AN: A snowstorm meant that I only worked a half-day yesterday and could finish this early. Cheers to Rocketlover for distracting me as I tried to edit this. Enjoy and thanks for reviewing!
Edit/Note: I reference a Gi in this chapter which is short for karategi, which is what is worn in a dojo.
What is a ten letter word for murdering your sister? Sororicide.
That's how Robert felt the week of Thanksgiving. Overbooked and overstressed, he was not looking forward to the arrival of his older sister. His brother-in-law and niece were more than welcome, but not Gwen. Not keep calling just to irritate him, Gwen. Gwen, who was threatening to bring embarrassing pictures to show Lizzy.
The Allen family would arrive from New York on Wednesday, and while the house was ready, Robert was not. Elizabeth had decided that it would be a full enough house without her staying there, and she had no desire to get in the way of Robert catching up with his family. He disagreed with that, but when she started to seem more amused at his desire to not be left alone with his sister, Robert began to think Lizzy shouldn't be left alone with Gwen. They had already established that Gwen and Andrew should never be in the same room alone, and he and Lizzy were cut from the same cloth. A Lizzy free house might work out in Robert's favor, after all. That just left Monday and Tuesday night with her, and even then, that wasn't going according to plan.
Robert had followed through with his promise to get recommendations for couples counseling. The one that came with the highest recommendation took the phone call very seriously—as in, come into the office Tuesday night, seriously. Robert didn't initially believe that they needed to rush over that quickly, with it being the week of Thanksgiving, but the psychologist felt differently. Dr. Whittaker asked a few straightforward questions to present a logic that Robert couldn't disagree with. Was there an argument or fight that prompted the phone call? Yes. Do you feel there was effective communication about the issue? No. Is the cause of the argument settled, or is it something you're still dealing with? Something we're still dealing with. Does it have the potential to cause more extensive problems? Yes. Then come in on Tuesday.
That's how they found themselves sitting in a psychologist's office at eight o'clock at night on a Tuesday. Neither had any idea how to start the conversation.
"So, the two of you work together."
"Yes." they reasoned in unison.
"How long have you worked together?"
Both made stalling noises as they tried to recount how long it was. Three-ish years was their general consensus, roughly one year in London and then two and some change years in America. It was the same answer to the follow-up question of how long have you known each other. More questions followed. Things like where were you working when you met and what was that job like? How did things change when you came to America and stopped working for Mr. Corday? Were there ups and downs in the first year in America together? How did you resolve those issues?
This list went on and on, with Dr. Whittaker keeping the questions simple, never asking deeper follow-up questions. There were no questions about the transition from just colleagues to colleagues who were dating.
"So, it seems at least where work is concerned, the two of you have always had relatively poor communication skills. Elizabeth, you go behind his back the first chance you get when you don't like something. Robert, instead of explaining what your issue is to the surgeon you brought to America, you punish her rather punitively instead. And then it starts a cycle of he's an ass, and I don't like working with him; that turns into why am I working with a surgeon who doesn't care to work with me, and you both end up poking each other with scalpels until significant damage is done. Have I missed anything?"
"Elizabeth, why didn't you bring up your concerns about the Beaumont case with Robert?"
"I, um, " caught out, Elizabeth wasn't sure how to start that conversation. "I suppose I wasn't aware I could." Robert's head snapped towards her, a mixture of shock and hurt displayed on his face. "I had never - it wasn't like. Look, the surgical world of England is far different than in the States. The only surgeons I had to talk to about my concerns were my grandfather, father, godfather, and godbrother. My grandfather passed many years ago, and my godbrother is my peer and not a potential mentor. And while my father and godfather are both excellent surgeons who take on students, it's different talking to people who are predisposed to always be in your corner. Most of the surgeons I worked with in London were reluctant to work with me at best, and it certainly was discouraged for me to bring my concerns to them. It would have been something for them to use against me. I'd never been encouraged to go up to a surgeon that wasn't family and say, 'I'm concerned that I've just put a young woman into a coma because I couldn't reign in my blind ambition for challenging surgery.' And then there were complications, and I wanted to fix it the only way I knew how which was surgery. It was a procedure that wouldn't have been hard to get the NHS to cover in London, and I didn't think it would cause that much drama to arrange. Call it Catholic guilt if you like, but I felt as if I put her in a coma, and it was my job to fix the results of it."
