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Trouble

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The only thing I remember about that day is Ivie's crying, a constant wail in the background that echos in my head when I think about it. It was a weak but eerie sound, as she wasn't well formed. I picked her up, blood covering my own hands from where it was pouring out. In shock, I couldn't figure out what to do with the crying infant. I was barely more than a child myself. I can't remember what followed, but I was told later.

They found me crouched in the corner clutching Ivie, her cord not cut, blood and placenta coating her and I both. Our mother was dead on the floor not far away from us, and I couldn't take my eyes off her. I had barely seen twelve years. Ivie stopped breathing the next day, born too soon.

The whores housed me for a few days while my shock wore off. Once it seemed I had accepted what had happened, the madam came to see me. I was being housed underneath the building with the other children, of which there were only a few. It was dark and dreary, low-lit by candlelight even during the day. The harsh knock echoed around the room and the other children scattered from their play in a rush to appear inconspicuous. In my depressive state, I didn't move from my hunched over position. The madam strode into the room with an authoritative air which cowed all the children who cared. I didn't. She stopped in front of me.

"You need to be out by tomorrow," she said simply. She waited to see if I was going to talk back, but I only nodded in agreement. Satisfied, she left. With relief, the other children slowly went back to their games.

I had anticipated it, considering my mother was no longer able to work for my keep. I had been told many times already that I was too young to begin work.

So, I left, with no plan and no money. I became a beggar in the Imperial City. The two years I spent there were brutal. I was hungry day and night, lucky to get stale bread. There were other urchin children, but most were younger than me, and I found no camaraderie there. I had gotten into many a fight with them, sometimes left bruised and bleeding on the ground.

That was how I began to steal. Hunger. A piece of bread here, a gold coin there. At first, I wasn't very good, but that changed, of course. After three years, I had gained basic skills, but during one sloppy errand, a guard hauled me off to the prison. I was only fifteen, and they gave me a rather light sentence, but I still spent months locked up there. Upon my release, I knew I had to move on from the city.

The guard brought me out into the light of day. I was full of anticipation and fear, nothing but the ragged clothes on my back to my name. I didn't even have shoes, but I did have ambition. I had stewed away for months, but I had dreams, and now I was free to pursue them. I stood on the top step, barefoot, torn pants, loose shirt, and let the wind blow in my hair for the first time in a while. It felt good, and I was ready to take on the world as I headed down the steps and out of the city, head high.

It didn't last very long, outwardly. I had to walk to Kvatch, shoe-less, which was a rough journey. I ate a lot of berries and carried a sharpened stick in case of predators. By the time I arrived in the next city over, I must've looked as though I'd been living in the woods for a year. My hair looked like a skeever nest.

At the gates, I ducked around the guards to slip into the city. I didn't have answers to their questions, and they would take me for a beggar; I was worse.

Kvatch wasn't a bad time for me. I lived there until I was almost twenty, in a shack, basically. It was the poorest part of town, but I had clothes on my back and food in my belly - most of it dishonestly earned. I stole for myself, for others in my neighborhood, and occasionally when hired. The guards didn't find me while I was there among the rest of the rabble. Still, I managed a savings, hidden under the floor boards in a strong box. Then I filled it, and got another. And another. I couldn't spend too much of it here, or it would draw suspicion, but I was preparing to leave town again since the day I arrived.

Every time I added another septim to my collection, I felt a rush of pride for the money saved. I became used to living below my means, and held out for future ambitions.

I was returning from the market, fresh food in my bag and a few gold pieces in my pocket ready to be added to my stash.

"Morning, Lily!" Carlus the Beggar greeted as I walked by. The Imperial was seated on the ground with a bucket of water in front of him. I waved to him cheerily. He wasn't the only one; as I made my way down to the end of the street, I saw many of my neighbours outside. Most recognize me, a few fondly, most less than. I never stole in the poor quarter. I didn't want to make enemies, considering my door didn't lock, but some still knew of me and my habits in different ways. Some found me an unpleasant drunk; some thought my stealing was immoral; a few found me simply rude. I ignored them, and noticed that they pointedly avoided me as well. I wondered why, until I arrived at my house.

Outside were two city guards. As soon as I noticed them, I froze and prepared to bolt, but one drew his bow and trained it on me. I didn't want to die that day.

"Stop!" the other shouted. "You have violated the law!"

I raised my arms as I approached, and complied. I had few fighting skills, though growing up in a brothel and on the streets made me nothing to sniff at in a brawl, I had no defense against a couple of fully armoured guards who had weapons drawn. I assumed the one on the left could shoot me before I could sneeze.

"Yeah," I interrupted him. He scowled at me. "I've heard it before. Let's move on, quickly now." I held out my arms expectantly.

I glared at him the whole time while he fitted manacles on me. They marched me through town, though it was nothing irregular or overly noticeable for most of the population, and I was widely ignored.

For the second time in my life, I was hauled into a cell.

I had stayed far too long in Kvatch.

I learned my lesson, then. That sentence was longer, and I never did find out who ratted on me. I didn't care enough to track them down, either. I did, however, spend many nights wondering if they had found the coin under the floor boards. I had no idea what had become of my house. Everyone refused to speak with me. My cell had a solid door with a slit for food, and a cleaner boy came in once a day to get the chamber pot and tray. He was scrawny and terrified of the guards. The brat never answered my questions. I stopped trying.

I was never told when my sentence would be up, so the day it came was a shock. Out of nowhere, a guard came into my cell and led me outside. He didn't say a word to me, only left me at the edge of town with ill-fitting jail clothes on.

As soon as he was out of sight, I slid into the shadows and melted into the crowd on my way to the poor quarter. It was the middle of the day, a high time for people being out of their homes in this district. I took the familiar route towards my house but stayed in the back streets and alleys. I didn't want any of my neighbors who might recognize me to see.

I approached my old house from the back, and peered in the empty windows. I couldn't hear anything from inside, so I stuck my head up to look in and found it empty, though it looked lived in. I slipped around the to front and entered, glad for the first time that this house didn't lock.

I ran my hands over the familiar rough wooden floorboards until I found my hidden panel. I pried it open, putting the lid aside and kept my eyes closed. I was afraid to look.

Slowly, I opened my eyes and peered into the hole. To my relief, they hadn't found anything I had hidden, and I was glad to finally pull my haul of gold out of the ground and move on from the city. I couldn't help but briefly think about whoever had been living in the shack, and how they had missed out on so much gold, right there, beneath their feet the whole time. I chuckled.

I cleared the gates without difficulty, as I was sure with my looks they were glad to see me go. I wanted to wash up, buy clothes, and make myself presentable again, but I had other priorities, and looked rough might be beneficial. I hit the road, heading wherever I decided to let it take me.

The Bee and Barb was easy to find once you entered Riften, but I was loathe to navigate the rest of the city. I had only seen it briefly on my way to the inn, which I was directed to promptly, but it looked like a maze of wood and canals. I had walked through a more sturdily build, more rich in appearance quarter of the city which was built on dry land, but the inn was on the edge of where the wooden platforms began. The farther you walked into the city, the smaller and poorer the houses became, and the weaker the planks they were built on. I wasn't sure if I intended to stick around long enough to learn my way through the maze that was this city, as I had only just scratched the surface and had no idea what to expect. It had seemed quiet enough on my walk in, but the inn itself was lively and brightly lit. It seemed to be the most popular spot in town, situated in what appeared to be a central market square, though I had yet to see it in daylight. I had passed by a fancier inn near the town gates, but had no desire to stay in the high end area. I wasn't suited to it.

The Argonian innkeep sold me a room for the night. I intended to get into the market and change my ill-fitting, worn travel clothes the next day, since I had arrived at night when the shops were closed. It helped with my goal to be unnoticed. Or so I thought.

I had only just settled into a booth with my back to the wall, a glass of some unidentified alcohol in front of me. I had asked for something strong, so I hoped it would deliver. I raised the glass to my mouth only to be stopped by a large Nord man slipping into the seat across from me. He crossed his arms on the table in front of him, bright red hair loosely braided in some Nordic style. I squinted at the intrusion, placing my cup back down on the table.

"Never done an honest day's work in your life for all the coin you're carrying, eh, lass?" His accent was strong.

"How the fuck would you know that, and what kind of business is it of yours?" I was taken aback, and on the defense.

"Look at you," he started. "You came into town late, ragged clothes, on foot, with enough coins to buy a small house? Doesn't fit. It's all about sizing up your mark."

"And you're very familiar with this," I deadpanned. He inclined his head slightly in agreement, cocky bastard.

"Interested in making some coin?" he cut to the point. It did pique my interest; perhaps it was a legitimate offer. Perhaps it was some kind of trap. I wasn't sure if I should take the risk or not. Something about it was tempting, probably the thrill. I hadn't stolen in a long time now, and a lucrative offer falls in my lap. He watched my face while I considered it, and I think he must've seen the decision on my face.

"All I need you to do is steal something for me."

"And what might that be?" I asked, relenting.

"The deed to a piece of land. See, lass, it's rather important. The man knows that my... organization is after it, so he keeps it on his person at all times. And he knows my face, so I can't get close enough. That's where you come in," the nord explained.

"And, the mark?" I prompted.

"A dark elf named Eravyn. Keeps the papers in the inner right pocket of his coat. Arrogant. Lives in a house on the western side of town. Spends most of his days outside of the city. Doesn't drink. Stops at the bunkhouse a few nights a week and always sees one of the dark elf women."

I leaned back in my seat, considering. I couldn't help but smile. I liked the way this guy worked. "Well, it seems you have me convinced to steal for you, and I haven't even learned your name."

He was already standing up. The nord leaned on the table with one hand and looked down at me. "It's Brynjolf," he said with a wink. I blushed, and he grinned. "Maybe you'll tell me yours when I meet you in the morning."

I didn't get the chance to say anything else before he was gone. I didn't know how I was supposed to find him, so I assumed that meant he would find me instead. I leaned back and finally took a drink of the draught in front of me. It had a strange flavour, not wholly bad, so I drank it. By the time I went to sleep I was slightly tipsy.

I was glad to wake up the next morning without any pain in my head, especially since this Brynjolf man would likely swoop down upon me at some unexpected point to direct me to the man I was supposed to steal from. I felt anticipation building in my stomach, and I wasn't sure if it was for the rush of stealing or seeing the nord. There was something about the man. He had winked at me, and it made me feel rather warm. His face was kind, but his eyes were almost predatory. It wasn't exactly that, but I couldn't place my finger on it. He had me curious, at least, in a few ways.

It had been a while since someone had piqued my curiosity. I had a lover, for a while, in Kvatch, but he wasn't what I wanted, and nor was I the best for him. I wasn't the nurturing type, though that was the role I fell into in the relationship, which was uncomfortable for me. He was a very nice man, but to the point of boredom. Basically, he was everything I should want, but didn't.

There had been other flings, men and women, most of which weren't very satisfying at all. It had been a long time since I had tried to enjoy sex, and not only because of the prison sentence. Brynjolf, though, may be exciting enough. But, perhaps it was just a wink and he wasn't being flirtatious at all.

I didn't dwell on it. My first matter of business was getting myself the basics. I needed clothes, among other things, but clothes first and foremost. I was glad to still have the money to spend.

Technically, I was currently living at the Bee and Barb, considering I had no where else to stay at the moment. That would have to be one of my next orders of business if I had any intentions of setting up shop in Riften, though I had yet to decide that. It depended partially on this Brynjolf, and if he tried to double cross me or any such foolishness. If he didn't perhaps I could stay for a little while. I had learned from my mistakes, though, and I knew I couldn't linger here too long, or someone's grudge would eventually get the best of me.

Either way, for the moment, I settled for getting fitted with a new dress. It would let me blend in plain sight, rather than something comfortable for melting into the shadows. Those things could come later, when I had found somewhere to keep my things. For the moment, the dress would do. I left my ragged jail clothing with the clothier. It felt fantastic to finally be in clothes that fit and were unobtrusive. It was an added bonus to be rid of the rags I wore in prison.

