Author's Note: Another ficlet attacked, so here we are again. This chapter is a setup for potential chaos, but I'm not sure I'll write a follow-up; to be honest, anything you guys can imagine for this is likely to be funnier than anything I can produce, and I'm afraid of this turning into another monster-sized fic of doom.

It's a bit of shared headcanon in the G.I. Joe fandom that Joes are terrible patients, and consequentially tax Lifeline's sanity with constant escapes. That pretty much derives from the personalities in question—when you have a group easily described as intelligent, volatile, opinionated, difficult to scare and (in some cases) used to being in control, it's inevitable that there'll be clashes. Funny thing, though—that set of adjectives describes someone else we all know . . .

Rating: T for language

Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc. SHIELD and all associated characters and concepts are property of Marvel Comics. I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.


Let's Be Professional

by Totenkinder Madchen


In retrospect, Tony Stark should've guessed who the mysterious Doctor L was. They traveled in the same circles, after a manner of speaking, but somehow it hadn't clicked. The moment he saw the slight figure in the labcoat, though, the penny dropped, and Tony groaned and fought the urge to smack himself in the face. How had he not guessed?

Dr. Edwin Steen was a slim, medium-height man with a shock of graying hair and a pair of coke-bottle glasses that didn't quite conceal a too-sharp stare. Tony was familiar with the story—it had been a pseudo-scandal a while back—of Steen and Bree Van Der Mark, the heiress, who'd been kidnapped back in the early '90s. Steen, an Army medic, was part of the team that rescued her. Apparently the heiress had developed quite a crush on him, and after some wooing attempts that backfired, the two got married when Steen was released from the military. A normal guy who lucked into a beautiful, money-laden wife would maybe take a couple of years off, but Steen apparently didn't have "fun" in his vocabulary, because he steamrolled through advanced work at the Harvard medical school and rapidly developed a reputation as a world-class trauma surgeon. Tony vaguely recalled meeting him a few times, usually at a benefit for Doctors Without Borders.

Yeah. Steen. Nice guy, from what he could tell. Rumor had it he was a pacifist—not Tony's cup of tea, but anybody who could pull off the mental gymnastics required to be a pacifist soldier was eligible for the Tony Stark Prize for Entertaining Cognitive Dissonance. Though the Van Der Mark heiress (and her quiet, wry-humored husband) went to many of the same parties as Tony, Stark Industries' role in the weapons business meant that, for the most part, Tony didn't have much to say to Edwin Steen. They'd discussed athletics at a benefit, five years back:

"You work out?"

"Yes. Aikido. You?"

"Miss January."

"I knew a Miss January once."

"Any good?"

"Best tank driver I ever met."

And that had been that, because Tony Stark had more important things to worry about.

But now he was flat on his back in the SHIELD helicarrier's ICU, still muzzy-headed from the anesthesia. His last memory was of Rogers' voice shouting from his comm while the Doombot's laser sliced right through his armored stomach. Then blackness, and now white sheets and some pretty damn good painkillers.

"Doctor L fixed you up," said one of the nurses while she checked his IV. This being SHIELD, said nurse was looking less than nurturing with a sidearm over her scrubs. "Rest now. You've just had major surgery."

"Excuse me?" Tony said as vehemently as he could. He fought to raise his head but the painkillers told him that, no, he didn't really want to sit up or even move too much while the world was so busy spinning backwards. "Who? Doctor who? I don't want anyone rummaging around in my stomach unless I've seen their medical records. JARVIS, get me his medical records."

"I'm sorry, sir," responded the cool voice of the AI from the phone on Tony's bedside table, "but I've been specifically requested not to aid you in any hacking, information gathering, work of any kind, or anything else deemed disruptive to your healing process. If you would like me to stream a Toddlers & Tiaras marathon, I would be happy to oblige."

"Barton has ruined you," Tony muttered. (Despite being partnered with a scary Soviet Terminator, Clint Barton was apparently human, and chose to demonstrate that by being horribly addicted to a handful of trashy reality TV shows. "Circus," had been his only explanation.) "Well, I'm your daddy, JARVIS, and I say I want those records."

