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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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There's always a moment, just as David falls asleep, when he feels a tiny surge of terror. It's nothing compared to everything else David feels when he's awake, all the fear and anxiety and shame and--

But Dvd always waits for that moment. He waits for it and then-- Soothes it. All it takes is a steady touch, or feelings of love. And then David's breathing can even out and he can rest. Eventually the nightmares will come, they always come, but just for a little while, with Dvd watching over him, David is safe. The monster can't touch him.

Dvd sits on the coffee table, one hand on Past David's arm, and sends feelings of love to David. David's tiny terror passes, his breathing evens out, and then-- Both of them are asleep. And Dvd's heart aches so much that he's afraid it'll wake David up.

He just wants--

Divad pulls up the edge of David's blanket, and lightly touches his cheek. And Dvd feels Divad's heart aching, too.

'I just want him back,' Dvd thinks to Divad, and means everything by it.

Divad sighs, and Dvd can feel how much he wants that, too. But he stands up and gestures for Dvd to follow him. Dvd glances at Amy, relaxing on one loveseat, and Lenny in the other.

Dvd reminds himself that-- He's not doing this alone, keeping David safe. He has Divad, he has Lenny and Amy, he has Ptonomy and Oliver. He has help. And together they're gonna stop the shit beetle and everyone's gonna be okay.

He wants to believe all that so much.

Their notebooks are waiting for them at the table. Oliver and Ptonomy wait while Dvd and Divad each do a round of their foundation work, personal and system. He pauses on the system wish list. The one thing they all want most. To be safe.

They haven't started Past David on foundation work yet, but Dvd knows that's what he wants most, too.

'We're ready,' Divad thinks, knowing Oliver is listening, and then-- The relay is back, and so is the mainframe link. Dvd and Divad put their mental shields back up so they won't disturb David, though they still share with each other. And then-- It's time to get to work.

'Let's start with a check-in,' Ptonomy says. 'How are you feeling?'

'Anxious, worried,' Divad starts. 'Less worried than I was before David's session, but--' He looks over at the sitting area, and Dvd feels Divad's longing, his guilt, his hope. 'I have so much to make up for.'

'Dvd?' Ptonomy says. 'How about you?'

'I feel-- Love,' Dvd thinks. 'For David. Longing. Um. Heartache. Anger at the shit beetle for using me to hurt him. And worry."

'What's your biggest worry?' Ptonomy asks.

'That we can't fix this,' Dvd admits. 'We couldn't fix David before, we-- I tried so hard.'

He feels a surge of anger at Divad for breaking David in college, but resists it. Even if Divad tries to sabotage David again, they're not alone. People are paying attention. Oliver would notice. Amy and Lenny and Ptonomy and hell, even Syd would notice. Divad wouldn't be able to get away with it.

And-- They know why Divad was so angry all the time. They were sharing wrong, and-- They were spending all their time being David instead of themselves. All that was hurting their system. They don't have to hurt their system anymore.

Divad gives Dvd a sad smile. 'We don't,' he thinks. 'But-- I'm glad if I slip-- We have a lot of people who care enough to stop me.'

'You do,' Ptonomy agrees. 'You're both doing really well. You're working so hard to get better, and you should be very proud of that.'

'It's very impressive,' Oliver agrees.

Divad quirks a smile. 'The way our system is now-- It's so much better than how we used to work.'

'It is,' Ptonomy agrees. 'And that's why you're both worried, right? Because Past David isn't part of the new way you work, not yet. And whichever body he's in, it's going to take work to help him out of that old system and into your new one.'

'A lot of work,' Divad says. 'God, I wish-- There's so much I want to take back. I said so many awful things, I-- I tortured him! I broke him! I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought--' He cuts off. 'I tried apologizing to David before, but he can't remember what happened. And now-- Past David doesn't even think I'm real.' He sighs, frustrated. 'How do we fix this?'

'You mean, how do we get Past David to accept that we're not the monster?' Ptonomy asks.

'Yes,' Divad thinks, and gives Ptonomy a pleading look.

