The next morning, Heero glanced at his shujin as they drove to the hospital. Duo felt his lover's gaze and looked over, smiling as the dark-haired man looked away with a blush. Seeing the color in his husband's cheeks, Duo felt a moment of prurient satisfaction. In all the time they'd been together, the two men had done just about everything it was possible for lovers to do together. However, after the memory-sharing of the previous night, Duo had been concerned that Heero still felt guilt over some of their sexual activities. Determined to alleviate any lingering worry in his lover's mind, Duo had made an extra-special effort in the shower that morning.
As they parked the hospital's lot and walked towards the emergency room entrance, the braided man shot another glance towards his companion. Heero intercepted the look and blushed again, unable to dispel the sensations from their earlier, water-filled escapade. He shivered, convinced he could still feel Duo's mouth on him. Resisting the urge to adjust his trousers, he opened the glass door leading to the emergency wing and allowed his lover to enter ahead of him.
Quatre and Sally were waiting for them along with an unfamiliar woman with extremely long, platinum-blond hair and piercing light-blue eyes. The woman's severe, aristocratic features hinted at a capacity for cruelty but the impression was disabused when a charming smile crossed her rosy lips.
The young couple glanced at the stranger curiously while making their greetings to the social worker and the doctor. Quatre quickly made the introductions.
"Duo, Heero," he began, "allow me to introduce Dorothy Catalonia. Dorothy is an assistant attorney general for L2 and she's here to represent the colony, and you as well, during the CINA proceedings. Dorothy can answer any questions you may have about the process."
Dorothy nodded at the young men. "Pleased to meet you," she said in a husky voice, more suited for a phone sex worker than an attorney. Heero nodded in return while Duo smiled.
"It's great to meet you, too," he replied. "We'd like to hear more about what's going to happen, but first, we want to see Laura."
"Of course," Dorothy replied. "I can wait here until you're ready to talk."
Duo glanced towards the emergency room doors, his desire to be near the little girl apparent in his stance, but a thought occurred to him. "Actually, why don't you come with us? You're representing Laura as well so you should meet her. Besides, I'm sure she wants to know what happens next as much as we do."
The blond woman smiled her approval of the braided young man's consideration for the child's feelings. "Very well, I look forward to meeting Laura. Shall we?" She waved a hand, indicating that everyone proceed her.
The small group entered through the double doors of the care center and headed straight to a curtained off area at the far side of the room. Duo's pace quickened until he took the last few steps at a jog. Not waiting for the others, he breezed past the concealing curtain.
"Duo! You're back!"
Heero smiled at the child's greeting. Finally reaching the curtain himself, he pulled it back, reveling in the sight of his husband and the little girl locked in a tight embrace. His heart warmed even more when the girl's light-brown eyes looked over Duo's shoulder and fixed upon him.
"Heero!" Laura reached out a beckoning hand. Heero accepted the offered appendage with a gallant kiss, sitting next to his shujin on the narrow bed. Leaning forward, he wrapped his arms around them both.
Quatre, Sally, and Dorothy waited politely at the foot of the bed until the embrace ended. With a large smile on her pretty face, Laura looked up at the cute social worker and the nice doctor lady. As her eyes landed on the strange woman, her expression became one of unanxious curiosity.
Remembering how only yesterday, the child had regarded anyone other than her two saviors with wary suspicion, Quatre was amazed at how accepting she seemed of the attorney's presence. The resiliency of children was truly incredible and never failed to amaze him. Returning the girl's smile, he placed a hand on the blond woman's shoulder.
"Laura, it's wonderful to see you again. This is Dorothy and she's a lawyer. She will be helping me, Duo, and Heero in court."
Dorothy glided around to the opposite side of the bed from where the young men sat. She held out a graceful hand to the young girl.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Laura."
Laura looked at the woman for a moment, judging the sincerity of her smile. Deciding that she liked the way the woman's voice sounded and the way she smelled - like sun-warmed flowers - she took the attorney's hand and shook it as firmly as she could.
Dorothy's smile broadened at the forthright look in the child's eyes, noting the girl's scrappy intelligence. Though the child had obviously been hurt she was far from beaten. "Do you mind if I sit?" she asked. At the permissive nod, she perched on the side of the bed.
Not releasing his hold on the girl in his arms, Duo looked up at the blond woman. "So, Dorothy, what's next?"
