A silent struggle between two strangers. A battle of wills, a test of unspoken beliefs. The two men sat on opposite sides of a blazing fire, eyes locked as they each sought to stake a claim on something neither could rightly own.
On someone who was no man's possession.
Despite knowing that, Colonel Jack O'Neill refused to look away, determined to win the prize he knew he could never claim.
Major Samantha Carter. The woman he couldn't have.
But he'd be damned if he let the native engaged in battle with him know that. It would be like handing her over, giving the green light to someone else, standing back and doing nothing as someone else took prime place in her life.
He couldn't wouldn't do that. Not today.
Their battle had been on-going for hours, ever since SG-1 had set foot on the planet that was home to Eralin. The moment the native had set eyes on Sam, Jack had felt something akin to possession wash over him. It wasn't as if the native had made any obvious signs of interest towards Sam she appeared as oblivious as ever to the extra attention she was given. But Jack knew all too well what feelings caused the glint present in Eralin's eyes whenever the other man looked at *his* Major. Jack knew the thoughts behind the smile that Eralin wore in her presence.
He knew because he felt and thought them almost every day.
That was why Jack had stayed close to her, why testosterone levels rose whenever both he and Eralin were in a five foot radius of each other and Sam.
Over the course of the day, the silent battle between the two men grew in intensity, preoccupying them, distracting them, distancing them from the others.
Doctor Daniel Jackson, Teal'c and Sam sat away from the five with the members of Eralin's tribe who had greeted them at the Stargate. None of them had picked up on Jack's discomfort; none of them understood why tension was radiating off him in big, turbulent waves.
In silence, the two men sat and waited for the other to make the first move. Staring at each other unblinkingly and unrelentingly, sizing up the competition.
Each with an aura of possessiveness around him. Each with a vaguely threatening look in his eyes.
Like animals lying in wait, preparing themselves to do battle over some unsuspecting female. Both knowing how high the stakes were. Knowing the victorious party would be seen as the strongest opponent, knowing the winner would gain a mate, leaving the loser to lick his wounds in preparation for the next opportunity that arose.
As the tension levels reached critical, a sound from the other side of the makeshift camp penetrated the heady screen of testosterone.
A laugh. A woman's laugh.
They both looked in her direction, breaking eye contact for the first time since night had descended, looking to the woman foremost in their minds. She was smiling at something Daniel had said, laughing again as Teal'c asked a question the archaeologist couldn't or wouldn't answer.
Her laugh was warm, light. Happy.
Jack was glad; it had been a while since he'd heard her laugh so sincerely, where she actually meant it instead of feeling like she had to pretend. So much had happened to them in such a short space of time.. It was a relief to find there was still *something* to laugh about.
The smile that played on his lips, however, faded as his attention returned to Eralin and he saw the same smile on the face of the native.
In Jack's mind, Eralin had no right to smile like that. Not when he didn't know Sam like *he* did. Sam wasn't Eralin's to smile at.
'She's not yours either.' The internal voice was quickly quashed, silenced as Eralin, too, brought his eyes back to Jack's and the tension levels shot skywards once more.
The brief moment of distraction had passed. The inner conflict began again.
Every inch of his body was tense, the muscles locked as Jack sat upright, his back ramrod straight as he half-glared, half-studied the other man. His eyes were like cold, cold steel, staring unflinchingly at the man who threatened his rightful place.
Time seemed to slow and pass at an impossible rate. Seconds ticked by but dragged on for days. Their surroundings faded and became distant recollections, a collage of blurred colours lingering and merging in the background.
Between them, the fire burned hot, the heat from being so close causing beads of sweat to glisten on their skin. One bead rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, stinging, but Jack refused to blink and refused to look away.
It was torture they'd brought on themselves. Torture caused by irrational, uncalled for jealousy.
The people around them faded out like everything else. Their voices and laughter ceased to exist, all else vanished like sunlight at night.
All Jack could hear was the steady beating of his heart and the crackling of the fire. All he was aware of was the unease and discomfort radiating from his every pore. All he thought about was Sam and the man who wanted to take her away. All he felt was a fierce combination of anger, possession and determination.
He didn't know what caused him to see this man, this stranger, as such as strong and powerful threat. Some small part of him knew the probability of Eralin taking Sam from him and the SGC was slight, small, almost impossible.
Yet something, some instinct, wouldn't let it slide. Something wouldn't let him walk away and feel secure in the knowledge Sam was going nowhere. It was as if some force greater than himself knew there was a risk of having to let her go if he didn't stay and fight his ground.
Struggling to stay still, struggling not to react as his back and shoulder muscles began to ache, Jack met Eralin's eyes evenly, studying the native in an attempt at staying focused and keeping his mind off the dull pain slowly spreading through his body.
