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A Perfect Forest Through Splintered Trees

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i. dear world, i'm pleased to meet you

Dean came into the world (albeit with a different name) on a balls cold, late December night. Apparently Halley’s Comet, which only comes around every seventy-five years or so, was supposed to be visible in New York City that night, but didn’t really make its appearance until March of ‘86. When he later read about it in one of his middle school science books, he had been strangely excited about it. Comets were once in a lifetime events, and he liked the idea of it appearing on his birthday. He liked to think of it as a weird, oddly fitting metaphor for his existence.

When he got home that day from school, he told his mom about it, because even though he was born states away, it was still cool that a comet appeared on the day he was born. She was not nearly as impressed with this fact as he had been. “And to think, we got you instead,” she had said.

Yeah, the world got him instead.

That turned out to be a more fitting metaphor for his life than the fucking Comet.


ii. and all of the things that i thought i knew, you turn it around

He had heard of Tyler Black way before FCW. Hard not to, his name was on everybody’s lips. He couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it, always spoken in this weird, exalted tone like the guy was the second coming of Christ. And he just didn’t get it; sure, the kid was a promoter’s wet dream, a pretty boy that could bounce around the ring and fly around and shit, but he didn’t have guts. He didn’t have grit, he didn’t have fire. Just a flash in the pan that promoters will use to get the girls to drop their panties with their cash.

The entire territory revolves around Tyler…a-hem, Seth… like he’s the sun. Everyone’s supposed to orbit around him like inconsequential space dust, but Dean hasn’t done what he was supposed to do a day in his life. So he does what he does best; he goes out there on his first day and throws down the gauntlet without regard for propriety or respect. That’s Rollins’ bag; upholding honor and respect like the good boy he is. Dean, though, he doesn’t give a shit about paying respect. All he cares about is satiating the monster inside him, the one who’s constantly hungry and looking for more flesh to gorge on.

But when he’s standing in the ring, watching Seth walk down that ramp towards him for the first time, he’s struck by this strange sense of familiarity. A deja vu of sorts, but that’s impossible, this is their first match. And when Seth’s standing there, staring at Dean during the introductions, he feels this odd sense of warmth, a wave of recognition flickering in his gut.

It’s strange. It puts him on edge, but he doesn’t show it. He’s good at that, putting emotions away at his convenience. But much to his dismay, he can’t put away the nagging thought that this beautiful, bright shining star of a man standing across from him isn’t a star at all, but rather his shadow self.

People will later say that Dean and Seth were always fated to do this. That they are two sides of the same coin, the light and darkness. It’s a prophecy that comes true, but no one reads the fine print regarding just who is the light and who is the darkness.


iii. the past is a pebble in my shoe

Dean is six years old when he hears the word bastard thrown at him for the first time. He’s positive it’s not the first time he was called that, but it was the first time he actually heard it. He doesn’t remember what he did to deserve the slur; looking back, he never really had to do anything in order to deserve it. To all of his mom’s boyfriends, simply breathing the same air as them was more than enough reason.

What he does remember, though, is the look on Jack’s face as he said it. He had been standing over Dean, a snarl on his face, his features twisted in disgust. None of his mom’s boyfriends had ever really treated him kindly, but Jack had absolutely despised him. He hated seeing him playing on the floor in the living room because he didn’t have enough space in his own room to play in there. He hated that he couldn’t eat peanut butter in the apartment because of Dean’s peanut allergy. He hated the times that Dean’s mom would sometimes make an attempt to put him first. He’s pretty sure that had been the cause this time, although he doesn’t remember what it was his mom had done.

The asshole is probably long dead by now, done in by either booze or some dude he owed money to. But Dean will never forget how his mom had recoiled at the word, or how she glanced down at him on the floor in horror. He’ll never forget how her face had flushed, or how she had ducked her head in shame. He’ll never forget the sound of her voice, trembling with humiliation as she pleaded with him to go to his room. To this day, he still doesn’t understand why she had been so upset.

