House Of Cards

Apologies for lateness in updating...2020, work, short staffed, promoted, 2020 more work..2020 etc….anyhoo the restaurants season will finish end of October and free me up to write more….

So back to the story, and we're in my universe now so I'm going to take some liberties with the world of canon…just sayin'...apologies again for lateness…

Chapter Four-

Robert Romano sat watching a ridiculous big blue bear singing a song about the moon, and wondered briefly how he had got here. He glanced at his watch. The big game was at least four innings in and he wanted to change the channel, but his young viewing partner would most definitely go into meltdown if he did. It wouldn't be pretty and he knew from experience he'd lose. The damn bear was not doing its lullaby-baby job well enough, and he reckoned Ella had six more episodes in her, easy. Christ, at this rate he'd be asleep before she was.

After his successful stint at watching Ella, he'd been recruited by Elizabeth to help out the rest of the week that Kris was off. Grateful as hell for the company, he'd readily accepted, happy to spend more time with the pair of them. They were a good distraction he'd felt. He'd brought Gretel along one night much to Ella's delight who decided she was a good pony substitute. The resulting upturned table, broken vase, crying child and sulking dog were enough for him to realise he needed to think things through more. He'd arranged for Diane to take Gretel for the rest of the week, taken Ella shopping and bribed her with a new dolly, then bought Elizabeth a bouquet of flowers that conveniently came arranged in a similar looking vase. Elizabeth had been none the wiser as she came home to a hot meal, a happy sleeping child and a beautiful, 'I just wanted to say thank you, so I bought you these,' flowers.

That week had passed well and led to more shared dinners and general hanging out together, and much to their surprise, they had become good friends, enjoying each others company. He probably spent three or four nights a week at hers, always in the guest-room, but after she'd heard him mid-nightmare one time too many, she'd begun sharing the bed with him so that she was on-hand when he had an 'episode.' He certainly wasn't going to quibble and to be honest he felt much better about going to sleep, knowing he wasn't going to wake up terrified and alone.

That was four months ago now. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year had been and gone, and yet here he still was. It seemed to work. She was taking his request to keep him grounded very seriously, and had become pivotal in his rehab, stopping him from overdoing it in his frustration to heal. She'd actually accompanied him to see Doctor Gunn and his physio, and they had come up with several exercises she could help with, flexing his fingers. Doctor Gunn was much happier with his overall progress. The only unhappy one, was Robert. His recovery was, in his opinion, still too slow and nowhere near enough where he wanted it to be.

Add to that his work life continued to deteriorate as he'd recently been forced, under pressure from the board, to allow Elizabeth to take on his duties as Chief Of Surgery in his 'medical absence.' As a consequence, he'd found himself more and more office bound, and it was driving him nuts. Somehow, he'd become a day worker, working 9-5 office hours. The only bonus was that it enabled him to reliably relieve Kris on time for Ella-sitting duties, which pleased Elizabeth, and more importantly stopped him brooding too much on the sad state of his life. Spending time with Elizabeth and Ella had made him think more and more about his own family.

His own blind ambition and on off relationship with his sister had stopped him from being too closely involved with his niece's upbringing. A fact he was only now beginning to realise just how much he regretted. His mother had died last year, having never really recovered from a stroke the previous year and he hadn't seen his sister since the funeral. They'd had a disagreement at the wake, which was mainly instigated by him. Robert had harboured some resentment and anger that Tess had not returned from California to help out when their mother had fallen ill, and it had all come to a head at the wake. They'd argued, both said some things they shouldn't have and hadn't spoken since. That was until recently, when he'd finally called at New Year. He'd told her about his 'accident,' and she'd been shocked and angry that he hadn't told her earlier. They'd called a truce and he'd promised to visit soon, assuring her that he was doing fine, and wasn't alone. She'd been curious about Elizabeth and was keen to meet her.

He shifted slightly next to Ella and began trying to flex his fingers. Ella turned her head ever so slightly towards the movement, and formed her small hand into a fist before resting it in his palm. She looked up at him and they exchanged a smile as he continued to try flexing his fingers, this time trying to close his hand around her small one, squeezing it like a stress ball. Robert tried not to laugh as Ella, just as she'd seen her mother do so many times, nodded approvingly at his efforts. He wondered again at his extraordinary good luck that placed him here, and gratefully returned his attention to the dancing bear.

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Elizabeth pushed her front door open and kicked off her shoes. Exhausted, she threw her keys down on the dresser and dropped her bag, heading straight for the lounge where she could see flickering light, probably from the television.

She couldn't help but smile at the sight that greeted her. Robert was fast asleep on the couch with Ella flat out beside him. The Bear in the Big Blue House was prancing about on the screen and she knew Ella had won yet another battle in their war of the wills. Robert Romano, who was very good at saying 'no' to just about anyone, herself included, was as malleable as a marshmallow when it came to her daughter.

