Detective Olivia Benson stretched her neck from side to side and took a deep breath before starting her jog through Central Park. She didn't know why she'd felt the urge to run through the Park that morning, especially at what she considered to be the ungodly hour of 5:00. She didn't mind working out, one of the extra bedrooms of her town home was converted into a workout room. But as far as cardiac workouts, she usually preferred swimming.
Despite her hatred for early mornings, Olivia had to admit that it was beautiful that day. It was unusually warm for March in New York. It was already 50 degrees and the high was rumored to hit 70. A fog was lifting from the ground while the sun made everything look pastel.
As she came to a fork in the path about 3/4 of a mile into her run, Olivia heard the reedy, persistent wail of a cranky child. Worried, she took the path eastward and around the first bend Olivia stopped cold. Sitting on the bench to her right were three children. The oldest was a boy wearing a dirty, hole-filled long sleeved t-shirt, raggedy jeans, and too small sneakers. He held a baby in a dirty, threadbare blue blanket. The baby was wailing loudly. Next to the boy sat a girl with blonde curls who was also wearing dirty jeans, an ancient sweatshirt, and no shoes.
Concerned and slightly confused, Olivia crouched down to eye level with the boy. "Hi," she said gently, pitching her voice above the cries of the baby. "My name's Olivia. What's yours?"
The boy looked at her, scared, but didn't say anything so Olivia tried again. She pulled out her badge which she'd tucked into a pouch around her waist. "I bet your mom or dad told you not to talk to strangers. And that's a good rule. But it's okay to talk to me, I'm a police officer."
The boy looked at the badge for awhile before speaking. "My name's Brian. This is Jacob, he's my brother," he nodded at the baby in his arms. "My sister's name is Maggie."
Olivia smiled at the little girl who was sucking on the first three fingers of her left hand. Brian reached out and yanked Maggie's fingers out of her mouth. "Don't suck, Maggie. Mom doesn't like it."
Olivia took advantage of the opportunity. "Where is your mom?"
Brian shrugged. "She told us to wait here for her."
"How long ago was that?" Olivia asked, growing more worried by the second.
"Not last night, the night before."
Olivia's eyebrows drew together. It might have been unusually warm out but it was still far too cold for such young children to be outside for two nights. Brian looked about 7 and Maggie looked to be 2 or 3. "Have you eaten anything?"
Brian shook his head. "Maggie and me had s'ghetti o's for dinner before we came here. I brought a bottle for Jacob." He pointed to an empty plastic bottle on the ground. "It ran out the first night but Mom was supposed to come get us."
Olivia felt her heart all but break. Without giving it another though, she smiled. "Why don't you guys come with me?"
"Where to?" Brian asked suspiciously.
Olivia paused. "First we'll go buy Jacob some formula and get you and Gracie some breakfast." She looked at them closely. "And some new clothes. Then we need to go to the hospital."
"I want to make sure that you're healthy," Olivia explained. She didn't think that the children would understand exposure or starvation.
"Mom said we have to stay here," Brian said. "She'll be angry if we leave."
Olivia sighed. "If she's angry, I'll tell her it was my fault. She won't hurt you," she added, more from instinct than anything. She'd been a detective for long enough to know when children were being abused.
Maggie pulled on Brian's shirt. "Bwian, I'm hungry."
Brian stood up slowly. "Do you promise she won't hurt us?"
"I promise. How old are you, Brian?" Olivia asked as she held out her hand for Maggie to take.
"I'm 8," Brian said as the began walking towards the road. "Maggie is 3."
"How old is Jacob?"
"Do you remember when he was born?"
'Two months,' Olivia thought. She hailed a cab and helped the children inside. Technically, she was supposed to take the kids to the hospital first but she couldn't bring herself to do that before giving them something to eat. Jacob was still crying and Olivia was willing to bet it was from hunger. The cab stopped in front of Super Walmart and Olivia ushered the children out of the cab. She found a cart with an infant car seat and took the baby from Brian, strapping him in.
"Excuse me, ma'am?"
Olivia turned to see a store clerk behind her. "Yes?" she asked, irritation obvious.
"She can't walk around in here without shoes," he said, pointing to Maggie who hid behind Olivia's legs.
"I'm sorry, Livvy," Maggie whispered, tears filling her blue eyes.
Olivia glared at the clerk and smiled at Maggie. "That's okay, sweetie. We can fix this." She lifted Maggie gently and set her in the cart. "You get to ride in here, okay?"
Maggie nodded and giggled. Olivia made a quick mental list and was glad she'd brought her credit card with her that morning. She'd intended to grab a Starbuck's coffee after her run. She grabbed two boxes of animal crackers and gave them to Maggie and Brian to eat while the shopped. She'd get them something more substantial after the finished.
First Olivia took them to the baby aisle where she grabbed three bottles, a case of formula, a couple of bibs, some pacifiers, and a little baseball outfit that she couldn't resist. As an after thought she added a blanket and some socks. "We need diapers," she said to herself before turning to Brian. "Do you know what size Jacob wears?"
