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Dean’s a survivor. A strong one. He made it when nobody else did.
Okay, he knows this is actually wrong. He knows survivors are out there, waiting…
Waiting for what?

He doesn’t really know himself. Doesn’t know anymore what’s up. Hope had never been his thing in the first place… now, it’s barely a word he remembers anyway.

It doesn’t matter. One day, it’ll end, they’ll all die and Dean, well, Dean’s going to burn the whole world down.
Because that’s everything he ever knew.
Emotions consuming him like a merciless fire, chewing on his insides, licking at his heart.
His existence in itself had been a true fire, burning everyone that came too close, keeping them too far, coming from someone whose fire had died when he was born.

He had lived with that fire, the thing that made him what he was, what he is; moody, unpredictable, weird. It had kept him alive at times when nobody believed he could make it out, it held his hand when he couldn’t do it himself, helped him out every time.
The fire had always been there, in his chest, in his blood, in him. He was the fire, the cruel, mad flames, the burning and the aching, he’s so much more than what he is.

“Oi, kid, don’t go too close, Char’ll kill both of us if you don’t bring yer ass over ‘ere soon!”

With a groan, he turns around, walking away from the small fire he had caused. He could still feel it, burning quietly the papers he threw there, right behind him. “Yeah, yeah, comin’. Why do I have to do Flair’s little jobs?”

Becky snorts, her bright red hair moving just enough to show the small wound on her cheek - visibly starting to heal, probably thanks to Charlotte, her girlfriend. “Because she gives you ‘nough protection t’ do yer stuff.” She presses a hand on his back, forcing him to move. “Two spots left to do, lad.”

They don’t talk much on the way.
Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Both are his friends - more like some big sisters. They found him, one day, starving to death but still dumb enough to pick a fight with them. Becky had him pinned down on the floor at Charlotte’s feet in a minute. He had let them take care of him. And by the time he was good to go, they just had brushed him off, saying that he could live wherever he wanted, but that he wouldn’t get rid of them.
They are also taking care of, well… the entire town. They know about almost every camp around. Basically, every time they crossed a survivor’s path, they were the ones to tell them where to go. Or to turn them into monsters if they weren’t…. peaceful.
And Dean, well, he had been friends with them. Actually, they were, before it all started. Just work out buddies, but still close. And after that, he met them again… six months after the Beginning.

He never really leaves their side. He doesn’t live with them- a bit too paranoid, too himself to make them go through it. And he never liked being the third wheel. Even though it never was like that with them.
He has somewhere to go at night, but during the day, he mostly stays with them. They always have something for him to do- like today.
Becky doesn’t really go with him- it’s rare, and Charlotte going out with him is even rarer. She’s the one who runs a lot of it. Becky likes to use her body much more than Charlotte. Well, they both work out, but Becky has too much energy to work in papers all day.

Today, they’re supposed to lit up fires outside town.
Not a hard job, not at all. A bit boring but at least they always choose spots with a big view so they don’t get surprised.
Dean is lighting up the last when Becky clicks her tongue twice.

Alarm. It means danger. It means that things are going to get dirty.

He’s kneeling before he even realizes it, and he’s right to do so. One of Becky’s axes flies above his head.

He doesn’t need to look up to know it found its target. He moves faster, doesn’t let himself relax. He’s on his feet again, fists clenched.
There are five of them. They’re slow but they look strong enough. At least, Becky managed to take one down before they could get too close.

“Deano, careful with ‘em. Don’t want to bring a dead body to Char.” He can feel the way she’s standing behind him. If he’s a fire, she is one hell of a fire too. Becky’s just like him. She just took different paths in her life. “Dean. Let’s try to have ‘em from far away, see if we can take the others down, too.”

Dean watches the first one, watches how close they are. Half of his face has been melted previously, at some point, and his skin is a grayish green, covered in bugs Dean doesn’t want to look at.
He misses his arms, bloody holes instead, clothes torn to shreds. His mouth is open, tongue cut in several points and his good eye is fixated on Dean, on Dean and his flesh.

“Dean, now. We don’t have time. Step back ’n throw some knives, yeah?”

Becky is still behind him; he knows he’s being stupid, but it warms his heart to know that no matter what she thinks, she’d stay with him even if it meant going through hell.
He steps back. Grabs the knives he only uses from a certain distance. They’re heavy in his hand, he knows his knives by now, the rough fabric against his rough skin. He remembers when he first got them.

Dean.” Her voice is strong, rough, low in his ear. It’s enough to make him move. He steps back and she moves with him, perfect sync, of course. They’ve been doing Charlotte’s jobs for a long time together now. This kind of environment forces you to know people well and fast, to work with them and not against them. He had long stopped trying to get rid of her.

“Five.” He just has to growl this for them to take five steps back. Then, Becky is in fighting mode, her axe ready to hit, legs solid, leaving marks on the ground. Dean throws the first knife. Right in the eye. The thing falls, dead.
The second is thrown with the same, exact precision.
Dean can be quite good when he’s close. A bit less good when he has to do it with a gun. But knives are his thing.

“Too close. Step back or not?” Becky’s voice is more like a hissing now, fast since they have to choose quickly.

Dean shakes his head. “Get them, man. We can take them down. But we have t’move fast. Can’t stay here long. We also can’t leave Axe 2 and my boys.”

In a second, they’re both flying towards the last three. Dean hits the first with a punch under the jaw, sending him flying. He doesn’t have time to check on Becky but he can hear her axe burying in flesh. It’s good enough for now.
He dives, avoids the last one, grabs one of his knives lying in a body and crushes the one he had sent flying earlier. Clear, great, as always.
He’s about to turn around to take care of the last one when there’s a piercing scream. He freezes.

Becky? No, it’s a male. Horror and fear. Who’s here? Where? Not that close… But there’s no one in this part of town. They made sure of it while burning things down.
He moves fast, but not fast enough. He feels nails digging hard, very hard in his biceps, probably drawing blood. They’re also in his thighs, hard and soon unforgiving.

He doesn’t have time to think.
He doesn’t need to think.
He avoids teeth, moving his elbow faster. It’s enough to make the guy fall and then, it’s Dean’s turn to be on him.
He delivers punches after punches, ignoring the way his arms and legs are screaming, burning and aching.

"Dean!" Becky’s afraid but rough screech brings him back, putting his mind in action mode. He has to move.

He looks up when there’s no face to beat up anymore.

Three more are coming on their left, probably from the previous fire. When he looks at his right, Becky slides and side-kicks the one she was taking care of, efficiently knocking him out - or killing him? He doesn’t have time to check. He’s on his feet again, adrenaline pumping in his veins.

"Take cover, Becks. Gun?" He asks, running towards her and pushing her towards the closest tree. If he can put her up there, she can shoot them easily without a single problem.

"Yeah, got mine. Tree?" When Dean nods, she frowns. "You sure? Can you climb?" she looks at his biceps and at his jeans, only now noticing that his thighs are covered in blood. That bad?

"I don’t know. I’ll survive. I’m alright. Go."

He pushes her again towards the tree when she suddenly goes stiff.

"Dean." Four more appear in front of them.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck. Distracting ‘em, great idea, Char. How the fuck are we gonna make it out?" Dean mumbles while stepping back, relying everything on his hearing. "Stop. We can’t go that way. They’re behind."

"Okay, okay, okay... kill the closest. Easy kill. Don’t fight." Becky switches into big sister mode, eyes sliding around, only now noticing how fucked they are- they’re surrounded. In a minute or so, they’ll be on them.

Dean obeys. He catches the closest, ignores the hands grabbing at his bicep, and sticks his combat knife in his skull.
He lets go quickly, keeping the bloody knife.

"Got an idea!" He grabs Becky’s arm and pushes her towards the small hole in the human-barrier he just created. "Now, you’re out.”

She just looks at him, horror in her eyes. “You crazy brat-“ She doesn’t have time to end her sentence, already stepping back.

Dean kills. He kills the first one. The second one.
He hears Becky shooting but he knows it’s too dangerous for her to shoot all of them; he’s too close and the noise will bring more of them here.
Every time one falls down, another one appears. Dean is careful enough to pick up his knives when he puts them in a skull.

At some point, he feels an awful feeling in his leg and in his bicep. When he looks down, two of them are biting the flesh there, trying to tear something. He groans. Tries not to scream but the pain is too much.

He’s not weak. He kills both of them, tries to keep his groans and his whimpers to himself and get going.
If he didn’t really feel the pain before because of adrenaline, this time, he feels it. It hits him hard, wrapping around his body, his mind.

He feels exhausted, eyes closing a bit but he doesn’t have time for this shit. Kill, kill, kill, his mind sings but his body cries and shouts and he’s overwhelmed by the pain - how deep the bastards went?
He has blood all over himself - his or not? His thoughts are so fuzzy. They’re all on him, hitting and scratching, and he fights like a little devil, throwing punches and kicks around.

"Ambrose, down!" Becky. Authoritative tone. For a minute, it sounds like he’s a soldier.

"I fucking can’t, dumbass!" He hears his voice coming out raspy, a pathetic, hurt voice. He manages to give himself a bit of space by losing his last knife in a head. But he knows it’s the end. His whole body is burning so bad he wonders if there’s not a real fire, wonders if the fire from inside is slipping outside. "I can’t!" He roars again when he sees Becky moving. And it’s not a help-me kind of sentence. It’s a move-your-ass-far-away-leave-me kind of sentence. It’s a fucking roar.

But then, someone roars. It’s loud. Animal? No, must be human. But Becky doesn’t do those sounds.
He’s alarmed for a minute but the hands tugging on his arm drives him mad. He head butts someone, ignores the little stars and dots of colours he sees.

Somehow, the pressure around him stops tightening. Without anything to hold him, he falls down, knees giving up totally for whatever reason.

Well, he knows. They must have hurt something in his thighs. His biceps are no better, especially one of them but thinking right and left is too hard for now.

He thinks he’s done. Is this how he’s going to die? In front of Becky? A real buffet for the bastards?

Awaiting for the big, ugly faces to appear above him, he clutches the small picture in his pocket, folded carelessly.
But, instead, a guy appears. He has a beard, black hair with a blonde streak and big puppy eyes, worried and scared. "You look bad as hell, dude." And then he’s on his knees, moving Dean’s head in his lap and looking at his bicep.

He can hear roars around, sounds of fighting. "What...?" He says, trying to avoid the fog in his mind but he just can’t. It feels like he has been drugged. The pain must be too much. But he almost died so many times. Why now? Why so weird?

It takes time for him to focus on the guy. He hears footsteps coming closer and he knows by the sound of it that Becky is coming. "Oi, nice of you but move yer god damn ass and don’t tou- oh. Fuck, well, that’s a surprise, Crossfit Jesus!"

That’s the last thing Dean hears. A curtain falls over his eyes and there he goes, unconscious in someone’s lap- wait, Crossfit Jesus?

Chapter Text

Run.
Faster. Faster. FASTER.
Do you hear them? Do you feel them? Do you feel their hands barely grasping your hair? Tugging at your shirt?
Boom. You’re almost dead...

When Dean wakes up, the first thing he notices is his heartbeat. Too fast. Pumping blood too loudly. Then, his breathing pattern.
He barely has time to register anything else; there’s someone next to him.
"Hey, man. You’re okay. Breathe."
It’s a deep, unfamiliar voice. But it’s deep, low and just raspy enough to force him to listen.
He breathes in. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

Always the same. He gets more panic attacks nowadays, but he’s good at hiding them from Becky and Charlotte.

Becky. Becky?

There’s a strong feeling in his chest and he’s so confused he can’t identify it, at first. He wants to get up and run to her.
But then, he understands. Danger, it screams.
And he remembers. Being outside. Becky shouting. The hands digging in his body. The roar.
Crossfit Jesus.
If he wasn’t so scared, he would laugh.

But Becky?

He sits up quickly, only to fall back down just as fast, nausea awfully making its way in his body until he’s forced to breathe slowly to calm it down. "Oh, uce, stop doing that. Don’t want you to throw up. You alright? Fever?" A big, cool hand stops on his forehead.

He takes a second to enjoy the feeling, cold skin against his. But he can’t let his guard down that much so he shrugs it off. "Fuck off." He never heard his voice so raspy before. "Where...?"

The guy visibly doesn’t take the insult personally. He just respects his decision. "Uhm. They told me to say that you’re back at the motel?" He sounds hesitant, unsure, probably because he doesn’t really understand the sentence.

At least, it makes Dean snicker. It’s a joke between Becky and him. Some nights, when he can’t stay at his own house - well, the gym -, he stays at their little flat. It happened quite a few times already and Becky told him one day that motel made people pay- that maybe they should do that too. The motel’s their flat’s nickname, now.
At least, it means she’s alright.

He nods slowly and closes his eyes for a bit, just enjoying a tiny bit of peace. Then, he sits up- carefully enough, because he really doesn’t want to throw up.
He recognizes the room almost instantly.

That’s where he sleeps when he’s forced to stay at the motel. It’s a tiny room, two beds - which he always found funny so he slept in both - and a small closet. There’s also a mirror and two chairs.
One of the chairs has been moved between the two beds.
And on the chair is a big guy.

His hair is tied in a very neat bun. He has a beard, too, and a calm face. He wears a tee-shirt that doesn’t really hide just how muscular he is.
Memories flash in his mind and he just knows who he is.
That’s Big Daddy Bear.

"Oh. Hey." He rasps out, trying to clear his voice a few times but finally letting it go.

The man smiles. "Hey. Can I see your wounds? Not here to hurt you, uce. I wanna help."

Dean hesitates. If he didn’t know Big Daddy Bear, he would refuse. But he saw him working out and helping others. He knows he’s a good guy. So he slowly turns to face him and nods, still a bit careful.

Big Daddy Bear takes his arm and slowly undoes the bandages there. "My name’s Roman. And, mh, Crossfit Jesus is Seth." He’s visibly holding back his laughter. "You saw us at the gym, didn’t you?"

"Uh, yeah. You’re, uh, you’re Big Daddy Bear." He lets out, too confused to even feel dumb.

"That’s... a surprising name." He laughs, this time, a burst of calm, quiet laughter while putting the old bandages away, already taking a small first aid kit.

His wounds aren’t pretty. Big scratching marks all around, digging a bit too deep in some places. Bright red and bloody. He can see his flesh and he doesn’t like it. There’s also a huge, dark bruise. Only now does he realize just how painful his bicep is, almost moaning every time he tries to use his muscle.

"Yeah, doesn’t look too good. But... It’s alright. It’s gonna heal, nothing vital. You won’t be able to use this arm for a few days, might be a week. But it’s healing, man.” Roman looks sure and confident, gently cleaning up the wounds with a tissue and putting new bandages there.

"Dean. I’m Dean. Ambrose." Once again, his mouth is speaking before he can even think about it. Roman doesn’t look up, starts to undo the bandages on his other arm.

"Nice to meet you officially, Dean." He smiles softly while doing the same process on the other arm. The wounds are bright red but they’re not as deep on this one and the bruise looks like it might fade away sooner.

"Why did you save me? You don’t know me. You don’t know Becks. What if we tried to kill you?" His blue eyes keep sliding on his face, trying to find answers. But Roman doesn’t let go of the emotional stillness mask is wearing.

He gently puts one of Dean’s legs on his lap, putting his foot against his stomach. His abs, Dean notes. "We don’t let people die, here, if it’s useless." He slowly pulls the bandages off, ignoring Dean’s slight grimace. "You couldn’t fight. Not Seth, not in your condition. And no matter how tough you or Becky are, I’m pretty sure we could have worked something out to take you both down. You were hurt, she’s smaller. Could have used you as a hostage. Could have killed you. Lots of possibilities and you’re not winning in any of them."

Dean tenses up, tries not to take his leg back. He can only imagine a big guy like Roman chocking Becky while he’s being killed by the things.

"It’s alright. We’re not mean guys. We saw someone needed help, knew that this town is all about good guys. So you weren’t bad, we’re not, we helped you out. A cool deal." He shrugs, cleaning the wounds a bit slower.

"Mh. And, uh... Seth? Crossfit Jesus?" He asks with suspicion, frowning at the dark marks on his thighs.

"Just there." With that, Roman leans forward, chin almost on Dean’s thigh, showing Seth asleep in the other bed, covered by the blanket. Roman sits back up and goes back to bandaging up his thigh. "Couldn’t sleep well last night, so I let him have some rest. Can take care of you myself."

He has to admit he feels a bit better now that Roman has taken care of his wounds. But he’s still frowning. "I don’t need to be taken care of, man, not a fucking dog."

People usually step back, scowl, insult, call him a freak, hit him... nobody reacts really well when he starts to get like that.

But Roman doesn’t look surprised. He puts his leg back softly on the bed, careful to put it in a way to protect his wounds. "I know you’re a tough dude, Dean. Seth knows it too. We saw you fight half-unconscious. We know you’re tough." His eyes are digging into his, visibly not ready to let him go without him learning his lesson. “But if I can help you out and take care of you, I will. There’s no pride that needs to be involved here, man.” He shakes his head, leans back against his chair. “See me as a Big Daddy Bear if you want. I protect.”

Dean stays quiet, just looking at his bad thigh. The other doesn’t even need bandages, not hurt enough to waste bandages- they’re rare and precious. “Why are you here?” He finally asks, not daring to look at him anymore. He feels ashamed to be so vulnerable.

“Your friend Becky locked us up with you. She said that they had to take care of many things now and couldn’t handle us too.” He can hear the frown in his voice, can see the way his legs tensed up while he was talking. It doesn’t take a mentalist to read that he’s not okay with the decision. “I told her we could leave right away but she said she wanted you to be awake. But she visibly trust us enough to put us with you in a locked room.”

“She’s not bad. Becky. She wants the best for all of us.” Dean surprises himself, whispering what he knows is true. He never really had to think about it to know it, deep in his heart. “I’ll tell her I’m awake. You should wake Crossfit Jesus up.” And with that, he just turns to face the wall and knocks a rhythm against it- it’s too long to memorize it the first time.

Roman takes his advice and Seth is barely awake when the door opens, a tornado of bright red hair coming in. “Deano, last time you fucking do that or I’m kicking your ass all by myself you fucking bitch, can’t believe you dared!” She’s loud but emotional, already hugging him close and squeezing him.

“You’re this close to actually kill me, Becks.” He manages to say, face pressed between her shoulder and her neck.

“Oh, sorry, my bad!” Becky steps back with a small I’m-so-glad-you’re-not-fucking-dead-bro kind of grin. Then, she turns to look at a confused Seth and an amused Roman. “Well, the guy is up, let’s have a meeting, lads. Comin’?”

She’s already gone when they decide to stand up. Dean does so with more difficulty than he thought, hiding it as best as he can. He sees that Seth actually gets it and is about to move when Becky comes back. “Oi, ‘m takin’ care of ‘im but thanks anyway. Kiddo, come ‘ere!” And she’s grabbing him, almost carrying him outside of the room.

The motel, Becky and Charlotte’s flat, isn’t that big. From the outside, it looks just as dead as everything, but it’s a pretty place inside. They keep it clean and full of weapons and escape bags - just in case they have to fly away, one day.
It’s actually more of a workplace than a living place, but he knows they sleep, eat and live here since the beginning.
She’s leading them to the office. Well, what they call the offices. It’s really just a room with a big-ass window, a balcony and, inside, a big table with chairs. It’s pretty well decorated - he knows for a fact that Becky can’t stand staying in bad-looking offices because it makes it all too boring.

They all sit down. Charlotte comes in a second later.
She looks as she usually does. Queen vibes, even in the motherfucking apocalypse; the only one who can give off such vibes in such a dark time. Her long blonde hair tied up in a neat ponytail, she’s wearing a shirt and a simple pair of jeans. She sits down next to Becky, polite smile on full use. “Hello everyone. Dean, wonderful to see you’re still alive.”

“Yeah, it takes more than that to put me down, mh.” He nods, giving her a small smile that she returns instantly, more sincere, and he can see in her eyes that she was as worried as Becky about him. It warms his heart a little bit. Even though he had decided to stay far from people, both of them made their way into his heart.

“My name is Charlotte.” Her last name is powerful, too powerful to be said so easily. Of course, she keeps it quiet. “In case you didn’t get it, this is Becky and, of course, Dean.” She says while looking at both of them as she says their names. “I understood that you both already knew Dean.”

Roman and Seth look at each other for a second, and Seth is the one to talk first. He seems in a rather good mood for someone who just woke up, eyes shining - Dean knows he’s smart and he must like having someone like Charlotte in front of him. Hopefully not romantically or sexually- man, how awkward that would be. “Yeah. Used to see him at the gym. I’m Seth Rollins or, well, Crossfit Jesus, I believe.” His eyes slide on Dean, an amused smirk on his face. Dean isn’t one to blush; instead, he raises a teasing eyebrow and sticks his tongue out between his teeth. It seems to work on Seth, who turns a bit pink. “And, uh, this is Roman Reigns.”

