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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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“We have a lot to work on together," Ptonomy says. "But first I'm going to ask you the same thing I asked David. How about you start by telling me about your morning? You had a rough day yesterday. How are you feeling now?"

"You already know," Divad and Dvd say together. If they have to put up with telepathic therapy, then they shouldn't have to talk about what everyone already knows.

"It helps David to talk," Ptonomy counters. "It's true, your therapy has involved a lot of discovery. But it's really about how you feel, and talking about how you feel is important." He gives them a considering look. "How about you talk about how it feels to be in charge together? How does that work?"

"None of your business," Divad and Dvd say. That's private. The way their system works is private.

"You didn't even want to tell David how your system works," Ptonomy says.

Divad and Dvd glance at David. Amy and Lenny are keeping him distracted. Good.

"You still don't want to tell him," Ptonomy realizes. "All right. If it makes you more comfortable, we can speak privately." 'Let's do this through the relay.'

Fine, Divad and Dvd think. But they do relax a little. Ptonomy was sneaky yesterday, getting them to tell David things he wasn’t ready to hear. But all these people, David's friends— They haven't told David what's in Divad and Dvd's thoughts even though they could have. Lenny threatened to, but— They think she was bluffing. She doesn't want to upset David either.

'Why don't you want to tell David how your system works?' Ptonomy asks.

Divad and Dvd sigh. They do want to tell him. But— It hurts. Him not knowing. He's supposed to know.

Ptonomy nods. 'Your bedroom, the way your powers work, the way your sharing works. He developed all those things with you. And no one else even knew you existed, much less how you worked. It's all truly been private to your system. Except your system wasn't alone inside your body. Farouk knows how your system works, too. So it's important that we know, so we can help you keep yourselves safe.'

Divad and Dvd have to admit that makes sense.

'Do you always think and speak together when you share?' Ptonomy asks.

They don't have to. They’re still themselves. Divad is the one who makes the sharing work.

'Because Divad can control your body?' Ptonomy asks.

Mutant emotional regulation. Divad never needed a name for it, it's just what he does. But he can do a lot more than regulate emotions. David and Dvd can control the world. Divad controls their body.

'Tell me about that,' Ptonomy says. 'Did your powers start out like this, or did you develop them?'

David must have been able to use all of them before he made them. Their powers already worked when they started to exist. None of them knew all the words for things or the details of how their body and powers functioned. They thought about doing a thing and the thing happened. But he wanted to understand, to learn. The more he learned, the better he was able to help their system.

'Is that how you helped David?' Ptonomy asks. 'How you helped him recover when Farouk left you alone?'

'I helped him, too,' Dvd thinks. 'I didn't need powers. David just needed us to help him feel better.'

'Holding him,' Ptonomy says.

'Yeah,' Dvd thinks, heartfelt. 'We held him and— We made him better.'

'You comforted him," Ptonomy says. 'You loved him. I know how powerful that must have been for him. For all of you.'

Love helped David a lot, Divad thinks. But it wasn't enough. As they got older, David took longer to recover, and even when he did— He kept getting worse and worse. Divad started covering for David for longer periods. He used those times to study and learn. Their teachers started to notice and encouraged them, helped them apply for their scholarship. Divad started to hope that he could learn enough about their body that he could get the monster out. But Ptonomy already knows how that ended.

'Farouk didn't want Divad Haller,' Ptonomy says. 'He wanted David and he used your memories to fix David in ways you couldn't. That must have been very difficult for you.'

Difficult? It was torture.

'It was,' Ptonomy agrees. 'He even gave David your hopes and dreams. But David couldn't carry them out, not the way you could. He didn't have the knowledge you'd earned through hard work and practice. He was lost and confused and you couldn't do anything to help him or stop him from ruining the life you'd built.'

'It wasn't his life,' Dvd grumbles. 'It was ours and he forgot that.'

And now Dvd never lets him forget that.

'Dvd, you covered for David when you were younger,' Ptonomy says. 'Why did you stop?'

