Author: Lavender and Hay PM
Richard thinks that Isobel has someone else, and Isobel thinks that Richard does; when in fact all they really want is each other. Mid-series 3, AU, with some spoilers and lots of wishful-thinking. Featuring Isobel, Dr. Clarkson, Mrs Hughes, Mrs Patmore, Anthony Strallan and the rest of them.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Isobel C. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 17,242 - Reviews: 34 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 09-21-12 - Published: 08-26-12 - id: 8468657
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Isobel waited for him in complete distraction, back in her own house that evening, but completely unable to settle. She feared she may have said too much. Oh, what was the point in pretending anything else: she had said too much, there was no question of it! He hadn't reacted then, but now he was coming to see her and she just knew...
This was the end of them. This was the end of everything they had left. Everything that Agatha hadn't ruined for them, she had ruined herself in a stupid, simple little sentence. She didn't know what had possessed her. Unable to suppress her groan, she sank down into her chair, the scene, her foolish foolish words, replaying over in her head.
"Don't marry her. Please don't marry her."
He had stared at her, his eyes gleaming in the shadowy dimness. His face was one of complete surprise and she could tell he was having difficulty believing what he had heard. She swallowed heavily.
"It's not right," she continued, trying desperately to justify her comment in his eyes, "She's not right for you. She doesn't deserve you. She doesn't love you."
His mouth opened to speak, and she was suddenly frightened of the reproof that she was sure would come, she cut across him hurriedly.
"Please just think about it. I don't want you to do anything you'd regret later."
"Do you think I'd marry anyone without thinking about it first?" he asked rather testily.
"Of course not," she replied, "But-..."
She didn't know how to finish. She suddenly felt horrendously uncomfortable. There was a very loud pause. Her heart seemed to be hammering, waiting for him to speak.
"This is hardly the place for such a discussion," he pointed out, perhaps more to himself than to her.
"No," she agreed, grateful that on this score at least he seemed to have read her mind, "It's not."
He looked up at her carefully, apparently examining her face in the half-light making it in through the front room curtains. They were still both standing up against the door, the door that separated them from most of Downton, milling about Richard's garden, at Agatha's invitation, at her party.
"You didn't want to have a party, did you?" she observed quietly, feeling a little inane, but voicing her thoughts anyway as they came to her, "You've never had a party in all the time I've known you. She made you, didn't she?"
He nodded curtly.
"Yes, she did," he replied, with touching, she almost dared say encouraging, honesty.
There was a quiet pause for a moment. His arms leant horizontally on the door at the level of his eye, supporting his weight, so that his hand felt very near her cheek.
"Mrs Crawley," he continued, "Isobel," he corrected himself, making her soften inside a little, "Would you mind very much if we continued this discussion later on? I feel that there are things which need to be said, things... between the two of us. But not now. For one thing, I can't quite think at the moment."
She nodded wordlessly, taking in, trying to make sense of what he was saying.
"I shall be in all evening," she replied, " There's nowhere to go. I think I'll go home now, if you will excuse me. I'm sorry but I don't feel much like staying for the rest of the party."
"I understand," he replied, "Would you like me to come around before or after supper?"
"Whichever suits you best," she replied, standing up properly, straightening her shoulders slightly, "Any time is convenient for me."
She made her way across the sitting room to the door to the hall. Standing in the doorway, ceased by a sudden, terrifying impulse, painfully aware of his eyes following her across the room, she turned back towards him, looked him full in the face, and spoke those fatal words, without so much as thinking.
"I'm not asking you to marry me instead. But would it be so terrible if I was?"
Her second groan was interrupted by the sound of a knock on the door. She froze. It was him, it could only be him.
She sat unable to move in her armchair, listening to Molesley's footsteps approaching the front door; then sprang to her feet like a woman possessed as she heard Richard's voice at the door, straightening her skirts out rather frantically.
The result was that when he appeared in the sitting room she thought she must look rather flustered. There was a moment's silence.
"Dr. Clarkson," she spoke first, more cheerfully than she was really feeling, "Do have a seat."
He sat down in the chair nearest hers. She was partly grateful; it meant that they would not have to raise their voices, and there was no chance of Molesley or Mrs Bird overhearing them, but on the other hand, closeness to Richard... especially if he was here to break with her for good. He sat with earnest posture, leaning forward slightly.
