Chapter 1: Science
Eli slams his bag down onto the counter, not caring that his parents were standing in the kitchen conversing a few steps away.
Elliot opens his mouth to speak but closes it immediately when Kathy gives him the look, the one he’s seen hundreds of times throughout their marriage and he knows better.
“Rough day, huh? Want to talk about it?”Kathy asks gently, giving their 11 year old plenty of space. After a few moments of quiet, she prompts him. “Sweetheart, does this have anything to do with the phone call that I got from your science teacher?”
Eli nods and swallows, choking back the mixture of emotions brewing inside of him. He doesn’t want to speak, afraid of his emotion spilling forth. He sighs and says softly “Yeah, I lost my temper. I didn’t mean to but…” he chokes back a sob, takes a deep breath and speaks.
“Mom. Everyone else has blue eyes. You, dad, Grandma, and all of my siblings - and your parents did too! Yes, Dickie has brown hair like dad and me but my teacher showed me how it’s not possible for me to have a different eye color. The only possibility is that one of you isn’t my parent!” With a gasp, Eli buried his his face in Kathy’s shoulder and wept loudly.
Kathy embraced the sobbing boy, and refuses to meet Elliot’s eyes across the room.
Elliot watches his wife, his face an expressionless mask. Suddenly, so many things make sense. He walks silently to the door to the balcony, but turns and pulls his son into a bear hug.
“You are my son. Mine. Don’t ever think otherwise. I love you.” Elliot pulls Eli away from Kathy possessively.
A bubbly little boy bounds up the walkway with excitement, his energy always had reminded Elliot of Tigger. Giovanni was Eli’s best friend. Short, freckled and full of energy, Gio was the embodiment of childhood fun. Kathy answers the door.
“Ciao! Signora, is Eli home? My mother is ready to drive us to practice!” He asked in heavily accented English. Eli had rubbed his eyes, blew his nose, grabbed his duffel bag quickly, and was out the door waving goodbye in a flash.
Elliot watched the car go down the street. Once it turns the corner, he turns, anger flashing in his eyes.
“Kathy, what don’t I know?”
She steps backwards, hesitant. “Elliot, I…” her voice trembles. “I… I needed to do something, to keep you. I knew you didn’t want to leave, so… it was the only way, and I didn’t think…”
“You didn’t think?! That is obvious! He’s a child! A person! You didn’t think he could find out?” Elliot shouted, his face reddening with anger.
“I… I’m sorry.”
“You took a gamble that he’d look just like the rest of our children. That I would never know - that no one would ever know?!
And you lost. And now we are here, how much of our lives has been a lie!?”
Elliot’s voice drops into a low, quiet growl.
“Whose is he? Who is his father?”
“Elliot, you’re his father. He’s your son. I wouldn’t have named him after you if he wasn’t.” Kathy softly but confidently asserted, gently placing her hand on his arm “Eli loves you more than words. The two of you together are like puzzle pieces or yin and yang. You complement one another. Sometimes you’re so in sync that it seems like you know what each other is thinking. And I love you too, Elliot.”
“Fine, you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m his father, DNA or not. Let’s just… drop this. You could have told me, and I would have loved him anyway.” Elliot swallowed the lump in his throat.
Still angry, but the fire within tamped down, Elliot pulled Kathy in for a hug.
It took time to relearn how to trust one another, but things began to heal. They slipped into a comfortable routine - coffee on the terrace, Eli’s soccer matches, visiting ruins and historical sites, Mass every Sunday as a family… until the day a couple years later that Kathy and Elliot left for New York.
“Why can’t I come with you?” Eli sighed, his expression hard to read “I’m not a little kid, while you’re doing work stuff, I can hang out with Kathleen. This is dumb.”
“Come here, sweetheart. You’re not too big to hug your mom, right?” Kathy looked up at Eli, and smiled sweetly when he pulled her into a bear hug.
“I will never be too old to hug my mom.”
The taxi pulled up outside their home, and it’s horn disrupted the sweet moment. Elliot carried their bags to the taxi, and Kathy walked out with Eli by her side.
“Remember, Gio’s mother will be picking you up in a couple of hours. Please leave the kitchen light on, and lock the doors. Eli, you’ll be fine. You’re a great kid, and I am so proud of you.” Kathy placed her purse in the back seat of the taxi while Elliot spoke to their son.
