Talking to the boy went easier than Brynjolf expected it to. Aventus told him everything he wanted to know, including an interesting tidbit about who’d sent him: Anariel—again. Hearing her name for the second time in less than a month chilled him, and while Ginna told the lad they planned to adopt him into more than just their Guild Family, Brynjolf found himself cautiously stroking through the bristling hairs of his goatee.
He wanted to know what kind of game of the old ghost was playing, and whether or not he’d inadvertently sent Vipir into a trap.
When Ginna rose from the table to take Aventus and show him to his new home, Brynjolf held her back for a moment and told the kid to go find Rune. He waited until the boy disappeared into the Cistern, then gripped the soft leather of her sleeve to draw her near.
“Look, I need to take care of a few things here. Have Rune come with you back to Honeyside. I won’t be long.”
Rolling her eyes, she crossed her arms over her chest and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. Her bright blue eyes flashed with sarcasm when she asked, “So this is how things are going to be then? Me sitting at home with this kid wondering why I didn’t just marry Rune?” She knew exactly which button she was pushing when she said that with a clever, vengeful flare in her eyes. “At least I know he won’t leave me to sit at home by myself.”
“Maybe not.” He leaned into her and lowered his head to her ear, whispering, “But somehow I doubt Rune could make you whimper even half as well as I do, lass.”
“With a kid in the house I don’t think either of us will be doing much whimpering,” she pointed out, adding, “me or Rune.”
“Good,” he huffed. “Then I guess I don’t have anything to worry about, do I?” Gripping her shoulders, he held her in such a way that she had no choice but to look up at him. “Look, I just need a few minutes to talk with Delvin and Vex. I’ll feel better if Rune’s with you until I get home. Even if it’s only ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes,” her eyes arched toward the ceiling again. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“You’ll see me in a little while, I swear it.”
“Well, I’m not dragging Rune up there if he’s busy. Besides, I’m pretty sure I can handle…”
“Ginna, please? I’ve no doubt you can handle yourself, but it would make me feel better if there was a line of defense before you had to handle anything. You’re not just looking after yourself anymore. We need to make sure that kid is safe too and he said things to me that make me doubt that even more.”
“Fine,” she agreed. “But if Rune is going to be moving in with us I get to sleep in the middle of the bed. And we’re going to need a bigger house.”
“You’ll have to talk to Maven about that, lass.” He winked and then leaned in to kiss her, lips lingering against her brow before lowering to brush across hers.
“Maybe I will,” she smirked. “After this, I say she owes me a nice big mead hall in the woods. Or maybe a cozy getaway in Markarth. She knows people, right? Could probably pull a few strings?”
Lifting his hand against her cheek, he stroked his fingers through her hair and nodded. “Probably.”
He watched her disappear into the paneled walkway that led into the Cistern and for a long moment he just stood there staring at the wall. He could already tell this whole having a kid around thing wasn’t going to work to his advantage. Finding time alone together would be even harder than it was before.
“Blast,” he muttered and turned back into The Ragged Flagon. Staking toward the table where Delvin sat nursing a mug of ale, he called over to Vekel and asked for a flagon of mead. Dragging the chair away from the table he sat down with a sigh. “I probably should have told him to just bring a whole bottle.”
“Rough time of things, eh?”
“Obviously we overheard everything.”
He nodded toward Vex, who was already sauntering over to join them. She drew the chair out and turned it around so the back was flush with the table, then she threw her leg over it and leaned her arms against the top as she sat down.
“What’s Maven thinking with this crap?” Vex scrunched her nose. “I mean, I get it. We’re the Thieves Guild and what better place to send the emotionally scarred children of the world so we can draw out all their angst and put it to good use, but making you guys legally adopt the kid? How the Void are you supposed to do your damn jobs with some snot-nosed little punk following you around asking whose pocket he’s supposed to pick his allowance from?”
“And you can kiss all that ass you been gettin’ goodbye too.”
He groaned and curled his fingers around the tankard before Vekel even finished setting it on the table. Slugging back several heavy swallows, he lowered it. “I don’t know what Maven’s thinking. I suspect the whole Dark Brotherhood tie’s got her hackles up. My only guess is she wants to rein this kid in and win him over and since he came here with my name on his tongue I get to be her scapegoat.”
