Little Monsters
By Cagey


"What are you doing here?" Elizabeth Olivet paused in the doorway, framed by a crepe web of black and orange streamers. Her fingers tightened involuntarily on the glass bowl in her hands; when she became aware of it, she willed herself to relax.
"Trick or treating?" The balding man leaned forward slightly, plucking a wrapped toffee from the bowl in her embrace. He was not in costume, neither in a garish Halloween outfit nor the sober suit that he typically donned for court. Instead, Emil Skoda looked entirely too comfortable in chinos and a dark sweater. The scratchy lining of her witch's cape made Liz resent the soft fabric of his shirt.
Skoda's piercing gaze traveled the course of the room. He took in the small group of costumed children gathered at the apple-bobbing tank, and the straggling line of youngsters giggling as they waited to crawl through the makeshift "haunted wood" constructed out of sheets and strategically arranged tables. He nodded in recognition at one or two of the adults, younger colleagues associated with Child Services and the district attorney's office. Finally, his eyes settled again on Olivet. "You look good, Liz."
She snorted, and turned to deposit the candy bowl on a convenient table. At another time, those words delivered in that voice might have sparked an intriguing undertone in their banter. At the moment... "I look like I just ate Hansel and Gretel," she answered, resting one hand on her black-clad, swollen belly. Arching an eyebrow, Liz regarded him with a touch of exasperation. "And you've come in time for the second course."
Skoda popped the pilfered candy into his mouth, then raised his hands in submission. "Just leave me a leg to get home on," he suggested.
She did not answer, turning instead to survey her young holiday guests. Olivet had, for the past few years, foregone her once traditional Halloween open house for patients and foster children. It felt good to see kids milling in the room this year, to hear them snickering at a comic storyteller rather than dully reciting trauma and reliving nightmares.
As if on cue, a horned apparition -- one of a trio of scurrying partygoers -- barreled into them. Emil automatically moved to balance Olivet with one arm, while gathering the child into a confining embrace with the other. "I thought that Jedi could see people even with their eyes closed," Skoda teased the little boy, readjusting the mask so it no longer blinded him. The miniature Sith gave him a muffled thank you before rejoining his comrades. As he rose, dusting off one knee where it had rested on the floor, the man gave Liz a rueful smile. "Little monsters."
The remark may have been made in innocence, but Skoda obviously caught something in her expression, because his smile faded immediately. The silence between them lengthened oppressively, until a twinge at her back made Olivet wince. "Come with me," she ordered. He followed her placidly, and they wound their way amidst ghoulish obstacles to sanctuary at her inner office.
This wasn't the session room; the only toys in evidence were a small Lego knight charging an emerald dragon on a shelf by her computer, and a worn Raggedy Ann doll propped on the corner of a filing cabinet. Rainbow children's creations adorned the bulletin board, their finger-painted dreams of beaches and puppies serving as a cheerful wallpaper. Liz waved him to the plush chair as she sank down on the adjacent couch and gratefully pried off her shoes.
"You'll never get those back on again," Skoda observed, and she wiggled her toes at him.
"Witches don't need shoes," she replied. "They ride brooms. And put murdering ten-year-olds back on the street."
It was his turn to wince. "Liz..." he protested. "I didn't start the name-calling."
Olivet shrugged. "I know. I did." Their confrontation in Family Court had been more bitter than she intended; professional sniping was not supposed to turn personal, particularly not on the stand. Her advocacy for Jenny Brandt's case had demanded a clinical refutation of Skoda's diagnosis. Her emotional response... She rubbed the swell of her stomach absently as she continued an argument they had begun weeks before. "Emil, I still think that you're wrong. Institutionalization would have meant giving up on her."
He leaned back in the chair, steepling his hands on his chest. His 'detached observer' position, she diagnosed, as he spoke. "The welfare of society versus that of the individual, Liz."
