Summer had come in full force and Hodgson had invited Irving to stay a few weeks with him.
The house did tend to get lonely with just him and the dogs and he was glad to have company. It was different, talking to a man of his station, than rambling on at the valet or maid when they went about their work, too well-trained to tell Hodgson that he was in the way.
And the dogs made for good listeners, but bad conversational partners.
So Hodgson was standing on the front stairs, garden path spilling to the gate from the tips of his shoes, as the carriage pulled up and deposited John Irving like a particularly well-liked parcel.
He couldn’t help the little laugh that echoed off the windows.
Irving grinned up at him, hat askew on his head. He looked well, healthy, and tanned from the African sun.
"John Irving! How was the trip?"
The dogs disengaged from Hodgson’s trousers and ran circles around Irving, yapping and wagging their tails. Irving set his bags down and rubbed their velvety ears, still grinning up at Hodgson.
"George Hodgson. Well, thank you. You’ve certainly made a beautiful house of this."
Hodgson laughed and Fred, the valet, descended the stairs to get the bags, greeting Irving with a bow.
"Needed a bit of work, but it’s all mine, thank God," Hodgson said conversationally and ambled down the stairs. Came to a halt by Irving's shoulder.
Irving smiled and they clasped hands firmly.
Shook once or twice and then turned to look up at the house together.
Two stories, nothing too big.
Hodgson pointed the window of the guest room out to Irving.
They walked the stairs together, Hodgson already talking at length about the book he was reading at the moment.
Irving was polite enough to ask follow-up questions and even laughed twice before they had made it to the parlour.
"Ah, a pianoforte," Irving said with a laugh and walked over to it, touching the shining varnish. His hat was in his hand, hair sweaty against his brow.
"Not in the least. Glad you kept all your fingers, are you?"
"Play for me tonight?"
Hodgson smiled and joined Irving by the bench. "Every night, if you want me to."
Irving looked down at the sheet music Hodgson had left open and hummed the melody for a moment.
One of the dogs rubbed his head against Irving’s leg and he stopped his humming in favour of ear-rubs.
"I’m afraid I haven’t many songs, mostly dances or some such sheet music. So we’ll have to go with shanties, if you want to sing, Irving."
Irving laughed and clapped Hodgson on the shoulder, before taking a seat in one of the armchairs, legs stretched out for a moment. "Maybe in the second week, when we’re annoyed with each other and drink too much after dinner. I've heard enough of shanties for some time, I believe."
Hodgson laughed, and hoped silently that they would never be annoyed with each other.
That Irving would not grow to be annoyed with him over the summer, and leave before his time.
"You must be exhausted from the trip, I’m being a dreadful host! Tea? Or would you like to refresh yourself upstairs?"
Irving looked up at Hodgson and smiled. There were freckles on the bridge of his nose.
"Tea sounds good. And maybe something to eat?"
"Irving, of course, my dear fellow. We’re not aboard ship, we’ll have sandwiches with tea. Let me ring."
Hodgson stepped up to the door and hollered for Susan, the maid.
Irving laughed and made a comment about bells that Hodgson didn’t fully hear for Susan’s answering shout and then the patter of her feet on the stairs.
"You called, sir?"
"Yes, thank you, Susan. Could you please get tea and sandwiches up?"
"Egg and cress?"
Susan curtsied and hurried down the hall to the kitchen.
"Quite the bell."
Hodgson chuckled and joined Irving by the armchairs.
"There are bells in the bed rooms, but not down here, for some reason, so we just politely shout for each other."
"I bet the dogs like that."
"Oh, they join in often enough. Especially Daisy and Dolly."
He pointed out the two corgies to Irving and he scratched their ears again.
"Daisy and Dolly. The other two?"
"Dapper and Dusk. They come from the same litter, all four of them."
At the sound of their names the other two crawled over from under the clavier and licked at Hodgson’s hands until he petted them.
"They do look alike."
"Oh, don’t worry, you’ll be able to tell them apart by tomorrow. Dolly has the red collar, Daisy’s is brown, Dapper’s is green and Dusk has the blue one."
Irving tilted Daisy’s head in his hands and swiped a thumb under her collar.
