Gaps Between the Floorboards
She knows it's him before she even picks up. Nobody else calls her when she's drifting off to sleep in front of the telly.
Molly leans forward to grab her phone from the coffee table and slides her thumb across the screen.
"Hey," she says, rubbing one eye with her spare hand as she adjusts to the light.
"Go to bed," his voice says, by way of a greeting.
"Am I that predictable?" she asks, a small smile tugging at her lips. She likes that he knows her this well. Most of the time. Sometimes, when he's at his smuggest, it can be downright frustrating.
"Yes," he replies, the word drawn out in a way that says she knows perfectly well she's predictable. "It's late. You're on in the morning aren't you?"
She hums her confirmation and pushes herself up from the sofa, inhaling deeply to try and shake off some of her drowsiness. She picks up her discarded dinner plate and takes it into the kitchen, scraping the last sauce-stained grains of rice into the bin while Sherlock tells her about a case.
"Lestrade wants it solved quickly."
"Doesn't he always?" Molly asks, phone clamped between her cheek and her shoulder as she opens the dishwasher and drops her cutlery into the holder.
"Yeah but this time especially. No messing about, not with this." Sherlock sounds uncharacteristically serious, and Molly straightens up, her hand taking her phone once more.
"Serial killer?" Molly asks.
"Don't know yet," Sherlock sighs. "But it's...well, if we can get on it as soon as we can, then they won't have the chance to form a bad habit."
"Why don't you use the night shift?" Molly asks, her eyebrows drawing together. If it's this serious then they can't afford to wait for Sherlock's favourite crew.
There is a pause at the other end of the line, and she knows he must have weighed it up. "I only want the best. Anything else and it'll waste time, or we'll miss something important."
Despite the context of the compliment, her heart lifts at his words. She'd be lying if she said she didn't enjoy being his favourite.
"All right," she says, suppressing a yawn. "I'll try and get in for seven thirty and get a head start." She loads her plate into the dishwasher, and it clinks against the other crockery. "I'll see you in the morning," she says.
He bids her goodnight, and Molly slips her phone into her pocket while she roots around in the cupboard under the sink, trying to find a dishwasher tablet. Before she can grasp one, a cloth is clamped over her mouth, a strong hand pressing it against her face.
She holds her breath, but the chemicals are making her eyes sting, and her chest feels like it might explode. She stamps her heel down on a shoe, but her bare foot does little more than elicit a grunt of discomfort from the intruder.
She can't breathe.
She tries to force her weight back against her attacker, tries to slam them into the opposite kitchen counter, but she is held fast against him, and there is nowhere to go. She is so slight that she doesn't stand a chance against the broad shoulders and thick arms surrounding her. Her lungs fill with chloroform as she struggles.
She can't breathe.
Molly reaches blindly behind her, in one last desperate attempt, but her grip falls away, her legs collapsing under her as her vision turns to black.
The Metropolitan Line apparently has no delays. The buses are showing up at the stop outside with relative frequency.
It's a quarter to eight, and she's not here.
Sherlock looks towards Lestrade, who is engrossed in the case notes, file open on his lap as they sit in the corridor outside the morgue, waiting to hear the scuff of brogues against lino.
"She'll be here in a minute," Lestrade says, turning the page, his eyes scanning through a statement. Sherlock had whizzed through the notes in the cab this morning, but he can't start thinking about the case until Molly shows up.
He tries calling again, but the call doesn't connect. He checks his signal, sees three bars, then huffs.
"She's probably on the tube," Lestrade tells him. "Just relax."
Sherlock can't relax, and so instead, he paces up and down the corridor until eight o'clock rolls around, and a burly doctor in a lab coat opens the door to the morgue.
"Scotland Yard?" he asks, his tone pleasant.
Lestrade stands up, flashing his badge before he moves forward to shake the man's hand.
"Where's Molly?" Sherlock demands.
"Off sick," the man replies. "Emailed the night shift." He pushes his round spectacles up his nose, and offers a shrug.
"There you go," Lestrade says brightly, and the man moves aside to let the both of them into the morgue.
Sherlock's shoulders are tense, and the more he thinks about it, the tauter the muscles become. "She would have texted."
"She's sick," Lestrade sighs. "If she's chucking up, you're bound to be the last thing on her mind."
"No," Sherlock says, and there is a tremor in his voice as he tries to force himself to stay calm. "I spoke to her last night. She knew this was important…"
"She's probably sleeping," Lestrade says with a shrug. "We'll go round and see her after this. See if she needs anything." He claps Sherlock on the shoulder, and Sherlock blinks. He wants to argue, but instead he bites the inside of his lip, and moves towards the slab.
The sooner this is done, the sooner he can get out of here.
Dr Pelley, as he soon cheerfully introduces himself, takes them through the obvious features in a brisk ten minutes. "Tied at the wrists and ankles," he says, indicating the welts in the pale flesh. "Cause of death was asphyxiation - she died before she was dumped in the river."
Lestrade nods, scribbling notes in the margin of his papers, his eyes occasionally flicking over towards Sherlock, who looks on in silence.