“Big Daddy Bear for you.” Roman adds with a smirk too, looking way too amused by the meeting that he should be. His eyes are lazily sliding around, spending probably too much time on Dean; he’s squirming quickly. Receiving a lot of attention just isn’t his thing. It’s already hard some days with the girls; thankfully, Charlotte is a classy woman, she keeps her distance most of the time and Becky’s rough just like him; she just gets him.

Charlotte laughs, clear, nice Flair laughter. "Ah, the nicknames, right. Dean’s a wonderful thinker, sometimes."

"Char, to the point, mh?" Becky reminds her with a smile, gently patting her shoulder.

Charlotte nods and if he actually didn’t know them, he wouldn’t know that she did her best to restrain herself. Charlotte is a private woman and she doesn’t like to expose herself and her relationship to possible "useless danger" as she had explained it to him when they had met.

She gets up, taking a look outside for a few seconds. "What do you both know about this town and everything happening?"

There’s a moment of silence. Charlotte doesn’t usually do things like that but, well, she’s the leader right now.

Surprisingly, Roman talks. "Used to be a tiny but powerful town, something about the Flair family, if I’m not too wrong about all of this?" He’s frowning, looking like a student during a lesson.

"The father really had power upon the entire city." Seth cuts in with a nod, looking more confident. "We’re not from here but everyone knew Ric Flair." He shrugs and plays with a blond lock of hair. "His son took his place for about a year, right? But he died, and Ric had to come back, poor old man."

"Oh, yeah, I remember. That’s when the hunger crisis broke in. Still don’t understand how people got so mad about it... and so fast.” He looks like he’s really thinking about it for a while. “And that’s how the world became what it is today. Hungry bastards trying to eat us.”

“And what about you?” Charlotte asks, eyes of ice digging into their skins until Seth looks a bit uncomfortable.

“Went here to work out. We saw Dean there a few times. I think you were there too, weren’t you?” Roman asks, looking at Becky with a raised eyebrow.

Becky looks surprised, as if she hadn’t planned to be part of the conversation. Charlotte usually does the talking. “Yeah, I went with him. Not a lot because it wasn’t my gym, but it was nice to work out with him once in a while.”

Dean can’t keep the smile off his face. He remembers it well; the half-excuses to look at Roman and Seth, the confrontation with Becky, the nicknames… It was fun.

“When it all happened, we stayed hidden for a bit. You know, waiting for things to calm down.” Roman shrugs. Dean wonders if it had been Seth’s decision to hide. “For, like, a month. Then, we started to go out to grab food and things. People were already half-dead. Dangerous but worth it.”

“After, we just tried to survive our best. Hiding, hunting, trying to get food, water, medical supplies, weapons… you know it.” Seth leans forward, elbows on the table. “I know what this whole interrogation is about. We’re not dangerous. Well, we are, but not to you. We’re on your side.”

“On our side, mh?” Charlotte keeps the Queen act, all high and superior, just for a little while. Dean knows she’ll drop it soon. “People said that in the past. It’s really hard to trust people in this world, I think you know that.”

“Of course. We understand. But Dean and Becky saw us. It was just working out, but I don’t believe they caught us doing bad things. We’re no bad guys, we don’t care about living people, we just want to survive. We’re just like you.” Seth looks passionate, visibly wanting to show that they mean no harm.

Dean actually believes them. He also understands why Charlotte needs to check people in when they decide to stay in their town.

“Our hands are clean. We only use self-defense when necessary and usually, we try to help people out if we can. I think we show it with Dean, didn’t we?” This is Seth’s last card, his last argument, the strongest one. It’s supposed to convince Charlotte and Becky.

“You did, you obviously did.” She’s nodding but the act is going away slowly. When she talks again, she’s not sitting that straight anymore and her eyes are just tired. “Look, I understand that you don’t want to hurt us. But people came in the past, said the same things, and it didn’t go well at all. I need you to understand that being careful is deeply necessary for us. Especially when you’re trying to handle survivors in a dead town.”

Roman talks next, gently putting a hand on Seth’s shoulder to force him to lean back against his chair. Dean can see him putting a bit of pressure on his shoulder, probably to relax him a bit. It feels like he’s watching something he shouldn’t, so he hastily turns to look at Becky and Charlotte with a frown. “We understand. What’s the condition, Miss?”

Charlotte stops to think. She looks at Becky, eyes full of questions only the two of them know about. Even Dean doesn’t really understand when they do the eye-thing, but he guesses it’s a thing when you’re in a relationship. He has better things to do to really think about it any longer.
When Charlotte looks back at Roman, there is a small smile on her pretty face. “Alright. We do have a proposition. We can let you live here, in town. We can find you a place or you can choose it yourself. But being here means that you’re working for us. Dean, can you explain what you do to them?”

Dean is startled, not thinking they would ask him to talk in one of their meetings. Becky and Dean are mostly there in case it goes wrong; even if Charlotte knows how to fight. They are the terrifying ones. “Uh, yeah, yeah, I can.” He scratches the back of his neck, throwing a look outside. “I hang out a bit with the girls so when they need a job to be done outside, I’m usually on it. That’s what I was doing when we met you guys. It’s not really dangerous, depends on what you’re asked to do, I guess.” He shrugs with an annoyed look.

“Everything’s dangerous now, anyway.” Roman points out, eyebrows raising in a silent demanding way as if asking him to keep talking.

“Yeah. I’ve worked around town a lot so… you look like active, strong guys. You’re probably gonna work where there are a few hungry guys, keep them out of town, stuff like that. It really depends, some days I just go check on everyone that’s on the list, you know, check if they’re alright, alive and well, then, some other days, I’m just gonna walk around, see if there’s not a problem anywhere. It’s not rare to find someone injured somewhere or to find a bunch of these assholes. Someone’s gotta do it. Basic job. I spend at least three days a week trying to find food and stuff like that. To keep us going, you know.”

“If it’s just that, we’re in.”

“Well, you also have to understand that we trust you to a certain extent. We don’t really know what you’re capable of or what’s in your head.”

“You just have to ask,” Seth cuts in with a grin. “Right? You just have to ask and we’ll tell you.”

This time, Charlotte laughs. At least, she seems to like them. “Alright. So, I will just ask you a few more questions and then, we’re done.” She takes a notebook from somewhere - Dean knows she has a drawer full of notebooks about people. “First, Roman. Becky, please, take Seth outside and ask him. Of course, you can still see each other so you know that we’re not actually trying to break you off. It’s just because we want you two to be honest.”

Surprisingly, they obey.

FORM 1
ROMAN REIGNS. Survivor. Male. Brown, long hair. Brown eyes.

Relationship with Seth?
Brothers. Friends. Pack.
How do you see Seth?
Smart-ass dude, calculating, kind, overthinking, nervous/excited.
Since when do you know him?
Used to wrestle in a club together. Two years ago.
Your own strengths?
Good at physical work in general. I don’t give up and I never leave my people.
Your own weaknesses?
Trusting/protecting too much my people, my pack.
Would you kill to protect someone you love?
I don’t know.
Would you let someone die to protect someone you love?
Yes. Not good people if I can avoid it.
Would you let yourself be killed instead of someone you love?
Yes if I’m sure they’re safe later.
Would you abandon your people if it meant having bigger opportunities (a safer place, more power…)?
Never.

FORM 2
SETH ROLLINS. Survivor. Male. Brown, long hair. Brown eyes.

Relationship with Roman?
Best friends?
How do you see Roman? An overgrown puppy, definitely.
Your own strengths?
I try to make sure I think about every scenario/issue/answer. I’m good when it comes to aerial fight. I rarely give up.
Your own weaknesses?
I can be too much of an opportunist sometimes. I try to hurt people verbally when I’m angry which usually leads to fights. I’m also, on Roman’s words, “a stubborn, confident bitch". Which can be a strength, I guess.
Would you kill to protect someone you love?
Probably. Not good guys, though. A bastard, not an idiot.
Would you let someone die to protect someone you love?
Yes. Again, not good guys if possible.
Would you let yourself be killed instead of someone you love?
If it’s the only way, I guess.
Would you abandon your people if it means bigger opportunities (a safer place, more power…)?
I hope not.

Chapter Text

“So, do you live here?”

They’re back in Dean’s room. A day went by. Roman and Seth are both on the bed they shared the night before while Dean is smoking, half-sitting on the windowsill.

“Here? With Char and Becky? No, oh hell no.” He laughs, slightly tapping his cigarette against the wall, outside. “No, they’d probably kill me, we’re definitely not meant to live together. Why d’you care, anyways?”

Seth’s eyes widen a bit but he’s hiding it quickly, clearly not wanting Dean to notice it - a fail. Dean likes the idea that he surprises Seth and actually destabilizes him. “We’re stuck together for now, might as well get along. Especially if we end up working under the same boss, who knows, we might be working together.”

Dean just hums vaguely in answer, taking a long puff of his cigarette, ignoring their clear looks of disgust. He’s used to people hating cigarettes. Doesn’t stop him, of course.

“How does this system work?” Roman’s voice reminds him that they’re actually, really there, and he should probably try to not ignore them too much. Charlotte would be pissed if he scared them off. And an angry Charlotte isn’t a Charlotte he wants to deal with.

“How?” He takes a second to think about it, playing with the smoke he blows out. “Uh, a bit like you two. We find someone, someone finds us, whatever. Then, they have The Meeting with the forms, of course. If they’re okay, they have a house and then, they, uh, they find work around.”

“About that,” Seth stops him with a slight frown and pouty lips. “What did she ask you?” He asks Roman with a wondering glance towards Dean.

Which makes him raise his hands in surrender. “Don’t look at me like that. Not an enemy, thought you wanted to be friends, dude?” He looks at him with his big, blue, innocent eyes but slowly starts to grin. “Jokin’. It’s always the same so don’t expect different questions. If someone comes here with another person, they usually get questions about that other person. It’s easier to get pieces of information from someone else. More honest.”

“Yeah, she asked me about you, mostly.” Roman shrugs with a bored look. “What I expected. It’s logic.”

“Mh.” Seth hums and moves to comb his hair. Charlotte actually allowed them all to take a shower - forcing Dean to get in the shower stall until she was sure he was showering and taking care of his wounds. They’re still a bit damp and wet. “Asking us about our relationship with each other, our strengths and weaknesses and our loyalty. They’re doing things the right way.”

“Yeah, it has worked well. Charlotte’s a businesswoman, she knows how to handle this stuff, you know.” Dean shrugs, towel still around his shoulders to keep his hair from wetting his clothes. “Makes it easier to know if you’re good peeps or not.”

“We could have lied.” Roman states with a raised eyebrow, a question directed to him.

Dean notes in his mind that Roman’s a clever bastard and that his image is the exact opposite. Which can be good. And bad. “I’m good with liars, and I didn’t see you lie, big guy.”

They stare at each other for a second, testing the waters. It’d probably look like a dog fight if Dean couldn’t see the small mark of likeness in Roman’s eyes. He guesses Roman doesn’t always find people who understand him at least a bit. "You’re right, I didn’t." It seems to calm both of them down to such an extent that Dean throws his cigarette somewhere outside, once he’s sure it’s finished. He stays by the window.

Roman moves and takes the comb from Seth’s hands, already starting to comb the man’s hair, calmly. “So, where do you live, Dean?” He asks, looking at him over Seth’s shoulder.

Dean looks at the black hair going through the comb, again and again. “I live in a gym.” He flatly says, not really thinking that it’s his home. He doesn’t have a home. Never did. For some, apocalypse brought new things. It never worked like that for Dean.

“A gym?” Seth tries not to look up too much to let Roman do whatever he wants with his hair. “You live in a gym?”

“Yeah, sorta.” Dean shrugs, locking eyes with him. He’s working on his reading skills and he can almost totally see interest in Seth’s eyes. “Not in the gym, like, there’s a bed and everything on the first floor.”

“Why a gym? If you don’t mind me asking.” Giving by the expression of his face, the idea is great. Dean isn’t sure how to react to Seth. He can be a bit strange, sometimes.

“I can work out whenever the hell I want.” Once again, he shrugs, looking out of the window. “Can’t bother walking down the streets at 3 am because I want to work out, you know. Not safe.”

Something appears on Seth’s face, an expression he’s never seen before. “I see.” He ends the conversation just like that, a pensive look never leaving his eyes afterward.

Dean wonders. Did he say too much? Did he let something slide through without him wanting and knowing it?
Thinking about that is useless, he decides. This is something that will solve itself in the future, if it’s a problem. If it’s not, then, it’s great.

Roman is starting to braid Seth’s hair with expert hands, which doesn’t seem to surprise Seth all that much. It still feels like Dean’s intruding on something private, something he’s not supposed to see. So he looks away, even closes his eyes until he’s only relying on his hearing, wondering if he can stop thinking for a minute.

Something he always wished he could do. Sometimes, his mind is his greatest enemy, rude, cruel, unpredictable and unexpected. Some days, his mind is like a big, black hole. Sucking in every good thought, every idea, sucking in his energy. On those days, he forces himself to do everything. Waking up, meeting the girls, working.
People said he was lunatic. Crazy. Dumb. Dangerous.
He doesn’t really know. He’s just tired and hurt by life itself.

The door is thrown open, hitting the wall in a loud noise that makes him start. “What the…?” He’s already looking behind him, hand on the knife he always keeps in his pocket. Seth’s fists are already up, ready to strike. Roman’s calm attitude is gone, replaced by a clenched jaw and a protective hand on Seth’s hand.

But it’s no murderer. Becky is standing there, looking alarmed and worried. “Uh, Dean, need you. Right now. They attacked Finn.”

Dean is already at the door when Seth grabs his wrist. “Wait. We’re coming too.”

He doesn’t have time to protest; Roman is moving, already following Becky with a tensed expression. “Come on, baby boys.”

Dean finds himself following them.

They’re not in the Meeting-Office room. Instead, they’re in the living room, and Finn Bálor is lying down on their couch.
He looks at them, relief washing over his face when his eyes meet Dean’s. He still seems a bit nervous because of the two guys he doesn’t know, and his hand is clutching his side. He’s pale.
Charlotte also looks up from her place on the couch, visibly trying to take Finn’s shirt off without hurting him. It mustn’t be too bad - if it was, someone else would take care of it.

“Finn, ’s been a long time. What happened?” He asks already, trying not to show just how grave the whole thing feels like.

“Dean. You sure?” Becky’s the one to answer. She’s already next to Charlotte, and they both look at him, then at Roman and Seth. He understands without them talking. They’re asking if he’s sure about trusting them with… that.

Dean looks at his feet. Tries to think. Bloody hell. He wants to say yes. But it’s dangerous. Trusting is dangerous.
He feels Roman’s hand taking his. When he looks up, ready to say something mean, he just can’t. Roman’s eyes are burning with something he can’t identify. When he speaks, he’s close enough to just whisper; he just wants Dean to hear that. “I’m Samoan. Everything’s about honor, Dean. We’re on your side, no matter what. I promise.” He squeezes his hand slowly.

“What if you’re lying, Roman? How can I be sure?” He whispers back, feeling like nobody’s around. He can hear Charlotte working on Finn’s wound. It’s alright.

Roman looks like he’s thinking deeply for a second. And then, with a frown, he slides something in his hand. It’s small. Dean doesn’t know what it is, can’t look away from Roman’s eyes. “Take this. It’s your proof. Trust us, uce.”

He steps away with a calm look. Dean doesn’t show what’s in his hand. He doesn’t look at what it is. He just puts it in his pocket, keeps touching it. The textures are interesting and, weirdly, grounding him.

“Becks, Char, I’m sure.” He finally says, looking at them. He was right. They’re both working on Finn’s wound. It’s ugly, but Dean can say it’s not deep enough to be a problem. “Tell us what’s up.”

Charlotte stops cleaning Finn’s wound for a second and looks straight at Roman and Seth. "Well, now, Dean chose to trust both of you. It means we all trust you with our lives. It means that from now on, you’re part of this... big family town. You will learn a lot of things and you will have to protect the town and work to make things better. You can still back out now, if you want to."

Roman and Seth don’t have to look at each other to answer. "We’re ready, Charlotte. We want to be part of this. We can work with you, we can be useful." Seth says with a serious face. Dean only now notices the half-finished braid following the lines of his neck. He also thinks he sees a tattoo underneath it. Doesn’t look bad.

"You also expose yourself to a certain... danger if you ever betray us, do you understand? We’re really a family, we all work together. Hurting us or one of us isn’t forgivable, not easily."

"We understand." Roman’s voice is clear and calm.

So Charlotte nods. Cleans up the wound, lets Becky put bandages on it. Finn has his eyes closed, probably starting to fall asleep.
Dean automatically crosses his arms over his chest, sitting down on the floor. His legs still hurt like hell and he can’t stay up for too long. His thigh is burning just because of the small walk it takes to go from his bedroom to the living room.

When she’s done, Charlotte sits up straighter, looking at them. "Dean, sorry, I will have to go through everything again."

Dean just waves a hand and rolls his eyes. It’s alright.

Charlotte smiles and invites them to sit down on the sofas around. Seth does but Roman doesn’t, standing next to the sofa with a frown. "My name is Charlotte Flair. I am Ric Flair’s daughter."

Surprise on both of their faces. The Shock -the one obviously linked with the Flair's revelation Dean personally knew- on Seth’s face. Roman looks a bit calmer. He visibly doesn’t really care that much. But Seth looks like he’s thinking hard about it.

"I never really knew how, but my father was aware of many, many things. He worked with many people, all the time. But he became old and he started to burn out. So he left the entire company to his son, my brother." Her face darkens and Becky slides an arm around her waist, silently encouraging her. "My father wanted me to stay a bit hidden. He didn’t want me to get the place. But when my brother got it, he started to talk more about everything with both of us."

"Her father was a businessman, kept a lo’ to himself. Lots o’ secrets." Becky adds with a small nod. Dean remembers the picture Charlotte keeps in their bedroom. Becky and Charlotte together and Ric standing next to his daughter with a big, professional smile.

"He explained to us that he was working on hunger in general. He had met some people who were really involved in the environment and people and how they lived." She takes a moment to close her eyes, thinks back about it. "There had been news about a new hunger crisis in Africa and it made him think about it. It was his project. My father often had a project he wanted to accomplish, once a year.”

Dean moves to spread his legs, not crossing them. The pain shoots through his body but he ignores it. He never met Ric Flair. But he met Charlotte around that time. She had been nervous and anxious. He’s not good enough with feelings to ask about these things. It’s the first time he hears the entire, whole story, coming from Charlotte.

"My brother wasn’t really good. He was doing his best but it was a lot for a kid. He had underestimated our father’s work. He burnt out and eventually had a heart attack. It’s rare at that age but it... happened. He died."

They all stay silent for a minute, giving her some time. Becky squeezes her hip with a pained look in her eyes. Dean and Becky were both there when she was told about it.
It had been an awful time for her.

"So my father came back. He worked harder than ever. He really started to dive in it and he never really went up. He threw himself in his work." Dean can see the slight wonder on Seth’s face. He knows Seth is starting to make connections in that pretty head of his. "One night, he told me he had found it. A way to reduce someone’s appetite and needs in general. I didn’t get it, I thought it was a crazy Doctor moment."

She shakes her head, clears her throat. "It wasn’t, of course. I went through his files and read. He wasn’t really in charge of anything, wasn’t actually that useful. He just had money and an idea and smarter people took care of it and he trusted them with it." Charlotte’s eyes are reflecting just how exhausted she feels. It’s hard for her to talk about it, even if it’s not the first nor the last time. "And I trusted him with it. One day, he came into my room, sat me down on my bed, and told me someone had stolen the thing. He told me it wasn’t supposed to be used, that they were still testing it and that it wasn’t safe to use it in any way." She stops talking, eyes piercing holes in the floor.

Dean gets what is happening. He decides to talk for her because he knows she can’t do it. "After that, nobody really talked about it for a while. And then, people were starting to kill. And I think we all remember the news about that guy doing a mass shooting and eating the living ones - and, well, the dead bodies too. It went worse, and worse, and worse. Eventually, Ric’s scientist understood what was happening. Instead of reducing hunger, it made it bigger, overwhelming one’s senses and mind. In other words, it made people so hungry they stopped thinking. And humans are a huge piece of meat."

Charlotte closes her eyes and Becky moves to whisper in her ear. Dean talks a bit quieter, hoping that she won’t listen too much. "It only happens when someone hits rock bottom, when there’s no food left to eat. It also happens to weaker bodies. Ric... decided that it was his fault."

