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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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Through the communication system embedded in his body, Clark sees David and Lenny approaching his office. Clark might have been caught off-guard by Cary's visit yesterday, but Division 3 is always watching David, which means so is he. He puts aside his work and waits for them to enter.

Lenny knocks first, but it's only for David's sake. Lenny does, after all, have zero respect for authority. From the mainframe, she can see everything he can see and more, including his office. Clark doesn't care for that, but he supposes that keeping his body is worth the trade-off of not having the entire surveillance system in his mind.

"Hey boss," Lenny says, as she strides in like she owns the place.

David follows after her, visibly wary. Clark would enjoy the novelty of David being afraid of him a lot more if he hadn't spent the past week and a half trying not to drown in David's bottomless ocean of trauma. He’s frequently kicked himself for not carrying out his order to kill David the first chance he had. He wouldn’t have ended up with half his face burned off and Farouk would be dead, three birds with one stone. This is what happens when Clark lets his heart get the better of his head.

On the other hand: fuck the shit beetle.

He really hopes he doesn't end up tortured by an unstable god for the rest of his life. The Admiral better know what he's doing.

"Lenny, David," Clark greets, neutrally. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

They sit down, Lenny making herself very comfortable by putting her feet up on his desk. "David and I were talking just now, and you know what he told me? He said he didn't know if Division 3 was paying him for his job."

"I wouldn’t call David an active employee," Clark replies.

"But you would call him an employee," Lenny says. "Now, I was gonna take care of this myself, be the hero bringing the Davids a big fat check. But I thought, why should I take that away from them? So we're gonna do this together. Right, Davids?"

"Um, yes?" David says, clearly entirely at a loss.

"If this is about David's paycheck—" Clark begins.

"Yeah, let’s see that paycheck," Lenny asks. "You know, the one the Davids earned for the two weeks they spent risking their lives to stop an evil god that no one else can stop?"

"An evil god he spent most of those two weeks conspiring with," Clark points out. "So no, there is no paycheck waiting for him. He's a patient and a prisoner."

David visibly wilts, but Clark tells himself to hold strong. This is a matter of principal. David betrayed Division 3, lied to his face countless times. Clark's put aside a lot for his job, but he has his limits.

"Nice story," Lenny says, undeterred. "But no. Let's start from the beginning. David, did you agree to become an employee of Division 3?"

"Um, we talked about it," David says. "Clark and I agreed to work together to stop Farouk."

"A verbal agreement," Clark admits. "Not binding. David disappeared before he could sign on."

"You know, this mainframe thing is really great," Lenny says. "I was never really into, like, learning shit before, but it's all right here. All I have to do is think a question and bam, there's the answer. I just thought, is a verbal agreement a binding contract? And you know what? Turns out it is."

Clark definitely hates the fact that Lenny is in the mainframe. "Fine. But David broke that contract when he failed to perform his duties and acted in bad faith."

Lenny takes her feet down and leans forward. "You hired them to find Farouk and his body and deliver both of them to Division 3, dead or alive. I'm sorry, how did they fail to perform that? They're not the ones who couldn't hold a prisoner for twenty-four hours."

"David abused our resources and allowed Farouk to enter our facility, kill my men, and steal a dangerous weapon."

"Lenny, maybe this was a bad idea," David says, in a low voice, as if Clark can't hear him.

"Watch and learn, kiddo," Lenny tells him. "Okay, and why did the Davids do all that? Because one of your employees gave them orders. D3’s military, right? The Davids had to follow orders. If they're shitty orders, that's not their fault."

"Future Syd isn't our employee," Clark says, unimpressed.

"Syd is," Lenny says. "So’s Cary."

"Division 3 isn't responsible for the actions of its employees in the future," Clark insists.

"Just like David isn't responsible for the actions of his future self?" Lenny says, and smirks. "Yeah, suck on that. What's good for the goose. You're gonna pay them what they're owed."

"Fine," Clark says, hiding his annoyance with a tight smile. "Two week's pay."

"And a year’s backpay," Lenny insists. "And let's talk about that salary."

Clark sighs and leans back. "Go on."

"I asked the mainframe, and wow, you're not paying any of my people what they're worth, so that's gonna change. And the Davids, they're worth a lot. You had a year and an international military force trying to stop Farouk and you couldn't even scratch him. Me and the Davids kicked his ass. How much did that operation cost before the Davids solved it? Oh wait, I'll ask the mainframe."

"All right," Clark says, surrendering. "You made your point."

"I'm not done yet," Lenny says, eagerly. "You're gonna draw up a new contract for the Davids and they're gonna be active employees. All three of them."

