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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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David.

Divad and Dvd.

Divad and Dvd and David.

All evening he tries to remember them, his alters. They've been part of him for so long, surely there must be something Farouk didn't take away, some scrap of memory overlooked until—

But there's nothing. There's nothing. He goes over the same old memories again, the way he has countless times, trying to sew together the scraps into something that will hold together, something that he can look back on and recognize as himself.

He can't remember Benny either, even though he knows that Lenny wasn't ever a part of his life before he met her in Clockworks. He's known for weeks but the memories of Benny are still gone. They're lacunas, dotting the galaxies of his mind like tiny black holes, information going in but never coming back out again. Destroyed, even though the laws of physics say that no information is ever truly destroyed.

He is here to tell the laws of physics that they are very, very wrong.

Divad and Dvd are mostly quiet, still giving him time to adjust and recover. But he can sense them, the closeness of their presence within him. They don't leave him again, not like before.

It helps. His heart is as raw as his eyes, his throat, but it helps, feeling them. Not being alone.

"I'm sorry," he whispers, when he's finally getting too tired to try to remember them anymore, when sleep is pulling at him down at last. "I wish I could—"

"It's okay," Divad says. "It wasn't your fault. There was nothing you could do."

A few more tears leak out of David's eyes and he doesn't know how. He's cried all day and he keeps thinking he's done but somehow there's still more tears inside him. The well of grief in his chest must be bottomless, filling and filling no matter how much pours out of him. He doesn't want to be sad anymore but he doesn't know how to stop.

He keeps going back over Cary's words to him, turning them into a kind of mantra, something to hold on to, to help keep him going through all of this. Through whatever transformation he'll have to endure.

He's survived. There are things he's lost that he'll never get back. But he's here and he's not alone. And if he lets someone help him, one day he'll be well enough to help himself.

He holds the words close to his heart, pulling on the strength of them, trying to make it his own.

§

Kerry doesn't come back in the morning. David must have scared her, hurt her badly, and he's sorry for that. He didn't mean to. He just couldn't—

He couldn't. He'd been pushed so far beyond his ability to deal with anything that's been happening that he got lost, so, so lost. He wishes he had a window just so he could see the sun rise, so he could see the new day begin. The dawn has always made him feel like he has the chance to start again, no matter how dark the night before had been. But he's still in a prison cell, a sub-basement dungeon. That's still where he belongs.

"David," warns Divad, concerned but trying not to push.

"I know," David says, stepping back from the mental cliff he'd nearly strolled right off of. It's strange: having someone hear his thoughts, watching for bad ones as they arrive. Was this how it worked for them before? Was this how Divad used to help him before Farouk took him away from them, and them away from him?

He doesn't know. And it's been so long for all of them, so long since the body of David Haller had anything resembling any kind of healthy mind inside of it. This isn't just new for him, he's realizing. This is going to be new for all of them.

Ptonomy arrives with breakfast. Waffles, of course, but also eggs and bacon and hash browns and a sliced orange. David eats everything, barely able to keep up with his own hunger; his body is starving for energy.

"You're looking much better this morning," Ptonomy says, the Vermillion's speaker making him cheerfully sing.

David heaves a sigh. "Yeah. I feel..." He doesn't know what word to use. "Better." That's good enough. He burps, and covers his mouth. "Sorry."

Ptonomy laughs, which is weird because the Vermillion doesn't. It moves its lips, synchronized with the speaker, but no one would call that a laugh.

David takes a moment to remind himself that as bad as his situation is, it really could be worse. At least he still has his body, he's still alive inside it, even if he's sharing it with two veritable strangers. When Ptonomy had first returned, showing up in a hacked Vermillion in the cafeteria, David was confused and bewildered and then— And then nothing else had mattered but the name. La Désolé. There was no room in his head then for anything but Farouk and revenge. He was consumed, boiling with it day and night ever since Amy—

He's been lost for a while, he thinks. So, so lost, since long before he started wandering in the desert.

"So, um— What's it like? In— In the mainframe?" David glances away, ashamed for not asking sooner. "Sorry I didn’t— things have been— I know, it’s no— it’s no excuse. You’re— I mean, you died, I’m just—"

David swallows. He reaches out in his mind, and Divad is there, right there.

"It's okay," Ptonomy tells him, then pauses, thinking. "I'm not sure, honestly. I'm still getting used to it. I’m still myself here, or at least I think I am. I feel calmer. Less angry about things that used to feel important. Maybe it was my body making me angry.”