“Hey, we will be back and annoying you in a few days. How about we go hiking next weekend?” Elliot hugged Eli, who nodded and mumbled a soft “sure” in response.
Elliot got into the taxi, and Eli was trying to hide his sadness. Kathy went to join her husband in the car, when Eli half shouted “Mom! Wait!” and ran over to the car. He pulled Kathy into a tight hug, not wanting to let go.
“I love you, Eli. My sweet, tall, smart boy. We will be home soon. I will call when we land.”
Kathy reached up and wiped a tear from his cheek.
“Love you, too, Mom. Always.” Eli said softly and then relaxed his arms, letting go of her for one last time.
They waved to one another until the taxi was out of sight.
Chapter 2: Flight
At the JFK baggage claim, Eli adjusted his backpack and grabbed his bag. He’d packed his backpack with his laptop, school stuff, chargers and other electronics. Signora Ciulla packed Eli’s duffel bag with the essentials that a teen boy would probably forget. Just as Eli and Giovanni both had forgotten to pack socks for the weekend when they’d gone away for a football match earlier in the year. Eli was incredibly grateful for his best friend and his family. Gio did his best to keep Eli positive, and Gio’s mother held him as he wept.
Saying goodbye had been terrifying, but he’d managed to hold back his tears. Eli had never flown by himself, so to him it felt like he was standing on a precipice, about to leap. After takeoff, Eli tried to nap instead of focusing on the thought of his mom lying in a hospital bed during the long flight across the Atlantic.
Kathleen waited anxiously, tapping her fingers in the steering wheel of her car while waiting for her brother to emerge from the chaos that was JFK international airport. She’d been tracking his flight since takeoff, and knew he had arrived back in the US safely. The buzzing of her phone alerted Kathleen, and she was relieved to see it was a text from Eli letting her know he’d just grabbed his bag and was heading to the curb. Barely two minutes later, she spotted her youngest sibling and waved.
Eli tossed his bags in the back seat, and dropped wearily into the passenger seat beside Kathleen.
“I’m starving. Can we get food?”
“I missed you too, Eli.” Kathleen rolled her eyes.
“How’s mom?” Eli asked quietly.
Kathleen sighed and answered “Nothing has changed since you talked to Dad.”
She hated to lie to her brother. It wasn’t exactly a lie, though. Nothing had changed since Eli boarded the flight, although he hadn’t been told that she was dead. When had Elliot spoken to Eli while giving him the details of the flight, he told his son that Kathy was in surgery and they wouldn’t know anything for a while. Kathleen reached over and grasped Eli’s hand. “Let’s get something to eat, and head to the hotel. We can check in with Dad then.”
Eli stared out the window as Kathleen drove. The lights in the city glittered in the darkness. The city was beautiful, in its own way, but it wasn’t home. They stopped at a Chinese restaurant, and after a 15 minute wait, were back in the car and headed to the hotel. Kathleen sent a quick text to her Dad and told him they were on their way.
Elliot pulled Eli into a bear hug, and suggested they eat before they talk. Eli wanted to push his father, demand information, but his stomach growled. Kathleen unpacked the Chinese food and they sat at the small table eating, and talking about everything except the proverbial elephant in the room. Kathleen encouraged Eli to tell her about his soccer team, and about school. Soccer is what got Eli talking passionately, explaining that if things kept going in his favor, he’d be captain soon.
Kathleen quietly cleaned up the small kitchenette, dreading what was going to happen in a few moments. She excused herself to the restroom when Elliot told Eli that they needed to talk. She ran the water for a few minutes, and tried to drown out the devastating wailing from her youngest sibling. When things quieted a bit, Kathleen flushed the toilet and emerged from the tiny bathroom.
Eli was sitting quietly, his eyes red with tears streaming down his shell shocked face. Their dad bore a similar expression, and the sight of them both was enough to cause Kathleen to burst into tears. Kathleen sat down beside her brother on the couch, and he curled into her. They stayed like that until they both fell asleep.
Chapter 3: Unimaginable
Kathleen finds a letter in her mother’s jewelry box. What it contains is absolutely unimaginable.