I pushed the door of the shop open, heading out into the market district of town. In the light of day, it was easy to see that Riften was massive. Not bigger than the Imperial City, of course, not even close, but it rivaled Kvatch for sure. So far, I had mostly stuck around the markets, where there were shops and inns and stall vendors, but I could see the edges of town as well. There was a port, though mostly smaller trading ships from Cyrodiil frequented it. Still, it was full of hustle and bustle, and warehouses, even a couple of brothels and lower end inns. All of this was on a boardwalk of sorts. The market district covered about half and half land and boards, the richer half being on dry land. From there it moved into mostly residential areas. There were a number of people I observed heading out of town early in the morning on carts, farm tools in hand. I supposed some people hired onto family farms in the area, like back home.

I was lost in thought analyzing my surroundings and the nature of this city, so the voice behind me managed to startle me. I knew I should have been more aware, but all I managed to do was keep the surprise off my face as I turned around.

"I think I like this better than the prison clothes," he interrupted me, bemused. I fought to keep expression off my face.

"You thought those were prison clothes?" I bluffed. He didn't appear convinced, and took a step closer to me, steering me out of the middle of the road. "I was just living below my means." I muttered the last defense, sure he wasn't about to believe me. The rags didn't scream prison; most people likely had only thought me poor or travel-weary. He, though, knew what he was doing.

"Keep telling yourself that, lass."

We halted at the edge of the crowd, around the corner from the city gates. I peered up at him curiously. The red-haired nord towered over me - most people did - and the bulk of his muscle told me he could probably rip me in half. Despite this, it wasn't armor he was wearing, but rather lightweight robes with what appeared to be expensive fur trimmings. I wondered if they were stolen. At the very least, the cash that bought them must've been. Like my dress. I ignored it. I tried to size him up, and I got the impression that he was trying to give off certain impressions with his appearance, similarly to what I had done back in Kvatch. The goal was to control people's perceptions of you.

"Ready to see your mark?" The question drew me out of my observations. Brynjolf was looking down at me, awaiting some acknowledgement. I blinked my eyes to clear my head and gave a slight nod. "He's going to walk by any minute. The dark elf, coming in for lunch." He took me by the arm suddenly and pulled me across himself. I had stepped too far back, and out of the cover of the building. "Don't let him see you with me," he hissed quietly.

We stood there in silence as Eravyn eventually walked past. I examined him in great detail; he appeared a simple man. I wondered if I should follow him, bump into him? Too hard, with the deed in his inner pocket. I'd have to break in, I decided. Once the man was out of sight, I turned slowly to Brynjolf.

"I'm going to have a market stall open the next few days. Come find me when you've done the job," Brynjolf instructed.

"All right." I made to walk away, but he stopped me with another question.

"Wasn't I supposed to get your name this morning, lass?"

I hesitated, but I had already picked one. A new city, a new name. I'd already picked one. I had a bit of a theme going, which was perhaps dangerous, but I didn't expect anyone to notice. Besides, that way, if someone was looking for me, I could break the pattern and it would be unexpected. I turned my head over my shoulder. "Rosemary," I answered. He quirked an eyebrow. Perhaps he could tell it wasn't my birth name, but it didn't matter. Every name was real in a way. I shrugged and slipped away into the crowd heading in for lunch with intentions to tail Eravyn.

Amaranth was a scared little girl. The day Ivie was born, so was Jasmine. She was resilient, and unafraid of a brawl, but she was also lonely and starving. She grew into Ivy when I moved to the Waterfront and began truly stealing. Ivy was fearless and she learned a lot, but she was reckless when she stole. Lily learned from this and was much more cautious of a thief, but she made few friends, and many enemies in Kvatch. She stayed too long in a den of wolves that wanted her head. Rosemary... Rose was going to learn from them. She was going to be resilient, and fearless, and cautious, and this time, she was going to be bold, and smart.

That was my intention, anyway.

Chapter Text

To get close enough to Eravyn, it seemed I didn't have many options. Pickpocketing was out; it was too much of a risk because of where he kept the papers. I couldn't seduce him, considering his tastes were for Dunmer, so that left befriending him, which took much longer than the former, so that put that out the window as well. I couldn't catch him while he was drunk, since he didn't drink. I think Brynjolf intended I do one of the former options, but they didn't seem viable to me once I had watched the man for a day. It was only a day, but it was also a fairly small job. Either way, after sizing him up, stealth was left as my only option.

Which was how I found myself crouched in his closet, late at night, waiting for him to return home from his romp at Haelga's Bunkhouse. I had even bought a new outfit for the occasion, though they were only simple clothing. I wanted something tighter fitting for sneaking about. Sturdy boots and pants. Someday, I'd have to commission my ideal outfit, complete with pockets.

I actually fell asleep in the closet by the time I heard the front door open. I had been careful with my hiding spot, and it was highly unlikely that he would open this cupboard unless he fancied a midnight snack of potatoes and leeks. I didn't. I woke up with a start and pulled myself into a ready crouch.

I was lucky, and he went immediately to bed. I was just barely able to see him as he readied himself to sleep, and once he lied down on the bed and put out his candles, I was sightless for a few minutes. Slowly, my eyes adjusted. I gave it a long time before I dared creep out of my hiding place, as I wanted to be completely sure he was asleep. Once I did, I carefully began searching the pockets of his coat. The deed wasn't there. I almost swore, but stayed quiet. I wished I had been able to see him better as he did his nightly routine, but I only had a vague idea of his location, so I began to retrace his steps quietly. I searched his desk, around his washstand, everywhere. Which only left on his person, in bed.

Eravyn was sleeping with only a cotton blanket. It was the middle of summer, after all, so I was lucky there. If I had moved furs off him in the dead of a Skyrim winter, he would've woken up for sure. As it was, I managed to pull back his blankets just enough to reveal his torso. With relief, I noticed the sheets sticking out of the waist of his shorts. I glanced at his face a few times, sure he was still asleep.

Suddenly, he rolled onto his side and buried his head deeper into his pillow. Every hair on my body stood at attention and I could hear the blood pumping in my veins, but he didn't stir any more than that. Quickly, I snagged the page off him and retreated away from his bedside. I found myself backed up against the door. I was both glad that his small house was one room, and disappointed. It would've been easier to open the door without him hearing if he was on a different floor, but as it was, I was able to keep my eyes on him at all times. Well, there was always a drawback of some kind.

I shoved the deed into my own pocket, of which these clothes only had one. The door was locked, and I didn't have any picks, but his key was on the table a few feet away from me. I stepped over to pick it up and quietly unlocked the door, cringing at the clanging sound it made. Luckily, it didn't wake him up. I replaced the key on the table and tried to slip out of the house quietly, but the door didn't agree with me. It creaked uproariously, and slammed shut with a click. I heard him stir immediately, and a moment later he swore loudly, and I saw a light flicker as he lit up a torch.

I acted decisively, running down the alley as quietly as I could manage. Just as I turned the corner, I heard him come outside, shouting for the guards. I swore, continuing my way through the winding streets of Riften's residential district. Eravyn's house wasn't on dry land; he wasn't rich, by any means, but rather it was in a nicer area than the veritable slums that the poorest citizens stayed in. A middle ground, per se, where tradesmen and farm hands stayed. Luckily, it was closest to the port district, which I headed for. Once there, there were many wooden staircases down into the lower levels of Riften. Boardwalks, homes, shacks, and sewers all low to the water. It made me wonder if it flooded in the spring.

I had planned the route before heading into his house, so when I arrived I was prepared to melt into the usual bustle down there. It was the type of place that never sleeps, but is never loud either. Full of thugs, beggars, and skooma addicts, I was able to melt into the night there. As far as the canal continued, so did the slums, though the had an upper level near the water as well. Luckily for me, the canal ran right through the market district, though far fewer people traveled in it around that area. I did, passing right by the Bee and Barb, where I heard above me Eravyn raving about stolen papers, marching down the street with two guards holding torches.

I forced myself not to act suspiciously, considering they had no reason to suspect me of anything. I saw them burst through the doors of the inn. I climbed the stairs, but hung back on entering until I saw the guards leave the inn. They walked in the opposite direction to where I was standing, thankfully, and continued their rounds. Eravyn left in a huff a few moments later, and after another minute of waiting, I felt safe enough to enter.

Pushing open the door to the Bee and Barb was like stepping into another realm. Outside, everything was muffled and all I could hear was the faint rush of water and waves. As soon as I walked in, I was met with warmth from the fire, and the scent of boar cooking. People all around were drinking, this late at night, and most seemed happy. Voices mingled together into nothingness, something easy to tune out but comfortable to have in the background. It was a relief to feel like no one was listening to you.

My eyes scanned the room for an empty table, but instead they found Brynjolf, already looking at me, an empty chair across from him. He gestured to it, so after a moment's consideration, I headed over. I slid into the seat and eyed him. It looked like he was waiting for me; I assume he was.

"We just had a rather angry Dunmer on our hands in here. It seems he has misplaced something that belongs to him, and he is completely convinced I took it from him." The Nord leaned back in his chair and spread his arms out in front of him, palms up, gesturing to the room around him. "But I've been here all night, haven't I?" So, there’s the game.

"It would seem so. And in the market all day... with everyone there to see," I caught on.

"Indeed, lass. So," he started, "can I buy you a drink?" He leaned back in over the table, crossing his arms. I couldn't decline that, especially after business well done, so I consented.

"Something strong," I said. He laughed, but ordered me whiskey anyway. It tasted like swill, and burned, but it was exactly what I'd wanted.

"Rosemary," Brynjolf said, as though tasting the name. He hummed. I could tell he didn't think it was my real name. "It doesn't matter, you know. We won't question you over your past, lass, so long as it doesn't come and bite us."

I wondered who us was, but bit my tongue on the subject. "I'll be no trouble," I settled for mumbling, hoping it was true. My mouth felt dry from the whiskey. After the exchange, we drank in silence. I drained about half my glass, and began to feel the warmth in my stomach.

"The papers?" Brynjolf finally asked. I met his eyes as I drew them out of my pocket and placed them on the table in front of him. After examination, he put them in his own inner pocket. "My thanks."

"I'm sure it was well entertaining to have him barge in, so certain you stole from him." I smiled wryly. "Little did he know, I suppose."

Brynjolf barked a short laugh. I watched him as his head jerked back slightly and his eyes lidded. I was sure, at least, that he was interesting. I knew he was a thief, which was intriguing on its own. I'd never tried to be with another thief, and I wondered if that would make the difference. Perhaps with a thief, I could find something that lasted.

"Where are you from?" the Nord asked casually. Small talk it was, then.

"Ah," I started. I saw little reason to lie about this much. After all, many a thief had gotten their start where I had. "The Imperial City, actually."

"The Imperial City. It's massive," he said. I watched as he molded with ease into the role of speaking with me as an acquaintance instead of a business associate. "I've been, once, though it was just on a quick errand. I only saw the Waterfront, but the rest of the city looked marvelous from outside it's gates."

"The Waterfront," I snorted. "Sure, the rest of the city is imposing, but it was there I learned my trade." My whiskey was emptied, and another poured. My head began to swim. I had always been grateful for my small size, as it made it rather cheaper to get drunk, despite my growing tolerance. Currently, I wondered if I would regret the loss of clarity.

"Who taught you?" he asked. He knew I had some skills, though I recognized I was know expert, and I appreciated that he thought I knew something of the trade at the least.

"No one," I admitted. "Honestly. It was tough training as it was."

"Thus, the jail," Brynjolf inferred. I shrugged.

"I suppose that's another story."

"Maybe you can tell it to me someday," he said. He had finished his drink, and prepared to rise from the table. He paused a second to talk. "Tell you what, lass. If you think you want some steady work of the illegal variety, come down to the Ragged Flagon tavern, under the city. You can get there through the Ratway sewers." He looked at me expectantly, though I wasn't sure if I wanted to or not.

"All right," I said noncommittally. He stood up and made to leave, flashing a farewell smile in my direction.

"Watch out for rats," he suggested, a twinkle in his eye. I grunted. Rats. Fucking great, I thought, I’m going to have to deal with rats. That’s when I realized I had planned to go down there and check out his organization.

