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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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A delicate endeavor. That's an understatement if Melanie ever heard one.

Over the years, she's helped a lot of people in pain. And no matter what the sickness or disease or condition, two things have always been essential to their recovery: knowledge and compassion. Without the truth, there can be no goal for recovery. Without compassion, without love and support, that goal can't be achieved.

There is no question that David's recovery will be a long and difficult one. Amahl's treatment will, with luck, do much to make it shorter and easier. But they can't help him heal if he's still putting all his energy into hurting himself. Amahl has been keeping him alive, but they need to help David choose to live.

Amahl sits beside David on the sofa and puts a comforting hand on his back, offers him a reassuring smile. David's nervous, but he manages a smile back. They're lucky that David has bonded with Amahl so well. That compassionate bond is exactly what David needs, and with luck-- It might be the very foundation of his recovery. It's unorthodox to say the least. It's usually essential for the health of doctor and patient to keep some distance to their relationship. But Melanie knows all too well that orthodoxy is the enemy of progress, and everything about this situation tells her that their bond is essential.

If David had an existing support network, they could use it, try to strengthen it so his friends and family could be the foundation of David's recovery. But he's been intensely self-isolating all his life, and both David's file and his thoughts indicate that his family has rejected him. If it wasn't for Amahl, David would be completely alone.

And Amahl's experiment-- David could be his key, he truly could. She knows Amahl sees great potential in him. If they can get David to truly commit, to dedicate himself to the work-- It might be a blessing in disguise that he's alone, that he has no ties or obligations that might distract him. With luck, he won't just be Amahl's patient, he'll be his partner. He'll embrace Amahl's dream and make it his own.

It's a good dream, so close to her own. The dream of a better world, a world where no one is shamed or punished for their difference. A dream of acceptance. Melanie's always focused on the individual, on making people better one at a time, but Amahl prefers the big picture. He wants to help the whole world get better together, in a-- Positive feedback loop. But he needs someone to be the nucleation point, the example to show everyone what's possible, or as Amahl likes to say, in his grandiose fashion: the model of their salvation.

But none of that will happen if they can't get David to take his first steps on the path to healing. Those first steps are always the hardest.

"David," Melanie begins, in a soothing tone, "there are two big things we need to talk about. We'll talk about your powers. But first we need to talk about Divad and Dvd, your alters."

"Did you find them?" David asks, desperate with hope.

"I'll show you what we found," Melanie says. "But first-- How about you tell me about them? What are they like? Is it just the two of them? No other alters? Even temporary ones?"

"It's always been just us," David says, and his eyes lose focus as he thinks about them. 'They wouldn't leave. We've been through so much, through everything-- They wouldn't leave me.'

"You're very close?" Melanie prompts, drawing him back. "You speak to each other?"

"We do everything together," David says, then falters. "Or we did, before--" 'Before I ruined it.'

"Let's start from the beginning," Melanie says. "When did you first become aware of them?"

"I was pretty young," David says. "I don't know, maybe-- Four or five? Sometimes it feels like-- They've always been here. But I remember being alone in our body, when it was-- My body."

"But then they appeared?"

David nods. "Something happened. I can't-- Sometimes-- I forget things. Divad and Dvd remember for me. If they were here, they could tell you." 'But they're not. Where are they?'

"What are they like?" Melanie asks. "Are they older, younger? Have you ever seen them?"

"They look like me," David says. "I couldn't see them at first. I can't go into their bedroom. That's where they can see each other. But we learned how to— Mentally project. So I could see them."

"And when you're not projecting?"

"I hear them," David says. "We talk to each other. But most of the time-- When we're sharing our body-- I feel them with me. It's like-- Being held all the time." It's obviously a good memory, from the way it calms him.

"And their bedroom?" Melanie asks. "What's that?"

David nods. "That's where they go to escape the monster. I can't go there, but-- They can. When it's-- When things are really bad. They don't want to, but--"

An inner world, Melanie realizes. Whoever the mutant was that parasitized David, it knew DID well. "You can't go there with them?"

"The monster--" David starts. He pulls his arms close and looks away. "It won't let me."

"So what do you do?" Melanie asks, softer. "When things are really bad?"

"I go away," David says, still refusing to meet her eyes. "I just-- Go away until it's over. Or I forget. I don't remember forgetting, but-- Divad and Dvd tell me I do."

"You trust them a great deal."

"Of course," David says, finally looking up again. "They keep me safe. They wouldn't lie to me. Sometimes they don't tell me things, but-- They have to, to protect me. If I knew what they knew-- It would hurt me."

"Because of the monster," Melanie says. "What did the monster do to you, David?"

David goes very tense. He shakes his head and pulls his arms closer. He's in such distress that he can't even think about whatever traumas he endured.

"Okay," Melanie says. "We don't have to talk about that now. Tell me more about your alters."

David's tension eases. "They keep me safe," he says again, like a protective mantra. "They protect me."