“He say who sent him?” Delvin asked.
“Aye, the mysterious ghost thane I ran into in the cemetery just before Ginna and I left for Solitude.”
“Anariel?” The thin arches of Vex’s eyebrows shot into two sharp points above her soft brown eyes. “You’re freaking kidding, right?”
“’Fraid not, lass. She even sent the boy with a message for me. Said she wanted to make amends for all the damage she caused the Guild so she sent me an able-bodied apprentice.”
“Bloody hell,” Delvin muttered into his tankard. “I don’t like this one bit, Bryn. It smells.”
“Vipir’s gonna lose his shit when he hears about this.” Vex added. “I mean, after everything she did to him… We need to find out what her game is, and I mean now. We can’t afford for anyone to go back to the joint.”
“Especially with all our pretty little ducks lined up in a row, as they are,” Delvin added. “This is the first time in years everything went our way. The last thing we need right now is some blast from the past to come in and set things all topsy turvy on us.”
“Tell me about it.”
“She better hope she doesn’t poof back into Riften again,” Vex scowled. “If I see her again I’ll cut her gods damned ghost heart out myself.”
“Speaking of ghosts, I need to send our little Ginna over to Whiterun to connect with another important client and I’ve got a guy from Windhelm looking to employ her expertise as well. She don’t have time to be playing nursemaid right now, Bryn.”
“Ginna and Rune can handle business in Whiterun. I’ll look after the kid.”
“Right and with your plate full as it is carrying Mercer’s responsibilities until Ginna’s ready to take over the Guild, you’ll have all kinds of time to be someone’s daddy.” Delvin’s sarcasm wasn’t lost on him. “Has Maven lost her bleeding mind? Better yet, have you?”
“Oh, like you don’t already know the answer to that question.” Vex lowered her cheek against her forearm and blew the loose strands of hair off her forehead. “As much as I hate to say this out loud, Delvin’s right. We don’t have time for this crap on a good day, Brynjolf, and we’re far from good days.”
“My hands are tied, and we can’t afford to piss on Maven’s boots right now.”
“You’re right,” she groaned. “I know you’re right, but this kid… I don’t trust him.”
“Me neither,” Delvin agreed.
“Well, at least we all agree,” he mused. “Look, we’ve got a Guild full of the best thieves in the world down here. We watch him, teach him, keep him in line as long as it takes to find out what Anariel’s game is, and if he turns out to be anything other than what he says he is I’ll kill the little bastard myself.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“We don’t have to like it, Vex. We just have to do it.” He hated how much he sounded like Mercer just then. Lifting the tankard back to his lips he swallowed the rest of his mead and just let it warm through him for a moment. “In the meantime I need someone to head up north to Windhelm and track down Vipir. I sent him up there earlier to dig up all the dirt he could find on this kid and now I’m worried I may have…”
The words trailed off, but he didn’t need to finish his sentence. They both knew what he was thinking.
“I’ll go,” Vex leaned back in the chair. “If anyone can catch up to The Fleet, it’s me. Knowing that idiot, he’s on foot anyway and I’ll probably get to Windhelm long before he does. Borrow your horse?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “If Hofgrir gives you any trouble tell him to come find me at Honeyside.”
“Oh, he won’t give me any trouble,” she shrugged, spinning the chair back into place as she stood. “I know how to get what I want from guys like him.”
“I’ve no doubt about that.”
“Oh, and lass, first chance you get I need you to talk to your locksmith friend and see about sturdier locks for Honeyside.”
“You got it.”
Brynjolf watched as the Imperial vixen ducked out the back door and then returned his attention to Delvin, whose gaze was still lingering on the empty space Vex had just disappeared through.
“We need to be vigilant with whatever this is, Delvin.”
“Don’t I know it?” Swiping his tankard across the table as he refocused, he finished the ale inside it and waved the empty mug toward Vekel. “Too much is going down all at once. I don’t like it. Makes me nervous.”
“Me too,” he nodded. “But we’ll get through it. For the first time in a long time Nocturnal’s smiling on us, my brother.”
