TITLE: Lex Talionis

SUMMARY: But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Welcome to the Thieves Guild. Enjoy your stay.

RATING: T

WARNINGS: None for the prologue, but that'll change.

DISCLAIMER: They're not my toys. Marvel's just good enough not to yell at me for playing with them.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I'm going to be upfront with you here. "Lex Talionis" is an experiment; it's an attempt to try something a little bit different that up until now I haven't had the chance to do. I'll put it this way – the fact that this is the thirteenth story put up in this account is appropriate beyond measure. Inspired stylistically by Solitaire E's "Breathe" and content-wise by reading too much Elizabethan revenge tragedy, this is going to be a story of short, punchy chapters, heavy atmosphere, and no promises.

Still here?

Well then. Let's get started.


Introduction: The King is Dead, Long Live the King.

Early mornings are the worst time to be awake and alone. There's a coldness to them that's only amplified by isolation, leaving one feeling distant and hurt at the same time.

It doesn't so much leech as settle, becoming a physical weight that's only lifted by the sun as it goes along its course and the inexorable rhythm of human affairs shifts to the pattern of daytime hours once more.

This lift has yet to come, and a young man sits in a darkened room with only the glow of a computer screen to keep him company. He's in a chair before this screen, looking particularly conflicted as he stares at the computer as though it has an answer for him. He knows, perhaps better than anyone else, that this isn't the case at all. For all his questions there is only one answer.

"He needs to be told."

He harbors no delusions. He speaks truth. What's getting to him is that this is a truth he doesn't want to handle, not now. There's still so much that needs to be dealt with before he can even begin to broach this big and nameless thing that he's not so sure he wants to put words to just yet.

Never mind wanting, he's not even sure that he can.

And yet he opens an internet window, logs in to an e-mail provider, and begins to type. The clicking of his fingers serves as an eerie soundtrack to the scene, and his face grows more shadowed with every key he presses. The slowly rising sun only serves to amplify this effect, and when he pauses to look at the few words he's managed to get out on the screen, he looks even more disappointed with himself.

It's not what he'd hoped to say, but it'll do. It'll have to.

He clicks the send button, and leans back in order to check that the cell phone in his pocket is set to loud. It is. Satisfied (or at least as satisfied as he can be, circumstances what they are right now), he turns the monitor off and crosses the room to a bed that looks to have been tossed and turned in for at least a couple nights now. It's near enough to fact.

Lowering himself in to it, he closes his eyes. He's played the dutiful messenger boy, and has earned the right to sleep.

At least until the phone rings anyhow.


Part One: Shoot the Messenger

Somewhere in New York, Remy LeBeau stands on an apartment porch dragging down hard on a cigarette between angry breaths. The languid trail of smoke that twists and turns from its burning end provide a striking contrast to the frown lines that mark his face right now. He lets out a sharp, barking cough at the cold winter air, the lines growing only more defined as his lungs settle enough for him to breathe properly again.

With the next few breaths, he berates himself for leaving his computer on overnight. If he hadn't, he wouldn't have been woken by an e-mail sent at three in the morning by a brother he hasn't seen in years. He then moves on to cursing Henri, but it's only half-hearted and dissipates along with the smoke. There's a bitterness, however, that remains a solid fixture within his mind. He'd never wanted to receive that particular e-mail. Ever.

Remy's memorized the message itself in spite of, or perhaps because of this. It's short and to the point, hardly worth considering a note, but manages a detachment that leaves a foul taste in his mouth.

Dad's dead. You've got my number. Call me.

His brother has never been one to mince words, and even in this he's remained true to form. There's something more than a little wrong with the fact that Jean-Luc's death and all that it entails can be condensed in to something so small and seemingly innocuous, but Remy currently lacks the desire and the energy to think it through properly.

Jean-Luc is dead.

So here stands, puffing furiously at a morning cigarette (one of Jean-Luc's indulgences that he swore he'd never pick up, but there are larger things at stake here now than bad habits) in an attempt to steady himself and determine exactly how to proceed.

He settles for heading back inside and picking up the phone. A sequence of numbers he wishes he could forget gets punched in, and before there's time for second thoughts or regrets, the phone is ringing and someone has picked it up. The voice that answers is sleep-tainted and strained.

"That you, Remy?"

"Yeah."

"You got my e-mail then."

"Obviously."

Apologizing for the inappropriately clipped way he's speaking doesn't even cross Remy's mind. He's never spoken a sorry that he doesn't mean, and hardly intends to start now.

The sour rinse to that single word is obviously caught by Henri. Woken up fully now, his reply is clear and cutting in a way that Remy doesn't recognize as being like him.

"You think I want to be having this conversation? Getting in touch with you wasn't exactly my first choice either. But rules-"

Resentful and unthankful, he cuts Henri off and finishes the sentence for him.

"-are rules. I know."

"So stop sounding like I pissed in your cornflakes."

It's a poor attempt at humour that doesn't serve its purpose. The air between them is still as clouded as ever, and both of them know that it's going to take more than a joke that's more acidic in its delivery than funny to fix what's wrong with them and between them.

Henri's sigh is barely audible.

"Dad's dead," he says, and it sounds like he hardly believes it himself. Remy grits his teeth as he walks to the kitchen and starts going through the motions of putting on a pot of coffee. He can feel a headache coming on. It's probably due to caffeine withdrawal, but he would rather not give outside forces the credit for his own frustration and anger. That takes control out of his hands, and right now, he needs all the sense of control – however false – he can get.

"He hasn't been 'dad' to me since I was fifteen, Henri."

"You're still family."

"Adopted family."

"Now you're just being stupid. You know that doesn't matter."

"It mattered to him."

"Come off it, would you? He's dead, you know what's about to go down, and all you can do is cling to this stupid 'daddy didn't love me enough' shit? I hate to be to the one to break it to you, but life with him wasn't exactly fun for me either."

"No, you come off it," Remy bites out, slamming the start button on the coffee maker. "I walked away."

"You know that no-one ever walks away."

The truth, as it always seems to, hurts. Leave it to Henri to point out the painful and the obvious in one fell swoop.

"No, they don't. They just get carried out in coffins."

Despite the tone he employs, Remy's words speaks to him conceding. Henri is right, of course. He always is.

"You coming home then?" Henri asks, and Remy curses himself as obligation driven in to him from a childhood he's tried so desperately to escape answers for him. There's work to be done after all, and he has no real choice but to help take care of it.

"I'll be on the next flight down."

He offers no goodbye, disconnecting the call while looking to the still-brewing pot of coffee that he's not really planning to drink anymore. The phone gets dropped on the counter and he heads back for the porch and the cold winter morning air. He leans over the rail now, wondering idly how long it would take him to hit the ground were he to hurl himself over the side. He doesn't, of course. He's needed. He settles for bracing his forearms against the banister and hanging his head in a moment that manages to be a combination of quiet anguish and sour anticipation.

He's going home.