 

 

 

 

"That's fine steel. You won't regret buying from Balimund!" the jolly smith boomed. I smiled hesitantly, flipping the short dagger over in my hand. It was practical, durable, and I was satisfied with the purchase. I dropped the gold coins into the smith's hands, and he looked content as well. I shook his hand before we parted ways and I melted back into the marketplace crowd.

So, to find the Ratways... I pondered that name and the warning as I headed down to the lower levels of the canal. I didn't want to open just any door, as it was likely I'd walk into a home or a business or a drug deal, so I meandered about trying to find some sign as to where I needed to enter the sewers. As I strode through the city's underbelly, I passed people of all walks of life. One looked like a nobleman, and I tried to imagine where he may have been going, but couldn't. There were skooma addled beggars and nervous merchants.

The boardwalk squeaked under my feet as I finally rounded the corner and found what I was looking for. The door wasn't solid; it was a metal gate, more or less, and the scent was something else. I pushed it open with one hand and the resounding squeaaaaak gave me goosebumps. It swung shut behind me on its own. Had it had a lock, that may have put me on edge, but as it was, I traveled deeper into the Ratways, steel dagger held out in preparation.

It turned out that I did need it. The rats down there – skeevers, they call them in Skyrim – were some aggressive little shits. I butchered many as I went, and only got horrendously lost twice. Eventually, I heard casual voices behind an old wooden door. There was nothing particularly exciting about the door as one might expect of a secret underground tavern; on the contrary, just looking at the wood gave me splinters. Not even a suspicious signal or marking. I opened it carefully, more than a little relieved that it didn’t appear I was walking into a trap – and that I didn’t embed any shreds of wood in my skin.

The sight inside was surprising. I had expected little more than the inside of a shack with a misshapen bar shoved in the corner and a few drunk fools passed out at lopsided tables. My low expectations were blown; it was lively in comparison. Off to the left, there were a couple of fences with shops, which was a commodity I hadn’t thought to have access to again so soon. I assumed most of their sales were made elsewhere, though some of the bar patrons didn’t have the look of thieves. Perhaps other less than savory types frequented the Flagon, or travelled through. There were a couple of armoured fellows who seemed to be more of the smashing heads type, and one girl who looked more like a noble’s daughter. There were only seven people, employees included, but the atmosphere was livelier than I would’ve thought a thieves’ hideout bar front to be, in my experience. It was still early in the day, too, so the place could liven up. I made my way across some shaky planks of wood, as the entire centre of the room was basically a pond. It was flowing water; the smell was more reminiscent of a river than a sewer, for which I was grateful. The planks, rickety as they were for a bridge, seemed only to cement the feel of the room. There were beautiful decorations. interesting (stolen, surely) pieces, fine liqueurs behind the bar on ornamental shelves and quality painted tables -- but on the other hand, there were stools made of rough wood in shambles in front of the bar, the rickety, misshapen bridge, dusty, spiderweb coated crates off to the side, and cheap wines and whiskies on the font counter of the bar next to unsanitary tankards. The place was eclectic. 

Brynjolf was seated at the bar on one of the sketchy stools, nursing an unsavory tankard of gods-know-what. Anything from fine Elsweyr rum to cheap, Cyrodiilic wines which tasted like someone over steeped them. I knew from experience. He probably looked up when I came in, but I didn’t take the time to notice. I cursed, thinking I should’ve been far more observant of the people from the start, but it was too late for that now.  I slipped onto the stool next to him, which creaked under my weight and I thought for a moment I would plummet to the ground.

“Skeever didn’t get you, lass?” he joked without turning to look at me. I figured he already had when I wasn’t paying attention, but I hadn’t gotten the chance to gather my bearings, so I examined him now. His regular clothes had been abandoned in favour of some leathers. They almost looked normal, except if one had an observant eye, they’d notice an absurd number of pockets upon closer inspection. They had clearly been well worn.

“It would take more than that,” I replied simply, gathering any shred of self-confidence. I had no idea what to expect at this point, so I was trying to be hyper alert and prepared for any alternative.

“So, lass,” he starts, “we’ve got a good little set up down here. My organization’s got work flying in – we’ve got hands in a lot of pockets, fingers in a lot of pies – but we’ve no shortage of members, as has been pointed out to me. But, I’ve got you a chance. Pull your weight, you’re in, if you want.”

“I’ll bite,” I replied. Jobs: another thing I hadn’t expected to get familiar with for a long while. I’d expect to just freelance and steal to eat. Jobs, though, heists, people to watch your back – that’s where the real riches were. I hadn’t realized I was still on about that ambition, but it seems opportunity was insistent on hitting me straight in the face. I had a feeling it would beat me on the back as I walked away if I tried.

“You’re in?”

“I’m in.”

“Good. You’ll have to meet the Guildmaster, but let me be the first to welcome you to the Thieves Guild, lass.”

Fuck.

I ignored my misgivings as I was led into a back room. Or at least, that’s all I thought it was at first, but instead, the redhead turned right beside a stodgy looking storage room, stepped through an open hidden door in a cupboard, and opened a separate, less dusty, well-constructed door. No fear of splinters shook me. It opened into another, even bigger room. A hideout within a hideout, if you will. I could see now why they left the back panel of the cupboard open; it must get very frequent use. Good to be able to hide the important stuff in an emergency, though, I thought, remembering my hidden panels on the floor of my shack in Kvatch.

The second hideout was gritty, but nice. It seemed like it lacked for nothing. There was water in the middle, but real, stone surrounded the whole outside, and bridges went across to a centre platform. There were many doors branching off into god knows where. In just this main room, there was a kitchen I could see through a large door at the back next to a bunch of sitting space, archery targets, an alchemy station and cupboard (not something I had a use for, but expensive for sure), as well as an alcove on the left side with a lot of bookshelves, valuables and books both adorning them, and a large, paper-covered desk. Behind it sat a disgruntled looking man ciphering through pages. Brynjolf led me straight toward him. He must be the Guildmaster.

“Mercer,” Brynjolf hailed. The man looked up. He was a Breton, with reddish hair, and dark features. His age showed, but I still couldn’t guess it. Older than me. “This is the recruit I found.”

“Right,” the Breton grumbled, without even putting down his quill. He didn’t even spare me a glance as he stood up, continuing to speak to Brynjolf. “You do seem to just stumble across the things every week.” I wondered what that meant. The man abruptly turned his gaze from Brynjolf to me, inquiring, judging me. My eyes shot to the floor. It was rare I knew the people around me’s eye colour, unless I managed to get a look at them while they weren’t looking at me. I squirmed under a direct gaze, studying the wall behind the two men. 

“Well, all right then,” the Guildmaster huffed in his scratchy tone. Had he been talking with Brynjolf and I hadn’t noticed? I’d need to be more alert; sitting in jail for so long seemed to have me out of shape. Or perhaps I’d been out of shape for far longer. “You,” he snapped, and I realized he was glaring directly at me, so I forced myself to snap my gaze onto his face. I couldn’t manage eyes, but the forehead would do. His head jerked up and down ever so slightly, barely a noticeable movement. “Hm. We’ll see about you if you last a week. Welcome to the Thieves Guild,” he derided. A light frown stuck upon my face and I stuck my gaze resolutely to his forehead. So, he’s a dick – no problem. I’d dealt with dicks before. “Brynjolf can set you up.”

With that, the man was immediately back to work. He shifted all his documents so that no one could read them when he stood up, and now leaned over them in what I would have considered a nervous manner had it been on anyone else. This man didn’t appear nervous, though; perhaps secretive, but nervous was not a word I would have used to describe him. I released the breath I’d been holding as quietly as I could while following Brynjolf away from the table.

Chapter Text

Privacy was somewhat scarce in the Cistern. There were multiple beds to a room, and considering the nature of people’s work, they were in and out at all hours of day and night. It was loud. There are other rooms – tons of them, really – but many were filled with junk, storage, training equipment and gods only know what else. The place was a maze.

Brynjolf showed me to an empty bunk. The room was shared. Most of the other bunks in the room had people’s affects strewn around their space. Some had little tables, chests, or stools. Each had personality, at least, and since the room was empty – it was only midmorning - I spent a while examining the other bunks from my own. It gives one an idea or two about the type of person someone is.

Of the three other bunks, only one was clean. It was almost barren, really, with only the slightest hint that anyone occupied it. There was a book lying on the table, open face down to keep the page. The front read Shadowmarks with a symbol on it. A pair of boots was shoved haphazardly under the bed, which was made but messily. An oil lamp was dying on the bedside.

The messy bunks’ items were overlapping. The owners must be close friends, if not more. A tunic and a dress were swung over one headboard; they clearly belonged to a woman. Coins were piled up on a table wedged between the two bunks with scattered cards as though a game was left half finished.

During my observation, the thick wooden door flew open with a thud. I looked up startled from my seated position on my bunk, expecting anger because of the force with which the door opened. Instead, a cheerful redguard woman bounced into the room. She stopped in surprise when she saw me and tilted her head.

“You’re new, then, eah?” she asked, an odd accent I’d never heard before in her voice. She offered me her hand and happily, I took it. A happy face was a welcome sight after the Guildmaster’s strange demeanor.

“I’m Rose,” I introduced, grasping her hand.

“Jearta,” she offered. “I’m jus’ on my way out, actually. Got a big job way up across the province, eah, so I won’t be round t’introduce ya to the others, but they’re friendly.” She gestured vaguely to the bunks, and I wasn’t sure which matched what name. “Sirun n’ Ancuasien, they are. We’re all the newer folks; most a’ the senior members own themselves a house somewheres. S’more fun here that way anyway.” She gave an exaggerated wink.

The woman packed up her bags after that without another word, perhaps because I didn’t answer. Her laid-back style was further exhibited in the way she tossed things haphazardly into a bag, which she spent a few minutes finding, and left the room with a hurried goodbye, leaving her bed in complete disarray, her chest open with clothes and fabrics spilling out, and a half-empty bottle of mead rolling across the floor of the room.

Once the room was empty again, I tucked my things out of sight in my chest and headed back out into the Cistern proper. The hallways were a maze, but thankfully many of them were in disuse and it was easy to follow the torches that were maintained back out into the open space. There wasn’t much hustle and bustle; it hadn’t been long for me to settle in, either. Frey was still at his desk, an archer across the room was shooting at targets, and a few people were milling around the kitchen. It smelled like someone was cooking stew, and I wondered if I’d be welcome to some of the food here yet.

Brynjold wasn’t hard to find once I went to the Flagon, as he’d directed. He was seated with another guild member, this one in full armor, at a round table. There were three empty chairs, but I hesitated to help myself. It’d been a while since I was in a Thieves Guild setting, and I was starting to get the feeling that it would take me just as long to get used to coming around the Flagon as it had the base in Cyrodiil. I approached, and thankfully Brynjolf waved me over expectantly. I stopped next to the table, leaning uncomfortably on an empty chair. The wood was rough but not jagged enough to leave splinters. The carpenter did a good job, only he had clearly done it many years ago now.

“Go ahead and sit, lass. This is Delvin Mallory,” Brynjolf introduced, gesturing to the man across from him. I slid my eyes up from the discoloured wood of the table to Delvin’s forehead, nodding in greeting. I pulled the chair out and slid in, my hands coming together under the table and fiddling. I focused my gaze on the back wall, while politely smiling and turning my face to each speaker.

“Rosemary, right?” Delvin offered. I nodded in response and he continued. “So, we’ll put you through your paces a little bit to start out. If that works out, then things will be up to you. You can get jobs from me or Vex. Lately we’ve got fingers in so many pockets we aren’t short of work anywhere. Some people don’t like to travel, but plenty are in and out of town every day. We’ve got people in every major city in the province, so it’s up to you where long as you work. Nothing wrong with working in teams, too; hell, it’s safer. When you work, the Guild takes a cut, bigger if you stick around the Cistern.”

“We’re not too harsh,” Brynjolf interjects. “Stay out of other member’s pockets and chests and they’ll do the same for you.”

“Sounds like a good deal,” I agreed. I’d heard a similar speech before, though this time I was joining up. “What do I have first?”