That sounds... David doesn't know what it sounds like. "Is it— is it nice?"

"It’s busy. There's so much information flowing all the time, from so many places. It’s a lot like memory walking, but bigger, wider. It's like I'm walking through the whole world at once, and I don't have to take a step."

Oh. "Do you need to, uh— Should you be doing something else? Right now? With all the—"

The Vermillion's eyes hadn't exactly gone distant, but now they focus on him. "Not at all. This is exactly where I need to be. I see you did your homework. Can you show me?"

David had been fidgeting with the cards on and off all through breakfast. He picks them up again and lays them out on the bed, in the same order as they were made.

Divad. Dvd. David.

"All variations on your name," Ptonomy observes. "Interesting."

"Is that— Is that bad?"

"Not at all. Every system is unique to its members and their needs. So tell me about them, Divad and Dvd. Which one's which?"

David feels kinda funny about calling them after their shirt colors now. "Divad is Green. Dvd is Yellow."

"And you've been talking to them again?"

"A little," David admits. "They're being very—" What's the right word? Not shy. "Cautious."

Ptonomy hums. "Yesterday, you said there was shouting? Do you want to talk about that?"

Not really, but David's given up on not talking about things he doesn't want to talk about. "He— he hurt them. Farouk. I don't know— what he did, exactly, but—" He takes a breath. "I think it was hard for them. Watching me—" He takes another breath, another. He's so tired of crying, he just wants to make it through the morning without crying and he knows he won't.

"That makes sense," Ptonomy says, all soothing, musical tones. "It's hard watching someone you care about suffer."

"I tried," David says, eyes welling up just as he knew they would. "I tried to remember them. I tried. I wish you could still—" He swallows a sob. "Maybe if you could still go inside, you could have found something." He closes his eyes, breathes deep, fighting the tightness in his throat. "He took that too."

David picks up his card. He holds it in his hands. David is still David. He's still here. He survived. There are things he's lost that he'll never get back. But he's here and he's not alone.

"We're here," Divad says, soft and close.

"We're both here," Dvd says.

David picks up the other two cards and holds them tightly, all three together, perfectly lined up. Even though he's been wearing away the edges of the paper, when they're pressed together this way it's like they're still a whole, something complete and uncleaved. It must be nice, to be whole. It must be so wonderful.

"Yes," Ptonomy says, his therapist demeanor dropping. "He took a lot from all of us. And that's why we can't let him take you, David. Do you understand? We all need you to stay with us and keep fighting."

"I know," David says.

"Do you?" Ptonomy challenges. "I don't think you do, not yet."

David breaths out a huff, amused even though he knows he shouldn't be. "It's been a while since you yelled at me."

"Well, you've always been good at pissing me off," Ptonomy says, in that friendly, furious way of his, and it feels good to hear it. To remember that he's been other things than pain and grief and guilt.

"Yeah, well, you lost your body, something's gotta keep you angry." David manages a smile, and the tight clench in his chest releases. Relief washes through him. "I missed you."

"I missed you, too," Ptonomy says, and David knows he means it.

David takes a beat, drinks some water. Blows his nose. When he's ready, he nods.

"Let's talk about the cards," Ptonomy says, switching back into therapist mode. "It must have taken a lot of courage to do that. To reach out to Divad and Dvd, to let them share your body."

"I guess— it's their body, too, right?" David says, as lightly as he can. "I don't want to— I know what it's like, being— trapped. In myself. Watching. They're not— They don't deserve that."

Ptonomy pauses. "Do you want to talk about that? What it's like?"

He doesn't, god he doesn't. But something stops him from saying no. "Syd, she—" It hurts to say her name, but he plows on. "In the desert. She— she said that I liked— When I went to save Amy from Division 3—" He's shaking but he can't stop now. "I didn't want to go alone, I didn't want to hurt anyone, I just— She— He twisted everything up inside me and then we were there and he used me and— And I couldn't— I screamed and I screamed and I—"

"David," Ptonomy says, urgent.

"I didn't like it, okay?" David shouts, too loud but he can't— "He made me, he made me, why couldn't she understand that? Son of Sam?! She knows what he is and she still fired a gun at my head!"

Now he stops. He wraps his arms around his knees, feeling like a bomb just exploded out of him, unexpected and shattering. He's shaking again, breathing too fast, and he knows if the crown wasn't on, his powers would be exploding out of him like they had that day in the kitchen, like they do when he has nightmares and panic attacks. But nothing in the room is shaking but him.

