No one ever knows in the last days of a major investigation that you’re in the last days of it. Hardy has always figured that. People assume, sometimes, that just because it seems like the clues and tip-offs are piling in that the end of it, the case, has to be in sight. But most times that’s wrong.
People are, usually, wrong.
Alec Hardy winds his way back to Broadchurch only after months of fretting about it. But, he’s figured out, he’s wrong just as much as anyone else is. Often, that is.
It’s not too difficult, settling in with Daisy; it’s easy to get her enrolled, easy to settle into being DI in Broadchurch again. And it’s too, too easy to work with Ellie Miller again. Only takes a week or two for her to be used to him again, his coming back.
Things are easy for a bit, and then there’s the Winterman case, and.
Then the Winterman case draws to a close, and there’s that, then.
There’s a lot of ways to think about time. Months, seasons, years, yes -- but moves, too. Glasgow to Birmingham to London to Broadchurch, back to Birmingham, back to Broadchurch yet again. After a few years as a DI, Alec Hardy had started to think of time as measured out over cases. Months run together, years even, but not cases. He remembered right where he’d been in the Fordham case when his heart slowed, for the first time, so much that he passed out.
And he’d gotten the pacemaker itself during all the mess of Joe Miller’s trial and finally, finally getting Sandbrook solved. It was meant to work with a phone app -- isn’t that ridiculous -- but he hadn’t got it set up until after Daisy moved in with him. She’s the one between the two of them who knows how the damn phone works.
And so now there’s this, the most regular little regular check-in he gets. Once every three months he gets a little icon on the top of his mobile phone that means we’ve sent information about the machinery inside you to your doctor, and if it’s all going horribly wrong inside you, you’ll get a phone call.
Utterly ridiculous. He gets in the habit of just swiping it away without thinking about it. That’s supposed to be the one bloody good thing about the pacemaker: that he’s not got to have to obsess about it all the time, his heart. Now he can have more than two glasses of wine, eat a little less strictly if he wants, run after a suspect without worrying if he’ll collapse ten meters in. And he could do those things if he wanted. He’s had a few drinks more than two here and there, swiped chips from Daisy’s plate mostly to annoy her. He’s done more running after suspects than anything else, and even that’s not usually that eventful.
And he’s got a new load of things to worry about now: answering his phone to his right ear, not his left; not standing too close to induction hobs; warning airport security if he’s ever got cause to take a flight somewhere. And swiping away an annoying little notification every three months.
Except that a month and a bit after the Winterman case, that little icon pops up. His tea is steeping, and Daisy’s not up yet, will be soon. In the moment it’s just him in his rented house, standing over the counter, waiting, and the mundanity of the morning hits him straight in the chest in such an odd, dizzy way. Here’s alive, in decent health, and here. In Broadchurch, settled up atop cliffs far enough away to be safe but close enough you can walk up to the edge if you want to.
It’s a better place than he could have imagined a few years ago. Just that Daisy’s talking to him again would be enough, let alone living with him -- they’ve got their troubles, but she’s a teenage girl; of course they do.
And if just for a moment, he’s pleased, really pleased in a sort of uncomplicated way. It’s that first smartphone notification that makes him realize it, but he’s pleased.
By the time Daisy makes it out of the shower and into the kitchen, Hardy might be humming along to the radio. “You seem like you’re in a good mood,” she says, a little suspicious, and he mock-scowls at her over his tea.
“Who, me? Never.”
He drops her off early, on his way to the station, and doesn’t let himself smile until she’s through the doors. Doesn’t let himself smile for long, either; wouldn’t do to show up to the station smiling over nothing. No one would ever let him hear the end of it.
Before he heads in, he checks his personal phone one more time. The notification is still sitting there in the menu displaying his info has been sent in. He could clear it, but just for now, he doesn’t.
A long time ago, Hardy had figured that anniversaries were meant for happy things. Or neutral things, at least. Now, though, he knows better. Daisy’s birthday comes around every year, but that’s about the only happy thing that does.
And even that had been more melancholy than not for awhile. Hardy tries not to think about it too much, what he missed in the fraught years between Daisy not talking to him any longer and then her coming to Broadchurch.
Is it the same thing for Ellie? For Miller, he should think, since that’s the only thing he ever calls her out loud, except when he thinks about her — which he tries not to do much — she’s always Ellie.
Ellie’s years have her boys’ birthdays, both of them. As well as her own, which as far as Hardy can tell, she always celebrates. She seems the sort, at least, and she celebrated it this year at least, just with drinks after work, but that’s more celebration than Hardy’s ever wanted for himself on his birthday.
The bad anniversaries hurt less than they used to every year, though even that feels wrong, like it shouldn’t. His wedding anniversary is one thing. It feels right that this year he’d barely felt anything at the date, just a bit of a sense of it’s been a long time now.
