Deb is three when her father scoops her into his lap, scoots them up to the table, and says he has a big surprise. She sees her favorite bowl, the magic one with the cartoon fish that changes color when she has cereal. She sees her favorite food peeking over the top, making the bowl dark inside and out.
Then she sees a boy, wrapped in a towel and her mother’s arms, who isn't her favorite anything.
"This is Dexter," her father says in her ear, in his best Daddy voice. "He's going to live with us now, and be part of our family. Won't it be fun to have a brother?"
Sammy down the street has a baby brother. He's small and screams and smells bad sometimes and isn't fun at all. But Dexter isn't a baby, he's a big boy just like she's a big girl. He's big, and he's quiet, and he smells like her Flintstones soap that makes all the bubbles, so she squirms in her father's lap and shrugs.
Her father's fingers press into her tummy. "Say 'hi,' kiddo," he tells her, even though she's not supposed to talk to strangers.
"Hi," she says softly. Dexter just looks at her. She tugs at the ends of her hair and tries again. "Hi."
He blinks but doesn't say it back, and she frowns and picks up her favorite bowl and throws her favorite food at the new brother she never asked for. She wants to laugh at the Spaghetti-Os in his hair, since the boy is as red as the bowl now and this is the only fun she's had since she first saw him, but her mother looks like she's about to cry, and her father says a bad word and gets up to grab him and leaves her in the chair all by herself, and it's not so fun anymore.
Her mother wipes at the red with the towel, but it's everywhere – on the table, the floor, her hands – and only makes a mess.
"Sorry," Deb says, sniffling and swinging her legs.
Dexter watches over her father's shoulder, the only one paying any attention to her now. Then he waves as he's carried away, finally saying hello, and Deb thinks that he looks sorry, too.
When they finally make it to dinner, the restaurant's packed solid and it's almost two hours past their reservation – not to mention the fact that she's in jeans and there are white fucking tablecloths as far as the eye can see – but a grey-haired guy in a penguin suit comes out to shake Rudy's hand and smile her way and show them both to a table.
"Not bad," she says. "What'd you do, build him a new set of balls?"
Rudy orders for them both while she hits the head – which would piss her off, if it weren't kinda hot – and when the food comes, there's a whole goddamn lobster on her plate.
He shrugs. "You did say surf and turf."
"As in a burger with some fried-to-shit shrimp on the side." She blinks down at the market price monstrosity in front of her, then blinks back up at Rudy, and that's when it really hits her – fuck, I'm dating a doctor. "It's the size of my head. And I have a pretty big fucking head."
"Just say the word, we can send it back."
She snorts and picks up her fork. "Yeah, like that's gonna happen."
"Why Officer Morgan." He leans forward, flashing that slow smile that makes her shiver. "Are you telling me that this is your first fine dining foreplay?"
"Depends. If I say no, does that make me a food slut?" She takes a bite drenched in drawn butter and has to close her eyes just to chew, it's that good. "Oh my god. I think this is actually what orgasms taste like."
He chuckles. "Not even with your brother?" he says, and she almost chokes it all back up, because holy fuck do those two things not belong in the same thought.
"Dexter?" she says incredulously. "Dexter eats burritos in his car, okay, I have never been anywhere like this with him. It's just… not his thing. He's a 'beer and T-bones at home' kinda guy."
"So he's a steak man."
It sounds sort of thoughtful and interested and "good to know", like he's filing it away for future reference, and she's tempted to ask him why the hell they're sitting at a three figure meal talking about her brother, but it's hard to be seductive when you're stuffing your face full of shellfish.
She watches him instead – the way he pivots his filet on the point of the knife, slices through it in clean, precise cuts.
"Were you gonna eat that or dissect it?" she says, laughing a little. The blade screeches across the plate as his hand skips, leaving a jagged edge behind, and he looks up and raises an eyebrow. "Sorry, shit, that was – "
"No you're right, it's a bad habit. Bit of an occupational hazard, I suppose. Half the time I don't even realize I'm doing it." He spears the last piece with his fork. "You'd think I'd know better than to play with my food."
