He woke up.
In a bed.
And someone else was there…
“Zolf?” He asked, because there wasn’t anyone else he would be comfortable sharing a bed with. He knew that was wrong immediately.
The stench of sex, the unpleasantly damp spots on the sheets, the body beside him too thin and too long.
“Who’s Zolf?” A young man rolled over furiously to face him. He was blond and freckled and very pretty. Probably early twenties. His type. Ah.
“Damn it.” Oscar grumbled, ignoring the enraged youth. He yanked the covers off getting out of bed. He looked around for pants.
“Who’s Zolf?!” The young man repeated. Oscar ignored him. He tried to remember what happened last, but it was a blur. The last solid memory was Barret’s hideout under the ruins of London, but he knew there was more after that.
“What?” He turned grumpily.
“Are you cheating on me?”
“Who knows?” Oscar shot back. Ah! Pants. Excellent.
“Are you KIDDING me?”
Oscar winced. This guy could give Hamid’s range a run for its money. Oscar turned around and faced the young man that he had apparently slept with the night before.
“I’m not going to be distracted by a pretty face like yours. I’m either dead or have been compromised, so stop wasting my time.” He turned around again.
“You think I’m pretty?”
Did he really used to like people like this?
He froze while passing a mirror. Bed tousled black hair and he looked even younger than after being resurrected. There wasn’t even black circles under his eyes. His skin looked radiant.
And there was a part of him that wanted to look a little longer. But that part was ignored in favour of--
“Where the hell is Zolf?” He muttered. He looked up at the ceiling as if it might suddenly talk to him and give him answers. No such luck. Well, fine.
He grabbed a shirt and shoes and made his way outside to the crowded streets of London.
He froze in place, panicking at the swell of people. His breath became shallow and sweat ran down his back. It had been so long. The little town of Ursan was nothing. This was--this was--
“Have you gone mad?” The youth was behind him wearing one of his shirts. He looked uncomfortable.
“This is a trick.” Oscar forced out.
“I’m going to go…”
“Then go!” Oscar snapped. He didn’t have time for whoever the hell this was supposed to be from his past. He didn’t care.
“Wait.” Oscar said.
The young man turned, looking hopeful.
“What’s the date.”
The look soured.
“The twenty-fifth. Wednesday.”
“Month? Year?” Oscar prompted.
“I’m leaving, Oscar, don’t contact me again.”
“I don’t even know your name so don’t worry about it!” Oscar was this close to sticking out his tongue at this illusion of his own mind, or death, or whatever. The blond left in a huff. Good. Good. Now he could think.
The swell of people lapped over him like a wave. He retreated back into his flat.
Alright. That’s fine.
He searched around and found a newspaper, probably from the previous day. He winced. Alright. Supposedly he was twenty-two right now. That was nice. Fourteen or fifteen years before when it was supposed to be. He would be just out of college working on his novel and trying to figure out what to do with his life.
To put it another way: no resources.
He probably wasn’t dead, he decided. He didn’t remember much of it last time, but he knew it had been pleasant and Zolf had been there and there had been talks about being wanted and vacations. But maybe Zolf wasn’t dead and Oscar was just in a limbo waiting for him. Or perhaps the afterlife hadn’t updated the things he liked now and had thought a leggy blond was all he needed--he was starting to ramble like Cel.
Alright. Deep breath. What do you know about this particular year?
Barnes would be a child and Carter would be … university? The museum? Around this time he was a favourite of the rich and powerful who liked to fund his expeditions to have a wing of his stolen loot named after them. So he might have resources. Hamid would be less than ten. Azu wouldn’t be born yet--
He wouldn't have--he would still be!
Oscar grabbed a coat this time and his money and ran down the stairs out into the London street. It would be before and he could--
Loud chattering of the crowd. Smoke. Yelling. Laughter. Moving bodies, bumping him. Infection. Can’t breath. Can’t breath. Can’t--
A child hit him hard and then ran past. A slip of nothing that he wouldn’t have taken notice of except he had been a spy and a survivor and that kid had just stolen his wallet!
