Rating: R/NC-17 overall, probably PG-13 for this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Genderbend, violence, disturbing images, references to the Holocaust, references to past non-con and child abuse. I delve into the darker implications of telepathy here, so please heed the rating – both of the fic overall and of the individual chapters.
Summary: Written for a kinkmeme prompt that wanted to see the events of the movie if Charles had been a woman. This story will also wander into psychic-bond trope territory, as well as being a shameless fix-it fic. Just so everything’s clear up front…
Charlotte is still dripping wet, and trying to close off her mind to the lust-filled thoughts of the sailors around her. Many are completely innocuous, the kind of harmless fantasies the mind goes to when it beholds an attractive person in clinging clothes, but some have a darker edge to them, the scalpel-sharp edge of show her what she's good for/put her in her place that Charlotte's become depressingly accustomed to.
She doesn't hunch her shoulders, but she can't quell the urge to cross her arms over her chest, to hide the blouse that's probably turning transparent even now. She turns to ask for a blanket – because even without the sopping clothing, it's bloody cold out here! – to find Erik has positioned himself in front of her, glaring viciously at anyone who so much as glances at her.
Charlotte's not sure what to make of that. She's fought her own battles since...well, since there were battles to fight (Kurt and Cain, her memories whisper, but she won't think of them now), and Raven has been so much of a little sister to her it's instinctive to shoulder her burdens alone rather than let them weigh Raven down. To have someone feel as though they need to protect her even from something as small and petty as this is...new.
Perhaps she should be insulted, but Charlotte can still feel him (the loudest, strongest mind she's ever known), 'and his thoughts have nothing of can't handle herself and everything of crude idiots/don't know they're looking at/should show respect.
It's different enough to hold her silent and curious as a blanket is draped around her, as she and Erik are hustled below decks, out of the wind and the sea spray.
“Why did you jump in after me?” Erik asks – no, demands.
His eyes are suspicious, and something in Charlotte aches at the idea that it has been years since he has known kindness without an ulterior motive attached to it.
“You were drowning,” Charlotte says, perhaps a little dryly.
The suspicion in his eyes doesn't let up. “And what concern was that of yours?”
“I felt your mind,” Charlotte admits. And it's ridiculous to be grinning while her teeth are chattering this hard, but she can't help it. “It's extraordinary.”
Erik's face contracts into something approaching a snarl, and he steps close as though trying to intimidate her with his greater height.
“Stay out of my head!” he hisses, the expression on his face best described as ‘menacing’.
But he's still projecting as clearly as a film reel in a cinema, and Charlotte knows this is simply automatic. Erik lashes out because that's the way he's used to dealing with the world – hurt it before it can hurt him. She can feel his reciprocal fascination with her, and beneath that, the relief he doesn't want to acknowledge, the grudging satisfaction that comes with knowing that he is not the only one with unusual talents.
Erik is gone before Charlotte can explain it wasn't exactly intentional – that his mind just reaches for hers the same way he reaches for metal.
Moira finds her a spare tracksuit, which Charlotte’s slight frame swims in more than she did the actual ocean. It's the smallest one on board, but she still has to roll the sleeves back twice before she can even see her hands.
Charlotte finds herself hoping her suit dries before they go to pick up Raven, or her sister will be giggling all the way to the CIA compound.
But in the meantime, there's a debriefing to go to, and a new friend to pick up along the way. She doesn't wonder why she thinks of Erik as a friend so quickly and immediately.
There's no formal guard on the cabin Erik was instructed to change in, but Charlotte knows it isn't coincidence that several navy men are lounging in the hallway. They aren't going to trust the assurance of a civilian woman, after all, and she takes a moment to swallow the familiar bitterness before she knocks on the door.
“Erik?” She keeps her tone light and inquisitive, undemanding.
The door opens – and of course, Erik's tracksuit fits him perfectly, and Charlotte feels a flicker of envy at the fact that he looks completely at ease in his borrowed clothes. She can’t help taking note of his shoulders and chest, broadened by what she suspects are several layers of muscle, and the way his damp hair is curling slightly at his temples, but she's allowed to be shallow now and then.
“They want to debrief us,” she says, smiling the kind of welcoming smile that seems to put people at ease.
But with Erik, it only makes him more suspicious. He folds his arms defensively even as Charlotte has to strengthen her shields against the why did she rescue me?/what's in this for her? hammering at her consciousness.
“I'm not staying,” Erik says bluntly.
“Why not?” Charlotte asks.
