[-The 14th of August, 1887-]
Generally speaking, Lycans didn’t transform out in the open in their community unless absolutely necessary.
Hence why Alastair was startled to hear the sounds of bone crackling and animalistic yowling as someone transformed.
Alastair’s head whipped around, trying to find the source of the noise and only finding a street full of nervous Lycans around him. Many of them started to pack up and go indoors, parents dragging their children inside and leaving the laundry half-hung on the wire, tools left on the workbenches. Anytime someone did something too noticeable, like transforming outside or howling or what have you, people had a tendency to disappear for fear that the authorities- or worse, the Order- would come crashing down on their heads.
It would be a lie to say that Alastair was proud of having once been the object of their fear.
That being said, his time in the Order meant that he wasn’t averse to danger or conflict, and so he took off in search of whoever it was that had just changed. He didn’t have to look far- the tiny corner of Whitechapel their pack inhabited was on the very edge of the city and didn’t have too many nooks or crannies to hide in.
He rounded a corner and saw a small, scrawny Lycan fully-transformed in a dirt-yard behind a house. He was yelping in pain, stumbling around, confused and frightened and… Wet? Alastair looked around and saw an upended bucket on the ground.
“Easy,” He said when the young (from the size, he had to be young) Lycan spotted him and started backing away. “Calm down. Let’s get you inside.” The Lycan whined, and Alastair motioned for him to follow. “Shh, come on now. Let’s go.”
Slowly, nervously, the Lycan followed.
It wasn’t a long walk back to Alastair’s quarters, a small room on the second floor of one of the buildings, but he led the young Lycan upstairs and shut the door behind him, drawing the curtains after peeking out to make sure no police had come running to investigate the sounds.
The Lycan was still whimpering like a kicked puppy, and was circling the center of the room nervously. Alastair studied him for a moment, noticing the distress, the unsteadiness with which he walked, and came to a realization:
“Is this the first time you’ve transformed?”
The Lycan let out a long, doleful howl that Alastair took as a yes.
“Shhhh,” He hissed gently, “Don’t howl so loudly. Can you change back?”
The Lycan shook his head frantically.
“Don’t panic,” Alastair assured him. “You’ll change back eventually. It may just take a little time.”
No wonder the boy was so frightened. Young Lycans generally didn’t have the ability to change form until, at least, the start of puberty, and the first change tended to come without warning when they were frightened or surprised. Alastair had been fortunate in that he’d been in the middle of a fight the first time he’d transformed at the age of fourteen, and the man who’d seen him transform didn’t live long enough to tell the tale to anyone else.
The worst part about the transformation- especially the first time- was the pain. The elongation and hardening of the teeth and nails was not as smooth as it eventually became; the cracking and shifting of the bones and the twisting of the muscles was equivalent to being stretched on the rack. Alastair had screamed through most of his first transformation, thinking that he was dying.
When he’d realized what had actually happened, he’d wished that he had died instead.
It generally wasn’t a time for celebration, a child’s first transformation into Lycan-form; if anything it was a depressing reminder that most, if not all, of their community’s children would be doomed to the same lives they’d led. It was one more person who could slip-up and get them all arrested or killed one day.
“Sit on the bed, if you like,” Alastair sighed. “Try to calm down and wait for it to wear off.”
The boy whimpered and crawled up onto the bed, circling in a dog-like fashion before curling up in a ball.
Alastair took another compulsive look out the window, still nervous. He’d spent years watching his back, going mad in his efforts to make sure he didn’t leave any trace of his transformations behind for someone to stumble upon, ensuring that every disappearance had an explanation. Thankfully, being the Chancellor’s son had helped: After all, who would believe that Alastair D’Argyll, of all people, was a Lycan? Being promoted to Knight Commander hadn’t just been an honor, it had been a relief; it added to his credibility, to other peoples’ unwillingness to believe that he was anything but the perfect (human) Knight.
He’d kept up the façade for so long, it hadn’t been easy to let go of it. It sounded hopelessly sentimental and melancholic, but Alastair wasn’t even sure who he was beyond the Order and his double-life. He didn’t know what it was to live without some degree of deception about his thoughts and feelings, his wants and needs; the stress had been slightly reduced by leaving the Order and being around the other Lycans, but even that little bit of slack had him stumbling, uncertain of what to do or how to handle himself.
There were times when Alastair wondered if it might have been better for Grayson to have just gone ahead and shot him.
When he turned back to the young Lycan, he saw that the fur was slowly starting to recede. The transition back to human form was considerably less uncomfortable than the transition to Lycan form, and at first it didn’t appear as though the boy even noticed that he was changing back. Finally, however, he started as he realized that his limbs had shrunk to their normal size, that his body had resumed its normal appearance, and he made a soft, relieved sound, burying his face in his hands.
Removed of all wolfish features, Alastair recognized him. “It’s Bill, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” Bill mumbled, curling in on himself self-consciously. He was naked, and Alastair threw him a shirt from his wardrobe. “Thank you, sir.” Wearily, he recalled that Bill was only about twelve or thirteen years old; roughly the same age Alastair had been when he’d first changed.
“Where are your parents?”
“My da’s at work. I don’t have a mum.”
Alastair rubbed his eyes. “This will probably happen again,” He said. “It will happen for a while until you learn to control it better. Your father should be able to help you with that. Do you have someplace in your home you can hide if the authorities come around whilst you’re transformed?”
By now Bill had put Alastair’s shirt on, and it was irrationally distressing to see how large it was on him, because he was too bloody young for this. “We have a hidey-hole built into the wall, sir.” Many of the buildings had been adjusted, had had hiding places gouged into wood and metal and dirt to conceal anyone on the run from the authorities, or any young Lycans who couldn’t change back quick enough.
“How long until your father returns home from work?”
Bill thought. “A few hours, sir. He’s usually back right before dark.”
He was a pitiful-looking boy, too pale and too skinny and too small and too timid. If Alastair ordered him home, he would go without protest or question and likely stew in his flat until his father returned home; then he’d be forced to tell him about what had happened that day.
Alastair could feel a headache creeping in behind his eyes.
“Stay here, then,” He said, without giving the decision too much thought. “I’ll take you home, and I’ll explain what’s happened to your father.”
Bill’s eyes widened. “Uh…” He blinked, clearly unsure what to say. “I… Thank you, sir.”
Alastair waved it off. “It’s no trouble. Get some rest, I have work to do anyway.” If he was being honest, his weapons were clean enough, as were his clothes, and he really didn’t need to waste time cleaning the small nooks and crannies of his quarters, but it kept him in the flat and near to Bill until the sky began to darken.
“Thank you sir,” Bill said again when Alastair walked him home, fingers twisting the borrowed shirt shyly. “I don’t mean to be trouble.”
If Alastair’s head ached, if his stomach turned and his heart raced unpleasantly, it was not because Alastair was bothered by Bill; rather, he was bothered by the myriad of memories raised from his own early days as a Lycan, when there had been no adult to pull him inside when he was fully transformed and walk him home to his father when he’d returned to normal, to lift the burden of the inevitable explanation from his shoulders.
Their lives were not kind, and Bill would likely face hardships down the road that Alastair had never been unfortunate enough to deal with, but at least he’d saved him a bit of misery, and hopefully that was something.
“It’s no trouble, Bill,” Alastair repeated, because it wasn’t. “No trouble at all.”