Quatre’s step faltered at the menacing glare Heero turned on him as he approached. Quatre was reminded of a jungle cat, fiercely beautiful but ferocious in its instinct need to protect its young. Heero looked like he would gladly murder anyone who tried to take his little girl away. The social worker felt his heart skip a beat, but he swallowed his trepidation and stopped at Heero’s side.
"Heero, Duo," he began, his soft voice filled with empathy, "I am sorry. I can’t begin to express how so very sorry I am. But, I’m afraid..." Quatre paused as Duo, whose cheek had been resting on Laura’s bowed head, looked up at him. The blond man actually took a step back as the fury in the other man’s glare hit him like a physical blow.
"You stay the fuck away from her!" Duo shouted, the sound almost unrecognizable as human speech. He pulled Laura even closer to him, if that was possible. Quatre’s courage failed as Duo continued to stare at him, his eyes clear letting Quatre know that he’d rip out the shorter man’s throat if he dared to get any closer. Seeing that he would get no response from that quarter, Quatre forced himself to meet Heero’s dark gaze.
"Heero, please," Quatre begged, knowing that he was the only one who could get through to Duo. But the dark-haired man ignored him, his eyes turning away to devour the sight of Duo and Laura as though attempting to imprint the image forever on his memory. Heero’s hands clenched at his sides until the skin of his knuckles were pulled into thin patches of white.
"She’s our daughter," he whispered. "She’s ours." Quatre sighed in sadness and growing frustration.
"I know that, Heero, but unfortunately, the law says otherwise."
"The law?!" Duo growled. "What law? That bastard of a judge? He’s nothing but a God-damned bigot! That crap he spewed about morality and tradition was nothing but bullshit! I’ll be damned if I let Laura go back to that drugged-out bitch!"
"But, Duo," Quatre said, reaching out a hand in supplication. Duo snarled, making Quatre remember that Heero wasn’t the only dangerous one in the room.
"Quatre," he said in an ominous tone, "I swear to you, if you take her back to that woman I will kill you."
The social worker paled, feeling a helpless stinging behind his eyes. He hated this! Everything in him agreed with Heero and Duo’s vehement denial of Hervé’s ruling. He wanted to tell them to just go, to take Laura and run away. He wouldn’t fault them for deciding to flee from the travesty of justice that had been foisted upon them. But he couldn’t. Though he loathed the job that had put him in this position, Quatre was too honest not to obey the edicts of his duty. As much as it galled him, he still had to do as the law dictated.
"Heero," he pleaded, "you have to make him see reason."
"How can I do that, Quatre?" Heero answered, his gaze still locked onto his husband and daughter as though he was afraid they’d vanish if he looked away. "None of this is reasonable, so how can I ask Duo to do the impossible?"
Duo started as a slender hand came to rest on his shoulder. His furious glare landed on Une who stood beside him, her expression stern though there were tears in her eyes.
"Duo, you have to let her go. This is not the way to handle this." Dorothy stepped up beside her.
"That’s right. I promise you, Duo, I will start the appeal proceedings before the ink on the custody order is dry. I will do everything in my power to make sure that Laura ends up with you, where she belongs. But, I can’t do anything until you let her go with Quatre."
Duo shook his head violently, wincing as Laura’s hold on his braid caused his hair to pull painfully against his scalp. He felt as though he was surrounded by traitors. How could they expect him to just give Laura up, to let her go back to Delia? The images that had plagued him when he and Heero had first lost custody of her, images of Laura lying in her own blood, beaten and tortured to death at her mother’s hands, returned to him with vivid clarity. It was his own damned past which had brought this misery upon them. If he’d never been found out, Laura would even now be home, safe, living the life he so desperately wanted to give her. If anything happened to her, it would be his fault. It would be because of him.
He couldn’t breathe. A howling cry of denial was raging in his head and clawed at his throat as though desperate to be released. He had been so close, so close to having the family he’d always wanted. And now it had been ripped from him because he was guilty of being in love. Because he loved Heero. He closed his eyes but the injustice of it all forced more hot tears from beneath his lashes. He heard voices all around him, telling him that he had to do what he was told. But the one voice that he would have listened to had remained silent and he held on to Heero’s tacit support like a lifeline.
Duo felt several, thin fingers claw at his chest and he looked down into Laura’s distressed face. Her eyes were red and her nose pink from crying. Her small form shuddered within the shelter of his arms as she was wracked with hiccupping sobs. Duo realized once again how much he’d come to love this little girl and his heart suddenly felt full to bursting.
"Please, Duo," she whispered, her soft, tear-heavy voice barely audible. "Please don’t make me go."
