Coming Apart at the Seams -- Part 1 by Pink Rabbit Productions

Title: Coming Apart at the Seams
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions --
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Sam/Janet – Established relationship
Series: Yes – Sequel to Whispered Promises.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Showtime, MGM, Gekko, and Double Secret and I am thieving scum who is merely joyriding about with them. This contains a romantic relationship between two women. If you find it offensive, don't read.
Author's Notes: As God is my witness, I don't know why I wrote this story, how to classify it, or whether anyone will actually like it, as it may well be utter overly-angsty dreck (hmm, possible subtitle: A Study in the McGuffin). I suppose it's sort of a bit of a character and relationship study, but not always the ones you might expect.  Btw, if you're reading this one for lots of sex...erm...boy, are you gonna be disappointed, same for booms and bangs. Oh, and btw, this is undoubtedly the last time Samuels will be making an appearance in a story of mine (hold the applause until you finish the story, 'kay?).

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |


Part Three

Fraiser returned to full consciousness with an angry shriek as she was shoved under a cold shower spray.

"Now, now, Doc," Jack muttered as he dodged an instinctively thrown punch delivered his way at chest level. "It's good for you."

A series of obscenities that would have made a sailor blush followed, while Fraiser tried to stumble out of the shower. Firming his grip on the back of her blouse, Jack held her in place, raising an eyebrow as she insulted his parentage, manhood, sexual prowess, and taste in clothing in one impressive freeform stream of profanity.

"Gee, I thought some people didn't need to use that kind of language."

Her head swung around and she turned an evil eye on him that threatened rip him to shreds. "You're dead, O'Neill," she growled, twisting her head and throwing up an arm in an effort to escape the icy spray falling over her.

"Ooo, I'm scared," he taunted. "Or I would be if I didn't know that I'm the only thing keeping you upright."

She braced a hand against the wall, getting her feet under her as she knocked his arm off with considerable force. Semi-stable, she fell forward, slapping the water valve off before leaning heavily on her hands, head down as she dragged deep breaths into her lungs.

"Janet?" Jack said softly after a long moment of total silence that was broken only by the ragged sound of her breathing.

She rested her forehead against the cool tile, folding her forearms over her head as she just stayed there like that.

"You okay?"

"Just peachy," she groaned and ran a hand through her dripping hair, combing it back from her face. "Never been better." She was standing there, soaked to the skin, drunk off her ass, in a shower belonging to a man who was very probably in love with her lover, having given him a weapon to destroy both of them if he wanted. Oh, she was just doing marvelously well. For a drunken, moronic, fuckup. She swallowed hard on the hot burn of tears that threatened to fall and waited for the tirade to drop on her head. One she rightly deserved as far as she was concerned. Instead, O'Neill just thrust a towel into her hands.

"I'll be back in a minute," he muttered, leaving her alone.

Pushing away from the tile, Janet slowly ran the soft terrycloth over her face, then rubbed down her hair before leaning back against the wall and sliding down until she was sitting. She leaned her head forward on her hands, wondering if there was a convenient hole anywhere close where she could just crawl in and die. She was just contemplating sneaking out and moving permanently to Iraq--they'd never think of looking for her there--when O'Neill returned.

"Entering the depressed and embarrassed phase of the binge?" he questioned conversationally.

Face shaded by one hand, she just nodded.

"Yeah...I thought that posture looked familiar," he sighed and sank down until he was sitting next to her on the floor. He thrust a coffee mug into her hands.

Janet lifted her head enough to peer into the cup, sniffing experimentally at the contents. She frowned at the acrid smell. Definitely not coffee, though it was more or less the same color.

"Drink it," he ordered when she simply stared at the stuff.

Janet slanted a look his way from under her lashes. "What is it?" she asked suspiciously. "Because if it's one of those nasty homemade hangover cures that just makes you sick without doing any good, I'd just as soon pass."

He sighed softly. "Quit playing doctor and drink," he said impatiently. "Look, if I know one thing better than you do, it's how to deal with over-indulging in the hard stuff. Now, drink."

