The Jascian's Toy copyright 2005 Rowan McBride

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without author's permission.

This story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons, living or dead (or undead), or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. They are a product of the author's imagination, or used fictitiously.

The following story contains erotic homosexual situations. If it is illegal for you to read this please leave now.

- Twelve -



I sat cross-legged on a table as Gavin adjusted its umbrella above us, making sure I was comfortably in the shade. "Question."

He glanced down at me and grinned. "Yeah?"

"If Jascians don't get sunburned," I lifted my hand and pointed at the umbrella, "then why do you have these?"

"It's inconvenient to have the sun in our eyes," he said, standing back to survey his handiwork.

My mouth crooked. "You ever get tired of answering my questions?"

"Nope." He took a seat across from me. "How do you like this place?"

It looked like a classic little sidewalk cafe. Most of the tables were outside, each with its own umbrella. I had expected them to float above our heads via some mystical technology, but these were screwed into the tables the old fashioned way. Like they would have been if we'd been on Earth. "It's nice."

His mouth pursed in what...looked like a pout. "Just nice?"

"Really, really nice," I said, staring at his mouth.

Gavin leaned forward and propped his chin on the heel of his hand. "You'll love it once our order's ready. Best temrin anywhere."

He was trying so hard. I found myself wondering how many times he'd thought about bringing me here. "Explain to me again what temrin is?"

"It's a layered dessert, alternating between frozen cream custard and different sorts of fruit. Here, they put an extra swirl of preserves on the very top." The fingers of his free hand found their way to my thigh. "Perfect for sunny days like this."

It sounded like a parfait, which really would be perfect. "Looking forward to it," I said, caressing one of the fingers on my thigh. "How long until—"

"Alpha Gavin Aravis, sir, your order is prepared."

Gavin glanced up, then drew his hand away from me as he stood. "I'll be right back."

I grinned and gestured to the table. "I'm not going anywhere."

Chuckling, he left to get the temrin.

My hand slid to my leg. Gavin touched me so much that it was beginning to feel strange when we were separated. I couldn't help but wonder if he felt the same way. Given how much time his fingers spent on my body, it was possible.

Blowing out a contented sigh, I hopped to my feet and studied the cafe. The vendor was a beta, which explained the `Alpha' and `sir' tags attached to Gavin's name just now. The customers were a mix of Alphas and betas, with different sized tables scattered throughout. The table Gavin had chosen was right beside the sidewalk, letting me see all the Jascians walking by. Nice place to have lunch. Peaceful, happy.

A body type I'd never seen before caught my eye, and I turned my head. My lips parted as I stared at a man at the far end of the sidewalk. Head and shoulders taller than the betas, he had a thumb tucked into the pocket of his faded jeans as he strode in my general direction, the muscles in his thick legs bunching and rolling with every step. The closer he got, the more I could see the fierce musculature of his body. Swollen biceps and triceps testing the limits of his t-shirt, solid pecs doing the same to his shirt. His delts and traps were huge, slightly out of proportion with the rest of his body, making him appear aggressive despite the gentle, almost cheerful look on his face.

Was he... Was he a gamma?

"Wow," I whispered, thoroughly impressed as I eased to the edge of the table to get a better look. His body was so roughhewn. Like he got it from working hard, not working out.

"...they take care of labor intensive jobs."

Right. That would probably do it.

He was beautiful, though. He didn't have the elegance of the Alphas, or the sleekness of the betas, but he was just as captivating.

I craned my neck back as he walked by, chanced waving at him. Of course, he couldn't see me. I was totally out of his line of sight.

His arm bumped the table as he passed, knocking me off balance. I lost my footing and fell off the edge.

Shit! I braced myself, the wind buffeting my body as I hurtled toward the sidewalk.

All momentum stopped just before I hit, and warmth surrounded me. I smiled—I didn't even need to open my eyes to know who'd come to my rescue. "Gavin."

The cradle of his hands trembled as he straightened and set me gently on the table. "Are you all right?"

"Fine." I opened my eyes, and the smile vanished from my face when I saw the rage burning in Gavin's gaze.

He shot straight, spinning away from me to bellow at the man who'd knocked me off the table. "GAMMA!"

The gamma turned, his eyes wide.

