Chapter 1: [I-I] black notebook.
“Oh, God, not you.”
“Oh, God, yes me.”
Alec Hardy made to shut his door, but the smaller woman was fast and ducked into his hotel room under his arm before he could manage. His shoulders tensed up beneath his crisp white Oxford and he sounded like his lungs were rattling as he exhaled sharply.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I know. ‘S a long ways away from the cities, innit? I’d never even heard of this place before. ‘Broadchurch’. Cute. Didn’t expect to see you ‘round, Alec.”
“That’s a damn lie and you know it.” He finally turned to face her, both hands stuck onto his hips as if that’d make it any more obvious what his mood was. “Now would you do me the courtesy to answer my bloody question?”
“Case.” Her perky smile fell a bit, because nobody was so much of an arse to grin when speaking of a child’s murder. Her weight shifted, and the room suddenly seemed a shade darker. “Wessex Police put out a call to arms. I answered.”
“You ought to ‘ve hung up.”
“Well. C’est la vie.”
“That doesn’t explain what you’re doing in my room,” he snapped, unsatisfied. “How did you find me? Wait, nevermind; I don’t care. Just get out.”
“You’ve not changed a bit, Alec.” She spoke quietly in contrast to his heated whip-cracks of speech. Her soft voice was heavy with sentiment in an encompassing, all-knowing way that made him shudder.
“Don’t call me Alec.”
“Oh, like you can’t even call me Leigh?” She scoffed, finally shedding a bit of the transparent cheeriness she’d put up. Her deep virgin black hair swung as she shook her head. “This is why you haven’t changed. You don’t know how to move on.”
“I don’t want to move on.”
“And that’s why…” She trailed off quietly before she finished her thought, but their eyes met, and understanding was reflected in his eyes through a flash of pain. He ground his teeth together to keep from saying anything else to her. For a moment, they merely stood and stared at each other, breathing quietly.
Leigh then spun on her heel and made to survey the room, as if nothing had happened. She swept her arm out dramatically. “Honestly, Alec, I’ve never seen you as one to settle in a small town like this. I thought you hated the idea of being so close to everybody… having your secrets out all the time.”
“You weren’t wrong,” he grumbled, begrudgingly. “But you stick out sorer than me.”
“You’re right there.” If there was any insult in his tone, she either didn’t notice, or—more likely of her character—she didn’t care. She paused in her movements before the tasteless painting on his wall, staring at it as if she really were in a field of tacky sunflowers. Her voice fell to a low whisper. “I hate it.”
“Then why’re you here?”
“Already told you, didn’t I?” She turned again, mirroring him as she crossed her slender arms over her slight frame. “I got assigned onto the Latimer case.”
“Don’t see much investigating needing to be done in my private room, DC Keaton.”
“Right. Forgot. ‘Cos that’s all I am to you, right?” She dropped her arms into her black jacket’s pockets and sighed, pulling out a notepad. Alec’s heart, weak enough as is, fluttered when he saw the stiff black backing. She’d kept it.
“I’m a Detective Sergeant now, just so you’re aware. Here’s my private number. We’ll be seeing each other loads, so I figured I ought to drop by ‘n say hi at least once before morning.”
“Where are you staying?” he asked warily as she scrawled something onto the paper.
“Next door.” A shitfaced grin. “Police accommodation. Where else? Shouldn’t you have been able to figure that out yourself? Anyways. Ring me if you need me, love.”
“Don’t call me love.”
“What should I call you, then? Sir?”
“Don’t call me at all.”
“That’s on you, Alec.” Her tone dropped coldly, and he shivered again, unable to look away from the hard gaze she held him in with her endlessly brown eyes. They were so dark they looked almost black, and light sparkled off of them like the starry sky. “It’s on nobody else but you.”
She then tore the page out with a neat rip and folded it in half before handing it to him. He stared at it, wondering if he should even take it. Finally, he snatched it out of her hands, careful to avoid touching her.
“Worry not, I’m on my way.” She pocketed her hands again before sighing gently. As a lingering afterthought, she murmured, “it is good to see you again.”
