"I'd like to take us back to a week ago," Ptonomy begins. "The two of us were sitting together, just like this, down in the cell. Some things happened that upset you. The first was when we talked about when you went to save Amy from Division 3. The second was when Divad took charge of your system's body without permission."
"I remember," David says. Upset is— A generous way to put it.
"Just now, when I mentioned Divad and Dvd sharing your system's body with you tonight. That upset you, too."
David grips at the pillow he's holding. "Yes," he admits.
"What happens when you think about sharing your system's body? How does it feel? What do you think about?"
David's been trying to not think about that at all. But— It's not good for Divad and Dvd to be mental projections all the time. It's not fair to them. It isn't his body, it's theirs. Their system's body. They're a system. He's part of that system. The idea that it's his and his alone— That was just another of Farouk's delusions, like quiet.
"That's a hard idea for you to accept," Ptonomy says.
Hard is also a generous way to put it.
"Farouk put a lot of bad ideas into you," Ptonomy says. "You had no way to defend yourself against them, and they've been growing in you for a long time. It's harder to get rid of an old idea than it is to accept a new one. It's even harder when you're trying to swap a bad idea for a good one. That bad idea about your body, that parasite, it doesn't want to let go of you. It doesn't want to lose its territory. It'll do everything it can to kill the good idea before it can grow and take over. So we can't let it hide. We have to get a good hard look at it so we can figure out how to get it out of you without hurting you. Right?"
"Right," David says, but— He's afraid. When he tries to think about all of that— All he can think about is the fear. Like the scars Farouk left behind, it's just— Fear.
"So let's talk about the fear," Ptonomy says. "Fear is a defense mechanism. We get afraid because we sense a threat, because we're vulnerable. We curl up, trying to protect the parts of us that keep us alive. Just like you're doing now."
David reflexively straightens, self-conscious.
Ptonomy smiles. "And now you're defending yourself against your vulnerability itself being exposed."
"Very funny," David grouches. "Yes, I'm afraid."
"Divad and Dvd are parts of you," Ptonomy says, sobering. "They've been dedicated to protecting you and your system's body your whole life. You're relying on their protection now, guarding your mind and body so Farouk can't get back in. So you rely on them, you trust them."
"I have to trust them," David admits.
"True, but that trust has been earned. Divad and Dvd have proved that, even if they've made mistakes, they have your best interests at heart. They still remember how your system works and they fully accept you as a part of it, no matter what you remember. They've been respectful of your wishes and given you space to heal. And you've returned that trust and respect, allowing them to have time in your system's body so they can heal, too."
David relaxes, thinking of that. "Yes," he agrees. "They've been— I know it's been hard for them, all this, and—" Looking back, understanding the truth about what he is, what they are— They tried so hard to ease him back to the truth. Only appearing as voices at first, and then bringing him to their bedroom to try to help when everything went wrong. And since then, they've been trying their best to only tell him as much as he can handle. "They must know me very well. Who I was."
"You were very close," Ptonomy agrees. "There's a DID term for the way your system works. Co-conscious. Some DID identities only alternate, they don't share their body at the same time. Co-conscious identities share, ideally in what's called healthy multiplicity. That's actually the goal of modern DID therapy: a functional co-relationship with shared responsibility and accountability."
"Healthy multiplicity," David echoes.
"Most systems don't have the option of projection," Ptonomy continues. "So they have to work out how to share their body together. Usually one identity 'fronts' at a time, while the others hang back or go into their inner world. That's how Cary and Kerry work when they're not using physical projection. Your system uses the term 'in charge' for that. Most of the time, you've been in charge and Divad and Dvd hung back, took care of things on the inside. But they've been in charge too, and the three of you are even capable of all being in charge together."
"We are?" David asks. That's the first he's heard of it.
"Dvd and Divad have shared your body together," Ptonomy says. "While you were away. It seems to be very comforting for them. They're not used to being apart like this, as physically separate individuals. When you're spending time with them, you should ask them about it. When you're able to share with them, you can practice, see how it feels for you."
David considers that. It all sounds very— Manageable. But Ptonomy's good at making things manageable. That's how they've gotten this far.
He tries to imagine sharing that way. Not— Losing control of himself, having control taken away from him by force. Something— Mutual. Cooperative. Healthy. Kerry would probably call it nutritious.
"Okay," David says. "I'll ask them." That's a relief, too. Having a safe topic to talk to them about. Everything about their past is so fraught. David hates having to ask them to remember, and finding out how awful his old life was hasn't been great for him either. Maybe if they focus on how they work now, on learning how to be a healthy multiplicity, that will help them build their new system.