A cry shuttered through Duo’s body and he looked over at Heero, his face twisted with agony. She had placed her trust in them, had always believed that they would never let any harm come to her. Were they now just supposed to betray that precious, blind faith? How could they?
"Heero," Duo whispered, his eyes pleading, asking what he should do.
But, Heero had no answers. He was well aware of what they should do. They should let Laura go with Quatre and then pursue their claims through the proper channels. But the proper channels could take months and in the meantime, Laura would be abandoned to Delia’s tender mercies. Heero couldn’t bring himself to even glance in Delia’s direction. He felt that, if he did, he wouldn’t be able to control the rage swirling ferociously in his heart.
Heero had never considered himself a violent person. Until he’d met Duo, he’d lived his life in a state of emotional tranquility, never realizing that his calmness was just a cover for his profound loneliness. But Duo had come into his life like a force of nature, turning his staid existence on its head and making him realize what it really meant to be alive. And then they’d found Laura and that last, missing piece to his heart had finally been filled. He couldn’t just give that up. Although he knew he’d always have Duo, there would still be something missing, something he’d never known he needed until the bright sound of childish laughter had banished the last vestiges of darkness from his soul.
As he looked into Duo’s tear-bright gaze, Heero knew what his answer should be. But he couldn’t bring himself to destroy that fragile hope in his husband’s beautiful, tear-bright eyes that, somehow, everything would still be alright. He clenched his jaw over a growl, frustrated by his profound impotence.
Things might have continued at this impasse if, at that moment, the bailiff hadn’t decided to intervene. The burly man had assisted judge Hervé at dozens of custody hearings and knew how ugly things could get when there was a child involved. After seeing the judge to his chambers, the bailiff had returned to the courtroom just to make certain that the judge’s orders had been properly fulfilled.
The sight that greeted him told him that things hadn’t gone smoothly. The child was being held in a tight embrace by one of the men who’d served as her foster father and had been petitioning for permanent custody. The other one, the Asian man, was standing nearby, his body a study in leashed fury. The men’s lawyer and the lady doctor were standing near the long-haired man and the social worker was standing next to the other one, his face filled with reluctant frustration.
The bailiff humphed at the picture they all presented. It was clearly time that he took matters in hand, he decided. The bailiff approached the young social worker who turned towards him with wide eyes.
"Need some help?" he asked.
Quatre just looked at him, unsure of how to respond. There was obviously no way that Duo would just hand Laura over to him but he wasn’t complete certain that he wanted to force the issue. He was still wracking his brain for something, some legal loophole, anything, that would let Laura go home with Duo and Heero until something else could be arranged.
However, the bailiff took his silence as a plea for assistance. The large man adjusted his belt, making certain that his nightstick was in place, and moved towards Duo. Heero, his attention still concentrated on his husband, didn’t see the large man right away. But, by the time he noticed the bailiff, it was too late. The older man had reached out and was patting Duo on the back in what Heero supposed was intended to be a fatherly gesture.
"Son, I’m afraid that it’s time you let this little lady go with the social worker. You heard the judge. She has to go back to her mother."
It was definitely the wrong thing to say. Heero watched Duo’s face go slowly from pale white to dark red as rage bubbled up within him. Duo turned towards the bailiff with a furious glare but didn’t respond. But, then, the bailiff placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder and tried to gently steer her away, her small form stumbling as she was unable to resist the strength of his prodding. Heero saw rather than heard Duo’s low-voice curse and he rushed forward to head off impending disaster as Duo raised his balled fist.
"Let her go, you son of a bitch!"
Duo followed up his angry shout with a punch which might have knocked the bailiff off of his feet, and certainly would have landed Duo in jail, if Heero hadn’t grabbed him before the punch could find its mark.
"Duo. Duo!" he yelled as the taller man struggled against his restraining hold. "This isn’t the answer."
"Take your hands off of her, you bastard!" Duo tried to free himself and go after the bailiff, who had put one hand on his nightstick in anticipation of the long-haired man freeing himself from his friend’s hold. "Heero, damn it! Let me go!" Heero tightened his grasp.
"Duo, it has to be this way. There’s nothing we can do right now." A moan broke from Duo’s lips as he flailed against Heero with renewed intent.
"No!" Duo cried. "We can’t let her go, Heero. We can’t!" Heero place his lips against Duo’s ear, whispering in a soothing tone though his own mind raged at him to snatch Laura from the bailiff’s hands.
"Duo, I promise you, we will get her back. I promise, koi. Somehow, someway, we’ll get her back."
Duo’s struggles weakened as his long body was wracked with sobs. He slumped in Heero’s arms, crying as though his heart was being ripped from his chest. Heero hadn’t seen Duo like this since the night Laura had first been taken from them. Tears burned in his own throat as he held his husband close to him.
