Murder by Numbers belongs to Warner Brothers, and is used without permission but with great admiration.

And yes, folks. It's slash. You can't tell me you didn't watch that movie and see it!

She Watched

There really was a videotape.

She'd been lying to Justin, when she told him they'd found a video in Richard's basement where Justin had killed the woman, but when the police had been searching, someone had knocked into the wall, and a hidden compartment had swung open. Within that empty spot with it's drywall just placed instead of plastered in, were shelves and shelves of videotapes.

For the first half, there was just tape after tape of Richard having sex with dozens of anonymous girls. The police tracked them down, but none of them had expected his darker streak.

Then abruptly, the sex tapes stopped, and instead there were dozens of tapes where nothing happened but Justin and Richard sitting on the bed, studying biology.

Son of a bitch, she thought. Justin had tutored him at biology.

Anyone who watched could see Justin getting more and more frustrated with Richard, who clearly could do the work, but simply chose not to. In every tape, he got progressively angrier, until Richard, in one tape, abruptly leaned over and kissed him.

Justin pushed his away, and returned to the internal structure of plant cells.

His cheeks were pink though, and he was less angry.

The tapes continued in the same vein, and every time Richard pushed, he got just a little further, until she watched, palms sweaty, as Richard totally claimed the other's body.

As abruptly as last time, the theme changed again. Justin ceased to appear, and it was faceless girls again, until the second last tape.

This was a blonde girl, gasping and moaning, but Richard's eyes were never on her - they were fixed instead, with a fearsome gaze, on the camera.

A copy of this tape, they told her, was found among the girl Lisa's things. They girl was Lisa. She'd been used.

The last tape was death.

There was murder. Justin's hands were around the crying woman's throat, squeezing the life out of her as Richard watched, eyes bright and fierce and wild. When Justin finally removed his gloved hands, painfully unfolding fingers that had cramped from the force, Richard leaned forward, and kissed him over the dead woman. It was a strangely touching kiss, not violent or fierce or demanding - it was a gesture. A token.

There were cameras in the place on the bluffs, too. Motion sensor activation, three of them. She could only imagine Justin's fury at this breach in the secrecy, but she'd always known Richard was a voyeur. He was just such a narcissist that he'd spy on himself.

She watched them plan, practice, execute. She watched them burn evidence, discuss philosophy, make suicide pacts. She watched them laugh and cry and kiss.

Richard stumbled in one night, running from a drunk father, and Justin cradled him close. Both were silent, Richard was shaking, and Justin ran his hands soothingly down his arms.

Justin slaved away on an essay one night, dozens of books spread around him. Despite his jokes, Richard brought him mugs of hot chocolate, and rubbed soothingly at his shoulders.

They made love. They had sex. They fucked.

They kissed. They clung. They fought.

She watched, and she began to understand.

She'd thought Richard was manipulating Justin, when she first saw this case. Then she'd seen the ring print, and thought Justin was manipulating Richard. Then she'd seen the kiss, and thought Richard was manipulating Justin. Then she saw Justin teasingly draw Richard into sex and thought Justin was manipulating Richard. Then the police found the transcripts of Richard requesting Justin as his tutor, and she was back to Richard manipulating Justin again.

Richard was manipulating Justin into manipulating Richard into manipulating Justin into manipulating Richard.

Every time though, she came to the same conclusion.

Justine loved Richard.

Richard loved Justine.

Richard loved Justine loved Richard loved Justine loved Richard loved Justin.

They hadn't done this - any of this - because they'd been tricked or deceived or fooled. They were doing this because they loved each other.

And proving it by killing people was easier than just admitting it.

She'd thought, maybe, at first, that this meant Justin was like her, he was strong enough to break away from that love and walk out. Then she realized that he'd saved her because Richard was dead. He'd actually meant to die with him until she'd shown up. Death with Richard was better than life without him. With one gone, and not the other, he fell into traditional roles - save the girl. Be the hero. Get patched up. Live happily ever after.

But Richard! He'd rebelled from that bond of love, like her, he'd finally done the right thing. He'd told the police. Only he didn't. He tried to shoot her. He tried to choke her. He'd died.

Neither of them had the strength she'd found. They were both her, both her abuser, both her if she hadn't walked out that night. Both her if she hadn't woken up in that ravine. And one died, and one was dead inside.

She thought about calling the prison, to warn them, to put him on suicide watch.

She didn't.

A few days later, she got a call. A few short sentences, then a video arrived in the mail.

It was grainy surveillance footage, but she could see, in the lower right corner of the screen, Justin gather his sheets, tie them to the back window, then twist and tug and gasp and twitch, then fall silent.

She keeps a picture on her desk. Next to a photo of her partner and herself, and her mom and dad in happier times, there's a merged photo. It's two young faces combined into one new human being that peers at her eerily and fiercely.

Scrawled on the bottom of the photo are the words: "YOU GOT OUT."

Because she had.

She had scars, inside and out. But her face wasn't merged anymore, and she was still alive.

She'd lost something as a result though. They had loved each other, to the very bitter end. Justin, frozen Justin, had been crying when he knew Richard had fallen. He'd tried to hide it, but he'd been dying inside. Richard had glittering tears in his eyes as he choked the life out of her, hissing that it was her fault he'd shot Justin. He, too, had been dying inside.

They were dead.

But they'd died loving each other.

She lived.

But her love had died when she nearly had.

She lived, and didn't love.

They loved, and didn't live.

And she had to wonder which of them had the better deal.