House Of Cards

Raining again...and guest reviewer, et voila...

Chapter nine -

Moments. Life is made up of them; good ones, bad ones, big ones, little ones, some mundane, some life changing. In his experience, it's the little ones you have to watch for because little moments like to blow up into big moments. Take one careless moment for example. That moment gets you your arm sliced off, and weirdly leads you to another moment where the woman, you just happen to be in love with, welcomes you into her life. And in turn, that moment leads you to a moonlit beach and a drunken stumble, which leads to the moment you find the lips of the woman you adore just a whisper away from yours. That's the moment he nearly kissed her and that's the moment he would've lost her. One more moment of momentary weakness he'd promised her would never happen again. Fortunately for him, that was the moment his head won the battle between heart and mind.

He tried to focus, but all he could think about was Elizabeth and that almost kiss. He inhaled deeply through his nose, exhaled slowly through the mouth. Find peace, find centre, don't think of anything else, don't think about her. Don't think about what her lips would have felt like against his, of how they would have tasted…

He kicked himself mentally and refocused, pushing his body harder, driving his feet faster.

"Jeezus Rob, will you slow down!"

In response, Robert increased his pace a notch more.

"Ass hole!" Tess wheezed, as she tried to keep up with him. How she'd let him drag her out on a run with him was beyond her.

She gave up even trying to keep pace and watched as he gained ground and disappeared out of view. By the time she rounded the corner to her house, he was sat by her open front door with two bottles of water.

She collapsed in a heap next to him and swiped the proffered bottle. "I hate you."

He grinned and tipped his bottle of water back, draining most of the contents.

She mirrored his movements and paused to get her breath back. "I mean, are you training for the Chicago marathon or something? Go for a quick run you said. Be good for you, you said! Look at me! Do I look good?!"

Robert laughed. "You look...red."

"Yeah, well you can go by yourself next time."

"No pain, no gain sis."

She pulled a childish face and drank some more water. "So is all this running about getting fit or are you just running off tension?"

"What do you mean?" he asked.

She swivelled round to face him. "Is everything okay with you and Elizabeth?"

"Yeah. Why'd you ask?"

"She called for you last night when you were out self-flagellating."

"When I was what?"

"You like to refer to it as running. What we just did?" she said still out of breath. "That was not running."

"Why are you only just telling me now?"

"I forgot, and figured you'd call her anyhow...which you did, right?"

He nodded. "Still, no excuse."

"Anyhow, we had a little chat."

Robert poured the rest of the water from his bottle over his head and shook his head. "Yeah?"

She moved to the side to avoid being splashed. "Did you know she's worried about you?"

This was news to Robert. "No. Why would she be worried?"

"She says you've been a little distant with her. That you don't spend as much time with her and Ella."

"That's not true."

"Which bit?"

"All of it."

Tess raised an eyebrow and looked sceptical.

"I mean, alright, I'm not there everyday."

"You don't sleep there any more?"

He looked uncomfortable and started stretching his leg muscles out. "Not as much."

"Why?"

"It's this stupid therapists fault!"

"The stupid therapist who's helping you get a normal nights sleep, every night? That stupid therapist?"

"Shut up."

"Why is it his fault then?"

"He basically said I've been using Elizabeth as a safety net, especially at night. Said I needed to withdraw myself gradually, until I don't need the net any more. So yeah, I've been staying at mine more, but Lizzie's never said anything to me, so I figured she was happy about it. Getting her house back..."

"Just a thought Rob, but have you explained any of this to Elizabeth?"

He shook his head. "Why?"

Tess stared at him aghast. "Are you stupid?"

Robert looked at her puzzled, and held out his hands. "What?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "Think about it Rob. You've more a less spent the best part of a year in each others pockets. She's looked out for you; she's slept next to you so that you can sleep and been there for you when you can't. She trusts you to take care of her daughter, and allowed you to get close to Ella...and then all of a sudden, poof, you stop staying over, you spend less time with them, and all with no explanation. Hasn't she asked you what's going on?"

"No," he said quietly, and glanced over at her. "I figured she was happy with it. I mean, she doesn't want to babysit me for the rest of her life."

Tess just shook her head at him. "You know, for someone so clever Rob, you're actually quite dumb. Think about that," she said and painfully climbed to her feet. "I'm going for a shower."

