In his heart, Charles always knew it would come to this. A line was being drawn in the sand between him and Erik, and there was only one thing for Charles to do. The only right thing.

He just wished it didn't feel so much like betrayal.

Forgive me Erik, he thought, knowing that the remorse would never reach Erik through the helmet. Charles stretched his mind as far as it could, encompassing every bit of life in a huge radius of ocean, island, and sky, and aloud, because Erik had shut him out from his mind, Charles snapped the thin bond fragmenting still between them.

"It's them or me," Charles said quietly.

Erik didn't pretend not to understand what he meant.

Charles met his disbelieving stare squarely and calmly, though inside he wanted nothing more than to take them all away, back home, to a peaceful place to talk it out when Erik wasn't drunk on power and rage. "Kill them or save me," he said.

For a second Charles thought he might have miscalculated;—and when had he ever had to calculate when it came to Erik instead of just knowing—Erik's eyes filled with a fury Charles had never seen before.

"You'd give up your life for the humans?" Erik said quietly, dangerously. Charles had hurt him though, hurt him almost worse than he had ever been hurt, and Charles began to wonder whether he should brace himself for the agony of thousands of lives snuffed out—not that it would make a difference.

But then the missiles began to drop one by one into the ocean. Erik fixed his cold gray eyes, dull as the pallor of dead things, on Charles's all the while. Was that how he looked at strangers, at enemies? Because with Erik there was no in between. It was either with him or against him, and Charles had known him well enough to draw a line clearly for Erik to choose where to step.

But it had been the only way.

When the last missile splashed to the depths, Erik said softly, amidst the overwhelming relief of people prepared to meet death and seen light instead, "Damn you, Charles."

Erik took a step forward, every line and every angle menace personified. Charles stood his ground as he advanced. They stood almost nose to nose for a full second, before Erik's eyes softened a fraction, turned just this side of stormy rather than stone. When he spoke, his tone was almost wistful. "I would always choose you over the humans. Over the world. Over everything."

Charles closed his eyes to hide his flinch, feeling a coward as he did so, and when he opened them again, Erik, Azazel, and Riptide were gone.

"Come on then," he said wearily to the mutants left. "Let's go home."

Except it wasn't home, not anymore. Erik had taken home with him wherever he had gone.

The only right thing. Charles leaned back into his seat and tried to sleep, knowing full well it wouldn't come.

A/N: crossposted from the Archive