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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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When David wakes up, the first thing he sees is-- Divad and Dvd, sitting in the chairs beside the bed. He feels a surge of relief, but he's so bleary from sleep -- he didn't sleep like a log so much as a rock at the bottom of a lake -- that it takes him a while to remember why he's relieved.

They slept with him last night. And now they're out again.

"Cary woke us up an hour ago," Dvd says. "You were still pretty wiped so we let you sleep."

David doesn't remember being woken up. But if he felt even worse than he does now, he's glad they gave him the extra hour.

"Yeah," Divad says. "Yesterday was a lot. We can't take the day off, but we'll all try to take things easier."

"You'll feel better when you step out," Dvd promises. "A lot of that's our body, not you. I mean, you're tired too, but-- Some of that's ours and we're gonna carry it. You're not doing this alone, remember?"

David nods against the pillow, then pulls the blanket over his head.

One of his brothers snorts. It's probably Dvd. David closes his eyes and tries to go back to sleep.

"Morning, sleepyhead."

It's Amy. David's half-tempted to refuse to come out, even for her, but-- It's Amy. And she's-- Not dying, but--

He sighs and pushes back the blanket.

Amy perches on the edge of the bed. "Rough morning already?" she asks, fondly.

David gives her a plaintive look. She touches her hand to his cheek, and he takes it and holds it. Breathing against her artificial skin, he notices-- She even smells like herself. Aesthetically accurate. Amy-scented.

She smells like home.

He can do this. He can get up and do this for her.

When he sits up, she gives him a good, long hug. He clings back, drawing on her strength. They've been through so much, but-- They're together again. That's what matters. He remembers her-- Always being there for him, as much as she could. Maybe that's not all real, but-- It's real to him.

It's real to him.

"Come on," Amy says. "Everyone's been up for a while. Get cleaned up and we'll have breakfast."

David looks around. Everyone's in the lab except Syd and Ptonomy. He knows they have sessions together but not where he can see them, and his system keeps Ptonomy busy most of the day. So they must be having them first thing in the morning. They must be having one now.

He stands and looks at the sitting area. The coffee table is cleared except for two trays full of ceramic pieces, all neatly laid out. There's no sign of the lamp components or the shade. He thinks of-- Lenny and Amy and Ptonomy working on the pieces all night, carefully cleaning off the tape residue. For him.

He's not doing this alone. He feels like-- That should be a mantra unto itself. He's not doing this alone. He can have two mantras, right? Why not? Obviously this idea needs some extra help. He's always had Amy. He remembers always having Amy. He doesn't remember always having brothers, but he did anyway. He had parents, even if he can barely remember them. He remembers having Lenny for-- almost a decade. The idea that he's always been on his own-- That's one of Farouk's delusions. It's just-- A really stubborn one.

When he gets out of the bathroom, breakfast isn't there yet. Lenny and Kerry must be out getting it. Everyone else is sitting at the table with Oliver, looking at photo albums.

"Come join us," Amy beckons. She shifts over so David can sit between her and Oliver, so Dvd has to shift over so she doesn't sit on him. "Oliver's having some memory therapy."

Memory therapy. Like when he looked at family photos with Amy. Except Oliver's memory therapy has a shot at actually working. David remembers then that Oliver had to use a sleep inducer last night, too.

"Oliver, how did you sleep?" David asks. "Did the inducer help?"

"I don't remember," Oliver says, but he sounds pleased about it.

"Oliver was out like a light," Cary says, proudly. "No jazz required. Hopefully at some point he'll be able to sleep normally without the inducer, but-- To have his mind and body sleeping together is going to be extremely beneficial. And we couldn't have done it without Divad."

Divad manages to look smug and humble at the same time. "Tell Cary thanks," he tells Oliver.

"Divad says thank you," Oliver relays. "And I also say thank you, to both of you."

Now Divad just looks smug.

Cary's pleased, too. "We were just telling Oliver about his childhood. Oliver, can you remember what we told you?"

"Apparently I'm from New Zealand," Oliver tells David. "I don't remember it, but-- My first thought was that it sounds very green. The pictures are black and white, but Cary said remembering green is promising."

"Black and white?" David asks, and looks at the album. "They're so old," he says, surprised.

"Remember, Oliver's older than he looks," Cary says. "Just like Kerry. And you and your brothers."

David frowns, then realizes: his missing year. Right. They've all-- Lost time, or-- Found their physical age no longer matching their temporal one. One year is less obvious than twenty-one, but--

He looks at Oliver, and Oliver looks back. There's a moment of-- Wordless understanding. Kinship.

