The problem was, Seamus realized, that he'd forgotten all about it.
Dean was a portraitist, he always had been. For years his most frequent subject had been Seamus, even before they were really dating, but of course he painted and sketched lots of people: their friends, their teachers, random people in the pub. After the Second War Seamus worked as a Healer at St. Mungo's and Dean slowly built his career, selling a piece here and a piece there, getting his name out there in the muggle and wizarding art worlds, but mostly focusing on his art, which was what Seamus wanted. He loved his job, and was happy to let Dean live off him for however long it took.
Then, five years after the war ended, Harry asked Dean to do his official portrait for the Ministry, and everything changed overnight. Dean was getting so many commissions that he could afford to turn some of them down, and could even take time for his own work, often a series of portraits of the same person. The latest was inspired by a documentary film on the history of blacks in Britain, which had Dean all fired up to do portraits of black men of various times. He reckoned that if their portraits hadn't been painted then, he could recreate them now, in a sort of homage.
Seamus liked to bring Dean dinner to his studio when Dean was working at night, not only to spend some time with his boyfriend but also to make sure Dean ate at least one good meal and wasn't just existing on popcorn and Pepper-Up Potion. Dean's model, Steve, was some friend of a cousin's friend, or cousin of a friend's cousin, Seamus couldn't recall the relationship exactly, but he had a regular job, so Dean could only use him in the evenings. Seamus used his key to let himself into the studio, not wanting to disturb whatever work was going on.
As soon as he walked in he could hear their laughter, which was odd as Dean rarely got chummy with his models, being a shy sort of fellow. "Hope I'm not interrupting," Seamus said, putting his things in the corner.
"Hey there," Dean said, smiling. "No, we'd stopped anyway, I think. Whatdya bring?"
"Curry. There's enough for you, too, Steve," Seamus said, nodding to him.
"Thanks," Steve said, hopping down from the platform. Steve was a bit younger, a muggle, probably straight, certainly had never modeled before. He was wearing a flat cap and striped overalls with no shirt underneath.
"Working man of the thirties, I see," Seamus said.
"Yeah," Dean replied, nodding toward his canvas. "Take a look." As Seamus walked over, Dean said to Steve, playfully, "Not you." Dean never liked models (other than Seamus) looking at unfinished work.
Seamus studied the canvas while the other men dug into their dinner. The head was only sketched out in pencil, but the body was nearly done. Steve was pictured in mid-lift, the muscles in his arms and shoulders bulging with the effort. Of course, Steve wasn't actually lifting anything, only miming, but clearly he was a natural to be able to hold such a difficult pose. Even in its unfinished state, Seamus could tell that this painting would be something special. While the body strained with the exertion, the expression in the sketch was flat, almost resigned, and Seamus could suddenly see everything that Dean was putting onto the canvas. This series was easily his best work yet, and Seamus's heart swelled with pride, even as he felt a little sad, somehow.
He turned, and Steve and Dean were still talking, joking in that way that Dean often did with his family or the other folks from the neighborhood. Seamus was suddenly flooded with melancholy. "It's good, Dean. Really good."
Dean turned. "Thanks. Hey, are you okay?"
"Yeah, it was, er, it was a long day. I er … I lost a patient. Long day." Seamus paused. "Actually, I think I'm going to run on home, get some rest. But wake me up when you get home, yeah?" He walked over to where Dean was sitting, and hugged his shoulders, kissed the top of his head.
Dean wrapped one arm around Seamus's waist. "I will. You should take some food."
"Nah, too tired to eat. I'll see you later. Love you."
"Love you too," Dean said, tipping up his head to get a kiss from Seamus, and groping his arse as he pulled his hand away. The familiar gesture almost made Seamus smile; he was sure that Dean would still be copping a feel when they were a hundred and wandering through the halls of some retirement home.
"Thanks again for the dinner, Seamus," Steve said.
Seamus turned, his hand on the doorknob, and hoped that how he felt didn't show on his face. "Please, that's my job," Seamus said to him, staring him straight in the eye. "I'm the wife."
Outside, the wind had kicked up and was rushing through the streets, between the former warehouses that had been turned into artist's lofts. Seamus started walking against it, briskly, until he was running, fast as he could, not even really knowing where he was going. He'd gone five or six blocks before he saw a car and had to stop, doubled over, hands on his knees and panting. He ran a hand over his head, raking through the thick sandy hair, trying to calm down. Once his breathing stilled, he Apparated home.
Even after a long shower he was still agitated, and he didn't know why. He thought about finding a friend, Hermione or Parvati or maybe Harry, but he felt too raw even for that, and his was a dangerous mood for Firewhiskey. Instead, he grabbed a butterbeer and flopped down on the couch, trying to think, or not to think. From where he sat, sprawled the length of the couch with his head against one arm, he was facing a painting Dean had done of the two of them in the garden at the house in Ireland the summer after the Second War. Dean sat on the ground, his sketchbook open, drawing Seamus, while Seamus was sitting just above him on a bench, studying an old Irish mediwizardry text he'd found among his grandmother's books.
