Chapter THIRTY

"I've got this," said Debra, shaking off Dexter's hand. "Just take care of Grace."

"I can do both," said Dexter, watching Debra slowly take the stairs up to his apartment one at a time. He had Grace in a baby capsule in his hand. "You don't have to rush."

"I'm not rushing, stop nagging."

"Stop being stubborn."

Debra looked back over her shoulder down at him. "I'm out of that hospital for the first time in nearly two weeks, don't ruin my happy day, Dexter. It's bad enough that I've got a baby shower waiting for me up the top of these stairs."

Dexter made a surprised face. "How did you know?" Half of the MMPD was upstairs in his apartment, waiting to welcome Debra home from the hospital. "It's meant to be a surprise."

Debra rolled her eyes. "Then everyone should have parked their cars somewhere else," she said in exasperation. "I had my uterus removed, not my fucking brain."

Dexter wrinkled his nose as he looked down at the sea of familiar cars in the parking bay. "I see what you mean." He became more serious. "Are you sure you're alright about it?"

"It's a baby shower, there are worse things, I suppose." Debra pulled a face. "Just as long as we don't play any of those stupid, fucking games."

Dexter tilted his head a little. "Actually, I was talking about your hysterectomy." He paused. "We haven't really talked about it."

"What's there to say?" Debra shrugged. "It is what it is." Her expression softened. "And I have Grace." Debra reached out and stroked the little girl's soft cheek as she blinked in her first taste of sunshine. "Everything else seems so small in comparison to her being alright."

Dexter put his freehand on the small of Debra's back and leaned his forehead against her temple. "I know," he said huskily. "I don't know what I'd have done if I'd lost either one of you."

Debra leaned into their subtle embrace. "You don't get rid of me that easily, buster."

"Thank God," said a heartfelt Dexter. "We're going to work this out, I promise. We'll figure things out."

"I know we will," said Debra quietly.

Deb's so different after this whole ordeal. She's so much more assured and calm about everything.

Dexter's gaze flicked down to Grace.

It's no longer just the two of us, there is a third person in our world and even though she's so tiny, it's like we're more stable because there isn't just Deb and me anymore.

He half-smiled.

"What's so funny?"

"I'm just thinking about Vogel and how she's always going on about us being the centre of each other's universe and that means we can never see things clearly – that we're too self-involved with each other."

"But it's better now though, don't you think?" Debra quizzed him. "Grace, she's made everything easier to see." She shook her head impatiently. "That doesn't make sense. I mean—."

"I know what you mean," interjected Dexter. "And you're right, I guess Grace just puts everything into perspective." He looked at her intently. "We can do this together, Deb, you and me. We'll handle whatever comes our way."

"I know we will," said Debra confidently. She hesitated. "I know I never thanked you, for-for getting Grace back—."

"There is nothing to thank me for," said Dexter earnestly. "That wasn't an option for me. I had to get her back, no matter what it took."

"And for the apartment stuff," she continued on, expression drawn.

"You couldn't go back to your apartment," said Dexter simply. "I understand that, everyone does."

"It was where I nearly lost her forever," said Debra painfully. "I didn't want Grace to grow up there, in that place where-where—."

"And she's not going to," said Dexter quickly. He shot a quick look at the row of apartment doors lined up next to his. "We just got lucky with Mrs. Hernandez moving out like she did. We could take the apartment next to mine for you."

It had been oddly perfect, the way the apartment had become suddenly available. Debra had been going to stay with him for a little while anyway, until she was back to full strength but with her now moving into the apartment next door, it was going to be so much easier. Dexter could still see both of them every day, help Debra with Grace and be a real part of his daughter's life. Plus, no one needed to know what went on behind closed doors between him and Debra. Maybe it wasn't a forever plan but it allowed them some time to breathe and just work out this whole new family dynamic. All of their friends had come together and moved Debra's things in one Saturday while she was still in the hospital. Everything was set up for her to come home to but Dexter still insisted Debra stay with him for at least another week. He didn't want a wall between them while she was still not at full strength.

