It’s more than strange, hearing David calmly talking about himself, about the damage he’s suffered, the state he’s in. But he's not David at all. He’s Divad.
David’s gone away, apparently. He does that when things are too much for him. He goes away, and Divad or Dvd takes over until he’s ready to come back.
Syd's finally starting to understand who David is. Or more importantly, what David is, why he is the way he is. This system he’s a part of. It’s like he was a three-legged stool and Farouk took away the other two legs to see if he could stand on his own. He couldn’t, of course, but he wobbled around for a long time before he finally fell over.
David couldn’t remember that he was only part of a person, part of a system. But when he fell in love with her, he tried to make a new system with her, to fill the missing parts of himself back in. He made them into a binary star, the two of them orbiting around each other, never touching but tethered by the gravity of their love.
But she’s not one leg in a stool. She’s whole unto herself as she always has been. And the harder he leaned on her, the more she tried to make him stand on his own. She just wanted him to be like her: whole and stable and able to bear the weight of things.
He wasn’t. He couldn’t. All the weight did was make him fall faster, to make more mistakes, to spin in confusion until—
She's hurt so much, watching him. She's hurt in every way she could hurt, so much she's barely been able to speak. She would have drunk herself into a stupor and stayed there, but she needed to be sober so she could understand what she was watching, what she was seeing and hearing. She searched for David for a year, knew him for a year before that, and still she missed so much of him. So much.
Divad has assured them that David will come back. David always comes back eventually, he never leaves them for longer than he has to. Because David has a role, too, in this system of his. He's the one who suffers for them. Divad and Dvd protect David’s mind and his body, and in return David takes as much of their pain as he can. He takes it and takes it until he can’t take any more, and then he comes back and takes it again.
It’s unspeakably cruel, what Farouk did to them, what he turned David into. He tortured David until his mind shattered, and then took the pieces of him and turned them into his twisted poetry. He made David’s protectors unable to protect him, and used David’s suffering against the very system that formed to save him from it. Farouk did all of this to a helpless, frightened child whose only crime was being fathered by a man he never knew.
There aren’t words to describe that kind of monstrosity. There aren’t words in any book. It’s too enormous.
She can’t forget what David did to her, but she understands how it happened. She still doesn’t know everything, but she knows the rough steps that brought him to the place where he thought it was okay to reach into her mind and change it. She knows the desperation that drove him to seek her out and try to prove their love was still true, and in doing so destroyed it.
It’s better off dead, that love. She was never what he truly needed, because no one could be that but the other parts of him.
She still loves him, her David. She might even love him more, knowing the truth of him. But he’s so broken and so far away from her, and she doesn’t know if he’ll ever come back. If he even can. She believes Divad, she knows David will open his eyes again. But she doesn’t know what hope there is for him. She doesn’t want it to be too late, like it was for her mother, but she’s so afraid. What if no matter what they do, no matter how hard they fight, they lose him anyway?
All this, and they might lose him anyway.
Divad has been talking to them about what David needs from them, the changes they have to make so he can start to get better. Division 3's methods have been hard on David, and some of them have definitely made things worse. Allying with Farouk. Threatening to kill David if he didn't get better. Strapping him down in a prison cell. Drugging him when he got upset. Treating him like a thing in a cage and putting him on display. The crown, which hurts him, even though it's the only thing keeping him alive, the only thing stopping him from killing himself with a single thought.
They can’t change everything, but they can do better. David is a thing in a cage to Division 3, but he shouldn't have been to his friends, to the people who said they care about him. They should have protected him, fought on his behalf against the organization they're living at the heart of, but Dvd was right. They were too afraid of David to trust him, to love him the way they should have. They let Division 3 shove him out of sight because that was easier for everyone. They watched, but they still turned away.
Syd turned away, at the beginning. She gave herself the luxury of that. If it wasn't for Ptonomy...
Ptonomy's finished talking to the Admiral and has approval to transfer David out of the cell that's been making him worse. It's the strangest patient transfer she's ever seen, because the patient is currently invisible and insensate, curled up in a ball of despair, tended to by one of his caretakers while the other walks his body up to the lab.