Janet took a deep breath. Instinct told her this was not going to be pleasant. She groaned something impolite, then added, "I don't believe I'm trusting you on this," and took a long draft. Her prediction was right. It wasn't pleasant. In fact, it was possibly the single worst thing she'd ever tasted in her entire life; like drinking lukewarm road tar, except not quite as appetizing. "God, are you trying to kill me?" she sputtered when she came up for air.

He looked on sympathetically. "Probably feels that way," he allowed.

She shoved the mug back at him, but he refused to take it, instead gruffly ordering, "Finish it."

"You've got to be kidding," Janet rasped breathlessly, then turned her head to stare at him full on. "What is it with you military types," she demanded, sounding thoroughly irritated, "that you have this need to create these amazingly disgusting concoctions and insist that somehow they do something to retard the effects of alcohol, which is patently ridiculous, since the only way to sober up is for your body to metabolize it out--"

Jack listened to the miniature tirade with a raised brow. "You do remember that you are in the Air Force?" he pointed out dryly. "That, in fact, you too are one of us dreaded military types?"

"Only just barely," she dismissed in a tone that made him grin in spite of himself. "And don't deny that you've all had the same thought," she snorted. She knew perfectly well how most of the regular Air Force viewed the medical corps.

Jack tapped the mug. "Just shut up and finish it."

Janet set the mug aside, careful to keep her hands as steady as possible. "I'd sooner drink battery acid...which is probably healthier by the way."

Jack eyed her considerably steadier hands and more focused gaze with a professional eye. "Well, for something that doesn't work, it's doing a nice job bringing you along," he pointed out, his tone ironic.

Janet grumbled something impolite under her breath before continuing, "Oh, please," she muttered, leaning her forehead against her upthrust knees, "I'm sobering up because I have the metabolism from hell...not because of that stuff." She pointed at the much despised mug of liquid in question. "I can drink like a fish and barely get drunk...and even when I do, it never lasts long..." She looked up, turning a wry look his way. "It's a odd talent, I know, but there you have it." She pressed her knuckles into her eye sockets, rubbing them as if she might rid herself of the swollen sting. "Actually, truth be told, it's kind of a pain in the ass."

Jack nodded slowly, correctly reading the longing for oblivion in her eyes. "Not a problem I've ever had," he murmured. "I pretty much get drunk and fall over for two days."

She leaned her forehead against her knees again, sighing softly as she admitted, "I wish I could I could do that ... just escape for a little while."

Jack shook his head. "Nah, it doesn't work. Sooner or later, you still wake up. I don't think it matters whether it's two hours or two days."

They both fell silent, lost in their own thoughts and several minutes passed before Janet turned her head, her cheek still resting on her knees as she quietly questioned, "What are you going to do?"

He shrugged, waving a hand to dismiss her concerns. "Don't worry about it. We've all been drunk a few times."

Slender brows knit together in a frown. "I didn't mean that," Janet whispered, her voice thick with worry. "I meant Sam and I." Her shoulders deflated and she ran a hand over her hair. "What are you going to do about that?"

O'Neill tensed. For a while there, he'd actually managed to put her little confession out of his mind. After all, he'd been practicing his denial technique since seeing them together. He shook his head. "Nothing."

She didn't look like she quite believed him.

"Look, Fraiser, it's none of my business." He shrugged uncomfortably. "Can't say I'm thrilled," he admitted, "or that I totally get it...but I'm not gonna do anything to hurt either of you." He turned a look on her, making no attempt at sarcasm for once as he quietly added, "You're both good officers and I don't see anything that changes that. Besides, tattling on people's sex lives isn't really my style."

That much was true. Jack O'Neill wasn't the sort of man to backstab and run. If he said he wasn't going to do anything, she believed him. Janet let out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding. "Thank you."

He shook his head and made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat, more disturbed than he cared to admit that she felt she needed to thank him for not making their lives a living hell. That didn't seem right any way he cut it.

Another long moment of uncertain silence followed as they both lost themselves in their own thoughts.

