Chapter 23

AN: Happy New Year! I was not gifted the rights to ER for Christmas, alas, so there's that.

The past few months had been an absolute whirlwind.

Isabelle's visit had ended with a dress purchased by Elizabeth and Gretel usurping Elizabeth's place as the favorite child. Elizabeth pointing out that she was Madam Corday's only child seemed to make no difference, and Robert laughed unashamedly at the hmpf noise that Isabelle made at that. Then the comment of "Yes, well now you've got proper competition, and we can see who the clear winner is."

Traitorous Gretel just rolled over for a belly rub. She also mopped about for a week once Madam Corday left, taking to sleeping in the guest room and pouting upon realizing Isabelle was not inside. Thankful a little bit of steak in her bowl at dinner won Gretel back over to Team Rocket. Granny Isabelle was a novelty; Daddy Rocket was forever.

That didn't stop Robert from lamenting the fact that Gretel couldn't be the ring bearer for the wedding because it was in London and bringing Gretel would involve quarantine for longer than they had time off for. Which was how he found himself tipping the porter handsomely for bringing all the bags up to their room at the Waldorf in London. A large suitcase each, carry on bags, and Robert's suit bag. Robert said a silent prayer at the fact that Lizzie had managed to ship her wedding dress to Isabelle's. Destination wedding his ass. Thankfully, they had flown first class, and Lizzie liked to fly. Well. Either she liked to fly, or she enjoyed the drinks they kept bringing her. She was going home, after all.

Home. It was a word Robert had come to dislike in the lead up to the wedding. A rather large part of Elizabeth still felt as if London was home. Rationally, Robert knew that she had never meant to stay in America for more than a year. That she had meant to go back and see family and friends. That Elizabeth had intended to say proper goodbyes to her family instead of just a 'see you at the holidays' that never came. She had been in America for three years now, and a part of her had dealt with that separation by firmly saying London was home. It was where Elizabeth's family was, after all. Robert couldn't blame her, having spent so much time out of the country himself; it was just how you dealt with it. It had been easier for him, as well. He had never once thought of staying abroad for more than his contract. Well, until he met Lizzie. Robert had never told anyone about the job offer he had lined up at another hospital in London. Charles Corday wasn't going to renew, and Robert was worried he wouldn't have enough time to convince Elizabeth to come with him. But he did, and the rest was history. With a few civil wars between them thrown in for good measure, but history none the less.

It had helped that Robert's immediate family was just his mom and sister. Elizabeth still had both parents, godparents, godbrother, and three out of four grandparents living. None of the grandparents so infirm that they couldn't keep you on your toes, but all old enough that a transatlantic flight just wasn't an option. The surgeon's wife, who had helped him win over grant after grant to better the hospital. And the parents of the astrophysicist, a Cambridge maths professor, and a grammar school teacher. Robert was going to have his hands full, living up to their expectations for their only granddaughter.

The red-eye to London had been a godsend, with a hefty fee to have access to the hotel room early. It had given Robert and Elizabeth time for short naps and showers before heading out to meet some of Elizabeth's family. Isabelle was done with classes for the summer and had arranged a late lunch with her side of the family. Robert couldn't help but be nervous, as these were people who produced the scary astrophysicist.

Who greeted them by asking, "How's my favorite girl?"

Elizabeth had been pleased to find her mother in such a good mood, responded with a large smile, and "I'm well, mother."

Robert had to control the laugh at Lizzie's disappointment when Isabelle corrected her.

"Oh, not you, dear, I mean Gretel. How is she? Has she recovered from her operation, back to chasing squirrels yet?"

Whilst Robert was halfway managing to hold in his laughter, the couple that was presumably Isabelle's parents were not.

"Honestly, darling, it's a wonder your daughter speaks to you at all if that's the way you greet her."

The man speaking had steel-grey hair and piercing blue eyes that glinted with intellect. This was not the look of one who's mind had dwindled with age but merely lost the filter attached to his mouth.

"Do forgive Isabelle; she adores dogs to the point where we thought for the first two months that Charles was the name of a springer spaniel she had adopted."

Robert knew as the man extended his hand that they would get along perfectly. "Alexander James. A pleasure to meet you."

A firm handshake as well. "Rocket Romano, I'm sure the pleasure will be all mine so long as you continue to tell stories about mistaking Mr. Corday for a pet dog."

"Yes, we've heard you don't get on with Charles."

"Don't get on? That man wants nothing more than for me to end up on his operating table without anesthesia."

