Disclaimer: The characters belong to Showtime and Jeff Lindsay. The title belongs to Suzanne Vega. The story belongs to me.
Author's Note: Takes place three months after the events of season two.
Water Through a Rusted Pipe
For all that Deb spends her life trying to emulate Harry in every possible way, yesterday was the first time that she actually reminded me of him. The stance, the expression, the bitter combination of rage and despair, all were pure Harry.
After the trial was over, I expected the word "fuck" to be hurled about until someone politely asked Deb to leave. But she seemed to be beyond swearing. The usual violently emotional Debra Morgan had left the building, and in that moment she was a sheet of ice, like Harry often was. Like I always am.
"I can't believe it," she said tonelessly. "I just can't believe it."
His name was John Dillon, and several months ago he'd raped and murdered a pair of twin girls, thirteen years old. Deb, with her docile and dutiful brother by her side, had led the investigation that culminated in his arrest, and she'd even gotten to handcuff him personally. Then yesterday, after his lawyer and the state's lawyer spent several hours hurling insults at each other, he walked free. There was some reason they couldn't convict him, but it was so insubstantial that it has managed to slip through the nimble threads of my brain sometime in the past twenty-nine hours since it happened.
Of course, it doesn't really matter what the reason is, or that I've forgotten it, so long as I have proof enough to convict him in my own private court. And I do.
Part of me wants to tell Deb that I'll take care of everything for her, that John Dillon won't walk free after all she's done, but I know that I can't. So instead, I settle for playing the part of the devoted brother, comforting and consoling her in her time of need, telling her that I wish there was something I could do. To this end, I have taken the liberty of storming the threshold of my sister's apartment tonight, Cuban takeout in one hand and a six-pack in the other.
She sits now on her couch, savagely opening her fourth beer and completely ignoring the glorious medianoche in front of her. Having finished my own food, I eye her slightly-nibbled sandwich, wondering when would be an appropriate time to ask if she is planning to finish it.
But she glowers and glowers and avoids my lighthearted attempts at conversation. I decide that maybe I should wait till the fifth beer.
"Listen," I say after a while. "If you want to talk about it, I'm here."
"Talk about what?" she says. It doesn't sound like a question so much as a challenge to fight to the death. "There's nothing to talk about. The fucker went free. Asshole did all that shit, and we had all that evidence, and he fucking went free!"
Two fucks, a shit, and an asshole. Now there is the Debra I know and purport to love. I am relieved to see her back and angry at someone who isn't me.
"That sounds like a lot to talk about, actually," I say pleasantly, and I pat the couch cushion next to mine.
But Deb, curled comfortably in the cocoon of her armchair, just continues to act as though there is a Grand Prize for Glaring, and she will win it no matter what the cost.
"Fine," I say. "Then I'll just go, if I am so very unwanted."
"Whatever," she says. Apparently guilt trips don't work on her when she's in this new Harry mood.
I shrug and reach for her plate. If she can't even do me the courtesy of professing her deep wish that some guardian angel would just go ahead and do John Dillon in, then I have no patience for her sandwich-wasting indifference. But even as I make a move toward it, she grabs it out from under my nose and stalks into the kitchen.
"I can clean up after myself," she says as the door swings shut behind her. "Don't do me any favors."
And I hear the muffled but unmistakable sound of a perfectly good sandwich being thrown into a garbage can. I can only gape as a rare feeling of helplessness washes over me. My cruel, heartless sister! How could she!
The faucet runs as she rinses something out, and there is the clinking noise of bottles being tossed in the recycling. Deb emerges from the kitchen, the last beer in her hand. "Wouldn't mind if you took the trash on your way out, though," she says.
"Thank you for the wonderful meal, Dexter," I say. "You're such a great brother, Dexter."
"Oh, shut the fuck up," she says, but I can see a smile trying to break through the glare.
"You're welcome," I grin, and I go into the kitchen to tie up the trash.
Because I am a wonderful person, I grab her recycling too. "Hands full!" I call as I leave through the back door. "Can you grab the door?"
She gives a short "Yup!" from the living room, and without bothering to wait for her, I push the screen door open and head for the trash cans.
As I drop the bag of cans and the bag of garbage into their respective bins, I silently mourn the passing of the sandwich that was obviously never fated to be mine. I am not so desperate as to retrieve it from its pungent grave, but I am certainly not above purchasing and eating another of its brethren instead. After all, I have a long night ahead of me.
John Dillon is waiting.
I find myself smiling at the thought of the wild-eyed, heavy-browed man on the witness stand, reduced to a sniveling pile of mere flesh under my duct tape. It's a delightful picture, and I head toward my car with a spring in my step.
