House of Cards

Authors note: I found this idea on my laptop whilst working on the next chapter of 'The Philadelphia Stories,' (which is coming), and thought I'd take another go at it. This story takes place at the end of season nines episode, "A Hopeless Wound." Usual disclaimers apply in that the characters are not mine, just merely borrowed.

Chapter One

With a very sleepy Ella weighing heavily in her arms, Elizabeth headed for the exit. Another long and difficult day was over, but with the minivan in the shop, they now faced the long journey home on the El train. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to be home, to climb into bed and pull the comforter over her head, so she could surrender to the sleep she so desperately craved. She was all but out of the door when she heard him, his voice stopping her dead in her tracks.


Unwittingly, she froze, closed her eyes, and silently cursed. Not now, she groaned inwardly, I just want to go home...but, there was no avoiding him. She sort of half turned around, trying to not make eye contact and sighed heavily. "Robert, can we talk tomorrow? I really have to get Ella home."

"I thought you might want this before you left," he said, and she turned fully to face him. He'd stopped just short of her and stood still, his right hand proffered out towards her. She looked down and gasped not quite believing her eyes at the shiny object that lay in his open palm.

"That's my ring," she gasped unbelievingly.

He gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. "Amazing what you can do with a laparoscopic camera and a snare," he said. She reached down for the ring and he gave a small wave to Ella, who shyly, snuggled even closer to her mother.

"Thank you," she whispered, staring at it with a mixture of relief and disbelief.

"Di nada," he said quietly and turned away, but promptly turned back. "Err," he began again, awkwardly. "Look err, about today..."

Closing her eyes briefly she recalled the embarrassing scene earlier in the surgeons lounge and knew what was coming. "Err, lets not..."

Robert sought out her eyes and spoke stronger. "It was a momentary weakness on my won't happen again."

Lifting her eyes from the ring, she risked a brief look up at him and was met by his intense eyes. She saw the pleading, sincere apology there, but there was also a darkness, the like she'd never seen before. They were like black holes, threatening to suck you and everything around them into their chaotic universe. She saw just a hint of his tortured pain and it scared her. She still had so much of her own personal grief to deal with right now; she couldn't possibly deal with his too. She hugged Ella even closer to her, the one definite thing in her life that made its continuance worth while. She just didn't have the strength right now to take on more. Call it selfish, call it survival, call it whatever you like...she just couldn't do it.

She felt her lips move and heard the words as they fell from her mouth. "You'll work through this Robert." They rang hollow even to her own ears and she knew he heard it too.

Unable to hide the disappointment in his eyes, he paused for the briefest of moments and swallowed the rejection. "Of course I will," he said. It was a lie and they both knew it.

"Goodnight," he said, his tone clipped.

"Good night," she said, cutting him adrift.

He turned and left and she watched him go, her heart breaking for him, despite her resolution to let him. She hung on to her daughter, focusing on the one being she needed to be strong for.

But then he turned again. Just, briefly...a last desperate plea in his eyes that even he, no longer believed. A finality materialised there, an acceptance that this was indeed his pain, his path, his burden, his fate, his future all to be shouldered by him and him alone, and he got it…he turned back and walked away.

Elizabeth sighed tiredly and turned around too, taking another step towards the exit, but then stopped, and slowly looked back. She watched him as he waited for the elevator with his head down and took a good, long look at him. Watched as the fingers of his right hand drummed rapidly against his thigh. Noted the tight, agitated posture of the slumped shoulders. The air around him seemed almost as blue as the scrubs he wore.

She thought back to earlier that day when she'd found him sitting in the surgeons lounge in the dark, alone and defeated. He'd opened himself up to her and revealed just a fraction of the torment he was going through. She'd knelt before him, tried to offer some words of comfort and he'd reached out to her, both literally and figuratively, but she'd panicked and ran away. She'd left him there, sitting alone in the dark once again, and then she saw it. That chair, that same chair, the one she'd sat in crying as she felt her world was falling apart and he'd found her and caught her. Not only had he caught her, he'd guided her back to Mark, and what had she just done? She'd ran away from him. Twice.

And she couldn't do it. She just couldn't do it. To him, or to herself.

"Robert, wait!" she called out as her feet propelled her back inside towards him.

The elevator doors opened just as she reached him. "Robert!" He turned back to her with a puzzled look.

"What?" he asked.

"How long did it take?"

"How long did what take?" he said with a look of confusion.

She opened her palm which still held her wedding ring and he looked down at her hand. "Wasn't really clock watching," he said with a slight shrug of his shoulders.

She thought it must have taken him ages, especially with only one good working arm.

How long? One hour? Two? More? She pictured him struggling for hours trying to retrieve the ring; her ring, her wedding ring..for her. And here she was, unwilling to even give him five minutes? What kind of a person did that make her?

"Look, are you okay?" she started.

"Course I am," he lied.

"Really?" She asked, as Ella began to fidget in her arms. She hugged her closer whispering soothing sounds into the small childs ear and Ella settled down.

Robert watched the tender exchange and wished everything in life could be that simple. Elizabeth brought her face back to look at his and he met her eyes. There was something different there, something that moments before hadn't been there. A clear invitation to give an honest answer to her honest question.

"No," he sighed. "Today has not been a good day."

"Ditto," she said ruefully and he looked up at her with a wry smile.

A silence fell between them and the elevator door closed with a ping causing Robert to look at it briefly. His hand automatically went to push the call button again. "Well, I should let you get the little one home, huh?" He gave Ella another small wave and she gave him a shy smile back.

Ella was growing ever heavier in her arms and suddenly an idea came to her. "Are you off now?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I'm just headed back upstairs to change now."

"Are you still driving?" she asked out of the blue.

Robert looked puzzled. "Uh, yeah…the Jag's automatic, and this thing isn't totally useless, yet," he said lifting his bad arm for effect.

"Look, I'm knackered, and I really don't think I can face the El tonight. Do you think you could give us a ride home? Maybe we could pick up some dinner on the way and when Ella's down, if you like, we can talk properly?"

Robert closed his eyes briefly. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," she said with a confidence that took the pair of them by surprise and startled Ella, who sleepily reached out a curious hand towards the white bandage covering his left forearm. Robert brought his hand up to touch her little one, and his brief smile disappeared as he looked at her.

"What is it?" Elizabeth asked, noticing the change.

"Normally, I would love to," he said, "but the jag is not exactly fitted out for transporting munchkins."

"Oh," she said actually disappointed.

They both looked down at the floor before Robert offered. "I'd be happy to spring for a cab if I get dinner out of it?" he offered.

"Deal," she said, beaming.

"Okay. Give me a minute to change?"

The elevator door opened up once again, and they both looked at it. "Of course. We'll ride up with you, if that's okay?"

He held out his hand and gestured for her to step in, and he followed her. The doors closed and swallowed them.