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Bittersweet

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“You know, it all started with a wedding.”

 

“Yeah yeah, I know I don’t look like the type. Don’t have to rub it in. And I know most stories tend to end with a wedding too. You know - find your true love and it’s happily ever after into a castle in the sky!... Heard that old fairy tale from about every book I know.”

 

“...right, you uh. Might not have read any of those. I’m sure you’ve got some like it though, right?... yes? No? Maybe?... I’ll take it as a maybe.”

 

“...I guess it is kind of funny though. In a way I did find my true love on my wedding day. But it wasn’t the bride I was supposed to marry. Yeah, can you believe it? It was arranged. My folks were uh. Well, uptight is a good word for it. They were dull types. Both focused on their jobs. We were comfortable, I guess. Dad has his dentistry, mom had her clerk job. We never went hungry. But I think I spent most of my childhood starving for… for something else.” 

 

“My dad was hoping I became a dentist like him. Only child, taking over the family business, going on to have another kid that was about the same. And on and on and on… hm? Was I spacing out? Oh! The wedding, the wedding, right, right, I’m building to it. So my childhood was dull, my teenage years were dull, and I guess after a point they got sick of waiting on me to find a nice someone to take to prom. I guess who they found was handsome enough. He was alright. He’d laugh at whatever I said, even if I wasn’t telling a joke. Called me his ‘funny honey’.”

 

“...really wish I could remember his name about now but… probably chalk that up to the blood loss. You’re a great listener, by the way… wonder if you understand any of this or if you just want me to keep talking… the look in your eye says stop but that twinkle says do go on so! Okay, where was I-“

 

“So! I’m standing there, down the aisle. Done up like I was the prized torte at a baking competition, all white lace and pearls and my hair pulled back till it felt like my skull would stick to that shape. It felt like I was put into an Iron Maiden and I was watching the doors start to close around me. My short life, flashing before my eyes. And… by god it’s so boring. Had I done anything of worth? Did I have anything but a perfect smile to show for my life? Or was this what the rest of it was? A pretty wife, a clean dentist office, another boring child to curse with the same fate? Was this all I was meant to do?”

 

“And then… I saw it. The cake.” 

 

“It was the one thing I had any choice in the matter of. Five tiered, buttercream, with purple pansies decorated onto each tier and a splash of melted chocolate, hardened into a wave coming off the peak. Chocolate. It had to be a chocolate cake. I wouldn’t take anything else. In a way, that cake stood as my rock. I thought that if I just went through with the ceremony, the rings, the everything - at least, at least I would get to have that cake. That if I just lasted a little longer, I could have just something that was mine.”

 

“Then it hit me, right then and there, as I walked down the aisle… ‘ Why did I have to wait?’ If I really wanted it, why couldn’t I just…”

 

“Mister Wonka.”




The sudden English was enough to send the tall man sitting upright, immediately bonking his head against the far too low ceiling and giving a hiss as he rubbed the back of it. The small figure ignored his signs of pain, going instead to check on the leg he hadn’t curled back reflexively. The man awkwardly leaned over, blinking as he took a look around the cramped room, “Huh...could’ve sworn there was another one of you in here…”

 

“You fell asleep.” They said, setting a bag of tools to the side as they rolled up their sleeves. “The Doctor had to attend to others. I will look after you for now. My English is better then hers.” The figure said, untying some of the bandages from around his leg, examining the injury closely, “You were very lucky to only shatter the bone. The venom of the snozzwanger is incredibly deadly. Only the tip injects it however.” 

 

Wonka gave a grimace of a smile, “Lucky, huh?”

 

“Oh yes, very lucky.” They nudged his foot, watching his toes twitch, before giving a satisfactory nod and turning aside, grabbing a hand-woven cloth bundle, several smaller bundles stored within, “We will bring hot water. Use those to make tea. They will allow you to rest.” 

 

He opened the drawstring a bit, gave it a sniff, and felt a shiver run up his spine to the tips of his hair, shutting it as his nose began to twitch reflexively.

 

“Yes. It is bitter. But most medicine is.” The figure gave a dry smile at the little joke before re-tying Wonka’s bandages. “...why did you do it?” 

 

Wonka shook off the funky smell to blink down at them, the question taking him off guard for a moment, “Why?...” he leaned back on the hand-woven cushions, holding the sack in his palms, taking care to avoid touching his arms to the other bites and scratches that dotted across his chest, shut his eyes as the sound of buzzing wings and gnashing teeth echoed in his mind. Then he hummed, “...Why indeed? I guess… I was willing to try anything to get my hands on those beans.” 

 

He looked down at the figure and gave a small laugh before he continued, “What’s life without a little mortal peril thrown in, right?” He watched their ears twitch and swivel. They were a being he once heard about in a legend, one he never expected to talk to - much less help a whole village of - and he grinned, “And if we had the same destination, then why not help you all get there?”

 

They looked him over for a moment, seeming to consider his face, studying it, before they tugged the bandages tight, “I see. You’re a strange human.”

 

Wonka let out a laugh, “That’s your take away, huh?” 

 

They had a half smirk come up, putting away some of their tools, “Did not say that’s a bad thing.”

