A/N: I can't believe I spaced on posting this epilogue for so long. I am soooo sorry! I hope that you all enjoy this somewhat belated wrap-up of this story. Thank you for reading!
Twenty-four years later…
Abby paused for a moment as she set the last box onto the empty desk, taking one last look around the office she'd occupied for the past six years. The newspaper clippings detailing the homicide division's most successful investigations under her command had been pulled off the wall and shoved haphazardly into a folder that was tucked into the box between the stack of framed photographs she'd removed from her desk. It had taken a hell of a lot of work to get from IA to this office, but somehow, she wasn't nearly as sad to leave it behind as she'd thought she'd be.
"Having second thoughts?"
Abby looked up and smiled at the woman in the doorway. "Believe it or not, not even one."
"I gotta say, I never thought I'd see the day. Lieutenant Abigail Brody, willingly retiring from the CPD. I'm pretty sure there's a pig sprouting wings out there somewhere."
"Very funny, Lina." Abby shook her head and laughed. "Who would have thought after that first case we worked together in IA that I'd end up here?"
"I did," Lina said, stepping into the office. "I always knew you'd ditch me for homicide."
"Hey now, that's not fair," Abby protested. "If you hadn't gotten yourself promoted to run IA, I might have been tempted to stay. But with you in the top spot, I had to leave to get my own promotion."
"And now that you have it, I can't believe you're leaving it all behind."
"Don't go getting all misty-eyed on me, Flores. It's not like you're going to see any less of me, it just won't be at work."
"I know…it's just, it's going to be weird, you know? I mean, I know it's been ten years since we were partners, but still…we went through a lot together."
"And I'm sure there'll be a lot more to come," Abby said, a twinkle in her eye as she thought about the upcoming weekend. "You want to crash the bachelorette party tonight?"
Lina groaned. "Abby, I'm sure whatever the girls are planning for tonight, the last thing Carla wants is for her mother and her godmother to witness it. Besides, do you really think you can keep up with a bunch of twenty-three year olds anymore?"
"What are saying? That I'm old?"
"Hey if the shoe fits…"
"Yeah, yeah…at least I'm younger than you." Abby smirked at the look of pretend offense that Lina assumed. "I just thought it might be fun to drop by. You know, since I never got to have a bachelorette party before I got married."
"That was not my fault," Lina pointed out. "As I recall, I offered…"
Abby sighed as she flipped open another case file and pulled out the blank summary report she needed to complete. Reaching over to pick up her pen, she looked up in surprise as the stack of files was yanked off her desk.
Lina shook her head as she dropped the files onto her own desk. "It's almost seven o'clock, Abby."
"I've just got a few more reports to finish up," Abby insisted. "I have to get everything done before I leave."
"I'll finish it."
Lina tossed Abby's jacket at her and grabbed her own with a quick shake of her head. "I know this might be hard for you to believe, Kowalski, but the department will survive without you for a week and a half while you get married and go on your honeymoon. We did muddle through those three months you were on maternity leave, remember?"
"I know that."
"Then act like it. Put that jacket on and get out of here. Don't you have a kid to pick up from daycare?"
"He's with Brody's mom tonight," Abby said, slipping on her jacket. "Apparently she and my mom think I need to relax tonight."
"And I'm pretty sure they didn't mean for you to do that with paperwork," Lina said. "Come on…you're getting married tomorrow, you need to get the hell out of here."
Abby sighed and nodded, grabbing her bag from underneath her desk. "I'm getting married tomorrow," she repeated quietly.
"Okay, if you're going to have a freak-out, you need to call someone else," Lina said. "I'm your partner, not your relationship counselor."
"I'm not freaking out."
"I'm not freaking out," Abby insisted. "I'm actually kind of…well, calm, I guess. It's weird."
Lina smiled. "So, you want to grab one last drink as a single woman?"
Abby shook her head. "Nope."
Lina frowned as she opened the door to the hallway and the two partners left the office. "Really?"
Lina arched an eyebrow and stared at Abby for a moment. "Oh my God," she gasped when she saw the coy smile Abby was trying to hide. "How far along are you?"
Abby blushed and looked down, her hand resting on her still-flat stomach. "About eight weeks."
"Damn. You and Brody sure don't waste time, do you? Michael's, what? Six months old?"
Abby shrugged innocently. "What can I say? My fiancé's hot, I couldn't help myself."
Abby smiled at the memory of the night before her own wedding. "Okay fine, so that one was my fault. Well, sort of. I really can't help it if my husband is incredibly sexy. You've got four kids, you should understand."
"Abby, you had five kids in seven years. That's a level of crazy even I didn't go to."
"And yet with all that evidence, you still wonder why I'm retiring?"
Lina laughed. "No…I'm wondering how you managed to stay on the force for thirty years."
Two days later, Abby fought back the tears as she hugged her son tightly, kissed his cheek and then took her seat next to her husband as her son made his way to his spot at the front of the church. Brody reached over and silently squeezed her hand as she leaned against his shoulder.
"He's so not old enough for this," she whispered.
Brody chuckled. "He's twenty-four, Abby. He's old enough that the CPD saw fit to give him a badge and a gun, remember?"
Abby frowned. "I still don't think he's old enough for that either."
Brody smiled and kissed his wife's cheek. "He's going to be fine, Abby."
Abby sighed and nodded reluctantly as soft music began to fill the church. Turning to the back, she smiled as the bridal party began making their way down the aisle one by one.