Six months later, Eli had settled into a new normal. Playing soccer, going to school, getting used new routines and new rules at home. Kathleen had moved in with her dad and brother, helping split the cost of the new, large apartment. She also took on almost a motherly role with Eli - filling out paperwork, chaperoning events, and fielding calls from his teachers. It was easy for Kathleen to focus on these things, along with the mundane day to day chores like laundry. Her work understood, and partly due to the pandemic, allowed her to work from home - virtually counseling her clients.
When she had the chance, she would head over to the storage unit that her family’s life had been packed into after her mother’s death. Elliot had hired a moving company to transport their things from Rome. He couldn’t bear to go back. Not without her.
Thankfully, Giovanni’s mother had stepped in and packed up Kathy’s things, but allowed the movers to handle everything else. Seven large boxes contained the artifacts of the last ten years of Kathy Stabler’s life.
Kathleen had gone through two boxes, so far. Offering clothing and other items to her siblings, donating the remaining pieces to a women’s shelter. She brought her mother’s jewelry box home with the intention of having her sisters look through it. Inside, she found a few other items.
There was a letter on the counter in Elliot’s kitchen, with a post it note stuck on it. In Kathleen’s loopy script read “Dad, I found this in Mom’s jewelry box addressed to you. I haven’t opened it. Love, Leen”
Elliot scrubbed his hand over his face, relieved to have the chance to swing into his apartment to check on things and stop for a much needed shower before heading to meet with Sgt. Bell. Elliot yawned and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge as he walked into the bathroom. He was on hour 11 of working, with no end in sight.
After cleaning himself up, Elliot was about to leave. He grabbed a banana for the road, and stuffed the envelope into his jacket pocket. He figured he’d read it and leave it in his desk at OCCB before heading out. Hours passed quickly, before he had a chance to sit and read. He finished writing up his reports and pulled out the envelope.
Kathy’s handwriting was unmistakable on the envelope. Elliot sighed sadly, running his thumb over the neat blue ink. He slipped his nail under the edge of the envelope, unsealing it.
Sergeant Ayanna Bell found Elliot sitting at his desk, mouth still agape, and in shock almost half an hour later. When she asked what was wrong, he shook his head and handed her the letter. Scanning it quickly, Ayanna gasped. Unimaginable.
Eli Stabler was definitely his father’s son.
Kathy was not his biological mother.
Chapter 4: A Letter
What was in this letter?
It’s not *THAT* letter.
I wrote this before the whole… debacle. I promise.
I am writing this out on our veranda watching this beautiful sunrise. You and Eli should be returning from your hike this afternoon, so I took the opportunity to tell you the truth. I owe you the truth.
That night that you came home to me, during our separation was a huge surprise. I understand that you came to see the kids, because of a case. When you came to me, and kissed me, it made me so happy. It was nice to be wanted. I’d missed you. I missed my husband. I wanted you to stay, but you didn’t and it broke my heart.
I made a decision a few days later that I am not proud of. I went to lunch with my friend Susan and we had a long talk. We gossiped about life and work. She told me about a client at the fertility clinic, and I made an impulsive move. That is part of why I called you two days later and invited you back into our bed.
Remember that doctor who was arrested about a year before we moved for fraud and illegally implanting embryos?
He helped me. I’d put away money for years for an emergency, and it was enough to pay for his help.
I didn’t lie when I said Eli was your son. He is. I provided him with what he needed to fertilize the egg he’d provided from a client who he claimed had donated them. Apparently she hadn’t consented, but at this point it is irrelevant. I found out years later. I don’t regret it though.
Despite the fact that I knew the donor had dark hair and eyes, it hadn’t occurred to me that the baby wouldn’t be born with blonde hair and blue eyes like our other children. As Eli’s eyes got darker, I knew that this would come up one day. I wasn’t expecting it to be so soon, though. Eli is growing up so quickly.
When it was obvious that Eli wasn’t looking like his siblings, I started to panic. I was relieved that you were working constantly, because maybe you wouldn’t notice until I had something figured out. When you shot that girl, I took a chance. You were a mess, and it broke my heart. Watching you with Eli, I came up with the idea of retirement, and moving. I hoped maybe you wouldn’t see what I saw every time I looked at him. I suggested Italy because I knew you would love it. And I was right. It was amazing, and beautiful to watch you with Eli as he grew up. It was a chance that we didn’t have with the other kids, so it was incredibly special.
I was haunted by the ghost of what should have been.