"Are you in love with her?" Janet asked out of the blue, though the question had nagged at her from the beginning, along with the unwanted suspicion that maybe O'Neill would be the better choice for her lover. There were issues of rank and position there, but since they were both single, nothing insurmountable. It would be treated with a wink and a nudge; not like her relationship with Sam. They wouldn't have to hide, skulk, or feel a nagging sense of shame just for loving each other. Got a few resentment issues there, Fraiser, she silently quizzed herself. Ten, maybe twelve thousand, was the ironic answer.

His first impulse was to simply deny it, but the words wouldn't quite come, so he snapped his mouth shut and considered the question carefully. "No," he said at last, then moved to explain at her doubting look, his words coming in vaguely disjointed half sentences. "Look, it's not that I'm not attracted ... Sam's one of the best friends I've ever had...and a part of me would like to find out if it could be more ... hell, there's a part of me that can't forget that we were together in the two alternate universes we ran across ... but it's obvious that's not gonna happen." He ran a hand along his jawline. "Hell, Fraiser, when she looks at you, it's there for anyone to see and I'd be a damn fool to harbor any hopes in the face of that."

"How long have you known?" She didn't know why she wanted to know. She supposed it was rather like having a bad tooth. Even though it was bound to hurt, everybody had to test it with their tongue just to check.

"Saw you at the cabin...on the porch." He shrugged.

"Oh, God," Janet moaned and buried her face in her knees. "You said you got there after the shooting started."

He shrugged. "I lied."

All of which explained the sense she'd had that night that Daniel had understood why she'd had to follow Sam instead of going with him to safety. "Daniel saw too, didn't he?"

Another shrug. "We arrived together." He heard her soft embarrassed groan. "You okay?"

She waved hand without lifting her head. "Fine. Great. Wonderful. Nothing like having everyone in on my private life." She angled a look his way as something occurred to her. "I'm assuming Sam doesn't know you know," she said by way of question.

"No," he yelped. "Of course not....and I'd just as soon she didn't," he added, looking faintly nauseous at the whole notion.

Oh yeah, he's handling it just fine, the more caustic side of her personality commented silently. "Have you considered talking to her about it?" she questioned, thinking that if he really wasn't going to do anything official, then maybe it would make things more comfortable and ease Sam's worries if she knew.

Jack just stared at her for a long beat. "You think like Daniel," he complained. Jackson had nagged at him several times since the incident at the cabin, convinced that they'd all be better off if it was out in the open with the team. Jack had firmly, to say the least, disagreed. "And the answer's no." He shook his head vehemently. "That's the last thing I want to do. As far as I'm concerned, some things are meant to be private." He pinned a hard look on her. "And I'd just as soon you didn't tell her I know either."

Janet peered at him curiously, wondering how much havoc the alcohol was still playing with her reasoning faculties as she tried to figure out what he was thinking.

"Look," he explained, "We're friends. It's easier just not to go there."

Janet sighed softly, idly wondering if maybe there was some small part of him still hoping.

"And no," he muttered as if reading her thoughts, though in truth he merely saw the question broadcast in expressive dark eyes. "It's not 'cause I think I'll ever have a chance."

Janet continued silently watching him, assessing his words and his sincerity. He at least thought he was being honest, she decided at last, though she was less certain. Of course that could just be your hangups getting in the way, her inner voice pointed out helpfully. Janet exhaled a soft curse and buried her face in her knees. If she were smarter, or a little more sober, she decided, she'd have avoided the subject in its entirety. It wasn't like she didn't already have enough things to worry about.

"Don't tell her, okay?" Jack asked after a beat, managing to inject a plaintive note into his normally gruff voice.

Uncomfortable with not mentioning something that serious to her lover, she shook her head uncertainly. "I'd feel like I was lying," she muttered unhappily, though she was no more eager than he was to open that particular can of worms

"Look," Jack wheedled, "I can understand how you'd feel that way ... but ... Janet ... all it'll do is make everyone uncomfortable ... and it won't change anything for the better...just embarrass her and me."

"I just ... I don't know," she sighed.

"Please," he whispered simply when she looked up at him, seeing the fear in his expression.

"Why not?" she questioned after a long moment.

He looked away, his expression embarrassed. "I'll screw it up," he exhaled after a long beat. "I know myself...and if this comes up, I'm likely to shove my foot so far down my throat it'll be coming out my ass--"

"Jack, you wouldn't--" she started to argue, but he cut her off.

