Cut scene #7 – All or Nothing
What did it matter that Ray had a crush on when Josh had manoeuvred him into sleeping with him? More than that, into a bond they couldn’t break that would mean Ray would be forced to continue sleeping with Josh no matter what he actually wanted?
If Ray had ever felt what Josh did for him… Josh would have taken half of it, really. Hell, he’d have taken anything. And he had.
After years of being afraid that asking Ray for more would mean they’d end up with nothing, he’d realised Ray was about to vanish in front of his eyes and he’d gone for it. He’d spoken to Ray’s uncle, first in hopes of being Ray’s alpha on his own and then he’d persisted when it’d been made clear that Ray would be starting a new pack and a single alpha wasn’t an option.
He’d taken everything because nothing wasn’t an option.
But Ray hadn’t had any options at all. Not real ones. An omega needed a mate and Josh had been too stupid to mention that it didn’t need to be more than one just because Ray was male. He’d introduced Ray to his prospective mates and warned him that there were worse candidates… And Ray had taken his word for it. Because Josh was meant to be his best friend. His protector.
And instead he was a selfish bastard, too stupid to see what he was damning them both to, too desperate not to lose Ray to care that Ray not lose himself.
Of course Ray wouldn’t… date him. It didn’t matter if the other alphas didn’t mind; Ray would have been an idiot to even consider it.
He had known it, and he’d known Ray was right. He hadn't meant to hope, or to hold onto the feelings their mating had made impossible to hide from any longer. But now, with Ray shifting uncomfortably in front of him in a café in town, he realised he had. Part of Josh had believed that despite everything that had happened, despite how badly he'd failed as an alpha, a parent, and a mate... Everything could go back to normal.
Ray couldn't even look at him anymore.
And it didn't matter, because Josh couldn't fail his pack again. He wasn’t going to say a word until Ray did and he’d listen to each hitch of Ray’s breath—anything that might tell him what Ray really felt—and even if he had no useful advice, he’d stay right there and hold Ray’s hand. Or just his gaze—if Ray managed to look at him—or just let Ray hear him breathe. Let him know he wasn’t alone.
“I thought… You said we were going to talk about what happened.”
"I don't want to talk about it," Ray said, low and angry. "How is talking going to help?"
"I... I need to know you are okay. To... to do something like that..." he trailed off, uncomfortable. He couldn't deny that he'd thought about it: to become a first omega's mate meant to form a mutual bond with them so that not only could they feel what you felt but you could feel them in turn. And through them, the whole pack and territory. He'd wanted that: it was the stuff of fairy tales, knowing your mate like you knew yourself, a connection that was not simply intense but really magical. But he'd never imagined Ray asking him looking like he'd lost a battle he couldn't afford.
“If I tell you... will you agree to being first alpha?” Ray gritted out.
“Because I don’t see the point of you putting me through this otherwise. You know what happened. You know I couldn't...” He choked.
But Josh didn't know, and he needed to. “Couldn’t what?” he asked.
“Stop... it.” Ray's fists were clenched so hard on the table, Josh was pretty sure he smelled blood but it was Ray's expression—not simply distraught but... guilty that made it hard to breathe.
"Stop it?" He echoed. "Why... it was the full moon and he... you trusted him. Your wolf was probably all turned around. It's not... I didn't, none of us expected you to stop him. I'm the one who was supposed to look after you, and I...”
“I'm not a child!” Ray snapped, suddenly so furious the whole room seemed to get hotter.
Josh bit back his instinctive answer. Ray had always had a bit of a temper and... And then he realised what he was doing. “I didn’t say you were a child,” he said curtly in response, not raising his voice but not trying to hide his irritation either. “I said it was my job to protect you when you were vulnerable. I'm your mate, aren't I?” he asked. He didn't mean for it to sound so bitter, but...
Strangely, his anger seemed to calm Ray down. He blinked at Josh from across the table, looking surprised. Then a terrible thought occurred to him. “You are not... I’m not... making you...” He waved between their bodies.