Gavin's hands curled into fists. "You nearly damaged my toy," he gritted out. "What've you got to say about that?"

"A toy?" His gaze flicked to me, then back to Gavin. He stared at the Alpha for several taut seconds, and I knew he saw the same thing I did.

No amount of reasoning would fix this.

A low growl rumbled out of the gamma as his feet spread apart, as his hackles rose.

An answering, darker growl emerged from Gavin.

They lunged for each other, the gamma shifting at the last second to ram his shoulder into Gavin's stomach with enough force to drive him backward. Gavin buckled down and braced himself, the heels of his shoes digging up chunks of concrete as he stopped the gamma's momentum.

Everyone around us—everything around us—hushed. As Gavin drove his elbow into the other man's back, as he used his superior size to grab hold of his waist and throw him against the wall, all I could hear were their harsh breaths ripping through the air, the thuds of dense flesh hitting flesh.

The gamma jumped to his feet and attacked again. Gavin easily hurled him back against the wall, cracking stone. He stood there, waiting, his eyes sparking wildly, yet focused and cold.

That hint of fear I'd always seen in betas, even in Gavin's friends when they realized they'd crossed a line, it made sense now.

Stay down, I tried to say, but the swirl of silence around the two of them was intense and suffocating, robbing me of my voice.

Growling, levering himself against the wall, the gamma struggled to his feet and charged.

Gavin slammed a fist into his head, knocking him to the ground.

Stay down...

His arms and legs trembled; he wrenched himself to his feet.

Gavin's knuckles were white as he knocked the gamma down again.

Stay down!

And again.


And again.


This time the gamma didn't get up, still as a corpse on the sidewalk.

Still as a...

Fists clenched, Gavin closed in on him.

I ran to the edge of the table and dragged my voice out from deep inside of me. "Gavin!"

He paused, turned his head to look at me. Slowly, slowly the fire in his eyes died away and his fingers uncurled. "Blake," he murmured, leaving the gamma behind as he returned to the table and dropped to his knees in front of me. "Are you hurt?"

Stunned, I could only shake my head.

"Are you sure?" He leaned forward and touched his nose to my chest, nuzzling me briefly before holding his ear close to my body. "Your heart's racing," he crooned, his fingers finding their way to my back. "Usually it only does that when you're frightened."

The gentle touch was such a contrast to what I'd seen just moments before that it made me jump, and I glanced at the gamma lying on the sidewalk. "Is he dead?" I whispered.

His gaze narrowed as he looked over his shoulder, softened when it returned to me. "No. Just unconscious."

Is he going to be okay?
What just happened?
Where did all that rage come from?

Too many questions spinning in my head—and the one I blurted next was not the one I'd meant to ask. "You said Jascians didn't break."

He tilted his head to the side. "I didn't break him. I overloaded the pain receptors in his brain and he passed out, that's all."

It was so calm, the way he said it. The tone of his voice made the warmth bleed out of me. "Could you have killed him?"

"Yes, if I'd flooded his nerves with enough pain to force his brain to shut down." A black van pulled to the curb and his voice hardened. "As much as I was inclined to in the moment, though, I don't think I'll invoke my right to execute him."

"Execute?" Snapping back to my senses, I pried myself out of his touch. "What the hell is WRONG with you, Gavin?"

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You were about to kill another man, and for what!"

"For what?" He shot to his feet, his eyes blazing. "Do you not remember almost falling to your death a few minutes ago?"

If my heart was racing before, it was about to tear out of my chest now, but I held my ground. "It was an accident."

"He knocked you off a table!"

"Not on purpose!"

His hands curled into fists, turning his knuckles white again. "He should have been more careful."

"How?" I spread my hands. "I was standing at the edge of an otherwise empty table. To him, there was no one sitting here."

He didn't say anything, but the fire in his eyes didn't fade.

Cautiously, I let my gaze drift to the van. Two people dressed in black climbed out of it. "Who are they?"

"Authority Enforcement Officers," he said curtly, then blinked down at me. "Like the police in your culture."

A beta woman, a gamma male. The beta bent to examine the unconscious man on the sidewalk, while her partner stared down at the concrete, his hands trembling. "What's going to happen to him?"

"Six years in a prison labor camp."