"It's not like it's a bad thing, it just happened to come out that way. Fucking word vomit, you know?" She follows the flex of his fingers as he takes the bite, the twist of his wrist, and tries not to look hungry with a full damn plate in front of her. "You've got good hands, that's all I was trying to say. They're…"
She stops before the word falls out, shaking her head, and he picks up his glass and presses.
"Nothing. I dunno, they're... dexterous." She shovels a forkful of rice into her mouth and rolls her eyes at the absurdity of it all. "Whatever. I've got my goddamn brother on the brain now, happy?"
He just smiles, swirls the red cloud of wine in his glass, and slowly takes a sip.
The night Brian Moser becomes a black name on the case board, Deb walks down to dispatch and bums a smoke from the on-duty operator. She's taken half a drag when it's ripped from her lips, snapped in two, and crushed beneath a big black boot.
"Doakes, what the actual fuck."
He puts his hands on his hips and glares, which is pretty much his default position anyway. "I told you about bringing your Vice habits up here, Morgan. The hell are you doing with that shit?"
"Trying to get some fresh air that tastes like cancer?" she says, and glares right back. "What the hell does it matter to you?"
He gives her one last look, then shakes his keys and stalks across the parking lot. She bends to grab the butt-end off the ground, trying to salvage something, but it's broken so close to the filter that there's nothing left to smoke.
She's seriously considering just rolling the other end, filter be damned, when he squeals to a stop in front of her.
"Let's go," he calls, reaching over to open the passenger door. She crosses her arms and plants her feet, and for half a second his face goes to that dark, freaky place that makes her wonder just what Doakes had done in the service. "Get in the car, Morgan."
"Fine." She slides inside and slams the door. "Just so you know, after falling for a serial killer and being horrifically fucking abducted, this feels awesome."
He clenches his jaw but doesn't answer, and they drive in silence for god knows how long. Then they pass a house that looks a little familiar, another, and by the time it clicks, they're already pulling up to park.
"Are you serious right now?" she says, squinting at him, and he punches the button on her seatbelt and puts a finger in her face.
"Don't say I never did shit for you."
His sisters look surprised and his mother smiles too bright, but they shoo her to the table and sit her down. She remembers the last time she was here – inhaling a full-on holiday spread on some random Tuesday, telling them all about Tony Tucci and what a brave little toaster he'd been – and wonders just how stupid they think she is.
Jess passes her the ham and Roni piles potatoes on her plate, and Danielle folds her napkin in her lap and folds her fingers together.
"So I was watching the news the other night," she starts, and Deb flinches before she can catch herself. "Did that woman really shoot that poor security guard 'cause he caught her stealing meat?"
She blinks, blows out a breath she hopes sounds like a laugh. "Fucking frozen kielbasas," she says, and closes her fists so her hands will stop shaking. "Just shoving 'em down the front of her sweats, like he's not gonna notice her walking out with a crotch full of the deli special."
"Now that's a shame." Roni shakes her head and butters another biscuit. "Nobody ever told her there are better ways for a girl to get some sausage in her pants?"
"Come on, now." Doakes drops his fork and glowers into his gravy, and Deb nudges him hard with her knee.
"By the time we get her to processing these things are starting to defrost, right? And they're stuck. So we're peeling off, like, layers of skin. It's too bad she'd shaved that day, little hair might've made a good buffer."
Roni howls, Jess swipes at her eyes, and Deb digs into her dinner and feels normal for the first time in weeks.
At the door, Danielle pushes half a cheesecake into her hands and pulls her into a hug. "You are always welcome in this house," she says. When she steps back, her eyes are almost too kind to take. "He worries about you. Makes me worry about him a little less."
Deb opens her mouth to say something like "thank you," but her throat just shuts down, and the sudden sting of tears makes her groan and look away.
"Oh baby, don't even fight it," Danielle says, putting a hand on her face. "That's why they call it soul food."
