I didn’t pay Duo for sex.
I fell in love with Duo from the first moment I saw him.
"Liar," Delia whispered to herself as she thought back over Heero’s testimony. "He’s a damned liar."
Delia watched as Duo and Heero returned to the courtroom, looking like they’d just enjoyed a good fuck. Several long, chestnut strands had escaped from Duo’s braid and clung to his cheek and to the slightly rumple fabric of his shirt. His face was flushed and she could see the amethyst brightness of his eyes from across the room as he and Heero gathered around Laura.
There was no way, she thought, no way that any man could have taken someone as beautiful as Duo home and not wanted to screw him into next week. Hadn’t Heero admitted as much? Hadn’t he said that he’d been too weak to resist the gorgeous, long-haired man?
She hadn’t taken Heero for a fool, but clearly, he was an idiot of the most ridiculous kind. Imagine being so naïve as to think that he could rescue Duo from the streets; that he could break the chains of hopelessness that held so many unfortunates their grip.
But then, Delia realized that Heero had done just that. Heero had saved Duo out of nothing but the desire to make the other man happy. He had done it out of love. She watched the two men smile at her daughter and at each other, holding her between them as though they had no intentions of letting her go. She realized that the love they felt towards each other had been extended to Laura with the ease of a flower opening it’s petals to the sun.
She didn’t understand. She didn’t understand the genuine affection that was so apparent between Duo and Heero. It was as foreign to her as the kind, loving touches which they were bestowing upon Laura’s cheek. A twinge of pain stung in the region of her heart and Delia recognized the sensation as jealousy. Not for the first time, Delia wondered how her life might have turned out if she’d found someone to cherish her with the same single-minded purpose, if she’d found someone to look at her with the same love that shown from Heero’s deep-blue gaze as he looked upon his husband.
Delia shook herself from her gloomy reverie as court was called back into session. She watched from the corner of her eye as Duo and Heero gave Laura a final hug before releasing her to return to their seats. She tried to wipe the image of how right the three of them had looked together. She couldn’t let herself forget that she was Laura’s family. She, not those self-righteous bastards.
"I call Laura Maxwell to the stand."
Delia felt herself bristle at the name as she watched her daughter walk to the witness box. Maxwell, indeed. But she was distracted from her anger by the acute awareness that the person walking to the stand was a poised young woman, not the little girl whose memory she held in her heart. When had Laura grown so much? Why had she been so foolish as to allow herself to miss it?
She looks so mature, Delia mused. Though her clenched hands revealed a trace of the nerves she must have felt, Laura walked with her chin high and the gaze she turned onto the assembly as she took a seat in the box was steady. Delia had seen such a look of confidence on her daughter’s face before, but this time, it was different. This wasn’t the swaggering, defensive bravado born of fear that was so common amongst kids raised on the streets. No, Laura’s air was one of secure self-confidence. It came with the certainty that there was someone she could depend on, that she was not alone, and that she had no reason to be afraid.
Delia’s gaze slid back reluctantly to the two men watching her daughter, their eyes filled with pride as they shared in her awareness of Laura’s demeanor. Had that lady doctor been right? Were they really the source of the changes she could see in her daughter? The twinge of jealousy was swiftly replaced by a strained mixture of loathing and gratitude. Delia couldn’t help the hate she felt towards Duo and Heero as she was faced with the truth of how wonderful a job they’d done of parenting Laura over the past year. But, neither could she stop the gratefulness that struggled within her that Laura had had the chance to know the warmth of a loving home.
But, the knowledge that her daughter had been a part of something she herself had longed for desperately but had never known caused a renewed swell of envy rise within her. As Delia turned her attention back to the witness stand, the battle of emotions continued, jealousy and hate warring with thankfulness and a profound sense of relief until it seemed as though her heart would burst in her chest.
Was she just being selfish? Was it petty to want to rip Laura from, she grudgingly admitted, the loving arms of her foster fathers? Should she just let her go? Could she let Duo and Heero win for Laura’s sake?
