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Fallout

Chapter Text

Astor thought she'd heard it all. Your mom fucked a serial killer, she must have known, or was she that stupid, didn't your dad die in prison, talk about having a type, did you know too, was it a family activity. Her grandparents talked about moving away once the reporters showed up and everyone found out they were Dexter's former family, but Astor didn't want to. They didn't understand that it would be the same everywhere, even if they changed their names, that once their pictures turned up on the Internet - Satan's spawn, little whore, gleefully captioned - it was over. So Astor at least refused to be run out of town.

But that was before Dexter and Deb got caught. Astor read about it afterwards, the keyboard making a sound like chattering teeth under her shaking fingers. A crazy old cat lady saw them check into a Super 8 in some bumfuck town in Arizona a stone's throw away from the Mexican border. She must have had a devil of a time convincing the cops that she'd actually seen the Morgans, America's most famous serial killer family. But she had and eventually the cops must have gotten their shit together and kicked down the door of the motel room without any stupid warnings like "open up, it's the police".

That was how they got to see the show. Astor didn't want to focus on that part, wished that she could somehow know without reading, so she skimmed, words and phrases jumping at her here and there, searing themselves into her mind. "Engaged in intercourse" was one. They were fucking when the cops found them, my brother told me. "Rape kit" was another. Did he use to fuck you too Astor, did your mom mind? "Psychological evaluation" slithered past like a smug fat snake. I heard her brother was asleep on the next bed, and once he woke up he wouldn't stop screaming for his parents. And over it all like a stamp, like a brand, "incest". Incestincestincest.

Astor swung around in the chair, the room lurching precariously, and folded in two with her chin resting on her hands, her hands resting on her knees, her feet planted on the ground but never grounded, her hair swinging down mercifully to cover it all until the black spots stopped dancing in her vision. She didn't know what would be worse, that Dexter had raped Deb or that he hadn't. They'd seemed so normal, they'd seemed like her and Cody, if a little closer. How was this possible, how was any of this possible?

She thought about Harrison, Harrison coming to live with them when it was all over, and fear rose up within her like a tide of oily, polluted water. She'd loved her youngest brother, up until a day or two ago she thought she still did, but the idea of this corruption anywhere near her or Cody made her freeze with horror and revulsion. What if she and Cody contracted the same illness Harrison was exposed to for so long? She couldn't imagine watching him, feeling his eyes on her, always wondering, letting him touch her and not knowing what he was thinking. He was her brother and he'd been kidnapped by a monster and she should want to save him but in her heart of hearts she didn't. She wanted to save herself.

There was guilt there too but it was nowhere as strong as the fear, and Astor realized how weak she was, that she wasn't nearly as strong as her mother who'd kept and brought up and loved the children of the guy who raped her so often it probably counted as a routine date-night thing.

There was a flash of thought, so simple and seductive. She would take down the jar on top of her wardrobe, unscrew the cap, fish out the money inside, birthday and Christmas money from the last couple of years, some of it from Dexter. She would bike to the house of the greasy-haired guy everyone knew sold pot, and maybe even stronger stuff. She'd buy a bag of white powder from him, didn't matter what, meth or heroin or even fucking laundry detergent, it was all the same. Once you shot up, either way you didn't have to think any more, she knew that much.

And why not? Like father, like daughter. Maybe it was impossible to fight your demon, maybe it always got you in the end because it was inside you, it was part of your blood or rooted into the deepest corner of your mind, waiting for you to slip up so it could sink its teeth in when you were down. Maybe it was easier to just stop fighting.

Maybe that was what Dexter had thought, maybe that was what had flitted through Deb's mind. Astor would never know.

She dug her fingernails into her thighs with punishing strength and thought, "not today".

Chapter Text

Someone upstairs paid a lot of money for a fancy shrink to come over and try to teach them to recognize sociopaths. The whole miserable department, lined up on chairs so hard they might as well have popped Viagra, sweating like pigs. The whole exercise about as useful as a hedgehog in a condom factory, as Vince's grandma used to say.

