To the anon: Thank you. I hope you will enjoy how I finish this one up.
Halfway to Mannerton, Siegfried began to wonder if he was making a mistake.
Earlier that day, he had spent the morning checking on Helen so that James could mind the surgery for a couple hours before going to Tristan's flat to help his brother pack. Whenever he spent time with Helen, Siegfried always felt a pang of sympathy for her. He knew how much he would loathe being trapped in bed for weeks and imagined that she had similar feelings about it. The fact that Helen endured it with plenty of grace and even some humor only added to the admiration he already had for her.
That morning though, Helen seemed far less concerned about her current predicament than she was about James and Tristan. Thus, it wasn't long before the conversation drifted to thoughts about them.
"I hope James won't mind sacrificing his afternoon off just to help my brother pack," Siegfried mused. "But heaven only knows how long it would take if Tristan were left to his own devices."
"I'm sure he doesn't mind," Helen had laughed. "Not if it means getting another hand to help out around here."
"I wish you the best of luck with that, Helen. And if you do find a way to improve my little brother's work ethic, please let me know so I can utilize it for the practice."
Helen gave him a patient, but knowing smile. "I think you're already been successful there, don't you? Having Tris spend all of his free time here in Darrowby."
"An antidote for boredom, my dear, nothing more," Siegfried replied. "Do you really think Tristan was happy behind that desk?"
It was then that Helen, in her usual quiet and elegant way, managed to upend the conversation.
"Are you sure he wasn't, Siegfried? He was the one who wanted that position in the Min of Ag in the first place, remember?"
Siegfried coughed and looked over at the floor. "Well….of course he did. It was a very good opportunity and a chance to learn all about the latest advancements of veterinary medicine. Not to mention making a secure living for himself. But obviously, that wasn't what he actually wanted."
"But that's just it," Helen said with a frown. "I don't really know what Tristan wants. When he told me he was leaving the Min of Ag, he didn't mention what he wanted at all. Just that he seemed to be here so much anyway and that he thought he was needed."
At that point, the normally kind eyes narrowed and became reproachful.
"And I still think that was a wicked thing you and James did. Making Tris think he wouldn't be welcome back in the practice. Siegfried, he was terribly distraught when he told me about it."
At the time, Helen's words had rankled him. Not a feeling Siegfried was fond of at all.
"It serves him right," he insisted, even though his conviction was already starting to waver. "Tristan knew how inundated with work the practice has become. Especially now that Calum is off in Ireland with tuberculin testing. And yet he kept his resignation from us. Not to mention the tricks little brother decided to play on poor James when James had acquired that valuable bit of information about the races from Mrs. Pumphrey."
Helen didn't respond to that other than to give Siegfried a look. It was a look that was distressingly familiar and always signaled that she wouldn't pursue a particular argument any further. Mainly because her point had already been made. Siegfried found himself both irritated and fascinated when he saw it.
"Well at least James is helping him pack for a move back to Darrowby," she added instead. "Tris was contemplating a different sort of move."
Siegfried hadn't recognized the gambit she had just used at the time for what it was and with that, she had him.
"Different move? What do you mean? To where?"
"He mentioned Canada," she answered. "And New Zealand. I got the impression he was looking for somewhere far away from here."
"Nonsense," Siegfried snorted. "From what I've heard, large portions of Canada are even more unforgiving than the Dales in the winter. And New Zealand? Can you honestly imagine Tristan choosing to move to a place like that?"
"Perhaps not." Then Helen gave him a pointed stare. "Then again, if you had told me before the war that Tris would leave Darrowby, I wouldn't have believed it."
Helen raised her head slightly, making sure to look Siegfried in the eye.
"Do any of us really know what Tris wants anymore?"
Back in the present, Siegfried ground his jaw and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Helen's question was never actually answered. It just hung in the air while he did everything he could to steer the conversation in a different direction. Soon, he made one last check to make sure she was comfortable before going to the surgery to relieve James and then get ready for his own visits. But he hadn't forgotten her question.
And he doubted that Helen did either.