The woman to his left rolled her eyes, clearly exasperated. Her once red curls had turned white with age, and yet she held herself with such presence that she commanded the room. A sharp elbow to Alexander's ribs made him remember his wife, who had gotten impatient waiting on him.

"Since my child and husband have forgotten their manners, let me remind them. I'm Robin, and unfortunately, Isabelle's mother."

Lizzie snickered; clearly, mother-daughter tiffs ran in the family, as did father-daughter bonds.

Robert was really going to like the James family, and everything seemed to be going so well until Mrs. Corday crashed the lunch.

Daphne Corday was every bit as gregarious and charming as her son and granddaughter, with none of the dirty looks that her son Charles was so fond of throwing towards Robert. Mrs. James had apparently invited her without telling anyone. It seemed that whilst Charles and Isabelle and divorced rather un amicably, the elder Cordays and James got along just fine. They had cocktail hour once a month to discuss all the ridiculous antics of their children. Daphne had apparently mentioned wanting to meet Robert without her son around to determine for herself if Charles was just being pig-headed or if Robert really was as obnoxious as her son swore. Oh goody.

By the end of the afternoon, Robert had felt ganged up on, though Elizabeth had done her best to protect him from the worst of it. The endless questions and back and forth had reminded him of when his father was alive. Always a boisterous household with a similar back and forth to the Corday-James families. It was slowly starting to sink in that he was getting married this week, and his father wouldn't be there to stand up with him. Laying in bed that night, it was all Robert could think about, and it was almost morning before he fell asleep to the soothing rhythm of Lizzie rubbing his back.

Chaos had landed, and its name was Gwendolyn.

Elizabeth loved her soon to be sister in law, but she had secretly packed a flask of the good stuff to deal with the family dinner taking place that night at her father's house. Gwen and Andrew would be in the same room. Hell. Cara and Helena would be in the same room. Cara and Helena and Isabelle would be in the same room. She took out the flask as she stood in front of her father's house and took a long swig before passing it to Robert. If they made it past this evening sober, not in jail, and not in the hospital, she would be pleased. Well. Relatively sober. Both her parents would be under one roof, after all.

When the front door opened, revealing her father, Elizabeth felt tears of happiness start to form. It had been years since she had been there, and it was an overwhelming feeling going back to her childhood home to ceremonially leave it one last time. No longer the willful teenager or obstinate young woman looking to take on the world, she had returned as a woman very much in charge of her life and career with her equal by her side. Both father and daughter were so happy with the reunion that even Robert felt Mr. Corday's happiness bestowed upon him when he was greeted with a 'Hello Robert' instead of the usual tense 'Romano.'

Whilst they had arrived at her father's house early, Elizabeth's grandmother was already present and enjoying the hors d'oeuvres that the caterer had laid out. Isabelle and her parents arrived shortly after Elizabeth and Robert had finished downing their first drinks, and Elizabeth got the joy of introducing Robert to one of her favorite things. Her father trying in vain to catch her mother's attention via flirting.

Charles Corday had turned up the charm, greeting his ex-wife with a 'Hello Belle, beautiful as always.' A saucy smile and an 'I know' was all the reply he got before she sought out the bartender and then went off to greet her ex-mother in law with a fond hug.

Robert was having trouble concealing his mirth.

"Don't be so obvious in your laughter, least they notice." Elizabeth rolled her eyes and elbowed him for good measure, having seen this scenario play out before.

"Lizziieeee, you did not warn me that your father still has the hots for your mother. This is way more entertaining than I thought the evening would be while still sober."

"Well, of course, he finds her attractive. It's not as if women turn into ugly hags when they get a divorce. Nor become imbeciles."

"Ok, ok. No need to elbow me again."

Elizabeth was stopped from doing just that when her worst nightmare came true, Andrew and the Cameron's walked in with all of Robert's family. Three guesses who were grinning like shit-eating pigs, and Elizabeth was sure three guesses would not be needed.

"We are so fucked." Was said in unison before all hell broke loose with the introductions.

There were now five women of red-headed persuasion in the room, each eyeing up the others. Daphne Corday and Helena Cameron stood by the bar betting on who would come out the alpha while Andrew was busy collecting the money for them. Robin finally broke the ice.

"Tell me, Isabelle, is this what it's like when Robert and Elizabeth enter the room together at work? A long pause while they try and determine who's in charge for that round?"

"Actually, I think it's on a first-come, first-serve basis."