"I'm sorry, sir," the AI repeated. "Override codes have been implemented."

At that, Tony sat up a little, and immediately regretted it. Pain shot through his stomach like ice-hot lightning, sending him crashing back onto the mattress with his fists clenching. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. "I feel like Point Break was using me for a football. JARVIS! Whose override codes? Whose authority?"

"Ms. Potts supplied the codes. However, it was on the recommendation of your surgeon."

"My sur—oh, my doctor doesn't want me looking up his records? Big surprise. Knowing Fury, he's probably a fugitive from the AMA. Performs surgery with his four robot hands. Patent pending. JARVIS, I want to know!"

In response, JARVIS played a few bars from the X-Files theme. Some days, Tony really regretted the I part of 'AI.' "I'm very sorry, sir. Being as I am programmed to protect you, my analyses indicate that this is for the best. When working, you have a regrettable tendency to forget the little things. Food, sleep, and so on."

"So . . . what? I'm supposed to lie here and stare at the ceiling while my guts leak? Traitor."

"I think we can get you a book," a voice said bemusedly from behind the nearest curtain. Tony almost tried to sit up again, but remembered just in time and remained prone. The curtain was pulled aside, and Tony found himself face-to-face with someone who met the kind of Miss Januarys Tony had never gotten.

Yeah. Doctor, well-connected, deep in the black ops shit. It really should have been obvious.

"Welcome back to consciousness, Mr. Stark," Steen said. He was wearing SHIELD-issued scrubs and a labcoat, although unlike Nurse Scary, there was no sidearm in evidence. Right. Pacifist. "How're you feeling? I could hear you clear down the hall."

"Oh, for crying out loud, Fury got you too?" Tony responded. "Hey—wait a minute—I had to beg and plead and promise to be good in order to get in on this thing, and he brings in a pacifist without blinking? Although considering the whole pirate thing, blinking probably doesn't happen much anyway. But seriously, what are you doing here? Your wife is going to kill you."

"Considering that I met her during a classified rescue mission, I think Bree is used to my line of work," Steen deadpanned. He pulled a penlight out of the labcoat's pocket and, over Tony's protestations, shone it in his eyes. "Pupils look good . . . no bleeds that I can see. You're resilient, I'll give you that—though you might want to cut back on your drinking. Even Iron Men get cirrhosis. Any unusual pains? Numbness?"

"Yeah, I got torn open by a Doombot. And who gave you authority to look at my liver? That's my liver. Not yours. JARVIS, can he look at my liver?"

"I'm afraid so, sir," the AI said. If its tone was any dryer, it would've been Tony's favorite martini. "It was, one might say, in the general neighborhood."

"Yeah? My finger is in the neighborhood of your delete button, Mister Smarmy. Steen, what the hell? When am I getting out of here?"

"Four days at least," Steen said matter-of-factly. He plucked the chart from the foot of the bed and glanced over it, hmmm-ing and making notes while Tony squawked in protest. "You've just had major surgery, and very nearly died on the operating table. Twice. You're cleared for visitors later today—I know for a fact that Captain Rogers and Dr. Banner will be here as soon as they can—but it's strict bedrest for the next few days, and continuing when you're discharged. No work, no strain, plenty of painkillers."

"I don't believe this," Tony said. "I save the world—again—and this is the thanks I get?"

"Believe me, I've worked with people who hate bedrest. But," Steen continued, hooking the chart back onto the bedrail, "you can't save the world again if you get yourself killed. Please, do me a favor and just stay put."

"If you think that's going to happen, you've been huffing too much anesthetic. JARVIS, find me a way out of here."

"I'm sorry, sir," the AI began, "but I cannot-"

"You're useless, JARVIS. Useless. If you keep this up, I'll make you answer all of Cap's fanmail."

There was an electronic sigh from the phone. "Perish the thought, sir."

"Just when I think I've seen everything," Steen murmured. "But I suppose nightmare patients have to move with the times like everyone else."

