Understandings - The Alternative Version by Green
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Author's Chapter Notes:
All the normal disclaimers about who owns what... Wish I could claim the Condor, but them's the breaks!

Becky, you weren't the only one who wondered what would have happened. I was rather interested in seeing it myself - so here it is!
The door opened, admitting one pretty female dressed in pink nursing scrubs. She paused and looked at the figure sitting on the side of the bed, feet hanging, demeanour sullen. She took a few steps into the room, holding the door open for the two very burly marines holding guns at the ready.

“I do apologise for keeping you waiting for so long, it took me a while to get here. Not to mention the briefing I had to receive,” She smiled, but the gesture was not returned. She didn’t seem too fazed and walked closer.

“Okay, Mr. Asakura, apparently you received some cuts and abrasions during your last undercover mission. Why don’t you show me exactly where your injuries are and we can deal with them ASAP?”

“What are the bully boys for?”

“Well, let’s put it this way. When they send someone like me to treat a member of the science ninja team then it can only mean one thing - you. I know your reputation and obviously so do the powers that be. Their guns are loaded with elephant tranks, one shot and you’re out like a light for the next 24 and useless for at least the 48 after. As I believe Ken personally made sure you were completely stripped of your weapons, I would strongly suggest that you behave yourself.”

Joe stared at her forbiddingly while deliberately making the feather in his mouth dance wildly. She returned his look calmly.

“I know that shuriken no longer has its pointy end, which makes me cringe at the sanitary factor of you sucking on it. However, as I’m not a toxicologist, and I’m here to treat your back, I will live with it. Take your shirt off, please.”

When he just sat there, trying on the stare, she sighed.

“I said please, Mr. Asakura. The sooner I can have a look at you the sooner you’ll be out of here.”

“No.”

The woman sighed. “I would prefer your total cooperation. However, there are other means of gaining at least some compliance from you. I stress that I would rather have your assistance voluntarily than have the guards trank you to get it.”

“They won’t do it.”

“They are under orders to do so if necessary.”

“They won’t do it.”

“I’ve been told they’re the best.”

“They aren’t.”

“They do look rather threatening. What, with those guns and all.” She gestured over her shoulder, never letting her calm gaze drop away from his face.

“Looks are deceiving.”

“Yes they are, Mr Asakura.” She sighed. “Please cooperate?”

“No.”

“I said please, dammit.”

“No.”

“I’m sure I could find a pretty young nurse brave enough to kiss it better when I’m done,” she twitched an eyebrow suggestively.

Joe took a breath; let it out, “No.”

“Was that at all tempting? You know, just so I have an idea, what would be better to present you with at the end? A nurse or a lollipop, for being a good boy?”

“I’m not a boy.”

“Then act like a man.”

Their eyes locked in battle. Icy blue anger met with warm azure serenity. Joe’s eyebrow twitched and the woman stepped quickly to the side. The movement came just in time as 80 kilos of fury streaked past towards the two marines. Self preservation came to the fore and the seasoned soldiers had the sudden thought to remove themselves from their positions.

Unfortunately, the seasoned soldiers’ bodies didn’t get the message in time.

With a barely heard grunt, one curled into a heap on the floor, his weapon dropping from numb hands. The second had a moment of pure clarity.

Shit,’ Higgins thought as the Condor’s eyes flicked to his face. ‘Oh, please God, help me!’ Letting go of the gun, he raised his hands in surrender. A wheeze of fear forced itself through his oesophagus and he concentrated on holding his bladder together.

“Get out of my way.”

“Sir!” Higgins saluted, only barely accepting the knowledge that he was between the enraged Condor and the door. When the glare intensified, Higgins sank to his knees. “Our Father who art in Heaven....”

“They aren’t the threat in this room,” the girl said as she sank a needle in Joe’s thigh. She left it hanging from his leg as she stepped quickly backwards out of his reach. He turned, shock warring with anger on his face as he looked at her. Audibly swallowing, Joe pulled it out of his leg and tossed it forcefully against the wall.

“I’m the only threat in this room,” he said as he advanced on her.

“With what you just did to those poor guards I can see why you would believe that. However, we have already established that looks can be deceiving and it’s my experience that threats come in all sizes.” Emily bit her lip in thought. “I understand now why you’re considered difficult to treat. A wounded predator is always dangerous, but a scared wounded predator is the most dangerous of them all.”

