The bed was empty when she woke stretching into the cool comfort of the blankets, and she hadn’t even heard him leave. Under normal circumstances, even the subtlest movement would have woke her, but for some reason she slept hard when she slept with him, as if her body gave over to total relaxation in ways it had never known before. Before the disappointment could set in and grip her, she heard the familiar sound of pestle grinding against mortar coming from downstairs. Rolling onto his side of the bed, she drew the pillow he’d slept on close to and ignored the rumble of hunger in her belly just a little while longer.
Remnants of the conversation they’d had before falling asleep still lingered, but mostly that soft final promise he’d whispered. I’ll give you whatever you need, lass. Even Ginna wasn’t sure what she needed, but it was getting clearer.
She’d never been involved with someone so willing to give before. Mallus took, and before Mallus, there’d been a married noble, a man much older than she was named Lucius, who’d kept their relationship purely sexual with a twist of business. Lucius took too, always taking until she had nothing left to give and then he found some other girl, younger and more naïve, and he’d cast her aside like old clothes that didn’t fit anymore. It had been easier to tell herself she didn’t care as she sated her unspoken disappointment with Mallus until soon her foolish fantasies of Lucius leaving his wife became little more than faded memories that actually made her chuckle now whenever she thought of them. And there were others still, before Mallus, before Lucius, sometimes during and in-between and most of them only after the warmth between her thighs. She’d always told herself that was enough for her too.
But now… she didn’t know anymore if it really was enough. And if it wasn’t, what else was there for people like them?
There had been a couple in her Guild when she was a girl, a married couple, though try as she might she couldn’t remember their names. She remembered sneaking out of bed to sit at the top of the stairs one night with Brutus during one of Severus’s dinner-parties. She’d thought it funny the way people gravitated to the couple, listened with such enthusiasm as they talked about their relationship.
“This lifestyle is such a solitary thing outside the Guild-Family structure,” the woman had said. “Before I met him I never imagined taking a permanent partner, but we work so well together.”
“It’s like she anticipates my every thought, my every move…”
“There’s no one else I would rather have at my back or on my side.”
Brutus had looked at her and made a gagging motion, poking his finger into his mouth and mock-retching and Ginna had stifled giggles into her hand. Severus heard them and with nothing more than a leveled glare of his dark eyes, sent them both scrambling back to their rooms to bed.
Ginna hadn’t thought about that night in a long time, and thinking about it then made her heart ache just a little. Brutus had been wicked then too, but they’d had their moments together that made it difficult to imagine he would kill the man who raised them. Shifting her thoughts away from the darkness, she returned to that couple for a moment and wondered whatever became of them. Were they still together, watching each other’s backs, combing through the shadows side by side?
She didn’t hear Brynjolf coming up the stairs until his shadow lengthened along the sunlit wall when he reached the landing and ducked around the corner to look in on her. He smiled when he saw she was awake, lowering the bottled poisons in his hands onto the bedside table like an offering near the handful of jewels he’d brought her. She realized as she rolled onto her side, she hadn’t even looked at them the night before, and reaching out she drew them into her hands, all emeralds. A silver emerald ring and pendant and a few rare gems, polished and gleaming green in that light from the sun. They were all larger than the one she kept with her all the time, their cut exquisite and beautiful, and she realized he must have gone to a lot of trouble to find them.
“These are beautiful,” she lowered them back to the table, but kept the ring, sliding it onto the index finger of her right hand and holding it up to admire it.
“It’s a crime the things people just leave lying around.” He sat on the edge of the bed and she brought her leg around to rest across his lap. “Rune will be here in about an hour.”
“I thought you said I should take Thrynn.”
“Thrynn had to go north for a job in Windhelm, and Vipir left last night to see to a bit of burglary in Morthal. Ninruin and Cynric are headed over to Falkreath and I couldn’t find Retienne, but that’s nothing new. He goes missing from time to time, so I guess that leaves Rune.” She didn’t even know who Retienne was and couldn’t recall if she’d met someone by that name or not, but for a moment she wondered if he’d really gone looking for anyone but Rune to send with her to Solitude.
“You know, this could all be avoided if you could just come with me.”
“Don’t I know it?”