Sociopaths tended to be exceptionally charming. Dexter wasn't charming, he was a nerd like the rest of Forensics. In fact he was much less charming than Vince himself.

Sociopaths never did anything for other people unless there was a direct and immediate gain for themselves. Half of Vince's co-workers were backstabbing, lazy asses out for his job. Dexter had been Helpful Hetty compared to some of them.

Sociopaths had poor impulse control. Yeah, Designated Driver Dexter with his freakishly clean apartment and carefully scheduled life sure sounded like he fit that.

By the end of it Vince was starting to wonder whether he seemed like he covered the clinical criteria better than Dexter ever had.

And boy, there were a lot of new faces around willing to be the judge of that. Sometimes Vince felt like he, Angel and Quinn were the only ones left from the old team, and Quinn didn't count for much these days. Behind every corner there was a shiny new addition to the department, quick to adopt an expression of pious constipation at every off-color joke as if it was the black humor that had made Dexter want to work here. Like it was news normal people didn't stick around in Homicide anyway.

There wasn't even a new blood guy. Dexter's replacement insisted he was a "situational crime scene recovery expert" instead. Like the position itself was haunted. The whole department was haunted, if you asked Vince, by Doakes and LaGuerta and even Dexter and Debra, for all that the Morgans were alive and on the run. Vince wondered what the shrink would have to say about the fact that he had started calling them "the Morgans" in his mind like the media did. They even seemed distant, not like people he'd known and been friendly with for years.

In another sick turn of events he was bowling when the news broke. He botched his throw and wordlessly hurried after Angel who muscled them a path to the suddenly crowded TV in the corner of the bowling alley. The mood was hushed, as if in a church. On the screen a smug suit informed the good, law-abiding citizens of the US that the Morgans had been apprehended in a motel near Lukeville, Arizona, less than three miles from the Mexico border. Fucking unbelievable.

No members of the public were hurt, the suit said, like it was to his personal credit, and Harrison was just fine. Then a reporter shouted another question Vince didn't hear and the fed got the look of a guy who wanted to fidget or loosen his collar or show some other unprofessional sign of humanity. He said only that the circumstances of the arrest made them reconsider to what extent Debra Morgan had been her brother's willing accomplice.

They showed footage of Dexter after that, almost like a distraction. He was being walked to a PTV. Deb was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Harrison. Dexter looked completely relaxed, like someone had just oiled his joints. His face didn't show any emotion, and it looked utterly natural on him. He strolled forward like there weren't handcuffs on his wrists or hands on his arms directing every movement. As Vince watched, Dexter drew his lower lip into his mouth absent-mindedly. There was a cut there, barely-visible but fresh. In the next moment Dexter's head disappeared behind the open rear door of the van and Vince suddenly realized that all the hairs on his arms were standing at attention, that his throat was burning and that his balls were trying to crawl back into his body in a surge of primal fear so deep and instinctual his brain could hardly process it.

Angel opened his mouth to say something, and Vince blurted out "I gotta go home and water my fish. I mean, feed my plants."

He hightailed it out of there like it was him who was the criminal. His throat still felt hot, constricted and hurt every time he swallowed, so he spent the rest of the evening researching rabies, half-convinced he'd contracted it from the poodle he let lick his hand last week because its owner was a babe. Slowly, research calmed him down. No matter how the foundations of the world shook, hypochondria was one thing you could always count on. He fell asleep on the couch and woke up thirsty as a bishop on Easter Sunday. No rabies. Of course not. That would have been preposterous.

By the time he'd had a shower and washed off the last remnants of fear sweat down the drain he'd almost convinced himself all was fine again. Still, his laptop remained on the desk, judgementally closed. An arm's reach away was a buzzing hive of strangers discussing the news, the conclusions they'd drawn and the details they'd seen from the safe distance of impartiality unreachable to Vince. The lick of a lip, a somehow revealing lack of tension. What it all meant, if it meant anything.