“Really?” Joe moved closer as she stepped further back. “Are you suggesting I’m scared of you?”

“No, if those big burly marines didn’t worry you then you’re certainly not afraid of me. However, something is bothering you and I don’t think it’s your injuries. You’ve only just become white as a ghost, started sweating and breathing fast. You weren’t doing any of those things when I first walked into this room. Of course, you hadn’t just taken down two marines either...” Emily’s eyes searched Joe’s face. “But why would you attack two men who were doing nothing but guarding the door? The same door you haven’t taken the opportunity to run out off, but that would be because your team is outside and you know you won’t get past them. So, you do understand that you will not be allowed to leave until you’re treated, but you still attacked the marines...”

“Have you quite finished your rambling?”

“Be quiet, this is how I work things out.” Emily answered shortly. Ignoring Joe’s outraged expression, she continued. “There is definitely a pattern here since ISO doctors refuse to treat you unless you’re tranked because you’re dangerous when injured...”

“A fact that doesn’t seem to bother you as much as it should.” Joe growled

“Given I got that needle into you I’m a lot less concerned now about how dangerous you might be, Mr Asakura.” Emily smiled before her mouth dropped in understanding. “The needle! You didn’t look at it – even when you removed it from your leg! And when you threw it against the wall you did it with all the strength you have. You don’t like injections, do you?”

“Nobody in their right mind likes injections.”

“No, but some people take that dislike to a whole new level.” Emily said. “Your breathing, sweating and going white are all classic signs of pain – and fear.”

“I face dangers you only dream about in your worst nightmares. Do you seriously think that a tiny little needle like that is enough to scare me?”

“You’ll be surprised what some people have phobias about, Joe. Mine, for example. I’m married to a dentist and I love him with all my soul, but the second I get in his office I turn into a pile of childish, stubborn, kicking and screaming mush. I just can’t help myself, it doesn’t matter how much I know it’s necessary and it’s my husband, for crying out loud! He has to nag for days just to get me through the door for a simple check up. And if there’s a tooth that needs attention... you should see some of the tricks he’s had to pull.”

“This is different.” Joe growled, stepping closer.

“I don’t think so. I am all too familiar with the signs of a deep seated phobia, and you’re showing all of them.” Emily looked at him in sympathy and her tone softened. “But the worst is over, Joe. If you need any more needles you won’t be feeling them and I’ll try to make sure you don’t even see them, okay?”

“You won’t have the chance to give me another needle.”

“I’m afraid I will, Joe. That needle had some mighty powerful stuff in it.”

“It won’t take down the Condor.”

“No. But that’s because I don’t want to ‘take down the Condor’. However, it will be enough to get you to cooperate so I can treat you.”

“I never cooperate.” Joe took another step forward.

“So I’ve been told. That’s okay, I’m used to it,” she smiled.

Joe halted; her smile was a true grin with no sign of fear. His leg buckled and he stumbled. She moved towards him with her arms out to help. Sensing her nearness, he pushed himself forward. Slamming her into the wall, he pulled her head back by her braid to look down into her eyes.

“What did you give me?” He spat through clenched teeth.

“A nice little drug that should keep you conscious, but fairly pliable. Unlike the tranks in the guns, this one will leave you feeling just fine in a few hours,” she answered calmly. “I’m Emily, by the way.”

“I don’t care.”

“I do,” her voice steady in spite of the uncomfortable position.

“I don’t care.”

“That still doesn’t change the fact that I do.” Her blue eyes firmly fixed on his. “You should sit down. You won’t be able to stand unaided for much longer.”

“I don’t need help.”

“You have blood running down your arm.”

“It’s nothing.”

“I can see a bullet burn on your neck, that’s got to hurt.”

“I’ll survive.”

“You need to sit down before you fall down.”

“I will not fall.”

“You will. It’s a muscle relaxant; you can already feel the strength leaving you. You’re heavy and slow; it’s just as well your team mates are waiting outside because if Galactor burst through those doors right now you wouldn’t stand a chance. However, I promise you it won’t last long, really. But I do wish you had co-operated. I am sorry, Joe.”

“Not as sorry as you will be.”

“Please, Joe. Sit on the bed.”

“For the final time – no!”

