TITLE: Paper Hearts

AUTHOR: Little Red

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: pants!verse Sam/Jack

SUMMARY: Meandering thoughts about The X-Files at 3 in the morning.

***

The weekly X-Files marathon has been over for nearly an hour and neither of them have moved.

Her excuse is easy -- she's asleep. This isn't a surprise. She's been killing herself for two weeks over this ridiculous enhanced-output-naquadah-reactor thing they're developing with technology SG-5 dug up somewhere. He would have felt bad about reminding her of their standard X-Files watching plans when she was so obviously in dire need of sleep if he wasn't totally sure that she would have spent the night in an SGC lab rather than her own bed otherwise. She has been nodding off all evening and finally dozed off for real around 1 a.m.

He doesn't really have an excuse not to have ended the evening yet. He's tired too, and that's part of it. The remote is buried somewhere underneath her, and though he's not at all interested in purchasing whatever home exercise equipment is being currently pimped on his television, this means it will take effort to get up and turn the thing off. He's comfortable where he is.

He doesn't really want to wake her, either. She needs the rest, badly, and he doesn't trust her not to head right back to work if he wakes her up and sends her off.

This is nice. She breathes in a way that's not quite a sigh when his fingers brush through her hair and if her head isn't quite in his lap she's still curled up pretty close. He's watched her sleep off-world for years, of course, but this is different. She's out like a light with none of the tense readiness to wake and spring into action should anything be amiss. She sleeps on his couch with his hand in her hair like she's in her own bed, miles (light-years) from any conceivable danger.

This should worry him more than it does. It does -- he worries about propriety and how this might affect her future, and also a little about her mental health because she doesn't seem to be worrying about it. He doesn't worry about it enough to stop this. He is yet to find a way through her rational, Carter-like arguments that they are not doing anything wrong.

Of course, he doesn't want to.

He likes this. She's fun to be around in a way he both already knew and didn't quite expect. He likes seeing her relaxed and a few miles away from where she has the weight of the world on her brain every single day. He has known her favourite pizza toppings for years, but he likes learning all the other things about her that come up in the course of their take-out-and-X-Files evenings.

She picks fights about how the plot of an episode will resolve during commercial breaks, and only sometimes catches that he's just yanking her chain when he argues back with completely nonsensical answers. She doesn't blink during chase scenes or romantic moments, unless either one is poorly done (in which case she provides a running commentary on exactly how poor it is). Her whole body gets tense when fictional children are put in danger and she is surprisingly squeamish about people getting eaten (which makes him wonder why she watches a show like this) until he cracks a joke to distract her.

Her hair is soft and smells exotic. She kisses his shoulder sometimes when leaning against him and holds her breath whenever he breaks down and kisses her forehead.

They really shouldn't be doing that, but the lapses are small and usually infrequent and they would be doing so much worse if they didn't respect each other so much as colleagues and friends. It's not an excuse, but it feels like one.

She's getting more and more comfortable here in his house and around him, and every time she puts her feet on his coffee table, or helps herself to stuff in his kitchen without asking, or rests against his shoulder while they watch TV he feels a hint of something he hasn't felt in a long time.

She shifts under his hand, snuggling deeper into the couch. Her eyes flutter open for a moment before she sighs and drifts off again.

She smiles in her sleep. He loves that.

He's used to relying on her rationale. He's not compromising her, or himself, by sharing an interest in a television show or enjoying her company as a fellow human being. They haven't really talked about it yet in the sit-down-to-have-this-conversation sort of sense. Doing that would mean that there is something to talk about, which is still sort of up in the air, but she has scattered her logic into commercial breaks so he thinks he knows where she stands. Even if she's probably talking herself into it as much as anything... it makes sense. They've been doing this for months, this friends thing. Nothing has blown up that wasn't supposed to. Carter leaves the mountain. He has a reason to keep his kitchen stocked with things that can actually be eaten and are not (just) beer.

They're both enjoying themselves a little in between galactic disasters.

Even though he's just reminded himself that they're not doing anything wrong, it's still getting on 3 a.m. She shouldn't wake up in the morning to see him still looking down at her and playing with her hair and really, he's pretty sure he could keep doing this at least that long.

"Carter."

She turns her head a little but doesn't wake up. If he infuses a little more of his command tone into his voice she'll snap awake like he'd just fired a shot, but that doesn't seem like playing fair.

He traces her ear with one finger and smirks when she twitches. "Carter..."

Another moment of gently tickling the soft skin of her cheek and he's got her. "What?" Her eyes are bleary and confused and she takes another second to finish untangling her hand from the blanket she's covered with to swat his fingers away.

Eventually, she realizes that he's actually trying to wake her and not just being an annoyance. She rolls over onto her back to look up at him, and the half-lidded curiosity in her relaxed eyes shoots right to his stomach.

This is okay, he reminds himself. She's attractive. He cares about her. He's not going to do anything about it, so it's okay.

"Show's over," he tells her, not specifying how long it has been over.

