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Bittersweet

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“Okay, now where was I…?...Hm? The factory? Oh! Now that’s a good story. It was a funny acquisition, honestly. Would you believe I won it off a game of cards?...No? Well what do you all play?...Huh! Well, okay, if you took that and added little flat squares of paper and got rid of the knucklebone dice, then you’d have the game I was playing - and oftentimes, folks would bet on it!”


“Now, after my botched wedding, I ended up on the run quite a bit. I had a new calling in life, but it took a fair bit of effort to get as good as I’ve gotten. I had to work my way up. And it’s hard when you go into it without any experience to speak of. I mean, I had learned to cook a little from my mother, but she was so busy with the work, it wasn’t nearly often enough to sink in. So I had to start from the bottom. Became a patisserie's dishboy for a bit. Oh, ah, a patisserie is a very fancy term for someone who bakes desserts, like my wedding cake… Ah, mi amore, that cake. I made her last for a month before I was finished -... Well don’t glare at me! I’m getting to it, patience!”


“So I’m working as a dishboy - scrubbing and sudsing. My fingers stuck looking like raisins at the end of every shift. But the thing about dishboys is nobody realizes just how much we listen above the din. Every day, chefs and bakers walk through my space, dropping off crusty pans or presentation plates, and they’d discuss all about the latest secret recipe or dessert they were set to present. And I listened to every last detail, locked it in, and when I got home for the night, I would set to work on it. Perfecting it. Improving it. Making them better then any of the chefs or bakers or patisseries ever could! And when I got good enough, I toppled the head chef and made the place my own! That was the first in a line of Wonka sweets shops!... look if you’re going to keep giving me sour looks I’m never going to finish - Yes I’m getting to the card game, patience! You’re going to make me lose track again…”


“So there was only one needle in my haystack. One pin in my cushion. And that was a man named Slugworth. Now, Slugworth was a cunning man, I will not deny that. He was a liar, and a cheat, and a schemer, but he was cunning. Cunning like a fox drooling at the gates of my hen house. You could spot the customers or employees he sent from a mile away, and I could tell it was to do what I had done - to steal my perfected recipes and use them in his own sweets. By then I had gone away from baked goods - full steam ahead into candy - and he tried to do the exact same thing. Only - and here’s the kicker - the man came from money.


“He tapped into his banks and got himself a whole factory before my shop had even grown to two, and he was determined to do whatever it took to run me into the ground. But, as a smart man, he wanted to make me an offer first. He wanted to make it my choice and my loss at the same time, by challenging me to a game of cards. The winner would keep the factory, and the loser… well, he’d be leaving town for good. And you know me, I’m a risk taker, so you know what I had to do-”


“Am I interrupting something?”


Wonka glanced up from the doctor, brightening at the Loompa walking through the door, “Ah, Kokoa! Not at all, not at all! I was just having a good chat with our lovely doctor here. Right, Doctor Swizlick?”


The doctor glanced at Kokoa with an expression that demanded she be put out of her misery. Kokoa waved a hand and let her pack up her things, the doctor breathing a tremendous sigh of relief, grabbing the stepstool along the way to make their way up to Wonka, “How’s the leg healing?”


“Stronger every day it seems!” He said, demonstrating by wiggling all five of his toes, waving out to it with a grin at the Loompa, “Doctor Pepir said I should be walking again any day now!...Or it might have been another month or two yet. My Loompish is still in progress, I’m afraid.”


Kokoa snorted, “I’ll translate it later. Give her ear a chance to recover.”


“Oh come now, I don’t talk that much!” He glanced over as the doctor quickly scampered out the door before he could ask her himself, looking back to Kokoa, “Do I?”


“Lets just say she’s got other patients and leave it there.” Kokoa hopped back down off the exam table to nudge over a wheeled chair for Wonka, climbing back up the step stool to help nudge the bum leg in before scampering up into the wheel’s compartment, “Ready for the progress report?”


He gave an eager grin, “Please! Let’s head over while we still have some daylight.”


“Got it, Wanker.”


“Wonka.”


“Hm? Sorry, English not very good looking today.” Kokoa snickered, then walked forward, Wonka with his hand on the other wheel to move them both out of the doctor’s hut and into the village center.


It had been about three months since he’d first arrived at the village of the Oompa Loompas, and their newfound deal had progressed quite a fair bit since he’d first come around. The most major change had been a new hut made by the Elders’ - large enough to easily fit someone of his height, with a hole at the roof to vent the puffs of colorful candy steam coming out the top. The inside was even more exciting then it’s painted exterior - tables and counters built out of the wall that housed all sorts of beakers and pots and pans, working on a whole range of bubbly confections and delights. Milling about the place were dozens of the villagers, examining the boiling liquids and adding ingredients where they could. Another group worked on an indoor garden of sugarcane, grinding what they could harvest down into sweet sugar water, while others still were hard at work in the testing phase of things, staring at colorful orbs on a table and chalking down notes on homemade paper.