"It has her name on it."
Hodgson cleared his throat and shifted in his seat, cheeks hot.
"They all have the names embossed on them. If they ever run off and someone finds them, just so they’ll be called by the right name."
Irving looked up and stroked Daisy’s head slowly. "Of course."
He was smiling, voice soft and warm.
Susan stepped in with the tea caddy, curtsied vaguely and then laid tea and sandwiches out for them.
"Anything else, sirs, just give us a holler."
"Thank you, Susan."
She nodded and left, Dolly and Dusk running out after her.
Irving picked his tea up and leaned back in his armchair, all at ease and with that smile on his face.
He looked handsome in the parlour and Hodgson wished he had visitors more often.
Wished that Irving came to visit more often.
Hodgson hid his face behind his tea cup for a while and then behind a plate of sandwiches.
Between them on the rug Daisy and Dapper made puppy-eyes at both of them.
"Hodgson, do you feed them from the table?"
There was a hint of disapproval in Irving’s voice, but that damned smile softened the blow.
"Might happen from time to time. They are all the company I usually have around here, apart from Susan and Fred of course. So I might be a bit lenient with them sometimes."
Irving shook his head and poured tea for them both. Sat back in his armchair. The sun chose that moment to creep around the chestnut in the garden and dapple through the leaves, right across the parlour, bathing Irving in a delicate play of light and shadow.
Hodgson inhaled and almost poured tea over his suit.
A little drop spread on the light linen and he dabbed at it with his napkin.
Irving was feeding Dapper the crust from his sandwich.
It was a perfect moment.
"Well, well, Mr Irving, what do I see here?"
Irving laughed and rubbed Dapper’s little head in his palm. "They are very compelling. Makes it hard not to give them a little treat, sometimes."
"Indeed," Hodgson breathed and smiled into his teacup.
Dinner was a splendid affair, the turn around the garden afterwards even better.
Hodgson shared a cigarette with Irving, standing by the chestnut and watching the dogs chase each other over the grass.
"I’m glad you invited me out here."
"Anytime, Irving. How was the last turn around Africa?"
"Slow. Nothing out of the ordinary."
Hodgson accepted the cigarette back from Irving, placed the wet end against his lips and inhaled.
"Where’s your next posting?", Irving asked quietly.
"Probably at a desk somewhere. I find I’ve quite lost the taste for sailing. Except for a little pleasure cruise, maybe."
Irving nodded and leaned against the tree, hands in his pockets. "I thought I’d never set a foot back aboard a ship, but half a year landlocked and I was desperate to get away again. I do understand why Edward barely sets foot on land."
"Oh, I get the nicest letters from him! The last one from India!"
"You’ve never been, right?"
"Never,“ Hodgson sighed, shaking his head. "And now I probably never will."
"Why not go on a pleasure cruise?"
He laughed and dropped the finished cigarette, crushing it under his heel. "Can’t rightly leave the dogs all alone, now, can I?"
Irving put a hand on Hodgson’s elbow, warm through the cotton of his shirt, and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
"I wouldn’t mind your dogs on my ship."
Hodgson grabbed Irving by the shoulder and twisted them around, hiding them from view of the house behind the chestnut.
"I thought you’d quite forgotten about that."
"Never, Hodgson," said Irving with a smile and Hodgson kissed him.
He tasted of cigarettes and of the wine they had had with dinner. He was warm and solid against Hodgson and, God, smelled just like Hodgson had remembered it.
"Welcome home," he mumbled, quite breathless.
They rested their foreheads together and laughed, dogs yapping at their heels, tumbling over each other.
"Let’s get inside."
"You haven’t even been up to your room yet."
"True, I need to wash. Road dust still on me."
Hodgson ruffled Irving’s hair and checked his palm. "Looks clean enough to me."
Daisy put her little paws up against Irving’s thigh and he rubbed her ears fondly, smiling at Hodgson.
"I missed you."
"You hardly wrote."
"I didn’t want to get us into trouble. I would have, with what I wanted to put on paper, Hodgson."
The grip on his arm was turning tight and hot, Irving’s palm cupped so tightly around Hodgson’s elbow that he felt the bones grind against each other.