Brian pointed and Olivia grabbed a package, sticking it under the cart. Looking at the already large pile of supplies, Olivia grabbed a Winnie the Pooh diaper bag as well. They walked into the children's clothing section and Olivia turned to the older children. "Why don't you each pick out a new outfit?"
"Really?" Brian asked, surprised. Their mom never bought them things. "Why?"
Olivia smiled. "I thought you might like something...new."
Brian chose a pair of jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt which had the Yankees logo on it. Olivia added underwear and socks to the pile. In the toddler's section, she took Maggie out of the cart and carried her on her hip since the cart was getting pretty full. The little girl reached out to touch a pink frilly dress.
"You can't have that," Brian said firmly. "Mom said we have to wear long pants and shirts."
As Maggie pulled her hand back, Olivia gave Brian a strange look. That wasn't a usual demand of parents. She found a pair of jeans with butterflies embroidered on them and a little pink shirt that matched in addition to underwear and socks for Maggie also. On the way to the shoe section, Olivia added two jean jackets to the cart. It might have been warm that day but it would be cold again before summer. She also grabbed shoes for the two older children. She was heading for the checkout line when Maggie pointed at an aisle and said excitedly, "Dolly!"
Olivia turned and saw that they were right next to toys. Something in her wouldn't let her leave without getting them something. And, since they might be spending time in the station until their mom could be found they would need distractions. "You may each pick out one toy and some coloring books."
Brian's eyes lit up as he hurried down one aisle. Olivia picked up a My First Princess Cinderella doll and showed it to Maggie. "Do you like this one?"
Maggie grinned, dimples flashing. "Can I have it?"
"Sure." Brian was back a couple seconds later holding a Harry Potter Lego set. In the book aisle, Olivia helped Maggie pick out a coloring book about kittens and one that featured Winnie the Pooh and his friends. As she was adding a box of 8 large crayons to the cart, thinking they would be easier for Maggie to handle than the little ones, Brian tugged on her sleeve.
"Olivia? Can I get a Harry Potter book instead?"
Olivia blinked, thinking that Harry Potter was probably beyond Brian's reading ability. "Do you go to school, Brian?"
Brian nodded. "I was in third grade last year."
Olivia shrugged, figuring that it couldn't hurt. "As long as it's a paperback, that's fine."
Brian added Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to the cart and, over an hour after getting there, they finally began to check out. As she paid, Olivia tried to push the thought that she shouldn't be doing this, buying them these things, out of her head.
"Olivia, can we put out new clothes on now?" Brian asked hopefully, bringing her back to reality.
She smiled because for the first time since she'd found him, Brian sounded like a normal 8-year-old. "After the hospital you can. First we need to feed Jacob and change his diaper, okay?" She didn't even want to think about how long it had been since the baby was changed.
Brian nodded and Olivia led the kids into the bathroom. She washed out one of the bottles and mixed the formula. Since she couldn't heat it any other way she used warm water and also made Brian and Maggie wash their hands. She hailed a cab and once they were settled began feeding the baby. He quieted immediately and by the time they got to the hospital he was sound asleep in Olivia's arms.
While the waited, Brian turned to Olivia, fear darkening his blue eyes. "Mom said that if we came to the hospital, they'd make us go live someplace else, not together. I promised Mom I'd take care of Maggie and Jacob."
Olivia slipped an arm around his narrow shoulders and squeezed gently. "I promise to do everything I can to keep you guys together."
A nurse led them back to the exam rooms and said she'd bring cereal for Maggie and Brian. Before the doctor came in, Olivia's phone rang.
"Benson," she said softly due to the sleeping baby in her arms.
"Olivia, where are you?" Elliot Stabler whispered back. "And why are we whispering?"
"Can you meet me down here, Elliot? You won't believe me if you don't see this."
"Where are you?"
"The church?!" Elliot hissed in surprise.
"Are you okay?" worry laced her partner's voice and Olivia smiled slightly. He was so protective of her. He always had been and was even more so now that he and his wife were divorced.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just get here. And can you bring me some stuff?"
"What do you need?"
"Two Happy Meals, a very large coffee," Olivia paused, remembering her outfit. "And some clean clothes for me."
"Clothes?" Elliot repeated, now more confused than ever.
"Liv, I really don't want to go through your stuff."
"Hey, you owe me, Stabler. Who took your 10-year-old daughter to the drug store last month for maxi pads because she got her first period and you didn't know what to do?"
"That aisle scares me, it has too many options," he argued back, then sighed in resignation. "What do you need?"
"Um...a shirt, pants, my boots, socks, underwear..."
"Olivia, I am not bringing you underwear!"
"Elliot, I'm not in the mood to deal with your irrational fear of female undergarments."
"Fine, fine. What do you want me to tell Cragen?"
"Tell him we're working on a case," Olivia answered before she hung up the phone. She looked over at Brian and Maggie and she sighed. They looked so lost. She didn't know what kind of home life they'd had but from what she'd deduced, it hadn't been a good one. She just hoped that she could help them somehow.