221b Baker Street was not a habitation, of course, but it was still not really possible for Crow to be unaware of anything happening within its walls. Particularly when it came to Dr. Doyle and… his nature.
(After all these months, Crow still wasn’t entirely sure one hundred percent of the time which pronoun to use. Doyle almost never spoke about gender unless severely pushed, and Crow managed to dance around the missing particle when speaking to others, but within his own mind he weighed both he and she and neither seemed quite like a lie. And perhaps that was the answer.)
So he knew, one Thursday late at night, that Doyle changed in his sleep, woke, and changed back. Most of his attention was on the newspapers he was dissecting - he had taken over the table and the settee with articles and sketched maps, and he was certain there was a pattern to these burglaries, he could nearly taste it - but in a corner of his mind he was absently proud. Since the death of the Ripper and the public revelation of his second-greatest secret, Doyle was becoming more and more facile with controlling the shift and shift-back. He’d never have the near-instinctive balance of a born werewolf, but nor would he struggle to keep himself together at even the goriest of crime scenes.
Doyle did not go back to sleep at once, but nor did he seem to be in much distress, so Crow focused back on his puzzle. He thought Doyle might settle down, but some time later he heard the sounds of the change once again, and then the squeak of Doyle’s door opening. Crow looked up to find his hellhound flatmate staring at him from the threshold.
“Doyle! Are you well? Is something wrong?”
Doyle gave a grumbly whine and shook his head, not as a person might, but as if he had water in his ears. But he neither approached Crow nor retreated back into his room - he just sat, luminous orange eyes fixed upon Crow, nostrils flaring as he breathed deep and slow.
“Alright. I suppose you’ll let me know if you need anything?” Doyle gave a soft whoof of assent, and Crow turned his gaze back to his newspapers. But not his attention. That, he carefully stretched to examine Doyle’s aura, hoping to glimpse whatever emotions might be nearest the surface.
The aura changed when Doyle did, of course. Not in any way that made him less recognizable as himself, but like the shape of a liquid poured into a different container. It was not quite right to say that the two-legged Doyle was more complicated or more intelligent than the four-legged one, but more that the complexity and intelligence were apparent in different places. Also, Doyle in his human phase thought in a constant stream of words and language, while the hellhound Doyle had almost no words at all, but a constant stream of sensation - especially scent, both physical and metaphysical.
The concentration was as sharp and carefully controlled as a scalpel in a surgeon’s hand, and Doyle’s great chest expanded like a bellows as he took deep breaths and analyzed the scent. Tea. Newsprint. Paste. Fresh-acid-sweet-fruit. Ozone. Incense-smoke. Candle-smoke. Gunsmoke. Hot metal. Salt. Pain-
Doyle’s skin shivered like shaking off an itch, and he lowered himself to his stomach, eyes and nose still firmly upon Crow. Candle-smoke. Ozone. Newsprint. Angel-feather-dust. Tea. Crow. Friend. Safe. Newsprint and paste. Crow is friend. Crow is safe.
Crow gasped a breath he did not need, pulled his attention sharply back into himself and tried to keep his composure. Those thoughts were clearly carried over from the human mind, something Doyle had concentrated on and believed with all the certainty of gravity. And perhaps such raw, fierce faith would be familiar - or at least known - to a proper angel with a proper habitation, but Crow had never sensed anything like it in this life, and it shook him to his core.
Clearing his throat, Crow began to rearrange his clippings with a will. Work. The burglar was making a sincere effort to avoid common patterns, but of course that effort itself created a portrait of the man’s mind…
He had deliberately stopped paying attention to the hound on the threshold, and so he didn’t consciously realize Doyle had heaved himself onto the other side of the settee and entirely disarrayed the papers there. Then a heavy head landed upon Crow's knee, and he embarrassed himself with a squeak. Bright orange eyes blinked up at him from the scarred and wrinkled face, and after a moment Doyle opened his mouth in a canine smile.
“Oh, my dear Doyle,” Crow murmured under his breath. The sheer weight of that trust - that faith - was very nearly physical. “May I…” He raised a hand, slowly, well in the hound’s sight, and just as slowly lowered it to rest between pointed ears.
