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God Only Knows

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“What are you doing?”

Generally, when he entered Barling's (Aelred, the man had given permission to call him a few nights ago after their third time lovemaking) rooms unannounced, he didn't surprise the man too much. At most he'd provoke a start, a slightly ruffled glare. And even that had lately turned to shy looks, bashful smiles and heat spreading prettily over Barling's cheeks.

Today, to his surprise, it was different. Today Barling jerked away from the desk he'd been working at with a yelp. Stumbled a little backwards with vivid red heat surging not only on his cheeks but all across his face.

They stared at each other for a long moment, nonplussed.

“...You're back early,” Barling murmured eventually, visibly pulling himself together. He was still confused, it was hard not to be when his new romance had startled like a horse upon seeing him, but he couldn't help a smile at that familiar prissy dignity. “I thought you'd be spending the night out with your friends, getting drunk in some disreputable tavern.”

“That was the plan, “ he agreed, carefully, and sent Barling a smile. Judging by the way the man's shoulders eased slightly, the way a faintly dazed look entered his eyes, it had its usual effect. “But I missed you, and wanted to see you. I thought that was far more important than drunken carousing I could do any day of the week. “

“That's ridiculous. I saw you, what, three hours ago? That's hardly enough time to miss anyone. “ Barling sniffed, but looked quite obviously pleased. It was still a shock, just how deeply that shy smile could touch his heart. “Not that I particularly mind, of course. I've always said you do a little too much drunken carousing as it is. “

“Of course,” he echoed, amused. Barling flushed afresh at his scepticism, but met his eyes with a level fondness that undeniably thrilled. “Aren't you going to say hello, and congratulate me for my restraint?”

“I just did both,” Barling grumbled, but so tepidly that he barely bit back a laugh. The man regarded him from across the room for a second, eyes fond, and then smiled and finally stepped over into his arms.

Kissing Barling was still a revelation. He'd had fantasies before they'd finally tumbled into bed together, heated things that carried the undeniable edge of desperation, but it turned out that actually being with Barling was one of those rare things where reality exceeded imagination. Barling had to arch up on his toes to kiss him, a movement that pressed their bodies all the way together. His lips were soft and surprisingly talented, and still clung to him with a disbelief that was undeniably flattering. His body was warm against. him, slender and soft and even more yielding than he'd dreamed.

He couldn't resist it. He buried his hand in the back of Barling‘s hair and deepened the kiss. He felt the man stiffen in his arms for a moment - but then, as ever, there was a faint sigh against his lips and Barling melted completely. When he opened his mouth Barling opened his mouth too, when he tangled their tongues together Barling let out an enthusiastic moan and arched closer. It was still an unexpected pleasure, realizing just how well they went together.

“You see?” He asked, when they finally did stop for breath. Barling post-kiss was, as ever, a sight and a half. Flushed and dazed, with a slight smile upon his kiss swollen lips and his usually beat hair ruffled up. The man was all edges normally, it was so wonderful to see him soft and wanting. “How could I not miss you?”

“As ever, Hugo, you may well have a point, “ Barling said, smiling softly. He couldn't help a small intake of breath, a soft sound of delight at hearing his first name from those lips, and the man's eyes snapped briefly up to him in confusion. There was a moment, and then Barling deliberately settled their bodies more firmly together. “I missed you too. You can stay for the night?”

“Of course, “ he said, only narrowly tamping down a surge of sheer glee. Although he was starting to think that Barling wouldn't mind, if he just let loose and danced around the room at the sheer glory of their finally coming together. “If I'm not interrupting your important business?”

“That, er-” To his surprise Barling's cheeks heated again. He got a certain bashful expression on his face, that one that he always got when he was trying to keep a secret that he was embarrassed about. “You certainly aren't, don't worry. It wasn't important at all. Just… just a silly fancy of mine. Nothing to pay any attention to.”

He paused for a second, wrapped in Barling's scent, and then drew back curiously. Judging by the expression in the man's face he'd already realised his mistake, his cheeks were bright scarlet and his expression was pinched. Like he already knew that he was a bloodhound about such things.

“What were you doing?” He asked, fascinated, “when I came in."

“Nothing,” Barling said, with the expression of a man who was inwardly swearing. He'd only ever heard the man swear once, the first time he'd taken him in his mouth, so it had to be serious. “I mean, uh, nothing of interest. Just… just some silly musings of mine, some scribblings before we're given another case. “

“You've been writing something for yourself?” He asked, and watched with even more fascination as Barling's cheeks somehow heated further. “ You haven't done that for years, from what you've told me. Can I see? “

He asked it in the spirit of a tease, a light thing to make Barling ease up a little and swat at him fondly, but the man immediately stiffened like a board in reply. “No!”

