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From North to South

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Dougal had leaned the diagram up against his pillow, while he traced the outline of what was apparently his face, and settled his index finger over ‘his’ forehead.

Ted was not surprised to find him there, upon walking into the bedroom. He was only surprised that Dougal was already dressed for bed, with it being well before dinner time. Even before tea, although that was never a sure measurement with Mrs Doyle around, offering it every time anyone crossed her path.

“Alright there, Dougal?” Ted asked, unsure of what sort of response to prepare for, “Studying the old diagram?”

“I am, Ted,” he replied softly, “Yeah.”

The studying ceased, as Dougal decided to slip the board beneath his bed, and settle in.

“Are you feeling well?”

“S’pose not,” replied Dougal, “My head hurts.”

“Bit of sleep will do you good, then. Go on, I’ll leave you to it.”

“I don’t think I could sleep now, though. Mrs Doyle’s given me two aspirin.”

Ted considered asking whether these were two real aspirin, or the small butter mints she kept handy in case Father Jack had run out of liquids to abuse in the medicine cabinet. But clarification came when he leaned over to brush Dougal’s forehead with the back of his hand. The fever was noticeable, even to his untrained touch, but not shocking. Dougal had certainly survived worse.

“Right, so… I’ll stay here until you do fall asleep.”

“What, just staring at me or something?”

Ted shuffled his legs so he was seated on the bed facing outward, instead of leaning against it and facing Dougal.

“I’m not going to stare at you.”

Dougal gazed up at him, folding his hands over the covers.

“What are you going to do then, Ted? Will you kiss it better?”

He should’ve known better than to be surprised by anything Dougal said, but it was, of course, impossible to prepare for everything, though he tried his hardest. Talking to Dougal was not something he classified as an emergency situation, so he had yet to work out all the details, and plan for all the scenarios that could spiral into something wrong. Like what was happening now, as Dougal rocked from side to side and blinked more than was necessary.

“Will I what?”

“Kiss it better,” he said again, somehow borrowing the patience Ted usually reserved for repeating himself.

He was met with his favourite - or, at least, most commonly encountered - of Ted’s faces, exasperated and blank, as if caught between two terrifying beasts and a wall. Really, he was hard at work on adapting one of his many plans to fit the situation. He was stuck on one that had to do with two children mourning a lost pet, while he did his best to be comforting without being overly affectionate. It would have to do.

“Ah, come on now,” Dougal proceeded, cheery and undeterred, “Mrs Doyle does it all the time. Just there.”

He tapped the spot on his forehead which the diagram intersected. Ted shooed away his hastily constructed plan.

“Are you sick all the time?”

“Hardly ever,” said Dougal, seemingly surprised at himself, “I only think I am.”

He suspected the diagram was working, at least a little bit. He would leave things as they were, so the progress would not be lost.

“I’ll go and get Mrs Doyle, then.”

Ted moved, only slightly, before Dougal grabbed at his waist.

“She went to make me tea. Only it’s just warm milk and cinnamon from the teapot, poured in a special big cup.”

He found himself surprised that tea didn’t feature in more of his plans.

“Okay, so,” he shrugged, “Right here?”

He pointed at the center of Dougal’s forehead, and was met with an enthusiastic nod. Dougal burrowed happily beneath his blanket in anticipation.

Ted leaned closer, convincing himself that Dougal would not mind - nor would he notice - how spectacularly inexperienced Ted was at this sort of thing, as he hadn’t kissed anything but his rosary in nearly thirty years. Wait, had he been counting? Never mind that now; he guessed his lips made the right shape, and landed for the right duration, because he caught the largest of Dougal’s grins, afterward.

“Do y-... Do you feel better?” Ted considered it a miraculous method of surgery, and evidently so did Dougal.

“I do, Ted, yeah. Almost completely.”

“Almost?” he was only partially offended, as most parents would be. He shook off the thought, “Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh, nothing, Ted. That must mean I actually am sick.”

“Well of course you are, Dougal. Do you not feel tired?”

“I can’t fall asleep now, Ted. My shoulders are sore, as well. And my back, and my legs, and--”

It was rare for their trains of thought to collide, switching onto the same track simultaneously. The crash was always blindingly destructive, when it did occur.

“Dougal, I’m not going to kiss y--”

“Ah, Ted,” he sighed, “How ‘bout a hug, then?”

“But you’re... laying down,” was the furthest of his protestations. There was nothing to be gained from explaining the demerits of a hug to Dougal. And the more Ted thought about it, the less of them he found, anyway.

“Ah yes,” Dougal said contentedly. He had bolted himself up into a sitting position, and turned just enough for Ted to reach both of his shoulders, “I feel better already.”

“And you promise you’ll try to fall asleep, now?”

They had not yet broken apart.

“I’ll do m’ best,” the words vibrated against Ted’s shoulder.

Ted nodded and set Dougal back down. He pulled the covers back up to Dougal’s jawline, patted them down, and mumbled “there we are.”

The last thing Ted remembered thinking was, I suppose he’ll want me to read him a story or something, now. But Dougal made no such request. He asked instead why they didn’t do things like this more often.

“You aren’t sick often,” Ted’s voice had just clipped pining, on its way toward apologetic.

“And you did say once it isn’t something I should talk about. I recorded that.”

“Well if I said you shouldn’t talk about it, I probably just meant not to other people. If I told you, see, it should be fine for you to say to me.”

“Right,” said Dougal, “I was wondering if there are rules for you sleeping in my bed. Like I can only sleep in yours when I’m scared - right? - but when can you sleep in mine? All other times, I hope. Like when I’m really sick, or when I just think I am. I would like that. Would that be alright?”

Ted got lost on his way to forming an answer. And, as was typical, Dougal got bored with waiting. He shaped his words into an action, so Ted would be unable to refuse it; he pressed his face tight against Ted’s shoulder.

Ted’s words were calm but their tone was hopeless, a lullaby played on an harpsichord instead of a harp. But this was a mistake Dougal would easily make, and, thus, would certainly fall for.

“I don’t know, Dougal. Just try to get some sleep, won’t you?”

They rested beside each other, with Ted on his back, ready to leave if someone arrived to deem the situation more compromising than it truly was. Ready to leave, except for Dougal, who had tucked himself into the crook of Ted’s outstretched arm, face buried against his side, mumbling ‘consonant’ into his jumper until the word was clearly outlined there.

Mrs Doyle arrived, and did not find the situation compromising at all. Instead, she smiled, wrinkling up her eyes until they shut, and thought how lucky she was to have joined this particular household. This family, dependent as they were on one another.

She set Dougal’s warm-milk-with-cinnamon-in-a-special-big-cup down on the nightstand that separated the two beds. Beside it, she left the half-full teapot and an empty cup and saucer, knowing Father Crilly would be the first to get up.

She may as well have kissed them both on the forehead, for the perfectly peaceful way they slept. Instead, she nudged Ted’s cup closer to the edge of the table, so it would be easy for him to reach without disturbing his patient.

It would a long time before either of them moved.