His body didn’t feel like his own.
Mollymauk would have been glad of that, the disconnect meant he was given his first respite from the pain in hours, if he couldn’t sense it still, on the periphery of his awareness, seething and pulsing and ready to dig its claws back into him as soon as he slipped back into his skin. He felt his chest rise and fall but he couldn’t feel air in his lungs, he was vaguely aware of sounds around him but it was like they were only echoes from another room, he could sense his fingers loosening at his sides but he couldn’t say whether he was doing it or someone else. It was like that final rush and snap had kicked him out of his own body and left him drifting, trying to find his way back.
Yasha’s hands were still on his shoulders, still holding tight, and her low voice was speaking words to him, soft words that sounded comforting but Molly couldn’t catch them. They only ran through his fingers like smoke. His vision blurred but he could make out the vague shape of the purple candle on his bedside table, it’s flame bowing and swaying before his unfocused eyes. He had a weak, trembling memory of Marion lighting it with a snap of her fingers, as she’d laid him out on the bed when labour had begun. Now it was only a knuckle or so high, half drowned in its own lilac wax.
He came back to himself slowly, like his body was being sketched out, just the outlines first, in loose, hesitant pencil, then a bolder, dark ink and finally paint and shading to bring his form back into existence. He could feel himself again, back in control.
Gods, it hurt.
He twisted, as if he could get away from it with sheer distance, Yasha immediately moving to stroke his hair and soothe him and keep him pinned. Down at the bottom of the bed, between his legs that had been covered by a sheet that was now damp with sweat, translucent and clinging to his skin, Jester hurriedly reminded him not to move too quickly, to give himself time. Molly didn’t have the strength in him to argue with her, sinking defeatedly into the bed.
A glass was brought to his lips and he drank until he was dizzy. There was a sickening hollow inside him now but water couldn’t fill it, when the empty glass was taken back he was left just feeling nauseated. Quietly, Yasha offered to find him some food from down in the brothel’s well stocked kitchen but Molly just pulled a face and shuddered.
Only then did he realise it was raining.
The city had been baking under a relentless heatwave for a fortnight now, the whole of Zadash withering like a flower in the sudden, early autumn sun, bare and glaring in an empty sky. But now, finally, it was raining. The droplets hit the windows and streaked down the glass, the sound of relief, and the stifling heat of the room had dissipated.
Mollymauk hadn’t even noticed.
“You did so well, Molly,” Jester said gently to a murmur of agreement from Yasha, rubbing his knee through the fabric that had been put there to preserve his modesty, a slightly absurd concept in a brothel. But, then again, so was a child being born in one.
Molly gave them a shaky nod, noting the pride and sympathy on their faces. He didn’t feel proud of himself in the slightest. He felt sick and tired and achy.
There was nothing worse than knowing he should be happy, relieved, but being unable to feel it. Molly had been counting down the days to this for just over eight months, praying for it to come faster, raging in frustration when he found himself overdue. But now it was over and done. He could go back to his normal life, albeit with one, overwhelming secret now colouring every moment. He could go back to Caleb, lie through his teeth about where he’d been, feel bitterness on his tongue with every other word for the rest of their days…
Not for the first time that day, Molly began to cry. Tears, big and heavy as diamonds, ran silently down his cheeks. Until suddenly, his tears weren’t the only ones in the room.
As if a string tied to his chest had been yanked fiercely, Molly turned to the sound, the high, shrill wailing. Marion stood in the doorway, a bundle of soft linen in her arms that was shifting and squealing unhappily, even as she murmured to it tenderly. As soon as Molly’s eyes rested on it, he couldn’t tear them away.
“Who…what…” he croaked, his voice shaking, unsure how to ask the question that was pulling at him. He’d had no contact with the child that had lived inside him for nine months, as soon as it was finished Marion had taken care of washing them down and checking them over. The plan was that now they’d be sent to ward with a kind, prosperous family of merchants in the city.
That was the plan.
Marion seemed to understand, her voice gentle, “A baby boy. A strong, healthy baby boy. Well done, my little amethyst.”
Molly nodded slowly, sitting up a little, even as his body screamed at him, “Is he okay? Why…why is he…”
“It’s all just very confusing for him,” Marion reassured him, “Everything’s brand new. But don’t worry, the carriage is on its way, I’ll take him myself and make sure he gets settled.”
Molly felt the words building up in the back of his throat, tried to shake them off but he couldn’t.
“Can I hold him?”
Yasha and Jester seemed to stiffen warily but Marion’s face stayed smooth, not even a flicker of surprise in her liquid gold eyes, “If that’s what you want?”
