A/N: This little plot bunny ran away with me today after seeing the clip from the new season.
Dr. Richard Clarkson was finishing his rounds the morning after the meeting that the Dowager Countess had called regarding the hospital. He would never know exactly how news traveled in the village, but all of his nurses had already heard, and had consequently started, rumors surrounding the fate of their little hospital. There seemed to be some thought that many of them could be out of a job if the deal went through- a thought that had crossed his mind as well.
One good outcome of said rumors was that everyone was being extra helpful and attentive today, as if to prove their worth. It made the morning routine go exceptionally quickly and the good doctor was on his way back to his office when he heard a crash from one of the store rooms. Dr. Clarkson let out a sigh, but when he opened the door to investigate, he was surprised to see Isobel Crawley on a step ladder.
"Mrs. Crawley, what on earth is going on?" He saw a few boxes of surgical gloves on the floor and concluded that to be the source of the noise he had heard in the hallway.
Isobel didn't bother to turn around, but answered, "It's time to do an inventory for the quarter. Everyone is so wrapped up in what may or may not happen in the future, so I'm doing it."
Dr. Clarkson rolled his eyes. "You act as if they have nothing to worry about. Not all of us have something else to fall back on if we lose our jobs here."
This time she did turn her upper body slightly to glare at him. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"All I'm saying is that most of the nurses don't have a grandson that is the future Earl of Grantham."
"You think I don't know that?" she asked in shock? "Of course not…I'm too high and mighty to understand how common people live!"
"That's not what I-"
Dr. Clarkson took a few steps toward her, but was cut off by Isobel poking her finger at him and saying, "That's exactly what you meant! I see things differently because I'm part of the family. Well that's small minded of you, Doctor, and quite frankly I expected better. I was thinking about the patients- the people of this town!"
"I know you have everyone's best interests at heart, but-"
"But nothing!" At that moment, Isobel turned sharply on the ladder and the edge of her heeled boot slipped off the rung. She tried to catch herself on the shelf, but missed.
Dr. Clarkson quickly grabbed her around the waist and pulled her in, knocking the wind out of both of them. She managed to wrap one arm around his shoulder and the other hand pressed into his chest. They stood in the awkward embrace for a few seconds, both breathing hard from the fall and the fight.
"Are you alright?" He asked gently, one arm still locked tightly around her, the other reaching up to touch her face.
"Yes…" she managed to say. "Thank you…I wasn't paying attention."
For some reason this made him chuckle and even caused a timid smile from her. It was then that both seemed to notice their close proximity; her hand clutching his white coat and their chests pressed together. In fact, Isobel couldn't remember the last time she had been this close to any man. Her anger had burned away, but she wasn't sure if it was from the shock of falling or being in his arms like this.
"I'm feeling much steadier," Isobel murmured, but neither of them moved. Time had stopped for both of them, caught in the moment. She could count the lines on his face; lines she knew hadn't been there when they first met. She wondered if he noticed how time at changed her as well. But maybe that was for the best. They had been at each other's throats when they first met and gradually grew to be more than colleagues. Until recently. How had she let it come to this? They had drifted so far apart. Although far apart wasn't exactly how she would describe them at the moment.
Before either one could say anything else, another voice came from the doorway. "I came to convince Mrs. Crawley to see our side of things, Doctor, but I think your way may be better."
Dr. Clarkson immediately released her, but Isobel wasn't prepared for the sudden change and almost fell again. He managed to pull her up by her arm before she actually hit the ground, but that just caused another awkward toil. Finally untangling themselves, Dr. Clarkson addressed the visitor. "I don't believe she had changed her mind, Lady Grantham, but you are welcome to try. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go to my office."
Violet Crawley watched in amusement as the doctor shuffled awkwardly out of the room and Isobel attempted to straighten her clothes and hair. Leaning on her walking stick, Violet tilted her head to the side and pursed her lips. "My goodness, I guess I should have knocked first. I had no idea you had moved on from Lord Merton so quickly."
"It isn't like that," snapped Isobel. "I fell off the ladder and he caught me. You came in at an inopportune moment."
"I'd say so."
"What do you want, Cousin Violet?" Isobel went about picking up the boxes of gloves scattered on the floor as she waited for Violet to talk.
"Just as I told Dr. Clarkson. I am here to sway your opinion. I fear I am fighting a losing battle, but fight on I must."
"I told you both that I would think on it," said Isobel. "Everyone is acting as if this is all going to happen tomorrow, but we don't even know if it will."
"Good to know you aren't just siding with Lord Merton for old time's sake," replied Violet.
The other woman glared at her and said simply, "I have always made up my own mind."
"I can't argue with that," shrugged Violet. "Would you like to come to tea this afternoon? Or do you have other plans with the Doctor?"
Isobel let out a huff at the abrupt change of subject and the obvious dig at the earlier situation. She knew that Violet would spend the entire time finding ways to convince her that allowing the hospital in York to take over would not be a good idea. Then again, her afternoon would be rather boring on her own. "Tea sounds fine."
Isobel was sitting next to the window reading when there was a knock at the door. She was not expecting anyone and these days rarely anyone dropped by unannounced. If there had been an emergency at Downton or the hospital, someone would have simply called. Placing the book gently on the little table next to her chair, she got up to answer the door. Isobel wasn't sure who she expected to be on the other side when she opened it, but it sure wasn't him.
"Mrs. Crawley," he said gently, albeit looking anywhere but her eyes. They stood in the doorway uncomfortably for a few seconds before he added, "I've come to apologize for my behavior today."