He was watching her closely. She flushed deeper.
"I don't think there's any point in making bones about why I'm here," he remarked finally, breaking the heavy silence between the two of them, smiling a little wryly, "The small matter of the rather extraordinary things you said to me this afternoon."
"I wish you'd forget them," she told him lightly, "Just ignore me. I shouldn't have spoken."
He sighed heavily.
"I can't, Isobel," he told her heavily, with an air of confession, "I can't forget what you said to me. I have to know what you meant by it."
"I should have thought that it was obviously," she remarked, suddenly irritated at having been put on the spot like this.
"Only up to a point," he replied, rather tersely, "But I did gather that you think my marrying Mrs Price would be unwise."
"To say the least," she replied concisely, matching his terseness.
"And what, might I ask, gave you the idea that I was going to marry her? Or who, should I say?"
"Mrs Hughes did," she replied uncertainly, "She said that there had been talk to that effect."
"Oh, Isobel," he sighed again, "You know as well as I do that the talk around here... well, you wouldn't want to take it as gospel, would you?"
She coloured a little again. He certainly wasn't wrong about that, and him telling her so made her feel even more foolish.
"I'm sorry," he told her, a little more softly, "But I'm only trying to get to the bottom of this. I want to make sure there are no misunderstandings between us."
"It's alright," she told him, "That's what I want too."
"Quite," he agreed, "Then, would you mind telling me why you don't think I should marry Agatha?"
"I thought you weren't going to?" she asked quickly, "That's what you've just said, isn't it?"
"It's true, I have no immediate plans to," he told her, "But I want to know why you think it would be a bad idea if I did."
She swallowed hard again. She wasn't quite ready to answer that honestly.
"I don't think she loves you," she told him, "I think she's using you. I've been talking to her sister, and she says she's a nasty piece of work. She just wants someone to look after her, someone to provide for her. I don't think she really cares who it is, or who'll look after you in return."
"I think she can be forgiven for wanting to assuage her loneliness," he replied in a serious tone, "Agatha has her faults, she has many of them, but I don't think either of us can blame her for that particular one."
"But you deserve better, Richard," she told him, her heart rising to her throat, her eyes flashing with vehemence, "Don't marry her just because you feel sorry for her. You deserve someone who loves you. Loves you," she repeated, feeling the words flutter through her body, her heart, as she spoke them more wholly than she'd spoken words before, "More than anything in the world."
"It may surprise you to know, Isobel," he told her softly, sadly, "That such individuals are rather thin on the ground."
She didn't dare to contradict him though every fibre of her being told her to. Not yet. Instead she blinked, and said nothing.
"Besides," he continued, "Agatha's not the only one who feels lonely. There are often times," he confessed, "When I feel rather alone myself. I have to admit, over the past few months, her company has had the advantage of being readily available whenever I require it."
"Despite the fact that you have nothing in common," she supplied.
The fact that he did not answer made her think that her supposition had probably been right. She continued, feeling truly miserable;
"I thought you knew you could always depend on my company? Richard, you never need feel lonely as long as I live here. My door is always open to you."
He did not smile at her as whole-heartedly as she had expected him to, and it puzzled her.
"Yes," he replied, "I do know. But I also know you've been rather too busy for my company lately, rather too preoccupied."
"What do you mean?" she asked, more puzzled still.
"Well, Sir Anthony, of course," he replied, looking highly uncomfortable for some reason, "I know I wasn't supposed to know, but, well, I do."
"Yes," she responded, still confused, "But why should the fact that I'm helping Sir Anthony with his wedding present to Edith mean that I haven't go the time for you?"
She blinked at him, tremendously surprised by the vehemence of his reaction.
"I'm helping Sir Anthony with his wedding present for Edith," she repeated, "It's a lovely dress," she added, explaining, "From a very expensive shop in York."
"So you're not...? You're not?"
"Not what?" she asked.
"You're not having an affair with him?!" he half-exclaimed, unable to quite believe it.
"I'm... I am most certainly am not!" she replied, with merciful vehemence, her face colouring quite scarlet, "Richard, I'm shocked, completely shocked! What on earth gave you that idea?"
