The bang of the gavel was followed by a long moment of stunned silence. Hervé rose from his chair and had nearly reached the door leading to the antechamber before Dorothy found her voice and was able to get to her feet.
"Your honor!" she cried after him. "I must object!" Hervé paused and turned towards her with a condescending grin.
"Ms. Catelonia, I don’t know what sad excuse for a law school you attended, but in this colony, a lawyer may not ‘object’ to a judge’s ruling."
Dorothy winced, knowing he was right but unable to submit to the ridiculous travesty of the situation. She looked down at the girl seated next to her. Laura was looking straight ahead, her mouth agape as though she’d just been punched in the gut and was gasping for air. A quick glance behind her revealed two pairs of wide, disbelieving eyes set in faces that had been drained of all color.
She growled low in her throat and turned back towards the judge, her long hair swinging out behind her in a pale arc. She’d be damned if she’d let that miserable excuse for a judge get away with this. Dorothy felt a sudden presence at her side and looked over in surprise at Trowa. He stood utterly still, his narrowed gaze fixed upon the robbed figure at the front of the courtroom. Dorothy shivered at the cold rage that was so apparent on the tall man’s normally placid features but she was relieved that he was there. Though he couldn’t act right now, as a member of the bench himself, he had the right to dispute the ruling of a fellow family court judge during an appeal. Dorothy was sure she could count on him to back her up as to what he’d witnessed here today.
But, the chance for appeal was beside the point. If she had her way, things would never have to get that far.
"Your honor," Dorothy said, trying to inject some measure of calm and reason into her tone, "perhaps I misunderstood part of your ruling, but, didn’t you say that it strained against all concepts of common sense to allow an addict to raise a child?" Hervé’s smile slipped somewhat as he regarded her with a stony glare.
"Yes, Ms. Catelonia, you are correct. I did say that and I meant it." Dorothy’s eyes widened at his deliberate obtuseness.
"Then, your honor, I’m afraid that I don’t understand your ruling. It is quite clear that Ms. Tippen is intoxicated."
"Having a drink in the morning, though unadvised, is hardly a crime, Ms. Catelonia." Hervé’s lips quirked up once again. Dorothy bared her teeth as her hands balled into fists at her side. Trowa remained silent beside her, though his eyes never wavered from the senior judge’s face.
"Forgive me for not making myself clear, your honor. I meant to say that Ms. Tippen is clearly high on drugs. As such, I cannot comprehend your decision to grant her custody of Laura!" Dorothy’s voice raised steadily in volume until her last statement was spoken in a disgusted shout.
With one eyebrow raised in approbation, Hervé looked at Dorothy for a long moment. Then his gaze shifted towards Delia who was still in her seat, her eyes closed and a beatific smile on her face. She was swaying back and forth ever so slightly as though listening to some peaceful melody that only she could hear. The judge looked back towards Dorothy, his other eyebrow lifting to join its fellow.
"As far as I can tell, Ms. Catelonia, there is nothing wrong with Ms. Tippen. And, as there is no medical doctor present in the courtroom to convince me otherwise," he glanced at Une with a derisive smirk, "my ruling will stand. Of course, you are more than welcome to initiate an appeal, Ms. Catelonia. However, in the meantime, Laura will be returned to her mother, forthwith. I think it would be a travesty to allow her to linger in the care of the colony and," he continued, his eyes hardening as all hints of pleasantness vanished from his face, "I’ll be damned if she returns to that den of iniquity to which she was previously abandoned." He turned his glare towards Quatre, completely ignoring the young judge who also stood in his line of sight.
"It is a sad state of affairs when officers of this colony become so lax and neglectful of their duties that they would allow a child to be placed in such harmful circumstances. The passage of that so-called Gay Family Rights Act proves that our legislature has been corrupted by the stain of immorality. I will continue to do everything within my power to whittle that mockery of law down until its taint no longer remains to mar the purity of our society. I am pleased that, today, I was able to strike a significant blow for that cause. It will be a cold day in Hell before I ever permit any homosexual perversions of nature to languish under the mistaken belief that they have the same right to have families as righteous citizens. That they have the right to exist at all!" Finally, Hervé turned his steely glaze onto Trowa.
"I hope an important lesson has been learned. Never will any snot-nosed upstart be allowed to challenge the basic tenants and traditions of our culture. Any who think they can are sadly misguided and need to learn their proper place." With a swirl of his black robes, Hervé left the courtroom without another word.
Shocked silence permeated the courtroom for a long moment as all eyes, except for Delia’s, remained trained on the door through which the judge had vanished. Then, the quiet was broken by the scrape of a chair being pushed back and the snick of a briefcase latch being engaged. Trieze stood and turned a charming smile on Delia who had finally opened her eyes and was looking around blankly.