'David needed me,' Dvd insists. 'It wasn't good to leave him alone. If we did— He started thinking bad things. So I stayed with him to protect him from his thoughts and Divad took care of all that outside stuff. I didn't care about it anyway. My job was to keep David safe.'

'Ah, so that's how it happened,' Ptonomy says. 'Your situation changed and both of you adapted to it. So these rigid roles you keep insisting on, they're not so rigid after all.'

Divad and Dvd give Ptonomy an annoyed look.

Ptonomy smiles, amused. 'Is it really such a terrible thing, changing? All of us are always changing all the time. We grow up, we meet new people, we face new circumstances. All three of you have been through a lot of change. Even if David was exactly the way you remembered him from college, the two of you have changed since then. Now you have the chance to change together, to heal together. Why not embrace that?'

It's not that simple, Dvd and Divad think together. Whatever they build, that's what Farouk's going to destroy.

'So you're going to let Farouk stop you from being together?' Ptonomy challenges. 'Your system needs to heal. This is the first real chance you've had to do that for a long time, maybe ever. Stop letting fear hold you back.'

'I'm not afraid,' Dvd insists.

Liar, Divad thinks. They are afraid. They're terrified. And it hurts so much, having to start over with David when David was the one who was there first.

'You know that's not true,' Ptonomy says. 'The David you know was created at the same time as both of you. But he must have been the one to keep the original David's memories. David doesn't just have the memories of two people. He has the memories of three. Maybe even four, if Farouk gave him some of Dvd's memories, too. I wouldn't be surprised if he did.'

Divad and Dvd both have to take that in. David had someone else's memories, even before college. And— David keeping the original David's memories, his name— That's why Farouk still thinks he's the original. That's why they all did.

'Before the three of you were created, David's personality— He was still very young,' Ptonomy says. 'His personality was still forming. But the three of you together add up to one David. You always have and you always will, no matter what memories each of you has or how much you've changed. You are the David Haller system. Do you really want to let Farouk keep you apart now, after everything you've been through, after everything you've done to stay together?'

No, Divad and Dvd think. But— David not knowing them hurts.

'Of course it does,' Ptonomy says. 'This has been painful for all three of you. You've all lost things you'll never get back. But you're here and you're not alone. That's in David's foundation. Maybe it should be part of yours, too.'

David said he wanted to make a foundation for their system, Divad thinks. That they have to stay alive for each other.

'If that's something you all agree on, how about you write it down?' Ptonomy asks. 'You can show it to David when we finish. I'm sure he'd like that.'

They think about that. They want it, they do, but— They can't stop thinking about college.

'What do you actually remember about what happened?' Ptonomy asks. 'I think it would help you both to talk about it.'

They think back. The last thing they remember before it happened— They were in their dorm room, studying. Divad was studying. David and Dvd were keeping guard, and Dvd was keeping David company. That was how they worked, then. That was how they kept their system safe.

Divad was so excited about how challenging all the material was, how much he was learning. He was getting close to figuring out how to save them, he could feel it. And then— Everything went away. They lost control of their body. A seizure, a grand mal, and then—

'We woke up in the hospital,' Dvd thinks. 'I woke up first but I couldn't do anything. Divad couldn't either. When David finally woke up, he was really confused.'

The doctors told David it was normal to be confused after a seizure. At first, they thought maybe that explained everything. But David didn't remember them, and he remembered things that he shouldn't have, he remembered being Divad. He didn't even know they were there, trapped inside their body, screaming at him. He didn't know about his powers, he thought the voices he heard were part of his schizophrenia, and he believed he was schizophrenic. They were never schizophrenic. But David had forgot about the monster, too. And the monster was back, making David hear and see things, making him worse when he was already so scared and confused.

'You had to watch David be tortured, and you couldn't do anything to help him or yourselves,' Ptonomy says, sympathetic. 'That must have been unbearable.'