As they wheeled through, Kokoa took out one of these papers and started to read it off, “Sugar production has gone up a good thirty percent since last month. We shouldn’t have any shortages once the supply has dried some. Also, results on the butterfly extracts have come back.”


“And?”


“Purple has offered us a nice cherry flavor with the right amount of wing dust.”


“Interesting…” Wonka rubbed his chin, grimacing at the bit of stubble he’d begun to put on, reminding himself to shave later before looking back to Kokoa, “And what about the blue ones?”


Kokoa took a cursory glance as they passed by three Loompas, one of them pulling up their robe to show the bright cyan spots on their body, another one popping into place with a worried look on their face, the other two hurriedly scribbling down notes. “Not as flavorful. But not poisonous either.”


“Then I’ll count it as a victory.” Wonka settled in as they ended up at his desk, looking through some of the notes they’d written up while Kokoa took the staircase built up out of the side of the desk, joining by Wonka’s side as he put his reading glass on to take a look, “What’s this one here? The result of the orange butterflies?”


Kokoa leaned over for a look, rubbed their chin, and looked up at Wonka, “Tasted like snozzberries.”


“Snozzberries?”



“Mm-hm. Its’ caterpillars grow on those plants, so not too surprising there.” They made a cupping gesture with their hands, “It’s the one with that big, thick leaf. Has a tangy goo inside. A little bitter, but a bit sweet too. Berries have a sharp edge to them.” Kokoa crossed their arms when he gave them a look, “Not everyone is you, Wonka. Some of us like bitter tastes.”


“Well...I suppose we could use it as a flavoring for adults with… unjust taste buds.” He treated himself to a little smirk at Kokoa’s pouting, continuing on before they could dish out any punishment, crossing his good leg over his lap, “What else has gone on while I was out? Any new prototypes?”


Kokoa huffed, sticking their hat back on their head, “A couple.” They rang a bell on the side of the desk, sitting back at a smaller chair of their own as they waited for the troupe to arrive, handing off a small platter of the tester gobstoppers onto the table. He picked one up, looking it over, “Hm… Looks about right… “ He turned to Kokoa, “Any side effects?”



“None so far, though they’re still sampling them.” Kokoa blinked, giving Wonka a dry look, “You already put it in your mouth, didn’t you?”


He blinked, glancing around the room, “Was… Was I not supposed to?”


“It’s… Fine. It’s fine. How does it taste?” They asked, grabbing a paper to write down notes on.


“Hm…” He turned his chair before leaning back in it, hand to his chin as his other arm went across his chest, “The flavor is a bit more faint then I’d like… The coating is about right, but I don’t know if looks alone would fool a hornswoggler. And the texture…” He tried an experimental bite down on it, blinking when his teeth sank right in, chewing for a moment. His brows knit further and further down, until he blew a bubble with it and let it pop, grabbing a leaf off of one of the nearby plants to spit it into, fold up in a neat little square, and throw it into a bunsen burner fire to burn up in a puff of smoke. He clapped his hands, “People, people, please! We can’t keep making gumballs! It needs to be hard candy, are we clear??”


The few who’d learned some English nodded, hurriedly telling their coworkers the news, passing it on from one Loompa to the next as Wonka leaned back in his chair, sinking into it with a groan, “They keep going for the gum route - why do they keep doing that, Kokoa???”


“Iunno-” Kokoa chewed, leaned back on their own chair, blowing a fairly impressive bubble before it popped, going back to chewing again, “-what’s so bad about gum?”


“It’s disgusting. That’s what’s bad about it.” He countered, leaning forward again, arms crossed now as he sneered at the platter with contempt, “First of all, who makes a candy that you’re not supposed to eat? And then, why do you downright encourage people to just stick it onto whatever surface they want to to get rid of it? It’s horrendous!!! I’ve even heard of folks chewing it long after it’s lost its flavor! And by that time, what is even the point of eating candy if you can’t swallow it but you can’t even tell what flavor it had been! It boggles the mind, Kokoa!! Boggles the mind!!!”


“Wonka-” Kokoa stood up, and gave him two light smacks across the cheek, holding his head in place, “You’re going into hysterics again.”


He huffed, breathing in and letting it slide out slowly, “Alright, alright, fair enough… I’m calm.”


Kokoa raised a brow, slowly removing their hands, head cocked to one side as they held them in place for a moment. Wonka let out another breath, eyes shut, his face slowly screwing up again, hands balled up, right up until - “BUT!! People should be more considerate with their gum!! Or there should be a way to get rid of it in a hurry, or eat it, or-” Two harsh smacks hit his face again and he shut his mouth tight as Kokoa smirked.


“That’s better.” They pat the sides of his face before looking down towards his notes, leaning over them. Wonka leaned back in turn, raising a brow, as Kokoa picked up the sheet to look over his lettering. They turned back to him, hand moving off their chin, “Your lettering is terrible.”


