Une pulled into the parking lot space too fast and was forced to break hard, her tires squealing. She alighted from her car as quickly as her straight skirt allowed, her head still shaking in disbelief as she played Quatre's message over again in her mind.
The doctor had just returned from a conference on the long-term effects of juvenile psychological trauma when she'd decided to check her office voicemail. It was as if fate was determine to prove that she had a well-developed sense of irony. Une listened with initial confusion and growing horror as the social worker explained what had transpired during her absence. Laura's mother had returned and revealed that Duo had spent the majority of his childhood as a prostitute. The judge had been forced to revoke his and Heero's custody of the girl and she'd been taken to a DYFS-approved child shelter.
Une glanced up at the imposing gray fašade of the shelter, trying to imagine the depths of Laura's emotional turmoil, torn from the loving embrace of her new fathers and brought to this depressing place. Familiar with the facility from her dealings with previous patients, Une went straight to the information desk, her ID in hand.
"Dr. Une to see Laura Maxwell," she said to the bespeckled man at the desk. The receptionist peered near-sightedly from her face to the proffered ID photo.
"Alright, doctor." He consulted a paper roster lying before him. The government never had placed updating their offices with computers high on its list of priorities. "Third floor, room 326." The man handed her a visitors badge, which she clipped to the collar of her jacket.
Une took the elevator to the indicated floor and walked down the hall, looking for the indicated number, her sensible heels clicking mutedly on the titled floor. She found the correct room and, as she opened the door, voices drifted towards her.
"Your headache is from all of the crying you've done since you got here," said a harried looking nurse. She held one of those ubiquitous, little, plastic cups that the medical profession insisted on for dispensing drugs of any form. "You'll feel better if you take these."
"No, go away." The muffled reply came from the slight figure laying on the bed. A small, brown arm accompanied the rejection, flinging out to push the cup away. The nurse sighed and opened her mouth to try again but Une intervened. She entered the room and caught the nurses attention with a shake of her head. Holding out her hand, she silently requested the cup. The nurse gave it to her and Une took her place at the side of the bed.
"Sweetie," she said softly, "won't you please take these pills?"
Laura's head shot up at the familiar voice, her eyes squinting as the abrupt motion made her head pound.
The girl reached out and wrapped her thin arms around the doctor's waist. Une returned the embrace, holding the girl securely while her narrow shoulders heaved with renewed sobs.
"Anne, I want to go home."
The pleading voice made the doctor's heart clench. She rubbed the girl's back soothingly and looked towards the nurse who still stood in by the door.
"We'll be alright. Thank you." The nurse nodded at the dismissal and left, closing the door softly behind her.
Laura lifted her head, her brown eyes boring into the woman's. "Why can't I go home?" she demanded, her voice rough with tears.
Quatre's message had related his attempt to explain the situation to the frightened girl. But, apparently, Laura was being stubborn, a not atypical response for a child in her position. Une ran a thumb over the girl's temple, trying to ease both her headache and her mind.
"I know that Quatre told you about Duo." Laura looked back at her, the girl's narrowed gaze shouting "So!" Ignoring the defiant glare, Une continued. "Because of Duo's past, the judge needs to make certain that letting you stay with him and Heero is the best thing for you, that you'll be safe with them..."
"Safe?!" Laura shouted. "Duo and Heero have never done anything to me! Why should anyone care what Duo had to do when he was just a kid? I've done some bad stuff, too, shoplifting and pick-pocketing and stuff, and no one seems to care. It doesn't make any sense!"
Une pursed her lips as she sought a way to explain the confusing matter. She knew that Laura was bright and would try to pick holes in any argument she attempted.
"No one thinks that Duo is a bad person. The judge understands that, sometimes, people are forced to do things, bad things, just to survive, especially when they're children. But, the type of life that Duo led can have nasty consequences. He would have come into contact with all sorts of bad people and the judge has to determine whether Duo has distanced himself enough from his past that it doesn't come back to hurt him, and, therefore, you."
Une paused, not really satisfied with her own words, and the girl leapt into the breach.