"Her injuries suggest she was sexually assaulted," Pelley continues, but she's clean as a whistle, no DNA to take away. The river must have washed it all away."
"Time of death?" Lestrade asks, his pen scratching at his paper.
"Well," Pelley begins, heaving a sigh like a mechanic who's about to give an inflated price for a trivial piece of work. "She was found last night...I think possibly she was killed two nights before that, so...Monday?"
Sherlock frowns. "She looks fresher than that," he says.
"Water," Pelley replies. "Keeps the skin looking…" he trails off, then tilts his head from side to side.
"Right," Sherlock says, impatiently. "And can you tell us anything that might actually be of use in a criminal investigation?"
Pelley looks down at the body. "There's not much to say," he shrugs. "That's the problem with mermaids."
Lestrade pulls a face. "Mermaids?"
"Found in the water," Pelley replies. "Mermaids."
"We're wasting our time," Sherlock mutters to Lestrade, with no attempt to hide his distaste from Pelley. Lestrade meets his gaze, conceding his agreement, but is no less amiable as a result.
"Well thanks for that," he says, giving a nod to Pelley, whose bald head glints under the harsh light of the mortuary. "We'll let you know if we need anything else."
Pelley smiles, zips up the body bag, then turns to ping his gloves into the nearest bin. A sharp intake of breath sounds from Lestrade. "That looks nasty," he says, gesturing to three fine red lines on the side of Pelley's head. "You been in the wars?"
Pelley lets out a little chuckle. "No," he says. "Just cat sitting for a friend. Turns out I'm not that much of a cat person."
Lestrade gives an 'oh' of understanding, and tucks his papers back into his file.
"Can we go?" Sherlock is already at the door. His impatience is bordering on mania. He's already wasted so much time on this stupid, dead end case.
She wakes to darkness, the side of her face resting against something hard and rough. In the blackness, her eyes cannot focus, but her brain slowly starts to slot the pieces together.
Her first instinct is to panic, but her second is to keep calm. She fights an internal battle as her heart races in her chest but she knows, she knows she must use her brain, and she cannot do that if she's terrified.
Molly takes a few deep breaths, trying to ignore the fact that her wrists and ankles are bound tightly together, so tightly that she's worried about her circulation. No. She cannot worry about her circulation. Her circulation is no good to her if she can't get out of here.
She wonders what the time is, tries to gauge it by the bitter dryness of her mouth, but that could just as easily be a side effect of the chemicals.
Either way, it won't be long before Sherlock realises something's wrong. It had been late when he'd called - the Newsnight credits had been rolling, and she'd agreed to meet him earlier…
Her head hurts, and she closes her eyes, resting her forehead against what she thinks is concrete. When she opens her eyes again, she looks in front of her, and can see thin strips of light running in parallel lines through the darkness. She cranes her neck so she can see above her, and realises she's underneath some floorboards.
The revelation does nothing for her state of mind, and her pulse quickens, her breaths coming sharp and shallow.
He'll find her. He has to.
But all the same, tied up and in the dark gets a lot worse when it's tied up, in the dark, and trapped beneath the floorboards.
Her dread is interrupted when she realises that there's something hard digging into her hip. She shifts on the floor as best she can, trying to feel the object with the top of her thigh. It's thin, and rectangular, with rounded corners.
She bites her lip with anticipation, then rolls over, wiggling and squirming until her phone falls out of her pocket with a clatter. She freezes, the sound so loud amongst the silence, and she listens for footsteps, the scrape of a chair, for anything that might suggest that there's someone keeping watch.
There's nothing, however, and she rolls back onto her front, wriggling down to where her phone has landed. The motion causes the hem of her top to ride up, the concrete grazing the flesh of her belly as she moves. It's a small price to pay.
Molly presses her cheek to her phone and identifies the back of the case. She can't hold in her exasperated sigh, but then she picks it up with her teeth, grit and dust gathering on her lower lip as it brushes against the floor. With a flick of her head, she flips the phone over, then presses her nose against the home button.
She fights the urge to close her eyes at the sight of the glaring light. The time is eight twenty-five, her battery is on sixteen percent, and her signal is showing no service.
It feels like a cruel joke.
He will find her though. He'll find her all the same.
She pushes her phone away from her, then wriggles after it, checking the signal again to see if the change of a few feet has made much of a difference.
Molly presses the home button again, then awkwardly types in her passcode with the tip of her nose, careful not to waste any chances on inaccuracy. She opens the messages app, and prods Sherlock's name, opening up their most recent conversation.
She tries something simple to start with, hoping that the smaller the message, the more likely it is to make it.
It takes her a few goes to hit the send arrow, but when she does, the message transfers to the space above, first with a blue background, then immediately switching to green. It's not the end of the world - there's no wifi, but maybe it can conjure up a little bar of signal from somewhere?
The red exclamation mark appears next to the message, and Molly's heart sinks.
She has no idea how he'll ever be able to trace her.
He tries dialling Molly again as they stride along the corridor, pressing the phone to his ear, desperate to hear it ring. All he gets is an automated voice expressing its apologies for not being able to connect the call, and he thrusts his phone back into his pocket, his mood darkening. He quickens his pace, Lestrade giving in to a little half jog every dozen steps to keep up.