Seamus sat on the sofa and stared at the painting, transfixed, until the tears finally came, spilling down over his cheeks and chin. He cried silently, so tired and overwhelmed that he didn't even bother to wipe the tears away.
A little while later, after he'd washed his face and made himself a little supper of bread and cheddar and pickles, and was sitting in the arm chair reading the Tattler and listening to the wireless, Dean came home. "Hey," he said, not looking up.
"Hey," Dean replied, hanging up his cloak. "You all right?"
"Why?" Seamus asked.
"Well, you ran out of there pretty fast. And what was that about being the wife?"
"Just a joke. I guess you didn't find it funny."
"Could you put down the paper please and look at me? Thank you. Why did you leave? Was it Steve?"
"No. Why would it be Steve?"
"I don't know. You just weren't yourself and I thought maybe, with that wife comment, you know, you were reminding someone of something."
"Reminding who of what?"
"I don't know. Him, me, that you're here. You don't, I mean, you don't have to do that. Nothing is going to happen with Steve. You trust me, don't you?"
"Yeah. I trust you. I guess, I'm not sure how much I'd care if something happened, anyway. I'd care if you ran away with him, but I don't know if I would care that much if you, you know, whatever."
"Because you're the wife? So that is what that was about?"
"Maybe. I didn't mean it that way at the time, but maybe."
"Jesus, Seamus. I'm not fucking Picasso!"
"Well, no, he's dead."
Dean scowled. "I mean, I'm not going to be fucking my models and screwing around on you. Jesus." He dropped into the other armchair, opposite Seamus.
Seamus was quiet for a moment. "I know," he said, softly. "I'm sorry. I was just—I don't know what I was. I still don't." He looked up. "The paintings are really good, Dean. I don't want to throw you, but they're really good."
Dean bit his lip. "Yeah, I—they feel good, yeah? They feel right. I dunno, I think I tapped into something. My mum's granddad, he worked on the docks, right? He died when I was little, I barely remember him, but they say he had these hands," he said, holding up his own large hands. "And he was so patient. I wanted to find that."
"I think they're going to be the best thing you've done so far," Seamus said. "I'm so proud of you," he added, and his voice quavered.
"Honey, what's wrong?" Dean asked.
"I just thought," Seamus started, then shook his head. "No, it's stupid, never mind. I'll get over it."
Dean's eye was caught by the painting above Seamus's head, the one of them in the garden in Ireland. He closed his eyes. "Oh, honey."
"It is stupid, right? I mean, you move on, of course you move on. And you still love me; nothing changes that. I'm the one who got it wrong. I was just so proud of you and proud of myself for being the one you painted and I just forgot."
Dean got out of his chair, sat on the floor at Seamus's feet, took Seamus's small hands in his own. "I want you to promise me you're going to stop reading these biographies of painters. Why would I behave like some Spaniard or Frenchman who lived a hundred years ago?"
"I was thinking more of, you know, Wyeth and those Helga paintings. Who looks at paintings he made of his wife? Did he even paint her?"
Dean kissed Seamus's fingers and thought for a moment before speaking. "When I saw the article about the documentary, what did you say?"
"I dunno. That we should go?"
"And after we saw it?"
"Hmm, we were with Parvati, and we went to a cafe, and you started sketching on napkins, and we were making suggestions."
"You were. Parvati mostly knew where to get costumes. And then?"
"And then I thought you should get a model from your old neighborhood, and you said you wanted to do them all with one model, so it was an archetype rather than just one man."
"So in what way," Dean said, "is Steve the muse for these paintings? When all those decisions had already been made?"
"Well, um," Seamus said.
"After that I have to do the work anyway, yeah? No matter who is sitting in front of me."
"It wasn't that he painted this other woman," Dean said. "It was that his wife didn't know about it."
"No, you're right," Seamus said, and sniffled a little. "I'm sorry, honey."
"I'm going to spend the rest of my life painting you," he continued. "You're a different person every day anyway."
Seamus had to laugh, a little, at that. He looked down into Dean's deep brown eyes and smiled.
"You said you lost a patient today?" Dean asked.
Seamus nodded, sliding down out of the chair to sit on the floor. Dean wrapped his arms around Seamus and he leaned into the embrace. As he sat there, telling Dean what he could of his own day he realized that the biographers had it all wrong, trying to reduce the life of the man to the work and perhaps an array of bed partners. But it didn't matter what sort of work it was, healing bodies or painting them, the life was so much more than the work, or even the bed partners. It was these little moments, like the one hanging on their wall, of just talking and doing and being, that was life.
Though after the day he'd had, Seamus thought he'd better getting some sex later, too.