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Phantoms and Friends

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Things were not going well.

They had a difficult training session in the afternoon that ended being rather unspectacular. And by that it was a huge mess. Shiro had the team running drills that would serve as weapons practice against moving targets. The gladiator bots were deployed and meant to act like soldiers on a battlefield, but there were holes in their defense. Hunk was attacked from behind, who then toppled sideways into Lance. There seemed to be a domino effect then. Lance had released a shot from his blaster, but he was thrown off balance due to Hunk. He missed his intended target by two feet, and wound up hitting Shiro in the right arm instead. It was a hard enough blast that it broke through his armor, and his arm immediately began to spark. All the cybernetics and gears inside were completely jammed up. He couldn’t even move the fingers on it any longer.

The simulation had been terminated by Coran almost immediately.

“Oh man! Shiro I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you,” Lance started apologizing profusely, but it really wasn’t his fault. Shiro wasn’t mad. These things were bound to happen unfortunately.

“It’s all right, Lance. At least it was only training. It just shows what we need to work on,” said Shiro.

And so he had spent the better half of the evening in the lab with Pidge and Hunk. After tinkering with his arm for a good two hours they eventually discovered that they could remove it to do the necessary repairs. That process in itself was slightly painful. The nerves in his arm were connected to the prosthetic, which is what allowed it to move, and they were disconnected. It was like turning off a switch in his brain, and an extremely odd sensation to lose that ability of simple movement so quickly.

Shiro had been restless for hours now since leaving the lab. He couldn’t sleep even though it was late into the night, so he had left his bedroom in exchange for the lounge. He hoped that maybe he’d wear himself out enough to fall asleep eventually. He just could not get comfortable.

He had just started to doze when he felt a shooting pain through his arm. It was so intense, it made him suck in a breath of air, trapping it his lungs. It took great effort to release the breath and continue to breathe, because it just hurt to move. Shiro hadn’t experienced much pain with the prosthetic other than when it first activated and revealed the power it held. At least from what he could recall. But this, this was different. It was like he could feel stinging, poker-hot pins and needles piercing his missing limb.

Perhaps it was happening now because the prosthetic was gone. His nerves were going haywire, or at the very least, his brain.

The worst part was he didn’t know how to make the pain stop. He pulled his knees up to his chest, and held the aching stump against his body. It was cut off just above the elbow. And it was the first time he had really acknowledged it was missing. Or rather it was the only thing he could focus on at the moment. Frankly, it was so bizarre to see it gone. Even when the prosthetic was there, the realization never really hit him as hard as it did now that he was down an arm.

Shiro never really noticed just how odd this whole thing was. This was his first time in his recent memory he experienced being an amputee. It made him feel strangely lopsided. The Galra cybernetic arm had always been there. In the holes of his memories that he could summon it was either that arm, or his flesh and blood one. He still didn’t fully know how it was lost. Maybe just a vague impression, but that particular memory was probably best left buried. The pain from remembering that was bound to be tremendous.

Another shockwave of discomfort rolled through him. It was incredibly unpleasant. He just had to grin and bear it though. There was nothing that could be done for this. You couldn’t heal something that wasn’t even there anymore.

“Shiro?” A hesitant voice whispered to him. He looked up in the dim light of the lounge, and could make out Lance’s figure in the doorway. How did he not hear the door open?

“Are you all right?” Lance continued, and moved further into the room. He jumped down into the sunken seating, bouncing slightly on the cushions. He was dressed in pajamas, and had a cup of something in his hands.

“Uh yeah. I’m fine. Just couldn’t sleep,” Shiro answered. He hoped his face didn’t look too pained. “What are you doing up?” he asked trying to divert Lance’s attention.

Lance was looking at him rather intently, and then seemed to notice that he was staring. He blinked, and dismissively said, “I couldn’t sleep either,” he paused, and frowned. “Are you hurting because of what happened today?”

“Not really,” he lied. Shiro didn’t want Lance to worry over him, or make him feel guilty.

Lance pursed his lips, a slight pout on his face. “Shiro, you’re lying to me. I can tell.”

“It’s nothing to worry about, okay?” he replied. “I’ll be fine in the morning.”

“So it is your arm?”

“Yes,” Shiro admitted. “It hurts, like I can still feel the missing part.”

“Phantom pain,” Lance spoke softly. “It happens with people who lose their limbs. Usually right after it happens though.”

That hadn’t really occurred to Shiro that was what he was experiencing. “This is the first time I can remember not having anything there. I think that’s why it’s bothering me now. But there’s nothing I can do, just have to wait it out.”

“I’m sorry, I caused this. I should have been more careful,” Lance hummed as though thinking to himself. “I think I can actually help though. Give me five minutes.”

“You don’t have…“but it was too late. Lance had jumped off the couch and back out the door. Shiro sat in silence again trying not to think of the hot, angry pulses like mini firecrackers being set off on intangible skin.

