A/N: This is the last of my little "Close" trilogy. I recommend reading "Close" and "Closer" first. Thank you, reviewers.
Doctor Richard Clarkson fiddled with his silver cufflinks in front of the hallway mirror in the Crawley house. He hated his formal tails and all the pomp that went with them. The cufflinks had been a wedding gift from Lord and Lady Grantham and while he was very grateful for the gift, he couldn't help but think over and over again that he was a doctor, not a Lord. Thankfully, a slender hand grabbed his wrist and delicate fingers made quick work of clasping the sleeves.
"Thank you," Richard grumbled as he grabbed his black dinner jacket and slipped it on over the crisp, clean white shirt. He rolled his shoulders and pulled at the sleeves, trying to get the stiff garment to feel more comfortable. Finally, he pulled firmly on the bottom and turned to face his wife who was looking very amused by his primping.
Isobel Clarkson giggled and exclaimed, "Oh my goodness, you're actually nervous!"
"Yes, I am and I don't appreciate you making light of it," he snapped back and looked back in the mirror to straighten his tie. Isobel attempted to hide the small smile on her face and wrapped her arms around her husband's waist from behind.
Peaking her head around his torso to look at him in the mirror she said, "I haven't the slightest idea why. We've been married for five months and the family adores you. Not to mention this isn't the first formal dinner you've been to at the Abbey. You'll know most of the people there. Is this about Lord Merton?" Richard looked startled at the mention of her ex-fiancé.
"What? No! No, I didn't even think of that. In fact, I rather think I won that particular battle." He let out a sigh and brought a hand up to squeeze her hands where they were locked around his chest. "This is different…"
"Well, for starters, it will be the first large gathering now that you're my wife."
"You're worried about embarrassing me?" Isobel kissed the middle of his back between the shoulder blades. "Oh my darling, you could never-"
"It's not that exactly…I don't know how to explain it." Richard turned around and returned the kiss to the top of her head. "Don't worry about it. Let's just go."
She allowed him to slip her coat over her shoulders, but wouldn't let the matter settle. "It's George's birthday-it will be fun! Not the usual stuffy talk."
"That's just it. I know you always insist that you are not a Lady by title, but your grandson is the future Earl of Grantham and I'm-"
"By marriage!" They were on the front steps now, waiting for the car. It finally struck her what was really bothering him.
"You don't feel like part of the family."
"But I'm not. Your family has accepted our marriage and have treated me so kindly, but at the end of the day, I'm the village doctor…I just happen to be married to you." Isobel raised an eyebrow at the last part, but knew her husband well enough to know that he meant no offense by the statement.
The conversation turned silent when the chauffeur finally arrived with the car. He helped her in and then got in beside her. Sensing his uncharacteristic insecurity, Isobel slipped her fingers through his own and brought his had up to her lips for a kiss.
"You are rather special in George's life, you know. Your hands were the first to touch him; you were the first face he saw when he entered this world; and your arms were the first to hold him. Richard, you literally delivered him into this life and made his grandmother a very happy woman. You mean more to this family than you know."
Richard was overwhelmed by her poetic words and all he could do was squeeze her hand in response. In that very moment, he thanked God for allowing him to marry such a wonderful woman. They spent the rest of the ride in a content silence and soon reached the Abbey.
Young George Crawley was greeting the guests to the celebration of his forth birthday. Isobel felt tears prickling in the corners of her eyes when she saw her grandson in a tiny dinner jacket and dress pants. He was acting like quite the little gentleman when he took her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.
"Good evening, Grandmother," he told her. Although, he was having trouble pronouncing 'th' sounds, so it came out more like 'Grandmudder'. George then shook Richard's hand and greeted him as well. "And good evening, Doctor."
"And you, Mr. Crawley. This is a lovely home you have," Richard teased.
George squinted up at him in confusion. "But you've been here before."
His mother, who was standing behind him, tried not to laugh. "You're supposed to say thank you," Mary bent down and whispered in her son's ear.
George nodded seriously and looked back to the doctor and said, "Thank you, sir."
Placing a hand on the small of his wife's back, he guided her into the hall. Seeing her misty eyes, he whispered, "Do you need a handkerchief?"
"No, no, I'm fine. It's just little moments like that make me miss him."
"I know." Richard kissed her cheek softly.
"Come now, you have all evening to get emotional," said Violet Crawley, making her way to the couple.
"Good evening, Lady Grantham," greeted Richard. For some reason the presence of the Dowager brought him comfort. Ever since his engagement (and consequential marriage) to Isobel, he and Lady Violet had become fast allies.
"It is a good even, Doctor. My great-grandson is growing up into such a wonderful young man, isn't he?"
