Chapter 20

AN: As usual, I own nothing. Except for several bottles of single malt. Some quotes are taken from Season 6, Episode 9. There are several songs mentioned in this chapter and I don't own them either. Please see the footnotes for who wrote what. Easter eggs are also listed in the footnotes for you eagle-eyed readers. As a heads up, my latest work project is wrapping up, and I'll probably be traveling home next weekend. Long overdue, so there's a chance that I'll take a weekend off from posting. Thanks for the reviews and enjoy.

There was a stillness to the house as Robert awoke, and somehow it seemed wrong to his pre-coffee brain. A brief glance at the clock told him it was four am, so why he thought there was something wrong with a quiet house was beyond him. Lizzie was asleep, curled up into his side with her face hidden behind her mane of curls. Robert loved to watch her in the mornings before she woke, grateful for the fact that she was there with him.

His Lizzie. Lizzie. Lizzie's family.

Robert let out a silent swear as he realized why something seemed off. Elizabeth's family was down the hall, and Robert had expected them to be up and about from jet lag by now. As his brain started to wake up, he made the decision to get up and put the coffee on. Surely someone would be waking up shortly and wander into his kitchen; at the very least, it would be Lizzie waking up and needing a healthy dose of caffeine.

The light in the kitchen was on, and Robert said a quick prayer hoping it was a Cameron and not a Corday that he was about to face in a coffee deficit.

"Good morning Robert." The voice that greeted him was with a Scottish accent softened from years living in London. Dark blue eyes met his over a cup of tea that was held by delicate feminine hands. Helena Cameron was up before the sun and had made herself at home in the kitchen, a kettle resting on the stove and the paper on the counter. Gretel was even at her feet, half asleep and ignoring Robert's entrance.

"Mrs. Cameron. I see you've made yourself at home." He passed over the kettle and went straight for the bag of coffee beans, setting to work on grinding them for his coffee.

"I did; my goddaughter lives here after all. And I told you last night to call me Helena."

"Well, that was last night when I had plied you with food and drink. It's early morning, and I won't tempt fate that you might not be a morning person." That earned him a smile, and she conceded his point.

"Elizabeth did say you were intelligent, and even Charles can't deny that since he hired you."

"Yes, but he will never admit it."

"Not sober, he won't."

Robert snorted into his coffee, sober or sloshed; he couldn't picture Mr. Corday saying anything good about him. Robert had to acknowledge, though, he did run off with the boss's daughter and convinced her to move to another country. He supposed Mr. Corday had a sixth sense where Elizabeth was concerned and probably knew from looking at Robert that he was far too interested in her to be just an average colleague.

"You don't believe me. Charles liked you when he hired you, and then you went and got on with Elizabeth. All of his other surgeons had been either too afraid of him to do so or just didn't like a female surgeon in the ranks to bother with her. Although I suppose it didn't help that he caught you having drinks with her."

"I didn't know she was his daughter, didn't even know he had a daughter. She certainly didn't tell me her name when I met her."

Robert thought back fondly on the night he met Elizabeth; it had been a Friday evening, and he had spent the past few hours filling out employment paperwork and getting a tour of the hospital. Simmons, one of the surgical consultants as they were called, had told him that on Fridays, the surgeons liked to meet at a cigar bar. Gave him a time and address to meet the rest of the staff there, and Robert took him at his word. Robert found out the hard way that it was a proper club and guest passes weren't for sale on Fridays. He was left standing in the foyer of a high-end club looking like an idiot while he knew his new colleagues were inside having a good laugh at the American. Pissed that this was the tone set by the surgical department, he stormed out into the streets only to run right into someone.

His first instinct had been to tell off whomever he ran into, and when he got a look at the person in his arms, it took all his willpower to make the words "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there" come out of his mouth. Vivid blue eyes were giving him a once over, and a teasing smile adorned her face. She was all curves, down to the titian curls adorning her head. A remark of 'It's got to be a bad day if cigars and whisky didn't fix your mood.' She had known instantly that he intended to bless her out for running into him. All Robert could do was stammer out something about asshole coworkers setting him up on his first day with them.

The eyes started to sparkle in amusement, and Robert was far too caught up in them to remove his arms from around her waist. They had made their way there when he almost knocked her over, and she hadn't seemed to mind yet. She teased him by suggesting he could always buy her a drink to get back at the slick gits. Robert didn't understand how Simmons and the rest would know, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Agreeing, he went to walk away from the club, expecting her to follow when she pulled him towards the very door he had just stormed out of. She was a member and could bring a guest.

All he knew was that her name was Elizabeth and that she too had her share of slick gits for coworkers, so she was always thrilled at getting back at similar types. They spent a glorious half hour at the bar drinking and smoking, talking about everything but work when Robert finally saw his boss walk in.

Mr. Corday scanned the room and saw Simmons and the group, chatting away and occasionally looking in Robert's direction before turning his attention to Robert. He didn't know the man well enough to recognize anger on Corday's face yet, so Robert didn't know to be worried when his Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery approached him. Elizabeth, or Lizzie as he had started to call her, caught Corday approaching out of the corner of her eye and let out a started, 'Daddy! What are you doing here?'. Robert nearly choked on his martini. It went downhill from there with Mr. Corday questioning him on why he was having drinks with his daughter, and Elizabeth recoiled back from Robert upon learning he was the new surgeon her father had hired.