“Well, I’ve got a couple jobs picked out, try you at a few different kinds of work,” Delvin started. He shuffled a few sheets of paper in front of him and offered a few to me. “The first’s up in Shor’s Stone. Next two are over in Ivarstead. Kept them close so you’d only be gone a few days for your first trip.”

I accepted the proffered pages and began scanning them quickly before folding them and tucking them into my shirt.

“Aye, and you can take your time settling in before you leave,” Brynjolf added.

“Sure,” I agreed, though I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the time to settle in. I was certain I’d overstay my welcome at their table if I sat any longer, though, so I made my farewells and retreated into the Cistern.

The quickest way across the cistern to my bunk was past the Guildmaster’s desk. I hoped he wouldn’t talk much. He seemed unpleasant from our initial meeting. It appeared he didn’t approve of Brynjolf’s recruitment choices; whether that was specific to me or if Brynjolf had been bringing in a string of incompetent recruits, I couldn’t say. I brushed past the desk without looking at the man, though I was curious, considering he leads the place and was the most likely to have connections with Cyrodiil. I’d have to stay alert, but the idea of paying jobs again tempted me.

When I opened the door to my shared room, someone else was in there. A short, red-haired woman was curled up in a ball on the remaining messy bed, blankets strewn half across her body. I was used to shared quarters, so I didn’t think much of her aside from typical discomfort at a stranger, and I knelt in front of my chest as silently as I could. Which was silent. I was a thief. I pried open the heavy chest and began organizing my few belongings. I folded my very limited wardrobe in one side and shoved my bag of coins underneath. That was all there was to it, really. I tossed the now empty sack across the footboard of the bed and rolled onto the mattress. If I dozed for a while, I could head out around dinner time and still make it to Shor’s Stone while it was light out.

 

 

 

I did. I dozed for a while, and made it out to Shor’s Stone. The job there, I managed by the following evening. It was perhaps the easiest: a simple pickpocketing job. The morning after, I made for Ivarstead. Of the two jobs there, one involved breaking into a trading warehouse. It was small scale, fitting to the town, but still an outpost. And, most importantly, still guarded.

Which explained my predicament.

I was breathing as silently as possible, crouching on top of a massive stack of storage crates, gripping the ridged on the wood hard enough to hurt my fingernails. The precarious position wasn’t helped by my cumbersome bag; even empty, it set me off balance, but I’d need it to carry out the requested order of saffron.

A guard was passing by on the floor. Making his usual rounds, he carried a torch which spilled light out around the room. It illuminated the gaps between the crates as he passed – the reason I scrambled up the pile of crates. I held my breath as he passed, hoping he didn’t look up. I couldn’t take the chances of going back to jail; I’d been there enough times in my life. It was enough wasted time.

Suspense gripped me. The guard was light armed and armoured. He passed by slow, as was likely typical for his rounds. It probably wasn’t eventful out in Ivarstead. I considered various ways to take him down – lack of a helmet provided some opportunity. I wasn’t a fighter; the element of surprise and shock was the only thing I had going for me with my dagger. I could stab it into a weak point if I had long enough to think, but a swordfight or a fistfight? I’d be bleeding. I shifted my weight on the crate reluctantly, but the cramping in my legs became too much.

To my horror, the crate shifted so badly it fell. I’d fucked up. As quickly as I could manage, I scrambled down on the opposite side of the stack of crates, while the guard rushed to the side the crate had toppled on. I only had moments to react, so I rolled underneath the nearest shelf. It was a tight squeeze. The wood floor pressed uncomfortably into me. My head couldn’t fit upright, so I turned it sideways and pulled myself fully into the hiding spot. The space squished my ears uncomfortably, but it gave me a view of the floor.

The guard had been alarmed enough by what I’d done, but crates fall on their own, too, so he hadn’t jumped for reinforcements immediately. Instead, he’d begun checking each hallway. I could follow the torchlight from my position, but it was difficult to tell his exact location, and impossible to know where he was looking. I glanced in the opposite direction of his light, considering escape routes, when I realized my bag was laying outside my hiding spot.

I looked up at the approaching torchlight, listened to the harsh sounds of his armoured boots clamoring towards me. With difficulty, I stuck my leg out and attempted to stick my toes through the strap of the bag. Hastily, I pulled it in as he rounded the corned, picking up the pace and wrenching my leg, bag and all, back underneath the shelving. The force I used was hard enough to pull a muscle somewhere in my leg, and I gasped in pain as silently as I could.

Fully tucked in and only minorly injured, I held my breath as the man checked my aisle. Not one to waste time, I spent it scanning the numbers on the crates within my view. I’d yet to locate the spices, but I knew I was in the proper section, so it had to be one of these. There was a possibility it was on top of me, though I hoped I’d be able to spot it from here for easier access.

Luckily for me, I was able to spot it. I had to wait for the guard to turn into the next aisle before I slid out. I used the crates to stand up. My left leg wasn’t agreeing with my weight. I limped across the open space to the designated crate. The lid opened easily, and I was grateful I didn’t have to wrench it open by force. It would’ve taken too long.

I kept one eye on the guard’s torchlight and listened for his footsteps as I loaded up my bag with the designated shipment. Once I had it, the matter of slipping back out the shipping door wasn’t so difficult.

I slipped out of the town next, limping all the way. I moved slower that way, but I still managed well enough. I didn’t want to fuck up these jobs from the start. I’d already cut it close; I’d miscalculated that guard’s rounds, for one. Second, I knocked a fucking crate over.

I slid the sack under a bush and tossed some leaves on it. It should be enough for however long the last job takes me; I didn’t want any guards coming to investigate passers by finding my stolen goods. In a small town like Ivarstead, it was a good idea to distance myself from the offending items. It had never been a problem for me before, as I’d always run in big cities where it was difficult to track down foreigners or local hideouts, but now I was glad for the advice I’d once received.

 

 

 

On the way back, I grabbed a ride on a trade caravan. I considered the irony of it being the spice trader I’d stolen from, but it was a fur merchant instead. Regardless, I sat in the back paired with my bag of spices and dozed as the wagon wobbled its way back to Riften.

The last job had been simple enough. Relations, rather than theft; I’d extracted money from a merchant who pays us off. He didn’t put up a fuss. The fat sack of gold was nestled in the spice bag. All in all, I’d made clean work of the jobs, I supposed, despite my near fuck up in the warehouse.

When we pulled up in Riften, I left the driver with some coins from my own purse and headed back into the city. The guards at the gate didn’t check my bags. Perhaps the Guild pays them.

I went back in through the Ratways. Navigating my way through Riften was a bit easier now, in the daylight, after I’d done it a few times. The place was a maze, like any bustling city. I learned quickly, picking out landmarks as I went: the fish vendor with the yellow hat; the beggar with the bucket; the place with the blue painted sign. The Ratways themselves were an inconvenience. I wondered if the Guild members really came through here every time and I doubted it. There was a chance I would look foolish when I arrived for doing it twice, but I didn’t know how I’d be able to find a hidden entrance on my own with no directions.

I made my way over to Delvin first, once I found the Flagon. He noticed me before I said anything, like most thieves would. Alert to his surroundings.

“Glad to see you made it back. Everything go smoothly?”

“It did,” I agreed, and made to pull out my bag.

“You’ll want to take that stuff to Mercer. He sorts out completed jobs, an he’ll pay you, too,” Delvin interjected. I released the bag and fought down a sigh. Just another step to take.

“All right. Thanks, Delvin.”

So, I moved past the Flagon into the Cistern. I hoped Mercer was even around; I had no idea when the man was usually awake. It appeared no one ever slept, though I hadn’t been around long enough to really observe anything. Thankfully, or perhaps not, Mercer Frey was seated behind his desk.

I stopped in front of the desk. I had no idea what to say from here, so he simply looked up at me without a word. His gaze was unsettling, and I met his eyes at first for a moment before I squirmed in discomfort and shot them to the ground. He looked at me with a disinterested question: the fuck do you want? I produced the items I’d stolen, all heaped together in my bag. I passed him the letter I’d pickpocketed and the sack of gold separately, the simply stood there holding the bag of spices, unsure. I couldn’t very well dump the saffron out on his desk, now could I?

He took the bag of coins first. I heard him lean back in his chair, the leather squeaking, but I didn’t look at him still. The coins clinked together as he weighed it.

“Well,” he started, “you didn’t skim from this, at least.”

My brows creased, and I felt a flash of annoyance. “No, I damn well did not.” I jerked my head up and looked at him directly. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t the mild amusement I saw. He snorted, finding my indignance comical, and dropped the coins back on his desk. My nostrils flared.

“What, then?” he continued. “Did you fuck the other one up?” I frowned, and my eyes dropped again. I forgot about my uncertainty on the bag and simply passed it over to him. He accepted it, and I heard him shuffle with the things, opening cabinet doors, and then readjusting himself back into his seat. “Well, you’re more useful than some of the other pretty faces Brynjolf likes.” I ignored the comment. Who the fuck knows if Brynjolf likes me? Regardless, I felt my face warm. His quill scratched against paper a few times, making marks and notes, then I heard coins drop into a bag, hitting against each other.

I didn’t look up right away, but as he’d stopped making noise, my curiosity got the better of me. I slowly glanced up to see him holding out the bag, gruff irritation on his face. I reached out and he dropped it lightly into my hand. It was lighter than the one I’d gotten from the merchant.

“Go on,” he snapped, immediately breaking eye contact and turning to his work again without pause. Without thinking, I did. My legs moved, and I brushed past to my own rooms.

 

Chapter Text

On my way back to my room, I ran into Brynjolf. He smiled cheerfully, red locks bouncing atop his head as he turned his head to face me.

“There you are, lass,” he said.  “How about a drink?”

The irritation I felt from my encounter with the Guildmaster was fading. I grinned. “Are you buying?” Truthfully, I would’ve been spending my earnings on a fat bottle of alcohol regardless of Brynjolf’s invite, but this way I wouldn’t be drinking it alone on my bed.

The Nord gestured for me to lead the way, and we headed over to the Flagon. It was midday, which made the room nearly empty. There were people working in the stalls and the bartender was behind the bar, but no one occupied their usual seats at the Flagon. I pulled up a chair at a more isolated table, angling my back to the wall, while Brynjolf went to get drinks.

The bartender disappeared into a back room and returned with a bottle and two tankards. Brynjolf brought them over to our table. I watched him come, admiring him. He was undeniably attractive, and I was a bit giddy that he’d asked me to drink with him.

Pulling up the chair across from me, he sat. I accepted a drink from him, taking a quick sniff before beginning to drink, though I didn’t really care what it was. I’d drink any alcohol. Perhaps I’d had preferences once, but they were long gone.

“Black-Briar Mead,” the Nord explained. “We get quite a bit of it here.”

“I won’t complain,” I said. Though usually I’d drink something stronger, I didn’t want to disagree with my new drinking partner.

“So, how were the jobs? Mercer didn’t throw you out on your ass, so they must have been successful.”

I inclined my head slightly, not wanting to get into how I’d almost toppled a stack of crates in a warehouse and gotten myself caught. “Yeah, they were. Went smoothly…” I trailed off. Really, I’d rather him not know that I’m no master thief, just a pragmatist. I hid my discomfort on the subject, not wanting to express vulnerability, but I hoped he’d change it.

“Did Mercer give you a hard time? Let me know if you’ve got a problem. I am second in command, after all. You looked about three colours of pissed off leaving his desk, lass.”

“No, no,” I hurried to say. Fuck , I thought. Brynjolf’s that high up? Don’t want the management knowing about your thoughts on the management, right? Suddenly questioning my intentions to blatantly flirt with and sleep with him, I backpedaled.

“He not pay you enough?” Brynjolf asked. I thought it was a joke, but I wasn’t completely sure. I laughed anyway. The Nord smiled, and I was relieved that I’d succeeded in placating the conversation. It felt like I was tiptoeing past traps as long as I was talking business.

“Well, don’t worry about him,” Brynjolf added. “He’s like that with everyone.”

