AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be
Note: Betaed and edited by Sue M and Nancy.
Buck wasn't sure what woke him, most likely his pain meds had run out and he'd moved in his sleep, awakening the pain that sleep and drugs had deadened. Now he was truly awake he couldn't say which injury was the culprit, since by now it just hurt and ached all over. Glancing at the clock beside the bed, he noted it was too soon to take more medication. He could take more now, but then he'd run out before the end of the day and he'd rather have their comfort when he had to move about, and, for now, just lie still in bed. The house was silent, until there was the sudden sound of small feet padding quickly along the corridor. The boys had their own bathroom, so unless both needed the lavatory at three A.M, an unlikely scenario, whichever boy it was, wasn't answering nature's call. The footsteps stopped outside his room. Buck waited for a tentative knock – if it was Vin – or the door to open, if it was JD, but nothing happened. Then the footsteps moved on down toward Chris' room before stopping again and retracing their steps. Finally he heard a knock on the guest room door.
“Uncle Ezra?” Vin's tentative voice called softly. He knocked again.
Buck thought he could hear someone moving. Ezra was no doubt stirring.
“Yes?” the southerner answered.
“JD's barfing,” Vin stated plainly.
“Bathing?” Ezra asked.
“No barfing, you know, puking up.”
“Oh, how delightful.”
“I was gonna get Buck, but then I ‘membered what you told us, that we's t' come to you for anything, so him and Dad can rest.”
“I did say that, didn't I?” Buck could just see the expression on Ezra's face. “Very well, let us attended to young Mr Dunne.”
Buck was consumed with guilt. He should get up and help, he should pull himself off the bed, no matter how much it hurt or how stiff he was, and help his son. But he didn't. The school had warned them that Noro Virus, also known as ‘winter vomiting', was doing the rounds. JD hadn't eaten much at supper and had turned down a pre-bedtime cookie; that alone should have warned him the boy was ailing.
It was now almost a week since he and Chris had been released from the hospital. If anything, they hurt more now, than they had then. The powerful intravenous opiate pain killers they'd been given in the hospital were out of their system within a day of their release and the tablets they had been given just didn't work as well. Every move ignited some new injury and all his muscles seemed to have seized up. Castigating himself for being a horrible parent, he nonetheless just couldn't face the pain of getting off the bed, and dealing with a vomiting child, even his own. At least not when someone else was already attending to it.
Ezra was relieved to find JD was at least bent over the toilet bowl. The first thing he did was flush, thus removing both the visual and most of the malodorous offence. Squatting down he placed a gentle hand over the little boy's shoulders.
“Are you going to be sick again?” he asked.
JD's tear streaked face looked up at him. “I don't know, my tummy hurts.”
“I'm sure it does. Why don't we clean your teeth?”
“I did them ‘fore I went to bed.” JD pointed out.
“It makes your mouth taste better,” Vin told him.
Ezra just knew he was in for a long night.
Buck hadn't heard anything since Vin had summoned Ezra to the boys' room. Racked with guilt, he been lying there all night wondering what was going on. Getting out of bed was a slow and painful process, but eventually he was on his feet. His back screamed at him not to move, not to pee, not to do anything, but he ignored it. Since walking was out of the question, he shuffled to the bedroom door and then, holding on to the door for support, he made it to the bathroom. Taking care of business he was pleased not to see any blood in his urine this morning. The doctors had determined his kidneys were only bruised. Nonetheless he'd only been permitted to leave the hospital on the condition that he kept an eye on the situation, that there was less blood every day and it didn't last more than five days. For the first three days he'd had to let Nathan inspect his output before flushing, which was an embarrassing pain in the ass, but there was no stopping the man until he and Josiah returned to the US.
As he exited the bathroom he spotted Chris, leaning on the wall, waiting to go in.
“Morning,” he greeted.
Chris just grunted in response.
“Yeah, me too,” Buck agreed, before setting off down the corridor to the boys' room.
He wondered why they had to go and rent a house with such a long corridor, as he finally made it to the end. Ezra was asleep on top of Vin's bed. JD was curled up under his duvet. There on the night stand was his red Lightning McQueen water bottle, on the floor, right by the bed, standing on one of the old towels they used for the dogs, was the bucket from the washroom and spread over the pillow was another towel.
“Ez, you done good,” he whispered to himself as he made his way over to his son's bed and eased his battered frame down on to one corner.
“Good morning,” Ezra greeted as he sat up.
“Sorry, Ez, didn't mean to wake ya.”
“There is no need to apologise, I assure you.”
“Yeah there is, I heard Vin come get you, should have got up then and come to help.”
“Nonsense, I am here to help while you convalesce and that is why Vin came to me and not you.”
“Looks like you did a real good job. How many times did he hurl?”
“Hurl? Oh yes, well I think it was five, possibly six, I stopped counting at four.”
Buck was convinced he had been wake ever since Vin woke Ezra, but he hadn't heard anyone moving about, let alone going up and down stairs, as they clearly had, so he must have dozed off at some point. He was about to ask where Vin was, when he heard Chris greeting his son.
“Hi there Cowboy, what ya doing in Ezra's room?”
“JD barfed all night, Uncle Ezra took care of him.”
“He didn't barf, he vomited,” Chris corrected.
“That's what barfing means,” Vin told him, clearly thinking his father's vocabulary was lacking.
“Whatever.” Chris was too stiff to care about grammar. “Go use our barf, I mean bathroom, I’ll check on Ezra.”
Ezra carried the still sleeping JD down to the living room and settled him on the small sofa, after taking all necessary precautions.
“Not that I think they will be needed, there can't be anything left inside the poor boy,” he commented.
Buck, who had eased himself down into the recliner beside his son was once more struck with pangs of guilt.