For once, Vince didn't want to know the whole sordid truth.

Chapter Text

Two months after Deb disappeared, Joey started going to a therapist. It was either that or ranting at strangers in bars and he'd already done that when Deb dumped him. Now that she'd taken off with her serial killer brother Joey figured more drastic measures were called for.

The therapist's name was Michelle Ross and she looked like somebody's third grade math teacher. He told her that to break the ice and she asked him if daily interactions often made him feel like he was being graded. That's when it dawned on him she was a terrible therapist. It was why he kept coming. It was comforting to know he wasn't the only fuck-up in the room.

He told her about Deb and their train wreck of a relationship, starting with the time they hooked up in a bathroom.

"Her brother Dexter's bathroom?" asked Dr. Ross.

"That's what I said," said Joey. He didn't like being interrupted now he was on a roll. "What does it matter?"

Dr. Ross wrote busily on her pad.

Joey went through the whole thing. The aforementioned hook up in Dexter's bathroom. Growing closer when Deb borrowed his couch to escape the menagerie of Dexter's family crashing at her place. Deb ditching him for the first time over his suspicions of Dexter. Deb moving in with him around the time Dexter started dating again. Proposing to her in his kitchen before she ran out on him and hid at Dexter's for a day, then dumped him.

"Do you see any pattern here?" asked Dr. Ross.

"That Dexter had way too much sway over her? I can see that, I'm not an idiot," said Joey.

Dr. Ross twirled a pencil between her fingers.

Afterwards Joey went home and lined up three shot glasses on the counter and filled them up with whiskey. He downed them one after the other, then capped the bottle and stowed it into a cupboard that still held a half-eaten box of Deb's favorite cereal in it. That was his limit ever since Deb had disappeared, confirming everything Joey had hoped against hope wasn't true. Three shots a day. Any more and he couldn't stop, any less and he couldn't keep going.

The Monday after Deb got caught, Joey made an exception and took his medicine in the morning. He did just fine until noon, just long enough to start deluding himself he could get through this shitshow without fucking up his life any worse.

At noon, he hid behind one of the big, fake-marble columns in front of the station with the cigarette packet that was lunch. He could hear someone on the other side, slurping and talking, and his cop's brain didn't even try to tune the guy out.

"I swear to God, Jerry, it's real. It was the motel manager, the sick fuck had cameras in all the rooms. Some bozo at the sheriff's office made a copy, tried to sell it online but nobody believed him so he just put it up for free. It's on every amateur porn site in fucking HD, man."

Joey's cigarette had burned down to the butt, neglected. He looked down in time to see the ash jerk free and settle into the shape of a question mark next to his shoe.

"It's quality shit too," the voice went on, higher now, more excited. "Morgan the sister is some nice looking piece of ass. I heard she spread it out, maybe I should have had a try at her before they went on the run. Too bad it's too late now. I heard she tried to play it like her brother raped her, like he kidnapped her and the kid, but there's no way that's flying now everyone can see her riding him into the mattress, moaning for it like a fucking wh-"

This would be something to liven up Joey's next visit to Dr. Ross, if there was one, Joey thought fifteen minutes later in the ambulance.

How was my week, Doc? Same old. I tried to knock out every tooth Steinbauer from Impound had in his grinning, smarmy mouth which would have definitely got me fired and most probably landed me in jail. Only I'm such a failure I slipped on the coffee he spilled lunging away from me, hit my empty fucking head on the column behind him and passed out. I came to while the EMTs were strapping me to a gurney in the middle of a crowd of people looking sorry for me, starting with Steinbauer who actually apologized to me, the fuck. I tried to sit up so I could strangle him and puked all over myself. How's that for grading?

He probably wasn't going to prison anyway, which was too bad because the way things were going he would have ended up being Dexter's cellmate.