"How do they protect you?"

"Dvd protects our body and Divad protects our mind. Or-- That's what they're supposed to do."

"They don't anymore?" Melanie asks.

"It's my fault," David says, ashamed. "I'm supposed to stay in charge. The monster-- But--" He takes a shaky breath. "I wasn't strong enough. I was-- Making things worse. I do that a lot, so-- It's better if-- I don't. If I just-- Divad-- He knows what to do. And Dvd-- One of them has to take care of me and--" He wipes his eyes. "They argue all the time. They try to hide it, but--" 'Dvd should have stopped trying to save me and stayed with Divad. Everything is my fault. I made them, I did this to them. It's my fault, it's my fault, it's my fault--' He sobs with distress and his fingers press the wraps around his arms, like he's fighting the urge to rip them off.

"Shh, it's all right," Amahl soothes. "You're safe with Amahl, remember?" He takes one of David's hands and brings it to rest over his heart. "You're safe with Amahl."

Tears streak down David's face, but he struggles for calm. 'I'm safe with Amahl,' he thinks. 'I'm safe with Amahl.'

Amahl holds him as he settles. Melanie's heart breaks for David. His trauma is severe, some of the worst she's ever seen. But-- Before his seizure and the coma, he was in college and an excellent student. There's no way that David did all that when he's been tortured since he was a young child.

"David," Melanie says, when David is calm enough to continue. "You've thought about-- Divad being in charge. What does that mean?"

"Um." David wipes his eyes. "I step back. So I'm not-- In control."

"And Divad takes control?"

"And Dvd," David says. "They used to cover for me a lot. But-- Dvd has to stay with me, so-- Divad has to-- But he knows what's best for us. He's-- He's better at-- Being David. I'm--" 'Nothing. I'm nothing.'

"So he was in charge for college?"

'College,' David thinks, like he'd forgotten. "All our classes-- Divad's missing them. I have to-- He has to--" He looks around the room, as if searching for an answer.

"It's all right, David," Amahl soothes. "You're sick, in treatment. Everything's been taken care of. You don't have to worry about college."

David slumps with relief. "That's-- Divad-- When he gets back--"

"Of course," Amahl says. "But what's important now is your treatment."

David nods, but-- He still looks worried.

"David," Melanie begins, carefully. "Are you worried about Divad missing class?"

"Of course," David says, defensively. "I mean-- We have to-- College is important."

"Why is college important?"

"So Divad can stop the monster," David says. "He has to learn so he can-- Stop the monster."

"The monster is gone, my dear," Amahl reminds him. "I removed it myself. I destroyed it. I showed you the scans. It is gone."

'Show him,' Amahl thinks.

Melanie picks up the folder that's beside her on the loveseat. She takes out the scans of before and after David's surgery and puts them on the coffee table. David picks them up with trembling hands.

"See?" Amahl soothes. "The infection is gone. Your mind is cleansed. You are only yourself now."

"Only-- Myself?" David echoes, confused.

"Let me tell you a story," Melanie tells David. "Once upon a time there was a little boy, a very special little boy. But he was cursed. When he was just a baby, something infected him. That infection-- The little boy knew it only as a monster. But it wasn't a monster, it was a mutant."

"A mutant?" David stares. 'Like me?'

Melanie pulls out another piece of paper. "This is the result of your genetic testing. We ran the test again just to be certain, but--"

David puts down the scans and picks up the genetic test results. He reads them, reads them again, then looks at Melanie and Amahl in confusion. "I don't understand."

"You're not a mutant, David," Melanie says, gently. "You're human, just like Amahl."

"But my powers," David protests. "I have powers. I can read minds, I can--" He makes a gesture with his hand, but nothing happens.

"You did experience mutant abilities," Melanie explains. "But they weren't yours. They were the monster's. It tricked you. It deluded you into thinking its powers were your own."

"Why?" David asks, bewildered.

"It's difficult to say," Melanie admits. "But that's the only explanation for how you could experience genuine mutant abilities without having the mutations those abilities require."

"I'm sorry, David," Amahl soothes. "I know your powers were important to you. But they were not yours. They were the monster's."

David shakes his head. "No, this is-- It's impossible. They're my powers."

"Then why did they disappear when the monster was removed?" Melanie counters.

"Maybe-- The surgery?" David tries. "Whatever you took out-- Maybe you took out my powers."

Amahl shakes his head. "Mutant powers cannot be removed. For mutants like Melanie, such powers are written into their genetic code. Every cell in their bodies contains their mutation. Your cells do not contain any such mutations."

Melanie leans forward and takes David's hands. "I'm sure many of the things you saw and heard were real. The powers you experienced were real. But they're not your powers. They never were."

David looks at her desperately. "But-- But-- Dvd and Divad, they have powers, too."

Melanie hesitates. She wishes there was a gentler way to tell David the truth, but-- They've come this far, they have to go the rest of the way.