"Yes, I would. It's how I deal with things I'm not comfortable with. I say something obnoxious...and that'll piss her off...and then Daniel will be mad at me, and even Teal'c'll probably look at me that blank way he does when he thinks I'm being an ass." He ran a hand over his hair. "Sounds like more fun than a body can handle, I know, but I'd just as soon not risk the three best friendships I've ever had." Again he looked away, his tone scathing to himself as he continued, "Charming as I may be, making friends hasn't always been my strong suit."

She was silent for a long moment, digesting what he'd just admitted, seeing the man in a different light. "You're scared," she said at last.

A muscle throbbed in his jaw and he swallowed hard. A moment passed and then another. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah."

Janet hid her face in her knees, silently debating his request. Finally, she nodded without looking up. "All right," she assured him, her voice muffled. "I won't ... at least not for now ... but if she asks, I won't lie to her."

Relieved by her answer, O'Neill sighed softly. "Fair enough." He glanced over at the woman sitting next to him, trying to imagine what it had to feel like for her, to have everything anyone could want in a lover; someone beautiful, intelligent, and caring...that she could never admit to publicly. That had to be a real kick in the ass and not in a good way either. "You really love her, don't you?"

Janet nodded, still keeping her face hidden. "More every day."

He accepted her answer. "So, can I ask you a question?"

She slanted a suspicious look his way. "All right," she allowed cautiously.

"Why haven't you already told her about whatever it is that has you so freaked? I know you haven't because she's flying blind trying to figure it out for Hammond and protect your backside right now."

Janet flinched at the question. "I don't know," she admitted at last, the words coming in halting syllables. "I guess I haven't wanted to revisit that part of my life ... it wasn't what you'd call a good time...." She shrugged helplessly, not knowing how to express what she was feeling. Not even entirely certain what it was she was feeling. "...and my life kind of spun out of control for awhile afterwards." She massaged her temple, remembering a time when she'd nearly screwed up her life in a self-destructive haze. She thought she'd put it all behind her, but when she'd stared down at that cold bloodedly brief account of what had happened--all of it used for some sick political game--she'd felt the world start to tailspin around her again.

"You were inhaling cheap scotch like it was water," he pointed out gently. "That's more than just not wanting to go back...hell, Doc, you were making jokes about suiciding...something's going on in your head."

She didn't argue, just sat staring silently into the distance.

He reached out, settling a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Janet," he began carefully, his tone sympathetic in a way that cued her what he was thinking. "Whatever it is..." And his tone made it obvious he suspected he knew just what she was hiding. "It's not going to change the respect anybody has for you...or the way Sam feels."

She looked up at him, correctly reading the look in his eyes, a mix of sympathy, horror, and protective male instinct. "It's not what you're thinking, Colonel," she said softly.

He looked uncomfortable. "I'm not saying I know, I just--"

She reached out, resting a hand lightly on his knee as she spoke, "I wasn't raped."

He exhaled a heavy breath, looking relieved. After a beat, he noted her close perusal and waved a flustered hand. "I...I didn't mean to imply...."

She shrugged. "Whenever a woman has a problem, it goes to the top of the suspect list." She shook her head, her tone bemused. "But that's not it...."

"Then what?" he pressed gently. "Because I'm not the most sensitive guy in the world, and it's even obvious to me that something's going on."

She folded her arms on top of her knees, resting her chin on top of them as she stared into the distance. Janet took a deep breath and let it out slowly, struggling for words as she finally began to speak. Odd that she should find herself telling the whole sorry tale to him, odder still that she sensed he understood better than many might. Like her, he'd long since lost any innocence through experience. Maybe that was why she'd never told Sam. Even with everything she'd seen, there was still an aura of innocence to her lover, a naiveté that she was loathe to shatter.