He laughed, he fucking brayed like a donkey with his front smeared with vomit and the engagement ring he gave Deb in his wallet and the two EMTs looking unimpressed like this barely passed muster in the roller coaster of weird that was (their) life. After months of late night imaginary conversations with Deb, of spitting at her a million questions and trying to imagine any answers she could come up with that reconciled the her Joey had known with the unbelievable self that emerged piecemeal from evidence and conjecture, after all that finally there was nothing he wanted to ask her.

He'd finally got the joke. He had a feeling Deb hadn't.

Chapter Text

Harrison lives in a three-bedroom apartment with his Dad and his Aunt Deb. The little plaque on their spot on the convertillo buzz board says "Martin".

One bedroom belongs to the grown-ups, one to Harrison, and one holds his father's desk on one side and his aunt's treadmill and weights on the other. Harrison feels very glad he's the only one who doesn't have to share.

His father is a doctor - not a rich doctor but a regular doctor, and his aunt helps people stay in shape.

They have a dog, a golden retriever called Rusty. Harrison gets along with Rusty very well, and he gets the feeling Aunt Deb is very glad he does. When he was younger she used to watch him play with the growing puppy in the cobblestoned yard or the park like she was waiting for him to do something. He never did figure out what she was looking for and eventually she stopped watching so intently.

Aunt Deb has been around for the whole seven years since Harrison was born. He used to try and call her "mom" when he was little but she always said he'd had a mother and it wasn't right to call her that, and after she would always get up and pace so Harrison figured it upset her for some reason, and stopped. She would always turn around and kiss him on the forehead in the middle of pacing, so he knew she wasn't mad at him.

Harrison's world seems very big to him, but also very ordered, governed by clear rules and routines. Everything in it is perfectly predictable, outside of his aunt, and occasionally, Harrison's father.

There's Santa Pilar, and the park, and the market, and the heladeria, and the antiques shop, and the confiteria, and the Iglesia Rusa, and of course Aunt Deb's health club and Dad's office, and the whole convertillo which counts as a dozen places as far as Harrison is concerned, with its little nooks and tucked-away closets and its cooing pigeon coop.

It's a different world than that of the other kids at Santa Pilar - Harrison's school. For one, most of them live in Recoleta, Palermo, or Belgrano, the richer neighborhoods up north. Harrison lives in San Telmo where the streets teem with tourists, pickpockets and busking tango dancers. The only thing abundant on Recoleta streets is shit, from the pedigreed dogs dragging their walkers to the Parque 3 de Febrero and then back to their palatial homes once they finish their business. Harrison's family goes to Parque Larama, which has old men playing chess and other kids skating and where you can spread out a picnic blanket without covering at least three squishy surprises underneath.

Harrison likes San Telmo much, much, better, and so does his family, although he suspects not for the same reason.

In San Telmo they blend in, says Dad. While they live here they will always be considered tourists, and tourists are forgiven many eccentricities. That's another word for secrets other people don't know are secrets. For example, living in a moldy convertillo when you are a doctor is a tourist eccentricity. Obviously, you live there for the atmosphere, for the cracked mosaics and the wrought-iron banisters and unglazed balconies lined with rush mats so that you can drink your afternoon coffee in cool shade. Nobody imagines it's because you can watch the plaza unobserved through the gaps between the rushes and that every sound - from a flushed toilet to careful footsteps - echoes in the courtyard behind the sturdy coach gate.

Harrison likes keeping secrets. It's like a game, like Clue or Bulls and Cows, one of those games where you need to keep little mental cards so you don't get mixed up. It's easy. Harrison knows Dad and Aunt Deb worry sometimes that he'll get confused, forget the story from the truth and give up the game, but he knows there's no danger of that. He doesn't even have to think about it. There's Harrison's family and then there's other people, and there's no danger of treating the two as if they were the same thing.

Like, there's Diana. She's Harrison's nanny. She's the one who occasionally brings him to the Iglesia Rusa, where she lights a candle for her family in a high stand, and then another for the dead in a low sandbox. Harrison likes her. She's nice and she knows so many people and her grandfather lets him rummage around the bric-a-brac in his shop, the old pieces of wreckage from the time the convertillos were the town houses of the richest families in the city.

