"Elliot!" called Olivia Benson, lifting the small child into her arms. "I've got him."
Elliot Stabler rushed over to her and let out a deep breath when he saw the limp, battered little boy in her arms. "Benjamin Cole, age six. Nobody's here, Liv. Who made the call?"
"Don't know. Maybe a neighbour heard the screaming. The dispatcher didn't say." She shifted the little boy in her arms and his shirt rode up his back. Olivia gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Elliot. Look."
Three dark bruises and a series of red welts covered the child's back.
Elliot saw the bruises. "Oh, my . . . I'll call the ambulance. This boy needs medical attention."
Olivia nodded and Elliot made the call. Then she raised her hand in the air. "El, Wait. Listen. Do you hear that?"
Sure enough, Elliot could hear the faint whimpering. He held out his arms and Olivia handed him the unconscious little boy.
Olivia followed the sound to a desk covered by a white tablecloth. She lifted it and started when she saw a little girl.
The girl had long red hair and looked to be about six or seven. She was huddled against the wall, knees to chest, sobbing softly.
"Hey," said Olivia, kneeling down so she was at eye level with the girl. "What are we hiding from?"
The girl looked up, displaying a healing black eye. She said nothing.
"What's your name?" asked Olivia gently.
"Rhea," whispered the girl.
"Hi, Rhea. I'm Detective Olivia Benson, but you can call me Olivia."
"Hi, Olivia," said Rhea softly.
"How old are you, Rhea?"
The child held up eight fingers.
"Well, Rhea, you know your brother got hurt, right?"
She nodded hesitantly.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
Rhea shook her head.
"Okay," said Olivia gently. "What happened to your eye?"
The little girl looked at the ground. "It was an accident."
Olivia looked closer and noticed a bruise on Rhea's wrist. "What about your wrist?"
She said nothing.
"Was that an accident too?"
Rhea nodded reluctantly.
Olivia looked into her eyes. "Rhea, is there any way I could stop these accidents from happening?"
The child shrugged resignedly. "You can't stop accidents."
"Rhea, if someone was hurting you, you could always come to me and I would help you."
Rhea nodded slightly; a compromise.
Olivia changed the subject. "So where's your mom?"
The girl shrugged.
"What about your dad?"
"He died when I was a baby."
"Oh. I'm sorry. Then do you live with just your mom?"
Rhea twirled a strand of hair around her finger and hesitated. "No. My – my stepfather. Jordan."
"Oh. Do you like Jordan?"
She looked at the ground. "He's all right."
"Does he ever do anything that makes you uncomfortable?"
The child slowly shook her head.
"Liv." Elliot came up behind her. "The ambulance is here. Fin and Munch are staying. Let's ride."
"Come," said Olivia, holding out a hand to Rhea, who followed them into the ambulance.
* * *
"This poor little boy is probably the worst abuse case I've ever seen," the doctor commented to the detectives. "Look at this – welts, bruises, burns, fractures, the like. He has two fractured ribs, welts covering his arms and legs, various bruises, and a cigarette burn on his arm. Poor kid."
"Wow," said Olivia. "Did you manage to locate the parents?"
"No. Where's the girl?"
"Outside. She's waiting for us to come back."
The doctor nodded. "Bring her in. We should probably examine her too, just to be safe."
Olivia nodded. "I'll go get her."
* * *
"I don't want them to," said Rhea. "I'm fine, really."
Olivia bent down in front of the child. "Rhea, we found very disturbing injuries on your brother, and we're concerned about you, honey."
The little girl looked alarmed. "I don't want them examining me! I'm okay. I am."
"That's fine, Rhea. Then come with me."
Rhea sighed resignedly and took Olivia's hand. She let the detective lead her into the examining room."
* * *
"Detectives," said the doctor, motioning to Olivia and Elliot. "Can I talk to you for a moment, please?"
They looked at each other and walked over to the doctor. "Yes?"
He adjusted his glasses. "Her injuries, believe it or not, are worse than her brother's."
Olivia's stomach dropped. "How so?"
"I think you should come see for yourself."
The detectives followed the doctor into the examining room, where Rhea was crying. "Hey," said Olivia, bending down and taking Rhea's hand. "Heard you weren't feeling too good."
Olivia could see a line of cigarette burns up Rhea's arm – at least ten or eleven of them. She began to feel faint. She also noticed welts and bruises all over the little girl's small body.
The doctor motioned for the detectives to come close again. "We did a rape kit. I had a feeling . . ."
"What was the result?"
"So she was raped?" asked Elliot.
The doctor motioned to Rhea. "Why don't you go ask her?"
Olivia approached the little girl's hospital bed again. "Wow, Rhea. That looks like it must hurt."
Rhea shook her head.
Olivia turned to the two men. "Would you mind leaving us alone for a few minutes?"
Elliot and the doctor nodded and exited.
Olivia turned back to the child. "So someone's been hurting you really badly, huh?"
Rhea nodded hesitantly.
"Was it your mother?"
Rhea nodded reluctantly again, silent tears streaming down her face. "And – and Jordan."
