Leaving Duo with Laura, Heero, Quatre, Sally, and the two police officers went to Sally’s office to discuss matters in private. Closing the door behind them, Sally offered everyone a seat. Wanting to get this over with quickly and return to Duo, Heero remained standing, propped against a wall. Everyone else sat themselves in various chairs while Sally sat on the edge of her desk.
“So, what happens now,” Heero asked the blond social worker.
Quatre regarded the serious young man with kindly eyes. “Based on the evidence I’ve gather from Laura, she more than qualifies under the CINA laws.”
“CINA?” Heero queried.
“Yes,” Quatre replied. “CINA stands for ‘Child In Need of Assistance’. When a case of child abuse or neglect is reported to DYFS, a social worker,” the small man pointed to himself, “comes to take a summary of the case and to determine if intervention is needed. Where such a finding is made, a petition is filed with the courts to declare the child as in need of government intervention. That way, the child can become a ward of the colony, with the ultimate goal being to place the child in the best possible environment.
“If the child’s situation is dire enough, then DYFS can take the child into emergency custody and away from the immediate situation. At that point, a temporary custody hearing is held to either return the child to the parents, if possible, to place the child in foster care, or to place the child in a colony run facility...”
“How does one become a foster parent?” Heero interjected, unwilling to consider any other any other options for the tough little girl.
Quatre smile at the abrupt question. “Hmm, yes, I though you might feel that way. To qualify as a foster parent, you would have to become licensed. Basically, I would inspect your home, interview you and any other prospective foster parent, and run a background check with the police. If everything is satisfactory, you could be licensed by the time the temporary custody hearing is held. The hearing will be in two days.”
Heero nodded. “Fine, let’s go. You can inspect our home right now.” Heero pushed off of the wall and headed towards the door.
Quatre stood quickly and held out a hand. “Wait!”
Heero turned to look at him and saw the blond shaking his head.
“I would have to interview both of you in the home at the same time. You and Duo. We can definitely go tonight. I appreciate your anxiousness. However, Duo will have to come as well.”
Heero looked at the social worker for a moment. Finally, he sighed. “Fine. But you’ll have to be the one who tells Duo that he has to leave Laura here. Alone.”
With that, the dark-haired man opened the door and left. Quatre grimaced, knowing that the braided man would probably be completely unreasonable about leaving Laura. He looked at Sally, who gave him a mildly hopeful smile.
“Oh well, no one ever said this job would be easy.” Quatre walked to the door before turning back to the officers. “Why don’t you go ahead and run the background check on Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell-Yuy. Might as well speed up the process.” Quatre thought for a moment. “Umm, run the check under the name Duo Maxwell too, just to be thorough.”
Quatre left the room, Sally on his heels. The officers left as well, heading to the computer in their squad car to run the names through VCI.(1)
Quatre was amazed that Duo could scream while whispering. Laura had fallen asleep so everyone was speaking in quiet tones. However, the braided young man made his thoughts on the subject of leaving Laura alone in the hospital very clear. He clutched the child to him protectively.
“Duo,” Heero whispered soothingly, “if we can get licensed as foster parents, then Laura can stay with us legally. Otherwise, they’ll just put her in a colony institution.”
Duo held his husband’s quietly intense gaze, unspoken communication flowing between them. Quatre could feel the tension in the room, wondering how the girl could sleep so innocently with the undercurrents swirling around her. After a long moment, Duo lowered his head, looking at the angelic sleeper tucked so trustingly against his chest. Head still bowed, the slender man nodded.
“Alright, Heero. But we’re coming back first thing tomorrow.”
“Absolutely,” Heero agreed.
Duo lifted his gaze to Quatre for a moment, daring the wide-eyed man to object. The social worker nodded his head, having no desire to object. Duo glared at him for a moment. Then he smiled engagingly at the blond. Quatre blinked at the abrupt change in the young man’s demeanor. He sighed, resolved to blind acceptance of Duo’s volatile personality.
Duo looked down at Laura, his smile becoming more subdued as he saw the remnants of a bruise marring the smooth brown skin of her small cheek. She was a beautiful child inside and out and didn’t deserve the life she’d led; but he was determined to change that. Clearing his throat of a rising lump, he stroked the sleeping girl’s head.
“Laura,” he said softly.
Lashes fluttered as she made a sound of protest, burying herself more firmly in Duo’s chest. He chuckled and the sound and movement penetrated her slumber. Light-brown eyes opened and looked up. Laura smiled sleepily, her brief nap representing the most restful sleep she could ever remember having in her short life.