Doyle did the nervous-skin-shudder once again, then closed his eyes and sighed. And Crow sat there, surrounded by work, and stroked the hellhound’s surprisingly velvety head. His wings, almost of their own accord, lifted to cup protectively over Doyle and the papers both.
“Well, my dear,” Crow said after a long silence, “would you mind terribly if I chatter about the burglar to you for a bit? I’m sure I’m close to some kind of breakthrough.”
Doyle snuffled in a way that sounded quite like the doctor’s fond alright, go on, and Crow smiled.
Consciousness crept in slowly. Doyle gradually became aware of several facts in sequence:
- he was human again,
- he was curled up somewhere comfortable, but not in his own bed or on the floor,
- there was something warm cushioning his head, and
- there was a blanket tucked around him, because
- he was quite naked.
That last was, as always, more effective than icewater to wake a person up in a hurry. Doyle’s eyes snapped open to see Crow, smiling upside-down at him.
“Good morning, Doyle! And excellent timing, I was just about to wake you, I fear if you don’t ring for Jennie in the next few minutes she’ll certainly come up and check on you, and I didn’t think you’d like her to see you in your, ah, current state-”
Naked and asleep on the settee with his head in Crow’s lap, oh God - Doyle clutched the blanket tighter about himself and hissed “Avert your eyes!”
Crow laughed and ostentatiously placed his hands over his eyes, so that Doyle could get up (blanket wrapped firmly around himself) and hobble as quickly as his leg would allow to the bedroom. “One of these days you must properly explain the sense of being modest around an angel!”
“It’s the principle of the thing!” Doyle snapped, and shut the door firmly. He dressed and emerged, still red-faced, to find Crow with his hands still covering his eyes. “Oh, put your hands down, you silly creature,” he grumbled, knowing he deserved the way Crow was laughing at him and unable to do anything about it. He rang the bell for Jennie and added “And… thank you.”
“Of course, Doyle, but-” As planned, Crow was interrupted by the little maid, bringing a fresh stack of newspapers for Crow, and the tea and toast for Doyle, and offers of sausage and eggs he would refuse. The familiar little dance gave him time to recollect everything that had happened overnight, and arrange it all in his head in a way that (hopefully) wouldn’t be too mortifying to say aloud.
When the door shut behind Jennie again Crow continued at once. “May I ask what all of that last night was about? It seemed rather… intentional?”
“Perfectly sound psychological practice, of course.” Doyle busied himself spreading butter and jam on his toast. “Say that someone was... attacked by a dog as a child, for example, and develops a deep phobia of all dogs thereafter. The best treatment is to slowly and carefully introduce them to the very kindest, calmest, gentlest, most peaceable dogs you can find. So slowly and so gently that the mind can adjust from associating dogs with the upsetting memory, to associating them with a state of calm and safety.”
He had no more toast to butter, but pouring tea also gave him a reason not to look at the angel across from him. “Sometimes I - I, the hellhound - still get - confused, or distracted, and mistake you for the memory of the Fallen. Which is entirely impractical, given the work we do, so I thought I’d try-”
He looked up.
Angels do not flush with happiness as mortals do, of course. They halo .
Doyle had never been this close to an angel in almost-full glory, but it was unmistakable. As if one could look directly into the Sun without fear of pain or blindness.
Crow’s smile could rival any sunrise Doyle had ever seen. “Are you saying I’m the nicest angel you know?”
In the light of an angel’s halo, it was impossible to lie or even prevaricate. “Of course. You’re Crow.”
All at once Crow seemed to realize what he was doing. “OhIdobegyourpardon!” he squeaked, and his hands flew up to cover his face. It was like drawing a shade against the Sun, and some small primal part of Doyle’s heart shuddered in the relative shadow. The rest of him was awash with mortified relief, and he hurriedly busied himself with his breakfast.
When Crow was no more than faintly luminous, he lowered his hands and picked up one of his newspapers, clearing his throat primly. “That is to say, thank you for trusting me so, and if there is anything I can do to help, do let me know.”
Doyle hummed assent around a mouthful of toast.
“Now about the burglar - nothing new in the night, but of course that tracks with the pattern thus far-”
Doyle swallowed. “Oh, that’s the other thing, I made sure to remember to mention once I could talk again - but of course you’ve already considered the delivery driver?”
“... the delivery driver!!”