I don’t know when or if I will ever have the courage to hand you this letter.
I hope that you can forgive me, or at least understand.
Also, life happens in a funny way sometimes. Like how the first person to hold Eli as birth was his biological mother. I’m surprised you don’t see the resemblance. I see her in his eyes. I see her in his smile. I am so, so sorry.
There is more information in our safe deposit box in an envelope with Eli’s name on it, along with his birth certificate.
Chapter 5: Sitting With the Shock
Elliot comes home after learning his whole world has been turned upside down.
It is after midnight when Elliot arrived back in his apartment. He hoped fervently that everyone would be asleep. Kathleen sat curled up under a green blanket on the sofa, drinking tea and reading. She looked up from her book and smiled when her father entered the room.
“Hey, Dad. Couldn’t sleep. How was your day?” Kathleen stood and wrapped her arms around Elliot.
“Long, kiddo, my day was long,” Elliot pressed a kiss to the top of her head “and before you ask, I read the letter from Mom. Thanks for giving it to me. I don’t know what I expected, but this… was beyond anything I could imagine.”
“So… Mom was secretly a billionaire heiress and we own an island somewhere?” Kathleen quipped with a smirk. Elliot chuckled, glad Kathleen had his sense of humor.
“Sorry, kiddo, we’re not secretly rich, or royal. It’s actually something… I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” Elliot patted the letter in his pocket, and continued.
“It’s okay, dad, I understand.” Kathleen started to interject.
“I’m not treating you like a kid, I promise. Its just that I have questions that I need answers for before I can.” Elliot said softly, hoping Kathleen wouldn’t press the matter further.
Kathleen quickly folded her blanket and grabbed her book from the couch. She began to walk from the living room, but paused.
“Hey, um… you should talk to your therapist about this, or Grandma,” Kathleen hesitated “Or maybe Olivia. Don’t bottle it up, okay?”
Elliot smiled quickly to mask his reaction to the mention of Olivia’s name. He had no idea how he would even bring this conversation up to her. Kathleen continued into her room, and Elliot sat on the couch and put his head in his hands.
Bernadette Stabler was unsure of how long her son had been sitting in that position when she crossed the living room to get herself a glass of water. Bernie sighed, picked up Kathleen’s abandoned teacup, and placed it quietly in the sink. She filled a glass of water from the refrigerator for herself, foregoing the ice so that she wouldn’t scare her son.
Gently, Bernie sat beside Elliot on the couch and spoke softly to him. He was clearly exhausted, but the worry on his face was hard to miss even as he dozed.
“Elliot, sweetheart, you should go to bed. Or if you’re up for talking, I’m all ears.”
“Thanks, Mama. It’s just a lot. That letter, the one that Kathleen found. It makes me wonder if I knew my wife at all. Back when we were separated - right before Eli was born, she did something mind boggling. She stole another woman’s eggs, and had it fertilized to guarantee she’d be pregnant. And… I… she…”
“Eli’s Olivia’s son, isn’t he?” Bernie took Elliot’s hand in hers “Don’t be so shocked. I notice things.”
All Elliot could do in response was nod. Of course she had seen it - his mother may have been flighty, and odd to most, but she tended to pick up on things that others didn’t notice.
Chapter 6: The Safe Deposit Box
Elliot makes unexpected and interesting discoveries when he opens their safe deposit box.
Some things go undiscovered by chance.
A rainy Tuesday afternoon found Elliot Stabler at the bank staring at the contents of the small safe deposit box that he and Kathy had gotten immediately after their wedding. The box was full of documents - from the Marines, and NYPD, life insurance, tax papers and of course their marriage certificate, birth certificates - theirs, and the kids, and the death certificate of his late wife. The day that he had added that last piece of notarized paperwork, he’d also placed her wedding rings safely inside for his daughters. It was one afternoon in late summer that he placed his ring with hers in the small velvet bag. He had pressed a kiss to the bag as he pulled the drawstring, and whispered ‘goodbye’ before placing it in the box with the other memories.
Elliot fought the urge to immediately reach for the envelope containing Eli’s birth certificate, and began to look through the other contents of the box. Ever since reading the letter left for him by Kathy, he had wondered if she’d added anything else to their safe deposit box. The answer was immediately obvious - a manila envelope with “For when I’m gone - Love, Mom” written on it. He hadn't noticed it the other times he’d opened the box. Intrigued, Elliot flipped the envelope over. There was another note written on the back, explaining more about the contents within.
