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Dearly Departed

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The man’s gaze shifts towards the trunk of Dexter’s car. “I realize you have some loose ends to take care of. Perhaps you’d like to meet me for coffee before work this morning. I get the feeling you’re going to need it, hm?” Taking Dexter’s silence for acceptance – the acceptance it is, really – the man continues. “Seven-thirty at the café off of LeJeune. I’ll be waiting.”

Dexter watches the man turn the corner of the warehouse and disappear.

The Dark Passenger is quiet.

Dexter gets into his car and heads towards the marina. The Miami heat is unforgiving, and he needs to dispose of the body soon. He’s done this so many times that he can switch to autopilot. It will give him a little time to think, and he needs it.

The man knows who Dexter is. He knows Dexter kills people. He didn’t care. And he’s just too much like Brian for Dexter right now. The wound is still fresh, so to speak.

There once was a time when Dexter thought meeting someone who was like him would solve his problems. Make him feel less alone. After Brian, he believes in being careful what you wish for. Even if the man is like him, even if he doesn’t want –

Dexter eases his foot off the gas pedal. The man knows. He knows, so Dexter has nothing to lose by meeting him. Nothing that the man couldn’t all ready take from him.

~

The coffee shop on LeJeune is called Palomina. It’s a small Cuban place Dexter goes to once in a while for a cup of coffee and flan con coco. It’s not quite a pulled pork sandwich, and while Dexter may hate the Cuban dialect with all the passion he can muster, their coffee is second to none.

The man is tucked away in a booth in the back corner. He’s wearing a crisp linen shirt and dark pants – he must have changed while Dexter was getting rid of the body – but he still manages to look utterly at ease, even in this neighborhood. The café itself is darkly lit, but homey, filled with the smells of cooking and smoke and people. Painted with peacock blues and bright reds, wood everywhere. Pretty and polished, but you’d only have to dig a little to find the seedy underbelly. Dexter has already finished with that portion of the evening.

Dexter slides into the booth. He doesn’t bother with Friendly Dexter Smile #3 – polite, warm, but a little distant – because although it’s very professional, it’s very pointless.

The man smiles anyway, as though he had.

“You’ve been following me,” Dexter says. He’s blunt, and flat, and the Dark Passenger, though still quiet, is very close to the surface.

“My apologies. It was quite rude, I know. But certainly you can understand why I would be so fascinated.”

“Yeah, well, I imagine you don’t run across people like me very often.”

Another one of those enigmatic smiles. “I imagine people like you are quite rare indeed.” The man removes his hands from around the coffee cup and offers it delicately forward. “Forgive me, I’m being quite rude again. I haven’t introduced myself.”

Dexter has all ready reached out to shake hands, which is just another one of those things he doesn’t get – greeting someone by holding their hand? It’s right up there with air-kissing, as far as Dexter’s concerned – when the man finally introduces himself.

“My name is Dr. Hannibal Lecter.”

The name sparks one of the only moments of pure and unfaked shock in Dexter’s entire life. A strange feeling comes over him from the tip of his spine to the bottom of his feet.

Hannibal Lecter. One of the most famous serial killers of the last century and one of very few modern, civilized cannibals. Dexter himself had followed the forensic details of the case with a fervor that, luckily, hadn’t been seen as any more fervent than everyone else’s. The average American’s obsession with blood and gore was fairly ghastly, Dexter liked to think.

Still. To be sitting across the table from him was something else entirely.

Lecter doesn’t look the same. He’s been on the lam for seven years, give or take, but he doesn’t look older, or faded. Not harried. Just different.

“Facial surgery,” Dexter says, once he has found his voice. “Very subtle. Cheekbones. Maybe the eyes. Earlobes?”

Lecter inclines his head.

“Your eyes are the same,” Dexter says faintly. He belatedly realizes his hand is still in Lecter’s and pulls it away.

Hannibal is still smiling.

Dexter curls his hands around the cup sitting on his side of the table and takes a sip. It’s a cortadito made with a little more espresso than milk, just the way he likes it. “What do you want with me?”

“Simply to help.”

“I don’t need your help.” Dexter’s reply is whip-lash quick, but his voice is even.

“Don’t you? You’re very good, Dexter. Unique. As a killer, you’re beyond brilliant. But that mask you wear around?” Lecter makes a clicking noise with his tongue. “A little thin in places. “

Dexter watches as Hannibal brings his own cortadito to his nose, nostrils flaring.

“I know what you are, Dexter. I know that you’re not a vigilante. You’re not someone driven to kill. Not someone who was pushed to it. Not someone who sees all that’s wrong with the world and wants to tidy it up a bit. You’re a killer naturally, to the marrow of your bones. We both know there’s a difference.” Lecter takes another delicate sip of his coffee. “And because there is a difference, there must be someone who suspects. Someone you can’t flash a charming smile at and bribe into liking you with small talk and doughnuts. Even darling Deborah knows there’s a little something wrong with you, hmm?”