"Please, Heero," Duo begged pitifully, his words nearly lost in the midst of his gasping sobs. "Please, don’t let her go."
Quatre fought back a helpless cry as the sad drama played out before him. Heero had pressed his face into Duo’s neck, clearly hiding his own tears as Duo dissolved into a weeping bundle of grief. Quatre struggled to control himself as he walked over to the bailiff, who was still holding Laura. The girl was crying even harder than Duo and the big man was clearly at a loss. Quatre took her from him, holding her close as she wailed against his chest.
"I’ll take it from here," he said to the bailiff, not bothering to thank him for his help. He watched the older man walk away, feeling more than a little resentful that the bailiff had brought things to a head. Now, there was nothing left for him to do but to take Laura back to DYFS headquarters and to process her paperwork. And then...
He looked out of the corner of his eye towards Delia who still sat where she had since the hearing began, looking a bit pale and jittery and though her fix was beginning to wear off. Quatre wondered what the Hell he was supposed to do about her when he saw Une walk over to her.
Une hid her disgust behind her professional demeanor as she looked down at Delia. Though Une had no medical training, as the judge had so pointedly reminded her, she’d had enough addicted patients from Juvenile Detention to tell when someone was coming down from a drug-induced high. The other woman’s pupils were dilated and her head was moving slightly in twitching jerks. Une pursed her lips, still unable to believe Hervé’s blatant disregard for the truth. But what was done was done and now all she could do was help clear up this mess.
"Delia, why don’t you come with me," she said softly, trying not to startle the other woman. Delia looked around as though she wasn’t sure where she was. She turned confused eyes towards Une.
"Go where?" she asked, her voice full of paranoid suspicion. Une forced her lips into some semblance of a smile.
"I think you need to go to the hospital. They’ll get you all cleaned up and then you can take your daughter home. Won’t that be nice? And in the meantime, you’ll have a nice place to sleep for a few days."
Une glanced over her shoulder at Quatre and he nodded, thanking her silently as he understood the indirect message. By keeping Delia in rehab, that gave him an excuse to keep Laura at the colony-run orphanage for a little longer. It wasn’t nearly as good as letting her go back to Duo and Heero’s apartment, but at least it was better than making the girl return to her mother right away.
Quatre looked after Une and Delia as the tall doctor led the shaky-looking woman out of the courtroom. He shook his head, still not quite able to grasp how things had turned out this way. He looked over at Heero, who, along with Dorothy, was leading an unresisting Duo out of the room. The braided man, though his body still shook with sobs, was almost listless, as though he’d lost the very will to live. Only Dorothy looked back at Quatre as they walked through the door. Duo was insensate and Quatre guessed from the rigid set of Heero’s broad shoulders that he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing his little girl crying when there was nothing he could do to help her.
Quatre was almost glad that Laura was still crying so hard that she didn’t see them go. He stood silently for a moment in the otherwise empty courtroom, just holding Laura until her pitiful weeping finally began to taper off. He wasn’t certain how long they remained there but he was in no hurry to start the paperwork that would return Laura to her mother’s custody.
Why had it had to happen this way? How could Hervé be filled with such blind hatred that he would willing put a child in harm’s way rather than overcome his senseless bigotry?
Quatre shook his head. He just couldn’t understand it. What sense did it make to persecute someone just because of whom they chose to love? The few people at his job who knew that he was gay had never caused him any grief, but Quatre knew he would fight tooth-and-nail if anyone ever asked him to give up Trowa. Since they’d finally confessed their feelings for each other, Quatre had been the happiest he’d ever been. And it filled him with joy to know that he had the power to bring a smile to his taciturn lover’s face.
Thoughts of Trowa naturally led Quatre to wonder where the other man was right then. It had pained him to see Trowa heap the blame for this unfortunate situation upon himself. The way Quatre figured it, no one was to blame for this tragedy other than Hervé and that Relena woman who had initiated all of this misery.
Quatre looked down at the sudden silence from the figure in his arms. Laura’s eyes were closed in wearied sleep. Not begrudging her the attempt to escape from the cruelty of her fate, if only for a little while, Quatre picked up her gently, so as not to disturb her, and laid her head on his shoulder. He’d never been so glad to leave a place in his life, he thought as he opened to courtroom door and stepped into the hall.
The memory of Trowa’s guilt-ridden face continued to plague him as he carried Laura from the courthouse and Quatre vowed to find his lover as soon as he was able. He swore that he wouldn’t give up until Trowa saw reason and realized that he owned none of the blame for this heartbreaking outcome.