Actions

Work Header

I Go to France

Chapter Text

By the time Julien pulled the Renault into the circular driveway behind what was definitely a castle, Danny had been awake for more than thirty-six hours. He’d tried to sleep on the plane, but the combination of adrenaline and discomfort kept him awake. He’d shut off the light and closed his eyes, but his mind kept racing. Were they all safe? Had Billy gotten to see his mom yet? What about Tim? Tim had saved his life when he was twelve, when he could have ended up on the streets like so many other kids from the neighborhood. Alex said the General had a place for Tim, but he had to get safely to Headquarters, and only Alex knew where that was. He prayed as much as he ever had, to God and St. Dismas, and especially to the Archangel Gabriel. If anybody was going to advocate for him in Heaven, it would be Gabriel.

Now the lack of sleep was starting to catch up with him. He bent to pick up his bag, but he fumbled the handle and had to try again. Julien looked at him in the dim light of the setting sun, wondering whether Daniel would be offended if he offered to carry the bag. The boy seemed to have hold of it now, so he stayed silent. He wasn’t sure yet what to make of this second young fugitive that Gilbert had sent him. Martine had turned out to be a delight, a sweet, loving girl who had become friends with Sophie, and who liked to help Josette with the baking. She had been so frightened and sad when she arrived, poor thing. Gilbert had given them very little information, and had admitted that what he had told them about her might not be true. Julien understood. Gilbert was involved in the Résistance, and for some reason Martine was not safe in her own country. Once, when Martine was feeling very sad, Sophie had asked her if it was because she missed the father of her child. It was, Martine had admitted, but when Sophie had suggested that perhaps they could be reunited after the war in her country was over, Martine had begun crying again and had said simply, “He died.”

What a tragedy that was for someone so young. They never asked her for details, and, indeed, it was safer for her to tell them nothing. Sophie went to the doctor appointments with Martine, at first to translate, then, even after Martine’s French became more fluent, to keep her company. Now the baby was due almost any day. He hoped the arrival of this new young man would not be upsetting to her. Gilbert had said that they knew one another, but that was all. They had simply told Martine that someone else was coming, but they hadn’t learned his name until they picked him up at the airport. Gilbert had insisted on the utmost secrecy.

Julien opened the door now to see Martine and Sophie standing in the broad stone-flagged hall waiting. Martine’s brown eyes grew wide as they entered, and Daniel dropped his bag and held out his arms to her. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him awkwardly because of her advanced pregnancy, both of them crying and laughing.

“Hey,” Daniel said, wiping her tears with his fingers and stepping back, “look at you.”

She had kept her hair short and blond, but it was professionally cut and colored now, and it suited her. She smiled through the tears. “Yeah, look at me, big as a house.”

“Still beautiful, though.” He was too tired to be careful. He held out his hand, hovering over her belly. “May I?”

“Sure,” she told him, still smiling, and she took his hand, placing it gently on her abdomen.

He stood perfectly still, and after a moment, his face lit up. “I felt him move! Or her, sorry.”

“Him.”

“Yeah?” He grinned, keeping his hand where it was. “Soccer player?”

“Feels like it sometimes.”

“How much longer?”

“Maybe a week.”

“Oh, wow. I’m glad I made it in time.”

“Me too. It’s good to see you.” She hesitated, not sure what she was allowed to ask. “How is everybody?”

“Good, good. They send their love.” He had permission to tell her about Betsy, but not now. “I have messages for you. Nobody was allowed to sign their names, but you’ll probably be able to figure them out. Maybe tomorrow, though?”

She put her hand on his cheek. “You’re exhausted.”

“Yeah.”

Julien picked up the bag. “I’ll take this up for you,” he said, “and show you your room. And this is Sophie, my fiancée.”

“I’m sorry,” Daniel apologized. “I didn’t even say hello.”

Sophie smiled. “It’s okay. Jet lag is the worst.”

His room was huge, but it seemed all the rooms in the castle were. There was a big TV on a console table next to the wall, and a new laptop on the desk. A door on the left led to an ensuite bathroom. He looked around, overwhelmed.

Julien smiled diffidently. “Gilbert likes us all to be comfortable,” he said.

Daniel nodded, and Julien left him alone in his new room. He went into the bathroom and showered off twenty-four hours of travel grime, used the thick white towels from the heated towel rack. On the sink vanity, there was a new toothbrush, still in its packaging, along with an unopened tube of toothpaste. Gil had thought of everything. Of course he had.

