Charles Reed had known it the moment he had set foot onto the docks of Oakmont. Beyond the smell of rotting fish and the salty taste on the wind, something cut through the otherwise calm day like a knife. You see, there’s a chill that runs up your spine, hair raising on the back of your neck as your instinct sharpens.
There’s something in your very gut that’s telling you to be alert, something that tells you that you’re in the presence of a predator. Charles was no stranger to following his gut, he knew when something was up and the moment he lifted his eyes and saw the bright yellow suit as a contrast against the faded, sick harbor, he knew.
This was no ordinary man.
He presented himself to be Johannes van der Berg, the very man who had invited him to this godforsaken place on the edge of the world, where he might finally get to the bottom of his...predicament.
Johannes had been nothing but courteous, his manners well minded and friendly, but at the same time...
His grip had been firm when he shook Charles's hand, lingering for just a moment too long, his smile widening just enough to show his teeth. His eyes narrowed pleasantly and Charles couldn’t stop the feeling that this man, was a lion among sheep and he might just have seen his next meal.
There was a strange feeling fluttering in his stomach, but Charles powerfully shot it down as he asked his questions. Johannes answering in turn, well-informed, prepared and with ever lingering eyes hidden behind rose-colored glasses.
No, this was definitely no ordinary man. He radiated with unseen power, he demanded respect and seeing no reason to make enemies right off the bat, Charles gave him just that.
Despite the feeling of unease, Johannes gave him as warm a welcome as one could hope for. Provided with a map, directions to the nearest inn and a pat on the back for reassurance, he assured Charles that they would meet again soon enough. He had smiled warmly as he ushered Charles forward and finally finding his head again, Charles had turned back to ask him where he might find him if they needed to talk.
But turning back to the dock, which was a complete dead-end...
He found Johannes was gone.
Feeling puzzled but not overly surprised, Charles faced the city with a sinking feeling that Johannes was probably not gonna be the strangest person he was going to encounter here.
As fate would have it, he did meet up with Johannes.
But much earlier than either of them had planned.
Charles had been well on his way to the Devil’s Reef Hotel, after a lengthy investigation for Robert Throgmorton that had ended with a dead son and an Innsmouther running for his life, when his visions had started acting up again.
Never had they ever been this bad.
Pictures of decaying flesh, open wounds pouring with blood and even the smell, oh god the smell. It still lingered in his nose. Darkness had slowly crept upon him as he tried to reason with himself, tried to snap himself out of it. But his brain had been throwing itself against his skull, his heart hammering like the beast in his mind was right on his heels.
He couldn’t stop himself from crumbling to the ground, a bright yellow suit being the last thing he saw before the darkness finally took him.
That must all have been yesterday though, the first thing Charles saw when he opened his eyes was the neverending grey sky stretching forever across the sea. The window was open and as Charles took a deep breath already halfway ready to regret it, he found that the smell that greeted him was not one of decay or rot, it was salty, fresh and with a tinge of... cologne? Not something heavy and musky, but subtle, hardly there but also impossible not to notice. It was nice.
The rasp of a chuckle was what drew his attention to the other side of the room, he was surprised that he had missed him so easily, especially considering that just a few hours earlier he had made his very skin crawl. For one of multiple reasons...
On a chair right next to the mirror sat Johannes. He had his head resting on his hands, his eyes watching Charles carefully. Charles felt heat crawling up his neck at having been caught off guard like that. He needed to get his head on right, but the moment he had set foot on the dock everything had been strange.
He cleared his throat.
“Johannes, what are you doing here.” He asked feeling how dry his throat really was, He looked around the small room, it was a lot more filthy than he had first noticed. “And where is here exactly.”
Johannes observed him for a moment longer and with a smile and a sigh, he rose from his chair, traveling the small distance towards the bed where he took a seat on the edge.
“It’s alright Charles, you’re safe here.” He said calmly, his voice drawing the private eye to look directly at him.
“You’re at the Devil’s Reef Hotel, the one I told you about, you fainted on your way here and I carried you the rest of the way.” He said knowingly, leaving ever so slightly forward.
