It shouldn’t hurt this much.
It shouldn’t hurt this much—but it does, and just when he thinks he doesn’t have the energy to hold back anymore, he’s reminded of why he needs to, why he has to. A marine’s casual mention of the scientists’ lack of weapons training in the locker room turns into veiled conjecture on their sexual preferences. A firmly spoken defense of Rodney’s actions to Colonel Ellis earns him a sharp, speculative look. He can and has done something about the former, but the latter is out of his hands, and it stands as a further reminder of the repressive culture he’d been entrenched in during his years on Earth.
He isn’t sure he could live that way now, and this scares John almost as much as his feelings for Rodney. Because, as much as he wants to, he knows he’ll never be able to stay in Atlantis for the rest of his life, and the more time he spends here, the more he doesn’t think he’ll mind telling the Air Force where they can shove their regulations. It all comes back to flying. Flying and Rodney, two things that are completely compatible in this galaxy, virtually impossible in another. Combined, they’re career ending in both.
John translates the specific into the general—the better to do his job, he tells himself. He turns his longing into an overall protectiveness of his people, his occasional anger into necessary violence. Punishing physical exertion leeches away the need to touch, but never for long enough. He finds it ironic that, for all the joy, actual joy he’s found in the Pegasus galaxy, he’s never had to keep so much to himself in his life. Sometimes his face hurts from the effort of keeping it all in, and he’s grateful when things like Ancient warships and not dying give him a chance to let his happiness show.
The hardest times are when he’s forced to hold back for both of them, and while he was absurdly pleased that the prickly scientist turned out to be so unswerving in his devotion to his friends, it’s something John hadn’t expected and wasn’t at all prepared for. Yet, every time he finds himself panicking, wanting to shut off completely, he remembers the stricken look on Rodney’s face at his casually tossed ‘So long,’ the way the other man had tried to bury that reaction in his incredulity at finding John alive after all. Over the years, they’ve only grown closer—and John’s lost track of how many times he’s killed to keep him safe. That’s something he refuses to think about. Rodney is his best friend and his worst enemy, and all John wants is to be his lover, in every way that the word implies.
He should never have let himself get this far, he knows that, but when he’s sitting next to Rodney in a puddlejumper, flying the spaceship with his mind, he can’t find it in himself to care.