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keeping pace

Chapter Text

When the letter had arrived with his potential execution date, Hardy had set it aside, tried not to think about it. It was easy really, he’d been doing it long enough.

But it had loomed over everything, his secret Sandbrook schemes. A mental tick, sucking on his brain.

Now the day had arrived, his date with the death lottery just a few hours away. Hardy sits in court, endlessly thankful he’s not told Miller in a moment of weakness, thinks of all the concerned questions she’d have struck him with, all the fuss.

He tells himself it’s to protect her, save her from worrying, from coming to sit with him only to be told he died on the table.

But really Hardy just doesn’t know how to have the conversation. It had been hard enough telling Tess and he’d mostly done that so she could prep Daisy. Even he had to admit it would be a shit thing to do to die in surgery, not give any warning to his family.

He tries not to think he’s doing the same thing to Miller, tells himself all the reasons why it’s for the best. Though really he’s just scared, can’t say the words.

So he hadn’t told her. She’s going to be furious whether he lives or dies. And seeing he’s fairly sure he’s not going to make it, he won’t be around to deal with the consequences.

Some part of him knows it’s a shit way to think about it. That after all he’s put Miller through, dragged her into Sandbrook with him, she deserves to know.

But she’d only come and sit with him, worry. When she’d rather be in court, watching the trial.

So when court lets out for a recess, Hardy makes sure Miller isn’t looking as he grabs his bag, slips out the courthouse and gets in a taxi.

When he arrives at the hospital he doesn’t go in right away, instead pulls out his phone and stares at it blankly. He’d waited so she wouldn’t get the text until she was back in court, phone off. But now the task seems rather intimidating, impossible.

There’s a real chance this is the last thing he’s ever going to say, communicate to her. When he thinks of it like that, this stupid little text seems significant, problematic.

Going into hospital for pacemaker. That part’s easy.

Then what? If I die, too self pitying. If I don’t make it, trite. If I don’t see you again, sentimental.

He’s hopeless at this. Doesn’t even really know what he’s trying to communicate. That he likes having her to look to, confide in. That he’s thankful for her help, even though he demands it. That she shouldn’t worry for him, she has enough on her plate.

Obviously he’s not going to say any of that.

If this is it, I’m sorry.

Well that’s true. And succinct.

Hardy looks at the text in entirety – Going into hospital for pacemaker. If this is it, I’m sorry.

Honestly it’s better than he thought he’d manage. Presses send before he can question himself any further.

Chapter Text

Miller waits for court to adjourn then takes out her phone. As nerve wracking as Mark Latimer’s testimony had been, early on she’d noticed that Hardy was missing from the courtroom. After that she’d been unable to stop wondering where he’d gone off to, why he hadn’t said anything. Figures something must have come up with Claire or Lee, that he wouldn’t miss court for any other reason.

So she’s not surprised to see a text from Hardy pop up when she turns her phone back on. The words on the screen don’t make sense the first time she reads them though. Even on the second go she has a hard time actually grasping it. Not that they are difficult words to interpret.

It takes a third reading to really understand that he really did this. Sent her a text knowing he may be dead by the time she gets it.

“What?” she says, still partly disbelieving it’s possible.

The thought that he could already be dead lodges itself in her throat, almost makes her gag.

If this is it, I’m sorry.

How such few words can cause her such grief, fury, concern.

He must have been really worried to even include it, she thinks. Would never have put it in if he believed he would survive.

Again the thought snags in her throat, drives her into action.

Lucy can tell there’s something wrong with just one look, agrees readily to take Tom and pick up Fred from the child minder.

“What is it Ell?” she asks, half out of worry, half out of nosiness.

Miller shakes her head, is so angry and worried she can’t say the words.

“Thank you for taking the boys, I’ll call you later,” she manages to spit out before storming out of the courtroom, silently praying that she’ll get to yell at him.

That she hasn’t just received Hardy’s last words via text.

Chapter Text

It is hard to be so angry and worried all at once, especially to the levels that Hardy can induce. She’s only known him seven months, wonders how many times he’s nearly died in that time. At least twice now for certain. Probably that time he came to work stitched up after dinner. Possibly just the other day when he was quiet for so long outside, then disappeared for an entire night.

