A Meeting at the Gala

Chapter 1

AN: Some direct quotes from Season 5, Episode 10. I own nothing.

Another Christmas away from home. This year was worse. Last year the dull ache of homesickness hadn't yet sunk in. It just felt like another year away at boarding school. But summer holidays were no longer a thing and Elizabeth's time with family had been limited to a few days in the past year. It wasn't London she missed the most, but the companionship and support of her family. Sure she could call her father, but redoing her internship had left her with precious little time and this was the man she had inherited her workaholic tendencies from in the first place. If Elizabeth wanted to talk with him, she'd have better luck ringing up the OR at his work than catching him at home. No godbrother with a door to bang on at all hours of the night, willing to share a pint or three after a horrible day. And let's not start on her Mother, who was currently not speaking to her after discovering she was staying in America. Madam Corday was not pleased.

Corday, you have fucked it up this year. Staying in Chicago and redoing her internship sounded so much better when she had a supportive boyfriend in the picture. Or thought she did. Because let's be honest, Peter was never really supportive of her starting over. It was sure as hell was convenient for him though. He still got to go out with her and she was no longer the direct competition. But dating a man with a small child was never going to last long unless Elizabeth wanted to get serious, and maternal instincts did not run strong in the Corday family.

Which is how we've arrived at this utterly delightful Christmas eve. Buy a ticket to the Surgeon's Society Gala they said. It will be fun, they said. You won't be sitting home alone, they said. What they didn't say was that tables were assigned and she didn't get to pick where she sat. Oh no. Instead, her tickets were sent in the mail along with a list of whom would be at her table. She could hear her godmother now, " This is punishment for not getting on your flight last year Elizabeth". Punishment indeed.

Elizabeth walked into the surgeon's lounge hoping to find Peter. Sure they weren't dating anymore, but she knew he'd be supportive in her latest plight.

"That's a Christmas card image, a surgeon wrapping a book. What is it, something educational for one of your nieces?"

"Actually it's for you, T.S. Elliot. You said you liked him, so I uh. .got him last month before. . ." Peter trailed off, slightly awkwardly.

"Peter that's so sweet. I can't think of a more thoughtful gift. Thank you." Elizabeth was slightly ashamed that she hadn't thought to get him anything. The only things she had focused on lately was surviving her M & M and trying to get enough sleep so she wouldn't have to repeat that horrid ordeal. It was nice to know that she still had a friend.

"Listen um, I was wondering if we could finish our workups around noon, I need to get out here early. " Peter said while trying to make headway on the table full of gifts to wrap.

"You've got big Christmas eve plans?" Lucky bastard, she thought.

"Yeah my sister is hosting a dinner, Carla is going to bring Reese by. I haven't seen him all week."

"Oh don't worry, I understand. I absolutely hate being away from my family during the holidays. " Hate it and I'm paying for it she thought. "In fact, I'm so desperate not to be alone this Christmas eve that uh, I bought a ticket to the Surgeons' Society Gala". Lord kill me now. She put her head in her hand and laughed at her luck. Here it goes.

"Ohhh, golly" It came out as a grimace. Peter felt her pain. It was obvious.

"Yup, and you won't believe who is sitting next to me."

The door opened to the surgeon's lounge and of course, it was him. That's just her luck these days.

"Hey! There she is!" Lord help us all, this man is far too giddy about what will surely be a night of torture for her. Elizabeth looked up at Peter and caught his eye. He knew without saying that Romano was her dinner companion.

Elizabeth needed a drink already. God I hope they serve scotch at this Gala, or I'm not going to be able to get through it, she thought. Peter's laughing at her. Great. It truly is that bad.

"So I checked around, we definitely have the coolest table, and I'm feeling kind of lucky that we were both able to make it tonight," Romano said, stopping in front of the table to smile at her before continuing over to the coffee. " A little trouble in paradise?"

Keep a straight face, Corday, don't look at Peter laughing at you like the traitor that he is.

