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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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David’s tucked into bed and Cary’s taking his turn holding his hand. Even with Divad helping him sleep, David holds Cary’s hand tightly. He needs their help to stay connected to the world so he’ll come back to it when he wakes.

But Syd has to focus on her place in the world right now. Or what it will be in the future.

"This won’t hurt at all," Oliver says, reaching up to touch her forehead. "I’m just going to do a thing."

Syd pulls back from his hand. "A thing?"

Oliver pauses. "I’m going to put a telepathic antenna into your mind so I can relay David’s thoughts to you."

"And what about my thoughts?"

"I’ve always been able to hear your thoughts. I can hear everyone’s thoughts. I can relay yours to Ptonomy if you’d like?"

Syd hesitates. She probably should, given how powerful telepathy is as a therapeutic tool. But no. "No," she says, firmly.

"All right," Oliver says. "Ready?"

Syd braces herself. "Ready."

Oliver's fingers touch her forehead, and— And nothing. She doesn't even feel it, what he does to her. She can't feel him reach into her mind and change it.

She wasn't awake when David did it, but she probably wouldn't have felt it if she had been. Farouk was right about one thing, mind readers are too powerful to trust.

"We shouldn't all be tarred with the monster's brush," Oliver says. He says it with his usual equanimity, but there's a hint of force behind it. "Otherwise why should any mutant be allowed to live?"

"Sorry," Syd says, chastened. She spent a year helping Melanie convince Division 3 not to classify all mutants as threats just because they had powers. She and Melanie had to teach them that lesson again and again until it sank in. Maybe she needs a little teaching herself.

Still. She understands why David is always complaining about having his thoughts overheard. Knowing her mind is being read, her thoughts listened to, it's incredibly disconcerting. She didn't think about it much with David because he rarely mentioned what he heard. He knew it made her uncomfortable so he didn't say anything. She told him her boundaries and he tried hard to respect them.

That's who he is, no matter what Farouk used her to make him do. She knows that's who he is, even if he doesn't.

"Sending you the relay now," Oliver says, as he settles back in the loveseat.

"-esting, one two three," drawls a David-like voice from the empty space her right. It's Divad.

"This is gonna be fun," says a David-like voice from her left. Dvd.

"We're here to help Syd so she can help David," chides Divad. "Don't get carried away."

"We're here to finally tell everyone what a piece of shit Future Syd is," Dvd insists. "If Syd doesn't like it, she can—" He stops. She wonders if Divad is glaring at him. She's been getting pieces of their dynamic and she thinks that's what's happening.

'Dvd better not mess this up,' says Divad, but he's not saying it from her right. It sounds like he's saying it inside her head.

'Blonde bitch,' grumbles Dvd, and that's inside her head, too.

"The relay includes their thoughts as well as the thoughts David believes he is vocalizing as them," Oliver explains. "You get used to it. Telepaths learn to prioritize vocalized information and tune out the unsaid."

"We can't afford to tune out David's thoughts or the thoughts of his alters," Ptonomy adds. "So it's gonna be noisy."

"You're listening to our thoughts, too?" Dvd asks, alarmed. 'I knew they couldn't be trusted. Bunch of spies.'

'I am so not comfortable with this,' Divad thinks. "It's fine. They're helping David get better. That's all that matters."

"Yeah, he's looking real better," Dvd grumbles. 'I should be holding David's hand, not these people. We're David’s brothers but he doesn't even want to remember us. I hate this, I hate all of it.'

"Let's focus on the task at hand," Ptonomy says. "We're helping Syd understand her future self so that we can help her avoid that fate. Just like we're helping David avoid the future he shares with her. No one wants the world to end, right?"

"Right," Divad agrees.

"Right," Dvd sighs. 'Jerk. Kiss our ass.'

Syd doesn't expect Dvd to apologize for his thoughts the way David does. Clearly Ptonomy doesn't either. Divad isn't thinking about anything, but he is the part of David with mutant emotional regulation.

"Let's start at the beginning," Ptonomy says. "David was in Summerland and Cary's orb appeared. It took him. What happened next?"

"David freaked out," Dvd says. "We couldn't break free."

"We wanted to get back to Syd," Divad says, pointedly. "But then all of a sudden, Syd was in the orb with us. She was in some kind of black space, a mental projection."

