Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters which belong to Roald Dahl, Warner Bros. Pictures and Tim Burton. There is no intent to gain anything or anyone.

CatCF (movie) Alternate Universe

Chapter 56 - Return Engagement

Edmund watched with bewilderment and concern as Willy Wonka paced back and forth in front of him. Normally, Pataki would have lain down on the couch. He said it was necessary to get the full impact of his therapy. Instead, he was restless and acted as if he couldn't sit still for anything or anyone. This was totally unlike the chocolatier. He scribbled a bit on his pad as Willy continued speaking to himself. Flashbacks to the Factory's closing? That could not be good! And yet, if Willy would finally reveal what had happened during that time, he would do and be so much better. He was always very secretive about the days leading up to the closing and beyond, never sharing a word with even his closest friends among the Oompa-Loompas.

Willy continued pacing, his hands waving in the air. His brow was deeply furrowed as he tried to figure out what it meant. Why and why now? "I trust the Buckets," he whirled around and exclaimed to Edmund who nodded. Pataki could place his heart in the Buckets' hands. All of the Oompa-Loompas were sure of it. They would never do anything to betray their friend.

Edmund waved his hands, attempting to get Pataki's attention. To his consternation and surprise, Willy paused to rub his horn obsessively against the door jamb. Perplexed, Edmund walked over and tugged gently on his trousers. Willy looked down, his eyes troubled. "Why are you doing that?" Edmund signed the question.

"Doing what?" Willy responded, puzzled.

Edmund pointed just as the candy maker started to rub his horn again. He made a soft bleat of surprise and stepped back. His tail was up, vibrating with tension. For a moment, he stood frozen, staring at the door as if he'd never seen it before. He glanced down at the Oompa-Loompa before shaking his head, a response remarkably like the unicorn he had been, before stalking swiftly through the door and down the hallway. Willy walked restlessly around the Factory, visiting many of the more distant rooms. Periodically, he would unknowingly shake his head or pause to rub his horn against something.

Eventually, Willy Wonka did settle down. Well, he sort of, kind of, maybe settled in the Inventing Room, letting work on the various candies in progress sooth his restless spirit. His practically obsessive compulsion to rub his horn against something was buried under his focused attention, which was all to the good. Lunch was sorely needed since he skipped breakfast and was eaten where he was. The Oompa-Loompas were kind enough not to give him one of the cocoa bean derivative meals. At least some of them had figured out that Willy didn't want or need chocolate or cocoa powder or cocoa something else in every meal. Dessert was okay, but not the meal itself. Even if he did have a cocoa dependency now to stay healthy. Ah ha! That was what he needed to do, Willy nodded to himself, finally remembering while where he needed to be when he remembered. As soon as he finished eating, he gathered the ingredients for his latest invention idea. The candy maker laughed as his current taste tester made a disgusted face. After a few moments passed without any strange aftereffects (aside from faces at the taste), Willy picked up one of the small super-strength cocoa buttons. He sniffed it curiously and turned it over in his fingers. That small button contained packed within itself the entirety of his daily requirement. He took a deep breath and smiled. "Here goes!" He placed the button in his mouth and waited. Now many people, alright, everybody and anybody else would swallow that button down as fast as possible as if it was a pill, which Willy supposed it was in a way. His eyes widened and bulged as the over the top chocolate flavor filled his sensitive taste buds. "Wow! That's strong!" All of the Oompa-Loompas giggled as Fred who had tested the buttons nodded vigorously in agreement. Fred had never dreamed that anything could be too chocolate, but Willy Wonka had achieved it.

Willy giggled as he examined the little buttons. "Think there's a market for these, Fred?" He teased, giggling more as Fred shook his head emphatically. Not even Oompa-Loompas would eat those things, he signed. "Well, if you're sure," Willy continued, "I guess I will be the only one to delight in super-chocolate." He carefully filled a small glass vial with the buttons and sealed it with a glass stopper, dropping in a handy pocket for later. "File that recipe carefully, Fred." Willy handed the card with his notes to his tester. "I'll be making more of these things." Fred bowed his acknowledgment and hurried to comply. He reverently placed the card in the drawer reserved for Wonka's most important recipes, knowing that it was one of the most necessary since it directly affected his dear employer's health and welfare.

