Threat Level

Summary: Duke's all-too-certain that some missions are doomed to failure--like trying to keep Snake in the infirmary when Scarlett's in danger.

Conrad Hauser would freely admit that he wasn't scared of a lot of things, but he was definitely scared of doctors. He was pretty sure this was at least a halfway reasonable fear: he was in a line of work where most of the time, people were trying to knock him unconscious, make him bleed, or stick him with sharp, pointy objects. What did it say about the medical profession that most of the time, when the doctor said so, people just sat and let themselves get stuck with sharp, pointy needles? Gave up blood? Let someone give them something that knocked them out cold, upon which the doctor stuck a breathing tube down their throat and went to work cutting them open?

Duke shuddered.

It wasn't that he didn't trust doctors—with the few rare exceptions, Duke figured that they'd gone through a whole Hell of a lot of schooling and they knew what they were doing. It wasn't even that he didn't like Doc—he really did. The man was one of the most well-read, easygoing people around when there wasn't an ongoing trauma, and the most efficient individual that Duke had ever met when there was. And as far as being able to hold his ground amongst the Joes, there was something to be said about a pacifist chaplain who'd spent the better part of his life with his nose in a medical textbook, but could—literally—do a very decent job wrestling about three-fourths of the members of the active Joe team to the mat.

Not least because Doc fought dirty. But then, so did everyone else.

So Duke had to admit—when he stopped by the infirmary only to hear Doc say, just the barest hint of anger and frustration in his deep, rich voice, "Son, don't make me have to put restraints on you…"

All the hair stood up on the back of Duke's neck like the bristles on an old whisk broom.

As Top Sergeant of G.I. Joe, a lot of his job involved patching up… disputes. Sometimes this wasn't really that difficult, contrary to popular belief—yes, the Joes had personality, and they all lived together, but they weren't summer campers. It wasn't his business if Ripcord had snitched some Red Bull out of Torpedo's locker.

But yeah, things sometimes got out of hand, and as long as no-one was probably going to die, it was his job to make sure Hawk didn't have to step in. It didn't matter whether it was some kind of rumor about Courtney and some Playboy issue years ago (which he didn't believe; yeah, she'd been a model, but sheesh, that didn't mean she'd taken all her clothes off, did it?!) Or Shipwreck 'borrowing' Beach's balaclava because of some poker game penalty (which Duke half-believed; Hector was just that reckless sometimes, and Ace was just that good.)

Or, for that matter, Jaye and Flint getting into a knock-down, drag-out, vicious, totally professional disagreement over how the intel should be handled on a particular case. Which Duke couldn't have disbelieved even if he'd tried to. Especially not after having them go from calling each other names in the war room to sitting in the mess hall, holding hands, chatting Shakespeare, in five minutes flat.

So when he'd gotten the message on his pager, "Duke, to the sick bay immediately," well, he'd come. Immediately. Yeah… he'd been afraid that something like this would happen.

Duke didn't for a moment doubt that Doc probably felt the restraints were necessary. Hell, he was almost all the way sure that they were necessary, what with what had gone down on the last mission.

The question was, well, how many people were they going to need to get them on, and how long would they stay on once they were there?

And Duke wasn't at all surprised to look in and find Doc standing by Snake-Eyes' infirmary cot, hands on his hips, eyes very much narrowed behind his spectacles—looking very busy staring down one of the deadliest warriors that G.I. Joe had.

Well, no-one had ever said that Doc lacked for courage, that was for sure.

Snake-Eyes was still trying to struggle upright in bed—muscles in both arms bulging as he levered himself off the mattress, his chest bare, his blond hair mussed in spikes, a little blood-matted, face all scars and painfully blue eyes and a glare that should have seared the hair right off of Doc's head. His eyes were so bright, so vivid, and so angry that it Duke just a moment to realize some very important things.

First, Snake wasn't wearing his mask. Which was… beyond unusual. Duke tried not to stare. Jesus. The man's face really was as jacked-up as rumor said it was.

