Rating/warnings: PG-13, for Deb's filthy mouth, spoilers through season 4
Disclaimer: I don't own Dexter. It might give me nightmares if I did.
Summary: Picks up the morning after the Season 4 finale: Dexter knows he has to leave his family to protect them. Deb refuses to accept this. Dexter tries to convince her.
A/N: This is my first Dexter fic. I just watched all four seasons in approximately a week and had to write something!
She's doing dishes when I walk into the kitchen. Deb. Doing dishes. At seven o'clock in the morning. If I believed in hell, maybe I'd make some crack about it freezing over.
The floor creaks beneath my feet and she looks up from the frying pan. She meets my eyes. I don't know what she thinks she sees in them, but I see devastation in hers for a split second before the mask comes up. Usually it's me wearing the mask, but today she knows it's her job to take care of her big brother; the widower.
She attempts a solemn smile.
"Hey. How're you feeling?" she asks.
I stare blankly at the artifice of normalcy she's managed to engineer: sunlight pouring in through the windows, meat sizzling on the stove, coffee percolating. Everything going on as normal.
It seems so utterly out of place on this day that I can't find the motivation to react as I know Harry would want me to. I can't spit out the required, 'Fine,' that the question demands.
So, I just stare.
Her mask falters. She turns back to the frying pan, flipping whatever's inside.
"Stupid question. I know," she admits with a sigh.
Again, I don't reply. I slip onto the barstool by the stove and turn my blank stare toward the sink for no better reason than that it's in my direct line of sight. A minute or two passes this way. I hear the sizzling of the pan crescendo then diminish. The bustle of the kitchen fades into the background. My vision starts to blur the tiniest bit. I'm able to appreciate the nothingness of the moment.
"Steak and eggs. Breakfast of champions."
It's not her voice that snaps me out of my daze so much as the clank of the plate against the counter.
Harry taught me that this gesture requires at least an errant 'thank you,' but I ignore formalities once again. Deb pretends not to notice, and focuses on serving her own breakfast. I hear her slide into the seat next to me, and wait for her to say something. Instead a second later I hear only the faint screeching of her knife and fork against her plate.
I know she's trying not to push me. She understands the difficulty that I have opening up. Well, no, actually. She doesn't understand it, but she's at least aware of it, and I appreciate her thoughtfulness.
I cut into my steak. One long slice.
A watery stream of red sluices out of the meaty crevice and pools in the center of the plate. Clearly Deb didn't let the steaks rest. If she did, they wouldn't be emitting so much liquid. I cut into the steak again, and this time the flow of red juices spreads across the plate, creeping in sinister rivulets until it contaminates the eggs.
This isn't blood; any good scientist knows that. Butchers hang their meat upside down and drain all of the blood from their animals. Just like Brian did. No, this is water containing proteins like myglobin, which, when mixed with oxygen, turns a deep, blood red.
I know this. Logically, my brain has no reason to see protein-infused water and think, 'blood,' but for reasons beyond my control, I'm suddenly back in that bathroom with Rita's lifeless body and my son's desperate cries.
So much blood.
Born in blood. Both of us.
I failed him.
I failed her.
Harry was right.
I close my eyes for a moment. I realize that Deb must be watching me, because suddenly her hand is resting on my back.
"I'm going to have to sell my house," I say.
My voice cracks, but not with emotion. These are the first words I've spoken aloud this morning. It's simply from lack of use that my vocal cords betray me.
"Of course. Of course you are," Deb says softly.
My eyes are still on the bloody plate.
"I can't go back in there," I say.
I sound like I feel.
"I'll take care of it," Deb says, louder now. "All of it. I have a friend who's a realtor. Well, actually it's a friend of a friend who really screwed me over a few years back, but…"
She continues talking, but I don't hear a word of it. That house never really felt like home anyways.
"I want to move back in here," I hear myself say, interrupting her.
It's not until the words are out that I realize how right they feel. I turn to Deb and see her frowning at me.
"Here? Your old apartment?" she asks unnecessarily.
"You don't have to leave. I'll take the couch every other night. It'll be like old times," I assure her.
