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An Equal Exchange of Matter and Experience

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Lukas folds his hands so he stops unlocking the screen of his smartphone and ventures a furtive look around the packed student bar. He's ordered a beer that's sitting in front of him, still untouched and slowly warming.

Once Rick arrives he's easy to pick out even though Lukas's been careful to choose a seat furthest from the entrance and tucked away in a corner. Then again, Rick's the kind to stick out anywhere. The bar's not a place to take somebody out to or to have business meetings at. In spite of the casual atmosphere, Rick is dressed to the nines in a silky looking grey suit and dark coat. Lukas doesn't know anything about fashion but even he can see it's bespoke. He recognizes the shame creeping up his neck like a familiar touch. Suddenly, the threadbare pair of jeans he's wearing feel entirely too big, too scratchy, too filthy. Then Rick zeroes in on him and comes over. 

"Good to see you", he greets Lukas with a firm handshake. Their eyes lock in that intense way of Rick's, like he's boring right through the skull into the other's thoughts. 

"You, too", Lukas replies. They don't have to be mind readers to know they're probably thinking along the same lines right now. He tries a smirk. 

It's amazing how casually Rick's able to hold himself while he's shrugging out of his coat, putting it over the back of his chair. When he starts straightening the tablecloth Lukas knows he's stalling. Which is not exactly unusual behavior for him. When they first met on some message board, Rick's posts had been wordy, only slowly building up to whatever point he was making. All personal information had been revealed piecemeal. Even now Lukas's left guessing at his last name. He knows Rick's a very private person anyway, but in their case the thick, conspiratorial air between them is part of the fun. He's seen Rick kill, slowly and meticulously working up to it, stretching it out. Just like a big cat would leave the killing blow for last. Seeing Rick this excited is making Lukas almost giddy.

"So?", Rick finally relents on himself. 

Lukas's fingers tangle when he hurries to unlock his phone screen. He's not dared to keep the video open while in the streets so it takes him a while to scroll back to the link somebody posted on the movie board. When he finally shows Rick the screen on mute the other's perched on the edge of his seat. Rick's eyes go minutely wide then start to blaze. 

"Almost a million views", Lukas comments quietly, ignoring the slight shaking of his hands. 

Rick reaches into some hidden pocket inside his coat and pulls out cheap earphones, gesturing towards Lukas's phone. "Give me." 

The bustle of the bar is drowned out by the rushing of blood in Lukas's ears. He watches Rick watch the video, clutching and unclutching his warm beer, and even though he can't see what's going on on screen, he doesn't really need to. He thinks he should probably be more rattled by their work being on the news but all he's able to process is a curious sense of liberation. He feels hot as soon as he thinks about it. Is transported back into that backroom. He smells blood, thick and nauseating, when now, at their table, he should be assaulted by the smell of grilled beef, soda and baked peppers. The pictures in his mind are going in reverse. It's the first time he's seen actual brain matter in real life, up close. When he's concentrating he can feel the burning in his arms and calves from holding the unfortunate gas station attendee down while Rick swings that baton like Babe Ruth. Can feel his own warm, rapid breathing repelled by the mask. Can hear the crunch of steel on bone, the wheezing of air being forced through shattered teeth. It all builds up into a single shrill tone, ringing behind his eyes, pinching the base of his nose. 

Rick sets down the phone with a clatter. They look at each other across the small table for two. Rick clenches his jaw, swallows. Before Lukas can decide whether the inferno he finds there is good or bad news, a waitress practically materializes beside them. 

"I'm so sorry", she says, "what can I get you guys?" She must be even more tired than she looks from the way she's not immediately and completely focusing on Rick. 

Rick's tone is light, his speech only slightly stilted. "I'll have some water, still. And a Caesar salad, please, no bread." 

She nods and jots everything down, then turns an expectant gaze at Lukas. 

He shrugs, he's not hungry. "Fries?" It comes out as a question and he has to clear his throat after. 

"We better start taking extra care now", Rick continues as soon as she's gone. "But I don't think the situation’s too serious yet." 

Lukas takes a drink and grimaces. "It's… it feels strange to look at the pictures. It's all still... there." 

Rick hums understandingly. "Visually reaffirming our experiences addresses a different part of our brain." He splays his hands out on the tabletop. Lukas can see the tendons there work as Rick pushes on it for emphasis. "It makes the memories sink in deeper, so to speak. Maybe we should take pictures ourselves, next time." 

When Lukas looks up he's met with Rick's face almost entirely open, making the back of his neck go hot. From the beginning it’s been weird thinking about himself existing next to somebody like Rick but it's even weirder realizing that what they have right now, despite their many differences, is some kind of partnership. When Rick says things like 'we should' and 'us' some long forgotten, weak part of Lukas surfaces making his chest clench tight. He feels a slow smile settle on his face. "We could use a polaroid camera." 

