Ginna walked all the way to Honeyside with the keys Maven Black-Briar had given her clenched tight in the palm of her hand. She half-expected to find Brynjolf waiting impatiently outside the front door, but he was nowhere to be found when she approached and jammed the key into the lock. Pushing open the door, there was a fire already burning in the hearth, the wood smoke scent wafting out to welcome her home.
Brynjolf was sitting at the table with a flagon of mead as if he had every right in the world to be there.
“Hope you don’t mind, lass, but I came in the back door and made myself at home.” He grinned up at her, an endearing yet devilish smile that alleviated a little bit of the tension that had been clenching in her gut since she and Rune had sighted Riften from the road.
“You get to see the inside of my new house before I do,” she huffed, sliding her bag off her shoulder and lowering it onto the cabinet beside table. “That hardly seems fair at all.”
“There’s no such thing as fair in our game, my girl.”
“So that’s what we’re doing here then, you and me? Playing a game?”
“Come on, Ginna. You didn’t ask me over to talk about our relationship.”
“I didn’t even realize we had a relationship,” she smirked down at him. “Not until Delvin told me I was your girl.”
“What? You don’t want to be my girl?” Mischief flashed in his eyes, and he reached out to take her by the wrist, drawing her down into his lap, fast hands immediately going to work on the straps and buckles of her armor. “I treat my girls real nice,” he leaned in closer to breathe those words against her ear, warm lips fluttering kisses down her neck. “Rescue them from doing hard time, steal them pretty jewels like the ones on the bedside table in there, talk to important people on their behalf so they can live the lavish lifestyle they’re accustomed to, make them whimper and sigh, just like you’re doing now…”
She hadn’t even heard the sounds escaping her until he pointed them out, and for a moment she knew it would be so easy to just slip into bed with him and forget all her troubles. “Mm,” she breathed softly, bringing her hands up to grab his. “As good as that feels, and as much as I don’t want you to stop doing it, I didn’t call you here for that either.” Drawing his grip away, she lowered both of their hands atop her thighs.
“No?” He sounded disappointed. Lowering his brow against the back of her head, he breathed in her scent and loosened his fingers from hers, exhaling a frustrated sigh. “Then why am I here?”
“There’s something I need to tell you, something I learned while I was in Whiterun, and it could change everything.”
“Look, lass, we’ll figure it out together, all right,” he assured her, thumbs stroking gently across hers before sliding up the length of her arms in a soft grip of strange comfort. “I mean, I know it’s too early to tell if this is even going to work between us, far too early for something that serious. Playing at house is one thing, but we’re still getting to know each other. I know an alchemist who makes potions for that sort of thing all the time. It’s very discreet.”
She jerked up from his lap and spun around to look at him. “What the Void are you talking about?”
His brow wrinkled as he leaned back in the chair. “What are you talking about?”
“Mallus Maccius,” she said.
“What did you think I was talking about?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he shook his head, his shoulders slumping into relaxation as if the weight of the world had just lifted from them. “Who the bloody blazes is Mallus Maccius?”
Ginna felt her lip curl with distate, and she dropped to sit at the table beside him. She didn’t want to think about Mallus, or the fact that he’d only offered to fence for her because he knew he’d never have to follow through on it. It was just the kind of thing he would do, too.
For a moment, she just sat back and looked around the house, trying to find her courage. Her house. She’d been in it almost ten minutes and still hadn’t explored it, but it felt like home. Just beyond the kitchen and dining area was a full bedroom and off to the side a set of stairs leading down. She wanted to jump and race down them, but instead she calmed her excitement and turned to focus on the conversation at hand. If things went badly, she had a feeling she wouldn’t even get a chance to explore that house, much less live in it.
Drawing in a deep breath, she sighed it free as she began speaking. “Mallus Maccius was an old boyfriend of mine, an Imperial fence my Guild ran out of Cyrodiil over a year ago. A real sleazy, snake of a man, and now he’s working for Maven, setting up Black-Briar West at Honningbrew.”
“Right…” She watched his hand lift in question. “And what does he have to do with me?”
“It has to do with me,” she sighed. “Mallus has been in contact with Cyrodiil and he told me a few things that… Gods, I don’t even know how to say this.” Lifting her hand into her hair, her fingers tangled through the braids, loosening them until she was sure they were a complete mess. Brynjolf didn’t push her; he didn’t say anything at all, just watched and waited, those perfect bow lips of his pursed curiously as his impatience grew. “Brutus Arenicci put the word out that my setup in Solitude was punishment for betraying our Guild.”
Every line in his face disappeared as his jaw fell slack with disbelief. “What?”
“He’s telling everyone I poisoned the Grey Fox in order to take his place as Guildmaster. When nothing could be further from the truth. I loved Severus. He was like a father to me. He wanted me to take his place, but I turned him down. I yielded the position to Brutus, and now he’s…”
“Whoa, lass. Slow down a minute.” He reached across the table for her hand again.
