Cut scene #3
The first time Josh tells Ray he won’t sleep with him and puts him off, they also talk about the other alphas a little more. It was way too direct to actually work so I rewrote the scene, but if you are curious… This used to be the beginning of chapter 13.
“Iesu stayed too,” Josh pointed out.
“Yes, and he got the betas with me, because that’s the other thing, isn’t it?”
Ray blinked at him. It should have been, if he’d been thinking straight. But he hadn’t even considered the betas—the very thing he and his pack had needed the most in the long term—because… because it was Josh. Without Gabriel’s claim to maturity, there was no one else Ray could even think of to lead his pack. He hesitated, he didn’t want to lie, but he didn’t need to answer, either. “Iesu is good, but I wouldn’t mess with him and Sergi that way. And you’re my oldest friend, why shouldn’t I choose you?”
Josh paused for a long time before he looked up. His face was serious and almost completely closed off. “You know the power and responsibility being First Alpha imply.”
Ray nodded. He was all too aware, and he also knew that if there was one man in the world he could trust to see to the needs of their pack above his own or Ray’s… “Of course, and I trust you with it.”
Josh nodded slowly, watching Ray like he thought he might disappear. “If you want me to do this… I’ve got ask.”
Ray stiffened and looked away. “What is there to ask? You know everything.”
“I don’t," Josh replied in his calm even voice, but Ray could hear how fast his heart was beating, could feel the tension hiding behind his half sprawled limbs. He didn't know if it was because of how attuned he was to his alpha, or because it was Josh. "I know the facts, but I don’t know how you feel.”
“How I feel?” Ray looked back in surprise. Josh’s face was still oddly impassive.
“I need to know,” Josh said, almost an apology.
He snorted. “What does it matter how I feel?" He asked. He couldn't quite hold back the bitterness, because it didn't matter. Maybe Josh cared, but so what? Neither of them could change the basic facts of Ray's existence by caring. "You did the right thing anyway, why…”
Josh reached across the table and took Ray’s hand in his, holding on hard enough for him to truly feel it. Ray stopped talking, but he didn't look up. “No,” Josh said firmly. “You’re not going to dismiss your feelings again. I will not put myself in a position to give you orders without understanding how you feel about me.”
"You are in a position to give me orders already." Ray frowned at their hands, but in a way he was grateful for an excuse not to look up. “And I told you how I feel.”
Josh’s grip loosened slightly. “Not really. You said you had feelings for me, and I assumed… I assumed what I wanted to assume, that you meant you returned my feelings.”
Ray shifted on his seat. “I did.”
“Okay,” Josh agreed, too easily, but before Ray had time to grow suspicious he added, “How do you feel about sex, Ray?”
He didn’t mean to, but he tried to yank his hand away. Josh’s grip tightened and kept him in place. The wolf immediately backed down and his arm slackened in Josh’s grip. But Ray’s very human heart didn’t seem to understand, racing ahead and making it hard to breathe.
“Calm down,” Josh ordered in a soft even voice. It was an alpha’s voice, full of power, and Ray wanted to listen. Of course he didn’t want to be upset, but... Josh’s thumb was rubbing against his pulse point. “Just breathe, you’re safe. You’re always safe with me, you know that.”
And Ray did. He didn’t understand why he’d tried to pull away. He didn’t want to talk about sex, of course, but it shouldn’t have mattered if Josh was touching him while he refused. He licked his dry lips, then reached for his tea. It wasn’t hot any longer, but he drank it greedily. When he was done with it, Josh let go of his hand.
Ray looked up at him in surprise.
“Do you understand why I can’t?” his friend asked him.
“You can’t?” Ray repeated, upset enough to risk meeting his eyes. “You have to… What if... if something happens again. You won’t be able to find me, you won’t be able to tell if anybody else is in our territory, or…”
Josh raised a hand to silence him. “I can't do it now, Ray. I'm not saying never, but you’re not okay. What happened…” He glanced down. “What happened has affected us all, but you lived through something that should have never have happened. You need time to heal from that. And you don’t have to worry about the pack: we’ll get the sensors and set up the computer. Hugo knows all about it and my whole next paycheck is going towards it.”
“You don’t want to,” Ray said, realisation sinking like led in his stomach. Of course Josh wouldn’t want to: becoming First Alpha included a second bonding ritual, and it was sexual. If he really knew what had happened with Nicholas, he wouldn’t want to…
Josh stared at him. “I don’t want to?” he asked Ray, sounding almost angry.