I didn’t really believe him. “Is it usually this quiet in here?” I changed the subject. Brynjolf reclined in his chair, done talking business to my relief. He met my eyes and I blushed - eye contact was rather unfamiliar to me. I dropped my eyes to his chin instead.

“Not at all. Usually it’s rowdy. Looks like you came back at a good time. Even Delvin isn’t here, and the man basically lives in that chair over there.”

I hummed in agreement, not sure what to say with my previous plans in question. Should I be drawing the attention of the Guild’s leadership, as they were likely in contact with Cyrodiil’s Guild - people I hoped to never contact again. Really, being here was a risk, but it was also under Cyrodiil’s nose.

“Something got you thinking, lass?”

“No,” I answered, focusing on the conversation again. I glanced in my mug, noticing it was almost empty. Had I been drinking that quickly? “Just tired. I was up doing those jobs.” I intended for a lie, but as I said it, I realized I could use a nap.

Brynjolf lifted the bottle, offering. I held out the tankard and he topped it up. “Thanks,” I muttered. I felt drained. Previously, talking to Brynjolf had been exciting. Adrenaline. This time, I needed to reflect on my situation. Good pay, reliable work. The risk of being found. I shook myself again, turning to face my Nord companion. I didn’t want to seem distracted, though I think he was able to tell. I realized I wasn’t listening to what he was saying.

“...so, the man returns a few days later and finds me in the marketplace. He says, it really worked! Helped him out a ton. He gave me a tip. I guess a watered down stamina potion really is the key to a healthy sex life.”

I smiled. “I’ll have to remember that. Who knows when I might need to give someone that advice.”

“Hopefully not soon.” He leaned forward on the table. I nodded in agreement and took stock of the drinks. We were nearly out. I wasn’t drunk at all, but I didn’t think Brynjolf was either. I couldn’t get drunk off a few cups of mead anymore.

“You do look tired, lass.”

I felt it. The tavern had filled around us significantly and it made me feel even more in a bubble, a lack of sleep-induced stupor full of worry about my situation. I could use some rest.

“I am,” I agreed. I looked up to examine his face, discomforted by the direct contact. While initially in the conversation I’d wondered if I should ever repeat this experience, I realized I wanted him to like me. Nervous I’d ruined those chances through my distance, I continued. “We should do this again, Brynjolf. Thank you for the mead.” Though, maybe next time, I’ll order my own , I thought. I need something stronger than this to loosen up.






The next morning, I woke up to Sirun’s face.

“Good morning,” she greeted. “Want a cut of some profits?”

Groggily, I sat up in bed. “I won’t say no,” I agreed. “What’s going on?”

My cloak landed in my lap. “Get dressed, we’re headed to the docks.”

Quickly, I did. Sirun slipped out of our room ahead of us. An was still dead asleep. I closed the door quietly behind me, letting out a yawn. At least I wasn’t drunk enough yesterday for a hangover this morning.

“We’re heading to intercept a shipment, meet a contact, and carry off a carriage full of decorative pots from Elsweyr with no one the wiser we aren’t who we say we are.”

“Perfect,” I muttered. A bigger job like this one would have a good payout, even if I felt tired about pulling it off. My Nord companion snorted at my grogginess and handed me a tankard. I sniffed it and took a sip, making a face at the bitter flavour. “The fuck is this stuff?”

“You’ll feel better after,” she said, tapping me on the shoulder before heading into the Cistern ahead of me. I groaned slightly before holding my nose and downing the mug’s contents. I set the mug down on whatever side table was nearby - the Cistern wasn’t the cleanest place, I learned that fast - and followed Sirun.




“Excuse me, good sir,” Sirun called. She was addressing a cart driver pulled to the side of the road. His cart was empty, and he was sat back, smoking. She swung a small bag of gold in front of her and said. “We’ll be needing your cart for a couple hours.”

It worked. I wasn’t surprised. Don’t ask questions for a sack of coin? Easy.

And so, we pulled up to a merchant’s ship at the docks alongside a few other carts. I drove the cart. Sirun hopped off while I watched the cart and went to talk with the ship’s quartermaster. I wasn’t sure who her arrangements were with, but it wasn’t really important. After waiting in a sizeable line, Sirun was able to wave over some deckhands with crates to load onto our cart. I hopped out to help, and Sirun lent a hand as well.

Loaded up, we drove the shipment out of the docks to a Guild-owned warehouse at the outskirts of the area, rather than the company one we were supposed to deliver it to. Once we were there, I saw why Sirun wanted to bring help; it was heavy lifting.

“These are some of my favourite jobs, y’ know? Like, we just made off with their stuff right in front of ‘em, all because an inside guy confirmed that we were someone else,” Sirun said.

“It does give a bit of a rush, doesn’t it?” I smiled. “You never have problems with them tracking you down later?”

“Nah, nah,” Sirun explained. “This is just where our part in the job ends. These boxes will be gone by tomorrow morning, split up, and laundered, shipped to other parts of Skyrim. Sold. Profits return to us. It’s big stuff.”

“Big stuff,” I agreed. I was never really involved in any “big stuff” that Cyrodiil’s guild might’ve pulled. As more of a contractor, I did side jobs, one-man type of stuff in private homes that involved a lot of travel. This was interesting, though I liked my profits to be more immediate.

With the shipment unloaded, we hopped back in the carriage and returned it to outside the man’s home where he had been smoking earlier. Sirun handed him another bag of gold through the window. I wondered if he spent much time renting the cart to guild members.

“I’ll find you with your cut when the profits come in,” Sirun said. I agreed, and she veered off from our path towards the Ratways. “I’ll show you the back way in before I head off.”

“Uh, thanks,” I agreed. Hopefully it would be easier to navigate than the sewers.

“I’m headed to the Bee and Barb, if ya wanna come?”

“Perhaps I’ll join you later,” I said. I didn’t plan to. I was tired, since I’d barely slept. One downside of living in the Guild rather than in an entirely different city was loads more interaction. I was used to returning to my own home at the end of the day, ratty as it was. Eventually I’d be able to afford it again. I still had the sack of coins I’d been saving, but the covert journey North had cost more than intended.

“Ah, here we are.”

We’d stopped at a mausoleum in the cemetery. Sirun stepped through the empty doorway and deeper into the building. The lighting was dim and I could barely see. I doubt Sirun was any better. There were torches on the walls, though unlit. I watched Sirun skeptically as she knelt next to a coffin and reached underneath the rim of its lid. I heard a click and then Sirun swung the coffin out as though it weighed nothing.

“Impressive,” I said.

“‘S just a little button. Easy.”

 





Late the next night, I was fumbling around trying to open the passage. Sirun had made it look easier than it was. I didn’t take into account the darkness, or the fact that I couldn’t seem to remember which sarcophagus held the switch. I couldn’t help but imagine myself reaching down to grab the switch, only to have the coffin break open and a draugr crawl out to attack me. They had those in Skyrim, and now that the thought had occurred to me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I felt for the switch but decided I must have the wrong coffin. I stepped away from it, only to catch my foot on an urn and crash to the ground. I thudded against the ground, the hilt of my dagger digging uncomfortably into my stomach. In the darkness, I could make out boots in front of my face. My eyes shooting upwards, I saw the figure of a person. Murderous assailant or rotting corpse returned to life, I shouted and scrambled backwards, fumbling and failing to pull my dagger out. I wasn’t accustomed to carrying one, but the streets of Riften seemed seedier than those of Kvatch.

“Shut up,” the figure grumbled. My mouth snapped shut as I recognized the voice of the Guildmaster, though my hand remained on the hilt of my dagger.

Reeling from the shock of fear, I blurted out, “how fucking long were you just going to stand in the damned dark?”

Instead of an immediate response, I heard him step to the right, followed by a click. “Long enough to tire of watching you fumble around. I’m surprised you can find a man’s gold in his own clothes.” The scraping of stone followed and torchlight filled the room from the gap behind the coffin. Frey stood, half lit by an orange glow, staring at me, arms crossed.

Having remembered by this time that I’m supposed to be on this man’s good side, I scrambled to my feet, embarrassed. “Right,” I murmured. Not sure if I should approach and still half sure the man was planning to stab me and do away with the body, I stood still. To my dismay, instead of heading down the stairs on his own, he gestured with his head, and I had no choice but to brush past him down the stairs.

I pulled up the culvert at the bottom of the stairs as Frey closed the passage. Unfortunately for me, he was faster, and appeared over my shoulder as I lifted the heavy material. Dragging it to the side, I took a glance back at him, though I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face. Uncomfortable, I swung down onto the ladder, hearing a quiet snort of derision - perhaps amusement? - behind me. I hurried off the ladder and away from him as quickly as I could. Fuck, I wondered, why did they make that culvert so big? I’m going to have muscles.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Two Months Later


 

I was seated at a table in the Flagon, a hand of cards in front of my face. Sirun and Ancuasien, her quiet Breton friend, were with me. It was perhaps a mark of my remaining discomforts at being in a cooperative group that placed me in the chair with its back to the wall.

I was halfway through my ale when Brynjolf and Rune returned. They'd been gone for about two weeks, off somewhere in the west for a job. Brynjolf had dodged the question when I asked directly, and I wasn't exactly in a close enough relationship with him to pry. Regardless, I found myself excited when I saw him enter the room. I nearly got up to meet him, but decided that would be seen as too eager. Instead, I played another turn, tossing a card down on the table and waiting to be approached. I met Sirun's eyes, and she quirked a questioning eyebrow at me.

"I won," An announced.

Surprised, I looked at Sirun, then down at the table, and to An's hands. It was true. I wasn't sure how he'd swept the game out from under us so suddenly, but I pushed my share of coins over to him. I swiped the remainders of the bottle of whiskey from the table.

"Consolation prize," I joked.

Instead of waiting for Brynjolf to finish his business in the Flagon, I left for my room at the Cistern. His company was enjoyable, and I'd decided that having the second in command of the Guild fond of me could be beneficial rather than a detriment - or, I thought it was a logical decision.

I was enjoying the rush of excitement. The chase. The flirtation. I couldn't deny that.

I raised an arm in reply to Cynric as we passed on the way. Unfortunately, the next person I encountered was less friendly.

"Rosemary," Estoril Caemaire sneered. I looked up at her. She was a beast of a woman in height, an Altmer, with golden skin, and luscious red hair. She hated me for showing her up on a job, and, admittedly, for me to show her up, she had to be some bad. Really, it reminded me of some bullying thug kids on the streets of the Imperial City in my youth.

Without answering her, I stepped around her to my room, tipping the bottle of whiskey back into my mouth as I did so.

There was about a quarter of the bottle left when a knock sounded on my door later. I answered it, and was met with Brynjolf's face. A spark of excitement lit in my belly.

"Welcome back," I said.

"Oh, thank you, lass. Miss me?" He leaned on the doorway. The top of my forehead only reached below his chin, so I had to crane my neck.

"Nah, don't think so." I grinned.

"Is that so? I suppose you wouldn't be interested in accompanying me to rob an obstinate merchant while he is soundly asleep, away from his shop?"

The drinks were already getting to me, considering it was the middle of the night and this was the second bottle of whiskey.

"I think I can find the time."


"This is the place," Brynjolf said, pointing out an apothecary's shop across the street from where we stood in an alley. The bottle of whiskey, now being shared, was nearly gone, and the world was moving a bit slower than usual, to my great enjoyment. Sobriety was so depressing.

"Perfect. What are we doing, walking in the front door?" I asked, a bit too loudly. Brynjolf lifted a hand to his mouth, gesturing for me to be quiet and pointing out. We watched the guards pass by, doing a circuit of their rounds. Once their torchlight had faded, Brynjolf gestured for me to follow him. I dropped the bottle of whiskey into the canal on the way. It was empty, but the act wasn't entirely intentional, either.

"Watch for me, " Brynjolf said. He knelt down by the door, pulling out a set of lockpicks and heading to work. I leaned by the door beside him, attempting to keep my eyes alert to movement. How quickly the lock clicked was a testament to his skills, which made me realize how mine were negligible in comparison.