"Well, first, a CINA petition must be filed with the L2 district court. Quatre has already taken care of that."
"Yes," the social worker affirmed as all eyes turned towards him, "I filed first thing this morning. A friend of mine is a judge and he allowed me to preempt his morning docket. His name is Trowa Barton and he'll be overseeing all subsequent proceedings."
Dorothy continued her explanation, "Since Quatre filed the petition along with a request for emergency custody of Laura, there will be a hearing tomorrow to determine who will get temporary custody, the colony or Laura's mother."
The child stiffened at the thought of returning to her mother and Heero's eyes took on a dangerous glint. Duo held her tighter and threw a glare at the blond attorney. "You mean to tell me that Laura might have to go back to that bitch?"
"Let me reassure you," Quatre interjected, "the likelihood of that is zero. Remember last night when I explained about emergency custody? Well after leaving your home, I filed the necessary paperwork. At least until the temporary custody hearing, Laura is a ward of the colony. At the hearing, the judge will determine whether to allow the colony, acting through DYFS, to retain custody or whether custody should be remanded to the parent.
"Based on the information I gathered from Laura last night, which I included in the CINA petition, there is no way the judge will let Laura's mother regain custody. Believe me, the hearing is basically a formality."
Duo took a deep breath, extremely pleased with the social worker's pronouncement. He sent Dorothy a sheepish smile to apologize for his outburst. She smiled at him, understanding his anxiety.
"During the hearing, I will attempt to establish that there is probable cause that the facts in the petition are true. I will call both Quatre and Dr. Po to testify as to the severity of Laura's injuries and her history of neglect and abuse. It's doubtful that the judge will require Laura to speak."
Laura looked into the attorney's eyes. "I'm not afraid."
"I know you're not," Dorothy reassured, placing a gentle hand on the girl's shoulder. "But believe me, testifying in a courtroom is never much fun."
Laura nodded, remembering how difficult it had been to relate the details of her abuse to Quatre and the police officers. "Okay. I don't want to testify, but I'm not afraid to," she reiterated.
"That's cause you're a brave little munchkin!" Duo teased, tickling the girl slightly, ever mindful of her injuries. Laura giggled at the assault, bring a smile to everyone's face.
"What happens after the hearing?" Heero asked.
"Well, once probable cause has been established, the judge will decide who gets temporary custody of Laura. As Quatre stated, the colony will definitely get custody in this case."
"At that point," Quatre explained, "I, as a representative of the colony, will recommend that you two be appointed as Laura's foster parents."
Laura's eyes widened upon hearing that happy bit of news and Heero reached over a playfully tapped her pert nose with a finger. Although she'd hoped she wouldn't have to return to her mother, she hadn't dared to dream that she could actually stay with the two young men who had rescued her from the streets. Feeling true joy for the first time in her short life, Laura beamed shyly at all assembled. Infinitely relieved to see the happy expression on the child's face, Duo resisted the urge to squeeze her tighter than he already was.
"After the temporary custody hearing," Dorothy continued, "an adjudication hearing will be held within four months. This proceeding will be similar to the custody hearing. I will present evidence, in the form of testimony, that the facts in the petition are true. A higher standard of proof will be necessary, what is called a preponderance of the evidence, but again, Dr. Po's medical records should be more than enough to establish physical abuse. This time, Laura, the judge may ask you to speak and relate some details about your past. If that occurs, I'll make certain you won't have to speak in the courtroom. Instead, I'll ask that we be allowed to proceed in the judge's chambers. That should be a bit less intimidating."
The child looked down for a moment, considering the possibility of having to explain her history to yet another stranger. She was nervous about the prospect but determined not to act like a baby. She looked back up at the blond woman and nodded. Duo felt the slight tremble that went through her small frame but feigned ignorance of the tale-tell reaction.
"The adjudication hearing will be joined with what's called a disposition hearing. At this point, the judge will declare Laura as a child in need of assistance and will appoint a permanent legal guardian. Given the facts of the case, I have no doubt that the colony will get custody. As foster parents, Laura will remain with Duo and Heero."
"What about adoption?" Heero questioned in his typical succinct manner.
Quatre hid a smile at the man's eagerness. "A year after the temporary custody hearing, the court will reconvene for a permanency hearing. If, at that time, circumstances remain as they are - if Laura's mother is still missing or can be found incompetent as a parent...," Quatre ignored Duo's snort, "... then you can begin adoption proceedings."