"What?" My gaze snapped back to Gavin. "Just like that? No trial? No chance to explain himself?"

"There's no need for any of that. The AEO were summoned by the surveillance system. The gamma's guilt has already been recorded."

"Gavin..." I stepped forward. "Do you have the power to change this?"


"Then do it. Please."

"No," he said, his eyes never leaving mine.

The beta AEO gestured to her partner to help her carry the man into their vehicle. "It was just an accident."

"It doesn't matter," Gavin said coldly. "It's the standard punishment for endangering an Alpha's toy."

I searched blindly for a way to reason through this alien world. "When the veda attacked me you just picked it up and returned it to its owners."

He stopped short. "That...wasn't the same—"

"You're right, because that murderous cat got more consideration than this person is getting today."

"The veda was an animal and didn't know any better."

"This person didn't see—"

The lightning spread from Gavin's irises into the whites of his eyes. "You were in danger, Blake."

This wasn't working, and we were running out of time. I forced myself to calm down, clear my mind, start over. "I'm fine, really."

"It doesn't matter."



Everyone around us froze.

Gavin inhaled sharply and pressed his palms flat against the table. "You could have been broken, and there would have been no one on Jasc who could fix you. You could have been broken." He leaned down, the blue light in his eyes flickering, deepening. "What if you'd been hurt?" he whispered. "What if you had..." His mouth worked; no sound came out.

But I knew what he couldn't say.

What if I'd died.

"I'm fine, Gavin. You caught me."

"And if I hadn't? If I'd lingered just a second more waiting for that stupid temrin—" His mouth snapped shut and he swallowed hard.

This was the real source of his rage. "Gavin."

"I-I shouldn't have left you alone. On a table. By the sidewalk. I shouldn't have..."

"It wasn't the gamma's fault," I said gently, "but it wasn't yours, either."

He sank to his knees, his hands rough this time as he pulled me to his mouth and spoke muffled words against my body. "It was—"

"An accident." I stroked his forehead, twisted a lock of his hair around my forearm. "You were scared. And angry."

He nodded against me.

"You needed to lash out. To make it right."

"Yes," he whispered.

"You still have time to make it right." I kissed the bridge of his nose. "Please."

Lifting his head, he blinked back the moisture in his eyes.

He'd been about to cry. An Alpha.

Over a toy.

"Maybe I can..." His voice firmed. "I'll cut his sentence in half."

My own voice lost its strength. "That's it?"

"A crime was committed against what is mine. An altercation ensued. And all of it was recorded." He shook his head. "I'm an Alpha, Blake. I have to punish him."

"So a man is going to spend the next three years in prison." My knees buckled, and I dropped to the tabletop. "Because of me." I clutched at my stomach, trying in vain to stave off the nausea roiling inside. "Because of me."

Gavin leaned forward, his arms linking together behind me as he hunched over my body. "Six months," he said, shielding me from the world. "I'll give him six months."

I shuddered, and his voice dropped to a whisper so low I could barely hear it.

"Suspended sentence."

My head darted up and I searched out his bright eyes in the relative darkness. "Wh-What?"

"He won't serve the time unless he's convicted of another prison-level infraction." The enclosure he'd made with his body grew smaller, warming the space around me. "It wasn't your fault either, Blake."

The air in my chest caught.

Gavin straightened. "Wait here while I... On second thought," he scooped me into his hands, "let's not leave you alone for a while."

I let loose a relieved, drained chuckle.

He strode to the Authority Enforcement Officers and filled them in on his decision to revise the still unconscious gamma's sentence. Although he gave both officers permission to meet his gaze, only the beta complied, taking notes as he spoke.

The gamma officer's eyes touched on me, and I lifted my hand in a tentative greeting.

His brows lifted, and his mouth moved slightly.

I couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like a thankyou. If so, I didn't deserve it, and I mouthed I'm sorry as clearly as I could to him.

He tilted his head to the side.

Gavin started to tie things up, drawing both our attention.

"Keep an eye on him until he awakens, explain the situation to him. After that you can release him right away, understand?"

"Yes, Alpha Aravis, sir," said the beta.

"Yes, sir," murmured the gamma officer, his gaze fixed again on the sidewalk.

"Very well, then. Dismissed."