"She couldn't talk," Dvd says. "She had this weird light wand thing, she wrote with it."

"She told us she was from the future and that time was running out," Divad says. "She wrote that Farouk was trying to find his body and that we had to help him. She told us not to tell anyone, and then she was gone."

"Did you notice anything else about her?" Ptonomy asks. "Any physical differences?"

"She was older," Divad says. "But not old. She was missing her left arm. She was wearing a locket."

"That's what I saw in Farouk's visions," Syd agrees. She can't help but touch her left arm, reassuring herself that it's still there. Then she thinks about the necklace. She pulls it off and looks at it. "David said Cary made this while he was in the amplification tank." She opens it and the compass needle points right to David. She holds it out for everyone to see.

"Cary didn't make it," Dvd says. "We made it. But we knew you didn't trust us. We heard you thinking it, and then you told us it was our fault we got taken even though it wasn't."

"David was very upset," Divad says. "We lost a year, and when we came back no one trusted us. He remembered lot of bad things at once in the amplification tank."

"And then you said it was our fault," Dvd says, again, angrily.

"He was afraid of losing you," Divad says. "He was scared of being taken again. He was scared that if it happened and you thought it was his fault, you wouldn't want to find us."

Dvd snorts. 'We don’t need to be found. I'm the one who saves us, not you.'

Syd closes the compass. It really is the same one she saw in the vision, but David made it after he remembered seeing her future self wearing it. "Did he know this is what she was wearing? My future self?"

"We saw the necklace," Divad says. "We didn't know it was a compass. David didn't even think about the details when we made it, he just needed the necklace to exist and our mind filled in the blanks. I think— He thought if he gave it to you now, that meant you wouldn't stop loving us, because you were still wearing it in the future."

"Future Syd said she loved us," Dvd says, bitterly. "She drew a heart for us. What a liar."

"Why didn't he just tell me?" Syd asks them. It's the same question she's been asking herself for weeks.

"We did tell you," Divad defends. "We told you on the roof."

"Not all of it," Syd insists. "David always told me everything, but then he came back and he was different."

"We weren't different, everyone else was different," Dvd says.

"He lied to me," Syd insists. "He looked me in the eye and lied to me."

"You told us it was our fault we got taken!" Dvd says, loudly. "You didn't care about us. We were taken by you and when you let us go, everyone made it perfectly clear that the only thing they cared about was our powers. Help Farouk, David. Kill Farouk, David. How were we supposed to know what to do?"

'Bitch,' Dvd's thoughts snarl. 'You did this to us! I hate you!'

"Blame isn't going to help anyone," Ptonomy says, firmly. "David drowns himself in blame and you've all seen for yourselves how much that doesn't help. So don't make the same mistake."

Syd nods. No one says or thinks anything.

"Let's get back on track," Ptonomy continues. "Future Syd took David from Summerland. She told him that she was in danger and that he had to help Farouk in order to save her. She told him she still loved him but she put him back a year late. It's possible that was a mistake, but I don't think so. She did that on purpose."

"She wanted to disorient him," Syd suggests. "To isolate him from us." That's exactly what Farouk would do, but she did it.

"It gave Farouk a head start," Divad says. "He got to search for his body for a whole year without us getting in the way."

"But he still needed David's help to find it?" Syd asks.

"He didn't," Dvd insists. "Farouk never cared about that. It was just an excuse to keep us coming back."

Divad gives a thoughtful hum. "Farouk did try to convince us not to help Future Syd. He said if we did, it would be like helping her kill herself."

"Farouk was following the monk." Syd thinks back. "Just like us. The monk was the only one who knew how to find the monastery. David said Farouk needed his help for that because the monk was hiding in Division 3. But the monk only came to Division 3 to find the weapon we were supposed to have. When we didn't have it, he killed himself."

Syd hadn’t known that was what happened just before David entered her mind. She didn’t know what was happening outside of herself at all. She'd been trapped in a mental maze like everyone else.

"Even if Farouk did need help with the monk—" Ptonomy says. "I think you're right, all his actions were meant to keep David close, to make him culpable so he’d be afraid to tell us the truth. Even if Future Syd wanted David to help Farouk, Farouk didn't need the help."

"He did," Divad says. "Because she said that in her timeline, we killed Farouk in the desert."

