Gilbert looked down at his bloodied hands and felt like throwing up.
He crouched over the man and nudged him. He rolled forward. He was definitely dead. Gilbert had punched him until his nose crunched and folded inwards. Until his cheekbones shattered.
Gilbert collapsed onto his victim and heaved, swallowed, and heaved again.
Shit, fucking hell, what was he going to do?
Gilbert slipped in his own vomit as he scrambled up and raised his hands in defense.
“I didn’t mean to…!” He stumbled over the words, the broken confession, and stared at the man sitting on the garbage cans. He had not been there when Gilbert had dragged the first man behind the rural bar and started kicking his teeth in. “Who the fuck are you?”
He blinked at Gilbert.
“You can see me.”
It almost sounded like it should have been a question.
“How long have you been there?!”
“You shouldn’t be able to see me…”
He was pale beneath the flickering, exposed lightbulb hanging off the side of the bar and wrapped in an oversized bomber jacket. His soft blonde curls dusted his face, tangled behind his ears, and trailed below the woollen collar of his jacket. He hummed, clucking his tongue, and pushed off the garbage cans.
He walked towards him.
“I wonder why…?”
Gilbert blanched and pointed his finger at the blonde man but his hands were still trembling and, shit, he was going to throw up again.
“Mind your own fucking business,” he gasped, bending over and swallowing, swallowing, swallowing. The man kept walking closer. “It’s just, it’s just a bar fight. Don’t get involved.”
He stopped in front of him and chuckled. Gilbert glanced up. And up and up. He was at least six foot four.
“A fight?” He kicked the carcass at his feet. Hard. “This wasn’t a fair fight. You killed him.”
“I know, okay.”
“Well,” he jammed his hands into his pockets and his sleeves bunched up around his wrists. He looked relaxed under the circumstances. Calm. “What are you going to do about it?”
“You’re not…” Gilbert nervously scrubbed at his mouth. “You’re not going to, I don’t know, report me…?”
He smiled at him and shook his head.
“No. But you’ll have to move him soon. Before someone comes looking. Just…”
“Move him,” Gilbert repeated stupidly.
“Yes,” his smile widened and curled and, oh, his teeth were sharper than he had thought. That was unnerving. “Get rid of the body.”
“You’ll figure it out. Just let me…”
He suddenly dropped to the pavement and jammed his hand into the corpse, digging his clawed fingers underneath the ribcage, and then he pulled it out again in a flash of light and the sound of screeching metal. He flicked something into the air and it disappeared. He did not even leave a scratch.
He wiped his hands on his jeans and stood up again.
“There. He’s all yours.”
“What did you do?!” Gilbert yelped.
“I cleaned up your mess.” He stepped over the body and stared pointedly at Gilbert’s bruised knuckles. “You killed him before his time so no one was assigned to collect his soul. It was an accounting error. You’re welcome.”
“You're… You’re a…”
“I’m a glorified auditor, honestly.”
Gilbert looked down at his knuckles too.
It had happened. It had finally happened. He had finally gone crazy.
But he supposed that it made as much sense as anything else in his life. He had not been born this way. He had been made. A thousand wrong turns had led him to this moment.
He was a murderer, now, and he could see the fucking grim reaper. Greaaat. That was just great.
“… Okay. Sure, why not? Why the hell not?”
The reaper laughed and took his hand gently, carefully in his own. He ran his fingers delicately over his knuckles. He shook it.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you.”
Gilbert giggled. Giggled. It came out a little high pitched and strained.
“Will I see you again?”
“Not unless you’re planning to kill someone else.”
Gilbert dragged the man roughly out of the car by his ankle and swung him over his shoulder. He was lighter than his first victim had been. Or his second.
His shoes slipped in the mud as he started down the slope into the forest.
“You know… That wasn’t a suggestion.”
“Holy fucking shit!” Gilbert shrieked, tripping over his own feet and sliding into a tree. The corpse rolled past him. “What the fuck is your problem?!”
He was covered in filth and upside down but he grinned up at the reaper.
“I was about to ask you the same question.” The blonde crouched beside him and started picking leaves out of his hair.
“Ah, c'mon, this is only, like, the fourth one.”
“Shit, really?” Gilbert counted them off on his fingers and was forced to admit that he might, maybe, just maybe, have a problem. “The first one, that one in the district, the hitchhiker…”
“The woman in New Orleans.”
“Oh, right, I forgot. I was reaaally drunk though. Are you sure that counts?”