There was a plague long ago, or maybe a fever, so they all ran up north and abandoned their mansions to looters and squatters. Harrison's family ran too and now there were probably other people living in their homes, using their stuff. Harrison thinks about that while he runs his fingers along the bronze faucet handles and dusty gramophone players. He barely remembers that time, but he can picture his white, fleece lamb and his Dad's big armchair. When Diana asks him why he's so serious he mentions a girl in school who pushed him off the slide. It's even something that happened.

So they're all very good at keeping secrets, except Aunt Deb doesn't think so, or maybe she just feels uneasy about it and doesn't want to admit it. One time when she and Harrison are walking home with the dry cleaning, someone tries the mustard trick on Aunt Deb. Harrison has seen it before. One guy squirts mustard on Aunt Deb's shirt, expecting her to raise her arms up and away from the mess so another guy can snatch her purse.

Except Aunt Deb is not a hapless tourist, so she breaks the second guy's nose with her elbow without even looking, and then grabs Harrison and runs away, uncaring of the mess. Harrison can tell that wasn't the plan, that Aunt Deb went with her gut. By the time she gets him home she's fine though, except that she's biting her lips a little too often. When in a week a nosy neighbor mentions the incident Aunt Deb just laughs and says the mark must have been some other foreign woman with long tanned legs and short red hair and a mouth on her foul enough to shame the devil. She's all "fucking elbows", her purse would be as good as gone if someone tried the mustard trick on her.

The police don't come around to question them about it.

Harrison is so silent that Dad and Aunt Deb don't seem to realize how much sound carries within their apartment as well as from the courtyard. Sometimes he can hear them talking when he pads to the kitchen for a glass of water, which he drinks in small sips by the pitcher instead of in his own room.

"I'm worried about him," says Aunt Deb one night. "He's too fucking quiet. He has no friends."

"Remember the last teacher-parent conference? They called him sociable. A team player who never minds sharing. And his last birthday was a riot. When the empanadas ran out the other kids came this close to spearing us and cooking us on a spit. We wouldn't have stood a chance," says Dad, in his trying-to-joke voice. There's a difference to his voice when he genuinely finds something funny.

Aunt Deb isn't falling for it either. "That's just camouflage. Like I shoot the shit at work or the corner shop so we don't seem too weird. He doesn't care about anyone but you, me and the dog."

There's a longer silence and then Dad says: "maybe that's for the best."

Aunt Deb doesn't answer anything.

Other nights there are just noises. They sound like pain but they aren't, or maybe just the ache of something you need that you aren't getting as often as you should, like how Harrison's teeth ache when he doesn't drink enough milk. Harrison has always known what the noises mean, like he found out long, long ago and forgot exactly how. They don't bother him. The muffled moans and grunts are very low and the creak of springs doesn't last that long. There are whispers, too quiet for Harrison to hear.

Aside from his day practice, Dad volunteers a couple of nights a week at a hospital in La Boca. This is a third type of secret, one that Aunt Deb and Harrison are supposed to pretend they don't know, although Aunt Deb slips sometimes.

One time Harrison's teaching Rusty tricks on the terrace when a neighbor invites herself for tea. Aunt Deb actually makes tea and takes out the metal straws that someone gave them as a house-warming gift.

The neighbor takes forever to get to the point, which is that her sister in law is chief nurse at the La Boca hospital, and that Dad is on duty only half the nights he isn't sleeping home.

Harrison isn't sure if Aunt Deb reacts well enough. She gets rid of the neighbor much too quickly, but maybe that's normal when a stranger tells you your family has been lying to you, which Harrison guesses is what happened from the neighbor's point of view.

Aunt Deb's antsy for the whole two hours until Dad comes home. She smokes half a cigarette at the open window of her bedroom, and throws the rest because she says it's been too long and the damn things are making her queasy. She drops things and curses them out inventively before looking guiltily Harrison's way. She used to do this a lot more but then probably figured it was a lost cause, in Harrison's opinion.