"When did she tell you?" Ptonomy asks.

"The second time we saw her," Divad says. "After Farouk stole the genetic gun, we asked Kerry and Cary for help looking into the future. Multidimensional perception. We went into the tank and projected our mind into the future. Future Syd wasn't— She was surprised to see us."

"We couldn't read her mind," Dvd says. "We tried but it hurt."

"We confronted her. We helped Farouk get into Division 3 and Farouk killed people. He hurt Cary and Kerry. We needed to know why we had to help the monster. She said— 'It started like any other idea, as an egg. And then the few of us who are left went into hiding. But we don't have long. It's coming.'"

"That's it?" Syd asks. "That's— vague."

"She said she would need Farouk when things turned," Divad continues. "That Farouk kills a few but this thing kills everyone."

"Farouk's the reason we end the world in the first place," Dvd says, angrily. "What kind of stupid plan is that?"

"She must not have known," Syd says, feeling the need to defend herself, even if she agrees with Dvd. "None of us knew what was happening to David until we captured him because he kept so many secrets."

"I think we can all agree that secrets are what got us here," Ptonomy says. "That's why we need to understand the truth. Divad, what else happened?"

"Future Syd said we were sweet," Divad admits. "That we were like we were before. She didn't say before what. But David liked that, he offered to come back."

"Of course he did," Dvd grumbles. "That's what Syd does. She pretends to love us, lowers our defenses, crawls inside our head."

"I never pretended," Syd says, insulted. "I love David. If she's me, she must have loved him, too."

"She loved us so much she stole us for a year?" Dvd shoots back. "She loved us so much she made us help the shit beetle? She's the one who was messing with time so David would kill himself. You were trying to kill us! Again!"

"I'm not her," Syd insists, even though she is. Even though the whole point of this is to not become her simply by letting time pass.

"Did you see her again?" Ptonomy asks.

"She sent us a psychic message," Divad says. "With the light writing. It just said ‘hurry,’ and we saw flashes of her in some kind of danger. But when we saw her again, she was fine."

"That was when we were looking for the monk," Syd recalls. She remembers the way David kept wincing with pain. "Hurry to find the monk?"

Ptonomy gives a thoughtful hum. "You saw her again?"

"One last time," Divad says. "We—"

"Syd told us to," Dvd interrupts. "We didn't want to but she made us."

"I didn't make you do anything," Syd says, irritated. How does David stand having Dvd in his head all the time? "David was upset after what happened to Amy. He wouldn't talk to me, so I thought maybe he would— Talk to me. Future Syd must have known about what happened."

"She did," Divad agrees. "She apologized but— She didn't care. She kept pushing us to help Farouk. When we pushed back, she guilted us about it. And—" He hesitates. "She asked if we could say goodbye."

"What does that mean?" Syd asks, but she thinks she knows the answer.

"We had sex with her," Dvd says, proudly.

Syd was right. She saw them together in Farouk's visions, and she’s still not thrilled about it. "You hate Future Syd, why are you so happy?"

"Because unlike you, I actually care what David wants," Dvd says, angrily. "Even when he couldn't hear me, even when he didn't know who I was, I was always there for David. All you did was jerk him around and hurt him. I'm happy because making David happy hurt you."

Jesus. Syd can't believe Dvd is part of David. Dvd is nothing like David. David is sweet and gentle and in his right mind he'd rather hurt himself than anyone else. Dvd's angry and bitter and defensive to the point of violence. He's furious at the world and thinks everyone is out to get him and he wants to hurt them before they can hurt him.

He's—

He's exactly what someone like David should be, after everything he's been through. But that's so much anger, and even if it's righteous and earned, David doesn't want it. He takes all of those feelings and puts them somewhere else. He dissociates from them so he doesn't have to feel them, so he's Dvd when he feels them. The alter that's strong and powerful and saves David from the things that hurt him. The alter that uses anger as his fuel.

Dvd is bitter and angry so that David can be sweet and gentle. Dvd is hard so David can be soft.

Syd was right. She does know who David is. But David is only the parts of himself that he wants to keep.

Dvd might be irritating and arrogant, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. That doesn't mean his feelings aren't real. Because they're David's feelings even if he doesn't want them. Dvd was right about how they treated David before, imprisoning him and making him worse. He was right that they threw David away even as they tried to help him.