It infuriates her that she even cares so much whether the stubborn demanding wanker dies or not. To pull this shit on her now. During Joe’s trial, in the middle of an off the books investigation he dragged her into. When she’s just started to realize the comfort of his presence.

Miller parks her car, takes a deep breath. Tells herself he was just being dramatic about it, the one and only time he’d discussed the pacemaker with her. When he’d said he may not survive the operation.

Her jaw is clenched, she’s tight all over. Storms into the hospital, holds her breath as she asks after him.

When she’s told he’s out of surgery and in a regular room the dam of worry breaks against the flood of anger. Miller stalks off to his room, ready to holler at him, really let it go.

Hardy is sleeping when she walks in, prevents her from unleashing her fury. She stands next to his bed, watching his chest rise and fall, examining his ever-pale pallor.

Watching him feels inappropriate, intimate. Like voyeurism, spying.

Even when sleeping he looks a bit tense, but there’s a softness too. The Hardy she can’t unsee. The one that pleaded with her after his heart attack, that would rather die than fail another family. The one that told her she was married to a monster, helped her through it best he could.

He is infuriating in every way. She can’t even stay properly angry with him, keeps finding herself slightly smiling that he’s made it, that she won’t have to worry so much about his dodgy heart anymore.

Hardy exhales, starts to stir.

Miller hides away any traces of a smile, rekindles the anger, annoyance.

His eyes are barely open, still blinking when she starts in on him.

“A text?” she snaps.

Blink.

Slow Hardy scowl. A grimace of pain.

“Ah, Miller, don’t start,” he replies, as if he’s to get away with it that easily.

“You sneak off and send me a text knowing my phone won’t be on in the courtroom,” she continues, no intention of stopping.

“I’ll give you money to shut up,” he grumbles, as only he would.

“I’ll give you more money to be less of a knob,” she counters.

But, like usual, he ignores her irritation, pushes it aside.

“I made it. I made it through,” he says, all surprise and joy.

Hardy smiles, even laughs. Seven months, only the second time she’s seen it. It’s almost enough to deter her anger at him, to see how pleased he is to have survived.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks.

This is really all she wants to know. They had spent hours together lately in this loose arrangement somewhere between colleagues, friends, confidants. Talking about all manner of things. But not the really big things apparently. Not life or death.

Hardy groans.

“You’d only come and sit with me.”

Of course she would have come sat with him, should have been there, properly concerned. It irrationally bothers her that she wasn’t there for him, even though it’s entirely his fault.

“What is wrong with you?!” she snaps. He must have been worried and it drives her mad that he hadn’t confided in her.

Of course he doesn’t answer the questions, it’s basically what’s wrong with him in the first place. Unwilling to communicate or even pretend at normal human interaction.

“I do need a lift home later though,” he says instead.

Of course he does. Taxi services, her specialty.

It would make her furious if it wasn’t always due to his faulty heart. She’d even been surprised that he admitted it, that he wasn’t medically able to drive. He hated any mention of his condition, as if he weren’t constantly short of breath, too pale. Though of course that time it’d been to his benefit, stopped her saying no.

“I can’t,” she says, annoyed that she feels bad about it. “I’m picking Fred up from Lucy’s and I’m bringing Tom home.”

It’s a good reason - she’s exceptionally pleased to be bringing Tom home, has painting plans for them. Yet Miller finds herself trying to work out how she can get the boys in and settled before ducking out for a bit to take Hardy home.

She’s waiting for him to groan, convince her as he always does when another voice pipes in, peppy and irritating.

“I can drive him.”

Tess appears from around the corner, surprising them both.

“What are you doing here?” Hardy asks, in a tone Miller’s never heard from him before. Gentle, lilting. She glances at him in surprise, wonders why she suddenly has a sharp feeling in her gut.

“Suddenly had a thought you might die, I felt I had to drive down and see you.”

“I’ve got this,” Tess says, gives her a pointed look.

Miller lets go of the bed, feels she was caught in some intimate moment by Hardy’s ex-wife. Which is ridiculous. And yet she feels tetchy, annoyed. It should be her taking him home, making sure he rests while he grumbles about being fine.