"You were always together, you kept saying you were doing favours for him," he racked his brains, trying to think where it had all begun, "I saw you coming out of the Marigold Tearooms with him! What was I supposed to think?"
"How was he to know that's where all of the courting couples go?" she asked incredulously, "Honestly, Richard, I don't think I've ever heard of someone jumping to conclusions so easily! Did you really think I was having an affair with my cousin's fiancé? Poor Edith."
"I didn't know what to think," he confessed, "It just seemed that my worst fear was coming true. But, wait," he continued, remembering, "I saw him going into your house with you, one night. He was helping you home for some reason. You can't blame me for jumping to conclusions about that."
Comprehension dawned on her face.
"That night," she told him, with great dignity, "I had had a little bit too much to drink."
He blinked at her, surprised.
"Something had rather upset me," she continued, "And I spent the evening in the company of Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore. The latter of whom seemed quite enthusiastic about my drowning my sorrows, quite literally, in a bottle of brandy."
"Oh." There was nothing else he could think of to say. He smiled slightly at the rather amusing mental image of Isobel drinking with the cook.
His smile only seemed to aggravate her, though.
"Really, Richard," she scolded, "I can't believe you thought that of me. I really can't believe that you have such a low opinion of me."
"I don't!" he exclaimed, "Anything but."
"Then why, why did you think Sir Anthony and I were-..."
"I thought he was in love with you," he confessed, "You have to admit that that's not so unlikely. And I thought you loved him. I couldn't see why you wouldn't. He's a rich man, he has property, and standing. He has everything a woman could want."
"Richard, if you think that's all I want, you don't know me at all." Her words were met by silence for a moment, and then another, and she pressed on, "If I did want someone at all, I'd want a good man. That's not to say Sir Anthony's not, but a good, kind, intelligent man. Handsome too, I shouldn't wonder, and I ought to tell you that I don't find Sir Anthony attractive like that at all. And, more than anything, I'd want a man who could love me completely."
She looked up into his eyes. For a second they seemed to be thinking of the same thing. Then they both blinked at the same time, and the moment was broken, but the silence endured.
"So," he declared, arranging circumstances out loud in the hope of arranging them in his head, "You're not in love with Sir Anthony. And I'm not going to marry Agatha."
"You're not?" she repeated, her eyes brightening infinitesimally.
"I don't want to," he stated flatly.
There was a pause. He saw a muscle clench and unclench in her jaw.
"That's not what I asked," she told him.
"I don't want to," he repeated.
"Will you?" she pressed, looking panicked, distress clear for a second before she could hide it.
"I don't know."
"You can't not know after what we've just said. Which is it, yes or no?"
"Will you marry me instead?"
He heard her gasp sharply. He didn't know what made him say it, the words escaped his lips before he could stop them. She stared at him. He closed his eyes for a second. He could only be honest now.
"You said I deserved a woman who loves me more than anything in the world. Well, that's how I feel about you, though it's taken all of this foolish business to make me realise it. I want you, Isobel, as my companion, as my wife. No one else. I only hope you can consider feeling that way about me too."
His eyes searched her face.
"But if you don't want to, don't feel like you're obliged to say yes," he assured her quietly, "I don't want you to marry me just because you feel sorry for me."
As she looked up he saw there were tears in her eyes.
"If you only knew," she whispered softly, "How I felt when I thought you and she were-..."
"Probably the same as I did when I thought you were with Lord Strallan."
"Yes," she agreed, "Yes. I've never felt like that before. Like a piece of me wasn't just missing, like it had been stolen. It was quite a shock," she confessed, her eyes wide, "I wasn't even sure how I felt before I thought I couldn't have you. Then I knew. It hurt."
"Oh, Isobel," he reached forwards boldly, taking hold of her hands, caressing her fingers, " I'm so sorry. I love you."
She bowed her head, leaning forwards in her chair, pressing her face into their joined hands, kissing his fingers, before resting her head on them and murmuring, "I love you too," into their skin.
I am by no means in love with this chapter, and I can't help feeling like I might have made a mess of it. It was very difficult to write, and I'd love to know what you think. Please review if you have the time.