He doesn’t really need to say more about what happened to Ric. Roman’s eyes are glued to the floor in a respectful way and Seth’s face is grave. "It wasn’t," He says, looking at Charlotte who looks back just as intensely. "He wanted to help and it’s something others could have done. It wasn’t his fault."

Charlotte just nods, staying quiet. Then, she leans back, careful not to disturb Finn, who’s sleeping too deeply anyway to notice it. “It’s not about whose fault it is. Becky and I, we decided, after that, that it was our role to… make things better. We’ve been working on it. Trying to find who stole it.”

This time, Becky tells the story as if she was introducing them a battle strategy. “Worked real hard on tha’, we did. It’s the McMahon family. Wanted to get the glory out of it, ended up killin’ everyone.” She shrugs, pushing one lock of red hair behind her ear. “We’ve been sneaking around, tryna find their locations but they’re clever and they’re a lot too. We recently found one of their guys and beat the shit out of ‘im but they eventually knew it was us. Finn was in an exploration mission.”

“We gotta hit back.” Roman says, punching the palm of his hand. “Hit harder.”

“Doesn’t work like that, big lad. They have more stuff than we do, more people, more weapons. They’re powerful.” She shakes her head, biting her thumbnail while thinking.

“Then, we gotta be smarter. Sneaking around is the best way to do it, isn’t it? Mixing styles. We sneak around, we make them weak, and then, we hit hard.” Seth proposes, moving his hand to demonstrate his thoughts.

Dean actually agrees with him. They have to take some of their security down first and they can’t attack them directly. They have too many responsibilities to die like that because they want action too quickly. “Yeah. Lottie, what’s on yer mind?” He asks, noticing that Charlotte’s frowning and mouthing silent words.

“Then, we will have to find all their little hiding places. Shut them down. Take people down. Leave the big building for the last attack.” Becky is already giving her a notebook and a pen, knowing she needs to write things down even if it’s just to relax her. Charlotte starts scribbling her own words. “We’ll have to be really careful. They’re already suspecting us. We can’t let ourselves be known.”

“Let’s wear masks, then.” Roman’s words actually make things more real for Dean. It’s happening.
Wearing masks. He can already imagine himself in black gear, mask on, throwing knives around.

“Sounds fuckin’ great, man. I want masks.” He automatically says, stretching out his arms in front of him and cracking his neck.

“We’ll find something. Let me just…” She lets go of her page to look at others with a frown. “Aerial combat, physical work…” Seth and Roman both tilt their heads on the side, intrigued by her words. They all know it’s their answers. “You’ll have to train hard, the three of you.”

“Uh, when you say three, you mean them an’ me?” Dean interrupts her with a raised eyebrow, pointing at his chest.

“Yes, Dean, I mean you. I think you’ll do great. You want them in, you work for it. I trust you, I know you can do it. And we’ll need a proper team for everything planned. We are gonna get gears, masks, guns, everything we can get. Find a name for your team, fall in sync with each other, work hard and get better.”

And with that, they’re sent back to the bedroom.
Dean’s muscles are aching too much to complain so he just lets himself fall in his bed with a groan.

“So. We’re a team.” Seth says slowly, sitting a bit too upright on his bed.

"Yeah. Stop thinkin’ that hard, you’re sending bad vibes, ‘t’s giving me a headache." Dean mumbles in his pillow, closing his eyes with a frown.

Dean always has headaches. It’s not really new and he just needs a quiet, dark place. Generally, he sleeps through it; he either wakes up feeling better... or he wakes up feeling worse.

"How are your arms and your thigh?" Roman’s low voice comes from behind him. He’s probably standing next to his bed.

Dean just shrugs. He doesn’t find the strength to answer him. He just groans a bit when the bed creaks; Roman sits down and he’s forced to move a bit to give him enough space.

"I’ll take care of it. You can try to sleep, baby boy." Baby boy? Since when? Does he give everyone pet names?
Whatever. Dean growls but doesn’t answer, nor does he pushes him away.

So Roman starts undoing the bandages once again. He cleans the wounds, stays as quiet as possible. Seth eventually moves to sit down next to Roman, watching him taking care of Dean.

"This will help with trust issues. I’m glad you let me do it." And Dean can understand why.

He rolls his head on their side and opens an eye to look at them. "Just too tired to do it myself." He closes his eyes again with a frown. Talking doesn’t help his headache, not at all.

"You should sleep. You look pale." Seth notes quietly, absentmindedly drawing circles with his thumb on his own hand.
Dean can actually hear the repetitive movement. It grounds him. Lulls him into a half-awake state.

Roman’s hands on him are sweet but the wounds are still raw and ugly. It hurts like a bitch. He groans a few times, but never moves away, his head hurting too much to even think about it anyway.

"Dean, I need to see your thighs. Can you turn around?"

Turning around is harder than he thought. Because of the cleaning of his biceps, they’re still burning so he just rolls on his back. The light from the window brings back his headache full strength. He winces but Seth is quicker; he moves and draws the curtains. "Better?" When Dean nods, Seth comes back next to Roman.

"You’re doing great, Dean. Close your eyes, relax for a bit. Can I take your jeans off?" His fingers are already closing around his belt but Dean appreciates the fact that he doesn’t move until he talks.

"If that’s how you’re asking to get into my pants, that’s a yes." He rasps out with a weak smirk. Seth laughs- a nasal sound that he finds quite soothing. Roman probably just grins.

He feels his hands working on the buttons, the zip, the belt... and it’s coming off slowly. Fresh air hits his legs and he’s squirming just a bit, helping him take it off. The hands stop on his knees. "You sure it’s okay?"

Dean rolls his eyes. It hurts to do so, but he does. And then, he closes them again, moving the pillow under his neck. "Yes, it is, Roman. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of guys naked before. And I’m not even naked. Don’t be shy, it doesn’t bite."

"Better not. It’s going to hurt, doesn’t look good." He warns him.

And he’s right.
When he takes off the bandages, it feels like someone’s taking his skin off. He groans, lifts his hand to bite his fingers, to keep himself from making noise. It burns. Is his thigh actually, really burning?
He opens his eyes. Just to check.
It’s not. It’s ugly. Not infected, which is, at least, a good thing. But it’s dark red, and it bled not so long ago.
Then, he sees Roman’s concerned face and Seth’s pouty lips.

"It’s alright, Dean, it’s alright. Close your eyes, don’t make the headache worse." Next to this, the headache doesn’t seem so bad anymore. "It’s gonna be okay. We just need to clean it and you’ll feel a bit better. You probably just used it too much. And the friction didn’t help. But it’s okay. We’ll find something for that."

Dean’s surprised. Roman can be quite talkative when he wants to.
And then, he understands when he starts cleaning it.
It hurts even more. He literally sees stars. He actually whimpers. He whimpers. Pathetically, fist shooting up so he can bite on something. He’s panting slightly.

There’s a hand running in his hair, soothing, calming. Seth’s voice is just a whisper in his ear. "Calm down, Dean, it’s alright. You made it yesterday, this is nothing compared to it, you can do it. I know it hurts, but Roman’s almost done..." Dean doesn’t know if Seth knows it, but playing with his hair is actually the thing to do to distract him.

He’s just groaning by the time Roman’s done. "Here you go, babe, all new. It’s alright, breath in through the nose, out through the mouth." A big hand rests on his chest to guide his breathing pattern. And it works.

Dean hates it, suddenly. He hates how vulnerable he is. He hates how he trusts them so easily. What’s up? Why is he acting like that?

He turns on the other side, curling up in a ball.
Surprisingly, nobody says anything about it. Seth’s hand stays in his hair for a bit longer. When his breath is starting to slow considerably down, it slides on his back, slowly caressing and massaging until Dean falls asleep.

Chapter Text

He’s blindfolded. Everything is dark. In fact, he can’t see a thing.
He tries to smell something. Anything. The smell is familiar but he can’t figure it out. Where is he?
There’s a hand on his thigh. He stills, fists clenching slowly.
Not a sound. It’s scary how quiet it is. He even wonders if he’s not deaf. He feels confused. Lost. Scared.
The hand moves, fingers wrapping around his hip. A second one stops on his cheek. Rough, cold hands, a thumb slowly caressing his cheekbone repetitively. But every time, it presses harder and harder until he starts to groan and squirming.
The fingers dug harder in his hip.
Someone bites his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. A finger slides on his chest, pressing down right where his heart is.
He’s breathing hard.

When he opens his eyes, it takes him a minute to replace everything and to calm down.
Becky and Charlotte’s bedroom. In his bed.
Seth and Roman are sleeping in the other bed.
He’s Dean, he’s a survivor and he’s stronger than that.

He lets out a shaky breath, hands coming up to push away his sweaty bangs. His nightmares seemed to be following him no matter what. It always left him feeling nauseous and generally in a bad mood.
He remembers falling asleep with Seth’s hand relaxing him enough for him to forget his headache.
It makes sense. He never sleeps well when he has a headache.

Tiredly, he stands up. He stays like that, feeling too nauseous and too dizzy to actually move more. His thigh is slowly starting to wake up too, quiet pain in the back of his mind. Thankfully, his biceps don’t ask attention that much, even when he moves to automatically grabs his cigarettes and his lighter, shoving them in his back pocket - did they put his jeans back on him?
His eyes fall on Roman and Seth’s. He doesn’t see them really well because of the curtains, but he can easily make out Roman being the big spoon, making a parenthesis around Seth, keeping him from falling.
Dean soon understands why; Seth groggily kicks the wall and turns around completely, his nose millimeters away from it. He must be moving around quite a lot. Roman, on the other hand, looks perfectly still, just breathing.

He’s not sure how he feels about them. His fingers dug in his pocket, quickly finding what Roman gave him during their last meeting. He takes it out of his pocket and looks at it.

It’s actually a necklace. Completely black. The locket is a strange logo he can’t quite see because of the dark. In the back, he feels a word engraved there. He manages to read it, sliding his thumb against the letters. Overcome. Right underneath it is written SHIELD.
He slides it slowly around his neck. It’s pretty long, long enough to be completely hidden under his shirt.
Overcome. It feels like the letters are burning themselves on his skin, marking him forever.
He doesn’t hate it.

He finds himself walking away from them, slipping out of the bedroom quietly. He’s good when it comes to thief stuff in general. Has some experience, also.
He takes his time to walk as quietly as possible. His thigh is already burning. He will have to do something about it; he can’t risk bleeding every single day.

Where should he go? What is even doing? He doesn’t really know. It’s what makes him. He doesn’t know himself what he does, most of the time just walking blindfolded.

He squeezes his necklace to keep flashbacks far away.
He doesn’t need that.

Before he notices it, he’s on the balcony. It’s not that big, but big enough for four people to sit down. Endless nights spent here with the girls, planning, crying, drinking.

He takes out a cigarette, puts it between his lips and lights it up with a slight sigh. He leans against the barrier, arms balancing in the emptiness.
The town is quiet, always is. There’s nothing to hear anyway. Still, he can vaguely make out the low rumbling of electricity. They work hard on that; they got a few people making sure their system works well. It’s nowhere close what once was... but it’s enough for them all.

The window slides and someone goes out. He doesn’t need to turn around to recognize Charlotte.

"Hey, princess. Not asleep?" His voice sounds so different from what it usually sounds like. He allows it to be low and raspy, doesn’t try to make it sound a bit better. Years of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes actually do that to you.
It’s not like Charlotte is someone he needs to hide from anyway. She knows him well enough, now.

She slides next to him quietly. "Hey, Deano. I could ask you the same. Nightmare?" It happens and she knows it. It’s surprisingly not rare for them to end up like that.

"Yeah. Insomnia?" She just nods and they stay quiet, Dean taking small puffs out of his cigarette until it dies slowly. He throws it, watches it disappear in the dark night.

“If you don’t want to work with the two, you just have to tell me. I’ll find someone else.” She ends up saying, biting her thumb, eyes lost somewhere else.

“No, it’s alright. At least, they’re not as loud as the New Day. I’d die or something.” He shakes his head with the shadow of a smile, thumbs coming to rest on his temples, eyes closed. “It’s alright. What do you think of ‘em?”

Charlotte leans back, looking up at the stars, thinking. Her opinion is as important as his, if not more. He would go wherever the hell she wants if she asked. That’s just how important Charlotte and Becky are for him. He just loves them, his two big sisters.
She starts to tie her hair up in a messy bun, slowly closing her eyes, looking as relaxed as ever. “I think they’re going to be useful. We need more warriors, people who are not afraid to go in. I can’t risk sending you and Becky alone, again and again. Kingston and his boys… they already have too many things to handle. And Finn is better when it comes to being a thief.”

It’s always like that with Charlotte. Dean doesn’t think all that much. He thinks in openings and ways to hit harder and to be better, but Charlotte? She takes every possible scenario, analyzes it, chooses the best. She’s smart, she’s clever, and she’s useful as hell. “I think we need them. I think Roman can be trusted right away.” Her eyes are as blue as Dean’s when she looks at him. “I still wonder a bit about Seth. I find it hard to understand what’s in his head. What’s in yours, pretty boy?”

Dean’s fingers are slowly moving on his chest, until he feels the necklace. He plays with the corners, imagines the symbol on top of it, closes his eyes again. “They both took care of me yesterday. Roman’s good with wounds and injuries, ’t seems like.” He rubs his forehead, presses his palms hard against his eyes. He doesn’t know why he’s talking about that instead of giving her his opinion. It just seems logical. "Seth closed the curtains and did what he could against a headache and he, like… caressed my hair or whatever to make me sleep.”

“It sounds like they don’t hate you.” She states with a small smile, moving to sit down, enjoying the fresh air.

“That’s weird. Why do they care so much? I’m not- they’re not supposed to do that. Why do they want to take care of me, Charlotte? I don’t- I’m not…” Dean can feel himself slipping away, confusion making its way until it’s the only emotion on his face.

“Dean.” She stops him, softly tugging on his good leg to force him to sit down, which he does. “People care about you because you deserve to be cared about.” Her hand slides against his cheek softly. She looks sincere and honest. She never lies to him. “It’s not something bad. You deserve it. You’re a good guy, Deano.”

He looks at her with big, round eyes. “That’s not how it works, no, you know it, Char, I can’t, they can’t…” He takes a breath, looks away, grabs the necklace. “I don’t- People don’t care about me and I don’t care about them. I don’t care. They shouldn’t care. Why do they care?”

Charlotte sighs. Dean has always been like that. The product of a hard childhood with a mostly absent father and being forced to grow up fast and well.
She slides her arms around him slowly, gets closer until she can put her forehead on his shoulder. “We care, Dean. We love you. They care too. And they can, because you’re an amazing guy, you’re funny and smart and caring. You’re good and kind and you deserve the world.”

He doesn’t answer, knowing it’d be useless to argue about it with her, knowing that she will never agree with him. But he can’t help it; caring is something scary, unknown, and he doesn’t care about most people. He already cares too much about Charlotte and Becky… People can’t care about him. He’s a lost cause. A crazy guy. He’s a lunatic, he’s fucked up. He’s not what they are.
He’s not Roman, he’s not Seth. He’s not clever, he’s not strong, he’s not calming, he’s not reassuring, he’s nothing they are.

“Stop thinking like that, Dean. At least for tonight. Get some rest. Your body needs it.” She kisses his temple and slowly gets up, helping him getting up too. Her eyes quickly slides on his leg, noticing how he’s not completely putting his foot on the ground. “I’ll try to find something about that. Now, go to bed, darling. See you tomorrow, mh?” She kisses his forehead one last time, ruffles his hair and smiles.

A few seconds later, she disappears inside and Dean’s alone outside. He stays there for a little while, just looking at the stars, counting them, thinking.
He actually tries not to think that much but he finds it harder than ever.

He sits back down when his thigh can’t handle much more of standing up, leaning down against the wall. Why is he here?
Oh yeah, the nightmare.
The hands. The fingers.
He can still feel them, running around, pressing too hard.
He tries not to trigger himself but he does remember that night… or day, he doesn’t really remember that part.

He closes his eyes, groans, tries to keep the flashback away. He can’t handle that in the middle of the night, especially in a house with two people he doesn’t know all that well.
Selfishly, he doesn’t want them to learn about that side. He doesn’t want them to think that he’s really weird, that he’s crazy, that he’s so messed up. He doesn’t want to screw everything up. Why does he even care this much about what they’re thinking?

Without noticing it, like he did so many times in the past, he falls asleep there, the stars protecting him and the cold floor grounding him enough to keep the flashbacks and the nightmares away.

He doesn’t dream and finds himself waking up what seems like five minutes later. Which is not the case; the sun is already up when he opens his eyes.
It takes him a bit of time to understand what happened - he really fell asleep outside. He’s too tired to even feel angry at himself. His arm hurts like hell, only now noticing that he actually lied down on his side, his bicep directly against the floor.

He’s only starting to get up when he hears a very tiny noise. That’s what woke him up - he knew something was off. Without any other thought, he grabs his knife and points it toward the noise.
Something grabs his wrist, turns it in such an unnatural angle he’s forced to drop the knife. Thankfully, he’s fast enough to throw a side-kick.
His foot is about to touch a chest when his eyes flick up to see a face.
Seth.
He manages to stop his kick at the right time, not hitting him, his toes barely touching his skin.

“What the fuck, dude?” He groans, slowly putting his foot back down - thanking his brain when he notices it’s his good leg. He squats down, takes his knife back, rubbing his wrist. “Why the hell are you here?”

“Window was opened. Didn’t think you’d try to kill me.” Seth says, voice rough with sleep, closing the window behind him. He’s only wearing a pair of sweatpants, probably his night outfit. “Sorry. I saw you were gone and then, found you here, asleep.”

Dean just mumbles, hands coming on his face. He still feels pretty tired. Sleeping here wasn’t his best idea, clearly.

"Can I ask you something?" Seth whispers, hands disappearing in his pockets. When Dean doesn’t answer, he goes on. “You sure you’re okay with us?”

Dean is too tired to think about that shit. His head feels way too heavy and his body is sore and stiff. “Gosh, too early for emo shit, dude.”

“Not an early bird, mh?” He answers quietly, hands slowly undoing his braid. His hair’s now pretty wavy, dark brown contrasting with the blonde streak.

“Not my thing, no. Charlotte’s the early bird, Becky can sleep whenever she wants and I… sleep’s not my thing.” He groans, stretches like a cat until he can hear bones popping.

He takes his sweet time, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and fishing his lighter out of his pocket. “I’m okay with you, if you really wanna know, kid.” He just plays with it for a while, watching the small flame and letting it go after. “What time is it?”

“Early. Must be around five.” They both don’t have a watch to be sure but Seth looks like he knows. “Uh, there’s… here. Found it on the floor next to your bed.” Still speaking, he hands Dean a yellowed, folded picture. “Thought it was yours.”

Dean takes it silently, not needing to unfold it to know exactly what this picture is.
It’s an old picture a neighbor took when he was a child. He’s on his bike, his sister behind him, both wearing cheeky grins, their mother next to them, a bit tensed. He knows the car of his father is visible.
Dean being a handy guy -sometimes-, glued another picture on the other side. It’s a picture someone took while he was at the gym. He’s right in the middle, tank top and fluffy hair. Arms around Becky and Charlotte’s shoulders, middle fingers raised. Charlotte looks a bit out of place next to him; she looks elegant, a small, superior smile. Becky, on the other hand, is sticking out her tongue, raised eyebrow and middle finger in full sight.

He feels a wave of nostalgia going through his body, making him shiver. Like a robot, he puts it back securely in his pocket, quiet. He can feel Seth studying him, analyzing him. “You know, Dean, I’m glad we found the town. And, I’m, uh… happy to know that we’re with you.”

Dean tenses up. A voice in his head says that he’s being ridiculous while the other is encouraging him to push him away. “There’s nothing to be happy about. It’s called being unlucky, dude.” The mean voice wins in the end. Often does. “Sorry.”

“What? No, ending up with you isn’t being unlucky, I think you’re pretty cool, actually and-“

The window slides again. How many people are going to visit him here?
Roman appears, hair tied up in a bad-looking bun. He looks tired, confused and frustrated.
He looks at both of them, frowning. Dean wonders if he’s going to scold them or something. “What’s up?” He asks and his voice is so low Dean can literally feel it, like a low bass resonating through his whole body. “Why’re you here?”

“Uh, we…” Seth looks at Dean, who looks back, raising an eyebrow. “Dean went out for a bit and I woke up. Felt weird without him so I went to check here. We were about to come back.”

“You alright, baby boy?" Pet name, again? Is it normal? It makes Dean a bit nervous.
He looks away, feeling their eyes on him.

" ‘m fine. Just needed some fresh air." He nods, offers them a very small smile. His fingers find the outline of the necklace again, playing with it.

It brings a proud smile on Roman’s face. "You like it, don’t you?"