Dexter takes the first scalding sip of his drink and Lecter grins. Is that what the Dark Passenger looks like when he smiles – really smiles? No wonder it scares people.

“I thought so.”

“I…” Dexter stops. Thinks. Thinks about what Lecter might want. What Lecter could do.

Lecter is a serial killer. A cold-blooded, intelligent serial killer – like Dexter. More flashy, maybe more like Brian in that respect, but definitely a genius. He’d escaped FBI custody at least twice, and he’d been killing since his teens. And he was, what, sixty now? Seventy? A fifty-year run wasn’t a bad way to do things. Harry taught Dexter for the first twenty years of his life. Taught him to keep things simple, to keep himself safe, and to be absolutely sure. What could Lecter teach him?

The Dark Passenger rumbles approvingly and Dexter shivers for another reason entirely.

He thinks about what happened to Lecter’s other protégés, Will Graham and Clarice Starling. How Graham spent his life hunting serial killers and being hunted by them, checking in and out of mental hospitals on the way. How Clarice skyrocketed from FBI wannabe to the Bureau’s It-Girl of the Nineties for her work with Lecter on the Buffalo Bill Case, and how she fell just as fast and just as hard over her entanglement with him during his escape.

There is nothing the Dark Passenger can say to that.

Lecter chuckles softly. “There is no need to feel the least bit panicked, I assure you. I won’t be offended if you say no. It was a pleasure just to meet you. From a purely psychological standpoint.”

Lecter sits almost unnaturally still, with his head tilted slightly to the left. Dexter feels like a bug under a microscope – like a very large, unusual bug. He doesn’t mind feeling less than human, but Lecter’s intensity is something that has seen before only in Doakes and Harry, and he doesn’t have the time to analyze that either.

“It doesn’t have to be a decision you make right now,” Lecter continues. “How does Thursday sound? Right here, same time, I should think.”

Dexter is silent while Hannibal settles the bill, walks easily out of the café and disappears among the morning throng.

Huh. That was different.

And he doesn’t have anything to do on Thursday.

| |

When Dexter shows up on Thursday morning, Hannibal is anything but surprised. He wouldn’t presume to know all of Dexter’s actions and reactions – at least not quite so early in their acquaintance – but it is a nearly universal truth that every rising young man wants a mentor, no matter how competent or confident of himself he may be. Something starts to push its way out of his Memory Palace’s many oubliettes, smelling faintly of perfume and rot, and he has a sudden sharp and visceral memory of Lady Murasaki. He allows himself the luxury of her face for a moment before pushing it away. She may have been his mentor, but she was an unknowing one. Ultimately an unwilling one. He will not be so for Dexter.

Hannibal and Dexter quickly hammer out a pattern of morning coffees and lunches at Miami’s open-air cafes. Dexter likes to leave his afternoons for Rita and the kids, and his nights free to work, something Hannibal finds entirely acceptable.

Hannibal’s first few conversations with Dexter are disappointingly stilted. Boring. Full of small talk Hannibal could get from anyone, and background that he already knows. Nothing at all interesting. Nothing that makes up Dexter Morgan. Dexter is still holding back, for whatever reason. He is remarkably inscrutable – which, granted, is part of what Hannibal finds so compelling about him – but no one has ever held out this long against Hannibal’s charm. It’s puzzling. After all, what could inspire a killer to greater confidence than the knowing presence of another?

| |

Dexter finds that he enjoys his talks with Hannibal as much as he enjoys anything – anything short of killing, that is. Hannibal keeps him on edge in ways that are both irritating and enjoyable. Hannibal’s questions – when he is in the right mood, when he speaks with the right inflection – are like blades sharp enough to cut straight to bone. Dexter will feel it if Hannibal wants him to, and the worst part is he never knows until he feels the sting, until he’s already bleeding and shocked. Sometimes Dexter and Hannibal hold whole conversations without a single pointed question; other times Dexter lives in fear of Hannibal’s every syllable.

There are still things he doesn’t understand about the erstwhile doctor – like how Hannibal could have been so careless as to get caught, for instance. He seems too smart for that. Is too smart. Then again, they say most serial killers want to get caught, that they want the spotlight, and the fear, and the notoriety. Does Hannibal? Dexter can’t even begin to guess. He’s spent most of his life trying to figure people out, and doing a pretty good job of it, he likes to think, but Hannibal isn’t like most people anymore than he’s like Dexter. He’s something new, something inexplicable. Even dangerous for it.