“HEY!” He shouted, jogging after them.
He needed that to get to Sommerset!
The little head looked behind and swore quickly ducking into an alleyway.
“Hurry up!” Another little voice was heard around the corner.
Oscar Wilde was a lot of things, and had gone through many terrible occurrences.
That is to say he was not above using spells on children.
He whistled sharply and the two children who were about to pop under a sewer grate fell, fast asleep.
He approached and snatched his wallet back. The urchin was plain looking, but familiar.
“Sasha?” He whispered.
This was his mind playing tricks. Or the illusion playing tricks. Or wishful thinking. This wasn’t Sasha Racket.
He looked over at the boy beside her. He was a little taller and a little bigger but not by much. They had a few similar features. Maybe related. Maybe Brock.
“I need to get to Somerset.” He told the unconscious children.
The crowd in the main street reasserted itself and suddenly he didn’t feel like he could move again. Damn it. No one is infected. They can’t be. And if it is a nightmare what does it matter anyway?
He stared at the two children.
Then scooped them up.
“And now I’m a kidnapper,” He muttered.
He forced himself to shuffle through the crowd, shaking on the short walk back to his flat. No one paid attention to him hauling two filthy children with him. No one cared.
He was out of breath when he got back up stairs. They were light but he was never a lifter. He almost put them on his bed, but remembered the state of it from the morning and put them on his couch instead. Then he went about looking for all the knives the two surely had on them. Best to have a conversation before they stabbed him.
Sasha woke up in a weird place and all her knives gone.
It was weird because it was clean and bright. Not Other London. It was warm and soft. Not the jail house or orphanage. And it was filled with fancy expensive things. Not anywhere she had ever been.
“Sasha?” A man asked. He had black hair and a face that would be easy to spot in a crowd. Expensive clothes. Weary eyes.
“Who’s askin’?!” She demanded.
His tired face broke into a wide smile, but there was a gleam in his eyes, like he was holding back tears.
“And this is Brock?” he asked, gesturing at her cousin, still unconscious.
She crossed her arms at him and narrowed her eyes. “Who wants to know?”
“Oscar Wilde.” The man introduced. His face still held weird expressions.
“Whatcha want?” Sasha asked. Her eyes scanned around for the windows and doors. Uncle would be angry. They weren’t supposed to go above in this part of town, but Brock had said she had to see it.
She wondered if this bloke worked for Barrett, but he didn’t seem the type. Probably dangerous. How else could he have caught them?
She had heard horror stories about rich men stealing urchins and doing terrible things to them. He didn’t seem like the type for that though either, but you can never tell.
“What do I want,” Oscar echoed. “I have no idea.” He sighed. Rubbed his eyes. “I might be causing a paradox. Or you’re not really here at all and it’s all just guilt.”
“Huh?” She asked. Who was this guy?
“I’m your god father,” Oscar finally landed on. He straightened his shoulders and looked more determined with himself.
“Ain’t got a father.” Sasha told him.
“God fathers are friends that promise to look after children if something happens to their parents.”
“Hm,” Sasha squinted, but she couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. “I got an uncle, so it’s fine.”
“It isn’t.” Oscar disagreed. “That man is…” he looked to have a lot of opinions on Barrett, and Sasha couldn't really disagree, but she wasn’t about to trust a stranger who kidnapped her off the street either, even if he did know her name.
“Here, I’m bad at it, but Zolf taught me… a bit. Anyway it’s not burned.”
Oscar brought over a loaded plate of toast, bacon, sausage, and eggs. Sasha stared at it for a moment. It’s poison, right? But if he wanted to kill her he could have done it while she was sleeping.
He reached over and took a strip of bacon, popping it into his mouth.
“Hey!” she protested.
“I’m showing you it’s not poison.”
“I already figured that out!” She cried and started shoving food into her mouth. It was good. It was so good.
“I can make more!” Oscar held up his hands.
At this point Brock woke up beside her.
“Sash?” He groaned.
“ThisishOsger,” Sasha said with food in her mouth. “He’sme god father.”