Charles felt a full-blown blush spread on his face, not only had he fainted in the middle of the street but Johannes had had to carry him all the way to the hotel. He murmured a sincere apology.
Despite himself, Charles could feel a stir in his stomach at the proximity. And this close it was plain to see that Johannes took pride in his appearance, not only his suit was well-kept but his beard was newly groomed and his skin looked soft and clean. No dark underline to his eyes, no deep wrinkles from neverending stress.
Johannes looked nothing like Charles, with his unkept hair and shaggy appearance, he looked like he hadn’t seen a bed in years and he was well aware of it, but then again, he hadn’t gotten much sleep since the Cyclops sank. Visions and nightmares haunt his sleep, and now his waking moments too.
Drawing a deep breath it was clear that the Johannes was the one smelling of cologne, a pleasant contrast to the rising stink of fish.
He looked down at him through his rose-colored glasses and Charles felt himself stiffen under the gaze. Had he really been that obvious just now, subtlety was supposed to be his specialty?
His shirt felt damp and dirty, and ever warmer under the comforter and he noticed even with the brisk breeze flowing in, the way his heart began to speed up made the room almost insufferable to be in. He smiled nervously back at Johannes shifting to stand up, to either get some water or at least leave the hot comforter he wasn’t sure, only to have a hand on hist chest stop him.
“No need for that Charles, I got some water for you right here.” Not managing to get much further Charles was promptly handed a glass of water, clean, fresh, water. The hand on his chest was gone as fast as it had appeared and yet, Johannes's gaze still lingered.
Charles swallowed first around the dry lump in his throat but the moment his lips touched the fresh water, he couldn’t stop himself from downing the entire thing, and he could feel how he was aching for another glass already. He had really needed that.
“Listen, I know you’re used to Boston and you know how city life can be, but I really must warn you that collapsing in the middle of the street is not in your best interest, especially not here,” Johannes said and his smile faltered a bit.
“It’s not like I meant to, I don’t know what happened but I didn’t expect the visions to be so strong here,” Charles replied back in defense. As a private eye, he knew what men were capable of and he did not need to be reminded. Johannes nodded again, before standing up once more.
“Rest up Charles, take care of yourself, I might not be there next time you need help.” He reminded him and tipped his hat in farewell before briskly walking out the door. But not before sending his new friend a warm smile.
Charles laid a hand over his own heart, feeling it beating fast. What had gotten into him?
He plopped down in the dirty sheets once more, feeling his cheeks burn and the ghost of Johannes hand on him still.
What had he gotten himself into?
Chapter 3: Something in the wine
Me back with another chapter after god knows how long? Yeah this is how I work.
Charlie ends up drinking with Johannes after a long day and it suddenly gets heated.
He didn’t see Johannes for a long while after that, but after the first trying steps to figure out Oakmont, Charles quickly got a few leads that he could follow. Not that that was gonna be easy. Not only were multiple people showing up with visions but the entirety of Oakmont was in a state of unease.
The Flood, a terrible event, had rendered most of the city in disrepair and most streets stood underwater. People were starving on the streets and there seemed to be an ongoing power game going between, not only, the main houses, but every man, woman or innsmouther who wasn’t directly related. And that’s without counting in the enormous threat of monsters appearing out of the blue.
In summary, Oakmont was a real shitshow.
Few places came as close to being this bat-shit crazy and Charles learned quickly that most times it was wise to have one hand on the gun while talking to...well anyone.
It had been after a particularly shitty day that he saw him again. Charles had gone to help out a local woman who had been indebted to a power-hungry man who was a little too trigger-happy. After...dealing with the man Charles had learned that the woman, while actually in debt, wasn’t a saint either. He had had to kill her too, and the five thugs she had talked into helping her kill and rob him.
He needed a drink.
And a bed for the night.
Being too far away from the Devil’s Reef to make it back before at least midnight, he luckily found both at one of the many local pubs. Despite most of Oakmont going to hell, the pubs seemed to thrive on the people seeking to drink away their problems.
The bartender being anything but friendly was more than happy to take whatever he could trade and Charles was anything but pleased at the price for a watered-down beer and a room that no doubt was infected with both unwanted critters and mold, but he really didn’t feel up for hunting down another place, especially not with the rain pounding heavily on the windows.
