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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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Matilda is very relaxing to touch.

She’s also more popular than ever. Ptonomy was taking a turn with her, petting her soft fur for sensory stimulation to treat his disembodiment, and now he’s handed her off to David to help him stay calm during their session. David focuses on Matilda’s rumbling purr and looks at Divad working with Cary, at Kerry and Amy helping Oliver with his embodiment exercises. Dvd is hanging back, watching everything with his usual suspicion, and Lenny is next to David on the sofa in case he needs a save.

Syd still hasn’t come back. But David’s trying not to think about Syd.

“I know you’re nervous about discussing your possession trauma,” Ptonomy says, in his calming therapist tone. “How about you start by telling me about your morning? It’s been busy for you.”

“You know me and my rough mornings,” David says, but that reminds him of Syd. “You know everything that happened.”

“I do,” Ptonomy says. “But the relay was off. It’s back now and you need to practice saying how you feel. So let’s practice. What’s on your mind?”

Syd, obviously, but— He really doesn’t want to talk about Syd. Which all experience tells him means he has to. Despite what Lenny said, therapy really is still torture.

"I talked to Syd," David starts, and forces himself on. "She told me that— She can't forgive me. And she told me— I've forgiven myself. For what I did."

"Was she right?"

"Yes," David grits out. "I honestly didn't— But she said, Syd said, forgiving ourselves is— Accepting our mistakes, learning from them, and moving on. And I'd done the first two but I wasn't letting myself move on because— I'm David's Haller's shame."

"You're not just your shame," Ptonomy reminds him.

"I know," David says. "But— Sometimes it's just so hard to feel anything else. And forgiving myself— It didn't— Syd said I should feel better but—"

"You feel what you feel," Ptonomy says. "Everybody's different. What do you feel when you think about forgiving yourself?"

"Awful," David admits. "Like I'm doing something wrong." He suddenly realizes he'd had a shame attack right in the middle of the conversation with Syd, but he hadn't been able to recognize it. "I had a shame attack." He looks to Lenny. "That's why you came over?"

"Dvd told us you were upset," Ptonomy says. "It's okay that you didn't recognize what was happening. It'll take practice to be able to experience those without being caught up in them. Do you remember what set it off?"

David thinks back. He was nervous just talking to Syd, but— He was holding it together until— "She asked if we could— She wanted to be therapy buddies but—" He feels angry again just thinking about it. "I know, I asked her, but— I thought—" He pets Matilda, breathes. "She said I was— Lying to myself, putting her in charge of my feelings, like— Like my feeling bad about hurting her hurts her. But if she hasn't forgiven me— Of course I feel bad about that! So I don't know what she wants."

"Maybe she doesn't either," Ptonomy suggests. "Maybe Syd's just as upset and hurt and confused as you."

"How am I supposed to know?" David asks, genuinely. "I can't hear what she's thinking anymore."

"You didn't know you heard her actual thoughts in Clockworks," Ptonomy counters.

"I didn't know," David agrees. "I heard— A lot of things that weren't real. But I heard the real things, too. I couldn't trust what I heard, but— I couldn't ignore it either. I heard all the awful things everyone thought about me. I heard how hopeless everyone thought I was. I heard how broken and disgusting and— I heard it, okay? And I heard—"

"What?" Ptonomy prompts, gently. "What did you hear?"

"When I got back, after the orb— I heard what everyone thought of me. Even Syd— She thought so many terrible things and— I know it's— God, I know how impossible it is to not think, but— If she'd just— Told me, maybe— I don't know. Maybe Farouk didn't need to do all of that just to hurt me because hearing everyone all the time was already torture."

Ptonomy gives him a considering look. "David— Are you saying you don't want your outside powers back?"

"No," David says, and then, "I don't know. After Farouk was gone— Sometimes there were these moments when I thought, this is quiet, this is— Real, actual quiet. But it wasn't." He points to the crown. "This is quiet. And— If I wasn't— None of this would have happened, right? Farouk wouldn't have— Melanie and Division 3 and— No one would care about David Haller. I wouldn't even be David Haller. Maybe I'd even be— Happy, normal, married in the suburbs with like, two point three kids."

"Maybe," Ptonomy allows. "But that's not what happened."

David sighs.

"What brought all this up?" Ptonomy asks.