888888888

Elizabeth put the phone back in its cradle and walked back into the kitchen. Robert had just called to say his flight was delayed, so suddenly she found her morning freed up, and she found herself at a momentary loss for what to do. Out of sheer boredom she decided to do the breakfast dishes, then head in to work early to get on top of some paperwork. She removed her ring to do the washing up and automatically picked it up afterwards to put it back on. She didn't make it that far however and looked down at where it lay, staring up at her from her open palm. She remembered looking down at it just as she was now, the night Robert had retrieved it for her. Back then, she had been clinging on to Mark and the memory of him for dear life. She brought it up to her lips and kissed it gently. Mark was gone and he was never coming back, and while that thought saddened her still, it no longer consumed her. It was time, she realised to let him go and move on with her life.

This ring, ironically is what brought her and Robert together, and now she thought its probably what is stopping us from being together.

She walked upstairs to her bedroom and opened the dresser drawer. Reaching inside, she removed the box that lay there and placed the ring inside. One day, she would give it to Ella, but for now it would remain safely there, in the dresser, waiting for its new owner. It didn't belong to her any more.

888888888888

"So make sure every second year resident gets one each," Elizabeth said as she handed over a pile of papers to Shirley. "Move up the Jackson surgery to tomorrow at one. Edson can assist."

Shirley nodded. "Anything else?"

"If Doctor Romano calls for me, can you let him know I'm stuck in surgery and can't make lunch?"

"He's back today?"

Elizabeth nodded, trying not to appear too pleased by that fact. His delayed flight meant she couldn't collect him, so she'd missed out on the 'catch-up' that the car journey would have afforded them.

"How's he doing?" Shirley asked.

Elizabeth regarded her for a brief second and smiled. Shirley whilst a terrible gossip, had for some unfathomable reason, a soft spot for Robert and seemed to genuinely care how he was doing. But then she reasoned, it can't be that unfathomable; she herself cared very deeply, so its not like it was an isolated case. Susan's words of wisdom from the other day came back reinforcing to her, that she alone was not the only one who took note of Robert.

"Much better," she said. "His new doctor is very pleased with his progress."

"That's good," Shirley said, smiling. "He was a pain in the ass, but he was our pain in the ass, if you know what I mean."

Elizabeth laughed. "Yes, I can relate to that."

"Hellllo, Doctor Corday."

Elizabeth exchanged a look with Shirley, before turning to see Edward Dorsett standing there, grinning.

"What can I do for you Doctor Dorsett?" she said, trying to sound bored.

He took a second to look her over, then smiled what she supposed he thought was a roguish smile.

"Coffee, lunch...dinner. Pick one, or maybe take all three?"

She rolled her eyes and heard Shirley snigger into her hand.

"C'mon, Elizabeth...don't make me beg in front of Shirley," he said, in his most charming voice.

"Doctor Dorsett," she said, her voice strictly professional. "Thank you, but no thank you."

"Rain check it is, then.."

She grumbled and turned her back on him to face Shirley, but could still feel his presence hovering.

"I will wear you down, Elizabeth," he said in a silky voice. "Until then." He touched her hip briefly as he left and she stared at his departing back incredulous. "Did he really just do that?!"

"He's a terrible flirt! Cute though," Shirley said.

"And he knows it. It also ceased to be cute after the fourth time I said no."

"Oh dear," Shirley laughed. "I take by that, you're definitely not interested then?"

"In him? Certainly not! He's not my type...far too smarmy!"

Shirley smiled. "So is there someone who is your type, that you're interested in?"

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "It was just a figure of speech, Shirley."

"I know, but I'm serious though. You've got to put yourself back out there at some point, Doctor Corday."

Elizabeth tapped the desk with both hands. "Maybe, just not today."

88888888888

Robert's day was going from bad to worse. First his flight back to Chicago was delayed by three hours. That resulted in Elizabeth being unable to collect him, which led to him having to get a cab with a driver who had clearly never heard of deodorant before. All of this made him late for his meeting with the board, which meant he had to go straight to the hospital. Once he'd paid the driver and saw the state of affairs with the E.R he wished he'd stayed in California.

The E.R had been gutted. That's the only way he could think of to describe it. Shit everywhere, patients everywhere, workman everywhere. It was a health and safety lawsuit waiting to happen. He looked around him in despair and winced when he heard the not so dulcet tones of Kerry Weaver. He followed the shrill noise around the corner only to see her bashing on the base of a workman's ladder with her cane.