“Huh?” The boy blinked. “Oi! Leave some for me!”
“I got some for you too,” Oscar brought over another plate and her cousin started wolfing down the food as well.
Although he wasn’t sure if Sasha was convinced or not, she seemed happy enough to eat his food and introduce him as god father so that was something.
If he had a choice between Barrett and, well, anyone else, it was an easy enough decision to make. She wasn’t wearing any ring, so he wasn’t tracking her, and Brock being with her was a good sign.
He sat on his chair as the two children ate and considered things.
Say… this was really the past. And not his mind or some malevolent force playing tricks. If this was the past, would taking Sasha away change things? Was that good or bad?
He rubbed his eyes. Where the hell was Cel when you needed them? They would be able to untangle this. Well, they might make it even more of a tangle in his brain, but at least they’d know what’s going on.
They would be … in Japan? North American still? He wished he knew more about them. He had whole portfolios about Zolf, Hamid, Azu, Grizzop, and even Bertie in his head, but by the time Cel came along in depth background checks weren’t really necessary.
Ugh, they’re the only one that would be fully grown! All of the rest were either children or not even born yet! He felt old. Especially looking down at the tiny strip of nothing Sasha was. Was he really that much older than her? The group sometimes reminded him of bickering children, but he wasn’t thinking literally.
“Soooo,” Brock said slowly. “Can we like, go?” He looked uneasily at Oscar.
“I’m adopting you,” Oscar said. “Both of you.” Yep. He was doing fine. This was all fine.
“No ya aren’t,” Sasha said. “You’re gonna hunt us for sport or something. Rich people do that all the time.”
Oscar was about to protest when he remembered Bertie existed… and that the cult of Hades existed which apparently was filled with British Aristocrats.
“I’m not,” Oscar said. “But I understand why you’d say that.” He paused and looked at Sasha. “Listen. I knew your mother. She was a friend of mine. She was… a lot like you.” He imagined the Sasha he knew. And he imagined Zolf. He’d never forgive him if he left her to Barrett Racket, illusion or no. And, Oscar wouldn’t be able to forgive himself either.
“Oh?” She glanced at him, but didn’t meet his eyes. “I don’t know much ‘bout her.”
“She was brave, and cared a lot about her friends. She saved a lot of people.”
“That don’t sound like my family,” Sasha said.
“Trust me,” Oscar said softly. “It’s exactly like your family.”
He looked over at Brock. The one mind that had worked to save Sasha in the entity that was Mr. Ceiling.
“I can’t promise you both that life will be easy with me,” Oscar said. “But I’ll feed you, give you shelter, and care about what happens to you.” He wanted to promise he wouldn’t hurt them, but he had hurt too many people that he loved to make that promise now. He made it to himself though. He would make sure they would be safe.
“We don’t even know who you are,” Brock crossed his arms. He still had crumbs on his face. He scooted a bit to try and look more imposing, being the elder of the two.
“Better than Barrett,” Sasha poked him. “‘Sides,” She leaned in closer and whispered into her cousin’s ear, but Oscar knew instinctively she was saying if it was bad they’d just run away.
Then he’d make sure it wasn’t bad.
They had spent a week with Wilde.
Sasha decided he was a strange man, but not unpleasant. He spoke swiftly with a lot of words she didn’t really know yet, and spent a lot of his time writing letters that he would hand over to her or Brock to run to the post.
He didn’t go outside. He tried to sometimes, but then he’d get in a panic and rush back up to the flat looking angry at himself.
He didn’t tell her she couldn't go anywhere or do her usual thing, just that he wanted her back by nightfall.
Before she’d leave he’d always stand in front of her, hum a little tune and then pat her on the shoulder. She always felt good when he did that. Like, it was magic right? But also it was like… he really wanted her to come back.
And when he did that to her she always felt quicker and sneakier.
She decided, all in all, Oscar was alright.
Brock came to similar conclusions. Even though Oscar was apparently her godfather, he still looked after Brock too just the same.