Rick's raised eyebrows are like a reward. "Good thinking. No digital traces to be left anywhere." 

Lukas reckons they could be taking pictures of each other in action as well, then. He could offer to keep them like he sometimes keeps Rick’s kit. He thinks about Rick in his plastic overalls standing in his tile-and-glass shower. All that blood is washing straight off, gurgling down the drain. They'd be in Rick's expensive city flat, their recent kill blowing their irises wide, a shot straight up their veins. Lukas would finally feel the tension leave his shoulders after weeks, sliding off his back like a beast releasing its bite. He'd watch Rick who's eerily still. Their masks would be off and Rick's clear gaze steady and scorching. And it'd be directed at him like it always is, he’s noticed recently, from the time they burst through the doors to the time they separate before dawn. 

What they're doing is easy. It's safe. They don't fuss about names, race, gender or any of that. Makes it harder to assign motive. At the same time, it's not completely random either. It's hard to explain, Lukas has tried to many times, but most often they just know when they’ve got a target. Or rather, Lukas knows. He'll be on the train home and he'll see this student, or group of drunks. Or the cashier at Aldi down the street from where his old mom lives in an apartment block. He'll snap a quick photo, send it to Rick via app with a comment about their clothes or something like that. They'll chat. Casually. They'll meet. Stalking cannot always be done together but they both like to share its thrill. They are careful not to waste too much effort on preparation, don’t let it drain out all of the fun. Lukas'll wire an older car while more often than not they'll take Rick's Mercedes with the built in GPS removed. They'll pack their bags as if going to the gym. Rick does call it sport at some point and Lukas is inclined to agree. It's anger management. It's much more potent than ecstasy. He can't fathom how people could endure a whole year going without it in the movies. 

 

Rick's first through the backdoor, like always. Lukas's become quite good with lockpicks which means they don't have to use brute force as much anymore. He quietly closes the door behind him. No security cams in the back, no safety locks. Thankfully they seldom have to worry about heavy security in Germany — yet. There should be nobody home right now, though they don't have too much time either. They stalk upstairs and find the master bedroom. 

Rick considers the hefty wardrobe for a second, then stoops low to check the bedframe. They exchange looks. It's old, decent quality vintage, like most of the furniture in here, so there's enough space for a man to scoot under. 

"We could be the literal monsters under their bed", Rick explains, clearly amused by his own idea. 

"I don't know, looks kind of cramped", says Lukas. He's not exactly jumping at the prospect  of lying between dust bunnies and lost socks for a couple of hours, but he can see where Rick is coming from. "Let's hope they don’t stay out too long, then." 

The couple they're visiting are only a little older than them. They're well off, either academics or musicians, or both, judging by the decor. She's average height, slightly pudgy. He's on the short end but broader, like he's seen the inside of a ring of some sorts or a mat at some point in his life. At least he's able to lift her onto the mattress no problem, it seems. They've been fucking for twenty minutes, directly above their heads, and the shaking of the bed frame together with the noises they make start to bear down on Lukas’s constitution. The man beside him’s little more than a shape, a darker patch of unmoving shadow against the low light of the bedside lamps while Lukas can feel his own nerves fray and his dick stiffen. 

He can't really keep from imagining himself to be the one thrusting into her even though he can barely remember what that must feel like. Wet and hot and slick like a sharp knife slicing through fat tissue and softening muscles is the closest he gets. She's screaming, trying to keep her voice down or pretending, while the guy makes crude grunting noises. He's out of breath. The mattress trembles. 

Rick's movements are minute but even across the bulk of their bags squished between them Lukas can feel the tension radiating from his wound up body. He's coiled like a starved dog waiting for the leash to come off. Lukas is sweating under his mask, his hands clammy inside the gloves while he clutches at the handle of his baseball bat. He tastes the air to find it ripe with anticipation, arousal. 

When he rolls from their hiding place, he's sure Rick's right there with him. 

For the split second before realization sets in and Lukas's bat'll connect with their skulls, they all stare at each other. He sees their naked bodies interlocked, sheets thrown off the bed, pillows crumpled. They look at him - this monster manifesting from the darkness - red-faced and damp and vulnerable. He registers her tousled hair, her frown like she's trying to figure this out, this unexpected change of direction. Even without trying to do so, he sees her lover's gone soft already. 