Explaining the debacle with Simmons was the only saving grace Robert had with Mr. Corday, who couldn't exactly fault him for not knowing he had a daughter, who was a surgeon at the hospital no less. A very clear threat of join the group of surgeons and don't drink with Elizabeth outside of that group ever again was delivered. The damage, however, was done, Robert and Elizabeth had bonded, and by the end of the night, he was smitten. A beautiful woman who enjoyed causing his kind of trouble and far more intelligent than he could have ever hoped to meet. Finding out she was a surgeon was the cherry on top that he found the most attractive, though.

Mr. Corday was always watching him after that. The more he worked with Elizabeth, the more smitten Robert became. He couldn't decide if he wanted to kiss her or be her surgical partner. Eventually, Robert had decided both would be heaven, but that had proven to be easier said than done.

Helena brought him out of his trance with a smirk. Somehow the woman knew that Robert was thinking back on how he met Elizabeth. He couldn't be bothered, though, choosing instead to make Gretel her breakfast. Helena continued to read through the paper, ignoring him until Elizabeth appeared in the kitchen, looking frazzled and in search of caffeine.

According to the morning banter between Elizabeth and her godmother, the men in the family had taken sleeping pills. Helena suggested that they needed more beauty rest than most, and Robert knew he would like her from that comment alone. As much as he was enjoying Helena's snide remarks, he was happy when it was time to leave for work. They left Elizabeth's car behind along with a set of spare keys and wished Helena the best with the snoozing surgeons.

Thursday had sailed by with much success on Robert's part, even when it came to dealing with Charles Corday. The surgical duo of Corday and Cameron didn't know how to function on holiday when there was a hospital to observe and had followed Robert and Elizabeth to work at one point. Robert couldn't even blame them, their pride and joy was the Associate Chief of Surgery, and they wanted to see her in action. Even Helena, who had seemed amusingly indifferent to all things medical, had wanted to observe Elizabeth in her prime. Helena had also made the jab at Andrew for not being high up enough in his career to manage the time off for the holidays. Elizabeth had been slightly grumpy that Andrew had so little control of his schedule to miss the Christmas Stateside, but Malcolm had reminded her that Isabelle couldn't make it either. Instead, Isabelle had planned a lovely Christmas affair with Andrew, and they were determined to make the most of it.

Thursday rolled into Friday with minimal protest, and Robert went into work briefly to deal with any left-over admin. Elizabeth knew it was to really avoid her father. When noon rolled around, Robert couldn't ignore the fact that all of his work was prepped for his holiday absence and that Elizabeth easily had the department covered until their full return in the middle of next week.

That's where the drama started for Elizabeth. Dean fucking Rollings. Never before had Elizabeth encountered a patient that she detested as much as she did this man. It started with chest pains. Rollings had faked them to get her attention and grabbed hold of her hand in the process. Elizabeth was concerned that she would never be able to wash it clean after that. She wished she had let him die. The man was the scum of the earth, and it made her skin crawl to have to treat him.

In an attempt to get as far away from Rollings as possible, Elizabeth went to the main desk hoping for something to keep her occupied. Peter was there, having agreed to cover the transplant service that night in exchange for Christmas morning off to spend with Reese.

"Well, at least someone will be enjoying the holidays."

"What I thought you had plans with your family."

"I do, but Robert and my father don't get on, and my godparents like to cause mischief. Andrew couldn't get the time off, so there's no one to help play buffer that's on my side." Peter was sniggering as she walked away from the board.

"Yeah. I vividly remember your father not liking Romano. And you left them alone together tonight?"

"No. Charles Cameron at Rush extended an invite to a holiday party that he and his parents are going to. And his father and my godfather are cousins; so they're off getting sloshed and catching up. Robert is spending the evening with his mum before all hell breaks loose tomorrow."

Shirley interrupted them with a phone call from the Detective in the Rollings case. A catch twenty-two if there was one. The police had found evidence linking him to another murder. Whilst Elizabeth was happy that Rollings was no longer off the hook, she disliked the manner in which it came about. She would, however, take absolute glee in informing Rollings that he was going back to the jail ward. He thought it was a joke. She was thrilled until he tried to grab her, and she needed to restrain him. He started to fake another episode, and Elizabeth walked off, claiming, "And I'm the Queen of England." Unfortunately, he wasn't faking it this time. She just wanted him to shut up and go to hell—happy Bloody Christmas.

A blockage in the left femoral artery and he didn't want the surgery. Rollings crossed a line with Elizabeth that night. "Good drugs, food's not half bad, and I get off just looking at you." Elizabeth had been used to men making lewd remarks at her, but there was something different about a known rapist and murdered saying something like that to her. She wanted nothing more than to wash her hands of this man. And he just wouldn't stop talking about his fantasies about her. If he wouldn't sign off on surgery, she didn't care if he would die of his complications. Not after the disgusting comments, he had made towards her. Elizabeth had been dreaming about a slip of the scalpel and wanted to never see the man again.