After all, it’s not like it wasn’t the truth.


iv. sometimes I'm so afraid of my heart, of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants

Everyone has a dark side. Everyone has a voice inside their heads, whispering dirty, bad things to them, tempting them at every turn. Most are able to ignore that darkness, able to shove it down and reach out for the light instead. But Dean’s not like those people. It’s not superficial, human darkness that lies inside him. What lies inside him is ancient. A beast of biblical proportions, with poisonous fangs and razor sharp claws. A beast driven underground once the dawn of man began. And when it finally got loose and saw Dean, it knew that he was going to be the most delicious, satisfying kill its ever had.

It’s been with him for so long he has no idea where he begins and the beast ends. He sometimes thinks his body is the cage constructed to keep it at bay. From the very beginning, it’s been a symbiotic relationship. He gives it the flesh and blood it craves by mutilating his body and his opponents’ bodies. In return, it drives away the nightmares that have plagued him for as long as he can remember. As fucked up as it is, it’s the only constant he’s ever had.

He builds a reputation for being bloodthirsty, for being unstable and insane. There’s a very, very small part of him, buried underneath the throne of bodies the beast sits upon, screaming at the top of his lungs. This isn’t him, this isn’t who he is, don’t they see that there’s a man lying deep beneath the surface. But no one listens, and the beast laughs. It sinks its claws in deeper and it sings to him. It will never let him go. Why would it? Dean is his favorite.


v. i'll reach you below; no one should brave the underworld alone

It freaks Dean out, how close Roman is with his family. Seth’s close with his, too, but Roman is insanely tight with his. Dean knows that most people don’t grow up like he did, but it’s startling for him to watch Roman interact with every member of his family. His eyes always light up, no matter who it is, and he’s always happy to see them, no matter the relation. He loves his fourth cousins just as much as he does his own brother. The idea of loving just one person is something Dean can barely fathom; being able to love so many people with the same fervor? It sounds exhausting.

That’s Roman, though. So big and tough on the outside, so soft and gentle on the inside. As cheesy as it sounds, his physical strength doesn’t even begin to compare to the strength of his heart. Everyone marvels when he breaks a new record in the gym, but Dean marvels at the way he gives every piece of himself to anyone who asks. He marvels at the way Roman gives and gives and never asks for anything.

It’s weird. No one gives without taking in return. Nothing is free. Nothing is a gift. He almost feels sorry for Roman cause no one told him that, and it’s going to bite him in the ass.

He doesn’t say anything, though. He stands by and watches, keeps an eye on everyone around them. If Roman won’t protect his own heart, then Dean will do it for him.


vi. a terrible thought has moved into my mind, like an unwanted roommate drunk on wine

When he’s fifteen and a freshman in high school, he thinks about killing himself. It’s at first a fleeting thought, one he doesn’t take too seriously. He’s walking home from school, taking the long way even though it’s freezing outside because freezing is a better alternative than running into the drug dealers that color his neighborhood (or, even worse, running into his mom on her usual corner). He stops at a crosswalk, and for a brief moment, he wonders what would happen if he walked into the road and stood there. He wonders if the cars would swerve to avoid him, or if they would press their foot on the gas and ram into him.

There’s a voice in his head, whispering for him to do it, walk into the road, no one would miss him and it’d finally be over.

He’s only fifteen, and already he knows that there is no point in living. His world is harsh and cruel, but even the parts of the world he dreams of having access to are even more so. There’s no place out there for someone like him, and even fifteen years of this has already been too much to bear. The idea of bearing a lifetime of this makes him want to cry.

That voice gets louder as the weeks pass, when he gets suspended from school for punching a guy who called his mom a whore (how dare he, how dare he say that, he doesn’t know anything, he doesn’t know anything), when he tries to get to the store to buy what little groceries he and his mom can afford and gets his ass beaten for his efforts (he thought he had planned it right, how was he to do know that a deal was going to be going down that early in the day). As months pass and he has to take a baseball bat to his mom’s latest boyfriend of the week when the asshole slides his hand up her skirt while she’s passed out, and his mom blames him for being alone once again (he may hate her, and wish she had never had him, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to fucking rape her while she’s asleep), that voice becomes a chorus, a thunderous rendition of Do it, do it, do it do it do it do it.