“Fine. I’ll just wait. Won’t be long now.” She reached out to catch him as he fell. “God, I’m too good at this,” she muttered as she supported his torso as much as she could until he was completely on the ground. She looked over at the guards. One was clearly unconscious and the other continued to pray in front of the door.

“Who the hell are you?” Joe’s voice husky, his throat refusing to completely oblige his will.

“I told you. My name is Emily,” answered the woman. Brushing his hair gently out of his eyes, she looked down into them. “Like it or not, I will help you.”

“Not.”

“Too bad. I thought it would be nice to have a cooperative patient for once,” Emily sighed. “Oh, well. At least I’ll be in my comfort zone.”

Stepping over him, she moved to the door.

“Excuse me,” Emily said to Higgins, still praying on the floor.

“On Earth as it is in Heaven...”

“Oh, good Lord!” She snorted in amusement. “Oi!”

Higgins’ eyes opened.

“Hello? Yes, hello,” Emily waved her hand in front of his face. “I need to open the door. You’re in the way.”

Higgins startled gaze followed the waving of her hand. She clicked her fingers a few times to focus him.

“You. Door. Get out of the way of?” Emily nodded when he glanced vaguely over his shoulder at the aperture. “Yes, good boy. That’s the door. Come away now.” She slowly stepped backwards beckoning him to follow.

When there was enough room between the door and the guard shuffling forwards on his knees, Emily stepped around him. Opening it slightly, she coughed to get attention. Four visors and one pair of glasses swung in her direction.

“Hi. We have a small problem in here,” she pointed over her shoulder in the general direction of the room behind her.

“Dr. Jepps? What type of problem?” Dr. Nambu strode forward.

“The patient kind of problem you warned me about. I was forced to spike him. He’s down. So is one of the guards. Damn nice shot to the larynx, barely saw his arm move. Oh, and the other guard is, um... praying.”

“Praying?”

“On his knees. Not sure what he did to him. I didn’t see any movement...”

“Joe looked at him,” said the tall man in white.

Emily fixed her eyes on his smirking face. “Joe looked at him? I doubt that was all, Mr., um, Eagle?”

“Ken will do fine, ma’am. And, yes. Joe probably only looked at him. He has quite the reputation.”

“Emily will do better than ma’am, Ken.” She waited for his nod of understanding for her preference. “It would have to be one hell of a reputation.”

“Earned.”

“Cool,” Emily nodded in approval. “Anyway, I need two guards and a shirt removed before I can continue. The drug I gave Joe won’t last more than an hour, if that, before he starts to become himself again. He will also need to be propped up on the stool I ordered. Which I still haven’t seen.”

“Dr. Jepps, we talked about that. No unnecessary items in the room,” Dr. Nambu spoke the sentence as if it wasn’t the first time.

“We also talked about me walking out the door and leaving you to it,” Emily stared at him, steel in her gaze.

“Fine. You said he’s drugged, so at this stage a stool couldn’t be misused. I will arrange it immediately.”

“It should have been arranged the last time you said that,” Emily’s mouth tightened. “You will not countermand me again, am I making myself clear this time?”

Dr. Nambu dropped his eyes and nodded. “Ken, why don’t you help Dr. Jepps with Joe and while Ryu, Jinpei and Jun remove the guards?”

“Roger!” Four voices responded to the unspoken order.

~~

“Careful now, Ken. He won’t be feeling much, but I would rather not make him any more uncomfortable than he is.” Emily held Joe in place on the stool while Ken eased Joe’s shirt over his head.

“Damn,” Ken breathed when he looked at the myriad of injuries scarring his second’s back.

Emily looked at the still bleeding cut on Joe’s bicep and prodded at one on his chest. “Okay, knife wounds, fairly clean.” Tilting her head she studied his neck, gently moving his hair away from it. “Bullet burn, bloody close to puncturing the skin. Gotta hurt.” She moved around to look at Joe’s back, shifting his weight to Ken. “Bad grazings, metal and glass imbedded, going to need a good clean out... All in all, you are one lucky bastard, Joe.”

“I doubt if he agrees with you,” Ken muttered wryly.

“There’s luck and then there’s me, Ken,” Emily grinned. “Don’t worry, Joe. All is fixable and I’ve done it all before. Or at least seen pictures anyway.”

“EHMPH!”