 

His laugh died down to a snicker, “I suppose not…” He leaned back again, breathing out as he felt some of the pain begin to ebb back into his mind. “You know, I don’t think I caught your name, lil fella. Doesn’t feel right to just call you all Oompa Loompas. I mean, that’s what you are , granted, but that’s like - like going into a city, walking into a restaurant and going HEY HUMANS, FEED ME! Yknow?” His head spun for a moment, sliding back further into the cushions, “Hoo... I lost a lot of blood, didn’t I?”

 

They shut their bag, standing up again, “You were pale like a ghost. We had been readying to bury you before you gasped awake talking about a… what was it?”

 

Wonka squinted for a moment, trying to remember, and blinked a few times, glancing back to them, “I think… Someone was talking about cocoa? I was inches away from that bright light in the sky, fading fast, and I heard that and just. Came right back! Whole reason I came here and all, can’t just go on and die without getting those beans, right?”

 

The Loompa had looked up at that, eyes a little wide compared to the bored expression that had stuck before, “You heard my name?”

 

He blinked owlishly back, “Eh?”

 

“My name-“ The Loompa put a hand to their chest, “-it’s Kokoa.” 

 

“Cocoa?” 

 

“No no, Kokoa.”

 

“That’s what I said, didn’t I?”

 

“No you-...Nevermind.” Kokoa started for the door, “I’ll return again when the doctor is ready. Translate.” 

 

He settled back, waving a hand, “And I’ll be here, waiting breathlessly for your return, Cocoa.” 

 

“Kokoa.”

 

“That’s what I said??”

 

They made a face, their little nose screwing up before stepping outside, leaving the taller man alone for a time. A time spent ebbing in and out of consciousness as the pain peaked, then dipped back low. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d broken a leg. Was this the first? Ooh boy, and Cocoa had said it had shattered, huh? That was gonna take a minute or two to heal. 

 

Er.

 

A month or two. Not a minute. He put a hand against his pounding temple and only glanced through his fingers when more of the Loompas came in with the strangest teapot he’d ever seen. With a handle that looped and coiled four times over, lifted by four of them to pour hot water into a small cup. One of them reached a hand out towards him, gripping at the air until he got enough of himself back to pass them one of the teabags. 

 

They pulled out of there with the teapot in hand, leaving him to suffer as the bitter smell of the tea permeated the room. Like he’d just walked into the perfume department of a thrift store, floral scents long past their prime. But good medicine was supposed to smell terrible, right? 

 

“Or it could be a poison.” He mused aloud, “I mean, if they went to all that effort to dig me a hole and all.” He shook his head and patted his cheek, “No, no they’re not…” he rested a hand at his mouth, “Unless… they do have more of a protein based diet…” He tried to shake the thought with a shiver and a shake of his head, looking down at the bitter tea. He was just putting it off at this point with his cannibalistic musings, comforting himself that he didn’t exactly have much meat worth eating as he knocked back the tea.

 

It tasted like he’d drunk the bottle of perfume, shuddering on its way down. He’d never been much of a tea or coffee fan unless it was drenched in sugar. That shot could have used a good cup or two. But either it was good medicine or the poison was fast acting, because he soon found his eyes drooping, passing out again as the pain vanished for the moment.

 

His first few months with the Loompas was a lot of that. Easier meals like stews and rice with a few rare cacao beans for flavor steamed together, followed by long periods of rest brought on by that awful tea. Occasionally when he was lucid enough, he’d find Kokoa in his room again, and having someone else to talk to in his native tongue was more of a delight then he expected. Though, he was more then a little impressed with himself at some of the dialects he’d managed to pick up.

 

Kokoa was not. Their ears dropped and they had a look on their face like they’d just smelled boiled cabbage.

 

He blinked back at them, “What? Did I say something wrong?”

 

“No, but you said it horribly.” Kokoa was checking over his injury, applying a salve to the spot to make sure infection wasn’t going to sink in. “You need to click your tongue on the ‘jokalaket”  part.”

 

Wonka hummed, trying a few clicks with his tongue before giving another go at the word, raising a brow and loosely gesturing a hand.

 

If anything, Kokoa’s ears just dipped somehow lower, “Ugh...I guess I shouldn’t be mad. At least you’re trying.” They began to bandage his leg again, “I’ll bring some of our scrolls. That will help.”

 

“If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t know how good I’ll do with reading it.” 

 

“I’ll read them.” Kokoa said, tying the bandage tightly, “You’ll see how I do it and repeat. Learn faster that way.” 

 

Wonka leaned forward on his good knee, tilting his head to the right, “That won’t take up your time?”



“You are my time.” Kokoa said simply, bending his foot back to check his flexibility, “Comes with knowing English.”



“I haven’t been the only human to come here, have I?”



“No, there have been others.” Kokoa began to put their supplies away again, “Many others. Kilwin, Ghirardelli, Godiva, Recchiuti-” Their grimace turned more akin to smelling soured milk now, spitting the name in a way that almost sounded profane, “ Hershey. Many, many others.”


“And what happened to them?” Wonka asked.



“They were not lucky.” And for a moment, Kokoa gained a somewhat dry smile, patting his foot again, “But they weren’t very smart either.” They looked over Wonka for a moment, “But you came for the same reason they did. Our beans.”



Wonka rubbed his neck and gave an awkward grin, “Guess I’m still pretty pale if I’m that transparent, huh?”



“You are.” They stepped aside to let another group of Loompas in with their teapot, “But at least you are honest.” 

