I could call this a bonus chapter, but in fact it's the epilogue. and you know what an epilogue means. sad as I am to say it, this is the final chapter of What If.

well my darling readers, we've come a long ways since that first installment, haven't we? I mean, the show has definitely gotten a lot more drama-ish. (karma from the story, yes) and there has definitely been a lot more OEness in the show lately. (karma again, definitely.) but let's face it, my writing's improved and my concept of love has definitely matured quite a bit, and I don't think I would be where I am today as a writer if not for this story. this story has become my cheap whore, my jail cell, and my little love child, and if not for all the comments from my readers, I don't think it would have ever gotten this far. thank you all so much for enduring my bitch rants and author's notes and procrastination. it was kinda worth it, right?

I'm going to miss this little story a lot. a hell of a lot. like seriously, what am I going to do with myself now that What If is finished? well, maybe I can actually do my homework…nah, never mind. I'm going to miss all my readers most of all, for being very lovely and making me feel lovely and just spreading the loveliness everywhere. I don't think there's going to ever be a sequel to this story, but I will never stop writing the fanfic. especially the OE fanfic. because the OE fanfic is the major sex.

my last author's note for What If. wow. who'd have ever thought we'd get this far, huh? and all before I get my license, too. I guess I'm just pleased that I'm still 16 and I've actually finished one of the stories I've been working on. most teenagers finish absolutely nothing. which used to be me. but not anymore, wow. wow wow wow. procrastination no more.

I love you all and I thank you all. I'll be seeing you all soon. but I'll be missing this story, too.

-Kate

4 years later

It was foggy in the city, streetlights bursting like diamonds and then fading into a bleak grey, sporadically disturbed by the distorted flash of headlights and then visual silence once more. The clouds had descended on Chicago as if to hide the city's shame, cloaking it in cool sanctuary until its wounds had healed. But a city's wounds were always open, scratched back to bleed time and time again by the roar of fate's tide.

He watched through towering windows as the fog rolled silently across the runway, dark and cold.

New Year's Day in an airport. Women in stilettos and party dresses they haven't removed for over 12 hours are trudging wearily by, mascara smudged as they pull on their Marc Jacobs totes and Louis Vuitton luggage. Men in tuxes and ruffled business suits attempt to forget their hangovers and hover in pasty circles at the Starbucks, downing black coffee and looking sick. Children exhausted from their holiday vacations are being dragged across the tile floor by impatient parents, new presents and toys in tow. Everyone looks thoroughly drained, thoroughly rushed, and thoroughly insane.

His plane has been delayed for another hour, and he's run out of leftover copies of The New York Post, and he is so absolutely bored right now that he thinks he might actually go buy a People magazine and later hide in his shame.

He's supposed to be flying home after visiting Maureen at the University of Chicago, but the weather hates him today. The terminal is busy as hell and it's too loud to think or nap, so he reconsiders the cheap magazine. People are constantly moving in and out of the lines of chairs in which he is settled, especially the families complaining loudly to one another about long waits and impending in-laws. On his left, a few teenagers have escaped the eyes of their parents to convene on the cushions, exchanging headphones and head banging appropriately. On his other side, a couple is just leaving arm in arm, and he watches them lean in toward one another for a moment, silent laughter and a range of unspoken conversation drifting between their eyes.

He hasn't really been the same since she left. Half of him is gone, and it's hard to admit. But he can no longer deny the significance of her absence when long after midnight he is still awake, and the pillow beside him is empty. Many an evening he's watched the moon rise and fall outside his window, and laid a hand across the other side of the bed, nearly starting when he does not find a warm body there to meet him. Even after four years, she is impossible to leave behind.

It's not as though he didn't try to find her. But phonebooks and tickets and long and trying walks later, he knows she's not in the city. She didn't even tell Cragen where she was going, just mentioned something about the job getting to be too much, wrote an apology, and left a badge on his desk. That strange expression when he'd walked in the next day, the way the Captain had studied him with an unfamiliar gaze, Elliot never really understanding what he'd been looking for. Guilt, remorse, maybe even satisfaction? But no, you couldn't expect emotion out of Elliot Stabler. She had taken that with her, hadn't she?

Just a few months ago, he'd come across a cardboard box in the back of his closet. It was full of the clothes she'd forgotten to get from the laundry when she'd left; a few shirts, a pair of jeans…a post-it note she'd left in her pocket. It'd been through the wash, but he could still read her familiar script, the words softened almost by the transformation but still clearly a grocery list. He knelt for a few moments before the box, his new altar, and smelled everything separately, immediately recognizing that distinct scent of hers past the cheap detergent. He'd almost cried just at the mere effort of putting it all away.

Four years…and you don't get over that sort of thing. She lingers everywhere to him, the one thing he can't hide from.

He lies to himself when he says he's fine. He comes home from work and he sits alone, and not even the calls from the kids can bring him back. Back from that place he goes when he drifts off into the silence. And she is there in the silence, whispering softly about why he can't leave yet.

A voice over the speaker system brings him back to the present, but it isn't his flight they're announcing, just canceling another one. He sighs and leans back in his chair, wondering how many more hours he has to spend in this little plastic prison.

And then something catches his eye across the room.

And he has one of those moments, where everything seems to make sense.

A little boy, maybe three or four, is staring back at him, smiling slightly, dark hair falling over mocha eyes and curling slightly where it reaches his tiny ears. He reminds him a little of Dickie when he was that age, the same sort of posture and complexion, that same expressive mouth. But his eyes are entirely different, deep and chocolate and shining even from so far away. There is something about him that brings Elliot backwards and forwards at the same time, one of those moments where you just know. You absolutely know.

