Laura tried to ignore the painful sting blurring her vision. She tried to ignore the tears that streaked silent and unchecked down her cheeks. She tried to ignore her mother's anguished words of abuse and pain that echoed so clearly in her heart. But she couldn't block them out completely. She didn't want to feel any compassion for the woman sitting on the stand, her pallor giving a yellowish cast to her brown skin. But whatever empathetic capacity that had been beaten from by her mother's careless blows had been restored by her new fathers' love. So, feel she did.
She hadn't known. She hadn't known any of it. That her abuse been spurred by her mother's senseless jealousy. That her mother had herself known the rending pain of rape at such a tender age. That the unthinkable chance had existed that she could have been her own grandfather's child. It was horrible, the pain she could feel pouring from her mother in crashing waves.
Laura wanted to cover her ears, to stop the knowledge being imparted to her. She was only a child! How could she have been expected to deal with horror of her mother's past? It had been inevitable that something would push Delia over the edge, push her past the limits of her endurance. The more she listened, the more Laura was amazed that her mother had managed to care for her for as long as she did.
But that part of her life was over. She didn't have to be afraid any longer that one night, Delia would lose all sense of reason and succumb to her drug-induced madness. Those days of blinding fear were gone, ripped away by two pairs of strong, caring hands. Still, the woman was her mother. That could never be disputed. She had to know the truth of her mother's life, no matter how much it hurt.
Blinking away her tears, Laura glanced up toward the woman sitting on the stand. She always heard how she resembled her mother, however, she'd never seen it herself and was thankful for even that small ability to disclaim Delia's control over her life. And now, even with her pretty suit and made-up face, her mother still looked old and infinitely tired, wearing the ravages of her hardscrabble life. Pity is the bane of a soft heart and Laura was no exception. She wondered who her tears were truly for: herself or for the sad creature before her.
Delia's voice reached her ears, once more, and Laura forced herself to listen. She took a deep breath, feeling the air tremble in her throat.
"So, there I was, twelve years old, on the streets with no money. When my old pimp, Ice, found me one day, eating out of a garbage can, of course I went with him. What else could I have done?
"I was sick and scared and so hungry. Ice said he'd help me if...if I had sex with him. So, I did." Laura saw the corner of her mother's lips turn up in a rueful smile. "It wasn't so bad. At least he didn't beat me while he took me, like my father used to.
"I guess I was with him for a couple of months before he got me hooked on heroine. Even with everything I'd been through, I was only thirteen – so young and stupid – and I believed him when he said the stuff in the needle would make me feel better. That it would take the bad memories away. And I wanted them to go, the memories of my father and the memories of the child I'd lost."
Laura's thoughts turned to when she'd first learned the truth about Duo. Quatre had been very kind but he hadn't whitewashed anything. Her beloved Duo been turned onto the streets at the age of twelve, the same as Delia. And, he'd been subjugated by a ruthless pimp, the same as Delia. But how differently they'd ended up. She wondered, if her mother had found someone like Heero, might things not have gotten better for them?
"So, I got hooked after that first hit and that was basically that. I wasn't even concerned so much with food anymore. I turned tricks for heroine. That's all I cared about. But, then, when I was fourteen, I got pregnant again."
Laura froze as her mother's eyes turned towards her. She already knew this part. She knew that her real father had been some low-life john and had no desire to be reminded of it. But short of running from the courtroom there was nothing she could do. Fists clenched in irrational fear, the girl lowered her gaze, unwilling to see the judgmental eyes that would be turned her way. She was the daughter of a whore. She lived in constant terror that her friends and classmates would find out. Would they laugh and point at her?
She felt her chest heaving as she sucked in panicked breaths. Then, a comforting weight of a hand fell on her shoulder and her anxiety fled. She didn't need to glance over to see who it belonged to. Duo or Heero, it didn't matter. They were there. They, at least, would always be there. That was all she needed to know to calm her fears. She closed her eyes briefly, praying with all her might that they would always be there.