Wandering into the kitchen she opened the fridge, pleased to see a plate of lasagne next to a green salad awaiting her. She popped the lasagne into the microwave and dressed the salad before spotting an open bottle of red wine with a post-it-note stuck to the bottle. It read 'Romano approved' scribbled on it. She grinned, happily acquiescing to his wine picks and poured herself a generous glass while she waited for the food to heat. She took an approving sip as the microwave beeped and she took the meal and the glass of wine to the centre island and sat. Savouring the first bite, she revelled in the flavours and marvelled at the complexities of Robert Romano. He really was an amazing cook, a skill she would never have credited him with, and knew no-one would believe her if she tried to tell anyone. She giggled a little at that and mused back to that fateful evening when she had invited him to her house to talk. He'd become rather integral in her life since then, helping out with Ella, but also helping herself with her struggles against loneliness. The weight of responsibility she'd felt as a single parent, no longer weighed quite so heavily around her neck, and for that she felt very grateful towards him.

What on earth would people think if they knew just how much time they now spent together.

Would it bother her? Maybe. Once upon a time it most definitely would have bothered her, but they were both different people now, and both were happy with the status quo of their relationship. It was all innocent enough, and they were both okay with that. Would anyone believe it though? She sipped a little more wine and glanced briefly towards the lounge. She wasn't ashamed of their friendship, but she was worried that if people found out just how close they'd become, then people would automatically assume there was more going on...and she didn't want people feeling that she could just simply move on from Mark, just like that, and with Romano of all people. But then, no-one knew Robert like she did. How could they? He'd never let anyone into his life like he had her. They had no clue as to how much he cared about medicine, about helping people. They had no idea of the pain he put himself through everyday with his physio, constantly pushing himself. They had no idea how good he was with Ella or how funny he could be; how easily he could cheer her up with a quip or a well timed pout. He had the ability to see humour in the darkest of situations, and she'd grown to trust him, to value him and not that she'd care to admit, but also to care for him, and what's more, it was absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.

She finished her dinner and got up to place the plate into the sink, then smiled as she envisioned Robert's disapproving shake of the head and put it into the dishwasher instead. Next she went into the lounge and carefully collected her daughter into her arms and carried her upstairs. After putting her to bed she climbed into the shower. Dressed in pyjamas she went back downstairs to the kitchen. She reclaimed the bottle of wine and grabbed two glasses, then walked through to the lounge and sat down, heavily. Robert stirred as she filled the glasses and wiped his eyes blearily.

"Sorry," she lied. "Didn't mean to wake you."

"S'okay," he yawned and looked around for his sleeping partner in crime.

She smiled, knowingly. "I relocated Ella to her bedroom."

"Oh," he said, sheepishly. "Sorry, I meant to take her up, but she was all y'know, 'just one more, pur-lease."

Elizabeth laughed. "Robert, you really do have to learn to say no to her!"

"I do say no to her, but she ignores me...and that's down to you."

"Oh really?" she said raising a bemused eyebrow.

"Absolutely."

Elizabeth crossed her arms and smirked.

"Please do enlighten me, Robert...how is your total inability to control Ella, my fault?"

"Well, you set such a poor example when it comes to listening to me and she takes your lead," he grinned. "As a result, she's very pushy and doesn't listen to me."

"Oh, I listen to you just fine...when you have something useful to say. Which admittedly, is not often."

"Ouch," he said and reached for a glass of wine. "Anyhow, cheers and sorry."

She raised he own glass and clinked it with his. "Cheers, and what are you sorry for?"

He shrugged. "Sleeping on the job?"

She waved a hand at him and smiled. "Don't be, it's just what I needed after the day I've had."

"What, to come home to chaos?"

"No, to come home to normality. To be able to see Ella happy and well fed with someone she adores. To have a lovely meal waiting for me, and to be able to put her to bed and not have to face yet another evening on my own." She lifted the glass to her lips and took a long drink of wine and he watched as her smile faded. She leaned back into the couch, tucked her feet up beneath her legs and closed her eyes.

"Rough day?" He asked, tentatively.

She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders in response. "I've had better."

"Wanna share it?"

The levity of moments ago seemed to vanish as she sighed heavily. "If its all the same, I think I'd just rather sit here and relax."

Robert watched quietly as she sipped her wine. He knew her well enough now to know her moods, as she did his, and he also knew she wouldn't let him get away that.

"C'mon Corday...bore me with the details," he said, and jabbed her playfully in the ribs.