Alec stiffened his jaw, silent. She left through the front door and he watched it slowly fall shut, anti-slam mechanisms making for an anti-climactic exit. The Trader’s Hotel walls were made of glorified newspaper and he heard her stomping around next door soon after, almost like she wanted him to hear her.
“Damn,” he mumbled to himself. First the murder of a child, and now Leigh Keaton. When would it ever be over? Life seemed to be racing past him ever since he’d set foot onto that beach that afternoon. Crumbling, like the sandy Broadchurch bluffs he had spent so many childhoods under. He looked down at the note he’d just crumpled in his fist and unwrapped it, running his thumb over the fresh black ink and smearing it with his fingerprint. The handwriting was horrid, which he always found to be distinctive from a woman. His never fared much better. It’d been something they’d shared. They used to say good hearts are drawn to him…
…and they’re broken by him.
He closed his hand on the paper again and shut his eyes with something like grief and something like defeat.
Chapter 2: [I-II] misdial.
DS Ellie Miller stopped in her tracks at the telltale Scottish snarl, not bothering to hide a tiny scowl before plastering her easy-going smile onto her face.
“Sir?” she answered obediently, peppy in tone.
He pulled the glasses off of his nose, even though the headache rooting at the base of his skull didn’t have anything to do with that. She came into clearer focus. Ellie’s curly hair looked to be a bit wilder than usual, and one of her buttons was mismatched—but that was only to be expected, what with the later hours this case was pulling on everybody involved.
“Have any of the, er, reinforcements the Chief Super called for arrived yet?”
Ellie looked justifiably confused to be asked that, but Alec refused to move his face in any way that might reveal his emotions. She answered after a moment’s hesitation.
“I’m not sure, Sir. Though I’ve not seen anybody just yet. I heard through the grapevine that they’d be coming in tomorrow.”
Leigh Keaton’s sad smile floated to the front of his mind and he openly winced. Ellie noticed but kept her mouth shut, much to his relief.
He didn’t know why the DC—DS, now, apparently—was here early. She’d said it herself. She wasn’t one to stray far from a big city. He’d never imagine her far from London or Paris or any other romanticized trash heap. But she was always just there, like a figment of imagination. Made of dreams, but not always good. Because even in Sandbrook…
God, it’d been so damn cold.
“Sir?” Ellie piped up tentatively, still waiting to be dismissed. He shook himself out of his head. There’d be time to dwell on that later.
“Right, well. We’re swamped up to our arses with supposed witnesses dialing in, so the sooner we’ve got more men, the bloody better.”
It was nowhere near a dismissal, but it was the best she’d get from him. She nodded understandingly, ducking back out of his office. Alec peered up past her once she left. The police headquarters were as busy as he remembered it being since the child’s body was found, but he wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint any newcomers in the swarm of people, regardless. But Leigh—Leigh Keaton with her dark hair and dark eyes and jet-black coat—
His chest began to seize and tighten before he could stop thinking about her. He bit down a guttural cry of pain, stifling it behind a fist lest somebody hear through the open door. His arms trembled as he braced himself, waiting impatiently and fearfully for the wave to pass, even though it felt like it might never. It wasn’t like the lazy waves at the foamy beach, which lull forwards and back—the pain was angry and hot, spreading throughout him like fibrous roots, daring to kill him. Constricting him. One false move and he’d be dead, it seemed to say to him. Taunting him. He gasped for breath, reaching inside his pocket. He popped a pair of the pills out of its foil case onto the paper he’d been working on. He fumbled, nearly sweeping them onto the floor. With desperation he gulped them down dry, feeling its bitterness burn in his throat on the way down. After another minute or two of excruciating, worrying agony, it finally faded. His head throbbed dully and he leant back in his chair with relief.
He truly was a dying old man. Stress—a silent killer. Shit, he’d rather have his head be blown clear off.
After catching his breath, he reached for his phone, tiredly looking down into the bright blue display. There were no new messages; not that he expected any, though he found himself checking compulsively anyways. His gaze flicked up to the corner of the screen—at this time, Daisy would only just be starting to get ready for school. Looking up out his office to make sure nobody was looking closely at him, he pressed a button and put the phone up to his ear. It rang and rang, to the point where Alec figured he might as well hang up and try again later. But then there was a click, and he heard a neutral hullo. His heart softened and lost some of its tension.