He stared into the mirror, reminding himself that Gil would think it was hilarious that he was crying over a toothbrush. He needed sleep. Tomorrow it would be easier to remember that he was Daniel – pronounced like Danielle – and that Patty was Martine. Tomorrow it would be easier to understand that his life was now radically different from what it had been for the last sixteen years. Tomorrow, to begin with, he would be twenty-one.

*          *          *          *          *

Julien told him repeatedly to treat the house – the castle – as his home, and within a few days, wandering through unused rooms, he had found a gilt frame of the right size. He made the acquaintance of Pascal, who, with a couple of assistants, looked after the castle and its grounds, and borrowed a hammer. By afternoon, the angel picture was hanging in his room, positioned so he would see it when he woke up every morning. He stood back and looked at it. “Thanks for everything so far, Gabriel,” he said. “Stay with me, though, because I’m going to need so much help.”

He went to get Martine to show her the picture, and her eyes filled with tears. “It was Alex and John’s.”

“Yeah. John gave it to me.”

She put her hand to her face. “I miss them all so much.” It had been a lot for her to take in, what he had told her, even the barest facts that Alex had said he could share: Mark’s treachery, Betsy’s death, and all the tangled mess that had come out of that. She was comforted, though, by knowing that her mother was safe, that Ben was working with the General, and that the Movement continued. There was hope. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said now. “Don’t get me wrong, Julien and Sophie are wonderful, everybody’s been great, but I’ve had to keep so much to myself. Gil gave them only a little information. They don’t even know my real name.”

He smiled. “Martine is a pretty name.”

“Martine Danielle Laurence Manet,” she reminded him. “Your name and John’s.”

“Daniel Jean Gilbert Félice,” he told her, pronouncing the names in French as Gil had taught him.

“Really? Not Phénix?

“No, Gil said it was too easy to remember. Félice means happy, though, so I’ll take it – and I’ve got John’s name too, and Gil’s.”

“Maybe it’s silly,” she said, “but it’s helped, having your name and John’s. It helped me feel connected to what my life used to be.”

“Does the baby have a name yet?”

Her smile faded, and she looked away. “Not quite. I’d love to name him Nathan, but Alex warned me not to reveal anything I didn’t have to, so maybe for a middle name. Nat’s father’s name was Richard, so I thought of that, or maybe Benjamin. That sounds good in French, and thinking of Ben makes me think of Nat, so … I guess I’ll have to make up my mind soon.”

“Sophie said you have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow?”

She nodded. “Maybe my last one before he’s born.” Her eyes filled again. “I’m scared, Danny.”

He put his arms around her. “It’ll be fine. They’ll take good care of you, and then when you bring him home, we’ll all help.”

She pulled away and looked up at him. “Do you know anything about taking care of babies?”

“No, but I’m a fast learner.” He smiled, a little embarrassed. “I’ve been looking things up.”

“Really? You want to do that?”

“Yeah, I do.”

She leaned her head on his chest. “That makes me feel better.”

*          *          *          *          *

Sophie suggested that Daniel come with them for Martine’s appointment. “We’ll have lunch afterward and you can see a little of the town, maybe do some shopping?”

“Practice my French?” he asked.

She smiled. After all, how much French could he have learned in a few days? “Si tu veux.”

The maternity clinic was about half an hour away. Sophie drove them through miles – kilometers, he corrected himself – of green fields and villages of stone houses with red-tile roofs. It was as different from New York as Mars might have been. He stared out the car window at the clusters of trees on the hillsides that followed one another into the pale blue distance.

“What do you think?” Sophie asked.

“It’s so … peaceful.” That wasn’t the word he wanted, but it would have to do for now. “I’ve never lived anywhere but New York.”

“It is very different,” Sophie agreed. “I have visited New York, and it’s a wonderful city, but very … busy.”

He wondered what it would be like to live here, and then remembered with a jolt that he did, now. He lived in a world where his own room was twice the size of the apartment that he had shared with his mother, where people lived in houses that had been old when Columbus sailed, where green fields and blue hills went on and on past the horizon. He thought of a baby being born into this, a little boy growing up playing in the courtyard of a castle, making friends with Pascal, because of course he would. He was Nat Hale’s son, so he would charm everybody he met. Pascal would let him dig in the garden, and Pascal’s wife Josette would make him cookies in the castle’s vast and cavernous kitchen.

