The sun shouldn't be shining.
It was the first thought that crossed her mind as she stepped out of the cool dimness of the chapel and squinted into the golden light that seemed incongruously cheerful. Beside her, Jack was already adjusting his hat and sliding on his sunglasses, his eyes becoming unreadable behind the tinted reflective glass. Not that he could hide them from her. Or at least, not what they revealed. She'd watched him sideways for the past hour; the tense working of his jaw line, the rigid posture, the occasional throat clearing. He may have seemed a casual attendee to the rest of the mourners, but Sam knew better. At least he hadn't had to give the eulogy a second time. This was a civilian memorial service, after all. He'd been there because he'd wanted to; not because he had to. Even so, from what Sam could tell, it hadn't been any easier on him the second time around.
The woman's voice brought them both up short, and Sam pulled back the hand she had been ready to reach out to Jack. She would have to be comforting partner later. For the moment she needed to be Colonel Carter. Especially since she recognized the woman who had just spoken.
She might have been her own mother's age—aging but not elderly, and she moved with determined steps through the lingering crowd toward them. Elegant looking, well-dressed, as though she had spent her life paying attention to the finer details of social niceties and diplomatic etiquette. Which, in fact, Sam knew to be the case. A vague thought about apples not falling far from the tree flitted through her mind. She felt Jack go ever so slightly rigid next to her as the woman approached.
"General O'Neill," she repeated, stepping forward and offering her hand.
"Mrs. Weir," replied Jack, taking it. "Please accept my condolences on the loss of your daughter."
Sam winced. Somehow the usual and customary consolation seemed especially trite in these circumstances. Especially when she knew that it didn't begin to express what Jack really felt. Not that she was going to do much better.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," she heard herself say.
Mrs. Weir brushed her with a glance, which under other circumstances might have stung, but not today.
"Mrs. Weir, this is Colonel Samantha Carter."
Mrs. Weir's glance lingered longer this time.
"Did you know my daughter, Colonel?"
Sam didn't have to look at Jack to feel the caution he was sending her way.
"Yes, ma'am. But not well."
That was the truth at least. She hadn't known Elizabeth Weir well, much to her regret. Their interactions had been brief and, under the circumstances, borderline antagonistic during her brief stint at the SGC. And while the events in the Pegasus galaxy had flitted along the edge of her periphery with the occasional back and forth through the gate or via the Daedalus, quite frankly, Sam had had more immediate concerns keeping the Ori at bay.
But she did know Dr. Weir had left behind very big shoes. And that she'd been the one who'd had to try to fill them. Two facts she could not share with the woman who stood before them, looking, she knew, for answers.
Obviously not finding them with Sam, she had turned back to Jack, who was remaining carefully military in both stature and attitude. So very unlike him in so many ways that Sam felt herself straighten slightly in the presence of The General. She wondered if he'd anticipated this. And why, in fact, he'd insisted on coming.
"May I speak with you, General?" Mrs. Weir's subtle turning of a shoulder to Sam an indication that she intended this to be a private conversation. Jack, though, ignored the implication and didn't budge an inch, which Sam took as a sign that she should stay put. If he had in fact known this was coming, he'd also be depending on her for the moral support to get through it. Not that he hadn't had to misdirect dozens of similar pleas from distraught family members at dozens of other funerals. But this one was different. He hadn't said so explicitly, but Sam knew. This one was hard.
Mrs. Weir gave her another glance, but seemed finally resigned to the fact that she was not going to get the general alone.
"I wanted to ask you about Elizabeth…," she began, her voice quavering slightly at her daughter's name. "I received your letter, General…and the one from Mr. Woolsey. Neither of them went into specifics and no one from the Air Force seems able—or perhaps it's willing—to answer my questions."
Sam saw Jack's jaw work ever so slightly during this preamble, but to Mrs. Weir she knew he must have seemed as impassive as the nearby stone pillar.
"I'm afraid information about the project Dr. Weir was working on remains classified. Whatever information you've received is all that is able to be released at the moment." He sounded so much like Woolsey that Sam found herself giving him a side-long glance, just to make sure. She could see his thinned lips and knew the anger they betrayed was not at the woman in front of him but at the situation that necessitated them being here in the first place.
