Harlequin's Slash Fic

Ted & Ralph: 01 Kissing Cousins

Title: Ted & Ralph: 01 Kissing Cousins
Author: Julien
Universe: Ted & Ralph (The Fast Show)
Characters featured: Ralph/Jamie (original character), and unrequited Ted/Ralph
Category, Word count: Short story; 4050 words
Rating: PG13
Summary: Ralph’s cousin Jamie has been sent down from Cambridge for a misdemeanour, and seems set to tempt Ralph away from his long-unrequited love for his old family retainer.
Notes: This first of five linked stories is set after the Ted & Ralph movie, but before the final season of The Fast Show, so Ted and Ralph are not yet together.
First published: 22 April 2004 in Homosapien 7

 

Kissing Cousins

 

‘Some kind of misdemeanour at Cambridge,’ Ralph Mayhew was explaining as he walked the greenswards of his estate with his groundsman. ‘I’m not entirely sure what. Really, the universities ought to be more tolerant. A young lad like that has to have a lark or two, don’t you think, Ted?’

‘Yes, sor,’ Ted replied after a moment.

‘I had a lark or two myself at that age,’ Ralph added, rubbing his hands together with evident glee.

Ted raised his eyebrows – not that the young master would catch him at it, for Ted kept his head deferentially lowered. Somehow he doubted that this most innocent of gentlemen could ever have perpetrated any serious scrapes. Nevertheless, he soberly replied, ‘Yes, sor.’

‘And what about you, Ted?’ Ralph continued in an overly hearty manner, hands now clasped before him. ‘I’ll bet you had a lark or two – or three! – in your time.’

‘I wouldn’t know about that, sor.’

‘I’ll bet you were quite the lad!’

Ted let out a quiet sigh – though, again, not one that the young master would hear. ‘Married before I turned nineteen, sor.’

‘Oh. Oh, yes, quite so. Capital woman, Mrs Ted. Just capital. No need for larks when you have a wife like Mrs Ted at home.’

‘That’s so, sor.’

Ralph seemed to have run out of words. It happened. Not often, but it did happen. Until … ‘Why, there he is! A fine young fellow. Have you met my second cousin, Ted?’

‘Can’t say as I have, sor.’

‘Well, second cousin or cousin twice removed – I can never keep those quite straight. But, no matter what, he’s family, Ted. I really can’t see why his parents are so upset with him at present. I can only … Well, I can only wish more of my family were like him.’

And if they were, Ted reflected, the Mayhews would die out within a generation. He looked sourly across at the young man in question, perfectly posed on the lowest branch of an oak, one leg casually dangling, dressed in dishevelled cricket whites, with his college tie artfully askew. The unruly mop of golden–brown hair completed the just–been–ravished demeanour.

‘Jamie!’ Ralph called.

The cousin lifted his head, pretending not to have heard them approach.

‘Come down here and meet my man – my man who … Well, the man without whom I could not do!’

James Mayhew slipped to the ground with catlike grace.

‘This is Ted, Jamie. Really, I would be nothing – the estate would be nothing without him.’

‘Good morning, Ted,’ Jamie said, sizing him up (or down, no doubt) with a smirk.

‘Mornin’, young sor.’

‘So you’re the one who takes such prodigious care of our Ralph.’

‘I wouldn’t know about that, young sor.’

‘Oh, come on, Ted!’ Ralph protested, blushing madly. Not that Ted was looking at him – he didn’t see the blush, so much as hear it in his voice. ‘No false modesty, now!’

‘Do you get as much pleasure,’ Jamie continued in a drawl, ‘serving under him, as he does in being over you?’

Ralph, bless him, seemed oblivious to the implications of this enquiry. When Ted remained resolutely silent, Ralph clapped his hands together. ‘Have you seen the lower field yet, Jamie? You should see the drainage system that Ted and I installed last summer! A better example of drainage, I’ve never seen – and we saw some state of the art drainage at the agricultural college, I can assure you. Why, the field was good for nothing until …’

Ted followed the two of them at a discreet distance, dropping back out of hearing range. He couldn’t avoid watching them, though … Young Jamie Mayhew kept bumping into his cousin, jostling him. Smiling up at him with a mouth and a pair o’ blues that even Ted had to admit were appealing. He sighed. If he were wrong about the nature of the young man’s misdemeanour, he’d eat his best hat for Sunday tea.

 

‘Have you ever been kissed, Ralph?’ Jamie asked. They were sitting at either end of the long table in the dark old dining hall, having enjoyed a traditional repast of fish and chips from the local takeaway.

