Yesterday had been filled with fun, laughter, and a much needed break from reality. Laura had thoroughly enjoyed her first ever day at a park, replete with a glorious picnic prepared lovingly by Heero. Yesterday, they had been like any other family, romping in the artificial sunlight and fragrant faux-grass.
Today, however, the tenuousness of their connection reestablished itself forcefully in their minds. One word from the judge could shatter their togetherness forever.
Laura walked up the steps in front of the old colony courthouse, flanked by her guardians. The imposing edifice loomed against the overcast sky, representing to her frightened eyes the final obstacle to her new life of peace and normalcy. Each small hand clasped a larger, male version, her companions tactfully ignoring the trembling that betrayed her nervousness. At the courthouse door, she regarded her custodians for a moment, a need for reassurance swimming in the brown depths. Steady blue offered courage while winking violet promised hope. The girl took a breath to bolster herself. Releasing her escorts, she opened the door on her own, small body straining at the weight of the wood and glass.
Following the directions garnered from the building directory, the trio made its way to the second floor, which housed the office and courtroom of the Honorable Trowa Barton. As they walked down the grayish, faux-marble hall, two blonds and one light-brown head turned towards them. Laura attempted a brave smile as Quatre, Dorothy, and Sally rose from their seats to offer greetings.
"Good morning!" Quatre's cheerful manner was as contagious as ever. He shook hands briefly with Duo and Heero and placed a friendly hand on Laura's shoulder. Sally's welcome took the form of nod to the men and an encompassing hug for the child. Leaning back slightly, she took a good look at the girl, nodding in doctoral fashion over the healthy color in her cheek and rubbing a hand over the beautiful braids in womanly praise. Laura met the doctor's gaze, her eyes shining with unconscious pride as Sally's approving smile.
"Hello," Dorothy added in her own graceful fashion. "We'll be summoned in a few minutes. Laura, do you have any questions for me before everything begins?" The girl shook her head in response, though the lawyer saw the fear in her big, brown eyes. "In that case," the blond continued, "here's the bailiff. Let's go in." Dorothy responded to the child's unspoken anxiety by leading her gently by the hand into to the courtroom.
The party entered the chamber, each experiencing a different emotion as they took their seats - Dorothy and Laura at the party table while the others were relegated to the benches behind the dividing gates. Quatre and Dorothy felt calm and prepared, knowing their business and comfortable in the wooden-paneled room. Sally was no stranger to courtrooms, as she was often called to testify in her capacity as a doctor. Familiarity didn't breed assurance, however, and the young woman had to clear the nervousness from her throat.
Heero looked around with his usual air of quiet confidence, secure in the competence of their representatives and in the power of the facts on their side. Laura's wide eyes took in every feature of the somber chamber - the raised dais at the front of the room, the empty jury box, the stenographer arranging himself to record the proceedings - determined to hide her trepidation and to look older than her tender years.
Duo, however, was in the throes of near panic. Although he hid it well for Heero and Laura's sakes, his dread threatened to overwhelm him. For years, fear of places such as this had plagued his every thought. Being arrested for prostitution was a daily danger and a whore with a record was considered worse than useless to his former boss. The one time he'd been taken into custody after propositioning an undercover officer, Duo was certain Smoke would kill him. Because of his tender age - fifteen at the time - charges were not pressed on the condition that he meet with a social worker. His file, however, was maintained by the authorities until being expunged following Smoke's death.
The pimp had retrieved him after the hearing granting him his probationary freedom, and the minute they'd left the courthouse, threatened to put a bullet in his head if he was ever caught again. Duo was immediately returned to the streets and, rather than a DYFS worker, the only person the young prostitute was allowed to see was his next customer. For Duo, courts had long equaled danger and fear and, even after three years of freedom and respectability, the association was extremely difficult to dispel.
Heero alone notice Duo's sudden pallor and elevated breathing. "Daijobu desu ka?" he asked quietly, rubbing a soothing hand along his lover's back. Duo forced a reassuring smile in Heero's direction and returned the sentiment with a squeeze to the blue-eyed man's muscular thigh.