'I wish we had an easy answer,' Ptonomy says. 'And before either of you suggests it, yes, wiping Past David's dream memories would make him forget everything Farouk convinced him to believe. But I don't think it's a good idea.'

'He'd be better,' Dvd thinks.

'And when he finds out that's what you did?' Ptonomy asks. 'That you took away a year of his life?'

'He doesn't have to find out,' Dvd thinks.

'That year changed all of us,' Ptonomy says. 'Even if he doesn't remember, he's a telepath. He'll hear something and he'll realize the truth. He'll feel deeply betrayed. And worse, that's how Farouk treated your system for decades. He erased whatever memories he didn't want you to have, again and again.'

Dvd shifts in his seat, looks away, huffs. He doesn't want to be anything like the shit beetle. But it kills him that Farouk did all this right under their nose. It kills him every time Past David thinks they're the monster.

'I know it hurts,' Ptonomy soothes.

Dvd's eyes sting with tears, but he fights them. 'It's like being skinned alive,' he thinks, angrily.

'Then how do we help him?' Divad asks, desperately.

'The same way you helped David accept you,' Ptonomy says. 'Tell me how you did that.'

'Um, we stopped hiding,' Divad thinks, concentrating. 'We-- Stayed with him. Opened up, dropped our shields. Shared our thoughts, our feelings.'

'That's right,' Ptonomy says. 'You let him get to know you again. And you have a big advantage with Past David, because he does remember you. Farouk didn't make him forget, he just confused him. He tangled up both of you with the monster. So all we have to do is untangle.'

'How?' Dvd presses.

'We've already started,' Ptonomy says. 'Past David's pretty confused right now. But at lot of his confusion is because even though he thinks we're the monster, we're not acting like the monster. We're giving him affection and support, treating him with trust, honesty, and respect.'

'We shouldn't have lied to him yesterday,' Divad sighs.

'We held things back because we were trying to keep him calm,' Ptonomy says. 'That was for David's sake, and yours. If we hadn't calmed Past David, I don't think your system would have made that breakthrough yesterday. And that was a big one, right?'

'Really big,' Dvd agrees. Being able to share again, and David remembering them sharing, feeling happy when they're all together--

'There are times when there are no easy answers,' Oliver says. 'When every choice is a compromise. And yet we must choose.'

'That's why forgiveness is so important,' Ptonomy says. 'Instead of staying in our anger, punishing ourselves and each other-- We can put our energy into learning and trying again, into making our situation better. So let's focus on what will make our situation better.'

He gives them an expectant look.

'Okay,' Divad thinks, concentrating again. 'If-- Past David is confused because we're not behaving like the monster, then-- The best way to prove we're not the monster is to keep doing that. Right?'

'Right,' Ptonomy says, pleased. 'Look at this as an opportunity. Farouk was able to convince Past David you were masks, in part, because you used to act like the monster. But you've both put a lot of work into replacing Farouk's ideas with healthy ones. Every time you show Past David how much you've changed, you chip away at Farouk's lies. And even better, you're modeling for Past David. You're teaching him how to change himself so he can be healthy, too.'

'Yes,' Divad thinks, relieved. 'That makes sense. We can do that.'

'You can,' Ptonomy agrees. 'Dvd, how about you?'

'It makes sense,' Dvd agrees, but--

'But?' Ptonomy prompts.

'It's just--' Dvd struggles. 'In our new system, we're not-- Me and David--'

'Ah,' Ptonomy says. 'This is about your physical, romantic relationship?'

Dvd looks away. That was the least romantic way to put it. 'Yeah,' he thinks.

'I'm glad you brought that up,' Ptonomy says. 'The truth is, David's inability to remember more than-- Vague feelings about your relationship has-- Made it easy to put this off. But even without Past David, this is something your system needs to work on.'

'I love him,' Dvd thinks, with all his heart. 'I miss him so much. I miss holding him, I miss--' He cuts off. His heart hurts too much.