The first time Gabriel serves her a protein shake at six p.m., she starts thinking that this whole thing might not work.
He goes on and on and fucking on about his new superblender while she's watching the thing congeal, for Christ's sake – how it retains all the nutrients and can process all the seeds, how it works on a diamond-blade system.
"It could run on rainbows and rhinoceros shit, for all I care," she says, and shoves the glass toward the sink. "I am not drinking my dinner unless it's distilled."
Their third date, Lundy takes her to some Brazilian steakhouse with a name she can't pronounce, and it catches her off guard – he's usually all about endless meals and countless courses, tapas and tagines and tiny pies with pretentious cheeses.
He holds out her chair with a smile, then covertly cops a feel when she's on the way down.
"What happened to the best restaurant in Miami?" She grins. "Two meals and I'm not worth cooking for anymore?"
"You've been suitably impressed," he says. "Thought I'd let someone else do the heavy lifting."
She nods, flipping the little disc by her plate in her fingers. "But why… Brazilian barbecue?"
"You are the biggest carnivore I've ever known, Miss Morgan, and a good churrascaria is the only place where you can eat 'til the cows come home. Which they won't, of course. Because they're dead."
Half an hour in, when she's had the sirloin and the duck and the most amazing lamb chop ever, she bites into a piece of parmesan pork and switches the coaster from green to red.
Lundy leans back in his chair and drums a hand on the table. "I take it you're a fan."
"The meat is on swords and wrapped in more meat. What's not to like?"
He laughs, and she doesn't think she'll ever get tired of just how warm it makes his eyes. "For the next pass, the waiters bring back your favorites. Did you have something in mind?"
"'Everything' is not the right answer here, is it? Shit, I can barely remember which wine goes with what." She shifts in her chair and groans. "Gimme like five minutes and I'll be good to go. I just need to sit back and chew for a second."
"That, there," he says. "That's what makes you a good cop."
She freezes, confused. "What, digestion?"
"Yes. And no. As law enforcement professionals, we're taught to put stock in our instincts, to go with our guts. You've got great instincts, Debra. Your gut is solid. But in cases like this one, like the Butcher, when a good gut is meaningless, a good cop knows that sometimes you have to just… sit back and chew."
He polishes off his last glass of wine – a Riesling, she thinks, for the chicken. "Took me a long time to learn that. It's nice to see you get it so early."
It's kind of everything she's ever wanted to hear – from Matthews, sure, from LaGuerta, absofuckinglutely. Even from Dexter. But mostly from her father, which is never gonna happen, literally can't happen, and hearing it come out of Lundy's mouth makes her heart beat faster and brings up bad connotations all at once.
She drops her head to fiddle with her napkin, hoping her hair will hide the five-alarm fire on her face. "What do I even say to that?"
He reaches out to turn her coaster, balances it on the fine line between stop and go. "Say you're done chewing, and you've figured out the right way to go."
She gives the green light to the bacon-wrapped filet, and he quirks an eyebrow. "Is that your final answer?"
"Please, bacon is the answer to everything," she says, and orders another glass of merlot.
Anton decides to make dinner the night before he leaves for his first cruise, and Deb can't not give him shit about it.
"Awww." She nuzzles her nose into his neck, kisses the steady point of his pulse. "Is this you feeling guilty for abandoning me?"
"Just giving you a good memory to tide you over," he says, and wraps his arms around her waist. "That, and you still can't cook for shit."
He starts to prep – pulling eggs out of the fridge and pans out of the cabinets, mixing flour and god knows what else in a paper bag – and she slumps down to a stool to pout like a goddamn two year old. "This sucks. The fuck am I gonna do without you here?"
"You realize we're talking three days, right? It's not like I'm not goin' off to war." He grabs the cutting board and plops a whole chicken on top. "Pass me the thing."
She glares, but reaches for the cleaver he's left on the counter. "You know what I mean. It'll be all empty and your shit won't be spread all over and we haven't even spent a night apart since I moved in here."