"Just like mutant powers can't be removed," Melanie begins, "DID identities can't be removed. But Divad and Dvd disappeared with the monster, just like the mutant powers you experienced. Which means-- They were part of the monster, too."

David struggles to process this, but it's too much. All he can do is deny it. "No. No, that's-- You're lying, you're-- " He pulls back from them, stumbles away, retreating. "This is a trick, another one of his tricks." 'It's not real, it's not real, it can't be real.'

Amahl and Melanie stand up and follow after David, but keep their motions slow so they don't set him off.

"We're not lying, David," Amahl soothes. "We know how hard your life has been. We know the monster did terrible things to you. The life that you lived-- To believe that you had powers and alters for all those years-- But the truth is-- You don't."

"They're gone, David," Melanie soothes. "Your body and mind are your own. The monster, his powers, the alters he tricked you with-- They're all gone."

David bolts past them, yanks at the door, but-- The door is locked. David struggles to force it open, but he can't. He pounds on the glass but it's too thick to break. When Melanie and Amahl get too close, he stumbles away again, desperate for some way to escape. He looks around the room, wild-eyed. But Amahl suicide-proofed the room days ago. There's nothing he could use to break free, to hurt them or himself. He tries to lift the table but it's bolted down. He lifts a chair, but drops it as he cries out in pain and grabs at his still-healing arms.

"Please, David," Amahl begs. "You're hurting yourself."

David isn't listening. He rushes into the bathroom and slams the door shut. Amahl and Melanie chase after him, but as they reach the door there's a horrible crashing sound.

"The mirror," Amahl breathes, alarmed.

They get the door open just as David picks up a large shard of broken mirror. "Stay back," he warns, holding it out.

Melanie didn't want it to come to this. She hoped that David would accept the truth, or at least begin to. But his mind is a frantic whine of panic, the blind desperation of a cornered animal. They can't talk to him when he's in this state, and they can't let him hurt himself any more than he already has.

Melanie raises her hand and David's hand goes slack. The shard falls from his hand and shatters on the tile. David stares in confusion, and then realization.

"No, please," he begs, but it's too late. She's already sent a telekinetic blow to his carotid sinus, and the resulting blood pressure drop triggers a faint. David drops like a stone, but Amahl catches him before he can hit the mirror-strewn floor.

"We have to secure him before he wakes up," Melanie says. She helps Amahl carry David back into the room.

"On the bed," Amahl says. "There are restraints."

They lay David down and secure the restraints. His hand is bleeding, cut from punching the mirror and then picking up the broken glass. Melanie raises her hand and the first aid kit flies into it.

"He'll wake up soon," Melanie warns. "He'll struggle again. We have to take care of his hand."

Amahl takes the tweezers and picks out the tiny fragments of glass, and Melanie dabs away the blood. Once the wounds are clean, Amahl glues them closed and they swaddle David's hand in gauze, binding it so he can't reopen the wounds.

They finish just as David starts to stir. He groans, hurting and confused, but once he comes back to himself, he struggles, just as she predicted.

"Let me go!" David cries, frantic again. "Please let me go, please, please. This isn't-- It's not real, it's not real, it's a trick, the monster-- It's a trick, you have to believe me! Please!" He sobs, broken, desperate. "Dvd! Dvd! Divad! Please come back! Please!"

Melanie looks to Amahl, regretful.

'Let me,' Amahl thinks. Melanie takes a step back to give him room.

"I'm sorry, my dear," Amahl tells David, resting a hand over his heart. "I'm truly sorry. I only want to keep you safe. I can't let you harm yourself again."

'They'll come back,' David thinks, desperate. 'They'll come back and they'll save me, they'll protect me. They'll save me.'

Melanie relays David's thoughts to Amahl, echoing them into his mind. They've worked this way many times before.

"I know you can't allow yourself to believe the truth now," Amahl tells David. "But feel the truth in your heart. They are gone. You are here. Amahl is here, keeping you safe."

"No," David whines, but his protest is weaker. He's tiring himself out, but--

Amahl keeps one hand over David's heart, and brings the other up to pet his hair, stroke his cheek. He brushes away the tears. "I would never hurt you," he promises. "I would never let you hurt yourself, and I would never let anyone hurt you. You are safe with Amahl."

David keens with emotional agony, but he's settling. Amahl is settling him. It was a gamble, but-- It looks like the bond that Amahl and David have formed is holding.

As David's panic eases, he breaks into wracking sobs. Amahl sighs, then undoes the upper restraints and pulls David into his arms. David struggles weakly, but Amahl holds him easily. And David is so desperate for comfort, for the only source of comfort he has left. His resistance becomes a desperate clinging as his whole body heaves with despair and grief and terror and-- So much. There's so much emotion pouring out of him, it's overwhelming. Melanie has to dial down her perception of David because his mind is simply too loud.

"There, there," Amahl soothes, as David exhausts himself into a stupor. "It's all right. Everything will be all right."