“Did he make it to the bathroom every time?” he asked.
“He did, a few times he even made it as far as the lavatory.”
“Oh jeez Ez I am sorry.”
“Nonsense, I was able to find everything I needed. Your washroom is exceptionally well organised and stocked. Somehow I have the feeling I have the estimable Mr Jones to thank for that.”
“You do, don't know what we'd do without him.”
“I hope you pay him well – you do pay him don't you?”
“Of course we pay him,” Chris announced as he came shuffling in. “He didn't want to take it and I don't think he needs it, but …well.”
“Of course,” Ezra agreed.
Just then Vin came in, carrying a tray with two mugs and one cup of coffee on it. He was walking very slowly, his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on not spilling a drop. With infinite care he placed the tray on the coffee table in front of Buck. On the tray beside the coffee were five boxes of tablets, anti-inflammatories amongst other pain meds for Chris, the same, plus antibiotics for Buck. His kidneys were more badly bruised than Chris' and the doctors wanted him to take them as a preventative measure. Now the tray was safely down, Vin relaxed and grinned at his father. Then, with deft skill he pushed the correct number of tablets out of each blister pack for the men, since one had an arm in a sling, and the other a cast on his wrist and forearm. At first Chris had been against him doing this, but he promised his father he knew never to swallow any medication not given to him by a responsible adult or let JD do the same. Now he did this simple task whenever he could; beaming with pride that he was trusted with this task and was helping his father to feel better.
“Thanks son.” Chris downed his meds with one gulp of coffee. “Now go and get your uniform on, while Ezra makes breakfast.”
Ezra stood up, coffee in hand. “It is all in hand, fear not.”
JD recovered quickly, he didn't vomit again and was begging for something to eat by the end of the day. Following strict instructions, e-mailed by Nathan, he was permitted some dry toast. The next day he progressed to plain chicken breast and pasta, then some tomato soup and bread rolls. The next day, Friday, he was bounding around the house playing chase with the dogs and generally pestering everyone until Vin got home from school.
Since JD was so much better and Chris and Buck still evidently needed rest, Ezra suggested he take the boys out for the day on Saturday. Having assured themselves Standish really knew what he was taking on in a foreign land, the two men readily agreed.
In the morning, after walking the dogs, a chore Ezra didn't think he would ever grow to love, but performed dutifully; the boys gathered what they insisted were essential supplies for any day out – DS games consoles, snacks, drinks, cameras and, at Buck's insistence, spare clothes for JD.
“Don't matter what you're doing, no matter what the weather, if there is a way to get wet or covered in mud, he'll find it.”
Ezra had looked from Buck and then down at JD, who was dressed in immaculately clean blue jeans, flashy light sneakers and a fleece top with a shark on it; he beamed up at his uncle with beguiling innocence.
“You are sure this is a necessary precaution?” Ezra asked.
“100% sure. He's got a backpack in the bedroom. Don't forget to pack some spare shoes.”
Ezra had been confident he could find their location easily; nonetheless Chris had insisted he take the GPS system with him. He really didn't think he needed it; after all, their destination was close to a motorway junction, that rare thing in Britain, a straight road, so how hard could it be to find? In the end he was very grateful for the GPS and its reassurance that he was headed in the correct direction, for what looked so simple on Google was anything but at ground level. He hadn't told the boys where they were going, despite their pleading and endless enquiries as to how much longer the journey would take. So when they turned in through the white gates and they saw the outside exhibits, he was pleased to discover, going by the high pitched squeals of delight, that his choice was a hit.
“Da!” JD shouted as he burst into the kitchen.
“Dad! Dad!” Vin came in behind him.
The dogs came running up to them from the direction of the living room. After greeting their four footed best friends, the boys ran down the corridor in search of their fathers.
“Hi guys,” Buck greeted as both boys ran in.
Both men had their feet up in the living room, watching England and Scotland playing rugby. Chris hit the mute on the remote and turned to his son.
“So where did you guys go?” he asked.
“The plane museum!” JD shouted before Vin could answer.
“So tell me more,” Chris encouraged Vin.
“It was the Air Force museum and we saw lots of planes and other cool stuff.”
“Such as?” Chris asked again.
Vin just smiled, he knew JD was itching to tell Buck all about it, and true to form, as soon as the conversation lulled, JD began to tell him.
“There was lots a' planes and we sawed them all and you can climb in some of them and sit in the seat where they fly it and, and then we went to the see-dee movie and it all moved and so you felt like you was flying!”
“C-D?” Buck asked, somewhat confused.
“He means 3D, ‘cept they call it 4D, because you feel it too,” Vin explained. “The seats move and vibrate and stuff, it was awesome.”
“Yeah we saw the film where we was flying down the place with all the rocks,” JD tried to explain, with the use of his hands.
“It was a canyon, like in the pod race in Star Wars, it was so cool,” Vin, who had recently discovered Star Wars, explained. “They had simulators too, but JD was too short to go on them,” he clarified quietly to his father, while JD gave Buck a blow by blow account of the cinema experience.
“And then we went to the science bit, and they said JD was too young, but he was good at it,” Vin explained with pride. “The man was real impressed.”
“And Vin tooked the test to see if he could be a pilot and he aced it!” JD punched the air to emphasise the point.
“Aced it?” Chris asked.
“I've got real fast reactions,” Vin stated, clearly delighted with the evaluation.
By now Ezra was standing in the room behind the boys.
“Thanks pal,” Chris told him.
“It was my pleasure.”
“Uncle Ezra bought us presents!” JD suddenly announced with glee, running up to his uncle. “Can I show Da?”
Ezra handed over a bag to his youngest nephew. “Of course.”