He cupped Irving’s dear face in a palm and kissed his brow.
"Do not fret. I understand that, I just would have liked more letters, notes. Log-entries, for all I care, Irving. Just something of yours, in your hand, to let me know you are well and think of me."
Irving nodded against Hodgson’s palm and loosened his grip. They slowly let go of each other and stepped back from the tree.
The dogs were already ambling back to the house, barking merrily at each other and the whole world.
Irving and Hodgson walked arm in arm over the grass and up the stairs to the open front door.
With a clear whistle Hodgson called the dogs inside, then closed and locked the door.
"Another cigarette or a drink?"
"I’ll beg out, Hodgson. I really need that rest now. And that wash."
Hodgson chuckled and squeezed Irving’s arm against his side for a moment longer than was entirely safe.
"Then I’ll see you in the morning!"
"Yes, Irving said and gently pulled his arm away, taking the stairs up.
Hodgson was left standing in the entry hall with his dogs and feeling at the same time quite content and indeed very bereft.
A bit of music would sort him surely out, he thought and took to the parlour and his clavier.
Settled on the bench, dogs around his feet, and rested his hands on the keys.
Sat like that until Susan knocked politely and asked if she should turn on the lamps, or if he would retire.
"Oh, is that the time, Susan, dear? Hope I haven’t kept you up" – of course he had, he knew that, silly George Hodgson – "I shall turn in for the night! No need for the lamps tonight."
He rose swiftly from the bench, startling Dusk into a little, sleepy woof.
"Goodnight, sir," Susan said, haltingly, with a curtsy. Then she walked into the dark hall and Hodgson lost sight of her.
Took the stairs up and went to bed, head foggy and heart heavy.
Irving next door.
"Summer is my favourite season," Irving said, sitting on the terrace in shirtsleeves, wind in his hair, writing a letter.
Hodgson looked up from his book, marking the page with his thumb.
"Is that so? You never told me before! Well, Irving, now I do insist: Tell me why."
Irving pursed his lips, put his pen aside and looked out over the garden.
"The simpleness of it all. Being in the countryside. The long days. The fruits. I love cherries."
"That I know. Cherry stem," Hodgson prompted and Irving laughed, hands folded over his stomach.
"God, you should have seen your face."
"I’d never seen it done before, that is all. Quite the talented tongue."
"Thank you, Mr Hodgson," Irving quipped and took his pen back up.
Hodgson turned back to his book and absently rubbed Dolly’s warm belly. Her little head was a comforting weight on his knee.
The wind picked up abruptly, fluttering the pages on the table and Hodgson looked up from the book yet again.
"Should we head inside? The wind is picking up something dreadful."
They turned a weather eye to the horizon at the same time and Hodgson rose from his seat on the stairs.
Irving quickly gathered his writing utensils and teacup.
"Definitely inside. Get the dogs."
Hodgson closed his book, shoved it under his arm and whistled loudly on two fingers.
Dolly jumped up from the warm flagstones and started barking.
Her siblings came rushing over the grass and in through the french doors.
Irving ducked in after them and then the first fat drops of rain threatened Hodgson and his book.
He just so managed to close the doors before the deluge started.
Turned over his shoulder and looked at Irving and the dogs, standing there like Boys, ready for their orders.
"Good weather eye, Irving."
"Good weather eye yourself, Hodgson."
They grinned, Irving’s arms still full of paper, ink on his cheek. The dogs were panting, tongues lolling and little paws green from the grass.
"Let’s see if everyone made it inside."
Hodgson crossed over to the door of the parlour and hollered for Susan and Fred.
Answering hollers from the kitchen confirmed the household quite safe and dry.
"The household is quite safe, Irving. Tea?"
Irving shook his head and smoothed his letters on the clavier. The sky outside was thick with rain clouds, a vague light where a moment ago the sun had painted everything in dashing colours.
"No tea, I’m not thirsty. You might play the clavier, if you wanted to."
Hodgson closed the door and crossed to the mantlepiece, putting his book down.
"I can play, if you want me to."
