From the fics that I'll be writing post-challenge.
It was before I met my wife, and it was an odd season in many ways.
Not only did the snow end up being exceptionally heavy that year, the heaviest that anyone could recall, but Siegried also spent a large part of it away, visiting his mother. In spite of this -- or perhaps because of it -- Tristan came to stay with us particularly early. It seemed that there was even less chance than normal that he would pass even one of his examinations. There were also rumors of a certain scandal involving him, the darts team, and a rather goodlooking girl that he'd met in Drayton.
This was, as you will remember, before the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1948. Students were still permitted to treat cases, so Tristan was handy to have around. He wasn't as good as Siegfried was with horses, but we didn't have much of that in the late autumn. Mostly cows, cows, and more cows. A few angry pigs. A bit of small animal surgery in that Mr. Robinson and his little girl brought in their family cat that had been mauled by a vicious loose dog.
Tristan did excellent work, and I appreciated his company.
Despite whatever aspersions Siegfried cast on it and whatever Tristan's exam record might indicate, he had a first-rate mind. I never doubted it: it was one of the sort that absorbed vast quantities of information without any apparent effort, and he would learn as much from watching me perform a procedure and asking the occaisional, spare question than I had learned from an entire term, including while revising furiously for exams. The bulk information slipped out of my head as soon as exams were over, after all. I had to learn the fits of calves four times before it stayed, which was why I asked new students about it so much.
What Tristan learned stayed learned, though. He was gaining the practical experience by staying with us, too, and while Carmody had also possessed a first-rate mind, he was a cold, scientific sort. Tristan was not. He enjoyed going out on cases. He would go down to the pub at night; when I went to see if he wanted to see if I could tear him away to give me a hand with a difficult problem, he would always be at the center of things, singing and laughing, red-faced from both the drinking and the heat of being by the fire, at the center of so much attention.
I would slip in the front door, and if he was telling one of his stories, nobody would turn their heads. Perhaps one person or two might shift, get out of the draft of the door since the chill was coming on, but they would not move. Their eyes were fixed on him. I would undo my scarf, unbutton a little of my coat, and it might be as much as a two or three minutes before anyone noticed that I had entered.
It would almost always be Tristan who saw me first, of course. Even the servers would be fixed upon him.
Tristan was lazy; I will grant Siegfried that, but when convinced to make the effort, he knew how to hold a room. He had such presence, and I must admit that I watched him the same way when he sprang out of the car to open a gate for me. Woodbine between his lips. The field stretching above us with the cold night sky beyond, his terrible rush back into the car once I had taken it through the gate, and then the flashes of his face, very white in the darkness and without the Woodbine because he'd dropped it in his rush to get back into the car and was too miserably cold to light another one.
I would catch glimpses of his face from the corner of my eye while I listened to him heap ever more creative abuse on the cold and the farmer and his wretched cows with their wretched symptoms.
Even in such glimpses and at such times, he could transfix an audience.
"What shall we do with you, kitty?"
I looked up from the cat in question. It was still deeply under the anesthesia; I had just finished the procedure and was checking the last bit of stitching. Tristan had not come to observe, though I'd told him that this might be a chance to see work on something smaller than a milk cow.
Now, though, he was lounging against the wall. He didn't have a lighted Woodbine because he did have some small respect for surgery, but there was an unlit one tucked behind his ear.
"There's a storm coming in tonight, biggest one of the year according to the Service. And the Robinsons just called don't think they'll be able to make it in before dark."
I looked down at the cat. It was still completely out from the anesthesia; the sunlight was so bright in the surgery that it was hard to believe that there was a storm, powerful enough to disassuade hard-bitten Dale men who doted on their only daughter, who in turn doted on her Kitty. I could feel Tristan's eyes on me.
The cat didn't move as I ran a finger under its chin. Its fur was soft, far softer than I expected a farm cat's to be. Perhaps the little girl brushed it. "I suppose it'll have to stay with us until the storm passes. You start on bringing in the wood and fixing the windows. I'll finish up here, then make a box for the cat and get it into the cupboards over the fireplace."
The winter was unusual in many ways. Although it was a bit late in starting, there was the snow, the absence of Siegfried, the fact that it was the first and last time that I ever saw Tristan truly indulge in hard spirits -- several bottles of homebrew that one of the Dales farmers had given us after a long night of calving, and during the worst storm of the year, we shut all the windows tightly, closed the curtains, and retreated down to the big room at Skeldale House. The fireplace with the glass-fronted cupboard on top had an enormous pile of wood laid out next to it, and we also had provisions for several days.
The storm rattled and blew around the windows, and one of Siegfried's dogs would occiasionally rouse itself out of the general pile in front of the fire, and either Tristan or I would have to go and let the beast out into the back yard to relieve itself.
