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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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Ptonomy's going over the recordings from today’s sessions again, listening to David’s thoughts for probably the hundredth time. Lenny didn't keep count, she didn't stick around to watch Ptonomy torture himself. The mainframe might not be her favorite place but it's certainly never dull. She’s had plenty to do, but she did it and now she's back and Ptonomy is still at it, going over the mainframe version of his memories like they’re going to change if he just watches them one more time. She knows that’s what he used to do when he was alive and their old habits didn’t die with their bodies.

It sucks. They thought David had enough love in him to join his brothers in grieving their losses. But their grief was too much and the only people who could have caught it in time were the reason he freaked out in the first place. And the rest of them, relay and all, were so focused on helping the Davids that they didn’t realize David was riding the edge of a breakdown all through Dvd’s session.

They really should know by now what the inside of David's head sounds like when he's having a breakdown. The problem is that his non-breakdown head doesn't sound much better.

"Aren't you the one who said not to love your mistakes?" Lenny asks.

"We can't treat David if he keeps going away," Ptonomy says, tersely. "Sorry. This has been--"

"You've worked yourself and David into the ground," Lenny says. "You gotta blow off some steam before you end up like him and Division 3 has to find someone to give you therapy so you don't end the world."

"If the world survives we're all going to need therapy," Ptonomy says, but the recording stops playing. "David can't save anyone if he's catatonic."

"You know what I keep saying," Lenny says. She told Ptonomy, she told Amy, she told the Admiral. "Take off the crown and let the Davids take care of it." They took care of things in Clockworks, and that was despite Farouk being inside them and their need to stay undercover.

"The Admiral doesn't like the odds," Ptonomy reminds her back. "We need all of David functional to stop Farouk, not-- Two-thirds of him that can barely hold a conversation with each other. And you really should stop calling them that. They have names."

"It doesn't matter what I call them when you won't let me talk to them."

"I've been waiting for the right time to bring you in. David needed to focus on repairing his system, he didn’t need anything else to deal with. But we've hit a roadblock with that, just like we did with the memory work. And now we don't know how long it'll take for him to wake up." Ptonomy sighs. "Are the new androids ready?"

"Just tried mine out," Lenny says. It felt really good to have a body again, even if this one isn't really hers either. Division 3 might be a bunch of fascists but they know how to build an android. "Amy's is waiting for her. I bet that'll cheer David up."

"Once he's awake to see it," Ptonomy says, and sighs again. "You're right, I need a break. And you need to meet the Davids." He gives her a look. "Now you've got me doing it."

"Finally," Lenny says. "Take Amy with you when you go so she can stretch her new legs."

Ptonomy raises his eyebrows at her

"What, don't you trust me?"

"Lenny, you were arrested thirteen times. You spent years in a mental hospital and another year inside other people's heads. You're a drug addict."

"Can't be a junkie without a body," Lenny counters. "And you know what all that shit is? Fucking job experience. Who do you think kept David going in Clockworks, Amy? The orderlies? These other Davids will be a piece of cake. They like me-- Or at least they like me enough to use their mutant powers to scare the living shit out of some creeps."

"You pissed them off when you tried to lie to David," Ptonomy reminds her.

"They'll get over it. Compared to Amy and Syd I have zero baggage.”

“Zero baggage?” Ptonomy asks, disbelieving. “You were Farouk’s mask.”

“The Davids know that wasn’t me,” Lenny insists. “They asked me to save their life and I saved it. I'm not part of Division 3 or Summerland or the Hallers and I’m not an Amy bomb. David still thinks of Clockworks as one of the happiest parts of his life, which is fucking crazy but you know why he thinks that? Because of me. Yeah, Syd, blah blah rainbows and sunshine, but we survived that hellhole together. And so did the Davids. So take me off the fucking bench and let me in the game.”

"Okay," Ptonomy surrenders. "But remember, they're grieving. They need to grieve so they can move forward. And David might wake up at any moment."

"David needs me even more than the Davids," Lenny insists. "See my previous points. I helped with Farouk, now let me help with David. You guys keep breaking him. I said you were torturing him but you wouldn't listen. Maybe I can't put him back together but at least he never 'went away' under my watch."

"Then try not to break your streak," Ptonomy says. "If you need me--"

"Yeah, yeah," Lenny says, waving him away. "You're always watching. Now fuck off, I got work to do."

§

Nobody in that lab is in any shape for more surprises, so they get a big heads-up before Ptonomy gives the okay and leaves. Lenny affects a casual saunter, enjoying being able to casually saunter in a mostly real body, and walks inside.