Maybe if things with Tess hadn’t ended up so tangled up in the Sandbrook case he wouldn’t feel anything at all anymore about it. But, well, she was, and that’s that.
Hardy tries not to dwell too much. He’s trying to be better about saving his what ifs for the police work bit of his job.
He catches himself wondering once, on one of Ellie’s bad days, when she’d married Joe. If it had been a summertime wedding or not. Summertime seemed fitting for a couple like they must have seemed, before two kids and a murder.
And then he’d schooled himself to stop wondering since it was the sort of thing Ellie would probably not countenance him asking about. He’s gotten better about not thinking about Ellie.
He tries not to think about it, what it might be like to offer comfort -- to be offered comfort.
That’s not what he’s meant to think about, though. So he ignores it.
Ellie’s bad days are better than his bad days, and it's a testament to how well they know each other by now that Hardy can spot them now, the bad days. It’s one thing if Ellie’s grumpy. A bad mood is one thing, and everyone at the station’s prone to it at one point or another. If there’s not budget cuts or admin to worry about, there’s also the reality of the work. Sometimes it’s tragic, and sometimes it’s just bloody annoying. Getting called to the same address three weeks in a row about a domestic disturbance, responding to noise complaints about the same teenaged troublemakers… There’s trends, but you never know quite what you’re getting into. Hardy doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t end up in a bad mood about it every now and then. It’s suspicious, people who are pleasant all the time.
And Ellie’s never hesitated to get grumpy at him. At a strange level he appreciates it. They’d gotten off on as wrong as a foot as two people could, but now, years later, just means they’re two people used to each other at their worst.
And fittingly it’s the days where Ellie is _too_ pleasant that Hardy knows there’s something off. Mornings where Ellie is cheery and greets everyone and sits down at her computer and ends up staring blankly and not getting much done -- he’ll take a hundred days of her bossing him about over any of those. Those are the days if she wanders off it’s best to leave her alone unless something really urgent’s come up because she’s probably off crying somewhere, and Hardy had learned quite quickly she does not like company then. Doesn’t mind a cup of tea at her desk when she comes back.
Ellie reads him better than she reads her. Or at least she reads his bad days well. She’s seen a lot of him at his worst, so makes sense, Hardy figures. Or maybe it’s not even that, maybe it’s more that she’s good at ribbing him, figuring out just how much teasing he’ll put up with before his mood sours more.
Hardy keeps an eye on the papers in mid-April -- the 15th and 16th, the day Pippa’s body was found and the day the news broke. The year before there’d been retrospectives. Articles all about what it meant that the case had been solved, that the killers were behind bars.
It hadn’t mentioned much of him; that had been an odd relief, a good thing.
But still, now, he feels that it’s not so long ago now that this time of year, there’d be at least a few journalists phoning round. The trial is over now, though, so it’s mostly him and the families who remember Sandbrook. Something about it feels wrong, not seeing the case name in the papers this time of year.
It feels wrong how easily people forget.
Miller notices, of course she bloody does. She’s not subtle about it, though no one else seems to care. Shows up in his office to eat her lunch, talk about her boys, ask about Daisy.
And still it’s enough to distract him.
“Miller.” He glances at her and ignores steadfastly how his stomach drops a bit at how fondly she’s looking at him. “Thank you.”
The thing about something big and awful and sprawling happening to you is it just takes up so much time. Something like a death, there’s the day the body’s found, there’s the day that person died; if there’s an investigation, there’s the day it starts, they day you crack it, the day it formally ends. Hardy remembers some of the dates for the Sandbrook case, not all of them. He remembers what seem like the most important ones, the girls’ deaths. The day Claire had stolen the locket.
Hardy is thinking about this because Ellie’s had a long string of bad days. She’d started with the mask up, intensely cheery, and then after a couple days of that and a weekend away come back in a right mood.
He tries, a few nights, offering to keep her company.
A few nights after that, he invites her over to his place, and somehow that’s what she says yes to.
She tangles her fingers together in her lap. Her nails are more bit down than usual, and, Christ, why does he know that? Why’s he got to notice that sort of thing, why’s he got to care so much? No, that’s a stupid question; he cares because it’s Ellie, it’s Miller, so of course he cares. Whether she wants him to care or not, he does.
He did sort of ruin her life a little bit. Or he didn’t, it was Joe who did, but he was there for it, a few of the worst months of her life. And then after that, she -- she’s the reason why he doesn’t dream of them anymore, Lisa and Pippa. She’s remarkable. Brilliant. Short-tempered, sort of, except not in the same way he is, and kind, sort of, but also not easily won over. There’s no way to explain her, not really, not without listing out every little thing about her. She hates when he microwaves tea, and she’s always got snack bars in her bag, and she’s always, when she’s outside the house, cheery and chipper, at least with people who aren’t him, and no one from outside of town would ever guess what she’s been through.
