“You don't ever have to apologize to me, Dexter. Not for who you are, or anything you do.” – Brian Moser, “Born Free”
“Heya, Dexter,” Brian says, and then raises a hand and waves at me one finger at a time, one-two-three-four-five. A ridiculous gesture. “How are you holding up?” He props his feet up on a stool and tips his head back so I can see the thin white line of an improbable scar. Huh.
You’re dead would be cliché. “You’re dead,” I say anyway. Brian grins at me, a little too wide.
“That’s the thing about us,” Brian says. “We don’t behave like good little boys.” He’s playing with my box of slides. I don’t know where he got it. “Look, Dexter, I know it’s not personal.”
I don’t say anything. I glance down and Deb’s on the floor, eyes wide and glazed over with fear and the knowledge of her own death. Brian clicks through my slides, closes the box, and stands up, fluid and natural like he was never dead.
“I forgive you,” he says.
“I don’t need your forgiveness.”
“As long as you believe that,” Brian says, almost coy. He glances down at Deb. “She wasn’t so bad,” he says. “We were going to get married. I think it would have been a lovely wedding.”
“Please, Dex,” Deb says. “Please.”
“Ah well,” Brian sighs. “All good things must come to an end.” He reaches out and taps my face shield down. “Are you ready?”
I wake up because someone is walking around in my apartment, and it takes me a couple seconds to recognize that it’s Debra. I check the clock. 2 AM, or just before. I roll out of bed and walk out to see her drinking a beer with the fridge hanging open. She jumps when her peripheral vision catches me.
“Fuck – Dex, say something before you sneak up on me, all right?”
“You okay?” I ask, more by rote than anything. I know the answer. I can see it just by looking at her. I wouldn’t be a very good predator if I didn’t recognize fear. Debra scoffs.
“Yeah, of course I’m okay. Just couldn’t sleep.”
There’s silence for a moment, and then Deb slams the door closed. “I’m not going to let that fucker ruin my life,” she hisses. “I’m not. He’s dead, the sick fuck, and I’m…”
I don’t say anything. I don’t need to. Deb’s voice drops and she shifts a little. She’s wearing ankle socks; that I notice this detail strikes me as absurd. “I should’ve known, right? Fuck, I should’ve known. The instant he started…”
“It’s not your fault, Deb,” I say, because it really isn’t.
She scoffs. “Yeah,” she says. “Yeah. Thanks, Dex. I think I’ll try to go back to sleep now.”
She won’t fall asleep. She’s too wired, too tense. I just nod. “Okay.” Deb doesn’t go. After a couple seconds she turns back.
“Can you stay up with me and watch cheesy horror movies on TV?” This isn’t Deb, I have to think, even though I know she’s been there this whole time. This is what he did to her.
I nod again. “Okay.”
She falls asleep on my shoulder halfway through the first movie, to the tune of monsters growling like lawn mowers. I should feel honored. Mostly I just feel uncomfortable.
Brian is painting on my coffee table. I’m pretty sure he’s using his own blood. It takes him a second to notice me, and then he looks up and blinks. “Oh, Dexter. Come around again?”
“Why are you here?”
“Because you want me to be.” Brian goes back to painting. It looks like he’s drawing Deb. “You know , this isn’t really a good time.”
“You aren’t real,” I say, and Brian snickers.
“You say that like it matters.” He looks up, examines his fingers, and wipes them off on his pants. “You know what I think?”
“I don’t want to know what you think.”
“I’m sorry,” Brian goes on, without waiting for me. “I’m sorry that you chose this over me.” He gestures at Deb, painted in blood, on the table. “She’ll never love all of you, Dex. Not like me. I love everything you are, and she? Can only love parts of the whole.” He prowls a little closer and touches my face. His fingertips are still a little wet.
“I love you, Dexter. And I’ll love you forever. Death doesn’t mean much to people like us, huh?”
“Biney-” I say the name without thinking about it. I remember the way he held my hand, chin to knees, pants soaking up blood.
“Harry took you away from me, little brother,” he whispers. “I was just going to bring you back. I’m sorry it took me so long to find you. But now I have.”
Deb goes back to work the first day they let her. She hasn’t been sleeping and looks like crap but I think she needs the work. I get that. I haven’t stopped. (Haven’t killed, either.)
She almost stabs a guy in the stomach with a fork when he comes up behind her while she’s making coffee, though, so maybe she’s not all that okay. I get that too. I wonder, a little, what she dreams about. Wedding rings and white cake and a groom with a knife instead of a wedding ring.
I notice the way she’s watching strangers, almost obsessively. I work it out after a little while. She didn’t see through Rudy. Now she’s trying to guess; is that one a killer? Is that one? This one? (She never looks at me.)
The fallout is still all over the papers. People keep trying to interview Debra. Deb gets pissed off but she’s a little scared too, but it’s Angel, not me, who tells them to leave her alone and get lost.
Debra keeps telling me I’m such a good brother – staying up with her, letting her sleep on my couch. I keep thinking about what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t chosen family over blood. I wonder how it would end. What he would have been like. I really don’t know anything about him.
My blood brother. My brother in blood.
Deb keeps her head high and soldiers on. I keep my head down and do the same. Everyone else buzzes like insects.
I keep dreaming.
“Dexter. Are you ready?”
I blink. The kill room is small but big enough. The plastic flutters slightly in a minor breeze, so there’s something bigger outside, but that no longer exists. There’s a table, and a knife, and Brian with his hand on my shoulder and smiling at me, eyes bright.
There’s a girl on the table, making small, muffled, unhappy noises. She’s probably around thirty-five, pretty but non-descript. “What did she do?” I ask. Brian leans in and rests his forehead against mine.
