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A Thing or Two About Aching

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A/N: I wanted Bernie and Olivia in that last episode and I didn't get it, so I wrote some. This takes place sometime after OC 2x05, while Elliot is still undercover.  

 


 

It’s so fucking damp.

 

New York City is a gray, swirling mess of dark clouds and spitting, misty rain. Everything is wet, and cold, and slick, and she really should have chosen different shoes today.

 

Olivia grits her teeth up the sidewalk to Elliot’s building, trying to ignore the deep ache in her ankle. It’s a special brand of annoying on days like this, and when she gets inside she can’t help but limp and baby it, as her body automatically tries to avoid the pain.

 

Sighing, she pulls her keys out and opens his front door, knocking at the same time.

 

“Bernie? It’s Olivia,” she calls, immediately hit with warmth and the most delicious smell.

 

“Kitchen, honey.”

 

Warmth that has nothing to do with the temperature of the apartment spreads through her chest, and she limps toward the kitchen, trying to regulate her gait with slower steps.

 

“Something smells good,” she smiles, coming into the room to see Bernie at the cutting board.

 

“Good day for chicken soup,” Bernie says, glancing up from slicing a loaf of bread, “What’s a busy gal like you doing here?”

 

Liv reaches into her bag and produces a white pharmacy sack. “Just brought these by.”

 

“Tell me they didn’t send you all the way to that pharmacy,” Bernie scoffs, dusting her hands off on her apron, “They don’t trust me to do anything.”

 

“I offered,” Liv says, holding up her hands, “I told Kathleen if you needed anything, I’m around. And, hey, you don’t wanna go out there today, look at it.”

 

“I can pick up my own pills, you know,” Bernie sighs, giving her a reproving look, “They worry too much.”

 

“They love you,” Liv counters, raising her eyebrows, “They want to help you. You’re taking care of them too, aren’t you? Cooking? Making this place look like a home instead of a warehouse?”

 

Bernie tips her chin up, narrowing her eyes, and then she smiles. “You sound like my son. Always with the counterpoint. Here.”

 

She holds her hand out for the bag of medication, and Olivia steps forward to hand them to her, forgetting about her ankle for a minute and inadvertently limping hard.

 

“What’s wrong with your leg?” Bernie says immediately, gesturing, “What’s that?”

 

“I’m fine,” Liv says nonchalantly, handing over the bag.

 

Brows furrowed, Bernie points. “That’s not fine, whatever that is.”

 

“Ah, it’s, old ankle injury. From a car accident.”

 

“And it aches in the rain,” Bernie says knowingly, tossing the pharmacy bag onto the counter, “Go sit down.”

 

Liv’s expression softens. “Oh, Bernie, I can’t, I really should—“

 

“—you came all the way out here to bring an old lady her pills, the least she can do is fix you a bowl of soup,” she interrupts, waving a hand over her shoulder, reaching into the cabinet for a bowl, “Go sit on the couch. It’s lunchtime, you don’t get a lunch break?”

 

“Not usually, no,” Liv sighs, glancing at her watch.

 

“Well, today you do.”

 

Olivia fights back a smile, narrowing her eyes when Bernie turns to glare at her, daring her to disagree again.

 

“Alright,” she acquiesces, holding her hands up again, turning toward the couch, “For you, I can make an exception.”

 

“You’d better. My son finds out you turned down my chicken soup he’ll call ya nuts.”

 

Olivia chuckles, sinking down onto the couch with a sigh. “His favorite?”

 

“One of ‘em,” Bernie nods, ladling soup from a huge pot on the stove, “I doubt he remembers.”

 

“I’m sure he does,” Liv counters softly, turning to look back into the kitchen, “You don’t have to—let me come get that—“

 

Bernie gives her a look, already halfway to the living room with a steaming bowl of soup. “Would you sit? And take that ridiculous shoe off, while you’re at it.”

 

“They’re actually more comfortable than you’d think,” Liv counters, reaching for the bowl, “Thank you.”

 

“Please. I wore my fair share of heels, Olivia, they haven’t changed that much. Off. You people in blue, always think you’ve got it all under control, do they teach that in the Academy?”

 

Olivia bites the inside of her cheek and sets her bowl down on the coffee table, reaching down to unzip her boot as Bernie wanders off into one of the bedrooms.

 

“What, you’re not gonna eat with me?” she calls, trying to see where she’s gone.

 

“Take the shoe off, keep your pants on,” Bernie calls back, and Olivia huffs out a laugh, shaking her head and reaching for her soup.

 

After a moment, she comes back with an electric heating pad, and Olivia immediately shakes her head.

