this is no declaration
by ellen m. [email@example.com]
alex in exile/witsec, alex/casey
"i could kill you, sure. but i could only make you cry with these words."
thanks: to aj, as always. beta extraordinaire
title/summary from: 'get me away from here, I'm dying,' by belle & sebastian.
You needed to be someone else.
The first time they moved you, the plane ride was terrifying. You'd slept in three different safe houses, and then you were on a commercial red-eye out of Newark, surrounded by U.S. Marshals. You got on the plane without having to show identification or go through a metal detector. You sat in the back row, and one of them handed you a folder and said, "Memorize this." And when you opened it, there was your picture and underneath it, your new name in thick, capital letters: EMILY HAYES.
They didn't tell you where you were going, and you didn't find out until the captain's announcements. You spent the plane ride thinking about the things you'd left behind. When you landed at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, it was pouring rain, and you hadn't slept in days, and they hurried you into a grey SUV with tinted windows and Minnesota plates.
A Marshal ducked his head into the car as the door was you were about to pull off. He asked you, "What's your name, ma'am?"
"Al--" you started. "Em--" You didn't know how to answer. "It doesn't matter," you finally said.
"Miss Hayes," he says, shaking his head. "You better get used to it." His eyes may have softened, but it might have been the rain. "It doesn't get any easier." Then he slammed the door.
You drove for hours. Twice they let you out for bathroom breaks, and they ordered McDonald's at a drive-thru. Nobody told you where you were going and nobody told you how long it would take. Seven hours later, you arrived exhausted and panicked in your new home: Appleton, on the banks of Lake Winnebago, and you'd have cried if you still had it in you. There was still snow on the ground.
They house they assigned you was too big, the kind of house you might have moved into if you'd had a husband, two kids, and a dog. You don't have any of these things. You had two suitcases with you. One was full of all the things you couldn't bear to part with. It's the kind of question you asked your roommate at Wellesley at three in the morning: "If there was a fire, what would you try to save first?"
Kari had considered it, looked up from her keyboard. "You think I could get out of my Econometrics term paper if my computer died a fiery death?"
"Probably not," you'd laughed.
"Then fuck it. I'd save the Kate Spade."
You'd had less than half an hour, though you still don't really understand the rush. There wasn't really any fire, after all.
You'd packed: the framed photos you kept over your television, the shoebox full of letters you kept under the bed, the childhood teddy bear you kept neatly wrapped in your closet, your signed copy of Atlas Shrugged, the envelope labeled Important Documents from the firebox. You stood in the middle of your living room, knowing you didn't have any time left or any space left, and you suddenly thought: 'as soon as I'm gone, they'll renovate the apartment. They'll get twenty-five hundred a month for it. They've been waiting for me to leave for a year.'
The other suitcase was filled with clothes. You moved piles from your drawers. Left behind all the suits. Knew for certain you wouldn't need them wherever you were going.
The Marshals said, "Time's up." Told you they'd pack up everything else you'd need.
So you ended up in a too-big, suburban house with two suitcases, your purse, a new set of keys, and a new identity. Emily Hayes had arrived.
Emily became an insurance agent, because you weren't allowed to have anything to do with law anymore. Emily played poker with the girls she worked with and always won. Emily never drank in public because you were afraid of spilling her secrets. Emily bit her lower lip bloody whenever she had sex to make sure she never told. Emily was born in Oklahoma, but you were born in Greenwich.
Emily's birthday is January 8, 1972, which means she's a year and two months younger than you. But she's much younger than that, because Emily's never seen real tragedy except -- and this one, you made up yourself, didn't pull it out of any dossier -- for the little brother who died a few years back of cancer. It's Emily's excuse for waking up crying in the middle of the night.
It's not that her mother's dead, it's not that she's forgotten the way the City smells after it rains. It's not that she's left behind everything she loves.
And that scar on her shoulder? Yeah, you'll never believe it, Emily's always saying, freak accident when she was a kid. Never should've given Todd -- Emily's dead brother, you remember -- that BB gun for his tenth birthday, huh? Emily laughs when she remembers.