It was. It was— God, it was— There aren't words for how bad it was. There aren't even thoughts.

'That's what's stopping you now,' Ptonomy says. 'That trauma is why you're afraid to hope, why you're afraid to truly accept David back into your system, into your hearts. You went through something incredibly horrific and you don't want to go through it again.'

They don't. They can't. It was so— Their heart hurts even thinking about it.

'Stay with the feeling,' Ptonomy urges. 'Don't drown it with anger, don't suppress your emotions.'

They have to, Divad and Dvd think. It hurts too much.

'What Lenny said before, about Divad being a junkie,' Ptonomy says. 'She has a point. But your problem isn't addiction, it's trauma. We all have different ways to cope with our trauma, but we can become dysfunctionally dependent on those coping mechanisms. David dissociates and he did use drugs to help him separate him from his trauma, to float away from it. Dvd, you use anger to push your trauma away. And Divad, you abuse your powers.'

Divad isn't a junkie.

'You're not a junkie,' Ptonomy agrees. 'But you are abusing your powers. It's a common problem with mutants. I abused my memory powers. I helped a lot of people face their traumatic memories. Remembering helped them. So I thought if I always faced my trauma, if I lived in it, it couldn't hurt me. But I was wrong. Oliver helped a lot of traumatized people, too, and just like me he couldn't help but make their pain his own. He dealt with it by astral projecting, by detaching from his body to escape the pain inside it. But he did it so much he lost himself, and all the people who love him lost him, too.'

Divad—

'Go on,' Ptonomy prompts. 'Stay with the thought.'

Divad doesn't— There isn't anyone who loves him.

'What about your brothers?' Ptonomy asks.

Dvd hates him. David doesn't know him, but— When he knows what Divad did to him, he'll hate him, too. No one would care if he suppressed himself forever. They don't want him. The only thing he's good for is helping David.

'That's stupid,' Dvd grumbles. 'You're the one who doesn't even want to be in our system anymore.'

That's not what he wants! He never wanted that. He took them to college to save them, not because he wanted to steal David's life. He wanted to help David, to help all of them, and David was too broken to be in charge. And Dvd and David had each other, they didn't need him and Dvd was always yelling at him to stay in charge if he loved it so much.

'You loved being in charge,' Dvd accuses. 'If you'd fixed David, you wouldn't have let him be in charge again.'

He would have. It was David's life, not his. He wrote David's name on everything all the time. David Haller, not Divad Haller. The degree he earned, if he'd been able to finish earning it, would have been David's degree. He was only covering for David.

'Liar,' Dvd says, angrily. 'Admit it. Admit you loved it!'

Fine! He loved it! He loved being in charge, okay? He loved being useful to more than just their system. He loved getting straight As and having the approval of his professors and his advisor. He loved college and learning and— Being in charge. Having a life, his life, and choosing to do what he wanted to do. David and Dvd didn't care anymore, so why shouldn't he make the choices himself?

'It wasn't fair,' Dvd insists. 'Maybe I wanted to be in charge again sometimes, but— David needed me and you weren't safe for him! You didn't care about him, not the way I did. Before you were in charge all the time, you were always yelling at him, making him worse.'

David kept making mistakes. He kept making the wrong choices. Divad was just trying to help him make the right ones.

'The monster never gave him any good choices,' Dvd thinks, angrily. 'That's what it does. You knew that but you didn't care. You kept yelling at him anyway. You were glad when David took too long to get better. You stopped helping him and that's why he never got better, that's why you had to take over. It's your fault!'

'That's enough, both of you,' Ptonomy warns. 'Blame won't help anyone. Punishing each other won't help anyone. It won't help David and it won't help your system. There are some real issues here but you're both talking past each other. I'm going tell you what I just heard, and you're both going to listen. Okay?'

‘Okay,’ they grumble.