Erik's lip curls. “I thought you said you knew what Schmidt meant to me.”
There is a flash of blood and pain and screaming, too quick to be truly disorienting, and with a start Charles realises that Erik's so-called 'projections' are partially her fault. Her telepathy – usually only picking up on surface thoughts and emotions unless she concentrates – honed in on Erik the moment his memories began to assert themselves, as though her mind was reaching out to welcome him in.
Given that Charlotte has worked on shielding her mind and muting the endless flotsam and jetsam of people's mental process since she was seven, this is rather disconcerting. Clearly she'll have to pay more attention to her shields when Erik's in the vicinity – it won't do to just throw them up and leave them be, as she usually does.
But Erik's still staring at her, and Charlotte realises she hasn't actually replied to him.
“I did say that,” Charlotte nods agreeably. “And I would have thought that would be your main reason for staying – at least long enough to hear us out.”
Erik's defensive posture doesn't change or soften the slightest bit – he doesn't even twitch – and Charlotte resists the urge to sigh in frustration.
“Aren't you wondering why the CIA just happened to show up?”
But she can tell he isn't. Very single-minded, this man she's found. Although she suspects they've found each other.
In the end, she settles for a slightly conspiratorial smile, and the promise, “Come with me, and I promise everything will be explained.”
Within twenty-four hours, Erik's world view has...well, not changed, but certainly been shaken. He was so sure, for so long, that he was the only one, a freak. But then there was that strange woman with Shaw, who for a moment looked like she was made out of diamonds, and Charlotte's sister Raven, who claims she's a shapeshifter...
And of course, Charlotte herself, and to think of the bright-eyed woman sitting beside him as a freak seems a kind of blasphemy.
Anyway, Charlotte informs him that they're not freaks; they're mutants. The next stage of human evolution, which is certainly a much more glorious moniker than any Erik has given himself in the past, but he has to admit he wasn't truly paying attention to the biology lecture. He was more caught up in the bewildering spectacle of a thirty year old woman acting as excitable and painfully happy as a puppy.
Erik doesn't know what's happening to him. He doesn't get attached to people – not any more. He cons and threatens and charms and does whatever the situation requires to get him to Schmidt, but he doesn't get attached.
What he's feeling now, in a government-issue car with a telepath beside him who's grinning brightly at her sister, then twisting to glance at him as though inviting him to share in the joke, is frighteningly close to attachment.
It grates unpleasantly on Erik's nerves, the bright kindness Charlotte seems so determined to show to everyone and everything, the way her smile doesn't falter for even a moment as they walk the halls of the CIA's complex, in spite of the contemptuous glances he can see directed her way, lingering on her trousers and suit jacket.
Raven and the woman Charlotte introduced as Moira are wearing skirts and thus, seem to be considered acceptable. Erik wonders if Charlotte is trying to make some point with the clothes she chooses to wear, if attracting their attention for her attire has been deemed a better option than attracting their attention for other reasons.
Charlotte reveals another mutant purely by accident, and Erik notes the easy, almost unconscious use of her abilities – Charlotte is much more powerful than she likes people to believe.
She is also bright and trusting and (there is no other word for it) innocent, and something in Erik is quietly seething because he has seen how this world treats the innocent and the trusting. This is why he wanted to leave on the boat; because he has a mission, and he can't get distracted by pretty blue eyes and an open heart.
Someday, Charlotte's trust is going to be her downfall, but that's her problem, not his (it can't be his). All he needs is the information on Schmidt – that's all he came for.
Charlotte's not surprised that Erik wants to leave – a little disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised.
They're on the cusp of something magnificent, she just knows it. She's never felt drawn to anyone the way she feels drawn to Erik – she knows that together, they're going to be the start of something wonderful, though she has no idea how she knows this – and if she believed in soulmates, she'd say that's what this is. As though they were destined to meet.
She can stop him, of course she can – freezing people, compelling them, that was one of the first things she learned (and she won't think why, not now, not ever) – but she won't. She's never used compulsion when it wasn't necessary. It always leaves a nasty after-taste in her mind, but that's not the reason she's holding back with Erik.
She's not a fool – this must be his decision, in the end.
It truly is a surprise when she sees him the next morning. She was rigidly disciplined throughout the night, never letting her mind reach out for his even the slightest. It was slightly distressing, deliberately numbing her telepathy like that, but the background hum of everyone else's thoughts had eventually soothed her into sleep.
And she does agree with him on mutants being found by other mutants. It will promote a greater sense of solidarity, lessen the idea that they're being tracked down as freaks (or so she hopes).
