Closer

A/N: Many of you asked for more, so here it is. It would be beneficial to read Close first. But I won't force you to read it. I have no idea why I'm full of Richobel ficlets (I have two more in the works)…I guess I'm expecting Season 6 to rip my heart out and there really aren't enough Richobel fics, so I don't think anyone will be complaining.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and the Crawley women were having tea at the Dower House. Mary and Edith were entertaining Cora, Violet, and Isobel with tales of little Sybbie, George, and Marigold. Here and there Cora and Isobel would share their own anecdotes of the girls and Matthew. Isobel found these times to be healing, and she hoped Mary did as well. And she knew one day they would tell these story to George, when he was old enough to understand.

The conversation was winding down and it seemed that the luncheon was coming to an end when Violet put down her tea and said, "I had an interesting visitor yesterday afternoon. Lord Merton came by unannounced. It seems Cousin Isobel gave him a rather firm answer to his marriage proposal."

"Oh, for goodness sake-" started Isobel, but was interrupted by Mary.

"What did you tell him?"

With all eyes upon her, Isobel let out a distressed huff and replied, "I told him that I wasn't going to marry him. End of story."

"I thought you were very keen on him," said Cora.

"I did enjoy his company and he's a very good man, but…I don't know how to explain it. I'm afraid I finally realized that, although I think of him as a dear friend, I shouldn't marry someone just because he have feelings for me."

"Amen," muttered Mary. "But that doesn't explain why he came to you, Granny."

Violet studied Isobel for a moment and answered, "He wanted to know if something had changed. He asked if something had happened that had persuaded you not to marry him. And honestly, I'm a bit curious myself."

"I don't know why everyone is so concerned about my love life all of the sudden," muttered Isobel. Cora patted her hand with a soft smile, as if to offer some support.

Edith smirked and said, "Well it is a nice distraction from Mary's love life or my disaster of one."

"Never mind that," Mary waved a hand at her sister as if to brush her off. "What did change? I thought you had accepted his proposal and had only taken it back because of Larry and Timothy."

"Nothing changed!" Isobel insisted. She wasn't sure she was ready to get into her relationship with the good Doctor. It had only been a week since their kiss and although things were not awkward between them, they had both been extremely busy with little time to talk about where to go from there.

And then Violet opened her mouth. How that woman seemed to know everything was beyond Isobel. "Does it have anything to do with Dr. Clarkson?"

"For the last time-" protested Isobel.

"What does Dr. Clarkson have to do with any of this?" asked Mary. Cora and Edith looked on in interest.

Violet poured herself another cup of tea with a smirk on her face. Apparently, she had been waiting for this all day. "Well, it hasn't been that long since I found you two in a rather awkward position at the hospital and now all of a sudden you've completely broken it off with Lord Merton."

"Awkward position?" Mary's eyebrows shot up her forehead. "Now that's a story I need to hear."

"There is no story to hear. Dr. Clarkson and I were having a rather heated conversation, I fell off a ladder, he caught me so I didn't hurt myself, and Violet picked that moment to walk in. That's it!"

"From the way you two were blushing, I highly doubt it." Violet was determined to get to the bottom of this. "And we all know he's had eyes for you for a long time."

"For once I believe I'm on Mama's side," said Cora to everyone's surprise. "I daresay it's not a secret that Dr. Clarkson has feelings for you and if what Mama says is true…"

"Nothing happened at the hospital! Violet is just trying to stir up trouble!"

Edith narrowed her eyes. "Nothing happened at the hospital…why specifically mention the hospital? Does that mean something happened somewhere else?" Isobel shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"Well?" asked Mary, when Isobel failed to answer the accusation. "Did something happen?"

Seeing that no one was going to leave her alone on the subject, Isobel took a deep breath and told them everything. "He came to my house that evening to apologize for an argument we were having about the hospital and the conversation turned more…intimate. We talked about the moment in the hospital and I asked him why he had proposed to me all those years ago and he confessed to me that he was in love with me and we…well we kissed."

"You kissed?!"

"Proposed?"

"I knew it," said Violet smugly.

"I'm sorry, can we start at the beginning? When did he propose to you?" asked Mary.

Isobel looked at her daughter-in-law with a startled look. She hadn't realized she had let slip that Dr. Clarkson proposed to her before. "He didn't actually propose. I didn't let it get that far…"

"What did you say?"

Mary rolled her eyes at her sister. "Obviously she said no. Otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Like I said, he never actually said the words. I knew where the conversation was going and I wasn't ready to be married again. I was enjoying my life and I certainly didn't need a man to complicate things."

"When did this happen? Why didn't you tell anyone?" asked Cora, but immediately regretted it as Isobel's eyes seemed to gloss over in pain.