She’s been watching through Division 3’s surveillance but she can see a lot more with the mostly-real eyes she has now. She sees Syd’s tight wariness and the upset she’s trying to hide. She sees Kerry and Cary’s wariness, too, both unsure of how to treat Lenny after only knowing her as a mask, a bomb, and a threatening Vermillion ghost. She sees Oliver, sitting in a meditation pose, focused on the relay. And she sees David.

But that’s not David. That’s the Davids, Divad and Dvd, still sharing David’s body while the man himself dissociates beyond anyone’s reach, while curled up invisibly in a loveseat. Syd wrote David’s name on a piece of notebook paper and taped it to the cushion back so no one accidentally sits on him. She used her own notebook this time; there's hope for her yet.

The Davids are sitting in the opposite loveseat, looking absolutely miserable. They have a blanket around their shoulders and they’ve been working their way through a tissue box.

“Yo,” Lenny says, and holds out the bag of candy. “Twizzler?”

The Davids look up at her. They look at the bag. They take a Twizzler and stare at it like it might contain an answer to one of the great mysteries of the universe, like why bad shit happens to good people. Lenny’s never figured that one out and she’s stared at a lot of Twizzlers.

“David’s not supposed to have candy,” Kerry whispers to Cary, but not so quiet that everyone else can’t hear.

“It’s fine,” Cary assures her. “In fact, how about we go get everyone a treat? Some hot chocolate, maybe.”

Lenny misses chocolate. She misses Twizzlers. No body means no drugs and no food. No pleasures of the flesh when she ain’t got no flesh. She was promised a real body at the end of all this and she’d better get it.

The Loudermilks step out. Syd’s still hanging back, keeping to herself. Lenny feels a tiny bit bad for her. It sucks getting perspective on your life. But other things suck worse, like being dead twice over.

The Davids take a bite of the Twizzler and chew, staring at the empty spot where David is. Lenny sits on the sofa and listens to them think. There’s a lot going on inside that head, as usual, even though her favorite part of that head isn’t thinking at all.

Dvd and Divad. She should get used to their names. But when they stop being angry for five seconds, they sound so much like David it’s hard for her to keep them apart, other differences aside. She’s no therapist — she’s learned a lot from the mainframe but she not gonna pretend to be something she’s not — but she gets that deep down they’re all just— David thinking he’s someone else. That’s how Farouk thinks of them and he should know.

It’s weird, knowing she was in there with them but didn’t know. It’s like they were stuck in their own drawers for ten years. Who knows how many souls Farouk has stolen over the centuries and shoved into drawers? She didn’t know about Melanie either.

In a way, she’s almost glad she’s in the mainframe. It’s like being omniscient, like she’s the one with mutant powers that let her see everything and hear minds and guard her thoughts. She’s a hero now, too, salaried and everything. She’s never had a real job before. She worked her ass off on the streets but that didn’t come with benefits, just STDs.

She misses her old body, but she totally fucked it over. She’s still ready to, like, get blasted and party for a month straight. But this whole experience is— An experience. Getting one over on Farouk felt a hell of a lot better than losing her head on vapor. She got a taste and now she wants more.

Lenny sticks her face into the Twizzler bag and takes a hit. She can’t eat but she can smell in glorious technicolor. She breathes in and moans.

When she looks up, the Davids are staring at her.

“Want more?” Lenny offers the bag. “I can’t eat. Sucks but—“ She shrugs.

The Davids have a brief internal argument about her. Dvd’s still angry at her for lying to David. Divad is trying to be sensible. David was never very good at being angry or sensible before, in his thoughts or out loud. Because his angry and sensible thoughts were in drawers. Farouk’s drawers, his own drawers. Compartmentalized.

The Davids decide to talk to her because they feel guilty about her being dead twice, because Ptonomy said she was safe, because they both want another Twizzler. David always cheered up for a Twizzler.

She gives the bag a shake and they warily take out two. They eat them together, the two Twizzlers pressed together like they’re one.

Lenny slumps back against the sofa and puts her feet on the coffee table. “So how’s he doing?”

The Davids shrug. “Might be a while.”

“Yeah, he was pretty upset,” Lenny agrees. “Really fucking upset.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be helping us feel better?”

“I’m not gonna lie to you,” Lenny says. “David wouldn’t be ‘away’ if he was happy hearing all that.”

“Ptonomy tricked us,” the Davids grump, and take an angry bite. “If we’d been doing our jobs David would be fine.”