By the time she steps into Cerebro, pulling the elaborate headpiece down to settle on top of her hair, her gut is aching with restless excitement.
“What an adorable lab rat you make,” Erik says, expression unconcerned.
But beneath his flippant tone she can sense his unease and worry, the sure knowledge that he will rip those metal wires apart the instant that this machine look like it's hurting her.
If Charlotte were anyone else, she might raise an eyebrow at the swift ferocity of his concern – after all, she has only known him for a day. But as it is, she just smiles at him and chides him not to spoil it for her.
And then...and then she is so much more than Charlotte Francine Xavier.
She is every mutant from here to...god, it feels like her mind is stretching across the entire continent. She feels all of them – their fear and regrets and joys and pains and the loneliness that seems to pervade all of them like a dark stain of ink across a book. She wants to reach out to them, to assure them that she's here, that they're not alone, that none of them will ever be alone again if she has anything to say about it, but she manages to rein herself in.
A disembodied voice in their head is hardly going to be reassuring, she chides herself, and tries to drag her spiralling telepathy under control. Focus, she needs to focus, on the closest or perhaps the loneliest, the ones they can do the most good for...
When the location of a strip club coalesces around her, Charlotte can't stop herself from laughing.
Erik's not really sure why he came back. He would like to say it's part of a larger plan, that he's more assured of reaching Schmidt if he remains with these people, and that's certainly most of it...
But it's not all of it. It would have been, back when everything made sense, but now there is a stir of reluctant curiosity to find more mutants. And even worse, something he can only call fascination for this woman known as Charlotte Xavier.
He wonders if this a by-product of whatever she did that night in the ocean, when she spoke to him underwater. Does everyone she uses her power on feel compelled to be close to her, to understand her the way she understands them?
He doubts anyone can ever truly understand what Schmidt did to him or the craving, desperate need to kill the man those years instilled in Erik's heart. But he finds himself thinking that perhaps Charlotte might come close to it.
He knows he's hovering when Charlotte is being hooked up to Cerebro, knows and resents that he can't seem to stop himself. Can't quell the urge to prowl close to the railing, to reach out for the feel of those twisted copper wires to assure himself that he can rip the machine apart in an instant if he needs to.
“Don't spoil this for me, Erik,” she says, as though the possibility of being abused and exploited has never entered her mind (and he won't think of when he was like that, young and trusting and still believing that nothing bad could ever happen to him).
Hank is flipping switches and the lights are flickering, but Charlotte's gaze is steady on his until she closes her eyes. Erik is just beginning to relax incrementally, to tell himself that this doesn't seem harmful, when Charlotte's eyes fly open on a breathless scream.
The only thing that prevents him from reducing the entire machine to scrap is the bright, unreserved wonder on Charlotte's face. Her breath is coming in pants, and she's practically trembling on the spot, but it's clear from her expression that this is far from hurting her.
Still, he's not sure it's entirely good for her. Her trembling worsens as the minutes tick by, as though the immense mental power contained in that slight body is seeking to burst through Charlotte's skin. But her grin is as broad as it was that night in the water, and Erik's not truly surprised when she starts laughing.
He doesn't think he's ever met anyone as willing and eager to share her happiness with others as Charlotte is.
Hank hastens to shut off the machine, clearly worried that something went wrong, but there's not a trace of pain or concern in Charlotte's eyes when she focuses on Erik.
“My friend,” she announces, barely-concealed mirth and excitement dancing in every syllable. “We're going to a strip club.”
Charlotte will put up with a lot to find other mutants, but right now, she's feeling rather sceptical about the whole project. They have to blend in, and for Charlotte, this means a dress, jewellery and heels.
The dress is red, with a daring neckline and a hem well above her knees, and she hopes she and Erik won't have to chase the mutant down, as she's certainly not going anywhere fast in this. She's borrowed some of Raven's jewellery – sapphires flash at her throat and wrists – and she can almost feel the eye-shadow and mascara weighing her lids down.
She's never a fan of dressing up at the best of times. She wears trousers far too often to be really comfortable in a dress or skirt, and having to be constantly aware of the position of her legs and how the material is covering her is just annoying. But it's really the shoes she resents the most. High heels are not footwear, they are instruments of torture; Charlotte is quite certain of this.
And maybe, just maybe, dresses and high heels and make-up reminds her of her mother's disappointment (why can't you be a normal girl?), but that's neither here nor there.