She's not sure how that works. She's not sure how David works. His whole situation is so unusual. Syd doesn't care about normal, but David is so one-of-a-kind that there's no case study, no reference material, no expert who can help them. He's an mutant identity system that forgot parts of himself because of a mental parasite that still won't let him go. And knowing all of that doesn't even begin to fix what's wrong with David.
If he can be fixed. If he can get better. If, if, if.
Cary's lab has already been overtaken by beds and cots, but Syd and the others get to work rearranging it to make a space for David to recover in, to live in. He needs privacy, but they can't let him feel like he's being hidden away. He needs to know he belongs with them, he needs reminders that he's still part of the world they're trying so hard to coax him back to.
Ptonomy couldn't convince the Admiral to turn off the surveillance for the lab, so they set up a folding screen by David’s bed for when he needs it. The sleeping cots are right beside his bed, with Melanie and Oliver's beds and equipment at the other side of the lab. There’s a table for them to eat at together. The whole setup reminds Syd of Summerland. The shared sleeping space, the closeness of everything, the way there was no separation between the patients and the staff.
It reminds her of Melanie. The real Melanie, the way she was before Farouk got his hooks in her, too; not the pale, lost Melanie sleeping across the room. Syd doesn’t even know how it happened, how they let her slip away from them. One day, she was with them, missing Oliver deeply but still fighting for a better future for everyone. And then one day she was gone. She was still physically present, but her mind had drifted away, like Oliver’s mind drifted away from spending twenty years in an ice cube on the astral plane.
Syd's never been a joiner. She was never part of anything until she was brought to Summerland. But she worked with Melanie every day over the year David was gone. They fought side-by-side against Division 3’s stubborn hatred for mutantkind every single day, and they did good work, real work together. Syd's proud of what they accomplished. They stopped so many terrible things, far beyond Farouk. They stopped innocent people’s lives from being ruined across the world.
But maybe they pushed themselves too much. They were so busy looking after the world that they didn’t look after their own. And now they’re all paying the price.
When they've finished arranging the room, Divad sits on David's bed, looks around. "Yes, this is much better," he says.
"Is there any change?" Cary asks him.
Divad looks at something they can't see. Maybe it's David. It's strange to think of him like this, so close but just out of reach. He's been trapped outside of his body before, stuck in the astral plane or some other psychic space, but he's not trapped this time. He could come back to them, to himself; he just can't bear to.
"No," Divad says, unhappily. "Dvd's with him. He'll let us know when David comes back."
"And then you'll switch?" Cary asks.
"If that's what he wants," Divad says. He's worried, too; she can see it, even if his worried face is different from David's worried face.
Cary sighs, runs his hand back through his hair. “Thank god you’re here.”
Divad raises his eyebrows.
“Not that we don’t want David back, very badly,” Cary explains. “But you and Dvd are so important. Thank you, for keeping him alive, for not letting him— Thank you.”
Divad actually seems quite touched by that. “I know our existence makes things harder for everyone,” he admits. “David’s afraid that—“ He pauses, upset. “It’s hard for him, accepting that we’re part of him.”
“It must have been terrible when he forgot you,” Cary says, with feeling. “I can’t imagine—“
“It was worse for David,” Divad says. “At least Dvd and I still had each other, even if all we did was fight. David knew something was missing, but he just thought—“ He swallows. “He blamed himself. He thinks he’s—“ He can’t finish.
“Well,” Cary says, firmly. “Obviously he’s wrong about that.”
Ptonomy walks over, having finished going over the new plan with Clark. “I think we’re all set. Is there anything else you want to tell us?”
“There’s a lot,” Divad says. “But I don’t know what you’ll need to know until David comes back.”
“That’s what’s giving us a fighting chance,” Ptonomy assures him. “Most therapy is fumbling in the dark, hoping to find part of the story. With your help, we don’t have waste time with that. We can find what’s hurting him and treat it.”
Syd thinks of her mother. She thinks of chemotherapy and surgery, carpet bombing and targeted strikes. Maybe there is hope, if they can find the mass of his disease and cut it out quickly.
