Warnings: Spoilers for Mary Poppins Returns. Also, this is kind of dark. People daydream about killing children in this (non-graphically, but still). People hurt other people in this, and threaten, and basically do very evil things. I've tried not to go over the top but what is 'too much' differs from person to person, so I thought I'd put in a warning, particularly since this is a bit darker than the source material. So...you have been warned.
"There's something a bit…wrong with Jack, isn't there?"
The speaker sounded puzzled, more than anything. He probably didn't deserve to be pulled back around a corner quite as roughly as he was, but the move was meant kindly.
"Here, now," hissed his companion as he did the dragging. "You don't want to go around saying things like that. That kind of talk will get you in trouble."
"What was that for?" the first whined, rotating his sore shoulder and sizing the other up. It was really too early for a brawl, but he did have his pride and if his friend tried that again he'd soon see who was going to wrench whose arm from their socket.
"I'm telling you," his friend said. "I know you don't mean nothing by it, but if some of the lads heard you talking down Jack…well, they won't be so understanding."
"I don't mean it in a bad way," said the first. "I like Jack. But he is a bit odd, isn't he?"
"Everyone likes Jack. And that's why you can't go around saying things like that. Not if you like your teeth inside your mouth."
"Are you threatening me?"
"Not at all. Just sharing the natural way of things. You see lightning, you know thunder is to follow, right? Well, you badmouth Jack, and a broken mouth is what you get. Just the way of the world."
The still puzzled first speaker leaned around the corner he'd been dragged behind. Jack was still there, some few feet away, happily making warbling bird calls to the robin perched on the handlebar of his bike. The speaker leaned back again to look at his friend.
"Him?" he asked, his voice incredulous, "He hides his brass knuckles well."
"Oh, Jack can fight," the second assured him. "Just you threaten someone he's taken under his wing, and you'll see. But he don't fight for himself. That's what we're for, see? Everyone likes Jack."
"Alright, then," said the first, still rotating his shoulder. And maybe it was too early to argue, or maybe it had occurred to the first that his companion was just a bit bigger than him, but for whatever reason he decided to keep his opinions to himself.
That there was something a bit wrong with Jack. A bit…odd.
It wasn't just that he was cheerful, though he was. He delighted in sunny weather. He loved the rain. He never dragged in the morning, no matter how cold or wet or dark the dawn. He was just as awake in the evening. But some people were cheerful by nature, and they were no odder than those who grumbled through life, finding gloom and doom wherever they looked.
Jack was…more alive somehow. His friends, mostly being made up of the uneducated poor, didn't have the language to explain how Jack was different. They just knew he was, and they felt protective of him for it. Different was dangerous, in their world. Different stood out, and standing out was asking for trouble.
"It's like's he's Peter Pan," was how Michael described him, a man who was not only educated, which didn't guarantee anything like intelligence, but well read, which did. If he had bothered, he might even have struck upon the right words to explain Jack. He never bothered about defining him, though. His character portraits tended more towards the literal than the linguistic.
"Sometimes, I think he never grew up," he would also say of Jack. He said it with a fond smile, usually while watching him play with his children. Of course, Michael also played with his children, but he never forgot he was a grownup while doing it. There was something about the way Jack threw himself whole heartedly into their games that was at once endearing and bewildering.
"It isn't that," Jane would say, if Michael happened to point out such oddities of Jack's character around her. Jane was quite certain that Jack was no child. "He's just one of those people who know how to enjoy life." And that was true. But it wasn't the whole truth.
If anyone had bothered to ask the children Jack played with, that Jack guided and protected and somehow enhanced their play, then that person might have gotten the best understanding of all.
No child would call Jack one of them. Children are always very aware of the hierarchy involved in the matter of age, and Jack was most definitely in the status of 'grownup'. If asked, though, they might say 'He remembers how to play.' By which they would mean, 'He remembers what it is to be a child'.