"David is a patient and a prisoner," Clark says again, because apparently that's not sinking in.

"They're our patients," Lenny allows. "And yeah, they're not allowed to leave, but that's so we can keep them safe. They haven't lost their rights as human beings and they sure as hell haven't lost their job. Division 3 is paying for their treatment because they got hurt doing that job. And then there’s the reparations."

"Reparations?" Clark asks, disbelieving.

"I'm sorry, was there another organization called Division 3 hunting mutant children and ripping families apart?"

Clark's ready to put an end to this performance. "You could have taken care of all of this with the Admiral."

"You'd think that," Lenny says, and her smile barely hides her anger now. "But you know what else I found out when I was kickin' around the mainframe? The Admiral might be the one giving the orders, but as far as the Divisions are concerned, he's property. That was the deal you gave that Walter guy, too. Do what we say and we won't kill you for being a mutant. That's not a job, that's slavery. You guys were pure evil before David and Melanie slapped some sense into you. I'm not gonna let you turn the Davids into your slaves. You're gonna treat them like they're human beings and you're gonna make this right."

David isn't a human being.

That's what Clark wants to say. That's what he said to Cary, that David wasn't a human being because he was a mutant. Mutants are threats to the security and safety of the world, threats pure and simple. It was Clark's job to hunt them down and evaluate them and then— Deal with them, one way or another, by whatever means necessary.

He wasn't part of Division 3 when they were hunting mutant children. But he's dealt with plenty of mutants one way or another. And he was fine with that. He slept well every night knowing he made the world safer. And now he alternates between nightmares about being burned alive, and nightmares where he's the one sitting in the pool.

Clark doesn't think of things in terms of good and evil. What matters is power and predictability. The world is a dangerous place and mutants only make it more dangerous, more unpredictable. It was about containment, at the start, then disarmament, then extermination. All very logical steps. But mutants keep being born, and more of them, all over the world. It's random and Clark doesn't like random. He doesn't like any of this.

Clark wants to make the world safe for his son. But he can't think about his son anymore without thinking of David. He wouldn't want his son to grow up in David's world, the world the Divisions made for mutants. That's why he's supporting Cary's plan for Division 4.

The Divisions agreed to work with the Summerlanders because they needed David to stop Farouk. They still need him for that. But what they need even more is a stable god that's on their side. They're going to need a god as powerful as David to help them control a world full of unpredictable gods. If mutations can't be cured, prevented, or eliminated— Then they need to be managed. So as much as Clark hates this, he's going to do his job. That's still his job, evaluating mutants, dealing with them one way or another and by whatever means necessary. It's just that he's learning to use the carrot instead of the stick.

"You're right," Clark says, calmly. "David, on behalf of Division 3, I'd like to apologize for our— Bureaucratic oversight."

Lenny snorts but doesn't interrupt.

"In terms of your employment and backpay, I'll have the paperwork brought to you. Do you have a bank account?"

"Um," David says, eyes wide. "I had a joint account with Amy, before— I don't—"

"We'll have that taken care of," Clark says, smoothly. "As for the reparations, that's above my pay grade. I'll see what I can do. But I'm confident the Divisions will want to make things right."

David looks between Lenny and Clark, then at the empty air. He looks absolutely stunned. "Wow. Um. Thank you?"

Clark smiles for him, tight-lipped but as earnest as he can muster. "Thank Lenny. She's right, you should be compensated for your service and for any mistreatment that you suffered because of Division 3's past actions."

Clark may have laid that on too thick because David is giving him a suspicious look in response. But David can't read Clark's mind, at least for now, so the suspicion fades. David looks at Lenny with outright awe. Lenny preens, soaking it up. Looks like she still got to be the hero.

"Now if you'll excuse me," Clark says, politely. "I believe we all have work to do."

A minute after they're gone, there's a polite knock on the door. It's Amy.

"Sorry to interrupt," she says, despite having obviously waited until Lenny and David left. "We need your help with something."

"That's what I'm here for," Clark says. He's never had a problem with his salary, but he's thinking about asking for a raise himself, assuming they survive this. Or at least an enormous bonus.

"It's Syd," Amy sighs. "I've been keeping an eye on her. She's— She needs someone to talk to, and— We've all tried, but she won't open up to any of us."

"But she's talked to me," Clark says. "I'll see what I can do. Where is she?"

"She left the building," Amy says. "But we know where she went. Here's the address."

Clark takes the handwritten address. Amy can be charmingly analogue for a woman trapped in a computer with an android interface.

"Oh, I need something from you," Clark says. "David's checking account. He said he had one with you?"