Wonka blinked, grabbing one of Kokoa’s notes to compare the two, flicking a magnifier over his reading glass to take an even closer look, “...They look the same to me?”


“Your curls are off.” Kokoa gave the paper a light smack as they looked back at him, “It means you’re losing half the intent with your grammar.”


He pinched the bridge of his nose, “Intent with the - they’re just simple notes, Kokoa. They don’t need grammar rules. And they’re legible compared to last time, right?”


Kokoa passed his notes back, “Sure they are. You’d impress many at your first day of learning.”


He grinned proudly, “Why thank you, I-” He then had to remember what ‘day of learning’ meant for Loompas as a group of children ran by giggling outside, crossing his arms with a heavy pout, “- hey , I’m trying my best!” He raised a brow, “And I haven’t seen you writing much English lately.” 

 

Kokoa’s ears perked right up, glancing from the left, to the right, ears dipping back, “I mean…” They crossed their arms, “You’d be the only one who’d read it anyway, so... why should I?”



Wonka leaned right in so his face was by Kokoa, a grin slowly spreading on his face, “Come now, Kokoa~ I can’t be the only one having a tough time now, am I?~” He said in the sort of sing-song voice that got a grimace on Kokoa’s face every time, looking off with a rather adorable pout. “You must have something written down somewhere~ ” He leaned back a bit, looking over some of the papers on his desk, “Perhaps… somewhere… around heeeeere?~” 

 

Starting soft at first, a growl had begun to work its way up Kokoa’s throat until they were reaching up to grip the brim of their hat, yanking it down over their face as they stamped their foot and grimaced until letting go with a “FINE!” Their small but mighty footsteps rattled the quills on the desk as they moved aside the cup to get a sheet out from underneath, shoving it at Wonka and standing back with a huff. He couldn’t help but snicker a bit at the reaction, unfolding the page to give it a once over.


He blinked.


Kokoa grimaced as he went quiet, “...So? It looks terrible, right?” His eyes were moving, so clearly he was reading it, but as the silence stretched on, the Loompa got more and more antsy, giving his arm a nudge, “Can you just say something already? What??”


“Kokoa…” He looked down at them, “This is some of the most gorgeous cursive I’ve ever seen.”


They blinked a few times, one ear cocked up as they made a face, “Cursive?”


“I mean-” Wonka lowered the paper, bringing out a third magnifier on the reading glass to take an even closer look, “-it’s not print, mind you. But I dare say you have the penmanship of a world-weary poet if I’ve ever seen one.”


Kokoa gave a huff, their cheeks looking just a tinge redder as they looked over their work, “I just wrote it how I’m used to writing... You know. Curls and all.” They glanced back at Wonka as he sat up again, “So… what? Can you read it?” 

 

Wonka had to move his glass off to wipe a tear from his eye, overwhelmed for a moment by the sheer beauty of the page, sniffling for a moment before replying, “Oh no not a word of it.”


Kokoa made a face, “ What?



“I mean some of the letters are in Loompish and others are just the wrong letter to use in a situation! Unless you meant to write one of the other ones that is.” He sniffled hard again and took his cravat to wipe a tear away on, “But it’s simply stunning! A work of art!” He put a leg in the air and dramatically tipped his chair back with a flourish, ”I would frame this piece if I had the glass for it!”


With another building growl, Kokoa started to roll up one of their sleeves, “Oh I’ll show you ‘Simply Stunning’, Wanker-



It was at that moment that the door opened suddenly, another Loompa hurrying her way inside, her sleeves whapping a few other workers along the way as she made a beeline for Wonka’s desk, out of breath by the time she stopped enough to catch it. During his time in the village, Kokoa hadn’t been the only Loompa he’d come to know and recognize. And it was hard not to pick out Custard from a lineup. With her fiery puff of red hair and a tail more akin to a squirrel than an Loompa’s, many in the village assumed she was younger then she actually was, instead of acting as one of it’s main teachers. She pulled down her collar so she could breathe a little easier, “Mis… mister… Mister Wonka…” 

 

Wonka blinked a few times, then pulled himself back together into a proper seating position, clearing his throat before casting a bright smile towards the Loompa, deciding to practice while he had the opportunity. “< Ah, morning good! Welcome Kustard! Help do for? >” 

 

Custard blinked several times, raising a brow as their lip curled a bit, “ < Did he black out again? >



Kokoa gave his face a shove, “Let me do the talking.” They turned back to Custard, raising their head, “ < Not recently. Is something wrong? >” 

 

The Loompa breathed in, pulling up her scarf again before she brought her arms up, giving a casual shrug as her eyes went half-lidded for a moment, “ < No I was just taking a light jog around the village - OF COURSE SOMETHING’S WRONG!! >” Her arms shot up as her brows furrowed, “< We got a Snozzwanger sighting by the learning hut!! >” 

 

Kokoa narrowed their eyes, leaning over to Wonka, “Snozzwanger.” His expression turned a bit grim, nodding as Kokoa took a look back, “ < Anyone hurt? >” 

 

“< No… The children are safe inside, but it’s been circling the building. I’m shocked I got over here fast as I did… >” She straightened up, her sleeves flopping down her arms when she gestured again, a hand going to her chin, “< Seemed awfully focused on the children though… >” 

 

“< Strange… >”



Wonka leaned forward to catch the familiar word, raising a brow, “What’s so strange about that? I thought they liked Loompas.”