On Emily's birthday, they threw her a party. Big cake, and right there in the middle, "Happy Birthday, Em!" Your birthday's in March. You took a vacation day, had a cherry popsicle and a glass of the Grey Goose you kept in the freezer, and you went to the wall safe. You took out the papers you'd brought from New York: your New York State driver's license, your passport, your birth certificate, your social security card, an envelope full of every love letter you'd ever been written. You drank yourself long past drunk. It was eight in the morning.
And then, for two, glorious days, you were Alexandra Elizabeth Cabot again, and you got to sit on the stand and swear, for the first time in a year, to tell the truth. Your hair was longer -- Emily's boyfriend liked it that way -- and your clothes were different -- no need for Ann Taylor at Secura Insurance of Appleton (a Mutual Company), after all. But everyone recognized you all the same, and the sound of Casey breathing in your ear, "Welcome back, Alex," was enough to make you want to be careless, to come home and enjoy a few days of being alive again before they found you and shot you.
But when the trial ended, the Marshals came to you and to Antonio, and they said, "It's time to go." You wanted to turn them down. Witness Protection isn't mandatory, after all. It's always your choice whether or not you want to take the chance.
But Antonio was looking up at you, brow creased, saying, "I'm afraid, Alex."
You didn't tell him that he should be. You knelt, kissed his forehead, and said, "I know. But you have to be strong and do everything that the Marshals tell you. It's very, very important."
"I know." He was miserable. You were miserable. He asked, "Are you a, a"--he searched for the word--"a witness, too?"
You may have smiled. "I've been a witness for a long time, Antonio."
"But the Ghost--" He shook his head. "The Ghost is in jail, now."
"That's true." You touched his hand. "But there are still bad guys who want to get me. Just like they want to get you. That's why we're in Witness Protection." You were patient. You were thinking about how you'd never have children. If you cried, he'd never go. You bit your tongue.
"You're not staying here with your friends?"
You opened your mouth, wondering what you would say, wondering if you'd choose to stay. "No, I'm not." You surprised yourself. "I'm going away, just like you."
A dark-skinned man in darker glasses leaned in the door. Just another government man in a standard-issue suit. "Ms. Cabot, Mr. Montoya. We've gotta get moving."
"Alex, wait." Antonio tugged at your hand as you stood to go. "They said, they said I have a new name. They told me I'd be Carlos from now on." You nodded, and your mouth tasted like chewing tin foil. "But I already have a name. My mommy picked it."
"We've both gotta give up some things to stay safe, Antonio." Your heart was broken. "That's what your mommy and daddy would want, right? For you to be safe? We both have to be very brave, you and me."
He hung his head. "I guess." Then he looked up, all teary-eyes and terror. "What's your name now?"
Another circuitous path to another safe house. They split you off from Antonio after the first car, either because you made too good a target together or because they didn't want you getting too attached. You'll never hear of Antonio Montoya again, because Antonio Montoya disappeared without a trace one cool day in February. He cried and begged you not to leave him, but the Marshals held him back as you stepped into a wine-colored Jeep Cherokee, and you couldn't look him in the eye.
You drove for hours. You stopped at a safe house for the night, and you didn't sleep. You drove. You read the Times, did the crossword puzzle, thought of writing a sonnet in the margins of the paper. You didn't.
When you ended up in Greenville, North Carolina, the first words out of your mouth were: "You've got to be kidding me."
"Ma'am?" The Marshal was handing you the keys to your new house.
"North Carolina? You've sent me to North Carolina? Where's the nearest airport? I'm going back." It was exhaustion, exasperation. The Marshal smiled.
"Hey, now. My grand-mama"--he drew it out, all southern-like--"was born and bred in these parts."
"And you obviously had the good sense to move." You sighed, took the offered keys. Said, "I'm holding you accountable for this. If I die of boredom--"
"Don't like talking about dying, ma'am. Go make sure the keys work. I've got a few reams of paperwork to fill out."
