For nearly a week now they had circled each other like wary animals, neither one the prey yet not taking the leap to become predator. Dexter, for his own part, had no desire to place Debra in the role that Doakes had explosively vacated, that of righteous antagonist. Dexter would not lock her up and he certainly would not kill her; these things he knew like numbers in his head, what he would and would not do. Debra, however, had a cranium of her own and she was often inexplicable enough in the normal way of humans that guessing her thoughts—and plans—now was impossible. After all, his only insight into people had been from the small behavioral clues he gleaned, and Debra was so stony-faced that Dexter had not even a bread crumb to scavenge.

If she chose to turn him in, Dexter had already decided that he would allow her. This solution came far more naturally than when Doakes had presented it. Harrison made this choice easy. Dexter would not take him and run for the hills, nor would he leave his son behind. So that settled it. It was actually rather nice, this avoidance of wafflery. All he had to do now was wait, and he was a patient man.

Of course, he did not let on to Debra that he had made this decision. Best not to give her any ideas. Let her decide which fan the shit would hit, or even give her the chance to turn the fan off and avoid all scandal together—that is, to keep quiet.

Dexter would almost feel sorry for her, if that empathy was not still a distant concept that hovered fuzzily on the horizon. She had felt torn enough about Matthews' involvement with the call girl; if there was any upside to this, it was that Matthews was a minute concern now, almost inconsequential. Because really, what could compare with Dexter? Nothing had ever compared before. This, also, he knew.

So he waited. Like his friends on the table, rousing from fog to find him with knife in steady hand. Except now the knife was a phone, with only three digits necessary to rain the buckshot down upon him, his son, those who called themselves his friends, and her, of course.

Wasn't it ridiculous that even now, the Need still gnawed at him, demanding its due? So ingrained were his habits that criminal reports still caught his interest, piqued his curiosity and made his fingers twitch in happy anticipation. But he must resist. For now.

Dexter should have felt sorry when he walked into the Miami Metro every morning since, and should have felt sorry during the days, and especially should have felt sorry when he turned his back to the station every night to head home. Debra must suspect—know—that Travis Marshall was not Dexter's blushing first; the ritual had had too much ritual to it and smacked of a play honed and polished over time. Dexter was almost proud of his smooth operation, but the only one who could ever have appreciated it was dead.

Nodding good-bye to Masuka, Dexter shouldered his bag and weaved through the bodies in his department. More than ever he was aware of being the wolf in sheep's clothing, now that one of the sheep was on to him. The blinds in Debra's office were drawn closed to prevent any accidental glimpses she might get of him during the day. Their interaction in the station had been nearly non-existent.

"Hey, lab rat," greeted one of the officers. It was an affectionate hail, for Dexter had prevented their nasty demise, winning him goodwill for a time to come.

"Lab rat says hey," Dexter said with his usual painted smile, and brushed through the back pats he got so frequently now on his way to the elevator.

The Doomsday Killer was the talk of the office, and would be for a long time. Dexter, feeling obligated to bring Debra's highest-profile case to a close, had arranged for Marshall's body to be found in the church by the next sweep of police. Ideally he would have convinced Debra to stage having killed him in self defense—giving her some glory—but he was not sure he could convince his sister not to turn him in, let alone go along with such a scheme.

So instead he'd set up the scene in such a way that it looked like Marshall took his own life, for fear of the police closing in. He even composed a neat little note laden with the self-righteous blah blah blah Marshall would spout. It was Dexter's own kind of apology for hogging all the good criminals.

Debra came through smelling like roses, even if she seemed a little thorny. Nobody seemed to realize that the lieutenant's strained expression was only partly due to the strenuous case that had just wrapped up. Congratulations rained down upon the brave young hero who had steered the investigation with such surety that even Marshall had committed suicide after having been stymied by their vigilance.

Angel's sister greeted him heartily at the door of the apartment, Harrison in her arms. The toddler made a dimpled hello and Dexter scooped him up, planting a kiss on his blonde head.

"And what did we learn today?" he asked his son philosophically.

Jamie smiled and hoisted up her purse. "He learned the television turns on," she warned him. "He found the remote and pushed a button. You should have seen his face when the screen popped up."

"Uh oh," said Dexter, "it will take a lot of Jack-in-the-Box to distract him." He had no intention that Harrison discover the neuron-melting kiddie shows that all the children at his preschool were fond of.

On her way to a date, Jamie tickled Harrison's ear, bade them good-night, and whisked out the door. Dexter was left alone with his baby, a feeling he relished, and hummed as he chopped some vegetables. Harrison played with some blocks. His delight at building them up narrowly edged out the joy he took in smashing the structure down again.

Other men would have felt nervous, waiting for the anvil to drop. Dexter was calm.

Afterwards, when Dexter and Son had cleared and cleaned their plates, Dexter and Son sat at his desk, looking at the computer. Dexter was reading a forensic report—he did research other things, after all, other than criminal records of potential new friends. Harrison was his usual complacent self, staring bemusedly at the words scrolling across the screen. Dexter had the foresight to adblock any pictures that might accompany the articles he was reading.

