A Shadow in the Gloom.

A cacophony of voices hit her ears in a muffled storm of curses and screams. The feeling of cold turned earth cracked her skin in the foggy night air. Molly Malone was what one could adequately describe as a 'good' person, if not the kind of young woman that got overlooked in the daily bustle and business of life in The Big Apple. A second generation Irish immigrant, Miss. Molly Malone was not unaccustomed to the feeling of hard work that more often then not got her just barely a step a head of the game. On most day's one might find her shaving the scales off a fisherman's latest catch, working for half the wages the butcher normally paid his employees.

That was the luck of Molly Malone. The girl who couldn't catch a break with a golden fishing rod. Yet tonight, as a blanket of fog swirled in the air, just the break she was needing leapt right into her boat. Not a moment too soon.

Over the course of 6 months three young women had been kidnapped with high ransoms directed to their wealthy families. It had to be the easiest scheme the Moretti mob had ever come up with. Hold an old tycoon's precious little princess in a dirty looking warehouse by the Warf until the money arrived ,then send her back home no worse for wear. It was a message to the elite members of society, to the men and women with diamonds on their fingers and silk in their wardrobes. The Moretti family where on the fast track to big bucks, with hardly a shortage of wealthy heiresses in New York they where sure to be set for life.

Molly Malone had never touched a diamond in her life, but being at the wrong place at the wrong time had proven to be the biggest stroke of bad luck in her short 19 years of life. It was how she currently found herself haphazardly thrown in a shallow open grave. When Matteo Moretti realized their latest prized catch family was 6-feet under and was worth less then a bucket of fish heads he was what one could adequately describe as , 'furious'. Molly Malone had outstayed her welcome the moment the mobsters realized her usefulness had run dry, her future was to end with a dirt sky and worms to keep her company. The Moretti's had not yet gotten a second shovel of dirt over her when a Shadow materialized from the darkness.

It sounded as if thunder had struck, muffled screams and curses echoed in her ears. The ground shook, sending dirt falling in around her legs. The cold turned earth felt comforting, soothing to her bruised body. Just as consciousness threatened to fail her, the storm ceased. All was quiet until the tapping of hard soled boots on concrete turned into the soft crunch of dirt and grass.

Weightlessness filled her senses as she was lifted from the dirt and warmth enveloped her body , it felt like slipping into a hot bath after coming in from the snow and made her limbs tingle. Arms held her flush with it's source, a towering figure that flowed like an inky river out of the gloom. Squinting into the dark, Molly saw the yellow lights of a Taxi cab approach and stop abruptly before the pair. In the unnatural glow Molly could discern the vibrant crimson of a silken scarf and the unnaturally long shadow of a slouch hat with a brim so wide she imagined passerby's huddling around the man like a human umbrella in the rain. A thought that made her weakly giggle.

The Shadow slid deftly into the backseat of the cab, cradling the shivering form of Molly Malone. "Drive"

Moe cast a worried glance in the rearview mirror, brows wrinkled with worry. Molly was sitting sideways in Lamont's lap, his left arm wrapping around her back to prop her up into as much of a sitting position as she could maintain. Her dirt scuffed cheek pressed against his shoulder, so close that Lamont could feel her ragged breath, the orange fire of her hair burned bright against the blackness of The Shadow.

"Kid doesn't look so hot Boss…" The concern in Moe's voice was palpable.

"She probably isn't feeling so hot either" Lamont's words where sharp, but a hint of apprehension penetrated through.

A long moment of silence fell between the two in which only Molly's strained breathing filled the void. A wetness seeped through The Shadow's thick cloak, through his duster, and finally to the dress shirt underneath where he became aware of the warm stickiness of blood. Lifting Molly's chin, a crude blunt wound was visible starting above her right ear and radiated outward like a flower bloom.

"That ain't good…I think she's starting to fall asleep Boss."

Indeed Molly's head had lulled back against Lamont's shoulder, limp as a rag doll.

MOLLY.

The voice stung in her mind, prickling the nerves and making her eye's snap open. As quickly as they where open, her eye's became dazed as Molly began to relax back against the oh so inviting warmth of his body.

MOLLY. Stay awake. Listen to me. Stay awake…STAY AWAKE.