‘Of course,’ Ralph replied, rubbing his hands together in confusion. After all, this wasn’t exactly a proper topic of conversation. Or was it? Young people today! At times they could be so unrestrained that Ralph’s own parents would have viewed them as an alien race.

Jamie twisted in his chair, in order to cock one leg over an armrest. The white flannel stretched invitingly over That Which Lay Within – so distracting an image that Ralph didn’t immediately hear the follow–up question. Jamie asked again: ‘By a woman?’

Ralph cleared his throat, knowing he sounded a bit self–important but unable to stop himself. ‘You forget, Jamie – I’m a married man!’

‘Ah …’ Jamie laughed a little, not unsympathetically. ‘The way I heard it, she left you before your wedding night.’

‘Yes, well. Well, even so, I have indeed been kissed.’

‘By a man?’

Ralph opened his mouth. Reconsidered, and tried again. Realised he had no proper response, and closed it. Eventually he hit on a reply which had the additional merit of being almost true. ‘I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, young man, but I am quite sure that I don’t want to know!’

Jamie just laughed again, letting the chuckles wriggle through him enticingly. It was quite beguiling how completely at ease he was. Ralph watched his cousin with great envy. He couldn’t recall a single time in his life when he’d felt at ease. Not one single moment in which the demands of Duty and of Expectations and of the Behaviour Befitting A Gentleman had allowed him peace. Not one day on which he had not felt lost, burdened and confused. Except when – well, yes, except for those stolen hours as a child which he’d spent alone with Ted. Ralph wouldn’t have even known what kindness was if it weren’t for Ted. However, even those few precious hours had become complicated as Ralph had grown older and realised that –

‘Ralph!’

He almost jumped a mile to be called from his recollections. To be recalled only to discover his cousin sitting on the table right in front of him. Sitting cross–legged, with all his Assets on display, from his bright blue eyes to his even brighter smile to his lithe though charmingly cuddly figure to his … Well, that white flannel appeared about to burst apart and Reveal All. Ralph forced himself to look up at Jamie’s face. Jamie’s lovely face. Which was leaning closer to his. Which was still smiling though Jamie was pursing his lips a little, ready for a –

It seemed both apt and startling that a shotgun blasted just outside the window at that moment.

Ralph sprang out of his chair – glimpsed Ted outside – and ran for the front hall, opened up the massive front door. Ted was waiting for him just outside the few rectangles of light thrown from the door and windows. ‘Ted? What’s happened?’

‘Nothing. Nothing, sor. I thought I saw – That is –’ And the groundsman retreated into a mumble.

‘What did you see?’ Ralph asked, stepping closer, his breath short. Tension crackled through him. Somehow he knew this moment was full of possibilities. He wouldn’t name them to himself, but he must try to break through the reserve, the infernal bloody reserve … ‘Ted! What did you see?’

‘An – an intruder, sor!’

Ah! Ralph took another step into the night’s darkness. The darkness that welcomed him with velvety promise. ‘Ted … Ted, there’s something I must tell you. I don’t think it can wait any longer.’

But Ted dropped his head, and retreated a step. ‘Evening, young sor,’ he muttered in the direction of the house.

Ralph turned to see Jamie lounging in the doorway. Nonchalantly possessive. Bathed in light. Beautiful. Undeniably beautiful.

‘Ted –’ Ralph began, turning back again.

But the man was already leaving. ‘A poacher, sor. I thought it were a poacher on your very own lawn. But it were just one o’ your deer, sor. One o’ your deer. Goodnight, sor.’

‘Goodnight, Ted.’ Ralph sighed. He watched, helplessly, until the slight figure vanished into the darkness that lay beneath the trees; and then he turned to go back inside.

There were some dreams impossible to fulfil, Ralph knew that all too well. Perhaps … perhaps it was time to consider what happiness he could have in this life. Ralph sighed again. Despite this newly formed resolution, he barely acknowledged his cousin. ‘Think I’ll turn in,’ he announced, defeated on all fronts. ‘I’ll see you at breakfast, Jamie.’

‘Goodnight, Ralph,’ the intruder replied. ‘Sweet dreams.’ And it was hours later, as Ralph lay awake watching the rectangle of moonlight slowly shift from one side of his bedroom ceiling to the other, that he remembered the poignant softness in Jamie’s tone.

 

James Mayhew was posing again. Ted glowered at him from the secrecy of the woods. He was sure it wouldn’t have made any difference to the young man if he’d known that Ted was watching him and the young master. After all, the Mayhew cousins were doing nothing more incriminating than picnicking together.