"I don't mind," Harrison reassures her. Dad explained to him cursing was something only grown-ups can do.

Aunt Deb pulls him over her lap and rocks him like she does when he's sick.

"We're really screwing you up, huh, kiddo?"

Later on, Harrison makes three separate treks to the kitchen, even though he's not that thirsty. The only thing he can make out is a "you need to be more careful". He guesses they'll be moving soon.

On Wednesdays Aunt Deb is supposed to pick Harrison up from football practice. On other days Dad drives Harrison home on his late lunch break, but on Wednesdays practice ends right when he's most busy, so Aunt Deb leaves work early instead.

Harrison wouldn't have liked those drives normally - Aunt Deb's sweaty because she doesn't have time for a shower before leaving, and Harrison is sweaty because there are no showers at school, and Harrison hates not being neat - but he has fond memories of football and being carted to and from practice. It's something he used to do before, he's sure of it, and there are flashes of warm memories attached to it that he can't even place.

There's one, of dozing on the back seat while the car is stuck in traffic, and for once it's both Aunt Deb and Dad there.

"I've turned into a fucking soccer mom, Dex, can you believe that?" Aunt Deb says, quietly because she thinks Harrison is sleeping. "The things I do for you."

"Technically, you're a soccer aunt," Dad says, in that half-humorous, half-careful tone he adopts sometimes around Aunt Deb. It's always a coin toss how Aunt Deb will react to it.

This time she laughs, a little too wildly, but it's still a laugh.

"You're such a dweeb," she mutters fondly, and on the next traffic light Harrison hears them kissing.

But this Wednesday Aunt Deb isn't late or grouching about groceries or the disgusting offal a coworker brought from home and expected Aunt Deb to eat.

This time she's early.

She has showered, and she's wearing her street clothes, and she walks out on the grass and tells Harrison they have to leave.

Harrison lets her lead him to the parking lot mutely while the sense of familiarity slowly rises within him. He knows exactly what's going to happen. They'll get Dad, and maybe they'll pick up some of their things, or maybe not, and then it will be motels and buses and plane tickets until they land in a new place with new names. Like they were percolating within some great contraption of tubes and filters where the mere movement transformed their identities.

Aunt Deb straps him in the car even though it's been a long time since Harrison's been doing that for himself. It takes her a while since her hands are shaking.

When she's done, she grabs the wheel like it's about to bolt and says:

"All right, all right. It's all right. We have time to pack."

They beat the evening rush going home, and Aunt Deb almost jogs from the place they park the car to the gate of their convertillo, towing Harrison behind like a boy-shaped balloon. Harrison says nothing. It's important to be as little trouble as possible.

Back home Aunt Deb crams clothes haphazardly into a suitcase, Harrison's clothes, then her own clothes. She doesn't pack anything for dad though. It's that which makes Harrison feel uneasy at last, because something’s wrong. Rusty, locked in the bathroom so he doesn't get in Aunt Deb's way, whines pitifully.

Not stopping for a moment, Aunt Deb flings the picture with the red tulips off the wall, and opens the safe behind. There's a zippy bag of documents here, and a larger plastic bag full of small notes. She snatches both and then arranges the luggage so she will have one hand free to hold Harrison's hand.

"What about Dad, Aunt Deb?"

"Just hold onto me."

Outside on the landing the same neighbor who came over for tea is standing in ambush. She does a double take when she sees the bags.

"Where are you-" she starts, but Aunt Deb's passes her and rushes down the stairs like the neighbor isn't there. Harrison and Rusty, whose lead has been tied to the suitcase, finish the procession.

"Is Dad okay?" Harrison has to shout to be heard as they make their way back to the car through the throng, like fish swimming against the tide.

"He's safe," answers Aunt Deb.

"Is he meeting us somewhere?"

At the car, Aunt Deb has to let go of Harrison's hand to put away their bags. Rusty climbs into the back seat quickly, tail between his legs. Harrison backs away when Aunt Deb slams the trunk closed.