Lance returned a little bit later with a bundle of stuff in his arms. He hopped back down carefully into the center of the pit, and walked over to Shiro, placing his stuff on the floor.

“Lance, I really don’t think this is necessary,” Shiro started, but he moved too much and it made him scrunch up his face in discomfort.

Lance sat down on his knees, and sighed. “Believe it or not I really do think I can help here,” Lance shuffled through his pile of stuff, but stopped and looked up at Shiro. “But…if you want me to leave you alone, I will.”

He really didn’t want Lance to play doctor, and poke and prod him right now. But he did look fairly serious, and his sentiment sounded heartfelt as well. “Fine. Tell me what you have in mind.”

Lance grinned. “First, painkillers.” He handed over some water to Shiro who grabbed it with his only free hand, and Lance placed a bottle of pills on the couch cushion next to him. “Just take one. They’re like aspirin’s stronger cousin. They won’t make you loopy or anything. After Keith clocked me during practice last week Coran gave me these to help with my headache. They work to take the edge off.”

“Okay,” Shiro agreed, and then couldn’t help but laugh. It seemed so natural to just grab the bottle, but he very quickly hit a dead-end. “Could you uh…” He wasn’t able to open the bottle with only one hand.

“Oh! Yeah. Wow,” Lance snatched up the pills and popped off the lid with ease. “Sorry. I was getting a little distracted,” he poured the pills out into his palm, and offered one to Shiro.

“Thanks,” Shiro placed it on his tongue and swallowed it with a swig of water.

“Next up is some heat. So I have a heating pad thing,” Lance did a little show-and-tell, and held up the pad in his hands. “They’re amazing. They don’t get super hot either. So you won’t get uncomfortable.”

Shiro wondered when Lance had learned about all this stuff, but he did tend to hang around Coran a lot. So it really shouldn’t surprise him that much. Although, it was unexpectedly helpful.

“You’re probably going to have to lay down,” Lance stated while playing with the setting on the pad.

Shiro nodded and slid down horizontal onto the couch. The movement was kind of awkward, and sent another tremor aching down his right arm.

“I brought a pillow if you want it,” Lance held it up from his pile.

“Oh. Thank you,” he began to sit up, but Lance just slid it into place underneath where his head had been a moment ago. He was a little embarrassed by this kind of attention. He hadn’t been fawned over like this since he was, well, a child. It was strange, and sweet at the same time.

“Um, can I…” now Lance was the one that looked embarrassed. “Is it okay to touch your arm? I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It’s fine. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t,” Shiro said calmly. “I trust you.”

Lance tenderly touched Shiro’s arm where he prosthetic was meant to connect. He took the heating pad and wrapped it around the base of his arm where flesh grafted into cybernetics.

“Just give it a few moments and the heat should help soothe away the pain,” Lance told him. Shiro had to admit that it was already starting to feel good.

“How did you know to do all of this?” he asked quietly.

Lance settled on the floor with his back against the couch. He wrapped his arms around his legs, resting his cheek on his knee. “You know how the Galaxy Garrison application likes to see volunteer work listed? Well, the summer before I applied I did this candy-striper program thing at the hospital in my hometown. While I was working I brought lunch a few times to this guy who had lost his leg. He was this really rad surfer dude, who had actually been attacked by a shark.”

“Oh man,” Shiro muttered.

“Bull shark, he said. An attack rarely ever happens at Verodero Beach, but it had to him a few weeks before. He was hurt to the point where they couldn’t save all of his leg, and so he lost it from the knee down. By the time I met him it had been close to a month. We chatted a couple times. He told me he was experiencing phantom limb pains. Surprisingly, he had a really great attitude. Jokingly called it ‘the phantom menace’.”

Shiro laughed a little at that. “How accurate.”

“Star Wars references tend to make everything a little better,” Lance smiled. “Anyway, to make a long story short I found out that heat can sometimes decrease the pain.”

Shiro hummed, the tension slowly left his muscles, and was finally starting to relax. “That’s a really amazing story, Lance.”

“Never thought I’d have to apply what I learned. But if it helps you then I’m glad.”

“Thanks,” Shiro mumbled, feeling sleepy for the first time that night. He blinked once more, and then was drifting off. For the first time in a while it was a dreamless sleep.

When he woke up that morning, he was warm and content. And remarkably not in pain. He opened his eyes, and was still in the lounge. A thick blanket had been draped across him at some point.

As he moved to get up from the couch, he noticed Lance was still there. He had fallen asleep sitting on the floor, his head was tilted back against the cushions near Shiro’s legs, mouth slightly open. The corner of the blanket was pulled loosely across his chest. He was still out cold.

Shiro smiled warmly. Lance must have dozed off too while looking after him. He was definitely going to have a kink in his neck from sleeping in that position for so long. He contemplated waking him, but Shiro decided to stay in place for a little bit longer.  Peaceful moments like this didn’t happen too often.