Chapter One

Author's Note: When re-watching parts of Season One here recently, I got to thinking about how it did seem like there was a gradual shift during the early seasons in how Siegfried and Tristan got along with each other with there being more respect and open affection over time. Thus, I was inspired to write a fic about what might have ignited that shift in the first place. Time-line wise, this takes place after Practice Makes Perfect (Episode 1.12) but before Breath of Life (Episode 1.13).

"Tristan? Tristan! I have a job for us."

Tristan rolled his eyes and blew smoke out of pursed lips. He was currently sitting in the living room with his legs up on the couch, paging through one of his veterinary textbooks. He had thought about going out with James to the Drovers after lunch as it was his afternoon off. James, however, mentioned catching up with Helen in-between jobs so Tristan decided to spend his time getting some extra swotting in.

His brother, however, appeared to have other plans for him.

A few seconds later, Siegfried burst into the room. "Ah there you are. Idling your time away as usual, I see."

Tristan frowned and reached over to snuff the remains of his cigarette into a nearby ashtray. "Hardly idling, Siegfried." He held up his book to emphasize his point.

"If only I could believe that you were actually reading that book instead of using it as a sleeping aid," Siegfried replied. "Well, no matter. If you're really looking to enrich your veterinary knowledge, I've got just the thing. Some real practical experience. And this sounds like it could be an interesting case. A horse that's having problems walking and has been gaining weight even after cutting back her feed and increasing her exercise. Happened fairly quickly from what I've been told. And I've been meaning to get you involved in more horse jobs for a while now."

Tristan let out a half-hearted sigh, mainly for show. The case actually did sound interesting, and it wasn't often that Siegfried would invite him on one of his horse jobs. Besides, he was sure that he would have eventually fallen asleep if he had spent the entire afternoon reading that book anyway. Learning out of in the field was always better, especially if Siegfried was there to guide him through. Not that he was going to tell his brother that.

He tossed his book onto the coffee table and stood up. "All right, where are we going?"

Siegfried smiled at him. "That's the spirit. Yes, we're going to see, um…." He pulled down his sleeve to consult the scrawls on his wrist. "Yes, Mr. Henry Gibbs. He bought old Pete Barlow's farm after Pete moved away to live with his sister. Anyway, he and his wife moved in about three months ago. Seems like a decent enough fellow. Pretty well to do, from what I gather. And I understand he and his workers have already done a lot with the place."

"Barlow's place?" Good grief, that's miles away, Siegfried."

"Precisely why we need to get going as soon as possible." Siegfried had just stepped back into the hall and was heading toward surgery when he paused and turned toward the kitchen. "Mrs. Hall? There's a good chance we won't be back in time for dinner tonight."

Mrs. Hall did not appear, but a voice called back from the kitchen. "Aye, well, I'll keep summat back for when you do get back. Just in case."

"Perfect. Thank you, Mrs. Hall," Siegfried grinned. Then he turned his attention back to Tristan. "Well come on then, little brother. We need to get going if we're to get back at a respectable hour."

Tristan nodded and trotted toward surgery behind his brother to grab some things of his own. He didn't really relish the idea of missing dinner tonight. The ham that Mrs. Hall had been fussing over all day did look awfully good. Then again, if the Gibbs were as well off as Siegfried was implying, perhaps they'd have something special on their dinner table. And it shouldn't be too hard to persuade them to share a meal with some poor, hard-working vets if it did get very late. The Farnon charm rarely went without any positive results.

He smiled to himself, making sure to hide it from Siegfried, of course, lest his brother got the wrong idea. Yes, this day out could turn out to be quite profitable after all.

Six hours later, Tristan wondered how on Earth he could have ever believed that he would even remotely enjoy coming along for this job.

While they were driving up to Gibbs' farm, someone had allowed the horse that was in need of treatment to get loose from its stall. At first, it hadn't been able to get very far due its current lameness. But then it was spooked by someone shooting at a stray dog that was trying to sneak onto the property. The horse panicked and galloped straight into a barbwire fence.

As a result, it was bleeding badly from a long, deep gash in its leg by the time Siegfried drove into the driveway. Siegfried spent several seconds expressing his anger over the shabby minding the horse had received before plunging right into an emergency operation. Fortunately, Tristan had brought along extra supplies just in case, and Siegfried actually appeared grateful for his assistance.

Unfortunately, their problems did not end there. Once they were able to stitch up the leg, Siegfried was forced to confess his uncertainty over whether the horse would ever be able to walk again. Then, after a careful examination, they discovered the malady that had gotten them called out in the first place.

Which turned out to be even more bad news.

"Equine metabolic syndrome, I'm afraid," Siegfried told Mr. Gibbs. "Ordinarily, I would recommend a strict diet and exercise program to see if that would do the trick, but you've let this go too long. Now, she's developed laminitis and that complicates things."

"What do you mean, Mr. Farnon?" Gibbs asked. "I know laminitis can be treated."