Sherlock gets into Lestrade's car, slamming the door behind him. He tries texting Molly while Lestrade dumps his things in the back seat.
Where are you?
His phone makes a swooshing noise as the message launches itself into the ether, and the little grey writing appears underneath - sent. He watches it while Lestrade fastens his seatbelt, but it doesn't change to a neat little delivered. The screen cuts to black as the engine stutters into life. Sherlock stares ahead, and can feel Lestrade's eyes on him.
"All right," Lestrade sighs, relenting. There must be something eating away at him too, now. He flicks the switch on his dashboard and blue lights begin to flash, a siren wailing overhead.
They make it to Molly's, and Sherlock opens the car door before Lestrade has even attempted to park. He hurries up the steps to the front door, pulling his keys from his inside pocket and shoving well worn brass into the lock.
His heart pounds in his chest as he gets to the second door, and he hurriedly unlocks it, pushing it open and half expecting to see her standing there in her pyjamas, her face tinged green with nausea as she cradles a sick bowl.
The flat is empty. He knows it.
"Molly?" he can't keep the panic from his voice, and he shoves open the door of the lounge. He moves onto the bedroom, and then the bathroom, and by the time Lestrade has joined him, he's in the kitchen, staring at the open dishwasher, and the box of tablets spilling from the cupboard under the sink.
Sherlock turns to Lestrade, his teeth gritted together.
"I told you," he whispers. "I fucking told you." He doesn't care that his eyes are prickling, doesn't care that his legs are trembling as he tries to stay upright. He feels like he is drowning, like he is being dragged to the depths of the ocean, and will never see the light of day again.
He storms back to the hallway, to find Molly's coat and bag hanging on the hooks. When he goes into the bedroom once more, her presses his hand against the sheets. There's no evidence that she slept there last night.
"I will call this in," Lestrade says, pulling his phone from his coat pocket, "but we have to be sure that she's not just nipped out to the shops." He doesn't want to believe it, but his ridiculous optimism has already cost them over an hour.
Sherlock fixes him with an icy look, then points to Molly's bedside cabinet. "Her phone's not plugged in, and it's not picking up. So either it's out of battery or doesn't have any signal, which is a bit extreme for a quick jaunt to the shops."
He leaves the bedroom and returns to the hallway, where Molly's shoes are neatly lined up. "All of her shoes are here, barring those at the bottom of her wardrobe that she wears for special occasions. Either she's bought some new shoes - unlikely given that these," he jabs a pair of fringed brogues with his toe, "were new last month." His brain is firing off a thousand thoughts a second and he can't hold on to any of them. He needs to treat this like a normal case so that he can solve it, and find her before it's too late. But it's not a normal case, and with every passing second he is being dragged deeper into the abyss of fear and guilt.
He knows this is his fault, somehow.
Lestrade is watching him, his expression heavy, his face pale. Sherlock can identify the feeling, the shellshock of something hitting so close to home. He knows it better than most, but this, this is unacceptable. Not Molly, not her, not ever.
If Lestrade calls it in, then it becomes a case, and it becomes real.
"She wouldn't leave her dishwasher open," Sherlock says softly, and he swallows the lump in his throat.
Lestrade nods, then makes the call.
Sherlock can't even bring himself to text John. He doesn't have time to get the gang together.
He has to find her. He must.
According to the time on her phone, it's been half an hour, which is enough for another three percent of her battery to dwindle away.
She's managed to stay relatively calm, given the circumstances. Molly knows that Sherlock will have realised she's gone by now, even if the case is taking up ninety percent of his brain space, there'll be something niggling away at him.
She has to put her faith in him, because if anyone is ever going to find her, here beneath the floorboards in some unknown building, it's him.
Her signal is still non-existent, but then an idea blossoms, and she jabs the phone with her nose and inputs the password. Her neck is getting sore; two goes to get it right this time. She needs to be careful she doesn't lock her phone altogether.
She has to scoot a little further along to be able to reach the settings button, then squints through the glare while she tries to locate the wifi. If she's still in the city, there's bound to be some sort of wifi she can connect to, some cafe, or a tube station, or anything at all. She'd give anything for a signal.
Her breath catches in her throat when she sees a nearly full wifi signal, with no padlock icon next to it. But when she looks at the name, her heart shrinks.
It's worse than 3g, worse than 2g, if that's even still a thing. Wifi so slow that she's aged substantially while trying to load a web page.
But it only needs to get a message to Sherlock, only needs to connect for half a second.
She leaves the connection buffering and returns to her messages, opening her last one, and pressing the red exclamation mark next to it. When the wifi icon finally makes an appearance, she hits Try again and waits for the message to go.
She waits for so long that the screen goes black, and she rests her forehead against the concrete, her eyes closed as she waits, and waits, and waits -
She opens her eyes, and the screen is alight. It's Sherlock, and she bites her lip to suppress the cry of relief that floods through her.
Where are you?
It's only a few seconds later when she hears the whoosh of a sent message.