The scrub room was the last place she should have been vocalizing her distaste for the man, though. Anspaugh had somehow managed to get sucked into a late-night surgery and, as an elder statesman, question her on who made her the judge and jury. Easier said than done when it came from a male surgeon, though. The sexual harassment was far less, and Elizabeth was well past done with the comments that made her feel like she was someone's prey. But for Peter, Elizabeth couldn't help but agree with Donald's advice. Damn the man for being level headed and pragmatic, it was the last thing she wanted to hear.

It was midnight when the phone rang, and Robert was hoping it was Elizabeth saying she was coming home early. Instead, it was Ms. Knight, the fourth year mead student, and he tuned her out instantly before asking if she had lost her mind by calling him. A sharp disconnect of the phone made poor Lucy very aware of how Robert felt with being called at home.

Mr. Corday and the Camerons had made it home sometime around eleven and had been starting to wind down for the night. They had spent an enjoyable evening out of the house that had left them in such a good mood that even Mr. Corday was being nice to him. Robert knew that wouldn't last long and that they'd probably be at odds again come morning.

Robert headed to bed, thinking about what the morning had in store for them. Lizzie would get home at a stupid god awful hour and then try to sleep for a bit. Sometime around eleven his mother was headed over to help with brunch and then it would be a day of food and celebrations.

Sleep was not something that Robert seemed able to accomplish, though. He awoke to the sound of banging on the front door. The whole house was stirring from it, and Gretel had started barking her displeasure. Looking at the clock, he saw it was almost two am. He decided whoever it was at the door needed to die a slow and painful death.

The banging persisted as he made his way down the stairs and to the door to the foyer. Gretel had accompanied him, and he was considering letting the person at the door have the full Gretel treatment but instead thought better of it.

"Okay, Okay, you can stop now! You got my attention!" Standing on the front steps was Lucy Knight.

"Before you say anything, I've thought of at least a dozen reasons why I shouldn't be doing this. Ah, not the least of which is ruining my career." She looked like she was regretting showing up at his door. Robert was tempted to send her away in tears for disturbing the house at that time of night

"Well, I'd love to hear the others, but since the police are on their way-" Robert went to shut the door in her face when Ms. Knight interrupted him.

"I have a patient, Valeri Page, twenty for years old, dying of Cardiomyopathy. She's on the UNOCS list, but an L VAT could buy her valuable time."

It was late, he was grumpy, and Robert could hear movement in the rest of the house. "What makes you think I give a rat's ass." The barb landed perfectly, judging by the look on her face.

"I'm sorry, what was I thinking, coming to you a seasoned doctor who supposedly had dedicated his entire life to helping people. While I'm just a puny medical student who was stupid enough to think that she could actually make a"

"Ms. Knight."

The house had in fact woken up at this point and had ventured forth to see what's going on.

"Romano, what's going on? Who's here at this time of night? There's nothing wrong with Elizabeth?" Mr. Corday had appeared beside him wrapped in a dressing gown, and Malcolm Cameron wasn't far behind him.

"Ms. Knight is a mead student who has yet to explain why she is banging on my door at two am. Ms. Knight, as you can see, I do actually have Christmas plans that involve Elizabeth's family, whom you've very kindly woken up. So what is it you want? We're all dying to know."

He had to give Lucy Knight credit; she was made of sterner stuff than he had thought, staring down three grown men in the wee hours of the morning. Nervous as could be, she held her ground, having realized a long time ago that Robert rewarded people who had a backbone.

"I want you to help my patient. I want you to help me."

"Romano, what is she on about?"

Looking at Mr. Corday, Robert got an idea. "Ms. Knight, did Dr. Corday ever mention that her father is a world-renowned Cardiothoracic Surgeon? I'm sure he can easily implant the L VAT, and I can get some sleep."

The L VAT caught Charles Corday's attention, and Robert found himself explaining that he was currently the only surgeon at County qualified for the procedure. It turned out that the L VAT had yet to make its way to England; thus, Mr. Corday had only read about it. So that's how Robert, Lucy Knight, Charles Corday, and Malcolm Cameron ended up at County General in the wee hours of the morning. Helena had stayed behind, muttering rude comments about male surgeons under her breath, and went back to bed.

It was the oddest surgical procedure Robert had performed in a while. He was being assisted by a mead student and one of the most highly respected cardiothoracic surgeons in the world, and he was teaching them how to implant an L VAT at three in the morning. That wasn't taking into account the overly curious neurosurgeon lurking in the background, too interested in new tech to have gone back to sleep. So just for the hell of it, Robert paged Benton to OR Three; it was his patient after all.

"Well, it's nice to see that when the cats away, the mouse still jumps." The sniggering from the Brits told Robert that they were very much going to enjoy this.

"What's going on?"

"Just teaching Ms. Knight and Mr. Corday the finer points of an L VAT implantation. You know, for now on, I think I'm only going to do favors for people who come begging at my doorstep. Which leads me to ask Peter, why wasn't it you?"

"I never even considered it."

"Well, Dr. Benton, that's not too surprising. It is Romano, after all, the prospect of going to his lair to ask for help seems above and beyond the call of duty." Mr. Corday quipped.