Duo returned her smile, brushing back a strand of hair that had fallen in the girl’s face. His heart ached at the trust he could see in her eyes. Hoping that she wouldn’t hate him for this, Duo spoke.
“Laura, I’m afraid Heero and I have to go now.”
Her panic was swift and intense. The girl stiffened and sat up looking first at Heero and then back at Duo with disbelief. The braided man rushed to reassure her.
“Hey, calm down, munchkin. We’re not leaving you,” he said quickly, guessing her fears.
Laura blinked at him in confusion. “Th-then where are you going?”
Heero answered, moving to stand by the bed. “Quatre is coming home with Duo and I so that he can see our home. If he likes it, then he’ll let you come stay with us when you get out of here.”
The girl stared at him with cautious hope. Wanting desperately to believe that she could actually go home with her two saviors, she looked to the social worker for confirmation.
“It’s true, Laura. You’ll be able to stay with Duo and Heero, at least for now.”
Laura considered the ‘for now’ qualification. However, since she’d always measured her life in terms of brief moments, ‘for now’ sounded good to her. She nodded at smiled at the two young men regarding her with varying degrees of concern.
“It’s okay, Duo. I understand. I know you and Heero will come back for me.”
Duo nodded and smiled, astounded by the faith she had in them. He’d been afraid that she’d been permanently disabused of such qualities.
“You can count on it,” he stated emphatically.
“Well be back first thing in the morning,” Heero added.
Sally stepped to the other side of the bed. “If all goes well, Laura, you’ll be able to leave here tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”
Laura smiled at the pretty doctor then ruined the pleasant expression with a huge yawn. Duo laughed and bent down to kiss the child on the cheek.
“You get some sleep and we’ll be back here before you know it.”
Duo lifted the girl off of his lap and gently placed her on the bed. He stood and moved back so Heero could step closer. The quiet young man bent down and placed a kiss on her small forehead.
“Oyasumi nasai, musume.” (2)
Laura smiled up at him, not understand the foreign words but liking the sound of them, nonetheless. Closing her eyes, she drifted off into a healing sleep.
Duo looked at Heero, amethyst eyes sparkling with rising tears. Taking Heero’s hand, he smiled brightly at his shujin, his heart full.
“Yes, Heero,” he whispered so only his lover could hear. “She is our daughter.”
Though loath to interrupt the personal moment, Quatre cleared his throat. The young men looked towards him.
“We should probably get going. I’m sure you two want to get some sleep, as well.”
Sally walked around the bed. “Go on. I’ll stay with Laura. She’ll be just fine.”
Nodding their thanks, the couple left the treatment room behind Quatre. Agreeing that the social worker would follow them in his car, Duo and Heero went home, Duo jokingly wondering aloud if he’d remembered to do the dishes that morning.
“Umm, sorry about the mess,” Duo prattled. “If we’d known we were having such important company, we’d have completely redecorated the place!”
Quatre chuckled at the strained attempt at humor. He knew how nervous the two young men must be and strove to set them at ease.
“Don’t worry, Duo. Everything looks fine.”
Indeed it did. Quatre marveled at how they had transformed the simple, medium-sized apartment into an extremely comfortable and homey living space. Encouraged by Duo, Heero had discovered he had a natural instinct for art and nearly every wall was graced with an elegant yet down-to-earth painting.
The room immediately visible to Quatre’s eyes was the living room/dining room. A comfy-looking sofa stood against the wall furthest from the front door. A matching chair was positioned on the adjacent wall near the door. On the other side of the front door from the chair was a handsome wood-carved table, ideal for placing mail and keys and such. Opposite the couch, a state-of-the-art entertainment system, including a TV, video-disc player, and stereo system, provided convenient distractions from day-to-day life.
Set apart from the living room furniture, a small square table with four matching chairs occupied the official dining space. The table top was set with two placemats, arranged so that the young men could sit kitty-corner to each other rather than on opposite sides. Off to the side of the table, two candleholders fitted with white candles sat waiting for any special occasions.
However, what caught Quatre’s attention were the beautifully maintained plants that sat in several strategic spots around the living room and dining area.
“Who’s the gardener?” the blond asked. “These plants are fantastic!”
Duo blushed slightly. “That’d be me.” Duo’s urge to nurture and protect had led him to become interested in horticulture. He’d gotten rather good at it and had begun a lovely little garden in his own backyard, as well as helping several of his neighbors keep theirs.
Quatre smiled, still glancing around. “This place looks great. Well, what I’ve seen of it, anyway. May I see the other rooms?”
