Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the X-Men or recognizable characters, settings, or events. I am simply playing in Marvel's and Stan Lee's sandbox. References to historical events include the Vietnam War and, possibly, the Watergate Scandal. However, all original characters, settings, and events are property of the author and not intended to represent any real person, place, or events. Any and all similarities are entirely coincidental and not the intent of the author.
Author's Note: This story was written to reflect the emotional and mental toll the last year has taken on my life. Much of it is based on concepts that I learned as I coped with the loss of my father-in-law to lung cancer. However, that said, there are triggers in here that may be difficult for certain people. Be aware of these triggers! They include, among other things, past alcohol and drug abuse as well as emotional, physical, and mental abuse. I have done my best to keep this at a T rating while being real.
Also, I am an author, not a doctor or nurse or psychologist. I have written the characters to the best of my ability, and they are intended to be human, make mistakes, and become overwhelmed at times. I did not set out to write this as an example of modern nursing practices or even mid-seventies nursing practices. This is a story about hurting people learning to heal. Please keep this in mind as you read, particularly if you are a member of this profession.
This story contains spoilers for X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past-The Rogue Cut. Also, this story is completely written and working its way through the editing process. A big thanks to theicemenace for the beta work and to Ani-maniac494 for being my first reader and sounding board. Both of them have helped make this story what it is today.
All of that said, I hope you all enjoy the story! And don't forget to tell me what you think.
Late May 1973. . . .
Housebound individual seeks qualified live-in nurse. Salary includes room and board in the quiet New York countryside approximately an hour-and-a-half from New York City. Interested applicants contact Dr. Hank McCoy.
Anne Conrad fingered the edge of the clipped advertisement as her taxi cab wound down Graymalkin Lane. This was further out of town than she'd expected, but she enjoyed the chance to get away from the city, from the noise, and from the constant pressure of other people. Besides, she had already sent in her resume and references, and this interview could not have come at a better time.
The front gate of the property stood open and did not inspire a lot of confidence. While the wrought iron was sturdy, the wooden embellishments on the gate showed a genuine lack of maintenance. The circle with an "X" in the middle was interesting, however, and Anne frowned. Not many people used that particular letter in their name. She had known only one, a long time ago.
She caught the glance of the cab driver in the rearview mirror and knew what he must be thinking. Everyone thought the same thing. She looked much younger than her thirty-two years, and she had always attributed that to good genetics. But, at times like this, she hated how men her father's age—and younger—seemed to think she needed protecting.
Those thoughts came to a halt when the house appeared. It was massive. Three stories high with bay windows, wrought iron railing, and a host of other ornate touches, it towered over the taxi as the driver pulled to a stop in front of the door. Weathered stone, leaded glass inlays on the front door, and a stone pathway welcomed visitors with a grandeur from years past. It would have made a charming picture, but the grounds showed years of neglect. The drive had long since lost all of its gravel and now puffed dust from the tires of the cab while weeds and grass encroached on its borders. A fountain, stained from years of disuse, featured another "X" in the design, but the grass there had also grown tall, barely tamed and leaving a visitor with the sense that the house had been abandoned. The trees around the drive were so thick she could barely see hints at a once-beautiful garden and grounds.
Surely this wasn't the place.
Anne leaned forward. "You're certain?" she asked again.
"Yep. Fourteen-oh-seven Graymalkin Lane." The cab driver nodded to the front door, where a small set of numbers confirmed the address. "Look, miss, I don't know you well. But I don't like the looks of this place. I'll stay here 'til you're sure you want me to leave." He held up a hand. "At no charge. I got a daughter your age."
