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sinners have a future

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The ankle is broken. Wilde hears it crunch when he lands, snapping awkwardly to the side and shooting spurs of agony up his calf in white-hot knives. He can’t breathe for a second with the pain of it, choking on spittle and pressing the back of his hand to his mouth. His whole foot is useless, actually, unable to bear weight, and it takes effort to walk with merely a limp rather than buckling to the ground.

He’s not going to give Amelia the satisfaction, though, so he keeps his voice steady as Hamid Messages him and continues walking until he’s out of sight.

Then he slumps against the wall of a Parisian alleyway and forces himself to look down, finding his leg already swollen and with a piece of jagged white bone poking up from a bloodied tear in the skin. Wilde swallows hard and tries not to let the shock of dizziness go to his head, because he’s not going to be able to heal himself if he’s heaving his guts onto the pavement.

It’s fine. He’s fine. He’s better than this, and he can get through it.

The first time he tries to cast is a complete failure. Worse than that, it’s an embarrassment of a song, throaty and catching and off-pitch and gods’ sakes, if Wilde can just get his voice to stop shaking, everything will be fine. There’s poison still coursing through his veins, and the static of grogginess in his mind, but if he can bring himself to sing, the world can keep plodding along.

The second time he casts Cure Light Wounds, he manages to actually do it, and then burns through several more spell slots before he feels right again. It has started to drizzle, and Wilde tips his face up towards the smoggy air, letting his voice soar not for the magic but for the simple pleasure of a lullaby co-opted from a mother who refuses to sing to him. His parents’ temple of Zeus had never quite opened their arms.

It’s fine. That’s not what this is about, anyway.

Wilde needs to find a way to Prague. Teleporting, hopefully. He’s not too keen on travelling with a stranger— or worse, a coworker. He needs to find a quiet hotel with staff who will not ask questions, because despite all efforts to the contrary, the dreams are only getting worse. Scratch that— he needs to find a hotel near a proper temple, because what he’s doing now is completely unsustainable.

But that’s long in the future. He has to get out of the alley, first.

The teleport is expensive. It’s fine. It’s not like he had any other choice. Wilde sits in the temple of Artemis with the glamour of a short-haired, Roman-nosed blond settled firmly over his features, trying not to shiver. He doesn’t know if the place is just cold or if he’s worse than he thought.

“I’ll take it,” says a squeaky, high-pitched rasp, sounding impatient. It is piercing enough to break the cloud cover of Wilde’s thoughts, and he looks up. “I’ve got training, and it’ll make things go faster. Alright?”

“That… will be helpful,” concedes a tired-looking human, smiling down at the heavily armed goblin with the squeaky voice. “Thanks, Grizzop.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Grizzop says, tapping his foot against the ground as he glances out across the waiting room, crooking a finger in Wilde’s direction. “You? With me.”

Wilde stands, and— yeah, the cold in the room is definitely just him— follows Grizzop into one of the side rooms for treatment, ignoring the rush of blood in his ears and the way that his vision darkens around the edges. That’s what the paladin’s for. He can help.

“Right, what’s wrong?” Grizzop says as soon as the door’s closed, and Wilde winces.

What’s wrong, indeed. If only it were that simple.

“I’ve… been having trouble sleeping,” he begins, slowly, like the words are painful. He is wearing someone else’s face, and he’s never felt so seen.

“Get someone to cast Sleep on you?” Grizzop suggests over his shoulder, darting around the room to rearrange paperwork and furniture as if standing still will kill him. “Me, for example?”

Wilde clears his throat. “Please don’t cast anything on me.”

“Sure,” Grizzop says without hesitation. “What’s the issue, then? Just insomnia? Something happen recently? Your ankle looks a bit swollen; everything alright there?”

So his magic didn’t work as well as he’d thought, then. “I fell,” he says, and even though it’s the truth, it feels hollow.

“Nasty break,” Grizzop says, poking at it, and yep, that’s making a crunching noise that it shouldn’t be making. “That’s crepitus, that is. Gimme a second.”

The relief that floods through Wilde at the divine healing makes the whole trip worth it. And he feels less exhausted, now, like Grizzop’s magic sucked away the fatigue with the fracture. “Is— is there anything you can do? For the insomnia?” Wilde asks after a long moment, because he doesn’t trust himself to thank Grizzop without getting emotional, and that is utterly and completely out of the question.

