Erika lies in bed in her hotel room, looking up as she sculpts the jewelry she'll wear tomorrow.

She doesn't ever change the rings. The necklaces, well, there's not so very much she can do with them without drawing too much attention to them. But her earrings are her one frivolity, her one concession to the little girl that died in Herr Doktor's office when her mother did.

There is, of course, nothing frivolous about the fact that she wears earrings... or the rest of her jewelry. Everything she does has a purpose.

The diamond ring on her finger, the "engagement ring" next to it, those tell the world she is married. It's a lie, of course, but a very useful one. It also tells them that her imaginary husband is wealthy. While she could kill every man who thinks that a single young woman in public is there to be groped and pinched and leered at, leaving a trail of bodies behind her that are not Nazis might interfere with her ability to leave a trail of bodies that are Nazis. She could fight the whole world, if she has to... but her chances of successfully getting her vengeance on Herr Doktor that way are very low. So, rings for camouflage. A supposedly married woman endures less lewd behavior, and less second guessing and patronizing from people in power, petty bureaucrats and banking officials. People assume she speaks with the authority of her fictional rich husband.

Also, the diamond is asymmetrical. The facet that she usually lets show is carved like a pretty, useless gemstone, like the pretty, useless gemstones all the wealthy married women wear to advertise that they are owned. The facet that faces down into her ring - the one that she can rotate up by inverting the metal of the ring, if need be - comes to a very, very sharp point. Diamond cuts through anything; she's been bound by leather and twine before. Now, someone would need to take her rings before tying her, if they expect to keep her bound... and they won't ever get the chance.

Rings can be as effective as bullets at smashing holes through human bodies, if propelled with sufficient force.

The necklace is, today, a beautiful filigree of intertwined strands, steel with a slight shimmering coat of gold to fool anyone but a jeweler into thinking it's a trinket a wealthy man might buy his woman. Most of the men she pursues are hard fellows, who carry weapons that can be turned on them. Some, though, some she couldn't reach without posing as a woman of loose morals, and men don't tend to think they need to carry their weapons into bed with women. They're bigger and stronger, and this might even possibly matter if Erika ever found herself alone in a room with one of them where there was no metal she could reach... but no man blinks an eye at a woman wearing her jewelry into a bedroom.

She's garroted men with it. She's also unraveled it into a slender but unbreakable wire and used it as a climbing rope. Occasionally she has used it to bind or whip men she was interrogating, when they didn't have fillings in their teeth she could work with and they weren't carrying weapons.

The earrings, though... The earrings can be weapons, as much as the rings can be flung through a man's skull or the necklace can strangle one, but she hardly needs more weapons. If all that mattered was that she has metal on her person, a ready supply of material to kill people with that she's never required to take off, they'd be sufficient. If all that mattered was that she look like a rich married woman, earrings might be advisable, but would hardly be crucial.

The earrings are the only thing in her life that she can make beautiful, for the sake of making them beautiful.

When she styles her hair and wears makeup and attractive clothing, it's to be a weapon. Always. There are men who will let her in close enough to kill if she is beautiful. There are men it is easier to get information from, or get problems solved by, if she is beautiful. Generally just being beautiful, and playing the mysterious silent type who flirts with her eyes rather than actually spouting ridiculous bullshit from her mouth, does it. Sometimes she has to fuck them. She doesn't feel anything when she does. She doesn't feel anything about the fact that she's beautiful, either; it's a tool, a means to an end.

When she was a little girl, she would sculpt out of clay, and dot her creations with shiny bits of glass, and wrap them in cast-off scraps of cloth in bright colors, or she'd cut tiny scraps of paper into very tiny flowers and snowflakes and then give them as presents to her mother, and her mother would tell her that her sculptures and her handmade clay dolls and her paper presents were beautiful, and that maybe someday she would be a great artist. Which was probably the crap all parents tell their children about how wonderful the silly things they make are, but it's almost the only thing she remembers through the haze of pain every time she thinks of her mother as a living woman rather than the corpse on the floor of Herr Doktor's office.

There's nothing left of that girl who wanted to be an artist, who wanted to make beautiful things. Except this.

The metal melts and flows and folds and separates as she points at it. She doesn't actually touch it, and she couldn't do to paper or clay with her hands what her powers can do to the metal. She's much more dexterous with magnetism than she is with fingers, actually.

She makes shining rings, and then rethinks and makes circles made of beads, and then twists, and finally settles on two crossed rings, a cage, and inside them a polished, faceted gem of iron, burnished to a gleam and altered to the color red. Iron likes the color red. She can make black or silver or red. Not much of a color palette, but then, those are the colors she likes anyway.

A wealthy woman would be expected to wear gold earrings, so she coats the crossed rings with a faint sheen of gold, skimmed off a supply of teeth she stole from dead men because they made their money stealing teeth from her dead, so why not? When she's done, only a jeweler would be able to tell that the earrings are barely a karat, and it's unlikely that anyone would be able to tell that the shining red opaque stone in the center is actually iron.

They are beautiful. They are the only thing she makes deliberately beautiful.

Tomorrow she will wear them, and she will confront men while she wears them, and she will very likely kill. Possibly, with the rings or the necklace. She's never been so low on ammunition that she had to use the earrings. They're just there as a tiny sop to her mostly-dead soul.