Smiling at his assumption of her youth, Anne pushed the door to the taxi open and stepped out. The mid-summer sun warmed her face, and she took a moment to let it give her strength. I hope I'm not making a colossal mistake. The thought crossed her mind as she knocked, and then she felt the irrational urge to giggle. Just last night, when she received the call from Dr. Hank McCoy, she had rushed around her small apartment, making arrangements to be out of the city for a the day. The idea of taking a live-in position at a secluded home in the New York countryside sounded perfect for her needs. She was tired of people, tired of the city, and tired of how her life had turned out. Anyone with the money to afford a live-in nurse had to be able to give her a bit of luxury that her life had missed lately.
Now, she wanted to run the other direction. Weeds grew all along the drive, her visions of well-kept grounds and peaceful gardens dissipating along with the idea of a soft-spoken matron in silks and smelling of roses. Whoever lived here clearly did not care for how her home looked from the outside.
The massive door cracked a bit, and a thin young man wearing glasses peered out. "Miss Conrad?"
Anne forced a smile and nodded. "Yes."
He stepped back, swinging the door wide. "Come in." Then, he gave an embarrassed laugh. "My apologies for how this place looks. I'm sure you'll understand when I explain the position."
Anne found herself looking him over, not seeing any need for a live-in nurse. Had she misread the listing in the newspaper? Or was he the son or nephew, doting on an elderly relation in his or her last days? Or worse, a relation waiting for his elder to die and leave him with the fortune and house? He seemed too timid, too unsettled in his own skin, to be more than a family member. But being a doctor did not mean a medical degree. He very well could have earned his doctorate in some other science and used it to sound more official.
Following her still-unnamed escort, she walked gingerly through the mansion, noting the thick draperies over the windows and dim, cluttered rooms that showed a sincere lack of motivation. More than that, it showed. . . . She closed her eyes and pushed back the images of nights filled with too many cigarettes and bottles and not enough sleep.
Her escort led her into what appeared to be a library that had been converted to a study. At least this room was somewhat clean, though she could see cobwebs hanging in the corners and dust on the shelves. Two couches faced one another, a coffee table between them littered with books, papers, and a couple of glasses. And the sunlight slanting through the leaded windows changed color thanks to the stained glass that adorned them every foot or so. When motioned to do so, Anne perched on the edge of a couch.
The young man actually sat on the coffee table. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I'm relieved to finally have a qualified applicant after all this time."
Anne smiled. "I'm glad, but I'm afraid you have me at a loss. Mister. . .?"
He actually flushed. "I'm sorry." He held out a hand, sheepishly grinning at her. "I'm Hank McCoy. We spoke on the phone last night."
Anne shook the hand he offered, a little startled at his strength, and smiled. "Your ad said you were looking for a live-in nurse." She couldn't help but stare. He seemed awful young for a doctor, but she had met many brilliant men in her time. Perhaps he was one such individual just needing a chance in this world.
The flush on Dr. McCoy's face deepened. "Actually, we're looking for a live-in everything right now." He shrugged. "You see, my employer has authorized me to hire one person to help with the place. Not with heavy lifting, but with general upkeep."
Anne frowned. "The ad said 'nurse,'" she reminded him.
"Yes, and that's what we need." McCoy finally slipped onto the other end of the couch, sitting next to her rather than putting the table between them. "My employer is something of a recluse, as you can tell. He has some physical challenges that require medical expertise as well. He—and I—can take care of most of his medical needs. However, psychologically, he needs more than just me. He has decided that he needs to make his way back into the world." He shook his head. "I won't lie. This is not an easy job we're asking you to take on. My employer chose to create this position for reasons that are his own, and we hope you'll say yes."
Anne took a moment to look around the library. "Are all the rooms like this one?"
"Dirty and dusty?" McCoy gave her another embarrassed grin. "They're worse, I'm afraid."
"Dark and closed up, mostly. But some of them are lived in." He shrugged again. "By two bachelors." Then, he flushed again. "By the way, I want it said up front that you have nothing to fear from us. We simply need someone else around the place. Someone to remind us that our world isn't these four walls."
"And you want that someone to be me?" She hated to say it, but this job was sounding less and less appealing as the moments passed. She knew what the clutter and dirt meant. It hearkened ten years into her past, to a time she forced herself to forget.