The AEOs went about their business, and Gavin walked away from them.

An eighteen year old kid, telling the police what to do like that. It was bewildering. "You have authority over the Authority Enforcers?"

He glanced down at me. "Of course. It's our authority they enforce."

Alphas, probably. Somehow I doubted the rest of the population could order them around that way. It was a disturbing concept, but I didn't say anything more about it, since I had the feeling he'd gone out on a big limb for me with the sentencing thing.

Gavin swept past the café and I straightened in his hold. "We're not going to have that temrin?"

A vibration went through his body—like a shiver, but deeper. "Not in the mood anymore, if that's all right with you."

"Okay," I said softly.

He held me closer as we walked to Jovin's shop.


The door opened to the toy shop and the first thing I noticed was the lack of a bell. Gavin noticed it too, pausing to look up before turning toward the front of the store. His entire body stiffened when he saw Lucas with his head on the counter.


He straightened, running a shaking hand through disheveled hair as he focused on us. "Hey, Gav."

It's hard to describe how he looked. Still healthy, like all Alphas. But he gave off waves of disquiet and exhaustion. Even his usually immaculate clothing was unkempt. As if he'd slept in them the previous night. Maybe longer.

Gavin crossed the room. "What's wrong?" He started to place me on the counter, changed his mind, and held me against his chest.

"Jovin—" His eyes rounded and he started his sentence over. "The beta was attacked a couple days ago."

"What?" I lurched forward, nearly knocking myself free from Gavin's hand. "Is he okay? Where is he?"

Lucas glanced at me before nodding his head toward a darker corner at the far end of the shop. Jovin was sitting on the floor, facing the walls, his knees curled to his chest. "He was damned near jumping out of his skin every time the fucking bell rang." The Alpha growled, low and dark. "But he refuses to close the store. So I ripped it out of the wall. I haven't left the store since."

When I kept struggling, Gavin set me on the floor. "What happened?" he asked as I approached Jovin.

"I came in and he was on the floor, his clothes all torn up. Some gamma had wanted to have sex with him and Jovin wasn't open, so the bastard took it anyway."

"A gamma?" asked Gavin, his voice flat as he pulled out his PDA. Accessing something on the screen, he showed it to Lucas. "This one?"

Lucas shook his head. "I never got a look and he doesn't opt in to AEO surveillance inside his store."

"He doesn't?" said Gavin, clearly surprised. "Never mind." He strode to Jovin just as I got to the beta's leg and held the PDA to his face. "Beta, is this the one who attacked you?"

Jovin's gaze flicked to the screen, then back to the floor as he shook his head. "No, sir," he whispered.

"Oh," snapped Lucas, "so you'll talk to Gavin about it but not to me."

Jovin curled a little tighter into himself.

I made a subtle move with my hand and Gavin raised an eyebrow, but returned to Lucas's side.

"How are you doing, Jovin?" I asked softly.

His gaze drifted to mine. The desolation, the touch of surprise, made me wonder if anyone had asked him that simple question. "Blake."

I nodded.

He blinked, but that seemed like all he could handle for now.

Shallow, rapid breaths. Skin a shade paler than I was used to seeing it. I recognized this. Hell, I'd been in a similar state not so long ago.

Jascians didn't break, my ass.

"You're in what we call shock where I come from," I told him gently. "Unfortunately, I have no experience with treating betas, so we'll have to take it step by step, all right?"

Jovin nodded.

At least he understood what we were saying. It meant the disassociation he was experiencing wasn't too bad.

Lucas's frustration cut through the quiet. "What's your toy talking about, Gavin?"

"Shh. I think Blake understands...this."

Thankful that Gavin was backing me up, I let my hand hover over Jovin's knee. "May I touch you?"

He hesitated, nodded.

His skin was cool to the touch, even through his clothing. But Jascians had no concept of too hot or too cold. "Do you...crave warmth? As if you'd feel better if you had a soft blanket wrapped around you?"

Another flicker of surprise. "Yes."

A door slammed and we both jumped. Lucas had disappeared and I looked to Gavin for explanation, but he only shrugged.

Moments later, the door to the backroom opened and Lucas returned holding a thick blanket. He gently wrapped it around Jovin's body, making sure every part of the smaller man was covered. "What else?" he asked, his eyes flickering gold as he stared at me. "What else can I do?"

