AN: Some quotes come from Season 6, Episodes 6 and 7.
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"How long have they been together?"
"Anspaugh would have never appointed her as Associate Chief is he knew they were dating."
"Is that what you think? According to Shirley, he won $500 in that betting pool. Placed the bet a year ago."
"What do you think, they just got so pissed off at each other that they went at it in the on-call room one day?"
"They work in surgery, not the ER."
"What is she doing with a man like him anyway? I'm shocked his ego could handle dating a woman with the ability to stand up to him."
"Something tells me that's exactly what he likes. Someone who is more than capable of keeping up with him."
"I don't know how this is a surprise to anyone. They've been leaving together every Friday since February to do all their head of department paperwork. That's not even counting all the times they've just gone out for drinks."
"Wait, gone, where to do paperwork?"
"No idea, but they've planned what to order for takeout in the surgeons' lounge plenty of times."
"How long are we giving them before she breaks it off?"
"I'm not betting against the Chief of Staff on that one."
The gossip mill had been cranking out theories, stories, and money since the day shift started Monday morning. It was stirred up again around eight when Robert and Elizabeth pulled into their parking spots at County, the two black Jags making a statement parked side by side. Robert couldn't help but strut as he walked into the hospital that morning with Elizabeth by his side. The looks followed them as they walked down the hall to the main elevator, where safely ensconced inside, they burst out laughing.
"Do you think it's always going to be like this?"
"Lizzy, they work in the ER and have nothing better to do while waiting on a trauma to come in."
It took a week for the gossip to slowly die down, with new betting pools being established as the dust settled. No one was brave enough to say anything negative to their faces, but the gossip mill could not be stopped, and inevitably the comments made their way back to Robert and Elizabeth. Few if any of the negative comments came from the surgical department, at least from the OR Nurses who had enough sense to know that Robert would gleefully put them all on night shift for a month.
Elizabeth had adopted a damage control mode with the ER by offering to take Carol to brunch the following Saturday. She hoped to bring Carol into the fold and have her use the gossip mill for good instead of evil. This was typically a job for Shirley, but her price was too high for something that would eventually settle on its own, and it would be better coming from the ER than Surgery.
Seated at their favorite cafe, Elizabeth and Carol, we're having a stand-off of sorts. It had been so long since they had spent time together that neither knew where to start.
"How ah, how's the pregnancy coming along?"
"Oh, you know. Outgrowing my maternity clothes."
"You and Romano. A little heads up on that would have been nice. Even Shirley knows more than me."
"Shirley works in the OR with us every day. No one in the ER ever really sees us together."
"He's an ass Elizabeth."
Elizabeth made a non-committal noise and thought about how she wanted to proceed. Carol clearly wasn't going to go for the 'if you just get I know him' line. She felt out of the loop and pushed her own friend as a romantic candidate for Elizabeth. The idea that Elizabeth would have the time to meet and get to know someone else had never entered Carol's mind.
"You've caught me, Carol. I went looking for Peter in the men's locker room one day and found Robert shirtless instead. I just couldn't help myself, and I jumped him right there." Elizabeth was sniggering and couldn't keep a straight face. Neither could Carol, for that matter.
"Elizabeth, be serious."
"I am serious. Sort of. But it wasn't the locker room; I jumped him in the elevator and snogged him." she said it so matter of factly that it left Carol in no doubt that Elizabeth was telling the truth and was rather proud of herself.
"The elevator?" More shock.
"Yes. God, I should have done that ages ago. No man has any right to be that good at kissing."
"No, Carol, I'm talking about Edson." she sighed and shook her head, wondering if the pregnancy hormones had rendered her friend unintelligent. "Yes, Robert. You know I've heard so many jokes about surgeons' hands over the years, but never did I think I'd date a man where that was...so...accurate."
"So, this is about sex?"
"Ha, ha no. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful, but we didn't have sex for several months when we started dating. We… Carol, we wanted it to be so much more than that. I love him."