"Yes, but you've got a very sick animal here, Mr. Gibbs," Siegfried replied. "I might be able to treat the laminitis or the metabolic syndrome on its own. However, with that gash on her leg on top of all that…."

"Yes? Go on."

"Let me be clear, Mr. Gibbs. That leg is going to make it impossible for me to treat the underlying cause of her laminitis which means it could get worse or keep coming back. Now, Tristan and I were able to take care of that injury, but there is still the possibility that she'll be permanently lame. Put it all together…and I'm afraid there's only one thing that we can do. The merciful thing."

"What, put her down?! But I just bought her a year ago. She cost quite a bit of brass. And despite what the locals around here seem to think, I don't have that sort of money to just toss around."

"An understandable frustration, Mr. Gibbs," Siegfried said coolly. "However, waiting will not change the outcome in this case. It will just delay the inevitable and add to her pain."

Gibbs stared at him for a long, hard minute before finally heaving out a great sigh.

"All right, Mr. Farnon. Let's see to her then."

Siegfried gave him a stern nod and then went back to the car to get the humane killer he'd left in there. Tristan couldn't help but think that there was a bitter irony in the fact that all their hard work to save that poor animal was about to be undone in less than a minute.

Afterward, the mood around the farm was quiet and tense. Siegfried and Tristan were invited in for tea which they accepted gratefully. The stilted conversation they had during their tea time indicated that Gibbs and his wife held no ill will toward the two vets and did not blame them for the loss of their horse. Still, it was also clear that they hadn't entirely been sold on the value of their services either.

Once tea was over, Siegfried excused the two of them before they could be invited to dinner, much to Tristan's consternation.

As they were driving back toward Darrowby, Tristan continued to frown each time his stomach rumbled, an expression that did not escape Siegfried's notice.

"Now stop pouting. You wouldn't have wanted to eat there anyway," he said. "I happened to catch a glimpse of their kitchen when I went to scrub up before tea and saw the mess they were making in there. It was the most awful hodgepodge of cuisines: Mediterranean style fish, spicy rice dishes from the Orient, vegetables stewed in some kind of hot sauce. Honestly, what sort of mind would conceive of assembling a menu like that?"

"Maybe they're an adventurous sort," Tristan said. "It might have been fun to have an international potluck. Better than a cold dinner at home at any rate."

"My dear boy, a palate that would accept such a mishmash of flavors cannot be trusted," Siegfried replied. "Especially in regards to the quality of their cooking. No, we are much better off going straight home."

Tristan huffed and collapsed back against his seat. He knew the real reason why Siegfried had taken off so quickly after tea. The death of that horse. Tristan was absolutely certain that Siegfried had done everything possible to save it and had not made a single misstep. Granted, he wasn't a qualified vet, but he had enough experience to know that there was nothing else that could have been done to save it.

Still, he knew that Siegfried hated to lose a patient. Especially a horse. And even more especially such a fine horse as that mare.

"It's too bad I couldn't have had James with me," Siegfried said with a pointed sigh. "He's getting quite adept with horses. Maybe if I had had a knowledgeable second opinion."

Tristan tightened his jaw. He knew that Siegfried was upset. He also knew that when his brother was upset, he was prone to trying to goad him into a quarrel. Siegfried had been that way ever since Tristan reached his teens, and Tristan knew that none of it was meant to be taken seriously. Consequently, he was aware that he should just ignore Siegfried and not take the bait.

However, another rumble of hunger from his stomach put him completely out of the mood for patience.

"Why bother to drag me along then if I'm so useless to you?" he grumbled.

"For the experience, Tristan," Siegfried said with clear exasperation. "I thought that was obvious by now. Although, I'm not sure why I bother either at times. It appears you have little interest in actually applying yourself to your studies."

"That's damn well not fair," Tristan snapped. "You know very well that I was swotting. On my afternoon off no less. At least, I was until you ordered me to come with you for this job."

"My dear boy, there's a difference between browsing through a textbook with casual interest and truly committing yourself to absorbing the information therein," Siegfried said in the same overly patient, condescending tone. "The results from your recent finals make it quite clear that you mainly dwell on the former and do little of the latter."

"I did study," Tristan insisted. "I studied bloody hard for those exams whenever I could get away from those ridiculous revision sessions of yours."

That was the wrong thing to say, and Tristan regretted it the moment those words left his lips. The look of mounting rage on Siegfried's face was confirmation of that.

"Oh, I see. Ridiculous were they?" his brother said, his voice rising in volume. "That's gratitude. There I was, already trying to cope with a mountain of work with James and Helen off on their honeymoon and yet I still used what little spare time I had to help you prepare for your exams. And that's on top of the years I've spent training you and helping you acquire practical experience. Not to mention all the money I've poured into your education. And for what? So you could fail again? So you could fritter away your time boozing and chasing women?"

Tristan ground his jaw, but remained silent during his brother's tirade. It seemed Siegfried would never forgive him for not spending every waking moment with his nose stuck in a book or working on a job for the practice.