He even bought them both clothes, and they weren’t floofy clothes like his, they were proper clothes she could move in. No fancy impossible dresses like the ladies on the streets usually wore, instead all black, and a coat that was so cool she had to duck her head and hide for a while on the roof to stop Brock and Wilde from seeing her goofy smile. It even had places to hide daggers.
Sasha was in a pretty good mood. She jogged towards the post office with the letter in her hands. She couldn’t read it fully. Oscar was teaching her letters. She didn’t really want to learn letters, but he promised to buy her a chemistry set if she learned the alphabet and could write it out, and she sorta was interested in that. She knew some guys that could make bombs all by themselves and she kinda wanted to try it.
She looked at the carefully written envelope in her hand to practice.
First letter was an M, and then beside it was an R, which didn’t really make sense because Wilde had said vowels were important in words and this didn’t have vowels. Next was a backwards S. She knew S cause she had two Ss in her name, but backwards didn’t seem right. “Soh-la-fa Su-miiiiit-he… hmm…”
She huffed. Maybe it was coded. That would make sense. Oscar seemed like the type in Other London to create codes. Whatever.
She popped in and delivered the letter and then popped out. She didn’t walk too fast or too slow and didn’t draw any attention to herself, but she found herself quietly humming the tune Oscar hummed to her sometimes. It was just a little phrase of music, it seemed incomplete, but it was nice. She wandered around letting the sun beat down on her. It was nice, but she also felt a bit exposed. Mixed in with the crowd it felt better, more like home, or rather more like where she came from. She was having differing opinions on where home was.
She knew that it was stupid to trust adults at all. It was stupid to trust rich people. It was stupid to cross Barrett, but...she just… trusted Oscar Wilde. Everything inside her told her to trust him. Everything he did told her to trust him.
So she guessed... she did.
She continued on, heading towards the flat and then noticed.
She was being tailed.
One at first, but there were more slipping in and tracking her. She felt a panic rise. Barrett usually didn’t care if she disappeared for months on end, so what was going on?
Don’t panic, don’t panic, but don’t lead them back to Wilde either. They’d eat Wilde for breakfast. The man could barely run up the stairs without getting winded.
Right okay. She tried to pretend she hadn’t spotted them. Hummed the song a little louder, concentrating on looking casual. If only she could have that speed again, but she had been fooling around all day and it had worn off--
But then--she had gotten the notes perfect, and just--wanted so badly for Wilde to be there with her and then she felt it. She felt that quickness again.
She shot out and darted down a side alley not looking back. She climbed up a wall and went to the rooftops that had grown familiar the past week.
She wouldn't get caught.
Cause she wanted to be with Brock and Wilde. She wanted to go home.
It was past dark. Wilde stared out the window, his stomach dropping. Had he been too lenient? He knew that… children were far and away the last thing he knew about. He also knew letting an eight year old wander around with knives wasn’t the sign of good parenting, but he had thought the only way to make sure the two wouldn’t run away was equip them with the necessary items and knowledge rather than taking away the things that made them feel safe.
“She wouldn’t run off. She likes it here.” Brock said. “She’d ‘ave told you if she was leaving.”
“Right.” Wilde said quietly. “Alright. You stay here. I’m going to find her.”
Brock didn’t look convinced. “You can barely make it out the door most days.”
“Children don’t have any tact.” Oscar huffed. “I have a ... thing about crowds. It’s night now. The crowds aren’t too bad. I’ll be fine.”
“Sash is good at hidin’ You might need me.” Brock stood up. He looked worried too.
“I’m not saying I don’t,” Oscar said. “But I don’t want to lose you out there as well. If I can’t find her you’re the one I’ll come to for backup. Besides. She might come back while I’m gone and then go off and search for us. No, it’s a better idea to split our efforts.”
“Then why don’t you stay and I go?” Brock didn’t look convinced.
“Because if she got arrested I can bail her out.”
Brock frowned, hesitating. Finally he nodded. “Alright fine, but if you can’t find her then we’ll go looking together.”
“Deal,” Oscar said. He headed out the door and took a deep breath.
The streets weren’t empty, but there wasn’t the usual swell and noise. There was space. He could do this.
