A/N: I'm imagining this as a type of "prequel" for Payback. This is AU that turns into canon at the end of the story. Essentially, it sets up Stabler and Benson's partnership because I've seen the first season and they are way too close for nothing to have happened. That's all I'm giving away in terms of thought process though. Kathy and Elliot are dating, not married. No children.

1-6 Precinct.

Monday, December 16th, 1998

"Hey" Olivia said, smiling at her partner and dropping into her seat.

"Beat you here again" Elliot smiled, reaching over and depositing the bullpen's coffee orders onto her desk. She smirked.

"I walked El," she stated, standing up reluctantly and pulling on her jacket.

"I offered you a ride" Elliot said, flipping absently through a file.

"The last time you gave me a ride we were both late" Olivia said, and they both shared a secret smile. Munch shot his new partner a look and Fin mouthed in return, 'sleeping together.' Munch rolled his eyes and mouthed, 'No one really knows.'

"Hey, sharing conspiracy theories about me and Benson over there?" Elliot asked Munch and Fin, half-joking, half-serious.

"It's nothing the whole world doesn't already suspect" Munch returned. Elliot shot him a confused look as Liv laughed and reached for her scarf, cursing the early arrival of winter. She'd always loved December, but not when it already felt like February.

"I'll be right back with coffee" she said.

"Coffee's got to wait, Benson" Cragen said, walking out of his office. "Vic is waiting for you and Stabler at Mercy"

"On it Cap" Olivia said, grabbing her gloves now too. She fixed Elliot with a triumphant smile as they began to walk out.

"What're you smiling at Benson?" he asked with a smirk. "That coffee buying has just been delayed."

Mercy Hospital

9:30 A.M.

"I didn't know it was a baby" Olivia said softly, stepping into the protective scrubs needed to enter the N.I.C.U. Elliot placed a hand on her shoulder and Liv looked down at where it rested comfortably. After that night any physical contact just felt necessary.

"Kids aren't easy. I'll tell you that now" he said, gently rubbing her shoulder before pulling on his own scrubs.

"Nothing about this job is easy, El" Liv whispered. Elliot looked at her and smiled sadly. Of all the partners he'd had since he started with SVU, he really hoped that Olivia stayed. When he was with her, he didn't feel like he was alone with the horrors he saw everyday. A nurse approached them then, pulling off her surgical mask.

"Oh, hey Kathy" Elliot said, leaning in to kiss his longtime girlfriend.

"Elliot. No! We'll both have to re-sanitize" she said, fending him off with an 'I'm in love' smile.

"Hey, Kathy" Liv interjected. Kathy turned and smiled at her.

"Hey Liv" Kathy said. "We missed you at Rocio's Tuesday night." Olivia smiled pacifically at her. The young blond was everything she wasn't, and thus perfect for Elliot. Even after that night, Liv knew that she and Elliot weren't the 'drawers and toothbrushes at each other's apartments' type of thing. Some things were simply too passionate to hold onto.

"Yeah, sorry about Rocio's, things just got crazy"

"Story of your life" Elliot said, sharing another look with Liv that his girlfriend tried really hard to believe meant nothing.

"So, what do we have?" Liv asked, turning back to Kathy with a distracted smile. Kathy cleared her throat, switching from girlfriend to nurse.

"Infant, about a week old" she said, leading them into the N.I.C.U. "The paramedics who brought her in said that she'd only been in the park a few hours" Kathy finished, leading them to the third bassinette from the wall. Olivia saw the baby and her heart constricted. The little girl was perfect. What could she have done for her mother not to love her? What did I do? Olivia shook the thought away quickly. This wasn't about her.

"Is she healthy?" Olivia asked, sitting next to the baby and carefully poking a hand through one of the two holes in the incubator.

"She's a little hypothermic but other than that, yeah, she's fine" Kathy said. As soon as the baby sensed Liv's hand, she turned toward her and smiled. Elliot caught Liv's face in that moment. It was so purely happy and touched. He felt a smile creeping onto his own features as he witnessed a side of his partner he'd only seen at night.

"Do you have a name?" Liv asked the baby gently, smiling brightly.

"It's Samantha Leonard" Elliot said, taking the baby's file from Kathy.

"Poor thing came in with only her car seat and the clothes she was wearing" Kathy added, trying not to stare at how pretty Liv looked when she was smiling and happy. She purposely avoided seeing Elliot's face as he watched his partner. He and Liv hadn't known each other that long, and she just hoped the look on his face right now was because he'd never seen Liv with a child. He'd seen Kathy holding infants plenty of times. "We ran her prints through our system and her mother's name is listed as Cassandra Leonard."

"Do you have an address for the mother?" Liv asked. Kathy looked at Elliot.

"Not unless she's King Kong. The address written here is for the Empire State Building" Elliot said sarcastically.

"Great" Liv smirked. "Kathy, did the car seat have any defining marks?"

