Gaps Between the Floorboards
Greg hammers the button in the lift, and the doors slowly grind shut. His impatience doesn't make the lift move any faster, and it dutifully stops at the next two floors, hospital staff and medical students filing out until it's just him, going down to the basement.
When he finally judders to a halt, he steps towards the doors, waiting just a few inches in front of them while they drag themselves open. As soon as the gap is big enough, Greg squeezes through sideways, the button of his jacket catching against the metal.
He looks in the locker room first - he's starting to wonder if Molly's assailant was able to access her keys while she was working, make a copy, and break into the house without actually doing any breaking. The room is dark and empty, the shiny red and blue lockers looking odd in a room with cracked plaster and well worn linoleum. If Sherlock's come to the same conclusion, then he's already examined the locker, or there's something higher on his list.
Greg leaves the locker room and heads towards the morgue, but he's only taken a few steps when Sherlock exits the double doors, swinging his coat round his shoulders and sliding his arms into the sleeves in one smooth motion.
"We need to go," Greg says quickly as Sherlock straightens the lapel of his coat. "What have you been doing?" He frowns as his eyes land on the dots of red on Sherlock's shirt front. "Is that blood?"
"Nosebleed," Sherlock replies, brushing past him. Greg turns on his heel and the pair of them head for the lift, Sherlock jabbing the button with his thumb as soon as he's within reaching distance.
"We need to go west," Greg tells him as they step through the doors and into the lift. He doesn't have time to question Sherlock's nosebleed story, not with miles of congested London streets to get through. He does file it away for later though, noting the absence of a crimson blotted tissue or staining around his nostrils.
Greg doesn't often notice the difference between his and Sherlock's paces, but now he is struggling to keep up without breaking into a jog. Sherlock strides ahead without saying a word, and even when he turns a corner, Greg can tell he's calculated the most effective angles to take.
"Erica says it's beyond the M25, so by the time we're that far she'll probably have the go ahead."
Sherlock's brow furrows. "Who's Erica?"
"BT woman," Greg tells him, but Sherlock waves the information away. "I was thinking we should try and get on the M4, get the blues and twos going of course."
"No," Sherlock says with a shake of his head. "A40."
Greg looks across at him as they hurry down the stone steps at the front of the building. He's bumped the car up on the pavement, on a double yellow line of all things. A traffic warden is eyeing it hungrily while he taps some details into his device.
"Hold it!" Greg yells, and he issues his badge. The warden looks up, scowling, and as Greg draws nearer he drops the volume of his voice to a more amiable tone. "Urgent police business, save us both the trouble, yeah?"
The warden mutters something indiscernible then skulks off. Greg unlocks the car and slips into the driver's seat.
"A40?" Greg asks Sherlock as he starts the engine. "You sure about this?"
Sherlock nods, staring straight ahead. "Positive."
"Should I even ask?"
Greg's stomach clenches, but he puts the feeling to one side. Molly is the priority. He can worry about Sherlock later.
Her mouth is dry, her throat sore. She is simultaneously exhausted and itching with energy, desperate to get out, to walk, to breathe fresh air.
Her shoulders are ruined, the muscles and ligaments stretched far beyond their limit. If she taps the tips of her fingers against her hand, she can just about feel it, but her feet are like blocks of ice. Her brain tells her toes to wiggle, but in the dark, she's damned if she knows the outcome. She has pins and needles in both calves, and no amount of the limited leg exercises she can manage will abate it.
The longer she waits, the less hopeful she is that she will ever be found. She knows that's a result of darkness pressing in on her, but all the same, she can't shake the feeling that this is how it's going to end.
With the floorboards so close to her face, she can't avoid the feeling that she's trapped in a coffin, which is the least helpful comparison that could occur to her right now.
Molly tries to focus her mind on something more positive. She wonders what Sherlock is doing right now, how he's getting to the bottom of all of this. Maybe there's some clue in her flat, a bootprint, some hair, or another piece of evidence that will give him a snapshot of where she is.
But no, she thinks with a frown. Not a hair. She remembers the feeling of skin and skull, but not hair.
She turns her head, glancing towards her useless phone. She wishes she could have told him. It might have narrowed things down...to one of the hundreds of thousands of bald men in London.
A sigh escapes her, and she wriggles to try and get her hands into a more comfortable position, but it's impossible.
The world above her is still, and the building doesn't make a sound. There are no clanking pipes, no noisy gusts of wind squeezing through gaps in ill-fitted windows, none of the creaking that comes with a period property. Both her flat and 221B are full of odd noises which just get shrugged off, but this place is quiet.
She wonders if the walls have soundproofing, if this place has been designed for situations like this.
