"Pathetic," sneers Erik. The Mutant Control forces down on the street have found even more guns to point up at him.
He turns a little more into the wind, making his cape flare out dramatically. "Pathetic, vicious little creatures. Do you really think your weapons can help you now? We are the future of this world, and you are its past."
It's a good speech, and he knows for a fact that at least two cameras are recording him right now. The MC routinely record all encounters… as do the X-Men. Which makes it a particular pity that Erik never gets to finish.
"If you will not adapt," Erik intones sonorously, "then you must d–"
The sudden wave of vertigo hits without warning. It's an odd counterpoint to the equally sudden barrage of brutal blows that thud into his back and shoulders. He tries to reach out with his power, to stabilize himself in the air, but can't get a proper grip on anything. His head is spinning, the world is twisting nauseatingly, and then –
He's falling. Straight down.
There's only split seconds for Erik to act.
He twists in mid-air like a cat, desperate not to crash down on top of Charles and break his neck. It works, more or less. He doesn't break Charles' neck, at any rate, which was the main point of the exercise. He does still crash down on top of Charles.
(So he shouldn't have been hovering right above Charles in the first place, he knows that. But really, it was mostly coincidence. And besides, Charles was also to blame. He could have directed his X-Men's collaboration with the enemy from some other rooftop, couldn't he?)
Erik ends up sprawled on his back, all the breath knocked out of him. Charles' knees and the arms of the wheelchair dig into him painfully, and Charles is staring at him all shocked and wide-eyed.
Too loud, way too loud; Erik winces as the sound stabs a sliver of agony through his head. Nausea and dizziness surge up for a moment, threatening to overwhelm him. He beats them back through sheer force of will, and even manages to gasp in half a lungful of air.
Charles trumpeting his name again right next to his ear does not help.
What does help, on the other hand, is the way every single Mutant Control commando freezes in place, courtesy of a telepathic blast that rips through their anti-psi shields like paper.
But Erik doesn't find out why nobody's trying to finish the job until later. Right now, all he knows is that he needs to get up, get moving, and get off this roof to regroup.
He takes a quick inventory, determines he's still mostly alive, and begins to disentangle himself from his cape, the wheelchair, and Charles. This would go considerably faster if it weren't for Charles' carefully probing hands and anxious stream of "where are you hurt, don't move you idiot, what happened, why did you fall" babble.
Once he manages to pick himself up, he finds that he's essentially unharmed. It's a good thing he's wearing his new suit – it is indeed as bulletproof as his tests indicated. He's going to have spectacular bruises, not to mention that he broke a rib or two, but that's all.
More importantly, now that the nausea and vertigo are under control, his power is surging back, filling up all the empty spaces of his soul.
These days, every Mutant Control troop seems to carry weapons that shoot ceramic bullets. Erik supposes he should consider it a personal compliment.
A quick glance to the side proves that Charles is watching him closely. Erik refuses to let the scrutiny disconcert him; he takes his time in tugging his suit back into position and settling the folds of his cape over his shoulders in a properly imposing manner.
When he finally looks back to Charles, Charles seems distinctly uneasy.
"My apologies," Erik manages, and then has to pause for a moment to breathe. He always forgets how painful broken ribs are. "I didn't mean to – well. It was the most strategic position, that's all. Obviously."
Even now, Charles is still so transparent to him; so well-known. Erik watches him discard several possible responses before finally settling on one. "What happened?"
"Nothing that need concern you." It comes out sounding colder than Erik intended, but no matter – it's not unwarranted. Charles has proven time and time again how little the misdeeds of the humans he allies with mean to him. He's given up trying to understand how a man as intelligent as Charles can be so stupid.
Charles' expression tightens with impatience and not a little anger, and Erik decides to relent a bit. He did nearly fall on Charles' head, after all. "They've been experimenting with ways to disrupt my control over electromagnetism. So far, nothing they've tried has been at all effective, but this time they got lucky."
Going by what he can remember of the feeling, it must have been some type of radiation. He'll be able to narrow it down quickly as soon as he gets to his lab. Really, Erik should be thanking those anti-mutant zealots. Being aware of this potential vulnerability will be immensely useful, particularly since he can't imagine he will have trouble finding a way to compensate for it.
Charles snorts, shaking his head.
"What?" Is he going to make fun of the helmet again? Surely not. Even Emma agrees that the new design makes Erik look majestic and commanding.
"Nothing." But that's nonsense, because now, Charles is doing that thing where his lips aren't smiling, but his eyes are.
Erik raises his eyebrows and Charles gives in. "They're working on new ways to kill you, and you're grinning. You really are a lunatic, aren't you."
Oh – that. "You do know that electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces, don't you?" Erik feels his grin widen dangerously. "And that's not even going into the fact that basically, all four fundamental forces are manifestations of one and the same underlying force." Trying to defeat him with radiation? Yeah, right.
Charles purses his lips priggishly, but Erik can tell he's fighting a smile. "Really, Erik. Smugness is so unbecoming."
"Everything becomes me," Erik says grandly. Clearly, this calls for a pose, and so he ignores his protesting ribs and strikes one – chin up and turned to the side to present his face in heroic profile, chest out, shoulders back. He even makes his cape billow impressively.
And there it is at last: a real smile. A smile that lights up Charles' face into genuine warmth; a smile that wipes away the years and the pain and the bitterness, making him look young, carefree and happy again.
It's the perfect moment for Erik to make his exit. Especially since he can see some of Charles' X-Men in the distance, returning from whatever they've been doing. He's in a strangely good mood all of a sudden, and doesn't want to ruin it by playing the villain for self-righteous children.
The entire episode is on Youtube the next morning. The video is entitled "The Fall of Magneto" and has already soared to a new record number of views. Since Erik is reasonably certain Mutant Control has no interest in publicity, his prime suspect is a certain young man with blue fur and a grudge.
Erik watches the video five times in a row. Then, he downloads it to his cell phone so he can watch it some more later on.
He doesn't care what he looks like as he breaks off in the middle of his grand speech to tumble from the sky like a stunned duck, straight into Professor X's lap. He's never been concerned about dignity anyway; it's a luxury he can't afford. As for the damage to his carefully built reputation of menace and unstoppable power – well, he'll recover the lost ground soon enough.
The only thing Erik watches the video for is the expression on Charles' face. The camera captured it quite well. An instant of pure shock. Naked fear. Dawning anguish… and the kind of white-hot rage that can burn the world to the ground.
To Erik, it looks like love.