A hand reached out and intertwined itself in hers. Robert. Robert, who looked like a kicked puppy upon realizing that she didn't think she could go to him with a problem.
Whittaker latched onto that and pushed her deeper on her surgical training. It was hard for Elizabeth to describe how much the men she worked with wanted her to fail and how littler her father felt he could intervene, lest they accuse outright favoritism. While she knew Robert had plainly admired her surgical skills, she had never worked with a surgeon who cared past the question of did she perform a technically correct procedure. Robert had no idea things had been that terrible for her and just assumed there was at least one surgeon she bought her concerns to, and thus thought she would do the same with him in America. The irony of his recent statement of when you ASSume was not lost on him. For Elizabeth, the kicker was she felt Robert was more cross over the surgeon she contacted than going behind his back.
"Yeah, well, you contacted Kotlowitz; what was I supposed to think."
"I don't know Robert; it's not as if you gave me a list of whom I was supposed to hate on-sight when I moved here."
Whittaker jumped on that, asking what Elizabeth had never gathered the courage to ask. "Why don't you like Kotlowitz?"
Robert's glare was not enough to dissuade the man, and he pressed on. "It's an important question since it's linked to the first incident where the two of you were against each other."
A long silence followed, and Elizabeth felt Robert's grip on her hand tighten. For a moment, Elizabeth thought he wouldn't answer.
"We worked at the same hospital, I was a resident, and he was a fellow. There were only a few years difference between us, and we got along for the most part. That is until he met my long-term girlfriend and slept with her. In my bed. I walked in on them. So yeah, I don't fucking like Kotlowitz."
Elizabeth wanted to die of mortification, to sink into her chair and be swallowed whole, but there was nowhere for her to go. She knew there was something that made Robert dislike the surgeon, but never had she imagined this. It was her turn to squeeze his hand in acknowledgment.
Whittaker continued to press Robert on the topic, why didn't he tell Elizabeth anything even if it was just there were irreconcilable personal issues. His response of 'she didn't come to me in the first place' brought up more problems. It was a catch 22 all around. So many little issues had turned into significant issues for them because of that case and how they handled it. The lack of communication. They spent the next quarter of an hour talking about the remainder of Elizabeth's first year in Chicago with Whittaker asking them what they thought the issue there were, and in hindsight, how could they have fixed those problems. 'We could have talked about it' wasn't an acceptable answer. Robert and Elizabeth were being forced to use their past workplace quarrels to determine what sort of communication worked best for them individually and as a team. Elizabeth needed the confirmation of his support, having received very little of it in London, and Robert needed I know he had her respect when he made a decision.
They had been through an emotionally draining hour rehashing their past and had an hour remaining to discuss their present-day issues. Elizabeth had been shocked that Robert hadn't backed her up with how she handled Dean Rollings, that she had gotten the party line 'you've put the hospital in a position.'
"See! You're not respecting or even wanting to listen to what I have to say. You just want to have it your own way, and you never think about the consequences. What am I supposed to do when a lawyer comes to me saying you threatened to withhold treatment and the board of directors for the hospital gets wind of that? I can't look out for you if you won't even consider that there are consequences to your actions. The board will question not just if you're the right person for the job, but if I am as well. All they will see are two liabilities, Elizabeth. You for causing the problems and then me for being the Chief of Staff with an employee for a girlfriend that I can't seem to get respect from. "
Rant completed, Robert got quiet and looked away from Elizabeth. This was not what he had in mind when he agreed to couples counseling, and felt that it would create more problems than they already had. So wrapped up in his emotions, Robert almost missed Whittaker asking if he felt better for saying that aloud. Robert didn't want to admit that it did feel good and gave a non-committal shrug instead and realized that at some point, he had let go of Elizabeth's hand. His own pride wouldn't allow him to pick it back up.
