A/N: My first foray into the world of Dexter fan-fiction. After a season finale like that, I simply couldn't stay away from this fandom. This piece a bit rambly, but I think it suits the tone of the tale.
Anyway, any and all reviews are love, whether praise or criticism or both.
She does not fall. She does not float through a white tunnel of heaven's purest light. She does not see a film reel of her life project itself upon the screen of her eyelids. She does not experience anything. She is simply, suddenly – not.
She is nothing.
And yet she is aware of being nothing – so does her nothingness thus negate itself? She wonders this and she wonders why she wonders this as she stares down at her own lifeless body. She wonders how she can feel so detached about the bullet hole puncturing her heart, the blood blooming like crimson flowers on steroids upon her blouse, the slack droop of her head upon her shoulder. Then she wonders why she wonders at her own detachment. She's built a career upon indifference, after all. She's built her life.
Her now absent life.
Deborah races forward and falls upon her knees before the body that no longer houses the soul of Maria Laguerta. Deborah clutches the empty corpse to her chest, rocking, sobbing, making a noise in her throat not quite a scream and not quite a whimper, a noise both more terrified and furious and guilty than either. The animalistic keen of the tortured terrorist, the human unable to live with a pure conscious after committing such deep crimes against humanity and yet unable to regret the crimes, still convinced of their ultimate justice.
At least someone is pained over her death, Maria thinks, even if it isn't she herself. Even if it is her murderer.
Dexter kneels beside Deborah and a spasm of anger convulses up Maria's spine, a pure physical reaction that only a body should be able to produce, not an intangible spirit. To the fact of her murder she is apathetic, but to the fact that this monster still gets to roam free she is beside herself with rage.
Dexter hovers beside Deborah for a long while, mingled emotions distorting his face into a strange caricature: eyebrows pressed together in concern, eyes wide in fear, cheeks hollowed in guilt, mouth half-parted in the beginning shape of useless comforting words that he does not know. Slowly, with a concentrated effort that does not suit the normal sympathetic spontaneity of such a gesture, he settles one hand upon Deborah's shoulder. Then, his body now acting as though divorced from his conscious mind, he embraces Deborah from behind, his arms around her waist and his head supported by her left shoulder blade. He rocks back and forth in time to her uneven movements, letting her guide him. Laguerta has the strange sense that she is intruding upon a moment more intimate than making love for him and it fills her with a vindictive joy.
But the joy is short-lived. And it is then that the first wave of sorrow strikes her: sorrow not – God forbid – for the murderous monster before her, not for Deborah's fall from justice, not even for James' untimely death by Dexter's hands. This sorrow is strictly and purely for herself, or what was herself, that bloody corpse on the ground, that thing that isn't her but isn't not her either. This sorrow is for the life she once had, or the pathetic imitation she had of one, at least. This sorrow is for her nothingness.
But most of all, this sorrow is for the fact that the two people huddled about her corpse are not grieving over her death. Grieving, yes – for the perversion of justice, for the corrupt triumph of personal relationships over universal morality, for their own destructions – but not for her. This sorrow is for the fact that no one will grieve for her. They will grieve for the loss of their figurehead lieutenant, but nothing more – and she has no one to blame but herself. She made herself into that figurehead, after all, molded herself into a woman interested in only her career and reputation and press. She had tried a few times to be more – had felt herself desiring more – but after James' death, it became simpler to absorb herself in fame and fortunate. To use it as a shield against the cruel nature of humanity.
She doesn't know how much time elapses before Dexter rises to his feet. His eyes are hard and clear now with conscious precision of his body's actions. Deliberately, with a calm that indicates he has done this too many times before, he begins to clean away all evidence that he and Deborah were ever inside the warehouse. Deborah watches him; her hands, in want of something to do now that he's removed Maria's corpse from her grasp, pick off patches of Maria's drying blood from her skin in a ghastly parody of Lady Macbeth. Maria watches him too; her own hands, the immaterial ones she now possesses, flex and wiggle, and she wonders at the way they look so solid and yet can touch absolutely nothing, while meanwhile her corpse lies inanimate and yet unarguably tangible, firmly anchored to the world.