“Thought you didn’t like lies,” Lenny says. She gets glared at but David’s glares have always been adorable. She resists the urge to pat them on the head. “I was in there, too,” she says, pointing the bag at them. “Even before all this he was a disaster. But he’s our disaster.”

“He’s not our anything,” they say, their face briefly crumpling with grief. “David’s gone.”

“Yeah,” she admits. “Farouk killed him. It fucking sucks. We should, like, hold a wake. Buy a headstone. ‘David Haller, taken too soon.’”

The Davids glare at her again. “Stop mocking us.”

“I’m serious,” Lenny insists. “David’s out cold. You don’t want to grieve him in front of him, I get it. You don’t wanna kick the puppy again. So mourn him now. Hell, I died twice because of the shit beetle. I’m dead just like David. But I don’t have anyone to mourn me so I gotta mourn myself. I can’t even get drunk, that’s such bullshit. You should get drunk for me.”

The Davids look tempted. “We shouldn’t. The last thing David needs is a hangover.”

“So drink a lot of water. Hey, I know where we can get the good stuff.” She turns. “Hey Syd! You know that pity party you’re having?”

“Excuse me?” Syd says, affronted.

“We’re gonna have an Irish wake for me and David,” Lenny tells her. “So go get us something Irish.”

§

Lenny does her due diligence. She's in charge and she can't get drunk anyway so she has to be the responsible one. She tells Ptonomy and Amy to take their time getting back and has Clark run interference to keep Cary and Kerry down in the cafeteria with their hot chocolate. This wake isn’t for them. Maybe Amy should be here for it, but Lenny doesn’t want that. Amy’s not one of them. Even if Farouk killed and tortured her, she’s not one of them.

Lenny tells Syd to pour her a glass of whiskey, too, just so she can savor the smell.

"A toast," Lenny says, raising her glass. "To Lenore Busker and David Haller. Taken too fucking soon."

Syd and the Davids raise their glasses and drink. Lenny takes a long sniff. At least she has a recent memory of being drunk on this stuff, and scent memories are the strongest. She could be like Ptonomy, living in the past until it feels more real than the present.

Eh, maybe not. That didn't work out so well for him, even aside from the insanity monster. Besides, she has a job to do, the same job she did for David and Syd in Clockworks. She has to make sure they survive this hellhole together. It turns out she didn't do it alone, but she's not doing it alone now either. She had a turn at being the invisible helper just like the Davids did, but now everyone can be seen.

It'll take a while for the whiskey to kick in, so Lenny considers her patients. Lenny's watched all the therapy sessions, she knows why Syd's feeling like shit right now even though she can't hear her thoughts. But if Lenny's learned anything from all this, it's that sometimes you need to feel like shit. She spent most of her life trying not to feel like shit but that didn't work out so well for her either.

Not that she's getting sucked into their therapy gangbang. She's done being anyone's patient. But she's not blind. She's not stupid. She's got the Davids blasting their thoughts at her, all their twisted-up and broken rationalizations. Divad and Dvd hate the way David does that, but they do it too. Lenny's starting to think everyone does even if they haven't been tortured. It's hard not to see her own broken thinking in theirs. It's hard not to want to be just a tiny bit better herself. But on her own terms, not anyone else's.

Lenny takes another deep sniff and remembers being alive. She remembers Syd stumbling into her cell, absolutely blasted and reeking of this same whiskey. Syd felt like shit then too. She'd just helped Division 3 force David into therapy. Farouk told her David wasn't real. That's still bullshit as far as Lenny's concerned. Nobody thought she was real for a long time. Her realness is still as uncertain as her status as alive or dead, but-- The David that thinks he's curled up on the loveseat is absolutely fucking real to her. That's her David no matter what he remembers. They both remember things that didn't happen. They remember her being his drug dealer and his drug buddy, even though that wasn't her. Who gives a shit if it happened? They remember it together so it happened to them. And if he could remember Benny for real, she wouldn't care. Sometimes in Clockworks David was so drugged up he barely recognized her, he barely remembered his own name. David was still David.

The Davids aren't ready to hear that. Their memories and David's memories don't match and that's what's torturing them. That's why David can't bear to exist for a while. He's forced to share his existence with two strangers who hurt him and shit, Lenny can barely stand to have roommates. He has every right to be really fucking upset about it. She was upset about Amy but at least it was Amy's body first. It's-- Almost like Farouk did the same thing to him, like David was the first draft. That's what the Davids think, that the monster ripped David out of his system and then put him back wrong.