Jamie had spread a blanket amidst the bluebells, and was now gracefully sprawled in the dappled sunlight, glass of champagne in one hand and teddy bear snuggled under the other arm. Poor Ralph was sitting there above his cousin, perched on his folding stool, awkwardly conversing. Obviously uncomfortable, but just as obviously intrigued. He was gazing down at Jamie, searching him with hungry eyes – but then as soon as Jamie looked up at him, Ralph would avert his eyes. Even try to hide his face.

And every time he did that, something stabbed Ted through.

Resentment. That’s what it was – resentment. Ted didn’t trust the young master’s cousin, not one whit; Master Ralph was, as ever, in need of protecting. An angel couldn’t be more innocent than Ralph Mayhew. So many people took advantage of him. Or tried to. It wasn’t right. And now even this young cousin – sent here in disgrace, sent here as banishment – was making a place for himself, and on his own terms, too.

It had been over a week now since the young gentleman had come to stay. And, to be fair to him, the artful posing was the only thing Ted knew against him. Jamie Mayhew had behaved scrupulously otherwise. He’d been working in the house, cleaning and painting the front rooms; he’d even used an undercoat, and sealed the walls against rising damp, so there was no faulting him. Then he’d attended the monthly church fete with Ralph, genially backing him up in the young master’s county duties, apparently as good–natured as the day was long.

Faultless. Except for this blatant pursuit of Ralph’s affections, of course. Although, now Ted came to think of it, maybe that was how the young people were these days. None of the niceties and observances and hesitations that characterised his own courting of Esther. Just because it had taken Ted six months to ask Esther if he could walk her home from church one Sunday, well, he didn’t suppose that meant Jamie Mayhew was less sincere in his attentions, even though he was rather more forward …

Laughter recalled Ted from his musings. Ralph was laughing, averting his face again, blushing at some compliment he’d been paid. Jamie had propped himself on an elbow, smiling up at Ralph like a flower facing the sun. A happy smile, and focussed only on his cousin. There was no smugness about it, no victory. Just a generous kind of contentment.

Resentment stabbed Ted through again. Resentment and … well, jealousy.

So, that’s how it was. He’d had this place to himself for so long, he’d forgotten how to share. And it wasn’t even his estate in the first place.

Ted forced himself to turn around, and make his stealthy way back through the woods. Young Master Ralph would be so much happier with a proper companion of his own. Someone to share the house with. And maybe Jamie Mayhew was as good a choice as any. Ted sighed. Everything was about to change. But it was for the best, he told himself sternly. It was for the best.

 

Ralph got up at his usual early hour the next morning, and bathed in the usual freezing water. He was glad that Jamie’s preference was to sleep late, for that gave Ralph time to follow his own routine. As soon as he was dressed, he headed outside and set off for where he guessed Ted would be, trotting along as fast as he could without embarrassing himself. One had to consult with one’s groundsman on a daily basis, after all, and sometimes even more regularly than that.

‘Ah, Ted!’ he exclaimed once he’d found the man just where he thought he’d be – mucking out the stables. ‘Good morning. What luck to run into you!’

‘Mornin’, sor,’ came the muttered reply. The rhythm of swinging shoulders and arms, shovel and muck, never once paused.

Ralph suddenly recalled that in his haste to get there, he’d forgotten to think of something about which to talk to his groundsman. ‘Ah …’ he managed after a few more swings. ‘Lovely muck there!’

‘Yes, sor.’ Apparently done for now, Ted stowed his shovel in the barrow, and then took out his tobacco pouch, settling with the ease of long habit into a contemplative stance while he rolled a smoke.

Ralph watched him from under discreetly lowered lashes. He was particularly familiar with this stance, because usually it meant Ted’s thoughts were a hundred miles away, and Ralph wouldn’t be caught staring. Those lean legs; the man’s weight resting on his right, with his left knee cocked. Those shoulders, relaxed and confident, with nothing to prove to any man. That handsome face carefully considering something of import – perhaps the morrow’s weather, perhaps the use that might now be made of the lower field, perhaps –

‘Muck, sor. Precious good for roses, sor, an’ for all blooming things.’

‘Ah. Ah, yes, Ted. I remember you telling me once that was the secret.’

A tiny smile quirked the corner of Ted’s mouth – Ralph was charmed beyond anything to see it, and to feel he had somehow caused it. ‘Did I e’en tell you that, sor.’

‘Yes, Ted. Years ago.’

