It’s one thing to talk to Syd, to let her sit with him while he reads about himself in her book. David owed her that much for everything she’s done to try to save him. The two of them have— He’s not sure what they are now, except that they’re not what they were, but— He thinks they’ve made a start, even if he doesn’t know what it is that they’re starting.
But talking to Amy is—
He needs to talk to Amy. For the memory work. He needs to listen to what she has to say so she can help him piece together the truth about his life, or Past David’s life. He can’t do that if every cell in his body is screaming for him to pull away from his memories and emotions as fast as possible.
He thought he was ready to stay. He’s not ready.
David grips Kerry’s hand tightly. At least this time he’s holding her other hand. If he never lets go again, she’ll still be able to hold a fork and write.
“You’ve already done a lot today,” Divad soothes. “If you need more time, we can do the memory work tomorrow.”
“No,” David insists, even though that’s what he said yesterday and look how that turned out. “I need to know.”
“You need to go slow,” Divad says. He glances at the Vermillion sitting in the loveseat and rubs at his neck. “Okay, how about this. If you can talk to Amy without— Without dissociating, we can do the memory work today. Ptonomy?”
“That’s reasonable,” Ptonomy agrees. “Remember what the book said. If you get overwhelmed, you’re just hurting yourself with the very trauma we’re trying to work past.”
They’re right. David knows they’re right. And he should be able to do this. It’s Amy. She’s his sister. She loves him. She’s always—
She’s always loved Past David. She put Now David in Clockworks and left him there. Maybe she knew the truth like Philly did. Maybe on some level, she knew he wasn’t her brother at all, and that made it easier for her to throw him away.
“I think it’s only fair to tell that to Amy if you also let her answer you,” Ptonomy says. “She’s ready if you are.”
David thought it, he didn’t say it. He didn’t choose to let everyone hear his thoughts.
“Amy didn’t choose to be uploaded,” Ptonomy replies. “She didn’t choose to be killed and trapped in her own mind. She’s hurting just as much as you and you need to remember that. She’s trying to help you just like Syd. Just like all of us.”
Well, now David feels terrible in a completely different way. At least guilt is something he’s never needed to pull away from. He can wallow in guilt all day without needing to hold anyone’s hand.
“We’ll have to talk about that,” Ptonomy says, because of course they will.
“Can I talk to Amy now?” David asks, strained. At least he only has to deal with one of them at a time.
“I’m here,” Amy says. “David, I don’t— You’ve always been my little brother. I didn’t care that you were adopted. I don't care that there’s three of you, I don’t care if there’s been two different Davids. You’re my Davey. You always will be, okay?”
When he doesn’t even think a reply, she sighs.
“I know I can never make up for what I did to you,” Amy continues. “I know you can’t forgive yourself. But I hope you can forgive me. Not for my sake, but for yours. I know how much you’re hurting, I can hear it all the time and— You’re punishing yourself. You can’t do that if you want to get better.”
He’s punishing himself?
Ptonomy told David to stop punishing himself, and he thought he had. But apparently it wasn’t as easy as that after all. But then he hasn’t forgiven himself either. Maybe he’s able to resist some of the ideas other people keep trying to put into his head.
“You were always stubborn,” Amy says, sad but fond. “Even if you don’t remember the truth, I do. You were always the most impossible, difficult little brother in the world. That only made me love you more.”
David’s grip on Kerry’s hand eases. “What was I like?” he asks. He thought he was normal, but he knew about his powers, he didn’t stay put even if they locked the doors. He was sensitive and cried too much. He must have been—
He must have been the most difficult, stubborn little brother in the world. But Amy loved him anyway. She loved him more. Even though he was adopted and strange and did impossible things all the time.
“Let me tell you?” Amy asks, and she sounds like she’s smiling.
“You should add something,” he tells Divad.
“Now really isn’t the time for decorating,” Divad says, but he looks contemplative.
Ptonomy’s voice floats in through the open sliding doors. “David, are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” David says. “Is Amy going to start again?”
“She’ll join in, but we’re focusing on your memories now. What you remember, real or not. Let’s pick up where we left off. You remember being a normal little boy.”
David closes his eyes and thinks back. He remembers Amy, his house, the forests and fields and the shore beyond. He remembers being loved, but he can’t remember his parents with any great detail. They’re gone, like Benny is gone, though not as completely.
What else does he remember about his earliest years?
A dog barks in the distance. He opens his eyes. He’s standing in the long grass, like he did in the memory walk, but this moment is earlier and he’s seeing it from his perspective as a child. A young Amy is there, maybe eight or nine years old, and she's holding a leash. On the end of the leash is King, his beagle.