“Yes, the adults.” Kokoa had a hand on their chin now, thinking, “Snozzwangers like the challenge. They relish in a prey that struggles. And children do struggle, but they can’t exactly fight back as well.”


“Hm… The fauna of Loompaland sure do have some strange motivations…” 

 

“< Are they still at the hut? >”



“< See for yourself! >” Custard pointed towards the window, sleeve rolling over her hand again in the process. Though it was a distance away, it was easy to make out the body of the Snozzwanger on the roof of the hut, trying to puzzle a way inside, digging at the thatching with some clawed fingers as the children within tried peeking out the window to get a look at it. A few adults were cautiously approaching around with longer spears, trying to see if they could coax the beast away, snapping at their points with drooling mandibles. 


“Ugly thing, isn’t it?” Wonka said as he peeked through the window, “Though it doesn’t seem quite as aggressive as that first one…” He put a hand on his leg as he said this, brows knit as he studied the creature from a distance, “Then again, I probably was the biggest adult it had seen, if their tastes are aged as you said.” For a second he pictured the horrible drooling maw of the creature in his face before it had jabbed through his leg, then shook it from his mind as Kokoa had begun to dig through the desk, finding his machete stuck behind a stack of papers. 

 

“< Stay put. I’ll be done with it in a minute. >” Kokoa spoke, checking the sharpness of the blade before Wonka grabbed it instead.



“Now hold on. You said it yourself that those things are deadly. Was your plan just to run at it with a knife and hit where it hurt?”



Kokoa looked from the machete up to his eyes, furrowing their brows, “Generally speaking, yes.”



“Well, obviously it’s not acting as it usually might.” Wonka rolled closer to the window to take a proper look outside, watching it twitch its head, bulbous eyes glancing around as it swiped at another spear attempting to gouge at it, trumpeting indignantly towards it. “This could be an effect of one of the prototypes we gave the children.”



“And?”



“Well, we’ve found a solution to your Hornswoggler problem, but we’ve yet to tackle the two other beasties in the area. One solution isn’t going to work for all three of them, so I have a bit of a suggestion to make.”



Kokoa already looked like they weren’t gonna like it, and yet they found themselves asking regardless, “What suggestion?”



Wonka looked back at Kokoa, glancing over to the Loompa testers still dealing with their polka-dot problem towards the Snozzwanger outside, raising a brow and nodding his head towards the window. Kokoa squinted between him and the testers a moment, brows knit, before their eyes widened and their posture went rigid, standing up a bit straighter now as they stared at him incredulously, “...No??? No! No. No!!!” They stamped a foot down on the desk, “Are you insane? No!!”


“It’s the most effective way of testing if we still have a living specimen!!” Wonka added, hands shooting up to protect his face first and foremost, “The Hornswoggler hasn’t given us much trouble since we started work around here - could you imagine how much more we could get done if we didn’t have to worry about those ugly critters to boot?”



“And bring it here? Expect it to behave??” Kokoa grit their teeth, “Those things have killed countless loompas before now. What if it got loose?” They gestured to his leg, “What if it finishes the job!”


Wonka put a hand on his leg again, biting his lip, “I know, it’s risky-”



“It’s completely idiotic-”



“-but it might mean that nobody else has to suffer from one again?” He folded his hands together, looking towards Kokoa with a sort of pleading expression, “All I ask is that we don’t kill it and find out how it ticks. That’s reasonable, right?”



Kokoa looked him over, their ears already dipped back, brow furrowed as they seemed to search every corner of the room but his face, landing back on it with a grimace, “...Promise me nobody will get hurt from it.” They grabbed one of his hands, squeezing it tightly by his finger as they reached back, making that crossing motion over their chest, “Including you.”



Wonka moved his thumb to rest in their palm to give it a little squeeze, his other hand moving back to cross over his chest, “Including me.”



They nodded firmly, but didn’t let go of his hand just yet, adding on one more clause, “Also you cannot find a way to make candy with them.”



Wonka blinked and rubbed over his face with a hand, “Aw c’mon!”



“Wanker, do we have a promise?”



Wonka glanced off with a slight grumble, “I wasn’t even going to use that much venom-” They squeezed down on his finger, eliciting a yelp from the man, “Alright, alright, that’s a promise!”



