Bold Strokes and Endless Colours (PG-13; Dean/Hermione; 1159 words): Dean persuades Hermione to stop painting by the numbers.
Dean's easel is in place, his paints are arranged, and Hermione's sitting before him—but something isn't right. Dean abruptly decides that the time has at last come to put it right.
"Past time, really," he murmurs.
"What is?" Hermione asks.
"I can't do this, at least, not until we talk."
"About what?" she asks, and the frown on her lips matches the one in her eyes.
"You're not happy, Hermione. I can tell."
She laughs, a brittle sound, and clasps her hands more tightly together. "That's nonsense. I'm perfectly—"
"Come here," Dean tells her, and he's surprised when she does. "Take this." He places the brush in her hands.
"Dean, I'm not an artist."
"Sure you are," he says, moving to stand behind her and placing his hand over hers, liking the way she melts into him. "I've seen the paintings you've done with Rose."
Hermione snorts and tries to lay the brush down on the easel.
"None of that, now," Dean admonishes. "Look out the window and tell me what you see while you paint it."
"I see the loch, but—"
"What else?" Dean asks, moving Hermione's hand to the paint. "Start with a background colour," he tells her, "and spread it across the canvas."
Hermione sighs but doesn't argue with him beyond saying, "This is silly."
"Silly is bottling things up," Dean replies, but he doesn't pursue that line of discussion. He can tell that Hermione's not yet ready for it. Instead, he asks, "What else do you see?" and releases her hand.
"The sky, and that was a bird," she tells him, moving her hand from paint to canvas. "I don't see how this will help you paint me."
Dean wraps his arms around Hermione's waist, and she shivers but continues painting. "It will relax you, and then you might smile, and I won't have to capture all the . . . tightness I see in your expression."
Hermione shivers again.
"Why," Dean whispers into her hair, "are you so tight, Hermione?"
"Merlin, Dean." She tries to pull away from him.
He doesn't allow her to. "Keep painting and tell me."
"Dean, I . . . ."
"Need to tell someone—and that's good, very good. You've captured the sunlight reflecting off the water—and it might as well be me. We're . . . friends, aren't we?"
"Of course we are, and . . . and Rose is a good teacher," Hermione replies hoarsely. "She has been ever since you made her give up those paint-by-numbers kits."
"Tell me," Dean urges, holding her more closely.
"Sorry, you smell good, and you're warm, and—"
"You're an artist," Hermione supplies, "and a man."
She doesn't pull away but presses back against him.
"And you're a woman, and a lonely one, but you don't have to be." Dean brushes aside her hair and kisses the nape of her neck.
When Hermione shudders, he does, as well.
"I can't," she whispers, almost too low for him to hear. "The children—"
"Adore me, and I adore you, and it is silly for you to deny yourself. Isn't it enough that you gave up being an Unspeakable to teach Charms?"
Hermione speeds her strokes upon the canvas. "I like being close to them. I'm their mother, and—"
"And Ron's been gone for over two years—and once I've completed your portrait, I'll no longer have a reason to come to Hogwarts." Dean releases Hermione, only to turn her to face him. "You have to know that I took the commission for the staff portraits because of you."
She's flushed and flushes more deeply. "I know."
"I know you know, and I know you want me, so why—"
"Because . . . because I'm scared."
"Not of me, surely?"
Hermione shakes her head and replies, "Because . . . painting by numbers was so much simpler . . . but he still left me."
"Ah." Dean slides the brush from Hermione's fingers and draws her towards the window. "So, do you think that a kit could capture this beauty?"
"No, of course not."
"And were you happy, painting by the numbers?"
Her lips trembling, Hermione replies, "No, but everyone expected us to—"
"Fuck those people," Dean says, without vehemence. "Those people use green for grass and blue for sky when they have an entire set of colours to choose from. That sky, your sky, the one you get to see every day in this place that you love? It's not blue, and you don't have to be, either." Dean pauses, not knowing quite what he's saying, just knowing that he needs to say it, that Hermione needs to hear it. "You're not a housewife. You're not just a mum. You'll never just be someone's support, no matter that others might prefer to see you that way. You're you, and your opinion of how to live your life is yours alone—no kit, Hermione, just bold strokes and endless colours."
She doesn't answer him.
"Shit," Dean mutters. "I sound mental, I know, but it's you who's good with words."
Hermione looks at him. "Dean, you're good with everything. . . . Ron certainly thought so."
"Yeah, but Ron's a jealous twat. He always was one. He's a good bloke, deep down, but it wasn't fair of him, trying to make you over after his mum, and you were right to let him go. He's happier now. . . . It kills me a little, seeing that you're not . . . when you could be."
Hermione looks back out the window. "I think you see more in me than is really there."
"And I think you hide what's inside of you because you feel guilty about having 'failed', you, who never fails at anything." Dean turns to lean against the sill and look at Hermione. "And while I'm a patient man and do believe you're worth waiting for, I won't wait forever. If you can't forgive yourself now for something that wasn't anyone's fault, you never will do."
Dean hadn't meant to deliver an ultimatum, but what's done is done, and he knows he meant everything he said.
"Where are you going?" Hermione asks, as Dean moves back to the easel.
"I'm going to pack up for the day. I don't want to paint half a portrait. I want to see all of you." Dean takes a deep breath and exhales it slowly. "And I want you to want to show it to me."
It feels right to have finally said so, and now all that's left for Dean to do is hope that Hermione agrees. He finishes packing up and looks at her.
She's smiling, and her smile reaches her eyes.
Dean's heart begins to beat quickly. "Did you want to say something?"
Hermione shakes her head. "No, but . . . perhaps you'd like to try this again in my chambers? The light's wonderful in my sitting room. You'd . . . you'd be able to see everything there."
"Everything?" Dean asks.
Hermione bites her lip.
"Everything?" he asks again, his throat going dry in the face of Hermione's hesitation.
She takes a deep breath and exhales it slowly. "Yes, Dean. . . . Everything."