"Well, it's a good thing that Lizzie happens to like it there because you're not the Corday I care about pleasing." It was three am, and Robert was determined that if Mr. Corday was going to act petulant that he would beat him at his own game. Just like he was doing with cardiothoracic surgery at the moment.

"Dr. Romano, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you doing this." Lucy attempted to break the tension by sucking up. Robert appreciated it, but she was out of her league with the rude Englishman and his snigger Scottish enabler in the room.

"Well, that will be all, Peter."

"I'd like to scrub in."

"I'm sorry, Peter, you didn't earn this one."

"I'd still like to help."

"I don't know, Peter. Are you sure your ego can handle having to assist yet another Corday and a mead student?" Malcolm Cameron started laughing in the background, and Robert could tell that behind the surgical mask, Charles Corday was smirking. "What do you think, Ms. Knight?"

They finished up the procedure just as Lizzie was finishing her shift. There was a smugness about her, having watched Robert and her father work side by side. She didn't even want to ask how they were going to explain that the Corday operating in OR Three was not the Corday licensed to practice medicine in America. That was a worry for another day, though, one she doubted would be a real issue with her father's sterling career. She, however, was very close to murdering her patient, something the hospital would definitely take issue with.

Walking into Robert's office, she found the chairs taken up by her father and godfather. Robert was seated behind his desk, and the three men looked tired and ready to go home. Since no one was standing to offer her their seat, Elizabeth walked around the desk and sat down in Robert's lap, resting her head against his chest.

"I am done treating Dean Rollings. I want nothing more than to slip up in surgery and for him to die a slow and painful death." She felt Robert's arms tighten around her and the men in the chairs looked startled at her confession.

"Elizabeth." She knew the tone of voice Robert was taking with her, the stop causing trouble tone. "I know the man is distasteful, to say the least, but we're doctors. We took an oath to help people."

"He is a rapist and a murderer. I'm done with him."

"Elizabeth, we don't get to pick and choose who we help and who we ignore." Robert's tone was moving from don't cause trouble to pissy, and Elizabeth had no desire to deal with it after her long day. She stood and walked towards the door, ignoring his comment of don't be like that.

"Darling, I can't believe I'm saying this but, Romano is right. You can't just pick and choose patients." Charles regretted opening his mouth after his daughter shot him a look.

"Fine. You want to sit here in your little boys' club, go right ahead. But the doctor is in, and it's certainly not going to be me."

Robert closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Whittaker had made them come up with a phrase to point out when one of them was overstepping the other at work. They had decided on the doctor is in and agreed that it was to be used when the situation was dangerously close to causing a large argument. Whatever had happened today, Robert knew that Elizabeth was being serious.

Corday and Cameron were looking back and forth between them, trying to decipher the obviously coded message. The energy between Robert and Elizabeth having changed drastically the moment she uttered the phrase.

"Do I even want to know what happened for you to hit this point?"

"Let's put it this way; it would be a contest between you, my father, and godfather to see who could get out of the room quickest to commit cold-blooded murder."

"I'm sorry, who is this man you're talking about?"

"Daddy, you really don't want to know."

"Actually, I think I do."

"Well, he's a rapist and murderer; use your imagination."

"Rollings, you said?" Cameron was up and out of the office before anyone could comprehend what was happening, and Elizabeth's father wasn't far behind him. Robert got up as well and walked towards Elizabeth, pulling her into a hug.

"I'll deal with him from now on. But first, I've got to decide if I'm stopping those two or helping them."

"Well, considering Rollings has told me he gets off every night thinking about me and wants to hear that I care about him as a woman, I think you might enjoy helping them. And that's the least of what he's said tonight."

That was all Robert needed to be out the door and chasing after the Brits, finally catching up with them outside of Recovery, where he found Shirley holding her own on keeping the incensed men out of the room. Shirley, who had been promised Christmas Eve off and was grumpy enough as it was. Robert had to talk everyone off the ledge, but he managed to calm the two men down and offered them along with Shirley a dram or two of scotch before leaving. Shirley watched as Robert poured the scotch before taking the bottle from him and walking out the door. She was officially off shift and was going home. The three surgeons looked at each other and laughed; OR nurses were the same everywhere and not to be messed with. Elizabeth had finally reappeared after they finished their drams, having changed back into her street clothes and announcing she was ready to leave. It had been a long night.

They had gotten home at almost seven and had promptly aimed for the stairs, intent on catching a few hours of sleep before festivities for the day started. Elizabeth was out like a light; she hadn't even bothered to change out of her clothes and instead curled up on top of the duvet. Robert curled up beside her, hoping to ignore the world until his mother arrived at eleven.

They had slept too late. Elizabeth knew that by the fact that someone had opened the bedroom door and let Gretel in to wake them. Judging by the laughter coming from the door, it was probably Helena.

"Wake up, sleepyhead; the rest of us are up and swapping embarrassing stories of your childhoods." Definitely Helena. And that meant that Cara had arrived as well. Elizabeth got up and finally managed to get into pajamas, determined to be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, and with minimal grumbling, Robert followed suit.