But something catches my attention. Immediately on guard, I whirl around. It's nothing. A shadow. In my state of hungry anticipation, I must have thought—
No, that isn't a shadow. Not this thing, which is quickly and silently slipping through my sister's screen door.
Darting forward, I catch the door before it slams shut. The shadow-thing is already inside the house, and I slink in after it.
I reach the kitchen door just in time to hear my sister scream.
Half of me would very much like to charge in, give some fierce battle cry, and tackle whoever or whatever is terrorizing my sister. But the other half of me is ruled by the stealthy predatory instincts that I have spent my entire life cultivating. The result is an inelegant, half-formed movement that propels me through the door, but halts me awkwardly on the other side.
The intruder whirls. I am surprised, yet not surprised at all, to see the face of John Dillon.
A dull knife is clenched in his fist, and he stands in the middle of the room, angry and frustrated and sputtering an impressive string of curses. For a moment I sympathize; it's truly disheartening to have a plan foiled, as his is about to be.
Deb, who is backed up against the couch, frantically pats her hip. I can only assume that she hopes to find her gun there, but that would be something of a miracle since I saw it in her bedroom earlier. "Get out of here, Dex," she says, trying her very best to sound calm. "Call it in. He's armed!"
"I can see that," I say, and I smile at Dillon. "It isn't very nice to attack an unarmed lady," I tell him.
"Fucking bitch," he spits, and I can only assume he means Debra. I wait for him to finish his thought, but he doesn't; he seems too busy trying to decide who to attack first. The frightened policewoman who arrested him, or the innocuous-looking lab geek?
I hope he picks Deb. He would be so much easier to take down from behind.
He turns toward me. Maybe he sees something threatening in my expression. I have no idea. But whatever his reason, he's made his choice, and I have to play along. I assess him in less than a second. His position. My position. His height, his probable weight, his center of gravity, all part of an equation that I will mold myself to fit. Dexter Morgan is equal to, or more likely greater than, John Dillon.
"Watch out, Dex!" cries Deb, her voice growing shrill with worry for her big brother.
It's a sweet thought, but I barely register it. Every muscle, every nerve is poised and hungry for action. Come and attack me, I think at him, and I feel my lips form a mirthless grin. Just come on.
Hyperalert as I am, every tiny thing that happens seems drawn out: three hours to take stock of my opponent, four more to give my sister a Stay Where You Are gesture with my hand. But it reality, it's over in seconds. He makes a lumbering move toward me, knife raised. I feign frozen fear until he is practically on top of me, and then sidestep him, knocking the knife from his grip with the ease of many years of practice.
Deb shouts something as I grasp Dillon's neck in a chokehold, and some vague part of me sees her running past us and into her bedroom. He claws frantically and ineffectually at my arms as I apply pressure to his windpipe, trying his absolute best to shout more curses at me. But soon he goes quiet, and his efforts at freeing himself begin to slacken. Then he goes limp in my arms.
Breathing heavily with exhilaration, I drop him unceremoniously to the floor.
As if on autopilot, my mind begins the list of things I'll need to complete the job. Plastic. Duct tape. A good working surface. At least five garbage bags. My bright, gleaming knives. A slide. Pictures of those two girls he killed, and another of my sister, because attempted murder counts too.
"Dexter!" A distant female voice slices into my consciousness; my head snaps up and I wonder who has manners bad enough to intrude on my playtime.
Deb is staring at me, holding her gun in one hand and a cordless phone in the other. "I said they'll be here in five minutes," she says.
"Who?" I ask her, still breathless and mildly disoriented.
"The police, you retard," she says, frowning. I blink a couple of times to clear my head. Of course. The police. That's who normal people call when they've been attacked.
I force myself to relax into Normal Dexter again, and I give her what I sincerely hope is a tired, overwhelmed sort of smile. "Right," I say. "Good thinking. I didn't... I mean, I was just... man. I guess I was too scared to think, you know?"
But even as I pass my hand over my brow in a well-rehearsed gesture of fatigue, I know I've overdone it. Methinks the Dexter doth protest too much.
Deb stares at me, the looks slowly down at the inert figure of John Dillon, then back at me. Her eyes are wide. I can't read her expression.
The cops know exactly who John Dillon is, and as far as they're concerned, it's a cut-and-dry case. If it were up to me, it would be a cut-and-pack-into-garbage-bags case, but I doubt that that would be a very good idea with my sister and three cops watching.