“Feisty, isn’t he?” Emily looked up at Ken and winked. “Relax, Joey. You’re in hands that have done this more often than they can count. Practically can do it in my sleep.”

“You know you’re going to pay for that ‘Joey’, don’t you?” Ken said quietly.

“He has to find me first. I plan on patching him up quickly and be long gone before he comes around enough to pose any danger. I know how far to push my luck, even if he doesn’t. I’m going to start on the neck wound, then the cuts. I’ll leave the fun stuff until last.”

“Just tell me where you want me and if I can do anything to help.”

“Thanks, Ken. For now I just need you to keep him upright.” Emily smiled. “Later I might need you to hold him down while I escape.”

Working as quickly as possible, Emily swabbed the injuries in antiseptic, bandaging as required and stitching if necessary. After 35 minutes of work, several packets of swabs and a bottle of antiseptic, she stepped back for one final look. Pulling off her surgical gloves, Emily threw them in the bin on top of the used swabbing. She moved around to face Joe, putting her hand under his chin she gently forced him to look into her eyes.

“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” She asked softly. Looking up at Ken she continued, “He will need rest, certainly until he is able to walk on his own without staggering. No training until those stitches come out in a few days. I would prefer he didn’t have to, um, work until at least then either. However, I do understand that may not be possible. Can you help him to get his shirt back on?”

“Of course,” Ken reached over and snagged the garment from the bed where he had tossed it earlier. “You’re not a normal doctor, are you?”

“Define ‘normal’, Ken.”

“You spoke to Dr. Nambu as if he were an intern and, for some reason, he didn’t rip you a new one. And you took down the Condor. That version of not normal.”

“I don’t appreciate being second guessed, especially by someone who called me in due to my experience in this type of situation. And I didn’t ‘take down the Condor’; you people have a fixation on that. Joe said much the same thing earlier,” Emily sighed. “I’m not surprised Dr. Nambu has trouble finding doctors that are willing to treat him if all of you consider it a challenge he has to meet. He’s injured, Ken! Hurt and in pain. And all any of you can think is ‘Whoo hoo! Let’s see what he does to this doctor!’”

“That’s not true! We care about him – more than you ever can! He is one of us - our brother.”

“He’s one of your pack, Ken,” Emily said clearly. “And he plays the role he has been given. He’s the perfect Beta to your Alpha. Tough, stubborn, challenges everything and everyone. Can’t show weakness, can only be controlled by you - which makes your role more secure.”

“We’re not animals!”

“Ken, humans are animals! We’re just another species and what applies to the animal kingdom applies to us too. Only we dress it up with pretty words like ‘commander’ and ‘second’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Condor’.”

“That’s not fair, Emily. Joe is the Condor, but it’s a role he gave himself,” Ken blew out a frustrated breath. “Don’t you think it would be a hell of a lot easier for me if he was more like the others when it came to admitting he’s in pain? But he’s not, that’s just Joe – it’s the way he’s always been, even before we were the Eagle and the Condor. He just sucks it up and continues with the job until we realise what’s going on.”

“Until he’s working purely on instinct.”

“Yes.” Ken agreed, before dropping his eyes slightly. “Or until he passes out.”

“Told you he was the perfect Beta. If you like, I’ll give you a few vials of my special brew. Knocked him down in less than two minutes.” Emily grinned at him. “Might make it easier for you.”

“Can I also have you to administer it to him? I care too much about the rest of my team to get one of them to do it,” Ken laughed as Emily poked her tongue out at him.

“Here,” Joe’s rusty voice mumbled in annoyance.

“What type of ‘here’, Joey? Here as in you can hear us, but you still can’t move that well? Or here as in I need to leave now for my own safety?” Emily stepped back a little, smirking.

“First.”

“That will soon change. The heavy feeling will go away and you’ll be almost good as new. Nod if you understood my instructions to Ken regarding what you should and shouldn’t be doing for the next few days.”

Joe slightly raised his head and glared at her. Emily sighed.

“I’ll be leaving that part of his healing to you then, Ken. Congratulations. It’s fun being the Alpha, isn’t it?”

“You have no idea.” Ken chuckled. “We could just hook him up to an IV of that stuff you used. It may be the only way he will comply.”

Joe forced a slight stretch of his limbs.

“I think you should be on your way, ma’am.” Ken said, watching Joe carefully.