David feels like he deserves to suffer, so he can’t refuse the pain that he’s given. Dvd defends David when David can’t defend himself. It’s not just about physical threats but also emotional ones. Dvd stands up for David whether the threat is from the world or Divad or David himself.

If Dvd is angry with Syd, if he feels hurt by her actions, then that’s because David feels that way, because Dvd is part of David. That’s how Dvd speaks about them, as a collective whole. As three parts of one person with one body. Divad does the same, though he makes more of a distinction, maybe for David’s sake, since David still hasn’t accepted that he’s part of their system.

She told David once that the things that make them crazy make them who they are. Maybe she wouldn’t phrase it that way now, but— She can’t claim to love David if she only loves one-third of him. If she does that, she really is the same as Future Syd, and no matter how much she thinks she’s acting out of love, she’s only going to hurt him.

She turns to her left and looks at the empty space where it sounds like Dvd is coming from. "Dvd, you're right. I'm sorry."

There's a pause, and then a suspicious "What?"

"About Future Syd. If she loved David, she wouldn't have done those things to him. To you. She wouldn't have hurt you. I wouldn't have hurt you. I said I loved you, but I hurt you. I'm sorry."

Syd wishes she could see Dvd's face. She can't hear anything from him.

"You have every right to be mad at me," Syd continues, not sure if her words are helping or making things worse. "And if— If you truly think I'm hurting David by being here, I'll go. The last thing I want to do is get in the way of everything you're doing to help him heal. You and Divad know David better than anyone, even himself. I trust both of you to make the right decisions for him."

'It's a trick,' Dvd thinks. 'She doesn't mean it.' But he doesn't sound convinced, even in his thoughts.

"Come on," Divad whispers, sounding as if they're some distance away. "She's making an effort."

"So she can lower our defenses and crawl back inside our head," Dvd whispers back. "I'm not gonna let her hurt us again."

"We can't send her away," Divad whispers. "Then we'll be the ones hurting David."

Dvd makes a frustrated sound. "This whole week has been nothing but torture. Fuck that shit beetle. If we ever get this crown off our head, we're gonna torture him, see how he likes it."

"Let's not," Divad drawls. "That didn't work out so well last time."

"Thanks for the reminder," Dvd grumbles. "Fine," he says, his voice close again and directed at Syd. "You can stay. But if you hurt David again, you're going right to the top of my 'To Torture' list, you got it?"

"Got it," Syd says. She braces herself. "You know, now that I can hear you, maybe we can talk."

"About David?" Dvd asks, suspicious again.

"About you," Syd says. "Or about anything. Do you— Do you have any hobbies?"

A long pause. "My hobby is keeping David alive."

"That would keep anyone busy," Syd admits. "But you have help now. So maybe you have time for a hobby. If you want one."

Another pause. "Divad and I play cards."

'We do now that we're actually talking to each other again,' Divad thinks. "We could deal you in, but you can't see the cards."

"Maybe there's something else we can do. Something you used to do with David, when he was younger? When you weren't so busy saving his life?"

"We were always busy saving his life," Dvd insists. "But— We'll think about it." He sounds reluctant, but reluctant is better than furious.

Syd looks to Ptonomy. "Sorry, I think we derailed my group session. We're supposed to be working on Future Syd."

"Anything that improves your relationship with David is us working on Future Syd," Ptonomy says. "Dvd's right, whatever Future Syd claimed, she didn't love David. Maybe she thought she did, but everything she did pushed David right into the future she claimed to want to avoid."

"We still don’t understand why she did all that to us in the first place," Divad says.

Syd considers everything they discussed. "She was from decades in the future, but we have no idea what happens between now and then."

"Farouk died in her timeline," Divad points out. "Maybe him being alive means that timeline is gone."

"Farouk being alive could never be good," Dvd insists. "Even if the timeline has changed, that just means he can make everything worse. And now he knows he can get exactly what he wants."

That is a sobering thought. Farouk was already dangerous when he was just hoping he could use them to end the world. Now he knows he can do it and he’s glimpsed enough of the future to narrow down the possibilities. He can take a shorter path to his sunrise, the direct route, and it won’t take him decades to get there.

She was wrong. Farouk might be patient, but he’s hungry, too. He’s not going to wait decades, not now that he’s had a taste of his feast.

