Fate has a funny way of screwing you over. You never expect it, never see it coming, but one day you turn around and your entire life is upside down. And usually there’s nothing you can do to fix it. Sometimes, though, you can’t tell you’ve been dealt a bad hand until a lot further down the road. Had he known what would happen, maybe he’d have turned around. Turned a blind eye to it all, walked away without a second thought. Maybe not. Maybe it just wasn’t in him to see another person suffering, and not try to help.
The other guy hadn’t even seen them coming, too preoccupied with the phone in his hands. Didn’t he know London was no place to walk around like that? Especially at night, Christ. Two dark figures came out of nowhere, probably people that knew him to walk these streets in the evening. Before he could scream they’d grabbed him, dragging him toward an alley. That was when Phil had taken notice of the situation, crouched in the gutter across the street. He was as much a fixture of the neighborhood as the rubbish bins on the corner. Who pays any mind to the homeless? Their hostage managed to break free, making a mad dash for freedom, shouting for help. One man tackled him from behind, knocking him to the ground. Phil watched from the shadows, moving deftly along the pavement, waiting for a moment to intervene. Should he shout? Anyone who would hear him would’ve heard the victim, who was once again silenced. Either no one could hear him, or they chose not to hear him. His only other choice was to do something himself. Or call the police-
They were dragging him to the bridge. Even though the guy was fighting for all he was worth, he couldn’t take them both. Phil knew he wouldn’t make it. If the thirty foot drop to the water below didn’t kill him, hypothermia would. If he didn’t drown first. He sprinted from the shadows, but he was too late. They hurled the guy over the edge, pocketing his wallet and phone. One of them looked up to see Phil approaching, and pulled something out of his pocket- a knife. Phil thrust out his hand, still too far to see over the side of the bridge.
“You didn’t see anything.” One of them snarled. “Get it?” Phil stared at the knife. He could feel it working. Had he been too late? Had he missed? “Hey! I’m talking to you!”
“What the-” His partner yelped, bolting down the street. The one with the knife turned to him.
“Billy! Hey!” Billy didn’t look back. “Son of a-” He turned back to Phil, but he didn’t say another word. There, floating just a foot over the edge of the bridge, was a giant bubble of water, inside which was the guy they’d mugged. Suspended in mid air. The mugger’s hands began to shake, so hard he dropped his knife.
“Scared?” Phil asked, forcing his voice not to shake. “You should be.”
“Y-you…you’re…you’re-” With a wave of his free hand, Phil sent a blast of icy water from the river below, knocking the hoodlum to the asphalt and soaking him through. Phil pointed at him, careful to keep his head tilted down, the hood of his coat obscuring his face.
“Give it back. What you took. Give it back.” With jerky, frightened movements the thief emptied his pockets. Phil tensed his fingers. “You didn’t see anything.” He echoed. It had the desired effect; the mugger took off after his accomplice. For a second, Phil almost felt proud of himself.
Movement in the corner of his eye reminded him he was still holding their victim in the air, still suspended in water. He gasped, almost dropping the bubble, quickly moving it to the pavement and releasing his hold. The bubble popped, splashing to the ground. The guy that had been mugged sat up, coughing and retching.
“Oh my god. Are you alright?” Phil asked, coming closer.
“I think so,” the guy choked out. Phil picked up the wallet and flipped it open, squinting to read the name on his ID card.
“Dan?” He asked tentatively. The young man- Dan, apparently- nodded.
“Uh…” Crap. “They had a rope. I pulled you up.” Realizing that made no sense, he was about to correct himself and add something along the lines of ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I just got here’, but Dan didn’t let him.
“Th-thank you. Oh god. Thank you. I thought I was dead.” Pictures flashed through his mind. Eyes frozen in their sockets. Blue lips. Cold, dead, green-white flesh. Phil felt sick.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked, pushing the thought away. Dan hugged his arms around himself, shuddering against the freezing air.
“Uh,” he looked around. “I think so.” He patted his pockets, searching them before groaning. “I lost my key. But, I’ve got a spare.” Phil picked up his wallet and phone, as well as the mugger’s knife. It was a nice one, a switchblade with a rather intricately engraved handle, a skull carved into the bottom of it. He slipped everything into his pockets. Before either could speak, a cold wind howled down the road, cutting through them like a knife. Phil grit his teeth, but Dan began to shake.
