Disclaimer: This is a non-profit story, written for 'fun' only.
Warning: This story deals with loss. Don't read it if you're sensitive to this subject.
Characters: Siegfried, James, Helen, Tristan
Summery: Three went to war, but only two came back.
Author's notes: I'm a long time writer, but this is my first All Creatures story.
A big warm thank you goes to my beta Strut for her always diligent beta work no matter the story I present her with. Any remaining mistakes are mine. Keep in mind though that I'm non native English. Also I like ending on a positive note, so keep the title in mind.
Editted: 21 March '11
Editted: 17 April '11
-All Creatures Great and Small-
Rain pelted down, leaving the cobblestones slippery, the road was hardly indistinguishable from the grey slab buildings rising up on either side of him on his way to church. James tightened his collar, kept his head down, and walked as fast as possible. Although used to the hardships of the outdoors as a country vet, right now, the weather only emphasized his mood. Darkened skies dropping their content, cloaked the town of Darrowby. With dawn long since past, James felt as if the sun just wouldn't rise today.
I shouldn't be out here. Helen shouldn't be out there waiting for me. He shouldn't have been out there…
He pressed his lips together and moved on as drops slipped from his bangs, down his cheeks and onto his neck.
He'd never understood the fuss about sunrise.
Rushing inside, warmth covered him, not welcoming, but like a heavy blanket taking away his breath. The cold in his bones was not so easily dislodged though, causing icy chills to run down his spine.
He hadn't looked forward to this memorial service. None of them had.
These were people he felt closely acquainted with, his love for the Dales nurtured by their stamina, their will, to make a living in the sometimes hostile but beautiful environment of the moors.
Now they looked shattered.
Drabbed in black, they quietly walked passed, consoling candle lights flickering off their tight faces.
There was Mr. Willis who had lost his only son, and the Weeting family, one member short. He managed a couple of nods, squeezed an arm here and there, and then shuffled in between the pews to sit down beside Helen. She grabbed his hand, wordlessly giving him the strength to get through the next hour.
From the pulpit, the vicar started the sermon, a tribute to the men Darrowby had lost. The prize of the second World War that James never thought he'd had to pay.
"Do not let their sacrifices go to waste, for these men: our sons, our fathers, our friends, and our brothers died for our victory."
The vicar's words sounded hollow in James' ears. He let them slide past like he let the rain drape of his coat. But when the vicar started calling out names, James felt the icy core inside him liquefy, every name a soul whom James had laughed with, had drunk a pint of Yorkshire ale with, or had spent early morning breakfast with after a hard night of calving.
"Daryl Anson, Dennis Weeting, Harry Bilton."
Soft sobs echoed between the arches.
Helen's warm fingers squeezed his hand. She held up a brave front, her face strained from keeping back tears as the list of names grew longer. On James' left, his friend stared in the distance. He'd grown quiet, all cheerfulness gone in the wake of the loss of his brother.
He'd known Roy, a burly guy able to break your wrist in an arm wrestling contest if you dared to challenge him. Great with horses though. Roy's widow, sitting in front of them released a sob soft.
The permafrost in his body liquefied all at once. He blinked, and fought to keep himself together. Mrs. Smith peered over her shoulder, her eyes filling with compassion.
Siegfried stood up and left the church.
The sermon drew to a close and James all but stormed outside. Rain had lessened, allowing a watery ray to splash the courtyard in yellows and greys while the church bells announced their loss all over the Dales. The sound only served to remind James of that whole unfortunate bell ringing affair Tristan had drawn him into when the man had wanted to save a cat.
He shoved his hands in his pockets, pushing the memory aside,
He stared ahead, biting out the next words because he knew that if he turned around now, he'd fall apart. "He shouldn't have been out there, Helen."
"I know." Her voice sounded hoarse, barely audible above the rush of rain pelting down from the sky.
Arms wrapped around him. He thought about pulling back, not letting the cold inside melt in the warmth of her embrace. But she turned him around. Spent from grief in these last few weeks, her soft controlled tears now mixed with rain. So he stopped resisting and pulled her tight, letting the rain wash away their sorrow.
"You're going after Siegfried?" She asked when he let go.
"I'll wait for you at Skeldale."
He let go of her hand and walked away.
"Bring him home, James." He heard her say.
Her voice got drowned out by sheets of water hitting the pavement. He resolutely stepped ahead while the sky opened up with renewed gusto, cleansing the broken land beneath his feet.
James always had a knack for finding Siegfried even in the remotest of places. Also, Tristan had more or less told him where to look, just before they'd been called out.
