The first time he noticed her working on one was when they first got back from Antarctica. Well, he wasn't exactly sure what anyone was doing when they first got back because he hadn't been conscious. More like he noticed it when he woke up, because she was sitting beside his bed in some hospital pajamas, curled in a chair and studying a book with that intense Carter gaze. The book was thinner than her usual ones, looked more like a magazine, really. When his eyes finally gained the ability to focus on the title, he spoke before he meant to.
"Crosswords, Carter, really? Is that even fair?" he croaked.
She didn't startle at his intrusion – he liked her sense of calm - she just slowly peeled her eyes away from the page and grinned at him. He regretted speaking before he had the chance to study her unnoticed, her look of concentration one of his favorite Carter looks. But he instantly forgot his remorse when he saw that smile, the one that lit up her eyes and went all the way to her hairline. That look definitely ranked higher on his list.
"Fair to whom, sir?" she asked as she set the book down on the table and reached for the water pitcher. She poured some into a cup and handed it to him. He took it from her, the undersides of his long fingers grazing along the tops of hers. Their gazes locked, and his mouth missed the white bendy straw on the first try. She snickered. He decided to answer her question as a distraction.
"I dunno. Fair to the puzzle, I guess." He shrugged. Then groaned a little at the movement. He smiled a pouty smile at her before sipping his water.
She laughed but caught herself and looked around the dimly lit infirmary. They were the only patients at the moment, but she suspected Janet might be hovering somewhere and would get onto her for being out of bed. But she couldn't sleep. Her bed was far enough away that she couldn't hear him breathing. It was a macabre habit she'd picked up when he nearly died.
"They can be a little challenging sometimes, sir," she said as she picked up the book again.
"Oh, really?" he drawled, unbelieving.
"Yes, sir," she said, chin stuck out like a little girl insisting her story was true. It seemed their petulance was well matched. She tapped the front of the book. "Because it's not all about science. A lot of it is pop culture and, well … I don't get out much," she admitted, as though it were a secret.
He reigned in his smart aleck response. "Then why do it?" he asked instead.
"It makes me think," she said, before adding, "Just not too much." She looked back at the puzzle to avoid his gaze.
"Ah." He tried to play it casual, but he knew what she meant. Too well.
They all had their coping mechanisms. Daniel's books and artifacts probably helped him take his mind off Sha're, though he suspected it had been his method of escape even before his adventures through the Stargate had begun. He didn't know a lot about his friend's past, but in an unguarded moment on the first Abydos mission he had mumbled something about being the only one left in his family.
New earth culture probably distracted Teal'c a bit from the people he had left behind. He wondered how an honorable man like his new friend had coped with being Apophis's first prime before his change of planet. He also wondered how many friends or family he had out there somewhere.
Jack didn't say much, but he knew that the pain of his own past was obvious in the set of his jaw and the way he reacted whenever a child was around. And anyone who had access to his medical file knew what the redacted mission reports couldn't tell them. Janet could read his X-rays and his team could hear what he didn't say.
Carter had been so fresh-faced and eager when she arrived at the SGC, Jack couldn't have imagined her needing to cope with anything too serious. He quickly learned that she just hid it better than the rest of them. Sure, she might shed a few tears here and there, but no sooner had they dried than she was buttoned up and smiling again. It just didn't reach her eyes. And that was his only real clue. Because her work performance did not suffer and often even improved when she had something to fight against.
He tried to shift in his bed and after a few grunts of pain he motioned to her. "C'mere."
"Sir?" She wasn't sure what he wanted. Wondered if maybe he was still a little out of it and needed a reminder of who she was. She had pretended to be Sara when she thought they were going to die because she didn't think she would live to regret that decision.
"I wanna see the puzzle, but I can't move."
"Oh!" She stood up and turned away to hide her blush of misunderstanding before scooting her chair closer to the bed. She leaned into the edge of the raised mattress and brought the book back up to eye level with her left arm while supporting herself with her right. He nodded his approval and began to scan the page. She almost laughed at his studiousness but didn't want him to become self-conscious. So, she just stared at his scrunched forehead out of the corner of her eye while pretending to look at the puzzle.
"Good grief, Carter, you don't know who Mulder is?" His exclamation startled her, and her chin slipped off her fist into his shoulder with an "oof." He snatched the book from her other hand before it landed on his tender ribs, and she scrambled for purchase on the bed.
"Oops, sorry sir," she said as she lifted the book back into place quickly.
Captain Carter had been his second for less than a year but had already attuned herself to him fairly well – anticipating his moves, sometimes before even he did, with frightening accuracy. Which is why he cocked his head at her and stared curiously on this occasion, one of the few in which he had caught her off guard. He wondered where her mind had been, just as she was hoping he hadn't picked up on the fact that he was her only distraction. Then she remembered he had asked her something.
"Sorry, what was that, sir?" The last word came out a little strangled and not the cool, calm, and collected she was going for.
"Fox Mulder," he said, the word fox coming out a little breathy.
She slid her finger across the page, searching.
"One across," he supplied.
"Oh," she said when she reread the clue, "I mean, I've heard the name, but what is the complement to Fox Mulder?"
"Dana Scully," he said simply, dropping the teasing.
"Oh yeah! That's the other one." She snatched the book into her lap to scribble down the name in the boxes. He liked that when she was deep in problem solving mode, she was more likely to drop the incessant sirs.
"It fits!" she said triumphantly. And there was the smile again, and it made him feel as though there was no greater accomplishment than being the person to supply it.
But he still rolled his eyes. "Of course it does." He motioned for her to turn the book back into his field of vision, pouted and sighed when she just turned to look at him instead.
"So, do you watch the show, the um, the X-Files, right?"
He nodded, pursed his lips in approval of her limited knowledge. "I did for a few seasons." He didn't mention that he'd watched it with Charlie. That Sara had argued it was too scary for him. That they'd sneaked around and done it anyway. That it was their Friday night thing. That Charlie got a kick out of the fact that it creeped his mom out.
"It any good?"
It was his turn to give a blank stare.
"The X-Files?" she reminded him.
"Hmm." She tapped the pencil on the book in her lap.
"I don't know, sir. I can just never get into sci-fi shows. They usually get the science wrong. Especially the physics."
"A lot of their cases defy scientific explanation. It drives Scully crazy. But Mulder believes in it. That's why it's fun. It doesn't have to be correct to be fun, Carter."
She considered that as though it were another scientific theory, then relented. "Okay, maybe I'll check it out, then." She smiled and leaned into the side of the mattress.
"Good." He said.
No more than ten seconds had passed before he shook his head in mock disappointment again, having noticed another entry she had skipped.
"Three across, Carter."
"It's Bart Simpson."
"Really? Are you sure?"
"Ok, thanks." This time she didn't retreat to her chair to write it in. She just rested more completely on the mattress, barely touching the edge of his pillow, and brought her right hand up to scribble it in. He nodded proudly.
"What would you do without me, Carter?" His question was playful, but her sleepy response revealed more than she intended.
"I have no idea, sir."