He wants to listen. He feels like Odysseus, trying to resist the allure of the Sirens (everyone thinks he’s stupid, but he loves to read, and the old lady at the library takes pity on him and will extend the due dates of any books he has checked out cause she knows there’s days when he can’t leave the apartment without getting beat up or even worse, shot). He wants to give in. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t give in; the only person who might miss him is his mom, but he’s not enough reason for her to stay sober, so she’s not going to be enough reason for him to stay alive.

Luckily or unluckily, depending on the perspective, he’s home alone late on a Saturday night, watching an old ECW tape he bought a few years ago. He’s been watching wrestling since he was a kid, and it’s probably the closest he has to a steady, comforting presence in his life. He’s always loved stories, and that’s what wrestling is. It’s a way to escape, and he is never happier than he is when he’s watching a show.

That steady stream of screams he’s been hearing for months has finally been silenced, and before he even knows it, it’s replaced by a single voice. It’s soft, almost a whisper, but it’s much, much more soothing than the symphony he’s been hearing for months.

You could do this.

He stares at the TV, and a weird, almost fluttery sensation invades his stomach. He can feel his heart starting to beat faster, and he hears that voice again amid the sound of the bell ringing on the TV. You could do that.

He never thinks about killing himself again.


vii. you would know how i treasured every day, how every single word you spoke echoes in me like a memory of hope

Sami is Dean’s first, honest to God best friend. He’s never really had a friend before, someone that he can one hundred percent always depend on, but he has that with Sami. He has no idea how it happened, he has no clue when it happened, but it did, and he’s intensely, insanely grateful.

They’re in some shitty motel room in the middle of nowhere, and they’re both exhausted and worn to the bone. They’ve both reached that weird, delirious stage where words are coming out of their mouths and most of them don’t make any sense at all, but it’s okay. They’re talking about the worst porn titles they’ve ever seen, and they’re both laughing hysterically when Dean realizes how warm he feels inside..

It’s a feeling he’s always had to fake. He’s said the words before, to his mom, to girlfriends, but he knows that whatever emotion he felt for them was always tainted with something darker, something disgusting. This, though...this is pure. This is real.

He feels like he’s going to explode if he doesn’t say it, so the instant the conversation hits a lull, he says it. Normally, the words scare him, make him feel like he’s being splayed open for the world to play with his insides. This time, though? This time he actually feels free.

When he says it, Sami looks over at him from his bed, a smirk on his face. But his eyes are glowing with the same thing Dean’s feeling, and he murmurs back, “Love you, too. Now go to sleep, asshole.”

Sami is the first person Dean says “I love you” to and actually means it.

To Dean’s shock, he is not the last.


viii. while you were busy destroying my life, what was half in me has become whole

As he’s gotten older, his feelings towards his mom have softened. Call it the wisdom of adulthood, or Seth’s and Roman’s influences, but he finally reached the point where he felt like it was time to put aside the bitterness, the resentment, the anger he held towards her and called her. It hasn’t been easy; as much as he wants to forgive, he doesn’t know how. He certainly doesn’t know how to forget, but he’s trying. That has to count for something.

And to her credit, she’s trying, too. He doesn’t think they’re ever really going to have a long, in-depth heart to heart about her parenting failures, but he realizes now just how alike they are. Neither of them are the type to give flowery, sentimental apologies; they physically can’t. Both of them learned very, very early in life that words don’t mean shit; actions are what matter. The fact that she finally went to rehab and hasn’t had a drink in two years is her way of apologizing. He gets that, and he’s not going to ask for anything more.

He understands now that she tried her best. That best was shitty, but just like him, she never had anyone to show her the way. But unlike him, she never had anyone who really loved her enough to teach her how to be a person. Not until now, anyway.

