“Dr. Une, how long have you been seeing Laura as a patient?”
“About ten months now.”
“And how did you come to be in charge of her care?”
“I was appointed by DYFS, as is standard in cases of abused children.”
It was the third morning of the custody hearing. Une sat on the witness stand, responding to Dorothy’s questions in a clear, authoritative voice. She looked exactly how a competent, young doctor should: calm, confident, and self-assured. How Heero envied her.
The blue-eyed man sat watching the attorney and the child psychologist, his stillness signaling his rapt attention. Only the single finger tapping ceaselessly against his thigh indicated that any emotion existed beneath the surface of his controlled demeanor.
Duo caught sight of the tale-tell gesture, feeling his husband’s nervousness through the tautness of the other man’s body. After the doctor finished her testimony, it would be Heero’s turn to take the stand. Dorothy had told them that one of them would need to speak on their behalf, and Heero was the obvious choice. He and Heero had stayed up all night, endlessly speculating on what might come up during Heero’s time in the witness box and how best to respond. Heero had told him over and over again not to worry, that things would be fine. But Duo couldn’t help sharing his husband’s nervousness, along with a large helping of guilt.
Dorothy had decided that it would be best for all concerned if Duo didn’t testify. After all, whatever secrets remained in his past definitely were better left undiscovered, especially by Kushrenada. So Heero was left to shoulder the burden and the braided man hated himself for leaving his lover to carry the responsibility of their future as a family completely alone.
Heero felt a hand cover his own and realized that his finger had been twitching in an old, nervous habit from his childhood that he thought he’d long outgrown. He glanced at the man sitting beside him and allowed the corner of his lips to curve upward in a small, self-conscious smile. He took hold of Duo’s hand and squeezed it firmly before bringing their clasped hands to rest on his thigh.
Knowing how Duo felt about not being able to testify in his own defense, Heero tried to calm himself so as not to send any nervous signals to the other man. Duo and Laura needed him to be strong for them, so strong he would be. But he couldn’t help the escalated pace of his heart and the slight feeling of tightness in his chest. Heero knew that Kushrenada would do everything in his power to discredit anything he might say and that the judge was anything but sympathetic to their plight. He would just have to do the best he could and pray to whatever God who would listen that things would work out.
“Dr. Une,” the blonde attorney continued, looking sharp and capable in a tailored, dark-gray suit, “given your knowledge of Laura’s case, how severe do you consider the level of abuse and neglect she suffered at her mother’s hand?”
“Objection your honor,” Kushrenada interjected. “Unnecessary characterization of my client.”
“Overruled, but watch yourself, Ms. Catelonia.”
Dorothy didn’t bother to acknowledge the admonition without so much as a nod.
“Please answer, Dr. Une,” she continued, unfazed.
“As Laura’s case file reflects, she was subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional trauma. Given my experience with similar cases, I would consider her situation to be severe.”
“And given the severity of the abuse, what has been your observation of the typical emotional state of children in similar circumstances.”
“Objection, calls for speculation.” Dorothy shot an annoyed glance towards her opponent.
“Your honor, Dr. Une is here to testify in her capacity as a well-respected and experienced child psychologist. Her learned opinion is exactly what we’re here to elicit.”
The judge looked at Dorothy with a steely glare. She could tell that he was eager to uphold Treize’s objection and to stop this damaging line of questioning. Damaging to Delia, that was. But she also knew that she was well within the limits of propriety. Dorothy was being very careful not to put even a single toe out of line, knowing that Hervé would jump on her at the slightest provocation. She met his glower calmly.
“Overruled,” the judge grumbled. Dorothy graced him with a pleasant smile and returned her attention to Une. She nodded at the other woman to continue, her smile growing at the glint of amusement in the doctor’s eye. Une damped down a chuckle, intrigued by how skillfully the blonde attorney was handling the unfriendly judge.
“Well, in my ‘learned’ opinion,” she continued, “every child reacts differently to abuse. Some become brash, troublemaking delinquents, while others become sullen and withdrawn. However, one characteristic that they invariable share is a profound inability to trust others people, especially adults. This ingrained distrust is sometimes overcome, but it typically takes years of therapy and with varying rates of success.”
“And where does Laura fall in the range of behaviors you mentioned?” Dorothy walked back towards her table as she spoke and propped her hips on the padded metal surface, removing any distractions from the woman on the stand. Her showmanship was really wasted without a jury, but she couldn’t resist the urge to follow the instincts that had made her so successful in the courtroom. Une took the cue flawlessly.