King. The Shadow King. The first form Farouk took when he went into David, at least as far as David has been made to remember.
“Oh, we remember him,” Dvd says, angrily. He looks like he wants to march over to the dog and kick it into orbit. Divad puts a hand on his shoulder, holding him back.
“It’s just a memory,” Divad soothes.
“Nothing the monster did was ever just anything,” Dvd says, turning to David. “He tricked us. When you first made us, you still thought King was real. We didn’t know any better, so we thought he was real, too.”
“When we realized King was part of the monster,” Divad explains, “you wouldn’t believe us. You loved King too much to believe us.” Hurt flashes across his face. “That’s how it started, him pulling us apart. That’s the first time he got between us.”
David remembers an idyllic childhood. He remembers King as his constant companion for years, always with him wherever he went, by his side day and night. He remembers loving King with all his heart, and King loving him back.
But that’s not what happened. Or it is, but only parts of it, only half-truths, quarter-truths.
“We always knew King wasn’t real,” says child Amy. “But he made you happy. We decided to play along so you could have your imaginary friend. But—“
“But what?” David asks.
“King started to scare you,” says child Amy. She’s holding King’s leash short so the dog can’t reach David. “Not all the time, not at first.”
“He only scared us when David was asleep or went away,” Divad says. “He wanted us to know what he was, but not David.”
Right from the start, Farouk used David’s love and trust against him, used them to manipulate him and isolate him. From the outside, David would have alternated between adoring his imaginary dog and being terrified of him, making him look even more unstable. And from the inside—
“That shit beetle hated us,” Dvd declares. “We were in his way and he couldn’t get rid of us. He wanted you all for himself.”
“Amy, you said ‘not at first,’” David says. “What happened to King? I don’t remember him dying, or—“ In the false memories, King was his constant companion until one day he wasn’t anymore. If King was a real dog, he could have run away or died, but Farouk didn’t bother with that. He didn’t make David remember bringing King to the vet for shots or care. He didn’t even make David remember when he first got King as a puppy. King was just there, ideal and eternal, until he wasn’t anymore.
“Farouk got bored with that game, so he started scaring you, too,” Divad says. “He terrified all of us all the time and no one else could see what he was doing. No one else could stop him. So we stopped him.”
“We used our powers together,” Dvd says, proudly. “We killed it.”
David shakes his head. “King was just an illusion. A mask.”
“We killed it and it didn’t come back,” Dvd insists.
"One day, you stopped talking about King," child Amy says. "We asked you about him, but you didn't want to talk about him. You just said you never had a dog. And you didn't, so--"
David kneels down and looks at King. The dog -- the illusion of the illusion of a dog -- looks back at him placidly. "Was it another trick?"
"We didn't care," Dvd says. "King was gone and the monster couldn't hurt us with him anymore."
David stares at the dog. His memories of King are so strong. Farouk needed that love. He needed it before David made the alters and then he used it to divide them. And then when he couldn't do that anymore, he must have given up that mask so he could make other masks to terrify them with.
When Farouk ripped out David's memories, he put King back. All that unconditional love and trust a boy has for his beloved dog. He put it all back and made it part of the foundation of who he wanted David to be.
David knew there was a monster. Farouk broke him with fear when he was still so young, that's why David made his alters in the first place. So King wasn't the first mask Farouk used, not at all. But he was the first mask that Farouk used to make David love him.
David thinks about Farouk in his cell, telling him that David was his baby. Telling him that he tried to make David love him and failed. David felt sick then, hearing those words, and he feels sick now.
The sight of King makes his skin crawl. All that love and it was never anything but-- It was just another violation of his heart and his mind and-- David doesn't want it anymore. It was never his and he doesn't want it.
He doesn't even close his eyes. He just stares and then King is gone, leash and all.
He stands and walks a few steps away, his stomach turning. It's not just King. It's his whole childhood, all these false memories he's relived again and again. All the happiness and love he clung to when things were so dark and hopeless, they were just-- It was all just another trick, another manipulation, another way for Farouk to--
David's wide-eyed puppy act. That's what Divad called it. Farouk wanted him that way, he wanted David to love and trust unconditionally the way he loved and trusted King. It wasn't just the dissociation and how it makes him suggestible. And even all of that combined wasn't enough. Farouk couldn't make David love him, like David couldn't make Syd love him after the desert, like the monster couldn't make Syd want to stay in Clockworks.
Syd said he saved himself and he still doesn't know if he did. But--
Even if he's just a copy of Past David. Farouk couldn't make Past David love him, and he couldn't make Now David love him either. And-- Farouk would have, if he could. He's been trying for so long, he must want it so much. He must need it.
