Ginna barely slept, even though she knew she would regret it once she was on the road. She laid awake beside her lover and watched him sleep for hours, her mind turning around the things he’d said, her gut wrenching with the tangle of doom that seemed to hover over them in the dark. Several times she found her hand reaching up to traced the scar that decorated his face. She didn’t even know how he’d come by it, but she wanted to. She wanted to know everything about him, every memory, every moment leading up to the day they met. He’d shared plenty with her in those first weeks they’d known one another, traveling from Solitude to Markarth, Markarth to Riften, but there was still so much to learn, still so much of herself she wanted to share with him.
Just before dawn he must have felt her fingertips upon his skin and stirred, eyes blinking open and searching hers in the low glow from the hearth in the kitchen as a slow grin tugged the corners of his mouth upward.
“Why aren’t you asleep?” His voice was hoarse with lack of sleep. He brought her hand down and tucked it underneath his cheek, turning his lips down to kiss her palm.
“I don’t know,” she murmured. “Restless.”
“Maybe I should try to tire you out again so you can at least get a little sleep,” he laughed softly, hand slipping over the curve of her hip to tug her in closer. Ginna lifted her leg over his, drew her foot along his calf and closed her eyes.
“Maybe you should.”
“I don’t even know if I have enough energy to do it proper,” he chuckled. “You’d have to do all the heavy lifting.”
“That’d certainly tire me out,” she mused. “Just talk to me a little while.”
“Are you worried about going with Mercer to face Karliah?”
“I don’t want to talk about Mercer or Karliah. No Guild business or talk of Brutus. I want to talk about you. What were you like as a boy?”
“Trouble,” he said.
“So nothing’s changed?”
“Nothing’s changed,” he groaned and stretched closer to her, his warmth radiating into her. “Well, I don’t stand under the pier and try to look up the ladies’ dresses anymore, so I guess that’s changed.”
She giggled and drew back to look at him. “Did you really do that?”
“Doesn’t every lad? The bunkhouse used to be a bakery back then. Vipir and I would steal sweet rolls by the dozen and head down to the docks to gorge ourselves and try to catch a glimpse of the great unknown.”
“Vipir grew up in the Cistern too?”
“Nah,” he stifled a yawn. “Vipir came to Honorhall when he was six. His Da died in the Great War and his mother… I don’t know, I guess she couldn’t deal. She sent him out to play one afternoon and when he came home for supper, he found her dead. Poisoned herself, he thinks.”
“That’s awful,” she gasped, lifting her head.
“And depressing,” he decided. “Certainly not the kind of talk that promotes comfortable sleep and sweet dreams.”
“We’ve all had such depressing lives,” she lamented. “You, me, Rune, Thrynn, Sapphire, Cynric… even Ninruin’s life was a bit depressing before he came to Skyrim.”
“You should ask Delvin to tell you his story sometime, and don’t even get me started on Vex.”
“I don’t think Vex likes me very much.”
“I don’t think Vex likes Vex very much, but trust me when I tell you, if she didn’t want you around she’d make it clear. You do your jobs clean and you’re bringing a lot of gold into the Guild. She’ll probably never say it to your face, but she respects you.”
“Good to know.” His last yawn finally reached her, and she brought her arm up to cover it. “How did you get this scar?” She lowered her hand over his cheek, finger tracing along the jagged, upraised skin.
“Now that’s a story to tell,” he began. “I was in Dawnstar on a job, maybe ten or eleven years ago. This little house out in the middle of nowhere, looked completely rundown, like no one had lived there in an age or more. At first I thought Mercer gave me the wrong details, and then I figured maybe he’d sent me into a bandit den without telling me. So I sneak up under the windows to look inside, and my gods, the inside of this place may well have been a palace. Gold and jewels everywhere, nice dishes, silver flatware, antique candlesticks and just… it was a thief’s wet dream, lass, let me tell ya. I give the place a complete once over, and I don’t see anyone inside, no outdoor guard on patrol. This place is just sitting there, completely unprotected like the owners walked away thirty years ago and never looked back.”
“Sounds nice,” she mumbled, nestling her head deeper into the pillow.
“And I can’t believe my luck. I mean, I’m there for a bloody book. Can you believe Mercer sends me to this place to retrieve a book for a client? I’m thinking to myself there’s no way I’m walking out of there with just a book. I check again, doubling back to make sure I’m not missing something because this whole thing is just too good to be true, and you know what they say when something looks like it’s too good to be true?”