Tall and tanned, he supposed Eralin with his olive skin would be called quite handsome from a woman's perspective. His eyes were dark green and his hair was black, short and flopped in front of his eyes on the odd occasion.
In comparison with Jack, Eralin was smooth and clean-cut. Jack was more... 'rugged, manly and worldly', if the gossips in the base locker room were to be believed. Although Eralin had youth on his side, Jack consoled himself with the knowledge that he knew Sam better; he could make her smile, he could make her laugh and he *knew* she found him attractive and even had feelings of some description for him.
Fighting a small grin at the thought of some of the things he knew about his Major that Eralin never would if he could help it, Jack fought the urge to tap his numb feet off the muddy ground. He lost feeling in them a long time since and it was starting to annoy him.
Keeping his eyes on Eralin, Jack noticed the other man's eyes widen slightly and listened intently as Eralin's gaze moved to focus on something just beyond Jack's shoulder.
Someone was coming closer. Narrowing his eyes but without turning to look, Jack listened carefully. Footfall. Familiar footfall. Sam.
Each man held his breath as they waited for her to approach, their duel forgotten as they waited for Sam to say something, waited for her to arrive and speak to one of them, smile at one of them, choose one of them.
She reached them and smile warmly as her eyes lit on one of their faces. Her smile was quickly followed by her familiar and equally as warm voice as Jack waited.
And waited for what seemed like an hour.
Triumph, combined with pure male pride, blocked out everything else she said. Jack grinned widely, smugly. Pleased beyond words at the recent turn of evens, at the revelation that had come with Sam's presence.
She smiled at him.
She spoke to *him*.
She *chose* him.
"Colonel? Are you okay, Sir?"
She was touching him.
She was touching him?
Shaken from basking in victory, Jack blinked in and glanced down at his arm, seeing that her hand was indeed the warm weight he felt there. A little surprised at the contact, he looked up at her face and into her eyes, seeing the concern that was present there.
Concern for *him*.
"Sorry, Carter." Grinning lazily but somehow unable to stop, Jack stood up beside her, shaking his feet to encourage the feeling to return to them. "I was.. some place else." The scowl Eralin threw him only served to widen his grin. "What were you saying?"
"I said.." Sam started to repeat herself patiently, giving him a tolerant smile. "Daniel's finished asking questions and he's ready to go home. General Hammond's expecting us anytime in the next twelve hours but we decided it'll probably be best if we didn't set up camp and instead saved time by going home."
"Ah." Still grinning, Jack nodded at her, his eyes sparkling mischievously. "Then it's settled. Back to Kansas, eh, Dorothy?" Enjoying her raised eyebrow and quizzical glance, Jack turned to Eralin, attempting a sympathetic smile that came across as being more smug than anything else. "Sorry, Ear-lin. Looks like we're cutting the party short. Great meeting you, though."
"Likewise, Colonel O'Neill." The native spoke through gritted teeth, turning to Sam with sad eyes. "A pleasure, Samantha Carter."
"Yes." She gave him a small, distracted smile, looking to the Colonel, surprised at his odd behaviour, therefore missing the crestfallen expression that crossed over Eralin's face. "Colonel?"
Hearing the concern in her voice, Jack grinned reassuringly at her. "I'm fine, Carter. Promise." Turning his back on Eralin, he led her away with a possessive hand on the small of her back. "There's no place like home, Major, so lets get back there."
Bewildered, wondering what could possibly cause her CO to grin so much, wondering what had happened to make him so happy almost manically so, Sam took him at his word. If he hadn't returned to what passed as 'normal' for him by the time they got home, she'd take Doctor Fraiser to one side and voice her concerns.
Unable to control the swagger in his walk as they headed away from Eralin, Jack's grin was ever-present, even as Daniel and Sam exchanged confused glances and even Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
Feeling the eyes of the native on his back, knowing he and Sam were being watched, Jack couldn't control the wave of satisfaction that washed over him. He had won.
'Just walk away, buddy,' he sent the thought to Eralin, his hand hovering over Sam's back even as they walked further away. 'She's already taken.'
Eralin remained watching them, studying them, until the density of the forest engulfed them, until they were out of his line of sight. The Colonel didn't stray very far from the Major's side. He was staking a claim, showing all and everyone that he owned her.
Shortly after they disappeared, Eralin heard the Stargate engage and faintly saw its blue hue over the top of the trees. He watched and waited until the blue glow vanished, knowing that not only had he lost but that he would never see her again.
They'd left him sulking and tending to his wounded ego.
Left him alone with no choice but to move on.
Left him with no choice but to walk away.
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