"So, that means that I shouldn't have to ever go back to my mother, right? She was a prostitute, too, and she knows lots of bad men, some of who did hurt me. And she hurt me, too, while Duo and Heero never did. So why did Quatre say that I might have to go back to her?"
Une flinched at the shouted, well-reasoned question, pleased and dismayed in turns by the girl's quick intellect.
"Well, because Delia is your natural mother, she has strong rights concerning custody of you. If she can prove that she has improved her life and is able to take good care of you in the future, then the judge will be compelled to give you back to her. The real goal of the system is to reunite families, so, her past is more easily forgivable than Duo's because she's your mother."
Laura just sat quietly for a moment, staring at the young doctor. Then, in an uncanny imitation of Heero, she narrowed her eyes and folded her arms across her chest.
"That's stupid," she said, her tone brooking no argument.
Une opened her mouth to speak but realized that there was really nothing she could say. The girl was absolutely right. It was ridiculous that the very system that was suppose to protect her would allow the child to be returned to a woman with a proven history of abuse while denying her the benefit of two devoted, loving parents just because of an accident of birth. Though it meant well, the system was truly insane.
"You're right," Une agreed, conceding defeat. "That is stupid. But," she continued, "that's the way it is and there's nothing we can do about it, for now." As she added the qualification, Une realized that she'd just set herself on a difficult path. Could the system be reformed? It was possible but it wouldn't be easy.
Laura closed her eyes, her headache renewing in intensity as her defiant anger gave way to exhaustion. "Duo and Heero are my real family," she whispered as she laid her head on her pillow.
Une stroked the girl's brow as she drifted off to sleep. "I know," she said softly.
Laura opened her eyes and looked at the doctor. "Do they know where I am?" she asked.
"No." Une shook her head.
The girl sighed, closing her eyes again. "Can you... can you tell them that I love them?"
Une hesitated but a moment. Though it was against the rules for the child to have any contact with her former guardians, it was a stricture she had no qualms about breaking.
Laura's lips quirked up in a quick smile of thanks. She began to drift off to sleep, the doctor still rubbing her face.
"I want Mr. Trumpy," she whispered just before relinquishing wakefulness.
Une resisted the tears that burned behind her eyes as she watched the brave little girl sleep, her small hands clenching around her missing stuffed elephant.
Duo and Heero glanced at the woman seated behind the desk as they entered the office. Her chair was turned so they could only see the back of her blond head.
"Have a seat, gentleman," Dorothy said. Her voice was calm but her tone made them feel like naught little boys who'd gotten on their mother's last nerve. When he'd visited the day before, Quatre had told them that the attorney wanted to meet with them and they were more than a bit anxious about her reaction to everything that had happened.
She stood and walked over to the window that framed the desk, the sunlight casting bright glints from her pale hair. Several minutes past as she looked out onto the street and the tension in the room became unbearable. Never one to weather silence well, Duo leaned forward in his chair.
"Dorothy," he began but she interrupted, her voice low and controlled.
"I've always prided myself on my ability to help my clients. No matter how difficult the case, no matter how damning the facts, if I believe in my clients then I will fight for them with all the skill and ferocity I possess. And in return I only ask one simple thing."
She turned to look at them, her cold, blue eyes flashing with something seemed suspiciously like hurt.
"All I ask," she continued, "is complete honesty and trust."
Heero returned her regard evenly, though his hands curled into chagrined fists. Duo winced openly as he glanced away, unable to meet her gaze.
"If you only had told me the truth about everything, I could have controlled the situation. That woman should never have been able to blind side me like that, and in front of the judge..."
Dorothy sighed and turned her head back towards the window. "Well, it's done, now, and all we can do is try to fix this."
Duo looked up, his eyes dark with guilt. "Dorothy, I am sorry," he said softly. "I should have told you about myself. We should have told you," he corrected at a glance from his husband.
The attorney stepped away from the window and sat gracefully in her chair. She pulled up to her desk and folded her hands on the glossy, wooden surface.