Erik is waiting by the car – it's only an hour or so drive to the club – and Charlotte feels a moment of purely lustful appreciation at the sight of Erik in a dark charcoal suit that was obviously fitted exquisitely. And yes, that moment might have turned into two or three (she's a healthy woman with healthy sexual appetites), but who's counting?
Charlotte allows herself her indulgence, then tells herself to be grateful she's the telepath in this partnership and begins to negotiate the driveway, trying to summon up long-past memories of walking in these idiotic shoes.
Erik isn't uncomfortable in the suit, but that's hardly a recommendation. He's grown accustomed to wearing whatever he has to, from the lice-riddled clothes of the concentration camps to the fine suits he wore to suspicious Swiss banks. He could be standing here in nothing but a loincloth if that was what the situation required and still not feel uncomfortable.
But watching Charlotte wobble towards him, he can tell she most certainly is uncomfortable. She keeps trying to take strides that are far too long, obviously more accustomed to trousers than the clinging dress, and he can tell she's only barely holding in the urge to stretch out her arms for balance.
It's rather reassuring to see that, for all Charlotte's ease and confidence and peace in herself, there are some things she seems to be legitimately awful at.
So Erik crosses the distance between them in free, easy strides and offers his arm. Though he doesn't say a word, he can feel his mouth stretching into a smirk of amusement and gentle mockery.
Charlotte looks at him,'torn between pride and practicality, before she finally sighs and slides her hand into the crook of his elbow.
“Yes, alright, I am as graceful as a three-legged giraffe when I wear high heels,” she grouses as they set off towards the car, Charlotte using him to keep herself steady. “Please keep all mockery to a minimum until we're finished.”
“And then I have free reign, do I?” Erik asks, his lips curling into something that more resembles a smile than a smirk.
“I guarantee you there's no comment or joke you can come up with that Raven hasn't already. That three-legged giraffe comment was one of her better efforts.”
Objectively, Erik can acknowledge that Charlotte looks beautiful. Her hair is loose, her mouth flush with lipstick, cheekbones accentuated with rouge and eyelashes dark and full, an optical illusion to make her eyes look wider and the blue irises more striking. And the dress is designed to show off her body in the most blatant fashion, complete with plunging neckline and clinging waist.
She looks like a pin-up, but really, Erik prefers her in the suit. Because Charlotte in trousers and jacket is natural and at ease, relaxed and joyful, but this...this is fake. This is Charlotte playing a part, donning protective colouration and trying very hard not to stand out when really, that seems to be what she does best.
“You shouldn't have to wear that,” he comments as he starts up the car (Charlotte is dubious about her ability to work the pedals in high heels and insisted on Erik driving).
From the corner of his vision, he can see Charlotte's face brighten in surprised pleasure, as though he's just given her a particularly spectacular compliment.
But all she says is, “Sometimes subterfuge is necessary. We don't want to attract attention, remember? And I can assure you, having me show up wearing a suit would most certainly attract attention.”
Charlotte knows it's ridiculous to get flustered by something as simple as 'you shouldn't have to wear that', but she can't help it. Most people simply choose not to comment on her preference for trousers (what thoughts she gets from them are another matter entirely), and the most she ever got from Raven was a “Knock 'em dead, Charlie”, and then only when she was attending an academic meeting and the suit became more of a symbol of defiance than simple comfort.
Though really, the suit started out as both defiance and defence mechanism. Charlotte's shields are strong, but they can only take so much, and it was exhausting to go about her day with her mind constantly mired in jeering, sarcastic thoughts about the quality of her work, the quality of the administrators that had admitted her to the university, her sexual history and whether that sexual history had anything to do with being admitted. So she'd donned the suit, and to have all that ugly noise focus on her clothes instead was an immeasurable relief.
And at this point, she's gone without skirts and dresses and high heels for so long that they just feel foreign to her. She doesn't know how Raven can stand to wear them, let alone how she runs in the things. Perhaps it's some sort of secondary mutation?
So to have Erik express such open support for her choices in attire, and so off-handedly, as though it would never occur to him to think otherwise...well, it's new, that's all.
A lot of things about Erik are new to Charlotte.
“Her,” she whispers when they slip into the club, her eyes on a coffee-skinned girl with sleek, dark hair and tattoos of insect wings.
She almost reads the woman's mind to find out her mutation, but holds herself back – Charlotte likes to be surprised every now and then.
“We need to get her attention,” Charlotte murmurs to Erik as they slide into seats at a circular bar.
Erik chuckles, deep and rich, before he produces a bill with a large denomination on it and beckons the woman over.