‘Aye, that I did.’ Ted contemplated his smoke for a moment. ‘There’ll be plenty of muck for your greenhouse flowers this year, sor.’

‘Excellent, Ted. Excellent.’

‘Should be quite the display by the time the Easter show comes around.’

‘With your help, as ever, Ted.’

A silence drifted by. Ted took a last long drag on his smoke, then carefully stubbed it out on the sole of his boot, and slipped the butt into his coat pocket. ‘The young sor will be enjoying our Easter show, I’ll warrant, sor. Show’s just the thing for young people, sor.’

Ralph opened his mouth to congenially agree, for he always agreed with everything that Ted said. But this comment seemed a bit more obtuse than usual. ‘Ah, yes – well, it’s a pity he won’t be here that long, Ted. Didn’t I tell you?’ Ralph gently reminded the old fellow, wondering if Ted was beginning to lose his memory. ‘Jamie is only visiting for three weeks.’

Ted wrapped his hands around the barrow’s handles. But he didn’t move off. Ralph was about to give him permission to get on with his work, but then he saw that Ted had yet something to say. A moment passed. Ted glanced at him. A particularly solemn look that Ralph glimpsed before safely averting his eyes.

‘Reckon he’d stay,’ Ted eventually announced. ‘Reckon he’d stay longer, if you asked him, sor.’ And Ted walked away, trundling the barrow along ahead of him.

Ralph stared after the man, slowly taking Ted’s meaning. Yes, Ralph thought. Reckon Jamie would stay forever, if he were asked. And Ted … Ted was giving Ralph his blessing. Advising him that was the best course. Telling him that … Telling him that there was no hope to be had in other quarters.

‘Oh, Ted …’ Ralph whispered. For some reason, he couldn’t see very clearly just now, but he blundered down the stables into Daisy’s stall, and clumsily patted her. ‘Oh, Ted …’ It dawned on him that he couldn’t see because his eyes were full of tears. He buried his face against Daisy’s strong warm neck. ‘Oh, Ted,’ he moaned. And for an all–too–brief half–hour, Ralph gave way to his grief while the mare stoically supported him, whickering occasionally, and gently nudging him.

Eventually, though, it was time to get back to the house and make his cousin’s breakfast. Life went on, despite all – Ralph had learned that lesson the hard way years ago. Decades ago.

He blew his nose, dried his eyes, and gave Daisy a grateful pat. Then Ralph headed back up through the rear gardens – full of blooming things, thanks to Ted. He was resolved. If Jamie continued his pursuit, then Ralph would meet him halfway.

 

It wasn’t closing time yet, but Esther had asked him to come home early; so Ted suffered the teasing slings and arrows of his mates, and walked out of the pub though not without a touch of sorrow. The night was cold in the bracing way that foretold a heavy frost come morn, and when he sighed his breath fogged. Ted settled a little deeper into his coat, then set off down the road.

Two doors down, there was an alleyway just past the shop, with a convenient wooden bench set just outside the fall of lamplight. As was more usual than not, a pair of young lovebirds were taking advantage of this scanty sanctuary. Ted looked the other way, not wanting to pry. Until he heard a throaty laugh of triumph, and the scuffle of shoes kicking against cobblestones as if someone wanted to get away. Time to interfere.

Ted slowed to a halt, and called, ‘Cold night like this, best take it home.’ Stillness greeted him in reply. ‘An’ if you can’t take it home, then mayhap you shouldn’t be doin’ it in the first place.’

Nothing but wary silence. Until there came a voice Ted recognised – ‘Get away on home with you. Nothin’ ‘ere to worry yourself about.’

‘That’d be young Master Jonathan, then,’ Ted said. ‘Come out here, and introduce me to your date.’

‘I said there’s nothin’ to fret about!’

‘I’ll hear that from her, thank ‘ee kindly.’

A stifled giggle, and then young Jonathan Tarlington appeared in the lamplight as suddenly as if he’d been pushed. He stared at Ted, shamed and defiant all at once. And then –

And then young James Mayhew sauntered out of the alleyway, and slipped an arm around Jonathan’s waist. ‘Nothing to fret about,’ Jamie cheekily echoed, leaning his head against his date’s shoulder. ‘Now that you’ve heard it from her …’

Ted stared at him for a long moment. Once he found his voice again, he said, ‘I’ll walk you home now, young sor, if that suits yourself.’

Jamie sighed, and looked up at Jonathan. But even Ted could tell that Jonathan Tarlington was too spooked now to be good for anything much other than getting royally drunk. ‘All right. Goodnight, Jonny.’ One last squeeze of the young man’s waist, and Jamie was walking down the road beside Ted.