"You want to talk not old enough, I'd say our daughters are not old enough to be wearing strapless dresses like those." Abby rolled her eyes and glared at Brody, who simply shrugged. "What? I'm just sayin'…"
Abby shook her head and turned her gaze back to the aisle. This wedding couldn't have been more different from her own if they'd tried. For one thing, she was fairly certain that the bride was not pregnant, and she certainly didn't have a little baby sitting in her mother's arms as she prepared to walk down the aisle. Try as she might, Abby never could figure out how her mother had convinced Father Callahan to perform her wedding in the Catholic church.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen slowly filled in the space on either side of the altar. At her own wedding, Abby hadn't even had so much as a single bridesmaid, let alone the half dozen that now stood at the front of the church. She'd thought about it, but the one thing she'd insisted on had been a very small ceremony, and no matter how hard she'd tried, she never could knock down the size of her potential bridal party to anything that even remotely matched the small number of guests they'd planned for. There was no way she could have had bridesmaids and not included Lina and Mackie, but at the same time, she couldn't imagine a bridal party without Gail or Laura either. And then there had been the sticky matter of her renewed friendship with Amy. No matter how nice everyone played at the odd family get-together, she knew there would always be a level of awkwardness at having your brother's ex-wife and his current girlfriend in the same wedding party. But she'd been Amy's maid of honor, and she knew there was no way she'd feel right about having bridesmaids and not including her. In the end, it had been much simpler to just have her mother and Brody's stepfather stand up as their witnesses.
As the wedding march began to play and the bride appeared at the back of the church on her father's arm, Abby glanced up at her son and smiled before looking across the aisle and sharing a knowing wink with Lina. Sometimes, even she was surprised at how perfectly life seemed to have come together in the end. Even after Michael had been born, after she and Brody had been married and the adoption finalized, a small part of her had spent more time than she was willing to admit questioning her decisions, wondering when someone was going to show up and pull the rug out from underneath them. She could still clearly remember the moment when she'd realized that wasn't going to happen, when it had become clear just how right her decisions had been, both for her and for her son…
The biting winter wind was just beginning to pick up as Abby stepped out of the cab, turning back around and lifting her son out of the backseat. Handing a twenty dollar bill to the driver, Abby grabbed her shopping bag from the backseat and shut the door, turning around just in time to see her son sprinting down the sidewalk toward their apartment building.
"Michael!" she called out, cringing as he ran straight into a man's legs, falling to the ground and bursting into tears.
"Oh, honey," Abby sighed, rushing to his side and dropping her bag as she crouched down to hug him. "You're okay, sweetheart."
Abby brushed a tear from his cheek as she reached over and grabbed his glasses off the sidewalk, rubbing them on her coat before putting them back on his face and kissing his forehead. "You're not hurt, sweetheart. You just have to watch where you're going."
Abby helped him back to his feet before looking up sheepishly at the man he'd run into. "I'm sorry, he doesn't look where he's going sometimes, he…"
Abby's jaw dropped as she met the man's eyes and she found herself speechless.
"Takes after his mother?"
Taking a deep breath and setting her shoulders back, Abby grabbed Michael's hand and stood up. "Danny," she said quietly.
"What…what are you doing in Chicago?"
Danny shrugged. "It's Christmas. My mom guilted me into a visit this year. She's, uh, not doing well…it kind of looks like it might be her last Christmas, so we figured we'd better come out."
"We?" Abby asked curiously.
"My wife and I."
"You're married?" Abby asked in surprise.
Danny nodded. "About a year and a half now. You?"
"It'll be three years on New Year's Day." Abby nervously twirled her wedding band around her finger. "Do, uh…do you two have any kids?"
Danny quickly shook his head. "God, no. Mary and I work at the same firm. We barely have time to see each other, let a alone a kid. It's not something either of us want to be burdened with."
Abby instinctively reached down and rested a protective hand on Michael, as though he might somehow sense the offense Abby felt in Danny's statement. "Does she know…"
"About him?" Danny shook his head. "No. There didn't seem to be any reason to tell her."
Abby nodded. "I suppose not."
"Is he, um…" Danny sighed and frowned as he looked down at Michael. "I don't even know his name."
"Michael," Danny repeated softly. "Michael Kowalski. I…"
"No," Abby interrupted. "Michael Brody. The adoption was finalized the week after we got married."
"Right." Danny nodded and looked back down at Michael, who had ducked behind Abby's legs. "My lawyer said he was early. Is he alright now?"
"He's perfect," Abby said protectively. "He's nearly caught up with where he'd be if he hadn't been premature. He'll always need the glasses, but that's a small thing, really."
"He looks like you," Danny observed.
Abby smiled. "People are always telling me he looks like Brody. He likes that, hearing that he looks like his dad."
"Is he an only child?"
Abby shook her head, knowing that her heavy winter coat covered her slightly swollen stomach. She smiled as she rested a hand on it. "He's got a sister, and there's another one on the way."
Danny nodded, an awkward silence falling over the pair for a moment.
"We'd better get going," Abby said eventually. "We're doing Christmas Eve with my in-laws…we're probably already running late."
"It was good to see you."
Abby nodded, picking up her bag off the sidewalk. "Merry Christmas, Danny."
"Merry Christmas," Danny said quietly, turning and watching as Abby and Michael disappeared into the apartment building behind him. With a quick shake of his head, he turned away and hailed a cab to take him back to his hotel.
A burden - as long as she lived, Abby didn't think she'd ever forget the anger she'd felt hearing her son described that way. Her life hadn't always been easy or pleasant, but there wasn't a single moment of her marriage or her time with her children that would ever have described as a burden. Sure, there'd been fights, disagreements over the kids, or work, or whose family to spend the holidays with. Their beautiful little babies had grown into argumentative, trouble-making teenagers - karma, as both of their mothers had been quick to point out whenever they complained. But it was the life she'd chosen, and as the priest turned the young couple to face the church and introduced Michael and Carla Brody, Abby knew she wouldn't have traded one second of it for anything.