- W - C - F -

The tiny child ran sobbing up the street, frantically looking over his shoulders for the horrible men who were chasing him. With a gasp, he slid to a stop as he reached the massive abandoned building that hulked over everything. Looking for his pursuers, the boy, barely beyond toddler, wiggled and squirmed through the iron bars of the huge gates. They could not follow him here, he thought as he crept up to the towering doors, to huddle in a shadowed corner. No one could. He shifted back as the nasty, mean men ran past, searching for him. Why had they come? Where were his mom and dad? Why did they insist that he had to go with them instead of letting him stay where he belonged, with his grandparents? Even as he thought that, his mind recalled his Grandma Josephine's horrified scream, the sudden gasps and looks of pain that filled his beloved grands' faces. Grandpa George's hand clutched his chest before he fell back on his pillow to lay still and frozen. Shudders filled his tiny frame as tears ran down frozen cheeks. He jerked back as she strode into view, standing at the gates with her hands on her hips, her head turning this way and that, as if she could literally sniff him out.

The small child covered his mouth to stifle a choked cry as he fell through a small door at his back. He clawed backwards, away from the opening, wanting nothing more than to escape this nightmare. He lay still, panting, waiting. As minutes ticked past with no sign his refuge had been discovered, the boy looked around, feeling a tiny niggling of curiosity. He sat up and gaped at the ceiling high, oh so high above him. Small circles of light showed some of the long elegant hallway. He had never seen or dreamed anything like this before! Slowly, he pushed himself to his feet and took a few wobbling steps, his legs feeling weak from his ordeal. A soft, rhythmic tapping sound reached his ears and he whirled around looking for a new hiding place. Who was there? Was it a ghost?! He whimpered softly, wanting nothing more than to cry just then, preferably against his mother's soft shoulder.

Part of him knew, though he had yet to admit it to himself, that he would never see her again. He would never be boosted into the air by his father's strong arms. He would never return to their small home, the only place he had known, ever again. His momma and daddy were gone and the people who had come were taking his grands' away. Maybe Momma and Daddy were ghosts and would come visit the ghost of the Factory and maybe he could see them again then. If the ghost would let him stay . . . With that thought, the young child stilled and tried to stand straight, wondering how do you beg a ghost to let you stay in his home. He hoped, a slender finger slipping into his mouth, that he wasn't a scary looking ghost, even as the tapping noise became stronger and louder. His eyes grew huge as a shadow appeared, stretching before him. He didn't know ghosts could have shadows, he thought, even as a tall man in a top hat, cane tapping on the red carpet came into view.

Man and child stared at each other in utter shock. The man was a curious sight to see, with a black velvet frock coat reaching his knees. His brown hair was long, longer than any person the boy had ever seen. Straight, oh so very straight, it almost reached the bottom hem of his long soft coat, spreading out over the man's shoulders, looking remarkably like a cape, Was this the ghost? He was certainly pale enough to be one. Charlie Bucket opened his mouth once or twice, before managing to make a sound. "Please," he whispered softly.

The ghost's head tilted curiously to one side. "Please what?" He replied in a rusty tenor.

Charlie took heart at the words. "Please, Mr. Ghost, may I stay here?"

Willy sat up with a gasp, shaking his head in confusion. What a most peculiar dream! He blinked his eyes, trying to see clearly, only to realize he was not in his bedroom as he expected to be. He inhaled and felt his thumping heart slow as the rich, sweet aroma of pure melted chocolate filled his lungs. The strange twisting shapes around him settled into the familiarity of the Chocolate Room. Vaguely, he recalled begging out of dinner with the Buckets before roaming the hallways and rooms of his factory until finally coming here, hoping it would soothe him. Apparently he had fallen asleep in a Willy sized hollow near the river. Absently, he plucked a blade of swudge lodged in his hair and sucked on it, the delicious mint filling his mouth as it melted to nothing.

