When Dean sees Seamus for the second first time, he doesn’t realise he’s crying until he watches the three-day grime of the Final Battle drip off his face in a stream of damp, clutching Seamus’ pasty shoulder to his chest as he sobs into Seamus’ hair, candle-bright.
He doesn’t realise that this will be the last, and that one day, all he will have left of Seamus is alcoholism and a broken heart.
Seamus has always been not quite there. Dean can’t get through to him and it might be his own fault but he doesn’t like to dwell on that, because his self-loathing is successful enough.
But they’re them. They fight, they make up. That is how it is always supposed to be, just as the sun rises.
‘No,’ he would say, when the lad from the chippy offers to suck him off at the back, surrounded by fish and grease. ‘Me and Seamus.’
But one day, there is no me-and-Seamus left.
One day, he wakes up, and things change.
Dean has always wanted him - so much so he can taste the dreams he’s carved in the smoggy air, dreams made of car exhaust and bad trips and shocked glares. Dean is lying against the window, the harsh street lights piercing the blue cloud of their shared room in a dodgy flat south of the river, watching Seamus sleep. He sits in the dark, cold light blue against his cheek, and tries not to wake him up with his thoughts.
They’re an out of sync cassette tape now, the loop never quite the same again after he’s rolled it in with an HB one too many times.
He reaches out and Seamus shrinks from him – even in sleep – and Dean would – he would rather die.
‘I love you,’ he says, off-hand, forgetting.
‘Yeah,’ Seamus says: absent-minded, sleep-drugged, freshly fucked. ‘Cool.’
In a world of very underwhelming moments, that has to take the cake.
They do what they always promised they’d do after the war – fuck off and see the world. They go to Little Venice, actual Venice – sharing half-melted ice cream at St Mark’s in the world’s saddest metaphor. But it isn’t special, or romantic, or freeing. It’s miserable and weirdly cold and their footsteps muffle Dean’s thoughts as he sits in the middle of the plaza, surrounded by pigeons, and lets a tear goes up one nostril, and thinks - the sky really is an awful green.
‘We,’ Seamus says, distracted. He always is, these days.
‘Yeah,’ Dean says.
‘We’re not good for each other.’
They’re both the worst of best friends - both distant and too asking of each other and not asking enough, because they assume each other knows what they want and they do - but not enough to want each other's wants over each other.
And that’s how their almost-relationship stays an almost.
They go skinny dipping, once. Dean lets himself float on the shiny pool’s surface, squinting at the moon as he drifts towards Seamus. Towards whatever they’re heading to, together.
They get up and dry off and collapse in bed together later, skin crumbling as they let the towels drop from their war-bitten bodies, painted with bitterness and stitched back with misplaced concern and I’m fines, and Dean closes his eyes and tries to reconcile himself with the fact that he’s lost Seamus before he’s even had him, and thinks of all the things he’d do, if Seamus were still alive.
If Seamus were still alive Dean’d have to deal with the stony silence and the self-hatred and the fact that they’re strangers, now, which is worse – far worse than anything.
So the worst thing about Seamus being dead is that maybe they’re better off that way, him and Seamus. Because it was worse, when he was alive. Because at least now, he can pretend they meant something to each other, that Seamus must have loved him at some point. Because it’s only him here to say it, to tell their story, for Dean to carve whatever lies he wants to from their broken relationship - Dean-and-Seamus, people would nod.
But it’s Dean and Seamus now, two halves broken, never again whole.
Dean knows Seamus shuts down, after the war, in order to live again. In the real world, that is. It’s easier to live cold than it is to live hot with blood, vulnerable to the peskier things like emotions. Dean wants to punch him half the time – make him bleed, remind him that they’re alive, for fuck’s sake – but Seamus has always been a force of his own, and Dean the boy that tags along glued to him, the shadowless figure in Seamus’ life – because the light source never leaves a shadow, after all.
Seamus grows different; Seamus changes. But Dean doesn’t change with him, doesn’t join him in the world of the real. From his vantage point among all the worlds he’s painted in too-real colours, he can’t decide which life is worth living.
They’re disjointed, a bone that doesn’t quite fit its socket, the hairline fracture in his ankle from footy when they were thirteen. Because they weren’t one, as much as Dean would have liked to burrow under his skin and space and become Seamus, live inside him, become what Seamus is looking for. But Seamus is an entire whole person he could only ever half understand, and that half isn’t enough.
If he were alive, he corrects, wonders, and dreams.
In the end, it goes badly. Seamus lives his life half-lived, in a shitty one-bed somewhere too far to be called London, because Seamus will never move past his father telling him he’s ashamed of him, and Dean’s love for Seamus has ruined him, them both, and Dean goes to the nearest bar or five and gets so drunk for the rest of his waking time he forgets how to think and to sleep and to be, but he would anyway without Seamus so it all works out in the end –
This is what he remembers for the rest of his life - a boy’s heart, dying.
Dean never gives up the drink, and they never do get together. He lives his life lungless and broken and when Seamus dies at fifty-five, far too young they say, shaking their heads when they find out in the papers, Dean can’t tell the difference between how it was before and life now.
He puts himself back together eventually, limb by limb by limb, and learns to function again. Without Seamus, without him.
‘I feel like I spend more time thinking about doing things with you than I actually try do things with you,’ Dean says.
To a grave, but it might as well have been twenty years ago to the open face of a closed boy, frozen in the space of a war well-fought and badly-survived.
‘Yeah,’ Dean replies, for Seamus.
Dean wants Seamus alive again for entirely selfish reasons, because the guilt is killing him and he needs to have him alive again for his forgiveness and he misses him so damn much and there he stands, pouring the last of his good whisky onto Seamus’ grave, letting the stench of the alcohol mix in with his tears.
Was I worth the time, he asks, begs, borrowing from the dead - Did I ever deserve you.
His love bleeds him like leeches – and he breathes, and lives, and learns to cry.