Clump, shuffle, clump, shuffle.
The new fallen snow squeaks and crunches under his feet as he steps up to the balustrade and stands on tip toe to look down at the cold water of the Thames sliding below him. His hands don’t shake as he brushes snow off the railing. He takes a deep breath, letting it out in a cloud of white vapor as he looks around. London at night is nothing short of breathtaking. Just down the river the Eye is glowing, casting a blue light that reflects shining on the water. Big Ben stands tall and proud across the bridge, its glowing clock face shines nearly golden through the fluffy flakes of falling snow, shows the late, or rather, early, hour. There aren't any cars in sight, and no witnesses, no better time for it, then.
A few hours earlier...
It’s Christmas Eve, but even so John sits alone on the too firm mattress in the corner of his cold, dimly lit bedsit, looking down at the polished black steel of the pistol in his hands. He runs a cloth carefully over the barrel, rubbing away any traces of oil left from the last time he’d cleaned it. He looks down at the box of bullets sitting innocently beside him on the mattress. Maybe... it would be quicker... but the memory of the men, good men, who had come back to base with holes blown in their battered bodies stays his hand yet again.
John grits his teeth, grabbing his cane and heaving himself to his feet. He puts the pistol carefully back into its drawer, tucking the box of bullets in beside it and closing the drawer with an air of finality. He grabs up his coat, tugging it on and shuffling to the door. Maybe a walk will clear his head.
In the present...
John exhales slowly, releasing his cane and letting it fall into the snow. Bracing his hands on the railing, he attempts to swing a leg over the rail, looking down at the water again and swallowing. This is it then, hours of planning and contemplation all come down to this moment. He hops a bit, swearing as his foot slips on a patch of ice.
“Oh, don't be boring.”
John's foot slides out from under him. He windmills his arms, slipping off the railing, and falling onto his arse in the snow. “The bloody fuck?”
“Oh, dull. Only unimaginative imbeciles use such crude language.” A man steps out of the shadow of a column, the glow of a cigarette in his hand.
John snatches up his cane from the snow and stumbles to his feet, hand twitching towards the sidearm that's no longer at his chest. “Just who the hell do you think you are?”
“Consider me a 'concerned citizen', if you like.” He takes a drag of his cigarette then flicks it into the snow where it glows bright for a moment before fizzling out.
“You a copper?” John asks suspiciously.
“Not hardly,” the man gives a tiny shake of his head, sounding disgusted at the very idea.
“Well, then you can just fuck right the hell off, what I do is none of your damned bloody business.” John looks back to the railing, judging the difference between the height of the rail and his own legs.
“Do stop being so dull,” the man says, sounding almost petulant. “If you're going to go to the trouble of killing yourself, at least be creative about it.”
John blinks, “I beg your pardon?”
“Well, you do have to admit, Westminster isn't nearly as popular as the Waterloo for jumping, but it's hardly a novel idea. Do try and be original.” He slinks closer, the gas lamps highlighting dark curls and cheekbones.
John shakes his head to clear it. “I don't--”
The man interrupts him smoothly, sliding his hands into his pockets of his coat. “This bridge isn't nearly high enough to kill you on impact, while the water depth at the current tide level, when taking into consideration the height of the bridge and your approximate weight -- just under 12 stone if I'm not mistaken-- is deep enough you wouldn't necessarily hit your head on the bottom, though I suppose it's possible that you could be struck by a passing barge, however unlikely at this time of the morning.” His voice lowers to a husky purr as he sidles closer, “Furthermore, when one considers the rapid speed of the current and the temperature of the water, your body would quickly be dragged under, your limbs paralyzed by the shock as icy needles of freezing cold bite into your exposed skin and slip inexorably under your clothes to pierce you to your very core.”
John licks his lips unconsciously. “Why should you care?”
“I don't,” the man sniffs haughtily, then he narrows pale eyes. “But you do.”
“How can you possibly know that?” John growls, wondering when and how the other man had gotten so close without his even noticing.
“If you had really wanted to jump you could have done it any time now. The fact that you haven't means that you're having second thoughts, maybe you're scared, maybe you're worried now you've a witness, either way, you're edging away from that railing, not towards it.”
John pauses. “Maybe I just wanted to get away from the pretentious twat that won't shut up.”
The man tilts his head, raising an eyebrow, “If that was true, then you'd be moving closer, not away, and you could have stopped me talking any time you wanted.”
He smirks, the tip of his tongue running along the seam of his lips. “Hmm, you haven't told me to 'fuck off' for oh, nearly four minutes now.”
“What the hell would you know anyway?” John asks angrily, hand clenching into a fist at his side.