The house was painted a cloying shade of mint green, but this time you had a little space on either side, a patio. A little privacy, maybe. There was bougainvillea growing up a trellis in front of the door, gaudily pink, and there were rose bushes. The keys worked.
Not a week later, Julianne Cook drove up to the Wachovia on Red Banks in her slightly used Tacoma pick-up, just thrilled that she'd been able to find a job so soon after settling in. Sure, most people try to find a job before picking up and moving, but Julianne always has been a little adventurous. She'd been at Merchants Bank, up in Montpelier, for almost three years, but the winters up north were wearing her down.
She's a loan officer, which makes sense, because once upon a time Alexandra Cabot graduated summa cum laude with a degree with economics. It's easy enough work, and she enjoys it, but, of course, Julianne dreams of making it into upper management one day. She's punctual to a fault and, everyone says when they think she's not listening, really very polite for a Yankee.
You trimmed back the bougainvillea and planted a couple crepe myrtles near the curb, and during the summer, they rained down a mess of pink and white flowers, coated the driveway. You own pruning shears, now, and you've got calluses on your palms and when you look at yourself in the mirror, you're not sure the farmer's tan suits you.
And thirteen months later, you find that you've acquired more than just a Southern twang and an affinity for sweet tea and pit barbeque. Greenville has maybe, maybe become home.
The people are nice, and Julianne weaseled her way in to a permanent library card over at East Carolina with her pretty smile and curly hair. Sometimes, on Friday nights, she goes with the other single girls at work to play pool at Bells Fork. And on Sundays, she goes all the way down to Tar Road to Christ Presbyterian, because your mother was Presbyterian and dragged you to Sunday school every week for twelve years. Julianne's friends -- Southern Baptists, mostly -- think it's a little strange, but then again, Julianne's from up North, and that explains most of her sins.
When the girls all decided to take a vacation together in August, you were unreasonably excited. When they'd decided, completely without your input, that you should all go up to the Big Apple, you were terrified. You wanted to make up an excuse not to go, but there weren't any excuses to be made. As far as anyone knew, all your relatives were dead and gone, you weren't seeing anybody, and your dog could just as easily be left with your neighbors, Bill and Suzanne.
You were trapped. A couple years ago, you had juries wrapped around your fingers, and now you're at the mercy of four thirty-something bankers who want to be dazzled by the streets of a city you used to know inside and out. When they asked, Julianne said, "Nope. Never been there. I heard it's dangerous." Clucked her tongue.
You do the only thing you can think of: you agree. You all drive up in Drea's Camry. The girls eat Cheetos and drink Mr. Pibb and sing country music and this is Julianne's life, your life. After all this time, you're beginning to forget where she ends and you start.
When they get to Tim McGraw, you join in because you know all the words.
You get to your hotel Monday night, and everybody finds their beds and falls asleep immediately. You wait until Lynn's breathing deep and slow across the room, and you get up, pull a pair of jeans and your sneakers on with your Hornets teeshirt and creep out. Down fifteen floors in a mirrored elevator, and you run through the lobby to the revolving doors and right outside is New York City and you can almost taste it.
You're afraid. You stand inside the glass, wondering if they know you're here. Knowing nobody does, and it's a pain radiating through your shoulder like it just happened yesterday. Like you're in a hospital bed being told that you're dead.
You know, in this moment, that the Marshal was right. You were shot and killed on a New York City street, not so unlike the one right outside those doors.
You go back to your bed and go to sleep.
But the next night, they're all going out for dinner and dancing, and you decide you're going to be sick. You've been able to vomit on command since you were eighteen and none of the boys liked you very much, so it isn't a hard sell. Paula's beside herself, begging you to let her stay and take care of you, but you insist that you won't ruin their vacation.
When they're gone, you pick up the phone. Dial. Pray the number hasn't changed. It rings once, twice, and then the answer: "What?"
"Who is this?" she demands. You know the look on her face. You can see the pen poised above paper.
