Man of Many Talents
A/N: This piece is not related to my "Closer" fics (the last part of that little trilogy is coming, I promise). But it is unashamedly Richobel. Please tell me what you think. It's the first day of fall and I thought this would be a nice way to ring it in.
From the backyard of the Crawley House, Isobel Crawley could hear the music from the festivities in the village. It was the annual Autumn Festival and everyone would be there, including the family. Isobel would go down later, but for now, the thought of being with all those people was overwhelming. In fact, the only reason she was going to make an appearance at all was because little George would be there.
"Thought I might find you here." She nearly jumped out her skin at a man's voice behind her. A hand quickly landed on her shoulder and the voice said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Crawley, I didn't mean to startle you."
Turning around, Isobel took a breath of relief. "Dr. Clarkson. Dear me, you gave me quite a fright. I'm afraid I was lost in my own thoughts."
"I noticed you weren't with the family and I thought I'd come check on you," said the Doctor, removing his hat. "May I join you, or do you wish to be alone?"
"Please sit," she replied and moved over to allow him a seat next to her on the bench. "I was going to join them in a bit, but I'm not in the most festive mood."
"Well, I don't mind just sitting here for company. I had a rather long day myself and wouldn't mind being away from everyone," Dr. Clarkson smiled at her. He settled back on the bench and closed his eyes, but added, "If you want to talk though, I'll listen."
Isobel felt a smile tugging at her lips at his words. They had been friends for so many years that he seemed to know her moods just as he did his own. "Since when did you become a healer of the mind and not just the body?"
"I'm a man of many talents, Mrs. Crawley."
The two sat in silence for a while, listening to the crowd and music from within the village. Dr. Clarkson had spent an hour after work helping some of the locals set up booths for this evening and had stuck around for the beginning of the fair. When the Crawley family had arrived, he thought he may find Isobel to chat with. He had expected her to be with at least Lady Mary and her grandson, but when he approached, she wasn't anywhere in sight. This had been the next place he thought to find her. He knew that she often spent time meditating in her garden.
Opening his eyes slowly, he stole a glance in her direction. Isobel was dressed to join the family and villagers in a pale blue dress with intricate beading around the neckline. The sun was beginning to set behind her and the colors of red and yellow shined onto her hair, causing her to appear to glow. As serene as she appeared, Dr. Clarkson knew from years of working with her, her mind wasn't as calm. Isobel's back was straight and he could see the muscles pulling from tension in her neck. Her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap and she was staring straight ahead.
This wasn't the first time he had observed this sort of tension in her. Dr. Clarkson knew she was fighting with herself and he had an inkling about what may be on her mind. Taking a chance at getting himself thrown out of her garden, he whispered, "It's perfectly normal to miss him."
Isobel turned towards him sharply and blinked in confusion. "How did you…"
"People often find themselves feeling guilty being happy at social events after a great loss like the one you suffered." Dr. Clarkson leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. It made him appear smaller, less threatening. He turned his head slightly to watch her reaction to his words.
"It's been two years."
"He was your son," he replied gently. "You have a right to be upset two years later."
She took in his words and he saw her swallow back her emotions. "Sometimes I just wonder what it would be like if he were here. Matthew always liked these festivals…he said they made him feel more like a normal person, not some Lord in his castle. And I just keep thinking about him playing with George at some of the booths and it just…"
"It hurts." Isobel nodded. Dr. Clarkson reached out and placed his hand on top of her own in her lap. "And that's okay."
Moving his thumb over the back of one of her hands, they lapsed into silence. Isobel had gone back to staring straight ahead, trying to collect her emotions. Dr. Clarkson focused on their adjoined hands. Her pale delicate fingers were clasped together tightly. He had seen those fingers pull shrapnel from a bleeding wound, stitch up cuts with precision, and comfort sick children. While his hands were larger, they were slender compared to most men, which made them especially good for surgery.
He was surprise when she unclenched her hands and immediately slipped the fingers of her left hand between his own and squeezed. Dr. Clarkson glanced up to her face to find her smiling at him. "I mean it, Richard. Thank you."
Not knowing exactly how to respond to the use of his given name, Dr. Clarkson stood up and used their entwined hands to pull her up to her feet as well. "How about a dance before I walk you to the festival?"
"A dance?" Isobel raised her eyebrow, but allowed him to pull her into position.