He couldn’t help the frown from settling on his face as he turned away, he’d rather find a table to sit at than drink at the bar with this charming fella.
It was then he saw him. An unmistakenly bright yellow in the far corner of the room, rose-colored glasses following his movement and a warm smile widening as Charles finally noticed him. Johannes, of all the places to find this strange man Charles would not have guessed this rundown pub to be one of them.
His feet moved without his permission and he felt calm happiness settle in his guts as he came up right in front of the other man.
“Charles, good to see you still in one piece.” He said, the glass of wine in his hand swirling lightly.
“You too Johannes, have to admit I didn’t expect to find you here.” He admitted, Johannes seemed too formal to fit in with the rest of the city’s citizens. Too clean and not nearly desperate enough.
He simply laughed before pointing to the wine on his table as an excuse and Charles lifted his beer slightly in agreement, guess everyone needs to unwind every now and again.
Johannes tilted his face to the side as he inspected his face. “Charles you look awful, come sit, tell me what happened.” He said and gestured to the chair across from him. There was a fleeting thought of excusing himself and not burdening Johannes with the dire situation but...
What the hell, he asked didn’t he?
And just like that words started to flow, Charles updated Johannes on what was going on, all the craziness with the citizens, the big houses, the EOD. He would groan and complain at how Throgmorten treated him and others and when his beer ran out Johannes had magically gotten him a glass, already filling it with wine so he could continue to talk. Johannes listened for the most part, offering sound advise and small comments after each story and Charles found himself more relaxed than he’d been in years.
The room bustled with noise and energy but the corner they were seated in seemed secluded and quiet. The wallpaper seemed more vibrant and the candle fire seemed to burn brighter, as if he was the one wearing those rose-colored glasses. His earlier mood must have made the whole thing seem more rundown than it was.
Charles chuckled, a small smile on his lips as he apologized for the long rant but Johannes stopped him and told him not to worry and that he was glad to know what had happened in his absence and when Johannes delved into one of his stories, a silly tale from a trade that didn’t go as planned, Charles listened intensely, enraptured by the tale and he laughed heartily along with his companion.
The wine was sweet and as they emptied the first bottle Johannes gestured for the bartender for another, one that got delivered without much complaint.
Charles subtly glanced up at his companion over the rim of his glass, Johannes looked as groomed as ever, fine lines forming when he smiled, and in his intoxicated state Charles found the courage to admit that he found Johannes very handsome. Not just the vibrant colors he wore so confidently but the whole air of importance and control around the man.
He had been nothing but a friend to him and had helped him at every turn, such generosity was rare these days and Charles sighed contently while admitting that he was in fact, very charmed by the man clad in yellow.
Dangerous but charming, a good combo to have in this place.
They continued to talk, talk coming easily and Charles couldn’t help but admire how well Johannes told his stories, he had learned that Johannes had a soft spot for theater and it really showed when he was allowed to tell stories. The way his voice elevated and his arms moved as to gesture certain scenes brought the whole thing to life and Charles was more than happy to emerge.
It wasn’t until much later when Johannes tried to fill their empty glasses for the umpteenth time that he found it to be completely empty. He struck an expression that made him look like he had been betrayed and Charles couldn’t help but laugh loudly, the private eye stumbled to his feet his tongue just as staggering as he offered to go get them another bottle, only to be stopped but a hand suddenly around his.
Electricity ran up his spine.
“Leave it, I think we had enough.” He said with a deep chuckle and Charles looked up as Johannes also got to his feet, somehow a lot easier than himself. Cheater.
The hand moving further up his arm brought his attention back, the electricity following it up, and Johannes smiled pleasantly down at him, his eyes sharp behind his glasses. Charles could feel his face heat up and swallowed down around the lump in his throat when he moved closer.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He agreed, trying to find his common sense that was hiding somewhere in the back of his mind but it was hard with his entire body tingling. Especially where Johannes was having a grip on him. He lifted his eyes to find those eyes cutting right into him, and a part of him melted. It’s been a long time since he felt like this.
Johannes smiled at him so innocently and Charles couldn’t stop himself from staring at those lips as he started talking again.