Maybe she should have laid and listened before. Maybe it could have told her a lot more than she thought it would. Maybe it would have helped Sherlock find her.
Molly closes her eyes and thinks about his text.
He'll find her. He promised.
The flashing blue lights make the cars flare as they move out of the way. Once Lestrade has got them out of central London, he puts his foot down. The noise of the engine isn't enough to cover the wailing sirens, which go round and round and round inside Sherlock's head.
It sounds like screaming.
He unlocks his phone and then starts tapping a text message to Mycroft. He needs to clear things up quickly and minimise any awkward questions.
Molly's been kidnapped. Pelley - works in the morgue at Bart's - is responsible. Raped and murdered a woman who ended up on the slab, didn't want Molly finding anything to link him to it. Might need you to deal with him.
He clicks send, wondering if that will be enough, if he can sit back as they speed towards Great Missenden, knowing that there won't be anything to contend with in the aftermath.
He can't have Pelley walk off scot-free for both crimes just because of a few broken bones. He's dangerous, to Molly, to any woman that dare crosses his path, and he'll stop at nothing to cover his tracks.
Pelley needs to be stopped. For good.
The reply comes swiftly enough.
Have you got her? Let me know if you need additional resources and I can arrange.
Sherlock watches the dot dot dot of Mycroft's next message, until it forms a speech bubble.
How permanently do you wish for him to be dealt with?
The reply comes instantly. He is not so childish as to demand an execution, nor is he so naive.
Life without parole. Category A.
He doubts Pelley would last long in there anyway.
He glances up to Mycroft's initial message, then adds:
With Lestrade. On my way to get her.
Mycroft must be in a particularly tiresome meeting, because his reply is instant.
Send the local police. It doesn't matter who reaches her first, just as long as she's freed asap.
Sherlock grits his teeth.
Lestrade doesn't have the address. Waiting on a warrant. I have the address, but he doesn't.
The three dots appear, but then disappear after a few seconds. Mycroft's thinking about it. It's dangerous ground. Sherlock has crossed a line that he would cross a thousand times for Molly, but he can't afford to implicate Lestrade in that. It would ruin him.
How long until the warrant comes through? Do you need me to make a call?
It must be a terribly boring meeting if Mycroft will absent himself to make a call on Sherlock's behalf. He must be desperate to escape.
It should come through before we get there.
He turns his phone over in his hands while he awaits Mycroft's response. The green signs whizz past, and the word Uxbridge burns itself in white font onto Sherlock's vision.
"You need to come off soon. Head for Amersham."
Lestrade glances sideways at him, but slows down a little to give himself time to see the sign when it appears. The pitch of the engine lowers, but the sirens are louder as a result.
He knows it's stupid as he does it, knows that it's a waste of his time, but there is too much time stretching out ahead of him between this car and the place where she is. He types the text, the text that won't reach her because her battery is long dead.
But just in case.
It all spills out of him, transcribed through trembling thumbs as his anxiety swirls in the pit of his stomach. He has never felt so helpless as he does now, in the passenger seat of a police car, miles and miles away from her.
He presses send, because it needs to go, now that he's written it, it needs to disperse into the wifi and dart about as a signal.
But she won't get to read it.
His screen lights up, and for one moment, one heart-stopping moment, he thinks it's her. He thinks she's managed to preserve her battery so much that she's still within reach.
Sherlock's heart sinks when he realises it's Mycroft, his lungs deflating with the anticlimax. To make matters worse, he's being overbearing and unusually sentimental.
Look after her. Properly.
Sherlock ignores it and drops his phone back into his pocket. He shifts in his seat and closes his eyes, trying to block out the wailing sirens.
He'll get there, soon enough.
A headache is starting to set in. Molly's brain feels like it's pulsing in her skull. She wants to go to sleep, so that both time and the headache will pass, but she's too scared. If she is found first by the person who brought her here, she wants to be awake and alert. She won't allow him to take her by surprise a second time.
There's not a lot she'll be able to do, with both wrists and ankles tied. But she has a long time to think about it, and a decent headbutt might do the trick, if she can aim it well enough. She doubts she'd be able to knock anyone out, so all she'd really be able to manage is making her kidnapper angrier. On the one hand, it seems like a stupid idea, but on the other, it feels like a bittersweet victory.
On top of all that, there's the issue of her bindings. Even if she can get herself a few extra seconds, what can she possibly do? Hop about like a pogo stick?
Molly shakes her head and lets out a sigh.
It's got to be Sherlock.
She closes her eyes and waits.
And she waits.
