[Quick note: This is sort of a sequel to the previous story, Separate, which features the same characters and introduces the character of Melora Weir (an original character), who is involved with Romano. This occurs somewhere in early Season 7, so roughly early December 2000.]
What Lies Beneath
Chapter 1: Truck Versus Bug
"Hey, Chief. What's up?" Dave Malucci had just gotten to work at the ER around 1 pm, and saw Kerry Weaver at the white board. "I heard there was a two-car collision?" He glanced over at Jerry Markowitz, asking the large man, "Why is it freezing in here?"
Jerry answered first, just having polished off the last of a Snicker's candy bar. "Because it's December and our heaters will never work right?"
Kerry chimed in next. "The collision wasn't a bad one, by our standards. No LOC. Truck versus old VW Bug. Guess who won?"
"Not the Bug," Malucci responded with a shake of the head. "My cousin used to keep his together with pieces of old Coke cans."
"Dr. Lewis is looking after the truck driver." Kerry pointed to the white board. "Bug driver's in Exam 2. Abby's in with her now."
Malucci noted that Kerry said "she" – ooo, a female. Perhaps a young, attractive female? One could hope. "Gotcha, Chief."
As luck would have it, the driver in question was both young and good looking. She was petite with long light blond hair falling loosely about her shoulders, and was already wearing the requisite exam gown. The day was looking up, he thought. But for now, he knew to keep it professional. Abby handed him the chart with the woman's vitals and medical history. "Hey there, Ms. – " He glanced at the name on the chart. Melora Weir. "Ms. Weir. I'm Dr. Dave."
The young woman raised a dubious eyebrow. "Dr. Dave? Really?"
Abby rolled her eyes at the young resident. "Dr. Malucci."
"Sounds so formal," Malucci shrugged with a smile. He slid into doctor mode then, glancing at the chart. "So, I hear your Bug got smooshed?" Her vitals looked normal, aside from an elevated heartbeat and a slight tremor, which was probably just post-accident adrenaline come-down.
Melora nodded ruefully. "Basically. Poor thing never stood a chance. Whole front end folded in. I guess I'm lucky he didn't hit me at a different angle, or that might be me that got smooshed."
He noted that she had no visible facial lacerations and wore no c-collar from the ambulance, which meant she was able to walk away from the accident. "How fast were you going?"
"Maybe ten or fifteen miles an hour; traffic was just starting to move and the roads are icy."
"And the other guy?"
"Probably five or ten? He decided at the last minute that he wanted to make a left turn, apparently. Into me."
"Jerk," Malucci commented, checking her pupils. They were reactive to light and he definitely didn't smell any booze on her. She was well-spoken and alert.
"Did you hit your head at all?"
She shook her head. "One of those times that it pays to be short, I guess."
"Were you wearing a seatbelt?"
Melora nodded. "Yeah. But it's an old car – it just has one of those lame airplane-style lap belts."
Malucci smiled a little, making a note on the chart. "Why do they even bother with those things? Airlines can afford decent seatbelts, right? How about your chest and abdomen – any impacts?"
"Yeah, the steering wheel smacked right up against me. I can definitely feel it. I'm surprised I didn't break anything. I also have some low back pain, probably from the seat belt. I'm pretty bruisey."
"Can you remove your gown for a sec? I just want to make sure there's nothing too bad going on." She did, and damned if there wasn't a nearly perfect half-circle bruise pattern spanning across the upper portion of her chest. "Ouch. No pain around the ribs?"
"A little," she confessed, adding, "Nothing sharp. I've gotten fractured ribs before, and it doesn't feel that bad."
Malucci noted some cuts and abrasions on her arms which the paramedics had already tended to, along with more deep bruising along her left arm and thigh. "What happened there?" He motioned for her to go ahead and put the gown back on.
As she pulled the gown back on, she explained, "My left arm got a bit munched when the driver's side door pitched inward. I got some cuts from all the broken glass, but I don't think anything is broken." She paused, adding, "I don't have insurance, so I'm kind of used to just dealing with it myself if it's not broken or on fire."
Malucci chuckled a little at that. "I heard that. If I didn't work here, I'd probably be the same way. Can you extend both arms out to the side for me?"
Melora could only extend the left arm about halfway, while the right arm was fine. "Ow. My shoulder and my elbow won't let me." She sighed. "I guess my show tonight won't be happening."
"You in a band?" His interest was peaked.
"Yeah. Cello. I kind of need to move both my arms for that."
"Wow. Cello? Cool." He'd have to ask her more about that later; sounded promising. "Try moving your forearm from the elbow."
She tried to extend her arm from the elbow, but it was sore the further she moved it. "That's about as far as it's going, Doc."