Maybe that’s why Dexter enjoys their talks – the way Hannibal makes him see things differently. Not just showing him the way he sees them, or the way other people see them, but the way Dexter could see things, if maybe he would only let himself. Hannibal is interested in nuances and details, in shadows, in origins and endings – so very different from Harry, who had such clear-cut ideas of justice and retribution, a simple set of rules, a perfect black-and-white schema for Dexter to follow– Dexter, who is so very, very grey.

| |

“Who are you, Dexter Morgan?” Hannibal asks one day, apropos of nothing. He leans forward onto the countertop, elbows resting just on the edge. Dexter is surprised to find it’s not a cutting question. Just quietly, oddly curious

“Who am I?” Dexter echoes softly. “I’ve never really understood what people want to hear when they ask that question.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s either too simple or two complicated. Who am I? I’m Dexter Morgan. I’m…” Dexter trailed off. “Maybe I just feel like ‘what am I?’ is more appropriate.”

Hannibal’s eyes gleam a deep red in the light.

“What are you then?”

“A murderer,” Dexter says easily. “A serial killer. A psychopath.”

“Really.” Hannibal turns suddenly to the stove behind him. “Psychopath is such a general, umbrella term, don’t you think? Overplayed in horror movies and headlines. Sociopath would perhaps be more accurate, yet you certainly don’t fit the normal criteria of a sociopath.”

Dexter’s blink is long and slow.

“According to the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders there are seven criteria correlated to being a sociopath, of which you must meet at least three. First, a failure to conform to social norms and lawful behaviors. Second, deceitfulness, as in pathological lying or the use of aliases. Third and fourth, impulsivity and aggressiveness, respectively. Fifth, a reckless disregard for self or others, sixth is consistent irresponsibility, and seventh is a lack of remorse.

“You obviously have no problems with socials norms, or impulsivity, or aggressiveness. You’re not reckless or irresponsible. You’re deceitful, oh yes. You have to be, don’t you? And I have come to believe you are not very remorseful either. But that doesn’t make you a sociopath, I’m afraid.”

Hannibal sets a plate of brilliantly colored paella in front of Dexter with a small flourish. “We’re very alike in that respect, you and I. Defying all sorts of definitions.”

Dexter stares at the dish in front of him. The shrimp heads almost look like they’re staring back. He thinks this would probably disturb other people.

“Red wine, do you think?” Hannibal asks suddenly. “Something rich and rustic, a little earthy.” His fingers run delicately over the corks in the wine rack, coming to rest on a slight amber bottle. “How do you feel about something Portuguese? From the Dão region?”

“Favorably,” Dexter says after a moment’s pause. “Definitely favorably.”

Hannibal pours the wine.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course. That’s rather what I’m here for.”

“Do you. Would you.” Dexter pauses. “I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I don’t hold your interest.”

That’s not exactly a question, but Hannibal can let it pass. “Do you think you mean so little to me as that? Nothing more than a means of entertainment? Of study? A little pet rat scrabbling around for cheese at the end of a maze?” Hannibal sends Dexter a wicked smile. “You’re partly right, of course. But you’re far more than entertaining, and entirely too rare a creature to kill. There are only a few, very remote situations in which you would need to worry about that.”

Hannibal thinks he treats Dexter the same way he treated Will – never meaning harm, never intending harm, but if it came down to survival, there was really no telling what could happen. Of course, Dexter would never turn Hannibal into the authorities, oh no. That would be more than slightly counterproductive to his plans of staying under the radar. No, Dexter preferred to work inside his own rules, and outside the law.

Which isn’t to say Hannibal doesn’t appreciate Dexter’s code. He does. He appreciates even more that, so far as Hannibal has been able to unearth, Dexter actually lives by it. Hannibal admires such restraint. He further appreciates the irony that under Dexter’s code, Hannibal himself would be fair game.

Not that the darling boy would ever get close enough.

| |

Dexter is late today. Breathless, uneasy. Fresh out of lies to feed Rita on why he can’t stop over for lunch.

Hannibal finds this more than amusing.

“I’ve seen you with your girlfriend,” Hannibal says mildly, stretching out the last word out like a teenager would. “You don’t seem very interested. Am I wrong?”

“Sex isn’t – ” Dexter stops. Hannibal thinks that if his face wasn’t already reddened from the Miami heat, he might have blushed.

Hannibal delicately raises an eyebrow.

Dexter meets his gaze. “It just isn’t.”

“I see. Nothing at all?”

Dexter’s turn to shrug. “I’ve been known to enjoy the sensation.”

“Uhn. It’s not a question of gender? Race? Age?”

“No. No, I… I don’t really find anyone attractive. Specifically. I know enough to generalize…” Dexter flounders for words, spreads his hands in an expressive gesture.

“You understand the aesthetics of human appearance but you don’t find any one person singularly attractive to you, is that correct?”

“Yeah.” Dexter flashes a self-depreciating grin that might, in fact, be genuine. “That about sums it up.”

“I see.”

Hannibal has been toying with the idea of Dexter suffering from some unique case of Asperger’s or schizoid personality disorder. Perhaps both. It might never be possible to tell. Even Hannibal is uncertain which facets of Dexter’s personality are actually his and which have been shaped – blunted – by Harry’s training.