“My Guild was my life, Brynjolf, and I would have never done anything to jeopardize that. They were the only thing I had going for me, especially Severus. A part of me died with him. You have to believe me.”
“I believe you,” he was so calm. How could he be so calm, she wondered?
“I told you, lass. I know people. I’ve always had a knack for reading them, and I choose my Guild members very carefully,” he said. “I knew everything I needed to know about you when we were on that dance floor at the Embassy, everything except your name.” Reaching up, he brushed a rogue lock of hair from her face, tucking it back behind her ear. “You’re one of ours now, even if you do think you’re too good for Riften.”
“I don’t think I’m too good for Riften,” she looked down. Maybe she did, just a little, but if someone like Maven Black-Briar could survive, even thrive in Riften, Ginna could too. “I just… I’m not used to living like this.”
“I know you’re not.” Brynjolf lowered his eyes then too. “And I know we don’t have much to offer you, but someone with your skill and talent, lass… you could rise to the top in a place like this.”
“Brutus called upon the Dark Brotherhood,” she told him. “Rune and I ran into one of them on the road, and Maven said there was someone hanging around the Bee & Barb.”
“So Maven knows then?”
“She knows everything.”
“Good, my first suggestion was going to be that we take this straight to her. Her influence is far-reaching, and if anyone can keep this bit of bad business from escalating, it’s Maven. Gods,” he fell against the back of the chair with a heavy breath. “What is going on in this world of ours? None if it makes a damn bit of sense anymore. Guild-families are falling apart all over the place, and before long, none of us will be able to steal so much as a crust of bread to feed our bellies.”
“You’re telling me,” she shook her head. Nothing seemed to make sense, and as silly as it made her feel, she really was starting to think Delvin was on to something. “We have got to find a way to turn our luck around, Brynjolf.”
“That’s the spirit, lass,” he brightened up quickly, as if no longer in the mood for such dark tidings. “And we can start right now by celebrating your first windfall of good fortune here in Riften. Welcome home to Honeyside. I even brought a housewarming gift.”
“You mean besides the stolen jewels on the bedside table?” She felt her own spirits lift a little, some of the weight of her troubles diminishing.
“Aye,” he beamed. “It’s on the other bedside table, the one closest to the door. Go see.”
She rose from the chair and walked softly across the floorboards. It was only a few steps until she reached the bedroom, and she saw the bottle right away. Cyrodiilic brandy, expensive in Skyrim, and sometimes difficult to come by on account of the heavy import tariff.
He moved in behind her, hands coming down gently on her shoulders. “A little piece of Cyrodiil to make you feel at home in your new home.”
“That’s…” she turned into him, and lifted her hands to rest on his chest between them. “That’s very sweet.”
“I told you, I treat my girls real nice.” Lowering his mouth over hers, he whispered across her lips. “What do you say, lass? Should we crack open that bottle and do some celebrating?”
Ginna edged herself up against him, rising on her toes to assert herself. “Maybe later,” she purred. “I haven’t slept in a real bed since we left for Whiterun. I think I’m due for a good, long nap.”
“Is that what the younglings are calling it these days? Napping?”
Reaching down her back, his hands slid over the curve of her backside to rest at the tops of her thighs. He hiked her legs up and circled them around his waist before carrying her toward the bed. Lowering her slowly, she fell back into the soft, feather-stuffed coverlet and pillows with a delighted sigh. Still standing, he leaned out to look down at her, a bemused grin tugging at the corners of his mouth as he began working at the buckles of his Guild armor.
“Is it comfortable enough for your delicate tastes?”
“It’s only missing one thing.” She sat and reached for his hand, tugging him down into bed with her.
They took things slow for the first time, savoring the long process of simply undressing and exploring one another. The gap between that moment and their last endeavor into bliss in Markarth had built up a delicious amount of tension, which they drew out for hours. Teasing, tasting, tangling into the sheets as the sun began to set over the tempered glass windows that lined the boards below the roof. It cast a golden hue into the house, which slowly faded into twilight as their bodies writhed, voices scaling together in a chorus of moans and whispers.
“Ginna, my sweet Ginna.” She’d never been with anyone who said her name while making love to her, but he spoke it almost reverently as he rolled with her, driving himself into her depths with slow precision that made her gasp and bite her own lip.
She lost herself in that place with him, yielding to the unfamiliar comfort of trust as he pinned her arms above her head with one strong hand and came into her again and again. Even as the daylight faded, leaving only the lanterns and the fire still burning, she didn’t want to close her eyes. She wanted to stare into him, know him in ways she’d never known another.
Being with Brynjolf was different. She actually felt things when he was inside her, things she’d only ever read about in the dog-eared and tattered volumes her Guild-sister Brienne kept hidden in the locked chest at the foot of her bed. Of course, Ginna had read them all, mostly because Brienne had guarded them so closely, almost covetously. As a girl she would sneak into Brienne’s quarters with her lockpick and swipe one of those treasured tomes from the chest. She would climb up onto the roof of House Dareloth and snigger as she read about the swooning maidens with their heaving bosoms and their lusty, savior knights.