He shrugs cavalierly. “Not much. I know you're an Army doctor, and that you've been recently invalided home from combat in the Middle East. Army and a doctor? Needs to be needed that says, forcibly taken away from the bonds of brotherhood forged in a battle for your very survival and deposited alone in London, that easily points to depression and thoughts of suicide, a normal man would turn to drugs and alcohol, but you, no that's too easy. I know you're not sleeping, maybe because you're bored, maybe because of the nightmares, post traumatic stress disorder does manifest in a variety of ways. I know you can't find a job, possibly because of your therapist, who thinks your limp is psychosomatic by the way, quite correctly, I'm afraid. But a decorated war veteran? Shouldn't have any trouble finding something, so either you're not looking, or you don't trust yourself to... hmm, hold it down? But you've been thinking about suicide for a while now, and no sense in leaving behind loose ends. That's why you've chosen a time when you thought the Westminster would be deserted, and why you won't jump now that I've interrupted you. So you see, you're right.”
“Right about what?” John shoots back, unconsciously taking a step towards this mad man who can read his whole life story in an instant.
The man steps forward, taller so that John has to look up to maintain eye contact and very much in John's personal space, yet his voice is an impossibly gentle undertone, “I know you've been through hell and back, not whole, not without pain and trial and a great deal of suffering, and you don't know if you're ever going to really find your way out the other side. I am telling you now, it may not be today or tomorrow or next week or even next year, but you will and you will be so much better for it, don't give up, don't stop fighting.”
John swallows, “I thought you said you don't care.”
He straightens, abruptly stepping out of John's space, and it's suddenly so much colder without him there. “Do not presume to know my mind.”
“Oh, but you can know whatever you like about mine?”
“It's hardly a great difficulty to decipher, whatever you might think,” he turns round and steps away.
“I thought you were trying to stop me jumping,” John says quickly, suddenly quite willing to do anything to keep this stranger from leaving him.
The man stops, not turning but looking over his shoulder at John. “I already did.”
“How do you know that I won't just as soon as you've gone?”
Now he does turn round, an eyebrow raised elegantly. “The same way I know everything else. I deduced it.”
“That was brilliant, how did you do that?” John can't help but beam at him.
The man blinks, fleeting surprise on his face before it smooths into a careful mask of indifference. “That's not what people usually say.”
“What do people usually say?”
He narrows his eyes, a defensive tilt to his shoulders. “'Piss off'.”
“Well, they're all fucking idiots, because that was amazing.”
He blinks again, turns and lifts a hand in farewell, “Happy Christmas.”
John moves to follow him in an aborted motion, “I don't even know your name!”
The man pauses, “Sherlock Holmes, it has been a pleasure.” He strides away in a dramatic swirl of coat.
John looks at the Thames, then at Holmes' departing figure, already nearly out of sight. He shakes his head and starts the long walk back to his dingy, lonely, little bedsit. Shuffle, clump, shuffle, clump.
Sherlock eyes the black car that pulls up beside the pavement with a baleful glare. The door opens pointedly, “Get in.”
Heaving a sigh, Sherlock ducks into the car, shutting the door a touch harder than necessary and slouching on the seat.
“Such poor posture will inevitably give you back problems later in life,” he is informed.
“Do the world a favor and piss right the bloody hell off, Mycroft,” Sherlock mutters, picking at the stitching of the car's rear seat.
Mycroft raises an eyebrow, ignoring his mistreatment of the vehicle. “Really Sherlock, if only Mummy could hear you.”
“Mummy isn't bloody here right now, is she, Mycroft.”
Mycroft sighs. “I am quite uncertain as to what I have done to warrant such verbal abuse from you today--”
“Don't.” Sherlock interrupts him sharply.
Mycroft gives a tiny nod, saying delicately, “You saved a man's life, Sherlock. That is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Leave off, Mycroft,” Sherlock says tiredly.
“Wouldn't you like to know anything about the man whose life you saved?” Mycroft inquires, looking pointedly at a manila file on the seat beside him.
Sherlock closes his eyes and leans his head back on the seat. “What I would like, is to be taken home now.”
A few days later...
Sherlock is laying on his sofa in a fit of ennui, his hands steepled on his chest, every so often he taps the pads of his fingers together. His phone rings, and he turns his head to stare listlessly at it. He listens as the answerphone clicks on.
“Hi, erm, this is John... from Westminster Bridge? I don't think I ever told you my name, Mr. Holmes, but it's John Watson. I found the number on your website, and I just, I wanted to thank you and tell you that you were right, about well, everything really. Erm, I guess that’s all I wanted to say--”
Sherlock scrambles upright, reaching over and grabbing the phone, speaking urgently into the reciever, “John?”
The voice on the other end is full of relief. “Mr. Holmes.”
Sherlock leans back on his sofa with a grin, “Please, call me Sherlock.”