In the ice cube, last month, last year-- Would things have been different if he'd stayed and listened to Oliver?

Yes. They would have been different. If he'd stayed with Oliver-- Maybe Oliver could have protected him, kept him safe. Maybe everything would have been better.

But Oliver was stuck on the astral plane, they both were. The only reason David found his way back was because of Farouk. And the only reason Oliver came back-- Was because he was following David. So there's just as much chance that David would have ended up even more like Oliver than he already is. He might have stayed lost and become detached, forgetting not just his real memories, but his quarter-real memories and his fake memories and everyone he loved.

So even though a lot of-- Terrible things happened, things David has nothing but regret for-- If he'd stayed, they wouldn't all be here now, together, getting better. Oliver wouldn't be remembering New Zealand. David wouldn't be-- Slowly being reassembled by his friends, put back together the right away, instead of-- The desperate fumblings of an escaped mental patient weaning himself off an insane amount of Haldol.

"So, um," David says, looking back down at the album again. "What else do you remember? Besides green?"

"I told Oliver about his parents," Cary says. "Ted and Kathryn, lovely people. And he has two older sisters. What were their names, Oliver?"

Oliver thinks. "Nora and-- Maggie?"

"All no longer with us, I'm afraid," Cary says. "Their children are still in New Zealand, with families of their own, but I'm sure they'll be thrilled to have their Uncle Oliver back."

"Didn't Melanie say-- You inherited Summerland?" David asks. "As a-- Some kind of ranch?"

"A horse ranch," Cary says. "Oliver's family were all horse ranchers, going back generations. One of his uncles took the family business overseas. He was quite successful, but he never had children of his own. So when the time came, he left everything to Oliver." He smiles. "Who promptly sold off everything that wasn't nailed down and used his inheritance to fund Summerland." He gives Oliver a friend elbow. "Always the rebel."

"Apparently so," Oliver agrees.

"So you were already helping mutants before that?" David asks, curious.

"Oliver's been helping people all his life," Cary says. "Not just mutants. A powerful mind like his-- He once told me that he spent his whole life listening to the world, and he heard so much suffering. He felt that his powers were a gift-- Not for himself, but for others. It was his duty to use it to help people, to help them heal." He frowns. "But at that time, few needed help the way we did. Mutantkind. It was a very dark time, David. Despite what you suffered-- The Hallers were good, kind people, to take in a mutant baby, to protect you as best they could."

David looks at Amy. She shifts her chair closer and puts her arm around his back. David leans against her, grateful they're together.

He starts to ask Oliver another question, but realizes-- Oliver isn't answering his questions. Cary's relaying for him. For-- The Oliver-that-was. And he realizes-- It must make Oliver uncomfortable, not remembering all these things that Cary remembers. But Oliver might still be too detached to even register that he's uncomfortable.

"It's all right," Oliver assures him. "We can see together the beauty of souls, hidden like diamonds in the clock of the world."

"Oh," David says, not entirely sure what that means. But-- It's beautiful. It makes him feel-- It's stupid, it's just some-- Snippet of half-forgotten poetry. And he's never been very religious, much less spiritual. But somehow-- It makes him feel like he's more than just-- What he's been made to be.

No, that's-- That's silly. He's not-- Oliver probably didn't even mean anything by it. He's just-- Reciting from memory. David knows what he is. He's a lot of broken pieces on a coffee table.

Dvd gives a long-suffering sigh. David looks at him.

"Don't worry, I'm not gonna smash it," Dvd tells him. "We're putting you back together, remember?"

"Aren't you technically part of the lamp?" David replies.

Dvd's answer to that is to give him the finger. But when he drops his hand, he tries to hide his smile, and he can't. And he knows David sees it, and now he's covering his face, embarrassed. It's-- Kind of cute, seeing Dvd actually-- Flustered.

"If I have to be part of that lamp, I'm obviously the bulb," Dvd insists, but he's actually blushing. David can't help but smile back. Which really sets Dvd off, and it's weirdly like-- Flirting. With himself. Or part of himself.

"You sure are glowing," Divad snickers.

Dvd gives him the finger for that, and his blush is replaced by a scowl. David's sad to see it go. He liked-- Being able to make Dvd happy.

And now Dvd looks like might break into tears. Shit.

"Shut up," Dvd says, but not like he means it. "You," he says, pointing at Divad, "are the worst."

Divad gives him the finger for that.

"No fighting, children," Oliver says, tolerantly.

“Okay, Dad,” Dvd says, with palpable sarcasm. Then he gives Divad a narrow-eyed look and mutters, “He started it.”