I shouldn't have left you alone.

I couldn't help being sympathetic in the face of that kind of desperation, but Lucas wasn't my patient.

"Jovin," I said, catching his gaze. "Does your head feel...lighter than usual?"


"How about your stomach?" I pressed a palm to my abs. "Do you feel different there? Uncomfortable?"


"Would you like to lie down?"

"I want to stay in the shop. I have customers..." His eyes focused as he straightened slightly. "What can I get for you, Blake? We've just received a new shipment of—"

I held up a hand. "I don't need anything," I said, making sure to keep my voice low, soothing. "Right now we're looking after you, and what you need most is rest. Understand?"

"But..." he tugged his blanket closer to his body and looked around the store. "...I want to stay in the shop."

Lucas growled and leapt to his feet, rushing to the counter to snatch up what looked like a wide gold collar. "If you'd just let me put this on you I could fix this and make sure it never happened again!"

Jovin leaned closer to the wall.

Forgetting I didn't have any power, I placed a protective hand on his knee.

"Hey," said Gavin, grinning as he took the object out of Lucas's hand. "You want to make him your kurai? He'd be your first, wouldn't he?"

Lucas instantly settled down. "Yeah. I haven't gotten my degrees yet, so I don't have the authority to access the surveillance system tuned to the public area outside the shop. And you see the state he's in. He won't even contact the AEO." He rubbed at his forehead. "But if he's my kurai then a crime against him is a crime against me, and I have the right to investigate and to punish. I can get the footage and track down the guy who...did this to him."

"Plus collaring him would allow you to keep in constant contact with him, track where he is at all times." He held it up and looked at us. "This is an excellent solution."

Tension radiated from Jovin, and I shook my head. "You want to collar him? Like a pet?"

Swearing, Lucas rapped his knuckles against the counter. "The beta refuses to put it on because he says `kurai' is an archaic word for `pet.' What the fuck?"

Gavin frowned. "That's not true."

"I know that, Gav. I told him it means," Lucas cast a pointed glare at Jovin, "valued one. But he insists on believing in some beta fairytale—"

"With all due respect, sir," said Jovin, staring at the floor. "It is not a fairytale, though we have those as well. `Kurai' is a word that originated with us and, like so many other things, was taken and reshaped by the Alphas to suit their own needs."

"That's ridiculous," said Gavin, calmly coming to his friend's defense. "We speak the same language."

"Alpha Gavin, you and I speak the same language only to the extent you and Blake do so. I assure you, the nuances of beta culture are subtle and complex."

Gavin straightened. Apparently at a loss for words.

I couldn't help grinning. Even after all that had happened to him, Jovin managed to stand up to two Alphas in under a minute. In my opinion that was a good sign.

"Why are you getting hung up on language, anyway?" muttered Lucas. "Being my kurai would give you much higher status than you have now. The collar alone would give you access to places no lesser would ever get to visit otherwise."

"Everyone would see it," said Jovin, his head dipping lower. "Everyone would know what you... what I let... They'd know."

I looked up at him. "Jovin."

"So what if they know?" Lucas's frustration spiked. "Being a kurai is an honor. You'd belong to me. You'd—"

"That's enough," I said in a tone I sometimes had to use with patients throwing tantrums. Lucas scowled at me, but snapped his mouth shut.

Thank god.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, choosing my words carefully because the only thing keeping him from killing me was Gavin, and I knew my Alpha was giving me an incredible amount of leeway here. "Against his will, Jovin has been made to submit to something horrible. To try and force him into accepting any position even vaguely resembling a pet or a...toy will only make things worse by reinforcing that feeling of powerlessness."

Both Alphas frowned.

"Thank you, Blake," Jovin said softly, his gaze focused on me.

Lucas snarled and prowled the shop. "Fucking gammas! Can't even leash their damned libidos in the city! We should restrict them to the fringes permanently! We should—"

"Don't blame all gammas for the act of one," said Jovin. "I count many as friends."

My brow furrowed. Something had changed here. His voice had suddenly drawn tight, like a bow ready to snap.