'We'll need to talk to David and Past David,' Ptonomy says. 'Both of them have feelings for you, but both of them have things that make those feelings difficult. For David, his feelings are mostly new, something he's still trying to understand. But Past David--' He pauses. 'Farouk seems to have-- Leveraged Past David's feelings in an attempt to-- Redirect them.'

'Fuck the shit beetle,' Dvd thinks, furious and almost in tears.

'He still wants David to love him,' Divad thinks, soberly.

'He does,' Ptonomy agrees. 'And that meant stealing your relationship with David for himself. Just as he exploited David's relationships with Syd and Melanie and Amy.'

'What do I do?' Dvd asks, desperate.

'I believe the answer is largely the same,' Oliver says. 'But romantic feelings-- Require special care. Farouk also stole my relationship with Melanie for his own use. Perhaps-- A double date?'

'A what?' Divad asks, eyebrows high.

'Double and a half,' Oliver offers. 'Presumably you wish to court both Davids?'

Dvd is speechless. And tempted. 'That's nuts,' he thinks. 'Past David's a wreck.'

'And yet Past David and David can and will share their feelings with each other,' Oliver points out. 'If we wish to reclaim that aspect of your system, then-- New, positive memories are needed. Just as they were for returning to the lab, and for sharing your system's body.'

'That actually makes sense,' Ptonomy admits. 'Maybe we should involve Syd?'

'Absolutely not,' Dvd protests.

'Farouk appears to have-- Had sex with David as Syd,' Oliver points out. 'Even if their relationship was more clinical than romantic--'

'It might be overwhelming,' Ptonomy says.

'And yet start as you mean to go on,' Oliver counters. 'David and Past David will inevitably be in relationships with both Dvd and Syd, whether separately or together.'

'What am I, chopped liver?' Divad thinks, grumpily.

'No,' Dvd thinks, firmly. 'No Syd, no Divad.' He turns to Divad. 'Sorry, but-- You didn't have a romantic relationship with David before.' He turns back to Oliver. 'And Syd Barrett is not Syd Farouk.'

'Valid points,' Oliver concedes. 'Very well. We'll keep things-- Relatively simple. Divad can chaperone, make sure the Davids don't get too close.'

'Shouldn't he be chaperoning me?' Dvd asks.

'Do you consider yourself a danger?' Oliver challenges. 'Past David and David nearly merged once already. If they share this experience together, it would be very easy for all that hand-holding to become something more.'

'Got it,' Divad thinks, determined.

'This is weird,' Dvd thinks.

'We have to retake as much ground as possible before we put your system back together,' Ptonomy says. 'Your relationship with David is valuable territory. We can't let Farouk keep it.'

'We can't,' Divad agrees. He turns to Dvd. 'Why do I keep having to convince you to do things you already want to do? Look, we fixed sharing, we can fix this. Don't you want him back?'

'Of course I want him back!' Dvd protests. 'I just--' He falters. 'I don't-- Know how to-- I didn't know I was hurting him before. What if I mess up again? What if I'm just bad for him?'

'Now you sound like Syd,' Divad thinks. 'Admit it, you're afraid.'

'Of course I'm afraid!' Dvd thinks, upset. 'I just accepted that I'm not a stress response. I barely know how to be a person. I don't know how to be with David that way without hurting him.'

'You need a healthy model,' Oliver acknowledges. 'That's why a double date is essential. When in doubt, copy me. Remember how we did the massages? And that worked out all right.'

'I guess,' Dvd admits.

'You've also been watching David and Syd, right?' Ptonomy says. 'You've seen how they're learning to love each other in healthy ways. And there's not that much difference between what they're doing and what you've already been doing with your system. You've learned to avoid a lot of unhealthy behaviors already. Healthy love is right there in your foundation.'

Dvd looks down at his foundation work. Affection and support, trust, honesty, and respect.

'You can do this,' Divad thinks, certain.

Dvd looks at Divad, at Ptonomy and Oliver, and thinks-- They're actually doing this? They're helping him get back together with David? He always thought--

They really want him to be happy?

He's not doing this alone. He really isn't.