He felt her before he saw her. Elizabeth slid over on the couch to the corner Robert had claimed as his. One arm came up to drape over the back of the couch with her hand gently stroking the back of his neck, and the other arm wrapped tightly around his waist.
"You're right, of course. I've. . . often done things without thinking of the consequences. And I've unfortunately done that a fair amount to you and clearly hurt you in the process." Her chin came to rest on his shoulder, and Robert finally turned his head to look at her. "I need to think about how things will impact us, and not just fulfill my desire to do as I please. I've managed to put you in a bad way at work with this."
"Lizzy, I want nothing more than to do a long exploratory surgery without anesthesia on Rollings for what he's done. But we have to be careful with how we pick our battles when it comes to abusing our power at work. You can't have a bleeding heart paramedic overhearing you when you're Associate Chief."
"I didn't think you agreed with me on my actions." Robert freed his arm that had been trapped by Elizabeth and wrapped it around her, pulling her close.
"I absolutely approve of your devious side being let loose when it comes to helping the people that really need it. However, that doesn't mean I can't be mad about how you went about it. Honey, next time you wanna break the rules, do it where we know everyone is on our side and not in the middle of a street full of people."
She laughed and the way he said people as if he was disgusted at saying the word. Robert kissed her forehead and pulled her tighter as she asked, "how do we fix this with the lawyers?"
They spent the next half hour discussing how they would smooth things over with the public defender's office. The overbearing detective who had coerced Elizabeth's help and finding the victim would go a long way in their favor. That and the added fact that there were no complications from the Rolling surgery. They didn't notice Whittaker watching them with interest and had forgotten about him until he cleared his throat.
"I think that's it for tonight. You've both been here for two hours and covered a lot of ground. I know you had your reservations, Robert, but that wasn't so bad, was it?" Robert looked at Whittaker in disbelief.
"Wasn't so bad? Your poking and prodding caused us to have a fairly big argument."
"Yes, Robert. You said things that you needed to say to each other, and while yes, it was in the course of an argument, that's why you're here. To get it off your chest in a neutral place where you can leave the argument behind at the end of the session. You need that if you're going to live and work together as you do." Robert made a rather childish face at Whittaker, who shook his head. "You're welcome to have these arguments at home, and then where does that leave you? Do you sleep in separate rooms while you refuse to talk? Does she go back to her apartment for a week? Now there's something you really don't like. Perhaps that's something you dislike more than coming here."
Robert looked down at Elizabeth, still wrapped up into him on the couch. It was his turn to be guilty of not thinking of consequences. While Elizabeth had been spending a great deal of time at his, she still had a flat and spent a few nights a week there. He did not want to go backward and have Elizabeth spend more time there because they lacked in the communication department.
They got up to leave, and Whittaker walked them out, suggesting they get through Thanksgiving and then come back in a week or two and discuss how they survived the holiday and how the issue with Rollings was going. He recommended coming once or twice a month at first to help establish healthier communication habits and then tapper off to as needed or emergencies.
Emotionally exhausted, Elizabeth phoned their favorite take out place from the car and timed it so their food would be arriving shortly after they did. A warm greeting from Gretel went a long way to shaking away the heaviness of the evening. Farm more intelligent than her people, Gretel understood that cuddles were needed and took advantage of this by climbing on the couch with them. Two human pillows were better than one, and she enjoyed the attention she got while Robert and Elizabeth leaned into each other.
Sometime later, Robert lay awake; he had gotten off the emotional roller coaster but was still feeling the side effects. Much to his chagrin, It was easy for Robert to think about everything he and Elizabeth had been through and find the two hours with Dr. Whitaker insightful and worth the personal discomfort. Curled up next to him, Elizabeth had barely left his side since they had gotten home, and Robert didn't want her to. He didn't realize what it would mean to him to have Elizabeth acknowledge how her actions had hurt him and take responsibility for that. In the quiet of their home, he allowed himself revel in her determination to work on how she handled the work aspect of their relationship and to support him in the ways he needed her to.
The ring hidden away in the safe burned at the back of his mind. While he knew all couples argued at some point or another, his parents' marriage had been blessed with very few issues of consequence. They had been happily married till death do us part several years earlier, and Robert was determined to have that with Elizabeth.