"Now that is a good idea," Ptonomy says, approving. "I think that will be extremely nutritious for all three of you." He smiles at that. "But you can't practice until you're able to allow them to share with you. So let's go back to where we left off. What happens when you think about sharing your system's body? How does it feel? What do you think about?"
There's less fear in the way now. "I think about— What happened at Summerland."
"Last year," Ptonomy says. "But that wasn't last year for you. It was, what, a month ago? That's not a lot of time, and you haven't had any real chance to process what happened. It's not surprising that those feelings are still so raw for you."
David nods. Raw is definitely the right word for how he feels about all of that.
"So let's get you processing," Ptonomy says, like it's as simple as that.
And maybe it is. Maybe all of this— Possession trauma. He just hasn't processed it. Between Oliver finding him on the astral plane and David waking up with a crown on his head in Division 3's cell, he didn't have time to catch his breath, much less process— Anything that happened to him.
"So where do you want to start?" Ptonomy prompts. "Farouk's attack on Division 3? That seems to be a flashpoint for you."
"It is," David admits. "But— It's all— Tangled up." He looks at Lenny and has to look away.
"I know," Lenny says, understanding. "He used me to hurt you."
"I didn't know what you were," David admits. "When I was in Syd and— Everything happened, I saw— Your body. In the wall. And then— In Amy's basement, I thought—" He shifts, struggling. "I saw things all the time, things that weren't real. But sometimes I didn't think real things were real. And you were real, sort of. Mostly?" He sighs. "And it's— That's the thing, because that was always him, doing that to me. Tricking me, making me confused, making me— Crazy. And you know, I accepted it? I accepted that I was schizophrenic. I let that idea become— Such a part of me. And now I know that it was his idea. That I never believed I was schizophrenic until he—" He points at his head, their head. His head. Their head. "Put the idea into me. Took out and put in whatever he wanted. Made me— Made me. As a— A person. As David. He made me. I'm just— One of his sunrises."
It makes him sick, thinking about that. It makes him want to claw off his own skin. Forget about sharing with Divad and Dvd. He doesn't even want to share with himself.
"Okay," Ptonomy soothes. "That's pretty tangled. So let's take a moment and then start untangling."
David does some breathing. Untangling sounds— Manageable.
"What do you think about making another list?" Ptonomy asks. "You can write down the different parts of this, cross them off as we go."
"No," David says, reflexively. "I don't— I don't want that in my notebook." It's bad enough that he feels like he's— Contaminated, physically and mentally— His notebook is his new self. He doesn't want this anywhere near it.
"Okay," Ptonomy says. "That's fair. How about you use something else to write it? Something completely separate? Not even another notebook. How about— Printer paper?"
David considers that. "Yeah, okay.”
"Lenny, could you?" Ptonomy asks.
Lenny leaves and brings back a clipboard with several plain white sheets and a pen. "Here ya go. And a new pen, so that's separate, too."
David isn't sure if she's mocking him, but then he looks up and sees that she very much isn't. Of course. If anyone understands what he's feeling right now, it's Lenny. Even if it's hard to look at her when he thinks about this— He's incredibly glad she's here.
She even picked a pen that's different than the ones Cary has been giving him. Lenny is the absolute best cruise director ever.
Lenny smiles at that. "Yeah, yeah."
"It sounds like this is going to have to cover everything you remember and know about Farouk's possession of you," Ptonomy says. "That's a lot. But we're not going to do it all at once. We'll make a list, and as new things come up, we'll add them to the list and deal with them when you're ready. Okay?"
"Okay," David says. A list needs a name. He wonders what he should name this one. 'FUCK THE SHIT BEETLE,' he writes, in large block letters, and underlines it firmly.
"Nice," Lenny says, approving. "Just think how good it's gonna feel to start crossing off the shit he did to you. Fuck the shit beetle."
"Fuck the shit beetle," David agrees. He's going to process the hell out of this list so he can crumple it up and shove it down Farouk's throat and make him choke on it.
"Now that's motivation," Ptonomy says. "Let's get started. Write down everything we just talked about."
Even those few things feel enormous. But they’re just untangling, he doesn’t have to think about them beyond just— Naming them. He’s only naming. He can do this.
Made him schizophrenic, David lists. Lived inside him and— Fed on him. Took him over and made him hurt people. Made him forget and— Sculpted him.
The last one makes his stomach turn. All of it makes his stomach turn. God, his whole life is a lie and he was— He was just— food. Prey. His whole life. He tastes bile at the back of his throat. He thinks he might actually—
He makes it to the sink just in time.