Another wave of irritation washed over him. Why couldn't Helen see things from his point of view? There was no reason for Tristan to keep his decision to resign from the Ministry to himself. If he expected a place back in the practice, the professional thing to do would have been to inform them as soon as he began the process of leaving the Min of Ag. Not wait for the ideal moment to spring the news on them for maximum dramatic effect. Just like too many other things in his life, little brother had treated his career choices like part of an elaborate game.
Siegfried's current mood certainly wasn't helped when he thought about what had happened when he stopped for lunch at the Drovers during his rounds.
"Ah Siegfried, I hear your brother is leaving the Ministry of Agriculture and returning to Darrowby."
Siegfried had looked up from his sandwich and beer to see Arthur Donavan approaching his table. Donavan had worked at the Ministry offices in Mannerton for fifteen years and been a field agent in the Dales for about half of those years. The two of them had met not long after Siegfried acquired Skeldale and had had lunch together a couple times a year ever since.
"Arthur, how are you?" Siegfried said, smiling at him. "Let me get you a pint."
"Awfully decent of you," Donavan said as he sat down.
Siegfried shook his head. "Not at all." He signaled the bartender for another pint and then turned his attention back to Donavan. "Yes, my brother has decided to trade his desk for actual hands-on work with animals. He always did prefer practical application to theory."
"I suppose so," Donavan nodded. A barmaid arrived with a fresh pint which he took with a cheerful grin. "Not that he was any real slouch with theory, mind you. Or the administrative end of things. To be honest, I speak for many of us in the office when I say that I'm going to miss having him around. He certainly had a way of livening things up at the Ministry."
"I'm not surprised," Siegfried smirked. "Keeping things lively always was one of Tristan's special talents."
Donavan chuckled and then gulped down half of his beer in one go.
"True true. But I was referring to the work he was doing there. The best decision Crawford ever made was when he appointed your brother to Sterility Advisor for the North Riding district. That really lit a fire under him. A couple of the research chaps told me about how he'd been picking their brains, learning all he can from them. I told them that I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out he was doing some research of his own. Maybe even writing a paper."
Donavan leaned back in his chair and took another large swig, a discreet belch coming at the end of it. While he did look sheepish, Donavan chose to not acknowledge it in any other way.
"Yes sir, your brother probably wouldn't have stayed too much longer in Mannerton anyway. He'd been promoted out of there in a couple of years, and you can take my word on that. Pity he decided to walk away from it all. But our loss is your gain, I suppose. And I guess it's true what they say."
Siegfried raised an eyebrow, curious. "What's that?"
Donavan leaned forward, a conspiratorial smile on his face. "That blood is thicker than water. And it's a good thing for you, isn't it?"
A scowl appeared on Siegfried's face. Maybe Donavan hadn't meant it, but Siegfried found it difficult to believe that the backhanded implication behind his words had completely escaped Donavan's notice. It was clear that Donavan saw this as Tristan making a grand sacrifice to help his poor elder brother and an impoverished practice in the sticks.
It didn't irritate him as much as it did years ago when rumors were circulating around Darrowby that Tristan chose not to start his own practice as an act of charity toward him. But it was still grating.
Especially since, this time, there could be some truth to it.
Without realizing it, Siegfried's foot pushed harder on the accelerator, a side effect of the tension that had been building during the entirety of his journey. Thankfully, he suddenly became aware of his surroundings and realized he was close to Tristan's flat. He immediately slowed down and coasted the rest of the way there.
As he parked the car, Siegfried noted that James' car was nowhere to be seen. A pity, really, as he would have liked to share the bottle of wine that he had brought with James as well. That and Siegfried was also certain that James' presence could have made the conversation he was about to have with his younger brother a little less awkward.
A minute later, he was knocking on Tristan's door, wondering if his little brother was still at work packing. By the end of the third knock, Tristan opened the door and blinked in surprise.
"Hello Tristan," Siegfried said with a smile. "I bring parting gifts." He held up the bottle of wine in his hands and was not surprised by the grin that appeared on Tristan's face.
"Hello, Siegfried. Come in," Tristan took the bottle from Siegfried and moved to the side so Siegfried could enter. "I'm afraid you just missed James. We got back from dinner a few minutes ago and he said he was going straight to Skeldale after he dropped me off here."