She’s staring at the TV with a sort of flinty resolution that makes Hardy realize, abruptly, that he’s been staring. He sinks back further into the couch and redirects his attention to the TV in a move that’s hopefully as subtle as possible, even as his ears heat up.
Right. That’s enough wine for the night, then. If he gets much more far gone than this he’ll end up thinking the way he does late at night when he can’t sleep and -- no, not going there, not going to think about it. He focuses on the TV, which is just cutting away from the advertisement break to back to the program.
So Ellie certainly noticed him staring, no way she was that riveted on the commercials. Right. Hardy’s stomach sinks; she hadn’t looked angry, but--
“So are you going to kiss me tonight or not?”
Which is so, so far away from anything Hardy had expected to hear her say that the only thing he can manage to do is gape.
“You can tell me if I’m misreading this, though I don’t think I am. God, I hope I’m not. But if you wanted to, now would be a good time.”
They’re both tipsy, and Hardy, at least, isn’t accustomed to being tipsy anymore, and it’s been a long time since he kissed someone. Odd then that it’s as graceful as it is. Probably mostly Ellie’s doing. She’s the one to lean in to meet him,
She tastes like wine, and her self-assurance is a damned relief. Hardy sets one hand against her neck and strokes his thumb against her jaw, trying to keep his hands from shaking. Her skin’s soft, she smells like herself, and none of this should be such a surprise, except it absolutely is.
“I should,” says Miller, “sleep, I reckon.”
The next morning is an awkward conversation.
“Well, I’m not planning to have an affair whilst I’ve got evidence left in the car, sir, so if that’s your only issue…?”
Hardy looks up from
“I’d say I’m sorry, ‘cept I’m not.” She’s watching the road steadily.
“You’re a terror, Miller,” he says, though she knows him well enough by now to hear the fondness in his tone. “Please, let’s not talk about this now.”
Her brows pinch down. “When then?” Her voice is clipped, means she’s a bit wounded, which isn’t what he wanted, shit. “Why not now?”
“Tonight. After work. We’ll get dinner. Or -- or drinks, if you wanted, go down to the pub or something. And because I love you madly, Miller, and I don’t want to have this conversation on our bloody way into work, alright?”
Miller’s hands tighten around the steering wheel. “Can’t believe this is what it took just to get you to go to the pub with me.”
Her nails are somehow even more bit down than they were the night before. Too easy to imagine her staying up, biting her nails in bed, and Hardy wishes fiercely and abruptly he’d gone to bed with her the night before. Just to sleep.
She sounds pleased. He looks away from the hills to see that she looks pleased, too, and god, that’s a relief.
“I was starting to worry I’d have to talk you into this.” Her voice has gone all familiar and confessional, the same way she used to talk in their first days together, when she’d had to unravel all the personal dramas of Broadchurch before they could figure out it had been her husband all along. But her voice doesn’t reflect that seriousness, that burden; just like the rest of her, it forges on. “I just think this could work, you and me. If you wanted it to.”
Hardy might be driving, but he lets his left hand drift over past the barrier, settles it over her knee. It’s lovely, really, how he can span most of her thigh with just one hand. “I, ah.” He doesn’t think of all the things he’d imagined a long time ago, the way things could have played out between her and him. This is the way things are playing out, and they’re playing out, which makes everything perfect, as far as he figures.
Broadchurch is a small town compared to Glasgow, and he’s been issued a small dictate in comparison to what he used to do.
But this is -- this is good. Hardy’s bedroom window is wedged open just a bit, by a pair of wine corks, and there’s a good sea breeze rolling in. Ellie is asleep, meaning he gets, right now, to curl up against her back, to press his face against her hair and breathe in and think about the particular way she smells without her rolling her eyes at him.
She’s more than entitled to her particular hesitancies, her discomforts, her mistrusts. And despite that, she seems disinterested in them all. Between the two of them, she’s the one reckless, and she’s the one bold; she’s the one who was willing to say what if. Hardy presses his nose against the back of her head and inhales, smells M&S shampoo and nothing else and he loves her so much he can’t quite stand it.
In his chest, Hardy’s heart beats steady and easy. There’s a few years yet before the pacemaker battery will have to be swapped out. He’d dreaded it once, succumbing to the routine of having it checked on and maybe replaced. But now, late in the night, Ellie asleep, he can think of nothing sweeter.
Perhaps he’s got a bad heart. But Daisy and Ellie, they still want him around, so he’ll do his best to stay around. He closes his eyes, ignores the moon glinting off the waves visible through the curtain, and he breaths in Ellie.
Life is, if accidentally, worth living. It’s worth sticking around for. And that’s enough.