Debra knocked at the door. He knew it was her knocking like she'd announced herself with a bullhorn. So, several days after the scene in the church, she chose to address the elephant at last. Setting Harrison before the couch he went over and unlatched the gold chain, wondering if Debra's visit would be accompanied by two uniformed officers with cuffs at the ready.

No, she was alone. Her eyes betrayed her uncertainty, and he wordlessly stepped back to let her in.

She took in Harrison, happily engaged on the floor, like she'd never seen him before. Similarly she stared at everything in the apartment, as though it was all presented in a new light now that she knew they were the possessions of a serial killer. Dexter hoped that would pass; he did not want her to stare at his son that way.

"So Domestic Dexter's on duty," she muttered. "It's so weird seeing you like this now."

Dexter was amused by the implication that his domesticity was the abnormal behavior, and his dark, homicidal self was the Dexter Standard for Normal. Like Diaper-Changing Dexter was the odd side of the coin. He was tempted to joke that people shit themselves around him, especially babies. But his sister did not appear in a mood ready to appreciate the humor. Dexter was getting fairly good at gleaning those behavioral clues.

"We've got to talk," Deb said unnecessarily.

"Okay," said Dexter. He went over to the couch, by Harrison. Debra took a place on a chair.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, with only Harrison's baby-soft sounds breaking the quiet. Deb alternated between rubbing at her forehead and templing them over her nose in a classic pose of doubt. Dexter noted that at least she did not appear to be afraid to be near him. Maybe she would visit him in prison.

"Was any of it real?" she asked all of a sudden.

The first question was not what he'd expected. "Was what real?"

"It. Rita, and the kids, and our family, and...I don't know, bowling, everything that people see, is that a front? Or is it real?" Debra stared at him with a kind of pleading. Like everything hinged on the answer. Maybe it did. "It is, right?"

"Maybe not the bowling," said Dexter, "but...yes." At some point his relationship with Rita had become real, and Harrison was real, and missing Astor and Cody was real. But they were his own kind of real, not something he had the ability to explain to a distraught sister. How did you describe was it was like to orbit feeling, when everyone else was firmly grounded in it?

Debra laughed into her hands, the kind of laugh Dexter knew to contain no amusement. "It figures," she mumbled into fingers.

"What does?" Dexter decided not to waste time attempting to interpret her expressions and words, he would simply ask her what she meant from now on.

"The two men by whom I've set all standards for judging every guy turn out to be a cheat and...you." Debra motioned to him with a jerk of her hand.

Dexter said honestly, "If I'm the standard, Deb, there's a lot of hope for the world."

She glared at him wetly. "I put you on a pedestal," she said. "What does that say about me?" A tear started tracking down her cheek. "What does that say about my judgement?"

Helpless to answer, Dexter gazed at Harrison building blocks.

"Are you the Bay Harbor Butcher?" she asked.

Debra had made that conclusion quickly, and he was curious about the thought process in reaching it. She noticed his surprise. "I've been thinking about that. How all those guys had been criminals. LaGuerta was so certain it wasn't Doakes. It didn't sit right. Was that you?"

Dexter said, "Yes."

"Did you kill Doakes?"

Only by proxy, thought Dexter. "No," he said.

She did not react as strongly to his admittance of being the Butcher as he'd once envisioned. It was worse. She sat, and sat and sat.

"Why bad guys?" Debra said hollowly. "Why not a random killing spree?" Like Brian, were the words unsaid.

"Harry taught me that was bad," said Dexter.

She looked at him. "He taught you that was bad," she repeated softly, and he realized how childish that sounded, in the way that children are taught basic things by their parents: don't touch the stove when it's on, wash your hands before dinner, don't kill people who don't deserve it. He accepted that basic rule by heart like he'd accepted all the others.

"What else did Dad teach you?" asked Debra.

Dexter merely raised his eyebrows. Overloading her with shocks right from the start was not a good idea. She awaited his reply and he refused to make it.

She blew out her breath and buried her head in her hands. "I should turn you in. I should turn you right the fuck in. I'm the fucking lieutenant. Damn you. I can't believe this."

Startled by the tone, Harrison swung around, and Dexter coaxed him back to his blocks hoping that childrens' capacity to forget extended to the f-bombs his aunt had just dropped.

"Have you ever...someone who wasn't...?"

"Bad?" Dexter supplied. "No. Nobody good." Even the men he'd killed that hadn't committed the crimes he'd murdered them for had not been good men.

Dexter had a keen sense of irony and was not loathe to appreciate with black humor the contradiction between his moment of revelatory grace—that second, as he prepared to plunge the knife into Travis Marshall's heart, when he felt the divine vindication of his dark deeds by virtue of their service to humanity, like the Coyote of Native American lore—and the moment of horror it was for Debra. Two sides of the same coin, and Dexter was not sure how to tell her that coin spent the same either way you looked at it.

