repeat after me

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by templemarker

Notes: This is set before Anne visits Rogi to speak with him about Denis. For spastic_visions in Yuletide 2008. Read it there. With thanks to the usual gang for all things.


Harry put the potato salad on the table and waved at James, who was manning the grill with hot dogs for the kids, chicken and burgers for the adults. It was Caroline McQueen’s fourteenth birthday party, and her parents were hosting a block party in the middle of the summer, humid Miami heat beating down on them even with the cover of trees in the backyard.

Doris was in the kitchen with Consuela and the other neighborhood wives, getting up to whatever it was they did when their men weren’t around. Harry took a longneck from the metal tub filled with ice by the door and turned to watch the kids playing near the sprinkler and the pool.

Debra was running around in the bikini she’d finally convinced Doris to let her have, gawky and off-balance at the terrible age of thirteen. She screamed as her glasses got wet going through the sprinkler, shoving at Jenny Horner when the other little girl tried to cut in line. Harry rolled his eyes; Debra was always the loudest, the pushiest, the most attention-seeking kid at a party. He’d have to have a talk with Doris about reeling her in, or Debra was going to have problems at school again this year.

Satisfied with his daughter, at least for the moment, Harry scanned the crowd looking for Dexter. He always seemed to do that, making sure Dexter was in sight; Harry told himself it was out of concern for his son. If he was being honest with himself, which he almost never was, he watched out of concern for everyone else.

Dexter was in the shade of a cluster of palm trees with two other fifteen-year-old boys, who were all trying desperately to look too cool for the party while simultaneously watching the pool for any sign of naked skin. They were talking animatedly over some toy, some video game, and Harry watched with his beer halfway to his mouth as Dexter pointed at something on the screen, waved his hands around, and even started smiling as he was speaking.

Harry’s throat felt dry all of a sudden, and he took a long swallow from his Corona. The sweat dripped off the bottle and onto his hand; he wiped it away on the leg of his jeans.

Dexter looked normal.

It was the lesson Harry had been hammering into him ever since he chose to walk this path instead of doing the sane thing, the humane thing–the unloving thing–and commit his son, his beautiful sociopath of a child, to an institution. (An institution like his brother, the ugly part of his mind whispered. Couldn’t help little Brian Moser, covered in blood, but too old to do anything about, too old to save.)

No. Harry could never do that. He instructed Dexter in a different way. And the first lesson, the most important lesson in the game of Do Not Get Caught, of Survival, was: look and act like everyone else around you. Be indistinguishable from your friends and neighbors. Play pretend, to the very last moment, because it is the only way to not get caught.

And here Dexter was, doing exactly that. He blended in to the scene around him, talked to the other boys who didn’t sense anything wrong, anything off about him. The parents talked about Dexter as the Morgan’s nice, quiet boy, always ready to help if needed and with an uncanny knack for finding strayed pets and bringing them back home.

Harry took another pull from the bottle; it was half-empty when he brought it back down. (Trained him too well, too smart, too clever–what if he kills the wrong person, what if he develops a profile, a certain kind of kill outside of the one Harry devised, what if he’s sloppy or too eager or picks someone too strong, what if…)

Harry had worked Robbery-Homicide as a uniform for ten years and a Detective for twelve; he knew the ins and outs of a crime scene, he knew the faces of the scumbags who’d killed and hated themselves, killed and didn’t give a damn, killed and then died for it in turn. He’d been on more than one serial killer cases, seen the vacant, mocking stares of the fuckheads they’d caught and mourned the victims of those they hadn’t. Part of him thrilled at setting a trap for all of them, those that had escaped, those that had somehow evaded justice. A nice, quiet boy who was waiting to catch them all, their own terrible choices the trigger that sealed their fates.

Another part recoiled at just what he had chosen to do: hide the monster with a nice, quiet boy who seemed too ordinary to be dangerous, too friendly to be the boogeyman.

Harry watched Dexter punch one of the boys in the shoulder, watched the other boy shove back playfully, and thought he’d taught his son too well the ways of the people he wanted Dexter to protect.

The first lesson, and the hardest; the rest would be routine. Establishing guidelines for each kill, rigorous and unbending: no exceptions. Defining the ritual, the essence of the kill, making certain that Dexter was dependent enough on methodical, specific actions that he would never diverge from them. Granting a trophy, the one thing Dexter could take with him, a tangible reminder of the feeling he sought when he killed. Clean-up, drummed into Dexter’s head with enough force that there would never be any trace of his dark boy left behind.

Harry finished the rest of his beer reflexively. It was the trophy thing that unnerved him the most; he hadn’t discussed it with Dexter yet, what it might be, but he had learned enough from his experience and his research (how Captain Matthews, Tom, had approved of Harry’s extension courses on profiling, his specialization in serials; such a great benefit to the team, Harry…so good to see you showing an interest in learning, Morgan) to know that having things, some item taken from his victims, would be necessary to keep the demons of Dexter’s mind at bay. Couldn’t be jewelry, though, too identifiable and an obvious link between disappearances that should never be made. Couldn’t be body parts–storage made it impractical, space and freezing too much to worry about when someone came sniffing around. Hair was a possibility, but most of Dexter’s victims would be white males, and baldness would be an issue.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set his empty bottle in the trash with all the others. Harry felt sick to his stomach, but he pushed it down, and stepped into a conversation about the Dolphins and how badly they were doing this year. Miguel Jiminez from two doors down handed him another beer, and he swigged it, trying to drive out victimologies and profiles and his own son’s grateful stare (when did he learn how to act grateful? when did it become realistic enough for this?) from his mind.

Harry glanced over again at his kids. Debra had made it into the pool and was splashing around with some of the boys. Always a tomboy, that girl, and she’d lost her glasses somewhere along the way. He turned his head slightly and spotted Dexter, alone at the edge of the yard, looking intently at something Harry couldn’t make out. The other boys had gone to run through the sprinkler, but Dexter just stood there, unaware of the kids around him, hands clenched loosely at his sides.

“Dexter!” Harry shouted, surprising the men he was standing with. “Come over here.” Dexter looked up sharply, nodded, and started to trot towards his father. “Sorry,” Harry said, “Dexter just knows the stats better than I do, thought he might like to get in on the conversation.”

Dexter looked up at him curiously, and Harry marveled at how well the look worked; he laid a hand on Dexter’s shoulder, like a father would do to a son. As Dexter rattled off the numbers from last season’s games, Harry’s eyes returned to the place Dexter had just been. He watched, weary, as the McQueen’s ancient poodle came out of the bushes and into the yard.

Time for lesson two, then. Harry tightened his hand until Dexter looked up at him, and clutched his beer until his fingers felt numb. Lesson Two: How to Kill.


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