"Anyways tonight's dinner is semi-formal so any slinky black number will do, although if I may voice a personal preference for something short and off the shoulder." Romano had a smirk on his face as the words came out of his mouth oh so casually over his cup of coffee.

Elizabeth couldn't believe it. The absolute gall of this man, barging in and telling her what to wear while taking a jab at her failed relationship. Failed everything. She should kick Peter to stop him from laughing. That would teach him a lesson. As long as she keeps a straight face, Romano won't have any ammunition and will leave now that he's got his coffee.

Romano turns to leave and stops short of the door. He tells Benton that he's got a week's worth of charts to review and since he's trying to leave early, Benton gets to cover his teaching rounds. Elizabeth and Peter share a look of exasperation as Romano walks out of the lounge, coffee in hand and a spring in his step. No time for gift wrapping, they head out of the lounge and back to work.

"I'm so sorry, Peter I can't believe he foistered this on you. I"ll start on the pre-ops, that should save you some time."

What a Christmas this is shaping up to be Elizabeth thought as she walked off to see her first patient. Mr. Gardner. Poor man, this day actually can get worse for some. In the hospital on Christmas eve for pre-op labs and MRI's for his prostate cancer surgery on Christmas day. And now he's asking to talk to Romano. Get it together Elizabeth thought, no need for a patient to see you make a face at the mention of Romano's name. The poor man looks like he's going to cry when Elizabeth tells him there's a 70-80% chance of loss of sexual function. She suggests seeing a sperm bank before walking off to the next patient. She doesn't have the time or patience to hold this man's hand today.

Elizabeth and Peter had finally gotten caught up on their caseload. At the main desk, Peter was frantically finishing up his charts when Romano walked up informing her it was "time to call in our entrée preferences." This really was happening, she was inadvertently going to be having dinner with Romano this evening. Let there be a trauma for her to be paged to.

Shirley put a stop to the conversation when she informed Romano that his patient, Mr. Demesa, was coming in with post-op pain.

"What a pain in the ass. Peter, you assisted on his gastroplasty. When he comes in you take him." Romano says turning back to face Elizabeth. Even Shirley makes a face at this, knowing Peter was trying to leave on time.

"Doctor Romano, I'm already piled up with work here and I'm trying to make it back to my family".

Romano barely acknowledges Benton before turning back to Elizabeth saying, "What can I say, Peter, sometimes being a resident just sucks. So what will it be Lizzy? Mother Goose or Bambi?".

All Elizabeth could do was attempt to keep a straight face while requesting the venison. Perhaps she could work in a story or two over dinner about the hunting trips her godfather would take her on. Maybe Romano would think twice about harassing her if he knew she had killed something. Or not. She could never tell with him. Another eye roll shared with Peter as Romano walked off. Back to work.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel. Almost. Elizabeth was trying to finish her rounds when Shirley found her. Poor Mr. Gardner was in the fertility clinic when he had an M. I. and they were sending him down to the ER.

Elizabeth ran down the stairs and ran into Weaver as she came off the elevator with her patient. They took him straight into trauma one, where to her shock, Kerry Weaver decided to forget how to handle a patient.

"Oh my, you're David Gardner the trumpet soloist. I saw your guest performance with Chicago Symphony" Weaver could barely get the man's name out of her mouth. Poor Mr. Gardner, with an oxygen mask on his face, was trapped as the ER attending started to hit on him. As if this was really the time. He kept looking back and forth between Weaver and Dr. Corday, one quizzing him on where he was playing next and the other trying to get his breathing under control. A silent look of " Help Me" was sent towards Dr. Corday.

Weaver ruled out the M.I. and instead pronounced it a panic attack before asking if he was nervous about his next performance. The grip he had on Dr. Corday's hand tightened. A definite get me out of here. Elizabeth couldn't believe that Kerry Weaver had forgotten herself in front of a patient like that. The man was attractive though, so Elizabeth couldn't completely blame her, but was there ever a good time to hit on a patient?

