Watching Seth walk away from them with a smile, a grin, like he’d just found the answer to the universe, hurts more than the chair in his back. Dean can still see that smug smile as he lets Roman pluck his shirt off and look at the bruises and contusions forming, the marks the chair has left on him mixing with mouth-shaped bruises from Seth the previous night. Dean shakes his head, vicious, trying to chase away the memories of that mouth twisted towards him in something like love, something like wanting, and finds he can’t see that smile anymore, eclipsed by the smirk from the night where his lover tore them apart, piece by piece, in front of thousands of people.
He drinks that night, draining the hotel minibar, never mind the cost, and pretends he can’t hear Roman in the next room, breaking furniture and punching the walls. The whiskey goes down easy, like he had, like they both had in front of Seth’s little smirk and steel chair. Because who expects you brother, your lover, your best friend to attack you from behind like a fucking coward? It wasn’t as if Seth didn’t have an equal partnership in The Shield, in what they were – if anything, Roman was the odd one out, two invites into their bed notwithstanding. He and Seth were meant to be partners, lovers – and Roman had taken them both in like blood family, as if he didn’t already have that in spades.
Dean thinks about May, the month he’ll always think of as birthday month, because Roman and Seth share it, and how they’d dragged Roman out to the bars and, when he’d still come home alone, dragged him into their bed. Thinks of how it had felt to be between the two of them, to be treated like a present and unwrapped slowly and carefully between their big hands. They worshipped him that night, as if it was his celebration and not theirs, and Dean has never felt so wanted, so needed, so loved. He didn’t think that just four scant days later, he’d be healing from wounds both physical and emotional, and crawling into bed beside Roman to lie, side by side, both of them awake and neither of them speaking.
It should be awkward, sharing a bed with someone who had fucked into him with such reverence only a few nights before, but they’re both heartsick and lost, and there’s nothing sexual in the way Roman rolls Dean up into his arms and holds him close, because there’s nothing sexual about mourning. That’s what they’re doing, both of them, mourning a friend, a brother, a lover, someone who was closer to both of them than almost anyone else, and if they need each other in order to find a little sleep and comfort, then Dean will knock out anyone who starts making insinuations. But he does wonder if he would be in the same place if they had just thought to put Seth in the middle, to show him how loved he was and how much they needed him with them.
“He’s not coming back, is he?” Dean asks, the dawn light creeping around the hotel drapes, his tone still resolutely awake.
“Would you take him back?” Roman asks, bass voice rumbling, vibrating through Dean’s bones, “If he came back right now, would you take him back?”
Dean doesn’t answer, just lets his hand find Roman’s in the dim light, and squeezes, closing his eyes as if blocking out the coming day will take the pain away.
Watching Seth parade around with Stephanie and Hunter, grinning like he’s done something to be proud of, it’s too much, too much and too hard for either of them to deal with. Dean thinks he’s the only one suffering until he finds Roman, head in his hands in their dressing room, just sitting, silently.
“I miss the fuck out of him.” Dean admits, quietly, too loud in the echoing room.
“It was never supposed to go down like this. We’d beaten everyone.” Roman mutters, head still buried in his hands, “He was supposed to be our brother.”
Dean doesn’t touch many people, always heading down to the ring and avoiding the fist bumps and handshakes that Roman so gladly accepts, coping with the pats on the shoulder he gets in response instead, but right now, he needs to touch Roman. He buries one hand in that thick, dark hair at the back of his friend’s neck and rubs, gentle, like petting a cat, and pretends he doesn’t hear the hitch in the big man’s breathing, like he’d cry if he wasn’t, well, Roman Reigns.
“I’m still here.” Dean says, sliding his hand down to grip the back of Roman’s neck, his hold a promise. Roman lifts his head and leans it against Dean’s thigh, and they just sit, quietly, his breath a warm, heavy pressure on Dean’s leg, and Dean’s thumb stroking the back of Roman’s neck.
Another booking, another hotel room, another night where Roman’s only sleeping because he’s completely exhausted, and Dean’s left awake and alone, staring at his phone and reading back through old texts from Seth. Every so often he’ll come across something which makes him want to hurl the thing across the room, or scream, but he lies still, not wanting to wake the man beside him.
What did they offer you that we couldn’t?
He regrets the text the minute he sends it, wishes he could take it back, and lets his phone fall onto his chest, screen going black and plunging the room into darkness. Roman makes a snuffling noise and rolls over, draping an arm over Dean’s tense body, comic enough to draw a smile out of him. When his phone lights up again, he doesn’t want to look, but can’t stop himself from seeing what his ex-lover has replied with.
Dean’s phone smashes against the far wall, Roman awake in an instant and covering his body as the sobs rear up, unable to be choked down any longer. It doesn’t matter how long Roman tries to pin him down and hold him steady, the cries won’t stop, Dean’s body shaking as he struggles to draw breath against the sorrow.
He doesn’t tell Roman about the second half of the text.
And a decent fuck.
When it comes down to it, they’re back in the ring, and Seth trying to fuck with their matches isn’t going to go well.
“I’ve got your back.” Roman says, blue eyes a little too honest, “He’s not getting anywhere near you.”
Dean shakes his head, trying not to think about it, his body wired and tense, every muscle straining. Seth’s marks are still painted on his back, mostly hidden by the tank top, and he hates them, wishes he could shed his skin to take them away, but it’s not the first time a betrayal has left bruises, and suspects it won’t be the last.
Seth’s the master of outside interference, and of course they know that, because he played that role for them enough times, but it’s another thing to see him at the edge of the ring, smirking like he played his card so right. Dean sees red, wants to head towards him and give him a few bruises back, wants to break his smug weasel face, wants to kiss the hell out of him and never let him go again. Roman holds him back, and Dean will thank him later, because he doesn’t truly know which one of those three options he would have gone with.
The pattern goes on for months, but after a while, someone gets bored with the game. Roman would put his money on The Authority, probably Stephanie, using her business sense to make sure their feud doesn’t get old and stale. She made a sellable icon in Seth, and she wants to get her money’s worth before she and her husband throw him away, used up and worn out. Steph plays with wrestlers like toys, like daddy taught her, and for all that Triple H is supposed to be the cerebral assassin, he lets his wife play around more than he does.
The Wyatts take a dislike to him and Dean, and Roman spends half his time getting the shit kicked out of him, and half his time stopping Dean from getting bashed about more than necessary. Seth’s winning matches, they know this, know that he’ll be chasing titles and wins now he’s got his Money in the Bank briefcase.
“He’ll be coming for us.” Dean can’t help but say, bouncing on his feet like a boxer, “You know he won’t be able to stay away.”
Roman wonders if that’s wishful thinking, if Seth hasn’t forgotten Dean faster than his friend seems to be able to forget his ex.
“We’re ready.” He says, instead, ruffling Dean’s hair.