Ginna didn’t know how long she’d been standing there, tangled in her own thoughts and with a dusty book she’d plucked off the shelf, but she hadn’t heard him get up or walk across the floor until he was standing behind her lifting his hand to her shoulder. She gasped, startled as she spun around just in time to catch the furrow of his apologetic brow.
“You still trust me so little, eh?” he asked, amusement drawing at his lips, but not quite reaching his eyes.
“I didn’t hear you come out.”
“What are you doing out here all by yourself? The bed is warm, and so am I.”
“I was just appreciating this house,” she said, lowering his gaze from his. “It seems a shame that no one lives here. Houses are like life. They should be filled with laughter and love and family…” Three things her own life had lacked in such capacity, it surprised even her that she knew what they were at all.
The grass was always greener, she supposed.
Brynjolf’s face lit up, the smile he’d been holding finally lifting to his eyes. “All right, then. We should appreciate it to the fullest extent while we’re here,” he mused. “Sit down and eat together at a proper table and tip back a few flagons of mead. What do you say, lass? Be my Molly for a day? I’ll be your Muirin.”
She glanced up into his eyes, so green and so full of light and enthusiasm, she actually felt a part of her heart melt just a little and she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and hug him. “Really?”
“Why not? We’re already here. We might as well make the most of it.”
“I’d like that.”
“It’s settled then. You get a fire started and I’ll go dig up some food.”
Brynjolf dressed and slipped out the door to sneak down into the city to find some food, while Ginna knelt in front of the hearth to start a fire. It caught quick, blazing to life to burn the chill from the air and lend warm light to the dining room that only intensified the coziness she felt. She crouched down in front of the hearth for a long time, the sheet from the bed wrapped around her like a dressing gown as she watched the flames leap and dance and peel away the shadows.
There had been genuine sadness in his eyes when he’d realized she still didn’t trust him after he’d snuck up on her. Her own guild brother had stabbed her in the back; what did he expect from her? She couldn’t understand why he was so trusting, but that level of faith and certainty in another person wasn’t something one offered up without time. For Ginna, the amount of time required to gain her trust had always been substantial… years, decades, sometimes never. Now she wasn’t sure she’d ever trust anyone again.
She did enjoy his company, and even if it was kind of stupid, she felt comfortable when she was with him, almost safe. But she wasn’t stupid. Safety was an illusion, and it didn’t matter what line of work a person was in. The world they lived in was dark and there was danger around every corner. Choosing to live among the shadows only increased the probability of risk that much more. Guarding herself was a given, especially from someone as fair and well-spoken as Brynjolf.
It felt like an hour had passed, with no sign of Brynjolf, and she was starting to worry. She rose several times and crept to the door, opening it a crack to peer outside, but there was no disturbance down below, no guard lingering near the bottom of the stairs. She was just walking back to the door to check for him again when it creaked open just enough for him to slide through, a small sack clutched in his hand.
“What took you so long?” she started toward him. “I was starting to think you’d gotten caught.”
“I took a little walk outside the walls,” he explained, lowering the heavy sack to the table.
“There’s no food inside Markarth?”
Grinning, he dug his hand into his pocket as he approached. “I brought a little something for my lovely Molly.” He drew it out and opened his fingers, the warm light from the candles and hearth flashing green across the surface.
“You…” She started to reach for it, a part of her afraid it wouldn’t feel the same in her hand, that it would be different or wrong. But as soon as he tilted it into her palm, she could almost feel its familiarity, humming at some low frequency only she could hear.
“I wanted to catch the caravan before it was gone again. Ri’saad sends his regards to the pretty lady with good taste in shiny stones.” He bowed his head as if in greeting and added, “He said to tell that pretty one if she grew tired of Riften, there is always room in his caravan for a wife.”
“I thought it would be gone for good.” She closed her hand around it, fist clenching so tight the cut actually pressed into her skin and left marks.
“It cost almost twice what you sold it to him for yesterday, and my share of our cut from today is gone, but I know how hard it was for you to sell it.”
“Thank you.” She threw her arms around his neck, the emerald still clutched in her hand as she hugged him. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“Maybe you’ll tell me while we sit around our dinner table,” he gestured to the sack on the table. “It isn’t much. Bread, a few wedges of cheese, some eggs and leeks.”