They released, satisfied, and gave a sharper smirk with a pleased nod, “That’s two promises now. Unless you grow a third eye, you should be careful.” Kokoa glanced over at Custard still standing there, drumming a foot as her eyes kept darting towards the widow nervously. “< What’s wrong with you? >”



“< Me?? Oh, nothing! >” She laughed, waving a sleeved hand, “< Nothing at all! Except for - oh, you know - THE CHILDREN!!! >” She gestured towards the window again as the Snozzwanger made a move to lunge for the window, held back only by a spear, which it lashed at with a trumpeting sound.



The two at the desk looked to the window, then at each other, both sharing a nod at the other before moving fast around the lab space. “If we want to catch it, you better have a plan!” Kokoa yelled as they tied their hat tassel tight around their body, putting the machete through the space in the back, searching for anything they could use as a makeshift trap for it.


Wonka wheeled up to a table where candy solutions bubbled, looking between the various beakers and picking out a few with bright purple coloring, snatching them as he went, “I have one idea, but we’ll need to get it off-ow!-” He drew his hand back when he accidentally touched a hot beaker, pulling off his ascot to use as a pot holder to grab it again, starting to blend ingredients together in a potion bottle, “-off the roof for it to work!”



“Which means it’ll be right in the middle of the village.” Kokoa frowned, “It could lunge and attack anybody down there.”



“But it hasn’t yet.” Wonka said, capping the solution and giving it a good shake, watching the mixture inside fizz and bubble, before it turned into an almost glittery shade of purple, “And we still need to figure out why. Just in case though, I need you to run out and make sure everyone is inside.”



Kokoa was examining some sort of explosive bon-bons a pair of Loompas had been working on, their focus off of him as their brows furrow, “I can do that. But what will you be doing?”

 

“Somebody has to be bait.”

 

“Mm.” Kokoa nodded, holding a bon-bon aloft for a closer look before they paused, blinking a few times, “Wait, bait?” When they turned around, his wheelchair sat empty in the middle of the lab. They blinked a few more times before their teeth gnashed together, their hair practically bristled up as they growled, grabbing a few more items from around the lab to deal with the savage beast before they ran outside in a near blind fury.

 

And that was an apt descriptor, for a closer look might have revealed a suspiciously tall plant sporting one casted leg and a second, more steady one. He took a peek over the plant, seeing if they were out of the building, before setting it down with a deep exhale of relief, stretching his sore arm before settling back into leaning on his crutch. He tucked the potion in his belt loop, giving a thumbs up towards the Loompas who’d spotted him before shuffling off towards the back door. “Sorry friend, I just know you wouldn’t have approved otherwise.” He said to himself as he limped out behind the building. 

 

Loompas were still holding the snozzwanger at bay, but it was clear how restless and agitated the beast was. It’s eyes pulsing a dizzying array of striped patterns, trumpeting from its nose again as a spear gets close enough to poke its abdomen. The beast inhales, it’s horrid end swelling up for a moment, before it begins to vent out a fog between its scutes. The snozzwanger was a peculiar beast in particular. It preferred to have a challenge as its main meal. So it would seek out only those who were not affected by its ability: a peculiar, relaxing fog it could produce..

 

Wonka brought up his ascot and used it to cover his nose as he limped along the backside of the hut. Through the purple-tinged fog, seeing the face of one of the loompa guardsmen. His eyes blinking slower, and slower. Rings seemed to form in his own eyes as he gained a sleepy sort of smile, leaning on his spear with a huge yawn. He could see some of the others starting to succumb to its fog, Wonka using his crutch to steady one before she risked falling backwards with a tired giggle, getting her to slump against her spear as a rest before moving on towards the back of the hut.

 

As he approached, he gave a whistle. “Excuse me!” 

 

For a moment, the fog seemed to stop. It shifted aside as the snozzwanger turned to face him, its striped eyes blinking owlishly at him as it cocked its head from one side to the other. It was about as big as a goat to Wonka, but even he knew now not to treat it lightly. He’d have one shot to make this work. And he couldn’t afford to waste it. “Pardon me, Mr. Snozzwanger, but I’m going to need your cooperation for just a few studies, if you don’t mind!” 

 

The creature cocked its head again, then dug its feet into the top of the hut, letting out a snort as it narrowed its eyes. “Ah, I see you very much do mind.” Wonka replied, going for the bottle on his belt, “Well! Seems a bit silly to ask for your permission then! Seeing as I was not going to wait for it regardless! Now, hold still for just a moment!” He said, drawing his arm back to fling the bottle at the snozzwanger.



Which it caught in one of its hands.


Wonka blinked a few times.



“Ah. So. They are opposable then.” He said, beginning to sweat, “W-well! You seem like an er...well, more agreeable sort then!” He said, taking a step back, feeling for his machete. “Perhaps we can work out a different sort of understanding then! Thumb haver to thumb haver?”