Mostly, she’d thought the women in those stories were pathetic, simpering fools, waiting for some brave man to come along and whisk them away from their troubles. She knew that wasn’t how it worked. One never left the care of their troubles to another, but a secret part of her had always thought maybe a compromise wouldn’t be so bad. Sharing the burden of her troubles with someone else, knowing he was there for her no matter what she faced… Wouldn’t that be something?
Could Brynjolf be that someone she shared her troubles with? She couldn’t ever imagine being all soft inside, the way the women in Brienne’s books were, but since she’d met him he had definitely been melting the huge chunk of ice around her heart.
When he dropped into bed beside her with a hearty exhale mingled with laughter, Ginna laughed too as she tried to catch her breath. She rolled and curled in the bed, snuggling up to him as she draped her arm across his waist after drawing the blankets up over their bodies. He maneuvered to tuck his arm beneath her, drawing her closer, and for a long time they just lay there quietly, coming back down from the intense high of mutual euphoria.
“The next time you try to lure me into bed with you, and I say I’ve got important things to do, I want you to hit me.” He growled softly, nipping playfully at her ear before kissing her cheek in search of her lips.
“You may live to regret that,” she murmured as their kisses deepened. “I’ve been told I have a pretty mean right hook.”
“Mm,” he moaned softly. “I love a woman who can hold her own in a brawl.”
“I can hold my own,” she assured him.
“I’ve no doubt about that, lass.”
“Mercer is sending me to Solitude in the morning,” she changed the subject.
“How do you do that?” he asked, lifting to prop on his elbow above her. “Is there a little switch inside you somewhere that just brings down the wall you built around you and sets you back to business mode, or is the wall always there? Even when you’re whimpering my name?”
“I don’t whimper,” she laughed.
“Aye, you do,” he disagreed. “And I’ll gladly prove it to you, but only if you promise not to talk business for at least another hour. As much as talk of gold and money riles me up, it can’t be all there is to talk about, even among thieves.”
“It’s all I’ve ever known.”
“Surely you had other dreams when you were a girl?”
“Silly girl dreams, but even those didn’t last long. My father didn’t exactly foster daydreams, and most of my childhood fantasies revolved around discovering he wasn’t really my father at all, but that he’d stolen me from some royal family who were desperately searching for their lost little princess.” She hadn’t thought about that fantasy in a very long time, and for a moment it made her feel weak.
“When I was a wee lad,” he started, his eyes growing very serious, “I remember someone telling me a fairy story about a spoiled princess who could always tell when someone put a jewel beneath her mattresses because it made her so uncomfortable she couldn’t sleep and left great bruises on her skin. Maybe it was a true story after all.”
Ginna slapped at his bare shoulder, and he rolled into her, laughing at his own jest until even she was giggling. Deep, undulating ripples of laughter rolled through them both until they almost couldn’t breathe, but it felt good. She had never laughed that hard in her life, at least not sober, had never let go of her inhibitions to just be silly with someone, but with Brynjolf it felt right. It was okay. He wasn’t waiting for her to let her guard down so he could stab her, he just wanted to get inside.
“Oh, lass, it’s so funny because it’s true,” he started to cough, the laughter tickling at his throat, until he sat up in the bed to take a drink.
“See,” she moved onto her back to stare at the ceiling, the muscles in her stomach aching as the laughter slowed. “This is why I don’t share things with people. You open yourself up to them, and they tear you apart.”
“I’m only teasing you.” He fell into the bed beside her again, his grin so wide, she almost started giggling again.
“I know,” she sighed soft contentment and snuggled into him again. “You didn’t happen to explore the rest of this place after you broke in, did you?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “Basement’s real nice, got a spare bedroom, alchemy and enchanting tables.”
“Sounds nice,” she stifled a yawn into her shoulder.
“Not quite as nice as our little place in Markarth, but it’s cozy.”
“Our little place in Markarth,” she remembered. “I wish we could have stayed there, started a new life away from all these troubles.”
“Hmm, I don’t know if I could ever leave this place to live somewhere else. Travel is one thing, but I’ve been here my whole life.”
“I never thought I’d live anywhere but Cyrodiil,” she admitted. “Now it would seem I can never go back there.”
“You will go home again.” He brought a hand up to rest on her shoulder.
“Or maybe I’ll just stay here,” she said softly, tracing her finger along his breastbone and up the curving length of his neck into the soft hair beneath his chin. “Make a new home for myself.”
“I’d like it if you stayed here.” He squeezed her a little tighter against him before raising his hand into her hair.
Ginna felt her eyes growing heavy, the lids harder to lift again each time she blinked them closed. For a time she just laid there with her head on his chest, listening to him breathe, allowing the steady rhythm of his heart to lull her. It felt good being comfortable with someone else, scary, but good, and it wasn’t long before her road-weary body succumbed to sleep.