“I think you’re right. Joey, nurse or lollipop?” Emily looked at Joe, smiling.

His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.

“Doctor.”

Emily looked up at Ken, answering the question apparent on his face, “I told him I would give him a lollipop or a pretty nurse if he was a good boy.”

“Guess you didn’t know he has more than one reputation when you made that deal,” Ken smirked.

“Actually I did. Hence the pretty nurse,” Emily chuckled wryly. She gently removed her wrist from Joe’s grasp. “I’m very flattered, Joe, even though I know you’re just being an arse. Either way, my husband wouldn’t approve and you don’t want to get on his bad side.”

“Scary marine?” Even slurred the disdain was blatant.

“No, Joe, I told you - he’s a dentist. That’s okay, you were under some stress when I said that, weren’t you? I’m not surprised it slipped your mind.” She laughed at the look on his face. “Anyway, he’s your dentist, so you need to behave. If it makes you feel any better, that trick I pulled was originally his, the devious bastard - he distracted me while his nurse snuck up with the needle. Oh, the things he has to resort to take care of his scaredy cat wife!” She leaned over and planted a kiss on his forehead. “That will have to do, any more and I would have to tell Brian and then I would hate to be you the next time you need a check up – not that I would go quietly at any time, of course.”

“I knew I recognised the name, I just didn’t place it,” Ken said. “I assume you have the same security clearance as he does?”

“Of course, although I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind when clearing me. Probably just standard procedure in case Brian talks in his sleep.”

“You didn’t answer my question about being a normal doctor, Emily.”

“And I won’t, Ken, let’s just leave it at I’m not a normal ISO doctor. It’s definitely time for me to leave; I believe I’m up to 3 ‘Joey’s that I’m owed for, and this Condor is showing too many signs of shaking off the anaesthesia,” Emily smiled. “Well, Mr. Asakura, there is another bottle of the antiseptic on the table for you to take with you. It has a pain killing agent in it, so use it when needed. No sucking it up and living with the pain in order to be the Condor. Pain is a part of life, yes, but only until you can get your hands on the meds to deal with it. Take care and hopefully I won’t see you around,” she laughed as she waved goodbye before walking out the door.

“That is one very strange woman, Joe. I don’t think you managed to scare her at all,” Ken mused as he helped Joe to put on his shirt.

“She’s fairly unique,” Dr. Nambu said as he walked into the room, followed by the other three. “Her parents were both Doctors without Borders. Dr. Jepps grew up in one war-torn country after another while her parents bullied militia leaders into letting them treat prisoners. She inherited their fearlessness and dedication to the patient above all other considerations.”

“With credentials like that I’m surprised she’s not our team doctor, Hakase.” Jun said, inspecting Joe’s throat bandage.

“Yes, well. She agreed to do this as a personal favour. She has her own work in the city and did before that position became available the first time.”

“Not to mention the second,” Ryu added.

“Or the third, fourth, eighth...” Jinpei snickered.

“Joe’s got stitches that will need to come out, Hakase. Will you ask her back to do them?” Ken asked. “You know what the doctors here suggested when we first brought him in, so I can’t imagine one of them offering to do it.”

“No, I can remove the stitches as long as the wound doesn’t heal over them. If there are complications, then we will have to consider the options. He won’t be so easy for Dr. Jepps the second time,” Dr Nambu pointed out.

“Won’t get me again.”

“Of course not, Joe. Let’s get you somewhere more comfortable,” Jun patted his arm. With her help Ken guided him through the door.

~~

“I hate the dentist,” Joe grumbled from the couch in the waiting room.

“We all do,” Jun muttered from her position on his left.

“Think about poor Ryu. He had to have that tooth replaced last week.” Ken crossed his arms and settled further into his chair. “This is only a six month check up.”

“You only say that because you don’t have to have any fillings, Ken,” Jun griped. “Unlike me who has to come back tomorrow.”

“Well, I did tell you that sweet tooth would get you in trouble.”

Jun looked at Joe. “You hold him down and I’ll step on him. That pun alone is worth a pounding.”

“It would be my pleasure. I might not have to come back either, but these places set my nerves on edge.” Joe looked around the room, crinkling his nose in distaste. “I think it’s the smell.”

The waiting room door opened and a familiar head peered in.

Locking eyes with Joe, Emily laughed. “Crap!”