His hand gripped thin air, recalling in that instant that Kokoa had taken his machete with them. His smile was becoming more of a grimace by the second as he gave a laugh, the beast beginning to step forward, “O-or! My that is a lovely shade of purple you are, isn’t it? You know, I’d dare say that’s one of my favorite colors! Perhaps we could relate more on that level!”



He made a mistake in more ways then one, he realized as he saw a shimmering shape rising up from the creature’s back, unable to quite make out what it is until it flaps a pair of transparent insect wings, leaping into the air to pounce down upon him.



A bunch of thoughts slotted themselves together in his mind.



The gobstoppers had caused the Hornswoggler to treat the children and him as its own kits.



This Snozzwanger wasn’t trying to attack the children, but guard them. It was only trying to go inside to check on them.



This Snozzwanger was female.



It currently viewed him as a threat.


And he was very much possibly about to die as she angled herself to send her stinger down on him.



With a yelp, he jumped back with his good foot and just barely caught himself with the end of his crutch as the snozzwanger planted itself stinger-first into the ground, yanking itself back up again with a furious trumpeting to lift off the ground and try again. It stared at the mixture in its hand, tossing it onto the roof of the hut. By some miracle, the potion didn’t shatter, but rolled to the very edge of the thatch roofing, which Wonka let out a breath of relief at seeing. A little too soon as it attempted to strike again. This time, upon jumping back, his crutch caught itself in a knothole in one of the planks, slipping from his grasp to send him tumbling over himself in a mess of tangled, lanky limbs and fluffy hair. He puffed his bangs aside and worked on scrambling himself upright as the beast charged at him. 

 

“Really!! I’m not trying to harm your-AGH!” He hopped back as it jabbed its stinger towards him, his hands going up as he smiled nervously, “-harm your children! In fact I’m trying to do-EEK!” He swiveled to avoid a swipe of its hand, his vision left spinning for a moment after twirling on one foot, hopping back another step with a nervous laugh, “-quite the opposite to them! Since they’re not really yours, but-AHH!” He ducked back in time to avoid the stinger taking out an eye, his bad leg crumpling under him to send him sprawled out on the deck, inches from the edge of a very long fall, finding his shirt getting grasped by those horrible little claws as the creature took flight. 

 

Despite being half his size, it lifted him into the air like he was a ragdoll, aiming its stinger down towards his chest. A normal predatory animal might have just stung him when it had the opportunity, but the snozzwanger was a cruel sort of beasty in that regard. And as Wonka looked the beast in the striped eyes, he could swear he saw a wicked little smile curl beneath its trunk. He tried fighting back, kicking at the air, trying to thwack it with his crutch, until it knocked the stick aside to grip him by the collar so it could let out soft little honks as it grinned - snickering right in his face. 

 

Could he really capture such a beast alive? Or had this been a fool’s errand from the start? And he was going to die to the same monster that kept him indisposed all these months, back again to finish the job? As the snozzwanger dropped him, preparing herself to take that final plunge to jab him through the heart, the thing that stuck in his mind and frustrated him most of all wasn’t even that he would die to this creature, but that he hadn’t even seen his concoction get to work. He hadn’t even found out if it would. He could still see the bottle, glimmering in the mid-morning sun as a hand reached out and grabbed it.



He blinked, putting a pause at watching his life flash before his eyes as time seemed to move in slow motion.

 

The snozzwanger - it’s trunk curled up to show that awful little smile - its stinger poised to strike down upon him. Watching the way it’s bulbous eyes widened even further as a halo of licorice rope swooped down above their head and lashed itself around its trunk. Then how it’s back arched, letting out a stifled honk of alarm as a pair of loompa feet threw themselves hard right between its wings, sending it off course.



He and it landed on the deck at the same time, the structure swaying a moment, but to dramatically different circumstances. Himself remaining not-impaled for today, and her currently scrabbling at its back, clawing to try and get off the little creature as it grabbed one of those beautiful wings and bit down hard at its edge, sending tears springing to the creature’s eyes as it scrabbled the wood, trying everything to buck or pull off the loompa. The new attacker yanked the rope taut, growling with a mouthful of wing between their teeth, the potion clutched in the other hand while they stomped and dug clawed feet into its back. Yet they had their focus off the creature, eyes on Wonka, curling their lips with a snarl as they tried to speak around the wing.



Wonka sat up, his eyes lit up like twin Christmas lights, and clasped his hands together, “Kokoa!! My hero!”



They moved their mouth off, spitting out a chunk of wing as the snozzwanger bucked in pain, “WANKER, WHAT DO I DO?!”



He blinked, “What do you mean?”



They held up the potion as it bucked again and they tightened their grip, nearly losing it in the process but managing to hang on as they snarled at him, “WITH THIS!!”



