Ted arrived back at five o'clock as the nurse had instructed and went straight to room four. As he approached, a nurse exited Dougal's room and almost bumped into Ted. She was holding a clipboard and a pen, and Ted wondered whether or not they were Dougal's medical notes.
"Oh, Father Crilly," she smiled. "Nice to see you again."
"Is everything alright with Dougal?" Ted asked, feeling slightly nervous, trying to angle his head to see what was on the clipboard.
"Oh yes, he's fine. In fact, we think he will be able to be discharged this evening," she said. "I'll speak to a doctor before I'll let you take him though. Hopefully, he can go home with you when you leave."
"That's good," Ted breathed, sighing in relief. "He should be at home. He wants to be at home," Ted said, as much to himself as to her.
"I just went in to talk to Father McGuire about the matter of his next of kin," said the nurse, looking down at her clipboard. Ted could see now it was a consent form with his name on it and a place for Dougal to sign. Ted could see it was blank. "I asked him to sign the form giving you permission," the nurse went on. "But he seemed quite confused about it. I couldn't let him sign it in good conscience if he didn't know what he was signing for," she explained. "Perhaps you could talk to him about it? Maybe you have ways of explaining it better than I could?"
"I'll give it ago," Ted grinned. "But Dougal does get confused quite often."
The nurse nodded. "I'm sure the painkillers won't help," she said and returned to her station.
Ted opened the door to Dougal's room and stepped inside. On hearing the hinges squeak, Dougal, who still lay flat on his back, turned his head to see his visitor.
"Ted," he breathed. "It's yourself," he said. A lazy smile spread across his face and Ted could tell that he was, in fact, dosed up on painkillers. At least he wasn't in any pain, Ted thought. Dougal's confusion was something they were all used to anyway.
"How are you feeling Dougal?" Ted asked, returning to his place at the side of the bed.
"Not too bad," replied Dougal. "Still a bit uncomfortable but I had a nice long sleep. I had a dream that I had a tummy ache and that I got into bed with you because that always makes me feel better."
Ted smiled, sitting down in the chair. "I think that's what actually happened, Dougal. Last night?"
Dougal searched his brain, his eyes looking up. "Oh yeah, it might have done," he mused.
Ted grinned at him. "I've got some good news," he said, gleefully. "The nurse said you might be discharged tonight."
"Charged for what?" asked Dougal. "Is the car park expensive, Ted?"
Ted laughed and shook his head. "The car park is expensive," he told him. "But what it means is that they'll allow you to go home, Dougal. That's what discharged means. In hospital terms."
"That's good, Ted," smiled Dougal. "I've been thinking about home a lot."
"I know. Do you want to sit up?" Ted asked him, gesturing to how Dougal was lying flat on his back. "I'm sure I can ask the nurse for another pillow."
"No thanks," Dougal replied, turning his head so that he could gaze up at the ceiling. "I don't want to ruin my scar."
Ted only laughed, not having the energy to explain or even ask further.
"Ted, did we get married?" Dougal asked, still staring at the ceiling.
Ted frowned. "No," he said simply. "I think I would remember a thing like that," he laughed breathily. "Why do you ask?"
"Only the nurse was asking me about who the next King was – and I have no idea why she was asking me that," said Dougal. Ted put his hands over his face. "And then she asked me if I was married, and I said I don't think so. But then I thought about you Ted and I wondered if you're who she was talking about."
"She was asking about your next of kin, Dougal," explained Ted. "When I came to the hospital this morning, I wasn't allowed in to see you because I wasn't your next of kin. It just means the person in your life who is going to take care of you. Usually, it's your parents."
"I don't have any of those," said Dougal, sadly. "Not anymore. But I have you, Ted. Why can't you be my next King?"
"Next of kin," Ted corrected him.
"Yeah, one of those."
"Well, I can, if you want me to be," said Ted.
Dougal smiled and turned his head to look at Ted. "You're the person who takes care of me, aren't you, Ted?"
Ted smiled and took Dougal's hand in his. "I am," Ted nodded, feeling the emotion rise in his throat. "I'll take care of you every day for the rest of your life if you'll let me, Dougal."
"That sounds nice, Ted," said Dougal, inching closer to Ted, who bent his head and pressed his lips once more to Dougal's forehead. As he pulled back, he lingered for a moment, hovering over Dougal's head. Dougal craned his neck forward and planted a kiss onto Ted's lips.
"What about you, Ted?" he asked, returning his head to the pillow. "Who's your next of kin?"
Ted didn't know whether to acknowledge the kiss or not and in the moments after, when Dougal was acting as though nothing had happened, Ted wondered if he had imagined it.
"I don't have one either, really," said Ted. "Both my parents have died too, and my brother lives away so really, it's just you, Mrs Doyle, and Jack. You're my family."
"Maybe I could be your next of King?" asked Dougal.
"Kin, Dougal. Kin," sighed Ted. "And yes, you could be, if you wanted."
Ted thought about it for a moment, and if the roles were reversed Ted realised, he would be surprised to know if Dougal could actually find his way to the hospital. He'd have better luck with Father Jack as his next of kin. At least he'd be lured there by the smell of the alcohol rub. Nevertheless, they'd cross that bridge when they came to it, and Ted didn't want to make a habit out of either of them going to hospital.
"Dougal, do you want to talk about the fact you just kissed me or…" Ted trailed off.
"Oh, well," Dougal began. "I was thinking after I got all confused about you and me getting married. It's a nice idea, isn't it, Ted?"
Ted was completely flabbergasted. "It would be nice, Dougal," he agreed.
"I mean, who doesn't love a wedding. And we're both priests so we wouldn't even need one of those. It's perfect," Dougal shrugged.
"Dougal, do you know we actually can't get married. Not even to each other. Do you remember them telling you that at the seminary?" asked Ted.
Dougal gazed off behind Ted's shoulder. "Not really," he said, finally. "But when I asked the nurse to describe what a sprout was –,"
"Spouse," Ted corrected him, without missing a beat.
"Everything she described was like what me and you are like, Ted," Dougal finished.
"Like what?" Ted asked, for nothing other than his own indulgence.
"She said when you marry someone it's usually someone you want to spend the rest of your life with," Dougal explained. "And that just about sums up you and me, Ted. Doesn't it?"
Ted smiled, broad and cheesy, his grin stretching almost from ear to ear. "Yes, Dougal, you're right. That does sound like us."
Just then, the door to Dougal's hospital room opened and the nurse stepped in with her clipboard again. "Are you ready to go home, Father McGuire?" she asked with a smile.
"Yes, nurse," said Dougal, turning to look at her.
"The doctor has signed off to say it's okay," she explained to Ted. "You can take him home with you now."
"That's great news," Ted smiled, sitting back in his chair.
"Before we get you ready to leave, Father, did you want to sign the form about your next of kin?" she asked, gesturing to the clipboard.
"Oh yes," Dougal said, sitting up on his elbows. "You're right, nurse. Ted does sound like he's my sprout so I'm going to ask him to be my next King on the form."
The nurse looked at Ted who could only laugh and roll his eyes in response.