Spoilers: I'm never any good at these, so let's just say through Perverted.
Disclaimer: Not mine. No, seriously.
He'd always wondered, his whole life, if it really was possible, anywhere on Earth, for it to be so quiet as to actually hear a pin drop. As someone who was privy to many an uncomfortable silence during his career, Don Cragen had determined that in the case that such a quiet existed, it was most certainly not possible anywhere in New York City.
And fuck if he wasn't wrong.
It was so fucking quiet in that room that he could hear a damn pin just laying there. He dared not breathe, unless, of course, he was answering a question. He sighed very, very quietly, completely unsure why he was even bothering with the motions. Although he'd never had a particular bent toward violence, he suddenly appreciated Elliot's approach to most anything. Had the younger man been in his shoes, he wouldn't have bothered bending over and taking it with a polite smile and appropriate answers. No, Elliot would have hauled off and decked at least one of the pricks until Olivia managed to pull him away.
The rueful snicker that escaped was painfully loud, drawing the stare of the deputy chief prick. Fitting that thinking of them made him laugh. It was due to them, and one hell of a fucked up case, that he was there. They might as well be the reason within the reason he was getting in trouble too.
Johnson, second from the left, looked up sharply. "Is something funny, Captain Cragen?"
Fighting back a smile at the idea of how Stabler would respond, he mutely shook his head. He swallowed the bile that rose. At least Stabler would have gone down fighting. Cragen, as well as the panel of pricks, knew exactly how this was going to end. But rather than raising a fuss, Cragen had every intention of going out quietly with his tail between his legs. After forty-five years on the NYPD payroll, he was hardly well-suited to find anything else to do. He'd earned his pension and he had every intention of collecting it. Not to mention that he was praying his cooperation would spare more trouble for his squad. He didn't want to take anyone down with him.
That was the whole point of falling on his sword, after all.
Keil, sitting on Johnson's left, finally pulled his nose out of the file and fixed what might have been a steely glare, had it not been diluted by stylish, completely metro reading glasses, on Cragen. "Captain Cragen, regarding the misplaced psychological evaluations of Detectives Benson and Stabler..."
Cragen swallowed hard, wondering again why he was bothering.
* * * * *
He knew as soon as they walked into his office. The psychiatrist reminded him of a crocodile. His appointed escort from 1PP wasn't much better, though his uniform prevented being greeted with a snarl. They were trouble. Or they would make trouble. Or they would find trouble. The timing, less than four days after one utter fuck-up of a case, was too perfect for coincidence. It was a witch hunt, that much was certain. The only uncertain piece was who they were after. The brass, the DA's office, IAB, everyone recently, seemed to have a hard on for anyone at all connected to Special Victims. And with their latest case, there were so many reasonable possibilities for who would shoulder the blame Cragen couldn't even contemplate them.
After listening to the bullshit explanation, Cragen led the henchmen into the bullpen.
"Listen up, people, everyone needs to schedule a review with Dr. Felton by the end of today." He stopped short of insisting on compliance because he knew someone would try to worm their way out of it and he saw no reason to highlight the fact that his staff only listened to him when they felt like it. Besides, he knew every member of his squad was mentally fucked in one way or another. No one perfectly sane could survive there for long. It was only natural that they balked at the idea of someone crawling into their messy psychological states. They had enough shit to deal with.
As expected, he watched them make eye contact - something he'd noticed they'd stopped doing in the previous four days - briefly before Elliot started to complain. "Seriously, how many psych evals do we have to waste our time on?"
Olivia joined in, their tag-teaming well ingrained after so many years, despite the trouble the case had apparently caused. "Eventually they're hoping we'll go nuts from having our sanity questioned repeatedly."
Dr. Felton asked for their names, referring to some list on his little clipboard. "The last time either of you sat for an official review was nearly five years ago."
Again, the pair exchanged a look, confused enough by the information that they forgot they weren't speaking to each other. Hell, for that skill alone Cragen was tempted to ask the man to join his squad.
Unfortunately, they were checking with one another and so missed the way Cragen was shaking his head at them.
"That's wrong. We had-" She faltered for a moment, finally catching sight of Cragen's distress.
"We just saw Dr. Hendricks. What, two, three years ago?" Elliot had stepped in and finished his partner's thought before he too noticed Cragen.