David shrugs. "This whole thing, this— All the therapy and— I know it's to stop myself from being turned into— Something even worse than I already am. But— If it works, somehow, if— If one day Farouk is gone—" Say it aloud, say it aloud. "I tried, you know? I tried real life and— Syd wanted me to leave Clockworks with her. She wanted that but— I didn't. I wanted— Quiet. To live somewhere quiet, like I remember in my fake memories of having a life that actually contained quiet. But it's fake. This is the only real quiet I've ever known and— I actually— I thought, what if Cary can make a crown that doesn't hurt? What if he can do that? Maybe that's what I need, to just— Let myself be turned off. But I know it wouldn't matter because— Even if he could, I'm still— Quiet is a delusion that Farouk put in my head."

David slumps, entirely overwhelmed. He pulls Matilda close but that makes her squirm. She wriggles free and shakes herself, annoyed. David grabs a throw pillow and holds that instead.

"Okay," Ptonomy says, considering. "You're afraid. Not just of what might happen if this doesn't work, but of what might happen if it does. You're starting to hope, but hope— That comes with a lot of baggage. Even aside from Farouk, David— You had a very hard life. The life you remember. You were sick and the world can be very cruel when we're sick. And the worse you got, the worse you were treated, even by people you thought you could trust. This is a safe place for you and you don't want to leave it, just like you didn't want to leave Clockworks."

Yes, David thinks.

"David, we know that— Even if this works out, there are things that would make it very difficult for you to live on your own. We've known that from the start, from the moment we brought you to Summerland. We failed you before but we're making up for it now. You're not going to live your life as nothing but a patient, but you do need a supportive environment. And so do we. So we're going to make one and bring you there with us."

David looks at Ptonomy, and the hope he feels—

"Getting better doesn't mean being left on your own. Getting better means staying with us and being healthy enough to give back. And I know those are things you want to do."

David nods. He does want those things. He wants to stay and he wants to be able to give back. They're not in his mantra or his foundation but those ideas feel just as essential.

"How about you write them down anyway?" Ptonomy suggests. "If your foundation is your identity and your mantra is what helps you through the tough times— How about something that helps you build your future?"

David reflexively rejects that, even though he wants it. "That's a bad idea. I can't— Hope for things."

"You couldn't before," Ptonomy agrees. "But this time is different, remember? We're making it different. Farouk isn't inside you anymore and he's not getting back in, he's not going to use you."

"You can't promise that," David tells him. "Every time you say it—" David tries very hard not to think about the fact that he's still Farouk's obsession, that he always will be, that no matter how hard he fights he always loses. That Farouk is in this building and watching him right now. When he thinks about all that—

"I know," Lenny says. "It's fucking terrifying and believe me, if anyone gets that, it's me. But the only way out is through. We're getting through this together. We got through Clockworks, we can get through this. One step at a time, okay?"

David meets Lenny's eyes, and— Maybe they're not really her eyes, but he sees her in them and he knows she wouldn't lie to him about this, he knows she wouldn't. Lenny wouldn't have gone to bat for him against Division 3 and said all that stuff about contracts and backpay if she didn't think there was hope for him. He's always trusted Lenny so much, or— That's what he remembers. But that's what she remembers, too.

The terror recedes. It's never gone but at least it goes down to something manageable.

"There ya go," Lenny says, proudly. "Now come on, open that notebook. I just got you a barrel full of cabbage, there's gotta be something you want to spend it on."

"I don't know," David says. "I've never— Money's never really been—" Doctors, medication— They were expensive. So was school, especially after he lost his scholarship. If he hadn't been expelled, if he'd— And then the drugs— His whole sense of— Expectations or hope were just— He put a cord around his neck and stepped off a chair, wanting wasn't something he did, except wanting to make everything stop. Clockworks didn't make that any better, and since then— He's just been trying to figure out which way is up.

"Yeah," Lenny agrees. "But we got you right-side up. You got a few bucks coming. If you wanna buy, like, a boring farm in the middle of nowhere, you could do that. Or you could actually buy something fun. I dunno, start small, buy a fucking chocolate bar. Buy a new shirt, your clothes are older than Kerry. Work your way up to a tropical vacation and a red convertible. It's early for your mid-life crisis but fuck that, you earned it."

David huffs a laugh. "Yeah, okay, maybe—" He takes a deep breath, lets it out. "I'll write down what Ptonomy said. And the chocolate bar." Wanting a chocolate bar should be fairly harmless. And maybe— He did see some nice outfits in the fashion magazines.

"And the tropical vacation," Lenny insists.

David shakes his head but grabs the notebook and opens it to a new page. What should he even call this? It feels absurdly arrogant to— Declare what he wants. It's beyond tempting fate, it's painting himself red and dancing in front of an angry bull.

But— Farouk already knows what he wants. He lived in his head and knows David better than he knows himself. So— it doesn't really make a difference to Farouk.