“Oh, right,” Charlotte chides herself aloud. “Obvious.”
Erik chuckles again, and Charlotte can't help but think that it's a shame he doesn't laugh more often.
“That was astounding,” Charlotte is beaming, still sipping at her champagne as they wait for Angel to finish up her shift. “I wonder how her wings can transition like that? Are they absorbed into her skin somehow? Or do you suppose-?”
“I thought you could read minds,” Erik points out. “Don't you know already?”
“I don't read minds all the time,” Charlotte smiles. “I'd miss out on surprises like this. Besides, I try not to read people's minds too deeply when we're first getting acquainted – it tends to give the wrong impression.”
“You did with me.” And Erik's still not too sure how he feels about that.
“Your mind's very loud, my friend,” Charlotte said, her tone almost contemplative.
Erik can feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, alert to any weakness. “How so?”
Is he somehow more vulnerable to telepathy than other people? Was that why that woman with Schmidt was able to nullify him so easily?
“Think of my mind as this room,” Charlotte says, gesturing expansively with her glass. “Most people's thoughts are like the rest of the club – I'm aware of them, but they don't really disturb me and I can't pick anything specific out unless I focus on them. But your mind...it's like someone knocking repeatedly on the door, calling my name.”
She glances over at him, and apparently sees something in his expression she doesn't like. “It's nothing to be ashamed of. Your mind's very strong; one of the strongest I've ever encountered. And it's partially my fault – I should have been able to keep you out, but...”
Charlotte trails off in a shrug, then laughs softly, almost to herself.
“I think you're drunk,” Erik observes dryly, wondering if he really wants to be in the same room as a drunk telepath.
“Perhaps a little,” Charlotte concedes. “But I guarantee you, I would be just as giddy without the champagne.”
Angel returns, clad in a black dress with a cream bag slung over her shoulder, and Charlotte doesn't even wait for permission before she slides her arm through his once more.
Not even two days ago Erik’s first reaction to being touched unexpectedly would have been to severely injure the person doing it. He wonders what it says about him that his instinct now is to lay his hand over Charlotte's and bring her closer in case the alcohol is interfering with her already-abysmal coordination.
“Are you feeling okay?” Angel asks as they leave the club, frowning at Charlotte.
“Perfectly fine,” Charlotte beams. “I'm just unaccustomed to wearing high heels, and I'm afraid I don't have your superb balance.”
Angels scowls. “If that's meant to be some kind of comment on my job-”
“By no means,” Charlotte hastens to reassure her. “I rather envy your coordination, truth be told. I could never wear those boots without falling flat on my face.”
Angel is smiling by the time they reach the car, chattering with Charlotte about the various shoes she's had to wear at her job and which pair were the worst, and Erik wonders if Charlotte has this effect on everyone she meets. After all, Angel worked in a strip club – she should know to be wary of the customers, and yet she's leaving with them after barely fifteen minutes of conversation?
Erik drives in silence, knowing that Charlotte is darting worried glances at him but content to let her soothe Angel's concerns by herself. He's not exactly the nurturing type.
Moira goes to settle Angel in her own room, and as soon as they step into the common living area that's been set up for them Charlotte bends down and plucks off her shoes.
“Freedom,” she sighs, leaning back against the bar as she extends her legs and wiggles her toes into the carpet.
Erik experiences a sudden flash of desire as she stretches her arms above her head, back arching and body relaxing. He smothers it quickly though, forces his mind to recite all the aliases of Schmidt he has learned over the years, and hopes Charlotte didn't pick up on it.
It feels almost like a betrayal to want her, as though he's just like the other men in this compound, who look at her body and never see the mind behind it.
But he doesn't think Charlotte has detected anything because she's still smiling at him, wide and giddy as though she's just been given the best present she could ever ask for. Joy rises in him like golden bubbles through champagne, and in this moment he can almost say that his life is perfect...
Except, Erik realises as he shakes a suddenly-muzzy head, that's not him feeling that.
“Are you in my head again?” he asks, trying for stern but feeling he only comes across as curious.
Charlotte blinks, and the joy/light/warmth in Erik's mind bursts and vanishes. He tells himself he doesn't miss it.
“I'm sorry,” she apologises, sounding very contrite. “Sometimes when I'm particularly happy, I tend to...well, leak the feeling a little. Is it better now?”
Erik doesn't answer. Because 'no' implies too much, and 'yes' would be a lie.
AN: Thanks, as always, to ginbitch, my marvellous beta!