Heero watched Duo pace back and forth in the hospital waiting room. He bit back a sigh, not wanting to advertise his own feelings of frustrated impatience. He knew that only by maintaining a calm façade for his shujin would Duo be able to control his own anxiety.
The two young men had brought Laura directly to St. Helen’s, one of the best hospitals in the L2 colony. The emergency room triage nurse had taken one look at the obviously abused and undernourished child and had admitted her immediately. Heero had offered his own insurance as proof of payment for any treatment. Now they were waiting for word of Laura’s condition and after nearly an hour, their patience was wearing thin.
Duo had thrown irritated glares at the double doors leading to the treatment area at regular ten minute intervals, along with an occasional, “Damn it, what’s taking so long?!” He was ready to start chewing on the furniture when the doors finally opened, revealing an attractive young woman in a white lab coat. Duo and Heero gave a passing note to her unusual, dual ponytail hairstyle before her piercing blue eyes captured their full attention.
She smiled not unkindly at the obviously anxious young men. “Hello, my name is Dr. Sally Po. I examined Laura. Are you her guardians?”
Duo returned the woman’s smile and Heero nodded in greeting. “No,” Duo replied.
Dr. Po’s smiled faded a bit. “Oh. Well, I’m sorry but I’m afraid I can’t give any information about Laura’s medical condition to anyone other than a parent or a legal guardian.”
Heero quickly grabbed Duo’s arm before the livid young man could pounce on the hapless doctor. Duo paused a moment to take a breath before speaking.
“Look, Dr. Po. I understand that you have rules and regulations,” Duo grated. “But you have to understand. We found Laura on the streets. There is no parent. There is no one else to look after her but me and Heero. We want to know if she’s okay and we want to know now!”
Dr. Po’s eyes flashed with sympathy rather than anger but she held her ground. “I’m sorry, Mr....”
“Maxwell-Yuy,” Duo growled.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Maxwell-Yuy, but I am constrained by hospital policy in this situation. In the absence of a parent or guardian, the only person I can legally reveal a child’s medical information to is a DYFS social worker...”
“Oh, that would be me,” a pleasant voice said from behind the trio.
All eyes turned to rest on a young blond man who wore a kind smile and returned their regard with a compassionate aquamarine gaze. He oozed a youthful exuberance that was tempered only by the easy competence apparent in his demeanor. He stepped forward, flanked by two police officers, and nodded in introduction.
“Hi, I’m Quatre Reberba Winner. I’m a social worker for the Department of Youth and Family Services. We received a call from the hospital about a young girl who was admitted for treatment of abuse and neglect. I brought the officers to take an official statement.” Quatre paused and focused on Duo and Heero. “Are you the ones who brought the child in?”
Duo nodded in bemusement. After living with the reticent Heero for so long, it was refreshing to listen to someone who was so talkative. “Yeah. I’m Duo Maxwell-Yuy and this is my husband, Heero Yuy. We found Laura and brought her here. But the lovely doctor refuses to tell us how she is,” Duo continued with a glare in Sally’s direction.
Quatre smiled sympathetically at the doctor. He was use to the strong emotions that suffering children could evoke in people. He spoke quickly, offering a solution that would appease everyone.
“Dr. Po, I will need a complete account of Laura’s medical condition for my report. However, I wouldn’t object if these gentlemen ‘overheard’ your diagnosis.”
Dr. Po nodded, satisfied with the suggestion. She smiled at the attractive, longhaired young man standing across from her and was relieved to see that he seemed satisfied with Quatre’s suggestion. She also glanced at his quieter, blue-eyed companion. Although he hadn’t said much, Sally felt that he bared watching as well.
“Very well,” she began, directing her report to Quatre. “Laura is suffering from multiple contusions and lacerations, likely as a result of blunt-force trauma from being slapped, punched, or even kicked. She also has several bruised and cracked ribs. Furthermore...”
Sally paused and glanced at Duo before continuing, lowering her voice at the delicacy of her next comment. “Furthermore, the girl has suffered from sexual abuse and has apparently had full intercourse at least once.”
Heero unobtrusively stepped closer to his husband and placed a comforting hand on the young man’s back. Duo’s jaw had gotten tighter and tighter as he’d heard the doctor’s diagnosis. But her last statement sent all of the blood rushing from his head and left his ears ringing. Sally cast a concerned glance at Duo’s suddenly pale face. She opened her mouth to ask if he was alright but a small head shake from Heero kept her silent on the subject.
Quatre also cast a glance in Duo’s direction. His sensitive heart ached for the handsome young man. Unless he missed his guess, and he’d seen enough cases of child abuse to know that he was correct, the handsome young man had himself been the victim of sexual abuse as a child.
