They came in the middle of the night, invading her lonely flat like something from one of her nightmares. But she was not asleep, and this was not a dream.
Molly was in the kitchen, her green dressing gown fastened loosely about her waist as she brewed a pot of coffee. After tossing and turning for nearly three hours, she had given up on sleep and decided to once again go over every single scrap of information that Sherlock had been willing to share with her about his current case. Maybe there was some outrageous, seemingly impossible angle that she had failed to consider, or maybe it was something blatantly obvious that she had simply skimmed over in her state of permanent exhaustion. Maybe she was going mad.
Shutting her eyes with a groan, Molly massaged her aching temples and listened to the quiet bubbling of the coffeepot. It was the only sound that disrupted the prevailing silence, a silence she had grown accustomed to after her long years of working in the morgue. She almost considered going there, despite the fact that it was nearing three in the morning. At least she knew that the dead would not trouble her. Their time had come and gone. No—the living were far more terrifying.
At that moment, a barely perceptible knock sounded at her door. Molly nearly jumped out of her skin. It was certainly not the volume of the noise that startled her. It was the fact that it was there at all. Thoughts racing, she darted into the living room and snatched the poker from the hearth. She gripped it with both hands, her knuckles turning white as she ventured cautiously toward the door. Heart pounding, she peered through the little peephole.
Just outside her flat stood three men, all dressed in black, wearing heavy jackets and trousers. They were strangely distorted by her current point of view, with long faces, hunched shoulders, and shrinking bodies. One of them had his right hand inside his coat pocket as they waited for a response, shifting impatiently.
Eyes wide, Molly backed away slowly. They had come for her. Sherlock had warned that this would happen, that any sort of collaboration between them would put her in harm’s way, but she had vehemently denied it. Rather, she had suspected that he was right but had chosen to ignore the potential consequences of such a partnership.
A second knock came, louder and more forceful this time. Trembling from head to toe, Molly turned and dashed to her bedroom door. Grabbing the handle, she flung it open and slipped inside, locking it behind her. Then she moved quickly to the bedside table, snatched her cellphone from its wooden surface, and ran to the closet. Shutting herself in, Molly pressed back against the row of hanging clothes and slid down to the floor. She hugged her knees to her chest, swallowed hard, and dialed the number of the one person she knew she could rely on, no matter what.
It rang once, then twice. Each seemed to stretch on for an eternity, and she bit her lip anxiously. Was he asleep? Was he busy? Was he out of reach?
Her heart skipped a beat as his baritone voice resonated through the speaker. “Sherlock, it’s Molly.”
“Yes, I gathered as much.” He sounded impatient, like he was working on something, and was fully awake.
“Sherlock, there’s someone—” She was not allowed to finish her sentence, for she was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of the door to her flat crashing open.
“What was that?” His tone had changed, revealing a hint of concern, and she got the distinct impression that he already knew the answer.
“They’re inside,” Molly whispered, clutching the phone desperately with one hand and the poker with the other. “They’re looking for me.”
“Stay where you are,” he ordered. “I'm coming.”
“Wait—Sherlock!” she pleaded, terrified that he would disconnect the line. “Don’t hang up—please.”
“All right,” he replied after a moment’s hesitation, “I won’t.”
She could just make out his measured breaths on the other end, the slam of one door, then another. A fierce wind was blowing, muffled and crackling through the speaker. “Taxi!” she heard him cry.
It was cramped and stuffy inside the little closet, and Molly closed her eyes. It did not change much since her surroundings had already been pitch-black anyway, but somehow, it helped her focus on his breathing. It was more rapid and heavier now, and she imagined him flying down the stairs at 221B. For a while, he said nothing, and neither did she. She could hear the three men tramping through her flat, and she knew that it would not be long before they found her.
Sweat beaded on her brow, and her stomach was in knots. The realization was beginning to sink in that this might be the last time she ever spoke to Sherlock, or to anybody. Her throat was dry, causing her voice to emerge as little more than a croak. “Sherlock…”
“Don’t,” he said flatly.
Molly swallowed again. “Okay.”
Just then, she heard them trying the handle of her bedroom door. When it refused to budge, there came a loud bang, and she jumped. Silence. Then it came again, louder, and she shrank back into the corner. The third bang was followed closely by the sound of her door smashing against the wall, and she knew that they had broken in.
Sherlock’s breathing stopped. Molly could hear the old floorboards creaking with each step the intruders took, and her heart felt like it was going to beat right out of her chest. The doorknob turned, and she tightened her grip on the poker. The door swung open, and a large, man-shaped silhouette loomed over her. A pair of eyes glittered in the darkness, and a brawny hand reached toward her.
Her lips parted as a wave of panic washed over her, but then instinct compelled her to act. Molly lashed out with the metal rod, and the hand swiftly drew back to avoid being struck. Then it returned with a vengeance, clamping around the poker and attempting to tear it from her grasp. She dropped her phone, gripping the rod with both hands.
“Molly?” Sherlock’s voice was faint.
Gritting her teeth, she held on, but when the man’s left hand joined his right, his strength proved too much for her to resist. He ripped the poker away from her, causing her to lose her balance and fall forward onto her hands and knees. Heart plummeting, she looked up as her assailant tossed her only weapon aside. Then he bent down, reaching for her again, and she recoiled, kicking desperately. He snatched her by the ankles, dragging her out of the closet as she twisted and clawed at the carpet.