"Yes," Amy says, and she doesn't need to ask why. "I'll get you the account number. I should have closed it years ago, but— It would have felt too much like giving up. I know you and David haven't always gotten along, but— You're a good person, Clark. Thank you."

"Just doing my job," Clark says.

§

Clark isn't surprised to find Syd in a bar. He's surprised that she managed to find one that's open at this hour of the morning and isn’t a total dive. But Syd is nothing if not determined in her self-destruction. Clark would be happy to leave her to it if not for the fact that right now she's a bigger threat to world security than David, because she's a threat to David.

Clark helped Ptonomy and Syd defuse the Amy bomb. Now Syd's the one who needs defusing. Syd’s tucked into the darkest corner she could find. Clark brings an empty glass from the bar, sits down with her, and pours himself a shot from her whiskey bottle. He raises his glass in a silent toast and then takes a sniff.

“I see you got the good stuff,” Clark says. He puts the glass back down without drinking.

“World’s gonna end,” Syd says, voice flat. “No point in saving for a rainy day. This is the rainy day.”

Clark looks at the window front. It’s bright and sunny outside. But he knows she didn’t mean it literally. “Or you could, I don’t know, maybe not help end the world?”

Syd doesn't respond to that. Clark sees why he was called in for this. She's locked down tight. Even Ptonomy isn't enough of a bastard to pry her open.

"You won't forgive him," Clark says, plainly. There's no point in hiding how much he knows. "If you're giving up, here are the options. We can put you in witness protection, try to disappear you, but that didn't work out so well for Amy and her husband. We can freeze you until it's safe, like we did Melanie, but again, Farouk could unfreeze you."

"And the third option?" Syd asks.

"Farouk would steal your soul as you died and use you like he used Lenny."

"So I don't have any options."

"Not those," Clark says. "As I told you before, your boyfriend is an extremely powerful mutant who could destroy the world if you hurt his feelings real bad."

"I didn't know what he was," Syd says, staring into her whiskey. "I didn't know what was in him."

"To be fair, neither did he," Clark says. "I'll give David credit. When he realized the truth, he tried to do the right thing. But that's not an option for him either. He's trying to defuse himself before Farouk figures out how to blow him up. If he can learn to live with himself, with his past, use his powers responsibly— Stability improves the odds."

"But love is still a weapon," Syd counters.

"Yes. And so is shame."

"I don't—" Syd starts, then stops. "I don't want to punish him."

"Apparently you do," Clark counters.

"Because I'm afraid of him?" Syd asks, finally meeting his eyes. "Because he's—" She doesn't finish.

Clark considers her. "David's an extreme outlier. But to be stable he needs to belong and your people are giving him that. Eventually he'll be stable enough to accept that he's— What was it you said? One of a kind. That's what gets me about you mutants. You're all one of a kind. That's made it very hard to kill you."

Syd straightens up.

"Honesty is important," Clark tells her. "So here's me being honest with you. The Divisions didn't play nice with you and Melanie because we had a change of heart about mutants. We played nice because we realized the future we've been trying to stop is already here. We could stick to the same tactics, double down on genocide. But it only takes one David to make every human weapon irrelevant. We're trying to avoid the end of the human race and Farouk isn't always the cause. In some timelines, we found David as a baby and we're the ones who made him into a bomb. Or at least that's what the Admiral says. He could be lying. He's been on our side for a long time, but he's a mutant. He knows all our secrets. Now there are other mutants in his head, learning the same secrets. What's that saying? One person can keep a secret but not two? How about four? What happens when those secrets lose the protection of the mainframe?"

Syd stares at him. "Are you going to—"

"No," Clark says. "We'll help them. But helping them has consequences. Helping David has consequences. Killing all of you would also have consequences. The odds say to let David and his friends live and help them. But we're trying to defuse the David bomb and there you are, hurting his feelings real bad."

"So I don't have a choice?" Syd says, stunned but still stubbornly defiant.

"You have a lot of choices," Clark says. "Make one you can live with."

Syd slumps, accepting defeat.

Clark judges the Syd bomb defused, at least for now. He knocks back his shot, savors the burn, then takes the bottle. It is the good stuff.

"Hey," Syd protests, reaching for it.

"You've had enough," Clark says. "Consider this a gift to me for helping you save the world. Walk it off, see a movie, play with puppies in the park. Then go back to that lab and do the work."

"I can't talk to him without hurting him."

"Then talk to the other Davids," Clark says. "Talk to your friends. You're your own worst enemy, Syd. Stop trusting your enemies more than your friends."

Syd glares at him, annoyed, but— She accepts the idea. Clark doesn't know if she’ll let it grow, but at least she has it.