People never realise how much metal they actually carry.
Glasses. Buttons. Zippers. Belts. Jewellery, watches, hair pins.
That's the way it has always been, and it shouldn't be distracting. To Erika, the small bits and pieces of iron and steel that complete a human being's outer shell are simply part of the awareness that another person is present. She can see them, she can hear them, and she can feel the metal on them; unless she's hunting, she doesn't even notice it.
But then again, she notices everything about Charlotte.
When Charlotte enters the kitchen, sleepy and soft around the edges in a way that Erika never is, she's already fully dressed. Erika has never seen her in anything but reasonable skirts and shirts both buttoned high enough to hide any hint of cleavage and fitting tightly enough to utterly fail to conceal just how generous her chest is. When they first met, dripping wet and shivering from the freezing seawater, the white material had been translucent and plastered to her skin; that was the first time Erika had noticed her — a brief, out-of-place flicker of interest that she immediately dismissed.
Now, she wishes she had memorised every dip and curve of the magnificent, infuriating creature that would soon draw her into her orbit. It had been the most she'd ever see of Charlotte's body, and she can't even remember it clearly.
Charlotte is always buttoned up; they've been living in the same house for three weeks, and Erika doesn't know what she wears to bed. If she wears anything to bed.
Time after time, day after day, Erika notices. One moment she's struck by the riveting blue of her eyes, or the soft fall of brown locks across her back, or the red of her mouth.
The next, she finds herself simply listening to her voice — so deep for her friendly, youthful face — her plush accent as grating as it is beautiful.
And always, as an undercurrent, the tendrils of her power feel out the belts holding up those modest skirts, the delicate chain disappearing under her collar, the thin wires supporting her breasts - oh-so-close to her warm, bare skin.
She's wearing a garter belt today.
Erika can picture it so easily.
They'd be kissing, and she would finally figure out whether Charlotte wears lipstick — whether kissing her would get it smeared over both their mouths or whether she'd be able to watch those lips get redder and redder with each nip of her teeth.
The buttons would go first, flung away one by one, revealing one tantalising strip of flesh at a time. She'd untangle her hands from Charlotte's thick curls to run them slowly down her pale throat, then lower, and lower still, until it would be time for the belt to go, bringing the skirt down with it. She'd hear her moan at that, deep voice hitching up just for her, almost whimpering – but not quite, not yet.
She'd pull away to admire her handiwork — prim and proper Charlotte Xavier leaning against the wall, flushed and panting, gaping shirt hanging off one shoulder, clad in her lingerie, still wearing her heels; her eyes would open slowly, pupils blown wide — and Erika would close in again, stroking the silk of her stockings, her inner thighs, and when she'd put a hand between her legs she'd already be wet, so wet—
And she's looking at her. She's not blushing, she doesn't even look unsettled — as serene and quietly confident as ever; untouched by the horrors of the world, always ready to laugh at something, a corner of her mouth quirked up, one eyebrow raised slightly. Erika knows nothing of her musings had transpired on her face, but with a telepath—
"Hank here" she nods in his direction; he's looking at the floor, avoiding her eyes, "was asking how much metal you can usually move, outside of combat situation. He put the final touch to the blueprints last night."
"It – varies." And isn't that a nuisance, too, her inability to master her own gift, the power that she feels in her blood should belong to her, without the switches and levers that her creator gave her when he wrenched it out of her in the first place.
"Well, what are the variables?" Charlotte smiles absently at her own wordplay. Self-satisfied. As always.
"Mostly, how angry I am." She feels ridiculous calling it that. It isn't anger, isn't even rage, or fury, or wrath. It has been the driving force behind every action, every thought for so long — it transcends language.
"And does your emotional state affect your precision?"
She has to think on that for a moment. "I've never tried building anything while I was angry enough to move something that big. But," she looks Charlotte straight in the eye, defiant in a way she hardly ever felt the need to be before they met, "it's never affected my aim."
Charlotte nods. She doesn't avert her eyes, doesn't bite her lip, doesn't look understanding or sorrowful in that condescending way of hers — but Erika can tell that she wants to, and it sets her teeth on edge and brings an ache to her chest.
Like everything Charlotte does and says and thinks, and everything she doesn't do or say or think, it brings out the best and the worst in Erika. Her wish to protect and build, her need to destroy and punish — Charlotte makes her feel like a battlefield, and she can't even tell which side is best and which side is worst, until she has to remind herself that no matter what Charlotte says, things are not good or bad; things just are.
She wants to pin Charlotte to the floor by her watch and her bracelet, her necklace and her fucking garter belt, and she wants Charlotte to hold her close until it all goes away; she wants to rob her of everything she's ever had, and she wants to gift-wrap the world and lay it at her feet; she wants to lock her up and teach her how cruel the world can be, and she wants to lock her up so she'll never, ever learn it.
It's tangled and it's bloody, a constant undercurrent to her thoughts. A month. They met a month ago, and already Charlotte is as all-consuming a presence in her life as Schmidt, or as the magnetic North.
The sun rises every morning, she will kill Schmidt or die trying, and she wants Charlotte Xavier.
Erika feels with everything she has, everything she is. She works in absolutes. She doesn't do half-measures. But Charlotte has effortlessly woven herself into every part of her. Charlotte, who dived into the sea to keep Erika from drowning, and refused to let Erika push her away, and made everything that ought to be clear black-and-white into a swirling, conflicted grey.
Charlotte knows. She must know. Erika is split apart, the inner landscape that she built so painstakingly throughout the last sixteen years (stark plains and wide roads paved with fury and pain, all converging towards a single point: a coin through Klaus Schmidt's head) reduced to rubble by her mere presence.
She is a compass needle, and suddenly, there are two Norths, both equally overwhelming.
Every fibre of her being is clamouring for Schmidt's blood and pleading for Charlotte's everything.
It has to be as deafening to Charlotte as it is to her.