Like many who suffer from Asperger’s, Dexter has repetitive behaviors and narrow interests – no matter how fascinating Hannibal finds those interests might be – as well as socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviors. Dexter certainly has no concept of genuine human interaction; only what he has learned from watching those around him. Yet Dexter will often make puns and look people straight in the eye; he is always well-dressed, clean, and polite, all things those with Asperger’s often cannot do or understand the need for.

And on the other hand, Dexter’s limited emotional range is far more characteristic of schizoid personality disorder. Yet he maintains far more friendly relationships than are needed to remain unsuspicious. He expresses no paralyzing need for space or solitude; he merely prefers it. And while Dexter says he has no fantasies or specific desires, he has also claimed to enjoy the sensation of sex.

Puzzling.

Hannibal has given him a number of tests, of course. Dexter comes off as completely normal or hopelessly erratic, and either way it’s a waste of time. Dexter is something new. Something unique. Hannibal finds that much more gratifying than the fleeting satisfaction of an exact diagnosis.

| |

One morning soon after, while watching the news, Dexter is treated to a new, far more accurate picture of Lecter, accompanied by a tiny sound bite from Clarice Starling. The good doctor really shouldn’t be in Miami. When he says as much, Hannibal merely shrugs and flies down to Brazil for surgery. He’s been putting it off anyway. Dexter calls him from payphones on abandoned street corners in the middle of the night. They chat about Deborah, Rita, Doakes. Hannibal is utterly fascinated by Doakes, Dexter knows, but they both realize there’s no way Hannibal could ever engage Doakes face to face without it ending in homicide, one way or another.

“So what was it this time?” Dexter asks.

“The cheekbones again. A little more blunted this time. Not so recognizable. I look a bit like a brawler, I’m afraid.”

“Can’t be a true brawler without a broken nose.” Once Dexter became aware of Hannibal’s sense of smell, it became a small joke between them.

“Mm. Just the cheekbones. A little changed from my newer face, and quite a bit different from my natural one. How are things with Rita?”

They’ve talked about her before. Relationships in general; all the little things that Dexter should pick up on and rarely does.

“Good,” Dexter says. “Better. You were right about the touching. I think I’ve been getting it right more often.”

Hannibal had watched Dexter and Rita out shopping, eating dinner at their favorite restaurant. He has noticed that Dexter tends to show possessive gestures when he should be giving comforting ones, and vice versa. Surprisingly, Dexter makes few or no missteps with the children. Hannibal has watched Dexter take Cody and Astor to the park, to get ice cream, walking their new puppy. Perhaps because there is no artifice in children, no posturing, and there are neither of those things in Dexter. At least not naturally. Dexter is very much like a child himself in that respect.

“Back on Sunday, right?” Dexter asks abruptly.

“Sunday,” Hannibal agrees. “Good as new, if not better. Brunch?”

| |

Sometimes Dexter asks questions about Hannibal’s victims. His conquests. He asks if Hannibal had a favorite, and in a sense, Hannibal does.

“There was a certain patient of mine who used to molest young children,” Hannibal starts. “Underprivileged children, mostly, since his family had plenty of money to pay them off. I… may have taken advantage when he tried to seduce me.” Hannibal delicately pulls the skin off of a roasted red pepper, thinking that cherry color would contrast nicely with the green of the spinach. “I had him cut off his own face.”

“Mason Verger. I remember reading about it.”

Hannibal shrugs. “I thought it would kill him.”

“Risky.” Dexter’s tone is faintly pleased as he pictures the grotesque scene in his head, but faintly disapproving at the same time – Harry’s code, of course.

“Yes, well. My flamboyancy and theatrics were, in themselves, a kind of deception. No one really expected it from such a mild-mannered, well-heeled gentleman. Not until Will Graham caught me in the act, so to speak.”

Hannibal picks up his glass of wine, debates another. “Although that isn’t why I did the things I did. No. No, I did what I did for the same reason you do what you do. There’s something in me, Dexter,” Hannibal continues. Dexter’s expression if slack, rapt. “Something that recognizes what killing is and what it does to me, in a way that most other people can’t or won’t do. I imagine it’s the same for you.”

“Yes,” Dexter whispers, the sound falling unbidden from his lips. “Yes, I… I was fifteen. It would have been earlier, I think, but Harry stopped me. Harry, or just… thinking about how it would have affected him. Affected my life with him. With my family. I came close a few times.”

“Of course you did. You need to kill, Dexter. You need to kill people.” Hannibal shifts in his chair. “What about the first time? Who was it?” The first is important. The first is special. Beginnings, beginnings.

“She was a nurse in the ward where Harry was assigned after his heart attack. She was poisoning patients with too much morphine. I looked into her eyes and I knew. Harry knew too. That’s why he let me do it. I was fifteen. Old enough.” Dexter pauses for a moment. “It wasn’t perfect. Nearly a disaster, really, for a minute or two. Came out all right in the end though.”

“And before that,” Hannibal asks. “Did you kill animals?”