You don't answer, because it's too complicated a question. "I'm staying at the Paramount. The Library Bar, you remember?" You don't beg.
There's a long pause. You wait. You think she may have hung up, but the operator doesn't come on to scold you. So you wait. Finally, she says, "I remember. An hour," and hangs up.
You shower. The only clothes you have are Julianne's. She wears straight-leg jeans and peach-colored cardigans and contact lenses that make her eyes brown. Her hair is short, curly, a dark reddish-blonde. You aren't sure you'll be recognizable. You finally decide on a pale blue skirt, slim against your thighs, and a simple white teeshirt and hope that she'll understand. You let your hair dry without brushing it, simple, easy waves. You don't put on any make up.
At precisely 8 o'clock, you're sitting in the subterranean bar drinking a too-expensive whiskey sour, not watching the door. At eight ten, she says from behind you, "Train got stopped at 34th for a police investigation." She puts her hand on your shoulder, and you can see that her nails are painted faintly pink.
As she steps away, she lets her fingers brush your hair. "Never took you for a red head."
"Never thought you'd go blonde," you say. You're afraid to look up. You stare down into your glass.
"Hey," Casey finally says and touches your knee as she sits, and the contact knocks your stomach into your throat. She says, very, very softly, "So, what's your--"
"Julianne," you whisper. You look up, finally, begging her with your eyes to play along. You're still terrified. You still haven't been outside. You look down at your sunburned arms, and you hope she understands.
"So Jules," Casey finally says, smiling a little. "How's-- oh, where the hell are you living these days? You know, me and my memory, and how you refuse to settle down..." She taps her head, rolls her eyes, puts on a not altogether terrible performance.
"Do I ever," you say, beaming, because she's here and because she of course she understands and because she recognizes you. "North Carolina."
She picks up your glass. Takes a long drink. "Hot down there, huh?"
"It's not the heat that gets you," you say. "It's the humidity."
She uncrosses her legs. Recrosses them. "So, how, uh, how long are you in the City for?" She must know it's not forever, because you're not using your real name.
"A few days. With friends."
"Ah. Friends," she says, and the way she says it makes your tongue burn like the bile's rising in your throat.
"From the bank where I work."
"Of course," she says.
"They won't be back until eleven, earliest. You wanna--" You gesture towards the door.
"God, yes," she says, and you both stand. In the elevator, you don't say anything. She's got a purse clutched in her hands. Your legs shake.
In the room, neither of you seems to know where exactly to go. You lock both locks, just in case Lynn comes back early. Casey finally picks a chair near the window, next to the little writing table. You sit on the edge of Julianne's bed. Silence pounds against your ears and there's a siren in the distance.
She's looking at the window. "Alex." It's not your name, it's a breath. Your palms light on fire when you hear it. Your pulse pounds in your throat.
"Say it again," you whisper.
"Alex," she says, more firmly. Then, "North Carolina?"
"I give people loans," you say, and then you laugh, and she laughs, and you're both laughing like it's old times, before any of this happened, before Julianne and before Emily.
"Loans!" she squeaks. "I’m Julianne, and I can help you with your loan,” she drawls. Her Southern accent is terrible.
"Hey, now. Going for the accent? That's below the belt. You don't have one, they, they look at you like you've got four heads. Ask for somebody else the next time they come by. A survival mechanism, that's what it is."
"Uh huh." She looks up at you through her eyelashes. "The accent, the hair, the eyes--" You can see her throat move as she swallows. "You look good." Her voice is low.
Your face gets hot and you touch your own mouth. "So do you."
You stand, bare feet against the carpet, skirt around your knees. You walk over, lean against the table. It sways a little under your weight. You're looking down at Casey and she's looking up at you, and there are tears in her eyes.
She reaches out, puts her hand on the outside of your thigh, slides it down, hooks her fingers behind your knee. Then she slides her hand down your leg a little more, until there's no skirt, just her hand on your skin and then she's sliding her hand back up your leg and her eyes are closed and she's breathing through her mouth and if your heart wasn't long broken it'd break again.