Just then, a door to the side of the podium opened and a young woman stepped out. Stopping beside the dias, she announced, "All rise for the Honorable Trowa Barton."
A tall man dressed in a black robe - 'surprisingly young,' Duo mused - stepped onto the podium and seated himself in the high-backed leather chair sitting on the dais. Several pairs of eyes blinked in wonder at the judge's rather interesting haircut, which completely covered one side of his face, before all extraneous thoughts were tempered by a piercing emerald gaze.
"Be seated," Judge Barton commanded. The timbre of his voice, though soft, both reassured and intimidated. Though youthful, this was clearly not a man to be trifled with.
After regaining his seat, Duo leaned forward towards the young man sitting in the preceding row, placing his mouth near Quatre's ear. "This guy is a friend of yours?" he whispered.
The blond man nodded. "A good friend."
Duo noticed a faint blush suffuse the social worker's fair cheeks and smiled, his curiosity running rampant. Before he could comment, however, Quatre's *good friend* announced the case.
"This is a temporary custody hearing pursuant to a CINA petition in the matter of In re Laura. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether the child in question will remain in the custody of DYFS or be returned to her mother. Usually, the parent would have the opportunity to present his or her case first, but I understand that the child's mother is in absentia. Is that correct?"
"Yes, your honor," Dorothy replied, rising from her seat.
"Very well, counselor. You are charged with proving probable cause as to why Laura should remain a ward of the colony. Please present your case."
With a final squeeze to the girl's small hand, the attorney stood. "Your honor, the colony will prove that the child in question has been both abused and neglected by her mother, in violation of colony law. The colony will then request that custody of the child be given to the Department of Youth and Family Services, herein referred to as DYFS, her physical placement to be determined by that agency.
"I call as my first witness, Quatre Reberba Winner as a representative for DYFS."
Quatre rose from his chair and moved to the witness box. He turned to the court clerk as she approached him with the requisite Bible. Though he was Muslim, the social worker willing placed his hand on the leather-bound book, respectful of the legal tradition.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
The small man sat in the booth and looked towards the blond attorney. Dorothy stepped from behind the party table and stepped before him.
"Would you please state your name and occupation for the record?" she began.
"My name is Quatre Reberba Winner and I am a social worker with the Department of Youth and Family Services."
"Mr. Winner, how did you become involved with this case?"
"DYFS received a call from a doctor at St. Helen's Hospital about a possible case of child abuse and neglect. I was assigned by my superior, Mr. Doug Bassel, to respond to the call. I notified the colony police and went immediately to St. Helen's to evaluate the situation."
"And what happened when you arrive at St. Helen's?"
"I entered the hospital with the two police officers dispatched by police headquarters. The officers and I met with the doctor in charge of the child's case, Dr. Sally Po, as well as with the two young men who had brought her to the hospital, Mr. Heero Yuy and Mr. Duo Maxwell-Yuy. Upon receiving my permission, Dr. Po related the nature of the girl's injuries to the officers and myself, as well as to the Mr. Yuys."
"What happened next?"
"The officers, myself, Dr. Po, Mr. Yuy, and Mr. Maxwell-Yuy then went to talk with the child, Laura, to question her about how she'd received her injuries and as to the whereabouts of her parents."
Dorothy turned to the judge before asking her next question. "Your honor, the colony asks the court, at this time, to recognize the abused child testimony exception to the hearsay rule."
"The court so recognizes," Judge Barton responded.
The attorney turned back to her witness. "Mr. Winner, please give us the substance of the child's account."
"Laura recounted abuse by her mother of both a physical and sexual nature. She stated that her mother has left her alone for periods of time varying from a few days to several months on numerous occasions. The point of these excursions, according to Laura, was for her mother to purchase and consume the drug heroin as well as to pursue her occupation as a prostitute. Furthermore, Laura reported that her mother has attempted to subvert her into a life of prostitution."
The attorney walked smoothly to her table and picked up a file. "Your honor, permission to approach the witness." Permission was given and she closed the distance between herself and the social worker. "Mr. Winner, can you identify these documents?"