“Probably is,” Ginna yawned again.
“Damn right it probably is, but I still don’t see anything. Not a living soul for miles, so I take a deep breath and hunker down in front of the door to pick the lock. It’s already open. I must have been high on the potential of the place because I turned the knob and push the door open without thinking and trigger this trap right inside the door. I heard it release just in time to duck right, and if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here right now. Knocked me back and nearly took out my eye, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t walk out of that place with a concussion and everything of value I could carry.”
“At least the payoff was worth it.” She was getting tired, the sound of his voice lulling her closer and closer to sleep.
“Aye, and I got this handsome, roguish scar for my efforts.”
“It is handsome. I like it,” she decided. “Don’t stop talking,” she said. “I’m almost asleep. Tell me about the Nightingales.”
“The Nightingales? Where did you hear about that?”
“It was in a book I found on the shelf downstairs.”
“The Nightingales are just a story someone made up long ago to keep the young footpads in line.”
“But what are they?”
“The legends say they are agents of Nocturnal. Avengers of Darkness who commit themselves to her service and in return receive her favor…” His tone was soft, drawing her further and further down the rabbit hole until even her dreams were narrated by the soothing sound of his voice.
Hundreds of black birds circled overhead, blocking out the light of the sun, the flutter of their wings raising against the backdrop of Brynjolf’s voice until the last thing she heard was, “… just a legend, lass.”
It was only a few hours, thick, heavy sleep with dreams she couldn’t remember. She woke just around nine o’clock, to the sound of heavy rain and the scent of fresh air drifting in off the lake. The door was wide open and the bed empty. She didn’t have to sit up to see him, standing on the deck in nothing but his loincloth, head lifted toward the sky, rain smattering his hair against his face and down his bare back.
“What are you doing?” she called.
“Washing away my sins,” he laughed, turning in to face her. “Care to join me?”
“I don’t think so,” she drew the blankets around her and snuggled deeper into the bed’s warmth. “My sins run too deep for water.”
“So do mine, but a shower every now and again never hurt anyone. Come on, lass. Live a little.” She watched him shake the beads of water from his hair, wet strands clinging to his cheeks as he grinned at her from the doorway. She felt one of them splash against her arm. “Don’t make me come in there.”
“Oh, all right,” she threw the blankets aside and stepped out of bed, searching the floor for her undergarments.
Joining him on the deck, she worried for a minute that someone might see them from the docks below, but the lakefront was like a ghost town, completely void of life in so heavy a storm. Thunder cracked behind the mountains, so loud she actually jumped a little, but Brynjolf only laughed, his entire face alight with playful mischief as he lowered his wet arm across her back to draw her near.
“If this doesn’t let up soon, I don’t think either of us will be going anywhere today.”
“Where were you going?”
“Over Ivarstead to do a job for Maven. I thought maybe we could travel together until the road splits west. We could set up camp on the roadside, have another night together before we go our separate ways.”
“That would be nice,” she leaned into him and tilted her face into the heavy sheet of rain passing over them. She’d only been outside for a few seconds, and already she was already soaked to the bone. “But if we travel by horseback, we’ll cover the distance much quicker.”
“Horses?” He glanced down on her. “Where the Void did you get horses?”
She shrugged, a shiver moving through her. “Heisted them from a farm in Solitude. Rune and I figured it’d get us home quicker than the carriage. They always go so slow.”
“Only the best for my Ginna,” he laughed. “Where are you keeping them?”
“The stables. I paid Hofgrir fifty septims to keep his mouth shut, but Rune says he only relented because he’s interested in more than my gold.”
“I’ll crack that bastard’s skull.” Noticing that her teeth were already starting to chatter, he ducked back into the house and drew her with him. He yanked the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around them both, leading her toward the hearth as they dripped water all over the floors.
“I have no interest in Hofgrir, or anyone else for that matter, just so you know.”
“So I probably shouldn’t have led Marcurio out to meet with those Boethian cultists?” She watched him try to hide his smile while he gently rubbed the water from her skin, but he seemed to be having a very hard time keeping a straight face.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s a master of the arcane arts,” she giggled.
She loved how easy it was to laugh with him, even when the weight of their entire world felt like it was pressing down hard on their shoulders. Gripping the damp blanket in his hands, he drew her body close to his, the wet fabric of their underclothes making her shiver again.
