Still clearing out my fic backlog here. Warning: this story is rather dark.

"This isn't me," Rodney whispers hoarsely. His throat is sore, rusted, dry surfaces scratching against each other as he swallows. "You have to listen – you have to – "

He fights to raise his arms, but the restraints clamp him firmly to the bed. He'd scream, but he's already screamed most of his voice away. If he could measure the rate of loss, he could calculate how long he's been back on Atlantis, with the white masks and white curtains and white sheets and the beep of machines spilling out information all around him. There are drugs circulating through his body but they aren't working, they won't work, they can't work on him, because he isn't him.

This isn't his body.

"Rodney," says Carson. "You're going to be alright." Carson's not lying, because he believes what he's saying. He believes it because he won't listen.

"It won't," Rodney tells him, his voice cracking, and he struggles harder against the restraints.

"Come on, McKay, lie still. You'll only hurt yourself." Sheppard's here as well, standing awkwardly within the illusion of privacy created by the curtain, and he too is trying to be reassuring, and he too won't listen.

Rodney chokes out a sound which might be mistaken for a laugh in different circumstances. "Can't – hurt myself. Not possible."

"What did they do to him?" Carson demands, again, as if this is going to be the time when he receives a different answer. He runs a hand despairingly through his hair.

"I don't know," John tells him, again. His voice is laced with something which might be exhaustion, or might be guilt. "They had him for hours. They must have given him something – "

"No!" Rodney protests. "They didn't give – they changed me!"

There's a hand on his arm, and Carson's voice is soothing, and laced with a concern that makes him feel sick. "Rodney, listen to me. You're a wee bit confused right now, but I assure you you're still very much yourself. Why don't you try and sleep, and see if you feel better when you wake up?"

It sounds like a reasonable request. It isn't, because he doesn't know what'll happen to him if he sleeps, or even if he can sleep, now. But he stops struggling, because even when he's panicking, even when he's only just holding on, he can't stop himself from being logical. If he doesn't struggle any more then they might take off the restraints. And then…

"You have to believe me," he says, dredging up calm from a previously-unknown reservoir, only exposed now that the covering shield of hysteria has been drained. "You have to help me."

Again that infuriating placidity. "We're trying to help you, Rodney."

Rodney seizes at a straw. "Look, the drugs you have me on aren't working on!" He tries to gesture at the IV bag to illustrate his point, and Sheppard takes a quick involuntary step forward as his arm jerks. But the leather straps do their job and hold him fast.

Carson sighs. "Rodney, I don't have you on any drugs. There're clearly enough of them already in your system, and I'm worried about possible interactions. All that's going into you is a saline solution to keep your fluids up."

Rodney stares at both their faces. There's concern in them, compassion, an honest worry.

They should be afraid. He's afraid.

Sheppard pats him on the upper arm, and he flinches back. The hand is removed instantly, and there's briefly an expression of hurt on Sheppard's face. He brings it under control too slowly to hide it.

Carson checks his watch. "Colonel, you should leave. We won't know what exactly we're dealing with until all his bloodwork's finished, which won't be until morning. In the meantime, let him get some rest. That's what he needs most right now, and you could probably do with some yourself." He pauses. "Unless you want company, Rodney?"

Rodney stares at the ceiling in silence. They won't listen and therefore they can't help, but he also doesn't want to be alone with the terror of what's been done to him. Don't leave me alone pleasedon'tleavemealone.

"Don't," he whispers, but it's too late and they've already vanished through the curtain, the gap drawn behind them.

Rodney stares at the ceiling and calculates powers of two until he loses track, and then starts again with powers of three, and works his way up in turn through the prime numbers because it mostly stops him from thinking, until the wash of dawn seeps in through the windows and thickens into daylight.

And at last Sheppard appears again with a tray of food, which he plonks down next to the bed. "You feeling better this morning, McKay?" he asks, cheerfully.

"Much," says Rodney calmly, because he needs to prove that what he knows is true, and this is the only way he can think of to do it, by being calm. By being… him. "Where's Carson?"