She smiles and reaches up a hand to rub at her eyes. "Did I miss anything?" Her words are slurred with sleep. He realizes the backs of his fingers are still moving over her forehead, brushing her bangs out of the way and then letting them fall back into place.

"Oh, yeah. They beat all the aliens and Scully ran off with the cigarette guy into the sunset."

She rolls her eyes, more awake now, but still doesn't move to sit up. She's watching him with an open affection that would be dangerous if they weren't just friends.

"I think Teal'c has a crush on Scully," she reveals.

"Come on, who doesn't?" Jack's aware that they're stalling. They shouldn't start conversations at three in the morning. She has been here as late as five before, talking about nothing and eating way too much microwaved popcorn while watching bad movies on late-night television. When they work jobs that have a tendency of calling them in at six in the morning on their days off, that isn't a good thing.

"He said he'd lend us the first-season DVDs if we want to catch up."

They started this ritual in the middle of a syndication loop on a cable station. He mostly ignores the episodes that require a knowledge of continuity and so doesn't really mind that they're watching everything out of order. He's not big on science-fiction anyway, on the whole, but Teal'c got him hooked and he was reeled in by the opportunity a few months ago to use this as an excuse to check up on Sam after that whole kidnapping fiasco.

He doesn't know if she fell for his innocent reasons to suddenly call her up every few nights to bother her with demands for explanations during commercial breaks. It was partly for her -- she was understandably on edge there for a while -- but also because he felt responsible for making sure she was there. He's not about to let her ever go another 48 hours in shackles in an abandoned hospital without him even knowing she's missing. He's not sure if she caught on to all of that from his strange "Scully's talking about photons, explain," conversation-starters. He does know that it only took two weeks for her to agree that it would just be more efficient if she came over and watched the episode with him rather than having to mentally reconstruct the action over the phone.

And he doesn't hate the show. It's entertaining and occasionally gory and twisted enough to satisfy the part of him that plucked wings off flies as a kid. "First season, huh?"

"Saturday?" she asks.

"I'll stock up on popcorn."

She smiles and her eyes start to slip closed again. He watches her for a few minutes, caught up in his own exhaustion, before he reminds her, "It's late."

The smile disappears. "I know."

He wants to ask her what she's thinking, but it's probably better that he doesn't know. "Are you going to be okay to drive?"

She struggles up to sitting. Her hair is wild and adorable and he smoothes down the back of her shirt for her. "I'm good," she assures him, but then, he's never known Sam Carter to willingly admit to frailty unless -- and often not even then -- she is obviously losing blood.

"Stay here," he offers.

Her head snaps towards him, and he focuses on the touch of alarm in her eyes to keep from noticing anything else.

"Not..." he sighs, runs a hand over his eyes. He really is tired. "I'm not coming on to you, Carter. It'll only take me a few minutes to find sheets for the guest bed."

She hesitates. "You're sure I won't be putting you out?"

Like any sane man is going to be really upset about waking up with Carter in his house. He'll probably be the one putting her out, since he has nothing but instant coffee and pop-tarts by way of breakfast food in his kitchen at the moment. No wonder Fraiser keeps squawking about nutrition and an early grave. "I'm not going to let you kill yourself on the drive home." Maybe to try and make this normal, maybe to remind them, he adds, "It'd be hell to break in another scientist."

She nods. The smile is back. "It's not like I planned to stay here," she justifies, and it's decided.

Carter still looks like she's about to drop dead on her feet despite the nervous edge to her motions as she helps him make up the guest bed.

"Flowers?" she asks as she smoothes down the printed sheet.

He should just say "Sara" as an explanation, because it's the truth. He inherited a lot of things from their old house in Winter Park when she sold it a few years ago and he helped her clean it out. Carter shouldn't have a reason to mind sleeping on sheets picked out by his ex-wife, but he still doesn't say it. "What, just because I'm impressively manly I'm not allowed to appreciate flowers?" He eyes the sheets. "Pink flowers?"

Carter laughs and shakes her head like she knows him too well. "Good night, Colonel."

"You need something to wear?"

"I'm all right like this," she promises, but hesitates just enough to make him argue,

"Don't trust me to keep anything clean in the house?"

Again with the grin. He can almost see her internal rationalization in her head -- they didn't plan this, there's nothing improper about it, they're just friends. "Okay."

He locates and hands over the least ragged t-shirt-and-sweatpants ensemble he can locate and doesn't think about how she'll look drowning in his clothes.

"G'night, Carter. Yell if you need anything."

"I'll be fine. Thank you." She's all but leaning against the doorframe in her attempt to stay standing long enough to see him out of the guest room. For a second he's really going to kiss her, but he bargains himself out of it and just touches a hand to her cheek.

Her eyes meet his as she brushes his hand with hers, and that's it. It feels good. He loves how easy it is to be friends with her. "Good night," she says again, and this time, he actually leaves.

He can hear her rustling in the flowered sheets through his bedroom wall, but it's a lot easier to fall asleep with someone else in his house than he expected it would be.

He trusts them both. They can handle this.

He really has nothing to worry about.

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