A moment earlier she was pissed at being his taxi service and now she’s irritated he has an alternative. Well, only because it’s his ex-wife. Which extends meaning she does not want to explore.

“Oh okay,” Miller says, attempting to sound nonchalant as she turns, walks away.

She’s picking up Fred, taking Tom home. She should be happy to have her family together again. And she’s meant to be angry at Hardy still, regardless of his having survived.

Still, she hears the sweet surprise in Hardy’s voice, the way he looked at Tess. It bothers her all the way to Lucy’s even as she tells herself over and over that she doesn’t care.

Chapter Text

Hardy wakes, surprised at how elated he is to have survived. He’d been tired, broken for so long. Had convinced himself he’d die before the operation, one of those myriad times his heart forgot to beat properly.

If he’d done it earlier, there would have been nearly no risk. But of course he’d ignored the first signs, then was in too deep, couldn’t give up. Had to solve Sandbrook, then Danny’s case too before he gave up the job.

He hadn’t exactly told Tess at the time, though she must have known something was going on. Then they’d been so angry at each other already by the time he found out it was serious he told himself she didn’t care, didn’t deserve to know.

Him alone, against the worry.

Should’ve told Miller. But she has enough going on.

Still, thinking of her makes him feel some comfort, relief. She isn’t going to have to learn that he snuck away to die, will probably be there soon to shout at him for being such an arse.

Hardy smiles to himself a little about it as he dozes off again, still anaesthetic sleepy.

*

When he wakes next she’s there as predicted. Same blur as that other time, focuses into the same brown curls, irked expression.

“A text?!”

It’s as expected, being in hospital and still drowsy from surgery would not pre-empt a proper bollocking from Miller.

Hardy scowls, feels a pang of pain through the lingering anaesthetic.

“Ah, Miller, don’t start,” he tries, though he knows it’s futile.

Miller continues wittering on about the obvious, that he snuck off, sent her the text knowing she wouldn’t get it until it was all over.

“I’ll give you money to shut up,” he says, trying to sound properly annoyed though really he likes that she cares enough to holler at him about it.

“I’ll give you more money to be less of a knob,” she counters, almost makes him grin.

He never thought he’d appreciate it so much, being alive so Miller can call him names, so they can finish what they’ve started, solve Sandbrook once and for all.

“I made it. I made it through,” he says with a laugh, still surprised at the elation of it.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks, refuses to be deterred. All those questions. Always.

Hardy groans.

There are so many reasons. The trial, her kids. Enough to worry about. Couldn’t talk about it, afraid his fear would show. Didn’t want to die on her while she waited, hoped.

He chooses the easiest answer.

“You’d only come and sit with me.”

“What is wrong with you?!” she snaps, as if this is not exactly what he would do.

“I do need a lift home later though,” he adds, knows he’s pushing his luck. Lately he’s been using his personal taxi service a lot. But she’s unlikely to deny him straight out of surgery.

“I can’t,” Miller replies. “I’m picking Fred up from Lucy’s and I’m bringing Tom home.”

He raises his eyebrow slightly at that, wonders what occurred at the courthouse. He’s even alright with being ditched in hospital for her to have Tom back, be able to go home again.

“I can drive him.”

Tess appears from around the corner, surprising them both.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, irked with himself for being pleased to see her.

Despite everything that happened, he misses his old life, having a family to love. And he never expected her to come, to care even that much.

“Suddenly had a thought you might die, I felt I had to drive down and see you.”

Surprises, surprises.

“I’ve got this,” Tess says, giving Miller a look.

Miller lets go of his bed, seems a bit put off to be relieved of her duty. Which just confuses him further, makes him wonder what he’s missed.

“Oh okay,” she says, as if she’d rather be saying something else. Leaves quickly, her body language trying to tell him something.

But he hasn’t any time to think about it before he’s distracted by Tess, telling him the doctors want him to stay overnight.

As if that’s going to happen.

“Take me home,” he says, with the look that will get him his way.

In the end it’s as easy as that. Tess doesn’t argue because it’s easier than listening to him gripe and they both know he’d win in the end anyway. And so he leaves hospital with a bit of metal in his chest, a new hope at life.