'Okay,' Dvd decides, working up his courage. He can do this. He can get David back. Oh god, he's going to get David back. Oh god. He's suddenly smiling. He can't stop smiling. And Divad's smiling, too.

'Great,' Ptonomy says, pleased. 'How about the cafeteria?'

'Yes, that will do nicely,' Oliver says. 'A coffee date.' His eyes go distant and he gives a soft smile.

He's remembering. Because he can remember now. Falling in love with Melanie over coffee in China? And David will remember soon, or-- At least the memories will be there for him. But even without the memories, he can already feel how he used to feel. All he has to do is hold Past David's hand.

Dvd's heart aches even more, but in the best way.

'There's one more thing we need to discuss,' Ptonomy says, sobering. 'Right now Past David is in deep survival mode. But as he accepts that we're not the monster, as he comes out of that fear-- When David reached that point, he became very hard to deal with. Remember?'

'I don't think I could forget,' Divad thinks.

Dvd fervently agrees.

'When we go into fight or flight mode, we have to suppress a lot of our needs,' Ptonomy explains. 'We get out of that mode and all our needs come back at once, demanding attention. And if we don't have healthy ways of dealing with those needs, we're going to use unhealthy ways.'

'So you're saying--' Divad prompts.

'I'm saying this is the easy part,' Ptonomy says. 'Past David is being compliant because he doesn't feel safe enough to be anything else. But without that fear, he's going to be-- Pretty much at his worst. And you need to be ready for that.'

'Nothing we haven't seen before,' Divad thinks, wryly.

'No,' Ptonomy agrees. 'But how did you deal with it before?'

That makes Divad pause. 'Not well,' he admits.

'Exactly,' Ptonomy says. 'You know, a while back, Syd asked what David's old foundation was. What were the ideas he lived his life by? I think you can answer that.'

Dvd and Divad exchange glances.

'Nothing good,' Dvd thinks. 'Just-- A lot of shame and-- Pain. Sadness.'

'We didn't have any boundaries,' Divad thinks. 'And-- We thought cruelty was love.'

'Past David hasn't started unlearning those ideas yet,' Ptonomy says. 'And he won't really be able to until he's out of survival mode. Think about how David tried to re-enact his abuse with Benny and Syd.'

'Shit,' Dvd mutters. None of that was good.

'We don't want any part of your system falling back into that,' Ptonomy says. 'It will be up to you to say no to him, to refuse to engage in those toxic behaviors. And he won't be happy about that. He'll be angry and needy and desperate to pull you back into his refuge with him.'

'David wasn't like that with us,' Divad counters.

'David couldn't remember how he was with you,' Ptonomy says. 'But he was like that with Syd, after the desert.'

Everyone goes quiet.

'He wouldn't hurt us,' Dvd protests.

'He wouldn't know what he was doing was hurtful,' Ptonomy counters. 'You were both in his position very recently. You were both trying to pull David back into toxic behaviors that felt safe to you. David was the one who said no. Now it's your turn.'

Divad gives a heavy sigh. 'That's not gonna be easy.'

'No,' Ptonomy agrees. 'So I'd like to try a quick roleplay. I'll be Past David. I've accepted that you're not the monster, but I'm still scared and hurting and I need to feel safe. You two need to work as a team to help me. Ready?'

Dvd and Divad glance at each other. 'Ready,' they think.

'I don't want to be here,' Ptonomy says, with a David-like whine. 'I want to go back to the way things were in college. It was fine.' He turns to Divad. 'You're better at being me anyway.'

'No,' Divad says, gently but firmly. 'David, that wasn't good for either of us. I can't cover for you anymore, and you need to stay in the world so everyone can help you, so you can get better.'

'I don't need to get better,' Ptonomy pouts, as Past David. He turns to Dvd. 'Why aren't you taking care of me? You're supposed to take care of me.'

Dvd struggles for his answer. 'I am taking care of you. I'm right here, okay? But I can't-- Be everything you need. I have to take care of myself and so do you.'