They take statements from each of us; they back away when Deb tells them vehemently that no, she's fine, and she doesn't need to see someone; and eventually, they leave with a groggy Dillon in handcuffs. For a few blissful moments there is silence, and I can practically see Deb's brain at work as she processes the situation.
I wonder if she'll bring up Brian – Rudy – and gush at me about how I've saved her life yet again. I steel myself for a similar flow of tears. I sit quietly, heroically, the Dark Defender personified. I am the very model of the perfect brother.
But when she finally pulls herself together enough to look at me, it isn't gratitude I see on her face. "That was scary, Dex," she says, peering at me strangely.
"I know," I say sympathetically, the way the Dark Defender might. "But he's gone now, and they've got him for good this time."
She stares at me for a long moment. "I meant you."
"Oh, that?" I say, beginning to understand. I grin. "You know I took jujitsu in college!"
"Yeah, and that was like fifteen years ago," she says. I frown. "It wasn't that. You had this look on your face. It was..."
Her head gives a strange little jerk, as if she's shaking off an itch. "Rudy," she says quietly, eyes fixed on a point somewhere across the floor. Ah, here we are, back on familiar territory.
"I know," I say in the same sympathetic tone.
But she still doesn't look at me. "Rudy had that look," she wobbles, "when he – he... I mean, when he changed."
And with that statement and all its implications, our hero is suddenly wrong-footed. My mouth opens and closes several idiotic times, and finally freezes shut when she looks me directly in the eye.
"This isn't the first time you've done that, is it," she says flatly.
The accusation is vague enough that I can still try to scramble for a sure footing. "Sure it isn't," I say blithely. "I did it when Rudy threatened you, too."
"Yeah, I remember that," she says sourly. A bit of Cop Voice is starting to creep into her tone. "You barely kept him off of me. If the police hadn't arrived..."
Her body gives an involuntary shudder, and the Dark Defender part of me suddenly wants to hug her tight. But the urge quickly passes.
"This was different," she continues, and I can practically feel myself wilting under her hardening Harry gaze. "You could have killed this guy. Easily. I saw it. And that look on your face – you wanted to kill him. No, you were fucking going to."
Ever so gallantly, I tell her, "I would have, if I had to. He attacked you."
"That had nothing to do with me!" she shouts, springing up from the couch. "So yeah, okay, you came back in for me, whatever. But once you had him? I mean, you didn't even hear me when I said I was calling the police. Like I wasn't even there. And that look you had. It was. It was. Fuck, Dex."
She towers over me, waiting for some kind of reply, and I sit meekly on the couch, a frightened seven-year-old whose teacher has found the inordinately large collection of scissors in his desk.
"Dexter, have you ever hurt anyone?"
I found the bones, son.
"Yes," I chuckle. "You just saw me."
"Don't you dare bullshit me," she seethes. "You know what I mean."
"Debra," I sigh, "if you want to ask me something, just ask."
"Look at me," she says, all Harry. "Have you ever killed anyone?"
No one in particular.
After an awkward moment, I try "No" on for size. But the word hangs there, mocking both of us with its brazen dishonesty. For the first time in either of our lives, my little sister doesn't believe me.
As much as Harry always insisted that I shouldn't, I think I have always imagined that I'd tell Deb one day. Maybe I'll never tell her everything, but just... some things, now that the code is my own. Now that I am not weighed down by what Harry might think. Especially now that she has that I Will Settle For Nothing But Truth look on her face.
In short, now that the time is right, I can allow myself to experience this moment without a shred of shame. I sit up a little straighter, watch her consider my Yes, and wonder how much I will tell her before we are both satisfied.
There are, after all, many different facets of my personal truth, many different layers to cut through before we get to the bottom line.
She takes a deep breath, looks me straight in the eye, and says, "Tell me."
It's Harry again, I realize with a kind of nervous delight. The demand is perfectly phrased, straightforward and simple enough that it's impossible to wriggle out of it with conscious misinterpretation. The only thing I might fault her on is her delivery (shaky at best), but I doubt she'd appreciate my constructive criticism just now.
So I settle for the obvious: "Tell you what?"
Her eyes begin to narrow, but perhaps she sees that it's an honest question – I'm neither baiting her nor feigning innocence – so she releases her building anger with a slow breath. "Well, for starters," she says evenly, "who was it?"
My poor, innocent sister. I tell her that I've killed before, and she assumes it was only once. It's moments like this when I understand why Harry wanted to shield her from me.
Part of me wants to tell her everything, all at once, just for the split-second thrill of seeing her reaction. Remember those huge back-to-back cases you worked on? The Ice Truck Killer and the Bay Harbor Butcher? Well, one of them is me, and I personally killed the other.