Second, that plastic tube that he'd thought was lying on Snake-Eyes' chest wasn't lying on Snake's chest, it was actually… sticking into Snake's chest, trailing off the bed, and leading to a complicated contraption hanging on the bed rail. Duke felt himself swallow something nasty and sour that was rising in the back of his throat. It wasn't just because the fluid draining through the tube was horribly bubbly and pink—which it was. No, it was more along the lines of the fact that he'd never get used to seeing foreign objects sticking out of someone's body. That was the kind of thing that, if he'd seen it in the field, would have given him nightmares. It was a little much for him to imagine that this was something therapeutic, even though he knew it most probably was.

Third… Snake actually was having to struggle to push himself upright, mouth open and shoulders heaving as he panted. And it wasn't like he was restrained, or held down by anything but that tube going into his chest.

Fourth, the ninja really did look like he wanted to kill someone, preferably Doc, and in general, when Snake-Eyes looked at people like that, it was every bit as symbolic and as final as Clotho's scissors going metaphysically "snip!" on someone's life-thread.

Apparently, Duke noted, things had really deteriorated since the medevac helicopter had landed. Or not, because Snake-Eyes actually looked like he was taking in air again—and Snake had been pretty much been totally unable to breathe when they'd carried him off the heli. Duke had never before seen Snake let himself be carried when he was conscious enough to put one foot in front of another. Which was, effectively, whenever he was conscious—they'd all seen Snake fight right through injuries that would have laid a normal man out cold with agony.

Snake-Eyes was definitely not a normal man. Even on a normal day.

Snake-Eyes in a situation where Scarlett had been taken and he'd been left for dead, a sword having pierced right through his chest and into his lungs from that supposed 'ceremonial' guard's 'ceremonial' sword… yeah.

Any sensible man would have been just a little disturbed by the wild look in the ninja's gaze—that edge that wasn't quite sane. Duke's years as field commander and local zookeeper had made it very damned clear that Snake just couldn't be expected to be totally sane about the redheaded beauty he was so much in love with. They were a walking illustration for why fraternization regulations even existed.

Not that anyone needed to tell them that. But it didn't stop them, either.

Any man, sensible or otherwise, who knew just what Snake-Eyes was capable of doing to people who got in his way should have started backing very, very slowly away from the ninja right about yesterday. Hell, Duke almost started backing away.

But Doc looked unimpressed by the glare, the murderous body language, the long, bulging lines of muscle—and to Duke's shock, Carl Greer reached over, planted the palm of his hand on Snake-Eyes' forehead, and pushed him right back down.

This time, Snake-Eyes' glare was the kind of thing that should have taken out the Pit and left it radioactive for the next ten years. [Try that again,] he signed, his hands fast and jerky, the scars on his face tightly stretched bands of pink and white. [Just try it.]

Duke glanced around, very carefully, for the ninja's gear. Yeah, it was on the other side of the room, stacked up in a neat pile, but… the distance of a room's length didn't… necessarily mean anything when it came to Snake-Eyes. "Doc, what's going—"

Doc waved an impatient hand at him, and crossed his arms again. "Just a moment, Duke. Snake, I understand that you're worried about Scarlett—"

Snake-Eyes' lips tightened, and he reached down to wrap his fingers around the tube in his chest. [Do not patronize me!] Or at least Duke figured that was what he was saying.

"—but you realize that you have a collapsed lung, and I really didn't put this tube into your chest for my own pleasure!" Doc nudged the boxy contraption by the side of the bed with his foot. "If you tear that thing out, you won't be rescuing Scarlett from that damned crooked Borovian ambassador, she'll be checking for your dog tags at the morgue!"

Duke blinked. Yes, he knew people died of collapsed lungs—during Basic, he'd seen one of his men suddenly looking shocked and horrified as he clutched his chest, and hitting the ground gasping for air moments later. He'd been so pale and sweaty and cold, breathing in tiny, agonizing little jerks, the whites of his eyes showing. Spontaneous pneumothorax. And… without a mark on him—it'd been like someone had suddenly hit him either with a strange virus or a serious hint from God.

The guy hadn't died, but... the fact that a collapsed lung could lay out Snake-Eyes like this was, in his opinion, pretty good reason to follow Doc's orders.

Snake-Eyes let the chest tube go. But the expression on his face, if anything, got sharper. [Better dead than leaving her with him.]

