Dedicated to Ellie, who always leaves me lovely reviews I can't respond to. *g* Here's one specially for you!
The snow drifted down gently, beautiful and peaceful and quiet. A sight to be savoured while sitting in a chair with a glass of whiskey and a roaring fire, watching the flakes dance past a window. Not a sight to be enjoyed at midnight while driving an unreliable and elderly car through a freezing cold snowstorm after spending two hours delivering a dead calf. No, James decided, he would be very happy to leave this particular festive scene behind and return to bed. A glance to his left showed his passenger was probably thinking the same thing.
Tristan was glowering out the window at the snowy scene, darkly picking at the dried blood and other assorted muck staining his trousers. He had not appreciated being pulled away from his 'studying' in order to provide assistance for a long, arduous and ultimately thankless task. He was even less happy when, emerging from the barn; they had seen the covering of snow everywhere. Now, as the car rattled and slid on the dangerous roads and threatened to break down whenever they went uphill he was positively grumpy.
James suppressed a smile at Tris's air of wounded dignity and turned his attention back to the road. He hissed through his teeth as he felt the car skid on yet another patch of ice hidden by the snow and wished for the thousandth time that Siegfried would see about getting the brakes serviced. This car was an accident waiting to happen! Tristan glanced at him, distracted out of his sulk.
"You alright there James?"
"Fine, just about."
"I still say we should have just taken the Rover."
"After last time? Your brother would skin you alive, and me with you!"
"But we'd probably still back in the warm by now while he did so."
"Tempting as it is Tris, I'll stick to my own car."
"I'd say it's your life, but it's mine as well here!"
"Oh stop panicking Tris-"
"I am not panicking! I just have a perfectly reasonable fear of crashing and dying in a flaming wreck because you wouldn't take the better car!"
"We're not going to crash!"
"Forgive me if I don't believe you." Tris muttered, turning back to his mournful watch out the window. "Anyway, we'll freeze before we get back at this ra-CAREFUL JAMES!"
"Sorry!" The car had slid quite dramatically then, nearly skewing sideways. James struggled to straighten it out avoid plummeting over the drop to the side. Once the car was back on the road properly he let out a breath and looked over to his friend. Tris was glaring at him, having gone alarmingly pale and holding onto the dash with a death grip.
"Good grief James! Watch the bloody road will you? There's a good chap!"
"Stop whining Tris, do you want a turn at the wheel?"
"In this death trap? I bow to the driver of experience!"
"Thanks." James said dryly as he coaxed the car up a gear. Tristan grinned in response and fell quiet again, allowing James to concentrate. They were at the top of a reasonably steep hill now, with a nasty drop on one side. The wind was picking up now too, driving the flakes harder into the windshield, so thick the visibility was almost down to nothing. James squinted, trying to make out the boundaries of the road; everything was a sea of shifting white.
The car was drifting now, the wind shoving at its metal body. James tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Tristan shot him a look but didn't say anything. He felt the car shudder as he left the road and ran up onto the hidden grassy verge and twisted the wheel to compensate. That turned out to be a fatal mistake. The wheels twisted, found a patch of ice and skidded out of control, the car spun wildly to the left and James slammed on the brakes instinctively. The wheels locked, the car continued sliding and with a pang of absolute horror James realised he'd lost control. He fumbled desperately with the pedals and gear stick, trying to force the car away from the edge he knew was just feet away but there was no response.
Dimly he heard Tristan shouting something but it was drowned out by the pounding blood in his ears as the out of control car reached the steep slope and began hurling itself downhill, gaining speed rapidly. There was no time to stop it, no time to react, no time to think! The car shuddered and jolted and James hung onto the steering wheel for his life. Suddenly a dark shape loomed out of the white storm and the car slammed into it, coming to a halt with a speed that snapped James's neck forwards. Everything went dark.
Siegfried sat in his customary armchair by the fire. The dogs were sprawled around on the floor, a carpet of fur and waving tails. He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully as he browsed through the veterinary journal. A tumbler of whisky sat on the low table to his side, next to a newspaper open at the crossword and an elegant fountain pen. The clock chimed midnight quietly and Siegfried looked up in mild surprise as the door opened gently.
Helen came through, bearing a pot of tea and biscuits. She placed the tray on the small table, moving aside the discarded newspaper and poured for herself and Siegfried who thanked her with a smile. She walked over to the French windows and watched the falling snow.
"Nasty night." Siegfried commented from behind her.
"Yes. I don't envy poor James and Tris. Where did you say they'd gone?"