Duo threw a grin towards his husband before turning back to the girl. "Hear that, kiddo? You'll be stuck with us." Laura laughed at his teasing.
"I do want to caution, however," the social worker interrupted, "that any time before the year is up, someone can request a review of the case. That means, if Laura's mother were to show up, she could contest your bid for custody. But more importantly, if she can prove parental competence on her part, she may be able to regain custody."
Dorothy glanced at the two young men, noting the look of stubborn obstinacy on their handsome faces. She repressed a sigh and hoped for their sakes that such a situation never came to pass. She knew that the two men would never give the girl up without a fight, which could get very ugly and would be traumatic for all involved.
"Well," Sally said cheerfully, "it looks like nothing will happen for at least a day, so what do you say we get this young lady checked out of here?"
"Yeah!" Laura concurred, seconded merrily by Duo. The small party, except for Sally, vacated the room while Laura changed into some clothing thoughtfully provided by the young doctor. The others retired to the waiting room.
Duo grabbed Quatre's hand in a firm grip. "I just can't tell you how much we appreciate everything you've done. Heero and I are in your debt." Heero nodded his agreement.
"No problem!" the blond man gushed. "It's my job to insure happy endings." The other three laughed at his enthusiasm. "Dorothy and I will leave and prepare for the hearing. Judge Barton told me that he can fit us in the day after tomorrow. Until then," Quatre pulled several papers from his briefcase, "if you'll just sign these, you will become Laura's official foster parents."
Duo took the papers and a proffered pen. He read the caption, "Foster Parent License," and failed to suppress the shiver that passed through him. Heero placed a hand on his shoulder and he looked up into his lover's deep-blue eyes.
"Are you alright?" Heero asked softly.
The braided man nodded. "I just can't believe this is really happening. We're actually going to be a family." Duo blinked away the stinging sensation of tears as a smile grew on his lips. Heero placed a hand on his cheek.
"Believe it, koi," he reassured before pulling the other man into his arms. The two blonds turned away politely while they embraced. Still feeling as though his heart was going to burst from his chest, Duo pulled out of the hug and quickly signed the forms. Heero took them and did the same while Duo cleared his throat to get the others' attention. "Here ya go," he quipped.
Quatre turned and took the papers from Heero with a smile. He looked over them briefly to make sure everything was all right. After a moment, he looked up and nodded. "Terrific! Congratulations, you two. I'll give you a call and let you know where and when to come for the custody hearing."
"And if you have any questions before then," Dorothy added, "please don't hesitate to give me a call." She handed each of them a business card. After a round of goodbyes, the lawyer and social worker departed.
Duo turned to Heero with a quirky grin. Heero barely managed to raise an eyebrow in question when he found himself attacked by a pair of warm lips. Recovering quickly, he wrapped his arms around his lover's waist and returned the kiss with increasing passion. The two young men nearly forgot where they were until a polite cough reminded them of the need for propriety.
Turning sheepishly towards the source of the interruption, they encountered a smiling Sally and a grinning Laura. The girl thought about teasing the guys for their mushy behavior but decided that she enjoyed seeing their obvious affection for each other - so foreign to her own experience - too much to discourage them, even as a joke.
Duo walked over to her and scooped her up. "So what do you say, doc? Is the princess well enough to sojourn to her castle?"
Sally laughed at his antics but played along. "Quite so, sir knight. She is hereby released from St. Helen's dungeon." The doctor reached out to brush a hand over the girl's cheek. "Just make sure to take it easy until those ribs heal, okay? And call me if you need anything, anything at all."
Laura nodded from her lofty perch and leaned over to place a kiss on the young woman's cheek. "Thanks, Sally," she said shyly.
Duo grinned and copied the girl's action. "Yes, thanks, Sally, for everything."
Sally blinked and raised a hand to her cheek where his lips had pressed. Heero smirked, extending his hand for a more traditional gesture of gratitude. "Thank you, doctor. We'll see you at the hearing." She shook his hand warmly and left them to return to her rounds.
Duo tilted his head up to look at the child in his arms. "What say you, your highness? Shall we embark on our journey to the fair Castle Yuy?"
"Yes!" Laura giggled. "Let's embark!" she ordered, having no idea what the word 'embark' meant. Drawing friendly glances with their happy laughter, the trio stepped out of the hospital into the waiting sunshine.
AN: Awwwwww!!! ^_^