 

“Bernie, that’s really—I’m alright, it’s just the weather, really—“

 

Bernie comes to stand right in front of her, and sets her hands on her hips. “Are you always this stubborn? You’re gonna lecture me about letting these kids move me in here, and do all my errands, and then turn around and throw a fit when someone tries to help you for a few minutes? Why? Because you’re the only person in the whole world who doesn’t need help? Honey, put the sword down.”

 

Olivia’s lips part in shock, completely unaccustomed to being called out in a way that’s so very…motherly. Shock, and anger, and indignation flash through her in rapid succession, because this woman is not her mother. She’s never had a mother, not one who made her soup and worried about her injuries. She has no idea what’s playing out on her face but Bernie’s eyes soften, and she turns to plug in the heating pad. She unravels the cord and brings it back over to the couch, wordlessly gesturing for Olivia to put her foot up on the couch.

 

“C’mon,” she coaxes softly, “Don’t make me try to do it for you, I’m eighty-eight, you know.”

 

Now too shocked to protest, Olivia lifts her socked foot onto the couch, stretching her leg out.

 

“There,” Bernie sighs, wrapping the heating pad around her leg, covering her ankle and part of her calf, “Now. Was it really so hard?”

 

Olivia doesn’t say anything, and she closes her eyes when her stomach growls, loudly.

 

Traitor.

 

“S’getting cold,” Bernie says in a lilting voice, sinking down on the other end of the couch.

 

Olivia clears her throat, trying to get her voice back. “Aren’t you having any?”

 

“Already did,” she says, smiling a little, “One of my best, if I’m honest. Try it.”

 

Olivia lifts her spoon and sips the broth first; it’s warm and herby, savory and perfectly salted. She digs into the bowl for some of the chicken and vegetables, discovering there’s macaroni noodles in it, too. The next bite warms her throat all the way down, and settles in her stomach in the most pleasant way, radiating up into her chest.

 

She glances up to find Bernie watching her expectantly.

 

“Good, right?” she grins, asking despite already knowing the answer.

 

“It’s delicious,” Liv admits, nodding, smiling a little, “My son would love this.”

 

Bernie looks at her with interest. “You’ve got a boy?”

 

“Yeah,” Liv smiles, between bites of soup, “He’s almost nine. His name is Noah.”

 

“It suits you. You’re the mothering type, you know, always were.”

 

Liv tips her head, giving her a teasing look. “How do you know that?”

 

“Oh, honey,” Bernie says knowingly, lacing her hands together, “I know the kind of work you and my son did all those years. All those scared women? Those little kids? Not just anybody has the soul for that.”

 

“It’s not for everybody,” Liv agrees, lifting the bowl for a sip of broth.

 

“He left, but you’ve stayed. Holding all that pain for people, means you’ve got a lotta heart space for it. But—“

 

She waits for Olivia to look up at her, and when she does Liv stops and takes a breath, because that studying look, those eyes…they’re genetic.

 

“You’re weary,” Bernie sighs, resting her head against the back of the couch, “In a way you weren’t back then. Something…”

 

She trails off, shaking her head a little, and Olivia realizes she’s censoring herself, in a rare moment. It warms her a little, knowing there’s a line that even Bernie Stabler won’t cross.

 

“You know, it’s—some days are harder than others,” she shrugs, unable to keep herself completely closed off from Elliot’s mother, “I—it’s harder, doing it without him. At first, it was really hard. It’s easier now, but, it’s still not—“

 

She breaks off, shaking her head, looking down into her bowl.

 

“It was never the same again,” Bernie finishes quietly, playing with her scarf, “For him, either.”

 

Olivia’s eyes lift to hers, and her lips part. “What?”

 

“Olivia,” she admonishes softly, lifting her head, “He wasn’t the same, after he left you. Did you think he could be? What you two are—“

 

“—we were partners,” Liv says tightly, a gentle warning in her eyes, “Nothing more.”

 

“Oh, bullshit,” Bernie scoffs, waving a hand toward the ceiling, “Look, honey, I’m not accusing you of anything, he’s not his father. My son would never cross that line, he’s faithful to a fault, and from what I know about you, you’d never let him anyway.”

 

Olivia swallows, shaking her head. “We never did that. Ever. Not even close.”

 

“But you’re both idiots, if you don’t wake up and start being honest with each other.”

 

That leaves Olivia staring at her in shock for the second time, caught like a deer in headlights.

 

“He—Elliot loved Kathy, Bernie,” she finally says, reaching over to set her empty bowl on the table, “We’ve never—“

 

“—and Kathy isn’t here anymore,” Bernie says frankly, holding her palms up, “I’m too old for bullshit, Olivia. We’re all gonna go sometime, and it was her time to go. And my son did have love for her, you’re right about that. She was a wonderful person, a sweet person, a loyal wife. She was good to me, she’d call to check up on me, she sent me pictures of the kids, even when Elliot was pretending I didn’t exist, of course, you know all about that. But they were kids, when they got married, when my son did the ‘right thing’—“

 

“—I’m sorry, I don’t know if I—“ Olivia shifts on the couch, feeling flushed and a little breathless.