"Congratulations, Ms. Tippen. I wish you much happiness with your daughter. Relena," he reached down and took hold of her hand, placing his lips to the pale surface. She looked at him and he winked as he caught her eye. "I will see you later, of course, about my ... payment."
Relena didn’t speak, but just sat watching Treize’s elegant form as he walked away and disappeared through the door to the hallway. She blinked, trying to comprehend what had just occurred. Had the judge really been so mean-spirited that he could just ignore Delia’s state? She couldn’t believe it. But it was true. Heero’s family had just been completely ripped apart. A brief swell of victory rose up within her, only to be quelled by the eruption of a terrified sob from across the room.
Relena looked over, no longer quite certain how to feel as she watched Laura cry, her chest heaving as though she would never stop. Duo leapt to his feet, his own face pale and glistening with tears as he took the sobbing girl into his arms. Laura sobbed as though all her hopes and dreams had been crushed into so much dust. It was the sound of the most profound and deepest pain and it echoed in Relena’s ears, clamoring like a claxon of guilt.
This was the result her petty jealousy had wrought. Ever since initiating her attack on Heero and his life, she acted without the slightest bit of conscience or remorse. Now, she realized that she’d been able to act with such blithe recklessness because Laura had been a complete non-entity to her. The girl had simply been a means to an end, a vessel by which she could get her revenge on the man who’d done nothing more to her than dent her overly large ego. When she’d expended so much money and effort to find Delia, the consequences for Laura had been nowhere in her thoughts. When she’d sat upon the witness stand and lied about her reasons for helping Delia contest Duo and Heero’s custody of Laura, she’d though nothing about the effect her actions might have on the girl.
But, now, after seeing and hearing Laura’s testimony, after listening to her recount the horror she’d faced at her mother’s hands, after seeing her reaction to Delia, it finally came home to Relena just how much she had ruined Laura's life.
She tore her gaze away from where Duo and Laura sat huddled together trying to find comfort where there was none to be had. But, before she could gather up the courage to look at the Asian man who still sat stiffly upon the gallery bench, she felt thin fingers plucking at her sleeve. Relena looked over, grimacing as she met Delia’s unnaturally bright eyes.
"What’s going on? What’s that noise?" Relena didn’t answer, unable to find pity for a woman who couldn’t even recognize the cries of her own child.
"You won," she said simply, gathering her purse and pulling herself from Delia’s grip. As Relena got to her feet, Delia’s forehead wrinkled in puzzlement.
"I won?" she echoed. "What did I win?"
Relena didn’t answer. She just shook her head and walked away without answering, leaving Delia to sit alone at the Petitioner’s table. As she made her way to the door, her gaze wandering unwillingly to the man who had been, she finally admitted to herself, an unwholesome obsession. Heero was still sitting, his gaze unfocused as he stared directly ahead. Relena paused before him and, prompted by some guilt-ridden madness, opened her mouth as though to speak, though she had no idea of what to say. Should she offer him sympathy? Surely he wouldn’t accept it. Why would he? After all, this had been entirely her doing. It was due solely to her sick need to punish him that that little girl was crying so pitifully. It was because of her that Laura’s future had been stolen away.
She sighed, trying to order her thoughts enough to make some sort of apology, no matter how pathetic it would seem. She knew that Heero would never forgive her. Her job was probably forfeit and after he finished with her, it was unlikely that she’d ever be able to work in the telecommunications industry or any management position on L2 ever again. When she’d first started down her revenge-laden course, she hadn’t considered the consequences or outcome of her actions. She’d been too consumed by humiliated anger to see beyond the end of that destructive path. And now that it was over, it was clear that there would be no victors in this scenario, only losers.
"H-Heero," she stammered, "I..."
The hesitant words on her lips vanished completely as he finally looked up and met her gaze. Heero’s blue eyes were full of pain and despair. But, even more so, they were full of a hate so profound, Relena realized that more than her career was at stake. She remembered Heero’s threats to her after she’d given her own fallacious testimony and understood that Laura’s life wasn’t the only one that had been endangered by her reckless behavior.
If looks could kill, Relena knew that she’d be nothing but a bloody heap on the floor. Her breath caught in her throat and her feet started to move before her brain resumed functioning. Her heart was beating so fast in her chest that her ribs ached. Relena realized that she was scared. No, not just scared. She was terrified. She found herself almost running from the courtroom, pausing only when the heavy door was between her and the man who had consumed her life for so long. She decided that the first thing she needed to do was to leave L2 and to disappear as quickly as she could before Heero could find her. Because, if he did, he would surely kill her. As her legs steadied enough to carry her away from the door, she could still hear Laura’s muffled but still heart-wrenching sobs.
