The basement of the arena was cold, quiet, and tenebrous. Finn flitted from shadow to shadow down the halls, feeling something like a shadow himself, formless and dimensionless. Unthinkingly, he reached up and placed a hand over his chest. He felt nothing but the faint, mundane rhythm of his own heart. There had been nothing else since Summerslam, nothing but that steady, familiar, comfortably human beat.
He found Seth alone in a room where there were stacked several large and midsized containers that were probably meant for storage. Seth had his back to the entryway, his bag and his suitcase at his feet. He was putting on his vest.
He turned at the sound of footsteps. In the poor lighting his eyes looked almost black, icy pools of distrust and contained rage. When he saw Finn they warmed as if washed in the glow of a fire. He smiled. “Hey there. I thought I told you not to come looking for me tonight. If Dean had been here he would’ve already jumped you.”
“Well, my dear,” Finn declared in a grand, bombastic voice, “it was a chance I had to take. I simply could not bear for us to be apart one more night.”
“It’s been, like, two days,” Seth said, amused. He turned back, grabbing his gloves from on top of his suitcase.
Finn walked up to him and circled his arms around Seth’s waist. He pressed himself against Seth’s back, resting his forehead against Seth’s shoulder. Seth tensed briefly, surprised.
“Well hi,” he said, sounding puzzled. Finn smiled against the rough material of the vest. He could feel the rise and fall of Seth’s abdomen with his each breath. A steady, familiar, mundane, comfortably human rhythm. And kind of wonderful, really.
He pulled away much sooner than he would have wanted to. Seth half-turned to look at him, a sort of bemused smile playing at his lips. “You all right?”
It was a question Seth had been asking him a lot lately. Finn walked over to one of the containers and sat down on it, smiling broadly, and gave the same answer he always did. “Of course. I’m fine.”
Seth studied him, clearly unconvinced. “You know you don’t have to do that,” he said after a moment, softly, with a hint of admonishment.
Seth reached out with one gloved hand and touched the corner of Finn’s mouth. “Smile. You might fool everyone else, but I’m not everyone else, remember? You can talk to me.”
Caught off guard, Finn’s expression faltered. He let the smile melt away with a sigh and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “All right, all right. I feel like shit.”
Seth withdrew his hand, which Finn was sorry for, until Seth sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. At this angle the color of Seth’s eyes seemed lighter, but the old fluorescents were too dim and too pale to give them that touch of amber that had enchanted Finn that Monday night a few weeks ago when they had been sitting together in the locker rooms, that night Finn had tossed aside all pretenses and excuses and finally kissed him. “Well,” Seth said briskly, “it’s a shitty world, with a lot to feel shitty about. What in particular is bothering you on this shitty night?”
Finn huffed out a laugh. “Aren’t you cheery?”
Seth flashed a playful grin, and then his expression sobered again. “Seriously, what is it? You’ve been acting kind of weird all week.”
“Have I?” Finn asked, honestly startled. He had felt weird all week, but he had thought he was hiding it quite well. Apparently not.
Seth shrugged. “When you start grinning like a skull all the time, it usually means you’re trying to hide something.”
Finn shifted, a bit chagrined. One thing he had learned about Seth over the last two years was how sharply attuned Seth often was to the world around him. He was always observing, and he tended to notice the little things.
Finn sighed again. “I lost.”
Seth’s brow furrowed. “You mean against Corbin, the week before last? Yeah, so?”
“So,” Finn echoed, with a little wry laugh.
“That’s not what’s been bothering you, is it?” Seth shook his head, incredulous. “It was one match, and Corbin pulled some power trip bullshit. He knew he was never going to beat you otherwise, because you’d proved at Summerslam he has nothing on you.”
“That’s just it, though, isn’t it?” Finn mused, almost to himself. “I beat him at Summerslam, beat him in minutes, but only because I was using the Demon’s power. Without that, when it’s just me, he wins. Not always, but…l won, at Summerslam. The next night, barely twenty-four hours later, I lost.”
Seth said nothing.
“I wonder,” Finn went on, still speaking as if to himself, “how much any of my victories are really mine, and how much they really belong to him, the Demon. I’ve always wondered that.” He lifted his hand and pressed it again over his heart. “I told you how it feels when he’s awake, didn’t I? How it feels like…like something stirring, kind of like, uh, like a snake uncoiling itself, ready to strike, how my heart slows down to almost a crawl, and seems heavier, like it’s swelled to twice its normal size and weight. How my senses go into, like, overload, and suddenly it’s like I can see and hear everything, like the whole world goes into high definition.” His lips quirked upwards briefly. “It feels like that whenever he lends me a bit of his power but doesn’t actually take over. I always feel that way when I win a match. Not for very long, just until the adrenaline wears off, but I know it’s him. I never feel it when I lose, just a kind of…numbness. It’s always made me wonder if I only ever win because of his strength, not my own.”