Dean blushes. He blushes like a fucking teenager. He softly takes the necklace out of his tank top, looking at it for a second. "Yeah, it’s... nice. You sure about it, though? It seems meaningful."

"Yeah, ‘m sure. You matter now, you deserve it." Roman smiles sweetly and it makes Dean’s stomach groans quietly and appreciatively.

"You gave him the last one?" Seth asks, eyes resting on the necklace, head cocked on the side.

Dean raises a curious eyebrow. "You got one too?"

"It’s a three-part necklace," Roman says, fishing out his own necklace from under his shirt. It’s a tiny bit bigger than Dean’s. "Gimme yours. I’ll show you."

They both give him their necklace. Dean sees the back of Roman’s. There’s no "Overcome" written. Instead, "Protect."

"You put them all like that..." He clips them all together and they stay like that, like a big necklace. At the back only appears Seth’s. Dean can read "love". It makes him feel a bit weird but not in a really bad way.
He undoes it pretty quickly and hands them their necklace back with an amused smile. “Here you go.”

“What about the words and everything? What do they mean?” He asks, daring, eyes going up to Roman’s. He can’t really help it; he wants to know what’s behind the necklace. And why does he have one?

“Oh. I don’t know. Growing up, I just thought… that they were the most important things in the world. Protect, overcome, love.” He shrugs, looks at them for a long second as if pensive about something. “I just think you could both use the mantra. Let it get to you in difficult times.”

Dean stays quiet. Overcome. What should he overcome?
Charlotte’s voice repeats the words she said the night before. “Stop thinking like that.”
He just has to overcome himself.
Well, easy, isn’t it?

“Oi, boys!” The window slides again -it’s going to fucking break if people keep coming out to see him- and Becky appears, looking tired but ready to start her day. “Get inside, the day won’t wait for y’all!”

“Fucking hell, you’re loud, Becks.” Dean grumbles, already following her inside. She’s wearing working out clothes- it already means it’s going to be a busy day. She even tied her hair up. Which is rare, when it comes to her.

“Don’t have time to be quiet, do we?” Dean can feel energy pouring out of her. If he wasn’t used to it, he just knows so much energy would give him a painful headache. “You’d have slept bette’, you know, in a bed, dumbass.”

“Charlotte told you?” He answers while frowning, already feeling Roman’s confused stare on his back.

“Didn’t need to.” Becky moves and hands him a backpack. When he opens it, he finds a whole outfit and plenty of gauzes. “Get some gauze on your thigh and arms, it will keep your clothes from openin' them up again.” She gives similar bags to Roman and Seth.

“What’s in there?” Seth asks while opening it, taking his sweet time to look at Dean in the meantime.

“Your gear, what else? Found a name for your squad yet?”

They look at each other, Dean already taking out a black vest. It looks almost military. “Well, we’re the Shield, then, aren’t we?” He says with a smirk, hand already around his necklace.

Roman and Seth smirk too, already nodding their approval. “That’s the Shield for you, Becky.”

Becky smiles. A true, genuine, happy smile. “Great! Well, try it on, lads, try it on!” She moves her hands towards them with sparkling eyes.

Dean rolls his eyes but he takes his tank top off, hands disappearing in the bag. His fingers find a black, tight tank top that he automatically puts on, followed by the vest. “Oh, that’s weird.” He moves his arms to get used to the feeling. “It’s tight. Who found that stuff anyway?”

While Roman and Seth are both trying to find everything before undressing, Becky looks at Dean proudly. “Looks awesome. The Hardy Boyz, of course. They said they needed action and we needed gear for y’all.” She moves to adjust his vest a bit. “Stole everything from a small warehouse. A McMahon’s warehouse, of course.”

“Not even surprised. Saw Jeff the other day, cutting grass with fucking scissors. Said he had too much energy and too little to do.” He shakes his head and grabs the pants - black, pretty simple and not as tight. And then, boots. Super cool boots.

“How can you have too little to do during an apocalypse?” Seth’s voice reminds them both that they’re not alone. Seth has his own vest on, curious eyes scanning them.

“Oh, don’t get us wrong, they work a fucking lot. Helped Bayley and Sasha with the fruits and everything, worked with Finn, tried to help the New Day a few times… They even came with us outside.” Becky laughs while stepping back. “They’re just really, really active.”

“How many people are on our side?” Roman speaks and when Dean looks up, he has to take a second to remind himself how to breathe. Roman’s muscular. It’s not anything new; he wears tight shirts, enough to see that he’s more than well-built. But seeing him topless is something different.

“Looking great, big guy.” She winks at him with a small laugh. “Well, Char’s the one keepin’ track but I think we’re around 15 or 20 with you two.” She nods, counting on her fingers. “The Shield, the Hardy Boyz, the New Day, Bayley and Sasha, us, Finn… And there are a few guys you didn’t meet, too.”

“That makes a good lot of people.” Roman absentmindedly nods, slowly putting on his tank top and his vest.
Dean wonders if he’s going crazy because he thinks Roman and Seth look awfully good and it makes him blush. Again. Dean doesn’t blush!

“Anyway.” Becky brings him back with her strong accent and he’s this close to actually hug her. “Since y’all look good to go, get completely dressed and ready and go train altogether. We need you to be strong and to work well with each other.”

Dean knows she would ask them to work together quickly. He just nods. “‘Kay. Where d’you want us to go?”

Becky frowns. She grimaces a bit and turns wondering eyes on him. “You know… I thought… maybe…” He gives her a hurry-up-i’m-bored look and it seems to do the job. “Your place?”

Okay. He had not been waiting for that. She usually lets him work out wherever the hell he wants to. But his place? With them? This soon? He swallows, look at his feet with a slight frown. But he understands. It’s easier. “Yeah, okay. We should go.”

“Perfect! You’ve got the entire day to work out there. ‘Gonna send you someone during the evening, to know what you plan to do next, ‘kay?” Dean nods and it ends the conversation.

They go back to their bedroom and Dean completely changes himself, putting gauze and new bandages on top. Roman and Seth are quiet, dressing up. “A bit ridiculous, the whole gear thing, ain’t it?” He finally says with a frown, hands coming to rest at the top of his vest, fingers disappearing under it.

“Well, the vest is useful. It’ll protect us well, not only against humans.” Seth says, already poking his vest. “And all in black… It can work out if we have to be sneaky.”

“Yeah. It’s not completely comfortable but it’s good for us. And it lets your arms alone, uce. All good.” Roman adds, putting on his boots.

“I guess.” He mumbles back, finding himself chewing gum. Not so weirdly, people rushed on important food when everything went bad. He always finds stuff like that in stores. Even cigarettes. “Ready to go? Take what you need, we’ll shower there.”

They do. They get out for the first time in three days all dressed up, bags on their shoulders. Becky’s waving from the balcony with a huge smirk, telling them to still be careful. Charlotte does the same in a more controlled way.
They walk quietly, Dean leading the way. The gym is not too far, not too close. He wants his privacy but he wants to be able to go to the girls quickly if he needs to.

The streets are quiet, desert. There’s no one around, as usual. Abandoned cars, building, stores, it looks like a paper town. It has never been a beautiful town or a big one. And now, well, Dean finds beauty in the way nature is going to take over, one day, in the way everything looks broken.
It’s a world for him, for broken people and shattered souls. It’s a world that doesn’t try to heal him, doesn’t try to change him. He can do whatever the hell he wants in this shitty town with its bad memories and its devils lurking in the shadows.
It makes him feel almost powerful.

They’re at the gym earlier than he thought. He got lost in his thoughts, it makes sense.

“So, that’s your place.” Seth says, already going for the door. When he tries for the handle, it doesn’t work. He tries again and Dean doesn’t have time to warn him; first, the bucket full of water lands on his head, and then, the rope.
He’s hanged by his feet in a second, completely wet and clearly embarrassed and angry, especially after the screech of surprise he let out. “What the fuck, Dean?”

“Love, Seth, Love.” He says in-between two waves of laughter, pointing at his necklace. Roman is smirking too. “Oh, man, that’s way too funny. Ah, it hurts, fuck. Seth, you’re the best, oh, god.” He holds his stomach while laughing at the outraged look on his face.

“Come on, Dean, let’s get him down. And Seth, don’t try to kill someone. Love, uce.” Roman says, moving. “Dean, cut the rope, mh? I’ll catch him.” He adds, arms already under Seth’s head, ignoring his killing glare.

Dean stops laughing, even if he still giggles when he takes his favorite knife out. He cuts the rope and Seth falls head first but Roman’s quicker. He manages to move in such a way only Seth’s feet touch the floor and pretty softly too.

Dean puts his knife back in his pocket, trying not to laugh when he sees Seth’s face. “Come on, don’t hate me, man. I didn’t think you would go for the door right away.” He shrugs and slowly puts the trap back- he has ropes hidden just next to it. He places the empty bucket because it still confuses people pretty good. “Just trying to protect myself.”

“Well, you sure did a good job.” Seth’s voice is angry and sarcastic. “Warn me next time, yeah?”

“Try to follow me and nobody’ll get hurt, princess.”

It feels right, almost normal.

“You must go ‘round it. If someone breaks a window, it cuts a rope and boom, big planks fall on the windows. I have traps all around. So, if you want to come in…”

Dean walks while talking, only stopping in front of a wall, in the backyard. There’s nothing really special there. Roman and Seth look at him with confused faces.
Dean kicks the wall. Seth hisses before he can help himself, but Dean’s not hurt in any way; his foot disappears into the wall.

“What…?” Roman says, already squatting down to see what’s up.

“It’s a small hole. With the grass being this high and the small curtain, it’s invisible. Same color as the wall. So, basically, you crouch down and you’re in. Be careful, don’t step too much on the grass. Don’t want to give us away.”

And with that said, he sits down, and his legs disappear in the wall. He winks and puts his hands on the wall, pushing until he’s completely gone.

Seth looks at Roman, not even knowing what to say. He didn’t imagine things would go like that. “Well, you heard him.” Roman says, actually smirking. His hand gently pushes Seth down until he’s disappearing too. Roman follows quickly.

Dean is waiting for them in the gym, hands on his hips. “And you’re in, congrats!” He says, cheerfully, as if Seth hadn’t been hit by a bucket and hanged by his feet and then had to crouch down in a hole into a wall.
He’s laughing nervously before he can stop himself, sounding more tired than he feels. “Yeah, we’re in. You don’t have any more traps, do you?”

“Might have a couple more around the gym, mh. But you don’t have to know them, you won’t get stuck in one, I’ll always be around.” Dean smiles, the warning not even wanted or thought, but Seth hears it. It makes him frown a bit.

“So, that’s your place.” Roman cuts them both off, looking around. Bags are quickly piling next to the hole.

It’s a big gym, with almost everything they worked out with before. Dean’s eyes are already drifting towards the line of sandbags, taking an entire wall. Seth sees a door he identifies as the locker room, probably containing a bathroom, too. There’s a small place previously used as the reception counter… but the counter is actually pressed against the door and there are big marks on the floor, right where it used to be.
On the side, near the few treadmills, are the stairs. Except there’s a literal hole right in the middle. The structure is still visible and standing underneath the broken pieces and it’s visibly not threatening the place in general… it just makes it impossible to go upstairs anymore.

“Uh, Dean? What about the stairs? Do you sleep on a treadmill?” Seth anxiously asks, eyes fixed on the hole.

Dean laughs, already going towards a sandbag. “No, I don’t. What about the stairs?” He answers, head tilted on the side. “You mean, the hole? That’s just more security thing.”

“Well, you’re very careful.” Roman states, still looking around. He’s slowly starting to move too, clearly a bit overwhelmed by everything. He wonders a bit but eventually stops in front of the dumbbells.

"Is that bad?" Dean sounds a bit defensive and confused. It’s his first time taking people here - obviously not counting Becky and Charlotte. They both come and go.

"No, it’s nice to know that you do whatever it takes to keep yourself safe. Need to be safe." Roman nods while taking a dumbbell, looking at it. "Well, I guess we should just start working out a bit... and then, maybe spar with each other?" When they both agree, he smiles but looks around. "Dean, you have any music?"

"Oh, yeah. Can’t be too loud but it’s loud enough, I think." He moves, slowly walking towards a... record player. He actually found it once and just thought "why not?". Easier to use than a hi-fi thingy, and there’s nobody trying to steal records.

He puts on the first one he sees and goes back to his sandbag. Seth is standing in front of a wall ball, kettlebell in hand.

I’m Still Standing starts and they go.
Dean punches the hell out his sandbag. Hearing other people around throws him out a bit, used to being alone- or with Becky and Charlotte. It’s different.
He chooses to ignore it, punching hard but not too hard- he doesn’t want his biceps to give out. He stays careful and switches to kicks with his good leg when it’s starting to be painful.
Elton John’s song keeps him going. As surprising as it can be, Dean’s a whore for good songs. He doesn’t really care about who sings, who plays, what they did in their life. The song’s good? Then it’s good.
He tries not to think of how much it can represent their situation, tries not to think at all.

He just has to overcome everything, right?

So he hits, hits, hits. He punches and kicks, drowning himself in it until he can’t even hear the music or Seth’s wall ball or Roman’s huffs of breath.
It’s just him and the sandbag. He knows his body must be moving with the music but he doesn’t hear it. It’s all about hitting harder and finally getting rid of all this energy.
He hates staying at the same place for too long; and he didn’t do much while they had been at Becky and Charlotte’s place.

He can finally let go of everything. The mixed emotions, the stress, the pain, the confusion, the excitement... everything is going away through his fists.
And it feels so great.
His muscles are already burning but he doesn’t find it in himself to stop. He just wants to stay in this moment, unreachable. Without this shitty world, without the problems and the worries that come with it.

Just him and his sandbag.

"Hey."

Just him and his sandbag.

"Dean. Stop."

Just him and his sandbag... and Roman?

He’s slowly starting to realize that no, it’s not just him and his sandbag.
The music is slowly reaching his ears again- it’s still Elton John, at least, but not the same song.
Then, the place. It’s not blurry anymore. The gym is here, with its machines, the locker room, the stairs.

And Roman’s hands are strong around his waist, softly tugging him backward until his body can’t reach the sandbag anymore.

"Dean?" Roman asks again, moving in front of him to try and catch his eyes. He eventually succeeds and Dean tries not to lose himself in the brown galaxy. "You alright, baby boy? You’re still with us?"

Dean notices Seth, standing a bit behind, looking anxiously at them. He feels a bit dizzy but he finds himself nodding slowly.

"You can’t keep hitting that hard. It’s not good for your arms. You’re going to faint." Roman’s hands are moving, cupping his elbows, forcing him to extend his arms. He’s staring at his bandages.

Dean gradually comes back to reality, noticing more and more things. Seth is not wearing his vest anymore. Roman is slightly sweating and Dean, well. He’s breathing a bit too hard and his fists are bright red. He can feel the slight coldness caused by his sweat, see his skin shining a bit. Not really that much, nothing close to his usual workout but a bit too much for a start, and for someone injured.

"You need to be more careful, Dean." Roman is already undoing Dean’s bandages but Dean hisses. Like a fucking cat. Roman looks up, frowning, hands stopping.

Dean gets out his torpor, lips a bit too dry. "Don’t waste it. We don’t have many." Raw voice. He clears his throat a few times.

Roman’s face darkens but he redoes the bandages while shaking his head. "Then, you have to keep the wounds very clean... playing around in the grass isn’t great."

Dean doesn’t answer. He steadily steps back, pushes a sweaty lock of hair away from his eyes and slyly looks at Seth.

Seth looks back with a frown. He dodges the first kick easily, forearm blocking it. At first, he only dodges and counters and blocks, apparently not really understanding Dean.

"We’re supposed to learn how to fight together. So, fight, princess."

Chapter Text

They work out together for at least three hours. Dean refuses to hear their warnings about his injuries and starts hitting again when they try to stop him- "for his own sake".
They don’t realise just how necessary it is for him. He needs to fight. He needs to keep moving or he’s going to go berserk- he’s going to implode and hurt people and himself. He needs to let go of everything. And working out, training? Physical activities? The best to make him sweat everything out.

So he trains with them. They fight, fight, fight.
Dean’s mental files are filling themselves up quickly.
Roman uses his upper body a lot. Dean can see some American football moves in there, which would explain a few things. He also relies on his bigger body a bit. He’s still fast and not that bad when it comes to more aerial styles - even if it’s clear he’s not really comfortable with it.
He’s good when it comes to protecting himself even if most of the time, he just throws himself in; and the weight of his body is enough to disturb the opponent.
Then, again, he stayed soft because of Dean’s injuries.

Seth, on the other hand, takes time to think. He uses his entire body, kicking and punching a lot. When he uses a lot of energy doing big attacks, he makes sure it’s to knock his opponent out until he can rest a bit. Dean isn’t like that at all and he finds it a bit hard to counter everything. On the opposite hand, Seth isn’t that good with sticks and long weapons. He prefers bigger weapons - such as chairs.

It’s good. It’s nice fighting with people he’s not used to fight. Especially since they’re both using so different styles. Roman relies a lot on his muscles and uses his mind when things don’t go like he wants them to. Seth relies a lot on his mind and uses his body in the meantime to have some time to think more.

Dean wonders where he fits in there. He doesn’t rely on styles when he fights. He thinks while he hits, he hits while he thinks and he gets on with it. He doesn’t really care about doing beautiful things, doesn’t really think about hurting himself. When he’s fighting, he’s fighting.

He’s thinking about that, slowly moving to sit down on a bench while taking off his gear. Roman is gone somewhere in the gym.
Seth is throwing curious glances at Dean every ten seconds. Dean chooses to ignore it at first... but it gets on his nerves. "Somethin’ on your mind, Seth?" His tone comes out a bit more annoyed that he wished but, well. It happens.

Seth looks surprised and embarrassed as if he thought he had been discreet enough. "Uh, I- no." They stay quiet for another minute, Dean sliding off his boots with a thankful sigh. "Actually, yeah... how do you feel?"

Dean takes his vest off with a huff, groans while tugging at his tank top. "What? What d’you mean, how do I feel?" He’s too busy taking his tank top off to really look up and meet his eyes.

"You know. Your arms. Your thighs. You went... hard for someone who’s injured." Seth’s voice is a bit hesitant but he’s moving closer.

Dean doesn’t understand why everyone cares so much about his arms.
He looks down at his biceps. The bandages are starting to fall because of how sweaty he is. Not surprising. Quietly, steadily, he undoes them.

The skin is still awfully red and the wounds are still as ugly as they were. Dean can already tell the scars won’t look too good.
The fact that the skin all around the wounds is that red actually makes Seth’s right. It shows that he worked too hard. Thankfully, nothing is bleeding.

He starts undoing the bandages on his other arm and then on his thighs when they hear a weird, loud noise.
Seth, reflexively, startles and kneels down, body tensing up so much Dean is scared he’s going to break something. Dean tenses up too, hand going on Seth’s shoulder in case he needs to push him away.

But it’s not a hungry guy, it’s not one of the McMahon’s guy that made the noise.

Instead, Roman appears from the locker room, looking just... a bit surprised. He’s still sweaty, only wearing long shorts.
And with a pink, glittery dildo on his forehead.

"Oh. Bloody hell." Seth lets out, too tensed up to laugh right away.

"Oh no." Dean says. "Oh no." Dean repeats. "Oh fuck, that’s- oh fuck." And he starts laughing. Because Roman is standing there, looking like he always do, with a fucking plastic dick on his forehead. And it’s pink with lots of glitters and it’s long and weird-shaped and it’s on his forehead.

They all start laughing, even Roman. And since he’s laughing, the sex toy’s bopping up and down- of course, they’re all just kids so it makes them laugh harder than ever. At some point, it falls on the floor but they’re too busy laughing to even notice it.
It’s the first time they genuinely laugh together, without thinking about anything else - and their first time forgetting just how bad the world is.
It makes them all feel a little bit better to know that they’re able to do that.

Dean’s stomach hurts like a bitch when he finally manages to stop laughing. He softly wipes his face, already knowing he must be bright red. “Oh fuck, didn’t laugh that hard for a long time, dude.”

“Can I ask why, like, ten dildos attacked me?” Roman says with a huge smirk, slowly taking the toy in his hand, raising a curious eyebrow.

“Do we need to let you a room for yourself, you know, just in case?” Seth’s comment makes him smirk and he shakes his head.

“Used to work in a sex shop.” He explains, eyes stopping on his half-undone bandages. He sits down to work back on them, letting his skin enjoy some cool, fresh air. “When I started thinking about traps and stuff, I just thought… wouldn’t it be funny to see like some scary McMahon’s guy getting knocked out by huge weird sex toys?"

“The problem is weird, the answer is even weirder.” Seth comments with a laugh, grabbing the towel Roman hands him to, at least, wipe the sweat from his face. “Always worked in the sex shop?”