"Somehow, even though I was strung out on drugs and was turning tricks almost every night, I managed to stay healthy enough to give birth. I'd had a beautiful little girl and I loved her more than I can say."
Laura opened her eyes and looked at her mother. Loved? Yes, she supposed that Delia had loved her once, though she'd been hard pressed to believe that for the last few years. She could vaguely remember her mother bringing her little trinkets and gifts, holding her when she cried, even singing to her when she couldn't sleep. Laura had a hazy recollection of Delia lying in the corner of their hovel, shaking and moaning in withdrawal as she'd tried to purge the heroine from her system. Once, her mother had tried to do what was right, to abandon the drugs even if she couldn't abandon her life of prostitution so easily. But it had all gone wrong.
"I loved her," Delia continued, her voice hitching in her throat, "but I was weak. I was alone and scared. I was too young to take care of myself, let alone another person. I tried, but I just couldn't forget. I couldn't forget the pain of my mother's slaps or the humiliation of my father raping me. And I was angry that I had no control over anything." Delia's words continued to spill from her between the growing strength of her sobs.
"I didn't want to be a whore, I didn't want to live like I did. I wanted to be happy but I couldn't be, I just couldn't. So, I took all of my anger and frustration and pain out on the one person that couldn't hurt me."
Laura listened, struggling to understand. Had she ever felt so out of control? Had she ever wanted to destroy something just to stop her own hurt? She shivered as her mother went on.
"I-I... God, I did such horrible things to you, Laura, baby, but you have to believe that I love you. I do, I love you..."
Laura had a vision of herself at six years old, sitting around the torn body of her favorite teddy bear. It had been her favorite thing in the whole world. It shared her bed, it listened to her secrets, it absorbed her tears when she cried. But one night, Delia had come home high with a man in tow, and the man had molested her. He'd done awful things, touching her in private places while her mother had looked on, drugs robbing her of any shred of maternal responsibility. When he'd finally let her go, Laura had run to her teddy bear, but the brown button eyes had seemed to mock her anguish. In a rage, she'd torn off the head, arms, and legs, and had strewn the stuffing around the room.
Had she ever destroyed something that she'd loved? Yes, and deep down, she did understand Delia. That scared her. But, the one difference she realized existed between them was, after rending her beloved friend, her six-year-old self had spent all night with a dull needle and dirty thread scavenged from the trash, fixing the teddy bear until it was healed. Unlike her mother, she hadn't left her toy lying broken on the floor, hungry and cold.
If her time with Duo and Heero had taught her nothing else, it had taught her the true meaning of love and she knew she would never, could never, settle for anything less ever again. She loved her mother. God help her, she did. But it was too late. What she'd told Duo had been the completely truth. She just wanted to go home.
The courtroom was silent as the woman on the stand cried violent tears. No one moved to help her, but, after a moment, the sobs quieted. Judge Hervé cleared his throat and looked towards the tall, ginger-haired man still perched at his table.
"Mr. Kushrenada, do you have anything further for this witness?"
Treize resisted the urge to snort. Anything further? He'd never gotten to word one of his carefully planned line of questioning. Never before had he so lost control of a witness and it didn't sit easily with him. He almost hoped that the Catelonia woman destroyed Delia on the stand. It would serve her right for disobeying him and making him feel like a fool. Taking a deep breath, he regained some measure of his composure before pushing away from the table.
"No, your honor. I have nothing further." He glanced over at his opponent's cool visage. "Ms. Catelonia, your witness."
Dorothy acknowledged the other attorney with a slight nod. She stood in one, elegant motion, clearing her throat and smoothing a minute wrinkle from her skirt. She looked towards the woman on the stand with a reserved expression, praying that her moist palms would go unnoticed.