The ice was broken, and laughter filled the room. Glasses of wine were passed around as Robert and Elizabeth made introductions and mingled. The majority of the evening went smoothly, with everyone seemingly being on their best behavior, something that neither Robert nor Elizabeth took at face value. They didn't trust Gwen and Andrew as far as they could throw them and Elizabeth suspected her godparents had bought them off somehow. That or Gwen was too busy trying to control her daughter, who had snuck a glass of Chardonnay and was giggling over the men in kilts. Whatever the reason, they were thankful for minimal plotting and embarrassing stories from their families and retired for the night, believing it was just the calm before the storm.

Eventually, members of the wedding party and various guests from America started to arrive in London. Max and Jo, being in the wedding party, were the first to arrive and promptly took the happy couple out to dinner and drink. They might have closed down the pub. They might have smoked cigars and passed a flask or three around while strolling the streets of London. They might have ducked into an alley or two when they thought they saw the police. No one remembered exactly what happened the next morning, just the general consensus that they wanted Excedrin and banana bags.

Robert's godparents were the next to arrive. Micheal and Lauren Connor. Old friends of Robert's parents from his father's early days as a fireman. With so little of his own family alive, it meant the world to Robert that they had left retirement in Louisiana to see him get married.

Several friends from the medical profession in Chicago started trickling in over the next few days, even Charlie Cameron and his parents. Two of Elizabeth's Chicago friends would be very last minute, though. Doug and Carol. Carol had abruptly left Chicago to raise her twins in Seattle with Doug, and while she still talked with Elizabeth regularly, Robert had been shocked to find that Carol had RSVP'd, and without the twins. Apparently, Doug and Carol needed an adult weekend away and were leaving the girls with Carol's mother.

All their Chicago friends arriving paled in comparison to the arrival of Elizabeth's friend Janine. On leave from Her Majesty's Royal Navy, even Andrew was nervous about the reunion between the two women. Robert had no memory of meeting the woman due to the copious amounts of alcohol that everyone consumed. Andrew was asking for a liver transplant, Max was lying halfway under the couch, Jo had barricaded herself in the en-suite bathroom, Charlie had gotten arrested, or so Robert thought, Robert was hiding under the covers hoping to die, all while Elizabeth and Janine were in the sitting area chugging water and drinking whisky. A loud groan came from Robert when he realized that the two women weren't just drinking whisky, but smoking Churchill's as well.

The cackling coming from their corner of the sitting area made him crawl out of bed in search of aspirin. The bangy head syndrome needed to go away quickly, and he hated the two women for being seemingly unaffected by the previous night's shenanigans.

"For the love of God, will the two of you be quiet? Some of us are trying to die from hangovers in peace."

The sailor snorted and blew a smoke ring in his face. His Lizzie just laughed until she fell off the couch. Served her right. She only managed to drag herself upright when there was a knock on the door, followed by the call of 'Room service.'

Elizabeth was up and to the door in an instant, only banging her hip on the odd bit of furniture once. Or maybe twice. Robert didn't know because he thought he was seeing double. All he knew was he could kiss the two Lizzie's as the three carts of food were brought in. He hoped it was three carts. Whatever it was smelt delightful.

The evil sailor had disappeared while the carts of food were brought in and only reappeared when Elizabeth shut the door behind the waiters.

"Here you go Romano, I think this is what you're looking for." The tall glass of what was hopefully water was fizzing away.

"This better be Alka-Seltzer, or when I need a new liver, I'm removing yours."

"Fair dos. I promise we're not trying to kill your liver at this point."

The fizzing drink was bitter, and it held promises of sweet relief. Arms snaked around Robert's waist as he chugged the drink. Lizzie nuzzled into his neck from behind, her soft lips on his neck, helping him to relax a little.

"I ordered enough breakfast to feed an army." Another snort from the evil corner of the room. "Forgive me, Navy."

The cackling women from hell had indeed ordered enough food to feed the Navy. The Alka-Seltzer was kicking in enough that Robert was able to identify that there were, in fact, three carts of food. Primarily full of English fry ups, with a few stacks of pancakes and plates of fruit thrown in for good measure. There were two carafes of black coffee, and Robert reached for the closest one. Somewhere in the background, he heard who he thought was Andrew grown. A swift swear in another language confirmed it.

Lizzie and Janine were digging into their plates of food and a pot of tea before Robert could sit down, and Andrew managed to join them shortly after. The kilted man let out a low growl at the women and stole a rasher from each of their plates. In turn, they picked up their abandoned cigars and blew smoke rings in his face. Lizzie took the remaining whiskies on the table and dumped them into their teacups, tucking into a plate of food whilst Janine poured glasses of water and passed out the Alka-Seltzer.