"I think— She didn’t know," Syd decides. "She didn’t know Farouk was the one behind everything. Farouk died in the desert, so in her original timeline— David wasn’t taken. He joined Division 3 with us and hunted for Farouk. It still took us a year to find the monk, but— A year is a long time. A year gave David time to get better, to get stronger. But also to get worse, because we didn’t know the extent of his trauma and he was never forced back into treatment. And then— the monk came to Division 3. Maybe he died, maybe he didn’t. Farouk’s plan was the same. Farouk killed Amy. He sent Lenny. He killed Ptonomy, he tried to kill the Admiral, he took Melanie. Farouk took away the people David relied on and made him unstable. Then they both went to the desert and David smashed Farouk’s head in with a rock. And then at some point, David figured out that Amy was still alive, trapped inside of Lenny, and— And he had to choose. He made the choice and—"

Who would David choose, if forced to choose between his sister and his best friend?

David would choose Amy.

"David killed Lenny," Syd says, and she has no evidence either way but she knows it’s true. "Farouk was long gone but he still made David do it. David gave Amy back her body, but— By then the damage was done. And that made him even worse. I must have— Future Syd must have watched him getting worse and worse, becoming violent and so unstable and so, so powerful. When the time came to stop him, she took him in the moment he was still weak and vulnerable and she put him as close to the end as she could. She didn’t need David to help Farouk. She needed David to be weak enough to lose when he went to the desert. She took a risk, sending him to Farouk, thinking that Farouk would keep David weak, but— She didn’t know Farouk was why David was unstable in the first place, that he was behind everything. She thought she was being merciful, ensuring a quick death, but Farouk used her to create the very future she was trying to avoid."

She pauses, reeling from her own revelation.

"But Farouk’s plan failed," she continues. "He took a risk, too. He needed us to be convinced that David had to be captured and forced into treatment, because that’s what David fears most: being forced back into a place like Clockworks. And David did need help, that was true, that was— That was the rabbit on the hook for us, for me. We took it and it almost worked. If David had been able to break free and he’d taken Lenny with him—"

She doesn’t continue. She doesn’t need to. The damage would have been done, and when it was over, there would have been no one left to save David. And Farouk would have still been alive, ready to close in for the kill. Ready to make his sunrise.

"He’s watching us now, watching us figure out all of this. He’s using everything he learns to make a new plan. Every path we close off, he can just keep finding new paths. But we have to get David better, we all have to all get better, because if we don’t, all the truths we can’t accept will become his weapons."

Syd doesn't want to become the dark future she saw, but there are so many possible dark futures and Farouk is patiently mapping them out, one by one. He’s sated now, bloated on David’s suffering just like he was in Clockworks. But when David wakes up from his pain, so will Farouk.

It’s terrible that she doesn’t want David to wake up. He’s in so much pain, but that pain is like the crown: it’s the only thing keeping him safe and alive. Like Clockworks kept him safe and alive. But this can’t go on. David can’t suffer forever, he’s already taken too much. So he has to get better. But getting him better means sending him straight into Farouk’s waiting arms. Just like Future Syd did. David will be weak and vulnerable and Farouk will close in for the kill.

"There’s no way out," Syd says, bleakly. "We have to keep going." They have only one choice and it's no choice at all.

"I don’t think I’m gonna have time for that hobby," Dvd says.

Syd can only nod in agreement.

"Okay," Ptonomy says, in a calming voice. "As bad as all of this is, it’s nothing we didn’t already know. It doesn’t change what we have to do. Our priority is still David’s treatment because that’s the only way to keep him from ending the world. And Syd’s treatment will keep her from being used to make that happen. We have to stay focused on the work."

"You’re right," Syd agrees. They have to do the work. The therapy, the memory work, all of it. It’s the only weapon they have. "We can’t afford to get distracted."

"We’re doing what Farouk wants," Ptonomy says. "He told you that. But it’s what we want, too. It’s what David needs. We have to stay focused on what David needs, what you both need. We’ll have another session tomorrow and we’ll work on you. Not Future Syd. We’ll work on you as you are now. So don’t worry about Farouk. Focus on David and focus on yourself."

He’s right. She has to stay focused. They have time before David gets better because David is still so broken. He nearly left them again today because he’s so broken. They have time. Farouk is watching but they have time.