Heero followed as Duo led Quatre through the doorway opening off of the dining room and into the kitchen. He knew that no fault could be found there. The kitchen was his domain and he kept it spotless and well ordered.
Quatre noticed that all of the appliances were the latest models. The walls over the sink and stove were covered with cabinets, as were the lower space around the sink. The tidy condition of the kitchen led him to believe that the quieter member of the pair maintained this space. However, Duo’s influence was proclaimed by the multitude of cute refrigerator magnets on display and the potted herbs situated on the windowsill for maximum exposure to the sun. A door at the back wall led to the yard space housing Duo’s garden and shared by their neighbors immediately to the east.
“Great kitchen. Who usually prepares meals and such?”
“He does,” Duo announced, jerking a thumb towards his husband. “I can put together a decent meal but Heero is a real gourmet. I keep telling him he should quit his job and open a restaurant.”
Quatre joined Duo in laughter as Heero blushed slightly at the enthusiastic praise. The dark-haired man decided to change the subject and move the tour along.
“Would you like to see the other rooms?” he offered.
“Of course,” Quatre stated. Again, Duo led the way while Heero trailed behind. They moved out of the kitchen and down a small hallway towards the rear of the apartment. There were four doors arranged two on each side. The first door on the left led into a study, complete with computer and bookcases. The second led into a small bedroom, which boasted a bed but had obviously seen little use. The first door on the right led to the master bedroom.
“This apartment actually has three bedrooms, but we use one for a study, of sorts,” Duo explained. “This one,” he indicated the small bedroom, “is a guest room. It would be perfect for a child, don’t you think?” He rushed on before Quatre could comment. “And this is our room.”
Not wanting to invade their privacy more than necessary, the small blond only stuck his head in, noticing the king-sized bed, the dresser, Chester drawers, and vanity. A closed door in the wall suggested a closet and another open door led to the in suite bathroom.
As Quatre moved out of the room, Duo opened the fourth door. “This is the guest bathroom. As you can see, it’s a full bath with a shower and tub.”
Quatre nodded and smiled. “Everything looks wonderful. You two have a lovely home.” Duo smiled and Heero nodded in acknowledgement. Quatre noted again how different the young men’s demeanors were, sensing that the distinctions complemented each other. They were certainly a better couple than most he’d seen. While Duo brought a spark of excitement and spontaneity to his shujin, Heero provided his lover with much needed calm and a sense of security.
They moved back into the living room. Duo and Heero sat on the couch while Quatre took the chair. Duo unconsciously reached for his partner’s hand, nervous at the upcoming questioning session. Quatre noticed and smiled reassuringly.
“From what I’ve seen so far, your home is more than satisfactory. It’s comfortable, clean, and well-maintained, which is more than I can say for a lot of foster homes I’ve inspected. So I’ll definitely approve the living space. All I need to do now is ask a few questions.”
Duo shifted and Heero squeezed his hand in assurance. Duo glanced over at him and gave a grateful smile. Blue eyes accepted the gesture, sending a silent message of love.
Quatre cleared his throat to regain the couple’s attention. They looked at him a bit sheepishly, having forgotten for a moment that he was in the room. The social worker smiled, knowing that the obviously affection between the two young men would only strengthen their case.
“Okay, first of all, how long have you two been married?”
“For about a year,” Duo answered, having been deemed the unofficial spokesman.
“Oh, still newlyweds, huh?” Quatre teased. He was rewarded by small smiles and blushes from the couple on the couch. Chuckling, he continued his questioning.
“How did you meet?”
Duo tensed at the seemingly innocent question. Surreptitiously, Heero clasped his husband’s hand tighter, hoping Duo wouldn’t panic. On the ride home from the hospital, they’d anticipated the question and had come up with an acceptable response. Duo cleared his throat and answered.
“We met through business. I was having a difficult time with my employer – we had a difference in opinion in how I should do my job – and Heero helped me out. I resigned and he assisted me in seeking redress from my employer. He was really wonderful,” Duo smiled at his silent companion, “and one thing kind of led to another. That was about three years ago and we’ve been together ever since.”
Knowing that nothing he was saying was an outright lie, Duo began to relax. Now he just hoped that the social worker wouldn’t push for details. His wish was granted.
“So are you employed now?” Quatre queried.
“Yes, Heero, again, helped me find a new job. I work as a mechanic for Howard Marcowitz.(3) I can give you his contact information, if you’d like,” Duo offered.
“That’d be great. I’ll get it before I leave.” Quatre turned to the other member of the pair. “What about you, Heero, what do you do?”