“Yes. Yes, I.” Dexter pauses. “I liked to, I…

Hannibal waves a hand, brushing the suggestion aside. “Stop reaching for their conclusions, Dexter. Their solutions. I’ve never felt the need to harm an animal in my life. You don’t hunt animals now, do you? I would never have been satisfied with animals. Were you? Did you ever want to hurt an animal? Did that satisfy the darkness, the violence, the thing inside of you?”

“No. Not really. I…” Dexter is silent for a long time. “I call it – I call him the Dark Passenger.”

“The Dark Passenger.” Hannibal lets it roll over his tongue as he would a good Amarone or Egri Bikavér. Finally. A real taste of Dexter. “Exquisite. Yes. I understand. And animals?”

Dexter shrugged. “They’ve never liked me.”

“Yes,” Hannibal said quietly. “Yes, they do tend to recognize predators when they see them.” Hannibal himself has a rather magnetic effect on animals. They know when they are outclassed. Dexter is dangerous, and powerful, but he isn’t alpha in the strictest sense of the word. Animals sense that, perhaps. “Did you ever truly want to kill an animal?

“I killed my neighbor’s dog once. It was a yappy little thing. It kept barking the whole night when my mother was trying to sleep. She was sick then, and she needed her sleep.” Something like realization passes over Dexter’s face. Embarrassment, even. “Yes. I wanted to kill that dog.”

“Understandable,” Hannibal says soothingly. No use getting Dexter upset now. Not when it was getting so interesting, though Hannibal would have been so disappointed if Dexter had liked killing animals as a child. If there had been a sense of escalation instead of refinement and control. Hannibal despises the MacDonald triad. So unimaginative. “I did far worse than kill a dog for my mother.”

Dexter quirks an eyebrow, his face already smoothed to its customary blankness.

“A story for later, perhaps.” Those are memories Hannibal has not called from his Palace for quite some time. “Back to the animals, Dexter. Other than the dog.”

“Harry took me on trips – hunting trips – once he knew. Small game, mostly. Just enough to keep things under control. Not enough to make people suspicious. They were only animals, but… there’s still a limit.” The corners of Dexter’s mouth are curved into a wispy smile that Hannibal is certain he has never seen on Dexter’s face before. He appeared to be lost in some kind of memory, to some phantasm of the past. “Deb used to get so mad about those trips. Always wanting to come along.”

Hannibal has often wondered about Dexter’s actual feelings for his foster-sister. He did choose her over his murderous biological brother, over the type of bond he and Hannibal share now. It’s love, certainly, but in what capacity? If Dexter doesn’t enjoy or understand the motivation of sex, what, for him, is the highest form of love? What would he risk the most for, and does he feeling it for Darling Deborah?

“Killing animals kept the Dark Passenger sated when I was younger,” Dexter says bluntly. “I could pretend the blood was anything. Anyone’s. It was interesting, seeing how their bodies were put together. How they were supposed to work.”

Hannibal thinks of his days at medical school, at Johns Hopkins. Of his first, fumbling attempts, and the rush it gave him.

“It wasn’t about them,” Dexter continues. “It was the blood. It all looks the same on the surface. Or so I thought at first.”

“Before you became the connoisseur you are now.”

Dexter flashes a startlingly boyish half-smile. “I guess you could say that.”

The comparison pleases him, Hannibal is certain.

“The Dark Passenger. Will you tell me about him?

“About what?”

“Anything you’d like. Who he is. What he wants.” Dangerous territory.

“He isn’t… he’s me. You’re talking to him, right now. He wants – I want. Dexter is a name, that’s all. A layer. A… soft outside for people to look at and chat with. It’s a continuum, not a complete separation. We’ve come to an… understanding over the years, the two of us. I give him what he wants on my terms –“”

Harry’s terms, Hannibal silently corrects.

“—And he doesn’t bother me the way he used to. He helps me with cases. Helps me find other killers. And I let him kill them.”

“He doesn’t mind Harry’s rules?”

“He just wants,” Dexter said bluntly. “He doesn’t care if it’s A or B as long as he gets something.”

“I see.”

“Although,” Dexter adds softly, shifting in his chair. “He doesn’t like it when people hurt children. I could never hurt a child.”

“Part of Rita’s draw, hmm? Little Cody and Astor?”

Dexter nods.

Hannibal settles back into his chair. “I think that’s enough for today. Lunch Tuesday?”

Dexter takes a deep breath. “Yeah. Sure. Noon?”

“Noon’s perfect.”

| |

Next Tuesday Hannibal prepares to push, to find out what really makes Dexter tick. Over… hn, something with meat. Always red meat when Dexter comes over. Not the kind that Hannibal would prefer, of course, but he makes due with a good leg of beef or rack of lamb. Hannibal is an excellent chef.

Hannibal wants to talk about Harry. Dexter’s foster father, Dexter’s teacher, the only subject on which Dexter remains stubbornly lip-locked. Harry’s training sounded almost militant. Probably a large part of what Dexter is today.

