None of these characters are mine...but if they were...

The Waiting Game

Chapter One:

Elizabeth sat keeping a silent vigil by Robert's bedside, with nothing but the steady, rhythmic beeps of the various machines registering his vitals for company. She noted ironically, the noise they made was more animated and alive than the man they were connected to.

His face was pale and his whole body just lay there completely immobile; all except for the quiet steady, comforting rise and fall, rise and fall of his chest...but this stillness, his stillness was so un-Robert like, and it was just plain wrong and it upset her greatly. She'd never seen his hands not moving before. They were always moving, either dancing in intricate surgery or weaving through the air as they accompanied his mouth, which incidentally also never stopped moving. She wanted so much for him to wake up and launch into one of his daft diatribes. Or to rant at someone who'd done something to annoy him as he waved his hands around with his own brand of Romanoesque flair to drive his point home. Hell, right now she'd even be happy to be the recipient if it meant he'd wake up. Anything to stop this stillness, this damned infernal stillness.

A sliver of light traced along the floor signalling the opening of the door and she looked up as Donald entered the room.

"How's he doing?" he asked gently.

"No change," Elizabeth sighed.

Donald looked over the various readouts before scribbling a few notes on the chart at the end of the bed. He regarded Robert for a minute before turning his gaze on Elizabeth.

"You know, no change is not a bad thing Elizabeth. He's healing...it will take time, but he will heal."

Elizabeth nodded absently, her gaze having drifted back to Robert.

The elder surgeon sighed and tried again. "You should probably go home and get some rest Elizabeth. You've had a rather exciting day yourself," he said gently.

She shook her head. "No, he shouldn't be on his own….not after what he did for me...for us…we owe him."

Donald nodded his agreement with a slight whimsical smile. "Our Rocket is certainly an enigma isn't he?" he said fondly.

Elizabeth looked up at him and raised a questioning eyebrow.

Donald continued, "I mean, he's brusque, he's rude, he's unorthodox, he's infuriating, sometimes he's just downright bloody impossible. Sometimes I want to shake his hand and call him a genius and other times I want to throttle him! But he is consistently brilliant in the OR...one of the best surgeons I'll probably ever work with…...and he'll hate me for saying it, but he cares a hell of a lot more than he lets on," he said fondly. "Most people don't understand him and I know he prefers it to be that way...but they don't know the half of what he does on a daily basis for this place. I'm not in the least surprised that he would put himself in harms way for his colleagues…..I hope, maybe now they will see him in a different light."

Elizabeth dipped her head slightly in agreement, but also to hide her own embarrassment. She knew she was seeing him now with new eyes. Her mother always said she was a poor judge of character and Isabelle's voice sounded loudly in her head, 'Mother always knows best.'

Donald continued, "I managed to get through to his family. His mother is too ill to travel, but his sister is on her way from Germany."

"Germany?!" she queried, a little surprised.

"Yes, her husband is stationed there," Donald said. "But she said she was getting the next available flight. Should get in late tomorrow."

"Well, when she gets here I'll go rest then," Elizabeth said in a voice that brooked no argument.

Donald squeezed her shoulder briefly. "Can I at least get you something before I leave?" he asked. "Tea, coffee? Something to eat?"

"No, I'm fine honestly Donald, thank you."

He nodded briefly at her before returning his gaze to Robert for a few seconds. Then he sighed heavily and left saying, "Goodnight then."

"Goodnight Donald," she said to his retreating back and returned her watchful gaze back to Robert's still form. Still…..so very still…. save for that steady rise and fall, rise and fall of his chest. She sat and fell under its hypnotic spell, a silent sentry.

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A few hours later Shirley entered the room. She checked over her bosses vitals and then stole a look at Doctor Corday. Her head was tilted down and she appeared to be dozing. She filled in her notes and snuck back out of the room, returning a few minutes later with a blanket that she draped gently over Elizabeth's shoulders.

Elizabeth stirred and looked up at her with groggy eyes.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," Shirley said apologetically.

"It's fine….I hadn't realised I'd dropped off...any change?" she asked, stretching her shoulders and rolling her neck in an attempt to ease the stiffness that had taken hold of her muscles.

Shirley shook her head. "He's been through a lot Doctor Corday…...he's probably going to be out for quite some time. I can sit with him if you want to go home and get some sleep?"