If Tuesday evening had been emotionally exhausting, Wednesday was pure chaos. Robert and Elizabeth had gone into work feeling lighter than they had in days. It was a half-day for Robert, and he spent all of it doing admin to prepare for having the remainder of the week off.
It was noon when he finally left his desk and went to find Lizzy before her next surgery. She and Shirley were at the main desk, talking about their thanksgiving plans when Robert found her.
"Hey, I'm about to head out." A hand on her back as he leaned in for a kiss.
"Off the greet the family Dr. Romano?"
"Shirley, why do I feel like when you say that you're looking to cause trouble, or at the very least, be filled in on trouble?"
"Dr. Romano, I don't know what you're talking about." Shirley took on a tone of fake hurt, and Elizabeth sniggered next to her.
"Robert, Shirley isn't here to cause trouble. Besides, she wants Christmas off this year."
"Ah, so that means our Thanksgiving won't be subject to hospital gossip."
"I wouldn't dream of it. And that's Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day."
"Just make sure to remove my phone number and pager from the call list for Christmas, and you've got a deal."
That was Shirley smug and pleased, a task no one warned him about when he took over as Chief. Turning to Lizzy, they briefly talked about her next surgery and how Edson was on it. Edson, who had been irritating recently. Elizabeth had planned a harmless revenge of playing some music that was not to Edson's taste. The playlist included everything from The Proclaimers, Ian Dury, and to David Bowie. Robert wasn't familiar with most of the songs she listed but, he and Shirley got a kick out of the revenge. It wasn't a lengthy procedure, so Robert wasn't worried about the rest of the surgical team getting too irritated with the selection, and most were game for a little good-natured ribbing of Edson, to begin with.
"I'm out of here. Ladies, don't burn the place down while I'm gone." A quick kiss from Lizzy and he was out the door to collect his sister and her family from the airport.
That's where the chaos started. Robert hadn't seen his sister since a short visit around New Years Lizzy's first year in America, and it was a boisterous reunion at the airport. Gwen swung out her arms wide upon seeing her baby brother hitting her daughter and husband and yelled, "Baby brother!" Much to Robert's embarrassment. David and Anna rolled their eyes at Gwen's antics, knowing better than to get in between the Romano siblings after this long apart. Eventually, Gwen was done tormenting her brother, and they were able to gather their luggage to head to Robert's house.
The first thing Robert discovered upon arriving home was that Gretel was overwhelmed by all the new people. The second was that Anna was far too excitable around dogs, something revealed when she squealed loudly and dropped to the floor to love on Gretel. The third involved Gretel looking around in confusion before going to the door where Robert realize she was looking for Lizzy; even Gretel thought this Holiday apart was horrible.
It had been several years since his sister had been to his house, and she proceeded to be nosy while Robert and David had a beer. Anna had gone off to take a nap, and David breathed a sigh of relief when both women had left the room. A former Air Force Pilot, a snippy Romano, and a teenager always made travel days rough for the Allen family. Over their beer, Robert tried with an unknown level of success to enlist David into helping keep Gwen in check around Elizabeth. David knew better than most the kind of trouble Gwen liked to cause where her brother's life was concerned, and whilst he felt bad for Robert, he made no promises about going against his wife. Robert decided he would have to put the case to his mother over dinner. Another order of chaos that made Robert wish he wasn't driving. Three women in his family to gang up on him about his love life was stressful enough to earn him a pat on the back from David, who volunteered to drink for him.
Somehow Robert and Gretel survived the night, but not without contemplating sneaking off to Elizabeth's for safety. He was awoken early the next morning by Gretel jumping on the bed, half-asleep; Robert almost fell out of bed, so confused as to what was happening. Gretel had fled her bed in the living room, not when David quietly got up for coffee, but when Anna came down looking for a morning puppy cuddle. Far too awake to fall back asleep, Robert chose to have his morning coffee and enjoy the last few hours of the calm before the storm. Sometime around 10, Gwen and Robert would set to work in the kitchen with their mother arriving around noon with the few dishes they had asked her to bring. Lizzy was due to arrive around two, and Robert hoped that everything was a success.