"Here I was, longing for a good breakfast, when Siegfried suddenly stops the motorcar, in the middle of the Dales, miles from nowhere."
"You had your brotherly talk you mean."
Tristan nodded, looking befuddled. "I sometimes forget…" he took another sip of his beer and surveyed the smoke-filled room of the Drovers, "…how much he cares."
James nodded. "Come on, time to take you home."
Cold winds ripped his thoughts away, leaving him feeling as empty as when he'd first heard the dreadful news. Overhead clouds rushed by, theirhuge shadows gliding over the wide scope of the moors stretching out in front of him. Leaving his motorcar behind, James passed Siegfried's Rover, and headed for the figure standing forlornly by the side of the road.
"It's like the land is crying, James." Siegfried stared in the distance, taking in the rain swept countryside with the expression of someone who had seen his worse nightmare come true. "Look at it. All those good men lost in the war, sons who didn't come home."
James kept his silence.
"D'you know I said goodbye to him? Right here? Before I shipped out."
"He told me, yes."
Siegfried caught his eyes. "He did? Yes, I suppose he did. You're a good friend, James." He looked away. "I told him to be careful, to not take any risks. I know he acts cowardly at times, but that's just laziness. He is a Farnon after all." He hesitated. "He was… was a…"
"Siegfried, he might still be-"
His friend whipped around. "Oh come on, James. You've been there. In the war. How many times have you seen comrades go down, and then declared missing in action. M.I.A. It's just a term used to soften the blow." Siegfried's voice dropped to a near whisper. "I called in some favours, made a few telephone calls. Tristan was doing veterinary work for one of the units near the coast, keeping the life stock fit to provide the army with necessary food supplies, that sort of thing. Last month the whole unit got shipped out abroad and got caught up in the backwash of the German retreat…" Siegfried's voice broke.
James closed his eyes.
Taking Helen in his arms, meeting little Jimmy when he arrived home had been one of the happiest moment in his life. The things he'd seen, things he would never talk about were a closed chapter. That beautiful day was going to be the first day of the rest of his life...
With barely one foot in Skeldale house at ten in the morning, James found himself enveloped in a bear hug. "Hello Siegfried." He smiled. The man hadn't changed one iota. His heartfelt welcome as sincere as ever. "I heard you came home last week."
"Yes, yes, yes." He motioned James into the living room. "I'm telling you, James, of course it felt good to win the war, but nothing beats watching a sunrise out here on a bright Yorkshire morning. To emphasize his point, he threw open the French doors and breathed in deeply. "Smell that, James."
James had trouble holding hisgrin in check. After having been away for so long, Helen's scent had been intoxicating; the smell of fresh meadows, and crisp Yorkshire air mingled with the aroma of baked bread. "Yes, I have." He caught Siegfried's glance. "And you're right."
Siegfried wasn't the man to enjoy the finer things of life half heartedly, so he slapped James on the shoulder. A noise signalling the arrival of morning mail, had his partner all but bouncing back to the front door. "It's good to have you back!"
James shook his head and took a seat at the dining table set with coffee and cakes. Officially, he wasn't on call until tomorrow. Siegfried on the other hand must have already taken care of morning surgery and done the odd farm job here and there. His partner's infectious joy raised his cheer as he pored them coffee. "Any news from Tristan?"
"I got a letter from him a few weeks ago." Siegfried entered the reception room, sifting through the mail. "He'll be here tomorrow by the latest. You know my brother, has to attend all those farewell parties."
"He needs time to let go of his female conquests you mean?" He laughed.
"Ah, here's another one." Siegfried sat down opposite James, passing on the telltale Air Force issued envelope. "Read that for me, will you?"
"He's probably writing in to tell you he's taking his time."
Siegfried lowered his coffee. "He better not. Ever since I got back, farmers have been falling all over themselves to get me to pay them a visit. I heard there even was a minor skirmish at the Drovers between Biggins and Skerry over who's call was more important. I haven't sat down all week."
"Oh, really?" James opened the envelope and started reading with a cheery boom to his voice. "Dear Mister Farnon. We regret to inform you…" His voice halted as what felt like ten pounds of stones settled in his stomach. As he browsed the letter's content, the stones moved, liquefied and rose up in his throat, leaving an intense cold in their wake.
He heard the grandfather clock from all the way over in the hallway ticking loudly in his ears. He swallowed. Once, twice, felt frozen to the chair, the letter glued to his fingers. He looked up, reading in Siegfried's face a fear that was almost pleading. Oh God.