The notion swirled through her thoughts. Maybe it was the right thing to do. Maybe she should just give up and spare both Laura and herself from the continuing trauma of the hearing. Delia curled her hands tightly until her fingernails were digging into her palms. She should, shouldn’t she? Wouldn’t it be the best thing for Laura if she never saw her daughter again? If she never again saw her shining face, heard her bright laugh? If she never saw Laura grow up into the beautiful woman she was sure to become?
But before the idea could take root, a memory swam to the surface of Delia’s conflicted mind. She suddenly remembered Laura as a baby, a wriggling bundle of soft, sweet skin and wide-eyed innocence. She could feel the weight of Laura’s cubby, childish arms, clinging to her neck with the profound strength of the very young. Delia could feel the small hands that gripped her waist as Laura suffered her blows, the girl seeking comfort from the source of her pain in the perverse way of children.
No, she had too much to atone for, too much to set right to just let Laura go without a fight. She may not have been a good mother in the past, but she’d been granted a second chance and she refused to relinquish this golden opportunity to make amends. For once in her life, Delia decided, she would do right by her daughter. But deep in the doubt plagued corners of her heart, the conflict still raged. What, exactly, was the right thing to do?
"Laura, we want you to know this. No matter what happens today, no one can ever stop us from loving you. We will always be there for you. You can always count on us for anything, always."
The comforting reassurances that Duo and Heero had spoken to her as they’d sat huddled together before the court session had resumed echoed in her mind, warming her and giving her strength. They had told her how proud they were of her and that no simple proclamation from some stupid judge could ever make her stop being their daughter.
But that stupid judge sitting on his dais, looking down at the assembly with a forbidding scowl, did indeed have the power to take her away from her fathers. And he surely would unless she could find some way to make him see reason. Laura sat in the leather seat in the witness box, feeling a surge of renewed determination to convince the judge that she was old enough to know what was best for her and that what was best was to let her remain with Duo and Heero.
Laura spoke in a loud, clear voice as the bailiff swore her in, pleased that the nervous knot in her stomach had not moved into her throat. Dorothy stood and approached the witness stand with an encouraging smile. But before the blonde attorney could open her mouth to speak, the judge’s deep voice resounded in the spacious chamber.
"Ms. Catelonia, Mr. Kushrenada, I have decided that, in the interest of expediency and so as not to overly tax the witness, I will be questioning Laura myself. There will be no direct or cross-examination. You may take your seat, Ms. Catelonia."
Dorothy blinked, her jaw dropping slighting in shock. A quick glance at her opponent showed that Treize was just as surprised by Hervé’s intervention. Although it was not unheard of for a judge to question a witness it was not at all usual. All sorts of disastrous scenarios chased themselves through Dorothy’s thoughts, but there was really nothing she could do. She caught Laura’s uncertain gaze and nodded, trying to impart a sense of reassurance that she most definitely did not feel.
"As you please, your honor," Dorothy replied. She turned and went back to her seat, noting the varying degrees of trepidation on Duo and Heero’s faces. As soon as she sat, the long-haired man leaned over the fence to whisper frantically in her ear.
"Can he do that? Can he just question her without you?" Duo asked. Dorothy nodded.
"Yes, unfortunately, he can. It does happen sometimes in cases involving the testimony of a minor. But, to tell you the truth, I really wasn’t expecting it this time. Usually the judge will give the attorney’s some notice. However, he’s not obliged to do so. Maybe he just wanted to catch everyone off guard. I hate to say it, but it worked."
"Will this hurt her?" Heero growled, his eyes fixed on the girl sitting in the too large witness chair. Dorothy sighed.
"I don’t think even Hervé is enough of a bastard to try to intimidate her just to damage your case. But, with him doing the questioning, I can’t object. He basically has free reign to ask her whatever he wants." She shook her head. "We’ll just have to trust that Laura can keep herself together. All she has to do is tell the truth." Dorothy glanced quickly over her shoulder at her clients. "She’ll be okay, don’t worry."
Heero sat back and Duo followed after whispering, "Who’s worried?"