 

“As honest as a candyman can be!” As bad as it smelled, he was getting used to the tea by now, and it didn’t sting quite as bad when it began to steep (not that it tasted any less awful.) He cautioned a glance up, “How did it look by the way, the whole…” he wagged a hand in the air like he was looking for the right word, “Arm?”

 

“Leg.”

 

He snapped his fingers, “Right you are!” He leaned over a bit, “But seriously, what’cha think doc? Will I ever tap dance again?”



They looked up, one ear cocked up on the side they’d raised their brow, “What is ‘tap-dancing’?” 

 

“Oh! Right, well-” He sat up a bit more, setting aside the cup of tea for now as he brought one hand over the other, dancing his fingers atop the back, “It’s like regular dancing, see? But instead you strap bits of metal to your feet, so it makes a sound. Like ta-tap tap tap clackity clack.” He said, demonstrating by dancing his fingers over his hand.

 

Kokoa looked incredulous, stepping aside to let the other Loompas back through, “And you know how to do this?”

 

“Well…” he lowered his hands in a shrug, “No… but I mean. I thought about it! Good promotional tool, tap dancing!” 

 

“Mm.” Kokoa leaned on their bag, “You will dance.” They held up a hand as he started to talk again, “If-“ They pointed to the cup of tea next with that same, dry smile, “You heal.”

 

He glanced at the tea and back to Kokoa, his smile flickering out like a snuffed candle, “...You sure I can’t just… not drink it and say I did?”

 

Kokoa stared at him. 

 

He stared back. Nervously. When a minute turned to three, he picked up the cup and drank the shot.

 

Kokoa looked pleased by this, finally picking up their bag and stepping outside. 

 

And when they did, Wonka spat the bitter drink into a nearby plant. It swayed for a moment, then drooped over, half hanging out the side of the pot.

 

He was healing, so did he really need to stay passed out for hours? And he needed something to get the bitter taste out his mouth. He leaned to his coat, digging through pockets hidden and non, eventually coming upon a rock candy stick, which he popped in his mouth to suck on, leaning back. This was fine! He’d just rest in his own time and now he wouldn’t have to worry about missing out on the whole day or learning more about his hospitable hosts.

 

He dug out a notepad and his quill, sucking on the tip to get it working - thankful that he’d picked grape tips for this particular journey - and set to work biding his time with recipe ideas and whirling thoughts of machinery he’d need to work on when he got back home. The thought of tap dancing had gotten him thinking about what helped the brain learn to dance. Could something sour enough shock the mind into a particular rhythm to go off of? Could he make something like that? A candy that taught you how to dance depending on the flavor? This would require some considerable study (and possibly another tester if his own leg wasn’t going to cut it) but he had pulled off impossibler tasks before!

 

...impossibler isn't a word, was it? Hm.

 

Regardless, he kept on scribbling, leaning into the flow once the wave of inspiration had caught him. It made it all too easy to ignore the steady hum of pain in his leg.

 

What would he call it, he wondered? Jitterbees? Jazzberries? Rumbasticks? Pain? Pain. Pain. Pain.

 

It hadn’t felt like he’d been writing that long, but he could clearly see it was night time outside the small room. Another day, slipped by even without the tea. Only now with a leg that felt like it was on fire. He spat out the rock candy stick, seeing the grooves of his teeth on the wood, long cleaned of any sugary substance. He grimaced, dropping the notepad and quill as another wave hit him, dizzying him enough to send spots dancing across his eyes. 

 

But that had to be fine, right? Even when it was healing, a cut would hurt. And with how badly it did, he'd have to pass out eventually anyway to rest, he assured himself. He still had a handle on this and he wouldn’t have to drink that awful tea.

 

As the hours slipped past and the moon rose higher into the sky, he laid awake in a cold sweat, watching the ceiling and waiting, hands on his chest as he stared. He’d pass out any second now. Any second now. How could it be getting worse ? Maybe the tea had been the only thing keeping his leg together? 

 

He swallowed, squeezing his eyes shut and letting out the held breath tightening his chest. His eyes were closed, but his mind still worked feverishly. 

 

A candy that could make you dance. Tap dancing across a candy cane floor. Candy skeletons joining in the fun. Their bones splintering, falling. Hard cracks on the floor. Metallic taps getting louder and louder. A puddle redder then the stripes of peppermint. He couldn’t stop dancing. There was an audience. He had to keep going. His leg burned but he had to keep dancing. Don’t stop dancing. Don’t stop-

 

He awoke again with a gasp, finding morning had long come and gone without him. The air smelled sour, his pillows having soaked through with cold sweat. Trying to sit up just made his head spin, so he gave up quickly on it, laying back with his eyes shut and focused just on breathing. 

 

A smaller part of his mind stepped in, wrapping its arms around, quietly telling him that maybe he had needed that bitter drink more then he’d thought. The bolder side pushed it back, telling them that this was normal. Healing hurt. The pain meant his body was just mending itself naturally instead, right? 

 

That doesn’t sound right, said the side that cared.

 

Well it sounds right to me, said his stubbornness. 

 

We need to take something.

 

Well I don’t want to!

 

Well I don’t think we have a choice!

 

It’s our body! We can choose whatever we want to do! And what I want is not to drink that stupid tea!

 

And what instead?? You want to die? Is that it??

 

“Would you two just SHUT. UP!!” His eyes shot open, clapping his hands over his mouth. He felt his vision spiral and ebb again as his leg spasmed, the pain sending a wave of nausea up him as footsteps approached. He moved his hands back, up to reassure his hosts that everything was fine! Just having a little argument with himself! No need to be alarmed! 