"Alex." Her fingers are burning your skin and her nails are sharp. Her eyes are still closed, she's still sliding her hand up and up and up, until it's against your ass, nails dulled by satin. She pulls you forward, slowly, and your skirt's bunched against her wrist and you're half-naked.
She pulls you forward.
You've got one foot on either side of the chair's front legs. She looks up at you and you slowly sit, 'til you're on her lap and now she's got both hands on you and she's holding you. She's stronger than she looks, and your skirt's pushed up around your hips.
"Alex," she whispers again, right before she kisses you. She tastes a little metallic and sharp like caffeine but her lipstick's slick and sweet and, oh, her tongue--
When she leans back, you realize you've pulled her hair from its ponytail, and it's sliding across her shoulders and her eyes are so clear and her cheeks are flushed.
"A year, it's been a year," Casey says, and it's not an accusation. "Olivia still walks around with, with your ghost over her shoulder. Still waits for you to show up."
"There wasn't anything between--" It's a conversation you had a thousand times -- before -- and it's easy and familiar and her hands are sliding down your thighs and then back up.
"Alex, I know. I'm just saying--" She smiles recklessly. "It always feels like you're about to walk into the room. And now here you are, and I don't know what to do." She says it in a rush, all in one breath.
"It must've been easier. When I-- when you thought I was dead."
"Is that why you didn't call me down to your secret rendezvous? Is that why you never said goodbye?" Her voice is a million already-shed tears. She leans forward, kisses the base of your neck.
You wonder if she wasn't brave enough to ask you these questions the last time you were in New York. You wonder if the privacy's giving her courage. You wonder if she's doing it because your hair is red and your eyes are brown and you're not really Alex Cabot anymore. If you're just rhetorical after all of these months.
"If I'd seen you, I couldn't've-- If I'd seen you, I'd be dead," you say. She rests her forehead against your shoulder. You want her to do something. You want her to--
She lifts her head, says, "I wish you'd stay."
--ask you to stay.
You say nothing, just touch her hair. In a few hours, Julianne's friends will return, full of stories about how big and scary and exciting New York City is. They'll fuss over Julianne, making sure she really does feel better, making sure she doesn't need anything. They love her. They don't ask anything of her.
Besides, Casey doesn't mean it. You two are a once-upon-a-time, you never made any sense. You were at SVU when she was in Felonies, and sometimes you'd see her reapplying her lipstick in the fifth floor ladies' room at 100 Centre, during jury selection bathroom breaks. You'd strike up conversation. She was an a senior at Harvard when you were an L-one, and that was your in. There were after-work drinks, there were after-work dinners, there were after-work nights with your clothes strewn across her bedroom floor.
That she took your job when you were dead is entirely a coincidence, an irony committed by people who couldn't possibly have known better. But maybe it just means that she's becoming you and you're becoming someone else. She is a blonde now, after all.
You finally say, "You could come to North Carolina. You could be my long-lost college friend. You could--" You smile. "We could be happy."
She laughs, sharp and hard and glittering like a gunshot. "I would, you know. You just have to ask."
"I know," you say. "Oh, God. Casey." You almost say: I think I'm dying. I think I'm dead. You almost say: Forget me.
She says, "I can't." You wonder if you said it aloud. You're not yourself, you're saying things you didn't mean to say, and she's crying, you can feel the tears on your lips when you kiss her cheeks.
"I'm not coming back," you manage.
She doesn't say anything about Velez or extradition. That's not what you mean, and she knows it. She always knew you, even back at Harvard, admitted to admiring you from afar, huddled over your books in the law library and she never said anything then.
She says something now. Your lips are touching. Her voice vibrates in your throat. "No one ever said this would be easy, Alex."
You know she's not talking about Witness Protection. You know she's talking about her hands on your thighs and her mouth against yours and how it's possible you're both sparkling in faraway marquee lights.
In the distance, you hear sirens.