It was nearly eleven, and Cara had indeed arrived; Elizabeth found her and her Auntie Helena in the kitchen, throwing together a quick breakfast and making coffee. Her father and godfather were camped out in the lounge with Gretel, knowing better than to get in Helena's way in the kitchen.

"Good morning, Auntie. Good morning Cara." Elizabeth sat down at the island, and Helena poured a cup of tea for her and smiled bemusedly at the stage of her hair.

"Did you manage any sleep, dear, or shall we go straight to coffee?"

"I slept fine until you let Gretel in. That was mean considering I worked all night."

"Yes, well, that mead student of yours woke the whole house up last night, and your foolish men were quite happy to get dressed and go tinker with fancy surgical tech at all hours of the night. I made Malcolm sleep on the couch instead of waking me up when you lot finally got in."

Elizabeth smiled at her godmother's antics. Helena highly valued sleep and was the crankiest person Elizabeth knew if she was awoken before she got her 8 hours. Poor Lucy knight didn't know the true danger that lurked behind the door when she had come knocking that night. Cara was laughing while tending to the bacon, voicing her approval of the sleeping arrangements when Robert walked in the kitchen.

"Oh good, Rob, you're finally up. We'll have breakfast ready shortly; perhaps you should have some coffee and attempt to be a person since you've got company." Robert and Elizabeth exchanged looks. They had only been concerned with Gwen and Andrew's meeting, never realizing that Cara and Helena would get along far too easily. The only appropriate response from Robert was to walk over to his mother and kiss her on the cheek before making coffee for himself, and Elizabeth whose tea was almost gone.

It was a simple breakfast of bacon, eggs, cinnamon rolls, and copious amounts of coffee for the surgeons. Helena and Cara had bonded over being the 'lone sane people' in the group or non-surgeons as the offended masses preferred. After breakfast had been consumed, they moved into the lounge where Gretel was sprawled in front of the fire, fast asleep with her Christmas bone.

A pot of mulled wine had been going in the slow cooker all morning and glasses of the warm brew were passed around as they settled in for a small gift exchange. Robert watched as the Cordays and Camerons got comfortable, and he realized they were all wearing a variation of the same hand-knit sweater, courtesy of Helena. A symbol of the family Elizabeth had grown up in, Robert felt a little jealous of the standing traditions that tied Elizabeth to them. Pulling her closer, Robert dwelt on traditions he wanted to start with Elizabeth, things that families did together. She elbowed him, drawing Robert out of his trance, and he looked down to see a rather lumpy looking Christmas present deposited into his lap.

"Aren't you going to open it?"

Robert was never one to resist a Christmas present, particularly one wrapped in little holiday rockets; Lizzie really had gone all out with that. The first rip of paper revealed something soft, blue, and knitted. The second rip confirmed his suspicions that it was indeed a sweater. A rich navy blue wool, decorated with little bumps and ridges in some design he was too excited to pay attention to. Looking back and forth between Elizabeth and the sweater, he lit up with a smile that she returned, and he kissed her.

"I thought if I made you your own, you'd stop coveting mine." She laughed.

"When did you have time to make this?"

"Those nights, I stayed at mine or downtime in my office. I haven't knit a sweater in ages, so I'm crossing my fingers that it will fit."

He was already pulling it on, ignoring the pained expression from Mr. Corday, the disapproving look from Helena, and the amused smirk from Mr. Cameron. Somewhere in the background, Cara was glancing between Robert and Elizabeth and Elizabeth's family with a smug look on her face.

"Elizabeth, what did you put on that guernsey? That's certainly not a pattern I taught you." Helena had finally spoken up, and Robert was confused at the displeased tone she used. They had been getting along fine up until now.

"Auntie, I know what you're thinking, and I don't believe in that silly rule. And it's a rocket."

Helena rolled her eyes in response, and Cara chimed in as Robert got up to find a mirror. "That rule is only for women silly enough to think that if a man smiles at them, then it means he's serious about her. Or women who can't knit."

The sweater was a traditional guernsey from the welt to the band of garter stitches about a third of the way up, complete with R. "R." R in the lower corner. From the garter band and up, however, Elizabeth had replaced her godmother's traditional pattern of purl bumps with a cleverly executed design that formed a purl stitch rocket instead. There was even a smaller rocket on each sleeve. It fit a little on the snug side, with just enough room to layer beneath it. Robert loved it and came back into the lounge, grinning. "What rule?" he asked upon sitting back down.

"It's supposed to be bad luck to knit a man who isn't kin a sweater. It ends the relationship." Cara gave Robert a knowing look as she answered him, and he chose to ignore her as Elizabeth passed out the rest of the gifts. He had already given his mother her gift on Christmas Eve; a long weekend booked at a spa and dinner reservations for the two of them when she got back. With two children raised and out of the house, Cara enjoyed being pampered from time to time to 'fight back all the grey's that her obnoxious children gave her.' Robert was happy to indulge his mother, and she had made it easy by dropping hints for several weeks.

To his pleasant surprise, he watched Lizzie pass his mother a gift as she handed her family small packages as well. Not knowing Robert very well, her family had offered to do up stockings, which were easy enough considering the transatlantic flight. Robert's stocking contained several packages of M & M's along with a bottle of Laphroaig Cairdeas, which he was informed was Gaelic for friendship. Laphroaig made it in small batches yearly, and he took it as an overall good signal from Elizabeth's family.

