The table was laden with every breakfast treat Heero could pull together with what was in the fridge. Pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, bacon, waffles - even Duo was taken aback by the amount of food his husband had prepared. But the braided man knew the reason behind the feast and refrained from making any teasing comments.
Heero was due to return to work that day and was feeling guilty that he would miss Laura's first counseling session. Howard - dear man that he was - had again reminded Duo of his priorities with stern words.
"Boy, next time I see your face around here, that little girl had better be with you. I found a play tool kit for her at the toy store all in pink, if you can believe that!"
Duo couldn't help but smile at the thought of his graying boss wandering the aisle of a toy shop surrounded by kids. Howard had truly been a godsend at a time when Duo was desperate to discover a sense of self-worth and he loved the old man like he imagined he would have loved his own father if he'd known him.
Finally, Heero sat the last platter on the table and took his seat. He noticed that the other two hadn't started eating. "You didn't have to wait," he said.
Duo chuckled. "Well, you were moving so fast, I thought I might get heartburn just from watching you," he quipped, unable to resist a small jibe.
Heero quirked his lips in rueful acknowledgement and picked up his fork without further comment. While reaching for a pancake, he glanced at Laura. She'd been quiet all morning; even now she just sat playing with her fork instead of indulging the appetite Heero swore was a large as his shujin's. He looked quickly at the other man, catching his attention.
Duo had noticed the girl's lack of enthusiasm, as well. Placing a piece of sausage on her plate, he asked, "Are you okay, munchkin?"
Laura blinked, realizing that both men were looking at her with concern. For a minute, she considered saying that she was fine, but she had decided that she would never lie to her fathers if she could at all help it. With a small sigh, she speared the sausage and spoke quickly before stuffing it in her mouth. "...the counselor lady...," she mumbled.
Heero nodded, catching on to the abbreviated comment. "Nervous?" he asked with the same succinctness.
Laura responded with a muffled 'hn'. Duo would have laughed aloud at her very Heero-ish answer but for the serious expression on the child's face.
"It'll be okay," he reassured, using a finger to tuck an errant braid behind her ear. "You can bet that, whoever you see, Quatre approved of them first. He wouldn't send you to anybody mean or scary or anything. And I'll be there the whole time. Well, in the hall, at least."
The girl nodded, clearly trying to reassure the young men, though she wasn't very convincing. An idea had been forming in the back of Heero's mind and he decided that now was the ideal time to mention it.
"You know, Laura, on Saturdays I teach a karate class at a Youth Center a few blocks away. How would you like to join the class this week?"
Laura looked up, her brown eyes filled with curiosity. "Karate?"
Silently congratulating himself for successfully distracting her from her worry, Heero elaborated. "Karate is an ancient form of fighting and self-defense used for centuries by the Japanese. We learn, not just how to defeat an opponent, but how to quiet the mind to find peace within ourselves."
Heero paused, wincing at his choice of words. He was certain he was being too cryptic, but surprisingly, Laura's face was alight with interest. Finding the 'peace within' sounded wonderful to her. "Is that what Duo used on that bas..., um, I mean, that jerk in the alley?"
Duo chuckled. "Yep, that's what I used on that *bastard* in the alley. If you think that was something, you should see Heero. He taught me everything I know."
Laura looked back towards the Asian man with wide eyes. She already thought Heero was the definition of 'cool' and this only increased his estimation in her eyes.
"So, do you want to join the class?" Heero asked again.
On the brink of enthusiastic agreement, Laura paused and glanced down at her plate. There would be other kids in the class. She wasn't really used to being around other children. She was worried about what they would think of her, a foster child. Unlike her, these kids would probably have normal parents, not mothers who used them as punching bags.
Her fear screamed at her to decline Heero's kind offer but, at that moment, she looked up into two pairs of loving eyes and knew that no other kid in that class would have two fathers as terrific as hers. Besides, Heero would be teaching the class. Unlike when she eventually had to venture to school, she wouldn't be doing this alone. She quieted her fears and nodded.
"Great!" Duo shouted. Taking a sip of coffee, he glanced at the large clock hanging on the wall in the kitchen. "Umphh," he exclaimed, trying not to spit out the warm beverage. "Heero, you're going to be late for work and we have to get to the counselor's office by nine."
With that, they hastily finished what they could of breakfast and packed the rest away for later. Heero and Duo finished getting ready, dancing around each other in their bedroom with the ease of long practice. Laura had her room and bathroom to herself and hadn't yet learned the girlish art of taking forever to get ready. Soon, they were ready to leave.
Heero paused at the front door as he did the last button on the cuff of his shirt sleeve. Looking back at his husband and the braided girl, a smile snuck across his lips. He could think of worse things to do than say goodbye to his family before a day of work.
"I'll see you guys this evening. Maybe I can make something special for dinner..."
"No!" Duo cut him off, laughing. "Why don't we just try to finish off the breakfast leftovers first."
Laura giggled as the blue-eyed man threw a mock glare at his lover. She turned up her cheek for a kiss and then stared as the two men share a brief peck. She never tired of seeing their affection for each other.