The bag of treasure in hand, JD ran back to his father and began to pull things out. “Lookit Da, I got a tee-shirt with planes on it and a bear.” He thrust a bright yellow shirt and a small teddy bear in khaki uniform toward Buck.
“Well isn't he neat,” Buck dutifully commented.
“And, and I got some planes, look.” JD pulled out die cast models of a Concord, a Harrier and a Red Arrows Hawk. “Did you know the Marines have this one too?”
Buck just managed to duck out of the way, before a very solid model of a Harrier jump jet got buried in one of his nostrils.
“Three planes, a tee shirt and a bear?” Buck glanced up at Ezra, clearly thinking he'd over indulged his son, “I hope you thanked your uncle?”
“Course I did.” JD frowned up at Buck, not sure what his father's expression was conveying. “I had to have lots a' presents, ‘cause Vin's was so ‘spensive.”
“Vin's was expensive?” Now it was Chris glaring at Ezra.
Luckily, Vin didn't see this. “Can I show Dad?” he asked Standish.
“It is yours, so of course you can.”
Vin took the bag Ezra offered and pulled something big and brown from it. In no time he was dressed in a traditional leather flying jacket, with sheepskin collar and an RAF badge on the chest.
“Look dad, isn't it cool?”
Larabee schooled his face into a grin, not hard, for in truth Vin looked very smart and so happy in his jacket.
“You will note the jacket is somewhat large for young Vincent, so he'll get many years wear from it, and since it is leather and well made, when he does grow out of it, it can be passed to JD,” Ezra pointed out.
“Very practical of you Ez,” Buck commented with a wink.
“I try.” Ezra gave him a small bow.
During this conversation both boys' attention had been captured by the game on the TV.
“Da! Da! Da!” JD suddenly exclaimed.
“What? What? What?” Buck responded.
“Did Wales win?” he asked.
Buck took a moment to process this question, and in the pause Vin turned to his own father. “Did they Dad?”
“Uh...” Chris had slept though most of the first game. “I'm not sure.”
“But it's ‘portant Dad, ‘member Ieuan told us, while he's visiting his mam and tad he's gonna go over to Ireland to see the game,” Vin reminded him.
“Ya Da, he's in Dubslin ‘cause his mate got him a ticket and they is worth more than gold.” JD fixed his father with a combination of hard stare and the puppy eyes.
“Wales wear red shirts – right?” Buck asked.
Both boys nodded.
“Yeah, I think they won,” Wilmington responded tentatively. “Actually, yeah, they beat the guys in green in the last seconds of the game.” Buck was warming to his subject now. “It was a real good game, as far as I could tell.”
“Yay!” Both boys exclaimed. “Cymru am Byth!”
It occurred to Buck that it was entirely possible the boys' young Welsh carer was exerting way too much influence over them. After all, if JD was going to support any of the teams in the annual Six Nations rugby tournament, it should be Ireland right? After all his name was Dunne, he called his father ‘Da', didn't he? Buck didn't bother to mention this. He was much too tired to deal with a JD ‘Why?' argument.
The next weekend was the first of the boys' one week, half-term school break. The family had made no big plans other than the weekend. Chris and Buck had invited Ieuan, newly returned from Wales, to join them to watch the Super Bowl. They were going to start with rugby, Wales against Scotland, then enjoy pizza and a movie before the big event. Ezra would take the boys out on Saturday and to a movie on Sunday. He planned to take them to London Zoo – weather permitting. They hadn't planned past this point, which, as it turned out, was a good thing. A letter came, which changed everything.
Fit as they were, Buck and Chris had healed a lot faster than anticipated. At their two week check-up the doctor had stated that they would be fit to return to desk work on Monday, a full week earlier than expected and at the beginning of the boys' break.
“After all this time off, we can't really refuse to go back,” Chris told Ezra somewhat despondently.
“No you can't,” Standish agreed.
“We already told Ieuan we wouldn't need him next week,” Buck continued. “Wouldn't be fair to change our minds at this stage, so…”
Ezra looked from one man to the other. “I understand what you are asking but I don't understand your hesitation. Of course I will look after my nephews next week, all week. It would be my pleasure.”
“Ez, there's a big difference in looking after them at weekends and doing it all week,” Chris pointed out.
“I assure you we will be fine,” Ezra stopped, as a thought struck him. “Tell me, would it be difficult to get someone to take care of the dogs?”
“Why do you need…?” Chris began, but Buck held his hand up to stop him.
“No, between us two, Ieuan and the Greens, the dogs can be covered,” he assured.
Ezra sat back with a grin. “Outstanding. In that case, I have a plan.”
“Get ready boys here we go,” Ezra told his two charges as the train headed into the tunnel.
Both boys' faces were glued to the window. JD was kneeling up on the seat; after a few minutes he turned to look at his uncle.
“It's too dark to see,” he complained.
“What did you wish to see?” Ezra asked.
“The fishies in the sea.”
Vin rolled his eyes. “JD you can't…”
Ezra gave the older boy a shake of the head. “Sorry about that JD, but we are very deep here, so it's bound to be dark.”
In no more than twenty minutes, the Eurostar train exited the tunnel and they were in France.
They had travelled into London that morning with Ezra and their fathers. After saying goodbye at Waterloo, Ezra took the boys outside to catch a cab to St Pancras Station. That was less than three hours ago. Now both boys were staring in wonderment as the snow covered French landscape sped past them. So entranced where they, the journey of more than an hour to Paris seemed to pass in the blink of an eye and almost as soon as they had exited the tunnel their train was slowing down as it pulled in to Gare du Nord in Paris.
“Are we there?” Vin asked Ezra.
“Welcome to Paris boys, or should I say; Bienvenue à Paris.”
“Huh?” JD asked.
“That's French for Welcome to Paris,” Ezra explained.