The reaper pulled another leaf out of his hair before tenderly smoothing it behind his ear.
Gilbert leaned into the palm of his hand.
“I guess I just missed you.”
It had taken Gilbert a couple of weeks to figure out that he could only see the reaper if he had recently killed someone. It had taken him a little longer than that to stop throwing up when he did.
He was settling nicely into his role as a serial killer.
“We have to stop meeting like this.”
Gilbert cackled delightedly and tossed him a shovel.
“This is the only way I get to see you,” he said, and turned back to the hole he was digging. It was only three by three feet so he would have to get… Creative when he buried the body.
Luckily, he had brought an axe with him.
“You shouldn’t even be able to see me,” the reaper mused as he came up beside him and pushed his shovel into the dirt.
“Yeah, what’s up with that?”
“I have no idea.”
Gilbert shrugged carelessly. He was pretty sure that the reaper was a figment of his unravelling, twisted mind. He doubted that he even existed.
But he enjoyed his company anyway.
“Wait a second…” He stopped shovelling and glared suspiciously at Gilbert. “Why the heck do you have two shovels?”
“I’ve been expecting you.”
The reaper spluttered in indignation.
“So, do you, like, have a name?” Gilbert asked as he paddled across the lake. The reaper was sitting on the stern of the boat with his feet propped up on his latest victim.
“You’re only asking me that now?”
“Oh, it hasn’t been that…”
“It’s been two years, Gilbert.”
“Really?” Gilbert stopped paddling in surprise but they were probably far enough from the shore. “Shit. I’m a terrible friend.”
“Is that what we are…? Friends…?”
“Aren’t we?” Gilbert bent forward and checked the chains wrapped around the corpse. They were locked and weighted.
“Great, then help me throw this body into the lake.”
He muttered under his breath that Gilbert had tricked him, again, but he still helped him push the body overboard. Gilbert threw an arm around his shoulders as it plunged beneath the waves slapping against the boat.
“Matthew,” he supplied quietly after it had disappeared. Gilbert smiled and ruffled his curls. He passed him an oar.
“You don’t look like a ‘Matthew'…”
“Yeah, well, you don’t look like a murderer.”
“I think that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Gilbert pressed his hands into the incision he had made and wiggled his fingers. The intestines slipped and slurped as he fumbled around. It was warm. Comforting.
He sighed happily.
He used to be so angry all the time. He used to be covered in bruises from picking fights he could not win. He used to figuratively spit and scream and claw his way through other people.
Now he did it literally and he was much calmer for it.
“You’re killing more often now.”
Gilbert looked up at Matthew and beamed.
“I can’t help it.”
He angled his hands up and under the ribcage and pushed when he met resistance.
Matthew rolled his eyes.
“You’re going to get caught.”
“Eh,” he shrugged, “I’ve had a good run.”
Gilbert clenched his fist and punctured the organs in his hands with ragged, dirty fingernails. They oozed between his fingers. He was up to his elbows and covered in splashes of red as if he had been colouring outside of the lines.
“… What are you looking for?”
“Someone like you,” he winked at him. Matthew blushed and it looked almost mauve in the waning sunlight. The warehouse was growing darker and darker and he would not be able to see what he was doing for much longer. “But at the moment I’m looking for his, uh, ugh, soul. I know it’s around here somewhere…”
Matthew chuckled and flopped onto the concrete.
“You’re not even close.”
“Fuck, seriously?” Gilbert whined and dug deeper. “I’ve seen you do this, like, fifty six times.”
“Mmm,” Matthew hummed and scooted closer. He placed his hands gently over his own in the open wound. “Do you, ah, want me to show you where it is?”
Gilbert made an aborted, excited noise low in his throat.
“You… You can do that?”
“You can’t, you can’t have it,” Matthew clarified, awkwardly, and worried at his lips with pointed teeth. It was sort of cute. “But I can show you.”
Gilbert grinned and knocked their foreheads together.
“Okay,” he whispered. “Show me.”
Gilbert jumped up and down excitedly when Matthew finally appeared and rushed forward. He bounced on top of the cadaver between them. He stepped on her face.
“Look!” He thrust the newspaper at him. “Look, I’m on page three!”
Matthew snorted, pried it out of his hands, and thumbed through several sections before landing on the correct article. Gilbert fidgeted impatiently as he read it. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!
“… Deathringer? They’re calling you ‘Deathringer’?”
“I know, right?!” Gilbert wobbled a little.
“What the heck is a ‘deathringer’?”
