“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier, and simpler.”
It's one thing to be a woman holding a doctorate and having to deal with the sneers and comments and ruined experiments and stolen data (not that Charlotte has much of a problem with the latter two, telepathy being what it is). It's quite another to be a woman holding a doctorate and know each dark, razor-filled thought behind every cruel smirk and mocking laugh, to feel the resentment pouring off them like black oil whenever she passes.
After defending her thesis to a lecture hall full of people just looking for an excuse to throw her out (and she knew it was true, she could feel it, and every speck of discipline and control she possessed wasn't enough shut out such an immense tidal wave of it), going for a drink is an immense relief. She and Raven choose a bar a long way from the university, far from the thoughts that had clogged her mind like weeds in a propeller, and where Charlotte is finally – finally – able to relax her guard somewhat.
Enough to begin eyeing the handsome blonde man at the bar, and wondering if he will appreciate a discussion of how his green eyes are really a mutation of brown eyes.
Raven notices the direction of her gaze, and snorts. “Charlotte, please tell me you aren't winding up for that ridiculous mutation line.”
“It's not ridiculous,” she defends. “It works, doesn't it?”
And she knows why; she hears it in their minds each and every time. With such driven, science-oriented talk then she's obviously a career woman, one of those unnatural creatures that don't want a husband or children so clearly she's only after a night of fun and isn't that just brilliant? It might be true – Charlotte is often after a night of fun and her telepathy makes it easy to protect herself. But just because the idea of a husband or children hasn't entered into her plans yet doesn't mean she can't resent the assumption, just a tiny bit.
But then an auburn-haired woman slides in front of her and calls her 'professor', and the night out takes a most unexpected turn.
She'd expected the government men's scorn, the disbelief, but she hadn't expected Raven to stand up and defend her the way she had. For a moment, Charlotte is worried, but when she throws out her telepathy to skim the thoughts of everyone in the room, and latches onto the man sitting in the corner, his plans and hopes and ambitions...then Charlotte knows everything is going to be all right.
This man knows about mutants, has been trying to convince his superiors for years, but he doesn't want them as lab rats, or as experiments. He sees them as powerful forces for good, and if the flavour of his own ambition colours that dream...well, everyone's ambitious, and his ambition is born of a true desire to do good.
And wonderfully, miraculously, there isn't even a touch of resentment or doubt in his thoughts – he doesn't think Charlotte will be useless or unable to help him because she's a woman. He knows what it's like to be marginalised, to be seen as less than what he is, to have paths cut off and doors shut in his face.
Charlotte thinks she's going to like working with this man. She even makes sure they take Moira along for the ride.
It's heady – for so long she and Raven have been the only ones, and now to feel another telepath in her head, to feel such incontrovertible proof that it isn't just them is like every birthday Charlotte's ever had come at once. The good birthdays, that is, not the ones she tries not to think about.
But even beyond the haze the other telepath is weaving to stop Charlotte, there's another mind, projecting rage and despair and a driving need for vengeance so strong it almost sends her to her knees.
Charlotte has never felt a mind like this. A mind so strong it can sweep past her shields like they are straw, a mind so chaotic it's hard to pinpoint where the man is...but there, there in the dark water, a shape moving so fast it sends a surge before it.
How is he moving so fast?
She fixes on him, focusing her mind on the bright flicker of his consciousness. To her surprise, the answer to her question comes easily, flowing lightly into her mind without any of the usual effort and struggle of probing another mind, syncing her thoughts to those of her subject. His name is Erik and he is using magnetic fields to pull himself after the submarine and his name is Erik. He is hunting a man called Sebastian Shaw – Herr Doktor. And he needs her. That is enough, and she dives into the water.
Later, when she's shivering and dripping over the ship's deck, Charlotte will wonder at her choice of words. She knew he needed her – not that he needed rescue, or that he needed someone to pull him back from the brink. He needed her.
He's so close, so close Erik can practically taste the metal of the submarine on his tongue, and it will only take a little bit more, just a little bit more to pull it back to him, just a few more moments and he'll have Shaw in his grasp...
But then there are arms around him, slender and lean with muscle, and a voice...
Except it can't be a voice, because he isn't hearing it with his ears, and voices don't come with light in the back of your head and warmth that sears through every part of you. Voices don't come with a whispered litany of please/please/please and not alone anymore/I heard you/I came and the feeling that something he didn't even know he was calling for has finally come home to him.
It's that feeling, more than the plea, that makes Erik lose his grip on the submarine. The body behind him twists, feet kicking and propelling them to the surface, and it's the sensation of air on his face that reignites Erik's fury because he had been so close...
“Get off me!” he snarls, turning around and shoving at whoever has grabbed him. “Get off me!”
“Just breathe,” comes the voice, and hearing it with his ears instead of...whatever that had been, Erik realises that the voice is female.
“We're here!” she calls, and the sweep of the searchlight momentarily blinds him.
When his vision clears, Erik is treading water in front of a small woman wearing the sopping remnants of a suit jacket, dark hair sticking to her face in salt-clumped tendrils. Her eyes are in shadow, but he can see the bright gleam of her teeth as she smiles wide, far wider than anyone shivering in the ocean has a right to.
“Who are you?” he demands because he can still feel it, that tickle of light and warmth at the back of his mind, the kind of warmth that just makes you want to relax into it, and what is this woman doing to him?
“My name's Charlotte Xavier,” she gasps, spitting out water.
“Are you in my head?” Erik doesn't bother waiting for a reply because he knows, in the same way he can sense the corrosive itch of the salt which clings to her metal zipper and belt buckle. “How did you do that?”
“You have your tricks, I have mine – I'm like you, just calm your mind.”
It's fantastical, ridiculous. Erik is floating in the ocean in the middle of the night with a woman who knows his name without being told and can speak in his mind and who looks at him like he's the realisation of her every dream.
And it's that last part that Erik finds hardest to grasp.
A life ring is thrown, and they're pulled up to the ship, and it's a surprise to find that Charlotte is wearing trousers. It isn't that Erik falls into the trap of thinking women are less capable or ruthless than men – in the camps, the female 'nurses' could be just as sadistic as the male guards – it's just unusual to meet a civilian woman who openly wears what's traditionally considered masculine clothing.
She's shivering, her teeth chattering as she reassures another woman – clearly government, with the regulation black skirt and ID hanging around her neck – that she is unharmed.
“You wear trousers,” he comments, thinking it's ridiculous that he’s just noticed that now, when she knows his name and god knows what else.
He knows practically nothing about her.
Charlotte Xavier goes stiff, and her eyes are narrow and hooded when she turns around. “Yes.”
It's the kind of tone that dares him to make an issue of it, while her set shoulders and shuttered expression tell him that many before him have indeed challenged her on it.
Erik knows he should ingratiate himself, put on the charm so she trusts him and it will be easier to sneak away when he has to. But his response isn’t practised or cultured, but automatic – he doesn’t like not being able to see her eyes, and he feels the irrational urge to say something that will make her look at him the way she had in the water.
“It agrees with you.”
Her eyes are blue, and as open as the sky.