Duke winced. Yeah… per Jaye's report, the Borovian ambassador to the Slovari king's court had been showing some… rather unnatural interest in Scarlett. Or maybe it was only unnatural in retrospect, considering how often Scarlett got hit on. It just… from what he'd heard of what had gone down, Snake-Eyes was probably running half on fury, and half on guilt right now.

It was supposed to have been a cush job—Scarlett and Jaye had gotten pulled into it because they were pretty and unthreatening-looking and could pick up some nice little Intel tidbits on the side, and Snake because he was quiet enough to get them those tidbits. With the missions they normally got, Duke had figured bodyguard duty should've been like a vacation for all of them.

Until the motherfucker Borovian ambassador to the Slovari court that they were boyguarding had decided that Scarlett was just his type, damn what anyone else thought, anyway.

Including Scarlett.

None of them—not Duke, not Hawk, not anyone—had expected that the small three-man team would've had to defend themselves against their own damned foreign-national diplomatic-immunity allies, as well as against everyone else!

Goddamned friendly fire. A political clusterfuck didn't even describe it.

"Snake-Eyes!" Duke barked, when Snake started moving again—in fact, the commando managed to get his legs swung over the side of the bed before he had to stop, panting. "Stand down, soldier. Don't make Doc go over my head."

It said something about how much they all respected Hawk that Snake actually did stop moving, and looked up at Duke. Bloody fluid bubbled through the tube in his chest, and dripped down the line.

"Snake," Duke shook his head, and hardened his voice. "Look—I know you're pissed." They were all pissed—Flint had had to physically drag Lady Jaye off the HIND to keep her from piloting it right back into hostile territory, and had gotten an elbow right in the eye for his trouble. "No-one gets left behind. Scarlett's ours, know that."

Doc gave him a grateful look, and Snake-Eyes, for a second, actually settled back, resting his palms on the mattress and closing his eyes. The longest of his scars twisted one side of his mouth into something that looked like a scowl.

Then he opened his eyes again, and it was one of the best soldiers G.I. Joe had looking up at Duke, not just a very angry boyfriend who just happened to be a freaking ninja. [What's the plan, then?]

Damn it. Duke had really hoped that Snake wasn't going to ask that. "Hawk's doing all he can to get the politicos settled," he said, reluctantly. "Then we move."

And not a moment before those fucking ass-scratchers who'd gotten Snake, Jaye, and Red sent into the situation in the first place gave their say-so. To say that the Tomahawk was furious and throwing his weight around with everything he had was like saying that Cover Girl was 'kind of pretty.'

Snake's eyes narrowed all the way to slits. One hand moved. [And?]

It definitely said something about what Snake thought about the politicos that after less than thirty seconds of Duke trying to actually explain the bureaucratic red tape and the political idiocy of Snake-Eyes 'jacking a plane and infiltrating the house of the Borovian ambassador, the commando looked right past him, towards Doc. [What will it take for you to clear me?]

"You have a tension pneumothorax," Doc replied, bluntly, crossing his arms. "That means that right now you are functionally lacking a lung. If—and I do mean if—your lung does a good job reinflating in the next forty-eight hours, without any fluid buildup from this happening, I might consider putting a Heimlich valve on you. And that's against my medical judgment."

"A Heimlich valve?" Duke frowned. Snake gestured a question with one hand.

"It's a small valve attached to a short chest tube and taped to his skin—so he doesn't have to have the box,." Doc gestured at the box full of bloodstained liquid hanging underneath the bed. With every one of Snake's breaths, something bubbled, the level of fluid in a little window rising and falling. He gave Duke a distracted look over his shoulder. "They're not used often, unless it's to get someone stable and off a battlefield, but—"

Doc's eyes narrowed as Snake-Eyes stood up, taking the tube with him—and actually took a deep breath.

It looked like it hurt like Hell, but he did it.

"Snake—" Duke started. Damn it, he might not have been a doctor himself, but even he could tell the man was going to hurt himself.

Snake ignored him, those blue eyes shooting lasers right at Doc. [Forty-eight hours? No. Too long,] he signed.