Once out of the station, Ezra hailed a cab and they headed for their hotel to drop off the luggage. Ezra's usual hotel was the luxurious Hôtel George-V. Despite money being no object, his main concern was that the boys wouldn't be able to relax around such unaccustomed opulence, and so instead, he had located a small boutique hotel in the Latin Quarter. Since it wasn't yet check in time they left the bags with the front desk and set out to find some lunch. There was a small restaurant just down the street from the hotel, but since this was where Ezra wanted to take the boys for their supper he walked on past and into a wider, busier street.
“Look Uncle Ezra, it says Pizza!” JD pointed out excitedly.
“Master Dunne, one does not come to Paris, the home of fine dining, to eat pizza,” Ezra told him.
“Oh, okay,” JD conceded with a sigh.
Vin shrugged. They liked pizza.
The next eatery was an Irish theme pub, followed by an Indian restaurant, a Chinese one, a sushi bar, and then another pizzeria. Ezra was about to give in and let the boys have pizza when he spotted a small sign in a quiet backstreet.
“Ah, perfect, this way boys,” he announced as he turned and lead them down the street.
Vin licked his lips with a grin.
“Better than pizza?” Ezra asked.
Vin thought for a moment. “Different,” he announced.
Vin nodded enthusiastically as he finished off his crepe with fromage and jambon. JD was still munching his way through his own pancake, which, like Vin's, was stuffed with thick cut ham and melted cheese. Ezra himself had enjoyed his with goat's cheese and mushrooms. Bellies now full, the threesome strolled down to the river where Ezra gave in, and entered yet another pizzeria to purchase some ice cream.
Back at the hotel they were able to move into their room. In truth it wasn't so much a room as a small apartment located in the attic of the former palace. At the top of their own staircase was a small landing off which opened a bedroom, with two single beds and a bathroom, a shower room and a sitting area. It was decorated in a style that Ezra characterized as contemporary country. The boys took the beds, while Ezra would sleep on the very comfortable sofa bed in the living area. Once their bags were unpacked they headed out again.
Ezra took the boys back to the river, from where they could see across to Notre Dame Cathedral. Instantly the boys wanted to go and see the great church.
“Not today,” he told them. “Don't forget we are here for five days, so today we are going to have a tour of the whole city.”
It was bitterly cold out, but thankfully the three spent the rest of the day on the top deck of a closed roof, fully heated, double-decker bus. They saw all the sights of the city, from the Left Bank, to Montmartre, from the Arc de Triomphe, to the Place de la Concorde, and the Eiffel Tower. By the time the tour was concluded, it was getting dark and worn out by a long day and so many new sights, sounds and experiences, two little boys were beginning to flag. So much so that Ezra changed his plan for them to eat out at a restaurant, however close, and ordered room service.
“What are we gonna do tomorrow?” JD asked as he tucked into chicken supreme and pasta.
Vin looked up at their uncle expectantly.
Ezra was tempted not to tell them, and keep it all as a surprise, but the boys were a long way from home and he knew Vin didn't like it if he didn't know what was going to happen. So he took the time to explain not only the plans for the next day, but also all the other days of their holiday. After their meal, the boys spoke to their fathers before bathing and then settling down to watch one of the movies Ezra had loaded onto his laptop. Tonight it was Disney's cartoon version of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame'.
JD stood under the Eiffel Tower and craned his head back, looking up at and through the structure.
“Wow!” he gushed. “Is we going all the way up there?”
“Only of you want to,” Ezra assured him, keeping a tight hold of the over excited boy's gloved hand. He turned to Vin. “Are you happy to go on up?”
Vin grinned. “Yeah!” he told him enthusiastically. Vin thought it looked amazing and he wanted to get to the top.
The bitter wind that had been blowing all day was noticeably stronger and colder as they exited the lift at the first level. The boys had been fascinated by the lift that took them diagonally up the leg of the tower. So excited that as they exited they didn't even seem to notice the cold and wind, but Ezra did.
“Oh dear God,” he muttered, pulling his cashmere scarf up to cover his ears.
“Come on Uncle Ezra, let’s explore.” Vin, snug in his new leather flying jacket, took Ezra's free hand and began to tug him toward the railing.
Ezra had a death grip on JD, but that didn't stop the five-year-old pulling his uncle as well. In no time they had explored the first level and were at the second level, after that there was only the top. There was something of a line for the small lift that would take them to the very top, but not for long. Waiting in line in the bitter cold proved too much for many of the tourists, and one by one they left and headed back down. It had been years since Ezra had been up the Eiffel Tower and he'd forgotten much of the detail, thus he was relieved to find that the top platform was completely enclosed with a wire mesh above the original railing. With that in place he was happy to lift JD up so he could properly absorb the breath-taking view. The altitude and wind chill had lowered the already sub-zero temperatures even further. Not that the boys seemed to mind.
“Uncle Ezra we’s so high!” JD exclaimed as he grabbed the wire and gazed out at the city below him.
“Why don't you take a picture?” Ezra suggested.
While Ezra helped JD with his camera, Vin wandered around the platform, gazing in awe at the incredible vista. The crystal clear winter skies meant he could see for miles. It made his heart soar to be so high and to see so far; it was kinda like the day he and his father rode all the way to the top of a mountain, but felt so different. There was light all around him, even below him, and he could feel the tower moving, swaying in the wind. It was like being at the top of the highest tree. Only once he had done a complete circuit did he remember his own camera and took a few pictures.
Suddenly a man was shouting in French. His tone alarmed Vin, and he instantly turned back to where he'd last seen Ezra and JD. Ezra was lifting JD down and beckoning to Vin.
“I'm sorry boys, they are closing the top of the tower, because of the wind,” their uncle explained.