"Why am I pregnant when very clearly I need a drink for this." Carol grabbed the waiter as he walked by and glared at him. "Waiter, I need all the bacon you have. It's an emergency. Elizabeth, start from the beginning."
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the only part of her lengthy conversation with Carol that made its way to the gossip mill was that she grabbed Robert and snogged him in an elevator. The being friends for several months before dating part got left out in favor of details about their sex life, something Elizabeth had been purposefully vague on for that very reason.
As October rolled into November, fresh gossip was brought to County General in the form of a gas explosion. For once, the ringing in the ears of the staff was not due to gossip. Elizabeth had been far too absorbed in her paperwork to notice the explosion, though. That's how Elizabeth found herself when Peter stuck his head in her office, up to her ears in admin, and too swamped to talk. He sat down at her desk anyways, content to talk whilst she worked.
"Slumming amongst we simple surgical folk Dr. Benton?" Robert had appeared in her doorway as if by magic. At this point, Elizabeth wondered if he had planted GPS into Peter's stethoscope, the way he always knew if Peter was around her. Or maybe he just paid off the nursing staff to spy for him.
"We were just discussing a patient." Elizabeth adopted her best soothing tone, knowing that Peter would always be a sore spot with Robert. Robert responded in kind with sarcasm, and Peter just rolled his eyes in response, used to Robert's personality at this point.
Robert wanted her to cover a 6 am surgery for him whilst he dealt with an insurance meeting over the ER. It was the first Elizabeth had heard of the explosion, and upon asking if anyone got hurt, Robert managed to keep the glee out of his voice when he said Mark got his hair singed. She was more concerned about Carol, and a rather pointed look later, Robert was confirming her friend was okay. He finally took a turn to leave after mucking about in her paperwork when he paused in the door.
"Oh, oh, ah, Lizzy." her look clearly said what now and yet Robert pressed on. "How much would you pay for my sperm?"
"Uh, I beg your pardon." affronted, she leaned back in her chair. Elizabeth had no idea where he was going with this, and in front of Peter no less.
"Oh, is that sexual harassment, oh. Oh my. No, I'm uh, being recruited by the Marshal Hillburg Sperm Bank. It's ah; its donors include Olympic athletes and Nobel Prize winners. It's an elite gene pool."
A rather ugly expression settled on her face as she processed what he said. Elizabeth had no idea where this idea of being a sperm donor came from, and there was a petty part of her that didn't like it. She decided that if he wanted to play this game in front of Peter, she would give as good as she got.
"Well, Robert, that sounds very interesting, but I won't be paying for your sperm. When I want it, you'll happily give it to me for free. That is unless you're too spent from giving it all away to your elite sperm bank." she couldn't help but think 'point Corday' as she watched his reaction. If you looked up flabbergasted in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of his face in that exact moment. "Oh, I'm sorry, was that sexual harassment? If you don't have anything else, Peter was here to take to me about something work-related."
Between Peter and Robert's faces, she didn't know where to look. All the points to Corday. Peter was blushing, and Robert's mouth had fallen open. He couldn't manage complete words before turning and leaving her office. Laughing, Elizabeth finally looked back to Peter, and he was shaking his head at her.
"What? He came in here talking about sperm banks acting as if I wouldn't respond in kind to that."
"You know Elizabeth; I'm kind of glad I'm not in the OR with the two of you right now. Part of me is shocked after how the end of your fellowship went, and another part of me remembers how you talked about him when you first got here. How excited you were to have moved to another country to work with him."
"Most people have forgotten that. We worked together for almost a year in London, granted under my father's watchful eye." they both laughed, with Peter vividly remembering her father's outright displeasure at seeing Romano.
"Does your father know?"
"Andrew snitched on me. Not in so many words, but my father guess based on what he didn't say."
"How did that go?"
