AN: Here it is! The end! Thanks for sticking with me!
Carter 2 arrived while Jack was staring at Carter 1. She didn't look happy when Jack didn't notice her, but she didn't say anything. Jack just kept watching Carter 1, displaying the goofiest grin she'd ever seen. He only noticed Carter 2 when Carter 1's face fell. He turned to see what she was looking at, so pleased that very little could bring him down.
Unfortunately, his eyes found the one thing that could, and did, bring him down. Carter 2 was glaring. And Carter 2 was not dressed for a mission. Carter 2 was wearing jeans and a red sweater. Under normal circumstances, Jack would have thoroughly enjoyed the way her sweater fit her, but he was trying to get the whole two Carters thing resolved and Carter 2's lack of proper attire only hindered his efforts to do so.
"Carter. Change. Now."
Carter 2 sighed and, although she was looking away, Jack was fairly certain she was rolling her eyes at Daniel. "But those clothes aren't comfortable and the boots hurt my feet."
Jack motioned at Carter 1, who would have been his favorite person of all time that morning for not saying anything to upset him as Daniel and Teal'c had and for wearing her uniform unlike Carter 2, except she was looking far too innocent to actually be innocent. "She's wearing them."
Carter 2 glared at Carter 1. "She's a suck-up."
For once, since the whole thing had started, Jack really, really wanted to laugh. Because, truth be told, when he'd first met her and she claimed to have memorized his mission report from Abydos, he'd thought the very same thing. But he fought back his grin despite Daniel and Teal'c's amused faces. "Carter, sucking up is what the military is all about."
Carter 2 didn't back down. "I can't get in my locker."
Jack took a deep breath and wondered if it was worth fighting her about. It probably wasn't, but he wasn't going to back down. Not with witnesses. Not when they were so close to getting things back under control. He looked at the all-too-innocent Carter 1. "Do you know why she can't get in her locker?"
Carter 1 didn't glance away from his hard stare. "Because I got a new lock for my locker."
"Because it's my locker and I don't want her in it."
"Carter!" He was angry. Very angry. Much angrier, in fact, than he could ever remember being because he really expected better from Carter. Especially after the understanding, or what he'd understood to be understanding, that had passed between them just the evening before.
Reluctantly, Carter 1 fished a piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Carter 2. A few minutes later, Carter 2 was back, dressed appropriately. With their typical send off from the general, who had witnessed every single word of the morning's festivities safely ensconced in the control room, the team finally headed up the ramp only twenty-five minutes late.
The device had seemed a lot closer to the gate in retrospect. Jack vaguely recalled Carter's crazed near-run when they were leaving, but he'd completely blocked out the length of time and the amount of energy it had taken to get there the first time. Jack took point for the time being because Teal'c refused to allow the Carters to stand behind him, Daniel had no sense of directions, and, for the moment at least, Jack didn't trust either of the Carters to lead them.
Just like he remembered, the planet's time seemed to be the same as Earth's and he kept his eyes focused on the sunrise as he walked. He denied the generalized griping he heard behind him. He knew he was walking a little faster than normal, but it was killing two birds with one stone. First of all, it would get them to the device and get Carter fixed sooner. Secondly, it served to distance him somewhat from the team, of which he'd had about as much as he could take.
He relented a few hours later, expecting that someone would want to eat lunch. No one did, but they did all silently enjoy the break from walking. The Carters wouldn't even look at each other. They both were watching Jack with pathetic, puppy-dog expressions. He suspected they were finally sorry for acting out, once it became clear that Jack was pissed at them. He refused to acknowledge that they also looked frightened because then he would have to acknowledge that they were afraid of what the machine would do to them and then he would have to acknowledge that he was afraid of the very same thing and that was acknowledging far more than he wanted to acknowledge. So he refused to look at the Carters, which also solved the problem of which one of them to comfort first.
After a short respite, Jack started them off again. When his ears picked up the faint humming in the distance, his pace slowed a bit. He peeked behind him to catch the Carters shooting worried glances at each other. By the time they crested the final hill, the various and sundry griping had stopped altogether. The five members of SG-1 stood silently, staring at the humming slab of rock whose unassuming concreteness belied exactly how much trouble it had caused.
Jack looked around and frowned. "You know, if a damn copier were to cause the demise of our entire civilization, don't you think someone would hang an 'out of order' sign on it? Or at least unplug it or something."
The Carters tried to smile at him.
Daniel held up the papers he'd been studying throughout the hike. "They did, Jack. That's why it's important to translate these things before we play with them."
Both of the Carters glared at Daniel and Jack was very happy they weren't looking at him like that. He waved at Daniel's papers dismissively. "It would have been much more effective for them to hang a little sign that said 'copy machine of doom,' don't you think?"