Hannibal is a master of various hypnotization techniques, and though he has of course attempted to use nearly all of them on Dexter, none have worked very well. Despite how calm and collected Dexter appears on the surface, his subconscious seems to be nearly incapable of functioning. It’s fragmented, unstable, and very erratic. It seems better to simply question Dexter and have out with it.

If only he would talk. Hannibal isn’t sure what it is about other people’s daddy issues he finds so attractive.

“Harry’s rules,” Hannibal starts. “You’ve mentioned them, but never really explained them. Could you?”

“Keep it clean. Play it smart.” Dexter pauses. “Be absolutely sure.”

“Have you ever made a mistake?”

“I only kill people who deserve it. Who kill other people.”

“And how do you decide who deserves it?”

Dexter sends Hannibal a duh-look more appropriate on a teenager than a grown man. “Murders, rapists. Some human traffickers, once.”

“Is killing any less a crime because you kill murderers?”

“No. But I need to do it. I’m going to do it. If you had to kill someone, wouldn’t it be slightly more moral to kill someone who deserved it? The lesser of two evils?” Dexter sits back on his heels. “That’s all I’ve ever tried to accomplish.”

“Evil used to blot out evil.”

“Yes.”

Dexter is a very efficient monster. Hannibal is certain that will never stop thrilling him.

“Doesn’t it feel a little like playing God?” Hannibal asks. “Punishing them for committing crimes? But there are all sorts of crimes, Dexter. You clean up yours. I clean up mine. Playing God,” Hannibal muses again, smiling to himself. “There’s no shame in it, you know. We all get a bit of a complex now and again. We wouldn’t be human otherwise. I’ll admit to a certain amount of hubris.” He thinks first of Will, of course. Of evenings over crime photos that turned into mornings over coffee. Of how it ended in the scars on Will’s abdomen and the bullet hole in Hannibal’s torso. His beautiful Pilgrim had gotten so out of hand. Hannibal had never meant it to end like that.

“It’s not,” Dexter starts. “It’s not like that. I can’t kill them all. Sometimes I’m not sure. Sometimes.” He smoothes down the edge of his shirt. “Sometimes I pass people on the street. I look in their eyes and I know. That’s how I found the first one. The nurse. I found proof, later, but I knew that first instant our eyes met. Sometimes I do that with people, and I want to grab them then and there. But proof first. I don’t always get the chance. Most of the time I never see them again. Most of the time they get to keep walking. To keep killing.”

Dexter pauses again.

“I don’t think I’m God, Doctor. He takes indiscriminately, doesn’t he? And I am very, very picky.”

Not since Clarice has there been someone who disagreed with him and made him so very happy about it.

“Well said, Dexter. Well said.”

Hannibal admits to meeting Dexter without too high of hopes. He could have been a dullard, a simple boy with a simple – if unique – need, and a plan in place to cover his tracks. But Dexter keeps surprising him. Proving again and again that he’s anything but simple.

| |

When they meet up for breakfast, Dexter seems different. Fidgety. Anxious, if Dexter could ever be anxious.

“You once said you wanted to watch.”

Hannibal stills, his mind fluttering in a way it hasn’t for many years. “Yes.”

“I found one. A killer. Tomorrow night, if you want.”

“I’d love to.”

Dexter’s smile has an edge that Hannibal hasn’t seen for quite some time. “You know how to follow me.”

| |

Dexter doesn’t feel anyone watching him, but the Dark Passenger is moody, and restless, and so he is certain that Hannibal is there. The good doctor did well enough without an invitation, after all.

Dexter finds Danny Norault outside his favorite club in the warehouse district, pushes the M99-filled needle into his neck before bringing him to a more abandoned, less trendy warehouse farther down the street. He pushes Norault through the door and there is no sound of a latch clicking shut behind him. Hannibal is here.

| |

Hannibal watches Dexter slowly transform into his Dark Passenger. Become fluid, full of smoother, quicker, fiercer moves. A deeper tone of voice. Utterly ruthless. He watches the Dark Passenger knock the man down, yank him back up again, relentlessly goading the man about the people he’s killed, the way he’s killed them.

“Pathetic,” the Dark Passenger growls, and the sound sends a shiver of pleasure up Hannibal’s spine. This is what he has been waiting for, oh yes.

Dexter surfaces momentarily to quickly slice the victim’s face, and collect a drop of blood on a slide before setting it aside. Reaching for the knife.

And the Dark Passenger does what he was born to do.

After, Hannibal watches as Dexter bags the body. The victim was a very handsome man. Well-muscled. He obviously took care of himself. His thigh is such a lovely red color.

Hannibal pushes the thought away with some disappointment. It’s better not to interrupt, no matter how tempting. Watches the Dark Passenger recede back into Dexter . They are very much alike – both are quick, efficient, focused. But there is something dark in the Dark Passenger. Something hungry where Dexter is controlled. Cold.

| |

The Dark Passenger preen under Hannibal’s attention. Not showing off – he’s doing nothing different from usual – but taking a lot of satisfaction from Hannibal’s obvious approval.