"Not well." it was a big sigh. Her father had called her after a brandy or three and had not been pleased. Reminding him that once upon a time, he had been impressed enough by Robert to hire him only incensed him further. It had ended up being her mother of all people that calmed him down. At some point, Andrew had gone to his godmother for help. Upon being filled in, Isabelle had taken great joy in pointing out all the ways that Charles and Robert were alike, down to their love of intelligent and ambitious redheads. She wanted to know how Charles could dislike a man with such high standards to appreciate their daughter for her mind and not just her looks.
"You seem happy, so I'm going to keep my mouth shut. Just be careful. I'd hate to see you get hurt."
The rest of Elizabeth's day was gloriously uneventful. Most of it was spent in her office, with a very short lunch with Carol, who was plotting to have a pregnant woman arrested for drug possession of all things. The rest of her afternoon was long, but thankfully held none of the drama of Robert's morning. She left work before him and had dinner well on its way by the time he arrived home. Then she got the third degree.
"Lizzy, what did you mean earlier?"
"About the sperm bank."
"Wait, you were serious?"
"Yes. They contacted me, and I'm thinking about donating."
"Why?" The ugly part of her was taking control again. It had been gnawing at her brain all day, the idea of Robert being a sperm donor. A father. She didn't like it.
"Why not. It's a reputable sperm bank and a good cause."
He was fixing a drink as decidedly ignoring her. Elizabeth didn't like that.
"And my input on this factors in how?"
That got Robert's attention, and he finally turned to look at her.
"Why would it?"
"I'm your girlfriend, and you're talking about fathering children with, with-"
"Girlfriend is the keyword there, Lizzy. My sperm, not yours."
"No, it's not." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself. Elizabeth had never given any real thought to being a mother before, but when faced with the fact that Robert could father children without her, well, it made her feel jealous. Angry even. Her mind was racing as she realized that Robert was not the only jealous and possessive person in the relationship. That she didn't want him fathering children unless they were hers.
"I'm pretty sure it's my sperm unless I slept through an important part of mead school."
"I. I don't want you to."
"Don't want me to what?" Elizabeth refused to look at him.
"I don't want you to donate...your sperm."
"Lizzy, are you jealous?" too long of a pause. "You are jealous."
"I think it's quite crass to ask me what I'd pay for your sperm and never ask if I'd want it in the first place."
"And do you? Do you want to have my children?" the conversation had upset her more than she had thought possible. Refusing to look at Robert, Elizabeth tried to process her feelings and could only come to one conclusion.
Terrified to look at him, she kept her back turned and could feel his presence as he walked up behind her. Robert wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled his face into her neck.
"I'm glad to hear that, Elizabeth. You're the only woman I'd want children with."
No more was said on that topic that evening.
Thanksgiving was almost upon them, and Robert felt like pulling his hair out. Gwen had called five times in three days to talk about their plans and irritate him in general. She was very skilled in the latter. Somehow Gwen had convinced him that the best thing for their visit was for her family to stay at his house when there was a perfectly good hotel or even their mother's house not far away.
To make matters worse, Elizabeth and Cameron Number Two had lunch recently, and she discovered that Charles Cameron had invited his parents to Chicago for Christmas. In turn, they were so thrilled about their son reconnecting with family that they called up Elizabeth's godparents and decided to bury the hatchet. Elizabeth never knew why there had been a falling out, but enough time had passed for all parties involved, either forget or just plain not care anymore. So now the London Camerons we're coming for Christmas. Which meant Charles Corday was most definitely coming for Christmas. Robert was not pleased. However, Elizabeth was, and so Robert knew he would have to grin and bear it for her sake.
It was going to be a long day for Elizabeth. A multi-car pileup required an on-site surgeon; Peter could not go, so Elizabeth geared up and took the call. She hadn't been on site since her paramedic ride along her first year in Chicago and was excited to go.