I even go so far as to give her the hint of a smile. Because that's what normal people do, right? They smile when they reminisce over shared memories. Like the memory of the time when my sister nearly killed by a serial killer and became so shattered that she couldn't bare to live alone. Sure.
But I don't see pain in Deb's eyes, only confusion.
"Where will the kids sleep? Dex, this is a one-bedroom. There wasn't even room for you and me to live here comfortably, let alone you, me, and three kids."
Of course. Deb doesn't know yet. I'm what's wrong. I can't change the fact that I'm a monster. It already cost Rita her life. I won't hurt Astor and Cody too.
"No," I hear her say as the realization dawns on her.
Deb's voice breaks through my inner monologue, but I ignore her. So she tries again.
"No way. No fuckin' way! You're all these kids have!" she insists, laying down her fork with an angry clatter.
She didn't even bother to say 'fudge' for the sake of Harrison, asleep in the next room. This could be difficult.
"Astor and Cody have grandparents," I point out sensibly.
Her face is twisted in disbelief. Disappointment.
"You're their father," she perseveres.
No. I'm a monster.
"No, I'm not," I reply matter-of-factly.
I turn back to my plate, but Deb grabs my arm and I look at her again.
"You're the only father they have. The only parent they have," she persists.
"I'm not their parent. We have no real connection," I say, hoping that she'll just drop it for now, chalk it up to shock.
No such luck. The chair scrapes against the kitchen floor and the next thing I know she's standing over me.
"Fuck you! No real connection except their mother! We're not blood related, and you didn't abandon me when I needed you."
She's gearing up for another one of her hysterical tirades. What she doesn't realize is that she could scream at me until she's blue in the face. My decision is already made. I will not hurt these children.
"Deb—" I try.
"No! Just, fucking, NO, Dexter. You are not abandoning your kids! Look, I know you've been through a lot. So have I. I watched Lundy die in front of my eyes, but that's sure as hell not going to keep me from being here for you now."
Her eyes are wide and wild. I know this look. This is fear. I've seen it hundreds of times. What does Deb have to be afraid of? I frown.
"Dex, these kids need you. I know it must be scary to think of raising three kids alone, but I'm here. I'll help! I'll do whatever you need. Don't be afraid. You're a great father."
No. I'm not.
"A great father wouldn't have gotten their mother killed," I hiss, allowing the first trace of true emotion to pass through my lips today.
I feel Deb's eyes on me without even looking at her.
"You can't blame yourself for that. It doesn't do anyone any good, and it's not true," she tries to reason with me.
I close my eyes and sigh. She doesn't understand and I can't possibly explain it to her.
"Deb, can we talk about this later, please?" I beg, pinching the bridge of my nose to relieve the pressure building up in my head.
Deb is about to reply when a ragged wail rings out from the bedroom. We both freeze. I feel something jump in my chest. I don't know what it is, some nameless, unfamiliar emotion.
"I'll get him," she says quietly.
I breathe a sigh of relief when she exits the kitchen. This is not how I was hoping to begin my morning. I already know what I need to do. I don't need Deb throwing out impossible scenarios.
The way I see it, there are two choices before me.
Choice Number One: Cut and run. Not literally run. Run from my responsibilities as a parent. Stay in Miami, but leave these kids before they can crystallize a firm memory of me and live the way that Harry always said I should: alone. Let my dark passenger have the room he needs to hunt and kill without trying to be a husband and father as well.
Choice Number Two: Confess and go to jail. Leave the kids and go to the police station. Keep my dark passenger locked up in a prison cell with me until my number comes up. Harry always said not to get caught, but I have innocent blood on my hands now. It might be time to cash in my chips. I'll get a choice (all of Florida's death row inmates do) between lethal injection and electrocution. I'll choose lethal injection.
In either case the kids are free to live with normal human beings, giving them an actual shot at a normal human life. There might even be a chance for Harrison to escape unscathed. He's so much younger than I was when I witnessed my mother's death. A one-year-old can't possibly remember that. I hope.