 

But he couldn’t get the words out before the world turned black as licorice. 

 

It felt like he was back to wandering the jungle again. The hot, humid air sticking to his clothes, cutting his way through brush. The growl and chitters of birds and bugs and creatures all around him. The dryness in his throat that only got worse the further in he went, having long ago drank through his sweet tea. Eyeing a nearby stream of cold water until he’d stared headlong into the face of an enraged Whangdoodler. 

 

Growls and cries and sharp teeth and stingers and someone was calling his name. But it didn’t sound quite...right…

 

“That’s...not how you say it.” He groaned. Only to find a tiny hand smacking across his cheek, sitting up before he could get hit again, “Ow!! Hey!”

 

“Well I might as well call you that!!” Kokoa was looking at him, and they looked madder then he’d ever seen them before. Their orange skin just about turned red as they yelled at him, “Is your head full of air?! What were you thinking?!” 

 

He pressed back to the wall, “I-I don’t know what you mean!” 

 

“Yes you do, Wanker !” Kokoa exclaimed, then pointed to the plant in the corner. It no longer drooped, but flourished, it’s leaves shiny and fresh, looking like the nap had done it a world of good.

 

Wonka gave a nervous smile, glancing back to Kokoa, “You...all...take very good care of your foliage here! I’m impressed!” 

 

Kokoa spat something at him, words full of gnashing teeth and stomping feet that Wonka didn’t have to understand to know the little person was pissed beyond belief at him. He was half hiding behind a pillow when he took a look again. They’d gone for pinching their nose, eyes squeezed shut. And now he could start to take in the scope of what he’d done.

 

His clothes were stained with sweat, and a cursory touch of where Kokoa had slapped him showed gaunt cheekbones and clammy skin. A wet cloth had been put on his head, and it felt warm to the touch when he picked it back up, eyes trailing towards his leg. It was bandaged heavily, with two sticks in place on either side of it, holding it as straight as possible. Two more Loompas, including the doctor, had arrived to tend to his injury. He watched one of them tighten a bandage around his foot.

 

He didn’t feel it.

 

A grimace came to his face, guilt settling into a pit opening up in his stomach, “...How long was I-“

 

“A week.” Kokoa finished, “You have been gone for a week.” They moved their hand down, giving a puff of a laugh, “You humans are all alike. Even when you help us, you want to leave. At any cost.” 

 

“Cocoa… I...It was just so bitter-“

 

“It was medicine that you needed .” Kokoa bit back, “And yet you didn’t heed it. We told you once and twice and thrice and yet you said you didn’t need it.” Kokoa still looked angry, but their voice had taken on an almost sing-song sort of tone. They reached out, grabbing his shirt. They were so small compared to him, there wasn’t much strength to their hold, but he leaned in regardless, sweating not from the pain now.

 

“You crushed your leg and bones were frayed so the pain you just endured. But that’s not the way we do things here that’s not how you get cured. You take your time and listen and maybe you’ll be fine, but ignore us again and see just how you’ll ever dance sublime!”

 

Wonka blinked a few times as Kokoa let him go. There was a hush that had fallen over the small room, and Kokoa had tipped their ears back, looking almost ashamed at themselves. “Did...did you just sing at me?” He asked, bewildered.

 

Kokoa yanked down their hat over their eyes and turned out of the room, hurrying before Wonka could get another word out. Many of the other Loompas in the room were avoiding looking at him, the few that did giving him a look of almost pained sympathy before going back to tending his leg. He didn’t see Kokoa again that day, but their words kept playing back to him. It had been a warning - a prediction or a proclamation. 

 

A telling of doom to befall him.

 

So when he’s offered the tea again, he takes it without a fuss and finds himself drifting off again into a peaceful sleep. 

 

It somehow tastes more bitter then it ever had before.

 

He didn’t typically dream when he had the tea. It was more of a ‘there one minute, gone the next’ effect it had on him. A peaceful dip into a black void for hours, finding himself in the waking world when he was nudged to eat or drink. But there was something this time. Vague, blurred shapes crowded around him, their eyes full of judgement as they stared at him. He could hear singing and laughter. Fire lapped at his heels as he danced to avoid it, danced for all he was worth. His leg buckled, a heavy weight pressing onto his chest. He was going to fall over into the flames, the laughter growing louder and louder-

 

He blinked. The sound wasn’t horrible, mocking laughter. It was giggling. He sat up and reached out just in time to catch the form tumbling off his chest, blinking at a figure that fit neatly in the palm of his hand. 

 

It was by far the smallest Loompa he had seen. They barely fit into their hat yet, the dangling tip curled twice around their little neck, with ears they’d need to grow into flicking up and down, blinking up at him with big, curious eyes. When he blinked at them, they squealed and scampered off him and off the side of the bed, tiny puffs of green tails twitching like little rabbits, while Wonka worked himself to sitting up a bit more, “Hey! Hold on a sec!”

 

Now he could see they’d joined a small group of their peers, just as tiny as they were, whispering in excited loomplish. Their eyes caught him and they squealed again, giggling as they scattered to hide in the room. He could still seed wide eyes poking out from behind the plants or cushions in spots of the hut, peering at him and letting out little squeaks when his eyes caught theirs, hiding a little more. “Hey now, I’m not gonna hurt you guys!” His hands went up, showing he wasn’t armed with any sharp claws or gnashing teeth, giving a smile instead, “Just your big friendly giant here, see? No harm!”