"I see," Siegfried said, taking off his hat and coat. "Then, I assume that you've finished packing then?"
"Pretty much, yes."
Siegfried raised an eyebrow. "Pretty much?"
Before Tristan could reply to that, Siegfried took off to explore the flat, peering into each room. There were stacks of boxes scattered about, and they looked like they were filled. However, Siegfried also noticed that there weren't very many boxes and that some rooms, most notably the kitchen looked like they had barely been touched.
"Tristan, you haven't finished up at all," Siegfried said, exasperated. "The truck I hired for you will be here tomorrow afternoon. How on Earth are you going to be ready before they arrive?"
"It's no problem, Siegfried."
"No problem? You haven't even packed any of your dishes."
"That's all right. I'm not taking them anyway."
Tristan, apparently unaffected by his elder brother's concern, strolled over to the cupboard and pulled out a pair of wine glasses and a corkscrew from a nearby drawer.
"Well, there's no point in taking that sort of stuff is there?" Tristan said as he opened the bottle. "Not if I'm going to be living in Skeldale. I set something up with Metcalfe, that new chap at the Ministry. He mentioned wanting to move to Mannerton and I told him I was leaving and that I'd sell him the flat and most of my furniture and cutlery and things like that. He got a little extra on his loan from the bank so it's all covered."
Tristan yanked the cork out and tossed the corkscrew back into the drawer while Siegfried continued to goggle at him.
"But Tristan…you got these things so that you could live here on your own."
"And now I don't need them anymore," Tristan shrugged. "Besides, I got most of this lot secondhand anyway. I might keep a few things that could come in handy right away, but there's no need to hold onto most of it. If I need to later, I can always buy these things again."
It sounded reasonable enough on the surface, but Siegfried couldn't help but feel concerned. How could Tristan be so casual about this? It was as if he considered his flat and his furnishings…and his life here in Mannerton…completely disposable. As if he had never had serious expectations of forging a new path for himself through his work at the Min of Ag.
Tristan was about to pour some of the wine into the glasses, but Siegfried managed to snap out of his reverie in time to stop him.
"No, no, no," he said, grabbing Tristan's wrist. "This wine needs to breathe before partaking."
Tristan rolled his eyes and picked up the bottle and glasses so he could carry them into the living room. Siegfried shook his head and followed him. His little brother always had been distressingly ignorant of the intricacies of enjoying wine that had true quality.
Tristan sat the bottle and glasses down onto the middle of the settee and plopped down onto the couch, stretching his legs off to the side. For a moment, Siegfried thought about joining him, but his mind was too cluttered with all the concerns he had to be able to relax.
This was all going wrong. He had originally come over to wish Tristan well on his last night in Mannerton. To congratulate him for all he achieved during his time in the Ministry. Instead, all he could think about was everything Tristan was walking away from. About the future his little brother was discarding.
Siegfried continued to pace about the room silently. This was part of a pattern he had observed in Tristan for years. When his little brother was still in school, his teachers had told Siegfried that Tristan had enormous potential and could choose any number of prestigious professions to make a living.
And what did his little brother end up doing? He became a country vet, working in his elder brother's little practice in Darrowby.
Then, finally, after years of work both before and during the war, another opportunity came for Tristan to expand his professional horizons through his work at the Ministry. And once again, he ended up choosing Darrowby and Skeldale.
And the worst of it was, Siegfried could not recall a single word Tristan had said to explain why he kept walking away from all the opportunities life had given him.
"Siegfried?" Tristan repeated.
Siegfried turned toward him and saw that his little brother's brow was creased with concern.
He took a deep breath. This wasn't what he had come here to say. Or maybe it was. Maybe this was why he had been so preoccupied during the drive over here. Because he had tried so hard to run from the things he needed to say.
Siegfried drew himself up and faced his little brother. "Tristan, I owe you a profound apology."
Tristan's forehead furrowed even more. "For what?"
"For acting as if your services wouldn't be welcome back at Skeldale. Because they most certainly are." Siegfried coughed. "I, well, we, the practice, could certainly use another skilled vet with experience like yours."
