"Do I have to?" David asks, eyeing the unconscious body in the wheelchair. It's not his body and he doesn't want to be in a body that isn't his.
"Just for a while," the other David promises. "Until we can-- Find a safe way to put us back together."
David sighs. He feels so exhausted by all of this. He wants to fall into the other David and rest inside him, like he did with the monster. No, with his-- With his system. If this is actually his system, if he ever actually had a system--
"David," he whines, and reaches for him.
The other David takes his hand, holds it. They can't hug, it's not safe, but they can hold hands, and that's-- When they touch, their connection fills him up. He can feel the strength in the other David, the determination, the worry, the love. There's so much love and David's absolutely starving for it. He knows it would feel so good to just--
"No," the other David says, softly but with some effort. He takes away his hand and the absence of him hurts. David reaches for him again, but Dvd and Divad intervene.
"You, body, now," Dvd says, firmly.
David pouts at him. Whether Dvd is the monster or his-- Headmate-- "You're supposed to take care of me."
"That's exactly what I'm doing," Dvd says. "Now are you gonna go back or do I have to make you?"
David's pout sours to a scowl. Dvd never treated him this way before. "You're supposed to make me feel good. That body feels terrible."
"It's brand new," Dvd points out. "If it feels like shit, that's because you feel like shit."
"Being in a body is important," Divad says. "You need it so Amy and our friends can help you heal, just like they helped us."
David gives Divad a wary look. Divad being nice is as weird as Dvd being mean. David doesn't trust it, it feels all wrong. If they are the monster and this is all just another trick--
"They're not the monster," the other David promises again. "And they're right, you need to be-- Part of the world. To let people reach you. You can't do that without a body."
"You're not in our body," David says, and points at Divad. "He is."
"Because Divad needs it most right now," the other David says. "Me and Dvd can use our powers for touch. But we share our body however we need to. That's part of our healthy multiplicity."
David rolls his eyes. That again.
"Look," the other David says. "I know you're used to-- Isolation. And the world feels like-- All it's going to do is hurt you more. But that's what the monster taught us to think. Being alone doesn't help us."
"I wasn't alone with Amahl," David argues, and feels a small satisfaction at everyone's reaction.
"No," the other David agrees, softly. "We were never alone with the monster."
David huffs. Amahl isn't the monster, he can't possibly be the monster. Everyone else is the monster, maybe even the other David. Well, probably not the other David, but--
"We don't need anyone," David tells them. He turns on Dvd and Divad. "You used to know that. Other people just make everything worse."
"What about Amy?" the other David asks.
David crosses his arms. He glances at Amy; she's standing behind the wheelchair, waiting patiently.
He doesn't know what to feel about Amy. He lost her for years, and then-- And then he got her back, but she was lying to him, and she's-- Not in her real body either. But in all the confusion, what he feels most--
He shoves it down. It doesn't matter what he feels. It doesn't matter what he wants. They're just going to force him into that body anyway. So what if it hurts? He's supposed to hurt. That's what he's for.
"Fine," he mutters, and stubbornly marches up to the body and sits down into it. He gasps in pain as he opens his eyes. The sedative wore off some while he was out of it, and his head-- He clutches at the crown.
"Careful," Amy warns, reaching for his hands.
"It hurts," David whines. How did he barely notice it before? "Get it off."
"It has to stay on," the other David says. "Just until you're stable."
"Stable?" David asks, disbelieving.
"It's part of your therapy," the other David says. "You don't want-- Another accident, right? You don't want to hurt anyone with your powers."
"I don't have--" David starts, and cuts himself off. They told him that he caused the lab explosion, that he hurt Amy and Ptonomy and Oliver, and that's why he has to wear the crown. Maybe he does have powers. Or maybe he only seems to have powers because the monster is back and sharing his powers with him again. "It wasn't my fault."
"It wasn't," the other David agrees. "You didn't know. But now you do know and-- You can make the choice to be safe."
David doesn't want to be safe. But fine. "Whatever." It's not like he actually has a choice. It's not like he should have one. He's terrible at choices, he always has been and he always will be and they should know that if they're his system, they should all know that.