They peered a little more, but didn’t fully come out of their hiding place. “Lets see, that’s...one, two, three… Five of you, eh? Well, I think I have something here for you, let's see here…” For a minute or two, Wonka had a vague notion that Loompa children were probably taught not to take candy from a stranger, or at the very least he should take the time to teach them otherwise, but he dug in his discarded jacket regardless until he found what he was looking for, “Here we are! Tell me, children, have you ever tried a gobstopper before?”



The Loompa children (Loomplings? Loomplets? Oomps?) all had their ears perk up at the offered sweets, their curiosity piqued at the colorful little orbs he held in an outstretched hand. “It’s a little thing of my own creation, you see. You’re supposed to suck on them, like - hm. Like… a caterpillar? Do you… er, suck on those at all? A-anyway,” He waved a hand before going on, “they have all sorts of layers inside, and the flavor changes as you suck on it! Interesting, right-” He had to do a double take when he saw his empty hand, and the five children off to their own little corners again, popping them in their mouths as they hid themselves away. “Aha… awfully quick, aren’t you?”


Come to think of it, the older Loompas had been awfully fast too. Perhaps their small stature aided them in being quick. Or they’d simply had to learn in order to avoid those awful creatures.


In any case, he couldn’t help but sit forward a bit as he watched them. As silly as it was, it was part of the reason he’d come to love the job to begin with. Watching as their big eyes lit up, their cheeks got just a little more rosy, and they savored the candies with a sort of childlike awe of someone experiencing something new and fantastic for the first time. One by one, each of them coming out to approach the friendly giant again, even more curious then they’d been before. A few of them were trying to bite down on the gobstoppers, Wonka holding up a hand, “Ah ah, careful! You’ll hurt your jaw if you go too fast with them. Just take your time…”



Take your time… He sighed, resting on one of his hands as his eyes followed the children up to his leg again. He could twitch a toe, but it didn’t move an inch otherwise. He leaned on one knee, his smile fading to more of a morose expression as he thought back to that warning. Wonka had been so focused on the temporary relief of not having that bitter taste in his mouth, he didn’t think once about what that had meant in the long run… That had been most of his life so far, hadn’t it?


Leaving behind his family, pursuing the confectionary arts, running off with a wedding cake… he’d done so much running already. Maybe losing a leg was just what he deserved for it.


He was shaken out of his haze by one of the children tugging on his sleeve, glancing over at one who looked… oddly familiar. They had an almost bored expression on their face, a hand held out to him, gobstopper in one cheek like a particularly adorable chipmunk, “More, Wanker.”



Wonka blinked a few times, holding up his hands with a laugh, “Well, I uh, may have given you the last of mine. B-but! They do last awhile if you take your time!” He paused, blinking a moment, and put a hand on his chin, “Hm… Of course, you could potentially make one that could last forever… Use the right materials, a bit of charm here, a dash of acesulfame potassium there…” 

 

His musings were shaken up by an exclamation by the front of the hut, the children seeming to startle, their tails puffing out like cotton balls as they scattered. The one closest to him made a valiant break for it, but he was caught up by his tail, letting out a yelp as Kokoa held him aloft, switching to English as they frowned, “ You know most of all about bugging the human.”



“Ow!! Lemme go!!” Kokoa did, giving him a stern look and another pinch on the tail before the child scampered out of the hut, Kokoa shaking their head with a huff through their nose, dusting off their hands as they got to checking over his leg again. It took a minute or two of quiet before Kokoa’s ear twitched towards Wonka, glancing over, then doing a double take, “...” Their eyes narrowed, “What’s that smile for?”


“Oh… nothing…” Wonka tilted his head and grinned a bit wider, “I just should have known you were a parent.”



Kokoa’s face turned red again, giving Wonka a look that could melt the ice caps, “What does that mean?”



Wonka brought up his hands quickly in defense, “Nothing!! Nothing bad, I assure you! It’s just… The talking you gave me earlier, it ah… I suppose it reminded me a lot of how my mother might have talked to me after I ah… messed up.” He watched nervously for a moment as their expression softened, but the blush didn’t leave their cheeks, turning back instead with another huff to check over his leg. “...Cocoa, I… I’m sorry.”


Kokoa gave another huff, their nose curled for a moment as their name was again mispronounced, but they turned to look at him, listening. “About?”



“About… well… not taking the medicine. And getting worse and… worrying you.” He let out a breath, “And the rest of the village, I’m sure.”


“And?”



“...” He looked away from Kokoa, rubbing his neck, “And for… probably… messing up my leg. For good. Because of it.”


“... And?”



“...” His expression grew a bit more embarrassed now, looking fully away from them, “And… for mispronouncing your name, Co-...Kokoa.”


Kokoa looked at him for a long moment, hands still half-busy with untying his bandages, and Wonka was starting to get nervous that they’d be staring at him forever, before they finally shut their eyes and nodded, “I forgive you.”


Wonka let out a heavy sigh, “Well… good! Good to hear, then! So we can start back off on the right hand-”


“Foot.”



He snapped his fingers, “Bingo! Are you sure English isn’t your native language?” He leaned forward on his good knee again, “Although, foot might not be the best turn of phrase now, considering I er… might only have one soon, right?”


