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Before Sundown

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The first time Charles ever held a gun to Erik's head, it was at his request, but more than that, something Erik wanted: eyes sparkling with delight and challenge, body fairly humming with anticipation, mind broadcasting /do it do it I dare you/ so loudly that Charles didn't even have to try to listen for it.

Then, it was a game.

###

The second to last time Charles ever held a gun to Erik's head, it was a macabre parody of the first. Erik was still asking for it, almost begging, and his hand curled round the barrel to guide the gun into position, and his mind was nudging an insistent /do it/ at Charles's probe; but his body language was anything but the same. Exhausted, tense, and resigned.

"I can't," Charles said at last, and Erik winced.

"You have to."

"I know," Charles said bleakly, and turned away, still holding the gun.

###

The guns all had metal in them. Technically, Erik could fire them without physical contact. And he'd tried to do it himself, but a ridiculous sense of self-preservation had kept him from being able to pull the trigger, either manually or magnetically.

That was when he'd gone to Charles.

###

The others held a whispered conference, and then sent Raven as their delegate: "Let one of us do it."

Charles, startled out of his thoughts, just stared at her unblinking.

"Look," she said, "we know--"

"You don't know anything," Charles told her, and stalked away.

###

They'd hoped that mutants were, somehow, immune; that if luck and skill weren't enough to keep them safe, biology might be.

Havok had been the first to prove that theory wrong, and they'd managed to kill what he'd become, but the resulting explosion had left a circle of scorched earth.

Erik was the second.

###

"I can't kill you."

"I'm already dead," Erik countered. "You know that. There's no cure, we aren't immune, I am dead. And you know that I'm easier to take down before I-- before--"

"I know." Charles didn't raise the gun.

"Please," Erik said quietly.

"Give me time--"

"We don't have time."

He knew that, too.

###

/I love you, Erik Lehnsherr./

He'd never said it. Even now, he kept the words trapped in his own head, not letting them out.

"All right," he said, and then "--wait--"

###

Kissing someone who's infected was a death sentence.

Charles closed his eyes, pressed against his temple, and projected, trying to get as close to real as possible. In his mind, and now shared with Erik, Charles is pressing close, holding Erik to him, kissing him so hard there's blood and neither of them knows who's bleeding; neither cares. They kiss like they have forever, a lifetime of togetherness distilled down into a moment that can't last nearly long enough. In their minds, Erik has one hand in Charles's hair and one splayed on his lower back to pull him closer, and Charles has his fingers digging into Erik's waist, and they never pull away.

###

Charles lowered his empty hand, gun still heavy in the other, and took another long look in the rusty late-afternoon light at Erik's face, memorizing it.

Erik's closed eyes fluttered open, and they were bright with tears. "Yes," was all he said.

Charles took a deep breath, shuttered his mind closed, and raised the gun to Erik's head for the last time.