“That’s the thing, Bryn,” Delvin started, his eyes distant. “I feel like Lady Luck really is on our side. Clients are rolling in. We’ve got a new thief in the Cistern and shops lining up down here in the Ratway. The heat’s dying down, but she’s always been a fickle one. I just want a big payday before the old bitch changes her mind again.”
“She’s not going to change her mind,” he said. “We’re going to see to it we keep her happy.”
“Yeah,” a gruff laugh escaped him, “right. You ain’t never gave a damn about pleasing Nocturnal before.”
“I’ve come a long way in the last few months,” Brynjolf said quietly. “I’ve seen things even a superstitious old codger like you wouldn’t believe. Believe me when I tell you keeping Nocturnal happy is at the top of my list of priorities right now.”
Leaning back to survey him with surprise, Delvin twitched his nose as he sniffed. “You’ll have to tell me all about it, but not tonight. Last thing I want is to find myself sitting next to you on Ginna’s bad side. I need her focused and spite free, so get home to your woman, Bryn. Before she boots you back into the streets with the rest of us dogs.”
By the time Brynjolf made his way home to Honeyside he had a throbbing headache. There was too much going on, and not a lick of it seemed to make any sense. The Skeleton Key messing with his head, Brutus and whatever game he was playing, now the kid tying himself to a known enemy of the Guild—and a dead one at that. The constant notion of dread that had been hovering over his head since the moment he’d first lain eyes on that damned Key was getting heavier and heavier by the minute. How long before he couldn’t hold it all together anymore?
He dug his keys out and unlocked the backdoor, slipping into the quiet house for the first time in almost two weeks. It was an odd, familiar feeling, one he’d never thought to experience outside the Cistern, but damn was it ever good to be home. Peeling off the heavy jacket of his leather guild armor, he drew on a simple shirt and then ducked around the corner to find Ginna and Rune sitting at the kitchen table. They were leaning close and muttering to each other in whispers while she nibbled on a wedge of cheese. For a moment he just watched them and then Ginna turned and smiled.
“That was more like thirty minutes,” she teased.
“At least it’s still the same day this time,” he grinned. “Kid asleep?”
“Aye,” she murmured. “I think so, but keep it down just in case. You know how hard it is to sleep in a new place and I want him to feel comfortable here.”
At least she wanted to make the boy comfortable. It surprised him how easily she’d accepted the idea of not just having a family, but taking some strange kid in off the streets. She’d come a long way from trusting no one, that was for sure.
He sat down at the table and looked between the two of them, waiting for them to resume their conversation. He really wasn’t worried about leaving his wife alone with Rune. He trusted them both, but sometimes he wondered what kind of things they talked about when he wasn’t around. Did she confide in him, share secrets and troubles with him? He loved the kid like a brother, but he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of her talking to him about their relationship troubles. They’d become fast friends on their first trip to Whiterun, and when Mercer tried to frame Ginna with betrayal Rune had been steadfast in his belief in her innocence.
Something had to be said for that kind of loyalty, but he still wasn’t so keen on Rune knowing every little detail of their love life.
“Rune and I were just talking about birds,” she explained, crumbling another bite of cheese from the wedge and feeding it between her lips.
“Nightingales to be more precise,” Rune added. “Ginna told me everything. The Nightingales, the Key, her brother’s weird obsession with the Daedra.”
“Good, then you know what we’re up against now and you understand why I need you with her when I can’t be.”
“Like I said earlier, I’m your man, Brynjolf. I would die before I ever let anything happen to Ginna.”
“I know that, and I am grateful, but let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that. The last thing I want is for anyone to die.”
“No one will,” she said. “Nocturnal is on our side in this, Bryn.” Funny, he’d said almost those same words in an effort to reassure Delvin, but for some reason hearing someone else speak them didn’t offer him any comfort. “She came to us. She gave us this task. She’s not going to suffer failure and I have no intention of giving her any reason to turn her back on us again.”
“I wish I had your confidence, lass, but I don’t. This business with the Daedra…” He let those words drift into silence and she reached out to him. He was grateful for her touch, the gentle warmth of her fingers circling his wrist and squeezing. “I don’t like any of it. I don’t like not knowing what madness waits around the next corner.”