Elizabeth had apparently been busy knitting and had managed to make several cable knit hats and scarves for his mother and her godmother. Mr. Cameron, who at this point had rolled his eyes at Mr. Corday and was insisting Robert call him Malcolm, had gotten a growler of a locally brewed beer that Elizabeth swore up and down reminded her of something they would drink together in Edinburgh. Robert had gotten the Camerons tickets to an exhibit recently opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, figuring that was a safe bet with Helena being a painter. He got a kiss on the cheek as a thank you from her and a good-natured grumble about how she'll be dragging home a painting or three from Malcolm.

It was Mr. Corday's set of gifts that Robert was most interested in. Elizabeth and her father had a tradition of exchanging books, and this year Elizabeth had deviated slightly. With some heckling of Andrew, she had managed to have several shoeboxes full of pictures sent to her and put them together in a photo album. They were all of her and her father, with the occasional interloper thrown into the mix. Thousands of miles were not enough to weaken the father-daughter bond, and upon seeing Mr. Corday going through the album, Robert felt like the interloper. He had been at odds with the man for several years over Elizabeth and, for the first time, was privy to the full strength of that bond. Elizabeth had left his side to go and sit next to her father, and he pulled her into a silent hug, not letting her go for several minutes. The rest of the company had the good graces to look away, busying themselves with topping off drinks and paying attention to Gretel, who had stirred from her nap.

Robert looked at his mother, and keenly felt the absence of his own father, who had passed several years earlier of a stroke. It was believed to have been brought on by years of smoke inhalation on the job—the hazards of being a fireman. Watching the bond between father and daughter, while missing his own made Robert long to one day have a bond like that with a child he shared with Elizabeth. It also made Robert less irritated with Mr. Corday for all the grief the man had given him for stealing away Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth finally came back to her original spot on the couch, Robert was happy for the small gift he had gotten Mr. Corday. It would bring a much-needed levity to the room after the previous emotional gift.

"What the bloody hell is this Romano?!"

Charles Corday sat there in shock as he held the rectangular box in his hands, the bright yellow background and red letters a dead giveaway to all. Robert had bought the highly respected surgeon Operation.

The first to crack was Malcolm, who was practically falling out of his chair in laughter, and Helena soon followed, unable to keep a straight face.

"Romano, you," Malcolm managed between laughs, "are alright in my book." He got up, moving towards the couch and said, "Slainte" before clinking glasses with Robert, Charles Corday glaring at his best friend the entire time muttering 'don't you dare Malcolm.' It was ignored. Malcolm liked having one over on his friend far too much to ignore a good joke when presented to him.

"Stop being a grouch; you love this game. The number of times we'd show up for a visit and you, your father, and Elizabeth were in the study hunched over the board. And in scrubs no less!" Malcolm proceeded to take not just the board game out of Corday's hand but the photo album as well, flipping through it until he found a picture of the scene he had just described. Three generations of Corday surgeons all in scrubs and hovering over the game. "We're playing this, and I'm going to kick your arse from here to Inverness."

"Oh please, as if you ever could." Even Charles Corday couldn't stay grumpy when faced with evidence that it had been a favorite pastime to play the game with his daughter. "Shall we bet on it?"

"No. There will be no betting in my house with any Cordays. It's just not happening. I got warned about that, by Simmons no less."

"Fine." Mr. Corday had remembered Robert existed and turned to face him. "How about a shot a buzzer?"

"How about we let Elizabeth open her gifts before you boys go and get sloshed?" Helena was attempting to resume her place as the voice of reason. The comment still held Mr. Corday's attention, though, curious as to what Robert might have gotten her.

Robert was suddenly very thankful that he had not taken Gwen's advice of putting the engagement ring under the tree. Instead, he dutifully passed her the few parcels sitting at her feet. The first was from her godparents, a small but lovely oil painting of her childhood home that Helena had done, and Malcolm had made a frame for. A beautiful three-story townhouse that Charles and Isabelle had lucked into and renovated over the years as they became more prosperous. The book from her father was as equally sentimental as the photo album. A series of leather-bound journals that were her grandfather's handwritten medical notes, complete with details about surgical procedures he had helped to advance. They would find a loving home in her office, where she could display them proudly. The card merely said, 'he would be proud of you.'

There was far too much interest in what Robert had gotten for Elizabeth, and he momentarily wished he had gotten something less personal for her to open in front of her family. But in for a penny in for a pound, Robert sat and watched as Elizabeth opened a slim, bound booklet. The confusion was evident on her face as she flipped through the booklet at first.

"Robert, this is ah sheet music. I haven't read music in years.." trailing off, Elizabeth looked back and forth between Robert and the music.

"Penny in the air," he muttered softly.

"Robert. Did you?"

"And the penny drops." Robert smiled at Elizabeth a she kept looking back and forth between the sheet music and himself. He thought she was about to lean in for a kiss when instead, she was up and out of the room. The rest of the room's occupants were looking around in confusion, having not conned onto what was going on. It was only when Elizabeth returned from the study with his guitar and asked him to play it with such an adoring look that the realization grasped hold of them. It would be so easy to turn down the request to play the song with Mr. Corday glaring in the background, but Robert had always struggled with telling Elizabeth no when she looked at him like that.

