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.
Chapter 2: Come on, Marriage Referendum!
“Ted,” Dougal began, having given up on watching the protests that took up every channel on the television, “You don’t suppose we’ll ever get married, do you?”
Ted glanced up from the novel he was working through, where he had just landed on a chapter called Engagement. He folded it shut, with one finger inside to mark his place.
“That wouldn’t go over well,” Ted explained, with calm finality, “The church is opposed to priests going off to marry women. Do you remember what I told you about celibacy, and all that?”
Dougal nodded, for his own sake. Ted reopened the book.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. I only meant us, anyway. Not the whole church."
There was a pause, during which Ted read the same line six times.
“What did you say there, Dougal?”
Jack stirred in his chair, and Ted had to lunge forward to stop Dougal repeating himself. He was never good at clarifying, and would usually only speak louder when prompted as such.
Ted shrugged and sat beside him on the couch, with one index finger hovering over Dougal’s lips, and the other attempting to ‘pause’ Jack with some divine remote.
“What was it you meant, Dougal? See, I may have misunderstood you there.”
“I didn’t mean us marrying girls,” he said. Ted wished he could shove the words back before Jack intercepted them. No such luck.
“Girls!” whooped Jack, “Girls, where?”
“Must’ve been a dream, Father,” Ted said, deftly, “It’s just us, here.”
Jack crossed his arms, until Ted offered him a glass of brandy, and invited Dougal - well, dragged him by the arm - up the stairs so their conversation would not be easily overheard.
They found themselves in the guestroom, after Ted recalled Mrs Doyle’s cleaning schedule covered the rest of the upper floor on Tuesdays. Dougal had to be reminded of the topic of their discussion.
“So when you say ‘us’, you mean yourself,” Ted finally let go of his curate’s arm, “And myself. Marrying…?”
“Other men? Dougal, do you not see the--”
“Not other men, Ted. I meant you and me, getting married. You don’t suppose that’ll ever happen, do you? We’ve been together so long already - sleeping together and everything - and you--”
“You need to stop saying that. We share a bedroom, not a bed. That means different things to different people.”
“Anyway, we’ve been together so long and you haven’t asked me…”
Ted wasn’t sure which of the conversational penalty flags he should stoop to collect first.
“You meant us marrying one another?” he shook his head, “Oh, Dougal. I’ll never understand how you made it this far. Thoughts like that are generally supposed to hit you before priesthood does.”
“I was never hit by a--”
“Dougal.” he dropped his hands in desperation, “I only meant-- Were you... forced to become a priest in some way? It’s just that priests don’t talk about wanting to marry other men, unless - I suppose - it’s in confessional, and somebody else is doing most of the talking.”
Dougal gave what seemed to be a relieved sigh, which Ted watched and tried to copy. He added in a bit of awkward laughter, too, in order to fully kill the conversation.
“Come to think of it,” Ted paced around the bed before deciding to take a seat, “What did get you interested in becoming a priest? I don’t think you’ve ever told me…”
Ted sat and waited, and Dougal looked at the small collection of jewel-studded crosses near the door. Ted reminded him not to open it, doing his best mimed impersonation of Jack, swigging from his bottle and taking up the whole seat.
“Well,” Dougal began, “I heard there were lots of weddings, and I’ve always wanted to be in a wedding. And that I wouldn’t need to look at another woman again if I didn’t want to. I’m so, so terribly bad at even talking to women. I hate it. God almighty, it’s awful. Like an ice-bath. But I like talking to you, Ted. You’re not like an ice-bath at all.”
Ted somehow managed to stammer out part of his answer, while slurring together the rest of it.
“Are y-... Are you coming out to me?”
Dougal turned and rocked back onto his heels. Back, forward, back.
“Sorry, Ted. Was that ‘out’ or ‘on’ you said there?”
Ted leaned down to shove his head between his hands. He muttered ‘both’ to himself, but said ‘hmm?’ and raised both eyebrows when Dougal asked him again.
“I don’t know, Dougal. I guess I’m just a bit shocked to have found out that your idea of Catholicism is getting to be in - not performing - a wedding with the man you’re made to live with.” He gave up, “I don’t know what I’m trying to say. It’s just, y’know, a lot to cover at once.”
“Oh you’re right there, Ted. Proposals are tricky, from what I’ve heard. I must’ve tried a dozen times, before I just... decided I’d wait for you to do it instead. You always know what to say.”
“Not right now, I don’t,” Ted sputtered. But at least that was the truth. What was that line Dougal had distracted him from earlier? The one he’d read more times than he’d prayed that day… surely it was in his memory somewhere.
Tell him yes, even if you are dying of fear.
“Yes,” Ted added, without explanation. That rattled about in his head.
Dougal took a single, more-cautious-than-usual step forward.
“Did that count as me asking you? Aren’t I supposed to be on one knee or something?”
“I don’t know, Dougal. I don’t know what possessed me to say ‘yes’, either.”
He had always been one for betting, so long as the bet was safe. And he was having trouble thinking of anything safer than Dougal, strange as it was. He was steady, in most senses of the word, and obedient in all the others.
They stood, with Ted pressing his hands briefly over Dougal’s cheeks, before moving them down to his shoulders.
“That can be the first thing we establish, once Bishop Brennan has kicked us off this godforsaken island.”
“Right,” said Dougal, with his traditional well-measured cheer, “I’ll find you a ring.”
