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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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David crosses out ‘Made me forget and sculpted me.’

It’s not that he’s done processing that horrific part of his reality, not at all. But he understands it enough for now, and accepting it has finally given him the continuity he’s been searching for. Beyond that? He has a lot of work to do and he has to do it fast. He’s finally strong enough to face the truth about his situation. He has to make himself strong enough to change it.

He turns to his notebook and updates his foundation.

‘I am David,’ he writes. ‘I survived. I didn’t deserve what happened to me, it wasn’t my choice. David is love.’

He can’t bring himself to change that last part to an ‘I’ statement. He can’t accept that he’s love, even though he’s trying to. He believes in the love of the people who love him. But actually loving himself, what he is, what he’s been made to be? He can’t do that. He doesn’t know if he ever will.

But he’s trying. And trying has gotten him farther than he ever imagined it could.

He does his foundation work and then his mantra work. He feels no need to change his mantra, but it resonates more strongly than ever. He’s strong enough to heal: he’s really starting to believe that one. Just for good measure, he does his wish list, too.

“You’ve got a whole novel going there,” Lenny teases.

“It’s more of an autobiography,” David jokes back. It kinda is, though. The very condensed story of his current existence. So condensed it can fit onto a single page. Half a page. That’s— More appropriate than he wants it to be. Looking back, knowing— At least the rough outline of his actual life— He hasn’t done much with it. Granted, he was busy being relentlessly tortured but— The part of his life that he was actually proud of wasn’t even his life.

Maybe he was too hasty in crossing out that line. It was a shock, realizing all that, and if David's learned anything about himself with all this, it’s that he doesn’t do well with shocks.

“Yeah, that’s why you’re taking a time-out,” Lenny reminds him. “Let that jumbled-up head settle before we start messing with it again.”

“You’re right,” David sighs. He knows she’s right. He’s just— Really impatient to keep going. But the cruise director knows best.

“How about some company for your time-out?” Lenny offers. “Remember what Ptonomy said, no solo wound-licking.”

That’s an image. “You’re here,” David counters.

“Me and Ptonomy don’t count,” Lenny says. “How about Amy?”

Amy. “Yeah, that’s—“ For years, he was someone else. Amy was there for that. They— Before David’s life fell apart, they were so close. And now— It's like Benny and Lenny, except he’s Benny. He’s the one who was overwritten. Amy’s like him, remembering two people as one. And he’s like Lenny, remembering a part of his life that didn’t happen to him.

“Maybe you do count,” David says. “I never asked you about— Since you came back— Being— A sunrise.”

They’re both sunrises: composite people created in Farouk’s image. Farouk took over both of them, trapped them, wore them as masks to hurt people.

Okay, yeah, a time-out was definitely a good idea.

“I’m not that,” Lenny says, and there’s an edge to her. “I’m just me.”

“But you remember being Benny,” David counters. “You do still remember being Benny? Or did the mainframe—“

“I remember a lot of things,” Lenny admits. “But who cares? We both remember being together so it happened. Just like all that college stuff happened for you and Amy. Who cares if it’s real, if we’re real? Real is overrated.”

“But Amy, Philly— They remember Benny,” David says. “And Benny’s real. If he’s still alive— When all this is over, maybe— If I saw him—“

“Dude, I remember being him, and trust me, you do not want the original,” Lenny says. “He’s the one who helped you destroy your life.”

David looks at Lenny and realizes something. “Do you feel guilty for what Benny did?”

Lenny shrugs. “We had some good times. But I remember stealing all your shit and selling it for drugs right in front of you. You were too fucked up to care. And I made sure you stayed fucked. Benny-me was an asshole, and he made a mess that Lenny-me is still cleaning up.”

David takes that in. “But— Your Benny memories— They’re not really Benny’s. They’re— what, fake versions of my memories of him?”

“Farouk was there, remember? He knows Benny, too. He read that asshole’s mind, like he reads everyone’s mind. We’re his own personal soap opera.”

What was it Clark said about soap operas? Amnesia and evil twins. Yes, that certainly describes David’s life.

"Okay," David says, trying to process all this. "But— You didn't— When I met you for the actual first time, you didn't help me because of Benny. You didn't know Benny except as— Stories I must have told you about him. So— Do you remember me— Telling you stories about yourself?" Not that he remembers one way or the other.