Chapter Text

Miller picks the boys up, brings them to the house. Tries to ground herself in the once-familiar, being with her family, ordering Tom to help out.

Painting is a good productive activity they can do together. Bring them closer without having to talk. She just wants him to be comfortable around her again, this angry pre-teen that was once her little boy.

At first Tom doesn’t say anything, rolls the paint on silently as she tells him about Devon, about her job. But eventually he looks at her, without the hardness he’s been carrying around since Joe was arrested. Says he’s sorry he lied in court, he just wanted to help his dad.

It breaks her heart, what he’s been through. All that conflicting emotion, more than any boy could possibly understand.

So she hugs him tight, despite his squirminess. Uses her usual line, that she loves him more than chocolate. Tells him they will get through this together, that she will always be there for him.

After Tom goes to bed she keeps painting for awhile, trying to take her mind off the trial, Joe, Mark, Tom. And of course, Hardy. She’s infuriated still just thinking about it.

In a way, working with Hardy is similar to dealing with a sullen teenager, she thinks to herself. All those long drives. Sometimes she got nothing out of him for hours at a time. But then he’d tell her about nearly drowning, his arms full of bloated rotting little girl, the same age as his daughter. The weight he still feels, what he’s been carrying all this time.

This revelation, that Hardy could be heart-breaking. It wasn’t a complete shock by then, she’d seen glimpses. Yet he’s so guarded, clinically opposed to sharing.

She had been angry at him, all the demands, commandeering her life. Then one moment of truth and all she could see was him going under, grasping onto a little girl’s body. It made her feel for Alec Hardy in a way she hadn’t thought possible.

And here she is, doing it again. When she really should be right pissed at him still.

Instead, Miller wonders if he got home alright, if Tess is staying over.

Resists calling him, tells herself he should be resting. Though It is tempting, just to satisfy that need to know he’s alright.

Thinks about Tess taking him home, Hardy’s sleepy eyes. Knows it is not something she should think about.

She’s too tired to even consider examining the feelings she harbours towards Hardy’s ex-wife. Tells herself it’s nothing to do with Hardy. Just doesn’t like her smug expression, for one. Doesn’t like her proprietary attitude.

But the more she can’t sleep the more it eats at her. She doesn’t like that Tess hurt him, didn’t do a good enough job looking out for him.

Since when did she get so protective of grumpy pain-in-the-arse Hardy?

Ellie tells herself it’s just a reaction to his latest medical situation, a result of him always looking so frail. But all the same, she has to force herself to stay in bed, mentally repeating all the reasons she can’t go check on him.

Chapter Text

Tess takes him home and Hardy tries to make a good show of it. Pushes on like he isn’t tired, cold, weak.

He lets Tess in, ignores her comments on his living situation. She looks around, obvious judgement in her expression, and the space becomes claustrophobic, too tight.

Hardy walks back out the door, sinks into a chair. Closes his eyes, feels the crisp wind blow by. It makes him feel sharper, a little more alive.

Tess comes back out, drapes his coat over him, feeds him pills. He tells himself he doesn’t miss it. Being cared for, having someone to care about. Is still angry at himself for being pleased she came.

“Why did you come?” he asks, needs to know what’s left between them.

She tells him she appreciated what he did for her, that he’s a good man, that she loved him for it. But not enough.

It’s almost worse. To know that all of him was not enough. That despite loving her, being a good man, he’s bitterly alone, without his family. Career in question. Health still dodgy.

He’d been pleased to see her, now Hardy just remembers everything they no longer are. Why he could never be enough for her.

He just hates that it still hurts, that she can make him feel this way.

Ultimately alone. That’s him, always has been he supposes. He was a fool to think anything else, that Tess had any real loyalty to him.

Though it helps when Daisy calls, wants to speak to him. Even sounds relieved he’s fixed his broken heart, like she’d miss him if he were gone.

He has a daughter still, loves her more than anything. The one thing he can always hold onto.

Hardy hangs up the phone, closes his eyes. He’s suddenly exhausted, passes the phone back and slumps in his chair.

The next he knows, there’s a hand on his shoulder waking him up. He’s freezing, shaky, still half asleep and for a moment he thinks it’s Miller, about to berate him for being a knob.

