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Terminal Ballistics (The .45 Caliber Remix)

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The first time Erik kills a man, it's an accident.

Accident, perhaps, isn't the right word. Erik's actions were intentional. He doesn't regret it. He didn't, however, plan it. He was in the marketplace, arguing with a merchant over how much food he could get with the few coins he managed to scrape together, when he recognized the man. His blood ran cold and then hot and before he knew it, he had abandoned the stall and was following the man through the streets and alleyways.

If he'd been more aware, he'd have recognized it for the trap it was, but he was hungry and tired and drowning in his tunnel vision. He knew that face. That was the face that threw bread crusts at him on the days he couldn't manage any of the tasks Herr Doktor asked of him. It was the face that spat insults at him when he wasn't strong enough to pull himself from his cot. It was the face that mocked him from the other side of the wall of glass, taunting him into an action that he didn't have the strength to perform, despite all of Schmidt's... encouragements.

The last alley is empty when Erik bursts into it, right up until the man steps out from behind him, gun drawn.

Shame fills Erik's gut, hot and sharp. He let this man, this vile excuse for a human being, outsmart him. He let his hunger, his exhaustion, his despair cloud his other senses. He let this man manipulate him when he swore he'd never be anyone's pawn again.

The man pulls the trigger and it's too soon, Erik can't concentrate, the bullet is too fast--

But off-target. The window over Erik's head smashes and the split second of relief crashes against the red haze of rage and before the man can fire again, he's crushed beneath the weight of a balcony, pulled from the side of the building and driven into the ground.

Erik stares at the twisted mass of metal and flesh for as long as he dares. His heartbeat rings in his ears and he can feel every piece of metal around him, can hear it singing to him, calling to him, the pitch sweet and clear and how has he missed it all this time? Why hasn't he been able to harness it? It would be so easy to just reach out and take it and use it....

The metal quiets as his pulse returns to normal, quiets until it's just the dull background buzz that it usually is, an itch just out of his reach.

He hates to admit that Schmidt was right about anything, but he has to concede that the rage was the first thing he's truly felt in months, since he left the camp. It stirred his blood and it made the world come alive. It was the first thing in so long to get through the fog of listlessness and he wants, he needs to chase that feeling.

Rage is the key. Vengeance. He'll find them all and he'll kill them all, as easily as he killed this man, and someone, somewhere along the way will be able to lead him to Shaw.

He hears footsteps heading towards the alley and knows he needs to flee. He hesitates only for a moment, then snatches the gun from the ground and leaves.

Twice, now, he hasn't been able to stop a bullet. His next target might have better aim. He's going to need to practice.

***

Erik practices. Erik takes the the gun apart and learns every facet of every surface. Erik takes apart the bullets, breaks them down to their smallest parts and sweeps them up into the air, hovering in front of his face--shell casings and bits of metal in the powder, all of them loose and weak and easily manipulated. He puts them back together and crushes them where they float, leaving behind nothing but tiny, molten beads of metal. He turns over each component of the gun in his fingers, feels every dip and scratch in the metal.

He puts it all back together and holds the gun in his hand, memorizing how the parts connect, how they work together to propel a bullet forward.

He loads the gun with bullets from the box he stole at the market. He knows the gun and the bullets. He knows how they function, he knows the science that makes them work.

He fires the gun with one hand and holds out the other to pull the bullets towards him.

When he leaves the hotel that night, he leaves behind six holes in the far wall and a mangled metal mass that was once a box of bullets.

***

Erik keeps practicing. He tells himself, over and over, that there's no reason for this reaction. He can deflect a thrown knife, can crush trashcans and silverware without breaking a sweat. A man tries to escape on a motorbike, once, and Erik easily swipes it off the road before strangling secrets out of the rider. He should be able to do this, to stop a bullet before it even leaves the chamber, but the moment he hears the click of the trigger his vision whites out and he can think only of his mother, bleeding on the floor of Schmidt's office.

He leaves dozens of bullet holes in the walls of dozens of hotels.

The worst part, the absolute worst part, even more than the weakness, even more than the flashbacks, even more than the sick feeling he can't shake for days in the aftermath of hearing a gunshot, is that he has no problem with the guns themselves. It should be a blessing--when he sees a gun being drawn, it's no more than a wave of his hand before it's cast aside and out of reach--but it simply reminds him every time of the person he couldn't save, of the thing he couldn't do. Another scar left behind by Schmidt, another way that Schmidt is controlling him even now.

He hates guns. He despises them. He makes sure he always has one on him.

He trades the first weapon for a better model he takes from the corpse of a former lab assistant, a man who enjoyed taking blood a little too intensely. That one he replaces with something stronger, heavier, more reliable, snatched from the weakening grasp of a guard who liked to put his cigarettes out on Erik's back. He hopes, each time, that the new weapon will tear through the block, that this will be what he needs to get over the pointless barrier to accessing his ability fully.

It never does. His anger builds.

***

The first time he gets shot, Erik is more surprised than he should be. He's been lucky, he suspects, in avoiding it this long.