“I have no fucking clue, actually, but isn’t that awesome? I have a handle! I’m, like, a proper serial killer now!”
He was taller than Matthew from his precarious position on top of his latest victim and he had to look up at Gilbert when he scoffed.
“They’ve only attributed seven murders to you.”
“Alright, so it’s a work in progress, but…”
“That’s one way to look at it.”
“I’m an optimist.”
Matthew looked like he was struggling not to laugh and Gilbert felt his heart swell.
He was beautiful. He had been beautiful from the first time Gilbert had laid eyes on him. He was poised under the worst of circumstances and he wore death and destruction like a worn, comfortable sweater. He had not looked at Gilbert like there was something wrong with him. Like he was sick or twisted or damaged. He had smiled at him instead.
Gilbert leaned down and gently pressed their lips together.
It was soft and chaste and Matthew dropped the newspaper in surprise. It fluttered to the concrete and Gilbert had a moment between the badum, badum, badum of his deafening heartbeat to doubt himself. What if he pushed him away, what if he disappeared, what if…? And then Matthew pulled him into a deeper kiss and he forgot how to breathe.
He lost his balance and stumbled but Matthew scooped him up, hands on his ass, and he wrapped his legs around his waist. He threw his arms around his shoulders. He kissed him even harder.
Harder, harder, harder, more, now.
He had to slap his back when he eventually remembered that he actually needed to breathe.
“Well,” he curled around him and panted desperately against his collarbone. Matthew did not even seem winded. Asshole. “That just happened.”
“You started it,” Matthew huffed.
Gilbert kissed him again.
“Yeah. I guess I did.”
Gilbert sat in the shallow grave he had just finished digging and stared at the wrapped corpse that should have been in the hole instead of him. He knocked his head back against the dirt and sighed.
He was exhausted. He had been running for months. The police and federal bureau were closing in on him.
“I told you that someone would notice.”
Gilbert smiled contentedly at the sound of his voice and raised his hand in greeting.
“It couldn’t last forever.”
Matthew stepped into the grave and slumped down with his knees up around his ears. He frowned petulantly at the body. It was adorable.
“I was getting tired anyway,” Gilbert laughed. “It’s been eight years.”
“Nine,” Matthew snorted softly.
Gilbert leaned over and kissed him gently, searchingly, before his hands scrambled underneath his jacket and scratched over his ribcage. Matthew pressed a strangled moan against his lips and swung one leg over and, suddenly, he was rocking in his lap and pulling on his hair. He bit him and Matthew bit him back harder and their kisses tasted sharp and metallic when he ran his tongue over his pointed teeth.
He growled and pushed Matthew into the dirt and arched when their erections scraped against each other. He pinned his wrists over his head and trailed red stains over his stomach as his mouth wandered lower and lower.
“I’m going to miss this,” Gilbert smirked as he swallowed, swallowed, swallowed and Matthew clawed at his shoulders.
He really was.
Gilbert watched his executioners fumble with the syringes and grinned.
There were a panel of men and women, police and investigators and lawyers, pressed against the tinted windowpane to his left and he knew that they had been waiting years to see this. He would have waved at them but his hands were strapped to the gurney. He wiggled his fingers anyway.
He was covered with white electrodes that monitored his heartbeat.
“C'mon, guys, get it together,” he crowed, throwing his head back. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
“You’re always so impatient.”
Gilbert cackled as Matthew flickered into existence.
“Death waits for no man!”
Matthew smiled sadly and carefully approached the gurney. He reached for his hand and brushed over his knuckles and Gilbert was suddenly reminded of his first murder.
“I might have waited for you,” he said quietly.
“I know,” Gilbert agreed.
His executioners paused to stare at him in confusion before muttering and turning back to the instruments in front of them. Oh, right. They could not see him. Matthew had only appeared because Gilbert was so close to his own death.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“I know,” he echoed.
And he had to know. He had to know how much Gilbert loved him. He had killed sixty eight people to prove it.
Or maybe it was sixty nine.
“Will it hurt?” Gilbert asked, even though he was the last person who deserved mercy, and Matthew squeezed his hand.
“Only for a moment.”
His executioners approached and raised the first syringe.
“Can you take my soul before they kill me?”
“If you want,” he nodded.
Matthew bent over the gurney with a choked sob and Gilbert strained to kiss him one last time.
And then his hand was in his chest, and it was warm, and, shit, he must have forgotten how to breathe again, and Matthew was so, so beautiful in the glaring light…
And then nothing.