And then, in the distance, she hears it. A rumble, a car engine. Her heart rate elevates, and she lifts her head off the ground to get just a few inches closer to the sound. She can't tell, one way or the other whether this is good news or bad news, but it's getting louder, and louder, and then it stops.
She hears a car door slam, and then -
"Molly?" The shout is urgent, and frantic, but it's Sherlock.
"I'm here!" Her voice is dry and cracked, and she doesn't think he's heard her. But then there is a crash, the splintering of wood, and the rattling of glass, and the footsteps are near.
"I'm here!" she calls, but she manages to inhale a cloud of dust, unsettled by the gust of wind that sweeps through the open door. She coughs, her throat raw and rough, while the footsteps draw closer.
"In here?" His voice is softer now, less anxious, and Molly bends her knees, raising them up so she can knock them against the floorboards while suppressing her coughing fit.
"All right," he says, and above her she can see a shadow move. A light flicks on, and then there is a clatter of metal on wood.
"Use this." It's Greg. "You okay Molly?"
Molly manages to clear her throat and make a faint sound of affirmation, as the end of a crowbar is forced between the floorboards a little to her right. There is a creak as the wood is prised up, and then light floods in as the board is roughly pulled away by Greg.
She squints through the gap to see Sherlock, levering the crowbar again, and the space doubles.
"Get something to cut her free," Sherlock says, and Greg disappears while another board comes up, and then another. She can hears drawers and cupboards being opened and slammed shut, and when the hole in the floor is big enough, Sherlock throws the crowbar to one side and drops into the gap. Then his hands are on her and he's pulling her up into a sitting position.
Greg's back, and he rushes over with a pair of scissors. Sherlock snatches them from him and moves around to Molly's back, crouching down so that he can work the blades at the thick cords around her wrists.
"Bungees," Sherlock mutters. "No distinctive markings, constrictive…"
"Same as the other victim," Greg says quietly in response.
Something pings against the small of Molly's back, and some of the pressure around her wrists releases. Sherlock carefully unwraps the bungee, and soon her wrists are free. Molly sags in relief, her shoulders screaming with pain, and she is only able to feel that she is quivering when she presses her numb hands to her face.
Sherlock lifts her gently, so that she is sitting on the edge of the floor, and her legs finally make it out from under the boards. He crouches down in front of her, one hand on her calf as he looks up at her.
"You all right?" he breathes, and she nods immediately, even though the both know she is stretching the definition of 'all right' to its very limits.
As Sherlock works at the bungee around her ankles - bright green, as it would turn out - Greg disappears from the room again. There is the sound of a tap running, and when he returns, he presses a glass of water into Molly's shaking hands. He crouches next to her while she drinks, one hand gently rubbing her back, the other poised to catch her glass should she drop it.
The bungee around her ankles gives way, and Sherlock pulls the rest of it away, his eyes meeting hers when his hands brush against her frozen feet.
"It'll be fine," Molly says, even though she's certain she's only imagining the feeling of his hands because she can see them in front of her. He pulls off his scarf while giving her a look that tells her he can see right through her, and gently wraps her feet up, then tries to rub some of warmth back into them.
Greg takes her empty glass and goes back to the kitchen to refill it. Molly wiggles her feet inside the bundled up scarf, and is pleased to note that some of the feeling is starting to return. Sherlock sits opposite her, then looks down and leans forward to grab something.
He slips it into his pocket and continues to rub the warmth back into her feet.
"Are you okay?" Molly asks, watching him carefully. He's barely looked at her since he pulled her out from under floor, barely spoken to her.
"Me?" Sherlock says, his voice painfully steady. "I'm not the one who was kidnapped."
"That doesn't answer the question."
Greg returns and Molly takes the refilled glass of water from him, drinking slowly while she watches Sherlock.
Usually when he solves a case he is over the moon, brimming with jubilance and arrogance. But not today.
It worries her.
There is a blur of blue lights, squad cars, and officers milling around putting up tape. It passes him by in a haze. He wraps Molly in his coat and, when her feet are sufficiently recovered, removes the scarf from around them so she can hobble out to Lestrade's car.
She grips the sleeve of his jacket tightly, and both of them ignore the curious looks of the police officers around them. Maybe they don't get much excitement around here. Maybe the call from Scotland Yard with an address and a warrant was the most thrilling thing to happen all week.
Sherlock helps Molly into the car and once she's in, pushes the door shut gently. She's exhausted, and he can't stop thinking about Mycroft's text, and how ill-equipped he is to look after her. And properly, too. What does that even mean?
He circles around the car and gets in. Once he closes the door, the noise outside lessens, and he can hear Molly's breath, slow and steady. Every time she exhales there is a puff of mist on the car window. She's watching the activity outside, her elbow propped up on the window ledge, head cradled in one hand.