He stops seasoning the chicken and gives her a look, the special "for real?" look he seems to reserve just for her, and she slaps her free hand over her face with a groan. "Oh god, I'm officially the clingy-ass girlfriend." She feels his lips in the crown of her hair, then the puff of his laughter, and shoves hard at his chest. "I take it back, get the fuck out."
"I'm kidding, Jesus," she mumbles, but he runs to the sink and fumbles with the faucet. And that's when she sees the blood.
The cleaver clatters to the floor as she rushes over, fingers fumbling to wrap a towel around his arm, and he hisses as she presses her palm down hard. "Baby, god, oh fuck, I'm so sorry. Did it hit an artery? Do we need to call Dexter? Fuck. I should… I just need to look at it, okay? Can I look at it?"
She peels the towel away, wiping gently at the blood and wincing when he pulls air through his teeth. It's not so much a slice as it is a scrape, shallow and wide, showing a patch of pale pink beneath his brown skin, but the sight of it makes her sick.
"It's not that deep," he says, but his voice is pained. "Blade must've hit me at an angle. It just… mmm, it stings like a bitch." He bounces a little on the balls of his feet, turning his arm to the light. "Do me a favor, though. I know your brother's the blood guy and all, but if I ever do get stabbed in an artery, please call a damn ambulance."
It takes a few minutes to clean it out, close it with butterfly strips and one big bandage. He sits on the stool and she stands at his side, eyes darting back and forth between this new flesh wound and the stripes of skin on his shoulder that are still the wrong color, and by the time she's done, her hands are shaking too hard for him to miss.
He slides a hand behind her neck and slips his lips over hers, his thumb sweeping at the tears on her cheek, and for a minute, it's the only way she can breathe.
"New plan," he says, and stands. "Pizza."
She's starving after, hungry like she hasn't eaten in days, so she calls down to room service for hot wings.
Frank lies in bed and eats three with extra ranch, follows up with a forkful of chili cheese fries – Frank Lundy, who loves salads and sushi and cucumber fucking sandwiches, who wouldn't swallow fast food to save his life – and it makes her laugh like nothing she can remember.
"Who are you right now?"
He rolls to face her, hovering. "I'm a man in love," he says, and closes the distance.
Cheesy as hell, maybe, but it tastes pretty damn good to her.
The cop in Deb doesn't want to be here. Her case is going cold and her side fucking kills, and she doesn't feel like sitting around for dinner, or smiling for the kids, or going around the goddamn room so everyone can spout what they're thankful for.
And she really, really doesn't want to be sitting here with Masuka.
But the kids had been adorable and Masuka had been pathetic, so here she is, stuck between him and Astor on the sofa and hanging on to a lap full of Harrison, with Cody making faces across the coffee table. And the aunt in Deb, the sister, the friend, is a little glad that she came.
Rita opens the oven to check on the turkey, and Masuka leans to Deb's shoulder and looks at the baking bird like he's hot for poultry.
"I know you said I was your wingman, but I've decided to be a breast man tonight," he says. "I just need to make sure I leave room for dessert. I didn't get enough pre-eating in, and my stomach's still about the size of a baboon's ballsack. Those look like solid double-Ds to you, right?"
Yeah, just a little glad.
She meets Angel at a downtown taco truck an hour before her union meeting. Her steak torta needs a lot of work.
"Not quite Miami's Finest, is it?"
"Fucking nasty." She turns up her lip and tosses it half-eaten. "So tell me the truth. How bad is it?"
"It's just like I told you," he says. "Give them the play-by-play exactly as it went down. Where you were, who shot first, what calls you made, the whole thing. I'm turning in my report later today, but it'll say the same." He puts a hand on her arm, squeezes, and it's almost as good as a hug. "I mean it, Deb, I've got your back here. You can count on me."
His eyes are a big contradiction, hard and soft all at once. The hard's what will make him LT one day, what makes him one hell of a cop, but the soft is what makes him one of the best people she knows. Today the softness is for her, as warm and welcoming as it's always been – after Rudy, after Lundy, after Lila and Doakes and Rita and every single craptastic clusterfuck they've been through.