But then Tess’s voice drifts through, telling him he should go to bed, and he remembers he’s alone, that he doesn’t need her there.

Hardy forces himself to his feet, tries to escape her touch. Stumbles weakly to his bed, just manages to lift his sweater off before crawling in.

Tess comes over to feed him some pain pills, puts her hand on his shoulder again.

He needs so many things. To solve Sandbrook. Justice for Danny. His daughter to love him. A bit of comfort when he feels so shit, weak and in pain.

But he doesn’t want it from Tess, curls away from her touch. She takes his hint, leaves him alone. He tells himself it’s what he wants, all that he knows anymore.

Yet, as he holds himself tightly waiting for the pain pills to kick in, Hardy finds himself thinking about Miller. Wondering how she fared, taking Tom home. If she’ll come by in the morning, if she’ll still be angry with him.

Hardy shifts in bed, moans as a spasm of pain passes through his chest. Pictures Miller telling him off, saying he deserves no sympathy for hiding his medical condition. But then constantly asking him if he’s all right, giving him a concerned look.

He has no rights to her worry, has done nothing but cause grief in her life. And he tells himself he hates it, that he doesn’t want it. Still, it feels good to know there is at least someone that cares what happens to him. Particularly that it’s Ellie Miller, who he inexplicably cares for a lot.

Chapter Text

When Tess answers Hardy’s phone, Miller curses to herself for being surprised. Of course she stayed over, had to make sure he stayed alive and all that. It was more the answering of Hardy’s phone, so personal.

Again she tells herself it doesn’t bother her, that there’s no reason it should.

Miller passes on the info about the trial and about seeing the photo of Claire wearing Pippa’s pendant. Then hangs up and drives out to Claire’s cottage only to find it deserted, a pile of ashes in the sink.

She hadn’t really expected anything different but it was still irritating. To always be so close yet get tangled in lies, deception.

Miller drives back, tries to think on what it could mean. That Pippa’s pendant was Claire’s. What had been going on between those two households? She needs to talk to Hardy, get his take on it.

She lets herself in through the gate, doesn’t knock in case he’s sleeping. Walks in quietly, glances into his open bedroom. Sees that he is still asleep, can’t help but to stop and look.

She tries to tell herself that it isn’t affection that she’s feeling. That she doesn’t want to walk over and touch him, reassure herself he’s alive.

Of course Tess catches her watching him sleep.

“Oh, I didn’t hear you knock,” she says primly.

“It was open, always is,” Ellie replies, sharper than she means to.

She doesn’t want Tess to get the wrong idea and yet she has an absurd primal urge to define Hardy as hers. It’s a fine line to walk, and yet they both seem to be perched on it.

Chicken then.

“How is he?” Miller asks.

Tess shrugs.

“It’s impossible to tell, he says he’s fine,” she says airily, with a touch of irritation.

Miller finds herself breathing a sigh of relief she hadn’t realized was there.

“You were worried,” Tess says, in what is likely her ‘interrogation’ voice. A leading tone, a sly suggestion.

But Ellie’s no amateur, can play that game too.

“And you weren’t?” she counters. “Why else did you come?”

She puts it rather sharply but Tess just gives her a crisp, knowing smile.

“I can see why he likes you,” she comments dryly.

Miller tries not to take meaning to that, is not going to have that discussion. Starts rummaging through the meager kitchen instead, see if he’s done any shopping since she last raided his wares.

“Oh good, he’s gotten more tea bags,” she comments idly.

Then notices a certain sharpness in the air, the expression on Tess’s face. Remembers they are each oddly trying to lay claim to Hardy, which in itself still makes her uncomfortable. The idea that she’s tied to him in any way, much less in a way his ex-wife would be concerned about.

Tess is giving her a considered look and suddenly Ellie is wondering how she got herself into this battle. She’s never really played this game before, all pretend politeness, veiled jabs.

“I came because he was worried,” Tess says snappily. “Because he wouldn’t tell anybody else.”

“No, that’s not it,” Miller replies. “You had something to tell him. Felt guilty, maybe?”

Call it a hunch, being able to read people. Tess would never have come just for Hardy, she did for herself, needed to relieve herself of some burden.

