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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.

Chapter Text

 

“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?