Kokoa glanced back at him, cocking their head to the side.


“I-I just - I mean, it seems like I can’t feel it for now, so… you know, I assumed that-”


“It will take time.” Kokoa said simply, “As long as you rest, you will dance again.” They quickly jabbed a finger towards him and narrowed their eyes, “ And take your medicine.”



“Right! Right!” He crossed over his heart, catching the confused look this got him, “Ah! That’s uh, something we do, sometimes. When we make a promise, you know. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye?”


Kokoa made a disgusted face.


“You don’t have to do the needle part! It’s just an expression, for if I break the promise - Again, not something you have to do, by any means no!”


“I… see... “ Kokoa got out the salve again, turning to focus on the injury once more. Wonka kept his gaze away, the thought of how it might look making him just a touch squeamish, though he’d never admit it.



“Do your people have any traditions when it comes to promise-breakers?” He asked when curiosity got the better of him. 

 

“Leave them out for the Snozzwanglers dipped in honey.”



“Aha! Well! That’s a fun expression, isn’t it?” Their silence creeped on just a little too long for his comfort. “...It is just an expression, right?”


He caught just a glimpse of that dry smirk, the silence creeping on ever longer until he had to turn away, hearing them snicker to themselves, crossing his arms against his chest.



“You have the worst sense of humor…” He muttered. 

 

Kokoa shrugged, “Humor is subjective.”



“I swear you know more English than you let on.” He cut back. Wonka kept on pouting as the silence stretched on again, turning away from Kokoa’s little snickers as they worked on tending to his leg. 

 

When the silence became less awkward and more comfortable, leaning back into his cushions, did Kokoa speak again, “Sucra.”


He glanced up with a raised brow.


“My child. His name is Sucra.”



Wonka gained a dry smirk of his own, “He takes after you a lot.” He laughed when Kokoa gave him another look, “I meant that in a good way!! I promise!” His hands dropped back into his lap as his smirk turned from saltine dry to Sahara desert dry, “Of course, you did pass along the wrong name to him, it seems.”



Kokoa looked back at him and raised a brow, “Did I? Oops.” They tightened the bandages back on his leg, “My mistake.”



“Ow! Not so tight, or I really will lose the leg…” He muttered, glancing out at the hut window again, seeing a group of the young kids playing around outside with a ball, a few of them with cheeks still full of gobstoppers, occasionally tackling each other to wrestle and giggle, “So, who’s the other lucky parent, eh?” His question was met with silence. He glanced back to Kokoa, still by his leg, their hands frozen in place where they’d begun to apply another layer around the sticks bracing his leg, “...Kokoa?”



They looked unsure for a moment, biting their lip, letting out a slow breath before they started to wrap his leg again, “...Only the tip of the snozzwanger delivers the poison.”



“Yes, you told me that before, why...” Wonka’s eyes widened just a bit, and his shoulders dropped, “... Ah.



Kokoa had their eyes squeezed shut, taking in another breath and letting it out slowly, going back to bandaging his leg as they opened their eyes again, “I can treat your leg. You were very lucky to avoid the poison.” They took in another shaky breath, “You cannot cure the venom of a snozzwanger.”


“Kokoa… I’m so sorry.”


Kokoa nodded, “I know.” They finished tying up his leg, taking care to make sure the bandages were secure but not constricting as they stood back up again, “...He’s been gone for years now. Sucra doesn’t even remember him anymore. He is also lucky for that.” They patted the side of his leg, “This though? This I can heal. And I will heal.”



Wonka found himself leaning forward, taking Kokoa’s small hand in his much larger one, hoping he was giving them a look of determination as he crossed his heart again with his other hand, “When I leave here, it’ll be on my own two feet. I promise.”


They blinked at him, eyes wide for a moment, and he felt their hand grip back strongly, nodding back at him, “You had better.” And in a show of solidarity, they reached back, crossing their hand in the same gesture over their own chest, giving him a firm shake in return. 

 

As Kokoa turned away to start putting their things away, it was then the two noticed it had gotten quiet. But not the kind of comfortable quiet the two had been in before. It was a silence punctuated by no birdsongs or chatter outside or laughing children. It was a cold, deafening stillness that sent goosebumps prickling their skin. He looked to Kokoa and saw their eyes widen - larger then he’d ever seen them - their gaze fixed squarely on the window at his bedside. And Wonka could see why the minute he followed their gaze.



Whangdoodles had been scary.



Snozzwangers even worse.


But there was nary a sight more chilling, nor gruesome, as the Hornswoggler.



With rows of teeth, wicked horns, claws in striped paws, and a lashing tail - sharp as a knife - it was truly something to say their yellow eyes were the most gruesome and terrifying of all. Wide and watery, staring headlong at the group of children, stood frozen with their ball rolling slowly away towards another hut, then dropping off the side of a bridge to vanish to the forest floor below.



For that, dear reader, was the most horrifying part of the Hornswoggler. It’s appetite for only the youngest, most scrumptious of Oompa Loompas.



“W-what’s it doing up here…?” He looked back at Kokoa, saw their wide eyes as their shaking hands reached slowly into the bag, pulling a knife out from it. “K-Kokoa, wait-”



They put a finger to their lips, stepping towards the hut door, the knife held tightly in their grasp. They stared into his eyes with an expression that was all too clear: don’t move. In the blink of an eye, they were gone. And nary a second later did he hear one of the children scream, their fear overwhelming them enough to run and send the Hornswoggler in to pounce with a horrific roar.