"Are you crazy?" Lucas spun. "Have you forgotten what that gamma—"

"ALPHAS ARE FAR MORE LIKELY TO—" Jovin gasped, snatching his gaze back to the wall.

Everything about Lucas went still. "What was that, beta?"

"I apologize, sir."

"No, I want to hear the rest of your sentence. Alphas are far more likely to...what?"

"It was nothing, sir." He turned his head, his wide eyes begging me for help. "A byproduct of the shock."

Catching the hint, I spun. "He needs rest, Lucas."

The golden Alpha dropped into a crouch, his eyes flickering. "You know what he was about to say. I can see it in your face. Tell me."

Even though he was across the room, it was scary as hell to stand in front of such an imposing man. I looked at Gavin, and he gave me a faint nod. Did that mean he'd protect us both? Or just me?

I trusted him—he'd never let me down.

He'd protect us both if it came to that.

A shuddering breath went through my body. "I...I could be wrong, but it seems to me that in a world where Alphas can punish a `lesser' at will, can execute them... In a world where they control the law as well as the enforcers of that law..." I frowned, trying to organize my thoughts. "Betas and gammas aren't even allowed to look into your eyes without your permission. In a world like this, I don't understand how you can ever be sure that sex with them is consensual."

Lucas's skin paled.

"We're Alphas," said Gavin. "Everyone wants us."

My gaze drifted upward, met steady blue eyes. "While I've thought every Alpha I've met is attractive, you're the only one I've actually wanted."

He frowned.

"You're different," said Lucas, not sounding confident at all. "You're a toy."

"So were the betas and gammas at one point, weren't they?"

Gavin tilted his head to the side. "And where'd you learn that bit of history?"

Could this get Eyana in trouble? I let my mouth curve in what I hoped was an enigmatic smile. "Picked it up somewhere."

His eyebrow lifted. Possibly I'd gone for too much enigma.

Rising to his feet, Lucas grabbed Gavin's arm. "Gav, I don't know what to do. I was serious about making him my kurai. I probably would have done it even if..." He swallowed. "Some guy came off the street and just hurt him. Hurt Jov..."

Gavin's expression went thoughtful, then softened.

Lucas tightened his grip. "Help me, please. Tell me what to do."

"If it were me..." Gavin clenched his fist. "If it were me I wouldn't care what it took. I'd fucking hunt the guy down and I'd kill—" He turned his head suddenly, staring at me a long, tense moment. Then he slowly returned his attention to his friend. "But... But perhaps that isn't the most effective solution."

The other Alpha dropped his hand, confusion twisting his features. "Then what is?"

"In this case," began Gavin, slowly, carefully, "asking the beta what he wants might be the best thing you can do for him."

"Asking..." He glanced at Jovin. Then, after releasing a harsh breath, he disappeared into the backroom.

Gavin closed the distance between us and knelt on the floor. "I think it's time for us to go."

"What? No. I can't leave my patient like this."

He broke into a grin, surprising me. "You're always so dedicated."

I didn't understand that expression, but I knew I couldn't leave. Not yet. "He shouldn't be alone."

"He's not alone. He's got Lucas."

But who knew when he'd be back? I moved closer to Jovin. "He's my friend."

"Friend?" he asked, as if he hadn't considered that idea. Gavin glanced at him, looked down at me. "I suppose we could stay a few more..."

Lucas emerged from the backroom, carrying an armload of blankets. Gavin picked me up, stepping out of the way as he placed the pile next to Jovin.

He started to reach out, stopped himself. "May I touch you, beta?"

For the first time, Jovin looked into his eyes. A few, silent moments stretched between them and he nodded. Lucas slipped a powerful arm beneath him, cradling him like a child as he slipped the blankets under his body and set him down.

"I brought you a pillow," he said, placing it on Jovin's lap. "If you want it."

Jovin set trembling hands on top of it. "Th-Thank you, sir."

"Yeah." Lucas sat on the floor, leaning back against the wall so he could easily face the other man. "This is what I think we should do," he said, extending his legs. "Close the store, so you can get some rest. Sedria's usually a slow workday for us anyway, so it's not like we'll lose a lot of business. We can stay here, or I can put you to bed. It doesn't matter, I just believe closing up is the best way to go." He crossed his arms over his chest and glanced to the side. "But it's your choice. Tell me yes or no."