“Where do you live?” Phil asked. “I can walk there with you.” The other man nodded. At first everything seemed normal. Dan could keep pace with him, and didn’t ask many questions. Mostly he just thanked him over and over again, obviously still rattled from the whole experience. Phil just shrugged it off. After all, anyone would’ve stepped in. It was just the right thing to do. That was all there was to it. But after two blocks, Dan stopped talking. One more, and he started to stumble. Phil bit his lip. How far had he fallen before he managed to catch him? After almost face-planting on a curb, Phil took his arm, acting as a human crutch. He could feel him trembling, his body shaking uncontrollably.
“Where do you live?” Dan didn’t answer. Phil shook him. “Dan? Hey, where do you live?”
“307...4th and K-King,” he stuttered. Phil tried to do the math in his head. It had taken him a little time to act. Dan didn’t feel all that heavy. He guessed Dan probably fell about ten feet, maybe fifteen. How quickly had the water come up? There was no way he could tell for sure, but obviously the ordeal hadn’t killed him, or maimed him in any way. So Dan was probably fine. Right?
When they got to 4th and King, Phil was confronted with another problem. Dan had said he lived at 307. Apparently he meant he lived in a flat on the third floor. Glancing around for any sign of security cameras, Phil helped him inside. The lift was across the room, and when they managed to hobble over to it, he realized there was a sheet of paper taped over the buttons, declaring it ‘out of order’ in messy handwriting. He groaned. Dan put a hand on the wall, trying to regain his balance.
“I can- can make it from here,” he insisted. Phil frowned.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Do it all the time.” He sounded confidant, but Phil wasn’t sure. He waited as Dan walked to the door marked ‘stairs’. He should leave. One of his personal rules was to never allow himself to be cornered, and who knew what was up those stairs? If this whole situation was a setup, a trap? He should leave, now, and disappear while he had the chance. He would have, too. If Dan hadn’t fallen on the first step.
“Hey, hold on,” he spoke up, rushing to his side. “Easy. That’s it.” He craned his neck back, looking up at the dimly lit stairwell. “Third floor, right?” Dan nodded limply. “Okay. One step at a time.” They worked out a rhythm- Phil would help Dan up one step, then climb it himself, and so on. It took some time- it felt like hours- but they finally reached the door to the third floor. Phil twisted the handle, nudging it open with his foot. The hall wasn’t lit any better than the stairwell, but at least there wasn’t anyone around.
Dan may have lost his key, but had a spare hidden above the frame of his door. Phil stood on his toes, barely able to feel the top with his fingertips. He felt a hole in the plaster, and inside, something metal. Working it out with his nails, he managed to pull the key out, and let them into the flat. By now Dan was freezing to the touch. Phil led him to the weathered sofa and had him sit down, then went looking for a blanket. It felt strange, being in another person’s home. To be in a home at all, after all the time he’d spent living on the street. Soon, Dan was covered by a thick wool blanket, the heater turned up and dry clothes sitting on the floor in front of him. He was asleep. Phil briefly wondered if he should wake him, because wasn’t sleeping a bad idea? What if he didn’t wake up?
No. Here he finally stopped himself. He’d done far too much already. Now it was time to leave. He started for the door, but Dan spoke.
“Thank you. You saved my life.” His voice was weak. Phil turned to him, and nodded his head. Dan’ breathing slowed, and Phil knew he’d fallen back to sleep. He shoved his hands into his pockets, and realized he still had the wallet and phone. It crossed his mind briefly- he could keep them. After all, he’d saved the guy’s life. Surely he deserved some kind of reward, and a warm bed at a hotel somewhere was tempting on such a cold night. He pushed the idea aside. The knife, however, the one the mugger had dropped, that he kept. For one thing, he couldn’t very well give it back, and for another, it was a cool knife.
Making sure the door locked behind him, Phil left. Taking the stairs two at a time, he darted back out into the cold night air. Free, once again. At least for now.