DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is the property of NBC and Dick Wolf, and being used without permission or intention of profit.
SERIES: Second part of the Desktop Confessionals series following A Plain Morning.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Choice I Have Come to Fear the Most

"I hereby acknowledge that as of January 13 2007..." My voice trails off as the rest of the words sink into my head. I'll no longer be in hiding? My pulse starts to race as my eyes skim the rest of the papers. I catch visual snippets of what they say.

"...Velez no longer a threat...."

"...may return to previous life...."

"...protection ceasing ..."

I flip the pages over and over in my hand. My mind is struggling to comprehend. My body frozen in uncertainty. I hear a car door slamming just outside the window and glance out over our yard. The changing of the season has already begun. She trundles up the walk, amidst piles of red and gold leaves. I hear her key in the door as I take one last look at the papers I shove carefully into my desk. I make sure the drawer is locked. Always locked. Even after all the time we've been together she still doesn't question why that drawer is off limits to her. There's a lot of things she doesn't question. I am thankful for that.

My heart and body are still pumping as she walks through the front door. Her angled nose is red from the cold; her chocolate eyes water from the wind. She comes toward me with a smile and a kiss. As her lips linger on mine she shrugs her coat down her arms. She pulls her lips away as she unsnakes her scarf. She doesn't notice my shaking hands, my jittering feet. My eyes dart back and forth like an addict jonesing for a fix. She doesn't notice any of this. Or, if she does, she doesn't ask why. She asks me how my day has gone. I shrug off an answer and raise from my seat. I mumble something about something. I don't even know. She smiles wide and plants another kiss on my lips before turning toward the refrigerator. As soon as her back is turned I move from the room. I have no time to waste.

Back in the safety of the office, I shut the door behind me, checking the lock --twice. I need complete privacy. I cautiously approach my desk as if what I know is there will not be. As if it is all a dream again. That damn dream I have had so many times over the past three years. Where I get the call, or the letter, saying this is all over. Where a man in a black suit shows up at my door and says simply "You can return Ms. Cabot." Where I feel my body go limp every time it happens and I realize it was all a dream. I take a deep breath as I sit down at my desk. I pull the key off the chain I keep around my neck and slide it slowly into the lock. As I pull the drawer open and see the inconspicuous manila folder I release a breath I didn't know I was holding. It's still there. I reach my hand in and grasp my fingers around the crisp paper as if it is a life line I've been waiting for. In a way, it is.

I close my eyes as I pull the envelope open and remove the contents once again. I move myself from the chair to the cushioned floor and lay each paper out in front of me like a large circle of life. One by one I read them thoroughly. When I have read the last line I swallow hard and lean my head back. As I stare up at the vaulted ceilings a warmth comes over my body. I feel alive again. Technically, and figuratively, alive.

The words from the pages run through my brain as I stand to look outside. I hear her laughing in the yard, chasing our new puppy. She stops for a moment and meets my eyes. Her face lights up and she waves slightly. I smile softly and hold my hand up to her. She grins as she pulls the little fluffy golden lab into her arms and forces his paw to wave. I chuckle and turn from the window, the papers strewn across the floor beacon me again. I pick up the last page and finger it gingerly. There's nothing on the page but a few lines, and a space for my signature. Below the signature line is my name typed in big bold letters: Alexandra L. Cabot. Everything that the words on the pages say mean nothing, except for this last page. This last page is the page that allows me to go. To come home. I glance toward the window again and watch her for many moments. She doesn't feel my eyes on her. Or, if she does, she doesn't show it. She continues her frolic in the wind blown yard.

I sit on the ledge of the window and watch her, clinging to the last page as I do. My thoughts drift to you, my other dark haired detective. I could be back in your arms in less than three months. This paper in my hand tells me as much. I never thought that this day would come. Even after three years I still long to be with you. I hope you know that. I wonder if you feel the same way. Or if the substitute I imagine you with has become enough for you.

The dog barks outside and I get pulled from my thoughts. I jump as I realize how close to the window she is standing. She laughs at my surprise and waves me out with her. I shake my head 'no' and she shrugs as she goes back to the game of fetch. A few neighbor kids have come over to play with the new puppy. She tosses the ball to a small toehead and I see in her face how much she wants a family of her own. She's mentioned it before. Before we even moved in with each other. Before we spent two years in the city before moving out to the suburbs. Even then she wanted a family. She wants one with me. I do too. Yet I want it with you.

I wonder if you still want to have children. You mentioned it once, I remember. You were watching a small child play in the park. Your eyes were sparkling as you turned your head towards me. I heard you mumble 'someday' as you turned your attention back to the playground. That was the moment I knew I loved you. That I was in love with you. I knew right then that I wanted to make your 'someday' a reality. But that was taken from us not too long after that, wasn't it? I take another look at the paper in my hands and realize that with a stroke of a pen I could have it all back. I could have you again.

I am so lost in thought that I don't even realize the knocking at the door. I call out to her to wait a moment while I hurriedly push my forms back into my desk. While there is no choice I want to sign those papers, I have much to think about before I do. I click open the door and poke my head out. She proudly holds up two mugs of hot cocoa. She holds one down for me to inspect and I see that she has caringly placed my whip cream in three mounds instead of one large circle. It's times like these when I realize how much I am loved by her. It's also times like these when I wish I could return the feelings. But still I cannot. Not even after all these years. It's not fair to her, I know, but at this point I've given up on trying. She glances around the office trying to figure out what I was doing. When she finds no indication she gives up and places the mugs on my desk. She turns to me with her arms out and encircles me in a soft embrace.