“Nothing,” he says, nearly gleeful. “We do this because we can.” I have memories, suddenly, of a hundred rooms just like this, a hundred people, sometimes killers, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. Whoever we like, whoever catches our eye. We are the hunters.
“I forgot,” I say, and pause. Brian gives me a little nudge.
“This one’s all yours, Dex,” He says, all affection. “I’ll just watch.”
I know this is right, this is good, this is what’s supposed to happen. And I’m not thinking about anything – about Harry or Deb or the Code or anything at all. My head is so, so clear.
It’s Deb on the table, I realize, and she says “Please, Dex,” just before I open her throat.
“There he is,” Brian says. “There’s my brother.”
“I don’t want Deb dead,” I say, looking down at her corpse with more dispassion than is strictly realistic. Brian tilts his head to the side.
“What about me, then?” He says, and tilts his head back. The stitches holding his throat closed are dark black and obvious, messy. “You couldn’t let me live, but you didn’t want me gone either. You can’t have both, Dexter. You can’t be a killer and a hero.”
“I’m not a hero,” I object. Brian shakes his head at me and smiles a bit.
“I’m just looking out for your happiness, little brother,” he says. “Someone’s got to.”
“You know what’s funny,” Deb says, a little slurred. “I thought he was…I thought he was too sweet. For me.”
“Huh,” I say. She’s been working out all day and hasn’t taken a shower yet. She smells a little ripe, but I don’t think mentioning it would be a good idea right now. Deb snickers like she’s trying to convince herself it really is funny.
“You know,” she goes on. “A real nice guy. The kind I never seem to end up with.”
If anyone should have known, I don’t say, I should have. We were kin. We were more than that. “Never say never,” I say, hoping it sounds less cliché than it…sounds. “Don’t beat yourself up over it.”
(I haven’t killed in fifteen days. There’s something wrong with me.)
“Ha,” Deb says, and doesn’t expand on that cryptic little interjection. “Least I’ve got you,” she says, after a couple seconds. “My hero.” She grins at me like she’s kidding. She is. Mostly. Or maybe she does feel safe around me, which is a weird thought, given …things.
“And I’m not going anywhere,” I assure her, with the most natural smile I can summon. She snorts.
“Wasn’t worried,” she says. “Not about you, anyway.” She glances away, and then says, “It’s stupid. The other day I was like – ‘I wonder if he really liked me.’ How stupid is that? He wasn’t even…” She shakes her head. “God, I’m a stupid fuck. I’m going to go for a run.”
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“On the treadmill, jackass,” she says, and pushes to her feet to flee in a hurry. Deb isn’t much better at the emotional stuff than I am, not really. I might even be better at pretending.
Brian is going through my blood slides again. “This is really very nice,” he says. “Well organized. Aesthetically pleasing.”
“Thanks,” I say. Brian pulls one out, examines it, and puts it back carefully.
“Did I get one?” He asks, sounding legitimately curious.
“Why not?” He looks like he’s sulking now, and this is just ridiculous. I stare at him, and he does that funny thing again where he tips his head to the side and I’m not sure if he did that in real life, maybe, maybe not. “Was I not special enough?”
“No,” I say, almost plaintively. “Those are – those are the ones for the Code. You were different.”
“Why’d you kill me, then? If it wasn’t about your precious Code.” His green eyes gleam at me, and he props his feet up on my coffee table. There’s no blood on it this time. Debra’s sleeping on the couch, and he glances at her when I do. “Is that why?”
“I didn’t want you to kill her. Deb matters. And I was – setting you free.”
“I was already free.” Brian looks like he pities me. “I’ve always been free. Just because you built your own cage doesn’t mean it’s not there, Dexter.”
“I wish you’d leave me alone,” I say.
“Do you?” Brian asks. “Do you really?”
I think Deb is going a little crazy. She’s not talking to me, though. And I think if someone suggested therapy to her she’d probably punch them in the face. I don’t really know what to do with her. This is what they call being too close to a case.
I haven’t killed in thirty-eight days. I’ve been counting. Thirty-eight days.
That’s how long it’s been since my brother died.
I’ve been dreaming every single night.
“Come on, Dex,” Brian says, and spreads out his arms, grinning. “How do I look?” He’s wearing a three piece suit with a lab coat. And a scarf. I’m wearing my kill shirt and a face shield.
“You look good,” I say. Brian smiles and reaches out, ruffles my hair. It feels kind of nice.
“Thanks, little brother. I’m so glad you could be here today.”
“What’s today?” I ask.
“My wedding,” he says, and the door opens. We’re standing in one of my kill rooms, but there’s a priest between us. It’s Deb walking down the aisle, wearing her uniform. Her fingernails are painted like the prostitute’s fake hand. She’s grinning like I’ve never seen before.
“One big happy family,” Brian says to me, and I realize the floor is coated in a thin layer of blood. “Symmetry,” Brian explains casually. “I wanted everything to be perfect for our special day.”
“Are you going to kill her?” I ask.
“No,” he says, and then thinks about it. “Probably not. We’ll be just like any other couple. Go on double dates with you and Rita. Take turns hosting Thanksgiving. Whatever.” Brian smiles. “Is that what you want? Is that really what you want?”
Apparently the ceremony’s been going on without us, because the priest says, “You may kiss the bride.” Brian pulls a knife out of his lap coat and sticks it through the clergyman’s throat before kissing Debra, who doesn’t seem particularly bothered.
“I don’t like priests,” Brian says, once he surfaces, holding Deb loosely around the waist. She’s looking at me without any of the wariness she has in real life.
“I killed one once,” I say. Brian nods, a little.
“Yes,” he says, “I know.”
He’s looking at me. Smiling, just a little.
“Miss me, little brother?”
He never left.