He slumps, stewing in his misery, and pulls in on himself. They wheel him to the stairs and then Amy and Lenny carry his wheelchair down to the elevator. David stops paying attention. It doesn't matter where they're taking him, he doesn't need to know, he can't do anything to stop them or to stop anything. He'll just endure this like he's endured everything in his entire life, and then they'll figure out how to get him and the other David back together, and then he can go back to doing the only thing he's good at, which is not existing.
The other David gives a long-suffering sigh. David ignores it. And then--
The elevator stops and they wheel him onto a familiar floor. There are people waiting outside the lab door, Ptonomy and a man and woman he doesn't recognize. Lenny takes over his wheelchair while Amy goes to meet them.
"Amy," the man greets warmly. "How are you doing?"
"Marcelle," Amy greets back, smiling. "Holding up. You know."
"I see we have some guests," says the woman. She approaches them. "Hello, I'm Doctor Albani. Call me Miriam. And you're--?"
"Dvd," Dvd says, gesturing at himself. "That's Divad, that's David. And, uh, that's also David."
Marcelle comes over too, introduces himself, and both he and Miriam shake hands with David's headmates. David just gives them a wary look.
"David," Miriam says. "We're very happy to meet you. We've heard so much about you."
"We're the support team's support team," Marcelle says, with a little laugh. "We're helping your friends so they can help you."
They wait for David to reply, but he doesn't. They look at David's headmates, uncertain.
"He's kinda overwhelmed by-- Everything," Divad says, apologetic.
"Of course," Marcelle says, understanding.
"We'll be going into the lab for this," Miriam says. "Will that be okay?"
They look at David expectantly, and he gives the smallest shrug, hoping that will make them stop talking to him.
It does. They go back to Ptonomy and Amy and speak with them briefly. David stares at the door to the lab and just looking at them brings back so many memories.
Home. On the other side of that door should be home. Amahl and Melanie should be waiting for him there, and Syd, with one of Amahl's mom's spicy meals and Amahl's stories and--
His heart hurts. He wishes, prays that when the door opens, everything is back the way it should be. That he wakes up from this endless nightmare and Amahl is waiting for him. Please, please, please, please, please--
But the door opens and Amahl isn't there. And they all go inside and--
It's empty. Just a room, cleaned out and patched up, with the window letting in daylight. But there's fresh plaster covering the holes in the walls, shrapnel scars. The only thing left is a sheet-covered dome. It was in the lab before, but Amahl never used it, so David doesn't know what it is.
"You're doing great," Miriam says to Ptonomy and Amy. The two of them are holding hands. "Just stay in the present. Focus on the differences. You're in control."
"The door's open," Marcelle soothes. "If you need to leave, all you have to do is step out into the hall."
David frowns, confused. What are they doing?
"Curious?" the other David asks, bending close to his ear. His voice is soft and fond.
David gives an indifferent shrug. But he feels compelled to focus on Ptonomy and Amy, to figure out what's going on. Is this-- Something to do with being disembodied? Last night, with the pizza, they said-- And Lenny said they were patients-- But then Lenny should be doing whatever it is, too.
"Amy?" Marcelle prompts. "Tell us what you're feeling."
"It's so different," Amy admits. "With everything cleared out-- It barely feels like the same place."
”Same," Ptonomy says, and he seems relieved. "It's like-- The room was patched up, too."
"Wonderful," Marcelle says. "We'd like you both to think of this as-- A chance to make the room what you need it to be. To keep the good parts of a space that-- Is still very important to both of you."
"How about you tell us some good memories you made here?" Miriam prompts. "Ptonomy, how about you go first?"
"Okay," Ptonomy says, gathering himself. He closes his eyes, concentrates. "When Amy led everyone in the group massage. I'd been pushing myself so hard, but I was able to-- Be part of the group. Let them take care of me for a while." He smiles at Amy. "And I was so proud of you."
Amy ducks her head, touched. "I liked that moment, too. Everyone just-- Being together, feeling good. And I really liked being in charge." She gives a soft laugh.
