"Ha ha!" Delia laughed, startling the others in the room. "Decision! Ha ha!!"
"Will you shut up?!" Relena hissed, glancing at her in disgust.
"Shhhh," Delia hushed, putting a finger to her lips, though it ended up closer to the corner of her mouth. Delia snickered under her breath, not really caring what Relena thought. She didn’t care what anyone thought. The word "decision" rang in her head and she decided it was the funniest word she’d ever heard.
Though, after yesterday, Delia had been convinced that she would never hear anything good or funny ever again.
From the moment Laura had yelled her choked but indisputable rejection in that ugly, pink-walled restroom, the words had continued to ring in Delia’s head like a child’s ceaseless taunt. At first, her only desire had been to catch the fleeing girl and make her take back the traitorous declaration. But, when her attempt was foiled by that long-haired bastard, her mind, spiraling ever downward with rage and an overwhelming fear, had began to crave only one thing.
And now, though Laura’s selfish words still screamed in her ears, the sound was muffled and distant, made bearable by the one thing that she’d always been able to depend on to see her through the worst of ordeals.
Hidden like a dirty secret in a dark corner of her immaculate apartment, sheltered within a small hole in the wall in the space between her sink and brand-new refrigerator, Delia had stashed away a used, dirty needle. When she’d found it in her old apartment during her last and final visit to the place, she’d told herself that she should just throw it away. That part of her life was over and done with, never to be revisited. She had absolutely no reason in the world to hold on to it and every reason to get rid of the painful reminder of her former life.
But kept it she had, though why she’d done it, she couldn’t explain even to herself. And, after returning to her apartment the night before, her heart aching with a deep cold that threatened to destroy her, she’d found herself on her knees before the crack before even realizing her intent. She’d dug the needle out of the wall, the noise in her head drowning out the fading whispers of her conscience.
After securing the needle, Delia had returned briefly to her old neighborhood and it was as if she’d never left at all. The purchase of several hundred dollars worth of heroine had gone smoothly, without any of the tricks she had to employ in the old days to score a fix. Her old suppliers had come quickly to hand, their suspicion at her lengthy absence appeased by her ready cash. She’d at least had the presence of mind to wait until returning to her apartment before going through the motions of preparing her hit, not wanting to get high on the street. But the trip home had been too long, giving her old demons time to raise their jeering voices ever louder until, by the time she finally returned home, her entire body was shaking with need.
The bliss, the calm, the utter peace of chemical oblivion. She’d stuck the filthy needle in her arm, watching as the heroine passed from the clear vial into her flesh. And, when the drug hit her bloodstream, she’d sunk onto the floor of her bathroom, still in her nice blouse and skirt, and let everything go but the false joy of being high.
Delia had had no intention of facing the final moment of the hearing without that wonderful sense of tranquility. She would be damned if she sat in that courtroom and listened to the judge take her daughter away from her forever without being as high as she could manage. She’d dragged her self to bed after waking up on her bathroom floor sometime in the wee hours of the night, shooting herself up before falling into a deep but troubled sleep.
Visions of Laura running away from her and into the arms of her long-dead father had filled Delia’s drug-induced dreams. She’d watched him rape her daughter, laughing while Laura screamed in pain. She’d tried to go to the girl, to stop the horrible image, but had found herself unable to move as she had been suddenly pinned to the ground by two pairs of strong hands. Looking around wildly for her captors, she’d stared in disbelief as she’d seen Duo and Heero, their handsome faces calmly smiling at her as they’d trapped her between them. She’d cried to them to let her go, to let her save Laura. But they’d shaken their heads in refusal, quietly telling her that Laura was their daughter, theirs to help and theirs to hurt. Then the girl had turned towards them, her face alight with happiness though it was wet with tears.
"I love them, mommy," she’d whispered. "Them, not you."
Delia sat in the courtroom, not at all affected by the overly clear memory of her nightmare. The drugs currently flowing through her veins made certain that no unpleasantness could touch her. She vaguely remembered waking up, her scream ringing in her pretty bedroom. She’d scrambled for her dwindling packet of heroine, sighing in contentment as the drugs washed away all of her pain.
Somehow, she’d managed to dress herself and had been lucid enough to tell the cab driver where the courthouse was. But the heroine she’d bought was high-quality stuff, only growing more potent the longer it was in her body. By the time Delia had gotten to the courthouse, she was completely wasted and feeling great. Relena and Treize had gotten there first, and as they’d watched her stumble from the taxi, their awareness of her condition was clear from their expressions of shock and disgust. Relena’s voice had buzzed around her head like the evil hissing of angry wasps as the three of them had made their way to the courtroom. She’d had to resist the urge to swat the annoying woman away.