Her patient changed that quickly. Dean Rollings. Car jacket, abductor, and maybe a murderer. The detective had gotten to Elizabeth, and she allowed herself to ignore the oath she took, to do no harm, to help those in need. She threatened to withhold treatment. It would kill her patient. Rollings caved, and she was thankful that she didn't have to decide it was all a bluff.
In the middle of scrubbing in with Peter to deal with the Rollings surgery, Robert walked in. Rollings had raped his carjacking victim.
"I also got a little visit from an investigator in the Public Defenders office. It seems some bleeding heart is claiming that you coerced Rollings into telling you where he left her."
Elizabeth looked everywhere but at Robert. He was using his quiet voice, the one from past experience she knew to be the most dangerous. Loud and brash Robert was a show. Quiet and controlled, Robert was what you really needed to look out for.
"Did you coerce your patient into giving you information in exchange for his life?" Each word was spoken slowly, and with emphasis, the weight of the question placed squarely upon her shoulders.
Poor naïve Peter tried to stand up for her, and she shot him down.
"I think it's fair to say I pressured Mr. Rollings."
"Well, Lizzy, you never fail to impress me; I didn't think you had it in you to cross that line. But you may want to reflect on if that's how you really want to characterize what happened today. Because, unfortunately, in this country, when a confession is coerced, it's usually thrown out."
Robert didn't wait for her response before leaving the scrub room. The silence from Peter was deafening. As was the silence from her conscience.
The takeout had been delivered, and Elizabeth poured their wine for dinner. It was a tense evening with no indication of letting up. Today was the second time that she and Robert had crossed swords, so to speak, in their new jobs, and both incidents had made for a challenging transition into their home life at the end of the day. She wasn't sure if Robert was holding her actions against her, but she felt as if she was walking on eggshells. It wasn't feasible long term.
"Robert, we need to talk." He stiffened at her words, and whilst she regretted the phrasing, Elizabeth couldn't deny the seriousness they projected.
"Oh. What about."
"You know what."
"No, I don't, Elizabeth."
"Fine. Act that way. It won't change the fact that there's a problem that we need to talk about."
"The only problem I see is that in you violated the Hippocratic Oath by withholding treatment on a patient." His voice was raised, and she brought hers up to match.
"And we found his victim because of it."
"Yes. And now it's in question on if he can be prosecuted for it. Your reputation, the hospital's reputation is in question because of it."
"Is that what you care about!? The hospital's reputation?"
"No, Elizabeth, and I resent the implication, but it's the second time in a short period that you've painted County in a poor light."
"That's beside the point-"
"No, Elizabeth, it's not."
His tone was final, and she could plainly hear it in his voice. No room for discussion, and it hurt.
"Robert. We can't. We can't live like this. Pretending things didn't happen at work that won't follow us home. It doesn't make for a long term relationship."
He acted as if she had slapped him, and maybe she had in some way. But if it made him take note of how serious she was, then so be it.
"Well. If you feel that way, you know where the door is." The quiet voice was back.
"That's not what I want, and you know it."
"Then what is it you want, Elizabeth. Tell me. I'm your boss, something we have to deal with."
"Yes, you are. And I'm trying to get you to see that we have to deal with it. We can't just go around acting as if our jobs will never affect our home life. Robert, I think. I think we're going to need a couples therapist if we're going to make this last."
"Therapy? Because you fucked up at your job?!"
"No! Therapy so we can talk about our jobs and navigate those issues smoothly! I don't want to take them home at the end of the day like we're doing now; we won't last!"
"I don't need therapy to tell me you fucked up."
"No, you just need therapy to talk to me about it in a healthy, enough manner that I won't run off and leave you!" That got his attention. Robert turned to face her, and there was nothing but turmoil present. "Robert, I watched my parents' marriage crumble because they couldn't communicate worth a damn. Both brilliant and respected in their fields, intellectual equals that encouraged the ambition of one another. And it failed when they couldn't communicate what support they needed from each other. The kicker is they still love each other; they just can't see how to make it work. Too little, too late. I don't want that for us."