Irving looked at him over his shoulder, open collar slipping with the movement and revealing the nape of his neck. Paler than his face.
"I’d like that."
He forced a laugh and clapped his hands together, propelling himself across the room and onto his piano bench.
"Well, then let’s see! Any particular wishes, Mr Irving?"
Irving smiled and carried his letters and inkwell over to the bureau. Then he leaned against the opposite end of the clavier.
Hodgson laughed nervously and shifted through the sheet music he had at hand.
Irving shrugged and rolled his shirtsleeves up. Clicked his tongue and the dogs flocked around him as Hodgson started with the first tentative notes.
"Come on," Irving said and then tossed the dogs out.
"They like to listen."
"They can listen outside."
Hodgson was half sure he heard the key turn in the lock, but didn’t want to stop playing to turn around and check for himself.
Irving came back to the clavier, put a hand on Hodgson’s shoulder and watched him for a moment.
Irving moved away, around the swell of the wooden belly of the clavier and stood there, sleeves rolled up and collar open.
Looking quite rakish.
Hodgson debated telling him.
Opened his mouth to do just that, and maybe earn a little smile in return. A flush perhaps.
But Irving dropped to his knees and crawled under the clavier, mouth wide in an impish grin.
Hodgson lifted a brow, cheeks quite flushed, but didn’t stop his playing. Irving had, after all, requested the music.
Even though that was an odd place to listen to Schubert. Not even a rug under the clavier for better sitting than on the naked floor.
Then there was a hand on Hodgson's knee, warm and square and hot breath on the inseam of his trousers.
"Keep playing, Hodgson, I really like that song."
Irving’s voice was breathless with laughter. Or something else.
His hand squeezed Hodgson’s knee and then his mouth pressed hot and hard over the faint outline of Hodgson’s flaccid cock.
Hodgson jolted, fingers slipping on the keys.
"Keep playing," Irving said and licked over the thin linen of Hodgson’s summer suit. The tailor had assured him it was light enough to keep him cool.
Certainly light enough to feel Irving’s tongue almost in full.
His fingers slipped again.
A nip of teeth at his thigh.
"Finish the song, and then I’ll finish you, Hodgson."
Hodgson swallowed heavily and cleared his throat. Re-settled his fingers on the keys and started over from the top of the page.
Irving mouthed at the tip of his cock.
His hands were hot and heavy, kneading Hodgson’s thighs now.
The moist breath and wet tongue were surely marking the outline of his cock by now, linen and underthings sticking wetly to his skin. They chafed against him when Irving turned his cheek and rubbed it against Hodgson.
His fingers were slow on the keys, but he kept playing.
The usual dainty jaunt of Schubert was reduced to a limping two-step, like the last dance for the night, both dancers too tired to lift their feet more than necessary, but still unwilling to rest.
Irving moaned in a short pause and licked over the wet linen, thumbs pressing hard into Hodgson’s legs. It made him skip the last page and simply added the slowing last chords with a little flourish.
Irving knew no Schubert piece well enough to call him out and Hodgson had to admit his cool and thin linen pants were quite intolerable by now.
"That’s the song, Irving."
Irving hummed and moaned and pushed the clavier bench away from the clavier, giving Hodgson quite the shock.
With dark, blazing eyes Irving kneeled between Hodgson’s legs and looked up at him. His lips were red and swollen, wet with spit.
He moved closer to Hodgson and rubbed his groin over Hodgson’s shoe.
"Well, well, Hodgson. How about you get those trousers open and I’ll make sure you get some relieve, hmm?"
The rain battered the french doors, it was almost completely dark outside and Hodgson opened his trousers with shaking hands.
Where Irving had licked and mouthed at him his trousers and underthings were almost see-through, sticking to each other and his skin.
Irving made a hungry little noise and pulled Hodgson’s cock out of his smalls with a practised move.
"I missed this," he breathed against the hot skin and then licked over the underside, teasing the vein.
Hodgson curled his hands around the edges of his bench and tried not to shout anything obscene.
Irving looked up at him from where he knelt, lips stretched around the head of Hodgson’s cock. His eyes were still dark and blazing, but now they were crinkled at the corners in a smile.