Isobel rested one hand on the door frame and the other on her hip. "Just for today? Or yesterday as well?"
"You weren't on your best behavior yesterday either!" he answered defiantly. Isobel rolled her eyes and started to close the door, so he stammered, "Alright- for yesterday as well. I was an ass and I shouldn't have said the things I did."
She looked at him for a moment, standing there in her doorway with his hands in pockets and looking mildly ashamed of himself. "Oh, come in. I'll put on some tea. You know, us high and mighty folks still know how to make a cup of tea."
Dr. Clarkson winced at the comment, but graciously accepted her invitation to cross the threshold. She motioned him to go on to the sitting room while she made her way to the kitchen. He took his normal seat on the sofa across from her chair. It didn't take long for her to come back with a tray and they both settled with a cup.
"I really do owe you an apology. We have disagreed about things before, but I have always valued your opinion. Lady Grantham really had me riled up about the changes that could be coming and I wasn't ready to listen to what you had to say."
"That is one thing you and Cousin Violet have in common: you are both opposed to change." Dr. Clarkson grinned sheepishly at her. "But as you said at the door, I wasn't on my best behavior yesterday either and I may have overreacted."
"You overreacted? I thought I'd never hear those words," he said with a smirk, causing her to laugh. "But I hope you accept my apology and that this won't come between us in the future."
"Well, I'm sure we will still be arguing about it for months to come, but I do forgive you." Isobel smiled and took a sip of her tea as she watched him. He obviously had a lot on his mind and she wondered how much of it had to do with her. "Doctor, I have missed this."
He looked up in confusion. "This?"
"Just sitting here, having tea, the two of us." Dr. Clarkson studied his cup of tea at her words. Isobel continued in a tender tone. "After Matthew died, this is how I got through my days…and in the last few months I feel as if I have been neglecting our friendship."
"Rest assured, Mrs. Crawley, that I do not feel that way at all."
They lapsed into a comfortable silence as if they hadn't shouted at each other earlier that day. Isobel had truly missed these moments. During the time that she had been courted by Lord Merton, she had enjoyed the company and the lively conversation. But they had never sat like this in silence, just enjoying the presence of the other. In fact, she wasn't sure that Dickie would have been comfortable with the silence.
She felt his eyes on her now, but she could tell he was weighing her mood. There was something he wanted to say, but was hesitant to do so. This was curious to her, as earlier today he didn't seem to have a problem with telling her what was on her mind. Or maybe that was what was on the doctor's mind. To tell the truth, it had been on hers as well.
All day long, Isobel had been plagued with thoughts of Dr. Clarkson's arms around her waist and the way his fingers at gently touched her face to be sure she hadn't hurt herself. His eyes had been so caring and concerned. She had felt his breath on his face, his heartbeat beneath her fingertips. His lips had been so close…
"Isobel?" Dr. Clarkson's voice brought an end to her musings.
"I'm sorry. I was thinking about…well nothing," she murmured. He nodded, seeming to take her word for it. For some reason it didn't sit right with Isobel and she finally brought up the topic they had been skirting around all night. "Earlier today. I want to know something…"
"Like I said before, Mrs. Crawley, I spoke out of fear and anger and I hope you know my apology is sincere." She shook her head.
"That's not what I meant. If Lady Grantham hadn't have walked in…" Dr. Clarkson turned his head sharply at her words to meet her eyes. Isobel hesitated before continuing. "I want to know if you…if you wanted to kiss me."
Obviously her question was the last thing he expected because he nearly dropped his tea. It took a moment for him to collect himself before he answered. "Yes."
Isobel's breath caught in her throat. "And if she hadn't come in…would you have kissed me?"
"I hope I would have had the courage." They locked eyes, but neither moved. Soon, Dr. Clarkson cleared his throat and standing, said, "I should be going."
"Doctor, you once hinted that you wished to marry me. Can I ask why?"
"Because I am in love with you," he replied softly. The use of the word 'am' instead of 'was' was not lost to her. Dr. Clarkson didn't seem to be able to face her after the admission of his secret and he was halfway to the door when she regained her own nerve.
"Doctor!" Isobel rushed to the hallway where Dr. Clarkson was putting on his coat. She stopped about halfway to him. She could feel a tightening in her stomach as she thought about what she wanted to say to him. Gathering all the courage she had left, she said, "What if I told you that today, if we hadn't been interrupted, I would have wanted you to kiss me?"
"Please don't do this to me, Isobel, if you don't mean it."
"I want you to kiss me." Her voice was firm. It was an order, but he hesitated. Her next words got to him though. "Richard, kiss me."
It took him four strides to wrap one arm around her waist and place one hand on the back of her head, so close to the position they had been in before. He didn't hesitate to press his lips directly to hers and he didn't hold back. Isobel didn't have time to think as she grabbed at his coat to steady herself. The kiss was intense and passionate, but she never wanted it to end.
But it had to end and the two were left clutching each other and breathing hard. Seeing the look in her eyes, he leaned to kiss her again, only this time it was a gentle whisper of a kiss. His lips ghosted over hers and all she wanted was more of him. But he still had a question for her.
"I need to know if you feel the same." As Dr. Clarkson looked at her, as if staring into her soul. "I need to know that I am not alone in my feelings."
"You're not." Isobel couldn't actually believe she had found her voice after a kiss like that. "I love you, Richard. I am sorry I never realized it before."
"Then I can do this again." Richard Clarkson kissed Isobel Crawley once more in the entry hall of her house. And neither one of them wanted it to end.