"There's no time. We'll miss our flight," she says.

"Dad isn't coming, is he?" asks Harrison.

"No."

"I'm not leaving him behind."

Aunt Deb's shoulders slump and she sits down on the edge of the trunk lid. She tucks and re-tucks her chin-length hair behind her ears, but strands of it still escape. Aunt Deb's long, nervous fingers seem to be making a deliberately bad job of it, sabotaging her efforts.

"We have to," she states dully.

"You can't," says Harrison, betrayed. He can't imagine how Aunt Deb can even consider something like this. The thought suggests a slew of awful suspicions. "Did you want to leave me too? In the place with the other kids and all the strangers who wanted me to tell them about our road trip? Did you come back for me just because Dad made you?"

"No! Fuck no! Jesus, what are you-"

"Then why do you want to leave Dad all alone?!"

"I don't want to! That's the most fucked-up part! We have to go, I can't raise another kid like this, another kid with my-"

Aunt Deb closes her eyes and rubs viciously at her cheeks. Sometimes you have to keep tears on the inside, Harrison hears in his head, though now it doesn't matter where the memory came from.

Harrison only wants to make Aunt Deb feel better, but mostly he feels better himself. Aunt Deb hasn't turned crazy, she's just in one of her moods like when she runs on the treadmill at three in the morning and Dad has to coax her back to bed.

Or maybe not.

Harrison cocks his head curiously.

"Am I gonna have a brother or a sister?"

Aunt Deb shifts on her perch and all of a sudden Harrison is sure that he's right. That explains it, he supposes. Patricia's mother ate sand when she was pregnant with her sister, Aunt Deb tried to run away on Dad. Crazy urges like that are supposed to pass. It'll be fine.

Harrison himself is pretty happy with the prospect of having a sibling. Dad and Aunt Deb have each other, so it's only right for Harrison to have someone of his own.

"That's normal, Aunt Deb. Families get new children all the time," Harrison points out. Then another thought occurs to him. "Hey, can I name it?"

Aunt Deb looks up at him incredulously. She opens her mouth to say something and then seems to think better of it.

"No way. I'm the one who's going to swell like a fucking whale, I get to name it. And it's not an 'it'."

That makes sense to Harrison. The baby's part of the family, so it's not an it like other people's babies when they're floating around their mom's belies.

"I guess that's fair. Plus Dad got to name me, right? Let's go back already. I'm hungry."

They do go back eventually, though they sit by the car for a little longer.

Aunt Deb tries to put everything back before Dad comes home, but he's in early.

Harrison's in his bedroom, doing his homework, and he has to pause and peek from behind the door jamb to see what's going on. Dad has Aunt Deb by the arms and they're hissing at each other.

"You got me into this!"

"That's rich! Was I the fucking serial killer you covered for? Was I, Dex?"

"I didn't ask you to do that, I tried to keep you out of it! I didn't love you like this before but you wouldn't leave well enough alone. I'm stuck in the muck you dragged me into and I can't go back. Can you?!"

Aunt Deb's face kind of glitches, shuffling through complex adult expressions. Harrison's pretty sure there's fear, guilt, self-loathing, and then just before she lurches towards Dad and hides her face against his shoulder, relief. A good sign. Dad's big hands instantly spread over Aunt Deb's back, trying to cover as much territory as possible.

Harrison lets the door fall closed silently and goes back to his notebooks, soothed now. He guesses neighbor lady called Dad. At least now they have a great cover for Aunt Deb's weird behavior. In the back of his mind Harrison's already filling it in, how Dad had a girlfriend and Aunt Deb tried to leave him, but then they patched it up because of the baby. When they move now no one will find it suspicious. Even if they can't find a bigger place next time Harrison won't mind sharing with the baby. Dad and Aunt Deb share. It's what siblings are supposed to do, after all.

When he emerges next, his parents are sitting together on the couch, huddled close and loose-limbed like puppets with their strings cut.