She fell silent, electing to watch him as he processed what she had said. He was so rigid that she feared he would crumble beneath her gaze. Elizabeth moved towards him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"Robert. I'm not saying there is something wrong and we need to see someone full time to fix it. But I am saying, given our personalities, there will come a day where we will absolutely need help to guide us through it. And I don't want to scramble to find someone we both agree is impartial. Think of it as a referee; every good sport has them to help navigate the rules; only ours would be to navigate work boundaries."
"Elizabeth. How much of a deal-breaker is this for you?" Robert was refusing to look at her, his voice barely above a whisper.
"In the short term? Not so much. But long term, Robert, I can't imagine we won't butt heads enough to not need help. Maybe it's not a therapist, but we will need a way to talk about it and sort things out. We need that in place before the argument arises. I don't know how this can work without that."
It was a big ask, and she knew it. In all her years of experience with Robert, she knew him to be a very private man. The idea that he would happily tell a stranger about his personal life and let them sit judgment upon him was the antithesis of who he was. Elizabeth knew she couldn't just sit back and hope that they never had a severe quarrel. She was also sure that she didn't want to be punished at home for something that happened at work. Bearing witness to the breakdown of her parents' marriage had been painful. There were late-night arguments when they thought she was asleep, the silent treatment they would give each other for days, the long hours at work to avoid each other, and then the inevitable day came when her mother moved out.
She knew firsthand that a partnership between two people as stubborn and pig-headed as her and Robert would need work, and in the past, Robert's way of dealing with his displeasure towards her had lacked real communication and focused more on punishing her. Sacking her via letter while he was at a conference in Costa Rica came to mind. Elizabeth's own deviousness of going behind his back and lying wouldn't help things in the long run either, not when she knew he could hold a grudge.
"Elizabeth." His hand came up to cup her face, and his voice was strained as he spoke. A great sigh escaped him, and he touched his forehead to hers. "Let me make some discreet phone calls. I'm not going within five miles of County for this. We'll interview some people and find someone we can agree on,-" Elizabeth interrupted him with a kiss, overjoyed that he didn't outright refuse. "If you think that this will help us navigate big picture issues with work, I'll do it for you. But don't expect me to go weekly just to talk about how my day went or how stressful a meeting was."
"That's all I'm asking for. I don't want to take work problems home with us and hash it out here where we should be feeling happy and secure with each other." Pulling him closer, Elizabeth buried her head into the crook of his neck. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders, knowing he was willing to put in the effort.
"You had it pretty rough, didn't you? Watching your parents." A nod into his neck was all she could manage. They stayed like that for a while before Elizabeth finally spoke again.
"They sent me away. The Summer, they finalized the divorce. The Camerons took off work for a month and took me up to Edinburgh."
Very slowly, she told Robert about The Summer. Coming home to just her father, who seemed to be a broken shell of a man. Her mother's new flat that felt more like a hotel. Isabelle trying to explain in vain that sometimes loving someone wasn't enough to make things work. Then came the sneaking out at night, with neither place feeling like home. Elizabeth would climb the trellis in the back of the Camerons' home, where Andrew had his window open for her and then sneaking back out before the sun came up. It was a week of that before they overslept, and her father found she was missing. Frantic calls to Isabelle, asking if she was there, and then the panic of her mother upon hearing their daughter was gone. Malcolm had been at work already when the phone rang there, and the first thing Helena did was rush to wake Andrew in hopes that he knew where Elizabeth was. She found them curled up on the window seat in his room, with Elizabeth wrapped securely in her godbrother's arms. When Andrew and Elizabeth finally woke that morning, the door was opened, and their parents were downstairs waiting on them. Helena took them to Scotland that night, and Malcolm followed by the end of the week. When they finally returned to London a month later, the ink was dry on the divorce papers, and Elizabeth's life had been irrevocably changed.