“Oh, don’t play coy. He’s told you then?”

He hasn’t told her anything. But just that moment it all snaps into place.

She should have seen it when they first went to Sandbrook. She could have killed him herself after ambushing her with his ex-wife, conveniently forgetting to mention that part. Was so pissed off about that, she didn’t think anything else of it.

But now she sees it so clearly. Ollie’s article, the big tell all about Hardy. Of course she’d read it, even amidst all her emotional turmoil about Joe. And it had bothered her, that he’d taken the fall for his DS’s poor judgment. Though by then she’d known that the other Hardy, the soft, thoughtful one, was there, under all the brusque antagonism. It was easy to see that he would have done it for her, no matter how badly she might have screwed up. Taken whatever blame to save her from it.

Tess would have been a DS on the case.

He’d taken the fall for Tess. Even after she’d been having an affair and lost the key piece of evidence in the case that meant everything to him. He must have done it for his daughter. But for Tess too. He still cares for her now, despite everything he’s suffered.

That he can look so grim, angry. And yet be so dear.

Good lord did she just think of him as dear?

“He’s not told me anything,” Miller replies, tries to sound as truthful as it is.

Tess looks suspicious, but then again it’s Hardy and it’s a deeply personal issue - not exactly his type of conversation material.

And Miller is stuck in the revelation of it all. Feels stupid for not having come up with it sooner. Tries not to stare at Tess while she thinks all sorts of outlandish thoughts.

You were his wife. You knew how much it meant to him and you stopped for a celebration fuck. Then you let him take the blame, almost die because of it. He’s still suffering now because of it. The pacemaker, this case, still unresolved.

None of this should bother her so deeply and yet it does. Miller decides it’s high time she gets out of this conversation. Otherwise she’s going to be unable to hide her emotions, pretend it doesn’t make her extremely angry for him.

So she turns away, makes tea and then opens one of the myriad files on the table. Tess takes hint and does the same.

They’ve only been at their silent impasse for a few minutes when Hardy finally wakes up.

“What’s going on?” he asks as he looks out towards them, still dripping with sleep.

Miller has to remember to stop herself smiling, stuff it back when it threatens to appear.

She is not full of fondness for him, his bedhead, pajama pants and t shirt.

“Morning, cup of tea?” Tess says, reminding Miller of their ongoing battle.

It doesn’t matter though, she has something better than tea for Hardy. Feels unreasonably excited to tell him, tries not to examine the feeling too carefully.

He awkwardly puts a sweater on, makes her remember he’s just had surgery, is probably in pain. But of course he doesn’t complain, just dives straight into her information with his usual stubborn enthusiasm.

“You’re saying Pippa’s pendant actually belonged to Claire?” he exclaims, emphatically enough that Tess perches next to him while passing his tea, puts her hand on his shoulder as if to calm him down.

It’s still odd, off-putting to see Tess reach out to him. Not that Miller wants to be the one settling him, or so she tells herself. It’s just strange to see anyone touch him so familiarly, she’s only ever known him to be alone, awkward with closeness.

They talk about the pendant, what it could mean that it first belonged to Claire. Really the new information just muddies the waters, doesn’t clarify anything.

Then Tess brings up Gary Thorpe, makes a connection. But also quickly dashes their hopes by saying she’s not re-opening the case. The power struggle continues, Hardy stiffens in annoyance.

“What are you two going to do?” Tess asks.

Of course Hardy’s already decided what she’s to do, tells her she’s going to give Claire one more chance to confess. While he goes to talk to Lee, light a fire under him.

That makes both of them look at him in concern, thoughts of doctor’s post-surgical orders on their minds.

“Should you really be out confronting Lee?” Tess asks, though she must know it will do no good.

“Aye,” he replies with a slow knowing nod. “I should.”

He has something planned, Miller can hear it in his voice.

If he’s breathing, able to walk, there’s no stopping him. At least he looks better than that day after his heart attack, she thinks. A bit adorable really, all jim jams and bedhead, sharp-eyed excitement at the new developments.

God, she really has to stop thinking these things, Ellie tells herself.

It’s just grouchy Hardy, definitely not adorable in any way.