As Dexter packs the plastic bags into the car there is a fleeting touch on his shoulder, a voice in his ear. “Thank you for showing me.”

By the time Dexter turns around Hannibal has already melted into the shadows. Dexter stares into them for a moment, then closes the trunk. Time to finish cleaning up his mess.

| |

“I wanted to thank you for last night,” Hannibal says demurely, sliding into the cafe booth they always occupy. “It was quite the experience.”

Dexter flashes a quick smile. “So what’s the verdict, Doctor? Think I’m crazy?”

“I still think the same as when I first met you, Dexter. You’re a very interesting boy.” Very interesting indeed. As far as Hannibal can tell, Dexter has only killed three times in the months since Hannibal discovered him. Remarkable control, as always.

“Do you think you’re capable of stopping?” he asks, head tilted to one side. “Hypothetically, let’s say Rita or Deborah found out. And they would forgive you, if only you would stop. If you wouldn’t kill anyone ever again. Do you think you could?”

It’s a legitimate question, not outside the realm of possibility. If Deborah ever did find out – if she ever knew that Harry had sanctioned it, had helped him – there was no telling how she would react. Probably not with as much condemnation as people would believe. Harry was Deborah’s hero. Her whole world. The closest thing to a God that Deborah or Dexter will ever have. And it’s hard to argue with the teachings of a dead god. Would she help him? Would she simply ask him to stop, to become her big brother again, her darling Dexter?

Dexter has had moments of what he considers rather great strength against temptation. He didn’t kill Deborah when Brian had her trussed up like a turkey at Thanksgiving, as a goodwill sacrifice to their relationship. He didn’t kill Paul, though it would have been easy and deserved. He hasn’t killed quite a few people who crossed his path, even though he can all but smell the blood on them and the Dark Passenger chafes at his restraints until Dexter wants to just let him, just let him loose and damn the consequences. Dexter has restraint.

But there was a difference between not killing someone occasionally, and not killing anyone again. Ever. To say the Dark Passenger would not be happy is an understatement. He doesn’t know if he could get the Dark Passenger to go back to animals. He knows he doesn’t want to.

“I don’t know,” he says finally, truthfully. “I don’t know.”

Hannibal smiles. “That’s the answer of a sane man. Even a sane man who likes to kill people. Your performance last night was inspired, though there was… one thing I did find rather interesting.”

“Yes?”

“The slide with the drop of blood you took from the victim. You’ve never mentioned that before.” Although Hannibal should have perhaps expected it himself – most serial killers keep some kind of trophy, and though Dexter is unique, he is by no means completely alien. “You have a remarkable fascination with blood.”

“You have a remarkable fascination with eating people.”

Hackles up. Interesting. “And there are reasons for it. I can only assume the same about you.”

There is a long moment where they contemplate one another, as if one shark decided to stare down another before they both remembered they should both be hunting seals instead.

And that’s when Dexter decides to tell him about his mother.

| |

“Do you still kill people?” Dexter asks. It’s not something he’s afraid to ask, per se, but maybe he isn’t too sure of the answer.

“What if I did?” Hannibal smiles, showing off his small, perfect teeth.

There is a moment of hesitation that is far too human. “Just curious.”

“Not interested in collecting my blood, are you, Dexter?”

“Of course I’m interested,” Dexter snaps. A little on edge. A little bit of the Dark Passenger where he has no right to be.

Hannibal pauses for a moment. Just to… consider Dexter. To look at him and really see. “I’d take it as a compliment.”

“Right before you ate my liver?”

“Mm. I’m afraid, dear Dexter, your liver holds no interest for me.”

It isn’t even a lie. Hannibal has occasionally thought about what part of Dexter he would eat. Idle thoughts, he’s fairly sure – Dexter has become quite precious to him. There are, however, circumstances in which Dexter’s death would not be an impossibility, and to wonder is only a momentary indulgement, and doesn’t harm Hannibal at all.

Hannibal wouldn’t eat Dexter’s heart, certainly. There’s nothing there – no courage, no fire, not at all like dear Will. Dexter’s heart barely beats. He reminds Hannibal of an ectotherm, reflecting the heat surrounding him very shallowly. Just enough to blend in and to survive.

His muscles are well-developed, his body well-cared for. Strong, and lean, and sure to be a perfect oxygen-drenched red. In some ways it’s unfortunate that Hannibal admires Dexter too much to reduce him to just meat. What meat it would be.

He thinks of Dexter’s brain, perhaps. And why not? It’s what Dexter is. The only thing Dexter is. All hind brain, all Id, all animalistic want. Hannibal muses over it for a moment, thinking of a recipe he picked up in Valencia – a meat pie made with brains, veal, minced-meat, chorizo, and hard-boiled egg. Nothing too fancy. Not for Dexter. But it would be very satisfying.