“No, not really. I worked everywhere. But I worked mostly there.” He knows it sounds weird. That’s why he decided to work there; just to see people’s weirded out face. He also doesn’t see a problem there; sexuality is a thing a lot of people experience. Let’s just help out some lost people about everything with huge dicks around. “ ’t was fun. Met some nice people there. And not so many weirdos. Well, a few. I threw them out. It was a nice, safe place for everyone.”

Roman is starting to move too, putting the sex toy on top of a dumbbell with a soft smile. “A job’s a job. Must have been hard, facing stereotypes and everything.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He never really thought about it, but he knows his coworkers were really annoyed by some weird people. “Some peeps are like… all ashamed and blushing and avoiding us and not showing their faces. And others are tryin’ to get in our beds which is really ridiculous when you know that I had a special whip I used to kick people out. It was fun.”

Seth and Roman both nod, visibly thinking about it.
Dean liked this job a lot. That’s where he met Bayley; weirdly enough. She had been a client, buying a few things because she wanted to surprise her girlfriend and keep things spicy. She had been there the week after that just to talk with Dean. It became a habit quickly and, every Thursday, she would come in and they would talk about everything and anything.
It was fun. Really, really fun.Okay. He did miss his job. It’s stupid. But he misses his job so bad.

People were, sometimes, weird, but most of them were a bit lost, just wanted advice and even if he usually doesn’t talk about sex with strangers, he didn’t mind it. If it meant that a person was not hurt by doing things like an idiot, then, it was good.

He steadily stands up, starting to go for the showers when he hears a rhythmical whistle. He sees Roman tensing up in the corner of his eye and automatically raises a hand. “Don’t worry. ’T’s a friend. Becky sent someone to check on us, remember?” He throws them a look and lets his eyes wander on the hole he can barely see.

A few seconds later, he sees brown hair. Ponytail on the side. Tank top. Leggings. And a huge smile.

Bayley’s hugging him before he can do something about it. He just laughs, pats her head. He’s careful, avoids to put his biceps in direct contact with her and his injured thigh against her. “Come on, Bay. You saw me last week. Don’t act like I died!”

“You almost did! I was so worried. How are you?” She quickly talks, already stepping back to take a look at his body, forcing him to turn around. He does with a sigh, seeing Roman and Seth’s confused and careful faces.

“‘M fine, dude.” He adds and turns her around to remind her that they’re not alone.
Bayley’s eyes slowly widen when she notices them. It seems to take her a few seconds but she walks toward them and offers Seth her hand. “Hey! Sorry, didn’t see you there. Not used to visitors! You must be, uh… The Shield. Seth? I’m Bayley. Nice t’meet you!”

Seth seems a bit overwhelmed for a second, but he shakes her hand. She puts her other hand on top of his and shakes happily. Dean just knows she didn’t hug him because they don’t know each other; next time is another story. “Uh, yeah, Seth. My pleasure.”

She smiles, as usual, and drops his hand to offer it to Roman. “So, you must be… Roman? Bayley. Nice to meet you too. Becky told me you were good guys.” Dean groans quietly, leaning back against a wall.

“That’s us, I guess. Nice to meet you too, Bayley.” Roman shakes her hand with a gentle smile. “You must be the farmer girl, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yeah! We only have a goat but we’re working hard. We’ll have a few vegetables tomorrow, you’re definitely gonna eat some good food!” She excitedly explains. It’s a very important thing for Sasha and Bayley; they work really hard on their vegetables. They also try their best to keep Flynch the goat healthy and loved. Also, he can see the way Roman and Seth’s eyes are shining. Good food is rare, even here. They don’t eat that well; just tin cans of whatever they can find. Roman and Seth weren’t so lucky and had to eat some bad tin cans too.

"That’s amazing. It must be hard to handle everything." Seth says in awe and it only makes Bayley smiles more.

"Oh, you know, we just do it. We mostly do that, it keeps us busy. And everyone helps a bit. Except Dean. Because he sucks with plants and living things in general."

"That’s awfully mean but true. So, any news?" Dean answers with a smirk, raising an eyebrow.

Bayley leans back against the same wall with a grin. "Um, not a lot. I think Becky and Charlotte are working on battle plans. They went out for a bit, went to check on everyone. The New Day wants to meet y’all, by the way. Jeff is done with his grass so I think they’re gonna send him and Matt on a mission."

"That’d be great. They’re good, they’re gonna help. We’re probably gonna see The New Day soon at the motel..." Dean answers quietly, looking at Bayley who slowly moves toward the basketball, grabbing it and throwing it successfully through the hoop. She keeps doing that for a bit.

“So, are you all staying here tonight? What do you want me to tell Becky?”

Dean looks at Roman and Seth with a raised eyebrow. He doesn’t really care, even though he always prefers sleeping in his gym. Seth is frowning, bottom lip caught between his lips. He throws a look at Dean’s bad thigh and softly nods.

“We’re staying here. If it’s okay with you…?” He says, first with confidence, more hesitant at the end. He looks at Dean again with big puppy eyes, and he can see Roman doing almost the same thing.

He rolls his eyes, because, of course, it works. “Yeah, yeah. Tell Becks we’re staying here for now. We’ll check up at the motel tomorrow, if we don’t, come check on us again.”

“Maybe Sasha’ll do it. I promised I’d take Flynch tomorrow. Might take her around town a bit.” She explains with a nod, dropping the ball, stopping in front of the wall with the hole. “I have to go. Ah, also, Finn is back on his feet. Says he doesn’t need to stay down anymore, says he’s good to go. He definitely wants his revenge.”

“Of course he does. Don’t we all? See you around, Bay. Tell Sasha she has to whistle or I’m blocking the entry!” Dean answers with a smirk, already imagining Sasha’s pouty face.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll tell her and she’ll kick your ass! Bye, Roman, Seth, loved to meet you both! Have fun around Dean!”

And with that, she disappears.

They stay quiet for a long, pregnant second. It always does that; Bayley is so full of energy. Once she’s gone, everything seems calmer, a bit sadder. It just does. Dean stopped thinking about it a long time ago.

“Who’s Sasha?” Roman softly asks, starting to move again.

“Oh, that’s Bayley’s girlfriend. A funny girl. She hates the rhythm we chose to whistle so she never does it." He grins and starts looking back again at his biceps.

"Seems like everyone’s gay." Seth mindlessly says, busy picking up their gears to put them at the same place. He stops in his tracks when he realises what he just said. When he turns his face towards Dean, he’s bright red. "Was that not okay...?"

Dean can feel how tensed up Seth is and he doesn’t need to look at Roman to imagine the slight frown on his face. They don’t even know each other that well but it seems like they’ve been together since the beginning.
But he’s a protective guy. He can’t help tensing up too. "Well, it’s not okay if it’s a problem. People being gay is a problem with you, man? Counts for you too, big boy."

Being around Charlotte and Becky made him see just how awful people were. He experienced some of it, too, earlier in his life and chose not to label himself - and he chose not to think about it anyway.

Seth automatically raises his hands in surrender, cheeks still red. "No, no, of course not! I dont- I’m an ally. You know. LGBTQ+ community?"

"You are?" Dean cocks his head to the side but he can definitely imagine Seth supporting people. Roman too, even though he seems a bit more reserved. "What ‘bout you, Roman? I must know. We don’t take people like that in."

"I’m clear too, man." He seems sincere, looking down for a second. "I believe being gay... or bisexual... or any other label isn’t a sin. It’s just love."

The tension slowly goes away. They don’t talk more about it - mostly because they have to take showers and get ready for bed. They all shower quietly in different stalls, even if Dean is sure he heard Seth humming something.
Dean also takes some more time to clean his wounds, puts new bandages on and gauze, choosing to wear a large short so it doesn’t hurt his thigh. His good thigh is already almost healed - it’s starting to scab over.

When he goes back to the main room, Seth and Roman are visibly waiting for him. They are both in front of the stairs, looking at the hole.
Seth is wearing large shorts and a band tee-shirt and Roman a pair of sweatpants with a grey tank top. Dean doesn’t know why, but it reminds him of some movies when teenagers do a very cliché party.

"So. How do you go upstairs?" Roman asks, frowning, his deep eyes trying to find answers on Dean’s face.

"Uh." He’s at a loss for words during a small second but manages to recover quickly. What’s up with him? "Depends. Becks and Char are like cats, they just jump. I think we’re all too heavy for that. Usually, I climb from outside."

"You climb. From outside. Is there no other way?" His tone seems a bit nervous now. Dean doesn’t get it.

"Well, jumping. I wouldn’t do that if I was you, just in case because you’re heavy... but I don’t really know if you’re fast and everythin’. I don’t know. Up to you."

"I’ll jump."

Dean turns around to look at Seth with a raised eyebrow. "I’m not even surprised at this point. Go on then, jump, kid. Not gonna fight the building to get you out of it, though."

Roman sports a small disapproving frown. Dean can literally feel him trying not to change into full Big Daddy Bear mode. "Seth," and he fails. "Are you- sure about that?"

Seth rolls his eyes and the first words popping in Dean’s mind are "angsty teen". He tries not to snort at that- which is surprisingly hard. "Yes, I’m sure, Mom." He says, sarcasm dripping from his entire soul. "It’s alright. I’ll be fine. If not, you can spank me." A smirk and he’s turning around to completely face the stairs.

"It’s not that I think you’re not able to do it," Roman quickly adds. "It’s just... risky. And your knee-"

"My knee’s alright. I’m alright and everything’s alright, now stop worrying and let me do it."

It shuts Roman up efficiently. Even Dean is a bit shocked. So, after all, their world isn’t all pink and glittery dildos. Seth certainly looks like he bites. And Roman would probably easily yell at someone if it meant protecting them.
He can see the flaws and catches himself trying to find where he could fit in.

Why is he doing that? There’s no need to fit in. They’re just working together.

But they would work together better as a unit if he tried to do that.
Right?
Only that.

"1, 2... 3."

Seth jumps.

He lands gracelessly on the other side - completely fine and alive. Even if his fingers are lazily wrapped around his hips, Dean catches the slight tremor, the way he looks like he’s catching himself trying to touch something last second and correcting the shot quickly. Maybe his knee?

"Ah. Told you I could do it.”

“Yeah, yeah. Roman, you climb with me?” He catches Roman’s eyes and smiles. “Seth, first door on your right. Stay there.”

Roman just slowly nods and they both go out.

Dean takes his time to step back and explain the path. “So… In general, I just climb using the windows and everything I can, basically.” He lazily shows the wall with a hand. “But you don’t seem very… comfortable with climbing, am I wrong?”

Dean literally sees him swallowing, Adam’s apple bopping up and down. "Not a fan of heights." He confesses, eyes avoiding Dean’s blue ones.

“Oh. Okay. You’re lucky then. Seth, can you move your ass, princess?” He calls out loud enough, completely sure Seth hears him.

A second later, the window’s thrown open and a ladder hits the ground in front of the wall. “Fuck you, Dean!” He answers, middle finger in full use with a small grin. “Here you go, Ro.”

Roman sighs softly but eventually starts to climb, not even once looking at his feet. He seems tense but it’s the best Dean can offer him; and, at least, it’s a real ladder. At first, Dean wanted to build a ladder himself - he never really planned on using it anyway.
He climbs behind Roman once he’s safely sitting down next to Seth, pink cheeks and shaky hands. It’s easier for Dean, of course. He doesn’t look down and keep climbing until he’s inside too.

His biceps are burning a little bit too much now. He definitely needs a break. With a sigh, he looks at the ladder and grabs it, slowly sliding it back where it belongs; hidden behind a bookcase.

Seth looks at him with a disapproving face, of course, and he can only imagine the same expression on Roman’s face. “Dean,” He says, because it’s just so him. “Please, let us do this kind of thing. You’re still hurt.”

“I’m not fuckin’ paralyzed. I can do just as much as you can.” He groans out and looks around. He hates seeing pity in people’s eyes. He just hates it so much.

"I didn’t say you couldn’t. You’re tough as fuck." Seth explains and he looks small and out of place in this old storage room. "I’m just- I just don’t want you to hurt yourself again. It could go really wrong."

"I know the risks." He ends the conversation like that. He doesn’t sound mean or angry, just closed and reserved. He sees the way Seth’s face falls a little bit before he can control it.

Dean chooses to turn around. He doesn’t want to see sadness and pity on him. He doesn’t want to see that on Roman’s face. He doesn’t want them to see him like a poor, useless dude who can’t do shit.
He doesn’t want them to leave but he doesn’t want them to matter! Why does he even care? Why does he try to do things right? Why does he try to please them?

He’s getting worked up by himself, frowning and slowly starting to actually panic. This time, there’s no Charlotte to calm him down. She can’t get him out of his head.

He’s wishing real hard now- he can’t go into full panic mode in front of them!

His breathing is starting to speed up when he feels something touching his back. Turning around, he meets Roman’s deep brown eyes. He’s smiling so softly. Dean can’t really read the expression on his face.
He hates himself when his body starts to relax against his hand, even if it’s just a little bit.

"Show us around?" Dean is surprised to hear his voice and he realises just how far he was starting to go- he didn’t hear anything after his small argument with Seth. Not because there wasn’t a sound- his brain just chose to ignore the sounds.

"Uh. Yeah." His voice is, as always, raspy and not really beautiful next to Roman’s. Even Seth’s nasally tone has something... endearing. But Dean? Not so much. "Let’s just get to the bedroom. I think I’m ready to go to sleep."

He moves automatically, his feet taking him to his bedroom by themselves. He knows they’re following him, too.

He slowly pushes the door open and let them in.
His bedroom is actually not that big. He likes small places better but it’s not as small as his bedroom at the motel. It just calms him down a lot when he can see every part of the room, every window, every corner.
There’s a king-size bed against a wall, a bookcase, a couch, and a desk. That’s about it, and that’s about everything Dean needs in his life anyway.

He shakes his head, groaning because his hair is still wet and trashes on his couch. “Make yourself at home, go on. I don’t mind.” He points at the bed with his hands, already yawning.

“Wait, why do you take the couch? It’s your bed.” Roman, of course, says, staying still. Seth looks a bit more hesitant, a bit more tired, also.

“Uh, because? The three of us won’t fit in there. It’s a king-size, not a palace.” He snickers, running a hand through his hair to brush them a bit. “And you’re the guests or whatever. That’s what people do, right?”

Seth shrugs, yawning a bit and already sitting down on the bed. “I mean, you’re both right. I don’t know.” He tries to settle things down like that but it doesn’t work, not with someone like Roman.

“Dean, I’m serious. Get up. Go sleep with Seth. You’re not sleeping on your… couch.” He says with a glance at the couch. Okay, maybe it’s not a new, comfy one, but Dean likes it!

“And I’m serious, I won’t sleep with your princess, man!”

“Hey, look, I’m nobody’s princess, first. You both need to calm the fuck down or you’re both sleeping on the floor.” Seth groans out, tying his wet hair up in a bun. “Dean, you can sleep here with me, it’s alright. And, actually, I’m pretty sure we can all sleep in the bed.”

When Dean opens his mouth to argue again, Roman cuts him off, frowning and pouting. “Dean, come on. Please? Just tonight? It’s just sleeping in your own bed. Why’s that a problem?”

“But you’re gonna end up on the couch, Roman.” Dean seriously says, shaking his head but starting to get up.

“I might have observed wrongly, but you don’t seem… really okay with contacts and touches.” When there’s no contradiction, Roman looks at Seth. “Seth doesn’t mind contacts. I don’t either. If we’re both sleeping with you, contacts will be there. We can’t avoid it, not with Seth’s hyperactive ass.”

“Hey!” Seth pouts and turns around, showing them his back. He stretches a bit and lies down with a smug smile. “Whatever you choose, I’m sleeping here. And I can be a bit tactile when I sleep. That’s what Ro said.” He, at least, blushes a bit but doesn’t sound really concerned. “Just push me away if I disturb you.”

Dean thinks about it. When did Roman see that?He might have a problem or two with intimacy, he’s not really wrong. He doesn’t do well with big hugs and kisses and gentle touches. He doesn’t do well with people. Actually… He doesn’t do well with life in itself.
He has nightmares. He panics easily. He can be violent. He’s dangerous.
He’s a fucking lunatic. He can’t sleep in the same bed!

“Hey, hey, hey, Dean? Look at me, Dean.”

It’s not okay. What if he tries to hurt one of them? What if he actually hurts one of them? What if they can’t stop him? What if, by the time he realizes, one of them is in a really bad state?
What if he has a flashback? What if he triggers himself and finds himself panicking hard? He just can’t.

Why did he even decide to stop being alone? He was a lonely dude for a reason. He was always alone for a fucking reason. Becky and Charlotte- they didn’t count but when did he decide that making friends with people was alright?
He has to be alone. He shouldn’t trust people. He has to be alone.

“Dean.”

Big hand on his cheek. It’s gentle. It’s soft.
He feels it coming hard. The flashback.

He can feel the hand around on his cheek moving to his neck, pressing. He feels the pain, the way he struggles for oxygen.
It lets go, and the hand moves to his shoulder. Another hand on his thigh, strong and cruel, nails digging in his skin. The scratch of beard against his stomach. Hands around his wrists, even if they’re tied up. His senses are overwhelmed. Wet noises. Rough touches. Stuffy smell.

He’s drowning.

It plays again. Again. Again.
He has to get out.
Get out?
It’s just a flashback. He can do it. It’s a flashback. It’s not real. What is real? It must be real, he can smell-
This is not okay. It doesn’t smell like it should. What’s this smell? Peppermint?Why’s there peppermint?

The burning pain in his clavicle is becoming more and more important.

Peppermint. Why peppermint?
He feels something on his tongue. It’s a taste and it’s definitely not blood. It’s usually blood.
The scene starts moving in front of his eyes, the touches are slowly disappearing.

When he finally manages to open his eyes, he takes things slowly in.
He’s safe. He’s okay. He’s at home. The gym. In Becky and Charlotte’s town. He’s not dying. And he’s definitely not back there.
He’s safe.
It was just a flashback.

“…ean? Dean, god, please? If it doesn’t work, I don’t- I don’t know- maybe we should go get Becky? Charlotte? Someone?”

Is that Seth’s voice?

It takes so much energy, but his eyes stop on Seth. It’s hard to understand the situation. But Seth definitely means present.
His mind begins to understand.
He’s curled up on the floor. He can see his fingers turning awfully white, digging hard into his skin. His legs are pressed against his chest and it definitely makes it harder to breathe - but a bit safer. His hands are around his knee and he’s scratching his clavicle hard with two fingers.
He’s definitely sweating but that’s not what caused the wetness of his face.
He’s crying. But he’s as quiet as he had been that day… that night… that moment.

Roman comes into view too. “I think- I think he’s back. Dean?” He kneels down, still worriedly looking at him. He must see something in Dean’s eyes because he sighs.

Dean closes his eyes for a second. He reminds himself of everything he knows; his names, his birthdate, the town, his friends, he forces himself to remember that he is there. He can’t go again.
“Sorry.” He lets out, even if it’s barely audible. He sounds broken. This is what a flashback does. It leaves him crying, shaking, curled up in a ball, broken once again.

“Oh gosh, he’s back. Oh fuck. Oh.” Seth sounds like he’s relaxing a bit.

“It’s alright, Dean, it’s alright. You’re back, you’re here. Can you move?” Roman asks him quietly, not moving at all to give him more time to understand.

It’s as if he had to plug his limbs back in. It’s a weird feeling every time, this impression of using an old, unused machine.
But he does it. He steadily lets go of his clavicle, raising his fingers one by one. Then, his hands. He sees bloody half-moons on his palms but doesn’t comment.
He keeps his legs close but not as close as they were before.

His face is wet. Clumsily, tiredly, he wipes his tears away, keeps doing it until he understands that he’s actually still crying. "I’m sorry..." He repeats, too tired to feel angry- he knows he should be angry. He knows showing himself that weak, that vulnerable isn’t good.

But he also knows his limits. He knows that he pushed his body too hard- first with the physical activities, the long day, the hard working out session... and then with the flashback. It’s the worst; it takes so much energy. Dean always ends up exhausted and so, so weak. He remembers how they left him, right at the beginning; unable to move for such a long time. He remembers the paranoia, the anxiety, the depression. He still feels them, trying to get a grip on his mind, but it’s been so long. It shouldn’t be that strong anymore.

"That’s great, that’s great… can we- can we touch you? Or do you need anything maybe?" Dean can see that Roman is still a bit shaken. Seth looks just confused, lost and worried.

Touching him.
He wants to say no. He wants to say yes.
He just softly nods and waits, tensing up until he feels Roman’s gentle hand on his cheek.
And he feels that this is what triggered him- but contacts usually trigger him only when he’s in a weird state of mind. Forcing physical touches are a real, all-time trigger. Keeping him from breathing too. The stuffy smell’s also a powerful trigger...
He can’t really count his triggers, but they’re here, and they don’t stop because he has to go somewhere, because he has to do something, because he doesn’t want them to see.