Gil had been lonely here, though, so lonely as a child that he was determined to have half a dozen children of his own so they would never lack playmates. Well, but Gil had grown up in the care of his aunt and uncle, who were loving but older, with no children of their own. Daniel would be happy to get down on the floor and play with a little boy, build block towers, and give piggy-back rides. He didn’t like to think of a little boy growing up lonely in the castle.

The receptionist smiled at Martine when they entered the doctor’s office, and gave Daniel a friendly inquiring look. “Ah, c’est le papa?” she asked.

Sophie made an instantaneous decision. She smiled back. “Oui, il vient d’arriver.”

Neither Martine nor Daniel showed any sign of surprise. They both understood the importance of keeping their expressions unreadable. They sat down at a distance from the receptionist’s desk, and Sophie said quietly in English, “I hope that was okay. It would explain things so simply, not just here, but to other people you come in contact with. We had said that Martine’s boyfriend had broken up with her, but perhaps now you have reconciled … then there is nothing to explain about Daniel’s arrival.”

“No, it’s fine,” Martine said. “It’s a good idea, actually. We should have thought of it.”

“It was smart,” Daniel agreed.

So then, when the assistant called Martine back to the examining room, it was clear that Daniel was expected to go too. New normal, he reminded himself, and turned to look at the wall while Martine exchanged her clothes for a shapeless examining gown.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

“Why not? If I’m the dad, I’m not going to be a jerk. What would the doctor think?”

That made her giggle, just as Dr. Cloutier came in. She was a tall woman with gray-blond hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. Martine introduced her “boyfriend,” and after a few routine questions, Dr. Cloutier began the exam, poking and prodding in ways that Daniel was sure must be very uncomfortable.

Vous avez eu des contractions?” the doctor asked.

Quelques-unes, de temps en temps, mais rien qui dure,” Martine answered.

Aucune autre douleur?”

Mal au dos.”

“Ça ne m’étonne pas.” Dr. Cloutier smiled.

Daniel paid attention. There were plenty of language-learning sites, and he was blessed with an excellent memory. Last night he had done a lesson about vocabulary that might be needed for a doctor visit, so he made out most of what they were saying. Contractions was easy, of course, and douleur was pain. Her back was hurting. She hadn’t said anything about it, but it should have been evident. What was it his aunt had said right before his cousin was born? Oh, yeah, Try duct-taping a bowling ball to your stomach and wearing it twenty-four-seven for nine months. Of course her back hurt. Maybe he could help later. He didn’t want to embarrass her or invade her privacy, but if he could, he’d like to make things easier for her. She’d already had to bear too many hard things.

*          *          *          *          *

Gil had arranged with Julien for both Martine and Daniel to get a monthly allowance. It was a ridiculous amount of money, Daniel thought, since he was already provided with food and lodging. He had no idea what he might spend it on, but Gil apparently had more money than he knew what to do with, and it was so carefully invested that it grew faster than he could give it away.

Martine had bought what she needed for the baby, but she had also saved quite a lot. “Maybe he’ll want to go to college in New York,” she said with a smile.

“Or New Haven,” Daniel suggested.

“That would be nice. He can’t be another Hale from Yale, though.”

Daniel frowned. “Why not?”

“It wouldn’t be safe to use Nat’s name, at least not now. Maybe sometime in the future, but not now.”

“So Baby Manet, then?”

She tilted her head seriously. “I was thinking … if you’re saying you’re the dad, you know, Baby Félice?”

“Really?”

“If you don’t mind,” she added hastily.

“Of course I don’t mind.” He put his hand on hers. “I’m honored. Anyway, it makes more sense to be consistent in the backstory.”

She smiled. “That’s what Alex would say.” She shifted her position in the chair and winced.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just a cramp. It happens pretty often.”

“You sure?”

“No. Check the time, and we’ll see what happens.”

Oh, shit. But he got out his phone and made a note of the time, and tried to talk about anything else he could think of. After ten minutes, there was another cramp. “So … do we need to do anything?”

“Not yet. I’m supposed to go to the hospital when the contractions are five minutes apart for an hour.”

“Okay. Do you know how long that might be from now?”

She made a very serious face and looked down her nose at him. “It varies greatly from one pregnancy to another and there is no way to predict the timing,” she told him in her best doctor voice.

“Great. Well, can I do anything other than be the official timekeeper?”

“I’m supposed to stay hydrated and comfortable,” she said, “although I think comfortable stopped being an option a few months ago.”

He stood up. “What do you want to drink?”

