“Come on,” says the graverobber with his sometimes-blue-sometimes-gold eyes, smiling at Arthur and jumping over the graveyard fence. “You want to see the streets? You’d better stick with me.”
“I probably shouldn’t,” Arthur objects, but the graverobber isn’t listening, and Arthur doesn’t have much choice but to follow. He can’t go home yet.
They clamor for him in the streets as they walk by. “Hey, hey, magic-man, graverobber, I just need a little hit.” The words overlap and Arthur is caught in the din, looking around at the people who look so much stranger on the streets than they do on the screens, not-quite-real.
“What is this?” he asks, too loud.
“It’s the black market,” says a woman coming out of nowhere, clinging on to the graverobber’s arm. She’s dark-haired, ethereal, moves like a cat and looks like one too. “Hey, Merlin, you got a little Z for me?”
“Always for my best customer. You got the money?” She hands it over, nodding eagerly, and the graverobber—Merlin—kisses her messy and deep, balancing himself on Arthur’s shoulder like it’s normal, and Arthur doesn’t realize he’s doing anything with his hands until the woman whines. When he looks down, there’s a vial of bright blue liquid being injected into her through a gun.
“What is that?”
The woman moans, staggering back against the alley wall and sliding to the dirty ground, hand between her legs. Merlin just smiles. “It’s the 21st century’s cure. Where’ve you been all your life?” he asks, getting the next vial ready while everyone swarms around them, waving money, begging favors. “They’re addicted to the knife.”
“Addicted to the knife?”
“And they need something for the pain. So you put the gun against them …” He takes a man’s money seemingly at random and presses the gun against his stomach, eyes golden on Arthur’s the whole time. “And when it goes off, they’re ready for surgery.”
Arthur can’t bring himself to go back home yet, not when he’s already seeing so much more than his father ever let him learn, so he follows Merlin on the rest of his rounds, watching as he dispenses his Zydrate (drawn from corpses, fuck, it horrifies Arthur when he realizes it), as he stops to talk to some of his customers. He palms cash to some of them, including the feline woman he dosed first, who gives him another messy kiss in thanks.
“Why do you do it?” Arthur asks when they get back to the crypt.
“Want my sob story, rich kid?” He points at his eyes. “I got this done too young, when I was stupid, and when my dad got repo’ed I paid them off doing this. And now I help them out there make their payments, cause they can’t do it themselves. What are you doing, taking the grand tour of humanity’s worst?”
“I had to see something real.” Something outside of the confines of his house where his father keeps him away from the world.
Merlin laughs. “Surgery’s as real as it gets.”
The feline girl crawls in the crypt window later, shaky and crying, coming down from her high. Merlin hushes her until she can speak. “Repo Man got Gilli.”
“Fuck. Fuck, he told me he had a month till his payment was due.”
She cries horrible, heaving sobs until Merlin kisses her, mouth gentle on hers. She relaxes into his arms and he runs his hands over her back until she calms, and then they wander down to her arse, her thighs, to push her skirt up. When Arthur realizes what’s happening, he starts backing out of the crypt, but when Merlin catches his eyes he stops, unsure.
“I’ve got you, Freya,” Merlin says, and pushes his hand between her legs, which fall open. Arthur can’t see, from where he is, but he freezes anyway, and Merlin never looks away from him, not while Freya writhes in his lap, not while he unzips his trousers and slides inside her. His eyes flicker blue-gold-gold-blue while Arthur watches, and Arthur struggles against his arousal, his confusion, and doesn’t realize he’s drawing closer until his hand lands on Freya’s back and she’s bracketed between them.
She gasps when he touches her and comes, slumping forward into Merlin’s chest.
“You seem interested in the Zydrate,” Merlin says while he’s putting Freya to bed. “Want a hit? The first time’s free.”
Arthur shakes his head and backs off. “I’ve got to get home.”
“Whatever you say, rich kid.” He takes Arthur by the shoulder and kisses him, soft and sweet. “Just remember,” he whispers, “a dose of reality’s just as addictive as the Z. You’ll be back.”