Malucci didn't like the sound of the steering wheel impact on the chest, coupled with the seatbelt jolt. "Hmm. Okay. All in all, it could have been a lot worse. I want to run an x-ray of your left arm as well as your spine and neck, and get a blood and urine sample. Abby?" He'd wait for the results before making a call about getting a CT scan. If Greene was the attending, he'd just order one straight away, but with Weaver running the show, he knew he'd need a solid reason to do it rather than simple precaution.
Abby was looking at the medical history that the patient filled out, though. "Umm, Dr. Dave? Take a look at this." She pointed out the name Melora had written under Emergency Contact - Dr. Robert Romano.
Malucci just squinted at it. Must be a different one – nope, that was the phone extension for Surgery. "Huh. Hey, is this…Is Dr. Romano like, a relative of yours?"
Melora smiled, looking guilty. "No. He's a close friend." She didn't want to directly "out" them unless necessary. He liked keeping his private life more or less invisible to the staff here, and she understood. "You didn't call him, did you?"
"No," Abby told her. "Would you like us to?"
"No!" Melora told them. "If you call, he'll come down and there'll be a big…thing." A big, panic-driven angry thing. "If he's worried, he gets stressed and if he gets stressed, it's just not pretty."
Malucci let out a little laugh. "That's putting it mildly," he remarked, shaking his head. He knew what "close friend" usually meant. The idea of this woman with the much reviled Chief of Staff was perplexing, to say the least. "No sweat. Your secret is safe with us. But the brace for your arm and your cuts and bruises and totaled car will probably give it away."
Melora knew that, and nodded. "I'll go up and see him when I'm done here. Trust me, it's better than calling him down here. If he sees me walking, he'll know it can't be too bad. The slow reveal is the best approach."
Malucci and Abby exchanged looks and a smile. "Oh, I believe you. Okay, Abby will take you to Radiology and I'll check back in on you once the tests come back. Nice meeting ya, Ms. Weir."
"Back atcha, Dr. Dave," she grinned, relieved that no worried Robert was about to swoop in and kick up a fuss.
As they made their way to Radiology, Melora asked Abby, who seemed to be trying to keep a look of good-natured disinterest on her face, "So, Robert says he used to run the ER a while back."
"That was before my time," Abby replied. "Dr. Weaver's been ER Chief since I started, so we only see Dr. Romano when he's doing surgery consults, usually. I hear he's an excellent surgeon."
"That's the word on the street," Melora agreed, trying not to let the aches slow her down too much.
It took about an hour to run the x-rays and the labs, and another hour and a half before the results came back. Malucci was annoyed that there wasn't anything too obviously wrong with her x-rays. He remarked to Abby by the front desk, "No blood in the urine. Nothing too bad on the x-ray. I still want to run a CT on her chest – those bruises look deep."
Kerry overheard and joined them. "Any chest pain? Vomitting? Nausea?"
Malucci grasped onto the chest pain option as a possible ticket to a CT. "Pain from the injury, with deep bruising."
"You know what I mean. Not contusion pain. Is she symptomatic of internal injury?"
He had to admit it. "No. Seems okay. But…" He wasn't sure if he should add the next part or not. Would it help or hurt his case? "She's got Dr. Romano listed as her emergency contact."
This gave Kerry pause. "Really?" She seemed to consider this for a moment. "What's her insurance like?"
"Non-existent." Malucci knew it – no CT now for sure. Not without at least some vomiting or chest pain.
Kerry shook her head. "No CT without signs of internal damage. If she's not running a fever or feeling internal pain, then let's finish processing her and send her on her way."
Malucci paused, a little uncomfortable with this. "If anything happens, she's my patient, Chief. It'll my head on Romano's platter."
Kerry ruffled at this. "I am your immediate supervisor, Dr. Malucci, not Dr. Romano. His friends get treated exactly the same as every other patient who comes through our door. No unnecessary tests. Understand?"
"Yeah, I got it. No CT." Once Kerry walked away, Malucci looked at Abby, who rolled her eyes at him as the pair walked down the hall. "You shouldn't have said that about not wanting to risk it," Abby told with a grin. "She needs to know you fear her more than him."
"C'mon. Don't be so hard on the Chief. She's good people." Abby shot Malucci a dubious look and he gave her a perplexed laugh. "What? What'd I say?"
Malucci met briefly with Melora, showing her the x-ray slides. "So, the good news is, there's no detectable internal bleeding, and your x-rays came up clean. Which you're more than likely okay. You'll probably be really stiff and sore by tomorrow, so I recommend you keep off your feet and let your body heal for a full week. Your arm's just got a sprain, so come back for some PT at the end of the week, and we should have you back playing cello another week after that." He handed her a prescription for the physical therapy and some mild painkillers. "And keep me posted when your band plays – I'll get the County Crew together for a night out."
