it to the boy’s brow, smoothing back the damp bangs. “It’s going to be all right, my boy,” he murmured. “I’m just going to take a quick looksie, all right? Then we’ll get you in a pod and you’ll be right as ravioli.”
The only response was a shudder that rocked the slender body and a moan issued from between the sealed lips.
Coran shifted down the table, examining the injury with his eyes first so as not to cause further pain. He could see where the thicker boot of the Paladin armor had done its job; while it had been incinerated the boy’s foot was still intact, if very badly burned, flesh cracked and black along the bottom and an angrier red and bloody up towards the ankle, but it was an injury the pod would be able to heal without complication.
It was the rest that posed a problem.
Coran gingerly pulled at a fragment of the leg guard that had remained behind, melted into both flesh and the undersuit.
A choked, broken whimper was accompanied by a shudder at the touch although it was clear Number Three was trying to hold himself as still as possible.
Brave, brave boy.
“It’s going to be all right,” Coran said again. “Lance,” the boy’s name rolled easily off his tongue and Coran vowed to use it for now as it would be of greater comfort than his height moniker, “it will be all right. I promise.”
“K-kay,” was the shaky, high answer.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” Coran promised, setting the armor piece to the side and freeing another one, having to wiggle it ever so and hating the sound it pulled from Lance before he bit his tongue to silence it.
Just as he went to pull another piece free he paused.
That wasn’t armor.
That was bone.
It was a jagged, broken piece that had pierced through tanned flesh, blood and gore surrounding the base and exposing a glimpse of the inner workings of a human leg.
And now that he was looking for it, Coran found another piece.
Three in total, pieces of bone that had torn through from just about the calf up to the knee, surrounded by burns and blood and oh Alaaran, the poor boy.
And, Coran’s stomach clenched, this was not something the pod would fix. Not without help.
It would heal the grisly wounds, yes, but it would not piece the human back together as he should be. And if it healed like this...
Lance would never walk again.
The bones would need to be realigned, reset into the proper places, before he could go into a pod.
“C-Coran?” and Coran realized he’d been silent and still for too long. “How, how bad is…?”
Coran moved a few paces up so Lance could see him, ocean eyes glassy with pain meeting his own and he could feel Number Two’s warm brown looking at him too, seeking answers, as he stood next to Lance’s head and smoothed shaking fingers through his hair.
“It is not good, my boy,” Coran answered both as honestly and gently as possible.
Lance still flinched.
“Your leg is severely broken,” Coran continued. “I am going to need to reset it before you can go into the pod.”
“Reset it?” Number Two echoed, his face taking on a strange greenish cast that Coran had learned signified an upset stomach and likely vomiting moment.
Coran gave a short nod. “Yes. And,” he forced himself to keep his voice even, “given the severity of the broken bones I will need to actively see where I am placing the pieces. Which means I will need to further cut open a segment of the leg. Sedatives do not calibrate well with the cryopods, but I do have a rather strong anesthetic compatible with human biology that should numb the pain for the procedure.”
“Oh God,” Number Two whimpered.
Lance only closed his eyes, a new tremble to him.
It still wouldn’t be enough, Coran knew. Not with the level of abuse the leg had already endured, the internal damage and burns and the fact that humans in general were more susceptible to experiencing side effects and so the dosage would need to be smaller than Coran would like to prescribe.
“I think,” Coran met the larger boy’s eyes, “that it would be best if you waited outside, Hunk, until I have finished doing so.”
“What? No. No, I’ll—”
“Hunk,” Lance cut in, voice stronger than before. “Hermano. You… you don’t want to, to see this.”
Coran could see Number Two wavering; dedication to his best friend warring with his own fear and horror at blood and gore, both of which Coran knew would be very visible. It was a testament to his love and fortitude that he’d managed to carry Lance in, blood still smeared on his chestplate, without fainting. Coran chose not to call attention to the red streaks right now.
Coran wished he could call in other backup. But Allura, Number One and Number Five were still down on the planet below trying to disable the landmines that a Galra outpost had left behind when they’d abandoned the planet and its citizens had already lost a number of their own to them. Lance had been unlucky enough to find one that the scanner Numbers Two and Five had designed had not picked up and Coran knew that the guilt that was to come once the adrenaline and fear had faded would be another challenge. He made a mental note to make some tea for them later and have a sit down before they retired for the evening.