"Thanks, but I'm fine."

Shirley gave Elizabeth a look which left her in no doubt about what she thought about that statement.

"Well, is it okay if I keep you company for a bit then?" Shirley said.

Elizabeth smiled tiredly and nodded. Shirley pulled up a chair from beneath the window and sat down across from her.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, both alone with their thoughts watching Robert.

Suddenly, Shirley broke the silence. "Did I ever tell you about the time he and I got back at Doctor Edson when you were his intern?"

"What?" Elizabeth said looking up at her with a smile. "No, I don't believe you have," she said. "Do tell."

"Well, Edson was being mean to you," Shirley said.

Elizabeth nodded, "Yes I remember it all too well...pray continue."

Shirley revealed how she had stood guard for Romano as he had put itching powder into Edson's boxer shorts whilst the man had showered. "We were all just 'casually hanging out' by the desk when it kicked in and Edson started scratching himself."

Elizabeth burst into laughter at the mental image of Dale prancing around like an idiot, scratching at himself like a man possessed. Their laughter brought Jacy into the room. "What's so funny?" she asked.

Shirley shook her head still laughing. "I was just telling Doctor Corday about Boxergate."

"Oh my God, that was soooo funny!" Jacy joined in with the laughter. "Oh, and remember when he had us play show tunes during the Bernstein Whipple!" she said.

Shirley and Jacy creased up with laughter again and Elizabeth shook her head, confused.

"I don't get it?" Elizabeth said.

Jacy perched herself on the end of Romano's bed and explained how a patient, a Mr Bernstein, had been so obnoxious, condescending and rude to not only his wife but most of the nurses who were doing their professional best to take care of him. They had thought it odd when Romano had asked a few off the cuff questions, while explaining the procedure to Bernstein in pre-op and had learned of his pet hate of all musicals.

Shirley picked up the story. "So just before he scrubs, Doctor Romano hands me this tape...nothing unusual there, as you know he normally has classical music playing on the longer procedures."

Elizabeth nodded encouraging her to continue.

"Anyhow, so we're just about to start the Whipple...and just as the music goes on, instead of making the first incision, Doctor Romano wiggles his eyebrows and makes a big show of waving his best jazz hands at us…. It was back to back show tunes I swear for the whole six hours!"

"When he came out of recovery his wife told us she couldn't understand it…..her husband was humming show-tunes and seemed to have a particular penchant for Les Miserables! He told her he couldn't get the damned tunes out of his head and it was driving him crazy!"

Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. "I had no idea he was so protective," she said.

"That's because you're normally too busy battling him to see," Shirley replied, not unkindly.

Elizabeth's face snapped up shocked.

Shirley turned her face back to the bed and looked down at the prickly surgeon whom she was rather fond of. "Doctor Romano demands and expects blind loyalty from us, but he gives the same back. He can be hard on us, but we know he has our back. That's why we let him get away with what he does."

The room fell silent again as Elizabeth digested what she had learned.

"Well, we'd better get back to it," Shirley said to Jacy, and she gave Robert's arm a quick squeeze as they left.

Elizabeth found herself alone again with the blasted beeps for company and realised to her shame, that she probably knew less about Robert than what the nurses or even his secretary did.

She remembered the first time she had met him. A breath of fresh air, this loud, brash, funny American had come into her life one day, made her laugh, swept her of her surgical feet with his skill and confidence and convinced her to follow him across an entire ocean to better herself. And she had.

And at first it had been wonderful. She, still awestruck hanging off his every word. She thought back to when it had began to go wrong. She had grown wings rather quickly with the Beaumont case. They had had their first cross words. She had circumvented him organising for another surgeon to operate behind his back….not her finest hour in retrospect, but at the time she was so blinded by Alison's case. He'd yelled at her. She'd defended her position, held her ground. Then rather pragmatically, he'd relented and allowed the procedure to go ahead, and…..he'd even apologised to her! She should have been the one apologising but her pride had not allowed it, or even to acknowledge that fact until now.

Then, over Alison Beaumont they had clashed again. To her shame she recalled calling him a prick in the OR. She'd called him an actual prick in front of his colleagues and what had he done? He'd apologised to her….again.