With an M.I. ruled out, Elizabeth freed her patient from Weaver's clutches. Taking him back up to surgery to redo his labs, they shared a look of relief to be away from the ER attending.

"Mr. Gardner, your labs look stunning. We should probably wait on the cardiac enzymes before letting you go," she said reviewing his charts.

"Well at this rate I should probably check-in for the night, but the less time spent here the better." A glance in her direction as she was reviewing his charts before adding " No offense".

A laugh followed by "How are you feeling?".

"Like an idiot, everyone thought I was having this big heart attack and it turns out I'm just a nervous wreck."

The conversation turned to the option to postpone the surgery, something that Mr. Gardner refused. A televised special with the Boston Symphony was coming up and he had to be recovered by then. Out of politeness, Elizabeth said she'd have to mark her calendar for it. He was watching her as she was handed charts, asking her if she was a symphony fan.

"I'm afraid I know very little about orchestral music" Elizabeth responded with little thought.

"So what do you like?", a slight challenge behind the question. She couldn't help but flirt a little in response before the last of her work called her away. It would probably be the only pleasant conversation she would get for the rest of the night. Might as well enjoy it.

Just a few more charts and Elizabeth was free to leave. Peter was at the front desk when she arrived, on the phone trying to make arrangements to see Reese. He was still dealing with Mr. Demesa, and was deep in charts at the same time.

"Lizzie, if you're ready we can go together." Elizabeth looked up from her own charts to see Romano with his suit for the evening in hand, walking around the desk to stand next to her.

"Um look, I've got a couple of patients to finish with, ok" Head back down going through her charts, don't look at him and he will go away.

"Is Peter trying to ruin our evening?"

"No not at all" Elizabeth says, finally looking at him properly to find him staring at her, a slight pout on his face.

"It was a joke."

"Look I'll see you there." God, I hope note running through her brain as she says the words.

Romano wasn't joking however when he put his stack of charts down in front of Benton. He couldn't finish them and needed to be in by 8, which was also Reese's bedtime. A quick thanks for the help and Romano was off to the Gala. Benton threw the chart in his hand and all Elizabeth could do was shake her head as she tried to finish her own work for the evening.

David Gardner was finally cleared to leave and Elizabeth wanted to check in with him one last time before heading out for the night. He was dressed in street clothes when she found him and he was smiling, happy to leave the hospital. He looked good.

Thinking if only Weaver could see him now, Elizabeth asked which section of the orchestra he was going out with now. A smile and a glance in her direction.

"No, I've been unattached since starting the tour six months ago." Kerry would be thrilled.

"Swarms of groupies in every city?" That got a laugh out of him as she walked him to the elevator. They talked about his regret at not making more of an effort in that department when he revealed that it wasn't the surgery he was nervous about. Oh no. It was standing in the fertility clinic with a cup and a magazine thinking this is it, his last sexual experience.

Elizabeth had the sudden realization that her patient was hoping she was interested in him. The bonding experience of freeing him from Weaver had left him feeling far more comfortable to smile and flirt with her, forgetting that in the morning she would be one of the surgeons operating on him. He looked so very attractive sanding there. Pity, he was her patient. There would be hell to pay if anyone found out she left with him and she couldn't land in hot water again so soon after her M & M. As tempting as it was to leave with an attractive man for an enjoyable evening, she just couldn't risk it with this one. Elizabeth had paused too long and he had noticed.

"So what are your plans now that you're off? Any family in town for the holidays?" A slight look of hope in her direction.

"No, all mine are workaholics." A heavy sigh before continuing. " I'm actually running a bit behind, I'm supposed to be headed off to the Surgeons' Society Gala this evening."

"Well, I won't keep you then. Merry Christmas." A look of disappointment and he stepped into the elevator.

Elizabeth sighed, she was done with work and now had no excuse but to change and head out. As tempting as it was to just go home to avoid Romano, she just couldn't bear the silence of her flat this Christmas eve. She headed to the locker room to change, cringing at the thought that her dress fit Romano's preference. Short, black, and off the shoulder. What was she getting herself into?