Most children, particularly the very small, look at the world and marvel. Everything is new and big and exciting and maybe scary but also interesting and wonderful. And then the child gets a little bigger and the world isn't so new anymore, but there are still so many mysteries to unravel, and everything to learn about what it means to live in the world, which is what play is really for. And then those children grow up, and they know how to live in the world, and nothing is new, and everything is a bit smaller than it used to be. And grownups forget that the world was ever new. And they don't play, and they forget to look up at the stars or down at the flowers and the world becomes a sort of background to whatever routine they've found out. They might remember their childhoods, but they forget what it is to be a child.
Jack grew up. He wasn't Peter Pan, after all. He grew up in every way, having learned what it is to live in the world and all that entails, the good but also the horrible, the parts generally too horrible for children to grasp. He grew up, but unlike almost every other adult, he never ever forgot. And he still looked up and marveled at the stars, and he looked down and saw the flowers, and his heart thrilled at birdsong and when he played, he embraced the game as fully as the children he played with.
And if it were just that, then Jack would be different, but not noticeably so. Jack didn't just remember. Jack shone.
Where Jack passed, where he played or looked around or marveled, others followed. It was like the young leerie didn't just light the lamps at night; he lit a sort of light inside people as well. Wherever he went, he shared his joy in the world.
Most of the time, the light Jack shared made him friends. If not a full on friendship, then at least friendliness from strangers. Most of the time.
There was a certain percentage of the population, a very small portion, but dangerous, who did not care for light.
William Weatherall Wilkins sat in his office in the dark and stared at the withered remains of a balloon.
He knew it had only been a dream, of course. A bizarre sort of nightmare where everyone could fly but him. Of course no balloon had the power to lift up an entire person. That was impossible, and impossible things did not happen. He knew that.
No, the strange dream filled with flying people had not happened. But what came before certainly had. It was the reason he was sitting in this tiny cramped office instead of the nice comfortable one. It was the Banks's fault, of course. With their ridiculous kite, with their ridiculous stunt with the clock. With their ridiculous last minute find of something that should have remained lost. And then he had that dream with the whole Banks family flying about in the sky, along with all of London it seemed. His own lawyers had turned on him. His own family. All to save one little house that had been quite fairly repossessed.
It was hard to say what he felt now. The dream suggested jealousy. If he was more inclined to self-reflection, he might have even supposed the dream to be a warning to mend his dark ways. He was not prone to that kind of self-assessment. No, he didn't feel jealous, and he didn't feel repentant. He felt…he felt…if he had the imagination for it, he would have said he felt like a predator who had its meal snatched from its jaws at the very last second by a yipping lapdog. He didn't have that sort of imagination. All he knew was that he was humiliated and he was angry.
He had wanted that house. He had wanted the house but he hadn't particularly cared about its inhabitants. They could be left on the streets or they could happily dance their way into a fairy castle for all he cared. In some secret corner of his heart, perhaps he did want the Banks family to suffer a little bit. They were everything he was not, after all, and what's worse, they'd somehow infected his own family with their whimsical folly. Money was important. Honor was important. Numbers were important. Singing, and jokes, and illogical loans and more illogical extensions were not.
He had wanted the house. Now, he wanted the Banks. He wanted them at his feet, as leaden as his balloon. He thirsted for their pain and their anguish and their utter ruin. Illogical emotions that surely got in the way of profits, but still they burned and bubbled inside him. He could have gleefully danced on every one of their graves, except the dead do not suffer. And he burned, in the dark, in vain. Because what was there that he could do to hurt them?
In point of fact, there was quite a lot he could do. The more pertinent question was 'What can I do to hurt the Banks that won't get me in trouble?'.
He was a logical man. If any one of the Banks family came to harm, the police would start asking around. Who had it out for the Banks family, they'd ask. And any number of people would point them in the direction of the bank. His own uncle would probably walk them to his door.
The real difficulty, he supposed, was that the Banks were respectable. They had shares in this very bank. If Michael Banks had been a proper man, an ambitious man, he could well be the bank's president at this very moment.
And, of course, hurting people is wrong. At the very least, it is messy, and potentially dangerous. He couldn't do something so dastardly. Not with his own hands. And he didn't have the right sort of connections to use someone else's. He wouldn't even know where to begin to hire someone like that.