Laura’s heart felt heavy in her chest as Dorothy walked away. She saw the quick exchange between the attorney and her fathers, knowing that the two men were probably expressing their concern at this turn of events. But, when they looked at her, anxious amethyst and uneasy blue meeting her gaze, she smiled at them, letting them know that she was okay. At least, that’s what she wanted them to believe. The knot in her stomach had hardened into a hunk of lead and she had to swallow past the lump of trepidation forming in her throat as she turned to look at the gray-haired judge. His steely gaze seemed to bore into her but she returned the look with steady eyes. Hervé grunted, unimpressed by Laura’s show of bravado.
"Miss Laura," he began, his tone softer than she had expected, "I’m going to ask you some questions and I want you to answer me honestly and truthfully. Can you do that?"
"Yes," she replied. Her voice was a bit thicker than before due to her increased nervousness, but was still easily heard.
"Very well, then. First, tell me, how happy were you when you lived with your mother?
Laura stared at the judge. How happy was she? Happy was a feeling that she’d experienced only rarely in Delia’s presence. So rarely, in fact, that when she’d first felt the stirrings of joy in her heart when she realized that she was free of her mother, that she would be living with Duo and Heero, that she could finally feel safe, she hardly recognized the sensation for what it was.
"I-I don’t know..." Laura’s answer trailed off, uncertainty hindering her mind from fully processing the question.
"Well, can you tell me how you felt when you were with her?" Hervé rephrased.
Laura blinked, still unsure of how to answer the question. How did she feel? How could she express the constant battle for survival, the endless searches for food and warmth, the fear that one day her mother would lose control and finally kill her?
"Afraid," she answered after a moment’s pause.
"I was afraid that one day she would start hitting me and wouldn’t stop. I kept thinking that one day she might hurt me so badly that I would die." Laura could see Delia out of the corner of her eye and she felt a small measure of justification when she saw the woman flinch at her undiluted statement.
"Was there ever a time when you were with your mother that you weren’t afraid?" Laura bowed her head as she thought about her answer.
"Sometimes," she said hesitantly. "Sometimes, I guess when I was real little, I can remember being happy because my mother would bring me a toy or something special. I remember laughing when she would play with me. But..."
"But?" Hervé pressed.
"But, that was a long time ago. So long ago that it’s almost as if those things never happened." Laura felt herself gaining confidence as she spoke. She looked at Delia until the older woman met her stare. "My only really clear memories of her are how it felt when she hit me or how hungry I was when she wouldn’t feed me or how cold I was when I had to stay outside because she wouldn’t let me inside. I-I remember how much it hurt when she let that man rape me," she added, her voice tapering away.
Mentally shying away from the horrible memory of that night, Laura waited for the judge’s next question, her attention glued to the hands clasped in her lap. More than one person in the courtroom noticed the uncanny resemblance between her pose and the manner in which Delia had sat as she’d testified several days before. None felt any gratification at the observation. And none could believe their ears when the judge spoke once more.
"Hmmm, and can you tell me more about that, about when you were raped?"
Laura’s felt like her head was tied to a wire it jerked up so quickly. Her stomach bottomed out, leaving an aching hollow. Several gasps rose from the audience, accompanied by an unhushed profanity from Duo’s direction. She stared at Hervé, wondering if she’d heard him correctly.
"I-I’m sorry?" she said, waiting uneasily for clarification. He looked down at her, his eyes curiously intense. But for all of her street smarts and experience, Laura’s shock made her fail to recognize the lechery on his aged features.
"Tell me about when you were raped. I think hearing the details will help me in making the proper decision. You do want to help me, don’t you?"
Laura nodded, the hollow in her belly filling with cold fear. The renewed, though futile, expressions of outrage from those seated at and behind the defense table fell on deaf ears. Laura felt as though her mind were being pulled against her will to that night, almost two years before, when the last vestiges of her innocence had been ripped away.
She didn’t know if she could do it, if she could really talk about what had happened. She’d never told anyone about it, not even Une. And especially not her fathers. She knew that they were aware that she’d been raped, but to talk about it, to tell everything... It was her secret shame, her fear that she must have done something really bad to deserve it.
But, she had to speak. Otherwise, the judge might never let her go back to Duo and Heero and she wanted that more than anything. Certainly more than whatever shred of pride she wanted to cling to. She didn’t even notice the tear that traveled silently down her cheek as she found herself back in her mother’s house once more.