It wasn't even so much that Rodney didn't know who he was, but that he wasn't Rodneyish, in a way that had nothing to do with his amnesia. Losing your memories might make you less you, but this was something else. That was the uneasy phrase John used when trying--or trying not to--describe it Elizabeth, something else. As if they weren't both perfectly aware of what it was that had been done to him.
As soon as they got him back and Beckett cleared him, he started following John around Atlantis like a dog desperate to serve and starved for attention; and at first he stayed several paces behind as if afraid of being kicked. There was sometimes a period of a minute or so when John didn't notice the other man skulking nearby, drifting along walls and pausing behind columns, but it never took long for Rodney to give himself away with a small noise or as a flicker in the corner of John's vision. After the first few days, John started checking behind him periodically whenever he was out and about.
He always stopped as soon as he noticed Rodney, smiled and collected him with slow nonthreatening movements, a quiet voice, small words. And as Rodney relaxed, day by day, he began coming up to John's side instead of hanging back on his heels, and John felt as if he'd trained him. It was a gut-twisting feeling. Rodney came with him everywhere, and if anyone showed any sign of judgment, John killed it dead with an icy look. Not that many did. People didn't know how to react, but almost all of them were affected. Rodney would have hated the looks of sympathy if he'd been himself.
At night Rodney stayed with him. John tried only once to bring him to his own room; he found him sleeping on the floor outside his door early the next morning, wearing his tee-shirt and boxers, feet bare. John didn't think anyone else had seen. The only alternative to keeping Rodney with him was strapping him down at night or sedating him. Unacceptable options. And it wasn't that he minded Rodney's sleeping presence at his side; it was only what people might say that worried him, for Rodney's sake if not his own. But it was worth the risk to be there to soothe the nightmares, to offer himself as a shield against whatever Rodney imagined was coming for him.
It made John wonder, the way Rodney had instinctively chosen him out of everyone on Atlantis as a kind of guide and protector even when his memories were mislaid. It maybe wasn't so surprising--Rodney wasn't that close to anyone else--but if he was following instinct, it seemed more likely he would haunt his labs.
He didn't talk much, but he'd said enough to make it clear he didn't know who they were or who he was, or where he was. Atlantis was nothing to him, though now and then John thought he saw a flash of recognition in Rodney's eyes for some room or piece of machinery. John made sure they returned to those places regularly.
"What did I do here?" he'd asked after a few days, though they'd told him already, more than once.
"You're a scientist," John said, keeping it in the present tense. "You study Ancient technology. You keep Atlantis running."
"How does it run now?"
"Less well," John said quietly, trying to hold Rodney's gaze, which kept slipping away as if searching for something.
"Can I--should I do something?"
"Just get better."
"They keep putting machines on my head."
"I know." John was sympathetic. They were trying out whatever they had in the way of scanners to see if they could discover something that might unlock Rodney's mind. It is a program of some kind, Radek said, sounding sure. I will find the fix. Only a matter of time.
"Can we look at the ocean?"
"Of course." John walked them to one of the nearest tiers of seaside balconies, the ones that reminded him of shelf fungus, descending toward the water in a series of irregular plazas and patios interconnected by stairs. They walked down several tiers until they were close to the waves and then leaned on the railing.
"No birds," Rodney said.
"We're pretty far from the mainland."
"The speed of ocean waves is c equals g tanh times kH over k to the half power," Rodney said absently, and then went on to say something John barely heard because his heart was pounding in his chest.
"That's right," he said when Rodney finished speaking, keeping his tone offhand, as if Rodney had commented on the weather. He was afraid of spooking him.
Rodney didn't smile but his face seemed to lighten, some of the newer, deeper lines smoothing out. "They're also very pretty," he said in a different tone, chin lifting just a little, as if he thought John might make fun of him.
"Yes, they are," John agreed seriously.
They watched the sun until it went down, and then went in for dinner.