No, he never had any intention of actually acting on the dark daydreams that now filled his head, feeding the anger and the hate. Not unless fortune favored him with an opportunity. One that would leave his hands clean, but the Banks family in ruins.
And then there was a knock on his door.
Out of habit, Wilkins waited a moment, wondering why Miss Farthing wasn't seeing to the visitor, before remembering that she wasn't his anymore. She stayed with the post of president. Which was no longer him.
For a long moment, he considered simply sitting in the dark and ignoring the door. The sun had set during his brooding over his withered balloon, and he had never bothered to turn on the lights. He couldn't say why. The darkness just felt comfortable. At any rate, there could be no light creeping under the door to alert anyone that he was inside.
The knock came a second time.
"Mr. Wilkins," said a deep voice. "I ask that you invite me in."
"Yes, fine, come in then," he answered, seeing that it would be no use to pretend he wasn't there.
The door opened. Light spilled in from the hallway, leaving his visitor as a vague shadowy outline. Belatedly, it occurred to Wilkins exactly how ridiculous he must look, sitting in the dark with a child's broken toy lying on his desk.
"Sorry," he said. "My lamp just burned out. I'll just turn on the…"
"No need, Mr. Wilkins," said the same deep voice. "The darkness suits us."
Wilkins blinked at the dark figure with some confusion. It was most definitely a single entity. Perhaps it meant 'we' as in 'my business associates who sent me and I'. Wilkins was very used to that sort of 'we'.
The preference for darkness was a bit alarming. The way his luck was running, this was an assassin sent to kill him.
"We assure you, Mr. Wilkins, that we mean you no harm," said the deep voice. "In fact, we come offering a…beneficial transaction. Yes, let's call it a transaction. Of a sort."
"Right," answered Wilkins. The figure stood between him and the door. "I really must insist on a bit of light then, sir. If you wish to set up a contract…"
"You wish harm to a family; a family by the surname of Banks. We have…advice."
He really, really should turn on the light. He should shout for help in removing this odd gentleman from his office. He should phone the police.
He sat back in his chair. "I'm listening," he said.
"You have thoughts of violence to this family, but fear…reprisals if you carried them out."
"I have nothing but warm thoughts for the Banks family," he denied quickly. The figure in the doorway went on as though he hadn't spoken.
"If you wish to hurt a man, you don't go for his throat. Death, after all, is painless. By all reports, it is the opposite of pain for the one departed."
"So I should go for his children? Surely that's a step too far?"
"You have been imagining their deaths a hundred ways in the last hour alone."
That was…true. But those were just idle daydreams. And hearing it stated aloud so factually sent a shudder through him. He could feel a prickle down the back of his neck. He wasn't sure whether it was from the sheer darkness his own thoughts had stooped to or the fact that this man somehow knew his thoughts.
"Still," said the figure, "Whether it is the right way or wrong way to go about hurting someone, the same problems remain. Hurt any of the Banks family, big or small, and the police will take action. Fingers will be pointed in your direction."
"Then what on Earth could you be trying to suggest I do?" Wilkins demanded. His hand crept to the back of his neck and he forced it down again.
"There is a member of the Banks family who is not a Banks," said the voice. "Who is not quite so…respectable. Who would not be so great a concern to the police, should violence come upon his person."
"Who do you mean?" demanded Wilkins. "Surely not their housekeeper!"
"This person is of particular interest to us, as well. We would be…happy…to know he suffers. We would see his light snuffed out."
"I haven't the slightest idea who you're talking about," Wilkins answered. His hand crept up to his neck again. Why shouldn't he have some light, anyway? He would prove this person before him wasn't some bogeyman. He was just a man, a man with questionable connections who was trying to drag him down into something nefarious, probably trying to make Wilkins do his dirty work.
"We said no light!" the voice boomed, before he could even make a move towards the lamp at his desk. Then, in softer tones, the voice added, "Would it help you to know that this Banks who is not a Banks was the reason midnight held back for five minutes?"