This conversation was not what he wanted Harrison to hear. "Intermission," he said, and went about putting his son to bed. Dexter did not go about it any differently than usual, down to reading Harrison his bedtime story, and all the while Debra watched with red-rimmed eyes. He did nothing to make the routine more meaningful than any other night, but even so his sister seemed affected.

When he returned to the little living room, Deb was staring at the ceiling. Dexter wished he knew what to say.

"Why do you do it?" Deb said softly, not looking at him.

Dexter waited a moment before he spoke. "Because I can't not." It was as simple, and as complex, as that.

"How many? For how long?"

Another question he didn't wish to answer just then. Not when her emotional state was so volatile.

There would be a time for more questions, whether that took place in this room or in an interview room at the federal prison. Once the end of Dexter the Spool had frayed, it would continue unraveling and every question would only prompt more. This was not the time to ponder, it was the time to decide.

"What are you going to do?" he asked her, and she glared at him for having the balls to ask.

Dexter became aware of how precarious his situation was. Debra had not yet ruled out turning him in, far from it. Rather it looked like this conversation would tip the scales one way or another. Was she expecting him to beg? The closest that Dexter had come to begging was when he'd been gripping the hospital coffee machine with white knuckles, and Debra was not such a colossal entity as was the enigmatic God Dexter had made an uncertain plea to that night. He would not beg her.

"I'm going to...think." Deb's stare was smoldering a spot on his coffee table. "It's not just about you. It's about Harrison, and Dad, and me...everyone who you've ever lied to. A lot of people would get hit by the flak."

That was a long, long list, but Dexter doubted he had as large an impact on others as Debra suggested. Still, if the idea swung her thinking in a favorable direction, he wouldn't push the other way.

"Can't you just...stop?"

"No," said Dexter. She might as well have asked him to hold his breath forever.

"So you're telling me you're going to do it again," she said flatly.

"I'm telling you what Harry knew. That it can only be controlled, it can't be put down."

This hinted some more at the education Dexter had received at the hands of his father, and was just shy of tipping the emotional dominoes.

"Who else?" asked Debra.

She was really asking him to justify himself, to give her a reason to let this drop. Dexter did not really like to, because it came too close to the plea he refused to make, but he understood some sacrifice of his personal dignity was required here. This was a delicate moment, naming specific murders beyond the one she'd witnessed.

"A woman who had murdered her wife and child. A pedophile who killed several boys. Kenny Doran, the serial arsonist, who was behind that fire all those kids died in. A man who stalked Astor. Others like them. And," here he looked at her, "Arthur Mitchell."

He might have expected she knew this, but it came as a total surprise. "You killed him? Trinity?"

"Yes."

Pause. Her eyes hardened. "Good."

Good old Debra. Dexter began to feel slightly less tense.

Abruptly she sighed and stood up. "I have the feeling I can't hear all this at once," she said, echoing Dexter's thoughts. "A little at a time." Then she fixed Dexter with a lieutenant's stare. "But we will go over this, every bit of it. If you have any thought, any fucking thought at all, of getting through this without being shredded to pieces, you are going to be absolutely straight with me, and if for one second I suspect you're holding back, I will haul your ass right to the fucking loony bin, is that clear?"

"Crystal," said Dexter.

Debra stabbed a finger at him with the authority of Miami Metro behind it. "When I say jump, you ask how high. When I say I expect you to be somewhere, you sure as fuck are going to be there. Until I trust you again, you do exactly as I say."

Dexter said, "Got it," although that took some effort.

"Okay. Alright." Debra exhaled and Dexter caught the very minute note of relief. How exactly had she expected this conversation to go? She turned towards the door.

Just before she stepped outside she spun around and delivered one last glower. "And whatever happens, don't you dare compromise another investigation. I'm not taking a backseat to your...bloodlust or whatever. You cooperate, you son of a bitch. You withhold nothing."

Deb did not wait for his reply, which he was relieved to avoid giving, and she stalked out into the night, and Dexter was left to consider how he would phrase answers to every possible question she had the next time they spoke. He got up to lock the door and turned to face his father.

"She's upset," said Harry.

Duh. "She hasn't killed herself," said Dexter meaningfully.

The figment of his imagination did not even have the grace—of course not, it was a part of himself, after all—to blush. After all, Harry had killed himself out of some inexplicable shame he felt after riding shotgun to Dexter's Dark Passenger for so long. Debra's guilt had not driven her to any extreme one way or the other. There was still a chance Dexter could salvage the situation. His main concern was: when would the next time come? And there would be a Next Time, with or without Deb's approval.

Even now he felt the need of it, and his attention strayed to his computer, itching to research—and this time, not forensic reports.

The next morning he went into Miami Metro and went about his work as usual, and the morning after that, and the morning after that.


I'm brand new to Dexter, so forgive any errors I might have made!