She began with her own idealistic decision to join MBB, and the team's arrival at the small clinic, leading steadily toward the worst part of the story; how it began with a single boy in one of the outlying temporary clinics that they staffed for a couple of days once a month. He'd had a fever, body aches, and dizziness and the diagnosis had been simple--malaria. It had been a logical conclusion. The symptoms were right and the disease was rampant in the area. She swallowed hard, her memories self-lacerating, even though she knew logically that any other doctor would have done the same thing and even if she'd somehow guessed what he'd had, there was nothing she could have done anyway. Even so, she couldn't tamp down a sharp stab of guilt that she'd simply given him a shot of chloroquine, sent him home and moved on to the next patient without giving it another thought....

Until several days later, when his parents showed up at the main clinic, carrying the same child, his body limp, eyes blank, his temperature dangerously high. When blood welled up around the needle she inserted into his vein to take a sample and the tiny pinprick wouldn't stop leaking red streamers down his arm after she pulled the needle out, she'd known it was a lot more than mere malaria.

Janet ran a hand through her hair, suddenly wishing she wasn't sobering up. The tale was no easier to tell when she was tanked, but she might have been able to forget what she was saying afterward.

"When the boy was brought to the clinic a week later, he was a lot worse, and the senior physician, Kate Halliwell, took the case ... she was our best diagnostician. By the time he died two days later, she'd concluded we were looking at hemorrhagic fever ... and we were starting to get reports of other cases from the boy's village...."

Jack frowned, not understanding. "Hemorrhagic fever?" he questioned.

"Ebola," she said the single word softly, well aware of the way he tensed in response. Ten years before, he'd have stared at her blankly, but it had become famous somewhere along the way; the Elvis of viruses. "Ebola Zaire to be specific," she clarified quietly without explaining the various versions of the disease or its viral cousins. That was more information than he needed, and frankly more information than she could get her admittedly none-too-speedy brain around at that point. "Highly contagious via bodily fluids, takes about two weeks to die and is not pretty any way you look at it."

Jack lost all color. He'd heard of it ... in nightmare inducing scenarios that starred the likes of Dustin Hoffman and involved large numbers of people dying or nearly dying in very ugly ways. "They make movies about that one," he croaked.

"Write books too," she said ironically. "I still haven't read the Hot Zone." The last thing she wanted to read was several hundred pages of a near miss outbreak of the disease when she'd already been through the real thing. They'd all been so scared, and the boy's dying hours had been the stuff of nightmares as he'd begun bleeding out, convulsively vomiting blood, his eyes a roadman swollen blood vessels, blood slipping from his nose every time he sneezed or coughed...all of it refusing to clot. They'd all used gloves and masks, washing obsessively as they handled the virus ridden fluids, each terrified of being the next one to get the disease. "It's a fucking nightmare and when you're in it, you can't wake up. You can only watch while your patient's every organ is pulped from the inside out." She shrugged, then closed her eyes tightly and massaged the bridge of her nose.

Jack rubbed his temple slowly as he absorbed the story she was quietly, and to all appearances very soberly telling him. "Jesus," he exhaled at last, feeling nauseous. His feeling about bacteria, viruses and the like was only slightly less intense than his hatred of insects. As far as he was concerned, they were just very tiny, very nasty bugs.

She made a rasping, frustrated sound in the back of her throat. "We contacted the government, the CDC, and WHO instantly, but the government wouldn't let any outside specialists in-country until their people had confirmed our diagnosis...only, because the village in question was inside of what they considered a terrorist zone, they wouldn't send any specialists in...They also officially forbade us from going to the village and accused us of us wanting to aid the terrorists and using the Ebola as a cover story."

"So, you went in anyway," Jack probed, easily envisioning a bunch of idealistic young doctors just ignoring the rules and doing what they felt was right.

She shook her head. "Not immediately...we kept thinking someone would arrive to deal with the problem." She tipped her head back, staring at the ceiling absently. "We didn't have the experience or the equipment...and there was no one in the clinic qualified to come up against Ebola. We were there to give basic medical care, not handle a level four outbreak."

"So why'd you go?" he questioned.