That's—

Wow. Okay. That's— That's what all of this is. Farouk already knows every thought that's ever flitted through David's mind. He knows what's flitting through it now. And that's horrible, that's really— But— It means saying it, writing it down— That doesn't tell Farouk anything. It only tells David. And David— Wants to know what he wants. It's like— a wish list for Chanukah. He and Amy waited for the last night to open all their presents at once in a frenzy of torn wrapping paper. Or at least that's what he remembers.

He writes 'Wish List' and underlines it. Then beneath that, he writes 'Stay with my friends' and 'Give back to the world'. Then he adds 'Lenny's chocolate bar' and 'New clothes' and then, in a fit of abandon, 'A tropical vacation.'

Looking at the list makes him feel— Amazing and awful all at once. He shouldn't want things, he absolutely shouldn't. He feels that deeply. But— He really wants to want things. He wants to— Share a chocolate bar with Lenny. Go clothes shopping with Kerry. Take everyone on a tropical vacation and just— Be happy. He wants to be happy.

'Be happy,' he writes, and that's— Truly an absurd thing to ask for, he knows that. But he wrote it down anyway and he's not going to take it back.

"I'm going to be tortured for the rest of my life," he says, staring at the list. "I'm going to end the world. I'm going to stay with my friends and give back to the world." They all feel— Not equally possible, but at least they all feel possible. And terrifying. They all definitely feel terrifying.

"Hey, I demand to be less terrifying than the shit beetle," Lenny says, then considers that. "Actually— I demand to be more terrifying than the shit beetle."

"Lenny the Terrible," David jokes. "Like, with one of those big Russian beards?"

"And a furry hat," Lenny says. "Gotta have the furry hat. You know that's gonna get me laid. All the girls wanna pet my fur."

David laughs at that, actually laughs.

"See, you're happy already," Lenny says, elbowing him. "You've got some of that stuff now. Still gotta work on that tropical vacation, but—"

David looks at the list again. He looks around the room. She's right. "You're a really good cruise director, Lenny."

"You bet I am," Lenny declares.

"She is," Ptonomy agrees. "And David, that was really good work with that list. You've come a long way to be able to do that. So let's keep going."

"Right," David says, then looks to Ptonomy expectantly.

"Your outside powers," Ptonomy reminds him. "The best person to help with that is Oliver. I know he's not in great shape himself right now, but we're working on it and Cary's confident he'll improve. Helping you will help him, and the more he remembers, the more he'll be able to remember. So spend some time with him, see if you can jog his memory. You will get the crown off, and when that happens, I don't want that to set you back."

"Okay," David accepts.

"And as for you and Syd— I'm glad you forgave yourself and that she was able to help you realize that. She's right that your forgiveness and hers are two separate things. But of course it hurts that she hasn't forgiven you. It's natural to feel bad about that. Even if you've forgiven yourself, it's natural to feel bad about what you did. That will help you avoid doing it again. But you need to recognize when your shame starts to overwhelm you. I know it's hard, but those are the moments you need to try to give yourself love. How about you tell me about something that happened today that made you feel love?"

David doesn't have to think hard to find an answer. He glances up at the workout area where Kerry is. "Um. When Kerry said— The relay made her feel like we're one big system. That was—" He tightens his hold on the pillow again, but not out of fear.

"It meant a lot to you," Ptonomy says, gently. "Her acceptance?"

David nods. "She's— Everyone has been— I don't mean to—"

"It's okay," Ptonomy soothes. "Just say how you feel."

"Safe," David says, without hesitation. "I know she can't— Not— Physically safe. But—" He gives Lenny a crooked smile. "She's like you were. In Clockworks, how it was— Getting this far— I couldn't have done it without her. And now—" His smile fades. "My thoughts are— They can be really— I don't want her to— And if they're too much, of course Oliver shouldn't relay to her, but— That she even wants to hear— Not because she has to, or—" He rubs at his eyes. "Sorry, I don't know why it's—"

"I can't think of anything more intimate than sharing my thoughts with another person," Ptonomy says. "I'm sorry we had to take that choice away from you to help you."

"You had to," David accepts. "It was— It's still really hard to— It's better now, but—" The shame and fear. They’re like a cord tied around his throat, and sometimes it pulls so tight even his thoughts can't escape. The tighter it gets the more it takes from him, and it's taken so much. But now he has Lenny and Kerry and Amy and all his friends and enough love that he can actually— Breathe. Speak. Hope. Want things. Learn and get better and— See the things he already has. Maybe the cord will never go away, but— Love keeps it loose.