“Hey, Daze. How’re you doing; you okay?”
The voice did not belong to his daughter. In fact, it sounded an awful lot like…
He sat up stiffly, almost afraid he’d shock his heart back into a bad rhythm. “Keaton?” he all but gasped, horrified.
“I know I said you could call me, but I didn’t think I’d have to roleplay as your teenage daughter.” The joke flew over his head and he had half a mind to hang up without saying anything further. Despite his shame, he felt that it would mean Leigh had won if he did that, and he was unfortunately too proud for it. He grit his teeth and rubbed his forehead furiously.
“It was a mistake. Nothing else.”
“All right. Is there nothing you’ve to say?”
Her smug attitude riled him up in a multitude of wrong ways. But it wasn’t as if he didn’t have anything to ask.
“Why are you in Broadchurch early?” he questioned, like he might a suspect. “We aren’t expecting outside men until tomorrow.”
“We were briefed yesterday, and it took me all of that to fly and then bus in. We aren’t due until Tuesday, yes. But…”
“But?” he pressed, his detective’s curiosity getting the better of him.
“But. I think I’m here for the same reason you are.” Her voice got quieter, conspiratorial. He could imagine her leaning forwards to whisper into the crook of his neck. “Do you still think about it? Them?”
Water, so much cold water…
“Yeah,” he mumbled shortly, not wanting to say anything past that, but not wanting to lie. “Yes, I do.”
“I couldn’t not come. Not after that mess. I guess it’s selfish of me, innit? But I just want to set things right.” Her sigh sounded like a rush of static through the phone. “Oh. I went ‘round the town, and I was won’drin… have you spoken to the vicar, yet?”
“The vicar. Paul Coates. He seemed a bit on edge when I spoke to him. Thought you might want to have a word.”
“The hell are you doing talking to witnesses?!” he barked. “We’ve not even made a formal statement yet!”
“I didn’t speak to him as police, just a curious tourist. Relax, there. I know how to do my job.” Leigh’s indignant tone wasn’t missed, but Alec was already busy struggling to don his jacket while juggling his cell.
“You’re bloody lucky I accidentally rang you and found this out now, or I’d have your bloody throat,” he growled. “Don’t go off and do things on your own! Don’t you know you could affect the investigation with your goddamn nosin’?”
“You don’t control me.”
“No, and I damn wish I did, because maybe then—”
He stopped himself before he could continue. He realized eyes were on him—after all, their DI had suddenly tumbled out of his office as a wreck, hollering into his phone. He inhaled shakily and put a hand over his chest self-consciously, turning away from the crowd of people staring at him.
“Look, Keaton. Whatever happened between us is in the past.”
“You’re the one with problems letting go,” she said emotionlessly, strong wind whipping her words into something he could barely understand. “Since when have you stopped?”
“…just don’t get in my way.” He hung up before she could say anything else. Before he could hear whatever she had to say to break him. His heart hurt.
Christ, he was pathetic.
Chapter 3: [I-III] scuffed loafers.
“I’ve not even said my piece yet—!”
“Don’t want it.” He attempted to wrestle the door shut, but again, DS Leigh Keaton managed to worm her way inside. If anything, the woman was spry. She sighed heavily as she shrugged off her coat, laying it down on the chair before collapsing down into it—much to Alec’s horror.
“I see you every day now that you’re up my arse at work!” he exclaimed indignantly. “I’ve no need to see you here, either!”
“Bloody hell Alec, would you pipe down? My bathroom’s being done up right now and I’d rather not sit all my lonesome in the lobby.”
“Go sit ‘all your lonesome’ in the bar or something. God knows your home’s there.” But he made no further movement to evict his new guest. Leigh was stubborn, if nothing else, and it’d be futile to try. Nothing short of picking her up and flinging her outside would be sufficient once she made her mind up.
“I was only ever a casual drinker,” she hummed as a reminder, twirling her hair after loosening it from her bun. He looked away as she did, shaking the tangled locks out over her shoulder. The ends trailed to her lower back. Nearly all the women he’d come across had had shorter or medium-length hair—Miller, Ms. Fisher, Mrs. Latimer, and even the Chief Super… he kept his eyes trained on the wall as he sat on the foot of his bed. After he mustered the courage he glanced to her face, but she was already staring down at the floor.