He leans over the counter, his stomach hurting, mouth full of acid. Ptonomy hands him a cup of water, and David washes out. So much for motivated processing. And his cherry pie.
“That didn’t get very far,” David says, weakly.
“First steps are always the hardest,” Ptonomy says. “You’ve been suppressing all of this for a reason, David. The four things on that list represent an incredible amount of pain. And I know that’s just scratching the surface.”
“No breaking David,” Lenny warns, displeased.
“We’re going slow,” Ptonomy says. “But we have to keep going. We need to break those big traumas down into pieces David can manage.”
Right now David doesn’t feel like he can manage any trauma. God, how did he think he was going to do all this and help his brothers and share their body?
“You got a little maxed out,” Lenny soothes. “The cruise ship Mental Health hit some waves and you revisited your breakfast.”
That drags a dry laugh out of David. “Revisited my breakfast?”
“Painted the town red? Prayed to the porcelain god? Do sinks count for that?”
“It is porcelain,” Ptonomy says.
“Oh god, you’re both at it,” David moans. Lenny and Ptonomy are rubbing off on each other, and the world trembles.
“Hear that?” Ptonomy says. “We got the world shakin’ in its boots.”
“It better shake,” Lenny says, menacingly.
David isn’t sure what he did in a past life to deserve them. Maybe he built an orphanage. Or he set one on fire.
Lenny snorts. “Done being seasick? Come on, back to work.”
David trudges back. He wraps himself in the blanket and claims a loveseat. It feels safer, somehow. He grabs the throw pillow, too. He doesn’t care how ridiculous he looks, he has no dignity left and he needs every soothing thing he can get his hands on to get through this.
Lenny sits down next to him and picks up the clipboard. She considers the list. Then she crosses out ‘Made me schizophrenic.’
“Hey!” David protests. He reaches for the clipboard but Lenny holds it out of reach.
“Are you schizophrenic now?” Lenny challenges.
“Does him making you schizophrenic have anything to do with sharing with your brothers?”
David thinks about that. “No, but it’s— I still need to talk about it.” He wants to talk about it. He wants to be able to cross it off his list himself.
“I’m not stopping you,” Lenny says. “But it’s gonna have to wait.”
“Lenny’s right,” Ptonomy says, sitting down on the sofa. “Our priority today is what affects your system, not just you. If there’s something we can set aside for later, we should. There’s still plenty to get through.”
David huffs. "Fine. But give me back my list."
Lenny hands it back. David pointedly writes the schizophrenic line over again at the bottom of the list so he can cross it off himself later. He hasn't even remotely finished processing that.
He looks at the other items. Okay, they're— They're definitely relevant. He feels queasy again but he breathes through it.
"Let's start breaking these down," Ptonomy says. "Pick one and we'll talk about it."
David tries. He can't.
"Okay," Ptonomy says, and visibly thinks. "When we put you under for the last memory session, you still had no idea what was happening to you. Then when you came back from the astral plane, suddenly you were different. You had no trouble controlling your powers. You were confident, arrogant. Farouk was in control."
"You woke up on the astral plane and Oliver found you," Ptonomy continues. "He told you about the monster? Tried to help you?"
"Yeah," David says. "Um. He said— I didn't know about it because— The monster made me forget. But I didn't— Amy was— I had to get back to Syd."
"You were avoiding what upset you by putting your attention somewhere safer," Ptonomy counters. "That's one of your thought patterns. It's part of your dissociation. But running away from your problems doesn't get rid of them. Not thinking about the monster didn't make it go away."
"I know," David sighs. "I know. It's just—" It's too much, and when things are too much— He just— Needs to think about something that isn't.
"You know that makes you vulnerable," Ptonomy says. "When something upsets you, you need to be able to focus on it, deal with it directly. That's a skill you can learn that will help you deal with difficult situations. Do you think things might have gone differently if you'd stayed and listened to Oliver?"
"I don't know," David says, and he really doesn't. "Oliver was really— Detached, I guess. It's not like I felt safe with him either. He was just— A really strange guy in an ice cube. Sorry, Oliver."
'Apology accepted,' thinks Oliver's voice in his head.
David's so used to not hearing anything now that it startles him to hear someone else think again. Hearing everyone all the time again is going to be— A lot. And that's beside the fact that he has to deal with what they're actually thinking about. He really does need to talk to Oliver about that.
'When you're free,' Oliver thinks. 'Don't let me distract you.'
David doesn't know what's a distraction anymore. He has so many issues to deal with that no matter where he turns, there's no escape.
"So make the choice yourself," Lenny says. "Pick what you want to focus on and focus on it. Don't let it sneak off. Pin it down and take it apart."