"Welcome back to the asylum." He turned to see Susan grinning at him holding two cups of coffee. "Here, you're gonna need this," she said and thrust one of the cups at him. He dumped his holdall onto the floor and reached out to take the proffered drink.

"How long has it been like this?" he yelled over the noise.

"Four days!"

He could feel his ire boiling and yelled. "KERRY!"

Kerry turned around, and her eyes widened when she saw him.

"One job! I left you one job!" he yelled. "Supervise and expedite improvements to the ER! This looks like a friggin war zone! Carter probably thinks he's back in Africa!"

"He's not wrong there," muttered John who had wandered over to Susan. They were quickly joined in the cheap seats by Frank and Jerry, who were both grinning. Frank seemed especially pleased to witness Kerry being yelled at for once.

"Robert! It's not my fault! They were supposed to start Monday on a gradual basis. Instead they started Tuesday evening and started ripping it all out at once!"

"Well, where the hell were you?! Why didn't you stop them!"

"I have to sleep, Robert!"

"God-damn it! Who's allegedly in charge of this bunch?"

She pointed down at the pale, spotty, all but exposed bottom of a large man, whose upper half was concealed underneath the counter.

Robert kicked the man's foot. "Hey, moonshine!"

The man's bottom half quickly moved to reveal an angry head.

"Did you just kick me?

"Yes I did. If you're in charge of this motley crew follow me. Kerry, you too!" With that he picked up his holdall and started walking, stopped suddenly and turned around. "Where's the friggin lounge gone?!"

Susan started laughing as did the others and he turned to face them. They quickly splintered off in various directions before they became collateral damage.

88888888888

Robert spent the rest of the day, cleaning up the mess in the ER and putting out various other fires. Before he knew it, it was past six in the evening, and he went off in search of Elizabeth.

He stepped onto the surgical floor, swept it quickly with his eyes and made a beeline for the oracle that is Shirley.

"Hey Shirley, do you know if Doctor Corday is still on?"

She looked up, smiling at him. "Hi, Doctor Romano. Good to see you back. Heard you're having a nightmare time down in the ER?"

"You heard right. I'm surprised that A, I haven't killed anyone and B, I still have a voice. So is Doctor Cor…"

"I think she's in the lounge," she said cutting him off.

He nodded his thanks and started to step off when she spoke again.

"Actually, I think she may need saving."

"What?"

"Doctor Dorsett is shall we say, actively pursuing her and he's not exactly taking no for an answer. I think he went in there right after her."

"Is that right?" he said, getting pissed now.

Shirley watched disappointed as instead of tearing off to the lounge like she thought he'd do, he turned in the opposite direction and headed for his office. However she looked up again when he re-emerged a minute later and headed back in her direction. She then looked towards the surgeons lounge, as the door opened to reveal Elizabeth exiting followed by Dorsett.

They all reconvened right in front of her and Shirley gave thanks to the gossip Gods for her front seat.

Elizabeth's face lit up upon seeing Robert and broke into a broad smile. "Robert, you're back!"

"Hey Lizzie," he said, returning her infectious smile. He let it slip as he acknowledged the other surgeon. "Dorsett."

"Doctor Romano."

"Were you looking for me?" Elizabeth asked, hopefully.

"Looking for Eddie here, actually."

The tall surgeon straightened up with self-importance. "Let me guess? You are in need of my fast skills to save the day?"

"Nope. Just feel the need to give you some required reading. Here," he said, and thrust a heavy manual into Dorsett's hands.

The tall surgeon looked down at his hands. "What's this?"

"That would be this hospitals policy on sexual harassment in the workplace...I suggest you acquaint yourself with it."

Shirley snickered and Elizabeth eyed the two men carefully as they sized each other up. Edward looked at her with a smarmy face, still fancying his chances. "Does it say anything in here, about sexual harassment outside of the workplace?"

"It does not," Robert said, and held out the other file in his hand. "Pretty sure that one does though."

Edward cocked an eyebrow and made an elaborate show of opening it. His expression soon changed when he saw what it was.

"One call should do it," Robert said.

Dorsett closed the file and looked at Romano. "Well, okay then. Best behaviour henceforth, it is," he said, and left without a backwards glance.

Elizabeth and Shirley watched him go. "Robert, what was in the second file?"

He looked at the pair of them. "Just his personnel file."

They both looked at him confused. "I don't get it," Elizabeth said.

"I'd highlighted a certain box for him...his emergency contact number happens to be his wife."

"Edward's married?!" Elizabeth spluttered.