“Who d’you think killed Danny?” Alec asked tiredly. To anybody else, he might’ve wondered if it was too insensitive to bring up outright. Not Leigh Keaton. There was a reason she wore black, and it wasn’t the horrid English weather. She pursed her lips and chewed on the bottom one, giving it a poppy red flush.
“Dunno. I really don’t. In the cities you look to all the bad people, right? But here…? It could be anybody. ‘N that’s the most worrisome, because nobody looks the type. Nobody looks dangerous. Somebody was a friend, and they did it anyways. But I don’t think they’ll kill again.”
“No?” he pressed, interested in why. There were no clues to indicate that this might be a serial case, but it was always on everybody’s mind when somebody was found dead because of foul play—
“No. I’ve thought about it—why him in particular—‘n... well, I just don’t think we’ve to worry about whose child is next. The bloke didn’t do it for kicks.” She dropped her hand from her chin and clasped them in her lap after saying it. Alec sympathized silently but said nothing further, understanding that nothing could be said.
“Have you had a fall, Alec?” she asked suddenly. His brow furrowed. The gash behind his ear had already healed up, and he didn’t think Leigh had ever gotten close enough to him for her to notice. Despite telling himself to keep his cool, his heart fluttered anxiously.
“No,” he lied, cautious enough to be reasonably brief. “What for?”
“Your shoes. They’re all scuffed up.” She stood, so slowly and soundlessly that he didn’t even notice her walk over until he felt a ghostly hair brush against his cheek. He sucked in a breath and held it deep in his stomach.
“I’ve been walking on the beach. Clears the mind.” He put emphasis on mind, sounding more like ‘mine’. He hid the sudden twinge of fear well, but now that she was close to him, he worried. Leigh had keen eyes, but more importantly, he was weak. Just because he wasn’t well equipped to deal with people didn’t mean he lost any of the traits that made him a man, and… heat stirred beneath his gut when he felt her hand touch his shoulder, so gently, in a way that made him feel like he’d never been touched so softly before. A gasp yieldingly shuddered from his lips.
“…I’m sorry that you don’t trust me.” Leigh turned away abruptly, which confused him. He found himself standing too as if pulled along. The moment was gone; broken. But he wasn’t moving to fix it. He said nothing in reply as she stood still, clearly juggling words in her head to find the right thing to say. Eventually she gave in and let her head drop, her long hair glossy despite the low brass-toned light.
“I thought things’d be different. Better than they were last.”
“What d’you mean?” he asked quietly, sudden wary of the answer.
“You had Tess back ‘n. Daisy, too. I had…” Leigh sighed heavily. The sound rippled through the thickening air. “Well, I suppose I just thought it’d be easier this time.”
“It’s never easy,” he murmured, the names hovering in the air like a guilty fog.
“No. But anyways, I’ll get goin’. See if they’re done. Hopefully this’ll be solved and I can get out of your hair. …I hate the sea.” She turned heel and Alec could only wonder what had happened to her—only to remember the Detective Sergeant’s face when facing the tears of the grieving. If he hadn’t known better, he would’ve assumed that she was also mourning for Danny Latimer, and all the others, for the frown carved into her face seemed far too heavy to be explained by anything else.
He mentally swore when the name fell out of his mouth. He hadn’t meant to call her by her forename. He was never comfortable with that. But she heard and stopped, looking behind. He shoved his hands into his trousers pockets so that she wouldn’t notice them tremble.
“I do trust you,” he muttered, succinctly as he lowered his hazel eyes. “That’s why.”
“Oh,” she replied. When she said nothing further he glanced up, taken aback by the weary smile that had suddenly raised the corners of her lips. They fell, but slowly, with ease.
“All right. Good night, Alec…” Her eyes fell to his shoes again. Knowingly. “Take care of yourself.”
“Yeah. Yep. You too.”