He stares down, incredulously, at the bloody hole in his shoulder. The pain is muted and distant, somewhere beyond the shock and rage. He slams the man who shot him against the wall without even looking up, using the cross hanging around his neck to swiftly decapitate him.

He stares at the hole in his shoulder until he hears a woman scream. Then he runs.

It would be easy to pull the bullet out once he gets back to his hotel, but he leaves it in as long as possible, lets it sit in his shoulder until the pain is whiting his vision out along the edges. He deserves this. This is punishment for not being in control, for letting Schmidt still have this part of him. This is his burden, his reminder that he's still what Schmidt made him, that he needs to work harder, be better, be more.

He pulls the bullet out and stitches the hole up and passes out from blood loss.

***

Charles Xavier is--

Charles Xavier is--

Erik doesn't like most people. No, "like" doesn't even factor into it. Erik doesn't make it a habit to even acknowledge people. Erik has been completely alone since he left the camp. Erik hasn't had friends or companions, hasn't even traded pleasantries with people in pubs. Erik only engages as much as is needed to gather the information he desires. That's how it's always been. That's how it was supposed to be--he was supposed to talk to Xavier, to sniff around the CIA for information on Schmidt, to take the knowledge he could pull together and retreat before he was missed.

It's been months. It's been months and Erik has spent those months thinking about something other than Schmidt, other than bullets, other than his goals. They've still been there, under the surface, boiling just behind everything else, but they're not his focus. He should be angry. He tries to be angry, tries to put on a show of keeping everyone at arm's length, tries to pretend he doesn't care. It might fool the CIA and it might fool the children, but he doesn't think it fools Charles, no matter how seriously he takes Erik's demand that he stay out of his mind.

Charles is the first thing since the gun that Erik has wanted to understand, the first thing to present a challenge. He wants to decipher Charles. He wants to find out what makes him the way he is, tear him down to his component parts, study him, know him. He wants to run his fingers over every part of Charles, every dip and groove, wants to put him back together again over and over until he can do it in his sleep.

Oh, he wants.

He keeps his distance. He has a feeling that, much like the gun, he'll never be able to predict Charles, never be able to achieve his desired outcome. He doesn't know that he can put words to his desires, even. He doesn't know what he wants beyond Charles and doesn't trust himself not to destroy Charles in the process of tearing him apart.

He keeps his distance and averts his eyes and tries to focus on Schmidt, on revenge, on bullets. Months and months and then, all at once, he can't anymore.

Stay, he calls out to Charles one night, desperate and drunk and falling apart. Stay, stay, stay.

"Stay," he croaks out loud, reaching out a hand and something in Charles wavers. He sees it, drunk as he is, the moment Charles gives in, turns around, the look on his face, the vulnerability, the desperation.

He lays his hands on Charles. Pushes his clothes back. Touches his skin.

He kisses Charles and it's like being shot all over again, the shock and the pain and the way every muscle tenses and tightens. Every part of him burns and the parts where Charles touches him, where he's touching Charles, burn white hot.

He knows he should push Charles away, but he deserves this, doesn't he? He's been so patient, so dedicated, that he deserves this, just this once.

He doesn't understand Charles any better in the morning. He doesn't think he wants to as long as he can keep him, as long as he can hold on to Charles for as long as possible, keep him near and close. It won't matter that he can't dissect Charles if he has Charles with him always.

***

There's no reason to worry any longer. There's nothing that can stop him. He's killed Schmidt--Shaw--and he's unlocked that barrier, destroyed the block to his power. Shaw is gone--he can't control Erik any longer. Erik controls his own destiny. Erik controls his own body.

But then, he should know better, shouldn't he?

There's nothing wrong with pride, his mother used to say, but arrogance is dangerous.

Schmidt was killed by his own arrogance. The damage of Erik's is infinitely worse.

He pulls out the bullet and stares at it in the palm of his hand, a twisted clump of metal, so much smaller than the submarine he lifted from the ocean just moments ago. So paltry compared to what he can do now, what Charles has taught him to do.

Bullets always are, it seems.

The ghost of Klaus Schmidt will always have a part of him. So will Charles Xavier.

Erik leaves. He has no choice. He takes what's left of him, the tattered remains that haven't been claimed by his fear of Shaw or his love of Charles, and he goes while he still can, while there are still parts of him untouched. Rage was the key, regardless of what Charles has shown him, and he needs to harness that now, needs to feel it rushing through his veins, needs to focus on the anger until all he sees is red so he can tear apart the world. He's tried it Charles' way and, in the end, what did it change? What did it matter? A little thing, a bullet, so small that it taunts him as it tears through his life and destroys everything he loves over and over and over again.

The rage is all he has. It belongs to him and no one else and he takes it, twists it up deep inside of himself, and goes to reshape the world. Not to Shaw's vision and not to Charles', but to his own. He needs to break himself down, pull himself apart and dispose of the things he doesn't need, eliminate everything but his goal, and if he can't get rid of them, he needs to wrap them up and bury them deep.

He's the weapon now. He always has been. That means shedding distractions. That means focusing inward. That means crushing anything that can hurt him before it gets the chance.

Erik leaves, head held high, even tempered and sharp. He doesn't look back.