"I'm sorry," David breathes, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"David," says Ptonomy, soberly. "What happened in the desert?"

"You know," David moans. Everyone knows what he did.

"We know parts of it. And us not having the whole story is a big part of what's hurting you right now. So I think we need to talk about this. Can you do it?"

He doesn't know. He doesn't know. It's so much. But he can't keep it inside now that he's started. "I’ll try," he says.

"Take a moment. Catch your breath. Drink some water."

David does. He can do this. He has to do this.

"Tell me what happened," Ptonomy prompts. "Start from the beginning, from when I found you in the cafeteria. We met and you rushed off and then?"

"The lab," David says, closing his eyes to center himself in his memory. His memories of the past two weeks are shockingly clear compared to all the rest, created with his mind free of interference. But in some ways that makes them harder to face. "I went to the lab to use the amplification chamber. We found the desert. I— We knew we needed a plan. So we made one."

"You and your alters."

"We couldn't tell anyone," David says, remembering. "But we knew— we could see that we'd need help. So we left messages. Time delayed, so there'd be nothing for Farouk to know until it was too late."

"Smart," Ptonomy says.

David smiles briefly. "We could see flashes, pieces of time. We knew things would go wrong so we made the plan better. Then we left." He frowns. "But the desert was... strange. Confusing. Everything shifted and changed. The monastery, where Farouk's body was kept, it wouldn't stay put. We didn't know what to do."

"And then Syd came after you, right?"

"I left a note, but..." David shrugs. "She was mad. Kicked me in the shin."

"A note, not a message?"

David opens his eyes.

"You didn't include her in the plan?"

"No," David says. He still feels ashamed about this part, and angry. "I was mad at her. Not her her, her from the future."

"Why?"

"Because she knew," David says, and it hurts. It hurts so much. "She knew about Amy and she didn't— She chose to let my sister, to let her—" He takes a breath. "If she'd warned me, I could have stopped it. I could have saved Amy and Ben and—" He shakes his head. "I know it wasn't her, it wasn't Syd now. But—"

"You couldn't help how you felt."

"I had to stop Farouk," David says, remembering how by the end that was the only thing that mattered. The only path left to him after wandering in confusion through a maze of choices. "Syd didn't want to. Or maybe she did, but—"

In the end, she wanted to stop David more. With a bullet to the head. They hadn't seen that when they saw the glimpses of the future in the amplification chamber. It was only sheer dumb luck that Lenny saved his life.

Syd almost killed him. She really tried to kill him.

"Okay," Ptonomy says, bringing him back. "So she found you, you got a kick. Then what?"

David closes his eyes again, centering himself back in the memory. "We wandered around, me and Syd, trying to find the monastery, but it kept moving. Then there was a storm, and a tent, so we went inside. And we were there, us from the future, or some future, I don't know. We were dead, skeletons. It was— I don't know. Syd said— she didn't think we were going to have a happy ending." He pauses. "In the morning she was gone."

"Down into the labyrinth."

"I didn't know," David says. "I looked everywhere, and then I finally reached the monastery. I went inside and—" God, this. "Oliver was there." He feels ill.

"It was a trap," Ptonomy says.

"I know," David says, hugging his knees. "But I was so— I had to find Syd, he had her and I couldn't— He said things, Farouk things, dared me to— I was just so angry. I was so angry about everything he'd done to me and Amy and I finally had him, I finally made him feel just a fraction, just the smallest taste of the pain and suffering that he made me feel for thirty years."

God, it had felt so good. It was awful and horrifying and it felt so good. And then it was ashes in his mouth, because it was a trick and he'd just tortured Oliver nearly to death.

He puts his head down on his knees. Then what happened? It's hazy after that. He felt sick, his whole body hot and sick and he— He stumbled outside and then— He can't—

"David went away for a while," says David's mouth, as his head picks itself up. "I had to take over."

Ptonomy's Vermillion, already in perfect posture, somehow manages to straighten further. "Please hold the card with your name on it."

David's hand picks through the cards and holds one. Divad.

"Has that happened often?" Ptonomy asks. "Things become too much for David, so you take over?"

"It's my job to protect him," Divad says, with David's mouth. "I used to protect him a lot, back when I could. So yes, I took over until he was able to return. I'm sorry, David, I didn't mean to startle you."

And then just like that, David's back in control. His heart is racing. Shit, shit.

"Good one," grumbles Dvd's voice. "He just said he doesn't like that. Stop upsetting him!"