For a while Jovin just stared at him. Then, slowly, a faint smile touched his lips. "I believe I would like to close the shop, sir."

"Fine," he said gruffly, looking up at us. "You guys need a refill for your Earther Care Kit?"

"That's one of the reasons we stopped by." Gavin stroked my back with his thumb. "But we've easily got a week's worth of supplies left—we can stop by later."

"I'll bring one by for you tomorrow. Day after that the latest." He raised a hand. "And I'll put it on my account."

Gavin's thumb paused. "Really? Why?"

"Don't make a big deal out of it. Just a..." his golden eyes dipped to me, "...thankyou. For the help."

Before I could respond he looked away, but I started to relax in Gavin's hold. It felt right, now, leaving Jovin in his care.

Chuckling, Gavin headed for the door. "Ah, well no Aravis ever turned down a gift," he teased, locking the door behind him as he left the shop. The laughter died about a block away from the store.

He leaned back against a wall, shuddering as he tipped his head back to stare at the sky.

"Gavin?" When he didn't answer, I rubbed my hand against his ribcage. "Hey."

"Today was one disaster after another, wasn't it?"

I dropped my forehead against his body, feeling my own exhaustion.

He pulled me higher, settling me against his heart. I suspect out of habit. "I had such a great time planned for you. We were going to have so much fun. Instead I..."

"We had a nice start, and it got a little rocky." Closing my eyes, I listened to his heartbeat, let the rest of the world fade. "But in the end we got to help our friends. I say we put the day in the `win' column."

"Shit, Blake." He lowered his head, tilting me back so I could look into his eyes. "You're brave as fuck, you know that?"

I burst into laughter. "Me? I didn't do anything."

"Didn't do anything?" He shook his head in disbelief. "Blake, you saved a gamma from prison. You not only helped Jovin, you talked back to an Alpha to do it."

"To be fair," I said wryly, "you were the one with the power to actually change that person's sentence, and `talking back' to an Alpha is markedly easier when you're standing a few feet from me."

"You would have done it if I were nowhere near you, and you wouldn't have hesitated." His long fingers stroked my hair. "It scares the hell out of me."

That statement startled me enough to jerk my head back. "Why?"

"You know how fragile you are. Yet you jump into doing what you believe is right. I can't help but think one of these days you're going to do just that and get yourself hurt."

I wasn't used to hearing him speak this way, and he was dead serious. "So you're saying, with Jovin, I shouldn't have—"

"Don't change."

Startled again, I fell quiet.

Gavin lowered his head. "Lucas asked for my help. Begged for it without a second thought. That's never happened to me, not like that. I think that's your influence, Blake."

My...My influence? He was imagining things. What influence did I have?

"I nearly gave him really bad advice, I think. Then I looked at you, forced myself to change tact. What I ended up saying was better, right?"

Daunted, I tried to nod. "I-I believe so."

He nodded back at me. "So don't change. You force me to work harder, to solve problems in new ways. You give me an edge, and a way to take care of my friends." He stared off into the distance. "Speak your mind, fix whoever you need to fix, follow your instincts. Don't hesitate. If I have to make myself stronger to protect you, then I will. You don't have to worry about that, Blake. I promise."

I didn't understand half of what he'd just said, but I recognized the hard determination in his face. He meant it, and nothing was going to stop him.

"I suppose we should go home," he said, moving away from the wall, "before anything else traumatic happens to you."

"Actually, I'd..." The sentence trailed as I lost my nerve.

Gavin paused. "You want to do something? Name it."

No matter what it was with me, he never hesitated. How many other toys could say that? "I'd like to try going for a temrin again."

His eyebrow lifted. "Yeah?"

"Definitely," I said, grinning. "But it might be best to get a table away from the sidewalk this time."

The last of the tension vanished from his body as he laughed. "Sounds good."

I laughed with him, shaking my head as I settled into a more comfortable position against him. Jovin's face flickered in my mind, began to blur with a little girl I once failed to save. Going home meant safety, comfort. It meant listening to the quiet inside me and hearing myself crack open. I couldn't do that right now. I had to stay out here, in a world where it wasn't entirely safe to relax. Having a temrin helped me stall facing what had happened to my friend.

Brave? Me?


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