She could tell that Kushrenada was livid at his client, though he was careful to hide his anger behind his suave demeanor. What Dorothy couldn't figure out was how the ginger-haired man could be so cold, could have remained so unmoved by Delia's testimony, that he didn't realize that letting her talk was probably the best thing for his case?
The judge was completely besotted with the sobbing woman. The look of fatherly concern he was bestowing on her was enough to make Dorothy want to puke. She was almost tempted to demand that he just go ahead and make the ruling he was so obviously going to deliver and save them all from several more days of this hearing.
The blonde attorney stopped that self-destructive line of thought and took a deep breath, frantically searching her mind for something, anything, that Delia had said that could be used against her. But that was the problem. The woman had been brutally honest about her past and her faults as a mother. She'd asked for no forgiveness and had offer no senseless excuses. In short, she'd been perfect.
Dorothy closed her eyes for a brief moment before turning towards her table, pretending to straighten the already neat stack of papers lying there. Her gaze flitted to Duo and Heero, who were looking at her with varying degrees of nervous confidence. No help there. They couldn't be expected to know how truly damaging Delia's testimony had been for them. Her eyes shifted until they met the quiet, emerald gaze of the supplanted judge. His expression offered nothing. Unlike the other two men, she knew that Trowa was well aware of the dire nature of the situation. She didn't bother to look at Quatre, not wanting to deal with the look of unflagging support that the blond man was sure to be sending her.
But then, her gaze fell on Laura's small, tear-stained face and Dorothy's heart caught in her throat. If Delia's words had been hard for her to hear, what must it have been like for the little girl who's very fate was hanging on the outcome of this hearing? Dorothy felt a surge of anger at herself. What right did she have to be nervous? It wasn't her life resting on the caprices of that bigoted ass of a judge. This brave girl was the reason she was here and she couldn't forget that for even a single moment. Feeling her confidence return, Dorothy turned back towards the front of the court and looked towards Hervé.
"I only have one question for this witness, your honor."
The gray-haired judge nodded for her to proceed. Trying to keep any contempt she might feel out of her expression, Dorothy turned her attention to the shattered woman sitting in the witness box.
"Ms. Tippen, I'm going to ask you something but please don't answer right away. I want you to take a moment and really think about your response. And I want you to be completely honest."
Delia wiped away a final tear and nodded.
"Okay," she said, her voice still husky with emotion.
"Good," Dorothy responded. She held the other woman's attention, letting the weight of her gaze impart the dire seriousness of the question she was about to ask.
"Ms. Tippen, Delia," the blonde attorney began. "If you were the judge on this case and you had all the facts about what had been done to the child in question..." Dorothy paused, seeing understanding in the other woman's widening eyes.
"If you were the judge," she continued, "would you honestly grant custody to someone like yourself?"
A hushed gasp rose in the courtroom at the utter boldness of the question. Treize jumped less than gracefully from his seat.
"Objection, your honor! This is outrageous. Calls for unfounded speculation." Dorothy didn't flinch at the glare he shot at her.
"Your honor, I am simply asking the witness for her honest opinion. It is a permissible question."
She could tell that Hervé wanted to agree with Kushrenada, but she knew that she was well within her rights. It was a permissible question, especially in this sort of hearing where the parties' characters were being called into question. The judge's face took on a reddening hue as his lips pursed in vexation.
"I'm afraid that Ms. Catelonia is correct. I will allow the question." Dorothy ignored the look of sympathy that Hervé sent towards the fuming, ginger-haired attorney. She glance back at the frightened woman on the stand.
"Do you need me to repeat the question, Ms. Tippen? Would you grant custody of your daughter to a known drug offender and child abuser? Please, take your time."
Delia felt her entire body grow rigid with fear. How dare that bitch ask her that! Would she trust Laura to someone who'd treated the girl like she'd treated her? Of course not! But how could she say that? How could she doom herself? It wasn't fair! She loved Laura and she had changed so much. She'd gotten clean, had gotten a decent job and a nice place to live. She'd become a better person.
