Notes: I just realised that I never posted this, which was my entry for last year's Yuletide, to my ficblog! So here it is, extremely belatedly. It took me a lot of frantic hair-pulling to write, but in retrospect I'm proud of it: I adore the twisty dynamics between Dexter and all of the other people in his life, and I adore playing around with life and death and fiction.
Set between S1 and S2, so obviously there are spoilers for the first season.
ask me how
It's been eleven hours and fifteen minutes since I killed my brother and I can't get the smell of rubber off my hands. It's very Lady Macbeth. Except I've never been stupid enough to actually touch the blood itself, and in any case, Harry taught me some old cop tricks for washing blood out of just about anything.
I'm trying not to think too much about Harry. But he did put me together out of fragments that most people would have found too sharp and daunting to even touch, and I owe him for that, despite the lies.
I'm trying not to think too much about the lies.
Harry had things to say about blood and about death, even about the aspects of death that weren't its occasional necessity and its great, great significance. Never treat it lightly, Dexter, he said, but when he was close to death himself he said, dying is an acceleration.
I looked at him blankly. "What?"
He took my hand and held it there on the hospital sheet. His voice was very serious. "All our lives we are aware that we will die, but when that awareness becomes imminent, it all speeds up."
It never seemed that way to me, all through Harry's sickness -- in my eyes that was ugly and fragile and slow, that dying. But since then I like to think that I've made friends with death, even my own. I accelerate people's lives in my head, taking guesses at what their deaths could be. I've learned to recognise the imminence; it's something that enters the eyes just as I slice across the cheekbone. In that moment my playmates value life for the delicate thing that it is, and I value it along with them.
And it's a gift from my foster father, just like everything else that comprises the person that the world knows as Dexter Morgan; all those bits and pieces of Harry, wedged between the fragments that were once a terrified child, somehow making up an entire human being. Of sorts.
"-- to dispose of the body. Creepy motherfucker. He doesn't deserve a taxpayer-funded cremation if you ask me, Dex."
Dangerously distracted Dexter. I blink my way back towards the light, the telephones hammering away at my sleep-deprived senses, and Angel Batista's disgusted indignation.
"Sorry, I was spacing out there."
"I understand." Said with a sympathetic smile. I'm the guy who befriended the Ice Truck Killer and ended up wrestling him over the body of my own sister; I get allowances made for me. I wonder if I should be taking greater advantage of this.
"Don't suppose we've got any next of kin, hey." Angel looks around for answers, but he's not really expecting any. Some part of me wants to speak up anyway and say it, just put it out there, I'm his brother. Or maybe, he was my brother. Funny the way that the past tense only works in one direction: you can be brother to a corpse, but it can't be brother to you, as though family were an active role played solely by the living and not just a property of the blood.
But I suppose I got rid of that, too. I suppose I lost my right to claim blood ties when I slit my brother's throat with his own silverware and let it all trickle out of him.
Still, the compulsion to speak up is there -- why? Because I think he deserves better than a silent state-provided cremation? Because I've become attached to the idea that I can be around other people and not pretend any more? No. It's not as though I'd actually say anything; I'm not sacrificing this much to protect my nice neat life and then destroying it in the blink of an eye simply because I'm having some minor impulse control problems.
As opposed to my major impulse control problems.
I really need coffee.
It's been five days, fourteen hours and three minutes since I killed my brother and I'm standing in a filthy kitchen creating a miniature supernova of red yarn.
This is the way my mind works now, by the way: like in his final moments Rudy reached into my head and hit Start on a stopwatch and now I have trouble beginning a thought without the timestamp. It's fucking weird. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
Rudy. I think it's easier to call him that, even in my head, when I assign him a name at all. Maybe I'm a glutton for self-punishment, but most of the time I just think my brother and leave it at that; Biney isn't a word that belongs to the person I am now, and Brian was never anything but a label for a strange new idea.
This is a real mess, this crime scene. They've taken the body away; this is just homework.
"What about this?" Masuka holds up a hair. "Probably the victim's, but we might get lucky."
I nod, carefully stepping around a smear on the floor. "Bag it."
I was worried that I'd lose the ability to relax into my work, but everything seems fine. Normal. I think Dr. Meridian knew what he was talking about when he mentioned my attempts to gain control over blood by categorising and analysing it, because despite my newly-awakened memories of my mother's death, this room of spatter patterns and spurt angles isn't traumatic -- it's familiar, almost soothing.
