Barbara sat at her desk, elbow braced on the surface, her chin propped up in the palm of her hand. She tapped a pen absently against the desktop, glancing at the clock on her phone for what had to be the fourth time in as many minutes.
"Where is he?" she mumbled, looking from the clock to the office door and back again.
Ever since she’d called Trowa that morning and he’d told her that he’d call back when he had a moment, she’d been waiting to hear from him. All day she’d lingered around the office, even past the time when she knew the hearing must have ended. But, still, he hadn’t contacted her.
Barbara glanced down at the rumpled piece of paper she’d retrieved from under the door that morning. She couldn’t be certain, of course, but she’d bet her pension that the note was from the same man who’d called the night before last. And if it was...
She groaned as she read the note for the umpteenth time, wanting to slap herself for her own stubborn idiocy. When she’d first read the message, it had sent her reeling. She’d rushed to call Trowa to give him the news, but her timing had been bad. The hearing had been about to start and she’d been unable to relate the contents of the note. If only she’d listened to that man, Peeve, two nights ago, she wouldn’t be sitting here now, fidgeting at her desk and waiting desperately for Trowa to call.
After a few more minutes passed in heavy silence, Barbara decided she’d waited long enough. ‘I’ll just call him again,’ she said to herself. She placed her hand on the receiver and was lifting it from the cradle when the office door suddenly opened.
Barbara looked up, startled, but in the next moment was immensely relieved as the young judge walked through the door.
"Judge Barton!" she cried, leaping to her feet. "Sir, I’ve been hoping to hear back from you all day about that note I mentioned. I have it right here. I can hardly believe that it’s telling the truth, but if it is, that girl’s case is as good as..."
"It’s over," Trowa said softly, not even sparing a glance for the paper clutch in his secretary’s fist. Barbara paused in her explanation.
"Sir?" she said, her unease growing as she took in the look of despondency on his handsome face. "Over?"
"The little girl lost." Trowa, who had stopped in front of her, turned to look at Barbara for the first time. She gasped at the redness in his eyes. Had he been crying?
"She’s going back to her mother and there’s nothing I can do about it. At least not until the appeal and God knows how long that will take."
Barbara looked at him uncertainly. She had never seen him like this. He was normally so unflappable, but it was clear that whoever this child was, she had really gotten to him.
"Is it really so bad that she has to go back to her mother?" she asked quietly.
Trowa didn’t reply. Instead, he just looked at her, letting her read the answer in his eyes. Barbara looked down, feeling extremely sorry for the unknown girl. But then, remembering the note, she brightened and looked back up at the tall judge.
"Sir, if you’d just look at this note, I’m certain that it could help." But Trowa ignored her and started into his office, leaving her to stare after him helplessly.
"Go on home, Barbara. I’m sorry that you’ve been stuck here all day. I think I’m going to take a few days off. Why don’t you do the same?" He started to close his door, but Barbara rushed forward and stopped him by putting a hand on the knob.
"But, the note," she pleaded. He looked down at her, smiling at the distress in her eyes.
"It’s alright. I’m afraid that nothing that note says could possibly help. I’ll give you a call when I come back to the office. Enjoy your vacation."
With that, he closed the door, leaving the middle-aged secretary to stare at a sedate, dark wood panel. She stood there for several, long minutes, wanting to barge in and make him listen to her. But, then she sighed, and walked back to her desk, knowing that it was pointless for her to try to talk to Trowa and that it was pointless for her to remain there any longer. She was certain she’d never met a more stubborn man than her gorgeous boss.
She picked up her purse and walked to the door that led into the hall. As her hand reached for the light switch, she glanced down at the wastebasket next to the door. She looked from the wicker container to the note and then crumpled the paper in her hand and let the note drop to land neatly on top of several empty, coffee-stained Styrofoam cups and a bag that held the remains of her lunch. She glanced once more back towards Trowa’s office, but just shook her head, dimmed the office lights and departed for her enforced holiday.