Debra nodded and wrinkled her nose. "I guess we'd better get going. Everyone will be wondering what's taking so long."

"I guess so." Dexter took her elbow as they started to slowly walk along the landing to his apartment. "You just tell me when you're tired and I'll get rid of them all. It's your first day out of the hospital. I don't want you overdoing it."

"Yes, Mom."

They were at his apartment and behind the door Dexter could hear loud whispers, especially Harrison as he tried to contain his excitement, waiting for the big moment. Dexter looked at Debra. "You ready for this?"

Debra held his gaze steadily. "Is anyone ever ready for this?"

Dexter knew they were no longer talking just about a baby shower but a beginning of a new way of life for them. "No."

"Well, then, let's fucking do this already," she said with a lop-sided smile.

"You know our daughter's first word is going to be fuck, don't you?" asked Dexter indulgently.

"At least she won't be boring."

Dexter smiled. "No, she won't be boring." He opened the door and twenty or so people who'd been attempting to hide in Dexter's small apartment all leapt out and cried as one.

"SURPRISE!"

Grace started violently in her carrier at the sudden noise but didn't cry, instead she squinted, as though trying to see what all the fuss was about. They were immediately enveloped in a sea of well-wishers with Angel leading the charge.

He carefully put an arm around Debra's shoulder and kissed her cheek. "Welcome home, Deb, you're looking great."

Harrison ran up to them. "Were you surprised, Aunty Deb?"

"I was so surprised," agreed Debra readily. "I had no idea."

"Everyone's brought presents," announced Harrison excitedly. "They're all for Bump but that's okay." He looked up at Dexter. "Can I help Bump open them, Daddy? She'll need help, right?"

"She'll definitely need help," said Dexter with a smile. "And I'm sure she'd love you to help her, seeing as you're such a big boy."

Harrison puffed out his chest and looked very pleased with himself.

"Alright," said Angel, "I called dibs on first cuddle." He looked at Debra. "Is that okay? Can we pick her up yet?"

Debra nodded. "Of course. The hospital wouldn't have discharged her if she wasn't ready for it."

Angel bent down and retrieved Grace from her carrier. "Come to Uncle Angel, little one," he cooed. He cradled the baby in his large arms, making her look even smaller than she already was. Grace lay passively in his arms, blinking up at Angel, trying to focus. "She's gorgeous, Deb," said Angel. "You did good, sweetheart."

Debra tucked in the blanket around Grace's legs a little more securely and smiled. "Yeah, she's perfect, isn't she?"

"Hey, there's my favourite MILF," said a jovial Masuka as he came up and joined them.

"What's a milf?" asked Harrison innocently.

"It means—," Masuka began to explain.

"It means you're on drink's duty, Masuka," interrupted Dexter sharply. He gave the other man a pointed look. "I don't think my son needs your brand of education quite this early."

"Oh," said Masuka in surprise, "I guess not. Sorry, my bad." He grinned lecherously at Debra. "But my comment still stands."

"Hand out the orange juice," Dexter instructed him, "and keep your comments to yourself."

"Nobody appreciates my charm," grumbled Masuka as he wandered off to get the drinks.

Quinn appeared by Debra's side and Dexter eyed him warily. The man was still a bit of a wild card and Dexter didn't like that.

"Hey Deb," said Quinn quietly, "it's real good to see you out of the hospital."

"You're telling me," said Debra expressively. "I couldn't wait to get out of there. I'm done with hospital food. It's disgusting."

"I'll get you some food, Aunt Deb," said Harrison, eager to please. "I'll make you my special sandwich."

"Oh boy," said Debra, "that sounds awesome, Harrison. I'd love that."

Harrison ran off to make the sandwich. Dexter shook his head. "I don't think that sandwich should be your first post-hospital meal, Deb."

"I love Harrison's sandwiches," argued Deb.

"That was while you were pregnant. Your taste spuds have probably returned to normal now."

"It'll be fine, stop fussing," said Debra easily. She addressed Quinn. "Dex is like an old mother hen these days."

Quinn flicked a look over at Dexter. "As long as he's taking good care of you."