“Do you want me to help you to your room Charles?” The same smooth voice said and his stomach fluttered violently, his brain seemed to cut off for a second and he heard himself agree. Johannes stepped closer making Charles chuckle a bit embarrassed suddenly a little more aware, he didn’t want Johannes to help him every time they saw each other, he was a grown-ass man completely capable of walking on his own.
But as he tried to argue and take a step back it made him stagger and almost fall back into the table next to them. A hand landing deliberately on the small of his back effectively stabilized him and quickly shut down any argument against Johannes helping steady him. Luckily the man in yellow did nothing but smile as he once again stepped even closer, his pristine jacket rubbing against Charles' own worn trenchcoat.
Like that they made their way across the floor and to the staircase in the back, despite being the odd pair people didn’t seem to notice them, a fact Charles was more than happy about. Johannes fished the key Charles had gotten from the bartender out of his coat and arranged an arm around his waist to keep him steady.
Johannes didn’t say much, seemingly enjoying the silence, Charles, on the other hand, was too distracted with the warm body pressing lightly against his own. The smell of cologne and fresh seawater that always accompanied Johannes was intoxicating and with half a mind he looked up to see Johannes looking straight ahead, Charles straightened up a bit, just a tiny bit as to get closer to where the fresh scent came from. His neck, right under the freshly pressed collar.
He breathed in and had almost closed his eyes when Johannes said, “Judging from your key this should be it.” Johannes stuck the key in the door and Charles tentatively let himself settle against the wall, ready to say his goodbyes, a part of him ready to get his head back on straight.
A hand against the wall stopped all and every word he could possibly have come up with. Johannes, still smiling had him pinned against the wall and was slowly pressing himself against him. Charles stuttered in place, his back going rigid as he stumbled for words.
Another hand, tracing his jaw, made his mouth run dry and Johannes gently shushing him encouraged the need to be quiet. Charles could feel his heart beating fast and with the way Johannes looked at him, he was convinced he could feel it as well.
Still, he pressed closer, Charles didn’t know if he should try to move, this was his friend in a fucked up town that mostly wanted him dead but... what did that matter? The more he looked into Johannes' eyes the less he found himself caring and when there was nothing but a breath left between them, he eagerly pushed forward.
The hand on his jaw settled on the back of his neck, bringing him closer. Johannes groaned against him as he now crashed down upon him like a starving man. His teeth came down on Charles' lips and he quickly opened his mouth as Johannes drove his tongue in, clearly in more control of his body as Charles drunkenly tried to keep up with him.
The hand previously on the wall now snaked around his waist and forced Charles to grind into the man that somehow kept distracting his thoughts on a daily basis. A moan escaped him and Johannes ground into him harder. A knee pressed in between his legs and Charles couldn’t stop himself from using it to get more of those wonderful sparks of pleasure, he had wanted this for so long.
Johannes finally released his mouth, pressing small kisses to his jawline before moving down to his neck, a hand made quick work of his tie and the first few buttons and Charles moaned loudly as he felt teeth press against his hammering pulse.
His hands held on tight to the yellow jacket, refusing to let it go. Not that Johannes seemed to mind, he sucked hard at his neck and Charles had half a mind to know he would need a scarf to cover it up.
There was a slight curse before Johannes came back into view, his eyes electric as he once again captured Charles lips in a sloppy kiss that completely betrayed how well put together he always looked, he looked desperate, like if he didn’t kiss Charles this moment he would cease to exist, and Charles was all too happy to oblige.
Charles let his own hands travel down the yellow suit as it pressed completely close, making him moan into the kiss, before suddenly moving back and far too out of reach. Charlie yelped in surprise, quickly throwing his hands against the wall to keep himself upright as he stared at Johannes in confusion.
The gentleman chuckled as he straightened out his suit and tie, he tipped his hat his eyes still looking hungry as he stared back.
“I’m sorry to cut this shout Charles but I’m afraid I must take my leave, duty is calling.” With that, he bid goodnight and Charlie only managed to open his mouth before the man was on his way back down the stairs, once again out of sight.
On weak knees Charles managed to make it into his room, sliding down the door as it closed behind him.
He was sure this city would be the death of him.