"I never meant to keep it a secret…but so much happened…" she trailed off mid-sentence, letting the memory of those days take over her. There had been so much joy and heart ache in the span of just a few hours. "We went to the fair together and he began to ask if I was interested in getting married again. I shut him down, like I said, I wasn't ready. And then the next day…the next day, George was born."

"And Matthew died," murmured Mary.

Cora grabbed Isobel's hand, but the older woman shook her off. "It's funny that back then, I didn't give a thought to marry him. But after Matthew died, I wasn't sure how to live anymore and Richard was there for me the entire time. I just never realized it. And the other night I finally got the courage to ask him why he had proposed. And one thing led to another and…"

"You kissed," finished Violet. "And about time too. I've been trying for months to push you two together."

Isobel rolled her eyes. "And here I thought you just didn't want me to marry Lord Merton."

"Always accusing me of the worst," smirked Violet. "But now that we have this settled, what do you plan to do about it?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Goodness, Granny. They just kissed. You act as if we should be planning a wedding." Edith came to Isobel's rescue.

"Well some of us are older than others and apparently people in this family have made it a habit of taking decades to get married."

-BREAK-

Dr. Clarkson hurried back to his office just after midday. One of his nurses had mentioned that Lady Mary Crawley was waiting in his office and that had been fifteen minutes ago. He hated to keep her waiting, but he had a young boy with a broken arm and several deep lacerations from falling out of tree. As usual, duty came first.

Which is exactly what he intended to tell her when he pushed his office door open. "Lady Mary, I do apologize-"

"Never mind that, Doctor. I didn't have an appointment and I realize you are a busy man."

Dr. Clarkson nodded his thanks and motioned for her to sit down at his desk and he went to the other side to take his own seat. "What can I do for you? Are you or your son ill?"

"No, nothing like that," replied Mary with a wave of her hand. "Actually, I'm here on a more personal matter that I fear may be uncomfortable for both of us."

Dr. Clarkson tried to hide his confusion and tried to not let his mind wander too far as to what she could possibly wish to speak to him about. "I suggest getting right to the matter."

"Right. Well, I would like to preface by say that Cousin Isobel has no idea that I'm here." Now he was really confused. What on earth did Isobel have to do with any of this? Seeing that Mary had no intentions of explaining, he let her continue. "As Matthew is no longer with us, my George is her closest family. As George's mother and Matthew's wife, I find that it falls to me to look after Isobel's best interests."

Mary paused and seeing that she expected some sort of answer from him, Dr. Clarkson quickly responded with, "Of course. I know that Mrs. Crawley sees you more than just her daughter-in-law. But I'm not sure I understand why you're here."

"You do intend to marry Isobel Crawley, do you not?"

"I beg your pardon." Heat rushed to Dr. Clarkson's face at her brazen question. "I'm not sure-"

"I ask you not to play coy with me, Doctor. We have known each other for a long time. You not only delivered me as a baby, but my son as well. You have been an essential part of this village for decades. You have my respect and my gratitude for all that you have done. I know that Cousin Isobel has feelings for you- she told us that much today. I just want to make sure she won't be hurt in the process."

Now Dr. Clarkson understood Mary's purpose here today. Lady Mary Crawley may have her flaws, but she was very loyal to those she loved. And in his opinion, Isobel was incredibly lucky to have her. "Lady Mary, I assure you that I have nothing but Mrs. Crawley's best interests in mind. All I desire in this world is for her to be happy."

"Do you love her?"

"I do. I have for a very long time." It seemed funny to him that his feelings for Isobel were so easy for him to admit now, after hiding them all these years.

"You realize there will be some people who do not approve?"

"Yes." Before she could ask another question, he slipped in his own. "Do you approve?"

Mary looked at him, surprised. He was even more surprised by her answer. "Actually, I do. I care for Isobel and I believe you will make her happy. Happier than any title or wealth some other man could give her. And goodness knows that Isobel is the last person to care about what other people may think."

"Thank you, Lady Mary. You have no idea how much that means to me."

The young woman shifted uncomfortably for a moment and then cleared her throat. "I guess I'll be going. I feel we will be seeing more of each other in the future. Take care of her, Doctor."

"I will."

After Mary left, Dr. Clarkson tried to concentrate on the patient files in front of him, but it was to no avail. Sighing, he checked the time. Still a few hours before he was officially off work for the day. Of course, as the resident village doctor, he was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That meant that his day to day work schedule weren't very stringent. And he planned to take advantage of that this afternoon. Telling the head nurse he was going to take the rest of the day off, he started towards Isobel Crawley's home.

When he got there, Dr. Clarkson knocked on the front door of the Crawley House, but there was no answer. Knowing Isobel, he went around to the side of the house where the garden was. He let himself in the gate when he saw the top of her yellow hat over some ferns. He smiled when he realized she was humming to herself as she trimmed back some bushes.