Maria watches and wiggles and wonders without wonder if this is what her afterlife is to consist of for all eternity: she, intangible and yet still present, not there and yet still here, forced to watch the man she let escape justice without the ability to kill him, arrest him, or even tell a single other living soul of his vile crimes.
Her wiggling hands spasm:
It would be less painful to burn in the bowels of hell.
Once Dexter has finished cleaning the warehouse, he takes Deborah's hand and pulls her into a standing position. He walks her out to the car and begins to drive away. Maria trails behind, unseen. Unbound by normal rules of human physical speeds, she has no trouble keeping pace with the car as it whizzes down the highway at sixty-two miles-per-hour, just the right speed to both blend in with the blur of traffic and to not be ticketed by a cop. Her feet skim in and out of the pavement, never ceasing to look tangible and yet never ceasing to melt into any material surface without a single sensation.
Even with his grip upon the steering wheel, Dexter never lets go of Deborah's hand; emotion spasms up Maria's spine again, but it isn't anger this time: it is envy. Somehow, even a serial killer manages to be better at personal relationships than her.
The three arrive at Angel's restaurant. The New Year's party that Maria's physical presence never made an appearance at is in full swing: drinks clinking, feet dancing, bodies strutting and standing and sitting and stumbling when a bit too tipsy, moving and breathing and living and everything that is now denied to her. Everything stolen from her.
She can't hate Deborah, she thinks as Dexter pulls Deborah from the car and they begin to make their rounds among the party guests. Dexter's usual façade of work-place amicability is plastered convincingly upon his features, but Deborah's watery smile and shell-shocked eyes are far less believable. Deborah may not be a good person, as Maria'd told her just before Deborah'd pulled the trigger upon her, but she is not a bad person either. She's been corrupted by her brother, by unfortunate sibling ties and unfathomable depths of emotion. By love. Maria knows what that's like all too well.
She sighs as Angel ambles right through her to say hello to Dexter, clapping him on the shoulder and babbling happily, cheerful and carefree in his role as host. She recalls what he said to her – was it days ago? Weeks? She's been dead less than an hour and time is already meaningless – in her office, asking if she ever regretted that their relationship had not worked out. Some part of him still loves her; she is not blind to that fact, but she could not lead him on a second time. Oh, she had thought she loved him then. But once they were in a relationship, she realized she could never love him. It was not any fault of Angel's; he is a wonderful father, lover, and man, and she could not have been more pleased for him that he'd finally found enjoyment from running a restaurant, enjoyment from some part of his life. But she was forever comparing him to James. James, since he had died in the bloom of their relationship, would forever live in perfection inside her mind; Angel, as a living man whose faults were on display every day, simply could not compete with a dead man whose imperfections had been wiped away by the rosy glow of loving memory. In another life, in a life where her romance with James had been allowed to simply run its course, to heat and flame and then burn out as all wonderful things eventually do, perhaps she could have loved Angel.
But then again, in another life, perhaps she and James would have never burned out – perhaps they would have been happy together for many years to come – but of course they were not – could not – because that monster currently wearing a human mask as he used one hand to shake with Angel and another to cling onto Deborah's, that monster who dared to conceal himself amongst humans had taken everything away from her, from him, from them –
Maria does not realize she is crying until she sees a drop of salt water fall down into the sand, vanishing without a trace. She reaches up a hand to touch her cheek, but can feel neither her damp cheek nor her tears.
She freezes, all her movement ceasing as her entire soul clamps shut. No. She cannot allow herself any further weakness. It is weak and pathetic enough that she regrets the cessation of her life. She will not permit herself the weakness of hallucinating him, as she has not in four years, as she used to so often . . .
"Turn around, babe. This isn't a hallucination."
She closes her eyes. That's what all the hallucinations say, after all.
"Oh, Maria. When will you learn not to be afraid of yourself?"
Her conscious mind beats against her every action, but her body can no longer obey: her eyelids fly open.
Feet planted in the sand, standing less than a foot away, James Doakes grins at her. "Long time no see, girl."