Sure, he could have tried to explain again that it had just been nerves that led to his recent downfall on his exams, but he knew that Siegfried wouldn't listen. As far as his elder brother was concerned, an occasional night out with the Darrowby Bell Ringers meant he was a hopeless alcoholic. Having some harmless fun with a few girlfriends he liked to pal around with meant that he was an incorrigible womanizer. And all of it put together meant that he couldn't possibly be taking his veterinary studies seriously or that he sincerely wanted to become qualified.

It was dammed unfair. All of it. And Tristan couldn't see a way to get Siegfried to understand his point of view.

Siegfried ranted on for several more minutes, but Tristan only barely listened. He had heard all of this more than once over the last couple of weeks after Siegfried found out about the results from his latest round of finals.

Granted, this last time, Siegfried never got as enraged as Tristan knew he might have become. His scheme to soften the blow with his short-lived and very tiring reform act had been moderately successful. Still, after the truth came out, there were a couple of times when Tristan wondered if he should have just let Siegfried have his big blowout, allowing the chips to fall where they may.

It probably would have meant the two of them parting ways, but during these last couple of weeks, Tristan did question if that would have been such a bad thing.

Siegfried finally wound down and became silent while Tristan felt a tight knot forming inside him. There had been one or two times in the past when he'd considered tossing his life in Darrowby aside and seeking his fortune elsewhere. Those thoughts always came to him in the heat of anger and would disappear within minutes.

But right now, Tristan wondered if he should pay more attention to those ideas. Maybe his current tension with Siegfried was a sign that they were never going to get along very well anymore. Maybe his continued struggles with his exams were a hint that he wasn't cut out for this line of work after all. Not that he knew where he would go or what he should do instead. Still, not knowing those things right now didn't mean he should automatically assume that the life he currently had was the one that he was best suited for.

A wave of frustration mixed with wistfulness washed over Tristan, leaving him even more morose than when Siegfried was yelling at him. He supposed he could find other ways of making a living, but he couldn't imagine that they'd be as interesting and satisfying as his veterinary work usually was. That is, when he was allowed to actually do that sort of work.

He also could leave Darrowby, but he'd miss it in no time. He'd miss the sometimes maddening and yet quant farmers, the colorful characters in the village and the regulars at the Drovers. He'd miss Helen, one of the sweetest women he had ever met who he considered like a sister. He'd miss James, his best friend and the first really close friend he'd ever had. He'd miss Mrs. Hall with her scolding, her lovely food and her kindly aunt-like qualities.

Then there was Siegfried. His older brother was impossible, irritating, and notoriously difficult to please. However, more than anyone else, he knew about the other side of Siegfried's nature. About the compassionate and understanding big brother who had taken him in and cared for him during the hardest parts of his childhood. About the father figure and mentor who had been responsible for him and had guided him toward success in school and then in veterinary college.

Sure, Tristan was aware that he had done most of the work himself of growing up and building a list of achievements. But that didn't change the fact that Siegfried had stood behind him every step of the way, ready to provide whatever support was needed whenever his own fortitude was about to give out.

Tristan let out a quiet sigh. The fact of the matter was, he loved his life, his work, his friends, and yes, his brother as well. He just wasn't always sure if that love was enough.

"What was that?"

Tristan was shaken out of his gloomy reverie by Siegfried's sudden inquiry. He looked around, but couldn't fathom what his brother was talking about.

"What do you mean?" Tristan looked out his window. "I don't see anything."

Siegfried pulled the car off the main road and went a few yards down a dirt path before stopping the car and parking it. Then he got out and stared across a field that sloped up into steeper hills.

"There!" Siegfried said, pointing toward a fence a couple hundred yards away. "There, do you see it?"

Tristan got out of the car and squinted into the distance. He was just about to ask again about what Siegfried was talking about when movement caught his eye.

"Yes, I see it. It's a horse, isn't it? What's a horse doing all the way out here on its own?"

"You see how it's dappled," Siegfried said. "It's got to be that horse Charlie Kemp lost. You remember, he said that his horse had gotten loose from its cart not too far from this area three days ago."

"Looks like it's hurt from the way it's walking," Tristan said.

"Yes, and I bet we can catch up with it," Siegfried said. He leaned back into the car and pulled out his bag. "Come on, get the rope and your things too. We'll get that horse, patch it up, leave it here closer to the road and then let Charlie know where he can pick his horse up."

"Oh come on, Siegfried. It'll…."

"Stop whining, Tristan," Siegfried snapped. "That horse needs our help. Now, come on."

Siegfried marched out onto the field. Tristan sighed and grabbed the things Siegfried wanted from the car. Deep down, he agreed that they should try to do something to help the poor creature. But he was also enough of a realist to see that this could lead to a bunch of fruitless running around.

Tristan let out one more huff of frustration before slinging the coil of rope onto his shoulder and running after Siegfried.