“We’ll make a fine feast out if it,” she promised, dragging the sack to the cooking pot and getting to work.
It did feel like a real home when they sat across from one another at the table, dining on fried bread with scrambled eggs and melted cheese. After little more than apples over the last few days, Ginna really felt like it was the best meal she’d ever eaten, and she savored every bite, washing it down with gulps of warm, Black-Briar mead.
After finishing her supper, she leaned back and stretched her short legs to reach the chair beside him. Hands rested on her firm belly, she sighed contentment and reached for her mead.
“This was a good idea,” Brynjolf decided, pushing his empty plate away. “I’m glad you talked me into it.”
“Aye,” she agreed. “For a minute there, I almost felt like I was home.”
“Tell me about your emerald, lass,” he prompted, following her lead and leaning back in the chair, long legs stretching until his feet reached the empty seat at her side. “What’s so special about it?”
“Not much to tell, really,” she shrugged, tipping her flagon back to drink. “It was the first thing I ever stole.”
“Really?” Perplexed, his forehead wrinkled as he mulled over that thought.
“Swiped it from the pocket of an Altmer soldier in the courtyard as he was marching by.” She only had to close her eyes to see the whole scene unfold as if it had happened only seconds before. “Never even knew I was there. I’d just turned seven, and my da gave me nothing but grief on my name day. I wanted presents like the other little girls. A doll, some coral necklace I could show off, but I got nothing. The back of his hand and an earful of misery. I was pouting outside the White Gold tower ruins, and when the soldier walked by, I just reached in and took everything out of his pocket. Keys, a few coins, that jewel. I tossed the keys into the sewer and used the coin to buy a sweet roll and some candied apples to glut myself on, but that emerald was the real prize.” Opening her eyes, he was watching from across the table, his face long with fascination tinged in sorrow as he listened. “None of the other little girls had anything like it. Happy birthday to me.”
“Happy birthday to you.” A slow smile warmed his lips, which soon disappeared into his flagon. Lowering it again, he stretched his neck until it cracked and sighed. “I don’t even remember the first thing I ever stole. That’s how young I was.”
“What was the best thing you ever stole?”
He reached over and shifted her legs, drawing her feet into his lap. His warm hands immediately went to work, massaging along the arch, pressing delightfully hard to loosen the tension. No one had ever done anything like that for her before, and for a moment she thought she might die and go to Sovngarde, a grateful groan escaping her as she rolled her head along the back of the chair behind her. “Besides your heart?”
Ginna laughed. “You’re not quite there yet, but you keep that up and I may have to just hand it to you on a silver plate.”
“Make it a gold plate, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
They were quiet, content as an old married couple with nothing but each other’s company and the crackle of the fire in the hearth. It wasn’t something she’d ever fantasized about in her life, getting married, growing old with someone. In all her daydreams she’d been alone, reveling in the peaceful silence of the big, beautiful house her efforts had won her. Surrounded by gold statues, silk tapestries decorating the walls, carved, marble archways and a lush, fragrant garden where she could sit in the sun and listen to the birds sing. A giant tub she could sink into and relax after a long, hard day rifling through other people’s pockets. And in that vision, the fact that she’d been alone had never bothered her, but there was a certain peacefulness about being alone with Brynjolf that made her feel… whole.
Once again, the depth of comfort she felt in his company disturbed her, and she drew away, pulling her legs from his lap and standing up. They’d met just two weeks earlier, and already he knew more about her than people in her own guild family. It made her feel reckless and foolish, as if she was slowly starting to forget everything Severus had taught her.
“I’m tired.” She yawned, stretching her shoulders back as she turned away from the table. “I haven’t slept in a real bed in so long, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s supposed to feel like.”
“You go on ahead, lass. Get some rest,” he nodded. “I’m going to finish my mead, appreciate this house a little while longer.”
She could see him from the bedroom, leaned back in the chair, feet still propped and a half-empty flagon of mead in his hand. The light from the hearth cast flickering shadows across his face, but she could see his eyes were closed, mouth relaxed. Slipping down into the sheets, she curled up on her side and watched him for a long time before finally falling asleep. She stirred only long enough to sink into his warmth when he moved into bed behind her, arms drawing her in as he spooned her body into his.