I hate blood.
No: I hate random blood.
And Rudy understood that, of course, and used it to compensate for a childhood's worth of games that he never got the chance to play with his little brother. I have to admire the time it must have taken to pinpoint my tastes from observation, the sheer effort that he put into it, with his cell crystallisation and his neatly labeled jars and his collection of pale, perfect body parts. All of those hours that I spent telling myself what a beautiful idea like the idea was never carefully tailored to my individual aesthetics in the first place, like it was all down to some fuzzy bullshit telepathic connection instead of research just as meticulous as my own.
No blood. I can still close my eyes and see Masuka and Angel peeling back the blanket from the body like it was a game show prize just for me. Ding ding ding, what'll it be, Dexter Morgan? A new car? An all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii? Or perhaps you'll take what's behind puerta nũmero tres: it's not everyone's cup of tea, but we hear you're into bloodless corpses.
And then, thrown in like a bonus set of steak knives, the doll. With those little red bows just in case the 'gift' message hadn't been clear enough the first time: all for you, just for you, and me standing there like I asked Santa for a fire-breathing pony and he delivered.
Red yarn running smooth and taut through my fingers, stretched across the countertop to the door of the fridge, and just for a moment I imagine that I could open it up and there'd be another message inside.
It's been twelve days and exactly seven hours since I killed my brother and I've just woken up from dreaming about it, the cold, cold room and the amount of time it took me to stop crying, to stop looking at his feet tilted towards the ceiling and the gravity lines of fresh blood across the metal. Not the kind of image you really want to wake up to. Morbid. Symbolic.
I think...I think I've seen this before.
Ten minutes on Google at work gets me the image I remember from some brief exposure god knows when: a man hanging from one foot, eyes open. Apparently it signifies being worn down by a conflict between two opposites, and a sacrifice made in order to bring about a change of lifestyle, which hits far too close to home for my rationalism to feel entirely comfortable.
"Tarot, Dex?" Masuka says, peering over my shoulder. "I wouldn't have pegged you as interested in those. Tell you what you need." He leers delightedly. "I've got a dirty pack at home. No matter what, the future is full of hot naked women. Get it?"
Good old predictable Masuka. He moves past, already losing interest, eyes glazed with memory. Behind me LaGuerta's voice is fluttering through the explanation of a drug bust, and I'm looking at the picture of the Hanged Man with my finger hovering over the mouse so that I can switch to a spreadsheet if anyone else comes closer. The website's text tells me that there's one set of meanings for the upright card but another for inversion, which I suppose equals resurrection in this case -- who knows, maybe in a dream it has another meaning entirely. Masuka's right: I've never really been interested in these New Age things.
But then, I've never really dreamed, either; not until recently. Years and years of peaceful oblivion and then -- Harry, and Deb, and plastic stretched tight across my skin. And now Rudy's upside-down face, Rudy's eyes unfocused with their calm cold surprise.
The day passes with those damn images never quite out of my mind's periphery, waiting to intrude whenever there's a lull in my thoughts. To distract myself I head to a supermarket where I know I'll get stuck in the busiest after-work crowds, and stand in the queue listening to conversations. Arguments over precedence, shouted attempts at catching up with acquaintances who are queued two registers over, and just the mundane little points of contact that normal people feel the need to make. We haven't met, but. People will grasp at the most tenuous connections if it means someone will notice them. I don't get it.
We haven't met, but my wife goes to your gym. We haven't met, but I think you bought a barbeque from the store where I work. Such a weird, illogical, and yet effortless way to start a friendship.
My name is Dexter -- what's yours?
We haven't met, but I killed someone you passed in the street once.
It's been seventeen days, twelve hours and twenty-eight minutes since I killed my brother and I'm starting to regret getting rid of that psychiatrist so quickly. As well as the obvious Cain and Abel issues, I've been thinking a lot about blood. Not in the sticky professional sense, this time -- more the thicker-than-water sense. There isn't really the same spirit of debate surrounding the nature versus nurture question as there used to be; ask any scientist these days and they'll tell you that it's the interaction that's important, the genetic predisposition to react in a certain way to a certain environment.
So everything's just shades of variation and context and we're a textbook case, my brother and I: the same blood, and a single shared formative event, and we grew up exactly the same at the core. But I was given the scaffolding to build a normal exterior, and he wasn't: bits and pieces of Harry. The code. Rigorous nurturing, though it was never sufficient to erase what had already taken place, and the constant reminders that I was a Morgan now, that I had a family, that I was loved. It always seemed like enough.