Robert let out a heavy sigh whilst taking the guitar from her hands. "Are you sure you can't wait till your family leaves?" He knew the answer and was already giving the guitar a once over to make sure it was still in tune. Lizzie was sitting back down on the couch, her look very clearly stating stop procrastinating.

Knowing there was no way to get out of playing the song he had written for Elizabeth, Robert began to play, the soft strumming of the guitar filling the room, his voice soon joining in.

"Is it okay if I call you mine?

Just for a time

And I will be just fine

If I know that you know that I'm wanting

Needing your love

If I ask of you is it all right

If I ask you to hold me tight

Through a cold dark night

Cause there may be a cloudy day in sight

And I need to let you know that I might

Be needing your love

And what I'm trying to say isn't really new

It's just the things that happen to me

When I'm reminded of you

Like when I hear your name

Or see a place that you've been

Or see a picture of your grin

Or pass a house that you've been in

One time or another

It sets off something in me I can't explain

And I can't wait to see you again

Oh, babe, I love your love

And what I'm trying to say isn't really new

It's just the things that happen to me

When I'm reminded of you"

The look of love on Elizabeth's face was so plainly on display that no one could deny how she felt about Robert. The smile on her face was breathtaking, and Robert believed she could eclipse the sun. "Robert, it's beautiful. Thank you, my love." She pulled him in for a kiss, setting aside the guitar and practically climbing in his lap. He held her close, whispering, "I love you, Lizzie," into her ear.

They were politely ignored for a few minutes until Helena broke the silence, commenting on Robert's lovely singing voice and asking where he learned to play and sing. Cara, being a music teacher, had taught him, and soon the conversation had turned to music. Both Camerons played and sang, whilst both the Cordays had merely dabbled. Another round of mulled wine poured, and somehow Robert had been convinced to open the piano for a round of carols. By the time Cara and Robert had made it through a few rounds at the piano, it was time to head to the kitchen to cook dinner.

Yet again, Robert had kicked Elizabeth out of the kitchen, preferring his mother's help in prepping the meal and giving Lizzie some time with her family. A good thing too, as his mother was poking him with the proverbial stick wanting to know why he hadn't proposed yet. Unfortunately, from Robert's point of view, Helena chose to walk in at that very moment.

"You know when Andrew came back from his visit, he had this look about him, and I just knew that you wanted to marry my goddaughter."

Robert froze, having no idea how to deal with the situation that was about to unfold. Cara, however, knew exactly what to say.

"Robert asked for my ring, and I happily gave it to him."

"Happy marriage?"

"We were very blessed."

"Then it's a good ring. Andrew had only good things to say about you, Robert, and while my son is a trouble maker, he's very protective of Lizbeth. If he had no issue to report back, then you must have made a good impression on him. To the best of my knowledge, she's never told a man she loves him before. So if you're waiting on some sign that she's properly serious about you before you propose, I do believe you've had it."

A smile started to form on Robert's face at Helena's words. "She's never?"

"Never once. And you wonder why Charles has disliked you for so long. He didn't want to acknowledge that he hired a surgeon that could be perfect for his daughter. Not when the surgeon was an American with no intent of staying in England permanently. Can I see the ring?"

Robert looked around, trying to determine if it was safe to do so. He had been carrying it around for weeks, trying to suss out when the perfect time was.

"Oh, don't worry. Those lot are hunched over that damn game. A stroke of genius that was. Did Elizabeth tell you they used to play it?"

"No," Robert said, pulling out the ring box. "I thought it was fitting, considering he deemed my surgical skills unworthy to work with her when I left England."

A single solitary in a simple yet elegant setting sat nestled in the box. There was nothing fancy nor ostentatious about it, just an elegance that reflected the woman who had worn it for decades and the woman that Robert hoped would wear it for decades to come.

"It's beautiful." Helena crossed the room to Cara, embracing her and placing a kiss on her cheek. "Thank you for blessing them with this beautiful gift. May it be a long and prosperous marriage." The kettle was blowing steam, and Helena stepped away, tending to the pot and prepping the tea to take through to the next room. "Ask her, Robert." She said, leaving the room. "She won't say no."

The afternoon had flown by, with plenty of mulled wine, rounds of operation, stories told, and occasionally carols. Robert had even been dragged into a round of the game against Mr. Corday, who was taking the game rather seriously. The original suggestion of a shot a buzz was taken up, and somewhere between the mulled wine and the creative swearing when they finally struck the buzzer, the two opposing surgeons were starting to relax around each other. Robert ended up losing best two out of three when the phone rang, his charming sister Gwen being on the other line. She loved nothing more than to take the mick out of her brother, cackling the entire call when she learned she'd made him lose at operation. Robert finally gave up at her call and went back into the kitchen to take the call and help his mother with dinner.