The thwack of Rick's night stick cracking into the girl's temple seems to put time back in order. Her scream gets stuck in her throat while the boyfriend struggles to launch at them, eyes and mouth gaping wildly. Lukas pulls back, let's the guy catapult himself right into the bat on its downswing. The guy doesn't stay down. His leg gets caught in the sheets when he goes to get up. He's clearly disoriented. Lukas kicks him in the chest, hears the air leave the guy's lungs with a whistle. He crumples backwards, leg bent at an awkward angle. Lukas waits a heartbeat for him to recover but before he can chance a look at what Rick's doing, the guy grabs him by the pant leg, pulls. There is blood starting to run down his forehead, gathering around the eyes like a mask. Lukas smashes his arm, keeps hitting the same spot. The guy's howling, so he swings for his mouth. For his neck. Hears the crunch of a larynx breaking. Realizes he's smiling beneath his mask because his cheeks are starting to ache. 

The guy is groping at his throat, trying to hold back the blood that's spilling from his lips instead of shouts. He gets a kick in the junk that makes him double over, coughing up more blood and mucus. Out of breath Lukas watches while the guy curls into himself like a slug on salt. Over the blood pounding in his ears and the wheezing at his feet it takes a few frantic heartbeats before he can place the flapping noise. It's the wings of a nocturnal bird of prey, the shaking of a polaroid picture. 

He feels Rick's eyes on him, magnified by the holes of his mask to a lethal degree of freezer burn. "Tired?", Rick asks. His muffled voice, quiet and rough, makes goosebumps rise on Lukas's arms all the way up to the back of his neck.

He's looking over towards the headboard. Surrounded by the warm glow of the dimmed lights, the way Rick's cradling the girl's neck from behind to hold the instax steady could almost pass as affectionate. She's splayed out, never even made it off the bed. There's a shimmering spray of dark droplets across the pillows, on the wall closest to her, on Rick's forearms and broad chest. It's coming from where her temple is burst open in a sticky mess. Her eyes are half-lidded, rolled back to milky white after having the life choked out of her. Lukas bites his lip as his eyes trace Rick's gloved fingers, kitschy bone print, cheap nylon. Bruises and grooves they left. He suddenly wants to put his own hand on them, cover them over. 

"I did all the hard work", he says. Grips his bat tight so his hands won't go off on their own, touching things. There's still more work to do. "Now I'm warmed up." 

When he pulls himself away from the display on the bed, it's a wholly different kind of energy that's rushing through him. It's prickly, a current that powers his straining biceps. Like licking a powerline, like running your tongue over an unshaven jaw. The guy has barely moved from where he's crumpled on the rustic floorboards, an easy target for swinging practice. Lukas's slightly disappointed that the guy seems to have no fight left, failing to block even one swing. He can't tell exactly when the guy gives up and dies, but by the time Lukas comes up for air from a world filled with the sound of breaking bone and surrendering flesh, he's sweating, the lower arms of his jacket soaked through, tacky. 

Suddenly, all he wants to do is tear his mask off. Burst from his skin and run from the room, run away from the the gorey mass of blood and limbs on the floor, the tangle of bodies on the bed. It must be exhaustion that's pulling bile from his stomach. The air he's breathing is hot and he is burning up from the inside. He feels feral, unstoppable. 

From behind him, barely audible over the pounding in his head, he hears Rick swallow a hungry groan. 

If time seems to stop before the first hit, now there doesn't seem to be enough of it. Lukas finds himself in front of Rick, but the in-between, how he got there, is missing. He can see himself reach for Rick's collar, can't see the body, the camera fall away until their afterthoughts hit the floor with a soft thud and clatter. Can feel the folds of clothing bunch in his fist, pulling at the lines they've put down between them. He doesn't see it coming when Rick crushes his masked face into his, like a headbutt or a kiss, and it almost knocks him off balance. Knocks him back a few steps, a whole year to that first time they met. To the first time he watched that man swing his fists, then the baton, with devastating precision. Time is blending together, re-aligning, solidifying into red-tinted hyperreality. But Rick isn't pushing, this isn't a struggle. The monster is on its knees, baring its neck for him. They're so close the plastic edge of his mask is cutting into Lukas’s hip.

Clumsily Lukas circles that throat with his bloody hands despite the bad angle. Beneath his palms he can feel the vibration of Rick's moan and it's going straight south. The smell of blood in the air is thick again and potent, cloying. Numbing his thoughts to the point where he can allow himself to entertain the brief image of Rick blowing him right here, him fucking into that mouth. 

Rick is already blindly, impatiently grasping for the straps of his mask, his pale eyes blown dark. Lukas doesn't stop him there. Although he could: Squeeze like Rick must have done with the girl earlier, or cave his head in; push, push, push and rip out his throat. 