The door swung open and we stepped into the shop, closing the door behind us. The inside was dark, and it wouldn't have been smart for us to light torches, so we didn't even discuss the idea. Instead, we both stood there, listening for any movement and waiting for our eyes to adjust.

"There shouldn't be anyone here," the Nord whispered. "I'll sweep the upstairs. You go down here. Hit him hard, but keep him in business, all right?" He handed me a burlap sack before moving past me to the creaky stairs.

I headed behind the counter first, sweeping some fancy potions off the top. I swiped his fancy gold statue, some religious decor or something, I couldn't tell in the dark.

After doing a few circles of the room, I heard Brynjolf approaching from the upstairs. I turned to face him, the slight fear that it wouldn't be him ever present, and bumped a corner table. Two large, pink bottles clattered against each other and cascaded off their perch, shattering with finality on the ground. I cringed, glancing up at Brynjolf. He looked down at them, his expression unreadable.

"I suppose it'll help make the point." He didn't add anything else on the subject. "Let's clear out the safe and get out of here."

"Course. It's behind the counter."

I led him over to the area, not wanting to do the lockpicking myself, considering my inebriation. I'd have made a fool of myself. He knelt down and went to work. It took longer than the door had, and I heard him curse once, but it still popped open far faster than I could have managed, even if I were sober.

"Take this, lass." He pushed a sack of gold into my hands. I accepted it, putting it away with the potions I stole. I swung it over my shoulder and headed over to the foggy window while he finished up. I squinted out, but couldn't see any torchlight or guards.

"Anything?" he asked.

"No."

He opened the door first and I followed him into the street. I took a few steps into the road, putting effort into walking straight, but Brynjolf grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back. At a glance, I saw the orange glow or torches, but I wasn't aware enough to be able to tell in which direction. I let Brynjolf lead me along.

He tucked me into a corner beside the house, took one last glance at the street before pressing himself into the tight space. He towered above me, so my face was pressing into his neck. His arms trapped me, and I wasn't sure, but I thought there was a bit more room than he let on.

"Hi," I muttered, but he reached up and gently covered my mouth. I almost pushed against it. My heart fluttered, and I looked up to meet his eyes. He did this on purpose. We listened to the clatter of iron boots pass and fade into the distance, him pressed against me. My breathing sped up, excited by the suspense of the passing guards as well as Brynjolf's closeness.

"Something on your mind, lass?" he finally asked quietly. He hadn't moved, even though the guards had passed. I found myself leaning towards him, stretching upwards until my lips nearly touched his. He leaned down towards me, but pulled back at the last second.

"I think they're gone," he said, a smirk plastered on his face. He wasn't rejecting me, he was teasing, the bastard. My cheeks were flushed, and even in the dark, I felt like he could tell. "Come on."

"Right," I agreed. I took a few steps after him, feeling the alcohol.

"I'll walk you back to the Guild. Wouldn't want you falling in the canal, would we, lass?"

"I think I could go for a swim. Not up for a it? Old age making your bones weary?"

"Oh, that hurts," he chuckled.

The walk back to the graveyard was short. Brynjolf accompanied me into the mausoleum and hit the button, which I was grateful for. If he'd left me, I probably would've just stumbled around in the dark, drunk, and passed out snuggling with some skeleton until someone found me - and with my luck, it would be Mercer Frey.

"Thanks for the help, lass," Brynjolf said, leaning against the wall in front of the now open passageway, directly in my way.

"I don't think I did much, you know."

"That's preposterous. You're underestimating the effects of a pretty woman on productivity, lass,"

"Doesn't that usually have the opposite effects?"

"I'm a good multitasker," he said, grinning. I smiled back at him, drunkenly. "I've got more work to do. I'll see you tomorrow, lass. Sleep it off."

If he'd gotten any closer, I would've tried to kiss him again, so perhaps it was good that he left. Instead, I stumbled down the stairs, bad of stolen goods over my shoulder, and managed to swing the passage closed behind me. Fortunately, the culvert had been left ajar, so I was able to pull it up with my foot and kick it out of the way. Why did we even have that stupid thing? I swung down onto the ladder and nearly lost by balance, letting out a sound of distress and wobbling.

"Shit," I muttered, continuing down to the next rung. I had one hand holding the bag of gold and potions, while I tried to reach up and readjust the culvert over the opening. I pulled it over with one hand, making my nails scrape and hurt. I swore, switching hands, but that didn't have any more effect. Still gripping the bag, I braced myself with my knees and reached up with both hands.

It proved a mistake. I slipped. Frantically, I released the bag and caught one of the rungs, my legs flailing. I caught my foot on a rung and scrambled down the rest of the way, spinning to look at the spilled bag. I was grateful it was the middle of the night, since it made it unlikely anyone would be in the Cistern. The Flagon, sure, but awake in the Cistern? Slim chances.

I knelt down and began taking stock. A couple of potions had shattered. I hoped the noise hadn't woken anyone up. The gold coins were scattered all over the floor, small bag overturned. I picked up the bag and moved to stand up, frustrated at the work I'd made for myself, when a voice startled me.

"Drinking on the job?"

On my knees, I twisted to find the Guildmaster observing me. I nearly spat out, 'why are you so damn quiet?' but I bit it back. I hadn't heard even one damn foot step, nor the last time I'd run into him. Instead, I said nothing, just glaring blankly past the man in irritation. He took a few paces towards me, stopping just in front of me. My eyes hit the ground studying his feet instead of trying to look up at him, which would have been both uncomfortable and dizzying. I looked from his boots over to the mess with dread at having to clean it. I sighed, waiting for him to continue with… I'm not sure. Perhaps a scolding.

But he didn't. He was waiting, too. Reluctantly, I dragged my eyes up, but not far enough to make eye contact. I squirmed a little. My head was fuzzy and I was beginning to just wish for my bed. At least I didn't think I was going to vomit. Frey looked down at me for a few more seconds before snorting in derision.

"I don't know what Brynjolf was thinking," he said. I didn't think it was directed at me. He took a few steps towards the mess, squatting down and picking up half a broken potion bottle. The man studied it for a moment and then walked back to stand directly in front of me. I kept my eyes glued to the floor until his feet occupied the space I was staring at. I wished he would leave, so I could clean the stupid mess and go to bed. I considered standing up, but thought I might fall with the way my vision was swimming. Would I remember this in the morning?

A hand reached down and grabbed me by the chin, a bit too hard. My head was jerked upwards and immediately retreated, but I didn't want to risk looking back down. The Guildmaster was a shorter man, not that it made much difference considering my height - everyone's taller than me. Besides, I was on the floor. He towered over me.

He brandished the half broken bottle into my view. My eyes trailed on it as he finally spoke.

"You'd better clean this up." He held out the bottle. I reached out to grab it, but just as I almost touched it, Mercer tossed it behind him back into the pile of mess. My hand tried to catch it aimlessly, my brain responding slowly. I looked up at him blankly, finally meeting his eyes, which made my face warm.

He snorted, stepping around me, leaving me to begin gathering gold coins with a simple "sober the fuck up."


Sirun pushed the door to the Cistern open. I followed behind her, satisfied with the day's work. We'd been down at the docks, nabbing select shipments again, though this time we were left with a bag of coin from conducting a rather large sale. Really, I'd been uncomfortable carrying that much coin on our way back to the Guild.

"Phew!" Sirun said. "I'm ready for a drink." That was her, always cheerful. "I'm gonna find An - take that shit to Grumpy over there, would 'ya?"

"Right," I agreed, though I was gripped with dread. I'd rather avoid the man altogether, right now. I hadn't seen him since he watched me make an utter fool of myself after drinking far too much whiskey, probably a week ago, now. I barely remember getting to bed that night, but I do unfortunately remember dropping a bag full of potions.

I headed towards Mercer's desk, wondering if the man ever slept. His schedule was extremely erratic, from what I'd noticed, considering some days he'd still be up while I, say, stumble in drunk and drop things, and then another day he might be awake at the crack of dawn when I stumble out of my room looking for a place to vomit.

And it was clear why Sirun had nicknamed him 'Grumpy.'

Without a word, I stopped in front of his desk and dropped the heavy sack with a thud. He didn't look at me, so after two seconds' pause, I moved to leave.

"Ah, ah. Got somewhere to be?"

I turned around to face the desk again. The Guildmaster marked his page with another letter and pulled an entirely separate ledger out. It looked confusing, but I could barely read - I still had to sound out letters.

"Which marks?" he asked, and I froze. I wrung my hands together in front of me.

"Uh, um, I," I stopped. He didn't reply, and I reacted by raising my gaze to his face, to my own surprise. His face was unreadable, though I wasn't very experienced with faces. "Some East Empire silks?" My voice pitched higher.

"That would be…" He quirked an eyebrow and glanced down at his page. "Brought the East Empire silk shipment to Warehouse Two, brought shipment of sugar from the Royal Elsweyr traders to Warehouse One, delivered contents of Warehouse One - arms from the West Empire Company - to the Redmane family's warehouse, proceed to collect," he nudged the sack of coin, "payment."

If you already fucking knew, why did you ask me? I wanted to snap at him over it, but I held back, still thinking about the chances of this Guild being in contact with Cyrodiil's Guild, some members of which would probably like to find me. Unfortunately, I already seemed to have been noticed. It would probably be better to just look like the type of person who couldn't have killed a man if I tried. I sighed, turning my face away.

"Perhaps you should pay attention, next time."

Irritation flashed, and won. I looked him full in the face. "You seem to know it all, anyway."

He didn't react to my snap for a few seconds. He met my eyes, holding them until he broke the silence by moving to close his book.

"I think I have better things to do than keep track of you, don't you think?"

My mouth flew open to reply, but anything I was going to say stuck in my mouth. I spun around and left.


"Hey, lass," Brynjolf greeted. I was sitting at a table in the Cistern kitchen, peeling an apple for no other reason than to take out my frustration from my conversation with the Guildmaster. What a fucking infuriating man, I could've sworn he was fucking with me.

"Hi," I replied, eating a slice of apple. My eyes settled on his forehead, because if I looked to his nose or lips like I usually would, I thought I would blush.

"Did that apple offend you?"

"Killed my cousin," I agreed.

"Ah. Deserves it, then."

"Absolutely."

He gestured to the chair across from me. "You mind?"

"No, of course not."

The Nord pulled out the chair and sat down, leaning across the table. He plucked a piece of apple out of my hand and ate it, still leaning in close to me. Distracted, I stopped butchering the apple and set down my dagger, looking at him questioningly.

"So, Rose," he started. The emphasis he placed on my name made me remember how when I'd first told it to him, he'd called it out as fake. Which it was.

"...Uhun?"

"How do you feel about a little trip?"

Chapter Text

“You have a horse?” I asked, surprised. Brynjolf had led me to the stables, where he’d brought out a massive horse. I’d barely been this close to horses in my life, aside from those that pulled carriages, and I’d never been responsible.

“Sure,” the thief replied in a tone that made me wonder who’s horse it was and where he got it. A moment later, a stable hand exited with a smaller horse. Dread filled me. “And this one here’s for you.”

I stepped back, putting distance between me and the creature. “Me?” I exclaimed. “I can’t ride one of those.”

Brynjolf’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but then his expression mellowed. “I should’ve thought of that. Sorry, lass.” He waved a hand at the stable boy, who spun around and returned hurriedly into the stable as though someone had brandished a whip at him. He leaned an arm against his gigantic, saddled horse and thought.

He reached an arm out to me, and I hesitantly reached for it. As soon as I did, his thoughtful expression turned into a grin, and he jerked me quickly towards him. Leaning in close, he said, “maybe I can show you a thing or two, lass.”

“Oh? About what?” I agreed, jaunting backwards and feigning innocence.

“Riding.” Brynjolf followed me, stepping closer. “Obviously.”

He quirked an eyebrow and gestured to the horse. He led me over to the side of the horse and knelt next to it. I eyed the thing warily, wondering if it was going to walk away. Those hooves were massive; I’d rather not be squashed underneath them. Brynjolf held his arm out and gestured for me to prop myself up on it. I stepped up and he swung me up onto the horse, faster than I expected, but I caught myself crookedly on the saddle and managed to straighten myself out. I looked down at Brynjolf – sort of, he was tall enough that he was still easy to see.