“‘Side from casting Sleep, there’s nothing, really,” Grizzop says with a shrug. “Try to go to bed earlier?”

Wilde smiles at him, and Grizzop opens the door to shoo him out, and he can’t bring himself to even mention the dreams.

Grizzop and Wilde meet again only a few days later, with the sting of Bertie’s death freshly confusing in his face. Grizzop hates him even more vehemently than most people do, which is fine. The Wilde sitting in that temple was a very different man than the one stealing food off Grizzop’s plate in the hotel room.

It becomes a bit of a private joke. A gotcha. A trump card. Grizzop can be as rude as he pleases, but he can’t revoke kindness if he didn’t know it happened.

Wilde’s got a report to make to Apophis, after Zolf leaves and Bertie dies. He files the disturbance as ‘Major’ and is granted personal audience with the dragon Themself.

He’s able to get a teleport to Egypt, but is forced to take a train into Cairo. The adrenaline of potentially falling asleep around other people keeps him from getting a moment’s rest and Sasha’s words from Prague rattle around accusingly in his mind. Look at how much he hates being himself.

It’s not true.

It’s not true, Wilde thinks firmly, scanning the faces of the passengers on the train. They’re mostly Egyptian, with international travellers scattered here and there, on their way to Cairo for business. All people. All with rich and full lives. All with their own faults and disappointments. All with thoughts he’ll never be privy to, in the same way they’ll never be privy to his.

“Look at how much he hates being himself,” Sasha had said, laughing.

I don’t, Wilde thinks again, but it feels hollow, like a reminder of an event he’s never been planning to attend.

I don’t.

Apophis has a way of pulling honesty from everyone they meet. Although Wilde is no exception, it’s not like he planned to lie to the Meritocrat in the first place. The LOLOMG deserves an honest review, and sure, Wilde might be a bit biased, but he’s telling the truth to the best of his ability.

“Sasha Rackett,” Apophis rumbles, a slow and deliberate delivery of syllables. “Tell me how she has fared.”

Wilde clasps his hands behind his back. The best part, Sasha’s voice reminds him, about working with Oscar Wilde is that he’s not there very often. “She’s persevered without hesitation, even regarding the circumstances I’ve mentioned prior,” he says, calm and clear and efficient. “Rackett is a singular talent and a keystone of the company. She’s been receptive to change, welcoming to new members, and has easily adapted to the shifts in leadership.”

“The Tahan?” Apophis prompts, unreadable.

“Hamid has created an almost seamless transition of power from Mr Smith to himself,” Wilde says without hesitation. “He has done so gracefully and with empathy, and found a replacement for the lost member within days. I’m—” His voice catches. Get some sleep, Oscar, says the memory of Hamid in the door to Newton’s study. “It’s been pleasing to watch his progress. Anyone would be proud.”

“Mm.” Apophis shifts, making a noise in the back of their throat. Even human-sized, they carry a weight in their pounding steps that always activates Wilde’s urge to retreat. “And the goblin?”

“Clearly invaluable.” His words are so solid that Wilde surprises himself. “He’s quickly building a bond with Sasha, and complements Hamid’s leadership well. A… very efficient worker.”

“You like them,” Apophis observes, with something like amusement in their rumbling voice. Wilde’s mouth goes dry.

“They’re valuable.”

“You like them,” the dragon repeats, turning those orange, glowing eyes to Wilde’s. They burn into his, demanding an answer, demanding the truth.

Wilde says, “That’s not what’s going to keep them alive.”

The worst part about working with Oscar Wilde is that he’s really irritating, and makes the horrific trauma you’ve just gone through seem milder in comparison, Sasha’s voice reminds him. The best part about working with Oscar Wilde is that he leaves.

Apophis lets him go after that, apparently satisfied. Wilde catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror on the way out and knows that he’s the only one who can see the cracks in his glamour, the streaky shimmers of Prestidigitation.

But it’s fine. He’ll be alright.

“Look at how much he hates being himself,” laughs Sasha in memory.

I don’t, Wilde thinks, with even less conviction than before.