"David wasn't there for that part," Divad's voice defends.

"He doesn't remember how we used to work," Dvd says. "You can't just step in like that."

"You step in all the time," Divad says, annoyed. "It's not different just because our life is in danger."

"That's exactly why it's different!" Dvd says.

"David?" Ptonomy says, concerned. "What's going on?"

"Please stop arguing," David pleads. God, they're stressing him out more, not less.

Divad and Dvd fall quiet. "Sorry," Divad mumbles.

"David?" Ptonomy prompts again. "Stay with me."

"I'm here," David says, and drops the Divad card, fumbles for his own. He grabs it so hard that he crumples it, and panic spikes in his chest. He smooths it out but it's broken, it's ruined.

"It's just a card," Ptonomy says, gently.

The Vermillion's hand reaches out and covers David's hand. It's cool to the touch, smooth and artificial. David suddenly misses Kerry.

It's just a card. It's just a card.

"What Divad did surprised you," Ptonomy observes. "Is that the first time you've been aware of him taking over like that?"

”Yes," David's still catching his breath. "Dvd said he— But I don't remember." They're not Farouk, they're not parasites, they're not trying to hurt him.

"David," says Divad's voice, regretful.

"Please don't—" David tells him. He can't talk to him, not after that. Not for a while. That was— It was awful.

"See?" Dvd sneers.

"You're not any better," David says, angrily. "I don't care if you're saving my life. I don't care. I need— You can't just—" They can't just take him over like he's a puppet anytime they like, on a whim, like he's nothing. If they do they're no better than Farouk.

"You said it was our body, too," Dvd says, defensively.

"Now's not the time," Divad hushes him.

"David?" Ptonomy prompts again.

"I think I need a break," David says.

"I think you're right," Ptonomy agrees, but doesn't leave.

David gets off the bed and walks around, pacing to settle himself. He gets a drink of water, splashes water on his face. He breathes. Breathing is always good. Slow, deep breaths. Calm. He's calm.

He leans back against the wall and winces as he bumps the edge of the crown. He leans forward, grimacing as pain shoots through his skull.

"Can you please take this thing off?" David pleads, angrily.

"I wish we could, but it's a condition of your therapy," Ptonomy says. "The Admiral won't risk you—"

"Ending the world, yeah yeah," David finishes, really done with that whole thing. "Why would I end the world? The only thing I want to end is Amahl Farouk." And himself, he wants to add, but doesn't. He doesn't want to as much as he did, anyway. He's a lot less sad and a lot more angry now. God, this whole thing, with Oliver and Syd and—

"Come sit back down," Ptonomy says. It's not an order but it's more than a suggestion.

David heads to the bed, then turns away. He can't. He's too stirred up, there's too much in his head. In every sense.

It's obvious that Ptonomy doesn't want to risk leaving him alone. David knows he's in a bad state, but he's run out of coping mechanisms and he doesn't know how to stop. In Clockworks, even before that, by the time he got this bad he would have already been involuntarily drugged into a stupor by the nearest medical professional, or tackled by cops who'd decided he was a danger, which he usually was. Without the drugs, without the crown, he would have already trashed everything around him. Without the crown he would have had an outlet, even if it was a destructive one he couldn't control.

God, what if this is what causes it? What if he just can’t stop himself? What if it’s as simple as that and he kills the world because he doesn’t know how to stop?

"Can you—" David says, voice tight as he paces helplessly. "Can you help me?" He's not used to asking for help, not with this. He's always managed on his own. Or at least he thought he did.

"Who are you asking?" Ptonomy asks, and it's a good question.

"Anyone." David's still angry but he's desperate enough that he doesn't care. He hates losing control of himself to other people but it's even worse when he loses control of himself to himself. It's so stupid, it doesn't even make sense.

"Do you want to go away?" Divad asks.

"No," David says, horrified by the idea. "Just— just make it stop."

And then just like that, it stops. The shaking, the tension, the buildup of emotions threatening to explode. They’re not erased, he doesn't lose anything he's feeling, but all the strength falls out of them at once and the pressure’s gone.

It's so sudden he falls to the floor.

"David!" Ptonomy rushes over, as much as a Vermillion can rush. He kneels in front of David. "What just happened?"

David stares. "It stopped. He made it stop.”

"Show-off,” grumbles Dvd’s voice.

Someone walks up to Ptonomy and kneels down beside him. It’s himself— It’s Divad, in his green shirt. He’s smiling. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that.”