Quatre returned his gaze to Sally. “Dr. Po, thank you for your time. I suspect you will want to examine the child again in the future.” Sally nodded in affirmation. Quatre turned to the police officers standing behind him. “We’ll go in with Dr. Po and take a statement from the child.” He looked over at Duo and Heero for a moment before coming to a decision. “It would probably be a good idea if you two came as well. Laura might feel more comfortable with people she’s familiar with around her.”
Duo smiled tightly at the suggestion, regaining some of his lost color, and Heero nodded in satisfaction. The group headed through the double doors and into the treatment area. Duo’s anxiety about Laura caused his steps to quicken and he reached Laura’s bed first.
Laura sat in her bed, listening to the sounds of the treatment room – the beeping machines, the whispered hushes of doctors and nurses, the occasional moans of pain. The doctor lady who’d seen her had been nice and gentle, but the examination had nevertheless been uncomfortable. Laura had wished that Duo and Heero could have been with her but understood that it was impossible. Although not a trusting person by nurture if not nature, Laura had found herself equating safety and comfort with the two young men. She sighed, wondering if her two rescuers were even still around. Deep down, she believed that they had probably split the moment she’d been taken away by the triage nurse.
Laura looked up when the secluding curtain was suddenly wisked away. Her chest tightened with joy when she saw who had interrupted her solitude.
“Duo!” she shouted. Unconsciously, she held her arms out to him.
Duo smiled and rushed to her. Mindful of her sore ribs, he grabbed her up into his arms as much as he could without removing her completely from the bed. He placed a kiss on her forehead before moving back slightly.
“Hi, munchkin. Are you okay?”
Laura wrinkled her nose at the unexpected nickname. No one had ever cared enough to give her one before. Unless you counted her mother calling her ‘bastard’ and ‘whore’ and ‘slut.’ However, she decided in a split second that she loved it. She nodded, returning Duo’s bright smile. She looked over at the rest of the assembly, her anxiety returning at the sight of so many strangers until her light-brown eyes rested on Heero. She favored him with a happy smile. He smiled back, prompting both Sally and Quatre to gasp and the beauty of his suddenly cheerful features.
Duo followed Laura’s gaze and winked at Heero before turning back to the girl. “Laura, the cute blond is Quatre. He’s here with the cops to ask you some questions.”
Laura stiffened with uneasiness at the same time Quatre blushed, pleasantly embarrassed by Duo’s unexpected moniker. Duo felt the girl’s tension and tightened his hold.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Heero and I will be here the entire time and if there’s something you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to. Okay?”
Laura looked at him then at Heero for a moment before turning her frightened gaze to Quatre. The small, blond man sincere smile eased the girl’s fears. She looked back at Duo and nodded.
“Okay,” Quatre bubbled. “Laura, it’s wonderful to meet you. I’m a social worker. Do you know what that is?”
Laura shook her head and Quatre smiled as he explained, “Well, when there’s a child in trouble, they call me to figure out how best to help the child. And now I’m here to help you, okay?”
Laura nodded and looked at him attentively but calmly, comfortable in Duo’s protective arms. Quatre smiled as he pulled out his notebook, appreciating the look of savviness in the obviously bright child’s eyes. “Good!” Quatre sobered then, saying gently, “Now, Laura, I need you to tell me how you got hurt and who hurt you.”
Laura broke his gaze and looked down at her suddenly clenched hands. Quatre spoke gently. “Laura, I know that it might be scary or embarrassing. But you can tell me anything. We just want to help you so you won’t ever be hurt again.”
Laura sighed and turned to bury her face in Duo’s chest for a long moment. Understanding intimately what she was feeling, Duo held her quietly, rubbing a gentle, supportive hand up and down her back. After a few moments, Laura sat up and looked up at Duo and then to Heero. At the sight of their reassuring faces, she took a deep breath.
“M-my mother hurt me.”
Quatre sighed and Sally closed her eyes. Although the answer hadn’t been unexpected and though both had seen numerous cases of child abuse during their careers, hearing their suspicions confirmed was always painful.
Quatre smiled reassuringly at the girl, almost loath to continue the line of painful but necessary questioning. “How did she hurt you, Laura?”
Laura looked back at her hands. “She calls me names and she hits me.”
“Where does she hit you?”
“In my face. In my stomach. Everywhere.”
Heero watched Duo’s face while Laura spoke for signs of distress. Heero was well aware of Duo’s own history and knew that Laura’s recitation would stir up a multitude of painful memories.
“Did she hurt you in any other ways?” Quatre prompted.
Laura looked up at the nice, blond man and nodded. Unable to answer with words, she looked down at her hands again.
“How did she hurt you?”