“Get off me! Get off me!” cried Molly, fighting him every inch of the way.
But there was nothing she could do. Her fingers were rubbed raw, and there was no object of use that was within reach. Her attacker’s companions looked on with callous expressions and did nothing as he hauled her toward the bedroom door.
“Sherlock!” she shrieked, her voice emerging as a blood-curdling scream.
She was hauled into the living room, and the two other men followed. Her ankles were finally released, and her legs dropped to the floor, but before Molly could move, her captor knelt and pinned her arms behind her back. His grip was harsh, and she grimaced as she heard the sound of duct tape being wrapped tightly around her wrists. One of his comrades, a smaller man with a black beanie pulled down over his ears, moved past her and temporarily disappeared from view. A chair scraped across the floor, and Molly strained to see what was going on.
Suddenly, the door to her flat opened again, creaking as it nearly dropped off its half-broken hinges. She turned back, her heart leaping inside her chest as a tall, familiar figure strode through the entryway. He moved silently through the shadows, his long black coat swishing about his legs. The three intruders had taken notice of him and were assuming defensive positions. Molly’s assailant drew his gun, the smaller man clenched his fists, and the third man gripped the poker tightly at his side.
“You take one more step, Holmes, and she dies,” her captor threatened, aiming the gun at her head.
Sherlock stopped. Moonlight spilled through the window behind them, falling across the more prominent features of his angular face and leaving the others in darkness. His keen eyes glittered dangerously as they perceived and deduced the smallest details of each man in milliseconds. Finally, he straightened and clasped his hands behind his back.
“You’ve gotten what you wanted,” he said in a low voice, addressing Molly’s attacker. “You have my attention. Is the gun really necessary?”
“'Course it is, Holmes,” the man growled, refusing to adjust his aim.
“Putting a bullet in the head of the woman you plan to interrogate would be foolish indeed,” Sherlock responded coolly.
The intruder stared at him, scowling. “The interrogation’s only part of the job, a part we’ve gotta skip now ‘cause of you.”
There was a click as a bullet moved into the chamber, and Molly held her breath.
“Wait,” said Sherlock, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice as he extended a hand. “I will tell you everything you wish to know. There is no need to—”
“Oh, but there is, Mr. Holmes,” the man snarled, a ruthless grin spreading across his features. “It’s not just information we came for. Smith told us to make an example—make an example of her.” He jabbed the gun toward Molly’s head. “There are consequences for interference.”
He was going to kill her. There was no doubt about that now. If she stayed where she was, she would die. But if she moved, there was a slim chance of survival. In that moment, Molly made her decision. Summoning all of the strength she had left, she risked a glance at Sherlock. Their eyes met, and his widened ever so slightly as he realized what she was about to attempt. There was no time, no time to warn her, to stop her.
With all the force she could muster, Molly thrust herself backwards into the legs of her assailant. A startled cry escaped his lips as he toppled over her and landed on his face. The gun tumbled from his hand and clattered across the floor. She rolled over and crawled toward it as Sherlock engaged her captor’s companions. A rough hand clamped around her ankle, dragging her backwards. The man had risen to his knees and now launched himself forward, his other hand falling upon the gun.
Molly refused to give up. Gritting her teeth, she lunged and landed halfway on his back as she fought him for control of the weapon. He grunted and flipped onto his back, striking her as he did so. She dropped to the floor, dazed. The cold metal of the gun had collided with her temple, its sharp edge slicing her flesh.
As she lay there, motionless, blood trickling down the side of her face, Molly saw Sherlock approach her would-be killer from behind as he prepared to pull the trigger. The poker was in his hand, and the high-functioning sociopath did not hesitate a single moment before bringing the metal rod down upon his enemy’s skull. There was a sickening crack, and her captor moved no more. He, like his associates, was incapacitated.
Allowing the poker to strike the floor with a resounding clang, Sherlock bent and snatched the gun from the floor, emptying the magazine. Metal chimed against wood as each bullet dropped harmlessly and rolled in varying directions. Blinking, Molly struggled to sit up, her temples throbbing painfully. A moment later, there were two strong but gentle hands assisting her into an upright position.
“Are you all right?”
She managed a small nod as her throat tightened. Sherlock knelt in front of her, gripping her shoulders. The wild ferocity had faded from his eyes, replaced by fierce concern. Reaching up, his long, slender fingers brushed lightly across her temple, and she winced.
“I’ll phone Lestrade,” he said quietly, casting a nasty glare over his shoulder. “He will remove these pathetic excuses for human beings from your flat.”
A strangled sob escaped her throat, and his head swiveled sharply in her direction. As blinding tears welled in her eyes, his brow furrowed in confusion.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, Sherlock,” Molly laughed, despite everything.
Leaning forward, she threw her arms around him and held him tight. He did not move, remaining quite stiff and uncertain until she released him. As she did, Molly planted a kiss on his cheek, and when she drew back, Sherlock stared at her in stunned silence. She stared back at him, and then he blinked, clearing his throat awkwardly as he reached into his coat pocket.
“I’d better, uh…I’d better call Lestrade."