“But I like it when it moves,” Vin protested.
“I don't doubt it, but they have rules so we must go down.”
Vin sighed and aimed one of his best Larabee stares at the official, even though the man's back was to him.
JD looked from his brother to his uncle and back. “Is it gonna falled down?” he asked.
“No, no,” Ezra explained. “This tower has been here for 123 years. It would take a lot more than a stiff wind to damage it, but they have rules and we must respect them – okay?”
Like Vin, JD huffed indignantly. They headed for the elevator. Though there weren't many people at the top, they still had to queue. JD was squirming, Ezra wouldn't let go of his hand but in the crush, it was getting very uncomfortable with his arm up and twisted behind him.
“Uncle Ezra?” Vin began.
“Yes?” Ezra responded.
“Why don't you use JD's leash?”
“Yeah, Buck always uses it if we's out all day.”
“Your brother has a leash, like a dog?”
“Buck clips it to the handle on the top of his backpack.” JD was, as always, wearing his Lightning McQueen backpack, containing his spare clothes, snacks and camera.
Still trying to get his head around the idea that Buck put his son on a leash like a dog, Ezra pointed out that he didn't have the leash.
“Sure you do,” Vin assured. He stepped forward to open the pocket on the back of the backpack and pulled out a plain red, nylon dog leash. “See?”
Without waiting for instructions, he clipped the leash onto the loop and offered Ezra the handle.
Ezra took the leash and with a shrug let go of JD's hand. The five-year-old turned to find out what was going on. When he saw the leash he grinned and clapped.
“Uncle Ezra how come you didn't use it before?” he asked.
“Because no one told me about it,” Ezra told them plainly.
“We thought you didn't like it. Sometimes people look at Da funny when they see it,” JD explained.
“You don't mind?” Ezra asked.
“Da's real tall, holding his hand a real long time makes my arm ache.”
“If you didn't keep running off, you wouldn't have to hold someone's hand all the time,” Vin pointed out.
“I don't run always,” JD protested.
“Yeah you do.”
“You so do…”
“Boys!” Ezra cut in. “The elevator is here, so let's have no more arguments.”
Back on the ground they all enjoyed a pan au chocolat and a hot drink – chocolate for the boys, coffee for Ezra –before boarding a boat. In the main tourist season any number of boats plied their trade up and down the River Seine. In the cold month of February there were precious few and, not wanting to wait around an hour for the next tourist trip, Ezra took the boys onto a batobus. Not a tour boat but part of the city's public transport system. These boats ran all year.
They took the boat up the river to the Île de la Cité. The boys enjoyed viewing the city as they sailed past, Ezra indicated points of interest where he thought it appropriate. At the island they alighted and walked across the bridge and directly to the great gothic cathedral of Notre Dame.
After watching the cartoon of The Hunchback of Notre Dame the night before the only thing the boys wanted to see were the chimera on the towers. Ezra warned them it was more than 300 steps to the top of the south tower.
“There is no elevator and I am not carrying you,” he told them seriously.
Both boys were adamant they wanted to go to the top and would be able to make it on their own. The first staircase was – for a plus-800-year-old spiral staircase – relatively wide and the steps fairly shallow, but as they neared the top, all that changed. A narrow side passage lead to a second spiral staircase. This was only wide enough for one person at a time and the steps much higher. Vin went first, then JD who found it easier to go on all fours; thankfully he was wearing gloves. Ezra, holding the leash, brought up the rear. It was clear JD was finding the long climb difficult, but he had promised he could do it on his own and he wasn't going to give in. Finally they made it to the walkway near the top of the tower. It was narrow and thankfully a grille had been added above the low stone balustrade. The view was amazing.
“Wow,” Vin gasped, “look we were over there.” He pointed to the distant Eiffel tower.
“Lookit!” JD squealed, pointing to one of the famous statues that were now so close he could almost touch them. “He was in the movie.”
The boys managed to match a statue to each of the characters from the film; before they headed out onto the narrow stone ‘bridge' that connected the two towers. Totally fenced in and a dead end, as the north tower wasn't open to the public, it still felt very exposed.
“Hold my hand?” JD asked, turning and holding out his hand.
Ezra glanced at his watch. “Not right now, I think you are going to need them both.”
Both boys frowned. Suddenly the bells began to ring. As close as they were, the sound was deafening. Two little boys instantly clamped both hands over their ears. As the hour bell began to chime JD gave a startled jump, he did it for each of the 12 chimes, grinning all the while.
By the time they were outside the cathedral again, it was gone one o'clock and tummies were rumbling. Lunch was chicken goujons and fries for the boys, onion soup with cheese on top for Ezra, followed by crème brulée for all of them. The boys declared brulée to be the third best dessert in the world, after chocolate and ice cream. They particularly enjoyed breaking the hard caramel top by hitting it with the back of their spoon.
Ezra could see both boys, and JD in particular, were flagging, so their next, and last stop of the day was to be Sainte Chapelle. Close to the cathedral was the Palais de Justice, the law courts of Paris and marooned within this complex of buildings, was the Holy Chapel, the only surviving building of a medieval royal palace. They entered at the ground floor level and were impressed by the ornate decoration. Then Ezra led them to the upper chapel. As they emerged from the stairs into the chapel, both boys suddenly stopped dead in their tracks and just gasped. Eventually aware of people coming in behind them Ezra risked breaking the spell the chapel had cast over the pair.
“What do you think?” he asked softly.
“It's amazing,” Vin whispered.
“It's so bootifull,” he gasped.
After walking a silent circuit of the chapel, Ezra sat down on one of the chairs that lined the walls, to just contemplate the sheer beauty of the place. The boys sat beside him for a while.
“Can I go see it again?” JD asked.
