Walking through Riften, she held her head high, as if she really belonged there, and she kept telling herself maybe she did. No matter what happened Between Brynjolf and her, she could see herself staying in Riften, make a good life for herself. Keep running jobs for the Guild and working for Maven until Mercer was taken care of once and for all, and then she’d figure out how best to deal with Brutus.
Ginna wasn’t home long before he came barreling through the back door without even knocking. She was on her hands and knees picking up debris, but she’d heard him coming up the back stairs so she wasn’t surprised when he burst through the doors, scanning the place until he found her. He stopped, avoiding her eyes as he looked around at the mess he’d made, cheeks reddening with shame.
“I should have cleaned this place up days ago,” he broke the awkward silence.
“Well, you can clean it up now,” she shrugged. “If Maven sees the place in this state…”
“I didn’t come over here to clean up that mess right now, Ginna. I came to clean up the mess I made of things with you.”
“Okay.” She shrugged again, trying desperately to harden all the parts of herself that seemed to go soft whenever she was near him; namely her heart.
“Put yourself in my position, lass,” he started. “There I was thinking that after a lifetime of searching, I’d finally found someone I could trust, someone I actually wanted to share myself with, and you fought so hard to keep me away.” It had been difficult for her to let him in at first, but once she had, she’d really let him in. Hadn’t he felt that? “By the time I felt like I’d finally gotten through to you, like you were finally starting to let me in… it was too late. And right away I started to think, well no wonder you didn’t want to let me in or let yourself get close to me. You never had any intention of staying here and it’d be easier to stab me in the back if you held me at arm’s length.”
“But I didn’t keep you at arm’s length, Brynjolf. I let you in.” She stood up so they were almost eye to eye. “And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. You have no idea how difficult it was for me to let myself trust you.”
“I know, lass, but you have to understand where I’m coming from…”
“I do understand where you’re coming from. It’s why I didn’t want to trust you in the first place, but then I did trust you. I let you in, I let myself get comfortable and familiar and the entire time I was gone, I knew when I came back from this, this was how you’d be.” Ginna felt her fists clenching at her sides, fingernails digging into her palms. “Angry, untrusting, resentful, but no matter how much I thought about it, nothing prepared me for the look I saw in your eyes when Karliah and I walked into the Cistern. You hated me, Brynjolf, as much as you hated Karliah. I could see it festering inside you.”
“I never hated you,” he insisted. “I just felt so betrayed, Ginna, because I loved you. Don’t you get that?” he took a step toward her, hand reaching out, but she stepped back. “Ginna, look at me,” he begged. “Look at me and see how sorry I am. I know sorry isn’t enough, but I lost everything when I thought I’d lost you. My hopes, my dreams, my mind… After the things he did to you, I’d kill Mercer Frey with my bare hands right now if he dared show his face.”
Lowering her head, she stared at his scuffed boots for a long time. There were so many things she wanted to say, but she just didn’t know where to start. In the back of her mind, she could hear Karliah talking about Gallus, the lament in her voice, the sorrow in her eyes every time she spoke his name. Karliah had lost everything when she lost Gallus, and there was no coming back from that kind of loss. She and Brynjolf still had a chance together…
Forgive him, she’d said, before it’s too late.
She finally lifted her gaze to meet his. “I’ve never loved anyone in my life, Brynjolf, but the entire time I was gone all I could think about was coming home to you. About how safe I feel whenever I’m with you, and I know it’s stupid, that I’m never really going to be safe, but you make me feel that way, Bryn. I feel unstoppable when we’re together, like we really could do anything and all I thought was that I should have taken that partnership deal when you offered it to me because now it’s too late.”
“No,” he shook his head, stepping toward her again, closing the space between them and that time he reached for her, strong hands bracing her shoulders, she let him. “It’s not too late, Ginna. If you just forgive me…”
“I want to forgive you,” she relaxed a little. “But I know in know in my heart this is never going to work, that we can’t really be partners if we can’t trust each other, and maybe there’s just too much between us now…”
“The only thing between us now is space, lass, this little bit of space.” He lowered his forearm down her back until his hand rested on her tailbone, and then he closed the space between them. “You have to know, I’d trust you with my life.”
