fathers
april, 2019

red's fingers are light on her skin, following the dip in her back with relative ease. molly can hear cicadas in the distance, and the whispers of other people's thoughts have quieted in her mind. if she breathes in, she can smell the cigarette still burning out on the bedside mingling with the smell of the woods outside. the blankets beneath her on the motel bed aren't half bad; they're not too scratchy or cheap, but still aren't at all like the ones at home. her feet are still pushed against one of red's calves, one of her knees pressed against the inside of one of his.

it's been weeks. her bruises have faded, and they've gone back to boston and back, still tangling themselves up in each other when they can.

telling red things that are nothing in particular, talking with him about the cars and bikes, exchanging a few glances before falling into bed together is so much easier than everything else. if she stops to consider what she's doing, if she thinks for a moment of telling him what's really going on, the weight of it starts gnawing and tearing at her.

she doesn't want to face reality. she doesn't want to go home, she doesn't want to tell the truth. not yet.

"stop thinking so loud," he says, breath making gooseflesh break out against her back.

"someone's gotta fill your head up," molly murmurs back.

red huffs out a laugh and his nail scratches carefully at the small of her back. she sighs into it, not even needing to slip into her own thoughts to get his meaning.

there's a few minutes more, a truck passing and then the sound of a train.

molly shifts in the bed, turning to face red. the peroxide blonde hair he has is down to his nose now, blue eyes focused on her face. she can see his pulse beating against the tattoo on his neck, and some stubble on his cheeks.

he's the only guy she's met who hasn't hurt her. the only one.

that knowledge is a hurt all on it's own, but there is trust there. she knows that if she said anything, if anyone could believe outside of the bubble of people in boston it would be him.

molly reaches up, pushes his hair out of his eyes.

he smiles at her, full of warmth--and there's no expectation there, of this being forever. just an appreciation of the now, the here.

so she let's it stay that way, chooses the contentment over the potential future.

standing on the lawn, watching the motorbike come up the drive has molly's heart in her throat. for the first time since she's ever known him, there is genuine terror in her over what red was capable of doing. it makes her sick to her stomach, even with the powers at the press of her thoughts, to even consider having to fight against red.

it's not fair. it's not right.

she can't stop being afraid though, as he parks the bike at the end of the drive. she knows london is here, ready and able to help; that all she has to do is yell and nora will be there; that gryffin is up there with her. lily is there too, protected and quiet. it's just molly here, where red can see, her hair loose in the wind, heart in her throat.

worst of all is the fact that she and maddy are off balanced. they've been off balanced for weeks, months now--but in this moment, maddy is prowling her mind, restless, almost physically manifesting in her discontent with the situation. once upon a time, molly might've disagreed with her anger, her antics.

this, however, their children were something that they would always agree on no matter what. no man, no purported father figure was going to stand in their way of their children. never, ever again.

even if there was something resembling love, past, present, or future, between them.

red takes easy lopes up the lawn, fingers in the pockets of worn out jeans that still have paint splattered on them. his shirt is inside out, holes torn through it, the metallica logo still visible from the otherside. he looks like he needs a good sleep and a good meal, more than anything. jail wasn't kind--but he was alive.

molly wraps her pale fingers around her elbows, shivering a little despite the warmth. her hair picks up in the wind, hoping that the baggy robe conceals her correctly from any obvious signs of post pregnancy.

by the time he lumbers up to her, his expression is hard to read: jawline set, eyes flickering over to jude and london in turn. he doesn't visibly register them as threats, eyes sliding down to focus on molly. she can feel his thoughts skimming against her power: picking out the bags beneath her eyes, that in his view she looks a little more worn than before, and that something about her hips is off.

molly bites her lip, and allows him to drawl out, "some kinda welcome wagon out here. something going on?" his eyes flick over her again, clearly concerned. ordinarily, she knows he'd be reaching out to touch her--but he's smart enough now not to attempt it.

"things... changed," molly picks the words out carefully, trying to resist the urge to wrap her arms around her midsection, "you were in jail awhile, red."

he shakes his head, not understanding, "yeah-- i know. and we ain't exactly a thing but--" he glances back up at the house, and then at her. "you wanna tell me why you got people lined up out here like this?" she can feel his worried thoughts spread out, tinged with hurt that she'd do this to him, of all people.

london told him that she could lie. that it would be fine.

"i had--," she pulls her hair back from her face, trying not to let her fingers shake. "i had a baby while you were locked up, red." she tries to keep her eyes focused on his, on the way his pulse quickens against his throat, and his jaw ticks. "i'm not sure who her dad is." the lie burns in her throat.