The stones in his stomach liquefied, rose up and closed his throat with a heat he fought to keep down, he couldn't speak. Arms feeling heavy, he handed over the letter. The moment he let go, he stood up and turned away. Behind him silence thickened. James swallowed, put one hand on the dresser to stem overwhelming emotions rushing up and found his voice again. "I'll go and call, Helen."
Afraid he would break down over the phone, he had kept his call succinct, knowing it wouldn't fool Helen. Looking up, he could tell by her dishevelled appearance that he'd caught her in the middle of her morning chores. Still wearing an apron, and without an overcoat, she stood in front of James, her features tight with worry. Finding him sitting on the stairs didn't help of course.
"James, what's wrong?"
He shook his head, fought to keep his voice steady. "We got a letter this morning, from the Air Force…"
Their eyes caught, and Helen slapped a hand over her mouth. The letter could mean anything, but his wife knew him, knew of all his little quirks, his posture, his disposition and what it took to throw him off. And this… she knew… she already knew. A wet film clouded her eyes. "Not Triss, James," she whispered. "Tell me it's not Triss."
God, he would have done anything to take the utter devastation from her voice. "He…" James halted, then tried again. "He's been reported M.I.A. since last week."
They found Siegfried where James had left him, sitting at the table, letter still in hand, staring in front of him. The whiskey in his other hand told them he'd moved though.
"Siegfried," Helen's voice broke.
James hung back.
She moved over and gently took the glass from his partner's fingers.
"What was he doing there, Helen?" His voice sounded small, as if all the life had drained out of him. He looked up.
"Where?" She kept her voice sweet, yet it was wracked with grief.
"Abroad… he shouldn't have been abroad. He was suppose to be here… this week."
James took a deep breath, the cold in his chest spreading at seeing Siegfried completely going to pieces. He lowered his head.
"I know," Helen spoke softly. She stepped closer.
Siegfried raised his hands. "No! No, I need to um…" He stood up and watched her. "I need to…" Then he nodded and walked out. A second later, James heard the back door slam shut.
Helen sat down and cried.
"Tristan loved this place, Siegfried." James stared out over the moors. "For all his big city adventures, he kept coming back here."
Siegfried nodded. It took a while before his friend spoke, though, never once looking him in the eye. "What do I do now, James?"
"You go on." He shrugged, letting some of his pain show. "You have to, I guess…" He caught the man's eyes. "…in time."
James moved away, letting his friend have the space he needed.
Subdued by the memorial service, his talk with Siegfried, and the consequent war related memories assaulting him, James quietly entered Skeldale house. The rain had let up to a soft drizzle, making him feel utterly miserable.
Coming from the kitchen, Helen met him in the hall where he discarded his drenched coat to find his partner's hat and coat already there. Not too surprising since James had sat outside in his car for a while, failing in his attempts to will the pain away. Siegfried must have come in through the back door.
Helen nodded at the living room. "He looks so sad, James."
"Stay with him." He followed her gaze. "I'm going to change."
She squinted. "Are you okay?"
Nodding vigorously, he held his voice as steady as he could. "I will be."
Helen's smile didn't reach her eyes, her attention drawing to the living room again. "We're all he has now."
He studied her for a second longer before going upstairs. With hearths only lid downstairs, and in the attic rooms he and Helen currently occupied, the house was cold. Floorboards creaked as he set foot on the landing and passed Tristan's room. They had left it alone. James doubted Siegfried would ever clean it out. They weren't ready. Not yet. The door stood open.
That was unusual. Maybe Siegfried had paid it a visit. He moved to close the door when a rustling sound drew his attention. Might be the cat that Siegfried had taken in last week. His brother had loved cats. He sighed, really not wanting to do this. He couldn't leave it in there though. Tepidly he stepped into the room, heart heavy with memories. Light streamed in from the window, fractured by the water drops stuck to the outside glass it bathed the room in soft reds and yellows. There, on the bed, dressed in a tattered uniform, face covered in grime, was Tristan. Fast asleep.
James blinked, sure he was dreaming. Another blink and the man would be gone, the bed empty, the loss all the more profound. He stared.
Tristan was still there, lying on his side, breathing softly.
James squatted, blinked harder. something inside him morphed, exploded, filled him with warmth until a wet film clouded his vision. He reached out, took in the miraculous side in front of him and hesitated. Pulling back, he stared for a second longer, then willed his legs to move. They felt like lead, his mind screaming at him to wake up his friend, to not leave him alone because what if all this was a bad dream. Nevertheless, he forced himself to walk out and close the door behind him
He found Siegfried talking softly to Helen. Apart from their meeting on the moors, it was the first time James heard his friend open up a little to anyone. He felt proud of his wife, for managing to accomplish that.