"Making house calls. Two marines have food poisoning, but with the noise you were making last night Beckett said they'd do better in their quarters. He also says I can unshackle you to eat your breakfast if you look in the mood to behave."

Rodney scowls, because it's expected of him, which makes Sheppard laugh, and he wants to scream. "Just get the things off me," he snaps, and his imitation of himself is perfect.

"I suppose I have to," Sheppard concedes, grinning, and Rodney forces himself to half-smile, and then to cover it with a huff. Sheppard leans over and undoes the straps slowly – purposefully slowly. He thinks they're playing the same game as always.

He's wrong. Rodney can feel the metal of the scalpel against his thigh, through the thin fabric of the infirmary scrubs. He's read old mission reports in the past; read how Carter once managed to obtain the same instrument for herself, in similar circumstances. Not that he'd imagined, when he'd read the file, that the knowledge would ever come in useful. But last night it had, just before they got him on the bed to strap him down.

The buckles are undone at last, and the thick leather lifts away from his skin. He dramatically flexes his forearms and fingers, sighing loudly. "Those things probably cut off the circulation to my hands. I'm developing gangrene as we speak."

"Stop bitching." Sheppard turns towards the tray on the side-table, and Rodney's fingers close on the thin metal handle, pulling the scalpel out from beneath the covers in one quick many-times-imagined motion.

Sheppard turns in time to witness it. "McKay, wha – "

The blade flickers, flashes as it catches the sunlight. It slices through the air and into skin, fast and precise. A spray of liquid splatters a jagged line across the white curtain.

"Rodney," Sheppard says, his voice shaking. "Rodney, what are you doing?"

"Proving it," Rodney says. He lets the scalpel drop. It rings against the floor, ripples spreading through a pool of sudden silence.

He stares at what he's done.

No flesh, no bone. The skin was a veneer and beneath it is metal, wires mimicking muscles and neurones and tendons, and pale blue fluid leaking out from the incision and running down his bicep, already pooling and overflowing from the pit of his elbow. Possibly oil. Probably some sort of fuel, anyway, or perhaps a lubricant. Maybe it's what makes the body look and feel so natural on the outside.

"Look," he whispers, the negative-pressure contraption in his chest faltering in its endless gas-exchange. "Look." This is what they did. He'd tried to tell Sheppard before, but he wouldn't listen. They took him away and they turned him into something else. A machine. Not human. Not him.

For a moment, everything falters as Sheppard stares. Look.

"Get Beckett here right now!" Sheppard yells, and euphoric triumph floods Rodney for a brief instant before Sheppard frantically grabs a fistful of the bedcover and presses it hard against his arm. "Jesus, you've cut down to the bone! What were you thinking?!"

"No, no, you have to – "

"What's going on?" Carson demands, bursting into the cubicle, and his eyes flick immediately to the bunched material, slowly becoming soaked with the pale liquid.

"He stabbed himself!" Sheppard shouts.

"It's not blood!" Rodney shouts. "I'm not real! I'm something made! Look!"

"Of course it's blood!" Carson snaps. He grabs the makeshift pressure-pad from Sheppard and presses down harder, now not talking to Rodney. "He might have sliced an artery." His voice rises in volume by another notch. "I need help in here now!"

"It's not blood," Rodney says, but no one's listening. He feels the steady rhythm of whatever now ticks in his chest as it resonates inside the conduits running through him.

"I'm not real," he says, and no one answers him as he's pushed down sharply onto his back. He wants to take himself apart, find out how he works, and then put himself back together – machines can always be put back together and fixed. He might even enjoy the challenge.

"He's losing a lot of blood," someone says, and he doesn't know how to break through whatever built-in perception filter this artifice comes with, doesn't know what else to do to show the others that what he says is the truth.

Because whether it's fuel or something else that he's losing, it's as vital to this ersatz body as his blood was to his flesh one. He feels machinery weakening, electric signals slowing.

"This is not me," he whispers, and he has to hope that he's right.