Later, Trowa wouldn’t be able to say how long he sat in his office, staring at nothing. Every moment of that day’s hearing played itself over and over in his mind, the images running back and forward endlessly. Was there something he could have done, something he could have said to appease Hervé? Something that would have prevented that bastard from taking his hatred for Trowa out on a defenseless little girl?
Hervé had casually handed down his decision, not even caring about the lives he was ruining in the process. And Trowa couldn’t fool himself that the sole reason for the older judge’s decision was the fact that two of the parties petitioning for custody were gay. No, it went deeper than that. From the moment Trowa had taken his oath and become a member of the bench, Hervé had been unswerving and unrepentant in his loathing for his younger peer.
And, now, just because of Hervé intense dislike of him, Laura would be the one to suffer. Over the last few days of the trial, as he’d watched Delia and listened to her tragic testimony, he’d actually begun to think that maybe she had truly recovered. Not that he wanted Laura to end up with anyone other than Duo and Heero, but if Delia was granted custody, maybe she would be able to do right by her daughter, and maybe she could be convinced to give Duo and Heero liberal visitation rights, since it was obvious how much Laura loved them.
So, when he’d seen her that morning, Trowa had hardly been able to believe what his eyes were telling him. Delia was so obviously high on drugs that he knew she’d just thoroughly destroyed any chance she’d had to be reunited with her daughter. For a brief moment, he’d been convinced that the case was finally over. Not even Hervé would be able to justify returning Laura to the custody of an obvious drug abuser.
But he’d underestimated the old man. Hervé was nothing if not slick. He’d simply ignored Delia’s condition, stating truthfully that there’d been no medical personnel present to confirm or deny her sobriety. Never mind that the woman had made several unprovoked outbursts in open court and had spent a great deal of the time humming to herself as though she was completely alone.
Trowa leaned forward, digging his hands into his dark-brown hair. He shouldn’t have run away like that, leaving Quatre to deal with the aftermath alone. But he just couldn’t bring himself to look Duo and Heero in the eyes, to see the shattering of hope in Laura’s bright face. And when she finally returned to her mother’s custody, what would happen then? How long until Laura ended up back on the streets having to search for food? How long before she ended up back in the hospital after Delia’s drugged out mind made her lash out at the girl over some imagined infraction? And what if their worst fears came true and Laura ended up dead, reported on the evening news as nothing more than a cautionary tale of the tragedies of child abuse?
A wave of guilty washed over him, threatening to drown him in despair. Although he knew that this wasn’t entirely his fault, he couldn’t stop a dark part of his mind from whispering that he was solely to blame for anything that happened to her. He didn’t know how he would ever face Quatre again with the knowledge of his failure weighting so heavily on him. He knew that Quatre would forgive him and tell him not to blame himself, but every time he saw the inevitable sadness in his lover’s beautiful blue-green eyes, he would know the reason and it would break his heart.
Hervé. Hervé! That thrice-damned bastard! Trowa’s despondency flared violently into fury. He was out of his chair and out of his office before his intentions had time to form themselves into rational thought. The only thing raging through his mind was the need to settle things with Hervé once and for all. He may not be able to help Laura, and he could very well end-up getting removed from the bench and losing everything he’d worked so hard to achieve, but he’d be damned if he let Hervé think he’d won. He would wipe that smug smile off of that asshole’s face even if it was his last act as a judge.
The trip from the court to Hervé’s home was a blur in Trowa’s mind. Fortunately, the residence of all judges in L2 was a matter of public record and tracking down Hervé’s address had been as simple as looking it up in the judiciary directory. Trowa squealed to a halt in front of Hervé’s house, the grandiose, if tasteless, architecture, which hinted at old money, completely escaping his notice. He had no room in his thoughts for anything other than the anger burning in his chest.
