It wasn’t about the thrill of the chase any more than it was about the catch itself. It was about something deeper than that, something visceral and physical, something that rested on the tip of his tongue and wanted, no, needed to be put into the mouth of another. It was a necessary compulsion—it helped him forget himself.
His memories were full of scents and softness, the perfume of society women, eager for the novelty of a pretty, experienced elf. He knew just how candles glinted off of jeweled earrings and had memorized every single dip and curve that his tongue could find, along with what usually happened when it did. He also knew the pleasure in weight, pressing his legs to his chest, holding his arms down, smirking, and losing himself to a lover above him.
These were the things he understood; the flesh and the fantasy, the lust and the longing, the climax and the calm; these were familiar, these were his. But within this there was a tumult, a fissure, and it was growing. He wasn’t supposed to want more; he wasn’t supposed to want himself, much less somebody else. They were supposed to have broken him completely, not just buried things so deep that he forgot they were there.
They were like scars, or burns, or the tattoos on his back; the void take the Crows for getting it so wrong. How was it that they could have held power in Antiva for so long, yet they couldn’t wound one elf so deeply that he wouldn’t heal?
The Warden was supposed to finish the job for them, and the hopelessness when he didn’t was like quicksand. He fell—he fell deep and in that darkness he found himself again, where they had left him, bruised and battered but still alive. He hated what he saw. The warden didn’t—further proof that the whole bloody order was mad.
So he defaulted; he slipped back into the spurious skin, the one that looked like him and felt like him, but was that other person, the one he pretended to be, the one that seduced the entire world and took it in like a whirlpool. No attachments, no emotions, and certainly no love.
What did that word mean, anyway? Crows didn’t know love; they knew daggers and poisons and sex, boisterous voices and flashy feathers. They were happy with that—was he ever happy?—they had to be.
The warden felt like flames, hot and all-consuming. It scared him—had he ever not been scared?—the way those eyes looked at him, wide and knowing—how much did he know? He’d seen that look, though never directed at him. There were lovers on blankets in parks, giving one another those sappy, moon-eyed glances, looking for all the world like they were living for one another.
He’d killed them before, but the Crows kept him alive, and the warden kept him alive, and that false skin was shedding, and Zevran was terrified to find out what was underneath.