Isobel heard the gate to her garden close and a smile formed on her face when she saw who it was. After today's luncheon, he was exactly the person she wanted to see. Spending time with him had always lifted her spirits and now she knew why: Isobel Crawley was absolutely, indisputably, in love with Richard Clarkson. After the night he had kissed her, she had spent all night lying in bed trying to figure out when exactly she had fell in love with him and why it took her so long to realize. She still hadn't figured it out.

"Good afternoon," Dr. Clarkson greeted her cheerfully. He helped himself to a seat on the stone bench that sat in her backyard.

"You're in a good mood," she noted. He didn't seem to want to interrupt her, so she continued to trim the bushes. "How was your day?"

"Not very busy, actually. The Thompson boy fell out of another tree." He watched her work, his gaze starting from her yellow straw hat with the blue ribbon that matched the apron she was wearing. Isobel had heavy gardening gloves on to protect her hands, but her upper arms were bare and he could make out the lean muscle that moved every time she clipped away a branch. The apron was tied around her slender waist and he allowed his eyes to travel along the curve of her hips…

"You're staring, Doctor."

He should have been abashed at her catching him, but quite frankly, he didn't care. "Would you like me to stop?"

"The cheek of you!" Isobel feigned offense, but she couldn't hide the rosy blush that crept into her face. He chuckled, but diverted his gaze to look her in the eye. "What on earth has gotten into you today?"

"I had an interesting visitor."

"Who might that be?" Isobel went back to trimming, but now with the thought in her head of him watching her work. She wasn't sure she would ever stop blushing at the idea of him no longer hiding his affections.

"Lady Mary," he answered calmly.

"Mary? She seemed fine at lunch today," she replied, her mind still on other things.

"Oh she wasn't there about her health. Her concerns were about someone else's wellbeing." Dr. Clarkson waited as Isobel processed the implications of he said. He wasn't at all surprised when she stopped working and turned to face him.

"She came to talk to you?"

He nodded.

"About me?"

Another nod.

"Well, I never-" Isobel's temper flared up. First, Violet nosing her way into Isobel's personal affairs and now Mary taking it upon herself to speak to Dr. Clarkson about it. "I shouldn't be surprised. It's not like the family is known for subtlety. I'm sorry for whatever happened. And I want you to know that I don't give a-"

"Would you like to know what she said before you start thinking the worst?" Isobel let out a huff and set the trimming tool down on the ground. He waited until she had removed the gloves and sat down beside him to tell his story. "Lady Mary is under the impression that as your daughter-in-law, she is responsible for being sure you are happy. All she wanted to know is if my intentions toward you were honest. And it seems she takes no issue to our feelings for each other."

Isobel stared at him, clearly surprised by what he said. "Really? I'm not sure what to say…"

"She was just looking out for you. And seems as supportive as Lady Mary can be." He reached for her hand and she gladly laced her fingers through his. He gave her a curious look before adding, "My question is, how did she know?"

"Oh, that's all Cousin Violet's fault," said Isobel offhandedly. "Apparently, Dickie stopped by to ask why I had changed my mind. And of course she took it upon herself to figure it out. So I told them…"

"Changed your mind?" Oddly, Dr. Clarkson hadn't thought of Lord Merton in a week. Of course, the thought of Isobel becoming Lady Merton had kept him awake for many nights. But now, sitting with the woman he loved, hand in hand, he knew he had nothing to worry about.

"Ever since I called off the engagement, he has been writing to ask me to change my mind. So I saw him yesterday to tell him in person I wasn't going to marry him." Isobel noticed he had gone quiet at the mention of Dickie Grey, so she nudged his shoulder and teased, "Unless you want me to write him back and say that I'll marry him, because I have absolutely no other reason to."

He chuckled at her gentle teasing. "Honestly, I'd forgotten you were engaged to him. Which is funny, seeing as a couple of weeks ago, I would have given anything to forget you were engaged to someone else."

"I must admit I've been a bit of a fool in all of this."

"You? I almost let you marry another man! I'm the fool." Letting go of her hand, Dr. Clarkson reached around her shoulder to pull her closer and placed a kiss on the top of her head. "But now we can be fools in love together."

"I rather like the sound of that," she replied and laid her head on his shoulder. "Now how much of a fool in love do I have to be to get you to propose to me again?"

"Since you turned me down the first time, not to mention several other men, I'm not sure I want to. You seem to have a habit of saying no to marriage proposals," he pouted. Or at least he tried. It didn't take long before they were both laughing. He used his free hand to guide her face to his and pressed a kiss to her lips. "But I think we've just established I'm a fool, so I'll go ahead and ask again. Isobel Crawley, will you do me the honor of marrying me?"

"Richard Clarkson, I would love to become your wife."