Nearly an hour had passed before the food-laden cart were bare, with Max and Jo being the last to come to the makeshift breakfast tables. The coffee had disappeared some time ago, and Lizzie and her Maid of Honor were back to smoking like chimneys. The initial throbbing in Robert's skull had subsided for the moment, but he swore not to touch another drink until after he was married. He had no desire to be hungover or worse on his impending wedding day and was slightly worried that he'd still have a hangover at the rate he was going. It was only after all the food had been consumed that Robert remembered something had been nagging him.

"Hey guys, what happened to Cameron Number Two?"

Cameron Number Two, as Robert liked to call him, had been sacrificed to the police who had tried to round up the group for public intoxication the night before. Janine had been very insistent that they'd go easy on Charles for being American. Still, Robert suspected that she was more concerned with not being arrested while on leave from Her Majesty's Navy. She needed a duty scapegoat after-all. They finally found Charles having a late lunch with the Cameron clan, who had apparently bailed him out of the drunk tank. No charges had been filed thanks to a friendly officer recognizing the Cameron family tartan on the kilt Charles wore. The officer had previously been a patient of Malcolm Cameron and rang up the hospital wanting to know if Mr. Cameron had an American cousin. Helena had not been impressed with any of them. And there had been what Robert assumed was a stern lecture in Gaelic, but Robert was too busy stealing the bacon off of a random plate to know for sure.

Helena believed it would be a miracle if the lot of them were sober for the wedding rehearsal the next day, and Robert tended to agree with her. He was already contemplating putting himself on the UNOS list when they made it back to Chicago.

Somehow they did manage it though, come the rehearsal, the entire wedding party was sober and hangover free. Consisting of Janine, Jo, and Gwen standing up with Elizabeth and Max, Andrew, and David standing up with Robert, everyone was on their best behavior. It would be a simple ceremony, planned primarily with a wedding planner that Helena had found. Robert wanted the whole ceremony to be over as quickly as possible to get to the honeymoon but knew neither of their families would let them get away with that. Hell, marriage counseling with the Priest had even been required that morning. Father Octavian didn't take kindly to Lizzie's flippant remarks of 'we've already got a bloody counselor we see regularly, and he's got an M.D. behind his name.' The poor Priest was clearly used to Elizabeth because his response of 'say ten hail Mary's' was far too quick for the uninitiated.

Hours later, Elizabeth found herself curled up against her father on the couch in his study, nursing a nightcap. For the first time in longer than she could remember, her mother was there, occupying her favorite chair, martini in hand. The traditional approach of bad luck to see the bride was being taken, and Elizabeth had elected to stay the night at her father's.

"Darling, I can't believe you're getting married tomorrow. It seems like yesterday you just a little girl, curled up here with me reading you the charts I had brought home to review."

"Frankly, Elizabeth, I didn't think you'd ever get married. You were always too fond of men who were pushovers and arm candy to actually take a relationship seriously."

She could feel her father shaking from laughter and stuck her elbow into his ribs for good measure.

"What? Romano's not exactly 'arm candy'" Charles applied air quotes and sarcasm to Isabelle's term, and in turn, Isabelle agreed with him.

"You know, mother; you wouldn't say that if you saw him without his shirt on. Scrubs really don't do him justice. Nor have you seen the man's dimples. I'm thankful we wear masks in the OR, or I'd never be able to concentrate."

"Darling, we don't need to hear this. I don't need to hear this, particularly about Romano."

"Robert. His name is Robert." Father and daughter glared at each other, both trying to outdo the other. "Or you can always call him Rocket. That was how you introduced him to the staff after you hired him."

A huff from her father let Elizabeth know she had won that round.

"Well, that's one thing to be thankful for, I suppose, you've picked a man who's intelligent and has the ability to keep up with you. Did it have to be an American, though?" A whine had crept into Charles Corday's voice, and Isabelle laughed at him.

"Honestly, Charles, you're just cross that you liked the man when you hired him, and then he went and had the good sense to acknowledge your surgical daughter was a talented and intelligent surgeon. He picked the wrong Corday to impress in your books and succeeded in convincing Elizabeth he was the better surgeon to work with." A smug Madam Corday downed the remainder of her martinis, smirking at her ex-husband the entire time.

"Isn't it time you leave Belle? After all, you moved out years ago."

"Ha, Bloody, Ha."

"Mother, by the time he gets over that, he'll just be mad at Robert for something else."

"Yes. Charles, what are you going to do when it becomes the Romano Surgical Dynasty instead of the Corday Dynasty?"