Seth eventually moves, sitting down next to him and brushing his hair out of the way. They’re both extremely gentle but not awfully careful; it makes Dean feel better about himself. They’re nice enough, trying not to make him panic, but they’re not acting like he’s a piece of glass, about to break down as soon as their fingers touch his skin.

He’s too tired to even feel thankful or feel bad. It’s hard to even feel something at this point. He sighs, tries to enjoy the feeling of their cool hands on his too hot skin. He needs to ground himself, he’s too tired to go through another flashback. He sees the peppermint oil bottle in Seth’s other hand.

He looks down at his own hands and, very slowly, goes for the bottle. Seth understands and gives it to him. Nobody comments when he sniffs it twice.

“Do you… need to ground yourself?” Seth finally asks, tongue sticking out as if he’s already trying to find solutions.

Dean wonders how he knows about grounding but he doesn’t have enough energy to ask about it. Instead, he thinks about what could work; anything to keep him there, in the present.

That’s when his eyes fall on Roman’s arms. He doesn’t ask, doesn’t say anything. He just takes his arm and lets his fingers run on the tattoo, trying to take every little pattern in.
If he can remember his tattoo... he’s good.

He knows he must look crazy. Hell, he just had a full flashback in front of them, cried his whole heart out, scared the shit out of them and stayed still for what must have been a solid hour.
And now, he’s just following the lines of a tattoo in silence.

"You’re still with us, uce?"

It’s probably a mind trick but it’s almost as if he could feel Roman’s deep voice vibrating through his skin.
He raises bright, electric blue eyes to look at him, fingers still running along the lines he managed to learn. "A bit..." He whispers, dazed and still feeling dizzy, almost dream-like. It’s still hard to focus on the present but he’s convinced he’s living in it at least.

"Do you need more time? Does it help? My arm?" He sounds soft, tender, as if he doesn’t want to pressure him. Dean appreciates it. He’s always slow after a flashback.

"It helps..." It’s his first real answer- he’s starting to come back around for real, but he keeps his eyes on Roman’s inked arm, his mind keeping up a rhythm. Line, line, line, line, going up the three next, line, line, line, line... it’s almost like doing mathematics and he finds it quite helpful. His head still feels really light, his mind disappearing again somewhere.

"Can I move you to the bed?"

Dean just nods. A second later, Roman’s arms slide around him and he’s being lifted up. He would have complained and refused if he was in a normal state- but even breathing is exhausting. His energy’s gone, he doesn’t have the strength to do anything.

He didn’t realize he closed his eyes until he opens them again. He’s on his side, on the bed. Seth is pressed against Roman, back against his chest. Roman’s arm is somehow still between Dean’s hands, fingers running again on the ink.

"How do you feel?" It’s Seth. Dean closes his eyes with a painful frown. Focusing on his body, he finds out that he’s really exhausted. Staying in the position he had been while being so stressed out obviously didn’t help. At least, the flashback is over. Which is a big relief.

Still, he feels awful. He’s ashamed. Weak and really, really vulnerable. His body rarely felt worse. He’s dizzy, nauseous, he feels like crying a river again but- he’s safe. He’s alive and he’s safe. And if he’s alive and safe, then he’s fine. “Been better, been worse…” He finally answers him, sweaty curls falling in front of his eyes.

“Can’t even imagine how it is when it’s worse.” Roman sadly says, his brown eyes the only visible thing above Seth’s head.

"Not something you wanna see." Dean sighs, closes his eyes for a second when he feels like his brain is starting to hurt. He prays he won’t get a headache- but that might be asking for too much.

"You can sleep, Dean. We’ll stay here if you need us. Don’t hesitate, okay?" They both look like they’re really offering him their help, their time. "We don’t mind at all. You’re part of the team. If we wanna be good, we have to be just one, and that means helping each other out."

Seth nods and gently presses Dean’s shoulder. "Yeah. And we still feel the same about you- seeing and knowing doesn’t make us threats or more than what you want us to be. And it doesn’t make you weaker or whatever, Deano. You’re tough as fuck. Might be the toughest, the strongest bastard we know."

Dean actually snickers weakly at that and bumps his forehead against Seth’s. "Don’t be stupid..." Looking down, he surprises himself, hand still on Roman’s arm. He doesn’t take it away, though, and keep doing the same movement to completely calm himself down. "Let’s just sleep... I’m exhausted."

"Yeah. We’ll keep the nightmares away. Sleep well, Dean."

And as weird as it is, with his trust issues, his past, his story, he feels safe in his bed with two guys he doesn’t even know that well. It doesn’t take long for sleep to claim him and this night, he doesn’t have a nightmare. He doesn’t dream. His sleep is painless and it might have been the first time in a long while.

Chapter Text

Something’s tickling his neck.
Something’s tickling his neck?

Dean feels his face scrunching up, he’s grimacing. What’s that?
He’s slowly starting to be conscious and it’s only a matter of time before he awakes completely, he knows it. He wishes he could sleep just a little bit more, though...
That’s when he hears a small moan, a sort of groan- he’s not really good at defining things, but it definitely did not come from his own throat.

That’s what wakes him up for good.

He rubs his cheek against the pillow, groans... and opens his eyes. The sun’s blinding him- did he forget to close the curtains? Why?
Oh.
The flashback.
That’s right. It happened.

He can still feel the consequences. His body is way too sore and his head is thumping quietly- a headache is patiently waiting around the corner, ready to attack whenever it wants. He doesn’t feel good at all- but he felt worse. This flashback wasn’t the worst- but no matter its ranking, a flashback rarely meant good stuff.
In his case, it means rough hands, pain and stuffy smell.

He’ll never go back to sleep with those thoughts floating around.
He better just gets on with his day and hopes for the best.

Still grimacing, he decides to focus his stare instead of glaring at the ceiling.
That’s when he forgets how to breathe.

Seth is pressed against him, forehead against his chest and legs between his. Hair tickling Dean’s neck, a slight frown, an arm around his own waist.

Right behind him, Roman. It seems like he’s spooning Seth, arm just under his... and Dean’s hand on his forearm, right where he traced the inked lines before. He’s the one quietly groaning.

Dean startles when Roman groans again, big eyes fixed on his face. He wonders if he’s having a nightmare.
And it’s always when he’s wondering that things get worse.

What are they going to say? Obviously, they won’t just ignore what happened. They’re not going to forget about the flashback. They won’t see him the same way they did before. Will they think he’s weak? Stupid? Useless? Will they try to leave? Maybe they’re going to go see Becky, ask her to have a new teammate.
Dean can’t even blame them if they do- that’s a weakness. He’s weak.

Is he weak? He must be- strong people don’t end up curling up in a ball and crying like a baby about things that are supposed to be in the past, do they?

His right hand starts moving on Roman’s tattoo again while his other starts scratching his collarbone.
He can’t stay with them. What are they going to think? He’s starting to breathe too fast. It’s too much. It’s always too much. He’s fucking weak. He hates it. He hates it so much.

“Mph.” Seth sleepily says, pressing his cheek right where Dean’s nails are scratching his collarbone. Tentatively, he quietly moves his shaky fingers and let them play with Seth’s hair, wrapping restless locks around his index. It seems to calm Seth down. A satisfied noise leaves his throat and he takes it as a victory.

“You’re good with him.”

Dean tries not to elbow anyone in the face but his round eyes talk miles about how scared he is. They quickly meet Roman’s gentle stare and it’s enough to make him relax almost instantly - what’s wrong with his body? "Fuck, didn’t know you were up.”

"Sorry, Deano." His voice is a bit rough and, still half-asleep, he manages to bump his forehead against Dean’s. "Want to sleep more?"

Seth is all squeezed between the two of them but he makes another happy noise- Dean decides to take it as a good sign. They don’t move more after that, Dean trying to close his eyes and drift off to sleep again... which seems impossible. "Don’t think I can. You- you can." His tongue fumbles on the words, trying to keep them in or out.

Roman doesn’t miss that- Dean can feel him frowning against his forehead. "Sorry, didn’t- I didn’t think Seth’d get this close- and I’m close too- I’m sorry- Are you- is it not okay? I can..." He’s already starting to move away with a blush on his cheeks. "I’m really sorry, I was just out of it and I didn’t think and even the headbutt- sorry Dean.."

"No, wait, it’s, uh, it’s alright." His voice sounds so small, so weird. It’s all new to him. He knows a part of his brain must be freaking out but he’s too sleepy anyway to care. Not that he can actually fall back asleep. But this closeness feels safe and comfortable. “It’s- it’s okay.” He doesn’t know if his words are for Roman or if they’re meant for himself. It doesn’t matter because it seems to work on both of them.

It’s all quiet again and Dean would have thought Roman had fallen back asleep if he couldn’t feel the slight sighs. Their foreheads are not touching anymore but Roman is close enough - Dean doesn’t dare meeting his stare, but he’s sure that if he did, he’d be able to see very clearly his eyes color.
Yet, he can feel Roman burning holes on his face. It doesn’t make him really nervous; there’s just this weird feeling that makes him want to swallow and clear his throat again and again.

Finally, after five minutes where the only sounds are Seth’s quiet noises, Roman talks again. “No matter what we’re doin’- if you, uh, ever feel uncomfortable or anything, please, tell us. Just to know if you need space or if you need somethin’…”

Dean doesn’t even have time to protest- Roman’s already slightly scowling. “I’m serious, Dean, and it’s not about you being weak or whatever the hell you’re thinking about. It’s about all of us, learning how to react around each other - and it’s about us learning each other’s boundaries and limits.”

“God, you make it sound like we’re married or somethin’.” He tries to avoid his stare and the topic for as long as he can.

“I get what you’re doing but I won’t insist. Just know that it’s alright.”

Dean opens his mouth to say something - anything, at this point - but something moves.

In a second, Seth sits up - like a fucking zombie, which scares not only Dean but also Roman, whose eyebrows are almost touching his hairline. His eyes aren’t even open, he’s just sitting there, hair sticking up all around.
He doesn’t talk, and Dean’s not sure if he should talk. Throwing a look at Roman, he sees that this is new… but not totally. They both wait a bit longer and Seth lets out a low growl.

“Toilets?” Is the only thing he asks, and he still hasn’t opened his eyes. Which he finally, reluctantly does.

“Uh. Out of the room, the second door in front of you.”

Seth just nods - a sort of thank you. He gets up, starts walking… and hits his toes against the closet.
He doesn’t even say something, doesn’t even groan. He just stays still for thirty seconds.

Dean is scared. Dean is terrified.
Who is this guy? Who can stay quiet while hitting his toes hard?
After a few more seconds, Seth turns and walks out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Dean eventually remembers that he has to breathe, and faces Roman with round eyes. “Is that- is he human?”

“I believe so.” Roman looks a bit surprised too but less terrified. He chuckles and shakes his head. “He’s often out of it when he wakes up but he gets like that when he sleeps too much or too little.”

“He looks like he slept well, though.”

“Probably did. He sleeps better with people around, and I’m not even talking about cuddling.”

Dean tries not to blush too much at that. Do they cuddle? Isn’t that a thing partners do? Well, okay, when he’s sick, Becky and Charlotte cuddle with him until he falls asleep. And Bayley does, too, every time they’re sleeping next to each other. But that’s just Bayley. She’s just like that.
Maybe people cuddled more than he thought.

He’s starting to get anxious because of the silence when the door opens again, Seth coming back in. He doesn’t look much better, still in his zombie form, but shirtless this time.
Dean doesn’t know why, doesn’t know how, but his eyes roam freely on his chest.

Seth is muscular. He’s really well-built and doesn’t look like he has even a tiny bit of fat on him. His skin is tan, but Dean can see it’s not natural; he must have exposed himself a few times outside. When he bends down to get some clothes from his back, Dean sees a tattoo on his back, following the upper part of his spine and stopping at the beginning of his neck. It’s in a language Dean doesn’t understand; a few symbols that look like it’s from Asia. He wonders what it means and, in the meantime, lets his eyes wander on his back.

He can say that Seth is someone who takes care of himself. Perfect skin, muscles everywhere- he must even have creams and masks and whatever the hell people use to have good, beautiful skin. Even after the world ended.

His eyes eventually end up on Seth’s butt and he’s not one to be ashamed of it anyway. Seth certainly looks like he put a lot of work on his bottom as he does with the rest of his body; Dean can understand. He feels strangely respectful and doesn’t look more at his butt.

Seth eventually looks back up at him and they share a quiet moment before he talks- one word, again. "Bathroom?"

"Uh, the door next to the toilets. Separate rooms."

Seth nods again, steps back with his clothes and disappear.

When Dean turns to look at Roman, he catches him staring too and it makes him feel a tiny bit better.

The morning goes by quietly, Seth taking half an hour to get ready and to start talking. They all dress up and meet up in the corridor.

The place being an old gym, next to the stairs is a sitting place with beanbags, chairs and a few small tables. They choose to eat their breakfast there, Dean enjoying the comfort of the beanbag.

He has half a cereal bar in his mouth when Seth clears his throat- after half an hour spent in the bathroom, he looks a bit more alive, now. "So, about... about yesterday."

Dean eats his cereal bar in silence, feeling anxiety pooling in his stomach, pressing down against his lungs. He tries not to show any of that, instead throwing the paper of his breakfast in the little trash bin he has to take out of town once a month.

Roman looks up at that from the book he has been reading ("hey Dean, are the books all yours? Can I take one?"), brown eyes barely visible above the pages. "Actually, about that. I don’t want to put pressure on you about it. Just know that it’s alright."

"No... pressure abou’ it?" Dean confusedly asks, frowning like a lost puppy. "I don’t- I don’t understand. What d’ya mean by tha’?"

"Well, you know. I won’t ask stuff. It’s... only up to you if you want to talk about it but it doesn’t change the way I see you." Roman looks at Seth for a second. "I don’t know about you."

"Uh, yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. I don’t think that it gives us the right to ask and remind you about everything so, yeah, we will listen if you want to talk about it but we won’t force you."

"You... you won’t force me?" His voice is shaking when he talks and his face is scrunched up in confusion. "People- people don’t do that. They, uh, they ask, and then, then, they get pissed off and they yell..."

"People suck. We won’t do that. I just think we should maybe talk about triggers?"

At Roman’s words, they both look at him with raised eyebrows. He raises his hands innocently. "Don’t look at me like that. I know a thing or two about psychology and everythin’." Roman, then, looks at Dean with a soft smile. "We just need to know what’s off-limits. Don’t go into details, just... what’s not okay. What is definitely going to make you freak out."

They stay quiet and Dean knows it’s his turn to talk. But triggers? He wasn’t expecting that. In fact, he thought they would ask and force their way through his answers...
"Uh, I don’t- I..." He loses his words every time he thinks about something. It doesn’t come out of his mouth and he’s left blushing a bit and mostly pissed off at himself. He worked through all of that during therapy. He did it there, why can’t he do it here?

"Maybe we can ask questions, if you’re okay with it?" Seth helps him out and when Dean nods, he thinks for a second. "What are usual triggers?"

"Uh, crowds? Are they a trigger?" Roman provides with a frown, a bit hesitant.

Dean thinks. Are crowds a trigger? Does he feel like crowds are bad for him? "Not- not a trigger. But I’m a bit afraid of crowds. Don’t like it."

"Okay... Is there somethin’ with smells or taste? Let’s get that out of the way directly, it’s easier, maybe?”

“Alcohol- I, uh… It’s-“ How can he explain it? He tries to find something to explain but it’s so hard. He sighs and shakes his head. “A trigger and- uh, used it to cope- but it’s a trigger, yeah.”

“Okay, no alcohol. Smells? Like… A perfume or something else?”

He rubs his nose, grounds himself a bit, scratches his collarbone. “Stuffy smell. Uh, basement kinda smell. It- happened in a basement.” He looks down at his feet, his toes pressing down against the ground. “Smells, uh… Burnt- burnt skin.” His fingers find the scars on his back, the ones on his thighs, too. “Dirty water? Stagnant water…”

“Okay, at least they’re not common smells.” Seth says, noticing that Roman’s jaw is clenched. “Is that everythin’ with smells? Taste too?”

“Uh, just…” He licks his lips, leans back down against the beanbag until he feels wrapped in it. “Havin’ something in my mouth- like, like a gag or a… piece of cloth…” Roman looks like he wants to say something but doesn’t dare. “I- I can handle things on my mouth but not, not in…”

“It’s alright, Dean. We’re almost done. It’s just to make sure we don’t accidentally trigger you.” Seth quickly says, looking so serious Dean can’t ignore the fact that they do try to help him out. He’s not sure how he feels about it. “Anythin’ else?”

“If- if I say no if you try to touch me, please, uh, don’t keep going? I think- I think, uh, my therapist, he… he used to say I was getting better with contacts so- it should be alright, but I’m not sure so…”

"Of course, it’s alright. When you don’t want, we won’t force anything. Are touches alright in general?" Dean is pretty sure Seth would have blushed a bit if he wasn’t so involved in the discussion. It makes him feel warm and respected... which isn’t often.

"Uh, I’m not- really good at... that... but I didn’t- I didn’t have a problem with it until now so- it’s, it’s okay."

It actually went well during the morning. Dean tries to think back, tries to remember every time they touched him... and the feelings that went with it.
He can’t remember a single negative feeling so he just nods again.

Seth looks a bit relieved, at least. "Okay... remember that you can always tell us if something isn’t good. You don’t have to be ashamed or anything. Right, Ro?"

Roman looks up, his face switching expressions in a second. Dean saw anger on his face and it makes him tense up a bit, feeling his fists clenching almost as a reflex. But what comes out of his mouth isn’t bad at all. "Yeah. Do you have anything to add about this? Do you want to stop talking about it?"

Does he? He’s not really comfortable but, well, he understands... it’s actually really to help him out. To avoid flashbacks. And avoiding flashbacks is important. He can’t go back to how he had been after the trauma. He has to get better. "Uh, I... thank you." He looks at his feet, frowning. He doesn’t like thanking people but they clearly deserve it. Awkwardly, he says the first thing that comes to his mind. "I, uh, you... I have PTSD. You know. Just so. Just so you can kno’ what it is. To understand. I guess."

"Thank you for telling us." Roman sounds a bit emotional, as if Dean had told him a sacred secret, something huge and pure when it is, in fact, just a shame. "Can I ask what... what happened yesterday? You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. No pressure."

Dean takes a breath. Nails burying themselves in the skin of his collarbone. "A flashback. It doesn’t... usually happen but I’m fuckin’ dumb and I triggered myself."

"It probably happens to other people too, you’re not dumb." Roman jumps in, tone authoritative - and Dean doesn’t try to argue with him, too tired to do that.

"What do you need us to do during things like that?" They genuinely look concerned and worried and strangely... it doesn’t feel like they’re pitying him. They’re not forcing him to talk about the trauma nor are they saying he’s inventing it. That’s already something.

"Mh, mostly groundin’ me? Things to make me... remember that I’m ‘ere. Feelin’ stuff works well. Like... ice cubes?" He frowns a bit. "Strong smells and sensations? Peppermint’s a good way. Always got some on me." When he notices that they still look a bit lost, he bites his bottom lip. “Uh, because… It was a flashback, yesterday? Not the TV kind of flashbacks but… It’s like… living trauma again. Uh, you know, really living it, takes your senses as if you were back there…”

“So you need to remember that you’re in the present…” Seth summarizes which gets a nod from Dean and a comprehensive look from Roman.

Nobody talks much more after that, finishing their breakfast quickly- a poor excuse but hey, it’s the apocalypse, they can’t make scrambled eggs and bacon every morning. Roman and Dean both disappear in different rooms to get ready.
It gives time to all of them, allowing them to think about the whole situation.

Dean thinks in black, he thinks that he messed everything up. He thinks that he needs to put distance between all of them because if he doesn’t do it first, they will. They will realize that he isn’t normal, that he’s fucked up. His mind is a dark place and the flashback triggered every negative thought he had.

Roman thinks in blue, worry and concern sneaking up into every thought he can have, whispering theories and squeezing his heart until he feels like physically wrapping his arms around Dean to protect him from the world - but there’s no world to protect him from, no desire to be protected. It leaves him feeling useless, powerless, but he understands how Dean is feeling and he can’t really blame him for that.

Seth thinks in red, connections in his mind leading to a soft, bubbling anger. He can’t erase the pleading sounds Dean made, and the thick tears on his cheeks. He can’t forget the blood under Dean’s nails because of how much he scratched his collarbone. Then, he thinks in green, every new theory bringing up more disgust because someone must have done something awful to Dean and just the thought makes him sick.