 

“—honey, I’m not holding a gun to your head, here, I’m just telling you what it was, relax,” Bernie says offhandedly, patting her ankle, “How’s this, by the way?”

 

“I, oh—um—“

 

She hasn’t been focusing on her ankle, but when she looks down and draws her attention to it, she realizes it’s not throbbing anymore. The achy feeling is nearly gone, and the heat feels wonderfully soothing. As she watches, Bernie smooths the heating pad more firmly around her leg, squeezing it gently with both hands.

 

“It’s…yeah, it feels better. I never thought to put heat on it, I just—“

 

“—you toughed it out?” Bernie says, clicking her tongue disapprovingly, “Shouldn’t do that. Anyway, my son, you know, he—he never had the chance to find…something more. He married Kathy and they grew together, and then apart, and they learned how to be apart, together. He doesn’t think I know him, of course, but I’m still his mother. And I know what being in love looks like. And what it doesn’t look like.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?” Liv breathes, shaking her head, “I don’t—“

 

“Because I’m an old woman!” Bernie says abruptly, sitting up straight, “And I know how fast this all goes by, and I don’t want to see my son, my Elliot, I don’t want to see him tiptoe around something…big, and important. I want to see him happy. I think you make each other happy.”

 

“Bernie, I—it’s complicated—“

 

“It’s not. You think I don’t see what happens when you look at each other? You ache.”

 

That hits something deep inside her, something she keeps so close, that it nearly takes her breath away. It’s so profoundly true, that she can’t deny it, and she won’t.

 

“That’s not love,” Bernie says gently, shaking her head, “That’s more. That’s a soul connection.”

 

“Elliot doesn’t believe in soulmates,” Liv says absently, worrying a thread on her blazer.

 

“He doesn’t know what he believes, he’s never taken the time to figure it out. But you scare the shit out of him, and I know that's why.”

 

It’s so surreal to be sitting here, having this conversation, with Elliot’s mother, that it almost feels like it isn’t happening. At the same time, suddenly all the words are right there, and it feels like she’s been waiting for an opportunity to process it all.

 

“He wrote me a letter,” Olivia says quietly, smiling sadly, “Gave it to me after she died. Did you know that?”

 

Bernie shakes her head, listening. “No, I didn’t.”

 

“Later, he told me that Kathy helped him write it. That she dictated most of it to him,” she says, shaking her head, “All this crap about how I deserved a good man, and that I’d been able to finally grow without him. The one part that he wrote himself? ‘In a parallel universe, it will always be you and I.’

 

She lets the words hang there, and when she looks up Bernie is staring at the ceiling, considering them.

 

“It’s poetic,” Bernie muses, gesturing, “In a devastating, tortured sorta way. We might need a drink for this.”

 

“What am I supposed to do with that?” Olivia laughs, shaking her head, “He’s here, then he’s gone, and he pops up and tells me that, and then he’s gone again, and I just—“

 

Her laughter turns into tears on a dime, and Bernie looks over when her breath hitches, reaching out to rest a hand on her ankle again.

 

“I’m scared, of how much I want him, sometimes,” Olivia whispers, nodding, “He scares me, too.”

 

She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, because she’s never said that out loud before.

 

“Honey, don’t be scared of great, big things,” Bernie says, holding an imaginary object in her hands, “Those are the things we’re all chasing in this life. Love, and joy, and connection. If you have the chance to grab one, you do it, you hear me?”

 

“I just don’t want to lose him,” Liv sighs, rubbing her forehead.

 

“I don’t think that’s possible, with you two. He tried to stay away for ten years, and he still ended up as close to you as he could get. He left you for ten years, and you’re still here in his apartment, letting his mother read you the riot act. What’s that tell you?”

 

Olivia smiles, musing. “I guess you’re right.”

 

They’re quiet long enough that Liv remembers to check her watch, shaking her sleeve back to look at it.

 

“I should get back,” she says softly, moving to get up, “Thank you, for the soup.”

 

“Yeah, and you get yourself a heating pad,” Bernie orders, pushing herself up from the couch, “You think I stand over a hot stove on days like today just because I feel like it? Keeps these moving, is all—“

 

She holds up her arthritic hands, flexing them slowly.

 

“—give me one minute, and I’ll fix you some to take home. For your boy.”

 

Olivia smiles, zipping her shoe back on. “Thank you. He’ll love it.”

 

“And next time, you come a little later and we’ll have that drink.”

 

Liv laughs, heartily, standing up and slowly testing her ankle, which takes her body weight easily now.

 

“Bernie, that’s a promise.”


 

A/N: Thank you for reading!