“Laura, to put it simply, is one of the most well-adjusted children I’ve ever met. And I am not qualifying that statement by limiting it to children who have suffered extreme abuse. Laura is bright, inquisitive, and attentive. She interacts well with other children, as I’ve had occasion to note in several group sessions and from listening to her relate incidences of exchanges with her classmates and other friends. And, even more astonishingly, Laura is very comfortable around adults, showing more faith and trust that one would expect from any girl so close to her teen years. Although she was initially rather closed off and reticent during our early sessions, her progress has been nothing short of astounding.”
“And to what do you attribute her atypical attitude and demeanor?” Dorothy felt her fingers tighten around the edge of the table. It was time to deliver the zinger. She looked towards the other woman but was cautious not to send any signals that could be interpreted as prompting. Une glanced away from her, looking first at the judge and then at the dark-skinned woman sitting at the petitioner’s table. The woman turned away, as though unable to hold her gaze.
“Laura’s progress is due solely to her foster fathers. There is no other factor that could account for her, to put it frankly, her sheer normalcy. They have clearly provided her with a stable, loving home, giving her the opportunity to heal and recover from her past suffering.”
The doctor noted the lightening of Delia’s knuckles as the woman clenched her hands together on the tabletop with professional interest. Inside, however, Une was experiencing a most inappropriate sense of triumph. She couldn’t deny how much she’d come to care about Laura and she was delighted to be able to help her return to Duo and Heero’s loving embrace in such an important way. Even the judge would be hard pressed to controvert her medical opinion.
Dorothy nodded and moved away from the table, stepping closer to the witness box.
“Thank you, Dr. Une.” Her tone put a decided emphasis on the other woman’s title. She let her drift over the judge, trying briefly to gauge his reaction to the doctor’s testimony. Sighing quietly at his unreadable expression, she glanced towards the other attorney.
“Your witness, Mr. Kushrenada,” she said. Treize stood slowly, taking time to smooth the line of his jacket once he had unfolded his tall form completely from his chair. Dorothy took her seat and prepared herself to absorb and counteract any tactics the auburn-haired attorney might attempt.
“I have no questions for this witness at this time, your honor.” Treize sat back down, the corner of his shapely lips quirking slightly as he felt the weight of the other attorney’s astounded gaze.
Dorothy stared at Treize, trying to fathom the reasoning behind the surprising move. Une was surely her strongest witness. Refuting her assessment of Laura’s disposition and of Duo and Heero’s influence over her present wellbeing was critical to his success. Why on earth wouldn’t he take the opportunity to poke holes in the doctor’s testimony?
Realizing that, even if she managed to bore a hole in the side of his head with her eyes, she still wouldn’t be able to read his mind, Dorothy stood and cleared her throat.
“Then I call my next witness, your Honor. Heero Yuy.”
Heero gave Duo’s hand one, final squeeze before releasing it and rising to his feet. He walked towards the front of the courtroom, favoring Laura with a gentle smile as he passed by her. Heero found himself silently running through all of the scenarios that he and Duo had come up with the night before but stopped the pointless mental exercise. The time for preparation was over. There was nothing to do now but act and Heero had always considered himself a man of action.
Dorothy watched the dark-haired man as he took a seat in the witness box. Though she knew he must have been feeling anxious, she couldn’t detect any signs of uneasiness in Heero’s expression. That was good. She stepped forward, letting her eyes speak her approval of his deportment. She noticed how he pointedly kept his gaze away from the petitioner’s side of the room.
“Good morning, Mr. Yuy. I am going to ask you some questions about your and Mr. Maxwell-Yuy’s life with Laura. First off, how did you come to gain guardianship of her?”
“Duo found her wandering alone on the streets when she tried to pick his pocket.” Heero spoke in a steady voice. Dorothy commended him for not so much as clearing his throat before he spoke.
“Laura managed to evade him that night,” he continued, “but he was extremely worried about her. So, we spent the next few days searching for her. When we finally found her, she was about to be raped by some man in a back alley. She was badly injured, her face was bruised and her ribs had been cracked, so we immediate rushed her to the hospital. Duo and I petitioned to become Laura’s foster parents and we were granted the privilege to do so. Laura lived with us for about ten months, during which time she started school for the first time. She also joined my karate class and has made many friends both there and at school. Frankly...”
Heero paused, his gaze drifting towards the wide-eyed girl sitting alone behind the large table at the front of the spectator’s gallery. He and Duo had decided that it would be better to keep his testimony as factual and unemotional as possible. They wanted to come across as responsible and competent, people to whom no one would hesitate to grant custody of a child. However, looking into Laura’s eyes, seeing how valiantly she was trying to hide the worry he nevertheless could see behind her light-brown gaze, Heero was unable to retain his attempted detachment. This was simply too important. He would not, he could not, fail.
