Tristan winced and rubbed at the bite on the back of his leg. He hoped that nobody had noticed that he hadn't been putting his full weight down on his right foot.
Deidre and Callum had fought fiercely again - locking horns and laying into each other like angry stags - but the raised voices and shouting emanating from the hall had ceased for now. Tristan had heard the door slam for a second time shortly after Siegfried had left, indicating that Callum too had gone out - probably to clear his head.
It suddenly seemed as though everybody had forgotten about him now – and the quiet which had now descended over the house somewhat suited him. He didn't mind the fact that now that he had managed to convince them all that he was alright they didn't seem too bothered with him anymore. His head was pounding – the day's events had at last began to take their toll, and Tristan was beginning to feel far from well.
He had tried to dress the bite himself with sticking plaster, but it had been too large and rather too deep and trying to stick it with Elastoplast had been like trying to seal a burst pipe with cello-tape. The sticky flesh coloured fabric had barely been enough to partially cover the graze on the back of his ankle where Timmy's teeth had scraped across the surface of his skin. The leg of his pyjama trousers had concealed the rest of the wound - the broken skin still sticky with encrusted and congealed blood.
As soon as they'd both arrived home Deidre had sent Tristan up to his room to change out of his wet clothes whilst she had busied herself heating water on the small stove in the kitchen. She hadn't witnessed how he'd struggled to scale the stairs. The pain had been excruciating – the wound burned and smarted like a hot polka adorned with millions of tiny needles being pressed against his skin. He'd been thoroughly frozen through to the bone and shivering, but thanks to the hot, sweet tea she'd been plying him with all evening he was at least now feeling quite a bit warmer than he had been – if not a little too warm maybe. There was cold water where there should have been warm blood flowing through his veins – but his face and cheeks were hot to the touch, suggestive of a developing fever.
He breathed a sigh to steady himself and ran a cold hand across his warm and clammy forehead. His particular area of expertise may have been confined to veterinary medicine, but he also knew enough to realise that he would be lucky to escape infection. He was already feeling nauseous. His chest ached with every breath – but he still somehow managed to convince himself that if he could just get to bed he might be able to sleep off his frankly quite alarming list of symptoms.
He started to try and think of ways to get past Deidre without arousing her suspicions – but he felt rather muzzy headed and this was making him a little unsteady on his feet. He didn't think that he had the strength to hide his limp from her anymore. Movement made his head throb to the rhythm of his heartbeat, and he swallowed hard to try and dispel the nausea which had taken route in the pit of his stomach.
Standing up made him feel somewhat sea sick. He felt as though he was floating – either that or the ground was moving beneath him and he struggled to find his footing. His leg was on fire – as though someone was holding it over an open flame – but he knew which of the anti-biotics and painkillers which they kept in the surgery would be reasonably safe for him to take. Now that Siegfried and Callum had left he only had to worry about getting past Deidre. He could inject himself quickly and easily enough, all he then had to do was get from the kitchen into the surgery, and then upstairs to his bedroom without arousing anyone's suspicions first.
Deep down, if he was honest with himself, he knew that such an idea was ludicrous. It was bound to fail – he barely had strength enough left to stand let alone scale the stairs – and it was bordering on the side of irresponsible. He had to tell someone about his leg. As things were he was already not in the best of shape. He knew that ne now needed urgent medical attention, but perhaps it was more a testament to his growing fever that he was no longer able to think straight, rather than to his own stupidity - which he realised he was renowned for. But the thought of everyone fussing over him again filled him with a sense of dread, and he decided that it would probably be worth a try if it meant that he could slip away unnoticed and nurse his ills in peace.
The majority of the wounds he'd sustained to his leg and ankle that afternoon were just superficial flesh wounds - shallow scrapes and grazes - where his torn trousers had taken the brunt of Timmy's attack, but there were a couple of reasonably deep puncture marks to his calf where the dog had managed to get a tight hold of his leg.
Despite doubting he could, he tried again to stand – testing the stability of the limb carefully before taking a few tentative test steps. His ankle didn't immediately give way beneath him, which was a promising sign, but he also didn't feel entirely confident that it was capable of supporting his dead weight for very long either. Tristan was as stubborn as he was careless however, which would prove to be his downfall on this occasion - quite literally so.
As he took an unsteady step towards the kitchen door a searing pain erupted in his ankle and the room began to spin violently - it felt as though he'd suddenly found himself caught in the cycle of a spin dryer. He found himself pitching forwards, knocking over a chair as he fell and hitting the floor hard. He lay there for what felt like quite a while, dazed and winded, and feeling too weak and exhausted to get back up. When he finally did move it took him quite some effort to just roll over onto his back, where he continued to lie motionless, watching the ceiling spinning above him - his chest heaving with the effort of breathing.
He groaned weakly, feeling utterly sorry for himself and helpless.
Meanwhile, Deidre had been standing in the hallway, watching Callum go with tears streaming down her face and willing him to come back and fight for her, but already knowing that he would not. He was too angry and too proud, and she felt ashamed that she now had to go back in to Tristan, after such a degrading and undignified display, and tell him that things were probably all over between the two of them.
