He sees her for the first time from across the market, helmet askew and red hair in disarray, with Florange Jam and Squibble Berry smeared across her tunic.
She is picking a piece of fruit out of her hair with one hand, while the other grips firmly to a disappointed thief as she marches them both out of the store.
He thinks she looks beautiful.
He is a thief, like the one she caught amidst the fruits of Brightvale.
Thieves do not want to be caught.
But he sees her for the first time from across the market, and thought for the first time that maybe he does.
He wonders what it is like in the Brightvale dungeons. He wonders if it would be so bad, if a certain orange Kougra was the one to lead him there.
He says as much. Well, not about the Kougra.
His friend looks at him like he just grew another head, and tells him he must be insane.
If this is insanity, this floating feeling in the pit of his stomach and the giddiness at the back of his throat, then insanity does not seem so bad.
Still, he pickpockets a rich-looking tourist from Neopia Central while some castle guards - who are definitely not orange Kougras - pass by, oblivious as usual.
He whistles innocently, and winks at his companion as they slip away.
He has a reputation to uphold, after all.
Still, he wonders.
He sees her for the second time by the castle gardens, purely by chance (except really it was not).
He ducks shyly behind a tall hedge, for that moment nothing like the brazen rogue he claims to be.
She passes by a small pond, and kneels by the edge to touch a delicate water lily. In the bold orange light of sunset, she looks like a painting come to life.
He has stolen many masterpieces of art before, from distinguished collections around all of Neopia. He was never tempted to keep one for himself, the selling prices much too lucrative to pass up, except for one small tapestry he liberated from a temple in Shenkuu.
The tapestry showed a flying ship, above the hills and clouds. It was not particularly large or majestic and a few loose threads threatened to unravel the entire thing. But the ship looked perfect, like something out of a storybook.
He wanted that ship to be real. He wanted a flying ship to go wherever he wished, whenever he wished.
Now, he is perfectly happy where he is (except that pointy parts of the hedge are poking him, but strangely he does not mind so much).
Because even the exotic tapestries of Shenkuu do not compare to her when she smiles.
He wants to steal this moment and keep it for himself.
A call rings out from the gates, and she is gone.
But now he knows her name.
He wonders if someday he will be able to go on adventures with her.
Maybe they will travel and explore faraway lands in a flying ship. He can show her all of the places he has seen, and share stories about (some of) the things he has done. He can ask her where she has been and where she wants to be, and take her to see both.
The Thieves Guild sends him to retrieve something in Terror Mountain, and he mentally protests every mundane step he walks on land while dreaming of something better.
He sees her again, when she is on her afternoon patrol in the lower town. No part of Brightvale is particularly dangerous or crime-ridden, but the lower town comes the closest. They make all the newer guards do rounds in this part of town, because nobody else wants to. If they did, they might actually have to do something guard-y.
Brynn looks bored. He sees her sigh as she surveys the street.
He smirks. She will not be bored for long.
He takes a deep breath. This is happening. He is really going to do it. A part of him, the thief, protests in his head. This goes against all of his instincts.
He ignores it.
He gets closer, and reaches for her purse. He makes sure to brush her arm on the way.
She has her hand around his wrist in a flash.
He is impressed. She is not bad. For a Brightvale guard, anyway.
He tries his best to look surprised, and even stammers nervously a bit when she asks him what he was thinking, trying to pickpocket a castle guard.
He is not stammering because he actually is nervous. The dizzying pace of his heart says otherwise.
She huffs, and tells him he will be spending the night in the cells.
He is glad the lower town is the furthest district from the castle, and is acutely aware of her hand, still around his wrist.
She lets him out the next morning, and says she will be watching him from now on.
He gives her a charming smile, and says he had a nice time.
She frowns a little, and does not reply. But her eyes are indeed watching him, assessing with more intelligence than he is accustomed to seeing in Brightvale's hired ranks.
He still feels her gaze even after he is on the other side of the bars.
He is certain he will not be seen again if he does not wish it.
A month later, he nicks a Squibble Berry from the shop when he knows she is watching.
He does his best to look a little bit guilty. He does not think she is fooled.
As she drags him towards the cells once again, he heard her mumble.
Why does it always have to be Squibble Berries?
The third time, she just looks resigned.
You must be the worst thief ever, she says. She doesn't bother restraining him, and just asks him to follow her to the castle.
What's your name, anyway?
The fourth time, she smiles at him. It is a weary smile, but a smile nonetheless.
He fights between looking away to hide the flush in his cheeks and looking at her to memorize what her smile looks like.
In the end, he keeps staring.
Let her think the flush is embarrassment from being caught. Again.
Her smile was burned into his brain. He knows he would do anything to earn it again.
He wishes he was a better person.
She deserves better.
A little part of him wants to change. For her.
Most of him knows he cannot.
In his heart, he is a thief.
Even if part of his heart is now hers.
He worries, though, that she does not like most of him.
And so life in Brightvale goes on.
Then, one time when he sees her, he hides behind a faerie turned to stone.
Soon after, he stabs an artifact with his dagger and turns himself to stone to save her (and the faeries, but mostly her).
When he wakes, she stands close. Very close.
He has spent his life running, avoiding, keeping distance. Thieves are caught when they let others get too close.
Thieves do not want to be caught.
But, he already let her catch him.
He is not quite sure what to do, so he jokes and pretends not to notice the dried tear tracks on her face.
Inside, he sighs and thinks of how warm he felt when she hugged him.
She is moving to Faerieland, she says. Fyora offered to make her Captain of the Guards. Maybe, possibly, would he like to come along? Fyora might have a job for him, too.
He runs to the new headquarters of the Thieves Guild, far away. He needs to be far away from her to think.
They call him Master Thief. The accolades from his peers do not mean as much to him as they used to. He thinks it might be time for a change.
When he returns, she looked sad.
When he says yes, she looks radiant.
He is a planet to her sun, caught in endless orbit around something so bright it hurts if he looks too long.
He lives in the shadows, and only shines when her light reflects.
He fears what will happen if he closes the space between them, a tiny rock falling through the vacuum towards the center of his universe.
The sunset is a bold orange over the new skies of Faerieland.
She turns to him and smiles.
He thinks falling is worth it.