But then there is the other part of me, the part that would rather not end up in prison by the end of the night. So I decide to start small. One person. Someone she knew. Someone she won't feel sorry for.
"Remember Lila?" I say, a touch of false hesitation in my voice.
Her eyes grow wide, and she makes a weird, twisted face. I can't tell if she's going to laugh or cry.
"You didn't," she breathes.
I smile. "I'm pretty sure I did."
She lets out a ragged laugh, but it's a sound of confusion, not mirth. "But... I mean, when? How?"
"Three months ago. With a knife." Pure, unadulterated honesty. This is easy. Take that, Harry.
"I," she begins, then shakes her head, takes a few steps to the right, takes a few steps back, and sinks down onto the couch. The opposite side of the couch, I can't help but notice.
"I mean," she begins again, and lets out a whoosh of breath and doesn't look at me. "I mean how? Not how did you do it, but how could you do it? Like how could you be with someone, like have sex with them and everything, and then just fucking kill them?"
For a moment I'm sure she isn't finished, so I wait patiently. But after a few shaky breaths, she looks up at me, and it isn't Harry's face she uses this time. This is the face I saw in the ambulance that night, haunted and afraid, the face she showed me after I stopped Brian from sticking a knife in her chest. Brian. Rudy. The one who had sex with her, and then tried to kill her.
Apparently Lila was a bad one to start with.
"She tried to kill me, Deb," I remind her gently. "Not to mention Cody and Astor."
She nods curtly. "I know. I mean, it's not like she didn't fucking deserve it, but..."
But how do you stab someone and talk so calmly about it afterwards.
"But why not just give her to the police? To me? We had enough to convict her for life, and you never would've heard from her again."
"It was personal," I murmur.
"Look, okay, I get that," she says brusquely. "That's not what... oh God, I don't know. I don't even fucking know what I'm trying to ask."
"Ask it anyway," I say patiently.
It takes her a moment to gather her thoughts, and I watch her with somewhat detached curiosity, because however she phrases it, the question will be the same. And the answer? The answer will be no. No, I don't regret it, I don't feel sorry for her, I didn't feel her pain.
And the answer will also be yes. Yes, I enjoyed watching her die.
The question, when she finally arrives at it, is not a question but a statement. "You're glad you did it." It's quick, succinct, and true. But she still looks at me as if waiting for an answer.
"Yes," I agree.
That's when she explodes. "See, I just don't fucking get that!" she cries, leaping off the couch again, both hands pressed against her temples. "I've never had to shoot anybody, you know? But I see all these cops who have – like Batista, that one time, when he shot that dealer in the leg and he bled out before anyone got to the scene? I mean, he was shaken up for months over that, you know, killing a guy on the job. Had to go to therapy and everything. And here you are, telling me you killed your girlfriend like it was just, you know, whatever, a day out fishing or something. How can you do that?"
There's an answer to that too.
It's because I am a sociopath and incapable of feeling anything at all or at least that's what Harry told me and it seemed so true at the time and it was just easier that way and now I just have to wonder because I've started feeling things when the textbooks say I'm not supposed to and did you know that all of those times Harry told me to say things like I love you to you that it wasn't true because I had no idea what love was but now I think I might because I sometimes wonder if I love Rita but I still want to kill people no one in particular and if I can love and still kill people then am I a better monster or a worse monster than before and.
And that's a lot to say.
And it's all threatening to spill out, all over Debra and all over me and all over the house of cards I've so carefully constructed for us both.
And I start to realize what a slippery slope it actually is, this business of truth-telling. One thing leads to another, then another, then another, until you reach the stark bottom line and there isn't anything left there but Dexter discovered and dissected, a human knife blade who's good at putting on costumes and pretending, but who just gets so tired of it sometimes.
"Dexter?" she says softly, and I realize that I haven't answered her.
"I don't know," I say simply. Truth and untruth at the same time. "I've just always been that way."
Then, because maybe this will help, I add, "Harry knew."
"Harry knew what?" she snorted. "That you're, what, some kind of weird fucking sociopathic thing?"
I have to admit that I'm surprised, not by the accusation, but by the wording. Sociopath has been my own private word, the ruler against which I measure myself, for so long that it's strange to hear it tumbling so carelessly out of my sister's mouth. Dexter is greater than or less than or equal to some kind of weird fucking sociopathic thing.
Perhaps she sees the hesitation on my face, because her eyes narrow. So before she can make any further accusations, I take a deep breath and tell her, "That's what he thought."