"What are you thinking?" Her words are mumbled as she pushes her lips to the top of my head. I shake my head as I pull away. She grabs my arm gently and pulls me back into her.

"I haven't gotten enough of you lately." I smile half-heartedly and realize that she is right. More and more I have pulled away from her. It's been at least a month since we've last made love. I don't know if it's the new house or season change. I think it's the way the wind blows outside making the leaves flutter slowly to the ground into piles of red and gold. Red and gold piles that remind me of you and the last time you laid me down in your bed.

I remember that cold fall afternoon so clearly. You propped yourself above me, your arms outstretched on each side of my body, your face just inches away from my own. Our eyes searched each others faces as if we were trying to memorize every last detail of the other. After a moment our eyes locked and we were silent until your lips parted. Your words came out softly, almost undetectable, but I saw them in your eyes. "I love you...." your lips stopped moving as if there were too many emotions running through you at the time. I smiled gently and pulled your head down to mine. Our kiss lasted briefly but much passed through us. You pulled away to look back into me and I still remember the tears that fell on my chest as I whispered the same words to you. You wiped the tears from your eyes as the wind rattled the windows. Outside, I could see the leaves from the balcony make their way down on an unsuspecting public. At that moment all I could imagine was a lifetime with you. I know you felt the same way. Do you still? I don't know.

"Hey...where are you?" She breaks me out of my memories with a quick squeeze. I mumble off an apology and pull away from her completely. I mention something about needing a bath as I stumble from the room. I'm right at the brink of crying and I don't want her to see. She won't ask questions, just like she never does, but she'll want to hold me. And that's something I cannot take at the moment.

I sit on the counter as the water pours into the blue colored tub. The color of the porcelain makes it look like a small ocean just waiting for me to enter. Around me the room fills with steam. I slide off the sink and slip my sweater off my head, my jeans find their way to the hamper and my body enters the too hot liquid. I submerge myself completely, folding my legs underneath me in the small space. How I miss my old apartment with it's huge whirlpool. I lean my head back and stare at the ceiling tiles. There are seventy-

three of them directly above me. Seventy-three. I take the time to do some calculation and realize that that is the same number as the days I have until I can be released from hiding. I push my body down further into the tub and pull my head underwater. I keep my eyes open and they sting. Yet I'm not sure if it's from the water or from the tears I'm still holding in. I always thought this day, should it ever come, would be easy. I thought wrong.

Some would think that it wouldn't even be a choice on whether to come home to you or not. Some would kick me in the ass for even contemplating staying in this life without you. Those 'some' don't know what it's like to be in my place. No one really knows. I think back to my first few months in hiding when most days I couldn't even remember my name and how all I did was sleep and cry. Then I think about when i finally got situated and she came along. She made me smile. She made me laugh. My new name, which I had eventually taken to, rolled easily off her full lips. I remember that was the first thing I noticed about her. Her lips. They were so beautiful. Everything about her is beautiful in a way that is almost intimidating. Yet she immediately put me at ease. I didn't realize how much she resembled you until we had been talking for a few hours. The drinks I had consumed in the stuffy bar had begun to take their effect on me and I felt myself leaning into her more and more. Her jokes had become increasingly funnier and her face had merged into yours. She took me home that night. I passed out before anything could happen between us and she tucked me into bed. She spent the night on the couch and in the morning made me breakfast. As the sun came up over the city, and she slipped her gun into her holster, I realized that she would be a good distraction for me. I never imagined we would last this long or she would fall for me this hard. And now as I lay in the tub I realize that I never imagined it would be this hard to walk away from her. Away from her, our home, our dog, our life. It's only in this instant that I realize what we have is a 'life'. Not just something I'm doing to pass time until I can return. I have what I've always wanted. I have it with her.

I shudder against the cold as I sit up in the bath. I stare at the phone on the floor next to me and after a few minutes shakily pick it up. Another moment passes before I turn it on and dial a number I know by heart. It's answered on the third ring.

"Evans." the gruff voice of my handler answers and I imagine his stout body stuffed into his always too small jackets.

"Hi...it's me ..Al, uh....Nicolette." I stammer out my words, fighting back the urge to use my real name, and I hear him sigh.

"What's wrong kid?" He's become like an almost father figure to me since this all started. Sometimes I wonder if he takes such a personal interest in each of his cases or if I'm just special because I used to be a part of the system. Most of the time I don't wonder and am just thankful that he cares.

"I got my papers today." He asks me to repeat what I said since I'm speaking so low and when I do I get silence for a few moments.

"I see....and now you don't know what to do because the life you had is suddenly attainable again and your wondering if you should risk the life you have now to go back to something you've been waiting for but you aren't sure if it's been waiting for you?" He rambles off my problem as if it's something he's seen before. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with the same fears.

"Yes." I answer hesitantly. He's silent again and if it wasn't for his heavy breathing I would think he had hung up on me.

"Well, it seems that you have some time to think about what you need or want to do....take that time Nicki....don't jump into this....and remember that the last time your life changed you didn't have a choice...this time you do." He's done talking and closes the line. I stare at the phone for awhile before clicking it off.

He's right, it is my choice.

As sure as I was that I knew what I would choose when this time came, I can't help but do some questioning when she walks in, pulls me from the tub and carries me into our bedroom. As she lays me down on our bed I realize that the choice I need to make will be made before this night is through.

Hours later, I glance out the window as she hovers above me and whispers her love for me. I search her face and say nothing before returning my thoughts to the leaves outside. In that moment the choice is clear. I watch the leaves dance in the yard and start counting the days 'til I return to you.

The End

Sequel The Passenger

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