Dr. Felton looked at his notes again. "I'm afraid that her conclusions were not included in your personnel files." He turned to Cragen. "Do you recall anything about this?"
Cragen met the doctor's eyes only for a moment and lied through his teeth. "The paperwork should be in their jackets." Of course it wasn't. The paperwork was sitting in a landfill somewhere, having been fed through his shredder as soon as he'd received Hendricks' official documentation.
Because he was deliberately not looking at the pair of interlopers, he watched the pair of detectives. Ever skilled at reading people, Elliot recognized that something was very wrong with the situation. He turned his eyes to his partner, checking to see if she knew something he didn't. When she only stared back in uncertainty, both of them shrugged slightly and turned to check with the only person who actually knew what was going on.
Cragen felt terribly guilty because they really hadn't seen it coming. Perhaps they should have expected it, but really, Cragen knew they couldn't have. They weren't that stupid, he knew, but they were that blind. Because he'd covered for them. Because he'd kept the results from them. Because he'd let them think they'd passed the review with Hendricks with flying colors when they hadn't. Not even close. They'd failed miserably. And how.
And so he could only feel bad, knowing the axe was about to drop on them while they didn't have a clue. He'd done what he could, kept them together as long as possible, longer than anyone else would have. The only thing he truly wished he could have changed about his actions would have been that he never gave them a warning.
Not that they would have heeded it anyway.
* * * * *
And so he sat there uncomfortably, waiting, watching, as the four-person panel of pricks, whose conclusions were most definitely already drawn, who clearly had never earned the sort of respect that led to a bond like that of Elliot and Olivia, read the report Rebecca Hendricks had been all to happy to re-fax to the department. Although they were glued to the pages, Cragen wasn't fooled in the slightest. They'd read the recommendation before. They'd had it for nearly a week before they'd scheduled the crucifixion, giving them ample time to absorb, to process, the devastating, career-ending information. And while they'd been digesting the feast they'd been seeking for years, Cragen had been waiting to see just who would wind up being the sacrificial lamb.
He'd been hoping that it would be him. The loss of his job wouldn't be nearly so awful for him; he didn't define himself exclusively by his title. He knew that wasn't the case for the detectives. He also knew that if they were to get the blame, they would turn on each other. They always did when their relationship got them in hot water.
As though their fierce loyalty would go away if they were pissed off at each other.
As though they were any less in love with each other simply because someone had stated the obvious.
Johnson, the one who was obviously out to get him, cleared his throat, shot a look at Keil to shut him up, and then smiled in an entirely unfriendly manner. "I find it quite curious, Captain Cragen, that this particular item is the only thing missing from the files of Detectives Benson and Stabler, and that it was missing from both files. Don't you also find that odd?"
Cragen drew a silent breath and held the man's stare. He refused to fall victim to such obvious baiting. He refused to voice the question of how could they possibly know that nothing else was missing. He allowed himself to gloat for a moment, recalling all the very many things he'd never deemed necessary to write down, if only due to his aversion to paperwork. The fact was whoever inherited the two, either alone or together, wasn't going to have any idea what he was getting into. The brass could think he'd mishandled the pair all they liked; he knew he'd done the best job possible and had earned the best results possible. The only thing that kept Elliot and Olivia in line, besides their desire to never get in enough trouble to be split up, was loyalty. He had their loyalty. His successor would be Benedict Arnold in their eyes. God himself couldn't get them to behave for someone they didn't trust.
After what he decided was a reasonable pause, he responded with a complete lie. "Perhaps the paperwork was misfiled together somewhere." Yeah, like the landfill.
Keil took off his glasses and fixed Cragen with a hard glare. "Regardless of any apparent misfiling, there is a major concern here. You had documented evidence of two detectives being compromised. Why did you continue to let them work in the same unit, let alone as partners?"
They were finished beating around the bush. It was time for the questions Cragen didn't have to lie about. He believed his actions were completely defensible. He carefully looked at the panel, one at a time. "Dr. Hendricks did not recommend that I split them up. In fact, in a face-to-face meeting, she specifically advised against it."
Lindell, the sole woman, seated on the far right spoke up for the first time since introducing herself. "You must have been seeing behavioral patterns that raised questions to order the review."