“And you’re able to keep David’s emotions from going out of control,” Ptonomy continues. “That means we don’t need to rely on any drugs. No side effects, nothing to remind him of the ways he’s been treated before. He can face things with a clear head.”
“It’s still not going to be easy,” Divad warns them. “But we’ll do everything we can from our side, and we’ll trust you.”
“Thank you,” Ptonomy says. “We’ll do everything we can for him. If we can get David well enough, he'll start to help himself. That’s when we’ll know he’ll be okay.”
Their body, not his. Syd’s going to have to get used to this, to David being other people, even if the other people are still him. Even though no one knew, Divad and Dvd have been there the whole time. They’ve experienced almost all of David’s life with him. They’ve—
They’ve experienced her. Her body, her love. The things she and David did thinking they were alone. The things she said to him, she also said to them.
It’s a lot to take in. It feels too much like last year, when she realized with sinking horror that the David who’d come back from the astral plane and made love to her wasn’t fully David at all. That there was someone inside him, guiding him, controlling him, looking out at her through his eyes. Wearing David like a mask.
These alters, they’re not Farouk. They weren’t trying to deceive her or David. They were trapped inside him the way David was trapped, shouting and pounding and trying so hard to be heard.
She knows that David didn’t like what Farouk made him do to Division 3 last year. Even in the brief time they’ve had, he’s woken up with terrible nightmares, reliving that day. She feels sick when she thinks about the things she said to him under Farouk’s control. It’s no wonder all David could think to do was make her forget. He wanted to forget, too. He didn’t want the pain of hearing her tell him he was the very monster he’d tried so hard to fight. She said she loved him, but she still said that to him. She wonders if that’s what finally broke him, that last, feather-light straw on top of decades of straws.
She thinks maybe it was.
There's nothing she can do to take those words back, just like there's nothing David can do to take back what he did to her. They have to live with all of it, like they have to live with all the things they've done and all the things done to them. That's the only choice there's ever been for her, even if it hasn't been the only choice for David.
He has to come back. Please let him come back, so they can help him the way they should have from the start.
"He'll be okay."
It's David's voice, and it startles her. But it's still Dvd behind David's face, looking out at her.
"David's tough," Dvd says, with quiet pride. "I mean— He’s not like me. He doesn’t have to be because I’m the tough one, I’m strong enough for all of us. Anything the world wants to throw at us? I knock it down.” The arrogant gleam in his eyes fades. “David’s— He’s soft, but he takes it. Whatever it is, he takes it.”
“Maybe he took too much,” Syd says, quietly.
“Yeah,” Dvd says, frowning and furrowing his brow. “But— A few hours? That’s nothing. We had to cover for him for over a week when we were fifteen. He still came back.”
A week? “What did Farouk do to him?” She asks, unable not to, but she really doesn’t want to know.
Thankfully, Dvd doesn’t want to tell. “What he always does. Fucked him over, fucked all of us over, jerking himself off the whole time.” He puts up his middle fingers and points them at the ceiling.
Syd saw David do that, over the live feed, just before he stepped out of himself and vanished. She’d wondered, but hearing only one-third of David’s conversations with his alters has been challenging at best. At least that’s one mystery solved.
“What was it like?” Syd asks, curious. “For the three of you? Besides—“
“Besides the torture?” Dvd huffs. “Sometimes he left us alone for a while. It’s no fun breaking what’s already broken. Those times were— We had each other. We had Amy. She loved us for longer than anyone, until—“
Amy. God, with everything going on, Syd had completely forgotten about her drunken revelation.
“But she gave up on us, too,” Dvd grouches. “I was so mad, David would’ve been on my side if he’d been able to hear us, but Divad—“
“Amy’s still alive,” she says, and everyone turns and looks at her.
“What?” Dvd is the first to speak, but they all want to know. “Farouk killed her, he turned her into Lenny.”
Syd rubs her forehead. “I know, but— After David was— I had a hunch, a drunken hunch that Farouk had done something to keep her alive just so he could use her to torture David. So I went down and talked to Lenny and— Amy’s still alive. Or part of her, something. Her soul?” It must be her soul, Syd knows about souls. “She answered my questions about David.”