"I can’t believe you!" Relena had said in a furious whisper. "What if someone else figures out that you’re high? What if the judge realizes it? What if it affects his decision?" Relena had grabbed Delia’s arm, her blue eyes flashing with the temptation to let Delia fall to the floor when the other woman faltered at the abrupt gesture. "Damn you! I swore to myself that Heero would suffer for humiliating me and I will not let you ruin this for me!"
Delia had barely noticed Relena’s tirade. She’d walked with the blonde into the courtroom, feeling the other woman’s eyes boring into her. Heero and Duo’s lawyer had been watching her, as well. But she didn’t care. She felt distanced from everything, as though nothing could touch her. Not even the sight of the two men sitting so cozily with Laura had brought the slightest twinge to her heart. She’d sat calmly in her seat, ignoring Relena as she continued to mutter her inane threats.
Then the judge had entered the room, looking like a huge crow as he walked to the dais, his black robes swirling around him. Delia watched him take his seat and carefully arrange his papers, becoming more tickled by the minute. In her mind, his resemblance to the black bird became tangible, until it she imagined that it was an animal, rather than a man, that had removed its glasses and was cleaning them with such thorough precision. And when he began to speak, her eyes had grown wider and wider in childish delight until his final words squawked in her ears.
The pompous, fat bird, perched on his big, leather seat and looking down on them all from his high position, had said that he’d made a decision with his little birdy brain, and it had been more that Delia could take. She’d felt no reason not to laugh at the ridiculous image and to share her merriment with everyone.
Relena glanced nervously at the other side of the courtroom, cringing inwardly as she realized that everyone else had figured out the inescapable truth. Delia was high. The woman who had sat in a court of law and sworn that she was finished with drugs forever, that she would finally be able to provide her daughter with a stable, loving home, was sitting there laughing as she though flaunting her lies. Delia giggled, trying to stifle the titter but failing miserably and Relena was overcome with the urge to slap her. She could see all of her careful plans slipping through her fingers like loose grains of sand as her eyes landed on the blond woman sitting across the room.
Dorothy’s face had taken on the look of a beautiful bird of prey about to swoop in for the kill. Her icy blue eyes, though widened in surprise, were gleaming with a shrewd glint and her delicate nostrils flared slightly as though she perceived the scent of victory. Seated behind the attorney, Quatre and Une wore looks of pity mixed with disgust, and even Trowa’s expression, though mild, was stamped with perceptible disdain. Duo and Heero stared at Delia with incredulous disbelief, their shock apparently overriding any sense of triumph.
As for Laura, Relena noted the profound sadness on the girl’s face. But for the first time since the start of the hearing, she looked relaxed as though a huge burden had finally been lifted from her slender shoulders. Laura looked like she’d just received a bittersweet, though welcomed, gift and Relena had the moral wherewithal to feel a slight hint of shame. The anxiety her selfish actions had caused the girl suddenly became apparent to her. If it hadn’t been for her desperate need to hurt Heero and his lover, Laura wouldn’t have been caught in this unenviable situation, trapped in the battle between those whose only grievances lay in the fact that they loved her.
Relena looked finally towards the judge, sensing the destruction of all of her months of hard work and scheming. The bitter disappointment she expected to feel, however, was surprisingly muted. Though she knew she’d forever harbor a deep hatred for Heero and Duo in her heart, the tremor of conscience she’d felt as she’d looked at Laura was not easily defeated. She glanced over at Delia and knew that even she couldn’t honestly wish for the girl to be returned to that pathetic woman.
But, when she turned back towards the judge, Relena found herself gaping in amazement. Hervé was sitting there as smug as ever and she realized that he’d been completely oblivious to Delia’s outburst. Either that, she mused, or he was determined to ignore it.
"As I said," he continued as though Delia had never spoken, "I have made my decision.
"This has been a difficult hearing as all child custody proceedings are. I will not pretend to have been unmoved by the testimony of the appalling abuse that Laura suffered at her mother’s hands. No child should ever be subjected to such deplorable treatment."
The courtroom was utterly silent as all gathered hung on the judge’s every word. Laura glanced down at the hands that suddenly clasped her shoulders. She looked behind her, smiling at Duo and Heero through the butterflies dancing in her stomach.
"Furthermore," Hervé went on, "the proof offered against Ms. Tippen’s history of substance abuse also has factored heavily in my deliberations. After all, it strains against all bounds of decency and common sense to allow a drug addict to raise a child. As an officer of the court and a servant of this colony, it is my sworn duty to ensure that any child coming before me be placed in a situation where he or she will receive the utmost care and devotion to their proper upbringing. A child deserves to be loved and cherished," he said, turning his steely gaze towards Delia. "No child should ever have to live in fear.