“Would you?” she asked. “Really?”
“Aye,” he lowered his forehead to hers, resting there, closing his eyes. “I wish there was some way I could prove it to you, but I don’t know how.”
When she kissed him then, it was like a healing breath passed between them, easing the gaping ache in their souls. All the sorrow, the longing they’d both felt when apart, the fear and anger, it was gone just like that. Forgiving him was the easiest thing she’d ever done. She melted against him, lifting her arms around his neck to hold onto him in hopes that she never had to let go again. When he finally drew back, he just stared into her eyes and smiled.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“Pick up where we left off,” he said. “Put this nasty business behind us. Try to forget.”
“Forget what?” she asked, delighting in the gentle twitch at the edges of his perfect mouth. “Does this mean you still want to be partners?”
“More than ever if you’ll have me. I don’t want to let you out of my sight ever again.”
“And Mercer? What do we do about him?”
“Mercer needs to pay.” He drew back. “I haven’t spoken to the Guild in any great detail yet, but I get the feeling everyone is of the same mind. I’m sending Rune on an important task, having him break into Mercer’s home to search for anything that might tell us where he’s gone.”
“Mercer has a home here in Riften?”
“Aye, a gift from the Black-Briars after they kicked the previous owners out, a place called Riftweald Manor. He never stays there, just pays for the upkeep. Hired some lout by the name of Vald to watch over it for him when he’s away.”
“Breaking in sounds dangerous. Rune shouldn’t do this alone.” Hand lowering from his neck, she rested it on his shoulder as she leaned out to look at him. “I’ll go with him.”
“I’d do it myself, but I need to work through the few contacts we actually have left and Mercer’s got so much paperwork to go through. I don’t expect to find anything we can actually use, but I can’t leave a single stone unturned.”
“We’ll take care of it,” she assured him.
“The last time I told you to be careful, you must not have heard me, so I’ll say it again… Be careful, lass. Mercer’s house is the last place in Skyrim I’d ever want to send you. Just find a way in, get the information and get out. And you have permission to kill anyone who stands in your way. Do you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, partner.”
“I can’t lose you again.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” She lifted her arms around his neck again and leaned up hug him. “Not without you by my side.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear.” He squeezed her so tight it hurt, but she never wanted him to let her go.
“Now,” she turned her mind back to business. “What’s the best way to get inside Riftweald Manor?”
“Good question.” He drew in a breath and stepped back to lead her to the table to have a seat. “I’ve only been inside a few times, and that was always in Mercer’s company. If you can get past his trained watchdog, your best bet would be the second floor balcony in the backyard.”
“I don’t suppose this balcony is easy to access.”
He laughed a little, an uneasy chuckle, as he leaned back in the chair and stroked his beard. “No. It’s some kind of crazy contraption Mercer commissioned for quick escapes. I’d wager a well-placed shot at the ramp’s mechanism would lower it in a hurry though.”
“Rune,” she nodded.
“Aye. He’s brilliant with a bow.”
“And what do we do about Vald?”
“Real piece of work, that one. Mercer’s holding something over his head to keep him loyal. Talk to Vex when you go to meet with Rune. She used to know him very well… if you catch my meaning.”
“I’ll head over there now.”
“And I’ll come with you so I can start rummaging through Mercer’s papers in the Cistern. In the meanwhile, I’ll see if I can get this place cleaned up and back in shape for you before the sun goes down. Oh, and lass…” He dug into the pocket of his pants and pulled something out. Opening his clenched fingers, she felt her already tender heart flutter with joy. “I found this on the floor near the bed after you left.”
“My emerald. It must have fallen out of my pocket. I thought I’d lost it for good, that my luck was at its end.”
“Your luck was with me the whole time.”