And just as my thoughts turn to my son, there he is. Deb gently clutches him to her chest as she reenters the kitchen. Without a word to me she goes to the fridge and pulls out a bottle. She pops the formula into the microwave and I pause to wonder when she had time to run to the store for baby supplies. Must be something she grabbed last night from my house. The crime scene.
"Can you hold him?" she asks when the microwave dings.
When I fail to respond, she sighs and holds him out in front of me. I take him on instinct, but looking into his eyes scares me. I don't want to see that hollow look. I hold him close to my chest so that his chin rests on my shoulder.
Deb, hands free, removes the bottle and tests the formula's temperature. I wonder, too, how she knows to do this. Babysitting, probably.
"Okay," she says.
Okay what? Okay, we'll talk about this later? Okay, abandon your kids? Okay, you're not a great father.
But then she's lifting Harrison back out of my arms and I realize it's, 'Okay, I'm ready for the baby now.'
She moves to the couch and I sit awkwardly at the breakfast bar for another moment before excusing myself.
"Shower," I mumble.
Deb doesn't even look up from Harrison when she nods.
I go through the motions of getting ready. I try to keep Deb's words out of my head, but they're annoyingly persistent, much like Deb herself can be.
Will Astor and Cody hate me for abandoning them? Will they remember me? I know they probably will. Of course they will. Cody will remember me better than his real father. I was around longer.
I push those thoughts away as I rinse the shampoo from my hair. There's nothing but Deb's products in the shower, so I exit smelling like lilac.
As I hastily tug a shirt over my head, Deb's words assault me again.
The only father they have.
No, that doesn't matter. They're better off without me. I can't deny my dark passenger. If I stay, those children will either end up unceremoniously torn from their stepfather as he's dragged away on murder charges or they'll end up dead themselves. Like Rita.
When I reenter the living room, Deb is still on the couch, but Harrison is nowhere to be seen.
"He's still exhausted," she explains. "He fell asleep when I was trying to burp him. I put him back to bed."
I nod absently and putter my way over to the coffee maker. It's not until I'm topping off my cup that she speaks again.
"How can you do this? Don't you care about them at all?" she asks.
Such a simple question. I know what the answer has to be.
I should say no. I need to tell her that they aren't mine and I don't want them. I need to tell her I don't care for them, but the very thought of those words leaving my lips causes a strange twisting sensation in my gut.
Just say it, Dexter. Tell her that you don't love them. Horrify her. Convince her that you can't be a good father so she'll leave you the fuck alone already. I clench my hand around the mug.
"Of course I care for them! That's why I'm leaving them!" I shout.
We both seem shocked by my words. Our eyes meet in mutual bewilderment. For a moment all I can hear if my own deep, shaky breaths.
In and out.
In and out.
"What the fuck does that mean?"
I'm still frozen, so she fills the silence for me.
"What kind of crazy shit is that? Huh? You think these kids will be better off without a father? Orphaned because you were too chicken shit to stick around?"
The twisting feeling grows white hot and begins to rise. I can feel it tickling the insides of my esophagus. It's another new sensation, and one that I don't like. I can't take the inquisition. She doesn't have any of the facts.
"You don't get it, Deb. Back the fuck off," I say, my voice low and dangerous.
I should know by now that my low and dangerous voice never works on Deb.
"You're right! I don't get it! Who are you? Who the fuck are you?" she shouts, rising suddenly from the couch.
When I fail to respond yet again she takes five swift steps until she's in the kitchen with me, shaking with rage.
"God, Dex! It's like I don't even know you. For almost five years you've been the dutiful doting father and now, suddenly, it's like… it's like all that was fake. Like the brother I've known isn't just gone, but that he was never there at all."
Bingo. She's figured me out. The role of dutiful doting Dexter is just a part I played to fit in.
So why does it sting to hear her say it like that?
The hot, twisting feeling is overpowering all of my senses now. I can't think. My mind is jumping from memory to memory and I am powerless to control it.
Cody snuggling under the covers as I read him Green Eggs and Ham for the third time that night.
Astor hugging me tightly, trying to hold in tears after I removed her splinter.
Harrison screaming in a pool of blood.
Rita's lifeless eyes.