Quatre glanced at the papers. "These are both my signed report and the police report of the child's testimony taken by the officers at the hospital. The police report was signed by both the lead officer and myself."
"Your honor, the colony offers these documents into evidence as colony exhibit number one."
"So entered," the judge acknowledged.
Dorothy turned back to Quatre. "Mr. Winner," she asked, her tone wasted without the presence of a jury and a courtroom full of spectators, "how old is the child, Laura?"
"Laura is ten years old."
The lawyer glanced over at the judge, only her experience allowing her to see the disguised disgust on his handsome features. She nodded to Quatre. "Thank you, Mr. Winner, that will be all."
Dorothy waited until the social worker had vacated the witness booth before turning back to the young magistrate. "The colony would like to call Dr. Sally Po to the stand."
Sally took a deep breath and turned to Laura with a smile as she stood. Swallowing her nervousness and silently grateful for the emptiness of the chamber, she took the stand. The doctor was sworn in and she sat, waiting for the attorney to begin.
Dorothy smiled at Sally to calm her anxiety. "Please state your name and occupation for the record," she began.
"My name is Sally Po and I am a third-year resident at St. Helen's Hospital."
"Dr. Po, please describe the events surrounding Laura's admittance to St. Helen's."
Sally cleared her throat. "Mr. Heero Yuy and Mr. Duo Maxwell-Yuy (Dorothy had cautioned her to use their full names at first mention) brought Laura into the hospital shortly after 11 p.m. three nights ago. I received her as a patient and immediately took her to an examining room to determine the nature of her injuries."
"And what were the nature of her injuries?"
Sally needed no notes, the heinous abuse forever imprinted on her mind. "Laura was suffering from multiple contusions and lacerations, as well as several broken ribs, resulting from blunt-force trauma. By that, I mean she'd apparently been slapped, punched, and kicked. There were also signs of sexual abuse, including scarring in the vaginal cavity and a broken hyman."
"What is the significance of a broken hyman, Dr. Po?"
"That means that the child had suffered full intercourse at least once. Given the pattern of the scarring, I concluded that on at least one occasion, she had been penetrated with broken glass bottle..."
Sally's voice wavered and she bowed her head, striving to regain her composure. Swallowing the rising bile and blinking away the stinging in her eyes, she looked up at Laura, her heart breaking at the tears running silently down her face. She knew the girl was strong, but hearing about her own horrible treatment in such an objective fashion couldn't have been easy on her. Duo was visibly restraining himself from springing to her side and Quatre kept a comforting hand firmly on her narrow shoulder.
Dorothy gave the doctor a moment to compose herself, her own face flushing in anger as the extent of the abuse Laura had suffered was revealed, though she'd already heard it. She refrained from looking at the others sitting behind her as she resumed her questioning.
"Dr. Po, were you present when Laura spoke to Mr. Winner and the police?"
"Did her testimony lend support to your findings?"
"Did Laura offer any explanation for why her mother had abused her in such a way?"
"Yes, she did."
"And what was her explanation?"
"Laura said that her mother was attempting to prepare her for a life of prostitution. She was trying to make things easier for her when the time came for her to be with a man."
"And was Laura ever with a man?"
"Yes. Laura said that her mother brought a man home with her one night and forced her to have sex with him."
"What could have been the consequences of that act, Dr. Po?"
"Well, of course, Laura could have been exposed to any number of sexually transmitted diseases and will have to receive periodic testing over the next several years as a hedge against that eventuality. But also, Laura is an early bloomer."
As she'd been rehearsed, Sally hesitated, waiting for the lawyer's prompt.
"What is an 'early bloomer'?"
Sally sent a glance of apology towards the young girl, loath to announce this private information but having no alternative. Knowing what was coming, Laura nodded to the doctor, offering her tacit permission and forgiveness.
"An 'early bloomer' is a young girl who reaches menarche before the average age of twelve years. In other words, Laura has reached puberty, though underdeveloped in secondary sexual characteristics, and could have become pregnant from the intercourse."