The place was all but deserted, so Ezra unclipped the lead from the backpack, and turned to him, fixing him with his ‘serious uncle' face. “You make sure I can see you all the time, okay?”
Vin slipped off his chair and followed JD. Spellbound, both boys wandered in silence, until Vin came back and sat down just as a large party of Japanese tourists walked in. Like everyone who entered they immediately fell silent.
“Time to go,” Ezra whispered as he stood up and walked over to JD.
The little boy was standing stock still, gazing up at the rose window.
“Come on,” he whispered.
“Do we have to?” JD asked.
JD turned to follow Ezra and Vin, but all the time he was still gazing up at the exquisite stained glass windows that soared up to meet the star studded heavens painted on the ceiling supported on slender, golden pillars. They had to thread their way through the tour party to reach the exit door and descend to the lower chapel and the way out. Only as they stepped into the daylight did Vin look around.
“Uncle Ezra, where's JD?!”
Man and boy turned on their heels and ran back into the chapel, scattering startled tourists in their path and drawing the attention of not only the attendant but the police officers on guard duty. One of the guards was shouting at Ezra in French as he ran after him, but Ezra was too concerned to reply.
Smaller and more lithe, Vin was better able to thread though the people, and reached the upper chapel before Ezra or any of the pursuing adults. The party of Japanese tourists were now mostly sitting on the chairs along the wall. There in the middle of the floor, sitting cross legged, still gazing up at the windows was JD.
“JD!” Vin shouted as he ran across the floor.
JD looked around as Vin slid to a stop beside him, and at Ezra running up behind him.
“You okay?” Vin asked.
Ezra knelt down beside the little boy, his trembling hand gently running over him, assuring himself he was okay. Logically he knew they had only been separated for minutes, no more than four, but his heart was still pounding. He looked up at the attendants and police who had followed him. Because of its location, within the Palais de Justice, security at Sainte Chapelle was exceptionally high.
“Mon enfant,” he said by way of explanation.
“Oui, okay,” the attendant acknowledged as he turned way and waved off the police.
Ezra turned his attention back to JD, concerned by his demeanour, which was uncharacteristically quiet and serious.
“JD why did you come back?”
JD shrugged. “It's so bootiful Uncle Ezra, it's like Heaven.”
Ezra glanced around him at the exquisite windows and up at the golden stars. “Yes it is,” he agreed.
“Mamma's in heaven,” JD said softly. To Ezra's knowledge, this was the first time JD had admitted this, until now she was ‘dreaming with the angels'.
Ezra took a deep breath, and then reached out a hand toward Vin, who took it and came to sit on the floor beside Ezra.
“Yes, she is,” he acknowledged tenderly.
JD sighed, then lifted himself up on to his knees and reached out with both hands to his beloved uncle, who scooped him up into his arms and stood up. Shifting JD onto one arm, he placed the other over Vin's shoulder as they made their way out. Out on the street, he spoke to both boys.
“I know what is needed now, if you can manage one more short walk. What do you think?” he asked.
“Where?” JD asked wearily.
“It's a surprise; do you trust me?”
JD wiggled to be let down and once there he reached behind himself for the leash handle and once he had it, held it up to Ezra.
“Not today.” Ezra bent down and unclipped it, rolling it up and pushing it into the backpack. He then held out a hand to each boy. “Shall we go?”
Both boys nodded. They walked back to the cathedral and then on over to the neighbouring island of Île Saint-Louis and down the main street. He stopped outside a shop called Berthillion.
“This, my nephews, is the home of the best ice cream in France.”
The ice cream worked its magic and by the time the taxi was dropping them back at the hotel the boys, though tired, were back to their usual happy selves. A bath, a nap, clean clothes and they were ready for supper at the restaurant down the street. As he always did, JD took the menu, so he could read it to Vin, but to his dismay it was all in French. The cafés and restaurants in the main tourist areas generally had their menus in English and French, many had them in German and Japanese as well, but this one was just outside the main tourist area.
“Uncle Ezra, tell me what it says,” he asked holding up the menu.
The boys didn't really understand what was on offer, even when it was translated.
“Why don't I choose?” Ezra suggested.
JD and Vin conferred for a moment then looked to Ezra intently.
“Is there problem?” he asked.
“Veg'ables,” JD told him seriously.
“Yes, they have vegetables in France.”
“We don't want none,” Vin explained.
“‘Cept carrots and peas,” JD finished.
“Or them little peas in their case,” Vin added.
“French for little peas in their case.”
“Okay, but nothin' else, ‘kay?”
Trying not to laugh at the serious expressions before him, Ezra solemnly promised not to sneak any unacceptable vegetables past them.
That evening they had a Skype call to their fathers, then, after they were asleep, Ezra spoke to Buck about what had happened at the chapel. Naturally he wanted to be there for his son but, for now, he was happy for Ezra to handle things until they got home.
The next day they headed out on the train for the Palace of Versailles. Ezra admitted this trip was really for him; somehow he'd never been to Versailles. He told them they might find it a little dull but the gardens, even in winter would be fun and after they left the palace he would take them to a traditional patisserie. In truth the boys did find it a little dull, but they walked quietly and dutifully looked at the different rooms. They were wowed by, and indeed enjoyed the hall of mirrors. After a snack, hot chocolate and éclairs, they explored the garden, or at least some of it. Here, outside the city, snow still lay on the ground in patches and the ponds with no fountains to move the water were frozen over. It was a good opportunity for the boys to run about and let off steam. Ezra invented a game ‘bag the animal' in which the boys ran about trying to find as many different animal figures and statues as they could. This kept them happily occupied until lunch. In the afternoon they went to another part of the gardens to see Marie-Antoinette's estate, a romanticised farm. The recently restored farm once more had domestic animals in residence. The boys spent a fun filled couple of hours cuddling rabbits, feeding ducks and chickens, and stroking donkeys, cows, goats and sheep - but mostly the donkeys.