Thankfully, the sound of approaching laughter distracts both his brothers. David turns to see Lenny and Kerry entering the lab, breakfast trays in hand. Kerry’s the one who was laughing, but Lenny’s looking pleased.

“David!” Kerry greets, happy to see he’s awake. “Lenny just told me this great story about this John who tried to steal her drugs. She cut off his—“

“Thumb,” Lenny interrupts, seeing Cary’s alarm. “I cut off his thumb.”

Kerry frowns, confused. “You said it was his penis?”

Cary’s expression is thunderingly disapproving. David’s never seen Cary look thunderingly anything. He’s never even been a light shower.

“Anyway,” Lenny says, loudly. “Breakfast for people who can eat!” She puts her tray down in front of David and Oliver. Kerry sits down next to Cary with hers, and David isn’t quick enough to stop her from sitting on Divad.

“Ah, that was—“ David starts, but Divad waves him off, already moving to an empty seat. Until the relay’s back on for the day, that’s just something they have to deal with. Or David could start carrying “this seat taken” signs and following his brothers around.

Hmm, that’s actually not a terrible idea.

Kerry sets aside a covered plate for Syd, then lifts the cover off hers.

“Um, shouldn’t we wait for Syd?” David asks.

Amy pauses, presumably checking in with Ptonomy over the mainframe. “We should,” she agrees.

Kerry sighs but puts her cover back on.

Cary looks at Kerry in surprise. “Kerry, do you want to eat?”

“Eggs are okay,” Kerry says, but thinks about it. “I guess— I like eating sometimes. I like eating with my friends. And I like cream soda and hot chocolate and cherry pie.” She gives David a delighted look. He smiles back and she flushes, pleased.

Like Dvd. He’s— Making them happy. It feels— Almost wrong, to make someone happy, like he’s not supposed to be capable of that. He’s always been such a burden on— Everyone. Even the people who loved him— He heard what they thought about him; even when he couldn’t trust what he heard, he still knew when the voices were telling the truth. The bad things people thought about him, those always felt true. And when the monster was gone and he finally knew how to listen— It turned out he was right.

He can’t hear their thoughts now.

“David?” Amy asks, concerned by David’s sudden change in mood.

David doesn’t know what to say. Even thinking these things— It only proves his fears true, thinking them when he just made Kerry and Dvd happy. That’s what he’s doing to them.

“You’re hurting yourself,” Divad warns him.

“Any whose fault is that?” Dvd defends. “Maybe he’s right. We can’t really know they mean it, any of it.”

“What, you think Kerry’s lying about cherry pie?” Divad challenges. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

David knows that. He knows Kerry wouldn’t lie to him. But—

“Hey, I’m not lying either,” Dvd protests.

“If you don’t need to lie to me, then why won’t you let me hear your thoughts?” David asks, annoyed, and then realizes he said that aloud instead of just thinking it. Shit.

“David,” Amy says, but Lenny holds up a hand.

“I got this,” Lenny says. “David, look at me.”

David looks at her.

“The relay’s off,” Lenny continues. “That means you gotta tell us when something’s wrong, remember? Ptonomy’s orders.”

“Oliver knows,” David mutters.

“Oliver’s not on duty,” Lenny says. “C’mon, let out what’s rattling around in that empty head.”

David glares at her for that, but it’s half-hearted. His head is extremely empty.

“It’s stupid,” he protests, ashamed. He’s ashamed. God, he’s having a shame attack. “Shit.” He rubs at his face. “I’m— Having a shame attack,” he admits, feeling even more ashamed because he’s admitting it. The shame onion strikes again.

“Hey, you caught it this time,” Lenny says, like it’s something impressive that he’s too broken to get through breakfast without self-destructing. They haven’t even started eating yet. God, he’s useless.

“We can practice that compassion thing,” Lenny says. “Remember? Like this?” She puts her hand over her heart.

David can’t. He can’t— Love himself, not when he feels like this. But he forces himself to copy Lenny anyway. He feels like such a fraud, he shouldn’t ever be loved, all he ever does is hurt people, they shouldn’t be trying to save him, Farouk’s going to use him like he always does and David will be powerless to stop it.

“Good,” Lenny says. “Now tell yourself something nice, like your foundation.”

David forces himself on. “I’m David.” Farouk’s David. “I survived.” He’s the thing Farouk made, a cocktail, a monster. “I didn’t deserve what happened to me.” He deserved it, of course he deserved it.