"Yes, you should have," she admonished gently, "but I know why you didn't." Her eyes rested on the braided man's face, her expression one of subdued compassion. "I can't image what it must have been like for you to grow up like that, Duo, but it can't have been easy. I don't really blame you for not wanting to reveal that part of your past, it's just that your secrecy makes my job that much harder. But now," she continued as he opened his mouth to apologize again, "the only thing we need to worry about is how to get Laura back with you where she belongs."
Duo's lips quirked in a smile of gratitude and Heero nodded in agreement.
"Quatre should be joining us in a moment..."
As if on cue, a knock sounded on the office door before Dorothy could complete the thought.
"Enter," she called.
The social worker stepped through the door, followed by a tall, female figure.
"Anne," Duo greeted as he rose from his chair, surprise evident in his voice.
"Hello, Duo," the doctor replied. "Heero."
Quatre nodded in greeting. "I found Dr. Une with Laura when I went back to see her this morning."
At the girl's name, blue and amethyst eyes fixed on the doctor's face.
"Is she alright?" the braided man demanded. Heero stood as well, his direct gaze silently reinforcing the question.
"As well as can be expected. When I first went to see her yesterday, she was hysterical. I was able to calm her down, but she is fairly adamant about her desire to return home. Quite reasonably, in my opinion," Une added, sotto voce. She reached out and took Duo's hand.
"I'm so sorry about all of this. I know that children are my usual patients but, if you ever need to talk about things, just to talk, I'd be happy to listen."
Duo smiled and returned her gesture by quickly squeezing her hand. "Well, seeing as how I'm just a big kid, anyway, I think I'll take you up on that."
Heero turned to Dorothy, "So, what's our next move?" he asked. "Quatre wasn't too optimistic about our chances." He threw the social worker a quick glance.
"Quatre is right to be cautious," Dorothy acknowledged. "As Laura's natural mother, Delia's rights are substantial..."
The long-haired man growled. "I'm sick and tired of hearing about what rights that bitch has. What about our rights? Or do the last nine months count for nothing?"
The attorney returned his glare with a rueful smirk. "You're right, Duo, they definitely do count. And not just the time you've spent with Laura but how you've spent the last four years of your life is what we need to show the judge. So, to answer your question, Heero, our next step is to gather character witnesses. Anyone who can testify as to the model way in which you've lived since you've been together. We need to prove, without a doubt, that you are the best parents for Laura."
"Howard will do it," Heero said. "Howard Marcowitz. He's Duo's boss," he explained at Dorothy's questioning gaze. "He's known Duo for almost as long as I have."
"And Wufei Chang," Quatre added. "He's Laura's teacher. I know he'd be more than willing to help."
Duo thought for a moment. "How about Noin? She loves Laura and she's known Heero for a long time." He chuckled without amusement. "Laura calls her 'Auntie Noin.'"
Dorothy looked up from her legal pad on which she was recording their suggestions. "Who else?" she prompted.
"I can testify," Une said. At Duo and Heero's questioning looks she continued, "As Laura's doctor, it's entirely appropriate that I testify about the improvement in her mental health since she's been with the two of you. And, also," she said, holding the young men's gazes, "I think that Laura should testify."
Duo shook his head. "No, I don't want her to have to take the stand."
"She shouldn't be put through that," Heero added, his expression resolute.
"Besides," Duo continued, "I don't want that slimy lawyer, Kushrenada, anywhere near her." He shuddered at the thought of that bastard cross-examining the girl.
Une laughed quietly. "I appreciate your reluctance and, normally, I would agree with you. But, I think Laura will be most displeased if she isn't given the chance to help. After all, it's her future that's at stake."
Dorothy ignored the eyes that had fallen upon her as she gazed down at the pen she tapped against her notepad, silently considering the doctor's suggestion. When she finally looked up, the first thing she saw was Duo's face, obviously hoping that she would disagree with Une's proposition. She glanced at Quatre unable to hold the braided man's gaze.
"I think it's a good idea," she said. She noted the social worker's nod of agreement with satisfaction.
"What?" Duo shouted. "Why? Why should Laura be put through that?"
