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There's a powerful symmetry to it, late night phone calls, stolen moments, a thickening web of deceit around him, tainting everything he touches. You'd think he'd learn. He thought he had. But it’s an addiction, their hands on him. It’s fucked up, but what he said that first night holds true. He wants everything. He still hasn't figured out how to make his want smaller and more manageable, how to turn his ambitions decent and his desires bite-sized and harmless.

Hunter is too busy with his marriage, his work and his own affairs to notice him straying. He's known for a while now that he should walk away but he can't. Not from Hunter, who holds his loyalty and devotion in a vice-like grip, and not from Dean and Roman, whom he fears he'll love to his dying breath.

They think it's all about greed and vanity and ego. Hunter knows, and that’s why he stays. Because Hunter was the first, the only one, to ever look at him and understand. Hunter staked his claim so cleverly, holds the leash so lightly, that Seth is free to chase his desires and still remain true. That makes Hunter the only person Seth has never cheated on.

Never, until now.

In Seth’s experience, love comes with a simple choice. Lie or lose. He's always chosen the lie. The loss is inevitable, but he’s adept at pushing it ahead of him, one lie at a time. His lies stain what he's fighting to preserve, but better filthy and tarnished than nothing at all.

Their new-found truce is a fragile thing. Seth tries to fit seamlessly into the cracks of their lives, making sure to never overstay his welcome. It's a tiny space they have to give him, a twilight space, a secret fit for hotel rooms and burner phones. He chafes under the restrictions. He's so grateful that he chokes on it.

They don't trust him and he can't blame them for it. He can't prove that he's sorry, and he's not sure if sorry actually means anything when he'd do it all again, only smarter, kinder, with more honor. There is no version of him that would have turned Hunter down, no version that would have stayed out of Dean's and Roman's beds and arms and hearts to begin with.

The sex is spectacular. But better still are quiet moments in front of the TV or scrolling through his Twitter feed while Dean reads and Roman skypes with his daughter. Those moments are rare and all the more precious for it. They make him think they still have a chance, that the bridges he burned can be rebuilt.

Other times he's not so sure. They’re not friends, exactly. He's good enough to fuck, but not good enough to talk to, and he knows, like a sunk weight deep in his bones, that they would hate him if they could.

In a thousand little ways, they punish him. In a thousand little ways he takes it, until something snaps and he can't, any more.

He's tried for weeks to get caught, to be all but blatant in his transgressions, but all he returns to after his evenings with them is an empty hotel room and, on nights when he's retained, champagne in an ice bucket filled with water. There's always two glasses, like a slap in the face. Sometimes he wonders if Hunter's trying to send him a message.

In the end, it's Marek who gives him the strength to end it. They’re home in Iowa, curled up on Marek's comfy couch, TV flickering in the background, some old CWC classic. He's lying with his head in Marek's lap, eyes closed, and Marek caresses his hair the way no one else ever does if he's not fucking them.

"I hate that you're not happy," Marek says. Just that. But there’s something about the way he says it, the infinite kindness of it, that makes the last few pieces fall into place. Because Marek is right. He's not happy. And he deserves to be. Not because he’s a good person, because he's not. But because he’s alive and this one life is all he gets.

When he pedigrees Hunter in front of Stephanie and 15 000 screaming fans, it's not for Roman and Dean. It’s for a clean slate and a chance to find out who he can be without his brothers defining his worth or the Authority propping him up.

He sneaks out of the arena, not to the hotel used by the rest of the roster, but to a nondescript motel near the airport where he sinks down on the bed and hugs the titles to his chest, euphoric and terrified and for the first time in years, free.