Lenny sighs. "You're making my brain hurt. And my brain is a computer."

"Sorry."

Lenny leans her head back. "Fuck," she mutters, eyes closed. Then she faces him again. "Listen. I remember a lot of things. When I got my Amy-body, I got my old memories back, everything up to the end. They're still kinda hazy because I got disembodied again, but— I got what I got. And original recipe Lenny wasn't a good person. Making a cocktail out of me and Benny? It wasn't a big leap. Like it wasn't a big leap to make a cocktail out of you and Divad. So just— Roll with it. Keep the good stuff. You get to remember me instead of Benny. I get to remember getting high with you and eating twice the pussy. And this college stuff— Do you really want to give that up? David Haller still did all that. What is it Dvd keeps saying? If one of you did something, you all did it. Take the win."

Keep the good stuff. That reminds him of his conversation with Kerry about magazines and the world. He told her not to throw the good out with the bad. At the time he hadn't felt able to take his own advice. But— Lenny has a point. They can't change what they remember. They can't unmix their cocktail minds. If he fights what he is, gives up— Years of his life and all the good things in them— That can't make him stronger.

But it's still— He still feels— Weird and guilty and confused about— All of that. Amy and Divad and Dvd— What they remember, what he remembers—

"So talk to them," Lenny says. "Ask them to come over. They're already hearing everything, so make it a conversation instead of a wiretap."

"Okay," David accepts. He guesses he's ready for some— Family time. The Haller family, sitting together, talking.

He watches as Divad wraps up with Cary, as Amy walks down from the exercise area, as Dvd drags himself over with visible reluctance. David rubs his palms against his thighs, nervous. Amy sits closest to him, then Divad sits next to her. Dvd sits in the opposite loveseat and crosses his arms.

"So, um," David begins. "Yeah. All that." He knows it's a lot. He doesn't know where to start. Everything's— Tangled.

"So let's untangle," Amy says. "That's what we're doing, right?"

That's what David has to do.

"You don't have to do it alone," Amy says, with a wry fondness. "We're part of this, too. Divad, how about you start? They were your memories. And all the things we did together— Those years were ours."

"Yeah," Divad says, roughly. "I was— All of that was me, not David. David was—" He looks at David, and there's such feeling in his eyes. Grief and pain and— And then it goes away.

"You're doing it again," David says, upset. "Please stop that."

"I don't want to hurt you," Divad says.

"You just don't want to hurt," Dvd counters, annoyed. "David already knows what happened. Maybe not everything but he knows enough. You want us to get better? Stop lying to him."

"David," Lenny says. "Tell me what Divad just did."

Of course. Lenny and Amy can only hear Divad, they can't see him. "He was upset," David says. "I saw it. And he— Suppressed himself."

"And suppressing himself— That's him managing his part of your system," Lenny says. "That's what he does for you so you don't need meds. So he's medicating himself."

Divad's not actually in their body— Well he is, but— Projected. "I guess," David says. Mutant powers are weird. All this soul-mind-body stuff—

"I know a junkie when I see one," Lenny declares. "Divad, you're a junkie."

Divad absolutely doesn't like that. "You have no idea what you're talking about."

"That is such a junkie thing to say," Lenny says.

"David took drugs to get high," Divad defends. "So did you. I do what I do to keep my head clear so I can protect us."

"Liar," Dvd grumbles.

"And that's junkie logic," Lenny says. "I was two different junkies and one of them was a dealer so I know a customer when I see one. Dvd says you're turning yourself off and David thinks so, too. You're outvoted."

"That's absurd," Divad says, unimpressed. "Maybe you're projecting because you need a fix and you can't get one."

Lenny laughs. "I like you. But no, shithead. You're always thinking about how David fucked up your life. Well guess what? You're a David, too. And you’re fucking up big time."

Divad glares at her. "I don't have to listen to this."

"Actually, yeah, you do," Lenny says, smugly. "Because if you don't, I'll just tell David what you've been thinking about him, and then you'll have to listen him being upset about it."

If looks could kill, Lenny would be dead for a third time. But Dvd is absolutely delighted. "I like Lenny," Dvd tells David. "Did I ever tell you that? She gets us."