Dorothy kept her face neutral as she met his enraged glare. "It is not at all uncommon for children to testify in these types of cases, Duo. After all, as Une pointed out, it is the child's future that's at issue. Children like to feel as though they have some control over their destinies, especially when they've lived their lives at the mercy of others.
"Just because a child is put on the stand, however, doesn't mean that the judge has to take the child's testimony into account. Usually, the younger the child, the more likely that his or her statements won't be considered. But, Laura is ten years old and is clearly mature far beyond her years. If the doctor doesn't think it will be harmful to her, it's my professional opinion that allowing her to testify could well be critical to our case."
Duo looked down at the floor, his jaw clenched in unconscious rejection of Dorothy's reasoning. Heero glanced at the psychologist.
"Do you really think she can handle being put on the stand, having to undergo all the questioning and cross-examination? Having to do all of this with her mother in the same room?" The Asian man tried and failed to keep his tone neutral and to hide his worry.
"I'm not saying it will be easy," Une admitted, "but, I think she deserves the chance to help herself." She paused for a moment. "I know that you're not supposed to have any contact with Laura, but she wanted me to tell you that she loves you both. I know that she'd do anything to be able to go home with you."
The braided man kept his head downcast but his shoulders where rigid with silent emotion. Heero grasped his hand but continued to look at the doctor his eyes bespeaking his thanks and his continued concern.
Quatre, wanting to distract Duo and Heero from their concern about their daughter cast about for a new topic.
"What I don't understand," he began, "is how Delia managed her amazing recovery. I've seen plenty of crack addicts in my time and from Laura's description, I would have thought we'd never see her mother unless it was in a morgue. I'd love to know how she managed to get herself together so quickly."
"Relena," Heero growled.
Duo looked up in surprise, his eyes bright with tears. "Relena?" he echoed, his tone indicating his confusion.
The Asian man nodded, blue eyes narrowed in a piercing glare. "She was at the courthouse when... when we lost Laura. Didn't you see her?"
Duo shook his head wryly. "No, I was a bit distracted."
"Who is this Relena?" Dorothy asked.
Heero firmed his lips in an expression of disgust. "A co-worker..."
"She's Heero's stalker," Duo grated. He shook his head in angry realization. "Now it all makes sense. She must have found Delia and got her cleaned up. I'll bet she hired that damn lawyer, too. No offense, Dorothy," he added hastily.
The blond waved away his apology. "Why would this woman go through so much trouble to help a stranger?" she asked.
"Because she hates me," Duo explained, "and because she'd obsessed with Heero. She wants him for herself and she'll do anything to get me out of the way." He met his husband's gaze. "Remember when I first met her, Heero, when I came to pick you up for lunch that day?" He continued at the other man's nod, "Well, before you came out, she was doing her damnedest to flirt with me."
Duo chuckled at Heero's incredulous expression. "Yeah, I know. Has she got bad taste in men or what? Guess she only like gay guys. Anyway, after she found out who I was, I could tell that nothing would have made her happier than for me to drop dead right there in the lobby." He shook his head. "She must have set all of this up just to hurt us."
Heero's jaw clenched tighter as his lover spoke until it threatened to shatter. His mind became filled with a multitude of satisfying images of how he could kill Relena. No court in the world would convict him for it.
Quatre narrowed his gaze, incredulous at Duo's explanation. He could hardly believe that anyone could be so petty as to try to ruin three people's lives just because she'd been rejected.
"'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,'" Une quoted softly, echoing Quatre's thoughts.
Heero looked at the attorney. "Does any of this help us?" his asked, his deep voice tight with fury.
Dorothy shrugged. "It may, it may not. Although I could definitely use this to discredit Relena should she be called as a witness for Delia, which she probably will if she's paying the bills, it's Delia's motives that are at issue. No matter how she received treatment or how she managed to overcome her addiction, the real point is why she did it. If she can prove that her reasons were solely because of her desire to be able to take care of her daughter..."
"Then we're still fucked," Duo concluded bluntly.
"Afraid so," Dorothy agreed.