"I'm really glad to hear that," Ptonomy says, warmly. "We know what helps you, what makes you strong. Love makes you strong, David. That love you feel is what makes you strong enough to face your trauma and let us help you through it. That love is going to help you heal your system. Not all by yourself, but with your brothers, one step at a time, just like you're doing with us, just like you did with Lenny. You and Kerry share a system, you and your brothers share a system, we all share a system, and we're all going to make our systems strong. How does that sound?"

It sounds— God, it sounds— Terrifying, but— In a really good way.

"Okay," Ptonomy says. "So let's talk about how you're going to help your brothers. We're trying to help them see that we're their friends, just like we're your friends, but it's hard for them to trust. When you forgot them, you found new people to share your life with, but they couldn't. They were trapped inside you and even with the relay, they're still trapped."

"I know," David says. "I don't want them to be."

"Of course you don't," Ptonomy says. "You have a lot of compassion for them. You have a lot of love you want to share with them. They've been trying to allow themselves to accept it, just like you did with our love, but they need your help. They've spent their whole lives helping you and now they need you to help them. Are you ready to do that?"

"Yes," David says, firmly.

"Good. It's not going to be easy, for you or for them. But we'll get there as long as we do it together. You already know the pieces we need to work on. You need to share your system's body. You need to allow them to be with you so you can sleep together. I'd like for you to start that tonight if you can."

"Tonight?" David asks, wavering. That's— That's awfully soon.

"There are ways we can do this to make it easier for you," Ptonomy soothes. "But nothing is going to happen without your consent. This won't help anyone if you're unable to sleep or if you wake up scared. And before you can ask, no, they can't sleep instead of you."

David makes a face, because that was absolutely going to be his suggestion. "Okay," he accepts. "So— We need to make enough progress on my— Possession trauma for that."

"That's the goal," Ptonomy says. "That would be a full day for you already, but we also want your brothers to have time in your system's body. I'd like for them to each have their sessions with me while embodied, and then spend time with all of us. I don't want anyone running off to lick their wounds alone. I also don't want you to feel overwhelmed by all of this while you're disembodied. All three times you were triggered to go away, you were detached from your body in some way. The only time you stayed was when Dvd got you back to your body fast enough for us to help you. If it happens again, your brothers will get you back in your body so we can help you."

David leans back. "This is already a lot."

"We know," Ptonomy says. "But that's why we're going over it now. And I want you to tell me: do you feel like it would be easier for you to help your brothers first, or to work on your possession trauma first?"

"Help them first," David says. He's feeling strong right now, he feels like he can really be there for them. "But— If the goal is for us to share our body tonight— Maybe it would be better to give me more time to recover?"

"That's a good idea," Ptonomy says. "How about— We do the possession work first, then make sure you're okay before you step out. Then you helping your brothers could help you feel better. I know you like helping. And remember, just like Kerry and the relay, this isn't all or nothing. You can always tell us that you need a break. I know that's hard for you, but if you don't tell us, we might lose you again. If that cord starts pulling tight, send up a flare so we can loosen it, okay?"

"Okay," David says. He doesn't want to— Go into a dissociative fugue again. That it keeps happening is— Upsetting enough on its own. It makes him feel so— Out of control.

"When you started doing that, it was the only escape you had," Ptonomy says. "You literally had no other way to survive what was happening to you. But now all that does is isolate you from everything that can truly help you get better. That's what bad coping mechanisms do. They help you survive but then they get in the way of living. Your shame does that, too. So does Dvd's anger and Divad's need to control. That was how the three of you survived, but you're more than the ways you survived. You know that. You're love. Dvd and Divad are love, too. It's up to us to help them see that, the way we helped you."

David looks at his brothers. Dvd has his eyes fixed away from David, but David knows he's been listening. Divad is the same. They can't not hear him. Maybe that's been a burden for them for a long time, but— That means they can't not hear his love, too.

He knows— Last time, he tried too hard. He just wanted them all to be better. But healing takes time and work, and the hardest part is the beginning. He's ready to help them now, not just for their system's sake but for their sake. Because they deserve to love and be loved, just like he does.

He deserves love. He doesn't just— Not deserve what was done to him. He deserves love. They deserve love. It feels— Amazing to be able to think that. To have the cord that loose around his neck that he can think that. He wishes he could cut it away for good. Maybe one day he can. It's just going to take— A lot of work and a lot of love and probably a lot of time.

David wants them to have that time. He wants them to heal together, to share the way they're meant to. He truly wants that. But first he has to heal himself.

"Okay," he says, ready. "Let's do this."