Pin it down and take it apart. He thinks of— His advisor in college had one of those display cases with pinned bugs inside it. Beetles. Bright, shiny bugs, some with vivid coloring and some with horns. David used to look at it when his advisor was despairing over David's disastrous grades, warning him that he was going to lose his scholarship, telling him he needed to focus on his studies. David tried, but— He didn't understand the classes anymore. Because— He never understood them. Divad was the one who understood them.
It hits him, suddenly, what all of that means. All the things he remembers about— Choosing a college, choosing a major, going to classes and learning, wanting to make something of himself, to go to med school and help people. Those aren't his memories. They're Divad's memories, copied and changed and given to him by Farouk. That's all part of the sunrise. Farouk couldn't just use David's own memories because— He didn't have any of his own, none that were usable. Because he was hanging back. He was just a passenger.
That was years. He was a passenger for years. He wasn't— Having a healthy multiplicity, not then. There was nothing healthy about him at all. He was just— Someone they carried around. And all the things he remembers doing with Amy, her helping him with his tests, his applications, his essays, helping him move, talking to him on the phone, that entire section of what he thought was his life—
It wasn't his life at all. It was Divad's life.
He's vaguely aware of the sound of the pen and clipboard hitting the floor.
"Shit," Lenny says. She snaps her fingers. "David, stay with us. Don't you dare break my streak."
"I'm— I'm okay," David says, though he has no idea if he is. He's just— It was one thing to have fake versions of his own memories. But there's a whole chunk of his life where he remembers being someone else. It's just that that someone— Was another part of him, covering for him, pretending to be David Haller. That's— Does he have Dvd's memories, too? Who even is he? Did— Did Farouk—
Focus. Pin it down and take it apart.
Farouk couldn't force the pieces of David Haller back together. David was— Too broken for his brothers to fix. But Divad and Dvd aren't real to Farouk, they weren't what he wanted even though they're also parts of David Haller. So Farouk figured out a way to fix David. He took the David identity and gave him a new set of memories. He left out the childhood trauma because he had to. He used Divad's memories because he had to, to give David— Continuity. To fill in the huge stretch of time that he spent doing nothing, trapped inside his own body by his brokenness.
Farouk's sunrise wasn't just— Random evil torture. It was him trying to make David— Whole. And he did, in a twisted, monstrous way. Like how giving Lenny a body made out of Amy made her his idea of whole. Farouk doesn't start from scratch. So David— The David he was then, the David he is now— His memories are different, but he's still the same person. Farouk didn't make a new David. He fixed David so he could keep playing with him, keep torturing him.
Farouk didn't just want to keep him alive in the desert. Farouk has wanted to keep him alive for a long, long time. David has to be the same David.
"I'm David," he says, aloud. "I'm really— David."
"Told you," Dvd says, and David looks up to see both Divad and Dvd standing there.
"I remember being you," David says to Divad. "For years."
"He had to use mine," Divad admits. "Your real memories wouldn't have made sense without us and the monster and— All of it. He did what we couldn't. He fixed you."
"So he could break me again," David says, and that's what happened. Farouk made David whole and then broke him, a little at a time, until— Clockworks. And then Lenny and Syd and Summerland built him back up again, and Farouk played until David broke. And now—
"Yeah," Dvd says, utterly serious. "I don't care what promises these people make. He's letting them heal you because that's what he wants. He wants to crawl back into our head. Well, he's not getting past me."
"And he's not getting past me," Divad says.
"So that just leaves— Me," David realizes. If Farouk's going to get back inside them— He's going to have to trick his way in, and he knows everything about David, everything. He's not just obsessed with David. He's obsessed with manipulating David, tricking him, putting ideas into him. And now Farouk wants to put a truly monstrous idea into David: himself.
"That's why you gotta get strong," Lenny says. "We gotta make your mind strong so he can't use you, make your whole system strong so he can't break it. You can beat him and you'll know it when you bust through everything that's holding you back."
"You need me to stop him," David realizes. "Again."
"Yeah," Lenny says. "Sorry, man. I told them to just put you somewhere quiet and green."
"Farouk's going to keep hurting you for the rest of your life unless you make the pain stop," Ptonomy says. "That's true about your trauma and unfortunately it's also true about the trauma he wants to inflict on you. We're doing everything we can to keep you safe, to solve this without you, but the odds say we can't solve this without you."
"But Farouk knows," David says, confused. "You said it so he knows."
"He already knows," Ptonomy says. "I told him we weren't going to hurt you for him anymore. But he still needs us to fix you. If that's what he's going to allow us to do, then we're going to put everything we have into it. And that's what you have to do, too. David— He has your memories. He's going to use them. We don't know how, but— He may already be using them. Whatever the next game is, it’s already started."