Suddenly the broken leg was the least of his worries. Wonka was more concerned for the children outside, his head filled with the horrified screams echoing around the town center as he scrambled for his pack across the room. He didn’t have very far to go, but his dragging leg was a constant reminder of just how unfit he was to defend this village again, gritting his teeth as he managed to find his machete. He moved to crawl his way out of the hut but his leg refused to hold him, nearly buckling at the knee before he steadied himself. His vision spun, colored spots dancing before his eyes, but he didn’t give up. He couldn’t. He couldn’t just sit back and let this happen if there was something he could do about it.



He pulled himself up as the screams turned higher pitched, hoping and praying he wasn’t too late as he made it out and stood up to his full height, bracing himself back against the hut when another surge of pain hit him. Wonka took another step regardless, bridge feeling unsteady beneath him, the machete gripped tight in his free hand, praying he wasn’t too late to stop the beast’s horrific attack, as the scream became a squeal-


A… happy squeal?



He had to blink a few times to make sure what he was seeing wasn’t just a trick his mind was playing on him from the pain. That he hadn’t gone into shock from some horrific sight, but… no. The children were giggling . They were pinned beneath the Hornswoggler, there was no doubt there, but instead of having their tiny heads bitten off like the gumdrop buttons of a gingerbread man, the Hornswoggler had begun to groom them. Its large, rough tongue swiping across their heads as it purred in a warbly sing-song, grooming the giggling children. He spotted Sucra in particular, the gobstopper still puffing out his cheek, laughing with a squeal as his hair was swept up into a twisting, drool-soaked cowlick. 


And clearly this was by no means normal as he looked among the adult Loompas. With knives and arrows lowered as they watched the act in stunned silence. One tried to approach the creature and received a territorial growl in kind, taking a step back before it went right back to grooming one of the children again. Among the crowd, he could see Kokoa, looking the most stunned of all. Their eyes wide as dinner plates as Sucra made another happy giggle and gently nudged on the beasts’ huge snout, “Stop, stop! That tickles!!”


“W-what…” Kokoa stumbled back, “It… it should have killed them… why isn’t…”



“The gobstoppers.” Kokoa turned suddenly as Wonka limped over, leaning on a hut by Kokoa as he dragged his broken leg along, staring in wide-eyed bewilderment as the Hornswoggler tilted its head, then moved off of the children.


Kokoa looked between him and the monster, opening up a shaky arm to let Sucra run into, the other children dispersing as the creature tilted its head left to right, curiously looking over the Loompas as it continued to purr, “What’s… a gobstopper?”



“It’s like… it's like a little candy, uh… “ He held a hand down, “Sucra, may I?”



Sucra blinked a few times before spitting it out in his hand, as Kokoa gripped their son closer and hissed, “What are you doing??”



“Testing something.” Wonka gripped the candy tight in his palm, breathing out slowly before moving off of the hut, using his machete like a cane as he approached the monster. It was only about as big as a golden retriever to him, but that didn’t make those teeth and talons any less deadly. If he was wrong about this, this nasty beast would turn his skin to ribbons in an instant. He watched it closely, leaning on the machete, letting it sniff at his closed hand. It blinked those horrible eyes once, twice, up at him. 

 

The jungle stood at a standstill around them, silence stretching on, until the Hornswoggler leaned up against his arm with a deep purring and began trying to groom his shirt.



Wonka was so relieved that he let his legs give out from under him to fall back with a giddy peal of laughter, reaching around to hug the creature as it started to groom his hair next, “Alright, alright!! I’m plenty clean, you brute! Thank you, yes, thank you!”


“It’s…” Kokoa lowered their knife, still clutching their son close, “It’s not eviscerating him…” They raised up a hand when other Loompas tried to approach, still keeping their distance even as the man giggled and freely patted the mighty beast on its striped belly. 



As the Loompas stared at him incredulously, daring not to approach, Wonka moved back his arm and flung the sticky candy as far as he could. He watched the Hornswoggler immediately turn towards it, its eyes wide, purring even louder as its tail started to swish and wag, before it was off Wonka in an instant to chase after the candy - scampering down the side of a tree and far away into the deep jungles surrounding them, hurrying off to the forest floor below. He brushed off his slimy hand on his shirt, watching where it ran off for a moment, before he looked back to Kokoa with a wide grin on his face, “Well! Didn’t know Hornswogglers liked gobstoppers so much! Guess I should have brought more, huh?”



Is what he started to say anyway, but he barely got the last sentence out before the Loompas erupted into cheers, swooping in and lifting him up off the ground - not very far mind you, but high enough to get him nervous for his leg for a moment as they excitedly talked and yelled and celebrated, parents weeping relieved tears over the children with candy still in their cheeks as the tribe rejoiced what seemed to be a total miracle.



Yet above the din, he could definitely make out the voice of Kokoa and the yank they gave on his collar, bringing his head down to look at them. Sucra was still tightly held against their side, and there was a funny look on their parents’ face as Kokoa stared at him hard enough to burn a hole through his forehead, tears just beginning to prick their eyes, “I… That was… the stupidest thing you’ve done yet. You could have been killed!”



Wonka held up a finger, “But I wasn’t!”



“You could’ve fallen off the side!”



“But I didn’t!”



“You could have ruined your leg!!”



He held up another finger as his grin widened even further, “But I didn’t !”