Her body sways forward, towards him, but then she reels herself backwards. Her arms tremble from the effort it takes to hold them against her sides. "Please, James – go away. Don't do this now. I can't hallucinate you now – not now."
Probably it is just as irrational to speak directly to a hallucination as it is to flat-out pretend it isn't there, she thinks, but maybe a conscious acknowledgement of her weakness is all that is really needed.
James doesn't answer her. He merely closes the gap between them with a single stride, reaches out – and grasps her hands in his.
She reels away from him, gasping, simultaneously gripping his hands in a vice-like hold. His hands are warm in hers, knuckles callused and palms tender and fingers wide and there's that familiar scar just underneath his left wrist – they're so firm, so solid, so – no, she will not think it –
"Real?" he supplies for her. "And why shouldn't they be? Souls aren't any more or less real than physical bodies."
She lurches forward and collapses into his arms. He catches her and supports her weight entirely, his muscled arms firm around her waist as she clutches at his neck, his shoulders, his chin, his pure white shirt, any and every part of him – of him.
She has never before permitted anyone else to hold her upright, has never before trusted another person to care for and secure her well-being. Her mind still protests against her actions, but her body – no, she realizes, not her body but her instincts, her pure ability for sentiment and emotion and love that has remained untarnished even after long years toiling for a brilliant career, her soul – her soul does not. Her soul commits every action with complete certainty.
"But – James – " she needs to look at his face but can't bring herself to let go, so compromises by lolling her head upwards on his shoulder " – I don't understand how any of this can be real – you or the rest – you're the first thing I can feel – I can't feel the ground or other people or – "
"And they can't feel you or me. We're part of different worlds. And it's time you joined yours."
She twists her head further to look over her shoulder: Dexter now stands close to the shore, away from the crowd, Deborah still clinging to his hand like a lifeline. Removed from the surrounding joy, they both seem small and afraid, like two children who've gotten lost on their way home, unable to search out a familiar path in the dark. But she knows that Dexter is anything but a child and has made a comfortable home for himself within the darkness, so the sight only refuels her anger.
"But Dexter still hasn't been caught," Maria blurts out. "He's still able to hurt and kill and breathe and I didn't do anything to stop him – "
"And you can't do anything now." James squeezes her waist, pulling her attention back to him. "Let it be, Maria. You've done all you could. It won't be by your hands, but that motherfucker'll get what's coming to him eventually."
He speaks without confidence or hesitation, as though merely stating an already well-known fact. Maria swallows. "How – how do you know? He certainly won't be the first criminal to walk free – and now that he's covered all the evidence, yet again, of what he is – how can you have so much faith that justice will prevail, when we've seen time and again how it doesn't?"
He smiles and gingerly removes one of his hands from her waist, reaching up to wipe away the tears from her eyes. She hasn't realized until then that she is crying again. "Because if I don't have faith that justice will win, then what else do I have?" Beneath the tender sheen of his smile, she glimpses an old twitch of his familiar anger and passionate conviction in morality. "But I've accepted that I can't do anything more here – and you must accept it too."
"So what do we do now?" she whispers.
"We leave this world and enter the one we now belong in. We can still watch what happens in this life on occasion." He flashes a crooked grin and cups her cheek in his palm. "Don't think I wasn't keeping my eye on you all these years."
She places her hand over his where it rests upon her face and sighs, leaning into his touch. "And then?"
His smile is gone, eyes narrowed and focused upon Dexter, vestiges of rage again kindling inside his gaze. Whatever calm words he might speak to her, his mind still craves justice, and this more than anything finally assures her that the man before her is not her hallucination, but just as real as he ever was.
"And then," he says, "we wait."
She pulls out of his embrace to grasp both his hands in hers and grip tight, pulling his attention back to her. He smiles again, genuinely, comfortably, but as he pulls her up into the sky towards worlds unknown, both of their gazes fall once more upon the human monster and all she can do is repeat his words to herself in a mantra that she cannot fully believe and yet must believe in order to go on: Let it be, Maria. You've done all you could. You've done all you could. Let it be. Let it be.
Justice will win.