"She does," David agrees, but looks to Divad. "What exactly have you been thinking about me? Because you've both been thinking a lot of things and I don't know any of it. Amy and Lenny and Ptonomy and— And Clark know! And Kerry and Cary! But you won't share anything with me." It's not fair. It's— It makes him feel like a child, like he can't be trusted by his brothers, by his own mind. His own mind keeps secrets from him and that's— It's crazy. It makes him feel absolutely crazy.

Dvd is less delighted by that. "You're not supposed to hear our thoughts. That's not—"

"Don't," David warns. "It doesn't matter how we used to work. We're making a new system and— And I'm not going to be part of a system that lies to me. That's not— Healthy multiplicity. I want us to have healthy multiplicity. I want—" He looks to Lenny. "What did Ptonomy say?"

"A functional co-relationship with shared responsibility and accountability," Lenny says.

"That," David says, firmly. "I want that."

Both Divad and Dvd wear the same expression. It's not an agreeable one.

"I changed my mind about Lenny," Dvd says, and glares at her.

"Guess I've been outvoted," David sighs, and looks to Amy and Lenny for help.

"Maybe it's time we sic Ptonomy on one of these guys," Lenny says. "You stay here with us, and one of them can go have a session. Let him do some of the heavy lifting on this."

"They should both have a session," David grumbles.

Lenny considers that. "Yeah, they should. They like sharing. They can share a session and deal with it together."

"David, will you be okay stepping out for a while?" Amy asks. "It can wait if you need more time."

David takes a moment to check in with his feelings and ground himself. He learned all of that years ago to help manage his anxiety, but it turns out it's good for dissociation, too. He fell out of the habit but he needs to get the habit back. Being outside of his body is risky for him, even aside from detachment syndrome. He needs to stay grounded for a lot of reasons.

He feels— Okay. He has a lot of mixed feelings but they feel manageable. Lenny and Ptonomy have been really good at helping things feel manageable today. But—

"Maybe—" He looks to Amy. "Could I get a hug first?"

Amy smiles. "Of course." She opens her arms, and David gets up and goes right into them. There's nothing as grounding as this, nothing.

When David feels topped up, he lets go of Amy and sits back on the sofa. He steps out of his body and goes back to the loveseat, relieved of his body's burdens. Divad and Dvd reluctantly go in together. Their body — theirs, not his, remember that — opens their eyes and looks at him.

"You're really both in charge?" David asks, extremely curious.

"Yeah," they say.

David suddenly understands why Lenny needed a name for their system. He can't tell who's talking when they're like this. Because they both are? The Davids.

"Can I do that?" David asks.

"You used to," the Davids say.

"So— When you share like this—"

The Davids look away. "We don't want to talk about it." They stand up and go to join Ptonomy at the table.

David sighs. Making a new system is— About as easy as replacing an old idea with a new one. Except it's a whole bunch of old ideas all joined up, and the new ideas just can't get a foothold. He wants to be a system with them, but— Not as he was. And they still won't accept him as he is.

"They're trying," Lenny says. "Let Ptonomy soften em up for you. Hang out with us. You still want to talk to Amy, right?"

He does. Especially after that hug.

"Amy," he starts. "All those years—"

"I know," Amy says. "It wasn't you. It was Divad. You were— My poor Davey."

She looks like she might cry. David's instinct is still to avoid upsetting her, but he can't. And it should be okay for her to cry if she's upset. It should be okay for him to talk about things that upset her.

"I guess we're working on a new system, too," David says, and wishes she could see him. He wishes he could hug her again. But Divad and Dvd need to be in their body, too. They need to share so they can all heal together.

"We are," Amy says, and wipes her eyes. "Davey, when you were in college, you had a seizure. Do you remember that?”

"A seizure?"

"Dad and I came as soon as we could," Amy says. "You were— Very confused. But then you recovered. You said you were fine."

"I don't remember having a seizure," David says. He doesn't remember being in the hospital or Dad and Amy visiting him because of that. Farouk must have made him forget that, too, to hide the break, preserve his continuity. It's— Deeply unsettling, but— He forgot twenty years of his life, what's a few more days?

What does he remember? No, what did Farouk make him remember?

"Farouk made me remember— Doing really well in my classes." He was proud of his achievements, of excelling in his schoolwork despite his schizophrenia. "I thought— I could do it because of the medication, because it helped so much. But it stopped helping."