Ptonomy takes a moment. 'When you were young, the three of you loved each other unconditionally. That love helped David heal. But as you each grew older, you changed. Divad, you survive on logic, rational thinking, but also anger. When you saw the monster manipulating David, you tried to help him, but you punished him instead. The monster used that against you. The more he tricked David, the more he provoked you into punishing David. You knew what you were doing wasn't helping but you couldn’t stop being angry, so you tried to fix the problem another way. Instead of patching David up just so the monster could break him again, you let David stay broken so you could get the monster out. If you could get rid of the monster, you could help David and it wouldn't be for nothing. You let David suffer in the short-term so you could find a long-term solution. Does that sound right?'

Yes, Divad thinks.

'And Dvd,' Ptonomy continues. 'When Divad punished David, that made you angry. The more help David needed, the more you sacrificed yourself to protect him. You stopped taking your turn being in charge because you didn't want to leave David with Divad. But you resented that and you took your anger out on Divad. Even though you knew Divad was trying to find a way to stop the monster for good, you couldn't see past the fact that David was suffering and couldn't heal. You were jealous that Divad had the freedom you didn't. You continued to love and protect David, but you punished Divad for his freedom and for letting David suffer.'

'And so what?' Dvd thinks, angrily. 'He deserves to be punished. He let David suffer! On purpose! That's even worse than I thought!'

'If Divad had healed David, what would have happened?' Ptonomy challenges. 'The monster would have broken him again, given him even more trauma. Letting David stay broken was the logical solution. And Divad thought he was close to a real solution. He probably was. That's why the monster had to intervene. He had to shut you down for good because Divad was a real threat to him.'

'I guess,' Dvd thinks, reluctantly.

Divad never wanted to hurt David. He just wanted the torture to stop, he wanted the monster gone so their system would truly be safe. The times the monster left them alone, the monster was just using those to make the next torture worse. It saw how they healed and used that to make the next break worse. Every time it was worse, and Divad couldn't let David be tortured like that anymore. But the only way to do that was to refuse to heal David. Even if Dvd hated him forever, it would all be worth it when they got the monster out. David would never be tortured again, and then Divad would be able to heal him using everything he'd learned in college and they would all be okay. It was the logical solution.

'It was a very good plan,' Ptonomy agrees. 'But it wasn't good enough. Farouk couldn't let that threat stand, and in the race between his plan and yours, his won. And that's exactly the same situation we're facing now. All of us against Farouk, racing for a solution. Letting your system stay broken wasn't the answer in college and it isn't the answer now.'

'You know so much, you tell us the answer,' Dvd challenges.

'Farouk isn't just a monster to us now,' Ptonomy says. 'We know who he is and what he wants. What he wants is to get back inside of David, to control him, to claim him and his powers. So we need your system to be too strong to let him do that. That means David needs to understand himself and your system. That means you need to open up to him and trust him the way he's trying to trust you. You need to be whole so Farouk can't break you. David's made a lot of progress towards that, but he can't do it without you. The two of you have always protected David, but you have to adapt to what he needs now, to what's healthy for your system now. And what he needs is for you to stop blaming each other. He needs you to make peace with your past and accept him as he is.'

'What if that's not enough?' they ask. 'What if nothing is ever enough?'

'Maybe that would be true if you were doing this on your own,' Ptonomy allows. 'But this time is different because you're not alone. You have us. I know it's difficult for you to trust anyone outside of your system, I know you haven't known us for very long. But we promised David we would be with him every step of the way, and that promise is for you, too. It's for the David Haller system. We got the monster out of you. Trust us to help you keep it out and stop it once and for all.'

It's so hard for them to trust. They barely even trust each other anymore, much less a bunch of strangers. But— David trusts them and they've helped David so much, really helped him. They got the monster out. They stopped David from wanting to die. They got David to start accepting that he's part of their system. David is better and he wants their whole system to keep getting better with them.

Ptonomy's right. The monster has been tearing them apart for a long time. He made them turn their anger inward so they hurt each other instead of protecting each other the way they were meant to. David said— he said 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.

They want that. They want their system to be like it was. Not when they were in college, but— When they were young.