Lenny really wishes she could drink because it makes her angry that anyone thinks David is wrong, especially himself. She gets why the Davids are upset. David's broken but so what? Everyone's broken. Life is cruel even without monsters making everything worse. David had a fucking monster in his head, he'll never be-- Whatever other people think he should be. Ptonomy knows that, Division 3 knows that now and they need to deal with it. David still can't face it. The Davids are trying, but they're not gonna get very far until they get this grieving shit over with.

Enough thinking. She has a job to do.

Syd's glass is almost empty so she tops it back up. The Davids only had half but she tops their glass up anyway.

"Doctor Busker's prescription," she tells them. "You know what whiskey is? It's a depressant but I like to think of it as staying-alive juice. Syd, you get that, we're old drinking buds. When it hurts to live you take your medicine and you stay alive."

The Davids give her a skeptical look. "I don't think it works that way," they say, and she knows it's Divad doing the talking now. She can hear him thinking about how David got high with Benny and how that didn't help him at all.

"Ptonomy's doing a good job," Lenny admits. "But David called it surgery without anaesthetic and he was right. I looked that up in the mainframe. Before anaesthesia, people would rather die than let some surgeon try to save them. It hurt that fucking much. People had to like, hold the patient down while they screamed in excruciating horrific pain for hours."

"Jesus," Syd says, disturbed, and takes a long sip.

"Yeah," Lenny agrees. "That's what Ptonomy's been doing wrong with all of this. Farouk's the one holding everyone down and Ptonomy's wielding the knife, and you've got this whole support system trying to keep the patients alive. But you have to be awake for this or it won't work, so what this place needs is some fucking vices. That's why they were invented in the first place, to make life tolerable. That's why David dissociates, right? That's why he got high for what, three years straight?"

"We're not going to let you turn David back into a junkie," the Davids say, angrily. They put down their glass.

"Syd has a stiff drink once in a while, that doesn't make her an alcoholic," Lenny counters. "It doesn't have to be chemical. You know how much David loves those magazines. Kerry wouldn't call those nutritious, but fuck nutrition, this is survival. Let David have his waffles and cherry pie if that's what keeps him going. And you need something to keep going, too. That card game stuff? It's cute, it's a way for you to bond with David, but if you're going to survive you need something stronger. This place is a pressure cooker and if we don't blow off some steam, we're all gonna explode."

"You're right," Syd says. "David's been-- We've been trying to save his life but the pain is--"

"Excruciating and horrific," Lenny finished for her. "Take it from me, I've heard it. And not just from David." She looks at the Davids. "If you want to make the torture stop, drink."

The Davids look back, then sigh. They pick up their glass and take a sip.

"That's more like it," Lenny says. "Drink your staying-alive juice so we can have this wake and survive it. Believe me, I'd take that whole bottle for myself if I could. Consider me the designated driver. Get completely fucking blasted so you can let out your damage before it blows you up and takes everyone else with it."

The Davids look at her, uncertain.

“You know what?” Lenny says. “This whole thing is about leading by example, right? So I’m gonna go first even though I am way too sober for this.” Mourning herself. God, it’s such bullshit. But she has to. “The Lenny you knew in Clockworks? She’s fucking dead. She got— Teleported into a wall. Ass on one side, tits on the other. She was a junkie and an alcoholic and got arrested thirteen times for prostitution and generally being a piece of shit. But she was shit because life was shit to her. She got clean and kept her friend David alive.”

She can’t manage any more without crying and she needs to be drunk to cry. It’ll have to wait until she has a real body again.

“You’d better drain those glasses fast,” Lenny warns, and watches angrily until they do. She fills them back up again and breathes over the bottle as if the fumes will somehow numb the pain. They don’t but— The pain passes anyway, dulling to a low ache.

By now the whiskey should finally be starting to take the edge off for Syd and the Davids. Syd’s used to the stuff but she drank more first. She knows her own dosage. Lenny’s not sure how accurate her memories of David are, but she doesn’t remember him being a drinker. He took drugs that made him float away. Whiskey will bring him down. The Davids are gonna be the absolute sloppiest drunks, she can tell. Syd held herself together but no part of David can hold himself together even sober.

That’s okay. Doctor Busker’s gonna keep them safe.

"Syd, your turn," Lenny says. "You didn't die but you lost a David. You're never gonna get what you had with him back because that David is dead. He knows it and you know it. You're the strong one. So be strong and show these guys how to grieve."

Syd stares at her glass like the promise of relief it bears is the only thing getting her through. It probably is. Ptonomy might know how to cut people open and sew them back together, but he has a lot to learn about helping them survive their pain. Love's great but it only gets you so far.