Farouk is a monster. But David was a monster: in the desert, after it. That's what Farouk turned him into, someone cruel who took what he thought he deserved. David thought he deserved Syd's love. And Farouk--
Farouk needs David's love. He thinks he deserves it. And when he couldn’t get it—
When he couldn’t get it—
He feels faint, he feels—
“David.” Divad is there, suddenly, holding his arms. “You’re going away.”
“David, stay with us,” Ptonomy says, urgent. “Dvd, get him out of there.”
“We’re out,” Dvd says, and then David is back in the lab, sitting on the sofa, and Kerry’s holding his hand and Divad’s trying to keep him calm but David can’t breathe, he can’t— He feels sick, his whole body feels hot and sick and—
Cary comes over and holds his arm, rubs his back. "Stay with us, David. Don’t go away."
He’s trying, but— He feels so— He feels—
And then Syd is in front of him, and she-- She takes his other hand. She puts his hand between her gloved hands and holds it. "David, stay with us. Stay with me.”
He looks at Syd. She holds him with her hands and with her eyes.
He has to— He has to stay. He doesn’t want to go away. He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to.
Kerry’s holding his hand and Cary’s touching his back and his arm and Syd is holding his hand and looking at him and he’s—
He’s not going away. It’s passing: the sickness, the heat, the overwhelming, annihilating fear. It’s passing. It’s going away and he’s staying. He’s staying.
He can’t think about— He can’t think about it.
“You don’t have to,” Ptonomy soothes. “Not right now. Just stay with us. Be here now. That’s all you have to do.”
Whatever else David took from her, in his broken madness, he didn't take that. So she's still able to give it to him: her hand, her touch. She's finally holding his hand so he'll stay.
This wasn't what she had in mind.
David's staying, but that's about all he can manage to do. They got him to lie down on the sofa with his head on Kerry's lap, but he won't let go of Syd's hand, so she's sitting on the coffee table.
"No, not yet," Ptonomy says, then turns to them. "Divad asked if he should make David sleep. I don't think that's a good idea right now." He turns back to the empty space where Divad must be. "David's working hard to stay present. He'll sleep when he's ready and you can help him then."
Ptonomy listens some more, then nods. "We'll take it a little at a time."
It's still so strange to Syd that David can somehow be three separate people at once, that one of those people can be nearly catatonic while the other two hover around him trying to figure out how to help him, but that's how David works. Even Farouk couldn't change that, and he changed so much.
"I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow for my first session," she says to Ptonomy. Not that she doesn't want to get started, but David's attached himself to her hand pretty firmly.
"No, we'll do it tonight after dinner," Ptonomy says. "We'll see if we can get David to eat, and by then he should be ready to sleep. I was hoping he'd be up to helping us, but it's probably better to use Divad and Dvd."
"What do we need them for?"
"You never met Future Syd," Ptonomy says. "You only saw her image. Only David and Farouk were able to project their minds into the future to talk to her. Fortunately for us, Divad and Dvd experience everything David experiences. So they can tell us everything David knows, and we don't have to put him through that. At least not for now."
"So I have to do a group session with two people I can't hear?" Syd asks. That feels-- It feels unfair, to have testimony given against her future self when she can't defend against it.
That's probably how David felt, trapped in a cage while the Vermillion read out the evidence against him. Farouk really did set them up to hurt him as deeply as possible. He didn't even have to brainwash her to make her hurt David that time, he just sat back and watched the fireworks.
"I'll help," Oliver volunteers.
Syd looks over, startled. Oliver's been mostly quiet, letting the telepathic relay flow through him, occasionally saying something or quoting poetry. They've been keeping him busy all day and so he hasn't been able to leave his body to search the astral plane for Melanie. Not that he's had any luck so far, but if there's any chance Oliver can find her--
"You don't have to," Syd says. "David's in no shape for anything else today, you should go look for Melanie."
Oliver seems to consider this. "I used to do this, I think. Help people. A long time ago."
"You did," Cary says. "You were-- You helped a lot of people get better."
"And then I dreamed," Oliver says, closing his eyes. "Real as a dream. What shall I do with this great opportunity to fly? When I'm in awakeness what do I desire? I desire to fulfill my emotional belly. My whole body, my heart in my fingertips thrill with some old fulfillments." He opens his eyes, looks at them, his eyes more clear than they've been since he came back to them for the second time. He looks to Cary. "You said it was my dream to help people. Melanie carried it without me. She tried to help David, but-- He’s her last, unfinished dream. The least I can do is help finish it for her."
Syd smiles for him. "I think she would have liked that."
Oliver nods. "For the world is a mountain of shit: if it's going to be moved at all, it's got to be taken by handfuls."
"A little at a time," Ptonomy agrees. "We'll get that mountain moved."