"Like I said, the government wouldn't admit there was a problem, but we kept getting patients...people literally carrying their family members in--and possibly spreading the virus all along the route." She sighed, her gaze unfocused, as though she was seeing things long before and far away. "We were terrified that the clinic was actually becoming an agent for spreading the disease by drawing people out of the initial hot zone." They had argued violently the night they made the decision; two of the newcomers wanting to simply cut and run, while the old-timers had all wanted to take the bulk of the team to the village and do what they could. Janet remembered sitting in the middle of it all, the most junior doctor on the team, so scared she hurt with the terror, but also aware that if they did nothing, they might well have a human conflagration on their hands. She and Andrea Phillips had had the deciding votes, though there was some question as to whether Kate had any intention of abiding by any vote that didn't go the way she wanted--she had been fond of pointing out that the clinic was not a democracy--but she'd also been realistic enough to know she needed the support of her people in such a serious situation. Her pale grey eyes had flickered with relief as Janet quietly said they should send a team. In the end, five had gone. Three had come home.

"And that's when you went in," he said with sudden insight.

She nodded, her gaze still distant. "Five of us.... We took what medical supplies we had that might be of some use ... loaded the truck and went. We didn't have much of a plan ... Ebola's tends to just pop for no apparent reason, but outbreaks don't generally last long...a few weeks to a few months. We hoped we could contain the spread while the people who remained behind tried to get someone in there to help...figuring that if worst came to worst, we could at least try to keep the contagion in a limited area...." She trailed off, swallowing hard, momentarily swamped by the memories. There had been genuine terror as they'd first entered the thick arboreal rainforest; a sense of being someplace she didn't belong. The sights, the sounds, even the very air she was breathing had all seemed hopelessly alien and wrong. In retrospect, that gut instinct to flee had been dead on, because she'd discovered hell itself.

"There were twelve down when we got there...they were dying...there was nothing we could do for them...." She closed her eyes tightly, her breath coming in shuddery gasps as she struggled to speak through the increasing tightness in her chest and throat. It was a place she didn't want to return to in her head. "By the time I left, there were forty-two dead ... including two from our team ... Kate ... and Bill...." She pressed her knuckles into her eye sockets, wishing she could forget the way her friends had disappeared as the disease took control, first becoming short tempered and snappish, and then falling into a dull-eyed stupor that left none of their original personalities intact, until they finally slipped into unconsciousness and death. "One of the common early symptoms is backache ... and there I was sleeping--or not sleeping as the case may be--in a bedroll on the ground, wondering if every ache and pain was the beginning of the end...." She looked him full in the eye, her low, pained tone making him flinch. "I spent every day wondering if that was how I was going to die ... not knowing who I was ... in a strange place ... bleeding out...." She couldn't suppress a shudder.

Jack swallowed hard. No wonder she didn't like thinking about that part of her past. If he'd lived through that, he wasn't sure he'd ever crawl out of the bottle. "What finally happened?" he questioned, surprised by the rough quality of his voice.

"One of the senior doctors had remained at the clinic ... he called in every marker he could and finally got someone in the government to agree to allow in a team of doctors from Kinshasa, as well as a contingent from WHO and the CDC. The US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease supplied most of the equipment and several doctors... they were the only ones who could handle that kind of transport duty on such short notice. They're the ones who pulled us out." She flinched, eyes snapping closed as she remembered Kate's final moments, the damp, tortured sound of her breathing, the pig-iron stench of fresh blood. Any rescue had come too damn late for her–

"Janet." O'Neill's voice was sharp, though sympathetic, as though he sensed she needed something outside of herself to yank her free of the past.

She gasped sharply, straightening as though coming up out of a nightmare and took a moment before she could continue. Finally, she began haltingly, "We were transported back to the USAMRIID facility at Fort Detrick for another month of level four quarantine to make certain we didn't have the disease." That had been days and nights spent with little to do, nothing to distract them from the horrors they'd seen and couldn't forget, just hours of stultifying boredom with little to relieve the monotony but sleep, and that had seldom gone unbroken by nightmares. She hated those memories almost as much as those from the village. "Obviously, we didn't," she added needlessly.

"And after?"

She shrugged, her gaze distant, her expression vaguely embarrassed. "I climbed into a bottle, married a man I didn't love, and generally made an ass of myself."

Jack chuckled softly, her self-deprecating tone a perverse release for the building stress of the tale, his tone sympathetic as he murmured, "Been there, done that...well, except for the marrying a man I didn't love part."