"David was--" Syd takes a shaky breath and starts again. "My David was-- Sweet. Gentle. He loved making me smile. He was-- Fragile. He was so sick. I loved-- His joy. Even when he shouldn't have-- He loved me when-- I didn't feel loved by anyone. He listened and-- He never wanted to hurt me. He made me feel-- Seen. Known. Like-- I mattered, when the world told me I didn't matter. I wanted him to leave with me but-- He was too sick to leave. And when he left anyway, his sickness got worse until-- I killed him. I shot him and-- My David died."

She can't say anymore, even with tears falling silently from her eyes. She drinks fast, draining her glass before hurriedly filling it back up again. She sits back and lets the tears fall, breathing and staring down at her glass.

"Now tell us about your David," Lenny tells the Davids. "Tell us how he died and say how you want to remember him."

The Davids already look like they're going to fall apart and they haven't even started yet. Lenny and Syd, they're not Kerry and Cary, they're not-- easy to touch. They have baggage and complications. But if there's anything constant about all the Davids, all the different versions and pieces of him, it's that he needs to hold someone's hand. He needs the comfort of touch to survive.

Lenny reaches out and offers her hand, and the Davids take it. It doesn't matter that her body isn't human. Syd reaches out and they take hers too. Whatever issues the Davids have with Syd, they don't matter right now.

The Davids look at the seat opposite them, seeing David himself rather than the paper with his name on it. David isn't dead, he's very much alive and he'll come back to them like he did before. But he needs their help so he can stay.

The Davids are trying, but it's hard. They need help, too.

"You can do this," Lenny urges. "David needs us to deal with our shit so he can deal with his. He can't get better if we keep making him worse, dragging him backwards. David's ready to move on. We have to let go of who he was so we can move on with him."

"She's right," Syd says, and puts down her drink to wipes at her tears. "David wants to be with us, to love us. But he can't do that if we keep hurting him. If we love him, we have to-- Let him become who he wants to be. We have to let go of who he was."

The Davids start crying, breathing in harsh, tight sobs. They hold Syd and Lenny's hands tightly.

'We waited so long,' Dvd thinks, mournfully. 'It's not fair.'

'We have to do this,' Divad thinks, determined. 'For David. For our system. Our new system.'

'I just want him back,' Dvd pleads.

'He's right here,' Divad tells him, gently. 'That's our David. But-- We can't see him, not until we stop looking for what isn't there.'

'It hurts so much.'

'Then we'll drink until it stops hurting,' Divad thinks. 'And we'll drink a lot of water and when David comes back we'll-- We won't make him feel-- Invisible. Like he's only-- His pain. He's not-- We're not just our pain. Our system is love, remember? That's what David wants for us. We have to do this for him.'

'For David,' Dvd agrees, his thoughts anguished.

"David--" the Davids begin. "Our David. He was-- Brave. Kind. He loved us-- So much. All he ever wanted for-- Us, all of us, was-- To be safe. He didn't want-- He never wanted anyone to suffer. He-- We were-- We--" They stop, struggling. "We would have done anything to save him. But he--" They stop again, barely able to speak. They take shuddering breaths until they can. "The monster-- Killed him. Ripped him away and-- Erased him. And he was-- Without us, he was so afraid, so-- Alone and-- Confused and-- He thought-- He couldn't--"

"Remember him the way you want to remember him," Lenny says.

The Davids give a wounded sob. "He was ours. We were his and he was ours. We survived together, so many awful-- We survived them together. We were everything to each other. He was the only thing that mattered. He needed us. We survived for him and he-- He survived for us. But he-- The monster-- He forgot us. We were supposed to-- But he forgot us."

"He wasn't strong enough," Syd says, with understanding.

The Davids shake their head.

"We survived but he couldn't," Syd continues. "And it hurts so much, being left behind. We just want him back. But he's gone. Those Davids are gone. We can't punish him for-- Not being them. He didn't chose to leave us, he was taken. We can't punish him for coming back changed. What matters is that he came back. We could have lost-- All of him. But we didn't."

"We didn't," the Davids echo, calming.

"But we can remember our Davids," Syd says, with a sad, bittersweet smile. "You can tell us all about yours. When my David was gone, I used to talk to Amy and-- She told me stories about her David. Tell us your stories. We'll drink and-- We'll listen, okay? And that-- That will keep him alive for us until-- He comes back. And when he does, we'll-- Love him as he is."

The Davids take a deep breath and let it out, the overwhelming pain receding like a tide. "Okay," they say, and they let go of Syd and Lenny's hands so they can drink.