"Yes, you've done a superb job grooming him into a Lord." Isobel rolled her eyes. The momentary tears were gone and Isobel joined in the conversation in full form.
Dinner passed without incidence as Lady Grantham had the foresight to seat him next to Tom Branson, who was back from America for a few months. The two had chatted about Sybbie's schooling. It wasn't a great secret that Richard had a soft spot for the girl and Tom was all too happy to brag about his daughter. Tom would never forget the way Sybil had spoken about the doctor during her years as a nurse, nor could he forget how Richard had fought to save her life.
After dinner, the gentlemen made their way to the library for drinks and since it was his birthday, young George was allowed to join them. For a while George seemed to be marveling in the extra attention he was getting, but it was soon becoming obvious that he was in fact, just four years old. At one point, while trying to get his grandfather's attention, George ran into the edge of a small table and hit his knee rather hard.
Lord Grantham scooped up his grandson immediately as the tears started falling. The little boy was trying his hardest not to cry, but he was obviously overwhelmed by the grandeur of the evening and his knee was hurting. Telling his other guests to go on through, Robert motioned to Richard to meet him in the corner of the room.
"There now, my boy, it isn't that bad," soothed Robert as he sat George down on his lap in one of the chairs in the back of the library.
"I want my mommy," George sniffed back his tears. Robert had momentary look of panic at the prospect of presenting Mary a crying birthday boy when he had clearly been in charge of looking out for him.
"How about we let the doctor look at it and then we can go find her?" Robert hugged his grandson and looked at Richard desperately.
The doctor bent down on a knee to place himself at eye level with George and asked calmly, "Did you hurt yourself?"
The little boy nodded and pointed to his leg. Sure enough there was a bruise beginning to form just above his knee. The doctor ran his hands over George's leg tenderly. The little boy let out a whimper, but stubbornly rubbed away his tears. "Looks like you'll have a bruise, but that's all. Do you know what is fun about bruises?"
"What?" George was still sniffling.
"They turn colors." The little boy's eyes lit up. Richard smiled and continued, "Purple, blue, black, yellow…"
"Yes, and you know what else?"
"I'm sure Mrs. Patmore would make you something special to eat to make you feel better."
George looked from Richard to Robert with bright eyes, the bruise completely forgotten. "Chocolate milk?"
Both men laughed and Robert bopped the tip of George's nose with his finger and said, "Well it is your birthday…it'll be our little secret. Just don't tell your mother."
"Okay, Donk," giggled George.
"Now, are you ready to join in with the rest of the party?" George nodded and Robert set him down on his feet. George took his grandfather's hand and then turned to Richard and offered him his hand as well.
The birthday boy walked back into the party with a grandfather holding on to each hand.
Richard Clarkson slowly turned the pages of his medical journal by the light of the bedside lamp. They had finally gotten home from the party and it was approaching the early hours of the morning. Isobel was taking down her hair and so he was waiting to fall asleep. He had loved watching her throughout the night because she had been so happy. And nothing made him happier than experiencing her joy.
He heard her get up from her mirror and crawl into bed so he removed his reading glasses and set them on top of the journal. He rolled over to turn off the lamp and was pleasantly surprised when he rolled back around to his wife. Isobel Clarkson was wearing her beautiful smile and nothing else.
"Well, then I guess we're not going to bed then," he teased.
"Not if you want to keep your wife happy." Isobel trailed her hand down the buttons of his sleep shirt and winked.
Richard would have loved to have gone on teasing her, but she looked so gorgeous laying there, naked, with just her honey colored hair draping across her shoulders, so he couldn't resist covering her lips with his own. He let her nimble fingers undo the buttons of his shirt and pulled her closer so he could feel her skin against his. There wasn't a place on her body that he didn't want to touch and he knew she could feel his body beginning to respond to the intimacy.
"Richard…" Isobel murmured as he pressed kisses down her slender neck.
"Thank you for being so wonderful tonight."
Stopping what he was doing, Richard looked up to meet her eyes. Drawing her in for a sensual kiss, he whispered back, "Anything for you, my darling."
"I mean it, Richard. When you and Robert walked in with George, my heart leapt. I couldn't have been prouder to be your wife. You are a part of this family."
There was an erotic intensity in her eyes that he couldn't look away from. And his voice was husky when he spoke again. "No offense, love, but I'd prefer not to think about your family right now."
He was rewarded with a rich laugh from Isobel that quickly turned into a gasp when his hand moved from her back to her breast. It wasn't long before neither had much to say but moans and gasps. Once Richard had shed the remainder of his clothing, he rolled onto her back and sank down on top of her, determined to get as close to her as possible. To think that after all those years of growing closer, he got to make love to her like this. And later, when they were drifting off to sleep, he had the fleeting thought that this was the closest thing to perfect that there ever could be.