"God DAMN IT, Deb, just leave it alone!" I bellow, slamming down my mug with such force the coffee rushes over the edge and surges across the countertop.
"No!" she shouts back immediately.
I hear bang and realize belatedly that I'm the source. The coffee mug lies in shards at base of the refrigerator. I threw it there, inches from Deb's feet.
I look at her face and see that I've startled her.
But she's not afraid. Not really. Startling someone isn't the same as truly frightening them. I should know. I've done more than my fair share of both in my life. I need to scare her. Let her see what I really am. Just a glimpse so she'll understand.
"You want to know why I can't help these kids?" I ask, my voice low once more.
She doesn't respond, but I see the curiosity in her eyes.
"My brother had a… darkness inside of him," I begin.
I'm almost whispering now. Deb shakes her head, already preparing to deny whatever I'm about to say next, but I hold up a warning finger, and she uncharacteristically falls silent.
"I talked to him, you know. When you were tied down on that table in his shed. He described the isolation that he felt. The sense of otherness. And a hunger that could never be satisfied," I continue.
Deb can't help herself.
"Yeah, no shit! He was a fucking psychopath. But it's not like it's genetic, Dex. It doesn't mean you're a freak too. You didn't even know he was your brother until yesterday, so—"
"Wrong," I interrupt.
I enjoy her mid-sentence halt. I've caught her off guard again. I'm getting closer to my goal.
"I knew he was my brother," I reveal.
She continues to stare at me, but the hint of a frown shadows her features.
"What?" she asks.
I think back to the exact moment. Stepping into the front yard. Flashes of a game of hide and seek. Then, without warning, my brother appears, back in my consciousness for the first time in three decades.
"I found out that day. When I arrived at the house. It all came rushing back."
Deb swallows hard. She looks as if she may be sick.
"No," she says, more to herself than to me.
"I used to call him Biney," I recall, looking somewhere past her.
"No," I hear her say, firmer this time.
"He said I had trouble with my 'R's," I relate.
I'm smiling now. Not a sinister smile; just a gentle smile of nostalgia.
She's been quiet for too long. I glance at her and see tears pooling in her eyes, but I don't know quite why. Is this the same sort of sadness she felt when I discovered my birth father, or something different?
"Why didn't you tell me," she demands, her voice shaking with emotion.
I can't give her the real answer, now can I? That would give the game away.
"Because it didn't matter. At that moment, it didn't matter. Brian gave me a choice between you and him, and I chose you," I say matter-of-factly.
She blinks the tears away and the sadness is replaced by quiet fury.
"When I told you about him yesterday you put on quite the performance. You're a pretty convincing actor," she spits out.
She means it to be cutting, but I'm not offended. She's merely stating a fact.
"I know," I reply simply.
She frowns again.
"Well could you at least stop calling him fucking Brian?" she snaps.
"It was his name," I point out.
Her lips curl up in disgust. She shakes her head.
"It makes it sound like he's an old friend. Like he's—"
"My brother?" I helpfully supply.
The tears are back, and her anger is increasing.
"You never even knew him. You knew Rudy. Brian Moser died before you knew the real him for more than a couple hours," she snarls.
"I understood him better than anybody ever could," I reply evenly.
She winces as though I physically struck her.
"That can't be true," she whispers.
"Wrong again," I correct her.
Her expression is anguished. I know she wants to scream, hurl herself at me, start sobbing. But she just stares, letting the pain leak slowly from her eyes.
This is difficult for me. I don't enjoy hurting Deb. My murderous impulses tend to get stronger when I witness someone making her feel like I'm making her feel right now. But it has to be done. She needs to understand in some way why I'm doing what I'm doing for Rita's kids.
"You were right about one thing though," I continue.
I pause to make sure that I have her full attention. She turns her watery eyes towards me, mouth set in a thin line of anger.
"Brian's darkness wasn't a result of genetics. It was purely societal," I explain.
Deb's lip trembles, and then the force of her anger comes spilling out.
"Bullshit. Just because your brother was a fucking evil lunatic doesn't mean you were born the same way. That's all I meant by it not being genetic. But make no mistake, I have no doubt that he came into this world a monster."