A look of shock and horror settled onto his face as Charles Corday contemplated for the first time that his daughter would potentially be having children with Romano. Little surgical scrub wearing children who would be Romanos instead of Cordays.

"You're going to have at least two grandchildren if Robert has his way, so you better get used to the idea." Upon seeing her father's frozen face, Elizabeth decided to turn the screw a little tighter. "Don't worry, if we have a boy, I'll be sure to suggest Charles as a name."

Isabelle's roar of laughter was not enough to shake Charles from his bought of shock, and a finger or five of brandy was needed to revive the man enough to send him to bed.

Elizabeth woke early the next morning to find her mother making a pot of tea, clothed in stolen pajamas and robe from Charles's closet. She didn't get farther than a raised eyebrow before Isabelle cut her off.

"Not a word from you. It's an emotional day, and I wasn't going to miss any of it simply because you chose to stay with your father."

"I didn't think you could stand staying under the same roof as him for that long. That's all."

"As irritating as the man is, he's the father of my child, and for that, I shall always love him. We can manage to set things aside long enough to share the important moments with you."

A look of guilt crept across Elizabeth's face at being called out for thinking her mother incapable of temporary pax with her father. Isabelle let her daughter sit with her guilt before rolling her eyes.

"Perhaps we could have learned to manage that sooner, but better late than never in this case."

"And ah, just how well did the two of you get on after I retired for the night?"

The tea towel was thrown in Elizabeth's face as a response, with laughter overtaking the two women uninterrupted by mother slaughter squabbles until Charles came downstairs.

"So Daddy, what did the two of you stay up all night talking about?"

"I don't ask you how you spend your nights, so kindly do not ask me how I spend mine." was all the response Elizabeth got.

It was an emotional day in the Corday household. A luncheon was planned with the bridesmaids, and merriment soon took over after their arrival. The wedding was early evening, and the day was spent getting their hair done and listening to Charles and Isabelle's stories about Elizabeth growing up. Stories of Daphne making scrubs her five-year-old granddaughter who demanded to play surgeon with her father. Charles and Isabelle forgoing traditional bedtime stories for scientific journals and chart reviews. The calls from the boarding school, letting Mr. and Mrs. Corday know that their daughter was in trouble again. Elizabeth's first surgery, where she assisted both father and grandfather. At one point, Charles excused himself, with Isabelle following him shortly. Their little girl was grown and as happy as they were for her, they couldn't help but feel bereft at the hole she had made in their hearts.

Standing in the unfamiliar church, Robert was nervous. Guests were pouring in, and he was doing his best to smile and greet them. Malcolm had gently pulled him aside, taken a moment to straighten his tie, and pass him a flask long enough for a quick swig. A thump on his back with the remarks of 'you're going to be so very happy together. For as long as you both shall live.', before disappearing back into the crowd.

Robert found himself pacing the aisle when he came to a full stop at the front row, shocked at what occupied the pew. A black helmet, long worn dull from use, sat with its station number proudly on display. Behind it, a beautifully framed photo of his father, John Romano in dress uniform, propped against the oak encased American flag. A hand came to rest on Robert's shoulder, and his breath hitched, desperate to not cry before the ceremony even started. Robert's godfather was silent for a moment, allowing him to collect his thoughts.

"She called ya know. Asking questions about him. Called your mother as well. Wanted to know what we had of his to incorporate in the ceremony. How to honor the man who 'raised the man she loves.' You've picked a wonderful woman Robert, and he would be so proud of you. We're all so proud of you."

His Lizzie had done this. Knowing that she'd never get direct responses from him about his father, his Lizzie had arranged for the memory of his late father to be acknowledged and remembered. Robert turned away from the pew and faced the altar at the front of the church, for once not being bothered by an open display of faith and kneeling to pray. To thank god for this day, for Elizabeth, and a silent longing for the man who had raised him. By the time Robert stood, the church was full, and it was time for the ceremony to begin.

He could barely stand still as the processional started, with Max having to place a hand on his shoulder to steady him after the wedding party had made its way down the aisle. And then the music changed.

And he saw her.

Glowing with happiness, she was gliding towards him. A radiant smile on her face, the likes of which Robert had never seen before. His breath hitched as their eyes met, and only the whisper of 'she comes to you, not the other way around' from Max kept him from running down the aisle towards her. Never one for publicly displaying his emotions, Robert couldn't help but smile back at his Lizzie. His love for her proudly on display for all to see. When she finally reached him, Elizabeth eagerly left her father's side to wrap her arms around Robert in a tight embrace. An 'I love you' whispered so softly that Robert almost missed it.

And then she was His Elizabeth until death do they part.