Several other nurses heads shot up at this information.

"At present, yes, he is very much married. Listen, Lizzie, have you got time for a quick coffee?"

Elizabeth nodded, and they walked back towards the surgeons lounge.

"Hope you don't think I was interfering but Shirley said he'd been hassling you?"

"It's nothing I couldn't handle," she said. "He keeps trying his luck, asking me out, but I think it's more a point of principle for him...I suspect he's not used to rejection. How long have you known he was married?"

"I err, might have made some discreet enquiries the first time he asked you out. If I'd known he was still hassling you, I'd have told you."

Elizabeth smiled knowingly at him. Whether he'd done it due to jealousy or protectiveness towards her, she didn't mind. He'd had her back.

"Exactly how many times has he asked you out then?"

"Enough, for him to know better. He said he wanted to save me from myself...that its time for me to get back out there and start dating again. At least on that count I think he has a point."

He stopped walking. "What are you saying? You're ready to start dating again?"

She breathed in and smiled. "Yes, I am...just not with him."

Robert nodded. Pleased that she wasn't interested in Dorsett, but anxious that she would soon be seeing other guys. It had always just been a matter of time he reasoned and opened the door of the lounge, holding it open for her.

"Got your eye on anyone, in particular?"

"I think so," she said, looking pointedly at him as she stepped past him into the lounge. He missed the look however, as he turned and closed the door.

Robert nodded, disappointed. "Lucky guy," he said, and walked over to the sideboard to gather his thoughts, busying himself filling two cups of coffee. He walked them over to where Elizabeth was seated and held out a cup to her. She reached up with both of her hands and he passed it to her.

"What?" she asked when he remained standing and she followed his eyes to her hands.

"You're not wearing your ring?"

"No."

"Since when?"

"Does it matter? The point is I'm not any more."

Of course it matters, he thought! First she tells me she's ready to start dating again, then that she's got her eye on someone and now she's taken off her ring! Could his day get any worse? He sat down feeling defeated, like he'd had the wind kicked out of him. He'd always known the day would come when she'd meet someone else, but it didn't make the pill any less easier to swallow. Still, he resolved, he certainly didn't want to lose their friendship. She meant too much to him to lose altogether so he guessed he'd just have to go with it and see what happens.

She tried to read his face, but he wasn't giving much away and they both sipped some of their drinks, alone with their thoughts.

Robert broke the silence after a minute. "Earlier when you asked if I was looking for you," he said. "I was."

She looked up from her coffee cup and brightened. "Oh?"

"Yeah, I wanted to clear something up before I leave for the night."

"You're not coming back to mine tonight?" she said, failing to keep the surprise out of her voice. "I thought we could grab pizza, and have a proper catch-up?"

"Nah, I wouldn't be much company," he said and offered her an apologetic smile. "I really need to get some serious sleep after the flight and the hellish day I've just had...and somehow I can't see Ella letting me off that lightly."

"Well, we wouldn't want to disappoint Ella would we?" she said in a disappointed tone, and blew on her coffee. "So, what did you want to 'clear up'?"

"You may have noticed lately, I've not been staying over as much, and I wanted to explain why."

"I had noticed," she said carefully, and Robert made a mental note to thank his sister.

"So, why is that?" she asked.

"It's not because I don't want to. I've loved spending time with you and Ella."

"Loved? Past tense?"

He shook his head and put his coffee down on the table next to him. "Love," he amended.

"So, what's the problem?" she asked, feeling a little better at his correction.

"It's not a problem, per se," he said. "Jenkins says.."

"Jenkins...he's your therapist, right?"

He nodded. "He suggested I need to start getting myself back to normal, whatever that is. Find my independence again, I suppose. So, I guess I've been trying to do that and not be such a burden to you.."

"Robert, you've never been a burden."

"Yeah, I think maybe the jury's out on that," he said, and gave her a small, sweet smile. "Anyhow, I think that in my efforts to do that, I may have come across as...I don't know...withdrawn?"

Well, she certainly wasn't going to argue with him on that point she thought, and nodded encouragement for him to continue.

"He says I have to stop using you as a 'safety net,' especially at nights."

She nodded again, understanding now. "Well, I've never been called that before," she said. "And is it working? The therapy? You seem to be having less nightmares these days."

He smiled at her. "As much as it pains me to say it, yes...you were right. It has helped."

She reached out for his hand. "Robert, that's great."