"Wrong for a third time. Your intuitive leaps are uncharacteristically failing you today, Deb," I say, giving her a disappointed shake of my head.
Deb's face screws up in a show of confusion and fury.
"Brian wasn't born monstrous; he became a monster after a traumatic childhood experience," I calmly continue.
Her laugh takes me by surprise. It's the bitter laugh of a skeptic.
"Did he tell you that while I was tied up? Some convenient excuse for his trying to kill me?" she demands.
I give her a sad smile.
"He didn't make it up."
"How do you know?" she asks, a dubious smirk still gracing her face.
I take one deep breath and let it out as a slow sigh.
"Because, unfortunately for both of us, it was a shared experience."
All traces of laughter leave her face.
"What are you talking about?"
"The crime scene that dad found me at. Brian was there too," I reveal.
She jumps to correct me.
"No. Dad said—"
"I know what Dad said. Dad lied. It doesn't matter now."
"What do you mean it doesn't matter? You're saying dad lied about knowing you had a brother!" she shouts.
"What's done is done. And what happened to Brian and me doesn't matter either. What matters is the result. It was a trauma. It left an emptiness in us, and that feeling only grows and grows, screaming inside of us, urging us to do… very bad things."
An eerie silence claims the room. I wonder what Debra is thinking. Is she remembering those moments in our childhood when I hadn't yet learned how to hide my darker nature?
The time she saw me with blood on my hands after I killed an animal in the woods and made some hasty excuse about falling off my bike. Or when dad insisted so strongly that she not come hunting with us because I needed these trips. Or the time when I got into a fight in school and she had to physically pull me off a boy. I whirled on her, for a split second not recognizing her as my sister, and something in my expression scared her.
Deb stares at me with new eyes. There is a wince of pain in her expression, a wariness that I've never seen her direct at me before. I don't like Deb looking at me this way. She's the only person left on this earth who loves me. Seeing that slip away physically hurts.
I have to remind myself why I'm doing this. She needs to leave me alone. She needs to accept that I can't be a part of my children's lives anymore.
"But you didn't become a serial killer. You became someone who helps catch bad guys," she says, firmly distinguishing me from her would-be killer.
My first reaction is to smile at her choice of words, but I manage to hold it back. She sounds so hopeful. She's trying to convince herself, to protect herself.
"I do catch bad guys," I reply enigmatically. "But the darkness is still there."
She lets out a huff of air and spins away from me for a moment. When she turns back, she looks irritated instead of afraid.
"So… what? You're telling me you're just one dinnertime telemarketing call away from going Dahmer on Miami?" she asks mockingly.
I shake my head.
"No. Unlike Brian, I had Harry. He taught me how to control my urges."
"What does dad have to do with anything?" she retorts, but I can hear the uncertainty in her voice.
"He found me at that crime scene, Deb. He knew how that could mess a kid up. And so he watched me. Carefully. He saw the signs sooner than anyone else."
"What signs?" she asks, but I can tell she already knows.
Her mind must be flashing back to my odd little childhood quirks: the social awkwardness, the emotional detachment, the edgy energy that always seemed threatening to spill over during my adolescence.
"Violent urges," I say simply. "Harry recognized them and helped me deal with them."
"How?" she asks warily.
I know she's remembering the endless hours I spent with Harry alone while she pined away at home, desperate for her father's attention. She's thinking about hunting trips.
She doesn't know the half of it.
"Lots of ways," I say vaguely.
She glares at me briefly, but apparently thinks better of asking me for details. She wants to believe it was all just hunting trips. I can tell. She closes her eyes, as if the darkness will help her make sense of all of this new information. I feel compelled to speak again, ease some of her pain.
"I'm sorry that I monopolized a lot of his time growing up, but he understood the danger of my condition. Without him, I could've ended up like Brian."
She's crying now; silent tears stream down her face. She opens her eyes and pins me with the full weight of her betrayal.
"What the fuck, Dex? Why are you telling me this?" she bites out, unable to muster the rage to yell.