Written in response to the following message on tumblr:
"i feel kind of guilty requesting a fic in case its an unwelcome request. but id love to see something where damo goes back to the island and him and dougal are being cute together etc while ted is getting worried because damo’s a bad influence. dougal is banned from seeing him but he goes against ted anyway because his rebellious side has been awakened but then it turns out that damo’s really gentle and kind and just the kind of person dougal needs. idk I just really love damo and dougal"
It’s been a week, but Dougal finally returns to Craggy Island. Ted feels like he’s failed at something, switching unceremoniously between worrying too much and trying to tell himself Dougal will be perfectly alright on his own. At last, he runs into Dougal on the pier, stepping off a ferry from Rugged Island and pulling a jacket hood over his head.
It doesn’t take Ted long to figure out that both Dougal’s ears are pierced, now.
“And what on earth have you been up to?” he shepherds Dougal into the car and gives up on waiting for Dougal to buckle his seatbelt. Ted rolls his eyes and does it himself.
“I told you I was going to Rugged Island, Ted. I told you… more than ten times, I reckon.”
“No, Dougal,” and Ted turns the key in the ignition, “that was me telling you that you weren’t going, and it was at least twelve. Why didn’t you listen to me?”
“Well, Damo said–”
“Because of something Father Damien said? Dougal–!”
“He said I don’t need to listen to you all the time.”
“So what, you’re going to listen to him instead?”
“Not all the time, Ted.”
“I don’t want you going back there. You’re staying here.”
“Ah, Ted, you haven’t hardly met him.”
Ted shakes his head, caught on the syntax.
“I have met him. That’s plenty.”
“He treats me the same as you do, you know.”
“He does not. Dougal, is that maybe something he told you to tell me, or something?”
Ted mutters about the weather and flicks on the windscreen wipers while Dougal watches and thinks about what to say. Or, how to word what he wants to say already.
“It’s exactly the same. It’s all ‘Dougal, you need this,’ the same as you say, Ted. But instead of baths and supper it’s earrings and football practice. I think that’s the way this whole cult thing is headed, Ted,” he draws a circle vaguely around his collar, and settles back against the headrest. If Ted won’t answer him, he’s ready to pout through the window for the rest of the trip.
“It is not a cult,” Ted corrects, automatically. “Is that another thing Father Damien told you?”
“No, I thought of that one. He likes it when I think of things to say.”
“He did say the bit about it all changing, though. That people want us to be more modern and connected, or they won’t want to follow us anywhere.”
Ted shrugs because he can’t think of an argument.
“And I think I’d like Catholicism just fine if it had a bit more football in it, anyway.”
“That may do the trick,” Ted concedes.
“So I can see Damo again?”
Ted turns and looks at him for longer than necessary, and has to swerve out of the way of a light-post when he returns his eyes to the road. He tries to understand, and to slow his breathing.
“Well we already scheduled a practice. He’s letting me play forward for Rugged Island ‘til they have more tryouts. They’re after the ice cream social service this Sunday.”
Chapter 4: St. Valentine
Here's something I wrote in... in ten minutes. Because Valentine's Day and this fic is so well loved as it is.
“But Ted,” Dougal argued, “if I call him ‘Len’ now , it’ll all be out of my system by the time he gets here. Len, that is.”
Ted found himself unable to disagree with what was, in Dougal’s case, a dazzlingly logical point.
“Fine,” he said, and he took his seat at the table. Maybe he could manage to get Cluedo packed up while Dougal continued pacing, muttering ‘Len’ at intervals, then making up rhymes for it and chuckling to himself. Easy enough.
“Now, Dougal,” Ted continued, “you’re not to call him ‘Len’ once he walks through that door. Understood?”
He lost confidence, as Dougal had to verify which door the rule began with.
“And,” Ted went on, “you’re not to mention the holiday to him.”
“Ah, Ted, Valentine’s Day?”
“Yes, that one.”
“Is he afraid of Valentine’s Day?”
Ted slid the game’s envelope into place, but did not yet shut the box.
“It’s just sort of a sore subject is all,” he explained. “It kind of calls to focus how he’s got, y’know, girlfriends and children and all that.”
“I hear you, Ted. Terrifying. I never liked Hallowe’en much, myself.”
“Only joking, Ted. It’s Christmas what’s my least favourite of all.”
Ted drew one shaking hand back through his hair.
“Dougal,” he had to take a breath before he continued, “Christmas is a very important religious observation. I know you know that much.”
“Of course, Ted,” Dougal replied. “So I’m not to talk about Valentine’s because it’s not religious, and Bishop Brennan hates ones like that.”
Ted stood and slammed the Cluedo box shut, making the pieces inside rattle.
“It’s named after a Saint!”
“Is it, now?”
“It is, now, and it always has been!”
“Was he one of those lads with Saint Tibulus?”
“No, Dougal, and not a word about that film either.”
Dougal folded his hands and looked down at them for a moment.
They could both hear Mrs Doyle from outside, calling about a car arriving, before they heard the car itself.
“That’ll be Bishop Brennan, Fathers,” she said, dashing through the hallway to the kitchen.
“Now, Dougal,” Ted tried to calm himself, but failed completely, “you know what you’re not to mention.”
“Ah, sure, Ted. I reckon I could talk to Len about religious holidays for hours. He loves that sort of thing.”