Disclaimer: The characters belong to Showtime and Jeff Lindsay. The title belongs to Thea Gilmore. The story belongs to me.
Author's Note: Takes place shortly after the events of season two.
The Sky Fell While We Were Talking
The thing is, when someone says "Just tell me why" to a person, there is an implicit assumption involved: the assumption that the person being questioned knows what in the wide world is being asked of him.
But as I consider the earnest, searching expression on Rita's face, I can tell that "Why what?" would be a most inappropriate thing for me to say, as it would only lead to a frown on her part and further embarrassment on mine. Especially since it has been nearly a full twenty-four hours since she aimed her last enigmatic phrase – "We need to talk" – at me. The implicit assumption there, of course, was that I would use the time to figure out what it was we needed to talk about, and come prepared.
In fact, I used a good portion of those hours to have some fun with a particularly naughty jewelry maker, who would sadly never again forge another cheap starfish pendant out of plastic.
But I doubt that Rita, with the little worry lines between her brows, would find that an acceptable excuse. So I settle for looking at the floor, shaking my head, and echoing the word "Why" at her, as though it's a very weighty question indeed, and requires some serious thought.
She inches closer to me on the couch, and places her hand gingerly on top of mine. "I know it's a hard question, Dexter," she says, and I silently agree with her. "But I need to know. If there's going to be any future between us, I need you to tell me the truth. Not just why you cheated, but why her?"
Ah. Lila. That is a hard question.
"I don't know," I say lamely, because of course that's always a good place to start when one has to explain oneself.
"I'm serious," she says, very seriously. "There has to be a reason, or else you wouldn't have done it. You don't have to justify it. I know that you know it was a mistake. Just tell me why her."
One of her hands touches my face, brushing at my hair, and I assume the gesture is supposed to soothe me. So I try to look soothed. She looks into my eyes, so I look into hers, knitting my brows just enough to show her that this is Very Hard For Me To Talk About But For Your Sake I Will Try.
I close my eyes and take a rather dramatic deep breath, frantically arranging my thoughts and pulling out the ones that I can tell Rita. Truth, after all, is the imperative here. It's so much easier than making things up, and it saves one from having to cover one's tracks later.
I open my eyes again, and she bites her lip. "She saw me," I whisper, managing to convince even myself that I am afraid of these words. I have been buffeted by the winds of fate and the whims of a cruel mistress! I am adrift at sea, and Rita is the lone plank of wood to which I must cling! I am lost! I am alone! And most of all, I am a very good actor.
"I mean, I thought she did," I continue, and Rita begins stroking my hair again. "At least at first. I felt like I've been. I don't know. Hiding. But she was the first one who saw me, and everything I've been keeping inside, and didn't judge me for it."
"Oh sweetheart," says Rita, and I can hear a touch of guilt in her voice. Hurrah, I think to myself. It's working.
"And I didn't want to hide anymore," I continue, enraptured by my own performance. "I wanted to change, and the only way I could do that was by bringing everything I am into the light, and showing it to someone. And you…"
Here I trail off, raising a hand to brush my index finger along her jawline. She looks at me expectantly, and I give her the most self-deprecating smile I can muster.
"I wasn't sure that you could take it, after everything you've already been through."
A tear slides down one of her cheeks, and I am amazed when something inside my chest gives a little twitch in response. My hand cups her cheek, almost of its own accord, and she nestles into it. Twitch.
I don't know if it's physical or entirely in my head, that little movement of a muscle that may or may not be there at all, but it isn't the first time it's happened. It happened in Naples, when my fist connected with Jimenez's head. It happened in Lila's apartment, when I threw her down on the bed and felt my rain-soaked fingers close around her neck.
It happened when I sliced the dinner knife across my brother's throat.
But for it to happen now, when I am giving a virtuoso performance with Rita as my guest of honor? It makes no sense at all.
"Sweetheart," she says for the second time, and there is a thickness in her voice that makes me thoroughly uncomfortable. "I can take it. Whatever you need to throw at me, I can take it."
"As long as it isn't sharp or heavy," I add.
She gives a soggy little laugh. "That's just it, Dexter. You wouldn't do that. You're not like Paul. You're a good man. He didn't know how to express his anger, so he… well. But you're better than that. I know you have all those complicated feelings, and I know you don't know what to do with them, but I am here for you one hundred percent, and I will help you get through it. All you have to do is talk to me."
She pauses, and I feel that some response is called for. I nod slowly.
"Will you?" she says. "Will you promise to talk to me when you need someone?"
That strange little twitch in my chest tells me to say yes, to hold her close and beg her forgiveness for ever having anything to do with Lila. But as much as I sincerely regret Lila now (mostly because of all the fire), I hold the impulse at bay. This is Dexter, I tell it. Deceptively Dashing Dexter, a master performer who above all things does not act irrationally.
Except for that first time that Rita and I ended up in bed together.
And that night in Naples.
And that time with Lila.
Oh, and all those other times with Lila.
I look at Rita. She looks back at me. I let out a breath, and my arm sneaks around her back and pulls her close to me. I can feel her practically melting against my chest, and I think she is crying again. It's been a while since I used "There, there" on her, so I think I might be able to get away with it. But before I can feed her the false words, my lips are saying "Shhh" and my hand is stroking her hair. And it seems – it feels – utterly right.
"Promise me," she says to my shirt.
I close my eyes, and the words tumble out, entirely without my help. "I've never had anyone to talk to. Not since Harry."
"You need someone," she murmurs. "Everyone needs someone. Will you let it be me?"
She adjusts herself so that she is looking up at me. I kiss her forehead, smooth as silk, all tenderness and no rational thought at all. "I will," I say. "I promise."
What's even stranger than hearing myself make this promise is the knowledge that I truly mean it. Thanks to Lila, I know now that it is entirely possible to get things off one's chest by telling the truth. Well, by telling the truth without really telling the truth.
As if seeking affirmation of my promise, she asks me right then and there to tell her a secret. I tell her that not only was my mother killed before my eyes, but I watched my only brother die too. I don't tell her when, or how, and she probably assumes it was on the same day, at the hands of the same people. I let her. Her eyes fill with tears again, and she presses herself against me and says that she loves me. I know that I should manufacture a face to show her that I Am Comforted By Your Attentions… but when I begin going through the motions, I find that I don't have to.
Against all reason, I am comforted by her.
She doesn't ask me to elaborate on what I've told her, so I don't tell her anything else. But as I hold her and run my fingers through her hair, the thought occurs to me that someday, I just might.