Ezra settled down on a bench to enjoy the winter sunshine, which was pleasantly warm on his face as he turned it to the sun and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting there, he might even have dozed off, but the next thing he was aware of was a familiar voice and the dreaded words ‘oh dear'.
Sitting up, he looked to where the boys had last been. There was JD walking toward him like a zombie with arms out and stiff legs. Vin was just ahead of him, looking a little resigned.
“Oh dear, what has happened?” Ezra asked, as the boys approached.
“JD was petting the big donkey and it head butted him in the belly,” Vin explained.
“My goodness, are you injured?” Ezra asked seriously.
JD sighed. “No, but my tush is all wet and muddy.” He turned around to display a very black, wet behind. His hands were none too clean either.
“It's not his fault,” Vin told Ezra earnestly. “The ground is all icy and JD slipped and landed on some and it broke.”
“There was a puddle under the ice,” JD added for clarity.
“Ah, well no matter, your father did prepare for such eventualities.” Ezra picked up JD's backpack form the bench beside him. “Let us find a rest room.”
Despite the discovery of the leash, which he admitted was a Godsend, until now Ezra hadn't been convinced that Buck's insistence JD carry a complete change of clothes wherever they went, was a necessary precaution. He knew now he should never have doubted Wilmington.
With JD in clean dry clothes they left Versailles, and as promised, called in at the patisserie opposite the station. The boys' eyes went as big as saucers at the sight of so many goodies. Of course they immediately gravitated to the chocolate section.
Ezra came to stand behind them. “Boys, I was thinking – just this once - maybe you might like to try something that wasn't chocolate?”
Two faces turned to look up at him, their expressions clearly indicating that what he had just suggested was sacrilege, at best, if not high treason.
“No matter, chocolate it is,” he conceded. “It was just a thought.”
Vin chose a slice of chocolate gateau with folds of chocolate and strawberries on top, JD went for a milk chocolate mousse in a cone shape with white chocolate on top, while Ezra had a simple tarte citron. As they sat and ate, everyone ended up trying a little of each other's sweet treat and declaring that they were all delicious, although the boys pointed out that, obviously, the chocolate ones were the best.
Thursday was their last full day in Paris. In the morning Ezra took them to the Louvre. Standish believed everyone should see the Mona Lisa and the Venus Di Milo at least once. The boys looked and considered and agreed Mona Lisa had a funny smile and Venus was pretty, but she wasn't as beautiful as their aunty Rain. Perhaps predictably they thought the glass pyramids were much more interesting. From there they moved on to the Muess D'orsay. Going to school in Britain, it wasn't surprising the boys, and Vin in particular, had become fans of the hugely popular TV show Dr Who. JD sometimes found it a bit scary, so he only watched recorded episodes that Buck thought he could handle, and that way he could always fast forward any bits that were too scary. Vin however had seen an episode about Vincent Van Gogh and wanted to see the pictures featured in the episode. He was a little disappointed to discover that the sunflowers weren't really dedicated ‘for Amy'. JD liked the picture of the starry night over the river. They came away with small posters of their favourite pictures.
From there they moved on to the famous Pompedu centre, where the boys enjoyed the children's gallery, full of art installations designed to be played with, touched and climbed on by children. This kept them happily amused for an hour before they had lunch at the centre's ultra-modern restaurant.
“Where are we goin' now?” JD asked his uncle, as he ate his chicken chasseur and mashed potatoes.
“We are going to the top of a big hill.”
They had been taking taxis all day, now they headed into the metro for Montmartre. The boys were excited at the sight of the funicular railway that would take them to the top of the hill. At the top they strolled about and enjoyed the views before walking back down. Ezra chose a different route back to the Metro station, just for variety. As they strolled down the street, with JD on his backpack leash, Ezra stopped at a small chocolatier.
“What do you think? Should we buy some to take home to your fathers?” Ezra asked.
Vin looked from him to the chocolates and back, and then he nodded his head enthusiastically.
“JD? What do you think?”
But JD didn't answer, he wasn't even looking at the chocolate, his nose was pressed up to the window of the shop next door. Ezra moved to see what had captivated his attention. The shop was a gallery, selling prints and fine photographs.
“JD, what can you see?”
The small boy turned his face to his uncle and lifted his hand to point at the gallery window.
“It's in there,” he stated confidently.
Way back when he took the boys to the Air Force museum and Vin hadn't been able to take his eyes off the leather flying jacket in the shop, Ezra made a secret pact with the boys.
“While I am here, I will buy each of you one present, not just a souvenir, but something special, that will last and remind you of your time in England. One each, it is up to you to choose it, but once your choice is made there is no going back. So if you are not sure say so, because we can probably order it later and have it delivered.” The boys nodded their understanding. “Remember I want you to have something really special from Europe. Don't worry about the cost, I can afford it.”
Vin had looked at his uncle for a long them and then said. “Please can I have the jacket?” He pointed to the leather flying jacket. “I know it's a lot of money, but I really like it.”
“It would be my pleasure, but are you sure? We can wait and order it later, you might see something else.”
“No, I want the jacket. Dad says you can't worry about ‘what if' you just have to go for it.”
“Wise words.” Ezra turned to JD. “What about you, is there anything here you want?”
JD had looked around, then shook his head. At the zoo, Ezra was sure he'd be heading home with a life sized stuffed tiger or something similar but no, JD still hadn't found the perfect gift.
Now it seemed he had found it, in a Parisian gallery. The picture he'd seen wasn't in the window, but just inside the shop, so Ezra led them in. The shop was fitted out in a simple and contemporary style, with lots of space and light. Just inside, JD stood still and pointed at a very beautiful, framed colour photograph of Sainte Chappelle. It was high up on a wall by the door.