“Hello to you too, Emily,” Joe answered, smirking.

“Um, hi.”

“Are you coming in, or just holding the door up?”

“Thinking more along the lines of making a run for it, actually. But I’ve been thinking that since I left work...”

“You knew we were here?” Ken asked. “That would be a large breach of the confidentiality agreement your husband signed.”

“No, I didn’t know. I’m booked in too. I would say one of you took longer than he expected.”

“Jinpei.” Joe, Jun and Ken chorused.

“Ah, yes. My husband does like that kid – they’re probably discussing the latest computer game.” Emily brightened, “Well, if Brian’s running late then I might as well go home. Such a shame he won’t have time today for me.”

“Freeze!” A dark haired man stood in the doorway to the treatment room, his arm around Jinpei’s shoulders. “Come in and shut that door before you act on any ideas about escaping.”

“I would rather not come in right now. I’ll wait in the car; call me when you’re ready.”

“No. Get your butt in here because I’m ready for you now.”

“Make me.”

“Emily...”

“Brian...”

“Need a hand, doc? I’ll be happy to help,” Joe offered, evil glinting in his eyes.

“Do I need help, Emily?”

“Fine. Be it on your head!” she exclaimed, throwing the door open to reveal her khaki uniform.

Jinpei burst out laughing. Jun and Ken both had hands over their mouths, holding their own snickers of amusement in check. Joe stood up, staring at the logo over Emily’s breast pocket.

“You work at the zoo?”

Emily avoided looking him in the face. “Umm, yes.” She smiled tightly, facing her husband but watching Joe out the corner of her eye.

“They have doctors at the zoo?”

“Oh, God, yes. Lots. But then, all vets are doctors...” Emily answered his real question.

“You’re a vet.”

“Yes.”

“A vet.”

“Yes, Joe. If it makes you feel better I am considered a specialist.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“In what?”

“Felines.” Emily couldn’t help herself, she laughed, “Were you expecting avian?”

“At this point, I don’t know what I was expecting.”

Turning, she looked up at his dumbfounded face, “I’ve worked on humans many times, Joe. And I studied two years of human medicine before deciding it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I am more than qualified to treat you for the injuries you had. In fact, I’ve probably seen more of that type in the field than the regular ISO doctors have in their nice comfy offices. Dr. Nambu asked me to treat you because I’m also a lot more experienced in dealing with patients that don’t want to be patients. Even though, in this case, the patient just happened to be human.”

“G-5, come in. It’s Jinpei and you are never gonna believe...”

“Jinpei!” Jun yelled, dashing over and pulling his arm away from his mouth.

“Onee-chan!”

“Ryu’s never going to believe this unless you tell him in person with me backing you up. And I want to see his face!”

Emily looked at the two giggling co-conspirators.

“Do you know the difference between the condor and most other birds?”

“Besides being birds of prey, you mean?”

“Yes. Condors are carrion eaters. They’ll eat anything that’s dead, including other birds,” Emily looked back at him. “They are also the ones that deliberately eat dead felines, canines, large reptiles... All the animals that the other little birdies fear until the carcass is dead enough not to be too recognisable. No doubt some of my kind has taken down some of yours on occasion, so I’ve always considered it a form of revenge.”

“Like now,” Joe grinned, depressing the plunger. Emily's face registered surprise at the sudden stab in her hip.

“You bastard.”

“Like I’ve never been called that before.”

“Brian?”

“Sorry, hun. You know that tooth needs looking at.”

“You set me up!”

“Revenge is sweet, Emmy,” Joe said serenely.

“It usually is. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is finished with, Mr. Asakura. And you will pay for that ‘Emmy’, I hate that name.” Emily’s legs gave way and Joe caught her before she hit the ground.

“I hate Joey.”

“Fine, we’re even.”

“Not even close. I didn’t get my nurse.”

“Bite me.”

“Not with your husband watching,” Joe chuckled.

“Brian?”

“Yes, my love?”

“You wait until we get home.”

“Promises, promises.”

“Want divorce,” forced out of an unco-operative throat.

“You said that last time.”

“Mean it.” Her head slumped.

“We’ll see,” Brian walked over to where Joe was holding up her limp body. “Thank you, Joe. I knew I could get her here eventually, but it would be keeping her here long enough to treat her that would cause issues. It always amazes me that my wife will happily walk into a cage with a tiger on a daily basis, but she has to be coerced into going to the dentist. I’ve been nagging her for a month to come.”