They don’t say a word about their thoughts when they decide to go back to the motel. Despite that, their actions talk for them, Roman always keeping an eye on Dean and a hand on his shoulder and on Seth’s, Seth losing himself in his thoughts and Dean trying to avoid their stares.
They go down with their stuff - after Seth insisted that they definitely should leave a bunch of clothes just in case they lose their bags, to still have something, somewhere safe. After that, well, they don’t talk a lot.

Seth carefully avoids the traps, Dean checks that everything is alright with his only safe place beside the motel, and they leave. Maybe the girls would send them back to make sure they work out together and spar and get along well. But maybe they’ll have a job for them. With two new guys anyway, Dean’ll soon have to go around town and maybe he’ll even have to go to the towns around to find some food.

Once again, the walk back is very quiet but something seems off. At first, Dean ignores it. Things always seem off when it comes to him. Well, usually, it’s not because he’s crazy, but because something is actually wrong but… He’s barely recovering from his flashback. Maybe it just affects him more than he thought it would.

But it’s weird. He can feel his body tensing up, warning him… but why? The word is leaving his mouth before he can stop himself. “Somethin’ is wrong.” He hisses, looking around. The street is deserted, quiet.

Seth and Roman both look at him with surprised faces and interrogations in their eyes. “What? Do you see something we don’t?” Roman asks in a whisper, also looking around them.

“I don’t… I don’t know. I’m not sure. A feelin’.” He can’t stop himself from checking behind them twice, fists clenched. “Something’s wrong and I-“

“Deano, man, ’t’s been a while!”

Dean’s face automatically switches into a relieved-yet-not-so-much expression, a sigh leaving his lips. Behind him are three black men, wearing colorful outfits and… pancakes?
Roman and Seth both look lost and torn between Dean’s tensed up stance and the three friendly faces in front of them.

“Oh, wait, wait, are they… the new… guys?” The biggest says, eyes shining. His smile must be as big as he is- and even Roman isn’t sure he could take him in a fight. “Ouh, man!”

“Oi, Woods, when I said- Hey, lads! Fancy seeing you here!” Now Becky appears, running behind the three new guys with an annoyed look. When her eyes fall on the Shield, a small grin appears on her features.

“Becks, we were actually on our way to-“

“Yeah, well, change of plan. I need the three of you down the Mall road, usual stuff, maybe kill a few bastards.” She looks a bit more tired than she did before, bags under her eyes and nervous tics. “We got new people. Around five, actually. Didn’t see all of ‘em.”

“Five? Man, hope they’re cool. Dude, Breezango are cool but I’m not up for two other clowns!”

“Five?” Dean also repeats, worry starting to fill in. So many new people. Sasha and Bayley certainly work hard on their plantations but it will never be enough for as many people. And if they’re not fighters… “That’s… A lot, Becks.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I actually need all of you searchin’ fo’ some food.” She looks behind her, probably ready to fly back to the motel. Things must be going fast. “Uh, also, Roman, d’you have family ‘round?”

Roman visibly tries not to look too confused but he fails. “Uh, yeah. I mean, got a few cousins here- I have a big family but they’re mostly away… why?”

“Ah, ‘cause two of the five new people have tatts. Look like yers… thought it might be someone you kno’!”

Dean can literally feel Roman’s surprise and excitement and confusion… and pretty much one hundred emotions rolling out of him in waves. “Two? Were they twins? Black hair?”

“Uh. Probably? They look alike. And they actually look like ya, now tha’ you mention it.”

“Roman? Do you think-“

“Yeah, Jey and Jimmy. I knew those fuckers were alive.” He can’t fight the big smile on his lips and the happy tears- even if they stay calmly in his eyes for a few seconds.

“Well, I’ll tell ‘em you’re ‘ere but they’re actually goin’ through the other side of town to get a flat an’ everythin’. And we really need food.” She’s firm and authoritative… and Roman doesn’t look like he minds.

“Yeah, I get it. Just tell ‘em I’m here and fine. Seth, too. I’ll talk to them tonight.”

“Yeah, perfect, fab. Thanks, guys. Oi, now, time to work! See ya.”

And she disappears just like that. They all stay quiet- of course with the New Day, not for long. “Well, you heard the Man too! We have t’go. Deanie beanie, you’ll introduce us later, yeah?” Kofi says with a smile while Big E high fives him and Xavier pats his shoulder. They go the other way, walking and talking loudly, as always.

Seth is the first one to move, hands on his hips. “Well, you heard them. Let’s move.”

“Uh. Yeah. Okay. The motel’s too far, we should get goin’. And I think… yeah, Finn’s not that far. We’re gonna stop there, to grab some weapons, some empty bags.” He thinks while walking, fingers going around the handle of his knife, anxiously playing with it.

“Uh, and, who were the three dudes with Becky?” Roman eventually asks with raised eyebrows which reminds Dean that he didn’t talk about the New Day at all.

“Oh, the New Day. Big one is Big E, small one is Xavier and the last one’s Kofi. They’re loud but they’re really useful. They fight and they work all the time ‘round town. They help Bay’ and Sasha quite a lot…” He rambles, guiding them through the streets with easiness, eyes constantly guarding the place. Thankfully, it has been quite a while since the last time people with bad intentions (alive or not) broke into the town. It’s not like they have walls all around, but they patrol a few times a day around, keeping people out of town if possible.
At least, the town isn’t near a crowded place and they didn’t suffer from the virus that much.

He’s telling them that while walking, only reaching Finn’s place ten minutes later. The building looks abandoned and almost hostile, shattered windows and doors on the floor. The walls look ugly and old, as does the rest of the building anyway. Dean knows the place but still doesn’t feel completely fine in it. Even though he understands that people wouldn’t come to look there.

“Hey, yo, Finn, you here?” He shouts while stepping on the door, waving a hand around his nose to push the dust away. He notices Seth’s hesitation and Roman’s carefulness and is not even surprised by it. “There’s nothing dangerous here, you can follow me. I swear.”

Seth looks at him with round eyes, deer caught in headlights kind of look, but nods and follows him inside, Roman just behind him.

“Dean?” Eventually, Finn appears from another room, looking a bit tired but certainly better than he did back at the motel before. “Oi, hello lads. Need somethin’?”

“Uh, yeah. Becks wants us to go get food. Some new peeps are around. We need to get empty bags and some weapons, if you have a few that you don’t use.”

“Oh, ‘kay. Under the couch. I’m gonna go too.” He looks slightly worried, and Dean understands why. There’s also a sick feeling in his stomach. They work really hard to give anyone enough food to do at least two meals a day but with new people? If they manage to have a meal every day, it’d be a miracle. At least, if they’re Roman’s family, they might be fighters. Maybe they will help.

Scratching his collarbone, he moves to lift the couch. Under it, there is a small closed box. He types the code quickly and it opens up, revealing a few guns and more small weapons, going from knives to hammers and even nunchakus. “Ro, Seth, come here and take something.”

They both walk closer, peeking inside the box. “Why does he have so many weapons?” Seth asks while squatting down to inspect the knives.

“When he met us, he told us we were not prepared enough so we robbed a gun shop. Since his place is the most discreet one - like, who would walk in this building? -, we decided to let them here. Also, he takes pretty good care of ‘em so it was really the best option here.”

Seth hums in answer while taking a knife and playing with it. On Dean’s other side, Roman goes straight for the guns, already sliding a handgun in a holster - Becky really thought about everything. “We should all take a handgun with us. To keep us safe if it’s not safe enough to use knives or hammers or whatever.”

Dean takes the advice and also grabs a handgun. Seth seems a little bit more hesitant, his hands going for the nunchakus first. “Can you shoot?” The words are leaving Dean’s mouth before he can stop himself, already starting to think about everything with this new probability.

“I- yeah. I just… really dislike it. Can’t I just take something else? Not a gun?” He asks with a slight frown, a small, relieved smile replacing it when Roman nods.

“Still, you should take one. Just in case you’re surrounded and we can’t help right away. No need to use it except in very urgent situations. Are you okay with that?”

Dean sees the way Seth’s face fall a little bit but he doesn’t comment. He can understand both of them; he’s not a fan of guns either, but it’s mostly for safety purpose. If he had had a gun before, he wouldn’t be injured now. Even if he’s not comfortable with guns… well, he has to.

After that, they let their bags in one of the empty rooms to take empty ones. They also choose some light weapons and a few minutes later, they’re gone, Finn following them for a bit and then, going the opposite way. Dean trusts Finn enough to let him wander around alone- he’s strong and fast. He can make it out alive.

Being with the two almost feel natural and it scares Dean a bit. He’s not used to trusting people that much that soon. But it feels like it’s not something new, as if they had always been there, right next to him. It’s not the case.

And since they’re new, they need a briefing. “Uh, so, there’s like, this huge mall at the center, right.” It’s a known place so they just nod. “And the road leading to it basically goes through the entire town and used to be, you know, shops and restaurants an’ everythin’.”

“Yeah, I used to go get coffee not far from the mall. Are we gonna get food from the mall?”

“Nah, already did.” Dean shakes his head, still very careful of their environment. They can’t get surprised. “The mall’s almost empty now. I mean, except the clothes and dumb stuff. Not useful. The shops around are pretty much empty too. I know a few discreet places that might still have something but… if we can’t find enough food, we’re heading to the next town. It’s smaller but that means people usually don’t really try for that.”

They all seem to think it’s a good enough plan so they go for that. They walk and walk in silence, the sun not strong enough to actually burn their skin but present enough to keep them warm. The winter had been awful but for now, the summer doesn’t look too bad; it seems like a cold one… which isn’t something awful.
They don’t see any survivors. Nobody lives around the mall- if people from other places try to rob something, they’ll be there. The rest of the town is where they hide to avoid troublemakers. It works well enough.

At some point, Dean raises his hand- he’s not sure about the gesture but Roman and Seth both stop. Nothing feels wrong but Dean stays extra careful in that part of town. It’s risky, not too dangerous… but certainly not safe either. “You follow me. Quietly. There might be… bad people. Robbers. Foreigners in general. Stay careful. Always have a knife in your hand… and if you hear a noise, get your gun out. Just to threaten if it’s human. Probably no hungry guys around, though. If I click my tongue once, it means that something is wrong or coming our way. If I click twice, it means danger. Get it?”

Dean follows Roman’s hand when it goes for the two hammers he put in his pockets. Seth nods, also taking out his knife. Dean does the same, and they start moving on the big road. They stay hidden but not too close from the shops; Dean gestures toward the windows, telling them to be careful not to be grabbed from inside.
Their signs are a bit confused at first but they soon start talking with their hands to each other in a clear and fluent way. A few minutes later, they start hunting, going into the first shop Dean believes to be full.

It’s not, but they manage to get a few tin cans which is already not too bad for a beginning. Seth got himself a cap, which seems to make him very happy, and Dean stole some cigarettes and some gums- pretty useful to not feel hungry.

After that, they go back to walking around, staying quiet and checking every corner and every dark spot. Even if they eventually find someone, they have to see them first to avoid the surprise effect. Dean knows for a fact that this can quickly change someone’s fate. He lost fights because of that effect in the past, but also won some all thanks to that. It’s all about being more clever than the enemy.

Time goes by. They check shops, fast foods, even get a few books from a library. The street is empty but their bags are half-full. It’s nowhere near Dean’s goal but it’s an effective day; he went back to the motel with less than that before. Especially since they have two more bags which are almost full.
It’s not going to save everyone but it’s certainly going to help. If they can do the same the next day, they should all be good. Especially if the new guys start doing it too.

He’s grabbing a lonely tin can when he slowly stands back up. Seth and Roman aren’t as lucky, looking everywhere in vain.
Dean gestures that they should go back. No matter if it’s back at Finn’s or at the motel; the closer, the better. They just need to get rid of the bags- they’re resources and he doesn’t want to be robbed. Even though he’s fast, he doubts Roman and Seth would do as good; they don’t know the city as well as he does.

He’s about to get out when he hears a sound. Almost instantly, he clicks his tongue once and gets down, fingers wrapping themselves around his knife. He takes his bag off and hides it behind the counter, nodding when Roman and Seth do the same. The bags have to be safe first. They need food.

After that, they stay silent, not moving, observing the street. What was that sound?
It could just have been an object that they previously moved. Maybe it fell down.
Maybe the wind moved something outside. Leaves. Anything, really. Maybe there’s a stray cat.

Or maybe there’s someone. A survivor. A hungry guy. Something.

He can’t let Roman and Seth get injured. That would be his fault, his mistake. He can’t let that happen. They need to go back.
It’s not safe.
What should he be doing?
If he had been alone, he would have been far gone. But Roman is heavier. He, himself, is injured. They don’t know the city. If they have to lose someone by using small paths they won’t know and won’t find him back right away. They can get lost. Captured. Killed.

The best option is to wait it out. If they don’t hear another sound in thirty seconds, they’ll grab the bags and escape through the back door as quietly and as quickly as possible. If they hear another sound, they’ll evaluate the situation and see what’d work best.

It stays quiet for twenty good seconds. Dean is about to tell them to move when he feels something. As if his mind couldn’t let him go right now. He tries to focus. Something must be wrong. The sounds. The sight. The smell.
The smell?

He smells again. Again. There’s another smell. One that isn’t Roman’s welcoming scent or Seth’s calming one. It’s not his either. What is it?

He barely has time to click his tongue. The next second, sounds are exploding in his ears. And when he realises what is happening, he’s almost knocked out by a very strong kick. A hand goes on his mouth and nose- a tissue. Something almost immediately burns his nostrils and his tongue, a heavy scent settling in his lungs.
He doesn’t have to be a doctor to know what it is. He experienced it before.
And it’s not good.

He tries to fight the big arms, manages to see a man with dark hair and a beard - is it a fucking trend? He also tries his best to punch and bite and he’s pretty sure something he did is what caused the strangled cry. He hears struggling around, muffled sounds, a heavy bump. He feels something touching his hand.

Just after that, his eyes close because he inhaled too much of the scent, and he’s out that easily, unable to help his boys. Unable to save them. Unable to save himself.

Chapter Text

Life never really liked Dean. Dean never really liked life anyway.
Nothing new. Dean went through hell and survived. He spent his life fighting only for the right to stay alive, to stay there. He lost so many things in that process, but he survived.

Waking up was always the part he hated the most about life, mostly because he always ended up in weird places, in weird situations. Everything was always so weird. He woke up in the grass, in mansions, in the streets, he woke up everywhere and it was almost always a bad surprise.

This time is no exception. When he comes back around, his head is swinging like hell. It feels like waking up in a roller coaster, in the middle of a specific energetic bit. He also has one hell of a headache, feeling like his eyes are burning.
This probably goes in the "worst waking up moments" category.

Eventually, he fights down nausea, stops to check his body - which seems mostly okay, well, not okay, but normal - and finally decides that he should open his eyes.

When he does, he needs a minute to adjust. He’s in a very dark room, tied up, on a chair.
The situation is familiar. He ignores it.

There’s no light- he’s sure windows aren’t in the room... and the most time he spends thinking about it, the most awkward he feels. There mustn’t be a lot in this room. He can just tell it.
He clicks his tongue once. He can’t hear any other breathing pattern so he can easily say that he’s alone. But maybe there’s an animal. Or maybe it can help him out in a different way; is he in a closed, buried room?

He needs every piece of information he can get.

Because, if he’s right - and he knows he is -, he’s been kidnapped. He can’t afford losing time.

Clicking his tongue again, he thinks, ignoring the headache and the growing pain and uncomfort. The room seems mostly empty because the noises echo- just a tiny bit, but it’s enough to know that.

Where can he be? He’s pretty sure every enemy he had were dead by now.
Thinking about how many people can’t stand his guts isn’t the way to do it.

What can he remember?

Seth and Roman.

Well, they’re not in the room with him. He lists off some possibilities:
a) they got away. Which seems very unlikely. They wouldn’t leave him behind, would they? They’d try, at least. He’s almost sure they would.
b) the bastards who took him weren’t interested in them and choose to either let them go (or more likely, unconscious in the shop) or kill them.
c) they have their own little room.

He’s not sure which one would be better. Maybe he shouldn’t think about that.
But he’s definitely not leaving this place without them. He just can’t. He doesn’t care if he’s caught again, as long as they’re not there too.

He doesn’t have time to think about why he feels like that; he has to find a way to escape. He can feel his anxiety starting to push oxygen away from his lungs, wrapping its spikes around his throat until he has to stop thinking just to breath.

The setting is the same. He doesn’t want to try and sniff; he knows the stuffy smell will be there. He doesn’t need that. He doesn’t need PTSD right now. This is a life threatening situation and he needs to get out of there.

Are the ties solid? He can’t refrain the sigh when he realises he can feel cords digging in his skin when he starts to move his wrists. Of course. Fucking rope.
He can feel that he doesn’t have any knives on him. He’s still wearing their black pants, the Shield’s pants, and the tank top, but the vest is gone. If only he could see, maybe it’s not that far. Maybe there’s a table near.

"...starting? Oh, ‘kay. Hello, Dean."

The light is a bit too strong for Dean’s sensitive eyes but he forces himself anyway, squinting and groaning. There’s a TV in front of him, against one of the wall.
A guy is talking. He must be in his fourties, his fifties; white hair, just basically has this old-looking face.

"I’m deeply sorry if you don’t like this room but... the ball isn’t on your side. Deeply sorry."

The bastard doesn’t look sorry at all, moving his arms and his hands every time he talks as if to illustrate an absent argumentation.

"You see, Dean, I know you. Behind the door, I’ve gathered a few things that you will mainly... well, dislike."

He licks his lips while clapping loudly once. Dean doesn’t look away.

"But you can change that." Looking down for a second. A script, maybe? "I need to talk to Miss Lynch and Miss Flair. I know that they are your friends."

Becky and Charlotte. Why does he want them?
His brain is starting to make connections. The biggest theory is that the McMahon’s got him.
He doesn’t need to think hard to believe it. "McMahon, of course, fucker..." He mumbles, slightly tugging on the ropes to try and get them loose- doesn’t work really well. It just burns.

"Oh, didn’t think you’d be clever enough to understand."

Fucking live. Dean tries to see if there’s a camera near him, watching his movement; the room is still too dark for that but he’s sure that there is one... or more.

“Anyway, you see, we need your little friends but we know they wouldn’t come talk to us if it wasn’t for you, Dean. You know, I respect friendships.”

The rope isn’t giving up any time soon. Now that he feels a little bit more awake, he’s pretty sure he could try using some strength… but not in front of that idiot.

“Won’t give you the girls. Stop your bullshit.” He mumbles, looking away, trying to find anything that could help… but there’s not much around him.

McMahon’s face falls. He shakes his big, potato face. “Ah, Dean. I value your loyalty. You’re a great friend.” His tone is achingly sweet, every hair on Dean’s body sticking up- his mind screams alert. "But that’s too bad, really. We’ll see in a few minutes, then."

The screen goes dark again.

Dean is tensing up more and more. Something bad must be coming. What could it be?
The voice in his head is starting to go all crazy but is it really wrong though? Torture might be the end game.

He can handle it. He totally can. He’s a cool survivor and he’ll find a way to escape.
He always does.

It seems like he has time. He tries to stand up once, twice. Again. Again. It really hurts his arms and his thighs but he doesn’t care. It doesn’t work well for now but he’s sure he just needs to take his time and calm the hell down.

Instead, he closes his eyes and focuses on his breath. He can hear his former therapist reminding him that breathing exercises can sometimes be the key. He remembers the funny receptionist with her weird accent, always helping him out when he was too down to even get out of the building.
He needs to focus on good memories.
The endless chats with Bayley in the shop, the bellyache because of how much they used to laugh. His working out sessions and the huge satisfied feeling he got out of it. Every time he went out with Becky and Charlotte. Finding new, interesting friends along the way.

It works as well as it can and Dean doesn’t feel too bad. He’s about to keep trying when he hears something outside of his room.
Footsteps.

He keeps his happy memories close but prepares himself. He will have to be strong. He still has to go get his boys. He has to protect everyone.
He can’t fail.

The door opens and Dean uses the small light it provides to see.
There’s nothing in the room except the TV.

When he stares at the man who got in, he feels his heart stopping almost instantly.
He can feel that he’s becoming sweaty. He’s still. Terrified. He can’t breathe.

"Hello, Jon. Or, well, Dean."

Dean is going to be sick. He’s going to die.
It’s not possible.

"You look bette’ than ye did las’ time."

His voice.
It’s not- how? Why? Why him? Why now?

"Already scared? Can’t blame ye."

He’s shaking. He’s terrified. But he can’t show. He can’t show it. He keeps the most neutral face he can keep while panicking.

"I saw what ye said ‘bout me to yer therapist. Not nice. I think I helped ye out. See, you pay for things now, don’t ye?"