Kokoa looked like they wanted to yell something else his way, but their child tugged at their sleeve, pulling Sucra up into their arms and tilting up an ear as he whispered into it. The longer he went on, the more their expression dropped to one of defeat, face turning redder then even the brightest cherry tomato before their mouth shut tightly and they nodded, “Alright, alright .” They set Sucra down, fixing up their damp hair, “Go play with your friends.”



“Ok!!” He gave an excited wave back as he ran off to go join the dogpile of newly released kids, “Bye Wanker!!”



“It’s Wonka, little one!” He looked back at Kokoa when they yanked on his collar again, his smirk nearly up to his ears now as he rested a hand on his cheek, “Hm? Something you want to tell me?”



“...” Kokoa turned just a shade redder before they cleared their throat, “Thank… Thank you, for saving my child. And… all of us. Again.”



He tilted his head, his lower lids coming up from how hard he was grinning, “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it? Being humble really is an important skill to have, right up there with saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and... ” Wonka blinked as Kokoa unwrapped the tip of their hat from around their neck and pulled it off, winding it around their hand like boxing tape, “What uh… whatcha doing there, Kokoa?” Before he got another word out, they’d smacked him with the wide end of their hat like a flyswatter, Wonka letting out a yelp at the hit. “Ow!!!” 



“BUT YOU’RE STILL AN IDIOT!” Kokoa barked at him.



Wonka rubbed his cheek, suspecting it was going to be very, very sore before his time here was done, “Alright, alright, I guess I deserved that…” 

 

He found a finger jabbed right into his big schnozz, Kokoa leaning in again, “If you do something that dumb again, I’ll tie you down to the trees myself!”



“Is it really so stupid if it worked?”



“You didn’t know it would!!”



“And yet!! It did!” He brought his hands up to shield his face before he could dare be hit again, but no more came. Instead when he took another look, Kokoa had stepped to the side to allow an especially old and wrinkled Loompa to step forward. He recognized them as the very same who’d welcomed him to their village when he’d first arrived. The elder reached out, taking his hand when it was offered, and began to speak. He leaned as much as he could to Kokoa, the loompas still somehow holding him leaning in to hear the elder’s words, “Er...what is she saying, Kokoa?”



Kokoa had put their hat back on, snugly tucking the tail of it around their collar again, “She says… she’s asking you for a deal.”



“A deal?”


Kokoa nodded, listening again before continuing, “For generations, we’ve been prey for the creatures of these jungles. We do what we can to survive and make our roots, but… many have fallen victim to the beasts of this place.” The Elder put a hand to her chest, going on with a sadder tone of voice. Kokoa’s brows knit in sympathy before they kept on translating, “I...I too have lost a child to the vicious Hornswoggler once, many years ago.”


Wonka nodded, feeling like no amount of ‘sorry’ would heal such a wound, looking back at the Loompas and making a flipping motion with his hands, moving him around so he was resting on his stomach instead, waving on for her to continue now that the villagers could take a break.


“So we want to make a deal.” Kokoa translated, “If you can make us a candy to keep these beasts at bay, we will offer whatever we can to help you.”



Wonka leaned up on his elbows, “Really now? Well, that is tempting… What sort of help?”



Kokoa spoke with the Elder for a moment, waited, and translated the response they got as they looked back to Wonka, “We’ll help you make whatever candy you’d need to keep us safe. We can also show you how to harvest the beans you came here for.”



Wonka crossed his arms, “About the same as any other cacao pod, I’d hope?”



Kokoa smirked, “Many others thought the same thing. You’d be surprised how hard it gets.”



Wonka hummed, resting a hand on his chin now, “Well now, that’s only good so long as I can get a regular supply of it… Don’t suppose you’d be willing to send some back to my factory if I came up with a way, do you?”



Kokoa looked apprehensive, taking a minute or two before they translated, giving the Elder a chance to stroke her chin, before nodding with a kind smile. Kokoa frowned, “Are you sure?” They paused, cheeks turning red again, before starting to switch back to Loompish before the Elder held up a hand. She shuffled forward, putting her small hands on Wonka’s cheeks.



“You have good eyes.” She said in rusty English. But the message rang as clear as a bell. We can trust you, her kind eyes said to him. And he could trust them in return. He nodded in agreement, taking one of her hands to give a tiny little kiss to as thanks.



“Then, I’d dare say we have a deal, madam.”



The Elder blushed to her ears, giving a little giggle and batting his cheek, as the Oompa Loompas burst into cheers around him, joyously singing in celebration for their nights of fear at the hands of such foul beasts would soon be at an end. Wonka grinned as he looked around at the happy faces, feeling a newfound swell of pride come up in his chest, so caught up in the moment that he stood right up with a whoop of his own.



CRACK! 

 

The crowd hushed, Wonka blinking a few times, while Kokoa took a quick peek at his leg for a moment, looking back up at him, “It was just the stick.”



“Ah. So it was!” Wonka said, still not moving.



Kokoa looked up at him, “...I’m guessing it still hurts though.”



“Oh every nerve is positively on fire!” 


“Alright.” Kokoa put two fingers to their lips and whistled, starting to bark commands to whatever Loompa would listen, Wonka almost recognizing a word or two - internally praising himself for picking up on the language so fast - before he fainted into a pile of the little fellows, his last moments of clarity being the dry smirk on Kokoa’s face before he passed out again.