He can’t keep going. He can’t say the rest of it, it’s all— Ashes in his mouth. His mantra? He lost everything because he ruins everything. He should be alone. He’s not strong enough to do anything but fail. He—

“I’m loved,” he says, even though that’s the last thing he should be able to say. “There’s no shame in love. There’s no shame in love. There’s no—"

He grips at his chest as the shame starts to fade. He realizes— Amy still has her arm around him. She never stopped holding him.

He pushes aside his breakfast and slumps over the table, absolutely exhausted.

“How about: you’re strong enough to heal?” Lenny says, and David looks up to see if she’s mocking him but she isn’t.

“Cary, could you grab a blanket?” Amy asks.

Cary brings one over and wraps it around David. “That was very good,” Cary says, hands on his shoulders, like Amy’s arm around his back. “We’re all proud of you.”

They shouldn’t be. David still feels ashamed. But it’s getting weaker. He keeps gripping at his chest, keeps telling himself there’s no shame in love. He feels Amy and Cary touching him and sees Lenny and Kerry watching him with caring concern and—

The attack passes. It’s over.

Amy pulls him in for a hug, and he holds her back so tight it would probably hurt if she wasn’t in an android.

“I’m just— One disaster after another,” he says, tired but with some humor.

“You’re a bunch of pieces, right?” Lenny says. “Of course you are, we haven’t glued you back together yet.”

David gives a dry laugh at that.

“Can you tell us what triggered the attack?” Cary asks.

David’s not sure he can say it. He looks at his brothers. They look at each other. They’re probably thinking to each other so he can’t hear.

“Yeah, we were,” Dvd admits. “And we both think you should tell them. Which means— You’re outvoted.”

“You can’t outvote me about my own thoughts,” David protests. That’s completely unfair.

“Tough,” Dvd says. “We just did.”

God, this is humiliating. It’s so— He knows it’s not true, he knows it doesn’t make sense, but—

But he’s full of Farouk’s delusions. And the shame delusion wants to eat him alive. They can’t get it out of him if he doesn’t tell them what it’s doing to him.

“The delusion,” David starts. “The shame delusion. It told me— I can’t make anyone happy.”

The idea that he can make other people happy, that he could make Kerry and Dvd happy— That’s a healthy idea. The delusion parasite knows it's a threat. It tried to destroy the healthy idea so it couldn’t nourish him.

But he fought back. He told himself there’s no shame in love. He gave himself compassion and the monster— the delusion lost. Because he did make Kerry and Dvd happy. He did. He does. They weren’t lying.

“Of course you can make other people happy,” Cary insists. “You’ve made all of us happy.”

David hesitates. All of them? No, he’s— He couldn’t— They—

He puts his hand back over his heart. There’s no shame in love. There’s no shame in love. There’s no shame in love.

The parasite backs down again.

“That parasite really doesn’t like that idea, huh?” Lenny says.

David shakes his head. “It hates it.”

“I bet it does,” Lenny says. “It knows we’re a threat. It wants us gone so it can have an easy meal. But we’re not gonna let it eat you alive, right?”

“Right,” David says, taking strength in her confidence. In her love. In Amy’s love, in Kerry’s, in Cary’s. In Dvd’s.

He looks at Dvd.

Dvd’s looking at him— Intensely. Sometimes that’s been— Overwhelming, even— Upsetting. All that pressure to be— Who he was. But Dvd’s been trying to accept him as he is, David knows that, they spent all that time together yesterday and Dvd just— Stayed with him, kept him company. When they were both disembodied, Dvd held his hand to help him stay grounded. Being outside his body yesterday was— It was so much harder than he wanted to admit, but Dvd really helped him get through.

Their body. He’s— In their body, not his. His system’s body. They’re sharing it together. Even when they’re projected, they’re still inside their body together. Like they were last night. They were there while he slept and it was fine. It's just-- The feeling that's the problem. It's the feeling.

God, there's just-- So many things he has to work on, everywhere he turns. And forget about pinning one problem down and taking it apart when he can barely keep himself from drowning. When he-- Can't keep himself from drowning at all. He's only breathing because-- They're saving him. They keep saving him, over and over, and they're trying to help him be strong enough to save himself.

He's not doing this alone. He's not doing any of this alone.

"David?" Amy prompts.

"I'm okay," David says. He's not okay, he's a bunch of pieces on a coffee table, but-- They're cleaning him up and they're going to glue him back together and-- That's what's okay. That's what's going to get him through-- Everything. Maybe even--

Maybe even Farouk.

The enormous knot of dread in his gut loosens, just a tiny bit, at that thought. They need him to stop Farouk, but-- Stopping Farouk means saving David, saving himself. They're not going to make him do that alone, because they're not making him do it alone now. He's not doing any of this alone.