“Frankly,” he said, his voice betraying the slight tremor, “I couldn’t image what life would be like without her. Duo and I were happy before Laura came to us, but, having her in our home, seeing her bright face everyday, hearing her laugh... I simply can’t describe how wonderful it is. How anyone could abuse such a gift, I just can’t understand.”
Dorothy waited while Heero glanced downward and took a deep breath. She needed a moment to gather herself, as well. In the time she’d know him, this was only the second time she’d seen such naked emotion on his face, the only other being the moment that Duo’s secret had been revealed. No one listening to him could doubt the love he had for Laura. Not even Hervé could deny that.
She had vacillated with whether to delve into the more damaging aspects of the situation, such as why Duo had been in the L2 slum in which he’d found Laura in the first place. It was usually better to preempt potentially damaging evidence rather than letting opposing council beat up on the witness. However, the most damaging facts were already in the open. There was no point in dwelling on them. Dorothy just had to trust that Heero could handle himself during Treize’s cross-examination.
No, she decided; better to keep her question focused on the positive. When Heero finally looked up, she decided he was ready to continue.
“Mr. Yuy, if you would, please tell us about some details of your life with Laura.”
Heero looked towards Laura and Duo, smiling as he thought over the last year. Overcoming his typical reticence, Heero related the many stories, some happy, some sad, that created the tapestry of their family. Laura’s first day of school, the time she cried when Marimaia introduced her to the other kids as her best friend. He chuckled at the memory of her first slumber party, her first trip to an amusement park, the disgusted pleasure on her face as she told them about an uncouth boy at school who’d told her that he thought she was pretty.
Heero’s throat tightened at the memory of Laura’s birthday party. The date was arbitrary, since the girl had no idea of when she’d actually been born. However, no little girl could have boasted of having a more spectacular party. With the classic overindulgence of new parents, he and Duo had spared no expense, inviting everyone in both her class at school and in her karate class. They’d held the festivities in a nearby park, hiring a clown and even a couple of ponies to give rides to the eager children.
All day Laura’s cheerful face had glowed with excitement and that evening when she cried, she’d reassured her consternated fathers that her tears were from nothing but joy and too much sugar. It had been a wonderful ten months and Heero felt a renewed surge of anger that the woman who had treated his daughter like so much trash dared challenge his and Duo’s right to give Laura the one thing she needed more than anything, a real family.
Dorothy let Heero speak, surprised but pleased with his loquaciousness and animation. She cast subtle glances around the room, seeing the brightness of restrained tears in Laura’s eyes, Duo’s tremulous smile, and Delia’s tight-lipped anxiety. Quatre radiated friendly support and amusement broke through Trowa’s somber demeanor several times as Heero related some of the more humorous aspects of his experiences as the father of a young girl on the edge of womanhood. The judge remained as unreadable as ever.
“It’s been challenging at times,” Heero said, finally winding down. He, too, was amazed at the ease with which he’d rattled on. Duo’s influence no doubt. “Challenging, but wonderful. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Anything at all.”
“Thank you, Mr. Yuy,” Dorothy replied. They’d done what they could, she mused. Let Kushrenada do his worst. She had faith that Heero would keep his composure and not let himself be rattled by her oily opponent. She looked towards the ginger-haired attorney. “Your witness.” Giving Heero a finally, supportive nod, Dorothy returned to her seat beside her client. She took hold of Laura’s hand under the table, clasping it tightly as a tear escaped down the girl’s smooth, brown cheek.
Heero watched as Treize approached him, his good mood fading rapidly as the attorney graced him with a smile, which was nothing more than a condescending smirk. The sight of Relena seated next to Delia, her gaze still simmering with subdued resentment from their encounter several days ago, did nothing to improve his frame of mind. He started saying the creed he taught to his karate students under his breath.
“To maintain a positive attitude. To keep myself centered and at peace. To use might for right. To never use my abilities for selfish ends.” Guess that meant he couldn’t give into the urge to smash the grinning bastard in the face. What sort of example would that set for his kids?
“Mr. Yuy,” Treize began. Careful not to betray his animosity towards the tall attorney, Heero sat up straighter in his seat and took a deep, calming breath. He returned the other man’s regard with a steady gaze.
“Mr. Yuy, if you would, please explain to the court why a man who would hire a prostitute should be granted custody of a child.”