"Yes." McCoy reached behind him, picking up a few papers as he did so. "After receiving your application and resume, I took the liberty of contacting your previous employer. They declined to give you a recommendation."
Anne suppressed the snort that wanted to escape. "I'm not surprised."
"You worked in a rehabilitation center in Manhattan?" McCoy eyed her. "As what, exactly?"
"A nurse. My duties included the same thing any other nurse in a hospital might do, including administering medications, making notes in patient charts, ensuring patient safety. . . ." She smiled. "You get the picture."
"Yes." He studied the page in front of him, his blue eyes missing nothing on the it. "Any particular reason they wouldn't want to recommend you?"
She lifted her chin. "I left them for ethical reasons. I saw things there that went against everything I learned as a nurse and, as much as I liked the work, I could not continue to condone such behavior."
"Such as?" McCoy made a few notes as she spoke, glancing up only when she hesitated.
Anne sighed deeply. She had known this would come up, but stating the facts out loud while an open investigation hung over her head felt a little awkward. Not to mention she hoped this didn't preclude her from working. "Adding fictional pro bono cases to our patient list to receive federal and state funding. Other nurses who, for a price, smuggled contraband to the patients." She shook her head slightly. "I reported all of this to the State of New York the day I left that position. I apologize that you don't have a positive recommendation, but I am qualified for this position." And I really need the job.
McCoy offered a smile, but it did little to calm the nerves in Anne's stomach. She hated interviews. Trying to find a way to ignore how he seemed to have every bit of information on her time as a nurse in front of him, she glanced around the room. The windows were darkened, but the crack in the dust-covered drapes showed that this was the back of the house. There had once been a garden there, but it had long since grown over and become wild. Still, she could see no other house or signs of civilization for miles save for the large satellite dish barely visible over the trees.
Could she do this? The longer she stayed in this house, the more she felt like she'd stepped back in time, returned to England and Franklin and his controlling ways. Or worse, to New York and those horrible months after she came back to the States. She recognized the dirt and clutter, the moldy smell, and the embarrassment on McCoy's face. At least one person in this house was a drug addict. Or had recently been and hadn't quite pulled out of the lifestyle.
Or was it a lifestyle? Too many times, doctors prescribed medications that masked problems rather than finding the underlying cause, whether depression or true pain. As a result, many became addicted to the medication and began taking it because, for the first time in their lives, they actually felt good.
She remembered that feeling.
She turned suddenly. "I really do wish I could help you, Dr. McCoy, but I don't know that I'm the right person." She forced herself to meet his eyes, the panic in her throat a thing she had not anticipated. "I realize the difficulties you face since you are an employer, but. . . ."
McCoy started to speak, trying to stop her from talking herself out of the job, but the door creaked open behind her, and a strange whirring sound filtered into the library. A moment later, a soft, cultured voice spoke, halting everything she might have said. "Hello, Anne."
Anne felt her eyes nearly bug out of her head. She hadn't heard that voice in years, but it was as familiar to her as her own. "Charles?!" She turned to stare, hoping she didn't do something foolish like jump into his arms.
And then she stopped.
Charles Xavier, brilliant geneticist and former friend, sat in a motorized wheelchair, his hair falling somewhat haphazardly into his face. His blue eyes were clear, if a little shadowed by obvious lack of sleep. And he was much thinner than she remembered. But it was her friend from her university days, before the drinking and partying became too much for her to handle and she ran home. Back then, he'd always been kind, a little bit of a flirt, and someone she trusted to know just how Franklin treated her. At the time, Charles had wanted to visit her boyfriend and bring vengeance down on his head, but Anne had convinced him otherwise. He had respected her wishes, but he still kept as close an eye on her as he did his own sister. And, at the time, she had loved him for it.