Hodgson smiled back and smoothed Irving’s hair away from his brow.
"I missed this too, my dear."
Irving flicked his tongue and swallowed Hodgson deeper into his mouth. One hand loosely held the base of his stiff cock, the other was curled around Hodgson’s ankle, holding his foot where it was.
All so that Irving could rub himself better against the leather of Hodgson’s summer shoes.
"You – aah! You look very, oh, very fetching like that, John. Is it alright if I say John? You’ve never, hmm, right there, yes. You’ve never voiced a preference regarding this and your name. Oh dear!"
Irving flicked his tongue again and Hodgson fisted his hand in the shoulder of Irving’s shirt.
Then Irving pulled his mouth off with a wet sound and licked his swollen lips. Panted for a moment and rutted against Hodgson’s leg. Like a dog.
Hodgson smoothed Irving’s hair behind his ear and rubbed the soft skin there.
Velvety, like a dog's ear.
"I don’t mind you calling me John, Hodgson. At least not when I taste you like this."
He licked a broad stripe over the head of Hodgson’s cock, making a drop of liquid well up in his wake.
Hodgson bit his lip, unsure if the storm would mask a shout sufficiently.
"John," he croaked instead, and moved his shaking fingers from Irving’s shoulder to the back of his neck.
Irving’s hand around the base of Hodgson’s cock moved up and down once, slicking spit over the tight skin.
Hodgson groaned and spread his palm over the uppermost knob of Irving’s spine.
"Please, don’t leave me like this."
With a smile Irving kissed the head, ran his tongue around the rim of it and over the slit.
Sucked it into the wet heat of his mouth and moaned around it, vibrations, not unlike those of a clavier’s wooden belly against skin, travelled from the head of Hodgson’s cock straight to his balls.
His toes curled in his shoes.
Irving grinned around his mouthful and suckled on it, taking Hodgson into his mouth as far as he could. His hand kept the rest of Hodgson’s cock warm.
Then Irving swallowed, rutted firmly and harshly against Hodgson’s leg and let his hand fall to Hodgson’s thigh.
Hodgson gasped when Irving breathed in and his nose brushed against Hodgson’s pubic hair.
Then, with another inhale, it was pressed flat against his pubic bone and Hodgson’s cock was fully nestled in Irving’s mouth.
The head was held snugly in the back of Irving’s throat and his tongue fluttered against the underside of the shaft.
Irving’s hips had stilled and his breath came harshly against Hodgson’s sweaty skin.
"Oh, John," Hodgson moaned and shifted his foot against Irving’s balls, lifting his heel to rub up against Irving’s hard cock.
Irving moaned around the cock filling his mouth and throat and it took every ounce of control Hodgson had left not to thrust harshly into the wet heat of Irving’s throat.
He’d choke the poor, dear man.
"John, I cannot- I."
Hodgson swallowed and shifted his hand on the back of Irving’s neck.
Irving made a long, drawn out sound and his hands fluttered over Hodgson’s knees. Grabbed them tightly.
He looked up through his wet lashes and Hodgson leaned back a bit to lock gazes with him. Eyes dark and filled with tears, crinkled at the corners.
Sweat pearled on Irving’s brow and Hodgson wiped it away with his sleeve.
"I will finish down your throat, my dear man, if you do not let go of me, I can hardly..."
John made that sound again and blinked slowly. Once. Twice.
Hodgson swallowed, cock twitching, balls tight and hot and ready to burst. He was sweating through his jacket, shirt already thoroughly soaked. His heart beat loudly in his ears.
Irving’s shirt was sticking to his back and chest, soaked with sweat, nearly sheer with the moisture.
Hodgson could only imagine the spit dripping off his chin and dotting his charcoal trousers in spots of wet black.
He swallowed and fisted the edge of his bench hard. He felt the wood creak under his grip.
"Do y- ah! John."
Irving swallowed again, throat closing around Hodgson’s cock, eyes wet and huge and pleading.
"You want me to?"
Irving tapped Hodgson’s knee once, then pressed a thumb hard into the sensitive spot at the bend of it.
Hodgson kicked his leg out and pressed up hard against Irving’s cock.