“We will figure it out. Whatever he’s up to we will find out and stop him. We have to.”
For a long time the three of them were silent. Ginna kept nibbling cheese and Rune stared into the hearth. Brynjolf just sat there looking between the two of them and wishing he didn’t have to send either of them somewhere he couldn’t protect them. Worse was the notion that he couldn’t protect them even if they were standing right next to him.
“When do we leave for Whiterun?” Rune finally spoke up.
“Day after tomorrow, bright and early. Delvin wants us in and out of there quick, and I’d like to leave tomorrow, but this adoption thing…”
“I understand. Aventus will need some time to adjust. He’s so sensitive, you know. I spent a lot of time with him while you were away. He reminds me a little of myself.”
“Well then, that just gives us an extra reason to love him.”
“All right,” he edged his chair away from the table and stood up. “I’m going home to get some sleep, but I’ll stop by first thing tomorrow to see if you need me for anything.”
“Thanks, Rune,” she smiled up at him.
“Yeah Rune,” Brynjolf said. “Thanks for everything.”
After he was gone, Ginna finished her last bite of cheese and then rose from the table to head into the bedroom. Brynjolf watched from the chair in the kitchen as she slipped into her bedclothes and then she turned toward him.
“Come to bed, love.”
She nodded her head toward the bed behind her, a familiar look in her eye that never failed to spark his desire for her. While he undressed she crawled into bed and stretched beneath the blankets, smiling at him when he finally turned down the covers on his side. Extinguishing the lantern beside the bed, only the glow of the hearth lit the house.
She snuggled up to him as soon as he climbed in. Her soft hand smoothed across his bare chest, fingers drifting through the hair there. She nuzzled the tip of her nose against his cheek and began to trail kisses into the curve of his neck, along his shoulder, over his chest while her gentle hand drifted lower to bring him fully to life.
“How is this even going to work, lass?” He chuckled, eager breath catching in the back of his throat.
“Very carefully,” she whispered, the warm rush of her breath raising goosebumps across the surface of his skin. “Very quietly.”
He’d gotten off in a lot of precarious situations in his lifetime, making quick maneuvers to avoid getting caught with his pants down. Oddly enough, that didn’t feel like a situation that required speed. He felt nervous with the boy sleeping in the room downstairs, but he took his time, savored every brush of her flesh against his, the soft pillow of her breasts beneath his chest, every quiet kiss and whispered breath of pleasure. He didn’t need to hear her scream to know he’d brought her to climax. He could feel her body shudder under his, could hear it in the stifled, gasping whisper of his name.
After, when she lay breathless in his arms tracing circles over his shoulder with the tip of her fingernail, he felt oddly content. As if the greater part of him really believed that whatever happened to them, they would find a way to keep their family safe and come out on top of it all.
Was that the foolish kind of comfort his father felt? An idiot’s piece of mind to help him sleep through the night even though he knew his family was always in danger? He was the same age his father had been when Mercer killed the man over the same damn Skeleton Key he and Ginna were now sworn to protect from yet another madman Void bent on possessing it.
Before his thoughts could grip him too tight and strangle every ounce of peace and contentment he felt there with her, Ginna drew her leg up to rest atop his and muttered, “You know what I want right now?”
“What?” Brynjolf felt his brow furrow just before he lifted his head off the pillow to stare down at her shadowed profile in the dark.
“I wish I had a big jug of ice cold milk to drink.”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get milk at this hour?” He laughed.
“I know,” she yawned. “I just wish I had some, that’s all.”
“I’ll go out first thing in the morning and get you a big jug of milk,” he promised, kissing her forehead before nestling his head back into the pillow.
“Mm.” He could feel her grinning against his shoulder. “Okay.”
He listened to her breath slow until sleep claimed her, and long after she drifted off he just held her and prayed to whatever gods were listening for the strength to keep her beside him until they were old.
*A/N: I feel like this chapter is almost total filler, but I’m okay with that as it will push me into the next few scenes. I also can’t open my screen caps folder for some reason to grab the lovely picture I have of Rune, Bryn and Ginna all sitting around the table at Honeyside. As soon as I can get into that folder I will update the banner image.