Driving to Rita's house and all this is churning in my head. I want to ask someone why it was so easy for Rudy to force me into such sharp awareness of my blood family -- I've worked it out by now, of course, that killing my father and manipulating my behaviour into commemoration of his death was Rudy's way of laying the groundwork, catalysing my breakthrough. I want to ask if Joe Driscoll was Rudy's father as well, and why it should make a difference if he wasn’t. I want to ask how I managed to choose the Morgans in the end.
Disastrously divided Dexter. A collection of learned behaviours layered over the darkness and the blood, and with rules for survival, for control, hammered deep into my psyche. It's a fucking miracle I've got any personality at all.
I cut the engine in Rita's driveway and sit there for a moment, gathering the pieces of my mask. I don't know. Like I said, if I'd kept Dr. Meridian alive he'd almost certainly have pushed more women into killing themselves, but at least I'd have someone to talk about this whole mess with.
All afternoon I drink lemonade and play Monopoly with a nine-year-old and a six-year-old, and at night I dream that my brother is chopping my limbs off and presenting them to me wrapped in ribbon the colour of blood.
It's been twenty days, nineteen hours and forty-one minutes since I killed my brother, and the need to kill someone else is like a rash under my fingernails, but Sergeant Doakes is following me everywhere. I know he'll be staking out my apartment later, but for now I think I've got the evening to myself; some Doakes family dinner. I can only imagine what fun that must be. I wonder if they all sit there and give each other suspicious glares over the macaroni.
Deb's at home doing unspeakable things to my kitchen and I'm alone in the lab, having called her and pleaded sample analyses and paperwork to catch up on, researching my next victim. Jazz playing through the computer and a bowl of popcorn to my right; all in all, the ideal leisurely evening for your friendly neighbourhood serial killer.
"It's strange that society ascribes such strong meaning to particular types of food, isn't it?"
My heart does something violent that it's only done once before, when I was standing in room 103 being buffeted by memories. All in all, I'm used to my organs behaving themselves. But I know that voice.
It's all I can do not to close my eyes as I spin my chair around, but there's no neat wound across his neck, no blood darkening his clothes; not that it'd be easy to tell, on that shirt, but I'm something of an expert.
"What?" is all I can manage to say.
He makes one of his economic, graceful gestures towards the popcorn bowl. "Popcorn for entertainment. Are you entertained, Dex?"
"I'm a bit confused, actually," I say carefully. "Because I don't believe in ghosts. You're not going to tell me that ghosts believe in me or some bullshit like that, are you?"
"No." He smiles and I remember the first time I ever saw him, Deb's-boyfriend-Rudy-Cooper standing on Joe Driscoll's doorstop with a huge grin, saying my name like it was the answer to the million dollar question.
Game show metaphors again. It seems they're inescapable at the moment.
I would have picked a boring death for Rudy Cooper, that day: heart disease, cancer, something normal. A car accident if I was feeling in need of variety.
"So I suppose I fell asleep at my computer," I try next.
Rudy takes a step closer, leans against my desk and pinches my arm hard through my shirt. "Nope. Call me a figment of your imagination. You wanted someone to talk to, didn't you?"
"I would have preferred Harry." I really, really would have preferred Harry.
"But you got me." He bumps my shoulder with the side of his fist, gently. "We've got some unresolved issues to work through, don’t you think?"
Unresolved issues, unquiet spirits. I ask, because it's the only thing I can think of, "Do you know why some cultures used to go in for exaggerated displays of grief and extravagant grave gifts? Even sacrifices?"
"Yes," he says easily. "I know everything you know -- that's how this works. But tell me anyway."
"It wasn't generosity." It's getting easier to look at him. "It was so that the spirits of the dead felt that they'd been properly farewelled, and didn't return to haunt the living."
Rudy's hands dance over the pens on my desk. If he picks one up, I think I'm going to get a headache.
"Mourning is still never entirely altruistic," he says, and I remember with a sudden and unpleasant clarity exactly how it felt to feel, the violence of my grief, that wet sour taste rising in my throat and throwing me backwards.
"You're the only person I've ever cried for," I tell him. It's all right to say it. He's dead, or else he's me; either way, I don’t think there's much chance he'll gossip. "And the only person I ever apologised to afterwards."
"I'm very flattered." A thin, ironic set to his lips.