“OH!!” He hobbled himself upright to try and get his crutch back, catching the eye of the beast again. He began to sweat anew as the beast’s eyes narrowed on him, hurrying for his crutch, “SMASH IT ON IT!!”



“THAT’S IT??”



“YES, YES HURRY THOUGH!” He caught the creature’s eye again and it grabbed at the licorice rope, biting through it and sending Kokoa tumbling off its back, as it went for another charge towards him, stinger raised, “HURRY HURRY HURRY!”



Kokoa jumped back up, threw back their arm, and flung the bottle as hard as possible at the creature. The bottle shattered spectacularly, coating the creature in that sticky, glittery solution that made it skid in place, stopping its charge to bat the sticky stuff off their eyes. When its vision cleared, it saw Wonka with the crutch again, trying to make a break for it. Its eyes narrowed, closing the distance in a hurry. It grabbed hold of his arms and thrust its stinger as hard as possible into his midsection, grinning as he let out a gasp of pain. It looked into his eyes, waiting to see the moment the color drained from his face, those last gasps of air as the annoying giant finally got what was coming to it.



The moment didn’t come.



He sucked in a gasp and coughed, letting out a laugh as he patted the creature’s abdomen, “I’ll say, you’ve got quite a punch there when you set your mind to it, huh miss?”


The snozzwanger blinked. It thrust forward again, hoping to drive its stinger in even deeper, to mangle his guts, to see him squirm. Instead he leaned forward with a smile on his face, hand resting on his chin and the other resting across her abdomen, “Is something wrong there?”


Confusion quickly turned to anger on the creature’s face, looking downwards to see if she had missed her mark - which she couldn’t have done with how close they had been, and her striped eyes widened at what she saw. So did his smile, reaching down and patting the large gumdrop that had coated over her stinger, pressing harmlessly against his stomach as he pulled off her grip, “Seems like you’re a bit… gummed up there, dear.” He was sure his good humor was wasted on her though, as she reared back a claw to strike at him, then found it hooked by the licorice lasso once again, yanked on until she fell onto her back with a whine. Her legs clawing at the air while Kokoa worked on tying back her arms, moving next to wrangle up each kicking leg.



Wonka leaned on his crutch with a smile on his face, resting his chin on top as Kokoa made quick work of the creature, tying off its snout last while it kicked and struggled, making wheezing honks and gnashing its teeth in the air in frustration. “Well well well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” He gave a thumbs up as he grinned, “My plan worked like a charm! Thanks to your assistance! And nobody else got hurt, see?” When Kokoa said nothing, he blinked a few times, slowly lowering his hand, “...Er… Kokoa? You’re not hurt, right?”



They tugged on the licorice rope, making sure it was secure as they hopped off the snozzwanger and walked over to Wonka. Their head was down, mouth a thin line as they silently looked him over. “...K-Kokoa?” He was getting a little nervous now, gripping the crutch a bit tighter, “You’re… being awfully quiet for ah… somebody who just won-”


Then he felt his crutch disappear out from under him, blinking once before falling hard enough on the ground to knock the wind out of him. He hadn’t caught his breath before Kokoa pounced onto his chest, grabbing him by the ascot to yank his face to theirs, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??” 

 

His eyes widened, shoulders hunched as he leaned back from them - or tried to before they yanked again, tugging his windpipe along for the ride, “W-what do you mean? It worked!! We got a live snozzwanger!! That’s a good thing, Kokoa! Why are you upset?”



They leaned back a moment, almost looking stunned, before the anger returned in full force, their teeth gnashing as they yanked him in again, “You have to ask me that??” They shook him, “I’m upset because you lied to me again! ” He tried to move out from under them, but they stomped their foot down on his chest, nose-to-nose with the man as they glared daggers into his ghostly blue eyes, “And to make it worse, you nearly died! Again!”



“But-” He swallowed, working up a smile as he held up a finger, “But I didn’t-”



“SHUT UP!” They shook him roughly, giving him a sensation akin to hard candies rolling around in a sugar-coating barrel, his eyes left spinning for a moment before they glared at him again, “I don’t care if you managed to stay alive this time! Or the next time! Or the next time after that!” As Kokoa’s glare hardened, the strain of it began to show through. There were tears at the corner of their eyes as they gripped his shirt, their teeth still bared at him, “I just want to know why.”



Wonka blinked, sitting up as much as he was allowed, supported by his elbows as he watched their hardened expression tremble and chip, “Why…?”



“Why don't you trust me?” 

 

For as smart as he was, in that moment Wonka felt like the dumbest man on the planet. Simply because he had no idea how to answer that. Kokoa’s tears were falling onto his chest, small hiccups popping up between their gritted teeth, their grip white-knuckled on his collar even as their hands started to tremble. If his plan had worked, shouldn’t they be happy for it? He was fine, they were fine. Everyone was fine! Why did they have to get so worked up?