It did help, actually. Wilkins felt a sudden and acute fury sweep over him. He knew that something had been done to the clock. His watch was always accurate. Still, he was a man of reason and numbers. He stamped down on his anger to address the figure in his doorway.
"What's it to you, hurting the Banks family?" he demanded. "Who are you?"
"We are the opposite and equal reaction to a certain entity's existence."
"Speak plainly, sir!" Wilkins ordered, his reawakened anger overcoming his earlier unease over the strange figure's intentions.
"You can call us…Mr. Void."
"Null and Void," hissed a voice from the vicinity of the self-identified Void's neck. Wilkins jumped up from his seat.
"There is another of you there!" he exclaimed. There was a long moment of silence, during which neither voices spoke. "Well," said Wilkins when the silence had gone on long enough to take on a personality all its own. "What exactly is it you are asking of me?"
"It is a matter of cause and effect," the deep voice answered. "We have an opposite; an opponent who thwarts us in our efforts. Being who we are, we cannot harm her and she cannot harm us, not without both of us being affected. She, however, has friends. As we said, if you wish to hurt a person, do not go for the throat. Go for the person's loved ones. It is her weakness, and one we thankfully do not share."
"I haven't the slightest idea what you are going on about."
"You wish the Banks family to suffer. We wish Mary Poppins to suffer. The answer is the lamplighter. His very profession is an antithesis to us."
"Then why don't you go after him and leave me out of it?" demanded Wilkins. He tried to remember where he'd heard the name 'Mary Poppins' before. It took him a moment. She wasn't a person of great importance. "Wait…the nanny? All this because you want to hurt some nanny?"
"We are her opposite in every way. She guides people into the light. Her wards are surrounded by her glow. We cannot touch such light."
"A deal," hissed the second voice. How a voice could hiss without speaking a single s, Wilkins wasn't sure, but this voice definitely had a hiss to it.
"Speak plainly," Wilkins said again.
"We take you to some…associates…of ours. They do the messy, dangerous part and bring the lamplighter to a place of your choosing. You have your chance to make him suffer…"
"Sssnuff out his light," hissed the second voice.
"…hurt him…break him…kill him if you like or leave him broken if you prefer. Then our associates will take him away for the Banks to cry over."
It was exactly the sort of thing he'd just been imagining, but again, hearing it said out loud was enough to give him pause.
"If you have these associates, why do you need me at all?" he demanded. "Why bring me into this? Why not just send your associates after this lamplighter and be done?"
"We cannot act directly. If we were to try, she would know! She would stop us!"
Wilkins was tempted to shout 'speak plainly' again, but the entire conversation was starting to make him feel unsettled. He wanted it over.
"What are the exact terms of our agreement," he said instead. "What do I get out of it, and what do you get out of it?"
"Revenge," hissed the second voice.
"You can imagine why this must remain an oral contract between us," said the first. "But here it is, plainly spoken. You agree to follow us and act as we direct for this single night. We will not direct you to act in any way that would harm you…"
"with the exception of your soul," the second voice murmured, so softly that Wilkins wasn't entirely sure whether he actually heard those words or just imagined them.
"…and in return we promise you that you will have your chance at revenge against one of those who wronged you with no chance of reprisals by the law." The hiss of the second voice was this time too quiet to make out at all, but if Wilkins had strained his ears, he might have heard something along the lines of 'we make no promises concerning the reprisals from certain magical entities. Usual penalties for breaking our terms apply'.
Wilkins turned the words he did hear over in his head. If the strange before him could be believed, he was being offered revenge, without repercussions, on a silver platter. It sounded too good to be true. It probably was too good to be true. He should probably say no. He should say no, and run to the police.
"I do as you bid for one night?" he asked. "And I never see you again?"
"Not once, while you walk this Earth, will we cross paths again," swore the shadowed figure.
"And does this lamplighter have a name?"
He couldn't see the figure clearly enough to be sure, but he could swear it was now smiling.
Some miles away, in a darkened nursery, a small boy sat up very suddenly in his bed, with a shout loud enough to wake the entire household.