He stared, baffled. Barling had not spoken to him with such vehemence since the early days of their acquaintance, long before they'd realized how attracted they were to each other. It was bad of him, but suddenly his interest in the parchment grew immeasurably. “I'm guessing it's something private, then?”

“Incredibly private, yes,“ Barling said, a wary expression crossing his face. That was even more interesting, the man was starting to look like he had something to hide. “But also incredibly silly and entirely inconsequential, not worth worrying your head over. Should we go to bed now? “

“I don't think anything you write could be something inconsequential,“ he said, sparing a smile for Barling's obvious distraction tactic. It had to be something really interesting, if he was driven to be so blunt. “Come on, what is it really? Something lewd and lascivious, to make old ladies faint? “

“Stanton…” Barling said warningly, and sighed. “I don't know what you take me for. “

“Something experimental, then? Something fresh and new and likely to change the whole face of literature?” He guessed cheekily, and had the pleasure of watching a reluctant smile briefly burst across Barling's face. “Or is it, perhaps, something secret and sneaky about me?”

Barling's face, which had just started to ease at his ridiculousness, froze again. Berlin's eyes went as wide as dinner plates, and fixed on him with a certain terror that couldn't be denied.

“Wait, it is actually about me?” He asked, slightly taken aback. And then grinned, as Barling made a sputtering sound instead of words and somehow managed to dredge up an even more intense look of horror. “Well, now I have to see it. Or else I'll be wondering all night over what terrible things you've written about me.”

“Stanton, no,“ Barling said, a genuine and somewhat rending expression of alarm crossing his face as he moved towards the desk. “Hugo, please!”

“Don't worry, I won't hold it particularly against you," he said, laughing as he hurriedly crossed the final few steps and grabbed the parchment up before Barling could do anything about it. “I may demand a blowjob, just to soothe my hurt feelings, but other than that-”

He stopped.

On the parchment was a song. A song undeniably about him. And as his eyes moved over the words, the neatly grouped verses and scribbled notes, he found himself more and more shocked. It was careful, and precise, and undeniably written from the heart. It was raw, and beautiful, and the most pure expression of feeling that he'd ever seen. It was a love song, written all for him.

“Is this…? “ his mouth was dry, which was to be expected really. He kicked his lips, a strange feeling of nervous joy rising in his chest, and finally glanced up at Barling's face again. “Is this really about me?”

“Hugo…” Barling said softly, looking much like he wanted to throw up. Then he gave a nervous gulp, and launched into a babble of the likes he'd never heard before. “ I'm so sorry, I didn't mean for you to see it yet. Or ever. To tell the truth, I probably would've burnt it if you hadn't come back so suddenly. I know it's awkward and ungainly and not at all appropriate, I know you probably hate it, I know-”

“Barling,” he said, softly. And then, more sharply as Barling just kept going: “ Aelred! It's the most beautiful thing that I've ever read, in all my life. “

That, at least, caused Barling to grind to a halt. The man stared at him for a long moment, eyes wide and startled, and then gave a slow swallow. He looked so nervous, it was all he could do not to stride over and drag him firmly into his arms. “You… you mean it? “

“I knew you were smart, I knew you were one of the most talented men in England, but this…” He gulped, stated down at the parchment. He was holding Barling's heart in the palm of his hand, the least he could do was offer something equal in return. “I'm not a poet, or even a writer. I can't express myself as fluently as you, and fear to even try. I don't want my words to come out as insincere, or awkward, or as dull as mud. “

Barling only continued to watch him, wide-eyed. “Hugo…”

"But I need you to know something, “ he said softly, more determined than he'd ever been in his life. “I feel exactly the same about you as you do about me, exactly the same as you wrote down here. Aelred… I love you too.“

There was a long and frozen moment, Barling staring at him like he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.

And then the man was across the room and in his arms, so fast that he would've hardly believed it if he hadn't had the evidence right there. Suddenly they were pressed together again and kissing even more desperately than before, so passionately that he staggered back and barely caught himself on the edge of the desk before toppling over. Suddenly his entire world was Barling, warm and soft and oh so right.

“What did I do to deserve you?” Barling asked, shaky and disbelieving in between kisses. He was usually so put together, this new open rawness touched him in a way that made him feel like flying. “All my life, all my sinful and waiting life… What on earth did I do to deserve somebody as precious as you? “

“I was just thinking the same thing.” He gasped, held on as best he could. He'd never had the intensity of belief that Barling had, had found it hard to have any optimism in the universe after all he'd been through, but suddenly everything seemed to make sense. “Will you sing it for me? “

“Of course I will, as many times as you wish.” Barling promised, aAshaky and bright smile spread across his face… and then actually laughed, glanced across the room to where the bed waited against the wall. “Maybe later, though? Once I've, ah, gained a little more inspiration for the later verses? “

“As you wish,” he said softly, that giddy feeling in his chest again, and swept Barling off his feet and to the bed.