Transferring Emily’s weight to Brian, Joe pulled out the needle. “I would say she has good instincts.”

“I wouldn’t. The same tiger mauled her a year ago.” Brian lifted Emily in his arms. “Her instinct was to rush in to help him, forgetting the golden rule of vets – never trust a wounded animal, it doesn’t matter if you hand-raised them, it will turn on you.”

“You can’t blame an animal for behaving like one,” Joe said.

“Want to make a bet? She’ll tell you that he didn’t mean it, that he was hurt and only working on his instinct. I, on the other hand, will tell you it was the worst day of my life and I don’t care that I fed that damn thing in the middle of the night and thought he was cute.”

“That’s the difference between you and your wife. You thought he being cute was worth getting up in the middle of the night to feed him. She thinks that in spite of the risks and regardless of what he is, has done or will do; he will always be worth helping. Whether he likes it or not.”

~~

“Well, Mr. Asakura, we meet again.” Emily looked at the dejected figure sitting on the bed with one hand in a rough bandage spotted with blood.

“Hello, Emily.” Joe half grinned at her. Looking behind the petite figure he asked, “Where are your guards?”

“I convinced Dr. Nambu that we didn’t need them this time. He saw my point when I reminded him for the nineteenth time that apparently you asked for me.” Her head tilted in question.

“I did.”

She smiled, before taking a breath. “One thing, though. He doesn’t know I’m three months pregnant. If he did, I doubt I would be allowed in the same building as you.”

“Oh. Probably true. Congratulations?” Joe raised an eyebrow.

“Thank you.” Emily smiled, showing her joy. “So I hope you will co-operate this time?”

“I suppose you have one of your little needles ready just in case?”

“Of course. I don’t want to use it though. Nambu tells me that you’re not as injured as you were last time.” Emily eyed the bandage on his left hand.

“Just a small little stab wound. Did you really get mauled by a tiger?”

“Yep. Wanna see the scars? They are something.” She pulled the collar of her khaki uniform away from her neck. Joe stood up to have a better look.

“Wow. And you get back into the cage with the tiger that did that?” Joe inspected the mess of scar tissue that went from her neck over her shoulder to disappear under her shirt.

“Not since I found out I was pregnant. I, um, lost a baby when this happened, so now we just cuddle through the bars.”

“And you don’t hate him for that? Losing the baby and hurting you?”

“Of course not. He had a three foot metal railing stuck in his side - he was only working on instinct. Can’t blame him for something he didn’t realise he was doing.”

“Did you consider not going into the cage while he was hurt?”

“Why would I? He was in pain, Joe. I couldn’t leave him like that. He knew it was me; he knew I wanted to help him even if all he wanted to do was hide and lick his wounds. That’s how I got a couple of tranks into him before he pounced, enough to knock him out so he could be treated.”

“Not enough to stop him from attacking you.”

“Alasham weighs nearly 240 kilograms, Joe – if he wanted to he could have killed me with a single swipe of his paw. He didn’t. As it is, I think he only reacted to me shooting him with the darts. On top of his pain I added more.” Emily sighed, her face a picture of distress. “I betrayed him.”

“Ken had it right - you are strange,” Joe said. “A tiger mauls you, causes you to miscarry, and you feel guilty for betraying him!”

“I don’t think you find me all that strange, Joe. I am truly sorry about the baby, but it could have happened anyway. I wasn’t that far along, only a few weeks. And who’s to say I would have carried full term? It wasn’t the first one I’ve lost.” Emily patted her stomach. “This is the fourth and the only one that has made it to three months – three and a half, actually.” She looked up and smiled, “Anyway, if you betrayed someone you cared about, even knowing that it was to save their life, how would you feel?”

Joe nodded in understanding. “Guilty. Knowing that you’re doing the right thing isn’t enough to take away that pain.” He took a breath and with a rueful smile he said, “Well, there goes my fun for today. I was wondering how you were going to get me this time.”

“So, you’re going to cooperate?”

“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“You always have a choice, Joe. But I will take your cooperation gladly.” Emily laughed, “I guess I did get you without sneaking a needle, though. Is that a first?”