But had she really? On the outside, she had all the appearances of a recovered addict on the mend, a woman firmly on the path to sanity and a good life. But Delia couldn't deny the whispers she heard sometimes at night. They called to her in the darkness, seducing her with imperfect memories of how good everything had seemed when she was high.
Delia felt another sob rise within her throat. Damn that woman! Why did the attorney have the ask the one question that she'd give anything not to have to answer? But if she started lying now, after all of her promises to only be honest with herself, to be honest with Laura, how could she think to be worthy of her daughter's love and forgiveness?
Dorothy watched the other woman slowly breakdown before her but didn't allow any misplaced sympathy to divert her. The question had come to her as she'd looked at Laura. How could anyone in their right mind want to return the girl to the horrid life she'd known before Duo and Heero had plucked her from the streets? No one would. No one who truly had the girl's best interests at heart and wasn't just pursuing their own selfish ends. She folded her hands in front of her, waiting patiently for Delia to speak.
The word was uttered softly, as though the speaker believed that if no one hear her then her answer didn't exist.
"I'm sorry," Dorothy said, paying no heed to the untoward flash of elation that went through her. "Could you please repeat that?" Delia looked up at her with an expression born of panic and bordering on hatred.
"No," she repeated, this time her voice ringing clearly through the courtroom. "I wouldn't give custody of Laura to someone like me. But I'm not that person anymore."
The attempted plea sounded like the pathetic placation it was. Dorothy ignored it, instead repeating Delia's answer.
"No. Thank you, Ms. Tippen. I have no further questions, your honor."
Dorothy could feel the judge's glare on her back as she returned to her seat. In any normal hearing, Delia's confession would have been her death knell. But would her admission be enough to outweigh Hervé's prejudice towards Laura gay foster fathers? God only knew. Dorothy had done everything in her power and now, it was her turn to present the best case she possible could.
As she sat down next to Laura, the judge banged his gavel with more force than was absolutely necessary.
"Mr. Kushrenada, do you have any more witnesses?" At the attorney's negative reply he continued, "Then we are adjourned until tomorrow morning. Ms. Catelonia, you will be permitted to present your case. And I'm warning you, young lady, you'd better be prepared to dazzle me."
Dorothy stared after the judge as he left the courtroom. Bastard! She kept the thought private, not letting the man's attitude prompt an outward show of disrespect. She turned to her clients, her own lips turning up at Duo's bright smile.
"That was great, Dorothy!" he gushed.
"Well, I'm not sure how great it was, but at least it was something." She looked towards Laura. The girl's head was down but her gaze was fixed on something at the front of the room. Dorothy looked over her shoulder, following the girl's gaze to where Delia was climbing from the witness's box to confront the angry faces of Relena and Treize. Yes, it had been something. But had it been enough?
Dorothy placed a hand on the girl's narrow shoulder. She smiled down at the wide eyes that looked up at her. She didn't want to offer Laura any false sense of confidence, but she couldn't let the girl's obvious anxiety go unanswered.
"Tomorrow, Howard and Noin will get a chance to tell the judge how wonderful Duo and Heero are. And your teacher, Mr. Chang, can tell how terrific you've been doing in school. I'm sure the judge will be impressed."
"W-will I get to talk?" Laura asked in a quiet voice. Dorothy saw Duo tense up at the renewed suggestion. Heero placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and the braided man kept his peace, though a deep frown creased his brow.
"Yes, Laura. You'll get a chance to speak. Maybe not tomorrow, but I promise, you'll get an opportunity to make the judge listen to you." Dorothy sighed and said under her breath, "Who knows, maybe you can make him see reason."
Laura didn't hear the blonde attorney's soft murmur. Her eyes had drifted back in her mother's direction as Delia was hustled from the courtroom by her lawyer and the pretty, but cold-looking woman at her side. For once in her life, she had agreed with her mother whole-heartedly. She wouldn't grant Delia custody of her either.