"As I weighed the evidence presented during this hearing, I took serious note of the demeanor of all of the witnesses. I paid particular attention to their honesty, integrity and sincerity. I have also given particular deference, as is required by law, to the opinion of learned professionals and those in daily contact with the child in question, such as teachers and friends."
Dorothy heard the rustle of fabric as Une shifted slightly in her seat. She knew that the doctor was just as anxious for the outcome as she was and she knew that any victory would be heavily due to Une’s wonderful performance on the stand. Dorothy tried to force the tension from her body, annoyed at the judge’s refusal to just give them his decision without all of these aggravating preliminaries. Although she knew that she should be interested in his reasoning, she couldn’t bring herself to care. In her opinion, Trowa should never have been removed from the case and she strongly resented Hervé’s interference. She made a conscious effort to unclench her jaw as he continued to speak.
"Laura’s current guardians have presented compelling testimony as to the quality of life that Laura experienced while in their care. All of the witnesses, both professional and personal, who testified on their behalf, were unanimously of the opinion that Laura found a perfectly normal and happy existence while in their care.
"I have carefully weighed that testimony against the dearth of corroborating testimony from the petitioner. Although Ms. Tippen spoke on her own behalf, as is her right, she failed to produce any other witnesses who could have supported her claims of recovery from her drug addiction and of the current circumstances of her life."
Duo felt as if his entire body was vibrating and he grabbed Heero’s hand with the one that wasn’t on Laura’s shoulder to ground himself. His grip was returned with force and a quick glance revealed the stiffness with which Heero was holding himself. Heero glanced towards him, his eyes unable to hide the emotion which flickered within the deep-blue depths. It had all come down to this moment, this fleeting instant of time which would determine the course of their entire future.
There were so many who had come forward to help them, so many who had done everything in their power to give them the chance to have their happy ending. Dorothy, Quatre, and Une, not to mention Mr. Chang, Noin, and Howard. They were truly blessed to have such wonderful friends.
But, now, everything depended on the man sitting before them, like a lord before underlings. He had to see that the best place for Laura was with them. He had to! Delia had had her chance to be a good mother to Laura, or at least a decent one, and she’d failed at every turn. Surely, the judge would realize that. There was no way he could ignore the truth when it was staring him blatantly in the face.
Duo couldn’t believe it when he’d realized that Delia had come to court high on drugs, but he wasn’t foolish enough to curse the good fortune which, at long last, was smiling down on him, Heero, and Laura. Delia had dug her own grave. It was only right that she should rot in it and leave Laura to live her life. Though he wasn’t completely devoid of sympathy for her, his only concern was the little girl who was trembling ever so slightly under the weight of his hand. This always had been and always would be about Laura, and frankly, Delia could go to Hell.
Duo looked into his husband’s eyes, his own gaze filled with a tremulous question. It will be alright, won’t it?
Heero smiled softly, the gesture nothing more than an almost imperceptible curving at one corner of his lips. But it was enough to fill Duo with hope for the first time since Laura had been ripped away from them. He returned Heero’s smile with a much broader one of his own and together they turned once more to the man who would judge their fate.
"I believe that the singular point that has been made during these proceedings is that the Mr. Yuys have done a wonderful job up to this point in caring for Laura and are perfectly capable of becoming her parents in a more permanent capacity."
The sound of hitched breaths scattered throughout the chamber. Dorothy felt her heart still in her chest as she listened to the judge’s words. Was this, then, Hervé’s decision? Was it really over? Had they really won? She looked over towards Treize, always having found it useful to gauge the proceedings based on the reactions of her opponents. His expression was grave as was to be expected. However, it was Delia who caught her attention. Dorothy shook her head at the blissful unconcern on the dark-skinned woman’s face. No, not even Hervé could ignore Delia’s condition. Dorothy waited for his next words, letting herself feel a swell of confidence.
"After considering this matter from every conceivable angle, however, I have come to the conclusion that, no matter how competent the Mr. Yuys might have been as foster parents, the fact remains that Laura has a mother, her true mother, who has, in fact, convinced this court that she has managed to put her unfortunate past behind her and to rise to the level of a responsible member of society. When measured against this reality, as well as the fact that the colony’s ultimate goal is to reunite children with their parents whenever that aim concurs with the best interests of the child, it is clear that the colony can not allow nor tolerate Laura’s separation from her mother to continue. Furthermore, I am convinced that the emotional and social strain that is naturally ensconced on a child forced to live in untraditional circumstances can only be a detriment with regards to the overall wellbeing of the child.
"Therefore, it is the opinion of this court that the minor child, Laura Tippen, be returned to the custody of her biological mother, forthwith. The official grant of custody is to be made effective immediately after the processing of the necessary paperwork by DYFS, which I expect to be carried out in an expedient fashion. This hearing is adjourned."