Which is why he’s floored when they’re on the phone one day, and she tentatively mentions to him that his father has been coming around lately, and wants to see him.

He’s never met his biological donor. He refuses to call him father; that label is reserved for men like Roman’s dad, who has been with Roman’s mom for thirty plus years, who will gently slap Roman upside the head whenever he’s being too sassy, then immediately reach out and smooth his ruffled hair down. That label is reserved for men like Seth’s dad, who is divorced from Seth’s mom but they still spend holidays together with Seth and his brother, who has pictures lining his fireplace of Seth holding every single title belt he’s ever won in every promotion he’s been in. Fathers don’t knock up sixteen year-old girls and leave her with the same family who turned a blind eye when an uncle molested her for five years straight. Fathers don’t let their children wear dirty, too small clothes and let them starve because their mother never finished high school and can’t get a decent paying job.

His mom tells him that she didn’t give that piece of shit his phone number, thank God. She doesn’t offer to give him that monster’s phone number, either. He tells her to ignore him, pretend he never existed. He tells her that she’s come too far to let that asshole ruin her life again. She’s gotta be strong about this, he tells her. She’s strong now and she can do this, he says, cause this time, this time she’s not alone. She’s got him now. And she does, she really, truly does.

But it eats at him, cause he knows exactly why that fuck stain has chosen now to finally come around. He’s seen Dean on TV, and he wants to be able to point at him and tell everyone that’s his boy. He finally wants the recognition that his dick worked, now that Dean’s finally someone. But the six year-old inside him is desperate to finally, finally meet him. The six year-old inside him is desperate to see if he looks like his father, to find out if the rasp of his voice comes from him or too many cigarettes.The six year-old inside him is desperate to know why, why did he leave, why didn’t he stay, why he didn’t love him and his mom both to stay.

He can’t talk to his mom about this. She’s too fragile, and he’s not, he is not going to do anything to put her recovery in jeopardy. So he brings it up to Seth and Roman one night while they’re driving to Omaha, doing his best to keep his voice casual, but it trembles as he tells them that his dad wants to meet him.

At first, they’re both quiet. Roman glances at him through the rear view mirror, his face thoughtful, contemplative. Seth grits his jaw so violently he’s grinding his teeth. He’s the one who speaks first. “That fucking prick,” he snarls.

“Seth.” Roman’s voice is calm, but Seth isn’t having any of it.

“No, fuck that. Fuck that!” He turns in his seat to look at Dean, his eyes blazing with fury. It makes Dean feel warm, that Seth is so outraged on his behalf. “He won’t have anything to do with you for twenty seven fucking years and now he wants to meet you? Fuck him. Fuck him and I hope he rots in hell.”

“Seth.” This time, Roman’s warning him. He looks back at Dean again. “What’d your mom say? Is she okay?”

It honestly, truly touches Dean that Roman’s not only worried about him, but about his mom, too. He’s never met Dean’s mom, but he cares about her because Dean cares about her. That’s just how it works with Roman. “She didn’t tell him anything. Hung up on him ‘fore he could give her shit about it.”

“Good,” Seth snaps. He’s the one who actively pushed Dean into reconciling with her, the one who made Dean see her for who she could be, not what she was before. He turns back in his seat, shaking his head. “Fuck him. You guys don’t need him.”

It’s true, they may not need him. But a part of Dean needs closure. A part of him needs to know why, needs to know if his monstrosity is based in nature or nurture. He appreciates that Seth is so protective of him, but he’ll never understand. Maybe meeting his dad will finally, finally heal the hole in his soul.

Roman, whose entire sense of self is rooted in family, gets it, though. He gives Seth a brief glare before he looks back at Dean, his eyes soft. “Do you want to meet him?”

Yes. No. Dean doesn’t know. He’s so confused. Once upon a time, he would have never admitted to that, wouldn’t have wanted to show his weakness. But that was a long time ago, and he’s safe here. So he shrugs, and he’s not embarrassed when his voice cracks. “I don’t know.”