“Orange juice, for now. Would you mind going down to the kitchen to get it? I’m going to take a shower.” She rolled her eyes skeptically. “That’s another thing they suggest. It’s supposed to help me relax.”

“I’ll go get the orange juice,” Daniel told her, “but don’t get in the shower until I get back. You know, in case you need anything.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Me too, but humor me, okay?”

“Okay. I’ll sit here and watch the clock.”

He was back with the orange juice in record time, considering the distance from the upstairs sitting room to the kitchen, and found her standing, bent over, holding onto the chair.

“Hey, are you all right?”

“Yeah, just trying to stretch my back.”

He put the juice down and stood behind her. “Lean forward,” he told her.

She did, and he began to rub her lower back, pressing the palms of his hands along the tight muscles. She seemed so small to him.

“Thank you,” she sighed. “That feels good.”

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Nineteen,” she replied with a giggle. “Why?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t remember. You’re the same age as Eliza, right?”

“A few months younger, but yeah. How old are you?”

“Weren’t you at my last birthday party?”

“Yeah, now that you mention it, I was. I can’t remember what birthday it was, though.”

He couldn’t see her face, but he knew she was joking. “My ID says I’m twenty-one,” he told her.

There was a tiny pause, and then she said, “That sounds right.”

He felt her tense under his hands as another contraction started, and he kept rubbing her back through it. She stood up when it was over. “Still ten minutes?” she asked him.

“Yeah.”

“If I hurry, I can get a shower before the next one. If I need you, I’ll yell, I promise.”

“Okay, I’ll be right here.”

She left the door to the bathroom open a couple of inches so he could hear her if she called, but she didn’t, and in about twenty minutes, she returned, wearing her loose, stretchy pants and shirt, her short hair damp.

“Any more contractions?” he asked.

“Two more. They’re not bad, but they seem to be pretty regular.”

“Should I call anybody?”

Her eyes filled, then overflowed, and he jumped up, surprised and anxious. He put his arms around her, and she leaned forward, crying on his shoulder. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Sorry,” she said, trying to stop. She reached for the box of tissues on the table.

He held onto her hand and led her to the couch. “Sit down and talk to me,” he said gently.

She sat next to him, and wiped her eyes and nose. “It’s not … I’m okay.”

“Patty …”

She gave him a faint smile. “You’re not supposed to call me that.”

“Martine, then, tell me. It’s me, you know. You can tell me anything.”

She nodded. “I know. It’s not that. It’s just … I try not to think about how it might have been different, and when you asked if you could call anybody, I realized that the people I really want to talk to now are people that you can’t call.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have thought. I’m an idiot.”

“No, no … ow! Dammit.” Her face changed as another contraction began. She breathed through it, then took another deep breath when it ended. “You know this will go on for hours, right?”

He shrugged. “I don’t have any other plans. How about if I call Sophie, though?”

“Actually, that might be a problem. She told me last night to be sure not to have the baby today. It was a joke at the time, but now it’s not so funny.”

“Why?”

“In the summer, she works as a guide and translator for exchange student groups. Today, she’s got a group of English kids in Avignon.”

“Where’s that?”

“About three hours away. They left early this morning.”

“But you’re not going to have the baby in three hours, so …”

“No, but they went on a bus, and anyway, she can’t just abandon fifty kids.”

“Oh, shit.”

“She’ll be back around ten tonight, so maybe she’ll be in time.” She didn’t sound too optimistic.

“What’s the backup plan?”

She turned away a little. “I’ll get Pascal to drive me to the hospital, and I’ll be fine on my own.” He started to talk, and she waved her hand at him. “No, listen. Julien and Sophie have been wonderful to me. Look at the way I’m living here. I’ve never had this much money in my life, and I never would have, if it hadn’t been for Gil. I’m grateful, really, really grateful, and I know my son will have everything he needs.” She paused a minute to fight back more tears. “But it’s not – Julien and Sophie have their own lives, the lives they were living before I turned up with practically no warning. If I were in New York, even if I were without Nat, my mom and Angelica would have their calendars cleared for this week just in case. Here, I have a few friends, but just casual friends. There’s nobody I can call and ask to hold my hand while I have a baby, but it’s okay. I kind of figured that’s the way it would be.”

“How about me?” It should be obvious, he thought.

“Please don’t feel that you have to offer,” she told him. “I mean, I knew you would, but it’s not … I don’t think it would be … it’s not pretty, you know, not like on TV. There’s blood and there’s probably going to be screaming. We watched medical films in prenatal classes.”