(why is it so hard? why can't she just lie to him straight the way she used to be able to? he's not scott, he's never been scott.)

the words hang there for a few moments. molly keeps her eyes on his face, sees him working through his words. "it still could be me, you mean."

(deny it. deny it.)

she nods wordlessly. her cheeks burn, and then her eyes blur with tears. madelyne tries to reign it in--her fingers burn hotly against her skin with magic, her mind starts to dip into the phoenix's wealth of power. madelyne tries to pull one last effort to protect them both, to try and let a threat issue out of her lips--

--and fails when the tears start cascading down molly's cheeks, and the magic snaps back. madelyne can't erase the trust molly had put into red, and london's advice can't keep her from wanting to tell the truth--especially not when not telling the truth hurt london before.

red doesn't have to say that he knows now, for sure, that lily is his daughter. he just wraps his arms around molly and lets her cry into his chest, unable to detangle her emotions, unable to deny the trust or fear coursing through her.

red's face is pensive. molly's face is red, swollen from crying.

they're sitting in her kitchen. he's turning the chipped glass of water in his hands, and she's waiting on him to talk. his tattooed fingers keep turning over the glass, and she tries not to say anything as he processes his thoughts.

it takes five minutes for him to mumble out, "i ain't exactly daddy material, doll." he frowns more, looking at the inside of the glass like it might tell him how he could be a father. "i go in an' out the cooler all the time. haven't lived anywhere in damn near five years." he squints further, then looks at her, gaze steady. "i ain't a runner, though. if you want me here--i'll get a job. move in. i can try."

madelyne keeps shifting inside of molly, restless and unsure. she doesn't trust his words.

molly trust his words--he means them now, here, in this moment. she reaches out to hold his calloused hand, the one with a spider tattoo that reaches around to his palm. "you wouldn't stay. both of us know that. and i don't want you to be obligated to be her father. i know you aren't-- we both know you wouldn't be happy. i don't want you resenting her keeping you here, and i don't want a man around here who doesn't want my baby. my dad didn't want me--i'm a fuck up over it." she squeezes his hand tighter. "i don't want that for you, for me, for her."

red's face struggles for a moment with the truth that they both know she's speaking going up against his own the genuine urge to be a better person. to want to be a better person yet understanding that he wasn't there yet. molly doesn't let go, doesn't push him. lets him finally say, "...you're right, doll. i... i just don't want to fuck up, too. for you both."

she nods, voice quiet, "i know. you're not ready now. i wasn't exactly ready either. i'm not going to shut the door on you," the words are so hard to get out when madelyne is so unsure in their head, "it'll be open. when you're ready."

the thought from him is loud and clear: i don't deserve this.

molly takes a breath. "do you want to hold her?"

there's something like fear in his face. naked, open fear.

he squeezes her hand. "yeah. i-- just once."

the floor creaks softly as red walks to the door. molly watches him from the crib, madelyne still restless inside of her. she doesn't believe red, still, after all of this, still doesn't want anyone to touch their baby.

molly keeps a firm grip on her as red grips the sides of the door, clearly hesitant to enter. she can see his perspective: how tiny she looks in the room, how tightly she's gripping the crib--enough to make her knuckles white. she can feel his trepidation at it all, of stepping into a space that has so far just been her, lily, gryffin together. a space that didn't involve him.

she waits for him, watching him rock at the door--and carefully enter the room, one unsure step at a time, the complete opposite of the man who was so confident on a motorbike. he hunches his shoulders up, the stray thought of how nice it smelled skimming against molly's powers.

"hold your hands out," she says, and he juts his hands out, palms forward, awkward in the angle. gently, she adjusts his hands with a nudge--and just as carefully, sits lily in his hands. she makes sure to curl his hand beneath her head to give her the better support, and the other hand--impossibly large against lily's tiny little body--around her lower back and rump. she makes a fussy little noise as he lifts her closer, discomfort clear on his face.

it'd be so fucking funny, any other time.

he holds lily to his chest, swallowing thickly, his mind full of nervousness. lily shifts and whimpers in his hands, the sounds calming with a gentle rock he gives to her.

his finger brushes against her head, and he looks shocked to touch the softness of it. molly shifts, pressing her hand against his, keeping his fingers where they needed to be against her head. her hands guide his own, helping him rock her a little, keeping her calm.

his heart is banging against his chest in those careful moments. she can feel it, knows that he has only proven his point that he isn't father material now--but still could be in the future.

when she finally takes lily back from him, his eyes are wet and shining. he wants to say so many things in that moment, she knows.

all she says is, "told you. doors open whenever you want."

the smile he gives her is watery, unsure, tinged with a hope for the future.