The Carters giggled. Daniel rolled his eyes. Teal'c waited for Jack to start walking again.
It became clear quickly that Jack was through with being the leader - whether out of fear of the consequences or the desire to escape blame for those consequences, it didn't matter. Daniel cleared his throat.
"It's certainly not going to work if we just stare at it."
Jack shrugged. "Apparently not."
Carefully, the group approached the machine. Jack was trying to figure out if the device's humming had changed, and if it had, if the humming had become more ominous. The Carters were moving slowly, their collective dread weighing heavily on their teammates.
Teal'c took the initiative, as uncomfortable with two Carters as he would be with none. "Daniel Jackson, what must be done?"
Daniel walked to the left side of the machine. "Sam - Sams - you each need to place one of your hands here." He was pointing to two small panels. They didn't look like anything special, but neither Carter moved for fear they were special and would only make things worse.
Jack couldn't blame them; he wouldn't want to be the guinea pig either. "Carters, please work with us here."
Each of the Carters placed a hand on the machine. Then they looked at the guys. Finally, their eyes fell on Jack. Jack knew there were a million things she, they, wanted to say. He felt the same way - if something about to happen to her, if heaven forbid she was hurt or worse - there were things he wanted her to know. But as he looked at them, he knew there was nothing to say. There was nothing he could tell them that they didn't already know. Both of them smiled a sad, scared smile at him - they understood.
Teal'c broke the silence once again. "What is the next step, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel winced, awkwardly watching the charged emotions between Jack and the Carters. "Now someone needs to activate the device."
Jack broke the stare, turning first to look at Teal'c and then at Daniel. "Who, pray tell?"
Daniel shrugged. "The controls are over here." With a wave of his hand, he indicated another small square panel. As far as Jack could tell, all the places Daniel was pointing out just looked like rock, but considering the humming rock had made a second Carter, Jack wasn't about to say it. He didn't want a lecture.
"So, do we want to flip a coin?" No matter what, Jack wasn't going to do it. It was between Teal'c and Daniel. Jack could not be the one to press the button in case the unspeakable happened. He needed to blame someone else. He could already blame Daniel for messing up the translation if push came to shove, so he quietly hoped that Teal'c would volunteer. That way, in the absence of Carter, he could blame everyone except himself. Of course, he knew if something happened to her, he would blame himself first, but still, he wanted to have back ups.
The Carters spoke in unison, sending a chill down Jack's spine. "Daniel."
Jack was suddenly suspicious. Their choice shouldn't have upset him, not after the way they'd been carrying on for his attention, not after they'd pointed out how scary he and Teal'c could be, but Jack felt slighted all the same. He'd almost expected them to insist that he do it, to swear they didn't trust anyone else as much. "Why Daniel?"
Carter 2 smiled. "There's no mean side of Daniel. So even if it splits him, we'll be left with a relatively normal guy-"
Carter 1 piped up. "And a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas."
Daniel looked offended. Teal'c fought back a smile. Jack double over laughing. It wasn't often that Carter cracked a joke - she usually left it up to Jack - but Jack believed it was thoroughly worth the wait when she did.
Daniel stepped up to the device, eyeing Jack carefully. He already knew, if the machine didn't work, that it would be his fault since, for whatever reason, linguists were always to blame when things went wrong. He didn't want to be responsible for actually flipping the switch any more than Jack did because Sam was his friend and he didn't want to hurt her either. Jack nodded at him. Daniel took a deep breath, praying he wasn't about to find out what Sam had been going through. Then he pressed his hand onto the device and listed to the humming intensify.
After giving Daniel the go-ahead, Jack turned back to the Carters. His eyes held theirs. They had his full attention for all of a millisecond.
Then a sudden, blinding brightness filled the area - starting around the Carters, then extending around all of them. When e couldn't bear it any longer, Jack closed his eyes. That couldn't have been what happened originally; there was no way he'd slept through anything that loud or that bright. "So help me, Daniel, if we're not all perfectly normal when this thing's done-"
He didn't even get a chance to finish the threat. The white light was gone. The humming was soft once again. Jack's eyes opened, almost without permission. He wasn't sure he wanted to see. He was expecting there to be two of all of them or only one - with four personalities crammed inside.
But when his eyes finally focused, he saw only Carter. Just one Carter. Just his Carter.
And for once, he paid no attention to rank or responsibility or anything else. He closed the distance between them in one step and pulled the one and only Samantha Carter into his arms.
Daniel and Teal'c politely turned away while Jack kissed her long and deep and slow.
Just to make sure none of Carter's personality felt slighted.