Shocker of shockers—it's a post-Fault fic! I know it's been done a thousand times already, but what can I say? I'm a cheap cliché. One of the crowd. A speck in a sea of sameness. Also, I love Fault. You love Fault. We all love Fault. And I love Cragen, because I've been a boss-man fan ever since Skinner on the X-Files, and I don't believe I can stop now. And I don't believe I will try, either. So I wanted to give Cragen a nice speech after Olivia's "special request" at the end of the episode, so I'm just gonna. Mmkay? All right then.

The disclaimer thingie: I don't own any characters or plot lines or pieces of the set or locks of actors' hair or anything else from Law & Order SVU. Or any other shows, for that matter. Or, come to think of it, peanut butter. I really need groceries.


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Cragen sat at his desk, still and unreadable, as Olivia let out a nervous breath. "Cap, did you hear m—"

"Sit down, Olivia."

She complied, running through Cragen's possible moods in her head. He hadn't called her Benson, so he couldn't be too mad. On the other hand, he hadn't called her Liv, so he wasn't in an informal, friendly mood, either. Which was good for her case—if in fact she wanted what she'd said she wanted—because it meant he wasn't taking the situation too casually. "Sir?" she said after a few minutes had passed silently.

"Liv," he began. "Explain yourself." At her kid-in-the-principal's-office expression, he elaborated. "You made a pretty big request. I need motive," he said, so easily slipping into cop mode to override his unease. "Reasoning," he clarified. He paused to look at his detective's face, and saw the emotions he knew she was trying so hard to hide. She'd never been as successful at that as she thought she was, at least not with him. "And most of all," he said gently, "I want to know you're okay."

Olivia relaxed slightly, though she knew she had a difficult conversation ahead of her. "I'm fine, Cap."

"Bullshit."

"Huh?" she said, internally and aloud. After Cragen's gentle tone of a moment ago, she hadn't been expecting that response.

"Detective Benson, given your conversation opener, I think I can safely conclude that you're not okay."

"I've given it a lot of thought—"

"In the last, oh, half hour since you've been back at the station?" he countered.

"I—well, yes. It doesn't necessarily take longer than that when the decision was out of my hands to begin with," she said, hearing more defeat in her voice than she'd wanted to convey.

Captain Cragen understood suddenly why Olivia was in front of him, making a plea for a new partner. He understood, but he needed to hear it from her. If she was serious about her request, she had to say the hard words; he wasn't entirely sure she herself knew what she was doing. She was high on emotion, and Cragen needed her to spell out her reasons—for her own sake, as well as his.

"Olivia," he said, leveling his gaze at hers, "start from the beginning. Or the middle—wherever you need to start to end up at, 'I want a new partner.'"

She took a deep breath, held it, let it out unused. If breath were all it took to form the words…but no, they were lodged more deeply than that. "It's complicated. I don't know if I can…it's complicated." It was and it wasn't.

"I know, Liv, but so is splitting up my best team. I need to hear your reasons," he said, with as even a blend of concern and authority as possible.

"I guess what it boils down to is that he gave us an ultimatum, and I made my choice."

"Listen, Olivia, I know you had a tough decision to make back there, but you didn't do anything wrong. Even if you had taken the shot, there's a chance you could've missed, or that Gitano'd already killed the kid. Or even that he hadn't and you didn't find her—"

"Captain," Olivia interrupted. "I didn't mean Gitano. It was Elliot—he gave us an ultimatum. He said we couldn't keep choosing each other over the job. He said if we did…" She let the words drop as though they were too heavy to say; the blanks were easy to fill in.

"So that's it. Your mind's made up?"

"Guess it has to be, huh?" Tears were forming in her eyes, but she didn't try to hide them.

"Liv, it's not like you to roll over this easily," Cragen said gently. "Now, if it's what you really want, I'll have to respect your wishes, but I have to say, from this side, it looks like the easy way out." He looked at her, could see the steam rising to the surface. He hoped he knew what he was doing.

"You think this is easy?" she said evenly, though the control in her voice didn't extend to her expression. Her face felt hot and her throat was a painful vise she had to push the words through. "This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. You know what a difficult job this is. Elliot is the only thing—I count on him, you know? And when he said…you heard how he blew up at me. He as much as blamed me for that little boy's death. He doesn't think I can do my job." Her voice lowered to a husky whisper. "Maybe he's right."

Cragen looked at the top of her bowed head and felt an ache for her that he couldn't write off as supervisory concern. This was his detective, yes, but she was also a friend. Near to a daughter. He didn't want to see her hurting, but he needed her to work through this. Elliot had a tough veneer, but Olivia was the strong one. If only she'd see that. "Olivia," he said softly, getting her to lift her head, to lock her eyes on his. "Elliot has a temper. You know that better than anyone. He reacts. He speaks before he thinks."

"And maybe that's how it should be, Cap. He speaks from his heart."

"He speaks from his hot head, Liv. Look, those of us who know and love him would call Elliot passionate, but let's face it: he's a loose cannon. And that's why I want you to think good and hard before you officially put in for a new partner."

Olivia tilted her head, studying Cragen's face. "What exactly are you saying?"

"Nothing that should come as a shock to you, Liv. You know Elliot better than anyone on this planet, with the possible exception of Kathy. And you know he's got no support from her anymore."

"So, what, I'm his new wife? Captain, I know he needs someone to talk to, but what he needs and what he'll do are two different things. He won't talk to me; he'll shout at me. Am I supposed to just take that?" She sighed and lowered her head into her hands. "I don't know if I can."

"Olivia, what I'm afraid of is that you are the only one who can."

It was simply put, but she still hoped she'd misunderstood. "Cap, be straight with me. What'll happen if I can't work with Elliot anymore?"

"I don't know, Liv, but he's in a bad place right now. He's not thinking straight and it's affecting his job. I know you've seen it. Used to be he'd react from his heart. Sure, he's got a natural lack of restraint, but he used to wait for a reason before flying off the handle. Now it's like his emotions are in overdrive. There's no predicting what'll set him off."

Olivia sighed. "I know. This thing with Kathy…he misses his kids. He has no balance right now."

"He has you. Listen, I don't want to lay this all on you—believe me, I don't—but if I switch things up and the next guy he's partnered with calls his actions into question, I can't cover for him. He's like a son to me, but I can't protect him forever. He's a good guy, Olivia. You know that. I don't want to see him destroy himself, but he's got a good start, and I'm afraid you're the only thing keeping him sane right now." He didn't want to believe the pleading he heard in his own voice, but it was unmistakable. And the effect on Olivia was obvious as well.

She sat still, her hands on the arms of her chair, tears in her eyes.

"Liv, he needs you."

She gasped and lowered her head, unable to stop crying now. "I know. What do I do now?"

"You talk to him. Because if you don't, then I've got to do it, and I don't have your looks and charm." He came around the desk and sat beside her, put his hand on her shoulder. "If you still want a new partner, I'll do what I can. Until then, I'll put you with Fin for a while. But Olivia?"

She raised her eyes to him, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

"Talk to Elliot. He needs you, and I think you need him, too."


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To be continued