She shook her head obstinately. "Don't turn McCoy on me. I was asked to make a therapeutic judgment, not a moral one." Even as she said the words, however, Liz knew that the man opposite her wouldn't buy it. Hell, Ben hadn't bought it when she told him about the case, for that matter. Well, she had a streak of stubbornness too. "Jenny Brandt deserves a chance to get help. She deserves a chance to have a normal childhood, a normal life."
Skoda cocked his head toward the room behind them. "The children out there deserve to be safe from the Jenny Brandts of the world."
Liz closed her eyes for a moment, listening to the muted chatter of the crowd outside her office. "Every child deserves a chance at a good life." To her own ears, she sounded immeasurably tired.
"They deserve a good chance at life," he countered.
"Don't you think I believe that?" she shot back.
They regarded one another bleakly. At last, Liz sighed. "I don't think that she's a monster. More importantly, I don't think she stands a chance in an asylum. If we don't help her now, she very well could become one, though." Monsters haunted Olivet in the dark, sometimes. Killers beyond redemption, liars with steely eyes, latex-covered hands in a doctor's office.... She preferred the ghouls bobbing for apples in the next room.
Skoda shook his head. "You can't save them all, Liz." His smile was wry. "But that doesn't mean that you won't try, I know."
Liz knew that the words were a peace offering, based on a friendship with unexpected depths despite their professional differences. She suspected that Skoda had turned up on her doorstep for more than a social call, or even to mend a minor professional rift. Certainly, she reflected, Emil could guess at the bittersweet emotions that surrounded her pregnancy. It had taken her a long time to let the people who cared about her back into her life after the rape. Work consumed her, friends came and went, lovers left as their lives no longer intersected with hers. Lovers left -- and sometimes came back.
She pushed the thought aside, concentrating on more immediate concerns. Skoda's words at the hearing had revisited her more than once. Olivet knew that Emil had refrained from commenting on her pregnancy in their debate. Doctors analyzing doctors analyzing doctors; she had little doubt that, in his mind, it was her personal situation, not her expertise in the psychology and treatment of children, that had put her on Brandt's side of the case.
She nodded her head in acknowledgment of his gentle critique, and was pleasantly surprised when Skoda offered his hand to her. "Truce?"
She grasped his fingers in hers, awkwardly, until a different movement drew her attention. Liz smiled, and asked, "Want to say hello?"
He looked confused, then pleased. "Sure," he agreed, and she guided his hand to her belly. His touch was tentative at first, but then--as he felt the quickening under his fingertips -- he pressed his hand against her flesh more positively. "I never get used to that, to feeling a little life kicking away. It's so cool."
Olivet chuckled softly. "That's what I keep telling myself. I never thought it would happen."
Emil withdrew his hand slowly. "I'm happy for you, Liz. I know that you always wanted a family."
"You're right. I just expected it about ten years earlier." The years of hopes and plans put on hold.... Maybe she hadn't wanted to analyze Skoda's criticism before. On one level, she knew that her clinical expertise remained unimpaired. On another -- Jenny Brandt's life scared the hell out of her. It had become part of her silent prayers. Please, God. Please, let my child have a better life. The thought nearly brought tears to her eyes, sometimes.
As he smiled at her quip -- unaware of her maudlin reflections -- she regarded Skoda with amusement. He'd be thrilled to know that a few well-chosen words had sent her on a personal excavating mission. With friends like these, she mused.
A crash in the party room drew their attention. Olivet sighed briefly and said, "Those kids need some more adult supervision, I think." She took his tendered hand, and extricated herself from the couch. As she glumly contemplated her discarded shoes, Emil moved to open the door.
"If there's anything I can do, Liz --"
"How are you on haunted house duty?" she asked slyly.
He chuckled, and bowed to the inevitable. "Do I get to take your goblin trick or treating next year?"
"Only if you're very good, Dr. Skoda."
"I thought the guy with the list was on a different holiday," Emil protested.
"Ah," Liz replied serenely. "Mothers keep a list all year long." She paused. "Like DAs."

end


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