“Hmpf. Pushing it, Emmy,” Joe glared at her. “Do I get my pretty nurse this time?”

“There’s one all lined up. Hope you like redheads, Joey.”

“I prefer blondes,” Joe smirked as he raised an eyebrow.

“When’s your next appointment with my husband?”

“Too soon for comfort.” Joe grinned as he held out his injured left hand. “I’ll behave.”

“Glad to hear it.” Emily grinned back before carefully unwrapping the bandage to reveal the two centimetre wound. “You’re going to need a few stitches.” Picking up a syringe from the work cart she motioned with her head to gain Joe’s permission. “Just a local, Joe, nothing more sinister than that.”

“Fine.” He averted his face, his jaw locked. Holding his hand as if she was shaking it, she carefully injected the anaesthetic, trying not to wince as his hand tightened on hers.

“I’m curious, Joe. Why did you ask for me?” Emily asked, gently removing the needle.

“The ISO doctors are all wimps. They insist that I be knocked out before even hearing about what I’ve come in with.”

“You have terrorised them quite thoroughly. By the way, I was impressed with your ability to render a seasoned marine senseless and praying just by looking at him.” Emily swabbed the wound with antiseptic.

“Ken told me that you weren’t convinced I hadn’t touched him.”

“Just gobsmacked that you could do something like that. One of these days you’ll have to show me one of your scary stares.” Emily laid his hand on a prop while she prepared a suturing needle.

“I already have - a couple of times. You just smiled at me.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose I am rather used to being viewed as a snack before dinner.” She shot an amused glance up at his face. “So, you’ve terrified all the doctors and now you’ll put up being treated by a vet just so you won’t have to be tranked. Is that it?”

“No, not entirely. I don’t like doctors and you don’t like dentists, even though you married one. You understand what it’s like to be in my current position...” Joe snuck a look at the needle puncturing his skin before turning away, white faced.

“And?”

“And I know you will do what it takes. You’ll do what I need you to do, even if I don’t want you to.”

“There are two types of animal in this world, Joe. Predators and prey. You’re definitely a predator and I’ve found they’re the most challenging to treat. They don’t deal with control being taken out of their hands, paws or talons, and will fight it with everything they have.” She looked up smiling at him as she placed the needle and thread back on the tray. “It’s the predatory nature. It’s what they are, it’s what you are.”

“You call me a predator and excuse my behaviour. Ken calls me a pain in the arse and yells at me for being childish.”

“It was apparent in the way he spoke about you that you do frustrate him on occasion.” Emily grinned as she placed a piece of gauze over the wound.

“More than occasionally.”

“I was being polite, Joe. But I don’t think you hear everything he says about you even when he says it right in front of your face.” Emily taped down the bandage.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I doubt you have noticed that when Ken calls you the Condor he says it with pride.”

“That was sarcasm you heard, not pride.”

“Oh, bollocks, Joe. Believe it or not, Ken admires your strength. And as much as you being difficult frustrates the hell out of him, he wouldn’t change you in any way. Regardless of how much he yells at you.” Emily grinned mischievously. “Come on, you’re all fixed and your nurse is waiting.”

“You didn’t really get me a nurse?” Joe laughed.

“Actually, Ken volunteered to find one for you. He said it was the least he could do to show his true appreciation of his Beta.” Emily pulled off her gloves and put them on the tray. “I must say I’m curious to see who Ken picked out for you – all I know is ‘redhead’.”

“Only one way to find out.” Joe hopped off the bed and led the way to the door. Holding it open for Emily, he gestured her forward.

“Oh.” She stepped to the side to let Joe through. Standing next to the smirking Ken was a tall redhead in pink nursing scrubs.

“Joe, meet Angus.” Ken chortled.

“Emily,” Joe growled. “I noticed you didn’t tell me not to use my injured hand.”

“That’s because I thought it would be obvious, Joe. You still have one good one - use that to pound on Ken.” She laughed, gesturing him to go right ahead.

“Emily, the next time I need medical attention...”

“Dr Nambu already has me on speed dial, Joe.”

“Excellent.” Joe smiled evilly over his shoulder as he stalked his rapidly disappearing commander. “It’s so difficult to find a doctor that understands a Condor.”
Chapter End Notes:
TJ - thanks for making me get off my lazy butt and fix those issues - you are the Alpha Beta!
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