"Ha!" He faked a laugh, though no one was there to hear him, for it was very early or very late, depending on one's point of view. He stretched and leaned on his hands only to pick one up with a start. Willy looked down, expecting to see a candy branch, only to find a long pointed object that was curiously spiraled. He frowned as he picked it up and examined it carefully. One hand reached up to touch his forehead. He smiled as he realized he had finally shed the unicorn's horn, only to frown as something curled forward and tickled his neck. He peeked over his shoulder and sighed. The tail remained, expressively and very much there . With a resigned shrug, Willy lay back down in his hollow and wiggled to get comfortable. He stared up, his head cushioned by his hands, contemplating the candy stars as he considered his dream. He knew, though he could not say how, that in the world of his dream, he had never found the Oompa-Loompas and never re-opened his factory. He had lived very much and horribly alone in the silent rooms of his dead dreams until an extremely young Charlie had stumbled inside. He blinked as he wondered what would have happened if that had been reality. He knew, or at least hoped, that the young child would stay with him. He smirked as he imagined authorities trying to figure out where the youngest Bucket had vanished. He sighed as he considered and wondered if Charlie would be the driving force to drag him out of his factory and back into life. He imagined going to court to win custody of the orphan. Of course, that would lead to school and all the other things that small children eventually grew into. What would that world have been like? Willy's eyes slid shut as he drifted back to a deep sleep, his tail twitched slightly before curling until his nose was buried under the soft tuft on the end.

- W - C - F -

Willy slept later than he normally would, only waking when his employees arrived in the Chocolate Room and began to ready for work. The Oompa-Loompas giggled as they found Willy no longer had his horn, but still retained his tail. With a huge stretch, the chocolatier stood, picking up his hat and placing it properly on his head. He reclaimed his cane and hesitated before plucking his horn from its resting place, considering it with careful curiosity. Maybe Charlie would like to have it, he thought before nodding to himself. At Charlie's age, he had loved to collect odd things, though most of them had not made it past his father's sharp eyes. Eventually, he had created a hiding place. He wondered what had happened to his little stash. He hadn't thought of it in years! Was it still there, waiting for him to reclaim it? Perhaps he and Charlie could go check this weekend. It would be interesting to see what had survived and if there was anything worth bringing back to the Factory. His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he had not eaten nearly enough the day before. He checked his pocket watch, sighing as he realized Charlie would already be at school. He certainly had slept late! His stomach growled again, louder, making the nearest Oompa-Loompas giggle and hide. As if he would eat them! Ha! He stuck his tongue out at them, before strolling toward the main entrance, wondering if Mrs. Bucket would mind some company. He could just as easily fix breakfast there as his quarters and he smiled as he realized he didn't want to eat alone. The thought put a bounce to his step as the restlessness and his peculiar flashback faded to unimportance. He trusted the Buckets to keep his secrets. He really did! His tail curled happily behind his back as he knocked on the door to the Ivy Suite. He paused as he wondered if he should have changed first and cleaned up a bit, but then it was too late. Mrs. Bucket opened the door and beckoned him inside with a warm, welcoming smile.

- W - C - F -

The chocolatier was finishing up his latest modifications to the Everlasting Gobstoppers when he suddenly froze. His tail lashed as memories of the Factory's closing flashed through his mind, before he frowned as one thought settled to the fore. He had to find Charlie Bucket and Mrs. Bucket! Nothing more and certainly nothing less would do! Unquestioning of the sudden impulse, Willy abandoned his work and raced for the Great Glass Elevator. He stopped himself from slamming into the doors with one hand. His tail twitched irritably as it sped for the front hallway. There, his large greatcoat hid his tail and stilled its angry lashing as he pulled it on and settled it properly, before walking swiftly out the front doors. A quick glance to make sure no one was watching and he was out on the street, hurrying as fast as he could without actually running.