"Yes. He would – he would come into my room. At night. And do things. Bad things." She burst into a round of fresh sobbing. "Oh, Olivia! He told me not to tell. He said he'd kill me. And Benjamin. My baby brother."
Olivia took Rhea's hands in her own. "What did they do to you, sweetheart?"
"Sometimes with their hands. With an extension cord. With – with a belt. That was the worst."
Olivia sat silently, unmoving, her eyes locked on the little girl as she continued.
"They would push me around. They would throw me around. Into walls. Down the stairs. They would burn me. With their cigarettes. Whenever I was bad."
Olivia sighed. "Oh, Rhea. Nothing you could have done would ever, ever give them the right to do to you what they did. They were wrong. You can't blame yourself for any of it."
She propped herself up on one elbow. "How's Benny?"
"Rhea, I need you to tell me what happened to him."
The girl burst into tears. "They were mad at me. And he got in the way. They were hitting him – over and over. I tried to stop it, but I couldn't. They were so focused on him that I just ran. It's my fault all this happened. I could have protected him. I'm his big sister. It's my job. But I didn't. I ran and hid."
Olivia stroked her hand. "It's not your fault, Rhea. Don't you ever even think that."
Rhea sighed. "How is he?"
"He'll be fine, eventually. But they're keeping him in the hospital for at least a week."
She let out a deep breath. "Thank God."
"Rhea, do you know where your mother and stepfather are?"
She shook her head.
"Okay. We'll find them soon. Don't worry."
"What about me?"
"Right now, you're coming back to the station with us."
"We need to inform our ADA of your case and you might need to talk to her. But don't worry, sweetie, she's very nice. I'm going to speak frankly to you. We're going to press charges against your mother for abuse and your stepfather for rape."
Surprisingly, Rhea nodded. "Okay." She took Olivia's hand and they went out to Elliot's car.
* * *
When they got to the station, Olivia settled Rhea down in the front to do some colouring and called Elliot, Alexandra Cabot, and Don Cragen for a meeting. She explained the case to them.
Alex sighed. "I need to talk to that poor little girl, Olivia. Will she be okay with that?"
Olivia nodded. "She'll be fine. I'll send her into your office."
* * *
Rhea uncertainly entered Alex's office a moment later and sat down on a chair next to the ADA.
"Hi, Rhea," said Alex. "My name's Alexandra Cabot and I'm the lawyer that's going to prosecute your parents. You can call me Alex."
"Hi," said Rhea softly.
"So, Rhea, how old are you?"
"Do you like school?"
"You're in grade three?"
She shook her head. "No. Six."
"I skipped a few grades."
"Wow. What's your favourite subject?"
"What are you going to be when you grow up?"
"A writer. And a lawyer, like you."
Alex smiled. "Do you get along with your brother?"
Rhea nodded emphatically. "He's my best friend."
"Do you take care of him a lot?"
"He's my baby brother."
"We're here to help your brother, Rhea. And you."
"So." Alex leaned back in her chair. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Rhea nodded. "They hit us. They burned us. They threw us, shoved us, punched us, kicked us. And Jordan . . . touched me. He came into my room. Every night."
She leaned toward the child. "He raped you?"
Alex felt as if she'd been kicked in the stomach. "Thank you for telling me this, Rhea. We're going to help you. They'll never hurt you again. I promise."
Rhea hesitated. "Alex? Can I show you something?"
Rhea slowly rolled up her sleeve, displaying the line of cigarette burns. Alex clapped her hands over her mouth and swallowed hard. "Thank you, Rhea," she managed. "Go back out to Olivia now, okay?"
The little girl nodded and left Alex alone to think things over.
* * *
"Alex?" called Olivia, knocking on the door. "I need you to come out here, please."
"Can you give me a minute? I need to calm down. That was pretty . . . upsetting."
Olivia opened the door. "What?"
"Rhea showed me those cigarette burns. That poor child."
"I know, but listen. We need you. Her mother's here, threatening to sue us, etc. She wants her daughter back."
"No!" Alex stood up abruptly, shaking in anger. "No way in hell is she getting that little girl back."
Alex followed Olivia out to the front room, where Rhea was standing frozen in fear, silent tears coursing down her cheeks.
Olivia knelt down in front of the little girl and put her arms around her. "Shh, baby. No one's going to hurt you. You're staying with us. We'll protect you. I promise."
"I want my daughter!" snarled Rhea's mother.
"You're not getting her," replied Alex coolly.
"I'll sue you and the entire police department!" she screamed.
"Go right ahead," invited Alex. "I'm sure there will be time for that after your trial for child abuse."
Alex was getting upset now. "Stop pretending. I saw the burns on your daughter's arm and you're not coming anywhere near her. Olivia, take Rhea into the back room."
"Rhea's a liar," bit out her mother.
"Out," ordered Alex. "God help me, I will call security and have you escorted off the premises."
The woman turned and walked out the door. She turned on her way out. "You'll be hearing from my lawyer."
"I look forward to it."
Don Cragen turned to Alex. "I want you to call a judge and get a temporary restraining order for that woman to stay away from her daughter, at least until the trial."