A dinner that was a success with prime rib with all the trimmings and several bottles of Caymus for the table. Mr. Corday had packed several Christmas crackers that had the traditional hat and joke, but instead of a silly plastic prize, each held a small tipple. After being pressed over several drinks to answer where he got the crackers, Mr. Corday finally admitted that Mrs. Corday's newest TA made them for extra holiday money and that Isabelle had sent them along as a thinking of you sort of gift. The kicker was Isabelle had made the tipple. She had been the one to teach Elizabeth how to brew mead as a teenager and still occasionally made a rather strong batch herself. Consequently, the table was sipping on a delightful mead as their digestif. Desert had been pushed off till well after dinner, everyone claiming to be far too full to think of eating another bit, no matter how delicious.

Sending the family through to the lounge with the remainder of their mead, Robert and Elizabeth set about clearing the table. They were enjoying the relative peace and quiet of the kitchen, happy to have a few moments alone, considering they had rather boisterous house guests.

"Well, that went over rather well. A wonderful meal, good conversation, no one threatened with a steak knife."

All Lizzie got was a snort. Robert knew full well that her father was only so agreeable because he was full of good food and drink. That and her godparents had been keeping him in check throughout the evening.

Speaking of her godparents, Robert paused in his task of clearing plate as the stereo came to life with the sound of The Proclaimers. Between Elizabeth and Andrew's love of the Scottish duo, Robert had heard his fair share of their music over the last few months. Several songs went by as Robert and Elizabeth did the dishes, and Robert could tell that either Malcolm or Helena had put on Elizabeth's mix cd of The Proclaimers. Several voices throughout the house had been raised in song to music from This Is The Story, Sunshine on Leith, and Hit the Highway. Robert was familiar enough with the music to even join in from time to time, reveling in the fact that there was this level of comfort with Elizabeth and her family in his home.

She was at the sink, washing the dishes as he put away the food, singing along to "I'm on My Way," with Robert watching her, his heart full of happiness. It was such a simple domestic thing, singing at the sink whilst doing dishes, and it spoke volumes of how comfortable Elizabeth was there.

The song changed, and the upbeat sounds of a guitar and drums permeated the house. It was a popular song, with Malcolm cheering at its arrival in the other room. The whole house was singing along.

"We've been going together

Too long to be vague

When there's something to say

If it's not now then it's never

So I'll say it straight out

'Cause I have no doubt, no doubt

Let's get married

I love you and I want to stay with you

Let's get married

Have kids and grow old and grey with you

Let's get married

Hold hands, walk in the park

Let's get married"

Malcolm's baritone voice was loud and crisp in the other room, serenading his wife. Andrew had shared that his father loved to sing this song to his mother when she was cross with him and that Helena could never resist it.

"We know other people

Who drifted apart

Who broke each other's hearts

But we ain't other people

So we'll do things our way

We're gonna be okay

We're gonna be more than okay."

Something about the lyrics was pulling at Robert's heart. He and Elizabeth had been through so much to get to where they were at, and the idea that they couldn't manage through whatever obstacle was thrown at them was laughable. And there she was, singing along and swishing her hips oblivious to him watching her with love in his eyes.

"Let's get married

We're ready for tying the knot

Let's get married

Set the seal on the feelings we've got

Let's get married

We can make each other happy or we can make each other blue

Let's get married

Yeah, it's just a piece of paper, but it says, "I love you."

For the good times

For the days when we can do no wrong

For the bad times

For the moments when we think we can't go on

For the family

For the lives of the children that we've planned

Let's get married

C'mon darlin', please take my hand"

Placing his hands in his pockets, Robert felt the smooth velvet of the ring box. He had been carrying it around for weeks trying to find the right moment, the right words, and just hadn't. And yet here and now felt so perfect, just doing the domestics and being at home with each other, with the right words being sung in the background.

"And I'll be the one

Who's by your side

Yeah and I'll be the one

Still taking pride"

Sneaking up behind her, Robert wrapped one arm around Elizabeth's waist, leaning in close to sing in her ear.

"When we're old if they ask me,

"How do you define success?"

I'll say, "You meet a woman and you

You fall in love and you

You ask her if

She says, 'Yes.

Ask her if she says yes'"

Robert brought his free hand around her waist, holding out the opened ring box for Elizabeth to see. He felt the sharp intake of breath as she realized that he wasn't just singing along with the music but actually asking her if she'd say yes. There was a hitch in her voice as she inhaled before turning to him and singing.

"Let's get married

I love you and I want to stay with you

Let's get married

Have kids and grow old and grey with you

Let's get married

Hold hands when we walk in the park"

Tears were rolling down her cheeks, the most radiant smile Robert had ever seen adorning her face, all while she nodded yes.

"Let's get married

All right, you can get a cat, just as long as it barks

For the good times

For the days when we can do no wrong

For the bad times

For the moments when we think we can't go on

For the family

For the lives of the children that we've planned

Let's get married

C'mon darlin', please take my hand

C'mon darlin', please take my hand

C'mon darlin', please take my hand"

The ring fit perfectly.

AN: All songs are by the Proclaimers except for "Is it Okay if I Call You Mine?", which was written by Paul McCrane. The easter egg is Operation, which my Cordano brain plucked from The American Patient by Rocketlover. I picture Robert playing an ovation guitar in this because I love them and always wanted one.