Dean squeezes his eyes shut as tight as he can. He wants to disappear.
The memories are coming back hard. He has to fight.
He has to overcome.
For the Shield. What will they do to them?
He can’t let go.

But he’s going to die. He can’t fight him. He’s going to die.

"Shane’s a cleve’ lad, he found yer therapist... forced him, bought the files ‘ere... he found me, and ‘ere we go."

Of course. He hopes he’s the only one with... such a weakness. He can't help but hope they don't know what are Seth and Roman's weaknesses.
He wants to move. He wants to try something, anything, but he’s still. He can’t move a muscle. His body refuses as soon as he thinks about it.
He feels really bad. Is he going to faint?

"I jus’ wanted to say hi, pretty face. I have a few things t’do... then, I’ll be back. Jus’ for ye. I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout ye a lot, couldn’t wait to hear yer pleading sounds again."

Don’t throw up, Dean, don’t throw up.

"See ya later, pretty. Don’t miss me too much."

His big hands stop on his thighs- he uses that to lean down and to press a kiss on his ear. Then, he pulls his hair back and slaps him- not hard enough to make him groan but still enough to leave a small mark and a burning sensation.

He steps back, smirking, and leaves the room.

Dean wants to throw up. He wants to die.
He can’t believe it’s happening again.
It’s not possible. It’s not true. He’s having a nightmare, he’s going to wake up and maybe Seth will be there or Roman will gently squeeze his neck.
But maybe he’s all alone. He has always been alone. People don’t want him. People don’t need him. Nobody needs him. Nobody likes him.

His head is starting to hurt badly.
He can’t lose it, he can’t. He has to get out of there. For his boys and his girls. He can’t lose his mind. He has to be stronger.

He just needs a bit of comfort. He just needs someone or something to ground him.

The necklace appears in his mind. Does he still have it? He looks down, rubs his jaw against his neck until he can feel it. With a sigh, he keeps rubbing it with his jaw, finding comfort in such a simple thing. He’s sobbing before he knows it, body shaking so hard he’s afraid he’s going to break something.
He doesn’t stop rubbing his jaw against the necklace, stays like that until he can finally feel the darts around his lungs disappear. His whole body still hurts like a bitch but... if he can stay sane a little bit longer, he’ll take it.

When he feels ready, he starts to move. He gets up slowly, half-crouched because of the chair still tied to him. It puts a lot of pressure on his wrists, ankles and torso but he doesn’t have a choice.
Big breath. And he runs back into the wall. The chair digs into the flesh of his back but he doesn’t care.
He keeps doing it until the chair finally gives up. Thankfully, the chair is in wood and doesn’t need that much strength to be broken. Thankfully. They probably didn’t have enough time to give... him a stronger chair. Like last time.

The chair eventually breaks, sending wood everywhere. At least, Dean can now stand upright. He grabs one of the chair’s legs with a sigh.

He‘s still tied up. The rope won’t break and the piece of wood he grabbed isn’t strong enough to cut through it.
He’s fucked.

His breath is starting to go crazy when the door opens.
Goodbye, life.
He knows he won’t be able to go on with his life once again. He just can’t.

Clutching the piece of wood in between sweaty fingers, he tenses up, ready to fight... and maybe get killed.

But it’s not his abuser that crosses the door.

It’s a smaller guy, with brown hair and clever blue eyes.

"Oh God. Oh. Fuck. I almost fainted because of you, Bálor. I can’t believe it." He breathes out, letting his chair’s leg go almost instantly.

"Oi, sorry. Wasn’t sure wha’ I was gonna find ‘ere."

"We must be fast. He’s- he’s coming back. And we need to get Seth and Roman. Keep the stories about how later. Untie me, first."

Finn stays quiet, moving in the shadows and without a sound. He unties him with a knife and takes a second to pat his shoulder.
Dean ignores it. He can’t take any comfort right now or he will break down - and they don’t need a breakdown.

"You know where they are?"

"Heard noises. Not much ‘ere. I think we’re in an abandoned warehouse, ye kno’."

"Hidden. Clever, I guess. Let’s move quick. If- if they notice I’m gone..."

He doesn’t need to say more- Finn understands too.
They get out of the room, Dean taking one of Finn’s guns. He prefers knives but it’s not the right time to use knives. They were ready to put Dean through trauma once again so if he can kill one of them... he won’t say no. At least, if he can hurt them...

The corridor is dark and smells surprisingly like someone threw a ton of fish in there. Dean doesn’t like it but they don’t have a choice.

Finn moves so quietly he has to stay close to him in order not to lose him. Tons of different corridors later and Dean doesn’t know where they are. It seems like this maze isn’t hard to understand for Finn, which makes Dean thinks; did he know the place before? Maybe the girls did.

He tries to stay focused on the task at hand. The whole building is completely silent. He can hear the sound of water near- the ocean isn’t that close so they must be near a lake or a river, which would explain the smell.

"We’re close?" He ends up asking after their fifth turn, voice so small he wonders if Finn heard him right.

"Yeh. Think it’s Seth. Not sure. If he’s not alone, lemme take care of the guy. Stay quiet."

Dean doesn’t argue. He knows and trusts Finn enough to let him lead, especially if he knows the place.
They keep walking, following walls. At some point, Dean is pretty sure he can hear sounds; low voices for sure. His hearing is good but not as good as Finn’s.

They do get stronger and stronger. They now can hear a man almost clearly. His voice is strong but it seems like he has a small elocution problem.

Finn stops before the door. He starts gesturing at Dean and it takes them a couple of seconds to understand each other.
They will both try to knock down the opponent. As soon as Finn can handle him alone, Dean’ll help the guy who’s locked up in there.
They’ll have to be fast and precise.

Dean is about to kick down the door when Finn stops him. He gets out a pair of keys from his pocket with a smirk- which looks like the exact same pair that was on his abuser’s jeans.
He probably stole them. Without being seen. Which is one hell of a crazy thing to do.
Dean smiles down at him, tries not to throw up because he's still heavily triggered and nauseous, and lets him open the door.

Everything escalates quickly from then. They both dive on the small, muscular guy. He’s visibly surprised and scared, but one good punch makes him confused enough- Finn can knock him out by himself.
The next second, Dean turns toward the chair. Seth is sitting on it, looking a bit shaken, dried blood around his nose, but really relieved.
Dean doesn’t lose time and quickly unties him, hands shaking. His mind keeps reminding him that he’s at least safe now that he’s with them. Seth is safe. First objective is complete.
He hears a sound above his head but totally ignores it- then, a big thump, and the guy is down at their feet.

"Oh hell no." Seth lets out, slowly standing up with a grimace. "Thanks. I think he was gonna start serious stuff."

"Yeh. We’ve to get to your lad." Finn looks alarmed and a bit worried- from now on, Dean’s abuser should notice pretty soon what’s happening. They don’t have time.

But Dean can’t help it. He throws his arms around Seth in a clumsy hug, trying not to break down, trying to forget about what almost happened and what happened the last time he was in such a situation.

Seth takes a second to understand. He doesn’t reject him. He looks like he’s happy about the hug but slightly sad, and wraps his arms around Dean, pressing a kiss in his hair and whispering a small "you’re good, you’re okay baby boy" in his ear. He’s not even sure if Dean heard him, but when they step back, Dean isn’t shaking anymore.

Finn doesn’t comment, already going through the door. They follow him without asking anything.

They just need to find Roman and then, they’re out of here. Every second in there is a second closer to their deaths. Dean refuses to let this happen.
He keeps track of every window, counting them to ground himself. His fingers are around his necklace to keep it from making noise.

Seth follows Finn’s rules without any problem; he stays quiet and trusts him. Dean’s pretty sure he’s following Finn just because Dean does... but that’s good enough already. At least he doesn’t question his presence or the fact that he’s flying through the warehouse without having any difficulties.

But it is too easy. At one point, Finn raises his hand and they all freeze. They’re pressed against a wall, in the dark.

"...check on him no’. Go back to Shane at the headquarters."

It’s his voice.
Dean starts shaking again. His fingers are locked so tight around the necklace he’s scared he’s going to break it. He finds himself barely hissing words. "I can’t- I can’t- I..."

"Focus on me."

He feels arms wrapping themselves around his own, fingers forcing him to softly let go. He blindly takes Seth’s hand, only now noticing that he closed his eyes. He feels Seth’s body behind him, hears him breathing down his ear, feels the warmth and his hair against his neck.

"’Ve ye seen my keys? No? Might have left ‘em ‘round Jon’s room. Gonna check."

Dean tries not to whimper. He’s not that weak. He’s not weak. He’s not- he wants to cry. He’s still shaking.

Footsteps are getting closer and closer. He leans back against Seth, hand going on his own mouth to keep himself as quiet as possible. Seth hugs him.
They don’t move.

The footsteps are almost there. He’s going to find them. He’s going to see them. They’re going to die.
Dean is terrified. He can’t go back. They’re almost out, aren’t they?
Some superior being must have heard him, because his abuser goes left and disappears.

His whole body transforms into jelly almost right away, panic leaving him powerless. But Seth is there to help him up again.

"I’m sorry, but we ‘ave to move quickly. We’re on a tight schedule."

Finn is starting to look more and more anxious which doesn’t help Dean at all.
But he understands. He shakes his legs, slaps himself softly to remember that he has a job to do. "Yeah. Yeah. Let’s move." He hears just how weak he sounds- he ignores it.

Seth opens his mouth, ready to talk, when there’s a huge scream that makes them stop.
It’s more like a roar, and Dean wonders for a crazy second if the McMahon family is dumb enough to use animals on them.
But the way Seth shivers makes him understand quickly.

"That’s- that’s Roman- Follow, Finn... follow the sounds, it- it’s Roman."

The place is dark and quiet but they start to pick up some foreign sounds, some noises that would most definitely lead them to the missing piece. Dean feels this weird urge, this strange need to put Roman and Seth in a safe place.
Probably just to make sure they will never have to experience what he experienced in the past.

Seth stays close, sometimes letting his knuckles brush against Dean’s, sometimes even putting a hand on his back. He keeps whispering reassuring words- which might be for himself. The place isn’t reassuring in itself, and even without everything related to his past, Dean would probably still be terrified.

The sounds are getting a bit louder but still not enough to tell what’s happening. There’s definitely hitting which completely scares Dean. They like torture.
He tries not to imagine Roman half-dead and all bloody.

"Left, then right. We take the guards firs’, ‘kay?" Finn tells them, already giving Seth a knife. Dean’s fingers are already closing themselves around his gun.

Like a whole, quiet snake, they follow Finn’s lead. The sounds are worrying Dean to no end. Which is, in itself, pretty worrying. But he’s not going to think about that right now.

They stop in front of a big door. It seems closed but Finn takes out his keys with a frown, tries the first two keys. Groans quietly but sighs when the third goes in.
The door hits the wall and they get into the room, ready to fight as many opponents as they can...

But there’s none. Instead, there’s an unconscious man on the floor. His face is too bloody to even recognise who it might be.
On top of him is Roman. He looks predatory, breathing hard, blood all around the right side of his face. It squeezes Dean’s heart.
He seems ready to strike again, but the determination completely disappears when he sees their faces.

"Good to see y’all." He groans out, voice way too raspy. Dean takes a small step but it feels almost intimate and intruding- he lets Seth go first.

Which he does. Seth sighs and helps Roman up, checking for injuries and then, hugging him.
Somehow, everything they do seems like a moment between the two of them. It makes Dean a bit embarrassed, and he finds himself looking away almost automatically.

"Dean, come here for a sec."

Frowning, he looks at Roman and takes another shy step. Roman just rolls his eyes at him, extends his arm, and forces him into a big, warm hug. Dean’s pressed up between Roman’s chest - which is so muscular it feels like hugging a warm, cuddly wall - and Seth’s body.
It’s not really unpleasant.

"Whatever, we- we, uh, have t’move. They’re gonna come for us. And we- we won’t make it out twice so- let’s. Yeah." He mumbles, awkwardly stepping away and turning toward an anxious Finn.

"Yeah. I’ve a plan to get out but we ‘ave t’be careful. Y’all stay quiet and right behind me. If we’re separated, try not to get caught and get out through a window or somethin’."

Finn keeps giving them bits of advice when they start to walk. Once again, it’s dark enough to hide them but they’re four tall, muscular men. If someone chooses to use that corridor, they’d most likely be dead.
So they stay extra careful. Roman adapts quickly to Finn’s commands and doesn’t try to talk at all.

The more time they spend in the warehouse, the less fine Dean feels. The situation is starting to get a toll on him. His body feels more exhausted than ever and his mind... well, it’s fried up. He manages to keep the breakdown at bay but it’s using every bit of energy he has.

It must be showing because every now and then, Seth or Roman puts a hand on him, to keep him going. If he would have rejected them a few weeks earlier, Dean now completely trusts them. He doesn’t have a choice anyway, especially not in such a place.

They go through corridors and empty rooms, steadily walking near the walls and avoiding the center of the warehouse- or Dean’s room. Finn seems to relax a bit but he suddenly freezes, hand shooting up by reflex.
Seth accidentally bumps into Dean because of how fast he stopped.

"... gone! We’re going to look, they must be around."

"Yeh, you better do tha’. Shane won’t be happy. Ah, ye might even be the next Jon!"

The voices are far enough and the tone threatening enough to make them speed up. The air is full of tension but Finn doesn’t let that get to him. He’s moving, fast and clearly, not making any mistake. He doesn’t trip, doesn’t hesitate, going straight through doors and not even needing the keys. Thankfully, because Dean has no idea where they are anymore- he lost counts after they got to Seth.

Eventually, Finn stops in front of a window, opening it quietly and, just like that, he's outside. They follow him, finally getting some fresh air.
Finn lets them take a few breaths before he starts walking again. They stay careful, following trees and basically anything high enough or big enough to hide them.

They can vaguely hear sounds coming from the building, but no matter how many times Dean looks behind him, they’re not followed.

They walk during at least an hour before Finn stops them.

"Follow this road and ye shoul’ be back in town. Dean, ye know the way, right?" After a quick nod from Dean, Finn smiles. "Great. Then, ye officially survived. Go back to Becky before she kills someone. I ‘ave a few things to do."

He softly slaps Dean’s shoulder, nods and goes somewhere at their left. He’s so talented at his job that it seems like he just disappeared.

"Can we... talk about what just happened?" Seth’s anxious tone is enough to bring Dean back to Earth.

With a frown, he turns around to look at them and takes it all in. They’re both a bit bloody. Seth’s nose stopped bleeding at some point but Roman’s face is still covered in blood. It’s a bit scary but Dean doesn’t let that stop him.

He raises his tee-shirt, approaches Roman, and starts to clean up his face. It keeps him busy and grounded, which gives him enough time to explain. "Uh, it was... the McMahons. They- wanted to... talk to the girls. Well. ‘Talk’, you know the song."

Roman is looking at him quietly, visibly trying not to move his face, but the small appreciative curve of his lips is enough to relax Dean. Seth is looking at them with half a smile but he still looks a bit worried. "What happened to you?"

Roman’s fingers stop around Dean’s wrist. "The dude thought his weak-ass handcuffs were enough to stop me. Beat the shit out of him but he had a bit of time before to... have fun." He then puts Dean’s hand back on his face, letting him do whatever he wanted to do.

"Nothing too bad, right?" When Roman shakes his head, Seth sighs in relief.

"’Nd you, goth kid?"

"Same. Didn’t have enough time to get rid of the handcuffs but your friend did it for me. The fucker punched me right in the nose, though." Seth snickers while cleaning up his own face, checking twice to see if his nose is broken - it doesn't seem like it is. "What ‘bout you?"

Dean stops moving. His tee-shirt falls from his hands and his fingers stop against Roman’s cheek which seems to worry the bigger one. "Dean, are you- are you alright?"

In and out. In and out. His legs feel suddenly weak and he takes his time to sit down, quickly followed by his partners. "I-" he tries once, clears his throat, tries again. He ignores the wetness of his eyes. "Jon- when he said Jon- that, uh, I used to... go by tha’ name in the past."

"Jon." Roman repeats with a slight frown, tasting the name on his tongue.

"Wait. He said something about being the next Jon. What did that mean?"

Dean looks up at the sky, trying to stop himself from shaking. He can feel ghost fingers digging into the flesh of his thighs, can feel the slight burn caused by the weak slap he got, can even feel the kiss on his ear and the way his scalp tingled after he pulled at his hair.
"Big Scottish guy... name’s Drew." He quietly manages to say, already grabbing his necklace, pressing it against his lips. "He was, uh... my dealer’s bodyguard. Like- not, not official but... yeah. I went too deep into... that kind of stuff and ended up robbing the guy and I... I might have rough him up a bit when he tried to beat me up. Just- I was just faster and... well, smarter."

They don’t comment right away. They’re careful but both of their hands are on Dean’s knees, to keep him from hiding behind them.

"He sent- he sent him. He got me, of course, used... yeah. The same stuff, I think, to get me to sleep. Took me in a sort of basement."

His eyes are all glassy by now, and even though he’s fighting it, he can almost see the basement. "And, he..." How does one say that? How can he without humiliating himself even more? With a small hiccup, cheeks flaming red because of how embarrassed he is, he whispers it. "He did things. Bad, ah, bad things and- you know- I didn’t- I couldn’t..."

"Dean, babe, just breathe." Roman’s hand is back on his chest, forcing him to follow his lead. He does and only then notices that he was breathing way too hard.

"You don’t- you don’t have to keep going if you can’t." Seth’s voice is small and angry in a way he never heard it. He can see the exact representation of such an anger on Roman’s face and he feels a bit guilty, somehow.

"He raped me." His voice doesn’t break. It doesn’t shake, doesn’t seem affected in any way. He used that word so many times before; talking to his therapist, to a few psychiatrists and psychologists or whatever the hell they were. He talked to so many people. "I don’t know how long- I don’t know how long I stayed there, but he stopped coming down to see me after a few times. When I was alone, I- I just used the time to get away. Get rid of the handcuffs. Work my way out."

He sees the way both of their faces change. He can see the boiling anger in their eyes, doesn’t have to imagine the rest of their emotions, because he felt that too. But they don’t have to face the humiliation, the embarrassment, the self-hate, the depression and everything that went with it.

"It was hard but I... I did it. Then, the next years were... awful. Trying to... you know. Go back to who I was before. Trying to get on with life. It wasn’t- It was harder than I thought. Had a lot of bad coping mechanisms. Used to sleep around, liked getting roughed up. Got into fights. Alcohol. Cigarettes. Not... not drugs. I resisted that shit."

Seth’s hand move around his back, slowly moving, pressing himself up against his side. Roman slides his fingers until they're on the back of his neck, pressing softly.

"A-anyway. I thought that... I was at least done with that fuckin’ bastard but- but- he was... uh, he was there. I think he was gonna..."

He tries to finish his sentence, but the words don’t come out. They stay in his throat, like a painful knot, even if they’re written in big, bold black letters in his mind. Instead, he starts almost hyperventilating, body shaking so hard he’s afraid he’s going to hit one of them without meaning to.

"Hey, hey, it’s alright, you’re safe now. See? You’re with us." Roman quickly says, taking one of Dean’s hand in his and putting it on his tattooed arm. "You’re not back there. You survived again because you’re stronger and smarter."

"Yeah. You got us, man. It will never ever happen again."

"He said- ah, he said they... I think they hurt my... the guy... ah. My therapist. Whatever he was. They got the files. And they found... uh. Drew. Knew he would- he could-..."

"We understand. But they don’t know you have us. Dean, they have no idea. They don’t know just how glad we are to be with you today. What they do know is that we can beat their ass so many times. They’re forced to use weak ways to get to us. But we’re stronger."

Seth hand is slowly drawing circles on his back, his forehead against his shoulders. "Let us be there for you. Really. You don’t have to hide and fight your feelings when you feel it coming back."

Dean doesn’t really know what to say. He’s exhausted once again, PTSD is starting to kick in and he’s not sure he’ll be able to go to sleep at all. He can’t keep himself from glancing behind them every ten seconds, and no matter what, he keeps shaking.

"We should get going. Go back to the... motel. They’re gonna break us if we don’t get you back there safe and quickly." Roman helps them both back up, a hand going on both of their backs when they start walking again.

"Thanks, Dean." It’s Seth who breaks the silence, brown eyes shining a bit. "I mean, for trusting us. I don’t- I’ve never faced things like that so I’m not sure about what I should do, but I wanna be there for you."

"Not sure how to- how to do that either." Dean whispers back, rubbing his jaw against the necklace. "I’m not- uh, not really processing what happened. Makin’ me anxious."

"You’ll have more time to process when we’ll get back. It’s normal, I suppose. Everything happened so quickly. I’m proud of you. Both of you."

Dean doesn’t miss Seth’s shy smile.
He also doesn’t miss his own small, weak grin.