"Thanks – I'll do that!" she smiled, shoving the papers into her oversized tote bag. "You guys have been great."
"Last word: If you have any nausea, vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, and especially if you develop a fever, get back in here pronto." He almost wanted to add that he'd have preferred to run a CT scan, but it made no sense to mention it now. If they couldn't do it, they couldn't do it. "I'm serious. Okay?"
Again, Melora smiled, not really thinking it was possible that she might feel worse than the aches and pains she was currently feeling. "Okay, okay. Noted."
"Good. Take care," he said, and she headed off towards the elevators. Here I am, breaking the no drop-ins at work rule, she thought to herself. Well, at least she had a good reason.
She got off at Surgery, and the desk attendant looked up at Melora, who was now wearing an arm brace under her oversized black sweater, but otherwise looked relatively normal. Jeans, Doc Martens boots, excessive rings and bracelets…the usual. "Is Dr. Romano in?" she asked.
The nurse called Romano in his office, letting him know he had a visitor. Soon enough, he was emerging from an office down the hall, a look of total surprise on his face. He was still wearing his surgical gown from a surgery he'd just finished. "Mel!" His look of surprise shifted to half a smile, but then to concern when he saw the bulky shape of the arm brace beneath her pullover. "Hey, what happened? You okay? C'mon, let's go to my office."
Once they were closed up in his office, Melora recounted her afternoon for him, showing him the few papers that she had that might fill in the things she couldn't quite remember. He studied them all carefully, but knew he'd need to look at her chart to really get a better picture. He looked for the name of the ER doctor she saw: Malucci. "Huh. I could have sworn his name was Maltucci," he commented.
Looking up at her, he could see she was in good shape, all things considered. He muffled his worry under the veneer of being a concerned physician. "No head injury? No loss of consciousness?" He peered at her eyes now, but as a doctor, looking for any abnormalities.
Melora shook her head. "Nope. Just lots of bruises and a sprained arm. And I'm told I need to stay off my feet for a week, and that I'll probably really start to hurt tomorrow." He was standing close, looking her over, so to jar him out of doctor mode, she leaned in and gave him a small kiss.
Robert, startled, smiled a little and said, "Well, you sure seem okay. " He slipped his hands to her waist, allowing himself to relax a little. "Did you get the 'script filled yet? I can take care of it for you." He knew she didn't have insurance and would have to pay full price out-of-pocket.
"That would be pretty awesome," she confessed. She hated asking him to pay for anything, but with the loss of the car, plus any money from working or playing this week, Melora knew she'd have to minimize all expenses for a while. "They already gave me one dose downstairs, so I think I'm good for a while."
Robert nodded. "I guess I don't have to ask what happened to the Deathtrap?"
"Poor Bug got smooshed, as Dr. Malucci put it."
"Good!" He'd always hated the idea of her driving that glorified tin can in weather like this. "You can use the Volvo till we get you something else, if you need it."
"The Gretel car?" Romano kept a second car, a Volvo wagon used mostly for taking Gretel on excursions. It was so much bigger than what she was used to driving, but she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Yeah. It may be kind of Soccer Mom, but it's very safe."
"Thanks." Mel smiled and gave him a long hug. "The people in the ER were nice, by the way. Dr. Malucci was very friendly."
"I bet he was," Robert replied dourly. "He pays special attention to all beautiful women in his care. Was a nurse present?"
Melora rolled her eyes and nodded. "Yep. Abby something. She was nice, too. Didn't say a single bad thing about you," she chuckled.
Robert cocked his head. "Why would I come up?"
"You're my emergency contact. Congratulations?" She gave him a tentative look as he put it together.
"Yeah?" Robert knew that no secret was safe with Malucci, but oddly he wasn't at all upset that the word would soon be out. At least he wouldn't have to worry about Malucci hitting on Mel; not even that guy would be stupid enough to go after the boss' girlfriend. And honestly, he kind of liked the idea that they now knew he was capable of making a woman like Mel happy. "I would be honored to be your emergency contact. Have I unseated Serena for the title?" he asked, referring to her roommate, band mate and best friend.
She nodded. "It's okay. She's never home to answer the damn phone, anyway." Melora was relieved that he wasn't disturbed that their secret may well be out now. Maybe that meant he was more secure in what they had. They'd been together for almost a year now, after all.
"Mind if I take a look at your chart? I want to second guess everything."
She laughed; at least he had a sense of humor about it. "Absolutely. And thank you for asking."
"I assume they cheaped out on you?" He expected as much from Weaver's ER.
"What do you mean?"