He tried increasing his medication, but that made it harder to think, not easier the way— The way Farouk made him remember it working. Farouk made David remember understanding all the material, even the advanced coursework, extra material his professors gave him to challenge him. But when he tried to use what he knew— He couldn't concentrate and nothing made sense anymore. He felt so confused, so lost and— Stupid. All his professors, his advisor, Amy— They didn't know what to think. He knew so much but somehow he just— Stopped knowing.

Amy was upset with him, everyone was upset, and he felt so ashamed of— All of it. He disappointed everyone, he ruined everything. He couldn't do anything right. His grades flatlined. He got put on academic probation, lost his scholarship, and then he was expelled. He started taking drugs because the medication wasn't helping and he was desperate for something, anything to give him relief. And then things got really bad.

He blamed himself. Nothing made sense, but— The one thing that made sense was his failure. Because he was broken, he was garbage. He was crazy, he was sick, of course he failed. It was wrong for him to even try to— To be happy, to do something good, to want things. He could never be anything other than what he was. Philly tried to help him, Doctor Poole, Amy. He tried to keep going, tried to get better for them, but— He knew he was never going to get better. The only thing he could do was— Try to make it stop.

So he tied a knot.

But—

All of that—

It was torture. It was Farouk torturing him.

"It was," Amy says, pained. "What he did to you— I talked to Cary about what happened and he thinks— You have a version of Divad’s memories for— It must have been at least three years, maybe more. You remember being Divad. But— Farouk didn't give you Divad's knowledge, his skills."

David takes that in. “Memories without knowledge.” That's— That would explain— He was so confused and frustrated because he was certain that he knew, but— He didn't know. Farouk didn't let him know. He thought he forgot somehow, but— He never knew in the first place.

His life fell apart, but— Of course his life fell apart. It wasn't his life.

All those years David remembered being Divad, he was there with Divad, but— He didn't learn with him. He was too broken to learn.

And then Farouk made him forget that he was broken. Farouk patched him up with false memories, but David was still broken underneath. He had the memories of a genuinely functional David Haller but nothing to back it up. He was given Divad's life but denied everything he needed to live it. The medication didn't help because it never helped because he was never schizophrenic. He had a monster in his head, relentlessly torturing him.

"It wasn't my fault," David realizes.

All those years, all that pain and shame and failure, his madness, his downward spiral, his suicide attempt, even Clockworks. All of that, all of that was Farouk torturing him, healing him just so he could make him crazy with fake memories and hallucinations and confusion and fear and—

He had a monster in his head.

It wasn't his fault. It really, truly wasn't his fault.

"It wasn't," Amy agrees. "And I'm so sorry for all the things I said to you. I— I didn't get to go to college because I had to take care of you after Mom died. And— When you went I was so proud, but— When you failed— I felt like you'd wasted the chance for both of us. And I was frustrated and angry that you got worse after you'd been so much better, that I had to sacrifice the life I was finally able to build for myself because I had to look after you again. And the drugs and Doctor Poole and— I stopped believing that you'd ever be able to get better. That's— Why I gave up."

"You didn't—" David protests.

"You were my responsibility," Amy says, firmly. "You gave me that and I didn't respect how much— You relied on me to take care of you. You weren't capable of giving yourself the help you needed. You knew that. But I still treated you like you could. I still acted like you were Divad and not— My Davey."

"I guess— You were my Divad," David says. "And Dvd. I didn't remember them, but—"

"You were still the same person you were with them," Amy says, understanding. "You still needed them. And without them— You did the best you could. Philly and Syd and Lenny and— Even Benny. You went to people and trusted them to take care of you. And eventually you found the right people to trust. Even if— It took a while for them to figure you out." She gives a sad smile. "You're a very complicated person, Davey."

"Yeah," David admits. He looks down at his hands. "I knew that— You were angry with me. I heard it. I heard— Everything. I just— Didn't know what was real."

"Divad and Dvd covered for you a lot, even before Divad took charge," Amy says. "They did such a good job. But that meant— We never knew how bad it really was. We couldn't. David, it's so important that we don't go back to that."

"I know," David says. If they all survive this, if they can get Amy a new body and— Even without Farouk making him worse, he still has so much to get better from. His whole system needs to heal and— They need to heal the right way. They can't do that if they're covering up their pain, like Divad and Dvd still are.