There are dark purple bruises around her wrists.
Acid rises in Sherlock's throat, and he has to sit up straight and breathe deeply to settle his stomach.
He could have lost her.
His stomach churns, and he leans forward, head in his hands, vainly trying to force his brain to think about something else. He needs that voice, the one that recalibrates him whenever he's overloaded, the one that helps him take a step back and see the bigger picture.
There is a shift of fabric on fabric, and then her arm is around his shoulders. Without hesitation he turns, pulling Molly close to him. He holds onto her tightly as he stares over her shoulder, through the opposite window.
It's a long time before he releases her, and when he does, she only pulls back slightly, enough for her eyes to meet his. She gently smoothes the lapel of his jacket, an unnecessary, but comforting motion for the both of them. The underside of her fingernails are stained with a faint red, having been scraped clean by an officer with an evidence bag. He counts himself lucky to care about someone who is smart enough to leave him a clue, who is smart enough to send him wifi signals to mark her location.
He'd not thought of that.
She is exceptional, and he's not ready to let her go. His heart is still beating frantically, his breath shaky in his lungs, and he just can't get rid of the anxiety swirling around inside of him.
He could have lost her.
He takes a breath and focuses on the weave of her cardigan, the little turquoise loops all bound together in uniform pattern. He remembers this cardigan from a hazy day in the lab, with the low lights glinting off of the conical flasks and measuring cylinders. He remembers it from the back of an ambulance while she shouted at him for twenty minutes straight while undertaking a thorough examination of him. He remembers it from late evenings, when he has escaped to her flat to get some peace and quiet, and she has thrown it on in response to the central heating clicking off for the night. It is a cardigan he has seen many times before, and will see many times again.
He didn't lose her.
And he won't.
He's in the kitchen when her phone blinks back into life.
Molly is curled up on the sofa in fresh pyjamas, her hair damp from a hot shower. She can smell dinner from here - a bounty provided by Sherlock's quick trip to the chip shop down the road. Her mouth is watering, and now that she's clean and rehydrated, Molly is thoroughly ready to fill herself up with carbs and then go straight to bed.
Her screen lights up, and from her seat, she can see the little grey box denoting a new message. She leans forward, moving to the edge of the sofa cushion so as not to pull the charging cable from the plug socket. Molly picks up her phone and unlocks it, then reads the text.
It's from him, of course. And it was sent after their last exchange while she was still trapped. He must have sent it after her battery had given up the ghost, before he had made it to the house. She's so tired that she can barely focus on the words. The grey speech bubble around it is long, stretching past the bottom of the screen, the black text so dense that at a glance it's like trying to crack a code.
She blinks. Refocuses. And then the words slide into place. The sentences become real and she is able to read her way steadily down the text. It was sent in a moment of panic, that much is obvious by the lack of punctuation and uncorrected typos.
It's difficult to process. She can't imagine any of these words coming from his brain or his mouth, and yet here they are, tapped out to her via his phone. When she reaches the end, she blinks, and goes back and reads it again. It's only when she's read it through a third time that she decides it must be real, that she's not imagining things after the stress of the last twenty-four hours.
Every time she reads it, it her heart feels like it's being distributed into the atmosphere, like dandelion seeds floating off on a gentle breeze.
She could read it every day for the rest of her life and never tire of it.
Molly tugs the cable out of the bottom of her phone then gets off the sofa, her slippers scuffing against the floor as she heads for the living room door.
As she reaches for the handle, the door opens, and Sherlock's there, with two plates of chips and a couple of buttered baps. The pair of them jump at the sudden appearance of the other, but then Sherlock moves around Molly and places the plates on the coffee table.
"Drink?" he asks, stepping towards the door again.
Molly shows him her phone, unable to conjure up the right words. But then, in her exhausted state, her mouth jumps ahead of her brain.
"I got your text."
He freezes, part way through a breath, his chest half inflated as her words make their impact.
"I…" he says slowly, blinking several times and looking down at his feet. He shifts on the spot, and Molly takes a step closer, knowing that he hasn't figured out where he might take his sentence.
"Did you mean it?" she asks, her skin prickling with nerves as she awaits his answer. This is dangerous ground - it could be one blow too much for her to deal with today. She's setting herself up for a fall, but then he looks up from the floor, his sharp gaze meeting hers. The faint line between his eyebrows tells her enough.
"I mean - " he begins, and then he falters. "Of course I - " But that sentence isn't right either. "It's…" He brings one hand up to ruffle his hair while he tries to navigate the murky waters of the conversation. "I wouldn't have said it if...you know, I…"
Molly does the only thing she can think of.
She cuts him off, mid-sentence.