[-The First of June, 1887-]
“Argyll! Where are you?”
For what felt like the thousandth time, Alastair sighed.
It didn’t seem to matter how many times he corrected him- Lawrence didn’t seem capable of remembering that Alastair’s surname was D’Argyll, not ‘Argyll’. He’d given up on pushing it; he already sensed that Lawrence and some of his more dedicated followers weren’t fond of him as it was.
There were five leaders amongst the Lycans still in or around London: Lawrence, Madeleine, Argus, Rooker, and Adrienne. Argus was the oldest and, though it was never said out loud, the one who held the most power amongst them. Thus far, Argus, Rooker, and Adrienne were the only ones who seemed content with Alastair’s contributions to their cause, and willing to trust him- Lawrence and Madeleine, in contrast, seemed completely and utterly unwilling to trust him.
“He’s just bitter,” Adrienne had grunted. “He’s a stupid twat and the only reason he has any power ‘round here is because he’s got a lot of muscle and isn’t afraid to pick a fight. He’s jealous that Argus trusted you so quickly- and Argus trusts you because you’ve actually got something rattling around between your ears.”
Now Lawrence looked up at Alastair, who was sitting on the roof of one of their hideouts, with the expression of a man who smelled something distinctly disgusting. And if Alastair didn’t know that people could become desensitized to their own smells, he might have thought Lawrence was reacting to the foul stench that seemed to trail him around like a cloud.
“Did you need something?” Alastair asked coolly, raising an eyebrow at him.
Lawrence spat on the floor and sniffed. “We’re heading out on a raid. Argus wants you to come with.”
Years as the Knight Commander, in a position not unlike Argus’s now, it wasn’t difficult for Alastair to read between the lines: Raids were done for the purpose of supplying food or weapons or medicine for the packs, and it wasn’t difficult for things to get violent or out of hand. Argus was wary of Lawrence’s tendency towards violence, and he wanted Alastair to supervise him.
Alastair wanted to say he’d worked with worse, but he was starting to suspect that that wasn’t the case.
“I’ll be right there, Lawrence.”
“Why the fuck are you sitting on the goddamn roof anyways?”
Lawrence was of the variety of enemies that constantly, unapologetically criticized just about everything Alastair did, no matter how harmless or unimportant. Alastair took a deep breath and tried to keep his temper in check. “That’s my business, Lawrence. I’ll be right with you.”
Alastair had spent centuries hiding what he was from, quite literally, everyone. He hid it from his father, who hadn’t been kind enough to let him know that he knew Alastair was a Lycan; he’d hidden it from his sister, who’d merely screwed her face up with confusion or frustration whenever the occasional, poorly explained incident or absence took Alastair away from her; and he’d hidden it from every single person in the Order, from the very men and women tasked with murdering half-breeds like him.
Perhaps it was naïve, but he’d hoped that after severing ties with the Order- however unexpectedly and inadvertently he’d done it- that he might finally be able to live without the constant pressure of keeping incontrovertible truths about himself secret for the sake of self-preservation.
And for a while following his and Grayson’s escape from London, there had been some level of honest-to-God freedom that he’d felt when they’d been stuck together in that shack outside of the city. Maybe it was the blood-loss, maybe it was that he’d known Grayson for so many years, but Alastair had been more content than maybe was wise for a man who had been shot and stabbed more times than he could count.
The moment that contentment had ended was the moment he’d transformed in front of Grayson and seen the fear in Grayson’s eyes.
Then Alastair had returned to the city and found himself scrutinized by men and women who saw him not as a fellow Lycan, but a former Knight who, regardless of his actions on their behalf, had participated in the massacring of their race by the Order. That they did not trust him meant that Alastair couldn’t trust them either; and once again, he found himself on guard around a group of people that he was relying on for survival and companionship.
And in this moment, knowing that the grass was as green on this side of the fence as it was on the other, Alastair desperately missed the Order, flaws and all.
Walking into a raid with but a pistol felt like suicide, but that was the price of joining up with an underfunded and poorly armed people.
For a moment, Alastair wondered if maybe Argus didn’t like him as much as he thought he did, because not only was Lawrence on this particular raid, but so was Madeleine; and he could think of no other reason why Argus would stick him with these two unless he wanted things to go horribly wrong.
Be reasonable, Alastair chastised himself silently as he and Madeleine crept around the side of the warehouse. He’s not looking to get you killed. He wants you to ensure that these two don’t get up to anything.