Soon after Heero's departure, Laura and Duo made their way out the door as well. The girl's excitement about the impending karate classes lingered for a while, but when the imposing edifice of the Social Services building came into view, her previous anxiety nudged its way back into her mind.
After swinging the car skillfully into an available parking spot, Duo just sat, staring at the large letters proclaiming the building's purpose. He couldn't help but wonder how his life might have been different if he wasn't seeing this place for the first time. What if someone other than Smoke had taken him in after the orphanage had burned down? He might not have ever known the fear, humiliation, and pain that had been his only childhood companions.
But, then again, he might never have met Heero nor found Laura, and that was a scenario he didn't dare contemplate. Duo glanced at the quiet child, sensing her nervousness. "Really, kiddo, it will be fine. I'll be right there."
Laura turned her too mature eyes towards him. He suppressed a wince, hating the worldly knowledge he saw in them. Though the cynicism she'd expressed at their first few meetings surfaced less and less often, at times her innate wariness made itself known. Reminding himself of his pledge to gift her with a true childhood, he leaned over to place a kiss on her forehead. Then he tapped her on the nose, causing her eyes to cross. He saw the smile he'd been seeking and jerked his head towards the building.
"Come on, let's go meet the shrink."
The lobby was busy with activity. The L2 Colony seal hung prominently on one wall above lettering that spelled out Department of Youth and Family Services. The pair made their way to the information desk and a harassed-looking woman directed them to the third floor.
They exited the elevator onto a carpet hallway. Directly across from the elevator bank, a set of glass doors led into a waiting area. Comfortable chairs were arranged haphazardly around the room and several low coffee tables held a selection of out-of-date magazines. Duo walked to the receptionist, leading Laura with a hand on her shoulder.
The young woman looked up at their approach, flustering slightly as she encountered an incredible pair of amethyst eyes. Noticing that the rest of the face surrounding those eyes wasn't objectionable in the least, she blinked and cleared her throat.
"M-may I help you?"
"Yes, you may... Sharel," he responded, looking at the name plaque sitting on her counter. Noticing the way she was staring at him, he couldn't help but respond to the unspoken flattery. He flashed her his most charming smile. "Do you have an appointment for Laura?"
Blinded by his grin, it was a moment before the receptionist could look away. She quickly glanced at her schedule planner before raising her gaze back to the handsome young man standing in front of her.
"Yes, she's to see Dr. Une at 9:15. Could you sign in, please?"
Sharel held out her pin, hoping that his fingers might brush hers as he took it. He reached for it with his left hand and she caught a glint of gold. She felt her lips purse in annoyance as the examined his wedding band. 'Figures,' she groused silently.
Switching the pen to his right hand, Duo signed the ledger, laying the pen on the paper when he was done. Not noticing the receptionist's sudden change in demeanor, Duo led Laura to one of the chair, taking a seat next to her. He was trying to think of a topic of conversation to occupy their time when the wood-paneled door next to the reception window suddenly opened. Two braided heads turned immediately in its direction.
Dr. Une, "Anne" to her friends and young patients, took a quick moment to mentally review the case file of the girl she was about to see. 'Ten years old, mother AWOL, victim of severe abuse, sexual assault...' These were the statistics she'd been given. However, as far as she was concerned, they were of secondary importance. In her five years of being a child psychologist, she'd learned that the most vital thing was to get beyond the surface and into the secret fears and anxieties of the children she met. Her ultimate function was to provide a friendly ear and, sometimes, a comforting shoulder on which a frightened, tired child could lean.
Une opened the door onto the waiting room and sized up the couple sitting across from her. She knew from the description she'd been given that the young man was one Duo Maxwell-Yuy, and was in no small part responsible for getting the child out of the dangerous environment in which she'd been living. She glanced at the protective hand he placed over the girl's. The doctor approved of his attitude, but made a note to keep an eye out for signs that the young man was being overly smothering. She wasn't too worried, though. Overprotectiveness was a common and natural trait in a new parent.
"Hello," she said, stepping fully into the room. "I'm Dr. Une. But please, call me Anne."
"Anne Une?" Duo snickered, commenting on the unusual name.
The doctor smiled at him, realizing that his humor was a defensive mechanism he used to hide his nervousness. "Yes, believe it or not." She turned towards the brown-skinned girl staring at her quietly. Une recognized the 'sizing-up' quality of the child's perusal and waited a moment. When the girl finally blinked and lowered her gaze, Une held out her hand in greeting.
"You must be Laura. It's very nice to meet you."
Laura had examined the woman's face minutely, searching for any hint of insincerity. The doctor wore a neat, business-like pants suit, mint green. The jacket was unbuttoned, revealing a feminine, off-white blouse. The woman appeared to be tall, but her shoes were very low pumps, as if she was making a conscious effort not to tower over her young patients. Her shoulder-length, brown hair was worn loose and an attractive pair of wire-rimmed glasses sat atop her small nose.
The doctor lady looked nice enough, Laura surmised, though she would reserve final judgment until after their meeting.
She finally returned the proffered greeting with a mumbled, "You too," quickly grasping the doctor's hand before returning her own to the arm of her chair.