“I thought we were going to Shor’s Stone?”

“We are, lass.” My eyes widened as he grabbed the saddle in front of me, and in one fluid motion, was seated behind me, feet in the stirrups. As he did, the horse shifted, taking one shaky step to the left, and I let out a loud, startled squeak, grabbing the saddle in front of me, and incidentally, one of Brynjolf’s hands. He grabbed the reins with his free hand and adjusted his seat, settling the horse, before slowly removing his hand from underneath mine and pointedly lingering on them long enough to replace my hands on the saddle’s horn.

Both hands on the reins, Brynjolf readied the horse to move. “Ready?” he asked.

“Yes,” I lied, my knuckles white. He chuckled, and heat filled my cheeks. He was pressed close against my back, and different buckles on his armour were digging into parts of my simply clothed back. Even with the thick armour, I felt heat radiating off him – or was that me? But then the horse jolted forwards and began walking away from the city.

Once walking at an even pace, Brynjolf straightened behind me, brushing against me back. I sucked in my breath, holding it. The closeness was aggravating. A few minutes later, he did it again.

“How far to Shor’s Stone?” I choked out.

“Not a fan of riding, lass?”

“N-no,” I agreed. The horse’s pace stepped up a bit, and simultaneously, Brynjolf wrapped an arm around my waist. I could barely breathe. He pulled me tighter against him.

“Oh, I won’t let you fall,” he said, leaning forward to talk directly into my ear. “You know that, lass. But, we’re going to have to move a bit faster than this if we’re going to make it on schedule.”

I was grateful he couldn’t see the intense flush on my face from behind, but somehow, I thought he knew. My knuckles nearly white from gripping the front of the saddle, pressed closely to the smooth thief, I held my breath and hoped he indeed would not let me fall, as the horse picked up the pace and we began the journey to Shor’s Stone in earnest.


It was a short journey, though my ass certainly didn’t feel like it. I was used to longer on foot, but Brynjolf had told me we wouldn’t be gone longer than tomorrow morning, so I’d braved through what had turned out to be a less terrifying horseback riding experience than expected. I never thought I would find myself on one of the beasts, let alone one so large.

It wasn’t much of a learning experience, though.

“All right, lass, this is where we leave our trusted steed,” Brynjolf announced. He reached out a hand to help me scramble down from the horse, but it turned out more was necessary between my sore ass and stiff legs; I tumbled down rather than sliding, and Brynjolf had to swoop me into his arms. I yelped in surprise, but he pulled me tightly to himself and paused, looking down at me. He didn’t help me gain my footing. My mouth slid open in surprise and I looked up – at his lips, not his eyes. I had mixed feelings in the moment, and had it gone on any longer, I would’ve panicked. He looked down at me, his gaze upon my face making me uncomfortable, but yet, I stared at his lips and imagined that they might lean down and meet mine.

Solidly back on my feet, Brynjolf released me with deliberate slowness. “I told you I wouldn’t let you fall.”

“I just expected it to happen before we stopped, not after,” I joked. I still didn’t want to ride again, but I felt as though the Nord really would catch me if I was going to fall. If anything, the ride had accustomed me to his muscled arms.

“Either way.”

Brynjolf led the horse over to the small farm we’d stopped at, leaving me seated on the nearby rock with our supplies. He disappeared behind it, and I didn’t see him meet anyone, but the building was clearly inhabited, based on the smoke spiraling out of the chimney. Really, Skyrim’s Guild had an impressive amount of contacts – maybe more than in Cyrodiil, even.

When he returned, he hefted most of the supplies in true gentleman fashion, and we headed towards town on foot. We didn’t enter it directly, but rather skirted around the outside until Brynjolf stopped us in the brush behind a larger mansion.

“The mine owner’s house,” he explained, ducking behind some brush and gesturing for me to follow. I knelt beside him, watching as he arranged everything. He lifted a bolt of red cloth and swung it over a high branch above our heads. “Watch.” He gestured to a set of large windows, closed.

It didn’t take long before someone moved. The windows swung open, pushed by a serving woman. I glanced at Brynjolf, but he waved an arm at me. There was more to the plan.

People began moving. Minutes passed, then a group of people left the house. They were led by the same servant and a gruff looking man, though we were too far for me to hear what they were saying.

Brynjolf never works alone ¸I thought. He didn’t even need me on this job, and he brought me, why? Company? He’d already sorted everything out. Natural, for a con-man, I supposed. His skills were more with manoeuvring people than sneaking in and out undetected, though he was light on his feet.

“Now.” Brynjolf stood, sliding a folded bag into my hands. “We don’t have long.”

He led the way around the bushes and we hurried across the lawn. The windows already unlatched and ajar, the Nord stopped in front of the sill before jumping in and I stopped short, concerned something was wrong.

But he only turned to offer me his hand and lead me over to the window. I felt a prickle of irritating. The sill wasn’t that high, and even if it was, I could’ve scaled it. I didn’t awnt to be rude, so I let him help me into the house and then spread out while he climbed in, listening and taking in the details around me. Four chairs at the table, laundry half folded on it. They’d left in the middle of evening chores.

Brynjolf interrupted my thoughts. “Take anything that isn’t nailed down, lass.”

“What if it’s something really good?” I joked.

“Pry out the nail.”

He grinned and sped off left. I wasn’t sure if he intended that I follow him, but I took the right stairs and made my way about looting the upper floor.

The family was rich. They didn’t appear to have young children. I emptied a jewellery box and tucked valuable decorations into my bag as I went room to room. I had begun cutting paintings out of frames, rolling them and stuffing them into my sack when Brynjolf burst into the room. His steps had been hurried heading towards me, so I’d stopped what I was doing and swung the sack over my back, body poised to run.

“Change of plans, lass, we need to get out faster than I’d thought-“

He was interrupted by steps and the sound of voices. Someone had come through the front door. Brynjolf grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into the room’s linen closet. He swung the door open and pushed me in first before following behind and carefully closing the door fully. Everything went dark, and I squeezed closer to the fall. I wasn’t sure if it was to avoid the closeness to Brnjolf which had my cheeks aflame or nerves from the upset cries of the family arriving home to their looted house. I wondered if the servant would be all right.

“Shh,” Brynjolf said, stepped closer to me. I choked on my breath, staying silent as possible. I put my bag down as quietly as possible, taking the risk since they were on the bottom floor. I didn’t want to drop it when they were closer.

Brynjolf stepped up behind me, his voice in my ear and long hair tickling my neck. I gasped quietly in surprise. He pulled me against him with one arm, my back pressing against his armour tighter than I would’ve expected. I tilted my head to squint at him, but in the darkness, I couldn’t see his expression. Still, I could hear the grin in his voice when he spoke.

“Careful, lass. You wouldn’t want them to find us, would you?”

I spluttered quietly, looking for something to say, as his hand began tracing the hem of my shirt, just barely tickling against the skin of my stomach. His second hand – when did he put down his bag? – touched my lips gently in a sign to be quiet.  

There was shouting downstairs. I counted two sets of footsteps, though with Brynjolf distracting me I was losing focus. I hoped I could trust him with a plan if he was going to tease me like this. The adrenaline got me, and it must’ve grabbed him, too as his hand began creeping up my shirt and he pulled me firmer against him. I wished I could feel him, but all I could distinguish were the different buckles on his armour.

One of his hands traced my jawline lightly, tilting my head back against his shoulder. I rested there, letting him take part of my weight. He tickled up my stomach and I breathed harder.

“Ho-” I began to speak, but he shushed me quietly. I acquiesced, my eyes fluttering shut as he reached under my breast band, kneading my breast gently. I listened to the footsteps pass in the hall outside us and forced my breathing to steady. He seemed to take it as a challenge, since he tweaked one of my nipples; I jumped slightly but managed to stifle my surprised squeak. He didn’t let up, and I lost track of the seconds passing.

He turned my head up to meet his and pressed his lips against mine. He was soft, but insistent, as he pressed me back, causing me to cling to him for purchase. His free hand left my breasts and wandered lower, teasing the hem of my pants and the skin underneath this time. I gasped, and with his lips pressed against mine, he definitely felt it.

Abruptly, he pulled away.

“They’ve gone to find the guards,” he said. I listened. He was right; it was silent. The couple was no longer fighting. “Better get out of here while we can, lass… Unless you’d rather stay?”

I blushed, coming back to myself and scrambling to grab my bag. By the time I’d swung it over my back, he had exited the closet. I followed, with the arousal fading and the rush of adrenaline nearly over, my nerves had caught up with me and I didn’t speak with him as he led us back through the open window and into the woods to collect the rest of our things.

It was nearly dark out, so journeying back to the farm where we’d left the horse became a bit of an ordeal. I tripped over a root or six; I definitely had a few new injuries. It killed the mood, certainly.

When we finally made it, Brynjolf opened the barn and helped me get all my bags inside the door.

“We can sleep in here,” he suggested, and in my exhaustion all I could do was nod. I yawned. The thought of continuing where we’d left off in the closet occurred to me, but the exhaustion creeping into my limbs apparently had other ideas. I fell asleep within seconds of sitting down for what I imagined was a short rest, propped up against a hay bale with straw digging into my skin.


When I woke, I was wrapped in a roughly spun blanket. It was far more comfortable than the straw and had likely saved me from some scratches. Brynjolf was nowhere in sight, but I could see the daylight through the cracks in the barn. It wasn’t the light of dawn; he had let me sleep a while. I hadn’t gotten a full night previously and it seemed I’d needed the extra rest.

I pulled the blanket off myself and looked around, coming to my feet. Brynjolf had wrapped me in it. There was no one else who could have.

Something about it made me feel uncomfortable.

It was just so… nice . No one did nice things like that for me. Ever.

But here he was. This nice Nord, a thief, good with his words, attractive… why was he doing this for me? It felt too good to be real. I didn’t trust it. Was it all to get me into bed? Kindness, for sex?

I wasn’t sure that was a trade off I cared to make. He probably thought he was pulling the wool over my eyes.

The door swung open gently and Brynjolf poked his head inside.

“Good, lass, you’re up,” he said. “It’s time to get moving.”

Uncertainty clawed at my stomach when I looked at him, but I focused on the task at hand and began helping him load up the horse instead of bringing it up.

Once the bags were strapped to the horse, Brynjolf hit me with a grin which I couldn’t find it in me to return and knelt to give me a leg up onto the horse. I acquiesced, landing a bit more smoothly than the first time, though I was no less uncomfortable with it.

When Brynjolf climbed up behind me, he didn’t tease or push. He didn’t pull me as close to him, though he did hold onto me. He nudged the horse forwards and we began the journey back to Riften.

“Don’t worry, lass, I won’t let you fall,” he said.

Is that what he thought my mood was because of? “Thank you,” I replied. It was sincere for what it was.

Our return journey wasn’t as exciting as the first, though riding made me just as nervous as before. We didn’t joke as much; he let me retreat into my own mind and left me be.

Our silence was broken only a few minutes ride from Riften when Brynjolf left the road and brought us to a rocky cavern.

“A stash, for the goods,” he explained. “Can’t exactly carry them in right under the guards’ noses. They might let us, but they’d be less happy about it.”

“Right,” I agreed hollowly.

We unloaded the bags quickly, hiding them behind a few rocks inside the cavern. Outside, Brynjolf stopped to scribble a shadowmark in charcoal. Shit, I should probably learn those.

“Job’s done. Good one, lass.” He smiled gently and this time I returned it.

“Sure was. Now, let’s get paid.”


 

           By the time we got to the city gates, I wasn’t feeling up to being in his company much longer. I was too confused. While he was putting the horse away, I slipped into the city ahead of him and made for the docks. It was past dinner time, and I was ready to start snacking on the remainders of my travel rations.

        During my time in Riften, I’d become more accustomed to the city. It was still very easy to get lost, considering the winding streets and canals, but I knew my way around a certain area. Part of that certain area was the docks. They reminded me of the Imperial City’s Waterfront District, and I enjoyed swinging my feel into the water on one of the lower docks.

        It was a good place to think.