'You hate me,' Ptonomy moans, as Past David. 'What did I do wrong? Just tell me, I'll fix it, I'm sorry.'

'David, no,' Divad says, upset. 'You didn't do anything wrong, you just-- You have to get better.'

'What's the point?' Ptonomy grumbles, as Past David. 'I'll never get better.'

'You have to try anyway,' Dvd insists. 'We love you. But the way we were doing things-- It was wrong.'

'I'm sorry,' Ptonomy sobs. 'It's all my fault.'

'That's not true,' Divad sighs. 'David--'

'You hate me!' Ptonomy says, angrily. Then he gives Dvd a pleading look. 'Dvd, please. I need you. Please, we can-- We can just be inside again, like we were. We don't need the world, the world hates us. We'll never go out again.'

Dvd takes a sharp breath in, remembering how David was with Syd that night. Pleading with her for it to be-- Just the two of them, isolated from everyone else. David really was re-enacting. Dvd didn't see it then, but he does now.

'No,' Dvd thinks, roughly. 'David, we do need the world. We need people, we need-- Being alone isn't good for us. I don't want to hide anymore.'

Ptonomy gives Dvd a wounded look, then turns back to Divad. 'You know I can't do this. I can't, Divad.'

'I know it's hard,' Divad thinks, gently. 'But you have to try. I was wrong, David. You're so strong and brave and-- You've survived so much. You never deserved to be tortured, not by the monster and not by me. Please, stay here with us.'

Ptonomy falters, as Past David, then pouts again. 'I don't want to be here. I hate it.'

'We know,' Divad thinks, still gently. 'But we're going to be with you every step of the way, okay? Like we always were. Like when we were kids, remember? And everyone here loves you and wants you to be happy. That's all we want. Don't you want to be happy?'

'I don't deserve it,' Ptonomy whines, as Past David.

'I know it feels that way,' Divad thinks. 'But that's-- It's the parasite, remember? The shame parasite. Don't let it win. You fought so hard to stay with us for all those years. Please stay with us now.'

Ptonomy turns back to Dvd, silently pleading.

'He's right,' Dvd thinks, genuinely. 'You think I'd ever say that if I didn't mean it? You know I only ever wanted to keep you safe. That's all I ever wanted, David. Trust me, this is the best way for you to be safe.'

'But it hurts,' Ptonomy whines, but weaker.

'It really fucking hurts,' Dvd thinks, and means it. 'But then it gets better. I promise, I swear it gets better. And then we'll be happy together. And we won't have to hide, we won't be afraid, we won't-- There won't be any more monsters in our head, okay? No more monsters ever again.'

Dvd looks at Ptonomy, but all he can see is Past David. He's in so much pain and he's so scared. It breaks Dvd's heart.

'Can I-- Hug you?' Dvd asks.

Ptonomy hesitates, as Past David, but then nods. Dvd wraps his arms around himself, imagines hugging Past David so tight. God, if he could pull Past David inside himself and keep him there, he would, he would.

But he can't. He doesn't-- He doesn't want to have to carry all that pain. He doesn't want to hide Past David away from everyone else. He doesn't want to be trapped with him, suffocating but unable to walk away. He wants to be free, to be happy and-- To be able to come back home and be happy there, too. That's all he wants.

Ptonomy closes his eyes, and when he opens them, it's clear the roleplay has ended.

'Did we help him?' Dvd asks, quietly.

'You did,' Ptonomy says. 'A little at a time and you'll get there. You know you can because you already did it once before.'

'We did,' Divad thinks, and he feels-- Calm. Ready.

Dvd doesn't feel that ready. But-- He knows what he wants. Love and freedom, the chance for both of them to step out of that tiny prison they made for themselves and just-- Try everything. Leave all the pain behind, be anything they want to be, and-- Be new together.

He wants that so much.

'That's a very healthy thing to want,' Ptonomy says, gently. 'You both did a great job.'

'Dvd,' Divad thinks, full of emotion. 'That's-- A really nice dream.'

'You're in it, too,' Dvd tells him. 'It's for all of us.'

'All of us,' Divad agrees.