The two of them were silent for a long while. Neither said anything, in fact, until the lights of the Mayhew house appeared just beyond the next hill.

‘I suppose,’ Jamie said, ‘you’re going to warn me off him.’

Ted let that stand. ‘I don’t deny that you like him, young sor,’ he said as judiciously as he knew how. ‘And anyone who likes Master Mayhew can only want his happiness. But you’ll never make ‘im happy if you’re not sincere. You know that right enough, young sor.’

‘Yes. Yes, I do.’ Jamie was looking at him, eyes clear and piercing even in the darkest patch of night. ‘That’s what he has in you, isn’t it, Ted? Sincerity. Loyalty.’

‘I don’t rightly know about that, young sor.’

‘You’ll never do him any harm. Will you?’

It was more of a statement than a question. Nevertheless, Ted answered firmly, ‘No, sor, I will not.’

And they walked on, until Ted halted just outside the light streaming from the front room of the house. ‘I’ll be off now, young sor.’

‘Thank you, Ted,’ Jamie said. And he held out his hand. Ted shook it, surprised by this gesture. ‘Goodbye.’ And the young fellow sprang up the steps, two at a time.

‘Goodbye, young sor.’ Ted watched him safely inside, and then turned away.

 

Ralph wandered out to find Ted late the next morning, feeling oddly deflated. That was the second time it had happened. Love came a–calling completely unlooked–for, but then promptly left just as things seemed to be Building Up Steam and Coming To A Head. What was it about Ralph Mayhew that was, when push came to shove, so unlovable?

Jamie’s last farewell, with the light of mischief in his eyes, had been, ‘I think my parents sent me here to be cured.’

‘Oh!’ Ralph had intelligently responded. Cured of what? he wondered. Something to do with the Mysterious Misdemeanour, no doubt. ‘Er … Did it work?’

‘Not in the way they intended!’ Jamie happily declared. And he’d blown a kiss out the taxi window – a rather extravagant gesture in Ralph’s direction.

Ralph sighed. He’d been doing that a lot lately.

‘Morning, Ted,’ he said once he’d discovered his groundsman digging a hole in a field for no apparent reason.

‘Morning, sor.’

Ralph stood there watching the man dig for a while. Eventually he announced, ‘He’s gone. My cousin left this morning. He’s returning home by train.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that, sor.’

‘He said he’ll apologise for the misdemeanour, whatever it was, and he’ll go back to college. Earn his degree. So, that’s probably the best thing for him.’

‘Right enough, sor. Though I’m sorry for it.’

The shovel thudded into the dark loam, swung its load up onto the pile beside the hole, thudded once more into the earth. After a while, though, Ted climbed out of the hole, stood close by Ralph in his familiar contemplative pose, and began rolling a smoke.

Ralph belatedly became aware that Ted was watching him, and turned away. Not before he glimpsed a troubled expression, though. ‘Oh, I’ll miss his company,’ Ralph said lightly, as if in reply to a comment from Ted. ‘But this isn’t the life for him. Jamie belongs out there in the wider world.’

‘Yes, sor.’

‘Just as I belong here,’ Ralph added.

‘Yes, sor.’ Ted took a breath, as if about to speak. Then another breath. Finally he mumbled, ‘As do I, sor.’

‘Oh, yes,’ Ralph whispered in reply. He cleared his throat, and announced, ‘Yes, of course! You belong here as much as I do, Ted. Here with the house and the grounds and the deer. With Mrs Ted, of course,’ he said. ‘With the Mayhew family,’ Ralph firmly stated. ‘With … me,’ he added, with somewhat less certainty.

In reply, Ralph expected an equivocation such as I wouldn’t really know about that, sor or If you say so, sor. Instead, Ted just said, ‘Yes, sor.’ Very clearly indeed, as if he meant it.

‘With me?’ Ralph dared to try again.

‘Yes, sor,’ came exactly the same response in exactly the same clear tone.

Ralph’s heart leapt within the poor cage of his chest. Perhaps there was hope after all. Perhaps Ted did, in some infinitesimal way, return Ralph’s feelings for him. Perhaps they could at least continue on together, as they had for years, enjoying the estate, safe in their roles, sharing their lives. Perhaps there’d never be anything more than that, but perhaps – No, actually, that was for certain sure.

Perhaps there’d never be anything more than that, but it was absolutely certain that what Ralph already had was blessing enough.

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