Another moan that vibrated through his body.
"Oh, damn it all," Hodgson grunted and shifted his grip from Irving’s neck to the back of his head.
Thrust into his mouth once, twice, pulled half out – Irving sobbing and groaning, throat free for it – and then Hodgson pushed back in.
Deep into the tight heat.
Irving’s throat convulsed around Hodgson and he groaned, fingers tangled in Irving’s wet hair.
"John!", he shouted and spilled his seed.
Irving’s hips jolted and stuttered against Hodgson’s leg, his hands turned into claws against Hodgson’s knees for a moment. His back straight as a rod, Hodgson still jerking into his slack mouth.
Then he slumped against Hodgson’s leg.
Hodgson’s spent cock slipped from the corner of his mouth, seed rolling down Irving’s wet chin.
He looked properly ravished.
Hodgson’s cock gave an opportunistic twitch against Irving’s cheek and Irving chuckled hoarsely.
Nuzzled his wet beard against the sensitive flesh, making Hodgson hiss through a grin.
"Dear, dear John. You make me utterly incapable of even entertaining the thought of ever doing this with anyone else."
Irving grinned and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Rubbed his brow against the knee of Hodgson’s trousers.
"I’m glad for it." His voice was raw and rough and it quite suited him. "I’d be furious with you, if you entertained anyone else like this. Clavier music and treats."
At "treats" he kissed Hodgson’s soft cock and then sat back, stretched his legs under the clavier bench with a grunt and leaned against the closest leg of the clavier. His open collar showed the thick sheen of sweat on his chest and Hodgson licked his lips.
"Schubert," Irving muttered with a grin.
Hodgson laughed and tucked himself away, everything still clammy and decidedly uncomfortable.
"Yes, indeed. Never knew he had that effect on anyone."
Irving laughed hoarsely and adjusted his trousers. There was a considerable dark spot spreading over the groin.
"We’ll have to see, for as long as I am here, if it happens again, or if it was a fluke"
Hodgson licked his lips and wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers. Ruined, probably.
"I am certainly ready to test the hypothesis, my dear Irving."
Irving chuckled and then rose on shaky legs, one hand firmly on Hodgson’s shoulder. He stretched, back popping audibly.
"Susan mentioned something about quite the novel bathroom attached to the master bedroom."
Hodgson looked up at John, his sweaty, red face, the swollen lips in his still wet beard. There was a drop of seed in his mustache, white and thick.
Hodgson stood from his seat on the bench and grabbed Irving’s wet chin.
Tasted himself on Irving’s tongue and swallowed the moans Irving spilled hoarsely on Hodgson’s palate.
His sinewy, strong arms snaked around Hodgson’s shoulders and Hodgson pushed him back against the clavier, making the keys scream a discordant protest.
Irving laughed into Hodgson’s mouth and smoothed his hands over the sweaty back of Hodgson’s jacket.
"Show me your bathroom, George."
"Oh, with pleasure, John."
He nipped at Irving’s bottom lip, licked over it and then stepped back, tugging his clothes as into place as he could.
With a bit of luck Fred and Susan would be in the kitchen still, having tea while the storm raged on outside.
With a bit of luck they could dash up the stairs and tumble into Hodgson’s bedroom and the adjoining bathroom.
With a bit of luck the dogs would stay outside, too.
"Come on then, my dear," Hodgson said, took Irving by the sticky, wet hand and they unlocked the door.
(Hodgson found he had never in his entire life been so glad for a visitor.
And if it weren’t for the siren call of a sailor’s true mistress, well, then John Irving would stay far longer than just the summer and a few more nights of Schubert.
But, as things were, he was glad.
Glad for every note that arrived in Irving’s precise hand, glad for a pleasure cruise around the Med, four dogs aboard a ship and the crew bewildered by the Captain’s private guest and his rambling stories.
Glad for Schubert and the scrapes on his floor by the clavier, where John Irving had pushed the bench with a grown men seated on it.
Most of all George Hodgson was glad for John Irving, though, and never tired to tell his dear, dear man.
And in return John Irving licked his lips and promised a night of music and treats.)