David doesn't remember lying to Amy about his brothers or his powers. He doesn't remember knowing about them or the monster. But he must have lied to her. Divad and Dvd's secrecy is more evidence of how things used to be. Maybe even David's fear of upsetting Amy— Even that might be a remnant of his old system.

"I think your system learned it from us," Amy says. "Me and Mom and Dad. We were never good at talking about our feelings, sharing our pain. You don't remember, but— Mom being sick all the time. Mom and Dad— They didn't want to talk about her illness. They just wanted to focus on the good things. But ignoring our pain—"

"Didn't make it go away," David says, in wry echo of Ptonomy.

Amy smiles. "See, you're learning. You're making semantic memories."

"Gotta fill up all that empty space somehow," David jokes.

"We will," Amy promises. "It's okay that the old memories are gone. We're going to make so many new ones, happy ones. We're going to fill up all of that space so you'll have lots of good things to remember."

Good memories. David wants that. He wants to add it to his wish list. He reaches for his pen, but his hand goes through it.

"I could write it for you?" Amy offers. "If that's okay."

David hesitates. His notebook is his new self. But— He wants Amy to be part of his new self. "You can write for me," he says.

He watches as Amy picks up the notebook and pen. She adds 'Good memories' to the bottom of the wish list.

It's so much to ask for. To have good memories, good things have to happen. Time has to pass without anything making the memories bad. If he tries to remember the good memories he has, they only hurt him now. They remind him that the past he remembers isn't real, that he isn't real. That he's— A sunrise. A cocktail. Farouk's creation, his toy, his victim.

"Don't let him decide what you are," Lenny says, and David looks up. "You're David, right? You've always been David. So fuck the shit beetle. It doesn't matter what he did to you. He doesn't get to choose who you are. You do."

David can’t believe that. If he accepts that what happened to him wasn’t his choice— He has to accept that it was Farouk’s choice. Farouk lived inside him since he was a baby and defined every aspect of David's existence. Farouk was his schizophrenia. Farouk gave him his dozen or so actual mental illnesses. Farouk stole his real memories and gave him fake ones, twenty years of fake memories, and then made up for leaving out all that torture by giving him another ten years of torture. He’s asked himself who he is without the monster and now he knows. Without Farouk, he isn’t even David Haller.

"That's one story," Lenny says. "How about this one? You're David Haller because your parents gave you to the Hallers to keep you safe from a bunch of fascists. Then an asshole parasite infected you, but turns out? Baby David was way stronger than the parasite. It couldn't escape so it hurt you instead. But you fought back. You made a system and your system got strong. No matter what that parasite did, your system kept fighting, kept trying to get help. And then one day you got the right help and you got the parasite out. And now it wants back in, but it can't have you because you don't belong to it or anyone else. You belong to yourself."

"That's a hell of a story," David says. It's a lot better than his old one, but— That's a lot of old ideas to replace with new ones. It's not going to be easy.

"Okay," Lenny says. "Then start small. What's the one part of that you want to believe most?"

David thinks about that. He looks at his notebook, his foundation and mantra and wish list. He thinks about the new self that the notebook represents, the new life he's trying to build.

"Lenny, could you—" David starts. "I want to change my foundation. I want you to write it for me."

Lenny looks— Shockingly touched by that. "Yeah, okay," she says, casually. She takes the notebook and pen from Amy. "Tell me what you want."

"I am David," David says. "I survived. I didn’t deserve what happened to me. I belong to myself. David is love."

"Nice," Lenny approves.

"That's wonderful," Amy says, with a warm smile.

"I belong to myself," David tries. "I belong to myself." He's not Farouk's David. He's not anyone's David. He's his own David and he chooses what that means. He's his own David and he's going to make sure his system has healthy multiplicity because that's his choice. That's part of who he wants to be. And he can make that choice because he's here and alive and has the strength to heal.

Lenny looks absolutely proud. "I'd high-five you right now, but—"

"Yeah," David says, and rubs the back of his neck. It feels good, the idea that he belongs to himself. It feels very good. He wants to build on that so much. He just has to keep saying it and believing it until it becomes a part of him. And then the delusion inside him, the idea that he's Farouk's, he's going to push that out of his head and never let it back in.