"Thanks for an image I could have done without," Janet complained, needing to change mental gears for a moment for the sake of her sanity.

"Consider it tit for tat," he shot back, falling in with her bantering tone.

She peered sideways at him. "I thought men were supposed to be excited by that sort of thing."

He snorted. "Sure, right up until it sinks in that it means you've become completely superfluous, stamped rejected, and tossed to the curb."

Janet raised an eyebrow, her expression sharply disapproving.

O'Neill finally noted her look. "Okay, so it wasn't that bad," he admitted with a harumph. "But I don't recommend it as an ego boost."

Janet shook her head, her expression bemused. "It didn't have anything to do with you."

He nodded. "I know. That's the problem."

Janet couldn't restrain a soft snicker at his pathetic tone. She pressed her face into her knees again, her voice muffled as she mumbled, "I can't believe I'm having this conversation."

"Tell me about it," Jack muttered dryly.

A long moment of oddly comfortable silence passed, both of them relieved not to have to talk for a moment.

"Sooo," Jack exhaled at last, "Did you treat any terrorists?"

Janet looked up, her expression thoughtful. "Probably ... there were NDA rebels in the area ...and there were accusations that they were communists...certainly they were thugs." She shrugged a little helplessly. "Several of the younger men had AK's...and were undoubtedly NDA." She ran a hand through her hair, scraping drying bangs back from her forehead. "But, to be perfectly frank, I didn't ask about their politics. They were dying at the time...somehow it didn't seem to matter very much."

A muscle pulsed in his jaw as he wondered if there was enough wiggle room in that fact to allow Samuels to make some of the mud he was threatening to hurl stick. "Unfortunately, it may matter now."

Janet rubbed her temples in slow circles, trying to lessen the vicious headache pounding there. "I know," she sighed, her tone made up of equal parts anger, depression, and disbelief. "But I don't know what else I could have done."

"For what it's worth, I agree with you," Jack allowed. Once upon a time, he'd been a lot more tight-assed about these things, but his experiences through the Stargate had mellowed him a lot. Nothing like a portal to an almost infinite variety of different cultures to alter one's view on life.

"What I don't understand," she said, trying to figure the situation out in her head and failing miserably, "is why investigators would be interested in going back over all of it now...I mean, it was all thoroughly vetted when I joined the Air Force...and again when I got a secret clearance...and again when they upgraded my clearance to Top Secret. There's never been any question that under the circumstances, we did the right thing."

O'Neill frowned. "Wait a minute... you mean they knew about this when you got your clearance?"

She seemed taken aback by the question. "Of course they knew. I was recruited by the colonel in charge of the USAMRIID team. It's not exactly something I could have hidden under the circumstances.... Actually, I don't think Colonel Harris was very happy with me that I went Air Force instead of Army, but I was a lot more impressed with the options I had through the AF," she suddenly realized she was sliding into babble mode and fell silent, while O'Neill just stared at her.

"You were recruited by the colonel who brought you back?" he questioned to clarify what she'd said.

Janet nodded. "Yeah...she started working on me in quarantine...then looked me up a few months after we were released." Janet toyed with her watch to have something to do with her hands. "I was--to put it politely--somewhat under the weather, so she read me the riot act...dragged me to a counselor...and the next thing I knew I was resigning from a hospital position that bored the hell out of me and signing up for the Air Force." It had been a little more involved than that, but not much. "Actually, she's the one who recommended me for this position...and why are you smiling like that?" She wondered how much she was really sobering up, because she was definitely not getting something.

He kept grinning. "You were brought out by the Army, right?"

She nodded. "I think it was the Air Force that did the flying, but the Army was in charge of the mission."

"For USAMRIID, right?"

"Yes," she confirmed impatiently. She still didn't get what he was driving at, and she'd already gone over both points.

"And knowing the Army, and AMRIID, they sealed the records?"

She considered the question for a moment. "Probably. They tend to be a little paranoid about these things and it was wartime." He was still grinning. "All right, could you please explain what you're thinking to me?"

He tapped the side of her head with one finger. "You'd see it if you were sober," he pointed out.

"Anti-drinking lecture heard and obeyed, now what is it?"