She exited out the front door again, just as easily as she had the first time she’d popped back into his life. In and out. Tides coming in, in and out. Every time they left there was the whispered promise that they’d come back—you knew they would, because they always did, but if you didn’t know the science of the moon and the nature of the world how would you know that the tide would come back? What if one day they didn’t? Would you miss them then? Or could you move on?
He collapsed back onto his bed, the strength suddenly flowing out of his legs. When he lay down, it was almost like he could be carried away by the waves. Lulled. It smelt like her, back then.
Christ. He loved the sea, and he hated himself for it.
Chapter 4: [I-IV] uneven shave.
“I’m starting to figure that’s what you think my name is.”
He swallowed thickly, his throat so dry that each raspy breath felt like a challenge. Leigh raised a plastic red cup equipped with a matching pin-striped bendy straw to his lips. He hated the childish feeling of being taken care of, but he was far too tired to care about such a fragile thing like dignity right now and drank thirstily. He winced as he lowered his head back onto the pillow. His whole body seemed to ache sorely instead of his chest, which hardly seemed fair to him.
“I just ran into DS Miller. Ellie told me to give you a proper word, but I figure you look too sorry for it.”
“Aw, you talked to Miller…?” The despair that they were already on first name-basis roughened his already hoarse speech.
“Heart arrhythmias,” Leigh continued incredulously, ignoring him completely. “And you ran after a suspect?”
“Well what was I supposed to do then, Keaton? Walk leisurely?! That was the kill—agh…”
He winced, the attempt to raise his voice too much. He sank back into the uncomfortable hospital cot as Leigh sighed disapprovingly.
“I’m taking care of you. I figure you’re going to discharge yourself against everybody’s recommendations.”
“I don’t need you.”
“Hah. Yes, you do. Look at you—can’t even chew a toffee in this state, I reckon.”
“…die.” It was all he could come up with, and the feebleness did nothing to convey the depth of his exasperation. As expected, Leigh merely grinned cheekily and put the cup down onto a tray.
“You’re the one closer to it. Watch your words.”
He wanted to retort, but it was too much. His head was dull, which was the worst of it all—the pain that seized his chest was always bad, yes, but he hated feeling stupid. He closed his weary eyes, wondering if he waited long enough if Leigh would go on and leave, but something warm brushed his chin and he jumped. His eyes were wide and Leigh was closer than he could imagine was professionally appropriate. Her hand was splayed across his face and—God, he could feel her thumb brushing his cheekbone slowly.
And, as if he wanted his schoolboyish nervousness to be shouted out the goddamn windows, his heart monitor began blaring. Leigh jumped. And it was clear that she wasn’t an idiot when she turned to glance at it, her hand gently coming off of his skin, which was already breaking out with a cold sweat.
“Sorry…” She trailed off, glancing from him to the visibly slowing heart rate with a knowing half-smile. His neck was warm and if it wouldn’t ruin his self-worth for life, he’d have tucked himself up under the covers and hid.
“All right, you’ve had your fun.” He scowled bad-temperedly. “Beat it. I’ve got to get back to the office… God knows what’s been happening in my absence. And don’t you dare try to stop me, you little—”
“I’m not going to stop you,” she interrupted. “I was just checking your bad shave. You oughta fix yourself up if you’re going to stumble into work like that. People are already talking; you don’t want to make it any worse than it already is.”
The words surprised him. He thought for sure she was going to sternly urge him to rest, or whip out the whiny no, you’ve got to take care of yourself, or… everything else a woman was supposed to say to a sick man. Instead, she held out a bag of the clothes he’d collapsed in.
“Got these from Ms. Fisher. It’s a funny story, innit? Anyways, go on, get changed. I’ll run the car.”
“…all right.” He didn’t want to test his luck here and have her stop him, since he was weak enough for her to actually succeed. She didn’t seem to be changing her mind any time soon and nodded, turning heel and politely exiting without another word to him. He watched after her. Was it because he looked so pathetic that she decided to give him what he wanted? Did she agree with his motives, or was there something ulterior to it that he was missing in the fog of drugs?
Beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep-beep—
“All right!” he growled, ripping the clip off of his finger. It blessed himself with silence, but not peace of mind. The redness had gone to his ears now and he couldn’t shake the ghostly feeling of her fingers on his jaw.