She's happy. David feels a pang of-- Jealousy? No, longing. When did Amy ever look at him and not feel sad, even when she smiled? Or frightened of his powers? Burdened by his existence? She was only ever happy with Divad. Divad was who she wanted, never David.
"No," the other David murmurs, softly. He takes David's hand, and then--
David feels what the other David feels. And they look at Amy together and David is flooded with feelings of affection, acceptance, belonging-- Both for Amy and from her. Tears streak down his face, shock and relief and grief he can't begin to pull apart.
"That's what we have now," the other David says, softly. "Because we understand each other. Because-- We both told each other how we felt, and-- We learned how to stop hurting each other."
"What's another good memory?" Miriam asks.
"It's not really-- One specific moment but-- Healing my relationship with David," Amy says, and looks across the room at them. "Even after everything that happened last year, and finally acknowledging his powers-- Being here finally gave us the chance to really talk. To apologize, and-- Be what we always should have been for each other."
She looks at the other David with such warmth and love, and the other David matches her, and through their connection David feels them feeling it-- And it's overwhelming and confusing but-- It's like a huge wound in his heart is suddenly healed, even though it hasn't healed at all.
David sobs and pulls away from the other David's touch, and all sense of healing vanishes. And it's a relief, somehow, to just hurt again, to feel miserable and hopeless. That's what he's supposed to feel.
This isn't his Amy. His Amy hates him and doesn't believe him and never wants to see him again.
Across the room, Amy looks hurt, but quickly rallies. "We still have a lot of work to do," she tells Miriam. "But I know we can do it."
"You feel in control," Miriam says.
"Yes," Amy says, relieved.
"We want you both to feel in control of this space," Marcelle says. "To acknowledge that yes, trauma happened here. But it's not happening now. And it's your space, full of good memories you worked hard to build together. You're strong enough to take it back."
Ptonomy and Amy both take deep breaths, let them out.
"Let's walk the room together," Miriam says. "Look at it from every angle. Take it all in and feel how different it is."
The four of them start walking around the room, taking their time, touching the walls and the window, even the floor. They smell the air, they listen to the quiet, the faint sounds of the city outside. As Amy and Ptonomy approach, Lenny wheels David to the other side of the room, and his system follows. They stop beside the window and David looks out.
It startles him how close the street is. He's used to looking down and seeing everyone as small as ants, but they're just a few stories up here. He grabs the wheels of the chair and maneuvers so he's facing the window, and presses his palm against it. He watches the people outside, passing by. There's soldiers, and-- Those weird robots with mustaches and-- Normal people too, going-- Somewhere. Work, home, he doesn't know. He can't hear their thoughts.
But they're so close. He barely saw anyone but the Farouks for months, except from very far away. It wasn't safe, Amahl's work--
It's so hard to accept that-- Amahl's work is over. That the data is gone, that-- Even if Amahl came back, it would all still be over. Or at least-- They'd have to start all over again, from the beginning. Would that even be possible? All that work, months and months of tests and--
It feels wrong that-- He's relieved? But he'd do it again. If Amahl needs it, he'll do it again. Of course he will, it's not like-- He's only worth anything if he's useful to someone.
He feels like he's being watched, and turns to see his headmates all looking at him. He knows they can hear his thoughts, just like they always could. That's the same, at least.
"What?" he asks, annoyed.
Dvd and Divad look uncomfortable, upset.
"It's not true," Dvd says, finally.
"Of course it's true," David says. He knows he's useless, that he ruins everything, he knows that and they know it. Everyone knows it, whether they're the monster or not. It's just the truth.
"David," Divad says, pained. "Look, I know-- I'm gonna have to say this a lot of times before you start to believe it. But I'm the one who was wrong. Treating you that way, telling you--" He shakes his head. "I love you, okay? And I'm really sorry, and-- I want us to have what-- Amy and David have. I want us to be here for each other the way we always should have been."
"You're not my brother," David says, strained. "You're not even a person, you're just-- A stress response." Or a mask.