"Don't you get it? Samuels probably doesn't know about those records. The only thing in those files were the accusations from the Zairean government and from what I saw, those don't mention that you were brought out by the US fact it makes it look like the government threw you out. Meanwhile, he doesn't have a high enough clearance to pull your personnel file without approval from General Hammond, so he hasn't seen the records from your background check.... And we both know that the Army never volunteers information to the Air Force...." He raised his eyebrows suggestively, willing her to see what he saw.

Janet stared at the colonel as she absorbed what he was suggesting. "How could he not know? I mean, if you were going to try and bring someone down that way, you'd check, you'd follow all leads--"

"He doesn't care," O'Neill inserted. "He probably figured he'd found something he could use to do some damage...and didn't look past that. The guy tends to be a little shortsighted that way."

Janet leaned her head back against the wall at her back. Her stomach rolled as she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. She groaned softly. "I think the hangover's starting or maybe I'm still drunker than I thought."

"Considering how much you had, I'd guess drunker," he observed dryly.

She didn't argue, just closed her eyes and concentrated on willing her stomach to stay right where it was. She tensed momentarily when Jack rested a light hand on her arm. "You think you can look after yourself for a little while and get a quick shower -- with hot water this time – while I call the base?"

She let out a low groan. "I think so."

"Good, because I want to give Sam some of the details you gave me ... they might help her."

"Sam," Janet exhaled her lover's name, suddenly wondering what the hell she would think when she found out the whole truth. Stupid question really, now that she thought about it. Sam was going to be hurt, probably angry and who could blame her? She shouldn't have had to hear about it this way. "Oh, she's gonna be pissed at me," she moaned unhappily, profoundly embarrassed by her own actions.

Jack had turned away and was digging something out of a cupboard. He turned back, dark blue sweats in hand. "Right now, I think she's just relieved that you're okay and worried about keeping you that way." He couldn't help but wonder when in the hell he'd turned into the local lesbian love counselor even as the words came out of his mouth. He crouched down, handing her the sweats as he continued, "But before this is over with, you're going to have to tell her everything ... she has a right to hear it from you." He tucked a finger under her chin, drawing her head up when she would have looked away. "The lady loves you ... and unless I'm mistaken, it's mutual ... so take it from somebody who's probably screwed up more relationships that either of you have even had, quit holding that part of yourself back. You need to share this with someone... and it needs to be her."

She let out a slow breath and nodded.

Jack rose then, reaching back down to catch the doctor's small hand in his larger one. He tugged her to her feet, steadying her when she staggered. "Sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine ... a little unstable maybe." She leaned heavily against the wall. "But I can handle a shower." She muttered a curse under breath as she got a healthy whiff of her clothes. "And I definitely need one."

"You do smell a little like the inside of a bottle," Jack allowed. He turned away, reaching back into a cupboard and pulled out a still packaged toothbrush, setting it on top of the stack of clothes. "This would probably do some good too."

She peered up at him with an arch look. "So, do you always keep spare toothbrushes around?"

He smirked. "Whenever the one I'm using is getting a little old...yes."


"Now, why don't you go ahead and get that shower. I'll just be down the hall if you need me. Go ahead and take my bed when you get out. You look like you could use the sleep."

She nodded and he turned toward the door to exit.

"Jack." Her soft voice brought his head back around. "Thanks...for everything."

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, embarrassed by her gratitude. "You can pay me back by leaving off a few of those needles you're so fond of jabbing in my ass every time we get back from a mission."

She smiled ever so slightly. "You know I can't do that, sir," she reminded him, her tone light.

"Yeah...well...then at least don't let that blond nurse do it anymore, okay?" He shuddered and mimed sticking a needle into something a little too eagerly. "Woman's got hands like a gorilla...jams the needle in till I think it's going to come out the other side."

"I'll see what I can do."

"You do that, Doc," he muttered and slipped out. A moment later, he'd pulled the door shut in his wake, clicking the latch.

Alone, Janet sighed softly, flipping on the water and stripping while she waited for it to get hot. A few minutes later, she climbed in under the beating spray and just let go of her thoughts for a little while.

Continue to Part 4

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