Disclaimer: ACG&S doesn't belong to me.

Author's Note: I've gone for a bit of an arty writing style this time.

FAILURE

Lost. All was lost.

Out in the softly falling snow, blanketing everything in white. He would soon be hidden under an icy shroud, like the grass, like the stonewalls, like the leafy-branched trees, like the cattle… No, not the cows, they moved. Moving things escaped the covering if they moved enough. And they were warm. Cattle. Cows. Bovine radiators.

Only it wasn't so cold anymore. Or was it? He couldn't tell. He couldn't feel.


He was amazed he had lost count and all his troubles in pints of the Drover's Arms' best bitter and yet still felt troubled, just not knowing why. It made him feel mad after a while. Like he'd lost his marbles as well as his ability to make sensible amounts of urine.

He turned to seek the guidance of a friend. Only the chair was empty. And the only glass on the table was his own. Then he remembered that James had left hours ago. A pat on the shoulder and a reassuring smile, apologies for having an early start tomorrow and advice to finish his pint and go to bed too. Only he hadn't. He'd stayed, alone. Drank more and more until he couldn't tell if the bleached-haired barmaid was Sharon or Clara.

Then out of the toxic fog came another remembering. The worst memory. The one that had driven him into this state in first place. He gulped down the last few mouthfuls of useless beer and left as abruptly as his senseless body would let him.


Drifting. As light as a cloud. As calm as a summer breeze.

No fear. Why would there be fear? There was nothing… Nothing?

Fear! There was fear now.


Stupid wall jutting out like that. Who invented corners? What kind of idiot invented sticky out, pointy bits? Stupid nausea. Who invented stomachs? Who… Blood. Where had that come from? More blood. Where was it coming from? Red on the white snow. Splatter, splatter. Where…

Oh God.

Blood.


One piece of paper. Or, more accurately, one typed word. It meant so much. Of course, he'd been expecting it. Of course. Naturally. Only maybe he hadn't been expecting it quite as much as he thought he had.

Sometimes a hopeful nature didn't carry you through. Not when it came to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' stern requirements and mail from Edinburgh vet school.

Such a short word, but so powerful, so shattering.

Four little typed letters.

FAIL.


He stepped out of the Drover's Arms and staggered through Darrowby, a fine mist of rain drifting down from the dark night sky. The grey bricks of Skeldale House were soon towering in front of him. But for the first time the building didn't look welcoming. That night it wasn't home, it was just a veterinary practice. Not the sort of place he wanted to be right then.

He found himself in the garage, climbing behind the wheel with no clear idea of where he was going. Just…away.


The end. Was this really it? Fin. Finis. In the darkness with only the beams from car headlamps. Lying in the snow with the sky dropping little sparkling flakes onto his face. The final full stop. But wait… He was lying on his back. When had that happened? Car headlamps…

"Tristan?"

A familiar name. But his dry throat felt too closed over to have spoken.

Something bobbing in front of the sky, blocking the little sparkling droplets. A face.

"Triss, say something!"

The man sounded awfully desperate. It really was about time this Tristan chap spoke up, it was getting downright unfriendly of him to leave the poor man in such a state of anxiety.

But then again, maybe Tristan couldn't say anything.

Maybe he was dead.


It felt like a punch to the gut that left him winded. There was shame…disappointment…anger. He had to tell them. Spread the knowledge of his incompetence, as if knowing himself wasn't enough. It wasn't just bad luck.

It was failure.


A light approaching in the darkness. The feeble, fading glow from the car's one remaining headlamp was being joined by another light source. How nice, it didn't need to survive alone anymore; it had a friend to share the task of battling against the darkness. He could do with a friend like that.

The light was actually two lights – car headlamps. That happened sometimes. Cars occasionally travelled down roads at night. Many examples, such as vets heading to farms for calvings or seeking missing chums. If they'd noticed their absence.

But he wasn't a vet. The letter had stated that quite clearly this morning. Or maybe it had become yesterday morning.


That desperately worried man was swearing now. Most enthusiastically. Feverishly, one might say. This Tristan chap really needed a good talking to about manners and when and when not to keep quiet.

He'd barely noticed the shaking before, but it was now becoming more forceful. Stubby fingernails dug into his shoulders through his coat. Jiggling him about. He'd rather had enough of it. It was making his head hurt. And his side. Christ. His left side was killing him.

"Tristan, please!"

The car headlamps caught the angles of the man's concerned face. He'd never seen his best friend look so terrified and upset before.

"James…"


Water was running down James's face and dripping off his nose. Maybe some of those droplets were tears. What a strange thought…

The rain had soaked him to his skin and James looked to be just as wet. But what had happened to all the snow? He seemed to remember snow, yet there was now no sign of it. Just rain. Which made much more sense in June.

There was blood, though. He'd gotten that bit right. But he'd not noticed quite how much of it there was before. Maybe it had mixed with the rain making it look worse. He hoped so. Otherwise it'd be a lot for one person to lose.