Trowa’s long legs ate up the distance as he moved quickly up the front walk. He still didn’t have a clear idea of what he was going to say to Hervé when he saw him. In fact, he was quite certain that when he actually laid eyes on the bastard his fists would very likely do the talking for him. He reached the front door and jabbed his finger into the doorbell, following the action up by rapidly pounding on the door with heavy blows.
Probably only a minute passed between the time he first announced his presence and the moment the door finally opened, but it was long enough to let his rage reach the boiling point. Hervé opened the door and Trowa saw nothing more than the whites of the older man’s eyes before reaching out and grabbing the gaping lapels of Hervé’s bathrobe together in his fist.
"Barton! What the Hell are you doing here?!"
Trowa ignored him, using his hold on the other man to push him back into his house. He reached behind him and slammed the front door, causing it to rattle on its hinges.
"Let go of me, Barton!" Hervé yelled, allowing Trowa to catch a hint of alcohol on his breath. "You let me go right this minute or I’ll call the police. Have you lost your mind?"
"Maybe I have," Trowa growled softly, bringing his face close to the man he held trapped in an iron grip. "But, I swear to you, before I’m finished, you’re going to know the same pain as that little girl whose life you’ve just destroyed."
Hervé struggled but was no match for the younger man holding him captive. He lost all color, his customarily dignified demeanor deserting him as Trowa reared back with a single fist, aiming it straight at his face.
"Go to Hell, you bastard," Trowa whispered. His fist was halfway to its target when he suddenly froze at the sound of a muffled cry.
Trowa blinked in confusion, unable to comprehend the source of the strange sound. Hervé continued to thrash against his grip, perhaps even more violently than before, but Trowa held him easily, ignoring the other man’s struggles as he listened for a repeat of the unexpected noise.
"Barton, I swear to you..." Hervé began, but was interrupted as the terrified cry rang out from somewhere behind them. Trowa dropped him roughly, causing Hervé to fall to the floor, and started towards the source of the sound.
"Barton, you get out of here. Get out of here now! You have no right to invade my home like this. Who do you think you are?" Hervé’s voice rose in pitch, taking on a slightly hysterical tone as Trowa ignored him and continued his search. He was listening closely for the cry, which was coming more steadily and loudly, telling him that he was getting closer. He paused at the bottom of a set of stairs, starting up the flight when the sound, now more of a frightened scream, prompted him upwards.
Hervé was still following behind him, cursing and shouting at him to leave. A hand grabbed at the back of Trowa’s shirt, trying to make him stop, but he shook it off, using one hand to push the older man away from him. Hervé cried out as he almost fell down the stairs at the force of Trowa’s shove.
"God damn you, Barton, you can’t do this! I’ll have you thrown off the bench for this! Barton!!"
Hervé tried to grab Trowa again as he reached for the handle of a door from behind which came another plaintive moan. This was definitely it, he determined. Hervé, not a small man himself, fell on Trowa with his entire weight, trying to bear the younger man to the floor. But Trowa aimed backwards and planted a well-placed elbow in the other man’s gut. As Hervé fell to his knees, completely winded, Trowa opened the door to what he discovered was a bedroom. And what he saw made him thankful that he hadn’t eaten that day as his empty stomach threatened to expel all contents.
"My God," Trowa whispered, unable to believe his eyes.
Lying on her stomach in the middle of the King-sized bed was a girl, who couldn’t be more than eleven years of age. She was rather pretty, with shoulder-length black hair, and large, blue, doe eyes. She was completely naked save for the gag in her mouth, the black dog collar around her thin neck, and the complicated system of ropes that held her trapped with her hands tied together at the small of her back. The girl stared at him, her wide eyes expressing a mixture of fear and an almost frantic hope.
Tears streamed down her cheeks, dampening the white cloth of the handkerchief tied across her mouth. Her skin was as pale as the gag, although her buttocks glowed a dull red as though they had been recently subjected to repeated blows. Trowa’s suspicions were horridly confirmed as he caught sight of a large, vicious-looking paddle lying next to her prone form.