"Man of many talents, remember?" They both laughed. The band was playing a lovely tune from the middle of the village and they could just make out the notes. She settled her arm on his shoulder and he began to move them to the rhythm. They didn't speak, but Isobel found that Matthew's memory had moved into the back of her mind and she began to just enjoy the moment.
Dr. Clarkson could tell she was beginning to relax. The guilt was fading away and he felt her step in closer to lean her face into his. It felt natural when he placed a kiss into her hair and he heard her sigh in contentment. At that moment Richard Clarkson decided he could spend the rest of his life, right here, dancing in Isobel Crawley's arms.
Lord Merton found a smile forming on his face when he saw his goddaughter's little boy running around with his cousin. George Crawley and Sybbie Branson had sticks with ribbons on the end and seemed to be chasing each other. Nearby, their parents watched vigilantly as they sat with the rest of the Crawley family. Drinks were being passed around and they seemed to be enjoying the live music.
"What a beautiful night," he said, walking up to the group. Robert and Mr. Branson stood to shake his hand and he pressed a kiss to Mary's cheek. "Looks like they're having fun."
"Oh, if only I had that much energy still," commented Cora and the others laughed. Violet motioned for Lord Merton to have a seat next to her and he thanked her.
Edith nudged the little golden hair child that sat on her lap, and said, "Don't you want to play with George and Sybbie?" The little girl shook her head and buried her face into the Edith's neck. "I think she's afraid of all the people."
"I don't blame her," said Lord Merton. Glancing through the group, he noticed someone was missing. "Where is Isobel?"
"She said she would come down a bit later," replied Mary. "But to be honest, I expected her here already."
"I'll go check on her." Lord Merton took a sip of his drink that Robert had just passed him and then got back to his feet. "Shouldn't take long to walk down there."
And it didn't take long at all. There was no answer when he rang her door, so he went around to the side gate to her garden. Lord Merton knew she spend much of her time among her plants and it would not surprise him in the least if she had got caught up reading a book and lost track of time. His hand lingered just above the latch when he heard voices coming from the other side.
"How about a dance before I walk you to the festival?" A man with a Scottish accent asked.
"A dance?" The other person was clearly Isobel.
"Man of many talents, remember?" Lord Merton finally identified the Scottish man as Dr. Clarkson. The two were laughing when he pushed open the gate just a crack to look into the backyard. To his surprise, Isobel Crawley and the doctor were in a dancing embrace. The doctor's hand rested comfortably on Isobel's hip and her arm rested on his shoulder. Their other hands were clasped together and they were swaying to the music.
Lord Merton wasn't sure how to interrupt the slow dance, but before he could make a move, he watched Isobel step in closer so they were dancing cheek to cheek. He felt his stomach clench when the doctor pressed a kiss to her head. Jealousy swept through Lord Merton's body, but he knew better than to run out and pull the two apart. She wasn't his to be jealous of. They weren't engaged, nor had they made any promises.
So he watched them dance slowly in her garden, trying to figure out where he went wrong. Lord Merton knew he had done the normal things a man courting a woman would do. He had sent flowers, written letters, bought her books, and invited her to dinners and lunches. He had even gone as far as to let himself fall in love with her. Although he wasn't sure if Isobel loved him in return, he knew she cared deeply for him.
In front of him, Dr. Clarkson and Isobel had stopped dancing, but they hadn't moved apart. Isobel raised both hands to cup the doctor's face and gently kissed him on the lips. It was brief, hardly a breath between them, but there was palpable emotion behind it and Lord Merton's face burned in embarrassment for witnessing such a private moment.
Their foreheads were pressed together and there was hardly any room between their bodies. The sun was setting behind them and Lord Merton couldn't help but think of a portrait of lovers. They didn't speak or move, but Isobel looked more relaxed than he had ever seen her before. The small smile on her lips was because of the doctor and the doctor alone.
She was in love, Lord Merton realized. He wondered if she even knew how deeply in love with Richard Clarkson she actually was. And he would have had to been a fool to not realize months ago that the doctor loved her back. He couldn't help but think that she looked so good in love. He just wished she was in love with him.
Quietly, he closed the gate. He would just tell the family that she hadn't answered her door when he tried. It wouldn't be hard to pretend that he had walked back thinking she had already left for the festival. Lord Merton decided he would stay for a little while longer and make small talk. If Isobel did come to join them, he would treat her as any other friend, even if it broke his heart.
And if Isobel didn't ever come to join them, he was going to make damned sure he didn't think about what she might be doing instead with that 'man of many talents'.