"I don't know, I'm not a cop…just dating one" Kathy replied, smiling at Elliot. He tore his eyes away from Olivia just long enough to smile back at her. Elliot's infamous Stabler-half smile had melted Kathy's heart when they met in high school and would continue to melt her heart even if she never became Mrs. Stabler.

"Do you still have the car seat and clothes" Elliot asked.

"No, your CSU people have them."

"Kathy!" another nurse called suddenly. "We have a Marilyn Howard on the phone for you. Something about not being allowed to drink tap water?" Kathy laughed.

"Marilyn is a first-time mother and I told her to call me if she had any concerns, little did I know absolutely everything would be a concern for her." Kathy explained to Olivia and Elliot. "I'll only be a minute—hopefully"

"We'll wait" Elliot said. "We need a picture of the baby to release to Missing Persons and CPS anyway"

"I'll see what I can find" Kathy said, walking away. Olivia watched her walk off in her pink scrubs; blond ponytail waving. She was so innocent, with no complicity or jaded past to worry about. Olivia knew that she was something to Elliot, but she couldn't help but think Kathy was the best something Elliot had in his life.

"You liking the mother for this?" Elliot asked, walking over and gently reaching into the incubator to touch the baby. His hand met Liv's and a familiar warmth surged them.

"Yeah" Olivia replied softly. "She was unharmed, clothed for winter and in a car seat. Plus, if she was abducted there would have been a ransom note. Babies are hot for ransom, learned that down at the 2-9."

"Makes sense" Elliot said, "But what I want to know is why." The baby wrapped her hand around Elliot's finger, and Olivia smiled. Elliot was good with children. Under all that muscle and intensity, he had a soft side. Liv had discovered that during that night three months ago.

"Maybe post-partum?" Liv suggested, playing with the baby's foot.

"Most post-partums kill the child or themselves. Abandonment shows something more. Some kind of…"

"Disgust" Olivia suggested. Elliot nodded.

"Exactly. In my first abandonment case, the mother abandoned the baby in nothing but a sheet after her husband died. She couldn't take the constant reminder of him every day."

"I know how she feels" Olivia said, not meeting Elliot's gaze even when she felt him staring at her. Kathy walked back into the room then and caught them in that intimate moment. Maybe it was in the way Elliot's gaze was locked concernedly on Olivia as she focused on the baby, but they looked like that baby's parents. They really looked like the three of them belonged in home videos and photo albums together. Kathy closed her eyes then and prayed to God that Olivia was just some novelty Elliot had stumbled upon. She liked Olivia, you couldn't help but like Olivia, but she wasn't what Elliot needed. Elliot needed simplicity after his experience with his mother and father, and Kathy knew she could give it to him.

"Hey, I found the pictures taken on scene" Kathy said, handing them to Elliot. He looked at the pictures of the Graco car seat and expensive cashmere blanket the baby had been abandoned in. The last picture was of the baby lying in the bassinette, smiling.

"Oh" Olivia said, standing up and joining Elliot as the baby started to fuss. "I think somebody's hungry, Kathy."

"Of course" Kathy said, hating how Olivia didn't just stand by Elliot, she stood with him. "I got it" she said, picking up the baby. Elliot didn't miss how comfortable Kathy looked holding a baby. He just couldn't imagine her holding their baby. Elliot's thoughts scrambled as he felt Liv's chest against his back as she examined the photos over his shoulder.

"Olivia" he whisper-warned, throwing a glance at her over his shoulder. Kathy could practically smell the intimacy coming off Elliot and his new partner. She damn-near dropped the baby formula she was warming up as she stared.

"You got everything there, Kathy?" Liv asked; stepping away from Elliot obliviously as Kathy fumbled about.

"I've got it" Kathy said defensively as she stabbed at the buttons on the microwave. She hated how whenever Olivia was around, she felt as if she needed some type of rope to tie Elliot to her.

"Doesn't look like there was any blood on the blanket" Liv stated, accepting the picture from Elliot.

"She was swaddled in it actually" Kathy supplied, forcing herself into Elliot and Olivia's world "The mother clearly knew what to do with a baby."

"Then what did this baby do to make her mother abandon her?" Liv asked. Even my mother kept me.

"Liv, we should check in with Cap before finding out" Elliot said, reaching out to brush her arm just lightly. Her eyes immediately darted up to meet his and Elliot saw something there. Not exasperation exactly, but a true desperation to know why this young mother had done this.

"Alright" Liv said calmly, pushing her own hang-ups out of her mind. "Thanks Kathy," she said, heading for the door. Elliot quickly followed her, never more than a foot behind his partner at all times.

"Will I see you tonight?" Kathy called suddenly, chasing after Elliot. Elliot paused at the door and looked at her, her blue eyes were so entirely trusting and in love with him. She smiled brightly when he flashed that Stabler half-smile at her again.

"You know I can never answer that, babe" he said. He hurried out to the car where Liv was waiting for him, his girlfriend completely forgotten.

A/N: Just setting it up for now. Does anybody know how to indent? Just wondering...