"This is not a negotiation, son, it's your orders," Doc replied—and he stepped right in Snake's way. And then poked the middle of his chest, once. "Considering that I could outrun you through Beach's latest obstacle course right now, ninja, you would be dead if you tried to run to her rescue!"

Then Doc muttered, absently, "And frankly, you causing massive instability in the Soviet states aside, I'm a little scared of what Red would do to me if she got back and found out I let you go out in the field in this condition."

Yeah, Scarlett would probably tear everyone in sight a new one—Snake-Eyes wasn't the only one who could be kind of protective. But right now, Duke was pretty sure that Doc, who was willingly standing between an angry, panicked ninja and his swords, wasn't afraid of much of anything.

"Doc—Hawk hasn't given us the all-clear to send anyone out—" Duke hissed.

Snake-Eyes was good at being a commando—yeah. But he was better at killing. And Duke didn't try and get what went on through politicians' minds, but even he could tell that there would be no hauling the commando out of a court-martial if he killed a politically-friendly ambassador on politically-unfriendly territory… whether or not the ambassador had actually 'kidnapped' his girlfriend.

There were bad ways to lose a soldier that he both liked and respected—that was definitely one of them.

Doc shushed him with a wave of his hand. "Look. Sit down, Snake," and he put a hand on the man's bare shoulder. "Your lady's one of the toughest, smartest people I know. Of either gender. You don't believe she can hold her own against one horny old man?"

Duke was pretty sure that he wouldn't have put it exactly that way, but…

Snake-Eyes didn't sit. But he did uncross his arms, and stop moving, staring right into Doc's face. And he didn't break the hand that Doc had on his shoulder, which said a lot, in Duke's opinion, about how much Snake respected Doc—there weren't a lot of people who Snake let touch him. [Twelve hours.]

Doc didn't blink, and he didn't flinch. "No. What did I say about this not being a negotiation?"

[Then we have nothing to talk about.] Snake-Eyes glanced down at the chest tube again with that narrow-eyed look that Duke had last seen on his face when… shit, that'd been when Snake had had one of Stormy's arrows in a through-and-through all the way into his calf. Yeah, he remembered that, because Snake had just reached down and yanked it right out, without a sound, leaving blood all over the soft white feathers. Jesus, that chest tube thing was stitched in, he could see the stitches, and there really was going to be blood on the infirmary floor, and right now Duke wasn't at all sure if it was going to be Doc's or Snake's—

Duke had his mouth open to yell for everyone to stand down—

"Sit. Down." And the tone in Carl Greer's voice would have stopped a charging rhino.

It actually did stop Snake-Eyes.

It stopped him for just long enough that Doc grabbed the ninja by the back of the neck, yanked him over, and muttered something into his ear that Duke couldn't hear.

The sudden look that crossed Snake-Eyes' scarred face was so unexpected that Duke… actually didn't recognize it at first. Part of it was not having much experience with actually seeing the commando's face, but part of it was just… well…

He didn't know the man's full history. He suspected that no-one really did, except Snake himself—not even that beautiful redhead that he was so fired up to run and rescue. But Duke did know that when it came to threats, there absolutely wasn't a lot that could make Snake back down, unless it involved holding a gun to his girlfriend's head.

And sometimes not even that—people had tried that in the past, only to discover that Snake wasn't all that worried, because Scarlett could deal with guns to her head like nobody's business.

But Snake-Eyes' shoulders hunched inwards, his mouth pinching into a thin line—and the commando actually did sit down.

Duke's jaw dropped.

"Forty-eight hours," Doc warned, sternly, before looking over his shoulder. "Actually… Duke, I called you to ask if there was any way we could get blueprints of the place where we think Scarlett's being kept. So he can plan while we're observing him."

Duke knew better than to make any comments as to the fact that thus far, there were no specific 'plans,' at least until the Tomahawk managed to chop his way through the political red tape.

Snake-Eyes gave Doc a look that was halfway wary.

"Unless you'd rather have a newspaper or a dime store novel, Snake?" and that was just a trace of sarcasm in Doc's voice. "We aim to please."