“I know.”

“I don’t want you to feel you have to, out of, I don’t know, politeness or something.”

He reached for her hand again. “If I say something, I mean it,” he said. “I won’t lie to you.”

She nodded, biting her lip.

“You think I’m too young?” he asked her directly.

It took her a few seconds to respond. “Maybe.”

He put his hand on her cheek. “Remember that night in the church? And there were other times, after you left. I’ve seen a lot of things that aren’t pretty. Giving birth is an experience I can’t possibly understand, and maybe you don’t want me with you because we’re friends, but we don’t have a close enough relationship that you’d be comfortable, and I completely get that. But if you need somebody to hang onto when it gets tough, and you think I might faint or something – well, you don’t have to worry about that.” Another contraction interrupted them, and when it was over, he looked at his phone. “And that was only eight minutes since the last one.”

“Okay, then. I’m going to find the prenatal class website, and give you a crash course in what to expect.”

*          *          *          *          *

Pascal had cheerfully driven them to the hospital in mid-afternoon, when the contractions were five minutes apart. The helpful staff had checked Martine in, and no one questioned that Daniel was her boyfriend.

It was not, as Martine had predicted, pretty. There was blood and a certain amount of screaming, and after it had gone on for hours, there was exhaustion.

“I can’t,” she wept.

“You can,” he told her. “You’re about to give birth to a warrior, just like his parents.”

And she did, and then there was a baby in her arms.

“Il est blond, comme vous, Madame,” the nurse said, smiling at the fluff of pale hair on the baby’s head.

Not like me, she thought, and turned to Daniel. “Would you like to hold him?”

He took him in his arms, and it didn’t feel strange at all. The baby stared up at him with bright blue eyes.

Another nurse came in and said, “Il ressemble à sa maman.”

“Non,” Daniel said, hoping his French would make sense, “à son papa.”

The nurses laughed, thinking it was a joke, but that was all right, because the two of them knew it was true.

“Vous avez choisi un prénom?” asked a nurse.

Martine didn’t answer right away. She turned to Daniel. “What do you think of the name Gabriel?” she asked, pronouncing it in French.

His throat got tight, and he shifted the baby to hold him with one hand, while he reached for her hand with the other. “Like the angel?”

“Like the angel.”

“It’s a beautiful name.”

She turned back to the nurse. “Gabriel Nathan. Gabriel Nathan Félice.”

“C’est très joli comme nom,” the nurse smiled.

Daniel looked down into the blue eyes. “Hello, Gabriel.”

*          *          *          *          *

Sophie and Julien arrived in the morning, bringing flowers and a beautiful going-home outfit for Gabriel. Sophie was full of apologies for not being there, but it was fine. “Don’t even think about it,” Martine told her. “It worked out well.”

Daniel had already changed a diaper, and had watched as the newborn-care specialist showed Martine how to nurse the baby. He might not understand the French, but he paid attention as she adjusted the baby’s position, so that he would be able to help at home.

Within a week, he had fallen in love with the tiny blue-eyed boy who was going to look exactly like Nat Hale. The newborn nurse, believing he was the father, had suggested that Martine pump enough breast milk for the night feeding so that he could take care of that while she slept. “It’s very good for both of you,” she explained. “That way, you get to spend some one-on-one time with your son, and your girlfriend gets the rest she needs. Taking care of a baby is hard work.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Daniel said when they were alone in the room, and she didn’t argue much because she was beginning to understand that he meant what he said.

Their bedrooms were across the hall from each other, so they kept the doors open at night, and Daniel always heard the baby when he cried. He’d bring him quietly into his room, change him, and give him a bottle, talking to him about New York, about his father, and his father’s best friend Ben, about his grandmother Elizabeth, and his Uncle Billy. “When you’re a little bigger, we’ll take you to New York. Everybody will be so happy to see you.”

Gabriel listened with what Daniel would swear later was real interest. Within a few weeks, he would smile when Daniel started talking to him.

There was no word from New York, ever. Sometimes he wondered if maybe Alex could have gotten a message to them, but didn’t try because of the risk. Sometimes, in dark moments, he wondered if they were all still alive. King’s government had shut the country down so tightly that there was very little news getting out of it. “You know who would like you?” he asked Gabriel late one night. “Your Uncle Tim, and Uncle Herc, John Laurens and Alex Hamilton – oh, and the Schuyler sisters. You’d like them, too. I want you to meet them someday.” Gabriel smiled and waved his arms in agreement.