Une hid a smile. These street kids always carried themselves with a reserved sort of maturity that was sometimes cute, but always a bit sad. She looked back at Duo, distinguishing a similar street-wise savvy behind his attractive countenance. 'What's his story?' she asked herself, considering how that information might affect the way she dealt with this family.
"Mr. Maxwell-Yuy," she said, holding out her hand to him, as well. He stood and took her hand. His return shake was firm and his amethyst eyes took in every detail of her appearance with no less thoroughness than Laura had done. His lips quirked in a wry grin as he met the doctor's gaze.
"Aren't you a bit young to be a shrink?" He chuckled, taking any sting out of the comment.
"Perhaps," Une replied, returning his smile. "But I've been a 'shrink' for some years now. So you have no need for concern about my experience."
"Oh, I'm not," he said hastily. "You know Quatre Winner?" The doctor nodded. "Well," he continued, "so do I. If Quatre approved of you, then you must be alright."
Une's smile grew. Though the social worker hadn't known exactly who would be seeing Laura, he had given a very short list of acceptable doctors. She felt honored to have met his stringent requirements.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," she said dryly before returning her attention to the girl. "Laura, why don't you come with me. I'm sure Duo can find something to do while we're gone."
With dramatic flair, Duo picked up a random magazine and flopped back into his chair. Sending Laura a wink, he opened the copy of 'Ladies Home Journal' and pretended to read with intense concentration. The girl couldn't help but respond to his antics and stood to follow the doctor with a shy smile on her lips.
The doctor's office was decorated with the requisite bookshelves and framed degrees, but otherwise, resembled someone's living room. Two beige chairs and a couch were arranged so that anyone sitting in any of the locations would be able to talk comfortably. A video entertainment center occupied one wall and Laura noticed a popular video game console, complete with two controllers. A fish tank in one corner, which contained several darting shapes, drew a quick glance. The doctor's heavy oak desk sat along the back wall, clearly disconnected with the rest of the room.
At the doctor's gesture, the girl took a seat in one of the chairs. Une took the other chair and looked towards her with a subdued smile.
"Before we begin, Laura, is there anything you want to ask me? Anything at all?"
Laura glanced around the office as she tried to gather her thoughts. She asked the first thing that came to mind. "How long do I have to come here?"
"Until we're both satisfied that you don't need me anymore. I can't say specifically how many times we'll meet."
Deciding that the response made sense, she asked another question. "What do I have to do?"
Une sat back in her chair. "Well, you don't *have* to do anything." She paused for moment, thinking of how best to explain her role. "Tell me, have you ever had someone that you could tell anything? Not just the good stuff, but the bad stuff too. The stuff that makes you sad, or angry, or even just embarrassed."
Laura lowered her eyes to her lap and clasped her hands. How many times had she wished for a friend that she could talk to like that? "No," she whispered.
"Well that's what I am. You can tell me anything, absolutely anything, and I promise that I'll never get mad, I'll never tell you that you're wrong, and I'll never laugh at you. That is, unless you tell me something funny. Then, I make no promises."
Laura looked up and gave the attempted joke a small smile. She understood what the doctor was saying, and she relished the opportunity to unburden herself on someone other than her fathers. But, she didn't know this woman and found it difficult to be completely comfortable in her presence.
"I don't expect you to spill your guts to me during our first meeting, of course," Une said, voicing Laura's thoughts. "Whenever you're ready, I'll be here. Okay?"
The doctor waited patiently while the girl's beautiful brown eyes bore into her. This was a pivotal moment. The girl would decide either to give her a chance or to let her instincts against trusting a stranger win out. Every child was different. Some were instantly communicative while some wouldn't talk to her even though she'd been seeing them for years. What this child would do, she couldn't say.
The unwavering stare was the only sign of Laura's internal struggle. Up to this point, the only adults she'd been able to trust completely were her two fathers. Other than Dorothy, Catherine, and Noin, she'd had no positive females in her life, and those women hadn't asked her to expose herself like this one was doing. Could she open herself like that? This woman didn't love her like Duo and Heero did. She was just someone who was being paid to talk to her. Why should she trust this doctor?
Laura looked into Une's eyes. She found no derision, no anger, nothing to remind her of the only woman she'd ever wanted to fully trust. This woman wasn't her mother and Laura realized she didn't need to be afraid. No matter what, Duo and Heero would always be there. If, for some reason, she didn't want to talk to the doctor anymore, she wouldn't have to. Until something happened, though, she might as well give the woman a chance.
Several minutes had passed but Une still sat quietly, waiting for the girl to speak. Finally, Laura lowered her gaze and spoke quietly. "What do you want to talk about?"
Une sighed, acknowledging the question for the tacit acceptance it was meant to be. She'd overcome the child's first barricade and she knew things would only get easier as time went on. She looked at the girl's head, bowed as though she was expecting some deep, impossible request.
"What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?" she asked.
Laura looked up, blinking in surprise. That was it? That's what she wanted to know? "Umm, vanilla," she answered.
"Ahh, vanilla is terrific. But have you ever tried mint chocolate chip?"
Laura shook her head with a relieved giggle. Over the next hour, while they delved into such weighty issues as each other's favorite foods and colors, a bond was formed.