“And you kept it, even though you thought I’d betrayed you?”
“Aye,” he drew his lower lip between his teeth. “Even then, I didn’t want to let the only part of you I had left go.”
She dug deep into her own pocket and took out the three emerald’s he’d given her the night she’d moved into Honeyside. “When I realized it was missing, I took comfort in these.” Opening her hand to show him, he laid his hand atophers. “Somehow, I knew you’d never let me down.”
“My Ginna.” He leaned across the table to touch her cheek. “I never want to let you down again.”
“Bryn, there was something else I learned from Karliah,” she told him. “Something I held back at the Cistern. She may never forgive me for telling you, but I don’t want us to keep things from each other.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know if this will change anything, or if it even really matters, but Nightingales are real.”
She watched his eyes wrinkled at the edges as he tilted his head. “What? Nightingales?”
“Gallus, Karliah and Mercer were Nightingales.”
“But I always thought that was just a tale, a myth… Are you sure about this?”
“Aye. She said Mercer desecrated some place called the Twilight Sepulcher, but she wouldn’t go into detail about it. She said she couldn’t.”
“It would seem Karliah and I have a lot to talk about.” He drew back and released a heavy breath. “I only hope I can convince her to forgive me as well.”
“She will,” Ginna said, curling her fingers around his wrist and drawing his palm to her lips to kiss it. “I know she will. She loved you well when you were a boy, Bryn, and she’s been watching over you from the shadows for a long time. She’s the one who told me to forgive you.”
“Then I am in her debt.”
“It would seem so,” she agreed. “And speaking of debts, I have a small favor to ask.”
“Anything, lass. Just give the word.”
“Marcurio?” He turned his head, brow furrowing and not quite sure he liked where the conversation was going. “What about him?”
“I ran into him in Winterhold when I took Gallus’s journal to be translated by an old friend of his at the college. Marcurio was there on business and I paid him to travel with me into Markarth to take care of a few things.”
“And it turns out he’s not such a bad guy.”
“All right.” There was a hint of jealousy in his eyes. “What exactly is it you’re asking me for?”
“Maybe you could just… I don’t know, leave him alone?”
“You want me to leave him alone?”
“I’m not asking you to send him flowers or anything, just… don’t threaten him anymore?”
“He told you I threatened him?”
“Said you’d have him drawn and quartered if he didn’t stay away from me.”
“Well of course I told him to stay away from you. The guy’s a menace and don’t think I didn’t see the way he ogled you. He was practically drooling all over the table that day we came into Riften together.”
“Well regardless, he had my back, even when I had to kill a few people who got in my way.”
She watched him squint, green eyes flaring with unspoken jealousy. “Did anything else happen between the two of you I should know about?”
Ginna’s eyes arced upward as she shook her head. “Bryn…”
“All right,” he relented, pushing up from the table. “I’ll stay away from him for now, but I’ll give no quarter if he even thinks…”
“I thought we were going to trust each other.”
“You’re right.” His shoulders slouched. “Fine, I’ll leave your new best friend Marcurio alone.”
Grinning, she rose from her chair and stepped up to him again. “Thank you.”
“So, does Rune know about this? He’ll be heartbroken when he learns you’ve replaced him… and with Marcurio of all people,” he teased.
“You are such a scoundrel.”
“A scoundrel, eh?” he drew her close, lips whispering across hers, the soft hairs of his beard bristling over her skin in a way that sent shivers of desire through her. She wanted him, wanted to crawl into bed with him and hide away from the world together.
“I always did have a thing for villains.”
“Now I’m a villain, am I?” he laughed. “Not villainous enough to take advantage of this rare and quiet moment to show you just how sorry I really am before the rest of our world blows up in our faces. Come on, lass.” He drew back. “We’ve got work a lot of to do.”
“You’re a noble man, Brynjolf of Riften.”
“Don’t say that too loudly, lass. If something like that were to get around my reputation would suffer immensely.” He lowered his arm over her shoulders, laughing as he walked her toward the door.