Not that Duke could blame him. Doc was pretty fond of Scarlett, himself. And if the two hours since that heli had landed had been anything like the last ten minutes had been, even Doc's pretty legendary patience with his sometimes very unhelpful patients—and Duke knew he was just as guilty of that as anyone else—was probably a little strained.

Snake-Eyes carefully shook his head. [Blueprints would be good.] Then he crossed his legs in lotus, resting his palms on his knees, and closed his eyes.

Duke knew better than to say anything until after they'd stepped out. "Good call on the getting me in for the blueprints," he agreed. If he'd been Doc, he wouldn't have wanted to leave the sick bay, either—Snake would have been gone so fast his heat signature on the bed would have been cold by the time Dr. Greer had gotten back. And it probably hadn't hurt that both of them outranked Snake, anyway—at the end of the day, the man was a soldier.

"I'll put Jaye on it," Duke thought aloud. "It'll keep her from yanking out Flint's hair." Or giving the Warrant Officer another black eye.

Doc nodded, absently running a hand through his short, curly hair, and sighed. "Do you think she'll get them soon, Duke? I swear, if he tries to sneak out of the sick bay again, I'm going to put in the order for six months of medical leave for him."

Duke winced at the thought. Snake-Eyes on forced medical leave was a bad-tempered Snake-Eyes… one who tended to bait Beach Head just to entertain himself. Which lead to a lot of people with heatstroke. "Doc…what did you say to him?"

Doc pulled off his glasses and polished them on his shirt before slipping them back on. "Hm?" he looked over, distractedly.

"You told him something, and he just… sat down." Duke had seriously thought that he was going to have to threaten the ninja with a court-martial—mostly because solitary confinement didn't bother Snake-Eyes at all, and virtually guaranteed that they'd open the door to find him gone. Yeah, the ninja's existence gave Cobra nightmares, but sometimes, Duke really did understand why Beach Head called the black-clad Arashikage 'a slippery little pain in his ass.'

"Oh." Doc chuffed out a soft laugh. "I told him that if he didn't stop being so belligerent, I was going to put a one-point restraint on him."

"A… one-point restraint?" Duke frowned. He knew what four-point restraints were—one on each limb, tying someone to whatever they were supposed to be tied to—but… "Tying him to something by one limb really wouldn't do anything, would it? He'd just undo it and go." Snake wasn't as good with 'picks as Scarlett was, but he was close enough to count. "Is it supposed to be something symbolic?"

Duke really didn't think that Snake-Eyes, in the current state of mind he was in, would have cared a fat damn for symbolism.

"In a… manner of speaking?" Doc glanced at him, and smiled a wry, crooked smile. "'One-point restraint' is hospital slang for a Foley catheter, Duke."

The hair on the back of his neck—and after all these years, Conrad Hauser listened to the hair at the back of his neck—stood on end again, and cringed. Duke felt himself shudder with horror all over. Jesus. The medical profession really was damned scary. No wonder Snake had actually sat down and behaved himself!

Before… something occurred to him. Duke raised his chin and looked straight into Doc's wise, steady brown gaze again.

"Wait. Doc—how… how exactly were you going to…" Duke blurted—then stopped at the amusement that had suddenly flashed into Doc's eyes. Wait. Wait, that had just sounded incredibly wrong. "Wait, that's not what I—I mean—I don't want or need to know the details, but… if you can't even hold him down to put regular restraints on him, how would you…"

Duke trailed off. That nasty little quiver in the pit of his throat was making it clear that this was one dispute that he, Top Sergeant or not, was not going to get into. This was between a doctor and his patient. Yeah. That was his line, drawn carefully right there in the sand.

"How would I get a Foley into a fighting and totally uncooperative master ninja?" Doc wiped a hand over his tired face, and shrugged. "I really have no idea, Duke. Now will you please get a team together to rescue Scarlett before he realizes that…?"


Start: August 21, 2009
End: August 22, 2009

-laugh- For Totenkinder Madchen, who inspired me to write more Doc. Yes... this Doc isn't quite so... benevolent as the last one, is he? ^^;

Er, and for anyone who doesn't know what a Foley catheter is... well... I was going to explain, but I see that Wikipedia has a fairly good description...? ^_~