He started to reach up, going for his pocket to pull out a handkerchief, “Hey hey, don’t cry, Kokoa. Really, it’s fine-” They looked up, blinking back tears at him as he offered the handkerchief towards them with a smile, “-I trusted you to save me after all, didn’t I? All part of the plan!”



He hissed instead, drawing his hand back as a sharp pain bloomed along the back of it. Wonka cracked open an eye, stared a moment at the three scratches across the back of his hand and followed them towards Kokoa, picking themselves up off the ground and yanking their hat down to shadow their eyes, grabbing the tied up snozzwanger. As the groggy guards began to stir again, Kokoa barked at them, a few cautiously coming over to help them carry the tied-up creature back to the labs, while villagers were beginning to peek out again to see who had won the vicious battle. Wonka grabbed for his crutch and wobbled upright, “Kokoa, wait-”



He stepped on his handkerchief as the learning hut’s doors opened, loomplings poking their heads out now while he tried to follow them, “Kokoa, please, what did I do wrong?”



They turned, staring back at him, tears still running down their cheeks. They barked at the others to stop moving, then looked back at Wonka again, rubbing the tears off on their sleeve and speaking through gritted teeth, “Sorry. No English.” They picked up the snozzwanger again, beginning to help once more with carrying it back to the lab. Wonka started to follow, trying to think of something to say to get them to come back around, to let them know everything was fine, but that was before the children ran out to flood him, circling around his feet or hopping up to climb and hug him, trying to thank their savior giant for his brave deeds with the beast.



He tried to walk around them, see if there was any way to keep following Kokoa back to the labs, but his path was soon blocked by other villagers coming up to join the celebration. And with enough tugging and pulling on him by the children, his bad leg ached enough that he was forced to sit down, working on a showman smile to start going into all the details about the fight. From how many times he nearly got stung, to the beast’s wings, to its horrible smile and Kokoa leaping in to save his hide.



Most of the villagers had picked up on some English, a few of the children even managing to ask some questions of him, which he answered with flair and flourish, as a great showman ought to. They were too excited and enthralled to notice how dull his eyes looked. How much the smile ached to keep on as the day stretched onwards. How his heart seemed to get heavier and heavier, a slouch to him by the time the crowds finally parted enough to allow him back into his sanctum.



He listened - as much as he could - as a few of the Loompas in his lab showed him the cage they would keep the snozzwanger in, its hands tied, the rope looped around to keep it’s wing-shells down on its back. It locked eyes with him and gave a stifled honk, scraping at the floor before pacing away again. From his view, it almost looked cute with how small it seemed. It was funny to think it had nearly killed him more then once since he’d arrived at Loompaland.



Wonka didn’t feel like laughing about it.



Instead, he signed off on whatever papers the Loompas had to offer him and excused himself for the evening, tucking himself into the small bedroom they’d built for him. The walls had been made extra thick, the sounds of the lab becoming soft and muffled the instant he’d shut the door. Honestly, someone could have been using a chainsaw outside his door and he would’ve been able to ignore it though, for just how exhausted he felt. He dragged himself into his bed of cushions and felted blankets, stared at the ceiling and waited.


...What he wouldn’t give for some of that tea he’d so hated. It would’ve been like ambrosia compared to the tang of acid in his throat. He wouldn’t have been stuck lying awake either, staring at the ceiling, with exhaustion threatening to tear his mind in half until a migraine formed. He laid his arm across his eyes and let out a shaky breath, his other hand gripping over his chest. Wonka bit his lip and his heart just felt heavier as their words echoed in his mind again.


Why don’t you trust me?


Eyes still covered, he let out a laugh, “I-it’s not that I don’t trust you , it was… it was just part of the plan-”

Why don’t you trust me?

 

“If you’d known, it… it wouldn’t have worked as well! I thought it all out, and… and we’re both safe, so-”

Why?

 

“W-why is it such a big deal? I mean-” He laughed again and felt his lungs shake when he inhaled, “-like I said, it’s fine! Never anything to worry about! Really-” 

 

Are you?

 

“I… I’ve gotten out of worse before on my wits alone, haven’t I?” He wasn’t smiling anymore, “They helped me out still, so… so it’s not a big deal that I-”

Why don’t you trust me?

 

He took in another shaky breath, rolling onto his side and tucking a pillow over his face. Staring at the ceiling wasn’t helping him sleep, and talking to himself wasn’t working either. If he shut his eyes hard enough, maybe he could-

 

Why?

 

Maybe he could just- 

 

Why??

 

Just forget about the whole thing-

 

Why???

 

And just-

 

Why?!?

 

Ignore such an annoying, stupid question- 

 

WHY?!!

-that he didn’t know the answer to-

 

WHY!!!

 

-and just go to sleep-

 

Why…?

 

Just… go to sleep… 

 

 

Just… sleep. 

 

...You’re scared, aren’t you?