Molly could only nod, feeling his throat tighten, eyes still fixed on the bundle. The baby. His baby.
He was heavy, that was the first thing Molly noticed. Though suddenly his arms strengthened, in spite of everything he’d gone through, how exhausted he was, and suddenly he fit exactly in his arms, like his arms had been made for this specific purpose. And then peering into the mass of linen, a soft, sweet, round face. He was a lighter purple than Molly himself but with a ghost of freckles across his nose and a dusting of what would clearly grow to be rust, red brown curls, covering slight buddings on his skull that would clearly grow to be a fine set of horns.
He didn’t look like Molly and he didn’t look like Caleb. He was a perfect blend of the two of them, his own little self. An entirely new person, a new soul. And he was so beautiful.
He was even more beautiful when he smiled up at Mollymauk, plump little lilac lips turning up into a gorgeous little smile, like he’d been looking everywhere for Molly and had finally found him.
Molly started to feel the same way.
He opened his mouth, knowing what he’d been planning to say but his mind was still roiling and the words he wanted wouldn’t come and the words he didn’t want wouldn’t yield. He’d had it planned out from when Marion eased the newborn into his arms. He was going to apologise, tell his son how sorry he was that he couldn’t be the father he needed. He was going to promise he’d be loved and well cared for by his new family, far better than Molly could ever have done. He was going to insist that this was all for the best. He was going to wish him well. He was going to say goodbye.
“Mollymauk?” Marion put her hand on his shoulder, “Would you like me to take him back?”
Molly’s voice was small but sure, it no longer shook, “I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Marion blinked, though there wasn’t much surprise in her voice.
“I can’t give him up…he’s mine. I’m his. I have to try, Marion, I know I’m not the best person to take care of him right now but…I have to try.”
Marion leaned in and kissed his forehead, stroking his hair back where it had stuck, “You’ll be amazing, Molly. I know you will.”
He was too tired to do anything but pray that she was right.
Jester helped him bathe while the sheets were changed and the medical equipment, the bowls and linens and scalpels, were cleared away. Fresh candles were brought out and fruit was laid out on a wooden plate by the bed which he finally felt strong enough to eat. His son ate too, nursing away at his breast quite happily, despite Marion’s warnings that he may take a while to get used to it. Molly held him close and ran a thumb over the crown of his head, still unable to tear his eyes away for any length of time. It was like everything else around him had dimmed and now there was just this single, shining light in his life, curled up and squeaking contentedly in his arms.
What was coming next could wait, for now he wanted to enjoy this moment.
Marion perched on the end of the bed, watching with a proud but sad smile, elegant as she always was, “My love…the archmage…”
Molly bit into the fig he was holding too hard and bit down on his tongue. Blood filled his mouth.
Throughout the whole of his labour, Molly had been hoping he would show up. Just one more time, one more day spent pacing in front of the lobby and begging Yasha to let him up to see him or at least tell him where he was. Molly knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would have let him up, consequences and explanations be damned. It had taken everything in him not already focused on breathing, pushing, breathing, pushing not to beg for him. Marion would have sent someone, he knew. And then where would they have been?
But now he knew it for a certainty, a cold, concrete certainty that sat heavily in his deflated stomach. He and Caleb had ended the moment he’d realised he was pregnant, if they ever even had been anything to begin with. He’d been a stupid, silken fool to hope and now it was over.
“He doesn’t matter right now,” Molly tried to make his voice firm and strong but it broke at the end.
If anyone would understand, it was Marion. She simply nodded and patted his leg under the thick blanket.
“What about a name for him?” she wondered, “We can’t very well keep calling him Olive.”
Molly gave a thin smile at the codename the other sex workers had bestowed upon his belly, given the sincere craving he’d had for them very early on, at the time when he would have been no bigger than the fruit itself.
It was true he’d never considered an actual name for his child but the answer came easily, “Trinket.”
Marion smiled, reaching out and lightly touching the head of the baby that was, for all intents and purposes, her grandchild, “Trinket. A lovely name. He is a treasure indeed.”
Molly nodded, though that wasn’t what he was thinking inside. He was thinking how his other clients, the ones who looked at him like a particularly pretty object, who took what he had to give and gave nothing in return, who never made him scream, they showered him with gold, spices and scents, gaudy jewels and rich silks, they always gave him meaningless trinkets to pretend that they owned him, to solidify the fantasy they’d built around him. But Caleb had looked at him like he was a person. He’d held him and made him writhe in pleasure, he’d touched him softly and kissed him gently.
Even if he’d never have that again, at least Caleb had given him the only truly precious trinket he’d ever received.