When the bell finally rang, signaling Elizabeth's arrival, all three Allen's were seemingly on their best behavior. Naturally, Robert did not trust them.
"Hey." Elizabeth stepped into his arms and greeted Robert with a kiss. "I'm not late, am I?"
"No right on time. My family is still distracted enough in the kitchen that it should be less of an ambush and more of a distracted introduction."
"So, no one's killed each other yet."
"The day is still young, Lizzy."
When they stepped into the kitchen, Elizabeth saw Cara and a woman that must be Gwen locked in a staredown. The younger woman broke her gaze first and said with a Robert-esq tone, "You must be Lizzy." Complete with what Elizabeth now thought must be a familial smirk.
"Elizabeth, and you must be Gwen." One Romano calling her Lizzy was enough; she didn't need the nickname to catch on.
"Sure." Gwen was no taller than Robert and shared a number of traits with him other than sarcasm. The same strong jaw, red hair, and intense look, but Gwen was dusted with freckles from days worshiping in the sun. And while Robert had dark brown eyes, Gwen's were a piercing blue that she shared with their mother. Gwen carried herself with a natural charm that Robert often hid around strangers.
The introductions moved on to David and Anna, both taller than the Romanos, although not by much in Anna's case. David kept his dark hair short and faced clean-shaven, a habit left over from his days as a pilot with the Air Force. Anna took after her father in looks, with only the slightest hint of red in her hair.
The meal itself went smoothly. Gwen and Elizabeth were getting along a little too well, but nothing to be concerned about. Anna had an endless supply of questions on what it was like growing up in England, which eventually prompted Gwen to ask how her brother behaved in England. Elizabeth's response of 'Our colleagues were thrilled to see us leave if that gives you an idea' went over well and an easy going back and forth developed after that. Elizabeth learned that Gwen was an engineer working out of a small but successful firm. David was now an accountant after a training accident in the Air Force ended his career on a medical discharge. A career path that Anna had some interest in, if just in a misguided way, according to David.
"It's not misguided, Dad!"
"Yes, it is. You've got no idea what you're talking about." Elizabeth looked back and forth between Anna and David, the teenager clearly exasperated at what was an obviously common argument.
"I'm confused here," Elizabeth interjected, "why don't you want your daughter joining the Air Force?"
"I'd love her to, but it's not the Air Force she wants to fly in." David recognized Elizabeth's confused look and sighed. "She wants to fly for the Navy."
Half the table broke out in laughter at David's look of dismay, and Anna just glared at her father.
"This is your fault Robert; you took her to see that damn Tom Cruise movie," David said, turning to his brother-in-law.
"I was in love with Tom Cruise and convinced Uncle Rob to take me to see Top Gun," Anna addressed Elizabeth, "and when I left, I was in love with his plane. So yeah, I want to join the Navy." David groaned across the table. "Cheer up dad, things could be worse; I could want to be the crazy person who jumps out of the planes instead of flying them."
David, who had his face resting in his hands at this point, looked up to say, "Don't you dare." In a serious tone. Gwen and Robert just laughed, having been through variations of this conversation numerous times before. Cara decided it was best if they moved on from the conversation and put the food away. Declaring that she had children to do the work for her now and Elizabeth was a guest and therefore exempt, Cara pulled Elizabeth through to the living room whilst leaving the remainder of the family to clear the table.
They were talking about Robert's childhood when he finally escaped the kitchen. Cara was telling Elizabeth how Robert had spent weeks trying to convince his father to sign him up for a football camp that was popular amongst the children of the local Firehouse. John Romano had been a Driver Engineer at the time and like the idea of his son playing ball with the sons' of his mates , but Robert did not take after his father in height or stature. Not wanting to see his son get pummeled by boys twice his size, John sought out a sport where Robert's skill and not just his size would play a greater role starting out.