Ray frowned. “What? No, you are not making me do anything. I just... You haven't shouted at me since...” He looked down, dark lashes fanning across the pale skin of his cheeks—he really needed to get out of the house more—and Josh watched him like he could ready his mind on the shape of his eyelids. “Since you became my mate,” Ray finished. He said it very softly.
“Are you... Do you regret it?” Josh asked. The words hurt like razors leaving his throat, but he couldn't hold them back, stabbing him from the inside instead.
Ray's head snapped up. “No!” he sounded more shocked than annoyed. “Why... Of course not. I...” He stopped himself and when spoke again he sounded calmer, more reasonable. “You always take care of me.”
“Yes, you do. We... It was my mistake, and you couldn't fix it. That doesn’t make it your fault.”
“I should have stopped you,” Josh said.
Ray's shoulders tensed. “You gave me a choice,” he said very slowly.
“Yes, no, I— I don't mean it as your alpha. I mean I should have made you understand you were making a mistake, as... As your friend,” he finished lamely. It was all he could lay claim to, really.
Ray gave a short nod, accepting the argument and dismissing it at once. “It’s done,” he said. “All we can do now is to stop it from happening again.”
“It can't,” Josh said at once. “You aren't considering...”
Ray flinched so violently his water cup overturned. It was empty and made of paper, so it just spilled a little dribble of water across the table.
But for Josh, it could have been blood. His mind rushed with thoughts, trying to divine what he had said wrong. “I’m sorry,” he said, buying time, and then the rest just spilled out, no filters or extra care. Ray didn't need kid gloves, he needed honesty and respect. “Of course you aren't. I didn't...” And then his own words caught up with him. “Oh, goddess, I didn't mean... You know I didn't mean that... that it was because you asked him to join the pack. That's not... that's crazy. I mean, that didn't make him go crazy and... He'd probably have done it anyway...”
“No, he wouldn't have,” Ray said in a voice like ice. “I don't need you to lie to me. I know what I did.”
“What you did was make a hasty decision, what he did was react to you changing your mind like an insane...” He cut himself off. He didn’t think he could say the word to Ray, even if Ray could bear to hear it.
“But it still wouldn’t have happened if I—”
“Sure, and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been too caught up in being your alpha to be your friend.”
“I should have made... Insisted you talk to your mum. She wouldn’t have let you do it.”
Ray's lips trembled, very slightly. Josh didn’t think he would have noticed without supernaturally enhanced vision. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said very softly.
“Okay,” Josh said at once. He’d promised Martha he wouldn’t let Ray keep it all inside but you couldn’t fix trauma with a blunt object. This was enough, a good start...
But Ray wasn't one to let things go. “If you became first alpha, it would be safe. You would be able to find me. Find anyone in the pack. If I fuck up again...”
“You won’t,” Josh insisted.
He only realised he’d confirmed Ray’s suspicions when his friend gave him a bitter smile. “No, I’m not denying you made a mistake,” he almost snapped. “But you know that now, and anyway, none of us will let you decide on your own. Put all that pressure on you on top of everything else.”
“So you will do it.”
“What?” Josh asked.
“First alpha,” Ray clarified.
Ray had thought being ready would make it easier, somehow. He'd known to expect it. It wasn't fair to ask an alpha not to be upset when his omega had allowed a strange alpha to mount him. Still, he'd hoped, even as Gabriel had taken over Josh's rightful duty comforting Ray when the nightmares kept him up at night. Even when Josh hadn't tried to get him to talk about it, or even tried to be with him.
Josh had needed time, and so had Ray. Not just because of what had happened—there would never be enough time to forgive himself, even if the memories faded—but to mourn what could have been. He'd told himself he wasn't going to be with Josh in any way more than the way he was with all his alphas. But deep down, he'd known he could change his mind. Just the knowledge of what Josh felt, just the safety of knowing he could say yes when he was ready... He hadn't meant to hope, or to hold onto the feelings their mating had made impossible to hide from any longer. But now, with Josh shifting uncomfortably in front of him in a café in town, he realised he had. Part of Ray had believed that despite everything that had happened, despite how badly he'd failed as an omega, a parent, and a mate... Everything could go back to normal.
Josh couldn't even look at him anymore.