He quietly berated himself as he headed towards likely locations. He didn’t have this problem in Hiroshima. No, that wasn’t true. He had felt shaky then, but he wrote it off as other things, and other than going straight to contacts he had mostly wholed up and left things to Zolf. But Hiroshima wasn’t London. This was London, familiar London. The place that was always in his nightmares.
But none of that mattered because Sasha was missing.
If only his hand would stop trembling.
The little girl wasn’t much different than the woman she had grown up to be. A little awkward and unsure, but quick and smart. At eight her confidence had already been beaten down by Barrett, she wasn’t exactly opening up to him, but she was like a cat. Oscar’s flat is where food and warmth was and she would return to it at the designated time because she liked it there. Disappearing suddenly, something had to have happened.
Oscar had decided that he didn’t care about the timelines of a world that was doomed to ruin, so if Barrett touched a hair on her head he would make sure to drown him in a bucket. Classic Zolf style.
He had to find her first though. If he had to go down to Other London he would have to take Brock as well and he didn’t want to do that.
Luckily, he spotted them right away. Oscar had trained himself to notice people that tried to stay unnoticed. Once spotted, the rather large rough looking men were easy to see in the last pockets of street traffic on their way home.
“Can’t have gone far,” One of them said.
Aha. So they hadn’t caught her yet.
He wished he could do a fireball. Hamid always made it look so satisfying, and Oscar really didn’t mind the idea of roasting some of Barrett’s lads. Alas, that wasn’t his style.
He walked up to them casually humming a little tune, moving his fingers as if conducting a symphony. He came up right in front of them.
“Huh, what d’you--”
“You idiots,” Oscar said, giving them a dour look. “What are you still doing out here? I had to look around for ages, and yet, here you are, wandering around like headless chickens. Didn’t you bother with check ins? No of course not. That would require some thought in those thick heads of yours. Girl’s been found, so what the hell are you all doing up here?”
“Ah--” The bloke said trying to understand what was going on, but his eyes glazed over a little, the spell taking hold.
“Listen, I am so far above your paygrade your mother might be fired, so hurry up and go back before I get angry and have to talk to Barrett about you, alright?” Oscar continued. “And if you see any others who were sent for the same reason, tell them the job is done and to go back down. Understand?”
“Ye-eah sir? Uh. Sorry?” The men before him shifted in confusion, but instantly showed deference believing his compelling rant. He tried to step forward, but Oscar took a terrified step back. “You think I want you near me? Get going!” He forced himself to add. It’s not infection. He’s fine.
He ushered them to the nearest ally and they went off.
After a few moments where he caught his breath he looked up. A little face looked down at him from the rooftop.
“Was that magic?” Sasha whispered.
“Yes,” Oscar said. “Come down here, alright? I can protect you from them if there’s more.”
“You’re pretty weak,” Sasha told him. Not unkindly.
“But I can talk my way out of anything,” Oscar gave her a smile. One of his old ones that was fitting his face better and better the longer he spent with the children.
Sasha hesitated, but then scapered down a pipe to stand beside him.
“Did they hurt you?” He asked.
She shook her head. “Didn’t catch me.”
“Right, let’s go then,” He nodded. He turned in the direction of the apartment.
“Are you okay?” Sasha trailed at his side, hiding in his shadow. “I know you don’t like outside.”
“You’re more important than that.”
She gave it a think. “That was probably my uncle’s men.”
“I know,” Oscar said. “He’s not changed much.”
“Do you think… if I stay… I mean… I don't want to cause trouble for ya.” She muttered, almost inaudible.
Oscar laughed, thinking about the past.
“I’ve caused enough trouble for you--your mother that we’re probably even--no I think I still have a bit of debt left to pay off. I was thinking it would be nice to go on a trip. Leave London for a bit until the heat dies down.”
“Leave?” Sasha blinked. “You can do that?”
In her twenties Sasha had never left London. It probably sounded like Oscar had just suggested they visit the moon on a lark.
“We can,” Oscar felt that familiar smile across his face again. “There’s a certain dwarf that owes me a vacation.”