"It's another race," David realizes, his heart sinking.
"I didn't want it to be," Ptonomy says, regretful. "But yes, it is. But it's not for Farouk's body. It's for you. Your body, your mind, your powers. You're the prize he wants to win. And after losing you twice, I don't think he's going to hold anything back. He got control of you and lost it. He's not going to want to be a passenger again."
All this time, David thought— He didn't know what he thought. He just didn't want to think about Farouk at all, didn't want to think about being forced to end the world. But that was just him being— Stuck in his trauma. Maybe Farouk still wants to end the world, maybe he doesn't. But all this therapy, it isn't about what makes David suicidal and unstable enough to explode, not anymore. It's about what makes him vulnerable enough to be used. It's about finding all the bad ideas growing inside him and getting them out before Farouk can use them to crawl back in.
"And we have to make your relationships strong, too," Ptonomy says. "Divad and Dvd might be able to protect your body, but their minds are as vulnerable as yours. Your relationships with each other need to be strong. All of our relationships need to be strong. He's used all of us against you, David. He'll try to do it again."
David looks around the room. Everyone is watching him. Amy and Kerry and Oliver, Cary and Dvd and Divad, Lenny and Ptonomy.
And Syd. But Syd isn't here.
"He'll use Syd, too," David realizes, his heart sinking even further. Maybe down to his shoes.
"He'll try," Ptonomy says.
If any of his relationships feels insurmountably broken, it's his relationship with Syd. She can't forgive him. What's left of their relationship to save? Farouk covered them with gasoline in the desert, and David set them on fire. It's just— Ashes, now.
"So make a new relationship with her," Ptonomy says. "Just like you're doing with your brothers. Just like you've done with all of us. Maybe you can't be lovers again, but you can still be friends. You don't even have to be that. But you have to make some kind of peace with each other. You forgave yourself, David. You have to forgive her."
"Forgive her?" David asks. "No, I— She's the one who won't forgive me."
"Then why do you freak out every time you talk to her?" Lenny asks.
No, that’s— That’s not—
David looks around. Surely there's someone—
But everyone in the room has been studying him closely for over a week. They can hear his thoughts and they don't dissociate from them the way he does. This is— He thought— He thought he forgave Syd, but he forgave himself? And he keeps thinking Syd doesn't want to talk to him, but he doesn't want to talk to her? All this time—
"I really have to stop dissociating," David groans.
"You can't," Ptonomy says. "But there are ways to manage it. And you can trust your brothers to help you. That's what they've always done. You've always dissociated, no matter what memories you had. That's how your system exists. When it's too much for you, they take over. That's classic DID. I know all of this is a lot for you, but we're telling you because Divad and Dvd believe you're ready for it. We're trusting their judgement. Trust them to help you like they always have."
David looks at Divad and Dvd. They've always protected him, because he's always been David. And they thought— That was how it had to be, because they thought he was the original, just like Farouk. But he's an identity just like they are. They're all parts of David Haller, they're all Davids. So it's not their job to protect him. It's their job to protect each other, all three of them.
But— David tried to be a hero before, and— Being the hero, that's just another one of Farouk's ideas. Farouk even told him to be a hero in his dream. He wants David to fight back, he wants to use him to play out another round of his twisted hero-villain fantasy.
"Playing the hero," Ptonomy corrects. "You told me that Farouk told you to play the hero. But there's a big difference between playing a hero and being one. Playing the hero? That's you looking to prove yourself, to earn love because you can't love yourself. But being a hero means doing the right thing for other people. It means genuinely engaging with them and giving them the help they need, not the help you want to give. Playing the hero is where you went wrong before. But being a hero is what you're doing here."
"I haven't done anything," David protests.
"We talked about this before, but I know you need reminders," Ptonomy says, with a wry fondness. "Do you think saving someone's life is heroic?"
"Yes," David admits. The conversation is coming back to him now.
"That's what you're doing now," Ptonomy says. "Saving David's life. Or do you think David doesn't deserve to be saved?"
Last time he said no. David didn't deserve to be saved. But— He knows now. He knows who David is and— David doesn't deserve to be tortured anymore. He doesn't deserve to have Farouk crawl into his head and take him over. He deserves— Good things. To stay with his friends. To be happy and— To love and be loved.
David is love, that’s in his foundation. But he isn’t just any old love. David is the love his friends and his family have for him. That love deserves to be saved.
"Yes," he says, amazed that he can say it. "David deserves to be saved."
"Then keep saving him," Ptonomy says.