Cragen took a deep breath and admitted the truth. He knew it wouldn't win him any brownie points, but he didn't see the point in making something up. "I wanted to know if they were having an affair. I would have reassigned them if that had been the case. But they were not, according to Dr. Hendricks. Therefore, I saw no reason to punish them for something they weren't doing."
Jacobs, the fourth member of the panel of pricks, shook his head. "Dr. Hendricks' conclusion states clearly and in no uncertain terms that their effectiveness as police officers is compromised in the field. What part of that did you think meant they should remain partners?"
He thought of Olivia then, of the pissed-off glare that she would have worn in his shoes, and tried to channel some of the intense superiority she had when challenged. "Even compromised, they are the best team I've ever worked with in forty-five years."
Johnson turned one of the pages and began reading out an upsetting list of complaints and corrective actions taken.
And sadly, it was only at the mention of multiple excessive force inquiries that Cragen could be sure whose file it was.
But it only served to piss him off because he knew how hard they worked and how much they cared to get so out of control over their cases. He interrupted, unwilling to keep listening to the prick beat a dead horse. "Detective Benson is practically running a rape crisis center through her cell phone. She can convince the most reluctant victims to face their attackers in court. Detective Stabler has sacrificed watching his children grow up so he can put pedophiles behind bars. No one gets past him in interrogation."
Cragen was rarely one to show emotion, but he was shaking by the time he finished speaking. No one went after his squad in front of him. No one questioned their ability or dedication. His squad was the closest thing he had to family, just like Olivia, which he recognized was probably the reason he'd protect her to the end. And the fact that Elliot felt the same about taking care of her garnered him the same protection from his boss.
Lindell closed the file in front of her and clasped her hands together on top of it, indicating that she wasn't interested in further discussion. "Captain Cragen, do you have any final comments to make in defense of your actions regarding Detectives Benson and Stabler?"
He was out of time and chances, he realized. It didn't matter what he said, but he tried nonetheless. "If I transferred them, no one would be capable of doing the work and getting the results they get together. Special Victims is a different animal than other departments. Victims will suffer without the continued work of the detectives in my unit." Because really, in the end, it wasn't about saving himself.
Johnson glanced quickly to the pricks on the left and right, apparently reaching a telekinetic consensus. "That's not your problem anymore."
For a second, he feared his heart had stopped beating. He wouldn't survive getting fired. After being a cop all his life, there was nothing else he was suited to do. And no one would be dumb enough to hire him as a security guard if he were dumb enough to apply for it. He needed his pension. He'd be on the street without it.
Johnson stood up, cuing the rest of the pricks to gather their papers and do the same. "We'll be expecting your resignation by the end of the week." He turned to leave, but paused and looked back at Cragen. "Effective immediately, of course."
Stunned mute, Cragen nodded his understanding before he stood to leave. He'd known it was coming. He'd accepted the blame on purpose. He'd known his last suspension was it, that he was on the short list. But he'd thought he'd have a couple of months to get used to it. He never would have guessed it would only be a few weeks.
But he should have known, he realized belatedly, because once there's blood in the water, there's no postponing the feeding frenzy.
When he returned to his office, he still couldn't speak. He saw the curious looks that quickly turned anxious at his lack of reassurance. As he sat down at his desk to write his resignation under duress, he decided it had all been Lake's fault. The ass had barely been considered a part of the squad when he'd lost it, an action which certainly brought the scrutiny of the brass to all of them. It was so unfair. If they were going down, he figured, one of them should at least be responsible.
His eyes fell on Olivia and Elliot, who weren't even hiding their concern. With what they'd been through together, winding up co-dependent and in love was the least horrible outcome, and it was the closest they'd ever get to happy, he was sure. Which was why he'd let them be whenever he possibly could. But it wasn't up to him anymore. They were done; he knew it. Getting rid of them would be the first assignment for his replacement.
And suddenly, he was glad he was leaving. Because he wouldn't have to do it. Because he wouldn't have to see it. Because he wasn't sure they'd survive it.
He shook his head in disbelief.
One really fucked up case had brought the whole house of cards tumbling down. At least, he thought with a resigned sigh as he started typing meaningless words to his superiors, someone else would have to write it up.