Seth was looking at him closely, surprised and thoughtful. Finn felt self-conscious all of a sudden. He had never told all that to anyone, had never intended to tell anyone. He let his hand fall into his lap. His first instinct was to pull away, to put distance between them, but instead he shifted closer, resting his head on Seth’s shoulder. Seth’s grip on him tightened slightly. Silence closed in heavily around them.
Finn wondered what was going through Seth’s head; he could feel in the tension of Seth’s body how deep in thought the other man was, and knew Seth was analyzing every word he’d said and how he’d said it, considering how to respond.
“You think you need the Demon, is that what you’re saying?” Seth asked, finally.
Finn shrugged, the gesture made awkward by his current position, trying to act casual. As if this wasn’t something that had kept him up at night, listening to the sound of the wind outside whatever hotel room he happened to be in, waiting for it to turn into whispers. The Demon had told him once, in his cold, hollow, inhuman voice, You were nothing before me. Finn had laughed at him then, brash and undaunted, but in the very back of his mind the words had lingered and sometimes, on those nights he lay awake waiting for the Demon to start speaking inside his head, he recalled those words and wondered at the truth of them. The Demon liked his games and Finn had grown into a pretty good player, but it wasn’t always so easy to brush off the Demon’s little quips and taunts. The Demon knew him, after all, his every thought, his every emotion, every facet of his being.
Seth sighed. Gently, he pushed Finn off of him so he could look the other man in the eye. “That’s bullshit, Balor,” he said, flatly. “You should know that.”
Finn blinked. “Should I?”
Seth placed a hand on Finn’s chest, over his heart. “I still don’t really understand this whole demon thing, but you’re the one who controls it, aren’t you? It doesn’t lend you its power because it wants to, it does it because you make it. Right? You told me that when it possessed you it tried to take over, to wipe you away and take control of your body, but you overpowered it through sheer force of will and made it subservient to you, not the other way around. You told me it hurt like hell. Literally.” Finn cracked a little smile at that, remembering his own bad joke. Seth didn’t smile back, regarding Finn intently.
“For years, you’ve had this…this thing inside you, this powerful thing that’s been around for who knows how long and has consumed who knows how many people. But it hasn’t consumed you. Even now you bend it to your will, you use its power, you even manipulate its image to whatever you want it to be. You have almost total control over this thing, and I doubt that’s because it wants you to. And you think you’re dependent on its strength? Finn, the only reason you’re able to use its strength is because you’re stronger than it is. You always were.”
Finn stared at him, stunned. Seth lifted his hand to touch Finn’s cheek.
“If you think you’re weak, Finn, you’re wrong. It’s not because of the Demon you win, not even when it’s actually in control. Because it’s never really the one in control, is it? It doesn’t fight for you because it wants to, it fights for you because you make it. It’s not the Demon’s power that makes you strong, it never has been. It’s your own.” He smirked. “I don’t think you realize how scary you can be, sometimes. You scared me, back when we first met. You scared the shit out of me. And I’m not the only one. I heard about you long before we met, and people weren’t talking about your nice smile.” His thumb brushed over Finn’s lips, a slow, light caress. “They said you were dangerous. I could see what they meant, that first time we were face to face in the ring. It’s not the Demon, it’s you. You’re tough as steel and you’re not afraid of anything. Look at how much you’ve been through, how hard you’ve had to fight to get back to where you are. You’re stronger than anyone I’ve ever known.”
Finn didn’t know what to say, conflicting feelings sending his thoughts into a dizzying spiral. Seth smiled, affection emanating from him like a soft warm glow. “People respect you because they see that,” he said. “Dean and Roman both respect you because of it. Roman wanted to give you that match for the title because he has a ton of respect for you, always has.” He laughed. “You left him a little rattled, you know that? You almost got the better of him. That’s not easy to do with Roman. I know that first hand.” He made a face, briefly, and then smiled again. “It’s even harder to earn Dean’s respect, rather than his contempt, but I think he’s glad you’re not one of the guys we’re up against now. He’d never admit it, but I think he’d rather avoid fighting you.”
Finn shook his head, a little disbelieving smile curving his mouth. “I’m glad I’m not one of the guys you’re up against, too,” he quipped, still a bit shocked by all of this. He had never really stopped to consider what others might think of him; he had always been too busy trying to decide what, exactly, he thought of himself. He supposed he had always assumed people saw the Demon when they looked at him, more than they actually saw him. He had liked the idea of that, in his younger years, the idea that to others he seemed like something dark and powerful and ethereal. It wasn’t until he had met Seth and had found himself looking into those beautiful brown eyes and wondering what they saw, that it had started to bother him.
“I’m an idiot, aren’t I?” he said, half-serious, shoulders slumping.
Seth laughed. “Yes, you are.” He curled his fingers underneath Finn’s chin and tipped his face up, leaning in to kiss him. When he pulled away, his grin was mischievous, his eyes glinting. “Me ‘n my boys are going to go kick some ass out there tonight. Next time you’re out there, do me a favor and do the same. Kick someone’s ass.”
“Promise,” Finn said solemnly, and kissed him again.