“I wouldn’t unless I had to,” Dexter says eventually, almost apologetic.

“Like you had to with Brian?”

Silence.

“I’m not criticizing.” Hannibal sets his hand on Dexter’s arm. “I simply want to know what you’re thinking.”

“Just like Brian.” Dexter turns his deadened gaze upon Hannibal, and he can almost sense the Dark Passenger there. “Let’s not have to choose.”

Hannibal shivers with pleasure. Dexter himself is fascinating, but not dangerous. If Hannibal were ever to surprise him, it would be simple. But Hannibal would not want to rouse the Dark Passenger. Not in anger. Maybe not at all.

| |

Work was good today. Two homicides, one very messy suicide, and one of the homicides sparked something in the Dark Passenger, something that Dexter tucks away for later. He managed to snag a pulled pork sandwich running between two of the scenes, and tonight he’s having dinner with Hannibal. Rita is busy taking the kids to some sort of parent-teacher school event. And Dexter’s found another one, he thinks. He’s fairly sure. Just a little more evidence.

Dexter thinks things are going very well.

This isn’t as true for Hannibal. Clarice is on the news again, the FBI’s newest object of cruxification.

It makes Hannibal very angry. It’s not a feeling he appreciates. He wants – Hannibal acknowledges this – oh, how he wants blood. And the only one around to take it out on is Dexter. And who knows? Maybe he’ll finally get somewhere.

“Do you think Deborah would accept you, if she knew?” he begins. “If you showed her all the victims you’d avenged? Do you think she’d accept you just because she’s your sister? Because you’re her Dex? Do you honestly think you couldn’t manipulate her, hmm, the same way you’ve been manipulating people your entire life?”

Dexter takes a tiny breath as if he is about to say something, but nothing comes out. Hannibal continues as though he had not paused.

“I had nothing to teach you of manipulation, Dexter. You’ve tricked an entire population of sheep into embracing a wolf with wide-open, wooly arms. You could sink your teeth into one of them and walk around with a bloody jaw and they wouldn’t notice anything more than the words that come out of your mouth.

“I think.” Hannibal pauses. “I think you could get Deborah to help to you. I think you could sob out your story and ask for her help and she’d give it to you. Because Deborah acts tough, doesn’t she? She walks the walk like any other boy in blue, but you know all about the big, bleeding heart that lies underneath that badge. All you would have to do is tell her. Tell her about Harry’s code, and all those hunting trips. About the crime scene where Harry found you. About your mother. Wouldn’t it be easier, Dexter? Having someone to help tote those plastic bags? Someone to give you an alibi when you needed one? Someone to get Doakes off your back? Isn’t it sometimes exactly what you want?”

“No,” Dexter says finally. “No, that’s not what I need. Harry set it up so I wouldn’t need anyone.”

Harry, Hannibal thinks. Harry, Harry, Harry. So loyal. Too loyal.

“So why do you follow these rules, then, if not for them?” It’s the heart of the matter, the question that Hannibal has been stumbling over since he first learned of Dexter’s credo. There is so much that Dexter could do, so much that he is capable of. What is it that holds him back?

And again, Dexter looks straight into Hannibal’s gleaming stare. Utterly guileless in a way that only he can be. “Because Harry would want me to.”

Would you ever say to me "Stop. If you love me, stop?"

“I see,” Hannibal said softly.

Not in a thousand years.

And he did.

 

epilogue.

 

Dearest Dexter,

I apologize for terminating our acquaintance so quickly. I have some urgent business in Europe to attend to, and in truth I had all ready lingered in Miami far longer than I had ever dreamed.

I have taken the liberty of sending this letter to your home address and not your work, as I thought it would be safer for the both of us. I do hope you won’t see it as an intrusion – you know how I detest rudeness. Attached is a free-floating email address in which it will be safe to contact me at any time, should you so desire.

I didn’t, of course, write for just a quick chat. I only seek to assure you that if you are ever found out, by the bulldogged Sergeant Doakes or otherwise, I will do everything in my power to help you. I am quite certain that you will leave Harry’s code intact even at the price of your own freedom, which simply wouldn’t do. The world is far too interesting a place with you in it. I know quite a few lovely people in Europe, but no one quite like you. It’s so refreshing to be able to talk to someone without thinking and rethinking what you’re going to say, isn’t it?

I’ll be making my home here quite soon, I think. In one of the larger cities. The culture is only part of the draw. Europe is a lovely place to live, Dexter, and quite unconcerned with the affairs of the States. If a man who was once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List can live here, certainly one serial killer from Miami could move about quite freely.

Although don’t think it necessary to have been discovered to come visit. Perhaps a vacation – many women would consider a vacation to Europe quite romantic. It’s a popular honeymoon spot as well. Not that I’m suggesting you marry Rita. It would be quite awkward, wouldn’t it, explaining all those late night disappearances?

P.S. – Tell the Dark Passenger it’s been fun.

Your Dearly Devoted,
H