Fury filled violet eyes, turning them almost red, as he took in the sight before him. Charlie and a small girl were hiding behind Mrs. Bucket, her arms stretched protectively wide as a man threatened them with a knife. Willy growled silently as he slipped with uncanny care through the bushes and trees, working his way closer and closer still. Ancient anger rose to join his angry concern for the Buckets and the girl. His cane flashed forth to block a blow from the sharp blade as he stepped between Mrs. Bucket and the strangely familiar man who stared back with a furious scowl. The man bared his teeth as he slashed at the newcomer only to be thwarted once more by a swift move of the cane. Willy twitched his shoulders, settling lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to move whichever way necessary to protect the others from that dangerous blade. The stranger tried to get around him and Mrs. Bucket to grab Jenny by the arm. She screamed as Willy lithely spun and blocked the man, pushing him back hard, the head of his cane striking his arm with bruising force.

The two men glared hard at each other. Willy's head tilted slightly as a tiny bubble of curiosity and memory rose. "Have we met?" He wondered aloud.

The man gasped suddenly and stumbled back from the chocolatier, his eyes were wide with terror. "No! It can't be! You're dead!" He protested before running away in alarm.

Willy blinked and looked back at Charlie and Mrs. Bucket. "I don't feel dead," he started, only to freeze. He blinked and stared after the fleeing man, taking one step forward. "I remember you," Willy hissed coldly and would have followed if Jenny hadn't begun sobbing. The candy maker could never bear to see children crying, not even as a child himself. He turned back and clucked anxiously as Mrs. Bucket gathered the frightened child in her arms.

Charlie grabbed hold of Willy. "Thank you!" He whispered into the soft, curly fur of his wool greatcoat. "Willy! How did you know?" He looked up at his friend and managed to smile in spite of the recent scare. Wonka didn't get a chance to respond as police arrived and questions began to fly. The questioners focused intently on the adults, leaving the children pressed close to them as they listened carefully to the words flowing over their heads. Jenny and Charlie exchanged telling looks before the recluse finally had enough and interrupted the flow.

"I know who he is!" Willy exclaimed loudly. "He used to work for me. His name is Bob Miller." He nodded to emphasis his words as the investigating detectives stared at him in surprise.

"Can you tell us anything else, Mr. . . ." The woman detective let her words trail off, waiting for the man to finally identify himself.

"Wonka," Willy snapped, "yes, that Wonka!" He responded to everyone's shock and rubbed his chin as he thought. "He lived on Apple Terrace as I recall, probably still does." He looked down at Charlie's curious, anxious eyes. "I think he was one of the spies. Actually, I think he must've been with that lot that broke in after I closed the factory. I think they're the only ones who really thought I was dead."

Charlie tugged on his friend's sleeve, alarmed. "What do you mean?"

Willy sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. "Gosh darn it, Charlie, you don't want to know."

"Yes, I do!" Charlie's chin came up as he stared stubbornly up at the candy maker.

Willy glanced hopefully at Mrs. Bucket, but seeing an almost identical expression on her face, knew he could not win this particular battle. He ran a purple gloved hand through his hair. Unseen by any one, except Charlie (fortunately), a pointed ear peeked briefly out to twitch anxiously, before Willy's nervous fidgeting with his hair hid it once more. "A group of spies, I think there were four of them, though I suppose there might have been more since I never actually saw them, broke into the factory after I closed it." One of the detectives was scribbling quickly in his pad as the billionaire spoke. "They wanted to make me give up the rest of my recipes. Of course, I tried to get away from them, but one of them hit me on the head." He touched a spot behind his right ear and shivered imperceptably. "I think I heard one of them saying something about they weren't suppose to kill me before I blacked out. They were gone when I woke up. I stumbled to my office and found they had trashed the place. Later, when I recovered, I found they had searched everywhere they knew in the factory." He sighed and shrugged. "It was a big mess to clean up and I never . . ." Willy snapped his mouth shut on his words, glancing down at Charlie from the side of one eye. He'd never managed to get the blood out of the wood flooring of the auditorium ballroom where they had dragged his body, but Charlie did not need to know that. He hadn't been there since he'd tried, not wanting to remember as he knew he would every time he set foot inside and saw the stain. He wondered if the Oompa-Loompas, curious and mischievous as they were, had found the spot and managed to clean it up. They were so clever about such things that they might have succeeded where he had failed.

The silence that followed was broken by a young officer. "I found an address for a Robert Miller on Apple Terrace," he offered a piece of paper to the senior officer.