"I don't care what she was working on, General. I don't care what country she was in or even who was responsible for her death. Knowing those things isn't going to bring her back, and in the end, they're hardly important—at least not to me." The woman fumbled with the folded program in her hand as her voice broke. Sam looked away for a moment, allowing her the privacy she needed to collect herself, hating this as much as she knew Jack did. Finally, her composure reinstated, Mrs. Weir looked up into Jack's still passive and hidden face. "You didn't even bring her body back…. All I want to know is how she died. Surely that's not too much to ask."
Sam knew what Jack was going to say before he even said it, because she understood now that his purpose for coming hadn't been to bring the woman answers. It had been to give her the decency of a real human face that would tell her, in some way other than a damned, cold letter, that she was not permitted to know anything more than she already knew. A face to go with the brutal fact that she was consigned to eternal ignorance about the loss of the most important person in her life. A face to which she could assign all her anger and dismay and grief because it was, after all, much more satisfying to be angry at a person than at a bureaucracy. And because of how he'd felt about Elizabeth, Jack was willing to be that face.
But she wouldn't let him do it alone. Not when she felt she carried some of the blame herself. Jack would disagree—had disagreed, especially when the latest report from Atlantis detailing the bizarre encounter with the Replicated Weir had crossed his desk. But at this point, Sam concluded, it didn't matter. She cut him off before he could say the words that had already formed on his lips.
"She died well, Mrs. Weir." She felt Jack's disapproving glare from behind his glasses, but she was determined to not let this woman leave without some peace in her heart. "She sacrificed herself and saved thousands…probably even millions of lives. You can be proud of her. She died as she lived—in the service of others."
"Colonel…." Jack's voice was a low grumble half under his breath. He would be angry, she had no doubt. Hell. She'd probably violated half a dozen regs by saying the little bit she'd said. But she didn't care. Elizabeth's mother deserved something. And Jack didn't need to shoulder any more burdens that weren't his.
Mrs. Weir turned back to Sam. "I thought you didn't know my daughter?" It was more challenge than question.
"Not as well as I would have liked." If she had trod on dangerous ground earlier, she was about to enter a virtual mine field. Jack would be livid. She didn't care. "But I was there. I know what she did. And so do a lot of other people. We will never forget her."
The woman's eyes refused to let Sam's go as if she were trying to determine the truth behind what she'd said. Finally, satisfied, she gave a slight nod of her head, even as her eyes shone with tears. A tall slender man who looked vaguely familiar came up behind her and touched her arm, breaking the moment. But Sam knew she'd given the woman what she'd needed. Beside her, she felt Jack relax just a bit.
"Patricia…" the man said gently, glancing apologetically at Sam and Jack. Mrs. Weir turned and her face lit in recognition.
"Simon…." Without another look their way, she allowed herself to be guided away toward a small group of acquaintances who'd been waiting nearby. Sam let out a deep sigh, just realizing that she'd in fact been holding her breath. She wasn't sure she wanted to risk looking at Jack just yet.
She didn't have to. She felt his hand on her elbow, turning her away from the remaining guests and toward the steps leading down to where his staff car waited.
"You shouldn't have done that," he told her quietly. "It doesn't work that way, just because we want it to."
"She deserved more than what we were giving her."
"Yeah," he admitted, bitterness tingeing his voice. "Don't they all."
Sam felt a sharp pang. Seventeen. The number was forever etched into her brain. Seventeen carefully worded letters of condolence she'd written over the past year to families who would never see their loved ones again. Seventeen names she could recite from memory, each with someone like Patricia Weir, left wondering how and why. Jack was right. They were no less deserving than the woman back there. They just didn't happen to be standing in front of her, asking.
"It doesn't get any easier, does it," she said finally, still not daring to look at him. It wasn't really a question. She already knew the answer. It had been written all over his face the entire day.
"No," he replied softly and then added, so quietly she nearly missed it, "Thank God."