“Don’t worry.” She lifted her arm, hand resting on his shoulder. “I won’t fall in love and run off with him to uncover the mysteries of his past while we’re gone.”
“Oh good. I feel so much better now.” For a few moments they just stared at each other, and then he came in above her, grin broadening as he nuzzled his chin along her, the soft hairs of his short beard bristling across her skin. “Just to be on the safe side, maybe I should reveal a few mysteries of my own.”
“I like mysteries,” she murmured, hands sliding down the leather front of his armor, slowly working the buckles as she roved. He descended to kiss her, lips parting into hers, the weight of his hips heavy with promise as he worked them teasingly against hers.
“We don’t have much time,” he reminded her. “Maybe just a quick one.”
“We’ve got an hour.”
“I can do a lot with an hour.” His eyebrow shot up, and she giggled, working faster through the straps and buckles to get him out of his clothes and into her arms.
Ginna seemed to have no concept of time when they were together. Every kiss, every touch, every movement of their bodies together could have gone on for an eternity and she wouldn’t have cared, and yet even in that timeless sense, it never seemed to last long enough. No sooner had she curled her spent and breathless body against his and stretched into the soft press of his lips to her a brow, than did a knock sound at the front door.
Without a word, Brynjolf got up to tug back into his pants sighing. She rolled out of bed and gathered her armor to head downstairs and dress so he could let Rune into the house. She glanced around the house she’d neglected to explore, while wiggling into her pants and buttoning them at the waist. It was a nice house, she decided, ducking in to have a quick look at the spare bedroom while buckling her armor across her chest. She leaned around the corner to view the enchanting lab and wondered if he would stay there while she was gone; she almost hoped so.
It would be nice, not just having a home to return to, but someone waiting for her in it too. Grinning to herself as she strapped into her boots, she hiked up the stairs and found the two of them sitting at the dining room table talking. They quieted when she entered, both of them glancing back at her.
“I hear we’re headed to Solitude,” Rune smiled up at her.
“Maybe you can pay a visit to your father while we’re there.”
“I would like that,” he nodded.
Brynjolf rose from the table and started toward her, lingering almost rigidly in front of her. He wrapped his fingers around the leather of her armor and avoided her eyes, a long lock of auburn hair falling into his face as he pinched his lips together.
As if he’d sensed their need for privacy, Rune got up and announced, “I’m going to wait outside for you, Ginna.”
“I’ll be right out.”
“Take your time.” He slipped out the door, closing it behind him and Brynjolf’s demeanor shifted.
Was it that he didn’t want anyone else to see how soft he was with her, for fear it might damage his roguish reputation? Or maybe he felt like whatever it was between them was private, their business and no one else’s.
“You be careful up there in Solitude, lass.”
“I’m always careful,” she assured him, leaning in to rest against his bare chest. She lowered her forehead to his shoulder for a moment and his arms came around her, drawing her in tighter as if he didn’t want to let her go.
“If you run into any trouble, send word.”
“I will. While I’m gone, you can stay here… if you want to, I mean.”
He pulled back to look at her, finger ducking beneath her chin to lift her eyes to his. “And sleep in that big, empty bed without you? I wouldn’t feel right.”
“Well, if you change your mind…”
He cut her off with a kiss, sweeping in to steal her lips, mouth parting against hers. She opened herself to him, allowed the soft velvet of his tongue to dart in and caress hers in a way that made her whole body feel like someone had yanked the floor from underneath her feet. It was powerful, a wordless reminder that he would be there waiting, giving her whatever she needed, and even after he drew back, the tip of his nose nuzzling against hers as he smiled at her, her lips still tingled.
“When all this is finally over, it’ll be us out there together running cons, pulling heists, and the world will fear our names. I really feel that, Ginna.”
Ginna tucked his hair behind his ear and let herself get lost in his eyes. She’d never really wanted a partner in crime, but that vision was growing clearer and clearer in her own mind. “I look forward to that day.”
She kissed him one last time, and then bent to grab her pack from the floor by the table. She opened the front pocket and dropped the jewels he’d given her in with her own emerald, and then tucked the poisons in with the rest of her stash. He stood in the center of the kitchen, watching her head for the door.
“Eyes open,” he said as she reached for the knob, “walk with the shadows.”