She shot him a reproachful look, but couldn't help but smile when he responded with a pouty face. Knowing he wasn't going to let it drop, she closed her eyes again, took another sip of wine and breathed in deeply. "I lost a patient."

Okay, he thought, not nice, but unfortunately also not unusual in their line of work, and he raised a questioning eyebrow. "And?"

"And what? I just told you."

Robert had seen Elizabeth lose patients before. He'd witnessed her deal with it with a level of professionalism and separation. You had to in their line of work, or you wouldn't be able to function. There was clearly more here going on than simply losing a patient.

"So why has losing this particular patient, upset you Elizabeth?"

She opened her eyes to find his concerned ones staring back at her, and watched as he took the glass from her and placed it down on the coffee table, before turning his scrutiny back on her.

"He was a married man, and a doting father by all counts," she said, quietly.

Robert considered her words and chewed down on his lip, and ventured. "He reminded you of Mark?"

"Yes," she admitted, tears beginning to glisten in her eyes, and he waited patiently for her to elaborate.

"He was blind-sided by another car that ran the lights and really didn't stand a chance. His wife kept asking me what is she supposed to do now, while his daughter just kept calling out for her daddy, and all I had was, 'you carry on!'"

Robert considered her words and took a sip of wine himself. "There's really not much more you could have said, Elizabeth."

"I know," she said sadly.

"So then…?"

"It just got me thinking, you know? What will I say to Ella when she asks me, Robert? What do I tell her when she asks where her daddy is?"

He put his own glass of wine down on the table and reached for her hand. "You show her all of the pictures that you have of him and you tell her how you met. You tell her how much he loved her...and...you tell her how much he loved you. You tell her that he was a good man."

"Thank you, Robert," she said crying. "I'm sorry...it's just been a bit of an emotional day."

"Hey, come here." He pulled her to him and wrapped his arm around her. She let her head rest gratefully on his shoulder and felt herself relax against him. They sat like that for a while, neither speaking until Robert broke the silence.

"You really miss him, don't you?"

She nodded against his shoulder. "There are days when I miss him dreadfully, and then there are days when I realise I've gone a whole week without thinking of him...and its those days I feel horrible and guilty."

"Well, you shouldn't...it just means you're beginning to heal. It doesn't mean that you're forgetting him, or that you loved him any less."

"I know..."

Robert raised his eyebrow. "Do you though?"

She nodded. "I do...really, I do...but, I just feel like I need to hang on to him, you know? For Ella's sake. I feel like every day that I don't think of him is another day where I'm going to forget just another little detail about him...until I can no longer close my eyes and see him. Ella's too young to remember him, so I have to be the one who doesn't...so that when she is old enough to understand and wants answers to her questions, I can tell her."

"And you will. Look around you, Elizabeth. He's over there," he said nudging his head in the direction of the mantelpiece, where there were several framed pictures of Mark, some with Ella and some of all of them together. "And, correct me if I'm wrong, but that pyjama top you're wearing looks suspiciously 'Greeneish' to me?"

She turned her head and smiled up at him. "It was his favourite."

He smiled back at her. "See? He's not forgotten. He's actually everywhere...and in time, Ella will see that."

"Thank you Robert. I'm really glad we became proper friends," she said leaning her head back against his shoulder.

He smiled, pleased that he had managed to cheer her up and happy to hear confirmation that they had forged a real connection. "Me too," he said. "And look, whenever you want to talk about Mark, you can y'know? If you want to tell me you miss him, if you want to tell me what you miss the most, you can."

She nodded again and he felt the movement. "Actually, I miss this, the most," she said.

Robert looked around him confused. "What's this?" he asked.

She allowed her head to snuggle against his shoulder, then said quietly, "Companionship."

"Companionship?"

"Yes, you know...coming home from work to someone; Eating a meal and sharing your day with someone other than a toddler."

"Oh," he said.

"Not the answer you thought?"

"I figured you'd miss Mark...the man."

She giggled. "You mean sex?"

He shrugged and nodded.

"Don't get me wrong, Robert. I loved Mark, but well, you know yourself we'd drifted apart before he fell ill. I still loved him, but we hadn't been intimate for quite some time...and then he got ill and you helped me see that I still loved him and needed to be there for him at the end. He was my husband and I loved him very much...but when he died...he wasn't my lover. Does that make sense?"

"I guess."

"Can I tell you what else I really miss?"

"What?" Robert asked, a little hesitantly.

"Head massages," she said and nudged his right hand that lay on her shoulder.

He let out a breath he'd been unaware he was holding and grinned. "Wow, Lizzie...how very subtle of you."

"Shut up and rub," she said, snuggling closer to him while draping her arm across his stomach.

He smiled and let his hand drift up and disappear into the mass of curls that he adored.

TBC