She suddenly felt like a fraud. What right did she have to sit here, when all she had ever done was mislead and push him away? He'd asked her out on a date?! What a heinous crime! And she'd lied to him and he'd taken her at her word, but then caught her out in her lie with Peter. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction they say. She had hurt him. So he had hurt her back. Cause and effect.

She reached over and took his hand in hers. "I'm so sorry Robert," she said sadly. "I've not been a very good friend, have I?"

"But I promise to do better. You hear me? You come back to me so I can fix this," she said. She was still holding his hand when her pager woke her the following morning and she reluctantly left him.

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Much later after another long and busy shift, Elizabeth was back by his bedside finishing up a mountain of case files when she heard a commotion from outside.

"Where is he? Where's my brother?!"

"If you'll just follow me." Another voice said.

Then the door opened and Shirley stood there with a small, slender red haired woman who looked strangely familiar.

The woman stepped forward her eyes immediately falling on Robert. "Jesus Christ Rob!" she whispered, a little horrified as she took in the amount of machinery Robert was hooked up to.

Elizabeth stood up awkwardly and offered her hand. "Hello, you must be Robert's sister?"

She glanced briefly at Elizabeth before closing the gap between herself and Robert, and gently cupped his face in her hand.

Shirley nodded confirmation at Elizabeth and excused herself.

"He feels so cold," the woman said softly, and then much harder, "What the hell happened? The guy who called me said he'd been shot? How the hell do you get shot in a hospital?!" she demanded.

Elizabeth lowered her hand. "I'm not really sure why most things happen in this life, but we seem to get more than our fair share of crazy here. You should know your brother was amazing….he saved the lives of a lot of people, myself included."

"Well that doesn't surprise me at all." Emma moved her hand from his face and linked it instead with Roberts left hand, being careful to avoid the many wires.

"Is he going to be okay?" she asked softly in a tender tone that reminded Elizabeth of Robert, in his less guarded moments.

Elizabeth glanced at the smaller woman. The height gene did not run strong in the Romano family gene pool she mused. The red hair did though, and fortunately for her she still had a full head of it. She was dressed simply in jeans and blouse, but carried an air of elegance about her. She could see the resemblance in their shared jawline.

"Yes, he will," Elizabeth said with more confidence than she felt. "He's stable now, and the surgery went well. He was lucky the bullet missed his major organs, but even so it did do quite a bit of damage. He'll need physiotherapy to regain his strength…...but knowing Robert, I can't imagine he'll be down for long."

"So what, he's just resting now? When will he wake up?"

"That is the one answer I don't have. His body has been through a trauma and needs time to recover…."

"But he will? Recover, I mean….please don't lie to me," she said.

"I have absolute faith in him," Elizabeth said, and in that moment realised that she believed it.

The smaller woman visibly relaxed and looked at Elizabeth properly since entering the room.

"Sorry I didn't catch your name earlier?"

Elizabeth offered her hand once again. "Doctor Elizabeth Corday," she said.

"Ahhh…..Lizzie… we meet at last," she said with amusement and a hint of a familiar smirk. "I'm Emma by the way," she said shaking Elizabeth's hand.

Elizabeth was taken aback and her mouth fell open slightly much to Emma's delight.

"It's Elizabeth actually," she said sounding a little snooty even to her own ear.

"Maybe, but not to him, right?" Emma said nodding her head towards Romano.

Elizabeth still looked somewhat puzzled.

"Yeah, that's right…..he's told me all about you," Emma snickered, a playful edge to her voice."

Elizabeth felt an irrational blush take hold of her. "Well, I'll leave you two alone….I have rounds to attend to. If you need anything just ask one of the nurses," she said beating a hasty retreat out of the room, wondering just what exactly Robert had told her.

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The next few days were not unlike ground-hog day. Emma spent her time sitting with Robert or returning to his place to take care of his dog, Gretel, and to grab some sleep.

Elizabeth tried to keep a distance not wanting to intrude but would find herself back at Robert's bedside in the periods that Emma was not there.

She had just settled down and started work on her notes when the door opened and Emma stuck her head in.

"Tag, you're it," Emma joked.

Elizabeth looked up surprised. "Oh, I'm sorry I thought you had already gone," she said already beginning to rise out of her seat.

Emma's hand motioned for her to sit back down. "No, no stay please. I'm actually just taking off to sort the dog out, grab a bite and shower and then I'll be back. I just wanted to say I appreciate you sitting with him Elizabeth."