"That's right," Tony added, turning back to his chronically unhelpful doctor. "You were active in, what, the late '80s? Early '90s? Barely out of Coleco territory then. There's no way you can keep me locked up, you know. I'll find a way out of here."

"And plummet ten thousand feet to your death? If you insist." Steen paused in the doorway. "Let someone know if you start feeling any unusual pains or faintness. Understood? This could mean the difference between life and death. I'm good, but post-surgery clots and bleeds are impossible to predict."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Tony waved him off. "Go be a damper on someone else's day."

The minute Steen disappeared, Tony seized the phone and began to tap out a plaintive text to Pepper. stuck on the shield helicarrier. surrounded by nerds. low on entertainment. youre gonna spring me right peps?

Seconds later, the phone rang, and Tony almost dropped it.

"Tony!" Pepper's voice was crystal-clear, as if she was yelling right into his ear from a foot away. That actually would've been nice; a Pepper who was in the room would've been a Pepper who could be persuaded, via begging and display of wounds, to kiss him and fluff his pillow. A Pepper on the phone was much harder to work around. "Are you all right? Why are you on the phone? I thought I told JARVIS not to let you work-"

"Calling my girlfriend is work now? I'm not sure what that says about us, Pep." Pause for effect. "Although if you were feeling up for a little boss-and-secretary fun, I wouldn't object."

Pepper sighed. "Tony, I thought we talked about you trying to get yourself killed."

"I wasn't trying this time, I swear. I'm over that phase of my life. If you want to get mad at something, go yell at von Doom . . . or his parents. Not changing a name like that is pretty much guaranteeing that their kid's gonna grow up warped."

There was a moment of silence on the other end, and then another sigh—softer this time. Something in Tony's chest, a little to the left of the arc reactor, clenched oddly at the sound. "Tony."

"Pepper?"

"How are you feeling?" He opened his mouth to reply, and his girlfriend knew him way too well, because she cut him off even though she couldn't see him. "And no jokes, okay? Just tell me. I'm not cleared to visit you on the helicarrier, you know."

He cleared his throat, shifting a little. "I'm pretty cut up, Peps. Doombot with a laser; the suit saved my life." There was a little noise from her, and he wished she was there right then. Not for pillow fluffing, either. Just to be. "But I'm going to be okay, I promise. Hey, want to hear a secret?"

"Will Maria Hill have to come arrest me if I do?" she said, and there was a touch of amusement in her tone now. The clenching in his chest eased just a bit.

"Dunno. But I'm pretty sure everyone knows you're going to find out about this anyway. Guess who my doctor is?"

"I honestly have no idea."

"Ed Steen. Remember? Doctors Without Borders benefit, pacifist, rich wife-"

"I know who the Steens are, Tony. I'm the one who corralled you at that benefit when you got drunk and tried to hit on the ambassador from Zambia, remember?"

" . . . no, actually. But I'll take your word for it, you're good at stuff like that. Anyway, for a pacifist, he's a complete tyrant. Just because the guy's had his hands inside my chest cavity, he thinks he can push me around."

That was definitely a laugh from Pepper. "Tony, I've had my hands inside your chest cavity, and I push you around all the time."

"Yeah, but I like you. And you're gorgeous and smart and don't judge me when I hit on the ambassador from Zaire."

"Zambia."

"Detail. Think big, Peps. Anyway, as soon as I've gotten a little more rest I'm gonna bust out of here. You going to help me?"

"You know I can't."

"Fine. Are you gonna narc on me, then?"

" . . . who even says 'narc' any more? Tony, how many painkillers do they have you on?"

"I don't know. A lot."

One more sigh, this one more resigned and bemused than pained. "No, I'm not going to narc on you. But I am going to tell Bree Steen that you're planning on giving her husband a headache, and then she'll call him and let him know, and hopefully he'll strap you to the bed or something. I'm in Tokyo until Friday; will you be back on land by then?"

"Definitely. They can't keep me locked up forever, y'know."

"Tony."

"Yes?"

"Stop tempting the universe."

"Yes'm."