"I had to kill you," I say. I've justified this to myself a hundred times, retracing the patterns of Harry's code, and I know that it's true. "It was the right thing to do."
"You need to lose this vigilante illusion, little brother." And now he has that expression that he was wearing as I tried to argue with him about killing Deb. Apparently just thinking about it enough to trigger a full replay, because he opens his mouth and says, "You can't be --"
"A killer and a hero. It doesn't work that way." I'm annoyed. Tired. Worn down by the conflict between two opposites; yes, the symbolism is quite clear, thank you, and I've already made my human sacrifice, but apparently it wasn’t enough to keep him from haunting me. "I know."
"Do you, Dex?" He doesn't smile this time. "I'm not so sure."
It's been twenty-three days, twenty hours and six minutes since I killed my brother and if I wasn't nuts already then the mess in my apartment would be doing a good job of making me so: glasses dotted across the counter with juice dregs still in them, books discarded on chairs, Deb's sweaty tees everywhere. Once when I was sixteen or so I looked up the definitions of sociopath and psychopath in the DSM-III at the closest university library -- it was just a matter of personal curiosity, because Harry made damn sure that I knew all the questions and their proper answers, but I'd never seen myself on a page so starkly and clinically -- and found myself flicking through the book afterwards. So I know I don't quite qualify for OCD, but I've got the traits. Glass slides with meticulously aligned edges. I like to think that I leave certain parts of the world neater places than when I found them; that I clean up the trash and put it in bags.
And then there's Deb, whose living spaces are as strewn with junk as her self-esteem.
Deb. I don't know which death I'd label her with -- in the line of duty, perhaps, I think she'd pick that for herself. Well, she thinks Harry would have picked it for her, which can be the same thing when it comes to Deb. All I know is that her death is not to be at the hands of someone like me or Rudy, and it's all the more certain because I nearly realised it too late, so I guess I can put up with her half-empty cartons of takeout and the way her socks seem to breed on the living room floor.
What's harder is the silence. I miss having the apartment to myself, but it's not a noise thing: as well as having a hallucination for one sibling I've got a fleshy ghost for the other, my very own melancholy spectre, and Deb's silences are almost worse than the abortive attempts to talk about her experiences with me. One evening it gets so bad that I'm gathering up my jacket and the keys to the boat before I even realise it; even without any packages to dump, I prefer the silence of the water at night to the silence created by my sister's misery.
"I'm going to take the boat out. It's a nice night." Hand on the door, waiting for her to look up from the television. "I won't be too long."
She rubs her chin against her bent knees. "Mmm."
"What, Dex?" Finally she looks at me.
"I'm glad you're my fake sister."
Her face twists upwards into an embarrassed smile. "Oh, shut the fuck up."
Maybe this is cowardly. Maybe she needs me. But I've already had to bite back something that might be anger once or twice, don't you know what I gave up for you, and I don't know what I can say to her that will help in any way.
It's a nice night indeed, and the water is calm, and for a while I can go back to my favourite game of pretending that there isn't another human being left on the planet but me.
"But then who would you kill?"
His voice startles me so much that I drop a rope, and have to rummage for it. "Is this going to become a habit?"
Rudy ignores the question. "Interesting hypothesis. Would your need to kill other people disappear if all the other people were dead already, or would you just go mad?"
"Go mad. That's nice, coming from my imaginary friend." I rub at my forehead. "You know, I came out here for some peace and quiet."
"I won't disturb you."
"You already have." But there isn't really anything I can do; I try concentrating and seeing if I can wish him away, but apparently some perverse corner of my subconscious mind wants me to have company tonight, so I might as well make the best of it.
Rudy sits down with one elbow on the rail and looks out over the water. "It's beautiful."
"Yeah. It is." The breeze is cool and delicious and I inhale, deeply. "I know the planet's just a freakish accident of carbon, and water, and lead, and nitrogen, but sometimes it seems like more, you know? Like..." I can't think of the right words, but Rudy supplies some.
"A radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens."
It sounds like he's quoting something; I glance over, amused. "Where'd you get that?"
He shrugs. "From a book I read once. Well, strictly speaking, a book that you read once."
"And I remembered that?"
"Some part of you did. The same part that remembers our childhood." A long pause and he leans over the side of the boat, watching the play of moonlight on the waves. "You'll get it all back one day, Dex."
I follow his gaze and notice that -- "You haven't got a reflection. How vampiric of you."