"Not that I could blame him," she whispered. A single tear spilled down her cheek as she stepped into the elevator, away from the many lives she’d so carelessly ruined.
Quatre forced himself to his feet and stepped next to his tall lover. He looked up into Trowa’s glowering emerald eyes, searching them as though looking for an explanation for what had just occurred.
"Trowa, what...? How could he...?" He reached out and took hold of the other man’s arm, gasping as it was abruptly snatched from his grasp. Trowa looked down at him, his expression strained. Then he sighed, as though only just realizing that Quatre was there.
"I’m sorry," he said in a low voice. "I have to go." Quatre blinked at him, his round eyes wide with confusion.
"Go? But what about this?" The social worker looked over towards Duo, who was holding Laura so tightly it seemed as though the girl’s shuddering body might snap in two. Heero, who had finally broken free from his shock, approached them, his body stiff as if he was trying desperately to contain the violence of his emotions. He said nothing but just placed a gentle hand atop Laura’s head. Quatre felt his chest tightened at the look of anguish in the Asian man’s handsome face.
"Trowa, what about them? We can’t just let this happen. It’s not right!"
"Don’t you think I know that?!" Trowa shouted. Quatre paled, taken aback by the uncharacteristic vehemence his lover’s tone. Trowa closed his eyes for a moment before looking back into Quatre’s troubled, aqua-hued gaze. He reached down and took hold of the shorter man’s hand squeezing it slightly in a silent apology.
"I’m sorry," he repeated, hating that he’d only added to the distress reflected in Quatre’s stricken face. "This is all my fault. It’s mine. Not Duo’s, not Heero’s. Mine." The blond man started to shake his head in denial but Trowa stopped him before he could speak.
"No, it’s the truth. It’s me that Hervé hates. He hates that I was able to push the Family Rights bill through. He hates that my name has been brought up in the Commission in consideration for a promotion. Hell, he hates that I was every given a judgeship at all.
"The blame for this travesty lies entirely with me. It’s my fault that that little girl will have to go back to that woman..."
Trowa trailed off, his eyes wandering over to Laura whose face was buried in the hollow of Duo’s chest. Her thin arms were wrapped around his waist, and she held his long braid in her fist as though it was her only tether to safety. Trowa felt renewed hatred for Hervé swell within him, so intense that he was left shaken. He let go of Quatre’s hand and stepped away.
"I... I just need to be alone for a while. I need to figure out if there’s something, anything I can do to make this right." Quatre stood silently as Trowa walked away feeling as though the other man was abandoning him to face this mess alone and feeling guilty for thinking that way.
His first instinct was to follow after Trowa, but he knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t run away from his duty, unpleasant though it was. The thought that had fluttered in the back of his mind since listening to the judge’s decision finally took shape. Once this was all over, Quatre decided that he would submit his resignation. He’d be damned if he’d ever again have to rip a child away from those that loved her.
Quatre groaned as he turned towards Dorothy. She was talking to Une, her smooth complexion flushed with angry color. He walked towards them, avoiding the task he was so dreading. She looked at him as he approached, her pale-blue eyes flashing.
"What are you going to do, Quatre?" she asked quietly, not wanting to be overheard by her clients. "Are you really going to make Laura go back to her mother? You know that the judge’s ruling was total bullshit!"
"I know," he agreed, "but what can I do? As an agent of DYFS, I have to obey the judge’s decision." He looked towards Une for support. Her eyes were downcast and her lips were pressed into a thin, pale line.
"I can’t believe that bastard did this," she hissed. "Since Laura is my patient, I have the right to bring this matter directly before Commission and to lodge a formal complaint that I believe his ruling was against her best interests. However," she said, her clenched jaw muffling her words, "right now, my hands are tied." She shook her head in disgust. "Quatre will have to take Laura away."
Dorothy swore under her breath. She knew that, if the things she’d just called Hervé ever became public knowledge, she could very likely be disbarred. But, right now, she didn’t give a damn. It galled her to admit that, as illogical and ridiculous as it was, she had lost. They all had lost. Laura would be returned to her mother and until Dorothy could manage to pull together an appeal, God knew what would happen to the girl.
The two women looked towards Quatre and he felt himself blanch as his stomach churned with bitterness. No amount of wishing or praying would change the facts. He glanced over at the little family which he was about to rip asunder and, taking a deep breath, moved towards them, filled with fury at Hervé and hating himself more than a little.