Marla Velasquez met Charles Xavier her second week at Mercy-St. John's, when she pitched into the room by accident, fourteen hours into an unexpected double shift and hazy-eyed with exhaustion. She'd been working pre-op, looking for one Mrs. Earlton Lassiter, who was due to have a toe removed; she'd found Charles instead, and a second later registered the steely glare from the austere man beside the bed.
"S-Sorry," she'd stuttered, and stumbled back out again. After visiting hours were over and her shift was finally up, she'd tiptoed back to the room and glanced over his chart––Charles Xavier, 35, in his third week of what Dr. Fulton suspects will develop into a persistent vegetative state. Jesus.
Eight years later and she knows Mr. Lehnsherr as well as anyone at the hospital, which, considering how often he shows up, is surprisingly little. She's done her fair share of work in the ICU, has turned Charles to help prevent bedsores, has stopped in now and then to check on Mr. Lehnsherr during particularly difficult days, once brought him a cup of coffee as he sat dry-eyed in the waiting room while they operated to relieve the excess fluid in Charles’s skull, gripping white-knuckled the arms of his plastic chair. He thanks her and greets her by name, inquired after her husband and children for years, slipping her a card (Ororo Munroe, J.D., Attorney-at-Law) before she’d even convinced herself she needed a divorce.
“I’ve learnt to notice things, this long life of mine,” he’d said, when she’d asked, and he couldn’t have been more than half a decade older than her but she’d eyed the gray in his hair and believed it. “And you, Marla, deserve better than whatever it is you’ve got.”
“Thanks,” she’d murmured, and ducked out, hovering briefly by the door to hear him begin to read the ancient, dusty tome he’d brought with him, his voice warm and amused despite the horrifically dry text. It must be love, she’d thought, and her eyes burnt for him.
And now it’s May, the knife blade between spring and summer, and Mr. Lehnsherr comes in with his customary single flower––this year it’s purple phlox, she recognizes it from her mother’s garden––and his cupcake from Dean & Deluca’s, which, Mr. Lehnsherr had confided the third year in, had been Charles’s overpriced favorite, before.
“Hello, Marla,” he says, and kisses her on the cheek, continental, his faint accent folding down around his vowels. “How lovely to see you.”
“You too, Mr. Lehnsherr,” she says agreeably, and continues on down to Mr. Harold Brzewski, who likes to give the girls a squeeze but is too weak to be anything but harmless, thank god. She’s just finishing up there as she overhears one of the more irritating new residents coming down the hall, his voice whining up the walls like a damn trumpet. “Did you see that old queer with the flower?” he snickers. “He was crying, almost.”
Marla breathes in deep and tries to let it go, but then his buddy snorts and says, “Yeah, what a fucking fag,” and Marla, who has been through more in her life than these two privileged children can even imagine, loses it.
“How dare you,” she says through clenched teeth, clutching her clipboard to her in an effort to stop herself from hitting this coward.
“Excuse me?” the first resident says, exchanging incredulous glances with his stupid friend.
“How dare you even talk about Mr. Lehnsherr like that,” she says, quiet, calm belying her fury. She may be nothing but a nurse to these pompous assholes, but she knows she’s better than them, better down to her bones. “He’s more a man than you could even hope to be.”
The resident rolls his eyes extravagantly. “Yeah, whatever, Marla,” he says, drawing her name out like a caricature, gesturing rudely at her where he thinks he can’t see.
“Oh, so help me,” Marla says, and steps up right into the resident’s face, her voice shaking with fury. “You treat that man with respect, you little piece of shit,” she hisses, and something in her makes him stand down, go pale, but she isn’t done. “He’s come here practically every day for the past eight years to tend to someone who might never wake up, someone who won’t even know what good he does, and not because he’s some chickenshit intern dying to prove how macho he is but because he’s––a good man, a kind man. And someone you could bear to learn something from, mister,” she adds for good measure, shaking with the effort.
The resident looks shaken. Good, she thinks. He should.