And then the redheaded woman beside him takes his hand and leads him from the chair, smiling amiably at her little companion. Elliot lets out another sigh, the moment fading.

The boy turns and gives him a small wave, his smile widening before it disappears. The woman is bringing him toward the escalator, and yet the boy keeps looking at him, his expression small and meaningful.

Elliot is left motionless in his chair, that moment lingering in the back of his mind. Lingering like her.

And he stands, and goes after them.

He passes the weary eyes, the coffee-induced energy, the colors of the early morning and the late night. He nearly knocks over a few people on the escalator, still watching for the back of the little red sweater, the tan coat of the woman who was leading him. He'd never seen them before. But he had to know somehow, he had to understand what had passed between them for that one pulsating moment.

He caught them at the top of the next flight of stairs, and there they were. Standing in front of an emptying terminal; people are passing by and meeting their relatives, hugs and kisses commencing in every direction. Elliot is frozen between the throngs of movement, waiting to see what is going to happen. He is only a few feet from them, but he cannot speak. He can't even reach out to touch them. He just has to wait.

"Meredith," The boy turns to the woman holding his hand, tugging quickly on her pant leg. "Meredith, where's my mommy?"

"Hang on, buddy." The woman kneels down to meet his eyes, smiling reassuringly. "She'll be off the plane in a second, okay?"

"Can I show her my picture? The one I drew of her and me in the garden? The one with the orange cat?"

"Of course you can." She touches his nose with her finger, laughing when he squeals softly.

Elliot looks over the kneeling woman. And he sees her. Her.

He knows.

She has a bag slung over her shoulder, and her hair is a bit longer, pulled back behind her head and giving her an elegant look. She is almost the same as when he last saw her, except for the expression in her eyes, warmer and yet colder at the same time, as though something in her heart has fallen away and only been recently replaced by a new and tender patch. Our scars are the same.

Their eyes meet, and she nearly drops the bag in response. He finds himself grinning besides the odds, but then the woman named Meredith stands up and blocks his view, the little boy pulling out of her grip and running to her.

"Aidan!" He hears her voice, the same voice that comes to his dreams sometimes and tells him to be strong.

"Mommy, you're home!" He squeals, and Meredith is stepping forward, offering her a hand with her bags. And then she steps past her, and the boy is in her arms, and he knows.

Her expression is hard to pinpoint, a cross between shock and disbelief. He doesn't know if she finds this a good thing or not, but he is still smiling, still trying not to cry out in joy and envelope her in his arms.

"You…" She says softly, and the boy has fallen silent, staring at him with large eyes identical to her own.

"Hi Liv," He nearly chokes on the words, and he hasn't said that name in years, and he realizes now why it has hurt so much before.

"How did you…"

"I'm waiting for a flight." He shrugs, and he knows there must be tears now at the edges of his eyes. "And I saw him…" He nods at Aidan, who is reaching out a chubby hand to grasp at his jacket, smiling innocently.

"Oh," She sniffs for a moment, and he sees she is crying, choked by the moment. "This is Aidan."

"Hi," Aidan says quietly, waving his little hand in response.

"Hi Aidan," He is now choking as well, something in him filling up for the very first time, souls reconnecting and then repairing instantly.

"And this is Meredith Jordan, my neighbor and friend," She says quickly, as though any slower and she'll burst into tears. "Meredith watches for me Aidan when I'm working."

"I'm Elliot." He extends a hand, and she takes it, her eyes growing wide with understanding.

"Oh wow," She says quietly, "I, uh…I thought I recognized you from your picture."

"I see." He turns back to Olivia. He is complete. And she is beaming with something he has never seen before. "So you live here now?"

"Chicago, yes. I'm a...a human resource counselor, actually."

"That sounds perfect for you."

"Um, it is, actually." She motions to the chairs across from them. "Do you want to sit down?" She is wiping her eyes again, her voice breaking a bit.

"I'll go get some coffees." Meredith says quickly, smiling knowingly at them before disappearing to what Elliot guesses will be the longest line she can find.

Aidan crawls onto Elliot's lap, falling back against him and snuggling in. Olivia stares at them silently, her eyes shining and her hand covering part of her mouth in awe.

"So Liv…" He feels Aidan's hands on his wrists, seeing the chubby fingers wrapping around his own. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"About…him?" She nods at Aidan, who is now looking up at her with wide and satisfied eyes. "I don't know. I…I was going to, eventually. I didn't really know how. I got to Chicago and I didn't realize I was pregnant until I'd been here for about two months. Everything was so strange and upside-down and…I didn't know what I was supposed to say."

"I would have been here in a second, Liv."

"I know." She says quietly, and their eyes meet once more. "God, I missed you." She throws her arms around him, and the weeping begins, and he knows he is home, finally. United with her, their son in his arms.

"I'm not going to leave again." She says as she pulls away, her eyes red and full of relief.

"I'm not going to let you leave." He smiles, kissing her right there, feeling the warmth rush through him like a beautiful fire, the missing piece complete.

"I've got the coffee!" Meredith returns, hiding a laugh as she produces the Starbucks cups. They pull away, blushing a bit and taking their drinks. "Yet I don't think you're very thirsty…"

"Thanks, Meredith." Elliot says sincerely, taking a long sip. "So, do you want to get something to eat?"

"I think we'd love that." She smiles at him, warming him once more.

They get to their feet, and he pulls Aidan onto his shoulders, the boy squealing with pleasure. As he takes her hand in his, something connects, and they are there, all at once…a family.