A smart looking young man in a suit appeared and, speaking in French, asked if he could help. Ezra responded that they would like to see the photograph more closely. The shop assistant, whose name was Dimitri, fetched a small step ladder and an easel. He then lifted the picture down and placed it on the easel in front of two chairs. Telling them to take their time.
Ezra and Vin sat on the chairs; JD sat on Ezra's lap. He gazed at the picture for a long time. Finally Ezra spoke.
“This is what you want?”
“Yes please Uncle Ezra; it's the most bootifull place I ever saw.” He turned his head around to look up at his uncle. “I wanna put it by my bed so, so I can see it all the time.”
“That is a very good idea, but you know we can easily get a poster, like we did at the museum? You don't have to have it as your special present.”
“And you won't get any other presents from Paris, but I will get Vin some, just like at the RAF museum, when he got his jacket.”
“I know, it's okay. I let Vin play with my planes and he can play with my bear but he don't want to.” JD fixed him with a look that seemed to go straight to his soul. “Uncle Ezra, it has to be a special picture… for Mamma.”
Ezra reached out and stroked JD's cheek. “Very well.”
JD looked over at Vin. “You can look at it too, ‘cause your Mamma's in Heaven too.”
Vin backhanded tears away and nodded, then slid off his chair to hug his brother. “It's a real special picture JD.”
Leaving the boys on the chairs, Ezra walked to the desk where Dimitri was sitting discreetly.
“Do you speak English?” he asked in French.
Ezra switched to English. “So you will handle with care?”
“I understand,” Dimitri assured, as he stood up and walked with Ezra back to the boys. Speaking to JD, he asked. “Has Sir made up his mind about the picture?”
JD looked up. Big hazel eyes turned to Ezra, who nodded his encouragement. “Yes,” he told Dimitri.
“Excellent choice Sir, would you like to take it now or have it delivered to your hotel?”
JD looked back to Ezra. The picture was almost a yard long and half a yard wide, and no small weight.
“We are leaving tomorrow morning, how long will it take to deliver?” he enquired
Dimitri asked where they were staying and once he knew assured them it would be at the hotel by six that evening. Ezra then pulled out his wallet and the sale was completed. Stepping outside again, it was as if a weight had been lifted from JD and he enthusiastically helped choose chocolates for their fathers. The shop assistant, who, on a very cold Thursday in February had very few customers, indulged the boys with endless free samples, just so they could be sure they were choosing the right flavour.
Back at the hotel they placed the chocolates in their room fridge and then left again for supper. Ezra gave in and let them have pizza, before he led them back to the river for one last surprise. He had booked places on a tour boat for a night time river cruise, timed to reach the Eiffel tower just as the lights on it went into their hourly ten minute display. The boys loved it and ooed and ahed and clapped. By the time they returned, JD was asleep and Ezra had to carry him up to the street and was forced to hail a cab for the short trip back to the hotel. Tomorrow they would shop for some souvenirs for Vin and their fathers and uncles, before catching the train back to London.
As the train entered the tunnel two little boys sat back in their seats and watched the winter landscape rush past. Lying safely on the table between them was a sturdy flat cardboard box, complete with a handle. On it was a label which read ‘property of Mr. John Dunne' followed by their English address. On top of this was the bag containing a very expensive, handpicked box of chocolates. Vin was now the owner of a Paris tee shirt, a Lego set from which he could build a three foot Eiffel Tower and, ignoring the small voice in his head telling him he was too old for soft toys, a plush Notre Dame chimera. Despite his words in the gallery, Ezra had relented and purchased both boys an Eiffel Tower key ring with an LED light inside. After all, who could come away from Paris without a model of the tower? Both uncles would be getting a Paris fridge magnet. Vin had chosen a bottle opener in the form of – what else – the Eiffel Tower for his father. For Buck, JD had picked out a musical snow globe with a can-can dancer inside.
“Are you sure about that?” Ezra asked.
“He's gots a snow globe at home - in Denver. It's got Elvis in it and it plays the hound dog song. Da likes pretty girls,” he stated with confidence.
“Out of the mouths of babes…” Ezra muttered as he handed JD some money so he could pay for the gift himself.
Chris and Buck would be at the station to meet them and on Sunday he'd be leaving, heading home to the States.
“Do you have ‘t go?” Vin had asked as the three of them sat together on Ezra's hotel bed the night before.
“I am afraid I do. I have had a nice long rest and now I must return to work.”
“But you can't go to work, ‘cause Da an' Chris is in England,” JD pointed out.
“I have some studying to do and indeed I have been asked to tutor some of the ATF's new agents.”
“Will you see Uncle ‘Siah and Uncle Nathan?” Vin asked.
Vin nodded sagely. “That's good.”
“I wish we was going home too,” JD commented with a yawn.
Ezra shook his head. “No, not yet, you still have so much to see. The next four months will just fly by. You're going to love it,” he assured both boys. “But right now I think it's time for bed.”
He kissed each boy on the head, as they climbed off his bed. The next four months couldn't pass fast enough for him
Continues in Mad March
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Ireland V Wales 2012
“Cymru am Byth!” = Wales Forever!
View from the Eiffel Tower
Top platform of the Eiffel Tower
Notre Dame – winter
Chimera on the top of Notre Dame
Vin's chimera toy (they call it a gargoyle but really it's a chimera – don't blame me, Stephen Fry made me say that)
Berthillon Ice Cream
Versailles Hall of Mirrors
The Musee D'orcay
The Pompidou Centre
The Children's Gallery
Eiffel Tower light show from a boat
Buck's snow globe
Chris' bottle opener