“You spoke with her?” Cary asks.
“I talked to Lenny. Lenny told me what she said.” It’s weird, but is it any weirder than anything else they’ve dealt with? Is it weirder than a woman who can swap souls with a touch? A man inhabiting a hive-mind android? Two people who’ve alternately lived inside each other? Maybe David and his alters are the most normal out of all of them.
Now that’s a thought.
“You didn’t think to mention this sooner?” Ptonomy says, angry in a way he hasn’t been since he came back.
“I was drunk, and hungover, and then—“ Syd makes a wordless gesture to encompass every crazy thing that’s happened. This is the first time in days that her mind hasn’t been one long, high-pitched scream.
“Amy,” Dvd says, stunned. “Hold on, I gotta—“ He closes his eyes, and then when he opens them: “Amy’s alive?” asks Divad.
"Okay, okay, let's take a breath," Ptonomy says, tersely. "The last thing we want to do is walk right into another one of Farouk's traps. Until we know it's really her, we can't tell David. We don't even know that Lenny is Lenny."
"We need a telepath," Cary says, and looks over at Oliver, looks back at Divad. "That's the one thing we don't have."
"Maybe we could take off the crown?" Syd offers. "Dvd could do it. Just for a few minutes, while David's not awake."
"And if David comes back right in the middle of that?" Ptonomy says. "It would be a disaster."
"Well the only other telepath is Farouk, and that would be even more of a disaster," Syd says back. Shit, how are they going to talk to Amy? They need to get into Lenny's head somehow, figure out what's going on. See if-- "Oh my god," she says, realizing. "I can do it. I can swap with Lenny."
She cuts Ptonomy off. "When I was leaving Clockworks, David kissed me. I was in his body. But so was Farouk. I saw him. He's what made me--" He's what made her seal up all the patients using David's powers, he's what made her kill Lenny. And then he snatched Lenny's soul and dragged her into David's mind, so he could use her to hurt David when David came back.
It's almost predictable how awful Farouk is, how single-mindedly he tortures David at every opportunity, in any way he possibly can.
If Syd swaps bodies with Lenny, Amy will still be in Lenny's body. And then Syd can see her and talk to her directly. They'll know for sure if it's her, at least as sure as any of them can be about any of this.
"I'll get Clark," Ptonomy says, and a few minutes later, the man himself limps into the lab.
"Been a little distracted, have we?" Clark smirks.
"You knew," Syd realizes. He told her, that morning, right before David got his diagnosis. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"The same reason why you're not already down in Lenny's cell," Clark says. "I didn't want to make a bad situation worse. I still don't. We have no reason to believe she's anything but a roadside bomb, waiting to go off and take the last of David's sanity with her." He touches his forehead. "Like David's little messages. Farouk just has to sit back and watch the fireworks."
"That's all he's been doing," Syd says, though frankly she's glad of that. The last thing David needs is for Farouk to pay him another visit and make things worse.
Shit, they're going to need to watch out for that. If David does start getting better, and Farouk doesn't want him to... Shit. Shit.
Okay. Okay, one potential disaster at a time. At least this one is something she can actually do something about. She's done with sitting on the sidelines, watching.
They say the best way to defuse a bomb is to blow it up. A controlled explosion, that’s what it’s called. Clear the blast zone, isolate the bomb, and trigger it on your terms, not the terms of whoever left it there.
Lenny’s the package and Amy’s the bomb hidden inside. Syd doesn’t know how yet, but she knows Clark's right. Lenny's the innocuous package left on the street, waiting silently for some unsuspecting passerby to pick it up and blow themselves apart.
Farouk is getting predictable. He always does the cruelest thing that anyone could possibly imagine. It makes her sick to put herself in his head, even in the abstract, but she has to. She has to, because if she can’t control this explosion, it’s going to blow what’s left of David apart.
She doesn’t know how yet, but she knows it’s true.
"So let's set off some fireworks," Syd says.