        I peeled off my boots and rolled up my torn pants, dipping my sore feet into the chilly water. It was amazing. The water felt soft. I’d had those boots on for two days. If I wasn’t so used to that I’d have blisters.

        As I snacked for dinner, leaning against my mostly-empty pack, I wondered what to do about Brynjolf. It was clear now that he intended to sleep with me, or was open to it, or interested, or whatever. But why? I…

        It wasn’t as though I’d never had sex with people before. It was usually some kind of quick affair in an inn room, bare bones, you know what you’re getting out of it and you know what your partner does.

        But flirting? That’s new. That’s uncharted territory. I was being wooed, and I had no idea if I needed to push distance or if I could perhaps try to break my long dry spell with a nice-looking Nord for a day or two.

        This couldn’t just be a day or two, I realized. This was business and pleasure. Not that I hadn’t done such a thing before, but the flirting, talking, doing jobs together – it would be impacted. This was… did he want something serious?

        Oh, I fucking hope not, I thought. But somewhere else in my mind, a tiny voice said, why not?

Chapter Text

Brynjolf left Riften the next morning.

I hadn’t seen him since I vanished while he was in the stables, and I had no clue how long he would be gone. I’d only known he left for Solitude because I overheard Sirun and An talking.

In the weeks he was gone, at first I wasn’t sure what to do. I was glad he was gone, for the space and the time to think.

But then I’d finished thinking. I’d finished thinking about it. And I wished he would fucking come back already.

I’d been foolish. Scared. A coward. I could sleep with whoever I pleased without obligation. If he said afterwards he wanted more, his loss. There was no reason I would have to get attached.

Still in the back of my mind, a voice whispered, if you piss off the second in command, you could get in trouble with Cyrodiil .

I was sitting in one of the training rooms, door shut, to avoid my roommates and the business of the cistern. I wanted space, and figured no one would bother me.

That’s why, when the door swung open, I expected Brynjolf to have returned. Siren was occupied and wouldn’t be back for s few more hours.

Instead, Mercer Frey stepped through the door. He looked over at me, seated at a table with a whole bottle of mead. He actually appeared surprised to see me. Did he know I was here? Almost as soon as the surprise flirted across his face, it was gone. He looked me in the eyes as he closed the door behind him with one arm. I turned away from him, taking another gulp of ale.

Obviously it’s not Brynjolf, I thought, I disappeared on him. Why would he seek me out? Instead, the Guildmaster was… I had no idea.

It was a small training room, with only a short line of dummies, a few locks, and the table I sat at. The bigger ones were usually occupied, and didn’t even have doors. I wished I was in one of them.

The Guildmaster walked with slow steps until he reached the side of my table, standing in front of my bottle. There was only one chair, and I occupied it.

“Expecting someone?” he asked. I kept my eyes resolutely on my bottle.

“No one,” I muttered. He picked up my bottle, helping himself to my belongings, but I didn’t complain. Why didn’t that annoy me? I thought. I’d simply observed it. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him read the label. He placed it back on the table in front of me as he spoke.

“Looked like you were. Thought I would be Brynjolf?” I shifted in my seat, and he hummed, taking this as confirmation. I grabbed the bottle quickly and moved to take a drink, but he placed his hand on top of the bottle, pushing it back to the table. I stared at his hand. It was ink stained, and he wore calluses. Not soft hands. I slowly dragged my gaze up his arm until I looked him in the face, bracing for embarrassment.

“He is back, you know. Arrived an hour ago.” Frey stood to the side, not blocking my way if I were to get up, but making it uncomfortable to do so. “Looks like he didn’t come find you.” He let out a false sigh, mocking my disappointment. I looked down again. Am I obvious, now? I never would have been back in Cyrodiil.

“And you were doing so well,” the Guildmaster drawled. Mercer’s hand gripped my chin suddenly; I didn’t see it coming. He turned my face back up to his, but I slid my eyes to the side and avoided his gaze. Rough hands. I was right. I wondered why I was noticing such things, but the Guildmaster squeezed tighter. There would be red marks, though they’d fade within minutes. Reluctantly, I looked at him. He looked satisfied, and slowly dropped his hand.

I struggled to formulate words for a moment before I squeezed out a quiet, “why?”

Frey quirked an eyebrow and I struggled not to look away, a blush creeping up my neck. He stepped a bit closer, so that I had to crane my neck to look up even more.

“You squirm.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up, the chair knocking back an inch behind me. I went to step past Frey, and to my surprise he let me walk past. I exited the room, pausing at the door to glance behind me; he was leaning on the table, my bottle of mead in his hand, a satisfied look on his face.

Once I was clear of the room, I hurried back to my bedroom, hoping it would be empty. Fortunately, they had cleared out, though leaving me with a messy room I was barely accustomed to, I was able to sit on my bed and have solitude.

My breathing was heavy, my skin flushed. The way he’d grabbed my chin passed through my mind, a ghost of a hand brushing my skin. I stood abruptly from my bed, pushing my covers aside to dig underneath it. I came back with a bottle of whiskey - preferable to the lighter mead I’d been drinking previously, but the bottle was already half empty. It would still do the job.

I took two large gulps which burned on the way down, but it cleared my head. I layed back on my pillow, putting the incident, and my reaction to it, out of my mind.

I drank myself to sleep.

And woke with a splitting headache.

To the sound of An’s bed clacking against the wall, and a woman’s loud moan.

It must’ve been the middle of the night. The candles had burned out, so I felt safe to glance around the room. Sirun’s bed was unoccupied, though An’s was a bit over occupied - to my irritation, the moans became clearer and I made out Estoril Caemaire’s fiery red hair.

Divines, I wouldn’t stick my dick in that for anything.. I hadn’t thought An favoured obnoxious, pompous types. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to ignore it. Sadly, couldn’t get back to sleep with the headache.

Fortunately, they weren’t at it very long. I heard Estoril leave after a while, still pretending to sleep. Once she was out, I gave her a bit to find her way back to her own rooms before I left.

Coming into the light, I cringed, my headache flaring, but I made my way out to the cistern, looking for a drink to ease the pain.

I was glad that Mercer Frey’s desk was empty as I passed by; I didn’t think I could handle an encounter with the infuriating man in this state.

There were few people in the Flagon. No one bothered me as I headed for the counter and passed Vekel a few coins in exchange for a new bottle of whiskey. It was in an unlabelled bottle this time, though that was far from unusual for me in the past. I shrugged and left, staggering back to my own rooms.

With a few more swings of whiskey, I passed out.

I slept for most of the next day, drifting in and out of sleep, trying to avoid the splitting pain.

By the time I finally felt better, headache faded and bread in my belly, it was the following evening.

I was on my way back to my rooms, prepared to hibernate a bit longer, when i was interrupted.

“Not going to say hello, lass?”

I turned around quickly, gaping at Brynjolf. I’d nearly forgotten he was back, despite how long I’d spent waiting before this. My heart skipped a beat, butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

“I wasn’t feeling well,” I explained.

The Nord took a few steps closer to me, and I stepped backwards with him until my back hit the wall.

“Are you feeling well now?” He asked as he advanced.

I nodded quickly, feeling a slight pain in my head from the movement, but nothing serious.

The look on Brynjolf’s face darkened, and he boxed me in with one of his arms, his face leaning down close to mine. I tilted my head up, thinking he was about to kiss me, but he stopped.

“You ran off on me.”

I shrugged, looking down. I didn’t want to explain. It was personal. Fortunately, he dropped the subject.

“Lass, I have a very simple question at ask you.” I nodded, peeking up a bit. He touched my chin, a gentle grasp, stroking my skin lightly.  

“Do you want me?”

“Yes,” I breathed, the close proximity erasing my doubts. I simply wanted him closer, for his lips to touch mine.

“Good,” he said quietly, then his lips touched mine, at first a gentle kiss, but with growing insistence.  His hands dropped to my waist, teasing my bare skin just underneath the hem of my shirt.

I relaxed into his arms, sparks of excitement flying in my stomach. Brynjolf pulled back and I was left gasping, clinging to his shoulders.

“My room, lass, it has fewer.. distractions.” He pointed to the end of the hall, a door I’d never realized led to his own quarters. He must not have roommates.

He led me inside in gentlemanly fashion, holding the door for me.

It was a dimly lit room, candles having burned low. His bed was messy, fur covers falling halfway off. He had a desk, letters strewn on it, similar to Mercer’s, but with fewer papers and less organized. On a side table sat two old plates, scraped clean of food but clearly used, as well as a few empty jugs of ale and mead.

The mess was a bit off putting, but I was accustomed to my roommates living in similar fashions now. I’d never had the luxury of mess; I’d always been meticulous about what impressions my spaces gave.

I forgot as soon as he kissed me again, the door shut. He backed me up towards the bed, his lips never leaving mine. I pushed the cloak off his shoulders; it crumpled to the ground. Quickly, it was followed by my own shirt and breastband.

He was wearing armour, which we worked on unbuckling together between heated kisses. I wished it would come off faster. Finally it peeled off, leaving him in a light pair of pants.

He pulled me backwards towards him, and now unarmoured, I felt his every muscle against my back. He was strong. He kneaded my breasts and I moaned, pressing backwards into him. I felt his cock pressing against my lower back, and I tried to grind against him.

“Stop teasing me,” I complained.

He laughed lightly before spinning me around and kneeling in front of me.

“Oh, lass, don’t worry. I have plans.”

His fingers hooked over the seam of my pants, baring me before him as they were discarded.

I stood naked in front of him, and my stomach suddenly dropped.. I looked around, wishing I could blow out the candles entirely. Now that he was no longer touching me, my pleasure faded abruptly and I realized how self conscious I was feeling.

Then his mouth touched me. He licked and teased, beginning at my inner thighs and moving higher, and higher, until he reached my core. I squeaked in surprise. No one had ever done this before, and the feeling was unlike anything else. I tried to relax, but felt isolated.

Brynjolf urged me to back up, guiding my steps back to the bed. I topped into the sheets, impressed with how comfortable the bed was, and Brynjolf crawled up in front of me, his fingers joining his mouth. He thrust two in and out slowly. I finally lost myself in the pleasure, gasping in surprise and gripping the sheets.

“Gods- I- Brynj- Fuck!”

Then, his head popped up and he crawled atop me, his fingers continuing their work and keeping me in the throes of pleasure.

“Now lass, what would you like?” He teased, smiling.

“Fuck me!” I snapped, my arms grabbing his shoulders to pull him closer.

He obliged me, removing his fingers and kissing me as he positioned himself at my entrance, having unlaced his pants. The scent of myself bothered me, distracting me from pleasure for a moment and I nearly pulled away from the kiss, but he thrust into me then and all thoughts left my mind.

He gave me a moment to adjust to his size, which I expected to appreciate considering how long it had been since I’d had sex, but I found I didn’t need it. I grasped his ass, pulling him closer with a moan, and he took the hint, beginning to thrust into me in earnest.

I threw my head back, my nails digging into the skin on his back. Brynjolf’s head rested just above mine. I listening to his small grunts and moans as I urged him to move faster, increasing in intensity.

I wrapped my legs around him, pulling him deeper and reached up with my hands to pull his face closer. I tackled his neck, kissing and nipping, and he grunted loudly.

“Rose-“ he grunted in surprise, as he thrusted more erratically and, suddenly, finished, his grip on my hips tightening. I moaned as he thrust himself deeply, an extra wave of pleasure crashing over me.

Seconds later, he pulled out of my and rolled to the side, satisfied. I felt tired, physically, but my mind was alert. Before I had gathered my faculties enough to get out of bed, he’d pulled me next to him.

I don’t spend the night, I wanted to say, but I couldn’t force out the words. I was comfortable, and he was warm, despite one of his braids tickling my neck.

He wrapped an arm around me and I realized I was trapped. He made a satisfied noise, pulling blankets over top of us.

“Goodnight, Rose,” he whispered.

I didn’t reply. My brain was alert; I wished for alcohol to help. I watched as he drifted into sleep, his breathing deepening. It calmed me to watch, and though I was sober, I fell asleep faster than I had in a long time.