"John wanted Robert to be friends with the sons' of his friends, but at ten years old, it was clear that those boys would all be bigger than Robert. He didn't want Robert to go through his peers knocking him to the ground every day at that age. Convinced him to wait a year instead and found karate lessons for him to do in the meantime. Turns out, Robert loved it so much that when the topic of playing football came up later, he couldn't care less about it."
"Ma, that better be the only story you tell. Please tell me you haven't pulled out pictures to show Lizzy, either."
"You've got pictures with you?" Elizabeth perked up and gave Robert a cheeky grin as she questioned his mother.
"Those pictures are at the house."
"Thank god," Robert interjected.
"It's not as if I don't live in town; the two of you should come over for dinner sometime. There's a very adorable picture of Robert posing next to his father in his first Gi-"
Elizabeth was laughing at him now, ignoring him as he called her a traitor until he reminded her of her own family's impending visit. The laughter was brought to a stop when they heard Gwen scream from the kitchen before bolting out the back of the house, with David hot on her heels.
Having helped with the dishes, Anna had gone into the back yard to get away from the adults and decided to relive her tree-climbing days. At about ten feet up, she had gone out on a limb to sit and feel the autumn breeze when the branch broke. Gwen had been watching from the window and panicked upon seeing her daughter fall. The panic of the adults trying to get outside stirred Gretel, who ran out as well, knocking David over in the process. Gretel, it turned out, had a previously unknown protective streak that came out when she got to Anna. Robert had to pull the Bouvier away so Elizabeth could examine his niece. It wasn't Thanksgiving without a trip to the ER and this year it would be for a broken arm.
A harried car ride later found them at County, where Robert had hoped to boss everyone around to the point where they would ignore that he was treating family. He had forgotten, however, that it was Weaver who was the Chief of the ER and Weaver who was working today. She wouldn't even let him do the x-ray to see what kind of break it was. Instead, she tried to send him Carter.
"Carter get the fuck out, Kerry; I don't want some resident treating my niece."
"Robert, Carter, is perfectly capable of treating a broken arm."
"He washed out of Surgery!"
"Hey! I didn't washout. Why am I chopped liver today? First, Carol, now this."
"Robert," Elizabeth put her hand on his back, rubbing it in gentle, soothing motions. "If you won't let Kerry or Carter treat her, then let me. You trust me, right?"
"I don't know, Elizabeth, that Carter guy is kind of cute." The pain killers Haleh had given Anna had kicked in. It made Robert relax enough to nod his head in agreement to Elizabeth, who switched to Surgeon mode instantly.
"Ok, time for everyone to get out."
"What?" It was Gwen's turn to be displeased, and she and Robert gave Elizabeth identical dirty looks. They had not been expecting to be kicked out.
"Anna needs x-rays, and that can't be done with you lot lurking about. Robert, take them up to the 4th floor and unlock my office. It's clearly a time for the emergency drawer."
"What's the emergency drawer?"
"It's got chocolate and single malt."
"Well, take the emergency drawer. Thank you, Elizabeth." David pulled on his wife until she was out of the exam room, and Robert followed after kissing Elizabeth.
Several hours later, Anna's arm had been set and wrapped in a cast. It was a clean break, something Elizabeth was thankful for, believing that if Anna had needed surgery that they would have to sedate Gwen and possibly Robert. The gossip mill was already in full swing when they escaped the ER, and Elizabeth would have bet money that Carter was the one initiating the gossip that day. Before leaving, Elizabeth had managed to stop by the maternity ward with flowers for Carol, who had been having a rough time of it. Mark Greene had filled her in briefly before her pager went off, Robert probably wanting to know where she had gone off to.
When they had finally made it back to Robert's, everyone was exhausted. Anna had gone right to bed, the pain killers had knocked her out at some point along the ride home, and Gwen wasn't far behind her with Elizabeth having given her an Ativan to calm down. Robert poured two scotches for himself and David and brought them into the living room. Elizabeth, who was on the couch, shifted over when Robert came in the room, promptly using his lap as a pillow once seated. Her first 'properly' celebrated Thanksgiving in America, and she decided the holiday was overrated. As David and Robert sipped on their scotches, she drifted off to sleep to Robert, gently stroking her hair. Thanksgiving was definitely overrated.