Laura took a shuddering breath and leaned once more against Duo’s chest. Duo soaked in her anguish, her pain tapping into his own.
“She... she hurt me... down th-there.”
Duo closed his eyes, a lone tear coursing down a flushed cheek.
The police officers stood by stoically, dutifully recording the girl’s words while trying to control helpless feelings of nausea.
Quatre waited silently, knowing that the child would continue on her own.
Laura couldn’t really understand why this was affecting her so badly. She’d lived her entire life like this and had never shed a tear. But somehow, relating her story to this group of caring adults made her realize how badly she’d been treated by her mother, the one person who was supposed to love her above all others. After a few moments of quiet reflection, Laura continued, her frail form held securely in Duo’s arms.
“She said she wanted me to work like she does, to make some money. She wanted to help me, she said, so I could be with a m-man. She would stick stuff, bottles, candles, and stuff like that up there to help me so it wouldn’t hurt when I did it for real.”
Laura looked up as a soft keening sound rose from the man holding her. Duo’s eyes were closed, his face a mask of tortured distress. He felt her gaze on him and opened his tear-filled amethyst eyes to return her regard. The look of concern on her face, concern for him, for his pain when she should be focused on her own, broke him. Weeping freely and without sound, he pulled her against his chest and rested his cheek on the top of her head, turning his face away from the others.
Quatre clenched his jaw at the sight of the young man’s tears, cursing the evils of child abuse yet again and knowing that he would encounter many more cases in the future. He looked at the young girl who’d wrapped her arms around the man holding her as if to comfort him and marveled at the resiliency of children.
“Laura,” Quatre continued, wanting to bring this questioning session to a close. “Did she ever make you have intercourse with a man?”
From her position against Duo’s chest, Laura looked at Quatre with confusion, not understanding the big word. Sally saw her puzzlement and explained.
“Sweetie, did your mother ever make you let a man stick himself in down there?”
Laura’s confusion cleared and she nodded. Heero had tried to maintain an aura of calm throughout the session, but this final confirmed travesty caused a shard of hatred to shoot through him. Hatred for this beautiful child’s sick bitch of a mother. Heero felt revulsion and disgust the likes of which he hadn’t experience since first learning of Duo’s treatment as a boy at Smoke’s detestable hands. He turned his head towards the side curtain of the enclosure, not wanting Laura to see the dark mask of fury that surely graced his features.
“One night, a few months ago, she came home with a man. I thought he was just one of her ‘friends’. That’s what she called them, the men she brought home. They would go in her room and would leave after a while. And then she would have money. But that night, she told me to go to her room and the man followed me. When I tried to leave, she closed the door and locked it from the outside. The man grabbed me and threw me on the bed.”
Laura shuddered at the memory. “She lied, you know.”
“How’s that?” Quatre asked.
“Even with all that stuff she did, it still hurt. I even bled a little.”
The police had heard quite enough. “Laura, where is your mother now,” the shorter officer asked.
“Gone? Gone where?” the other officer queried.
Laura shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes she goes to get the stuff that she says she needs to make her happy. ‘Hera’, or ‘herin’, or something like that.”
“Heroine?” the first office asked, jaw clenched in disgust.
Laura nodded. “Yeah, that’s was it. Heroine. Anyway, sometimes she’s gone for a few days and sometimes, for a few months.”
“How did you survive while she was gone?”
Laura peered up at the officers and swallowed. “I would find food in the garbage or I would, uh, steal...”
The officers smiled at her, reassuring her that she wasn’t in any trouble.
Quatre nodded and closed his notebook. He had more than enough to take temporary emergency custody of the child. A quick call to his supervisor, and Laura would be a ward of the colony.
“Laura, that was great. You’re a very brave young lady. Now, I’m going to talk to the doctor, the officers, and Duo and Heero for a moment. We’ll let you get some rest.”
Duo looked up finally and shook his head. “No!” His voice was thick with emotion. “I’m staying with Laura.”
Heero nodded. “Yes, you stay here, koi. I’ll go talk with Quatre.” Heero walked over to the pair on the bed. He leaned down a pressed a kiss the top of Laura’s head, earning a subdued smile from the girl. After returning the smile, Heero rested a hand against one of Duo’s wet cheek. He wiped away the tear marks with a gently thumb. ‘It will be alright,’ he said with his eyes. Duo nodded, trying and failing to smile at his shujin.
With a last look at the now two people who held his heart, Heero turned away and accompanied the others as the left the treatment room. Duo sat back on the bed, Laura still secured in his embrace. Quietly, they sat together, Laura’s head pillowed against Duo’s chest, his hand rubbing her small back, and tried to keep each other’s ghosts at bay.