'Don't go back,' Ptonomy cautions. 'None of you are who you were back then. You were children. Now you're adults. You've all learned a lot. Keep that knowledge but let go of your anger and pain. Let go of your mistakes, learn from them and move on. Forgive each other. Heal and grow together. That's all you ever wanted. You can have that now because we got the monster out. Don't waste this chance. We don't know how long it will last.'

'We'll try,' they think. They have to try. For David, for their system, they have to try.

'Excellent,' Ptonomy says. 'That's all you have to do. So how about you take the first steps together? What would you like to say to each other? What will help your system heal?'

Divad feels he should go first. When he decided to let David stay broken— He made a mistake because he made that decision on his own. He should have talked about it with his brothers. Maybe if he had— They could have made a better plan. They wouldn't have wasted so much energy fighting each other. They would have been stronger, and if they'd worked together, they might have been able to protect their system from what happened to it. Even though Divad was trying to do the right thing for all of them— It was wrong to do it without them. He was playing the hero instead of being a hero.

'You were,' Dvd thinks, with grumpy satisfaction.

'Dvd,' Ptonomy chides.

'Okay, okay,' Dvd thinks. 'You were trying to do the right thing for us. Not just— Play the monster's game. If you're sorry for making decisions without us— Then I'm sorry for— Deciding to punish you instead of— I don't know. Talking, I guess. We should have talked. All that yelling— It wasn't good for David.'

It wasn't good for any of them. Divad is sorry for all of that, for making their system worse when he was trying to make it better. He— He loves his brothers, he always has. He didn't ever want to hurt them. He just— Made a mistake. It seemed like— The right choice. The only choice. It seemed necessary, even though it wasn't.

'That's how traumatic situations are,' Ptonomy says. 'When bad things happen, it's difficult to make the right decision. It's even harder when someone is doing everything they can to trick you into thinking the wrong decision is the right one. The three of you need to be able to work together, to talk and make decisions together, so when a crisis happens, you can make the best possible choice together. And you can ask us, so you're not making decisions alone like you were after the orb brought you back.'

Divad and Dvd didn't think of it as making decisions alone. The three of them made their plan together. But they were tricked, again, like they were always tricked.

'Farouk is good at tricks,' Ptonomy allows. 'He knows our thoughts and that makes it easy for him to set us up with painful choices. But if you trust us, together we can be smarter than the monster, we can make our own choices. This isn't all happening inside your head anymore. This is happening in the world. The monster is just a man and one man can't control the whole world. The world is full of so many people thinking so many things. One man can't read all those minds at once. He can't make a plan to account for billions of people. It only takes a few of those billions of people to give you the right kind of help. So let us help. Cary and Kerry. Me and Lenny and Oliver. Amy and Syd. Will you let us be your friends?'

'We'll try,' they agree.

Ptonomy smiles again. "Then how about we take a break? It's about lunchtime. How about you have lunch with your friends?"

"Yeah, okay," they say. Lunch with their friends. Not just David's friends, but their friends. They tried to accept David's friends before and they couldn't, but— Maybe they just need to try again.

"How about you talk to someone while I go pick up our lunch order?" Ptonomy suggests. "Who do you want to talk to?"

They look around the room. David's with Amy and Lenny and seems happy, they don't want to interrupt that. And Cary is busy and Oliver is relaying. Divad likes talking to Cary, but—

"Kerry," they say. "We want to talk to Kerry." David loves Kerry so much, and— They want to understand how Kerry made David love her, so David will love them the way he loves her.

"Kerry it is," Ptonomy says. "How about making your lunch just the three of you? It's easier to get to know someone when you can talk to them alone. You can eat in the loft. The rest of us will be fine."

"Yes, we like that better," they say. David's right. Ptonomy is really good at making things feel manageable. David's made a lot of friends, but they never made any for themselves, not even in college. David loves Kerry, he has a system with her, so— They should try to make a system with her, too.