Trowa swallowed down his nausea and took a step towards the frightened girl. He held out a reassuring hand as she whimpered and wriggled her body in an attempt to retreat from him.
"It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m not going to hurt you. I promise." He smiled gently at her. That along with his calm voice reached through her terror and she stopped trying to get away. She closed her eyes as Trowa reached over her, but opened them a moment later when she felt her gag being removed.
"What’s your name?" he asked softly.
"S-Sasha," she whispered. The word was barely clear as her small body trembled with quiet, hysterical sobs. Trowa studied the ropes quickly, trying to control his rising temper as he tried to figure out how he was going to remove them. He could feel Hervé’s presence behind him as the older man stood there in frozen shock. Trowa had to force himself to keep him mind on his task rather than turn around and throttle the pervert to death.
He spied a loose end of rope and, at a cautious tug, it caused the entire arrangement to unravel. He realized that the man who’d tied these ropes was no amateur and his disgust rose to new heights. Trowa removed the ropes and gathered the edges of the blanket on which Sasha laid, wrapping her in them as he lifted her from the bed. She curled up into a defenseless little ball and buried her face in his chest. Trowa turned around and headed for the door, walking past the man who was staring at him with large, bulging eyes.
"B-Barton," Hervé began, his Adam’s apple bobbing visibly in his throat as he swallowed against his nervousness. "Let’s talk about this." He followed Trowa down the stairs, nearly stumbling in his haste. "I-I’m sure we can work something out."
Trowa ignored him, moving carefully, mindful of his burden. He couldn’t even let his mind process what he’d just seen. But he was entirely cognizant of the implications. Holding the still whimpering girl against his chest with one arm, he reached into his pocket and removed his cell phone. Not for the first time, he was glad that he’d thought to put the phone number of his mentor on the Family Court Board of Commissioners on speed dial.
Judge Sylvester had been a guiding force for him ever since he’d clerked for the man just after law school. The kind, elderly judge had been the one to tell him when he’d first been removed from Laura’s case, letting Trowa know that he’d been firmly against the motion. But, unfortunately, he’d been in the minority. Trowa knew that Sylvester had never held a very high opinion of Hervé and would be very, very interested in his news. He waited impatiently for Sylvester to answer the phone, tuning out the sound of Hervé pathetic pleas.
"Judge Sylvester?" he began when the old man’s voice came through the phone. "It’s Trowa." Hervé let out a choking sound and came around to block Trowa who had reached the front door.
"Barton, wait, just wait a minute. Don’t do anything hasty. I’ll give you anything. What do you want? Money? Is that it? I can make certain that your promotion goes through right away. Or, how about I get you a little boy or something? Is that what you want?"
"Just a moment, sir," Trowa said to Sylvester, who was asking what the Hell was going on and why Trowa was calling him so late at night. The tall judge turned a frigid, emerald glare on Hervé, baring his teeth in a parody of a smile.
"You’re finished, you sick son of a bitch." He left Hervé standing slack-jawed in the doorway. Trowa hoped he was seeing his future being flushed down the toilet with all the other refuse. Trowa felt Sasha shift against his chest and glanced down at her. She was looking over his shoulder towards Hervé with frightened eyes. He squeezed her, causing her to look up at him. He smiled at her and winked.
"It’s okay. You don’t have to look at him. He’s nothing. Just a sad, dirty old man."
Though she didn’t return his smile, she did put her head back down and wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her to his car. Trowa lifted his cell phone back to his ear, smirking as Sylvester yelled at him for waking an old man from his hard-earned sleep.
"I’m sorry, sir," he said quickly. "However, I have some news that I’ll think you’ll be most eager to hear. It’s about Hervé."
As he explained the situation to Sylvester, Trowa’s heart felt light for the first time in a long time. He never looked back at the rectangle of light that was still flooding from Hervé’s front door as he tucked Sasha into the passenger’s seat of his car and drove away.