“Go,” Lance managed a small, tight smile. “They, they need you, hermano. I’ll, I’ll be fine.”
“I will take care of him,” Coran placed a hand on the large, armored shoulder and met Number Two’s eyes. “You have my word.”
He gave a slow nod and then turned to Lance. “If you’re sure…”
“I’m sure,” Lance said quietly but sincerely. “Go. I’ll… I’ll see you after?”
“Of course, hermano,” Number Two murmured. “I’ll be right here when you get out.”
“With hot chocolate?”
The large boy let out a weak chuckle as he squeezed Lance’s hand he’d pulled between his own. “With hot chocolate.”
One more tight hand squeeze later and the infirmary doors were swooshing closed behind Number Two.
And with his exit Lance lost the tight smile and it was replaced with only pained exhaustion and, as he caught Coran’s eye, fear.
His mask was gone.
And while it hurt to see how much pain he was in and how scared he was by the injury and what was to come, it was good that he was not going to try and brave through a process in which Coran needed his honesty as otherwise it would only hurt more.
“Lance,” Coran murmured, bringing his hand up to thumb away a tear that had finally lost the battle, “I will take care of you.”
“It will still hurt,” Coran warned, wishing with all his heart there was more he could do.
“I know,” it came out barely a whisper.
“You’ll tell me if it’s too much.”
Lance gave a jerky nod.
“Good lad. If you’re up for it, how about I remove your armor, hm? Make you a little more comfortable and easier to get into the cryosuit for the pod after.”
Lance stiffened and as close as he was Coran did not miss the flinch that wasn’t just from pain.
“What is it?” he asked gently.
Lance shook his head on the table.
“Lance, my boy, I can’t help if I don’t know what the problem is.”
“Do… do I have to… go in the pod?” the last word was barely audible and although Lance’s eyes were half-open they weren’t looking at Coran, cast to the side and the pallor his skin had taken had a distinct pink tinge to it.
Coran’s eyes widened as his mind raced to connect the dots.
The young human was… embarrassed? Ashamed? And the pod played into it how…? He’d been in the pod before, a horrible experience Coran hated to think on and how quickly he had come to death just quintants after being in space. But other than that… Lance avoided them despite his tendency to get injured; just bandages and ice he’d smile. He’d be right as ravioli with that and a little rest.
How fake had been that smile?
What had it hidden?
“You do not like the pods,” Coran observed.
Lance gave the barest dip of his head.
“May I ask why?” Coran inquired. “Perhaps there is a modification I can make that will make it more comfortable for you.”
He saw Lance swallow. “They’re… too… too small.”
Coran frowned. Small? Number One and even Number Two had fit in the pods easily and they were both taller and broader than—
Coran had heard the term before, not normally associated with Alteans, but as he’d noted he had traveled far and wide in Altea’s traveling castle and had encountered many races and all different quirks, and he distinctly recalled one race that, despite being very small and compact, many members had been terrified of being stuck in their own burrows even though they were built plenty wide. Coran had inquired and been told it was ploriania — translated, a fear of getting stuck in a small space.
Lance apparently had a similar fear.
“I’m sorry, my boy,” Coran said softly “I’m afraid I can’t recalibrate one of the pods today to make it roomier for you, but I will do so in the near future.”
Ocean eyes met his, guilt swimming in them to accompany the pain-filled tears. “Coran, you don’t have to—”
“Of course I do not have to,” Coran interrupted. “But I want to. Understand?”
Another nod, but it was accompanied by a watery smile.
“For today though, all I can promise is I will not leave your side and be with you every step of the way. I know it is not quite—”
“Gracias,” it was Lance’s turn to interrupt and Coran knew that word as the boy’s native language meaning thank you. “Gr-gracias, Coran.”
“You are most welcome, dear boy. Now, come, let’s start so you can feel better, hm?”
Coran began by prepping the anesthetic, two vials attached to syringes that he carefully measured into a dosage safe for a human of Lance’s body mass, encouraging the boy to close his eyes in the meantime.
With luck perhaps he might fall into a light doze, but those wishes were unfulfilled when Coran returned a few dobashes later.
He was in too much pain to rest.
“Lance,” Coran roused him with a light touch to his shoulder. “I am going to inject the anesthetic now; one shot just below your knee and the other in your lower calf. It may hurt.”
It would hurt.
They both knew it but there was no harm in hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as Coran was imagining.