Dexter heard the slight warning in the other man's voice and returned his gaze steadily. Quinn didn't have to love or even accept what was going on between him and Debra, he just had to stay the hell out of it.

Quinn was back to looking intently at Debra. "And you're happy." He frowned a little. "You happy, Deb?"

Debra's expression softened. "For the first time in a really long time, I am, Joey. I'm really, really happy."

Quinn nodded and looked away. "Okay, good, that's all that matters then." He looked back at her and smiled. "You look real good and Grace is beautiful." Quinn glanced over at Angel who was refusing to give the baby over to Masuka for his turn at holding Grace. "Although, you might have a tough time getting Grace back off Angel, he seems to have gotten attached real quick."

Debra snorted. "The first full diaper should fix that."

The rest of the afternoon passed in a flurry of well-wishers, finger food and present opening. Even as Dexter mingled with everyone, he always kept one eye on Debra, making sure she wasn't getting too tired. Despite her earlier disdain for the baby shower, Dexter could see she was loving being able to share Grace with all of these people. She was every inch the proud mother and Dexter loved seeing her so happy. It occurred to Dexter that Debra had always viewed her life as somewhat aimless. But with the arrival of Grace, it was like Debra had been galvanised into focusing her life into sharp relief. Dexter could see the new sense of purpose in Debra's eyes and loved seeing the pained confusion replaced with such certainty.

My firefly is glowing brighter than ever. I didn't destroy her. She's still here, she's still lighting my darkness.

Dexter felt a calm settle on him that he'd never known before, everything in his life finally feeling like it was how it should be.

oooOOOOooo

Dexter moved quietly around his apartment, not needing to turn lights on. He saw the glow from underneath his bedroom door and walked over to it. Opening the door, he peeked inside to see Debra doing an early morning feed with Grace.

She looked up and smiled at him. "Hey."

"Hey," returned Dexter softly. He walked over to the bed where Debra was propped up on cushions, Grace cradled in her arms and hungrily suckling on her bottle. "I was going to do the first feed." Seeing the two girls in his life content and safe made a warm feeling wash over Dexter.

He was home.

"It's okay. She woke up early, so I just did it." Debra looked him over. "You going for a run?"

Dexter looked down at his sweat pants and t-shirt. "I thought I'd get a quick one in. You know, before the morning chaos starts."

"I miss running," lamented Debra.

"You've only been out of hospital two days. The doctors said you have to take it easy for a bit."

"I know," she sighed. "It's just that everything in my life has changed all at once and it'd be nice to have one thing which was familiar."

"Just give it a couple more weeks and I'm sure the doctors will clear you for exercise," he comforted her. Dexter glanced at his watch, noting the time. It was nearly six in the morning, the sun would be up soon. "Do you need anything?"

A small smile touched Debra's lips. "I have everything I need," she said softly and then looked up at Dexter. "Everything."

Dexter reached out and stroked her face. "So do I," he said huskily. He planted a soft kiss on the top of Debra's head and the still noisily suckling Grace's. Dexter fell in love with that little girl a little more each day. "I won't be long."

"I lied, we need milk," called out Debra as he went to leave.

"No problem." Dexter grabbed his keys and hurried to his car, feeling the promise of a new day. He backed the car out and was driving a familiar route and made good time with the light early morning traffic. Dexter pulled up at the back of the abandoned warehouse and climbed out of the car. He grabbed the black bag from his back seat and headed inside, whistling a happy tune as he went. His whistle bounced off the walls of the empty building, filling the space with the jaunty tune. Dexter headed towards the manager's office, taking out a key and unlocking it. Once inside, his surrounds changed from the dirt and dust of the warehouse to a room completely covered in plastic, from ceiling to floor. In the middle of the room a man was strapped to a gurney, naked and hooked up to an IV. Dexter walked over to the man and looked down at him. His eyes were closed, breathing shallow. Dexter flicked at his cheek. "Rise and shine, Yates, there is a new day waiting for you."

Yates' eyes flickered open and he looked up at Dexter blearily. "Fuck you," he rasped through dry and cracked lips.