He laughs. "Debatably delusional Dexter. Maybe your hallucinations don't extend to the laws of physics."
But maybe he's already slipping.
It's been thirty days, twenty-one hours and nineteen minutes since I killed my brother and I have a theory about sex. Does that sound weird? Freudian, or something? It does, I know. But it can't be helped.
My theory is that sex distills people: they become themselves, only more so. Despite my best efforts Deb still gets into moods where she insists on sharing her filthy bedroom details with half the station, and apparently -- unsurprisingly -- she swears even more than usual. Rita is sweeter and more generous, her smiles more intense, her strength more apparent. And I...well, I can feel the darkness swirling more insistently at the bottom of the empty pit. I can look at Rita with her throat tilted back and closing on a gasp and feel her death click into focus: gunshot, drowning, house fire, depending on the day of the week.
Okay, as theories go it's based on fairly limited evidence, and it's not like I can set myself up as any kind of expert on human behaviour, but I like to think that I've learned some things from a lifetime of observing others and piecing together a personality from fragmental quirks. I know that Rita likes to have something to do with her hands when she's worried, but can be very still when she's angry, and that with Deb it's the opposite.
It breaks down when it comes to people I don't know so well, though I'm still quite good at children because they're so wonderfully transparent. I know what Cody and Astor expect; I even know what they want, and don't want, in any given moment. They make me feel almost normal. Watching those kids makes me wonder about what might happen if Rita never finds out about the darkness; what might have already happened if we were all just regular unbroken people and I'd had the chance to become a normal stepfather. Maybe I would coach a baseball team, or go to parent-teacher interviews, or turn up at school career days and be given a happy sticker saying MY NAME IS and be asked to mingle with all the other people's kids.
Sometimes it's hard to untangle whether I really want that life or if I just want to want it, but it's a nice thought.
MY NAME IS: Dexter. Interested in killing people for justice and the release of your own inner darkness? Ask me how! We haven't met, but my stepkids are in your class.
Keep your focus, Dexter.
It doesn't work that way.
It's been thirty-five days, eight hours and ten minutes since I killed my brother and I'm considering putting another ad up on Craigslist. Wanted: new role models. I can't do what Deb does and try to turn myself inside-out in the hope that Harry is somewhere on the inside of my skin and can be worn like a jacket; my inner self is hardly suitable for public display. And I've never found anyone to mimic in the pages of fiction -- Patrick Bateman, what a joke that was, and I still can't quite believe I got away with ordering sedatives under that particular pseudonym. I must have been feeling flippant. Sloppy mask-building, though; I won't make the same mistake twice.
That book didn't impress me; it was the ending, really. Bateman confesses to everything because he's sick of his endless, watertight, normal life. He didn't know a good thing when he had it, if you ask me.
"Neither do you, Dex." Rudy's sitting on a stool at the kitchen bench. "If you ask me."
"I crossed you off my list of role models."
"Exactly my point."
I have to stop myself from automatically pouring a second glass of juice and sliding it in front of him. This is getting distracting. Good thing Deb's finally started to sleep like the dead again.
"Look, I made my choice." I clasp my hand around my own glass, firmly. "I've worked hard for this life. My job. Rita and the kids. Deb. I could have lost everything by choosing you."
He looks at me: not angry, just disappointed, that cliché of an expression that Harry was so good at. "Trapped in your nest and all the things you used to own, now they own you."
I recognise that one. It's from a book I read once.
If my subconscious can't even come up with original arguments, I might actually be winning.
"Nobody owns me. You don't own me. I own myself."
I think about those two people-smugglers, turning tear-stained cheeks to look at each other in the perfect and desperate acceleration of their lives, preserving their connection by sharing the same dream.
About Rita, who thinks I'm a hero.
I think the world can always be set right again and register it, without emotion, as an echo of Harry's voice.
"It's meaningless," Rudy's saying, but I pack my things for work and ignore him. "Dexter. Dexter."
I turn around, already halfway out the door. "What?"
He's standing now, leaning against the bench with one foot propped idly near side of the other leg's knee, the inversion of his own tarot card. But I've done my research: the reversal means martyred behaviour, self-pity, the inability to move past conflict.
"A normal life?" Rudy sighs and starts to walk towards me. "You're deluding yourself if you think you'll ever manage it."
"That's me," I say. "Debatably delusional Dexter."
I close the door in his face and step out into a morning too bright for martyrs.