"Tests. You're uninsured, so you probably only were approved for the bare minimum. X-ray, blood and urine." She was asymptomatic, so it didn't trouble him too much. "I just want to make sure they didn't overlook anything. Speaking of which, can I take a look at your arm?"
She nodded, gently easing her arm up out of the sleeve with Robert's help. He could see it really pained her to do this manouever, and he regretted asking her to do it. Once her arm was free, he could see the hints of more bruising running up her arm and her torso, currently draped beneath the sweater. He winced. "Jesus," he muttered, suddenly wondering what more was there that he couldn't see. "What have you got going on under there?" he asked, touching the sweater.
Mel laughed at how he put it. "Just the usual circus. Wanna see?"
"You have to ask?"
She gave him a look, lifting her sweater so he could see the extent of the damage. "I didn't think I'd be stripping on my first visit to your office. Sorry it's not a sexier bra."
He barely even heard her as he took in the extensive bruising. "You got slammed by the steering wheel?" That struck him first. This accident could have ended much worse, he thought to himself, all good humor gone.
"Mmmm-hmm." Melora knew that this was coming; it was why she wanted him to see her up and about and joking before showing him this. It was also why she hadn't wanted him to see her in the ER. He'd have worried, and she hated being the cause of worry for him. He already worried for her playing late shows in arguably dangerous neighborhoods, not to mention the fact that she lived in an arguably dangerous area close to the hospital. "It looks worse than it is."
He gave her a look. "Don't minimize. I'm the doctor and I'll do the minimizing around here, thanks." He could see more of the bandages now, where the glass had cut her. "No stitches?"
"No stitches," she confirmed. "Nothing broken. I was only going like, ten miles an hour."
"Don't make me bring up the laws of physics and motion, Mel." The doctor in him wanted to get a look at the rest of her to view the damage. "Can I see your abdomen?"
"More romantic words have never been spoken," she joked, adding, "Can you lock that door?" She drew the line at someone walking in with her jeans *and* sweater half-off. She slipped her right arm back into the sweater while he locked the door, and then she unzipped her jeans and slid them down just around her hips, exposing further bruising around where the seatbelt wrenched her.
"Dammit," he muttered again, the idea of how bad it was and how much worse it could have been. "Did they do a lavage?"
"I don't even know what that is."
He remembered she wasn't treated as a trauma case, and asked, "But they did a urine test?"
"Yup." She nodded, pulling her jeans back up, fully clothed once again. She could see that something was worrying him – should she be worried, too? "What's wrong?"
"The impact against your chest while your lower body was held in place by the seatbelt, basically. Your organs may all be fine, but there's a lot of other things that can be affected."
"My ribs and chest are fine," Melora insisted. "And so are my organs, thank you."
Robert gave her a look. "Look, I'm not insulting you or your body. I love you. And your body. It's my job to look out for you, especially when you're being treated here." She seemed appeased by this. "Mel, you're probably fine. I just want you to get every possible test to rule out damage that an x-ray can't pick up."
"Dr. Dave said that as long as I'm not experiencing any nausea or fever or chest pain, I should be fine."
"'Dr. Dave'?" Robert rolled his eyes at this. "Well, I feel better already, if that's what Dr. Dave said," he added dismissively. He had to admit, though, Malucci was right to say it. "Can you indulge me just for a minute, though? I want to run downstairs and look at your file. You want to stay in here or in the surgery waiting room?" He had a surgery in half an hour, but maybe she wouldn't mind waiting for him.
"I'd rather just go home," she confessed. It was sweet that he was concerned, but frankly, she had a lot of phone calls to make and was starting to feel drowsy from the painkiller. "Can you just come over after work? You can doctor it up as much as you want then. I really just want to change into my jammies and have a nap."
It was a fair enough request, and he nodded. At least she wasn't protesting his looking more closely at her files. "Sure. That actually makes more sense. I'll bring you some Thai soup and more painkillers around 7, okay?" He took out his wallet and handed her a ten dollar bill. "Take a cab home. Not the bus."
"If you insist," she said with a smile; she'd never argue that, especially not today. "Thanks." She gave him a kiss.
"I'll walk you out," he told her, no longer caring if people knew about them. The cat was out of the bag, so why take pains to hide it. He also just wanted to see her safely on her way home. They headed out towards the elevator, his hand resting at the small of Melora's back as they walked. They passed Shirley and Kit at the elevator, and he noticed Shirley's raised eyebrow as she greeted in passing, "Dr. Romano."
"Shirley," he replied, matching her tone. As the doors slid closed, they heard giggles breaking out in the distance.
Melora couldn't help grinning at the exchange once they were in the elevator. "That was a loaded hello."
"Welcome to my world, Mel. You're in it now."