Whoever went into the foul weather got first pull at the bottle when he came back.
There was a rather lot of the dogs, and it seemed they had to go more frequently than the occaision and their level of liquid intake really called for. By the third hour of the storm, Tristan and I were both drunk by the fire. We were lazily talking about nothing that I can remember. The dogs were finally snoring in a pile on the other side of the fire; the cat drowsed in its box poking out of the glass-fronted cupboard over the fireplace, and the wireless popped in and out of static. The wind and storm seemed very far away. Every molecule of my body was finally warm, from the ones in my hair to the ones in the bottom of my feet and every one in between, thanks to the home brew. I had been the last one to take the dogs out.
I was more than a little drunk.
After taking a long hard pull at the bottle of currant wine, which was so sweet that my teeth ached, I leaned over, towards Tristan. It was not terribly romantic, I must admit, and I have no idea what wild impulse gripped me, but I leaned over. I put my face close to Tristan's, but I didn't kiss him.
Instead, I let out a slow, slow breath. I closed my eyes. I had started out with the notion of kissing him, I think, but once I got close to him, it was enough just knowing how close I was to him. To experience the feeling of being close to him.
I have some idea that my hands had curled into fists. I thought he was going to hit me or push me away, after all. It must have been the quality of the currant wine from Mr. Elders, though, because Tristan leaned the last inch or so and kissed me.
One moment, there was nothing in my mouth but fumes and a faint, aching sweetness; the next, there was warmth and heat. Tristan was licking at my mouth, working my shirt over my shoulders, and pulling me to lie on top of him all at the same time. I did not know where to put my hands, so I put them on the floor at first. I braced them flat on the carpet, but eventually, I moved them over and put them, instead, the skin of Tristan's stomach, the top of his hip. I touched the back of his neck, traced the locations where buttons would have been if he had been wearing a suit like the one I wore when I first came to Skeldale House.
Neither of us had shaved that morning, so there were was prickling, scratchy sensation when Tristan eventually rolled me onto my back, worked my pants off, and on the way down there, pressed his cheek against my bare stomach.
I had thought that I had been warm before, but it was nothing compared to the heat of Tristan's mouth on my skin.
Afterwards, I lay with my head in his lap. I must have said something idiotic about Siegfried and how he must not find out about this.
"You idiot." I could feel his fingers touching my hair. "Who do you think my stupid brother really visiting in Brighton or Dayton or Dixton?" He was touching my hair, petting it. "I'm not the only one in the family like this, you know."
I thought about this for a while, and I kept my head in his lap while I thought.
Finally, I said, "Are you going to get up and get the Woodbines off the mantle?" I had last seem them between the petty-cash cup and the box we had set up for the Robinson's cat, green eyes watching us while the dogs snored, and I knew that the cigarettes up there were probably the last ones left in the house.
When I started talking, Tristan had stopped touching my hair, but once he saw where I was agoing, he started again. "No," he said. "I'll be fine for a while."
I could hear the dogs snoring on the other side us. The fire was still going to my back and Tristan's left. If I opened my eyes, I could see that it was getting dark in the room, but through the legs of the chairs and the shadows, I could make out a few items of dropped clothing, a few dirty plates, and a few Daily Mirrors, all turned to the crossword section. The room was quite messy and quite cozy, and I had the almost overpowering urge to sleep.
As far as I remember, I don't think I actually managed to say anything back to Tristan, but I am fairly sure that I managed to catch his hand with mine before I fell asleep.
It was before I met my wife, and it was an odd season in many ways. Tristan went back to school in the spring, sat for the exams that he had failed to sit for the previous term, and advanced another step closer to his qualifying exams. Siegfried came back in stretches, here and there, and he looked rather thinner and drawn; I asked after his mother, and without turning a hair, he said that she was fine, then immediately moved on to asking me if it had really been necessary to use up three yards of catgut when stitching up that beastly cat.
The Robinson cat, as far as I know, made a full and healthy recovery. Comical as it looked, it adjusted relatively well to life on three legs. It was not as active as before, however, and watching it hobble around the yard, I could understand why, in all my years of practice, I never saw another three-legged cat, though I saw plenty of three-legged dogs. We would not have done it if the area around the leg hadn't been the only part that looked terrible, if the little girl hadn't made the drive down with her father, holding it in her arms the whole way, and then begged with us to do everything to save its life.
While it looked all right lying in a bit of sun, there was just something painful about seeing it try to act like a normal cat. I imagine that it must not have been half the mouser it was previously, and yet, whenever I stopped by the house, first Mrs. Robinson and then Miss Robinson would sincerely thank me for taking care of the cat and keeping it at the surgery through the winter storm of that year which had been such an enormous trial for everyone in the Dales.
It was before I met my wife. It was an odd season in more than one way.