"It's nothing," Elizabeth said dismissively having been caught in the act of caring.

Emma nodded and gave a little knowing smirk. "Okay, well call me if anything changes."

Elizabeth nodded and watched her leave, pleased to have him all to herself in what felt like a long time. She slipped her hand into Robert's and proceeded to tell him all about her shitty day.

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Robert felt like he'd been floating in limbo for days. He was vaguely aware of shapes and sounds around him, but couldn't focus on anything. Everything was fuzzy and unclear. Slowly though he felt a little of the fog begin to lift. He was vaguely aware of different voices but couldn't quite make out all of the words. Gradually though, more began to sift through the fog. He began to pick up on snippets of conversations going on around him. He even once thought he heard his sisters voice.

"…..been nearly a week now. Can't you give him something to wake him up?"

"His body is healing….he'll wake up when he's ready."

"Yeah, yeah, yada, yada." Yes, that very much sounded like his sister.

Once he even thought something or someone hit him.

"Wake up idiot!"

"So Mark's being a knob….."

"She was holding his hand when I came in."

"….. every free minute here…."

Oh, that sounded like gossip and he wondered briefly who they were talking about. Then he remembered he didn't care.

He felt like he was swimming underwater, pushing his tired limbs to the limit but the water was just too heavy, the weight of it keeping him from breaking the surface. Then back down he'd sink again. Frustrated he tried again and again pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling determined to make it all the way to the surface this time...

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The sun streamed through the window and injected a hint of colour into Robert's off late, pale skin.

She was just finishing an anecdote on how she'd torn a strip of Dale Edson, so much so, that the nurses said they could no longer tell the difference between her and Robert. As she giggled to herself she thought she could feel a slight pressure of his fingers on hers.

"Robert?" she whispered. "Robert, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me...Robert?" Then louder, "Robert!"

She waited for what seemed like an eternity and then she felt it. A definite squeeze, a confirmation of life.

She cupped his cheek with her other hand and moved her face excitedly just mere inches from his.

"Robert, it's Elizabeth, I need you to wake up…..can you open your eyes for me?"

His eyelids began to flicker and she smiled. She reached across and pressed the call button. Robert's eyelids flickered open and settled blinking upon her.

Dark brown pools greeted her and she registered fear and panic in them as he regained consciousness and became agitated, his eyes darting left and right, the pressure increasing where their hands were still linked.

"Shh," Elizabeth soothed. "It's okay...Robert, look at me...It's okay," she said.

Robert's eyes came back to fix on hers and he stilled some.

Shirley and Jacy rushed into the room. "What is it?" Shirley asked with quiet optimism in her voice.

Both nurses looked down at Robert and saw his open eyes and burst into huge grins.

"He's baaaaack", Jacy almost sang excitedly, as Shirley clapped her hands together like an over excited teenager.

Robert tried to speak but couldn't and lifted his right hand towards his mouth. Elizabeth caught it in hers.

"Wait Robert, you have a tube down your throat….we can extubate you now if you want, okay?"

He nodded.

Elizabeth glanced at the nurses who sprang into action.

"Okay, you know the drill, you're going to blow on three okay?"

Robert blinked in acknowledgement.

"Okay, one, two, three…." she said and pulled as Robert blew as best he could. The tube was pulled clear and Shirley was there with a cup of water with a straw and helped support him while he took a few tentative sips, before falling back onto his pillow.

"Could you call his sister?" Elizabeth asked Jacy, who bounced off only too happy to make the call.

Shirley finished taking all the readings and notes. "I'll let Doctor Anspaugh know he's awake," she said before turning towards Robert.

She smiled at him and said, "Good to have you back with us Doctor Romano….its been far too quiet around here for my liking," she said. Romano gave her a small smile in return and she gave his hand a squeeze before leaving the room.

"I'll second that Robert….silence it would seem is not always golden," Elizabeth said smiling down at him.

Robert flicked his eyes towards her and attempted a smile.

"Lizzie?" he rasped, surprised at how weak and strange his own voice sounded. His throat hurt and felt like sandpaper.

"I'm right here. You want more water?" she asked reaching for the cup. He nodded and drank a little more which brought a bit of relief. "Try not to talk for now," she said.

"Wha happened?"