A wide grin appeared on Tristan's face, his eyes lighting up with pleasure.
"Thank you. Yes, I'm certain that the firm of Messrs. Farnon and Herriot will benefit from taking on someone who has had a chance to absorb the latest advances in veterinary science of these last few years. And I'm sure that the farmers will learn to appreciate the expertise I can offer in regards to fertility and will drop this ridiculous, backwater attitude of…."
"So why the hell didn't you stay with the Ministry?!" Siegfried shot back with unexpected vehemence. "You were doing well there. You had a job with stable hours and stable pay. I thought that's what you wanted. You certainly spent enough years complaining about the uncertainties of private practice."
The grin on Tristan's face vanished and a glint of confusion reappeared in his eyes. No, not just confusion. Anxiety. Hesitation. It wasn't what Siegfried had wanted at all.
He swiftly moved over to the couch and sat down next to his brother, placing a hand onto Tristan's forearm.
"Tristan, listen to me. This is your future we're talking about here. That's why you joined the Min of Ag in the first place. Because you wanted more for your future than you could ever have in Darrowby. And I've talked to Patterson and Donavan."
Tristan rolled his eyes. "Oh yes?"
"And they told me that you were set for advancement in couple years," Siegfried pressed on, ignoring the flippant looking on his little brother's face. "You were making something of yourself there, Tristan. So why are you throwing it all away?"
Tristan gaped at him, his mouth slightly open and his lips moving, but no sound coming out. This continued for another few seconds until Tristan finally found his words.
"I wanted to come back here," he said quietly. Then the moment passed and his old familiar facetious smile appeared. "I spend so much of my time in Darrowby anyway, it didn't make any sense to stay here. If anything, moving back will lessen my workload."
Siegfried clasped Tristan's arm a little tighter. "Is that what this is about? You've had too much work?"
"No, no, I…."
"Because if that's all it is, you don't have to take such extreme measures, my boy. Of course, James and I are rather short-handed right now, but we can manage until Calum gets back."
Tristan's face fell again. "But…you need me. Don't you?"
"That's not the point!" Siegfried snapped. Then he took a deep breath and made sure to calm his voice before speaking again.
"Go to Crawford. Tell him that you've changed your mind. I'm sure he'll be willing to overlook this attempt to resign so he can hold onto you."
"You don't have to do this litt…dear brother. You don't need me or the practice to fall back on. You've proven beyond a doubt that you can stand on your own. Tristan, think of what you're giving up."
Tristan didn't reply right away, and Siegfried wondered if he as finally getting through to him. It couldn't be that hard to convince Tristan's superiors at the Ministry to take him back. Of course, Siegfried was aware that he would be sad to not have him back in Darrowby, but that wasn't what was important right now.
Suddenly, a vaguely sympathetic smile appeared on Tristan's face, and oddly enough, Siegfried was even less certain about what his brother was thinking than he was before.
"Come on, Siegfried, you know that I was bored to death being stuck in that office all the time. It's why I kept spending so much time in the research department and why I went along with your request to spend my free time helping out here. To be perfectly honest, I'd had more than enough of all the politics and paperwork there. And you know that it would be even worse if I was promoted and transferred to a bigger office."
"So you're just going to toss away a potentially brilliant career because you're bored?" Siegfried snorted. "Or because you think you can get away with spending more time on your lazy backside drinking and smoking around here?"
A look of wounded pride appeared in Tristan's eyes, but his smile didn't falter in the least.
"Siegfried, I don't regret my time working in the Ministry. But it wasn't what I wanted. Well, maybe for a while it was, but not for forever. I…I wasn't happy."
"But why?" Siegfried persisted. "It had everything you've always said you wanted. What else do you need?" Helen's question popped into his mind again, and Siegfried leaned closer to him.
"What do you really want, Tristan?"
Tristan's expression softened even more. "I thought you knew, Siegfried."
For a second, Siegfried was getting ready to press Tristan harder for a real answer, one that didn't involve his little brother feigning ignorance or being cryptic.
Suddenly, a memory came back to him. A memory of Tristan as a teenager finally informing him what he wanted to do with his life.
"I was thinking I'd like to be a vet like you. That, that maybe we could work together, you know. When you have your own practice."