"You can just tell me, you don't need to let me down easy with all this healing bullshit..."
"It's not bullshit, Ray!" Josh snapped. "You are going to get better."
He wanted to be angry at that, at Josh's trust, at how utterly impossible it would be to live up to his expectations. But he was too tired for anger... Too hurt. It was supposed to be his decision who became First Alpha. One of the few things that was up to him—it had never crossed his mind that Josh might refuse.
"Ray..." His friend said softly. "I'm not rejecting you."
"You said no."
“You just almost run across the room when I mentioned sex,” Josh said, low and tight. "If the word freaks you out..."
“What difference does it make?” Ray asked in utter despair. “When the next full moon…” He stopped because his throat had just closed up the words. He was shivering slightly. He knew he was proving Josh right, but he couldn’t help himself.
“We’ve got at least three weeks, Ray,” Josh said softly, and Ray wanted him to be angry again. If Josh was soft and sweet, he didn’t think he’d be able to keep from crying again. “And maybe it’s not as long as we need, but I’ll take it.”
“We?” Ray echoed. It seemed like he was the one who needed to get over what had happened, Josh's whole contribution was to leave him hanging until he somehow managed.
"It's always been 'we'." His were full of a sorrow so profound Ray wanted to look away. "It will always be. I don't need to be your First Alpha for that."
"But I want you to be," Ray whispered, face burning with the humiliation of asking again. It was an honour. It was what any alpha dreamed of.
"Goddess, Ray, do you really think I don't?" Josh was leaning over the table, but still not close enough to touch. Ray felt every millimetre of space between them. And the forbidding presence of every other person in the room. "I want you more than anything, and a true bond... If I could know what you are feeling, too..." He swallowed and Ray saw his cheeks colouring. "And I want to be able to find you. Sometimes I still wake up in the middle of the night and need to go stand outside your door and listen in, make sure you are okay."
Ray stared. It hadn't even occurred to him that alphas might be worried that he'd be taken again. "So why not?"
“I know it didn’t…” Josh closed his eyes for a moment, then met Ray’s eyes again—. “I know I wasn’t there, and it’s not the same to… to imagine it. But I failed to protect you, and you got hurt, and that’s something that I’ve got to live with for the rest of my life.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Ray argued. “I invited them into the house, I trusted them in the first place…”
“We brought you the offer, and I didn’t check on you for hours. And I didn’t come after you.”
“I didn’t want you to come after me,” Ray said and he could hear his own heart skip a beat at the lie. “No,” he insisted, “I really didn’t, not rationally. I’m glad you didn’t.”
“I know you wouldn’t have asked me to, if the choice had been for me to stay with the babies…” Josh admitted with a heavy sigh. “But I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you. And I’ll be sorry all my life.”
“I don’t want you to be!”
“There’s no changing the past,” Josh said simply. “But we could do something about the future.”
Even though a part of Ray wanted to keep arguing, he could see it’d no good. The wound was too fresh, the guilt too clear. And a part of him thought Josh was right: he should have been there when Ray needed him. Just like he’d always been before.
"Like take as much time as we can. Give ourselves time to process, time to... maybe there isn’t enough time to heal, but there's no point in rushing it." He licked his lips. "The wolves aren't... They don't need it. So let’s wait as long as we can, take it slow."
Ray had known Josh his whole life, he could tell when he was serious.
“Okay,” he agreed. It wasn’t what he’d wanted, but it was what he needed, he could be mature enough to admit that—if only inside his own head.
Since they were in town, they’d gone grocery shopping.
“We should get some rabbits,” Josh suggested. “Worst case scenario, they end up crossing over to Lakeside.”
“And we can start an inter-pack conflict right off the bat?”
“There’s like four hundred of them, why would they complain about free food? And our pack is so small we don’t even have a name yet, your uncle wouldn’t really start anything…”
“A name!” Ray said. “How on earth do we not have a name?”
“We’ve been busy,” Josh protested. “But if we don’t come up with something, we’ll end being south lakers or whatever descriptor seems more apt to them.”
Ray wrinkled his nose, both at the broccoli Josh had just put in the trolley—he’d never managed to eat it again after it’d made him throw up during his pregnancy— and the lack of geographical understanding. “We’re east of the lake, Josh. Honestly.”
[End cut scene 3]