"Yeah, I know." She sniffs, squinting into the midday sun. "I actually meant… how bad is it at home?"
He shrugs and takes a big bite of his burrito. "I'll live," he mutters, chewing. "We have a very comfortable couch."
The blood report clears Quinn, and Deb finds herself at his door.
He's got takeout Chinese spread all over his counter, chow mein and egg foo young and fried wantons from the place on Fourth. He stands awkwardly in the kitchen, and she hovers awkwardly by the door, and it's awkward all around.
"Little surprised to see you here," he says.
She shoves her hair behind her ear and her hands into her pockets. "I told you I'd be here, didn't I? No matter what."
"Yeah, but that might've been holding cell talking. Some shit's easy to say when you think a guy's going to jail, you know?"
"Well I meant it. So."
"So you're hanging around?" He motions to the moo shu pork. "'Cause there's plenty, I can share."
There's hope in his eyes that she's never seen, sure as hell not in the last few days, and she nods and takes a step toward him. "Yeah, I could eat."
He passes her the pork and a pair of chopsticks, and it's good. Not all that warm anymore, but close enough.
Even after everything, she's still not sure what it is about Quinn. If there's really something special here, or if they're just too fucked up alone, between her dead exes and his, not to be fucked up together. Her thoughts turn to Number Thirteen, and the man who loved her enough to kill. Fucked up, yes, but in a way that Deb's never known. Might not ever know. Probably won't, not with Quinn.
She cracks her fortune cookie open and slides the slip of paper from the inside. Bread today is better than cake tomorrow.
Across the island, Quinn smiles.
It's close enough.
Two nights and three therapy sessions after the Nebraska steak fiasco, Deb shows up at Dexter's with another bag full of food.
He swings the door open, holding on to Harrison, and she ducks under his arm and into the apartment and sets all the shit down by the sink.
"And hello to you."
"Here's the deal," she says, crossing her arms in front of her. "You don't have to tell me, okay? You don't have to explain it to me. You don't have to let me in on whatever was so important that you had to drive across the country to share it with the kid whose fucked-up father killed your wife. Hell, if it makes you happy, you don't even have to talk to me."
She has to stop, because her throat is closing and the tears are coming and she's probably traumatizing her nephew for life. Because, fuck, nobody can do this to her like Dexter.
"What you do have to do? Is sit here and have a meal with me like a normal fucking person. Like we used to, you know? Like you should want to. You're just… you're not here anymore, Dex. You're like this ghost who sort of looks like my brother but doesn't care that I'm here, doesn't even remember that I exist. The harder I try to hold on to you, the faster you fade away. Which sucks, because you're pretty much all I have to hold on to."
Now she's crying, and Harrison's crying, but Dexter looks so shell-shocked that it pisses her off all over again. She swipes at her eyes and steps forward to take the baby, bouncing him on her hip until he's calmed down and she's gotten her shit together.
"Deb – "
She holds up a hand. "If you're about to say that you're sorry, or tell me all about how you can't tell me, seriously, save it. I really don't care about you spilling your guts right now, Dexter. I just want my brother back."
He doesn't seem to know what to say to that, just stares at her in that blank way that drives her crazy, and for a second she's terrified that he just doesn't give a damn.
Then he wraps his arms around her, the first hug he's started in forever. "Okay, I think I can do that," he says into her hair, and it may be the best sound she's ever heard. Harrison is wedged between them, and she presses a palm to the back of his babysoft head and clings to her brother with the other.
When he clears his throat, she knows the moment's over. Dexter and prolonged contact never did get along.
"So what're we having? Steak night, take two?" He digs through the bag and comes out with a box, looking more confused than ever, and she rolls her eyes.
"It's Thursday, moron," she says, and smiles down at Harrison. "Morgans have pancakes on Thursday."
Dexter's smile is small, but it's there.
"I can do that, too."