"Or ignore me and carry on talking," she joked. Then more seriously, "You don't' remember?"

He closed his eyes briefly as images flooded back and his eyes snapped open.

"Idiot waving a gun around?" he croaked.

Elizabeth nodded. "Yes. Fortunately for us your inner Chuck Norris came out to save the day….you even saved Kerry," she chuckled.

He let out a groan and shook his head slightly.

"Yeah you did. You pushed me out of the way….which seriously Robert, I thank you very much for by the way...and then you leapt over the admit desk and pulled Kerry out of the way, before rather idiotically but very heroically tackling the gunman to the ground."

Robert closed his eyes and moved his hand to his stomach as he remembered the burning sensation that had torn into him. The pain had been excruciating...nothing like he'd ever felt before. He made a mental note to be more sympathetic to his next GSW patient.

"Well, no good deed goes unpunished they say," Elizabeth said lightly trying to pull Robert back.

When he opened his eyes again, Elizabeth saw some of the fear was back. "Anyone else hurt?" he asked quietly.

"No. Luka and Carter managed to stick him with a sedative while you were wrestling with him, just before the…." she trailed off and closed her eyes hearing that sickening sound, all too loud in her head. The gun had gone off and she'd watched as Robert's hold on the man had loosened and his body slumped to the floor.

She regained her professional composure and explained the extent of his injuries to him. Robert asked her who had had the pleasure of opening him up. Elizabeth looked uncomfortable and Robert guessed correctly it had been her. He switched tack and tried to lighten the mood. "Hey, did I imagine it, or was my sister here?"

"No you didn't and yes she is. She's on her way back in I expect by now. She left not long ago to go and feed that massive hound of yours."

Robert smiled and closed he eyes tiredly. When he reopened them he found himself looking straight up into those blue eyes that he adored. They were filled with concern, concern that for once was directed at him and he took some pleasure at that fact. He also then became aware that she was holding his hand, and he tried a little squeeze to check it was real. When a confirming squeeze came back something akin to pure joy rushed through him.

At that moment Donald rushed into the room.

"Robert you devil… aren't you a sight for sore eyes!"

Robert managed a faint wave of his hand to the elder surgeon.

"Good to have you back in the land of the living Robert!" Donald said as Jacy raced in behind him saying, "Your sister is on her way back in!"

"Hear that Robert?" Elizabeth said.

She squeezed his hand again, but as several more people ran into the room she released it and reluctantly took a step back away from him.

He felt the sudden loss of her heat and kept his gaze on her, imploring her with his eyes to stay, but she was soon pushed to the back as more well wishers entered the room.

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Robert did his best to stay awake, but was clearly flailing fast. His eyelids becoming heavy again.

It had not gone unnoticed by Donald who had all but finished the process of throwing everyone out when Emma arrived.

"Hey big brother! No way, you are seriously not going back to sleep on me are you?" she said punching him lightly in the arm.

"Hi sis," Robert groaned and forced his eyes open again.

"Hurt much?"

He laughed, which made him wince and then he laughed again.

Donald placed a hand on her shoulder. "I know its difficult, but don't keep him too long. He needs the rest."

Emma rolled her eyes but nodded her understanding, and Donald turned and left them to their reunion.

"You had us all worried there for a while, idiot."

"Sorry. Does mom know?"

"She does, but she also knows you're on the mend. I promised her that we'd visit as soon as you're fit to travel."

"Kay," he managed weakly.

"So I met Lizzie," she teased.

Robert closed his eyes and yawned.

"Oh like that is going to work!" she laughed. "You know we've pretty much bonded over your bedside. We're even going for drinks later."

Robert's eyes snapped open.

"Yeah, that's right!" "She wants the whole backstory, and I like her so I'm going to spill my guts like never before!"

"You wouldn't!"

"You should see your face right now!" Emma laughed.

"S'really not funny," he slurred.

He began to lose his battle to stay awake and Emma squeezed his hand. "Go on then, snooze some more yer bum! Your secrets are safe with me and I'll be here when you deign to wake up," she said. "And Robert?"

"Huh?"

"Love you."

"Love you too," he said and then he was gone again.

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The next time Robert woke up, only Emma was there. "Hey," she said.

"Hey," he said back and tried to sit up but stopped as a sharp pain tore through his abdomen.

TBC

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