Deb has a way of making me feel… anything. And everything. I feel more human around her than anybody in this world. It's wonderful and it's horrible. Right now, it's horrible. It's rare that I feel overcome with any emotion. I don't like it. It feels unsafe.
"You need to understand. I'm doing this for the kids. I'm not afraid for myself; I'm afraid for them," I explain gently.
She doesn't want to hear me; doesn't want to believe anything I've told her today. She turns away from me and I know I can't let her erase it now.
"There is still a monster inside of me, Deb. I can't deny it. And I can't be a father and a monster at the same time. It doesn't work that way."
The symmetry of my speech to my brother's doesn't hit me until I close my mouth. 'You can't be a killer and a hero. It doesn't work that way!' He was right, of course. And I've chosen. I can't not be a killer. I've tried. No Twelve Step program for homicidal urges. Deb's swearing refocuses my attention.
"Bullshit. You had the wife, the kids, the house in the 'burbs. The fucking minivan. You were able to make 'normal' work in a way I consistently fuck up!" she shouts.
I know why this is hard for her. I'm the only person she has left, and here I am, revealing myself to be someone other than the brother she knows and loves. But she needn't worry too much. I won't reveal the true monster in me, not completely. Even I'm not that cruel.
"It's like you said – I'm a very good actor," I remind her.
She reaches out and grabs my arm, holds onto me as if it somehow makes the Dexter she remembers real.
"You don't have a dark side, Dex. You're the best person I know," she says, pleading.
I place my own hand tenderly over hers.
"Don't blame yourself for not noticing. I've hidden it so well that over the years I was able to convince even myself that it wasn't there. But I know what I am Deb. I'm a monster."
She pulls her hand away violently.
"Stop saying that!" she screams.
I want to take away her pain, but I know I can't.
"You need to understand," I repeat.
She whirls on me, throwing her hands up in the air in desperation.
"Why? So that the only good thing left in my life can disappear? Even the memory of dad has been ruined for me. What do I have left without you?"
"You still have me," I say.
She lets out a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob.
"No, I have this perverted version of you, just like with dad! And it doesn't make any sense. No one's that good of an actor. You care about people. You loved Rita. You love those kids. I know it. Brian Moser could never love anyone."
'He loved me,' I think. 'Unconditionally.'
"I care about the kids in a way that Brian never could. I'm not denying that. And you, Deb. I care the most for you. That's not a lie. It never was. But love?"
Can I love others? Has being a family man made me more human, or am I just fooling myself to even ask that question? Seeing my son screaming in a pool of his mother's blood broke something inside of me, but what did it break? Surely not my heart. I don't have one. Not a real, human heart.
"I don't think I'm capable of love," I conclude.
No, it's not something I've ever felt. The only moment I ever felt like pure, unconditional love was possible was the familial love of a brother. He accepted me, all of me.
Deb loves me; I know it. But she could never love the real me—the complete me. No human being, no one without their own dark passenger, could possibly love me if they knew the real me. Rita loved the part of me that she knew, and look what it got her.
"Can you honestly look at me right now and tell me that you don't love Harrison; that you don't love me."
Her voice is ragged with raw agony. She needs me to say yes; I can sense it. But if I give her that, if I lie to her now, then she'll never accept that I'm telling the truth about my dark passenger. She needs to know so that I can protect my children. From me.
"I'm not capable of love," I repeat.
I can't characterize her reaction. A myriad of emotions cross her face and they're so strong I've never encountered them before. I have no name to give them. The closest I can manage is horror and absolute despair.
She looks at me like I just murdered her brother.
I want to take it all back—to tell her anything that will make her look at me like she used to; like her perfect older sibling.
"This is too much for me. I can't handle this," she sobs.
I reach out to touch her shoulder, but she jerks away. A second later she's running, literally running away from me. The door slams shut before I can say a word to stop her.
A/N: Hey, you wanna hear something wild? I heard that leaving reviews is as effective as taking a daily multivitamin in reducing the risk of illness! Where did I hear that? Certainly not my own deluded thoughts. I'm sure I read it in a medical journal... but anyways, what's the harm in trying, right? Clicky, clicky!