"Up to Partridges' place."
"That's right up in the hills! Will they be alright?"
"I'm sure they'll be fine. They'll be back soon, don't worry."
"I'm not worrying, I'm just concerned!" Helen came and sat down on the sofa, picking up the newspaper distractedly. "Not finished the crossword yet?"
"No." Siegfried sighed. "Tristan's better at it than I am. Don't ever tell him I said that!"
"As if I would!"
"Good. His ego's healthy enough already."
"Oh, you are hard on that boy."
"Nonsense, he's practically coddled living here! Food laid on, my drinks available…"
"Being sent out late at night to a difficult calving in a snowstorm?"
"The price of being the younger member of a veterinary practice, my dear!" Siegfried laughed. "Can I tempt you with a sherry?"
"No thank you, I'm heading to bed now, I just came to say goodnight really."
"Goodnight Helen. I'll send your poor frostbitten husband up when he arrives."
"Thank you very much! Goodnight Siegfried."
James regained consciousness slowly. His head hurt abominably, as did his hands and chest. He shifted slightly and hissed as a hundred thousand agonies woke up and started demanding his attention. Breathing shallowly the vet ran a quick self-diagnostic, headache, yes, ribs; bruised but not broken, hands, oh, possible broken fingers it felt like…legs, sore but seemingly alright. Neck was very painful. Passenger? That would require opening his eyes. Which sounded like a lot of effort at the moment. But Tristan might be injured, no time to focus on his own pains, check his friend first.
With a mental sigh of resignation James blinked and forced his eyes open. The first thing he saw was white; the white snow was everywhere, all over the car inside and out. He blinked again. The car must have slammed into a tree, if the gnarled branch smashed through the windscreen was any indication. The cold air was blowing freely through the shattered glass and James realised to his surprise that he was shivering.
He managed to twist his head to squint past the tree branch the car was impaled on. He could just about make out a silhouette on the other side of the car. He looked harder, mentally cursing the poor lighting. Tristan was slumped backwards, a thin trickle of blood running from his nose. Was he breathing? Impossible to tell, it was so dark without the headlights reflecting off the snow.
"Tris?" He said softly. "Tristan? Can you hear me?" To his utter relief he heard a faint moan and the sound of somebody shifting. "Tristan?"
"James?" Tristan's voice was cracked and painful. "You alright?"
"Not too bad, I can move at any rate. How are you?" There was an awkward silence. James felt his anxiety, which had faded when Tris proved to still be alive, rise again. "Tris?"
"I'm…not too good." Tris admitted finally.
"Oh God. What's wrong?"
"I think…I'm rather…ah…stuck." Tris said, that edge of pain in his voice becoming more audible. James felt the anxiety turn into cold hard dread. They were stranded, in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales in a snowstorm and Tris was injured. Badly it seemed. He forced his fear aside in favour of action.
"Right. I'm going to try getting out. I'll come around to you. Don't try and move."
"Beli…believe me. That, ahh, won't be a…problem." James smiled, even though Tris couldn't see it and started trying to extricate himself from the twisted metal the front of the car had turned into. He was able to slowly pull his legs out of the well, until he was crouched entirely on the driver's seat, ribs protesting painfully. The door was hopelessly stuck; after a few good tugs failed to make any difference James turned his attention to the windshield. The glass had shattered entirely, leaving plenty of room for an adult male to crawl out. If he didn't mind risking the broken glass.
James pulled off his scarf and used it to sweep as much of the glass as he could see out of the way. He hauled himself onto the dash and immediately felt his hands and knees be lacerated by all the thousands of pieces of broken glass he hadn't seen. He swore.
"Language, James!" At least Tris still seemed to have his sense of humour intact. Cursing under his breath James managed to wriggle out of the car and dropped to the snowy ground. He lay there, breathless and feeling the blood soaking into his sleeves and trousers.
"James?" Tris called worriedly.
"M'okay. Coming!" He levered himself painfully upright. The snow seemed to be slowing now, the cloud cover parting slightly to allow a pale moonlight to light the scene up starkly. The car had sped down the steep incline and rammed into one of the twisted old trees at the bottom of the valley. The thick branches had punched through the metal of the car as easily as if it were paper.
Limping around the back of the car, James paused to reach in a grab his vet's bag from the back seat. With a bit of luck there would be enough in there to deal with whatever injuries Tristan had managed to receive. He circled the rear of the car and stopped at the passenger door. Crouching and peering through the broken window, James got his first good look at Tristan's injuries.
"Oh. Oh dear God."