Again the voice penetrated her mind and swirled like a thick fog somewhere deep in her consciousness. Forcing her to stir and lift her heavy head off of The Shadow's shoulder long enough to take a bleary-eyed look at her surroundings. Every so often a glow of light from street would cast a fluttering dance inside the taxi cab, causing her to squeeze her eyes shut and blink rapidly. The light made her head hurt, made her eyes burn. She was just so tired…

"MOLLY" The thunderous booming voice was no longer confined to her mind now, and Molly felt The Shadow shifting beneath her to gently shake her head free from it's so very comfortable resting place. Casting a pouted half-lidded gaze upwards at the man intruding on her sleep Molly looked very much like an aggravated child who's mother had woken them up early on Saturday morning. For a moment Molly looked stern, before letting out another weak half-hearted giggle. Lamont considered she currently reminded him of Uncle Wainwright after he'd had one too many drinks, a concerning aspect that was not lost on him.

"Is there something you find amusing?" Lamont had to keep her conscious long enough to make it to the hospital, where a skilled doctor wearing a fire opal ring was waiting anxiously.

Molly opened and closed her mouth seeming confused on which words where best suited for this particular situation before she concluded that words where not necessary and weakly reached out her index finger, touched between his bushy eyebrows, and slowly dragged down to the ball of his hawk-like nose. Then let out another drunken-like giggle.

The Shadow, for once in his life, was left momentarily speechless. Yes, people tended to be particularly grateful when their lives where saved. Up till now none of them had ever dared to touch him, or rather none had dared to come close enough to do so. While many held The Shadow in their highest regards, they maintained a healthy sense of trepidation. Then came Molly Malone, a seemingly unsinkable ship of bad luck caught in a constant storm, who was now currently…giggling at his façade of an alternate identity.

In a tone of mock indignation The Shadow replied "What's wrong with my nose?"

"Well…nothing's…wrong…with it" Her words came out strained, an enormous amount of force was used to verbalize each word as Molly's coherency continued it's decline.

In the front seat Lamont heard Moe's muffled snicker, giving the rearview mirror an insincere glare. Suddenly, Molly's whole body seemed to relax and her head buried against his shoulder once more. The blood had started to dry and crack in thick pools caking The Shadow's clothes, which did not deter Molly from slipping ever closer into unconsciousness lulled against his body. The feeling of her body going limp troubled Lamont greatly, slipping into unconsciousness with a head wound that fierce would do her no good…

"Molly…MOLLY"

For a regrettable fourth time Molly jolted upwards, or rather as 'upwards' as her body would allow, making her head spin. Slipping off one of his gloves, Lamont pressed the back of his hand against her forehead where flecks of dirt melted with the warm tan freckles that speckled her face.

"She doin' okay back there?"

"I believe so…she isn't running a fever."

"Yeah, just smacked her up and dumped her" Moe's voice could melt snow. Molly looked like nothing more then a kid to him. A little bob-haired waif lost in The Big Apple to fend for herself. In all his years, Moe could not imagine a situation in which Molly would be deserving of such abuse.

For some time Molly seemed quietly inquisitive and intent upon The Shadow, vague mismatched thoughts jumbled around in her mind like messages in bottles bobbing in a vast sea. Opening up the door into her mind, The Shadow let them breathe freely. Catching one or two of the most coherent when they arose.

He's warm. Molly idly fingered the edge of the soft silky cloak.

I knew he was real. A quick glance upwards, before casting her eyes back down.

My head is going to explode. Her eyes squeezing shut, head beginning to fall once more..

"Molly?" The Shadow shook his shoulder, nudging her back up.

"Your heart sounds like thunder" came a faint murmur as she raised her ginger head with an intense, all consuming gaze that briefly made him feel naked in her presence. A particularly foreign feeling that fleetingly startled and unnerved him.

Lights, more bright lights. Flickering through the murkiness of night and casting an unnatural white glow into the backseat as the taxi came to a gentle stop. Jumbled letters on the building outside slowly came into focus that read 'New York Presbyterian Hospital'. A room high up in the hospital waited for her, where warm blankets and fluffy pillows would meet and envelope Molly into comfort and restoration at last. The Moretti kidnapping ring would cease to be, at least for now, and Molly would be safe.

As she felt the wave of sleep rushing over her, Molly grasped out into the air and caught The Shadow's hand, tugging slightly until he complied and knelt level with her bed.

"I love you" where her last conscious words before Molly slipped into an exhausted rest. She did not feel the cold silver and fire opal ring slide onto her finger, nor did she hear police sirens approaching in the distance. All she heard was the sound of thunder, as a wispy shadow retreated back into the gloom.

I have saved your life Molly Malone, it now belongs to me.