I do not own Mary Poppins.
It started with a patter. A soft, calm, pitter patter that didn't give any tell of any trickery or anger. Just a light soft rain, a wind in the east that blew the mist away, quiet and peaceful. It wasn't until the thunder started to rumble and echo through the tall buildings that anyone took notice of the foul sky and started to close their windows. It took hours for the storm to reach its height. There'd be a sharp, ear striking clap of thunder that would rattle the dishes on the wall. And in answer a deep, calm, rumble thunder that you felt in your chest for several minutes would carry through the air.
The sky was at war with itself. The good people of London knew, somehow, that this was a matter for the sky to settle for itself. They kept their eyes down, stayed in their houses and found reasons not to leave. Those without a house to call their own were welcomed in by strangers, a sudden worry for all living souls bringing kindness to every heart and mind. The storm toiled away at its fight, moving from the clear sides, to a maddening crescendo that knocked leaves from trees and glass from street lamps. The sky no longer had any calm, it screamed, it threw tantrums, and it tossed its anger at the Earth.
And in a blinding flash of lightning, the first to hit the ground, a man appeared on a bridge over the engorged river. He struggled to his feet, spitting a tooth from his mouth before glaring at the sky.
"OY! I'm not t'rough wit you yet! Ya can't do this ta me!" The sky rumbled, returning to its placid statements. The sharp, angry claps did not return. "Ya 'eard me! Ya can't do this! I ain't done nuffin' wrong!"
The sky was silent. The rain started to lessen. In outrage, the man stooped, picked up a rock, and threw it at the storm.
"I SAID I'M NOT T'ROUGH WIT YOU YET!" He bellowed, heedless of the wind picking up. A jolt went through his body as lightning struck him, cracking the bridge under his feet, knocking him out, and sending him into the water below.
The day broke, clear and crisp, not a sign of the storm save for the gaping hole in the bridge across the river. Though none of that mattered in the little room the man found himself waking up in. With a groan he sat up, tenderly touching the lump on the side of his head before yanking his hand away and gaping wide-eyed at it. Hand? Where were his claws, what was this fuzzy stuff on his head?
"Ah, yer up!" He jerked sharp as he found himself being spoken too. There, in the doorway, a short, stout man with a floppy hat atop his head grinned, putting down a tray of food. The man in the bed winced, putting a hand back to his head. "Oy, calm yerself. I'm not gonna 'urt ya. Wouldn' pull ya outta the riva jus' ta 'urt ya now would I?"
He had a point. But what was this man doing pulling him out of a river? And who was he anyway? His face must have betrayed him, because the short man chuckled as he put the tray on a table and took up a chair.
"Awright awright, ya've got questions eh? Ask em."
"Who are you?"
"An' wot you doin' 'ere?"
""Ad ta put ya somewhere eh? Couldn' leave ya out on the street."
"Where am I?"
"London o'course." As though it made the most sense in all the world. The man in the bed fell quiet, glaring at the bed covers that kept whatever modesty he had.
"My turn. Who're you?"
The man in the bed stayed silent a moment longer, clearly thinking hard on the answer. Alfred was patient, in no rush whatsoever. He had waited this long…
"Dunno." An answer. Not a very good one, but an answer. And an extremely honest one at that! He had, after all, lost what he was. That happens, when you become exiled. You lose what you are, you lose who you are… but you don't lose everything, not entirely. Exile is a punishment, not a clean slate.
"Welp, in that case I'll call ya 'Erbert!"
"Herbert! Wot kinda name is 'Erbert?"
"Th'one I've been callin' ya for the last t'ree days."
"Aye, ya fell inta the riva t'ree days ago."
"But, it's mornin' now!"
"Aye, mornin', t'ree days afta ya fell."
"How'd you find me eh?"
"Wotched you fall in now diddn'i?"
"Idunno, did you?"
And it became a standoff. Neither really had the answer to either's questions it would seem. Alfred moved the tray to Herbert's bedside table, allowing the man to eat as he pleased. The morning ticked by, a pleasant fire crackling in the hearth as the squat man tended to his own needs as they came to him. It wasn't until well after lunch that the two spoke again.
"Stop glarin' at the bed eh? It's done nuffin' wrong." The familiar phrase perked Herbert's interest enough to stop his foul look at the blanket, turning a tired eye on his savior. "Ah, come now, wot you got to be so angry about?"
"Ha, that I'm sure of. Cummon, get some clothes on. I'll show ya that ya got nuthin' ta be angry about."
Both donned jackets and caps, both set, Alfred picked up his bundle of brushes and led the way to the rooftop. Herbert followed, gazing in wonder at the sight he had only dreamed of, longed for… it took his breath away. Rooftops, as far as the eye could see; houses, flats, shops, offices, churches, cathedrals, for miles and miles and miles the skyline stretched and became the perfect picture of human strength.
"Thin o' beauty, i'n't it?" Alfred muttered, leaning heavily on his brush poles. Herbert could only nod, his voice leaving at the awe he had at the view. "An' it's one I get ta see, all the time."
"All the time?"
"Aye. A sweep gets ta see all the city, from all places he wants."
"Sweep's mighty lucky then."
"Aye, ya can say that."
Silence reigned on them once more, Herbert soaking in the city he had fought for. He had wanted this, hadn't he? So be above the city, not below it. To be up in the air, free, to watch the skies and clouds and the freedom to do as he pleased. He had been exiled…
And sent straight to where he wanted to be?
That didn't make much sense. But he was here, with a new name, a new face, and an opportunity. He relaxed his stance; fingers uncurling from ready claws to hanging limp at his sides. He stood straighter, taller than he had in his life. He eased up, fell into his new body, his new mind, his new name, his new life. A smile grew on lips, not a smirk, not a snarl, but a smile, that quickly grew into a grin. Perhaps being exiled wasn't so bad after all!
"Awright then Alfred! Teach me ta be a sweep!"