The detective stared at it thoughtfully. "Let's get units there immediately, unmarked, no lights or sirens. Maybe we can catch Mr. Miller before he tries to leave town."

"Oh, he can't do that," Willy stated softly, earning surprised looks from everyone else. "Bob Miller has some rather large gambling debts and the holders would not appreciate him trying to leave at all." He smirked. "I did some investigating afterwards and found out lots of interesting things about some of my employees. I've kept track of select ones all these years." He nodded. "That's why he stole my secrets. He had to pay them off."

"Surely he would have paid those debts off a long time ago," Detective Rachel Burns said.

"Of course, but he's a chronic gambler." Willy Wonka shook his head sadly. "I would have helped him. All he had to do was ask, that was all any of them had to do." He stared off into the distance for a moment. "I would have helped him break his habit, but I guess he didn't want to and now he's trying to kidnap little girls to pay them off." Willy knelt carefully in front of the children. "Jenny, does your mo-mom or dad know a Mr. Miller?"

She nodded immediately, still staring at the strange man in front of her. Her eyes gleamed with curiosity and excitement. "Dad mentioned a Miller cleaning his office sometimes." She stepped closer. "Are you really Mr. Wonka?" At the man's nod, she could not restrain herself any longer. Jenny threw her arms around Willy in a big hug. "I love your candy! Thank you for saving us! I'm sorry about the spies. Are you Charlie's friend? Does he live with you now?"

Willy found himself blinking at the flood of words, even as he awkwardly patted the child's back. Thank goodness Charlie had taught him about hugs! But . . . "What makes you think I know Charlie?" He asked as she paused for a breath.

Jenny had to giggle at that. "You knew his name!" She covered her mouth with both hands to stifle her giggles at his silliness.

Willy tilted his head as he considered this and her. "And what makes you think he might live with me? Him and Mr. and Mrs. Bucket?"

The girl nodded at him. Of course, Charlie's parents lived with him too! "His clothes are nicer and he doesn't look hungry all the time." She smiled brightly at the man in front of her, even as the rest of the adults looked startled. She looked down suddenly, flushing in embarrassment. "I'm sorry I wasn't nicer to him before he saved me from that mean man. I-I should have been. I'm sorry, Charlie!" She looked at her newest friend with sad eyes.

Charlie stared at her and read the truth there as only children can. "We're friends now," he answered and smiled, dimples showing. To Willy's relief, Jenny's attention immediately transferred to Charlie Bucket. Or almost did!

"How did you meet? Mr. Wonka never comes out and why do you live with him?"

Fortunately, Mrs. Bucket, seeing the curiosity in everyone's eyes, intervened with logic only adults could achieve. "My father-in-law, Charlie's grandfather, worked for Willy," she stated. "Actually, he was the first employee at the Wonka Candy Shop. When Willy heard about us losing our home, he graciously opened his to us."

"Your first and you trusted him, because he was like Charlie and you knew you could," Jenny added with a smile.

"And, obviously, I do come out," Willy continued. "I'm out now! It's not my fault that people don't notice what's in front of their noses."

"Of course, sir. How foolish of me." Jenny curtseyed to the chocolatier.

Willy responded with a gallant bow before looking pointedly at the police officers watching them. "Don't you have someone to catch?" He smirked slightly as they suddenly started to move. Some of them began checking the ground nearby, looking for evidence. Others headed for their cars.

Detective Sam Carr, within months of his retirement, dared to direct his attention to the recluse. "We may need to question you again, Mr. Wonka, and the Buckets as well. How can we reach you?" He paused with his pen poised over his pad, waiting.

"Oh for," Willy searched his pockets before finally finding, long ignored and nearly forgotten, a cream colored business card. It was somewhat faded with age but still perfectly legible and useful if you needed to reach the owner of Wonka Worldwide. He handed the card bearing the precious information in elegant, formal script. "You may call me at that number. I believe you already have the Bucket's contact information." He pointed toward his factory. "You may also use the doorbell." With a nod to the larger man, Willy herded the children together. "Mrs. Bucket and I will see Jenny and Charlie home. Good day, officers."