The rush of memories faded, leaving behind a warm glow in Anne's mind. She blinked as Charles wheeled toward her. She could not stop her eyes from straying toward his legs, however, and wished she wasn't so obvious. McCoy unobtrusively moved an armchair out of the way and then settled on the other couch.
Charles met Anne's eyes. "I'm sorry for the subterfuge, love, but I assure you it was necessary." He smiled, that same smirk that had calmed her in years past. "As soon as I knew who you were, I decided to meet with you instead of letting Hank handle all the questions."
Anne blinked. "You're the recluse?"
He laughed, a refined chuckle that instantly made her think of long nights studying together in a library. "Yes, I am afraid so."
Then, she closed her eyes at how her statement had sounded. "I'm sorry. That was. . . ."
"Don't be." He shrugged. "It's true. For over ten years since I was injured, I've been a. . . ." His voice trailed off, and he took a deep breath. ". . .a selfish, arrogant, utterly slovenly recluse."
"Why do I get the feeling that was kinder than what you wanted to say?" She remembered his propensity to swear when he was drunk.
"Because it is." Charles met her eyes. "Anne, I need someone here other than Hank. He's carried me for the last ten years, but he's also enabled me. Not by his own choice, mind you, and with the best intentions in mind. However, I need someone I can trust here to keep me on track, to keep Hank from giving in to my begging, and to assist me in overcoming a few challenges."
She realized just how much that humbling speech took out of him. "May I ask what happened?"
He shrugged. "I was shot." It was a simple statement, but his voice held a bit of pain. Like a wound that hadn't quite healed, no matter how long it had been. "It severed most of my spinal cord, leaving me with virtually no sensation below the waist. Most of my. . .uh. . .personal needs I handle on my own. Your role would be more of psychological and emotional support. And, now that you're here, I can't think of anyone more perfect."
Anne took a deep breath and let it out. "Charles, you have no idea what you're asking." Meeting his eyes, she sighed. "I'm not the same girl you knew all those years ago."
"And I'm not the same man I was," he said simply. "Time changes us. Some for the good." He glanced at McCoy. Then, he shrugged again. "And some for the worse."
"What makes you so sure I'm qualified to handle this? I'm not a psychiatric nurse or even trained in psychology. I just empty bed pans and make sure patients don't harm themselves."
This time, when he looked directly into her eyes, she felt as if he could see down into her very soul. As strange as it seemed, it wasn't a particularly unwelcome or comfortable feeling. Finally, he spoke softly, as if trying to convince her. "Because of who you are and the life you've lived, you're uniquely qualified."
She laughed. "I barely passed my nurse's eval!"
"Not what I meant, Anne, and you know it." His tone lowered with that statement, leaving her feeling as if she'd just stepped out of line.
She narrowed her eyes, irritated at how he acted as if he truly knew what she'd done. "What do you know of me?"
"I remember nights at the library," he said in that same soft tone. "Nights when you swore me to silence and begged that I wouldn't do what was running through my mind. And I remember what you faced when you returned home. A man can infer a lot from that, and being here cannot be easy on you."
"No, it's not." Anne drew in a deep breath, trying not to let him see how thoroughly he'd unnerved her. But he was right. She had recognized certain signs the moment she walked through the door. Now, she decided to be frank. "You're an alcoholic?"
"And drug addict." He shrugged again. "I'm not proud of it, nor am I willing to advertise it. However, I am willing to admit I need help to overcome it."
"Why?" She glared at him. "Why turn to the bottle? Why would someone like you—someone who had everything—give it all up for a few hours or days of oblivion?"
He took a long moment to speak, but, when he did, his voice broke. "Because," he said in a voice barely above a whisper, "I lost everything. Raven, my dreams, even myself."
Because of a gunshot wound? Anne frowned as the thought crossed her mind. But she didn't say anything for a long moment, letting Charles handle the bitterness of revealing such personal information. Of course she remembered Raven, his pretty sister that always seemed so supportive of his research. What had happened to change such a devoted relationship between the siblings, different though they were?