"Come on, you two." His voice sounded unsteady in his ears. What if they came upstairs and the room was empty? What if it had been a bad dream? He wasn't sure if he could handle that.
They looked up in mild surprise.
"I want to show you something." He gestured them out of the living room.
"I appreciate your concern, James," Siegfried started. "But I'm not in the mood for-"
"-You too Helen."
It wasn't often he put his foot down. Siegfried studied him, obviously came to the conclusion and gave in. Far too easily for James' peace of mind, but that didn't matter now. He led the way upstairs.
"James," Helen sounded exasperated behind him. "Mind telling us what this is all…" She dropped her voice the moment he halted in front of the bedroom.
She froze. "No James."
He opened the door. "Come on. We need this."
Siegfried looked at him, sadness colouring his features.
Helen's whispered plea betrayed her anxiety. "I can't, not yet."
There was a soft rustle.
Before James could say another word, Siegfried rushed by in such a hurry that he flattened James against the door post. Feeling a smile tug at his lip, James grabbed his wife's hand and guided her inside.
Helen sucked in a breath at the sight in front of them. " I don't believe it," she whispered.
Siegfried stood staring at the bed.
The grandfather clock's ticking down in the hall was the only thing measuring the seconds passing away. Then Tristan moved, breaking the icy core inside that had held James in place from the moment he'd set eyes on that blasted letter. Siegfried sank down on his knees, reached out and grabbed his brother's hands. "Tristan," the name sounded strange, as if drawn up from a place deep inside that Siegfried hadn't dared access again. "My dear Tristan."
His brother's eyes snapped open, blue and brimming with fear, but also very much alive. Recognition flooded his mud streaked features. "Siegfried?"
James had never seen them openly show their affection for one another but the hug that followed left nothing to the imagination. Relief flooded from them into James. A very small part of him worried though where the scare had come from.
Helen flung herself on the bed, grabbed the younger brother and planted a firm kiss on his cheek. "How?" She spoke laughingly. "We thought you were dead!"
"You did?" Tristan squirmed free and sat up against the headboard. He looked thin and tired. "Well, for a moment so did I, but you know me." He caught James' eyes. "God, it's good to see you all." He frowned. "Although you do look a bit worse for wear."
James crossed his arms. "That's because we just came from the memorial service." He didn't mean to sound irate but somehow, the bite escaped his mouth.
Tristan's eyes shot back and forth between them, then came to rest on his brother. "I'm sorry, Siegfried."
There it was again, a fear James recognized. He'd seen it. In soldiers who'd seen too much. He mellowed. "No, it's okay, Triss. It's just… you're a bit of a surprise."
"That you are!" Siegfried pitched in, still holding his brother's gaze. "A sight for sore eyes. Best surprise I've had in years!"
"Oh dear, Really?" Tristan looked uncomfortable but happy.
"Want to tell us what happened?" James decided to pitch in.
"There's nothing much to tell. Let's just say I lay low for a couple of days until it was safe to travel. I knew I was already missing so I didn't bother with demobilization and came straight here. Nobody was home, so I dropped on my bed to catch up on some much needed sleep."
There was a lot more to this story. Judging by Siegfried's face, he sensed it too.
Helen shot Tristan a warm look. "Come on, you have to get out of these clothes, and then I'll fix us all something to eat." She stood up, her eyes telling James he should follow her out of the room.
James complied, leaving Siegfried alone to talk to Tristan. While Helen went for the kitchen, James headed toward the attic where it felt warm and cosy. He took a deep breath, and headed for the window that looked out over Darrowby. The rain had let up, and the first rays of light penetrated the thinning cloud cover, warming his face and splattering the vista before him in bright reds and yellows.
James had never seen a more beautiful belated sunrise.
Yorkshire felt whole again.
A/N: Thank you for reading. This is one of those stories that your muse forces on you at the most inconvenient time possible, like in the middle of the night and so I wrote it in one go. I'm not at all sure about what Tristan has been doing in the war. He did mention once that he was lucky to have been doing the job he always does, so I worked around that. Also, I have absolutely no knowledge of British war history other than the basic facts so please don't fault me for that. Instead I've written this as a character piece for James. Now… because writing in ACGAS is new to me… I kept it as genuinely ACGAS as possible and didn't delve into the 'scare' Tristan has had. Do you think I should?