"No," Divad says, softly, pained. "We thought that but-- We were wrong."
David turns away, looks out the window again. But Divad steps over, crouches down.
"I'm not your brother," Divad agrees. "I'm your headmate. And I don't care how long it takes, I will never give up on fixing this. I love you and I will always be here for you. I have so much to make up for. You were never worthless, never."
"Go away," David says, tiredly.
"I don't know what Farouk did to you in that dream lab," Divad continues. "But this place? It's for us, so we can heal. So we can make our system what we need it to be so all of us can be happy. And I know you don't know how to love yourself, or even-- To let yourself be loved. But we're gonna love you anyway."
"I don't want this," David insists. He wants to be alone. He wants all of this to stop. He wants to go away.
"I know," Divad says, pained. "But you need it, okay? We can't heal on our own. We need other people to help us, to teach us how to be healthy. The monster was always in the way of that before, but-- He's not inside us anymore. Just his ideas and-- Ideas can be changed."
"This isn't your lab, it's his," David insists, angry. "It's Amahl's and he's gonna come back." He chokes up, wounded, grieving. Amahl should be here, but David ruined everything. It's all his fault, all of it. Amahl probably hates him now, he should hate him, he should--
David breaks into tears and pulls in on himself, he just wants to go away, he just wants-- But Divad reaches for him, pulls him into his arms. David sobs and tries to push him off, but Divad won't let go.
"Stay," Divad pleads, soft but heartfelt. "I love you. I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry."
It hurts. Everything hurts. But David thinks of-- Amahl holding him while he sobbed, after every nightmare, after every agonizing session, and after-- When he woke up and Dvd and Divad were gone.
"You left me," David accuses, through his tears. "You promised-- You'd never leave and-- You left me!"
"You were taken," Divad says, pleading for him to understand. "The monster ripped you away from us, David. He broke our heart. All we wanted was to get you back. We tried so hard and I'm sorry, I'm sorry we weren't stronger, I'm sorry I was-- I was so stupid, thinking I knew how to save us. How to protect you."
"You left me," David whines.
Divad sighs. "Yes. I'm sorry. I love you, David. I love you so much."
David holds Divad back and feels the faint pull of the scars on his wrists. When he woke up and Dvd and Divad were gone-- It hurt so much. It hurt more than anything ever.
Divad eases his hold and then pulls back. He takes David's arm, looks at his unmarred wrist. He puts his hand over it. He's crying, tears streaking down his face.
"This is my fault, okay?" Divad tells him, voice shaky. "Not yours. It's my fault because I was supposed to keep you safe and I failed. You can be angry with me. Be angry, tell me how you feel. But don't--" He cuts off, leans his cheek against David's wrist.
Divad's tears wet David's skin, and his cheek feels hot. And seeing Divad like this--
David swallows. He's not-- He doesn't know how to--
He looks around and-- Dvd and the other David are watching them, but they’re not angry or upset they're-- They give David encouraging looks, like he should--
David can't say he's angry. He's never been allowed to be angry because-- Everything was always his fault. Divad was always telling him how everything was his fault, how he messed up, how he was stupid. That's why-- Divad had to be in charge, because David could never save them. David knows what he is, he's useless, he's worthless--
"No," Divad says, soft and pained. "You're in so much pain. I'm sorry we made you take so much, that we couldn't-- That we made you worse. Some of that was the monster but-- Some of it was us. Me. You're so strong, David. You're so brave and you try so hard all the time even though-- It hurts every time you breathe. It hurts so much."
"No," David says, tightly. He's not strong or brave, he's weak. He's pathetic and stupid--
"You're strong and brave and amazing and smart," Divad insists, and smiles through his tears. "You're wonderful and loving and caring and you are so, so strong. You're a survivor."
"No," David protests, but weaker.
"I love you," Divad says, certain. "I'm so proud of you. You're amazing and you fight so hard all the time. You're going to heal and you're going to be happy and thrive and you're going to be-- Even more amazing than you already are."
David huffs, but-- Somehow the pain is falling back. He can breathe again without-- Feeling like his lungs can't get any air.