Lance whispered out the go ahead.
The sharp inhalation and the way his entire body jerked as Coran depressed the syringe almost hurt Coran as much as it was clearly hurting Lance.
“Almost done,” he murmured, bracing his hand as carefully as he could to keep the leg steady while he injected the second shot, needle piercing burned and raw flesh.
Tears trickled down Lance’s cheeks but he offered no protest.
“You should start feeling some relief very soon,” Coran comforted as he put the two empty vials to the side. “Let’s see about that armor now.”
Coran could see the change as the drug began to work as he unclasped the armor pieces. Lance’s body slowly became less tense and the furrow carved into his forehead evened out. It wasn’t perfect but it was much, much better.
“There,” Coran said softly several minutes later, “all done.” He had removed all of the outer protective armor, piling it on a second exam table, leaving Lance in just his undersuit. He had also very, very carefully cut away the right leg of the undersuit from the top and sides, peeling pieces off that had melted to flesh, but other than a few winces Lance had remained still. “How is the leg feeling, lad?”
“Can barely feel it,” Lance answered, a small, tired smile pulling up his lips. “I guess that’s good, right?”
“Very good,” Coran returned the smile. “Now then, would it make you more comfortable for me to describe what I’m going to do or—”
“Just do it,” Lance cut in. “I, I don’t want to…”
Coran inclined his head. As he’d thought. Lance was not like Number Two and Five where knowing the process make him feel more comfortable (although given the circumstances hearing the details would probably not be a good idea for Number Two) nor was he like Number One where control was very important (vital, really, and something that Coran was beginning to worry over too of late).
“I will only say this then,” Coran said. “I am going to restrain your lower legs,” he lifted up one of the gurney straps he’d unhitched from beneath the table, “as should you move significantly while I am working it will likely complicate the process and no doubt hurt you. Is that all right with you, Lance?”
The boy had been paling further as Coran spoke and his eyes darted anxiously from the strap to Coran’s face.
“Okay,” he whispered after another second. “If, if that’s…”
“If it is too much you tell me,” Coran reminded him. “And I will stop and we will pause until you are ready.”
“All right then. I’m going to strap you down now.”
Coran pulled the straps carefully across Lance’s ankles, the material soft but strong, and fastened a second strap just above his knees. Lance could still move, wriggle more accurately, but it would assist with holding his leg down when he no doubt felt pain as Coran manipulated broken bones through mangled flesh.
After that was done he spent a few dobashes conducting a scan, bringing up a holographic projection of Lance’s intact left leg and hovering it in reverse over the right leg, the pieces that needed to be realigned lighting up red with an outline of where they needed to go.
Coran was grateful they were all still relatively intact, no fragments floating that he would need to retrieve or more painstakingly piece together. No, these would all be fitted back with the aid of a cryo-pod safe sealant that would bond the bones together until the cryo process took over.
“All right,” Coran tried to keep his own voice light and was glad Lance’s eyes were closed so he couldn’t see that Coran’s hands were trembling as he lifted up the knife he needed to make the incision to reset the uppermost bone. “I’m going to start now.”
Lance’s answer was the pressing together of his lips and the clenching of his hands, lying at his sides.
Coran took a steadying breath, willing his hands to still.
He could do this.
He had to do this.
He made the cut.
Lance jerked, a gasp torn from his throat.
Coran didn’t dare look away, couldn’t offer any words as his own lips were pressed thin as he guided back the incision, revealing layers of muscle and the sheen of bone nestled deeper in where the piece that had pierced out by his knee needed slotted back in.
Crimson stained his gloves.
Lance moaned, a horrible gasping sound following as Coran inserted a wedge to hold the skin open and brought in a pair of tweezers to guide the bone back into place.
Lance trembled but did not call for a stop.
Less than thirty ticks later Coran had finished, the bone back in one piece with a sealant to hold it until the healing process and he hurriedly removed the wedge, replacing it with two small clamps to hold the new cut closed as blood was still making its way out.
Two more to go, plus a twist to set the lower leg bone back into the ankle joint as the scan showed it had become unaligned.
He paused though before he proceeded, looking to where Lance was trembling, face white beneath his tan.
“Lance,” he murmured, wishing he could offer a comforting touch but the crimson staining his hands kept them at bay.
“C-Coran,” he choked out. “P-por favor. Pr- prisa.”