He squeezed her hand back. "I hope you know that you and Ella are very important to me. I really don't think I'd be here today without you both, and I don't want you thinking that as I get myself sorted, that I don't need you any more. I'm here today, in a good place all because of you."

"That goes both ways, Robert...the same can be said for me."

"I'm glad to hear that…"

"So why am I sensing a but?"

"I guess in light of what you've told me tonight, I could be stopping you from moving on though?"

"How'd you mean?"

"Well, you tell me you're ready to start dating again. Not going to be a good look, if I'm hanging around all the time, is it?"

Elizabeth opened her mouth to tell him she was ready to move on and wanted to do so with him, as the door to the lounge opened and Brenda appeared. Elizabeth cursed the timing as Robert quickly pulled his hand back away from hers.

"Oh Doctor Romano, good there you are! Doctor Weaver needs you downstairs...there's some new problem with one of the contractors."

He groaned and leaned back in the chair, covering his face with both hands. Sighing heavily he stood up. "Okay, tell her I'm on my way."

Brenda smiled apologetically, nodded and left.

Elizabeth reached up and caught his hand again. He looked utterly exhausted and she thought now was probably not the best time to bear her soul and drop another bombshell on him. Equally she didn't want to just let him go without fixing when she'd see him next. "Are you off tomorrow?"

His eyebrows shot upwards in disbelief. "I've just had a week off!"

"Of course...sorry, I wasn't thinking."

"I've gotta go Lizzie," he said squeezing her hand.

"Look you promised me you'd teach me tai-chi and I'm off tomorrow. Maybe you could come by in the morning and give me a lesson before you start work, and then let me treat you to lunch as a thank you?"

"As you know, I never turn down a free lunch," he grinned. "I warn you though, tai-chi lessons start very early in the morning."

"I'll be ready," she said.

"I can't guarantee I'll get away for lunch though. Kerry's management of the ER refurbishment is a monumental lesson in how not to."

"Oh," she said, disappointed.

"I can come round tomorrow evening though? I'll bring that pizza you wanted and I promise I'll sit quietly through whatever you want to watch."

"Quietly?" she scoffed.

"Scouts honour," he said, dropping her hand and giving a little salute.

"Were you ever a boy scout?"

"Nah...but I was a choirboy, that's gotta count for something."

"You were a choirboy?" she laughed as the door opened again.

Brenda reappeared with the phone in her hand. "Doctor Romano?"

"I'm coming!" he yelled.

888888888

Robert woke even earlier than usual, as seemed to be his new routine. He got up quietly, and quickly walked Gretel round the block. Once fed and watered, she was content enough to curl back up in a ball and sleep it off. He left a note for Diane, grabbed his gym bag and took off to Elizabeth's.

The house was still in darkness when he got there, so he used his key to let himself in and listened. Definitely nobody awake and he grinned not surprised. He got changed and started his morning exercises. He was mid way through his tai-chi routine when Elizabeth appeared. She was dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt.

"Sorry," she yawned. "Must have slept through the alarm."

Robert smiled in acknowledgement without breaking movement. "Did you even set one?"

"Of course," she lied. She really hadn't considered early meant early, early.

"Well, if you're still up for a lesson, why don't you do some warm up while I finish this set?"

"Okay," she said, dropping her yoga mat onto the decking. She watched fascinated at how fluidly he moved, almost gliding. She sat down and stretched out her legs, reached for her toes, her eyes still watching him. His muscles were taut, his body still clinging to the tan awarded to him from the Californian sun. Sweat glistened, pooled then dripped as he changed form. He was, she had to admit looking very good. He'd always had broad shoulders but the new weight regimen he was following had definitely buffed him up more.

Robert crouched, stretched out, came back up, rotated so he was now fully facing Elizabeth. She was sat stretching on the floor, watching him with a far away expression on her face. Looking directly at him. Not at his face. At him. He could be imagining it, but he was pretty sure she was checking him out. Those blue eyes had started at his feet, moved to his ankles, drifted to his calf's, hovered on his thighs, lingered on his abs and chest; then perused his arms, his shoulders...basically raked over his whole body. Her blue eyes eventually found their way up to find his brown ones starring back at her, and she quickly looked away, lowering her head, stretching towards her knee. Not before he caught sight of her cheeks, and the lovely flaming red tinge, colouring them before she did, confirming what he'd thought. He grinned like a Cheshire cat and transitioned into the next step. Yep, today was looking up already...Elizabeth Corday had just checked him out!

TBC