“Elliot, This envelope contains several letters for the kids. A terminal patient from work had me help her write letters to her children (ages 4 & 7) when she realized how many events of their lives she would miss. Graduation, Wedding, Birth of a baby...etc. and she passed about a month later. Eli was only two when I wrote these letters. I kept them in my dresser until we decided to move overseas. I figured they’d be safer here. I hope that I get to grow old and you never have to open this envelope - that is the plan, anyhow - but I couldn’t sleep, thinking about her kids growing up without her and I wrote these. There is one for you too. Love always, K”
A sad smile crossed Elliot’s face. There - that was the woman he loved for so long. Always having the children’s best interest in her heart. He said a silent prayer that those two anonymous children were happy, healthy and healing, and for his gratitude to their mother for providing the inspiration for the letters that would bring his children comfort. Blinking back the tears pooling in his eyes, he set the envelope aside and continued his perusal of the box contents. Kathy had indeed added more to the box - an archive of the important moments in their family’s lives. An envelope contained graduation announcements, and photos of the children when they’d gotten awards. Another contained the programs from the plays that the girls had done when they were younger, photographs of them in costumes tucked inside. Yet another contained sports photos and memorabilia. The children would no doubt love and appreciate these momentos - so would his mother. He made a mental note to ask her to help him organize them.
The last unfamiliar envelope was actually two bulging envelopes held together with an elastic. Elliot opened the first envelope to find articles about himself, some personal and others from work - it appeared that Kathy had saved every article or mention of him that had been printed in various newspapers over the years. There were even photos he hadn’t realized existed - one of him holding, no - meeting tiny Kathleen when she was 5 months old after his return from deployment embedded in an article about his unit’s homecoming, another of him coaching the twins’ soccer team. Others were official - about promotions, or cases. There were other random pieces tucked inside with the articles - letters of commendation, thank you letters, business cards, a few Christmas cards and a copy of his retirement paperwork. A chronicle of his career.
The second envelope was thicker than the first, stuffed nearly past capacity with a sheaf of articles and cards. The first piece of paper he lifted had a photo of him with his first partner, after they’d found a missing teenager. A few other articles about him and his partners through the years. The prayer card from Alphonse’s funeral made his throat clench. The cards of condolence that followed it let the tears spill over. After composing himself, he continued. Following that, there was a Christmas card from Don Cragen. There were photos of him and Olivia, and of course newspaper mentions as well. A photo of the squad made him laugh - they were so young, and Munch had this look on his face that was indescribable, but hilarious. He continued to flip through the paperwork. Elliot gasped when he realized that Kathy had chronicled Olivia’s career even after he left. There were articles about her promotions, and his heart swelled with pride. Regret and sadness tempered his pride, however. Elliot could have sat there all afternoon looking at the pile of her accomplishments, but instead he tucked the papers back into the envelope. Everything except for the birth certificates were placed back in the box.
The envelope for Eli’s birth certificate was a little thicker than the others - there had been an accompanying newspaper article about the accident and his surprise birth, along with a couple of photographs of newborn Eli that Elliot could not recall seeing. Him holding Eli for the first time, gazing into the baby’s dark eyes. The photograph that surprised him the most was one of Olivia holding Eli that had to be from the day he was born - he remembered in vivid detail the moment that he saw Olivia in that hallway. He had no idea who took the photograph - probably one of Kathy’s friends, since several worked at the hospital they’d been rushed to. Despite the cruelty of what Kathy had done, she had known that it would come to light one day, and kept things that would answer questions that their son - no, his son would certainly have.
Elliot lingered on the photograph of Olivia holding Eli, holding their son in her arms without even knowing. He supposed divine providence had a hand in Olivia being present at Eli’s birth. He took his phone from his jacket and snapped a few photos before placing the originals back into the envelope.
Also tucked inside the envelope were two more letters. One addressed to him, the other to Olivia - both sealed. Elliot resisted the urge to open them, and placed them back inside. He returned Eli’s birth certificate and envelope to the box, and alerted the attendant that he was finished. The box was returned to its rightful place, and Elliot left the bank full of conflicting emotions.