Siegfried's mouth fell open, but no sounds came out. No words felt adequate to convey the feelings that memory stirred.
Instead, he wondered how he had ended up with a brother like Tristan. His little brother was lazy, incorrigible, and thoroughly irritating. So how could he also be one of the warmest, most loyal people Siegfried would ever have in his life? Tristan, his absurd baby brother who was always looking for a way to satisfy his insatiable humor, but who also would do so much, so very much, for the people he loved.
When Siegfried finally raised his head to speak, he was startled to find that Tristan had left the room.
His eyebrows scrunched together as he frowned. Did Tristan still think that he might not be wanted or needed at Skeldale? Of course having him back was what Siegfried wanted all along. However, his longing for his little brother to come home could never surpass the regret he would feel if Tristan returned solely out of a misguided sense of fraternal duty.
But how could he make Tristan understand that his joy over his younger brother's return without inspiring a totally undesired feeling of obligation on Tristan's part?
When Tristan finally did walk back into the room, Siegfried was shocked to see him carrying a guitar. It only took a few seconds though, for that shock to be transformed into mild annoyance.
"Really, Tristan," he sighed. "I thought you had gotten rid of that thing years ago."
Tristan smirked and perched on the arm of the couch. "Sadly, the one that you…I mean, Mother bought me for my birthday years ago needs some minor repairs. So I've been using this spare I picked up in a jumble sale."
Tristan plucked the strings several times, tuning as he did so. Siegfried was about to break one of his own cardinal rules and encourage his little brother to have several drinks as a way to distract him when the random plucking finally stopped.
In its place was a light, gentle tune emerging from the strings. It only took Siegfried a moment to recognize it as Bach's Cantata No. 147, one of his favorite classical works for the guitar. Apparently, Tristan knew it was one of his favorites as well or if he didn't, he showed remarkably good taste.
Siegfried leaned back and closed his eyes. Tristan's playing wasn't perfect. There were a couple of hesitations and the occasional sour note. Still, it was clear that his little brother had continued to improve over the years. Although, a part of him could not fathom when Tristan would have found the time to practice.
A couple minutes later, the song ended with Tristan still looking down the neck of his guitar when he finished playing. Siegfried leaned forward and reached for the bottle on the settee.
"I think you've earned this, little brother," he said as he poured a generous portion into Tristan's glass. "One of my few remaining bottles from the stock I used to have at Skeldale before the war. Try to spend a few moments savoring it rather than guzzle it down."
Tristan rolled his eyes as sat his guitar onto a nearby chair and rejoined his brother on the couch. There was still plenty of mirth in his eyes though. Something Siegfried hadn't missed as he handed his brother his glass.
Siegfried poured a healthy portion into his own glass, took a deep sniff and then smiled. "Well now, what shall we drink to?"
Tristan gently sloshed the contents of his glass. "Well…how about to us?"
Siegfried nodded. "To coming home." Tristan grinned at him, and Siegfried found it endearing for a change.
"And to you, Tristan."
They both took a long, slow sip from their glasses. After a brief pause, Tristan nodded.
"This is rather good. And if this is the sort of thing Caroline has on hand for dinner, I should come over to your place more often."
"Tristan, don't conflate closer proximity with an open invitation to lay siege to my house. It's bad enough that the boys are starting to adopt your appalling sense of humor."
"Call it the joys of family bonding."
"More like the seeds of familial discord."
Tristan smirked at him again and took another large sip while a look of triumph appeared on Siegfried's face.
"You must admit, little brother, that this is something far grander than cheap bitter at some disreputable pub."
"It's certainly all right, I'll give you that. Still, I don't think it would pair so well with my famous bangers and mash as a fine beer would. I'm sure Helen will agree with me once she's had a chance to try my cooking."
"Tristan, if you subject that poor woman to what you put me through with your endless bangers and mash, I will skin you alive. Is that understood?"
Tristan snorted. "So much for the warm glow of brotherly love."
Tristan frowned and both of them managed to keep their expressions for one more moment before the two of them began to laugh. A laughter that warmed Siegfried's heart in a way that few words could ever do.