“Prisa?” Coran repeated the word. He recognized the first as a plea, but the other one was unknown to him. Pause, perhaps?
“Hurry,” Lance gasped. “Pl-please. I…”
“Hold on, my boy. I will go as quick as I can.”
He ended up having to make one more cut, wincing as Lance couldn’t hold back that cry as it was through one of the worst burnt areas, but unfortunately not so burned that the nerves had no feeling. Coran pushed and tugged and made every single piece of white bone line up as the hologram showed it should, each little glow of teal as the leg matched the other whole one a victory.
But not really.
Not when it was causing Lance so much pain.
As Coran had feared, the anesthetic was not enough once he dove in.
But Coran did not pause and Lance did not ask him to, only pleading with him to hurry once more before he’d trailed off into a choked sob and a glance up had revealed Lance had turned his head, burying his face in the pillow to muffle his cries.
Twelve dobashes and twenty-six ticks later Coran was done, the only red now limited to the boy’s blood and the hologram glowing a safe, healthy Altean teal.
He stepped back, not just his hands but his arms and legs shaking too as he gave into the sensation he had held at bay.
He gave himself five ticks before he was peeling off his bloodied gloves, dropping them unceremoniously on the floor, and stepping up to Lance’s head.
“Lance,” he placed a now bare hand on the tear-stained cheek, thumb moving in comforting circles. “It’s over, brave boy. It’s over.”
Hazy, exhausted eyes pulled open, tears magnifying them.
“You did so well,” Coran murmured, his other hand descending into Lance’s hair and stroking through the sweaty strands.
“C-Coran,” Lance whimpered, turning his head to press more against Coran’s hand.
Coran continued to pet his hair, making soothing noises and was rewarded as Lance’s body slowly began to untense once more, locked up from the anticipated pain.
“It’s time to go into a pod,” Coran said gently, “so you will heal and feel better. I will be right here,” he assured as he felt Lance stiffen, “and I promise I will not leave. All will be all right, dear boy. I promise.”
Lance nodded against Coran’s hand.
“Let’s get you into a cryosuit then, hm?”
Coran retrieved the suit from where he’d laid it out earlier, undoing the straps holding Lance’s legs down and then guiding them into the suit. He helped Lance to sit up, the slender form shaking violently, and pulled the suit up his torso, moving his arms through the sleeves, and then zipping the entire thing up on the back, easily lifting Lance up as needed.
It would be an easy matter to carry Lance over to the cryopod, but Coran did not do so.
Instead he pulled Lance into a hug.
The dark head fit easily, perfectly, beneath his chin and into the crook between Coran’s shoulder and chest, and his arms wrapped about the quivering back. Lance melted into the embrace.
“I’ve got you, my boy,” Coran rubbed a hand up and down the boy’s back. “I’m right here. You’re going to feel better soon.”
He held Lance until the trembles ceased, until the pants of breath became slower and he could feel Lance’s heart stop thudding against his own.
“Ready?” he asked gently.
A nod. “S-sí.”
“All right then. Here we go.”
Coran shifted one of his arms to snake beneath the boy’s knees and lifted him into his arms, cradling him close.
He crossed quickly to the cryopod as Lance whimpered as his leg shifted, gravity only hurting it more.
“You will want to lean fully back,” Coran said, pivoting to best place Lance into the vertical pod, making a mental note that in addition to larger ones horizontal pods would be a very fine idea. “Keep all of your weight on your left leg. And Lance?” Tired ocean eyes met Coran’s. “Keep your eyes on me. I’ll be right there with you the entire time.”
“Gr-gracias , Coran.”
“You are most welcome, dear boy.”
Coran lowered Lance into the pod then, helping him to lean back on the inside and knowing the fluid would center him once the pod closed.
“Eyes on me now,” Coran said, holding the dark gaze as his hand hovered on the cryopod door. “Ready?”
“Then here we go.”
Coran eased the door closed and practiced hands felt out the start button, the pod already calibrated, pressing it as Lance continued to look at him, gaze steady even as the pod vital output showed his heart rate was starting to raise.
“It will be all right,” Coran smiled softly, even though he knew Lance could not hear him now. “I’m right here.”
A moment later the pod went dark.
Coran let out a shaky breath and glanced at the output. Six varga it reported until completion and all vitals were now steady and prepped for the healing.
Coran pressed his hand to the glass.
“I’m right here,” he repeated.
He wasn’t going anywhere.