Willy and Mrs. Bucket walked up the street with the children skipping in front of them. Jennifer had reached over and taken Charlie's hand in hers, much to his embarrassment and his friend and mother's amusement. The chocolatier tapped his cane on the sidewalk, deep in thought. "Well, I guess that explains the flashback," he muttered to himself. Only Mrs. Bucket heard him.

Just as quietly, she asked in concern. "What flashback?"

"About closing the factory," Willy responded after a moment's hesitation. "I must have been remembering Miller."

Jenny led the way up the steps in front of one of the many identical town homes. Charlie's brow furrowed with his puzzlement. "I thought you lived further," he pointed up the street.

"Mrs. Tompkins isn't home this afternoon," Mrs. Bucket answered. "Jenny is staying with her great aunt until her parents return."

Jenny nodded as she pushed the doorbell. A few minutes later, it was opened by a small, elderly woman with silver blue hair and vivid blue eyes. Willy blinked at her for a moment. "One french vanilla truffle every Saturday morning," Willy said abruptly even as he reached into his pocket and pulled one out, holding it out for the woman. "I remember. Your husband came by every week to get one for you while the shop was open."

Mrs. Tompkins looked at the young man consideringly. "My, I haven't seen you in a very long time, Mr. Wonka." She accepted the offering with a sweet smile. "I haven't had one of these in a very long time either."

"How is Mr. Tompkins?" Willy asked.

"Oh my, dear, he passed away about ten years ago."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Mrs. Tompkins. He was one of my best and most regular customers." Willy removed his hat and placed it against his chest to show his respect for his departed customer.

"We were together and he was happy. His only regret was that he couldn't give me one more of your delicious truffles." She smiled at the sweet in her hand. "And now his wish has come true. I have one more. Thank you, dear. You are such a sweet young man, just like your candies and chocolate."

Willy felt a blush touch his cheeks and his tail move in its hiding place under his great coat. "I'll send one by every Saturday morning."

"You don't have to do that," Mrs. Tompkins responded.

"But I want to," Willy bowed with a wink. "Now, you must excuse us ladies, I must see the Buckets safely home and take care of business. Adieu." He escorted Charlie and Mrs. Bucket away with a sigh of relief. "I didn't expect that," he commented as he looked back and answered a wave from Jenny with one of his own. "I haven't thought about that couple in ages!"

Charlie skipped to keep up with the taller adults. He looked up at his friend, concerned by what he had revealed earlier and also curious. "What happened to your horn?" The boy inquired in a soft tone so no one could overhear.

Willy bent slightly to answer. "It fell off last night. It's on my desk right now. I thought you might like to keep it."

"Really?" Charlie was surprised. "Don't you want it? A unicorn horn is special and magic."

"Truly, if you want it, Charlie."

"Of course! Thank you! You're not mad, are you?" At Willy's puzzled look, he explained. "About people knowing you're coming outside your factory and us staying with you?"

"Ah," Willy nodded and considered the situation. "Well, I suppose it was bound to get out sometime. You certainly didn't hire Mr. Miller to attack you." He paused and looked down at his young friend. "Did you?"

Charlie had to laugh. "Of course not!"

"I, for one, am very grateful, Willy," Mrs. Bucket added. "I shudder to think what might have happened!"

"No horn or tail, so I guess you can meet me in the park again," Charlie said as they entered the Factory's great hallway.

"Ah well, I still have the tail," Willy admitted as he removed his outside coat, revealing the appendage in question.

Charlie smiled at the sight. "Did you know your ears are pointed?" He asked as he remembered the glimpse he'd gotten earlier.

Pointed? Willy felt under hair and was startled when he felt his ear twitch under his gentle touch. He shifted his hair to reveal them and peered curiously in the reflective surface of a gleaming light fixture. "So they are. Huh? Who would have guessed?" He twitched one slightly noting a soft fuzz of fur on it.

"It's a good thing your hair is long enough to hide them," Charlie commented as he followed Willy toward his office. Mrs. Bucket nodded in agreement, wondering how they would have explained if someone else had seen them, before she continued to the Ivy Suite as the two friends went inside to examine the length of unicorn horn.