"Now, now," tutted Dexter, "is that any way for an instrument of the Lord to talk?" He opened his bag and pulled out a hacksaw. "I was thinking we'd mix things up a little today." Dexter smiled cruelly down at the bound Yates. "I don't want things to get boring between us."

"You're a sick fuck!" spat out Yates, straining weakly against his constraints. "Why don't you just kill me already?"

"You ever hear that expression – death is too good for him?" mused Dexter. His expression hardened as he shoved his face into Yates'. "Well, that's why I haven't killed you yet. You don't deserve a release, you don't deserve to be free from pain. You hurt all those women, tortured them and made them beg for mercy but never showed any." Dexter's jaw hardened. "And then you made your big mistake. You hurt Debra. You hurt her and our child and there can be no mercy, no end to your suffering because of that. I know you're going to have to die one of these days, but if I play my cards right, I think I can keep our special time together happening for at least another couple of weeks." Dexter straightened up and perused his handiwork of nearly three weeks. Yates' body was covered in cuts, not enough to bleed out from, but enough to hurt. Dexter had already taken four of his toes and five of his fingers. They sat in a jar, slowly putrefying beside Yates' bed, so he could watch them turn green and then black. Both knee caps were broken along with several ribs. Each breath Yates took was an exercise in agony. Dexter had made sure of that. "I want to make this special. You'll be my masterpiece."

"You call me a monster but you're just the same!" yelled Yates. "You're just as sick as me!"

Dexter's lips curled in disgust at being compared to an animal like Yates. "You're right, I'm a monster but I'm a monster who knows his purpose. You and me, we're nothing alike. I kill to save the innocent. You kill to hear them scream." It was all so clear now, the beautiful simplicity of it all. For the longest time he'd shunned the monster, hating his need for that creature but the creature had a purpose and Dexter knew he needed it to protect those whom he loved. He cocked his head. "And now it's your turn. I was thinking I'd take your eyes today but then, I really want you to be able to see what I'm doing to you." Dexter sighed dramatically. "So, I was in a quandary." He smiled. "But then I realised I could just take one eye and then you'd still be able to watch me work. I really didn't want to deprive you of that little pleasure. To keep things even, I'll also take an ear while I'm at it." Dexter looked at the empty glass jar sitting next to the one full of rotting fingers and toes. "We need to get started on filling up that next jar."

"Just kill me," whimpered Yates. "I can't take it anymore. Please, just kill me, I want this to be over."

"Then you shouldn't have come after my family," said Dexter simply. "I protect my own." He picked up a scalpel and closed in on the screaming Yates, the knife cutting through tissue and tendon with ease. A blood spurt hit his arm, thrilling Dexter with its warmth.

And he was home…

"Blood fills my mouth.

Fire sears my veins.

I choke back a howl.

The silver knife slips-the
choice is mine.
I am death or life.

I am salvation or destruction.

Angel or demon.
I am grace.
I plunge in the knife.
This is my sacrifice-
I am the monster."
Bree Despain

The Dark Divine

A/N: And we're done! I so hope that you found the ending suitably satisfying. I didn't want to turn Dexter into being all cutesy and housebroken. I still wanted him to keep his darkness and just find a way to balance it with the light. I know some people were disappointed with my initial 'killing' of Yates but I had to bite my tongue and let it play out, because I'd always intended to have this dark ending. I like the difference between Dexter's home life and his life as a monster – that he's stopped fighting it because that is his sacrifice for his family – to be the guy who does what needs to be done.

I also wanted to keep Debster's relationship open ended, so each person gets to decide how they eventually worked out. Whether they kept it secret forever or moved town and finally came out or it ran its natural course and they just became co-parents who loved each other – it's up to you guys to decide how it ends up for Debster. I wanted to end on a hopeful note while still acknowledging this is a story about a serial killer. Kinda a tricky balance. LOL

I just wanted to thank everyone who has read and commented on this story one last time. You were all brilliant and so many of your comments were such a pleasure to read and mull over, they definitely contributed to my construction of the story, no doubt about it. Thank you all so much for your patience and faith in my story. I truly do appreciate it all.

Cheers,

Lou 3