Today, she cradles them in her hand when she is done. And then, she puts them on the nighttable, and with her powers, picks up the coin instead.

Charlotte loves to swim.

She loves any kind of solitary sport, actually. Mother used to tell her such pursuits weren't ladylike, and she never had a chance to learn to love team sports before her powers made playing them hopelessly unfair, but running, horseback riding, even totally unladylike activities like jumping and rock climbing (and totally childish ones like tree climbing)... she loves them all. But what she loves best is swimming.

She doesn't do it very often, though, because she's ashamed of why she loves it.

When she and Raven walk into a room together, Raven always makes sure to be more beautiful than Charlotte. More vivacious, more flirtatious, wearing more attractive and more revealing clothes. Also, she doesn't regale men with stories about their totally groovy mutations. Raven makes fun of her for doing this, claiming that Charlotte would get more men if she didn't hit them over the head with her intelligence as soon as they try to chat her up, but Charlotte has her reasons for that. There's no pleasure whatsoever in talking to a man who looks at you and sees an empty shell, a hollow beautiful automaton with no self will, so she chases off anyone who'd be frightened by an intelligent woman, and that leaves her only the fellows who like it when she's smart.

She does it on purpose. She doesn't want the attention of the shallow boys Raven flirts with. And yet there is a completely unreasonable part of her that is stung every time men overlook her, the pleasantly attractive dark-haired genius, for her blonde bombshell of a little sister who likes to pretend to be Marilyn Monroe or something.

But Raven is afraid to swim.

Not actually afraid to swim, exactly. She used to swim like a fish at the Xavier mansion, when the two of them were alone, the servants having been encouraged to go do something else, and Raven could take on her true form and swim in her glorious naked blueness. But she won't swim in public, because she's afraid that if she's swimming hard, if she's panting and the water's in her eyes and her muscles hurt and she's gasping for air, that she'll lose control, and turn blue again. And it hurts her too much to see the pool and not be able to swim in it.

Charlotte does not know these things because she's read Raven's mind. She promised Raven she wouldn't do that, years ago. She knows these things because Raven told her.

So she knows that when she goes to the pool, dressed in a sexy swimsuit, that men will be looking at, and appreciating, her. Not Raven. Because she knows why her sister needs the validation of being the sexiest girl in the room, why Raven needs to be prettier than Charlotte, why men paying any attention to Charlotte makes Raven feel like she has to step up her game. This, she knows not because Raven told her but because it's really kind of obvious when you've read so many minds that you've learned a lot about human nature. Charlotte is naturally what the world calls attractive, and Charlotte is rich (the estate comes with strings; the same strings that prevented Kurt Marko from getting his hands on any of the property after Sharon died prevent Raven from inheriting much of anything. Only an actual descendant is allowed to own the Xavier mansion and the funds tied to it. Not that Charlotte cares, the place is a mausoleum, but the money's useful.) And Charlotte is a genius. And Charlotte can hide effortlessly. And for all that Brian Xavier was only there once after Raven arrived, and then he died, and Sharon was distant and unaffectionate pretty much ever since Charlotte turned six, at least neither of them ever strangled Charlotte until she lost consciousness and put her in a garbage bag and threw her in a dump when she was four.

Raven has a lot to prove. Being more beautiful may be the only arena she feels she can compete with her sister in. So Charlotte lets her.

But at the pool... she doesn't have to let her, because Raven won't go. So Charlotte can go, and swim, and drink in the thoughts of the men appreciating her (and no, it's not true what men say, that if women knew what men thought of them they'd be horrified. Some men, yes, but most men look at women they find attractive and think of mutually pleasurable sex where the woman is moaning in ecstasy, and Charlotte doesn't see anything wrong with that. It's only the fact that they change their minds about the women in question, a lot of the time, after the mutually pleasurable sex has been had, because they've been taught that women who have casual sex are somehow less valuable people, that upsets her, and as long as she doesn't actually have sex with them she never has to run into that issue.) And she doesn't even have to hit them over the head with how smart she is, because they see her athleticism as she swims and they put her in a different category than "brainless bimbo" just from that. They don't even consider the question of whether she's smart or not, because they're too busy appreciating how well she swims... and how well she fills out her swimsuit.

This bothers Charlotte, because she enjoys it so very, very much. She should not like being able to beat Raven in the one area where Raven competes with her, just because Raven refuses to play. It shouldn't even be entering her head that it's great to be somewhere where she can be attractive and men will look at her and Raven is nowhere to be found. She should feel sorry for her sister, being deprived of the pleasure of swimming because she fears for her control... and well, yes, of course she does feel sorry for Raven, of course she wishes Raven had better control of her powers and could swim with her, but as long as she can't, well... and then she feels bad about even thinking that.

So she doesn't go swimming nearly as often as she'd really like to. But when she does go... she wears the most stunning bathing suits she owns.

For updates and notes about my work, visit my Livejournal at alara-r dot livejournal dot com. (Fanfiction dot net strips links, so I have to write it out like that.)

Support my writing and see sneak previews, incompletes, outlines and working notes! Maybe even vote on what I write next, or get me to write you a fic. See my account at www dot dot com slash alarajrogers.