The car falls silent at that. He feels like he’s choking, and he hates, he fucking hates that this asshole who didn’t even bother to give him his last name has this much power over him. He feels an intense wave of sympathy for his mom, cause if the guy has the power to make Dean feel like this, he can’t imagine how it must feel for his mom, who at one time actually loved him. He leans his head against the window, and he has to resist the urge to smash his head against it repeatedly just so all these thoughts and feelings would stop.

“We’ll go with you.” Dean looks up at that, looking up at Roman in confusion. The smile on Roman’s face is sad, but his eyes scream resolution. “If you decide you want to meet him. We’ll go with you.”

“I can’t promise I won’t try to break his jaw,” Seth adds. Dean didn’t hear them agree to this, but they have a way of falling into line with each other without having to say a word. It’s amazing, really. “But we’ll go with you. If that’s what you want.”

He still doesn’t know if he wants to. But he smiles, a real, genuine smile and nods, because he knows that meeting his dad won’t fill the emptiness inside him. That emptiness has already been filled.


viiii. time to gather up the splinters, build a casket for my tears

Dean has always prided himself for being observant. It’s a skill he’s learned to hone, to wield like a weapon. You don’t survive if you don’t know what’s going on around you; it’s the very first lesson he ever learned.

Which is why he cannot believe that he didn’t see this coming.

If someone had told him that Seth would be the one to break up the Shield, he would laughed. No way it would be Seth. It would be Dean, with his myriad of issues, who destroys everything without lifting a finger. Or it would be Roman, with his gullible heart, who listens to people he shouldn’t listen to. It wouldn’t be Seth. Seth’s too grounded, Seth’s too stable, Seth’s too secure to fall prey to the golden lies thrown his way.

But he does. He falls prey to the jackals beating down their door, and Dean wants to kill himself for not hearing the knocking.

Roman is completely heart-broken. He doesn’t say so, and he talks a good game, but one look at him and Dean can see the grief hanging above his head, inches away from burying him in its rubble. Brotherhood is everything to him, and he selflessly pulled both Seth and Dean into his embrace and carved out distinct places for them in his heart. He cannot fathom a world in which a man would betray his brothers, and it has rocked him to his very core.

Dean’s rocked to his core, too. But he’s not surprised. He saw it all those years ago, when they were standing in the ring against each other. He realizes now that uneasy feeling he had felt while staring Seth down had been trying to warn him, trying to tell him that he’s not the only monster walking around wearing a human face.

The man inside Dean is devastated. The beast inside him is furious.

The man inside Dean is wounded at every word Seth says. The man inside wants to weep when Seth calls him a business partner, when he says that without him Dean would be in an asylum (because a part of him knows it’s true). The beast inside him licks its lips when Seth talks about the evolution of Seth Rollins, when he says that only he can control Dean. Dean sees the arrogance on Seth’s face and wants to die; the beast smells the arrogance bleeding from Seth and wants to feed.

It’d be so easy to let it out. It’d be so easy to find Seth and offer him to it t as if to pay homage. He wants to. God, he wants to.

But there’s Roman. Roman’s still here, and Dean knows that he can’t. Because for some reason, a reason that Dean can’t fathom, he hasn’t lost his faith. He still believes, from the bottom of his heart, that Seth will one day find his way back. He still believes, with every part of his soul, in Dean.

It’s terrifying, the idea of someone having that much faith in him. But Roman once promised him that he would be there whenever Dean needed him, and even though he has never said it out loud, he has made the same promise to Roman. So he dries his eyes, takes a deep breath, and tells the beast, no, not tonight. It will have to wait for its next meal.

Seth is counting on the monster inside of Dean defeating him so that Seth won’t have to. But Dean makes a vow, to himself and to Roman, that he’s not going to gorge on Seth’s bones; he’s going to find a way to save him instead.

It’s the human thing to do.