Madeleine had been silent thus far, but Alastair suspected that wouldn’t last. She was a talkative one, and around Alastair, she usually had no shortage of barbs to throw at him. Evidently she thought him to be a snob; Alastair wasn’t sure what it was about him that had given her that impression, but given that Madeleine was the sort to pick fights with people and then wail about how she’d been viciously attacked by them, he didn’t especially care about her opinion of him.
His father had told him once, gruffly, after some playmate had called Alastair one thing or another, that “You oughtn’t feel insulted by someone whose character is so poor- they’ve not the place to be judging you. That brat is a sniveling, badly-behaved little beast whose parents indulge him too much, and let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Isabeau, who’d barely been five at the time, had nudged her brother after their father had left the room and said, with her typical bluntness, “I can throw all kinds of stones at him if you want, Alastair.”
Alastair tried not to think of his father or sister too often. He found himself becoming strangely, irrationally emotional when he did, especially when he remembered those tender moments of wisdom or companionship.
And in present company, sudden, irrational emotion was unwise.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Madeleine was scowling at him curiously, suspiciously, apparently taking the expression on his face as something devious or threatening.
“Nothing,” Alastair responded, slipping behind wearily familiar mask that he’d become accustomed to strapping on whenever something was bothering him. “Nothing at all.” He forced a smile. “But thank you for asking, Madeleine. I appreciate your concern.” Alright, so perhaps that bit was stretching the plausibility of his sincerity, but if he didn’t get angry then no one could blame him for anything later.
Madeleine snorted in disgust as Alastair walked past her. Judging from the lack of commotion the other Lycans were going about the raid quickly and quietly, and that meant that it was better for them not to be caught-
Alastair froze mid-step.
“What did you just say?”
“Nothing,” Madeleine trilled, insincerely and entirely unapologetically. “I didn’t say nothing.”
“That’s a double-negative,” Alastair retorted, more to annoy her than anything else. “And it sounded very much like you called me a poof.”
Her grin was- puns aside- wolfish. “Did it, now? My apologies. It’s just that, you do look like someone who enjoys taking it up the arse.”
Alastair felt a dark, heated sort of rage building up in him. He hadn’t told anyone thus far that he preferred men to women- as it was, Lycanthropy wasn’t the only secret he’d been forced to keep tightly wrapped over the centuries- and it was this exact sort of mockery that had kept him from doing it.
Lycans had a… Peculiar sort of biology that meant homosexuality between either gender was a more viable option than it was between humans. It was something rarely discussed amongst Lycans, because separate though they were, social norms and attitudes had migrated across plenty of lines. The… Exceptions of their biology were considered alarming by most and shameful by a similar number, and no one was comfortable talking about it; and by association, the subject of homosexuality was nearly as taboo. They were more likely to turn a blind eye to it than humans were, but that didn’t mean they approved of it.
Right now, Madeleine was trying to provoke a fight. She didn’t like Alastair, and she wanted a reason to knock the living hell out of him without getting chewed out by Argus and the others. And Alastair felt a very ugly, very primal desire to give in and give her exactly what she was asking for; he wanted to wipe that smirk off her face, to show her that she was provoking the wrong Lycan.
But Alastair hadn’t been promoted to Knight Commander for nothing: He was nothing if not tactful and diplomatic and more than capable of dealing with provocative idiots intent on getting under his skin. Besides, chances were she was simply baiting him, and had no idea that he was, in fact, a ‘poof’; and retaliating might only serve to confirm what she’d said.
Alastair took a breath. “Frankly, Madeleine, I don’t give a damn as to what you do or don’t think of me. But some attempt at maturity might prove to Argus and the others that you don’t need me partnering with you on raids.”
He was satisfied to see her expression turn stormy.
Fortunately- well, unfortunately, in a sense- further conversation was prevented by the sounds of gunshots from the area of the warehouse.
“Bloody hell,” Madeleine growled, pulling out her own worn gun and running off without hesitation.
Alastair sighed, rubbed his eyes, and for a moment recalled a time when he was the Knight Commander and worked with men and women for whom basic civility was a given, not a luxury. But Alastair was not Sir Lucan, the Knight Commander anymore; indeed, he wasn’t certain at all of exactly who he was anymore.
Something was on fire.
Alastair could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on, because fire was never good- fire spread, and it created smoke, and smoke attracted attention. This was supposed to have been quick and easy and nothing was supposed to get set on fire.
“What the hell is going-?”
He came to a stop when he saw the men.
There was one very easy way to tell the difference between a Lycan and a human if one was a Lycan, and that was smell: Lycans had a strange, subtle sort of smell that was only really detectable if one had a Lycan’s sense of smell. Alastair didn’t claim to know exactly why that was, but it had always been useful to know within a great deal of certainty who was a Lycan and who wasn’t; it had also been useful to know that he should make every effort to suppress that smell on himself, in the event that some random Lycan happened to pause long enough to realize that the Knight standing before him didn’t smell completely human.