"*What*?!" Duo burst out as he lept to his feet, flushing red and suffused with rage. Heero paled, unable to believe what he'd just heard, though he had the presence of mind to place a restraining hand on his lover's arm. Laura had asked Sally to keep this knowledge from them, although she'd informed Noin before their trip to the drugstore the other day. Duo dug his fingers into the seat before him as he slowly sat in response to his husband's urging, swearing to himself that if he ever laid eyes on Laura's mother, she was a dead woman.
Quatre, though made aware of the situation by Sally, closed his eyes as his heart clenched in anger. He cursed himself for becoming over-involved in the case and asked himself again whether he was in the right line of work. Every case tore him apart but this spunky child had really gotten under his skin. He tightened his grip on her shoulder as she bowed her head, cheeks pink from a young girl's embarrassment.
The judge didn't bother to warn Duo about his outburst since he'd only exclaimed the one, horrified word. Dorothy waited until the commotion behind her quieted.
"According to Laura, Dr. Po, was her mother aware of her maturity?"
"Yes," Sally replied, shaking her head in continued disbelief at the absent woman's preposterous carelessness.
Returning briefly to the table, the attorney retrieved a second file. "Permission to approach the witness."
Her request allowed, Dorothy handed Sally the file. "Dr. Po, can you identify the contents of this file?"
"These are the records of my examination and diagnoses of Laura's condition prepared at the time she was admitted to St. Helen's. I signed them immediately after completing them."
"Your honor, please enter these documents as colony exhibit number two."
"So entered," the judge responded, taking the proffered file and adding it to the other laying before him.
"Thank you, Dr. Po. You may step down."
Sally vacated the witness box and returned to her seat. En route she stopped by the slumped girl and, kneeling, gathered her in a tight embrace. "You have nothing to be ashamed of," she whispered in assurance, understanding the natural emotion of freakishness the child felt. It was never easy to grow up.
"I'm okay," Laura whispered. She looked up and met the doctor's caring gaze. She offered a tentative smile that Sally returned, fighting back her own renewed tears since the girl had found the strength to staunch her own. Sally pressed a kiss to her cheek and, with a final squeeze, reseated herself.
Dorothy stepped back behind the party table, gracefully lowering herself into her chair and taking tight hold of Laura's hand. "I have no further witnesses, your honor."
Judge Barton nodded and inhaled to find his habitual center of calm before speaking. No one in the room, not even he, had been unaffected by the shocking testimony presented.
"We will take an hour recess so that I may consider the facts presented by Ms. Catalonia. When we reconvene, I'll have my decision." He banged the gavel and stood, the other's rising with him. Gathering his materials, he retired to his chambers.
No sooner had the judge's door closed than Duo jumped over the bench in front of him as well as the dividing gate. Without a word, he picked Laura up, securing her in his arms. The girl looked up and their eyes met for a single moment before her composure disintegrated and she release all of the fear and pain the testimony had renewed within her. She threw her small arms around his neck and buried her head in his neck. Filled with an overwhelming instinct to protect his precious bundle, Duo sent a glare to Quatre, Sally, and Dorothy, daring any of them to approach the child. Sending a brief glance to his husband, he left the courtroom, the sobbing girl held tightly against him.
Heero watched Duo and Laura leave before turning to the others. He opened his mouth to speak but was unable to force any words past the knot that had formed there. He cleared his throat and tried again.
"Thank you, everyone. There's no way the judge won't rule in our favor."
Dorothy nodded, appreciative of his conviction. "Yes, our testimony was compelling, all the more so for its truth. Barton is known for his thoroughness and reluctance to give hasty decisions. But believe me, he will return in an hour with a ruling with which we'll all be satisfied."
"Absolutely," Quatre added. "Trowa is a good guy. I could tell he was completely devastated by the evidence, though he was struggling to stay objective and not demonstrate his reactions."
"Good," Heero nodded. "Now, please excuse me. My family needs me." He turned and left the room, in search of his two loves.
A/N: Please note that much of the courtroom procedure describe in this chapter and in later chapters is blatantly *wrong*! However, in the interests of keeping my readers awake, I decided to skip over some of the finer points of procedure and rules. Please forgive my presumption. ^_^