Rinna sat upon the floor, her knees curled beneath her. Dirt, tears and blood discolored her features in a miasma of despair. Pleading eyes searched Zevran's face for mercy, for love, and for understanding of her innocence. None was to be found. Why would he not believe her?

Zevran had seen this play before – the woman begs for her life attempting to use whatever tools of persuasion she might possess. And it always ended the same. The bitter aftertaste of betrayal twisted his expression. He had loved her. He had allowed the hardened shell constructed about his heart to soften at her laugh and melt at her touch. She had been everything he thought he desired, everything he dared to hope he deserved. And now, those hopes and desires kneeled upon the ground begging for her life.

Mocking laugher laced cruel edged from his lips. "Even if that were true, I do not care." Had she shown him mercy in her deception? No. And he would return the favor in kind.

His head dipped in a single nod; the meaning of the gesture quite evident to Rinna. A scream bubbled from her lips – professions of love and innocence soon silenced with the single swipe of a blade. Her hands rose, clutching at the outflow of blood from her wound in a fool's errand. Death was imminent. Taliesen's strike had been unflinching and swift.

Her skin paled, the once rosy flush upon her cheeks washed away with death's approach. Strength faded causing her to collapse on her side. A blood soaked hand reached with much effort at one of Zevran's feet. Disgust drew him back out of her reach. He would not have her touch him.

And still, even as he loomed over her staring down with contempt and hatred, she looked at him, eyelids dropping heavy, consciousness drifting. Her lips moved, words mouthed: "I loved you."

No tears were shed for the loss of his 'love', only spit. Revulsion drew spittle from Zevran's mouth, aimed at the dying woman at his feet. It was his parting gift to her – a token of his affection. She had betrayed the Crows. She had betrayed him.

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Zevran's hands trembled as he looked down at the parchment in his hand. Words read, meaning so difficult to absorb. His eyes closed; everything black and heavy. The walls moved inward, crushing him under the weight of a single slip of paper.

Evidence of Rinna's betrayal had been false – forgeries meant to confuse and mislead. They had been the fools, so quick to believe, so simple to deceive. She had been innocent. She had tried to tell him. She had begged. He would not listen. It was too easy to believe she used him as he had done to so many others in the past – a means to an end and nothing more. In the pools of distrust and deception he had swam too long, unable to recognize anything but malice in others.

The pleading in her eyes burned red in his mind. Those last words she tried to murmur but could only mouth echoed thunderous in his ears. "I loved you."

An unfamiliar feeling, regret began to twist at Zevran's core. What had he done?

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Pleasure bit at Master Pancrazio's mouth in triumphant smile, "You needn't lie, boy. We know Taliesen and you killed Rinna." His tongue slicked over the time nibbled lips as if savoring the lingering taste of those words.

Zevran's head sank, dipping to his chest – defeated. His arrogance and bravado had been stripped away with his exposure. His shame, his mistake was out in the open for all to see. He asked, humbled, "What do you plan to do to me?" He would take whatever punishment was meted out.

Pernicious laughter sprung forth deep from within Pancrazio's belly. "Do with you? Nothing at all, Zevran. Why would we do anything with you? " Pancrazio made no attempt to hide his enjoyment at treating Zevran so. The upstart tried to exceed his rank in life and needed to be spanked accordingly - shown his place. "But don't worry, boy, some day your time will come too. And like her, no one will care about your passing. You are but tools to be used and discarded when time's wear dulls your usefulness."

While Pancrazio berated and taunted Zevran, he listened. Every comment felt deserved and earned. But nothing Pancrazio could say would compare to the abuse Zevran laid upon himself. The world had been in his hands, his for the tasting. And rather than trust in the light, he allowed darkness to envelop him. She had been something he hoped he deserved but knew he did not. She could not have possibly loved him, not truly. But yet, in the end, he was wrong and she had. And for this, he knew he would always be sorry -- guilt the newest passenger in his life's journey.

As he walked out of the room, his hands dug into a pocket of his pants, drawing out a folded piece of parchment. Fingers brushed against the paper, tracing its edges thoughtfully. The evidence of her innocence would accompany him always -- a reminder of his mistakes, a reminder of what must be done. Penance would be his. He only had but to wait for the right contract to come along.


AN: Companion piece to 'Duty Doesn't Come For Free'. Song of inspiration? 'Bitter Taste' by Camouflage. Sad fic is sad.