“Marla, you shouldn’t have,” she hears from behind her, and suddenly Mr. Lehnsherr steps up, places a hand on her shoulder. Even prematurely bowed by age and grief he’s taller than the resident and his friend, leaner, quietly and viciously dangerous, though Marla knows deep in the core of her body, where her heart and lungs meet and stretch and compress, that he would never hurt her. “Surely I’m not worth such heated argument.”
“You’re worth a lot more than that,” she protests, and narrows her eyes at the two young men, who sink back against each other against the force of her glare.
“Oh, shoo, flies,” says Mr. Lehnsherr, and they do, they flee, scatter. “Certainly not worth your time, lovely Marla,” he says, and she colors at the endearment; it sounds almost like someone else speaking through him, his words usually as spare as he is––as angled, precise.
“I just couldn’t stand the thought of him being so terrible to you,” Marla insists, checking her watch and cursing inwardly––she wants to stay, but there’s no time, not with the constantly understaffed hospital under the strain it is, and her temper tantrum’s going to cost her. “I just couldn’t.”
“Well, thank you on behalf of my well-worn honor,” Mr. Lehnsherr says, as pleasantly neutral as he usually is, maybe colored a little more warmly. “And now I suppose you had better get back to work, and I, to––to Charles, for just a little longer.”
“A little longer,” Marla agrees, and rubs his shoulder the same way she rubs her son’s after he’s scraped his knee on the sidewalk outside their apartment building, or her daughter’s when she’s found another pimple in a particularly embarrassing place. “Thanks, Mr. Lehnsherr,” she says, quietly. “You’ll never know what you’ve done for me.”
Mr. Lehnsherr glances back at the hospital bed she can just see out of Charles’s door, left ajar. “What Charles has done for us all,” he murmurs, and steps back inside.
“Thanks, Charles Xavier,” Marla whispers, and hurries towards her next chart.
MIRACLE RECOVERY FOR MUTANT ACTIVIST
by Ann Sneider, 6:43 PM
Ten years ago, founder of the Xavier Institute and former leader of the X-Men Dr. Charles Xavier was put into a coma by injuries following the well-publicized shoot-out and presumed psychic battle at his Westchester estate.
While the Xavier Institute’s mutant rights activist group, colloquially known as the X-Men, continued to work under Xavier’s name and image, Xavier’s continued and unexplained absence from the public eye was finally called into question. Eventually his team released the shocking news that Xavier was in an intensive care unit in an unnamed New York hospital, and that his recovery was uncertain.
“It was a terrible time,” Jean Grey, spokeswoman for the Xavier Institute, said. “A very difficult time, while we tried to decide where and how to continue to spread the Professor’s message of peace and tolerance in a world that clearly wasn’t ready to accept it.”
Though Xavier had been classified as being in a persistent vegetative state soon after the shoot-out, he was soon reclassified as being in a minimally conscious state–-that is, while still unable to move or communicate, he demonstrated some awareness of external stimuli. His doctors at first remained cautiously hopeful as his condition continued to improve, but he did not regain consciousness, and soon it seemed as though there was very minimal chance of full recovery.
Xavier’s long-time partner, Erik Lehnsherr, however, refused to give up the fight. According to hospital sources, he was often seen by Xavier’s bedside. “He used to bring him gifts on his birthday,” confirmed Marla Velasquez, a nurse who came to the hospital around the same time as Xavier. “They were one of the establishments of [the hospital], I was almost sad to see them go, especially once Charles––I mean, Dr. Xavier––especially once he was awake and able to talk.”
“Oh, it’s such a love story,” sighed one young mutant, who chooses to go by Rogue.
But will the X-Men continue to thrive under the guidance of their old leader? Or will his expertise be deemed obsolete?
“We are thrilled to have Professor X back, of course, and will welcome him as long as he wants to stay,” Jean Grey said of the Xavier Institute’s sizable population. “And we are equally thrilled that Mr. Lehnsherr, whose work in mutant lobbying is world-renowned, as well as Dr. Xavier’s sister, with whom Mr. Lehnsherr has had a years-long professional partnership, have decided to add their considerable sway to our cause.”
“Now [censored] off,” added her anonymous mutant companion.