Her gaze slides away from me as she takes the words in, adds up everything she knows about sociopaths, mixes, and sprinkles a little bit of Dexter on top. From the look on her face, I gather that the result is as confusing for her as it is for me. Possibly more so.
But as she starts to shake her head, and that strange and haunted look eclipses her tough exterior again, I realize that I don't want to wait and see what conclusions she draws. I don't want to answer questions like how many have you killed before, will you kill again, do you honestly expect me not to turn you in? Or the other kinds of questions, the closer-to-home ones like do you ever feel anything at all, do you even like me, are you Rudy all over again?
"But I think Harry was wrong," I say suddenly. I'm still not sure whether or not this is true, but with Debra's devastated face looming over me, truth is suddenly the last thing I'm worried about. Truth is too hard, too complicated, too destructive. Harry was right. The affectation of normalcy is everything.
"What do you mean?" she asks cautiously.
"I think that he expected me to be something," I say slowly, "and I turned out to be something else."
From truths to vague truths to deliberately misleading half-truths, all in a handful of minutes. Our diligently disguised hero is back, doggedly deceiving his dear sister no matter how much he finds himself wishing he didn't have to.
Dead serious, she asks me, "What did you turn out to be?"
Not who, but what. It may be an unconscious word choice, but it's telling – not to mention problematic. And it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible. Slowly, I rise from the couch and reach for her, touching her shoulder as I've done countless times before. She tenses, and I see in her eyes the impulse to flee, like a rabbit from a fox. Like a human being from a monster.
But Harry's daughter stands her ground, willing to hear me out, and so I tell her exactly what she needs to hear.
"I am the same person you've known for your entire life."
You're a good kid, Dex.
"But that look," she says stubbornly.
"I know," I sigh. "I was... I got carried away. Can you blame me? But Debra, you don't have anything to be afraid of. Ever. Not from me."
It crosses my mind that I might tell her the dreadful tale of my mother's demise, how it scarred me forever, how I have forever sworn to wreak vengeance upon those who threaten my nearest and dearest, and how I am Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man all rolled into one, except without fancy gadgets, superpowers, or spandex.
But even that part of my history, heroic and tragic though it might be, will lead to more questions. And I am done with questions. At the end of the day, I would gladly live in my house of cards forever, rather than watch my sister break like this.
"Don't bullshit me," she says again, but without the threatening weight of last time. This time, the words falter and fade.
I look her right in the eyes, my expression as open as I can make it. "I'm not," I tell her, now holding her thin arms with both my hands. "I would never do anything to hurt you. I swear."
She looks into my eyes, as if she can see there whether or not I am, in fact, bullshitting her. The weight of her impending judgment makes me squirm, so I smile and add, "Now, I can't promise not to kill the next bastard who tries to stab you or burn the kids..."
Her face breaks into a silly grin, and the movement loosens a tear from one of her eyes. "You asshole," she laughs, wiping it swiftly away. "I just don't get you."
Loosening my grip on her, I give one of her shoulders a light punch, grateful beyond belief that she seems satisfied. "That's okay," I tell her. "I don't get me either. But next time you need a bodyguard, you know who to call."
"Who, you and the fucking Ghostbusters?" she grins, and returns the punch full force. "Come on, I've got another six-pack in the fridge."
Beer. The perfect way to end every awkward conversation. Not that the conversation is over for good, of course. I have no delusions about that. But I know now that whatever suspicions she might have, whatever probing questions she might ask, what she really wants is permission to keep thinking the best of me. And of course, the knowledge that I am still the one person that she can always count on. Her own personal Dark Defender.
I follow her into the kitchen, where she opens two bottles of Sam Adams and hands one to me, a liquid peace offering. Smiling, I take the bottle and clink it against hers. "To family," I say.
"Whatever," she says, and takes a swig.
She jumps up to sit on the counter, drumming her heels lightly against the cabinets below, just like she has since she was a teenager. I lean against the fridge, sipping my beer, just a normal guy having a normal drink with his normal sister.
"Hey Dex?" she says after a few quiet minutes.
"Thanks," she says. "You know, for saving me. Again."
"Any time," I tell her.
She doesn't hug me, and she doesn't cry on my shoulder, but she does smile at me, without reserve this time. All things considered, that's just about the best I can ask for right now.
We finish our drinks in silence.
Author's Note: While this is technically a one-shot story, it does continue. So if you enjoyed this and want to see what happens when Deb finds out more, click on my author name and check out "Something is Cracking." Thanks for reading, and don't forget to review!