Charles drew in a sharp breath and seemed to get his thoughts under control. "Now you see why I need you? Why I want someone like you in my house? You pulled yourself out, Anne. You worked up the courage to get away from Franklin, to get out of England, and to start again." He shook his head. "I don't have that, but you did. As a result, you seem to be the perfect person to help me."
But what will it do to me? Can I go back to those days, when everything in me wanted to go back to England, back to him? Back to the drugs and drinking and not caring? Or caring too much? These questions flew through Anne's mind as she tried to understand just why Charles would ask her to do such a thing. And what about those things that he doesn't know about? Surely there has been someone much more qualified than I am respond to this ad.
He reached out, taking her hand in a characteristic show of support. "I know what I'm asking you to do, Anne," he said, his expression more like what she remembered. "But I hope you'll at least consider it."
She couldn't speak at that. How had he known what she was thinking? Of course, Charles always seemed rather perceptive to the world around him, and he paid specific attention to those he called friends. If anyone would know what this sort of life would do to her, he would understand it.
Finally, she pulled her hand from his. "Give me a few days?"
"Take the time you need." He sat back in his wheelchair. "And call any time you want to talk."
"Thanks." She stood, edging around his chair and heading toward the front door. McCoy, as quiet as he'd been before, quickly joined her and escorted her back out.
At the front door, he met her eyes. "I hope you'll take the job, Miss Conrad." He lowered his voice. "That's the most animated I've seen him in months."
Anne narrowed her eyes. "He's depressed. And, no matter how long he's been without a drink or hit right now, he's probably wanting a fix, too."
"I know." McCoy dropped his gaze suddenly, seemingly debating with himself. "Just so you know, if you take this job, you won't have to worry about anything unethical. Charles is honorable in spite of his challenges, and anything that's needed for the job will be provided. No funding from the State."
Anne smiled at his reassurance. "I remember how honorable Charles was in university. I doubt he's changed that much." She sighed and decided to just ask the question. "Why hasn't someone else filled this role? I'm sure there are much more qualified individuals out there who would jump at this opportunity."
"There are." McCoy shrugged. "Charles didn't like them and said to keep looking."
McCoy held out a hand. "Thank you for coming."
She shook his hand, appreciating the strong grip. "I'll call you in three days," she promised. Then, she slipped back into the bright sunshine and took a deep breath. The air wasn't so stale out here, and it cleared her head of old memories and wishes. The cab still waited for her, the driver looking concerned as she hesitated. Realizing the old man would want answers, she opened the door and slipped into the car.
He looked in the rear view mirror at her. "Good interview?"
Anne nodded. "Yes, it was. I got thejob."
Inside the mansion, Charles Xavier watched the taxi pull away from the front of the house, his mind not quite as settled as he would have liked. Seeing Anne Conrad again—or, rather, sensing her presence again—had taken him by surprise. The last time he'd seen her, she had come to him in tears just before he got his degree, and confessed that she was returning to the States. Franklin had abused her one too many times, and she just wanted out. To leave it all behind and never think of it again. Charles had been sorry to see her go, but he had let her go because she could no longer stay.
I wish it hadn't taken so long for me to see the same thing with Raven.
The stray thought caused him to come to his senses, and he let the heavy drapes fall back into place. Turning his chair away from the window, he found Hank staring at him from the doorway. "Hank?"
The other man stepped into the room. "How well did you know her?"
"She was a friend." Charles shrugged. "In Oxford for the same reason I was: a brilliant mind with parents who had enough money to send her there. We met in the library late one night, and I found her to be a peaceful person with whom I could study. Over time, we became friends, and I was sorry to see her go."
"Are you going to be okay if she decides to take the job?"
Charles turned to look out the crack between the heavy drapes. "She'll take the job," he said decisively. She had do. If she didn't, Charles wasn't quite certain what to do next. He had spent much of February trying to find Logan, trying to hold on to the hope he'd reclaimed, and yet it had all come crashing down after four weeks.