The ten men kneeling in front of the warehouse were definitely human.
And they were definitely terrified.
They were maintenance workers, stockers most likely. Not a one of them appeared to have any weaponry on them, though a few were scratched or bleeding. Lawrence was pacing in front of them, eyes yellow, teeth extended, and skin scattered with the black patches typical of a half-transformed Lycan’s skin. The other Lycans, seven including Madeleine, were off to the side, watching the humans with leering, predatory gazes. Alastair didn’t like those looks.
“What the hell is this?” He asked warily.
“Mind your business, Argyll,” Lawrence snapped without taking his eyes off the men. “So, boys,” He drawled to the humans, “Who wants to die first?”
One of the men made a choked sound, and Lawrence grinned.
Alastair saw him reaching for his gun, and he rushed over. “They’re not even bloody armed! Why the hell would you want to-?” He was cut off as Lawrence, without a word, shoved him out of the way and into the wall of the warehouse.
Lycans, in human form, could and did display some degree of wolfish behavior, ranging from a desire to dominate others socially (not, of course, that that was necessarily a trait restricted to wolves or Lycans), to growling whenever a stray dog passed by. Generally, the severity of the behavior fell along a wide spectrum of variety depending on where the individual was raised and how they were raised. Alastair, for instance, had been raised amongst humans and knew from a young age that expressing any animalistic behavior could get him killed, so he rarely displayed any non-human traits; Lawrence, on the other hand, had been in a pack his entire life (or so Adrienne said) and had rarely been discouraged from doing what came naturally to him.
As such, Lawrence was behaving exactly like any leader of a pack (Lycan, human, or otherwise) would when their leadership was challenged: He was trying to assert his dominance, force Alastair to either back down or fight.
Alastair preferred neither.
“Look,” He hissed, straightening up again and tailing after Lawrence. “There’s no logical reason to do this. If you kill civilians, then humans think we’re monsters and strike back at us. If we leave them alone and let them live, humans have less incentive to hunt us.”
“Oh look, the little human-lover thinks we should leave ‘em be!” Lawrence sneered. “I am shocked!” He moved until he was right in front of Alastair’s face. “I knew from the moment you started dealing with our lot that you were more human than Lycan. Now you want to lay off the fuckers what have been killing us for thousands of years?! That don’t work, you stupid fuck!”
“Have you ever even tried?” Alastair snarled in response. “I doubt it. I’m not an idiot, Lawrence: You’re a blood-thirsty murderer trying to pretend that everything you do to the humans is justified because they’ve done wrong to us. You don’t want peace, you don’t want safety- you just want blood and screams and violence because that’s what satisfies you!”
That, apparently, was the breaking-point.
This time when Lawrence swiped at him, his claws were out.
Alastair leapt back quickly enough to avoid having his face ripped completely off, but not quickly enough that he didn’t feel the sting of some skin tearing. Lawrence was starting to complete the transformation, and Alastair realized that there was no escaping a fight now.
And some small, primal part of him, a part that had been denied for many, many years, was happy about that.
Alastair quickly ripped his jacket off and began his own transformation, wincing at the painful contortions his limbs always went through when he changed; he wasn’t as accustomed to them as the other Lycans, having changed fewer times in his life than them, and Lawrence changed faster. Alastair’s transformation was nearly complete when the other Lycan slammed into him.
Alastair brought his arm up quickly, and Lawrence’s teeth sank deep into the bicep- fortunate, really, considering that he’d been going for Alastair’s neck. The former Knight grit his teeth as the transformation completed, and once it had, he used every ounce of strength to lift Lawrence, still latched to his arm, up and swing him into the same wall he’d knocked Alastair into.
Out of the corner of his eye Alastair saw the humans taking advantage of the commotion to run. They were wise to do so: All of the assembled Lycans seemed more interested in watching a brawl between Alastair and Lawrence than they were torturing and killing humans.
Lawrence regained his footing, and the two began to circle each other, sizing one another up. Alastair realized, with some degree of surprise, that he had a significant advantage in this fight: Lawrence was smaller than him, and not as physically well-built. Alastair’s years of physical training and exercise had done him a great deal of favors in the past, but in this moment, it all may have been enough to save his life.
If Lawrence realized that, it didn’t show, and he rushed at Alastair. Tactically speaking it was a terrible move, one that said Lawrence was maybe better accustomed to being the larger of the combatants. Alastair caught him, digging his claws into Lawrence’s exposed chest and dragging them down to create deep, bloody gouges, then whipping one hand up to slash his face. Lawrence stumbled back with a roar, hands coming up to touch the marks, and Alastair saw that he’d managed to nick part of his eye.