They had never argued like this before.
The loud clatter and then the crash which she heard coming from the kitchen however sent her rushing back in there, and she was alarmed to find Tristan sprawled out on the floor. He was just beginning to sit up but she could tell that he was quite unwell. His face was pale but his cheeks were pink, and his complexion was tinged with a sickly green, as though he was struggling to hold on to his tea - the caffeine rich drink sitting uncomfortably in his stomch aggravating his nausea. Her greatest cause for concern was that his chest seemed to be moving in the most erratic manner however, as though he was finding it difficult to breathe, and there was a pained and somewhat alarmed expression upon his pasty face, as though his collapse had caught him off guard.
"Oh my God, Tristan! What happened?" She asked in her lyrical Scottish accent, pushing the upturned chair aside and tripping over the legs in her haste to get to him.
"It's alright Deidre, I just tripped." He tried to explain, doing his best to play down what had just happened in a feeble attempt to spare himself any further humiliation, but as she bent down beside him she couldn't help but notice the mangled state of his leg - the wound barely visible beneath his trouser leg. Her face paled as she took in the sight of the encrusted blood against the inflamed skin, and as she reached out to gently touch his slightly flushed cheeks he grimaced and pulled away from her, aware that he could not conceal a fever from her – but as her fingers brushed against the side of his face lightly Tristan pulled his trouser leg back down.
"God Tris, you're burning up!" She frowned.
Tristan groaned as she reached out for him again. He felt the cool of her palm against his warm skin, and this time he leaned into her touch – shuddering. He tried to stand, but finding himself unable to get back up he slumped back down onto the cold, hard floor, remaining where he'd fallen.
He hadn't actually felt too bad whilst Seigfried had been there – he'd felt a little unwell, but nowhere near as awful as he did now. Their conversation had helped to distract him, and he suspected that the adrenalin which had still been coursing through his system had probably had something to do with him not noticing the onset of his symptoms sooner. The weakness had gripped him so suddenly after Siegfried had left, and it scared him to think of how quickly the illness could have taken hold.
"I'm sorry Deidre," He apologised, ashamed by how weak his own voice sounded to him, but powerless to do anything about it, "but do you think you could help me up? I don't seem able to manage it myself." He asked her.
"Tris you don't look well at all!" She observed with a soft frown, gently cupping both his cheeks in her hands and then feeling his forehead again to try and access the severity of his fever. His hands were cold, but his face was hot, and there were the first faint traces of sweat upon his brow. The dark shadows beneath his tired eyes and the fact that his eyelids drooped heavily as though he was struggling to stay awake were also a testament to just how exhausted he was feeling.
"To be honest with you Deidre, I have felt better..." He confessed.
"Hang on a second," She bade him, "I'll go and get Siegfried!"
It was only when she said this that Tristan realised that what had felt to him like several minutes since Siegfried and Callum had left had in actual fact only amounted to a matter of seconds - a minute at the most - and as she scrambled to her feet and hurried urgently from the room he allowed himself to indulge in another wretched groan, thinking he would really rather she would not.
Although another part of Tristan – perhaps an even bigger part than even he realised – the little boy – longed for the comforting presence of the big brother who had taken care of him when he'd been little, and had comforted him when he'd been ill. There was quite an age gap between the two brothers, and by the time Tristan had been born Siegfried had already moved away from home to commence his studies at veterinary school. It certainly hadn't been easy but he had however returned home for a few days at a time, as well as for short spells during special holidays such as Christmas throughout the course of his little brother's first few years of life. He had done his best to play an active role in Tristan's upbringing and childhood, balancing looking after him with school work when he could, and staying in to study and take care of his little brother in order to give his parents some much needed time to themselves. Rather than going out partying and drinking with his friends Siegfried had always been a family man at heart. Tristan had on occasion wondered whether this was the real reason Siegfried had never seemed to understand his own party lifestyle, or, when he'd been much younger, whether he had in fact been just a little resentful of his favour with the ladies. But now that he was older and a little more mature he knew this, in his heart, not to be the case.
Tristan actually had very little memory of the part his father had played throughout the earlier years of his childhood - the two most prominent figures who stood out in his memory being his mother and his older brother. Their father had died not very long after he'd turned thirteen - leaving him to face adolescence alone, and with nothing in the way of a suitable male role model had it not been for Siegfried.
It had been right around this time that his older brother had sort to distance himself from Tristan, however - becoming more of an authority figure than the friend he had been throughout his earlier years.
Even so Tristan still had his male pride, and he couldn't stand the thought of the lecture he anticipated from his brother - he felt sure that Siegfried would be disappointed in him, and if there was one thing Tristan couldn't stand more than his older brother being angry it was him being disappointed in him. He would put on a facade of pretence that his brother's frequent flashes of temper didn't faze him, but he would have been lying if he'd said that they never affected him at all, especially when they were justified.
Before he could open his mouth to say anything however Deidre had gone - and he winced as another bolt of pain shot up the length of his leg like lightening. The pain was so intense that it instantly silenced anything he'd been about to say, along with any pleas which may have been on the tip of his tongue, as he went back to nursing his ills.