"Not what I asked," Hank replied. He took a few steps forward. "Miss Conrad's employment records only go back ten years, and most of those are low-income jobs. She graduated with her nursing degree in the lower half of her class, primarily because she was unable to put the time in to study. And her one job since then has declined our request for a recommendation."
Charles closed his eyes, choosing to ignore his friend for a moment. Could he handle having Anne there? Had she not been living with Franklin and completely in love with the lowlife, he might have asked her to dinner. Maybe even fallen in love with her and told her of his abilities. After all, he knew her almost better than she knew herself. And he trusted her, even now.
But a lot of years had passed, and things had changed. His bright dreams for the future of mutant-kind had been trampled on, first by Erik and then by the United States government. Even now, with Raven free and innocent of a murder she had planned, he still could not bring himself to see how he would ever create a place for others like him. After all, they had seen what he could not and left him. The war, the intervening years. . . .It was all too much for him to handle, and he knew he needed help that Hank just couldn't give him.
"Yes." He finally answered the question. Turning to stare at his closest friend, he allowed a bit of his depression to show. "I meant what I said. She pulled herself out. I need someone like that around. And I don't care what her employment record says, Hank. I know enough about Anne to know that she will not fail in what she sets her heart to accomplish."
"She can't stay here forever, Charles."Hank shrugged. "She has to move on sometime, and so do you."
The two men didn't speak again. Hank left Charles at the window and returned to his lab, the one room in the house that was absolutely spotless. Thinking of this made Charles take a good look at the music room. It had so many windows that sunlight poured in every hour of the day, but dark drapes had been added to keep his hung-over eyes from burning too badly. Suddenly irritated with how far he'd fallen, he wheeled to the windows he could reach and yanked the curtains so harshly that he heard fabric tear. Rays of sunshine caused the dust in the room to dance, bringing a certain release with it that Charles hadn't felt in far too long. He rolled to the next window and then the next, yanking curtains open until the only dark spot that remained was the window seat. Eyeing it, he wheeled over and frowned. Pushing out of the chair, he carefully practiced the transfer method he'd learned so long ago, his arms trembling by the time he was done. But, the curtains here moved as easily as the others, and he soon found himself bathed in the late afternoon sun.
His burst of energy fading, Charles lifted his legs onto the dust-coated window seat and leaned his head against the wall. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he licked his lips. He wanted a drink. So badly that his stomach ached and gave him a headache. For a brief moment, he let himself fall into a fantasy of pouring a full glass of Scotch, lifting it to his lips, and letting it burn as it went down.
Then, he shook himself. If he let that sort of thinking remain, he'd end up back where Logan had found him.
The thought of Logan acted as quickly as anything could have. Over the few days that the strange man had worked with them, Charles had come to care. To consider Logan a brother of sorts. He respected the history the man carried, the future that would hopefully change, and the pain all wrapped into a tough warrior that lived through too many battles. The last time he'd seen Logan, Erik had thrown him out of that stadium. He and Hank had searched, but no body matching Logan's description had been found, and there was no way that anyone could survive having re-bar so brutally stabbed into his body. That reality had been enough to drive him back to drink.
And that is when he placed the ad. In the three months since then, Charles had telepathically interviewed multiple applicants who simply wanted to take advantage of him and work an easy job. Anne had been the first to truly care, to truly consider whether or not she could even accomplish what he hoped she could.
Rolling his head so that he looked outside, Charles took a moment to examine the view. The property had always been so perfect as he grew up. But the last few years had left as much of a mark on his lawn as it had on his body. He really needed to take more interest in his current life, in finding Logan and learning how to live again.
If he could only find the motivation to do more than stare out the window. . . .Charles shook his head.
He wanted Anne to accept the job. He needed her to accept it. Because he was afraid of what would happen if she didn't.