“I’m Vice President of Operations for Colony Communications,” Heero replied, succinctly.
Quatre nodded and then smiled. “So the next time I have a problem with my phone bill, I’ll know who to call.” The three young men shared a friendly laugh. Quatre asked a few more questions regarding their work hours, their hobbies, and their family life. He nodded in sympathy when Heero stated that he was an only child and both his parents were deceased. When Duo answered that he was an orphan, the blond again had the feeling that the long-haired man had suffered a painful childhood. However, he didn’t pursue the matter since it wasn’t important to his investigation.
“Well, that’s really all I needed. I’m perfectly satisfied that you will make wonderful foster parents. And as for the fact that you’re a gay couple, well, ever since the same-sex marriage law was passed, many wonderful, previously ineligible couples have had the opportunity to demonstrate their parenting skills. I’m certain that you’ll be no different. As soon as I get the police report back, I’ll start the paperwork to get your license granted.”
Duo smiled, hiding the sudden knot in his stomach. Although he knew his past record had been expunged, he was still gripped by the fear that somehow he would be found out and that Laura would be taken away from them. Just then, Quatre’s mobile phone rang.
“Excuse me for a moment,” the small man apologized. He answered his phone and walked into the kitchen for privacy. Duo turned to meet Heero’s eyes before placing his head on his shujin’s shoulder.
“Well, koi, what do you think? Can we really do this? Can I do this?”
Heero rested his cheek against Duo’s thick, chestnut hair. “I believe you can do anything, koibito. I have complete faith in you.”
Duo raised his head. Amethyst and cobalt met, love and devotion evident in each gaze. Duo leaned forward and pressed his lips to his husband’s. They remained locked in the comforting kiss until Quatre reentered the room. The young men broke apart and turned to him. The blond smiled at them.
“Well, that was the officers from the hospital. They ran a background check and you both came up clean.”
Duo breathed a silent sigh of relief and Heero squeezed his hand in a reassuring ‘I told you so.’ They stood to face their guest.
“Congratulations, you two,” Quatre gushed. “As soon as the paperwork is processed, you’ll be Laura’s foster parents.”
Duo laughed and reached out to grab Quatre’s hand. “Thank you so much!” he exclaimed, pumping the smaller man’s hand.
Heero gave a brilliant smile. “Yes, thank you. You don’t know what this means to us.”
Quatre laughed at Duo’s exuberance. “Oh, I think I do. Now, we just have to discuss one more thing.”
Duo released his hold on the blonde’s hand and stepped back to wrap his arm around his lover’s waist.
“Although your license won’t be processed for a couple of days, I will allow Laura to come home with you tomorrow when she’s released from the hospital. In two days, there will be a temporary custody hearing, at which time your status as foster parents will become official.”
Quatre’s smile faded. “I do have to warn you. Laura’s mother will be notified, if possible, about the custody and CINA hearings. There is a possibility that Laura will be remanded to the custody of her mother, but that chance is very, very slight,” Quatre rushed to reassure the suddenly distressed looking Duo.
“That bitch will never lay a hand of Laura again if I have anything to say about it,” Duo growled. Heero’s face darkened as he silently reinforced his husband’s sentiments.
Quatre nodded in understanding. “Given the circumstances, I would seriously doubt that Laura’s mother will regain custody. I’m going to contact a DYFS attorney. The attorney will get in touch with you and talk to you and Laura about the next steps in the process.” Quatre smiled again. “And now, I’m going to say goodnight. It’s been a long day and I’m sure you want to get some rest. Let me just get your contact information.”
Duo and Heero provided the necessary numbers and references and moved to the door. Quatre joined them and they wished him a goodnight. After the social worker had gone, Duo turned to his partner.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.”
Heero nodded in complete agreement. The day had been physically, as well as emotionally draining. Hand in hand, the lovers went to bed, anxious to bring their new daughter home where she belonged.
As Duo drifted off to sleep, head pillowed on Heero’s chest, his mind returned to the alley and the bastard who’d been trying to hurt Laura. His fists clenched as he found himself wanting to beat up the son of a bitch all over again.
A/N: Coming up, Duo remembers his first trick. Get the Kleenex!!
(1) If I remember correctly from NYPD Blue, VCI stands for Violent Crimes Index or something. It’s a database for those with criminal records.
(2) ‘Good night, daughter.’ (Awwwwww! ^_^)
(3) I have no idea if Howard has a last name but I thought ‘Marcowitz’ was a good one. ^_^