Good, he thought, feeling almost drunk, Good. Good. Rip him to shreds, break him in half, make him sorry he ever fucking crossed me-
Alastair tried to calm down, tried to reel it back in. He’d gotten this way before, the night he’d fought Grayson in Tesla’s laboratory. Everything had become a blur of blood and violence and his heart beating so ragingly hard in his chest, and to Grayson- a man he’d held no hatred for and no desire to kill if could be avoided- Alastair had nearly dealt an early and ugly death.
You are not an animal, he told himself, holding back as Lawrence recovered, You’re a man. You have reason. You have logic. Don’t lose yourself.
“Leave it,” Alastair growled, flexing his claws. “Leave it. Walk away.”
Lawrence, who’d been clutching at his eye for the last few moments, seemed to rally at that- and now he looked even more livid than before. Alastair supposed that was at least somewhat predictable: Lawrence was a Lycan who thrived on being the strongest, the toughest, the bravest- and the least intelligent, as far as Alastair was concerned. His entire reputation and position amongst their pack was based on his ability to dominate others, and losing this fight would be better than conceding to Alastair.
He launched at Alastair one more time.
But in pain, with one eye shut and bleeding, his aim was off, and all Alastair had to do was reach out his hand and catch Lawrence around the throat. Against his will that urge to maul, to beat, to kill rose in him again, and before he could stop himself, he lifted Lawrence into the air…
…And then slammed him against the ground as hard as he could.
He heard bone snap and crack against the stone. Blood sprayed across Alastair’s ankles, and Lawrence was suddenly, dreadfully still.
For a moment, everything was silent.
Alastair stared down at Lawrence until the fact of the matter finally kicked in: He was dead. His body was shifting back into its human form, naked and withered. Blood was pooling around his head because Alastair had thrown him against the stone ground so hard that it had split open. There were- God- there were brains splattered and sprinkled in with the blood. The smell of it made Alastair’s stomach turn, where minutes earlier it had excited him.
I did this, he thought, staring dumbly down at the body. I did this with my bare hands.
God, what am I?
When he turned to look at the other Lycans, they were silent and still, staring at him with a mixture of awe and apprehension. Every one of them was Lawrence’s ally, and Alastair had just thoroughly trounced him.
On the spur of the moment, it occurred to him to take advantage of their shock.
“We,” Alastair snarled, “Are not killing unarmed civilians. Anyone else want to argue that point with me?” He looked directly at Madeleine, who was cowering with the others. Any smugness that had been in her face before was gone now. “Good,” Alastair snapped, and hoped they attributed the crack in his voice to the rough growl of a Lycan’s speech. “Grab what you can and let’s go.”
They left Lawrence’s body where it lay.
Alastair felt terrible, but he couldn’t bring himself to touch it.
“I swear I wasn’t trying to.”
Alastair sat on a crate back in the small cluster of buildings on the very edge of Whitechapel that the Lycans called their own. He’d found a pair of pants, but he was still shirtless while a Lycan named Holly cleaned up the scratches and bites Lawrence had left him with. The one on his face, she’d told him, would probably scar.
Argus waved a hand. “I don’t doubt it. Lawrence liked to push people, Alastair, and I warned him one day someone would push back. He chose not to listen.” He frowned. “Besides, you had every right to defend those men. I also told that idiot not to kill anyone that didn’t attack first, but…” He gave an uneasy shrug. “You know how it is, Alastair. Wounds fester. People get bitter.”
Alastair watched as a few children nearby stared down at a dead rat, one of them poking it with a stick and giggling when its guts popped out of a hole in its belly. He shuddered. “Yes, I know.”
“Might have to ask you to fill in for him for a time,” Argus said. “You’re bloody strong if you managed to take him so easily. And I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but you’ve also got enough sense not to go getting yourself killed over your bloody pride.”
Alastair managed a weak parody of a smile. “I hope not.”
Argus clapped his shoulder. “Rest up, yeah? And don’t let it haunt you, lad. You were in the right. Lawrence made his choice and you made yours, and you needn’t go losing your head over a man that was gonna die badly one day sooner or later.”
Alastair nodded hollowly.
And as Holly patched up some of the remaining wounds, he took a sip of Blackwater and considered that he had never been farther from the Order and everything he was before than he was right now.
He was Sir Lucan, Knight Commander, no more.
In his place was some creature that he neither understood nor liked.
And Alastair was sickened by him.