Instead he watches that final layer finally slip off, feels a sense of foreboding creep up on him with every centimeter that's revealed of Rick's face. Each minute longer they spend here is playing with fire. "This is crazy", he breathes and it echoes back to him from the plastic over his mouth, sounding panicked, desperate. 

"Nobody's gonna see anything", Rick says quietly, finitely, and Lukas can feel the words under his fingertips. They're dead, they seem to imply, we've been careful. 

"You can keep yours on, if you want to", Rick says and waits. Immovable. Looks at Lukas, looks through his skull. Can probably see his intentions there. Rick can take it. 

It takes effort to let go of the neck where he's leaving behind wet handprints. He fumbles his zipper at first because the way the bedroom lighting plays off Rick's angular jaw, the curve of his cupid's bow, his serious brow is distracting. 

Then it's infinitely more easy to feed the head of his hardening cock between Rick's parted lips. The wet heat of his mouth seems to radiate outwards, engulf the bones of Lukas’s hip, his spine, the back of his eyeballs. He sinks into it, keeps sinking even when Rick starts gagging. Images from his fantasies start overlapping with what's in front of him: Like looking through glass, he can see the baby-pink muscles of Rick's throat tense, pull taut, milk him; can feel the slight bumps at the back of Rick's tongue pleasantly scrape against his dickhead when he let's go of the bat to pull Rick in by the hair; hears Rick swallow him down and savors the sloppy noise on each pump; sees his flesh give way with every violent stab; blood, blood, blood; imagines Rick's eyes rolling back in near-death delirium. 

Instead they're fixing him in place, pinning him to the spot like a searchlight in the dark. 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah", Lukas chants in his head, but all that slips past his teeth is an animal grunt. He's almost stilled in Rick's throat, rutting against him, plugging him up. There's the edge of canines then Rick's hands come up against his hip, but they can't seem to decide whether to go for pushing or holding on. 

Muscles are spasming, constricting in frantic pulses around him. Muffled objections or encouragements make the fine hairs on his arms stand on end. Lukas's legs start trembling, inevitable spillover from Rick's struggle for air and his own physical exhaustion. It's too tight, to good, too much, these eyes are too bright. He wants to pull out, manages a couple of inches, but the mouth follows until he's drained dry. 

There seems to be hardly any oxygen left in the room when they come down. The beast's breath is stale, sated, coppery, coming slowly over Lukas's shoulder into his heaving chest. He can't quite tell yet if the man on his knees in front of him is real or a preternatural remnant of reality shunting back into place. Gingerly Rick swallows once, twice, wipes his chin. Almost absent-mindedly, one of his hands go to the tented front of his overalls, squeezes as if to stave of his own desires - patiently biding his time. There's blood drying in his hair, making it stick up slightly. 

Lukas licks his lips. If this is how things are he could go again soon. 

"I think", Rick says hoarsely, voice sticky with cum, "I got all of it." 

Blankly the woman watches them regroup, her neck bent uncomfortably by the deadweight of her torso. Watches Rick pull himself up by the bedsheets. Watches Lukas stuff himself back into his pants. Watches Rick put his mask back on, collect their weapons, the instax and pictures, pull their bag out from under the bed with measured movements. Lukas can feel her milky eyes tracking his back while he's checking for footprints on the floorboards around what remains of her boyfriend. He's trying to put himself together, his mind a thousand places all at once: They're sitting at a table across from each other, trying to rein in the grins threatening to split their faces while they're nursing their drinks, acting like spoilt children getting away with murder. They're focused on each other, Rick's gaze watery and all-consuming, while Lukas keeps driving his pelvis forward in this darkened. Right now, they're in someone else's bedroom and Lukas's looking right through his hands, clenching and un-clenching in starching gloves. 

Routine is a powerful engine and they make it out pretty soon. Quietly, the house spits them into an unsuspecting neighborhood. 

Lukas's still studying his blood-encrusted knuckles when they're swinging onto the freeway. Today their visit has left him raw, overstimulated, transcendent. The radio is drizzling out late night jazz. He keeps sucking on his lips, tasting sweat. He tries to remember what the woman above them sounded like getting railed, but that's like trying to remember what he's had for breakfast three weeks ago or the color of the news anchor's shirt. He waits for the post-kill soreness to settle into his core. 

In the driver's seat, Rick looks perfectly composed, fixing the road ahead like a foe conquered. Then Lukas notices the coil of muscle in his jaw jump, the small twitch almost slipping by him. 

"Let's take a look at the photos, later", Lukas suggests. 

The rearview mirror does nothing to soften the impact of Rick's eyes as they meet his in it. They tell him their night's not over yet. "Yeah", Rick says, "that's a brilliant idea."