“We should get out of these wet clothes,” he cocked an eyebrow.
“So that was your plan all along? Get me all wet and naked so I had no choice but to crawl back into bed with you where it’s warm and dry?”
“Even you can’t deny it was a good plan,” he grinned.
They hung their wet things near the fire and Ginna found another blanket in the chest at the foot of the bed, which she spread over the mattress before shimmying back under the covers. While the rain flooded the lake and muddied the roads, they hid away from the world, making love and falling deeper into that tangled web of warm bliss that was growing more and more impossible to get out of.
“Bryn?” she nestled deeper into the crook of his arm and lowered her cheek to his bare shoulder.
“What did you mean last night when you said you wanted to be partners?”
“I like it when you call me Bryn.” He nuzzled the tip of his nose against her temple. “It deludes me into thinking you’re starting to trust me.”
“Maybe I am.”
“Would you say you trust me enough to be my partner?”
“Like a business partner?”
“Partners in business, partners in crime, partners in pleasure and everything else there is… for life.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“No,” she corrected herself, “maybe. I don’t know.”
“I want to put a ring on your finger.”
“And what would that mean?”
“Come on, Ginna. I know people in Cyrodiil get married, but if you really need me to spell it out for you, it would mean we belong to each other,” he said simply. “Everything I have would be yours. Everything you have would be mine because we’re partners. I want to give you the world, Ginna.”
“I always wanted the world,” she mused, grinning.
“We could travel Skyrim together, and then to every corner of Tamriel, running cons and heists. And we would raise the Guild to glory again, together… you and me, and it would all be ours for the taking.”
“I get the feeling Mercer wouldn’t like the sound of that if he heard you say it.”
“He’ll want to retire soon enough. Mercer doesn’t want to do this forever. No one does.”
“I do,” she admitted. “Even when I’m too old to remember where I left my lockpicks, this is all I want to do. And I think you do too.”
“Aye,” he agreed. “Larceny is in our blood, and I want to do it for the rest of my days with you.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little early for that?” The fact that there was a part of her that wanted to leap at his offer was even scarier than the warmth and calm she felt when they were together. She’d never met anyone like him, never felt more comfortable and safe with another person. It was rash, yes, and crazy, but it felt right.
“Life is short, Ginna. Especially in our line of work. You’ve got assassins on your tail, and I can’t even count the number of people out there who would love to put an end to me. Why would I want to waste time beating around the bush when I know that tomorrow could my last day?” He hesitated for a moment and then added, “Or yours.”
“I have no intention dying tomorrow.”
“And neither do I, but we don’t control when the gods call us home.”
“No,” she sighed. “That is true.”
“Look, lass, I’m not one for making rash decisions, but I’m not afraid to take risks either. I would rather take a risk with you, than spend the rest of my days regretting that I hadn’t.”
That made her smile, the dread-knot in her stomach loosening into soft flutters. Was that how those fictional, flighty women in Brienne’s trashy books felt? Reckless and full of abandon? Ready to fly on a whim straight to the nearest altar and pledge eternal fidelity and companionship to one man.
When she didn’t answer, he sighed. “I’m asking too much, aren’t I?”
“No, Bryn.” She opened her eyes again, met with his gaze. “I just… I don’t know what to say.”
“At least tell me you feel it too,” he said, reaching between them and taking her hand. “Tell me it’s not crazy that my last thought at night before I fall asleep, my first thought when I wake in the morning and every single thought in between is you… has been you since the moment I first laid eyes on you at the Embassy.”
Squeezing his fingers, she drew his hand up to her lips and kissed across his knuckles. “I feel it too.”
“Then why don’t we do something about it?”
“There’s work to be done,” she reminded him. “For the Guild, for Maven…”
“All right,” he released another breath that sounded like it was riddled with frustration. “Will you at least consider it?”
“I’m already considering it,” she told him. “I’m sure it’ll be all I think about while I’m gone. It’ll distract me and I’ll probably make mistakes and get myself killed.”
“See, life is short, Ginna.”
Grinning, she moved in and kissed him. “Life is short, and when I come back from this job with Mercer… and I will come back… we’ll begin this partnership of ours. All right?”
He answered her with a kiss, and then proceeded to make her wish there were no important jobs in their immediate future, no murder or confrontation of betrayal on the horizon, only time for them to fall into that warm tangled love-trap together until the world itself disappeared and just left them alone with each other.