"I love you, David," Divad says again, easing into happiness. "I love you. I love you so much. You're so strong and brave and I'm proud of you and I love you."
"Divad," David protests, softly. "You can't--"
"I can," Divad insists. "Because we're not gonna let the shame win. You deserve to be loved, David. You're a good person and you deserve love. You deserve to heal. You deserve to be safe and cared for and helped and protected, and it's not fair or right that you didn't get those things before but you're gonna get them now. Whether you like it or not."
David looks into Divad's eyes, and there's no sign at all that Divad is lying to him, that he's just saying all these ridiculous things to trick him. If he's the monster-- Or even if he isn't--
Divad rests his hand over David's heart and-- It's not the same as when the other David touches him. But all of Divad's kindness and love and the soft look in his eyes--
David's hand rests over Divad's and holds it. And he feels-- It's not nearly as strong but-- He thinks maybe-- He feels a tiny bit of how-- The other David feels. That warmth and love and-- Healing.
Divad pulls him into his arms again and holds him. David still doesn't understand how any of this is happening, it's all so impossible, it's probably not real or it's just another trick but-- He holds Divad back anyway.
After a long minute, Divad sighs and pulls back, faces him. "What do you think?" he asks, light but needing. "Did we just make a good memory?"
David stares at him, confused, and then-- Remembers what Amy and Ptonomy are doing. Focusing on good memories they made here.
Because this isn't Amahl's lab. It's not even on the right floor. It's-- Their lab.
"That's right," Divad says, warmly. "This is a place for us to heal. A little at a time, like-- We just did." He gives David a hopeful look. "How about-- You help us build it? We'll make it ours."
"Ours?" David echoes, uncertain.
Divad turns. "How about it, docs?"
David turns to see that Ptonomy, Amy, Marcelle, and Miriam are standing just a few feet away. He tenses.
"I think that's a great idea," Miriam says. "How about-- We give you guys somewhere to sit?"
"I'll have the new furniture brought up," Ptonomy says. "What do you think? Same as before, sofa, loveseats, bean bags?"
"I think we'll need an extra seat," the other David says. "How about instead of the beanbags-- Another sofa?"
"Perfect," Ptonomy says, pleased. He turns to David. "This is our home. We want it to be your home, too."
"You like to sit by the window, right?" the other David says. "So you can feel like-- Even when you're inside, you're still part of the world."
David gives a surprised nod. Whenever he had a moment to just catch his breath, which Amahl rarely gave him-- He liked to sit by the window. Look out at the world and-- Pretend he was part of it.
That's how he felt when he was inside their body, too broken to do anything but look out of their eyes. He would watch as Divad lived their life better than he ever could and-- Pretended it was himself, succeeding, making people happy and proud.
"David," Divad says, softly drawing his attention again. "We're already proud of you. You're already succeeding. You're fighting to heal, like you always did. The difference is-- Now you have help. So it's gonna be okay."
David can't possibly believe any of that. "You don't know that," he protests.
"I know," Divad says, certain. "Because you did it before. The other half of you? He was in a lot of pain, too. He didn't think he could be saved. But we helped him save himself. And now we're gonna do the same for you."
"I don't--" David starts, shaking his head, but-- That tiny sense of healing-- It didn't go away when Divad stopped touching him. No one's touching him. It's just-- His. And knowing-- The other David feels that but-- So much more--
It hurts to hope. He shouldn't hope, it's just-- It only makes him hurt more when he inevitably fails. But all of this is-- It's so different and strange and-- Divad's never looked at him this way, or said these things to him. David's never felt-- The way the other David feels.
If this is a trick-- Maybe it doesn't matter. If he's going to hurt anyway, if he's going to suffer no matter what-- Maybe it's okay to-- Go along with it. Let the monster trick him, so he can feel better for a little while. His pain has been so absolute. If the trick is-- A sort of kindness, then-- Let the monster be kind.
Divad sighs. "You know what? I'll take it. Baby steps, right?" He looks to Dvd and the other David.
"Baby steps," the other David agrees.